Summary and Analysis
Hawkeye is filled with merriment at Gamut, whose body is painted and his head shaved to leave a tuft of hair. The scout summons the others by cawing like a crow, and the singing master tells what has become of the girls. According to policy, Magua has separated his prisoners, keeping Alice with the Hurons and sending Cora to some Delawares in a neighboring valley. Gamut has been left to range freely because the Indians think he is, in Hawkeye's words, "a non-composser" (non compos mentis — not sound in mind) due to his singing. Hawkeye returns the "tooting whistle," which has been found on the trail, and knowing that Chingachgook himself is a great chief among the Delawares, comments that white men have done evil to bring the Mingoes and Delawares to travel the same path.
When the frontiersman suggests that Gamut go back to the Indians and let the girls know that help is near, Heyward firmly insists that he go also, acting a part. Using Indian paints, Chingachgook disguises him to look like a buffoon; with his knowledge of French, the major could pass as a juggler from Ticonderoga. Munro is to be hidden in charge of the elder Mohican, and Hawkeye and Uncas are to approach the Delawares.
Some two miles beyond the beaver pond, Heyward and Gamut reach a clearing with fifty or sixty rude lodges. In the twilight they see fantastic forms alternately rising from the grass. They are startled but discover that it is only Indian children at play. Then they head for what Gamut calls "the tents of the Philistines."
The motif of disguise, already foreshadowed by such procedures as imitating animals for signals, begins here in earnest and is to become a highly important ingredient of the plot during the rest of the story. Closely connected with this in terms of technique will be lurid, frightening scenes reminiscent of the Gothic novel, begun at the end of this chapter with the grotesque, jumping silhouettes of the Indian children. Though according to Cooper's knowledge of Indians they did venerate a "non-com-posser," such a view is a warping of the normal attitude of civilization. Conversely, the white man's temporary alliances with various tribes has disrupted the normal Indian order of things. All of these elements give a sense of the chaotic unreality of the frontier as Cooper sees it.
Ironically, out of this chaos has come the frontiersman, the ideal man. But the irony goes further because of the noble scout's "secret love of desperate adventure which had increased with his experience, until hazard and danger had become, in some measure, necessary to the enjoyment of his existence." Without the challenge, Hawkeye as Hawkeye could not exist. The situation is a prime instance of that mixed blessing that constitutes tragedy. Furthermore, when the frontier condition ceases, so inevitably must Hawkeye and others of his particular stature.
Cooper, of course, does not tell the reader this in so many words. If he did, he would be writing an essay. Instead, he uses the indirect and more telling method of fiction, in which meaning and significance are suggested by characters, actions, and situations.