On the third day after the surprise attack, Hawkeye, the Mohicans, Munro, and Heyward approach the besieged ramparts, which still smoke with fire and smell of death. Cora and Alice remain missing, and the men desperately seek for signs of life. They find no apparent signals or codes. When they begin looking for a trail, Uncas discovers part of Cora’s green riding veil. Other clues lead the men to the former location of the horses, and they conclude that the girls, accompanied by Magua and Gamut, have gone into the wilderness. Heyward wants to pursue them immediately, but Hawkeye insists upon careful deliberation and planning. Munro, depressed by his daughters’ disappearance, is apathetic.
The group spends the night around a fire in the desolate ruins of the fort. They eat bear meat for dinner. Looking out at the lake, Heyward hears noises. Uncas explain that wolves are prowling nearby. Hawkeye is pondering the meaning of paradise when he hears another sound. Uncas goes to investigate, and the group hears a rifle shot. Chingachgook follows his son, and those left behind hear a splash of water and another rifle shot. Chingachgook and Uncas return calmly. When Heyward asks what happened, Uncas shows him the scalp of an Oneida. After discussing the plan for the next day, the group falls asleep.
Hawkeye convinces the others to head north across a lake. As they travel across the lake in a light canoe, they are spotted and soon tailed by Huron canoes. The group’s superior paddling tactics enable them to outpace their enemies, and Hawkeye manages to wound one pursuer with Killdeer, his long-range rifle. Upon reaching the northern shore, the men move eastward in an attempt to deceive the enemy. Carrying the canoe on their shoulders, they leave an obvious trail through the woods and end up at a large rock. Then they retrace their steps, stepping in their own footprints until they reach the brook and paddle to safety on the western shore. They hide the canoe and rest for the pursuit that will continue the next day.
Uncas finds a trail, and the men follow it, hoping it will lead them to the women. The trail peters out and the party nearly gives up hope, but Uncas manages to divert the course of a small stream, revealing a hidden footprint in the sand bed. According to Hawkeye, the footprint indicates that Magua abandoned the horses upon reaching Huron territory. The men reluctantly enter the enemy territory and travel past a beaver pond, whose dams Heyward mistakes for Indian wigwams. An Indian appears in the forest. Ready for battle, Hawkeye nearly kills the Indian but soon recognizes the stranger as Gamut, painted as an Indian with only a scalping tuft of hair on his head.
As Hawkeye laughs at Gamut’s Indian paint and shaved head, the psalmodist tells the men that Magua recently separated Alice and Cora. Magua has sent Alice to a Huron camp and Cora to a Delaware settlement; he has released Gamut only because the Indians thought he was insane after they heard his religious singing. Gamut and Heyward decide to secretly inform the women that they will soon be rescued. Chingachgook disguises Heyward as a clown, since Heyward’s knowledge of French can help him to pass as a juggler from Ticonderoga. Heyward and Gamut proceed to the camp of the Hurons, while Uncas and Hawkeye travel to find Cora in the Delaware camp. At the Huron camp, Gamut and Heyward see strange forms rising from the grass. When they approach the tents, they realize the strange forms are just children at play.
The village usually has no guards, but the whooping of the children draws the attention of the warriors. Heyward pretends to be a French doctor and attempts to pacify the Hurons, who believe the French forces abandoned them. A group of Hurons returns with a prisoner and several human scalps. The Huron elders force the prisoner to run a race against the tribe’s warriors in order to escape. Though the prisoner runs speedily, the Hurons outnumber him, and he wins only because Heyward trips one of his pursuers. Suddenly, Heyward recognizes the breathless prisoner as Uncas. Meanwhile, in the main lodge, the father of the man who captured Uncas condemns his son for cowardice and stabs him in the heart.
In these chapters, Cooper ponders the moral significance of the massacre. Cora and Alice do not appear in these chapters, and Cooper temporarily turns away from the sentimental concerns of love and marriage to write about the acts of physical violence that men perpetrate against one another. Cooper condemns the interracial violence that occurs at the fort, using the distress of the characters to show his own distress. He absents the religious man Gamut from the scenes, which suggests that Cooper does not oppose unprovoked violence on religious grounds but on absolute moral grounds. No matter the time, place, or creed, the slaughter of a woman and child is wrong.
Cooper condemns those who practice violence rashly and praises those who remain calm and murder only because necessity demands it. When Heyward, Munro, and Uncas desire immediate retribution, they threaten to repeat the very brutal hastiness for which they condemn the Hurons. The measured deliberation of Chingachgook and Hawkeye counterbalances the dangers of rash action. Heyward acts like an eager, bloodthirsty schoolboy when he excitedly theorizes about the noises he hears and asks to know what happened. Cooper contrasts his yipping with the calm and sobriety of Chingachgook and Uncas, who display the scalps of their murder victims without pride or excitement. They had to kill in order to save their lives and their friends’ lives, but they did so carefully, without allowing bloodlust or excitement to overwhelm them.
Cooper takes great liberties with historical events to make his villains seem more villainous and his heroes more heroic. Cooper fabricates the idiocy of the Hurons in order to make them unappealing. In Chapter XXII, Heyward poses as a clown and successfully impersonates a French doctor. Because the Hurons fall for this ruse, they appear foolish. Cooper satirizes the Indians for failing to distinguish between the science and recreation of white culture. But Cooper’s ridicule is not malicious; it stems from his attempt to make his narrative more riveting, to give his readers a group against whom they can root.
The disguises that fill these chapters suggest the novel’s debt to traditional romances. The British Romantic age began officially with the 1798 publication of Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, but the techniques of romance—including comedy, burlesque, exaggeration, and disguise—date back to the medieval period and the fabliaux of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Romantic writing of the nineteenth century emphasizes imagination over reason. Although Cooper grounds his novel in historical events, imagination dictates the course of the plot.