Alice, the fair-haired of the two young women, asks Heyward whether the runner up ahead is not a “specter” of the forest, and if he is a loyal native. Heyward replies that the runner was born of “the Canadas” (meaning a native tribe loyal to the French), but since came to serve the Mohawks, a tribe allied to the English. Heyward continues, saying that the runner was once embroiled in a “strange accident” involving Alice and Cora’s father (who is revealed to be Munro, the officer in charge of Fort William Henry)—but Heyward tries to soothe Alice’s worries, saying the runner is loyal to their cause, and that Alice need not fear.
Here, Heyward introduces the concept that the natives are “ghosts” of their own forests—because they can move through them quietly—and that natives therefore have a kind of special spiritual connection to the lands of upstate New York. The English and French, though they have managed to seize control of a good deal of this land, are not believed, either by natives or whites, to have this same religious connection to the land, and some, like Hawkeye, lament this fact.
Cora, her dark-haired sister, asks Alice whether she mistrusts the runner simply because his “skin is dark.” Alice also wonders why they are not traveling with the troops, in their caravan, to the fort; but Heyward counters that it is safer to travel in the backwoods with the runner, as the soldiers’ caravan will be a large target for French-allied natives looking for “scalps.” Heyward, Alice, and Cora spot the “ungainly man” from the previous chapter, on the same trail, and wonder what he might be doing on their path to the fort.
A modern reader would understandably question Fenimore Cooper’s methods of female character development, as Alice’s and Cora’s personalities seem to be embodied, somewhat, in their hair colors, and in the manner by which their temperaments are described. Cora, of a “dark” complexion, has a “stormy and courageous” personality, whereas Alice, with “fair” hair, is more shy, less outwardly courageous, less inclined to battle.
The “ungainly man” says that he, too, is traveling to Fort William Henry, and figured he would take the same path as Heyward and the two young women, because there is safety in numbers. This man says that he is a psalmodist, or instructor in religious songs, by training, and Alice seems very happy to have this singing man in their midst, although Cora is less pleased.
David Gamut, who appears at the beginning of the novel as a rather one-dimensional, religious and pacifist character, becomes, by the novel’s end, a character of great personal courage, who maintains his beliefs and manages to help the band get out of their numerous scrapes.
The psalmodist sings one of his hymns, and Alice is delighted to hear it, although Heyward stops him and says that they ought to travel silently, so as not to stir up natives in the forest and endanger themselves. Alice gently teases Heyward, showing that she is particularly friendly towards him, and asks Heyward to sing at some point in the future. The group, now four on horseback plus the runner, continue heading along the path to Fort William Henry.
Alice’s and Heyward’s love story is more or less ordained from the start. Heyward is a hero among the English soldiers, and his bravery is painted by Fenimore Cooper in unequivocal terms. Alice seems almost magnetically drawn to this form of bravery, and recognizes in Heyward a mirror of the characteristics her father, Munro, exhibits.