The men of the band take off their moccasins and shoes and walk north in the shallow waters of a stream toward Fort William Henry. Alice and Cora follow on the riverbank—the men do this to avoid detection of their footprints as they travel. Hawkeye tells Heyward of some of the battles he has fought, on the English side against the French, in the frontier regions during the Seven Years’ War. Just as Heyward is questioning Hawkeye about how many warriors he has slain in battle, the band hears someone approach, speaking French—the figure asks “Qui vive,” meaning, roughly “who goes there.”
Heyward’s and Cora’s ability to speak French, which will come in handy during these ensuing chapters, is perhaps the result of a noble birth and a good education. There is no evidence that Alice can speak French, nor Hawkeye, but in the former case, it is perhaps for a lack of bravery in the moment; and in the latter, Hawkeye never gives any indication that he has received formal schooling, though he has “apprenticed” in the woods among the natives for some time.
Luckily, however, Heyward speaks very good French, and tells the Frenchman, a soldier in the army, that he (Heyward) is conducting a group of prisoners along to Montcalm. Cora, also speaking French, seconds this story, and the French soldier permits them to pass. As they walk by, however, Chingachgook sneaks into the forest, finds the French soldier, quickly kills him and scalps him, returning to the band with the scalp, fresh, on his belt. Although many in the band, including Heyward, are shocked by this behavior, Hawkeye justifies it by saying the band is safer for it, and that, for a native, to kill in this way is not dishonorable, but rather the norm.
A perfect, if gruesome, example of native and white mores, side-by-side. Here, Heyward believes that they have evaded the Frenchman, and he thinks no more about that man. But Chingachgook believes it is both good policy to kill the French, always, and that it is more noble to do so and to take a scalp than to walk away in cowardly fashion. Hawkeye, ever the peacemaker between these two groups, claims that Heyward ought to praise Chingachgook for behaving according to this own native custom.
Hawkeye says they have two options for proceeding to the fort: they can send the Mohicans ahead, to kill Frenchmen in the fashion so demonstrated by Chingachgook, allowing the band to follow; or the whole band can travel along a high ledge, rimming the forest, and enter the fort from the opposing side. Heyward agrees to the latter, and Hawkeye says this course is probably more prudent, although the former would be more “manful.”
One gets the sense that, although Hawkeye is more than willing to use his cunning to combat Magua and carry Heyward and the band to safety, he relishes a good fight, and feels that, in this case, he is giving up one in order to preserve the band’s safety.
The group moves up the incline, out of the forest valleys, and onto a narrow path on the edge of a ridge, on which they rise for nearly a thousand feet. At this point, Hawkeye points out that the southern shore of Lake George is visible, and that the group will need to abandon its horses here, since they will not fit on the path ahead. The band moves on to a clearing, from which they see Fort William Henry, spread below, and a large group of thousands of French soldiers, who are midway through a siege of that fort, under Montcalm’s command. Hawkeye remarks that the French will continue their shelling of the fort, which is so far holding out under the French attack, until the fog that is rolling in covers the southern end of the lake, and makes the shelling impossible.
The first interaction with Fort William Henry, and the first sustained description of an English and a French military installation. The Seven Years’ War was an all-encompassing conflict, and Fenimore Cooper’s idea, as in much historical fiction, is to show only one part of that broader conflict, “from the inside,” as it is lived by the characters involved. Thus, we do not see the beginning or the end of the war, but rather experience only several key moments in it, including the Huron massacre of whites following the fall of Fort William Henry.
Heyward asks Hawkeye the most prudent course to gain admission to the fort, through enemy lines. Heyward wonders if the group shouldn’t surrender to Montcalm himself and gain entry to the fort on account of the band containing two of Munro's daughters—a kind of “gentleman’s agreement” between commanders. But Hawkeye replies that the band would never make the French lines, as Mingos are waiting in the forest between the French and English encampments, looking for straggling Englishmen. Hawkeye instead suggests a sneaking route to the fort, and Cora agrees, saying, courageously, that she will follow Hawkeye wherever he leads them.
Heyward assumes, perhaps wrongly, that the French will honor an agreement between European parties not to harm women and children, who are classified as “non-combatants.” These rules of warfare derive, in part, from gentlemanly codes of conduct taken from European dueling and other competitions. But, in this war, as Hawkeye points out, the French have also their native allies, who are far less willing to respect these “gentlemanly” regulations, as they are not part of native custom.
The band travels down through the fog into the valley separating the English from the French lines, but avoiding the spots where Hawkeye believes Mingos might be camped. The band is nearly hit by a French cannonball, and in the fog, French soldiers hear the band but cannot locate them. The band momentarily becomes lost, traveling backward for a time, before seeing a flash from a canon they realize originates in the fort—the band rights itself and comes upon the walls of the fort, where Alice and Cora call out, saying that they are Munro’s daughters and in need of protection. Munro, at the walls, hears his daughters’ cries, and orders his soldiers to stop firing—the band is admitted into the walls of the fort, narrowly missing more French fire, and Munro rejoices at finally being reunited with his family.
Although Munro plays a relatively small part in the action of the novel, it is his love for his daughters that, in a sense, motivates all that underlies the novel’s action. Alice and Cora are greatly beloved by their father, meaning that their safe return to Fort William Henry is of paramount importance. Heyward is entrusted with this task, and eventually Hawkeye, Uncas, and Chingachgook help greatly in it; thus Munro is indebted to all these men for the preservation of his daughters’ lives—for as long as possible.