Once Heyward, Hawkeye, and the Mohicans have regrouped on the rocks, a new volley of fire from the Maquas tears through the forest, nearly grazing Heyward. Heyward tells Hawkeye and Uncas that Uncas is responsible for saving his (Heyward’s) life, and that Heyward will be forever grateful to Uncas. Hawkeye says that Uncas has also saved his own skin several times in the forest, and that Uncas is a noble warrior. The band realizes that some of the shots have been fired from far up in a tree, and turning their gaze skyward, they see a Mingo shooting on them from high in the branches.
There are now at least two “blood ties” that exist within the band. Hawkeye is faithful to Uncas because of other scrapes the two have gotten into, in the forests of upstate New York. And Heyward, whose life Uncas has just saved, now feels that he, too, is indebted to Uncas’s bravery. Uncas, in this sense, is a warrior everyone in the novel respects, even those Hurons who fight against him.
Uncas, Chingachgook, and Hawkeye attempt to aim at the Mingo in the tree, and Hawkeye, after taking a moment to level his long rifle, which he calls the Kildeer, hits the Mingo and nearly knocks him off the branch. The Mingo struggles to maintain his hold, and Hawkeye, feeling compassion for him and hoping to spare him the long fall to earth, shoots him again and kills him out of mercy. Hawkeye then sends Uncas down to the canoe to recover the big horn of powder Hawkeye has left there, so the band can keep up its fight against the Maquas.
Initially, Hawkeye makes it seem that it is not useful to waste a bullet on the man in the tree, since he will fall to his death anyway, but he eventually shoots him and hastens that fate. Thus, although Hawkeye talks of his ability to kill without remorse, and to care nothing for his enemies, he nevertheless shows here a kind of compassion that separates his activities in war from those of, say, Magua.
But Uncas and Hawkeye, leaning over the rocks, see a Huron (one of the sub-tribes of the Maquas) stealing Hawkeye’s canoe and the powder, and floating down the river; the band is now left without any means of fighting off the Maquas. Uncas, Chingachgook, and Hawkeye go into a state of mourning, one that Cooper seems to think “peculiar” to the native races, in which they gloat over the number of Maquas they have killed, and say that, now that they are finished, they will die as warriors, surrounded by the Maquas on the rocky outcropping.
As evidenced here, codes of “gentlemanly” conduct vary from native to English populations. Heyward would not brag about the number of soldiers he has just killed in battle, considering this to be in poor taste. But for Uncas and Chingachgook, this rehearsal of the battle after the fact is an important tribal custom, and cements one’s reputation among members of one’s own village.
Heyward and Cora, however, dispute that the band has to die at all. Cora tells Hawkeye, Uncas, and Chingachgook to float downstream and carry word back to Ford Edward, asking for reinforcements to find the remainder of the party; in the meantime, the women, David, and Heyward will surrender to the Mingos and hope they can be saved by Hawkeye and the Mohicans later on. Hawkeye consults with the Mohicans and decides that this plan is a reasonable one. Before Hawkeye leaves, he tells the Munro daughters to make their path through the woods known, after their capture—by breaking twigs and otherwise signaling their location—so that Hawkeye and the Mohicans can find the band after sending word to Fort Edward.
Another motif in the novel: the idea that characters make a trail through the woods simply by walking or altering the plant-life, logs, and rocks that are in their path. Here, Hawkeye hopes that Cora will do more of this, in order to make especially obvious the direction in which the band has fled. But later on, Uncas and Chingachgook will track Magua, David, Alice, and Cora using this same method, in order to kill Magua and rescue the two young women.
Hawkeye and Chingachgook float downstream, although Uncas is loath to follow—he appears to feel devoted to Cora, but Cora says he must go with the other two and hope to save the band later on. Cora then turns to Heyward telling him that he, too, ought to float downstream and leave Alice, Cora, and David to be captured. But Heyward, looking at Alice, to whom he has shown increasing signs of love and devotion, says that it would be a “fate worse than death” to leave the sisters. They go back inside the cavern and wait for the Mingos’ advance.
From the outside, and according to an English code of conduct, the retreat of Hawkeye, Uncas, and Chingachgook seems ungentlemanly, even cowardly. But as will be shown later, this strategic retreat on the part of the “natives” will aid the band, and will prove an effective method of killing those Mingos who are pursuing the group through the woods.