Study Guide

Last of the Mohicans Chapter 16

By James Fenimore Cooper

Chapter 16

  • Epigraph from King Lear: "Before you fight the battle open this letter."
  • Heyward finds Munro surrounded by his two daughters. Alice sits on her father's knee and caresses his head, stopping occasionally to kiss his forehead.
  • Cora looks on contentedly. The narrator notes that Cora tends to act maternally towards Alice.
  • The three look very happy. Heyward pauses to admire the scene, but Alice spots him quickly. Munro dismisses his daughters, calling them "prattling hussies." (Oh, that's nice, Dad.)
  • Munro paces back and forth for a while before telling Heyward how proud he is of his daughters.
  • Heyward agrees that Cora and Alice are really wonderful.
  • Munro says he is ready to talk marriage.
  • Heyward points out that he needs to report what happened with Montcalm.
  • Munro disagrees vehemently, saying that Montcalm will never take William Henry. He insists it is important for him to discharge some "domestic duties."
  • Heyward recognizes that Munro is pleased to be able to ignore the Montcalm issue.
  • He tells Munro that he would like to become his son.
  • Munro asks if the girl is aware of Heyward's intentions.
  • Heyward says no, since to do so would have been to breach his duties as an escort.
  • Munro tells him that Cora is too discreet and mature to need her father's guidance.
  • Heyward is surprised—he was talking about Alice.
  • The two men sit in shock for a moment.
  • Munro resumes pacing back and forth.
  • Finally, Munro tells Heyward that if he's going to become his son, there are some things he should know.
  • Munro comes from an illustrious family, but despite his great background, he didn't have much money. When he became engaged to a woman named Alice Graham, then, her father denied them his blessing.
  • Sad, Munro left for the West Indies in the service of his king. While there, he married someone "descended, remotely, from that unfortunate class who are so basely enslaved to administer to the wants of a luxurious people." Translation: his wife was biracial.
  • Munro explains, in emphatic terms, that if anyone dares to judge Cora for her heritage, he will be very, very angry. Munro points out that Heyward is from the south, where they also consider blacks inferior.
  • Heyward agrees, embarrassed.
  • Munro then gets really angry, saying that Heyward refuses to marry Cora for these reasons.
  • Heyward protests, saying that he actually just really likes Alice better.
  • Munro resumes his reminiscences. When Cora's mother passed away, Munro returned to Scotland and found Alice Graham still pining for him. Even though twenty years had passed, she had remained single and faithfully waited for him.
  • Munro married her and they spent a happy year together before she died giving birth to Alice.
  • Munro looks upset. Heyward tries to respect the old man's feelings.
  • Eventually Munro asks about the message from Montcalm.
  • Heyward reports that he was unable to gain any useful information from Montcalm, and relays the man's invitation for Munro to come chat.
  • Immediately Munro switches gears into soldier-mode. He is angry that Montcalm has effectively disregarded Heyward's role in favor of talking with the top dog (Munro).
  • Munro says there is no choice but for him to meet with Montcalm. He tells Heyward to go make the necessary arrangements.
  • As soon as Munro leaves his base and is within sight of the enemy, he becomes the picture of a perfect military man.
  • Montcalm tells Munro that he has resisted the siege honorably, but that the time has come for considerations of humanity. Montcalm has lots of troops; Munro has very few.
  • Munro points out that Webb and reinforcements are not far away.
  • Over the course of the conversation, Montcalm reveals that he can speak English (Heyward has been translating).
  • Montcalm tells Munro that he would still rather speak through a translator, then tells the other commander that Webb's words will need no translation. He offers the intercepted letter.
  • Munro reads it and his face falls. Clearly it is not good news. Webb refuses to send even a single soldier. He suggests that Munro surrender.
  • Heyward reads the letter as well. It is genuine.
  • Munro is overcome by grief, saying that Webb has shamed and betrayed him.
  • Heyward tells Munro that they still hold Fort William Henry, and they can make their enemies pay bitterly for a victory.
  • Montcalm steps forward to propose terms. He needs to capture and destroy the fort, but he is prepared to allow all of Munro's men to leave with their colors, arms, and whatever method of retreat they prefer.
  • Munro is touched. He tells Heyward to arrange it all with Montcalm, and then says he has seen two unexpected things: "An Englishman afraid to support a friend, and a Frenchman too honest to profit by his advantage."
  • Heyward has soon arranged a treaty. Munro's army will retain their honor although the fort is to be basically blown to smithereens.