Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1161
Mabel Dunham and Charles Cap, her seaman uncle, are on their way to the home of her father, Sergeant Thomas Dunham. They are accompanied by Arrowhead, a Tuscarora Indian, and his wife, Dew of June. When they reach the Oswego River, they are met by Jasper Western and Natty Bumppo, the wilderness scout known as Pathfinder among the English and as Hawkeye among the Mohicans. Pathfinder leads the party down the Oswego on the first step of the journey under his guidance.
Chingachgook, Pathfinder’s Mohican friend, warns the party of the presence of hostile Indians in the neighborhood. They hide but are discovered and have a narrow escape. Arrowhead and Dew of June disappear, and Pathfinder’s group fears they had been taken captive or else have betrayed the group. On the lookout for more hostile war parties, they continue their journey to the fort, which they reach thanks especially to Jasper’s navigational skills on the river, and Mabel is joyfully welcomed by her father.
The sergeant tries to promote a romantic attachment between Mabel and Pathfinder, the sergeant’s real purpose in having brought Mabel to the frontier. Actually, Mabel has already fallen in love with Jasper. When the commander of the post, Major Duncan, proposes Lieutenant Davy Muir as a possible mate for Mabel, at the lieutenant’s request, the sergeant informs the major that Mabel is already betrothed to Pathfinder. Muir learns that he has been refused, but he apparently does not give up hope.
A contest of arms is proposed to test the shooting ability of the men at the post. Jasper scores a bull’s-eye. Muir shoots from a strange position, and it is believed by all that he has missed, but he says he has hit Jasper’s bullet, embedded in the target. Pathfinder uses Jasper’s rifle and also strikes the bullet in the bull’s-eye. The next test of marksmanship is to drive a nail into a tree with a bullet. Lieutenant Muir’s shot barely touches the nail, Jasper almost drives the nail completely into the tree, and Pathfinder’s shot completes the embedding of the nail. In the next test, shooting at a potato tossed into the air, Muir fails, but Jasper hits the potato in the center. A silken calash is one of the prizes, and Jasper desires it greatly as a present for Mabel. He mentions this to Pathfinder, who thereupon does no more than cut the skin of the potato. After he has lost the match, Pathfinder cannot resist killing two gulls with one bullet, which allows Mabel to understand how Jasper won the calash. In appreciation, she gives Pathfinder a silver brooch.
An expedition is planned to one of the Thousand Islands, to relieve the garrison there. The party is to leave in the Scud, a boat operated by Jasper. Before the party departs, however, Major Duncan receives a letter that causes him to suspect Jasper of being a French spy. Pathfinder refuses to believe the charge against his friend, but when the Scud sails under the command of Jasper, he is kept under strict surveillance by Sergeant Dunham and Cap. On the way, the Scud overtakes Arrowhead and his wife, who are taken aboard. After Pathfinder questions the Tuscarora chief, Arrowhead and his wife escape in a canoe that the Scud was towing astern. Becoming suspicious, Sergeant Dunham removes Jasper from his command and sends him below. Cap takes over the command of the boat, but Cap, being a saltwater sailor, is unfamiliar with freshwater navigation. When a storm comes up, it is necessary to call upon Jasper to save the ship from destruction in the breakers. The Scud escapes from Le Montcalm, a French ship, and Jasper brings the Scud safely to port at the isolated garrison in the Thousand Islands.
Pathfinder has fallen in love with Mabel, but when he proposes to her, she refuses him. Muir appears not to have given up his own suit, although he admits to Mabel that he has had three previous wives. Mabel detests him. Jasper also has fallen in love with Mabel, but he does not reveal it to anyone.
Sergeant Dunham decides to take some of his men to attack French supply boats, the outlying garrison’s mandate. Starting out with his detachment, he leaves six men at the post, Muir among them, with orders to look after the two women. Soon after her father’s departure, Mabel goes for a walk and meets Dew of June, who warns her of danger from Indians led by the French. Mabel, in turn, tells Muir, who seems unmoved by the information. Mabel then goes to Corporal M’Nab with her story, but he too fails to act on the warning. While they talk, a rifle cracks in the nearby forest, and M’Nab falls dead at Mabel’s feet. She runs to the blockhouse, the most secure building in the garrison, to which Dew of June has told her to go. The attacking party comprises twenty Indians, led by the Tuscarora renegade Arrowhead. Mabel, Cap, and Muir survive the ambush—Mabel’s survival with the help of Dew of June—but Cap and Muir are captured later. Mabel discovers Chingachgook, who has been spying around the garrison. She plans to acquaint him with the details of the situation, if he comes to the blockhouse, as she expects he will.
Instead, Pathfinder arrives secretly at the blockhouse. He has not been fooled by the dead bodies of the massacred people that the Indians have placed in lifelike poses around the garrison. Before Pathfinder can provide warning, the party of soldiers under Sergeant Dunham is ambushed, but the sergeant, although seriously wounded, manages to reach the blockhouse. Cap escapes from the Indians and also gains the protection of the blockhouse. The small group fights off the Indians during the night. Jasper arrives with men in the Scud in time to assist Pathfinder. Muir, however, still believing Jasper to be a spy, orders him bound. Frustrated at the failure of his ambush to destroy all of the whites, Arrowhead stabs Muir and disappears into the bushes, hotly pursued by Chingachgook, who later kills him. Muir dies, and Captain Sanglier, the French leader of the Indians, admits that the French spy had been Muir, not Jasper.
On his deathbed, Sergeant Dunham, thinking Jasper to be Pathfinder, takes Jasper’s hand, places it in that of Mabel, and gives the two his blessing. He dies before the surprised witnesses can correct his error. Finally realizing that Mabel really loves Jasper and that Jasper loves her, Pathfinder relinquishes his claim to her. Pathfinder disappears into the wilderness with Chingachgook and is seen only once more by Jasper and Mabel. On several occasions over the years of her marriage to Jasper, Mabel receives valuable gifts of furs, but no name ever accompanies these gifts, although her feelings tell her from whom they came.