James Fenimore Cooper
Part 5 out of 9
into the vacant rooms in the empty part of the house, had taken
possession of their respective quarters for the night. In the meantime
a hearty supper was provided for the traveller in the library, the
bullet-proof window-shutters of which room, and indeed of all the
others on that side of the building, having first been closed, in order
that lights might be used, without drawing a shot from the adjoining
"We are very safe, here," observed the captain, as his son appeased his
hunger, with the keen relish of a traveller. "Even Woods might stand a
siege in a house built and stockaded like this. Every window has solid
bullet-proof shutters, with fastenings not easily broken; and the logs
of the buildings might almost defy round-shot. The gates are all up,
one leaf excepted, and that leaf stands nearly in its place, well
propped and supported. In the morning it shall be hung like the others.
Then the stockade is complete, and has not a speck of decay about it
yet. We shall keep a guard of twelve men up the whole night, with three
sentinels outside of the buildings; and all of us will sleep in our
clothes, and on our arms. My plan, should an assault be made, is to
draw in the sentinels, as soon as they have discharged their pieces, to
close the gate, and man the loops. The last are all open, and spare
arms are distributed at them. I had a walk made within the ridge of the
roofs this spring, by which men can run round the whole Hut, in the
event of an attempt to, set fire to the shingles, or fire over the
ridge at an enemy at the stockades. It is a great improvement, Bob;
and, as it is well railed, will make a capital station in a warm
conflict, before the enemy make their way within the stockade."
"We must endeavour not to let them get there, sir," answered the
major--"but, as soon as your people are housed, I shall have an
opportunity to reconnoitre. Open work is most to the taste of us
"Not against an Indian enemy. You will be glad of such a fortress as
this, boy, before the question of independence, or no independence,
shall be finally settled. Did not Washington entrench in the town?"
"Not much on that side of the water, sir; though he was reasonably well
in the ground on Long Island. _There_ he had many thousands of
men, and works of some extent."
"And how did he get off the island?" demanded the captain, turning
round to look his son in the face. "The arm of the sea is quite half-a-
mile in width, at that point--how did he cross it in the face of a
victorious army?--or did he only save himself, while you captured his
The major coloured a little, and then he looked at Beulah and smiled
"I am so surrounded by rebels here," he said, "that it is not easy to
answer all your questions, sir. Beat him we did, beyond a question, and
that with a heavy loss to his army--and out of New York we have driven
him, beyond a question--but--I will not increase Beulah's conceit by
stating any more!"
"If you can tell me anything kind of Evert, Bob, you will act like a
brother in so doing," said the gentle wife.
"Ay, Beekman did well too, they said. I heard some of our officers
extolling a charge he made; and to own the truth, I was not sorry to be
able to say he was my sister's husband, since a fierce rebel she would
marry. All our news of _him_ is to his credit; and now I shall get
a kiss for my pains."
The major was not mistaken. With a swelling heart, but smiling
countenance, his sister threw herself into his arms, when she kissed
and was kissed until the tears streamed down her cheeks.
"It was of Washington I intended to speak, sir," resumed the major,
dashing a tear or two from his own eyes, as Beulah resumed her chair.
"His retreat from the island is spoken of as masterly, and has gained
him great credit. He conducted it in person, and did not lose a man. I
heard Sir William mention it as masterly."
"Then by heaven, America will prevail in this contest!" exclaims I the
captain, striking his fist upon the table, with a suddenness and force
that caused all in the room to start. "If she has a general who can
effect such a movement skilfully, the reign of England is over, here.
Why, Woods, Xenophon never did a better thing! The retreat of the ten
thousand was boy's play to getting across that water. Besides, your
victory could have been no great matter, Bob, or it would never have
"Our victory was respectable, sir, while I acknowledge that the retreat
was great. No one among us denies it, and Washington is always named
with respect in the army."
In a minute more, Big Smash came in, under the pretence of removing the
dishes, but, in reality to see Master Bob, and to be noticed by him.
She was a woman of sixty, the mother of Little Smash, herself a
respectable matron of forty; and both had been born in the household of
Mrs. Willoughby's father, and had rather more attachment for any one of
her children than for all of their own, though each had been reasonably
prolific. The _sobriquets_ had passed into general use, and the
real names of Bess and Ma_ri'_ were nearly obsolete. Still, the
major thought it polite to use the latter on the present occasion.
"Upon my word, Mrs. Bess," he said, shaking the old woman cordially by
the hand, though he instinctively shrunk back from the sight of a pair
of lips that were quite ultra, in the way of pouting, which used often
to salute him twenty years before--"Upon my word, Mrs. Bess, you
improve in beauty, everytime I see you. Old age and you seem to be
total strangers to each other. How do you manage to remain so comely
and so young?"
"God send 'e fus', Masser Bob, heabben be praise, and a good conscience
do 'e las'. I _do_ wish you could make ole Plin hear _dat_!
He nebber t'ink any good look, now-a-day, in a ole wench."
"Pliny is half blind. But that is the way with most husbands, Smash;
they become blind to the charms of their spouses, after a few years of
"Nebber get marry, Masser Bob, if dat be 'e way."
Then Great Smash gave such a laugh, and such a swing of her unwieldy
body, that one might well have apprehended her downfall. But, no such
thing. She maintained the equilibrium; for, renowned as she had been
all her life at producing havoc among plates, and cups, and bowls, she
was never known to be thrown off her own centre of gravity. Another
hearty shake of the hand followed, and the major quitted the table. As
was usual on all great and joyous occasions in the family, when the
emotions reached the kitchen, that evening was remarkable for a
"smash," in which half the crockery that had just been brought from the
table, fell an unresisting sacrifice. This produced a hot discussion
between "The Big" and "The Little" as to the offender, which resulted,
as so often happens, in these inquiries into the accidents of domestic
life, in the conclusion that "nobody" was alone to blame.
"How 'e t'ink he _can_ come back, and not a plate crack!"
exclaimed Little Smash, in a vindicatory tone, she being the real
delinquent--"Get in 'e winder, too! Lor! _dat_ enough to break all
'e dish in 'e house, and in 'e mill, too! I _do_ wish ebbery plate
we got was an Injin--den you see fun! Can nebber like Injin; 'em so
red, and so sabbage!"
"Nebber talk of Injin, now," answered the indignant mother--"better
talk of plate. Dis make forty t'ousand dish you break, Mari', sin' you
war' a young woman. S'pose you t'ink Masser made of plate, dat you
break 'em up so! Dat what ole Plin say--de nigger! He say all men made
of clay, and plate made of clay, too--well, bot' clay, and bot'
_break_. All on us wessels, and all on us break to pieces some day,
and den dey'll t'row _us_ away, too."
A general laugh succeeded this touch of morality, Great Smash being a
little addicted to ethical remarks of this nature; after which the war
was renewed on the subject of the broken crockery. Nor did it soon
cease; wrangling, laughing, singing, toiling, a light-heartedness that
knew no serious cares, and affection, making up the sum of the everyday
existence of these semi-civilized beings. The presence of the party in
the valley, however, afforded the subject of an episode; for a negro
has quite as much of the _de haut en bas_ in his manner of viewing
the aborigines, as the whites have in their speculations on his own
race. Mingled with this contempt, notwithstanding, was a very active
dread, neither of the Plinys, nor of their amiable consorts, in the
least relishing the idea of being shorn of the wool, with shears as
penetrating as the scalping-knife. After a good deal of discussion on
this subject, the kitchen arrived at the conclusion that the visit of
the major was ordered by Providence, since it was out of all the rules
of probability and practice to have a few half-clad savages get the
better of "Masser Bob," who was born a soldier, and had so recently
been fighting for the king.
On the latter subject, we ought to have stated that the captain's
kitchen was ultra-loyal. The rude, but simple beings it contained, had
a reverence for rank and power that even a "rebbelushun" could not
disturb, and which closely associated, in their minds, royal authority
with divine power. Next to their own master, they considered George
III, as the greatest man of the age; and there was no disposition in
them to rob him of his rights or his honours.
"You seem thoughtful, Woods," said the captain, while his son had
retired to his own room, in order to assume a disguise less likely to
attract attention in the garrison than a hunting-shirt. "Is it this
unexpected visit of Bob's that furnishes food for reflection?"
"Not so much his visit, my dear Willoughby, as the news he brings us.
God knows what will befall the church, should this rebellion make
serious head. The country is in a dreadful way, already, on the subject
of religion; but it will be far worse if these 'canters' get the upper
hand of the government."
The captain was silent and thoughtful for a moment; then he laughingly
"Fear nothing for the church, chaplain. It is of God, and will outlast
a hundred political revolutions."
"I don't know that, Willoughby--I don't know that"--The chaplain did
not exactly mean what he said--"'Twouldn't surprise me if we had
'_taking_ up collections,' '_sitting under preaching,' 'providentially
happening,' 'exercised in mind_,' and '_our Zion_' finding their way
"Quite likely, Woods"--returned the captain, smiling--"Liberty is known
to produce great changes in _things_; why not in language?"
"Liberty, indeed! Yes; '_liberty_ in prayer' is another of their
phrases. Well, captain Willoughby, if this rebellion should succeed, we
may give up all hopes for the church. What sort of government shall we
have, do you imagine, sir?"
"Republican, of course," answered the captain, again becoming
thoughtful, as his mind reverted to the important results that were
really dependent on the present state of things. "Republican--it
_can_ be no other. These colonies have always had a strong bias in
that direction, and they want the elements necessary to a monarchy. New
York has a landed gentry, it is true; and so has Maryland, and
Virginia, and the Carolinas; but they are not strong enough to set up a
political aristocracy, or to prop a throne; and then this gentry will
probably be much weakened by the struggle. Half the principal families
are known to be with the crown, as it is; and new men will force them
out of place, in a revolution. No, Woods, if this revolution prosper,
the monarchy is done in America, for at least a century."
"And the prayers for the king and royal family--what will become of
"I should think they must cease, also. I question if a people will
continue long to pray for authorities that they refuse to obey."
"I shall stick to the rubrics as long as I have a tongue in my head. I
trust, Willoughby, _you_ will not stop these prayers, in your
"It is the last mode in which I should choose to show hostility. Still,
you must allow it is a little too much to ask a congregation to pray
that the king shall overcome his enemies, when they are among those
very enemies? The question presents a dilemma."
"And, yet, I have never failed to read that prayer, as well as all the
rest. You have not objected, hitherto."
"I have not, for I have considered the war as being waged with
parliament and the ministers, whereas it is now clearly with the king.
This paper is certainly a plain and forcible document."
"And what is that paper? Not the Westminster Confession of Faith, or
the Saybrook Platform, I hope; one of which will certainly supersede
the Thirty-nine Articles in all our churches, if this rebellion
"It is the manifesto issued by congress, to justify their declaration
of independence. Bob has brought it with him, as a proof how far
matters have been carried; but, really, it seems to be a creditable
document, and is eloquently reasoned."
"I see how it is, Willoughby--I see how it is. We shall find you a
rebel general yet; and I expect to live to hear _you_ talk about
'our Zion' and 'providential accidents.'"
"Neither, Woods. For the first, I am too old; and, for the last, I have
too much taste, I trust. Whether I shall always pray for the king is
another matter. But, here is the major, ready for his sortie. Upon my
word, his masquerade is so complete, I hardly know him myself."
He could not rest, he could not stay
Within his tent to wait for day;
But walked him forth along the sand,
Where thousand sleepers strewed the strand.
_Siege of Corinth_.
It was now so late that most of the men of the Hut, and all the women
and children, were housed for the night, provided no alarm occurred.
There was consequently little risk in the major's venturing forth,
disguised as he was, should care be taken not to approach a light. The
great number of the latter, streaming through the windows of the
western wing of the building, showed how many were now collected within
the walls, and gave an unusual appearance of life and animation to the
place. Still, the court was clear, the men seeking their pallets, in
readiness for their coming watches, while the women were occupied with
those great concerns of female life, the care of children.
The captain, major, and chaplain, each carrying a rifle, and the two
former pistols, moved rapidly across the court, and passed the gate.
The moveable leaf of the latter was left unbarred, it being the orders
of the captain to the sentinels without, on the approach of an enemy,
to retire within the court, and then to secure the fastenings.
The night was star-light, and it was cool, as is common to this region
of country. There being neither lamp nor candle on the exterior of the
house, even the loops being darkened, there was little danger in moving
about within the stockades. The sentinels were directed to take their
posts so near the palisades as to command views of the open lawn
without, a precaution that would effectually prevent the usual stealthy
approach of an enemy without discovery. As the alarm had been very
decided, these irregular guardians of the house were all at their
posts, and exceedingly watchful, a circumstance that enabled the
captain to avoid them, and thus further remove the danger of his son's
being recognised. He accordingly held himself aloof from the men,
keeping within the shadows of the sides of the Hut.
As a matter of course, the first object to which our two soldiers
directed their eyes, was the rock above the mill. The Indians had
lighted fires, and were now apparently bivouacked at no great distance
from them, having brought boards from below with that especial object.
Why they chose to remain in this precise position, and why they
neglected the better accommodations afforded by some fifteen or twenty
log-cabins, that skirted the western side of the valley in particular,
were subjects of conjecture. That they were near the fires the board
shanties proved, and that they were to the last degree careless of the
proximity of the people of the place, would seem also to be apparent in
the fact that they had not posted, so far as could be ascertained, even
a solitary sentinel.
"This is altogether surprising for Indian tactics," observed the
captain, in a low voice; for everything that was uttered that night
without the building was said in very guarded tones. "I have never
before known the savages to cover themselves in that manner; nor is it
usual with them to light fires to point out the positions they occupy,
as these fellows seem to have done."
"Is it not all _seeming_, sir?" returned the major. "To me that
camp, if camp it can be called, has an air of being deserted."
"There is a look about it of premeditated preparation that one ought
always to distrust in war."
"Is it not unmilitary, sir, for two soldiers like ourselves to remain
in doubt on such a point? My professional pride revolts at such a state
of things; and, with your leave, I will go outside, and set the matter
at rest by reconnoitring."
"Professional pride is a good thing, Bob, rightly understood and
rightly practised. But the highest point of honour with the really good
soldier is to do that for which he was precisely intended. Some men
fancy armies were got together just to maintain certain exaggerated
notions of military honour; whereas, military honour is nothing but a
moral expedient to aid in effecting the objects for which they are
really raised. I have known men so blinded as to assert that a soldier
is bound to maintain his honour at the expense of the law; and this in
face of the fact that, in a free country, a soldier is in truth nothing
but one of the props of the law, in the last resort. So with us; we are
here to defend this house, and those it contains; and our military
honour is far more concerned in doing that effectually, and by right
means, than in running the risk of not doing it at all, in order to
satisfy an abstract and untenable notion of a false code. Let us do
what is _right_, my son, and feel no concern that our honour
Captain Willoughby said this, because he fancied it a fault in his
son's character, sometimes to confound the end with the means, in
appreciating the ethics of his profession. This is not an uncommon
error among those who bear arms, instances not being wanting in which
bodies of men that are the mere creatures of authority, have not
hesitated to trample the power that brought them into existence under
foot, rather than submit to mortify the feelings of a purely
conventional and exaggerated pride. The major was rebuked rather than
convinced, it not being the natural vocation of youth to perceive the
justice of all the admonitions of age.
"But, if one can be made auxiliary to the other, sir," the son
remarked, "then you will allow that professional _esprit_, and
professional prudence, may very well march hand in hand."
"Of that there can be no doubt, though I think it far wiser and more
soldier-like, even, to use all proper precautions to guard this house,
under our actual circumstances, than to risk anything material in order
to satisfy our doubts concerning the state of that camp."
"But the cabins, and all the property that lies exposed to fire and
other accidents, including the mills? Is it not worth your while to let
me make a little excursion, in order to ascertain the state of things,
as connected with them?"
"Perhaps it would, Bob"--returned the father, after a little
reflection. "It would be a great point gained, to send a man to look
after the buildings, and the horses. The poor beasts may be suffering
for water; and, as you say, the first thing will be to ascertain where
our wild visiters really are, and what they are actually bent on.
Woods, go with us to the gate, and let us out. I rely on your saying
nothing of our absence, except to explain to the two nearest sentinels
who we are, and to be on the look-out for us, against the moment we may
"Will it not be very hazardous to be moving in front of the stockade,
in the dark? Some of our own people may fire upon you."
"You will tell them to be cautious, and we shall use great
circumspection in our turn. I had better give you a signal by which we
shall be known."
This was done, and the party moved from under the shadows of the Hut,
down to the gate. Here the two soldiers halted for several minutes,
taking a deliberate and as thorough a survey of the scene without, as
the darkness permitted. Then the chaplain opened the gate, and they
issued forth, moving with great caution down the lawn, towards the
fleets. As a matter of course, captain Willoughby was perfectly
familiar with all the lanes, ditches, bridges and fields of his
beautiful possessions. The alluvial soil that lay spread around him was
principally the result of ages of deposit while the place was covered
with water; but, as the overflowing of the water had been produced by a
regular dam, the latter once removed, the meadows were free, from the
excessive moisture which generally saturates drained lands. Still,
there were two or three large open ditches, to collect the water that
came down the adjacent mountains or bubbled up from springs near the
margin of the woods Across these ditches the roads led, by bridges, and
the whole valley was laid out, in this manner, equally with a view to
convenience and rural beauty. A knowledge of all the windings was of
great use, on the present occasion, even on the advance; while, on the
retreat, it might clearly be the means of preserving the lives, or
liberties, of the two adventurers.
The captain did not proceed by the principal road which led from the
Hut to the mills, the great thoroughfare of the valley, since it might
be watched, in order to prevent a hostile sortie against the camp; but
he inclined to the right, or to the westward, in order to visit the
cabins and barns in that quarter. It struck him his invaders might have
quietly taken possession of the houses, or even have stolen his horses
and decamped. In this direction, then, he and his son proceeded, using
the greatest caution in their movements, and occasionally stopping to
examine the waning fires at the rock, or to throw a glance behind them
at the stockade. Everything remained in the quiet which renders a
forest settlement so solemn and imposing, after the daily movements of
man have ceased. The deepest and most breathless attention could not
catch an unaccustomed sound. Even the bark of a dog was not heard, all
those useful animals having followed their masters into the Hut, as if
conscious that their principal care now lay in that direction. Each of
the sentinels had one of these animals near him, crouched under the
stockade, in the expectation of their giving the alarm, should any
strange footstep approach. In this manner most of the distance between
the Knoll and the forest was crossed, when the major suddenly laid a
hand on his father's arm.
"Here is something stirring on our left," whispered the former--"It
seems, too, to be crouching under the fence."
"You have lost your familiarity with our rural life, Bob," answered the
father, with a little more confidence of tone, but still guardedly, "or
this fragrant breath would tell you we are almost on a cow. It is old
Whiteback; I know her by her horns. Feel; she is here in the lane with
us, and within reach of your hand. A gentler animal is not in the
settlement. But, stop--pass your hand on her udder--she will not stir--
how is it, full or not?"
"If I can judge, sir, it is nothing remarkable in the way of size."
"I understand this better. By Jupiter, boy, that cow has been milked!
It is certain none of our people have left the house to do it, since
the alarm was first given. This is ominous of neighbours."
The major made no reply, but he felt to ascertain if his arms were in a
state for immediate service. After a moment's further pause the captain
proceeded, moving with increased caution. Not a word was now uttered,
for they were getting within the shadows of the orchard, and indeed of
the forest, where objects could not well be distinguished at the
distance of a very few yards. A cabin was soon reached, and it was
found empty; the fire reduced to a few embers, and quite safe. This was
the residence of the man who had the care of the horses, the stables
standing directly behind it. Captain Willoughby was a thoughtful and
humane man, and it struck him the animals might now be turned into a
field that joined the barn-yard, where there was not only rich pasture,
but plenty of sweet running water. This he determined to do at once,
the only danger being from the unbridled movements of cattle that must
be impatient from unusual privation, and a prolonged restraint.
The major opened the gate of the field, and stationed himself in a way
to turn the animals in the desired direction, while his father went
into the stable to set them free. The first horse came out with great
deliberation, being an old animal well cooled with toil at the plough,
and the major had merely to swing his arm, to turn him into the field.
Not so with the next, however. This was little better than a colt, a
creature in training for his master's saddle; and no sooner was it
released than it plunged into the yard, then bounded into the field,
around which it galloped, until it found the water. The others imitated
this bad example; the clatter of hoofs, though beaten on a rich turf,
soon resounding in the stillness of the night, until it might be heard
across the valley. The captain then rejoined his son.
"This is a good deed somewhat clumsily done, Bob," observed the father,
as he picked up his rifle and prepared to proceed. "An Indian ear,
however, will not fail to distinguish between the tramping of horses
and a charge of foot."
"Faith, sir, the noise may serve us a good turn yet. Let us take
another look at the fires, and see if this tramping has set any one in
motion near them. We can get a glimpse a little further ahead."
The look was taken, but nothing was seen. While standing perfectly
motionless, beneath the shadows of an apple-tree, however, a sound was
heard quite near them, which resembled that of a guarded footstep. Both
gentlemen drew up, like sportsmen expecting the birds to rise, in
waiting for the sound to approach. It did draw nearer, and presently a
human form was seen moving slowly forward in the path, approaching the
tree, as if to get within its cover. It was allowed to draw nearer and
nearer, until captain Willoughby laid his hand, from behind the trunk,
on the stranger's shoulder, demanding sternly, but in a low voice, "who
The start, the exclamation, and the tremor that succeeded all denoted
the extent of this man's surprise. It was some little time, even,
before he could recover from his alarm, and then he let himself be
known by his answer.
"Massy!" exclaimed Joel Strides, who ordinarily gave this doric sound
to the word 'mercy'--"Massy, captain, is it _you!_ I should as
soon thought of seeing a ghost! What in natur' has brought you out of
the stockade, sir?"
"I think that is a question I might better ask you, Mr. Strides. My
orders were to keep the gate close, and for no one to quit the court-
yard even, until sent on post, or called by an alarm."
"True, sir--quite true--true as gospel. But let us moderate a little,
captain, and speak lower; for the Lord only knows who's in our
neighbourhood. Who's that with you, sir?--Not the Rev. Mr. Woods, is
"No matter who is with me. _He_ has the authority of my commands
for being here, whoever he may be, while you are here in opposition to
them. You know me well enough, Joel, to understand nothing but the
simple truth will satisfy me."
"Lord, sir, I am one of them that never wish to tell you anything
_but_ truth. The captain has known me now long enough to understand
my natur', I should think; so no more need be said about _that._"
"Well, sir--give me the reason--and see that it is given to me without
"Yes, sir; the captain shall have it. He knows we scrambled out of our
houses this afternoon a little onthinkingly, Injin alarms being skeary
matters. It was an awful hurrying time! Well, the captain understands,
too, we don't work for him without receiving our wages; and I have been
laying up a little, every year, until I've scraped together a few
hundred dollars, in good half-joes; and I bethought me the money might
be in danger, should the savages begin to plunder; and I've just came
out to look a'ter the money."
"If this be true, as I hope and can easily believe to be the case, you
must have the money about you, Joel, to prove it."
The man stretched forth his arm, and let the captain feel a
handkerchief, in which, sure enough, there was a goodly quantity of
coin. This gave him credit for truth, and removed all suspicion of his
present excursion being made with any sinister intention. The man was
questioned as to his mode of passing the stockade, when he confessed he
had fairly clambered over it, an exploit of no great difficulty from
the inside. As the captain had known Joel too long to be ignorant of
his love of money, and the offence was very pardonable in itself, he
readily forgave the breach of orders. This was the only man in the
valley who did not trust his little hoard in the iron chest at the Hut;
even the miller reposing that much confidence in the proprietor of the
estate; but Joel was too conscious of dishonest intentions himself to
put any unnecessary faith in others.
All this time, the major kept so far aloof as not to be recognised,
though Joel, once or twice, betrayed symptoms of a desire to ascertain
who he was. Maud had awakened suspicions that now became active, in
both father and son, when circumstances so unexpectedly and
inconveniently threw the man in their way. It was consequently the wish
of the former to get rid of his overseer as soon as possible.
Previously to doing this, however, he saw fit to interrogate him a
"Have you seen anything of the Indians since you left the stockade,
Strides?" demanded the captain. "We can perceive no other traces of
their presence than yonder fires, though we think that some of them
must have passed this way, for Whiteback's udder is empty."
"To own the truth, captain, I haven't. I some think that they've left
the valley; though the Lord only can tell when they'll be back ag'in.
Such critturs be beyond calcilation! They outdo arithmetic, nohow. As
for the cow, I milked her myself; for being the crittur the captain has
given to Phoebe for her little dairy, I thought it might hurt her not
to be attended to. The pail stands yonder, under the fence, and the
women and children in the Hut may be glad enough to see it in the
This was very characteristic of Joel Strides. He did not hesitate about
disobeying orders, or even to risk his life, in order to secure his
money; but, determined to come out, he had the forethought and care to
bring a pail, in order to supply the wants of those who were now
crowded within the stockade, and who were too much accustomed to this
particular sort of food, not to suffer from its absence. If we add,
that, in the midst of all this prudent attention to the wants of his
companions, Joel had an eye to his personal popularity and what are
called "ulterior events", and that he selected his own cow for the
precise reason given, the reader has certain distinctive traits of the
man before him.
"This being the case," returned the captain, a good deal relieved at
finding that the savages had not been the agents in this milking
affair, since it left the probability of their remaining
stationary--"This being the case, Joel, you had better find the pail,
and go in. As soon as day dawns, however, I recommend that all the cows
be called up to the stockade and milked generally. They are feeding in
the lanes, just now, and will come readily, if properly invited. Go,
then, but say nothing of having met me, and--"
"Who else did the captain say?" inquired Joel, curiously, observing
that the other paused.
"Say nothing of having met us at all, I tell you. It is very important
that my movements should be secret."
The two gentlemen now moved on, intending to pass in front of the
cabins which lined this part of the valley, by a lane which would bring
them out at the general highway which led from the Knoll to the mill.
The captain marched in front, while his son brought up the rear, at a
distance of two or three paces. Each walked slowly and with caution,
carrying his rifle in the hollow of his arm, in perfect readiness for
service. In this manner both had proceeded a few yards, when Robert
Willoughby felt his elbow touched, and saw Joel's face, within eighteen
inches of his own, as the fellow peered under his hat. It was an action
so sudden and unexpected, that the major saw, at once, nothing but
perfect coolness could avert his discovery.
"Is't you, Dan'el"--so was the miller named. "What in natur' has
brought the old man on this tramp, with the valley filled with Injins?"
whispered Joel, prolonging the speech in order to get a better view of
a face and form that still baffled his conjectures. "Let's know all
"You'll get me into trouble," answered he major, shaking off his
unwelcome neighbour, moving a step further from him, and speaking also
in a whisper. "The captain's bent on a scout, and you know he'll not
bear contradiction. Off with you, then, and don't forget the milk."
As the major moved away, and seemed determined to baffle him, Joel had
no choice between complying and exposing his disobedience of orders to
the captain. He disliked doing the last, for his cue was to seem
respectful and attached, and he was fain to submit. Never before,
however, did Joel Strides suffer a man to slip through his fingers with
so much reluctance. He saw that the captain's companion was not the
miller, while the disguise was too complete to enable him to
distinguish the person or face. In that day, the different classes of
society were strongly distinguished from each other, by their ordinary
attire; and, accustomed to see major Willoughby only in the dress that
belonged to his station, he would not be likely to recognise him in his
present guise, had he even known of or suspected his visit. As it was,
he was completely at fault; satisfied it was not his friend Daniel,
while unable to say who it was.
In this doubting state of mind, Joel actually forgot the savages, and
the risks he might run from their proximity. He walked, as it might be
mechanically, to the place where he had left the pail, and then
proceeded slowly towards the Knoll, pondering at every step on what he
had just seen. He and the miller had secret communications with certain
active agents of the revolutionists, that put them in possession of
facts, notwithstanding their isolated position, with which even their
employer was totally unacquainted. It is true, these agents were of
that low caste that never fail to attach themselves to all great
political enterprises, with a sole view to their own benefit; still, as
they were active, cunning and bold, and had the sagacity to make
themselves useful, they passed in the throng of patriots created by the
times, and were enabled to impart to men of similar spirits much
It was through means like these, that Joel knew of the all-important
measure of the declaration of independence, while it still remained a
secret to captain Willoughby. The hope of confiscations was now active
in the bosoms of all this set, and many of them had even selected the
portions of property that they intended should be the reward of their
own love of freedom and patriotism. It has been said that the English
ministry precipitated the American revolution, with a view to share,
among their favourites, the estates that it was thought it would bring
within the gift of the crown, a motive so heinous as almost to defy
credulity, and which may certainly admit of rational doubts. On the
other hand, however, it is certain that individuals, who will go down
to posterity in company with the many justly illustrious names that the
events of 1776 have committed to history, were actuated by the most
selfish inducements, and, in divers instances, enriched themselves with
the wrecks of estates that formerly belonged to their kinsmen or
friends. Joel Strides was of too low a class to get his name enrolled
very high on the list of heroes, nor was he at all ambitious of any
such distinction; but he was not so low that he could not and did not
aspire to become the owner of the property of the Hutted Knoll. In an
ordinary state of society, so high a flight would seem irrational in so
low an aspirant; but Joel came of a people who seldom measure their
pretensions by their merits, and who imagine that to boldly aspire,
more especially in the way of money, is the first great step to
success. The much talked of and little understood doctrine of political
equality has this error to answer for, in thousands of cases; for
nothing can be more hopeless, in the nature of things, than to convince
a man of the necessity of possessing qualities of whose existence he
has not even a faint perception, ere he may justly pretend to be put on
a level with the high-minded, the just, the educated, and the good.
Joel, therefore, saw no other reason than the law, against his becoming
the great landlord, as well as captain Willoughby; and could the law be
so moulded as to answer his purposes, he had discreetly resolved to
care for no other considerations. The thought of the consequences to
Mrs. Willoughby and her daughters gave him no concern whatever; they
had already possessed the advantages of their situation so long, as to
give Phoebe and the miller's wife a sort of moral claim to succeed
them. In a word, Joel, in his yearnings after wealth, had only faintly
shadowed forth the modern favourite doctrine of "rotation in office."
The appearance of a stranger in company with captain Willoughby could
not fail, therefore, to give rise to many conjectures in the mind of a
man whose daily and hourly thoughts were running on these important
changes. "Who _can_ it be," thought Joel, as he crawled along the
lane, bearing the milk, and lifting one leg after the other, as if lead
were fastened to his feet. "Dan'el it is not--nor is it any one that I
can consait on, about the Hut. The captain is mightily strengthened by
this marriage of his da'ter with colonel Beekman, that's sartain. The
colonel stands wonderful well with our folks, and he 'll not let all
this first-rate land, with such capital betterments, go out of the
family without an iffort, I conclude--but then I calcilate on _his_
being killed--there must be a disperate lot on 'em shot, afore
the war's over, and _he_ is as likely to be among 'em as another.
Dan'el thinks the colonel has the look of a short-lived man. Waal; to-
morrow will bring about a knowledge of the name of the captain's
companion, and then a body may calcilate with greater sartainty!"
This is but an outline of what passed through Joel's mind as he moved
onward. It will serve, however, to let the reader into the secret of
his thoughts, as well as into their ordinary train, and is essentially
connected with some of the succeeding events of our legend. As the
overseer approached the stockade, his ideas were so abstracted that he
forgot the risk he ran; but walking carelessly towards the palisades,
the dogs barked, and then he was saluted by a shot. This effectually
aroused Joel, who called out in his natural voice, and probably saved
his life by so doing. The report of the rifle, however, produced an
alarm, and by the time the astounded overseer had staggered up to the
gate, the men were pouring out from the court, armed, and expecting an
assault. In the midst of this scene of confusion, the chaplain admitted
Joel, as much astonished as the man himself, at the whole of the
It is unnecessary to say that many questions were asked. Joel got rid
of them, by simply stating that he had gone out to milk a cow, by the
captain's private orders, and that he had forgotten to arrange any
signal, by which his return might be known. He ventured to name his
employer, because he knew he was not there to contradict him; and Mr.
Woods, being anxious to ascertain if his two friends had been seen,
sent the men back to their lairs, without delay, detaining the overseer
at the gate for a minute's private discourse. As the miller obeyed,
with the rest, he asked for the pail with an eye to his own children's
comfort; but, on receiving it, he found it empty! The bullet had passed
through it, and the contents had escaped.
"Did you see any _thing, or person_, Strides?" demanded the
chaplain, as soon as the two were alone.
"Lord, Mr. Woods, I met the captain!--The sight on him came over me
a'most as cruelly as the shot from the rifle; for I no more expected it
than I do to see you rise up to heaven, in your clothes, like Elijah of
old. Sure enough, _there_ was the captain, himself, and--and--"
Here Joel sneezed, repeating the word "and" several times, in hopes the
chaplain would supply the name he so much wished to hear.
"But you saw no savages?--I know the captain is out, and you will be
careful not to mention it, lest it get to Mrs. Willoughby's ears, and
make her uneasy. You saw nothing of the savages?"
"Not a bit--the critturs lie cluss enough, if they haven't actually
tramped. _Who_ did you say was with the captain, Mr. Woods?"
"I said nothing about it--I merely asked after the Indians, who, as you
say, do keep themselves very close. Well, Joel, go to your wife, who
must be getting anxious about you, and be prudent."
Thus dismissed, the overseer did not dare to hesitate; but he entered
the court, still pondering on the late meeting.
As for the two adventurers, they pursued their march in silence. As a
matter of course, they heard the report of the rifle, and caught some
faint sounds from the alarm that succeeded; but, readily comprehending
the cause, they produced no uneasiness; the stillness which succeeded
soon satisfying them that all was right. By this time they were within
a hundred yards of the flickering fires. The major had kept a strict
watch on the shanties at the report of the rifle; but not a living
thing was seen moving in their vicinity. This induced him to think the
place deserted, and he whispered as much to his father.
"With any other enemy than an Indian", answered the latter, "you might
be right enough, Bob; but with these rascals one is never certain. We
must advance with a good deal of their own caution."
This was done, and the gentlemen approached the fires in the most
guarded manner, keeping the shantees between them and the light. By
this time, however, the flames were nearly out, and there was no great
difficulty in looking into the nearest shantee, without much exposure.
It was deserted, as proved to be the case with all the others, on
further examination. Major Willoughby now moved about on the rock with
greater confidence; for, naturally brave, and accustomed to use his
faculties with self-command in moments of trial, he drew the just
distinctions between real danger and unnecessary alarm; the truest of
all tests of courage.
The captain, feeling a husband's and a father's responsibility, was a
little more guarded; but success soon gave him more confidence, and the
spot was thoroughly explored. The two then descended to the mills,
which, together with the adjacent cabins, they entered also, and found
uninjured and empty. After this, several other suspected points were
looked at, until the captain came to the conclusion that the party had
retired, for the night at least, if not entirely. Making a circuit,
however, he and his son visited the chapel, and one or two dwellings on
that side of the valley, when they bent their steps towards the Knoll.
As the gentlemen approached the stockade, the captain gave a loud hem,
and clapped his hands. At the signal the gate flew open, and they found
themselves in company with their friend the chaplain once more. A few
words of explanation told all they had to say, and then the three
passed into the court, and separated; each taking the direction towards
his own room. The major, fatigued with the toils of a long march, was
soon in a soldier's sleep; but it was hours before his more thoughtful,
and still uneasy father, could obtain the rest which nature so much
----"I could teach you,
How to choose right, but then I am forsworn;
So will I never be; so may you miss me;
But if you do, you'll make me wish a sin
That I had been forsworn."----
Captain Willoughby knew that the hour which preceded the return of
light, was that in which the soldier had the most to apprehend, when in
the field. This is the moment when it is usual to attempt surprises;
and it was, in particular, the Indian's hour of blood. Orders had been
left, accordingly, to call him at four o'clock, and to see that all the
men of the Hut were afoot, and armed also. Notwithstanding the deserted
appearance of the valley, this experienced frontier warrior distrusted
the signs of the times; and he looked forward to the probability of an
assault, a little before the return of day, with a degree of concern he
would have been sorry to communicate to his wife and daughters.
Every emergency had been foreseen, and such a disposition made of the
forces, as enabled the major to be useful, in the event of an attack,
without exposing himself unnecessarily to the danger of being
discovered. He was to have charge of the defence of the rear of the
Hut, or that part of the buildings where the windows opened outwards;
and Michael and the two Plinys were assigned him as assistants. Nor was
the ward altogether a useless one. Though the cliff afforded a material
safeguard to this portion of the defences, it might be scaled; and, it
will be remembered, there was no stockade at all, on this, the northern
end of the house.
When the men assembled in the court, therefore, about an hour before
the dawn, Robert Willoughby collected his small force in the dining-
room, the outer apartment of the _suite_, where he examined their
arms by lamp-light, inspected their accoutrements, and directed them to
remain until he issued fresh orders. His father, aided by serjeant
Joyce, did the same in the court; issuing out, through the gate of the
buildings, with his whole force, as soon as this duty was performed.
The call being general, the women and children were all up also; many
of the former repairing to the loops, while the least resolute, or the
less experienced of their number, administered to the wants of the
young, or busied themselves with the concerns of the household. In a
word, the Hut, at that early hour, resembled a hive in activity, though
the different pursuits had not much affinity to the collection of
It is not to be supposed that Mrs. Willoughby and her daughters still
courted their pillows on an occasion like this. They rose with the
others, the grandmother and Beulah bestowing their first care on the
little Evert, as if _his_ life and safety were the considerations
uppermost in their thoughts. This seemed so natural, that Maud wondered
she too could not feel all this absorbing interest in the child, a
being so totally dependent on the affection of its friends and
relatives to provide for its wants and hazards, in an emergency like
"_We_ will see to the child, Maud," observed her mother, ten or
fifteen minutes after all were up and dressed. "Do you go to your
brother, who will be solitary, alone in his citadel. He may wish, too,
to send some message to his father. Go, then, dear girl, and help to
keep up poor Bob's spirits."
What a service for Maud! Still, she went, without hesitation or delay;
for the habits of her whole infancy were not to be totally overcome by
the natural and more engrossing sentiments of her later years. She
could not feel precisely the reserve and self-distrust with one she had
so long regarded as a brother, as might have been the case with a
stranger youth in whom she had begun to feel the interest she
entertained for Robert Willoughby. But, Maud did not hesitate about
complying. An order from her mother to her was law; and she had no
shame, no reserves on the subject of contributing to Bob's comfort or
Her presence was a great relief to the young man himself, whom she
found in the library. His assistants were posted without, as sentinels
to keep off intruders, a disposition that left him quite alone, anxious
and uneasy. The only intercourse he could have with his father was by
means of messages; and the part of the building he occupied was
absolutely without any communication with the court, except by a single
door near the offices, at which he had stationed O'Hearn.
"This is kind, and like yourself, dearest Maud," exclaimed the young
man, taking the hand of his visiter, and pressing it in both his own,
though he strangely neglected to kiss her cheek, as he certainly would
have done had it been Beulah--"This is kind and like yourself; now I
shall learn something of the state of the family. How is my mother?"
It might have been native coyness, or even coquetry, that unconsciously
to herself influenced Maud's answer. She knew not why--and yet she felt
prompted to let it be understood she had not come of her own impulses.
"Mother is well, and not at all alarmed," she said. "She and Beulah are
busy with little Evert, who crows and kicks his heels about as if
_he_ despised danger as becomes a soldier's son, and has much amused
even _me_; though I am accused of insensibility to his perfections.
Believing you might be solitary, or might wish to communicate with
some of us, my mother desired me to come and inquire into your wants."
"Was such a bidding required, Maud! How long has an order been
necessary to bring _you_ to console _me_?"
"That is a calculation I have never entered into, Bob," answered Maud,
slightly blushing, and openly smiling, and that in a way, too, to take
all the sting out of her words--"as young ladies can have more suitable
occupations, one might think. You will admit I guided you faithfully
and skilfully into the Hut last evening, and such a service should
suffice for the present. But, my mother tells me we have proper causes
of complaint against you, for having so thoughtlessly left the place of
safety into which you were brought, and for going strolling about the
valley, after we had retired, in a very heedless and boyish manner!"
"I went with my father; surely I could not have been in better
"At his suggestion, or at your own, Bob?" asked Maud, shaking her head.
"To own the truth, it was, in some degree, at my own. It seemed so very
unmilitary for two old soldiers to allow themselves to be shut up in
ignorance of what their enemies were at, that I could not resist the
desire to make a little _sortie_. You must feel, dear Maud, that
our motive was _your_ safety--the safety, I mean, of my mother,
and Beulah, and nil of you together--and you ought to be the last to
The tint on Maud's cheek deepened as Robert Willoughby laid so heavy an
emphasis on "_your_ safety;" but she could not smile on an act
that risked so much more than was prudent.
"This is well enough as to motive," she said, after a pause; "but
frightfully ill-judged, I should think, as to the risks. You do not
remember the importance our dear father is to us all--to my mother--to
Beulah--even to me, Bob."
"Even to _you_, Maud!--And why not as much to _you_ as to any
Maud could speak to Beulah of her want of natural affinity to the
family; but, it far exceeded her self-command to make a direct allusion
to it to Robert Willoughby. Still, it was now rarely absent from her
mind; the love she bore the captain and his wife, and Beulah, and
little Evert, coming to her heart through a more insidious and possibly
tenderer tie, than that of purely filial or sisterly affection. It was,
indeed, this every-day regard, strangely deepened and enlivened by that
collateral feeling we so freely bestow on them who are bound by natural
ties to those who have the strongest holds on our hearts, and which
causes us to see with their eyes, and to feel with their affections.
Accordingly, no reply was made to the question; or, rather, it was
answered by putting another.
"Did you see anything, after all, to compensate for so much risk?"
asked Maud, but not until a pause had betrayed her embarrassment.
"We ascertained that the savages had deserted their fires, and had not
entered any of the cabins. Whether this were done to mislead us, or to
make a retreat as sudden and unexpected as their inroad, we are
altogether in the dark. My father apprehends treachery, however; while,
I confess, to me it seems probable that the arrival and the departure
may be altogether matters of accident. The Indians are in motion
certainly, for it is known that our agents are busy among them; but, it
is by no means so clear that _our_ Indians would molest captain
Willoughby--Sir Hugh Willoughby, as my father is altogether called, at
"Have not the Americans savages on their side, to do us this ill
"I think not. It is the interest of the rebels to keep the savages out
of the struggle; they have so much at risk, that this species of
warfare can scarcely be to _their_ liking."
"And ought it to be to the liking of the king's generals, or ministers
"Perhaps not, Maud. I do not defend it; but I have seen enough of
politics and war, to know that results are looked to, far more than
principles. Honour, and chivalry, and humanity, and virtue, and right,
are freely used in terms; but seldom do they produce much influence on
facts. Victory is the end aimed at, and the means are made to vary with
"And where is all we have read together?--Yes, _together_, Bob?
for I owe you a great deal for having directed my studies--where is all
we have read about the glory and truth of the English name and cause?"
"Very much, I fear, Maud, where the glory and truth of the American
name and cause will be, as soon as this new nation shall fairly burst
the shell, and hatch its public morality. There are men among us who
believe in this public honesty, but I do not."
"You are then engaged in a bad cause, major Willoughby, and the sooner
you abandon it, the better."
"I would in a minute, if I knew where to find a better. Rely on it,
dearest Maud, all causes are alike, in this particular; though one side
may employ instruments, as in the case of the savages, that the other
side finds it its interest to decry. Men, as individuals, _may_
be, and sometimes _are_, reasonably upright--but, _bodies_ of
men, I much fear, never. The latter escape responsibility by dividing
"Still, a good cause may elevate even bodies of men," said Maud,
"For a time, perhaps; but not in emergencies. You and I think it a good
cause, my good and frowning Maud, to defend the rights of our sovereign
lord the king. Beulah I have given up to the enemy; but on you I have
"Beulah follows her heart, perhaps, as they say it is natural to women
to do. As for myself, I am left free to follow my own opinion of my
"And they lead you to espouse the cause of the king, Maud!"
"They will be very apt to be influenced by the notions of a certain
captain Willoughby, and Wilhelmina, his wife, who have guided me aright
on so many occasions, that I shall not easily distrust their opinions
The major disliked this answer; and yet, when he came to reflect on it,
as reflect he did a good deal in the course of the day, he was
dissatisfied with himself at being so unreasonable as to expect a girl
of twenty-one not to think with her parents, real or presumed, in most
matters. At the moment, however, he did not wish further to press the
"I am glad to learn, Bob," resumed Maud, looking more cheerful and
smiling, "that you met with no one in your rash sortie--for rash I
shall call it, even though sanctioned by my father."
"I am wrong in saying that. We did meet with one man, and that was no
less a person than your bug-bear, Joel Strides--as innocent, though as
meddling an overseer as one could wish to employ."
"Robert Willoughby, what mean you! Does this man know of your presence
at the Knoll?"
"I should hope not--_think_ not." Here the major explained all
that is known to the reader on this head, when he continued--"The
fellow's curiosity brought his face within a few inches of mine; yet I
do not believe he recognised me. This disguise is pretty thorough; and
what between his ignorance, the darkness and the dress, I must believe
he was foiled."
"Heaven be praised!" exclaimed Maud, breathing more freely. "I have
long distrusted that man, though he seems to possess the confidence of
every one else. Neither my father nor my mother will see him, as I see
him; yet to me his design to injure you is _so_ clear--_so_
obvious!--I wonder, often wonder, that others cannot view it as I do.
Even Beulah is blind!"
"And what do you see so clearly, Maud? I have consented to keep myself
incog. in submission to your earnest request; and yet, to own the
truth, I can discover no particular reason why Strides is to be
distrusted more than any one else in the valley--than Mike, for
"Mike! I would answer for _his_ truth with my life. _He_ will
never betray you, Bob."
"But why is Joel so much the object of your distrust?--and why am _I_
the particular subject of your apprehensions?"
Maud felt the tell-tale blood flowing again to her cheeks; since, to
give a simple and clear reason for her distrust, exceeded her power. It
was nothing but the keen interest which she took in Robert Willoughby's
safety that had betrayed to her the truth; and, as usually happens,
when anxiety leads the way in discoveries of this sort, logical and
plausible inferences are not always at command. Still, Maud not only
thought herself right, but, in the main, she _was_ right; and this
she felt so strongly as to be enabled to induce others to act on her
"_Why_ I believe in Strides' sinister views is more than I may be
able to explain to you, in words, Bob," she replied, after a moment's
thought; "still, I _do_ believe in them as firmly as I believe in
my existence. His looks, his questions, his journeys, and an occasional
remark, have all aided in influencing the belief; nevertheless, no one
proof may be perfectly clear and satisfactory. Why _you_ should be
the subject of his plans, however, is simple enough, since you are the
only one among us he can seriously injure. By betraying you, he might
gain some great advantage to himself."
"To whom can he betray me, dear? My father is the only person here, in
any authority, and of him I have no cause to be afraid."
"Yet, you were so far alarmed when last here, as to change your route
back to Boston. If there were cause for apprehension then, the same
reason may now exist."
"That was when many strangers were in the valley, and we knew not
exactly where we stood. I have submitted to your wishes, however, Maud,
and shall lie _perdu_, until there is a serious alarm; then it is
understood I am to be permitted to show myself. In a moment of
emergency my unexpected appearance among the men might have a dramatic
effect, and, of itself, give us a victory. But tell me of my
prospects--am I likely to succeed with my father? Will he be brought
over to the royal cause?"
"I think not. All common inducements are lost on him. His baronetcy,
for instance, he will never assume; _that_, therefore, cannot
entice him. Then his feelings are with his adopted country, which he
thinks right, and which he is much disposed to maintain; more
particularly since Beulah's marriage, and our late intercourse with all
that set. My mother's family, too, has much influence with him. They,
you know, are all whigs."
"Don't prostitute the name, Maud. Whig does not mean rebel; these
misguided men are neither more nor less than rebels. I had thought this
declaration of independence would have brought my father at once to our
"I can see it has disturbed him, as did the Battle of Bunker's Hill.
But he will reflect a few days, and decide now, as he did then, in
favour of the Americans. He has English partialities, Bob, as is
natural to one born in that country; but, on this point, his mind is
very strongly American."
"The accursed Knoll has done this! Had he lived in society, as he ought
to have done, among his equals and the educated, we should now see him
at the head--Maud, I know I can confide in _you_."
Maud was pleased at this expression of confidence, and she looked up in
the major's face, her full blue eyes expressing no small portion of the
heartfelt satisfaction she experienced. Still, she said nothing.
"You may well imagine," the major continued, "that I have not made this
journey entirely without an object--I mean some object more important,
even, than to see you all. The commander-in-chief is empowered to raise
several regiments in this country, and it is thought useful to put men
of influence in the colonies at their head. Old Noll de Lancey, for
instance, so well known to us all, is to have a brigade; and I have a
letter in my pocket offering to Sir Hugh Willoughby one of his
regiments. One of the Allens of Pennsylvania, who was actually serving
against us, has thrown up his commission from congress, since this
wicked declaration, and has consented to take a battalion from the
king. What think you of all this? Will it not have weight with my
"It may cause him to reflect, Bob; but it will not induce him to change
his mind. It may suit Mr. Oliver de Lancey to be a general, for he has
been a soldier his whole life; but my father has retired, and given up
all thoughts of service. He tells us he never liked it, and has been
happier here at the Knoll, than when he got his first commission. Mr.
Allen's change of opinion may be well enough, he will say, but I have
no need of change; I am here, with my wife and daughters, and have them
to care for, in these troubled times. What think you he said, Bob, in
one of his conversations with us, on this very subject?"
"I am sure I cannot imagine--though I rather fear it was some wretched
political stuff of the day."
"So far from this, it was good natural feeling that belongs, or ought
to belong to all days, and all ages," answered Maud, her voice
trembling a little as she proceeded. "'There is my son,' he said; 'one
soldier is enough in a family like this. _He_ keeps all our hearts
anxious, and may cause them all to mourn.'"
Major Willoughby was mute for quite a minute, looking rebuked and
"I fear I do cause my parents concern," he at length answered; "and why
should I endeavour to increase that of my excellent mother, by
persuading her husband to return to the profession? If this were
ordinary service, I could not think of it. I do not know that I ought
to think of it, as it is!"
"Do not, dear Robert. We are all--that is, mother is often miserable on
your account; and why would you increase her sorrows? Remember that to
tremble for one life is sufficient for a woman."
"My mother is miserable on _my_ account!" answered the young man,
who was thinking of anything but his father, at that instant. "Does
Beulah never express concern for me? or have her new ties completely
driven her brother from her recollection? I know she can scarce wish me
success; but she might still feel some uneasiness for an only brother.
We are but two--"
Maud started, as if some frightful object glared before her eyes; then
she sat in breathless silence, resolute to hear what would come next.
But Robert Willoughby meant to pursue that idea no farther. He had so
accustomed himself--had endeavoured even so to accustom himself to
think of Beulah as his only sister, that the words escaped him
unconsciously. They were no sooner uttered, however, than the
recollection of their possible effect on Maud crossed his mind.
Profoundly ignorant of the true nature of her feelings towards himself,
he had ever shrunk from a direct avowal of his own sentiments, lest he
might shock her; as a sister's ear would naturally be wounded by a
declaration of attachment from a brother; and there were bitter moments
when he fancied delicacy and honour would oblige him to carry his
secret with him to the grave. Two minutes of frank communication might
have dissipated all these scruples for ever; but, how to obtain those
minutes, or how to enter on the subject at all, were obstacles that
often appeared insurmountable to the young man. As for Maud, she but
imperfectly understood her own heart--true, she had conscious glimpses
of its real state; but, it was through those sudden and ungovernable
impulses that were so strangely mingled with her affections. It was
years, indeed, since she had ceased to think of Robert Willoughby as a
brother, and had begun to view him with different eyes; still, she
struggled with her feelings, as against a weakness. The captain and his
wife were her parents; Beulah her dearly, dearly beloved sister; little
Evert her nephew; and even the collaterals, in and about Albany, came
in for a due share of her regard; while Bob, though called Bob as
before; though treated with a large portion of the confidence that was
natural to the intimacy of her childhood; though loved with a
tenderness he would have given even his high-prized commission to know,
was no longer thought of as a brother. Often did Maud find herself
thinking, if never saying, "Beulah may do that, for Beulah is his
sister; but it would be wrong in me. I may write to him, talk freely
and even confidentially with him, and be affectionate to him; all this
is right, and I should be the most ungrateful creature on earth to act
differently; but I cannot sit on his knee as Beulah sometimes does; I
cannot throw my arms around his neck when I kiss him, as Beulah does; I
cannot pat his cheek, as Beulah does, when he says anything to laugh
at; nor can I pry into his secrets, as Beulah does, or affects to do,
to tease him. I should be more reserved with one who has not a drop of
my blood in his veins--no, not a single drop." In this way, indeed,
Maud was rather fond of disclaiming any consanguinity with the family
of Willoughby, even while she honoured and loved its two heads, as
parents. The long pause that succeeded the major's broken sentence was
only interrupted by himself.
"It is vexatious to be shut up here, in the dark, Maud," he said, "when
every minute _may_ bring an attack. This side of the house might
be defended by you and Beulah, aided and enlightened by the arm and
counsels of that young 'son of liberty,' little Evert; whereas the
stockade in front may really need the presence of men who have some
knowledge of the noble art. I wish there were a look-out to the front,
that one might at least see the danger as it approached."
"If your presence is not indispensable here, I can lead you to my
painting-room, where there is a loop directly opposite to the gate.
That half of the garrets has no one in it."
The major accepted the proposal with joy, and forthwith he proceeded to
issue a few necessary orders to his subordinates, before he followed
Maud. When all was ready, the latter led the way, carrying a small
silver lamp that she had brought with her on entering the library. The
reader already understands that the Hut was built around a court, the
portion of the building in the rear, or on the cliff, alone having
windows that opened outward. This was as true of the roofs as of the
perpendicular parts of the structure, the only exceptions being in the
loops that had been cut in the half-story, beneath the eaves. Of
course, the garrets were very extensive. They were occupied in part,
however, by small rooms, with dormer-windows, the latter of which
opened on the court, with the exception of those above the cliff. It
was on the roofs of these windows that captain Willoughby had laid his
platform, or walk, with a view to extinguish fires, or to defend the
place. There were many rooms also that were lighted only by the loops,
and which, of course, were on the outer side of the buildings. In
addition to these arrangements, the garret portions of the Hut were
divided into two great parts, like the lower floor, without any doors
of communication. Thus, below, the apartments commenced at the gateway,
and extended along one-half the front; the whole of the east wing, and
the whole of the rear, occupying five-eighths of the entire structure.
This part contained all the rooms occupied by the family and the
offices. The corresponding three-eighths, or the remaining half of the
front, and the whole of the west wing, were given to visiters, and were
now in possession of the people of the valley; as were all the rooms
and garrets above them. On the other hand, captain Willoughby, with a
view to keep his family to itself, had excluded every one, but the
usual inmates, from his own portion of the house, garret-rooms
Some of the garret-rooms, particularly those over the library, drawing-
room, and parlour, were convenient and well-furnished little
apartments, enjoying dormer-windows that opened on the meadows and
forest, and possessing a very tolerable elevation, for rooms of that
particular construction. Here Mr. Woods lodged and had his study. The
access was by a convenient flight of steps, placed in the vestibule
that communicated with the court. A private and narrower flight also
ascended from the offices.
Maud now led the way up the principal stairs, Mike being on post at the
outer door to keep off impertinent eyes, followed by Robert Willoughby.
Unlike most American houses, the Hut had few passages on its principal
floor; the rooms communicating _en suite_, as a better arrangement
where the buildings were so long, and yet so narrow. Above, however,
one side was left in open garret; sometimes in front and sometimes in
the rear, as the light came from the court, or from without. Into this
garret, then, Maud conducted the major, passing a line of humble rooms
on her right, which belonged to the families of the Plinys and the
Smashes, with their connections, until she reached the front range of
the buildings. Here the order was changed along the half of the
structure reserved to the use of the family; the rooms being on the
outer side lighted merely by the loops, while opposite to them was an
open garret with windows that overlooked the court.
Passing into the garret just mentioned, Maud soon reached the door of
the little room she sought. It was an apartment she had selected for
painting, on account of the light from the loop, which in the morning
was particularly favourable, though somewhat low. As she usually sat on
a little stool, however, this difficulty was in some measure obviated;
and, at all events, the place was made to answer her purposes. She kept
the key herself, and the room, since Beulah's marriage in particular,
was her sanctum; no one entering it unless conducted by its mistress.
Occasionally, Little Smash was admitted with a broom; though Maud, for
reasons known to herself, often preferred sweeping the small carpet
that covered the centre of the floor, with her own fair hands, in
preference to suffering another to intrude.
The major was aware that Maud had used this room for the last seven
years. It was here he had seen her handkerchief waving at the loop,
when he last departed; and hundreds of times since had he thought of
this act of watchful affection, with doubts that led equally to pain or
pleasure, as images of merely sisterly care, or of a tenderer feeling,
obtruded themselves. These loops were four feet long, cut in the usual
bevelling manner, through the massive timbers; were glazed, and had
thick, bullet-proof, inside shutters, that in this room were divided
in equal parts, in order to give Maud the proper use of the light she
wanted. All these shutters were now closed by command of the captain,
in order to conceal the lights that would be flickering through the
different garrets; and so far had caution become a habit, that Maud
seldom exposed her person at night, near the loop, with the shutter
On the present occasion, she left the light without, and threw open the
upper-half of her heavy shutter, remarking as she did so, that the day
was just beginning to dawn.
"In a few minutes it will be light," she added; "then we shall be able
to see who is and who is not in the valley. Look--you can perceive my
father near the gate, at this moment."
"I do, to my shame, Maud. He should not be there, I am cooped up here,
behind timbers that are almost shot-proof."
"It will be time for you to go to the front, as you soldiers call it,
when there is an enemy to face. You cannot think there is any danger of
an attack upon the Hut this morning."
"Certainty not. It is now too late. If intended at all, it would have
been made before that streak of light appeared in the east."
"Then close the shutter, and I will bring in the lamp, and show you
some of my sketches. We artists are thirsting always for praise; and I
know you have a taste, Bob, that one might dread."
"This is kind of you, dear Maud," answered the major, closing the
shutter; "for they tell me you are niggardly of bestowing such favours.
I hear you have got to likenesses--little Evert's, in particular."
Anxious, she hovers o'er the web the while,
Reads, as it grows, thy figured story there;
Now she explains the texture with a smile,
And now the woof interprets with a tear.
All Maud's feelings were healthful and natural. She had no exaggerated
sentiments, and scarcely art enough to control or to conceal any of the
ordinary impulses of her heart. We are not about to relate a scene,
therefore, in which a long-cherished but hidden miniature of the young
man is to play a conspicuous part, and to be the means of revealing to
two lovers the state of their respective hearts; but one of a very
different character. It is true, Maud had endeavoured to make, from
memory, one or two sketches of "Bob's" face; but she had done it
openly, and under the cognizance of the whole family. This she might
very well do, indeed, in her usual character of a sister, and excite no
comments. In these efforts, her father and mother, and Beulah, had
uniformly pronounced her success to be far beyond their hopes; but
Maud, herself, had thrown them all aside, half-finished, dissatisfied
with her own labours. Like the author, whose fertile imagination
fancies pictures that defy his powers of description, her pencil ever
fell far short of the face that her memory kept so constantly in view.
This sketch wanted animation, that gentleness, another fire, and a
fourth candour; in short, had Maud begun a thousand all would have been
deficient, in her eyes, in some great essential of perfection. Still,
she had no secret about her efforts, and half-a-dozen of these very
sketches lay uppermost in her portfolio, when she spread it, and its
contents, before the eyes of the original.
Major Willoughby thought Maud had never appeared more beautiful than as
she moved about making her little preparations for the exhibition.
Pleasure heightened her colour; and there was such a mixture of frank,
sisterly regard, in every glance of her eye, blended, however, with
sensitive feeling, and conscious womanly reserve, as made her a
thousand times--measuring amounts by the young man's sensations--more
interesting than he had ever seen her. The lamp gave but an indifferent
light for a gallery, but it was sufficient to betray Maud's smiles, and
blushes, and each varying emotion of her charming countenance.
"Now, Bob," she said, opening her portfolio, with all her youthful
frankness and confidence, "you know well enough I am not one of those
old masters of whom you used to talk so much, but your own pupil--the
work of your own hands; and if you find more faults than you have
expected, you will have the goodness to remember that the master has
deserted his peaceful pursuits to go a campaigning--there--that is a
caricature of your own countenance, staring you in the face, as a
"This is like, I should think--was it done from memory, dear Maud?"
"How else should it be done? All our entreaties have never been able to
persuade you to send us even a miniature. You are wrong in this, Bob"--
by no accident did Maud now ever call the major, Robert, though Beulah
often did. There was a desperate sort of familiarity in the _Bob_,
that she could easily adopt; but the 'Robert' had a family sound that
she disliked; and yet a more truly feminine creature than Maud Meredith
did not exist--"You are wrong, Bob; for mother actually pines to
possess your picture, in some shape or other. It was this wish that
induced me to attempt these things."
"And why has no one of them ever been finished?--Here are six or eight
beginnings, and all, more or less, like, I should think, and not one of
them more than half done. Why have I been treated so cavalierly, Miss
The fair artist's colour deepened a little; but her smile was quite as
sweet as it was saucy, as she replied--
"Girlish caprice, I suppose. I like neither of them; and of that which
a woman dislikes, she will have none. To be candid, however, I hardly
think there is one of them all that does you justice."
"No?--what fault have you to find with this? This might be worked up to
something very natural."
"It would be _a_ natural, then--it wants expression, fearfully."
"And this, which is still better. That might be finished while I am
here, and I will give you some sittings."
"Even mother dislikes _that_--there is too much of the Major of
Foot in it. Mr. Woods says it is a martial picture."
"And ought not a soldier to look like a soldier? To me, now, that seems
a capital beginning."
"It is not what mother, or Beulah--or father--or even any of us wants.
It is too full of Bunker's Hill. Your friends desire to see you as you
appear to _them_; not as you appear to your enemies."
"Upon my word, Maud, you have made great advances in the art! This is a
view of the Knoll, and the dam--and here is another of the mill, and
the water-fall--all beautifully done, and in water-colours, too. What
is this?--Have you been attempting a sketch of yourself!--The glass
must have been closely consulted, my fair coquette, to enable you to do
The blood had rushed into Maud's face, covering it with a rich tell-
tale mantle, when her companion first alluded to the half-finished
miniature he held in his hand; then her features resembled ivory, as
the revulsion of feeling, that overcame her confusion, followed. For
some little time she sate, in breathless stillness, with her looks cast
upon the floor, conscious that Robert Willoughby was glancing from her
own face to the miniature, and from the miniature to her face again,
making his observations and comparisons. Then she ventured to raise her
eyes timidly towards his, half-imploringly, as if to beseech him to
proceed to something else. But the young man was too much engrossed
with the exceedingly pretty sketch he held in his hand, to understand
her meaning, or to comply with her wishes.
"This is yourself, Maud!" he cried--"though in a strange sort of
dress--why have you spoilt so beautiful a thing, by putting it in this
"It is not myself--it is a copy of--a miniature I possess."
"A miniature you possess!--Of whom can you possess so lovely a
miniature, and I never see it?"
A faint smile illumined the countenance of Maud, and the blood began to
return to her cheeks. She stretched her hand over to the sketch, and
gazed on it, with intense feeling, until the tears began to stream from
"Maud--dear, _dearest_ Maud--have I said that which pains you?--I
do not understand all this, but I confess there are secrets to which I
can have no claim to be admitted--"
"Nay, Bob, this is making too much of what, after all, must sooner or
later be spoken of openly among us. I believe that to be a copy of a
miniature of my mother."
"Of mother, Maud--you are beside yourself--it has neither her features,
expression, nor the colour of her eyes. It is the picture of a far
handsomer woman, though mother is still pretty; and it is perfection!"
"I mean of _my_ mother--of Maud Yeardley; the wife of my father,
This was said with a steadiness that surprised our heroine herself,
when she came to think over all that had passed, and it brought the
blood to her companion's heart, in a torrent.
"This is strange!" exclaimed Willoughby, after a short pause. "And
_my_ mother--_our_ mother has given you the original, and told
you this? I did not believe she could muster the resolution necessary
to such an act."
"She has not. You know, Bob, I am now of age; and my father, a month
since, put some papers in my hand, with a request that I would read
them. They contain a marriage settlement and other things of that sort,
which show I am mistress of more money than I should know what to do
with, if it were not for dear little Evert--but, with such a precious
being to love, one never can have too much of anything. With the papers
were many trinkets, which I suppose father never looked at. This
beautiful miniature was among the last; and I feel certain, from some
remarks I ventured to make, mother does not know of its existence."
As Maud spoke, she drew the original from her bosom, and placed it in
Robert Willoughby's hands. When this simple act was performed, her mind
seemed relieved; and she waited, with strong natural interest, to hear
Robert Willoughby's comments.
"This, then, Maud, was your _own_--your _real_ mother!" the
young man said, after studying the miniature, with a thoughtful
countenance, for near a minute. "It is _like_ her--like you."
"Like _her_, Bob?--How can you know anything or that?--I suppose
it to be my mother, because I think it like myself, and because it is
not easy to say who else it can be. But you cannot know anything of
"You are mistaken, Maud--I remember both your parents well--it could
not be otherwise, as they were the bosom friends of my own. You will
remember that I am now eight-and-twenty, and that I had seen seven of
these years when you were born. Was my first effort in arms never
spoken of in your presence?"
"Never--perhaps it was not a subject for me to hear, if it were in any
manner connected with my parents."
"You are right--that must be the reason it has been kept from your
"Surely, surely, I am old enough to hear it _now_--_you_ will
conceal nothing from me, Bob?"
"If I would, I could not, now. It is too late, Maud. You know the
manner in which Major Meredith died?--"
"He fell in battle, I have suspected," answered the daughter, in a
suppressed, doubtful tone--"for no one has ever directly told me even
"He did, and I was at his side. The French and savages made an assault
on us, about an hour earlier than this, and our two fathers rushed to
the pickets to repel it--I was a reckless boy, anxious even at that
tender age to see a fray, and was at their side. Your father was one of
the first that fell; but Joyce and _our_ father beat the Indians
back from his body, and saved it from mutilation. Your mother was
buried in the same grave, and then you came to us, where our have been
Maud's tears flowed fast, and yet it was not so much in grief as in a
gush of tenderness she could hardly explain to herself. Robert
Willoughby understood her emotions, and perceived that he might
"I was old enough to remember both your parents well--I was a
favourite, I believe, with, certainly was much petted by, both--I
remember your birth, Maud, and was suffered to carry you in my arms,
ere you were a week old."
"Then you have known me for an impostor from the beginning, Bob--must
have often thought of me as such!"
"I have known you for the daughter of Lewellen Meredith, certainly; and
not for a world would I have you the real child of Hugh Willoughby--"
"Bob!" exclaimed Maud, her heart beating violently, a rush of feeling
nearly overcoming her, in which alarm, consciousness, her own secret,
dread of something wrong, and a confused glimpse of the truth, were all
so blended, as nearly to deprive her, for the moment, of the use of her
It is not easy to say precisely what would have followed this tolerably
explicit insight into the state of the young man's feelings, had not an
outcry on the lawn given the major notice that his presence was needed
below. With a few words of encouragement to Maud, first taking the
precaution to extinguish the lamp, lest its light should expose her to
a shot in passing some of the open loops, he sprang towards the stairs,
and was at his post again, literally within a minute. Nor was he a
moment too soon. The alarm was general, and it was understood an
assault was momentarily expected.
The situation of Robert Willoughby was now tantalizing in the extreme.
Ignorant of what was going on in front, he saw no enemy in the rear to
oppose, and was condemned to inaction, at a moment when he felt that,
by training, years, affinity to the master of the place, and all the
usual considerations, he ought to be in front, opposed to the enemy. It
is probable he would have forgotten his many cautions to keep close,
had not Maud appeared in the library, and implored him to remain
concealed, at least until there was the certainty his presence was
At that instant, every feeling but those connected with the danger, was
in a degree forgotten. Still, Willoughby had enough consideration for
Maud to insist on her joining her mother and Beulah, in the portion of
the building where the absence of external windows rendered their
security complete, so long as the foe could be kept without the
palisades. In this he succeeded, but not until he had promised, again
and again, to be cautious in not exposing himself at any of the
windows, the day having now fairly dawned, and particularly not to let
it be known in the Hut that he was present until it became
The major felt relieved when Maud had left him. For her, he had no
longer any immediate apprehensions, and he turned all his faculties to
the sounds of the assault which he supposed to be going on in front. To
his surprise, however, no discharges of fire-arms succeeded; and even
the cries, and orders, and calling from point to point, that are a
little apt to succeed an alarm in an irregular garrison, had entirely
ceased; and it became doubtful whether the whole commotion did not
proceed from a false alarm. The Smashes, in particular, whose
vociferations for the first few minutes had been of a very decided
kind, were now mute; and the exclamations of the women and children had
Major Willoughby was too good a soldier to abandon his post without
orders, though bitterly did he regret the facility with which he had
consented to accept so inconsiderable a command. He so far disregarded
his instructions, however, as to place his whole person before a
window, in order to reconnoitre; for it was now broad daylight, though
the sun had not yet risen. Nothing rewarded this careless exposure; and
then it flashed upon his mind that, as the commander of a separate
detachment, he had a perfect right to employ any of his immediate
subordinates, either as messengers or scouts. His choice of an agent
was somewhat limited, it is true, lying between Mike and the Plinys;
after a moment of reflection, he determined to choose the former.
Mike was duly relieved from his station at the door, the younger Pliny
being substituted for him, and he was led into the library. Here he
received hasty but clear orders from the major how he was to proceed,
and was thrust, rather than conducted from the room, in his superior's
haste to hear the tidings. Three or four minutes might have elapsed,
when an irregular volley of musketry was heard in front; then succeeded
an answering discharge, which sounded smothered and distant. A single
musket came from the garrison a minute later, and then Mike rushed into
the library, his eyes dilated with a sort of wild delight, dragging
rather than carrying his piece after him.
"The news!" exclaimed the major, as soon as he got a glimpse of his
messenger. "What mean these volleys, and how comes on my father in
"Is it what do they mane?" answered Mike. "Well, there's but one maning
to powther and ball, and that's far more sarious than shillelah wor-r-
k. If the rapscallions didn't fire a whole plathoon, as serjeant Joyce
calls it, right at the Knoll, my name is not Michael O'Hearn, or my
nature one that dales in giving back as good as I get."
"But the volley came first from the house--why did my father order his
people to make the first discharge?"
"For the same r'ason that he didn't. Och! there was a big frown on his
f'atures, when he heard the rifles and muskets; and Mr. Woods never
pr'ached more to the purpose than the serjeant himself, ag'in that
same. But to think of them rapscallions answering a fire that was ag'in
orders! Not a word did his honour say about shooting any of them, and
they just pulled their triggers on the house all the same as if it had
been logs growing in senseless and uninhabited trees, instead of a
rational and well p'apled abode. Och! arn't they vagabonds!"
"If you do not wish to drive me mad, man, tell me clearly what has
past, that I may understand you."
"Is it understand that's wanting?--Lord, yer honour, if ye can
understand that Misther Strhides, that's yon, ye'll be a wise man. He
calls hisself a 'son of the poor'atin's,' and poor 'ating it must have
been, in the counthry of his faders, to have produced so lane and
skinny a baste as that same. The orders was as partic'lar as tongue of
man could utter, and what good will it all do?--Ye're not to fire, says
serjeant Joyce, till ye all hear the wor-r-d; and the divil of a wor-r-
d did they wait for; but blaze away did they, jist becaase a knot of
savages comes on to them rocks ag'in, where they had possession all
yesterday afthernoon; and sure it is common enough to breakfast where a
"You mean to say that the Indians have reappeared on the rocks, and
that some of Strides's men fired at them, without orders?--Is that the
history of the affair?"
"It's jist that, majjor; and little good, or little har-r-m, did it do.
Joel, and his poor'atin's, blazed away at 'em, as if they had been so
many Christians--and 'twould have done yer heart good to have heard the
serjeant belabour them with hard wor-r-ds, for their throuble. There's
none of the poor'atin' family in the serjeant, who's a mighty man wid
"And the savages returned the volley--which explains the distant
discharge I heard."
"Anybody can see, majjor, that ye're yer father's son, and a souldier
bor-r-n. Och! who would of t'ought of that, but one bred and bor-r-n in
the army? Yes; the savages sent back as good as they got, which was
jist not'in' at all, seem' that no one is har-r-m'd."
"And the single piece that followed--there was one discharge, by
Mike opened his mouth with a grin that might have put either of the
Plinys to shame, it being rather a favourite theory with the
descendants of the puritans--or "poor'atin's," as the county Leitrim-
man called Joel and his set--that the Irishman was more than a match
for any son of Ham at the Knoll, in the way of capacity about this
portion of the human countenance. The major saw that there was a good
deal of self-felicitation in the expression of Mike's visage, and he
demanded an explanation in more direct terms.
"'Twas I did it, majjor, and 'twas as well fired a piece as ye've ever
hear-r-d in the king's sarvice. Divil bur-r-n me, if I lets Joel get
any such advantage over me, as to have a whole battle to himself. No--
no--as soon as I smelt his Yankee powther, and could get my own musket
cock'd, and pointed out of the forthifications, I lets 'em have it, as
if it had been so much breakfast ready cooked to their hands. 'Twas
well pointed, too; for I'm not the man to shoot into a fri'nd's
"And you broke the orders for a reason no better than the fact that
Strides had broken them before?"
"Divil a bit, majjor--Joel had _broken_ the orders, ye see and
that settled the matter. The thing that is once broken is broken, and
wor-r-ds can't mend it, any more than for bearin' to fire a gun will
By dint of cross-questioning, Robert Willoughby finally succeeded in
getting something like an outline of the truth from Mike. The simple
facts were, that the Indians had taken possession of their old bivouac,
as soon as the day dawned, and had commenced their preparations for
breakfast, when Joel, the miller, and a few of that set, in a paroxysm
of valour, had discharged a harmless volley at them; the distance
rendering the attempt futile. This fire had been partially returned,
the whole concluding with the _finale_ from the Irishman's gun, as
has been related. As it was now too light to apprehend a surprise, and
the ground in front of the palisade had no very dangerous covers,
Robert Willoughby was emboldened to send one of the Plinys to request
an interview with his father. In a few minutes the latter appeared,
accompanied by Mr. Woods.
"The same party has reappeared, and seems disposed to occupy its old
position near the mill," said the captain, in answer to his son's
inquiries. "It is difficult to say what the fellows have in view; and
there are moments when I think there are more or less whites among
them. I suggested as much to Strides, chaplain; and I thought the
fellow appeared to receive the notion as if he thought it might be
"Joel is a little of an enigma to me, captain Willoughby," returned the
chaplain; "sometimes seizing an idea like a cat pouncing upon a rat,
and then coquetting with it, as the same cat will play with a mouse,
when it has no appetite for food."
"Och! he's a precious poor'atin'!" growled Mike, from his corner of the
"If whites are among the savages, why should they not make themselves
known?" demanded Robert Willoughby. "Your character, sir, is no secret;
and they must be acquainted with their own errand here."
"I will send for Strides, and get his opinion a little more freely,"
answered the captain, after a moment of deliberation. "You will
withdraw, Bob; though, by leaving your door a little ajar, the
conversation will reach you; and prevent the necessity of a
As Robert Willoughby was not unwilling to hear what the overseer might
have to say in the present state of things, he did not hesitate about
complying, withdrawing into his own room as requested, and leaving the
door ajar, in a way to prevent suspicion of his presence, as far as
possible. But, Joel Strides, like all bad men, ever suspected the
worst. The innocent and pure of mind alone are without distrust; while
one constituted morally, like the overseer, never permitted his
thoughts to remain in the tranquillity that is a fruit of confidence.
Conscious of his own evil intentions, his very nature put on armour
against the same species of machinations in others, as the hedge-hog
rolls himself into a ball, and thrusts out his quills, at the sight of
the dog. Had not captain Willoughby been one of those who are slow to
see evil, he might have detected something wrong in Joel's feelings, by
the very first glance he cast about him, on entering the library.
In point of fact, Strides' thoughts had not been idle since the
rencontre of the previous night. Inquisitive, and under none of the
usual restraints of delicacy, he had already probed all he dared
approach on the subject; and, by this time, had become perfectly
assured that there was some mystery about the unknown individual whom
he had met in his master's company. To own the truth, Joel did not
suspect that major Willoughby had again ventured so far into the lion's
den; but he fancied that some secret agent of the crown was at the Hut,
and that the circumstance offered a fair opening for helping the
captain down the ladder of public favour, and to push himself up a few
of its rounds. He was not sorry, therefore, to be summoned to this
conference, hoping it might lead to some opening for farther
"Sit down, Strides"--said captain Willoughby, motioning towards a chair
so distant from the open door of the bed-room, and so placed as to
remove the danger of too close a proximity--"Sit down--I wish to
consult you about the state of things towards the mills. To me it seems
as If there were more pale-faces than red-skins among our visitors."
"That's not onlikely, captain--the people has got to be greatly given
to paintin' and imitatin', sin' the hatchet has been dug up ag'in the
British. The tea-boys were all in Indian fashion."
"True; but, why should white men assume such a disguise to come to the
Knoll? I am not conscious of having an enemy on earth who could
meditate harm to me or mine."
Alas! poor captain. That a man at sixty should yet have to learn that
the honest, and fair-dealing, and plain-dealing, and affluent--for
captain Willoughby was affluent in the eyes of those around him--that
such a man should imagine he was without enemies, was to infer that the
Spirit of Darkness had ceased to exercise his functions among men. Joel
knew better, though he did not perceive any necessity, just then, for
letting the fact reach the ears of the party principally concerned.
"A body might s'pose the captain was pop'lar, if any man is pop'lar,"
answered the overseer; "nor do I know that visiters in paint betoken
onpopularity to a person in these times more than another. May I ask
why the captain consaits these Injins a'n't Injins? To me, they have a
desperate savage look, though I a'n't much accustomed to red skin
"Their movements are too open, and yet too uncertain, for warriors of
the tribes. I think a savage, by this time, would have made up his mind
to act as friend or foe."
Joel seemed struck with the idea; and the expression of his
countenance, which on entering had been wily, distrustful and prying,
suddenly changed to that of deep reflection.
"Has the captain seen anything else, partic'lar, to confirm this idee?"
"Their encampment, careless manner of moving, and unguarded exposure of
their persons, are all against their being Indians."
"The messenger they sent across the meadow, yesterday, _seemed_ to
me to be a Mohawk?"
"He was. Of _his_ being a real red-skin there can be no question.
But he could neither speak nor understand English. The little that
passed between us was in Low Dutch. Our dialogue was short; for,
apprehensive of treachery, I brought it to a close sooner than I might
otherwise have done."
"Yes; treachery is a cruel thing," observed the conscientious Joel; "a
man can't be too strongly on his guard ag'in it. Does the captain
ra'ally calcilate on defending the house, should a serious attempt be
brought forward for the day?"
"Do I! That is an extraordinary question, Mr. Strides. Why have I built
in this mode, if I have no such intention?--why palisaded?--why armed
and garrisoned, if not in earnest?"
"I s'posed all this might have been done to prevent a surprise, but not
in any hope of standin' a siege. I should be sorry to see all our women
and children shut up under one roof, if the inimy came ag'in us, in
airnest, with fire and sword."
"And I should be sorry to see them anywhere else. But, this is losing
time. My object in sending for you, Joel, was to learn your opinion
about the true character of our visiters. Have you any opinion, or
information to give me, on that point?"
Joel placed his elbow on his knee, and his chin in the palm of his
hand, and pondered on what had been suggested, with seeming good-will,
and great earnestness.
"If any one could be found venturesome enough to go out with a flag,"
he at length remarked, "the whole truth might be come at, in a few
"And who shall I employ? Cheerfully would I go myself, were such a step
military, or at all excusable in one in my situation."
"If the likes of myself will sarve yer honour's turn," put in Mike,
promptly, and yet with sufficient diffidence as regarded his views of
his own qualifications--"there'll be nobody to gainsay that same; and
it isn't wilcome that I nade tell you, ye'll be to use me as ye would
yer own property."
"I hardly think Mike would answer," observed Joel, not altogether
without a sneer. "He scurce knows an Indian from a white man; when it
comes to the paint, it would throw him into dreadful confusion."
"If ye thinks that I am to be made to believe in any more Ould Nicks,
Misther Strhides, then ye're making a mistake in my nature. Let but the
captain say the word, and I'll go to the mill and bring in a grist of
them same, or l'ave my own body for toll."
"I do not doubt you in the least, Mike," captain Willoughby mildly
observed; "but there will be no occasion, just now, of your running any
such risks. I shall be able to find other truce-bearers."
"It seems the captain has his man in view," Joel said, keenly eyeing
his master. "Perhaps 'tis the same I saw out with him last night.
That's a reliable person, I do s'pose."
"You have hit the nail on the head. It was the man who was out last
night, at the same time I was out myself, and his name is Joel
"The captain's a little musical, this morning--waal--if go I must, as
there was two on us out, let us go to these savages together. I saw
enough of _that_ man, to know he is reliable; and if he'll go,
"Agreed"--said Robert Willoughby, stepping into the library--"I take
you at your word, Mr. Strides; you and I will run what risks there may
be, in order to relieve this family from its present alarming state."
The captain was astounded, though he knew not whether to be displeased
or to rejoice. As for Mike, his countenance expressed great
dissatisfaction; for he ever fancied things were going wrong so long as
Joel obtained his wishes. Strides, himself, threw a keen glance at the
stranger, recognised him at a glance, and had sufficient self-command
to conceal his discovery, though taken completely by surprise. The
presence of the major, however, immediately removed all his objections
to the proposed expedition; since, should the party prove friendly to
the Americans, he would be safe on his own account; or, should it prove
the reverse, a king's officer could not fail to be a sufficient
"The gentleman's a total stranger to me," Joel hypocritically resumed;
"but as the captain has belief in him, I must have the same. I am ready
to do the ar'nd, therefore, as soon as it is agreeable."
"This is well, captain Willoughby," put in the major, in order to
anticipate any objections from his father; "and the sooner a thing of
this sort is done, the better will it be for all concerned. I am ready
to proceed this instant; and I take it this worthy man--I think you
called him Strides--is quite as willing."
Joel signified his assent; and the captain, perceiving no means of
retreat, was fain to yield. He took the major into the bed-room,
however, and held a minute's private discourse, when he returned, and
bade the two go forth together.
"Your companion has his instructions, Joel," the captain observed, as
they left the library together; "and you will follow his advice. Show
the white flag as soon as you quit the gate; if they are true warriors,
it must be respected."
Robert Willoughby was too intent on business, and too fearful of the
reappearance and reproachful looks of Maud, to delay. He had passed the
court, and was at the outer gate, before any of the garrison even noted
his appearance among them. Here, indeed, the father's heart felt a
pang; and, but for his military pride, the captain would gladly have
recalled his consent. It was too late, however; and, squeezing his
hand, he suffered his son to pass outward. Joel followed steadily, as
to appearances, though not without misgivings as to what might be the
consequences to himself and his growing family.
"I worship not the sun at noon,
The wandering stars, the changing moon,
The wind, the flood, the flame;
I will not bow the votive knee
To wisdom, virtue, liberty;
There is no god, but God for me,
Jehovah is his name."
So sudden and unexpected had been the passage of Robert Willoughby
through the court, and among the men on post without the inner gates,
that no one recognised his person. A few saw that a stranger was in
their midst; but, under his disguise, no one was quick enough of eye
and thought to ascertain who that stranger was. The little white flag
that they displayed, denoted the errand of the messengers; the rest was
left to conjecture.
As soon as captain Willoughby ascertained that the alarm of the morning
was not likely to lead to any immediate results, he had dismissed all
the men, with the exception of a small guard, that was stationed near
the outer gait, under the immediate orders of serjeant Joyce. The
latter was one of those soldiers who view the details of the profession
as forming its great essentials; and when he saw his commander about to
direct a _sortie_, it formed his pride not to ask questions, and
Back to Full Books