James Fenimore Cooper
Part 7 out of 9
been sent round to the beds of the fresh men to call the guard. It was
not long, however, before the old man was seen hastening towards the
spot where Joyce had bid him come.
"The Lord ha' maircy on us, and on a' wretched sinners!" exclaimed
Jamie, as soon as near enough to be heard without raising his voice on
too high a key--"there are just the beds of the three Connecticut lads
that were to come into the laird's guard, as empty as a robin's nest
fra' which the yang ha' flown!"
"Do you mean, Jamie, that the boys have deserted?"
"It's just that; and no need of ca'ing it by anither name. The Hoose o'
Hanover wad seem to have put the de'il in a' the lads, women and
children included, and to have raised up a spirit o' disaffection, that
is fast leaving us to carry on this terrible warfare with our ain
hearts and bodies."
"With your honour's permission," said the serjeant, "I would ask
corporal Allen if the deserters have gone off with their arms and
"Airms? Ay, and legs, and a' belonging to 'em, with mair that is the
lawfu' property of the laird. Not so much as a flint is left behind."
"Then we may count on seeing all the fellows in the enemy's ranks," the
serjeant quietly remarked, helping himself to the tobacco from which he
had refrained throughout the previous hours of the night, Joyce being
too much of a _martinet_ to smoke or chew on duty. "It's up-hill
work, your honour, when every deserter counts two, in this manner. The
civil wars, however, are remarkable for this sort of wheeling, and
facing to the right-about; the same man often changing his colours two
or three times in a campaign."
Captain Willoughby received the news of this addition to his ill luck
with an air of military stoicism, though he felt, in reality, more like
a father and a husband on the occasion than like a hero. Accustomed to
self-command, he succeeded in concealing the extent of his uneasiness,
while he immediately set about inquiring into the extent of the evil.
"Joel is to join my watch," he said, "and _he_ may throw some
light on this affair. Let us call him, at once, for a few minutes may
prove of importance."
Even while speaking, the captain crossed the court, accompanied by the
serjeant and mason; and, ceremony being little attended to on such
occasions, they all entered the quarters of Strides, in a body. The
place was empty! Man, woman, and children had abandoned the spot,
seemingly in a body; and this, too, far from empty-handed. The manner
in which the room had been stripped, indeed, was the first fact which
induced the captain to believe that a man so much and so long trusted
would desert him in a strait so serious. There could be no mistake;
and, for a moment, the husband and father felt such a sinking of the
heart as would be apt to follow the sudden conviction that his enemies
"Let us look further, Joyce," he said, "and ascertain the extent of the
evil at once."
"This is a very bad example, your honour, that corporal Strides has set
the men, and we may expect to hear of more desertions. A non-
commissioned officer should have had too much pride for this! I have
always remarked, sir, in the army, that when a non-commissioned officer
left his colours, he was pretty certain to carry off a platoon with
The search justified this opinion of the serjeant. A complete
examination of the quarters of all the men having been made, it was
ascertained that every white man in the Hut, the serjeant, Jamie Allen,
and a young New England labourer of the name of Blodget excepted, had
abandoned the place. Every man had carried off with him his arms and
ammunition, leaving the rooms as naked of defence as they had been
before they were occupied. Women and children, too, were all gone,
proving that the flights had been made deliberately, and with concert.
This left the Hut to be defended by its owner, the serjeant, the two
Plinys and a young descendant of the same colour, Jamie Allen, Blodget
and Mike, who had not yet been relieved from his ward over the Indian;
eight men in all, who might possibly receive some assistance from the
four black females in the kitchen.
The captain examined this small array of force, every man but Mike
being up and in the line, with a saddened countenance; for he
remembered what a different appearance it made only the previous day,
when he had his gallant son too, with him, a host in himself. It added
mortification to regret, also, when he remembered that this great loss
had been made without a single blow having been struck in defence of
his precious family, and his lawful rights.
"We must close the gate of the court, and bar it at once, Joyce," the
captain said, as soon as fully apprised of the true state of his force.
"It will be quite sufficient if we make good the house, with this
handful of men; giving up all hope of doing anything with the stockade.
It is the facility offered by the open gateway that has led to all this
"I don't know, your honour. When desertion once fairly gets into a
man's mind, it's wonderful the means he will find to bring about his
wishes. Corporal Strides, no doubt has passed his family and his kit
through both gates; for, being in authority, our people were hardly
disciplined enough to understand the difference between a non-
commissioned officer _on_ guard and one _off_ guard; but,
there were a hundred ways to mischief, even had there been no gate.
Jamie, take one of the blacks, and bar the inner gate. What is your
honour's pleasure next?"
"I wish my mind were at ease on the subject of the Tuscarora. With
Nick's assistance as a runner and spy, and even as a sharp-shooter, we
should be vastly stronger. See to the gate yourself, serjeant, then
follow me to Mr. Woods' room."
This was done, the captain waiting for his companion on the threshold
of the outer door. Ascending the narrow stairs, they were soon on the
floor above, and were happy to find the door of the Tuscarora's prison
fastened without, as they had left it; this precaution having been
taken as a salutary assistance to O'Hearn's sagacity. Undoing these
fastenings, the serjeant stepped aside to allow his superior to precede
him, as became their respective stations. The captain advanced, holding
the lantern before him, and found an empty room. Both Nick and Mike
were gone, though it was not easy to discover by what means they had
quitted the place. The door was secure, the windows were down, and the
chimney was too small to allow of the passage of a human body. The
defection of the Irishman caused the captain great pain, while it
produced surprise even in the serjeant. Mike's fidelity had been
thought of proof; and, for an instant, the master of the place was
disposed to believe some evil spirit had been at work to corrupt his
"This is more than I could have expected, Joyce!" he said, as much in
sorrow as in anger. "I should have as soon looked for the desertion of
old Pliny as that of Mike!"
"It is extr'or'nary, sir; but one is never safe without in-and-in
discipline. A drill a week, and that only for an hour or two of a
Saturday afternoon, captain Willoughby, may make a sort of country
militia, but it will do nothing for the field. 'Talk of enlisting men
for a year, serjeant Joyce,' said old colonel Flanker to me, one day in
the last war--'why it will take a year to teach a soldier how to eat.
Your silly fellows in the provincial assemblies fancy because a man has
teeth, and a stomach, and an appetite, that he knows how to _eat_;
but eating is an _art_, serjeant; and military eating above all
other branches of it; and I maintain a soldier can no more learn how to
eat, as a soldier, the colonel meant, your honour, than he can learn to
plan a campaign by going through the manual exercise.' For my part,
captain Willoughby, I have always thought it took a man his first five
years' enlistment to learn how to obey orders."
"I had thought that Irishman's heart in the right place, Joyce, and
counted as much on him as I did on you!"
"On me, captain Willoughby!" answered the serjeant, in a tone of
mortification. "I should think your honour would have made some
difference between your old orderly--a man who had served thirty years
in your own regiment, and most of the time in your own company, and a
bit of a wild Hibernian of only ten years' acquaintance, and he a man
who never saw a battalion paraded for real service!"
"I see my error now, Joyce; but Michael had so much blundering honesty
about him, or seemed to have, that I have been his dupe. It is too
late, however, to repine; the fellow is gone; it only remains to
ascertain the manner of his flight. May not Joel have undone the
fastenings of the door, and let him and the Indian escape together, in
common with the rest of the deserters?"
"I secured that door, sir, with my own hands, in a military manner, and
know that it was found as I left it. The Rev. Mr. Woods' bed seems to
have been disturbed; perhaps that may furnish a clue."
A clue the bed did furnish, and it solved the problem. The bed-cord was
removed, and both the sheets and one of the blankets were missing. This
directed the inquiry to the windows, one of which was not closed
entirely. A chimney stood near the side of this window, and by its aid
it was not difficult to reach the ridge of the roof. On the inner side
of the roof was the staging, or walk, already mentioned; and, once on
that, a person could make the circuit of the entire roof, in perfect
safety. Joyce mounted to the ridge, followed by the captain, and gained
the staging with a little effort, whence they proceeded round the
buildings to ascertain if the rope was not yet hanging over the
exterior, as a means of descent. It was found as expected, and
withdrawn lest it might be used to introduce enemies within the house.
These discoveries put the matter of Michael's delinquency at rest. He
had clearly gone off with his prisoner, and might next be looked for in
the ranks of the besiegers. The conviction of this truth gave the
captain more than uneasiness; it caused him pain, for the county
Leitrim-man had been a favourite with the whole family, and most
especially with his daughter Maud.
"I do not think you and the blacks will leave me, Joyce," he observed,
as the serjeant and himself descended, by the common passage, to the
court. "On _you_ I can rely, as I would rely on my noble son, were
he with me at this moment."
"I beg your honour's pardon--few words tell best for a man, deeds being
his duty--but, if your honour will have the condescension just to issue
your orders, the manner in which they shall be obeyed will tell the
"I am satisfied of that, serjeant; we must put shoulder to shoulder,
and die in the breach, should it be necessary, before we give up the
By this time the two old soldiers were again in the court, where they
found all their remaining force, of the male sex; the men being too
uneasy, indeed, to think of going to their pallets, until better
assured of their safety. Captain Willoughby ordered Joyce to draw them
up in line again, when he addressed them once more in person.
"My friends," the captain commenced, "there would be little use in
attempting to conceal from you our real situation; nor would it be
strictly honest. You see here every man on whom I can now depend for
the defence of my fireside and family. Mike has gone with the rest, and
the Indian has escaped in his company. You can make up your own
opinions of our chances of success, but my resolution is formed. Before
I open a gate to the merciless wretches without, who are worse than the
savages of the wilderness, possessing all their bad and none of their
redeeming qualities, it is my determination to be buried under the
ruins of this dwelling. But you are not bound to imitate my example;
and, if any man among you, black or white, regrets being here at this
moment, he shall still have arms and ammunition, and food given him,
the gates shall be opened and he may go freely to seek his safety in
the forest. For God's sake let there be no more desertions; he that
wishes to quit me, may now quit me unmolested; but, after this moment,
martial law will _be_, enforced, and I shall give orders to shoot
down any man detected in treachery, as I would shoot down a vicious
This address was heard in profound silence. No man stirred, nor did any
"Blodget," continued the captain, "you have been with me a shorter time
than any other person present, and cannot feel the same attachment to
me and mine as the rest. You are the only native American among us,
Joyce excepted--for we count the blacks as nothing in respect to
country--may feel that I am an Englishman born, as I fear has been the
case with the rest of your friends. Perhaps I ought not to ask you to
remain. Take your arms, then, and make the best of your way to the
settlements. Should you reach Albany, you might even serve me
essentially by delivering a letter I will confide to you, and which
will bring us effectual succour."
The young man did not answer, though his fingers worked on the barrel
of his musket, and he shifted his weight, from leg to leg, like one
whose inward feelings were moved.
"I believe I understand you, captain Willoughby," he said, at length,
"though I think you don't understand me. I know you old country people
think meanly of us new country people, but I suppose that's in the
nature of things; then, I allow Joel Strides' conduct has been such as
to give you reason to judge us harshly. But there is a difference among
_us_, as well as among the English; and some of us--won't say I am
such a man, but actions speak louder than words, and all will be known
in the end--but _some_ of us will be found true to our bargains,
as well as other men."
"Bravely answered, my lad," cried the serjeant, heartily, and looking
round at his commander with exultation, to congratulate him on having
such a follower--"This is a man who will obey orders through thick and
thin, I'll answer for it, your honour. Little does he care who's king
or who's governor, so long as he knows his captain and his corps."
"There you are mistaken, serjeant Joyce," the youth observed, firmly.
"I'm for my country, and I'd quit this house in a minute, did I believe
captain Willoughby meant to help the crown. But I have lived long
enough here to know he is at the most neutral; though I think he rather
favours the side of the colonies than that of the crown."
"You have judged rightly, Blodget," observed the captain. "I do not
quite like this declaration of independence, though I can scarce blame
congress for having made it. Of the two, I think the Americans nearest
right, and I now conceive myself to be more of an American than an
Englishman. I wish this to be understood, Joyce."
"Do you, sir?--It's just as your honour pleases. I didn't know which
side it was your pleasure to support, nor does it make any great
difference with most of us. Orders are orders, let them come from king
or colonies. I would take the liberty of recommending, your honour,
that this young man be promoted. Strides' desertion has left a vacancy
among the corporals, and we shall want another for the guard. It would
hardly do to make a nigger a corporal."
"Very well, Joyce, have it as you wish," interrupted the captain, a
little impatiently; for he perceived he had a spirit to deal with in
Blodget that must hold such trifles at their true value. "Let it be
corporal Allen and corporal Blodget in future."
"Do you hear, men?--These are general orders. The relieved guard will
fall out, and try to get a little sleep, as we shall parade again half
an hour before day."
Alas! the relieved guard, like the relief itself, consisted of only two
men, corporal Blodget and Pliny the younger; old Pliny, in virtue of
his household work, being rated as an idler. These five, with the
captain and the serjeant, made the number of the garrison seven, which
was the whole male force that now remained.
Captain Willoughby directed Joyce and his two companions to go to their
pallets, notwithstanding, assuming the charge of the look-out himself,
and profiting by the occasion to make himself better acquainted with
the character of his new corporal than circumstances had hitherto
"For thee they fought, for thee they fell,
And their oath was on thee laid;
To thee the clarions raised their swell,
And the dying warriors pray'd."
The distaste for each other which existed between the people of New
England and those of the adjoining colonies, anterior to the war of the
revolution, is a matter of history. It was this feeling that threw
Schuyler, one of the ablest and best men in the service of his country,
into the shade, a year later than the period of which we are writing.
This feeling was very naturally produced, and, under the circumstances,
was quite likely to be active in a revolution. Although New England and
New York were contiguous territories, a wide difference existed between
their social conditions. Out of the larger towns, there could scarcely
be said to be a gentry at all, in the former; while the latter, a
conquered province, had received the frame-work of the English system,
possessing Lords of the Manor, and divers other of the fragments of the
feudal system. So great was the social equality throughout the interior
of the New England provinces, indeed, as almost to remove the commoner
distinctions of civilised associations, bringing all classes
surprisingly near the same level, with the exceptions of the very low,
or some rare instance of an individual who was raised above his
neighbours by unusual wealth, aided perhaps by the accidents of birth,
and the advantages of education.
The results of such a state of society are easily traced. Habit had
taken the place of principles, and a people accustomed to see even
questions of domestic discipline referred, either to the church or to
public sentiment, and who knew few or none of the ordinary distinctions
of social intercourse, submitted to the usages of other conditions of
society, with singular distaste and stubborn reluctance. The native of
New England deferred singularly to great wealth, in 1776 as he is known
to defer to it to-day; but it was opposed to all his habits and
prejudices to defer to social station. Unused to intercourse with what
was then called the great world of the provinces, he knew not how to
appreciate its manners or opinions; and, as is usual with the
provincial, he affected to despise that which he neither practised nor
understood. This, at once, indisposed him to acknowledge the
distinctions of classes; and, when accident threw him into the
adjoining province, he became marked, at once, for decrying the usages
he encountered, comparing them, with singular self-felicitation, to
those he had left behind him; sometimes with justice beyond a doubt,
but oftener in provincial ignorance and narrow bigotry.
A similar state of things, on a larger scale, has been witnessed, more
especially in western New York, since the peace of '83; the great
inroads of emigrants from the New England states having almost
converted that district of country into an eastern colony. Men of the
world, while they admit how much has been gained in activity, available
intelligence of the practical school, and enterprise, regret that the
fusion has been quite so rapid and so complete; it being apparently a
law of nature that nothing precious that comes of man shall be enjoyed
altogether without alloy.
The condition in which captain Willoughby was now placed, might have
been traced to causes connected with the feelings and habits above
alluded to. It was distasteful to Joel Strides, and one or two of his
associates, to see a social chasm as wide as that which actually
existed between the family of the proprietor of the Knoll and his own,
growing no narrower; and an active cupidity, with the hopes of
confiscations, or an abandonment of the estate, came in aid of this
rankling jealousy of station; the most uneasy, as it is the meanest of
all our vices. Utterly incapable of appreciating the width of that void
which separates the gentleman from the man of coarse feelings and
illiterate vulgarity, he began to preach that doctrine of exaggerated
and mistaken equality which says "one man is as good as another," a
doctrine that is nowhere engrafted even on the most democratic of our
institutions to-day, since it would totally supersede the elections,
and leave us to draw lots for public trusts, as men are drawn for
juries. On ordinary occasions, the malignant machinations of Strides
would probably have led to no results; but, aided by the opinions and
temper of the times, he had no great difficulty in undermining his
master's popularity, by incessant and well-digested appeals to the envy
and cupidity of his companions. The probity, liberality, and manly
sincerity of captain Willoughby, often counteracted his schemes, it is
true; but, as even the stone yields to constant attrition, so did Joel
finally succeed in overcoming the influence of these high qualities, by
dint of perseverance, and cunning, not a little aided by certain
auxiliaries freely obtained from the Father of Lies.
As our tale proceeds, Joel's connection with the late movement will
become more apparent, and we prefer leaving the remainder of the
explanations to take their proper places in the course of the
Joyce was so completely a matter of drill, that he was in a sound sleep
three minutes after he had lain down, the negro who belonged to his
guard imitating his industry in this particular with equal coolness. As
for the thoughtful Scotchman, Jamie Allen, sleep and he were strangers
that night. To own the truth, the disaffection of Mike not only
surprised, but it disappointed him. He remained in the court,
therefore, conversing on the subject with the "laird," after his
companions had fallen asleep.
"I wad na hae' thought that o' Michael," he said, "for the man had an
honest way with him, and was so seeming valiant, that I could na hae'
supposed him capable of proving a desairter. Mony's the time that I've
heard him swear--for Michael was an awfu' hand at that vice, when his
betters were no near to rebuke him--but often has he swore that Madam,
and her winsome daughters, were the pride of his een; ay, and their
"The poor fellow has yielded to my unlucky fortune, Jamie," returned
the captain, "and I sometimes think it were better had you all imitated
"Begging pairdon, captain Willoughby, for the familiarity, but ye're
just wrang, fra' beginning to end, in the supposition. No man with a
hairt in his body wad desairt ye in a time like this, and no mair 's to
be said in the matter. Nor do I think that luuk has had anything to do
with Michael's deficiency, unless ye ca' it luuk to be born and
edicated in a misguiding religion. Michael's catholicity is at the
bottom of his backsliding, ye'll find, if ye look closely into the
"I do not see how that is to be made out, Allen; all sects of the
Christian religion, I believe, teaching us to abide by our engagements,
and to perform our duties."
"Na doubt--na doubt, 'squire Willoughby--there's a seeming desire to
teach as much in a' churches; but ye'll no deny that the creatur' o'
Rome wears a mask, and that catholicity is, at the best, but a wicked
feature to enter into the worship of God."
"Catholicism, Jamie, means adherence to the catholic church--"
"Just that--just that"--interrupted the Scot, eagerly--and it's that o'
which I complain. All protestants--wather fully disposed, or ainly
half-disposed, as may be the case with the English kirk--all
protestants agree in condemning the varry word catholic, which is a
sign and a symbol of the foul woman o' Babylon."
"Then, Jamie, they agree in condemning what they don't understand. I
should be sorry to think I am not a member of the catholic church
Yersal'!--No, captain Willoughby, ye're no catholic, though you are a
bit akin to it, perhaps. I know that Mr. Woods, that's now in the hands
o' the savages, prays for the catholics, and professes to believe in
what he ca's the 'Holy Catholic Kirk;' but, then, I've always supposed
that was in the way o' Christian charity like; for one is obleeged to
use decent language, ye'll be acknowledging, sir, in the pulpit, if
it's only for appearance's sake."
"Well--well--Jamie; a more fitting occasion may occur for discussing
matters of this nature, and we will postpone the subject to another
time. I may have need of your services an hour or two hence, and it
will be well for every man to come to the work fresh and clear-headed.
Go to your pallet then, and expect an early call."
The mason was not a man to oppose such an order coming from the
'laird;' and he withdrew, leaving the captain standing in the centre of
the court quite alone. We say alone, for young Blodget had ascended to
the gallery or staging that led around the inner sides of the roofs,
while the negro on guard was stationed at the gateway, as the only
point where the Hut could be possibly carried by a _coup-de-main._
As the first of these positions commanded the best exterior view from
the inside of the buildings, the captain mounted the stairs he had so
recently descended, and joined the young Rhode Islander at his post.
The night was star-light, but the elevation at which the two watchers
were placed, was unfavourable to catching glimpses of any lurking
enemy. The height confounded objects with the ground on which they were
placed, though Blodget told the captain he did not think a man could
cross the palisades without his being seen. By moving along the staging
on the southern side of the quadrangle, he could keep a tolerable look-
out, on the front and two flanks, at the same time. Still, this duty
could not be performed without considerable risk, as the head and
shoulders of a man moving along the ridge of the building would be
almost certain to attract the eye of any Indian without. This was the
first circumstance that the captain remarked on joining his companion,
and gratitude induced him to point it out, in order that the other
might, in a degree at least, avoid the danger.
"I suppose, Blodget, this is the first of your service," said captain
Willoughby, "and it is not easy to impress on a young man the
importance of unceasing vigilance against savage artifices."
"I admit the truth of all you say, sir," answered Blodget, "though I do
not believe any attempt will be made on the house, until the other side
has sent in what the serjeant calls another flag."
"What reason have you for supposing this?" asked the captain, in a
"It seems unreasonable for men to risk their lives when an easier way
to conquest may seem open to them. That is all I meant, captain
"I believe I understand you, Blodget. You think Joel and his friends
have succeeded so well in drawing off my men, that they may be inclined
to wait a little, in order to ascertain if further advantages may not
be obtained in the same way."
Blodget confessed that he had some such thoughts in his mind, while, at
the same time, he declared that he believed the disaffection would go
"It is not easy for it to do so," returned the captain, smiling a
little bitterly, as he remembered how many who had eaten of his bread,
and had been cared for by him, in sickness and adversity, had deserted
him in his need, "unless they persuade my wife and daughters to follow
those who have led the way."
Respect kept Blodget silent for a minute; then uneasiness induced him
"I hope captain Willoughby don't distrust any who now remain with him,"
he said. "If so, I know I must be the person."
"Why you, in particular, young man? With you, surely, have every reason
to be satisfied."
"It cannot be serjeant Joyce, for he will stay until he get your orders
to march," the youth replied, not altogether without humour in his
manner; "and, as for the Scotchman, he is old, and men of his years are
not apt to wait so long, if they intend to be traitors. The negroes all
love you, as if you were their father, and there is no one but me left
to betray you."
"I thank you for this short enumeration of my strength, Blodget, since
it gives me new assurance of my people's fidelity. You I _will_
not distrust; the others I _cannot_, and there is a feeling of
high confidence--What do you see?--why do you lower your piece, and
stand at guard, in this manner?"
"That is a man's form, sir, on the right of the gate, trying to climb
the palisades. I have had my eye on it, for some time, and I feel sure
of my aim."
"Hold an instant, Blodget; let us be certain before we act."
The young man lowered the butt of his piece, waiting patiently and
calmly for his superior to decide. There was a human form visible, sure
enough, and it was seen slowly and cautiously rising until it reached
the summit of the stockade, where it appeared to pause to reconnoitre.
Whether it were a pale-face or a red-skin, it was impossible to
distinguish, though the whole movement left little doubt that an
assailant or a spy was attempting to pass the outer defences.
"We cannot spare that fellow," said the captain, with a little regret
in his manner; "it is more than we can afford. You must bring him down,
Blodget. The instant you have fired, come to the other end of the
stage, where we will watch the result."
This arranged, the captain prudently passed away from the spot, turning
to note the proceedings of his companion, the moment he was at the
opposite angle of the gallery. Blodget was in no haste. He waited until
his aim was certain; then the stillness of the valley was rudely broken
by the sharp report of a rifle, and a flash illumined its obscurity.
The figure fell outward, like a bird shot from its perch, lying in a
ball at the foot of the stockade. Still, no cry or groan gave evidence
of nature surprised by keen and unexpected anguish. At the next instant
Blodget was by captain Willoughby's side. His conduct was a pledge of
fidelity that could not be mistaken, and a warm squeeze of the hand
assured the youth of his superior's approbation.
It was necessary to be cautious, however, and to watch the result with
ceaseless vigilance. Joyce and the men below had taken the alarm, and
the serjeant with his companions were ordered up on the stage
immediately, leaving the negro, alone, to watch the gate. A message was
also sent to the females, to give them confidence, and particularly to
direct the blacks to arm, and to repair to the loops.
All this was done without confusion, and with so little noise as to
prevent those without from understanding what was in progress. Terror
kept the negroes silent, and discipline the others. As every one had
lain down in his or her clothes, it was not a minute before every being
in the Hut was up, and in motion. It is unnecessary to speak of the
mental prayers and conflicting emotions with which Mrs. Willoughby and
her daughters prepared themselves for the struggle; and, yet, even the
beautiful and delicate Maud braced her nerves to meet the emergency of
a frontier assault. As for Beulah, gentle, peaceful, and forgiving as
she was by nature, the care of little Evert aroused all the mother
within her, and something like a frown that betokened resolution was,
for a novelty, seen on her usually placid face.
A moment sufficed to let Joyce and his companions into the state of
affairs. There now being four armed men on the stage, one took each of
the three exposed sides of the buildings to watch, leaving the master
of the house to move from post to post, to listen to suggestions, hear
reports, and communicate orders.
The dark object that lay at the foot of the palisades was pointed out
to the serjeant the instant he was on the stage, and one of his offices
was to observe it, in order to ascertain if it moved, or whether any
attempts were made to carry off the body. The American Indians attach
all the glory or shame of a battle to the acquisition or loss of
scalps, and one of their practices was to remove those who had fallen,
at every hazard, in order to escape the customary mutilation. Some
tribes even believed it disgrace to suffer a dead body to be struck by
the enemy, and many a warrior has lost his life in the effort to save
the senseless corpse of a comrade from this fancied degradation.
As soon as the little stir created in the Hut by the mustering of the
men was over, a stillness as profound as that which had preceded the
alarm reigned around the place. No noise came from the direction of the
mill; no cry, or call, or signal of battle was heard; everything lay in
the quiet of midnight. Half an hour thus passed, when the streak of
light that appeared in the east announced the approach of day.
The twenty minutes that succeeded were filled with intense anxiety. The
slow approach of light gradually brought out object after object in the
little panorama, awakening and removing alike, conjectures and
apprehensions. At first the grey of the palisades became visible; then
the chapel, in its sombre outlines; the skirts of the woods; the
different cabins that lined them; the cattle in the fields, and the
scattering trees. As for Joyce, he kept his gaze fastened on the object
at the foot of the stockade, expecting every instant there would be an
attempt to carry it off.
At length, the light became so strong as to allow the eye to take in
the entire surface of the natural _glacis_ without the defences,
bringing the assurance that no enemy was near. As the ground was
perfectly clear, a few fruit-trees and shrubs on the lawn excepted, and
by changing positions on the stage, these last could now be examined on
all sides, nothing was easier than to make certain of this fact. The
fences, too, were light and open, rendering it impossible for any
ambush or advancing party to shelter itself behind them. In a word,
daylight brought the comfortable assurance to those within the
palisades that another night was passed without bringing an assault.
"We shall escape this morning, I do believe, Joyce," said the captain,
who had laid down his rifle, and no longer felt it necessary to keep
the upper portions of his body concealed behind the roof--"Nothing can
be seen that denotes an intention to attack, and not an enemy is near."
"I will take one more thorough look, your honour," answered the
serjeant, mounting to the ridge of the building, where he obtained the
immaterial advantage of seeing more at the same time, at the risk of
exposing his whole person, should any hostile rifle be in reach of a
bullet--"then we may be certain."
Joyce was a man who stood just six feet in his stockings, and, losing
no part of this stature by his setting up, a better object for a sharp-
shooter could not have been presented than he now offered. The crack of
a rifle soon saluted the ears of the garrison; then followed the
whizzing of the bullet as it came humming through the air towards the
Hut. But the report was so distant as at once to announce that the
piece was discharged from the margin of the forest; a certain evidence
of two important facts; one, that the enemy had fallen back to a cover;
the other, that the house was narrowly watched.
Nothing tries the nerves of a young soldier more than the whizzing of a
distant fire. The slower a bullet or a shot approaches, the more noise
it makes; and, the sound continuing longer than is generally imagined,
the uninitiated are apt to imagine that the dangerous missile is
travelling on an errand directly towards themselves. Space appears
annihilated, and raw hands are often seen to duck at a round shot that
is possibly flying a hundred yards from them.
On the present occasion, the younger Pliny fairly squatted below the
root Jamie thought it prudent to put some of his own masonry, which was
favourably placed in an adjacent chimney for such a purpose, between
him and the spot whence the report proceeded; while even Blodget looked
up into the air, as if he expected to _see_ where the bullet was
going. Captain Willoughby had no thought of the missile he was looking
for the smoke in the skirts of the woods, to note the spot; while
Joyce, with folded arms, stood at rest on the ridge, actually examining
the valley in another direction, certain that a fire so distant could
not be very dangerous.
Jamie's calculation proved a good one. The bullet struck against the
chimney, indented a brick, and fell upon the shingles of the roof.
Joyce descended at the next instant, and he coolly picked up, and kept
tossing the flattened bit of lead in his hand, for the next minute or
two, with the air of a man who seemed unconscious of having it at all.
"The enemy is besieging us, your honour," said Joyce, "but he will not
attack at present. If I might presume to advise, we shall do well to
leave a single sentinel on this stage, since no one can approach the
palisades without being seen, if the man keeps in motion."
"I was thinking of this myself, serjeant; we will first post Blodget
here. We can trust him; and, as the day advances, a-less intelligent
sentinel will answer. At the same time, he must be instructed to keep
an eye in the rear of the Hut, danger often coming from the quarter
All this was done, and the remainder of the men descended to the court.
Captain Willoughby ordered the gate unbarred, when he passed outside,
taking the direction towards the lifeless body, which still lay where
it had fallen, at the foot of the stockades. He was accompanied by
Joyce and Jamie Allen, the latter carrying a spade, it being the
intention to inter the savage as the shortest means of getting rid of a
disagreeable object. Our two old soldiers had none of the sensitiveness
on the subject of exposure that is so apt to disturb the tyro in the
art of war. With sentinels properly posted, they had no apprehensions
of dangers that did not exist, and they moved with confidence and
steadily wherever duty called. Not only was the inner gate opened and
passed, but the outer also, the simple precaution of stationing a man
at the first being the only safeguard taken.
When outside of the palisades, the captain and his companions proceeded
at once towards the body. It was now sunrise, and a rich light was
illuminating the hill-tops, though the direct rays of the luminary had
not yet descended to the valley. There lay the Indian, precisely as he
had fallen, no warrior having interposed to save him from the scalping-
knife. His head had reached the earth first, and the legs and body were
tumbled on it, in a manner to render the form a confused pile of legs
and blanket, rather than a bold savage stretched in the repose of
"Poor fellow!" exclaimed the captain, as the three approached the spot;
"it is to be hoped Blodget's bullet did its commission faithfully, else
the fall must have hurt him sadly."
"By Jove, 'tis nothing but a stuffed soldier!" cried Joyce, rolling the
ingeniously contrived bundle over with his foot; "and here, the lad's
ball has passed directly through its head! This is Injin deviltry, sir;
it has been tried, in order to see whether our sentinels were or were
"To me, Joyce, it seems more like a white man's clumsiness. The fellow
has been made to resemble an Indian, but people of our own colour have
had a hand in the affair."
"Well, sir, let that be as it may, it is lucky our youngster had so
quick, an eye, and so nimble a finger. See, your honour; here is the
pole by which the effigy was raised to the top of the palisades, and
here is the trail on the grass yet, by which his supporter has crept
off. The fellow seems to have scrambled along in a hurry; his trail is
as plain as that of a whole company."
The captain examined the marks left on the grass, and was of opinion
that more than one man had been employed to set up the decoy figure, a
circumstance that seemed probable in itself, when the weight of the
image and the danger of exposure were remembered.--Let that be as it
might, he was rejoiced on reflection that no one was hurt, and he still
retained the hope of being able to come to such an understanding with
his invaders as to supersede the necessity of actual violence.
"At all events, your honour, I will carry the quaker in," said Joyce,
tossing the stuffed figure on a shoulder. "He do to man the quaker gun
at least, and may be of use in frightening some one of the other side,
more than he has yet frightened us."
Captain Willoughby did not object, though he reminded Joyce that the
desertions had probably put the enemy in possession of a minute
statement of their defences and force, including the history of the
wooden gun. If Joel and his fellow-delinquents had joined the party at
the mill, the name, age, character and spirit of every man remaining in
the garrison were probably known to its leaders; and neither quakers
nor paddies would count for much in opposing an assault.
The captain came within the gate of the palisades last, closing,
barring, and locking it with his own hands, when all immediate
apprehensions from the enemy ceased. He knew, certainly, that it would
probably exceed his present means of resistance, to withstand a
vigorous assault; but, on the other hand, he felt assured that Indians
would never approach a stockade in open day, and expose themselves to
the hazards of losing some fifteen or twenty of their numbers, before
they could carry the place. This was opposed to all their notions of
war, neither honour nor advantage tempting them to adopt it. As for the
first, agreeably to savage notions, glory was to be measured by the
number of scalps taken and lost; and, counting all the women left in
the Hut, there would not be heads enough to supply a sufficient number
to prove an offset to those which would probably be lost in the
All this did the captain discuss in few words, with the serjeant, when
he proceeded to join his anxious and expecting wife and daughters.
"God has looked down upon us in mercy, and protected us this night,"
said the grateful Mrs. Willoughby, with streaming eyes, as she received
and returned her husband's warm embrace. "We cannot be too thankful,
when we look at these dear girls, and our precious little Evert. If
Robert were only with us now, I should be entirely happy!"
"Such is human nature, my little Maud"--answered the captain, drawing
his darling towards himself and kissing her polished forehead. "The
very thoughts of being in our actual strait would have made your mother
as miserable as her worst enemy could wish--if, indeed, there be such a
monster on earth as _her_ enemy--and, now she protests she is
delighted because our throats were not all cut last night. We are safe
enough for the day I think, and not another night shall one of you pass
in the Hut, if I can have my way. If there be such a thing as
desertion, there is such a thing as evacuation also."
"Hugh!--What _can_ you, _do_ you mean! Remember, we are
surrounded by a wilderness."
"I know our position reasonably well, wife of mine, and intend to turn
that knowledge to some account, God willing, and aiding. I mean to
place old Hugh Willoughby by the side of Xenophon and Washington, and
let the world see what a man is capable of, on a retreat, when he has
such a wife, two such daughters, and a grandson like that, on his
hands. As for Bob, I would not have him here, on any account. The young
dog would run away with half the glory."
The ladies were too delighted to find their father and husband in such
spirits, to be critical, and all soon after sat down to an early
breakfast, to eat with what appetite they could.
Yet I well remember
The favours of these men: were they not mine?
Did they not sometimes cry, all hail! to me?
So Judas did to Christ: but he, in twelve
Found truth in all but one; I in twelve thousand none.
That which captain Willoughby had said in seeming pleasantry he
seriously meditated. The idea of passing another night in the Hut,
supported by only six men, with more than ten times that number
besieging him, and with all the secrets of his defences known, through
the disaffection of his retainers, was, to the last degree, painful to
him. Had his own life, alone, been at risk, military pride might have
tempted him to remain; but his charge was far too precious to be
exposed on account of considerations so vain.
No sooner, therefore, was the breakfast over, than captain summoned
Joyce to a consultation on the contemplated movement. The interview
took place in the library, whither the serjeant repaired, on receiving
his superior's orders. As to the party without, no apprehension was
felt, so long as the sentinels were even moderately vigilant, and the
"I suppose, serjeant," commenced captain Willoughby, "a soldier of your
experience is not to be taught what is the next resort of a commanding
officer, when he finds himself unable to make good his ground against
his enemy in front?"
"It is to retreat, your honour. The road that cannot be passed, must be
"You have judged rightly. It is now my intention to evacuate the Hut,
and to try our luck on a march to the rear. A retreat, skilfully
executed, is a creditable thing; and any step appears preferable to
exposing the dear beings in the other room to the dangers of a night
Joyce appeared struck with the suggestion; though, if one might have
judged from the expression of his countenance, far from favourably. He
reflected a moment ere he answered.
"Did your honour send for me," he then inquired, "to issue orders for
this retreat, or was it your pleasure to hear anything I might have to
say about it?"
"The last--I shall give no orders, until I know your opinion of the
"It is as much the duty of an inferior to speak his mind freely, when
he is called for an opinion, captain Willoughby, as it is to obey in
silence, when he gets nothing but orders. According to my views of the
matter, we shall do better to stand our ground, and try to make good
the house against these vagabonds, than to trust to the woods."
"Of course you have your reasons for this opinion, Joyce?"
"Certainly, your honour. In the first place, I suppose it to be against
the rules of the art of war to evacuate a place that is well
provisioned, without standing an assault. This we have not yet done. It
is true, sir, that our ranks are thinned by desertions; but I never
heard of a garrisoned town, or a garrisoned house, capitulating on
account of a few deserters; and, I take it, evacuation is only the next
step before capitulation."
"But our desertions, Joyce, have not been _few_, but _many._
Three times as many have left us, if we include our other losses, as
remain. It matters not whence the loss proceeds, so long as it is a
"A retreat, with women and baggage, is always a ticklish operation,
your honour, especially if an enemy is pressing your rear! Then we have
a wilderness before us, and the ladies could hardly hold out for so
long a march as that from this place to the Mohawk; short of which
river they will hardly be as safe as they are at present."
"I have had no such march in view, Joyce. You know there is a
comfortable hut, only a mile from this very spot on the mountain side,
where we commenced a clearing for a sheep-pasture, only three summers
since. The field is in rich grass; and, could we once reach the cabin,
and manage to drive a cow or two up there, we might remain a month in
security. As for provisions and clothes, we could carry enough on our
backs to serve us all several weeks; especially if assisted by the
"I'm glad your honour has thought of this idea," said the serjeant, his
face brightening as he listened; "it will be a beautiful operation to
fall back on that position, when we can hold out no longer in this. The
want of some such arrangement has been my only objection to this post,
captain Willoughby; for, we have always seemed to me, out here in the
wilderness, like a regiment drawn up with a ravine or a swamp in its
"I am glad to find you relishing the movement for any cause, serjeant.
It is my intention at present to make the necessary arrangements to
evacuate the Hut, while it is light; and, as soon as it is dark, to
retreat by the gates, the palisades, and the rivulet--How now, Jamie?
You look as if there were news to communicate?"
Jamie Allen, in truth, had entered at that instant in so much haste as
to have overlooked the customary ceremony of sending in his name, or
even of knocking.
"News!" repeated the mason, with a sort of wondering smile "and it's
just that I've come to bring. Wad ye think it, baith, gentlemen, that
our people are in their am cabins ag'in, boiling their pots, and frying
their pork, a' the same as if the valley was in a state of
tranquillity, and we so many lairds waiting for them to come and do our
"I do not understand you, Jamie--whom do you mean by 'our people'?"
"Sure, just the desairters; Joel, and the miller, and Michael, and the
"And the cabins--and the pots--and the pork--it is gibberish to me."
"I hae what ye English ca' an aiccent, I know; but, in my judgment,
captain Willoughby, the words may be comprehended without a dictionary.
It's just that Joel Strides, and Daniel the miller, and the rest o'
them that fleed, the past night, have gane into their ain abodes, and
have lighted their fires, and put over their pots and kettles, and set
up their domestic habitudes, a' the same as if this Beaver Dam was ain
o' the pairks o' Lonnon!"
"The devil they have! Should this be the case, serjeant, our sortie may
be made at an earlier hour than that mentioned. I never will submit to
such an insult."
Captain Willoughby was too much aroused to waste many words; and,
seizing his hat, he proceeded forthwith to take a look for himself. The
stage, or gallery on the roofs, offering the best view, in a minute he
and his two companions were on it.
"There; ye'll be seein' a smoke in Joel's habitation, with your own
een; and, yon is anither, in the dwelling of his cousin Seth," said
Jamie, pointing in the direction he named.
"Smoke there is, of a certainty; but the Indians may have lighted fires
in the kitchen, to do their own cooking. This looks like investing us,
serjeant, rather more closely than the fellows have done before."
"I rather think not, your honour--Jamie is right, or my eyes do not
know a man from a woman. That is certainly a female in the garden of
Joel, and I'll engage it's Phoebe, pulling onions for his craving
stomach, the scoundrel!"
Captain Willoughby never moved without his little glass, and it was
soon levelled at the object mentioned.
"By Jupiter, you are right, Joyce"--he cried. "It is Phoebe, though the
hussy is coolly weeding, not culling the onions! Ay--and now I see Joel
himself! The rascal is examining some hoes, with as much philosophy as
if he were master of them, and all near them. This is a most singular
situation to be in!"
This last remark was altogether just. The situation of those in the Hut
was now singular indeed. Further examination showed that every cabin
had its tenant, no one of the party that remained within the palisades
being a householder. By using the glass, and pointing it, in
succession, at the different dwellings, the captain in due time
detected the presence of nearly every one of the deserters. Not a man
of them all, in fact, was missing, Mike alone excepted. There they
were, with their wives and children, in quiet possession of their
different habitations. Nor was this all; the business of the valley
seemed as much on their minds as had been their practice for years.
Cows were milked, the swine were fed, poultry was called and cared for,
and each household was also making the customary preparations for the
So absorbed was the captain with this extraordinary scene, that he
remained an hour on the staging, watching the course of events. The
breakfasts were soon over, having been later than common, and a little
hurried; then commenced the more important occupations of the day. A
field was already half ploughed, in preparation for a crop of winter
grain; thither Joel himself proceeded, with the necessary cattle,
accompanied by the labourers who usually aided him in that particular
branch of husbandry. Three ploughs were soon at work, with as much
regularity and order as if nothing had occurred to disturb the
tranquillity of the valley. The axes of the wood-choppers were next
heard, coming out of the forest, cutting fuel for the approaching
winter; and a half-finished ditch had its workmen also, who were soon
busy casting up the soil, and fashioning their trench. In a word, all
the suspended toil was renewed with perfect system and order.
"This beats the devil himself, Joyce!" said the captain, after a half-
hour of total silence. "Here are all these fellows at work as coolly as
if I had just given them their tasks, and twice as diligently. Their
unusual industry is a bad symptom of itself!"
"Your honour will remark one circumstance. Not a rascal of them all
comes within the fair range of a musket, for, as to throwing away
ammunition at such distances, it would be clearly unmilitary, and might
be altogether useless."
"I have half a mind to scatter them with a volley"--said the captain,
doubtingly. "Bullets would take effect among those ploughmen, could
they only be made to hit."
"And amang the cattle, too," observed the Scotsman, who had an eye on
the more economical part of the movement, as well as on that which was
military. "A ball would slay a horse as well as a man in such a
"This is true enough, Jamie; and it is not exactly the sort of warfare
I could wish, to be firing at men who were so lately my friends. I do
not see, Joyce, that the rascals have any arms with them?"
"Not a musket, sir. I noticed that, when Joel first detailed his
detachments. Can it be possible that the savages have retired?"
"Not they; else would Mr. Strides and his friends have gone with them.
No, serjeant, there is a deep plan to lead us into some sort of ambush
in this affair, and we will be on the look-out for them."
Joyce stood contemplating the scene for some, time, in profound
silence, when he approached the captain formally, and made the usual
military salute; a ceremony he had punctiliously observed, on all
proper occasions, since the garrison might be said to be placed under
"If it's your honour's pleasure," he said, "I will detail a detachment,
and go out and bring in two or three of these deserters; by which means
we shall get into their secrets."
"A detachment, Joyce!" answered the captain, eyeing his subordinate a
little curiously--"What troops do you propose to tell-off for the
"Why, your honour, there's corporal Allen and old Pliny off duty; I
think the thing might be done with them, if your honour would have the
condescension to order corporal Blodget, with the two other blacks, to
form as a supporting party, under the cover of one of the fences."
"A disposition of my force that would leave captain Willoughby for a
garrison! I thank you, serjeant, for your offer and gallantry, but
prudence will not permit it. We may set down Strides and his companions
as so many knaves, and----"
"That may ye!" cried Mike's well-known voice, from the scuttle that
opened into the garrets, directly in front of which the two old
soldiers were conversing--"That may ye, and no har-r-m done the trut',
or justice, or for that matther, meself. Och! If I had me will of the
blackguards, every rogue of 'em should be bound hand and fut and laid
under that pratthy wather-fall, yon at the mill, until his sins was
washed out of him. Would there be confessions then?--That would there;
and sich letting out of sacrets as would satisfy the conscience of a
By the time Mike had got through this sentiment he was on the staging,
where he stood hitching up his nether garment, with a meaning grin on
his face that gave a peculiar expression of heavy cunning to the
massive jaw and capacious mouth, blended with an honesty and good-
nature that the well-meaning fellow was seldom without when he
addressed any of the captain's family. Joyce glanced at the captain,
expecting orders to seize the returned run-away; but his superior read
at once good faith in the expression of his old retainer's countenance.
"You have occasioned us a good deal of surprise, O'Hearn, on more
accounts than one," observed the captain, who thought it prudent to
assume more sternness of manner than his feelings might have actually
warranted. "You have not only gone off yourself, but you have suffered
your prisoner to escape with you. Then your manner of getting into the
house requires an explanation. I shall hear what you have to say before
I make up my mind as to your conduct."
"Is it spake I will?--That will I, and as long as it plase yer honour
to listen. Och! Isn't that Saucy Nick a quare one? Divil burn me if I
thinks the likes of him is to be found in all Ameriky, full as it is of
Injins and saucy fellies! Well, now, I suppose, sarjeant, ye've set me
down as sin riding off with Misther Joel and his likes, if ye was to
open yer heart, and spake yer thrue mind?"
"You have been marked for a deserter, O'Hearn, and one, too, that
deserted from post."
"Post! Had I been _that_, I shouldn't have stirred, and ye'd be
wanting in the news I bring ye from the Majjor, and Mr. Woods, and the
savages, and the rest of the varmints."
"My son!--Is this possible, Michael? Have you seen _him_, or can
you tell us anything of his state?"
Mike now assumed a manner of mysterious importance, laying a finger on
his nose, and pointing towards the sentinel and Jamie.
"It's the sarjeant that I considers as one of the family," said the
county Leitrim-man, when his pantomime was through, "but it isn't
dacent to be bawling out sacrets through a whole nighbourhood; and
then, as for _Ould_ Nick--or Saucy Nick, or whatever ye calls
him--Och! isn't he a _pratthy_ Injin! Ye'll mar-r-ch t'rough
Ameriky, and never see his aiquel!"
"This will never do, O'Hearn. Whatever you have to say must be said
clearly, and in the simplest manner. Follow to the library, where I
will hear your report. Joyce, you will accompany us."
"Let him come, if he wishes to hear wonderful achaivements!" answered
Mike, making way for the captain to descend the steps; then following
himself, talking as he went. "He'll niver brag of his campaigns ag'in
to the likes of me, seeing that I've outdone him, ten--ay, forty times,
and boot. Och! that Nick's a divil, and no har-r-m said!"
"In the first place, O'Hearn," resumed the captain, as soon as the
three were alone in the library--"you must explain your own desertion."
"Me!--Desart! Sure, it isn't run away from yer honour, and the Missus,
and Miss Beuly, and pratthy Miss Maud, and the child, that's yer
This was said with so much nature and truth, that the captain had not
the heart to repeat the question, though Joyce's more drilled feelings
were less moved. The first even felt a tear springing to his eye, and
he no longer distrusted the Irishman's fidelity, as unaccountable as
his conduct did and must seem to his cooler judgment. But Mike's
sensitiveness had taken the alarm, and it was only to be appeased by
"Yer honour's not sp'aking when I questions ye on that same?" he
"Why, Mike, to be sincere, it did look a little suspicious when you not
only went, off yourself, but you let the Indian go off with you."
"Did it?"--said Mike, mus'ng--"No, I don't allow that, seein' that the
intent and object was good. And, then, I never took the Injin wid
_me_; but 'twas I, meself, that went wid _him_."
"I rather think, your honour," said Joyce, smiling, "we'll put
O'Hearn's name in its old place on the roster, and make no mark against
him at pay-day."
"I think it will turn out so, Joyce. We must have patience, too, and
let Mike tell his story in his own way."
"Is it tell a story, will I? Ah!--Nick's the cr'ature for that same!
See, he has given me foor bits of sticks, every one of which is to tell
a story, in its own way. This is the first; and it manes let the
captain into the sacret of your retrait; and how you got out of the
windie, and how you comes near to breaking yer neck by a fall becaase
of the fut's slipping; and how ye wint down the roof by a rope, the
divil a bit fastening it to yer neck, but houlding it in yer hand with
sich a grip as if 'twere the fait' of the church itself; and how Nick
led ye to the hole out of which ye hot' wint, as if ye had been two
cats going t'rough a door!"
Mike stopped to grin and look wise, as he recounted the manner of the
escape, the outlines of which, however, were sufficiently well known to
his auditors before he, began.
"Throw away that stick, now, and let us know where this hole is, and
what you mean by it."
"No"--answered Mike, looking at the stick, in a doubting manner--"I'll
not t'row it away, wid yer honour's l'ave, 'till I've told ye how we
got into the brook, forenent the forest, and waded up to the woods,
where we was all the same as if we had been two bits of clover tops hid
in a haymow. That Nick is a cr'ature at consailment!"
"Go on," said the captain, patiently, knowing that there was no use in
hurrying one of Mike's peculiar mode of communicating his thoughts.
"What came next?"
"That will I; and the r'ason comes next, as is seen by this oder stick.
And, so, Nick and meself was in the chaplain's room all alone, and
n'ither of us had any mind to dhrink; Nick becaase he was a prisoner
and felt crass, and full of dignity like; and meself becaase I was a
sentinel; and sarjeant Joyce, there, had tould me, the Lord knows how
often, that if I did my duty well, I might come to be a corporal, which
was next in rank to himself; barring, too, that I was a sentinel, and a
drunken sentinel is a disgrace to a man, sowl and body, and musket."
"And so neither of you drank?"--put in the captain, by way of a
"For that same r'ason, and one betther still, as we had nothin' _to_
dhrink. Well, says Nick--'Mike,' says he--'you like cap'in, and
Missus, and Miss Beuly, and Miss Maud, and the babby?' Divil burn ye,
Nick,' says I, 'why do ye ask so foolish a question? Is it likes ye
would know? Well--then just ask yerself if you likes yer own kith and
kin, and ye've got yer answer.'"
"And Nick made his proposal, on getting this answer," interrupted the
captain, "which was--"
"Here it is, on the stick. 'Well,' says Nick, says he--'run away wid
Nick, and see Majjor; bring back news. Nick cap'in friend, but cap'in
don't know it--won't believe'--Fait', I can't _tell_ yer honour
all Nick said, in his own manner; and so, wid yer Pave, I'll just tell
it in my own way."
"Any way, Mike, so that you do but tell it."
"Nick's a cr'ature! His idee was for us two to get out of the windie,
and up on the platform, and to take the bedcord, and other things, and
slide down upon the ground--and we _did_ it! As sure as yer honour
and the sarjeant is there, we did _that same_, and no bones broke!
'Well,' says I, 'Nick, ye're here, sure enough, but how do you mane to
get _out_ of here? Is it climb the palisades ye will, and be shot
by a sentinel?'--if there was one, which there wasn't, yer honour,
seeing that all had run away--'or do ye mane to stay here,' says I,
'and be taken a prisoner of war ag'in, in which case ye'll be two
prisoners, seem' that ye've been taken wonst already, will ye Nick?'
says I. So Nick never spoke, but he held up his finger, and made a sign
for me to follow, as follow I did; and we just crept through the
palisade, and a mhighty phratty walk we had of it, alang the meadies,
and t'rough the lanes, the rest of the way."
"You crept through the palisades, Mike! There is no outlet of
"I admits the hole is a tight squaze, but 'twill answer. And then it's
just as good for an inlet as it is for an outlet, seein' that I came
t'rough it this very marnin'. Och! Nick's a cr'ature! And how d'ye
think that hole comes there, barring all oversights in setting up the
"It has not been made intentionally, I should hope, O'Hearn?"
"'Twas made by Joel, and that by just sawing off a post, and forcin'
out a pin or two, so that the palisade works like a door. Och! it's
nately contrived, and it manes mischief."
"This must be looked to, at once," cried the captain; "lead the way,
Mike, and show us the spot."
As the Irishman was nothing loth, all three were soon in the court,
whence Mike led the way through the gate, round to the point where the
stockade came near the cliffs, on the eastern side of the buildings.
This was the spot where the path that led down to the spring swept
along the defences, and was on the very route by which the captain
contemplated retreating, as well as on that by which Maud had entered
the Hut, the night of the invasion. At a convenient place, a palisade
had been sawed off, so low in the ground that the sods, which had been
cut and were moveable, concealed the injury, while the heads of the
pins that ought to have bound the timber to the cross-piece, were in
their holes, leaving everything apparently secure. On removing the
sods, and pushing the timber aside, the captain ascertained that a man
might easily pass without the stockade. As this corner was the most
retired within the works, there was no longer any doubt that the hole
had been used by all the deserters, including the women and children.
In what manner it became known to Nick, however, still remained matter
Orders were about to be given to secure this passage, when it occurred
to the captain it might possibly be of use in effecting his own
retreat. With this object in view, then, he hastened away from the
place, lest any wandering eye without might detect his presence near
it, and conjecture the cause. On returning to the library, the
examination of Mike was resumed.
As the reader must be greatly puzzled with the county Leitrim-man's
manner of expressing himself, we shall relate the substance of what he
now uttered, for the sake of brevity. It would seem that Nick had
succeeded in persuading Mike, first, that he, the Tuscarora, was a fast
friend of the captain and his family, confined by the former, in
consequence of a misconception of the real state of the Indian's
feelings, much to the detriment of all their interests; and that no
better service could be rendered the Willoughbys than to let Nick
depart, and for the Irishman to go with him. Mike, however, had not the
slightest idea of desertion, the motive which prevailed on him to quit
the Hut being a desire to see the major, and, if possible, to help him
escape. As soon as this expectation was placed before his eyes, Mike
became a convert to the Indian's wishes. Like all exceedingly zealous
men, the Irishman had an itching propensity to be doing, and he was
filled with a sort of boyish delight at the prospect of effecting a
great service to those whom he so well loved, without their knowing it.
Such was the history of Michael's seeming desertion; that of what
occurred after he quitted the works remains to be related.
The Tuscarora led his companion out of the Hut, within half an hour
after they had been left alone together, in the room of Mr. Woods. As
this was subsequently to Joel's flight, Nick, in anticipation of this
event, chose to lie in ambush a short time, in order to ascertain
whether the defection was likely to go any further. Satisfied on this
head, he quietly retired towards the mill. After making a sufficient
_detour_ to avoid being seen from the house, Nick gave himself no
trouble about getting into the woods, or of practising any of the
expedients of a time of real danger, as had been done by all of the
deserters; but he walked leisurely across the meadows, until he struck
the highway, along which he proceeded forthwith to the rocks. All this
was done in a way that showed he felt himself at home, and that he had
no apprehensions of falling into an ambush. It might have arisen from
his familiarity with the ground; or, it might have proceeded from the
consciousness that he was approaching friends, instead of enemies.
At the rocks, however, Nick did not deem it wise to lead Mike any
farther, without some preliminary caution. The white man was concealed
in one of the clefts, therefore, while the Indian pursued his way
alone. The latter was absent an hour; at the end of that time he
returned, and, after giving Mike a great many cautions about silence
and prudence, he led him to the cabin of the miller, in the buttery of
which Robert Willoughby was confined. To this buttery there was a
window; but, as it was so small as to prevent escape, no sentinel had
been placed on the outside of the building. For his own comfort, too,
and in order to possess his narrow lodgings to himself, the major had
given a species of parole, by which he was bound to remain in duresse,
until the rising of the next sun. Owing to these two causes, Nick had
been enabled to approach the window, and to hold communications with
the prisoner. This achieved, he returned to the rocks, and led Mike to
the same spot.
Major Willoughby had not been able to write much, in consequence of the
darkness. That which he communicated, accordingly, had to pass through
the fiery ordeal of the Irishman's brains. As a matter of course it did
not come with particular lucidity, though Mike did succeed in making
his auditors comprehend this much.
The major was substantially well treated, though intimations had been
given that he would be considered as a spy. Escape seemed next to
impossible; still, he should not easily abandon the hope. From all he
had seen, the party was one of that irresponsible character that would
render capitulation exceedingly hazardous, and he advised his father to
hold out to the last. In a military point of view, he considered his
captors as contemptible, being without a head; though many of the
men:--the savages in particular--appeared to be ferocious and
reckless. The whole party was guarded in discourse, and little was said
in English, though he was convinced that many more whites were present
than he had at first believed. Mr. Woods he had not seen, nor did he
know anything of his arrest or detention.
This much Mike succeeded in making the captain comprehend, though a
great deal was lost through the singular confusion that prevailed in
the mind of the messenger. Mike however, had still another
communication, which we reserve for the ears of the person to whom it
was especially sent.
This news produced a pause in captain Willoughby's determination. Some
of the fire of youth awoke within him, and he debated with himself on
the possibility of making a sortie, and of liberating his son, as a
step preliminary to victory; or, at least, to a successful retreat.
Acquainted with every foot of the ground, which had singular facilities
for a step so bold, the project found favour in his eyes each minute,
and soon became fixed.
Yet I well remember
The favours of these men: were they not mine?
Did they not sometimes cry, all hail! to me?
So Judas did to Christ: but he, in twelve
Found truth in all but one; I in twelve thousand none.
While the captain and Joyce were digesting their plans Mike proceeded
on an errand of peculiar delicacy with which he had been entrusted by
Robert Willoughby. The report that he had returned flew through the
dwellings, and many were the hearty greetings and shakings of the hand
that the honest fellow had to undergo from the Plinys and Smashes, ere
he was at liberty to set about the execution of this trust. The
wenches, in particular, having ascertained that Mike had not broken his
fast, insisted on his having a comfortable meal, in a sort of servants'
hall, before they would consent to his quitting their sight. As the
county Leitrim-man was singularly ready with a knife and fork, he made
no very determined opposition, and, in a few minutes, he was hard at
work, discussing a cold ham, with the other collaterals of a
substantial American breakfast.
The blacks, the Smashes inclusive, had been seriously alarmed at the
appearance of the invading party. Between them and the whole family of
red-men there existed a sort of innate dislike; an antipathy that
originated in colour, and wool, and habits, and was in no degree
lessened by apprehensions on the score of scalps.
"How you look, ole Plin, widout wool?" Big Smash had reproachfully
remarked, not five minutes before Mike made his appearance in the
kitchen, in answer to some apologetic observation of her husband, as to
the intentions of the savages being less hostile than he had at first
imagined; "why you say dey _no_ murder, and steal and set fire,
when you know dey's Injin! Natur' be natur'; and dat I hear dominie
Woods say t'ree time one Sunday. What 'e dominie say _often_, he
mean, and dere no use in saying dey don't come to do harm."
As Great Smash was an oracle in her own set, there was no gainsaying
her dogmas, and Pliny the elder was obliged to succumb. But the
presence of Mike, one who was understood to have been out, _near_,
if not actually _in_, the enemy's camp, and a great favourite in
the bargain, was a circumstance likely to revive the discourse. In
fact, all the negroes, crowded into the hall, as soon as the Irishman
was seated at table, one or two eager to talk, the rest as eager to
"How near you been to sabbage, Michael?" demanded Big Smash, her two
large coal-black eyes seeming to open in a degree proportioned to her
interest in the answer.
"I wint as nigh as there was occasion, Smash, and that was nigher than
the likes of yer husband there would be thinking of travelling. Maybe
'twas as far as from my plate here to yon door; maybe not quite so far.
They 're a dhirty set, and I wish to go no nearer."
"What dey look like, in 'e dark?" inquired Little Smash--"Awful as by
"It's not meself that stopped to admire 'em. Nick and I had our
business forenent us, and when a man is hurried, it isn't r'asonable to
suppose he can kape turning his head about to see sights."
"What dey do wid Misser Woods?--What sabbage want wid dominie?"
"Sure enough, little one; and the question is of yer own asking. A
praist, even though he should be only a heretic, can have no great call
for his sarvices, in _sich_ a congregation. And, I don't think the
fellows are blackguards enough to scalp a parson."
Then followed a flood of incoherent questions that were put by all the
blacks in a body, accompanied by divers looks ominous of the most
serious disasters, blended with bursts of laughter that broke out of
their risible natures in a way to render the medley of sensations as
ludicrous as it was strange. Mike soon found answering a task too
difficult to be attempted, and he philosophically came to a
determination to confine his efforts to masticating.
Notwithstanding the terror that actually prevailed among the blacks, it
was not altogether unmixed with a resolution to die with arms in their
hands, in preference to yielding to savage clemency. Hatred, in a
measure, supplied the place of courage, though both sexes had
insensibly imbibed some of that resolution which is the result of
habit, and of which a border life is certain to instil more or less
into its subjects, in a form suited to border emergencies. Nor was this
feeling confined to the men; the two Smashes, in particular, being
women capable of achieving acts that would be thought heroic under
circumstances likely to arouse their feelings.
"Now, Smashes," said Mike, when, by his own calculation, he had about
three minutes to the termination of his breakfast before him, "ye'll do
what I tells ye, and no questions asked. Ye'll find the laddies,
Missus, and Miss Beuly, and Miss Maud, and ye'll give my humble
respects to 'em all--divil the bit, now, will ye be overlooking either
of the t'ree, but ye'll do yer errand genteely and like a laddy
yerself--and ye'll give my jewty and respects to 'em _all_, I
tells ye, and say that Michael O'Hearn asks the honour of being allowed
to wish 'em good morning."
Little Smash screamed at this message; yet she went, forthwith, and
delivered it, making reasonably free with Michael's manner and
gallantry in so doing.
"O'Hearn has something to tell us from Robert"--said Mrs. Willoughby,
who had been made acquainted with the Irishman's exploits and return;
"he must be suffered to come in as soon as he desires."
With this reply, Little Smash terminated her mission.
"And now, laddies and gentlemen," said Mike, with gravity, as he rose
to quit the servants' hall, "my blessing and good wishes be wid ye. A
hearty male have I had at yer hands and yer cookery, and good thanks it
desarves. As for the Injins, jist set yer hearts at rest, as not one of
ye will be scalp'd the day, seeing that the savages are all to be
forenent the mill this morning, houlding a great council, as I knows
from Nick himself. A comfortable time, then, ye may all enjoy, wid yer
heads on yer shoulters, and yer wool on yer heads."
Mike's grin, as he retreated, showed that he meant to be facetious,
having all the pleasantry that attends a full stomach uppermost in his
animal nature at that precise moment. A shout rewarded this sally, and
the parties separated with mutual good humour and good feeling. In this
state of mind, the county Leitrim-man was ushered into the presence of
the ladies. A few words of preliminary explanations were sufficient to
put Mike in the proper train, when he came at once to his subject.
"The majjor is no way down-hearted," he said, "and he ordered me to
give his jewty and riverence, and obligations, to his honoured mother
and his sisters. 'Tell 'em, Mike,' says he, says the majjor, 'that I
feels for 'em, all the same as if I was their own fader; and tell 'em,'
says he, 'to keep up their spirits, and all will come right in the ind.
This is a throublesome wor-r-ld, but they that does their jewties to
God and man, and the church, will not fail, in the long run, to wor-r-k
their way t'rough purgatory even, into paradise.'"
"Surely my son--my dear Robert--never sent us such a message as this,
"Every syllable of it, and a quantity moor that has slipped my memory,"
answered the Irishman, who was inventing, but who fancied he was
committing a very pious fraud--"'Twould have done the Missuses heart
good to have listened to the majjor, who spoke more in the
cha_rack_ter of a praist, like, than in that of a souldier."
All three of the ladies looked a little abashed, though there was a
gleam of humour about the mouth of Maud, that showed she was not very
far from appreciating the Irishman's report at its just value. As for
Mrs. Willoughby and Beulah, less acquainted with Mike's habits, they
did not so readily penetrate his manner of substituting his own
desultory thoughts for the ideas of others.
"As I am better acquainted with Mike's language, dear mother"--
whispered Maud--"perhaps it will be well if I take him into the library
and question him a little between ourselves about what actually passed.
Depend on it, I shall get the truth."
"Do, my child, for it really pains me to hear Robert so much
misrepresented--and, as Evert must now begin to have ideas, I really do
not like that his uncle should be so placed before the dear little
Maud did not even smile at this proof of a grandmother's weakness,
though she felt and saw all its absurdity. Heart was ever so much
uppermost with the excellent matron, that it was not easy for those she
loved to regard anything but her virtues; and least of all did her
daughter presume to indulge in even a thought that was ludicrous at her
expense. Profiting by the assent, therefore, Maud quietly made a motion
for Mike to follow, and proceeded at once to the room she had named.
Not a word was exchanged between the parties until both were in the
library, when Maud carefully closed the door, her face pale as marble,
and stood looking inquiringly at her companion. The reader will
understand that, Mr. Woods and Joyce excepted, not a soul at the Hut,
out of the limits of the Willoughby connection, knew anything of our
heroine's actual relation to the captain and his family. It is true,
some of the oldest of the blacks had once some vague notions on the
subject; but _their_ recollections had become obscured by time,
and habit was truly second nature with all of the light-hearted race.
"_That_ was mighty injanious of you, Miss Maud!" Mike commenced,
giving one of his expressive grins again, and fairly winking. "It shows
how fri'nds wants no spache but their own minds. Barrin' mistakes and
crass-accidents, I'm sartain that Michael O'Hearn can make himself
understood any day by Miss Maud Willoughby, an' niver a word said."
"Your success then, Mike, will be greater at dumb-show than it always
is with your tongue," answered the young lady, the blood slowly
returning to her cheek, the accidental use of the name of Willoughby
removing the apprehension of anything immediately embarrassing; "what
have you to tell me that you suppose I have anticipated?"
"Sure, the like o' yees needn't be tould, Miss Maud, that the majjor
bad me spake to ye by yerself, and say a word that was not to be
overheerd by any one else."
"This is singular--extraordinary even--but let me know more, though the
messenger be altogether so much out of the common way!"
"I t'ought ye 'd say _that_, when ye come to know me. Is it meself
that 's a messenger? and where is there another that can carry news
widout spilling any by the way? Nick's a cr'ature, I allows; but the
majjor know'd a million times bhetter than to trust an Injin wid sich a
jewty. As for Joel, and _that_ set of vagabonds, we'll grind 'em
all in the mill, before we've done wid 'em. Let 'em look for no
favours, if they wishes no disapp'intment."
Maud sickened at the thought of having any of those sacred feelings
connected with Robert Willoughby that she had so long cherished in her
inmost heart, rudely probed by so unskilful a hand; though her last
conversation with the young soldier had told so much, even while it
left so much unsaid, that she could almost kneel and implore Mike to be
explicit. The reserve of a woman, notwithstanding, taught her how to
preserve her sex's decorum, and to maintain appearances.
"If major Willoughby desired you to communicate anything to me, in
particular," she said, with seeming composure, "I am ready to hear it."
"Divil the word did he desire, Miss Maud, for everything was in
whispers between us, but jist what I'm about to repait. And here's my
stick, that Nick tould me to kape as a reminderer; it 's far bhetter
for me than a book, as I can't read a syllable. 'And now, Mike,' says
the majjor, says he, 'conthrive to see phratty Miss Maud by
"_Pretty_ Miss Maud!" interrupted the young lady, involuntarily.
"Och! it's meself that says _that_, and sure there 's plenty of
r'ason for it; so we'll agree it's all right and proper--'phratty Miss
Maud by herself, letting no mortal else know what you are about.
_That_ was the majjor's."
"It is very extraordinary!--Perhaps it will be better Michael, if you
tell me nothing but what is strictly the major's. A message should be
delivered as nearly like the words that were actually sent as
"Wor-r-ds!--And it isn't wor-r-ds at all, that I have to give ye."
"If not a message in words, in what else can it be?--Not in sticks,
"In _that_"--cried Mike, exultingly--"and, I'll warrant, when the
trut' comes out, that very little bit of silver will be found as good
as forty Injin scalps."
Although Mike put a small silver snuff-box that Maud at once recognised
as Robert Willoughby's property into the young lady's hand, nothing was
more apparent than the circumstance that he was profoundly ignorant of
the true meaning of what he was doing. The box was very beautiful, and
his mother and Beulah had often laughed at the major for using an
article that was then deemed _de rigueur_ for a man of extreme
_ton_, when all his friends knew he never touched snuff. So far from
using the stimulant, indeed, he never would show how the box was
opened, a secret spring existing; and he even manifested or betrayed
shyness on the subject of suffering either of his sisters to search for
the means of doing so.
The moment Maud saw the box, her heart beat tumultuously. She had a
presentiment that her fate was about to be decided. Still, she had
sufficient self-command to make an effort to learn all her companion
had to communicate.
"Major Willoughby gave you this box," she said, her voice trembling in
spite of herself. "Did he send any message with it? Recollect yourself;
the words may be very important."
"Is it the wor-r-ds? Well, it's little of _them_ that passed
between us, barrin' that the Injins was so near by, that it was whisper
we did, and not a bit else."
"Still there _must_ have been _some_ message."
"Ye are as wise as a sarpent, Miss Maud, as Father O'Loony used to tell
us all of a Sunday! Was it wor-r-ds!--Give _that_ to Miss Maud,'
says the majjor, says he, 'and tell her she is now _misthress of my
"Did he say this, Michael?--For heaven's sake, be certain of what you
"Irish Mike--Masser want you in monstrous hurry," cried the youngest of
the three black men, thrusting his glistening lace into the door,
announcing the object of the intrusion, and disappearing almost in the
"Do not leave me, O'Hearn," said Maud, nearly gasping for breath, "do
not leave me without an assurance there is no mistake."
"Divil bur-r-n me if I 'd brought the box, or the message, or anything
like it, phretty Miss Maud, had I t'ought it would have done this har-
"Michael O'Hearn," called the serjeant from the court, in his most
authoritative military manner, and that on a key that would not brook
Mike did not dare delay; in half a minute Maud found herself standing
alone, in the centre of the library, holding the well-known snuff-box
of Robert Willoughby in her little hand. The renowned caskets of Portia
had scarcely excited more curiosity in their way than this little
silver box of the major's had created in the mind of Maud. In addition
to his playful evasions about letting her and Beulah pry into its
mysteries, he had once said to herself, in a grave and feeling manner,
"When you get at the contents of this box, dear girl, you will learn
the great secret of my life." These words had made a deep impression at
the time--it was in his visit of the past year--but they had been
temporarily forgotten in the variety of events and stronger sensations
that had succeeded. Mike's message, accompanied by the box itself,
however, recalled them, and Maud fancied that the major, considering
himself to be in some dangerous emergency, had sent her the bauble in
order that she might learn what that secret was. Possibly he meant her
to communicate it to others. Persons in our heroine's situation feel,
more than they reason; and it is possible Maud might have come to some
other conclusion had she been at leisure, or in a state of mind to
examine all the circumstances in a more logical manner.
Now she was in possession of this long-coveted box--coveted at least so
far as a look into its contents were concerned--Maud not only found
herself ignorant of the secret by which it was opened, but she had
scruples about using the means, even had she been in possession of
them. At first she thought of carrying the thing to Beulah, and of
asking if she knew any way of getting at the spring; then she shrunk
from the exposure that might possibly attend such a step. The more she
reflected, the more she felt convinced that Robert Willoughby would not
have sent _her_ that particular box, unless it were connected with
herself, in some way more than common; and ever since the conversation
in the painting-room she had seen glimmerings of the truth, in relation
to his feelings. These glimmerings too, had aided her in better
understanding her own heart, and all her sentiments revolted at the
thought of having a witness to any explanation that might relate to the
subject. In every event she determined, after a few minutes of thought,
not to speak of the message, or the present, to a living soul.
In this condition of mind, filled with anxiety, pleasing doubts,
apprehensions, shame, and hope, all relieved, however, by the secret
consciousness of perfect innocence, and motives that angels might avow,
Maud stood, in the very spot where Mike had left her, turning the box
in her hands, when accidentally she touched the spring, and the lid
flew open. To glance at the contents was an act so natural and
involuntary as to anticipate reflection.
Nothing was visible but a piece of white paper, neatly folded, and
compressed into the box in a way to fill its interior. "Bob has
written," thought Maud--"Yet how could he do this? He was in the dark,
and had not pen or paper!" Another look rendered this conjecture still
more improbable, as it showed the gilt edge of paper of the quality
used for notes, an article equally unlikely to be found in the mill and
in his own pocket. "Yet it must be a note," passed through her mind,
"and of course it was written before he left the Hut--quite likely
before he arrived--possibly the year before, when he spoke of the box
as containing the evidence of the great secret of his life."
Maud now wished for Mike, incoherent, unintelligible, and blundering as
he was, that she might question him still further as to the precise
words of the message. "Possibly Bob did not intend me to open the-box
at all," she thought, "and meant merely that I should keep it until he
could return to claim it. It contains a great secret; and, because he
wishes to keep this secret from the Indians, it does not follow that he
intends to reveal it to me. I will shut the box again, and guard his
secret as I would one of my own."
This was no sooner _thought_ than it was _done_. A pressure
of the lid closed it, and Maud heard the snap of the spring with a
start. Scarcely was the act performed ere she repented it. "Bob would
not have sent the box without some particular object," she went on to
imagine; "and had he intended it not to be opened, he would have told
as much to O'Hearn. How easy would it have been for him to say, and for
Mike to repeat, 'tell her to keep the box till I ask for it--it
contains a secret, and I wish my captors not to learn it.' No, he has
sent the box with the design that I should examine its contents. His
very life may depend on my doing so; yes, and on my doing so this
This last notion no sooner glanced athwart our heroine's mind, than she
began diligently to search for the hidden spring. Perhaps curiosity had
its influence on the eagerness to arrive at the secret, which she now
manifested; possibly a tenderer and still more natural feeling lay
concealed behind it all. At any rate, her pretty little fingers never
were employed more nimbly, and not a part of the exterior of the box
escaped its pressure. Still, the secret spring eluded her search. The
box had two or three bands of richly chased work on each side of the
place of opening, and amid these ornaments Maud felt certain that the
little projection she sought must lie concealed. To examine these,
then, she commenced in a regular and connected manner, resolved that
not a single raised point should be neglected. Accident, however, as
before, stood her friend; and, at a moment when she least expected it,
the lid flew back, once more exposing the paper to view.
Maud had been too seriously alarmed about re-opening the box, to
hesitate a moment now, as to examining its contents. The paper was
removed, and she began to unfold it slowly, a slight tremor passing
through her frame as she did so. For a single instant she paused to
scent the delightful and delicate perfume that seemed to render the
interior sacred; then her fingers resumed their office. At each
instant, her eyes expected to meet Robert Willoughby's well known
handwriting. But the folds of the paper opened on a blank. To Maud's
surprise, and, for a single exquisitely painful moment, she saw that a
lock of hair was all the box contained, besides the paper in which it
was enveloped. Her look became anxious, and her face pale; then the
eyes brightened, and a blush that might well be likened to the tints
with which the approach of dawn illumines the sky, suffused her cheeks,
as, holding the hair to the light, the long ringlets dropped at length,
and she recognised one of those beautiful tresses, of which so many
were falling at that very moment, in rich profusion around her awn
lovely face. To unloosen her hair from the comb, and to lay the secret
of Bob Willoughby by its side, in a way to compare the glossy shades,
was the act of only a moment; it sufficed, however, to bring a perfect
conviction of the truth. It was a memorial of herself, then, that
Robert Willoughby so prized, had so long guarded with care, and which
he called the secret of his life!
It was impossible for Maud not to understand all this. Robert
Willoughby loved her; he had taken this mode of telling his passion. He
had been on the point of doing this in words the very day before; and
now he availed himself of the only means that offered of completing the
tale. A flood of tenderness gushed to the heart of Maud, as she passed
over all this in her mind; and, from that moment, she ceased to feel
shame at the recollection of her own attachment. She might still have
shrunk a little from avowing it to her father, and mother, and Beulah;
but, as to herself the world, and the object of her affections, she now
stood perfectly vindicated in her own eyes.
That was a precious half-hour which succeeded. For the moment, all
present dangers were lost sight of, in the glow of future hopes. Maud's
imagination portrayed scenes of happiness, in which domestic duties,
Bob beloved, almost worshipped, and her father and mother happy in the
felicity of their children, were the prominent features; while Beulah
and little Evert filled the back-ground of the picture in colours of
pleasing softness. But these were illusions that could not last, for
ever, the fearful realities of her situation returning with the greater
consciousness of existence. Still, Bob might now be loved, without
wounding any of the sensitiveness of her sex's opinions; and dearly,
engrossingly, passionately was he rewarded, for the manner in which he
had thought of letting her know the true state of his heart, at a
moment when he had so much reason to think only of himself.
It was time for Maud to return to her mother and sister. The box was
carefully concealed, leaving the hair in its old envelope, and she
hurried to the nursery. On entering the room, she found that her father
had just preceded her. The captain was grave, more thoughtful than
usual, and his wife, accustomed to study his countenance for so much of
her happiness, saw at once that something lay heavy on his mind.
"Has anything out of the way happened, Hugh?" she asked, "to give you
Captain Willoughby drew a chair to the side of that of his wife, seated
himself, and took her hand before he answered. Little Evert, who sat on
her knee, was played with, for a moment, as if to defer a disagreeable
duty; not till then did he even speak.
"You know, dearest Wilhelmina," the captain finally commenced, "that
there have never been any concealments between us, on the score of
danger, even when I was a professed soldier, and might be said to carry
my life in my hand."
"You have ever found me reasonable, I trust, while feeling like a
woman, mindful of my duty as a wife?"
"I have, love; this is the reason I have always dealt with you so
"We understand each other, Hugh. Now tell me the worst at once."
"I am not certain you will think there is any worst about it,
Wilhelmina, as Bob's liberty is the object. I intend to go out myself,
at the head of all the white men that remain, in order to deliver him
from the hands of his enemies. This will leave you, for a time--six or
seven hours perhaps--in the Hut, with only the three blacks as a guard,
and with the females. You need have no apprehension of an assault,
however, everything indicating a different intention on the part of our
enemies; on that score you may set your hearts at rest."
"All my apprehensions and prayers will be for you, my husband--for
ourselves, we care not."
"This I expected; it is to lessen these very apprehensions that I have
come to tell you my whole plan."
Captain Willoughby now related, with some minuteness, the substance of
Mike's report, and his own plan, of the last of which we have already
given an outline. Everything had been well matured in his mind, and all
promised success. The men were apprised of the service on which they
were to be employed, and every one of them had manifested the best
spirit. They were then busy in equipping themselves; in half an hour
they would be ready to march.
To all this Mrs. Willoughby listened like a soldier's wife, accustomed
to the risks of a frontier warfare, though she felt like a woman.
Beulah pressed little Evert to her heart, while her pallid countenance
was turned to her father with a look that seemed to devour every
syllable. As for Maud, a strange mixture of dread and wild delight were
blended in her bosom. To have Bob liberated, and restored to them, was
approaching perfect happiness, though it surpassed her powers not to
dread misfortunes. Nevertheless, the captain was so clear in his
explanations, so calm in his manner, and of a judgment so approved,
that his auditors felt far less concern than might naturally have been
Making sounds as they tread,
Ho-ho! how they step,
Going down to the dead."
The time Maud consumed in her meditations over the box and its
contents, had been employed by the captain in preparations for his
enterprise. Joyce, young Blodget, Jamie and Mike, led by their
commander in person, were to compose the whole force on the occasion;
and every man had been busy in getting his arms, ammunition and
provisions ready, for the last half-hour. When captain Willoughby,
therefore, had taken leave of his family, he found the party in a
condition to move.
The first great desideratum was to quit the Hut unseen. Joel and his
followers were still at work, in distant fields; but they all carefully
avoided that side of the Knoll which would have brought them within
reach of the musket, and this left all behind the cliff unobserved,
unless Indians were in the woods in that direction. As Mike had so
recently passed in by that route, however, the probability was the
whole party still remained in the neighbourhood of the mills, where all
accounts agreed in saying they mainly kept. It was the intention of the
captain, therefore, to sally by the rivulet and the rear of the house,
and to gain the woods under cover of the bushes on the banks of the
former, as had already been done by so many since the inroad.
The great difficulty was to quit the house, and reach the bed of the
stream, unseen. This step, however, was a good deal facilitated by
means of Joel's sally-port, the overseer having taken, himself, all the
precautions against detection of which the case well admitted.
Nevertheless, there was the distance between the palisades and the base
of the rocks, some forty or fifty yards, which was entirely uncovered,
and had to be passed under the notice of any wandering eyes that might
happen to be turned in that quarter. After much reflection, the captain
and serjeant came to the conclusion to adopt the following mode of
Blodget passed the hole, by himself, unarmed, rolling down the
declivity until he reached the stream. Here a thicket concealed him
sufficiently, the bushes extending along the base of the rocks,
following the curvature of the rivulet. Once within these bushes, there
was little danger of detection. As soon as it was ascertained that the
young man was beneath the most eastern of the outer windows of the
northern wing, the only one of the entire range that had bushes
directly under it, all the rifles were lowered down to him, two at a
time, care being had that no one should appear at the window during the
operation. This was easily effected, jerks of the rope sufficing for
the necessary signals to haul in the line. The ammunition succeeded;
and in this manner, all the materials of offence and defence were soon
collected on the margin of the stream.
The next step was to send the men out, one by one, imitating the
precautions taken by Blodget. Each individual had his own provisions,
and most of the men carried some sort of arms, such as a pistol, or a
knife, about his person. In half an hour the four men were armed, and
waited for the leader, concealed by the bushes on the border of the
brook. It only remained for captain Willoughby to give some
instructions to those he left in the Hut, and to follow.
Pliny the elder, in virtue of his years, and some experience in Indian
warfare, succeeded to the command of the garrison, in the absence of
its chief. Had there remained a male white at the Knoll, this trust
never could have devolved on him, it being thought contrary to the laws
of nature for a negro to command one of the other colour; but such was
not the fact, and Pliny the elder succeeded pretty much as a matter of
course. Notwithstanding, he was to obey not only his particular
_old_ mistress, but both his _young_ mistresses, who exercised
an authority over him that was not to be disputed, without doing
violence to all the received notions of the day. To him, then, the
captain issued his final orders, bidding him be vigilant, and above all
to keep the gates closed.
As soon as this was done, the husband and father went to his wife and
children to take a last embrace. Anxious not to excite too strong
apprehensions by his manner, this was done affectionately--solemnly,
perhaps--but with a manner so guarded as to effect his object.
"I shall look for no other signal, or sign of success, Hugh," said the
weeping wife, "than your own return, accompanied by our dearest boy.
When I can hold you both in my arms, I shall be happy, though all the
Indians of the continent were in the valley."
"Do not miscalculate as to time, Wilhelmina. That affectionate heart of
yours sometimes travels over time and space in a way to give its owner
unnecessary pain. Remember we shall have to proceed with great caution,
both in going and returning; and it will require hours to make the
_detour_ I have in view. I hope to see you again before sunset, but a
delay may carry us into the night. It may even become necessary to
defer the final push until after dark."
This was melancholy intelligence for the females; but they listened to
it with calmness, and endeavoured to be, as well as to seem, resigned.
Beulah received her father's kiss and blessing with streaming eyes,
straining little Evert to her heart as he left her. Maud was the last
embraced, He even led her, by gentle violence, to the court, keeping
her in discourse by the way, exhorting her to support her mother's
spirits by her own sense and steadiness.
"I shall have Bob in the Hut, soon," he added, "and this will repay us
all for more than twice the risks--all but you, little vixen; for your
mother tells me you are getting, through some caprice of that variable
humour of your sex, to be a little estranged from the poor fellow."
"O! I know it is not very serious still, even Beulah tells me you once
called him a Major of Foot."
"Did I?" said Maud, trembling in her whole frame lest her secret had
been prematurely betrayed by the very attempt to conceal it. "My tongue
is not always my heart."
"I know it, darling, unless where I am concerned. Treat the son as you
will, Maud, I am certain that you will always love the father." A
pressure to the heart, and kisses on the forehead, eyes, and cheeks
followed. "You have all your own papers, Maud, and can easily
understand your own affairs. When examined into, it will be seen that
every shilling of your fortune has gone to increase it; and, little
hussy, you are now become something like a great heiress."
"What does this mean, dearest, dearest father? Your words frighten me!"
"They should not, love. Danger is never increased by being prepared to
meet it. I have been a steward, and wish it to be known that the duty
has not been unfaithfully discharged. That is all. A hundred-fold am I
repaid by possessing so dutiful and sweet a child."
Maud fell on her father's bosom and sobbed. Never before had he made so
plain allusions to the true relations which existed between them; the
papers she possessed having spoken for themselves, and having been
given in silence. Nevertheless, as he appeared disposed to proceed no
further, at present, the poor girl struggled to command herself,
succeeded in part, rose, received her father's benediction, most
solemnly and tenderly delivered, and saw him depart, with an air of
calmness that subsequently astonished even herself.
We must now quit the interesting group that was left behind in the Hut,
and accompany the adventurers in their march.
Captain Willoughby was obliged to imitate his men, in the mode of
quitting the palisades. He had dressed himself in the American hunting-
shirt and trowsers for the occasion, and, this being an attire he now
rarely used, it greatly diminished the chances of his being recognised,
if seen. Joyce was in a similar garb, though neither Jamie nor Mike
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