The halt had not been made half-a-dozen seconds, when the voices of the party ascending in chase, were heard above the fugitives. Willoughby felt an impulse to dash down the path, bearing Maud in his arms, but Nick interposed his own body to so rash a movement. There was not time for a discussion, and the sounds of voices, speaking English too distinctly to pass for any but those of men of English birth, or English origin, were heard disputing about the course to be taken, at the point of junction between the two paths.
"Go by the lower," called out one, from the rear; "he will run down the stream, and make for the settlements on the Hudson. Once before, he has done this, as I know from Strides himself."
"D—-n Strides!" answered another, more in front. "He is a sniveling scoundrel, who loves liberty, as a hog loves corn for the sake of good living. I say go the upper, which will carry him on the heights, and bring him out near his father's garrison."
"Here are marks of feet on the upper," observed a third, "though they seem to be coming down, instead of going up the hill."
"It is the trail of the fellows who have helped him to escape. Push up the hill, and we shall have them all in ten minutes. Push up—push up."
This decided the matter. It appeared to Willoughby that at least a dozen men ran up the path, above his head, eager in the pursuit, and anticipating success. Nick waited no longer, but glided down the cliff, and was soon in the broad path which led along the margin of the stream, and was the ordinary thoroughfare in going to or from the Knoll. Here the fugitives, as on the advance, were exposed to the danger of accidental meetings; but, fortunately, no one was met, or seen, and the bridge was passed in safety. Turning short to the north, Nick plunged into the woods again, following the cow-path by which he had so recently descended to the glen. No pause was made even here. Willoughby had an arm round the waist of Maud, and bore her forward, with a rapidity to which her own strength was altogether unequal. In less than ten minutes from the time the prisoner had escaped, the fugitives reached the level of the rock of the water-fall, or that of the plain of the Dam. As it was reasonably certain that none of the invaders had passed to that side of the valley, haste was no longer necessary, and Maud was permitted to pause for breath.
The halt was short, however, our heroine, herself, now feeling as if the major could not be secure until he was fairly within the palisades. In vain did Willoughby try to pacify her fears and to assure her of his comparative safety; Maud's nerves were excited, and then she had the dreadful tidings, which still remained to be told pressing upon her spirits, and quickening all her natural impulses and sentiments.
Nick soon made the signal to proceed, and then the three began to circle the flats, as mentioned in the advance of Maud and her companion. When they reached a favourable spot, the Indian once more directed a halt, intimating his own intention to move to the margin of the woods, in order to reconnoitre. Both his companions heard this announcement with satisfaction, for Willoughby was eager to say to Maud directly that which he had so plainly indicated by means of the box, and to extort from her a confession that she was not offended; while Maud herself felt the necessity of letting the major know the melancholy circumstance that yet remained to be told. With these widely distinct feelings uppermost, our two lovers saw Nick quit them, each impatient, restless and uneasy.
Willoughby had found a seat for Maud, on a log, and he now placed himself at her side, and took her hand, pressing it silently to his heart.
"Nick has then been a true man, dearest Maud," he said, "notwithstanding all my doubts and misgivings of him."
"Yes; he gave me to understand you would hardly trust him, and that was the reason I was induced to accompany him. We both thought, Bob, you would confide in me!"
"Bless you—bless you—beloved Maud—but have you seen Mike—has he had any interview with you—in a word, did he deliver you my box?"
Maud's feelings had been so much excited, that the declaration of Willoughby's love, precious as it was to her heart failed to produce the outward signs that are usually exhibited by the delicate and sensitive of her sex, when they listen to the insinuating language for the first time. Her thoughts were engrossed with her dreadful secret, and with the best and least shocking means of breaking it to the major. The tint on her cheek, therefore, scarce deepened, as this question was put to her, while her eye, full of earnest tenderness, still remained riveted on the face of her companion.
"I have seen Mike, dear Bob," she answered, with a steadiness that had its rise in her singleness of purpose—"and he has shown me— given me, the box."
"But have you understood me, Maud?—You will remember that box contained the great secret of my life!"
"This I well remember—yes, the box contains the great secret of your life."
"But—you cannot have understood me, Maud—else would you not look so unconcerned—so vacantly—I am not understood, and am miserable!"
"No—no—no"—interrupted Maud, hurriedly—"I understand all you have wished to say, and you have no cause to be—" Maud's voice became choked, for she recollected the force of the blow that she had in reserve.
"This is so strange!—altogether so unlike your usual manner, Maud, that there must be some mistake. The box contained nothing but your own hair, dearest."
"Yes; nothing else. It was my hair; I knew it the instant I saw it."
"And did it tell you no secret?—Why was Beulah's hair not with it? Why did I cherish your hair, Maud, and your's alone? You have not understood me!"
"I have, dear, dear Bob!—You love me—you wished to say we are not brother and sister, in truth; that we have an affection that is far stronger—one that will bind us together for life. Do not look so wretched, Bob; I understand everything you wish to say."
"This is so very extraordinary!—So unlike yourself, Maud, I know not what to make of it! I sent you that box, beloved one, to say that you had my whole heart; that I thought of you day and night; that you were the great object of my existence, and that, while misery would be certain without you, felicity would be just as certain with you; in a word, that I love you, Maud, and can never love another."
"Yes, so I understood you, Bob."—Maud, spite of her concentration of feeling on the dreadful secret, could not refrain from blushing—"It was too plain to be mistaken."
"And how was my declaration received? Tell me at once, dear girl, with your usual truth of character, and frankness—can you, will you love me in return?"
This was a home question, and, on another occasion, it might have produced a scene of embarrassment and hesitation. But Maud was delighted with the idea that it was in her power to break the violence of the blow she was about to inflict, by setting Robert Willoughby's mind at ease on this great point.
"I do love you, Bob," she said, with fervent affection beaming in every lineament of her angel face—"have loved you, for years—how could it be otherwise? I have scarce seen any other to love; and how see you, and refrain?"
"Blessed, blessed, Maud—but this is so strange—I fear you do not understand me—I am not speaking of such affection as Beulah bears me, as brother and sister feel; I speak of the love that my mother bore my father—of the love of man and wife"——
A groan from Maud stopped the vehement young man, who received his companion in his arms, as she bowed her head on his bosom, half fainting.
"Is this resentment, dearest, or is it consent?" he asked, bewildered by all that passed.
"My father!—what of him, Maud? Why has the allusion to him brought you to this state?"
"They have killed him, dearest, dearest Bob; and you must now be father, husband, brother, son, all in one. We have no one left but you!"
A long pause succeeded. The shock was terrible to Robert Willoughby, but he bore up against it, like a man. Maud's incoherent and unnatural manner was now explained, and while unutterable tenderness of manner—a tenderness that was increased by what had just passed—was exhibited by each to the other, no more was said of love. A common grief appeared to bind their hearts closer together, but it was unnecessary to dwell on their mutual affection in words. Robert Willoughby's sorrow mingled with that of Maud, and, as he folded her to his heart, their faces were literally bathed in each other's tears.
It was some time before Willoughby could ask, or Maud give, an explanation. Then the latter briefly recounted all she knew, her companion listening with the closest attention. The son thought the occurrence as extraordinary as it was afflicting, but there was not leisure for inquiry.
It was, perhaps, fortunate for our lovers that Nick's employment kept him away. For nearly ten minutes longer did he continue absent; then he returned, slowly, thoughtful, and possibly a little disturbed. At the sound of his footstep, Willoughby released Maud from his arms, and both assumed an air of as much tranquillity as the state of their feelings would allow.
"Better march"—said Nick, in his sententious manner—"Mohawk very mad."
"Do you see the signs of this?" asked the major, scarce knowing what he said.
"Alway make Injin mad; lose scalp. Prisoner run away, carry scalp with him."
"I rather think, Nick, you do my captors injustice; so far from desiring anything so cruel, they treated me well enough, considering the circumstances, and that we are in the woods."
"Yes; spare scalp, 'cause t'ink rope ready. Nebber trust Mohawk—all bad Injin."
To own the truth, one of the great failings of the savages of the American forests, was to think of the neighbouring tribes, as the Englishman is known to think of the Frenchman, and vice versa; as the German thinks of both, and all think of the Yankee. In a word, his own tribe contains everything that is excellent, with the Pawnee, the Osage and Pottawattomie, as Paris contains all that is perfect in the eyes of the bourgeois, London in those of the cockney, and this virtuous republic in those of its own enlightened citizens; while the hostile communities are remorselessly given up to the tender solicitude of those beings which lead nations, as well as individuals, into the sinks of perdition. Thus Nick, liberalized as his mind had comparatively become by intercourse with the whites, still retained enough of the impressions of childhood, to put the worst construction on the acts of all his competitors, and the best on his own. In this spirit, then, he warned his companions against placing any reliance on the mercy of the Mohawks.
Major Wilioughby, however, had now sufficient inducements to move, without reference to the hostile intentions of his late captors. That his escape would excite a malignant desire for vengeance, he could easily believe; but his mother, his revered heart-broken mother, and the patient, afflicted Beulah, were constantly before him, and gladly did he press on, Maud leaning on his arm, the instant Nick led the way. To say that the lovely, confiding being who clung to his side, as the vine inclines to the tree, was forgotten, or that he did not retain a vivid recollection of all that she had so ingenuously avowed in his favour, would not be rigidly accurate, though the hopes thus created shone in the distance, under the present causes of grief, as the sun's rays illumine the depths of the heavens, while his immediate face is entirely hidden by an eclipse.
"Did you see any signs of a movement against the house, Nick?" demanded the major, when the three had been busily making their way, for several minutes, round the margin of the forest.
The Tuscarora turned, nodded his head, and glanced at Maud.
"Speak frankly, Wyandotte—"
"Good!" interrupted the Indian with emphasis, assuming a dignity of manner the major had never before witnessed. "Wyandotte come—Nick gone away altogeder. Nebber see Sassy Nick, ag'in, at Dam."
"I am glad to hear this, Tuscarora, and as Maud says, you may speak plainly."
"T'ink, den, best be ready. Mohawk feel worse dan if he lose ten, t'ree, six scalp. Injin know Injin feelin'. Pale-face can't stop red- skin, when blood get up."
"Press on, then, Wyandotte, for the sake of God—let me, at least, die in defence of my beloved mother!"
"Moder; good!—Doctor Tuscarora, when death grin in face! She my moder, too!"
This was said energetically, and in a manner to assure his listeners that they had a firm ally in this warlike savage. Little did either dream, at that instant, that this same wayward being—the creature of passion, and the fierce avenger of all his own fancied griefs, was the cause of the dreadful blow that had so recently fallen on them.
The sun still wanted an hour of setting, when Nick brought his companions to the fallen tree, by which they were again to cross the rivulet. Here he paused, pointing to the roofs of the Hut, which were then just visible through the trees; as much as to say that his duty, as a guide, was done.
"Thank you, Wyandotte," said Willoughby; "if it be the will of God to carry us safely through the crisis, you shall be well rewarded for this service."
"Wyandotte chief—want no dollar. Been Injin runner—now be Injin warrior. Major follow—squaw follow—Mohawk in hurry."
This was enough. Nick passed out of the forest on a swift walk—but for the female, it would have been his customary, loping trot—followed by Willoughby; his arm, again, circling the waist of Maud, whom he bore along scarce permitting her light form to touch the earth. At this instant, four or five conches sounded, in the direction of the mills, and along the western margin of the meadows. Blast seemed to echo blast; then the infernal yell, known as the war-whoop, was heard all along the opposite face of the buildings. Judging from the sounds, the meadows were alive with assailants, pressing on for the palisades.
At this appalling moment, Joyce appeared on the ridge of the roof, shouting, in a voice that might have been heard to the farthest point in the valley—
"Stand to your arms, my men," he cried; "here the scoundrels come; hold your fire until they attempt to cross the stockade."
To own the truth, there was a little bravado in this, mingled with the stern courage that habit and nature had both contributed to lend the serjeant. The veteran knew the feebleness of his garrison, and fancied that warlike cries, from himself, might counterbalance the yells that were now rising from all the fields in front of the house.
As for Nick and the major, they pressed forward, too earnest and excited, to speak. The former measured the distance by his ear; and thought there was still time to gain a cover, if no moment was lost. To reach the foot of the cliff, took just a minute; to ascend to the hole in the palisade, half as much time; and to pass it, a quarter. Maud was dragged ahead, as much as she ran; and the period when the three were passing swiftly round to the gate, was pregnant with imminent risk. They were seen, and fifty rifles were discharged, as it might be, at a command. The bullets pattered against the logs of the Hut, and against the palisades, but no one was hurt. The voice of Willoughby opened the gate, and the next instant the three were within the shelter of the court.
"They have not perish'd—no! Kind words, remembered voices, once so sweet, Smiles, radiant long ago, And features, the great soul's apparent seat;
"All shall come back, each tie Of pure affection shall be knit again; Alone shall evil die, And sorrow dwell a prisoner in thy reign.
"And then shall I behold Him, by whose kind paternal side I sprung, And her, who still and cold, Fills the next grave—the beautiful and young."
The scene that followed passed like a hurricane sweeping over the valley. Joyce had remained on the ridge of the roof, animating his little garrison, and endeavouring to intimidate his enemies, to the last moment. The volley of bullets had reached the palisades and the buildings, and he was still unharmed. But the sound of the major's voice below, and the cry that Miss Maud and Nick were at the gate, produced a sudden change in all his dispositions for the defence. The serjeant ran below himself, to report and receive his orders from the new commander, while all the negroes, females as well as males, rushed down into the court, to meet their young master and mistress.
It is not easy to describe the minute that succeeded, after Willoughby and Maud were surrounded by the blacks. The delight of these untutored beings was in proportion to their recent sorrow. The death of their master, and the captivity of Master Bob and Miss Maud, had appeared to them like a general downfall of the family of Willoughby; but here was a revival of its hopes, that came as unexpectedly as its previous calamities. Amid the clamour, cries, tears, lamentations, and bursts of uncontrollable delight, Joyce could scarce find a moment in which to discharge his duty.
"I see how it is, serjeant," exclaimed Willoughby; "the assault is now making, and you desire orders."
"There is not an instant to lose, Major Willoughby; the enemy are at the palisades already, and there is no one at his station but Jamie and young Blodget."
"To your posts, men—to your posts, everybody. The house shall be made good at all hazards. For God's sake, Joyce, give me arms. I feel that my father's wrongs are to be revenged."
"Robert—dear, dear Robert," said Maud, throwing her arms on his shoulders, "this is no moment for such bitter feelings. Defend us, as I know you will, but defend us like a Christian."
One kiss was all that the time allowed, and Maud rushed into the house to seek her mother and Beulah, feeling as if the tidings of Bob's return might prove some little alleviation to the dreadful blow under which they must be suffering.
As for Willoughby, he had no time for pious efforts at consolation. The Hut was to be made good against a host of enemies; and the cracking of rifles from the staging and the fields, announced that the conflict had begun in earnest. Joyce handed him a rifle, and together they ascended rapidly to the roofs. Here they found Jamie Allen and Blodget, loading and firing as fast as they could, and were soon joined by all the negroes. Seven men were now collected on the staging; and placing three in front, and two on each wing, the major's dispositions were made; moving, himself, incessantly, to whatever point circumstances called. Mike, who knew little of the use of fire-arms, was stationed at the gate, as porter and warder.
It was so unusual a thing for savages to attack by daylight, unless they could resort to surprise, that the assailants were themselves a little confused. The assault was made, under a sudden feeling of resentment at the escape of the prisoner, and contrary to the wishes of the principal white men in the party, though the latter were dragged in the train of events, and had to seem to countenance that of which they really disapproved. These sudden outbreakings were sufficiently common in Indian warfare, and often produced memorable disasters. On the present occasion, however, the most that could occur was a repulse, and to this the leaders, demagogues who owed their authority to the excesses and necessities of the times, were fain to submit, should it happen.
The onset had been fierce and too unguarded. The moment the volley was fired at the major, the assailants broke cover, and the fields were alive with men. This was the instant when the defence was left to Allen and Blodget, else might the exposure have cost the enemy dear. As it was, the last brought down one of the boldest of the Indians while the mason fired with good will, though with less visible effect. The yell that followed this demonstration of the apparent force of the garrison, was a wild mixture of anger and exultation, and the rush at the palisades was general and swift. As Willoughby posted his reinforcement, the stockade was alive with men, some ascending, some firing from its summit, some aiding others to climb, and one falling within the enclosure, a second victim to Blodget's unerring aim.
The volley that now came from the roofs staggered the savages, most of whom fell outward, and sought cover in their usual quick and dexterous manner. Three or four, however, thought it safer to fall within the palisades, seeking safety immediately under the sides of the buildings. The view of these men, who were perfectly safe from the fire of the garrison so long as the latter made no sortie, gave an idea to those without, and produced, what had hitherto been wanting, something like order and concert in the attack. The firing now became desultory and watchful on both sides, the attacking party keeping themselves covered by the trees and fences as well as they could, while the garrison only peered above the ridge of the roof, as occasions required.
The instant the outbreak occurred, all the ci-devant dependants of captain Willoughby, who had deserted, abandoned their various occupations in the woods and fields, collecting in and around the cabins, in the midst of their wives and children. Joel, alone, was not to be seen. He had sought his friends among the leaders of the party, behind a stack of hay, at a respectful distance from the house, and to which there was a safe approach by means of the rivulet and its fringe of bushes. The little council that was held at this spot took place just as the half-dozen assailants who had fallen within the palisades were seen clustering along under the walls of the buildings.
"Natur' gives you a hint how to conduct," observed Joel, pointing out this circumstance to his principal companions, as they all lay peering over the upper portions of the stack, at the Hut. "You see them men under the eaves—they're a plaguy sight safer up there, than we be down here; and; if 'twere'n't for the look of the thing, I wish I was with 'em. That house will never be taken without a desperate sight of fightin'; for the captain is an old warrior, and seems to like to snuff gunpowder"—the reader will understand none knew of the veteran's death but those in the house—"and won't be for givin' up while he has a charge left. If I had twenty men—no, thirty would be better, where these fellows be, I think the place could be carried in a few minutes, and then liberty would get its rights, and your monarchy-men would be put down as they all desarve."
"What do then?" demanded the leading Mohawk, in his abrupt guttural English. "No shoot—can't kill log."
"No, chief, that's reasonable, an' ongainsayable, too; but only one- half the inner gate is hung, and I've contrived matters so, on purpose, that the props of the half that isn't on the hinges can be undone, all the same as onlatching the door. If I only had the right man here, now, the business should be done, and that speedily."
"Go 'self," answered the Mohawk, not without an expression of distrust and contempt.
"Every man to his callin', chief. My trade is peace, and politics, and liberty, while your's is war. Howsever, I can put you, and them that likes fightin', on the trail, and then we'll see how matters can be done. Mortality! How them desperate devils on the roof do keep blazin' away! It wouldn't surprise me if they shot somebody, or get hurt themselves!"
Such were the deliberations of Joel Strides on a battle. The Indian leaders, however, gave some of their ordinary signals, to bring their 'young men' more under command and, sending messengers with orders in different directions, they left the haystack, compelling Joel to accompany them.
The results of these movements were soon apparent. The most daring of the Mohawks made their way into the rivulet, north of the buildings, and were soon at the foot of the cliff. A little reconnoitring told them that the hole which Joel had pointed out, had not been closed since the entrance of Willoughby and his companions. Led by their chief, the warriors stole up the ascent, and began to crawl through the same inlet which had served as an outlet to so many deserters, the previous night, accompanied by their wives and children.
The Indians in front had been ordered to occupy the attention of the garrison, while this movement was in the course of execution. At a signal, they raised a yell, unmasked them, fired one volley, and seemed to make another rush at the works. This was the instant chosen for the passage of the hole, and the seven leading savages effected their entrance within the stockade, with safety. The eighth man was shot by Blodget, in the hole itself. The body was instantly withdrawn by the legs, and all in the rear fell back under the cover of the cliff.
Willoughby now understood the character of the assault. Stationing Joyce, with a party to command the hole, he went himself into the library, accompanied by Jamie and Blodget, using a necessary degree of caution. Fortunately the windows were raised, and a sudden volley routed all the Indians who had taken shelter beneath the rocks. These men, however, fled no further than the rivulet, where they rallied under cover of the bushes, keeping up a dropping fire at the windows. For several minutes, the combat was confined to this spot; Willoughby, by often shifting from window to window along the rear of the house, getting several volleys that told, at the men under the cover.
As yet, all the loss had been on the side of the assailants, though several of the garrison, including both Willoughby and Joyce, had divers exceedingly narrow escapes. Quite a dozen of the assailants had suffered, though only four were killed outright. By this time, the assault had lasted an hour, and the shades of evening were closing around the place. Daniel, the miller, had been sent by Joel to spring the mine they had prepared together, but, making the mistake usual with the uninitiated, he had hung back, to let others pass the hole first, and was consequently carried down in the crowd, within the cover of the bushes of the rivulet.
Willoughby had a short consultation with Joyce, and then he set seriously about the preparations necessary for a light defence. By a little management, and some persona, risk, the bullet-proof shutters of the north wing of the Hut were all closed, rendering the rear of the buildings virtually impregnable. When this was done, and the gates of the area were surely shut, the place was like a ship in a gale, under short canvass and hove-to. The enemy within the palisades were powerless, to all appearance, the walls of stone preventing anything like an application of fire. Of the last, however, there was a little danger on the roof, the Indians frequently using arrows for this purpose, and water was placed on the staging in readiness to be used on occasion.
All these preparations occupied some time, and it was quite dark ere they were completed. Then Willoughby had a moment for reflection; the firing having entirely ceased, and nothing further remaining to do.
"We are safe for the present, Joyce," the major observed, as he and the serjeant stood together on the staging, after having consulted on the present aspect of things; "and I have a solemn duty, yet, to perform— my dear mother—and the body of my father—"
"Yes, sir; I would not speak of either, so long as it was your honour's pleasure to remain silent on the subject. Madam Willoughby is sorely cut down, as you may imagine, sir; and, as for my gallant old commander, he died in his harness, as a soldier should."
"Where have you taken the body?—has my mother seen it?"
"Lord bless you, sir, Madam Willoughby had his honour carried into her own room, and there she and Miss Beulah"—so all of the Hut still called the wife of Evert Beekman—"she and Miss Beulah, kneel, and pray, and weep, as you know, sir, ladies will, whenever anything severe comes over their feelings—God bless them both, we all say, and think, ay, and pray, too, in our turns, sir."
"Very well, Joyce. Even a soldier may drop a tear over the dead body of his own father. God only knows what this night will bring forth, and I may never have a moment as favourable as this, for discharging so solemn a duty."
"Yes, your honour"—Joyce fancied that the major had succeeded to this appellation by the decease of the captain—"yes, your honour, the commandments, that the Rev. Mr. Woods used to read to us of a Sunday, tell us all about that; and it is quite as much the duty of a Christian to mind the commandments, I do suppose, as it is for a soldier to obey orders. God bless you, sir, and carry you safe through the affair. I had a touch of it with Miss Maud, myself, and know what it is. It's bad enough to lose an old commander in so sudden a way like, without having to feel what has happened in company with so sweet ladies, as these we have in the house. As for these blackguards down inside the works, let them give you no uneasiness; it will be light work for us to keep them busy, compared to what your honour has to do."
It would seem by the saddened manner in which Willoughby moved away, that he was of the same way of thinking as the serjeant, on this melancholy subject. The moment, however, was favourable for the object, and delay could not be afforded. Then Willoughby's disposition was to console his mother, even while he wept with her over the dead body of him they had lost.
Notwithstanding the wild uproar that had so prevailed, not only without, but within the place, the portion of the house that was occupied by the widowed matron and her daughters, was silent as the grave. All the domestics were either on the staging, or at the loops, leaving the kitchens and offices deserted. The major first entered a little ante-chamber, that opened between a store-room, and the apartment usually occupied by his mother; this being the ordinary means of approach to her room. Here he paused, and listened quite a minute, in the hope of catching some sound from within that might prepare him for the scene he was to meet. Not a whisper, a moan, or a sob could be heard; and he ventured to tap lightly at the door. This was unheeded; waiting another minute, as much in dread as in respect, he raised the latch with some such awe, as one would enter into a tomb of some beloved one. A single lamp let him into the secrets of this solemn place.
In the centre of the room, lay stretched on a large table, the manly form of the author of his being. The face was uppermost, and the limbs had been laid, in decent order, as is usual with the dead that have been cared for. No change had been made in the dress, however, the captain lying in the hunting-shirt in which he had sallied forth; the crimson tint which disfigured one breast, having been sedulously concealed by the attention of Great Smash. The passage from life to eternity had been so sudden, as to leave the usual benignant expression on the countenance of the corpse; the paleness which had succeeded the fresh ruddy tint of nature, alone denoting that the sleep was not a sweet repose, but that of death.
The body of his father was the first object that met the gaze of the major. He advanced, leaned forward, kissed the marble-like forehead, with reverence, and groaned in the effort to suppress an unmanly outbreaking of sorrow. Then he turned to seek the other well-beloved faces. There sat Beulah, in a corner of the room, as if to seek shelter for her infant, folding that infant to her heart, keeping her look riveted, in anguish, on the inanimate form that she had ever loved beyond a daughter's love. Even the presence of her brother scarce drew a glance away from the sad spectacle; though, when it at length did, the youthful matron bowed her face down to that of her child, and wept convulsively. She was nearest to the major, who moved to her side, and kissed the back of her neck, with kind affection. The meaning was understood; and Beulah, while unable to look up, extended a hand to meet the fraternal pressure it received.
Maud was near, kneeling at the side of the bed. Her whole attitude denoted the abstraction of a mind absorbed in worship and solicitation. Though Willoughby's heart yearned to raise her in his arms; to console her, and bid her lean on himself, in future, for her earthly support, he too much respected her present occupation, to break in upon it with any irreverent zeal of his own. His eye turned from this loved object, therefore, and hurriedly looked for his mother.
The form of Mrs. Willoughby had escaped the first glances of her son, in consequence of the position in which she had placed herself. The stricken wife was in a corner of the room, her person partly concealed by the drapery of a window-curtain; though this was evidently more the effect of accident, than of design. Willoughby started, as he caught the first glance of his beloved parent's face; and he felt a chill pass over his whole frame. There she sat upright, motionless, tearless, without any of the alleviating weaknesses of a less withering grief, her mild countenance exposed to the light of the lamp, and her eyes riveted on the face of the dead. In this posture had she remained for hours; no tender cares on the part of her daughters; no attentions from her domestics; no outbreaking of her own sorrows, producing any change. Even the clamour of the assault had passed by her like the idle wind.
"My mother—my poor—dear—heart-broken mother!" burst from Willoughby, at this sight, and he stepped quickly forward, and knelt at her feet.
But Bob—the darling Bob—his mother's pride and joy, was unheeded. The heart, which had so long beaten for others only; which never seemed to feel a wish, or a pulsation, but in the service of the objects of its affection, was not sufficiently firm to withstand the blow that had lighted on it so suddenly. Enough of life remained, however, to support the frame for a while; and the will still exercised its power over the mere animal functions. Her son shut out the view of the body, and she motioned him aside with an impatience of manner he had never before witnessed from the same quarter. Inexpressibly shocked, the major took her hands, by gentle compulsion, covering them with kisses, and literally bathing them in tears.
"Oh! mother—dearest, dearest mother!" he cried, "will you not—do you not know me—Robert—Bob—your much-indulged, grateful, affectionate son. If father is gone into the immediate presence of the God he revered and served, I am still left to be a support to your declining years. Lean on me, mother, next to your Father in Heaven."
"Will he ever get up, Robert?" whispered the widowed mother. "You speak too loud, and may rouse him before his time. He promised me to bring you back; and he ever kept his promises. He had a long march, and is weary, See, how sweetly he sleeps!"
Robert Willoughby bowed his head to his mother's knees, and groaned aloud. When he raised his face again, he saw the arms of Maud elevated towards heaven, as if she would pluck down that consolation for her mother, that her spirit was so fervently asking of the Almighty. Then he gazed into the face of his mother again; hoping to catch a gleam of some expression and recognition, that denoted more of reason. It was in vain; the usual placidity, the usual mild affection were there; but both were blended with the unnatural halo of a mind excited to disease, if not to madness. A slight exclamation, which sounded like alarm, came from Beulah; and turning towards his sister, Willoughby saw that she was clasping Evert still closer to her bosom, with her eyes now bent on the door. Looking in the direction of the latter, he perceived that Nick had stealthily entered, the room.
The unexpected appearance of Wyandotte might well alarm the youthful mother. He had applied his war-paint since entering the Hut; and this, though it indicated an intention to fight in defence of the house, left a picture of startling aspect. There was nothing hostile intended by this visit, however. Nick had come not only in amity, but in a kind concern to see after the females of the family, who had ever stood high in his friendship, notwithstanding the tremendous blow he had struck against their happiness. But he had been accustomed to see those close distinctions drawn between individuals and colours; and, the other proprieties admitted, would not have hesitated about consoling the widow with the offer of his own hand. Major Willoughby, understanding, from the manner of the Indian, the object of his visit, suffered him to pursue his own course, in the hope it might rouse his mother to a better consciousness of objects around her.
Nick walked calmly up to the table, and gazed at the face of his victim with a coldness that proved he felt no compunction. Still he hesitated about touching the body, actually raising his hand, as if with that intent, and then withdrawing it, like one stung by conscience. Willoughby noted the act; and, for the first time, a shadowy suspicion glanced on his mind. Maud had told him all she knew of the manner of his father's death, and old distrusts began to revive, though so faintly as to produce no immediate results.
As for the Indian, the hesitating gesture excepted, the strictest scrutiny, or the keenest suspicion could have detected no signs of feeling. The senseless form before him was not less moved than he appeared to be, so far as the human eye could penetrate. Wyandotte was unmoved. He believed that, in curing the sores on his own back in this particular manner, he had done what became a Tuscarora warrior and a chief. Let not the self-styled Christians of civilized society affect horror at this instance of savage justice, so long as they go the whole length of the law of their several communities, in avenging their own fancied wrongs, using the dagger of calumny instead of the scalping-knife, and rending and tearing their victims, by the agency of gold and power, like so many beasts of the field, in all the forms and modes that legal vindictiveness will either justify or tolerate; often exceeding those broad limits, indeed, and seeking impunity behind perjuries and frauds.
Nick's examination of the body was neither hurried nor agitated. When it was over, he turned calmly to consider the daughters of the deceased.
"Why you cry—why you 'fear'd," he said, approaching Beulah, and placing his swarthy hand on the head of her sleeping infant.—"Good squaw—good pappoose. Wyandotte take care 'em in woods. Bye'm-by go to pale-face town, and sleep quiet."
This was rudely said, but it was well meant. Beulah so received it; and she endeavoured to smile her gratitude in the face of the very being from whom, more than from all of earth, she would have turned in horror, could her mental vision have reached the fearful secret that lay buried in his own bosom. The Indian understood her look; and making a gesture of encouragement, he moved to the side of the woman whom his own hand had made a widow.
The appearance of Wyandotte produced no change in the look or manner of the matron. The Indian took her hand, and spoke.
"Squaw berry good," he said, with emphasis. "Why look so sorry— cap'in gone to happy huntin'-ground of his people. All good dere—chief time come, must go."
The widow knew the voice, and by some secret association it recalled the scenes of the past, producing a momentary revival of her faculties.
"Nick, you are my friend," she said, earnestly. "Go speak to him, and see if you can wake him up."
The Indian fairly started, as he heard this strange proposal. The weakness lasted only for a moment, however, and he became as stoical, in appearance at least, as before.
"No," he said; "squaw quit cap'in, now. Warrior go on last path, all alone—no want companion.—She look at grave, now and den, and be happy."
"Happy!" echoed the widow, "what is that, Nick?—what is happy, my son? It seems a dream—I must have known what it was; but I forget it all now. Oh! it was cruel, cruel, cruel, to stab a husband, and a father—wasn't it, Robert?—What say you, Nick—shall I give you more medicine?—You'll die, Indian, unless you take it—mind what a Christian woman tells you, and be obedient.—Here, let me hold the cup—there; now you'll live!"
Nick recoiled an entire step, and gazed at the still beautiful victim of his ruthless revenge, in a manner no one had ever before noted in his mien. His mixed habits left him in ignorance of no shade of the fearful picture before his eyes, and he began better to comprehend the effects of the plow he had so hastily struck—a blow meditated for years, though given at length under a sudden and vehement impulse. The widowed mother, however, was past noting these changes.
"No—no—no—Nick," she added, hurriedly, scarce speaking above a whisper, "do not awake him! God will do that, when he summons his blessed ones to the foot of his throne. Let us all lie down, and sleep with him. Robert, do you lie there, at his side, my noble, noble boy; Beulah, place little Evert and yourself at the other side; Maud, your place is by the head; I will sleep at his feet; while Nick shall watch, and let us know when it will be time to rise and pray"
The general and intense—almost spell-bound—attention with which all in the room listened to these gentle but touching wanderings of a mind so single and pure, was interrupted by yells so infernal, and shrieks so wild and fearful, that it seemed, in sooth, as if the last trump had sounded, and men were passing forth from their graves to judgment. Willoughby almost leaped out of the room, and Maud followed, to shut and bolt the door, when her waist was encircled by the arm of Nick, and she found herself borne forward towards the din.
"O, Time and Death! with certain pace, Though still unequal, hurrying on, O'erturning, in your awful race, The cot, the palace, and the throne!"
Maud had little leisure for reflection. The yells and shrieks were followed by the cries of combatants, and the crack of the rifle. Nick hurried her along at a rate so rapid that she had not breath to question or remonstrate, until she found herself at the door of a small store-room, in which her mother was accustomed to keep articles of domestic economy that required but little space. Into this room Nick thrust her, and then she heard the key turn on her egress. For a single moment, Wyandotte stood hesitating whether he should endeavour to get Mrs. Willoughby and her other daughter into the same place of security; then, judging of the futility of the attempt, by the approach of the sounds within, among which he heard the full, manly voice of Robert Willoughby, calling on the garrison to be firm, he raised an answering yell to those of the Mohawks, the war-whoop of his tribe, and plunged into the fray with the desperation of one who ran a muck, and with the delight of a demon.
In order to understand the cause of this sudden change, it will be necessary to return a little, in the order of time. While Willoughby was with his mother and sisters, Mike had charge of the gate. The rest of the garrison was either at the loops, or was stationed on the roofs. As the darkness increased, Joel mustered sufficient courage to crawl through the hole, and actually reached the gate. Without him, it was found impossible to spring his mine, and he had been prevailed on to risk this much, on condition it should not be asked of him to do such violence to his feelings as to enter the court of a house in which he had seen so many happy days.
The arrangement, by which this traitor intended to throw a family upon the tender mercies of savages, was exceedingly simple. It will be remembered that only one leaf of the inner gate was hung, the other being put in its place, where it was sustained by a prop. This prop consisted of a single piece of timber, of which one end rested on the ground, and the other on the centre of the gate; the last being effectually prevented from slipping by pins of wood, driven into the massive wood-work of the gate, above its end. The lower end of the prop rested against a fragment of rock that nature had placed at this particular spot. As the work had been set up in a hurry, it was found necessary to place wedges between the lower end of the prop and the rock, in order to force the leaf properly into its groove, without which it might have been canted to one side, and of course easily overturned by the exercise of sufficient force from without.
To all this arrangement, Joel had been a party, and he knew, as a matter of course, its strong and its weak points. Seizing a favourable moment, he had loosened the wedges, leaving them in their places, however, but using the precaution to fasten a bit of small but strong cord to the most material one of the three, which cord he buried in the dirt, and led half round a stick driven into the earth, quite near the wall, and thence through a hole made by one of the hinges, to the outer side of the leaf. The whole had been done with so much care as to escape the vigilance of casual observers, and expressly that the overseer might assist his friends in entering the place, after he himself had provided for his own safety by flight. The circumstance that no one trod on the side of the gateway where the unhung leaf stood, prevented the half-buried cord from being disturbed by any casual footstep.
As soon as Joel reached the wall of the Hut, his first care was to ascertain if he were safe from missiles from the loops. Assured of this fact, he stole round to the gate, and had a consultation with the Mohawk chief, on the subject of springing the mine. The cord was found in its place; and, hauling on it gently, Joel was soon certain that he had removed the wedge, and that force might speedily throw down the unhung leaf. Still, he proceeded with caution. Applying the point of a lever to the bottom of the leaf, he hove it back sufficiently to be sure it would pass inside of its fellow; and then he announced to the grave warrior, who had watched the whole proceeding, that the time was come to lend his aid.
There were a dozen reckless whites, in the cluster of savages collected at the gate; and enough of these were placed at handspikes to effect the intended dislodgement. The plan was this: while poles were set against the upper portion of the leaf, to force it within the line of the suspended part, handspikes and crowbars, of which a sufficiency had been provided by Joel's forethought, were to be applied between the hinge edge and the wall, to cast the whole over to the other side.
Unluckily, Mike had been left at the gate as the sentinel. A more upfortunate selection could not have been made; the true-hearted fellow having so much self-confidence, and so little forethought, as to believe the gates impregnable. He had lighted a pipe, and was smoking as tranquilly as he had ever done before, in his daily indulgences of this character, when the unhung leaf came tumbling in upon the side where he sat; nothing saving his head but the upper edge's lodging against the wall. At the same moment, a dozen Indians leaped through the opening, and sprang into the court, raising the yells already described. Mike followed, armed with his shillelah, for his musket was abandoned in the surprise, and he began to lay about him with an earnestness that in nowise lessened the clamour. This was the moment when Joyce, nobly sustained by Blodget and Jamie Allen, poured a volley into the court, from the roofs; when the fray became general. To this point had the combat reached, when Willoughby rushed into the open air followed, a few instants later, by Nick.
The scene that succeeded is not easily described. It was a melee in the dark, illuminated, at instants, by the flashes of guns, and rendered horrible by shrieks, curses, groans and whoops. Mike actually cleared the centre of the court, where he was soon joined by Willoughby, when, together, they made a rush at a door, and actually succeeded in gaining their own party on the roof. It was not in nature for the young soldier to remain here, however, while his mother, Beulah, and, so far as he knew, Maud, lay exposed to the savages below. Arnid a shower of bullets he collected his whole force, and was on the point of charging into the court, when the roll of a drum without, brought everything to a stand. Young Blodget, who had displayed the ardour of a hero, and the coolness of a veteran throughout the short fray, sprang down the stairs unarmed, at this sound, passed through the astonished crowd in the court, unnoticed, and rushed to the outer gate. He had barely time to unbar it, when a body of troops marched through, led by a tall, manly-looking chief, who was accompanied by one that the young man instantly recognised, in spite of the darkness, for Mr. Woods, in his surplice. At the next moment, the strangers had entered, with military steadiness, into the court, to the number of, at least, fifty, ranging themselves in order across its area.
"In the name of Heaven, who are you?" called out Willoughby, from a window. "Speak at once, or we fire."
"I am Colonel Beekman, at the head of a regular force," was the answer, "and if, as I suspect, you are Major Willoughby, you know you are safe. In the name of Congress, I command all good citizens to keep the peace, or they will meet with punishment for their contumacy."
This announcement ended the war, Beekman and Willoughby grasping each other's hands fervently, at the next instant.
"Oh! Beekman!" exclaimed the last, "at what a moment has God sent you hither! Heaven be praised! notwithstanding all that has happened, you will find your wife and child safe. Place sentinels at both gates; for treachery has been at work here, and I shall ask for rigid justice."
"Softly—softly—my good fellow," answered Beekman, pressing his hand. "Your own position is a little delicate, and we must proceed with moderation. I learned, just in time, that a party was coming hither, bent on mischief; and obtaining the necessary authority, I hastened to the nearest garrison, obtained a company, and commenced my march as soon as possible. Had we not met with Mr. Woods, travelling for the settlements in quest of succour, we might have been too late. As it was, God be praised!—I think we have arrived in season."
Such were the facts. The Indians had repelled the zealous chaplain, as a madman; compelling him to take the route toward the settlements, however; their respect for this unfortunate class of beings, rendering them averse to his rejoining their enemies. He could, and did impart enough to Beekman to quicken his march, and to bring him and his followers up to the gate at a time when a minute might have cost the entire garrison their lives.
Anxious as he was to seek Beulah and his child, Beekman had a soldier's duties to perform, and those he would not neglect. The sentinels were posted, and orders issued to light lanterns, and to make a fire in the centre of the court, so that the actual condition of the field of battle might be ascertained. A surgeon had accompanied Beekman's party, and he was already at work, so far as the darkness would allow. Many hands being employed, and combustibles easy to be found, ere long the desired light was gleaming on the terrible spectacle.
A dozen bodies wexre stretched in the court, of which, three or four were fated never to rise again, in life. Of the rest, no less than four had fallen with broken heads, inflicted by O'Hearn's shillelah. Though these blows were not fatal, they effectually put the warriors hors de combat. Of the garrison, not one was among the slain, in this part of the field. On a later investigation, however, it was ascertained that the poor old Scotch mason had received a mortal hurt, through a window, and this by the very last shot that had been fired. On turning over the dead of the assailants, too, it was discovered that Daniel the Miller was of the number. A few of the Mohawks were seen, with glowing eyes, in corners of the court, applying their own rude dressings to their various hurts; succeeding, on the whole, in effecting the great purpose of the healing art, about as well as those who were committed to the lights of science.
Surprisingly few uninjured members of the assaulting party, however, were to be found, when the lanterns appeared. Some had slipped through the gate before the sentinels were posted; others had found their way to the roof, and thence, by various means to the ground; while a few lay concealed in the buildings, until a favourable moment offered to escape. Among all those who remained, not an individual was found who claimed to be in any authority. In a word, after five minutes of examination, both Beekman and Willoughby were satisfied that there no longer existed a force to dispute with them the mastery of the Hut.
"We have delayed too long relieving the apprehensions of those who are very dear to us, Major Willoughby," Beekman at length observed. "If you will lead the way to the parts of the buildings where your—my mother, and wife, are to be found, I will now follow you."
"Hold, Beekman—there yet remains a melancholy tale to be told—nay, start not—I left our Beulah, and your boy, in perfect health, less than a quarter of an hour since. But my honoured, honourable, revered, beloved father has been killed in a most extraordinary manner, and you will find his widow and daughters weeping over his body."
This appalling intelligence produced a halt, during which Willoughby explained all he knew of the manner of his father's death, which was merely the little he had been enabled to glean from Maud. As soon as this duty was performed, the gentlemen proceeded together to the apartment of the mourners, each carrying a light.
Willoughby made an involuntary exclamation, when he perceived that the door of his mother's room was open. He had hoped Maud would have had the presence of mind to close and lock it; but here he found it, yawning as if to invite the entrance of enemies. The light within, too, was extinguished, though, by the aid of the lanterns, he saw large traces of blood in the ante-room, and the passages he was obliged to thread. All this hastened his steps. Presently he stood in the chamber of death.
Short as had been the struggle, the thirst for scalps had led some of the savages to this sanctuary. The instant the Indians had gained the court, some of the most ferocious of their number had rushed into the building, penetrating its recesses in a way to defile them with slaughter. The first object that Willoughby saw was one of these ruthless warriors, stretched on the floor, with a living Indian, bleeding at half a dozen wounds, standing over him; the eye-balls of the latter were glaring like the tiger's that is suddenly confronted to a foe. An involuntary motion was made towards the rifle he carried, by the major; but the next look told him that the living Indian was Nick. Then it was, that he gazed more steadily about him, and took in all the horrible truths of that fatal chamber.
Mrs. Willoughby was sealed in the chair where she had last been seen, perfectly dead. No mark of violence was ever found on her body, however, and there is no doubt that her constant spirit had followed that of her husband to the other world, in submission to the blow which had separated them. Beulah had been shot; not, as was afterwards ascertained, by any intentional aim, but by one of those random bullets, of which so many had been flying through the buildings. The missile had passed through her heart, and she lay pressing the little Evert to her bosom, with that air of steady and unerring affection which had marked every act of her innocent and feeling life. The boy himself, thanks to the tiger-like gallantry of Nick, had escaped unhurt. The Tuscarora had seen a party of six take the direction of this chamber, and he followed with an instinct of their intentions. When the leader entered the room, and found three dead bodies, he raised a yell that betokened his delight at the prospect of gaining so many scalps; at the next instant, while his fingers were actually entwined in the hair of Captain Willoughby, he fell by a blow from Wyandotte. Nick next extinguished the lamp, and then succeeded a scene, which none of the actors, themselves, could have described. Another Mohawk fell, and the remainder, ailer suffering horribly from the keen knife of Nick, as well as from blows received from each other, dragged themselves away, leaving the field to the Tuscarora. The latter met the almost bewildered gaze of the major with a smile of grim triumph, as he pointed to the three bodies of the beloved ones, and said—
"See—all got scalp! Deat', nothin'—scalp, ebbery t'ing."
We shall not attempt to describe the outbreaking of anguish from the husband and brother. It was a moment of wild grief, that bore down all the usual restraints of manhood, though it was such a moment as an American frontier residence has often witnessed. The quiet but deep- feeling nature of Beekman received a shock that almost produced a dissolution of his earthly being. He succeeded, however, in raising the still warm body of Beulah from the floor, and folding it to his heart. Happily for his reason, a flood of tears, such as women shed, burst from his soul, rather than from his eyes, bedewing her still sweet and placid countenance.
To say that Robert Willoughby did not feel the desolation, which so suddenly alighted on a family that had often been quoted for its mutual affection and happiness, would be to do him great injustice. He even staggered under the blow; yet his heart craved further information. The Indian was gazing intently on the sight of Beekman's grief, partly in wonder, but more in sympathy, when he felt an iron pressure of his arm.
"Maud—Tuscarora"—the major rather groaned than whispered in his ear, "know you anything of Maud?"
Nick made a gesture of assent; then motioned for the other to follow. He led the way to the store-room, produced the key, and throwing open the door, Maud was weeping on Robert Willoughby's bosom in another instant. He would not take her to the chamber of death, but urged her, by gentle violence, to follow him to the library.
"God be praised for this mercy!" exclaimed the ardent girl, raising her hands and streaming eyes to heaven. "I know not, care not, who is conqueror, since you are safe!"
"Oh! Maud—beloved one—we must now be all in all to each other. Death has stricken the others."
This was a sudden and involuntary announcement, though it was best it should be so under the circumstances. It was long before Maud could hear an outline, even, of the details, but she bore them better than Willoughby could have hoped. The excitement had been so high, as to brace the mind to meet any human evil. The sorrow that came afterwards, though sweetened by so many tender recollections, and chastened hopes, was deep and enduring.
Our picture would not have been complete, without relating the catastrophe that befell the Hutted Knoll; but, having discharged this painful duty, we prefer to draw a veil over the remainder of that dreadful night. The cries of the negresses, when they learned the death of their old and young mistress, disturbed the silence of the place for a few minutes and then a profound stillness settled on the buildings, marking them distinctly as the house of mourning. On further inquiry, too, it was ascertained that Great Smash, after shooting an Oneida, had been slain and scalped. Pliny the younger, also, fell fighting like a wild beast to defend the entrance to his mistresses' apartments.
The following day, when light had returned, a more accurate idea was obtained of the real state of the valley. All of the invading party, the dead and wounded excepted, had made a rapid retreat, accompanied by most of the deserters and their families. The name, known influence, and actual authority of Colonel Beekman had wrought this change; the irregular powers that had set the expedition in motion, preferring to conceal their agency in the transaction, rather than make any hazardous attempt to claim the reward of patriotic service, as is so often done in revolutions, for merciless deeds and selfish acts. There had been no real design on the part of the whites to injure any of the family in their persons; but, instigated by Joel, they had fancied the occasion favourable for illustrating their own public virtue, while they placed themselves in the way of receiving fortune's favours. The assault that actually occurred, was one of those uncontrollable outbreakings of Indian ferocity, that have so often set at defiance the restraints of discipline.
Nick was not to be found either. He had been last seen dressing his wounds, with Indian patience, and Indian skill, preparing to apply herbs and roots, in quest of which he went into the forest about midnight. As he did not return Willoughby feared that he might be suffering alone, and determined to have a search made, as soon as he had performed the last sad offices for the dead.
Two days occurred, however, before this melancholy duty was discharged. The bodies of all the savages who had fallen were interred the morning after the assault; but that of Jamie Allen, with those of the principal persons of the family, were kept for the pious purposes of affection, until the time mentioned.
The funeral was a touching sight. The captain, his wife, and daughter, were laid, side by side, near the chapel; the first and last of their race that ever reposed in the wilds of America. Mr. Woods read the funeral service, summoning all his spiritual powers to sustain him, as he discharged this solemn office of the church. Willoughby's arm was around the waist of Maud, who endeavoured to reward his tender assiduities by a smile, but could not. Colonel Beekman held little Evert in his arms, and stood over the grave with the countenance of a resolute man stricken with grief—one of the most touching spectacles of our nature.
"I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord," sounded in the stillness of that valley like a voice from heaven, pouring out consolation on the bruised spirits of the mourners. Maud raised her face from Willoughby's shoulder, and lifted her blue eyes to the cloudless vault above her; soliciting mercy, and offering resignation in the look. The line of troops in the back-ground moved, as by a common impulse, and then a breathless silence showed the desire of these rude beings not to lose a syllable.
A round red spot formed on each of the cheeks of Mr. Woods as he proceeded, and his voice gathered strength, until its lowest intonations came clear and distinct on every ear. Just as the bodies were about to be lowered into their two receptacles, the captain, his wife and daughter being laid in the same grave, Nick came with his noiseless step near the little group of mourners. He had issued from the forest only a few minutes before, and understanding the intention of the ceremony, he approached the spot as fast as weakness and wounds would allow. Even he listened with profound attention to the chaplain, never changing his eye from his face, unless to glance at the coffins as they lay in their final resting-place.
"I heard a voice from Heaven, saying unto me, write, From henceforth blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; even so saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labours," continued the chaplain, his voice beginning to betray a tremor; then the gaze of the Tuscarora became keen as the panther's glance at his discovered victim. Tears followed, and, for a moment, the voice was choked.
"Why you woman?" demanded Nick, fiercely. "Save all 'e scalp!"
This strange interruption failed to produce any effect. First Beekman yielded; Maud and Willoughby followed; until Mr. Woods, himself, unable to resist the double assaults of the power of sympathy and his own affection, closed the book and wept like a child.
It required minutes for the mourners to recover their self-command. When the latter returned, however, all knelt on the grass, the line of soldiers included, and the closing prayers were raised to the throne of God.
This act of devotion enabled the mourners to maintain an appearance of greater tranquillity until the graves were filled. The troops advanced, and fired three volleys over the captain's grave, when all retired towards the Hut. Maud had caught little Evert from the arms of his father, and, pressing him to her bosom, the motherless babe seemed disposed to slumber there. In this manner she walked away, attended closely by the father, who now cherished his boy as an only treasure.
Willoughby lingered the last at the grave, Nick alone remaining near him. The Indian had been struck by the exhibition of deep sorrow that he had witnessed, and he felt an uneasiness that was a little unaccountable to himself. It was one of the caprices of this strange nature of ours, that he should feel a desire to console those whom he had so deeply injured himself. He drew near to Robert Willoughby, therefore, and, laying a hand on the latter's arm, drew his look in the direction of his own red and speaking face.
"Why so sorry, major?" he said. "Warrior nebber die but once— must die sometime."
"There lie my father, my mother, and my only sister, Indian—is not that enough to make the stoutest heart bend? You knew them, too, Nick— did you ever know better?"
"Squaw good—both squaw good—Nick see no pale-face squaw he like so much."
"I thank you, Nick! This rude tribute to the virtues of my mother and sister, is far more grateful to me than the calculating and regulated condolence of the world."
"No squaw so good as ole one—she, all heart—love every body, but self."
This was so characteristic of his mother, that Willoughby was startled by the sagacity of the savage, though reflection told him so long an acquaintance with the family must have made a dog familiar with this beautiful trait in his mother.
"And my father, Nick!" exclaimed the major, with feeling—"my noble, just, liberal, gallant father!—He, too, you knew well, and must have loved."
"No so good as squaw," answered the Tuscarora, sententiously, and not altogether without disgust in his manner.
"We are seldom as good as our wives, and mothers, and sisters, Nick, else should we be angels on earth. But, allowing for the infirmities of us men, my father was just and gocd."
"Too much flog"—answered the savage, sternly—"make Injin's back sore."
This extraordinary speech struck the major less, at the time, than it did, years afterwards, when he came to reflect on all the events and dialogues of this teeming week. Such was also the case as to what followed.
"You are no flatterer, Tuscarora, as I have always found in our intercourse. If my father ever punished you with severity, you will allow, me, at least, to imagine it was merited."
"Too much flog, I say," interrupted the savage, fiercely. "No difference, chief or not. Touch ole sore too rough. Good, some; bad, some. Like weather—now shine; now storm."
"This is no time to discuss these points, Nick. You have fought nobly for us, and I thank you. Without your aid, these beloved ones would have been mutilated, as well as slain; and Maud—my own blessed Maud— might now have been sleeping at their sides."
Nick's face was now all softness again, and he returned the pressure of Willoughby's hand with honest fervor. Here they separated. The major hastened to the side of Maud, to fold her to his heart, and console her with his love. Nick passed into the forest, returning no more to the Hut. His path led him near the grave. On the side where lay the body of Mrs. Willoughby, he threw a flower he had plucked in the meadow; while he shook his finger menacingly at the other, which hid the person of his enemy. In this, he was true to his nature, which taught him never to forget a favour, or forgive an injury.
"I shall go on through all eternity, Thank God, I only am an embryo still: The small beginning of a glorious soul, An atom that shall fill immensity."
A fortnight elapsed ere Willoughby and his party could tear themselves from a scene that had witnessed so much domestic happiness; but on which had fallen the blight of death. During that time, the future arrangements of the survivors were completed. Beekman was made acquainted with the state of feeling that existed between his brother- in-law and Maud, and he advised an immediate union.
"Be happy while you can," he said, with bitter emphasis. "We live in troubled times, and heaven knows when we shall see better. Maud has not a blood-relation in all America, unless there may happen to be some in the British army. Though we should all be happy to protect and cherish the dear girl, she herself would probably, prefer to be near those whom nature has appointed her friends. To me, she will always seem a sister, as you must ever be a brother. By uniting yourselves at once, all appearances of impropriety will be avoided; and in time, God averting evil, you can introduce your wife to her English connections."
"You forget, Beekman, that you are giving this advice to one who is a prisoner on parole, and one who may possibly be treated as a spy."
"No—that is impossible. Schuyler, our noble commander, is both just and a gentleman. He will tolerate nothing of the sort. Your exchange can easily be effected, and, beyond your present difficulties, I can pledge myself to be able to protect you."
Willoughby was not averse to following this advice; and he urged it upon Maud, as the safest and most prudent course they could pursue. Our heroine, however, was so reluctant even to assuming the appearance of happiness, so recently after the losses she had experienced, that the lover's task of persuasion was by no means easy. Maud was totally free from affectation, while she possessed the keenest sense of womanly propriety. Her intercourse with Robert Willoughby had been of the tenderest and most confidential nature, above every pretence of concealment, and was rendered sacred by the scenes through which they had passed. Her love, her passionate, engrossing attachment, she did not scruple to avow; but she could not become a bride while the stains of blood seemed so recent on the very hearth around which they were sitting. She still saw the forms of the dead, in their customary places, heard their laughs, the tones of their affectionate voices, the maternal whisper, the playful, paternal reproof, or Beulah's gentle call.
"Yet, Robert," said Maud, for she could now call him by that name, and drop the desperate familiarity of 'Bob,'—"yet, Robert, there would be a melancholy satisfaction in making our vows at the altar of the little chapel, where we have so often worshipped together—the loved ones who are gone and we who alone remain."
"True, dearest Maud; and there is another reason why we should quit this place only as man and wife. Beekman has owned that a question will probably be raised among the authorities at Albany concerning the nature of my visit here. It might relieve him from an appeal to more influence than would be altogether pleasant, did I appear as a bridegroom rather than as a spy."
The word "spy" settled the matter. All ordinary considerations were lost sight of, under the apprehensions it created, and Maud frankly consented to become a wife that very day. The ceremony was performed by Mr. Woods accordingly, and the little chapel witnessed tears of bitter recollections mingling with the smiles with which the bride received the warm embrace of her husband, after the benediction was pronounced. Still, all felt that, under the circumstances, delay would have been unwise. Maud saw a species of holy solemnity in a ceremony so closely connected with scenes so sad.
A day or two after the marriage, all that remained of those who had so lately crowded the Hut, left the valley together. The valuables were packed and transported to boats lying in the stream below the mills. All the cattle, hogs, &c., were collected and driven towards the settlements; and horses were prepared for Maud and the females, who were to thread the path that led to Fort Stanwix. In a word, the Knoll was to be abandoned, as a spot unfit to be occupied in such a war. None but labourers, indeed, could, or would remain, and Beekman thought it wisest to leave the spot entirely to nature, for the few succeeding years.
There had been some rumours of confiscations by the new state, and Willoughby had come to the conclusion that it would be safer to transfer this property to one who would be certain to escape such an infliction, than to retain it in his own hands. Little Evert was entitled to receive a portion of the captain's estate by justice, if not by law. No will had been found, and the son succeeded as heir-at- law. A deed was accordingly drawn up by Mr. Woods, who understood such matters, and being duly executed, the Beaver Dam property was vested in fee in the child. His own thirty thousand pounds, the personals he inherited from his mother, and Maud's fortune, to say nothing of the major's commission, formed an ample support for the new-married pair. When all was settled, and made productive, indeed, Willoughby found himself the master of between three and four thousand sterling a year, exclusively of his allowances from the British government, an ample fortune for that day. In looking over the accounts of Maud's fortune, he had reason to admire the rigid justice, and free-handed liberality with which his father had managed her affairs. Every farthing of her income had been transferred to capital, a long minority nearly doubling the original investment. Unknown to himself, he had married one of the largest heiresses then to be found in the American colonies. This was unknown to Maud, also; though it gave her great delight on her husband's account, when she came to learn the truth.
Albany was reached in due time, though not without encountering the usual difficulties. Here the party separated. The remaining Plinys and Smashes were all liberated, handsome provisions made for their little wants, and good places found for them, in the connection of the family to which they had originally belonged. Mike announced his determination to enter a corps that was intended expressly to fight the Indians. He had a long score to settle, and having no wife or children, he thought he might amuse himself in this way, during a revolution, as well as in any other.
"If yer honour was going anywhere near the county Leitrim," he said, in answer to Willoughby's offer to keep him near himself, "I might travel in company; seein' that a man likes to look on ould faces, now and then. Many thanks for this bag of gold, which will sarve to buy scalps wid'; for divil bur-r-n me, if I don't carry on that trade, for some time to come. T'ree cuts wid a knife, half a dozen pokes in the side, and a bullet scraping; the head, makes a man mindful of what has happened; to say nothing of the captain, and Madam Willoughby, and Miss Beuly—God for ever bless and presarve 'em all t'ree—and, if there was such a thing as a bit of a church in this counthry, wouldn't I use this gould for masses?—dat I would, and let the scalps go to the divil!"
This was an epitome of the views of Michael O'Hearn. No arguments of Willoughby's could change his resolution; but he set forth, determined to illustrate his career by procuring as many Indian scalps, as an atonement for the wrongs done "Madam Willoughby and Miss Beuly," as came within his reach.
"And you, Joyce," said the major, in an interview he had with the serjeant, shortly after reaching Albany; "I trust we are not to part. Thanks to Colonel Beekman's influence and zeal, I am already exchanged, and shall repair to New York next week. You are a soldier; and these are times in which a good soldier is of some account. I think I can safely promise you a commission in one of the new provincial regiments, about to be raised."
"I thank your honour, but do not feel at liberty to accept the offer. I took service with Captain Willoughby for life; had he lived, I would have followed wherever he led. But that enlistment has expired; and I am now like a recruit before he takes the bounty. In such cases, a man has always a right to pick his corps. Politics I do not much understand; but when the question comes up of pulling a trigger for or against his country, an unengaged man has a right to choose. Between the two, meaning no reproach to yourself, Major Willoughby, who had regularly taken service with the other side, before the war began—but, between the two, I would rather fight an Englishman, than an American."
"You may possibly be right, Joyce; though, as you say, my service is taken. I hope you follow the dictates of conscience, as I am certain I do myself. We shall never meet in arms, however, if I can prevent it. There is a negotiation for a lieutenant-colonelcy going on, which, if it succeed, will carry me to England. I shall never serve an hour longer against these colonies, if it be in my power to avoid it."
"States, with your permission, Major Willoughby," answered the serjeant, a little stiffly. "I am glad to hear it, sir; for, though I wish my enemies good soldiers, I would rather not have the son of my old captain among them. Colonel Beekman has offered to make me serjeant-major of his own regiment; and we both of us join next week."
Joyce was as good as his word. He became serjeant-major, and, in the end, lieutenant and adjutant of the regiment he had mentioned. He fought in most of the principal battles of the war, and retired at the peace, with an excellent character. Ten years later, he fell, in one of the murderous Indian affairs, that occurred during the first oresidential term, a grey-headed captain of foot. The manner of his death was not to be regretted, perhaps, as it was what he had always wished might happen; but, it was a singular fact, that Mike stood over his body, and protected it from mutilation; the County Leitrim-man having turned soldier by trade, re-enlisting regularly, as soon as at liberty, and laying up scalps on all suitable occasions.
Blodget, too, had followed Joyce to the wars. The readiness and intelligence of this young man, united to a courage of proof, soon brought him forward, and he actually came out of the revolution a captain. His mind, manners and information advancing with himself, he ended his career, not many years since, a prominent politician in one of the new states; a general in the militia—no great preferment, by the way, for one who had been a corporal at the Hut—and a legislator. Worse men have often acted in all these capacities among us; and it was said, with truth, at the funeral of General Blodget, an accident that does not always occur on such occasions, that "another revolutionary hero is gone." Beekman was never seen to smile, from the moment he first beheld the dead body of Beulah, lying with little Evert in her arms. He served faithfully until near the close of the war, falling in battle only a few months previously to the peace. His boy preceded him to the grave, leaving, as confiscations had gone out of fashion by that time, his uncle heir-at-law, again, to the same property that he had conferred on himself.
As for Willoughby and Maud, they were safely conveyed to New York, where the former rejoined his regiment. Our heroine here met her great- uncle, General Meredith, the first of her own blood relations whom she had seen since infancy. Her reception was grateful to her feelings; and, there being a resemblance in years, appearance and manners, she transferred much of that affection which she had thought interred for ever in the grave of her reputed father, to this revered relative. He became much attached to his lovely niece, himself; and, ten years later, Willoughby found his income quite doubled, by his decease.
At the expiration of six months, the gazette that arrived from England, announced the promotion of "Sir Robert Willoughby, Bart., late major in the —-th, to be lieutenant colonel, by purchase, in His Majesty's —-th regiment of foot." This enabled Willoughby to quit America; to which quarter of the world he had no occasion to be sent during the remainder of the war.
Of that war, itself, there is little occasion to speak. Its progress and termination have long been matters of history. The independence of America was acknowledged by England in 1783; and, immediately after, the republicans commenced the conquest of their wide-spread domains, by means of the arts of peace. In 1785, the first great assaults were made on the wilderness, in that mountainous region which has been the principal scene of our tale. The Indians had been driven off, in a great measure, by the events of the revolution; and the owners of estates, granted under the crown, began to search for their lands in the untenanted woods. Such isolated families, too, as had taken refuge in the settlements, now began to return to their deserted possessions; and soon the smokes of clearings were obscuring the sun. Whitestown, Utica, on the site of old Fort Stanwix, Cooperstown, for years the seat of justice for several thousand square miles of territory, all sprang into existence between the years 1785 and 1790. Such places as Oxford, Binghamton, Norwich, Sherburne, Hamilton, and twenty more, that now dot the region of which we have been writing, did not then exist, even in name; for, in that day, the appellation and maps came after the place; whereas, now, the former precede the last.
The ten years that elapsed between 1785 and 1795, did wonders for all this mountain district. More favourable lands lay spread in the great west, but the want of roads, and remoteness from the markets, prevented their occupation. For several years, therefore, the current of emigration which started out of the eastern states, the instant peace was proclaimed, poured its tide into the counties mentioned in our opening chapter—counties as they are to-day; county ay, and fragment of a county, too, as they were then.
The New York Gazette, a journal that frequently related facts that actually occurred, announced in its number of June 11th, 1795, "His Majesty's Packet that has just arrived"—it required half a century to teach the journalists of this country the propriety of saying "His Britannic Majesty's Packet," instead of "His Majesty's," a bit of good taste, and of good sense, that many of them have yet to learn—"has brought out," home would have been better "among her passengers, Lieutenant-General Sir Robert Willoughby, and his lady, both of whom are natives of this state. We welcome them back to their land of nativity where we can assure them they will be cordially received notwithstanding old quarrels. Major Willoughby's kindness to American prisoners is gratefully remembered; nor is it forgotten that he desired to exchange to another regiment in order to avoid further service in this country."
It will be conceded, this was a very respectable puff for the year 1795, when something like moderation, truth, and propriety were observed upon such occasions. The effect was to bring the English general's name into the mouths of the whole state; a baronet causing a greater sensation then, in America, than a duke would produce to-day. It had the effect, however, of bringing around General Willoughby many of his father's, and his own old friends, and he was as well received in New York, twelve years after the termination of the conflict, as if he had fought on the other side. The occurrence of the French revolution, and the spread of doctrines that were termed Jacobinical, early removed all the dissensions between a large portion of the whigs of America and the tories of England, on this side of the water at least; and Providence only can tell what might have been the consequences, had this feeling been thoroughly understood on the other.
Passing over all political questions, however, our narrative calls us to the relation of its closing scene. The visit of Sir Robert and Lady Willoughby to the land of their birth was, in part, owing to feeling; in part, to a proper regard for the future provision of their children. The baronet had bought the ancient paternal estate of his family in England, and having two daughters, besides an only son, it occurred to him that the American property, called the Hutted Knoll, might prove a timely addition to the ready money he had been able to lay up from his income. Then, both he and his wife had a deep desire to revisit those scenes where they had first learned to love each other, and which still held the remains of so many who were dear to them.
The cabin of a suitable sloop was therefore engaged, and the party, consisting of Sir Robert, his wife, a man and woman servant, and a sort of American courier, engaged for the trip, embarked on the morning of the 25th of July. On the afternoon of the 30th, the sloop arrived in safety at Albany, where a carriage was hired to proceed the remainder of the way by land. The route by old Fort Stanwix, as Utica was still generally called, was taken. Our travellers reached it on the evening of the third day; the 'Sands, which are now traversed in less than an hour, then occupying more than half of the first day. When at Fort Stanwix, a passable country road was found, by which the travellers journeyed until they reached a tavern that united many of the comforts of a coarse civilisation, with frontier simplicity. Here they were given to understand they had only a dozen miles to go, in order to reach the Knoll.
It was necessary to make the remainder of the journey on horseback. A large, untenanted estate lay between the highway and the valley, across which no public road had yet been made. Foot-paths, however, abounded, and the rivulet was found without any difficulty. It was, perhaps, fortunate for the privacy of the Knoll, that it lay in the line of no frequented route, and, squatters being rare in that day, Willoughby saw, the instant he struck the path that followed the sinuosities of the stream, that it had been seldom trodden in the interval of the nineteen-years which had occurred since he had last seen it himself. The evidences of this fact increased, as the stream was ascended, until the travellers reached the mill, when it was found that the spirit of destruction, which so widely prevails in the loose state of society that exists in all new countries, had been at work. Every one of the buildings at the falls had been burnt; probably as much because it was in the power of some reckless wanderer to work mischief, as for any other reason. That the act was the result of some momentary impulse, was evident in the circumstance that the mischief went no further. Some of the machinery had been carried away, however, to be set up in other places, on a principle that is very widely extended through all border settlements, which considers the temporary disuse of property as its virtual abandonment.
It was a moment of pain and pleasure, strangely mingled, when Willoughby and Maud reached the rocks, and got a first view of the ancient Beaver Dam. All the buildings remained, surprisingly little altered to the eye by the lapse of years. The gates had been secured when they left the place, in 1776; and the Hut, having no accessible external windows, that dwelling remained positively intact. It is true, quite half the palisadoes were rotted down; but the Hut, itself, had resisted the ravages of time. A fire had been kindled against its side, but the stone walls had opposed an obstacle to its ravages; and an attempt, by throwing a brand upon the roof, had failed of its object, the shingles not igniting. On examination, the lock of the inner gate was still secure. The key had been found, and, on its application, an entrance was obtained into the court.