What a moment was that, when Maud, fresh from the luxuries of an English home, entered this long and well remembered scene of her youth! Rank grasses were growing in the court, but they soon disappeared before the scythes that had been brought, in expectation of the circumstance. Then, all was clear for an examination of the house. The Hut was exactly in the condition in which it had been left, with the exception of a little, and a very little, dust collected by time.
Maud was still in the bloom of womanhood, feminine, beautiful, full of feeling, and as sincere as when she left these woods, though her feelings were tempered a little by intercourse with the world. She went from room to room, hanging on Willoughby's arm, forbidding any to follow. All the common furniture had been left in the house, in expectation it would be inhabited again, ere many years; and this helped to preserve the identity. The library was almost entire; the bed-rooms, the parlours, and even the painting-room, were found very much as they would have appeared, after an absence of a few months. Tears flowed in streams down the cheeks of Lady Willoughby, as she went through room after room, and recalled to the mind of her husband the different events of which they had been the silent witnesses. Thus passed an hour or two of unutterable tenderness, blended with a species of holy sorrow. At the end of that time, the attendants, of whom many had been engaged, had taken possession of the offices, &c., and were bringing the Hut once more into a habitable condition. Soon, too, a report was brought that the mowers, who had been brought in anticipation of their services being wanted, had cut a broad swathe to the ruins of the chapel, and the graves of the family.
It was now near the setting of the sun, and the hour was favourable for the melancholy duty that remained. For bidding any to follow, Willoughby proceeded with Maud to the graves. These had been dug within a little thicket of shrubs, planted by poor Jamie Allen, under Maud's own directions. She had then thought that the spot might one day be wanted. These bushes, lilacs, and ceringos, had grown to a vast size, in that rich soil. They completely concealed the space within, an area of some fifty square feet, from the observation of those without. The grass had been cut over all, however, and an opening made by the mowers gave access to the graves. On reaching this opening, Willoughby started at hearing voices within the inclosure; he was about to reprove the intruders, when Maud pressed his arm, and whispered—
"Listen, Willoughby—those voices sound strangely to my ears! We have heard them before."
"I tell ye, Nick—ould Nicky, or Saucy Nick, or whatever's yer name," said one within in a strong Irish accent "that Jamie, the mason that was, is forenent ye, at this minute, under that bit of a sod—and, it's his honour, and Missus, and Miss Beuly, that is buried here. Och! ye're a cr'ature, Nick; good at takin' scalps, but ye knows nothin' of graves; barrin' the quhantity ye've helped to fill."
"Good"—answered the Indian. "Cap'in here; squaw here; darter here. Where son?—where t'other gal?"
"Here," answered Willoughby, leading Maud within the hedge. "I am Robert Willoughby, and this is Maud Meredith, my wife."
Mike fairly started; he even showed a disposition to seize a musket which lay on the grass. As for the Indian, a tree in the forest could not have stood less unmoved than he was at this unexpected interruption. Then all four stood in silent admiration, noting the changes which time had, more or less, wrought in all.
Willoughby was in the pride of manhood. He had served with distinction, and his countenance and frame both showed it, though neither had suffered more than was necessary to give him a high military air, and a look of robust vigour. As for Maud, with her graceful form fully developed by her riding-habit, her soft lineaments and polished expression, no one would have thought her more than thirty, which was ten years less than her real age. With Mike and Nick it was very different. Both had grown old, not only in fact, but in appearance. The Irishman was turned of sixty, and his hard, coarse-featured face, burnt as red as the sun in a fog, by exposure and Santa Cruz, was getting to be wrinkled and a little emaciated. Still, his frame was robust and powerful. His attire was none of the best, and it was to be seen at a glance that it was more than half military. In point of fact, the poor fellow had been refused a reinlistment in the army, on account of his infirmities and years, and America was not then a country to provide retreats for her veterans. Still, Mike had an ample pension for wounds, and could not be said to be in want. He had suffered in the same battle with Joyce, in whose company he had actually been corporal O'Hearn, though his gallant commander had not risen to fight again, as had been the case with the subordinate.
Wyandotte exhibited still greater changes. He had seen his threescore and ten years; and was fast falling into the "sere and yellow leaf." His hair was getting grey, and his frame, though still active and sinewy, would have yielded under the extraordinary marches he had once made. In dress, there was nothing to remark; his ordinary Indian attire being in as good condition as was usual for the man. Willoughby thought, however, that his eye was less wild than when he knew him before; and every symptom of intemperance had vanished, not only from his countenance, but his person.
From the moment Willoughby appeared, a marked change came over the countenance of Nick. His dark eye, which still retained much of its brightness, turned in the direction of the neighbouring chapel, and he seemed relieved when a rustling in the bushes announced a footstep. There had not been another word spoken when the lilacs were shoved aside, and Mr. Woods, a vigorous little man, in a green old age, entered the area. Willoughby had not seen the chaplain since they parted at Albany, and the greetings were as warm as they were unexpected.
"I have lived a sort of hermit's life, my dear Bob, since the death of your blessed parents," said the divine, clearing his eyes of tears; "now and then cheered by a precious letter from yourself and Maud—I call you both by the names I gave you both in baptism—and it was, 'I, Maud, take thee, Robert,' when you stood before the altar in that little edifice—you will pardon me if I am too familiar with a general officer and his lady"
"Familiar!" exclaimed both in a breath;—and Maud's soft, white hand was extended towards the chaplain, with reproachful earnestness;—"We, who were made Christians by you, and who have so much reason to remember and love you always!"
"Well, well; I see you are Robert and Maud, still"—dashing streaming tears from his eyes now. "Yes, I did bring you both into God's visible church on earth, and you were baptised by one who received his ordination from the Archbishop of Canterbury himself,"—Maud smiled a little archly—"and who has never forgotten his ordination vows, as he humbly trusts. But you are not the only Christians I have made—I now rank Nicholas among the number"—
"Nick!" interrupted Sir Robert—"Wyandotte!" added his wife, with a more delicate tact.
"I call him Nicholas, now, since he was christened by that name—there is no longer a Wyandotte, or a Saucy Nick. Major Willoughby, I have a secret to communicate—I beg pardon, Sir Robert—but you will excuse old habits—if you will walk this way."
Willoughby was apart with the chaplain a full half-hour, during which time Maud wept over the graves, the rest standing by in respectful silence. As for Nick, a stone could scarcely have been more fixed than his attitude. Nevertheless, his mien was rebuked, his eye downcast; even his bosom was singularly convulsed. He knew that the chaplain was communicating to Willoughby the manner in which he had slain his father. At length, the gentlemen returned slowly towards the graves; the general agitated, frowning, and flushed. As for Mr. Woods, he was placid and full of hope. Willoughby had yielded to his expostulations and arguments a forgiveness, which came reluctantly, and perhaps as much for the want of a suitable object for retaliation, as from a sense of Christian duty.
"Nicholas," said the chaplain, "I have told the general all."
"He know him!" cried the Indian, with startling energy.
"I do, Wyandotte; and sorry have I been to learn it. You have made my heart bitter."
Nick was terribly agitated. His youthful and former opinions maintained a fearful struggle with those which had come late in life; the result being a wild admixture of his sense of Indian justice, and submission to the tenets of his new, and imperfectly-comprehended faith. For a moment, the first prevailed. Advancing, with a firm step, to the general, he put his own bright and keen tomahawk into the other's hands, folded his arms on his bosom, bowed his head a little, and said, firmly—
"Strike—Nick kill cap'in—Major kill Nick."
"No, Tuscarora, no," answered Sir Robert Willoughby, his whole soul yielding before this act of humble submission—"May God in heaven forgive the deed, as I now forgive you."
There was a wild smile gleaming on the face of the Indian; he grasped both hands of Willoughby in his own. He then muttered the words, "God forgive," his eye rolled upward at the clouds, and he fell dead on the grave of his victim. It was thought, afterwards, that agitation had accelerated the crisis of an incurable affection of the heart.
A few minutes of confusion followed. Then Mike, bare-headed, his old face flushed and angry, dragged from his pockets a string of strange- looking, hideous objects, and laid them by the Indian's side. They were human scalps, collected by himself, in the course of many campaigns, and brought, as a species of hecatomb, to the graves of the fallen.
"Out upon ye, Nick!" he cried. "Had I known the like of that, little would I have campaigned in yer company! Och! 'twas an undacent deed, and a hundred confessions would barely wipe it from yer sowl. It's a pity, too, that ye've died widout absolution from a praist, sich as I've tould ye off. Barrin' the brache of good fellieship, I could have placed yer own scalp wid the rest, as a p'ace-offering, to his Honour, the Missus and Miss Beuly——"
"Enough," interrupted Sir Robert Willoughby, with an authority of manner that Mike's military habits could not resist; "the man has repented, and is forgiven. Maud, love, it is time to quit this melancholy scene; occasions will offer to revisit it."
In the end, Mr. Woods took possession of the Hut, as a sort of hermitage, in which to spend the remainder of his days. He had toiled hard for the conversion of Nick, in gratitude for the manner in which he had fought in defence of the females. He now felt as keen a desire to rescue the Irishman from the superstitions of what he deemed an error quite as fatal as heathenism. Mike consented to pass the remainder of his days at the Knoll, which was to be, and in time, was, renovated, under their joint care.
Sir Robert and Lady Willoughby passed a month in the valley. Nick had been buried within the bushes; and even Maud had come to look upon this strange conjunction of graves, with the eye of a Christian, blended with the tender regrets of a woman. The day that the general and his wife left the valley for ever, they paid a final visit to the graves. Here Maud wept for an hour. Then her husband, passing an arm around her waist, drew her gently away; saying, as they were quitting the inclosure—
"They are in Heaven, dearest—looking down in love, quite likely, on us, the objects of so much of their earthly affection. As for Wyandotte, he lived according to his habits and intelligence, and happily died under the convictions of a conscience directed by the lights of divine grace. Little will the deeds of this life be remembered, among those who have been the true subjects of its blessed influence. If this man were unmerciful in his revenge, he also remembered my mother's kindnesses, and bled for her and her daughters. Without his care, my life would have remained unblessed with your love, my ever-precious Maud! He never forgot a favour, or forgave an injury."