It was odd that this was said without the least thought, on the part of the speaker, that Maud was not her natural sister—that, in fact, she was not in the least degree related to her by blood. But so closely and judiciously had captain and Mrs. Willoughby managed the affair of their adopted child, that neither they themselves, Beulah, nor the inmates of the family or household, ever thought of her, but as of a real daughter of her nominal parents. As for Beulah, her feelings were so simple and sincere, that they were even beyond the ordinary considerations of delicacy, and she took precisely the same liberties with her titular, as she would have done with a natural sister. Maud alone, of all in the Hut, remembered her birth, and submitted to some of its most obvious consequences. As respects the captain, the idea never crossed her mind, that she was adopted by him; as respects her mother, she filled to her, in every sense, that sacred character; Beulah, too, was a sister, in thought and deed; but, Bob, he had so changed, had been so many years separated from her; had once actually called her Miss Meredith— somehow, she knew not how herself—it was fully six years since she had begun to remember that he was not her brother.
"As for my father," said Maud, rising with emotion, and speaking with startling emphasis—"I will not say I love him—I worship him!"
"Ah! I know that well enough, Maud; and to say the truth, you are a couple of idolaters, between you. Mamma says this, sometimes; though she owns she is not jealous. But it would pain her excessively to hear that you do not feel towards Bob, just as we all feel."
"But, ought I?—Beulah, I cannot!"
"Ought you!—Why not, Maud? Are you in your senses, child?"
"But—you know—I'm sure—you ought to remember—"
"What?" demanded Beulah, really frightened at the other's excessive agitation.
"That I am not his real—true—born sister!"
This was the first time in their lives, either had ever alluded to the fact, in the other's presence. Beulah turned pale; she trembled all over, as if in an ague; then she luckily burst into tears, else she might have fainted.
"Beulah—my sister—my own sister!" cried Maud, throwing herself into the arms of the distressed girl.
"Ah! Maud, you are, you shall for ever be, my only, only sister."
O! It is great for our country to die, where ranks are contending; Bright is the wreath of our fame; Glory awaits us for aye— Glory, that never is dim, shining on with light never ending— Glory, that never shall fade, never, O! never away.
Notwithstanding the startling intelligence that had so unexpectedly reached it, and the warm polemical conflict that had been carried on within its walls, the night passed peacefully over the roof of the Hutted Knoll. At the return of dawn, the two Plinys, both the Smashes, and all the menials were again afoot; and, ere long, Mike, Saucy Nick Joel, and the rest were seen astir, in the open fields, or in the margin of the woods. Cattle were fed, cows milked fires lighted, and everything pursued its course, in the order of May. The three wenches, as female negroes were then termed, ex officio, in America, opened their throats, as was usual at that hour, and were heard singing at their labours, in a way nearly to deaden the morning carols of the tenants of the forest. Mari' in particular, would have drowned the roar of Niagara. The captain used to call her his clarion.
In due time, the superiors of the household made their appearance. Mrs. Willoughby was the first out of her room, as was ever the case when there was anything to be done. On the present occasion, the "fatted calf" was to be killed, not in honour of the return of a prodigal son, however, but in behalf of one who was the pride of her eyes, and the joy of her heart. The breakfast that she ordered was just the sort of breakfast, that one must visit America to witness. France can set forth a very scientific dejeuner a la fourchette, and England has laboured-and ponderous imitations; but, for the spontaneous, superabundant, unsophisticated, natural, all-sufficing and all-subduing morning's meal, take America, in a better-class house, in the country, and you reach the ne plus ultra, in that sort of thing. Tea, coffee, and chocolate, of which the first and last were excellent, and the second respectable; ham, fish, eggs, toast, cakes, rolls, marmalades, &c. &c. &c., were thrown together in noble confusion; frequently occasioning the guest, as Mr. Woods naively confessed, an utter confusion of mind, as to which he was to attack, when all were inviting and each would be welcome.
Leaving Mrs. Willoughby in deep consultation with Mari' on the subject of this feast, we will next look after the two sweet girls whom we so abruptly deserted in the last chapter. When Maud's glowing cheeks were first visible that morning, signs of tears might have been discovered on them, as the traces of the dew are found on the leaf of the rose; but they completely vanished under the duties of the toilet, and she came forth from her chamber, bright and cloudless as the glorious May- morning, which had returned to cheer the solitude of the manor. Beulah followed, tranquil, bland and mild as the day itself, the living image of the purity of soul, and deep affections, of her honest nature.
The sisters went into the breakfast-room, where they had little lady- like offices of their own to discharge, too, in honour of the guest; each employing herself in decorating the table, and in seeing that it wanted nothing in the proprieties As their pleasing tasks were fulfilled, the discourse did not flag between them. Nothing, however, had been said, that made the smallest allusion to the conversation of the past night. Neither felt any wish to revive that subject; and, as for Maud, bitterly did she regret ever having broached it. At times, her cheeks burned with blushes, as she recalled her words; and yet she scarce knew the reason why. The feeling of Beulah was different. She wondered her sister could ever think she was a Meredith, and not a Willoughby. At times she feared some unfortunate oversight of her own, some careless allusion, or indiscreet act, might have served to remind Maud of the circumstances of her real birth. Yet there was nothing in the last likely to awaken unpleasant reflections, apart from the circumstance that she was not truly a child of the family into which she had been transplanted. The Merediths were, at least, as nonourable a family as the Willoughbys, in the ordinary worldly view of the matter; nor was Maud, by any means, a dependant, in the way of money. Five thousand pounds, in the English funds, had been settled on her, by the marriage articles of her parents; and twenty years of careful husbandry, during which every shilling had been scrupulously devoted to accumulation, had quite doubled the original amount. So far from being penniless, therefore, Maud's fortune was often alluded to by the captain, in a jocular way, as if purposely to remind her that she had the means of independence, and duties connected with it. It is true, Maud, herself, had no suspicion that she had been educated altogether by her "father," and that her own money had not been used for this purpose. To own the truth, she thought little about it; knew little about it, beyond the fact, that she had a fortune of her own, into the possession of which she must step, when she attained her majority. How she came by it, even, was a question she never asked though there were moments when tender regrets and affectionate melancholy would come over her heart, as she thought of her natural parents, and of their early deaths. Still, Maud implicitly reposed on the captain and Mrs. Willoughby, as on a father and mother; and it was not owing to them, or anything connected with their love, treatment, words, or thoughts, that she was reminded that they were not so in very fact, as well as in tenderness.
"Bob will think you made these plum sweetmeats, Beulah," said Maud, with a saucy smile, as she placed a glass plate on the table—"He never thinks I can make anything of this sort; and, as he is so fond of plums, he will be certain to taste them; then you will come in for the praise!"
"You appear to think, that praise he must. Perhaps he may not fancy them good."
"If I thought so, I would take them away this instant," cried Maud, standing in the attitude of one in doubt. "Bob does not think much of such things in girls, for he says ladies need not be cooks; and yet when one does make a thing of this sort, one would certainly like to have it well made."
"Set your heart at ease, Maud; the plums are delicious—much the best we ever had, and we are rather famous for them, you know. I'll answer for it, Bob will pronounce them the best he has ever tasted."
"And if he shouldn't, why should I care—that is, not very much—about it. You know they are the first I ever made, and one may be permitted to fail on a first effort. Besides, a man may go to England, and see fine sights, and live in great houses, and all that, and not understand when he has good plum sweetmeats before him, and when bad. I dare say there are many colonels in the army, who are ignorant on this point."
Beulah laughed, and admitted the truth of the remark; though, in her secret mind, she had almost persuaded herself that Bob knew everything.
"Do you not think our brother improved in appearance, Maud," she asked, after a short pause. "The visit to England has done him that service, at least."
"I don't see it, Beulah—I see no change. To me, Bob is just the same to-day, that he has ever been; that is, ever since he grew to be a man—with boys, of course, it is different. Ever since he was made a captain, I mean."
As major Willoughby had reached that rank the day he was one-and- twenty, the reader can understand the precise date when Maud began to take her present views of his appearance and character.
"I am surprised to hear you say so, Maud! Papa says he is better 'set up,' as he calls it, by his English drill, and that he looks altogether more like a soldier than he did."
"Bob has always had a martial look!" cried Maud, quickly—"He got that in garrison, when a boy."
"If so, I hope he may never lose it!" said the subject of the remark, himself, who had entered the room unperceived, and overheard this speech. "Being a soldier, one would wish to look like what he is, my little critic."
The kiss that followed, and that given to Beulah, were no more than the usual morning salutations of a brother to his sisters, slight touches of rosy cheeks; and yet Maud blushed; for, as she said to herself, she had been taken by surprise.
"They say listeners never hear good of themselves," answered Maud, with a vivacity that betokened confusion. "Had you come a minute sooner, master Bob, it might have been an advantage."
"Oh! Beulah's remarks I do not fear; so long as I get off unscathed from yours, Miss Maud, I shall think myself a lucky fellow. But what has brought me and my training into discussion, this morning?"
"It is natural for sisters to speak about their brother after so long——"
"Tell him nothing about it, Beulah," interrupted Maud. "Let him listen, and eaves-drop, and find out as he may, if he would learn our secrets. There, major Willoughby, I hope that is a promise of a breakfast, which will satisfy even your military appetite!"
"It looks well, indeed, Maud—and there, I perceive, are some of Beulah's excellent plums, of which I am so fond—know they were made especially for me, and I must kiss you, sister, for this proof of remembrance."
Beulah, to whose simple mind it seemed injustice to appropriate credit that belonged to another, was about to tell the truth; but an imploring gesture from her sister induced her to smile, and receive the salute in silence.
"Has any one seen captain Willoughby and parson Woods this morning?" inquired the major. "I left them desperately engaged in discussion, and I really feel some apprehension as to the remains left on the field of battle."
"Here they both come," cried Maud, glad to find the discourse taking so complete a change; "and there is mamma, followed by Pliny, to tell Beulah to take her station at the coffee, while I go to the chocolate, leaving the tea to the only hand that can make it so that my father will drink it."
The parties mentioned entered the room, in the order named; the usual salutations followed, and all took their seats at table. Captain Willoughby was silent and thoughtful at first, leaving his son to rattle on, in a way that betokened care, in his view of the matter, quite as much as it betokened light-heartedness in those of his mother and sisters. The chaplain was rather more communicative than his friend; but he, too, seemed restless, and desirous of arriving at some point that was not likely to come uppermost, in such a family party. At length, the impulses of Mr. Woods got the better of his discretion, even, and he could conceal his thoughts no longer.
"Captain Willoughby," he said, in a sort of apologetic, and yet simple and natural manner, "I have done little since we parted, seven hours since, but think of the matter under discussion."
"If you have, my dear Woods, there has been a strong sympathy between us; I have scarcely slept. I may say I have thought of nothing else, myself, and am glad you have broached the subject, again."
"I was about to say, my worthy sir, that reflection, and my pillow, and your sound and admirable arguments, have produced an entire change in my sentiments. I think, now, altogether with you."
"The devil you do, Woods!" cried the captain, looking up from his bit of dry toast, in astonishment. "Why, my dear fellow—this is odd— excessively odd, if the truth must be said.—To own the real state of the case, chaplain, you have won me over, and I was just about to make proper acknowledgments of your victory!"
It need scarcely be added that the rest of the company were not a little amazed at these cross-concessions, while Maud was exceedingly amused. As for Mrs. Willoughby, nothing laughable ever occurred in connection with her husband; and then she would as soon think of assailing the church itself, as to ridicule one of its ministers. Beulah could see nothing but what was right in her father, at least; and, as for the major, he felt too much concerned at this unexpected admission of his father's, to perceive anything but the error.
"Have you not overlooked the injunction of scripture, my excellent friend?" rejoined the chaplain. "Have you left to the rights of Caesar, all their weight and authority? 'The king's name is a tower of strength.'"
"Have not you, Woods, forgotten the superior claims of reason and right, over those of accident and birth—that man is to be considered as a reasoning being, to be governed by principles and ever-varying facts, and not a mere animal left to the control of an instinct that perishes with its usefulness?"
"What can they mean, mother?" whispered Maud, scarce able to repress the laughter that came so easily to one with a keen sense of the ludicrous.
"They have been arguing about the right of parliament to tax the colonies, I believe, my dear, and over-persuaded each other, that's all. It is odd, Robert, that Mr. Woods should convert your father."
"No, my dearest mother, it is something even more serious than that." By this time, the disputants, who sat opposite each other, were fairly launched into the discussion, again, and heeded nothing that passed—"No, dearest mother, it is far worse than even that. Pliny, tell my man to brush the hunting-jacket—and, see he has his breakfast, in good style—he is a grumbling rascal, and will give the house a bad character, else—you need not come back, until we ring for you—yes, mother, yes dearest girls, this is a far more serious matter than you suppose, though it ought not to be mentioned idly, among the people. God knows now they may take it—and bad news flies swift enough, of itself."
"Merciful Providence!" exclaimed Mrs. Willoughby-"What can you mean, my son?"
"I mean, mother, that civil war has actually commenced in the colonies, and that the people of your blood and race are, in open arms, against the people of my father's native country—in a word, against me."
"How can that be, Robert? Who would dare to strike a blow against the king?"
"When men get excited, and their passions are once inflamed, they will do much, my mother, that they might not dream of, else."
"This must be a mistake! Some evil-disposed person has told you this, Robert, knowing your attachment to the crown."
"I wish it were so, dear madam; but my own eyes have seen—I may say my own flesh has felt, the contrary."
The major then related what had happened, letting his auditors into the secret of the true state of the country. It is scarcely necessary to allude to the degree of consternation and pain, with which he was heard, or to the grief which succeeded.
"You spoke of yourself, dear Bob," said Maud, naturally, and with strong feeling—"You were not hurt, in this cruel, cruel battle."
"I ought not to have mentioned it, although I did certainly receive a smart contusion—nothing more, I assure you—here in the shoulder, and it now scarcely inconveniences me."
By this time all were listening, curiosity and interest having silenced even the disputants, especially as this was the first they had heard of the major's casualty. Then neither felt the zeal which had warmed him in the previous contest, but was better disposed to turn aside from its pursuit.
"I hope it did not send you to the rear, Bob?" anxiously inquired the father.
"I was in the rear, sir, when I got the hurt," answered the major, laughing. "The rear is the post of honour, on a retreat, you know, my dear father; and I believe our march scarce deserves another name."
"That is hard, too, on king's troops! What sort of fellows had you to oppose, my son?"
"A rather intrusive set, sir. Their object was to persuade us to go into Boston, as fast as possible; and, it was a little difficult, at times, not to listen to their arguments. If my Lord Percy had not come out, with a strong party, and two pieces of artillery, we might not have stood it much longer. Our men were fagged like hunted deer, and the day proved oppressively hot."
"Artillery, too!" exclaimed the captain, his military pride reviving a little, to unsettle his last convictions of duty. "Did you open your columns, and charge your enemies, in line?"
"It would have been charging air. No sooner did we halt, than our foes dispersed; or, no sooner did we renew the march, than every line of wall, along our route, became a line of hostile muskets. I trust you will do us justice, sir—you know the regiments, and can scarce think they misbehaved."
"British troops seldom do that; although I have known it happen. No men, however, are usually more steady, and then these provincials are formidable as skirmishers. In that character, I know them, too. What has been the effect of all this on the country, Bob?—You told us something of it last night; complete the history."
"The provinces are in a tumult. As for New England, a flame of fire could scarce be more devastating; though I think this colony is less excited. Still, here, men are arming in thousands."
"Dear me—dear me"—ejaculated the peacefully-inclined chaplain—"that human beings can thus be inclined to self destruction!"
"Is Tryon active?—What do the royal authorities, all this time?"
"Of course they neglect nothing feasible; but, they must principally rely on the loyalty and influence of the gentry, until succour can arrive from Europe. If that fail them, their difficulties will be much increased."
Captain Willoughby understood his son; he glanced towards his unconscious wife, as if to see how far she felt with him.
"Our own families are divided, of course, much as they have been in the previous discussions," he added. "The De Lanceys, Van Cortlandts, Philipses, Bayards, and most of that town connection, with a large portion of the Long Island families, I should think, are with the crown; while the Livingstons, Morrises, Schuylers, Rensselaers, and their friends, go with the colony. Is not this the manner in which they are divided?"
"With some limitations, sir. All the De Lanceys, with most of their strong connections and influence, are with us—with the king, I mean—while all the Livingstons and Morrises are against us. The other families are divided—as with the Cortlandts, Schuylers, and Rensselaers. It is fortunate for the Patroon, that he is a boy."
"Why so, Bob?" asked the captain, looking inquiringly up, at his son.
"Simply, sir, that his great estate may not be confiscated. So many of his near connections are against us, that he could hardly escape the contamination; and the consequences would be inevitable."
"Do you consider that so certain, sir? As there are two sides to the question, may there not be two results to the war?"
"I think not, sir. England is no power to be defied by colonies insignificant as these."
"This is well enough for a king's officer, major Willoughby; but all large bodies of men are formidable when they are right, and nations— these colonies are a nation, in extent and number—are not so easily put down, when the spirit of liberty is up and doing among them."
The major listened to his father with pain and wonder. The captain spoke earnestly, and there was a flush about his fine countenance, that gave it sternness and authority. Unused to debate with his father, especially when the latter was in such a mood, the son remained silent, though his mother, who was thoroughly loyal in her heart—meaning loyal as applied to a sovereign—and who had the utmost confidence in her husband's tenderness and consideration for herself, was not so scrupulous.
"Why, Willoughby," she cried, "you really incline to rebellion! I, even I, who was born in the colonies, think them very wrong to resist their anointed king, and sovereign prince."
"Ah, Wilhelmina," answered the captain, more mildly, "you have a true colonist's admiration of home. But I was old enough, when I left England, to appreciate what I saw and knew, and cannot feel all this provincial admiration."
"But surely, my dear captain, England is a very great country," interrupted the chaplain—"a prodigious country; one that can claim all our respect and love. Look at the church, now, the purified continuation of the ancient visible authority of Christ on earth! It is the consideration of this church that has subdued my natural love of birth-place, and altered my sentiments."
"All very true, and all very well, in your mouth, chaplain; yet even the visible church may err. This doctrine of divine right would have kept the Stuarts on the throne, and it is not even English doctrine; much less, then, need it be American. I am no Cromwellian, no republican, that wishes to oppose the throne, in order to destroy it. A good king is a good thing, and a prodigious blessing to a country; still, a people needs look to its political privileges if it wish to preserve them. You and I will discuss this matter another time, parson. There will be plenty of opportunities," he added, rising, and smiling good-humouredly; "I must, now, call my people together, and let them know this news. It is not fair to conceal a civil war."
"My dear sir!" exclaimed the major, in concern—"are you not wrong?— precipitate, I mean—Is it not better to preserve the secret, to give yourself time for reflection—to await events?—I can discover no necessity for this haste. Should you see things differently, hereafter, an incautious word uttered at this moment might bring much motive for regret."
"I have thought of all this, Bob, during the night—for hardly did I close my eyes—and you cannot change my purpose. It is honest to let my people know how matters stand; and, so far from being hazardous, as you seem to think, I consider it wise. God knows what time will bring forth; but, in every, or any event, fair-dealing can scarcely injure him who practises it. I have already sent directions to have the whole settlement collected on the lawn, at the ringing of the bell, and I expect every moment we shall hear the summons."
Against this decision there was no appeal. Mild and indulgent as the captain habitually was, his authority was not to be disputed, when he chose to exercise it. Some doubts arose, and the father participated in them, for a moment, as to what might be the effect on the major's fortunes; for, should a very patriotic spirit arise among the men, two- thirds of whom were native Americans, and what was more, from the eastern colonies, he might be detained; or, at least, betrayed on his return, and delivered into the hands of the revolted authorities. This was a very serious consideration, and it detained the captain in the house, some time after the people were assembled, debating the chances, in the bosom of his own family.
"We exaggerate the danger," the captain, at length, exclaimed. "Most of these men have been with me for years, and I know not one among them who I think would wish to injure me, or even you, my son, in this way. There is far more danger in attempting to deceive them, than in making them confidants. I will go out and tell the truth; then we shall, at least, have the security of self-approbation. If you escape the danger of being sold by Nick, my son, I think you have little to fear from any other."
"By Nick!" repeated half-a-dozen voices, in surprise—Surely, father— surely, Willoughby—surely, my dear captain, you cannot suspect as old and tried a follower, as the Tuscarora!"
"Ay, he is an old follower, certainly, and he has been punished often enough, if he has not been tried. I have never suffered my distrust of that fellow to go to sleep—it is unsafe, with an Indian, unless you have a strong hold on his gratitude."
"But, Willoughby, he it was who found this manor for us," rejoined the wife. "Without him, we should never have been the owners of this lovely place, this beaver-dam, and all else that we so much enjoy."
"True, my dear; and without good golden guineas, we should not have had Nick."
"But, sir, I pay as liberally as he can wish," observed the major. "If bribes will buy him, mine are as good as another's."
"We shall see—under actual circumstances, I think we shall be, in every respect, safer, by keeping nothing back, than by telling all to the people."
The captain now put on his hat, and issued through the undefended gateway, followed by every individual of his family. As the summons had been general, when the Willoughbys and the chaplain appeared on the lawn, every living soul of that isolated settlement, even to infants in the arms, was collected there. The captain commanded the profound respect of all his dependants, though a few among them did not love him. The fault was not his, however, but was inherent rather in the untoward characters of the disaffected themselves. His habits of authority were unsuited to their habits of a presuming equality, perhaps; and it is impossible for the comparatively powerful and affluent to escape the envy and repinings of men, who, unable to draw the real distinctions that separate the gentleman from the low-minded and grovelling, impute their advantages to accidents and money. But, even the few who permitted this malign and corrupting tendency to influence their feelings, could not deny that their master was just and benevolent, though he did not always exhibit this justice and benevolence precisely in the way best calculated to soothe their own craving self-love, and exaggerated notions of assumed natural claims. In a word, captain Willoughby, in the eyes of a few unquiet and bloated imaginations among his people, was obnoxious to the imputation of pride; and this because he saw and felt the consequences of education, habits, manners, opinions and sentiments that were hidden from those who not only had no perception of their existence, but who had no knowledge whatever of the qualities that brought them into being. Pope's familiar line of "what can we reason but from what we know?" is peculiarly applicable to persons of this class; who are ever for dragging all things down to standards created by their own ignorance; and who, slaves of the basest and meanest passions, reason as if they were possessors of all the knowledge, sensibilities and refinements of their own country and times. Of this class of men, comes the ordinary demagogue, a wretch equally incapable of setting an example of any of the higher qualities, in his own person or practice, and of appreciating it when exhibited by others. Such men abound under all systems where human liberty is highly privileged, being the moral fungi of freedom, as the rankest weeds are known to be the troublesome and baneful productions of the richest soils.
It was no unusual thing for the people of the Hutted Knoll to be collected, in the manner we have described. We are writing of a period, that the present enlightened generation is apt to confound with the darker ages of American knowledge, in much that relates to social usages at least, though it escaped the long-buried wisdom of the Mormon bible, and Miller's interpretations of the prophecies. In that day, men were not so silly as to attempt to appear always wise; but some of the fetes and festivals of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors were still tolerated among us; the all-absorbing and all-swallowing jubilee of "Independence-day" not having yet overshadowed everything else in the shape of a holiday. Now, captain Willoughby had brought with him to the colonies the love of festivals that is so much more prevalent in the old world than in the new; and it was by no means an uncommon thing for him to call his people together, to make merry on a birth-day, or the anniversary of some battle in which he had been one of the victors. When he appeared on the lawn, on the present occasion, therefore, it was expected he was about to meet them with some such announcement.
The inhabitants of the manor, or the estate of the Hutted Knoll, might be divided into three great physical, and we might add moral categories, or races, viz: the Anglo-Saxon, the Dutch, both high and low, and the African. The first was the most numerous, including the families of the millers, most of the mechanics, and that of Joel Strides, the land-overseer; the second was composed chiefly of labourers; and the last were exclusively household servants, with the exception of one of the Plinys, who was a ploughman, though permitted to live with his kinsfolk in the Hut. These divisions, Maud, in one of her merry humours, had nick-named the three tribes; while her father, to make the enumeration complete, had classed the serjeant, Mike, and Jamie Allen, as supernumeraries.
The three tribes, and the three supernumeraries, then, were all collected on the lawn, as the captain and his family approached. By a sort of secret instinct, too, they had divided themselves into knots, the Dutch keeping a little aloof from the Yankees; and the blacks, almost as a matter of religion, standing a short distance in the rear, as became people of their colour, and slaves. Mike and Jamie, however, had got a sort of neutral position, between the two great divisions of the whites, as if equally indifferent to their dissensions or antipathies. In this manner all parties stood, impatiently awaiting an announcement that had been so long delayed. The captain advanced to the front, and removing his hat, a ceremony he always observed on similar occasions, and which had the effect to make his listeners imitate his own courtesy, he addressed the crowd.
"When people live together, in a wilderness like this," commenced the captain, "there ought to be no secrets between them, my friends, in matters that touch the common interests. We are like men on a remote island; a sort of colony of our own; and we must act fairly and frankly by each other. In this spirit, then, I am now about to lay before you, all that I know myself, concerning an affair of the last importance to the colonies, and to the empire." Here Joel pricked up his ears, and cast a knowing glance at 'the miller,' a countryman and early neighbour of his own, who had charge of the grinding for the settlement, and who went by that appellation 'par excellence!' "You all know," continued the captain, "that there have been serious difficulties between the colonies and parliament, now, for more than ten years; difficulties that have been, once or twice, partially settled, but which have as often broken out, in some new shape, as soon as an old quarrel was adjusted."
Here the captain paused a moment; and Joel, who was the usual spokesman of 'the people,' took an occasion to put a question.
"The captain means, I s'pose," he said, in a sly, half-honest, half- jesuitical manner, "the right of parliament to tax us Americans, without our own consent, or our having any members in their legyslatoore?"
"I mean what you say. The tax on tea, the shutting the port of Boston, and other steps, have brought larger bodies of the king's troops among us, than have been usual. Boston, as you probably know, has had a strong garrison, now, for some months. About six weeks since, the commander-in-chief sent a detachment out as far as Concord, in New Hampshire, to destroy certain stores. This detachment had a meeting with the minute-men, and blood was drawn. A running fight ensued, in which several hundreds have been killed and wounded; and I think I know both sides sufficiently well, to predict that a long and bloody civil war is begun. These are facts you should know, and accordingly I tell them to you."
This simple, but explicit, account was received very differently, by the different listeners. Joel Strides leaned forward, with intense interest, so as not to lose a syllable. Most of the New Englanders, or Yankees, paid great attention, and exchanged meaning glances with each other, when the captain had got through. As for Mike, he grasped a shillelah that he habitually carried, when not at work, looking round, as if waiting for orders from the captain, on whom to begin. Jamie was thoughtful and grave, and, once or twice, as the captain proceeded, he scratched his head in doubt. The Dutch seemed curious, but bewildered, gaping at each other like men who might make up their minds, if you would give them time, but who certainly had not yet. As for the blacks, their eyes began to open like saucers, when they heard of the quarrel; when it got to the blows, their mouths were all grinning with the delight of a thing so exciting. At the mention of the number of the dead, however, something like awe passed over them, and changed their countenances to dismay. Nick alone was indifferent. By the cold apathy of his manner, the captain saw at once that the battle of Lexington had not been a secret to the Tuscarora, when he commenced his own account. As the captain always encouraged a proper familiarity in his dependants, he now told them he was ready to answer any questions they might think expedient to put to him, in gratification of their natural curiosity.
"I s'pose this news comes by the major?" asked Joel.
"You may well suppose that, Strides. My son is here, and we have no other means of getting it."
"Will yer honour be wishful that we shoulther our fire-arms, and go out and fight one of them sides, or t'other?" demanded Mike.
"I wish nothing of the sort, O'Hearn. It will be time enough for us to take a decided part, when we get better ideas of what is really going on."
"Doesn't the captain, then, think matters have got far enough towards a head, for the Americans to make up their minds conclusively, as it might be?" put in Joel, in his very worst manner.
"I think it will be wiser for us all to remain where we are, and as we are. Civil war is a serious matter, Strides, And no man should rush blindly into its dangers and difficulties."
Joel looked at the miller, and the miller looked at Joel. Neither said anything, however, at the time. Jamie Allen had been out in the 'forty-five,' when thirty years younger than he was that day; and though he had his predilections and antipathies, circumstances had taught him prudence.
"Will the parliament, think ye, no be bidding the soldiery to wark their will on the puir unairmed folk, up and down the country, and they not provided with the means to resist them?"
"Och, Jamie!" interrupted Mike, who did not appear to deem it necessary to treat this matter with even decent respect—"where will be yer valour and stomach, to ask sich a question as that! A man is always reathy, when he has his ar-r-ms and legs free to act accorthing to natur'. What would a rigiment of throops do ag'in the likes of sich a place as this? I'm sure it's tin years I've been in it, and I've niver been able to find my way out of it. Set a souldier to rowing on the lake forenent the rising sun, with orders to get to the other ind, and a pretty job he 'd make of marching on that same! I knows it, for I've thried it, and it is not a new beginner that will make much of sich oare; barring he knows nothin' about them."
This was not very intelligible to anybody but Joel, and he had ceased to laugh at Mike's voyage, now, some six or seven years; divers other disasters, all having their origin in a similar confusion of ideas, having, in the interval, supplanted that calamity, as it might be, seriatim. Still it was an indication that Mike might be set down as a belligerent, who was disposed to follow his leader into the battle, without troubling him with many questions concerning the merits of the quarrel. Nevertheless, the county Leitrim-man acknowledged particular principles, all of which had a certain influence on his conduct, whenever he could get at them, to render them available. First and foremost, he cordially disliked a Yankee; and he hated an Englishman, both as an oppressor and a heretic; yet he loved his master and all that belonged to him. These were contradictory feelings, certainly; but Mike was all contradiction, both in theory and in practice.
The Anglo-Saxon tribe now professed a willingness to retire, promising to think of the matter, a course against which Mike loudly protested, declaring he never knew any good come of thinking, when matters had got as far as blows. Jamie, too, went off scratching his head, and he was seen to make many pauses, that day, between the shovels-full of earth he, from time to time, threw around his plants, as if pondering on what he had heard. As for the Dutch, their hour had not come. No one expected them to decide the day they first heard of argument.
The negroes got together, and began to dwell on the marvels of a battle in which so many Christians had been put to death. Little Smash placed the slain at a few thousands; but Great Smash, as better became her loftier appellation and higher spirit, affirmed that the captain had stated hundreds of thousands; a loss, with less than which, as she contended, no great battle could possibly be fought.
When the captain was housed, Serjeant Joyce demanded an audience; the object of which was simply to ask for orders, without the least reference to principles.
We are all here! Father, mother, Sister, brother, All who hold each other dear. Each chair is fill'd—we're all at home; To-night let no cold stranger come: It is not often thus around Our old familiar hearth we're found: Bless, then, the meeting and the spot; For once be every care forgot; Let gentle Peace assert her power, And kind Affection rule the hour; We're all—all here.
Although most of the people retired to their dwellings, or their labours, as soon as the captain dismissed them, a few remained to receive his farther orders. Among these last were Joel, the carpenter, and the blacksmith. These men now joined the chief of the settlement and his son, who had lingered near the gateway, in conversation concerning the alterations that the present state of things might render necessary, in and about the Hut.
"Joel," observed the captain, when the three men were near enough to hear his orders, "this great change in the times will render some changes in our means of defence prudent, if not necessary."
"Does the captain s'pose the people of the colony will attack us?" asked the wily overseer, with emphasis.
"Perhaps not the people of the colony, Mr. Strides, for we have not yet declared ourselves their enemies; but there are other foes, who are more to be apprehended than the people of the colony."
"I should think the king's troops not likely to trouble themselves to ventur' here—the road might prove easier to come than to return. Besides, our plunder would scarce pay for such a march."
"Perhaps not—but there never has yet been a war in these colonies that some of the savage tribes were not engaged in it, before the whites had fairly got themselves into line."
"Do you really think, sir, there can be much serious danger of that!" exclaimed the major, in surprise.
"Beyond a question, my son. The scalping-knife will be at work in six months, if it be not busy already, should one-half of your reports and rumours turn out to be true. Such is American history."
"I rather think, sir, your apprehensions for my mother and sisters may mislead you. I do not believe the American authorities will ever allow themselves to be driven into a measure so perfectly horrible and unjustifiable; and were the English ministry sufficiently cruel, or unprincipled, to adopt the policy, the honest indignation of so humane a people would be certain to drive them from power."
As the major ceased speaking, he turned and caught the expression of Joel's countenance, and was struck with the look of intense interest with which the overseer watched his own warm and sincere manner.
"Humanity is a very pretty stalking-horse for political orations, Bob," quietly returned the father; "but it will scarcely count for much with an old campaigner. God send you may come out of this war with the same ingenuous and natural feelings as you go into it."
"The major will scarce dread the savages, should he be on the side of his nat'ral friends!" remarked Joel; "and if what he says about the humanity of the king's advisers be true, he will be safe from them."
"The major will be on the side to which duty calls him, Mr. Strides, if it may be agreeable to your views of the matter," answered the young man, with a little more hauteur than the occasion required.
The father felt uneasy, and he regretted that his son had been so indiscreet; though he saw no remedy but by drawing the attention of the men to the matter before them.
"Neither the real wishes of the people of America, nor of the people of England, will avail much, in carrying on this war," he said. "Its conduct will fall into the hands of those who will look more to the ends than to the means; and success will be found a sufficient apology for any wrong. This has been the history of all the wars of my time, and it is likely to prove the history of this. I fear it will make little difference to us on which side we may be in feeling; there will be savages to guard against in either case. This gate must be hung, one of the first things, Joel; and I have serious thoughts of placing palisades around the Knoll. The Hut, well palisaded, would make a work that could not be easily carried, without artillery."
Joel seemed struck with the idea, though it did not appear that it was favourably. He stood studying the house and the massive gates for a minute or two, ere he delivered his sentiments on the subject. When he did speak, it was a good deal more in doubt, than in approbation.
"It's all very true, captain," he said; the house would seem to be a good deal more safe like, if the gates were up; but, a body don't know; sometimes gates be a security, and sometimes they isn't. It all depends on which side the danger comes. Still, as these are made, and finished all to hanging, it's 'most a pity, too, they shouldn't be used, if a body could find time."
"The time must be found, and the gates be hung," interrupted the captain, too much accustomed to Joel's doubting, 'sort-o'-concluding manner, to be always patient under the infliction. "Not only the gates, but the palisades must be got out, holes dug, and the circumvallation completed."
"It must be as the captain says, of course, he being master here. But time's precious in May. There's half our plantin' to be done yet, and some of the ground hasn't got the last ploughin'. Harvest won't come without seed-time; for no man, let him be great, or let him be small— and it does seem to me a sort o' wastin' of the Lord's blessin's, to be hangin' gates, and diggin' holes for that—the thing the captain mentioned—when there's no visible danger in sight to recommend the measure to prudence, as it might be."
"That may be your opinion, Mr. Strides, but it is not mine. I intend to guard against a visible danger that is out of sight, and I will thank you to have these gates hung, this very day."
"This very day!—The captain's a mind to be musical about the matter! Every hand in the settlement couldn't get them gates in their places in less than a week."
"It appears to me, Strides, you are 'playing on the music,' as you call it, yourself, now?"
"No, indeed, captain; them gates will have to be hung on the mechanic principle; and it will take at least two or three days for the carpenter and blacksmith to get up the works that's to do it. Then the hanging, itself, I should think would stand us in hand a day for each side. As for the circumvalley, what between the cuttin', and haulin', and diggin', and settin', that would occupy all hands until after first hoein'. That is, hoein' would come afore the plantin'."
"It does not appear to me, Bob, such a heavy job as Joel represents! The gates are heavy, certainly, and may take us a day or two; but, as for stockading—I've seen barracks stockaded in, in a week, if I remember right. You know something of this—what is your opinion?"
"That this house can be stockaded in, in the time you mention; and, as I have a strong reluctance to leave the family before it is in security, with your permission I will remain and superintend the work."
The offer was gladly accepted, on more accounts than one; and the captain, accustomed to be obeyed when he was in earnest, issued his orders forthwith, to let the work proceed. Joel, however, was excused, in order that he might finish the planting he had commenced, and which a very few hands could complete within the required time. As no ditch was necessary, the work was of a very simple nature, and the major set about his portion of it without even re-entering the house.
The first thing was to draw a line for a trench some six or seven feet deep, that was to encircle the whole building, at a distance of about thirty yards from the house. This line ran, on each side of the Hut, on the very verge of the declivities, rendering the flanks far more secure than the front, where it crossed the lawn on a gently inclining surface. In one hour the major had traced this lines with accuracy; and he had six or eight men at work with spades, digging the trench. A gang of hands was sent into the woods, with orders to cut the requisite quantify of young chestnuts; and, by noon, a load of the material actually appeared on the ground. Still, nothing was done to the gates.
To own the truth, the captain was now delighted. The scene reminded him of some in his military life, and he bustled about, giving his orders, with a good deal of the fire of youth renewed, taking care, however, in no manner to interfere with the plans of his son. Mike buried himself like a mole, and had actually advanced several feet, before either of the Yankees had got even a fair footing on the bottom of his part of the trench. As for Jamie Allen, he went to work with deliberation; but it was not long before his naked gray hairs were seen on a level with the surface of the ground. The digging was not hard, though a little stony, and the work proceeded with spirit and success. All that day, and the next, and the next, and the next, the Knoll appeared alive, earth being cast upward, teams moving, carpenters sawing, and labourers toiling. Many of the men protested that their work was useless, unnecessary, unlawful even; but no one dared hesitate under the eyes of the major, when his father had once issued a serious command. In the mean time, Joel's planting was finished, though he made many long pauses while at work on the flats, to look up and gaze at the scene of activity and bustle that was presented at the Knoll. On the fourth day, towards evening, he was obliged to join the general "bee," with the few hands he had retained with himself.
By this time, the trench was dug, most of the timber was prepared, and the business of setting up the stockade was commenced. Each young tree was cut to the length of twenty feet, and pointed at one end. Mortices, to receive cross-pieces, were cut at proper distances, and holes were bored to admit the pins. This was all the preparation, and the timbers were set in the trench, pointed ends uppermost. When a sufficient number were thus arranged, a few inches from each other, the cross- pieces were pinned on, bringing the whole into a single connected frame, or bent. The bent was then raised to a perpendicular, and secured, by pounding the earth around the lower ends of the timbers. The latter process required care and judgment, and it was entrusted to the especial supervision of the deliberate Jamie, the major having discovered that the Yankees, in general, were too impatient to get on, and to make a show. Serjeant Joyce was particularly useful in dressing the rows of timber, and in giving the whole arrangement a military air.
"Guid wark is far better than quick wark," observed the cool-headed Scotchman, as he moved about among the men, "and it's no the fuss and bustle of acteevity that is to give the captain pleasure. The thing that is well done, is done with the least noise and confusion. Set the stockades mair pairpendic'lar, my men."
"Ay—dress them, too, my lads"—added the venerable ex-serjeant.
"This is queer plantin', Jamie," put in Joel, "and queerer grain will come of it. Do you think these young chestnuts will ever grow, ag'in, that you put them out in rows, like so much corn?"
"Now it's no for the growth we does it, Joel, but to presairve the human growth we have. To keep the savage bairbers o' the wilderness fra' clippin' our polls before the shearin' time o' natur' has gathered us a' in for the hairvest of etairnity. They that no like the safety we're makin' for them, can gang their way to 'ither places, where they '11 find no forts, or stockades to trouble their een."
"I'm not critical at all, Jamie, though to my notion a much better use for your timber plantation would be to turn it into sheds for cattle, in the winter months. I can see some good in that, but none in this."
"Bad luck to ye, then, Misther Sthroddle," cried Mike, from the bottom of the trench, where he was using a pounding instrument with the zeal of a paviour—"Bad luck to the likes of ye, say I, Misther Strides. If ye've no relish for a fortification, in a time of war, ye've only to shoulther yer knapsack, and go out into the open counthry, where ye'll have all to yer own satisfaction. Is it forthify the house, will we? That we will, and not a hair of the missuss's head, nor of the young ladies' heads, nor of the masther's head, though he's mighty bald as it is, but not a hair of all their heads shall be harmed, while Jamie, and Mike, and the bould ould serjeant, here, can have their way. I wish I had the trench full of yer savages, and a gineral funeral we'd make of the vagabonds! Och! They're the divil's imps, I hear from all sides, and no love do I owe them."
"And yet you're the bosom friend of Nick, who's anything but what I call a specimen of his people."
"Is it Nick ye 're afther? Well, Nick's half-civilized accorthin' to yer Yankee manners, and he's no spicimen, at all. Let him hear you call him by sich a name, if ye want throuble."
Joel walked away, muttering, leaving the labourers in doubt whether he relished least the work he was now obliged to unite in furthering, or Mike's hit at his own peculiar people. Still the work proceeded, and in one week from the day it was commenced, the stockade was complete, its gate excepted. The entrance through the palisades was directly in front of that to the house, and both passages still remained open, one set of gates not being completed, and the other not yet being hung.
It was on a Saturday evening when the last palisade was placed firmly in the ground, and all the signs of the recent labour were removed, in order to restore as much of the former beauty of the Knoll as possible. It had been a busy week; so much so, indeed, as to prevent the major from holding any of that confidential intercourse with his mother and sisters, in which it had been his habit to indulge in former visits. The fatigues of the days sent everybody to their pillows early; and the snatches of discourse which passed, had been affectionate and pleasant, rather than communicative. Now that the principal job was so near being finished, however, and the rubbish was cleared away, the captain summoned the family to the lawn again, to enjoy a delicious evening near the close of the winning month of May. The season was early, and the weather more bland, than was usual, even in that sheltered and genial valley. For the first time that year, Mrs. Willoughby consented to order the tea-equipage to be carried to a permanent table that had been placed under the shade of a fine elm, in readiness for any fete champetre of this simple character.
"Come, Wilhelmina, give us a cup of your fragrant hyson, of which we have luckily abundance, tax or no tax. I should lose caste, were it known how much American treason we have gulped down, in this way; but, a little tea, up here in the forest, can do no man's conscience any great violence, in the long run. I suppose, major Willoughby, His Majesty's forces do not disdain tea, in these stirring times."
"Far from it, sir; we deem it so loyal to drink it, that it is said the port and sherry of the different messes, at Boston, are getting to be much neglected. I am an admirer of tea, for itself, however, caring little about its collateral qualities. Farrel"—turning to his man, who was aiding Pliny the elder, in arranging the table—"when you are through here, bring out the basket you will find on the toilet, in my room."
"True, Bob," observed the mother, smiling—"that basket has scarce been treated with civility. Not a syllable of thanks have I heard, for all the fine things it contains."
"My mind has been occupied with care for your safety, dear mother, and that must be my excuse. Now, however, there is an appearance of security which gives one a breathing-time, and my gratitude receives a sudden impulse. As for you, Maud, I regret to be compelled to say that you stand convicted of laziness; not a single thing do I owe to your labours, or recollection of me."
"Is that possible!" exclaimed the captain, who was pouring water into the tea-pot. "Maud is the last person I should suspect of neglect of this nature; I do assure you, Bob, no one listens to news of your promotions and movements with more interest than Maud."
Maud, herself, made no answer. She bent her head aside, in a secret consciousness that her sister might alone detect, and form her own conclusions concerning the colour that she felt warming her cheeks. But, Maud's own sensitive feelings attributed more to Beulah than the sincere and simple-minded girl deserved. So completely was she accustomed to regard Robert and Maud as brother and sister, that even all which had passed produced no effect in unsettling her opinions, or in giving her thoughts a new direction. Just at this moment Farrel came back, and placed the basket on the bench, at the side of his master.
"Now, my dearest mother, and you, girls"—the major had begun to drop the use of the word 'sisters' when addressing both the young ladies—"Now, my dearest mother, and you, girls, I am about to give each her due. In the first place, I confess my own unworthiness, and acknowledge, that I do not deserve one-half the kind attention I have received in these various presents, after which we will descend to particulars."
The major, then, exposed every article contained in the basket, finding the words "mother" and "Beulah" pinned on each, but nowhere any indication that his younger sister had even borne him in mind. His father looked surprised at this, not to say a little grave; and he waited, with evident curiosity, for the gifts of Maud, as one thing after another came up, without any signs of her having recollected the absentee.
"This is odd, truly," observed the father, seriously; "I hope, Bob, you have done nothing to deserve this? I should be sorry to have my little girl affronted!"
"I assure you, sir, that I am altogether ignorant of any act, and I can solemnly protest against any intention, to give offence. If guilty, I now pray Maud to pardon me."
"You have done nothing, Bob—said nothing, Bob—thought nothing to offend me," cried Maud, eagerly.
"Why, then, have you forgotten him, darling, when your mother and sister have done so much in the way of recollection?" asked the captain.
"Forced gifts, my dear father, are no gifts. I do not like to be compelled to make presents."
This was uttered in a way to induce the major to throw all the articles back into the basket, as if he wished to get rid of the subject, without further comment. Owing to this precipitation, the scarf was not seen. Fortunately for Maud, who was ready to burst into tears, the service of the tea prevented any farther allusion to the matter.
"You have told me, major," observed captain Willoughby, "that your old regiment has a new colonel; but you have forgotten to mention his name. I hope it is my old messmate, Tom Wallingford, who wrote me he had some such hopes last year."
"General Wallingford has got a light-dragoon regiment—general Meredith has my old corps; he is now in this country, at the head of one of Gage's brigades."
It is a strong proof of the manner in which Maud—Maud Willoughby, as she was ever termed—had become identified with the family of the Hutted Knoll, that, with two exceptions, not a person present thought of her, when the name of this general Meredith was mentioned; though, in truth, he was the uncle of her late father. The exceptions were the major and herself. The former now never heard the name without thinking of his beautiful little playfellow, and nominal sister; while Maud, of late, had become curious and even anxious on the subject of her natural relatives. Still, a feeling akin to awe, a sentiment that appeared as if it would be doing violence to a most solemn duty, prevented her from making any allusion to her change of thought, in the presence of those whom, during childhood, she had viewed only as her nearest relatives, and who still continued so to regard her. She would have given the world to ask Bob a few questions concerning the kinsman he had mentioned, but could not think of doing so before her mother, whatever she might be induced to attempt with the young man, when by himself.
Nick next came strolling along, gazing at the stockade, and drawing near the table with an indifference to persons and things that characterized his habits. When close to the party he stopped, keeping his eye on the recent works.
"You see, Nick, I am about to turn soldier again, in my old days," observed the captain. "It is now many years since you and I have met within a line of palisades. How do you like our work?"
"What you make him for, cap'in?"
"So as to be secure against any red-skins who may happen to long for our scalps."
"Why want your scalp? Hatchet hasn't been dug up, atween us— bury him so deep can't find him in ten, two, six year."
"Ay, it has long been buried, it is true; but you red gentlemen have a trick of digging it up, with great readiness, when there is any occasion for it. I suppose you know, Nick, that there are troubles in the colonies?"
"Tell Nick all about him,"—answered the Indian, evasively—"No read— no hear—don't talk much—talk most wid Irisher—can't understand what he want—say t'ing one way, den say him, anoder."
"Mike is not very lucid of a certainty," rejoined the captain, laughing, all the party joining in the merriment—"but he is a sterling good fellow, and is always to be found, in a time of need."
"Poor rifle—nebber hit—shoot one way, look t'other?"
"He is no great shot, I will admit; but he is a famous fellow with a shillaleh. Has he given you any of the news?"
"All he say, news—much news ten time, as one time. Cap'in lend Nick a quarter dollar, yesterday."
"I did lend you a quarter, certainly, Nick; and I supposed it had gone to the miller for rum, before this. What am I to understand by your holding it out in this manner?—that you mean to repay me!"
"Sartain—good quarter—just like him cap'in lent Nick. Like as one pea. Nick man of honour; keep his word."
"This does look more like it than common, Nick. The money was to be returned to-day, but I did not expect to see it, so many previous contracts of that nature having been vacated, as the lawyers call it."
"Tuscarora chief alway gentleman. What he say, he do. Good quarter dollar, dat, cap'in?"
"It is unexceptionable, old acquaintance; I'll not disdain receiving it, as it may serve for a future loan."
"No need bye'm-by—take him, now—cap'in, lend Nick dollar; pay him to- morrow."
The captain protested against the sequitur that the Indian evidently wished to establish; declining, though in a good-natured manner, to lend the larger sum. Nick was disappointed, and walked sullenly away, moving nearer to the stockade, with the air of an offended man.
"That is an extraordinary fellow, sir!" observed the major—"I really wonder you tolerate him so much about the Hut. It might be a good idea to banish him, now that the war has broken out."
"Which would be a thing more easily said than done. A drop of water might as readily be banished from that stream, as an Indian, from any part of the forest he may choose to visit. You brought him here yourself, Bob, and should not blame us for tolerating his presence."
"I brought him, sir, because I found he recognised me even in this dress, and it was wise to make a friend of him. Then I wanted a guide, and I was well assured he knew the way, if any man did. He is a surly scoundrel, however, and appears to have changed his character, since I was a boy."
"If there be any change, Bob, it is in yourself. Nick has been Nick these thirty years, or as long as I have known him. Rascal he is, or his tribe would not have cast him out. Indian justice is stern, but it is natural justice. No man is ever put to the ban among the red men, until they are satisfied he is not fit to enjoy savage rights. In garrison, we always looked upon Nick as a clever knave, and treated him accordingly. When one is on his guard against such a fellow, he can do little harm, and this Tuscarora has a salutary dread of me, which keeps him in tolerable order, during his visits to the Hut. The principal mischief he does here, is to get Mike and Jamie deeper in the Santa Cruz than I could wish; but the miller has his orders to sell no more rum."
"I hardly think you do Nick justice, Willoughby," observed the right- judging and gentle wife. "He has some good qualities; but you soldiers always apply martial-law to the weaknesses of your fellow- creatures."
"And you tender-hearted women, my dear Wilhelmina, think everybody as good as yourselves."
"Remember, Hugh, when your son, there, had the canker-rash, how actively and readily the Tuscarora went into the forest to look for the gold-thread that even the doctors admitted cured him. It was difficult to find, Robert; but Nick remembered a spot where he had seen it, fifty miles off; and, without a request even, from us, he travelled that distance to procure it."
"Yes, this is true"—returned the captain, thoughtfully—"though I question if the cure was owing to the gold-thread, as you call it, Wilhelmina. Every man has some good quality or other; and, I much fear, some bad ones also.—But, here is the fellow coming back, and I do not like to let him think himself of sufficient consequence to be the subject of our remarks."
"Very true, sir—it adds excessively to the trouble of such fellows, to let them fancy themselves of importance."
Nick, now, came slowly back, after having examined the recent changes to his satisfaction. He stood a moment in silence, near the table, and then, assuming an air of more dignity than common, he addressed the captain.
"Nick ole chief" he said. "Been at Council Fire, often as cap'in. Can't tell, all he know; want to hear about new war."
"Why, Nick, it is a family quarrel, this time. The French have nothing to do with it."
"Yengeese fight Yengeese—um?"
"I am afraid it will so turn out. Do not the Tuscaroras sometimes dig up the hatchet against the Tuscaroras?"
"Tuscarora man kill Tuscarora man—good—he quarrel, and kill he enemy. But Tuscarora warrior nebber take scalp of Tuscarora squaw and pappoose! What you t'ink he do dat for? Red man no hog, to eat pork."
"It must be admitted, Nick, you are a very literal logician—'dog won't eat dog,' is our English saying. Still the Yankee will fight the Yengeese, it would seem. In a word, the Great Father, in England, has raised the hatchet against his American children."
"How you like him, cap'in—um? Which go on straight path, which go on crooked? How you like him?"
"I like it little, Nick, and wish with all my heart the quarrel had not taken place."
"Mean to put on regimentals—hah! Mean to be cap'in, ag'in? Follow drum and fife, like ole time?"
"I rather think not, old comrade. After sixty, one likes peace better than war; and I intend to stay at home."
"What for, den, build fort? Why you put fence round a house, like pound for sheep?"
"Because I intend to stay there. The stockade will be good to keep off any, or every enemy who may take it into their heads to come against us. You have known me defend a worse position than this."
"He got no gate," muttered Nick—"What he good for, widout gate? Yengeese, Yankees, red man, French man, walk in just as he please. No good to leave such squaw wid a door wide open."
"Thank you, Nick," cried Mrs. Willoughby. "I knew you were my friend, and have not forgotten the gold-thread."
"He very good," answered the Indian, with an important look. "Pappoose get well like not'ing. He a'most die, to-day; to-morrow he run about and play. Nick do him, too; cure him wid gold-thread."
"Oh! you are, or were quite a physician at one time, Nick. I remember when you had the smallpox, yourself."
The Indian turned, with the quickness of lightning, to Mrs. Willoughby, whom he startled with his energy, as he demanded—
"You remember dat, Mrs. cap'in! Who gib him—who cure him—um?"
"Upon my word, Nick, you almost frighten me. I fear I gave you the disease, but it was for your own good it was done. You were inoculated by myself, when the soldiers were dying around us, because they had never had that care taken of them. All I inoculated lived; yourself among the number."
The startling expression passed away from the fierce countenance of the savage, leaving in its place another so kind and amicable as to prove he not only was aware of the benefit he had received, but that he was deeply grateful for it. He drew near to Mrs. Willoughby, took her still white and soft hand in his own sinewy and dark fingers, then dropped the blanket that he had thrown carelessly across his body, from a shoulder, and laid it on a mark left by the disease, by way of pointing to her good work. He smiled, as this was done.
"Ole mark," he said, nodding his head—"sign we good friend—he nebber go away while Nick live."
This touched the captain's heart, and he tossed a dollar towards the Indian, who suffered it, however, to lie at his feet unnoticed. Turning to the stockade, he pointed significantly at the open gateways.
"Great danger go t'rough little 'ole," he said, sententiously, walking away as he concluded. "Why you leave big 'ole open?"
"We must get those gates hung next week," said the captain, positively; "and yet it is almost absurd to apprehend anything serious in this remote settlement, and that at so early a period in the war."
Nothing further passed on the lawn worthy to be recorded. The sun set, and the family withdrew into the house, as usual, to trust to the overseeing care of Divine Providence, throughout a night passed in a wilderness. By common consent, the discourse turned upon things noway connected with the civil war, or its expected results, until the party was about to separate for the night, when the major found himself alone with his sisters, in his own little parlour, dressing-room, or study, whatever the room adjoining his chamber could properly be called.
"You will not leave us soon, Robert," said Beulah, taking her brother's hand, with confiding affection, "I hardly think my father young and active enough, or rather alarmed enough, to live in times like these!"
"He is a soldier, Beulah, and a good one; so good that his son can teach him nothing. I wish I could say that he is as good a subject: I fear he leans to the side of the colonies."
"Heaven be praised!" exclaimed Beulah—"Oh! that his son would incline in the same direction."
"Nay, Beulah," rejoined Maud, reproachfully; "you speak without reflection. Mamma bitterly regrets that papa sees things in the light he does. She thinks the parliament right, and the colonies wrong."
"What a thing is a civil war!" ejaculated the major—"Here is husband divided against wife—son against father—brother against sister. I could almost wish I were dead, ere I had lived to see this!"
"Nay, Robert, it is not so bad as that, either," added Maud. "My mother will never oppose my father's will or judgment. Good wives, you know, never do that. She will only pray that he may decide right, and in a way that his children will never have cause to regret. As for me, I count for nothing, of course."
"And Beulah, Maud; is she nothing, too? Here will Beulah be praying for her brother's defeat, throughout this war. It has been some presentiment of this difference of opinion that has probably induced you to forget me, while Beulah and my mother were passing so many hours to fill that basket."
"Perhaps you do Maud injustice, Robert," said Beulah, smiling. "I think I can say none loves you better than our dear sister—or no one has thought of you more, in your absence."
"Why, then, does the basket contain no proof of this remembrance—not even a chain of hair—a purse, or a ring—nothing, in short, to show that I have not been forgotten, when away."
"Even if this be so," said Maud, with spirit, "in what am I worse than yourself. What proof is there that you have remembered us?"
"This," answered the major, laying before his sisters two small packages, each marked with the name of its proper owner. "My mother has her's, too, and my father has not been forgotten."
Beulah's exclamations proved how much she was gratified with her presents; principally trinkets and jewelry, suited to her years and station. First kissing the major, she declared her mother must see what she had received, before she retired for the night, and hurried from the room. That Maud was not less pleased, was apparent by her glowing cheeks and tearful eyes; though, for a wonder, she was far more restrained in the expression of her feelings. After examining the different articles, with pleasure, for a minute or two, she went, with a quick impetuous movement, to the basket, tumbled all its contents on the table, until she reached the scarf, which she tossed towards the major, saying, with a faint laugh—
"There, unbeliever—heathen—is that nothing? Was that made in a minute, think you?"
"This!" cried the major, opening the beautiful, glossy fabric in surprise. "Is not this one of my father's old sashes, to which I have fallen heir, in the order of nature?"
Maud dropped her trinkets, and seizing two corners of the sash, she opened it, in a way to exhibit its freshness and beauty.
"Is this old, or worn?" she asked, reproachfully. "Your father never even saw it, Bob. It has not yet been around the waist of man."
"It is not possible!—This would be the work of months—is so beautiful—you cannot have purchased it."
Maud appeared distressed at his doubts. Opening the folds still wider, she raised the centre of the silk to the light, pointed to certain letters that had been wrought into the fabric, so ingeniously as to escape ordinary observation, and yet so plainly as to be distinctly legible when the attention was once drawn to them. The major took the sash into his own hands altogether, held it opened before the candles, and read the words "Maud Meredith" aloud. Dropping the sash, he turned to seek the face of the donor, but she had fled the room. He followed her footsteps and entered the library, just as she was about to escape from it, by a different door.
"I am offended at your incredulity," said Maud, making an effort to laugh away the scene, "and will not remain to hear lame excuses. Your new regiment can have no nature in it, or brothers would not treat sisters thus."
"Maud Meredith is not my sister," he said, earnestly, "though Maud Willoughby may be. Why is the name Meredith?"
"As a retort to one of your own allusions—did you not call me Miss Meredith, one day, when I last saw you in Albany?"
"Ay, but that was in jest, my dearest Maud. It was not a deliberate thing, like the name on that sash."
"Oh! jokes may be premeditated as well as murder; and many a one is murdered, you know. Mine is a prolonged jest."
"Tell me, does my mother—does Beulah know who made this sash?"
"How else could it have been made, Bob? Do you think I went into the woods, and worked by myself, like some romantic damsel who had an unmeaning secret to keep against the curious eyes of persecuting friends!"
"I know not what I thought—scarce know what I think now. But, my mother; does she know of this name?"
Maud blushed to the eyes; but the habit and the love of truth were so strong in her, that she shook her head in the negative.
"Nor Beulah?—She, I am certain, would not have permitted 'Meredith' to appear where 'Willoughby' should have been."
"Nor Beulah, either, major Willoughby," pronouncing the name with an affectation of reverence. "The honour of the Willoughbys is thus preserved from every taint, and all the blame must fall on poor Maud Meredith."
"You dislike the name of Willoughby, then, and intend to drop it, in future—I have remarked that you sign yourself only 'Maud,' in your last letters—never before, however, did I suspect the reason."
"Who wishes to live for ever an impostor? It is not my legal name, and I shall soon be called on to perform legal acts. Remember, Mr. Robert Willoughby, I am twenty; when it comes to pounds, shillings, and pence, I must not forge. A little habit is necessary to teach me the use of my own bona fide signature."
"But ours—the name is not hateful to you—you do not throw it aside, seriously, for ever!"
"Yours! What, the honoured name of my dear, dearest father—of my mother—of Beulah—of yourself, Bob!"
Maud did not remain to terminate her speech. Bursting into tears, she vanished.
The village tower—'tis joy to me!—I cry, the Lord is here! The village bells! They fill the soul with ecstasy sincere. And thus, I sing, the light hath shined to lands in darkness hurled, Their sound is now in all the earth, their words throughout the world.
Another night past in peace within the settlement of the Hutted Knoll. The following morning was the Sabbath, and it came forth, balmy, genial, and mild; worthy of the great festival of the Christian world. On the subject of religion, captain Willoughby was a little of a martinet; understanding by liberty of conscience, the right of improving by the instruction of those ministers who belonged to the church of England. Several of his labourers had left him because he refused to allow of any other ministrations on his estate; his doctrine being that every man had a right to do as he pleased in such matters; and as he did not choose to allow of schism, within the sphere of his own influence, if others desired to be schismatics they were at liberty to go elsewhere, in order to indulge their tastes. Joel Strides and Jamie Allen were both disaffected to this sort of orthodoxy, and they had frequent private discussions on its propriety; the former in his usual wily and jesuitical mode of sneering and insinuating, and the latter respectfully as related to his master, but earnestly as it concerned his conscience. Others, too, were dissentients, but with less repining; though occasionally they would stay away from Mr. Wood's services. Mike, alone, took an open and manly stand in the matter, and he a little out-Heroded Herod; or, in other words, he exceeded the captain himself in strictness of construction. On the very morning we have just described, he was present at a discussion between the Yankee overseer and the Scotch mason, in which these two dissenters, the first a congregationalist, and the last a seceder, were complaining of the hardships of a ten years' abstinence, during which no spiritual provender had been fed out to them from a proper source. The Irishman broke out upon the complainants in a way that will at once let the reader into the secret of the county Leitrim-man's principles, if he has any desire to know them.
"Bad luck to all sorts of religion but the right one!" cried Mike, in a most tolerant spirit. "Who d'ye think will be wishful of hearing mass and pr'aching that comes from any of your heretick parsons? Ye're as dape in the mire yerselves, as Mr. Woods is in the woods, and no one to lade ye out of either, but an evil spirit that would rather see all mankind br'iling in agony, than dancing at a fair."
"Go to your confessional, Mike," returned Joel, with a sneer—"It's a month, or more, sin' you seen it, and the priest will think you have forgotten him, and go away offended."
"Och! It's such a praist, as the likes of yees has no nade of throubling! Yer conscience is aisy, Misther Straddle, so that yer belly is filled, and yer wages is paid. Bad luck o sich religion!"
The allusion of Joel related to a practice of Michael's that is deserving of notice. It seems that the poor fellow, excluded by his insulated position from any communication with a priest of his own church, was in the habit of resorting to a particular rock in the forest, where he would kneel and acknowledge his sins, very much as he would have done had the rock been a confessional containing one authorized to grant him absolution. Accident revealed the secret, and from that time Michael's devotion was a standing jest among the dissenters of the valley. The county Leitrim-man was certainly a little too much addicted to Santa Cruz, and he was accused of always visiting his romantic chapel after a debauch. Of course, he was but little pleased with Joel's remark on the present occasion; and being, like a modern newspaper, somewhat more vituperative than logical, he broke out as related.
"Jamie," continued Joel, too much accustomed to Mike's violence to heed it, "it does seem to me a hardship to be obliged to frequent a church of which a man's conscience can't approve. Mr. Woods, though a native colonist, is an Old England parson, and he has so many popish ways about him, that I am under considerable concern of mind"— concern, of itself, was not sufficiently emphatic for one of Joel's sensitive feelings—"I am under considerable concern of mind about the children. They sit under no other preaching; and, though Lyddy and I do all we can to gainsay the sermons, as soon as meetin' is out, some of it will stick. You may worry the best Christian into idolatry and unbelief, by parseverance and falsehood. Now that things look so serious, too, in the colonies, we ought to be most careful."
Jamie did not clearly understand the application of the present state of the colonies, nor had he quite made up his mind, touching the merits of the quarrel between parliament and the Americans. As between the Stuarts and the House of Hanover, he was for the former, and that mainly because he thought them Scotch, and it was surely a good thing for a Scotchman to govern England; but, as between the Old countries and the New, he was rather inclined to think the rights of the first ought to predominate; there being something opposed to natural order, agreeably to his notions, in permitting the reverse of this doctrine to prevail. As for presbyterianism, however, even in the mitigated form of New England church government, he deemed it to be so much better than episcopacy, that he would have taken up arms, old as he was, for the party that it could be made to appear was fighting to uphold the last. We have no wish to mislead the reader. Neither of the persons mentioned, Mike included, actually knew anything of the points in dispute between the different sects, or churches, mentioned; but only fancied themselves in possession of the doctrines, traditions, and authorities connected with the subject. These fancies, however, served to keep alive a discussion that soon had many listeners; and never before, since his first ministration in the valley, did Mr. Woods meet as disaffected a congregation, as on this day.
The church of the Hutted Knoll, or, as the clergyman more modestly termed it, the chapel, stood in the centre of the meadows, on a very low swell of their surface, where a bit of solid dry ground had been discovered, fit for such a purpose. The principal object had been to make it central; though some attention had been paid also to the picturesque. It was well shaded with young elms, just then opening into leaf; and about a dozen graves, principally of very young children, were memorials of the mortality of the settlement. The building was of stone, the work of Jamie Allen's own hands, but small, square, with a pointed roof, and totally without tower, or belfry. The interior was of unpainted cherry, and through a want of skill in the mechanics, had a cold and raw look, little suited to the objects of the structure. Still, the small altar, the desk and the pulpit, and the large, square, curtained pew of the captain, the only one the house contained, were all well ornamented with hangings, or cloth, and gave the place somewhat of an air of clerical comfort and propriety. The rest of the congregation sat on benches, with kneeling-boards before them. The walls were plastered, and, a proof that parsimony had no connection with the simple character of the building, and a thing almost as unusual in America at that period as it is to-day in parts of Italy, the chapel was entirely finished.
It has been said that the morning of the particular Sabbath at which we have now arrived, was mild and balmy. The sun of the forty-third degree of latitude poured out its genial rays upon the valley, gilding the tender leaves of the surrounding forest with such touches of light as are best known to the painters of Italy. The fineness of the weather brought nearly all the working people of the settlement to the chapel quite an hour before the ringing of its little bell, enabling the men to compare opinions afresh, on the subject of the political troubles of the times, and the women to gossip about their children.
On all such occasions, Joel was a principal spokesman, nature having created him for a demagogue, in a small way; an office for which education had in no degree unfitted him. As had been usual with him, of late, he turned the discourse on the importance of having correct information of what was going on, in the inhabited parts of the country, and of the expediency of sending some trustworthy person on such an errand. He had frequently intimated his own readiness to go, if his neighbours wished it.