"We're all in the dark here," he remarked, "and might stay so to the end of time, without some one to be relied on, to tell us the news. Major Willoughby is a fine man"—Joel meant morally, not physically—"but he's a king's officer, and nat'rally feels inclined to make the best of things for the rig'lars. The captain, too, was once a soldier, himself, and his feelin's turn, as it might be, unav'idably, to the side he has been most used to. We are like people on a desart island, out here in the wilderness—and if ships won't arrive to tell us how matters come on, we must send one out to l'arn it for us. I'm the last man at the Dam"—so the oi polloi called the valley—"to say anything hard of either the captain or his son; but one is English born, and the other is English bred; and each will make a difference in a man's feelin's."
To this proposition the miller, in particular, assented; and, for the twentieth time, he made some suggestion about the propriety of Joel's going himself, in order to ascertain how the land lay.
"You can be back by hoeing," he added, "and have plenty of time to go as far as Boston, should you wish to."
Now, while the great events were in progress, which led to the subversion of British power in America, an under-current of feeling, if not of incidents, was running in this valley, which threatened to wash away the foundations of the captain's authority. Joel and the miller, if not downright conspirators, had hopes, calculations, and even projects of their own, that never would have originated with men of the same class, in another state of society; or, it might almost be said, in another part of the world. The sagacity of the overseer had long enabled him to foresee that the issue of the present troubles would be insurrection; and a sort of instinct which some men possess for the strongest side, had pointed out to him the importance of being a patriot. The captain, he little doubted, would take part with the crown, and then no one knew what might be the consequences. It is not probable that Joel's instinct for the strongest side predicted the precise confiscations that subsequently ensued, some of which had all the grasping lawlessness of a gross abuse of power; but he could easily foresee that if the owner of the estate should be driven off, the property and its proceeds, probably for a series of years, would be very apt to fall under his own control and management. Many a patriot has been made by anticipations less brilliant than these; and as Joel and the miller talked the matter over between them, they had calculated all the possible emolument of fattening beeves, and packing pork for hostile armies, or isolated frontier posts, with a strong gusto for the occupation. Should open war but fairly commence, and could the captain only be induced to abandon the Knoll, and take refuge within a British camp, everything might be made to go smoothly, until settling day should follow a peace. At that moment, non est inventus would be a sufficient answer to a demand for any balance.
"They tell me," said Joel, in an aside to the miller, "that law is as good as done with in the Bay colony, already; and you know if the law has run out there, it will quickly come to an end, here. York never had much character for law."
"That's true, Joel; then you know the captain himself is the only magistrate hereabout; and, when he is away, we shall have to be governed by a committee of safety, or something of that natur'."
"A committee of safety will be the thing!"
"What is a committee of safety, Joel?" demanded the miller, who had made far less progress in the arts of the demagogue than his friend, and who, in fact, had much less native fitness for the vocation; "I have heer'n tell of them regulations, but do not rightly understand 'em, a'ter all."
"You know what a committee is?" asked Joel, glancing inquiringly at his friend.
"I s'pose I do—it means men's takin' on themselves the trouble and care of public business."
"That's it—now a committee of safety means a few of us, for instance, having the charge of the affairs of this settlement, in order to see that no harm shall come to anything, especially to the people."
"It would be a good thing to have one, here. The carpenter, and you, and I might be members, Joel."
"We'll talk about it, another time. The corn is just planted, you know; and it has got to be hoed twice, and topped, before it can be gathered. Let us wait and see how things come on at Boston."
While this incipient plot was thus slowly coming to a head, and the congregation was gradually collecting at the chapel, a very different scene was enacting in the Hut. Breakfast was no sooner through, than Mrs. Willoughby retired to her own sitting-room, whither her son was shortly summoned to join her. Expecting some of the inquiries which maternal affection might prompt, the major proceeded to the place named with alacrity; but, on entering the room, to his great surprise he found Maud with his mother. The latter seemed grave and concerned, while the former was not entirely free from alarm. The young man glanced inquiringly at the young lady, and he fancied he saw tears struggling to break out of her eyes.
"Come hither, Robert"—said Mrs. Willoughby, pointing to a chair at her side—with a gravity that struck her son as unusual—"I have brought you here to listen to one of the old-fashioned lectures, of which you got so many when a boy."
"Your advice, my dear mother—or even your reproofs—would be listened to with far more reverence and respect, now, than I fear they were then," returned the major, seating himself by the side of Mrs. Willoughby, and taking one of her hands, affectionately, in both his own. "It is only in after-life that we learn to appreciate the tenderness and care of such a parent as you have been; though what I have done lately, to bring me in danger of the guard-house, I cannot imagine. Surely you cannot blame me for adhering to the crown, at a moment like this!"
"I shall not interfere with your conscience in this matter, Robert; and my own feelings, American as I am by birth and family, rather incline me to think as you think. I have wished to see you, my son, on a different business."
"Do not keep me in suspense, mother; I feel like a prisoner who is waiting to hear his charges read. What have I done?"
"Nay, it is rather for you to tell me what you have done. You cannot have forgotten, Robert, how very anxious I have been to awaken and keep alive family affection, among my children; how very important both your father and I have always deemed it; and how strongly we have endeavoured to impress this importance on all your minds. The tie of family, and the love it ought to produce, is one of the sweetest of all our earthly duties. Perhaps we old people see its value more than you young; but, to us, the weakening of it seems like a disaster only a little less to be deplored than death."
"Dearest—dearest mother! What can you—what do you mean?—What can I—what can Maud have to do with this?"
"Do not your consciences tell you, both? Has there not been some misunderstanding—perhaps a quarrel—certainly a coldness between you? A mother has a quick and a jealous eye; and I have seen, for some time, that there is not the old confidence, the free natural manner, in either of you, that there used to be, and which always gave your father and me so much genuine happiness. Speak, then, and let me make peace between you."
Robert Willoughby would not have looked at Maud, at that moment, to have been given a regiment; as for Maud, herself, she was utterly incapable of raising her eyes from the floor. The former coloured to the temples, a proof of consciousness, his mother fancied; while the latter's face resembled ivory, as much as flesh and blood.
"If you think, Robert," continued Mrs. Willoughby, "that Maud has forgotten you, or shown pique for any little former misunderstanding, during your last absence, you do her injustice. No one has done as much for you, in the way of memorial; that beautiful sash being all her own work, and made of materials purchased with her own pocket-money. Maud loves you truly, too; for, whatever may be the airs she gives herself, while you are together, when absent, no one seems to care more for your wishes and happiness, than that very wilful and capricious girl."
"Mother!—mother!" murmured Maud, burying her face in both her hands.
Mrs. Willoughby was woman in all her feelings, habits and nature. No one would have been more keenly alive to the peculiar sensibilities of her sex, under ordinary circumstances, than herself; but she was now acting and thinking altogether in her character of a mother; and so long and intimately had she regarded the two beings before her, in that common and sacred light, that it would have been like the dawn of a new existence for her, just then, to look upon them as not really akin to each other.
"I shall not, nor can I treat either of you as a child," she continued, "and must therefore appeal only to your own good sense, to make a peace. I know it can be nothing serious; but, it is painful to me to see even an affected coldness among my children. Think, Maud, that we are on the point of a war, and how bitterly you would regret it, should any accident befall your brother, and your memory not be able to recall the time passed among us, in his last visit, with entire satisfaction."
The mother's voice trembled; but tears no longer struggled about the eyelids of Maud. Her face was pale as death, and it seemed as if every ordinary fountain of sorrow were dried up.
"Dear Bob, this is too much!" she said eagerly, though in husky tones. "Here is my hand—nay, here are both. Mother must not think this cruel charge is—can be true."
The major arose, approached his sister, and impressed a kiss on her cold cheek. Mrs. Willoughby smiled at these tokens of amity, and the conversation continued in a less earnest manner.
"This is right, my children," said the single-hearted Mrs. Willoughby, whose sensitive maternal love saw nothing but the dreaded consequences of weakened domestic affections; "and I shall be all the happier for having witnessed it. Young soldiers, Maud, who are sent early from their homes, have too many inducements to forget them and those they contain; and we women are so dependent on the love of our male friends, that it is wisdom in us to keep alive all the earlier ties as long and as much as possible."
"I am sure, dearest mother," murmured Maud, though in a voice that was scarcely audible, "I shall be the last to wish to weaken this family tie. No one can feel a warmer—more proper—a more sisterly affection for Robert, than I do—he was always so kind to me when a child—and so ready to assist me—and so manly—and so everything that he ought to be—it is surprising you should have fancied there was any coldness between us!"
Major Willoughby even bent forward to listen, so intense was his curiosity to hear what Maud said; a circumstance which, had she seen it, would probably have closed her lips. But her eyes were riveted on the floor, her cheeks were bloodless, and her voice so low, that nothing but the breathless stillness he observed, would have allowed the young man to hear it, where he sat.
"You forget, mother"—rejoined the major, satisfied that the last murmur had died on his ears—"that Maud will probably be transplanted into another family, one of these days, where we, who know her so well, and have reason to love her so much, can only foresee that she will form new, and even stronger ties than any that accident may have formed for her here."
"Never—never"—exclaimed Maud, fervently—"I can never love any as well as I love those who are in this house."
The relief she wanted stopped her voice, and, bursting into tears, she threw-herself into Mrs. Willoughby's arms, and sobbed like a child. The mother now motioned to her son to quit the room, while she remained herself to soothe the weeping girl, as she so often had done before, when overcome by her infantile, or youthful griefs. Throughout this interview, habit and single-heartedness so exercised their influence, that the excellent matron did not, in the most remote manner, recollect that her son and Maud were not natural relatives. Accustomed herself to see the latter every day, and to think of her, as she had from the moment when she was placed in her arms, an infant of a few weeks old the effect that separation might produce on others, never presented itself to her mind. Major Willoughby, a boy of eight when Maud was received in the family, had known from the first her precise position; and it was perhaps morally impossible that he should not recall the circumstance in their subsequent intercourse; more especially as school, college, and the army, had given him so much leisure to reflect on such things, apart from the influence of family habits; while it was to be expected that a consequence of his own peculiar mode of thinking on this subject, would be to produce something like a sympathetic sentiment in the bosom of Maud. Until within the last few years, however, she had been so much of a child herself, and had been treated so much like a child by the young soldier, that it was only through a change in him, that was perceptible only to herself, and which occurred when he first met her grown into womanhood, that she alone admitted any feelings that were not strictly to be referred to sisterly regard. All this, nevertheless, was a profound mystery to every member of the family, but the two who were its subjects; no other thoughts than the simplest and most obvious, ever suggesting themselves to the minds of the others.
In half an hour, Mrs. Willoughby had quieted all Maud's present troubles, and the whole family left the house to repair to the chapel. Michael, though he had no great reverence for Mr. Wood's ministrations, had constituted himself sexton, an office which had devolved on him in consequence of his skill with the spade. Once initiated into one branch of this duty, he had insisted on performing all the others; and it was sometimes a curious spectacle to see the honest fellow, busy about the interior of the building, during service, literally stopping one of his ears with a thumb, with a view, while he acquitted himself of what he conceived to be temporal obligations, to exclude as much heresy as possible. One of his rules was to refuse to commence tolling the bell, until he saw Mrs. Willoughby and her daughter, within a reasonable distance of the place of worship; a rule that had brought about more than one lively discussion between himself and the levelling-minded, if not heavenly-minded Joel Strides. On the present occasion, this simple process did not pass altogether without a dispute.
"Come, Mike; it's half-past ten; the people have been waiting about the meetin' 'us, some time; you should open the doors and toll the bell. People can't wait, for ever for anybody; not even for your church."
"Then let 'em just go home, ag'in, and come when they're called. Because, the ould women, and the young women, and the childer, and the likes o' them, wishes to scandalize their fellow cr'atures, Christians I will not call 'em, let 'em mate in the mill, or the school-house, and not come forenent a church on sich a business as that. Is it toll the bell, will I, afore the Missus is in sight?—No—not for a whole gineration of ye, Joel; and every one o' them, too, a much likelier man than ye bees yerself."
"Religion is no respecter of persons"—returned the philosophical Joel. "Them that likes masters and mistresses may have them, for all me; but it riles me to meet with meanness."
"It does!" cried Mike, looking up at his companion, with a very startling expression of wonder. "If that be true, ye must be in a mighty throubled state, most of the live-long day, ye must!"
"I tell you, Michael O'Hearn, religion is no respecter of persons. The Lord cares jist as much for me, as he does for captain Willoughby, or his wife, or his son, or his darters, or anything that is his."
"Divil burn me, now, Joel, if I believe that!" again cried Mike, in his dogmatic manner. "Them that understands knows the difference between mankind, and I'm sure it can be no great sacret to the Lord, when it is so well known to a poor fellow like myself. There's a plenthy of fellow-cr'atures that has a mighty good notion of their own excellence, but when it comes to r'ason and thruth, it's no very great figure ye all make, in proving what ye say. This chapel is the master's, if chapel the heretical box can be called, and yonder bell was bought wid his money; and the rope is his; and the hands that mane to pull it, is his; and so there's little use in talking ag'in rocks, and ag'in minds that's made up even harder than rocks, and to spare."
This settled the matter. The bell was not tolled until Mrs. Willoughby, and her daughters, had got fairly through the still unprotected gateway of the stockade, although the recent discussion of political questions had so far substituted discontent for subordination in the settlement, that more than half of those who were of New England descent, had openly expressed their dissatisfaction at the delay. Mike, however, was as unmoved as the little chapel itself, refusing to open the door until the proper moment had arrived, according to his own notion of the fitness of things. He then proceeded to the elm, against which the little bell was hung, and commenced tolling it with as much seriousness as if the conveyer of sounds had been duly consecrated.
When the family from the Hut entered the chapel, all the rest of the congregation were in their customary seats. This arrival, however, added materially to the audience, Great Smash and Little Smash, the two Plinys, and some five or six coloured children, between the ages of six and twelve, following in the train of their master. For the blacks, a small gallery had been built, where they could sit apart, a proscribed, if not a persecuted race. Little did the Plinys or the Smashes, notwithstanding, think of this. Habit had rendered their situation more than tolerable, for it had created notions and usages that would have rendered them uncomfortable, in closer contact with the whites. In that day, the two colours never ate together, by any accident; the eastern castes being scarcely more rigid in the observance of their rules, than the people of America were on this great point. The men who would toil together, joke together, and pass their days in familiar intercourse, would not sit down at the same board. There seemed to be a sort of contamination, according to the opinions of one of these castes, in breaking bread with the other. This prejudice often gave rise to singular scenes, more especially in the households of those who habitually laboured in company with their slaves. In such families, it not unfrequently happened that a black led the councils of the farm. He might be seen seated by the fire, uttering his opinions dogmatically, reasoning warmly against his own master, and dealing out his wisdom ex cathedra, even while he waited, with patient humility, when he might approach, and satisfy his hunger, after all of the other colour had quitted the table.
Mr. Woods was not fortunate in the selection of his subject, on the occasion of which we are writing. There had been so much personal activity, and so much political discussion during the past week, as to prevent him from writing a new sermon, and of course he was compelled to fail back on the other end of the barrel. The recent arguments inclined him to maintain his own opinions, and he chose a discourse that he had delivered to the garrison of which he had last been chaplain. To this choice he had been enticed by the text, which was, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's," a mandate that would be far more palatable to an audience composed of royal troops, than to one which had become a good deal disaffected by the arts and arguments of Joel Strides and the miller. Still, as the sermon contained a proper amount of theological truisms, and had a sufficiency of general orthodoxy to cover a portion of its political bearing, it gave far more dissatisfaction to a few of the knowing, than to the multitude. To own the truth, the worthy priest was so much addicted to continuing his regimental and garrison course of religious instruction, that his ordinary listeners would scarcely observe this tendency to loyalty; though it was far different with those who were eagerly looking for causes of suspicion and denunciation, in the higher quarters.
"Well," said Joel, as he and the miller, followed by their respective families, proceeded towards the mill, where the household of the Strides' were to pass the remainder of the day, "well, this is a bold sermon for a minister to preach in times like these! I kind o' guess, if Mr. Woods was down in the Bay, 'render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars,' wouldn't be doctrine to be so quietly received by every congregation. What's your notion about that, Miss Strides?"
Miss Strides thought exactly as her husband thought, and the miller and his wife were not long in chiming in with her, accordingly. The sermon furnished material for conversation throughout the remainder of the day, at the mill, and divers conclusions were drawn from it, that were ominous to the preacher's future comfort and security.
Nor did the well-meaning parson entirely escape comment in the higher quarters.
"I wish, Woods, you had made choice of some other subject," observed the captain, as he and his friend walked the lawn together, in waiting for a summons to dinner.
"In times like these, one cannot be too careful of the political notions he throws out; and to own the truth to you, I am more than half inclined to think that Caesar is exercising quite as much authority, in these colonies, as justly falls to his share."
"Why, my dear captain, you have heard this very sermon three or four times already, and you have more than once mentioned it with commendation!"
"Ay, but that was in garrison, where one is obliged to teach subordination. I remember the sermon quite well, and a very good one it was, twenty years since, when you first preached it; but—"
"I apprehend, captain Willoughby, that 'tempora mutantur, et, nos mutamus in illis.' That the mandates and maxims of the Saviour are far beyond the mutations and erring passions of mortality. His sayings are intended for all times."
"Certainly, as respects their general principles and governing truths. But no text is to be interpreted without some reference to circumstances. All I mean is, that the preaching which might be very suitable to a battalion of His Majesty's Fortieth might be very unsuitable for the labourers of the Hutted Knoll; more especially so soon after what I find is called the Battle of Lexington."
The summons to dinner cut short the discourse; and probably prevented a long, warm, but friendly argument.
That afternoon and evening, captain Willoughby and his son had a private and confidential discourse. The former advised the major to rejoin his regiment without delay, unless he were prepared to throw up his commission and take sides with the colonists, altogether. To this the young soldier would not listen, returning to the charge, in the hope of rekindling the dormant flame of his father's loyalty.
The reader is not to suppose that captain Willoughby's own mind was absolutely made up to fly into open rebellion. Far from it. He had his doubts and misgivings on the subjects of both principles and prudence, but he inclined strongly to the equity of the demands of the Americans. Independence, or separation, if thought of at all in 1775 entered into the projects of but very few; the warmest wish of the most ardent of the whigs of the colonies being directed toward compromise, and a distinct recognition of their political franchises. The events that followed so thickly were merely the consequences of causes which, once set in motion, soon attained an impetus that defied ordinary human control. It was doubtless one of the leading incidents of the great and mysterious scheme of Divine Providence for the government of the future destinies of man, that political separation should commence, in this hemisphere, at that particular juncture, to be carried out, ere the end of a century, to its final and natural conclusion.
But the present interview was less to debate the merits of any disputed question, than to consult on the means of future intercourse, and to determine on what was best to be done at the present moment. After discussing the matter, pro and con, it was decided that the major should quit the Knoll the next day, and return to Boston, avoiding Albany and those points of the country in which he would be most exposed to detection. So many persons were joining the American forces that were collecting about the besieged town, that his journeying on the proper road would excite no suspicion; and once in the American camp, nothing would be easier than to find his way into the peninsula. All this young Willoughby felt no difficulty in being able to accomplish, provided he could get into the settlements without being followed by information of his real character. The period of spies, and of the severe exercise of martial-law, was not yet reached; and all that was apprehended was detention. Of the last, however, there was great danger; positive certainty, indeed, in the event of discovery; and major Willoughby had gleaned enough during his visit, to feel some apprehensions of being betrayed. He regretted having brought his servant with him; for the man was a European, and by his dulness and speech might easily get them both into difficulties. So serious, indeed, was this last danger deemed by the father, that he insisted on Robert's starting without the man, leaving the last to follow, on the first suitable occasion.
As soon as this point was settled, there arose the question of the proper guide. Although he distrusted the Tuscarora, captain Willoughby, after much reflection, came to the opinion that it would be safer to make an ally of him, than to give him an opportunity of being employed by the other side. Nick was sent for, and questioned. He promised to take the major to the Hudson, at a point between Lunenburg and Kinderhook, where he would be likely to cross the river without awakening suspicion; his own reward to depend on his coming back to the Hutted Knoll with a letter from the major, authorizing the father to pay him for his services. This plan, it was conceived, would keep Nick true to his faith, for the time being, at least.
Many other points were discussed between the father and son, the latter promising if anything of importance occurred, to find the means of communicating it to his friends at the Knoll, while Parrel was to follow his master, at the end of six weeks or two months, with letters from the family. Many of the captain's old army-friends were now in situations of authority and command, and he sent to them messages of prudence, and admonitions to be moderate in their views, which subsequent events proved were little regarded. To general Gage he even wrote, using the precaution not to sign the letter, though its sentiments were so much in favour of the colonies, that had it been intercepted, it is most probable the Americans would have forwarded the missive to its direction.
These matters arranged, the father and son parted for the night, some time after the house-clock had struck the hour of twelve.
Though old in cunning, as in years, He is so small, that like a child In face and form, the god appears, And sportive like a boy, and wild; Lightly he moves from place to place, In none at rest, in none content; Delighted some new toy to chase— On childish purpose ever bent. Beware! to childhood's spirits gay Is added more than childhood's power; And you perchance may rue the hour That saw you join his seeming play.
The intention of the major to quit the Knoll that day, was announced to the family at breakfast, on the following morning. His mother and Beulah heard this intelligence, with a natural and affectionate concern, that they had no scruples in avowing; but Maud seemed to have so schooled her feelings, that the grief she really felt was under a prudent control. To her, it appeared as if her secret were constantly on the point of exposure, and she believed that would cause her instant death. To survive its shame was impossible in her eyes, and all the energies of her nature were aroused, with the determination of burying her weakness in her own bosom. She had been so near revealing it to Beulah, that even now she trembled as she thought of the precipice over which she had been impending, strengthening her resolution by the recollection of the danger she had run.
As a matter of necessary caution, the intended movements of the young man were kept a profound secret from all in the settlement. Nick had disappeared in the course of the night, carrying with him the major's pack, having repaired to a designated point on the stream, where he was to be joined by his fellow-traveller at an hour named. There were several forest-paths which led to the larger settlements. That usually travelled was in the direction of old Fort Stanwix, first proceeding north, and then taking a south-eastern direction, along the shores of the Mohawk. This was the route by which the major had come. Another struck the Otsego, and joined the Mohawk at the point more than once mentioned in our opening chapters. As these were the two ordinary paths—if paths they could be called, where few or no traces of footsteps were visible—it was more than probable any plan to arrest the traveller would be laid in reference to their courses. The major had consequently resolved to avoid them both, and to strike boldly into the mountains, until he should reach the Susquehanna, cross that stream on its flood wood, and finding one of its tributaries that flowed in from the eastward, by following its banks to the high land, which divides the waters of the Mohawk from this latter river, place himself on a route that would obliquely traverse the water-courses, which, in this quarter of the country, have all a general north or south direction. Avoiding Schenectady and Albany, he might incline towards the old establishments of the descendants of the emigrants from the Palatinate, on the Schoharie, and reach the Hudson at a point deemed safe for his purposes, through some of the passes of the mountains in their vicinity. He was to travel in the character of a land-owner who had been visiting his patent, and his father supplied him with a map and an old field-book, which would serve to corroborate his assumed character, in the event of suspicion, or arrest. Not much danger was apprehended, however, the quarrel being yet too recent to admit of the organization and distrust that subsequently produced so much vigilance and activity.
"You will contrive to let us hear of your safe arrival in Boston, Bob," observed the father, as he sat stirring his tea, in a thoughtful way—"I hope to God the matter will go no farther, and that our apprehensions, after all, have given this dark appearance to what has already happened."
"Ah, my dear father; you little know the state of the country, through which I have so lately travelled!" answered the major, shaking his head. "An alarm of fire, in an American town, would scarce create more movement, and not so much excitement. The colonies are alive, particularly those of New England, and a civil war is inevitable; though I trust the power of England will render it short."
"Then, Robert, do not trust yourself among the people of New England"— cried the anxious mother. "Go rather to New York, where we have so many friends, and so much influence. It will be far easier to reach New York than to reach Boston."
"That may be true, mother, but it will scarcely be as creditable. My regiment is in Boston, and its enemies are before Boston; an old soldier like captain Willoughby will tell you that the major is a very necessary officer to a corps. No—no—my best course is to fall into the current of adventurers who are pushing towards Boston, and appear like one of their number, until I can get an opportunity of stealing away from them, and join my own people."
"Have a care, Bob, that you do not commit a military crime. Perhaps these provincial officers may take it into their heads to treat you as a spy, should you fall into their hands!"
"Little fear of that, sir; at present it is a sort of colonial scramble for what they fancy liberty. That they will fight, in their zeal, I know; for I have seen it; but matters have not at all gone as far as you appear to apprehend. I question if they would even stop Gage, himself, from going through their camp, were he outside, and did he express a desire to return."
"And yet you tell me, arms and ammunition are seized all over the land; that several old half-pay officers of the king have been arrested, and put under a sort of parole!"
"Such things were talked of, certainly, though I question if they have yet been done. Luckily for yourself, under your present opinions at least, you are not on half-pay, even."
"It is fortunate, Bob, though you mention it with a smile. With my present feelings, I should indeed be sorry to be on half-pay, or quarter-pay, were there such a thing. I now feel myself my-own master, at liberty to follow the dictates of my conscience, and the suggestions of my judgment."
"Well, sir, you are a little fortunate, it must be acknowledged. I cannot see how any man can be at liberty to throw off the allegiance he owes his natural sovereign. What think you, Maud?"
This was said half in bitterness, half in jest, though the appeal at its close was uttered in a serious manner, and a little anxiously. Maud hesitated, as if to muster her thoughts, ere she replied.
"My feelings are against rebellion," she said, at length; "though I fear my reason tells me there is no such thing as a natural sovereign. If the parliament had not given us the present family, a century since, by what rule of nature would it be our princes, Bob?"
"Ah! these are some of the flights of your rich imagination, my dear— Maud; it is parliament that has made them our princes, and parliament, at least, is our legal, constitutional master."
"That is just the point in dispute. Parliament may be the rightful governors of England, but are they the rightful governors of America?"
"Enough," said the captain, rising from table—"We will not discuss such a question, just as we are about to separate. Go, my son; a duty that is to be performed, cannot be done too soon. Your fowling-piece and ammunition are ready for you, and I shall take care to circulate the report that you have gone to pass an hour in the woods, in search of pigeons. God bless you, Bob; however we may differ in this matter— you are my son—my only son—my dear and well-beloved boy—God for ever bless you!"
A profound stillness succeeded this burst of nature, and then the young man took his leave of his mother and the girls. Mrs. Willoughby kissed her child. She did not even weep, until she was in her room; then, indeed, she went to her knees, her tears, and her prayers. Beulah, all heart and truth as she was, wept freely on her brother's neck; but Maud, though pale and trembling, received his kiss without returning it; though she could not help saying with a meaning that the young man had in his mind all that day, ay, and for many succeeding days—"be careful of yourself, and run into no unnecessary dangers; God bless you, dear, dear Bob."
Maud alone followed the movements of the gentlemen with her eyes. The peculiar construction of the Hut prevented external view from the south windows; but there was a loop in a small painting-room of the garret that was especially under her charge. Thither, then, she flew, to ease her nearly bursting heart with tears, and to watch the retiring footsteps of Robert. She saw him, accompanied by his father and the chaplain, stroll leisurely down the lawn, conversing and affecting an indifferent manner, with a wish to conceal his intent to depart. The glass of the loop was open, to admit the air, and Maud strained her sense of hearing, in the desire to catch, if possible, another tone of his voice. In this she was unsuccessful; though he stopped and gazed back at the Hut, as if to take a parting look. Her father and Mr. Woods did not turn, and Maud thrust her hand through the opening and waved her handkerchief. "He will think it Beulah or I," she thought, "and it may prove a consolation to him to know how much we love him." The major saw the signal, and returned it. His father unexpectedly turned, and caught a glimpse of the retiring hand, as it was disappearing within the loop. "That is our precious Maud," he said, without other thought than of her sisterly affection. "It is her painting-room; Beulah's is on the other side of the gateway; but the window does not seem to be open."
The major started, kissed his hand fervently, five or six times, and then he walked on. As if to change the conversation, he said hastily, and with a little want of connection with what had just passed—
"Yes, sir, that gate, sure enough—have it hung, at once, I do entreat of you. I shall not be easy until I hear that both the gates are hung— that in the stockade, and that in the house, itself."
"It was my intention to commence to-day," returned the father, "but your departure has prevented it. I will wait a day or two, to let your mother and sisters tranquillize their minds a little, before we besiege them with the noise and clamour of the workmen."
"Better besiege them with that, my dear sir, than leave them exposed to an Indian, or even a rebel attack."
The major then went on to give some of his more modern military notions, touching the art of defence. As one of the old school, he believed his father a miracle of skill; but what young man, who had enjoyed the advantages of ten or fifteen years of the most recent training in any branch of knowledge, ever believed the educations of those who went before him beyond the attacks of criticism. The captain listened patiently, and with an old man's tolerance for inexperience, glad to have any diversion to unhappy thoughts.
All this time Maud watched their movements from the loop, with eyes streaming with tears. She saw Robert pause, and look back, again and again; and, once more, she thrust out the handkerchief. It was plain, however, he did not see it; for he turned and proceeded, without any answering signal.
"He never can know whether it was Beulah or I," thought Maud; "yet, he may fancy we are both here."
On the rocks, that overhung the mills, the gentlemen paused, and conversed for quite a quarter of an hour. The distance prevented Maud from discerning their countenances; but she could perceive the thoughtful, and as she fancied melancholy, attitude of the major, as, leaning on his fowling-piece, his lace was turned towards the Knoll, and his eyes were really riveted on the loop. At the end of the time mentioned, the young soldier shook hands hastily and covertly with his companions, hurried towards the path, and descended out of sight, following the course of the stream. Maud saw him no more, though her father and Mr. Woods stood on the rocks quite half an hour longer, catching occasional glimpses of his form, as it came out of the shadows of the forest, into the open space of the little river; and, indeed, until the major was within a short distance of the spot where he was to meet the Indian. Then they heard the reports of both barrels of his fowling-piece, fired in quick succession, the signals that he had joined his guide. This welcome news received, the two gentlemen returned slowly towards the house.
Such was the commencement of a day, which, while it brought forth nothing alarming to the family of the Hutted Knoll, was still pregnant with important consequences. Major Willoughby disappeared from the sight of his father about ten in the morning; and before twelve, the settlement was alive with the rumours of a fresh arrival. Joel knew not whether to rejoice or to despair, as he saw a party of eight or ten armed men rising above the rock, and holding their course across the flats towards the house. He entertained no doubt of its being a party sent by the provincial authorities to arrest the captain, and he foresaw the probability of another's being put into the lucrative station of receiver of the estate, during the struggle which was in perspective. It is surprising how many, and sometimes how pure patriots are produced by just such hopes as those of Joel's. At this day, there is scarce an instance of a confiscated estate, during the American revolution, connected with which racy traditions are not to be found, that tell of treachery very similar to this contemplated by the overseer in some instances of treachery effected by means of kinsmen and false friends.
Joel had actually got on his Sunday coat, and was making his way towards the Knoll, in order to be present, at least, at the anticipated scene, when, to his amazement, and somewhat to his disappointment, he saw the captain and chaplain moving down the lawn, in a manner to show that these unexpected arrivals brought not unwelcome guests. This caused him to pause; and when he perceived that the only two among the strangers who had the air of gentlemen, were met with cordial shakes of the hand, he turned back towards his own tenement, a half-dissatisfied, and yet half contented man.
The visit which the captain had come out to receive, instead of producing any uneasiness in his family, was, in truth, highly agreeable, and very opportune. It was Evert Beekman, with an old friend, attended by a party of chain-bearers, hunters, &c., on his way from the "Patent" he owned in the neighbourhood—that is to say, within fifty miles—and halting at the Hutted Knoll, under the courteous pretence of paying his respects to the family, but, in reality, to bring the suit he had now been making to Beulah for quite a twelvemonth, to a successful termination.
The attachment between Evert Beekman and Beulah Willoughby was of a character so simple, so sincere, and so natural, as scarce to furnish materials for a brief episode. The young man had not made his addresses without leave obtained from the parents; he had been acceptable to the daughter from the commencement of their acquaintance; and she had only asked time to reflect, ere she gave her answer, when he proposed, a day or two before the family left New York.
To own the truth, Beulah was a little surprised that her suitor had delayed his appearance till near the close of May, when she had expected to see him at the beginning of the month. A letter, however, was out of the question, since there was no mode of transmitting it, unless the messenger were sent expressly; and the young man had now come in person, to make his own apologies.
Beulah received Evert Beekman naturally, and without the least exaggeration of manner, though a quiet happiness beamed in her handsome face, that said as much as lover could reasonably desire. Her parents welcomed him cordially, and the suitor must have been dull indeed, not to anticipate all he hoped. Nor was it long before every doubt was removed. The truthful, conscientious Beulah, had well consulted her heart; and, while she blushed at her own temerity, she owned her attachment to her admirer. The very day of his arrival they became formally betrothed. As our tale, however, has but a secondary connection with this little episode, we shall not dwell on it more than is necessary to the principal object. It was a busy morning, altogether; and, though there were many tears, there were also many smiles. By the time it was usual, at that bland season, for the family to assemble on the lawn, everything, even to the day, was settled between Beulah and her lover, and there was a little leisure to think of other things. It was while the younger Pliny and one of the Smashes were preparing the tea, that the following conversation was held, being introduced by Mr. Woods, in the way of digressing from feelings in which he was not quite as much interested as some of the rest of the party.
"Do you bring us anything new from Boston?" demanded the chaplain. "I have been dying to ask the question these two hours—ever since dinner, in fact; but, somehow, Mr. Beekman, I have not been able to edge in an inquiry."
This was said good-naturedly, but quite innocently; eliciting smiles, blushes, and meaning glances in return. Evert Beekman, however, looked grave before he made his reply.
"To own the truth, Mr. Woods," he said, "things are getting to be very serious. Boston is surrounded by thousands of our people; and we hope, not only to keep the king's forces in the Peninsula, but, in the end, to drive them out of the colony."
"This is a bold measure, Mr. Beekman!—a very bold step to take against Caesar!"
"Woods preached about the rights of Caesar, no later than yesterday, you ought to know, Beekman," put in the laughing captain; "and I am afraid he will be publicly praying for the success of the British arms, before long."
"I did pray for the Royal Family," said the chaplain, with spirit, "and hope I shall ever continue to do so."
"My dear fellow, I do not object to that. Pray for all conditions of men, enemies and friends alike; and, particularly, pray for our princes; but pray also to turn the hearts of their advisers."
Beekman seemed uneasy. He belonged to a decidedly whig family, and was himself, at the very moment, spoken of as the colonel of one of the regiments about to be raised in the colony of New York. He held that rank in the militia, as it was; and no one doubted his disposition to resist the British forces, at the proper moment. He had even stolen away from what he conceived to be very imperative duties, to secure the woman of his heart before he went into the field. His answer, in accordance, partook essentially of the bias of his mind.
"I do not know, sir, that it is quite wise to pray so very willingly for the Royal Family," he said. "We may wish them worldly happiness, and spiritual consolation, as part of the human race; but political and specific prayers, in times like these, are to be used with caution. Men attach more than the common religious notion, just now, to prayers for the king, which some interpret into direct petitions against the United Colonies."
"Well," rejoined the captain, "I cannot agree to this, myself. If there were a prayer to confound parliament and its counsels, I should be very apt to join in it cordially; but I am not yet ready to throw aside king, queen, princes and princesses, all in a lump, on account of a few taxes, and a tittle tea."
"I am sorry to hear this from you, sir," answered Evert. "When your opinions were canvassed lately at Albany, I gave a sort of pledge that you were certainly more with us than against us."
"Well then, I think, Beekman, you drew me in my true outlines. In the main, I think the colonies right, though I am still willing to pray for the king."
"I am one of those, captain Willoughby, who look forward to the most serious times. The feeling throughout the colonies is tremendous, and the disposition on the part of the royal officers is to meet the crisis with force."
"You have a brother a captain of foot in one of the regiments of the crown, colonel Beekman—what are his views in this serious state of affairs?"
"He has already thrown up his commission—refusing even to sell out, a privilege that was afforded him. His name is now before congress for a majority in one of the new regiments that are to be raised."
The captain looked grave; Mrs. Willoughby anxious; Beulah interested; and Maud thoughtful.
"This has a serious aspect, truly," observed the first. "When men abandon all their early hopes, to assume new duties, there must be a deep and engrossing cause. I had not thought it like to come to this!"
"We have had hopes major Willoughby might do the same; I know that a regiment is at his disposal, if he be disposed to join us. No one would be more gladly received. We are to have Gates, Montgomery, Lee, and many other old officers, from regular corps, on our side."
"Will colonel Lee be put at the head of the American forces?"
"I think not, sir. He has a high reputation, and a good deal of experience, but he is a humourist; and what is something, though you will pardon it, he is not an American born."
"It is quite right to consult such considerations, Beekman; were I in congress, they would influence me, Englishman as I am, and in many things must always remain."
"I am glad to hear you say that, Willoughby," exclaimed the chaplain—" right down rejoiced to hear you say so! A man is bound to stand by his birth-place, through thick and thin."
"How do you, then, reconcile your opinions, in this matter, to your birth-place, Woods?" asked the laughing captain.
To own the truth, the chaplain was a little confused. He had entered into the controversy with so much zeal, of late, as to have imbibed the feelings of a thorough partisan; and, as is usual, with such philosophers, was beginning to overlook everything that made against his opinions, and to exaggerate everything that sustained them.
"How?"—he cried, with zeal, if not with consistency—"Why, well enough. I am an Englishman too, in the general view of the case, though born in Massachusetts. Of English descent, and an English subject."
"Umph!—Then Beekman, here, who is of Dutch descent, is not bound by the same principles as we are ourselves?"
"Not by the same feelings possibly; but, surely, by the same principles. Colonel Beekman is an Englishman by construction, and you are by birth. Yes, I'm what may be called a constructive Englishman."
Even Mrs. Willoughby and Beulah laughed at this, though not a smile had crossed Maud's face, since her eye had lost Robert Willoughby from view. The captain's ideas seemed to take a new direction, and he was silent some little time before he spoke.
"Under the circumstances in which we are now placed, as respects each other, Mr. Beekman," he said, "it is proper that there should be no concealments on grave points. Had you arrived an hour or two earlier, you would have met a face well known to you, in that of my son, major Willoughby."
"Major Willoughby, my dear sir!" exclaimed Beekman, with a start of unpleasant surprise; "I had supposed him with the royal army, in Boston. You say he has left the Knoll—I sincerely hope not for Albany."
"No—I wished him to go in that direction, at first, and to see you, in particular; but his representations of the state of the country induced me to change my mind; he travels by a private way, avoiding all the towns of note, or size."
"In that he has done well, sir. Near to me as a brother of Beulah's must always seem, I should be sorry to see Bob, just at this moment. If there be no hope of getting him to join us, the farther we are separated the better."
This was said gravely, and it caused all who heard it fully to appreciate the serious character of a quarrel that threatened to arm brother against brother. As if by common consent, the discourse changed, all appearing anxious, at a moment otherwise so happy, to obliterate impressions so unpleasant from their thoughts.
The captain, his wife, Beulah and the colonel, had several long and private communications in the course of the evening. Maud was not sorry to be left to herself, and the chaplain devoted his time to the entertainment of the friend of Beekman, who was in truth a surveyor, brought along partly to preserve appearances, and partly for service. The chain-bearers, hunters, &c., had been distributed in the different cabins of the settlement, immediately on the arrival of the party.
That night, when the sisters retired, Maud perceived that Beulah had something to communicate, out of the common way. Still, she did not know whether it would be proper for her to make any inquiries, and things were permitted to take their natural course. At length Beulah, in her gentle way, remarked—"It is a fearful thing, Maud, for a woman to take upon herself the new duties, obligations and ties of a wife."
"She should not do it, Beulah, unless she feels a love for the man of her choice, that will sustain her in them. You, who have real parents living, ought to feel this fully, as I doubt not you do."
"Real parents! Maud, you frighten me! Are not my parents yours?—Is not all our love common?"
"I am ashamed of myself, Beulah. Dearer and better parents than mine, no girl ever had. I am ashamed of my words, and beg you will forget them."
"That I shall be very ready to do. It was a great consolation to think that should I be compelled to quit home, as compelled I must be in the end, I should leave with my father and mother a child as dutiful, and one that loves them as sincerely as yourself, Maud."
"You have thought right, Beulah. I do love them to my heart's core! Then you are right in another sense; for I shall never marry. My mind is made up to that"
"Well, dear, many are happy that never marry—many women are happier than those that do. Evert has a kind, manly, affectionate heart, and I know will do all he can to prevent my regretting home; but we can never have more than one mother, Maud!"
Maud did not answer, though she looked surprised that Beulah should say this to her.
"Evert has reasoned and talked so much to my father and mother," continued the fiancee, blushing, "that they have thought we had better be married at once. Do you know, Maud, that it has been settled this evening, that the ceremony is to take place to-morrow!"
"This is sudden, indeed, Beulah! Why have they determined on so unexpected a thing?"
"It is all owing to the state of the country. I know not how he has done it—but Evert has persuaded my father, that the sooner I am his wife, the more secure we shall all be, here at the Knoll."
"I hope you love Evert Beekman, dearest, dearest Beulah?"
"What a question, Maud! Do you suppose I could stand up before a minister of God, and plight my faith to a man I did not love?—Why have you seemed to doubt it?"
"I do not doubt it—I am very foolish, for I know you are conscientious as the saints in heaven—and yet, Beulah, I think I could scarce be so tranquil about one I loved."
The gentle Beulah smiled, but she no longer felt uneasiness. She understood the impulses and sentiments of her own pure but tranquil nature too well, to distrust herself; and she could easily imagine that Maud would not be as composed under similar circumstances.
"Perhaps it is well, sister of mine," she answered laughing, though blushing, "that you are so resolved to remain single; for one hardly knows where to find a suitor sufficiently devoted and ethereal for your taste. No one pleased you last winter, though the least encouragement would have Brought a dozen to your feet; and here there is no one you can possibly have, unless it be dear, good, old Mr. Woods."
Maud compressed her lips, and really looked stern, so determined was she to command herself; then she answered somewhat in her sister's vein—
"It is very true," she said, "there is no hero for me to accept, unless it be dear Mr. Woods; and he, poor man, has had one wife that cured him of any desire to possess another, they say."
"Mr. Woods! I never knew that he was married. Who can have told you this, Maud?"
"I got it from Robert"—answered the other, hesitating a little. "He was talking one day of such things."
"What things, dear?"
"Why—of getting married—I believe it was about marrying relatives—or connections—or, some such thing; for Mr. Woods married a cousin- german, it would seem—and so he told me all about it. Bob was old enough to know his wife, when she died. Poor man, she led him a hard life—he must be far from the Knoll, by this time, Beulah!"
"Mr. Woods!—I left him with papa, a few minutes since, talking over the ceremony for to-morrow!"
"I meant Bob——"
Here the sisters caught each other's eyes, and both blushed, consciousness presenting to them, at the same instant, the images that were uppermost in their respective minds. But, no more was said. They continued their employments in silence, and soon each was kneeling in prayer.
The following day, Evert Beekman and Beulah Willoughby were married. The ceremony took place, immediately after breakfast, in the little chapel; no one being present but the relatives, and Michael O'Hearn, who quieted his conscience for not worshipping with the rest of the people, by acting as their sexton. The honest county Leitrim man was let into the secret—as a great secret, however—at early dawn; and he had the place swept and in order in good season, appearing in his Sunday attire to do honour to the occasion, as he thought became him.
A mother as tender as Mrs. Willoughby, could not resign the first claim on her child, without indulging her tears, Maud wept, too; but it was as much in sympathy for Beulah's happiness, as from any other cause. The marriage in other respects, was simple, and without any ostentatious manifestations of feeling. It was, in truth, one of those rational and wise connections, which promise to wear well, there being a perfect fitness, in station, wealth, connections, years, manners and habits, between the parties. Violence was done to nothing, in bringing this discreet and well-principled couple together. Evert was as worthy of Beulah, as she was worthy of him. There was confidence in the future, on every side; and not a doubt, or a misgiving of any sort, mingled with the regrets, if regrets they could be called, that were, in some measure, inseparable from the solemn ceremony.
The marriage was completed, the affectionate father had held the weeping but smiling bride on his bosom, the tender mother had folded her to her heart, Maud had pressed her in her arms in a fervent embrace, and the chaplain had claimed his kiss, when the well-meaning sexton approached.
"Is it the likes of yees I wish well to!" said Mike—"Ye may well say that; and to yer husband, and childer, and all that will go before, and all that have come after ye! I know'd ye, when ye was mighty little, and that was years agone; and niver have I seen a cross look on yer pretthy face. I've app'inted to myself, many's the time, a consait to tell ye all this, by wor-r-d of mouth; but the likes of yees, and of the Missus, and of Miss Maud there—och! isn't she a swate one! and many's the pity, there's no sich tall, handsome jontleman to take her, in the bargain, bad luck to him for staying away; and so God bless ye, all, praist in the bargain, though he's no praist at all; and here's my good wishes said and done."
Ho! Princes of Jacob! the strength and the stay Of the daughters of Zion;—now up, and away; Lo, the hunters have struck her, and bleeding alone Like a pard in the desert she maketh her moan: Up with war-horse and banner, with spear and with sword, On the spoiler go down in the might of the Lord!
The succeeding fortnight, or three weeks, brought no material changes, beyond those connected with the progress of the season. Vegetation was out in its richest luxuriance, the rows of corn and potatoes, freshly hoed, were ornamenting the flats, the wheat and other grains were throwing up their heads, and the meadows were beginning to exchange their flowers for the seed. As for the forest, it had now veiled its mysteries beneath broad curtains of a green so bright and lively, that one can only meet it, beneath a generous sun, tempered by genial rains, and a mountain air. The chain-bearers, and other companions of Beekman, quitted the valley the day after the wedding, leaving no one of their party behind but its principal.
The absence of the major was not noted by Joel and his set, in the excitement of receiving so many guests, and in the movement of the wedding. But, as soon as the fact was ascertained, the overseer and miller made the pretence of a 'slack-time' in their work, and obtained permission to go to the Mohawk, on private concerns of their own. Such journeys were sufficiently common to obviate suspicion; and, the leave had, the two conspirators started off, in company, the morning of the second day, or forty-eight hours after the major and Nick had disappeared. As the latter was known to have come in by the Fort Stanwix route, it was naturally enough supposed that he had returned by the same; and Joel determined to head him on the Mohawk, at some point near Schenectady, where he might make a merit of his own patriotism, by betraying the son of his master. The reader is not to suppose Joel intended to do all this openly; so far from it, his plan was to keep himself in the back-ground, while he attracted attention to the supposed toryism of the captain, and illustrated his own attachment to the colonies.
It is scarcely necessary to say that this plan failed, in consequence of the new path taken by Nick. At the very moment when Joel and the miller were lounging about a Dutch inn, some fifteen or twenty miles above Schenectady, in waiting for the travellers to descend the valley of the Mohawk, Robert Willoughby and his guide were actually crossing the Hudson, in momentary security at least. After remaining at his post until satisfied his intended prey had escaped him, Joel, with his friend, returned to the settlement. Still, the opportunity had been improved, to make himself better acquainted with the real state of the country; to open communications with certain patriots of a moral calibre about equal to his own, but of greater influence; to throw out divers injurious hints, and secret insinuations concerning the captain; and to speculate on the propriety of leaving so important a person to work his will, at a time so critical. But the pear was not yet ripe, and all that could now be done was to clear the way a little for something important in future.
In the meantime, Evert Beekman having secured his gentle and true- hearted wife, began, though with a heavy heart, to bethink him of his great political duties. It was well understood that he was to have a regiment of the new levies, and Beulah had schooled her affectionate heart to a degree that permitted her to part with him, in such a cause, with seeming resignation. It was, sooth to say, a curious spectacle, to see how these two sisters bent all their thoughts and wishes, in matters of a public nature, to favour the engrossing sentiments of their sex and natures; Maud being strongly disposed to sustain the royal cause, and the bride to support that in which her husband had enlisted, heart and hand.
As for captain Willoughby, he said little on the subject of politics; but the marriage of Beulah had a powerful influence in confirming his mind in the direction it had taken after the memorable argument with the chaplain. Colonel Beekman was a man of strong good sense, though without the least brilliancy; and his arguments were all so clear and practical, as to carry with them far more weight than was usual in the violent partisan discussions of the period. Beulah fancied him a Solon in sagacity, and a Bacon in wisdom. Her father, without proceeding quite as far as this, was well pleased with his cool discriminating judgment, and much disposed to defer to his opinions. The chaplain was left out of the discussions as incorrigible.
The middle of June was passed, at the time colonel Beekman began to think of tearing himself from his wife, in order to return into the active scenes of preparation he had quitted, to make this visit. As usual, the family frequented the lawn, at the close of the day, the circumstance of most of the windows of the Hut looking on the court, rendering this resort to the open air more agreeable than might otherwise have been the case. Evert was undecided whether to go the following morning, or to remain a day longer, when the lawn was thus occupied, on the evening of the 25th of the month, Mrs. Willoughby making the tea, as usual, her daughters sitting near her, sewing, and the gentlemen at hand, discussing the virtues of different sorts of seed-corn.
"There is a stranger!" suddenly exclaimed the chaplain, looking towards the rocks near the mill, the point at which all arrivals in the valley were first seen from the Hut. "He comes, too, like a man in haste, whatever may be his errand."
"God be praised," returned the captain rising; "it is Nick, on his usual trot, and this is about the time he should be back, the bearer of good news. A week earlier might have augured better; but this will do. The fellow moves over the ground as if he really had something to communicate!"
Mrs. Willoughby and her daughters suspended their avocations, and the gentlemen stood, in silent expectation, watching the long, loping strides of the Tuscarora, as he came rapidly across the plain. In a few minutes the Indian came upon the lawn, perfectly in wind, moving with deliberation and gravity, as he drew nearer to the party. Captain Willoughby, knowing his man, waited quite another minute, after the red-man was leaning against an apple-tree, before he questioned him.
"Welcome back, Nick," he then said. "Where did you leave my son?"
"He tell dere," answered the Indian, presenting a note, which the captain read.
"This is all right, Nick; and it shows you have been a true man. Your wages shall be paid to-night. But, this letter has been written on the eastern bank of the Hudson, and is quite three weeks old—why have we not seen you, sooner?"
"Can't see, when he don't come."
"That is plain enough; but why have you not come back sooner? That is my question."
"Want to look at country—went to shore of Great Salt Lake."
"Oh!—Curiosity, then, has been at the bottom of your absence?"
"Nick warrior—no squaw—got no cur'osity."
"No, no—I beg your pardon, Nick; I did not mean to accuse you of so womanish a feeling. Far from it; I know you are a man. Tell us, however, how far, and whither you went?"
"Bos'on," answered Nick, sententiously.
"Boston! That has been a journey, indeed. Surely my son did not allow you to travel in his company through Massachusetts?"
"Nick go alone. Two path; one for major; one for Tuscarora. Nick got dere first."
"That I can believe, if you were in earnest. Were you not questioned by the way?"
"Yes. Tell 'em I'm Stockbridge—pale-face know no better. T'ink he fox; more like wood-chuck."
"Thank you, Nick, for the compliment. Had my son reached Boston before you came away?"
"Here he be"—answered the Indian, producing another missive, from the folds of his calico shirt.
The captain received the note which he read with extreme gravity, and some surprise.
"This is in Bob's handwriting," he said, "and is dated 'Boston, June 18th, 1775;' but it is without signature, and is not only Bob, but Bob Short."
"Read, dear Willoughby," exclaimed the anxious mother. "News from him, concerns us all."
"News, Wilhelmina!—They may call this news in Boston, but one is very little the better for it at the Hutted Knoll. However, such as it is, there is no reason for keeping it a secret, while there is one reason, at least, why it should be known. This is all. 'My dearest sir—Thank God I am unharmed; but we have had much to make us reflect; you know what duty requires—my best and endless love to my mother, and Beulah—and dear, laughing, capricious, pretty Maud. Nick was present, and can tell you all. I do not think he will extenuate, or aught set down in malice."' And this without direction, or signature; with nothing, in fact, but place and date. What say you to all this, Nick?"
"He very good—major dere; he know. Nick dere—hot time—a t'ousand scalp—coat red as blood."
"There has been another battle!" exclaimed the captain; "that is too plain to admit of dispute. Speak out at once, Nick—which gained the day; the British or the Americans?"
"Hard to tell—one fight, t'other fight. Red-coat take de ground; Yankee kill. If Yankee could take scalp of all he kill, he whip. But, poor warriors at takin' scalp. No know how."
"Upon my word, Woods, there does seem to be something in all this! It can hardly be possible that the Americans would dare to attack Boston, defended as it is, by a strong army of British regulars."
"That would they not," cried the chaplain, with emphasis. "This has been only another skirmish."
"What you call skirmge?" asked Nick, pointedly. "It skirmge to take t'ousand scalp, ha?"
"Tell us what has happened, Tuscarora?" said the captain, motioning his friend to be silent.
"Soon tell—soon done. Yankee on hill; reg'lar in canoe. Hundred, t'ousand, fifty canoe—full of red-coat. Great chief, dere!—ten—six— two—all go togeder. Come ashore—parade, pale-face manner—march— booh—booh—dem cannon; pop, pop—dem gun. Wah! how he run!"
"Run!—who ran, Nick?—Though I suppose it must have been the poor Americans, of course."
"Red-coat run," answered the Indian, quietly.
This reply produced a general sensation, even the ladies starting, and gazing at each other.
"Red-coat run"—repeated the captain, slowly. "Go on with your history, Nick—where was this battle fought?"
"T'other Bos'on—over river—go in canoe to fight, like Injin from Canada."
"That must have been in Charlestown, Woods—you may remember Boston is on one peninsula, and Charlestown on another. Still, I do not recollect that the Americans were in the latter, Beekman—you told me nothing of that?"
"They were not so near the royal forces, certainly, when I left Albany, sir," returned the colonel. "A few direct questions to the Indian, however, would bring out the whole truth."
"We must proceed more methodically. How many Yankees were in this fight, Nick?—Calculate as we used to, in the French war."
"Reach from here to mill—t'ree, two deep, cap'in. All farmer; no sodger. Carry gun, but no carry baggonet; no carry knapsack. No wear red-coat. Look like town-meetin'; fight like devils."
"A line as long as from this to the mill, three deep, would contain about two thousand men, Beekman. Is that what you wish to say, Nick?"
"That about him—pretty near—just so."
"Well, then, there were about two thousand Yankees on this hill—how many king's troops crossed in the canoes, to go against them?"
"Two time—one time, so many; t'other time, half so many. Nick close by; count him."
"That would make three thousand in all! By George, this does look like work. Did they all go together, Nick?"
"No; one time go first; fight, run away. Den two time go, fight good deal—run away, too. Den try harder—set fire to wigwam—go up hill; Yankee run away."
"This is plain enough, and quite graphical. Wigwam on fire? Charlestown is not burnt, Nick?"
"Dat he—Look like old Council Fire, gone out. Big canoe fire—booh— booh—Nick nebber see such war before—wah! Dead man plenty as leaves on tree; blood run like creek!"
"Were you in this battle, Nick? How came you to learn so much about it?"
"Don't want to be in it—better out—no scalp taken. Red-man not'in' to do, dere. How know about him?—See him—dat all. Got eye; why no see him, behind stone wall. Good see, behind stone wall."
"Were you across the water yourself, or did you remain in Boston, and see from a distance?"
"Across in canoe—tell red-coat, general send letter by Nick—major say, he my friend—let Nick go."
"My son was in this bloody battle, then!" said Mrs. Willoughby. "He writes, Hugh, that he is safe?"
"He does, dearest Wilhelmina; and Bob knows us too well, to attempt deception, in such a matter."
"Did you see the major in the field, Nick—after you crossed the water, I mean?"
"See him, all. Six—two—seven t'ousand. Close by; why not see major stand up like pine—no dodge he head, dere. Kill all round him— no hurt him! Fool to stay dere—tell him so; but he no come away. Save he scalp, too."
"And how many slain do you suppose there might have been left on the ground—or, did you riot remain to see?"
"Did see—stay to get gun—knapsack—oder good t'ing—plenty about; pick him up, fast as want him." Here Nick coolly opened a small bundle, and exhibited an epaulette, several rings, a watch, five or six pairs of silver buckles, and divers other articles of plunder, of which he had managed to strip the dead. "All good t'ing—plenty as stone—have him widout askin'."
"So I see, Master Nick—and is this the plunder of Englishmen, or of Americans?"
"Red-coat nearest—got most t'ing, too. Go farder, fare worse; as pale- face say."
"Quite satisfactory. Were there more red-coats left on the ground, or more Americans?"
"Red-coat so," said Nick, holding up four fingers—Yankee, so; "holding up one. Take big grave to hold red-coat. Small grave won't hold Yankee. Hear what he count; most red-coat. More than t'ousand warrior! British groan, like squaw dat lose her hunter."
Such was Saucy Nick's description of the celebrated, and, in some particulars, unrivalled combat of Bunker Hill, of which he had actually been an eye-witness, on the ground, though using the precaution to keep his body well covered. He did not think it necessary to state the fact that he had given the coup-de-grace, himself, to the owner of the epaulette, nor did he deem it essential to furnish all the particulars of his mode of obtaining so many buckles. In other respects, his account was fair enough, "nothing extenuating, or setting down aught in malice." The auditors had listened with intense feeling; and Maud, when the allusion was made to Robert Willoughby, buried her pallid face in her hands, and wept. As for Beulah, time and again, she glanced anxiously at her husband, and bethought her of the danger to which he might so soon be exposed.
The receipt of this important intelligence confirmed Beekman in the intention to depart. The very next morning he tore himself away from Beulah, and proceeded to Albany. The appointment of Washington, and a long list of other officers, soon succeeded, including his own as a colonel; and the war may be said to have commenced systematically. Its distant din occasionally reached the Hutted Knoll; but the summer passed away, bringing with it no event to affect the tranquillity of that settlement. Even Joel's schemes were thwarted for a time, and he was fain to continue to wear the mask, and to gather that harvest for another, which he had hoped to reap for his own benefit.
Beulah had all a young wife's fears for her husband; but, as month succeeded month, and one affair followed another, without bringing him harm, she began to submit to the anxieties inseparable from her situation, with less of self-torment, and more of reason. Her mother and Maud were invaluable friends to her, in this novel and trying situation, though each had her own engrossing cares on account of Robert Willoughby. As no other great battle, however, occurred in the course of the year '75, Beekman remained in safety with the troops that invested Boston, and the major with the army within it. Neither was much exposed, and glad enough were these gentle affectionate hearts, when they learned that the sea separated the combatants.
This did not occur, however, until another winter was passed. In November, the family left the Hut, as had been its practice of late years, and went out into the more inhabited districts to pass the winter. This time it came only to Albany, where colonel Beekman joined it, passing a few happy weeks with his well-beloved Beulah. The ancient town mentioned was not gay at a moment like that; but it had many young officers in it, on the American side of the question, who were willing enough to make themselves acceptable to Maud. The captain was not sorry to see several of these youths manifesting assiduity about her he had so long been accustomed to consider as his youngest daughter; for, by this time, his opinions had taken so strong a bias in favour of the rights of the colonies, that Beekman himself scarce rejoiced more whenever he heard of any little success alighting on the American arms.
"It will all come right in the end," the worthy captain used to assure his friend the chaplain. "They will open their eyes at home, ere long, and the injustice of taxing the colonies will be admitted. Then all will come round again; the king will be as much beloved as ever, and England and America will be all the better friends for having a mutual respect. I know my countrymen well; they mean right, and will do right, as soon as their stomachs are a little lowered, and they come to look at the truth, coolly. I'll answer for it, the Battle of Bunker's Hill made us"—the captain had spoken in this way, now, for some months—"made us a thousand advocates, where we had one before. This is the nature of John Bull; give him reason to respect you, and he will soon do you justice; but give him reason to feel otherwise, and he becomes a careless, if not a hard master."
Such were the opinions captain Willoughby entertained of his native land; a land he had not seen in thirty years, and one in which he had so recently inherited unexpected honours, without awakening a desire to return and enjoy them. His opinions were right in part, certainly; for they depended on a law of nature, while it is not improbable they were wrong in all that was connected with the notions of any peculiarly manly quality, in any particular part of christendom. No maxim is truer than that which teaches us "like causes produce like effects;" and as human beings are governed by very similar laws all over the face of this round world of ours, nothing is more certain than the similarity of their propensities.
Maud had no smiles, beyond those extracted by her naturally sweet disposition, and a very prevalent desire to oblige, for any of the young soldiers, or young civilians, who crowded about her chair, during the Albany winter mentioned. Two or three of colonel Beekman's military friends, in particular, would very gladly have become connected with an officer so much respected, through means so exceedingly agreeable; but no encouragement emboldened either to go beyond the attention and assiduities of a marked politeness.
"I know not how it is," observed Mrs. Willoughby, one day, in a tete-a-tete with her husband; "Maud seems to take less pleasure than is usual with girls of her years, in the attentions of your sex. That her heart is affectionate—warm—even tender, I am very certain; and yet no sign of preference, partiality, or weakness, in favour of any of these fine young men, of whom we see so many, can I discover in the child. They all seem alike to her!"
"Her time will come, as it happened to her mother before her," answered the captain. "Whooping-cough and measles are not more certain to befall children, than love to befall a young woman. You were all made for it, my dear Willy, and no fear but the girl will catch the disease, one of these days; and that, too, without any inoculation."
"I am sure, I have no wish to separate from my child"—so Mrs. Willoughby always spoke of, and so she always felt towards Maud—"I am sure, I have no wish to separate from my child; but as we cannot always remain, it is perhaps better this one should marry, like the other. There is young Verplanck much devoted to her; he is everyway a suitable match; and then he is in Evert's own regiment."
"Ay, he would do; though to my fancy Luke Herring is the far better match."
"That is because he is richer and more powerful, Hugh—you men cannot think of a daughter's establishment, without immediately dragging in houses and lands, as part of the ceremony."
"By George, wife of mine, houses and lands in moderation, are very good sweeteners of matrimony!"
"And yet, Hugh, I have been very happy as a wife, nor have you been very miserable as a husband, without any excess of riches to sweeten the state!" answered Mrs. Willoughby, reproachfully. "Had you been a full general, I could not have loved you more than I have done as a mere captain."
"All very true, Wilhelmina, dearest," returned the husband, kissing the faithful partner of his bosom with strong affection—"very true, my dear girl; for girl you are and ever will be in my eyes; but you are one in a million, and I humbly trust there are not ten hundred and one, in every thousand, just like myself. For my part, I wish dear, saucy, capricious little Maud, no worse luck in a husband, than Luke Herring."
"She will never be his wife; I know her, and my own sex, too well to think it. You are wrong, however, Willoughby, in applying such terms to the child. Maud is not in the least capricious, especially in her affections. See with what truth and faithfulness of sisterly attachment she clings to Bob. I do declare I am often ashamed to feel that even his own mother has less solicitude about him than this dear girl."
"Pooh, Willy; don't be afflicted with the idea that you don't make yourself sufficiently miserable about the boy. Bob will do well enough, and will very likely come out of this affair a lieutenant-colonel. I may live yet to see him a general officer; certainly, if I live to be as old as my grandfather, Sir Thomas. As for Maud, she finds Beulah uneasy about Beekman; and having no husband herself, or any over that she cares a straw about, why she just falls upon Bob as a pis aller. I'll warrant you she cares no more for him than any of the rest of us—than myself, for instance; though as an old soldier, I don't scream every time I fancy a gun fired over yonder at Boston."
"I wish it were well over. It is so unnatural for Evert and Robert to be on opposite sides."
"Yes, it is out of the common way, I admit; and yet 'twill all come round, in the long run. This Mr. Washington is a clever fellow, and seems to play his cards with spirit and judgment. He was with us, in that awkward affair of Braddock's; and between you and me, Wilhelmina, he covered the regulars, or we should all have laid our bones on that accursed field. I wrote you at the time, what I thought of him, and now you see it is all coming to pass."
It was one of the captain's foibles to believe himself a political prophet; and, as he had really both written and spoken highly of Washington, at the time mentioned, it had no small influence on his opinions to find himself acting on the same side with this admired favourite. Prophecies often produce their own fulfilment, in cases of much greater gravity than this; and it is not surprising that our captain found himself strengthened in his notions by the circumstance.
The winter passed away without any of Maud's suitors making a visible impression on her heart. In March, the English evacuated Boston, Robert Willoughby sailing with his regiment for Halifax, and thence with the expedition against Charleston, under Sir Henry Clinton. The next month, the family returned to the Knoll, where it was thought wiser, and even safer to be, at a moment so critical, than even in a more frequented place. The war proceeded, and, to the captain's great regret, without any very visible approaches towards the reconciliation he had so confidently anticipated. This rather checked his warmth in favour of the colonial cause; for, an Englishman by birth, he was much opposed at bottom to anything like a dissolution of the tie that connected America with the mother country; a political event that now began seriously to be talked of among the initiated.
Desirous of thinking as little as possible of disagreeable things, the worthy owner of the valley busied himself with his crops, his mills, and his improvements. He had intended to commence leasing his wild lands about this time, and to begin a more extended settlement, with an eye to futurity; but the state of the country forbade the execution of the project, and he was fain to limit his efforts by their former boundaries. The geographical position of the valley put it beyond any of the ordinary exactions of military service; and, as there was a little doubt thrown around its owner's opinions, partly in consequence of his son's present and his own previous connection with the royal army, and partly on account of Joel's secret machinations, the authorities were well content to let the settlement alone, provided it would take care of itself. Notwithstanding the prominent patriotism of Joel Strides and the miller, they were well satisfied, themselves, with this state of things; preferring peace and quietness to the more stirring scenes of war. Their schemes, moreover, had met with somewhat of a check, in the feeling of the population of the valley, which, on an occasion calculated to put their attachment to its owner to the proof, had rather shown that they remembered his justice, liberality, and upright conduct, more than exactly comported with their longings. This manifestation of respect was shown at an election for a representative in a local convention, in which every individual at the Hutted Knoll, who had a voice at all, the two conspirators excepted, had given it in favour of the captain. So decided was this expression of feeling, indeed, that it compelled Joel and the miller to chime in with the cry of the hour, and to vote contrary to their own wishes.
One, dwelling at the Hutted Knoll, in the summer of 1776, could never have imagined that he was a resident of a country convulsed by a revolution, and disfigured by war. There, everything seemed peaceful and calm, the woods sighing with the airs of their sublime solitude, the genial sun shedding its heats on a grateful and generous soil, vegetation ripening and yielding with all the abundance of a bountiful nature, as in the more tranquil days of peace and hope.
"There is something frightful in the calm of this valley, Beulah!" exclaimed Maud one Sunday, as she and her sister looked out of the library window amid the breathing stillness of the forest, listening to the melancholy sound of the bell that summoned them to prayers. "There is a frightful calm over this place, at an hour when we know that strife and bloodshed are so active in the country. Oh! that the hateful congress had never thought of making this war!"
"Evert writes me all is well, Maud; that the times will lead to good; the people are right; and America will now be a nation—in time, he thinks, a great, and a very great nation."
"Ah! It is this ambition of greatness that hurries them all on! Why can they not be satisfied with being respectable subjects of so great a country as England, that they must destroy each other for this phantom of liberty? Will it make them wiser, or happier, or better than they are?"
Thus reasoned Maud, under the influence of one engrossing sentiment. As our tale proceeds, we shall have occasion to show, perhaps, how far was that submission to events which she inculcated, from the impulses of her true character. Beulah answered mildly, but it was more as a young American wife:
"I know Evert thinks it all right, Maud; and you will own he is neither fiery nor impetuous. If his cool judgment approve of what has been done, we may well suppose that it has not been done in too much haste, or needlessly."
"Think, Beulah," rejoined Maud, with an ashen cheek, and in trembling tones, "that Evert and Robert may, at this very moment, be engaged in strife against each other. The last messenger who came in, brought us the miserable tidings that Sir William Howe was landing a large army near New York, and that the Americans were preparing to meet it. We are certain that Bob is with his regiment; and his regiment we know is in the army. How can we think of this liberty, at a moment so critical?"
Beulah did not reply; for in spite of her quiet nature, and implicit confidence in her husband, she could not escape a woman's solicitude. The colonel had promised to write at every good occasion, and that which he promised was usually performed. She thought, and thought rightly, that a very few days would bring them intelligence of importance; though it came in a shape she had little anticipated, and by a messenger she had then no desire to see.
In the meantime, the season and its labours advanced. August was over, and September with its fruits had succeeded, promising to bring the year round without any new or extraordinary incidents to change the fortunes of the inmates of the Hutted Knoll. Beulah had now been married more than a twelvemonth, and was already a mother; and of course all that time had elapsed since the son quitted his father's house. Nick, too, had disappeared shortly after his return from Boston; and throughout this eventful summer, his dark, red countenance had not been seen in the valley.
And now 'tis still! no sound to wake The primal forest's awful shade; And breathless lies the covert brake, Where many an ambushed form is laid: I see the red-man's gleaming eye, Yet all so hushed the gloom profound, That summer birds flit heedlessly, And mocking nature smiles around.
The eventful summer of 1776 had been genial and generous in the valley of the Hutted Knoll. With a desire to drive away obtrusive thoughts, the captain had been much in his fields, and he was bethinking himself of making a large contribution to the good cause, in the way of fatted porkers, of which he had an unusual number, that he thought might yet be driven through the forest to Fort Stanwix, before the season closed. In the way of intelligence from the seat of war, nothing had reached the family but a letter from the major, which he had managed to get sent, and in which he wrote with necessary caution. He merely mentioned the arrival of Sir William Howe's forces, and the state of his own health. There was a short postscript, in the following words, the letter having been directed to his father:—"Tell dearest Maud," he said, "that charming women have ceased to charm me; glory occupying so much of my day-dreams, like an ignis fatuus, I fear; and that as for love, all my affections are centred in the dear objects at the Hutted Knoll. If I had met with a single woman I admired half as much as I do her pretty self, I should have been married long since." This was written in answer to some thoughtless rattle that the captain had volunteered to put in his last letter, as coming from Maud, who had sensitively shrunk from sending a message when asked; and it was read by father, mother, and Beulah, as the badinage of a brother to a sister, without awaking a second thought in either. Not so with Maud, herself, however. When her seniors had done with this letter, she carried it to her own room, reading and re-reading it a dozen times; nor could she muster resolution to return it; but, finding at length that the epistle was forgotten, she succeeded in retaining it without awakening attention to what she had done. This letter now became her constant companion, and a hundred times did the sweet gill trace its characters, in the privacy of her chamber, or in that of her now solitary walks in the woods.
As yet, the war had produced none of those scenes of ruthless frontier violence, that had distinguished all the previous conflicts of America. The enemy was on the coast, and thither the efforts of the combatants had been principally directed. It is true, an attempt on Canada had been made, but it failed for want of means; neither party being in a condition to effect much, as yet, in that quarter. The captain had commented on this peculiarity of the present struggle; all those which had preceded it having, as a matter of course, taken the direction of the frontiers between the hostile provinces.
"There is no use, Woods, in bothering ourselves about these things, after all," observed captain Willoughby, one day, when the subject of hanging the long-neglected gates came up between them. "It's a heavy job, and the crops will suffer if we take off the hands this week. We are as safe, here, as we should be in Hyde Park; and safer too; for there house-breakers and foot-pads abound; whereas, your preaching has left nothing but very vulgar and everyday sinners at the Knoll."
The chaplain had little to say against this reasoning; for, to own the truth, he saw no particular cause for apprehension. Impunity had produced the feeling of security, until these gates had got to be rather a subject of amusement, than of any serious discussion. The preceding year, when the stockade was erected, Joel had managed to throw so many obstacles in the way of hanging the gates, that the duty was not performed throughout the whole of the present summer, the subject having been mentioned but once or twice, and then only to be postponed to a more fitting occasion.
As yet no one in the valley knew of the great event which had taken place in July. A rumour of a design to declare the provinces independent had reached the Hut, in May; but the major's letter was silent on this important event, and positive information had arrived by no other channel; otherwise, the captain would have regarded the struggle as much more serious than he had ever done before; and he might have set about raising these all-important gates in earnest. As it was, however, there they stood; each pair leaning against its proper wall or stockade, though those of the latter were so light as to have required but eight or ten men to set them on their hinges, in a couple of hours at most.
Captain Willoughby still confined his agricultural schemes to the site of the old Beaver Pond. The area of that was perfectly beautiful, every unsightly object having been removed, while the fences and the tillage were faultlessly neat and regular. Care had been taken, too, to render the few small fields around the cabins which skirted this lovely rural scene, worthy of their vicinage. The stumps had all been dug, the surfaces levelled, and the orchards and gardens were in keeping with the charms that nature had so bountifully scattered about the place.