While, however, all in the shape of tillage was confined to this one spot, the cattle ranged the forest for miles. Not only was the valley, but the adjacent mountain-sides were covered with intersecting paths, beaten by the herds, in the course of years. These paths led to many a glen, or look-out, where Beulah and Maud had long been in the habit of pursuing their rambles, during the sultry heats of summer, Though so beautiful to the eye, the flats were not agreeable for walks; and it was but natural for the lovers of the picturesque to seek the eminences, where they could overlook the vast surfaces of leaves that were spread before them; or to bury themselves in ravines and glens, within which the rays of the sun scarce penetrated. The paths mentioned led near, or to, a hundred of these places, all within a mile or two of the Hut. As a matter of course, then, they were not neglected.
Beulah had now been a mother several months. Her little Evert was born at the Knoll, and he occupied most of those gentle and affectionate thoughts which were not engrossed by his absent father. Her marriage, of itself, had made some changes in her intercourse with Maud; but the birth of the child had brought about still more. The care of this little being formed Beulah's great delight; and Mrs. Willoughby had all that peculiar interest in her descendant, which marks a grandmother's irresponsible love. These two passed half their time in the nursery, a room fitted between their respective chambers; leaving Maud more alone than it was her wont to be, and of course to brood over her thoughts and feelings. These periods of solitude our heroine was much accustomed to pass in the forest. Use had so far emboldened her, that apprehension never shortened her walks, or lessened their pleasure. Of danger, from any ordinary source, there was literally next to none, man never having been known to approach the valley, unless by the regular path; while the beasts of prey had been so actively hunted, as rarely to be seen in that quarter of the country. The panther excepted, no wild quadruped was to be in the least feared in summer; and, of the first, none had ever been met with by Nick, or any of the numerous woodsmen who had now frequented the adjacent hills for two lustrums.
About three hours before the setting of the sun, on the evening of the 23d of September, 1776, Maud Willoughby was pursuing her way, quite alone, along one of the paths beaten by the cattle, at some little distance from a rocky eminence, where there was a look-out, on which Mike, by her father's orders, had made a rude seat. It was on the side of the clearing most remote from all the cabins; though once on the elevation, she could command a view of the whole of the little panorama around the site of the ancient pond. In that day, ladies wore the well- known gipsey hat, a style that was peculiarly suited to the face of our heroine. Exercise had given her cheeks a rich glow; and though a shade of sadness, or at least of reflection, was now habitually thrown athwart her sweet countenance, this bloom added an unusual lustre to her eyes, and a brilliancy to her beauty, that the proudest belle of any drawing-room might have been glad to possess. Although living so retired, her dress always became her rank; being simple, but of the character that denotes refinement, and the habits and tastes of a gentlewoman. In this particular, Maud had ever been observant of what was due to herself; and, more than all, had she attended to her present appearance since a chance expression of Robert Willoughby's had betrayed how much he prized the quality in her.
Looking thus, and in a melancholy frame of mind, Maud reached the rock, and took her place on its simple seat, throwing aside her hat, to catch a little of the cooling air on her burning cheeks. She turned to look at the lovely view again, with a pleasure that never tired. The rays of the sun were streaming athwart the verdant meadows and rich corn, lengthening the shadows, and mellowing everything, as if expressly to please the eye of one like her who now gazed upon the scene. Most of the people of the settlement were in the open air, the men closing their day's works in the fields, and the women and children busied beneath shades, with their wheels and needles; the whole presenting such a picture of peaceful, rural life, as a poet might delight to describe, or an artist to delineate with his pencil.
"The landscape smiles Calm in the sun; and silent are the hills And valleys, and the blue serene of air."
The Vanished Lark.
"It is very beautiful!" thought Maud. "Why cannot men be content with such scenes of loveliness and nature as this, and love each other, and be at peace, as God's laws command? Then we might all be living happily together, Mere, without trembling lest news of some sad misfortune should reach us, from hour to hour. Beulah and Evert would not be separated; but both could remain with their child—and my dear, dear father and mother would be so happy to have us all around them, in security—and, then, Bob, too—perhaps Bob might bring a wife from the town, with him, that I could love as I do Beulah"—It was one of Maud's day-dreams to love the wife of Bob, and make him happy by contributing to the happiness of those he most prized—"No; I could never love her as I do Beulah; but I should make her very dear to me, as I ought to, since she would be Bob's wife."
The expression of Maud's face, towards the close of this mental soliloquy, was of singular sadness; and yet it was the very picture of sincerity and truth. It was some such look as the windows of the mind assume, when the feelings struggle against nature and hope, for resignation and submission to duty.
At this instant, a cry arose from the valley! It was one of those spontaneous, involuntary outbreakings of alarm, that no art can imitate, no pen describe; but which conveys to the listener's ear, terror in the very sound. At the next instant, the men from the mill were seen rushing up to the summit of the cliff that impended over their dwellings, followed by their wives dragging children after them, making frantic gestures, indicative of alarm. The first impulse of Maud was to fly; but a moment's reflection told her it was much too late for that. To remain and witness what followed would be safer, and more wise. Her dress was dark, and she would not be likely to be observed at the distance at which she was placed; having behind her, too, a back- ground of gloomy rock. Then the scene was too exciting to admit of much hesitation or delay in coming to a decision; a fearful species of maddened curiosity mingling with her alarm. Under such circumstances, it is not surprising that Maud continued gazing on what she saw, with eyes that seemed to devour the objects before them.
The first cry from the valley was followed by the appearance of the fugitives from the mill. These took the way towards the Hut, calling on the nearest labourers by name, to seek safety in flight. The words could not be distinguished at the rock, though indistinct sounds might; but the gestures could not be mistaken. In half a minute, the plain was alive with fugitives; some rushing to their cabins for their children, and all taking the direction of the stockade, as soon as the last were found. In five minutes the roads and lanes near the Knoll were crowded with men, women and children, hastening forward to its protection, while a few of the former had already rushed through the gateways, as Maud correctly fancied, in quest of their arms.
Captain Willoughby was riding among his labourers when this fearful interruption to a tranquillity so placid first broke upon his ear. Accustomed to alarms, he galloped forward to meet the fugitives from the mill, issuing orders as he passed to several of the men nearest the house. With the miller, who thought little of anything but safety at that instant, he conversed a moment, and then pushed boldly on towards the verge of the cliffs. Maud trembled as she saw her father in a situation which she thought must be so exposed; but his cool manner of riding about proved that he saw no enemy very near. At length he waved his hat to some object, or person in the glen beneath; and she even thought she heard his shout. At the next moment, he turned his horse, and was seen scouring along the road towards the Hut. The lawn was covered with the fugitives as the captain reached it, while a few armed men were already coming out of the court-yard. Gesticulating as if giving orders, the captain dashed through them all, without drawing the rein, and disappeared in the court. A minute later, he re-issued, bearing his arms, followed by his wife and Beulah, the latter pressing little Evert to her bosom.
Something like order now began to appear among the men. Counting all ages and both colours, the valley, at this particular moment, could muster thirty-three males capable of bearing arms. To these might be added some ten or fifteen women who had occasionally brought down a deer, and who might be thought more or less dangerous, stationed at a loop, with a rifle or a musket. Captain Willoughby had taken some pains to drill the former, who could go through some of the simpler light- infantry evolutions. Among them he had appointed sundry corporals, while Joel Strides had been named a serjeant. Joyce, now an aged and war-worn veteran, did the duty of adjutant. Twenty men were soon drawn up in array, in front of the open gateway on the lawn, under the immediate orders of Joyce; and the last woman and child, that had been seen approaching the place of refuge, had passed within the stockade. At this instant captain Willoughby called a party of the stragglers around him, and set about hanging the gates of the outer passage, or that which led through the palisades.
Maud would now have left the rock, but, at that moment, a dark body of Indians poured up over the cliffs, crowning it with a menacing cloud of at least fifty armed warriors. The rivulet lay between her and the Hut, and the nearest bridge that crossed it would have brought her within reach of danger. Then it would require at least half an hour to reach that bridge by the circuitous path she would be compelled to take, and there was little hope of getting over it before the strangers should have advanced. It was better to remain where she could behold what was passing, and to be governed by events, than to rush blindly into unseen risks.
The party that crowned the cliffs near the mills, showed no impatience to advance. It was evidently busy in reconnoitring, and in receiving accessions to its numbers. The latter soon increased to some seventy or eighty warriors. After waiting several minutes in inaction, a musket, or rifle, was fired towards the Hut, as if to try the effect of a summons and the range of a bullet. At this hint the men on the lawn retired within the stockade, stacked their arms, and joined the party that was endeavouring to get the gates in their places. From the circumstance that her father directed all the women and children to retire within the court, Maud supposed that the bullet might have fallen somewhere near them. It was quite evident, however, that no one was injured.
The gates intended for the stockade, being open like the rest of that work, were materially lighter than those constructed for the house itself. The difficulty was in handling them with the accuracy required to enter the hinges, of which there were three pairs. This difficulty existed on account of their great height. Of physical force, enough could be applied to toss them over the stockade itself, if necessary; but finesse was needed, rather than force, to effect the principal object, and that under difficult circumstances. It is scarcely possible that the proximity of so fierce an enemy as a body of savages in their war-paint, for such the men at the mill had discovered was the guise of their assailants, would in any measure favour the coolness and tact of the labourers. Poor Maud lost the sense of her own danger, in the nervous desire to see the long-forgotten gates hung; and she rose once or twice, in feverish excitement, as she saw that the leaf which was raised fell in or out, missing its fastenings. Still the men persevered, one or two sentinels being placed to watch the Indians, and give timely notice of their approach, should they advance.
Maud now kneeled, with her face bowed to the seat, and uttered a short but most fervent prayer, in behalf of the dear beings that the Hut contained. This calmed her spirits a little, and she rose once more to watch the course of events. The body of men had left the gate at which they had just been toiling, and were crowding around its fellow. One leaf was hung! As an assurance of this, she soon after saw her father swing it backward and forward on its hinges, to cause it to settle into its place. This was an immense relief, though she had heard too many tales of Indian warfare, to think there was any imminent danger of an attack by open day, in the very face of the garrison. The cool manner in which her father proceeded, satisfied her that he felt the same security, for the moment; his great object being, in truth, to make suitable provision against the hours of darkness.
Although Maud had been educated as a lady, and possessed the delicacy and refinement of her class, she had unavoidably caught some of the fire and resolution of a frontier life. To her, the forest, for instance, possessed no fancied dangers; but when there was real ground for alarm, she estimated its causes intelligently, and with calmness. So it was, also, in the present crisis. She remembered all she had been taught, or had heard, and quick of apprehension, her information was justly applied to the estimate of present circumstances.
The men at the Hut soon had the second leaf of the gate ready to be raised. At this instant, an Indian advanced across the flat alone, bearing a branch of a tree in his hand, and moving swiftly. This was a flag of truce, desiring to communicate with the pale-faces. Captain Willoughby met the messenger alone, at the foot of the lawn, and there a conference took place that lasted several minutes. Maud could only conjecture its objects, though she thought her father's attitude commanding, and his gestures stern. The red-man, as usual, was quiet and dignified. This much our heroine saw, or fancied she saw; but beyond this, of course, all was vague conjecture. Just as the two were about to part, and had even made courteous signs of their intention, a shout arose from the workmen, which ascended, though faintly, as high as the rock. Captain Willoughby turned, and then Maud saw his arm extended towards the stockade. The second leaf of the gate was in its place, swinging to and fro, in a sort of exulting demonstration of its uses! The savage moved away, more slowly than he had advanced, occasionally stopping to reconnoitre the Knoll and its defences.
Captain Willoughby now returned to his people, and he was some time busied in examining the gates, and giving directions about its fastenings. Utterly forgetful of her own situation, Maud shed tears of joy, as she saw that this great object was successfully effected. The stockade was an immense security to the people of the Hut. Although it certainly might be scaled, such an enterprise would require great caution, courage, and address; and it could hardly be effected, at all, by daylight. At night, even, it would allow the sentinels time to give the alarm, and with a vigilant look-out, might be the means of repelling an enemy. There was also another consideration connected with this stockade. An enemy would not be fond of trusting himself inside of it, unless reasonably certain of carrying the citadel altogether; inasmuch as it might serve as a prison to place him in the hands of the garrison. To recross it under a fire from the loops, would be an exploit so hazardous that few Indians would think of undertaking it. All this Maud knew from her father's conversations, and she saw how much had been obtained in raising the gates. Then the stockade, once properly closed, afforded great security to those moving about within it; the timbers would be apt to stop a bullet, and were a perfect defence against a rush; leaving time to the women and children to get into the court, even allowing that the assailants succeeded in scaling the palisades.
Maud thought rapidly and well, in the strait in which she was placed. She understood most of the movements, on both sides, and she also saw the importance of her remaining where she could note all that passed, if she intended to make an attempt at reaching the Hut, after dark. This necessity determined her to continue at the rock, so long as light remained. She wondered she was not missed, but rightly attributed the circumstance to the suddenness of the alarm, and the crowd of other thoughts which would naturally press upon the minds of her friends, at such a fearful moment. "I will stay where I am," thought Maud, a little proudly, "and prove, if I am not really the daughter of Hugh Willoughby, that I am not altogether unworthy of his love and care! I can even pass the night in the forest, at this warm season, without suffering."
Just as these thoughts crossed her mind, in a sort of mental soliloquy, a stone rolled from a path above her, and fell over the rock on which the seat was placed. A footstep was then heard, and the girl's heart beat quick with apprehension. Still she conceived it safest to remain perfectly quiet. She scarce breathed in her anxiety to be motionless. Then it occurred to her, that some one beside herself might be out from the Hut, and that a friend was near. Mike had been in the woods that very afternoon, she knew; for she had seen him; and the true-hearted fellow would indeed be a treasure to her, at that awful moment. This idea, which rose almost to certainty as soon as it occurred, induced her to spring forward, when the appearance of a man, whom she did not recognise, dressed in a hunting-shirt, and otherwise attired for the woods, carrying a short rifle in the hollow of his arm, caused her to stop, in motionless terror. At first, her presence was not observed; but, no sooner did the stranger catch a glimpse of her person, than he stopped, raised his hands in surprise, laid his rifle against a tree, and sprang forward; the girl closing her eyes, and sinking on the seat, with bowed head, expecting the blow of the deadly tomahawk.
"Maud—dearest, dearest Maud—do you not know me!" exclaimed one, leaning over the pallid girl, while he passed an arm round her slender waist, with an affection so delicate and reserved, that, at another time, it might have attracted attention. "Look up, dear girl, and show that at least you fear not me!"
"Bob," said the half-senseless Maud. "Whence come you?—Why do you come at this fearful instant!—Would to God your visit had been better timed!"
"Terror makes you say this, my poor Maud! Of all the family, I had hoped for the warmest welcome from you. We think alike about this war—then you are not so much terrified at the idea of my being found here, but can hear reason. Why do you say this, then, my dearest Maud?"
By this time Maud had so far recovered as to be able to look up into the major's face, with an expression in which alarm was blended with unutterable tenderness. Still she did not throw her arms around him, as a sister would clasp a beloved brother; but, rather, as he pressed her gently to his bosom, repelled the embrace by a slight resistance. Extricating herself, however, she turned and pointed towards the valley.
"Why do I say this? See for yourself—the savages have at length come, and the whole dreadful picture is before you."
Young Willoughby's military eye took in the scene at a glance. The Indians were still at the cliff, and the people of the settlement were straining at the heavier gates of the Hut, having already got one of them into a position where it wanted only the proper application of a steady force to be hung. He saw his father actively employed in giving directions; and a few pertinent questions drew all the other circumstances from Maud. The enemy had now been in the valley more than an hour, and the movements of the two parties were soon related.
"Are you alone, dearest Maud? are you shut out by this sudden inroad?" demanded the major, with concern and surprise.
"So it would seem. I can see no other—though I did think Michael might be somewhere near me, in the woods, here; I at first mistook your footsteps for his."
"That is a mistake"—returned Willoughby, levelling a small pocket spy- glass at the Hut—"Mike is tugging at that gate, upholding a part of it, like a corner-stone. I see most of the faces I know there, and my dear father is as active, and yet as cool, as if at the head of a regiment."
"Then I am alone—it is perhaps better that as many as possible should be in the house to defend it."
"Not alone, my sweet Maud, so long as I am with you. Do you still think my visit so ill-timed?"
"Perhaps not, after all. Heaven knows what I should have done, by myself, when it became dark!"
"But are we safe on this seat?—May we not be seen by the Indians, since we so plainly see them?"
"I think not. I have often remarked that when Evert and Beulah have been here, their figures could not be perceived from the lawn; owing, I fancy, to the dark back-ground of rock. My dress is not light, and you are in green; which is the colour of the leaves, and not easily to be distinguished. No other spot gives so good a view of what takes place in the valley. We must risk a little exposure, or act in the dark."
"You are a soldier's daughter, Maud"—This was as true of major Meredith as of captain Willoughby, and might therefore be freely said by even Bob—"You are a soldier's daughter, and nature has clearly intended you to be a soldier's wife. This is a coup-d'-oeil not to be despised."
"I shall never be a wife at all"—murmured Maud, scarce knowing what she said; "I may not live to be a soldier's daughter, even, much longer. But, why are you here?—surely, surely you can have no connection with those savages!—I have heard of such horrors; but you would not accompany them, even though it were to protect the Hut."
"I'll not answer for that, Maud. One would do a great deal to preserve his paternal dwelling from pillage, and his father's grey hairs from violence. But I came alone; that party and its objects being utterly strangers to me."
"And why do you come at all, Bob?" inquired the anxious girl, looking up into his face with open affection—"The situation of the country is now such, as to make your visits very hazardous."
"Who could know the regular major in this hunting-shirt, and forest garb? I have not an article about my person to betray me, even were I before a court. No fear for me then, Maud; unless it be from these demons in human shape, the savages. Even they do not seem to be very fiercely inclined, as they appear at this moment more disposed to eat, than to attack the Hut. Look for yourself; those fellows are certainly preparing to take their food; the group that is just now coming over the cliffs, is dragging a deer after it."
Maud took the glass, though with an unsteady hand, and she looked a moment at the savages. The manner in which the instrument brought these wild beings nearer to her eye, caused her to shudder, and she was soon satisfied.
"That deer was killed this morning by the miller," she said; "they have doubtless found it in or near his cabin. We will be thankful, however, for this breathing-time—it may enable my dear father to get up the other gate. Look, Robert, and see what progress they make?"
"One side is just hung, and much joy does it produce among them! Persevere, my noble old father, and you will soon be safe against your enemies. What a calm and steady air he has, amid it all! Ah! Maud, Hugh Willoughby ought, at this moment, to be at the head of a brigade, helping to suppress this accursed and unnatural rebellion. Nay, more; he may be there, if he will only listen to reason and duty."
"And this is then your errand here, Bob?" asked his fair companion, gazing earnestly at the major.
"It is, Maud—and I hope you, whose feelings I know to be right, can encourage me to hope."
"I fear not. It is now too late. Beulah's marriage with Evert has strengthened his opinions—and then"
"What, dearest Maud? You pause as if that 'then' had a meaning you hesitated to express."
Maud coloured; after which she smiled faintly, and proceeded: "We should speak reverently of a father—and such a father, too. But does it not seem probable to you, Bob, that the many discussions he has with Mr. Woods may have a tendency to confirm each in his notions?"
Robert Willoughby would have answered in the affirmative, had not a sudden movement at the Hut prevented.
From Flodden ridge The Scots beheld the English host Leave Barmore wood, their evening post, And heedful watched them as they crossed The Till by Twisal Bridge.
It was just at this instant that most of the women of the settlement rushed from the court, and spread themselves within the stockade, Mrs. Willoughby and Beulah being foremost in the movement. The captain left the gate, too, and even the men, who were just about to raise the last leaf, suspended their toil. It was quite apparent some new cause for uneasiness or alarm had suddenly awoke among them. Still the stack of arms remained untouched, nor was there any new demonstration among the Indians. The major watched everything, with intense attention, through the glass.
"What is it, dear Bob?" demanded the anxious Maud. "I see my dearest mother—she seems alarmed."
"Was it known to her that you were about to quit the house, when you came out on this walk?"
"I rather think not. She and Beulah were in the nursery with little Evert, and my father was in the fields. I came out without speaking to any person, nor did I meet any before entering the forest."
"Then you are now first missed. Yes, that is it—and no wonder, Maud, it creates alarm. Merciful God! How must they all feel, at a moment like this!"
"Fire your rifle, Bob—that will draw their eyes in this direction, and I will wave my handkerchief—perhaps that might be seen. Beulah has received such signals from me, before."
"It would never do. No, we must remain concealed, watching their movements, in order to be able to aid them at the proper time. It is painful to endure this suspense, beyond a doubt; but the pain must be borne in order to ensure the safety of one who is so very, very precious to us all."
Notwithstanding the fearful situation in which she was placed, Maud felt soothed by these words. The language of affection, as coming from Robert Willoughby, was very dear to her at all times, and never more than at a moment when it appeared that even her life was suspended, as it might be, by a hair.
"It is as you say," she answered gently, giving him her hand with much of her ancient frankness of manner; "we should be betrayed, and of course lost—but what means the movement at the Hut?"
There was indeed a movement within the stockade. Maud's absence was now clearly ascertained, and it is needless to describe the commotion the circumstance produced. No one thought any longer of the half of the gate that still remained to be hung, but every supposable part of the house and enclosure had been examined in quest of her who was missing. Our heroine's last remark, however, was produced by certain indications of an intention to make a descent from one of the external windows of the common parlour, a room it will be remembered that stood on the little cliff, above the rivulet that wound beneath its base. This cliff was about forty feet high, and though it offered a formidable obstacle to any attempt to scale it, there was no great difficulty in an active man's descending, aided by a rope. The spot, too, was completely concealed from the view of the party which still remained on the rock, near the mill, at a distance of quite half a mile from the gates of the stockade. This fact greatly facilitated the little sortie, since, once in the bed of the rivulet, which was fringed with bushes, it would be very practicable, by following its windings, to gain the forest unseen. The major levelled his glass at the windows, and immediately saw the truth of all that has here been mentioned.
"They are preparing to send a party out," he said, "and doubtless in quest of you, Maud. The thing is very feasible, provided the savages remain much longer in their present position. It is matter of surprise to me, that the last have not sent a force in the rear of the Hut, where the windows are at least exposed to fire, and the forest is so close as to afford a cover to the assailants. In front there is literally none, but a few low fences, which is the reason I presume that they keep so much aloof."
"It is not probable they know the valley. With the exception of Nick, but few Indians have ever visited us, and that rarely. Those we have seen have all been of the most peaceable and friendly tribes; not a true warrior, as my father says, ever having been found among them. Nick is the only one of them all that can thus be termed."
"Is it possible that fellow has led this party? I have never more than half confided in him, and yet he is too old a friend of the family, I should think, to be guilty of such an act of baseness."
"My father thinks him a knave, but I question if he has an opinion of him as bad as that. Besides, he knows the valley, and would have led the Indians round into the rear of the house, if it be a place so much more favourable for the attack, as you suppose. These wretches have come by the common paths, all of which first strike the river, as you know, below the mills."
"That is true. I lost my way, a few miles from this, the path being very blind on the eastern route, which I travelled as having gone it last with Nick, and thinking it the safest. Fortunately I recognised the crest of this mountain above us, by its shape, or I might never have found my way; although the streams, when struck, are certain guides to the woodsman. As soon as I hit the cow-paths, I knew they would lead me to the barns and sheds. See! a man is actually descending from a window!"
"Oh! Bob, I hope it is not my father! He is too old—it is risking too much to let him quit the house."
"I will tell you better when he reaches the ground. Unless mistaken— ay—it is the Irishman, O'Hearn."
"Honest Mike! He is always foremost in everything, though he so little knows how anything but digging ought to be done. Is there not another following him—or am I deceived?"
"There is—he has just reached the ground, too. This might be spared, did they know how well you are guarded, Maud. By one who would die cheerfully to prevent harm from reaching you!"
"They little dream of that, Bob," answered Maud, in a low tone. "Not a human being in that valley fancies you nearer to him than the royal armies are, at this moment. But they do not send a third—I am glad they weaken their own force no further."
"It is certainly best they should not. The men had their rifles slung when they descended, and they are now getting them ready for service. It is Joel Strides who is with Mike."
"I am sorry for it. That is a man I little like, Bob, and I should be sorry he knew of your being here."
This was said quickly, and with a degree of feeling that surprised the major, who questioned Maud earnestly as to her meaning and its reasons. The latter told him she scarce knew herself; that she disliked the man's manner, had long thought his principles bad, and that Mike in his extraordinary way had said certain things to her, to awaken distrust.
"Mike speaks in hieroglyphics," said the major, laughing, in spite of the serious situation in which he and his companion were placed, "and one must never be too sure of his meaning. Joel has now been many years with my father, and he seems to enjoy his confidence."
"He makes himself useful, and is very guarded in what he says at the Hut. Still—I wish him not to know of your being here."
"It will not be easy to prevent it, Maud. I should have come boldly into the valley, but for this accidental meeting with you, trusting that my father has no one about him so base as to betray his son."
"Trust not Joel Strides. I'll answer for Mike with my life; but sorry indeed should I be that Joel Strides knew of your being among us. It were better, perhaps, that most of the workmen should not be in the secret. See—the two men are quitting the foot of the rocks."
This was true, and Robert Willoughby watched their movements with the glass. As had been expected, they first descended into the bed of the rivulet, wading along its shore, under the cover of the bushes, until they soon became concealed even from the view of one placed on a height as elevated as that occupied by Robert and Maud. It was sufficiently apparent, however, that their intention was to reach the forest in this manner, when they would probably commence their search for the missing young lady. Nor was it long before Robert and Maud plainly saw the two adventurers quit the bed of the stream and bury themselves in the forest. The question now seriously arose as to the best course for the major and his companion to pursue. Under ordinary circumstances, it would have been wisest, perhaps, to descend at once and meet the messengers, who might soon be found at some of the usual haunts of the girl; but against this the latter so earnestly protested, and that in a manner so soothing to the young man's feelings, that he scarce knew how to oppose her wishes. She implored him not to confide in Joel Strides too hastily, at least. It might be time enough, when there was no alternative; until the true character of the party then in the valley was known, it would be premature. Nothing was easier than to conceal himself until it was dark, when he might approach the Hut, and be admitted without his presence being known to any but those on whom the family could certainly rely. The major urged the impossibility of his quitting Maud, until she was joined by the two men sent in quest of her, and then it would be too late, as he must be seen. Although he might escape immediate recognition in his present dress, the presence of a stranger would excite suspicions, and compel an explanation. To this Maud replied in the following manner: Her customary places of resort, when in the woods, were well known; more especially to Michael, who was frequently employed in their vicinity. These were a little water-fall, that was situated a hundred rods up the rivulet, to which a path had been made expressly, and where an arbour, seat, and little table had been arranged, for the purposes of working, reading, or taking refreshments. To this spot the men would unquestionably proceed first. Then, there was a deep ravine, some distance farther, that was often visited for its savage beauty, and whither she more frequently went, perhaps, than to any other place. Thither Michael would be certain to lead his companion. These two places visited, they might infallibly expect to see the men at the rock, where the two were then seated, as the last spot in which Maud might naturally be expected to be found. It would require an hour to visit the two places first named, and to examine the surrounding woods; and by that time, not only would the sun be set, but the twilight would be disappearing. Until that moment, then, the major might remain at her side, and on the sound of the approaching footsteps of the messengers, he had only to retire behind a projection of the rocks, and afterwards follow towards the Knoll, at a safe distance.
This plan was too plausible to be rejected; and giving Robert an hour of uninterrupted discourse with his companion, it struck him as having more advantages than any other mentioned. The party near the mills, too, remaining perfectly quiet, there was less occasion for any change of their own, than might otherwise have been the case. So far, indeed, from appearing to entertain any hostile intention, not a cabin had been injured, if approached, and the smoke of the conflagration which had been expected to rise from the mills and the habitations in the glen, did not make its appearance. If any such ruthless acts as applying the brand and assaulting the people were in contemplation, they were at least delayed until night should veil them in a fitting darkness.
It is always a great relief to the mind, in moments of trial, to have decided on a course of future action. So the major and Maud now found; for, taking his seat by her side, he began to converse with his companion more connectedly, and with greater calmness than either had yet been able to achieve. Many questions were asked, and answers given, concerning the state of the family, that of his father and mother, and dear Beulah and her infant, the latter being as yet quite a stranger to the young soldier.
"Is he like his rebel of a father?" asked the royal officer, smiling, but as his companion fancied, painfully; "or has he more of the look of the Willoughbys. Beekman is a good-looking Dutchman; yet, I would rather have the boy resemble the good old English stock, after all."
"The sweet little fellow resembles both father and mother; though the first the most, to Beulah's great delight. Papa says he is true 'Holland's come of', as they call it, though neither mamma nor I will allow of any such thing. Colonel Beekman is a very worthy man, Bob, and a most affectionate and attentive husband. Beulah, but for this war, could not be happier."
"Then I forgive him one-half of his treason—for the remainder let him take his luck. Now I am an uncle, my heart begins to melt a little towards the rebel. And you, Maud, how do the honours of an aunt sit upon your feelings? But women are all heart, and would love a rat."
Maud smiled, but she answered not. Though Beulah's child were almost as dear to her as one of her own could have been, she remembered that she was not its aunt, in fact; and, though she knew not why, in that company, and even at that grave moment, the obtrusive thought summoned a bright flush to her cheeks. The major probably did not notice this change of countenance, since, after a short pause, he continued the conversation naturally.
"The child is called Evert, is it not, aunt Maud?" he asked, laying an emphasis on 'aunt.'
Maud wished this word had not been used; and yet Robert Willoughby, could the truth have been known, had adverted to it with an association in his own mind, that would have distressed her, just then, still more. Aunt Maud was the name that others, however, were most fond of adopting, since the birth of the child; and remembering this, our heroine smiled.
"That is what Beulah has called me, these six months," she said—"or ever since Evert was born. I became an aunt the day he became a nephew; and dear, good Beulah has not once called me sister since, I think."
"These little creatures introduce new ties into families," answered the major, thoughtfully. "They take the places of the generations before them, and edge us out of our hold on the affections, as in the end they supplant us in our stations in life. If Beulah love me only as an uncle, however, she may look to it. I'll be supplanted by no Dutchman's child that was ever born!"
"You, Bob!" cried Maud, starting. "You are its real uncle; Beulah must ever remember you, and love you, as her own brother!"
Maud's voice became suddenly hushed, like one who feared she had said too much. The major gazed at her intently, but he spoke not; nor did his companion see his look, her own eyes being cast meekly and tremblingly on the earth at her feet. A considerable pause succeeded, and then the conversation reverted to what was going on in the valley.
The sun was now set, and the shadows of evening began to render objects a little indistinct beneath them. Still it was apparent that much anxiety prevailed in and about the Hut, doubtless on account of our heroine's absence. So great was it, indeed, as entirely to supersede the hanging of the remaining leaf of the gate, which stood in the gap where it belonged, stayed by pieces of timber, but unhung. The major thought some disposition had been made, however, by which the inmates might pass and repass by the half that was suspended, making a tolerable defence, when all was closed.
"Hist!" whispered Maud, whose faculties were quickened by the danger of her companion; "I hear the voice of Michael, and they approach. No sense of danger can repress poor O'Hearn's eloquence; his ideas seeming to flow from his tongue very much as they rise to his thoughts, chance directing which shall appear first."
"It is true, dear girl; and as you seem so strongly to wish it, I will withdraw. Depend on my keeping near you, and on my presence, should it be required."
"You will not forget to come beneath the windows, Bob," said Maud, anxiously, but in great haste; for the footsteps of the men drew rapidly near; "at the very spot where the others descended."
The major bent forward and kissed a cheek that was chilled with apprehension, but which the act caused to burn like fire; then he disappeared behind the projection of rock he had himself pointed out. As for Maud, she sat in seeming composure, awaiting the approach of those who drew near.
"The divil bur-r-n me, and all the Injins in Ameriky along wid me," said Mike, scrambling up the ascent by a short cut, "but I think we'll find the young Missus, here, or I don't think we'll be finding her the night. It's a cursed counthry to live in, Misther Strides, where a young lady of the loveliness and pithiful beauty of Miss Maud can be lost in the woods, as it might be a sheep or a stray baste that was for tasting the neighbour's pastures."
"You speak too loud, Mike, and you speak foolishness into the bargain," returned the wary Joel.
"Is it I, you mane! Och! don't think ye 're goin' to set me a rowin' a boat once more, ag'in my inclinations and edication, as ye did in ould times. I've rung ye into yer ma'tin', and out of yer m'atin', too, twenty times too often to be catched in that same trap twice. It's Miss Maud I wants, and Miss Maud I'll find, or —— Lord bless her swate face and morals, and her charackter, and all belonging to her!— isn't that, now, a prathy composure for the likes of her, and the savages at the mill, and the Missus in tears, and the masther mighty un'asy, and all of us bothered! See how she sits on that bit of a sate that I puts there for her wid my own hands, as a laddy should, looking jist what she is, the quane of the woods, and the delight of our eyes!"
Maud was too much accustomed to the rhapsodies of the county Leitrim- man to think much of this commencement; but resolute to act her part with discretion, she rose to meet him, speaking with great apparent self-possession.
"Is it possible you are in quest of me?" she said—"why has this happened?—I usually return about this hour."
"Hoors is it! Don't talk of hoors, beauthiful young laddy, when a single quarther may be too late," answered Mike, dogmatically. "It's your own mother that's not happy at yer being in the woods the night, and yer ould father that has moore un'asiness than he'll confess; long life to the church in which confession is held to be right, and dacent, and accorthing to the gospel of St. Luke, and the whole calender in the bargain. Ye'll not be frightened, Miss Maud, but take what I've to tell ye jist as if ye didn't bel'ave a wo-r-r-d of it; but, divil bur-r-n me, if there arn't Injins enough on the rocks, forenent the mill, to scalp a whole province, and a county along wid it, if ye'll give 'em time and knives enough."
"I understand you, Michael, but am not in the least alarmed," answered Maud, with an air of great steadiness; such, indeed, as would have delighted the captain. "Something of what has been passing below have I seen; but, by being calm and reasonable, we shall escape the danger. Tell me only, that all is safe in the Hut—that my dear mother and sister are well."
"Is it the Missus? Och, she's as valiant as a peacock, only strick down and overcome about your own self! As for Miss Beuly, where's the likes of her to be found, unless it's on this same bit of a rock? And it's agraable to see the captain, looking for all the wor-r-ld like a commander-in-chaif of six or eight rijiments, ordering one this-a-way, and another that-a-way—By St. Patrick, young laddy, I only hopes them vagabonds will come on as soon as yourself is inside the sticks, jist to give the ould jontleman a better occasion to play souldier on 'em. Should they happen to climb over the sticks, I've got the prattiest bit of a shillaleh ready that mortal eyes iver adorned! 'Twould break a head and niver a hat harmed—a thousand's the pities them chaps wears no hats. Howsever, we'll see."
"Thank you, Mike, for the courage you show, and the interest you take in all our welfares—Is it not too soon to venture down upon the flats, Joel? I must trust to you as a guide."
"I think Miss Maud would do full as well if she did. Mike must be told, too, not to talk so much, and above all, not to speak so loud. He may be heard, sometimes, a dozen rods."
"Tould!" exclaimed the county Leitrim-man, in heat—"And isn't tould I've been twenty times already, by your own smooth conversation? Where's the occasion to tell a thing over and over ag'in, when a man is not wanting in ears. It's the likes of you that loves to convarse."
"Well, Mike, for my sake, you will be silent, I hope," said Maud. "Remember, I am not fitted for a battle, and the first thing is to get safely into the house. The sooner we are down the hill, perhaps, the better it may be. Lead the way, then, Joel, and I will follow. Michael will go next to you, in readiness for any enemy, and I will bring up the rear. It will be better for all to keep a dead silence, until it be necessary to speak."
This arrangement was made, and the party proceeded, Maud remaining a little behind, in order that the major might catch glimpses of her person, in the sombre light of the hour and the forest, and not miss the road. A few minutes brought them all upon the level land, where, Joel, instead of entering the open fields, inclined more into the woods, always keeping one of the many paths. His object was to cross the rivulet under cover, a suitable place offering a short distance from the point where the stream glided out of the forest. Towards this spot Joel quietly held his way, occasionally stopping to listen if any movement of importance had occurred on the flats. As for Maud, her eyes were frequently cast behind her, for she was fearful Robert Willoughby might miss the path, having so little acquaintance with the thousand sinuosities he encountered. She caught glimpses of his person, however, in the distance, and saw that he was on the right track. Her chief concern, therefore, soon became an anxiety that he should not be seen by her companions. As they kept a little in advance, and the underbrush was somewhat thick, she had strong hopes that this evil would be avoided.
The path being very circuitous, it took some time to reach the spot Joel sought. Here he, Mike, and Maud, crossed the rivulet on a tree that had been felled expressly to answer the purposes of a rustic foot- bridge; a common expedient of the American forest. As our heroine had often performed this exploit when alone, she required no assistance, and she felt as if half the danger of her critical situation had vanished, when she found herself on the same side of the stream as the Hut. Joel, nothing suspecting, and keeping all his faculties on the sounds and sights that might occur in front, led the way diligently, and soon reached the verge of the woods. Here he paused for his companions to join him.
Twilight had, by this time, nearly disappeared. Still, enough remained to enable Maud to perceive that many were watching for her, either at the windows above the cliff, or through different parts of the stockades. The distance was so small, that it might have been possible, by raising the voice, even to converse; but this would be an experiment too hazardous, as some hostile scouts, at that hour might very well be fearfully near.
"I see nothing, Miss Maud," observed Joel, after taking a good look around him. "By keeping the path that follows the edge of the brook, though it is so crooked, we shall be certain of good walking, and shall be half hid by the bushes. It's best to walk quick, and to be silent."
Maud bade him go on, waiting herself behind a tree, to let the two men precede her a short distance. This was done, and the major stole up to her side unseen. A few words of explanation passed, when the young lady ran after her guides, leaving Robert Willoughby seated on a log. It was a breathless moment to Maud, that in which she was passing this bit of open land. But the distance was so short, that it was soon gotten over; and the three found themselves beneath the cliff. Here they passed the spring, and following a path which led from it, turned the edge of the rocks, and ascended to the foot of the stockades. It remained to turn these also, in order to reach the so recently suspended gates. As Maud passed swiftly along, almost brushing the timbers with her dress, she saw, in the dim light, fifty faces looking at her, and thrust between the timbers; but she paused not, spoke not—scarcely breathed. A profound stillness reigned on the Knoll; but when Joel arrived at the gate, it was instantly opened, and he glided in. Not so with Mike, who stopped and waited until she he had been in quest of entered before him, and was in safety.
Maud found herself in her mother's arms, the instant the gate was passed. Mrs. Willoughby had been at the angle of the cliff, had followed her child, in her swift progress round the stockade, and was ready to receive her, the moment she entered. Beulah came next, and then the captain embraced, kissed, wept over, and scolded his little favourite.
"No reproaches now, Hugh"—said the more considerate wife, and gentle woman—"Maud has done no more than has long been her custom, and no one could have foreseen what has happened."
"Mother—father"—said Maud, almost gasping for breath—"let us bless God for my safety, and for the safety of all that are dear to us—thank you, dear Mr. Woods—there is a kiss, to thank you—now let us go into the house; I have much to tell you—come dear sir—come dearest mother, do not lose a moment; let us all go to the library."
As this was the room in which the family devotions were usually held, the auditors fancied the excited girl wished to return her thanks in that mode, one not unfrequent in that regulated family, and all followed her, who dared, with tender sympathy in her feelings, and profoundly grateful for her safety. As soon as in the room, Maud carefully shut the door, and went from one to another, in order to ascertain who were present. Finding none but her father, mother, sister, and the chaplain, she instantly related all that had passed, and pointed out the spot where the major was, at that moment, waiting for the signal to approach. It is unnecessary to dwell on the astonishment and delight, mingled with concern, that this intelligence produced.
Maud then rapidly recounted her plan, and implored her father to see it executed. The captain had none of her apprehensions on the subject of his people's fidelity, but he yielded to the girl's earnest entreaties. Mrs. Willoughby was so agitated with all the unlooked-for events of the day, that she joined her daughter in the request, and Maud was told to proceed with the affair, in her own way.
A lamp was brought, and placed by Maud in a pantry that was lighted by a single, long, narrow, external window, at the angle of the building next the offices, and the door was closed on it. This lamp was the signal for the major to approach, and with beating hearts the females bent forward from the windows, secure of not being seen in the night, which had now fairly closed on the valley, to listen to his approaching footsteps beneath. They did not wait long ere he was not only heard, but dimly seen, though totally out of the line of sight from all in the Hut, with the exception of those above his head. Captain Willoughby had prepared a rope, one end of which was dropped, and fastened by the major, himself, around his body. A jerk let those above know when he was ready.
"What shall we do next?" asked the captain, in a sort of despair. "Woods and I can never drag that tall, heavy fellow up such a distance. He is six feet, and weighs a hundred and eighty, if he weighs a pound."
"Peace," half-whispered Maud, from a window. "All will be right in a moment." Then drawing in her body, the pale but earnest girl begged her father to have patience. "I have thought of all. Mike and the blacks may be trusted with our lives—I will call them."
This was done, and the county Leitrim-man and the two Plinys were soon in the room.
"O'Hearn," said Maud, inquiringly—"I think you are my friend?"
"Am I my own!—Is it yees, is the question? Well, jist wish for a tooth, and ye may take all in my head for the asking. Och, I 'd be a baste, else! I'd ate the remain of my days wid not'ing but a spoon to obleege ye."
"As for you, Pliny, and your son here, you have known us from children. Not a word must pass the lips of either, as to what you see—now pull, but with great care, lest the rope break."
The men did as ordered, raising their load from the ground, a foot or two at a time. In this manner the burthen approached, yard after yard, until it was evidently drawing near the window.
"It's the captain hoisting up the big baste of a hog, for provisioning the hoose, ag'in a saige," whispered Mike to the negroes, who grinned as they tugged; "and when the cr'atur squails, see to it, that ye do not squail yerselves."
At that moment the head and shoulders of a man appeared at the window, Mike let go the rope, seized a chair, and was about to knock the intruder on the head; but the captain arrested the blow.
"It's one of the vagabond Injins that has undermined the hog, and coome up in its stead," roared Mike."
"It's my son"—answered the captain, mildly—"see that you are silent, and secret."
And glory long has made the sages smile, Tis something, nothing, words, illusion, wind— Depending more upon the historian's style Than on the name a person leaves behind. Troy owes to Homer what whist owes to Hoyle The present century was growing blind To the great Marlborough's skill in giving knocks, Until his late Life by Archdeacon Coxe.
Major Willoughby's feet were scarcely on the library floor, when he was clasped in his mother's arms. From these he soon passed into Beulah's; nor did his father hesitate about giving him an embrace nearly as warm. As for Maud, she stood by, weeping in sympathy and in silence.
"And you, too, old man," said Robert Willoughby, dashing the tears from his eyes, and turning to the elder black, holding out a hand—"this is not the first time, by many, old Pliny, that you have had me between heaven and earth. Your son was my old play-fellow, and we must shake hands also. As for O'Hearn, steel is not truer, and we are friends for life."
The negroes were delighted to see their young master, for, in that day, the slaves exulted in the honour, appearance, importance and dignity of their owners, far more than their liberated descendants do now in their own. The major had been their friend when a boy; and he was, at present, their pride and glory. In their view of the matter, the English army did not contain his equal in looks, courage, military skill, or experience; and it was treason per se to fight against a cause that he upheld. The captain had laughingly related to his wife a conversation to this effect he had not long before overheard between the two Plinys.
"Well, Miss Beuly do a pretty well"—observed the elder, "but, den he all'e better, if he no get 'Merican 'mission. What you call raal colonel, eh? Have 'e paper from 'e king like Masser Bob, and wear a rigimental like a head of a turkey cock, so! Dat bein' an up and down officer."
"P'rhaps Miss Beuly bring a colonel round, and take off a blue coat, and put on a scarlet," answered the younger.
"Nebber!—nebber see dat, Plin, in a rebbleushun. Dis got to be a rebbleushun; and when dat begin in 'arnest, gib up all idee of 'mendment. Rebbleushuns look all one way—nebber see two side, any more dan coloured man see two side in a red-skin."
As we have not been able to trace the thought to antiquity, this expression may have been the original of the celebrated axiom of Napoleon, which tells us that "revolutions never go backwards." At all events, such was the notion of Pliny Willoughby, Sen., as the namesake of the great Roman styled himself; and it was greatly admired by Pliny Willoughby, Jun., to say nothing of the opinions of Big Smash and Little Smash, both of whom were listeners to the discourse.
"Well, I wish a colonel Beekman"—To this name the fellow gave the true Doric sound of Bakeman—"I wish a colonel Beekman only corprul in king's troops, for Miss Beuly's sake. Better be sarjun dere, dan briggerdeer-ginral in 'Merikan company; dat I know."
"What a briggerdeer mean, Plin?" inquired Little Smash, with interest. "Who he keep company wid, and what he do? Tell a body, do—so many officer in 'e army, one nebber know all he name."
"'Mericans can't hab 'em. Too poor for dat. Briggerdeer great gentleum, and wear a red coat. Ole time, see 'em in hundreds, come to visit Masser, and Missus, and play wid Masser Bob. Oh! no rebbleushun in dem days; but ebbery body know he own business, and do it, too."
This will serve to show the political sentiments of the Plinys, and may also indicate the bias that the Smashes were likely to imbibe in such company. As a matter of course, the major was gladly welcomed by these devoted admirers; and when Maud again whispered to them the necessity of secresy, each shut his mouth, no trifling operation in itself, as if it were to be henceforth hermetically sealed.
The assistants were now dismissed, and the major was left alone with his family. Again and again Mrs. Willoughby embraced her son; nor had her new ties at all lessened Beulah's interest in her brother. Even the captain kissed his boy anew, while Mr. Woods shook hands once more with his old pupil, and blessed him. Maud alone was passive in this scene of feeling and joy.
"Now, Bob, let us to business," said the captain, as soon as tranquillity was a little restored. "You have not made this difficult and perilous journey without an object; and, as we are somewhat critically situated ourselves, the sooner we know what it is, the less will be the danger of its not producing its proper effect."
"Heaven send, dear sir, that it fail not in its effect, indeed," answered the son. "But is not this movement in the valley pressing, and have I not come opportunely to take a part in the defence of the house?"
"That will be seen a few hours later, perhaps. Everything is quiet now, and will probably so remain until near morning; or Indian tactics have undergone a change. The fellows have lighted camp-fires on their rocks, and seem disposed to rest for the present, at least. Nor do I know that they are bent on war at all. We have no Indians near us, who would be likely to dig up the hatchet; and these fellows profess peace, by a messenger they have sent me."
"Are they not in their war-paint, sir? I remember to have seen warriors, when a boy, and my glass has given these men the appearance of being on what they call 'a war-path.'"
"Some of them are certainly in that guise, though he who came to the Knoll was not. He pretended that they were a party travelling towards the Hudson in order to learn the true causes of the difficulties between their Great English and their Great American Fathers. He asked for meal and meat to feed his young men with. This was the whole purport of his errand."
"And your answer, sir; is it peace, or war, between you?"
"Peace in professions, but I much fear war in reality. Still one cannot know. An old frontier garrison-man, like myself, is not apt to put much reliance on Indian faith. We are now, God be praised! all within the stockade; and having plenty of arms and ammunition, are not likely to be easily stormed. A siege is out of the question; we are too well provisioned to dread that."
"But you leave the mills, the growing grain, the barns, even the cabins of your workmen, altogether at the mercy of these wretches."
"That cannot well be avoided, unless we go out and drive them off, in open battle. For the last, they are too strong, to say nothing of the odds of risking fathers of families against mere vagabonds, as I suspect these savages to be. I have told them to help themselves to meal, or grain, of which they will find plenty in the mill. Pork can be got in the houses, and they have made way with a deer already, that I had expected the pleasure of dissecting myself. The cattle roam the woods at this season, and are tolerably safe; but they can burn the barns and other buildings, should they see fit. In this respect, we are at their mercy. If they ask for rum, or cider, that may bring matters to a head; for, refusing may exasperate them, and granting either, in any quantity, will certainly cause them all to get intoxicated."
"Why would not that be good policy, Willoughby?" exclaimed the chaplain. "If fairly disguised once, our people might steal out upon them, and take away all their arms. Drunken men sleep very profoundly."
"It would be a canonical mode of warfare, perhaps, Woods," returned the chaplain, smiling, "but not exactly a military. I think it safer that they should continue sober; for, as yet, they manifest no great intentions of hostility. But of this we can speak hereafter. Why are you here, my son, and in this guise?"
"The motive may as well be told now, as at another time," answered the major, giving his mother and sisters chairs, while the others imitated their example in being seated. "Sir William Howe has permitted me to come out to see you—I might almost say ordered me out; for matters have now reached a pass when we think every loyal gentleman in America must feel disposed to take sides with the crown."
A general movement among his auditors told the major the extent of the interest they felt in what was expected to follow. He paused an instant to survey the dark-looking group that was clustering around him; for no lights were in the room on account of the open windows, and he spoke in a low voice from motives of prudence; then he proceeded:
"I should infer from the little that passed between Maud and myself," he said, "that you are ignorant of the two most important events that have yet occurred in this unhappy conflict?"
"We learn little here," answered the father. "I have heard that my Lord Howe and his brother Sir William have been named commissioners by His Majesty to heal all the differences. I knew them both, when young men, and their elder brother before them. Black Dick, as we used to call the admiral, is a discreet, well-meaning man; though I fear both of them owe their appointments more to their affinity to the sovereign than to the qualities that might best fit them to deal with the Americans."
"Little is known of the affinity of which you speak[*], and less said in the army," returned the major, "but I fear there is no hope of the object of the commission's being effected. The American congress has declared the colonies altogether independent of England; and so far as this country is concerned, the war is carried on as between nation and nation. All allegiance, even in name, is openly cast aside."
[* The mother of the three Lords Howe, so well known in American history, viz: George, killed before Ticonderoga, in the war of '56; Richard, the celebrated admiral, and the hero of the 1st June; and Sir William, for several years commander-in-chief in this country, and the 5th and last viscount; was a Mademoiselle Kilmansegge, who was supposed to be a natural daughter of George I. This would make these three officers and George II. first-cousins; and George III their great-nephew a la mode de Bretagne. Walpole, and various other English writers, speak openly, not only of the connection, but of the family resemblance. Indeed, most of the gossiping writers of that age seem to allow that Lord Howe was a grandson of the first English sovereign of the House of Brunswick.]
"You astonish me, Bob! I did not think it could ever come to this!"
"I thought your native attachments would hardly endure as strong a measure as this has got to be," answered the major, not a little satisfied with the strength of feeling manifested by his father. "Yet has this been done, sir, and done in a way that it will not be easy to recall. Those who now resist us, resist for the sake of throwing off all connection with England."
"Has France any agency in this, Bob?—I own it startles me, and has a French look."
"It has driven many of the most respectable of our enemies into our arms, sir. We have never considered you a direct enemy, though unhappily inclining too much against us; 'but this will determine Sir Hugh,' said the commander-in-chief in our closing interview—I suppose you know, my dear father, that all your old friends, knowing what has happened, insist on calling you Sir Hugh. I assure you, I never open my lips on the subject; and yet Lord Howe drank to the health of Sir Hugh Willoughby, openly at his own table, the last time I had the honour to dine with him."
"Then the next time he favours you with an invitation, Bob, be kind enough to thank him. I want no empty baronetcy, nor do I ever think of returning to England to live. Were all I had on earth drummed together, it would barely make out a respectable competency for a private gentleman in that extravagant state of society; and what is a mere name to one in such circumstances? I wish it were transferable, my dear boy, in the old Scotch mode, and you should be Sir Bob before you slept."
"But, Willoughby, it may be useful to Robert, and why should he not have the title, since neither you nor I care for it?" asked the considerate mother.
"So he may, my dear; though he must wait for an event that I fancy you are not very impatient to witness—my death. When I am gone, let him be Sir Robert, in welcome. But, Bob—for plain, honest Bob must you remain till then, unless indeed you earn your spurs in this unhappy war—have you any military tidings for us? We have heard nothing since the arrival of the fleet on the coast."
"We are in New York, after routing Washington on Long Island. The rebels"—the major spoke a little more confidently than had been his wont—"The rebels have retreated into the high country, near the borders of Connecticut, where they have inveterate nests of the disaffected in their rear."
"And has all this been done without bloodshed? Washington had staff in him, in the old French business."
"His stuff is not doubted, sir; but his men make miserable work of it. Really I am sometimes ashamed of having been born in the country. These Yankees fight like wrangling women, rather than soldiers."
"How's this!—You spoke honestly of the affair at Lexington, and wrote us a frank account of the murderous work at Bunker Hill. Have their natures changed with the change of season?"
"To own the truth, sir, they did wonders on the Hill, and not badly in the other affair; but all their spirit seems gone. I am quite ashamed of them. Perhaps this declaration of independence, as it is called, has damped their ardour."
"No, my son—the change, if change there is, depends on a general and natural law. Nothing but discipline and long training can carry men with credit through a campaign, in the open field. Fathers, and husbands, and brothers and lovers, make formidable enemies, in sight of their own chimney-tops; but the most flogging regiments, we used to say, were the best fighting regiments for a long pull. But, have a care, Bob; you are now of a rank that may well get you a separate command, and do not despise your enemy. I know these Yankees well—you are one, yourself, though only half-blooded; but I know them well, and have often seen them tried. They are very apt to be badly commanded, heaven cursing them for their sins, in this form more than any other— but get them fairly at work, and the guards will have as much as they can wish, to get along with. Woods will swear to that."
"Objecting to the mode of corroboration, my dear sir, I can support its substance. Inclined as I am to uphold Caesar, and to do honour to the Lord's anointed, I will not deny my countrymen's courage; though I think, Willoughby, now I recall old times, it was rather the fashion of our officers to treat it somewhat disrespectfully."
"It was, indeed," answered the captain, thoughtfully—"and a silly thing it was. They mistook the nature of a mild and pacific people, totally without the glitter and habits of military life, for a timid people; and I have often heard the new hands in the colonies speak of their inhabitants with contempt on this very head. Braddock had that failing to a great degree; and yet this very major Washington saved his army from annihilation, when it came to truly desperate work. Mark the words of a much older soldier than yourself, Bob; you may have more of the bravery of apparel, and present a more military aspect; may even gain advantages over them by means of higher discipline, better arms, and more accurate combinations; but, when you meet them fairly, depend on it you will meet dangerous foes, and men capable of being sooner drilled into good soldiers than any nation I have met with. Their great curse is, and probably will be, in selecting too many of their officers from classes not embued with proper military pride, and altogether without the collaterals of a good military education."
To all this the major had nothing very material to object, and remembering that the silent but thoughtful Beulah had a husband in what he called the rebel ranks, he changed the subject. Arrangements were now made for the comfort and privacy of the unlooked-for guest. Adjoining the library, a room with no direct communication with the court by means of either door, or window, was a small and retired apartment containing a cot-bed, to which the captain was accustomed to retire in the cases of indisposition, when Mrs. Willoughby wished to have either of her daughters with herself, on their account, or on her own. This room was now given to the major, and in it he would be perfectly free from every sort of intrusion. He might eat in the library, if necessary; though, all the windows of that wing of the house opening outward, there was little danger of being seen by any but the regular domestics of the family, all of whom were to be let into the secret of his presence, and all of whom were rightly judged to be perfectly trustworthy.
As the evening promised to be dark, it was determined among the gentlemen that the major should disguise himself still more than he was already, and venture outside of the building, in company with his father, and the chaplain, as soon as the people, who were now crowded into the vacant rooms in the empty part of the house, had taken possession of their respective quarters for the night. In the meantime a hearty supper was provided for the traveller in the library, the bullet-proof window-shutters of which room, and indeed of all the others on that side of the building, having first been closed, in order that lights might be used, without drawing a shot from the adjoining forest.
"We are very safe, here," observed the captain, as his son appeased his hunger, with the keen relish of a traveller. "Even Woods might stand a siege in a house built and stockaded like this. Every window has solid bullet-proof shutters, with fastenings not easily broken; and the logs of the buildings might almost defy round-shot. The gates are all up, one leaf excepted, and that leaf stands nearly in its place, well propped and supported. In the morning it shall be hung like the others. Then the stockade is complete, and has not a speck of decay about it yet. We shall keep a guard of twelve men up the whole night, with three sentinels outside of the buildings; and all of us will sleep in our clothes, and on our arms. My plan, should an assault be made, is to draw in the sentinels, as soon as they have discharged their pieces, to close the gate, and man the loops. The last are all open, and spare arms are distributed at them. I had a walk made within the ridge of the roofs this spring, by which men can run round the whole Hut, in the event of an attempt to, set fire to the shingles, or fire over the ridge at an enemy at the stockades. It is a great improvement, Bob; and, as it is well railed, will make a capital station in a warm conflict, before the enemy make their way within the stockade."
"We must endeavour not to let them get there, sir," answered the major—"but, as soon as your people are housed, I shall have an opportunity to reconnoitre. Open work is most to the taste of us regulars."
"Not against an Indian enemy. You will be glad of such a fortress as this, boy, before the question of independence, or no independence, shall be finally settled. Did not Washington entrench in the town?"
"Not much on that side of the water, sir; though he was reasonably well in the ground on Long Island. There he had many thousands of men, and works of some extent."
"And how did he get off the island?" demanded the captain, turning round to look his son in the face. "The arm of the sea is quite half-a- mile in width, at that point—how did he cross it in the face of a victorious army?—or did he only save himself, while you captured his troops?"
The major coloured a little, and then he looked at Beulah and smiled good-naturedly.
"I am so surrounded by rebels here," he said, "that it is not easy to answer all your questions, sir. Beat him we did, beyond a question, and that with a heavy loss to his army—and out of New York we have driven him, beyond a question—but—I will not increase Beulah's conceit by stating any more!"
"If you can tell me anything kind of Evert, Bob, you will act like a brother in so doing," said the gentle wife.
"Ay, Beekman did well too, they said. I heard some of our officers extolling a charge he made; and to own the truth, I was not sorry to be able to say he was my sister's husband, since a fierce rebel she would marry. All our news of him is to his credit; and now I shall get a kiss for my pains."
The major was not mistaken. With a swelling heart, but smiling countenance, his sister threw herself into his arms, when she kissed and was kissed until the tears streamed down her cheeks.
"It was of Washington I intended to speak, sir," resumed the major, dashing a tear or two from his own eyes, as Beulah resumed her chair. "His retreat from the island is spoken of as masterly, and has gained him great credit. He conducted it in person, and did not lose a man. I heard Sir William mention it as masterly."
"Then by heaven, America will prevail in this contest!" exclaims I the captain, striking his fist upon the table, with a suddenness and force that caused all in the room to start. "If she has a general who can effect such a movement skilfully, the reign of England is over, here. Why, Woods, Xenophon never did a better thing! The retreat of the ten thousand was boy's play to getting across that water. Besides, your victory could have been no great matter, Bob, or it would never have been done."
"Our victory was respectable, sir, while I acknowledge that the retreat was great. No one among us denies it, and Washington is always named with respect in the army."
In a minute more, Big Smash came in, under the pretence of removing the dishes, but, in reality to see Master Bob, and to be noticed by him. She was a woman of sixty, the mother of Little Smash, herself a respectable matron of forty; and both had been born in the household of Mrs. Willoughby's father, and had rather more attachment for any one of her children than for all of their own, though each had been reasonably prolific. The sobriquets had passed into general use, and the real names of Bess and Mari' were nearly obsolete. Still, the major thought it polite to use the latter on the present occasion.
"Upon my word, Mrs. Bess," he said, shaking the old woman cordially by the hand, though he instinctively shrunk back from the sight of a pair of lips that were quite ultra, in the way of pouting, which used often to salute him twenty years before—"Upon my word, Mrs. Bess, you improve in beauty, everytime I see you. Old age and you seem to be total strangers to each other. How do you manage to remain so comely and so young?"
"God send 'e fus', Masser Bob, heabben be praise, and a good conscience do 'e las'. I do wish you could make ole Plin hear dat! He nebber t'ink any good look, now-a-day, in a ole wench."
"Pliny is half blind. But that is the way with most husbands, Smash; they become blind to the charms of their spouses, after a few years of matrimony."
"Nebber get marry, Masser Bob, if dat be 'e way."
Then Great Smash gave such a laugh, and such a swing of her unwieldy body, that one might well have apprehended her downfall. But, no such thing. She maintained the equilibrium; for, renowned as she had been all her life at producing havoc among plates, and cups, and bowls, she was never known to be thrown off her own centre of gravity. Another hearty shake of the hand followed, and the major quitted the table. As was usual on all great and joyous occasions in the family, when the emotions reached the kitchen, that evening was remarkable for a "smash," in which half the crockery that had just been brought from the table, fell an unresisting sacrifice. This produced a hot discussion between "The Big" and "The Little" as to the offender, which resulted, as so often happens, in these inquiries into the accidents of domestic life, in the conclusion that "nobody" was alone to blame.
"How 'e t'ink he can come back, and not a plate crack!" exclaimed Little Smash, in a vindicatory tone, she being the real delinquent—"Get in 'e winder, too! Lor! dat enough to break all 'e dish in 'e house, and in 'e mill, too! I do wish ebbery plate we got was an Injin—den you see fun! Can nebber like Injin; 'em so red, and so sabbage!"
"Nebber talk of Injin, now," answered the indignant mother—"better talk of plate. Dis make forty t'ousand dish you break, Mari', sin' you war' a young woman. S'pose you t'ink Masser made of plate, dat you break 'em up so! Dat what ole Plin say—de nigger! He say all men made of clay, and plate made of clay, too—well, bot' clay, and bot' break. All on us wessels, and all on us break to pieces some day, and den dey'll t'row us away, too."
A general laugh succeeded this touch of morality, Great Smash being a little addicted to ethical remarks of this nature; after which the war was renewed on the subject of the broken crockery. Nor did it soon cease; wrangling, laughing, singing, toiling, a light-heartedness that knew no serious cares, and affection, making up the sum of the everyday existence of these semi-civilized beings. The presence of the party in the valley, however, afforded the subject of an episode; for a negro has quite as much of the de haut en bas in his manner of viewing the aborigines, as the whites have in their speculations on his own race. Mingled with this contempt, notwithstanding, was a very active dread, neither of the Plinys, nor of their amiable consorts, in the least relishing the idea of being shorn of the wool, with shears as penetrating as the scalping-knife. After a good deal of discussion on this subject, the kitchen arrived at the conclusion that the visit of the major was ordered by Providence, since it was out of all the rules of probability and practice to have a few half-clad savages get the better of "Masser Bob," who was born a soldier, and had so recently been fighting for the king.
On the latter subject, we ought to have stated that the captain's kitchen was ultra-loyal. The rude, but simple beings it contained, had a reverence for rank and power that even a "rebbelushun" could not disturb, and which closely associated, in their minds, royal authority with divine power. Next to their own master, they considered George III, as the greatest man of the age; and there was no disposition in them to rob him of his rights or his honours.
"You seem thoughtful, Woods," said the captain, while his son had retired to his own room, in order to assume a disguise less likely to attract attention in the garrison than a hunting-shirt. "Is it this unexpected visit of Bob's that furnishes food for reflection?"
"Not so much his visit, my dear Willoughby, as the news he brings us. God knows what will befall the church, should this rebellion make serious head. The country is in a dreadful way, already, on the subject of religion; but it will be far worse if these 'canters' get the upper hand of the government."
The captain was silent and thoughtful for a moment; then he laughingly replied—
"Fear nothing for the church, chaplain. It is of God, and will outlast a hundred political revolutions."
"I don't know that, Willoughby—I don't know that"—The chaplain did not exactly mean what he said—"'Twouldn't surprise me if we had 'taking up collections,' 'sitting under preaching,' 'providentially happening,' 'exercised in mind,' and 'our Zion' finding their way into dictionaries."
"Quite likely, Woods"—returned the captain, smiling—"Liberty is known to produce great changes in things; why not in language?"
"Liberty, indeed! Yes; 'liberty in prayer' is another of their phrases. Well, captain Willoughby, if this rebellion should succeed, we may give up all hopes for the church. What sort of government shall we have, do you imagine, sir?"
"Republican, of course," answered the captain, again becoming thoughtful, as his mind reverted to the important results that were really dependent on the present state of things. "Republican—it can be no other. These colonies have always had a strong bias in that direction, and they want the elements necessary to a monarchy. New York has a landed gentry, it is true; and so has Maryland, and Virginia, and the Carolinas; but they are not strong enough to set up a political aristocracy, or to prop a throne; and then this gentry will probably be much weakened by the struggle. Half the principal families are known to be with the crown, as it is; and new men will force them out of place, in a revolution. No, Woods, if this revolution prosper, the monarchy is done in America, for at least a century."
"And the prayers for the king and royal family—what will become of them?"
"I should think they must cease, also. I question if a people will continue long to pray for authorities that they refuse to obey."
"I shall stick to the rubrics as long as I have a tongue in my head. I trust, Willoughby, you will not stop these prayers, in your settlement?"
"It is the last mode in which I should choose to show hostility. Still, you must allow it is a little too much to ask a congregation to pray that the king shall overcome his enemies, when they are among those very enemies? The question presents a dilemma."
"And, yet, I have never failed to read that prayer, as well as all the rest. You have not objected, hitherto."
"I have not, for I have considered the war as being waged with parliament and the ministers, whereas it is now clearly with the king. This paper is certainly a plain and forcible document."
"And what is that paper? Not the Westminster Confession of Faith, or the Saybrook Platform, I hope; one of which will certainly supersede the Thirty-nine Articles in all our churches, if this rebellion prosper."
"It is the manifesto issued by congress, to justify their declaration of independence. Bob has brought it with him, as a proof how far matters have been carried; but, really, it seems to be a creditable document, and is eloquently reasoned."
"I see how it is, Willoughby—I see how it is. We shall find you a rebel general yet; and I expect to live to hear you talk about 'our Zion' and 'providential accidents.'"
"Neither, Woods. For the first, I am too old; and, for the last, I have too much taste, I trust. Whether I shall always pray for the king is another matter. But, here is the major, ready for his sortie. Upon my word, his masquerade is so complete, I hardly know him myself."
He could not rest, he could not stay Within his tent to wait for day; But walked him forth along the sand, Where thousand sleepers strewed the strand.
Siege of Corinth.
It was now so late that most of the men of the Hut, and all the women and children, were housed for the night, provided no alarm occurred. There was consequently little risk in the major's venturing forth, disguised as he was, should care be taken not to approach a light. The great number of the latter, streaming through the windows of the western wing of the building, showed how many were now collected within the walls, and gave an unusual appearance of life and animation to the place. Still, the court was clear, the men seeking their pallets, in readiness for their coming watches, while the women were occupied with those great concerns of female life, the care of children.
The captain, major, and chaplain, each carrying a rifle, and the two former pistols, moved rapidly across the court, and passed the gate. The moveable leaf of the latter was left unbarred, it being the orders of the captain to the sentinels without, on the approach of an enemy, to retire within the court, and then to secure the fastenings.
The night was star-light, and it was cool, as is common to this region of country. There being neither lamp nor candle on the exterior of the house, even the loops being darkened, there was little danger in moving about within the stockades. The sentinels were directed to take their posts so near the palisades as to command views of the open lawn without, a precaution that would effectually prevent the usual stealthy approach of an enemy without discovery. As the alarm had been very decided, these irregular guardians of the house were all at their posts, and exceedingly watchful, a circumstance that enabled the captain to avoid them, and thus further remove the danger of his son's being recognised. He accordingly held himself aloof from the men, keeping within the shadows of the sides of the Hut.
As a matter of course, the first object to which our two soldiers directed their eyes, was the rock above the mill. The Indians had lighted fires, and were now apparently bivouacked at no great distance from them, having brought boards from below with that especial object. Why they chose to remain in this precise position, and why they neglected the better accommodations afforded by some fifteen or twenty log-cabins, that skirted the western side of the valley in particular, were subjects of conjecture. That they were near the fires the board shanties proved, and that they were to the last degree careless of the proximity of the people of the place, would seem also to be apparent in the fact that they had not posted, so far as could be ascertained, even a solitary sentinel.
"This is altogether surprising for Indian tactics," observed the captain, in a low voice; for everything that was uttered that night without the building was said in very guarded tones. "I have never before known the savages to cover themselves in that manner; nor is it usual with them to light fires to point out the positions they occupy, as these fellows seem to have done."
"Is it not all seeming, sir?" returned the major. "To me that camp, if camp it can be called, has an air of being deserted."
"There is a look about it of premeditated preparation that one ought always to distrust in war."
"Is it not unmilitary, sir, for two soldiers like ourselves to remain in doubt on such a point? My professional pride revolts at such a state of things; and, with your leave, I will go outside, and set the matter at rest by reconnoitring."
"Professional pride is a good thing, Bob, rightly understood and rightly practised. But the highest point of honour with the really good soldier is to do that for which he was precisely intended. Some men fancy armies were got together just to maintain certain exaggerated notions of military honour; whereas, military honour is nothing but a moral expedient to aid in effecting the objects for which they are really raised. I have known men so blinded as to assert that a soldier is bound to maintain his honour at the expense of the law; and this in face of the fact that, in a free country, a soldier is in truth nothing but one of the props of the law, in the last resort. So with us; we are here to defend this house, and those it contains; and our military honour is far more concerned in doing that effectually, and by right means, than in running the risk of not doing it at all, in order to satisfy an abstract and untenable notion of a false code. Let us do what is right, my son, and feel no concern that our honour suffer."
Captain Willoughby said this, because he fancied it a fault in his son's character, sometimes to confound the end with the means, in appreciating the ethics of his profession. This is not an uncommon error among those who bear arms, instances not being wanting in which bodies of men that are the mere creatures of authority, have not hesitated to trample the power that brought them into existence under foot, rather than submit to mortify the feelings of a purely conventional and exaggerated pride. The major was rebuked rather than convinced, it not being the natural vocation of youth to perceive the justice of all the admonitions of age.
"But, if one can be made auxiliary to the other, sir," the son remarked, "then you will allow that professional esprit, and professional prudence, may very well march hand in hand."
"Of that there can be no doubt, though I think it far wiser and more soldier-like, even, to use all proper precautions to guard this house, under our actual circumstances, than to risk anything material in order to satisfy our doubts concerning the state of that camp."
"But the cabins, and all the property that lies exposed to fire and other accidents, including the mills? Is it not worth your while to let me make a little excursion, in order to ascertain the state of things, as connected with them?"
"Perhaps it would, Bob"—returned the father, after a little reflection. "It would be a great point gained, to send a man to look after the buildings, and the horses. The poor beasts may be suffering for water; and, as you say, the first thing will be to ascertain where our wild visiters really are, and what they are actually bent on. Woods, go with us to the gate, and let us out. I rely on your saying nothing of our absence, except to explain to the two nearest sentinels who we are, and to be on the look-out for us, against the moment we may return."
"Will it not be very hazardous to be moving in front of the stockade, in the dark? Some of our own people may fire upon you."
"You will tell them to be cautious, and we shall use great circumspection in our turn. I had better give you a signal by which we shall be known."
This was done, and the party moved from under the shadows of the Hut, down to the gate. Here the two soldiers halted for several minutes, taking a deliberate and as thorough a survey of the scene without, as the darkness permitted. Then the chaplain opened the gate, and they issued forth, moving with great caution down the lawn, towards the fleets. As a matter of course, captain Willoughby was perfectly familiar with all the lanes, ditches, bridges and fields of his beautiful possessions. The alluvial soil that lay spread around him was principally the result of ages of deposit while the place was covered with water; but, as the overflowing of the water had been produced by a regular dam, the latter once removed, the meadows were free, from the excessive moisture which generally saturates drained lands. Still, there were two or three large open ditches, to collect the water that came down the adjacent mountains or bubbled up from springs near the margin of the woods Across these ditches the roads led, by bridges, and the whole valley was laid out, in this manner, equally with a view to convenience and rural beauty. A knowledge of all the windings was of great use, on the present occasion, even on the advance; while, on the retreat, it might clearly be the means of preserving the lives, or liberties, of the two adventurers.
The captain did not proceed by the principal road which led from the Hut to the mills, the great thoroughfare of the valley, since it might be watched, in order to prevent a hostile sortie against the camp; but he inclined to the right, or to the westward, in order to visit the cabins and barns in that quarter. It struck him his invaders might have quietly taken possession of the houses, or even have stolen his horses and decamped. In this direction, then, he and his son proceeded, using the greatest caution in their movements, and occasionally stopping to examine the waning fires at the rock, or to throw a glance behind them at the stockade. Everything remained in the quiet which renders a forest settlement so solemn and imposing, after the daily movements of man have ceased. The deepest and most breathless attention could not catch an unaccustomed sound. Even the bark of a dog was not heard, all those useful animals having followed their masters into the Hut, as if conscious that their principal care now lay in that direction. Each of the sentinels had one of these animals near him, crouched under the stockade, in the expectation of their giving the alarm, should any strange footstep approach. In this manner most of the distance between the Knoll and the forest was crossed, when the major suddenly laid a hand on his father's arm.