The distance was not so great but these movements could easily be seen by the naked eye, though the glass was necessary to discover some of the details. Captain Willoughby had planted the instrument among the palisades, and he kept his gaze riveted on the retiring group as long as it was visible; then, indeed, he looked at his companions, as if to read their opinions in their countenances. Joyce understood the expression of his face; and, saluting in the usual military manner, he presumed to speak, in the way of reply.
"It seems all right, your honour, the bandage excepted," said the serjeant. "The flag has been met at the outposts, and led into the camp; there the officer of the day, or some savage who does the duty, has heard his errand; and, no doubt, they have all now gone to head- quarters, to report."
"I desired my son, Joyce—"
"Whom, your honour—?"
The general movement told the captain how completely his auditors were taken by surprise, at this unlooked-for announcement of the presence of the major at the Knoll. It was too late to recall the words, however, and there was so little prospect of Robert's escaping the penetration of Joel, the father saw no use in attempting further concealment.
"I say I desired my son, major Willoughby, who is the bearer of that flag," the captain steadily resumed, "to raise his hat in a particular manner, if all seemed right; or to make a certain gesture with his left arm, did he see anything that required us to be more than usually on our guard."
"And which notice has he given to the garrison, if it be your honour's pleasure to let us know?"
"Neither. I thought he manifested an intention to make the signal with the hat, when the chiefs first joined him; but he hesitated, and lowered his hand without doing as I had expected. Then, again, just as he disappeared behind the rocks, the left arm was in motion, though not in a way to complete the signal."
"Did he seem hurried, your honour, as if prevented from communicating by the enemy?"
"Not at all, Joyce. Irresolution appeared to be at the bottom of it, so far as I could judge."
"Pardon me, your honour; uncertainty would be a better word, as applied to so good a soldier. Has major Willoughby quitted the king's service, that he is among us, sir, just at his moment?"
"I will tell you his errand another time, serjeant. At present, I can think only of the risk he runs. These Indians are lawless wretches; one is never sure of then faith."
"They are bad enough, sir; but no man can well be so bad as to disregard the rights of a flag," answered the serjeant, in a grave and slightly important manner. "Even the French, your honour, have always respected our flags."
"That is true; and, yet, I wish we could overlook that position at the mill. It's a great advantage to them, Joyce, that they can place themselves behind such a cover, when they choose!"
The serjeant looked at the encampment a moment; then his eye followed the woods, and the mountain sides, that skirted the little plain, until his back was fairly turned upon the supposed enemy, and he faced the forest in the rear of the Hut.
"If it be agreeable to your honour, a detachment can be detailed to make a demonstration"—Joyce did not exactly understand this word, but it sounded military—"in the following manner: I can lead out the party, by the rear of the house, using the brook as a covered-way. Once in the woods, it will be easy enough to make a flank movement upon the enemy's position; after which, the detachment can be guided by circumstances."
This was very martial in sound, and the captain felt well assured that Joyce was the man to attempt carrying out his own plan; but he made no answer, sighing and shaking his head, as he walked away towards the house. The chaplain followed, leaving the rest to observe the savages.
"Ye're proposition, serjeant, no seems to give his honour much satisfaction," said the mason, as soon as his superior was out of hearing. "Still, it was military, as I know by what I saw mysal' in the Forty-five. Flainking, and surprising, and obsairving, and demonstrating, and such devices, are the soul of war, and are a' on the great highway to victory. Had Chairlie's men obsairved, and particularised mair, there might have been a different family on the throne, an' the prince wad ha' got his ain ag'in. I like your idea much, serjaint, and gin' ye gang oot to practise it, I trust ye 'll no forget that ye've an auld fri'nd here, willing to be of the pairty."
"I didn't think the captain much relished the notion of being questioned about his son's feelin's, and visit up here, at a time like this," put in one of the Americans.
"There's bowels in the man's body!" cried Mike, "and it isn't the likes of him that has no falin'. Ye don't know what it is to be a father, or ye'd groan in spirit to see a child of yer own in the grip of fiery divils like them same. Isn't he a pratty man, and wouldn't I be sorrowful to hear that he had come to har-r-m? Ye've niver asked, serjeant, how the majjor got into the house, and ye a military sentry in the bargain!"
"I suppose he came by command, Michael, and it is not the duty of the non-commissioned officers to question their superiors about anything that has happened out of the common way. I take things as I find them, and obey orders. I only hope that the son, as a field-officer, will not out-rank the father, which would be unbecoming: though date of commissions, and superiority, must be respected."
"I rather think if a major in the king's service was to undertake to use authority here," said the spokesman of the Americans, a little stiffly, "he wouldn't find many disposed to follow at his heels."
"Mutiny would not fare well, did it dare to lift its head in this garrison"—answered the serjeant, with a dignity that might better have suited the mess-room of a regular regiment, than the situation in which he was actually placed. "Both captain Willoughby and myself have seen mutiny attempted, but neither has ever seen it succeed."
"Do you look on us as lawful, enlisted soldiers?" demanded one of the labourers, who had a sufficient smattering of the law, to understand the difference between a mercenary and a volunteer. "If I'm regimented, I should at least like to know in whose service it is?"
"Ye're over-quick at yer objections and sentiments," said Jamie Allen, coolly, "like most youths, who see only their ain experience in the airth, and the providence o' the Lord. Enlisted we are, a' of us, even to Michael here, and it's in the sairvice of our good master, his honour captain Willoughby; whom, with his kith and kin, may the Lord presairve from this and all other dangers."
The word master would, of itself, be very likely to create a revolt to- day, in such a corps as it was the fortune of our captain to command, though to that of "boss" there would not he raised the slightest objection. But the English language had not undergone half of its present mutations in the year 1776; and no one winced in admitting that he served a "master," though the gorges of several rose at the idea of being engaged in the service of any one, considered in a military point of view. It is likely the suggestion of the mason would have led to a hot discussion, had not a stir among the savages, just at that instant, called off the attention of all present, to matters of more importance than even an angry argument.
The movement seemed to be general, and Joyce ordered his men to stand to their arms; still he hesitated about giving the alarm. Instead of advancing towards the Hut, however, the Indians raised a general yell, and went over the cliffs, disappearing in the direction of the mill, like a flock of birds taking wing together. After waiting half an hour, in vain, to ascertain if any signs of the return of the Indians were to be seen, the serjeant went himself to report the state of things to his commander.
Captain Willoughby had withdrawn to make his toilet for the day, when he saw the last of his son and the overseer. While thus employed he had communicated to his wife all that had occurred; and Mrs. Willoughby, in her turn, had told the same to her daughters. Maud was much the most distressed, her suspicions of Joel being by far the most active and the most serious. From the instant she learned what had passed, she began to anticipate grave consequences to Robert Willoughby, though she had sufficient fortitude, and sufficient consideration for others, to keep most of her apprehensions to herself.
When Joyce demanded his audience, the family was at breakfast, though little was eaten, and less was said. The serjeant was admitted, and he told his story with military precision.
"This has a suspicious air, Joyce," observed the captain, after musing a little; "to me it seems like an attempt to induce us to follow, and to draw us into an ambuscade."
"It may be that, your honour; or, it may be a good honest retreat. Two prisoners is a considerable exploit for savages to achieve. I have known them count one a victory."
"Be not uneasy, Wilhelmina; Bob's rank will secure him good treatment, his exchange being far more important to his captors, if captors they be, than his death. It is too soon to decide on such a point, serjeant. After all, the Indians may be at the mills, in council. On a war-path, all the young men are usually consulted, before any important step is taken. Then, it may be the wish of the chiefs to impress our flag- bearers with an idea of their force."
"All that is military, your honour, and quite possible. Still, to me the movement seems as if a retreat was intended, in fact, or that the appearance of one was in view."
"I will soon know the truth," cried the chaplain. "I, a man of peace, can surely go forth, and ascertain who these people are, and what is their object."
"You, Woods! My dear fellow, do you imagine a tribe of blood-thirsty savages will respect you, or your sacred office? You have a sufficient task with the king's forces, letting his enemies alone. You are no missionary to still a war-cry."
"I beg pardon, sir"—put in the serjeant—"his reverence is more than half right"—here the chaplain rose, and quitted the room in haste, unobserved by the two colloquists—"There is scarce a tribe in the colony, your honour, that has not some knowledge of our priesthood; and I know of no instance in which the savages have ever ill-treated a divine."
"Poh, poh, Joyce; this is much too sentimental for your Mohawks, and Oneidas, and Onondagas, and Tuscaroras. They will care no more for little Woods than they care for the great woods through which they journey on their infernal errands."
"One cannot know, Hugh"—observed the anxious mother—"Our dear Robert is in their hands; and, should Mr. Woods be really disposed to go on this mission of mercy, does it comport with our duty as parents to oppose it?"
"A mother is all mother"—murmured the captain, who rose from table, kissed his wife's cheek affectionately, and left the room, beckoning to the serjeant to follow.
Captain Willoughby had not been gone many minutes when the chaplain made his appearance, attired in his surplice, and wearing his best wig; an appliance that all elderly gentlemen in that day fancied necessary to the dignity and gravity of their appearance. Mrs. Willoughby, to own the truth, was delighted. If this excellent woman was ever unjust, it was in behalf of her children; solicitude for whom sometimes induced her to overlook the rigid construction of the laws of equality.
"We will see which best understands the influence of the sacred office, captain Willoughby, or myself;" observed the chaplain, with a little more importance of manner than it was usual for one so simple to assume. "I do not believe the ministry was instituted to be brow-beaten by tribes of savages, any more than it is to be silenced by the unbeliever, or schismatic."
It was very evident that the Rev. Mr. Woods was considerably excited; and this was a condition of mind so unusual with him, as to create a species of awe in the observers. As for the two young women, deeply as they were interested in the result, and keenly as Maud, in particular, felt everything which touched the fortunes of Robert Willoughby, neither would presume to interfere, when they saw one whom they had been taught to reverence from childhood, acting in a way that so little conformed to his ordinary manner. As for Mrs. Willoughby, her own feelings were so much awakened, that never had Mr. Woods seemed so evangelical and like a saint, as at that very moment; and it would not have been difficult to persuade her that he was acting under something very like righteous superhuman impulses.
Such, however, was far from being the case. The worthy priest had an exalted idea of his office; and, to fancy it might favorably impress even savages, was little more than carrying out his every-day notions of its authority. He conscientiously believed that he, himself, a regularly ordained presbyter, would be more likely to succeed in the undertaking before him, than a mere deacon; were a bishop present, he would cheerfully have submitted to his superior claims to sanctity and success. As for arch-bishops, arch-deacons, deans, rural deans, and all the other worldly machinery which has been superadded to the church, the truth compels us to add, that our divine felt no especial reverence since he considered them as so much clerical surplusage, of very questionable authority, and of doubtful use. He adhered strictly to the orders of divine institution, to these he attached so much weight, as to be entirely willing, in his own person, to demonstrate how little was to be apprehended, when their power was put forth, even against Indians, in humility and faith.
"I shall take this sprig of laurel in my hand, in lieu of the olive- branch," said the excited chaplain, "as the symbol of peace. It is not probable that savages can tell one plant from the other; and if they could, it will be easy to explain that olives do not grow in America. It is an eastern tree, ladies, and furnishes the pleasant oil we use on our salads. I carry with me, notwithstanding, the oil which proves a balm to many sorrows; that will be sufficient."
"You will bid them let Robert return to us, without delay?" said Mrs. Willoughby, earnestly.
"I shall bid them respect God and their consciences. I cannot now stop to rehearse to you the mode of proceeding I shall adopt; but it is all arranged in my own mind. It will be necessary to call the Deity the 'Great Spirit' or 'Manitou'—and to use many poetical images; but this can I do, on an emergency. Extempore preaching is far from agreeable to me, in general; nor do I look upon it, in this age of the world, as exactly canonical; nevertheless, it shall be seen I know how to submit even to that, when there is a suitable necessity."
It was so seldom Mr. Woods used such magnificent ideas, or assumed a manner in the least distinguishable from one of the utmost simplicity, that his listeners now felt really awed; and when he turned to bless them, as he did with solemnity and affection, the two daughters knelt to receive his benedictions. These delivered, he walked out of the room, crossed the court, and proceeded straightway to the outer gate.
It was, perhaps, fortunate to the design of the Rev. Mr. Woods, that neither the captain nor the serjeant was in the way, to arrest it. This the former would certainly have done, out of regard to his friend, and the last out of regard to "orders." But these military personages were in the library, in deep consultation concerning the next step necessary to take. This left the coast clear, no one belonging to the guard conceiving himself of sufficient authority to stop the chaplain, more especially when he appeared in his wig and surplice. Jamie Allen was a corporal, by courtesy; and, at the first summons, he caused the outer gate to be unlocked and unbarred, permitting the chaplain to make his egress, attended by his own respectful bows. This Jamie did, out of reverence to religion, generally; though the surplice ever excited his disgust; and, as for the Liturgy, he deemed it to be a species of solemn mockery of worship.
The captain did not reappear outside of the court, until the chaplain, who had made the best of his way towards the rocks, was actually stalking like a ghost among ruins, through the deserted shantees of the late encampment.
"What in the name of Indian artifice is the white animal that I see moving about on the rocks?" demanded the captain, whose look was first turned in the direction of the camp.
"It seems an Indian wrapped up in a shirt, your honour—as I live, sir, it has a cocked hat on its head!"
"Na—na"—interrupted Jamie, "ye'll no be guessing the truth this time, without the aid of a little profane revelation. The chiel ye see yan, yer honour, is just chaplain Woods."
"Na—na—yer honour, it's the reverend gentleman, hissel', and no the de'il, at a'. He's in his white frock—though why he didn't wear his black gairment is more than I can tell ye—but there he is, walking about amang the Indian dwellings, all the same as if they were so many pews in his ain kirk."
"And, how came you to let him pass the gate, against orders?"
"Well, and it is aboot the orders of the priesthood, that he so often preaches, and seeing him in the white gairment, and knowing ye've so many fast-days, and Christmas', in the kirk o' England, I fancied it might be a bit matter o' prayer he wished to offer up, yan, in the house on the flat; and so I e'en thought church prayers better than no prayers at all, in such a strait."
As it was useless to complain, the captain was fain to submit, even beginning to hope some good might come of the adventure, when he saw Mr. Woods walking unmolested through the deserted camp. The glass was levelled, and the result was watched in intense interest.
The chaplain first explored every shantee, fearlessly and with diligence. Then he descended the rocks, and was lost to view, like those who had preceded him. A feverish hour passed, without any symptom of human life appearing in the direction of the mills. Sometimes those who watched, fancied they beheld a smoke beginning to steal up over the brow of the rocks, the precursor of the expected conflagration; but a few moments dispersed the apprehension and the fancied smoke together. The day advanced, and yet the genius of solitude reigned over the mysterious glen. Not a sound emerged from it, not a human form was seen near it, not a sign of a hostile assault or of a friendly return could be detected. All in that direction lay buried in silence, as if the ravine had swallowed its tenants, in imitation of the grave.
To deck my list by Nature were design'd Such shining expletives of human kind; Who want, while through blank life they dream along, Sense to be right, and passion to be wrong.
The disappearance of Mr. Woods occasioned no uneasiness at first. An hour elapsed before the captain thought it necessary to relate the occurrence to his family, when a general panic prevailed among the females. Even Maud had hoped the savages would respect the sacred character of the divine, though she knew not why; and here was one of her principal grounds of hope, as connected with Robert Willoughby, slid from beneath her feet.
"What can we do, Willoughby?" asked the affectionate mother, almost reduced to despair. "I will go myself, in search of my son—they will respect me, a woman and a mother."
"You little know the enemy we have to deal with, Wilhelmina, or so rash a thought could not have crossed your mind. We will not be precipitate; a few hours may bring some change to direct us. One thing I learn from Woods' delay. The Indians cannot be far off, and he must be with them, or in their hands; else would he return alter having visited the mills and the houses beneath the cliffs."
This sounded probable, and all felt there was a relief in fancying that their friends were still near them, and were not traversing the wilderness as captives.
"I feel less apprehension than any of you," observed Beulah, in her placid manner. "If Bob is in the hands of an American party, the brother-in-law of Evert Beekman cannot come to much harm; with British Indians he will be respected for his own sake, as soon as he can make himself known."
"I have thought of all this, my child"—answered the father, musing—"and there is reason in it. It will be difficult, however, for Bob to make his real character certain, in his present circumstances. He does not appear the man he is; and should there even be a white among his captors who can read, he has not a paper with him to sustain his word."
"But, he promised me faithfully to use Evert's name, did he ever fall into American hands"—resumed Beulah, earnestly—"and Evert has said, again and again, that my brother could never be his enemy."
"Heaven help us all, dear child!" answered the captain, kissing his daughter—"It is, indeed, a cruel war, when such aids are to be called in for our protection. We will endeavour to be cheerful, notwithstanding; for we know of nothing yet, that ought to alarm us, out of reason; all may come right before the sun set."
The captain looked at his family, and endeavoured to smile, but he met no answering gleam of happiness on either face; nor was his own effort very successful. As for his wife, she was never known to be aught but miserable, while any she loved were in doubtful safety. She lived entirely out of herself, and altogether for her husband, children, and friends; a woman less selfish, or one more devoted to the affections, never existing. Then Beulah, with all her reliance on the magic of Evert's name, and with the deep feelings that had been awakened within her, as a wife and a mother, still loved her brother as tenderly as ever. As for Maud, the agony she endured was increased by her efforts to keep it from breaking out in some paroxysm that might betray her secret; and her features were getting an expression of stern resolution, which, blended with her beauty, gave them a grandeur her father had never before seen in her bright countenance.
"This child suffers on Bob's account more than any of us"—observed the captain, drawing his pet towards him, placing her kindly on his knee, and folding her to his bosom. "She has no husband yet, to divide her heart; all her love centres in her brother."
The look which Beulah cast upon her father was not reproachful, for that was an expression she would not have indulged with him; but it was one in which pain and mortification were so obvious, as to induce the mother to receive her into her own arms.
"Hugh, you are unjust to Beulah"—said the anxious mother—"Nothing can ever cause this dear girl, either, to forget to feel for any of us."
The captain's ready explanation, and affectionate kiss, brought a smile again to Beulah's face, though it shone amid tears. All was, however, immediately forgotten; for the parties understood each other, and Maud profited by the scene to escape from the room. This flight broke up the conference; and the captain, after exhorting his wife and daughter to set an example of fortitude to the rest of the females, left the house, to look after his duties among the men.
The absence of Joel cast a shade of doubt over the minds of the disaffected. These last were comparatively numerous, comprising most of the native Americans in the Hut, the blacks and Joyce excepted. Strides had been enabled to effect his purposes more easily with his own countrymen by working on their good qualities, as well as on their bad. Many of these men—most of them, indeed—meant well, but their attachment to the cause of their native land laid them open to assaults, against which Mike and Jamie Allen were insensible. Captain Willoughby was an Englishman, in the first place; he was an old army- officer, in the next; and he had an only son who was confessedly in open arms against the independence of America. It is easy to see how a demagogue like Joel, who had free access to the ears of his comrades, could improve circumstances like these to his own particular objects. Nevertheless, he had difficulties to contend with. If it were true that parson Woods still insisted on praying for the king, it was known that the captain laughed at him for his reverence for Caesar; if Robert Willoughby were a major in the royal forces, Evert Beekman was a colonel in the continentals; if the owner of the manor were born in England, his wife and children were born in America; and he, himself, was often heard to express his convictions of the justice of most of that for which the provincials were contending—all, the worthy captain had not yet made up his mind to concede to them.
Then, most of the Americans in the Hut entertained none of the selfish and narrow views of Joel and the miller. Their wish was to do right, in the main; and though obnoxious to the charge of entertaining certain prejudices that rendered them peculiarly liable to become the dupes of a demagogue, they submitted to many of the better impulses, and were indisposed to be guilty of any act of downright injustice. The perfect integrity with which they had ever been treated, too, had its influence; nor was the habitual kindness of Mrs. Willoughby to their wives and children forgotten; nor the gentleness of Beulah, or the beauty, spirit, and generous impulses of Maud. In a word, the captain, when he went forth to review his men, who were now all assembled under arms within the palisades for that purpose, went to meet a wavering, rather than a positively disaffected or rebellious body.
"Attention!" cried Joyce, as his commanding officer came in front of a line which contained men of different colours, statures, ages, dresses, countries, habits and physiognomies, making it a sort of epitome of the population of the whole colony, as it existed in that day—"Attention! Present, arms."
The captain pulled off his hat complacently, in return to this salute, though he was obliged to smile at the array which met his eyes. Every one of the Dutchmen had got his musket to an order, following a sort of fugleman of their own; while Mike had invented a "motion" that would have puzzled any one but himself to account for. The butt of the piece was projected towards the captain, quite out of line, while the barrel rested on his own shoulder. Still, as his arms were extended to the utmost, the county Leitrim-man fancied he was performing much better than common. Jamie had correct notions of the perpendicular, from having used the plumb-bob so much, though even he made the trifling mistake of presenting arms with the lock outwards. As for the Yankees, they were all tolerably exact, in everything but time, and the line; bringing their pieces down, one after another, much as they were in the practice of following their leaders, in matters of opinion. The negroes defied description; nor was it surprising they failed, each of them thrusting his head forward to see how the "motions" looked, in a way that prevented any particular attention to his own part of the duty. The serjeant had the good sense to see that his drill had not yet produced perfection, and he brought his men to a shoulder again, as soon as possible. In this he succeeded perfectly, with the exception that just half of the arms were brought to the right, and the other half to the left shoulders.
"We shall do better, your honour, as we get a little more drill"—said Joyce, with an apologetic salute—"Corporal Strides has a tolerable idea of the manual, and he usually acts as our fugleman. When he gets back, we shall improve."
"When he gets back, serjeant—can you, or any other man, tell when that will be?"
"Yes, yer honour," sputtered Mike, with the eagerness of a boy. "I'se the man to tell yees that same."
"You?—What can you know, that is not known to all of us, my good Michael?"
"I knows what I sees; and if yon isn't Misther Strhides, then I am not acquainted with his sthraddle."
Sure enough, Joel appeared at the gate, as Mike concluded his assertions. How he got there, no one knew; for a good look-out had been kept in the direction of the mill; and, yet here was the overseer applying for admission, as if he had fallen from the clouds! Of course, the application was not denied, though made in a manner so unexpected, and Joel stood in front of his old comrades at the hoe and plough, if not in arms, in less than a minute. His return was proclaimed through the house in an incredibly short space of time, by the aid of the children, and all the females came pouring out from the court to learn the tidings, led by Mrs. Strides and her young brood.
"Have you anything to communicate to me in private, Strides?" the captain demanded, maintaining an appearance of sang froid that he was far from feeling—"or, can your report be made here, before the whole settlement?"
"It's just as the captain pleases," answered the wily demagogue; "though, to my notion, the people have a right to know all, in an affair that touches the common interest."
"Attention! men"—cried the serjeant—"By platoons, to the right"
"No matter, Joyce," interrupted the captain, waving his hand—"Let the men remain. You have held communications with our visiters, I know, Strides?"
"We have, captain Willoughby, and a desperate sort of visiters be they! A more ugly set of Mohawks and Onondagas I never laid eyes on."
"As for their appearance, it is matter of indifference to me—what is the object of their visit?"
"I mean ugly behaved, and they deserve all I say of 'em. Their ar'nd, according to their own tell, is to seize the captain, and his family, in behalf of the colonies."
As Joel uttered this, he cast a glance along the line of faces paraded before him, in order to read the effect it might produce. That it was not lost on some, was as evident as that it was on others. The captain, however, appeared unmoved, and there was a slight air of incredulity in the smile that curled his lip.
"This, then, you report as being the business of the party in coming to this place!" he said, quietly.
"I do, sir; and an ugly ar'nd it is, in times like these."
"Is there any person in authority in a party that pretends to move about the colony, with such high duties?"
"There's one or two white men among 'em, if that's what the captain means; they pretend to be duly authorised and appointed to act in behalf of the people."
At each allusion to the people, Joel invariably looked towards his particular partisans, in order to note the effect the use of the word might produce. On the present occasion, he even ventured to wink at the miller.
"If acting on authority, why do they keep aloof?—I have no such character for resisting the laws, that any who come clothed with its mantle need fear resistance."
"Why, I s'pose they reason in some such manner as this. There's two laws in operation at this time; the king's law, and the people's law. I take it, this party comes in virtue of the people's law, whereas it is likely the law the captain means is the king's law. The difference is so great, that one or t'other carries the day, just as the king's friends or the people's friends happen to be the strongest. These men don't like to trust to their law, when the captain may think it safest to trust a little to his'n."
"And all this was told you, Strides, in order to be repeated to me?"
"Not a word on't; it's all my own consait about the matter. Little passed between us."
"And, now," said the captain, relieving his breast by a long sigh, "I presume I may inquire about your companion. You probably have ascertained who he is?"
"Lord, captain Willoughby, I was altogether dumbfounded, when the truth came upon me of a sudden! I never should have known the major in that dress, in the world, or out of the world either; but he walks so like the captain, that as I followed a'ter him, I said to myself, who can it be?—and then the walk came over me, as it might be; and then I remembered last night, and the stranger that was out with the captain, and how he occupied the room next to the library, and them things; and so, when I come to look in his face, there was the major sure enough!"
Joel lied famously in this account; but he believed himself safe, as no one could very well contradict him.
"Now, you have explained the manner in which you recognised my son, Strides," added the captain, "I will thank you to let me know what has become of him?"
"He's with the savages. Having come so far to seize the father, it wasn't in natur' to let the son go free, when he walked right into the lion's den, like."
"And how could the savages know he was my son? Did they, too, recognise the family walk?"
Strides was taken aback at this question, and he even had the grace to colour a little. He saw that he was critically placed; for, in addition to the suggestions of conscience, he understood the captain sufficiently to know he was a man who would not trifle, in the event of his suspicions becoming active. He knew he deserved the gallows, and Joyce was a man who would execute him in an instant, did his commander order it. The idea fairly made the traitor tremble in his shoes.
"Ah! I've got a little ahead of my story," he said, hastily. "But, perhaps I had best tell everything as it happened—"
"That will be the simplest and clearest course. In order that there be no interruption, we will go into my room, where Joyce will follow us, as soon as he has dismissed his men."
This was done, and in a minute or two the captain and Joel were seated in the library, Joyce respectfully standing; the old soldier always declining to assume any familiarity with his superior. We shall give the substance of most of Joel's report in our own language; preferring it, defective as it is, to that of the overseer's, which was no bad representative of his cunning, treacherous and low mind.
It seems, then, that the bearers of the flag were amicably received by the Indians. The men towards whom they were led on the rocks, were the chiefs of the party, who treated them with proper respect. The sudden movement was explained to them, as connected with their meal; and the chiefs, accompanied by the major and Strides, proceeded to the house of the miller. Here, by means of a white man for an interpreter, the major had demanded the motive of the strangers in coming into the settlement. The answer was a frank demand for the surrender of the Hut, and all it contained, to the authorities of the continental congress. The major had endeavoured to persuade a white man, who professed to hold the legal authority for what was doing, of the perfectly neutral disposition of his father, when, according to Joel's account, to his own great astonishment, the argument was met by the announcement of Robert Willoughby's true character, and a sneering demand if it were likely a man who had a son in the royal army, and who had kept that son secreted in his own house, would be very indifferent to the success of the royal cause.
"They've got a wonderful smart man there for a magistrate, I can tell you," added Joel, with emphasis, "and he ra'ally bore as hard on the major as a lawyer before a court. How he found out that the major was at the Hut is a little strange, seein' that none of us know'd of it; but they've got extraor'nary means, now-a-days."
"And, did major Willoughby admit his true character, when charged with being in the king's service?"
"He did—and like a gentleman. He only insisted that his sole ar'nd out here was to see his folks, and that he intended to go back to York the moment he had paid his visit."
"How did the person you mention receive his explanations?"
"Waal, to own the truth, he laugh'd at it, like all natur'. I don't believe they put any great weight on a syllable the major told 'em. I never see critturs with such onbelievin' faces! After talking as long as suited themselves, they ordered the major to be shut up in a buttery, with a warrior at the door for a sentinel; a'ter which they took to examining me."
Joel then proceeded with an account—his own account, always, be it remembered—of what passed between himself and the strangers. They had questioned him closely touching the nature of the defences of the Hut, the strength of the garrison, its disposition, the number and quality of the arms, and the amount of the ammunition.
"You may depend on't, I gave a good account," continued the overseer, in a self-satisfied way. "In the first place, I told 'em, the captain had a lieutenant with him that had sarved out the whull French war; then I put the men up to fifty at once, seein' it was just as easy to say that, as thirty or thirty-three. As to the arms, I told 'em more than half the pieces were double-barrelled; and that the captain, in particular, carried a rifle that had killed nine savages in one fight."
"You were much mistaken in that, Joel. It is true, that a celebrated chief once fell by this rifle; even that is not a matter for boasting."
"Waal, them that told me on't, said that two had fallen before it, and I put it up to nine at once, to make a good story better. Nine men had a more desperate sound than two; and when you do begin to brag, a man shouldn't be backward. I thought, howsever, that they was most non-plussed, when I told 'em of the field-piece."
"The field-piece, Strides!—Why did you venture on an exaggeration that any forward movement of theirs must expose?"
"We'll see to that, captain—we'll see to that. Field-pieces are desperate dampers to Indian courage, so I thought I'd just let 'em have a six-pounder, by way of tryin' their natur's. They look'd like men goin' to execution, when I told 'em of the cannon, and what a history it had gone through."
"And what may have been this history, pray?"
"I just told 'em it was the very gun the captain had took from the French, about which we've all heer'n tell; and that, as everybody knows, was a desperate piece, havin' killed more than a hundred reg'lars, before the captain charged baggonet on it, and carried it off."
This was a very artful speech, since it alluded to the most distinguished exploit of captain Willoughby's military life; one of which it would have been more than human, had he not been a little proud. All who knew him, had heard of this adventure, and Joel cunningly turned it to account, in the manner seen. The allusion served to put to sleep, for the moment at least, certain very unpleasant suspicions that were getting to be active in his superior's mind.
"There was no necessity, Strides, for saying anything about that affair"—the captain, modestly, interposed. "It happened a long time since, and might well be forgotten. Then, you know we have no gun to support your account, when our deficiency is ascertained, it will all be set down to the true cause—a wish to conceal our real weakness."
"I beg your honour's pardon," put in Joyce—"I think Strides has acted in a military manner in this affair. It is according to the art of war for the besieged to pretend to but stronger than they are; and even besiegers sometimes put a better face than the truth will warrant, on their strength. Military accounts, as your honour well knows, never pass exactly for gospel, unless it be with the raw hands."
"Then," added Joel, "I know'd what I was about, seem that we had a cannon ready for use, as soon as it could be mounted."
"I think I understand Strides, your honour," resumed the serjeant. "I have carved a 'quaker' as an ornament for the gateway, intending to saw it in two, in the middle, and place the pieces, crosswise, over the entrance, as your honour has often seen such things in garrisons—like the brass ornaments on the artillery caps, I mean, your honour. Well, this gun is finished and painted, and I intended to split it, and have it up this very week. I suppose Joel has had it in his mind, quaker fashion."
"The Serjeant's right. That piece looks as much like a real cannon as one of our cathechisms is like another. The muzzle is more than a foot deep, and has a plaguy gunpowder look!"
"But this gun is not mounted; even if it were, it could only be set up for show," observed the captain.
"Put that cannon up once, and I'll answer for it that no Injin faces it. 'Twill be as good as a dozen sentinels," answered Joel. "As for mountin', I thought of that before I said a syllable about the crittur. There's the new truck-wheels in the court, all ready to hold it, and the carpenters can put the hinder part to the whull, in an hour or two, and that in a way no Injin could tell the difference between it and a ra'al cannon, at ten yards."
"This is plausible, your honour," said Joyce, respectfully, "and it shows that corporal Strides"—Joel insisted he was a serjeant, but the real Simon Pure never gave him a title higher than that of corporal—"and it shows that corporal Strides has an idea of war. By mounting that piece, and using it with discretion—refusing it, at the right moment, and showing it at another—a great deal might be done with it, either in a siege or an assault. If your honour will excuse the liberty, I would respectfully suggest that it might be well to set the quaker on his legs, and plant him at the gate, as an exhorter."
The captain reflected a moment, and then desired the overseer to proceed in his account. The rest of Joel's story was soon told. He had mystified the strangers, according to his own account of the matter, so thoroughly, by affecting to withhold nothing, that they considered him as a sort of ally, and did not put him in confinement at all. It is true, he was placed en surveillance; but the duty was so carelessly performed, that, at the right moment, he had passed down the ravine, a direction in which a movement was not expected, and buried himself in the woods, so very effectually that it would have baffled pursuit, had any been attempted. After making a very long detour, that consumed hours, he turned the entire valley, and actually reached the Hut, under the cover of the rivulet and its bushes, or precisely by the route in which he and Mike had gone forth, in quest of Maud, the evening of the major's arrival. This latter fact, however, Joel had reasons of his own for concealing.
"You have told us nothing of Mr. Woods, Strides," the captain observed, when Joel's account was ended.
"Mr. Woods! I can tell the captain nothing of that gentleman; I supposed he was here."
The manner in which the chaplain had left the Hut, and his disappearance in the ravine, were then explained to the overseer, who evidently had quitted the mill, on his return, before the divine performed his exploit. There was a sinister expression in Joel's eyes, as he heard the account, that might have given the alarm to men more suspicious than the two old soldiers; but he had the address to conceal all he felt or thought.
"If Mr. Woods has gone into the hands of the Injins, in his church shirt," rejoined the overseer, "his case is hopeless, so far as captivity is consarned. One of the charges ag'in the captain is, that the chaplain he keeps prays as regulairly for the king as he used to do when it was lawful, and agreeable to public feelin'."
"This you heard, while under examination before the magistrate you have named?" demanded the captain.
"As good as that, and something more to the same p'int. The 'squire complained awfully of a minister's prayin' for the king and r'yal family, when the country was fightin' 'em."
"In that, the Rev. Mr. Woods only obeys orders," said the serjeant.
"But they say not. The orders is gone out, now, they pretend, for no man to pray for any on 'em."
"Ay—orders from the magistrates, perhaps. But the Rev. Mr. Woods is a divine, and has his own superiors in the church, and they must issue the commands that he obeys. I dare to say, your honour, if the archbishop of Canterbury, or the commander-in-chief of the church, whoever he may be, should issue a general order directing all the parsons not to pray for King George, the Rev. Mr. Woods would have no scruple about obeying. But, it's a different thing when a justice of the peace undertakes to stand fugleman for the clergy. It's like a navy captain undertaking to wheel a regiment."
"Poor Woods!" exclaimed the captain—"Had he been ruled by me, he would have dropped those prayers, and it would have been better for us both. But, he is of your opinion, serjeant, and thinks that a layman can have no authority over a gownsman."
"And isn't he right, your honour! Think what a mess of it the militia officers make, when they undertake to meddle with a regular corps. Some of our greatest difficulties in the last war came from such awkward hands attempting to manage machines of which they had no just notions. As for praying, your honour, I'm no wise particular who I pray for, or what I pray for, so long as it be all set down in general orders that come from the right head-quarters; and I think the Rev. Mr. Woods ought to be judged by the same rule."
As the captain saw no use in prolonging the dialogue, he dismissed his companions. He then sought his wife, in order to make her acquainted with the actual state of things. This last was a painful duty, though Mrs. Willoughby and her daughters heard the truth with less of apprehension than the husband and father had anticipated. They had suffered so much from uncertainty, that there was a relief in learning the truth. The mother did not think the authorities of the colony would hurt her son, whom she fancied all men must, in a degree, love as she loved. Beulah thought of her own husband as Bob's safeguard; while Maud felt it to be comparative happiness to know he was unharmed, and still so near her.
This unpleasant duty discharged, the captain began to bethink him seriously of his military trust. After some reflection, and listening to a few more suggestions from Joyce, he consented to let the "quaker" be put on wheels. The carpenters were immediately set at work to achieve this job, which the serjeant volunteered to superintend, in person. As for Joel, his wife and children, with the miller, occupied most of the morning; the day turning, and even drawing towards its close, ere he became visible, as had formerly been his wont, among the men of the settlement.
All this time, everything without the palisades lay in the silence of nature. The sun cast its glories athwart the lovely scene, as in one of the Sabbaths of the woods; but man was nowhere visible. Not a hostile Indian, or white, exhibited himself; and the captain began to suspect that, satisfied with their captures, the party had commenced its return towards the river, postponing his own arrest for some other occasion. So strong did this impression become towards the close of the day, that he was actually engaged in writing to some friends of influence in Albany and on the Mohawk to interpose their names and characters in his son's behalf, when the serjeant, about nine o'clock, the hour when he had been ordered to parade the guard for the first half of the night, presented himself at the door of his room, to make an important report.
"What now, Joyce?" demanded the captain. "Are any of our fellows sleepy, and plead illness?"
"Worse than that, your honour, I greatly fear," was the answer. Of the ten men your honour commanded me to detail for the guard, five are missing. I set them down as deserters."
"Deserters!—This is serious, indeed; let the signal be made for a general parade—the people cannot yet have gone to bed; we will look into this."
As Joyce made it matter of religion "to obey orders," this command was immediately put in execution. In five minutes, a messenger came to summon the captain to the court, where the garrison was under arms. The serjeant stood in front of the little party, with a lantern, holding his muster-roll in his hand. The first glance told the captain that a serious reduction had taken place in his forces, and he led the serjeant aside to hear his report.
"What is the result of your inquiries, Joyce?" he demanded, with more uneasiness than he would have liked to betray openly.
"We have lost just half our men, sir. The miller, most of the Yankees, and two of the Dutchmen, are not on parade; neither is one of them to be found in his quarters. They have either gone over to the enemy, captain Willoughby, or, disliking the appearance of things here, they have taken to the woods for safety."
"And abandoned their wives and children, serjeant! Men would scarcely do that."
"Their wives and children have deserted too, sir. Not a chick or child belonging to either of the runaways is to be found in the Hut."
"For all the Welshmen, hearing thou wert dead, Are gone to Bolingbroke, dispersed and fled."
This was startling intelligence to receive just as night had shut in, and under the other circumstances of the case. Touching the men who still remained, captain Willoughby conceived it prudent to inquire into their characters and names, in order to ascertain the ground he stood on, and to govern his future course accordingly. He put the question to the serjeant, therefore, as soon as he could lead him far enough from the little array, to be certain he was out of ear-shot.
"We have Michael O'Hearn, Jamie Allen, the two carpenters, the three niggers, Joel, and the three Dutchmen that last came into the settlement, and the two lads that Strides engaged at the beginning of the year, left," was the answer. "These, counting your honour and myself, make just fifteen men; quite enough yet, I should think, to make good the house, in case of an assault—though I fear everything like an outwork must be abandoned."
"On the whole, these are the best of our men," returned the captain; "I mean the most trustworthy. I count on Mike, Jamie, and the blacks, as being as much to be relied on as we are ourselves. Joel, too, is a man of resources, if he will but do his duty under fire."
"Corporal Strides is still an untried soldier, your honour; though recruits, even, sometimes do wonders. Of course, I shall reduce the guard to half its former strength, as the men must have some sleep, sir."
"We must depend very much on your vigilance and mine, to-night, Joyce. You shall take the guard till one, when I will stand it for the rest of the night. I will speak to the men before you dismiss them. An encouraging word, just now, may be worth a platoon to us."
The serjeant seldom dissented from any suggestion of his commanding officer, and the scheme was carried out on the spot. The lantern was so placed as to permit the captain to see the heterogeneous row of countenances that was drawn up before him, and he proceeded:
"It seems, my friends," he said, "that some of our people have been seized with a panic, and have deserted. These mistaken men have not only fled themselves, but they have induced their wives and children to follow them. A little reflection will show you to what distress all must be reduced by this ill-judged flight. Fifty miles from another settlement of any size, and more than thirty from even a single hut, beyond the cabin of a hunter, days must pass before they can reach a place of safety, even should they escape the savage foe that we know to be scouring the woods. The women and children will not have sufficient art to conceal their trail, nor sufficient strength to hold out against hunger and fatigue many hours. God forgive them for what they have done, and guide them through the difficulties and pains by which they are menaced! As for us, we must determine to do our whole duty, or, at once to retire, with the consent of each other. If there is a man among you, then, who apprehends the consequences of standing to his arms, and of defending this house, let him confess it frankly; he shall have leave to depart, with all that belongs to him, taking food and the means of subsistence and defence with him. I wish no man to remain with me and mine, but he who can do it cheerfully. The night is now dark, and, by quitting the Hut at an early hour, such a start might be gained over any pursuers, as to place him in comparative security before morning. If any such man is here, let him now speak out honestly, and fear nothing. The gate shall be opened for his march."
The captain paused, but not a soul answered. A common sentiment of loyalty seemed to bind every one of the listeners to his duty. The dark eyes of the negroes rolled along the short rank to see who would be the first to desert their master, and grins of delight showed the satisfaction with which they noted the effect of the appeal. As for Mike, he felt too strongly to keep silence, and he muttered the passing impressions aloud.
"Och!"—growled the county Leitrim-man—"Is it a good journey that I wish the runaways? That it isn't, nor many a good male either, as they trudge alang t'rough the woods, with their own consciences forenent their eyes, pricking them up to come back, like so many t'ieves of the wor-r-ld, as they are, every mother's son of 'em, women and all. I'd nivir do that; no, not if my head was all scalp, down to the soles of my fut, and an Injin was at every inch of it, to cut out his summer clothes of my own skin. Talk of religion amang sich crathures!—Why, there isn't enough moral in one of thim to carry him through the shortest prayer the Lord allows a Christian to utter. Divil burn 'em say I, and that's my kindest wish in their behalf."
The captain waited patiently for this soliloquy to terminate; then he dismissed the men, with a few more words of encouragement, and his thanks for the fidelity they, at least, had shown. By this time the night had got to be dark, and the court was much more so, on account of the shadows of the buildings, than places in the open air. As the captain turned aside to give his last instructions to Joyce, he discovered, by the light of the lantern the latter held, a figure standing at no great distance, quite dimly seen on account of its proximity to the walls of the Hut. It was clearly a man; and as all the males able to bear arms, a single sentinel outside the court excepted, were supposed to be in the group that had not yet separated, the necessity of ascertaining the character of this unlooked-for visiter flashed on the minds of both the old soldiers at the same instant. Joyce raised the lantern, as they moved quickly towards the motionless form, and its light glanced athwart a pair of wild, glowing, dark eyes, and the red visage of an Indian.
"Nick!" exclaimed the captain, "is that you?—What has brought you here again, and how have you entered the palisades?—Do you come as a friend, to aid us, or as an enemy?"
"Too much question, cap'in—too much like squaw; ask all togeder. Go to book-room; Nick follow; tell all he got to say."
The captain whispered the serjeant to ascertain whether the watch without was vigilant, when he led the way to the library, where, as he expected, he found his wife and daughters, anxiously waiting his appearance.
"Oh! Hugh, I trust it is not as bad as we feared!" cried the mother, as the captain entered the room, closely attended by the Tuscarora; "our men cannot be so heartless as to desert us at such a moment!"
The captain kissed his wife, said a word or two of encouragement, and pointed to the Indian.
"Nick!" exclaimed all three of the females, in a breath. Though the tones of their voices denoted very different sensations, at the unexpected appearance of their old acquaintance. Mrs. Willoughby's exclamation was not without pleasure, for she thought the man her friend. Beulah's was filled with alarm, little Evert and savage massacres suddenly crossing the sensitive mind of the young mother; while Maud's tone had much of the stern resolution that she had summoned to sustain her in a moment of such fearful trial.
"Yes, Nick—Sassy Nick," repeated the Indian, in his guttural voice—"Ole friend—you no glad see him?"
"That will depend on your errand," interposed the captain. "Are you one of the party that is now lying at the mill?—but, stop; how did you get within the palisades? First answer me that."
"Come in. Tree no good to stop Injin. Can't do it wid branches, how do it widout? Want plenty of musket and plenty of soldier to do dat. Dis no garrison, cap'in, to make Nick afeard. Always tell him too much hole to be tight."
"This is not answering my question, fellow. By what means did you pass the palisades?"
"What means?—Injin means, sartain. Came like cat, jump like deer, slide like snake. Nick great Tuscarora chief; know well how warrior march, when he dig up hatchet."
"And Nick has been a great hanger-on of garrisons, and should know the use that I can make of his back. You will remember, Tuscarora, that I have had you flogged, more than once, in my day."
This was said menacingly, and with more warmth, perhaps, than was prudent. It caused the listeners to start, as if a sudden and new danger rose before their eyes, and the anxious looks he encountered warned the captain that he was probably going too far. As for Nick, himself, the gathering thunder-cloud is not darker than his visage became at the words he heard; it seemed by the moral writhing of his spirit as if every disgracing blow he had received was at that instant torturing his flesh anew, blended with the keenest feelings of ignominy. Captain Willoughby was startled at the effect he had produced; but it was too late to change his course; and he remained in dignified quiet, awaiting the workings of the Tuscarora's mind.
It was more than a minute ere Nick made any reply. Gradually, but very slowly, the expression of his visage changed. It finally became as stoical in expression as severe training could render the human countenance, and as unmoved as marble. Then he found the language he wanted.
"Listen," said the Indian, sternly. "Cap'in ole man. Got a head like snow on rock. He bold soldier; but he no got wisdom enough for gray hair. Why he put he hand rough, on place where whip strike? Wise man nebber do aat. Last winter he cold; fire wanted to make him warm. Much ice, much storm, much snow. World seem bad—fit only for bear, and snake, dat hide in rock. Well; winter gone away; ice gone away; snow gone away; storm gone away. Summer come, in his place. Ebbery t'ing good—ebbery t'ing pleasant. Why t'ink of winter, when summer come, and drive him away wid pleasant sky?"
"In order to provide for its return. He who never thought of the evil day, in the hour of his prosperity, would find that he has forgotten, not only a duty, but the course of wisdom."
"He not wise!" said Nick, sternly. "Cap'in pale-face chief. He got garrison; got soldier; got musket. Well, he flog warrior's back; make blood come. Dat bad enough; worse to put finger on ole sore, and make 'e pain, and 'e shame, come back ag'in."
"Perhaps it would have been more generous, Nick, to have said nothing about it; but, you see how I am situated; an enemy without, my men deserting, a bad look-out, and one finding his way into my very court- yard, and I ignorant of the means."
"Nick tell cap'in all about means. If red-men outside, shoot 'em; if garrison run away, flog garrison; if don't know, l'arn; but, don't flog back, ag'in, on ole sore!"
"Well, well, say no more about it, Nick. Here is a dollar to keep you in rum, and we will talk of other matters."
Nick heeded not the money, though it was held before his eyes, some little time, to tempt him. Perceiving that the Tuscarora was now acting as a warrior and a chief, which Nick would do, and do well, on occasion, the captain pocketed the offering, and regulated his own course accordingly.
"At all events, I have a right to insist on knowing, first, by what means you entered the palisades; and, second, what business has brought you here, at night, and so suddenly."
"Ask Nick, cap'in, all he right to ask; but, don't touch ole flog. How I cross palisade? Where your sentinel to stop Injin? One at gate; well, none all round, t'other place. Get in, up here, down dere, over yonder. Ten, twenty, t'ree spot—s'pose him tree? climb him. S'pose him palisade?—climb him, too. What help?—Soldier out at gate when Nick get over t'other end! Come in court, too, when he want. Half gate half no gate. So easy, 'shamed to brag of. Cap'in once Nick's friend—went on same war-path—dat in ole time. Both warrior; both went ag'in French garrison. Well; who crept in, close by cannon, open gate, let pale-men in. Great Tuscarora do dat; no flog, den—no talk of ole sore, dat night!"
"This is all true enough, Wyandotte"—This was Nick's loftiest appellation; and a grim, but faint smile crossed his visage, as he heard it, again, in the mouth of one who had known him when its sound carried terror to the hearts of his enemies—"This is all true, Wyandotte, and I have even given you credit for it. On that occasion you were bold as the lion, and as cunning as a fox—you were much honoured for that exploit."
"No ole sore in dat, um?" cried Nick, in a way so startling as to sicken Mrs. Willoughby to the heart. "No call Nick dog, dat night. He all warrior, den—all face; no back."
"I have said you were honoured for your conduct, Nick, and paid for it. Now, let me know what has brought you here to-night, and whence you come."
There was another pause. Gradually, the countenance of the Indian became less and less fierce, until it lost its expression of malignant resentment in one in which human emotions of a kinder nature predominated.
"Squaw good," he said, even gently, waving his hand towards Mrs. Willoughby—"Got son; love him like little baby. Nick come six, two time before, runner from her son."
"My son, Wyandotte!" exclaimed the mother—"Bring you any tidings, now, from my boy?"
"No bring tidin'—too heavy; Indian don't love to carry load—bring letter"
The cry from the three females was now common, each holding out her hand, with an involuntary impulse, to receive the note. Nick drew the missive from a fold of his garment, and placed it in the hand of Mrs. Willoughby, with a quiet grace that a courtier might have wished to equal, in vain.
The note was short, and had been written in pencil, on a leaf torn from some book of coarse paper. The handwriting however, was at once recognised as Robert Willoughby's though there was no address, nor any signature. The paper merely contained the following—
"Trust to your defences, and to nothing else. This party has many white men in it, disguised as Indians. I am suspected, if not known. You will be tampered with, but the wisest course is to be firm. If Nick is honest, he can tell you more; if false, this note will be shown, even though it be delivered. Secure the inner gates, and depend more on the house itself, than on the palisades. Fear nothing for me—my life can be in no danger."
This note was read by each, in succession, Maud turning aside to conceal the tears that fell fast on the paper, as she perused it. She read it last, and was enabled to retain it; and precious to her heart was the boon, at such a moment, when nearly every sensation of her being centred in intense feeling in behalf of the captive.
"We are told to inquire the particulars of you, Nick," observed the captain; "I hope you will tell us nothing but truth. A lie is so unworthy a warrior's mouth!"
"Nick didn't lie 'bout beaver dam! Cap'in no find him good, as Indian say?"
"In that you dealt honestly, and I give you credit for it. Has any one seen this letter but ourselves, yourself, and the person who wrote it?"
"What for ask? If Nick say no, cap'in t'ink he lie. Even fox tell trut' some time; why not Injin? Nick say no."
"Where did you leave my son, and when?—Where is the party of red-skins at this moment?"
"All pale-face in hurry! Ask ten, one, four question, altogeder. Well; answer him so. Down here, at mill; down dere, at mill; half an hour, six, two, ten o'clock."
"I understand you to say that major Willoughby was at the mill when you saw him last, and that this was only half an hour since?"
The Tuscarora nodded his head in assent, but made no other reply. Even as he did this, his keen eyes rolled over the pallid faces of the females in a way to awaken the captain's distrust, and he resumed his questions in a tone that partook more of the military severity of his ancient habits than of the gentler manner he had been accustomed to use of late years.
"You know me, Nick," he said sternly, "and ought to dread my displeasure."
"What cap'in mean, now?" demanded the Indian, quietly.
"That the same whip is in this fort that I always kept in the other, in which you knew me to dwell; nor have I forgotten how to use it."
The Tuscarora gazed at the captain with a very puzzling expression, though, in the main, his countenance appeared to be ironical rather than fierce.
"What for, talk of whip, now?" he said. "Even Yengeese gen'ral hide whip, when he see enemy. Soldier can't fight when back sore. When battle near, den all good friend; when battle over, den flog, flog, flog. Why talk so?—Cap'in nebber strike Wyandotte."
"Your memory must be short, to say this! I thought an Indian kept a better record of what passed."
"No man dare strike Wyandotte!" exclaimed the Indian, with energy. "No man—pale-face or red-skin, can give blow on back of Wyandotte, and see sun set!"
"Well—well—Nick; we will not dispute on this point, but let bye-gones be bye-gones. What has happened, has happened, and I hope will never occur again."
"Dat happen to Nick—Sassy Nick—poor, drunken Nick—to Wyandotte, nebber!"
"I believe I begin to understand you, now, Tuscarora, and am glad I have a chief and a warrior in my house, instead of a poor miserable outcast. Shall I have the pleasure of filling you a glass in honour of our old campaigns?"
"Nick alway dry—Wyandotte know no thirst. Nick, beggar—ask for rum—pray for rum—t'ink of rum, talk of rum, laugh for rum, cry for rum. Wyandotte don't know rum, when he see him. Wyandotte beg not'in'; no, not his scalp."
"All this sounds well, and I am both willing and glad, chief, to receive you in the character in which you give me to understand you have now come. A warrior of Wyandotte's high name is too proud to carry a forked tongue in his mouth, and I shall hear nothing but truth. Tell me, then, all you know about this party at the mill; what has brought it here, how you came to meet my son, and what will be the next step of his captors. Answer the questions in the order in which I put them."
"Wyandotte not newspaper to tell ebbery t'ing at once. Let cap'in talk like one chief speaking to anoder."
"Then, tell me first, what you know of this party at the mill. Are there many pale-faces in it?"
"Put 'em in the river," answered the Indian, sententiously; "water tell the trut'."
"You think that there are many among them that would wash white?"
"Wyandotte know so. When did red warriors ever travel on their path like hogs in drove? One red-man there, as Great Spirit make him; by his side two red-men as paint make 'em. This soon told on trail."
"You struck their trail, then, and joined their company, in that manner?"
Another nod indicated the assent of the Indian. Perceiving that the Tuscarora did not intend to speak, the captain continued his interrogatories.
"And how did the trail betray this secret, chief?" he asked.
"Toe turn out—step too short—trail too broad—trail too plain—march too short."
"You must have followed them some distance, Wyandotte, to learn all this?"
"Follow from Mohawk—join 'em at mill. Tuscarora don't like too much travel with Mohawk."
"But, according to your account, there cannot be a great many red-skins in the party, if the white men so much out-number them."
Nick, now, raised his right hand, showing all the fingers and the thumb, at each exhibition, four several times. Then he raised it once, showing only the fore-finger and thumb.
"This makes twenty-two, Nick—Do you include yourself in the number?"
"Wyandotte, a Tuscarora—he count Mohawks"
"True—Are there any other red-men among them?"
"Oneida, so"—holding up four fingers only. After which he held up a single finger, adding—"Onondaga, so."
"Twenty-two Mohawks, four Oneidas, and a single Onondaga, make twenty- seven in all. To these, how many whites am I to add?—You counted them, also?"
The Indian now showed both hands, with all the fingers extended, repeating the gestures four times; then he showed one hand entire, and two fingers on the other.
"Forty-seven. Add these to the red-skins, and we get seventy-four for the total. I had supposed them rather stronger than this, Wyandotte?"
"No stronger—no weaker—just so. Good many ole womans, too, among pale-faces."
"Old women!—You are not speaking literally, Nick? All that I have seen appear to be men."
"Got beard; but ole woman, too. Talk—talk—talk;—do not'in'. Dat what Injin call ole woman. Party, poor party; cap'in beat 'em, if he fight like ole time."
"Well, this is encouraging, Wilhelmina, and Nick seems to be dealing fairly with us."
"Now, inquire more about Robert, Hugh"—said the wife, in whose maternal heart her children were always uppermost.
"You hear, Nick; my wife is desirous of learning something about her son, next."
During the preceding dialogue, there had been something equivocal in the expression of the Indian's face. Every word he uttered about the party, its numbers, and his own manner of falling in with it, was true, and his countenance indicated that he was dealing fairly. Still, the captain fancied that he could detect a covert fierceness in his eye and air, and he felt uneasiness even while he yielded him credence. As soon as Mrs. Willoughby, however, interposed, the gleam of ferocity that passed so naturally and readily athwart the swarthy features of the savage, melted into a look of gentleness, and there were moments when it might be almost termed softness.
"Good to have moder"—said Nick, kindly. "Wyandotte got no squaw—wife dead, moder dead, sister dead—all gone to land of spirits—bye'm-by, chief follow. No one throw stone on his grave! Been on death-path long ago, but cap'in's squaw say 'stop, Nick; little too soon, now; take medicine, and get well.' Squaw made to do good. Chief alway like 'e squaw, when his mind not wild with war."
"And your mind, Wyandotte, is not wild with war, now," answered Mrs. Willoughby, earnestly. "You will help a mother, then, to get her son out of the hands of merciless enemies?"
"Why you t'ink merciless? Because pale-face dress like Injin, and try to cheat?"
"That may be one reason; but I fear there are many others. Tell me, Wyandotte, how came you to discover that Robert was a prisoner, and by what means did he contrive to give you his letter?"
The Indian assumed a look of pride, a little blended with hauteur; for he felt that he was manifesting the superiority of a red-man over the pale-face, as he related the means through which he had made his discoveries.
"Read book on ground," Nick answered gravely. "Two book alway open before chief; one in sky, t'other on ground. Book in sky, tell weather—snow, rain, wind, thunder, lightning, war—book on ground, tell what happen."
"And what had this book on the ground to do with my son, Wyandotte?"
"Tell all about him. Major's trail first seen at mill. No moccasin— much boot. Soldier boot like letter—say great deal, in few word. First t'ink it cap'in; but it too short. Den know it Major."
"This sounds very well, Nick," interrupted the captain, "though you will excuse me if I say it is going a little too far. It seems impossible that you should know that the print of the foot was that of my son. How could you be certain of this?"
"How could, eh? Who follow trail from house, here, to Hudson river? T'ink Nick blind, and can't see? Tuscarora read his book well as pale-face read bible." Here Nick looked round him a moment, raised his fore-finger, dropped his voice, and added earnestly—"see him at Bunker Hill—know him among ten, six, two t'ousand warrior. Know dat foot, if meet him in Happy Hunting Ground."
"And why my son's foot, in particular? The boot is often changed, can never be exactly like its predecessor, and one boot is so much like another, that to me the thing seems impossible. This account of the boot, Nick, makes me distrust your whole story."
"What distrust?" demanded the Indian like lightning.
"It means doubt, uncertainty—distrust."
"Don't believe, ha?"
"Yes, that is it, substantially. Don't more than half believe, perhaps, would be nearer to the mark."
"Why, ole soldier alway distrust; squaw nebber? Ask moder—ha!—you t'ink Nick don't know son's trail—handsome trail, like young chief's?"
"I can readily believe Nick might recognise Bob's trail, Hugh"— expostulated Mrs. Willoughby. "He has a foot in a thousand—you may remember how every one was accustomed to speak of his beautiful foot, even when he was a boy. As a man, I think it still more remarkable."
"Ay, go on, Nick, in this way, and my wife will believe all you say. There is no distrust in a mother's partiality, certainly. You are an old courtier, and would make your way at St. James's."
"Major nebber tell about foot?" asked Nick, earnestly.
"I remember nothing; and had he spoken of any such thing, I must have heard it. But, never mind the story, now; you saw the foot-print, and knew it for my son's. Did you ask to be admitted to his prison? or was your intercourse secret?"
"Wyandotte too wise to act like squaw, or boy. See him, widout look. Talk, widout speak—hear, widout ear. Major write letter, Nick take him. All done by eye and hand; not'in' done by tongue, or at Council Fire. Mohawk blind like owl!"
"May I believe you, Tuscarora; or, incited by demons, do you come to deceive me?"
"Ole warrior look two time before he go; t'ink ten time before he say, yes. All good. Nick no affronted. Do so himself, and t'ink it right. Cap'in may believe all Nick say."
"Father!" cried Maud, with simple energy, "I will answer for the Indian's honesty. He has guided Robert so often, and been with him in so many trying scenes, he never can have the heart to betray him, or us. Trust him, then he may be of infinite service."
Even captain Willoughby, little disposed as he was to judge Nick favourably, was struck with the gleam of mamy kindness that shot across the dark face of the Indian, as he gazed at the glowing cheek and illuminated countenance of the ardent and beautiful girl.
"Nick seems disposed to make a truce with you, at least, Maud," he said, smiling, "and I shall now know where to look for a mediator, whenever any trouble arises between us."
"I have known Wyandotte, dear sir, from childhood, and he has ever been my friend. He promised me, in particular, to be true to Bob, and I am happy to say he has ever kept his word."
This was telling but half the story. Maud had made the Indian many presents, and most especially had she attended to his wants, when it was known he was to be the major's guide, the year previously, on his return to Boston. Nick had known her real father, and was present at his death. He was consequently acquainted with her actual position in the family of the Hutted Knoll; and, what was of far more consequence in present emergencies, he had fathomed the depths of her heart, in a way our heroine could hardly be said to have done herself. Off her guard with such a being, Maud's solicitude, however, had betrayed her, and the penetrating Tuscarora had discerned that which had escaped the observation of father, and mother, and sister. Had Nick been a pale- face, of the class of those with whom he usually associated, his discovery would have gone through the settlement, with scoffings and exaggerations; but this forest gentleman, for such was Wyandotte, in spite of his degradation and numerous failings, had too much consideration to make a woman's affections the subject of his coarseness and merriment. The secrets of Maud would not have been more sacred with her own brother, had such a relative existed to become her confidant, than it was with Saucy Nick.
"Nick gal's friend," observed the Indian, quietly; "dat enough; what Nick say, Nick mean. What Nick mean, he do. Come, cap'in; time to quit squaw, and talk about war."
At this hint, which was too plain to be misunderstood, captain Willoughby bade the Indian withdraw to the court, promising to follow him, as soon as he could hold a short conference with Joyce, who was now summoned to the council. The subject of discussion was the manner in which the Tuscarora had passed the stockade, and the probability of his being true. The serjeant was disposed to distrust all red-men, and he advised putting Nick under arrest, and to keep him in durance, until the return of light, at least.
"I might almost say, your honour, that such are orders, sir. The advice to soldiers carrying on war with savages, tells us that the best course is to pay off treachery with treachery; and treachery is a red-skin's manual exercise. There is O'Hearn will make a capital sentinel, for the fellow is as true as the best steel in the army. Mr. Woods' room is empty, and it is so far out of the way that nothing will be easier than to keep the savage snug enough. Besides, by a little management, he might fancy we were doing him honour all the while."
"We will see, serjeant," answered the captain. "It has a bad appearance, and yet it may be the wisest thing we can do. Let us first go the rounds, taking Nick with us for safety, and determine afterwards."
"His hand was stay'd—he knew not why; 'Twas a presence breathed around— A pleading from the deep-blue sky, And up from the teeming ground. It told of the care that lavish'd had been In sunshine and in dew— Of the many things that had wrought a screen When peril round it grew."
Mrs. Seba Smith.
The desertions gave not only the captain, but his great support and auxiliary, the serjeant, the gravest apprehensions. A disposition of that nature is always contagious, men abandoning a failing cause much as rats are known to quit a sinking ship. It is not a matter of surprise, therefore, that the distrust which accompanied the unexpected appearance of the Tuscarora, became associated with this falling off in the loyalty of the garrison, in the minds of the two old soldiers.
"I do think, your honour," said Joyce, as they entered the court together, "that we may depend on O'Hearn, and Jamie, and Strides. The latter, as a matter of course, being a corporal, or serjeant as he calls himself; and the two first, as men who have no ties but such as would be likely to keep them true to this family. But here is the corporal to speak for himself."
As this was said, corporal Strides, as the serjeant persisted in terming Joel, on the ground that being but one step higher himself, the overseer could justly claim no rank of greater pretension, approached the captain, taking care to make the military salute which Joyce had never succeeded before in extracting from him, notwithstanding a hundred admonitions on the subject.
"This is a distressing affair, captain Willoughby," observed Joel, in his most jesuitical manner; "and to me it is altogether onaccountable! It does seem to me ag'in natur', for a man to desart his own household and hum' (Joel meant 'home') in the hour of trial. If a fellow- being wunt (Anglice 'wont') stand by his wife and children, he can hardly be expected to do any of his duties."
"Quite true. Strides," answered the confiding captain, "though these deserters are not altogether as bad as you represent, since, you will remember, they have carried their wives and children with them."
"I believe they have, sir—yes, that must be allowed to be true, and that it is, which to me seems the most extr'or'nary. The very men that a person would calcilate on the most, or the heads of families, have desarted, while them that remain behind are mostly single!"
"If we single men have no wives and children of our own to fight for, Strides," observed Joyce, with a little military stiffness, "we have the wife and children of captain Willoughby; no man who wishes to sell his life dearly, need look for a better motive."
"Thank you, serjeant," the captain said, feelingly—"On you, I can rely as on myself. So long as I have you, and Joel, here, and Mike and the blacks, and the rest of the brave fellows who have stood by me thus far, I shall not despair. We can make good the house against ten times our own number. But, it is time to look to the Indians."
"I was going to speak to the captain about Nick," put in Joel, who had listened to the eulogium on his own fidelity with some qualms of conscience. "I can't say I like the manner he has passed between the two parties; and that fellow has always seemed to me as if he owed the captain a mortal grudge; when an Injin does owe a grudge, he is pretty sartain to pay it, in full."
"This has passed over my mind, too, I will confess, Joel; yet Nick and I have been on reasonably good terms, when one comes to remember his character, on the one side, and the fact that I have commanded a frontier garrison on the other. If I have had occasion to flog him a few times, I have also had occasion to give him more rum than has done him good, with now and then a dollar."
"There I think the captain miscalcilates," observed Joel with a knowledge of human nature that would have been creditable to him, had he practised on it himself. "No man is thankful for rum when the craving is off, sin' he knows he has been taking an inimy into his stomach; and as for the money, it was much the same as giving the liquor, seem' that it went for liquor as soon as he could trot down to the mill. A man will seek his revenge for rum, as soon as for anything else, when he gets to feel injuries uppermost. Besides, I s'pose the captain knows an injury will be remembered long a'ter a favour is forgotten."
"This may be true, Strides, and certainly I shall keep my eyes on the Indian. Can you mention any particular act, that excites your suspicion?"
"Don't the captain think Nick may have had suthin' to do with the desartions?—A dozen men would scarce desart all at once, as it might be, onless someone was at the bottom of it."
This was true enough, certainly, though Joel chose to keep out of view all his own machinations and arts on the subject. The captain was struck by the suggestion, and he determined to put his first intention in respect to Nick in force immediately. Still, it was necessary to proceed with caution, the state of the Hut rendering a proper watch and a suitable prison difficult to be obtained. These circumstances were mentioned to the overseer, who led the way to the part of the buildings occupied by his own family; and, throwing open the doors, ostentatiously exhibited Phoebe and her children in their customary beds, at a moment when so many others had proved recreant. His professed object was to offer a small closet in his own rooms as a prison for Nick, remarking he must be an ingenious savage indeed, if he could escape the vigilance of as many watchful eyes as would then be on him.
"I believe you, Strides," said the captain, smiling as he walked away from the place; "if he can escape Phoebe and her children, the fellow must be made of quicksilver. Still, I have a better prison in view. I am glad to see this proof, however, of your own fidelity, by finding all your family in their beds; for those are not wanting who would have me suspect even you"
"Me!—Well, if the captain can't count on his own overseer, I should like to ask such persons on whom he can count? Madam Willoughby and the young ladies isn't more likely to remain true than I am, myself, I should think—What in reason, or natur', or all lawful objects, could make me——"
Joel was about to run into that excess of vindication that is a little apt to mark guilt; but, the captain cut him short, by telling him it was unnecessary, recommending vigilance, and walking away in search of Nick.
The Indian was found standing beneath the arch of the gateway, upright, motionless, and patient. A lantern was kept burning here, the place being used as a sort of guard-house; and, by its light, it was easy to perceive the state of the still unhung leaf of the passage. This leaf, however, was propped in its place, by strong timbers; and, on the whole, many persons would think it the most secure half of the gate. Captain Willoughby observed that the Indian was studying this arrangement when he entered the place himself. The circumstance caused him uneasiness, and quickened his determination to secure the Indian.
"Well, Nick," he said, concealing his intention under an appearance of indifference, "you see our gates are well fastened, and steady hands and quick eyes will do the rest. It is getting late, and I wish to have you comfortably lodged before I lie down myself. Follow me, and I will show you to a place where you will be at your ease."
The Tuscarora understood the captain's object the instant he spoke of giving him comfortable lodgings, a bed being a thing that was virtually unknown to his habits. But, he raised no objections, quietly treading in the other's footsteps, until both were in the bed-room of the absent Mr. Woods. The apartments of the chaplain were above the library, and, being in the part of the house that was fortified by the cliff, they had dormer windows that looked toward the forest. The height of these windows the captain thought would be a sufficient security against flight; and by setting Mike and one of the Plinys on the look-out, to relieve each other at intervals of four hours, he thought the Tuscarora might be kept until the return of light. The hour when he most apprehended danger was that which just precedes the day, sleep then pressing the heaviest on the sentinel's eyelids, and rest having refreshed the assailants.
"Here, Wyandotte, I intend you shall pass the night," said the captain, assuming as much courtesy of manner as if he were doing the honours of his house to an invited and honoured guest. "I know you despise a bed, but there are blankets, and by spreading them on the floor, you can make your own arrangements."
Nick made a gesture of assent, looking cautiously around him, carefully avoiding every appearance of curiosity at the same time, more in pride of character, however, than in cunning. Nevertheless, he took in the history of the locality at a glance.
"It is well," he said; "a Tuscarora chief no t'ink of sleep. Sleep come standing, walking; where he will, when he will. Dog eats, den lie down to sleep; warrior always ready. Good bye, cap'in—to- morrow see him ag'in."
"Good night, Nick. I have ordered your old friend Mike, the Irishman, to come and sit in your room, lest you might want something in the night. You are good friends with Mike, I believe; I chose him on that account."
The Indian understood this, too; but not an angry gleam, no smile, nor any other sign, betrayed his consciousness of the captain's motives.
"Mike good" he answered, with emphasis. "Long tongue—short t'ink. Say much; mean little. Heart sound, like hard oak—mind, like spunk—burn quick, no too much strong."
This sententious and accurate delineation of the county Leitrim-man's characteristics induced a smile in the captain; but, O'Hearn entering at the moment, and possessing his entire confidence, he saw no use in replying. In another minute the two worthies were left in possession of the bed-room, Michael having received a most solemn injunction not to be tempted to drink.
It was now so late, the captain determined to let the regular watches of the night take their course. He held a short consultation with Joyce, who took the first ward, and then threw himself on a mattrass, in his clothes, his affectionate wife having done the same thing, by the side of her daughters and grandson in an adjoining room. In a short time, the sounds of footsteps ceased in the Hut; and, one unacquainted with the real state of the household, might have fancied that the peace and security of one of its ancient midnights were reigning about the Knoll.
It was just two in the morning, when the serjeant tapped lightly at the door of his commanding officer's room. The touch was sufficient to bring the captain to his feet, and he instantly demanded the news.
"Nothing but sentry-go, your honour," replied Joyce. "I am as fresh as a regiment that is just marching out of barracks, and can easily stand the guard till daylight. Still, as it was orders to call your honour at two, I could do no less, you know, sir."
"Very well, serjeant—I will just wash my eyes, and be with you in a minute. How has the night gone?"
"Famously quiet, sir. Not even an owl to trouble it. The sentinels have kept their eyes wide open, dread of the scalping-knife being a good wakener, and no sign of any alarm has been seen. I will wait for your honour, in the court, the moment of relieving guard being often chosen by a cunning enemy for the assault."
"Yes," sputtered the captain, his face just emerging from the water—"if he happen to know when that is."
In another minute, the two old soldiers were together in the court, waiting the return of Jamie Allen with his report, the mason having been sent round to the beds of the fresh men to call the guard. It was not long, however, before the old man was seen hastening towards the spot where Joyce had bid him come.
"The Lord ha' maircy on us, and on a' wretched sinners!" exclaimed Jamie, as soon as near enough to be heard without raising his voice on too high a key—"there are just the beds of the three Connecticut lads that were to come into the laird's guard, as empty as a robin's nest fra' which the yang ha' flown!"