It was impossible for Maud not to understand all this. Robert Willoughby loved her; he had taken this mode of telling his passion. He had been on the point of doing this in words the very day before; and now he availed himself of the only means that offered of completing the tale. A flood of tenderness gushed to the heart of Maud, as she passed over all this in her mind; and, from that moment, she ceased to feel shame at the recollection of her own attachment. She might still have shrunk a little from avowing it to her father, and mother, and Beulah; but, as to herself the world, and the object of her affections, she now stood perfectly vindicated in her own eyes.
That was a precious half-hour which succeeded. For the moment, all present dangers were lost sight of, in the glow of future hopes. Maud's imagination portrayed scenes of happiness, in which domestic duties, Bob beloved, almost worshipped, and her father and mother happy in the felicity of their children, were the prominent features; while Beulah and little Evert filled the back-ground of the picture in colours of pleasing softness. But these were illusions that could not last, for ever, the fearful realities of her situation returning with the greater consciousness of existence. Still, Bob might now be loved, without wounding any of the sensitiveness of her sex's opinions; and dearly, engrossingly, passionately was he rewarded, for the manner in which he had thought of letting her know the true state of his heart, at a moment when he had so much reason to think only of himself.
It was time for Maud to return to her mother and sister. The box was carefully concealed, leaving the hair in its old envelope, and she hurried to the nursery. On entering the room, she found that her father had just preceded her. The captain was grave, more thoughtful than usual, and his wife, accustomed to study his countenance for so much of her happiness, saw at once that something lay heavy on his mind.
"Has anything out of the way happened, Hugh?" she asked, "to give you uneasiness?"
Captain Willoughby drew a chair to the side of that of his wife, seated himself, and took her hand before he answered. Little Evert, who sat on her knee, was played with, for a moment, as if to defer a disagreeable duty; not till then did he even speak.
"You know, dearest Wilhelmina," the captain finally commenced, "that there have never been any concealments between us, on the score of danger, even when I was a professed soldier, and might be said to carry my life in my hand."
"You have ever found me reasonable, I trust, while feeling like a woman, mindful of my duty as a wife?"
"I have, love; this is the reason I have always dealt with you so frankly."
"We understand each other, Hugh. Now tell me the worst at once."
"I am not certain you will think there is any worst about it, Wilhelmina, as Bob's liberty is the object. I intend to go out myself, at the head of all the white men that remain, in order to deliver him from the hands of his enemies. This will leave you, for a time—six or seven hours perhaps—in the Hut, with only the three blacks as a guard, and with the females. You need have no apprehension of an assault, however, everything indicating a different intention on the part of our enemies; on that score you may set your hearts at rest."
"All my apprehensions and prayers will be for you, my husband—for ourselves, we care not."
"This I expected; it is to lessen these very apprehensions that I have come to tell you my whole plan."
Captain Willoughby now related, with some minuteness, the substance of Mike's report, and his own plan, of the last of which we have already given an outline. Everything had been well matured in his mind, and all promised success. The men were apprised of the service on which they were to be employed, and every one of them had manifested the best spirit. They were then busy in equipping themselves; in half an hour they would be ready to march.
To all this Mrs. Willoughby listened like a soldier's wife, accustomed to the risks of a frontier warfare, though she felt like a woman. Beulah pressed little Evert to her heart, while her pallid countenance was turned to her father with a look that seemed to devour every syllable. As for Maud, a strange mixture of dread and wild delight were blended in her bosom. To have Bob liberated, and restored to them, was approaching perfect happiness, though it surpassed her powers not to dread misfortunes. Nevertheless, the captain was so clear in his explanations, so calm in his manner, and of a judgment so approved, that his auditors felt far less concern than might naturally have been expected.
"March—march—march! Making sounds as they tread, Ho-ho! how they step, Going down to the dead."
The time Maud consumed in her meditations over the box and its contents, had been employed by the captain in preparations for his enterprise. Joyce, young Blodget, Jamie and Mike, led by their commander in person, were to compose the whole force on the occasion; and every man had been busy in getting his arms, ammunition and provisions ready, for the last half-hour. When captain Willoughby, therefore, had taken leave of his family, he found the party in a condition to move.
The first great desideratum was to quit the Hut unseen. Joel and his followers were still at work, in distant fields; but they all carefully avoided that side of the Knoll which would have brought them within reach of the musket, and this left all behind the cliff unobserved, unless Indians were in the woods in that direction. As Mike had so recently passed in by that route, however, the probability was the whole party still remained in the neighbourhood of the mills, where all accounts agreed in saying they mainly kept. It was the intention of the captain, therefore, to sally by the rivulet and the rear of the house, and to gain the woods under cover of the bushes on the banks of the former, as had already been done by so many since the inroad.
The great difficulty was to quit the house, and reach the bed of the stream, unseen. This step, however, was a good deal facilitated by means of Joel's sally-port, the overseer having taken, himself, all the precautions against detection of which the case well admitted. Nevertheless, there was the distance between the palisades and the base of the rocks, some forty or fifty yards, which was entirely uncovered, and had to be passed under the notice of any wandering eyes that might happen to be turned in that quarter. After much reflection, the captain and serjeant came to the conclusion to adopt the following mode of proceeding.
Blodget passed the hole, by himself, unarmed, rolling down the declivity until he reached the stream. Here a thicket concealed him sufficiently, the bushes extending along the base of the rocks, following the curvature of the rivulet. Once within these bushes, there was little danger of detection. As soon as it was ascertained that the young man was beneath the most eastern of the outer windows of the northern wing, the only one of the entire range that had bushes directly under it, all the rifles were lowered down to him, two at a time, care being had that no one should appear at the window during the operation. This was easily effected, jerks of the rope sufficing for the necessary signals to haul in the line. The ammunition succeeded; and in this manner, all the materials of offence and defence were soon collected on the margin of the stream.
The next step was to send the men out, one by one, imitating the precautions taken by Blodget. Each individual had his own provisions, and most of the men carried some sort of arms, such as a pistol, or a knife, about his person. In half an hour the four men were armed, and waited for the leader, concealed by the bushes on the border of the brook. It only remained for captain Willoughby to give some instructions to those he left in the Hut, and to follow.
Pliny the elder, in virtue of his years, and some experience in Indian warfare, succeeded to the command of the garrison, in the absence of its chief. Had there remained a male white at the Knoll, this trust never could have devolved on him, it being thought contrary to the laws of nature for a negro to command one of the other colour; but such was not the fact, and Pliny the elder succeeded pretty much as a matter of course. Notwithstanding, he was to obey not only his particular old mistress, but both his young mistresses, who exercised an authority over him that was not to be disputed, without doing violence to all the received notions of the day. To him, then, the captain issued his final orders, bidding him be vigilant, and above all to keep the gates closed.
As soon as this was done, the husband and father went to his wife and children to take a last embrace. Anxious not to excite too strong apprehensions by his manner, this was done affectionately—solemnly, perhaps—but with a manner so guarded as to effect his object.
"I shall look for no other signal, or sign of success, Hugh," said the weeping wife, "than your own return, accompanied by our dearest boy. When I can hold you both in my arms, I shall be happy, though all the Indians of the continent were in the valley."
"Do not miscalculate as to time, Wilhelmina. That affectionate heart of yours sometimes travels over time and space in a way to give its owner unnecessary pain. Remember we shall have to proceed with great caution, both in going and returning; and it will require hours to make the detour I have in view. I hope to see you again before sunset, but a delay may carry us into the night. It may even become necessary to defer the final push until after dark."
This was melancholy intelligence for the females; but they listened to it with calmness, and endeavoured to be, as well as to seem, resigned. Beulah received her father's kiss and blessing with streaming eyes, straining little Evert to her heart as he left her. Maud was the last embraced, He even led her, by gentle violence, to the court, keeping her in discourse by the way, exhorting her to support her mother's spirits by her own sense and steadiness.
"I shall have Bob in the Hut, soon," he added, "and this will repay us all for more than twice the risks—all but you, little vixen; for your mother tells me you are getting, through some caprice of that variable humour of your sex, to be a little estranged from the poor fellow."
"O! I know it is not very serious still, even Beulah tells me you once called him a Major of Foot."
"Did I?" said Maud, trembling in her whole frame lest her secret had been prematurely betrayed by the very attempt to conceal it. "My tongue is not always my heart."
"I know it, darling, unless where I am concerned. Treat the son as you will, Maud, I am certain that you will always love the father." A pressure to the heart, and kisses on the forehead, eyes, and cheeks followed. "You have all your own papers, Maud, and can easily understand your own affairs. When examined into, it will be seen that every shilling of your fortune has gone to increase it; and, little hussy, you are now become something like a great heiress."
"What does this mean, dearest, dearest father? Your words frighten me!"
"They should not, love. Danger is never increased by being prepared to meet it. I have been a steward, and wish it to be known that the duty has not been unfaithfully discharged. That is all. A hundred-fold am I repaid by possessing so dutiful and sweet a child."
Maud fell on her father's bosom and sobbed. Never before had he made so plain allusions to the true relations which existed between them; the papers she possessed having spoken for themselves, and having been given in silence. Nevertheless, as he appeared disposed to proceed no further, at present, the poor girl struggled to command herself, succeeded in part, rose, received her father's benediction, most solemnly and tenderly delivered, and saw him depart, with an air of calmness that subsequently astonished even herself.
We must now quit the interesting group that was left behind in the Hut, and accompany the adventurers in their march.
Captain Willoughby was obliged to imitate his men, in the mode of quitting the palisades. He had dressed himself in the American hunting- shirt and trowsers for the occasion, and, this being an attire he now rarely used, it greatly diminished the chances of his being recognised, if seen. Joyce was in a similar garb, though neither Jamie nor Mike could ever be persuaded to assume a style that both insisted so much resembled that of the Indians. As for Blodget, he was in the usual dress of a labourer.
As soon as he had reached the bottom of the cliff, the captain let the fact be known to Old Pliny, by using his voice with caution, though sufficiently loud to be heard on the staging of the roof, directly above his head. The black had been instructed to watch Joel and his companions, in order to ascertain if they betrayed, in their movements, any consciousness of what was in progress at the Hut. The report was favourable, Pliny assuring his master that "all 'e men work, sir, just as afore. Joel hammer away at plough-handle, tinkerin' just like heself. Not an eye turn dis away, massa."
Encouraged by this assurance, the whole party stole through the bushes, that lined this part of the base of the cliffs, until they entered the bed of the stream. It was September, and the water was so low, as to enable the party to move along the margin of the rivulet dry-shod, occasionally stepping from stone to stone. The latter expedient, indeed, was adopted wherever circumstances allowed, with a view to leave as few traces of a trail as was practicable. Otherwise the cover was complete; the winding of the rivulet preventing any distant view through its little reaches, and the thick fringe of the bushes on each bank, effectually concealing the men against any passing, lateral, glimpse of their movements.
Captain Willoughby had, from the first, apprehended an assault from this quarter. The house, in its elevation, however, possessed an advantage that would not be enjoyed by an enemy on the ground; and, then, the cliff offered very serious obstacles to anything like a surprise on that portion of the defences. Notwithstanding, he now led his men, keeping a look riveted on the narrow lane in his front, far from certain that each turn might not bring him in presence of an advancing party of the enemy. No such unpleasant encounter occurred; and the margin of the forest was gained, without any appearance of the foe, and seemingly without discovery.
Just within the cover of the woods, a short reach of the rivulet lay fairly in sight, from the rear wing of the dwellings. It formed a beautiful object in the view; the ardent and tasteful Maud having sketched the silvery ribbon of water, as it was seen retiring within the recesses of the forest, and often calling upon others to admire its loveliness and picturesque effect. Here the captain halted, and made a signal to Old Pliny, to let him know he waited for an answer. The reply was favourable, the negro showing the sign that all was still well. This was no sooner done, than the faithful old black hurried down to his mistress, to communicate the intelligence that the party was safely in the forest; while the adventurers turned, ascended the bank of the stream, and pursued their way on more solid ground.
Captain Willoughby and his men were now fairly engaged in the expedition, and every soul of them felt the importance and gravity of the duty he was on. Even Mike was fain to obey the order to be silent, as the sound of a voice, indiscreetly used, might betray the passage of the party to some outlying scouts of the enemy. Caution was even used in treading on dried sticks, lest their cracking should produce the same effect.
The sound of the axe was heard in the rear of the cabins coming from a piece of woodland the captain had ordered cleared, with the double view of obtaining fuel, and of increasing his orchards. This little clearing was near a quarter of a mile from the flats, the plan being, still to retain a belt of forest round the latter; and it might have covered half-a-dozen acres of land, having now been used four or five years for the same purpose. To pass between this clearing and the cabins would have been too hazardous, and it became necessary to direct the march in a way to turn the former.
The cow-paths answered as guides for quite a mile, Mike being thoroughly acquainted with all their sinuosities. The captain and serjeant, however, each carried a pocket compass, an instrument without which few ventured far into the forests. Then the blows of the axes served as sounds to let the adventurers know their relative position, and, as they circled the place whence they issued, they gave the constant assurance of their own progress, and probable security.
The reader will probably comprehend the nature of the ground over which our party was now marching. The 'flats' proper, or the site of the old Beaver Dam, have already been described. The valley, towards the south, terminated at the rocks of the mill, changing its character below that point, to a glen, or vast ravine. On the east were mountains of considerable height, and of unlimited range; to the north, the level land extended miles, though on a platform many feet higher than the level of the cleared meadows; while, to the west, along the route the adventurers were marching, broad slopes of rolling forest spread their richly-wooded surfaces, filled with fair promise for the future. The highest swell of this undulating forest was that nearest to the Hut, and it was its elevation only that gave the home-scene the character of a valley.
Captain Willoughby's object was to gain the summit of this first ridge of land, which would serve as a guide to his object, since it terminated at the line of rocks that made the water-fall, quite a mile, however, in the rear of the mills. It would carry him also quite beyond the clearing of the wood-choppers, and be effectually turning the whole of the enemy's position. Once at the precipitous termination caused by the face of rock that had been thrown to the surface by some geological phenomenon, he could not miss his way, since these rugged marks must of themselves lead him directly to the station known to be occupied by the body of his foes.
Half an hour served to reach the desired ridge, when the party changed its march, pursuing a direction nearly south, along its summit.
"Those axes sound nearer and nearer, serjeant," Captain Willoughby observed, after the march had lasted a long time in profound silence. "We must be coming up near the point where the men are at work."
"Does your honour reflect at all on the reason why these fellows are so particularly industrious in a time like this?—To me it has a very ambuscadish sort of look!"
"It cannot be connected with an ambuscade, Joyce, inasmuch as we are not supposed to be on a march. There can be no ambuscade, you will remember, practised on a garrison."
"I ask your honour's pardon—may not a sortie be ambushed, as well as a march?"
"In that sense, perhaps, you may be right. And, now you mention it, I think it odd there should be so much industry at wood-chopping, in a moment like this. We will halt as soon as the sounds are fairly abreast of us, when you and I can reconnoitre the men, and ascertain the appearance of things for ourselves."
"I remember, sir, when your honour led out two companies of ours, with one of the Royal Irish, a major's command, of good rights, to observe the left flank of the French, the evening before we stormed the enemy's works at Ty—"
"Your memory is beginning to fail you, Joyce," interrupted the captain, smiling. "We were far from storming those works, having lost two thousand men before them, and failed of seeing their inside at all."
"I always look upon a soldierly attempt, your honour, the same as a thing that is done. A more gallant stand than we made I never witnessed; and, though we were driven back, I will allow, yet I call that assault as good as storming!"
"Well, have it your own way, Joyce.—The morning before your storming, I remember to have led out three companies; though it was more in advance, than on either flank. The object was to unmask a suspected ambush."
"That's just what I wanted to be at, your honour. The general sent you, as an old captain, with three companies, to spring the trap, before he should put his own foot into it."
"He certainly did—and the movement had the desired effect."
"Better and better, sir.—I remember we were fired on, and lost some ten or fifteen men, but I would not presume to say whether the march succeeded or not; for nothing was said of the affair, next day, in general orders, sir—"
"Next day we had other matters to occupy our minds. It was a bloody and a mournful occasion for England and her colonies."
"Well, your honour, that does not affect our movement, which, you say, yourself, was useful."
"Very true, Joyce, though the great calamity of the succeeding day prevented the little success of the preceding morning from being mentioned in general orders. But to what does all this tend; as I know it must lead to something?"
"It was merely meant as a respectful hint, your honour, that the inferior should be sent out, now, according to our own ancient rules, to reconn'itre the clearing, while the commander-in-chief remain with the main body, to cover the retreat."
"I thank you, serjeant, and shall not fail to employ you, on all proper occasions. At present, it is my intention that we go together, leaving the men to take breath, in a suitable cover."
This satisfied Joyce, who was content to wait for orders. As soon as the sounds of the axes showed that the party were far enough in advance, and the formation of the land assured the captain that he was precisely where he wished to be, the men were halted, and left secreted in a cover made by the top of a fallen tree. This precaution was taken, lest any wandering savage might get a glimpse of their persons, if they stood lounging about in the more open forest, during the captain's absence.
This disposition made, the captain and serjeant, first examining the priming of their pieces, moved with the necessary caution towards the edge of the wood-chopper's clearing. The axe was a sufficient guide, and ere they had proceeded far the light began to shine through the trees, proof in itself that they were approaching an opening in the forest.
"Let us incline to the left, your honour," said Joyce, respectfully; "there is a naked rock hereabouts, that completely overlooks the clearing, and where we can get even a peep at the Hut. I have often sat on it, when out with the gun, and wearied; for the next thing to being at home, is to see home."
"I remember the place, serjeant, and like your suggestion," answered the captain, with an eagerness that it was very unusual for him to betray. "I could march with a lighter heart, after getting another look at the Knoll, and being certain of its security."
The parties being both of a mind, it is not surprising that each looked eagerly for the spot in question. It was an isolated rock that rose some fifteen or twenty feet above the surface of the ground, having a width and depth about double its height—one of those common excrescences of the forest that usually possess interest for no one but the geologist. Such an object was not difficult to find in an open wood, and the search was soon rewarded by a discovery. Bending their steps that way, our two soldiers were quickly at its base. As is usual, the summit of this fragment of rock was covered with bushes; others shooting out, also, from the rich, warm earth at its base, or, to speak more properly, at its junction with the earth.
Joyce ascended first, leaving his rifle in the captain's charge. The latter followed, after having passed up his own and his companion's arms; neither being disposed to stir without having these important auxiliaries at command. Once on the rock, both moved cautiously to its eastern brow, care being had not to go beyond the cover. Here they stood, side by side, gazing on the scene that was outspread before them, through openings in the bushes.
To the captain's astonishment, he found himself within half musket shot of the bulk of the hostile party. A regular bivouac had been formed round a spring in the centre of the clearing, and bodies of trees had been thrown together, so as to form a species of work which was rudely, but effectually abbatied by the branches. In a word, one of those strong, rough forest encampments had been made, which are so difficult to carry without artillery, more especially if well defended. By being placed in the centre of the clearing, an assault could not be made without expensing the assailants, and the spring always assured to the garrison the great requisite, water.
There was a method and order in this arrangement that surprised both our old soldiers. That Indians had resorted to this expedient, neither believed; nor would the careless, untaught and inexperienced whites of the Mohawk be apt to adopt it, without a suggestion from some person acquainted with the usages of frontier warfare. Such persons were not difficult to find, it is true; and it was a proof that those claiming to be in authority, rightfully or not, were present.
There was something unlooked for, also, in the manner in which the party of strangers were lounging about, at a moment like that, seemingly doing nothing, or preparing for no service. Joyce, who was a man of method, and was accustomed to telling off troops, counted no less than forty-nine of these idlers, most of whom were lounging near the log entrenchment, though a few were sauntering about the clearing, conversing with the wood-choppers, or making their observations listlessly, and seemingly without any precise object in view.
"This is the most extr'or'nary sight, for a military expedition, I have ever seen, your honour," whispered Joyce, after the two had stood examining the position for quite a minute in silence. "A tolerable good log breast-work, I will allow, sir, and men enough to make it good against a sharp assault; but nothing like a guard, and not so much as a single sentinel. This is an affront to the art. Captain Willoughby; and it is such an affront to us, that I feel certain we might carry the post by surprise, if all felt the insult as I do myself."
"This is no time for rash acts or excited feelings, Joyce. Though, were my gallant boy with us, I do think we might make a push at these fellows, with very reasonable chances of success."
"Yes, your honour, and without him, too. A close fire, three cheers, and a vigorous charge would drive every one of the rascals into the woods!"
"Where they would rally, become the assailants in their turn, surround us, and either compel us to surrender, or starve us out. At all events, nothing of the sort must be undertaken until we have carried out the plan for the rescue of Major Willoughby. My hopes of success are greatly increased since I find the enemy has his principal post up here, where he must be a long half-mile from the mill, even in a straight line. You have counted the enemy?"
"There are just forty-nine of them in sight, and I should think some eight or ten more sleeping about under the logs, as I occasionally discover a new one raising his head.—Look, sir, does your honour see that manoeuvre?"
"Do I see what, serjeant?—There is no visible change that I discover."
"Only an Indian chopping wood, Captain Willoughby which is some such miracle as a white man painting."
The reader will have understood that all the hostile party that was lounging about this clearing were in Indian guise, with faces and hands of the well-known reddish colour that marks the American aborigines. The two soldiers could discover many evidences that there was deception in these appearances, though they thought it quite probable that real red men were mingled with the pale-faces. But, so little did the invaders respect the necessity of appearances in their present position, that one of these seeming savages had actually mounted a log, taken the axe from the hands of its owner, and begun to chop, with a vigour and skill that soon threw off chips in a way that no man can successfully imitate but the expert axe-man of the American interior.
"Pretty well that, sir, for a red-skin," said Joyce, smiling "If there isn't white blood, ay, and Yankee blood in that chap's arm, I'll give him some of my own to help colour it. Step this way, your honour—only a foot or two—there, sir; by looking through the opening just above the spot where that very make-believe Injin is scattering his chips as if they were so many kernels of corn that he was tossing to the chickens, you will get a sight of the Hut."
The fact was so. By altering his own position a little on the rock, Captain Willoughby got a full view of the entire buildings of the Knoll. It is true, he could not see the lawn without the works, nor quite all of the stockade, but the whole of the western wing, or an entire side-view of the dwellings, was obtained. Everything seemed as tranquil and secure, in and around them, as if they vegetated in a sabbath in the wilderness. There was something imposing even, in the solemn silence of their air, and the captain now saw that if he had been struck, and rendered uneasy by the mystery that accompanied the inaction and quiet of his invaders, they, in their turns, might experience some such sensations as they gazed on the repose of the Hut, and the apparent security of its garrison. But for Joel's desertion, indeed, and the information he had carried with him, there could be little doubt that the stranger must have felt the influence of such doubts to a very material extent. Alas! as things were, it was not probable they could be long imposed on, by any seeming calm.
Captain Willoughby felt a reluctance to tear himself away from the spectacle of that dwelling which contained so many that were dear to him. Even Joyce gazed at the house with pleasure, for it had been his quarters, now, so many years, and he had looked forward to the time when he should breathe his last in it. Connected with his old commander by a tie that was inseparable, so far as human wishes could control human events, it was impossible that the serjeant could go from the place where they had left so many precious beings almost in the keeping of Providence, at a moment like that, altogether without emotion. While each was thus occupied in mind, there was a perfect stillness. The men of the party had been so far drilled, as to speak in low voices, and nothing they said was audible on the rock. The axes alone broke the silence of the woods, and to ears so accustomed to their blows, they offered no intrusion. In the midst of this eloquent calm, the bushes of the rock rustled, as it might be with the passage of a squirrel, or a serpent. Of the last the country had but few, and they of the most innocent kind, while the former abounded. Captain Willoughby turned, expecting to see one of these little restless beings, when his gaze encountered a swarthy face, and two glowing eyes, almost within reach of his arm. That this was a real Indian was beyond dispute, and the crisis admitting of no delay, the old officer drew a dirk, and had already raised his arm to strike, when Joyce arrested the blow.
"This is Nick, your honour;" said the serjeant, inquiringly—"is he friend, or foe?"
"What says he himself?" answered the captain, lowering his hand in doubt. "Let him speak to his own character."
Nick now advanced and stood calmly and fearlessly at the side of the two white men. Still there was ferocity in his look, and an indecision in his movements. He certainly might betray the adventurers at any instant, and they felt all the insecurity of their situation. But accident had brought Nick directly in front of the opening through which was obtained the view of the Hut. In turning from one to the other of the two soldiers, his quick eye took in this glimpse of the buildings, and it became riveted there as by the charm of fascination. Gradually the ferocity left his countenance, which grew human and soft.
"Squaw in wigwam"—said the Tuscarora, throwing forward a hand with its fore-finger pointing towards the house. "Ole squaw—young squaw. Good. Wyandotte sick, she cure him. Blood in Injin body; thick blood—nebber forget good—nebber forget bad."
"Every stride—every stamp, Every footfall is bolder; 'Tis a skeleton's tramp, With a skull on its shoulder! But ho, how he steps With a high-tossing head, That clay-covered bone, Going down to the dead!"
Nick's countenance was a fair index to his mind; nor were his words intended to deceive. Never did Wyandotte forget the good, or evil, that was done him. After looking intently, a short time, at the Hut, he turned and abruptly demanded of his companions,—
"Why come here? Like to see enemy between you and wigwam?"
As all Nick said was uttered in a guarded tone, as if he fully entered into the necessity of remaining concealed from those who were in such a dangerous vicinity, it served to inspire confidence, inducing the two soldiers to believe him disposed to serve them.
"Am I to trust in you as a friend?" demanded the captain, looking the Indian steadily in the eye.
"Why won't trust? Nick no hero—gone away—Nick nebber come ag'in— Wyandotte hero—who no trust Wyandotte? Yengeese always trust great chief."
"I shall take you at your word, Wyandotte, and tell you everything, hoping to make an ally of you. But, first explain to me, why you left the Hut, last night—friends do not desert friends."
"Why leave wigwam?—Because wanted to. Wyandotte come when he want; go when he want. Nick go too.—Went to see son—come back; tell story; eh?"
"Yes, it has happened much as you say, and I am willing to think it all occurred with the best motives. Can you tell me anything of Joel, and the others who have left me?"
"Why tell?—Cap'in look; he see. Some chop—some plough—some weed— some dig ditch. All like ole time Bury hatchet—tired of war-path—why cap'in ask?"
"I see all you tell me. You know, then, that those fellows have made friends with the hostile party?"
"No need know—see. Look—Injin chop, pale-face look on! Call that war?"
"I do see that which satisfies me the men in paint yonder are not all red men."
"No—cap'in right—tell him so at wigwam. But dat Mohawk—dog—rascal— Nick's enemy!"
This was said with a gleam of fierceness shooting across the swarthy face, and a menacing gesture of the hand, in the direction of a real savage who was standing indolently leaning against a tree, at a distance so small as to allow those on the rock to distinguish his features. The vacant expression of this man's countenance plainly denoted that he was totally unconscious of the vicinity of danger. It expressed the listless vacancy of an Indian in a state of perfect rest—his stomach full, his body at ease, his mind peaceful.
"I thought Nick was not here," the captain quietly observed, smiling on the Tuscarora a little ironically.
"Cap'in right—Nick no here. Well for dog 'tis so. Too mean for Wyandotte to touch. What cap'in come for? Eh! Better tell chief—get council widout lightin' fire."
"As I see no use in concealing my plan from you, Wyandotte,"—Nick seemed pleased whenever this name was pronounced by others—"I shall tell it you, freely. Still, you have more to relate to me. Why are you here?—And how came you to discover us?"
"Follow trail—know cap'in foot—know serjeant foot—know Mike foot— see so many foot, follow him. Leave so many" holding up three fingers "in bushes—so many" holding up two fingers "come here. Foot tell which come here—Wyandotte chief—he follow chief."
"When did you first strike, or see our trail, Tuscarora?"
"Up here—down yonder—over dere." Captain Willoughby understood this to mean, that the Indian had crossed the trail, or seen it in several places. "Plenty trail; plenty foot to tell all about it. Wyandotte see foot of friend—why he don't follow, eh?"
"I hope this is all so, old warrior, and that you will prove yourself a friend indeed. We are out in the hope of liberating my son, and we came here to see what our enemies are about."
The Tuscarora's eyes were like two inquisitors, as he listened; but he seemed satisfied that the truth was told him. Assuming an air of interest, he inquired if the captain knew where the major was confined. A few words explained everything, and the parties soon understood each other.
"Cap'in right," observed Nick. "Son in cupboard still; but plenty warrior hear, to keep eye on him."
"You know his position, Wyandotte, and can aid us materially, if you will. What say you, chief; will you take service, once more, under your old commander?"
"Who he sarve—King George—Congress—eh?"
"Neither. I am neutral, Tuscarora, in the present quarrel. I only defend myself, and the rights which the laws assure to me, let whichever party govern, that may."
"Dat bad. Nebber neutral in hot war. Get rob from bot' side. Alway be one or t'oder, cap'in."
"You may be right, Nicholas, but a conscientious man may think neither wholly right, nor wholly wrong. I wish never to lift the hatchet, unless my quarrel be just."
"Injin no understand dat. Throw hatchet at enemy—what matter what he say—good t'ing, bad t'ing. He enemy—dat enough. Take scalp from enemy—don't touch friend"
"That may do for your mode of warfare, Tuscarora, but It will hardly do for mine. I must feel that I have right of my side, before I am willing to take life."
"Cap'in always talk so, eh? When he soldier, and general say shoot ten, forty, t'ousand Frenchmen, den he say; stop, general—no hurry—let cap'in t'ink.' Bye'm-by he'll go and take scalp; eh!"
It exceeded our old soldier's self-command not to permit the blood to rush into his face, at this home-thrust; for he felt the cunning of the Indian had involved him in a seeming contradiction.
"That was when I was in the army, Wyandotte," he answered, notwithstanding his confusion, "when my first, and highest duty, was to obey the orders of my superiors. Then I acted as a soldier; now, I hope to act as a man."
"Well, Indian chief alway in army. Always high duty, and obey superior—obey Manitou, and take scalp from enemy. War-path alway open, when enemy at t'other end."
"This is no place to discuss such questions, chief; nor have we the time. Do you go with us?"
Nick nodded an assent, and signed for the other to quit the rocks. The captain hesitated a moment, during which he stood intently studying the scene in the clearing.
"What say you, Tuscarora; the serjeant has proposed assaulting that breast-work?"
"No good, cap'in. You fire, halloo, rush on—well, kill four, six, two—rest run away. Injin down at mill hear rifle; follow smoke—where major, den? Get major, first—t'ink about enemy afterwards."
As Nick said this, he repeated the gesture to descend; and he was obeyed in silence. The captain now led the way back to his party; and soon rejoined it. All were glad to see Nick, for he was known to have a sure rifle; to be fearless as the turkey-cock; and to possess a sagacity in the woods, that frequently amounted to a species of intuition.
"Who lead, cap'in or Injin?" asked the Tuscarora, in his sententious manner.
"Och, Nick, ye're a cr'ature!" muttered Mike. "Divil bur-r-rn me, Jamie, but I t'inks the fallie would crass the very three-tops, rather than miss the majjor's habitation."
"Not a syllable must be uttered," said the captain, raising a hand in remonstrance. "I will lead, and Wyandotte will march by my side, and give me his council, in whispers. Joyce will bring up the rear. Blodget, you will keep a sharp look-out to the left, while Jamie will do the same to the right. As we approach the mills, stragglers may be met in the woods, and our march must be conducted with the greatest caution. Now follow, and be silent."
The captain and Nick led, and the whole party followed, observing the silence which had been enjoined on them. The usual manner of marching on a war-path, in the woods, was for the men to follow each other singly; an order that has obtained the name of 'Indian file,' the object being to diminish the trail, and conceal the force of the expedition, by each man treading in his leader's footsteps. On the present occasion, however, the captain induced Nick to walk at his side, feeling an uneasiness on the subject of the Tuscarora's fidelity that he could not entirely conquer. The pretext given was very different, as the reader will suppose. By seeing the print of a moccasin in company with that of a boot, any straggler that crossed the trail might be led to suppose it had been left by the passage of a party from the clearing or the mill. Nick quietly assented to this reasoning, and fell in by the side of the captain without remonstrance.
Vigilant eyes were kept on all sides of the line of march, though it, was hoped and believed that the adventurers had struck upon a route too far west to be exposed to interruption. A quarter of a mile nearer to the flats might have brought them within the range of stragglers; but, following the summit of the ridge, there was a certain security in the indolence which would be apt to prevent mere idlers from sauntering up an ascent. At all events, no interruption occurred, the party reaching in safety the rocks that were a continuation of the range which formed the precipice at the falls—the sign that they had gone far enough to the south. At this period, the precipice was nearly lost in the rising of the lower land, but its margin was sufficiently distinct to form a good mask.
Descending to the plateau beneath, the captain and Nick now inclined to the east, the intention being to come in upon the mills from the rear. As the buildings lay in the ravine, this could only be done by making a rapid descent immediately in their vicinity; a formation of the ground that rendered the march, until within pistol-shot of its termination, reasonably secure. Nick also assured his companions that he had several times traversed this very plateau, and that he had met no signs of footsteps on it; from which he inferred that the invaders had not taken the trouble to ascend the rugged cliffs that bounded the western side of the glen.
The approach to the summit of the cliff was made with caution, though the left flank of the adventurers was well protected by the abrupt descent they had already made from the terrace above. This left little more than the right flank and the front to be watched, the falling away of the land forming, also, a species of cover for the rear. It is not surprising, then, that the verge of the ravine or glen was attained, and no discovery was made. The spot being favourable, the captain immediately led down a winding path, that was densely fringed with bushes, towards the level of the buildings.
The glen of the mills was very narrow; so much so, as barely to leave sites for the buildings themselves, and three or four cabins for the workmen. The mills were placed in advance, as near as possible to the course of the water; while the habitations of the workmen were perched on shelves of the rocks, or such level bits of bottom-land as offered. Owing to this last circumstance, the house of Daniel the miller, or that in which it was supposed the major was still confined, stood by itself, and fortunately, at the very foot of the path by which the adventurers were descending. All this was favourable, and had been taken into the account as a material advantage, by Captain Willoughby when he originally conceived the plan of the present sortie.
When the chimney of the cabin was visible over the bushes, Captain Willoughby halted his party, and repeated his instruction to Joyce, in a voice very little raised above a whisper; The serjeant was ordered to remain in his present position, until he received a signal to advance. As for the captain, himself, he intended to descend as near as might be to the buttery of the cabin, and reconnoitre, before he gave the final order. This buttery was in a lean-to, as a small addition to the original building was called in the parlance of the country; and, the object being shade and coolness, on account of the milk with which it was usually well stored at this season of the year, it projected back to the very cliff, where it was half hid in bushes and young trees. It had but a single small window, that was barred with wood to keep out cats, and such wild vermin as affected milk, nor was it either lathed or plastered; these two last being luxuries not often known in the log tenements of the frontier. Still it was of solid logs, chinked in with mortar, and made a very effectual prison, with the door properly guarded; the captive being deprived of edged tools. All this was also known to the father, when he set forth to effect the liberation of his son, and, like the positions of the buildings themselves, had been well weighed in his estimate of the probabilities and chances.
As soon as his orders were given, Captain Willoughby proceeded down the path, accompanied only by Nick. He had announced his intention to send the Tuscarora ahead to reconnoitre, then to force himself among the bushes between the lean-to and the rocks, and there to open a communication with the major through the chinks of the logs After receiving Nick's intelligence, his plan was to be governed by circumstances, and to act accordingly.
"God bless you, Joyce," said the captain, squeezing the Serjeant's hand as he was on the point of descending. "We are on ticklish service, and require all our wits about us. If anything happen to me, remember that my wife and daughter will mainly depend on you for protection."
"I shall consider that as your honour's orders, sir, and no more need be said to me, Captain Willoughby."
The captain smiled on his old follower, and Joyce thought that never had he seen the fine manly face of his superior beam with a calmer, or sweeter expression, than it did as he returned his own pressure of the hand. The two adventurers were both careful, and their descent was noiseless. The men above listened, in breathless silence, but the stealthy approach of the cat upon the bird could not have been more still, than that, of these two experienced warriors.
The place where Joyce was left with the men, might have been fifty feet above the roof of the cabin, and almost perpendicularly over the narrow vacancy that was known to exist between the rocks and the lean-to. Still the bushes and trees were so thick as to prevent the smallest glimpse at objects below, had the shape of the cliff allowed it, while they even intercepted sounds. Joyce fancied, nevertheless, that he heard the rustling bushes, as the captain forced his way into the narrow space he was to occupy, and he augured well of the fact, since it proved that no opposition had been encountered. Half an hour of forest silence followed, that was only interrupted by the tumbling of the waters over the natural dam. At the end of that weary period, a shout was heard in front of the mills, and the party raised their pieces, in a vague apprehension that some discovery had been made that was about to bring on a crisis. Nothing further occurred, however, to confirm this impression, and an occasional burst of laughter, that evidently came from white men, rather served to allay the apprehension.
Another half-hour passed, during which no interruption was heard. By this time Joyce became uneasy, a state of things having arrived for which no provision had been made in his instructions. He was about to leave his command under the charge of Jamie, and descend himself to reconnoitre, when a footstep was heard coming up the path. Nothing but the deep attention, and breathless stillness of the men could have rendered the sound of a tread so nearly noiseless, audible; but heard it was, at a moment when every sense was wrought up to its greatest powers. Rifles were lowered, in readiness to receive assailants, but each was raised again, as Nick came slowly into view. The Tuscarora was calm in manner, as if no incident had occurred to disconcert the arrangement, though his eyes glanced around him, like those of a man who searched for an absent person.
"Where cap'in?—Where major?" Nick asked, as soon as his glance had taken in the faces of all present.
"We must ask that of you, Nick," returned Joyce. "We have not seen the captain, nor had any orders from him, since he left us."
This answer seemed to cause the Indian more surprise than it was usual for him to betray, and he pondered a moment in obvious uneasiness.
"Can't stay here, alway," he muttered. "Best go see. Bye'm-by trouble come; then, too late."
The serjeant was greatly averse to moving without orders. He had his instructions how to act in every probable contingency, but none that covered the case of absolute inaction on the part of those below. Nevertheless, twice the time necessary to bring things to issue had gone by, and neither signal, shot, nor alarm had reached his ears.
"Do you know anything of the major, Nick?" the serjeant demanded, determined to examine the case thoroughly ere he came to a decision.
"Major dere—see him at door—plenty sentinel. All good—where cap'in?"
"Where did you leave him?—You can give the last account of him."
"Go in behind cupboard—under rock—plenty bushes—all right—son dere."
"This must be looked to—perhaps his honour has fallen into a fit—such things sometimes happen—and a man who is fighting for his own child, doesn't feel, Jamie, all the same as one who fights on a general principle, as it might be."
"Na—ye 're right, sairjeant J'yce, and ye'll be doing the kind and prudent act, to gang doon yersal', and investigate the trainsaction with yer ain een."
This Joyce determined to do, directing Nick to accompany him, as a guide. The Indian seemed glad to comply, and there was no delay in proceeding. It required but a minute to reach the narrow passage between the cliff and the lean-to. The bushes were carefully shoved aside, and Joyce entered. He soon caught a glimpse of the hunting- shirt, and then he was about to withdraw, believing that he was in error, in anticipating orders. But a short look at his commander removed all scruples; for he observed that he was seated on a projection of the rocks, with his body bowed forward, apparently leaning on the logs of the building. This seemed to corroborate the thought about a fit, and the serjeant pressed eagerly forward to ascertain the truth.
Joyce touched his commander's arm, but no sign of consciousness came from the latter. He then raised his body upright, placing the back in a reclining attitude against the rocks, and started back himself when he caught a glimpse of the death-like hue of the face. At first, the notion of the fit was strong with the serjeant; but, in changing his own position, he caught a glimpse of a little pool of blood, which at once announced that violence had been used.
Although the serjeant was a man of great steadiness of nerves, and unchangeable method, he fairly trembled as he ascertained the serious condition of his old and well-beloved commander. Notwithstanding, he was too much of a soldier to neglect anything that circumstances required. On examination, he discovered a deep and fatal wound between two of the ribs, which had evidently been inflicted with a common knife. The blow had passed into the heart, and Captain Willoughby was, out of all question, dead! He had breathed his last, within six feet of his own gallant son, who, ignorant of all that passed, was little dreaming of the proximity of one so dear to him, as well as of his dire condition.
Joyce was a man of powerful frame, and, at that moment, he felt he was master of a giant's strength. First assuring himself of the fact that the wounded man had certainly ceased to breathe, he brought the arms over his own shoulders, raised the body on his back, and walked from the place, with less attention to caution than on entering, but with sufficient care to prevent exposure. Nick stood watching his movements with a wondering look, and as soon as there was room, he aided in supporting the corpse.
In this manner the two went up the path, bearing their senseless burden. A gesture directed the party with Jamie to precede the two who had been below, and the serjeant did not pause even to breathe, until he had fairly reached the summit of the cliff; then he halted in a place removed from the danger of immediate discovery. The body was laid reverently on the ground, and Joyce renewed his examination with greater ease and accuracy, until perfectly satisfied that the captain must have ceased to breathe, nearly an hour.
This was a sad and fearful blow to the whole party. No one, at such a moment, thought of inquiring into the manner in which their excellent master had received his death-blow; but every thought was bent either on the extent of the calamity, or on the means of getting back to the Hut. Joyce was the soul of the party. His rugged face assumed a stern, commanding expression; but every sign of weakness had disappeared. He gave his orders promptly, and the men even started when he spoke, so bent on obtaining obedience did he appear to be.
The rifles were converted into a bier, the body was placed upon it, and the four men then raised the burthen, and began to retrace their footsteps, in melancholy silence. Nick led the way, pointing out the difficulties of the path, with a sedulousness of attention, and a gentleness of manner, that none present had ever before witnessed in the Tuscarora He even appeared to have become woman, to use one of his own peculiar expressions.
No one speaking, and all the men working with good will, the retreat, notwithstanding the burthen with which it was encumbered, was made with a rapidity greatly exceeding the advance. Nick led the way with an unerring eye, even selecting better ground than that which the white men had been able to find on their march. He had often traversed all the hills, in the character of a hunter, and to him the avenues of the forest were as familiar as the streets of his native town become to the burgher. He made no offer to become one of the bearers; this would have been opposed to his habits; but, in all else, the Indian manifested gentleness and solicitude. His apprehension seemed to be, and so he expressed it, that the Mohawks might get the scalp of the dead man; a disgrace that he seemed as solicitous to avoid as Joyce himself; the serjeant, however, keeping in view the feelings of the survivors, rather than any notions of military pride.
Notwithstanding the stern resolution that prevailed among the men, that return march was long and weary. The distance, of itself, exceeded two miles, and there were the inequalities and obstacles of a forest to oppose them. Per severance and strength, however, overcame all difficulties; and, at the end of two hours, the party approached the point where it became necessary to enter the bed of the rivulet, or expose their sad procession by marching in open view of any who might be straggling in the rear of the Hut. A species of desperate determination had influenced the men in their return march, rendering them reckless of discovery, or its consequences; a circumstance that had greatly favoured their object; the adventurous and bold frequently encountering fewer difficulties, in the affairs of war, than the cautious and timid. But an embarrassment now presented itself that was far more difficult to encounter than any which proceeded from personal risks. The loving family of the deceased was to be met; a wife and daughters apprised of the fearful loss that, in the providence of God, had suddenly alighted on their house.
"Lower the body, men, and come to a halt," said Joyce, using the manner of authority, though his voice trembled "we must consult together, as to our next step."
There was a brief and decent pause, while the party placed the lifeless body on the grass, face uppermost, with the limbs laid in order, and everything about it, disposed of in a seemliness that betokened profound respect for the senseless clay, even after the noble spirit had departed. Mike alone could not resist his strong native propensity to talk. The honest fellow raised a hand of his late master, and, kissing it with strong affection, soliloquized as follows, in a tone that was more rebuked by feeling, than any apprehension of consequences.
"Little need had ye of a praist, and extreme unction," he said. "The likes of yerself always kapes a clane breast; and the knife that went into yer heart found nothing that ye need have been ashamed of! Sorrow come over me, but yer lass is as great a one to meself, as if I had tidings of the sinking of ould Ireland into the salt say, itself; a thing that niver can happen, and niver will happen; no, not even at the last day; as all agree the wor-r-ld is to be burned and not drowned. And who'll there be to tell this same to the Missus, and Miss Beuly, and phratty Miss Maud, and the babby, in the bargain? Divil bur- r-n me, if 't will be Michael O'Hearn, who has too much sorrow of his own, to be running about, and d'aling it out to other people. Sarjeant, that will be ver own jewty, and I pities the man that has to perform it."
"No man will see me shrink from a duty, O'Hearn," said Joyce, stiffly, while with the utmost difficulty he kept the tears from breaking out of a fountain that had not opened, in this way, for twenty years. "It may bear hard on my feelings—I do not say it will not—but duty is duty, and it must be done. Corporal Allen, you see the state of things; the commanding officer is among the casualties, and nothing would be simpler than our course, were it not for Madam Willoughby—God bless her, and have her in His holy keeping—and the young ladies. It is proper to deliberate a little about them. To you then, as an elderly and experienced man, I first apply for an opinion."
"Sorrow's an unwelcome guest, whether it comes expected, or without any previous knowledge. The hairts o the widow and fairtherless must be stricken, and it's little that a' our consolations and expairiments will prevail ag'in the feelin's o' natur'. Pheeloosophy and religion tall us that the body's no mair than a clod o' the valley when the speerit has fled; but the hairt is unapt to listen to wisdom while the grief is fraish, and of the severity of an unlooked-for sairtainty. I see little good, therefore, in doing mair than just sending in a messenger, to clear the way a little for the arrival of truth, in the form o' death, itsal'."
"I have been thinking of this—will you take the office, Jamie, as a man of years and discretion?"
"Na—na—ye'll be doing far better by sending a younger man. Age has weakened my memory, and I'll be overlooking some o' the saircumstances in a manner that will be unseemly for the occasion. Here is Blodget, a youth of ready wit, and limber tongue."
"I wouldn't do it, mason, to be the owner of ten such properties as this!" exclaimed the young Rhode Islander, actually recoiling a step, as if he retreated before a dreaded foe.
"Well, sairjeant, ye've Michael here, who belangs to a kirk that has so little seempathy with protestantism as to lessen the pain o' the office. Death is a near ally to religion, and Michael, by taking a religious view o' the maither, might bring his hairt into such a condition of insensibility as wad give him little to do but to tell what has happened, leaving God, in his ain maircy, to temper the wind to the shorn lamb."
"You hear, O'Hearn?" said the serjeant, stiffly—"Everybody seems to expect that you will do this duty."
"Jewty!—D 'ye call it a jewty for a man in my situation to break the hearts of Missus, and Miss Beuly, and phratty Miss Maud, and the babby? for babbies has hearts as well as the stoutest man as is going. Divil bur-r-n me, then, if ye gets out of my mout' so much as a hint that the captain's dead and gone from us, for ever and ever, amen! Ye may send me in, for ye 're corporals, and serjeants, and the likes of yees, and I'll obey as a souldier, seem' that he would have wished as much himself, had the breat' staid in his body, which it has not, on account of its l'aving his sowl on 'arth, and departing with his corporeal part for the mansions of happiness, the Blessed Mary have mercy on him, whether here or there—but the captain was not the man to wish a fait'ful follower to afflict his own wife; and so I'll have not'in' to do with such a message, at all at all."
"Nick go"—said the Indian, calmly—"Used to carry message—carry him for cap'in, once more."
"Well, Nick, you may do it certainly, if so disposed," answered Joyce, who would have accepted the services of a Chinese rather than undertake the office in person. "You will remember and speak to the ladies gently, and not break the news too suddenly."
"Yes—squaw soft heart—Nick know—had moder—had wife, once—had darter."
"Very well; this will be an advantage, men, as Nick is the only married man among us; and married men should best understand dealing with females."
Joyce then held a private communication with the Tuscarora, that lasted some five or six minutes, when the last leaped nimbly into the bed of the stream, and was soon concealed by the bushes of one of its reaches.
"Heart leaps to heart—the sacred flood That warms us is the same; That good old man—his honest blood Alike we fondly claim."
Although Nick commenced his progress with so much seeming zeal and activity, his speed abated, the moment he found himself beyond the sight of those he had left in the woods. Before he reached the foot of the cliff, his trot had degenerated to a walk; and when he actually found he was at its base, he seated himself on a stone, apparently to reflect on the course he ought to pursue.
The countenance of the Tuscarora expressed a variety of emotions while he thus remained stationary. At first, it was fierce, savage, exulting; then it became gentler, soft, perhaps repentant. He drew his knife from its buckskin sheath, and eyed the blade with a gaze expressive of uneasiness. Perceiving that a clot of blood had collected at the junction with the handle, it was carefully removed by the use of water. His look next passed over his whole person, in order to ascertain if any more of these betrayers of his fearful secret remained; after which he seemed more at ease.
"Wyandotte's back don't ache now," he growled to himself. "Ole sore heal up. Why Cap'in touch him? T'ink Injin no got feelin'? Good man, sometime; bad man, sometime. Sometime, live; sometime, die. Why tell Wyandotte he flog ag'in, just as go to enemy's camp? No; back feel well, now—nebber smart, any more."
When this soliloquy was ended, Nick arose, cast a look up at the sun, to ascertain how much of the day still remained, glanced towards the Hut, as if examining the nature of its defences, stretched himself like one who was weary, and peeped out from behind the bushes, in order to see how those who were afield, still occupied themselves. All this done, with singular deliberation and steadiness, he arranged his light dress, and prepared to present himself before the wife and daughters of the man, whom, three hours before, he had remorselessly murdered. Nick had often meditated this treacherous deed, during the thirty years which had elapsed between his first flogging and the present period; but circumstances had never placed its execution safely in his power. The subsequent punishments had increased the desire, for a few years; but time had so far worn off the craving for revenge, that it would never have been actively revived, perhaps, but for the unfortunate allusions of the victim himself, to the subject. Captain Willoughby had been an English soldier, of the school of the last century. He was naturally a humane and a just man, but he believed in the military axiom that "the most flogging regiments were the best fighting regiments;" and perhaps he was not in error, as regards the lower English character. It was a fatal error, however, to make in relation to an American savage; one who had formerly exercised the functions, and who had not lost all the feelings, of a chief. Unhappily, at a moment when everything depended on the fidelity of the Tuscarora, the captain had bethought him of his old expedient for insuring prompt obedience, and, by way of a reminder, he made an allusion to his former mode of punishment. As Nick would have expressed it, "the old sores smarted;" the wavering purpose of thirty years was suddenly and fiercely revived, and the knife passed into the heart of the victim, with a rapidity that left no time for appeals to the tribunal of God's mercy. In half a minute, Captain Willoughby had ceased to breathe.
Such had been the act of the man who now passed through the opening of the palisade, and entered the former habitation of his victim. A profound stillness reigned in and around the Hut, and no one appeared to question the unexpected intruder. Nick passed, with his noiseless step, round to the gate, which he found secured. It was necessary to knock, and this he did in a way effectually to bring a porter.
"Who dere?" demanded the elder Pliny, from within.
"Good friend—open gate. Come wid message from cap'in."
The natural distaste to the Indians which existed among the blacks of the Knoll, included the Tuscarora. This disgust was mingled with a degree of dread; and it was difficult for beings so untutored and ignorant, at all times to draw the proper distinctions between Indian and Indian. In their wonder-loving imaginations, Oneidas, Tuscaroras, Mohawks, Onondagas, and Iroquois were all jumbled together in inextricable confusion, a red man being a red man, and a savage a savage. It is not surprising, therefore, that Pliny the elder should hesitate about opening the gate, and admitting one of the detested race, though a man so well known to them all, in the peculiar situation of the family. Luckily, Great Smash happened to be near, and her husband called her to the gate by one of the signals that, was much practised between them.
"Who you t'ink out-dere?" asked Pliny the elder of his consort, with a very significant look.
"How you t'ink guess, ole Plin?—You 'spose nigger wench like Albonny wise woman, dat she see t'rough a gate, and know ebbery t'ing, and little more!"
"Well, dat Sassy Nick. What you say now?"
"You sartain, ole Plin?" asked Mistress Smash, with a face ominous of evil.
"Sartain as ear. Talk wid him—he want to come in. What you t'ink?"
"Nebber open gate, ole Plin, till mistress tell you. You stay here— dere; lean ag'in gate wid all you might; dere; now I go call Miss Maud. She all alone in librarim, and will know what best. Mind you lean ag'in gate well, ole Plin."
Pliny the elder nodded assent, placed his shoulders resolutely against the massive timbers, and stood propping a defence that would have made a respectable resistance to a battering-ram, like another Atlas, upholding a world. His duty was short, however, his 'lady' soon returning with Maud, who was hastening breathlessly to learn the news.
"Is it you, Nick?" called out the sweet voice of our heroine through the crevices of the timber.
The Tuscarora started, as he so unexpectedly heard those familiar sounds; for an instant, his look was dark; then the expression changed to pity and concern, and his reply was given with less than usual of the abrupt, guttural brevity that belonged to his habits.
"'Tis Nick—Sassy Nick—Wyandotte, Flower of the Woods," for so the Indian often termed Maud.—"Got news—cap'in send him. Meet party and go along. Nobody here; only Wyandotte. Nick see major, too—say somet'ing to young squaw."
This decided the matter. The gate was unbarred, and Nick in the court in half-a-minute. Great Smash stole a glance without, and beckoned Pliny the elder to join her, in order to see the extraordinary spectacle of Joel and his associates toiling in the fields. When they drew in their heads, Maud and her companion were already in the library. The message from Robert Willoughby had induced our heroine to seek this room; for, placing little confidence in the delicacy of the messenger, she recoiled from listening to his words in the presence of others.
But Nick was in no haste to speak. He took the chair to which Maud motioned, and he sate looking at her, in a way that soon excited her alarm.
"Tell me, if your heart has any mercy in it, Wyandotte; has aught happened to Major Willoughby?"
"He well—laugh, talk, feel good. Mind not'ing. He prisoner; don't touch he scalp."
"Why, then, do you wear so ominous a look—your face is the very harbinger of evil."
"Bad news, if trut' must come. What you' name, young squaw?"
"Surely, surely, you must know that well, Nick! I am Maud—your old friend, Maud."
"Pale-face hab two name—Tuscarora got t'ree. Some time, Nick— sometime, Sassy Nick—sometime, Wyandotte."
"You know my name is Maud Willoughby," returned our heroine, colouring to the temples with a certain secret consciousness of her error, but preferring to keep up old appearances.
"Dat call you' fader's name, Meredit'; no Willoughby."
"Merciful Providence! and has this great secret been known to you, too, Nick!"
"He no secret—know all about him. Wyandotte dere. See Major Meredit' shot. He good chief—nebber flog—nebber strike Injin. Nick know fader, know moder—know squaw, when pappoose."
"And why have you chosen this particular moment to tell me all this? Has it any relation to your message—to Bob—to Major Willoughby, I mean?" demanded Mauo, nearly gasping for breath.
"No relation, tell you," said Nick, a little angrily. "Why make relation, when no relation at all. Meredit'; no Willoughby. Ask moder; ask major; ask chaplain—all tell trut'! No need to be so feelin'; no you fader, at all."
"What can you—what do you mean, Nick? Why do you look so wild—so fierce—so kind—so sorrowful—so angry? You must have bad news to tell me."
"Why bad to you—he no fader—only fader friend. You can't help it—fader die when you pappoose—why you care, now, for dis?"
Maud now actually gasped for breath. A frightful glimpse of the truth gleamed before her imagination, though it was necessarily veiled in the mist of uncertainty. She became pale as death, and pressed her hand upon her heart, as if to still its beating. Then, by a desperate effort, she became more calm, and obtained the power to speak.
"Oh! is it so, Nick!—can it be so!" she said; "my father has fallen in this dreadful business?"
"Fader kill twenty year ago; tell you dat, how often?" answered the Tuscarora, angrily; for, in his anxiety to lessen the shock to Maud, for whom this wayward savage had a strange sentiment of affection, that had grown out of her gentle kindnesses to himself, on a hundred occasions, he fancied if she knew that Captain Willoughby was not actually her father, her grief at his loss would be less. "Why you call dis fader, when dat fader. Nick know fader and moder.—Major no broder."
Notwithstanding the sensations that nearly pressed her to the earth, the tell-tale blood rushed to Maud's cheeks, again, at this allusion, and she bowed her face to her knees. The action gave her time to rally her faculties; and catching a glimpse of the vast importance to all for her maintaining self-command, she was enabled to raise her face with something like the fortitude the Indian hoped to see.
"Trifle with me no longer, Wyandotte, but let me know the worst at once. Is my father dead?—By father, I mean captain Willoughby?"
"Mean wrong, den—no fader, tell you. Why young quaw so much like Mohawk?"
"Man—is captain Willoughby killed?"
Nick gazed intently into Maud's face for half a minute, and then he nodded an assent. Notwithstanding all her resolutions to be steady, our heroine nearly sank under the blow. For ten minutes she spoke not, but sat, her head bowed to her knees, in a confusion of thought that threatened a temporary loss of reason. Happily, a flood of tears relieved her, and she became more calm. Then the necessity of knowing more, in order that she might act intelligently, occurred to her mind, and she questioned Nick in a way to elicit all it suited the savage to reveal.
Maud's first impulse was to go out to meet the body of the captain, and to ascertain for herself that there was actually no longer any hope. Nick's account had been so laconic as to leave much obscurity, and the blow had been so sudden she could hardly credit the truth in its full extent. Still, there remained the dreadful tidings to be communicated to those dear beings, who, while they feared so much, had never anticipated a calamity like this. Even Mrs. Willoughby, sensitive as she was, and wrapped up in those she loved so entirely, as she was habitually, had been so long accustomed to see and know of her husband's exposing himself with impunity, as to begin to feel, if not to think, that he bore a charmed life. All this customary confidence was to be overcome, and the truth was to be said. Tell the fact to her mother, Maud felt that she could not then; scarcely under any circumstances would she have consented to perform this melancholy office; but, so long as a shadow of doubt remained on the subject of her father's actual decease, it seemed cruel even to think of it. Her decision was to send for Beulah, and it was done by means of one of the negresses.
So long as we feel that there are others to be sustained by our fortitude, even the feeblest possess a firmness to which they might otherwise be strangers. Maud, contrary to what her delicate but active frame and sweetness of disposition might seem to indicate, was a young woman capable of the boldest exertions, short of taking human life. Her frontier training had raised her above most of the ordinary weaknesses of her sex; and, so far as determination went, few men were capable of higher resolution, when circumstances called for its display. Her plan was now made up to go forth and meet the body, and nothing short of a command from her mother could have stopped her. In this frame of mind was our heroine, when Beulah made her appearance.
"Maud!" exclaimed the youthful matron, "what has happened!—why are you so pale!—why send for me? Does Nick bring us any tidings from the mill?"
"The worst possible, Beulah. My father—my dear, dear father is hurt. They have borne him as far as the edge of the woods, where they have halted, in order not to take us by surprise. I am going to meet the—to meet the men, and to bring father in. You must prepare mother for the sad, sad tidings—yes, Beulah, for the worst, as everything depends on the wisdom and goodness of God!"
"Oh! Maud, this is dreadful!" exclaimed the sister, sinking into a chair—"What will become of mother—of little Evert—of us all!"
"The providence of the Ruler of heaven and earth will care for us. Kiss me, dear sister—how cold you are—rouse yourself, Beulah, for mother's sake. Think how much more she must feel than we possibly can, and then be resolute."
"Yes, Maud—very true—no woman can feel like a wife—unless it be a mother—"
Here Beulah's words were stopped by her fainting.
"You see, Smash," said Maud, pointing to her sister with a strange resolution, "she must have air, and a little water—and she has salts about her, I know. Come, Nick; we have no more time to waste—you must be my guide."
The Tuscarora had been a silent observer of this scene, and if it did not awaken remorse in his bosom, it roused feelings that had never before been its inmates. The sight of two such beings suffering under a blow that his own hand had struck, was novel to him, and he knew not which to encourage most, a sentiment allied to regret, or a fierce resentment, that any should dare thus to reproach, though it were only by yielding to the grief natural to their situation. But Maud had obtained a command over him, that he knew not how to resist, and he followed her from the room, keeping his eyes riveted the while on the pallid face of Beulah. The last was recalled from her insensibility, however, in the course of a few minutes, through the practised attentions of the negresses.
Maud waited for nothing. Motioning impatiently for the Tuscarora to lead the way, she glided after him with a rapidity that equalled his own loping movement. She made no difficulties in passing the stockade, though Nick kept his eyes on the labourers, and felt assured their exeunt was not noticed. Once by the path that led along the rivulet, Maud refused all precautions, but passed swiftly over it, partially concealed by its bushes. Her dress was dark, and left little liability to exposure. As for Nick, his forest attire, like the hunting shirt of the whites, was expressly regulated by the wish to go to and fro unseen.
In less than three minutes after the Indian and Maud had passed the gate, they were drawing near to the melancholy group that had halted in the forest. Our heroine was recognised as she approached, and when she came rushing up to the spot, all made way, allowing her to fall upon her knees by the side of the lifeless body, bathing the placid face of the dead with her tears, and covering it with kisses.
"Is there no hope—oh! Joyce," she cried, "can it be possible that my father is actually dead?"
"I fear, Miss Maud, that his honour has made his last march. He has received orders to go hence, and, like a gallant soldier as he was, he has obeyed, without a murmur;" answered the serjeant, endeavouring to appear firm and soldier-like, himself. "We have lost a noble and humane commander, and you a most excellent and tender father."
"No fader,"—growled Nick, at the serjeant's elbow, twitching his sleeve, at the same time, to attract attention. 'Serjeant know her fader. He by; I by, when Iroquois shoot him."
"I do not understand you, Tuscarora, nor do I think you altogether understand us; the less you say, therefore, the better for all parties. It is our duty, Miss Maud, to say 'God's will be done,' and the soldier who dies in the discharge of his duty is never to be pitied. I sincerely wish that the Rev. Mr. Woods was here; he would tell you all this in a manner that would admit of no dispute; as for myself, I am a plain man, Miss Maud, and my tongue cannot utter one- half that my heart feels at this instant."
"Ah! Joyce, what a friend—what a parent has it pleased God to call to himself!"
"Yes, Miss Maud, that may be said with great justice—if his honour has left us in obedience to general orders, it is to meet promotion in a service that will never weary, and never end."
"So kind; so true; so gentle; so just; so affectionate!" said Maud, wringing her hands.
"And so brave, young lady. His honour, captain Willoughby, wasn't one of them that is always talking, and writing, and boasting about fighting; but when anything was to be done, the Colonel always knew whom to send on the duty. The army couldn't have lost a braver gentleman, had he remained in it."
"Oh! my father—my father,"—cried Maud, in bitterness of sorrow, throwing herself on the body and embracing it, as had been her wont in childhood—"would that I could have died for you!"
"Why you let go on so," grumbled Nick, again. "No her fader—you know dat, serjeant."
Joyce was not in a state to answer. His own feelings had been kept in subjection only by military pride, but they now had become so nearly uncontrollable, that he found himself obliged to step a little aside in order to conceal his weakness. As it was, large tears trickled down his rugged face, like water flowing from the fissures of the riven oak Jamie Allen's constitutional prudence, however, now became active, admonishing the party of the necessity of their getting within the protection of the Hut.
"Death is at a' times awfu'," said the mason, "but it must befall young and auld alike. And the affleection it brings cometh fra' the heart, and is a submission to the la' o' nature. Nevertheless we a' hae our duties, so lang as we remain in the flesh, and it is time to be thinking o' carryin' the body into some place o' safety, while we hae a prudent regard to our ain conditions also."
Maud had risen, and, hearing this appeal, she drew back meekly, assumed a manner of forced composure, and signed to the men to proceed. On this intimation, the body was raised, and the melancholy procession resumed its march.
For the purpose of concealment, Joyce led the way into the bed of the stream, leaving Maud waiting their movements, a little deeper within the forest. As soon as he and his fellow-bearers were in the water, Joyce turned and desired Nick to escort the young lady in, again, on dry land, or by the path along which she had come out. This said, the serjeant and his companions proceeded. Maud stood gazing on the sad spectacle like one entranced, until she felt a sleeve pulled, and perceived the Tuscarora at her side.
"No go to Hut," said Nick, earnestly; "go wid Wyandotte."
"Not follow my dear father's remains—not go to my beloved mother in her anguish. You know not what you ask, Indian—move, and let me proceed."
"No go home—no use—no good. Cap'in dead—what do widout commander. Come wid Wyandotte—find major—den do some good."
Maud fairly started in her surprise. There seemed something so truly useful, so consoling, so dear in this proposal, that it instantly caught her ear.
"Find the Major!" she answered. "Is that possible, Nick? My poor father perished in making that attempt—what hope can there be then for my success?"
"Plenty hope—much as want—all, want. Come wid Wyandotte—he great chief—show young squaw where to find broder."
Here was a touch of Nick's consummate art. He knew the female bosom so well that he avoided any allusion to his knowledge of the real relation between Robert Willoughby and Maud, though he had so recently urged her want of natural affinity to the family, as a reason why she should not grieve. By keeping the Major before her eyes as a brother, the chances of his own success were greatly increased. As for Maud, a tumult of feeling came over her heart at this extraordinary proposal. To liberate Bob, to lead him into the Hut, to offer his manly protection to her mother, and Beulah, and little Evert, at such an instant, caught her imagination, and appealed to all her affections.
"Can you do this, Tuscarora"—she asked, earnestly, pressing her hand on her heart as if to quiet its throbbings. "Can you really lead me to Major Willoughby, so that I may have some hope of liberating him?"
"Sartain—you go, he come. I go, he no come. Don't love Nick—t'ink all Injin, one Injin—t'ink one Injin, all Injin. You go, he come—he stay, find more knife, and die like Cap'in. Young squaw follow Wyandotte, and see."
Maud needed no more. To save the life of Bob, her well-beloved, he who had so long been beloved in secret, she would have gone with one far less known and trusted than the Tuscarora. She made an eager gesture for him to proceed, and they were soon on their way to the mill, threading the mazes of the forest.
Nick was far from observing the precautions that had been taken by the captain, in his unfortunate march out. Acquainted with every inch of ground in the vicinity of the Dam, and an eye-witness of the dispositions of the invaders, he had no occasion for making the long detour already described, but went to work in a much more direct manner. Instead of circling the valley, and the clearing, to the westward, he turned short in the contrary direction, crossed the rivulet on the fallen tree, and led the way along the eastern margin of the flats. On this side of the valley he knew there were no enemies, and the position of the huts and barns enabled him to follow a path, that was just deep enough in the forest to conceal his movements. By taking this course, besides having the advantage of a clear and beaten path, most of the way, the Tuscarora brought the whole distance within a mile.
As for Maud, she asked no questions, solicited no pauses, manifested no physical weakness. Actively as the Indian moved among the trees, she kept close in his footsteps; and she had scarcely begun to reflect on the real nature of the undertaking in which she was engaged, when the roar of the rivulet, and the formation of the land, told her they had reached the edge of the glen below the mills. Here Nick told her to remain stationary a moment, while he advanced to a covered point of the rocks, to reconnoitre. This was the place where the Indian had made his first observations of the invaders of the valley, ascertaining their real character before he trusted his person among them. On the present occasion, his object was to see if all remained, in and about the mills, as when he had last left the spot.
"Come"—said Nick, signing for Maud to follow him—"we go—fools sleep, and eat, and talk. Major prisoner now; half an hour, Major free."
This was enough for the ardent, devoted, generous-hearted Maud. She descended the path before her as swiftly as her guide could lead, and, in five more minutes, they reached the bank of the stream, in the glen, at a point where a curvature hid the rivulet from those at the mill. Here an enormous pine had been laid across the torrent; and, flattened on its upper surface, it made a secure bridge for those who were sure of foot, and steady of eye. Nick glanced back at his companion, as he stepped upon this bridge, to ascertain if she were equal to crossing it, a single glance sufficing to tell him apprehensions were unnecessary. Half a minute placed both, in safety, on the western bank.
"Good!" muttered the Indian; "young squaw make wife for warrior."
But Maud heard neither the compliment nor the expression of countenance which accompanied it. She merely made an impatient gesture to proceed. Nick gazed intently at the excited girl; and there was an instant when he seemed to waver in his own purpose; but the gesture repeated, caused him to turn, and lead the way up the glen.
The progress of Nick now, necessarily, became more guarded and slower. He was soon obliged to quit the common path, and to incline to the left, more against the side of the cliff, for the purposes of concealment. From the time he had struck the simple bridge, until he took this precaution, his course had lain along what might have been termed the common highway, on which there was always the danger of meeting some messenger, travelling to or from the valley.
But Nick was at no loss for paths. There were plenty of them; and the one he took soon brought him out into that by which Captain Willoughby had descended to the lean-to. When the spot was reached where Joyce had halted, Nick paused; and, first listening intently, to catch the sound of noises, if any might happen to be in dangerous proximity, he addressed his companion:
"Young squaw bold," he said, encouragingly; "now want heart of warrior."
"I can follow, Nick—having come so far, why distrust me, now?"
"'Cause he here—down dere—woman love man; man love woman—dat right; but, no show it, when scalp in danger."
"Perhaps I do not understand you, Tuscarora—but, my trust is in God; he is a support that can uphold any weakness."
"Good!—stay here—Nick come back, in minute."
Nick now descended to the passage between the rocks and the lean-to, in order to make certain that the major still remained in his prison, before he incurred any unnecessary risk with Maud. Of this fact he was soon assured; after which he took the precaution to conceal the pool of blood, by covering it with earth and stones. Making his other observations with care, and placing the saw and chisel, with the other tools, that had fallen from the captain's hand, when he received his death-wound, in a position to be handy, he ascended the path, and rejoined Maud. No word passed between our heroine and her guide. The latter motioned for her to follow; then he led the way down to the cabin. Soon, both had entered the narrow passage; and Maud, in obedience to a sign from her companion, seated herself on the precise spot where her father had been found, and where the knife had passed into his heart. To all this, however, Nick manifested the utmost indifference. Everything like ferocity had left his face; to use his own figurative language, his sores smarted no longer; and the expression of his eye was friendly and gentle. Still it showed no signs of compunction.
"Her pallid face displayed Something, methought, surpassing mortal beauty. She presently turn'd round, and fixed her large, wild eyes. Brimming with tears, upon me, fetch'd a sigh, As from a riven heart, and cried: He's dead!"
Maud had been so earnest, and so much excited, that the scarcely reflected on the singularity and novelty of her situation, until she was seated, as described at the close of the last chapter. Then, indeed, she began to think that she had embarked in an undertaking of questionable prudence, and to wonder in what manner she was to be useful. Still her heart did not fail her, or her hopes altogether sink. She saw that Nick was grave and occupied, like a man who intended to effect his purpose at every hazard; and that purpose she firmly believed was the liberation of Robert Willoughby.
As for Nick, the instant his companion was seated, and he had got a position to his mind, he set about his business with great assiduity. It has been said that the lean-to like the cabin, was built of logs; a fact that constituted the security of the prisoner. The logs of the lean-to, however, were much smaller than those of the body of the house, and both were of the common white pine of the country; a wood of durable qualities, used as it was here, but which yielded easily to edged tools. Nick had a small saw, a large chisel, and his knife. With the chisel, he cautiously commenced opening a hole of communication with the interior, by removing a little of the mortar that filled the interstices between the logs. This occupied but a moment. When effected, Nick applied an eye to the hole and took a look within. He muttered the word "good," then withdrew his own eye, and, by a sign, invited Maud to apply one of hers. This our heroine did, and saw Robert Willoughby, reading within a few feet of her, with a calmness of air, that at once announced his utter ignorance of the dire event that had so lately occurred, almost within reach of his arm.
"Squaw speak," whispered Nick; "voice sweet as wren—go to Major's ear like song of bird.—Squaw speak music to young warrior."
Maud drew back, her heart beat violently, her breathing became difficult, and the blood rushed to her temples. But an earnest motion from Nick reminded her this was no time for hesitation, and she applied her mouth to the hole.
"Robert—dear Robert," she said, in a loud whisper, "we are here—have come to release you."
Maud's impatience could wait no longer; but her eye immediately succeeded her mouth. That she was heard was evident from the circumstance that the book fell from the Major's hand, in a way to show how completely he was taken by surprise. "He knows even my whispers," thought Maud, her heart beating still more violently, as she observed the young soldier gazing around him, with a bewildered air, like one who fancied he had heard the whisperings of some ministering angel. By this time, Nick had removed a long piece of the mortar; and he too, was looking into the buttery. By way of bringing matters to an understanding, the Indian thrust the chisel through the opening, and, moving it, he soon attracted Willoughby's attention. The latter instantly advanced, and applied his own eye to the wide crack, catching a view of the swarthy face of Nick.
Willoughby knew that the presence of this Indian, at such a place, and under such circumstances, indicated the necessity of caution. He did not speak, therefore; but, first making a significant gesture towards the door of his narrow prison, thus intimating the close proximity of sentinels, he demanded the object of this visit, in a whisper.
"Come to set major free," answered Nick.
"Can I trust you, Tuscarora? Sometimes you seem a friend, sometimes an enemy. I know that you appear to be on good terms with my captors."
"Dat good—Injin know how to look two way—warrior must, if great warrior."
"I wish I had some proof, Nick, that you are dealing with me in good faith."
"Call dat proof, den!" growled the savage, seizing Maud's little Land, and passing it through the opening, before the startled girl was fully aware of what he meant to do.
Willoughby knew the hand at a glance. He would have recognised it, in that forest solitude, by its symmetry and whiteness, its delicacy and its fullness; but one of the taper fingers wore a ring that, of late, Maud had much used; being a diamond hoop that she had learned was a favourite ornament of her real mother's. It is not surprising, therefore, that he seized the pledge that was thus strangely held forth, and had covered it with kisses, before Maud had presence of mind sufficient, or strength to reclaim it. This she would not do, however, at such a moment, without returning all the proofs of ardent affection that were lavished on her own hand, by giving a gentle pressure to the one in which it was clasped.
"This is so strange, Maud!—so every way extraordinary, that I know not what to think," the young man whispered soon as he could get a glimpse of the face of the sweet girl. "Why are you here, beloved, and in such company?"
"You will trust me, Bob—Nick comes as your friend. Aid him all you can, now, and be silent. When free, then will be the time to learn all."
A sign of assent succeeded, and the major withdrew a step, in order to ascertain the course Nick meant to pursue. By this time, the Indian was at work with his knife, and he soon passed the chisel in to the prisoner, who seized it, and commenced cutting into the logs, at a point opposite to that where the Tuscarora was whittling away the wood. The object was to introduce the saw, and it required some labour to effect such a purpose. By dint of application, however, and by cutting the log above as well as that below, sufficient space was obtained in the course of a few minutes. Nick then passed the saw in, through the opening, it exceeding his skill to use such a tool with readiness.
By this time, Willoughby was engaged with the earnestness and zeal of the captive who catches a glimpse of liberty. Notwithstanding, he proceeded intelligently and with caution. The blanket given him by his captors, as a pallet, was hanging from a nail, and he took the precaution to draw this mil, and to place it above the spot selected for the cut, that he might suspend the blanket so as to conceal what he was at, in the event of a visit from without. When all was ready, and the blanket was properly placed, he began to make long heavy strokes with the tool, in a way to deaden the sound. This was a delicate operation; but the work's being done behind the blanket, had some effect in lessening the noise. As the work proceeded, Willoughby's hopes increased; and he was soon delighted to hear from Nick, that it was time to insert the saw in another place. Success is apt to induce carelessness; and, as the task proceeded, Willoughby's arm worked with greater rapidity, until a noise at the door gave the startling information that he was about to be visited. There was just time to finish the last cut, and to let the blanket fall, before the door opened. The saw-dust and chips had all been carefully removed, as the work proceeded, and of these none were left to betray the secret.
There might have been a quarter of a minute between the moment when Willoughby seated himself, with his book in his hand, and that in which the door opened. Short as was this interval, it sufficed for Nick to remove the piece of log last cut, and to take away the handle of the saw; the latter change permitting the blanket to hang so close against the logs as completely to conceal the hole. The sentinel who appeared was an Indian in externals, but a dull, white countryman in fact and character.
"I thought I heard the sound of a saw, major," he said listlessly; "yet everything looks quiet, and in its place here!"
"Where should I get such a tool?" Willoughby coolly replied; "and what is there here to saw?"
"'Twas as nat'ral, too, as the carpenter himself could make it, in sound!"
"Possibly the mill has been set in motion by some of your idlers, and you have heard the large saw, which, at a distance, may sound like a smaller one near by."
The man looked incredulously at his prisoner for a moment; then he drew to the door, with the air of one who was determined to assure himself of the truth, calling aloud as he did so, to one of his companions to join him. Willoughby knew that no time was to be lost. In half-a- minute, he had passed the hole, dropped the blanket before it, had circled the slender waist of Maud with one arm, and was shoving aside the bushes with the other, as he followed Nick from the straitened passage between the lean-to and the rock. The major seemed more bent on bearing Maud from the spot, than on saving himself. Her feet scarce touched the ground, as he ascended to the place where Joyce had halted. Here Nick stood an instant, with a finger raised in intense listening. His practised ears caught the sound of voices in the lean-to, then scarce fifty feet distant. Men called to each other by name, and then a voice directly beneath them, proclaimed that a head was already thrust through the hole.
"Here is your saw, and here is its workmanship!" exclaimed this voice.
"And here is blood, too," said another. "See! the ground has been a pool beneath those stones."
Maud shuddered, as if the soul were leaving its earthly tenement, and Willoughby signed impatiently for Nick to proceed. But the savage, for a brief instant, seemed bewildered The danger below, however, increased, and evidently drew so near, that he turned and glided up the ascent. Presently, the fugitives reached the descending path, that diverged from the larger one they were on, and by which Nick and Maud had so recently come diagonally up this cliff. Nick leaped into it, and then the intervening bushes concealed their persons from any who might continue on the upward course. There was an open space, however, a little lower down; and the quick-witted savage came to a stand under a close cover, believing flight to be useless should their pursuers actually follow on their heels.