James Fenimore Cooper.

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the importance of her remaining where she could note all that passed,
if she intended to make an attempt at reaching the Hut, after dark.
This necessity determined her to continue at the rock, so long as light
remained. She wondered she was not missed, but rightly attributed the
circumstance to the suddenness of the alarm, and the crowd of other
thoughts which would naturally press upon the minds of her friends, at
such a fearful moment. "I will stay where I am," thought Maud, a little
proudly, "and prove, if I am not really the daughter of Hugh
Willoughby, that I am not altogether unworthy of his love and care! I
can even pass the night in the forest, at this warm season, without
suffering."

Just as these thoughts crossed her mind, in a sort of mental soliloquy,
a stone rolled from a path above her, and fell over the rock on which
the seat was placed. A footstep was then heard, and the girl's heart
beat quick with apprehension. Still she conceived it safest to remain
perfectly quiet. She scarce breathed in her anxiety to be motionless.
Then it occurred to her, that some one beside herself might be out from
the Hut, and that a friend was near. Mike had been in the woods that
very afternoon, she knew; for she had seen him; and the true-hearted
fellow would indeed be a treasure to her, at that awful moment. This
idea, which rose almost to certainty as soon as it occurred, induced
her to spring forward, when the appearance of a man, whom she did not
recognise, dressed in a hunting-shirt, and otherwise attired for the
woods, carrying a short rifle in the hollow of his arm, caused her to
stop, in motionless terror. At first, her presence was not observed;
but, no sooner did the stranger catch a glimpse of her person, than he
stopped, raised his hands in surprise, laid his rifle against a tree,
and sprang forward; the girl closing her eyes, and sinking on the seat,
with bowed head, expecting the blow of the deadly tomahawk.

"Maud - dearest, _dearest_ Maud - do you not know me!" exclaimed
one, leaning over the pallid girl, while he passed an arm round her
slender waist, with an affection so delicate and reserved, that, at
another time, it might have attracted attention. "Look up, dear girl,
and show that at least you fear not _me!_"

"Bob," said the half-senseless Maud. "Whence come you? - _Why_ do
you come at this fearful instant! - Would to God your visit had been
better timed!"

"Terror makes you say this, my poor Maud! Of all the family, I had
hoped for the warmest welcome from _you_. We think alike about
this war - then you are not so much terrified at the idea of my being
found here, but can hear reason. Why do you say this, then, my dearest
Maud?"

By this time Maud had so far recovered as to be able to look up into
the major's face, with an expression in which alarm was blended with
unutterable tenderness. Still she did not throw her arms around him, as
a sister would clasp a beloved brother; but, rather, as he pressed her
gently to his bosom, repelled the embrace by a slight resistance.
Extricating herself, however, she turned and pointed towards the
valley.

"Why do I say this? See for yourself - the savages have at length come,
and the whole dreadful picture is before you."

Young Willoughby's military eye took in the scene at a glance. The
Indians were still at the cliff, and the people of the settlement were
straining at the heavier gates of the Hut, having already got one of
them into a position where it wanted only the proper application of a
steady force to be hung. He saw his father actively employed in giving
directions; and a few pertinent questions drew all the other
circumstances from Maud. The enemy had now been in the valley more than
an hour, and the movements of the two parties were soon related.

"Are you alone, dearest Maud? are you shut out by this sudden inroad?"
demanded the major, with concern and surprise.

"So it would seem. I can see no other - though I did think Michael might
be somewhere near me, in the woods, here; I at first mistook your
footsteps for his."

"That is a mistake" - returned Willoughby, levelling a small pocket spy-
glass at the Hut - "Mike is tugging at that gate, upholding a part of
it, like a corner-stone. I see most of the faces I know there, and my
dear father is as active, and yet as cool, as if at the head of a
regiment."

"Then I am alone - it is perhaps better that as many as possible should
be in the house to defend it."

"Not alone, my sweet Maud, so long as I am with you. Do you still think
my visit so ill-timed?"

"Perhaps not, after all. Heaven knows what I should have done, by
myself, when it became dark!"

"But are we safe on this seat? - May we not be seen by the Indians,
since we so plainly see them?"

"I think not. I have often remarked that when Evert and Beulah have
been here, their figures could not be perceived from the lawn; owing, I
fancy, to the dark back-ground of rock. My dress is not light, and you
are in green; which is the colour of the leaves, and not easily to be
distinguished. No other spot gives so good a view of what takes place
in the valley. We must risk a little exposure, or act in the dark."

"You are a soldier's daughter, Maud" - This was as true of major
Meredith as of captain Willoughby, and might therefore be freely said
by even Bob - "You are a soldier's daughter, and nature has clearly
intended you to be a soldier's wife. This is a _coup-d'-oeil_ not
to be despised."

"I shall never be a wife at all" - murmured Maud, scarce knowing what
she said; "I may not live to be a soldier's daughter, even, much
longer. But, why are _you_ here? - surely, surely _you_ can
have no connection with those savages! - I have heard of such horrors;
but _you_ would not accompany _them_, even though it were to
_protect_ the Hut."

"I'll not answer for that, Maud. One would do a great deal to preserve
his paternal dwelling from pillage, and his father's grey hairs from
violence. But I came alone; that party and its objects being utterly
strangers to me."

"And _why_ do you come at all, Bob?" inquired the anxious girl,
looking up into his face with open affection - "The situation of the
country is now such, as to make your visits very hazardous."

"Who could know the regular major in this hunting-shirt, and forest
garb? I have not an article about my person to betray me, even were I
before a court. No fear for me then, Maud; unless it be from these
demons in human shape, the savages. Even they do not seem to be very
fiercely inclined, as they appear at this moment more disposed to eat,
than to attack the Hut. Look for yourself; those fellows are certainly
preparing to take their food; the group that is just now coming over
the cliffs, is dragging a deer after it."

Maud took the glass, though with an unsteady hand, and she looked a
moment at the savages. The manner in which the instrument brought these
wild beings nearer to her eye, caused her to shudder, and she was soon
satisfied.

"That deer was killed this morning by the miller," she said; "they have
doubtless found it in or near his cabin. We will be thankful, however,
for this breathing-time - it may enable my dear father to get up the
other gate. Look, Robert, and see what progress they make?"

"One side is just hung, and much joy does it produce among them!
Persevere, my noble old father, and you will soon be safe against your
enemies. What a calm and steady air he has, amid it all! Ah! Maud, Hugh
Willoughby ought, at this moment, to be at the head of a brigade,
helping to suppress this accursed and unnatural rebellion. Nay, more;
he _may_ be there, if he will only listen to reason and duty."

"And _this_ is then your errand here, Bob?" asked his fair
companion, gazing earnestly at the major.

"It is, Maud - and I hope you, whose feelings I know to be right, can
encourage me to hope."

"I fear not. It is now too late. Beulah's marriage with Evert has
strengthened his opinions - and then"

"What, dearest Maud? You pause as if that '_then_' had a meaning
you hesitated to express."

Maud coloured; after which she smiled faintly, and proceeded: "We
should speak reverently of a father - and such a father, too. But does
it not seem probable to you, Bob, that the many discussions he has with
Mr. Woods may have a tendency to confirm each in his notions?"

Robert Willoughby would have answered in the affirmative, had not a
sudden movement at the Hut prevented.


Chapter XII.

From Flodden ridge
The Scots beheld the English host
Leave Barmore wood, their evening post,
And heedful watched them as they crossed
The Till by Twisal Bridge.

Scott

It was just at this instant that most of the women of the settlement
rushed from the court, and spread themselves within the stockade, Mrs.
Willoughby and Beulah being foremost in the movement. The captain left
the gate, too, and even the men, who were just about to raise the last
leaf, suspended their toil. It was quite apparent some new cause for
uneasiness or alarm had suddenly awoke among them. Still the stack of
arms remained untouched, nor was there any new demonstration among the
Indians. The major watched everything, with intense attention, through
the glass.

"What is it, dear Bob?" demanded the anxious Maud. "I see my dearest
mother - she seems alarmed."

"Was it known to her that you were about to quit the house, when you
came out on this walk?"

"I rather think not. She and Beulah were in the nursery with little
Evert, and my father was in the fields. I came out without speaking to
any person, nor did I meet any before entering the forest."

"Then you are now first missed. Yes, that is it - and no wonder, Maud,
it creates alarm. Merciful God! How must they all feel, at a moment
like this!"

"Fire your rifle, Bob - that will draw their eyes in this direction, and
I will wave my handkerchief - perhaps _that_ might be seen. Beulah
has received such signals from me, before."

"It would never do. No, we must remain concealed, watching their
movements, in order to be able to aid them at the proper time. It is
painful to endure this suspense, beyond a doubt; but the pain must be
borne in order to ensure the safety of one who is so very, very
precious to us all."

Notwithstanding the fearful situation in which she was placed, Maud
felt soothed by these words. The language of affection, as coming from
Robert Willoughby, was very dear to her at all times, and never more
than at a moment when it appeared that even her life was suspended, as
it might be, by a hair.

"It is as you say," she answered gently, giving him her hand with much
of her ancient frankness of manner; "we should be betrayed, and of
course lost - but what means the movement at the Hut?"

There was indeed a movement within the stockade. Maud's absence was now
clearly ascertained, and it is needless to describe the commotion the
circumstance produced. No one thought any longer of the half of the
gate that still remained to be hung, but every supposable part of the
house and enclosure had been examined in quest of her who was missing.
Our heroine's last remark, however, was produced by certain indications
of an intention to make a descent from one of the external windows of
the common parlour, a room it will be remembered that stood on the
little cliff, above the rivulet that wound beneath its base. This cliff
was about forty feet high, and though it offered a formidable obstacle
to any attempt to scale it, there was no great difficulty in an active
man's descending, aided by a rope. The spot, too, was completely
concealed from the view of the party which still remained on the rock,
near the mill, at a distance of quite half a mile from the gates of the
stockade. This fact greatly facilitated the little sortie, since, once
in the bed of the rivulet, which was fringed with bushes, it would be
very practicable, by following its windings, to gain the forest unseen.
The major levelled his glass at the windows, and immediately saw the
truth of all that has here been mentioned.

"They are preparing to send a party out," he said, "and doubtless in
quest of you, Maud. The thing is very feasible, provided the savages
remain much longer in their present position. It is matter of surprise
to me, that the last have not sent a force in the rear of the Hut,
where the windows are at least exposed to fire, and the forest is so
close as to afford a cover to the assailants. In front there is
literally none, but a few low fences, which is the reason I presume
that they keep so much aloof."

"It is not probable they know the valley. With the exception of Nick,
but few Indians have ever visited us, and that rarely. Those we have
seen have all been of the most peaceable and friendly tribes; not a
true warrior, as my father says, ever having been found among them.
Nick is the only one of them all that can thus be termed."

"Is it possible that fellow has led this party? I have never more than
half confided in him, and yet he is too old a friend of the family, I
should think, to be guilty of such an act of baseness."

"My father thinks him a knave, but I question if he has an opinion of
him as bad as that. Besides, _he_ knows the valley, and would have
led the Indians round into the rear of the house, if it be a place so
much more favourable for the attack, as you suppose. These wretches
have come by the common paths, all of which first strike the river, as
you know, below the mills."

"That is true. I lost my way, a few miles from this, the path being
very blind on the eastern route, which I travelled as having gone it
last with Nick, and thinking it the safest. Fortunately I recognised
the crest of this mountain above us, by its shape, or I might never
have found my way; although the streams, when struck, are certain
guides to the woodsman. As soon as I hit the cow-paths, I knew they
would lead me to the barns and sheds. See! a man is actually descending
from a window!"

"Oh! Bob, I hope it is not my father! He is too old - it is risking too
much to let him quit the house."

"I will tell you better when he reaches the ground. Unless mistaken -
ay - it is the Irishman, O'Hearn."

"Honest Mike! He is always _foremost_ in everything, though he so
little knows how anything but digging ought to be done. Is there not
another following him - or am I deceived?"

"There is - he has just reached the ground, too. This might be spared,
did they know how well you are guarded, Maud. By one who would die
cheerfully to prevent harm from reaching you!"

"They little dream of that, Bob," answered Maud, in a low tone. "Not a
human being in that valley fancies you nearer to him than the royal
armies are, at this moment. But they do not send a third - I am glad
they weaken their own force no further."

"It is certainly best they should not. The men had their rifles slung
when they descended, and they are now getting them ready for service.
It is Joel Strides who is with Mike."

"I am sorry for it. _That_ is a man I little like, Bob, and I
should be sorry he knew of your being here."

This was said quickly, and with a degree of feeling that surprised the
major, who questioned Maud earnestly as to her meaning and its reasons.
The latter told him she scarce knew herself; that she disliked the
man's manner, had long thought his principles bad, and that Mike in his
extraordinary way had said certain things to her, to awaken distrust.

"Mike speaks in hieroglyphics," said the major, laughing, in spite of
the serious situation in which he and his companion were placed, "and
one must never be too sure of _his_ meaning. Joel has now been
many years with my father, and he seems to enjoy his confidence."

"He makes himself useful, and is very guarded in what he says at the
Hut. Still - I wish him not to know of your being here."

"It will not be easy to prevent it, Maud. I should have come boldly
into the valley, but for this accidental meeting with you, trusting
that my father has no one about him so base as to betray his son."

"Trust not Joel Strides. I'll answer for Mike with my life; but sorry
indeed should I be that Joel Strides knew of your being among us. It
were better, perhaps, that most of the workmen should not be in the
secret. See - the two men are quitting the foot of the rocks."

This was true, and Robert Willoughby watched their movements with the
glass. As had been expected, they first descended into the bed of the
rivulet, wading along its shore, under the cover of the bushes, until
they soon became concealed even from the view of one placed on a height
as elevated as that occupied by Robert and Maud. It was sufficiently
apparent, however, that their intention was to reach the forest in this
manner, when they would probably commence their search for the missing
young lady. Nor was it long before Robert and Maud plainly saw the two
adventurers quit the bed of the stream and bury themselves in the
forest. The question now seriously arose as to the best course for the
major and his companion to pursue. Under ordinary circumstances, it
would have been wisest, perhaps, to descend at once and meet the
messengers, who might soon be found at some of the usual haunts of the
girl; but against this the latter so earnestly protested, and that in a
manner so soothing to the young man's feelings, that he scarce knew how
to oppose her wishes. She implored him not to confide in Joel Strides
too hastily, at least. It might be time enough, when there was no
alternative; until the true character of the party then in the valley
was known, it would be premature. Nothing was easier than to conceal
himself until it was dark, when he might approach the Hut, and be
admitted without his presence being known to any but those on whom the
family could certainly rely. The major urged the impossibility of his
quitting Maud, until she was joined by the two men sent in quest of
her, and then it would be too late, as he must be seen. Although he
might escape immediate recognition in his present dress, the presence
of a stranger would excite suspicions, and compel an explanation. To
this Maud replied in the following manner: Her customary places of
resort, when in the woods, were well known; more especially to Michael,
who was frequently employed in their vicinity. These were a little
water-fall, that was situated a hundred rods up the rivulet, to which a
path had been made expressly, and where an arbour, seat, and little
table had been arranged, for the purposes of working, reading, or
taking refreshments. To this spot the men would unquestionably proceed
first. Then, there was a deep ravine, some distance farther, that was
often visited for its savage beauty, and whither she more frequently
went, perhaps, than to any other place. Thither Michael would be
certain to lead his companion. These two places visited, they might
infallibly expect to see the men at the rock, where the two were then
seated, as the last spot in which Maud might naturally be expected to
be found. It would require an hour to visit the two places first named,
and to examine the surrounding woods; and by that time, not only would
the sun be set, but the twilight would be disappearing. Until that
moment, then, the major might remain at her side, and on the sound of
the approaching footsteps of the messengers, he had only to retire
behind a projection of the rocks, and afterwards follow towards the
Knoll, at a safe distance.

This plan was too plausible to be rejected; and giving Robert an hour
of uninterrupted discourse with his companion, it struck him as having
more advantages than any other mentioned. The party near the mills,
too, remaining perfectly quiet, there was less occasion for any change
of their own, than might otherwise have been the case. So far, indeed,
from appearing to entertain any hostile intention, not a cabin had been
injured, if approached, and the smoke of the conflagration which had
been expected to rise from the mills and the habitations in the glen,
did not make its appearance. If any such ruthless acts as applying the
brand and assaulting the people were in contemplation, they were at
least delayed until night should veil them in a fitting darkness.

It is always a great relief to the mind, in moments of trial, to have
decided on a course of future action. So the major and Maud now found;
for, taking his seat by her side, he began to converse with his
companion more connectedly, and with greater calmness than either had
yet been able to achieve. Many questions were asked, and answers given,
concerning the state of the family, that of his father and mother, and
dear Beulah and her infant, the latter being as yet quite a stranger to
the young soldier.

"Is he like his rebel of a father?" asked the royal officer, smiling,
but as his companion fancied, painfully; "or has he more of the look of
the Willoughbys. Beekman is a good-looking Dutchman; yet, I would
rather have the boy resemble the good old English stock, after all."

"The sweet little fellow resembles both father and mother; though the
first the most, to Beulah's great delight. Papa says he is true
'Holland's come of', as they call it, though neither mamma nor I will
allow of any such thing. Colonel Beekman is a very worthy man, Bob, and
a most affectionate and attentive husband. Beulah, but for this war,
could not be happier."

"Then I forgive him one-half of his treason - for the remainder let him
take his luck. Now I am an uncle, my heart begins to melt a little
towards the rebel. And you, Maud, how do the honours of an aunt sit
upon your feelings? But women are all heart, and would love a rat."

Maud smiled, but she answered not. Though Beulah's child were almost as
dear to her as one of her own could have been, she remembered that she
was _not_ its aunt, in fact; and, though she knew not why, in that
company, and even at that grave moment, the obtrusive thought summoned
a bright flush to her cheeks. The major probably did not notice this
change of countenance, since, after a short pause, he continued the
conversation naturally.

"The child is called Evert, is it not, _aunt_ Maud?" he asked,
laying an emphasis on 'aunt.'

Maud wished this word had not been used; and yet Robert Willoughby,
could the truth have been known, had adverted to it with an association
in his own mind, that would have distressed her, just then, still more.
_Aunt_ Maud was the name that others, however, were most fond of
adopting, since the birth of the child; and remembering this, our
heroine smiled.

"That is what Beulah has called me, these six months," she said - "or
ever since Evert was born. I became an aunt the day he became a nephew;
and dear, good Beulah has not once called me _sister_ since, I
think."

"These little creatures introduce new ties into families," answered the
major, thoughtfully. "They take the places of the generations before
them, and edge us out of our hold on the affections, as in the end they
supplant us in our stations in life. If Beulah love me only as an
_uncle_, however, she may look to it. I'll be supplanted by no
Dutchman's child that was ever born!"

"_You_, Bob!" cried Maud, starting. "You are its _real_
uncle; Beulah must ever remember _you_, and _love_ you, as
her _own_ brother!"

Maud's voice became suddenly hushed, like one who feared she had said
too much. The major gazed at her intently, but he spoke not; nor did
his companion see his look, her own eyes being cast meekly and
tremblingly on the earth at her feet. A considerable pause succeeded,
and then the conversation reverted to what was going on in the valley.

The sun was now set, and the shadows of evening began to render objects
a little indistinct beneath them. Still it was apparent that much
anxiety prevailed in and about the Hut, doubtless on account of our
heroine's absence. So great was it, indeed, as entirely to supersede
the hanging of the remaining leaf of the gate, which stood in the gap
where it belonged, stayed by pieces of timber, but unhung. The major
thought some disposition had been made, however, by which the inmates
might pass and repass by the half that was suspended, making a
tolerable defence, when all was closed.

"Hist!" whispered Maud, whose faculties were quickened by the danger of
her companion; "I hear the voice of Michael, and they approach. No
sense of danger can repress poor O'Hearn's eloquence; his ideas seeming
to flow from his tongue very much as they rise to his thoughts, chance
directing which shall appear first."

"It is true, dear girl; and as you seem so strongly to wish it, I will



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