James Fenimore Cooper.

Wyandotte online

. (page 20 of 38)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWyandotte → online text (page 20 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


this time, however, the flames were nearly out, and there was no great
difficulty in looking into the nearest shantee, without much exposure.
It was deserted, as proved to be the case with all the others, on
further examination. Major Willoughby now moved about on the rock with
greater confidence; for, naturally brave, and accustomed to use his
faculties with self-command in moments of trial, he drew the just
distinctions between real danger and unnecessary alarm; the truest of
all tests of courage.

The captain, feeling a husband's and a father's responsibility, was a
little more guarded; but success soon gave him more confidence, and the
spot was thoroughly explored. The two then descended to the mills,
which, together with the adjacent cabins, they entered also, and found
uninjured and empty. After this, several other suspected points were
looked at, until the captain came to the conclusion that the party had
retired, for the night at least, if not entirely. Making a circuit,
however, he and his son visited the chapel, and one or two dwellings on
that side of the valley, when they bent their steps towards the Knoll.

As the gentlemen approached the stockade, the captain gave a loud hem,
and clapped his hands. At the signal the gate flew open, and they found
themselves in company with their friend the chaplain once more. A few
words of explanation told all they had to say, and then the three
passed into the court, and separated; each taking the direction towards
his own room. The major, fatigued with the toils of a long march, was
soon in a soldier's sleep; but it was hours before his more thoughtful,
and still uneasy father, could obtain the rest which nature so much
requires.


Chapter XV.

- - "I could teach you,
How to choose right, but then I am forsworn;
So will I never be; so may you miss me;
But if you do, you'll make me wish a sin
That I had been forsworn." - -

_Portia_.

Captain Willoughby knew that the hour which preceded the return of
light, was that in which the soldier had the most to apprehend, when in
the field. This is the moment when it is usual to attempt surprises;
and it was, in particular, the Indian's hour of blood. Orders had been
left, accordingly, to call him at four o'clock, and to see that all the
men of the Hut were afoot, and armed also. Notwithstanding the deserted
appearance of the valley, this experienced frontier warrior distrusted
the signs of the times; and he looked forward to the probability of an
assault, a little before the return of day, with a degree of concern he
would have been sorry to communicate to his wife and daughters.

Every emergency had been foreseen, and such a disposition made of the
forces, as enabled the major to be useful, in the event of an attack,
without exposing himself unnecessarily to the danger of being
discovered. He was to have charge of the defence of the rear of the
Hut, or that part of the buildings where the windows opened outwards;
and Michael and the two Plinys were assigned him as assistants. Nor was
the ward altogether a useless one. Though the cliff afforded a material
safeguard to this portion of the defences, it might be scaled; and, it
will be remembered, there was no stockade at all, on this, the northern
end of the house.

When the men assembled in the court, therefore, about an hour before
the dawn, Robert Willoughby collected his small force in the dining-
room, the outer apartment of the _suite_, where he examined their
arms by lamp-light, inspected their accoutrements, and directed them to
remain until he issued fresh orders. His father, aided by serjeant
Joyce, did the same in the court; issuing out, through the gate of the
buildings, with his whole force, as soon as this duty was performed.
The call being general, the women and children were all up also; many
of the former repairing to the loops, while the least resolute, or the
less experienced of their number, administered to the wants of the
young, or busied themselves with the concerns of the household. In a
word, the Hut, at that early hour, resembled a hive in activity, though
the different pursuits had not much affinity to the collection of
honey.

It is not to be supposed that Mrs. Willoughby and her daughters still
courted their pillows on an occasion like this. They rose with the
others, the grandmother and Beulah bestowing their first care on the
little Evert, as if _his_ life and safety were the considerations
uppermost in their thoughts. This seemed so natural, that Maud wondered
she too could not feel all this absorbing interest in the child, a
being so totally dependent on the affection of its friends and
relatives to provide for its wants and hazards, in an emergency like
the present.

"_We_ will see to the child, Maud," observed her mother, ten or
fifteen minutes after all were up and dressed. "Do you go to your
brother, who will be solitary, alone in his citadel. He may wish, too,
to send some message to his father. Go, then, dear girl, and help to
keep up poor Bob's spirits."

What a service for Maud! Still, she went, without hesitation or delay;
for the habits of her whole infancy were not to be totally overcome by
the natural and more engrossing sentiments of her later years. She
could not feel precisely the reserve and self-distrust with one she had
so long regarded as a brother, as might have been the case with a
stranger youth in whom she had begun to feel the interest she
entertained for Robert Willoughby. But, Maud did not hesitate about
complying. An order from her mother to her was law; and she had no
shame, no reserves on the subject of contributing to Bob's comfort or
happiness.

Her presence was a great relief to the young man himself, whom she
found in the library. His assistants were posted without, as sentinels
to keep off intruders, a disposition that left him quite alone, anxious
and uneasy. The only intercourse he could have with his father was by
means of messages; and the part of the building he occupied was
absolutely without any communication with the court, except by a single
door near the offices, at which he had stationed O'Hearn.

"This is kind, and like yourself, dearest Maud," exclaimed the young
man, taking the hand of his visiter, and pressing it in both his own,
though he strangely neglected to kiss her cheek, as he certainly would
have done had it been Beulah - "This is kind and like yourself; now I
shall learn something of the state of the family. How is my mother?"

It might have been native coyness, or even coquetry, that unconsciously
to herself influenced Maud's answer. She knew not why - and yet she felt
prompted to let it be understood she had not come of her own impulses.

"Mother is well, and not at all alarmed," she said. "She and Beulah are
busy with little Evert, who crows and kicks his heels about as if
_he_ despised danger as becomes a soldier's son, and has much amused
even _me_; though I am accused of insensibility to his perfections.
Believing you might be solitary, or might wish to communicate with
some of us, my mother desired me to come and inquire into your wants."

"Was such a bidding required, Maud! How long has an order been
necessary to bring _you_ to console _me_?"

"That is a calculation I have never entered into, Bob," answered Maud,
slightly blushing, and openly smiling, and that in a way, too, to take
all the sting out of her words - "as young ladies can have more suitable
occupations, one might think. You will admit I guided you faithfully
and skilfully into the Hut last evening, and such a service should
suffice for the present. But, my mother tells me we have proper causes
of complaint against you, for having so thoughtlessly left the place of
safety into which you were brought, and for going strolling about the
valley, after we had retired, in a very heedless and boyish manner!"

"I went with my father; surely I could not have been in better
company."

"At his suggestion, or at your own, Bob?" asked Maud, shaking her head.

"To own the truth, it was, in some degree, at my own. It seemed so very
unmilitary for two old soldiers to allow themselves to be shut up in
ignorance of what their enemies were at, that I could not resist the
desire to make a little _sortie_. You must feel, dear Maud, that
our motive was _your_ safety - the safety, I mean, of my mother,
and Beulah, and nil of you together - and you ought to be the last to
blame us."

The tint on Maud's cheek deepened as Robert Willoughby laid so heavy an
emphasis on "_your_ safety;" but she could not smile on an act
that risked so much more than was prudent.

"This is well enough as to motive," she said, after a pause; "but
frightfully ill-judged, I should think, as to the risks. You do not
remember the importance our dear father is to us all - to my mother - to
Beulah - even to me, Bob."

"Even to _you_, Maud! - And why not as much to _you_ as to any
of us?"

Maud could speak to Beulah of her want of natural affinity to the
family; but, it far exceeded her self-command to make a direct allusion
to it to Robert Willoughby. Still, it was now rarely absent from her
mind; the love she bore the captain and his wife, and Beulah, and
little Evert, coming to her heart through a more insidious and possibly
tenderer tie, than that of purely filial or sisterly affection. It was,
indeed, this every-day regard, strangely deepened and enlivened by that
collateral feeling we so freely bestow on them who are bound by natural
ties to those who have the strongest holds on our hearts, and which
causes us to see with their eyes, and to feel with their affections.
Accordingly, no reply was made to the question; or, rather, it was
answered by putting another.

"Did you see anything, after all, to compensate for so much risk?"
asked Maud, but not until a pause had betrayed her embarrassment.

"We ascertained that the savages had deserted their fires, and had not
entered any of the cabins. Whether this were done to mislead us, or to
make a retreat as sudden and unexpected as their inroad, we are
altogether in the dark. My father apprehends treachery, however; while,
I confess, to me it seems probable that the arrival and the departure
may be altogether matters of accident. The Indians are in motion
certainly, for it is known that our agents are busy among them; but, it
is by no means so clear that _our_ Indians would molest captain
Willoughby - Sir Hugh Willoughby, as my father is altogether called, at
head-quarters."

"Have not the Americans savages on their side, to do us this ill
office?"

"I think not. It is the interest of the rebels to keep the savages out
of the struggle; they have so much at risk, that this species of
warfare can scarcely be to _their_ liking."

"And ought it to be to the liking of the king's generals, or ministers
either, Bob!"

"Perhaps not, Maud. I do not defend it; but I have seen enough of
politics and war, to know that results are looked to, far more than
principles. Honour, and chivalry, and humanity, and virtue, and right,
are freely used in terms; but seldom do they produce much influence on
facts. Victory is the end aimed at, and the means are made to vary with
the object."

"And where is all we have read together? - Yes, _together_, Bob?
for I owe you a great deal for having directed my studies - where is all
we have read about the glory and truth of the English name and cause?"

"Very much, I fear, Maud, where the glory and truth of the American
name and cause will be, as soon as this new nation shall fairly burst
the shell, and hatch its public morality. There are men among us who
believe in this public honesty, but I do not."

"You are then engaged in a bad cause, major Willoughby, and the sooner
you abandon it, the better."

"I would in a minute, if I knew where to find a better. Rely on it,
dearest Maud, all causes are alike, in this particular; though one side
may employ instruments, as in the case of the savages, that the other
side finds it its interest to decry. Men, as individuals, _may_
be, and sometimes _are_, reasonably upright - but, _bodies_ of
men, I much fear, never. The latter escape responsibility by dividing
it."

"Still, a good cause may elevate even bodies of men," said Maud,
thoughtfully.

"For a time, perhaps; but not in emergencies. You and I think it a good
cause, my good and frowning Maud, to defend the rights of our sovereign
lord the king. Beulah I have given up to the enemy; but on you I have
implicitly replied."

"Beulah follows her heart, perhaps, as they say it is natural to women
to do. As for myself, I am left free to follow my own opinion of my
duties."

"And they lead you to espouse the cause of the king, Maud!"

"They will be very apt to be influenced by the notions of a certain
captain Willoughby, and Wilhelmina, his wife, who have guided me aright
on so many occasions, that I shall not easily distrust their opinions
on this."

The major disliked this answer; and yet, when he came to reflect on it,
as reflect he did a good deal in the course of the day, he was
dissatisfied with himself at being so unreasonable as to expect a girl
of twenty-one not to think with her parents, real or presumed, in most
matters. At the moment, however, he did not wish further to press the
point.

"I am glad to learn, Bob," resumed Maud, looking more cheerful and
smiling, "that you met with no one in your rash sortie - for rash I
shall call it, even though sanctioned by my father."

"I am wrong in saying that. We did meet with one man, and that was no
less a person than your bug-bear, Joel Strides - as innocent, though as
meddling an overseer as one could wish to employ."

"Robert Willoughby, what mean you! Does this man know of your presence
at the Knoll?"

"I should hope not - _think_ not." Here the major explained all
that is known to the reader on this head, when he continued - "The
fellow's curiosity brought his face within a few inches of mine; yet I
do not believe he recognised me. This disguise is pretty thorough; and
what between his ignorance, the darkness and the dress, I must believe
he was foiled."

"Heaven be praised!" exclaimed Maud, breathing more freely. "I have
long distrusted that man, though he seems to possess the confidence of
every one else. Neither my father nor my mother will see him, as I see
him; yet to me his design to injure you is _so_ clear - _so_
obvious! - I wonder, often wonder, that others cannot view it as I do.
Even Beulah is blind!"

"And what do you see so clearly, Maud? I have consented to keep myself
incog. in submission to your earnest request; and yet, to own the
truth, I can discover no particular reason why Strides is to be
distrusted more than any one else in the valley - than Mike, for
instance."

"Mike! I would answer for _his_ truth with my life. _He_ will
never betray you, Bob."

"But why is Joel so much the object of your distrust? - and why am _I_
the particular subject of your apprehensions?"

Maud felt the tell-tale blood flowing again to her cheeks; since, to
give a simple and clear reason for her distrust, exceeded her power. It
was nothing but the keen interest which she took in Robert Willoughby's
safety that had betrayed to her the truth; and, as usually happens,
when anxiety leads the way in discoveries of this sort, logical and
plausible inferences are not always at command. Still, Maud not only
thought herself right, but, in the main, she _was_ right; and this
she felt so strongly as to be enabled to induce others to act on her
impressions.

"_Why_ I believe in Strides' sinister views is more than I may be
able to explain to you, in words, Bob," she replied, after a moment's
thought; "still, I _do_ believe in them as firmly as I believe in
my existence. His looks, his questions, his journeys, and an occasional
remark, have all aided in influencing the belief; nevertheless, no one
proof may be perfectly clear and satisfactory. Why _you_ should be
the subject of his plans, however, is simple enough, since you are the
only one among us he can seriously injure. By betraying you, he might
gain some great advantage to himself."

"To whom can he betray me, dear? My father is the only person here, in
any authority, and of him I have no cause to be afraid."

"Yet, you were so far alarmed when last here, as to change your route
back to Boston. If there were cause for apprehension then, the same
reason may now exist."

"That was when many strangers were in the valley, and we knew not
exactly where we stood. I have submitted to your wishes, however, Maud,
and shall lie _perdu_, until there is a serious alarm; then it is
understood I am to be permitted to show myself. In a moment of
emergency my unexpected appearance among the men might have a dramatic
effect, and, of itself, give us a victory. But tell me of my
prospects - am I likely to succeed with my father? Will he be brought
over to the royal cause?"

"I think not. All common inducements are lost on him. His baronetcy,
for instance, he will never assume; _that_, therefore, cannot
entice him. Then his feelings are with his adopted country, which he
thinks right, and which he is much disposed to maintain; more
particularly since Beulah's marriage, and our late intercourse with all
that set. My mother's family, too, has much influence with him. They,
you know, are all whigs."

"Don't prostitute the name, Maud. Whig does not mean rebel; these
misguided men are neither more nor less than rebels. I had thought this
declaration of independence would have brought my father at once to our
side."

"I can see it has disturbed him, as did the Battle of Bunker's Hill.
But he will reflect a few days, and decide now, as he did then, in
favour of the Americans. He has English partialities, Bob, as is
natural to one born in that country; but, on this point, his mind is
very strongly American."

"The accursed Knoll has done this! Had he lived in society, as he ought
to have done, among his equals and the educated, we should now see him
at the head - Maud, I know I can confide in _you_."

Maud was pleased at this expression of confidence, and she looked up in
the major's face, her full blue eyes expressing no small portion of the
heartfelt satisfaction she experienced. Still, she said nothing.

"You may well imagine," the major continued, "that I have not made this
journey entirely without an object - I mean some object more important,
even, than to see you all. The commander-in-chief is empowered to raise
several regiments in this country, and it is thought useful to put men
of influence in the colonies at their head. Old Noll de Lancey, for
instance, so well known to us all, is to have a brigade; and I have a
letter in my pocket offering to Sir Hugh Willoughby one of his
regiments. One of the Allens of Pennsylvania, who was actually serving
against us, has thrown up his commission from congress, since this
wicked declaration, and has consented to take a battalion from the
king. What think you of all this? Will it not have weight with my
father?"

"It may cause him to reflect, Bob; but it will not induce him to change
his mind. It may suit Mr. Oliver de Lancey to be a general, for he has
been a soldier his whole life; but my father has retired, and given up
all thoughts of service. He tells us he never liked it, and has been
happier here at the Knoll, than when he got his first commission. Mr.
Allen's change of opinion may be well enough, he will say, but I have
no need of change; I am here, with my wife and daughters, and have them
to care for, in these troubled times. What think you he said, Bob, in
one of his conversations with us, on this very subject?"

"I am sure I cannot imagine - though I rather fear it was some wretched
political stuff of the day."

"So far from this, it was good natural feeling that belongs, or ought
to belong to all days, and all ages," answered Maud, her voice
trembling a little as she proceeded. "'There is my son,' he said; 'one
soldier is enough in a family like this. _He_ keeps all our hearts
anxious, and may cause them all to mourn.'"

Major Willoughby was mute for quite a minute, looking rebuked and
thoughtful.

"I fear I do cause my parents concern," he at length answered; "and why
should I endeavour to increase that of my excellent mother, by
persuading her husband to return to the profession? If this were
ordinary service, I could not think of it. I do not know that I ought
to think of it, as it is!"

"Do not, dear Robert. We are all - that is, mother is often miserable on
your account; and why would you increase her sorrows? Remember that to
tremble for one life is sufficient for a woman."

"My mother is miserable on _my_ account!" answered the young man,
who was thinking of anything but his father, at that instant. "Does
Beulah never express concern for me? or have her new ties completely
driven her brother from her recollection? I know she can scarce wish me
success; but she might still feel some uneasiness for an only brother.
We are but two - "

Maud started, as if some frightful object glared before her eyes; then
she sat in breathless silence, resolute to hear what would come next.
But Robert Willoughby meant to pursue that idea no farther. He had so
accustomed himself - had endeavoured even so to accustom himself to
think of Beulah as his only sister, that the words escaped him
unconsciously. They were no sooner uttered, however, than the
recollection of their possible effect on Maud crossed his mind.
Profoundly ignorant of the true nature of her feelings towards himself,
he had ever shrunk from a direct avowal of his own sentiments, lest he
might shock her; as a sister's ear would naturally be wounded by a
declaration of attachment from a brother; and there were bitter moments
when he fancied delicacy and honour would oblige him to carry his
secret with him to the grave. Two minutes of frank communication might
have dissipated all these scruples for ever; but, how to obtain those
minutes, or how to enter on the subject at all, were obstacles that
often appeared insurmountable to the young man. As for Maud, she but
imperfectly understood her own heart - true, she had conscious glimpses
of its real state; but, it was through those sudden and ungovernable
impulses that were so strangely mingled with her affections. It was
years, indeed, since she had ceased to think of Robert Willoughby as a
brother, and had begun to view him with different eyes; still, she
struggled with her feelings, as against a weakness. The captain and his
wife were her parents; Beulah her dearly, dearly beloved sister; little
Evert her nephew; and even the collaterals, in and about Albany, came
in for a due share of her regard; while Bob, though called Bob as
before; though treated with a large portion of the confidence that was
natural to the intimacy of her childhood; though loved with a
tenderness he would have given even his high-prized commission to know,
was no longer thought of as a brother. Often did Maud find herself
thinking, if never saying, "Beulah may do that, for Beulah is his
sister; but it would be wrong in me. I may write to him, talk freely
and even confidentially with him, and be affectionate to him; all this
is right, and I should be the most ungrateful creature on earth to act
differently; but I cannot sit on his knee as Beulah sometimes does; I
cannot throw my arms around his neck when I kiss him, as Beulah does; I
cannot pat his cheek, as Beulah does, when he says anything to laugh
at; nor can I pry into his secrets, as Beulah does, or affects to do,
to tease him. I should be more reserved with one who has not a drop of
my blood in his veins - no, not a single drop." In this way, indeed,
Maud was rather fond of disclaiming any consanguinity with the family
of Willoughby, even while she honoured and loved its two heads, as
parents. The long pause that succeeded the major's broken sentence was
only interrupted by himself.

"It is vexatious to be shut up here, in the dark, Maud," he said, "when
every minute _may_ bring an attack. This side of the house might
be defended by you and Beulah, aided and enlightened by the arm and
counsels of that young 'son of liberty,' little Evert; whereas the
stockade in front may really need the presence of men who have some
knowledge of the noble art. I wish there were a look-out to the front,
that one might at least see the danger as it approached."

"If your presence is not indispensable here, I can lead you to my
painting-room, where there is a loop directly opposite to the gate.
That half of the garrets has no one in it."



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWyandotte → online text (page 20 of 38)