Read Chapter XI. of Wyandotte, free online book, by James Fenimore Cooper, on

  And now ’tis still! no sound to wake
  The primal forest’s awful shade;
  And breathless lies the covert brake,
  Where many an ambushed form is laid: 
  I see the red-man’s gleaming eye,
  Yet all so hushed the gloom profound,
  That summer birds flit heedlessly,
  And mocking nature smiles around.


The eventful summer of 1776 had been genial and generous in the valley of the Hutted Knoll.  With a desire to drive away obtrusive thoughts, the captain had been much in his fields, and he was bethinking himself of making a large contribution to the good cause, in the way of fatted porkers, of which he had an unusual number, that he thought might yet be driven through the forest to Fort Stanwix, before the season closed.  In the way of intelligence from the seat of war, nothing had reached the family but a letter from the major, which he had managed to get sent, and in which he wrote with necessary caution.  He merely mentioned the arrival of Sir William Howe’s forces, and the state of his own health.  There was a short postscript, in the following words, the letter having been directed to his father: ­“Tell dearest Maud,” he said, “that charming women have ceased to charm me; glory occupying so much of my day-dreams, like an ignis fatuus, I fear; and that as for love, all my affections are centred in the dear objects at the Hutted Knoll.  If I had met with a single woman I admired half as much as I do her pretty self, I should have been married long since.”  This was written in answer to some thoughtless rattle that the captain had volunteered to put in his last letter, as coming from Maud, who had sensitively shrunk from sending a message when asked; and it was read by father, mother, and Beulah, as the badinage of a brother to a sister, without awaking a second thought in either.  Not so with Maud, herself, however.  When her seniors had done with this letter, she carried it to her own room, reading and re-reading it a dozen times; nor could she muster resolution to return it; but, finding at length that the epistle was forgotten, she succeeded in retaining it without awakening attention to what she had done.  This letter now became her constant companion, and a hundred times did the sweet gill trace its characters, in the privacy of her chamber, or in that of her now solitary walks in the woods.

As yet, the war had produced none of those scenes of ruthless frontier violence, that had distinguished all the previous conflicts of America.  The enemy was on the coast, and thither the efforts of the combatants had been principally directed.  It is true, an attempt on Canada had been made, but it failed for want of means; neither party being in a condition to effect much, as yet, in that quarter.  The captain had commented on this peculiarity of the present struggle; all those which had preceded it having, as a matter of course, taken the direction of the frontiers between the hostile provinces.

“There is no use, Woods, in bothering ourselves about these things, after all,” observed captain Willoughby, one day, when the subject of hanging the long-neglected gates came up between them.  “It’s a heavy job, and the crops will suffer if we take off the hands this week.  We are as safe, here, as we should be in Hyde Park; and safer too; for there house-breakers and foot-pads abound; whereas, your preaching has left nothing but very vulgar and everyday sinners at the Knoll.”

The chaplain had little to say against this reasoning; for, to own the truth, he saw no particular cause for apprehension.  Impunity had produced the feeling of security, until these gates had got to be rather a subject of amusement, than of any serious discussion.  The preceding year, when the stockade was erected, Joel had managed to throw so many obstacles in the way of hanging the gates, that the duty was not performed throughout the whole of the present summer, the subject having been mentioned but once or twice, and then only to be postponed to a more fitting occasion.

As yet no one in the valley knew of the great event which had taken place in July.  A rumour of a design to declare the provinces independent had reached the Hut, in May; but the major’s letter was silent on this important event, and positive information had arrived by no other channel; otherwise, the captain would have regarded the struggle as much more serious than he had ever done before; and he might have set about raising these all-important gates in earnest.  As it was, however, there they stood; each pair leaning against its proper wall or stockade, though those of the latter were so light as to have required but eight or ten men to set them on their hinges, in a couple of hours at most.

Captain Willoughby still confined his agricultural schemes to the site of the old Beaver Pond.  The area of that was perfectly beautiful, every unsightly object having been removed, while the fences and the tillage were faultlessly neat and regular.  Care had been taken, too, to render the few small fields around the cabins which skirted this lovely rural scene, worthy of their vicinage.  The stumps had all been dug, the surfaces levelled, and the orchards and gardens were in keeping with the charms that nature had so bountifully scattered about the place.

While, however, all in the shape of tillage was confined to this one spot, the cattle ranged the forest for miles.  Not only was the valley, but the adjacent mountain-sides were covered with intersecting paths, beaten by the herds, in the course of years.  These paths led to many a glen, or look-out, where Beulah and Maud had long been in the habit of pursuing their rambles, during the sultry heats of summer, Though so beautiful to the eye, the flats were not agreeable for walks; and it was but natural for the lovers of the picturesque to seek the éminences, where they could overlook the vast surfaces of leaves that were spread before them; or to bury themselves in ravines and glens, within which the rays of the sun scarce penetrated.  The paths mentioned led near, or to, a hundred of these places, all within a mile or two of the Hut.  As a matter of course, then, they were not neglected.

Beulah had now been a mother several months.  Her little Evert was born at the Knoll, and he occupied most of those gentle and affectionate thoughts which were not engrossed by his absent father.  Her marriage, of itself, had made some changes in her intercourse with Maud; but the birth of the child had brought about still more.  The care of this little being formed Beulah’s great delight; and Mrs. Willoughby had all that peculiar interest in her descendant, which marks a grandmother’s irresponsible love.  These two passed half their time in the nursery, a room fitted between their respective chambers; leaving Maud more alone than it was her wont to be, and of course to brood over her thoughts and feelings.  These periods of solitude our heroine was much accustomed to pass in the forest.  Use had so far emboldened her, that apprehension never shortened her walks, or lessened their pleasure.  Of danger, from any ordinary source, there was literally next to none, man never having been known to approach the valley, unless by the regular path; while the beasts of prey had been so actively hunted, as rarely to be seen in that quarter of the country.  The panther excepted, no wild quadruped was to be in the least feared in summer; and, of the first, none had ever been met with by Nick, or any of the numerous woodsmen who had now frequented the adjacent hills for two lustrums.

About three hours before the setting of the sun, on the evening of the 23d of September, 1776, Maud Willoughby was pursuing her way, quite alone, along one of the paths beaten by the cattle, at some little distance from a rocky eminence, where there was a look-out, on which Mike, by her father’s orders, had made a rude seat.  It was on the side of the clearing most remote from all the cabins; though once on the elevation, she could command a view of the whole of the little panorama around the site of the ancient pond.  In that day, ladies wore the well-known gipsey hat, a style that was peculiarly suited to the face of our heroine.  Exercise had given her cheeks a rich glow; and though a shade of sadness, or at least of reflection, was now habitually thrown athwart her sweet countenance, this bloom added an unusual lustre to her eyes, and a brilliancy to her beauty, that the proudest belle of any drawing-room might have been glad to possess.  Although living so retired, her dress always became her rank; being simple, but of the character that denotes refinement, and the habits and tastes of a gentlewoman.  In this particular, Maud had ever been observant of what was due to herself; and, more than all, had she attended to her present appearance since a chance expression of Robert Willoughby’s had betrayed how much he prized the quality in her.

Looking thus, and in a melancholy frame of mind, Maud reached the rock, and took her place on its simple seat, throwing aside her hat, to catch a little of the cooling air on her burning cheeks.  She turned to look at the lovely view again, with a pleasure that never tired.  The rays of the sun were streaming athwart the verdant meadows and rich corn, lengthening the shadows, and mellowing everything, as if expressly to please the eye of one like her who now gazed upon the scene.  Most of the people of the settlement were in the open air, the men closing their day’s works in the fields, and the women and children busied beneath shades, with their wheels and needles; the whole presenting such a picture of peaceful, rural life, as a poet might delight to describe, or an artist to delineate with his pencil.

  “The landscape smiles
  Calm in the sun; and silent are the hills
  And valleys, and the blue serene of air.”

The Vanished Lark.

“It is very beautiful!” thought Maud.  “Why cannot men be content with such scenes of loveliness and nature as this, and love each other, and be at peace, as God’s laws command?  Then we might all be living happily together, Mere, without trembling lest news of some sad misfortune should reach us, from hour to hour.  Beulah and Evert would not be separated; but both could remain with their child ­and my dear, dear father and mother would be so happy to have us all around them, in security ­and, then, Bob, too ­perhaps Bob might bring a wife from the town, with him, that I could love as I do Beulah” ­It was one of Maud’s day-dreams to love the wife of Bob, and make him happy by contributing to the happiness of those he most prized ­“No; I could never love her as I do Beulah; but I should make her very dear to me, as I ought to, since she would be Bob’s wife.”

The expression of Maud’s face, towards the close of this mental soliloquy, was of singular sadness; and yet it was the very picture of sincerity and truth.  It was some such look as the windows of the mind assume, when the feelings struggle against nature and hope, for resignation and submission to duty.

At this instant, a cry arose from the valley!  It was one of those spontaneous, involuntary outbreakings of alarm, that no art can imitate, no pen describe; but which conveys to the listener’s ear, terror in the very sound.  At the next instant, the men from the mill were seen rushing up to the summit of the cliff that impended over their dwellings, followed by their wives dragging children after them, making frantic gestures, indicative of alarm.  The first impulse of Maud was to fly; but a moment’s reflection told her it was much too late for that.  To remain and witness what followed would be safer, and more wise.  Her dress was dark, and she would not be likely to be observed at the distance at which she was placed; having behind her, too, a back-ground of gloomy rock.  Then the scene was too exciting to admit of much hesitation or delay in coming to a decision; a fearful species of maddened curiosity mingling with her alarm.  Under such circumstances, it is not surprising that Maud continued gazing on what she saw, with eyes that seemed to devour the objects before them.

The first cry from the valley was followed by the appearance of the fugitives from the mill.  These took the way towards the Hut, calling on the nearest labourers by name, to seek safety in flight.  The words could not be distinguished at the rock, though indistinct sounds might; but the gestures could not be mistaken.  In half a minute, the plain was alive with fugitives; some rushing to their cabins for their children, and all taking the direction of the stockade, as soon as the last were found.  In five minutes the roads and lanes near the Knoll were crowded with men, women and children, hastening forward to its protection, while a few of the former had already rushed through the gateways, as Maud correctly fancied, in quest of their arms.

Captain Willoughby was riding among his labourers when this fearful interruption to a tranquillity so placid first broke upon his ear.  Accustomed to alarms, he galloped forward to meet the fugitives from the mill, issuing orders as he passed to several of the men nearest the house.  With the miller, who thought little of anything but safety at that instant, he conversed a moment, and then pushed boldly on towards the verge of the cliffs.  Maud trembled as she saw her father in a situation which she thought must be so exposed; but his cool manner of riding about proved that he saw no enemy very near.  At length he waved his hat to some object, or person in the glen beneath; and she even thought she heard his shout.  At the next moment, he turned his horse, and was seen scouring along the road towards the Hut.  The lawn was covered with the fugitives as the captain reached it, while a few armed men were already coming out of the court-yard.  Gesticulating as if giving orders, the captain dashed through them all, without drawing the rein, and disappeared in the court.  A minute later, he re-issued, bearing his arms, followed by his wife and Beulah, the latter pressing little Evert to her bosom.

Something like order now began to appear among the men.  Counting all ages and both colours, the valley, at this particular moment, could muster thirty-three males capable of bearing arms.  To these might be added some ten or fifteen women who had occasionally brought down a deer, and who might be thought more or less dangerous, stationed at a loop, with a rifle or a musket.  Captain Willoughby had taken some pains to drill the former, who could go through some of the simpler light-infantry evolutions.  Among them he had appointed sundry corporals, while Joel Strides had been named a serjeant.  Joyce, now an aged and war-worn veteran, did the duty of adjutant.  Twenty men were soon drawn up in array, in front of the open gateway on the lawn, under the immediate orders of Joyce; and the last woman and child, that had been seen approaching the place of refuge, had passed within the stockade.  At this instant captain Willoughby called a party of the stragglers around him, and set about hanging the gates of the outer passage, or that which led through the palisades.

Maud would now have left the rock, but, at that moment, a dark body of Indians poured up over the cliffs, crowning it with a menacing cloud of at least fifty armed warriors.  The rivulet lay between her and the Hut, and the nearest bridge that crossed it would have brought her within reach of danger.  Then it would require at least half an hour to reach that bridge by the circuitous path she would be compelled to take, and there was little hope of getting over it before the strangers should have advanced.  It was better to remain where she could behold what was passing, and to be governed by events, than to rush blindly into unseen risks.

The party that crowned the cliffs near the mills, showed no impatience to advance.  It was evidently busy in reconnoitring, and in receiving accessions to its numbers.  The latter soon increased to some seventy or eighty warriors.  After waiting several minutes in inaction, a musket, or rifle, was fired towards the Hut, as if to try the effect of a summons and the range of a bullet.  At this hint the men on the lawn retired within the stockade, stacked their arms, and joined the party that was endeavouring to get the gates in their places.  From the circumstance that her father directed all the women and children to retire within the court, Maud supposed that the bullet might have fallen somewhere near them.  It was quite evident, however, that no one was injured.

The gates intended for the stockade, being open like the rest of that work, were materially lighter than those constructed for the house itself.  The difficulty was in handling them with the accuracy required to enter the hinges, of which there were three pairs.  This difficulty existed on account of their great height.  Of physical force, enough could be applied to toss them over the stockade itself, if necessary; but finesse was needed, rather than force, to effect the principal object, and that under difficult circumstances.  It is scarcely possible that the proximity of so fierce an enemy as a body of savages in their war-paint, for such the men at the mill had discovered was the guise of their assailants, would in any measure favour the coolness and tact of the labourers.  Poor Maud lost the sense of her own danger, in the nervous desire to see the long-forgotten gates hung; and she rose once or twice, in feverish excitement, as she saw that the leaf which was raised fell in or out, missing its fastenings.  Still the men persevered, one or two sentinels being placed to watch the Indians, and give timely notice of their approach, should they advance.

Maud now kneeled, with her face bowed to the seat, and uttered a short but most fervent prayer, in behalf of the dear beings that the Hut contained.  This calmed her spirits a little, and she rose once more to watch the course of events.  The body of men had left the gate at which they had just been toiling, and were crowding around its fellow.  One leaf was hung!  As an assurance of this, she soon after saw her father swing it backward and forward on its hinges, to cause it to settle into its place.  This was an immense relief, though she had heard too many tales of Indian warfare, to think there was any imminent danger of an attack by open day, in the very face of the garrison.  The cool manner in which her father proceeded, satisfied her that he felt the same security, for the moment; his great object being, in truth, to make suitable provision against the hours of darkness.

Although Maud had been educated as a lady, and possessed the delicacy and refinement of her class, she had unavoidably caught some of the fire and resolution of a frontier life.  To her, the forest, for instance, possessed no fancied dangers; but when there was real ground for alarm, she estimated its causes intelligently, and with calmness.  So it was, also, in the present crisis.  She remembered all she had been taught, or had heard, and quick of apprehension, her information was justly applied to the estimate of present circumstances.

The men at the Hut soon had the second leaf of the gate ready to be raised.  At this instant, an Indian advanced across the flat alone, bearing a branch of a tree in his hand, and moving swiftly.  This was a flag of truce, desiring to communicate with the pale-faces.  Captain Willoughby met the messenger alone, at the foot of the lawn, and there a conference took place that lasted several minutes.  Maud could only conjecture its objects, though she thought her father’s attitude commanding, and his gestures stern.  The red-man, as usual, was quiet and dignified.  This much our heroine saw, or fancied she saw; but beyond this, of course, all was vague conjecture.  Just as the two were about to part, and had even made courteous signs of their intention, a shout arose from the workmen, which ascended, though faintly, as high as the rock.  Captain Willoughby turned, and then Maud saw his arm extended towards the stockade.  The second leaf of the gate was in its place, swinging to and fro, in a sort of exulting demonstration of its uses!  The savage moved away, more slowly than he had advanced, occasionally stopping to reconnoitre the Knoll and its defences.

Captain Willoughby now returned to his people, and he was some time busied in examining the gates, and giving directions about its fastenings.  Utterly forgetful of her own situation, Maud shed tears of joy, as she saw that this great object was successfully effected.  The stockade was an immense security to the people of the Hut.  Although it certainly might be scaled, such an enterprise would require great caution, courage, and address; and it could hardly be effected, at all, by daylight.  At night, even, it would allow the sentinels time to give the alarm, and with a vigilant look-out, might be the means of repelling an enemy.  There was also another consideration connected with this stockade.  An enemy would not be fond of trusting himself inside of it, unless reasonably certain of carrying the citadel altogether; inasmuch as it might serve as a prison to place him in the hands of the garrison.  To recross it under a fire from the loops, would be an exploit so hazardous that few Indians would think of undertaking it.  All this Maud knew from her father’s conversations, and she saw how much had been obtained in raising the gates.  Then the stockade, once properly closed, afforded great security to those moving about within it; the timbers would be apt to stop a bullet, and were a perfect defence against a rush; leaving time to the women and children to get into the court, even allowing that the assailants succeeded in scaling the palisades.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And this is then your errand here, Bob?” asked his fair companion, gazing earnestly at the major.

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

“I fear not.  It is now too late.  Beulah’s marriage with Evert has strengthened his opinions ­and then”

“What, dearest Maud?  You pause as if that ‘then’ had a meaning you hesitated to express.”

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

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