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

­“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.” ­


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.”

The major accepted the proposal with joy, and forthwith he proceeded to issue a few necessary orders to his subordinates, before he followed Maud.  When all was ready, the latter led the way, carrying a small silver lamp that she had brought with her on entering the library.  The reader already understands that the Hut was built around a court, the portion of the building in the rear, or on the cliff, alone having windows that opened outward.  This was as true of the roofs as of the perpendicular parts of the structure, the only exceptions being in the loops that had been cut in the half-story, beneath the eaves.  Of course, the garrets were very extensive.  They were occupied in part, however, by small rooms, with dormer-windows, the latter of which opened on the court, with the exception of those above the cliff.  It was on the roofs of these windows that captain Willoughby had laid his platform, or walk, with a view to extinguish fires, or to defend the place.  There were many rooms also that were lighted only by the loops, and which, of course, were on the outer side of the buildings.  In addition to these arrangements, the garret portions of the Hut were divided into two great parts, like the lower floor, without any doors of communication.  Thus, below, the apartments commenced at the gateway, and extended along one-half the front; the whole of the east wing, and the whole of the rear, occupying five-eighths of the entire structure.  This part contained all the rooms occupied by the family and the offices.  The corresponding three-eighths, or the remaining half of the front, and the whole of the west wing, were given to visiters, and were now in possession of the people of the valley; as were all the rooms and garrets above them.  On the other hand, captain Willoughby, with a view to keep his family to itself, had excluded every one, but the usual inmates, from his own portion of the house, garret-rooms included.

Some of the garret-rooms, particularly those over the library, drawing-room, and parlour, were convenient and well-furnished little apartments, enjoying dormer-windows that opened on the meadows and forest, and possessing a very tolerable elevation, for rooms of that particular construction.  Here Mr. Woods lodged and had his study.  The access was by a convenient flight of steps, placed in the vestibule that communicated with the court.  A private and narrower flight also ascended from the offices.

Maud now led the way up the principal stairs, Mike being on post at the outer door to keep off impertinent eyes, followed by Robert Willoughby.  Unlike most American houses, the Hut had few passages on its principal floor; the rooms communicating en suite, as a better arrangement where the buildings were so long, and yet so narrow.  Above, however, one side was left in open garret; sometimes in front and sometimes in the rear, as the light came from the court, or from without.  Into this garret, then, Maud conducted the major, passing a line of humble rooms on her right, which belonged to the families of the Plinys and the Smashes, with their connections, until she reached the front range of the buildings.  Here the order was changed along the half of the structure reserved to the use of the family; the rooms being on the outer side lighted merely by the loops, while opposite to them was an open garret with windows that overlooked the court.

Passing into the garret just mentioned, Maud soon reached the door of the little room she sought.  It was an apartment she had selected for painting, on account of the light from the loop, which in the morning was particularly favourable, though somewhat low.  As she usually sat on a little stool, however, this difficulty was in some measure obviated; and, at all events, the place was made to answer her purposes.  She kept the key herself, and the room, since Beulah’s marriage in particular, was her sanctum; no one entering it unless conducted by its mistress.  Occasionally, Little Smash was admitted with a broom; though Maud, for reasons known to herself, often preferred sweeping the small carpet that covered the centre of the floor, with her own fair hands, in preference to suffering another to intrude.

The major was aware that Maud had used this room for the last seven years.  It was here he had seen her handkerchief waving at the loop, when he last departed; and hundreds of times since had he thought of this act of watchful affection, with doubts that led equally to pain or pleasure, as images of merely sisterly care, or of a tenderer feeling, obtruded themselves.  These loops were four feet long, cut in the usual bevelling manner, through the massive timbers; were glazed, and had thick, bullet-proof, inside shutters, that in this room were divided in equal parts, in order to give Maud the proper use of the light she wanted.  All these shutters were now closed by command of the captain, in order to conceal the lights that would be flickering through the different garrets; and so far had caution become a habit, that Maud seldom exposed her person at night, near the loop, with the shutter open.

On the present occasion, she left the light without, and threw open the upper-half of her heavy shutter, remarking as she did so, that the day was just beginning to dawn.

“In a few minutes it will be light,” she added; “then we shall be able to see who is and who is not in the valley.  Look ­you can perceive my father near the gate, at this moment.”

“I do, to my shame, Maud.  He should not be there, I am cooped up here, behind timbers that are almost shot-proof.”

“It will be time for you to go to the front, as you soldiers call it, when there is an enemy to face.  You cannot think there is any danger of an attack upon the Hut this morning.”

“Certainty not.  It is now too late.  If intended at all, it would have been made before that streak of light appeared in the east.”

“Then close the shutter, and I will bring in the lamp, and show you some of my sketches.  We artists are thirsting always for praise; and I know you have a taste, Bob, that one might dread.”

“This is kind of you, dear Maud,” answered the major, closing the shutter; “for they tell me you are niggardly of bestowing such favours.  I hear you have got to likenesses ­little Evert’s, in particular.”