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

 “For thee they fought, for thee they fell,
  And their oath was on thee laid;
  To thee the clarions raised their swell,
  And the dying warriors pray’d.”


The distaste for each other which existed between the people of New England and those of the adjoining colonies, anterior to the war of the revolution, is a matter of history.  It was this feeling that threw Schuyler, one of the ablest and best men in the service of his country, into the shade, a year later than the period of which we are writing.  This feeling was very naturally produced, and, under the circumstances, was quite likely to be active in a revolution.  Although New England and New York were contiguous territories, a wide difference existed between their social conditions.  Out of the larger towns, there could scarcely be said to be a gentry at all, in the former; while the latter, a conquered province, had received the frame-work of the English system, possessing Lords of the Manor, and divers other of the fragments of the feudal system.  So great was the social equality throughout the interior of the New England provinces, indeed, as almost to remove the commoner distinctions of civilised associations, bringing all classes surprisingly near the same level, with the exceptions of the very low, or some rare instance of an individual who was raised above his neighbours by unusual wealth, aided perhaps by the accidents of birth, and the advantages of education.

The results of such a state of society are easily traced.  Habit had taken the place of principles, and a people accustomed to see even questions of domestic discipline referred, either to the church or to public sentiment, and who knew few or none of the ordinary distinctions of social intercourse, submitted to the usages of other conditions of society, with singular distaste and stubborn reluctance.  The native of New England deferred singularly to great wealth, in 1776 as he is known to defer to it to-day; but it was opposed to all his habits and prejudices to defer to social station.  Unused to intercourse with what was then called the great world of the provinces, he knew not how to appreciate its manners or opinions; and, as is usual with the provincial, he affected to despise that which he neither practised nor understood.  This, at once, indisposed him to acknowledge the distinctions of classes; and, when accident threw him into the adjoining province, he became marked, at once, for decrying the usages he encountered, comparing them, with singular self-felicitation, to those he had left behind him; sometimes with justice beyond a doubt, but oftener in provincial ignorance and narrow bigotry.

A similar state of things, on a larger scale, has been witnessed, more especially in western New York, since the peace of ’83; the great inroads of emigrants from the New England states having almost converted that district of country into an eastern colony.  Men of the world, while they admit how much has been gained in activity, available intelligence of the practical school, and enterprise, regret that the fusion has been quite so rapid and so complete; it being apparently a law of nature that nothing precious that comes of man shall be enjoyed altogether without alloy.

The condition in which captain Willoughby was now placed, might have been traced to causes connected with the feelings and habits above alluded to.  It was distasteful to Joel Strides, and one or two of his associates, to see a social chasm as wide as that which actually existed between the family of the proprietor of the Knoll and his own, growing no narrower; and an active cupidity, with the hopes of confiscations, or an abandonment of the estate, came in aid of this rankling jealousy of station; the most uneasy, as it is the meanest of all our vices.  Utterly incapable of appreciating the width of that void which separates the gentleman from the man of coarse feelings and illiterate vulgarity, he began to preach that doctrine of exaggerated and mistaken equality which says “one man is as good as another,” a doctrine that is nowhere engrafted even on the most democratic of our institutions to-day, since it would totally supersede the elections, and leave us to draw lots for public trusts, as men are drawn for juries.  On ordinary occasions, the malignant machinations of Strides would probably have led to no results; but, aided by the opinions and temper of the times, he had no great difficulty in undermining his master’s popularity, by incessant and well-digested appeals to the envy and cupidity of his companions.  The probity, liberality, and manly sincerity of captain Willoughby, often counteracted his schemes, it is true; but, as even the stone yields to constant attrition, so did Joel finally succeed in overcoming the influence of these high qualities, by dint of perseverance, and cunning, not a little aided by certain auxiliaries freely obtained from the Father of Lies.

As our tale proceeds, Joel’s connection with the late movement will become more apparent, and we prefer leaving the remainder of the explanations to take their proper places in the course of the narrative.

Joyce was so completely a matter of drill, that he was in a sound sleep three minutes after he had lain down, the negro who belonged to his guard imitating his industry in this particular with equal coolness.  As for the thoughtful Scotchman, Jamie Allen, sleep and he were strangers that night.  To own the truth, the disaffection of Mike not only surprised, but it disappointed him.  He remained in the court, therefore, conversing on the subject with the “laird,” after his companions had fallen asleep.

“I wad na hae’ thought that o’ Michael,” he said, “for the man had an honest way with him, and was so seeming valiant, that I could na hae’ supposed him capable of proving a desairter.  Mony’s the time that I’ve heard him swear ­for Michael was an awfu’ hand at that vice, when his betters were no near to rebuke him ­but often has he swore that Madam, and her winsome daughters, were the pride of his een; ay, and their delight too!”

“The poor fellow has yielded to my unlucky fortune, Jamie,” returned the captain, “and I sometimes think it were better had you all imitated his example.”

“Begging pairdon, captain Willoughby, for the familiarity, but ye’re just wrang, fra’ beginning to end, in the supposition.  No man with a hairt in his body wad desairt ye in a time like this, and no mair ’s to be said in the matter.  Nor do I think that luuk has had anything to do with Michael’s deficiency, unless ye ca’ it luuk to be born and edicated in a misguiding religion.  Michael’s catholicity is at the bottom of his backsliding, ye’ll find, if ye look closely into the maiter.”

“I do not see how that is to be made out, Allen; all sects of the Christian religion, I believe, teaching us to abide by our engagements, and to perform our duties.”

“Na doubt ­na doubt, ’squire Willoughby ­there’s a seeming desire to teach as much in a’ churches; but ye’ll no deny that the creatur’ o’ Rome wears a mask, and that catholicity is, at the best, but a wicked feature to enter into the worship of God.”

“Catholicism, Jamie, means adherence to the catholic church ­”

“Just that ­just that” ­interrupted the Scot, eagerly ­and it’s that o’ which I complain.  All protestants ­wather fully disposed, or ainly half-disposed, as may be the case with the English kirk ­all protestants agree in condemning the varry word catholic, which is a sign and a symbol of the foul woman o’ Babylon.”

“Then, Jamie, they agree in condemning what they don’t understand.  I should be sorry to think I am not a member of the catholic church myself.”

Yersal’! ­No, captain Willoughby, ye’re no catholic, though you are a bit akin to it, perhaps.  I know that Mr. Woods, that’s now in the hands o’ the savages, prays for the catholics, and professes to believe in what he ca’s the ‘Holy Catholic Kirk;’ but, then, I’ve always supposed that was in the way o’ Christian charity like; for one is obleeged to use decent language, ye’ll be acknowledging, sir, in the pulpit, if it’s only for appearance’s sake.”

“Well ­well ­Jamie; a more fitting occasion may occur for discussing matters of this nature, and we will postpone the subject to another time.  I may have need of your services an hour or two hence, and it will be well for every man to come to the work fresh and clear-headed.  Go to your pallet then, and expect an early call.”

The mason was not a man to oppose such an order coming from the ‘laird;’ and he withdrew, leaving the captain standing in the centre of the court quite alone.  We say alone, for young Blodget had ascended to the gallery or staging that led around the inner sides of the roofs, while the negro on guard was stationed at the gateway, as the only point where the Hut could be possibly carried by a coup-de-main. As the first of these positions commanded the best exterior view from the inside of the buildings, the captain mounted the stairs he had so recently descended, and joined the young Rhode Islander at his post.

The night was star-light, but the elevation at which the two watchers were placed, was unfavourable to catching glimpses of any lurking enemy.  The height confounded objects with the ground on which they were placed, though Blodget told the captain he did not think a man could cross the palisades without his being seen.  By moving along the staging on the southern side of the quadrangle, he could keep a tolerable look-out, on the front and two flanks, at the same time.  Still, this duty could not be performed without considerable risk, as the head and shoulders of a man moving along the ridge of the building would be almost certain to attract the eye of any Indian without.  This was the first circumstance that the captain remarked on joining his companion, and gratitude induced him to point it out, in order that the other might, in a degree at least, avoid the danger.

“I suppose, Blodget, this is the first of your service,” said captain Willoughby, “and it is not easy to impress on a young man the importance of unceasing vigilance against savage artifices.”

“I admit the truth of all you say, sir,” answered Blodget, “though I do not believe any attempt will be made on the house, until the other side has sent in what the serjeant calls another flag.”

“What reason have you for supposing this?” asked the captain, in a little surprise.

“It seems unreasonable for men to risk their lives when an easier way to conquest may seem open to them.  That is all I meant, captain Willoughby.”

“I believe I understand you, Blodget.  You think Joel and his friends have succeeded so well in drawing off my men, that they may be inclined to wait a little, in order to ascertain if further advantages may not be obtained in the same way.”

Blodget confessed that he had some such thoughts in his mind, while, at the same time, he declared that he believed the disaffection would go no further.

“It is not easy for it to do so,” returned the captain, smiling a little bitterly, as he remembered how many who had eaten of his bread, and had been cared for by him, in sickness and adversity, had deserted him in his need, “unless they persuade my wife and daughters to follow those who have led the way.”

Respect kept Blodget silent for a minute; then uneasiness induced him to speak.

“I hope captain Willoughby don’t distrust any who now remain with him,” he said.  “If so, I know I must be the person.”

“Why you, in particular, young man?  With you, surely, have every reason to be satisfied.”

“It cannot be serjeant Joyce, for he will stay until he get your orders to march,” the youth replied, not altogether without humour in his manner; “and, as for the Scotchman, he is old, and men of his years are not apt to wait so long, if they intend to be traitors.  The negroes all love you, as if you were their father, and there is no one but me left to betray you.”

“I thank you for this short enumeration of my strength, Blodget, since it gives me new assurance of my people’s fidelity.  You I will not distrust; the others I cannot, and there is a feeling of high confidence ­What do you see? ­why do you lower your piece, and stand at guard, in this manner?”

“That is a man’s form, sir, on the right of the gate, trying to climb the palisades.  I have had my eye on it, for some time, and I feel sure of my aim.”

“Hold an instant, Blodget; let us be certain before we act.”

The young man lowered the butt of his piece, waiting patiently and calmly for his superior to decide.  There was a human form visible, sure enough, and it was seen slowly and cautiously rising until it reached the summit of the stockade, where it appeared to pause to reconnoitre.  Whether it were a pale-face or a red-skin, it was impossible to distinguish, though the whole movement left little doubt that an assailant or a spy was attempting to pass the outer defences.

“We cannot spare that fellow,” said the captain, with a little regret in his manner; “it is more than we can afford.  You must bring him down, Blodget.  The instant you have fired, come to the other end of the stage, where we will watch the result.”

This arranged, the captain prudently passed away from the spot, turning to note the proceedings of his companion, the moment he was at the opposite angle of the gallery.  Blodget was in no haste.  He waited until his aim was certain; then the stillness of the valley was rudely broken by the sharp report of a rifle, and a flash illumined its obscurity.  The figure fell outward, like a bird shot from its perch, lying in a ball at the foot of the stockade.  Still, no cry or groan gave evidence of nature surprised by keen and unexpected anguish.  At the next instant Blodget was by captain Willoughby’s side.  His conduct was a pledge of fidelity that could not be mistaken, and a warm squeeze of the hand assured the youth of his superior’s approbation.

It was necessary to be cautious, however, and to watch the result with ceaseless vigilance.  Joyce and the men below had taken the alarm, and the serjeant with his companions were ordered up on the stage immediately, leaving the negro, alone, to watch the gate.  A message was also sent to the females, to give them confidence, and particularly to direct the blacks to arm, and to repair to the loops.

All this was done without confusion, and with so little noise as to prevent those without from understanding what was in progress.  Terror kept the negroes silent, and discipline the others.  As every one had lain down in his or her clothes, it was not a minute before every being in the Hut was up, and in motion.  It is unnecessary to speak of the mental prayers and conflicting emotions with which Mrs. Willoughby and her daughters prepared themselves for the struggle; and, yet, even the beautiful and delicate Maud braced her nerves to meet the emergency of a frontier assault.  As for Beulah, gentle, peaceful, and forgiving as she was by nature, the care of little Evert aroused all the mother within her, and something like a frown that betokened resolution was, for a novelty, seen on her usually placid face.

A moment sufficed to let Joyce and his companions into the state of affairs.  There now being four armed men on the stage, one took each of the three exposed sides of the buildings to watch, leaving the master of the house to move from post to post, to listen to suggestions, hear reports, and communicate orders.

The dark object that lay at the foot of the palisades was pointed out to the serjeant the instant he was on the stage, and one of his offices was to observe it, in order to ascertain if it moved, or whether any attempts were made to carry off the body.  The American Indians attach all the glory or shame of a battle to the acquisition or loss of scalps, and one of their practices was to remove those who had fallen, at every hazard, in order to escape the customary mutilation.  Some tribes even believed it disgrace to suffer a dead body to be struck by the enemy, and many a warrior has lost his life in the effort to save the senseless corpse of a comrade from this fancied degradation.

As soon as the little stir created in the Hut by the mustering of the men was over, a stillness as profound as that which had preceded the alarm reigned around the place.  No noise came from the direction of the mill; no cry, or call, or signal of battle was heard; everything lay in the quiet of midnight.  Half an hour thus passed, when the streak of light that appeared in the east announced the approach of day.

The twenty minutes that succeeded were filled with intense anxiety.  The slow approach of light gradually brought out object after object in the little panorama, awakening and removing alike, conjectures and apprehensions.  At first the grey of the palisades became visible; then the chapel, in its sombre outlines; the skirts of the woods; the different cabins that lined them; the cattle in the fields, and the scattering trees.  As for Joyce, he kept his gaze fastened on the object at the foot of the stockade, expecting every instant there would be an attempt to carry it off.

At length, the light became so strong as to allow the eye to take in the entire surface of the natural glacis without the defences, bringing the assurance that no enemy was near.  As the ground was perfectly clear, a few fruit-trees and shrubs on the lawn excepted, and by changing positions on the stage, these last could now be examined on all sides, nothing was easier than to make certain of this fact.  The fences, too, were light and open, rendering it impossible for any ambush or advancing party to shelter itself behind them.  In a word, daylight brought the comfortable assurance to those within the palisades that another night was passed without bringing an assault.

“We shall escape this morning, I do believe, Joyce,” said the captain, who had laid down his rifle, and no longer felt it necessary to keep the upper portions of his body concealed behind the roof ­“Nothing can be seen that denotes an intention to attack, and not an enemy is near.”

“I will take one more thorough look, your honour,” answered the serjeant, mounting to the ridge of the building, where he obtained the immaterial advantage of seeing more at the same time, at the risk of exposing his whole person, should any hostile rifle be in reach of a bullet ­“then we may be certain.”

Joyce was a man who stood just six feet in his stockings, and, losing no part of this stature by his setting up, a better object for a sharp-shooter could not have been presented than he now offered.  The crack of a rifle soon saluted the ears of the garrison; then followed the whizzing of the bullet as it came humming through the air towards the Hut.  But the report was so distant as at once to announce that the piece was discharged from the margin of the forest; a certain evidence of two important facts; one, that the enemy had fallen back to a cover; the other, that the house was narrowly watched.

Nothing tries the nerves of a young soldier more than the whizzing of a distant fire.  The slower a bullet or a shot approaches, the more noise it makes; and, the sound continuing longer than is generally imagined, the uninitiated are apt to imagine that the dangerous missile is travelling on an errand directly towards themselves.  Space appears annihilated, and raw hands are often seen to duck at a round shot that is possibly flying a hundred yards from them.

On the present occasion, the younger Pliny fairly squatted below the root Jamie thought it prudent to put some of his own masonry, which was favourably placed in an adjacent chimney for such a purpose, between him and the spot whence the report proceeded; while even Blodget looked up into the air, as if he expected to see where the bullet was going.  Captain Willoughby had no thought of the missile he was looking for the smoke in the skirts of the woods, to note the spot; while Joyce, with folded arms, stood at rest on the ridge, actually examining the valley in another direction, certain that a fire so distant could not be very dangerous.

Jamie’s calculation proved a good one.  The bullet struck against the chimney, indented a brick, and fell upon the shingles of the roof.  Joyce descended at the next instant, and he coolly picked up, and kept tossing the flattened bit of lead in his hand, for the next minute or two, with the air of a man who seemed unconscious of having it at all.

“The enemy is besieging us, your honour,” said Joyce, “but he will not attack at present.  If I might presume to advise, we shall do well to leave a single sentinel on this stage, since no one can approach the palisades without being seen, if the man keeps in motion.”

“I was thinking of this myself, serjeant; we will first post Blodget here.  We can trust him; and, as the day advances, a-less intelligent sentinel will answer.  At the same time, he must be instructed to keep an eye in the rear of the Hut, danger often coming from the quarter least expected.”

All this was done, and the remainder of the men descended to the court.  Captain Willoughby ordered the gate unbarred, when he passed outside, taking the direction towards the lifeless body, which still lay where it had fallen, at the foot of the stockades.  He was accompanied by Joyce and Jamie Allen, the latter carrying a spade, it being the intention to inter the savage as the shortest means of getting rid of a disagreeable object.  Our two old soldiers had none of the sensitiveness on the subject of exposure that is so apt to disturb the tyro in the art of war.  With sentinels properly posted, they had no apprehensions of dangers that did not exist, and they moved with confidence and steadily wherever duty called.  Not only was the inner gate opened and passed, but the outer also, the simple precaution of stationing a man at the first being the only safeguard taken.

When outside of the palisades, the captain and his companions proceeded at once towards the body.  It was now sunrise, and a rich light was illuminating the hill-tops, though the direct rays of the luminary had not yet descended to the valley.  There lay the Indian, precisely as he had fallen, no warrior having interposed to save him from the scalping-knife.  His head had reached the earth first, and the legs and body were tumbled on it, in a manner to render the form a confused pile of legs and blanket, rather than a bold savage stretched in the repose of death.

“Poor fellow!” exclaimed the captain, as the three approached the spot; “it is to be hoped Blodget’s bullet did its commission faithfully, else the fall must have hurt him sadly.”

“By Jove, ’tis nothing but a stuffed soldier!” cried Joyce, rolling the ingeniously contrived bundle over with his foot; “and here, the lad’s ball has passed directly through its head!  This is Injin deviltry, sir; it has been tried, in order to see whether our sentinels were or were not asleep.”

“To me, Joyce, it seems more like a white man’s clumsiness.  The fellow has been made to resemble an Indian, but people of our own colour have had a hand in the affair.”

“Well, sir, let that be as it may, it is lucky our youngster had so quick, an eye, and so nimble a finger.  See, your honour; here is the pole by which the effigy was raised to the top of the palisades, and here is the trail on the grass yet, by which his supporter has crept off.  The fellow seems to have scrambled along in a hurry; his trail is as plain as that of a whole company.”

The captain examined the marks left on the grass, and was of opinion that more than one man had been employed to set up the decoy figure, a circumstance that seemed probable in itself, when the weight of the image and the danger of exposure were remembered. ­Let that be as it might, he was rejoiced on reflection that no one was hurt, and he still retained the hope of being able to come to such an understanding with his invaders as to supersede the necessity of actual violence.

“At all events, your honour, I will carry the quaker in,” said Joyce, tossing the stuffed figure on a shoulder.  “He do to man the quaker gun at least, and may be of use in frightening some one of the other side, more than he has yet frightened us.”

Captain Willoughby did not object, though he reminded Joyce that the desertions had probably put the enemy in possession of a minute statement of their defences and force, including the history of the wooden gun.  If Joel and his fellow-delinquents had joined the party at the mill, the name, age, character and spirit of every man remaining in the garrison were probably known to its leaders; and neither quakers nor paddies would count for much in opposing an assault.

The captain came within the gate of the palisades last, closing, barring, and locking it with his own hands, when all immediate apprehensions from the enemy ceased.  He knew, certainly, that it would probably exceed his present means of resistance, to withstand a vigorous assault; but, on the other hand, he felt assured that Indians would never approach a stockade in open day, and expose themselves to the hazards of losing some fifteen or twenty of their numbers, before they could carry the place.  This was opposed to all their notions of war, neither honour nor advantage tempting them to adopt it.  As for the first, agreeably to savage notions, glory was to be measured by the number of scalps taken and lost; and, counting all the women left in the Hut, there would not be heads enough to supply a sufficient number to prove an offset to those which would probably be lost in the assault.

All this did the captain discuss in few words, with the serjeant, when he proceeded to join his anxious and expecting wife and daughters.

“God has looked down upon us in mercy, and protected us this night,” said the grateful Mrs. Willoughby, with streaming eyes, as she received and returned her husband’s warm embrace.  “We cannot be too thankful, when we look at these dear girls, and our precious little Evert.  If Robert were only with us now, I should be entirely happy!”

“Such is human nature, my little Maud” ­answered the captain, drawing his darling towards himself and kissing her polished forehead.  “The very thoughts of being in our actual strait would have made your mother as miserable as her worst enemy could wish ­if, indeed, there be such a monster on earth as her enemy ­and, now she protests she is delighted because our throats were not all cut last night.  We are safe enough for the day I think, and not another night shall one of you pass in the Hut, if I can have my way.  If there be such a thing as desertion, there is such a thing as evacuation also.”

“Hugh! ­What can you, do you mean!  Remember, we are surrounded by a wilderness.”

“I know our position reasonably well, wife of mine, and intend to turn that knowledge to some account, God willing, and aiding.  I mean to place old Hugh Willoughby by the side of Xenophon and Washington, and let the world see what a man is capable of, on a retreat, when he has such a wife, two such daughters, and a grandson like that, on his hands.  As for Bob, I would not have him here, on any account.  The young dog would run away with half the glory.”

The ladies were too delighted to find their father and husband in such spirits, to be critical, and all soon after sat down to an early breakfast, to eat with what appetite they could.