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

  Yet I well remember
  The favours of these men:  were they not mine? 
  Did they not sometimes cry, all hail! to me? 
  So Judas did to Christ:  but he, in twelve
  Found truth in all but one; I in twelve thousand none.

  Richard II.

That which captain Willoughby had said in seeming pleasantry he seriously meditated.  The idea of passing another night in the Hut, supported by only six men, with more than ten times that number besieging him, and with all the secrets of his defences known, through the disaffection of his retainers, was, to the last degree, painful to him.  Had his own life, alone, been at risk, military pride might have tempted him to remain; but his charge was far too precious to be exposed on account of considerations so vain.

No sooner, therefore, was the breakfast over, than captain summoned Joyce to a consultation on the contemplated movement.  The interview took place in the library, whither the serjeant repaired, on receiving his superior’s orders.  As to the party without, no apprehension was felt, so long as the sentinels were even moderately vigilant, and the day lasted.

“I suppose, serjeant,” commenced captain Willoughby, “a soldier of your experience is not to be taught what is the next resort of a commanding officer, when he finds himself unable to make good his ground against his enemy in front?”

“It is to retreat, your honour.  The road that cannot be passed, must be turned.”

“You have judged rightly.  It is now my intention to evacuate the Hut, and to try our luck on a march to the rear.  A retreat, skilfully executed, is a creditable thing; and any step appears preferable to exposing the dear beings in the other room to the dangers of a night assault.”

Joyce appeared struck with the suggestion; though, if one might have judged from the expression of his countenance, far from favourably.  He reflected a moment ere he answered.

“Did your honour send for me,” he then inquired, “to issue orders for this retreat, or was it your pleasure to hear anything I might have to say about it?”

“The last ­I shall give no orders, until I know your opinion of the measure.”

“It is as much the duty of an inferior to speak his mind freely, when he is called for an opinion, captain Willoughby, as it is to obey in silence, when he gets nothing but orders.  According to my views of the matter, we shall do better to stand our ground, and try to make good the house against these vagabonds, than to trust to the woods.”

“Of course you have your reasons for this opinion, Joyce?”

“Certainly, your honour.  In the first place, I suppose it to be against the rules of the art of war to evacuate a place that is well provisioned, without standing an assault.  This we have not yet done.  It is true, sir, that our ranks are thinned by desertions; but I never heard of a garrisoned town, or a garrisoned house, capitulating on account of a few deserters; and, I take it, evacuation is only the next step before capitulation.”

“But our desertions, Joyce, have not been few, but many. Three times as many have left us, if we include our other losses, as remain.  It matters not whence the loss proceeds, so long as it is a loss.”

“A retreat, with women and baggage, is always a ticklish operation, your honour, especially if an enemy is pressing your rear!  Then we have a wilderness before us, and the ladies could hardly hold out for so long a march as that from this place to the Mohawk; short of which river they will hardly be as safe as they are at present.”

“I have had no such march in view, Joyce.  You know there is a comfortable hut, only a mile from this very spot on the mountain side, where we commenced a clearing for a sheep-pasture, only three summers since.  The field is in rich grass; and, could we once reach the cabin, and manage to drive a cow or two up there, we might remain a month in security.  As for provisions and clothes, we could carry enough on our backs to serve us all several weeks; especially if assisted by the cows.”

“I’m glad your honour has thought of this idea,” said the serjeant, his face brightening as he listened; “it will be a beautiful operation to fall back on that position, when we can hold out no longer in this.  The want of some such arrangement has been my only objection to this post, captain Willoughby; for, we have always seemed to me, out here in the wilderness, like a regiment drawn up with a ravine or a swamp in its rear.”

“I am glad to find you relishing the movement for any cause, serjeant.  It is my intention at present to make the necessary arrangements to evacuate the Hut, while it is light; and, as soon as it is dark, to retreat by the gates, the palisades, and the rivulet ­How now, Jamie?  You look as if there were news to communicate?”

Jamie Allen, in truth, had entered at that instant in so much haste as to have overlooked the customary ceremony of sending in his name, or even of knocking.

“News!” repeated the mason, with a sort of wondering smile “and it’s just that I’ve come to bring.  Wad ye think it, baith, gentlemen, that our people are in their am cabins ag’in, boiling their pots, and frying their pork, a’ the same as if the valley was in a state of tranquillity, and we so many lairds waiting for them to come and do our pleasure!”

“I do not understand you, Jamie ­whom do you mean by ’our people’?”

“Sure, just the desairters; Joel, and the miller, and Michael, and the rest.”

“And the cabins ­and the pots ­and the pork ­it is gibberish to me.”

“I hae what ye English ca’ an aiccent, I know; but, in my judgment, captain Willoughby, the words may be comprehended without a dictionary.  It’s just that Joel Strides, and Daniel the miller, and the rest o’ them that fleed, the past night, have gane into their ain abodes, and have lighted their fires, and put over their pots and kettles, and set up their domestic habitudes, a’ the same as if this Beaver Dam was ain o’ the pairks o’ Lonnon!”

“The devil they have!  Should this be the case, serjeant, our sortie may be made at an earlier hour than that mentioned.  I never will submit to such an insult.”

Captain Willoughby was too much aroused to waste many words; and, seizing his hat, he proceeded forthwith to take a look for himself.  The stage, or gallery on the roofs, offering the best view, in a minute he and his two companions were on it.

“There; ye’ll be seein’ a smoke in Joel’s habitation, with your own een; and, yon is anither, in the dwelling of his cousin Seth,” said Jamie, pointing in the direction he named.

“Smoke there is, of a certainty; but the Indians may have lighted fires in the kitchen, to do their own cooking.  This looks like investing us, serjeant, rather more closely than the fellows have done before.”

“I rather think not, your honour ­Jamie is right, or my eyes do not know a man from a woman.  That is certainly a female in the garden of Joel, and I’ll engage it’s Phoebe, pulling onions for his craving stomach, the scoundrel!”

Captain Willoughby never moved without his little glass, and it was soon levelled at the object mentioned.

“By Jupiter, you are right, Joyce” ­he cried.  “It is Phoebe, though the hussy is coolly weeding, not culling the onions!  Ay ­and now I see Joel himself!  The rascal is examining some hoes, with as much philosophy as if he were master of them, and all near them.  This is a most singular situation to be in!”

This last remark was altogether just.  The situation of those in the Hut was now singular indeed.  Further examination showed that every cabin had its tenant, no one of the party that remained within the palisades being a householder.  By using the glass, and pointing it, in succession, at the different dwellings, the captain in due time detected the presence of nearly every one of the deserters.  Not a man of them all, in fact, was missing, Mike alone excepted.  There they were, with their wives and children, in quiet possession of their different habitations.  Nor was this all; the business of the valley seemed as much on their minds as had been their practice for years.  Cows were milked, the swine were fed, poultry was called and cared for, and each household was also making the customary preparations for the morning meal.

So absorbed was the captain with this extraordinary scene, that he remained an hour on the staging, watching the course of events.  The breakfasts were soon over, having been later than common, and a little hurried; then commenced the more important occupations of the day.  A field was already half ploughed, in preparation for a crop of winter grain; thither Joel himself proceeded, with the necessary cattle, accompanied by the labourers who usually aided him in that particular branch of husbandry.  Three ploughs were soon at work, with as much regularity and order as if nothing had occurred to disturb the tranquillity of the valley.  The axes of the wood-choppers were next heard, coming out of the forest, cutting fuel for the approaching winter; and a half-finished ditch had its workmen also, who were soon busy casting up the soil, and fashioning their trench.  In a word, all the suspended toil was renewed with perfect system and order.

“This beats the devil himself, Joyce!” said the captain, after a half-hour of total silence.  “Here are all these fellows at work as coolly as if I had just given them their tasks, and twice as diligently.  Their unusual industry is a bad symptom of itself!”

“Your honour will remark one circumstance.  Not a rascal of them all comes within the fair range of a musket, for, as to throwing away ammunition at such distances, it would be clearly unmilitary, and might be altogether useless.”

“I have half a mind to scatter them with a volley” ­said the captain, doubtingly.  “Bullets would take effect among those ploughmen, could they only be made to hit.”

“And amang the cattle, too,” observed the Scotsman, who had an eye on the more economical part of the movement, as well as on that which was military.  “A ball would slay a horse as well as a man in such a skairmish.”

“This is true enough, Jamie; and it is not exactly the sort of warfare I could wish, to be firing at men who were so lately my friends.  I do not see, Joyce, that the rascals have any arms with them?”

“Not a musket, sir.  I noticed that, when Joel first detailed his detachments.  Can it be possible that the savages have retired?”

“Not they; else would Mr. Strides and his friends have gone with them.  No, serjeant, there is a deep plan to lead us into some sort of ambush in this affair, and we will be on the look-out for them.”

Joyce stood contemplating the scene for some, time, in profound silence, when he approached the captain formally, and made the usual military salute; a ceremony he had punctiliously observed, on all proper occasions, since the garrison might be said to be placed under martial law.

“If it’s your honour’s pleasure,” he said, “I will detail a detachment, and go out and bring in two or three of these deserters; by which means we shall get into their secrets.”

“A detachment, Joyce!” answered the captain, eyeing his subordinate a little curiously ­“What troops do you propose to tell-off for the service?”

“Why, your honour, there’s corporal Allen and old Pliny off duty; I think the thing might be done with them, if your honour would have the condescension to order corporal Blodget, with the two other blacks, to form as a supporting party, under the cover of one of the fences.”

“A disposition of my force that would leave captain Willoughby for a garrison!  I thank you, serjeant, for your offer and gallantry, but prudence will not permit it.  We may set down Strides and his companions as so many knaves, and ­”

“That may ye!” cried Mike’s well-known voice, from the scuttle that opened into the garrets, directly in front of which the two old soldiers were conversing ­“That may ye, and no har-r-m done the trut’, or justice, or for that matther, meself.  Och!  If I had me will of the blackguards, every rogue of ’em should be bound hand and fût and laid under that pratthy wather-fall, yon at the mill, until his sins was washed out of him.  Would there be confessions then? ­That would there; and sich letting out of sacrets as would satisfy the conscience of a hog!”

By the time Mike had got through this sentiment he was on the staging, where he stood hitching up his nether garment, with a meaning grin on his face that gave a peculiar expression of heavy cunning to the massive jaw and capacious mouth, blended with an honesty and good-nature that the well-meaning fellow was seldom without when he addressed any of the captain’s family.  Joyce glanced at the captain, expecting orders to seize the returned run-away; but his superior read at once good faith in the expression of his old retainer’s countenance.

“You have occasioned us a good deal of surprise, O’Hearn, on more accounts than one,” observed the captain, who thought it prudent to assume more sternness of manner than his feelings might have actually warranted.  “You have not only gone off yourself, but you have suffered your prisoner to escape with you.  Then your manner of getting into the house requires an explanation.  I shall hear what you have to say before I make up my mind as to your conduct.”

“Is it spake I will? ­That will I, and as long as it plase yer honour to listen.  Och!  Isn’t that Saucy Nick a quare one?  Divil burn me if I thinks the likes of him is to be found in all Ameriky, full as it is of Injins and saucy fellies!  Well, now, I suppose, sarjeant, ye’ve set me down as sin riding off with Misther Joel and his likes, if ye was to open yer heart, and spake yer thrue mind?”

“You have been marked for a deserter, O’Hearn, and one, too, that deserted from post.”

“Post!  Had I been that, I shouldn’t have stirred, and ye’d be wanting in the news I bring ye from the Majjor, and Mr. Woods, and the savages, and the rest of the varmints.”

“My son! ­Is this possible, Michael?  Have you seen him, or can you tell us anything of his state?”

Mike now assumed a manner of mysterious importance, laying a finger on his nose, and pointing towards the sentinel and Jamie.

“It’s the sarjeant that I considers as one of the family,” said the county Leitrim-man, when his pantomime was through, “but it isn’t dacent to be bawling out sacrets through a whole nighbourhood; and then, as for Ould Nick ­or Saucy Nick, or whatever ye calls him ­Och! isn’t he a pratthy Injin!  Ye’ll mar-r-ch t’rough Ameriky, and never see his aiquel!”

“This will never do, O’Hearn.  Whatever you have to say must be said clearly, and in the simplest manner.  Follow to the library, where I will hear your report.  Joyce, you will accompany us.”

“Let him come, if he wishes to hear wonderful achaivements!” answered Mike, making way for the captain to descend the steps; then following himself, talking as he went.  “He’ll niver brag of his campaigns ag’in to the likes of me, seeing that I’ve outdone him, ten ­ay, forty times, and boot.  Och! that Nick’s a divil, and no har-r-m said!”

“In the first place, O’Hearn,” resumed the captain, as soon as the three were alone in the library ­“you must explain your own desertion.”

“Me! ­Desart!  Sure, it isn’t run away from yer honour, and the Missus, and Miss Beuly, and pratthy Miss Maud, and the child, that’s yer honour’s m’aning?”

This was said with so much nature and truth, that the captain had not the heart to repeat the question, though Joyce’s more drilled feelings were less moved.  The first even felt a tear springing to his eye, and he no longer distrusted the Irishman’s fidelity, as unaccountable as his conduct did and must seem to his cooler judgment.  But Mike’s sensitiveness had taken the alarm, and it was only to be appeased by explanations.

“Yer honour’s not sp’aking when I questions ye on that same?” he resumed, doubtingly.

“Why, Mike, to be sincere, it did look a little suspicious when you not only went, off yourself, but you let the Indian go off with you.”

“Did it?” ­said Mike, mus’ng ­“No, I don’t allow that, seein’ that the intent and object was good.  And, then, I never took the Injin wid me; but ’twas I, meself, that went wid him.”

“I rather think, your honour,” said Joyce, smiling, “we’ll put O’Hearn’s name in its old place on the roster, and make no mark against him at pay-day.”

“I think it will turn out so, Joyce.  We must have patience, too, and let Mike tell his story in his own way.”

“Is it tell a story, will I?  Ah! ­Nick’s the cr’ature for that same!  See, he has given me foor bits of sticks, every one of which is to tell a story, in its own way.  This is the first; and it manes let the captain into the sacret of your retrait; and how you got out of the windie, and how you comes near to breaking yer neck by a fall becaase of the fut’s slipping; and how ye wint down the roof by a rope, the divil a bit fastening it to yer neck, but houlding it in yer hand with sich a grip as if ‘twere the fait’ of the church itself; and how Nick led ye to the hole out of which ye hot’ wint, as if ye had been two cats going t’rough a door!”

Mike stopped to grin and look wise, as he recounted the manner of the escape, the outlines of which, however, were sufficiently well known to his auditors before he, began.

“Throw away that stick, now, and let us know where this hole is, and what you mean by it.”

“No” ­answered Mike, looking at the stick, in a doubting manner ­“I’ll not t’row it away, wid yer honour’s l’ave, ’till I’ve told ye how we got into the brook, forenent the forest, and waded up to the woods, where we was all the same as if we had been two bits of clover tops hid in a haymow.  That Nick is a cr’ature at consailment!”

“Go on,” said the captain, patiently, knowing that there was no use in hurrying one of Mike’s peculiar mode of communicating his thoughts.  “What came next?”

“That will I; and the r’ason comes next, as is seen by this oder stick.  And, so, Nick and meself was in the chaplain’s room all alone, and n’ither of us had any mind to dhrink; Nick becaase he was a prisoner and felt crass, and full of dignity like; and meself becaase I was a sentinel; and sarjeant Joyce, there, had tould me, the Lord knows how often, that if I did my duty well, I might come to be a corporal, which was next in rank to himself; barring, too, that I was a sentinel, and a drunken sentinel is a disgrace to a man, sowl and body, and musket.”

“And so neither of you drank?” ­put in the captain, by way of a reminder.

“For that same r’ason, and one betther still, as we had nothin’ to dhrink.  Well, says Nick ­’Mike,’ says he ­’you like cap’in, and Missus, and Miss Beuly, and Miss Maud, and the babby?’ Divil burn ye, Nick,’ says I, ’why do ye ask so foolish a question?  Is it likes ye would know?  Well ­then just ask yerself if you likes yer own kith and kin, and ye’ve got yer answer.’”

“And Nick made his proposal, on getting this answer,” interrupted the captain, “which was ­”

“Here it is, on the stick.  ‘Well,’ says Nick, says he ­’run away wid Nick, and see Majjor; bring back news.  Nick cap’in friend, but cap’in don’t know it ­won’t believe’ ­Fait’, I can’t tell yer honour all Nick said, in his own manner; and so, wid yer Pave, I’ll just tell it in my own way.”

“Any way, Mike, so that you do but tell it.”

“Nick’s a cr’ature!  His idée was for us two to get out of the windie, and up on the platform, and to take the bedcord, and other things, and slide down upon the ground ­and we did it!  As sure as yer honour and the sarjeant is there, we did that same, and no bones broke!  ‘Well,’ says I, ’Nick, ye’re here, sure enough, but how do you mane to get out of here?  Is it climb the palisades ye will, and be shot by a sentinel?’ ­if there was one, which there wasn’t, yer honour, seeing that all had run away ­’or do ye mane to stay here,’ says I, ’and be taken a prisoner of war ag’in, in which case ye’ll be two prisoners, seem’ that ye’ve been taken wonst already, will ye Nick?’ says I. So Nick never spoke, but he held up his finger, and made a sign for me to follow, as follow I did; and we just crept through the palisade, and a mhighty phratty walk we had of it, alang the meadies, and t’rough the lanes, the rest of the way.”

“You crept through the palisades, Mike!  There is no outlet of sufficient size.”

“I admits the hole is a tight squaze, but ’twill answer.  And then it’s just as good for an inlet as it is for an outlet, seein’ that I came t’rough it this very marnin’.  Och!  Nick’s a cr’ature!  And how d’ye think that hole comes there, barring all oversights in setting up the sticks?”

“It has not been made intentionally, I should hope, O’Hearn?”

“‘Twas made by Joel, and that by just sawing off a post, and forcin’ out a pin or two, so that the palisade works like a door.  Och! it’s nately contrived, and it manes mischief.”

“This must be looked to, at once,” cried the captain; “lead the way, Mike, and show us the spot.”

As the Irishman was nothing loth, all three were soon in the court, whence Mike led the way through the gate, round to the point where the stockade came near the cliffs, on the eastern side of the buildings.  This was the spot where the path that led down to the spring swept along the defences, and was on the very route by which the captain contemplated retreating, as well as on that by which Maud had entered the Hut, the night of the invasion.  At a convenient place, a palisade had been sawed off, so low in the ground that the sods, which had been cut and were moveable, concealed the injury, while the heads of the pins that ought to have bound the timber to the cross-piece, were in their holes, leaving everything apparently secure.  On removing the sods, and pushing the timber aside, the captain ascertained that a man might easily pass without the stockade.  As this corner was the most retired within the works, there was no longer any doubt that the hole had been used by all the deserters, including the women and children.  In what manner it became known to Nick, however, still remained matter of conjecture.

Orders were about to be given to secure this passage, when it occurred to the captain it might possibly be of use in effecting his own retreat.  With this object in view, then, he hastened away from the place, lest any wandering eye without might detect his presence near it, and conjecture the cause.  On returning to the library, the examination of Mike was resumed.

As the reader must be greatly puzzled with the county Leitrim-man’s manner of expressing himself, we shall relate the substance of what he now uttered, for the sake of brevity.  It would seem that Nick had succeeded in persuading Mike, first, that he, the Tuscarora, was a fast friend of the captain and his family, confined by the former, in consequence of a misconception of the real state of the Indian’s feelings, much to the detriment of all their interests; and that no better service could be rendered the Willoughbys than to let Nick depart, and for the Irishman to go with him.  Mike, however, had not the slightest idea of desertion, the motive which prevailed on him to quit the Hut being a desire to see the major, and, if possible, to help him escape.  As soon as this expectation was placed before his eyes, Mike became a convert to the Indian’s wishes.  Like all exceedingly zealous men, the Irishman had an itching propensity to be doing, and he was filled with a sort of boyish delight at the prospect of effecting a great service to those whom he so well loved, without their knowing it.  Such was the history of Michael’s seeming desertion; that of what occurred after he quitted the works remains to be related.

The Tuscarora led his companion out of the Hut, within half an hour after they had been left alone together, in the room of Mr. Woods.  As this was subsequently to Joel’s flight, Nick, in anticipation of this event, chose to lie in ambush a short time, in order to ascertain whether the defection was likely to go any further.  Satisfied on this head, he quietly retired towards the mill.  After making a sufficient detour to avoid being seen from the house, Nick gave himself no trouble about getting into the woods, or of practising any of the expedients of a time of real danger, as had been done by all of the deserters; but he walked leisurely across the meadows, until he struck the highway, along which he proceeded forthwith to the rocks.  All this was done in a way that showed he felt himself at home, and that he had no apprehensions of falling into an ambush.  It might have arisen from his familiarity with the ground; or, it might have proceeded from the consciousness that he was approaching friends, instead of enemies.

At the rocks, however, Nick did not deem it wise to lead Mike any farther, without some preliminary caution.  The white man was concealed in one of the clefts, therefore, while the Indian pursued his way alone.  The latter was absent an hour; at the end of that time he returned, and, after giving Mike a great many cautions about silence and prudence, he led him to the cabin of the miller, in the buttery of which Robert Willoughby was confined.  To this buttery there was a window; but, as it was so small as to prevent escape, no sentinel had been placed on the outside of the building.  For his own comfort, too, and in order to possess his narrow lodgings to himself, the major had given a species of parole, by which he was bound to remain in duresse, until the rising of the next sun.  Owing to these two causes, Nick had been enabled to approach the window, and to hold communications with the prisoner.  This achieved, he returned to the rocks, and led Mike to the same spot.

Major Willoughby had not been able to write much, in consequence of the darkness.  That which he communicated, accordingly, had to pass through the fiery ordeal of the Irishman’s brains.  As a matter of course it did not come with particular lucidity, though Mike did succeed in making his auditors comprehend this much.

The major was substantially well treated, though intimations had been given that he would be considered as a spy.  Escape seemed next to impossible; still, he should not easily abandon the hope.  From all he had seen, the party was one of that irresponsible character that would render capitulation exceedingly hazardous, and he advised his father to hold out to the last.  In a military point of view, he considered his captors as contemptible, being without a head; though many of the men: ­the savages in particular ­appeared to be ferocious and reckless.  The whole party was guarded in discourse, and little was said in English, though he was convinced that many more whites were present than he had at first believed.  Mr. Woods he had not seen, nor did he know anything of his arrest or detention.

This much Mike succeeded in making the captain comprehend, though a great deal was lost through the singular confusion that prevailed in the mind of the messenger.  Mike however, had still another communication, which we reserve for the ears of the person to whom it was especially sent.

This news produced a pause in captain Willoughby’s determination.  Some of the fire of youth awoke within him, and he debated with himself on the possibility of making a sortie, and of liberating his son, as a step preliminary to victory; or, at least, to a successful retreat.  Acquainted with every foot of the ground, which had singular facilities for a step so bold, the project found favour in his eyes each minute, and soon became fixed.