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

  “March ­march ­march! 
  Making sounds as they tread,
  Ho-ho! how they step,
  Going down to the dead.”


The time Maud consumed in her meditations over the box and its contents, had been employed by the captain in preparations for his enterprise.  Joyce, young Blodget, Jamie and Mike, led by their commander in person, were to compose the whole force on the occasion; and every man had been busy in getting his arms, ammunition and provisions ready, for the last half-hour.  When captain Willoughby, therefore, had taken leave of his family, he found the party in a condition to move.

The first great desideratum was to quit the Hut unseen.  Joel and his followers were still at work, in distant fields; but they all carefully avoided that side of the Knoll which would have brought them within reach of the musket, and this left all behind the cliff unobserved, unless Indians were in the woods in that direction.  As Mike had so recently passed in by that route, however, the probability was the whole party still remained in the neighbourhood of the mills, where all accounts agreed in saying they mainly kept.  It was the intention of the captain, therefore, to sally by the rivulet and the rear of the house, and to gain the woods under cover of the bushes on the banks of the former, as had already been done by so many since the inroad.

The great difficulty was to quit the house, and reach the bed of the stream, unseen.  This step, however, was a good deal facilitated by means of Joel’s sally-port, the overseer having taken, himself, all the precautions against detection of which the case well admitted.  Nevertheless, there was the distance between the palisades and the base of the rocks, some forty or fifty yards, which was entirely uncovered, and had to be passed under the notice of any wandering eyes that might happen to be turned in that quarter.  After much reflection, the captain and serjeant came to the conclusion to adopt the following mode of proceeding.

Blodget passed the hole, by himself, unarmed, rolling down the declivity until he reached the stream.  Here a thicket concealed him sufficiently, the bushes extending along the base of the rocks, following the curvature of the rivulet.  Once within these bushes, there was little danger of detection.  As soon as it was ascertained that the young man was beneath the most eastern of the outer windows of the northern wing, the only one of the entire range that had bushes directly under it, all the rifles were lowered down to him, two at a time, care being had that no one should appear at the window during the operation.  This was easily effected, jerks of the rope sufficing for the necessary signals to haul in the line.  The ammunition succeeded; and in this manner, all the materials of offence and defence were soon collected on the margin of the stream.

The next step was to send the men out, one by one, imitating the precautions taken by Blodget.  Each individual had his own provisions, and most of the men carried some sort of arms, such as a pistol, or a knife, about his person.  In half an hour the four men were armed, and waited for the leader, concealed by the bushes on the border of the brook.  It only remained for captain Willoughby to give some instructions to those he left in the Hut, and to follow.

Pliny the elder, in virtue of his years, and some experience in Indian warfare, succeeded to the command of the garrison, in the absence of its chief.  Had there remained a male white at the Knoll, this trust never could have devolved on him, it being thought contrary to the laws of nature for a negro to command one of the other colour; but such was not the fact, and Pliny the elder succeeded pretty much as a matter of course.  Notwithstanding, he was to obey not only his particular old mistress, but both his young mistresses, who exercised an authority over him that was not to be disputed, without doing violence to all the received notions of the day.  To him, then, the captain issued his final orders, bidding him be vigilant, and above all to keep the gates closed.

As soon as this was done, the husband and father went to his wife and children to take a last embrace.  Anxious not to excite too strong apprehensions by his manner, this was done affectionately ­solemnly, perhaps ­but with a manner so guarded as to effect his object.

“I shall look for no other signal, or sign of success, Hugh,” said the weeping wife, “than your own return, accompanied by our dearest boy.  When I can hold you both in my arms, I shall be happy, though all the Indians of the continent were in the valley.”

“Do not miscalculate as to time, Wilhelmina.  That affectionate heart of yours sometimes travels over time and space in a way to give its owner unnecessary pain.  Remember we shall have to proceed with great caution, both in going and returning; and it will require hours to make the detour I have in view.  I hope to see you again before sunset, but a delay may carry us into the night.  It may even become necessary to defer the final push until after dark.”

This was melancholy intelligence for the females; but they listened to it with calmness, and endeavoured to be, as well as to seem, resigned.  Beulah received her father’s kiss and blessing with streaming eyes, straining little Evert to her heart as he left her.  Maud was the last embraced, He even led her, by gentle violence, to the court, keeping her in discourse by the way, exhorting her to support her mother’s spirits by her own sense and steadiness.

“I shall have Bob in the Hut, soon,” he added, “and this will repay us all for more than twice the risks ­all but you, little vixen; for your mother tells me you are getting, through some caprice of that variable humour of your sex, to be a little estranged from the poor fellow.”


“O!  I know it is not very serious still, even Beulah tells me you once called him a Major of Foot.”

“Did I?” said Maud, trembling in her whole frame lest her secret had been prematurely betrayed by the very attempt to conceal it.  “My tongue is not always my heart.”

“I know it, darling, unless where I am concerned.  Treat the son as you will, Maud, I am certain that you will always love the father.”  A pressure to the heart, and kisses on the forehead, eyes, and cheeks followed.  “You have all your own papers, Maud, and can easily understand your own affairs.  When examined into, it will be seen that every shilling of your fortune has gone to increase it; and, little hussy, you are now become something like a great heiress.”

“What does this mean, dearest, dearest father?  Your words frighten me!”

“They should not, love.  Danger is never increased by being prepared to meet it.  I have been a steward, and wish it to be known that the duty has not been unfaithfully discharged.  That is all.  A hundred-fold am I repaid by possessing so dutiful and sweet a child.”

Maud fell on her father’s bosom and sobbed.  Never before had he made so plain allusions to the true relations which existed between them; the papers she possessed having spoken for themselves, and having been given in silence.  Nevertheless, as he appeared disposed to proceed no further, at present, the poor girl struggled to command herself, succeeded in part, rose, received her father’s benediction, most solemnly and tenderly delivered, and saw him depart, with an air of calmness that subsequently astonished even herself.

We must now quit the interesting group that was left behind in the Hut, and accompany the adventurers in their march.

Captain Willoughby was obliged to imitate his men, in the mode of quitting the palisades.  He had dressed himself in the American hunting-shirt and trowsers for the occasion, and, this being an attire he now rarely used, it greatly diminished the chances of his being recognised, if seen.  Joyce was in a similar garb, though neither Jamie nor Mike could ever be persuaded to assume a style that both insisted so much resembled that of the Indians.  As for Blodget, he was in the usual dress of a labourer.

As soon as he had reached the bottom of the cliff, the captain let the fact be known to Old Pliny, by using his voice with caution, though sufficiently loud to be heard on the staging of the roof, directly above his head.  The black had been instructed to watch Joel and his companions, in order to ascertain if they betrayed, in their movements, any consciousness of what was in progress at the Hut.  The report was favourable, Pliny assuring his master that “all ’e men work, sir, just as afore.  Joel hammer away at plough-handle, tinkerin’ just like heself.  Not an eye turn dis away, massa.”

Encouraged by this assurance, the whole party stole through the bushes, that lined this part of the base of the cliffs, until they entered the bed of the stream.  It was September, and the water was so low, as to enable the party to move along the margin of the rivulet dry-shod, occasionally stepping from stone to stone.  The latter expedient, indeed, was adopted wherever circumstances allowed, with a view to leave as few traces of a trail as was practicable.  Otherwise the cover was complete; the winding of the rivulet preventing any distant view through its little reaches, and the thick fringe of the bushes on each bank, effectually concealing the men against any passing, lateral, glimpse of their movements.

Captain Willoughby had, from the first, apprehended an assault from this quarter.  The house, in its elevation, however, possessed an advantage that would not be enjoyed by an enemy on the ground; and, then, the cliff offered very serious obstacles to anything like a surprise on that portion of the defences.  Notwithstanding, he now led his men, keeping a look riveted on the narrow lane in his front, far from certain that each turn might not bring him in presence of an advancing party of the enemy.  No such unpleasant encounter occurred; and the margin of the forest was gained, without any appearance of the foe, and seemingly without discovery.

Just within the cover of the woods, a short reach of the rivulet lay fairly in sight, from the rear wing of the dwellings.  It formed a beautiful object in the view; the ardent and tasteful Maud having sketched the silvery ribbon of water, as it was seen retiring within the recesses of the forest, and often calling upon others to admire its loveliness and picturesque effect.  Here the captain halted, and made a signal to Old Pliny, to let him know he waited for an answer.  The reply was favourable, the negro showing the sign that all was still well.  This was no sooner done, than the faithful old black hurried down to his mistress, to communicate the intelligence that the party was safely in the forest; while the adventurers turned, ascended the bank of the stream, and pursued their way on more solid ground.

Captain Willoughby and his men were now fairly engaged in the expedition, and every soul of them felt the importance and gravity of the duty he was on.  Even Mike was fain to obey the order to be silent, as the sound of a voice, indiscreetly used, might betray the passage of the party to some outlying scouts of the enemy.  Caution was even used in treading on dried sticks, lest their cracking should produce the same effect.

The sound of the axe was heard in the rear of the cabins coming from a piece of woodland the captain had ordered cleared, with the double view of obtaining fuel, and of increasing his orchards.  This little clearing was near a quarter of a mile from the flats, the plan being, still to retain a belt of forest round the latter; and it might have covered half-a-dozen acres of land, having now been used four or five years for the same purpose.  To pass between this clearing and the cabins would have been too hazardous, and it became necessary to direct the march in a way to turn the former.

The cow-paths answered as guides for quite a mile, Mike being thoroughly acquainted with all their sinuosities.  The captain and serjeant, however, each carried a pocket compass, an instrument without which few ventured far into the forests.  Then the blows of the axes served as sounds to let the adventurers know their relative position, and, as they circled the place whence they issued, they gave the constant assurance of their own progress, and probable security.

The reader will probably comprehend the nature of the ground over which our party was now marching.  The ‘flats’ proper, or the site of the old Beaver Dam, have already been described.  The valley, towards the south, terminated at the rocks of the mill, changing its character below that point, to a glen, or vast ravine.  On the east were mountains of considerable height, and of unlimited range; to the north, the level land extended miles, though on a platform many feet higher than the level of the cleared meadows; while, to the west, along the route the adventurers were marching, broad slopes of rolling forest spread their richly-wooded surfaces, filled with fair promise for the future.  The highest swell of this undulating forest was that nearest to the Hut, and it was its elevation only that gave the home-scene the character of a valley.

Captain Willoughby’s object was to gain the summit of this first ridge of land, which would serve as a guide to his object, since it terminated at the line of rocks that made the water-fall, quite a mile, however, in the rear of the mills.  It would carry him also quite beyond the clearing of the wood-choppers, and be effectually turning the whole of the enemy’s position.  Once at the precipitous termination caused by the face of rock that had been thrown to the surface by some geological phenomenon, he could not miss his way, since these rugged marks must of themselves lead him directly to the station known to be occupied by the body of his foes.

Half an hour served to reach the desired ridge, when the party changed its march, pursuing a direction nearly south, along its summit.

“Those axes sound nearer and nearer, serjeant,” Captain Willoughby observed, after the march had lasted a long time in profound silence.  “We must be coming up near the point where the men are at work.”

“Does your honour reflect at all on the reason why these fellows are so particularly industrious in a time like this? ­To me it has a very ambuscadish sort of look!”

“It cannot be connected with an ambuscade, Joyce, inasmuch as we are not supposed to be on a march.  There can be no ambuscade, you will remember, practised on a garrison.”

“I ask your honour’s pardon ­may not a sortie be ambushed, as well as a march?”

“In that sense, perhaps, you may be right.  And, now you mention it, I think it odd there should be so much industry at wood-chopping, in a moment like this.  We will halt as soon as the sounds are fairly abreast of us, when you and I can reconnoitre the men, and ascertain the appearance of things for ourselves.”

“I remember, sir, when your honour led out two companies of ours, with one of the Royal Irish, a major’s command, of good rights, to observe the left flank of the French, the evening before we stormed the enemy’s works at Ty ­”

“Your memory is beginning to fail you, Joyce,” interrupted the captain, smiling.  “We were far from storming those works, having lost two thousand men before them, and failed of seeing their inside at all.”

“I always look upon a soldierly attempt, your honour, the same as a thing that is done.  A more gallant stand than we made I never witnessed; and, though we were driven back, I will allow, yet I call that assault as good as storming!”

“Well, have it your own way, Joyce. ­The morning before your storming, I remember to have led out three companies; though it was more in advance, than on either flank.  The object was to unmask a suspected ambush.”

“That’s just what I wanted to be at, your honour.  The general sent you, as an old captain, with three companies, to spring the trap, before he should put his own foot into it.”

“He certainly did ­and the movement had the desired effect.”

“Better and better, sir. ­I remember we were fired on, and lost some ten or fifteen men, but I would not presume to say whether the march succeeded or not; for nothing was said of the affair, next day, in general orders, sir ­”

“Next day we had other matters to occupy our minds.  It was a bloody and a mournful occasion for England and her colonies.”

“Well, your honour, that does not affect our movement, which, you say, yourself, was useful.”

“Very true, Joyce, though the great calamity of the succeeding day prevented the little success of the preceding morning from being mentioned in general orders.  But to what does all this tend; as I know it must lead to something?”

“It was merely meant as a respectful hint, your honour, that the inferior should be sent out, now, according to our own ancient rules, to reconn’itre the clearing, while the commander-in-chief remain with the main body, to cover the retreat.”

“I thank you, serjeant, and shall not fail to employ you, on all proper occasions.  At present, it is my intention that we go together, leaving the men to take breath, in a suitable cover.”

This satisfied Joyce, who was content to wait for orders.  As soon as the sounds of the axes showed that the party were far enough in advance, and the formation of the land assured the captain that he was precisely where he wished to be, the men were halted, and left secreted in a cover made by the top of a fallen tree.  This precaution was taken, lest any wandering savage might get a glimpse of their persons, if they stood lounging about in the more open forest, during the captain’s absence.

This disposition made, the captain and serjeant, first examining the priming of their pieces, moved with the necessary caution towards the edge of the wood-chopper’s clearing.  The axe was a sufficient guide, and ere they had proceeded far the light began to shine through the trees, proof in itself that they were approaching an opening in the forest.

“Let us incline to the left, your honour,” said Joyce, respectfully; “there is a naked rock hereabouts, that completely overlooks the clearing, and where we can get even a peep at the Hut.  I have often sat on it, when out with the gun, and wearied; for the next thing to being at home, is to see home.”

“I remember the place, serjeant, and like your suggestion,” answered the captain, with an eagerness that it was very unusual for him to betray.  “I could march with a lighter heart, after getting another look at the Knoll, and being certain of its security.”

The parties being both of a mind, it is not surprising that each looked eagerly for the spot in question.  It was an isolated rock that rose some fifteen or twenty feet above the surface of the ground, having a width and depth about double its height ­one of those common excrescences of the forest that usually possess interest for no one but the geologist.  Such an object was not difficult to find in an open wood, and the search was soon rewarded by a discovery.  Bending their steps that way, our two soldiers were quickly at its base.  As is usual, the summit of this fragment of rock was covered with bushes; others shooting out, also, from the rich, warm earth at its base, or, to speak more properly, at its junction with the earth.

Joyce ascended first, leaving his rifle in the captain’s charge.  The latter followed, after having passed up his own and his companion’s arms; neither being disposed to stir without having these important auxiliaries at command.  Once on the rock, both moved cautiously to its eastern brow, care being had not to go beyond the cover.  Here they stood, side by side, gazing on the scene that was outspread before them, through openings in the bushes.

To the captain’s astonishment, he found himself within half musket shot of the bulk of the hostile party.  A regular bivouac had been formed round a spring in the centre of the clearing, and bodies of trees had been thrown together, so as to form a species of work which was rudely, but effectually abbatied by the branches.  In a word, one of those strong, rough forest encampments had been made, which are so difficult to carry without artillery, more especially if well defended.  By being placed in the centre of the clearing, an assault could not be made without expensing the assailants, and the spring always assured to the garrison the great requisite, water.

There was a method and order in this arrangement that surprised both our old soldiers.  That Indians had resorted to this expedient, neither believed; nor would the careless, untaught and inexperienced whites of the Mohawk be apt to adopt it, without a suggestion from some person acquainted with the usages of frontier warfare.  Such persons were not difficult to find, it is true; and it was a proof that those claiming to be in authority, rightfully or not, were present.

There was something unlooked for, also, in the manner in which the party of strangers were lounging about, at a moment like that, seemingly doing nothing, or preparing for no service.  Joyce, who was a man of method, and was accustomed to telling off troops, counted no less than forty-nine of these idlers, most of whom were lounging near the log entrenchment, though a few were sauntering about the clearing, conversing with the wood-choppers, or making their observations listlessly, and seemingly without any precise object in view.

“This is the most extr’or’nary sight, for a military expedition, I have ever seen, your honour,” whispered Joyce, after the two had stood examining the position for quite a minute in silence.  “A tolerable good log breast-work, I will allow, sir, and men enough to make it good against a sharp assault; but nothing like a guard, and not so much as a single sentinel.  This is an affront to the art.  Captain Willoughby; and it is such an affront to us, that I feel certain we might carry the post by surprise, if all felt the insult as I do myself.”

“This is no time for rash acts or excited feelings, Joyce.  Though, were my gallant boy with us, I do think we might make a push at these fellows, with very reasonable chances of success.”

“Yes, your honour, and without him, too.  A close fire, three cheers, and a vigorous charge would drive every one of the rascals into the woods!”

“Where they would rally, become the assailants in their turn, surround us, and either compel us to surrender, or starve us out.  At all events, nothing of the sort must be undertaken until we have carried out the plan for the rescue of Major Willoughby.  My hopes of success are greatly increased since I find the enemy has his principal post up here, where he must be a long half-mile from the mill, even in a straight line.  You have counted the enemy?”

“There are just forty-nine of them in sight, and I should think some eight or ten more sleeping about under the logs, as I occasionally discover a new one raising his head. ­Look, sir, does your honour see that manoeuvre?”

“Do I see what, serjeant? ­There is no visible change that I discover.”

“Only an Indian chopping wood, Captain Willoughby which is some such miracle as a white man painting.”

The reader will have understood that all the hostile party that was lounging about this clearing were in Indian guise, with faces and hands of the well-known reddish colour that marks the American aborigines.  The two soldiers could discover many evidences that there was deception in these appearances, though they thought it quite probable that real red men were mingled with the pale-faces.  But, so little did the invaders respect the necessity of appearances in their present position, that one of these seeming savages had actually mounted a log, taken the axe from the hands of its owner, and begun to chop, with a vigour and skill that soon threw off chips in a way that no man can successfully imitate but the expert axe-man of the American interior.

“Pretty well that, sir, for a red-skin,” said Joyce, smiling “If there isn’t white blood, ay, and Yankee blood in that chap’s arm, I’ll give him some of my own to help colour it.  Step this way, your honour ­only a foot or two ­there, sir; by looking through the opening just above the spot where that very make-believe Injin is scattering his chips as if they were so many kernels of corn that he was tossing to the chickens, you will get a sight of the Hut.”

The fact was so.  By altering his own position a little on the rock, Captain Willoughby got a full view of the entire buildings of the Knoll.  It is true, he could not see the lawn without the works, nor quite all of the stockade, but the whole of the western wing, or an entire side-view of the dwellings, was obtained.  Everything seemed as tranquil and secure, in and around them, as if they vegetated in a sabbath in the wilderness.  There was something imposing even, in the solemn silence of their air, and the captain now saw that if he had been struck, and rendered uneasy by the mystery that accompanied the inaction and quiet of his invaders, they, in their turns, might experience some such sensations as they gazed on the repose of the Hut, and the apparent security of its garrison.  But for Joel’s desertion, indeed, and the information he had carried with him, there could be little doubt that the stranger must have felt the influence of such doubts to a very material extent.  Alas! as things were, it was not probable they could be long imposed on, by any seeming calm.

Captain Willoughby felt a reluctance to tear himself away from the spectacle of that dwelling which contained so many that were dear to him.  Even Joyce gazed at the house with pleasure, for it had been his quarters, now, so many years, and he had looked forward to the time when he should breathe his last in it.  Connected with his old commander by a tie that was inseparable, so far as human wishes could control human events, it was impossible that the serjeant could go from the place where they had left so many precious beings almost in the keeping of Providence, at a moment like that, altogether without emotion.  While each was thus occupied in mind, there was a perfect stillness.  The men of the party had been so far drilled, as to speak in low voices, and nothing they said was audible on the rock.  The axes alone broke the silence of the woods, and to ears so accustomed to their blows, they offered no intrusion.  In the midst of this eloquent calm, the bushes of the rock rustled, as it might be with the passage of a squirrel, or a serpent.  Of the last the country had but few, and they of the most innocent kind, while the former abounded.  Captain Willoughby turned, expecting to see one of these little restless beings, when his gaze encountered a swarthy face, and two glowing eyes, almost within reach of his arm.  That this was a real Indian was beyond dispute, and the crisis admitting of no delay, the old officer drew a dirk, and had already raised his arm to strike, when Joyce arrested the blow.

“This is Nick, your honour;” said the serjeant, inquiringly ­“is he friend, or foe?”

“What says he himself?” answered the captain, lowering his hand in doubt.  “Let him speak to his own character.”

Nick now advanced and stood calmly and fearlessly at the side of the two white men.  Still there was ferocity in his look, and an indecision in his movements.  He certainly might betray the adventurers at any instant, and they felt all the insecurity of their situation.  But accident had brought Nick directly in front of the opening through which was obtained the view of the Hut.  In turning from one to the other of the two soldiers, his quick eye took in this glimpse of the buildings, and it became riveted there as by the charm of fascination.  Gradually the ferocity left his countenance, which grew human and soft.

“Squaw in wigwam” ­said the Tuscarora, throwing forward a hand with its fore-finger pointing towards the house.  “Olé squaw ­young squaw.  Good.  Wyandotte sick, she cure him.  Blood in Injin body; thick blood ­nebber forget good ­nebber forget bad.”