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

  “They have not perish’d ­no! 
  Kind words, remembered voices, once so sweet,
  Smiles, radiant long ago,
  And features, the great soul’s apparent seat;

  “All shall come back, each tie
  Of pure affection shall be knit again;
  Alone shall evil die,
  And sorrow dwell a prisoner in thy reign.

  “And then shall I behold
  Him, by whose kind paternal side I sprung,
  And her, who still and cold,
  Fills the next grave ­the beautiful and young.”

  Bryant’s Past.

The scene that followed passed like a hurricane sweeping over the valley.  Joyce had remained on the ridge of the roof, animating his little garrison, and endeavouring to intimidate his enemies, to the last moment.  The volley of bullets had reached the palisades and the buildings, and he was still unharmed.  But the sound of the major’s voice below, and the cry that Miss Maud and Nick were at the gate, produced a sudden change in all his dispositions for the defence.  The serjeant ran below himself, to report and receive his orders from the new commander, while all the negroes, females as well as males, rushed down into the court, to meet their young master and mistress.

It is not easy to describe the minute that succeeded, after Willoughby and Maud were surrounded by the blacks.  The delight of these untutored beings was in proportion to their recent sorrow.  The death of their master, and the captivity of Master Bob and Miss Maud, had appeared to them like a general downfall of the family of Willoughby; but here was a revival of its hopes, that came as unexpectedly as its previous calamities.  Amid the clamour, cries, tears, lamentations, and bursts of uncontrollable delight, Joyce could scarce find a moment in which to discharge his duty.

“I see how it is, serjeant,” exclaimed Willoughby; “the assault is now making, and you desire orders.”

“There is not an instant to lose, Major Willoughby; the enemy are at the palisades already, and there is no one at his station but Jamie and young Blodget.”

“To your posts, men ­to your posts, everybody.  The house shall be made good at all hazards.  For God’s sake, Joyce, give me arms.  I feel that my father’s wrongs are to be revenged.”

“Robert ­dear, dear Robert,” said Maud, throwing her arms on his shoulders, “this is no moment for such bitter feelings.  Defend us, as I know you will, but defend us like a Christian.”

One kiss was all that the time allowed, and Maud rushed into the house to seek her mother and Beulah, feeling as if the tidings of Bob’s return might prove some little alleviation to the dreadful blow under which they must be suffering.

As for Willoughby, he had no time for pious efforts at consolation.  The Hut was to be made good against a host of enemies; and the cracking of rifles from the staging and the fields, announced that the conflict had begun in earnest.  Joyce handed him a rifle, and together they ascended rapidly to the roofs.  Here they found Jamie Allen and Blodget, loading and firing as fast as they could, and were soon joined by all the negroes.  Seven men were now collected on the staging; and placing three in front, and two on each wing, the major’s dispositions were made; moving, himself, incessantly, to whatever point circumstances called.  Mike, who knew little of the use of fire-arms, was stationed at the gate, as porter and warder.

It was so unusual a thing for savages to attack by daylight, unless they could resort to surprise, that the assailants were themselves a little confused.  The assault was made, under a sudden feeling of resentment at the escape of the prisoner, and contrary to the wishes of the principal white men in the party, though the latter were dragged in the train of events, and had to seem to countenance that of which they really disapproved.  These sudden outbreakings were sufficiently common in Indian warfare, and often produced memorable disasters.  On the present occasion, however, the most that could occur was a repulse, and to this the leaders, demagogues who owed their authority to the excesses and necessities of the times, were fain to submit, should it happen.

The onset had been fierce and too unguarded.  The moment the volley was fired at the major, the assailants broke cover, and the fields were alive with men.  This was the instant when the defence was left to Allen and Blodget, else might the exposure have cost the enemy dear.  As it was, the last brought down one of the boldest of the Indians while the mason fired with good will, though with less visible effect.  The yell that followed this demonstration of the apparent force of the garrison, was a wild mixture of anger and exultation, and the rush at the palisades was general and swift.  As Willoughby posted his reinforcement, the stockade was alive with men, some ascending, some firing from its summit, some aiding others to climb, and one falling within the enclosure, a second victim to Blodget’s unerring aim.

The volley that now came from the roofs staggered the savages, most of whom fell outward, and sought cover in their usual quick and dexterous manner.  Three or four, however, thought it safer to fall within the palisades, seeking safety immediately under the sides of the buildings.  The view of these men, who were perfectly safe from the fire of the garrison so long as the latter made no sortie, gave an idea to those without, and produced, what had hitherto been wanting, something like order and concert in the attack.  The firing now became desultory and watchful on both sides, the attacking party keeping themselves covered by the trees and fences as well as they could, while the garrison only peered above the ridge of the roof, as occasions required.

The instant the outbreak occurred, all the ci-devant dependants of captain Willoughby, who had deserted, abandoned their various occupations in the woods and fields, collecting in and around the cabins, in the midst of their wives and children.  Joel, alone, was not to be seen.  He had sought his friends among the leaders of the party, behind a stack of hay, at a respectful distance from the house, and to which there was a safe approach by means of the rivulet and its fringe of bushes.  The little council that was held at this spot took place just as the half-dozen assailants who had fallen within the palisades were seen clustering along under the walls of the buildings.

Natur’ gives you a hint how to conduct,” observed Joel, pointing out this circumstance to his principal companions, as they all lay peering over the upper portions of the stack, at the Hut.  “You see them men under the eaves ­they’re a plaguy sight safer up there, than we be down here; and; if ’twere’n’t for the look of the thing, I wish I was with ’em.  That house will never be taken without a desperate sight of fightin’; for the captain is an old warrior, and seems to like to snuff gunpowder” ­the reader will understand none knew of the veteran’s death but those in the house ­“and won’t be for givin’ up while he has a charge left.  If I had twenty men ­no, thirty would be better, where these fellows be, I think the place could be carried in a few minutes, and then liberty would get its rights, and your monarchy-men would be put down as they all desarve.”

“What do then?” demanded the leading Mohawk, in his abrupt guttural English.  “No shoot ­can’t kill log.”

“No, chief, that’s reasonable, an’ ongainsayable, too; but only one-half the inner gate is hung, and I’ve contrived matters so, on purpose, that the props of the half that isn’t on the hinges can be undone, all the same as onlatching the door.  If I only had the right man here, now, the business should be done, and that speedily.”

“Go ’self,” answered the Mohawk, not without an expression of distrust and contempt.

“Every man to his callin’, chief.  My trade is peace, and politics, and liberty, while your’s is war.  Howsever, I can put you, and them that likes fightin’, on the trail, and then we’ll see how matters can be done.  Mortality!  How them desperate devils on the roof do keep blazin’ away!  It wouldn’t surprise me if they shot somebody, or get hurt themselves!”

Such were the deliberations of Joel Strides on a battle.  The Indian leaders, however, gave some of their ordinary signals, to bring their ‘young men’ more under command and, sending messengers with orders in different directions, they left the haystack, compelling Joel to accompany them.

The results of these movements were soon apparent.  The most daring of the Mohawks made their way into the rivulet, north of the buildings, and were soon at the foot of the cliff.  A little reconnoitring told them that the hole which Joel had pointed out, had not been closed since the entrance of Willoughby and his companions.  Led by their chief, the warriors stole up the ascent, and began to crawl through the same inlet which had served as an outlet to so many deserters, the previous night, accompanied by their wives and children.

The Indians in front had been ordered to occupy the attention of the garrison, while this movement was in the course of execution.  At a signal, they raised a yell, unmasked them, fired one volley, and seemed to make another rush at the works.  This was the instant chosen for the passage of the hole, and the seven leading savages effected their entrance within the stockade, with safety.  The eighth man was shot by Blodget, in the hole itself.  The body was instantly withdrawn by the legs, and all in the rear fell back under the cover of the cliff.

Willoughby now understood the character of the assault.  Stationing Joyce, with a party to command the hole, he went himself into the library, accompanied by Jamie and Blodget, using a necessary degree of caution.  Fortunately the windows were raised, and a sudden volley routed all the Indians who had taken shelter beneath the rocks.  These men, however, fled no further than the rivulet, where they rallied under cover of the bushes, keeping up a dropping fire at the windows.  For several minutes, the combat was confined to this spot; Willoughby, by often shifting from window to window along the rear of the house, getting several volleys that told, at the men under the cover.

As yet, all the loss had been on the side of the assailants, though several of the garrison, including both Willoughby and Joyce, had divers exceedingly narrow escapes.  Quite a dozen of the assailants had suffered, though only four were killed outright.  By this time, the assault had lasted an hour, and the shades of evening were closing around the place.  Daniel, the miller, had been sent by Joel to spring the mine they had prepared together, but, making the mistake usual with the uninitiated, he had hung back, to let others pass the hole first, and was consequently carried down in the crowd, within the cover of the bushes of the rivulet.

Willoughby had a short consultation with Joyce, and then he set seriously about the preparations necessary for a light defence.  By a little management, and some persona, risk, the bullet-proof shutters of the north wing of the Hut were all closed, rendering the rear of the buildings virtually impregnable.  When this was done, and the gates of the area were surely shut, the place was like a ship in a gale, under short canvass and hove-to.  The enemy within the palisades were powerless, to all appearance, the walls of stone preventing anything like an application of fire.  Of the last, however, there was a little danger on the roof, the Indians frequently using arrows for this purpose, and water was placed on the staging in readiness to be used on occasion.

All these preparations occupied some time, and it was quite dark ere they were completed.  Then Willoughby had a moment for reflection; the firing having entirely ceased, and nothing further remaining to do.

“We are safe for the present, Joyce,” the major observed, as he and the serjeant stood together on the staging, after having consulted on the present aspect of things; “and I have a solemn duty, yet, to perform ­ my dear mother ­and the body of my father ­”

“Yes, sir; I would not speak of either, so long as it was your honour’s pleasure to remain silent on the subject.  Madam Willoughby is sorely cut down, as you may imagine, sir; and, as for my gallant old commander, he died in his harness, as a soldier should.”

“Where have you taken the body? ­has my mother seen it?”

“Lord bless you, sir, Madam Willoughby had his honour carried into her own room, and there she and Miss Beulah” ­so all of the Hut still called the wife of Evert Beekman ­“she and Miss Beulah, kneel, and pray, and weep, as you know, sir, ladies will, whenever anything severe comes over their feelings ­God bless them both, we all say, and think, ay, and pray, too, in our turns, sir.”

“Very well, Joyce.  Even a soldier may drop a tear over the dead body of his own father.  God only knows what this night will bring forth, and I may never have a moment as favourable as this, for discharging so solemn a duty.”

“Yes, your honour” ­Joyce fancied that the major had succeeded to this appellation by the decease of the captain ­“yes, your honour, the commandments, that the Rev. Mr. Woods used to read to us of a Sunday, tell us all about that; and it is quite as much the duty of a Christian to mind the commandments, I do suppose, as it is for a soldier to obey orders.  God bless you, sir, and carry you safe through the affair.  I had a touch of it with Miss Maud, myself, and know what it is.  It’s bad enough to lose an old commander in so sudden a way like, without having to feel what has happened in company with so sweet ladies, as these we have in the house.  As for these blackguards down inside the works, let them give you no uneasiness; it will be light work for us to keep them busy, compared to what your honour has to do.”

It would seem by the saddened manner in which Willoughby moved away, that he was of the same way of thinking as the serjeant, on this melancholy subject.  The moment, however, was favourable for the object, and delay could not be afforded.  Then Willoughby’s disposition was to console his mother, even while he wept with her over the dead body of him they had lost.

Notwithstanding the wild uproar that had so prevailed, not only without, but within the place, the portion of the house that was occupied by the widowed matron and her daughters, was silent as the grave.  All the domestics were either on the staging, or at the loops, leaving the kitchens and offices deserted.  The major first entered a little ante-chamber, that opened between a store-room, and the apartment usually occupied by his mother; this being the ordinary means of approach to her room.  Here he paused, and listened quite a minute, in the hope of catching some sound from within that might prepare him for the scene he was to meet.  Not a whisper, a moan, or a sob could be heard; and he ventured to tap lightly at the door.  This was unheeded; waiting another minute, as much in dread as in respect, he raised the latch with some such awe, as one would enter into a tomb of some beloved one.  A single lamp let him into the secrets of this solemn place.

In the centre of the room, lay stretched on a large table, the manly form of the author of his being.  The face was uppermost, and the limbs had been laid, in decent order, as is usual with the dead that have been cared for.  No change had been made in the dress, however, the captain lying in the hunting-shirt in which he had sallied forth; the crimson tint which disfigured one breast, having been sedulously concealed by the attention of Great Smash.  The passage from life to eternity had been so sudden, as to leave the usual benignant expression on the countenance of the corpse; the paleness which had succeeded the fresh ruddy tint of nature, alone denoting that the sleep was not a sweet repose, but that of death.

The body of his father was the first object that met the gaze of the major.  He advanced, leaned forward, kissed the marble-like forehead, with reverence, and groaned in the effort to suppress an unmanly outbreaking of sorrow.  Then he turned to seek the other well-beloved faces.  There sat Beulah, in a corner of the room, as if to seek shelter for her infant, folding that infant to her heart, keeping her look riveted, in anguish, on the inanimate form that she had ever loved beyond a daughter’s love.  Even the presence of her brother scarce drew a glance away from the sad spectacle; though, when it at length did, the youthful matron bowed her face down to that of her child, and wept convulsively.  She was nearest to the major, who moved to her side, and kissed the back of her neck, with kind affection.  The meaning was understood; and Beulah, while unable to look up, extended a hand to meet the fraternal pressure it received.

Maud was near, kneeling at the side of the bed.  Her whole attitude denoted the abstraction of a mind absorbed in worship and solicitation.  Though Willoughby’s heart yearned to raise her in his arms; to console her, and bid her lean on himself, in future, for her earthly support, he too much respected her present occupation, to break in upon it with any irreverent zeal of his own.  His eye turned from this loved object, therefore, and hurriedly looked for his mother.

The form of Mrs. Willoughby had escaped the first glances of her son, in consequence of the position in which she had placed herself.  The stricken wife was in a corner of the room, her person partly concealed by the drapery of a window-curtain; though this was evidently more the effect of accident, than of design.  Willoughby started, as he caught the first glance of his beloved parent’s face; and he felt a chill pass over his whole frame.  There she sat upright, motionless, tearless, without any of the alleviating weaknesses of a less withering grief, her mild countenance exposed to the light of the lamp, and her eyes riveted on the face of the dead.  In this posture had she remained for hours; no tender cares on the part of her daughters; no attentions from her domestics; no outbreaking of her own sorrows, producing any change.  Even the clamour of the assault had passed by her like the idle wind.

“My mother ­my poor ­dear ­heart-broken mother!” burst from Willoughby, at this sight, and he stepped quickly forward, and knelt at her feet.

But Bob ­the darling Bob ­his mother’s pride and joy, was unheeded.  The heart, which had so long beaten for others only; which never seemed to feel a wish, or a pulsation, but in the service of the objects of its affection, was not sufficiently firm to withstand the blow that had lighted on it so suddenly.  Enough of life remained, however, to support the frame for a while; and the will still exercised its power over the mere animal functions.  Her son shut out the view of the body, and she motioned him aside with an impatience of manner he had never before witnessed from the same quarter.  Inexpressibly shocked, the major took her hands, by gentle compulsion, covering them with kisses, and literally bathing them in tears.

“Oh! mother ­dearest, dearest mother!” he cried, “will you not ­do you not know me ­Robert ­Bob ­your much-indulged, grateful, affectionate son.  If father is gone into the immediate presence of the God he revered and served, I am still left to be a support to your declining years.  Lean on me, mother, next to your Father in Heaven.”

“Will he ever get up, Robert?” whispered the widowed mother.  “You speak too loud, and may rouse him before his time.  He promised me to bring you back; and he ever kept his promises.  He had a long march, and is weary, See, how sweetly he sleeps!”

Robert Willoughby bowed his head to his mother’s knees, and groaned aloud.  When he raised his face again, he saw the arms of Maud elevated towards heaven, as if she would pluck down that consolation for her mother, that her spirit was so fervently asking of the Almighty.  Then he gazed into the face of his mother again; hoping to catch a gleam of some expression and recognition, that denoted more of reason.  It was in vain; the usual placidity, the usual mild affection were there; but both were blended with the unnatural halo of a mind excited to disease, if not to madness.  A slight exclamation, which sounded like alarm, came from Beulah; and turning towards his sister, Willoughby saw that she was clasping Evert still closer to her bosom, with her eyes now bent on the door.  Looking in the direction of the latter, he perceived that Nick had stealthily entered, the room.

The unexpected appearance of Wyandotte might well alarm the youthful mother.  He had applied his war-paint since entering the Hut; and this, though it indicated an intention to fight in defence of the house, left a picture of startling aspect.  There was nothing hostile intended by this visit, however.  Nick had come not only in amity, but in a kind concern to see after the females of the family, who had ever stood high in his friendship, notwithstanding the tremendous blow he had struck against their happiness.  But he had been accustomed to see those close distinctions drawn between individuals and colours; and, the other proprieties admitted, would not have hesitated about consoling the widow with the offer of his own hand.  Major Willoughby, understanding, from the manner of the Indian, the object of his visit, suffered him to pursue his own course, in the hope it might rouse his mother to a better consciousness of objects around her.

Nick walked calmly up to the table, and gazed at the face of his victim with a coldness that proved he felt no compunction.  Still he hesitated about touching the body, actually raising his hand, as if with that intent, and then withdrawing it, like one stung by conscience.  Willoughby noted the act; and, for the first time, a shadowy suspicion glanced on his mind.  Maud had told him all she knew of the manner of his father’s death, and old distrusts began to revive, though so faintly as to produce no immediate results.

As for the Indian, the hesitating gesture excepted, the strictest scrutiny, or the keenest suspicion could have detected no signs of feeling.  The senseless form before him was not less moved than he appeared to be, so far as the human eye could penetrate.  Wyandotte was unmoved.  He believed that, in curing the sores on his own back in this particular manner, he had done what became a Tuscarora warrior and a chief.  Let not the self-styled Christians of civilized society affect horror at this instance of savage justice, so long as they go the whole length of the law of their several communities, in avenging their own fancied wrongs, using the dagger of calumny instead of the scalping-knife, and rending and tearing their victims, by the agency of gold and power, like so many beasts of the field, in all the forms and modes that legal vindictiveness will either justify or tolerate; often exceeding those broad limits, indeed, and seeking impunity behind perjuries and frauds.

Nick’s examination of the body was neither hurried nor agitated.  When it was over, he turned calmly to consider the daughters of the deceased.

“Why you cry ­why you ’fear’d,” he said, approaching Beulah, and placing his swarthy hand on the head of her sleeping infant. ­“Good squaw ­good pappoose.  Wyandotte take care ’em in woods.  Bye’m-by go to pale-face town, and sleep quiet.”

This was rudely said, but it was well meant.  Beulah so received it; and she endeavoured to smile her gratitude in the face of the very being from whom, more than from all of earth, she would have turned in horror, could her mental vision have reached the fearful secret that lay buried in his own bosom.  The Indian understood her look; and making a gesture of encouragement, he moved to the side of the woman whom his own hand had made a widow.

The appearance of Wyandotte produced no change in the look or manner of the matron.  The Indian took her hand, and spoke.

“Squaw berry good,” he said, with emphasis.  “Why look so sorry ­ cap’in gone to happy huntin’-ground of his people.  All good dere ­chief time come, must go.”

The widow knew the voice, and by some secret association it recalled the scenes of the past, producing a momentary revival of her faculties.

“Nick, you are my friend,” she said, earnestly.  “Go speak to him, and see if you can wake him up.”

The Indian fairly started, as he heard this strange proposal.  The weakness lasted only for a moment, however, and he became as stoical, in appearance at least, as before.

“No,” he said; “squaw quit cap’in, now.  Warrior go on last path, all alone ­no want companion. ­She look at grave, now and den, and be happy.”

“Happy!” echoed the widow, “what is that, Nick? ­what is happy, my son?  It seems a dream ­I must have known what it was; but I forget it all now.  Oh! it was cruel, cruel, cruel, to stab a husband, and a father ­wasn’t it, Robert? ­What say you, Nick ­shall I give you more medicine? ­You’ll die, Indian, unless you take it ­mind what a Christian woman tells you, and be obedient. ­Here, let me hold the cup ­there; now you’ll live!”

Nick recoiled an entire step, and gazed at the still beautiful victim of his ruthless revenge, in a manner no one had ever before noted in his mien.  His mixed habits left him in ignorance of no shade of the fearful picture before his eyes, and he began better to comprehend the effects of the plow he had so hastily struck ­a blow meditated for years, though given at length under a sudden and vehement impulse.  The widowed mother, however, was past noting these changes.

“No ­no ­no ­Nick,” she added, hurriedly, scarce speaking above a whisper, “do not awake him!  God will do that, when he summons his blessed ones to the foot of his throne.  Let us all lie down, and sleep with him.  Robert, do you lie there, at his side, my noble, noble boy; Beulah, place little Evert and yourself at the other side; Maud, your place is by the head; I will sleep at his feet; while Nick shall watch, and let us know when it will be time to rise and pray”

The general and intense ­almost spell-bound ­attention with which all in the room listened to these gentle but touching wanderings of a mind so single and pure, was interrupted by yells so infernal, and shrieks so wild and fearful, that it seemed, in sooth, as if the last trump had sounded, and men were passing forth from their graves to judgment.  Willoughby almost leaped out of the room, and Maud followed, to shut and bolt the door, when her waist was encircled by the arm of Nick, and she found herself borne forward towards the din.