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

  “O, Time and Death! with certain pace,
  Though still unequal, hurrying on,
  O’erturning, in your awful race,
  The cot, the palace, and the throne!”


Maud had little leisure for reflection.  The yells and shrieks were followed by the cries of combatants, and the crack of the rifle.  Nick hurried her along at a rate so rapid that she had not breath to question or remonstrate, until she found herself at the door of a small store-room, in which her mother was accustomed to keep articles of domestic economy that required but little space.  Into this room Nick thrust her, and then she heard the key turn on her egress.  For a single moment, Wyandotte stood hesitating whether he should endeavour to get Mrs. Willoughby and her other daughter into the same place of security; then, judging of the futility of the attempt, by the approach of the sounds within, among which he heard the full, manly voice of Robert Willoughby, calling on the garrison to be firm, he raised an answering yell to those of the Mohawks, the war-whoop of his tribe, and plunged into the fray with the desperation of one who ran a muck, and with the delight of a demon.

In order to understand the cause of this sudden change, it will be necessary to return a little, in the order of time.  While Willoughby was with his mother and sisters, Mike had charge of the gate.  The rest of the garrison was either at the loops, or was stationed on the roofs.  As the darkness increased, Joel mustered sufficient courage to crawl through the hole, and actually reached the gate.  Without him, it was found impossible to spring his mine, and he had been prevailed on to risk this much, on condition it should not be asked of him to do such violence to his feelings as to enter the court of a house in which he had seen so many happy days.

The arrangement, by which this traitor intended to throw a family upon the tender mercies of savages, was exceedingly simple.  It will be remembered that only one leaf of the inner gate was hung, the other being put in its place, where it was sustained by a prop.  This prop consisted of a single piece of timber, of which one end rested on the ground, and the other on the centre of the gate; the last being effectually prevented from slipping by pins of wood, driven into the massive wood-work of the gate, above its end.  The lower end of the prop rested against a fragment of rock that nature had placed at this particular spot.  As the work had been set up in a hurry, it was found necessary to place wedges between the lower end of the prop and the rock, in order to force the leaf properly into its groove, without which it might have been canted to one side, and of course easily overturned by the exercise of sufficient force from without.

To all this arrangement, Joel had been a party, and he knew, as a matter of course, its strong and its weak points.  Seizing a favourable moment, he had loosened the wedges, leaving them in their places, however, but using the precaution to fasten a bit of small but strong cord to the most material one of the three, which cord he buried in the dirt, and led half round a stick driven into the earth, quite near the wall, and thence through a hole made by one of the hinges, to the outer side of the leaf.  The whole had been done with so much care as to escape the vigilance of casual observers, and expressly that the overseer might assist his friends in entering the place, after he himself had provided for his own safety by flight.  The circumstance that no one trod on the side of the gateway where the unhung leaf stood, prevented the half-buried cord from being disturbed by any casual footstep.

As soon as Joel reached the wall of the Hut, his first care was to ascertain if he were safe from missiles from the loops.  Assured of this fact, he stole round to the gate, and had a consultation with the Mohawk chief, on the subject of springing the mine.  The cord was found in its place; and, hauling on it gently, Joel was soon certain that he had removed the wedge, and that force might speedily throw down the unhung leaf.  Still, he proceeded with caution.  Applying the point of a lever to the bottom of the leaf, he hove it back sufficiently to be sure it would pass inside of its fellow; and then he announced to the grave warrior, who had watched the whole proceeding, that the time was come to lend his aid.

There were a dozen reckless whites, in the cluster of savages collected at the gate; and enough of these were placed at handspikes to effect the intended dislodgement.  The plan was this:  while poles were set against the upper portion of the leaf, to force it within the line of the suspended part, handspikes and crowbars, of which a sufficiency had been provided by Joel’s forethought, were to be applied between the hinge edge and the wall, to cast the whole over to the other side.

Unluckily, Mike had been left at the gate as the sentinel.  A more upfortunate selection could not have been made; the true-hearted fellow having so much self-confidence, and so little forethought, as to believe the gates impregnable.  He had lighted a pipe, and was smoking as tranquilly as he had ever done before, in his daily indulgences of this character, when the unhung leaf came tumbling in upon the side where he sat; nothing saving his head but the upper edge’s lodging against the wall.  At the same moment, a dozen Indians leaped through the opening, and sprang into the court, raising the yells already described.  Mike followed, armed with his shillelah, for his musket was abandoned in the surprise, and he began to lay about him with an earnestness that in nowise lessened the clamour.  This was the moment when Joyce, nobly sustained by Blodget and Jamie Allen, poured a volley into the court, from the roofs; when the fray became general.  To this point had the combat reached, when Willoughby rushed into the open air followed, a few instants later, by Nick.

The scene that succeeded is not easily described.  It was a melee in the dark, illuminated, at instants, by the flashes of guns, and rendered horrible by shrieks, curses, groans and whoops.  Mike actually cleared the centre of the court, where he was soon joined by Willoughby, when, together, they made a rush at a door, and actually succeeded in gaining their own party on the roof.  It was not in nature for the young soldier to remain here, however, while his mother, Beulah, and, so far as he knew, Maud, lay exposed to the savages below.  Arnid a shower of bullets he collected his whole force, and was on the point of charging into the court, when the roll of a drum without, brought everything to a stand.  Young Blodget, who had displayed the ardour of a hero, and the coolness of a veteran throughout the short fray, sprang down the stairs unarmed, at this sound, passed through the astonished crowd in the court, unnoticed, and rushed to the outer gate.  He had barely time to unbar it, when a body of troops marched through, led by a tall, manly-looking chief, who was accompanied by one that the young man instantly recognised, in spite of the darkness, for Mr. Woods, in his surplice.  At the next moment, the strangers had entered, with military steadiness, into the court, to the number of, at least, fifty, ranging themselves in order across its area.

“In the name of Heaven, who are you?” called out Willoughby, from a window.  “Speak at once, or we fire.”

“I am Colonel Beekman, at the head of a regular force,” was the answer, “and if, as I suspect, you are Major Willoughby, you know you are safe.  In the name of Congress, I command all good citizens to keep the peace, or they will meet with punishment for their contumacy.”

This announcement ended the war, Beekman and Willoughby grasping each other’s hands fervently, at the next instant.

“Oh!  Beekman!” exclaimed the last, “at what a moment has God sent you hither!  Heaven be praised! notwithstanding all that has happened, you will find your wife and child safe.  Place sentinels at both gates; for treachery has been at work here, and I shall ask for rigid justice.”

“Softly ­softly ­my good fellow,” answered Beekman, pressing his hand.  “Your own position is a little delicate, and we must proceed with moderation.  I learned, just in time, that a party was coming hither, bent on mischief; and obtaining the necessary authority, I hastened to the nearest garrison, obtained a company, and commenced my march as soon as possible.  Had we not met with Mr. Woods, travelling for the settlements in quest of succour, we might have been too late.  As it was, God be praised! ­I think we have arrived in season.”

Such were the facts.  The Indians had repelled the zealous chaplain, as a madman; compelling him to take the route toward the settlements, however; their respect for this unfortunate class of beings, rendering them averse to his rejoining their enemies.  He could, and did impart enough to Beekman to quicken his march, and to bring him and his followers up to the gate at a time when a minute might have cost the entire garrison their lives.

Anxious as he was to seek Beulah and his child, Beekman had a soldier’s duties to perform, and those he would not neglect.  The sentinels were posted, and orders issued to light lanterns, and to make a fire in the centre of the court, so that the actual condition of the field of battle might be ascertained.  A surgeon had accompanied Beekman’s party, and he was already at work, so far as the darkness would allow.  Many hands being employed, and combustibles easy to be found, ere long the desired light was gleaming on the terrible spectacle.

A dozen bodies wexre stretched in the court, of which, three or four were fated never to rise again, in life.  Of the rest, no less than four had fallen with broken heads, inflicted by O’Hearn’s shillelah.  Though these blows were not fatal, they effectually put the warriors hors de combat.  Of the garrison, not one was among the slain, in this part of the field.  On a later investigation, however, it was ascertained that the poor old Scotch mason had received a mortal hurt, through a window, and this by the very last shot that had been fired.  On turning over the dead of the assailants, too, it was discovered that Daniel the Miller was of the number.  A few of the Mohawks were seen, with glowing eyes, in corners of the court, applying their own rude dressings to their various hurts; succeeding, on the whole, in effecting the great purpose of the healing art, about as well as those who were committed to the lights of science.

Surprisingly few uninjured members of the assaulting party, however, were to be found, when the lanterns appeared.  Some had slipped through the gate before the sentinels were posted; others had found their way to the roof, and thence, by various means to the ground; while a few lay concealed in the buildings, until a favourable moment offered to escape.  Among all those who remained, not an individual was found who claimed to be in any authority.  In a word, after five minutes of examination, both Beekman and Willoughby were satisfied that there no longer existed a force to dispute with them the mastery of the Hut.

“We have delayed too long relieving the apprehensions of those who are very dear to us, Major Willoughby,” Beekman at length observed.  “If you will lead the way to the parts of the buildings where your ­my mother, and wife, are to be found, I will now follow you.”

“Hold, Beekman ­there yet remains a melancholy tale to be told ­nay, start not ­I left our Beulah, and your boy, in perfect health, less than a quarter of an hour since.  But my honoured, honourable, revered, beloved father has been killed in a most extraordinary manner, and you will find his widow and daughters weeping over his body.”

This appalling intelligence produced a halt, during which Willoughby explained all he knew of the manner of his father’s death, which was merely the little he had been enabled to glean from Maud.  As soon as this duty was performed, the gentlemen proceeded together to the apartment of the mourners, each carrying a light.

Willoughby made an involuntary exclamation, when he perceived that the door of his mother’s room was open.  He had hoped Maud would have had the presence of mind to close and lock it; but here he found it, yawning as if to invite the entrance of enemies.  The light within, too, was extinguished, though, by the aid of the lanterns, he saw large traces of blood in the ante-room, and the passages he was obliged to thread.  All this hastened his steps.  Presently he stood in the chamber of death.

Short as had been the struggle, the thirst for scalps had led some of the savages to this sanctuary.  The instant the Indians had gained the court, some of the most ferocious of their number had rushed into the building, penetrating its recesses in a way to defile them with slaughter.  The first object that Willoughby saw was one of these ruthless warriors, stretched on the floor, with a living Indian, bleeding at half a dozen wounds, standing over him; the eye-balls of the latter were glaring like the tiger’s that is suddenly confronted to a foe.  An involuntary motion was made towards the rifle he carried, by the major; but the next look told him that the living Indian was Nick.  Then it was, that he gazed more steadily about him, and took in all the horrible truths of that fatal chamber.

Mrs. Willoughby was sealed in the chair where she had last been seen, perfectly dead.  No mark of violence was ever found on her body, however, and there is no doubt that her constant spirit had followed that of her husband to the other world, in submission to the blow which had separated them.  Beulah had been shot; not, as was afterwards ascertained, by any intentional aim, but by one of those random bullets, of which so many had been flying through the buildings.  The missile had passed through her heart, and she lay pressing the little Evert to her bosom, with that air of steady and unerring affection which had marked every act of her innocent and feeling life.  The boy himself, thanks to the tiger-like gallantry of Nick, had escaped unhurt.  The Tuscarora had seen a party of six take the direction of this chamber, and he followed with an instinct of their intentions.  When the leader entered the room, and found three dead bodies, he raised a yell that betokened his delight at the prospect of gaining so many scalps; at the next instant, while his fingers were actually entwined in the hair of Captain Willoughby, he fell by a blow from Wyandotte.  Nick next extinguished the lamp, and then succeeded a scene, which none of the actors, themselves, could have described.  Another Mohawk fell, and the remainder, ailer suffering horribly from the keen knife of Nick, as well as from blows received from each other, dragged themselves away, leaving the field to the Tuscarora.  The latter met the almost bewildered gaze of the major with a smile of grim triumph, as he pointed to the three bodies of the beloved ones, and said ­

“See ­all got scalp!  Deat’, nothin’ ­scalp, ebbery t’ing.”

We shall not attempt to describe the outbreaking of anguish from the husband and brother.  It was a moment of wild grief, that bore down all the usual restraints of manhood, though it was such a moment as an American frontier residence has often witnessed.  The quiet but deep-feeling nature of Beekman received a shock that almost produced a dissolution of his earthly being.  He succeeded, however, in raising the still warm body of Beulah from the floor, and folding it to his heart.  Happily for his reason, a flood of tears, such as women shed, burst from his soul, rather than from his eyes, bedewing her still sweet and placid countenance.

To say that Robert Willoughby did not feel the desolation, which so suddenly alighted on a family that had often been quoted for its mutual affection and happiness, would be to do him great injustice.  He even staggered under the blow; yet his heart craved further information.  The Indian was gazing intently on the sight of Beekman’s grief, partly in wonder, but more in sympathy, when he felt an iron pressure of his arm.

“Maud ­Tuscarora” ­the major rather groaned than whispered in his ear, “know you anything of Maud?”

Nick made a gesture of assent; then motioned for the other to follow.  He led the way to the store-room, produced the key, and throwing open the door, Maud was weeping on Robert Willoughby’s bosom in another instant.  He would not take her to the chamber of death, but urged her, by gentle violence, to follow him to the library.

“God be praised for this mercy!” exclaimed the ardent girl, raising her hands and streaming eyes to heaven.  “I know not, care not, who is conqueror, since you are safe!”

“Oh!  Maud ­beloved one ­we must now be all in all to each other.  Death has stricken the others.”

This was a sudden and involuntary announcement, though it was best it should be so under the circumstances.  It was long before Maud could hear an outline, even, of the details, but she bore them better than Willoughby could have hoped.  The excitement had been so high, as to brace the mind to meet any human evil.  The sorrow that came afterwards, though sweetened by so many tender recollections, and chastened hopes, was deep and enduring.

Our picture would not have been complete, without relating the catastrophe that befell the Hutted Knoll; but, having discharged this painful duty, we prefer to draw a veil over the remainder of that dreadful night.  The cries of the negresses, when they learned the death of their old and young mistress, disturbed the silence of the place for a few minutes and then a profound stillness settled on the buildings, marking them distinctly as the house of mourning.  On further inquiry, too, it was ascertained that Great Smash, after shooting an Oneida, had been slain and scalped.  Pliny the younger, also, fell fighting like a wild beast to defend the entrance to his mistresses’ apartments.

The following day, when light had returned, a more accurate idea was obtained of the real state of the valley.  All of the invading party, the dead and wounded excepted, had made a rapid retreat, accompanied by most of the deserters and their families.  The name, known influence, and actual authority of Colonel Beekman had wrought this change; the irregular powers that had set the expedition in motion, preferring to conceal their agency in the transaction, rather than make any hazardous attempt to claim the reward of patriotic service, as is so often done in revolutions, for merciless deeds and selfish acts.  There had been no real design on the part of the whites to injure any of the family in their persons; but, instigated by Joel, they had fancied the occasion favourable for illustrating their own public virtue, while they placed themselves in the way of receiving fortune’s favours.  The assault that actually occurred, was one of those uncontrollable outbreakings of Indian ferocity, that have so often set at defiance the restraints of discipline.

Nick was not to be found either.  He had been last seen dressing his wounds, with Indian patience, and Indian skill, preparing to apply herbs and roots, in quest of which he went into the forest about midnight.  As he did not return Willoughby feared that he might be suffering alone, and determined to have a search made, as soon as he had performed the last sad offices for the dead.

Two days occurred, however, before this melancholy duty was discharged.  The bodies of all the savages who had fallen were interred the morning after the assault; but that of Jamie Allen, with those of the principal persons of the family, were kept for the pious purposes of affection, until the time mentioned.

The funeral was a touching sight.  The captain, his wife, and daughter, were laid, side by side, near the chapel; the first and last of their race that ever reposed in the wilds of America.  Mr. Woods read the funeral service, summoning all his spiritual powers to sustain him, as he discharged this solemn office of the church.  Willoughby’s arm was around the waist of Maud, who endeavoured to reward his tender assiduities by a smile, but could not.  Colonel Beekman held little Evert in his arms, and stood over the grave with the countenance of a resolute man stricken with grief ­one of the most touching spectacles of our nature.

I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord,” sounded in the stillness of that valley like a voice from heaven, pouring out consolation on the bruised spirits of the mourners.  Maud raised her face from Willoughby’s shoulder, and lifted her blue eyes to the cloudless vault above her; soliciting mercy, and offering resignation in the look.  The line of troops in the back-ground moved, as by a common impulse, and then a breathless silence showed the desire of these rude beings not to lose a syllable.

A round red spot formed on each of the cheeks of Mr. Woods as he proceeded, and his voice gathered strength, until its lowest intonations came clear and distinct on every ear.  Just as the bodies were about to be lowered into their two receptacles, the captain, his wife and daughter being laid in the same grave, Nick came with his noiseless step near the little group of mourners.  He had issued from the forest only a few minutes before, and understanding the intention of the ceremony, he approached the spot as fast as weakness and wounds would allow.  Even he listened with profound attention to the chaplain, never changing his eye from his face, unless to glance at the coffins as they lay in their final resting-place.

I heard a voice from Heaven, saying unto me, write, From henceforth blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; even so saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labours,” continued the chaplain, his voice beginning to betray a tremor; then the gaze of the Tuscarora became keen as the panther’s glance at his discovered victim.  Tears followed, and, for a moment, the voice was choked.

“Why you woman?” demanded Nick, fiercely.  “Save all ’e scalp!”

This strange interruption failed to produce any effect.  First Beekman yielded; Maud and Willoughby followed; until Mr. Woods, himself, unable to resist the double assaults of the power of sympathy and his own affection, closed the book and wept like a child.

It required minutes for the mourners to recover their self-command.  When the latter returned, however, all knelt on the grass, the line of soldiers included, and the closing prayers were raised to the throne of God.

This act of devotion enabled the mourners to maintain an appearance of greater tranquillity until the graves were filled.  The troops advanced, and fired three volleys over the captain’s grave, when all retired towards the Hut.  Maud had caught little Evert from the arms of his father, and, pressing him to her bosom, the motherless babe seemed disposed to slumber there.  In this manner she walked away, attended closely by the father, who now cherished his boy as an only treasure.

Willoughby lingered the last at the grave, Nick alone remaining near him.  The Indian had been struck by the exhibition of deep sorrow that he had witnessed, and he felt an uneasiness that was a little unaccountable to himself.  It was one of the caprices of this strange nature of ours, that he should feel a desire to console those whom he had so deeply injured himself.  He drew near to Robert Willoughby, therefore, and, laying a hand on the latter’s arm, drew his look in the direction of his own red and speaking face.

“Why so sorry, major?” he said.  “Warrior nebber die but once ­ must die sometime.”

“There lie my father, my mother, and my only sister, Indian ­is not that enough to make the stoutest heart bend?  You knew them, too, Nick ­ did you ever know better?”

“Squaw good ­both squaw good ­Nick see no pale-face squaw he like so much.”

“I thank you, Nick!  This rude tribute to the virtues of my mother and sister, is far more grateful to me than the calculating and regulated condolence of the world.”

“No squaw so good as olé one ­she, all heart ­love every body, but self.”

This was so characteristic of his mother, that Willoughby was startled by the sagacity of the savage, though reflection told him so long an acquaintance with the family must have made a dog familiar with this beautiful trait in his mother.

“And my father, Nick!” exclaimed the major, with feeling ­“my noble, just, liberal, gallant father! ­He, too, you knew well, and must have loved.”

“No so good as squaw,” answered the Tuscarora, sententiously, and not altogether without disgust in his manner.

“We are seldom as good as our wives, and mothers, and sisters, Nick, else should we be angels on earth.  But, allowing for the infirmities of us men, my father was just and gocd.”

“Too much flog” ­answered the savage, sternly ­“make Injin’s back sore.”

This extraordinary speech struck the major less, at the time, than it did, years afterwards, when he came to reflect on all the events and dialogues of this teeming week.  Such was also the case as to what followed.

“You are no flatterer, Tuscarora, as I have always found in our intercourse.  If my father ever punished you with severity, you will allow, me, at least, to imagine it was merited.”

“Too much flog, I say,” interrupted the savage, fiercely.  “No difference, chief or not.  Touch olé sore too rough.  Good, some; bad, some.  Like weather ­now shine; now storm.”

“This is no time to discuss these points, Nick.  You have fought nobly for us, and I thank you.  Without your aid, these beloved ones would have been mutilated, as well as slain; and Maud ­my own blessed Maud ­ might now have been sleeping at their sides.”

Nick’s face was now all softness again, and he returned the pressure of Willoughby’s hand with honest fervor.  Here they separated.  The major hastened to the side of Maud, to fold her to his heart, and console her with his love.  Nick passed into the forest, returning no more to the Hut.  His path led him near the grave.  On the side where lay the body of Mrs. Willoughby, he threw a flower he had plucked in the meadow; while he shook his finger menacingly at the other, which hid the person of his enemy.  In this, he was true to his nature, which taught him never to forget a favour, or forgive an injury.