The Hutted Knoll.
Complete in One Volume.
By J. Fenimore Cooper.
"I venerate the Pilgrim's cause, Yet for the red man dare to plead: We bow to Heaven's recorded laws, He turns to Nature for his creed."
The history of the borders is filled with legends of the sufferings of isolated families, during the troubled scenes of colonial warfare. Those which we now offer to the reader, are distinctive in many of their leading facts, if not rigidly true in the details. The first alone is necessary to the legitimate objects of fiction.
One of the misfortunes of a nation, is to hear little besides its own praises. Although the American revolution was probably as just an effort as was ever made by a people to resist the first inroads of oppression, the cause had its evil aspects, as well as all other human struggles. We have been so much accustomed to hear everything extolled, of late years, that could be dragged into the remotest connection with that great event, and the principles which led to it, that there is danger of overlooking truth, in a pseudo patriotism. Nothing is really patriotic, however, that is not strictly true and just; any more than it is paternal love to undermine the constitution of a child by an indiscriminate indulgence in pernicious diet. That there were demagogues in 1776, is as certain as that there are demagogues in 1843, and will probably continue to be demagogues as long as means for misleading the common mind shall exist.
A great deal of undigested morality is uttered to the world, under the disguise of a pretended public virtue. In the eye of reason, the man who deliberately and voluntarily contracts civil engagements is more strictly bound to their fulfilment, than he whose whole obligations consist of an accident over which he had not the smallest control, that of birth; though the very reverse of this is usually maintained under the influence of popular prejudice. The reader will probably discover how we view this master, in the course of our narrative.
Perhaps this story is obnoxious to the charge of a slight anachronism, in representing the activity of the Indians a year earlier than any were actually employed in the struggle of 1775. During the century of warfare that existed between the English and French colonies, the savage tribes were important agents in furthering the views of the respective belligerents. The war was on the frontiers, and these fierce savages were, in a measure, necessary to the management of hostilities that invaded their own villages and hunting-grounds. In 1775, the enemy came from the side of the Atlantic, and it was only after the struggle had acquired force, that the operations of the interior rendered the services of such allies desirable. In other respects, without pretending to refer to any real events, the incidents of this tale are believed to be sufficiently historical for all the legitimate purposes of fiction.
In this book the writer has aimed at sketching several distinct varieties of the human race, as true to the governing impulses of their educations, habits, modes of thinking and natures. The red man had his morality, as much as his white brother, and it is well known that even Christian ethics are coloured and governed, by standards of opinion set up on purely human authority. The honesty of one Christian is not always that of another, any more than his humanity, truth, fidelity or faith. The spirit must quit its earthly tabernacle altogether, ere it cease to be influenced by its tints and imperfections.
"An acorn fell from an old oak tree, And lay on the frosty ground— 'O, what shall the fate of the acorn be?' Was whispered all around By low-toned voices chiming sweet, Like a floweret's bell when swung— And grasshopper steeds were gathering fleet, And the beetle's hoofs up-rung."
Mrs. Seba Smith.
There is a wide-spread error on the subject of American scenery. From the size of the lakes, the length and breadth of the rivers, the vast solitudes of the forests, and the seemingly boundless expanse of the prairies, the world has come to attach to it an idea of grandeur; a word that is in nearly every case, misapplied. The scenery of that portion of the American continent which has fallen to the share of the Anglo-Saxon race, very seldom rises to a scale that merits this term; when it does, it is more owing to the accessories, as in the case of the interminable woods, than to the natural face of the country. To him who is accustomed to the terrific sublimity of the Alps, the softened and yet wild grandeur of the Italian lakes, or to the noble witchery of the shores of the Mediterranean, this country is apt to seem tame, and uninteresting as a whole; though it certainly has exceptions that carry charms of this nature to the verge of loveliness.
Of the latter character is the face of most of that region which lies in the angle formed by the junction of the Mohawk with the Hudson, extending as far south, or even farther, than the line of Pennsylvania, and west to the verge of that vast rolling plain which composes Western New York. This is a region of more than ten thousand square miles of surface, embracing to-day, ten counties at least, and supporting a rural population of near half a million of souls, excluding the river towns.
All who have seen this district of country, and who are familiar with the elements of charming, rather than grand scenery it possesses, are agreed in extolling its capabilities, and, in some instances, its realities. The want of high finish is common to everything of this sort in America; and, perhaps we may add, that the absence of picturesqueness as connected with the works of man, is a general defect; still, this particular region, and all others resembling it— for they abound on the wide surface of the twenty-six states—has beauties of its own, that it would be difficult to meet with in any of the older portions of the earth.
They who have done us the honour to read our previous works, will at once understand that the district to which we allude, is that of which we have taken more than one occasion to write; and we return to it now, less with a desire to celebrate its charms, than to exhibit them in a somewhat novel, and yet perfectly historical aspect. Our own earlier labours will have told the reader, that all of this extended district of country, with the exception of belts of settlements along the two great rivers named, was a wilderness, anterior to the American revolution. There was a minor class of exceptions to this general rule, however, to which it will be proper to advert, lest, by conceiving us too literally, the reader may think he can convict us of a contradiction. In order to be fully understood, the explanations shall be given at a little length.
While it is true, then, that the mountainous region, which now contains the counties of Schoharie, Otsego, Chenango, Broome, Delaware, &c., was a wilderness in 1775, the colonial governors had begun to make grants of its lands, some twenty years earlier. The patent of the estate on which we are writing lies before us; and it bears the date of 1769, with an Indian grant annexed, that is a year or two older. This may be taken as a mean date for the portion of country alluded to; some of the deeds being older, and others still more recent. These grants of land were originally made, subject to quit-rents to the crown; and usually on the payment of heavy fees to the colonial officers, after going through the somewhat supererogatory duty of "extinguishing the Indian title," as it was called. The latter were pretty effectually "extinguished" in that day, as well as in our own; and it would be a matter of curious research to ascertain the precise nature of the purchase-money given to the aborigines. In the case of the patent before us, the Indian right was "extinguished" by means of a few rifles, blankets, kettles, and beads; though the grant covers a nominal hundred thousand, and a real hundred and ten or twenty thousand acres of land.
The abuse of the grants, as land became more valuable, induced a law, restricting the number of acres patented to any one person, at any one time, to a thousand. Our monarchical predecessors had the same facilities, and it may be added, the same propensities, to rendering a law a dead letter, as belongs to our republican selves. The patent on our table, being for a nominal hundred thousand acres, contains the names of one hundred different grantees, while three several parchment documents at its side, each signed by thirty-three of these very persons, vest the legal estate in the first named, for whose sole benefit the whole concession was made; the dates of the last instruments succeeding, by one or two days, that of the royal patent itself.
Such is the history of most of the original titles to the many estates that dotted the region we have described, prior to the revolution. Money and favouritism, however were not always the motives of these large concessions. Occasionally, services presented their claims; and many instances occur in which old officers of the army, in particular, received a species of reward, by a patent for land, the fees being duly paid, and the Indian title righteously "extinguished." These grants to ancient soldiers were seldom large, except in the cases of officers of rank; three or four thousand well-selected acres, being a sufficient boon to the younger sons of Scottish lairds, or English squires, who had been accustomed to look upon a single farm as an estate.
As most of the soldiers mentioned were used to forest life, from having been long stationed at frontier posts, and had thus become familiarized with its privations, and hardened against its dangers, it was no unusual thing for them to sell out, or go on half-pay, when the wants of a family began to urge their claims, and to retire to their "patents," as the land itself, as well as the instrument by which it was granted, was invariably termed, with a view of establishing themselves permanently as landlords.
These grants from the crown, in the portions of the colony of New York that lie west of the river counties, were generally, if not invariably, simple concessions of the fee, subject to quit-rents to the king, and reservations of mines of the precious metals, without any of the privileges of feudal seignory, as existed in the older manors on the Hudson, on the islands, and on the Sound. Why this distinction was made, it exceeds our power to say; but, that the fact was so, as a rule, we have it in proof, by means of a great number of the original patents, themselves, that have been transmitted to us from various sources. Still, the habits of "home" entailed the name, even where the thing was not to be found. Titular manors exist, in a few instances, to this day, where no manorial rights were ever granted; and manor-houses were common appellations for the residences of the landlords of large estates, that were held in fee, without any exclusive privileges, and subject to the reservation named. Some of these manorial residences were of so primitive an appearance, as to induce the belief that the names were bestowed in pleasantry; the dwellings themselves being of logs, with the bark still on them, and the other fixtures to correspond. Notwithstanding all these drawbacks, early impressions and rooted habits could easily transfer terms to such an abode; and there was always a saddened enjoyment among these exiles, when they could liken their forest names and usages to those they had left in the distant scenes of their childhood.
The effect of the different causes we have here given was to dot the region described, though at long intervals, with spots of a semi- civilized appearance, in the midst of the vast—nay, almost boundless— expanse of forest. Some of these early settlements had made considerable advances towards finish and comfort, ere the war of '76 drove their occupants to seek protection against the inroads of the savages; and long after the influx of immigration which succeeded the peace, the fruits, the meadows, and the tilled fields of these oases in the desert, rendered them conspicuous amidst the blackened stumps, piled logs, and smooty fallows of an active and bustling settlement. At even a much later day, they were to be distinguished by the smoother surfaces of their fields, the greater growth and more bountiful yield of their orchards, and by the general appearance of a more finished civilization, and of greater age. Here and there, a hamlet had sprung up; and isolated places, like Cherry Valley and Wyoming, were found, that have since become known to the general history of the country.
Our present tale now leads us to the description of one of those early, personal, or family settlements, that had grown up, in what was then a very remote part of the territory in question, under the care and supervision of an ancient officer of the name of Willoughby. Captain Willoughby, after serving many years, had married an American wife, and continuing his services until a son and daughter were born, he sold his commission, procured a grant of land, and determined to retire to his new possessions, in order to pass the close of his life in the tranquil pursuits of agriculture, and in the bosom of his family. An adopted child was also added to his cares. Being an educated as well as a provident man, Captain Willoughby had set about the execution of this scheme with deliberation, prudence, and intelligence. On the frontiers, or lines, as it is the custom to term the American boundaries, he had become acquainted with a Tuscarora, known by the English sobriquet of "Saucy Nick." This fellow, a sort of half-outcast from his own people, had early attached himself to the whites, had acquired their language, and owing to a singular mixture of good and bad qualities, blended with great native shrewdness, he had wormed himself into the confidence of several commanders of small garrisons, among whom was our captain. No sooner was the mind of the latter made up, concerning his future course, than he sent for Nick, who was then in the fort; when the following conversation took place:
"Nick," commenced the captain, passing his hand over his brow, as was his wont when in a reflecting mood; "Nick, I have an important movement in view, in which you can be of some service to me."
The Tuscarora, fastening his dark basilisk-like eyes on the soldier, gazed a moment, as if to read his soul; then he jerked a thumb backward, over his own shoulder, and said, with a grave smile—
"Nick understand. Want six, two, scalp off Frenchman's head; wife and child; out yonder, over dere, up in Canada. Nick do him—what you give?"
"No, you red rascal, I want nothing of the sort—it is peace now, (this conversation took place in 1764), and you know I never bought a scalp, in time of war. Let me hear no more of this."
"What you want, den?" asked Nick, like one who was a good deal puzzled.
"I want land—good land—little, but good. I am about to get a grant—a patent—"
"Yes," interrupted Nick, nodding; "I know him—paper to take away Indian's hunting-ground."
"Why, I have no wish to do that—I am willing to pay the red men reasonably for their right, first."
"Buy Nick's land, den—better dan any oder."
"Your land, knave!—You own no land—belong to no tribe—have no rights to sell."
"What for ask Nick help, den?"
"What for?—Why because you know a good deal, though you own literally nothing. That's what for."
"Buy Nick know, den. Better dan he great fader know, down at York."
"That is just what I do wish to purchase. I will pay you well, Nick, if you will start to-morrow, with your rifle and a pocket-compass, off here towards the head-waters of the Susquehannah and Delaware, where the streams run rapidly, and where there are no fevers, and bring me an account of three or four thousand acres of rich bottom-land, in such a way as a surveyor can find it, and I can get a patent for it. What say you, Nick; will you go?"
"He not wanted. Nick sell 'e captain, his own land: here in 'e fort."
"Knave, do you not know me well enough not to trifle, when I am serious?"
"Nick ser'ous too—Moravian priest no ser'ouser more dan Nick at dis moment. Got land to sell."
Captain Willoughby had found occasion to punish the Tuscarora, in the course of his services; and as the parties understood each other perfectly well, the former saw the improbability of the latter's daring to trifle with him.
"Where is this land of yours, Nick," he inquired, after studying the Indian's countenance for a moment. "Where does it lie, what is it like, how much is there of it, and how came you to own it?"
"Ask him just so, ag'in," said Nick, taking up four twigs, to note down the questions, seriatim.
The captain repeated his inquiries, the Tuscarora laying down a stick at each separate interrogatory.
"Where he be?" answered Nick, taking up a twig, as a memorandum. "He out dere—where he want him—where he say.—One day's march from Susquehanna."
"What he like?—Like land, to be sure. T'ink he like water! Got some water—no too much—got some land—got no tree—got some tree. Got good sugar-bush—got place for wheat and corn."
"How much of him?" continued Nick, taking up another twig; "much as he want—want little, got him—want more, got him. Want none at all, got none at all—got what he want."
"To be sure. How came to own him?—How a pale face come to own America? Discover him—ha!—Well, Nick discover land down yonder, up dere, over here."
"Nick, what the devil do you mean by all this?"
"No mean devil, at all—mean land—good land. Discover him—know where he is—catch beaver dere, three, two year. All Nick say, true as word of honour; much more too."
"Do you mean it is an old beaver-dam destroyed?" asked the captain, pricking up his ears; for he was too familiar with the woods, not to understand the value of such a thing.
"No destroy—stand up yet—good as ever.—Nick dere, last season."
"Why, then, do you tell of it? Are not the beaver of more value to you, than any price you may receive for the land?"
"Cotch him all, four, two year ago—rest run away. No find beaver to stay long, when Indian once know, two time, where to set he trap. Beaver cunninger 'an pale face—cunning as bear."
"I begin to comprehend you, Nick. How large do you suppose this pond to be?"
"He 'm not as big as Lake Ontario. S'pose him smaller, what den? Big enough for farm."
"Does it cover one or two hundred acres, think you?—Is it as large as the clearing around the fort?"
"Big as two, six, four of him. Take forty skin, dere one season. Little lake; all 'e tree gone."
"And the land around it—is it mountainous and rough, or will it be good for corn?"
"All sugar-bush—what you want better? S'pose you want corn; plant him. S'pose you want sugar; make him."
Captain Willoughby was struck with this description, and he returned to the subject, again and again. At length, after extracting all the information he could get from Nick, he struck a bargain with the fellow. A surveyor was engaged, and he started for the place, under the guidance of the Tuscarora. The result showed that Nick had not exaggerated. The pond was found, as he had described it to be, covering at least four hundred acres of low bottom-land; while near three thousand acres of higher river-flat, covered with beach and maple, spread around it for a considerable distance. The adjacent mountains too, were arable, though bold, and promised, in time, to become a fertile and manageable district. Calculating his distances with judgment, the surveyor laid out his metes and bounds in such a manner as to include the pond, all the low-land, and about three thousand acres of hill, or mountain, making the materials for a very pretty little "patent" of somewhat more than six thousand acres of capital land. He then collected a few chiefs of the nearest tribe, dealt out his rum, tobacco, blankets, wampum, and gunpowder, got twelve Indians to make their marks on a bit of deer-skin, and returned to his employer with a map, a field-book, and a deed, by which the Indian title was "extinguished." The surveyor received his compensation, and set off on a similar excursion, for a different employer, and in another direction. Nick got his reward, too, and was well satisfied with the transaction. This he afterwards called "sellin' beaver when he all run away."
Furnished with the necessary means, Captain Willoughby now "sued out his patent," as it was termed, in due form. Having some influence, the affair was soon arranged; the grant was made by the governor in council, a massive seal was annexed to a famous sheet of parchment, the signatures were obtained, and "Willoughby's Patent" took its place on the records of the colony, as well as on its maps. We are wrong as respects the latter particular; it did not take its place, on the maps of the colony, though it took a place; the location given for many years afterwards, being some forty or fifty miles too far west. In this peculiarity there was nothing novel, the surveys of all new regions being liable to similar trifling mistakes. Thus it was, that an estate, lying within five-and-twenty miles of the city of New York, and in which we happen to have a small interest at this hour, was clipped of its fair proportions, in consequence of losing some miles that run over obtrusively into another colony; and, within a short distance of the spot where we are writing, a "patent" has been squeezed entirely out of existence, between the claims of two older grants.
No such calamity befell "Willoughby's Patent," however. The land was found, with all its "marked or blazed trees," its "heaps of stones," "large butternut corners," and "dead oaks." In a word, everything was as it should be; even to the quality of the soil, the beaver-pond, and the quantity. As respects the last, the colony never gave "struck measure;" a thousand acres on paper, seldom falling short of eleven or twelve hundred in soil. In the present instance, the six thousand two hundred and forty-six acres of "Willoughby's Patent," were subsequently ascertained to contain just seven thousand and ninety-two acres of solid ground.
Our limits and plan will not permit us to give more than a sketch of the proceedings of the captain, in taking possession; though we feel certain that a minute account of the progress of such a settlement would possess a sort of Robinson Crusoe-like interest, that might repay the reader. As usual, the adventurers commenced their operations in the spring. Mrs. Willoughby, and the children, were left with their friends, in Albany; while the captain and his party pioneered their way to the patent, in the best manner they could. This party consisted of Nick, who went in the capacity of hunter, an office of a good deal of dignity, and of the last importance, to a set of adventurers on an expedition of this nature. Then there were eight axe-men, a house- carpenter, a mason, and a mill-wright. These, with Captain Willoughby, and an invalid sergeant, of the name of Joyce, composed the party.
Our adventurers made most of their journey by water. After finding their way to the head of the Canaideraga, mistaking it for the Otsego, they felled trees, hollowed them into canoes, embarked, and, aided by a yoke of oxen that were driven along the shore, they wormed their way, through the Oaks, into the Susquehanna, descending that river until they reached the Unadilla, which stream they ascended until they came to the small river, known in the parlance of the country, by the erroneous name of a creek, that ran through the captain's new estate. The labour of this ascent was exceedingly severe; but the whole journey was completed by the end of April, and while the streams were high. Snow still lay in the woods; but the sap had started, and the season was beginning to show its promise.
The first measure adopted by our adventurers was to "hut." In the very centre of the pond, which, it will be remembered, covered four hundred acres, was an island of some five or six acres in extent. It was a rocky knoll, that rose forty feet above the surface of the water, and was still crowned with noble pines, a species of tree that had escaped the ravages of the beaver. In the pond, itself, a few "stubs" alone remained, the water having killed the trees, which had fallen and decayed. This circumstance showed that the stream had long before been dammed; successions of families of beavers having probably occupied the place, and renewed the works, for centuries, at intervals of generations. The dam in existence, however, was not very old; the animals having fled from their great enemy, man, rather than from any other foe.
To the island Captain Willoughby transferred all his stores, and here he built his hut. This was opposed to the notions of his axe-men, who, rightly enough, fancied the mainland would be more convenient; but the captain and the sergeant, after a council of war, decided that the position on the knoll would be the most military, and might be defended the longest, against man or beast. Another station was taken up, however, on the nearest shore, where such of the men were permitted to "hut," as preferred the location.
These preliminaries observed, the captain meditated a bold stroke against the wilderness, by draining the pond, and coming at once into the possession of a noble farm, cleared of trees and stumps, as it might be by a coup de main. This would be compressing the results of ordinary years of toil, into those of a single season, and everybody was agreed as to the expediency of the course, provided it were feasible.
The feasibility was soon ascertained. The stream which ran through the valley, was far from swift, until it reached a pass where the hills approached each other in low promontories; there the land fell rapidly away to what might be termed a lower terrace. Across this gorge, or defile, a distance of about five hundred feet, the dam had been thrown, a good deal aided by the position of some rocks that here rose to the surface, and through which the little river found its passage. The part which might be termed the key-stone of the dam, was only twenty yards wide, and immediately below it, the rocks fell away rapidly, quite sixty feet, carrying down the waste water in a sort of fall. Here the mill-wright announced his determination to commence operations at once, putting in a protest against destroying the works of the beavers. A pond of four hundred acres being too great a luxury for the region, the man was overruled, and the labour commenced.
The first blow was struck against the dam about nine o'clock, on the 2d day of May, 1765, and, by evening, the little sylvan-looking lake, which had lain embedded in the forest, glittering in the morning sun, unruffled by a breath of air, had entirely disappeared! In its place, there remained an open expanse of wet mud, thickly covered with pools and the remains of beaver-houses, with a small river winding its way slowly through the slime. The change to the eye was melancholy indeed; though the prospect was cheering to the agriculturist. No sooner did the water obtain a little passage, than it began to clear the way for itself, gushing out in a torrent, through the pass already mentioned.
The following morning, Captain Willoughby almost mourned over the works of his hands. The scene was so very different from that it had presented when the flats were covered with water, that it was impossible not to feel the change. For quite a month, it had an influence on the whole party. Nick, in particular, denounced it, as unwise and uncalled for, though he had made his price out of the very circumstance in prospective; and even Sergeant Joyce was compelled to admit that the knoll, an island no longer, had lost quite half its security as a military position. The next month, however, brought other changes. Half the pools had vanished by drainings and evaporation; the mud had begun to crack, and, in some places to pulverize; while the upper margin of the old pond had become sufficiently firm to permit the oxen to walk over it, without miring. Fences of trees, brush, and even rails, enclosed, on this portion of the flats, quite fifty acres of land; and Indian corn, oats, pumpkins, peas, potatoes, flax, and several other sorts of seed, were already in the ground. The spring proved dry, and the sun of the forty-third degree of latitude was doing its work, with great power and beneficence. What was of nearly equal importance, the age of the pond had prevented any recent accumulation of vegetable matter, and consequently spared those who laboured around the spot, the impurities of atmosphere usually consequent on its decay. Grass-seed, too, had been liberally scattered on favourable places, and things began to assume the appearance of what is termed "living."
August presented a still different picture. A saw-mill was up, and had been at work for some time. Piles of green boards began to make their appearance, and the plane of the carpenter was already in motion. Captain Willoughby was rich, in a small way; in other words, he possessed a few thousand pounds besides his land, and had yet to receive the price of his commission. A portion of these means were employed judiciously to advance his establishment; and, satisfied that there would be no scarcity of fodder for the ensuing winter, a man had been sent into the settlements for another yoke of cattle, and a couple of cows. Farming utensils were manufactured on the spot, and sleds began to take the place of carts; the latter exceeding the skill of any of the workmen present.
October offered its products as a reward for all this toil. The yield was enormous, and of excellent quality. Of Indian corn, the captain gathered several hundred bushels, besides stacks of stalks and tops. His turnips, too, were superabundant in quantity, and of a delicacy and flavour entirely unknown to the precincts of old lands. The potatoes had not done so well; to own the truth, they were a little watery, though there were enough of them to winter every hoof he had, of themselves. Then the peas and garden truck were both good and plenty; and a few pigs having been procured, there was the certainty of enjoying a plenty of that important article, pork, during the coming winter.
Late in the autumn, the captain rejoined his family in Albany, quitting the field for winter quarters. He left sergeant Joyce, in garrison, supported by Nick, a miller, the mason, carpenter, and three of the axe-men. Their duty was to prepare materials for the approaching season, to take care of the stock, to put in winter crops, to make a few bridges, clear out a road or two, haul wood to keep themselves from freezing, to build a log barn and some sheds, and otherwise to advance the interests of the settlement. They were also to commence a house for the patentee.
As his children were at school, captain Willoughby determined not to take his family immediately to the Hutted Knoll, as the place soon came to be called, from the circumstance of the original bivouack. This name was conferred by sergeant Joyce, who had a taste in that way, and as it got to be confirmed by the condescension of the proprietor and his family, we have chosen it to designate our present labours. From time to time, a messenger arrived with news from the place; and twice, in the course of the winter, the same individual went back with supplies, and encouraging messages to the different persons left in the clearing. As spring approached, however, the captain began to make his preparations for the coming campaign, in which he was to be accompanied by his wife; Mrs. Willoughby, a mild, affectionate, true-hearted New York woman, having decided not to let her husband pass another summer in that solitude without feeling the cheering influence of her presence.
In March, before the snow began to melt, several sleigh-loads of different necessaries were sent up the valley of the Mohawk, to a point opposite the head of the Otsego, where a thriving village called Fortplain now stands. Thence men were employed in transporting the articles, partly by means of "jumpers" improvised for the occasion, and partly on pack-horses, to the lake, which was found this time, instead of its neighbour the Canaderaiga. This necessary and laborious service occupied six weeks, the captain having been up as far as the lake once himself; returning to Albany, however, ere the snow was gone.
All things are new—the buds, the leaves, That gild the elm-tree's nodding crest, And even the nest beneath the eaves— There are no birds in last year's nest.
"I have good news for you, Wilhelmina," cried the captain, coming into the parlour where his wife used to sit and knit or sew quite half the day, and speaking with a bright face, and in a cheerful voice—"Here is a letter from my excellent old colonel; and Bob's affair is all settled and agreed on. He is to leave school next week, and to put on His Majesty's livery the week after."
Mrs. Willoughby smiled, and yet two or three tears followed each other down her cheeks, even while she smiled. The first was produced by pleasure at hearing that her son had got an ensigncy in the 60th, or Royal Americans; and the last was a tribute paid to nature; a mother's fears at consigning an only boy to the profession of arms.
"I am rejoiced, Willoughby," she said, "because you rejoice, and I know that Robert will be delighted at possessing the king's commission; but, he is very young to be sent into the dangers of battle and the camp!"
"I was younger, when I actually went into battle, for then it was war; now, we have a peace that promises to be endless, and Bob will have abundance of time to cultivate a beard before he smells gunpowder. As for myself"—he added in a half-regretful manner, for old habits and opinions would occasionally cross his mind—"as for myself, the cultivation of turnips must be my future occupation. Well, the bit of parchment is sold, Bob has got his in its place, while the difference in price is in my pocket, and no more need be said—and here come our dear girls, Wilhelmina, to prevent any regrets. The father of two such daughters ought, at least, to be happy."
At this instant, Beulah and Maud Willoughby, (for so the adopted child was called as well as the real), entered the room, having taken the lodgings of their parents, in a morning walk, on which they were regularly sent by the mistress of the boarding-school, in which they were receiving what was then thought to be a first-rate American female education. And much reason had their fond parents to be proud of them! Beulah, the eldest, was just eleven, while her sister was eighteen months younger. The first had a staid, and yet a cheerful look; but her cheeks were blooming, her eyes bright, and her smile sweet. Maud, the adopted one, however, had already the sunny countenance of an angel, with quite as much of the appearance of health as her sister; her face had more finesse, her looks more intelligence, her playfulness more feeling, her smile more tenderness, at times; at others, more meaning. It is scarcely necessary to say that both had that delicacy of outline which seems almost inseparable from the female form in this country. What was, perhaps, more usual in that day among persons of their class than it is in our own, each spoke her own language with an even graceful utterance, and a faultless accuracy of pronunciation, equally removed from effort and provincialisms. As the Dutch was in very common use then, at Albany, and most females of Dutch origin had a slight touch of their mother tongue in their enunciation of English, this purity of dialect in the two girls was to be ascribed to the fact that their father was an Englishman by birth; their mother an American of purely English origin, though named after a Dutch god- mother; and the head of the school in which they had now been three years, was a native of London, and a lady by habits and education.
"Now, Maud," cried the captain, after he had kissed the forehead, eyes and cheeks of his smiling little favourite—"Now, Maud, I will set you to guess what good news I have for you and Beulah."
"You and mother don't mean to go to that bad Beave Manor this summer, as some call the ugly pond?" answered the child, quick as lightning.
"That is kind of you, my darling; more kind than prudent; but you are not right."
"Try Beulah, now," interrupted the mother, who, while she too doted on her youngest child, had an increasing respect for the greater solidity and better judgment of her sister: "let us hear Beulah's guess."
"It is something about my brother, I know by mother's eyes," answered the eldest girl, looking inquiringly into Mrs. Willoughby's face.
"Oh! yes," cried Maud, beginning to jump about the room, until she ended her saltations in her father's arms—"Bob has got his commission!—I know it all well enough, now—I would not thank you to tell me—I know it all now—dear Bob, how he will laugh! and how happy I am!"
"Is it so, mother?" asked Beulah, anxiously, and without even a smile.
"Maud is right; Bob is an ensign—or, will be one, in a day or two. You do not seem pleased, my child?"
"I wish Robert were not a soldier, mother. Now he will be always away, and we shall never see him; then he may be obliged to fight, and who knows how unhappy it may make him?"
Beulah thought more of her brother than she did of herself; and, sooth to say, her mother had many of the child's misgivings. With Maud it was altogether different: she saw only the bright side of the picture; Bob gay and brilliant, his face covered with smiles, his appearance admired himself, and of course his sisters, happy. Captain Willoughby sympathized altogether with his pet. Accustomed to arms, he rejoiced that a career in which he had partially failed—this he did not conceal from himself or his wife—that this same career had opened, as he trusted, with better auspices on his only son. He covered Maud with kisses, and then rushed from the house, finding his heart too full to run the risk of being unmanned in the presence of females.
A week later, availing themselves of one of the last falls of snow of the season, captain Willoughby and his wife left Albany for the Knoll. The leave-taking was tender, and to the parents bitter; though after all, it was known that little more than a hundred miles would separate them from their beloved daughters. Fifty of these miles, however, were absolutely wilderness; and to achieve them, quite a hundred of tangled forest, or of difficult navigation, were to be passed. The communications would be at considerable intervals, and difficult. Still they might be held, and the anxious mother left many injunctions with Mrs. Waring, the head of the school, in relation to the health of her daughters, and the manner in which she was to be sent for, in the event of any serious illness.
Mrs. Willoughby had often overcome, as she fancied, the difficulties of a wilderness, in the company of her husband. It is the fashion highly to extol Napoleon's passage of the Alps, simply in reference to its physical obstacles. There never was a brigade moved twenty-four hours into the American wilds, that had not greater embarrassments of this nature to overcome, unless in those cases in which favourable river navigation has offered its facilities. Still, time and necessity had made a sort of military ways to all the more important frontier points occupied by the British garrisons, and the experience of Mrs. Willoughby had not hitherto been of the severe character of that she was now compelled to undergo.
The first fifty miles were passed over in a sleigh, in a few hours, and with little or no personal fatigue. This brought the travellers to a Dutch inn on the Mohawk, where the captain had often made his halts, and whither he had from time to time, sent his advanced parties in the course of the winter and spring. Here a jumper was found prepared to receive Mrs. Willoughby; and the horse being led by the captain himself, a passage through the forest was effected as far as the head of the Otsego. The distance being about twelve miles, it required two days for its performance. As the settlements extended south from the Mohawk a few miles, the first night was passed in a log cabin, on the extreme verge of civilization, if civilization it could be called, and the remaining eight miles were got over in the course of the succeeding day. This was more than would probably have been achieved in the virgin forest, and under the circumstances, had not so many of the captain's people passed over the same ground, going and returning, thereby learning how to avoid the greatest difficulties of the route, and here and there constructing a rude bridge. They had also blazed the trees, shortening the road by pointing out its true direction.
At the head of the Otsego, our adventurers were fairly in the wilderness. Huts had been built to receive the travellers, and here the whole party assembled, in readiness to make a fresh start in company. It consisted of more than a dozen persons, in all; the black domestics of the family being present, as well as several mechanics whom Captain Willoughby had employed to carry on his improvements. The men sent in advance had not been idle, any more than those left at the Hutted Knoll. They had built three or four skiffs, one small batteau, and a couple of canoes. These were all in the water, in waiting for the disappearance of the ice; which was now reduced to a mass of stalactites in form, greenish and sombre in hue, as they floated in a body, but clear and bright when separated and exposed to the sun. The south winds began to prevail, and the shore was glittering with the fast-melting piles of the frozen fluid, though it would have been vain yet to attempt a passage through it.
The Otsego is a sheet that we have taken more than one occasion to describe, and the picture it then presented, amidst its frame of mountains, will readily be imagined by most of our readers. In 1765, no sign of a settlement was visible on its shores; few of the grants of land in that vicinity extending back so far. Still the spot began to be known, and hunters had been in the habit of frequenting its bosom and its shores, for the last twenty years or more Not a vestige of their presence, however, was to be seen from the huts of the captain; but Mrs. Willoughby assured her husband, as she stood leaning on his arm, the morning after her arrival, that never before had she gazed on so eloquent, and yet so pleasing a picture of solitude as that which lay spread before her eyes.
"There is something encouraging and soothing in this bland south wind, too," she added, "which seems to promise that we shall meet with a beneficent nature, in the spot to which we are going. The south airs of spring, to me are always filled with promise."
"And justly, love; for they are the harbingers of a renewed vegetation. If the wind increase, as I think it may, we shall see this chilling sheet of ice succeeded by the more cheerful view of water. It is in this way, that all these lakes open their bosoms in April."
Captain Willoughby did not know it, while speaking, but, at that moment, quite two miles of the lower, or southern end of the lake, was clear, and the opening giving a sweep to the breeze, the latter was already driving the sheets of ice before it, towards the head, at a rate of quite a mile in the hour. Just then, an Irishman, named Michael O'Hearn, who had recently arrived in America, and whom the captain had hired as a servant of all work, came rushing up to his master, and opened his teeming thoughts, with an earnestness of manner, and a confusion of rhetoric, that were equally characteristic of the man and of a portion of his nation.
"Is it journeying south, or to the other end of this bit of wather, or ice, that yer honour is thinking of?" he cried "Well, and there'll be room for us all, and to spare; for divil a bir-r-d will be left in that quarter by night, or forenent twelve o'clock either, calculating by the clock, if one had such a thing; as a body might say."
As this was said not only vehemently, but with an accent that defies imitation with the pen, Mrs. Willoughby was quite at a loss to get a clue to the idea; but, her husband, more accustomed to men of Mike's class, was sufficiently lucky to comprehend what he was at.
"You mean the pigeons, Mike, I suppose," the captain answered, good- humouredly. "There are certainly a goodly number of them; and I dare say our hunters will bring us in some, for dinner. It is a certain sign that the winter is gone, when birds and beasts follow their instincts, in this manner. Where are you from, Mike?"
"County Leitrim, yer honour," answered the other, touching his cap.
"Ay, that one may guess," said the captain, smiling, 'but where last?"
"From looking at the bir-r-ds, sir!—Och! It's a sight that will do madam good, and contains a sartainty there'll be room enough made for us, where all these cr'atures came from. I'm thinking, yer honour, if we don't ate them, they'll be wanting to ate us. What a power of them, counting big and little; though they 're all of a size, just as much as if they had flown through a hole made on purpose to kape them down to a convanient bigness, in body and feathers."
"Such a flight of pigeons in Ireland, would make a sensation, Mike," observed the captain, willing to amuse his wife, by drawing out the County Leitrim-man, a little.
"It would make a dinner, yer honour, for every mother's son of 'em, counting the gur-r-rls, in the bargain! Such a power of bir-r-ds, would knock down 'praties, in a wonderful degree, and make even butthermilk chape and plenthiful. Will it be always such abundance with us, down at the Huts, yer honour? or is this sight only a delusion to fill us with hopes that's never to be satisfied?"
"Pigeons are seldom wanting in this country, Mike, in the spring and autumn; though we have both birds and beasts, in plenty, that are preferable for food."
"Will it be plentthier than this?—Well, it's enough to destroy human appetite, the sight of 'em! I'd give the half joe I lost among them blackguards in Albany, at their Pauss, as they calls it, jist to let my sisther's childer have their supper out of one of these flocks, such as they are, betther or no betther. Och! its pleasant to think of them childer having their will, for once, on such a power of wild, savage bir-r-ds!"
Captain Willoughby smiled at this proof of naivete in his new domestic, and then led his wife back to the hut; if being time to make some fresh dispositions for the approaching movement. By noon, it became apparent to those who were waiting such an event, that the lake was opening; and, about the same time, one of the hunters came in from a neighbouring mountain, and reported that he had seen clear water, as near their position as three or four miles. By this time it was blowing fresh, and the wind, having a clear rake, drove up the honeycomb- looking sheet before it, as the scraper accumulates snow. When the sun set, the whole north shore was white with piles of glittering icicles; while the bosom of the Otsego, no longer disturbed by the wind, resembled a placid mirror.
Early on the following morning, the whole party embarked. There was no wind, and men were placed at the paddles and the oars. Care was taken, on quitting the huts, to close their doors and shutters; for they were to be taverns to cover the heads of many a traveller, in the frequent journeys that were likely to be made, between the Knoll and the settlements. These stations, then, were of the last importance, and a frontier-man always had the same regard for them, that the mountaineer of the Alps has for his "refuge."
The passage down the Otsego was the easiest and most agreeable portion of the whole journey. The day was pleasant, and the oarsmen vigorous, if not very skilful, rendering the movement rapid, and sufficiently direct. But one drawback occurred to the prosperity of the voyage. Among the labourers hired by the captain, was a Connecticut man, of the name of Joel Strides, between whom and the County Leitrim-man, there had early commenced a warfare of tricks and petty annoyances; a warfare that was perfectly defensive on the part of O'Hearn, who did little more, in the way of retort, than comment on the long, lank, shapeless figure, and meagre countenance of his enemy. Joel had not been seen to smile, since he engaged with the captain; though three times had he laughed outright, and each time at the occurrence of some mishap to Michael O'Hearn the fruit of one of his own schemes of annoyance.
On the present occasion, Joel, who had the distribution of such duty, placed Mike in a skiff, by himself, flattering the poor fellow with the credit he would achieve, by rowing a boat to the foot of the lake, without assistance. He might as well have asked Mike to walk to the outlet on the surface of the water! This arrangement proceeded from an innate love of mischief in Joel, who had much of the quiet waggery, blended with many of the bad qualities of the men of his peculiar class. A narrow and conceited selfishness lay at the root of the larger portion of this man's faults. As a physical being, he was a perfect labour-saving machine, himself; bringing all the resources of a naturally quick and acute mind to bear on this one end, never doing anything that required a particle more than the exertion and strength that were absolutely necessary to effect his object. He rowed the skiff in which the captain and his wife had embarked, with his own hands; and, previously to starting, he had selected the best sculls from the other boats, had fitted his twhart with the closest attention to his own ease, and had placed a stretcher for his feet, with an intelligence and knowledge of mechanics, that would have done credit to a Whitehall waterman. This much proceeded from the predominating principle of his nature, which was, always to have an eye on the interests of Joel Strides; though the effect happened, in this instance, to be beneficial to those he served.
Michael O'Hearn, on the contrary, thought only of the end; and this so intensely, not to so say vehemently, as generally to overlook the means. Frank, generous, self-devoted, and withal accustomed to get most things wrong-end-foremost, he usually threw away twice the same labour, in effecting a given purpose, that was expended by the Yankee; doing the thing worse, too, besides losing twice the time. He never paused to think of this, however. The masther's boat was to be rowed to the other end of the lake, and, though he had never rowed a boat an inch in his life, he was ready and willing to undertake the job. "If a certain quantity of work will not do it," thought Mike, "I'll try as much ag'in; and the divil is in it, if that won't sarve the purpose of that little bit of a job."
Under such circumstances the party started. Most of the skiffs and canoes went off half an hour before Mrs. Willoughby was ready, and Joel managed to keep Mike for he last, under the pretence of wishing his aid in loading his own boat, with the bed and bedding from the hut. All was ready, at length, and taking his seat, with a sort of quiet deliberation, Joel said, in his drawling way, "You'll follow us, Mike, and you can't be a thousand miles out of the way." Then he pulled from the shore with a quiet, steady stroke of the sculls, that sent the skiff ahead with great rapidity, though with much ease to himself.
Michael O'Hearn stood looking at the retiring skiff, in silent admiration, for two or three minutes. He was quite alone; for all the other boats were already two or three miles on their way, and distance already prevented him from seeing the mischief that was lurking in Joel's hypocritical eyes.
"Follow yees!" soliloquized Mike—"The divil burn ye, for a guessing yankee as ye ar'—how am I to follow with such legs as the likes of these? If it wasn't for the masther and the missus, ra'al jontlemen and ladies they be, I'd turn my back on ye, in the desert, and let ye find that Beaver estate, in yer own disagreeable company. Ha!—well, I must thry, and if the boat won't go, it'll be no fault of the man that has a good disposition to make it."
Mike now took his seat on a board that lay across the gunwale of the skiff at a most inconvenient height, placed two sculls in the water, one of which was six inches longer than the other, made a desperate effort, and got his craft fairly afloat. Now, Michael O'Hearn was not left-handed, and, as usually happens with such men, the inequality between the two limbs was quite marked. By a sinister accident, too, it happened that the longest oar got into the strongest hand, and there it would have staid to the end of time; before Mike would think of changing it, on that account. Joel, alone, sat with his face towards the head of the lake, and he alone could see the dilemma in which the county Leitrim-man was placed. Neither the captain nor his wife thought of looking behind, and the yankee had all the fun to himself. As for Mike, he succeeded in getting a few rods from the land, when the strong arm and the longer lever asserting their superiority, the skiff began to incline to the westward. So intense, however, was the poor fellow's zeal, that he did not discover the change in his course until he had so far turned as to give him a glimpse of his retiring master; then he inferred that all was right, and pulled more leisurely. The result was, that in about ten minutes, Mike was stopped by the land, the boat touching the north shore again, two or three rods from the very point whence it had started. The honest fellow got up, looked around him, scratched his head, gazed wistfully after the fast-receding boat of his master, and broke out in another soliloquy.
"Bad luck to them that made ye, ye one-sided thing!" he said, shaking his head reproachfully at the skiff: "there's liberty for ye to do as ye ought, and ye'll not be doing it, just out of contrairiness. Why the divil can't ye do like the other skiffs, and go where ye're wanted, on the road towards thim beavers? Och, ye'll be sorry for this, when ye're left behind, out of sight!"
Then it flashed on Mike's mind that possibly some article had been left in the hut, and the skiff had come back to look after it; so, up he ran to the captain's deserted lodge, entered it, was lost to view for a minute, then came in sight again, scratching his head, and renewing his muttering—"No," he said, "divil a thing can I see, and it must be pure contrairiness! Perhaps the baste will behave betther next time, so I'll thry it ag'in, and give it an occasion. Barring obstinacy, 't is as good-lookin' a skiff as the best of them."
Mike was as good as his word, and gave the skiff as fair an opportunity of behaving itself as was ever offered to a boat. Seven times did he quit the shore, and as often return to it, gradually working his way towards the western shore, and slightly down the lake. In this manner, Mike at length got himself so far on the side of the lake, as to present a barrier of land to the evil disposition of his skiff to incline to the westward. It could go no longer in that direction, at least.
"Divil burn ye," the honest fellow cried, the perspiration rolling down his face; "I think ye'll be satisfied without walking out into the forest, where I wish ye war' with all my heart, amang the threes that made ye! Now, I'll see if yer contrairy enough to run up a hill."
Mike next essayed to pull along the shore, in the hope that the sight of the land, and of the overhanging pines and hemlocks, would cure the boat's propensity to turn in that direction. It is not necessary to say that his expectations were disappointed, and he finally was reduced to getting out into the water, cool as was the weather, and of wading along the shore, dragging the boat after him. All this Joel saw before he passed out of sight, but no movement of his muscles let the captain into the secret of the poor Irishman's strait.
In the meanwhile, the rest of the flotilla, or brigade of boats, as the captain termed them, went prosperously on their way, going from one end of the lake to the other, in the course of three hours. As one of the party had been over the route several times already, there was no hesitation on the subject of the point to which the boats were to proceed. They all touched the shore near the stone that is now called the "Otsego Rock," beneath a steep wooded bank, and quite near to the place where the Susquehannah glanced out of the lake, in a swift current, beneath a high-arched tracery of branches that were not yet clothed with leaves.
Here the question was put as to what had become of Mike. His skiff was nowhere visible, and the captain felt the necessity of having him looked for, before he proceeded any further. After a short consultation, a boat manned by two negroes, father and son, named Pliny the elder, and Pliny the younger, or, in common parlance, "old Plin" and "young Plin," was sent back along the west-shore to hunt him up. Of course, a hut was immediately prepared for the reception of Mrs. Willoughby, upon the plain that stretches across the valley, at this point. This was on the site of the present village of Cooperstown, but just twenty years anterior to the commencement of the pretty little shire town that now exists on the spot.
It was night ere the two Plinies appeared towing Mike, as their great namesakes of antiquity might have brought in a Carthaginian galley, in triumph. The county Leitrim-man had made his way with excessive toil about a league ere he was met, and glad enough was he to see his succour approach. In that day, the strong antipathy which now exists between the black and the emigrant Irishman was unknown, the competition for household service commencing more than half a century later. Still, as the negro loved fun constitutionally, and Pliny the younger was somewhat of a wag, Mike did not entirely escape, scot-free.
"Why you drag 'im like ox, Irish Mike?" cried the younger negro—"why you no row 'im like other folk?"
"Ah—you're as bad as the rest of 'em," growled Mike. "They tould me Ameriky was a mighty warm country, and war-r-m I find it, sure enough, though the wather isn't as warm as good whiskey. Come, ye black divils, and see if ye can coax this contrairy crathure to do as a person wants."
The negroes soon had Mike in tow, and then they went down the lake merrily, laughing and cracking their jokes, at the Irishman's expense, after the fashion of their race. It was fortunate for the Leitrim-man that he was accustomed to ditching, though it may be questioned if the pores of his body closed again that day, so very effectually had they been opened. When he rejoined his master, not a syllable was said of the mishap, Joel having the prudence to keep his own secret, and even joining Mike in denouncing the bad qualities of the boat. We will only add here, that a little calculation entered into this trick, Joel perceiving that Mike was a favourite, and wishing to bring him into discredit.
Early the next morning, the captain sent the negroes and Mike down the Susquehannah a mile, to clear away some flood-wood, of which one of the hunters had brought in a report the preceding day. Two hours later, the boats left the shore, and began to float downward with the current, following the direction of a stream that has obtained its name from its sinuosities.
In a few minutes the boats reached the flood-wood, where, to Joel's great amusement, Mike and the negroes, the latter having little more calculation than the former, had commenced their operations on the upper side of the raft, piling the logs on one another, with a view to make a passage through the centre. Of course, there was a halt, the females landing. Captain Willoughby now cast an eye round him in hesitation, when a knowing look from Joel caught his attention.
"This does not seem to be right," he said—"cannot we better if a little?"
"It's right wrong, captain," answered Joel, laughing like one who enjoyed other people's ignorance. "A sensible crittur' would begin the work on such a job, at the lower side of the raft."
"Take the direction, and order things to suit yourself."
This was just what Joel liked. Head-work before all other work for him, and he set about the duty authoritatively and with promptitude. After rating the negroes roundly for their stupidity, and laying it on Mike without much delicacy of thought or diction, over the shoulders of the two blacks, he mustered his forces, and began to clear the channel with intelligence and readiness.
Going to the lower side of the jammed flood-wood, he soon succeeded in loosening one or two trees, which floated away, making room for others to follow. By these means a passage was effected in half an hour, Joel having the prudence to set no more timber in motion than was necessary to his purpose, lest it might choke the stream below. In this manner the party got through, and, the river being high at that season, by night the travellers were half-way to the mouth of the Unadilla. The next evening they encamped at the junction of the two streams, making their preparations to ascend the latter the following morning.
The toil of the ascent, however, did not commence, until the boats entered what was called the creek, or the small tributary of the Unadilla, on which the beavers had erected their works, and which ran through the "Manor." Here, indeed, the progress was slow and laborious, the rapidity of the current and the shallowness of the water rendering every foot gained a work of exertion and pain. Perseverance and skill, notwithstanding, prevailed; all the boats reaching the foot of the rapids, or straggling falls, on which the captain had built his mills, about an hour before the sun disappeared. Here, of course, the boats were left, a rude road having been cut, by means of which the freights were transported on a sledge the remainder of the distance. Throughout the whole of this trying day, Joel had not only worked head-work, but he had actually exerted himself with his body. As for Mike, never before had he made such desperate efforts. He felt all the disgrace of his adventure on the lake, and was disposed to wipe it out by his exploits on the rivers. Thus Mike was ever loyal to his employer. He had sold his flesh and blood for money, and a man of his conscience was inclined to give a fair penny's-worth. The tractable manner in which the boat had floated down the river, it is true, caused him some surprise, as was shown in his remark to the younger Pliny, on landing.
"This is a curious boat, afther all," said Pat. "One time it's all contrariness, and then ag'in it's as obliging as one's own mother. It followed the day all's one like a puppy dog, while yon on the big wather there was no more dhriving it than a hog. Och! it's a faimale boat, by its whims!"
"He sleeps forgetful of his once bright flame He has no feeling of the glory gone; He has no eye to catch the mounting flame That once in transport drew him on; He lies in dull oblivious dreams, nor cares Who the wreathed laurel bears."
The appearance of a place in which the remainder of one's life is to be past is always noted with interest on a first visit. Thus it was that Mrs. Willoughby had been observant and silent from the moment the captain informed her that they had passed the line of his estate, and were approaching the spot where they were to dwell. The stream was so small, and the girding of the forest so close, that there was little range for the sight; but the anxious wife and mother could perceive that the hills drew together, at this point, the valley narrowing essentially, that rocks began to appear in the bed of the river, and that the growth of the timber indicated fertility and a generous soil.
When the boat stopped, the little stream came brawling down a ragged declivity, and a mill, one so arranged as to grind and saw, both in a very small way, however, gave the first signs of civilization she had beheld since quitting the last hut near the Mohawk. After issuing a few orders, the captain drew his wife's arm through his own, and hurried up the ascent, with an eagerness that was almost boyish, to show her what had been done towards the improvement of the "Knoll." There is a pleasure in diving into a virgin forest and commencing the labours of civilization, that has no exact parallel in any other human occupation. That of building, or of laying out grounds, has certainly some resemblance to it, but it is a resemblance so faint and distant as scarcely to liken the enjoyment each produces. The former approaches nearer to the feeling of creating, and is far more pregnant with anticipations and hopes, though its first effects are seldom agreeable, and are sometimes nearly hideous. Our captain, however, had escaped most of these last consequences, by possessing the advantage of having a clearing, without going through the usual processes of chopping and burning; the first of which leaves the earth dotted, for many years, with unsightly stumps, while the rains and snows do not wash out the hues of the last for several seasons.
An exclamation betrayed the pleasure with which Mrs. Willoughby got her first glimpse of the drained pond. It was when she had clambered to the point of the rocks, where the stream began to tumble downward into the valley below. A year had done a vast deal for the place. The few stumps and stubs which had disfigured the basin when it was first laid bare, had all been drawn by oxen, and burned. This left the entire surface of the four hundred acres smooth and fit for the plough. The soil was the deposit of centuries, and the inclination, from the woods to the stream, was scarcely perceptible to the eye. In fact, it was barely sufficient to drain the drippings of the winter's snows. The form of the area was a little irregular; just enough so to be picturesque; while the inequalities were surprisingly few and trifling. In a word, nature had formed just such a spot as delights the husbandman's heart, and placed it beneath a sun which, while its fierceness is relieved by winters of frost and snow, had a power to bring out all its latent resources.
Trees had been felled around the whole area, with the open spaces filled by branches, in a way to form what is termed a brush fence. This is not a sightly object, and the captain had ordered the line to be drawn within the woods, so that the visible boundaries of the open land were the virgin forest itself. His men had protested against this, a fence, however unseemly, being in their view an indispensable accessory to civilization. But the captain's authority, if not his better taste, prevailed; and the boundary of felled trees and brush was completely concealed in the back-ground of woods. As yet, there was no necessity for cross-fences, the whole open space lying in a single field. One hundred acres were in winter wheat. As this grain had been got in the previous autumn, it was now standing on the finest and driest of the soil, giving an air of rich fertility to the whole basin. Grass-seed had been sown along both banks of the stream, and its waters were quietly flowing between two wide belts of fresh verdure, the young plants having already started in that sheltered receptacle of the sun's rays. Other portions of the flat showed signs of improvement, the plough having actually been at work for quite a fortnight.
All this was far more than even the captain had expected, and much more than his wife had dared to hope. Mrs. Willoughby had been accustomed to witness the slow progress of a new settlement; but never before had she seen what might be done on a beaver-dam. To her all appeared like magic, and her first question would have been to ask her husband to explain what had been done with the trees and stumps, had not her future residence caught her eye. Captain Willoughby had left his orders concerning the house, previously to quitting the Knoll; and he was now well pleased to perceive that they had been attended to. As this spot will prove the scene of many of the incidents we are bound to relate, it may be proper, here, to describe it, at some length.
The hillock that rose out of the pond, in the form of a rocky little island, was one of those capricious formations that are often met with on the surface of the earth. It stood about thirty rods from the northern side of the area, very nearly central as to its eastern and western boundaries, and presented a slope inclining towards the south. Its greatest height was at its northern end, where it rose out of the rich alluvion of the soil, literally a rock of some forty feet in perpendicular height, having a summit of about an acre of level land, and falling off on its three sides; to the east and west precipitously; to the south quite gently and with regularity. It was this accidental formation which had induced the captain to select the spot as the site of his residence; for dwelling so far from any post, and in a place so difficult of access, something like military defences were merely precautions of ordinary prudence. While the pond remained, the islet was susceptible of being made very strong against any of the usual assaults of Indian warfare; and, now that the basin was drained, it had great advantages for the same purpose. The perpendicular rock to the north, even overhung the plain. It was almost inaccessible; while the formation on the other sides, offered singular facilities, both for a dwelling and for security. All this the captain, who was so familiar with the finesse of Indian stratagem, had resolved to improve in the following manner:
In the first place, he directed the men to build a massive wall of stone, for a hundred and fifty feet in length, and six feet in height. This stretched in front of the perpendicular rock, with receding walls to its verge. The latter were about two hundred feet in length, each. This was enclosing an area of two hundred, by one hundred and fifty feet, within a blind wall of masonry. Through this wall there was only a single passage; a gateway, in the centre of its southern face. The materials had all been found on the hill itself, which was well covered with heavy stones. Within this wall, which was substantially laid, by a Scotch mason, one accustomed to the craft, the men had erected a building of massive, squared, pine timber, well secured by cross partitions. This building followed the wall in its whole extent, was just fifteen feet in elevation, without the roof, and was composed, in part, by the wall itself; the latter forming nearly one-half its height, on the exterior. The breadth of this edifice was only twenty feet, clear of the stones and wood-work; leaving a court within of about one hundred by one hundred and seventy-five feet in extent. The roof extended over the gateway even; so that the space within was completely covered, the gates being closed. This much had been done during the preceding fall and winter; the edifice presenting an appearance of rude completeness on the exterior. Still it had a sombre and goal-like air, there being nothing resembling a window visible; no aperture, indeed, on either of its outer faces, but the open gateway, of which the massive leaves were finished, and placed against the adjacent walls, but which were not yet hung. It is scarcely necessary to say, this house resembled barracks, more than an ordinary dwelling. Mrs. Willoughby stood gazing at it, half in doubt whether to admire or to condemn, when a voice, within a few yards, suddenly drew her attention in another direction.
"How you like him?" asked Nick, who was seated on a stone, at the margin of the stream, washing his feet, after a long day's hunt. "No t'ink him better dan beaver skin? Cap'in know all 'bout him; now he give Nick some more last quit-rent?"
"Last, indeed, it will be, then, Nick; for I have already paid you twice for your rights."
"Discovery wort' great deal, cap'in—see what great man he make pale- face."
"Ay, but your discovery, Nick, is not of that sort."
"What sort, den?" demanded Nick, with the rapidity of lightning. "Give him back 'e beaver, if you no like he discovery. Grad to see 'em back, ag'in; skin higher price dan ever."
"Nick, you're a cormorant, if there ever was one in this world! Here— there is a dollar for you; the quit-rent is paid for this year, at least. It ought to be for the last time."
"Let him go for all summer, cap'in. Yes, Nick wonderful commerant! no such eye he got, among Oneida!"
Here the Tuscarora left the side of the stream, and came up on the rock, shaking hands, good-humouredly, with Mrs. Willoughby, who rather liked the knave; though she knew him to possess most of the vices of his class.
"He very han'som beaver-dam," said Nick, sweeping his hand gracefully over the view; "bye 'nd bye, he'll bring potatoe, and corn, and cider— all 'e squaw want. Cap'in got good fort, too. Old soldier love fort; like to live in him."
"The day may come, Nick, when that fort may serve us all a good turn, out here in the wilderness," Mrs. Willoughby observed, in a somewhat melancholy tone; for her tender thoughts naturally turned towards her youthful and innocent daughters.
The Indian gazed at the house, with that fierce intentness which sometimes glared, in a manner that had got to be, in its ordinary aspects, dull and besotted. There was a startling intelligence in his eye, at such moments; the feelings of youth and earlier habit, once more asserting their power. Twenty years before, Nick had been foremost on the war-path; and what was scarcely less honourable, among the wisest around the council-fire. He was born a chief, and had made himself an outcast from his tribe, more by the excess of ungovernable passions, than from any act of base meanness.
"Cap'm tell Nick, now, what he mean by building such house, out here, among ole beaver bones?" he said, sideling up nearer to his employer, and gazing with some curiosity into his face.
"What do I mean, Nick?—Why I mean to have a place of safety to put the heads of my wife and children in, at need. The road to Canada is not so long, but a red-skin can make one pair of moccasins go over it. Then, the Oneidas and Mohawks are not all children of heaven."
"No pale-face rogue, go about, I s'pose?" said Nick, sarcastically.
"Yes, there are men of that class, who are none the worse for being locked out of one's house, at times. But, what do you think of the hut?—You know I call the place the 'Hut,' the Hutted Knoll."
"He hole plenty of beaver, if you cotch him!—But no water left, and he all go away. Why you make him stone, first; den you make him wood, a'ter; eh? Plenty rock; plenty tree."
"Why, the stone wall can neither be cut away, nor set fire to, Nick; that's the reason. I took as much stone as was necessary, and then used wood, which is more easily worked, and which is also drier."
"Good—Nick t'ought just dat. How you get him water if Injen come?"
"There's the stream, that winds round the foot of the hill, Nick, as you see; and then there is a delicious spring, within one hundred yards of the very gate."
"Which side of him?" asked Nick, with his startling rapidity.
"Why, here, to the left of the gate, and a little to the right of the large stone—"
"No—no," interrupted the Indian, "no left—no right—which side— inside gate; outside gate?"
"Oh!—the spring is outside the gate, certainly; but means might be found to make a covered way to it; and then the stream winds round directly underneath the rocks, behind the house, and wafer could be raised from that, by means of a rope. Our rifles would count for something, too, in drawing water, as well as in drawing blood."
"Good.—Rifle got long arm. He talk so, Ingin mind him. When you t'ink red-skin come ag'in your fort, cap'in, now you got him done?"
"A long time first, I hope, Nick. We are at peace with France, again; and I see no prospect of any new quarrel, very soon. So long as the French and English are at peace, the red men will not dare to touch either."
"Dat true as missionary! What a soldier do, cap'in, if so much peace? Warrior love a war-path."
"I wish it were not so, Nick. But my hatchet is buried, I hope, for ever."
"Nick hope cap'in know where to find him, if he want to? Very bad to put anyt'ing where he forget; partic'larly tomahawk. Sometime quarrel come, like rain, when you don't tink."
"Yes, that also cannot be denied. Yet, I fear the next quarrel will be among ourselves, Nick.—The government at home, and the people of the colonies, are getting to have bad blood between them."
"Dat very queer! Why pale-face mo'der and pale-face darter no love one anoder, like red-skin?"
"Really, Nick, you are somewhat interrogating this evening; but, my squaw must be a little desirous of seeing the inside of her house, as well as its outside, and I must refer you to that honest fellow, yonder, for an answer. His name is Mike; I hope he and you will always be good friends."
So saying, the captain nodded in a friendly manner, and led Mrs. Willoughby towards the hut, taking a foot-path that was already trodden firm, and which followed the sinuosities of the stream, to which it served as a sort of a dyke. Nick took the captain at his word, and turning about he met the county Leitrim-man, with an air of great blandness, thrusting out a hand, in the pale-face fashion, as a sign of amity, saying, at the same time—
"How do, Mike?—Sago—Sago—grad you come—good fellow to drink Santa Cruz, wid Nick."
"How do, Mike!" exclaimed the other, looking at the Tuscarora with astonishment, for this was positively the first red man the Irishman had ever seen. "How do Mike! Ould Nick be ye?—well—ye look pretty much as I expected to see you—pray, how did ye come to know my name?"
"Nick know him—know every t'ing. Grad to see you, Mike—hope we live together like good friend, down yonder, up here, over dere."
"Ye do, do ye! Divil burn me, now, if I want any sich company. Ould Nick's yer name, is it?"
"Old Nick—young Nick—saucy Nick; all one, all to'ther. Make no odd what you call; I come."
"Och, yer a handy one! Divil trust ye, but ye'll come when you arn't wanted, or yer not of yer father's own family. D'ye live hereabouts, masther Ould Nick?"
"Live here—out yonder—in he hut, in he wood—where he want. Make no difference to Nick."
Michael now drew back a pace or two, keeping his eyes fastened on the other intently, for he actually expected to see some prodigious and sudden change in his appearance. When he thought he had got a good position for manly defence or rapid retreat, as either might become necessary the county Leitrim-man put on a bolder front and resumed the discourse.
"If it's so indifferent to ye where ye dwell," asked Mike, "why can't you keep at home, and let a body carry these cloaks and bundles of the missuses, out yonder to the house wither she's gone?"
"Nick help carry 'em. Carry t'ing for dat squaw hundred time."
"That what! D'ye mane Madam Willoughby by yer blackguard name?"
"Yes; cap'in wife—cap'in squaw, mean him. Carry bundle, basket, hundred time for him."
"The Lord preserve me, now, from sich atrocity and impudence!" laying down the cloaks and bundles, and facing the Indian, with an appearance of great indignation—"Did a body ever hear sich a liar! Why, Misther Ould Nick, Madam Willoughby wouldn't let the likes of ye touch the ind of her garments. You wouldn't get the liberty to walk in the same path with her, much less to carry her bundles. I'll answer for it, ye're a great liar, now, ould Nick, in the bottom of your heart."
"Nick great liar," answered the Indian, good-naturedly; for he so well knew this was his common reputation, that he saw no use in denying it. "What of dat? Lie good sometime."
"That's another! Oh, ye animal; I've a great mind to set upon ye at once, and see what an honest man can do wid ye, in fair fight! If I only knew what ye'd got about yer toes, now, under them fine-looking things ye wear for shoes, once, I'd taich ye to talk of the missus, in this style."
"Speak as well as he know how. Nick never been to school. Call 'e squaw, good squaw. What want more?"
"Get out! If ye come a foot nearer, I'll be at ye, like a dog upon a bull, though ye gore me. What brought ye into this paiceful sittlement, where nothing but virtue and honesty have taken up their abode?"
What more Mike might have said is not known, as Nick caught a sign from the captain, and went loping across the flat, at his customary gait, leaving the Irishman standing on the defensive, and, to own the truth, not sorry to be rid of him. Unfortunately for the immediate enlightenment of Mike's mind, Joel overheard the dialogue, and comprehending its meaning, with his native readiness, he joined his companion in a mood but little disposed to clear up the error.
"Did ye see that crathure?" asked Mike, with emphasis.
"Sartain—he is often seen here, at the Hut. He may be said to live here, half his time."
"A pritty hut, then, ye must have of it! Why do ye tolerate the vagabond? He's not fit for Christian society."
"Oh! he's good company, sometimes, Mike. When you know him better, you'll like him better. Come; up with the bundles, and let us follow. The captain is looking after us, as you see."
"Well may he look, to see us in sich company!—Will he har-r-m the missus?"
"Not he. I tell you, you'll like him yourself when you come to know him."
"If I do, burn me! Why, he says himself, that he's Ould Nick, and I'm sure I never fancied the crathure but it was in just some such for-r-m. Och! he's ill-looking enough, for twenty Ould Nicks."
Lest the reader get an exaggerated notion of Michael's credulity, it may be well to say that Nick had painted a few days before, in a fit of caprice, and that one-half of his face was black, and the other a deep red, while each of his eyes was surrounded with a circle of white, all of which had got to be a little confused in consequence of a night or two of orgies, succeeded by mornings in which the toilet had been altogether neglected. His dress, too, a blanket with tawdry red and yellow trimmings, with ornamented leggings and moccasins to correspond, had all aided in maintaining the accidental mystification. Mike followed his companion, growling out his discontent, and watching the form of the Indian, as the latter still went loping over the flat, having passed the captain, with a message to the barns.
"I'll warrant ye, now, the captain wouldn't tolerate such a crathure, but he's sent him off to the woods, as ye may see, like a divil, as he is! To think of such a thing's spakeing to the missus! Will I fight him?—That will I, rather than he'll say an uncivil word to the likes of her! He's claws they tell me, though he kapes them so well covered in his fine brogues; divil burn me, but I'd grapple him by the toes."
Joel now saw how deep was Michael's delusion, and knowing it must soon be over, he determined to make a merit of necessity, by letting his friend into the truth, thereby creating a confidence that would open the way to a hundre'd future mischievous scenes.
"Claws!" he repeated, with an air of surprise—"And why do you think an Injin has claws, Mike?"
"An Injin! D'ye call that miscoloured crathure an Injin Joel. Isn't it one of yer yankee divils?"
"Out upon you, for an Irish ninny. Do you think the captain would board a devil! The fellow's a Tuscarora, and is as well known here as the owner of the Hut himself. It's Saucy Nick."
"Yes, saucy Ould Nick—had it from his very mout' and even the divil would hardly be such a blackguard as to lie about his own name. Och! he's a roarer, sure enough; and then for the tusks you mintion, I didn't see 'em, with my eyes; but the crathure has a mouth that might hould a basket-full."
Joel now perceived that he must go more seriously to work to undeceive his companion. Mike honestly believed he had met an American devil, and it required no little argumentation to persuade him of the contrary. We shall leave Joel employed in this difficult task, in which he finally succeeded, and follow the captain and his wife to the hut.
The lord and lady of the manor examined everything around their future residence, with curious eyes. Jamie Allen, the Scotch mason mentioned, was standing in front of the house, to hear what might be said of his wall, while two or three other mechanics betrayed some such agitation as the tyro in literature manifests, ere he learns what the critics have said of his first work. The exterior gave great satisfaction to the captain. The wall was not only solid and secure, but it was really handsome. This was in some measure owing to the quality of the stones, but quite as much to Jamie's dexterity in using them. The wall and chimneys, of the latter of which there were no less than six, were all laid in lime, too; it having been found necessary to burn some of the material to plaster the interior. Then the gates were massive, being framed in oak, filled in with four-inch plank, and might have resisted a very formidable assault. Their strong iron hinges were all in their places, but the heavy job of hanging had been deferred to a leisure moment, when all the strength of the manor might be collected for that purpose. There they stood, inclining against the wall, one on each side of the gateway, like indolent sentinels on post, who felt too secure from attack to raise their eyes.
The different mechanics crowded round the captain, each eager to show his own portion of what had been done. The winter had not been wasted, but, proper materials being in abundance, and on the spot, captain Willoughby had every reason to be satisfied with what he got for his money. Completely shut out from the rest of the world, the men had worked cheerfully and with little interruption; for their labours composed their recreation. Mrs. Willoughby found the cart of the building her family was to occupy, with the usual offices, done and furnished. This comprised all the front on the-eastern side of the gateway, and most of the wing, in the same half, extending back to the cliff. It is true, the finish was plain; but everything was comfortable. The ceilings were only ten feet high certainly, but it was thought prodigious in the colony in that day; and then the plastering of Jamie was by no means as unexceptionable as his stone-work; still every room had its two coats, and white-wash gave them a clean and healthful aspect. The end of the wing that came next the cliff was a laundry, and a pump was fitted, by means of which water was raised from the rivulet. Next came the kitchen, a spacious and comfortable room of thirty by twenty feet; an upper-servant's apartment succeeded; after which were the bed-rooms of the family a large parlour, and a library, or office, for the captain. As the entire range, on this particular side of the house, extended near or quite two hundred and fifty feet, there was no want of space or accommodation.
The opposite, or western half of the edifice, was devoted to more homely uses. It contained an eating-room and divers sleeping-rooms far the domestics and labourers, besides store-rooms, garners, and omnium gatherums of all sorts. The vast ranges of garrets, too, answered for various purposes of household and farming economy. All the windows, and sundry doors, opened into the court, while the whole of the exterior wall, both wooden and stone, presented a perfect blank, in the way of outlets. It was the captain's intention, however, to cut divers loops through the logs, at some convenient moment, so that men stationed in the garrets might command the different faces of the structure with their musketry. But, like the gates, these means of defence were laid aside for a more favourable opportunity.