MoboReader> Literature > Wyandotte

   Chapter 3 No.3

Wyandotte By James Fenimore Cooper Characters: 36565

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


"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."

Percival.

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 se

en 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.

Our excellent matron was delighted with her domestic arrangements. They much surpassed any of the various barracks in which she had dwelt, and a smile of happiness beamed on her handsome face, as she followed her husband from room to room, listening to his explanations. When they entered their private apartments, and these were furnished and ready to receive them, respect caused the rest to leave them by themselves, and once more they found that they were alone.

"Well, Wilhelmina," asked the gratified husband--gratified, because he saw pleasure beaming in the mild countenance and serene blue eyes of one of the best wives living--"Well, Wilhelmina," he asked, "can you give up Albany, and all the comforts of your friends' dwellings, to be satisfied in a home like this? It is not probable I shall ever build again, whatever Bob may do, when he comes after me. This structure, then, part house, part barrack, part fort, as it is, must be our residence for the remainder of our days. We are hutted for life."

"It is all-sufficient, Willoughby. It has space, comfort, warmth, coolness and security. What more can a wife and a mother ask, when she is surrounded by those she most loves? Only attend to the security, Hugh. Remember how far we are removed from any succour, and how sudden and fierce the Indians are in their attacks. Twice have we, ourselves, been near being destroyed by surprises, from which accident, or God's providence, protected us, rather than our own vigilance. If this could happen in garrisons, and with king's troops around us, how much more easily might it happen here, with only common labourers to watch what is going on!"

"You exaggerate the danger, wife. There are no Indians, in this part of the country, who would dare to molest a settlement like ours. We count thirteen able-bodied men in all, besides seven women, and could use seventeen or eighteen muskets and rifles on an emergency. No tribe would dare commence hostilities, in a time of general peace, and so near the settlements too; and, as to stragglers, who might indeed murder to rob, we are so strong, ourselves, that we may sleep in peace, so far as they are concerned."

"One never knows that, dearest Hugh. A marauding party of half-a-dozen might prove too much for many times their own number, when unprepared. I do hope you will have the gates hung, at least; should the girls come here, in the autumn, I could not sleep without hanging the gates."

"Fear nothing, love," said the captain, kissing his wife with manly tenderness. "As for Beulah and Maud, let them come when they please; we shall always have a welcome for them, and no place can be safer than under their father's eyes."

"I care not so much for myself, Hugh, but do not let the gates be forgotten until the girls come."

"Everything shall be done as you desire, wife of mine, though it will be a hard job to get two such confounded heavy loads of wood on their hinges. We must take some day when everybody is at home, and everybody willing to work. Saturday next, I intend to have a review; and, once a month, the year round, there will be a muster, when all the arms are to be cleaned and loaded, and orders given how to act in case of an alarm. An old soldier would be disgraced to allow himself to be run down by mere vagabonds. My pride is concerned, and you may sleep in peace."

"Yes, do, dearest Hugh."--Then the matron proceeded through the rooms, expressing her satisfaction at the care which had been had for her comfort, in her own rooms in particular.

Sooth to say, the interior of the hut presented that odd contrast between civilization and rude expedients, which so frequently occurs on an American frontier, where persons educated in refinement often find themselves brought in close collision with savage life. Carpets, in America, and in the year of our Lord 1765, were not quite as much a matter of course in domestic economy, as they are to-day. Still they were to be found, though it was rare, indeed, that they covered more than the centre of the room. One of these great essentials, without which no place can appear comfortable in a cold climate, was spread on the floor of Mrs. Willoughby's parlour--a room that served for both eating and as a sala, the Knight's Hall of the Hut, measuring twenty by twenty-four feet--though in fact this carpet concealed exactly two-thirds of the white clean plank. Then the chairs were massive and even rich, while one might see his face in the dark mahogany of the tables. There were cellarets--the captain being a connoisseur in wines--bureaus, secretaries, beaufets, and other similar articles, that had been collected in the course of twenty years' housekeeping, and scattered at different posts, were collected, and brought hither by means of sledges, and the facilities of the water-courses. Fashion had little to do with furniture, in that simple age, when the son did not hesitate to wear even the clothes of the father, years and years after the tailor had taken leave of them. Massive old furniture, in particular, lasted for generations, and our matron now saw many articles that had belonged to her grandfather assembled beneath the first roof that she could ever strictly call her own.

Mrs. Willoughby took a survey of the offices last. Here she found, already established, the two Plinies, with Mari', the sister of the elder Pliny, Bess, the wife of the younger, and Mony--alias Desdemona--a collateral of the race, by ties and affinities that garter-king-at-arms could not have traced genealogically; since he would have been puzzled to say whether the woman was the cousin, or aunt, or step-daughter of Mari', or all three. All the women were hard at work, Bess singing in a voice that reached the adjoining forest. Mari'--this name was pronounced with a strong emphasis on the last syllable, or like Maria, without the final vowel--Mari' was the head of the kitchen, even Pliny the elder standing in salutary dread of her authority; and her orders to her brother and nephew were pouring forth, in an English that was divided into three categories; the Anglo-Saxon, the Low Dutch, and the Guinea dialect; a medley that rendered her discourse a droll assemblage of the vulgar and the classical.

"Here, niggers," she cried, "why you don't jump about like Paus dance? Ebbery t'ing want a hand, and some want a foot. Plate to wash, crockery to open, water to b'ile, dem knife to clean, and not'ing missed. Lord, here's a madam, and 'e whole kitchen in a diffusion."

"Well, Mari'," exclaimed the captain, good-naturedly, "here you are, scolding away as if you had been in the place these six months, and knew all its faults and weaknesses."

"Can't help a scold, master, in sich a time as dis--come away from dem plates, you Great Smash, and let a proper hand take hold on 'em."

Here we ought to say, that captain Willoughby had christened Bess by the sobriquet of Great Smash, on account of her size, which fell little short of two hundred, estimated in pounds, and a certain facility she possessed in destroying crockery, while 'Mony went by the milder appellation of "Little Smash;" not that bowls or plates fared any better in her hands, but because she weighed only one hundred and eighty.

"Dis is what I tell 'em, master," continued Mari', in a remonstrating, argumentative sort of a tone, with dogmatism and respect singularly mingled in her manner--"Dis, massa, just what I tell 'em all. I tell 'em, says I, this is Hunter Knoll, and not Allbonny--here no store--no place to buy t'ing if you break 'em; no good woman who know ebbery t'ing, to tell you where to find t'ing, if you lose him. If dere was only good woman, dat somet'ing; but no fortun'-teller out here in de bushes--no, no--when a silber spoon go, here, he go for good and all--Goody, massy"--staring at something in the court--"what he call dat, sa?"

"That--oh! that is only an Indian hunter I keep about me, to bring us game--you'll never have an empty spit, Mari', as long as he is with us. Fear nothing; he will not harm you. His name is Nick."

"De Ole Nick, massa?"

"No, only Saucy Nick. The fellow is a little slovenly to-day in his appearance, and you see he has brought already several partridges, besides a rabbit. We shall have venison, in the season."

Here all the negroes, after staring at Nick, quite a minute, set up a loud shout, laughing as if the Tuscarora had been created for their special amusement. Although the captain was somewhat of a martinet in his domestic discipline, it had ever altogether exceeded his authority, or his art, to prevent these bursts of merriment; and he led his wife away from the din, leaving Mari', Great Smash, and Little Smash, with the two Plinies, in ecstasies at their own uproar. Burst succeeded burst, until the Indian walked away, in offended dignity.

Such was the commencement of the domestication of the Willoughbys at the Hutted Knoll. The plan of our tale does not require us to follow them minutely for, the few succeeding years, though some further explanation may be necessary to show why this settlement varied a little from the ordinary course.

That very season, or, in the summer of 1765, Mrs. Willoughby inherited some real estate in Albany, by the death of an uncle, as well as a few thousand pounds currency, in ready money. This addition to his fortune made the captain exceedingly comfortable; or, for that day, rich; and it left him to act his pleasure as related to his lands. Situated as these last were, so remote from other settlements as to render highways, for some time, hopeless, he saw no use in endeavouring to anticipate the natural order of things. It would only create embarrassment to raise produce that could not be sent to market; and he well knew that a population of any amount could not exist, in quiet, without the usual attendants of buying and selling. Then it suited his own taste to be the commander-in-chief of an isolated establishment like this; and he was content to live in abundance, on his flats, feeding his people, his cattle, and even his hogs to satiety, and having wherewithal to send away the occasional adventurer, who entered his clearing, contented and happy.

Thus it was that he neither sold nor leased. No person dwelt on his land who was not a direct dependant, or hireling, and all that the earth yielded he could call his own. Nothing was sent abroad for sale but cattle. Every year, a small drove of fat beeves and milch cows found their way through the forest to Albany, and the proceeds returned in the shape of foreign supplies. The rents, and the interests on bonds, were left to accumulate, or were applied to aid Robert in obtaining a new step in the army. Lands began to be granted nearer and nearer to his own, and here and there some old officer like himself, or a solitary farmer, began to cut away the wilderness; but none in his immediate vicinity.

Still the captain did not live altogether as a hermit. He visited Edmeston of Mount Edmeston, a neighbour less than fifty miles distant; was occasionally seen at Johnson Hall, with Sir William; or at the bachelor establishment of Sir John, on the Mohawk; and once or twice he so far overcame his indolence, as to consent to serve as a member for a new county, that was called Tryon, after a ruling governor.

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares