Wynadotte - Or, The Hutted Knoll
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
A story of the beginnings of the American Revolution, detailing the life and sufferings of an isolated family of culture and refinement in the middle of New York State, in a settlement subject to the attacks of savages. The object of the writer is to show that different varieties of the human race are true to the governing impulses of their educations, habits, modes of thinking, and natures, and that the red man has his morality, as well as his white brother. The scene is on a tract called Willoughby's Patent, in what is now Otsego County.
CAPTAIN WILLOUGHBY, an officer of the British army, who had seen many years' service, married an American wife and, after the birth of a son and a daughter, sold his commission in order to pass the remainder of his days in the pursuits of agriculture. Among the members of his family was an adopted child, the daughter of a deceased officer and friend. On the frontiers he had become acquainted with a Tuscarora named Wyandotte, a sort of half-outcast from his own people, who had attached himself to the whites, among whom he was known as Nick or Saucy Nick. Captain Willoughby had learned from Nick of a tract of land a day's march beyond the Susquehanna River, lying on a lake formed by an old beaver-dam. A bargain was made with the Tuscarora, and under his guidance Captain Willoughby and surveyors visited the place, and found it all that the Indian had represented. The beaver pond covered at least four hundred acres of low bottom-land, while nearly three thousand acres of higher river-flat, covered with beech and maple, lay around it.
Captain Willoughby obtained a patent for some six or seven thousand acres, bought the rights of the nearest Indians, and early one spring, leaving his wife and children in Albany, set out with a party to make arrangements to settle it. In the center of the pond was an island of five or six acres, a rocky knoll rising about forty feet above the water and covered with noble pines. To this island the Captain transferred all his stores and here he built his cabin, or hut, from which it was afterward called the Hutted Knoll. By removing the beaver-dam and draining the lake, a large farm was obtained without the trouble of cutting the timber. The flats soon dried in the sun, and the following autumn saw an enormous yield of Indian corn and other crops.
Captain Willoughby rejoined his family later in Albany, where he spent the winter, leaving in garrison at the Hutted Knoll Sergeant Joyce, an old soldier, supported by Nick, a miller, a mason, a carpenter, and three axmen. In the following spring the Captain's only son Robert obtained an ensigncy in the both or Royal Americans, and the rest of the family went to their new home.
During the winter suitable houses had been built and the place fortified. On the north side of the knoll, the former island, was a perpendicular precipice about forty feet high. In front of this, enclosing an area of two hundred by a hundred and fifty feet, was built a blind wall of masonry six feet high, with a gateway in the middle of its southern face. Within this wall was a building of massive, squared pine timber, enclosing a court of about a hundred by a hundred and seventy-five feet, into which all the windows opened. The massive gates to this enclosure were finished but not hung, standing against the adjacent walls.
"Well, Wilhelmina," asked the gratified husband, when he saw how well his plans had been carried out, "can you give up the comforts of Albany for a home like this? It is not probable that I shall ever build again, whatever Bob may do when he comes after me. This structure, part house, part barrack, part fort, must be our residence the remainder of our days."
"It is all-sufficient, Hugh. It has space, comfort, warmth, coolness, and security. Only attend to the security. Remember how far we are removed from succor, and how sudden the Indians are in their attacks."
"There are no Indians in this part of the country who would dare molest a settlement like ours. We count thirteen able-bodied men, besides seven women, and could use, in an emergency, seventeen to eighteen muskets."
The family lived here in comfort and security ten years until May, 1775, when Captain Willoughby's son Robert, then twenty-seven years old and a major in his regiment, brought to his father the news of the death in England of Sir Harry Willoughby, Bart., by which he (the father) became Sir Hugh Willoughby. But Captain Willoughby, who had lived long enough in America to become somewhat liberal in his ideas, said: "What is an empty baronetcy to a happy husband like me, here in the wilds of America?"
"But the title should not be lost," said Mrs. Willoughby; "it will be a good thing for our son one day."
"I see how it is, Beulah; your mother has no notion to lose the right of being called Lady Willoughby."
"If you remain Mr. Hugh Willoughby, she will remain Mrs. Hugh Willoughby; but, papa, it might be useful to Bob."
"Let him wait, then, till I am out of the way, when he may claim his own."
Major Willoughby had still more important news for his father, which he imparted to him and the chaplain, Rev. Mr. Woods, in a private interview—the news of the opening of hostilities between the colonies and the motherland. He had come fresh from the battles of Lexington and Concord, in both of which he had taken part, as the bearer of despatches from General Gage to Governor Tryon, and had passed through the country under a feigned name.
" Governor Tryon thinks," said the son, in a later conversation, "that with your estate and new rank, and with local influence, you might be very serviceable in sustaining the royal cause; for it is not to be concealed that this is likely to take the character of an open and wide-spread revolt against the authority of the crown."
"General Tryon does me too much honor," answered the Captain coldly. "My estate is small, and as for the new rank, it is not likely the colonists will care much for that, if they disregard the rights of the King. Still you have acted like a son in running the risk you do, Bob, and I pray God you may get back to your regiment in safety."
"This is a cordial to my hopes, sir; for it would pain me to believe you think it my duty, because I was born in the colonies, to throw up my commission and take side with the rebels."
"I do not conceive that to be your duty, any more than I conceive it to be mine to take sides against them because I happened to be born in England. The difficulty here is to know which is one's country. It is a family quarrel at the best, and we must remember that there are two sides to the question; and may there not be two results to the war?"
"I think not, sir. England is no power to be defied by colonies insignificant as these."
"This is well enough for a king's officer, Major Willoughby; but these colonies are a nation in extent and number, and are not so easily put down when the spirit of liberty is up and doing among them."
The Major listened with pain and wonder, as his father spoke earnestly with a flush on his fine countenance; but, unused to debate with his parent, remained silent. His mother, however, who was thoroughly loyal at heart, exclaimed:
"Why, Willoughby, you really incline to rebellion! I, even I, born in the colonies, think them wrong to resist their anointed king and sovereign prince."
"Ah, Wilhelmina," answered the Captain more mildly, "you have a true colonist's admiration of home. But, as I was old enough when I left England to appreciate what I saw and knew, I cannot feel this provincial admiration. I must now call my people together and let them know this news. It is not fair to conceal a civil war."
"My dear sir!" exclaimed the Major, in concern, "are you not wrong—precipitate, I mean? Is it not better to give your-self time for reflection, to await events?"
"I have thought of all this, Bob, during the night, and you cannot change my purpose. I have already sent directions to have the whole settlement collected on the lawn; I will go out and tell the truth, then we shall at least have the security of self-approbation. If you escape the danger of being sold by Nick, my son, I think you have little to fear from any other."
"By Nick!" repeated several voices, in surprise. "Surely, you cannot suspect as old and tried a follower as the Tuscarora!"
"An old follower, certainly; but I have never suffered my distrust of that fellow to go to sleep—it is unsafe with an Indian, unless you have a strong hold on his gratitude."
Before Major Willoughby returned to his regiment, he suggested that the house be stockaded, as there might be danger of an attack by savages. A line of circumvallation was accordingly drawn at a distance of some thirty yards from the house, and a strong palisade was erected of chestnut trunks, with a single gate for entrance.
As the war had now actually begun, the intended movements of Major Willoughby were kept a profound secret. The night before his departure to join his regiment in Boston, Nick was sent into the woods with the Major's pack, with instructions to meet him the following day at a designated point. The next morning the Major strolled out with Mr. Woods until he reached, the path leading to the Susquehanna, when he bade him good-by and hastened on his journey eastward.
The Major had scarcely gone when Evert Beekman, who held a patent in the neighborhood, arrived, attended by a party of chain-bearers and hunters. He had been offered the colonelcy of one of the regiments raised by the colony of New York, and had come to see Beulah, the Major's sister, to whom he was affianced, before going into the field. Colonel Beekman had a brother, a captain in a royal infantry regiment, who had thrown up his commission to accept a majority in a colonial regiment, and he expressed the hope that Major Willoughby might be induced to accept a regiment in the patriot cause.
The following day Evert Beekman and Beulah Willoughby were married in the little chapel by Chaplain Woods; and it was past the middle of June before the Colonel began to think of tearing himself away from his wife to assume the duties awaiting him. On the evening of the 25th of that month, when all were taking tea on the lawn, Nick returned bringing two notes from the Major, one to announce his arrival and the other, a brief one dated June 18th, to tell of his safety after the battle of Bunker Hill. For the particulars of the battle they were referred to Nick, who had been an eye-witness. The Indian gave a graphic account of the engagement, which he had witnessed from behind a stone wall, taking no part in it, as no scalps were taken and there was nothing for a red man to do.
Toward the close of the battle Nick had gone across, by permission of the Major, and had brought from the field some tangible evidences of his presence in the shape of an epaulet, a watch, five or six pairs of silver buckles, and divers other articles of plunder, which he carried in a small bundle.
In November Captain Willoughby removed his family to Albany for the winter. Colonel Beekman passed a few happy weeks with them, and in time the Captain took from him so strong a bias in favor of the rights of the colonies that Beekman himself scarcely rejoiced more when he heard of success alighting on the American arms.
"It will all come right in the end," he assured Mr. Woods. "They will open their eyes at home, ere long, and the injustice of taxing the colonies will be admitted. Then all will come round again, the King will be as much loved as ever, and England and America will be all the better friends for having a mutual respect."
Maud, Captain Willoughby's adopted daughter, had many suitors; but the winter passed and none had made any visible impression on her heart. In April the family returned to the Knoll, when Captain Willoughby, far from military operations, busied himself with his crops, his mills, and his improvements. Beulah, who had been married a twelve-month, was with the family with her infant son Evert. Major Robert had been absent nearly as long, and Nick, who had disappeared soon after his return from Boston, had not since been seen in the valley. A letter received from the Major, who was with Sir William Howe in New York, contained a postscript that greatly interested Maud. "Tell dearest Maud," he said, "that charming women have ceased to charm me, all my affections being centered in the dear objects at the Hutted Knoll. If I had met with a single woman I admired half as much as I do her pretty self, I should have married long since."
This letter became Maud's constant companion, whether in the privacy of her chamber or in her solitary walks in the woods. One day in September she had wandered to a rocky eminence, where a rude seat had been placed commanding a view of the valley, when she was startled by shouts below and the sight of men, women, and children running from the houses with frantic gestures. Her first impulse was to fly down the path by which she had come, but the next moment she saw it was too late, for a dark body of Indians poured over the cliffs near the mills until seventy or eighty warriors had come into sight. While she was watching events below, a footstep be-hind startled her, and turning she saw coming toward her a man in a hunting-shirt and carrying a rifle on his arm. As soon as he saw her he raised his hands in surprise and sprang toward her, while she sank on her seat expecting the blow of a tomahawk.
"Maud—dearest Maud, do you not know me? Look up, dear girl, and show that at least you do not fear me!"
"Bob!" said the half-senseless Maud, "why do you come at this fearful instant? Would to God your visit had been better timed!"
"Why do you say this, my dearest Maud?"
"See for yourself—the savages have come, and the whole dreadful scene is before you."
The Major took in the situation at a glance, and a few pertinent questions drew all the other circumstances from Maud.
"But why are you here?" asked she. "You certainly can have no connection with these savages!"
"I came alone. That party and its objects are utter strangers to me."
Major Willoughby had a pocket-glass by means of which he could watch the movements at the Knoll and in the surrounding valley. He saw two men, whom he recognized as Mike O'Hearn and Joel Strides, leave the palisade and come in their direction; and he concluded that they were in search of Maud. By Maud's advice, he hid himself as they approached at twilight, and followed at a safe distance when they set out to return to the palisade. Mike, Maud had informed him, was to be trusted, but no confidence was to be put in Joel Strides.
As soon as Maud was safe within the stockade she in-formed the Captain of his son's arrival; and that night a rope was let down over the precipice and the Major was drawn up into a window. While his parents and all the immediate members of the family were rejoiced to see him, it was deemed best to keep his arrival secret as far as possible. Meanwhile the invaders, many of whom were believed to be white men in the disguise of Indians, had shown no intention of making an attack; and in the morning the Captain determined to send out a flag of truce to discover, if possible, their intentions, and to ascertain to which party they belonged. Captain Willoughby suggested to Joel Strides that he should be the bearer of the flag. Joel agreed to go if another would accompany him, when Major Willoughby, who had listened to the conversation from an adjoining room, entered and announced that he would be the one to run the risk. Strides was taken by surprise at seeing the Major, whom he recognized, but kept his discovery to himself. "The gentleman's a stranger to me," he hypo-critically said; "but as the Captain has belief in him, I must have the same."
Captain Willoughby, seeing no means of retreat, was fain to yield. After a few minutes' private conversation with the Major he sent the two out together. They were seen to meet persons from the invading party, then to pass behind the rocks, after which no more was heard from either until near nightfall, when Joel returned alone. He reported that they had been taken to the house of the miller, where the chiefs received them amicably. When the Major asked the motive of their coming they made a demand for the surrender of the Hut and all it contained to the authorities of the Continental Congress. The Major tried to persuade a white man, who professed to hold the legal authority for his acts, of Captain Willoughby's neutrality, when his argument was met by the demand if it were likely a man who had a son in the royal army, and who kept that son secreted in his own house, would be very indifferent to the success of the royal cause.
"How they found out," said Joel, "that the Major was at the Hut is a little strange, seein' that none of us knowed of it; but they've got extraor'nary means nowadays."
"And did Major Willoughby admit his true character, when charged with being in the King's service?"
"He did—and like a gentleman. He only insisted that his sole ar'nd out here was to see his folks. But they laughed at this like all natur' and ordered the Major shut up in the buttery, with a warrior at the door for a sentinel."
Strides then told how they had examined him closely in regard to the defenses of the Hut, the strength of the garrison, number of arms, ammunition, etc., and averred that he had given an exaggerated account of their resources.
That night, at nine o'clock, when the guard for the first half of the night was paraded, Sergeant Joyce reported that one half the men had deserted, leaving only fifteen to defend the place. Captain Willoughby had the rest of his garrison drawn up in line, announced the desertions, and gave any one leave to depart who did not wish to remain in his service. While he was giving his last instructions to Joyce, he discovered, by the light of the lantern, a figure standing at no great distance. Joyce raised his lantern and disclosed the red face of an Indian.
"Nick!" exclaimed the Captain, "is that you? How have you entered the palisades?"
"Tree no good to stop Injin. Can't do it wid branches, how do it widout?"
"This is not answering my question, fellow. By what means did you pass?"
"What means? Injin means, sartin. Come like cat, jump like deer, slide like snake. Nick great Tuscarora chief; know well how warrior march, when he dig up hatchet."
"And Nick has been a great hanger-on of garrisons, and should know the use that I can make of his back. You will remember, Tuscarora, that I have had you flogged more than once in my day."
This was said menacingly, and with more warmth, perhaps, than was prudent. Nick's visage became dark as a thunder-cloud; and it seemed, by the moral writhing of his spirit as if every disgracing blow he had received was torturing his flesh anew, blended with the keenest feelings of ignominy. Captain Willoughby was startled at the effect of his words, but remained in dignified quiet, awaiting the workings of the Tuscarora's mind. It was more than a minute before Nick replied:
"Cap'in ole man, but he no got wisdom enough for gray hair. He flog warrior's back; make blood come. Dat bad enough; worse to put finger on ole sore, and make 'e pain an' shame come back ag'in."
"Well well, say no more about it, Nick. Here's a dollar to keep you in rum, and we will talk of other matters."
But Nick paid no heed to the money, and the Captain returned it to his pocket.
"My son, Wyandotte!" exclaimed the mother. "Bring you any tidings from my boy?"
"No bring tidin'—too heavy; bring letter."
A cry arose in common from the three women as Nick drew the missive from a fold of his garment and handed it to Mrs. Willoughby, who read:
"Trust to your defenses and nothing else. I am suspected, if not known. If Nick is honest, he can tell you more; if false, this note will be shown, even if it be delivered. Secure the inner gates, and depend more on the house than the palisade. Fear nothing for me—my life can be in no danger."
Nick was then questioned closely concerning the numbers and disposition of the hostile force, and answered with seeming honesty, but not altogether to the satisfaction of the Captain, who was inclined to doubt him. But Maud believed him honest and begged her father to trust him.
"Father!" cried she with simple energy, "I will answer for his honesty. I have known Wyandotte from childhood, and he has ever been my friend. He promised me to be true to Bob, and he has ever kept his word." Captain Willoughby, though little disposed to judge Nick favorably, was struck with the gleam of manly kindness on the Indian's face as he gazed at the glowing cheek of the beautiful girl.
"Nick gal's friend," he said quietly. "What Nick say, Nick mean. What Nick mean, he do."
To make sure of the Tuscorora, he was shut up that night, at the suggestion of Joel Strides, in a room with Michael O'Hearn. The next morning it was discovered that the beds of three more men had not been occupied, and on investigation it was found that they had not only gone but had carried with them their arms and accouterments.
"Let us call Joel," said the Captain; "he may throw some light on the matter."
But when they entered Strides's quarters, the place was empty. Men, women, and children were gone, and the rooms had evidently been stripped. The Captain's heart sank within him, for this left the Hut to be defended by its owner, Sergeant Joyce, Jamie Allen, Blodgett, three negroes, and Mike and the Indian, nine in all. He immediately went to release the two last, and was astounded to find their room empty. They had escaped by means of the bed-cord from the window.
Captain Willoughby was now seriously debating whether it would not be best to leave the Hut and to try to escape with his family through the woods, when the return of Mike changed his plans. Mike explained his seeming desertion by saying that Nick had persuaded him that the Captain's interests would be best subserved if they made an investigation outside. The Irishman had got inside the palisade on his return through an ingeniously contrived opening which Nick had shown him, and which the Indian averred Joel Strides had made by sawing through one of the posts above and below and fitting it with hinges. Mike had succeeded in talking with the Major, who sent word to his father to hold out to the last; that though his escape from his captors seemed at present impossible, he did not abandon hope.
The Captain now changed his plans and determined to make a serious attempt to liberate Bob. This was attempted the next day, the little party passing out of Joel's sally-port and advancing unmolested until they were in plain sight of the bivouac of the invaders. While Captain Willoughby and Joyce were observing them, Nick suddenly stood beside them.
"Why come here? Like to see enemy between you and wigwam?"
"Am I to trust in you as a friend ?" asked the Captain, looking the Indian steadily in the eye.
"Why won't trust? Nick gone away. Why no trust Wyandotte? Yengeese always trust him."
"I will take you at your word, Wyandotte."
He then explained to the Tuscarora his intention to liberate the Major, if possible. "I will lead," he said, "and Wyandotte will march by my side. Now follow, and be silent."
When they came near the miller's house, Captain Willoughby went down the path, accompanied only by Nick, expecting to creep up in the bushes and to open communication with the Major. Sergeant Joyce waited a half-hour, expecting every moment to be called. After another half-hour he became uneasy, and was about to go forward when Nick reappeared. "Where Cap'n? Where Major?" he asked.
"We have not seen the Captain since he left with you," replied Joyce.
This seemed to surprise the Indian, and he pondered a moment in obvious uneasiness.
"Best go see. By'm-by trouble come; then too late."
Joyce and Nick crept forward through the bushes until they came to the rocks near the lean-to back of the house. There they found the body of the Captain leaning against the rocks within six feet of his son's prison. Joyce at first thought he might have fallen in a fit, but on examination he found a deep and fatal wound through the heart evidently inflicted with a knife.
Joyce, a man of powerful frame, raised the body on his back by means of the arms over his shoulders, and started up the path, Nick aiding as soon as there was room. On reaching the party, the body was placed on rifles and the melancholy procession started back for the Knoll, Nick leading the way and manifesting the utmost solicitude. On approaching the stockade the question arose as to who should go forward and break the sad news to the women. All demurred but Nick, who said :
"Nick go; carry message for Cap'n once more."
"Well, Nick, you may go if so disposed," replied Joyce. "Remember and speak gently, and do not break the news too suddenly."
"Squaw soft heart—Nick know—had moder—wife, once—darter."
As soon as the Tuscarora was out of sight of the party he sat down on a stone beside the stream, apparently to reflect on the course he ought to pursue. He drew his knife from its sheath and washed off a clot of blood near the handle, and then carefully examined his whole person.
"Wyandotte's back don't ache now," he growled. "Ole sore heal up—nebber smart any more."
He then arose and prepared to present himself before the wife and daughters of the man he had ruthlessly murdered.
As if in expiation of his act of revenge, a few hours later Nick aided Maud in rescuing Major Willoughby from the hands of his captors, and succeeded in reaching the shelter of the stockade unharmed. But the enemy followed them closely and soon made so fierce an attack on the palisades that some of the assailants succeeded in entering. A wild hand-to-hand fight took place, in which Mike did good service, aided by the Major and Nick. The darkness, which had now set in, was illuminated by the flashes of guns, and made horrible by shrieks, curses, groans, and whoops. In the midst of it all the roll of a drum was heard without and Colonel Beekman, at the head of a force of regulars, put an end to the fight. But sad news awaited him: the body of Mrs. Willoughby was found seated near her husband's corpse and that of Beulah, his wife, hard by with her child, little Evert, lying pressed to her heart. No marks of violence were found on the former, but Beulah had been shot through the heart. On the floor lay the dead bodies of two Mohawks, while Nick, badly wounded in his effort to protect the women, was standing over one of his adversaries with glaring eyes. "Maud! Tuscarora," groaned the Major as he noted her absence. " Know you anything of Maud?"
Nick, motioning him to follow, led the way to the store-room, and unlocked the door, and the next instant Maud was weeping on Robert's breast.
" Oh! Maud—beloved one—we must now be all in all to each other. Death has stricken the others."
Twelve years after the close of the war, General Sir Robert Willoughby and Lady Willoughby visited the Hutted Knoll and the graves near it, in company with the Rev. Mr. Woods, Mike and Nick. The clergyman confided to Sir Robert the Indian's terrible secret, and told him he believed that he had truly repented of the deed and that he had secured his conversion. When Nick was told that the General knew of his act, he was at first terribly agitated. Then he put his tomahawk into Sir Robert's hand, folded his arms on his bosom and said:
"Strike! Nick kill Cap'n—Major kill Nick."
"No, Tuscarora," said Sir Robert, "may God in heaven forgive the deed as I now forgive you."
A wild smile gleamed on the face of the Indian as he grasped both hands of the General. " God forgive," he muttered, and fell dead on the grave of his victim.