In the Valley

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In the Valley


Harold Frederic

Copyright 1890


When, after years of preparation, the pleasant task of writing this tale was begun, I had my chief delight in the hope that the completed book would gratify a venerable friend, to whose inspiration my first idea of the work was due, and that I might be allowed to place his honored name upon this page. The ambition was at once lofty and intelligible. While he was the foremost citizen of New York State, we of the Mohawk Valley thought of him as peculiarly our own. Although born elsewhere, his whole adult life was spent among us, and he led all others in his love for the Valley, his pride in its noble history, and his broad aspirations for the welfare and progress in wise and good ways of its people. His approval ef this book would have been the highest honor it could possibly have won. Long before it was finished, he had been laid in his last sleep upon the bosom of the hills that watch over our beautiful river. With reverent affection the volume is brought now to lay as a wreath upon his grave–dedicated to the memory of Horatio Seymour.

London, September 11, 1890


Chapter I. “The French Are in the Valley!”
Chapter II. Setting Forth How the Girl Child Was Brought to Us.
Chapter III. Master Philip Makes His Bow–And Behaves Badly
Chapter IV. In Which I Become the Son of the House.
Chapter V. How a Stately Name Was Shortened and Sweetened.
Chapter VI. Within Sound of the Shouting Waters.
Chapter VII. Through Happy Youth to Man’s Estate.
Chapter VIII. Enter My Lady Berenicia Cross.
Chapter IX. I See My Sweet Sister Dressed in Strange Attire.
Chapter X. The Masquerade Brings Me Nothing but Pain.
Chapter XI. As I Make My Adieux Mr. Philip Comes In.
Chapter XII. Old-Time Politics Pondered under the Starlight.
Chapter XIII. To the Far Lake Country and Home Again.
Chapter XIV. How I Seem to Feel a Wanting Note in the Chorus of Welcome.
Chapter XV. The Rude Awakening from My Dream.
Chapter XVI. Tulp Gets a Broken Head to Match My Heart.
Chapter XVII. I Perforce Say Farewell to My Old Home.
Chapter XVIII. The Fair Beginning of a New Life in Ancient Albany.
Chapter XIX. I Go to a Famous Gathering at the Patroon’s Manor House.
Chapter XX. A Foolish and Vexatious Quarrel Is Thrust upon Me.
Chapter XXI. Containing Other News Besides that from Bunker Hill.
Chapter XXII. The Master and Mistress of Cairncross.
Chapter XXIII. How Philip in Wrath, Daisy in Anguish, Fly Their Home.
Chapter XXIV. The Night Attack Upon Quebec–And My Share in It.
Chapter XXV. A Crestfallen Return to Albany.
Chapter XXVI. I See Daisy and the Old Home Once More.
Chapter XXVII. The Arrest of Poor Lady Johnson.
Chapter XXVIII. An Old Acquaintance Turns Up in Manacles.
Chapter XXIX. The Message Sent Ahead from the Invading Army.
Chapter XXX. From the Scythe and Reaper to the Musket.
Chapter XXXI. The Rendezvous of Fighting Men at Fort Dayton.
Chapter XXXII. “The Blood Be on Your Heads.”
Chapter XXXIII. The Fearsome Death-Struggle in the Forest.
Chapter XXXIV. Alone at Last with My Enemy.
Chapter XXXV. The Strange Uses to Which Revenge May Be Put.
Chapter XXXVI. A Final Scene in the Gulf which My Eyes Are Mercifully Spared.
Chapter XXXVII. The Peaceful Ending of It All.

In The Valley

Chapter I

“The French Are in the Valley!”

It may easily be that, during the many years which have come and gone since the eventful time of my childhood, Memory has played tricks upon me to the prejudice of Truth. I am indeed admonished of this by study of my son, for whose children in turn this tale is indited, and who is now able to remember many incidents of his youth–chiefly beatings and like parental cruelties–which I know very well never happened at all. He is good enough to forgive me these mythical stripes and bufferings, but he nurses their memory with ostentatious and increasingly succinct recollection, whereas for my own part, and for his mother’s, our enduring fear was lest we had spoiled him through weak fondness. By good fortune the reverse has been true. He is grown into a man of whom any parents might be proud–tall, well-featured, strong, tolerably learned, honorable, and of influence among his fellows. His affection for us, too, is very great. Yet in the fashion of this new generation, which speaks without waiting to be addressed, and does not scruple to instruct on all subjects its elders, he will have it that he feared me when a lad–and with cause! If fancy can so distort impressions within such short span, it does not become me to be too set about events which come back slowly through the mist and darkness of nearly threescore years.

Yet they return to me so full of color, and cut in such precision and keenness of outline, that at no point can I bring myself to say, “Perhaps I am in error concerning this,” or to ask, “Has this perchance been confused with other matters?” Moreover, there are few now remaining who of their own memory could controvert or correct me. And if they essay to do so, why should not my word be at least as weighty as theirs? And so to the story:

I was in my eighth year, and there was snow on the ground.

The day is recorded in history as November 13, A.D. 1757, but I am afraid that I did not know much about years then, and certainly the month seems now to have been one of midwinter. The Mohawk, a larger stream then by far than in these days, was not yet frozen over, but its frothy flood ran very dark and chill between the white banks, and the muskrats and the beavers were all snug in their winter holes. Although no big fragments of ice floated on the current, there had already been a prodigious scattering of the bateaux and canoes which through all the open season made a thriving thoroughfare of the river. This meant that the trading was over, and that the trappers and hunters, white and red, were either getting ready to go or had gone northward into the wilderness, where might be had during the winter the skins of dangerous animals–bears, wolves, catamounts, and lynx–and where moose and deer could be chased and yarded over the crust, not to refer to smaller furred beasts to be taken in traps.

I was not at all saddened by the departure of these rude, foul men, of whom those of Caucasian race were not always the least savage, for they did not fail to lay hands upon traps or nets left by the heedless within their reach, and even were not beyond making off with our boats, cursing and beating children who came unprotected in their path, and putting the women in terror of their very lives. The cold weather was welcome not only for clearing us of these pests, but for driving off the black flies, mosquitoes, and gnats which at that time, with the great forests so close behind us, often rendered existence a burden, particularly just after rains.

Other changes were less grateful to the mind. It was true I would no longer be held near the house by the task of keeping alight the smoking kettles of dried fungus, designed to ward off the insects, but at the same time had disappeared many of the enticements which in summer oft made this duty irksome. The partridges were almost the sole birds remaining in the bleak woods, and, much as their curious ways of hiding in the snow, and the resounding thunder of their strange drumming, mystified and attracted me, I was not alert enough to catch them. All my devices of horse-hair and deer-hide snares were foolishness in their sharp eyes. The water-fowl, too–the geese, ducks, cranes, pokes, fish-hawks, and others–had flown, sometimes darkening the sky over our clearing by the density of their flocks, and filling the air with clamor. The owls, indeed, remained, but I hated them.

The very night before the day of which I speak, I was awakened by one of these stupid, perverse birds, which must have been in the cedars on the knoll close behind the house, and which disturbed my very soul by his ceaseless and melancholy hooting. For some reason it affected me more than commonly, and I lay for a long time nearly on the point of tears with vexation–and, it is likely, some of that terror with which uncanny noises inspire children in the darkness. I was warm enough under my fox-robe, snuggled into the husks, but I was very wretched. I could hear, between the intervals of the owl’s sinister cries, the distant yelping of the timber wolves, first from the Schoharie side of the river, and then from our own woods. Once there rose, awfully near the log wall against which I nestled, a panther’s shrill scream, followed by a long silence, as if the lesser wild things outside shared for the time my fright. I remember that I held my breath.

It was during this hush, and while I lay striving, poor little fellow, to dispel my alarm by fixing my thoughts resolutely on a rabbit-trap I had set under some running hemlock out on the side hill, that there rose the noise of a horse being ridden swiftly down the frosty highway outside. The hoofbeats came pounding up close to our gate. A moment later there was a great hammering on the oak door, as with a cudgel or pistol handle, and I heard a voice call out in German (its echoes ring still in my old ears):

“The French are in the Valley!”

I drew my head down under the fox-skin as if it had been smitten sharply, and quaked in solitude. I desired to hear no more.

Although so very young a boy, I knew quite well who the French were, and what their visitations portended. Even at that age one has recollections. I could recall my father, peaceful man of God though he was, taking down his gun some years before at the rumor of a French approach, and my mother clinging to his coat as he stood in the doorway, successfully pleading with him not to go forth. I had more than once seen Mrs. Markell of Minden, with her black knit cap worn to conceal the absence of her scalp, which had been taken only the previous summer by the Indians, who sold it to the French for ten livres, along with the scalps of her murdered husband and babe. So it seemed that adults sometimes parted with this portion of their heads without losing also their lives. I wondered if small boys were ever equally fortunate. I felt softly of my hair and wept.

How the crowding thoughts of that dismal hour return to me! I recall considering in my mind the idea of bequeathing my tame squirrel to Hendrick Getman, and the works of an old clock, with their delightful mystery of wooden cogs and turned wheels, which was my chief treasure, to my negro friend Tulp–and then reflecting that they too would share my fate, and would thus be precluded from enjoying my legacies. The whimsical aspect of the task of getting hold upon Tulp’s close, woolly scalp was momentarily apparent to me, but I did not laugh. Instead, the very suggestion of humor converted my tears into vehement sobbings.

When at last I ventured to lift my head and listen again, it was to hear another voice, an English-speaking voice which I knew very well, saying gravely from within the door:

“It is well to warn, but not to terrify. There are many leagues between us and danger, and many good fighting men. When you have told your tidings to Sir William, add that I have heard it all and have gone back to bed.”

Then the door was closed and barred, and the hoofbeats died away down the Valley.

These few words had sufficed to shame me heartily of my cowardice. I ought to have remembered that we were almost within hail of Fort Johnson and its great owner the General; that there was a long Ulineof forts between us and the usual point of invasion with many soldiers; and–most important of all–that I was in the house of Mr. Stewart.

If these seem over-mature reflections for one of my age, it should be explained, that, while a veritable child in matters of heart and impulse, I was in education and association much advanced beyond my years. The master of the house, Mr. Thomas Stewart, whose kind favor had provided me with a home after my father’s sad demise, had diverted his leisure with my instruction, and given me the great advantage of daily conversation both in English and Dutch with him. I was known to Sir William and to Mr. Butler and other gentlemen, and was often privileged to listen when they conversed with Mr. Stewart. Thus I had grown wise in certain respects, while remaining extremely childish in others. Thus it was that I trembled first at the common hooting of an owl, and then cried as if to die at hearing the French were coming, and lastly recovered all my spirits at the reassuring sound of Mr. Stewart’s voice, and the knowledge that he was content to return to his sleep.

I went soundly to sleep myself, presently, and cannot remember to have dreamed at all.

Chapter II

Setting Forth How the Girl Child Was Brought to Us.

When I came out of my nest next morning–my bed was on the floor of a small recess back of the great fireplace, made, I suspect, because the original builders lacked either the skill or the inclination, whichever it might be, to more neatly skirt the chimney with the logs–it was quite late. Some meat and corn-bread were laid for me on the table in Mr. Stewart’s room, which was the chief chamber of the house. Despite the big fire roaring on the hearth, it was so cold that the grease had hardened white about the meat in the pan, and it had to be warmed again before I could sop my bread.

During the solitary meal it occurred to me to question my aunt, the housekeeper, as to the alarm of the night, which lay heavily once more upon my mind. But I could hear her humming to herself in the back room, which did not indicate acquaintance with any danger. Moreover, it might as well be stated here that my aunt, good soul though she was, did not command especial admiration for the clearness of her wits, having been cruelly stricken with the small-pox many years before, and owing her employment, be it confessed, much more to Mr. Stewart’s excellence of heart than to her own abilities. She was probably the last person in the Valley whose judgment upon the question of a French invasion, or indeed any other large matter, I would have valued.

Having donned my coon-skin cap, and drawn on my thick pelisse over my apron, I put another beech-knot on the fire and went outside. The stinging air bit my nostrils and drove my hands into my pockets. Mr. Stewart was at the work which had occupied him for some weeks previously–hewing out logs on the side hill. His axe strokes rang through the frosty atmosphere now with a sharp reverberation which made it seem much colder, and yet more cheerful. Winter had come, indeed, but I began to feel that I liked it. I almost skipped as I went along the hard, narrow path to join him.

He was up among the cedars, under a close-woven net of boughs, which, themselves heavily capped with snow, had kept the ground free. He nodded pleasantly to me when I wished him good-morning, then returned to his labor. Although I placed myself in front of him, in the hope that he would speak, and thus possibly put me in the way to learn something about this French business, he said nothing, but continued whacking at the deeply notched trunk. The temptation to begin the talk myself came near mastering me, so oppressed with curiosity was I; and finally, to resist it the better, I walked away and stood on the brow of the knoll, whence one could look up and down the Valley.

It was the only world I knew–this expanse of flats, broken by wedges of forest stretching down from the hills on the horizon to the very water’s edge. Straight, glistening lines of thin ice ran out here and there from the banks of the stream this morning, formed on the breast of the flood through the cold night.

To the left, in the direction of the sun, lay, at the distance of a mile or so, Mount Johnson, or Fort Johnson, as one chose to call it. It could not be seen for the intervening hills, but so important was the fact of its presence to me that I never looked eastward without seeming to behold its gray stone walls with their windows and loopholes, its stockade of logs, its two little houses on either side, its barracks for the guard upon the ridge back of the gristmill, and its accustomed groups of grinning black slaves, all eyeballs and white teeth, of saturnine Indians in blankets, and of bold-faced fur-traders. Beyond this place I had never been, but I knew vaguely that Schenectady was in that direction, where the French once wrought such misery, and beyond that Albany, the great town of our parts, and then the big ocean which separated us from England and Holland. Civilization lay that way, and all the luxurious things which, being shown or talked of by travellers, made our own rough life seem ruder still by contrast.

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