Nick of the Woods Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The sun is still high on a sultry August afternoon in 1782, when a train of emigrants emerges from the gloom of the forest and rides slowly toward Bruce’s Station, one of the principal forts in the district of Kentucky. The travelers, consisting of free and enslaved men, women, children, are accompanied by cattle and loaded packhorses, the whole group giving the appearance of a village on the march. In the position of responsibility rides a young man whose five years in the camps and battles of the American Revolution show in his military bearing and in the mature gravity of his features. The beautiful young woman at his side is sufficiently like him in appearance to suggest their kinship.

Captain Roland Forrester and his cousin, Edith, are on their way to the Falls of the Ohio. The orphaned children of twin brothers who had died early in the Revolution, they had been reared as wards of their stern, wealthy uncle, Major Roland Forrester. A staunch Tory, the Major had never forgiven his younger brothers for supporting the cause of the American patriots, and to keep them from inheriting his estate—for he was unmarried—he had executed a will in favor of an illegitimate daughter. About the time that his brothers fell in battle, the child burned to death in the home of her foster mother. The Major then adopted his nephew and niece and repeatedly declared his intention of making them his heirs. Young Roland Forrester forfeited his share of the inheritance, however, when he enlisted in a troop of Virginia horsemen. Shortly after the Battle of Yorktown, he returned to find his cousin destitute. On her uncle’s death, no will making her his heir could be found. Richard Braxley, the Major’s lawyer and agent, had produced the original will and taken possession of the estate in the name of the Major’s daughter, who was, he claimed, still alive and soon to appear and claim her heritage. Having no funds to contest the will, Roland decided to move to Kentucky, his plan being to place Edith in the care of a distant pioneer relative at the Falls while he carved from the wilderness a fortune that would allow him to marry his lovely cousin.

Colonel Bruce, the commander of the station, welcomes the emigrants, greeting the Forresters with special warmth and insisting that they share his cabin. Having served under Major Forrester in earlier Indian wars, he tells many stories of those border campaigns. Mrs. Bruce, equally voluble, bustles about giving orders to her daughters and telling them to be as circumspect as Telie Doe, who remains quietly at her loom after a startled glance up from her work when she hears the name of Roland Forrester mentioned. When the others escort Edith into the cabin, she remains on the porch, where Roland is explaining his intention of pushing on toward the Falls the next day. The Colonel, while deploring his guest’s haste, says that there is no danger from Indians on the trace. At last, the Colonel notices Telie and orders her into the house. She is, he says, the daughter of a white renegade named Abel Doe. Out of pity, the Bruces had taken her into their own home.

At that moment Tom Bruce, the Colonel’s oldest son, appears with news that the Jibbenainosay has been active again; some hunters had found an Indian with a split skull and a slashed cross on his breast. The Jibbenainosay, whom the settlers also call Nick of the Woods, was a mysterious avenger who had killed many Indians and marked them thus. The Shawnees, believing that he was either a ghost or a devil, had given him his name, which means Spirit-that-walks.

The news of the Jibbenainosay’s latest killing was brought to the station by Roaring Ralph Stackpole, a swaggering braggart. When he challenges anyone in the settlement to a trial of strength, the rough frontiersmen decides to match him with Nathan Slaughter, a Quaker trapper nicknamed Bloody Nathan because of his peaceful ways and gentle speech. Much to the surprise of the crowd, he lifts Roaring Ralph and throws him to the ground. Ralph, admitting that he had been fairly beaten, asks to borrow a horse so he can continue his journey to Logan’s Station. The Quaker trapper tells the settlers that the Miami Indians are gathering, but when the others refuse to take his news seriously, he exchanges his furs for lead and powder and leaves the station.

That night, Telie Doe begs Edith to let her go with the emigrants as a servant. When Edith refuses, the girl creeps away. Roland sleeps with Bruce’s sons on the porch of the cabin. Aroused from sleep during the night, he hears a whispering voice telling him he is to cross Salt River. He decides that he is still dreaming.

The next morning, there is great confusion at the station. Roaring Ralph had sneaked back into the settlement and stolen Roland’s horse. Knowing that the fugitive could not get far on the tired animal, Bruce’s sons ride in pursuit. While the emigrant train starts on ahead, Roland, Edith, and one of the slaves stays at the station to await the return of the horse. The animal is found, wandering along the trail, and is brought back by one of the boys. He says that the others are tracking the thief, intending to make him an object of frontier justice. As the travelers are about to set out to overtake the emigrant party, a horseman arrives with word that Indians had attacked Bryant’s Station. The need to muster every fighting man in the settlement leaves Roland and his cousin without an escort; nevertheless, they start out with only one surly frontiersman to guide them. On the way, their guide deserts them to return and join in the fighting. The travelers are relieved...

(The entire section is 2304 words.)