The Black Sheep's Coat
THE BLACK SHEEP'S COAT
By CORNELIA MEIGS
The orange-red beam of light from the swinging ship's-lantern dipped and swayed from side to side of the narrow cabin. It showed the red coat of the soldier who sat at the table; it lit the pale face of Peter Perkins, the stoop-shouldered clerk; it shone on Granny Fletcher's clicking knitting-needles, and, in a far corner, it dropped across the white paper upon which Master John Carver's goose-quill pen was moving so busily. Once in a while, at long intervals the light swung so far, with the plunging of the ship, that it penetrated even the cranny behind the big beam where Andrew Newell was crouching, with his knees doubled up to his chin and his head bowed, to keep out of sight in the shadow.
"One more dip like that," the boy was thinking desperately, as the exploring ray seemed to seek him out of fell purpose, "and the whole company will see me. How will it fare with me then, I wonder? Will they cast me overboard?"
So far, however, the little company was quite unconscious of his presence. Master Carver laid down his pen and began to read aloud in a low voice to the two men who sat near him, David Kritchell and William Bradford.
The hidden boy could not see the first two, but he had a full view of William Bradford, who sat beyond, a young man with broad, square shoulders where the others had the stoop of scholars and clerks, whose open brow and clear, merry eyes were in contrast to the serious and stern faces of his companions.
"This Mayflower is a rolling ship," complained the old woman who was knitting; "it has tumbled my ball of yarn out of my lap so many times that I will even let it go where it wills for a while."
The gray ball, slowly unwinding, rolled across the cabin toward Andrew's hiding-place, but for the space of a few minutes no one noticed it. The soldier had reached the climax of the story of one of his campaigns.
"I drew my sword," he was saying, "but there were five cut-throat Spaniards all rushing upon me at once. I struck—"
"When last you told us that tale, Captain Standish, you made it only four," Granny Fletcher interrupted tartly, "three big ones and a little one; and the time before—"
"Never mind the other times, woman," returned Standish, testily. The lurching of the ship had spilled the ashes from his pipe, serving to irritate him still more, so that he added savagely, "We will all have tales to tell soon, I will wager, of Indians that burn and scalp and slay every Christian that they see."
"Heaven have mercy!" cried the granny, casting up her eyes. "Such dangers as lie before us! Perhaps those who turned back on the Speedwell did wisely, after all. Where is my ball of yarn?"
It was very near to Andrew, but the name of the Speedwell had made him wince and draw himself closer into his corner. It was on that very ship that he should have been sailing back to England, as he well knew.
His uncle, the only relative he had in the world and no very kindly one at that, had agreed to take the boy with him on this great adventure of planting a Puritan colony in the New World. But with the first day of the voyage, the worthy man's ardor had cooled and he had been glad enough to avail himself of the chance of return when the leaky Speedwell turned back. A hasty council had been held in the Mayflower's cabin as to who should go on and who should be carried back to England, at which gathering Andrew, in spite of his uncle's protests, had pushed into the front rank of those who wished to go forward.
"We are already overcrowded, and it is the able-bodied men that we need," John Carver had said.
"And those who will make solid and worthy citizens," Peter Perkins had added at his elbow, with an unfriendly glance at Andrew's shabby coat. William Bradford was the only one who had looked at him kindly, and even he had shaken his head.
"It is a great enterprise," he said, "but we must needs abide by the rule of the elders as to who is to go and who must return."
That shabby coat was now the worse for a great rent in the shoulder and a smear of tar on the sleeve, put there when Andrew had squeezed into a narrow hiding-place between two great coils of rope, instead of entering the crowded boat that put off for the other vessel. For a whole day of light winds he had waited in an agony of suspense, while they lay close to the Speedwell, never seeming to get so far away that he was safe from being returned to her. Toward evening, however, the breeze freshened, the two ships had drawn apart, and while the whole company was gathered in the bow to see the last of their companion vessel, Andrew had slipped below to hide in some better place than on the wet, open deck of the Mayflower. A footstep in the passage had alarmed him so that he had dashed into the main cabin and crawled behind a beam, for want of a better refuge. Here he still lurked, cramped, aching, and hungry, wondering how soon the lantern or the ball of yarn would be the means of betraying him.
Just as he felt sure that Granny Fletcher's sharp eye must have caught sight of his protruding elbow, there came a diversion in the sound of scurrying feet on the companionway and in the headlong entry of two excited girls, one of about fourteen years old, the other twelve.
"Oh, Father," cried the elder one, seizing David Kritchell's arm, "one of the sailors just helped me to climb up to look into the pen where the sheep and the poultry are, and what do you think! There is a little new lamb amongst them, not more than a day old!"
"Nay, my dear Drusilla," her father remonstrated, "do you not see that this is no time to speak of such matters? You are interrupting Master Carver."
"There is no harm wrought," John Carver said; "she brings good news, for surely it promises well that our flocks should already begin to increase."
"But it is a—a black sheep," Drusilla declared. "You cannot think how strange it looks among the white ones!"
"A black sheep?" cried Granny Fletcher, in shrill consternation. "There is a sign of bad luck, indeed! It is enough to send us all to the bottom. A black cat's crossing our path could not be a worse omen."
"We are scarcely in danger from the passing of any black cats," William Bradford observed, with twinkling eyes. "As for the black lamb, it shall be your very own, Mistress Drusilla, since it was you who brought us tidings of it. I think this expedition of ours is too earnest and weighty an affair to be brought to ruin by one black sheep."
"Nay, nay, we are as good as lost already," wailed the granny, so voluble in her lamenting that John Carver was forced to tell her sternly to hold her peace.
"Cobwebs and moonshine!" exclaimed Miles Standish, filling up his pipe, "There are enough straight swords and ready muskets in this company to drive away any sort of bad luck."
Granny Fletcher, much subdued, got up to fetch her yarn, which still rolled back and forth at the far end of the cabin. The crouching boy held his breath as it moved first toward him, then away, and then, with a sudden plunge of the ship, tumbled directly into his lap, so that he and the old woman stooping to grasp it were brought face to face. The poor soul's nerves were too badly shaken to withstand the shock of seeing that unexpected, tar-streaked countenance so close to her own.
"The bogy-man, the evil one himself come to destroy us all!" she screamed in such terror that all in the cabin rose to their feet.
"Come forth, whoever is there," commanded Bradford, sternly.
It was in such manner that Andrew Newell, gentleman adventurer at the age of fifteen, made his appearance as a member of the company of the Pilgrim Fathers.
There followed an uproar of questions, reproaches, and rebukes, with Granny Fletcher's shrill scolding rising high above all the rest, until John Carver struck his hand upon the table for silence.
"We must not talk of what the boy has done, but of what we are to do with him," he began. "He is amongst us, without friends—"
"And without money to pay his passage, I'll be bound," observed Peter Perkins, in an undertone. "Look at his coat; look at his dirty face! This is no company for waifs and ragamuffins. Born to die on the gallows, that is the sort he is!"
The Pilgrims, while few of them were rich, were nearly all of that thrifty class which had little patience with careless poverty. In their eyes, Andrew's ragged coat was less to be forgiven than his uninvited appearance among them.
Drusilla was tugging at her father's elbow. "Think how much he wanted to come, to dare all this for the sake of seeing the New World," she whispered.
"It is not zeal for our faith that has led him," said Peter Perkins, overhearing her, "but mere love of adventure."
"And is love of adventure so wicked a thing?" questioned Bradford, his deep, quiet voice overriding all the buzz of excited talk. "I can understand why the boy wished to go with us and I will be responsible for him. You have, many of you, brought servants, bound to you to repay their passage by a year or two years of labor. This lad shall be bound to me in the same way and I will stand surety for him. Do you agree?" he said to Andrew; "will you serve me?"
Did he agree! Andrew felt, as he crossed the cabin to his supporter's side, that he would die for this young elder who stood among his gray-haired seniors and gave the boy the only friendly smile in all that hostile company.
"He will bring us ill luck," he heard Granny Fletcher whisper to her neighbor. "Is not one black sheep enough for our voyage?"
"Born to die on the gallows, I know the look of them," Peter Perkins returned, wagging his head.
Through the long days of the voyage that followed, those two seemed like watchful, sharp-tongued ghosts that haunted Andrew's footsteps. Whatever went amiss, they laid the blame upon him, whatever he did was bound, in their eyes, to be wrong.
"There are always scolds in every company," Bradford told him one day, when the reproaches of his two enemies seemed past bearing. "Whether such persons wear breeches or petticoats, they are just the same, and real men must learn to close their ears to them."
Day by day Andrew grew to admire ever more this man who had befriended him. Bradford's kindliness, his good sense, and the steady burning of the fire of his enthusiasm made him stand out from all the rest, since amid the depression and the deadly weariness of the long voyage he was ever cheerful, confident, and certain of their success.
"I was only of your age when I first joined the company of the dissenters, myself," he told Andrew once, "and I looked with all a boy's wonder on the ups and downs, the bickerings and complaints, the discouragements of their venture in establishing a church and in making their pilgrimage to Holland. But now I can see that it was mere human nature, and that there is real patience and courage in the heart of every one of them."
Hostility toward Andrew abated somewhat during the voyage, although, to the end, Bradford, Carver, David Kritchell, and his two daughters were the only ones who treated him with any real kindness. And that voyage, even as Bradford was always prophesying, came to an end suddenly just when they were beginning to feel that life on the high seas must last forever. Andrew and Drusilla had come on deck before the others one chill, early morning in November, a morning of light winds from the west, with the wide sea still stretching endlessly all about them. Then, "Oh, Andrew!" "Oh, Mistress Drusilla!" each cried to the other in the same breath, for each had perceived the same thing. The sharp odor of salt spray, the sting of the sea wind, had altered strangely; there came instead warm puffs of air across the water, while a line like a dark cloud stretched along the horizon. They had reached America at last!
That going ashore—how they had dreamed of it, and how unlike it was to what they had thought! They were used to a land that was green through most of the winter, so that they looked with dismay at the brown, bare woods, the unfamiliar, somber green of the pines, and the line of rolling hills in the distance.
They coasted along the shore for days, finally choosing an abiding-place merely because winter was coming close and some decision must be made. The men who landed first reported that there was high open ground, a cheerful, chattering stream of fresh water, and a good prospect over both sea and land.
"We also caught sight of four Indians and a dog," Captain Standish said, "but they stayed not for our coming and stopped only to whistle to their beast before they ran away. Yet we thought we saw them later, peeping and peering among the forest trees."
The next morning they came ashore all together, with bags and bundles and precious possessions, with the swine and the poultry and the bleating sheep from the pen amidships. Drusilla Kritchell could scarcely be separated from her beloved black lamb, but Andrew, who was to go in the boat with such of the livestock as could, not swim, promised that he would take good care of it.
"And a fine pair they will make, the two black sheep of ill omen," remarked Peter Perkins, who, amid all the bustle of landing, could still find time for a bitter word.
"A goodly place," said David Kritchell, cheerily, as they stood on the beach, surveying their new home and waiting for the last of their gear to be landed. The thin sunshine lay upon the flat, wet shore and the chill wind seemed to search out the very marrow of the travelers' bones. The cries of the gulls circling above them sounded harsh and lonely. The last of the boats grated its keel on the gravel and the whole company turned their faces toward the hill. Suddenly Granny Fletcher, half hysterical, threw up her hands and lifted her voice in a long wail.
"We will perish here in this wilderness!" she cried. "God meant us to endure our persecutions in patience at home and not flee from them to a land where wild beasts and savages will soon make an end of us. What will we eat? Where will we lay our heads? Oh, England—England—!"
Her cry died away in choking sobs, while the others looked at one another. The Mayflower rode in the tideway, her sails, wet from last night's rain, all spread to dry, white and shining in the sun. The very wind that filled them blew full and fresh toward home. Yet, to the everlasting honor of the Pilgrims let it be said, no other face betrayed hesitation or fear. Whatever was in their hearts, men, women, and children all took up their burdens and set forth up the hill.
They found the company gathered in a circle on that spot where, later, the meeting-house was to be.
"Let us look to God in prayer," said John Carver, simply, and every head was bowed. The service was a short one, but at the end of it the anxious faces had relaxed, the women smiled again, and even Granny Fletcher dried her eyes. William Bradford, feeling a tug at his coat, turned about quickly.
"It is not true that there is naught for us to eat," Andrew told him in an excited whisper. "I was digging, just for play, in one of those round mounds of earth—look, there are a dozen of them along the shore. They must have been the savage men's treasure-houses, for see what I have found within!"
He poured into Bradford's hand a stream of something red-yellow like gold. It was not mere metal, however, but something far more precious, the round, ruddy kernels of Indian corn.
The weeks that followed were difficult and full of toil, while there arose slowly upon the hill the little huts built of logs and chinked with mud, and in their midst the square common house that was meeting-house, arsenal, and granary all in one. Winter drew in, food supplies ran low, and the settlers dipped deeper and deeper into the Indians' corn.
"We will pay the red men for it, as soon as we are given opportunity," the elders all agreed; but no one came to claim possession, and no Indians showed their faces where the white men could see.
"I would it were so that we could make payment to somebody," Bradford said more than once to Andrew, yet could offer no solution of the problem of how it was to be done. None of the men approved of taking what was not theirs; but in the face of such famine, they knew it was folly to leave the corn untouched. Andrew did not heed their talk greatly, for he was busier than the rest, being one of the few who had any skill with a fowling-piece or a fish-line. He was more shabby and ragged than ever, with clumsy patches of leather sewed where his coat had given way, and with a rude cap made of the skin of a fox. Many nights, however, when he dropped asleep on his bed of straw beside William Bradford's, he would smile to himself in the dark, knowing that he was happier than he had ever been before.
And then came the sickness.
One of the elders, Giles Peabody, was stricken first. He sat shivering by the fire before the common house at evening, he was burning with fever at midnight, and before sunrise he was dead. Three more were ill on the day that he was buried, and by the next morning there were a dozen. Soon in every family there was some one dead, some one dying; while fewer and fewer were left to go from house to house to care for the sufferers. William Bradford labored like ten men, and taught Andrew to be nearly as useful as himself. Drusilla Kritchell, although she had her mother and Granny Fletcher sick in her own house, still managed to go forth every day, with all the gravity and earnestness of a grown woman, to nurse and scrub and care for motherless children. She met Andrew at twilight one evening as both, almost too weary to set one foot before the other, were coming down the hill from the common house.
"My mother is almost well again," she told the boy as he took her basket, "and Granny Fletcher is mending, too, although she is still light-headed with the fever. But three more of the Peabody children have been taken. I have been with them the whole day."
Andrew followed Drusilla into the house to set down her basket on the table, and there discovered Granny Fletcher huddled in the big chair by the fireplace, for she had refused to stay in bed. She was alternately muttering to herself and babbling aloud.
"So we are to perish after all," she was saying. "A blight lies heavy upon us. Some wrong we must have done. Was it because we took food that was not ours and never repaid? We thought we were starving, but to die in this way is worse than to starve. God has forgotten us. He has hidden his face from us because of our sins."
She turned and saw Andrew standing by the door.
"I said you would bring us ill luck!" she cried. "It was you who broke into the red men's storehouse and laid hands upon what was not ours." Her voice rose high, then dropped suddenly almost to a whisper. "For all the harm and mischief you have done, I forgive you. I will not go before the Judgment Seat thinking ill of any man, not even such as you." She closed her eyes and slipped down limply in the chair, while Drusilla ran to aid her.
"Do not heed what she says!" the girl cried over her shoulder; but the door had closed and Andrew was gone.
Inside the common house on the hill a row of stricken men lay on the straw; but some were mending and none were dying, so that William Bradford had leisure to come forth and sit down by the fire that burned before the door. Silently Andrew came through the dark and found a seat beside him, first flinging a fresh log upon the blaze. Something stirred outside the circle of ruddy light; then, as the flames leaped from the fresh fuel, there was revealed an ugly, yellowish dog that sniffed and skulked among the shadows. Andrew whistled to him, but the creature gave a strange, uncouth yelp of fear and ran away howling.
"That is no dog of ours," the boy observed wonderingly; "where could he have come from?"
"I think he is the same that we caught sight of in those days when we first landed," Bradford answered. "He was with four Indians, the only ones we ever saw."
"It is a strange thing that they never came near us again," Andrew said.
Bradford did not reply at once, so that the two sat in silence for a little. When the older man did speak at last, his voice sounded broken, weary, and listless.
"No, not strange," he remarked slowly. "The Indians fear us and they know how to hide in the forest like foxes. Do you ever think that there may be those whose eyes are always watching us, knowing how we are stricken, counting the dead and waiting—waiting until we are so few that they no longer feel afraid? That dog has waxed very bold. It may be that his masters are waxing bold also."
"We have buried the dead by night and leveled the graves so that no one could count them," declared Andrew, huskily; "and we are not quite all gone yet."
"No," said Bradford, "but we are growing perilously few." He was silent again and seemed to go on with difficulty. "I would that we had ever been able to offer payment for that corn we used. I have measured all that we were forced to take and have set a sum of money against it to be ready if the chance for paying should ever come. Perhaps you had better know that it lies in a bag in my chest, so that if—if I should be—"
"Master—Master Bradford," cried Andrew, in agony. He touched the other's hand and found it burning hot, and saw at last, by a sudden flaring of the fire, that Bradford's face was flushed and his eyes glittering with fever.
"Help me to go inside, boy," he said. "I have been trying to rise these last ten minutes and have not had the strength. It is nothing—nothing, but I think I will go within and lie down beside the others."
Half an hour later, Drusilla Kritchell was summoned from the kitchen by an unsteady tap on the outer door. Andrew Newell stood upon the step.
"I must ask a boon of you, since there is no one else to whom I may turn," he said abruptly. "Can you prepare me food to carry on a journey? I am going into the forest to find some one whom I may pay for the grain we have taken."
"Into the forest, alone, to find the Indians?" she exclaimed. "Oh, you must not. It is certain death!"
She looked him up and down in the light of her candle and added bluntly: "You are not even properly clad; your coat is so worn and thin that you will perish with the cold. The sickness will fall upon you all alone in the wilderness."
"It does not matter," he responded indifferently. "Go I must, and if I do not succeed, I will never come back. Will you ask your father, Mistress Drusilla, to tend my master when I am gone? He is stricken with the dire sickness, too. I will come at sunrise to fetch anything you can give me to carry on my way."
He closed the door sharply and vanished into the dark.
The sun was just coming up through the winter fog, a round red ball like a midsummer moon, when Andrew set forth next morning, the little bag of money safe beneath his coat, the scant bundle of Drusilla's provisions under his arm. A great, long-legged shadow strutted before him, seeming to mock at him and his fantastic errand. To come face to face with the lurking Indians, to explain that the white men had used their corn and wished to repay them, surely it was impossible. Yet Andrew shook his head doggedly and repeated almost aloud, "If I do not succeed, I will never come back." His devotion to William Bradford and the terrible thought of what the sickness might have wrought before his return dragged at his heart, but he turned his mind resolutely from such thoughts and trudged steadily on.
There was something about his appearance that was not quite as usual. Even the grotesque shadow ahead of him showed it, in that absence of fluttering rags and gaping elbows that had formerly marked his attire. He had a new coat, a warm substantial one, that bade defiance to all the chill morning winds that could blow.
Granny Fletcher, when she saw him in the doorway receiving his bundle of food from Drusilla, had noticed that something was changed. Her fever had abated a little, nor had it ever been great enough to quench her curiosity.
"See the lad with a whole coat to his back at last!" she exclaimed. "And what a strange color it is—rusty black! Verily, it might be the coat of your black sheep."
Drusilla flushed, said farewell hastily, and closed the door.
"You should not talk; it will bring the shaking fits upon you again," she said sternly as she adjusted the pillow in the big chair.
"You need not have been so quick in closing the door," complained the old woman; "I have no doubt that it was in no proper way that the boy came by that coat. Mercy, child, how heavy-eyed you look this morning! One would think you had not slept. But that coat, I wonder now—"
Drusilla betook herself to another room, not waiting to hear more. The secret of Andrew's new coat was no mystery to her, nor to her younger sister, sleeping profoundly upstairs after a night of intense industry. There was another who shared the secret also, a half-grown sheep, bedded tenderly in the straw of the shed, shivering and indignant at being robbed of its fleece in the dead of winter.
There had long been a story in Drusilla's family that two sisters, one of them her great-grandmother, had, when their father was called away to the wars, sheared one of their sheep, spun and woven the wool, and made him a coat all between sunset and sunrise. Drusilla's spinning-wheel and loom had come with her across the sea and stood in the corner of the room where she and her sister slept. There they had both toiled all night, as quickly and skilfully as had that great-grandmother of earlier fame.
"It is a strange color for a coat, but we had no time to dye it," Drusilla apologized, when she gave it to Andrew and bade him put it on. He, in turn, was quite overcome with surprise and gratitude and could hardly form a word of stammering thanks.
A light snow had fallen during the night, showing, as he came into the forest, the lace-like pattern of squirrel- and rabbit-tracks, and even the deep footprints here and there of larger game. Andrew scanned the ground eagerly for the marks of moccasined feet, yet knew that there was little chance of any Indian leaving a trail so plain. For want of any real direction in which to go, he followed a little stream in whose lower waters he had been used to fish for trout and whose babbling voice seemed to speak to him with cheery friendliness as it led him farther and farther into unknown country.
He ate frugally in the middle of the day, then tramped steadily on until dark. It was growing very cold when he stopped at last, built himself a rough shelter of boughs under an overhanging rock, struck a fire with his flint and steel, and kindled a cheerful blaze. But how small the fire looked in the wide, silent emptiness of the forest! The rock threw back the heat of the flame, making a warm nook where he curled up and slept comfortably until morning. Once or twice in the night he got up to replenish the fire and to listen to the unfamiliar night sounds of the wood, but he was, each time, too weary to keep long awake.
When he arose next morning it was colder than ever; his breath went up like smoke in the keen air, and the little brook was frozen solid, its friendly voice silent at last.
This second day's journey into the wilderness seemed to have brought him into a new land. The hills were higher; the great boulders towered above his head; the way was so broken that he had much difficulty in making progress at all. He still clung to the familiar stream as a guide, although it had shrunk now to a tiny thread, just a gleam of ice here and there under the slippery stones and snow-wreathed underbrush. Night found him weary and spent and utterly disheartened. In all this long journey he had not yet seen a sign of any human being.
With the greatest difficulty, he cut enough boughs for a rude tent, and got together a supply of firewood sufficient for the night. The fuel was wet, his fingers were stiff with cold, so that it was a long time before he could strike a spark and persuade the uncertain flame to creep along the leaves and set fire to the wood. Since he had not delayed his journey to hunt or fish by the way, his food was almost gone. His strength was almost gone also, as he realized when he got up from beside the fire and crawled into his shelter. He would not be able to journey much farther, yet it was his steady purpose still to go forward. Almost in the act of nestling down among the pine branches, he fell asleep.
A troubled dream aroused him many hours later. Vaguely he was conscious that he must get up and mend the fire or it would die out and leave him to freeze. It took him some minutes to summon enough resolution, but at last, with a great effort, he stirred, crawled out of his refuge, came forth into the light, and then shrank back again with a gasp of overwhelming astonishment. For there, standing beside the glowing coals, motionless as a statue, silent as the still forest itself, was a gigantic Indian.
For a moment there was no move made, no word spoken, as Andrew crouched staring at the stranger, at the hawklike face, at the firelight shining on the dull red of his naked arms and knees, at his misshapen shadow that danced on the snow behind him. Then at last the other, without moving his head or changing his expression, spoke quietly.
"You welcome—here," he said in slow, broken English.
Later, Andrew was to learn that many of the red men had learned English from the British sailors that manned the fishing-boats coasting along the New England shore, and that this man had even made a voyage with one of them. At that moment, however, it seemed to the boy nothing other than a miracle that here, in this far, silent wilderness, he should hear his own tongue spoken.
The Indian drew out, from somewhere in the folds of his scanty garments, a slice of dried meat and set it to broil before the fire. Andrew sniffed wistfully at the delicious odor of its cooking, but when the red man silently offered it to him, he shook his head, so firm was his determination that no Indian should know how near the white men were to starvation. The man merely nodded quietly at his refusal, brought out more meat and some dried fish, and put the whole before the fire. He looked so long and steadily at the boy that Andrew felt no detail of thin cheeks and hollow eyes was escaping that keen stare. Then the piercing glance moved onward to where the remains of Drusilla's provisions lay upon the ground, a few broken crusts of bread and a bit of cheese. The stranger made no comment, but very carefully completed his cooking, spread the feast upon a piece of bark and pushed it toward Andrew. With one lean red hand he made a gesture in the direction of the settlement.
"All hungry—starving; we know. Dying—we know that too," he said.
"You—you have seen," faltered Andrew, thrown out of his reserve by this sudden statement.
"You bury dead by night," the man nodded slowly; "you smooth graves, we count graves—morning." He thrust the food forward again and said peremptorily, "Eat."
And eat Andrew did, since there was no use for further pretense. There was a little talk between them as his strange visitor plied him with food, but it was not until the ravenous meal was ended and the boy had pushed away his bark plate that he made any attempt to speak of the errand for which he had come such a long and weary way.
"There was some corn left buried near the shore where we landed," he began. "We used it and we wish to make payment. See, I have here the proper sum of money."
He brought out from under his coat William Bradford's bag of coins.
But the Indian shook his head.
"The corn not mine," he said.
"Then to whom did it belong? Where are the men who left it there?"
"All dead," the other answered. "The great sickness—it took them all away. Only one left. He live with our tribe."
"Then take the money to him," begged Andrew. "We counted carefully and wish to pay for every measure. Look, it is all here; will you take him what should be his?"
He poured the contents of the bag into the Indian's unresponsive hand, a heap of silver and copper coins, with a few of gold. The man turned them over with little interest, letting some of them drop and disappear in the snow and the ashes. His eyes brightened, however, when he saw among them a big copper penny-piece that was new enough to shine a little still and to wink in the firelight with a pleasant glow. Andrew, seeing what attracted him, gathered up such of the fallen coins as he could find and polished them on the rough sleeve of his coat. Then he fetched a handful of sand from the tiny bank that he had noticed beside the stream and scoured the money until the silver gleamed and the copper glowed and burned in the red light of the flame. The gold did not reflect the fire and was only dulled by the scraping with sand so that, in the end, the Indian cast it aside as he received the rest of the money eagerly.
"He shall have it all, that Tisquantum—he is last of tribe, and maybe some day I bring him to you and he show you how to plant the corn for nex' year. You would not harm him."
"I will swear it," Andrew answered. "Does he really fear the white men?"
"All of us fear you. Surely you mus' know it."
"We have some brave men amongst us," Andrew said, "and a soldier who is a famous fighter to be our leader."
"Ugh, you mean round small man in red coat who go tramping through forest, musket on shoulder, breaking through the bushes and making much noise as giant moose. We could slay him many times with arrows; he mus' have known it, yet he not afraid. No, it is not this man, nor all your fighting men we fear."
"What is it, then?" Andrew asked, much puzzled.
Half by signs, half in his imperfect English, the Indian sought to explain. And so vivid were his gestures, so potent his few words, that finally Andrew began to understand.
It was the strange spirit of the English that the Indians did not comprehend. When the red men were hungry, when sickness came upon them, even when they were weary of the spot where they dwelt, they gathered up their goods and moved to some new camping-place. When the plague first fell upon the tribe that dwelt where the white men did now, they broke and scattered, carrying the same death to all who were near. Their people died in numbers past any counting; yet even now they were many more than the newcomers. But with the white man it was not the same. The men had died, and the women, but they did not run away. They went on with their daily tasks, although they were fewer and fewer. The Indians thought that the courage of those who were gone must pass into the hearts of those who still lived, and even though so many should perish that there was but one left, they would still fear him, since he would have the strength of all.
Very slowly Andrew turned this strange idea over and over in his mind.
"And we wonder at you, in our turn," the boy replied at last; "how you can find food and live in plenty in what seems to us a cruel and barren wilderness. If we could learn to be friends, white men and red men, how we could help each other in many things!"
So they made their compact of peace and friendliness there by the fire in the heart of the frozen wilderness, with the blue wood-smoke drifting above their heads and floating away over the tree-tops. Afterward, when the Indian said that they should sleep for a little to prepare for their next day's journey, they lay down side by side in the warm glow of the blaze; and since Andrew had traveled far, had eaten fully, and was quite worn out, he fell quickly asleep. He awoke, much later, with a start, to find himself alone, with the newly replenished fire crackling beside him, with a package of deer's meat and corn laid close to his hand, and with the dawn breaking behind the dark pines.
He made his way homeward more easily than he had come, for he knew the country now and could follow the stream without so much picking and choosing of the way. Although he was free from one anxiety, there was still a heavy burden upon his heart, for he could not put from him the remembrance of William Bradford,—the man who had his whole-souled devotion,—of how he had sat shivering by the fire with the shadow of the dreadful sickness already upon him. He hurried faster and faster, feeling that the dense wood hemmed him in and held him back—that he would never reach his journey's end and hear tidings of his master.
He was free of the forest at last and hastening across the stump-dotted slope to the huddle of cabins beside the stream. How few they looked! He had almost forgotten what a tiny handful of dwellings the settlement was. He was panting as he ran down the worn path, dashed through the empty street, and thundered at the door of the common house. It was growing dark; there was no light within nor any voice to answer his impatient knock. Trembling, hesitating in dread of what he might find, he opened the door and stepped over the threshold. Five men had lain on the straw the night of his departure; there was only one now. At the sound of his footstep, this one stirred as though roused from sleep, turned his head and spoke. It was William Bradford.
"Four days you were gone," Bradford said at last, after he had heard the hurried substance of Andrew's adventures. "Much can happen in such a place as this in four days. Enoch Fullerton and old Phineas Hall have gone from us, but the others who were suffering here have got well and gone about their business. And as for me, four days were enough for the coming of the fever and its burning out, so that I shall soon be a whole man again. Now tell me that strange tale all over again; I must have not heard aright, for surely what you say is past belief."
Andrew went over his story, repeating every word of his talk in the forest with the Indian.
"They know more about us than we dreamed possible," he said, "but we need no longer fear them. And they think, poor blind savages, that, as we grow fewer, the spirit of those who have passed still dwells in those who remain."
There was a little pause, for Bradford, like Andrew, must consider this new idea carefully.
"Not so blind," he said finally; "savages and heathen, yet not so blind. Do you never think that the spirit of this adventure lies not in the elders, the older men like me, but in the young men, the youths and children—in you? We shall soon be gone, for age passes quickly; it is youth that must take up our purpose; it is on youth that the weight of it all depends. Even this errand of yours, without youth it would never have been accomplished; we should have gone on wasting our days in doubt and dread, fearing to turn our hands to the real conquering of the wilderness."
The door opened in the twilight and several men came in, John Carver and three of the elders. Bradford raised his voice that they might hear.
"This lad has succeeded in that madcap expedition from which we have all been saying that he would never come back. He has made good our debt to the Indians and has brought back good tidings and such an understanding of the red men as we could never have gained for ourselves. After this service he shall no longer be my bound servant, but a citizen of this community. Andrew Newell, whom we were calling a foolhardy boy, has shown himself to be a man."
Thereafter it was necessary for Andrew to sit down upon the straw again and tell the whole story once more, that John Carver and the elders might marvel anew at his tale. It was not until an hour later that he was suffered at last to pass out of the building and go down the little street to carry his news and his thanks to Drusilla Kritchell. The air was soft after the long days of cold; there was promise in it that this harsh country's climate held spring as well as winter.
Granny Fletcher, who was well enough now to limp out to the doorstep, was sitting on the wide stone, wrapped in Drusilla's cloak, while Peter Perkins, coming up the path, had just stopped to speak to her. Tidings of what Andrew had done seemed to have run before him, for Peter Perkins took off his broad hat and greeted him with a "Good even to you, sir."
"What is that?" Andrew heard in a shrill whisper from the old woman, who had evidently not yet learned the news; "do you call that wicked lad 'sir,' and take off your hat to him?"
"We may have been mistaken in him after all," Peter Perkins returned, in a whisper just as audible; "and it is as well to show respect to one who is now a citizen of our colony and who wears a good coat upon his back. It is little one can tell of what the future holds!"
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.
The longest-living author of this work died in 1973, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 49 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.