Yule Logs/A New England Raid
A NEW ENGLAND RAID
By E. F. POLLARD
Author of "Roger the Ranger," &c.
THE first glow of morning was creeping over the land as an Indian emerged from the forest. He ran swiftly, with that easy swing of the body and lightness of foot for which his race is remarkable. Leaping a wooden fence, he paused and stood, for the space of a second, looking up at a large square house, plain and unornamented, such as the early settlers in New England were wont to build for themselves.
The inhabitants were still buried in sleep, and the Indian's approach had been so noiseless that it had failed even to rouse the watch-dog. Taking a handful of gravel he threw it with unerring aim at a window on the second floor. An instant afterwards the lattice was opened and a young man's head thrust out, a voice asking, "What's up, Will?"
The Indian made a peculiar sign, which might easily be interpreted into "Come down."
"All right," said Josiah Blackstone, and disappeared.
Then Josh, as he was familiarly called, came down the broad staircase, removed noiselessly the bars and bolts which secured the front door, and slipped out into the porch, against the great oak post of which the Indian was leaning. A huge mastiff came bounding round from the back of the house with an ominous growl, but he evidently recognised the Indian, for he ran up to him wagging his tail and fawning upon him with unmistakable signs of pleasure.
"What has brought you, Will? I thought you were off fishing in the Great Lakes," said Josiah. Then eyeing him carefully, he added, "You look as if you had travelled far and fast."
"So Will has," answered the Indian in English. "Will Narburton ran a day and a night to bring news, bad news."
"Sorry to hear it," said Josh. "Is Philip up to mischief?"
The Indian made a sign of assent.
"Killed gentle John!" exclaimed Josh—"are you sure, Will?"
"My own eyes saw it," said the Indian. "They waylaid John, knocked him on the head, and thrust him dead into the pond near Middleborough. I was on the other side and watched the Sachem's son, Tobias, and the two others, do the deed. Knowing they do not love the men of my tribe, I was afraid, and hid myself in the long rushes. They struck John from behind, so that he did not see. He never moved again. Then they put him into the hole. I waited till the wicked ones were on their way back to tell the Sachem the evil work was finished, then I ran all day and all night to warn you. King Philip is angry; he has sworn he will drive the white man out of the hunting grounds."
"I know it," answered Josh. "I fear this means war."
"As the arrow flies through the air swiftly and slays, so the Indian will drop down into your midst, and the scalps of the white men will be his reward," said Will Narburton."
"Hush!" said Josh, "I hear my mother's step on the stairs; she must not be alarmed."
The Indian raised his head and whispered: "No tell missis, she woman, she frightened; tell master."
He had hardly given utterance to this sentiment when a tall comely woman, in the close cap, plain black gown, and white bibbed apron of the New England matron, came out into the porch, and seeing Will Narburton, smiled a welcome.
"I was afraid, and hid myself in the long rushes."
"I wondered who you might be entertaining at this early hour, Josh," she said, laying her hand on her son's arm. "Has Will come to tempt you to go fishing or hunting with him?"
"No, mother; but he has brought some important news, which I must communicate to my father. Will you see that Narburton has food and drink, for he has travelled a long distance to do us service?"
"Gladly," answered Mrs. Blackstone. "Go ye round to the kitchen, Will; if Mary be not there, I will open to you and see to your needs myself. Your father will be down directly, Josh," she added, addressing her son, and then she hastened away intent upon her household duties.
The Blackstones had been amongst the first settlers on the borders of Connecticut. By the banks of the river Seek-ouk they had built a house and named it "Study Hill"; they had also planted orchards, and the fruitful land rewarded their labour with rich harvests. It was but a few weeks since the grandsire had been laid to rest among his apple-trees, and his son, Nathan Blackstone, now reigned in his stead. Josh was the only surviving son of this third generation; he dwelt at home, and was his father's right hand. Nathan was an elder of the Church and a civil magistrate, revered by the settlers, and scarcely less so by the Indians, to whom he had always been well inclined; declaring the safety of the English lay in a just recognition of the natural rights of the natives, and attaching much blame to those who would have had the red man rooted out as being of the accursed race of Ham. Nevertheless he deemed it necessary they should be watched, feeling by no means assured that they were other than the children of the devil, more especially as the effects of Christianity and civilisation on the Indian were far from conducive to virtue.
The Puritan fathers were remarkably unsuccessful in their efforts to propagate Christianity, may-be because of the harshness of their doctrines; but it is a fact that after fifty years' labour amongst the thousands of natives in New England, less than 1500 Indians were converted. These were known as the "Praying Indians," and their position was far from enviable, they being despised by their own people, and not wholly trusted by the colonists themselves. Will Narburton and the murdered John Susaman belonged to this class—indeed the latter was employed as a missionary, and was much esteemed by the Brethren; his death, therefore, was an event not likely to be passed over.
Hearing his father's step coming down the stairs, Josh turned and greeted him, and the two went out together, pacing side by side along the garden-walk in front of the house, as was their wont when they had any matter under discussion. They resembled each other greatly, being of the same height, broad-shouldered, and powerful of limb; their features were strongly marked; their complexions ruddy, deep-set grey eyes and dark-brown hair; Nathan's, however, was cropped short, after the fashion of the Puritan fathers, but Josh wore his somewhat longer; also Nathan was clean shaven, but his son had both beard and moustache.
They were fine, well-built men, with honest, open countenances, God-fearing and true-hearted, ready to do their duty alike to God and man.
As Nathan listened to the news Will Narburton had brought, his face grew serious.
"I foresee trouble," he said. "John Susaman has warned the men of Boston for some time past that the Sachem of the Wampanoags was disaffected, and they paid no heed to his words; I fear it is now too late. We have been at peace with the Indians for many years; but if war were to break out now, it would be far worse than in the early days, because the red man has possessed himself of firearms in addition to his own weapons. It is a serious matter."
"It were well that the news should be carried to Boston without delay," said Josh. "If you be willing, father, I will ride in at once and take Will with me, he being an eye-witness to the deed."
"Certainly, I think it desirable," said Nathan; "but you must go well armed, for there is no saying what the Indians may be up to, now they are roused. They are as likely as not to waylay you, if they suspect you to be carrying news of their misdoing to Boston."
And so accompanied by Will Narburton, both mounted on good horses, Josh left his peaceful home, never doubting but that he should return thither within a few days and find it even as he had left it. He wore the New England Ranger's dress, namely, a deep ash-coloured hunting shirt, leggings and moccasins; he was armed with a rifle-barrelled gun, a small axe, and a long knife, which served for all purposes in the woods; a broad-brimmed hat completed this somewhat sombre attire, which nevertheless became him well, at least so his mother and Rena, his young sister, thought as they watched him ride away. Josh and his companion reached the city without hindrance, and on Will's testimony the three murderers were arrested within a week. They were tried before a mixed jury of Indians and English, and Tobias was hanged. Now the Sachem ofand King Philip, or Metacomet, as the men of his own tribe called him, Sachem of the Wampanoags, were allies, and they were therefore united in their anger against the settlers. So it came to pass on a certain day King Philip summoned to his camp at Mount Hope the chiefs, not only of his own tribe, but of all those with whom he was on friendly terms, to consult whether it was to be war or peace with the white man.
The Sachem sat in his chair of state (a common wooden chair with a straw bottom), surrounded by his counsellors and captains in full battle array, with their war paints and feathers, their tomahawks in their belts, their bows and arrows slung across their naked shoulders. Standing before the King was a woman. The skins of beasts of prey hung from her shoulders and were girded round her waist, strings of beads encircled her neck, her long black hair hung loosely to her waist, and on her head was a high crown made of the plumage of all manner of birds. Her attitude was majestic, as with outstretched arm, tears streaming from her eyes, she addressed the assembly.
"O brother of my murdered husband! I bring you three hundred warriors, to war against the white man, who slew my beloved, not on the battlefield as a warrior should depart, but by treachery. Long years have I waited to avenge him, but now surely the time has come. The white men are driving us from our hunting-fields; they destroy our forests, so that the wild beasts forsake their lairs, and soon we shall lack food for our children. Let us unite and drive them across the sea from whence they came! I am but a woman, made to carry burdens and to bear sons; but my husband has been slain, and the son I bore him died on my bosom. Shall I not avenge them? Is the time not come?"
Thus spake the squaw, Sachem Weetamoo, the widow of King Philip's brother Alexander, who, being accused of plotting against the English, had been taken as a prisoner to Plymouth, where he died, his people said of poison, but in truth of a fever brought on by anger and vexation at his position.
This had happened upwards of fifteen years ago, but the widowed squaw, Sachem, had never ceased wailing, and importuning Philip to avenge her husband, and now, hearing that he had been called to account for the murder of the missionary, she hastened down with three hundred warriors from the fort on the Pocasset shore, where she dwelt, and urged him, with all the passion of a woman's deadly hatred, to take up arms and drive the white man out of the land.
She had chosen her time well, for but a few days previously Philip had been summoned to Boston and compelled to promise that he would deliver up all English arms in the possession of his tribe, and both he and his chief men were angered, so that Weetamoo's arguments, and the presence of the armed warriors she had brought with her, fired them, and they shouted that she spoke with wisdom.
Philip assented, and straightway swift messengers were sent forth with the wampum belt from village to village, from tribe to tribe, and Weetamoo went to her wigwam triumphant. Before the people of New England had time to realise the fact, the flames of burning homesteads, the flight of terrified women and children, spread terror far and wide.
But even then the elders, the men of Boston and New Plymouth, made an effort to maintain peace, promising to all Indians who would lay down their arms, life and liberty. Further, they decided to send a deputation to Philip with offers of conciliation.
It was a dangerous mission, and there was some hesitation in asking any one to undertake it; but the matter was settled when Josh Blackstone came forward and proposed being the bearer thereof. He and his father were on friendly terms with the Indians, especially with Philip; Josh had often been a guest at Mount Hope for weeks together during the hunting season. He declared he had no fear; he would go alone to Philip. His assurance had the effect of encouraging others, and six young men offered to accompany him.
"That is too many; it looks distrustful," he said, and chose three, with whom he set forth at once, sending Will back to Study Hill, with a letter to his father, telling the errand upon which he was bound, and assuring him he anticipated no danger. Nathan was not quite so well satisfied, but he refrained from saying aught which might alarm his wife and Rena.
"The lad is doing his duty; it will be well whatever betides him," he said, and he went about his farm cheerfully, encouraging his neighbours, and taking all due precaution against the enemy.
The country over which Josh and his companions had to travel to Mount Hope was so well known to the former that he was able to lessen the distance by short cuts across country. For the most part it was thickly wooded, but sometimes they had to skirt vast tracts of swampy land overgrown with reeds, bulrushes, and long grass. Josh knew that such places were usually resorted to by Indians when they wished to waylay their enemies; he therefore kept a sharp look-out.
Within a few miles of the Mount they came upon a great lake. On one side was an almost impenetrable forest, and on the other an immense swamp.
Unfortunately it was evening, and as there was no path they dismounted and were leading their horses, when suddenly a wild unearthly yell rose on the still air, and a horde of Indians came scrambling up the banks of the lake; in a second they were upon the English.
"Run!" shouted Josh to his companions, "it's your only chance." He, slipping his horse's bridle, placed himself with his back to a tree and fired into the enemy, to keep them, if only for a few minutes, at bay. He knew from the first that resistance was hopeless. The savages literally swarmed upon them. He saw two of his three men fall, their skulls cloven; then an Indian, taller than his fellows, with bigger feathers on his head, felled him to the ground. He did not even then lose consciousness, expecting to feel the sharp scalp-knife do its cruel work, when, to his surprise, he was dragged by the hair of his head out of the fray, hoisted on to one of the horses, an Indian sprang up behind him uttering a loud whoop, and they were scouring through the forest out into the open plain. The natural instinct of self-preservation made Josh cling desperately to the horse's mane, as the animal, terrified by the Indian's savage yells, leaped through the thick undergrowth, waded across streams, then bounding over a high barrier, was drawn suddenly up, almost on to his haunches, and so stopped short. Josh would have been done to death, scalped then and there, but for his captor, to whom, according to the laws of war, he belonged solely. The natives leaped and yelled around them as the chief flung himself to the ground, spoke a few words to them which elicited shouts of delight, and strode away. Amidst loud jeering and yells, to say nothing of two or three heavy blows, Josh was overthrown, his limbs bound with strong reeds, and in this helpless condition he was dragged some distance and thrust into an empty hut. He lay for a time insensible from the ill-usage and blows he had received; but gradually he recovered consciousness, and the horror of his position rushed upon him. He knew that, as a prisoner, he would be subject to frightful tortures before he was even allowed to die—surely it was a refinement of cruelty to have spared his life!
As the cold dews of night crept on, strong man as he was, he shivered, and the smarting of his wounds, the soreness of his bruises, became almost intolerable. It was many hours also since he had tasted food. That did not trouble him; as a hunter he was accustomed to long fasts. But his thirst was growing more and more intense, his lips were parched, his tongue clave to the roof of his mouth. To add to his misery, as he lay on the damp ground, he could see the fires of his enemies, and hear their unearthly deafening yells, as they feasted and made merry. Once, nay, twice, he tried to break his bonds; but it was useless, they were too tightly woven. Probably from sheer exhaustion he dropped asleep. Surely he was dreaming, for he felt a hand laid upon him and heard a voice whisper, "Fear not, but drink;" then his head was raised, a gourd put to his lips; he drank eagerly a long draught of pure water, and sank back refreshed.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"I am Thusick, King Philip's daughter," answered the same voice. "I do not hate the white men; they are wise and brave, have taught us many things; therefore I have brought you water, knowing that the fever must be on you." Thusick's voice was gentle, and the hand she laid on his head was wondrous cool and soft, so that a wave of renewed hope and vigour came to Josh, and he said eagerly—
"It is good of you to bring me water, but it were kinder still to unloose my bonds and help me to escape."
It was night, so he could not see how pitiful the dark eyes grew.
"It were useless," she said, "the camp is too well guarded; you could not escape. My father has saved your life; he does not will that you should die, because you were his friend. If you have courage you may live. To-morrow at dawn your bonds will be cut, and you will be brought forth to run the gantlet. If you are swift of foot, and are not beaten down, but reach the King and touch his knees, they will spare you. Three separate times must you run that race, and afterwards you will be adopted by our people, in place of the Black Hawk, whom your men slew to-day; you will take a wife from amongst us, and it will be well with you."
Josh did not, even under present circumstances, see it in the same light as Thusick, but he was young, and the mere chance of life was welcome. He was in no mood to trouble about the future; the present hour was too fraught with anxiety. He knew from hearsay what was meant by the cruel ordeal of the gantlet, and how not one man in ten came forth from it alive, and overpowered as he was with a sense of physical weakness, his heart sank within him.
"This girl has brought me water; surely she could also bring me food to strengthen me," he thought, so he spoke out.
"I shall never run to-morrow, for I have had no food, and I shall faint."
"I have brought food," she answered, "also wherewith to dress your wounds and make you strong."
Cautiously she raised a corner of the matting which hung over the entrance of the hut, so that a glimmer of light from the now dying fires crept in. Then she fed him with meat, and afterwards she bathed his head, and stripping his shirt as best she could, washed his wounds. When all was finished, she put a nut into his mouth, saying—
"It is bitter to the taste, but it is sweet, for it will give you strength; let it lie all night in your mouth, and to-morrow you will run swiftly. Our warriors eat thereof when they go on the war trail, and they are strong. Now, farewell!"
Through the dimness he saw the tall, lithe figure glide out and disappear into the night. Then a sort of lethargy stole over him; his eyelids closed and he slept.
A prolonged whoop, and Josh awoke with a start. The sun was creeping into the hut, and he knew it was morning. If he had needed any reminder of what lay before him, it was there unmistakably, in the presence of half-a-dozen red men, who stood talking and gesticulating, whilst one of their number cut the thongs which bound him, and by a sign bade him rise. He obeyed, and instantly heavy hands were laid upon him, his clothes were torn off his back, and he stood stark naked in their midst.
A momentary feeling of the utter hopelessness of his position swept over him; as he looked at the savages, armed with tomahawks and scalping-knives, he felt that his chances of life were indeed small.
"Have good courage, be swift of foot, and it will be well with you;" Thusick, the King's daughter, had so spoken, and he believed her; moreover, he was conscious that the fatigue of the previous day had passed away. His limbs felt light and strong. He tossed back his head defiantly, and a flash of determination lighted up his blue eyes.
"I'll not give in without a good try," he thought, remembering those at home—"father, mother, Rena!"
A push from behind sent him out of the hut into the broad sunlight of a July morning. Amidst hundreds of dark skins he stood forth in his naked whiteness alone, a target for all eyes. Shrieks, yells, whoops, greeted his appearance from the vast crowd gathered to witness the torture of the white man.
He might well be excused if the horror of the situation caused his cheek to pale and a tremor to run through his whole body.
"Drink, drink quickly!" and a gourd was thrust into his hand. Instinctively, without hesitation, he put it to his lips and drained the contents, then threw it on the ground. The action was so rapid that it passed unperceived, but the effect of the liquor was almost magical. It was like an electric shock coursing through his veins. The mist which had obscured his vision was cleared away; he saw the road stretched out before him along which he was to run, savages on either side waving thongs and sticks wherewith to scourge him, and at the farther end, surrounded by his chiefs, King Philip, with feathered crests and beaded trappings. The rising of the King to his feet was the token that the ordeal was to begin.
Strange as it may seem, all sense of fear had left Josh; he was quite calm now. Setting his teeth tight, he gathered himself together, and with one foot forward, awaited the signal.
"Others have done it, so, please God, will I," he murmured. A clash! a wild shout rang out through the summer air, and he was driven forward. Over the ground he flew, with the steady pluck of a practised runner, his nerves wrought to their highest tension, heedless alike of the blows which hailed upon him, of the thongs which tore his flesh. Faster, ever faster, on he went, blood pouring down his body until the white skin was red and mauled. As he neared the goal the yells of rage grew louder, the onslaught fiercer, but he never wavered, though his breath came short and hard; verily, they were beating it out of him.
A blow struck him high up on the neck; he staggered, but the yells of delight which greeted this sign of failing strength so maddened him, that with a supreme effort he leaped forward, threw out his arms, and caught at something which stayed his course. A rushing sound as of the incoming tide surged round him, died out, and stillness as of death crept over him as he slipped unconscious to the ground.
That last spurt saved Josh Blackstone's life. His outstretched arms had clasped neither pillar nor post, but King Philip's knees! and straightway Thusick sprang forward and pleaded that the white man should be delivered to her, that she might heal him, and so he would once again afford them sport. Her words were greeted with shouts of approval, for he had done bravely. Usually victims failed to traverse half the appointed space before they succumbed, but he had fallen at the goal and was still living! So Thusick's prayer was granted, and he was delivered into her hands.
Hardly had the judgment been passed when a messenger arrived bringing news to Philip that the Boston men were sending troops against him, and that it were well for him to hasten and destroy the nearest villages and homesteads before they came up to give him battle. Philip needed no urging; in an incredibly short time the camp of Mount Hope was left to the old men, women, and children, and before the mid-day sun was high in the heavens the last plumed savage had disappeared. Strange stillness reigned where, but a short time before, shouts and yells had filled the air. On the outskirts of the camp, close to the wooden palisades, was a solitary wigwam; thither, by Thusick's orders, the unconscious Josh was carried, and laid on a bed of fresh rushes.
Indian women had much knowledge of medicinal herbs and plants, and Thusick was skilled even more than others. Quickly she washed his wounds in fresh water, covered his body with unguents and newly-plucked leaves, so that when he recovered consciousness and opened his eyes it was to a sense of comparative comfort. He tried to raise himself, but Thusick bade him lie still.
"Philip is gone," she said; "have no fear, the chiefs are with him."
"Gone to kill my people, and I am helpless! Let me go too," he said, and again he strove to rise; but the movement caused his wounds to break out bleeding afresh, and in utter despair he threw himself back on his couch of reeds, and broke out into bitter weeping, the outburst of mental agony long restrained, and great physical pain.
"Father! mother! Rena! they will be done to death!" he cried, "and I cannot strike a blow to save them."
"The days are long," said the Indian girl; "by night the great pain will have passed away, and, brave man, you can go. If you have courage and can walk till dawn, you will come to an Indian village, friends of your people; they will save you."
"Is it true? Shall I be able to do this?" he asked wearily, feeling so helpless.
"Yes, if you are strong," said the girl. "Now sleep, for sleep gives strength." She handed him a gourd, saying, "Drink!"
Suddenly a great passion took possession of Josh, a feeling of deadly hatred until now unknown to him. All the suffering, all the indignity he had undergone, seemed to madden him.
"Why do you try to save my life," he said, "when I hate your people, and if I live will slay them? I will never rest day or night till I have overcome your father and exterminated his warriors. I will not take life at your hands and give you death."
Thusick shook her head; her unreasoning mind could not follow him. She was but a savage, guided by instinct. She gave no name to her actions. Mercy and love were unknown in her vocabulary. Out of her own gentle nature she did the deeds of mercy.
"Drink," she repeated in answer to his angry words, and sullenly he obeyed. "Now sleep, Thusick will watch," and sitting down beside him with a bunch of gorgeous feathers in her hand, she waved them over him to keep the noxious flies and insects from settling on his wounds.
When again he awoke it was night, and Thusick was standing beside him.
"It is time you went forth," she said, holding out her hand to help him to rise. He was astonished to feel no pain, and that his limbs obeyed his will so that he was able to stand erect.
"Clothe yourself and come forth," said Thusick; "fear not, the old men and women are sleeping; they will not hear," and she went to the door of the wigwam.
By the light of an oil lamp Josh saw a portion of his own clothing lying in a heap within his reach. He noticed also that a gun and a hatchet were placed beside them, food and drink were on the ground. He did not know that throughout that long day, whilst he slept, the Indian woman had so tended him, that, not only the pain of his wounds had ceased, but they were fast healing. A few seconds later, he stood at the entrance of the wigwam by Thusick's side. She raised her hand, pointed to the west, and speaking in a low voice, said—
"The summer nights are short; before dawn you will reach the Mohawks' village."
Josh looked down at her, and even in that supreme moment, when his soul was still bitter within him, he remembered what he owed her, and speaking gently, said—
"Your men I will not spare, I will slay them; but for your sake, Thusick, I will protect every woman of your race, so help me God!"
"Quiet! Josiah Blackstone."
It is well," she answered; "now depart."
He obeyed, and Thusick watched him until he had disappeared down the side of the Mount; then she turned to her own wigwam, with a dull pain at her heart.
As Josh reached the bottom of the hill, he heard a horse neigh, and at the same moment a hand was laid upon his shoulder.
"Caught again," he thought, instinctively making a supreme effort to escape from his invisible foe, but the grip was of iron, and he knew at once who it was that held him down, when a voice said, speaking in English, but with a soft Indian intonation—
"Quiet! Josiah Blackstone, do you think, if I had not willed it, you would be alive now? Twice I have saved your life, and now a third time, because we have been friends and you have smoked the calumet in my wigwam; but from henceforth we are as strangers. I know you no more." As he spoke he loosed his hold, and Josh, turning, saw the gigantic form of the Sachem King Philip, with the crested plume on his head, looming forth, a huge shadow in the darkness.
"You have saved me from death, but you have subjected me to indignities worse than death," said Josh; "nevertheless I thank you, for surely you meant well."
"If I had not carried you off they would have killed you as they did your companions," said Philip, "and a prisoner's fate is torture and death; only to the few is it granted to run the gantlet and to live. I gave you a chance, you have won, and I let you go forth free. Would your people have done as much for me? Have you not driven us out of our own lands, where our fathers hunted? When the white men first trod our shores we bade them welcome, offering, in exchange for a few cartloads of cloths, trinkets, and guns, to share the land with them and dwell together in peace. We were foolish, not knowing that where the white man sets his foot he must be sole master. You clear our forests, you build houses, you make towns, and we are driven farther and farther into wilds, and our familiar hunting-grounds know us no more. We have suffered much, and so we have risen, and will burn your houses and your towns, and send you back from whence you came. I will show your people that the red man can fight for his own and conquer."
"Fight you may, but you will not conquer," said Josh. "I do not say you are wrong, Philip; if I were in your stead I should doubtless feel as you do. But the time is past for you to drive us out; we have made this land our own, rightly or wrongly, and we shall keep it. Be wise while it is yet time; do not light a torch which will set your forests on fire and destroy your people."
"It is too late; I am bound," answered the King. "Farewell, Josiah Blackstone. There is your horse, ride quickly south, and warn your people; avoid the great forest." And having so spoken, the huge form leaped up the Mount, bounding from hillock to hillock, and so disappeared.
"A child of nature, a man with a big heart, worthy to be a king. I am sorry to lose him for my friend!" sighed Josh. Then mounting his horse, he rode in the direction Philip had indicated. As Thusick had said, the summer nights were short, but the day had not yet dawned when Josh perceived flames and smoke rising in various directions. The settlements and homesteads were far apart, there were few roads, and communication was difficult. Checking his horse, Josh looked around, and was startled by the lurid redness of the sky, and by every other sign of a vast conflagration near at hand.
"I must be approaching Brookfield," he thought; "I have ridden farther west than I imagined."
Suddenly the flames shot up, shrieks of agony filled the air, and by the fierce light he saw a crowd of men, women, and children coming in the direction of the forest. He remembered Philip's words, and knew the danger lay there. Riding quickly forward he placed himself in front of them, shouting, "Back! back! for God's sake, keep out of the forest!"
At the same moment a gust of wind dispersed the smoke, and showed him a few hundred yards distant a house, which, owing to its isolated position, away from the burning town, was untouched by fire.
"Follow me," he cried, and dashed towards it.
His sudden appearance, his assurance of voice and manner, had the desired effect; the fugitives crowded round him, some even clinging to his stirrups. All vaguely in their terror wondered from whence he had sprung. "Surely he must have been sent to save them from the heathen." So he drew them on until they reached the house, entered the courtyard, and some one closed the gates, thus ensuring safety for a short time at least.
The day was just dawning, but it was hardly perceptible because of the fierce light from the burning town, which reddened land and sky with a deeper glow than the rising sun. Coming ever nearer and nearer they heard the yells of the savages, and the children clung in terror to their mothers, who, in their anguish, called upon the men to save them.
"Quick to the house and barricade doors and windows," said Josh.
"You are driving us into a trap; we shall be either murdered or burnt alive," cried a farmer.
"You will at least have a chance of defending yourselves," answered Josh; "in the forest you would have been slaughtered. I do not say we shall escape now, but at least we can fight and die like men."
"He's right," said James Carter, the owner of the house. "My father built the homestead; it is strong and well seasoned. Comrades, if we must die, we will sell our lives dearly. Quick, do as the young man bids you," and throwing open the doors, he hurried the women and children within.
Josh still sat on his horse looking round, considering rapidly the possibility of holding the place against such terrible odds. The physical and mental sufferings through which he had passed had told upon him in no ordinary degree: his face was drawn and perfectly colourless, his eyes were sunk deep in his head, and his lips cracked with a consuming fever; from a bright, happy-looking man, he had grown stern and forbidding. Truly the iron had entered into his soul.
"I must find some place for my horse; I cannot let him loose, we may need him. Do you know where I can put him with any degree of safety?" he asked a young man of about his own age who for the last few minutes had been watching him attentively.
"If you will dismount, I will stow him away," was the quiet answer.
Josh made an effort to throw himself off, but as he reached the ground he staggered and almost fell.
"Are you hurt?" asked Stephen Carter, eyeing him curiously.
"Only stiff," answered Josh with an effort, pulling himself together. "We must hurry up. Do you hear? The Indians are close at hand."
"This way then," said the young man, preceding him to an inner courtyard, where there was a shed. "He will be all right here."
"Are you acquainted with this house?" asked Josh.
"I ought to be; it is my father's," was the short answer. "I am Stephen Carter."
"That is well; then you have a right to command. Will you see that the doors and windows are closed? All the men who have arms must guard the entrances. Those who have none, with the women, must draw water from the wells and fill every bucket and utensil, for the Indians will try to burn us out; it is their way."
He had hardly finished speaking, when the frantic yells of the savages, the shots pouring in on all sides, told only too plainly that the siege had already begun.
"Young man, whoever you may be," said the farmer, who had at first protested, "you brought us into this trap, and you must get us out."
"I'll do the best I can for you," answered Josh, and he went off one way, Stephen Carter another, to organise the defence. They were indeed in a desperate strait; to enter the house and massacre every white man, woman, and child, was the determined object of the besiegers, and they left no device untried to accomplish this.
"The devils! I told you they'd fire us," said Josh to Stephen, as looking through a chink he saw the Indians piling wood and other combustible materials up against the walls of the house.
"Quick, make a chain and give them a shower-bath," he shouted.
He was obeyed with right good-will, and the flames were extinguished.
Then firebrands, fastened on long poles, were hoisted against the cornices and projections, in the hope of setting them on fire. Then arrows wound round with burning rags filled with sulphur were shot down on to the roof; whilst the savages swarmed on to the window-sills and balconies, trying to find some unguarded place; but they were thrust back, more often shot down, and falling on those below, created great confusion.
The first terror over, the besieged entered heart and soul into the spirit of the defence, and at every turn, by every device and cunning, baffled the Indians. Josh was indefatigable, Stephen following close on his heels, for his daring, unceasing energy excited the latter's admiration and fascinated him. He was seen to tear the firebrands from the poles and dash them amongst the enemy, then mounting on the roof he hurled the sulphured arrows back to whence they came; and his example being quickly followed by others, no wonder if the savages lost heart, so that when at last Josh and Stephen, with a dozen other men, dashed into their midst, an almost hand-to-hand fight ensued, and they gradually gave way and fled to the shelter of the forest, leaving many dead and wounded behind them on the ground. Then the besieged had a short respite, and were able to take counsel together. Men pressed forward to shake Josh by the hand, forgetting he was a stranger. His white set face now begrimed with smoke was ghastly to behold. Stephen brought him food. "You are doing the work of half-a-dozen men," he said; "your strength will fail you if you do not eat." Silently Josh acquiesced, thanking him.
A man came up to him.
"Have you heard that Colonel Willard of Boston has been despatched westward?" he asked.
"No; how should I?" said Josh. "If that is a fact, and our plight were made known to him, he might come to our rescue."
"It is a fact; he was sent to punish Philip for the murder of the deputation," said the man.
Josiah started. "All were not murdered," he said, "for I, Josiah Blackstone, am here amongst you. I was taken prisoner, carried to Mount Hope, and—" he paused—"with Philip's aid I escaped." He would not tell of the torture he had undergone; but continued, without noticing the astonishment his words occasioned, "If Colonel Willard is anywhere within reach we must get at him."
"Impossible, the Indians are all around; if we attempt to move they will start up again."
Josh made no answer. The subject was discussed generally, and unanimously decided to be impracticable; any man leaving the house would be seen and murdered. There was nothing to do but to wait, on the chance that a fugitive from Brookfield would carry the news to the colonel.
Night fell, and still the savages remained quiet. Stephen was on guard at the back of the house when Josh appeared leading his horse.
"Surely you are not going to do it?" he said.
"I am going to try," answered Josh grimly. "I guess about where I can catch Willard. It will be sharp work; but if I succeed by to-morrow at this time he may have given those red devils a lesson which they will not forget in a hurry. I am afraid they will wake up and worry you to-morrow; be on your guard, and do your uttermost to hold out till evening. Good-bye."
"Good-bye," said Stephen. "It is awfully plucky of you. I hope you will get through; it is our only chance. But you hardly look fit for such a ride."
"I am tougher than you think," said Josh; "most men would look worse than I do if they had gone through what I have done," and he held out his hand.
Stephen wrung it, saying, "I'll unbar the back gate for you, it opens on to the water-meadows; the ground is soft, so that the horse's hoofs will not be heard if you walk him, and I believe the savages are on the other side in the forest. It is less than half a mile to the river, and a mile farther up it is so shallow that you can easily ford it; on the other side you will be comparatively safe."
"Thanks," said Josiah. "The night's dark; that is in my favour," and he disappeared.
Throughout that night and the following morning the Indians remained quiet; but soon after noon they emerged from the forest, dragging and pushing forward a sort of cart of enormous dimensions mounted on rudely-constructed wheels. Bundles of hay, flax, and hemp, besides other combustible materials, were piled in it to a great height. They brought the thing within a short distance of the house, screening themselves behind it from the shots which the besieged fired down upon them. Then a party of Indians with long poles came running, shouting, and yelling triumphantly out of the forest; evidently they felt sure now of victory.
"Be on your guard."
Suddenly a cloud of smoke arose, tongues of fire leaped up, and the Indians, using long poles, began pushing the cumbersome vehicle nearer to the house. Then indeed the English knew they were lost. The men turned pale and looked aghast at the awful sight, and the women in their terror cried aloud to God to help them. Their doom was sealed; either they must perish in the flames, or rushing out, be murdered by the savages. Slowly but surely the horrible machine came on, long tongues of fire already licked the front of the house, and the small amount of water the besieged were able to throw upon that great mass of combustible substance was of no avail; besides, the heat would not allow of their opening the windows or ascending to the roof.
"Let us out, let us out!" shrieked the terror-stricken women.
"Nothing but the bursting of the clouds from heaven can save us," exclaimed Stephen in despair.
At that moment, above the cries of the women and children and the yells of the savages, there was heard a distant rumbling.
"What is it? what new horror is coming upon us?" cried several voices at once. Again it came rolling nearer and nearer, and some one said, "It is thunder!" Then an aged woman, raising her wrinkled hands, cried with a loud voice, "The Lord is with us; who shall be against us?"
But the rain, the blessed rain from heaven, would it fall and extinguish the flames, which kept rising higher and higher? The trees of the forest waved, bowing before the coming storm; the wind rose, and the house rocked under the fury of the elements; and the women, falling on their knees, prayed, "Good Lord, deliver us!" and the men, uncovering their heads, prayed also. They were powerless; God alone could save them!
If the rain held off only a little longer, it would be too late! Already a buttress had caught fire, and at the risk of their lives the two Carters, father and son, with the aid of several other men, hewed at it to separate it from the main building. Suddenly a flash of lightning, so lurid that the whole heavens were illumined, followed by a crash of thunder, rolling as it seemed in the nethermost parts of the earth and in the heavens above, struck English and Indians alike with terror. The latter, throwing themselves with their faces on the earth, lay as if stunned. And then the clouds burst, a sheet of water poured down, a perfect deluge! In the space of a few minutes the land was submerged, the fire was extinguished, and the burning mass reduced to smoking embers.
The besieged knew that for the present they were saved, and the Indians knew they were conquered by the "Great Unseen," and so, rising half drowned, they fled to the forest. As suddenly as the storm had risen so suddenly did it abate.
Then another sound reached the ears of the besieged, the tramping of horses' hoofs coming at full speed through the deserted village, and a troop of some fifty or sixty horsemen pursued the Indians, shooting and hewing them down. Many were slain, and those who escaped dispersed. Before sunset all fear was over for that brave little garrison, the house-doors were thrown open, and they came forth to welcome their rescuers.
"Josiah Blackstone? where is Blackstone? We owe our lives to him," said James Carter.
"Ay, verily we do!" shouted a chorus of voices.
"You say truly," responded Colonel Willard. "When he arrived at my camp this morning both he and his horse were dead beat; he could not have ridden back with me. There comes a time when even the strongest man has to give in, and Josh Blackstone had reached that stage. Do you know where he came from?
"From Mount Hope; he was made prisoner by Philip, and escaped," said Stephen Carter.
"After running the, and coming out of it alive, which not one man in fifty succeeds in doing," said the colonel; "and it seems to me he has been on the go ever since. No marvel if he dropped from his horse in a dead faint after he had delivered your message. He's a Spartan! A cheer for brave Josh Blackstone!"
And the cheer went up right gladly, whilst the women brushed the tears from their eyes, and the men muttered in their beards, "He's a brave lad! a right brave lad!"
All through that winter and the following spring and summer the war raged; a reign of terror spread over the land.
When Josiah Blackstone reached his home he found the house burnt to the ground, the trees in the orchard felled, only the trodden-down grave of his grandsire left to mark where his inheritance had been.
Father, mother, Rena, were no more! He stood desolate and alone. His father, he was told, had defended himself bravely; more than one Indian had fallen by his hand; but at last overpowered by numbers, he had been slain. Of his mother and Rena's fate he failed to learn anything; they had disappeared. One thing he discovered, namely, that it was not the Wampanoags, Philip's tribe of Indians, who had wrought this destruction, but the squaw Sachem Weetamoo's, and Josh there and then made up his mind that he would follow her up and discover the fate of his mother and sister. The Plymouth Colony had put the conduct of all military affairs into the hands of Colonel Church, a friend of the Blackstones, and straightway Josh offered him his services, which were readily accepted, and he was enrolled in the corps, and rapidly rose to the rank of captain. The knowledge of Indian warfare he had gained from his friend was only equalled by Colonel Church himself, and these two men, working together, became an absolute terror to the Indians, for they not only fought them with their own weapons of cunning and ruse, but with the superior arms of the trained soldier.
Gradually but surely the red men felt the weight of the white man's arm; they lost many of their best chiefs and warriors; they could no longer undertake large expeditions, but were reduced to a sort of predatory warfare. Twice in the course of a few weeks Philip was nearly captured; he fled, escaping in disguise, no one knew whither. But even then he would not yield. One of his chiefs venturing to propose that peace should be asked for, Philip ordered him at once to be put to death.
The sorely-tried population of New England would gladly have made peace. The strain of never-ceasing anxiety had whitened the heads of men still in their prime, and young men had even grown to look old. They could bear to die and suffer themselves, if need be; but their hearts ached for the women and children, above all for those who were missing and whose fates were dark mysteries.
"It will never end until that she-devil Weetamoo and her tool Philip are taken or killed, Josh," said Colonel Church, as they paced together in front of their tent, they having during the last few days pitched their camp near Tiverton in the North.
"If you can devise any plan by which this can be accomplished, I am ready," said Josh. "As far as it has been consistent with my duty, I have avoided Philip. I have told you how he saved my life. But for this squaw Sachem I have no such feeling, and I believe she is at the bottom of all this mischief."
Even as he spoke, an Indian came out from amongst a clump of trees and stood before them.
Always on his guard against treachery, Josh raised his musket.
"Stand!" he shouted.
"No fear; I have come to speak with you and tell you what you desire to know," said the Indian, halting at a safe distance.
"Who are you?" asked the colonel.
"I am the brother of the chief whom Philip slew because he spake of peace. I have lost two sons in the war; I have but one left, and he is a babe. I also would dwell at peace, so have I come to you that you may slay the squaw Sachem Weetamoo. She has but a few men left of her three hundred warriors, and when she is conquered I will lead you to Philip's hiding-place."
"How are we to know that you are true, and will not rather lead us unto our death?" said Colonel Church.
"My squaw and my babe are here with me," and he pointed to the clump of trees; "take them and slay them if I lie."
"Let it be so," said Church, with a glance at Josh; "fetch them."
The Indian disappeared.
"He's true; I know the man," said Josh.
Leading a fine boy of five, and followed by a squaw, the savage reappeared.
"It is well," said Church; "let them remain yonder. Now, what have you to tell us? We will reward you, and your wife and child shall be cared for; therefore speak without fear."
The Sachem Weetamoo is camped on the banks of the Matipoisett; her warriors are dead; she has but a score of men left. I will lead you to her this night."
"Let me go with him, colonel," said Josh eagerly. "This woman laid my home waste, slew my father, and has, may-be, kept my mother and sister in captivity; it is but right that I should capture her. Above all things, I would not run the risk of her being killed, I must question her."
"I am quite willing you should go; I am expecting reinforcements, and cannot move forward myself. Take twenty men, and let the Indian guide you," said the colonel.
In the briefest possible space of time, Josh was on his way with a small but well-armed force, for they reasoned the Indian might be numerically mistaken, and Weetamoo be stronger than he represented. The Indian led them along roads known only to native hunters, creeping through the forest stealthily as the tiger ready to pounce upon his prey; then they worked their way up towards the far-away river, where Weetamoo had taken refuge. The day was dawning when they came in sight of her camp, the outlines of the tents just visible through the river mist resting in white clouds over the marshy land. Quickly, noiselessly, with practised skill, Josh disposed his men along the river front and round the camp, in such a manner as to render escape almost impossible. The orders were, not to kill the savages, but to make them prisoners. This order applied more especially to the squaw Sachem; she of all others was to be taken alive. Then headed by Josh, a rush was made into the midst of the camp.
Aroused from their slumbers, wholly unprepared and unarmed, this last remnant of the three hundred warriors made but a faint resistance, and finding they could save their lives by yielding, they did so. At the first alarm a woman crept out of her tent through the long rushes. Quickly as a serpent she glided down towards the river. "Cowards!" she had hissed when she saw her people yield, and yet in her heart she knew they could not well do otherwise. Favoured by the mist, she had evaded the guard, reached the water's edge, when suddenly she lifted her head and looked back. Josh, feeling sure she would make for the river, was close at hand, and saw the passionate face and angry eyes flash out upon him. He sprang forward; but before he could reach her, with a shout of triumph she leaped into the water and was swimming rapidly down with the current. To throw himself in after her was the work of a second. He saw her disappear, thought she was lost, when lo! she rose again far ahead of him. She had but dived, swimming under the water to scare him. Throwing out all his strength, he was gaining upon her, when to his horror he became aware they were approaching some rapids, where the river fell from a great height into a lake. The noise was terrific. He slackened speed, shouted to her, but either she did not or would not hear. She must have known full well the fate which awaited her; but on she went, swept forward by the strong current, down over the brink into the dark lake below, and the rushing of the waters was the dirge of Weetamoo. It was with much difficulty that Josh succeeded in reaching the bank and walking back to the camp. His men were for giving him up as lost, especially when the Indians told them how and where that river ended; his reappearance was therefore greeted with enthusiastic cheers, though the general disappointment at the escape of the squaw Sachem was great.
It had been agreed between Josh and Colonel Church that the latter should advance as soon as he had received the expected reinforcements, and that together they should go on to where the Indian stated Philip had taken refuge, namely, on a bit of upland at the south end of the swamp at the foot of Mount Hope. The day following the capture of Weetamoo's camp Church arrived, but without the promised reinforcements; they had been delayed.
"I decided to come on all the same," said the colonel; "for if we are to take him at all, it must be done quickly, or he will get wind of our movements and escape us."
"You are right," replied Josh; "we must just do the best we can."The following day they moved forward, and by night
"With a shout of triumph she leaped into the water."
"I am glad I did not do it," said Josh, as he stood with Colonel Church looking down on the dead body of the King.
"And yet," said Church, "through him your house has been made desolate."
"That is our view of the war," answered Josh; "in his eyes we are the intruders. He but fought for what he considered to be his own, and where he could be generous he was. He did not slay my father; it was Weetamoo. I have no personal grudge against Philip; he was my friend. To such a nature as his our yoke was insupportable. It is well his spirit is set free; he could not have brooked captivity." And with a last look at the dead warrior Josh turned away.
So ended this great struggle, known as "King Philip's War." The white man had conquered; the Indian power throughout southern New England was broken; whole tribes and families of Indians had been destroyed; the remnants fled farther west into the unexplored wilds, whither the white man's foot had not yet strayed. The settlers gazed sadly around upon the ruins of their towns and homesteads; but they were brave men and women, and looked the future steadily in the face. They had fought and bled for this New England, even as they would have done for the "old countrie," and they loved it all the better for the sacrifices they had made.
So Josiah Blackstone stood beside old William Blackstone's grave and thought. He was alone. "Should he build a new house, where the old one had stood? Should he replant the orchard with trees, in the hope of seeing them blossom and bear fruit?" It seemed dreary work; but a voice whispered that such as he, with youth and health and strength, were the marrow of the land, to build up and make strong with Christian faith what the heathen had overthrown; and taking up a pickaxe he struck it into the ground, saying in his heart: "So help me, God! I will rebuild my father's house; it is my duty." He set to work and laboured diligently, and a fair new house arose, and young saplings were planted where the old trees had been hewn down; and still men said, "Josiah Blackstone is a sad man!" and truly by day and by night he mourned. "If only my mother, and Rena, my little sister, had been spared to me!" but he could hear nothing of them, and they were to him as dead.Friends counselled him to take a wife, and he pondered thereon; but no maiden pleased him, and he waited. The weeks and months passed by, the harvest was gathered in, and it was very plenteous; and when the labourers had gone to their homes, Josh sat smoking in the porch of the new house, because it seemed less lonesome than in the empty rooms; and as he sat the sound of wheels fell on his ear, but he paid no heed thereto, until they stopped at his gate. Then looking up, he saw a covered cart. Out of it sprang a girl, tall and slim; then another. And last of all an older woman laid her hands on those young shoulders; but Josh, pushing them on one side, took her in his arms, crying, "Mother! my mother!" and he carried her over the new threshold to the
"He fell forward dead in the black swamp."
"It shall," answered Josh, "she is welcome. Philip was my friend, and she is a king's daughter."
And Thusick dwelt with them and was as one of them. When the orchard was white with apple-blossom, Love passed that way, and under the eaves of the new homestead was whispered an old, old story!