To Have and to Hold
IN WHICH MY FRIEND BECOMES MY FOE.
IN the centre of the wigwam the customary fire burned clear and bright, showing the white mats, the dressed skins, the implements of war hanging upon the bark walls, — all the usual furniture of an Indian dwelling, —and showing also Nantauquas standing against the stripped trunk of a pine that pierced the wigwam from floor to roof. The fire was between us. He stood so rigid, at his full height, with folded arms and head held high, and his features were so blank and still, so forced and frozen, as it were, into composure, that, with the red light beating upon him and the thin smoke curling above his head, he had the look of a warrior tied to the stake.
“ Nantauquas ! ” I exclaimed, and striding past the fire would have touched him, but that with a slight and authoritative motion of the hand he kept me back. Otherwise there was no change in his position or in the dead calm of his face.
The Indian maid had dropped the mat at the entrance, and if she waited, waited without in the darkness. Diccon, now staring at the young chief, now eyeing the weapons upon the wall with all a lover’s passion, kept near the doorway. Through the thickness of the bark and woven twigs the wild cries and singing came to us somewhat faintly; beneath that distant noise could be heard the wind in the trees and the soft fall of the burning pine.
“ Well,” I asked at last, “ what is the matter, my friend ? ”
For a full minute he made no answer, and when he did speak his voice matched his face.
“ My friend ! ” he said. “ I am going to show myself a friend indeed to the English, to the strangers who were not content with their own hunting grounds beyond the great salt water. When I have done this, I do not know that Captain Percy will call me ‘friend ’ again.”
“ You were wont to speak plainly, Nantauquas,” I answered him. “ I am not fond of riddles.”
Again he waited, as though he found speech difficult. I stared at him in amazement, he was so changed in so short a time.
He spoke at last : “ When the dance is over, and the fires are low, and the sunrise is at hand, then will Opechancanough come to you to bid you farewell. He will give you the pearls that he wears about his neck for a present to the Governor, and a bracelet for yourself. Also he will give you three men for a guard through the forest. He has messages of love to send the white men, and he would send them by you who were his enemy and his captive. So all the white men shall believe in his love.”
“ Well,” I said dryly, as he paused. “ I will take his messages. What next ? ”
“ Those are the words of Opechancanough. Now listen to the words of Nantauquas, the son of Wahunsonacock, a war chief of the Powhatans. There are two sharp knives there, hanging beneath the bow and the quiver and the shield. Take them and hide them.”
The words were scarcely out of his mouth before Diccon had the two keen English blades. I took the one he offered me, and hid it in my doublet.
“ So we go armed, Nantauquas,” I said. “ Love and peace and good will consort not with such toys.”
“ You may want them,” he went on, with no change in his low, measured tones. “ If you see aught in the forest that you should not see, if they think you know more than you are meant to know, then those three, who have knives and tomahawks, are to kill you, whom they believe unarmed.”
“ See aught that we should not see, know more than we are meant to know ? ”
I said. “ To the point, friend.”
“ They will go slowly, too, through the forest to Jamestown, stopping to eat and to sleep. For them there is no need to run like the stag with the hunter behind him.”
“ Then we should make for Jamestown as for life,” I said ; “not sleeping, or eating, or making pause ?”
“ Yea,” he replied, “ if you would not die, you and all your people.”
In the silence of the hut the fire crackled, and the branches of the trees outside, bent by the wind, made a grating sound against the bark roof.
“ How die ? ” I asked at last. " Speak out! ”
“ Die by the arrow and the tomahawk,” he answered, — “ yea, and by the guns you have given the red men. To-morrow’s sun, and the next, and the next, — three suns, — and the tribes will fall upon the English. At the same hour, when the men are in the fields and the women and children are in the houses, they will strike, — Kecoughtans, Paspaheghs, Chickahominies, Pamunkeys, Arrowhatocks, Chesapeakes, Nansemonds, Accomacs, — as one man will they strike; and from where the Powhatan falls over the rocks to the salt water beyond Accomac, there will not be one white man left alive.”
He ceased to speak, and for a minute the fire made the only sound in the hut. Then, “ All die ? ” I asked dully. “ There are three thousand Englishmen in Virginia.”
“ They are scattered and unwarned. The fighting men of the villages of the Powhatan and the Pamunkey and the great bay are many, and they have sharpened their hatchets and filled their quivers with arrows.”
“ Scattered,” I said, “ strewn broadcast up and down the river, — here a lonely house, there a cluster of two or three ; they at Jamestown and Henricus off guard, — the men in the fields or at the wharves, the women and the children busy within doors, all unwarned— O my God ! ”
Diccon strode over from the doorway to the fire. “ We ’d best be going, I reckon, sir,” he said. “Or you wait until morning; then there ’ll be two chances. Now that I’ve a knife, I’m thinking I can give account of one of them damned sentries, at least. Once clear of them ” —
I shook my head, and the Indian too made a gesture of dissent. “ You would only be the first to die,” he said.
I leaned against the side of the hut, for my heart beat like a frightened woman’s. “ Three days,” I said. “ If we go with all our speed, we shall be in time. When did you learn this thing ? ”
“ While you watched the dance,” he answered, “ Opechancanough and I sat within his lodge in the darkness. His heart was moved, and he talked to me of his own youth in a strange country, south of the sunset, where he and his people dwelt in stone houses and worshiped a great and fierce god, giving him blood to drink and flesh to eat. To that country, too, white men had come in ships. Then he spoke to me of Powhatan, my father, — of how wise he was, and how great a chief before the English came, and how the English made him kneel in sign that he held his lands from their King, and how he hated them ; and then he told me that the tribes had called me ‘ woman,’ ‘ lover no longer of the warpath and the scalp dance,’ but that he, who had no son, loved me as his son, knowing my heart to be Indian still ; and then I heard what I have told you.” “ How long had this been planned ? ”
“ For many moons. I have been a child, fooled with toys and women’s tales.”
“ What need to send us back to the settlements ? Already they believe in him there as in God.”
“ It is his fancy. Every hunter and trader and learner of our tongues, living in the villages or straying in the woods, has been sent back to Jamestown or to his hundred with presents and with words that are sweeter than honey. Opechancanough has told the three who go with you the hour in which you are to reach Jamestown ; he would have you as singing birds, telling lying tales to the Governor, with scarce the smoking of a pipe between those words of peace and the war whoop. But if those who go with you see reason to misdoubt you, they will kill you in the forest.”
His voice fell, and he stood in silence, straight as an arrow, against the post, the firelight playing over his dark limbs and sternly quiet face. Outside, the night wind, rising, began to howl through the naked branches, and a louder burst of yells came to us from the roisterers in the distance. The mat before the doorway shook, and a slim brown hand, slipped between the wood and the woven grass, beckoned to us.
“ Why did you come ? ” demanded the Indian. “ Long ago, when there were none but dark men from the mother of waters to the hunting grounds beneath the sunset, we were happy. Why did you leave your own land, in the strange black ships with sails like the piled-up clouds of summer? Was it not a good land? Were not your forests broad and green, your fields fruitful, your rivers deep and filled with fish ? And the strange towns I have heard of, — were they not fair ? You are brave men : had you no enemies there, and no warpaths? It was your home : a man should love the good earth over which he hunts, upon which stands his village. This is the red man’s land. He wishes his hunting grounds, his maize fields, and his rivers for himself, his women and children. He has no ships in which to go to another country. When you first came, we thought you were gods ; but you have not done like the great white God who, you say, loves you so. You are wiser and stronger than we, but your strength and wisdom help us not : they press us down from men to children ; they are weights upon the head and shoulders of a babe to keep him under stature. Ill gifts have you brought us, evil have you wrought us ” —
“Not to you, Nantauquas!” I cried, stung into speech.
He turned his eyes upon me. “ Nantauquas is the war chief of his tribe. Opechancanough is his king, and he lies upon his bed in his lodge and says within himself : ‘ My war chief, the Panther, the son of Wahunsonacock, who was chief of all the Powhatans, sits now within his wigwam, sharpening flints for his arrows, making his tomahawk bright and keen, thinking of a day three suns hence, when the tribes will shake off forever the hand upon their shoulder, — the hand so heavy and white that strives always to bend them to the earth and keep them there.’ Tell me, you Englishman who have led in war, another name for Nantauquas, and ask no more what evil you have done him.”
“ I will not call you ‘traitor,’ Nantauquas,” I said, after a pause. “ There is a difference. You are not the first child of Powhatan who has loved and shielded the white men.”
“ She was a woman, a child,” he answered. “ Out of pity she saved your lives, not knowing that it was to the hurt of her people. Then you were few and weak, and could not take your revenge. Now, if you die not, you will drink deep of vengeance, — so deep that your lips may never leave the cup. More ships will come, and more ; you will grow ever stronger. There may come a moon when the deep forests and the shining rivers know us, to whom Kiwassa gave them, no more.” He paused, with unmoved face, and eyes that seemed to pierce the wall and look out into unfathomable distances. “ Go ! ” he said at last. “ If you die not in the woods, if you see again the man whom I called my brother and teacher, tell him . . . tell him nothing ! Go ! ”
“ Come with us,” urged Diccon gruffly. “ We English will make a place for you among us ” — and got no further, for I turned upon him with a stern command for silence.
“ I ask of you no such thing, Nantauquas,” I said. “ Come against us, if you will. Nobly warned, fair upon our guard, we will meet you as knightly foe should be met.”
He stood for a minute, the quick change that had come into his face at Diccon’s blundering words gone, and his features sternly impassive again; then, very slowly, he raised his arm from his side and held out his hand. His eyes met mine in sombre inquiry, half eager, half proudly doubtful.
I went to him at once, and took his hand in mine. No word was spoken. Presently he withdrew his hand from my clasp, and, putting his finger to his lips, whistled low to the girl outside. She drew aside the hanging mats, and we passed out, Diccon and I, leaving him standing as we had found him, upright against the post, in the red firelight.
Should we ever go through the woods, pass through that gathering storm, reach Jamestown, warn them there of the death that was rushing upon them ? Should we ever leave that hated village ? Would the morning ever come ? When we reached our hut, unseen, and sat down just within the doorway to watch for the dawn, it seemed as though the stars would never pale. Ever the leaping Indians between us and the fire fed the tall flame ; if one figure fell in the wild dancing, another took its place ; the yelling never ceased, nor the beating of the drums.
It was an alarum that was sounding, and there were only two to hear ; miles away beneath the mute stars English men and women lay asleep, with the hour thundering at their gates, and there was none to cry, “ Awake! ” When would the dawn come, when should we be gone ? I could have cried out in that agony of waiting, with the leagues on leagues to be traveled, and the time so short! If we never reached those sleepers — I saw the dark warriors gathering, tribe on tribe, war party on war party, thick-crowding shadows of death, slipping through the silent forest . . . and the clearings we had made and the houses we had built . . . the goodly Englishmen, Kent and Thorpe and Yeardley, Maddison, Wynne, Hamor, the men who had striven to win and hold this land, so fatal and so fair, West and Rolfe and Jeremy Sparrow . . . the children about the doorsteps, the women . . . one woman . . .
It came to an end, as all things earthly will. The flames of the great bonfire sank lower and lower, and as they sank the gray light faltered into being, grew and strengthened. At last the dancers were still, the women scattered, the priests with their hideous Okee gone. The wailing of the pipes died away, the drums ceased to beat, and the village lay in the keen wind and the pale light, inert and quiet with the stillness of exhaustion.
The pause and hush did not last. When the ruffled pools amid the marshes were rosy beneath the sunrise, the women brought us food, and the warriors and old men gathered about us. They sat upon mats or billets of wood, and I offered them bread and meat, and told them they must come to Jamestown to taste of the white man’s cookery.
Scarcely was the meal over when Opechancanough issued from his lodge, with his picked men behind him, and, coming slowly up to us, took his seat upon the white mat that was spread for him. For a few minutes he sat in a silence that neither we nor his people cared to break. Only the wind sang in the brown branches, and from some forest brake came a stag’s hoarse cry. As he sat in the sunshine he glistened all over, like an Ethiop besprent with silver; for his dark limbs and mighty chest had been oiled, and then powdered with antimony. Through his scalp lock was stuck an eagle’s feather; across his face, from temple to chin, was a bar of red paint ; the eyes above were very bright and watchful, but we upon whom that scrutiny was bent were as little wont as he to let our faces tell our minds.
One of his young men brought a great pipe, carved and painted, stem and bowl ; an old man filled it with tobacco, and a warrior lit it and bore it to the Emperor. He put it to his lips and smoked in silence, while the sun climbed higher and higher, and the golden minutes that were more precious than heart’s blood went by, at once too slow, too swift.
At last, his part in the solemn mockery played, he held out the pipe to me. “ The sky will fall, and the rivers run dry, and the birds cease to sing,” he said,
“ before the smoke of the calumet fades from the land.”
I took the symbol of peace, and smoked it as silently and soberly — ay, and as slowly — as he had done before me ; then laid it leisurely aside and held out my hand. “ My eyes have been holden,” I told him, “ but now I see plainly the deep graves of the hatchets and the drifting of the peace smoke through the forest. Let Opechancanough come to Jamestown to smoke of the Englishman’s uppowoc, and to receive rich presents, — a red robe like his brother Powhatan’s, and a cup from which he shall drink, he and all his people.”
He laid his dark fingers in mine for an instant, withdrew them, and, rising to his feet, motioned to three Indians who stood out from the throng of warriors. “ These are Captain Percy’s guides and friends,” he announced. “ The sun is high ; it is time that he was gone. Here are presents for him and for my brother the Governor.” As he spoke, he took from his neck the rope of pearls and from his arm a copper bracelet, and laid both upon my palm.
I thrust the pearls within my doublet, and slipped the bracelet upon my wrist. “Thanks, Opechancanough,” I said briefly. “ When we meet again, I shall not greet you with empty thanks.”
By this all the folk of the village had gathered around us ; and now the drums beat again, and the maidens raised a wild and plaintive song of farewell. At a sign from the werowance men and women formed a rude procession, and followed us, who were to go upon a journey, to the edge of the village where the marsh began. Only the dark Emperor and the old men stayed behind, sitting and standing in the sunshine, with the peace pipe lying on the grass at their feet, and the wind moving the branches overhead. I looked back and saw them thus, and wondered idly how many minutes they would wait before putting on the black paint. Of Nantauquas we had seen nothing. Either he had gone to the forest, or upon some pretense he kept within his lodge.
We bade farewell to the noisy throng who had brought us upon our way, and went down to the river, where we found a canoe and rowers, crossed the stream, and, bidding the rowers good-by, entered the forest. It was Wednesday morning, and the sun was two hours high. Three suns, Nantauquas had said : on Friday, then, the blow would fall. Three days! Once at Jamestown, it would take three days to warn each lonely scattered settlement, to put the colony into any posture of defense. What of the leagues of danger-haunted forest to be traversed before even a single soul of the three thousand could be warned ? As for the three Indians, — who had their orders to go slowly, who at any suspicious haste or question or anxiety on our part were to kill us whom they deemed unarmed, — when they left their village that morning, they left it forever. There were times when Diccon and I had no need of speech, but knew each other’s mind without ; so now, though no word had been spoken, we were agreed to set upon and slay our guides on the first occasion that offered.
IN WHICH THE RACE IS NOT TO THE SWIFT.
The three Indians of whom we must rid ourselves were approved warriors, fierce as wolves, cunning as foxes, keeneyed as hawks. They had no reason to doubt us, to dream that we would turn upon them, but from habit they watched us, with tomahawk and knife resting loosely in their belts.
As for us, we walked lightly, smiled freely, and spoke frankly. The sunshine streaming down in the spaces where the trees fell away was not brighter than our mood. Had we not smoked the peace pipe? Were we not on our way home ? Diccon, walking behind me, fell into a low-voiced conversation with the savage who strode beside him. It related to the barter for a dozen otterskins of a gun which he had at Jamestown. The savage was to bring the skins to Paspahegh at his earliest convenience, and Diccon would meet him there and give him the gun, provided the pelts were to his liking. As they talked, each in his mind’s eye saw the other dead before him. The one meant to possess a gun, indeed, but he thought to take it himself from the munition house at Jamestown ; the other knew that the otter which died not until this Indian’s arrow quivered in its side would live until doomsday. Yet they discussed the matter gravely, hedging themselves about with provisos, and, the bargain clinched, walked on side by side in the silence of a perfect and all-comprehending amity.
The sun rode higher and higher, gilding the misty green of the budding trees, quickening the red maple bloom into fierce scarlet, throwing lances of light down through the pine branches to splinter against the dark earth far below. For an hour it shone ; then clouds gathered and shut it from sight. The forest darkened, and the wind arose with a shriek. The young trees cowered before the blast, the strong and vigorous beat their branches together with a groaning sound, the old and worn fell crashing to the earth. Presently the rain rushed down, slant lines of silver tearing through the wood with the sound of the feet of an army ; hail followed, a torrent of ice beating and bruising all tender green things to the earth. The wind took the multitudinous sounds, — the cries of frightened birds, the creaking trees, the snap of breaking boughs, the crash of falling giants, the rush of the rain, the drumming of the hail, — enwound them with itself, and made the forest like a great shell held close to the ear.
There was no house to flee to ; so long as we could face the hail we staggered on, heads down, buffeting the wind ; but at last, the fury of the storm increasing, we were fain to throw ourselves upon the earth, in a little brake, where an overhanging bank somewhat broke the wind. A mighty oak, swaying and groaning above us, might fall and crush us like eggshells ; but an we went on the like fate might meet us in the way. Broken and withered limbs, driven by the wind, went past us like crooked shadows ; it grew darker and darker, and the air was deadly cold.
The three Indians pressed their faces against the ground ; they dreamed not of harm from us, but Okee was in the merciless hail and the first thunder of the year, now pealing through the wood. Suddenly Diccon raised himself upon his elbow, and looked across at me. Our eyes had no sooner met than his hand was at his bosom. The savage nearest him, feeling the movement, as it were, lifted his head from the earth, of which it was so soon to become a part ; but if he saw the knife, he saw it too late. The blade, driven down with all the strength of a desperate man, struck home ; when it was drawn from its sheath of flesh, there remained to us but a foe apiece.
In the instant of its descent I had thrown myself upon the Indian nearest me. It was not a time for overniceness. If I could have done so, I would have struck him in the back while he thought no harm ; as it was, some subtle instinct warning him, he whirled himself over in time to strike up my hand and to clinch with me. He was very strong, and his naked body, wet with rain, slipped like a snake from my hold. Over and over we rolled on the rain-soaked moss and rotted leaves and cold black earth, the hail blinding us, and the wind shrieking like a thousand watching demons. He strove to reach the knife within his belt ; I, to prevent him, and to strike deep with the knife I yet held.
At last I did so. Blood gushed over my hand and wrist, the clutch upon my arm relaxed, the head fell back. The dying eyes glared into mine ; then the lids shut forever upon that unquenchable hatred. I staggered to my feet, and turned, to find that Diccon had given account of the third Indian.
We stood up in the hail and the wind, and looked at the dead men at our feet. Then, without speaking, we went our way through the tossing forest, with the hailstones coming thick against us, and the wind a strong hand to push us back. When we came to a little trickling spring, we knelt and washed our hands.
The hail ceased, but the rain fell and the wind blew throughout the morning. We made what speed we could over the boggy earth, against the storm, but we knew that we were measuring miles where we should have measured leagues. There was no breath to waste in words, and thought was a burden quite intolerable ; it was enough to stumble on through the partial light, with a mind as gray and blank as the rain-blurred distance.
At noon the clouds broke, and an hour later the sunshine was streaming down from a cloudless heaven, beneath which the forest lay clear before us, naught stirring save shy sylvan creatures to whom it mattered not if red man or white held the land.
Side by side Diccon and I hurried on, not speaking, keeping eye and ear open, proposing with all our will to reach the goal we had set, and to reach it in time, let what might oppose. It was but another forced march ; many had we made in our time, through dangers manifold, and had lived to tell the tale.
There was no leisure in which to play the Indian and cover up our footprints as we made them, but when we came to a brook we stepped into the cold, swiftflowing water, and kept it company for a while. The brook flowed between willows, thickly set, already green, and overarching a yard or more of water. Presently it bent sharply, and we turned with it. Ten yards in front of us the growth of willows ceased abruptly, the low, steep banks shelved downwards to a grassy level, and the stream widened into a clear and placid pool, as blue as the sky above. Couched upon the grass or standing in the shallow water were some fifteen or twenty deer. We had come upon them without noise ; the wind blew from them to us, and the willows hid us from their sight. There was no alarm, and we stood a moment watching them before we should throw a stone or branch into their midst and scare them from our path.
Suddenly, as we looked, the leader threw up his head, made a spring, and was off like a dart across the stream and into the depths of the forest beyond. The herd followed. A moment, and there were only the trodden grass and the troubled waters ; no other sign that aught living had passed that way.
“ Now what was that for ? ” muttered Diccon. “ I ’m thinking we had best not take to the open just yet.”
For answer I parted the willows, and forced myself into the covert ; pressing as closely as possible against the bank, and motioning him to do the same. He obeyed, and the thick - clustering goldgreen twigs swung into place again, shutting us in with the black water and the leafy, crumbling bank. From that green dimness we could look out upon the pool and the grass with small fear that we ourselves would be seen.
Out of the shadow of the trees into the grassy space stepped an Indian ; a second followed, a third, a fourth, — one by one they came from the gloom into the sunlight, until we had counted a score or more. They made no pause, a glance telling them to what were due the trampled grass and the muddied water. As they crossed the stream one stooped and drank from his hand, but they said no word and made no noise. All were painted black ; a few had striped face and chest with yellow. Their headdresses were tall and wonderful, their leggings and moccasins fringed with scalp locks ; their hatchets glinted in the sunshine, and their quivers were stuck full of arrows. One by one they glided from the stream into the thick woods beyond. We waited until we knew that they were deep in the forest, then crept from the willows and went our way.
“They were Youghtenunds,” I said, in the low tones we used when we spoke at all, “ and they went to the southward.”
“ We may thank our stars that they missed our trail,” Diccon answered.
We spoke no more, but, leaving the stream, struck again toward the south. The day wore on, and still we went without pause. Sun and shade and keen wind, long stretches of pine and open glades where we quickened our pace to a run, dense woods, snares of leafless vines, swamp and thicket through which we toiled so slowly that the heart bled at the delay, streams and fallen trees, — on and on we hurried, until the sun sank and the dusk came creeping in upon us.
“We 've dined with Duke Humphrey to-day,” said Diccon at last ; “ but if we can keep this pace, and don’t meet any more war parties, or fall foul of an Indian village, or have to fight the wolves to-night, we ’ll dine with the Governor to-morrow. What’s that ? ”
“ That” was the report of a musket, and a spent ball had struck me above the knee, bruising the flesh beneath the leather of my boot.
We wheeled, and looked in the direction whence had come that unwelcome visitor. There was naught to be seen. It was dusk in the distance, and there were thickets, too, and fallen logs. Where that ambuscade was planted, if one or twenty Indians lurked in the dusk behind the trees, or lay on the further side of those logs, or crouched within a thicket, no mortal man could tell.
“ It was a spent ball,” I said. “ Our best hope is in our heels.”
“ There are pines beyond, and smooth going,” he answered; “ but if ever I thought to run from an Indian ! ”
Without more ado we started. If we could outstrip that marksman, if we could even hold our distance until night had fallen, all might yet be well. A little longer, and even an Indian must fire at random; moreover, we might reach some stream and manage to break our trail. The ground was smooth before us, — too smooth, and slippery with pine needles ; the pines themselves stood in grim brown rows, and we ran between them lightly and easily, husbanding our strength. Now and again one or the other looked behind, but we saw only the pines and the gathering dusk. Hope was strengthening in us, when a second bullet dug into the earth just beyond us.
Diccon swore beneath his breath. “ It struck deep,” he muttered. “ The dark is slow in coming.”
A minute later, as I ran with my head over my shoulder, I saw our pui’suer, dimly, like a deeper shadow in the shadows far down the arcade behind us. There was but one man, — a tall warrior, strayed aside from his band, perhaps, or bound upon a warpath of his own. The musket that he carried some English fool had sold him for a mess of pottage.
Putting forth all our strength, we ran for our lives, and for the lives of many others. Before us the pine wood sloped down to a deep and wide thicket, and beyond the thicket a line of sycamores promised water. If we could reach the thicket, its close embrace would hide us ; then the darkness and the stream. A third shot, and Diccon staggered slightly.
“ For God’s sake, not struck, man ? ” I cried.
“ It grazed my arm,” he panted. “ No harm done. Here’s the thicket.”
Into the dense growth we broke, reckless of the blood which the sharp twigs drew from face and hands. The twigs met in a thick roof over our heads ; that was all we cared for, and through the network we saw one of the larger stars brighten into being. The thicket was many yards across. When we had gone thirty feet down, we crouched and waited for the dark. If our enemy followed us, he must do so at his peril, with only his knife for dependence.
One by one the stars swam into sight, until the square of sky above us was thickly studded. There was no sound, and no living thing could have entered that thicket without noise. For what seemed an eternity we waited; then we rose and broke our way through the bushes to the sycamores, to find that they indeed shadowed a little sluggish stream.
Down this we waded for some distance before taking to dry earth again. Since entering the thicket we had seen and heard nothing suspicious, and were now fain to conclude that the dark warrior had wearied of the chase, and was gone on his way toward his mates and that larger and surer quarry which two suns would bring. Certain it is that we saw no more of him.
The stream flowing to the south, we went with it, hurrying along its bank, beneath the shadow of great trees, with the stars gleaming down through the branches. It was cold and still, and far in the distance we heard wolves hunting. As for me, I felt no weariness. Every sense was sharpened; my feet were light ; the keen air was like wine in the drinking ; there was a star low in the south that shone and beckoned. The leagues between my wife and me were few. I saw her standing beneath the star, with a little purple flower in her hand.
Suddenly, a bend in the stream hiding the star, I became aware that Diccon was no longer keeping step with me, but had fallen somewhat to the rear. I turned, and he was leaning heavily, with drooping head, against the trunk of a tree.
“ Art so worn as that ? ” I exclaimed. “ Put more heart into thy heels, man ! ”
He straightened himself and strode on beside me. “I don’t know what came over me for a minute,” he answered. “The wolves are loud to-night. I hope they ’ll keep to their side of the water.”
A stone’s throw farther on, the stream curving to the west, we left it, and found ourselves in a sparsely wooded glade, with a bare and sandy soil beneath our feet, and above, in the western sky, a crescent moon. Again Diccon lagged behind, and presently I heard him groan in the darkness.
I wheeled. “ Diccon! ” I cried.
“ What is the matter ? ”
Before I could reach him he had sunk to his knees. When I put my hand upon his arm and again demanded what ailed him, he tried to laugh, then tried to swear, and ended with another groan.
“ The ball did graze my arm,” he said,
“ but it went on into my side. I’ ll just lie here and die, and wish you well at Jamestown. When the red imps come against you there, and you open fire on them, name a bullet for me.”
IN WHICH I COME TO THE GOVERNOR’S HOUSE.
I laid him down upon the earth, and, cutting away his doublet and the shirt beneath, saw the wound, and knew that there was a journey indeed that he would shortly make “ The world is turning round,” he muttered, “ and the stars are falling thicker than the hailstones yesterday. Go on, and I will stay behind, — I and the wolves.”
I took him in my arms and carried him back to the bank of the stream, for I knew that he would want water until he died. My head was bare, but he had worn his cap from the gaol at Jamestown, that night. I filled it with water and gave him to drink ; then washed the wound and did what I could to stanch the bleeding. He turned from side to side, and presently his mind began to wander, and he talked of the tobacco in the fields at Weyanoke. Soon he was raving of old things, old camp fires and nighttime marches and wild skirmishes, perils by land and by sea ; then of dice and wine and women. Once he cried out that Dale had bound him upon the wheel, and that his arms and legs were broken, and the woods rang to his screams. Why, in that wakeful forest, they were unheard, or why, if heard, they went unheeded, God only knows.
The moon went down, and it was very cold. How black were the shadows around us, what foes might steal from that darkness upon us, it was not worth while to consider. I do not know what I thought of on that night, or even that I thought at all. Between my journeys for the water that he called for I sat beside the dying man, with my hand upon his breast, for he was quieter so. Now and then I spoke to him, but he answered not.
Hours before we had heard the howling of wolves, and knew that some ravenous pack was abroad. With the setting of the moon the noise had ceased, and I thought that the brutes had pulled down the deer they hunted, or else had gone with their hunger and their dismal voices out of earshot. Suddenly the howling recommenced, — at first faint and far away, then nearer and nearer yet. Earlier in the evening the stream had been between us, but now the wolves had crossed, and were coming down our side of the water, and were coming fast.
All the ground was strewn with dead wood, and near by was a growth of low and brittle bushes. I gathered the withered branches, and broke fagots from the bushes; then into the press of dark and stealthy forms I threw a great crooked stick, shouting as I did so, and threatening with my arms. They turned and fled, but presently they were back again. Again I frightened them away, and again they returned. I had flint and steel and tinder box; when I had scared them from us a third time, and they had gone only a little way, I lit a splinter of pine, and with it fired my heap of wood; then dragged Diccon into the light and sat down beside him, with no longer any fear of the wolves, but with absolute confidence in the quick appearance of less cowardly foes. There was wood enough and to spare ; when the fire sank low and the hungry eyes gleamed nearer, I fed it again, and the flame leaped up and mocked the eyes.
No human enemy came upon us. The fire blazed and roared, and the man who lay in its rosy glare raved on, crying out now and then at the top of his voice ; but on that night of all nights, of all years, light and voice drew no savage band to put out the one and silence the other forever.
Hours passed, and as it drew toward midnight Diccon sank into a stupor. I knew that the end was not far away. The wolves were gone at last, and my fire was dying down. He needed my touch upon his breast no longer, and I went to the stream and bathed my hands and forehead, and then threw myself, face downward, upon the bank. In a little while the desolate murmur of the water became intolerable, and I rose and went back to the fire, and to the man whom, as God lives, I loved as a brother.
He was conscious. Pale and cold and nigh gone as he was, there came a light to his eyes and a smile to his lips when I knelt beside him. “You did not go? ” he breathed.
“No,” I answered, “I did not go.”
For a few minutes he lay with closed eyes; when he again opened them upon my face, there were in their depths a question and an appeal. I bent over him, and asked him what he would have.
“ You know,” he whispered. “ If you can ... I would not go without it.”
“ Is it that ? ” I asked. “ I forgave you long ago.”
“ I meant to kill you. I was mad because you struck me before the lady, and because I had betrayed my trust. An you had not caught my hand, I should be your murderer.” He spoke with long intervals between the words, and the death dew was on his forehead.
“ Remember it not, Diccon,” I entreated. “ I too was to blame. And I see not that night for other nights, — for other nights and days, Diccon.” He smiled, but there was still in his face a shadowy eagerness. “ You said you would never strike me again,” he went on, “ and that I was man of yours no more forever — and you gave me my freedom in the paper which I tore.” He spoke in gasps, with his eyes upon mine. “ I’ ll be gone in a few minutes now. If I might go as your man still, and could tell the Lord Jesus Christ that my master on earth forgave and took back, it would be a hand in the dark. I have spent my life in gathering darkness for myself at the last.”
I bent lower over him, and took his hand in mine. “ Diccon, my man,” I said.
A brightness came into his face, and he faintly pressed my hand. I slipped my arm beneath him and raised him a little higher to meet his death. He was smiling now, and his mind was not quite clear. “ Do you mind, sir,” he asked, “ how green and strong and sweet smelled the pines that May day, when we found Virginia, so many years ago ? ”
“ Ay, Diccon,” I answered. “ Before we saw the land, the fragrance told us we were near it.”
“ I smell it now,” he went on, “ and the bloom of the grape, and the May-time flowers. And can you not hear, sir, the whistling and the laughter and the sound of the falling trees, that merry time when Smith made axemen of all our fine gentlemen ? ”
“ Ay, Diccon,” I said ; “ and the sound of the water that was dashed down the sleeve of any that were caught in an oath.”
He laughed like a little child. “ It is well that I was n’t a gentleman, and had not those trees to fell, or I should have been as wet as any merman. . . . And Pocahontas, the little maid . . . and how blue the sky was, and how glad we were what time the Patience and Deliverance came in ”...
His voice failed, and for a minute I thought he was gone ; but he had been a strong man, and life slipped not easily from him. When his eyes opened again he knew me not, but thought he was in some tavern, and struck with his hand upon the ground as upon a table, and called for the drawer.
Around him were only the stillness and the shadows of the night, but to his vision men sat and drank with him, diced and swore and told wild tales of this or that. For a time he talked loudly and at random of the vile quality of the drink, and his viler luck at the dice; then he began to tell a story. As he told it, his senses seemed to steady, and he spoke with coherence and like a shadow of himself.
“ And you call that a great thing, William Host?” he demanded. “I can tell a true tale worth two such lies, my masters. (Robin tapster, more ale ! And move less like a slug, or my tankard and your ear will cry, ‘ Well met! ’) It was between Ypres and Courtrai, friends, and it ’s nigh fifteen years ago. There were fields in which nothing was sowed because they were ploughed with the hoofs of war horses, and ditches in which dead men were thrown, and dismal marshes, and roads that were no roads at all, but only sloughs. And there was a great stone house, old and ruinous, with tall poplars shivering in the rain and mist. Into this house there threw themselves a band of Dutch and English, and hard on their heels came two hundred Spaniards, All day they besieged that house, — smoke and flame and thunder and shouting and the crash of masonry ; and when eventide was come, we — the Dutch and the English — thought that Death was not an hour behind.”
He paused, and made a gesture of raising a tankard to his lips. His eyes were bright, his voice was firm. The memory of that old day and its mortal strife had wrought upon him like wine.
“ There was one amongst us,” he said, “ he was our captain, and it’s of him I am going to tell the story. — Robin tapster, bring me no more ale, but good mulled wine. It’s cold and getting dark, and I have to drink to a brave man besides ” —
With the old bold laugh in his eyes, he raised himself, for the moment as strong as I that held him. “ Drink to that Englishman, all of ye ! ” he cried, — “ and not in filthy ale, but in good, gentlemanly sack ! I ’ll pay the score. Here ’s to him, brave hearts ! Here’s to my master ! ”
With his hand at his mouth, and his story untold, he fell back. I held him in my arms until the brief struggle was over, and then laid his body down upon the earth.
It might have been one of the clock. For a little while I sat beside him, with my head bowed in my hands. Then I straightened his limbs and crossed his hands upon his breast, and kissed him upon the brow, and left him lying dead in the forest.
It was hard going through the blackness of the nighttime woods. Once I was nigh sucked under in a great swamp, and once I stumbled into some hole or pit in the earth, and for a time thought that I had broken my leg. The night was very dark, and sometimes, when I could not see the stars, I lost my way, and went to the right or the left, or even back upon my track. Though I heard the wolves, they did not come nigh me. Just before daybreak, I crouched behind a log, and watched a party of savages file past like shadows of the night.
At last the dawn came, and I could press on more rapidly. For two days and two nights I had not slept ; for a day and a night I had not tasted food. As the sun climbed the heavens, a thousand black spots, like summer gnats, danced between his face and my weary eyes. The forest laid stumbling-blocks before me, and drove me back, and made me wind in and out when I would have had my path straighter than an arrow. When the ground allowed, I ran ; when I must break my way, panting, through undergrowth so dense and stubborn that it seemed some enchanted thicket, where each twig snapped but to be on the instant stiff in place again, I broke it with what patience I might ; when I must turn aside for this or that obstacle, I made the detour, though my heart cried out at the necessity. Once I saw reason to believe that two or more Indians were upon my trail, and lost time in outwitting them ; and once I must go a mile out of my way to avoid an Indian village.
As the day wore on, I began to go as in a dream. It had come to seem the gigantic wood of some fantastic tale through which I was traveling. The fallen trees ranged themselves into an abatis hard to surmount ; the thickets withstood one like iron ; the streamlets were like rivers, the marshes leagues wide, the treetops miles away. Little things, twisted roots, trailing vines, dead and rotten wood, made me stumble. A wind was blowing that had blown just so since time began, and the forest was filled with the sound of the sea.
Afternoon came, and the shadows began to lengthen. They were lines of black paint spilt in a thousand places, and stealing swiftly and surely across the brightness of the land. Torn and bleeding and breathless, I hastened on ; for it was drawing toward night, and I should have been at Jamestown hours before. My head pained me, and as I ran I saw men and women stealing in and out among the trees before me : Pocahontas with her wistful eyes and braided hair and finger on her lips ; Nantauquas ; Dale the knight-marshal, and Argall with his fierce, unscrupulous face ; my cousin George Percy, and my mother with her stately figure, her embroidery in her hands. I knew that they were but phantoms of my brain, but their presence confused and troubled me.
The shadows ran together, and the sunshine died out of the forest. Stumbling on, I saw through the thinning trees a long gleam of red, and thought it was blood, but presently knew that it was the river, crimson from the sunset. A minute more, and I stood upon the shore of the mighty stream, between the two brightnesses of flood and heavens. There was a silver crescent in the sky, with one white star above it ; and fair in sight, down the James, with lights springing up through the twilight, was the town, — the English town that we had built and named for our King, and had held in the teeth of Spain, in the teeth of the wilderness and its terrors. It was not a mile away ; a little longer, — a little longer and I could rest, my tidings told.
The dusk had quite fallen when I reached the neck of land. The hut to which I had been enticed that night stood dark and ghastly, with its door swinging in the wind. I ran past it and across the neck, and, arriving at the palisade, beat upon the gate with my hands, and called to the warder to open. When I had told him my name and tidings, he did so, with shaking knees and starting eyes. Cautioning him to raise no alarm in the town, I hurried past him into the street, and down it toward the house that was set aside for the Governor of Virginia. I should find there now, not Yeardley, but Sir Francis Wyatt.
The torches were lighted, and the folk were indoors, for the night was cold. One or two figures that I met or passed would have accosted me, not knowing who I was ; but I brushed by them, and hastened on. Only when I passed the guest house I looked up, and saw that mine host’s chief rooms were yet in use.
The Governor’s door was open, and in the hall serving men were moving to and fro. When I came in upon them, they cried out as it had been a ghost, and one fellow let a silver dish that he carried fall clattering to the floor. They shook and stood back, as I passed them without a word and went on to the Governor’s great room. The door was ajar, and I pushed it open and stood for a minute upon the threshold, unobserved by the occupants of the room.
After the darkness outside the lights dazzled me ; the room, too, seemed crowded with men, though when I counted them there were not so many, after all. Supper had been put upon the table, but they were not eating. Before the fire, his head thoughtfully bent and his fingers tapping upon the arm of his chair, sat the Governor ; over against him, and as serious of aspect, was the Treasurer. West stood by the mantel, tugging at his long mustaches and softly swearing. Clayborne was in the room, and Piersey the Cape Merchant, and one or two besides. And Rolfe was there, walking up and down with hasty steps, and a flushed and haggard face. His suit of buff was torn and stained, and his greatboots were spattered with mud.
The Governor let his fingers rest upon the arm of his chair, and raised his head.
“ He is dead, Master Rolfe,” he said. “ There can be no other conclusion, — a brave man lost to you and to the colony. We mourn with you, sir.”
“We too have searched, Jack,” put in West. “ We have not been idle, though well-nigh all men believe that the Indians, who we know had a grudge against him, murdered him and his man that night, then threw their bodies into the river and made off.”
“ As for this latest loss,” continued the Governor, “ within an hour of its discovery this morning search parties were out ; yea, if I had allowed it, the whole town would have betaken itself to the woods. The searchers have not returned, and we are gravely anxious. Yet we are not utterly cast down. This trail can hardly be missed, and the Indians are friendly. There were a number in town overnight, and they went with the searchers, volunteering to act as their guides. We cannot but think that of this load our hearts will soon be eased.” “ God grant it! ” groaned Rolfe. “ I will drink but a cup of wine, sir, and then will be gone upon this new quest.”
“ You are worn and spent with your travel, sir,” said the Governor. “ I give you my word that all that can be done is doing. Wait at least for the morning, and the good news it may bring.”
The other shook his head. “ I will go now. I could not look my friend in the face else— God in heaven! ”
The Governor sprang to his feet ; through the Treasurer’s lips came a long, sighing breath ; West’s dark face was ashen. I came forward to the table, and leaned my weight upon it ; for all the waves of the sea were roaring in my ears, and the lights were going up and down.
“ Are you man or spirit? ” cried Rolfe.
“ Are you Ralph Percy ? ”
“Yes, I am Percy,” I said. “ I have not well understood what quest you would go upon, Rolfe, but you cannot go to-night. And those parties that your Honor talked of, that have gone with Indians to guide them, — I think that you will never see them again.”
With an effort I drew myself erect, and standing so told my tidings, quietly and with circumstance, so as to leave no room for doubt as to their verity, or as to the sanity of him who brought them. They listened, as the warder had listened, with shaking limbs and gasping breath ; for this was the fall and wiping out of a people of which I brought warning.
When all was told, and they stood there before me, white and shaken, seeking in their minds the thing to say or do first, I thought to ask a question myself ; but before my tongue could frame it, the roaring of the sea became so loud that I could hear naught else, and the lights all ran together into a wheel of fire. Then in a moment all sounds ceased, and to the lights succeeded the blackness of outer darkness.
(To be continued.)
- Copyright, 1899, by MARY JOHNSTON.↩