Stories of the Pilgrims - M. B. Pumphrey

Two Little Captives

On a sunny hillside, near the river, a boy was cutting corn. It was late in September, but the day was warm. "This is just the day for a row on the river," said Isaac Bradley to himself.

As he looked over the bright, smoothly-flowing water, he saw a little boat coming toward him. In it, as the boat neared the shore, he saw his friend Joseph, who lived in the village of Haverhill a mile farther down the river.

Joseph tied his boat to the root of a tree on the bank, and came up into the field.

"Get your line and let's go fishing," he cried, as he climbed the hill.

"I cannot go until I finish cutting this corn," answered Isaac. "There are only a few rows more."

"Give me a knife and I will help you," said Joseph.

So he took one of the strong, sharp, corn knives and began to cut the dry stalks near the ground. In those days no one had thought of making a corncutter that should be drawn by horses.

Cutting corn with a knife was slow, hard work.

When they reached the end of the row, the boys stopped to rest. How warm and tired they were!

They were on the top of the hill now, near the edge of the woods. The forest once came quite down to the river. It had taken Mr. Bradley, and his father also, many years to clear the trees off this field.

The boys sat down in the shade of a tree to talk about their plans for the afternoon. Presently Joseph said, "Let us get a good, cool drink from the spring, and then finish cutting that corn."

Near the edge of the forest a spring of clear, cold water bubbled up out of the rocks. A tiny stream flowed from the spring and danced merrily down the hillside to join the broad river.

Joseph and Isaac knelt on the mossy rocks to drink. Suddenly two painted Indian warriors sprang from behind the bushes and seized the boys.

[Illustration] from Stories of the Pilgrims by M. B. Pumphrey

"Joseph and Isaac knelt on the mossy rocks to drink"

The frightened boys gave a loud, wild scream for help, but the rough hands of the savages quickly covered their mouths, hushing their cries.

Mr. Bradley was at work at the other end of the field. He heard the scream and hurried to the spring, but the boys were not to be found. In the soft earth about the spring he saw the prints of Indian moccasins.

Meanwhile, the boys were being hurried deeper and deeper into the forest. On and on they went, wading streams and climbing rocky hillsides. The thick branches tore their clothes and scratched their skin. At last they were so tired they could hardly walk.

The Indians allowed them to rest a little while, then on they went again. Now the sun had set, and it was almost dark in the forest. Soon they came to a hollow between two steep hills. Beside a little camp fire sat two more Indians. Several ponies were tied to the trees close by.

The Indians unbound their captives and motioned to them to sit down by the fire and then they began to cook a supper of deer meat. They gave the boys a handful of parched corn and some of the meat.

After the supper was eaten, all but one of the Indians lay down near the fire to sleep, making signs for Joseph and Isaac to sleep too.

Poor boys! How could they sleep with those fierce savages beside them? The great, dark forest was all about them, and they were many miles from home and parents.

Joseph lay on his blanket and cried bitterly. Isaac, who was four years older, tried to comfort him.

"Don't cry, Joseph," he whispered. "I am sure father and other men from Haverhill will soon find us. No doubt they are on our trail this very minute. I should not be surprised if they came before morning."

"They can't find us," sobbed Joseph. "They do not know which way we have gone."

"The dogs will know. They can easily find the way," answered Isaac, cheerfully.

The next morning as soon as it began to be light, the Indians awoke. They placed the boys upon ponies, and, quickly mounting their own, led the way through the forest. All day they rode, stopping only two or three times to eat and rest.

Although Joseph was but eight years old, he was almost as large as Isaac; but he was not so strong, nor so brave-hearted. Every time they stopped to get a drink, or to rest, Joseph was sure the Indians intended to kill them.

"If they had intended to kill us, they would have done it before now," said Isaac. "I think they mean to take us to their camp and make us work for them. Or perhaps they mean to sell us to the French; but we can get away from them before that."

"Perhaps our fathers and the soldiers from the fort will come and get us," said Joseph, more cheerfully.

Just before night they came in sight of a large beautiful lake. The water glowed with the soft colors of the sunset. About the lake were great, dark pine trees, and maples with leaves as bright as flame.

Suddenly the boys saw the light of a camp fire shining through the trees. Then the whole camp could be plainly seen. It seemed to the frightened boys that there were dozens of wigwams in the village.

As they came nearer, they saw the dark forms of Indians moving about the fire. An Indian woman was roasting a large piece of meat on a forked stick.

When the Indians rode into the camp with their captives, the people all crowded around to see them. They smiled when they saw the boys' white, frightened faces.

The little Indians looked at them with wide, wondering eyes. They had never seen white children before. They pointed to Isaac's jacket and heavy shoes. When they saw Joseph's light, curly hair, they all began to laugh. I suppose they wondered how a boy could have hair like that, for Indians always have black hair and it is never curly.

After a supper of corn bread and fish, the boys were given a bed on a blanket in one of the wigwams.

When all was quiet, Joseph whispered softly, "Our fathers can never find us here. I am sure they cannot."

"No," answered Isaac, "I am afraid they can't. But we must not let the Indians know we are unhappy. We will stay near the camp and try to do just as they tell us. When they see that we do not try to run away, they will not watch us so closely. Sometime we shall be able to escape."

The next morning an Indian woman led Isaac and Joseph to a large stone bowl under a tree. She poured some corn into the bowl and showed them how to pound it with a stone mallet. This is the way the Indians make meal for their bread. It is very hard work, and it takes a long time to make a bowl of meal.

[Illustration] from Stories of the Pilgrims by M. B. Pumphrey

"She showed them how to pound corn with
a stone mallet"

While the boys were pounding the corn, two of the Indian men took their bows and arrows and went into the forest to hunt. The others sat about the camp fire smoking and talking. They never offered to go into the field and help the women, who were stripping the ears of corn frorn the stalks and putting them in large baskets. When one of these great baskets was filled, a squaw knelt beside it, and, placing its strap of skin across her forehead, raised the heavy load to her back.

No Indian brave would work in the cornfield or carry a burden. "That work is for squaws and captives," they said.

As the Indians sat about the fire, some of them made snares and traps to catch game. When the corn in the bowl was all ground, one of the men called the boys to him and showed them how to make a whistle to call the wild turkeys.

Isaac took out his own sharp pocketknife to cut the reed. The Indians all wished to look at it; they opened its two large blades and tried them on a stick. When the knife came back to the Indian who was teaching the boys to make the whistle, he kept it and handed Isaac his clumsy, dull knife. You may be sure Joseph left his knife safe in his pocket after he had seen the fate of Isaac's.

Presently the two hunters came home; but they did not bring a deer. One of them carried a branch from which nearly all the leaves had been stripped. He called the women of his family, and, giving them a leaf from the branch, sent them to find and bring home the deer he had killed.

Scattered here and there on the ground they found leaves like the one they carried. Following this leaf trail, they at last found the dead deer.

When they had brought it home, they took off the skin and cut up the meat to be cooked or dried. A number of forked stakes were driven into the ground near their wigwam, and Joseph and Isaac helped the squaws to stretch the skin upon this frame, to dry.

In a few days the skin was hard and stiff, but the squaws knew how to make it soft and good for clothing. One brought a heavy stone mallet, and patiently, hour after hour, she rubbed the mallet to and fro over the skin.

Sometimes the boys worked upon the skin, too. They carried water from the spring and gathered brushwood for the fires. All fall they worked about the camp helping the squaws.

But it was not all work and no play for the little captives. The Indian children had many games, and Joseph and Isaac often played with them. They had races in running and jumping. They were very fond of a game called "ball in the grass."

The Indian boys made bows and arrows and practiced shooting at marks on the trees. In a short time they would let Joseph and Isaac play this game with them.

[Illustration] from Stories of the Pilgrims by M. B. Pumphrey

"They practiced shooting at marks on the trees"

Many of the Indian men had guns, which they had bought from the white men. Sometimes they allowed the boys to shoot with these, for the Indians wanted the captives to learn to shoot well so they could hunt game for them.

The boys learned to make traps to catch deer, bears, rabbits, and other animals. They could make a fire by rubbing two dry sticks together. They could skin and dress game of all kinds.

When the winter came with its cold and snow, the Indians did not go out to hunt so often. The deer were very hard to find. Many of the animals were fast asleep in their cozy winter homes. The ducks and other birds had gone from the frozen marshes. Sometimes the Indians cut holes in the ice and caught fish. Then what a feast they had!

In the winter the camp fires were made in the wigwams. The braves sat about the fire and made arrows. Some of the arrowheads were made of flint or of other stone. The Indians had no sharp tools with which to shape the arrowheads. They had to chip them into shape with another stone.

Sometimes the arrows were tipped with a sharp point of deer horn, or the spur of a wild turkey. The arrowheads were bound to a shaft of wood with cords of deerskin.

When the arrows were done, the Indian marked them so that he could always tell his own. If two Indians claimed to have killed the same deer, a glance at the arrow sticking in it settled the question. Indians often used the same arrow many times.

As the Indians sat about the fire making arrowheads, they told stories of the great deeds they had done. Sometimes they told the beautiful legends of their people.

The little Indian children listened to these stories, their black eyes round with wonder. Joseph and Isaac listened too, and the Indians would have been surprised to know how much they understood. They were bright boys, and after they had lived in the camp a few weeks they knew a good many Indian words. As time went on, they learned more and more of the language.

"We must not let the Indians know that we understand them so well, or we will never find out what they mean to do with us," said Isaac. So they pretended to be very stupid, and the Indians talked to them by signs, or in the few English words they knew.

The squaws, too, enjoyed the stories the braves told. While they listened their quick fingers worked upon a pair of deerskin leggins or other clothing. One of the women made Joseph a pair of soft deerskin moccasins and trimmed them with beads. She made the soles of thick, strong skin. She left a little of the hair on the skin to keep his feet from slipping. The moccasins were very warm and comfortable, and made no noise when Joseph walked.

In the wigwam where the boys lived was an old grandmother, wrinkled and bent with age. She no longer worked in the cornfields, or carried heavy burdens on her back when the Indians moved their camp.

Hanging from the walls of the wigwam were bunches of long grasses, and reeds, and the fine fibers of the cedar roots. Many of them had been colored red, brown, or yellow, with the juices of roots and berries.

Day after day the old woman sat on her mat before the fire, weaving these grasses into beautiful baskets. Some were coarse and large, made of reeds of one color. Others were very fine and had beautiful patterns woven into them.

[Illustration] from Stories of the Pilgrims by M. B. Pumphrey

"Day after day the old woman sat on her
mat . . . weaving . . . baskets"

In a large wigwam at one end of the village, the Indian men were building a canoe. They made the framework of strong cedar boughs, and drove stakes into the ground on each side of the frame to keep it in shape.

Near the lake grew a large birch tree. Its bark was smooth and white. The Indians cut the bark around the tree just below the branches, and again just above the ground. Then they cut it down the trunk from top to bottom, and carefully stripped the bark from the tree.

[Illustration] from Stories of the Pilgrims by M. B. Pumphrey

Indian cutting birch bark for canoe

"Winter bark makes the best canoe," they said. "See how strong and thick it is!"

Then they carefully shaped the bark to cover the frames, and sewed the seams with the fibers of the larch tree. It took them many weeks to build the canoe. When it was done it would carry eight or ten people.

Isaac heard the Indians talking about a long journey they would take in their canoes when spring came. "In the Moon of Leaves the ice will be gone from the rivers and lakes. Then we go to visit our French brothers in Canada," they said.

"I know of two people in this camp who will never go to Canada," thought Isaac.

At last April came. The ice in the rivers broke up and slowly drifted away. The snow was gone, and on the sunny hillsides the grass was quite green. The birds came back from the southland, and the creatures that live in the forest awoke from their long winter nap.

Then one night, when the Indians thought their captives were asleep, Isaac heard them planning their journey. In a few days they would start to Canada to sell the boys to the French.

"We can find plenty of food in the forest now," they said. "The ice is out of the rivers. We will take our furs and the palefaces to the north."

All night long Isaac thought how they might escape. He knew the English settlements were far to the south. How could he and Joseph reach them with no one to guide? There were no paths through the forests.

He made up his mind to try it anyway. They would be guided by the stars at night, and the sun by day. Even if they died in the forest, it would be better than being sold to the French.

The next day the Indians went out hunting, and while they were gone Isaac told Joseph what he had heard. "I am going to run away to-night," he said. "When I waken you, do not make any noise. Just follow me."

When the Indians came home they brought two large deer. During the day Isaac hid a large piece of the meat and some bread in the bushes near the spring. He and Joseph also filled their pockets with parched corn.

That night Isaac was so excited that he could not sleep. The great camp fire burned lower and lower. At last all was quiet about the camp. He wondered if all were asleep. He could hear the heavy breathing of the two men in his wigwam.

Then he shook Joseph gently, but the boy was fast asleep and did not stir. He shook him again. "What is the matter?" said Joseph, in a loud voice.

In a moment Isaac's head was upon his blanket and he pretended to be fast asleep. He thought every one in the camp must have heard Joseph, and expected they would all come running to the wigwam.

But the Indians, tired after their day's hunting, slept soundly. Again Isaac shook Joseph and said, in a whisper "Keep quiet! Come with me."

The two boys crept silently out of the wigwam, taking a gun with them.

When they were safe outside, they ran to the spring to get the meat and bread; then they hurried away through the forest. On they ran, over logs, and through streams, keeping always to the south.

When the first dim light of morning came, they began to look about for a place to hide during the day. They dared not build a fire to cook the meat, so they ate some of their bread and parched corn. Then they crept into a large hollow log to hide until dark.

"They will miss us in the morning, and will soon be on our trail," said Joseph. He was quite right.

"Hark!" said Joseph a few hours later. "I hear the barking of dogs! The Indians are coming!"

"Lie still and they may not find us," whispered Isaac.

The dogs came bounding through the forest, easily following the scent. They were far ahead of their masters. When they came to the hollow log they barked joyfully.

Joseph covered his face with his hands, in terror, but Isaac was more quick-witted. He said softly, "Good Bose! Good dog! Here is some breakfast for you." Then he threw the meat as far as he could.

When the Indians came up, the dogs were some distance from the log, tearing the meat into pieces and growling as they ate. So the savages stopped to rest. One of them sat down on the very log where the boys were hiding. Joseph's heart beat so hard he was afraid the Indians would hear it. By and by they called their dogs and all passed down the hill out of sight.

All day the boys lay still in the log. When it was quite dark, they crept out and hurried on, guided by the stars. In the morning they found another hiding place.

Night after night they traveled. Day after day they lay hidden in a cave or hollow tree.

Now they were so far from the camp that they traveled in the daytime, and slept at night.

Once, just at nightfall, the boys thought they heard voices. They stood still in alarm and listened. Then they heard the barking of a dog. They crept forward among the bushes and listened again. Yes, they surely heard the murmur of voices.

A few steps more, and they saw the light of a camp fire. Around the fire sat a dozen Indians, smoking and cooking their supper. Joseph and Isaac were much frightened to find themselves so near another Indian camp. They slipped away quietly, and then ran with all their might.

When they were a safe distance from the camp, they sat down to rest. There was only a little bread left and only a few kernels of the parched corn. They ate what they had and went to sleep.

In the morning the boys were hungry and weary. "I hope we shall find a settler's cabin soon," said Joseph. "I am almost tired out."

[Illustration] from Stories of the Pilgrims by M. B. Pumphrey

An Indian woman carrying corn

"It is now six days since we left the Indian camp. We must be getting pretty near the settlements," said Isaac.

That morning they killed a pigeon. The smoke of a camp fire can be seen a long way. They were afraid to build a fire to cook the pigeon, so they ate it raw.

The next day they found a turtle. They broke the shell and ate the meat. They ate the tender leaf buds on the trees and bushes, and eagerly hunted for the roots that they knew were good for food.

Each day Joseph grew more weak and faint. On the eighth morning he lay white and still upon the ground. Isaac tried to cheer him, but Joseph only moaned and turned away his face.

"Come, Joseph, drink this water. Here are some groundnuts for you; eat these," said Isaac. But Joseph did not move.

Poor Isaac! What could he do? They were alone in the great forest, he did not know where. They were without food, and Joseph was too ill to go any farther. Still Isaac did not give up hope.

The brave boy lifted Joseph to the side of the brook, and bathed his face and hands in the cool water. Then he sadly left him alone, and with a heavy heart walked away.

Soon he came upon a clearing in the woods. Then a joyous sight met his eyes. A little cabin stood not far away. He quickly ran to it and knocked at the door, but no one came to open it. He looked in at the window. No one was there. He called loudly for help, but there was no answer.

A well-beaten path led away from the cabin. "It must lead to the fort," thought he. "Very likely the people are all there."

He ran back to Joseph, calling, "Joseph, wake up! Help is near!" He rubbed Joseph's hands and held water to his lips.

Joseph opened his eyes and tried to rise. Isaac lifted him up and led him a few steps. Then he took the fainting boy in his arms and carried him.

Isaac also was weak from hunger. His bare feet were sore, and his arms ached. Often he had to lay Joseph upon the grass and rest. Then he would take him in his arms again and stagger on.

Before night they came to a log fort on the bank of a river. The people at the fort were much astonished when they saw the brave boy carrying his heavy burden. They were still more astonished when they heard his strange story.

[Illustration] from Stories of the Pilgrims by M. B. Pumphrey

"They saw the brave boy carrying his heavy burden"

The settlers from all about had come to the fort for safety. They tenderly cared for the boys, and, when they were well again, and the Indians had been driven far into the forest, these kind friends took them home to Haverhill. There all but the anxious parents had believed the boys to be dead.

Within an hour after they had been stolen, Mr. Bradley and a dozen other men, with their dogs, had gone hurrying through the forest in swift pursuit.

The dogs had led the way without any trouble until they came to the river. Here the Indians and their captives had waded a long way up the stream, and the dogs could not find the scent again. At last the search was given up, and the men went sadly home.

Whenever a boat or a canoe came down the river, a spyglass had been turned upon it in the hope that the boys might be returning.

Every stranger who came to the town had been eagerly questioned, but none had heard of them. Even Swift Arrow, the friendly Indian who lived in Haverhill, could not learn what had become of the little captives.

Until that glad April day when a boat from the fort came down the river bearing the rescued children, not one word had come to cheer the anxious friends.