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The year was 1638, and the English settlers' army had just routed the Pequot Indians in an uneven war that decimated the tribe. A half dozen soldiers stood on the deck in a loose line in front of the captives. The soldiers wore steel corselets and morion helmets. Some carried swords, others pikes, and two held muskets. The ones with muskets had leather bandoliers draped over their shoulders, containing pouches for powder and shot. Sweat gathered in the corners of their eyes and dripped down their necks and back, chafing the skin. They would have loved to remove their armor, but one look at their lieutenant convinced them that he would not be sympathetic to this request. It was not as though they needed to prepare for battle, or to defend themselves against the enemy, for the enemy was clearly vanquished and unable to offer any threat. But this was an occasion rich in ceremonial and symbolic significance, and the lieutenant, as well as the dignitaries, who stood not far away, would not tolerate any laxity in military decorum.
The Pequots were tied with heavy ropes, hands and feet. Until the ship left land a safe distance behind, they had also worn a long chain wrapped around their necks, one after the other, and then attached torings on the deck. It would not do to have them ruin the solemnity of the occasion by a premature leap into the waves. But with land now out of sight, Governor Samuel Peters had extended his long arm in a gesture to Lieutenant Waters to loose them so they could be dealt with, as planned, one at a time.
Once the chains were removed, none of them so much as brought a hand to the deep welts on their necks left by the heavy weight of the chain. They wore nothing but a strip of leather cloth around their loins. Their skin was streaked with dirt and blood. The miasmic stench of the swamp where they had hoped to avoid the pursuing English lifted ripe off their skin and into the heavy air. They had sustained themselves on roots and berries for three weeks before they could no longer tolerate watching the women and children sicken from hunger, and so they had come out under a truce whose terms they had no power to soften. They stood now, their eyes vacant. Their slow breaths pressed their ribs against their skin. Only Massaquoit seemed to be taking an interest in the proceedings.
He stood away from the others. He alone still had the long chain wrapped around his neck and body, but no longer attached to the rings on the deck. A soldier menaced him with the blade of his long pike. The ship rolled on a wave and the motion caused Massaquoit to lean into the pike. The soldier did not move the weapon away, and Massaquoit stared down with contempt as the blade pierced his chest just enough to draw a little blood. The ship righted itself and Massaquoit swayed away from the pike. The soldier remained holding his weapon so close to the captive's chest that any movement of Massaquoit toward him would have impaled him on the blade.
The dignitaries, aboard to witness the activities about to occur, stood on a raised portion of the deck aft. Behind them were the captain and a sailor at the helm. In the center of this group of men stood Catherine, a woman in her forties, short, and a little plump. Her red and rounded cheeks gave her face a gentle, nurturing look, but her eyes were dark and bright as they darted from one man to the other.
"Sirs," she said. "We did have an arrangement. Did we not?"
"That was with your husband, as you well know," replied one of the men, short and round, whose white hair protruded from beneath the dark maroon skull cap perched on his head, giving him the look of a medieval Talmudist as much as the seventeenth century Puritan minister he was.
"Well, then, Master Davis, as his widow I act in his place."
"The arrangement is now unsuitable," the minister replied. Governor Peters, a head taller than anybody else on the ship, held a rolled document in front of her. He waved his large brimmed hat in front of his face. Perspiration glistened on his forehead and on the triangle of a beard beneath his chin.
"The Court has decreed their fate," he said. "I am here to see that the order is carried out as written."
"We are only thinking of you, Catherine," another said. The fine blue linen of his shirt, along with its fully expressed white ruff, implied the prosperous merchant he was. "As much as I would like to respect the word we gave to John, you are not he and it would not be a proper living arrangement."
Catherine shifted her gaze over to the line of listless captives, who were now watching without much visible interest as two sailors contrived to secure one end of a split log, which still had bark on the underside, so that the other could extend over the railing.
Catherine stared hard at the merchant. Not only had he been her husband's partner, but she had known him as a child back in Alford, in old England where he had been a regular visitor in her father's house. Since his own children had not survived into adulthood, and he had not remarried after his wife died, he had treated her as though she were his own daughter. She understood that he was trying to negotiate on her behalf with the governor and the minister, but still she could not entirely restrain her anger.
"Joseph Woolsey, do you think I want to take one of them to my bed?"
Minister Davis frowned, but a smile fought to establish itself on Joseph's face. The other men remained silent, their faces expressionless. They were younger and deferred to the two older men.
"Look at them," Minister Davis said.
"I am," Catherine replied.
"Savages," the minister snapped.
"Men," Catherine said, "no more nor less, only without the benefit of your condition." She turned to the captain.
"Sir, are you ready to bring her about and head back to port?"
"Aye, Mistress, if you say so."
"You cannot do that," Master Davis said.
"Joseph, is this not now my vessel, as it was my husband's?"
"To be sure," he replied, "But the Court has decided, and your ship is only the means to serve its purpose."
"It is, nonetheless, my ship, and Captain Gregory here knows that if he wants to sail it again as master he will do as I say."
The captain nodded.
"I would not want to be the one to tell Mistress Williams that she cannot have what she has a mind to have."
"It is not my temper you need to fear," Catherine said, "but the money my husband, in good faith, loaned out to the town to finance the late war, and which I have chosen to have repaid in flesh rather than coin. I have more need for muscle and sinew than money. And gentleman, by relieving you of your debt so cheaply, I am giving you a bargain you can hardly refuse, for as you yourself have observed these poor wretches are not worth much, nor would they bring you much return on the market were you to ship them down to Barbados."
Master Peters drew back a step or two and the others followed. The men spoke together in hushed voices for a few moments, and then Peters approached Catherine.
"Pick, then," he said. "But remember the terms of the treaty. They apply to him you choose. And you, as his mistress."
She did not hesitate.
"That one," she pointed to Massaquoit. Blood still oozed from the fresh wound on his chest, but he seemed not to notice.
"Surely not him," Joseph said.
"Captain," Catherine said.
"As you wish," the governor said. "One devil will serve as another."
"Business," Catherine replied, "only business. It is a pity your obligations to my poor dead husband were not greater, for then I would have purchased the lives of more than one of these."
Masters Peters whispered something to Lieutenant Waters who was sweating in his armor, and impatient to be finished with his task. He nodded, and spoke to the soldier whose pike still rested against the chest of Massaquoit.
"I wouldn't loose this one, just yet," the soldier said.
"Nor would I," the lieutenant said. "Just push him further back, away from the others."
The soldier pressed his blade against Massaquoit's chest, but he did not move. The soldier pressed harder, and turned the blade so that its point pierced the skin next to the recent wound. Still, Massaquoit did not move.
"What do you say, lieutenant?" the soldier asked. "I can stick him like a hog for the fire."
The lieutenant looked at Catherine and then back to the soldier.
"Push him back. We've seen enough of his blood for now."
The soldier turned his pike so that he could shove the shaft up under Massaquoit's jaw. He pushed hard, and Massaquoit stumbled back.
"Right," the soldier said. "You could have done that before, and given me a break in this blasted heat."
Governor Peters walked to the log, which was now securely fashioned.
"The General Court, in concluding the treaty with the Pequot nation, has made specific mention of these eight sachems here assembled, who did lead their people into the swamp known as Cuppacommock, or The Hiding Place, and there did stubbornly continue their unlawful war against us, and as a consequence to punish their perverse refusal to surrender and to have them stand as a warning to others who might rise up against the lawful English settlements here and elsewhere in New England, have sentenced these eight, now standing here, to death."
Magistrate Woolsey strode toward Massaquoit, stopping an arm's length from him.
"You, Massaquoit, are to be spared. Mistress Williams has interceded on your behalf, according to terms previously agreed to by the Court, and you are to be handed over to her care, and under her instruction you are to abandon your savage ways and accept Our Lord."
"When we surrendered," Massaquoit said, "we understood all our lives would be spared."
"Perhaps you misunderstood the terms," the lieutenant said.
"My English is too good for that," Massaquoit replied. "Many years I have traded with the English. I was never confused before."
The lieutenant shrugged.
"I wouldn't worry about all that if I was you, as you are to live."
"I have no wish to be this woman's slave."
"Enough!" Minister Davis said, his voice a deep rumble over the quiet waters. "Let us proceed."
The soldiers shifted about. Two went to the first Indian in the line, each taking an arm. The Indian remained listless. Two other soldiers attended to their matchlock muskets, adjusting the smoldering matches so that only the ends protruded from the serpentine clamps. They blew the ash off the end of the matches so they glowed red.
Catherine stepped a little closer to Master Davis.
"Are you going to offer a word for them?"
"I will do my best to find a way to pray for their heathen souls, though I know them to be butchering savages."
"God has already spoken," Governor Peters snapped. ?Our good minister need add nothing further. That they are here, and about to die under our orders, vouchsafes their utter damnation." He turned to Lieutenant Waters "You can begin."
"Hoist him up," the lieutenant said.
The two soldiers holding the first Indian lifted his dead weight onto the log. He did not resist, and when they stepped back, he stood. His expression now was one of stubborn contempt for his captors.
"Move, then," one of the soldiers said. When the Indian did not stir, he drew his sword and pressed it against his stomach. Still the Indian remained motionless. The soldier pressed harder and the blade pierced the skin. The Indian had steeled himself against the thrust, but still the pain caused him to shift his weight, and as he did, he lost his footing and he began to fall off the plank. The soldier withdrew his sword and used the flat of its blade to push the Indian off.
He fell into the water with a splash that seemed louder than it was. He disappeared beneath the surface for a few moments, but then his body reappeared. Although his hands and feet were bound, and he bled from his wound, he managed to float on his back. The rain that had been threatening all afternoon, now began to fall. The musketeers bent over their weapons to shield them from the rain.
"We can't have him making shore," the lieutenant said, and he then nodded at the two soldiers holding the muskets. One of them now sighted down the long barrel of his weapon. The soldier opened the pan, pressed the lever like trigger, bringing the end of the match down into the pan, which was now being wetted by the rain. There was a loud pop and a flash, but that was all. The soldier pulled down his musket in disgust.
The Indian was managing a little kicking motion, which propelled him over the waves. The second soldier now aimed.
"He is floating out to sea," Massaquoit said. "Do you expect him to make land in Southampton?"
Minister Davis pulled off his skullcap, strode over to the soldier, and held the cap over the sputtering match.
"Fire," he said.
This time the flash was followed by an explosive sound. The body of the Indian in the water spasmed against the impact of the ball that ripped through his gut. His legs stopped kicking, and he sank. All eyes remained on the spot, now red with his blood, where he had disappeared, but he did not again break the surface of the water. From some place in the distance, a gull swooped down and landed on the water. It was soon joined by half a dozen of his fellows. One paddled through the spot where the Indian sank, and when it rose its feathers were stained red.
Minister Davis turned his head to the skies and received the pouring rain on his face. He replaced his skullcap and joined the others who were now huddled against the pelting drops.
Catherine stepped in front of him. His eyes seemed not to focus.
"Master Davis," she said.
He did not respond.
"Master Davis," she said again, in a louder voice. He turned his glance toward her. She looked up at the pouring rain and then at the soldier who had shot the Indian.
"Do you think it providential?" she said.
"What is that?"
"The rain that doused the powder until you saw fit to intervene."
"I was only helping to do God's work," he said.
"I see," she said. "I had thought that maybe the rain meant that God did not approve. If He did, perhaps He would have kept the powder dry Himself."
He stared coldly at her.
"Mistress, you overstep yourself."
Catherine knew she had gone as far as she could, and maybe a step further. Even as the widow of one of the wealthiest men in the colony, even while standing on the deck of the trading sloop she owned, and even though she had just relieved these gentlemen of a debt the Colony owed her, still she should not spar with the likes of Minister Davis, a man who served God and his own ambitions in equal measure. Still, Catherine thought, she had seen the flint of his heart chip, if not soften, from time to time. This, however, was clearly not one of those occasions.
"As you say," she said, and stepped back.
The lieutenant walked over to the soldier who was bending over his musket.
"Well done, Henry," the lieutenant said.
The soldier shoved the ramrod down the muzzle. He looked up, but did not smile. Instead his eyes seemed both intent on the task at hand and at the same time a thousand miles away.
"Yes," he muttered, and yanked the ramrod out of the barrel. He pulled open the drawstring on his pouch and poured powder into the pan. He hunched over more as the rain began to pelt down more heavily.
"You won't need any more of that," Catherine said. "This is not a turkey hunt."
The other Indians stared silently into the water where their comrade had disappeared. The gulls, not finding anything to eat, had deserted their vigil. The soldiers guarding the remaining captives shifted from leg to leg, waiting for the next command. Magistrate Woolsey held his hands before his eyes. The lieutenant looked at Governor Peters and Minister Davis.
"Continue," Peters said, but his voice was barely audible. He took a deep breath. "Get on with it," he said so that he could be heard.
"It is the Lord's work we do here," Minister Davis said.
Lieutenant Waters barked a command and the soldiers lifted the next Indian onto the log. While he stood there, the lieutenant checked the ropes binding his hands and his feet.
"He will sink before long, I warrant," he said.
"Let us see, then," Governor Peters replied. "Do not fire on him unless he stays afloat."
The rain had slicked the log so that all the soldiers had to do was push against the Indian's shoulders until he lost his balance and rolled off. He hit the water with a splash, managed to float for a minute and then sank beneath the surface. The next Indian was placed on the plank, and he did not wait to be pushed, but managed to jump off and go straight under. Each of the others followed in kind. After each splash, the gulls swooped down, circled, and left.
Only Massaquoit remained. He tried to climb onto the plank.
"That is where I belong," he said.
"Agreed," Governor Peters replied. "But you are bought and paid for. And if we were to let you join your companions, we would again be in debt to Mistress Williams here, and that is a circumstance none of us would enter into lightly. So I am afraid that you must live."
* * * *
Catherine was left alone with Massaquoit and the one soldier who had been his guard throughout the proceedings. The others had gone below. Governor Peters said he felt the need for rest after the strain of the day. Minister Davis said that he wanted to find a quiet place in the hold of the ship where he could meditate on God's wondrous providence in sending the savage enemy into the hands of the English, and from which he could offer up his thanks to the Lord.
The sloop held a course back to the harbor. As they approached their anchorage, the sailors prepared the shallop that would carry the visitors to shore.
"You might as well take the chains and ropes off of him," Catherine said to the soldier.
"I cannot until the lieutenant so orders me, and I don't think you should want me to."
"If I am not safe with him here, how am I going to be safe with him ashore. Untie him."
"Ashore he'll knock you over your head when you sleep."
"Then you are talking to a ghost. Let him go."
"Do as Mistress Williams says," the lieutenant commanded as he emerged from below. "This savage is no longer our responsibility, and now as passengers on Mistress Williams' ship we need to act the guest."
The soldier unsheathed a short sword from its scabbard. He held the blade in front of him, and then pressed it against the wound on Massaquoit's chest. The Indian did not respond, nor did he take his eyes off the blade. The soldier then lowered the blade to the rope binding Massaquoit's hands, and with one sharp movement he sliced it apart. He knelt and cut the ropes around Massaquoit's feet.
"Into the boat, then, if you don't mind," the lieutenant said. "You first Mistress Williams."
The lieutenant helped her onto the rope ladder that hung over the rail and down to the shallop. The soldier nudged Massaquoit forward with the flat edge of his sword's blade. They clambered down the ladder and into the shallop. Catherine sat on the long bench that ran on one side of the vessel. Massaquoit stood at the stern.
"Do not worry," he said. "I have lost my taste for a swim in these waters."
"I never feared it," she replied. "I hope you do not think that I enjoyed the spectacle we just witnessed.
"You did not stop it."
She stared at this proud man, who stood with his back to her, glancing over his shoulder as he spoke.
"You think I should thank you," he said, "but I should have died with the others. I fear their spirits will haunt me."
He turned back to face the waters that were now the graves of his companions. She turned her attention to the two sailors, one on each side, who plied the heavy oars. One was an older man, his face badly scarred from smallpox, whom she did not recognize. The other was young Ned Jameson. Her late husband had hired Ned to learn how to be a sailor on the sloop after extensive conversations with Henry Jameson, Ned's uncle, who was the boy's guardian since both his parents had been killed by Indians at the beginning of the war. Henry Jameson had five daughters and was happy to take in the young man as his son. When Henry's wife Martha, now in her late thirties became pregnant again, the house seemed to become too small for Ned, and so Henry convinced Catherine's husband to have him train as a sailor on the Good Hope. Two weeks ago, Catherine had helped Martha deliver a son. Just before he boarded the sloop as it carried the captives to Newbury, Ned learned that his uncle now had the son he so earnestly desired.
The craft slid over the waves into the breakers. Ned hopped over the bow and his companion threw him a line with which he could haul the shallop onto the sand. When the boat was beached, the older sailor offered his arm to Catherine, but she scrambled over the bow unassisted. The sailor shrugged and looked back at Massaquoit whose eyes had not left the point in the now distant waters where the others had disappeared.
"What about him?" the sailor asked. Without waiting for an answer, he clambered out of the boat and onto the sand. "He makes me nervous, he does, that one."
Ned, who was still holding the bow rope, now handed it to his companion.
"Have you decided what you are going to call him?" he asked Catherine. "The lieutenant told us we were not to use his heathen name, nor was you."
"Matthew," Catherine said simply, "only he does not yet know it."
Massaquoit gave up his vigil and made his way to the front of the shallop. His intense eyes held each of the English in turn, starting with Catherine and then resting on first one sailor and then the next. The sailors took a half step back, their hands reaching for the knives they had in their belts. Catherine smiled.
"Are you ready to see your new home?" she asked.
Massaquoit lowered his eyes and nodded.
"I will do what I must."
"What you must do, then," said Ned, "is get off our boat so we can head back to the ship where we belong, and leave you here, where you ought to be, but as far as that goes, I don't know why we didn't send you after your friends."
"Enough," Catherine said. "He is now a member of my household, and you will treat him with the same respect you would me."
"As you wish, Mistress," Ned said. "Begging your pardon, but I won't be bowing my head before no savage."
"Then when you reach your vessel, be so kind as to tell the Captain that he, your uncle, and I, will discuss your continued employment on my vessel. If you do not know how to heed me as your mistress, perhaps you need to feel your uncle's hand."
"I am a grown man, Mistress," Ned said. The color had risen to his cheeks, and he pulled the knife out of his belt. Massaquoit's eyes fastened on the blade, while the other sailor stepped several paces back.
"Maybe I should just finish what we should have finished out there," Ned said.
"I don't think so," Catherine said. She held out her hand. "Give it here."
"Stand aside Mistress," Ned said.
"I cannot do that."
"At your peril, then," and he lunged at Massaquoit. The Indian brought his forearm up hard against the sailor's arm, and the knife went spinning into the sand. They grappled and rolled after it. Massaquoit's hand recovered the weapon first, and he held it to the sailor's throat.
"Go ahead, then," Ned said. "You might as well, just like you did my family."
Massaquoit stared hard at the boy, and then stood up.
"You are still a child," he said. He handed the knife to Catherine. "He needs a spanking."
Ned leaped to his feet and lunged at Massaquoit, but the Indian sidestepped him and tripped him down into the sand. Ned got up spitting sand out of his mouth. The pock marked sailor grabbed him by the shoulders and led him back to the shallop, which was now being lifted by the incoming tide.
"Get in," the sailor said. "I'll push us out."
Catherine and Massaquoit watched as the sailor put his shoulder to the boat and shoved it out into the water. Then he hopped in and grabbed an oar to pole them out to deeper water. In the meantime, Ned sat sullenly in the stern. Finally, he took his place on the bench and picked up his oar. The shallop made slow but steady progress against the tide. They stood watching in silence until they saw the rope thrown up from the shallop and caught by a sailor on deck of the sloop.
Catherine put her hand on Massaquoit's arm and turned him toward her. He did not resist.
"That lad, "she said, "his mother and father were killed at Wethersfield, and his sister, a girl of twelve, was carried away. He was working in the field with his father when the village was attacked. His father told him to hide in the corn, which he did. When he came out he found his father dead, with an arrow in his chest, and then at his house he saw his mother, who had been knocked on the head. He did not speak for two weeks after he came to live with his uncle."
She still had her hand on his arm, and he lifted it off, gently, but irresistibly.
"Yes," he said. "He is angry at all Indians for what those did. But what do you think he should say to me? My wife and son were at the fort in Mystic when the English came."
"I cannot talk for him, but I can say that I am sorry. For both of you."
She began the walk up from the beach and toward the town of Newbury. Massaquoit waited a moment or two, and then he followed. Neither of them found use for further words until they reached Catherine's large house, set on a hill. She went inside, and he sat down in the shade of a maple.
Massaquoit remained sitting under the tree long after the activity in the house had stopped, and the last candle had been extinguished. Catherine had come out once to invite him in to supper, but he had refused.
"You know, I don't consider you a servant," she had said. "Calling you that, and agreeing to take you into my household as such, is the only way I could secure your freedom."
At the word "freedom," Massaquoit barely raised his eyebrows as though wondering how the word applied to him. Then he resumed staring in the direction of the harbor.
"You are more than welcome to join me at the table. It's a big house, bigger still, now that my children have moved on and my John is dead." When Massaquoit still did not respond, she turned back into her house.
He looked up through the branches of the maple to the sky, which glowed softly from a full moon. The air was warm and humid. He remembered how on nights such as this he would press against the sweet damp flesh of his wife while their son slept soundly a few feet away. But now he remembered how he had last seen them. She was lying on top of the boy. The broken blade of a sword protruded from her ribs, and her blood pooled an inch deep over her punctured heart, and then it spilled over onto the face of the boy, or what was left of his face, as fire lit by the soldiers had reduced his skin to little more than ash. It looked as though she had tried to smother the flames when she was stabbed, for her flesh was scarcely singed. He squeezed that memory from his mind, and instead recalled the pressure of his wife's thighs, and he heard again his son's sleep laden words in the morning, even as he sat outside the white woman's house, and he felt his heart harden into a clenched fist of hatred.
He thought about killing the woman who had saved his life. It would be very easy to do, even though he had no weapons. There were only two servants in the house. He had watched and counted as he sat. He had seen the man going out to the garden. He was stooped, and his step was slow. Later the girl had walked toward him a few tentative paces, and then she had placed something on the ground, covered in a cloth, and beckoned him to take it. Neither the old man nor the young girl would put up much resistance if he sneaked into the house and found the woman in her bed.
For a moment, his heart rose at the thought. His hands felt her neck in his tightening fingers, and that feeling drove away the memory of his wife's body as this woman's dying gasps would erase his son's words. And then he could flee into the woods.
There his thoughts stopped. He had nobody to seek in those woods. Who would take him in? Uncas and the Mohegans, or Miantonomi and the Narragansetts? Hadn't they both fought with the English? Hadn't they proved they were happy to cut off the head of a Pequot and carry it on a stake to their English masters? He knew that some of his companions had been given to Uncas and Miantonomi as slaves in payment for their service to the English. Any others of his people, such as his wife's mother, who had survived the slaughter at the fort or the flight into the swamp must now be in hiding, perhaps across the water on the island called Munnawtawkit, or even further on Paumonok. He would have to bide his time.
And yet none of these reasons by themselves stopped him from climbing in through a window and putting his hands around the white woman's neck. He had seen the others drop into the water. The first, the one who had been shot, was his cousin. He had grown up with the others, fought and hunted with them. Their blood called to him. The problem was he could not make himself believe that the woman whose life he contemplated taking was responsible for their deaths, nor would killing her ease the pain in his heart. There was something about her that impressed him; perhaps it was her courage in speaking her mind to the English men who would have been just as happy to see him drown.
He stretched out beneath the tree with his eyes fixed on the moon and watched it as it sank toward the horizon. He slept, briefly, between the moon's setting, and the sun's rising.
* * * *
In a window on the second floor of her house, Catherine sat in her rocking chair and stared at the unmoving shape of her new servant. She wondered just how she was going to deal with him. She had told Phyllis, her servant girl, to leave a plate of food on the ground where he could see it, even though she knew he would not accept the offering, not tonight, and maybe not for days, if ever. Still, she knew she had to try. Now, she saw the white cloth that Phyllis had set over the plate lift in a sudden breeze and fall half off. It did not matter, for Massaquoit had glanced once when the plate was set down, and had not looked at it again.
She did not fear him, although others did. In her own way, which was not always consistent with the Word as preached by Minister Davis, she relied on her understanding of her God's will. She depended on her intuitive understanding of the deity's intentions in a particular circumstance rather than the applications of the minister's sermons in which, she felt, mere language was squeezed into dogma that suited the convenience of both ministers and magistrates and had very little to do with God as she liked to think she experienced Him. And so now, without being able to put into words her own thoughts, she somehow still knew that Massaquoit was not going to knock her over the head, whatever his hatred of the English might be, and she did not doubt that he had cause for his rage.
She was not so presumptuous to think that in saving Massaquoit from the watery grave to which his comrades had been sent that she was serving God's will, that she had become, in a phrase she detested hearing from the pulpit, "an instrument of His will." No, she did not feel that way at all. She had merely done what she thought was the right thing to do, and something she was sure her late husband would have agreed to, once she had taken the time to explain why he should.
This thought took her mind away from the Indian sitting beneath her tree and to her husband, dead these three months, a man with whom she had lived for thirty years, and with whom she had borne six children, all of whom had survived into adulthood and now lived scattered in different towns up and down the river valley that cut a long line from the north through the hills down to Newbury Harbor where it emptied into the sea. None of her children, two daughters and four sons, and their families were now close enough to see more than occasionally. She reasoned that the next time they would be together would be to bury her. That thought gave her ironic comfort.
John had been a kind and gentle husband, conscientious, even aggressive, in business but neglectful at home, so that he had given the management of the household over to his wife to an extent that caused tongues to wag behind their backs. She sensed these criticisms; if John did, however, he did not seem to pay any attention. When he died suddenly of a fever which took him from active middle age to the grave in two days, she had been shocked into numbness from which she recovered into a thankfulness that their lives had been so accommodating to each other, even though their relationship had never burned with much passion.
She turned her attention back to the crouched figure, now just visible in the shadows beneath the tree. There was so much she would have to teach him, and she knew how recalcitrant a student he would surely be.
She must start on the morrow by telling him that his name was now "Matthew." If he did not approve, he could choose another Christian name, for the "treaty" imposed on the surviving Pequots after their disastrous war forbade their language, including names, from being spoken. If she succeeded in convincing him to accept a Christian name, at least for the benefit of their neighbors in the tight, gossipy community that was Newbury, she could then begin the much more arduous process of making him a Christian not just in name, but in some semblance of practice, or appearance, if not belief. She found it almost amusing that she, whose love of her church was far less than her love of her God was now forced to proselytize, to make a convert of one whose stubborn heart would make him an implacable enemy of that very church.
* * * *
Massaquoit awoke, still sitting squat legged beneath the tree, his back pressed against its rough bark, when a twig brushed against his cheek on its way to the ground. He looked up through the branches to find the bird whose housekeeping had dislodged the twig. Halfway up the trunk, he saw the flutter of wings as the brown-feathered female robin flew off. He stood up slowly against the ache in his legs and back. The bird circled overhead, but did not leave the area. After a few moments, it landed on the ground near the plate of food. He heard the door of the house open and saw the same servant girl, who had left the food, looking at him. Although he was too far to see her eyes, he knew they were fearful by the timid movements of her head as she glanced in his direction. He wondered why she was so afraid of him, but then he realized they all were. He found it strange that the defeated captive should excite such terror among those who had defeated him. He watched as she walked ever so slowly toward the plate of food. Her eyes remained on him, and so she did not notice the bird, which had lifted the cloth entirely off the plate, and was now pecking at a crust of bread. The bird, testing the limits of its courage, stayed with its task as the girl approached, until it succeeded in ripping off a piece of the bread. Then, the crust protruding from both sides of its beak, it launched itself with a flutter of wings that brought it dangerously close to the girl's head. She raised her hands to her mouth as though to shriek, but no sound came out. In a quick motion, her eyes still on Massaquoit, she stooped down and lifted the plate, and then hastened back into the house.
He felt the smile form on his lips, and realized that he had not smiled in many weeks. Still, the ache in his muscles, and the emptiness in his belly told him that he must do something to find a way to survive in this strange and hostile environment of the English. He would begin by providing himself with a place to sleep.
Of course, he realized that he was not absolutely free to go. He was not restrained by ropes or chains, as he had been, but he was the white woman's property. If he just left, she could order the soldiers to come after him. He had no stomach to become the hunted animal again, as he had been when he led his people into the swamp. He would wait for the white woman to come out of her house, and then he would tell her what he intended to do. He did not mean to seek her permission, but to inform her of what he needed to do, so she would let him go in peace into the woods.
He did not have long to wait, for Catherine, who had been watching him and Phyllis again from her window, now stepped out of her house, and with her bold stride, which belied her plump body, strode toward him.
"If you do not want to eat my food, I will not bother leaving it out to feed the birds," she said. "They eat well enough in my garden."
"I was not hungry," he said.
She looked at the way his ribs pressed against his flesh and shook her head.
"Were you cold, then? If you want to sleep outside, I can give you a blanket."
"The air is still warm," he replied. "But it will not continue so, and I need to build a shelter for myself."
"So you think you might stay?" she asked.
"If I left you would send the soldiers after me, would you not?"
She shook her head.
"It wouldn't matter what I did, they would go after you like a pack of wolves hungry for fresh meat."
"Would you try to stop them, again, as you did on the ship?"
She considered for a moment, and then shook her head.
"I do not think so."
"Good," he said. "I will stay. I will cause you no trouble." He took a breath. "I will try to do what tasks you give me."
"Your labor will be light, but as you stay with us, you must contribute your strength. It is the one thing, as I am sure you have noticed, that we lack."
Massaquoit remembered how he had contemplated making his way into the house, encountering no more resistance than water to a rock, and he nodded.
"I need a knife, or hatchet, if you are bold enough to give me one."
"Follow me," she said, and then she turned on her heel and followed a path that led around to the garden at the back of her house. The old man was stooped among the beans, a basket on the ground next to his feet.
"Edward," Catherine called to him. The old man looked up. "Be so kind as to bring us a knife and a hatchet."
The old man did not move.
"Edward," Catherine said, in a louder voice. "Do not pretend that you have not heard me. And I know perfectly well what I am doing."
Edward slowly stood up to stretch the stiffness out of his limbs, and then he shuffled off toward the house. He went in a door, and when he emerged a couple of minutes later, the sun glinted off the blades of the knife and the hatchet. He walked toward Catherine and Massaquoit until he was a half a dozen paces from them, and then he laid the implements down. Without a word, he returned to his basket and his beans.
Massaquoit glanced at Catherine. She nodded, and he walked over to the tools and picked them up. He ran his thumb over their blades. Both were sharp enough to slice his flesh with just a little pressure.
"I will be back before dark," he said.
"Tonight is lecture night," she said. "I may not be home when you return." She searched his eyes to see if he understood, but his expression remained blank. "We go for instruction in God's words."
"Your English God must be very hard to understand."
"Some think so," Catherine replied.
"Your minister, on board the boat, offered thanks to your God for defeating us."
"Do you then blame him when you lose?"
She knew how she would like to answer that question, that she would not invoke the Prince of Peace to make war, but she did not think the time right to offer such a radical thought to this heathen.
Massaquoit waited a moment for further explanation, but when it became clear that this strange white woman was not going to offer any more, he trotted off into the woods behind the maple tree beneath which he had spent the night.
He wanted to make his way to the shore to gather reeds for a sleeping mat. He knew that the water lay to the south on the other side of the English village. He had no intention of testing the attitudes of the other white people he might encounter, so he circled the village, staying in the woods.
Once he was half way around the cluster of English houses, he spied a stand of young birch and it did not take him long to hack down enough saplings for his purpose. These he stacked, and then he searched for older, larger trees whose roots would run along the surface of the ground. Not far from the birch, he located two tall pines. He scraped away the dirt from one until he could feel a long taproot, and then he tracked it as it moved away from the tree. Five or six feet from the trunk the root had thinned sufficiently, and he hacked it off with the hatchet. He did this again with one more root from the first tree, and then cut two strips from the other tree, until he had eight or ten feet of rope like roots to bind the saplings into a frame. He used one long piece of root to tie together the stack of saplings, along with the other, shorter roots. A short distance away a mature beech tree, felled by a recent storm, lay on the ground. With the hatchet he skinned as much bark as he could carry.
He was anxious to move on, in part to complete the gathering of his materials, and in part because he felt that the English soldiers might come upon him at any moment. He was not sure that he could trust the woman to keep them from following him. But he also could not much longer ignore the ache in his stomach. Not far from where he sat, he saw the dark blue berries on vines growing in the sun between the trees. The berries were bitter, but he knew they were safe.
If he ate too much, he would become sick, so he stopped as soon as the ache in his stomach lessened. He felt some strength returning, and for a moment his eyes turned to the shadows in the darkening woods, and he thought he might go in that direction. But then he turned his back on the woods and headed for the shore. The sun had long since passed its zenith and was sliding down toward the west. He did not have much time.
When he reached the southern edge of the village again, he saw a crowd gathering on the main road. The English, men, women, and children, were coming out of their houses to join the crowd as it marched past them. As the crowd swelled so did the angry noises emanating from it. The men were gesticulating to each other. Some carried what seemed to be clubs. Others lit torches against the deepening darkness. He came as close to the edge of the crowd as he dared while still keeping the last trees of the forest between him and the English. He strained his ears to hear their words. He could not be sure, but he thought he heard his name muttered.
Their eyes, though, remained staring ahead. Nobody looked into the woods where he hid. He noted the direction of their movement toward the white woman's house. He did not know why the women and children were walking along with the men, but he was sure that they were all coming to find him. He considered running back into the safety of the woods where they would not follow in the dark, but then he would not be sure of their intentions. Instead, he stayed among the trees at the edge of the forest and followed the crowd as it approached Catherine's house.