From Harper's New Monthly Magazine Vol. LXXXVII No. DXVIII (July, 1893)
At dusk Silence went down the Deerfield street to Ensign John Sheldons house. She wore her red blanket over her head, pinned closely under her chin, and her white profile showed whiter between the scarlet folds. She had been spinning all day, and shreds of wool still clung to her indigo petticoat; now and then one floated off on the north wind. It was bitterly cold, and the snow was four feet deep. Silence's breath went before her in a cloud; the snow creaked under her feet. All over the village the crust was so firm that men could walk upon it. The houses were half sunken in sharp, rigid drifts of snow; their roofs were laden with it; icicles hung from the eaves. All the elms were white on their windward sides, and the snow was so nearly ice and frozen to them so strongly that it was not shaken off when they were lashed by the fierce wind.
There was an odor of boiling meal in the air: the housewives were preparing supper. Silence had eaten hers: she and her aunt, Widow Eunice Bishop, supped early. She had not far to go to Ensign Sheldon's. She was nearly there when she heard quick footsteps on the creaking snow behind her. Her heart beat quickly, but she did not look around. “Silence,” said a voice. Then she paused, and waited, with her eyes cast down and her mouth grave, until David Walcott reached her. “What do you out this cold night, sweetheart?” he said.
“I am going down to Good wife Sheldon's,” replied Silence. Then suddenly she cried out, wildly: “Oh, David, what is that on your cloak? What is it?”
David looked curiously at his cloak. “I see naught on my cloak save old weather stains,” said he. “What mean you, Silence?”
Silence quieted down suddenly. “It is gone now,” said she, in a subdued voice.
“What did you see, Silence?”
Silence turned toward him; her face quivered convulsively. “I saw a blotch of blood,” she cried. “I have been seeing them everywhere all day. I have seen them on the snow as I came along.”
David Walcott looked down at her in a bewildered way. He carried his musket over his shoulder, and was shrugged up in his cloak; his heavy flaxen mustache was stiff and white with frost. He had just been relieved from his post as sentry, and it was no child's play to patrol Deerfield village on a day like that, nor had it been for many previous days. The weather had been so severe that even the French and Indians, lurking like hungry wolves in the neighborhood, had hesitated to descend upon the town, and had staid in camp.
“What mean you, Silence?” he said.
“What I say,” returned Silence, in a strained voice. “I have seen blotches of blood everywhere all day. The enemy will be upon us.”
David laughed loudly, and Silence caught his arm. “Don't laugh so loud,” she whispered. Then David laughed again. “You be all overwrought, sweetheart,” said he. “I have kept guard all the afternoon by the northern palisades, and I have seen not so much as a red fox on the meadow. I tell thee the French and Indians have gone back to Canada. There is no more need of fear.”
“I have started all day and all last night at the sound of war-whoops,” said Silence.
“Thy head is nigh turned with these troublous times, poor lass. We must cross the road now to Ensign Sheldon's house. Come quickly, or you will perish in this cold.”
“Nay, my head is not turned,” said Silence, as they hurried on over the crust; “the enemy be hiding in the forests beyond the meadows. David, they be not gone.”
“And I tell thee they be gone, sweetheart. Think you not we should have seen their camp smoke had they been there? And we have had trusty scouts out. Come in, and my aunt Hannah Sheldon shall talk thee out of this folly.”
The front windows of John Sheldon's house were all flickering red from the hearth fire. David flung open the door, and they entered. There was such a goodly blaze from the great logs in the wide fireplace that even the shadows in the remote corners of the large keeping-room were dusky red, and the faces of all the people in the room had a clear red glow upon them.
Goodwife Hannah Sheldon stood before the fire, stirring some porridge in a great pot that hung on the crane; some fair-haired children sat around a basket shelling corn, a slight young girl in a snuff-yellow gown was spinning, and an old woman in a great quilted hood crouched in a corner of the fireplace, holding out her lean hands to the heat.
Goodwife Sheldon turned around when the door opened. “Good-day, Mistress Silence Hoit,” she called out, and her voice was sweet, but deep like a man's. “Draw near to the fire, for in truth you must be near perishing with the cold.”
“There'll be fire enough ere morning, I trow, to warm the whole township,” said the old woman in the corner. Her small black eyes gleamed sharply out of the gloom of her great hood; her yellow face was all drawn and puckered toward the centre of her shrewdly leering mouth.
“Now you hush your croaking, Goody Crane,” cried Hannah Sheldon. “Draw the stool near to the fire for Silence, David. I cannot stop stirring, or the porridge will burn. How fares your aunt this cold weather, Silence?”
“Well, except for her rheumatism,” replied Silence. She sat down on the stool that David placed for her, and slipped her blanket back from her head. Her beautiful face, full of a grave and delicate stateliness, drooped toward the fire, her smooth fair hair was folded in clear curves like the leaves of a lily around her ears, and she wore a high, transparent, tortoise-shell comb like a coronet in the knot at the back of her head.
David Walcott had pulled off his cap and cloak, and stood looking down at her. “Silence is all overwrought by this talk of Indians,” he remarked, presently, and a blush came over his weather-beaten blond face at the tenderness in his own tone.
“The Indians have gone back to Canada,” said Goodwife Sheldon, in a magisterial voice. She stirred the porridge faster; it was smoking fiercely.
“So I tell her,” said David.
Silence looked up in Hannah Sheldon's sober, masterly face. “Goodwife, may I have a word in private with you ?” she asked, in a half-whisper.
“As soon as I take the porridge off,” replied Goodwife Sheldon.
“God grant it be not the last time she takes the porridge off!” said the old woman.
Hannah Sheldon laughed. “Here be Goody Crane in a sorry mind to-night,” said she. “Wait till she have a sup of this good porridge, and I trow she'll pack off the Indians to Canada in a half-hour!”
Hannah began dipping out the porridge. When she had placed smoking dishes of it on the table and bidden everybody draw up, she motioned to Silence. “Now, Mistress Silence,” said she, “come into the bedroom if you would have a word with me.”
Silence followed her into the little north room opening out of the keeping-room, where Ensign John Sheldon and his wife Hannah had slept for many years. It was icy cold, and the thick fur of frost on the little window-panes sent out sparkles in the candle-light. The two women stood beside the great chintz draped and canopied bed, Hannah holding the flaring candle. “Now, what is it?” said she.
“Oh, Goodwife Sheldon!” said Silence. Her face remained quite still, but it was as if one could see her soul fluttering beneath it.
“You be all overwrought, as David saith,” cried Goodwife Sheldon, and her voice had a motherly harshness in it. Silence had no mother, and her lover, David Walcott, had none. Hannah was his aunt, and loved him like her son, so she felt toward Silence as toward her son's betrothed.
“In truth I know not what it is,” said Silence, in a kind of reserved terror, “but there has been all day a great heaviness of spirit upon me, and last night I dreamed. All day I have fancied I saw blood here and there. Sometimes, when I have looked out of the window, the whole snow hath suddenly glared with red. Goodwife Sheldon, think you the Indians and the French have in truth gone back to Canada?”
Goodwife Sheldon hesitated a moment, then she spoke up cheerily. “In truth have they!” cried she. “John said but this noon that naught of them had been seen for some time.”
“So David said,” returned Silence; “but this heaviness will not be driven away. You know how Parson Williams hath spoken in warning in the pulpit and elsewhere, and besought us to be vigilant. He holdeth that the savages be not gone.”
Hannah Sheldon smiled. “Parson Williams be a godly man, but prone ever to look upon the dark side,” said she.
“If the Indians should come to-night —” said Silence.
“I tell ye they will not come, child. I shall lay me down in that bed a-trusting in the Lord, and having no fear against the time I shall arise from it.”
“If the Indians should come — Goodwife Sheldon, be not angered, hear me. If they should come, I pray you keep David here to defend you in this house, and let him not out to seek me. You know well that our house be musket-proof as well as this, and it has long been agreed that they who live nearest, whose houses have not thick walls, shall come to ours and help us make defence. I pray you let not David out of the house to seek me, should there be a surprise to-night. I pray you give me your promise for this, Goodwife Sheldon.”
Hannah Sheldon laughed. “In truth will I give thee the promise, if it make thee easier, child,” said she. “At the very first war-screech will I tie David in the chimney-corner with my apron-string, unless you lend me yours. But there will be no war-screech to-night, nor to-morrow night, nor the night after that. The Lord will preserve His people that trust in Him. To-day have I set a web of linen in the loom, and I have candles ready to dip to-morrow, and the day after that I have a quilting. I look not for Indians. If they come I will set them to work. Fear not for David, sweetheart. In truth you should have a bolder heart, an you look to be a soldier's wife some day.”
“I would I had never been aught to him, that he might not be put in jeopardy to defend me!” said Silence, and her words seemed visible in a white cloud at her mouth.
“We must not stay here in the cold,” said Goodwife Sheldon. “Out with ye, Silence, and have a sup of hot porridge, and then David shall see ye home.”
Silence sipped a cup of the hot porridge obediently, then she pinned her red blanket over her head. Hannah Sheldon assisted her, bringing it warmly over her face. “'Tis bitter cold,” she said. “Now have no more fear, Mistress Silence; the Indians will not come to-night; but do you come over to-morrow, and keep me company while I dip the candles.”
“There'll be company enough — there'll be a whole houseful,” muttered the old woman in the corner, but nobody heeded her. She was a lonely and wretched old creature whom people sheltered from pity, although she was somewhat feared and held in ill repute. There were rumors that she was well versed in all the dark lore of witchcraft, and held commerce with unlawful beings. The children of Deerfield village looked askance at her, and clung to their mothers if they met her on the street, for they whispered among themselves that old Goody Crane rode through the air on a broom in the night-time.
Silence and David passed out into the keen night. “If you meet my goodman, hasten him home, for the porridge is cooling,” Hannah Sheldon called after them.
But they met not a soul on Deerfield street. They parted at Silence's door. David would have entered had she bidden him, but she said peremptorily that she had a hard task of spinning that evening, and then she wished him good-night, and without a kiss, for Silence Hoit was chary of caresses. But to-night she called him back ere he was fairly in the street. “David,” she called, and he ran back.
“What is it, Silence?” he asked.
She put back her blanket, threw her arms around his neck, and clung to him trembling.
“Why, sweetheart,” he whispered, “what has come over thee?”
“You know — this house is made like — a fort,” she said, bringing out her words in gasps, “and — there are muskets, and — powder stored in it, and — Captain Moulton, and his sons, and — John Carson will come, and make — a stand in it. I have — no fear should — the Indians come. Remember that I have no fear, and shall be safe here, David.”
David laughed, and patted her clinging shoulders. “Yes, I will remember, Silence,” he said; “but the Indians will not come.”
“Remember that I am safe here, and have no fear,” she repeated. Then she kissed him of her own accord, as if she had been his wife, and entered the house, and he went away, wondering.
Silence's aunt, Widow Eunice Bishop, did not look up when the door opened; she was knitting by the fire, sitting erect with her mouth pursed. She had a hostile expression, as if she were listening to some opposite argument. Silence hung her blanket on a peg; she stood irresolute a minute, then she breathed on the frosty window and cleared a little space through which she could look out. Her aunt gave a quick fierce glance at her, then she tossed back her head and knitted. Silence stood staring out of the little peep-hole in the frosty pane. Her aunt glanced at her again, then she spoke.
“I should think if you had been out gossiping and gadding for two hours, you had better get yourself at some work now,” she said, “unless your heart be set on idling. A pretty housewife you'll make!”
“Come here quick, quick!” Silence cried out.
Her aunt started, but she would not get up; she knitted, scowling. “I cannot afford to idle if other folk can,” said she. “I have no desire to keep running to windows and standing there gaping, as you have done all this day.”
“Oh, aunt, I pray you to come,” said Silence, and she turned her white face over her shoulder toward her aunt; “there is somewhat wrong surely.”
Widow Bishop got up, still scowling, and went over to the window. Silence stood aside and pointed to the little clear circle in the midst of the frost. “Over there to the north,” she said, in a quick, low voice.
Her aunt adjusted her horn spectacles and bent her head stiffly. “I see naught,” said she.
“A red glare in the north!”
“A red glare in the north! Be ye out of your mind, wench! There be no red glare in the north. Everything be quiet in the town. Get ye away from the window and to your work. I have no more patience with such doings. Here have I left my knitting for nothing, and I just about setting the heel. You'd best keep to your spinning instead of spying out of the window at your own nightmares, and gadding about the town after David Walcott. Pretty doings for a modest maid, I call it, following after young men in this fashion!”
Silence turned on her aunt, and her blue eyes gleamed dark; she held up her head like a queen. “I follow not after young men,” she said.
“Heard I not David Walcott's voice at the door? Went you not to Goody Sheldon's, where he lives? Was it not his voice — hey?”
“Yes, 'twas, an' I had a right to go there an I chose, an' 'twas naught unmaidenly,” said Silence.
“'Twas unmaidenly in my day,” retorted her aunt; “perhaps 'tis different now.” She had returned to her seat, and was clashing her knitting-needles like two swords in a duel.
Silence pulled a spinning-wheel before the fire and fell to work. The wheel turned so rapidly that the spokes were a revolving shadow; there was a sound as if a bee had entered the room.
“I staid at home, and your uncle did the courting,” Widow Eunice Bishop continued, in a voice that demanded response.
But Silence made none. She went on spinning. Her aunt eyed her maliciously. “I never went after nightfall to his house that he might see me home,” said she. “I trow my mother would have locked me up in the garret, and kept me on meal and water for a week, had I done aught so bold.”
Silence spun on. Her aunt threw her head back, and knitted, jerking out her elbows. Neither of them spoke again until the clock struck nine. Then Widow Bishop wound her ball of yarn closer, and stuck in the knitting-needles, and rose. “'Tis time to put out the candle,” she said, “and I have done a good day's work, and feel need of rest. They that have idled cannot make it up by wasting tallow.” She threw open the door that led to her bedroom, and a blast of icy confined air rushed in. She untied the black cap that framed her nervous face austerely, and her gray head, with its tight rosette of hair on the crown, appeared. Silence set her spinning-wheel back, and raked the ashes over the hearth fire. Then she took the candle and climbed the stairs to her own chamber. Her aunt was already in bed, her pale, white-frilled face sunk in the icy feather pillow. But she did not bid her good-night: not on account of her anger; there was seldom any such formal courtesy exchanged between the women. Silence's chamber had one side sloping with the slope of the roof, and in it were two dormer-windows looking toward the north. She set her candle on the table, breathed on one of these windows, as she had on the one downstairs, and looked out. She stood there several minutes, then she turned away, shaking her head. The room was very cold. She let down her smooth fair hair, and her fingers began to redden; she took off her kerchief; then she stopped, and looked hesitatingly at her bed, with its blue curtains. She set her mouth hard, and put on her kerchief. Then she sat down on the edge of her bed and waited. After a while she pulled a quilt from the bed and wrapped it around her. Still she did not shiver. She had blown out the candle, and the room was very dark. All her nerves seemed screwed tight like fiddle-strings, and her thoughts beat upon them and made terrific waves of sound in her ears. She saw sparks and flashes like diamond fire in the darkness. She had her hands clinched tight, but she did not feel her hands nor her feet — she did not feel her whole body. She sat so until two o'clock in the morning. When the clock down in the keeping-room struck the hours, the peals shocked her back for a minute to her old sense of herself; then she lost it again. Just after the clock struck two, while the silvery reverberation of the bell tone was still in her ears, and she was breathing a little freer, a great rosy glow suffused the frosty windows. A horrible discord of sound arose without. Above everything else came something like a peal of laughter from wild beasts or fiends.
Silence arose and went down stairs. Her aunt rushed out of her bedroom, shrieking, and caught hold of her. “Oh, Silence, what is it, what is it?” she cried.
“Get away till I light a candle,” said Silence. She fairly pushed her aunt off, shovelled the ashes from the coals in the fireplace, and lighted a candle. Then she threw some wood on the smouldering fire. Her aunt was running around the room screaming. There came a great pound on the door.
“It's the Indians! it's the Indians! don't let 'em in!” shrieked her aunt. “Don't let them in! don't let them!” She placed her lean shoulder in her white bed-gown against the door. “Go away! go away!” she yelled. “You can't come in! O Lord Almighty, save us!”
“You stand off,” said Silence. She took hold of her aunt's shoulders. “Be quiet,” she commanded. Then she called out, in a firm voice, “Who is there?”
At the shout in response she drew the great iron bolts quickly and flung open the heavy nail-studded door. There was a press of frantic white-faced people into the room; then the door was slammed to and the bolts shot. It was very still in the room, except for the shuffling rush of the men's feet and now and then a stern gasping order. The children did not cry; all the noise was without. The house might have stood in the midst of some awful wilderness peopled with fiendish beasts, from the noise without. The cries seemed actually in the room. The children's eyes glared white over their mothers' shoulders.
The men hurriedly strengthened the window-shutters with props of logs, and fitted the muskets into the loop-holes. Suddenly there was a great crash at the door and a wilder yell outside. The muskets opened fire, and some of the women rushed to the door and pressed fiercely against it with their delicate shoulders, their white desperate faces turning back dumbly, like a spiritual phalanx of defence. Silence and her aunt were among them.
Suddenly Widow Eunice Bishop, at a fresh onslaught upon the door and a fiercer yell, lifted up her voice and shrieked back in a rage as mad as theirs. Her speech, too, was almost inarticulate, and the sense of it lost in a savage frenzy; her tongue stuttered over abusive epithets; but for a second she prevailed over the terrible chorus without. It was like the solo of a fury. Then louder yells drowned her out; the muskets cracked faster; the men rammed in the charges; the savages fell back somewhat; the blows on the door ceased.
Silence ran up the stairs to her chamber, and peeped cautiously out of a little dormer-window. Deerfield village was roaring with flames, the sky and snow were red, and leaping through the glare came the painted savages, a savage white face and the waving sword of a French officer in their midst. The awful war-whoops and the death-cries of her friends and neighbors sounded in her ears. She saw, close under her window, the dark sweep of the tomahawk, the quick glance of the scalping-knife, and the red starting of caps of blood. She saw infants dashed through the air, and the backward-straining forms of shrieking women dragged down the street; but she saw not David Walcott anywhere.
She eyed in an agony some dark bodies lying like logs in the snow. A wild impulse seized her to run out, turn their dead faces, and see that none of them was her lover's. Her room was full of red light; everything in it showed distinctly. The roof of the next house crashed in, and the sparks and cinders shot up like a volcano. There was a great outcry of terror from below, and Silence hurried down. The Indians were trying to fire the house from the west side. They had piled a bank of brush against it, and the men had hacked new loop-holes and were beating them back.
John Carson's wife clutched Silence as she entered the keeping-room. “They are trying to set the house on fire,” she gasped, “and — the bullets are giving out!” The woman held a little child hugged close to her breast; she strained him closer. “They shall not have him, anyway,” she said. Her mouth looked white and stiff.
“Put him down and help, then,” said Silence. She began pulling the pewter plates off the dresser.
“What be you doing with my pewter plates?” screamed her aunt at her elbow.
Silence said nothing. She went on piling the plates under her arm.
“Think you I will have the pewter plates I have had ever since I was wed melted to make bullets for those limbs of Satan?”
Silence carried the plates to the fire; the women piled on wood and made it hotter. John Carson's wife laid her baby on the settle and helped, and Widow Bishop brought out her pewter spoons, and her silver cream-jug when the pewter ran low, and finally her dead husband's knee-buckles from the cedar chest. All the pewter and silver in Widow Eunice Bishop's house was melted down on that night. The women worked with desperate zeal to supply the men with bullets, and just before the ammunition failed, the Indians left Deerfield village, with their captives in their train.
The men had stopped firing at last. Everything was quiet outside, except for the flurry of musket-shots down on the meadow, where the skirmish was going on between the Hatfield men and the retreating French and Indians. The dawn was breaking, but not a shutter had been stirred in the Bishop house; the inmates were clustered together, their ears straining for another outburst of slaughter.
Suddenly there was a strange crackling sound overhead; a puff of hot smoke came into the room from the stairway. The roof had caught fire from the shower of sparks, and the stanch house that had withstood all the fury of the savages was going the way of its neighbors.
The men rushed up the stair, and fell back. “We can't save it !” Captain Isaac Moulton said, hoarsely. He was an old man, and his white hair tossed wildly around his powder-blackened face.
Widow Eunice Bishop scuttled into her bedroom, and got her best silk pelisse and her gilt-framed looking-glass. “Silence, get out the feather bed!” she shrieked.
The keeping-room was stifling with smoke. Captain Moulton loosened a window-shutter cautiously and peered out. “I see no sign of the savages,” he said. They unbolted the door, and opened it inch by inch, but there was no exultant shout in response. The crack of muskets on the meadow sounded louder; that was all.
Widow Eunice Bishop pushed forward before the others; the danger by fire to her household goods had driven her own danger from her mind, which could compass but one terror at a time. “Let me forth!” she cried; and she laid the looking-glass and silk pelisse on the snow, and pelted back into the smoke for her feather bed and the best andirons.
Silence carried out the spinning-wheel, and the others caught up various articles which they had wit to see in the panic. They piled them up on the snow outside, and huddled together, staring fearfully down the village street. They saw, amid the smouldering ruins, Ensign John Sheldon's house standing.
“We must make for that,” said Captain Isaac Moulton, and they started. The men went before and behind, with their muskets in readiness, and the women and children walked between. Widow Bishop carried the pelisse and looking-glass; somebody had helped her to bring out her feather bed, and she had dragged it to a clean place well away from the burning house.
The dawnlight lay pale and cold in the east; it was steadily overcoming the fire-glow from the ruins. Nobody would have known Deerfield village. The night before the sun had gone down upon the snowy slants of humble roofs and the peaceful rise of smoke from pleasant hearth fires. The curtained windows had gleamed out one by one with mild candle-light, and serene faces of white-capped matrons preparing supper had passed them. Now, on both sides of Deerfield street were beds of glowing red coals; grotesque ruins of door-posts and chimneys in the semblances of blackened martyrs stood crumbling in the midst of them, and twisted charred heaps, which the people eyed trembling, lay in the old doorways. The snow showed great red patches in the gathering light, and in them lay still bodies that seemed to move.
Silence Hoit sprang out from the hurrying throng, and turned the head of one dead man whose face she could not see. The horror of his red crown did not move her. She only saw that he was not David Walcott. She stooped and wiped off her hands in some snow.
“That is Israel Bennett,” the others groaned.
John Carson's wife had been the dead man's sister. She hugged her baby tighter, and pressed more closely to her husband's back. There was no longer any sound of musketry on the meadows. There was not a sound to be heard except the wind in the dry trees and the panting breaths of the knot of people.
A dead baby lay directly in the path, and a woman caught it up, and tried to warm it at her breast. She wrapped her cloak around it, and wiped its little bloody face with her apron. “'Tis not dead,” she declared, frantically; “the child is not dead!” She had not shed a tear nor uttered a wail before, but now she began sobbing aloud over the dead child. It was Goodwife Barnard's, and no kin to her. She was a single woman. The others were looking right and left for lurking savages. She looked only at the little cold face on her bosom. “The child breathes,” she said, and hurried on faster that she might get succor for it.
The party halted before Ensign John Sheldon's house. The stout door was fast, but there was a hole in it, as if hacked by a tomahawk. The men tried it and shook it. “Open, open, Goodwife Sheldon!” they hallooed. “Friends! friends! Open the door!” But there was no response.
Silence Hoit left the throng at the door, and began clambering up on a slant of icy snow to a window which was flung wide open. The window-sill was stained with blood, and so was the snow.
One of the men caught Silence and tried to hold her back. “There may be Indians in there,” he whispered, hoarsely.
But Silence broke away from him, and was in through the window, and the men followed her, and unbolted the door for the women, who pressed in wildly, and flung it to again. And a child who was among them, little Comfort Arms, stationed herself directly with her tiny back against the door, with her mouth set like a soldier's, and her blue eyes gleaming fierce under her flaxen locks. “They shall not get in,” said she. Somehow she had gotten hold of a great horse-pistol, which she carried like a doll.
Nobody heeded her, Silence least of all. She stared about the room, with her lips parted. Right before her on the hearth lay a little three-year-old girl, Mercy Sheldon, her pretty head in a pool of blood, but Silence cast only an indifferent glance when the others gathered about her, groaning and sighing.
Suddenly Silence sprang toward a dark heap near the pantry door, but it was only a woman's quilted petticoat.
The spinning-wheel lay broken on the floor, and all the simple furniture was strewn about wildly. Silence went into Goodwife Sheldon's bedroom, and the others followed her, trembling, all except little Comfort Arms, who stood unflinchingly with her back pressed against the door, and the single woman, Grace Mather; she staid behind, and put wood on the fire after she had picked up the quilted petticoat, and laid the dead baby tenderly wrapped in it on the settle. Then she pulled the settle forward before the fire, and knelt before it, and fell to chafing the little limbs of the dead baby, weeping as she did so.
Goodwife Sheldon's bedroom was in wild disorder. A candle still burned, although it was very low, on the table, whose linen cover had great red finger-prints on it. Goodwife Sheldon's decent clothes were tossed about on the floor; the curtains of the bed were half torn away. Silence pressed forward unshrinkingly toward the bed; the others, even the men, hung back. There lay Goodwife Sheldon dead in her bed. All the light in the room, the candle-light and the low daylight, seemed to focus upon her white frozen profile propped stiffly on the pillow, where she had fallen back when the bullet came through that hole in the door.
Silence looked at her. “Where is David, Goodwife Sheldon?” said she.
Eunice Bishop sprang forward. “Be you clean out of your mind, Silence Hoit?” she cried. “Know you not she's dead? She's dead! Oh, she's dead, she's dead! An' here's her best silk hood trampled underfoot on the floor!” Eunice snatched up the hood, and seized Silence by the arm, but she pushed her back.
“Where is David? Where is he gone?” she demanded again of the dead woman.
The other women came crowding around Silence then, and tried to soothe her and reason with her, while their own faces were white with horror and woe. Goodwife Sarah Spear, an old woman whose sons lay dead in the street outside, put an arm around the girl, and tried to draw her head to her broad bosom.
“Mayhap thou'lt will find him, sweetheart,” she said. “He's not among the dead out there.”
But Silence broke away from the motherly arm, and sped wildly through the other rooms, with the people at her heels, and her aunt crying vainly after her. They found no more dead in the house; naught but ruin and disorder, and bloody footprints and handprints of savages.
When they returned to the keeping-room, Silence seated herself on a stool by the fire, and held out her hands toward the blaze to warm them. The daylight was broad now, and the great clock that had come from overseas ticked; the Indians had not touched that.
Captain Isaac Moulton lifted little Mercy Sheldon from the hearth and carried her to her dead mother in the bedroom, and two of the older women went in there and shut the door. Little Comfort Arms still stood with her back against the outer door, and Grace Mather tended the dead baby on the settle.
“What do ye with that dead child?” a woman called out roughly to her.
“I tell ye 'tis not dead; it breathes,” returned Grace Mather; and she never turned her harsh plain face from the dead child.
“An' I tell ye 'tis dead.”
“An' I tell ye 'tis not dead. I need but some hot posset for it.”
Goodwife Carson began to weep. She hugged her own living baby tighter. “Let her alone!” she sobbed. “I wonder our wits be not all gone.” She went sobbing over to little Comfort Arms at the door. “Come away, sweetheart, and draw near the fire,” she pleaded, brokenly.
The little girl looked obstinately up at her. “They shall not come in,” she said. “The wicked savages shall not come in again.”
“No more shall they, an the Lord be willing, sweet. But, I pray you, come away from the door now.”
Comfort shook her head, and she looked like her father as he fought on the Deerfield meadows.
“The savages be gone, sweet.”
But Comfort answered not a word, and Goodwife Carson sat down and began to nurse her baby. One of the women hung the porridge-kettle over the fire; another put some potatoes in the ashes to bake. Presently the two women came out of Goodwife Sheldon's bedroom with grave, strained faces, and held their stiff blue fingers out to the hearth fire.
Eunice Bishop, who was stirring the porridge, looked at them with sharp curiosity. “How look they?” she whispered.
“As peaceful as if they slept,” replied Goodwife Spear, who was one of the women.
“And the child's head?”
“We put on her little white cap with the lace frills.”
Eunice stirred the bubbling porridge, scowling in the heat and steam; some of the women laid the table with Hannah Sheldon's linen cloth and pewter dishes, and presently the breakfast was dished up.
Little Comfort Arms had sunk at the foot of the nail-studded door in a deep slumber. She slept at her post like the faithless sentry whose slumbers the night before had brought about the destruction of Deerfield village. Goodwife Spear raised her up, but her curly head drooped helplessly.
“Wake up, Comfort, and have a sup of hot porridge,” she called in her ear.
She led her over to the table, Comfort stumbling weakly at arm's-length, and set her on a stool with a dish of porridge before her, which she ate uncertainly in a dazed fashion, with her eyes filming and her head nodding.
They all gathered gravely around the table except Silence Hoit and Grace Mather. Silence sat still, staring at the fire, and Grace had dipped out a little cup of the hot porridge, and was trying to feed it to the dead baby, with crooning words.
“Silence, why come you not to the table?” her aunt called out.
“I want nothing,” answered Silence.
“I see not why you should so set yourself up before the others, as having so much more to bear,” said Eunice, sharply. “There be Goodwife Spear, with her sons unburied on the road yonder, and she doth eat her porridge with good relish.”
John Carson's wife set her baby on her husband's knee, and carried a dish of porridge to Silence.
“Try and eat it, sweet,” she whispered. She was near Silence's age.
Silence looked up at her. “I want it not,” said she.
“But he may not be dead, sweet. He may presently be home. You would not he should find you spent and fainting. Perchance he may have wounds for you to tend.”
Silence seized the dish and began to eat the porridge in great spoonfuls, gulping it down fast.
The people at the table eyed her sadly and whispered, and they also cast frequent glances at Grace Mather bending over the dead baby. Once Captain Isaac Moulton called out to her in his gruff old voice, which he tried to soften, and she answered back, sharply: “Think ye I will leave this child while it breathes, Captain Isaac Moulton? In faith I be the only one of ye all that hath regard to it.”
But suddenly, when the meal was half over, Grace Mather arose, and gathered up the little dead baby, carried it into Goodwife Sheldon's bedroom, and was gone some time.
“She has lost her wits,” said Eunice Bishop. “Think you not we should follow her? She may do some harm.”
“Nay, let her be,” said Goodwife Spear.
When at last Grace Mather came out of the bedroom, and they all turned to look at her, her face was stern but quite composed. “I found a little clean linen shift in the chest,” she said to Goodwife Spear, who nodded gravely. Then she sat down at the table and ate.
The people, as they ate, cast frequent glances at the barred door and the shuttered windows. The daylight was broad outside, but there was no glimmer of it in the room, and the candles were lighted. They dared not yet remove the barricades, and the muskets were in readiness: the Indians might return.
All at once there was a shrill clamor at the door, and men sprang to their muskets. The women clutched each other, panting.
“Unbar the door!” shrieked a quavering old voice. “I tell ye, unbar the door! I be nigh frozen a-standing here. Unbar the door! The Indians be gone hours ago.”
“'Tis Goody Crane,” cried Eunice Bishop.
Captain Isaac Moulton shot back the bolts and opened the door a little way, while the men stood close at his back, and Goody Crane slid in like a swift black shadow out of the daylight.
She crouched down close to the fire, trembling and groaning, and the women gave her some hot porridge.
“Where have ye been?” demanded Eunice Bishop.
“Where they found me not,” replied the old woman, and there was a sudden leer like a light in the gloom of her great hood. She motioned toward the bedroom door.
“Goody Sheldon sleeps late this morning, and so doth Mercy,” said she. “I trow she will not dip her candles to-day.”
The people looked at each other; a subtler horror than that of the night before shook their spirits.
Captain Isaac Moulton towered over the old woman on the hearth. “How knew you Goodwife Sheldon and Mercy were dead?” he asked, sternly.
The old woman leered up at him undauntedly; her head bobbed. There was a curious grotesqueness about her blanketed and hooded figure when in motion. There was so little of the old woman herself visible that motion surprised, as it would have done in a puppet. “Told I not Goody Sheldon last night she would never stir porridge again?” said she. “Who stirred the porridge this morning? I trow Goody Sheldon's hands be too stiff and too cold, though they have stirred well in their day. Hath she dipped her candles yet? Hath she begun on her weaving? I trow 'twill be a long day ere Mary Sheldon's linen-chest be filled, if she herself go a-gadding to Canada and her mother sleep so late.”
“Eat this hot porridge and stop your croaking,” said Goodwife Spear, stooping over her.
The old woman extended her two shaking hands for the dish. “That was what she said last night,” she returned. “The living echo the dead, and that be enough wisdom for a witch.”
“You'll be burned for a witch yet, Goody Crane, an you be not careful,” cried Eunice Bishop.
“There be fire enough outside to burn all the witches in the land,” muttered the old woman, sipping her porridge. Suddenly she eyed Silence sitting motionless opposite. “Where be your sweetheart this fine morning, Silence Hoit?” she inquired.
Silence looked at her. There was a strange likeness between the glitter in her blue eyes and that in Goody Crane's black ones.
The old woman's great hood nodded over the porridge-dish. “I can tell ye, Mistress Silence,” she said, thickly, as she ate. “He be gone to Canada on a moose-hunt, and unless I be far wrong, he hath taken thy wits with him.”
“How know you David Walcott is gone to Canada?” cried Eunice Bishop; and Silence stared at her with her hard blue eyes.
Silence's soft fair hair hung all matted like uncombed flax over her pale cheeks. There was a rigid, dead look about her girlish forehead and her sweet mouth.
“I know,” returned Goody Crane, nodding her head.
The women washed the pewter dishes, set them back on the dresser, and swept the floor. Little Comfort Arms had been carried up stairs and laid in the bed whence poor Mary Sheldon had been dragged and haled to Canada. The men stood talking near their stacked muskets. One of the shutters had been opened and the candles put out. The winter sun shone in the window as it had shone before, but the poor folk in Ensign Sheldon's keeping-room saw it with a certain shock, as if it were a stranger. That morning their own hearts had in them such strangeness that they transferred it like motion to all familiar objects. The very iron dogs in the Sheldon fireplace seemed on the leap with tragedy, and the porridge-kettle swung darkly out of some former age.
Now and then one of the men opened the door cautiously and peered out and listened. The reek of the smouldering village came in at the door, but there was not a sound except the whistling howl of the savage north wind, which still swept over the valley. There was not a shot to be heard from the meadows. The men discussed the wisdom of leaving the women for a short space and going forth to explore, but Widow Eunice Bishop interposed, thrusting in her sharp face among them.
“Here we be,” scolded she, “a passel of women and children, and Hannah Sheldon and Mercy a-lying dead, and me with my house burnt down, and nothing saved except my silk pelisse and my looking-glass and my feather bed, and it's a mercy if that's not all smooched, and you talk of going off and leaving us!”
The men looked doubtfully at each other; then there was the hissing creak of footsteps on the snow outside, and Widow Bishop screamed. “Oh, the Indians have come back!” she proclaimed.
Silence looked up.
The door was tried from without.
“Who's there?” cried out Captain Moulton.
“John Sheldon,” responded a hoarse voice. “Who's inside?”
Captain Moulton threw open the door, and John Sheldon stood there. His severe and sober face was painted like an Indian's with blood and powder grime; he stood staring in at the company.
“Come in, quick, and let us bar the door!” screamed Eunice Bishop.
John Sheldon came in hesitatingly, and stood looking around the room.
“Have you but just come from the meadows?” inquired Captain Moulton. But John Sheldon did not seem to hear him. He stared at the company, who all stood still staring back at him; then he looked hard and long at the doors, as if expecting some one to enter. The eyes of the others followed his, but no one spoke.
“Where's Hannah?” asked John Sheldon.
Then the women began to weep.
“She's in there,” sobbed John Carson's wife, pointing to the bedroom door — “in there with little Mercy, Goodman Sheldon.”
“Is — the child hurt, and — Hannah a-tending her?”
The women wept, and pushed each other forward to tell him, but Captain Isaac Moulton spoke out, and drove the knife home like an honest soldier, who will kill if he must, but not mangle.
“Goodwife Sheldon lies yonder, shot dead in her bed, and we found the child dead on the hearth-stone,” said Isaac Moulton.
John Sheldon turned his gaze on him.
“The judgments of the Lord are just and righteous altogether,” said Isaac Moulton, confronting him with stern defiance.
“Amen,” returned John Sheldon. He took off his cloak, and hung it up on the peg where he was used.
“Where is David Walcott?” asked Silence, standing before him.
“David, he be gone with the Indians to Canada, and the boys, Ebenezer and Remembrance.”
“Where is David?”
“I tell ye, lass, he be gone with the French and Indians to Canada; and you need be thankful he was but your sweetheart, and ye not wed, with a half-score of babes to be taken too. The curse that was upon the women of Jerusalem is upon the women of Deerfield.” John Sheldon looked sternly into Silence's white wild face; then his voice softened. “Take heart, lass,” said he. “Erelong I shall go to Governor Dudley and get help, and then after them to Canada, and fetch them back. Take heart; I will fetch thee thy sweetheart presently.”
Silence returned to her seat in the fireplace. Goody Crane looked across at her. “He will come back over the north meadow,” she whispered. “Keep watch over the north meadow; but 'twill be a long day ere ye see him.”
Silence paid seemingly little heed. She paid little heed to Ensign John Sheldon relating how the French and Indians, with Hertel de Rouville at their head, were on the road to Canada with their captives; of the fight on the meadow between the retreating foe and the brave band of Deerfield and Hatfield men, who had made a stand there to intercept them; how they had been obliged to cease firing because the captives were threatened; and the pitiful tale of Parson John Williams, with two children dead, dragged through the wilderness with the others, and his sick wife.
“Had folk listened to him, we had all been safe in our good houses with our belongings,” cried Eunice Bishop.
“They will not drag Goodwife Williams far,” said Goody Crane, “nor the babe at her breast. I trow well it hath stopped wailing ere now.”
“How know you that?” questioned Eunice Bishop, turning sharply on her.
But the old woman only nodded her head, and Silence paid no heed, for she was not there. Her slender girlish shape sat by the hearth fire in John Sheldon's house in Deerfield, her fair head showed like a delicate flower, but Silence Hoit was following her lover to Canada. Every step that he took painfully through pathless forests, on treacherous ice, and desolate snow fields, she took more painfully still; every knife gleaming over his head she saw. She bore his every qualm of hunger and pain and cold, and it was all the harder because they struck on her bare heart with no flesh between, for she sat in the flesh in Deerfield, and her heart went with her lover to Canada.
The sun stood higher, but it was still bitter cold; the blue frost on the windows did not melt, and the icicles on the eaves, which nearly touched the sharp snow-drifts underneath, did not drip. The desolate survivors of the terrible night began work among the black ruins of their homes. They cared as well as they might for the dead in Deerfield street, and the dead on the meadow where the fight had been. Their muscles were all tense with the cold, their faces seamed and blue with it, but their hearts were strained with a fiercer cold than that. Not one man of them but had one or more slain, with dead face upturned seeking his in the morning light or on that awful road to Canada. Ever as the men worked they turned their eyes northward, and met grimly the icy blast of the north wind, and sometimes to their excited fancies it seemed to bring to their ears the cries of their friends who were facing it also, and they stood still and listened.
Silence Hoit crept out of the house and down the road a little way, and then stood looking over the meadow toward the north. Her fair hair tossed in the wind, her pale cheeks turned pink, the wind struck full upon her delicate figure. She had come out without her blanket.
“David!” she called. “David! David! David!” The north wind bore down upon her, shrieking with a wild fury like a savage of the air; the dry branches of a small tree near her struck her in the face. “David!” she called again. “David! David!” She swelled out her white throat like a bird, and her voice was shrill and sweet and far-reaching. The men moving about on the meadow below, and stooping over the dead, looked up at her, but she did not heed them. She had come through a break in the palisades; on each side of her the frozen snow-drifts slanted sharply to their tops; over the drifts the enemy had passed the night before, and they glittered with blue lights like glaciers in the morning sun.
The men on the meadow saw Silence's hair blowing like a yellow banner between the drifts of snow.
“The poor lass has come out bareheaded,” said Ensign Sheldon. “She is near out of her mind for David Walcott.”
“A man should have no sweetheart in these times, unless he would her heart be broke,” said a young man beside him. He was hardly more than a boy, and his face was as rosy as a girl's in the wind. He kept close to Ensign Sheldon, and his mind was full of young Mary Sheldon travelling to Canada on her weary little feet. He had often, on a Sabbath day, looked across the meeting-house at her, and thought that there was no maiden like her in Deerfield.
Ensign John Sheldon thought of his sweetheart lying with her heart still in her freezing bedroom, and stooped over a dead Hatfield man whose face was frozen into the snow.
The young man, whose name was Freedom Wells, bent over to help him. Then he started. “What's that?” he cried.
“'Tis only Silence Hoit calling David Walcott again,” replied Ensign Sheldon.
The voice had sounded like Mary Sheldon's to Freedom. The tears rolled over his boyish cheeks as he put his hands into the snow and tried to dig it away from the dead man's face.
“David! David! David!” called Silence.
Suddenly her aunt threw a wiry arm around her. “Be you gone clean daft,” she shrieked against the wind, “standing here calling David Walcott? Know you not he is a half-day's journey toward Canada, an the savages have not scalped him and left him by the way? Standing here with your hair blowing and no blanket! Into the house with ye!”
Silence followed her aunt unresistingly. The women in Ensign Sheldon's house were hard at work. They were baking in the great brick oven, spinning, and even dipping poor Goodwife Sheldon's candles.
“Bind up your hair, like an honest maid, and go to spinning,” said Eunice, and she pointed to the spinning-wheel which had been saved from her own house. “We that be spared have to work, and not sit down and trot our own hearts on our knees. There be scarce a yard of linen left in Deerfield, to say naught of woollen cloth. Bind up your hair!”
And Silence bound up her hair, and sat down by her wheel meekly, and yet with a certain dignity. Indeed, through all the disorder of her mind, that delicate maiden dignity never forsook her, and there was never aught but respect shown her.
As time went on, it became quite evident that although the fair semblance of Silence Hoit still walked the Deerfield street, sat in the meeting-house, and toiled at the spinning-wheel and the loom, yet she was as surely not all there as though she had been haled to Canada with the other captives on that terrible February night. And it became the general opinion that Silence Hoit would never be quite her old self again and walk in the goodly company of all her fair wits unless David Walcott should be redeemed from captivity and restored to her. Then, it was accounted possible, the mending of the calamity which brought her disorder upon her might remove it.
“Ye wait,” Widow Eunice Bishop would say, hetchelling flax the while as though it were the scalp-locks of the enemy — “ye wait. If once David Walcott show his face, ye'll see Silence Hoit be not so lacking. She hath a tenderer heart than some I could mention, who go about smiling when their nearest of kin lay in torment in Indian lodges. She cares naught for picking up a new sweetheart. She hath a steady heart that be not so easy turned as some. Silence was never a light hussy, a-dancing hither and thither off the bridle-path for a new flower on the bushes. An', for all ye call her lacking now, there be not a maid in Deerfield does such a day's task as she.”
And that last statement was quite true. All the Deerfield women, the matrons and maidens, toiled unceasingly, with a kind of stern patience like that which served their husbands and lovers in the frontier corn fields, and which served all the dauntless border settlers, who were forced continually to rebuild after destruction, like way-side ants whose nests are always being trampled underfoot. There was need of unflinching toil at wheel and loom, for there was great scarcity of household linen in Deerfield, and Silence Hoit's shapely white maiden hands flinched less than any.
Nevertheless, many a day, in the morning when the snowy meadows were full of blue lights, at sunset when all the snow levels were rosy, but more particularly in wintry moonlight when the country was like a waste of silver, would Silence Hoit leave suddenly her household task, and hasten to the terrace overlooking the north meadow, and shriek out: “David! David! David Walcott!”
The village children never jeered at her, as they would sometimes jeer at Goody Crane if not restrained by their elders. They eyed with a mixture of wonder and admiration Silence's beautiful bewildered face, with the curves of gold hair around the pink cheeks, and the fret-work of tortoise-shell surmounting it. David Walcott had given Silence her shell comb, and she was never seen without it.
Many a time when Silence called to David from the terrace of the north meadow, some of the little village maids in their homespun pinafores would join her and call with her. They had no fear of her, as they had of Goody Crane.
Indeed, Goody Crane, after the massacre, was in worse repute than ever in Deerfield. There were dark rumors concerning her whereabouts upon that awful night. Some among the devout and godly were fain to believe that the old woman had been in league with the powers of darkness and their allies the savages, and had so escaped harm. Some even whispered that in the thickest of the slaughter, when Deerfield was in the midst of that storm of fire, old Goody Crane's laugh had been heard, and one, looking up, had spied her high overhead riding her broomstick, her face red with the glare of the fire. The old woman was sheltered under protest, and had Deerfield not been a frontier town, and graver matters continually in mind, she might have come to harm in consequence of the gloomy suspicions concerning her.
Many a night after the massacre would the windows fly up and anxious faces peer out. It was as if the ears of the people were tuned up to the pitch of the Indian war-whoops, and their very thoughts made the nights ring with them.
The palisades were well looked to; there was never a slope of frozen snow again to form foothold for the enemy, and the sentry never slept at his post. But the anxious women listened all winter for the war-whoops, and many a time it seemed they heard them. In the midst of their nervous terror it was often a sore temptation to consult old Goody Crane, since she was held to have occult knowledge.
“I'll warrant old Goody Crane could tell us in a twinkling whether or no the Indians would come before morning,” Eunice Bishop said one fierce windy night that called to mind the one of the massacre.
“Knowledge got in unlawful ways would avail us naught,” returned Goodwife Spear. “I trow the Lord be yet able to protect His people.”
“I doubt not that,” said Eunice Bishop, “but I would like well to know if I had best bury my pelisse and my spinning-wheel and looking-glass in a snow-drift to-night. I have no mind the Indians shall get them. I warrant she knoweth well.”
But Eunice Bishop did not consult Goody Crane, although she watched her narrowly and had a sharp ear to her mutterings as she sat in the chimney-corner. Eunice and Silence were living in John Sheldon's house, as did many of the survivors for some time after the massacre. It was the largest house in the village, and most of its original inhabitants were dead or gone into captivity. The people all huddled together fearfully in the few houses that were left, and the women's spinning-wheels and looms jostled each other.
As soon as the weather moderated, the work of building new dwellings commenced, and went on bravely with the advance of the spring. The air was full of the calls of spring birds and the strokes of axes and hammers. A little house was built on the site of their old one for Widow Bishop and Silence Hoit. Widow Sarah Spear also lived with them, and Goody Crane took shelter at their fireside for the most part. So they were a household of women, with loaded muskets at hand, and spinning-wheels and looms at full hum. They had but a scanty household store, although Widow Bishop tried in every way to increase it. Several times during the summer she took perilous journeys to Hatfield and Squakheak, for the sake of bartering skeins of yarn or rolls of wool for household articles. In December, when Ensign Sheldon with young Freedom Wells went down to Boston to consult with Governor Dudley concerning an expedition to Canada to redeem the captives, Widow Eunice Bishop, having saved a few shillings, burdened him with a commission to purchase for her a new cap and a pair of bellows. She was much angered when he returned without them, having clean forgotten them in his press of business.
On the day when John Sheldon and Freedom Wells started upon their terrible journey of three hundred miles to redeem the captives, Eunice Bishop scolded well as she spun by her hearth fire.
“I trow they will bring back nobody,” said she, her nose high in air, and her voice shrilling over the drone of the wheel; “an they could not do the bidding of a poor lone widow-woman, and fetch her not the cap and bellows from Boston, they'll fetch nobody home from Canada. I would I had ear of Governor Dudley. I trow men with minds upon their task would be sent.” Eunice kept jerking her head as she scolded, and spun like a bee angry with its own humming.
Silence sat knitting, and paid no heed. She had paid no heed to any of the talk about Ensign Sheldon's and Freedom Wells's journey to Canada. She had not seemed to listen when Widow Spear had tried to explain the matter to her. “It may be, sweetheart, if it be the will of the Lord, that they will bring David back to thee,” she had said over and over, and Silence had knitted and made no response.
She was the only one in Deerfield who was not torn with excitement and suspense as the months went by, and the only one unmoved by joy or disappointment when in May John Sheldon and Freedom Wells returned with five of the captives. But David Walcott was not among them.
“Said I not 'twould be so?” scolded Eunice Bishop. “Knew I not 'twould be so when they forgot to get the cap and the bellows in Boston? The one of all the captives that could have saved a poor maid's wits they leave behind. There's Mary Sheldon come home, and she a-coloring red before Freedom Wells, and everybody in the room a-seeing it. I trow they might have done somewhat for poor Silence,” and Eunice broke down and wailed and wept, but Silence shed not a tear. Before long she stole out to the terrace and called “David! David! David!” over the north meadow, and strained her blue eyes toward Canada, and held out her fair arms, but it was with no new disappointment and desolation.
There was never a day nor a night that Silence called not over the north meadow like a spring bird from the bush to her absent mate, and people heard her and sighed and shuddered. One afternoon in the last of the month of June, as Silence was thrusting her face between the leaves of a wild cherry-tree and calling “David! David! David!” David himself broke through the thicket and stood before her. He and three other young men had escaped from their captivity and come home, and the four, crawling half dead across the meadow, had heard Silence's voice from the terrace above, and David, leaving the others, had made his way to her.
“Silence!” he said, and held out his poor arms, panting.
But Silence looked past him. “David! David! David Walcott!” she called.
David could scarcely stand for trembling, and he grasped a branch of the cherry-tree to steady himself, and swayed with it.
“Know — you not — who I am, Silence?” he said.
But she made as though she did not hear, and called again, always looking past him. And David Walcott, being near spent with fatigue and starvation, wound himself feebly around the trunk of the tree, and the tears dropped over his cheeks as he looked at her; and she called past him, until some women came and led him away and tried to comfort him, telling him how it was with her, and that she would soon know him when he looked more like himself.
But the summer wore away and she did not know him, although he constantly followed her beseechingly. His elders even reproved him for paying so little heed to his work in the colony. “It is not meet for a young man to be so weaned from usefulness by grief for a maid,” said they. But David Walcott would at any time leave his reaping-hook in the corn and his axe in the tree, leave aught but his post as sentry, when he heard Silence calling him over the north meadow. He would stand at her elbow and say, in his voice that broke like a woman's: “Here I be, sweetheart, at thy side. I pray thee turn thy head.” But she would not let her eyes rest upon him for more than a second's space, but turned them ever past him toward Canada, and called in his very ears with a sad longing that tore his heart: “David! David! David!” It was as if her mind, reaching out ever and speeding fast in search of him, had gotten such impetus that she passed the very object of her search and knew it not.
Now and then would David Walcott grow desperate, fling his arms around her, and kiss her upon her cold delicate lips and cheeks as if he would make her recognize him by force; but she would free herself from him with a passionless resentment that left him helpless.
One day in autumn, when the borders of the Deerfield meadows were a smoky purple with wild asters, and golden-rods flashed out like golden flames in the midst of them, David Walcott had been pleading vainly with Silence as she stood calling on the north terrace. Suddenly he turned and rushed away, and his face was all convulsed like a weeping boy's. As he came out of the thicket he met the old woman Goody Crane, and would fain have hidden his face from her, but she stopped him.
“Prithee stop a moment's space, Master David Walcott,” said she.
“What would you?” David cried out in a surly tone, and he dashed the back of his hand across his eyes.
“'Tis full moon to-night,” said the old woman, in a whisper. “Come out here to-night when the moon shall be an hour high, and I promise ye she shall know ye.”
The young man stared at her.
“I tell ye Mistress Silence Hoit shall know ye to-night,” repeated the old woman. Her voice sounded hollow in the depths of her great hood, which she donned early in the fall. Her eyes in the gloom of it gleamed with a small dark brightness.
“I'll have no witch-work tried on her,” said David, roughly.
“I'll try no witch-work but mine own wits,” said Goody Crane. “If they would hang me for a witch for that, then they may. None but I can cure her. I tell ye, come out here to-night when the moon is an hour high; and mind ye wear a white sheep's fleece over your shoulders. I'll harm her not so much with my witch-work as ye'll do with your love, for all your prating.”
The old woman pushed past him to where Silence stood calling, and waited there, standing in the shadow cast by the wild cherry-tree until she ceased and turned away. Then she caught hold of the skirt of her gown, and David stood, hidden by the thicket, listening.
“I prithee, Mistress Silence Hoit, listen but a moment,” said Goody Crane.
Silence paused, and smiled at her gently and wearily.
“Give me your hand,” demanded the old woman.
And Silence held out her hand, flashing white in the green gloom, as if she cared not.
The old woman turned the palm, bending her hooded head low over it. “He draweth near!” she cried out suddenly; “he draweth near, with a white sheep's fleece over his shoulders! He cometh through the woods from Canada. He will cross the meadow when the moon is an hour high to-night. He will wear a white sheep's fleece over his shoulders, and ye'll know him by that.”
Silence's wandering eyes fastened upon her face.
The old woman caught hold of her shoulders and shook her to and fro. “David! David! David Walcott!” she screamed. “David Walcott with a white sheep's fleece on his back! On the meadow! To-night when the moon's an hour high! Be ye out here to-night, Silence Hoit, if ye'd see him a-coming down from the north!”
Silence gasped faintly when the old woman released her and went muttering away. Presently she crept home, and sat down with her knitting-work in the chimney-place.
When Eunice Bishop hung on the porridge-kettle, Goody Crane lifted the latch-string and came in. It was growing dusky, but the moon would not rise for an hour yet. Goody Crane sat opposite Silence, with her eyes fixed upon her, and Silence, in spite of herself, kept looking at her. A gold brooch at the old woman's throat glittered in the firelight, and that seemed to catch Silence's eyes. She finally knitted with them fixed upon it.
She scarcely took her eyes away when she ate her supper; then she sat down to her knitting and knitted, and gazed, in spite of herself, at the gold spot on the old woman's throat.
The moon arose; the tree branches before the windows tossed half in silver light; the air was shrill with crickets. Silence stirred uneasily, and dropped stitches in her knitting-work. “He draweth near,” muttered Goody Crane, and Silence quivered.
The moon was a half-hour high. Widow Bishop was spinning, Widow Spear was winding quills, and Silence knitted. “He draweth near,” muttered Goody Crane.
“I'll have no witchcraft!” Silence cried out, suddenly and sharply. Her aunt stopped spinning, and Widow Spear started.
“What's that?” said her aunt. But Silence was knitting again.
“What meant you by that?” asked her aunt, sharply.
“I have dropped a stitch,” said Silence.
Her aunt spun again, with occasional wary glances. The moon was three-quarters of an hour high. Silence gazed steadily at the gold brooch at Goody Crane's throat.
“The moon is near an hour high; you had best be going,” said the old woman, in a low monotone.
Silence arose directly.
“Where go you at this time of night?” grumbled her aunt. But Silence glided past her.
“You'll lose your good name as well as your wits,” cried Eunice. But she did not try to stop Silence, for she knew it was useless.
“A white sheep's fleece over his shoulders,” muttered Goody Crane as Silence went out of the door; and the other women marvelled what she meant.
Silence Hoit went swiftly and softly down Deerfield street to her old haunt on the north meadow terrace. She pushed in among the wild cherry-trees, which waved, white with the moonlight, like ghostly arms in her face. Then she called, setting her face toward Canada and the north: “David! David! David!” But her voice had a different tone in it, and it broke with her heart-beats.
David Walcott came slowly across the meadow below; a white fleece of a sheep thrown over his back caught the moonlight. He came on, and on, and on; then he went up the terrace to Silence. Her face, white like a white flower in the moonlight, shone out suddenly close before him. He waited a second, then he spoke. “Silence!” he said.
Then Silence gave a great cry, and threw out her arms around his neck, and pressed softly and wildly against him with her wet cheek to his.
“Know you who 'tis, sweetheart?”
“Oh, David, David, 'tis thou, 'tis thou, 'tis thou!”
The trees arched like arbors with the weight of the wild grapes, which made the air sweet; the night insects called from the bushes; Deerfield village and the whole valley lay in the moonlight like a landscape of silver. The lovers stood in each other's arms, motionless, and seemingly fixed as the New England flora around them, as if they too might reappear hundreds of spring-times hence, with their loves as fairly in blossom.