Chapters 23 and 24

THE FIRST WASHING DAY IN NEW ENGLAND

IT was Monday morning, and the sun was brighter and the weather more mild than in weeks before.

The children gazed eagerly toward the shore and thought what fun it would be to have a long run on that smooth, sandy beach, or to hunt for nuts in those great woods. They were so tired of being on the ship.

Just then Mistress Brewster came upon the deck. She shaded her eyes with her hand and looked off across the water. “What a good place to do our washing!” she said, as she gazed at the shore. “Not one proper washing day have we had since we sailed.”

It did not take long to get tubs, pails, and everything ready. John Alden and John Howland loaded the things into the boat and rowed the merry party to the shore.

But Mistress Brewster did not forget the children, who looked longingly at the boat as it pulled away. When it came back for its next load, she said kindly, “Come, boys. You shall have your run on the beach. We need your quick feet and strong arms to bring brushwood for our fires. And the girls must come too. They can help spread the clothes upon the bushes to dry.”

It seemed so good to be on the ground again. As soon as the boat touched the sand the children sprang ashore and raced each other up and down the beach.

23

The first washing day in New England

“Let’s hunt for nuts under those trees!” cried Love Brewster, and away the boys bounded toward the woods. John Alden shouldered his gun and went with them, for it was not safe for them to go into the forest alone.

In the edge of the woods stood a tall, straight tree. The long scales which curled from its shaggy bark told John Alden it was a hickory tree. Under the tree was a thick carpet of yellow-brown leaves. Under that carpet there must be plenty of sweet nuts.

The boys dragged their feet through the deep leaves, or tossed them aside with their hands. Yes, there lay the white nuts, thousands and thousands of them. The frost had opened their tough, brown coats, but the tree had covered them with a blanket of leaves.

While the boys were gone, the men drove two forked stakes into the hard sand. Across the top of these stakes they placed a long pole from which to hang the great kettles.

Soon the fire was snapping and crackling under the kettles. The flames leaped higher and higher as the children piled dry leaves and branches upon them. Then the water began to simmer and sing.

All the morning the women rubbed and boiled, or rinsed and wrung the clothes. The men were kept busy carrying water and firewood.

By noon the tubs were empty, and as Mary Chilton spread the last little dress to dry, she saw the boat pull away from the “Mayflower.”

“Here comes Priscilla with our dinner!” she cried.

Priscilla was a wonderful cook. Sometimes there was but little to cook, but Priscilla could always make something dainty and good from the plainest food.

To-day she had made a great kettle of soup, with vegetables and the broth of the wild birds. How good it smelled as it heated over the fire!

23.2

“Here comes Priscilla with our dinner”

Long before night the clean, fresh clothes were dry and folded away in the tubs and kettles. Then the tired but happy Pilgrims rowed back to the “Mayflower.”

A WILD LAND

THE next day some of the Pilgrims sailed along the shore for several miles, still looking for a deep, safe harbor and a stream of clear water.

At last they noticed a little brook, and turned their boat toward the shore. Leaving four men to guard the boat, the others struck into the forest. Not a sound did they hear but the rustling of dry leaves as they walked through them, or the moaning of the wind in the tree tops. The November woods seemed very bare and lonely.

When they had gone a mile or two, they saw a large deer drinking at a brook. They stood still and watched him, but the deer had heard their step. He raised his beautiful head and listened a moment, then bounded swiftly into the forest.

But William Bradford was not watching the deer. His sharp eyes had seen something moving on the hilltop not far away. As he gazed he saw, first the head and shoulders, and then the whole body of a man appear over the brow of the hill. Then came another, and another. Could it be John Alden and the others had left the boat and come after them? Surely they would not disobey the captain, for Miles Standish had told them not to leave the boat lest the natives take it.

But now he could see their dark faces, and their long, black hair and eagle feathers.

“Look!” he whispered, “Indians! Indians!”

“Perhaps that means work for ‘Gideon,’ ” thought Captain Standish, as he seized his sword.

“Put away your sword, Captain,” said Governor Carver, gently. “We want to make friends of these people if we can. Perhaps they can tell us of some town or settlement. At least we may be able to buy some food from them.”

So the Pilgrims waited quietly in the shadows of the forest until the Indians came near. Down the hill they came, their quick eyes looking for the print of a deer in the soft earth.

When they reached the foot of the hill they saw tracks which had been made by no animal of the forest. Neither had they been made by an Indian’s moccasin. There seemed to be hundreds of these tracks. What could it mean? They stood close together and peered eagerly into the forest.

Then the Pilgrims stopped from behind the trees, and came toward them. John Carver, the governor, held out to them some strings of bright beads, but the Indians would have none of them.

For a moment they gazed at the white men in terror. Then, without stopping to fit an arrow to their bow strings, they fled.

Where had they gone? Had the earth opened and taken in her frightened children? Only an Indian knows how to disappear so quickly.

“Ugh!” they said, when they were safe away. “Ugh! Palefaces have come!”

The Pilgrims followed the Indians for ten miles, but they did not come within sight of the natives again all that day, though they often saw the print of their feet.

24

“They saw tracks which had been made by no animal of the forest”

Sometimes these footprints showed where the Indians had climbed a hill to watch the white men.

When night came, the men found a sheltered place to camp until morning. They built a fire, and while two watched, the others slept.

In the morning they marched on again, going farther south. They saw fields where corn had been raised, but not an Indian, or a house of any kind. No doubt the Indians saw them very often, and knew just where they were all the time.

A little later in the day the Pilgrims came to some strange looking houses. They were round and low, with a small opening for a door; a hole in the top served for a chimney.

The men went from one house to another but could find no one. They knelt down and crawled into the wigwams, but there the fires had burned out many days before.

24.2

“They knelt down and crawled into the wigwams”

In the wigwams they found earthen pots and dishes, wooden bowls, and beautiful baskets made of grasses and trimmed with shells. Now they could see that the framework of the wigwam was made of long willow branches with both ends stuck into the ground. Over the frame the Indians had fastened large mats of woven reeds, which kept out the cold and rain. From the inside the wigwam looked like a great open umbrella.

“What is this?” cried one of the men, as he came upon a little mound of earth near the Indian village.

“Perhaps it is an Indian grave,” replied another.

“No, it is too wide and round for that. We will open it and see what is buried here.”

So they dug away the earth and found a large basket. It was round and narrow at the top, and was covered with large leaves. After a good deal of trouble the basket was raised from the hole and opened. It was filled to the brim with corn, some white, some red, and some of a bluish color.

This was Indian corn. It did not grow in England or Holland then, and the Pilgrims had never seen grain like it before. It tasted very good, and the Pilgrims were much in need of food. The provisions which they had brought from England were almost gone.

So finally they decided to take back to the “Mayflower” as much corn as they could carry, and pay the Indians for it when they could.

Soon they had dug up about ten bushels of corn. Then they went to the shore and built a fire as a signal for the boat to come for them and take them back to the “Mayflower.”

Chapter list