THE next night the stars looked down upon a strange sight. On the shore of the sea near a large city, a group of Pilgrims waited for the ship which was to carry them to Holland.
It grew very late. One by one the lights of the city went out, and all was dark and still. Even the little waves seemed to speak in whispers as they crept up to the shore.
“On a wooden box sat a mother with her baby asleep in her arms”
On a wooden box sat a mother with her baby asleep in her arms. Two tired little children, with the warm sand for a bed and a blanket for a pillow, slept beside her. Some of the older children were too excited to sleep. They amused themselves by throwing pebbles into the water or playing in the sand.
Others of the company sat on boxes or on the sand, talking in low tones. They did not speak about the homes and friends they were leaving; that would make them too sad. They talked of the better times they would have in the new home.
One by one the children fell asleep, some on the warm sand, others pillowed in their mothers’ arms.
As the night wore on the men paced anxiously up and down the shore. They peered out over the black water hoping to see the dark form of the vessel which was to take them to Holland.
At any time the soldiers might be upon them. Every minute they waited on the shore added to their peril.
Watchmen were placed at points along the shore to warn the Pilgrims of any approaching danger.
A terrible dread was sinking into their hearts. What if the ship should not come at all? What if the soldiers should suddenly swoop down upon them? But these thoughts they would not speak aloud. They tried to cheer each other with encouraging words.
From a distant clock tower the bells chimed three. The Pilgrims drew closer together and spoke in hushed voices.
“Are you quite sure this is the place where the captain of the ship promised to meet us?” asked William Bradford.
“This is the very spot, just where this little brook flows into the sea,” answered Elder Brewster.
“It will soon be dawn,” said John Robinson. “I fear daylight will find us still waiting here for the ship.”
“That must not be,” replied Elder Brewster, “for the soldiers would soon be upon us. If the ship does not come within an hour we must seek the homes of our friends. Hark! What is that? I thought I heard the splash of oars.”
In silence they listened, straining their ears to catch the sound. Again they heard it, and their hearts leaped with hope and thankfulness.
A moment later a boat rowed by two men was seen approaching the shore. Quickly and quietly the boat was loaded and rowed back to the ship, which lay out in the deep water. Then it returned for another load, and another, until all the people and their goods had been carried to the ship.
“Now, Captain, let us set sail at once, and by daylight we shall be safe out of the king’s reach,” said Elder Brewster.
“Oh, do not be too sure of that,” said a stern voice by his side. In a moment the Pilgrims found themselves surrounded by soldiers.
“What does this mean, Captain?” cried Elder Brewster. But the captain was nowhere to be seen. He was ashamed of his wicked deed, and dared not face the men whom he had betrayed into the hands of the soldiers.
It was of no use to resist the king’s men, so when the first gray light of morning came, the Pilgrims again stood on the shore.
Last night the stars had twinkled merrily when they saw the Pilgrims about to escape King James. Now they saw them with their burdens on their backs, and their children in their arms, going toward the great, black prison. The little stars still twinkled faintly but seemed to say, “Be brave! The One who made us and made you is stronger than King James.” Then one by one they closed their eyes, as if unwilling to see the prison doors close upon women and babies.
In a few days the doors of the prison opened again, and the women with their children passed out. I think they were not so very glad to be free, for their husbands were still in prison and they had no homes to which they might go. Some had friends there in the city who gladly welcomed them. Others returned to Scrooby, where they lived with friends and neighbors. It was several months before all the men were allowed to return to their families.
Because he had hired the ship and made most of the plans for leaving England, Elder Brewster was the last to leave the prison. He soon found Mistress Brewster and the children in the old house which had always been their home. Another man kept the inn now, but he and his wife were kind-hearted people and had gladly opened their house to these homeless ones.
“Jonathan seems two years older than he did last fall,” said his father that night, after the children had gone to bed.
“Yes, Jonathan is quite a man for his thirteen years. He helps care for the horses and does many errands for the innkeeper. The girls, too, help about the house, that they may not be a burden to these kind people.”
“To-morrow we will look for a little home of our own, where we can be comfortable until spring,” said Elder Brewster.
“And what shall we do in the spring?” asked Mistress Brewster.
“Go to Holland!” answered her husband.
AWAY TO HOLLAND
WHEN spring came, the Pilgrims again planned to leave England. Elder Brewster knew a Hollander who had a ship of his own. So he arranged with this Dutch captain to carry the Pilgrims to Holland.
They now went to a lonely place on the shore, far from any town where they thought they would be safer. All day they waited for the ship, fearing every minute to be taken by the king’s men.
At last, late in the afternoon, a sail appeared. When the ship had come as close to the shore as it could, it anchored and waited for the people to row out to it. The Pilgrims had a large boat of their own in which they had brought their goods down the river to the sea.
It was agreed that most of the men should go first and load the heavy boxes upon the ship, then to come back for those left on shore. The boat had started toward the shore for its second load when the ship’s captain saw something which filled his heart with terror. A long black line was curving down the hill. He raised his glass to his eyes. “Soldiers and horsemen! Look, men!” he cried.
One glance told them that the soldiers were marching straight toward the place where the Pilgrims were waiting.
“Quick! Lower another boat!” cried William Bradford. “We can row to the shore and get the others before the soldiers reach them.”
But already the sailors were lifting the anchor. The wind filled the sails and the ship began to move.
“Let us off,” cried the men. “If you are afraid to wait for the others, at least let us go back to our families.”
“The soldiers will capture my ship,” answered the captain. “My ship is all I have in the world. They shall not have it.”
“They do not want your ship, and they could not reach it if they did. They only want us. Let us go!”
But the frightened man would not listen to them. He had heard of many captains who had lost their ships through helping people escape from England, and he would not stop a moment. The ship sailed out into the sea, and the darkness soon hid the shore from the sight of those on deck.
That night a great storm arose. The little ship was tossed about like a chip upon the waves. Not a star was to be seen in the black sky to guide the pilot. No friendly lighthouse sent out its rays to show them where to go.
For more than a week the ship was driven before the wind, they knew not where. When the storm was over, the sailors found they had been going away from Holland instead of toward it. They were hundreds of miles out of their course.
“If we have a good wind and fair weather we shall reach port in a few days,” said the captain, when the ship had been turned and headed for Holland.
But they did not have a good wind and fair weather. That very night a heavy fog settled down upon the sea. They could not see ten feet from the ship. Two days later another storm came up, much worse than the first one.
Surely the little vessel could not brave this storm. One of the masts was gone, and the water poured in through a hole in the side of the boat. Worst of all, the food and fresh water were almost gone. None on board expected ever to see land again.
The captain thought God was punishing him for his cowardly act in leaving the helpless women to the soldiers. The sailors all joined the Pilgrims in their prayers for help and pardon.
At last the clouds broke, and bits of blue sky peeped forth. Soon the wind went down, and the waves, too, slowly grew quiet. With the sun to guide them by day, and the stars by night, the ship finally reached the city of Amsterdam in Holland.
But what had become of the Pilgrims who had been left on the shore?
When the soldiers came up they found only a group of very miserable women, frightened children, and two or three men. They saw the ship sailing out to sea and knew they were too late to take those they most wanted.
What should they do? It seemed a shame to imprison women and children who had done no one any harm. But they had their orders, and there was nothing to do but obey.
So the Pilgrims were placed in their boat and rowed to the city. It was a long tiresome ride, and before they reached the landing the night had grown quite dark, and most of the children were fast asleep.
When the lights of the city were seen, one big soldier thought of his wife and babies there, safe at home. Then he looked at his prisoners, a few tearful women and some tired, sleeping children. He did not feel very brave. Risking his life in battle were more pleasant than this.
The other soldiers seemed to feel much as he did, for when the shore was reached, they gently helped their prisoners from the boat. Then each took a sleeping child in his arms and soon all disappeared down the dark street.
The Pilgrims were not kept in prison long this time. A few days later they returned to the homes of their friends. The judges were tired of them. The king, too, was tired of the trouble.
“Since their husbands have gone, let the women go to them. I am tired of hearing about it,” said King James.
But few of them had money to go then, and it was many months before the men in Holland could earn money enough to send for their families.