Calico captive, p.1
Calico Captive, p.1Elizabeth George Speare
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Copyright © 1957 by Elizabeth George Speare
Copyright © renewed 1985 Elizabeth George Speare
All rights reserved. For information about permission
to reproduce selections from this book, write to
Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Company,
215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 57-9017
HC ISBN 0-618-15075-7 PA ISBN 0-618-15076-5
Printed in the United States of America
EB 10 9
IN AUGUST, 1754, on the brink of the French and Indian War, James Johnson, his wife Susanna, and their children were captured in an Indian raid on Charlestown, New Hampshire. They were taken from their home, forced to march through the wilderness to die north, and sold to the French in Montreal, where they were held for ransom. Years later, when she was nearly seventy years old, Susanna Johnson wrote an account of this journey, and it is from her narrative that the main events of this story are taken.
Captured with Susanna and her family was a younger sister, Miriam Willard. Her imagined adventures, as they might have happened, are recounted here.
PHINEAS WHITNEY was the last guest to leave the party. Miriam Willard had been aware, watching from the corner of her eye, of how he had maneuvered to be the last one out the door. The others were already out of sight down the dark path, keeping close together, their laughter and boisterous spirits stilled. The women hurried nervously beside the silent men who kept to the outside of the path, muskets ready at hand, for of late the Indians lurked very close to the settlement. But Phineas seemed in no hurry to join them. He stood just inside the warm lighted cabin, leaning easily against the heavy doorpost, as though the evening were just beginning. The crest of his short fair hair, bleached by the summer sun, reached a good four inches above the lintel log, so that he would have to duck his head to go through the door. Miriam, who was going to be small like all the Willard women, had to tip her head back to look at him.
"'Twas a very fine party," he said. "I had no idea that New Hampshire would be such a gay place."
Miriam's gray eyes widened. Could he be serious? "You can't judge by tonight," she protested. "Could you have seen us this summer you wouldn't have found us very gay."
"Are you sure it is not always a holiday here?" he persisted, as though he had not had plenty of chance to observe, in the past few days, the endless struggle it took just to survive in this northern settlement. "Watching you tonight, I should have thought you spent every evening dancing the reel."
Had that been true she would know better how to answer him, Miriam thought. She wished she had some easy bantering words like his own; but what chance had she ever had, here in the wilderness, to practice such words?
"To tell the truth," she admitted instead, "'tis the very first party I've ever been to. Once when the sawmill went up they danced on the new boards, but I was too young to be allowed."
"Then I'm thankful I came in time for your first party," said Phineas, dropping his teasing. "And 'twas the first I've been to for a long time. My family doesn't hold much with dancing. Besides, I've been away from home for two months. You can't guess what it means, after tramping through the woods for so long, to find such friendly folks. It is going to be hard for me to leave this place."
Miriam had always said straight out whatever came into her head, and the question was out now, before she could think better of it.
"Must you leave soon?" she asked him, and then gave herself away still further by a scarlet blush.
"I have to enter Harvard College in a few weeks," he answered. "I am going to study for the ministry. And with the war starting up again, travel is uncertain, and there may be delays on the way back. That is why I have to speak more urgently to you than I should. We have so few days left to get acquainted, Miriam. Will you think less of me if I make the most of them?"
No one had ever spoken to her like that before, nor looked at her as this young man was looking—so intently that she was not sure how her voice would sound if she tried to answer. Finally she grasped at a safe topic.
"I've heard about Harvard College. It must be a very grand place."
"Oh no, not grand at all. 'Tis a place for working and studying very hard. I visited there once. I'll tell you about it—if I may stay a little?"
Miriam looked back over her shoulder, but her sister and brother-in-law gave her no encouragement at all. Susanna, pretending not to notice the pair in the doorway, was already snuffing out the candles, scraping wax from the oak table where it had overflowed the saucer, and James stood in the middle of the room giving way to a great yawn. Phineas could scarcely miss such a hint.
"What must they think of me?" he said with chagrin. "I know it is far too late. After all, there is tomorrow, isn't there?"
"Of course there's tomorrow," Miriam smiled. "And I'm sure Susanna will invite you for supper. Now see if you can catch up with the others, Phineas. 'Tis not wise to walk far by yourself."
Still he lingered, lowering his voice so that only her ears could hear. "Do you realize," he asked, "that tomorrow morning will be the fifteenth time I have seen you? That first day you were standing inside the gate as we came in. The second time was when you brought the lunch to your brother in the clearing."
So he had noticed even then! Miriam kept her eyes on the line where the edge of her blue dress hid the crack on the floor. It was on the tip of her tongue to say that all of those fifteen meetings had not been by accident. She had been hard put to it to find excuses for so many trips to the fort. But Phineas hurried on, saving her from such an unseemly confession.
"There I go," he checked himself, mistaking her silence. "There'll be a better time to say such things. But not time enough. When I think how it was the smallest chance that brought me to Charlestown!"
Chance? Or was it something more than chance, this meeting? The question trembled in the air as plain as though one of them had spoken it. Suddenly the moment was too full.
"I am really going now," he determined, swinging open the door. But his steady blue gaze went on speaking so unmistakably that Miriam had to look away.
"You must hurry," she whispered, both regretful and relieved, "or they will have barred the gate."
She bolted the heavy log door securely behind him as he strode off down the path. Then she turned impatiently back to the room. How could they be sleepy? She herself was wide awake to her very toes, though it was well past midnight and she had been up before dawn, sewing when she could scarcely see the needle. She could have danced right through till morning. The air about her still seemed to vibrate with the twang of the fiddle and stamp of boots on the board floor.
For all her busyness with the candles, Susanna had not missed a detail. "So," she observed now, "we're to have company for su
Miriam was in a mood to ignore both the sharpness and the curiosity that shone in her sister's eyes. "You don't mind, do you Susanna?" she coaxed. "Oh, it was such a wonderful party! When can we have another?" Her hoopskirt swayed as her feet tapped out a soundless measure.
"If you want another party," Susanna snapped, tart from sleepiness, "you can help a little next time instead of sitting in a corner sewing a dress all day long." But she softened as she looked again at her sister, at the vivid young face, the shining gray eyes, the slim figure in the flowered calico.
"I guess it was worth it, at that," she admitted. "The dress is lovely, though 'tis a wonder some of that basting held, the way you were swinging through the reel. You do have a knack for sewing, Miriam."
"I will help next time," Miriam promised quickly. "But I couldn't go to my first party in that old brown homespun." She smoothed the skirt of the new dress, marveling at the way the clear blue had turned to a soft gray in the dim light from the embers. She did have a knack. Her grandmother had taught her to cut and match, to take tiny even stitches. But no one had taught her how to mold the bodice snugly around her tiny waist, or how to gather the skirt so that it swirled just so about her ankles. "Besides, if it hadn't been for the dress—" She couldn't finish the sentence.
Susanna laughed, seeing the pink come up in her cheeks. "I know. The young man from Boston might not have noticed. Looks like you've got yourself a beau, Miriam. Do you think I didn't see how his eyes followed you every move you made?"
James laughed sleepily, and reached out a long arm to give Miriam's chestnut curls a playful tug.
"What's happened to our little sister?" he asked. "Two months ago you were just a little redheaded tomboy. Seems hardly fair to fool a young fellow like that."
"She's as old as I was when you met me," Susanna reminded him, "and 'tis high time she had a little fun. It has been a dull summer for her."
"Be thankful 'twas dull," said James. "Could have been worse." His eyes were gentle as he looked at his wife. In another month her fourth baby would be born, and although she had not complained, the strain of the summer had put dark smudges under her eyes and an unaccustomed edge to her voice. Tonight she had been more like her old self, enlivening with her merry wit the sober faces of her guests, filling their cups with flip, or sitting contentedly against the wall watching the twirling couples.
"It is almost over," James reminded her now. "In a few weeks we will be back in Massachusetts. Have you told Miriam that she is coming with us?"
Miriam stared from one to the other. "Me? You mean you'll take me with you—to stay?"
"Do you want to go, Miriam?" asked Susanna. "Or would you rather stay here at Number Four and keep house for Father?"
Miriam's brightness clouded over. "Does Father want me to stay?"
"He says not, though he's like to be lonely when we've gone. Anyway, he may have to march off with the forces any day, and you shouldn't be here alone. You need more young ones your own age, and you can help the girls with their reading while Sylvanus is at school."
Miriam flung her arms rapturously around her sister. "Oh, Susanna, if you knew how I've hoped you would take me! I hate Number Four! I never want to see that fort again. 'Tis too good to be true. No dreadful Indians screeching in the night! And other girls to talk to!"
"And so much nearer to Boston!" finished Susanna. "Go to bed now, Miriam. 'Tis almost morning, and think of all the work we have to do."
"I don't want to go to bed," cried Miriam, twirling across the cabin, the blue calico flying out around her. "I'm so excited I can't possibly sleep. Everything is so wonderful all of a sudden. In just one day, how could everything have changed so much?"
But Susanna and James had talked long enough. There was nothing to do but climb the ladder into the loft, where the three children, four-year-old Susanna, two-year-old Polly, and six-year-old Sylvanus, slept soundly. They had stayed up hours past their bedtime, dancing and clapping their hands till they had collapsed on the bench against their mother's shoulder and been carried up the ladder and tucked into bed. Now they did not even stir as Miriam pulled the new dress over her head and hung it on a nail where she could see it the moment she waked. There was no leftover party warmth up here. Even in the August night she shivered. Pulling off the ruffled petticoat and stepping out of the hoops, she crawled in beside little Susanna, and drew up the quilt against the damp chill.
But her thoughts could not be tucked in to sleep. Miraculously, as she had said to Susanna, the whole world had changed in just a few days. So much had happened, when for such an endless time nothing had happened at all.
A dull summer, her sister had said. How could James Johnson, adventuring off down the Connecticut River, have any idea what a summer it had been, that year of 1754, for the women left behind at the fort? After four years of uneasy peace, the Indians were again bent on war, stirred up by the French in Canada; and this struggling little community of Number Four at Charlestown, farthest north of the settlements along the Connecticut, was almost unprotected. The families whose men had gone trading had been forced to abandon their farms and move back into the shelter of the stout walls of the fort.
Day after endless hot day they had been crowded into those stuffy cabins with the whining children. The scanty grass inside the enclosure had shriveled and browned. The boys kicked up great curls of choking dust with their incessant scuffling. Outside the sky had shone a deep perfect blue. The children had peered through the timbers of the wall at fields that shimmered in golden sunshine, and woods that beckoned green and cool. But even at midday the women had seldom dared to venture more than a few feet from the palisade. In the night they had lain rigid in their bunks, holding their breath in the smothering blackness, hearing in the distance the blood-chilling Indian yells. Her sister Susanna had gone about abstracted, lips pressed tight, trying to find work enough to fill her days, always looking for excuses to go to the gate and search the road for a sign of her husband.
At last the men had returned, looking brown and hearty and full of high spirits at their successful trading. James Johnson had brought good news too. As soon as the summer crops were harvested, when the weather began to cool, he would take his family away from Number Four, with its hourly menace from the Indians. Susanna would have her baby in safety, in the cozy settlement of Northfield, Massachusetts. Miriam had not dared to mention her longing that they might take her too.
The day after the return, emboldened by James's musket, the Johnson family had left the protecting palisade and gone out to take possession of their own house again, a hundred rods distant. The children were wild with joy, running free and rolling in the long grass. Little Susanna had filled her arms with goldenrod, running to thrust it into Miriam's hands and darting back for more. Sylvanus had played he was an Indian, sneaking from tree to tree, his sturdy little body plainly visible, popping out at them from behind bushes with shrill whoops. They had found the cabin untouched, musty from being boarded shut, and in the yard, overflowing with lush melon vines, plump grayish balls lay thick as hailstones on the ground. James had slit one open with his knife, and the juicy golden center lay like sunshine between his hands.
"Let's have a party!" Susanna had cried. "There are enough melons for a feast!"
"A party?" James had doubted. "With all the work that has to be done?"
"The work will be done," his wife had promised. "Right now is the time to celebrate your homecoming, and to entertain the visitors too."
One of the visitors was a tall young man, Phineas Whitney from Massachusetts, who had run across Captain Johnson's party and come along with them to visit this farthest outpost. To be honest, was it really leaving the fort, or the party, or even the prospect of Massachusetts that made the world seem so different? Or was it just this boy, with sun-lightened hair and blue eyes? Truly, it had not been the work, or the stifling summer inside the fort, or even the constant fear of Indians that had weighed on Miriam's spirit.
She had had so little experience. She could not have put into words just what sort of person she waited for. Yet from the first moment that Phineas had walked into the enclosure with the men, something within her had unmistakably recognized him. He was different from the men she had known. He was strong and practical as any of them, as he proved by setting to work straightway felling trees and dragging logs to repair the blockhouse. Inside of a half day the settlement had accepted him as though he had been born at Number Four. But there was a gentleness in his speech, and a purpose in his serious young face that set him slightly apart.
It was incredible, even though he had said it in his own words, that he had noticed her in the brown homespun, even before he had seen her in the blue dress. In her own mind the bolt of blue cloth that James had brought in his pack had changed her into a different person. The dress that hung close to her head, waiting for the first rays of the sun to light it into beauty, symbolized the wonder of the past few days.
I'll have to put on the old brown dress in the morning, probably even for supper, she thought ruefully. But I can wear the blue to meeting on Sunday. And perhaps, if I do all the work, Susanna will have another party before Phineas goes. Oh, how can I lie still all the hours till sunup? I can never sleep a wink!
But she was sound asleep when the cabin shook with the tremendous knocking at the door.
THE KNOCKING startled Miriam wide awake. Pulling herself up to her knees, she knelt and peered down the loft hole. In the pale light she could see her brother-in-law James struggling into his jacket as he lurched, still half asleep, across the cabin floor.
Calico Captive by Elizabeth George Speare / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes