The Pepperells and the Captain
One bright warm noonday in May of the year 1638, Goodwife Pepperell opened the door of her little log cabin, and, screening her eyes from the sun with a toilworn hand, looked about in every direction, as if searching for some one. She was a tall, spare woman, with a firm mouth, keen blue eyes, and a look of patient endurance in her face, bred by the stern life of pioneer New England. Far away across the pasture which sloped southward from the cabin she could see long meadow grass waving in the breeze, and beyond a thread of blue water where the Charles River flowed lazily to the sea. Westward there was also pasture land where sheep were grazing, and in the distance a glimpse of the thatched roofs of the little village of Cambridge.
Goodwife Pepperell gazed long and earnestly in this direction, and then, making a trumpet of her hands, sent a call ringing across the silent fields. "Nancy! Daniel!" she shouted.
She was answered only by the tinkle of sheep bells. A shade of anxiety clouded the blue eyes as she went round to the back of the cabin and looked toward the dense forest which bounded her vision on the north. Stout-hearted though she was, Goodwife Pepperell could never forget the terrors which lay concealed behind that mysterious rampart of green. Not only were there wolves and deer and many other wild creatures hidden in its depths, but it sheltered also the perpetual menace of the Indians. Toward the east, at some distance from the cabin, corn-fields stretched to salt meadows, and beyond, across the bay, she could see the three hills of Boston town.
As no answering shout greeted her from this direction either, the Goodwife stepped quickly toward a hollow stump which stood a short distance from the cabin. Beside the stump a slender birch tree bent beneath the weight of a large circular piece of wood hung to its top by a leather thong. This was the samp-mill, where their corn was pounded into meal. Seizing the birch tree with her hands, she brought the wooden pestle down into the hollow stump with a resounding thump. The birch tree sprang back lifting the block with it and again she pulled it down and struck the stump another blow, then paused to listen. This time there was, beside the echo, an answering shout, and in a few moments two heads appeared above the rows of young corn just peeping out of the ground, two pairs of lively bare feet came flying across the garden patch, and a breathless boy and girl stood beside their mother.
They were a sturdy pair of twelve-year-olds, the boy an inch or more taller than his sister, and both with the blue eyes, fair skin, and rosy cheeks which proclaimed their English blood. There was a gleam of pride in Goodwife Pepperell's eye as she looked a her children, but not for the world would she have let them see it; much less would she have owned it to herself, for she was a Puritan mother, and regarded pride of any kind as altogether sinful. "Where have you been all the morning?" she said. "You were nowhere to be seen and the corn is not yet high enough to hide you."
"I was hoeing beyond that clump of bushes," said Daniel, pointing to a group of high blueberries that had been allowed to remain in the cleared field.
"And I was keeping away the crows," said Nancy, holding out her wooden clappers. "Only I fell asleep. It was so warm I just could n't help it."
"So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth and thy want as an armed man," quoted the mother sternly. "Night is the time for sleep. Go now and eat the porridge I have set for you in your little porringers, and then go down to the bay with this basket and fill it with clams. Put a layer of seaweed in the basket first and pack the clams in that. They will keep alive for some time if you bed them so, and be sure to bring back the shovel."
This was a task that suited the Twins much better than either hoeing corn or scaring crows, and they ran into the house at once, ate their porridge with more haste than good manners, and dashed joyfully away across the fields toward the river-mouth, a mile away. They followed a path across the wide stretch of pasture, where wild blackberry vines and tall blueberry bushes grew, then through a strip of meadow land, and at last ran out on the bare stretch of sand and weed left by the ebb tide toward the narrow channel cut by the clear water of the Charles.
Here they set down the basket and began looking about for the little holes which betray the hiding-places of clams.
"Oh, look, Dan," cried Nancy, stopping to admire the long line of foot-prints which they had left behind them. "Dost see what a pretty border we have made? 'Tis just like a pattern." She walked along the edge of the stream with her toes turned well out, leaving a track in the sand like this:
Then the delightful flat surface tempted her to further exploits. She picked up a splinter of driftwood and, making a wide flourish, began to draw a picture. "See," she called rapturously to Dan, "this is going to be a pig! Here's his nose, and here's his curly tail, and here are his little fat legs." She clapped her hands with admiration. "Now I shall do something else," she announced as she finished the pig with a round red pebble stuck in for the eye. "Let me see. What shall I draw? Oh, I know! A picture of Gran'ther Wattles! Look, Dan." She made a careful stroke. "Here's his nose, and here's his chin. They are monstrous near together because he has nothing but gums between! And here's his long tithing-stick with the squirrel-tail on the end!"
"It doth bear a likeness to him!" admitted Dan, laughing in spite of himself, "but, sister, thou shouldst not mock him. He is an old man, and we should pay respect to gray hairs. Father says so."
"Truly I have as much of respect as he hath of hair," answered naughty Nancy. "His poll is nearly as bald as an egg."
"I know the cause of thy displeasure," declared Dan. "Gran'ther Wattles poked thee for bouncing about during the sermon last Sunday. But it is unseemly to bounce in the meeting-house, and besides, is he not the tithing-man? 'Tis his duty to see that people behave as they should."
"He would mayhap have bounced himself if a bee had been buzzing about his nose as it did about mine," said Nancy, and, giving a vicious dab at the pictured features, she drew a bee perched on the end of Gran'ther Wattles's nose. "Here now are all the gray hairs he hath," she added, making three little scratches above the ear.
"Nancy Pepperell!" cried her brother, aghast, "dost thou not remember what happened to the forty and two children that said 'Go up, thou bald head' to Elijah? It would be no marvel if bears were to come out of the woods this moment to eat thee up!"
"'Twas n't Elijah, 'twas Elisha," Nancy retorted with spirit, "but it matters little whether 'twas one or t' other, for I don't believe two bears could possibly hold so much, and besides dost thou not think it a deal worse to cause a bear to eat up forty and two children than to say 'Go up, thou bald head'?"
"Nancy!" exclaimed her horrified brother, glancing fearfully toward the forest and clapping his hand on her mouth to prevent further impiety, "thou art a wicked, wicked girl! Dost thou not know that the eye of the Lord is in every place? Without doubt his ear is too, and He can hear every word thy saucy tongue sayeth. Come, let us rub out this naughty picture quickly, and mayhap God will take no notice this time." He ran across Gran'ther Wattles's portrait from brow to chin, covering it with foot-prints. "Besides," he went on as he trotted back and forth, "thou hast broken a commandment! Thou hast made a likeness of something that's in the earth, and that's Gran'ther Wattles! Nancy, thou dost take fearful chances with thy soul."
Nancy began to look a little anxious as she considered her conduct. "At any rate," she said defensively, "it is n't a graven image, and I have neither bowed down to it nor served it! I do try to be good, Dan, but it seemeth that the devil is ever at my elbow."
"'Tis because thou art idle," said Dan, shaking his head as gravely as Gran'ther Wattles himself. "Busy thyself with the clams, and Satan will have less chance at thy idle hands, and thy idle tongue too."
Nancy obediently took hold of the basket which Dan thrust into her hands, and together they walked for some distance over the sandy stretches. Suddenly a tiny stream of water spouted up beside Dan's feet. "Here they be!" he shouted, plunging his shovel into the sand, "and what big ones!" Nancy surveyed the clams with disfavor. They were thrusting pale thick muscles out between the lobes of their shells. "They look as if they were sticking out their tongues at us," said Nancy as she picked one up gingerly and dropped it into the basket. "But, Dan, Mother said we were to bed them in seaweed!"
"I see none here," said Dan, leaning on his shovel and looking about him. "The tide hath swept everything as clean as a floor."
"I'll seek for some while thou art busy with the digging," said Nancy, glad to escape the duty of picking up the clams, and off she trotted without another word. The flats, seamed and grooved with channels where pools of water still lingered, sloped gently down to the lower level of the bay, and farther out a range of rocks lifted themselves above the sandy waste.
"I'll surely find seaweed on the rocks," thought Nancy to herself as she sped along, and in a few moments she had reached them, had tossed up the basket, and was climbing their rugged sides.
"There's a mort o' seaweed here," she said, nodding her head wisely as she picked up a long string of kelp; "I can fill my basket in no time at all." There was no need for haste, she thought, so she sat down beside a pool of water left in a hollow of the rocks, to explore its contents. The first thing she found was a group of tiny barnacles, and for a while she amused herself by washing salt water over them to see them open their tiny cups of shell. In the pool itself a beautiful lavender-colored jelly-fish was floating about, and just beyond lay a star-fish clinging to a bunch of seaweed. She found other treasures scattered about by the largess of the tide—tiny spiral shells, stones of all colors, and a horseshoe crab, besides seaweed with pretty little pods which popped delightfully when she squeezed them with her fingers. Then she heard the cries of gulls overhead and watched them as they wheeled and circled between her and the sky. When they flew out to sea she sat with her hands clasping her knees and gazed across the bay at the three hills of Boston town. She could see quite plainly the tall beacon standing like a ship's mast on top of Beacon Hill, and farther north she strained her eyes to pick out Governor Winthrop's dwelling from the cluster of houses which straggled up the slope of Copp's Hill and which made all there was of the city of Boston in that early day.
For some time she sat there hugging her knees and thinking long, long thoughts, and it was not until the sound of little waves lapping against the rocks roused her that she woke from her day dream and realized with terror that the tide had turned. The channels and lower levels of the bay were already brimming over, and the water was deep about the rocks on which she perched. At almost the same moment Dan had been surprised by a cold wave which washed over his bare feet, and, turning about, was dismayed to find a sheet of blue water covering the bay and to see Nancy standing on the topmost rock shouting "Dan! Dan!" at the top of her lungs. For one astonished instant he looked at her, then, throwing down his shovel, he plunged unhesitatingly into the icy bath. And now Nancy, realizing that there was not a moment to lose if she hoped to reach the shore in safety, let herself slowly down off the rocks, leaving the basket behind her, and started toward her brother.
The water was already so deep in the channels that their progress toward each other was slow, but they ploughed bravely on, feeling the bottom carefully at each step lest they sink in some sand-pocket or hollow washed out by the tide. Some distance away toward Charlestown a fishing schooner rocked on the deeper water of the bay, and a fisherman in a small boat, attracted by the shouting, looked up, and, seeing the two struggling figures, instantly bent to his oars and started toward them. Though he rowed rapidly, it was some minutes before he could reach the children, who were now floundering about in water nearly up to their necks.
"Hold fast to my shoulder, Nancy," he heard Dan cry. "I can float, and I can swim a little. Keep thy nose above water and let thy feet go where they will." Nancy, spluttering and gurgling, was trying hard to follow Dan's directions, when the boat shot alongside, and a cheery voice cried, "Ahoy, there! Come aboard, you young porpoises!"
To the children it was like a voice straight from heaven. Dan immediately helped Nancy to get into the boat, and then she balanced it while he climbed aboard.
When they were safely bestowed among the lobster-pots with which the boat was laden, the man leaned on his oars and eyed them critically. "Short of sense, ain't ye?" he remarked genially. "Nigh about drownded that time or I'm no skipper! If ye ain't bent on destruction ye'd better get into dry clothes. Ye're as wet as a mess of drownded kittens. Tell me where you live and I'll take you home."
He flung a tarpaulin over the shivering figures and tucked it around them as he scolded. "'Tis all my fault," sobbed poor Nancy. "Dan came in just to get me out."
"Very commendable of him, I'm sure," said the stranger, nodding approvingly at Dan, "and just what he'd ought to do, and doubtless you're worth saving at that, though a hen-headeder young miss I never see in all my days!"
"She went to find seaweed to bed the clams," explained Dan, coming to his sister's defense, "and the tide caught her. Thou art kind indeed to pick us up, sir."
"Oh," groaned remorseful Nancy, her teeth chattering, "it's all because I'm such a sinner! I made a likeness of Gran'ther Wattles in the sand and said dreadful things about the prophet Elijah, or mayhap 't was Elisha, and Dan said a bear might come to eat me up just like the forty and two children, and instead of a bear we both were almost swallowed by the tide!"
"Well, now," said the stranger, comfortingly, "ye see instead of sending bears the Lord sent me along to fish ye out, just the same as He sent the whale to swallow Jonah when he was acting contrary! Looks like He meant to let ye off with a scare this time. Come now, my lass, there's salt water enough aboard and if ye cry into the boat, ye'll have to bail her out. Besides," he added whimsically, looking up at the sky, "there's another squall coming on, and two at a time is too many for any sailor. If I'm to cast you up on the shore same as the whale, ye'll have to tell me which way to go, and who ye are."
"Our father is Josiah Pepperell," answered Dan, "and our house is almost a mile back from shore near Cambridge."
"So you're Josiah Pepperell's children! To be sure, to be sure! Might have known it. Ye do favor him some," said the fisherman. "Well! well! The ways of the Lord are surely past finding out! Why, I knew your father way back in England. He came over here for religion and I came for fish. Not that I ain't a God-fearing man," he added hastily, noticing a look of horror on Nancy's face, "but I ain't so pious as some. I'm a seafaring man, Captain Sanders of the Lucy Ann, Marblehead. Ye can see her riding at anchor out there in the bay. I have n't set eyes on your father since he left Boston and settled in the back woods up yonder."
He sent the boat flying through the water with swift, sure strokes as he talked, and brought it ashore at the first landing-place they found. Here they drew it up on the bank and, taking out the lobster-pots, turned it upside down so the rain would not fill it. Two great green lobsters with goblin-like eyes were hidden away under the pots, and when the boat was overturned they tumbled out and started at a lively pace for the water.
"Hi, there!" shouted the Captain, seizing them by their tails, "where are your manners? By jolly, I like to forgot ye! Come along now and take supper with the Pepperells. I invite ye! They're short of clams and they'll be pleased to see ye, or I miss my reckoning." There were pegs stuck in the scissor-like claws, so the creatures were harmless, and, swinging along with one kicking vigorously in each hand, the Captain plunged into the long meadow grass, the children following close at his heels.
The clouds grew darker and darker; there was a rumble of thunder, and streaks of lightning tore great rents in the sky as they hurried across the open meadow and struck into the pasture land beyond.
"Head into the wind there and keep going," shouted the Captain as the children struggled along, impeded by their wet clothing. "It's from the north, and we're pointed straight into it."
Past bushes waving distractedly in the wind, under the boughs of young oak trees, over stones and through briars they sped, and at last they came in sight of the cabin just as the storm broke. Goodwife Pepperell was standing in the door gazing anxiously toward the river, when they dashed out of the bushes and, scudding past her, stood dripping on the hearth-stone. Her husband was just hanging his gun over the chimney-piece, and the noise of their entrance was drowned out by a clap of thunder; so when he turned about and saw the three drenched figures it was no wonder that for an instant he was too surprised to speak.
"Well, of all things!" he said at last, holding out his hand to Captain Sanders. "What in God's providence brings thee here, Thomas? Thou art welcome indeed. 'Tis a long time since I have seen thee."
"God's providence ye may call it," answered the Captain, shaking the Goodman's hand as if he were pumping out the hold of a sinking ship, "and I'll not gainsay it. The truth is I overhauled these small craft floundering around in the tide-wash with water over their scuppers 'n' all but wrecked, so I took 'em in tow and brought 'em ashore!"
Their mother, meanwhile, had not waited for explanations. Seeing how chilled they were, she had hurried the children to the loft above the one room of the cabin and was already giving them a rub-down and getting out dry clean clothes while they told her their adventure.
"Thank God you are safe," she said, clasping them both in her arms, when the tale was told.
"Thank Captain Sanders as well, Mother," said Daniel. "Had it not been for him, I doubt if we could have reached the shore."
"Let this be a lesson to you, then," said the Goodwife, loosening her clasp and picking up the wet clothing. "You know well about the tide! Nancy, child, why art thou so wild and reckless? Thou art the cause of much anxiety."
At her mother's reproof, gentle though it was, poor Nancy flopped over on her stomach, and, burying her face in her hands, gave way to tears.
"It's all because I am so wicked," she moaned. "My sins are as scarlet! Oh, Mother, dost think God will cause the lightning to strike us dead to punish me?" She shuddered with fear as a flash shone through the chinks of the logs and for an instant lighted the dim loft.
Her mother put down the wet clothes and, lifting her little daughter tenderly in her arms, laid her on her bed. "God maketh the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust," she said soothingly. "Rest here while I go down and get supper."
She covered her warmly with a homespun blanket, and, accompanied by Dan, made her way down the ladder. She found her husband putting fresh logs on the fire and stirring the coals to a blaze, while the Captain hung his coat on the corner of the mantel-shelf to dry. She went up to him and held out her hand. "Captain Sanders," she said, "but for thee this might be a desolate household indeed this night."
The Captain's red face turned a deeper shade, and he fidgeted with embarrassment, as he took her hand in his great red paw, then dropped it suddenly as if it were hot. "Oh, stow it, ma'am, stow it," he begged. "That is, I mean to say—why, by jolly, ma'am, a pirate could do no less when he see a fine bit of cargo like that going to the bottom!"
To the Captain's great relief the lobsters at this moment created a diversion. He had dropped them on the hearth when he came in, and they were now clattering briskly about the room, butting into anything that came in their way in an effort to escape. He made a sudden dash after them and held them out toward Goodwife Pepperell.
"Here they be, ma'am," he said. "I'd saved them for my supper, and I 'd take it kindly if ye'd cook them for me, and help eat them, too. It's raining cats and dogs, and if I was to start out now, I'd have a hard time finding the Lucy Ann. Ye can't see a rod ahead of ye in such a downpour."
"We shall be glad to have thee stay as long as thou wilt," said the Goodwife heartily. "Put the lobsters in this while I set the kettle to boil." She held out a wooden puncheon as she spoke, and the Captain dropped them in. Then he sat down with Goodman Pepperell on the settle beside the fireplace, and the two men talked of their boyhood in England, while she hung the kettle on the crane over the fire and began to prepare the evening meal.
"Daniel, sit thee down by the fire and get a good bed of coals ready while I mix the johnny-cake," she said as she stepped briskly about the room, and Daniel, nothing loath, drew a stool to the Captain's side and fed the fire with chips and corn-cobs while he listened with all his ears to the talk of the two men.
"Well, Thomas, how hast thou prospered since I saw thee last?" asked Goodman Pepperell.
"Tolerable, tolerable, Josiah," answered the Captain. "I've been mining for sea gold." Daniel wondered what in the world sea gold might be. "Ye see," he went on, turning to include Daniel in the conversation, "my father was a sea captain before me, and my gran'ther too. Why, my gran'ther helped send the Spanish Armada to the bottom where it belonged. Many and many's the time I've heard him tell about it, and I judge from what he said he must have done most of the job himself, though I reckon old Cap'n Drake may have helped some." (Here the Captain chuckled.) "He never came back from his last voyage,—overhauled by pirates more 'n likely. That was twenty years ago, and I've been following the sea myself ever since. I was wrecked off the Spanish Main on my first voyage, and I've run afoul of pirates and come near walking the plank more times than one, I'm telling ye, but somehow I always had the luck to get away! And here I be, safe and sound."
At this point the lobsters made a commotion in the wooden puncheon, and the Captain turned his attention to them. "Jest spilin' to get out, ain't ye?" he inquired genially. "Look here, boy," to Daniel, "that water's bilin'. Heave 'em in."
Daniel held his squirming victims over the pot, and not without a qualm of pity dropped them into the boiling water. Then he ventured to ask a question. "What is sea gold, Captain Sanders?"
"Things like them," answered the Captain, jerking his thumb at the lobsters, which were already beginning to turn a beautiful red color as they boiled in the pot; "as good gold as any that was ever dug out of mines ye can get for fish, and there never was such fishing in all the seas as there is along this coast! My! my! I've seen schools of cod off the Cape making a solid floor of fish on the water so ye could walk on it if ye were so minded, and as for lobsters, I've caught 'em that measured six and seven feet long! Farther down the coast there are oysters so big one of 'em will make a square meal for four or five people. It's the truth I'm telling ye."
Goodman Pepperell smiled. "Thomas," he said, "thou hast not lost thy power of narration!"
Captain Sanders for an instant looked a bit dashed, then he said, "Well, believe it or not, Josiah, it's the truth for all that. Why, talk about the land of Canaan flowin' with milk and honey! This here water's just alive with money! Any boy could go out and haul up a shilling on his own hook any time he liked."
Daniel, his eyes shining and his lips parted, was just making up his mind that he would rather be the captain of a fishing-smack than anything else in the world, since he knew he could n't be a pirate, when his mother came to the fireplace with a layer of corn-meal dough spread on a baking-board. She placed the board in a slanting position against an iron trivet before the glowing bed of coals, and set a pot of beans in the ashes to warm. "Keep an eye on that johnny-cake," she said to Daniel, "and don't let it burn." Then she turned away to set the table.
This task took but little time, for in those days there were few things to put on it. She spread a snowy cloth of homespun linen on the plank which served as a table, and laid a knife and spoon at each place; there were no forks, and for plates only a square of wood with a shallow depression in the middle. Beside each of these trenchers she placed a napkin and a mug, and at the Captain's place, as a special honor, she set a beautiful tankard of wrought silver. It was one of the few valuable things she had brought with her from her English home, and it was used only on great occasions.
When these preparations were complete, she took the lobsters from the pot, poured the beans into a pewter dish, heaped the golden johnny-cake high upon a trencher, and, sending Dan to fetch Nancy, called the men to supper. The storm was over by this time, the last rays of the setting sun were throwing long shadows over the fields, and the robins were singing their evening song. The Goodwife stepped to the window and threw open the wooden shutters. "See," she said. "There's a rainbow."
"The sign of promise," murmured Goodman Pepperell, rising and looking over his wife's shoulder.
"Fine day to-morrow," said the Captain. "Maybe I can plant my lobster-pots after all."
Nancy, looking pale and a little subdued, crept down the ladder and took her place with Daniel at the foot of the board. Then they all stood, while Goodman Pepperell asked a blessing on the food, and thanked God for his mercy in delivering them from danger and bringing them together in health and safety to partake of his bounty.