Before daylight the next morning the Goodwife stood in the door of the new house and watched her husband set forth with the men of Cambridge to search the forest for Zeb, and to punish his captors if they should catch them. She had given him a good breakfast and filled his pockets with bread for the journey, and when the men came from the village, she cut Nancy's pies and gave them each a generous piece to eat before starting. There were eight men in the party, all armed. The Goodwife's lip trembled a little and then moved in prayer as she saw them disappear into the dark forest. "God grant that they may all return in safety," she murmured, and then, giving herself a little shake, she turned back into the house and resolutely set herself at the duties of the day.
Nimrod whined and tried to follow his master as the men marched away with their guns on their shoulders, but, finding himself too weak, lay down again on the hearth and went to sleep. The Goodwife cleaned the kitchen, removing the last traces of the intruders, and then began a patient march back and forth, back and forth, beside the whirling spinning-wheel. Now that the harvest was over and their food provided for the winter, her busy hands must spin the yarn and weave the cloth to keep them warm. Though she had meant to let the children sleep after the excitement of the previous day, it was still early when they were awakened by the whir of the wheel and came scuttling down from the loft as bright-eyed as if the adventures of the night before had been no more than a bad dream. They helped themselves to hasty pudding and milk and took a dishful to Nimrod, who was now awake and looking much more lively, and then their mother set them their tasks for the day.
"Nancy," said she, "I gave all thy pies to the men who have gone with father to hunt for Zeb. To-morrow will be Thanksgiving Day and we shall need more. The mince pies are already prepared and put away on the shelves, and thou canst make apple and pumpkin both to set away beside them in the secret closet."
"That makes me think," said Daniel, and, touching the secret spring, he opened the door and rescued the jack-o'-lantern from the window-sill.
It was only a wilted and blackened old pumpkin that he brought to his mother, but she smiled at it and patted the hideous head. "He hath been a good friend to us, Dan," she said, "e'en as say the Scriptures, 'God hath chosen the weak things of the earth to confound the mighty.' David went out against Goliath with a sling and a stone, and thou hast overcome savages with naught but a foolish pumpkin."
Nancy took the grinning head and set it on the chimney-piece. "Dear old Jacky," she said, "thou shalt come to our Thanksgiving feast. 'Tis no more than thy due since thou hast saved us from the savages."
"Nay, daughter," said her mother. "That savoreth of idolatry. Give thy praise unto God, who useth even things which are not to bring to naught the things that are. 'Tis but a pumpkin after all, and will make an excellent feast for the pig on the morrow. Daniel, go to the field and bring thy sister a fresh one for the pies and then hasten to thine own tasks. They wait for thee. While thy father is away searching for Zeb, thou must do his work as well as thine own."
"Dost think, Mother, that he will surely bring Zeb back in time for the feast?" asked Nancy anxiously.
"Let us pray, nothing doubting," answered the mother. "If it be God's will, they will return."
There was a tremor in her voice even as she spoke her brave words, for she knew well the perils of their search. All day long they worked, praying as they prepared the feast that they might share it a united family. Nancy made the pies, and Dan dressed a fowl, while their mother got ready a pot of beans, made brown-bread to bake in the oven with the pies, and steamed an Indian pudding. All day they watched the forest for sign of the returning men. All day they listened for the sound of guns, but neither sight nor sound rewarded their vigilance.
Dusk came on. The Goodwife set a candle in the window, and when her other tasks were finished, went back to her spinning. Not a moment was she idle, nor did she appear to her children to be anxious, but as she walked back and forth beside her wheel Nancy heard her murmuring, "Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation, there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling." Over and over she said it to herself, never slacking her work meanwhile.
The supper which Nancy prepared waited—one hour—two—after Dan had fed the cattle and brought in the milk, and still there was no sign of the searching party.
Suddenly Nimrod, from his place on the hearth, gave a short sharp bark, and, leaping to the window, stood with his paws on the sill, peering out into the darkness and whining. Dan was beside him in an instant. "I see them," he cried joyfully, "a whole parcel of them. They are just coming out from behind the cow-shed."
Nancy and her mother reached the window almost at the same moment, and as the shadowy figures emerged from behind the cow-shed the mother counted them breathlessly, "One—two—three—four—five—"
"There's Father!" shrieked Nancy.
"He's carrying something. Oh, dost think it is Zeb?"
"Six—seven—eight—nine! ten! There are ten men, when but eight set forth. Praise God, they have all come back!" cried the mother. Turning swiftly to the fireplace, she snatched from it a brand of burning pitch pine and, holding it high above her head for a beacon, ran out to meet them, with Dan, Nancy, and Nimrod all at her heels. The torch-light shone on stern and weary faces as the men drew near.
"All's well, wife," came the voice of the Goodman.
"Hast found the lad?" she called back to him.
"Nay—not yet," he answered, "but we think we have his captors. Hold thy torch nearer and have no fear. The savages cannot hurt thee. Nancy, Daniel, have you ever seen these faces before?"
As he spoke he thrust forward two Indians with their hands securely tied behind them.
"Oh," shuddered Nancy, "I saw them at the window," and Dan added, "Aye, 'twas this one that kicked Nimrod." Nimrod confirmed his statement by growling fiercely and snapping at the heels of the taller of the two Indians.
"Call off thy dog," said the Goodman sternly, and though Dan felt it would be no more than fair to allow Nimrod one good bite, considering all he had suffered, he obediently collared Nimrod and shut him inside the kitchen. The faces of the Indians were like stone masks as they stood helpless before their captors with the light of the flaming torch shining upon them.
"Go in with thy family, Neighbor Pepperell," said Stephen Day. "There are enough of us and to spare to guard the savages. Mayhap a night in the stocks will cool their hot blood and help them to remember what they have done with the slave lad. If not, the judge will mete out to them the punishment they deserve."
"Right willingly will I leave them in your hands," answered the Goodman, "for truly I am spent."
Whether the Indians understood their words, or not, they knew well the meaning of pointed guns, for they marched off toward the village without even a grunt of protest when Stephen Day gave the word of command.
The Goodman was so weary that his wife and children forbore asking questions until he was a little rested and refreshed. He sank down upon the settle with Nimrod beside him, and Dan removed his muddy boots, and brought water for him to wash in, while Nancy and her mother hastened to put the long-delayed supper on the table.
"This puts new life into me," declared the father when he had eaten a few spoonfuls of hotchpot, "and now I'll tell somewhat of the day's work. There was no general uprising among the Indians. At least we saw no evidence of it. 'Tis more likely as I feared—they are the same Indians that followed us from Plymouth, meaning to revenge themselves upon me for wounding one of them when they set upon us in the forest."
"But how is it the lad was not with them?" asked his wife.
"That is a question which as yet hath no answer," replied her husband. "It may be they have killed him and hidden the body."
At this fearful thought Nancy shuddered and covered her face with her hands.
"It may be," went on the Goodman, "that they passed him on to some one else to avoid suspicion. At any rate he was not with them, and we could find no trace. Though the savages undoubtedly know some English, they refuse to say a word, and so his fate remains a mystery."
"What further shall you do to find him?" asked the Goodwife.
"See if we cannot force the Indians to confess, for the first thing," answered her husband.
His wife sighed. "I fear no hope lieth in that direction," she said. "Their faces were like the granite of the hills."
"What of the gun, Father?" asked Daniel. "Didst thou find it?"
"Nay," answered his father. "They had it not, and that causes me to think they have passed it as well as the boy on to others of their tribe. There is naught to be done now but wait until after Thanksgiving Day."
"'T will be but a sad holiday," said the Goodwife. "Though he is but a blackamoor, the lad hath found a place in my heart, and I grieve that evil hath befallen him."
"When I saw thee come out from behind the cow-shed I thought thou hadst a burden," said Daniel. "I thought it was Zeb—wounded, or mayhap dead."
"Aye," answered the Goodman. "I did carry a burden and had like to forgot it. I dropped it by the door of the cow-shed. Go thou and bring it in."
Dan ran out at once and returned a moment later carrying a huge wild turkey by the legs. His mother rose and felt its breastbone with her fingers.
"'Tis fine and fat, and young withal," she answered. "'T will make a brave addition to our feast on the morrow, for, truth to tell, our preparations have been but half-hearted thus far. Our minds were taken up with thy danger and fear for the lad."
"Dwell rather on our deliverance," said her husband. "The Lord hath not brought us into this wilderness to perish. Let us not murmur, as did the Children of Israel. The Lord still guides us."
"Aye, and by a pillar of fire, too," said Nancy, remembering the straw-stack.
"And instead of manna he hath sent this turkey," added Dan.
Supper was now over, and after it was cleared away, and they had had prayers, the mother sent the rest of the family to bed, while she busied herself with final preparations for the next day. She plucked and stuffed the great turkey, first cutting off the long wing-feathers for hearth-brooms, and set it away on the shelf in the secret closet along with Nancy's array of pies. It was late when at last she lit her candle, covered the ashes, and climbed wearily to bed.
The wind changed in the night and when they looked out next morning the air was full of great white snow-flakes, and the blackened ruins of the straw-stack were neatly covered with a mantle of white.
The family was up betimes, and as they ate their good breakfast of sausages, johnny-cake, and maple syrup, they sent many a thought toward poor Zeb, wandering in the forest or perhaps lying dead in its depths.
It was a solemn little party that later left the cabin in the care of Nimrod and started across the glistening fields to attend the Thanksgiving service in the meeting-house. They were made more solemn still by the sight of the two Indians sitting with hands and feet firmly fixed in the stocks, apparently as indifferent to the falling snow as though they were images of stone. The first snowfall, usually such a joy to Nancy and Daniel, now only seemed to make them more miserable, and they were glad to see the sun when they came out of the meeting-house after the sermon and turned their steps toward home. At least Zeb would not perish of cold if it continued to shine. They were just beginning to climb the home hill, when they were surprised to see Nimrod come bounding to meet them, barking a welcome.
"How in the world did that dog get out?" said the Goodwife wonderingly. "I shut him in the kitchen the last thing before we left the house."
Leaving their father and mother to follow at a slower pace, Nancy and Dan tore up the hill and threw open the kitchen door. There, comfortably dozing on the settle by the fire, sat the Captain! At his feet lay Zeb—also sound asleep with the wreckage of several blackened eggs strewn round him on the hearth-stone! The Captain woke with a start as the children burst into the room and for an instant stood staring in amazement and delight at the scene before them. Zeb, utterly worn out, slept on, and the Captain, as usual, was the first to find his tongue.
"Well, well," he shouted, rubbing his nose to a bright red to wake himself up, "here ye be! And mighty lucky, too, for I'm hungry enough to eat a bear alive. If I could have found out where ye hide your supplies, I might have busted 'em open to save myself and this poor lad from starvation. He appeared nigh as hungry as I be, but he knew better how to help himself. He found these eggs cooked out there in the ashes of the straw-stack, and all but et 'em shells and all. Never even offered me a bite! Don't ye ever feed him?"
Before the children could get in a word edgewise their father and mother, followed by Nimrod, came in, and, what with the dog barking, the children screaming explanations to the Captain, and their own astonished exclamations, there was such a babel of noise that at last Zeb woke up, too, and stared about him like one dazed. Nimrod jumped on him and licked his face, and Zeb put his arms around the dog as if glad to find so cordial a welcome. The Captain stared from one face to another, quite unable to make head or tail of the situation.
"Well, by jolly!" he shouted at last, "what ails ye all? Ye act like a parcel of lunatics!"
The Goodman commanded silence, and briefly told the whole story to the Captain.
"Where did you find the lad?" he asked, when he had finished.
"He was here when I came," said the Captain. "Settin' on the hearth-stone eatin' them eggs as if he had n't seen food fer a se'nnight and never expected to see any again. The dog busted out of the house when I came in, and as I could n't get any word out of the lad, I just set down by the fire and took forty winks. It was too late for meeting, and besides I reckoned I could sleep better here." He finished with his jolly laugh.
Zeb, meanwhile, sat hugging the dog and rolling his eyes from one face to another as if in utter bewilderment. Perhaps he wondered if the Captain meant to capture him, too, for life must have seemed to the poor black boy just a series of efforts to escape being carried off to some place where he did not wish to go, by people whom he had never seen before. The Goodman at last sat down before Zeb on the settle and tried to get from him some account of what had happened in the forest. But Zeb was totally unable to tell his story. His few words of English were inadequate to the recital of the terrors of the past twenty-four hours.
"Let the lad be," said the Goodwife at last. "He's safe, praise God, and we shall just have to wait to find out how he managed to escape from the savages and make his way back here." She went to the secret closet and brought out a huge piece of pumpkin pie. Zeb's eyes gleamed as he seized it. "He must n't eat too much at once," said she. "As nearly as I can make out by the shells, he's had six eggs already. That will do for a time. Dan, build a fire in the fireplace in the old kitchen. There's warm water in the kettle, and do thou see that Zeb takes a bath. He is crusted with mud. He must have wallowed in it. Nancy and I will get dinner the while."
Dan beckoned to Zeb, and the two boys disappeared. Zeb had never bathed before except in the ocean, and the new process did not please him. "I believe he wished he'd stayed with the Indians," said Dan when he appeared an hour later followed by a well-polished but somewhat embittered Zeb. "I've just about taken his skin off and I'm all worn out. Oh, Mother, is n't dinner almost ready?"
"Almost," said his mother, as she opened the oven door to take a peep at the turkey, which had been cooking since early morning. "It only needs browning before the fire while I make the gravy."
The table was already spread, and Nancy was at that very moment giving an extra polish to the tankard before placing it beside the Captain's trencher. The spiced drink to fill it was already mulling beside the fire with a huge kettle of vegetables steaming beside it. The closet door was open, giving a tantalizing glimpse of glories to come.
"So there's where ye keep 'em," observed the Captain, regarding the pies with open admiration. "'Tis a sight to make a man thankful for the room in his hold. By jolly, it'll take careful loading to stow this dinner away proper!"
He called Nancy to his side and opened the bulging leather pocket which hung from his belt. "Feel in there," he said. "I brought along something to fill in the chinks."
Nancy thrust in her hand, and brought it out filled with raisins. "I got 'em off a ship just in from the Indies," explained the Captain. Raisins were a great luxury in the wilderness, and the delighted Nancy hastened to find a dish and to place them beside the pies.
"All ready," said the mother at last. "Come to dinner."
There was no need of a second invitation, and the response to the summons looked like a stampede. The Goodman and his wife took their places at the head of the table with the Captain on one side and the children on the other, and because it was Thanksgiving, and because he had had such a hard day and night, and most of all because he was so clean, Zeb was allowed a place at the foot of the board.
The Goodman asked a blessing and then heaped the trenchers high with what he called the bounty of the Lord. There was only one cloud on Dan's sunshine during the meal. On account of Zeb, who when in doubt still faithfully imitated him, he was obliged to be an example all through the dinner. Even with such a model to copy, Zeb had great trouble with his spoon and showed a regrettable tendency to feed himself with both hands at once.
The turkey was a wonder of tenderness, the vegetables done to a turn, the Indian pudding much better than its name, and as for the pies, the Captain declared they were "fit to be et by the angels and most too good for a sinner like him."
Beside each plate the Goodwife had placed a few kernels of corn, and at the end of the feast, when the Goodman rose to return thanks, he took them in his hand.
"In the midst of plenty," he said to his children, "let us not forget the struggles of the past and what we owe to the pioneers who first adventured into this wilderness and made a path for those of us who have followed them. Though they nearly perished of hunger and cold in the beginning, they failed not in faith. When they had but a few kernels of corn to eat, they still gave thanks, choosing like Daniel to live on pulse with a good conscience rather than to eat from a king's table. As the Lord prospered Daniel, so hath he prospered us."
Then they all stood with folded hands and bent heads, while he gave thanks for the abundant harvest and prayed that they might be guided to use every blessing to the honor and glory of God. And the Captain said, "Amen."