O NE day, almost before the snow had melted from the ground, Priscilla, Mary Chilton, and some of the other girls began to look for spring flowers near the edge of the forest.
They brushed away the dry leaves to see if the violets or windflowers had started to grow. Sometimes they found, pushing their way up through the earth, a group of tiny rough balls which would some day unroll into a beautiful fern.
There were many pale little plants lifting their first buds up through the earth and leaves, but not a flower on any of them.
"It must be too early for blossoms," said Mary Chilton. "See, there are still patches of snow in that shady hollow."
"This is Mistress Brewster's birthday, and I did hope we could find a few blossoms for her," said Priscilla.
"Since she cannot come to the woods, let us take some of the woods to her," said Mary, digging up a handful of earth and leaves.
"Why do you take those dry leaves?" asked one of the girls.
Mary lifted the old leaves of the little plant she held, and showed the furry stems and buds of the hepatica. "They will open in a day or two if we put them in the sun, and Mistress Brewster will enjoy watching them unfold," she said.
When the basket was filled with the dead-looking earth and leaves, it seemed like a queer birthday present for the dear old lady whom the girls often lovingly called "mother." But it was not many days until dozens of little furry stems lifted their dainty purple and white blossoms above the brown leaves.
As the girls came out of the forest, they looked across the water to where the "Mayflower" still lay in the harbor. The ship swung lightly to and fro as though glad to be free from the icy bounds which had held it so many weeks.
The spring storms were over now, and the "Mayflower" must soon return to England. Every evening for a week the Pilgrims had bent over their rough pine tables, writing letters for the "Mayflower" to carry to friends across the sea.
It was eight months since they had left England, and there was so much to write in these first letters to their friends. They must tell about the place where they had settled, the new homes they were making, and about their Indian neighbors.
Then there was the sad story of sickness and death, which must be told. Many of the letters were full of sadness and longing for England.
As the girls walked slowly down the hill each was thinking of all that had happened to the little band since the "Mayflower" dropped anchor in that harbor.
"There must be a meeting in the common-house this morning," said Mary Chilton, as she noticed a number of people entering the square log building. "Let us go in."
When they entered the large room, they saw the captain of the "Mayflower" standing before the people. He was thanking the Pilgrims for the kindness they had shown to him and to his men; for nursing them when they were ill, and for sharing their provisions with them when food was so scarce.
"To-morrow, if the wind is fair, we set sail for England," he said. "You have had a sad, hard winter here. Many of those whom the "Mayflower" brought to this shore are dead. Now that there are so few of you, are you not afraid to stay here in this lonely land? If any of you wish to return to England, I will give you free passage."
The Pilgrims thought of the loved ones they had lost, and of the new grave on the hill where, only a few days before, they had laid their dear governor, John Carver.
Mistress Brewster's eyes grew dim as she thought of her son, and of Fear and Patience so far across the water. Should she return to them? "No," she thought, "we are making them a better home here, and sometime they will come to us."
William Bradford, who had been chosen as the new governor, was the first to speak.
"Men, you have heard the captain's offer. What do you say? Do any of you wish to return to England?"
"No," came the answer. "Our homes are here, and here we will stay."
"And these maids who have lost both father and mother, do they not wish to return to their old homes across the sea?" asked the ship's captain.
"Speak, Priscilla," said Governor Bradford.
"I have no home other than the one Elder Brewster and his wife so kindly offered me," said Priscilla.
"I have no wish to return, since all I have is here," said Mary Chilton.
Again Governor Bradford spoke. "Do not answer in haste," he said. "Think what it means to remain in this wild new land. Let each man answer for himself and his family. What say you, Master Allerton?"
"I and my family will stay," he replied.
So said all the others. Not one of the brave men and women accepted the captain's offer.