To Have and To Hold
XXXVI. In Which I Hear Ill News
WHEN I awoke from the sleep or stupor into which I must have passed from that
swoon, it was to find myself lying upon a bed in a room flooded with sunshine. I
was alone. For a moment I lay still, staring at the blue sky without the window,
and wondering where I was and how I came there. A drum beat, a dog barked,
and a man's quick voice gave a command. The sounds stung me into
remembrance, and I was at the window while the voice was yet speaking.
It was West in the street below, pointing with his sword now to the fort, now to the
palisade, and giving directions to the armed men about him. There were many
people in the street. Women hurried by to the fort with white, scared faces, their
arms filled with household gear; children ran beside them, sturdily bearing their
share of the goods, but pressing close to their elders' skirts; men went to and fro,
the most grimly silent, but a few talking loudly. Not all of the faces in the crowd
belonged to the town: there were Kingsmell and his wife from the main, and John
Ellison from Archer's Hope, and the Italians Vincencio and Bernardo from the
Glass House. The nearer plantations, then, had been warned, and their people
had come for refuge to the city. A negro passed, but on that morning, alone of
many days, no Indian aired his paint and feathers in the white man's village.
I could not see the palisade across the neck, but I knew that it was there that the
fight - if fight there were - would be made. Should the Indians take the palisade,
there would yet be the houses of the town, and, last of all, the fort in which to
make a stand. I believed not that they would take it. Long since we had found out
their method of warfare. They used ambuscade, surprise, and massacre; when
withstood in force and with determination they withdrew to their stronghold the
forest, there to bide their time until, in the blackness of some night, they could
again swoop down upon a sleeping foe.
The drum beat again, and a messenger from the palisade came down the street
at a run. "They're in the woods over against us, thicker than ants!" he cried to
West as he passed. "A boat has just drifted ashore yonder, with two men in it,
dead and scalped!"
I turned to leave the room, and ran against Master Pory coming in on tiptoe, with
a red and solemn face. He started when he saw me.
"The roll of the drum brought you to your feet, then!" he cried. "You've lain like
the dead all night. I came but to see if you were breathing."
"When I have eaten, I shall be myself again," I said. "There's no attack as yet?"
"No," he answered. "They must know that we are prepared. But they have
kindled fires along the river bank, and we can hear them yelling. Whether they'll
be mad enough to come against us remains to be seen."
"The nearest settlements have been warned?"
"Ay. The Governor offered a thousand pounds of tobacco and the perpetual
esteem of the Company to the man or men who would carry the news. Six
volunteered, and went off in boats, three up river, three down. How many they
reached, or if they still have their scalps, we know not. And awhile ago, just
before daybreak, comes with frantic haste Richard Pace, who had rowed up from
Pace's Pains to tell the news which you had already brought. Chanco the