excerpts from Still Here


A New Hearth
from pp 93-98

A scratching noise at the opening of the wigwam announced the arrival of the two women from the night before. They ducked inside. Mary noticed that the younger one was with child, though she appeared a child herself. The other woman appeared to be older, maybe thirty or so, and wore clothing ornamented with shells and beads.

Mary pretended she was still asleep.

The young one shook her. “Awake. Mary Rowlandson, awake.” She jostled Mary harder with no response. The girl pulled off Mary’s fur cover, saw the limp child curled in her arms, and knew that it was dead.

“Come,” said the older one to Mary. “You must leave this place and go to Quannopinn.”

Mary resisted, squeezing Sarah tightly. The older one pulled her arm and said, “You must go. Leave the child.”

Not ready to accept Sarah as beyond help or harm, Mary struggled. Then, accepting the women’s unrelenting command, she sat up, pulled herself free, and gently laid Sarah between the warm furs. Moving stiffly and wincing from her aching side, she rose to her feet.

“Where is Quannopinn,” she asked. “Is it far from here?”

The young one giggled. The older one said, “Quannopinn is not a place. He is a sagamore, a great leader, and he will be your new master. He has paid Monaco to make you a member of his household. Come now,” she insisted.

Mary blinked. “Paid Monaco? The one-eyed man who took me from my home? Am I now chattel to be bought and sold at will?”

“Come. Now.” The women lifted the door flap open.

Emerging into bright sunlight, Mary looked back to see the place where her child had died. She saw a rounded bark hovel surrounded by dark evergreens on the snowy mountaintop overlooking her burned-out town. She saw other similar shelters, but not many and none near her own. She had been set apart.

Dear Lord, she thought, my baby has come as close to you in heaven as she could on this cold earth. Take her soul into your hand and let her sing with all your hosts of cherubim. Bless her and keep her, dear God. Amen. She told herself that Sarah was in a better place. She tried very hard to believe it and take comfort.

Mary followed the women without protest. She asked where they were taking her, but they did not answer. She couldn’t tell if they didn’t understand or if they didn’t want to answer. What does it matter now? Mary thought. Sarah is gone.

They led her to a much larger wigwam than the one where Sarah’s body rested. It looked weathered and old. Mary stepped inside and saw a squaw kneeling by a small open fire in the center of the room. She appeared to be making tea or broth. A man stood by the doorway. Mary recognized him as the tall man who had talked the Indian off his horse for her the day before. Was it only one day ago that Sarah cried in her arms?

The older woman accompanying her said something in her Indian tongue, and Mary looked at the squaw by the fire.

Small and thin, she wore a sleeveless dress that covered only one shoulder. Her hair was pulled back and tied with a piece of leather wound down the length of it almost to her waist. She had a pretty face, but she looked tired. The weariness of hard travel showed in her deeply lined face. Mary wondered if the two were her new master and mistress but was afraid to ask. Perhaps the woman will take pity on me and let me go home.

The man stepped toward her and said, “Mistress, I am Quannopinn, sagamore of the Narragansett, and this is my wife, Weetamoo, sachem of the Pocasset.”

It shocked Mary to hear such refined English coming from the mouth of a savage. What trickery is this? she thought. His had an odd dialect and he appeared foreign, but, indeed, he spoke to her in English. Though surprised, she made an automatic, polite response.

“I am Mary Rowlandson, wife of Reverend Joseph Rowlandson of Lancaster.” She noticed that the man wore half English and half native attire. She wondered if he was half-bred. The thought repulsed her. He wore a white man’s hunting blouse with the fringed leggings and moccasins of an Indian. His war paint had washed away, and she thought he had handsome features for a red man. She immediately chastised herself for the thought.

Weetamoo got up and came closer to inspect her. She looked at Mary’s soft white hands and pinched her upper arm. “Too fat and lazy,” Weetamoo said in English.

Surprised by such an insult from a heathen, Mary thought it best to mind her tongue. She thought, This woman is as thin as a stick. Of course she thinks a well-fed person is fat. Then she had a fleeting fear that they were planning to eat her. She had heard all kinds of strange tales about Indians.

Quannopinn laughed and said, “That is good. She won’t need so much to eat. So, you are pleased?” He stood by the doorway with his arms crossed and watched the two women examining one another.

Weetamoo answered him in their own language. Mary didn’t understand the words, but she heard disagreement. While they did not raise their voices, they exchanged words back and forth until Weetamoo seemed to agree with Quannopinn.

He turned to Mary and said, “You shall live with us now. You will travel with us, eat with us, and sleep with us.” He gestured toward a knobby rack made of spindly sticks of wood. It had wild animal skins piled on it. Surely they did not expect her to sleep on that. For how long? she wanted to ask but dared not.

She looked around and saw large baskets under the strange beds. Over her head hung a bower of wild branches thickly layered with bark. Daylight shone in from the hole in the roof over the fire that warmed the wetu. The whole place had a strange smell of smoke mixed with pine and herbs.

Mary didn’t know what to do. She worried about leaving Sarah’s body alone in the small wigwam. “Sir, may I be permitted to return to my other shelter? I have left my child behind.”

The request surprised Weetamoo, already aware that squaws were burying the dead child. She wondered whether English kept their dead with them and, if so, for how long, but she did not want to ask. It would not be proper.

She looked at the strange woman. Weetamoo had traveled to Boston and Cambridge and had seen many English before but rarely so close at hand. Mary’s pale skin color appeared almost translucent like the shells on the beach near her home. The blond hair had an odd bending nature. It looked so disorganized, and Weetamoo wondered why the woman did not keep it better managed.

Weetamoo noticed the many layers of clothing Mary wore and thought them very impractical. Mary wore an ankle-length gathered skirt and apron with a long-sleeved blouse and a vest over it. She had a cape over that. The skirt stuck out with a fullness and length that seemed wasteful to Weetamoo, and the leather shoes appeared more pretty than useful. The thin leather will not last many miles, Weetamoo thought. She wondered what Mary wore under the skirt that made it stick out so. She squatted, lifted the hem, and found another skirt and another beneath that one.

Weetamoo pulled the cloth away and looked under the skirts. Mary shrieked and stepped back. Startled, Weetamoo fell back. Quannopinn reached out to catch her but not before she landed on the ground.

Weetamoo stood up and shouted, “Get out. Out of my house,” and pushed Mary backward. Mary fell out the door. She rolled over, snatched up her skirts, and ran away, looking back to see if she was followed. It did not appear so.

Weetamoo’s impertinence shocked Mary, but then she remembered that the same people rode around her house burning and killing her kin and neighbors. She pushed from her mind the unbidden image of her sister and her nephew lying on her doorstep and sucked in a great gulp of air.

She would have to mind her step if she hoped to live.

She set to finding the wigwam where she had left Sarah but noticed suddenly that all the hovels looked similar. Hoping to find the right one, she began peeking in doorways. At last she found the place where she had left Sarah and ducked inside. She threw aside the fur she had slept in, still stained with her baby’s blood. Tossing the covers on the floor, she realized someone had taken Sarah’s body away. She wailed inconsolably and stumbled outside calling, “Sarah—where is my Sarah?”

The nearby Indians ignored her or looked at her curiously, but no one answered or helped her. The two women who came to her in the night eventually heard her cries. They came down a path from the woods.

“Mary,” one of them said to her, “your child died. She is buried.”

“You buried her? Mary screamed. “In a heathen grave? With no prayers or consecration? Where? Take me there!” Mary pummeled them. The two women accepted her grief-stricken blows, eventually holding her wrists to subdue her. When they told her they would take her to the grave, she stopped struggling.

They walked through the wood up a path that led to an open place on the mountaintop. Between outcroppings of ledge, they came to a small patch of newly turned soil that covered Mary’s youngest child in lasting sleep. Mary knelt beside the grave and wept. She clasped her hands and prayed, begging God to have mercy on the unbaptized little girl.

She looked around for flowers, but seeing none in February, instead pulled up sprigs of princess pine and winter berries and laid them over her child’s resting place. Winter berries, she thought, not strawberries, but red and sweet even in the snow. Rest now, my little daughter, rest well.

Then she laid her head on the dirt and wept.

The squaws pulled her away as the day grew colder and snow began falling again. She struggled with them, but at last let them pry her away.

Quannopinn’s Gift
from pp 99-102

Embarrassed at the undignified ending to their meeting, Weetamoo felt more convinced than before that she did not want the white woman in her home. It angered her that Quannopinn tried to pass the woman off as a gift. He put her in an uncomfortable position. To say no would refuse a gift. It would bring bad spirit energy between them. To say yes put her at a disadvantage. She had no notion of what she would do with the woman, and she had no gift of equal value to give Quannopinn in exchange.

She had tried to explain her feelings to Quannopinn, but he did not understand. He thought she needed help. He would not hear of trading the woman back. Weetamoo saw the woman as the first wedge between her new husband and herself. Though she felt obliged to accept the gift, she did not have to like it.

When the three women returned from the grave, Weetamoo asked the younger woman, her daughter Laughing Water, to take Mary to the cook fire outside and show her how to prepare their meal. Weetamoo stayed inside and consoled herself by playing with her son. She sat with him on her bed furs and wondered what he would be like as he grew up. She wondered, too, about the new life inside her. Which of her sons would grow up to be the sachem of her tribe? Her second son could be the leader of both her own and Quannopinn’s tribes but her first son, Pocasset only. Would there be jealousy? Or would they be close friends as Metacomet and Wamsutta once were? She looked in her infant’s eyes and wondered if he would one day betray his brother. Chilled at the thought, she looked away.

Quannopinn returned to the wetu. He strutted over to Weetamoo and said, “How is my bride? You must be pleased to have more help. And for only the price of a gun.”

Weetamoo looked at him. She still could not believe he had encumbered her with a white woman, especially an injured one who had just lost a child.

“What were you thinking?” she asked him impatiently. “We barely have enough to feed ourselves, Quannopinn.”

“That is no longer so, wife. We now have horses, cattle, sheep, and pigs to eat.” He frowned a little, annoyed that she was not more appreciative.

“Think about that, Quannopinn. All those animals need food, too. Where will we find grass for them on the way to Pocumtuc or Coasset? Look around. There is snow and ice everywhere.” She paced, wondering how she could turn down his gift, the first he had given her since their marriage.

“Then we will butcher them here and take their meat with us,” he answered. “Or we will eat our fill now and dry the rest for later. It matters not.”

“It matters greatly,” she snapped. “Bringing the white woman into my home displeases me. It is hard enough to care for ourselves, my son, and my daughter. And what if the woman brings disease? Think, Quannopinn. How useful will this mourning mother be to us?”

Quannopinn crossed his arms and responded sharply, “I thought you would be pleased with another woman to help ease your burden.”

“How Quannopinn? How will she ease the burden? What does she know of our ways? Did you see what she wears? She will only slow us down. And trading a gun? How can you give that away when we are at war?”

“It was a fair bargain,” he insisted. “We have no shot or powder for it anyway.”

“I am displeased.” She turned away. She lifted a basket from under her bed and spread the contents over her sleeping furs.

Quannopinn, still angry but chastened, knew he must smooth things with his new wife.

“Weetamoo, forgive me for not speaking with you on this first. I am a guest at your hearth, and if you decide she must go, I will trade her to another. I only thought she could help you. I made a fair trade, and I think she will hold value with Metacomet. Monaco told me she comes from a wealthy family. They should pay handsomely for her. We can barter for what we need with her.” He stepped closer to her and breathed into her ear, “Tell me what you want me to do.”

His scent and the huskiness in his voice suggested he didn’t want to continue the argument over the white woman. He tugged on a strand of her hair and turned her face to his, only inches away. “Tell me what you want, little Namumpum,” he insisted, using her childhood name. He leaned toward her lips, and she stepped back.

“No, Quannopinn. This is not the way we can resolve every dispute. I am too angry with you to discuss it now.” She turned away from him and rearranged her jewelry. Though frustrated with him, she wanted time to consider what value the white woman might hold for her and her people. If the woman was strong, she might be useful.

Weetamoo could not put Quannopinn off so easily. Weetamoo had asked for a lusty mate, and Quannopinn proved all she hoped for in that regard. With two other wives, he still craved the company of his new bride almost every night. No wonder she had conceived so soon. She thought that perhaps she should tell him the news and stall for time concerning the woman. She did not want their first argument to come to them over a gift given with good intentions.

Quannopinn slipped his arm around her waist and pressed her body against his. He spoke into her ear again, “Tell me what you want, Sachem.”

Weetamoo knew her new sannup well enough to see that she could not stall him any longer. She leaned back against him and said, “I want the father of my next son to honor his wife.” She turned and kissed him on the throat.

He lowered his mouth to hers, then stopped and said, “Next son? What do you mean?”

“I will have your son,” she answered. “In six moons.”

He looked at her lovely face and said, “A son? You are sure?” His eyes reflected brightly.

“I am sure,” she smiled. He lifted her off her feet and spun with her in a wide circle.

He burst into a great smile, picked her up again, and carried her to their bed. He gently placed her on the soft fur and kissed her. He slid his hand under her skirt and ran his hand back and forth over her smooth belly. “In six moons? I cannot feel him yet.”

“No, but I can feel him well already, and I have seen him in my dreams grown to be a strong man like his father. He will look like you, Quannopinn,” she whispered and tenderly bit his ear.

“What a great gift, Weetamoo. We will raise our boy to lead his people,” Quannopinn said. He slipped off his loincloth and carefully straddled his wife.

Weetamoo’s first son began to cry.

Across the Baquoag • Sixth Remove, February 27, 1675
from pp 174-177

Mary thought they might stay longer at the new camp to rest after their long trek, but in the early hours of the morning, scouts rode into camp shouting something unintelligible, and it was as if the world had come undone. She watched Quannopinn and her captors, many who looked like armed savages as they mounted horses, some two to a beast, and rode out in several directions, while the others tore apart the camp and set fire to it.

“Go, Mary,” Weetamoo shoved her toward their wetu. “Take your pack basket. Leave everything else. We leave now.”

Mary rushed inside, grabbed her pack while taking time to put her Bible in. She added a fur to cover it before leaving. She had never unpacked her few personal belongings, so she had only to light the shelter afire. She made sure Weetamoo had her pack first and took note that Laughing Water had collected her pack and Weetamoo’s papoose. Using a stick from the cook fire, Mary set it against the woven mats she had been made to carry for so many days and watched the dried rushes burst into sizzling flames. Though covered in wet snow, the very dry hollow reeds produced a raging blaze that hissed and whistled as it consumed what had been her shelter in Nichewaug.

It gave her pleasure to burn down the hovel, and she hoped the reason they could do without all meant that her redemption would happen very soon, perhaps just across the river. Or perhaps they rushed to leave because her redeemers pursued them from behind. The possibility gave her a moment’s pause. Should she dawdle to see if she might be rescued or should she keep pace with the others stretching themselves into long lines moving quickly downriver? She had no time to consider options as Weetamoo grabbed her and pushed her into the long queue of departing heathens.

She noticed that many carried papooses or aging mothers or helped those who could not walk unaided. Four were carrying one wounded man on a litter, and yet they moved swiftly, as if they were being chased by the devil himself. They marched on without rest through thicket and wood, sometimes lifting the injured man on their backs until they came to a clearing by the riverbank.

As they all poured into the glade, no one said a word. As if by instinct, the native women and men worked at taking down trees and lashing them together for the river crossing. Mary watched in wonder as the forest around her transformed into transportation, though she doubted that it would be possible to move so many across the swift flowing current on such crude devices. With great haste, the workers built makeshift rafts and dragged them to the river bank. Even as that happened around her, Mary turned and saw the first of the rafts loaded and pushed out into the frigid water. The industrious way they all seemed to know what to do stunned Mary.

“Now! Get on the raft!” Weetamoo barked at her, shoving her towards the next raft waiting at the shore. Dreading that she would soak her footwear already in tatters from all her travel, Mary stepped aboard. Her once lovely boots had carrieid her to church services and tea dances. After her travails, scuffs and tears marred them and her stockings showed where they had worn right through. Would she never see the likes of them again?

Others pushed Mary to the front of the craft. She sat on her baggage and marveled that her feet stayed dry the whole way across the river in spite of the furious current. Everyone alighted on the opposite side, and others shoved and pulled her up the embankment just moments before the raft took off again for more passengers.

Just then, shots sounded in the distance, and Mary had to wonder at the meaning. Will today be my last day with the heathen band? Will Captain Moseley or Captain Church come riding in to rescue me while leading my captors away in chains? Oh, please God, let this be so.

More shots rang out but further in the distance.

Could the rescuers be retreating? she wondered. Surely, they can find us with the smoke billowing from the ruined camp on the other side of the river. How could all the heathen women and children, old and wounded alike. make such a hasty crossing, and how could so few warriors frighten off seasoned soldiers? What trickery is in a God who makes hearty men fear to go where weak and starving, half-clothed women could? Are not our Massachusetts men strong enough and wise enough to manage to cross a river such as this? Do they not care so much for us that they would turn back when we are so near at hand? Where is my God in this? Why have even You forsaken me in this wilderness?

She looked up and down the river and saw no sign of colonial men, only many more rafts bearing across hundreds of Indians and their goods. First, mainly women and children, several with papooses. Then the elderly and wounded. Last of all, the warriors.

The crossing took the rest of the afternoon and continued on into the night. Mary was astonished by the number in their company and tried to count them but couldn’t as they were always in motion.

In the evening, many warriors returned, some taking rafts and others just riding into the water on their horses. By the next evening, all had crossed. They had left a good deal behind, and Mary felt troubled that once again they had no food. She knew she had some stores in her bag and took them to Weetamoo.

“Mistress Weetamoo, would you like for me to make us a dinner with these?” she asked, still hoping that they camped very close to civilization at the other side of this forest.

“No, Mary. These are our reserves.”

“But, surely, we could have but a mouthful, after all our long journey?”

“No! Do not ask again.” Weetamoo stared at her as if she were a headmaster ready with a cane.

Fuming over Weetamoo’s stinginess with her food, Mary turned away and put the provisions back in her pack. She walked toward the river in hopes of finding some dried berries or ground nuts before others did. Mary found the area already depleted by other foragers. She went to bed with a gnawing hunger and only water from the river to soothe it.

from pp178-180

Weetamoo and Quannopinn had no success in their recent hunt, no doubt due to the sheer number of others seeking quarry. They had gleaned all they could from their surroundings and needed to feed their people. They lay in their bed speaking low while Mary, Laughing Water, and the baby slept in the rough shelter they’d made earlier that day.

“We’re agreed then. We will eat the horses,” she said.

“Nux, it must be so,” he answered. She could see his disappointment as he leaned back and looked at the roof. Starlight and moonlight winked between the layers of evergreen above. The crystal clear night brought dry cold in the season known to her people as the time of popping trees. Listening quietly, she heard the creaking and snapping of birch and pine boughs so frozen they could not bend with the wind. Tomorrow would be frigid, a good day for stewing the horse meat.

“Good. We will not need them anyway, as we do not have far to go and must cross the Ashuelot and the Kwinitekw. The horses would only slow us down. Besides, Metacom will have supplies from his talks with the Mohawks at Hoosic. They will have more than just our corn and peas when they arrive.”

“It is so. Tell me, Wife, are you well enough to travel with our little son inside you?” He reached over and rubbed her stomach. The mound of their future son grew riper, though not as quickly as Petananuit’s son had grown. Perhaps another girl this time. It had been sixteen summers since Laughing Water’s birth. And she would soon have a child of her own. Weetamoo hoped to find her a husband when they reached Coasset.

“I am well,” she patted his cheek. “Do not worry. You will have a strong son.”

She rolled over and regarded her papoose in his basket. His face had reddened. She touched his forehead and found it warm. She loosened his covers slightly. She closed her eyes and asked the ancestors to keep watch over both her sons and her daughter. Help me guide them in the ways of our people and keep them strong. She lay awake for a long time thinking about her children and what the future might hold for all of them.

* * *

The next day, the warriors slaughtered all the horses taken on their raids and divided them among the people. With over three hundred to feed, each hearth received sustenance enough for a meal or two. Weetamoo boiled a leg for her family, and all shared in the broth. Mary used a forked stick to tear a bit of meat free, but Weetamoo pulled her hand away and told her to wait until they boiled it again. The sachem knew she must drain every bit of possible nutrient from it before sharing out the meat. Mary, who had never wanted for food in her prior life, did not understand the concept of limited provisions nor the fact that filling herself on broth equal to a small portion of meat would effectively curb hunger. Ordinarily the Wampanoags would dry any meat left over, but with so many hungry travelers, not a morsel remained.

Weetamoo settled down after their meal and worked on her wampum beads. She and her household had collected and carried along many shells. She polished beads by rolling them on a stone, then bore a hole though the many white and less bountiful purple beads. The work took time and patience as she manipulated a boring tool rolled between her hands or sometimes a small bow and string. She had no time to make tools and so worked by hand.

Mary entered the makeshift shelter and settled on her sleeping mat. She searched in her pack for her Bible, drew it out, and thumbed the pages. The sight of it disgusted Weetamoo. “Mary, put that aside, for you have work to do. I need a pair of stockings, and you have not worked on them in days. Others also need your work, so you should not waste your time in reading.”

“Today is the Sabbath,” Mary responded. “We cannot work on the Sabbath as I said to you before. I will work all the more on your stockings tomorrow.” She lowered her eyes to her book but did not rest comfortably on her bed. She looked ready to spring out the door.

“There is no Sabbath here,” Weetamoo answered. “You have no special privileges. Work is work and must be done everyday. By all. Put that away.”

“Nay. If it troubles you, I will go outside and not be in your way. But I must keep holy the Sabbath.”

“Enough of that talk. You will work or I will strike you and erase that look of pride from your face. Put it down. Now.”

Mary was about to object, but Quannopinn stepped over, reached down, closed her Bible, and put it back in her basket. Glaring at her as if he might do her harm, he sat back down without a word. Mary did not dare take the Bible back. Instead, she took up her knitting and faced away from the two of them.

By the bobbing of her head, Weetamoo knew Mary made prayers to her God, Jehovah. Let her pray, thought Weetamoo. It will do no harm, nor will it do any good. At least she is working.