Elsie Singmaster.

The long journey, by Elsie Singmaster online

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o'clock, the Weisers carrying nothing, the burdens on the shoulders
of their neighbors. At the heels of the procession walked Wolf. At
the summit of the first hill all looked back, save Conrad. The little
village lay smiling in the sun; to the pilgrims it seemed like Heaven.

"I cannot go," cried Magdalena.

"Oh, father, let us stay," begged Margareta.

Before John Conrad could answer, a cheerful sound restored the courage
of the pilgrims and George Reimer's gay "Susy, dear Susy" set their
feet moving.

At the village of Oberdorf there was a halt, while greetings were
exchanged, explanations made, and messages written down for friends
already in America. Among those to whom greetings were sent was the
magistrate who must be by this time safely across the sea.

Here the Gross Anspachers, except the schoolmaster, turned back and the
Weisers shouldered their own bundles. It became clear now that there
were more bundles than persons and the fact occasioned much laughter
and readjustment.

At night the Weisers slept by the wayside. The fare on the boat would
draw a large sum from John Conrad's store and not a penny could be
spent for lodging. Lulled by Reimer's flute, they slept comfortably,
and, roused by the same music, were off soon after daylight.

At the river came the most difficult of partings. Here George Reimer
played a last lullaby and a final reveillé. A river boat, the Elspeth,
had anchored near by for the night and upon it the family took passage.
The goods were carried aboard and piled in the center of the deck and
John Conrad and his eight children followed. At once came a protest
from the captain. Old Wolf could not go, and Conrad was commanded to
lead him from the boat. Conrad forgot that he was thirteen years old,
forgot that he was the man of the family next to his father, forgot his
boasted superiority to Margareta and Magdalena and the rest, and threw
his arms round the old dog's neck.

"I cannot leave you! I cannot leave you!"

Then he felt himself lifted up and put aboard the gangplank.

"There, Conrad, there! I will take care of him. I have given your
father something for you. Show yourself brave, dear lad!"

Stumbling, Conrad boarded the boat. He saw the schoolmaster wave his
hand, he saw the green shores slip away, he heard his father's voice.

"Your teacher gave me this for you, Conrad."

"Oh, father!" cried Conrad.

In his hand lay the schoolmaster's flute.

"He said you were to practice diligently and to remember him."

The message made Conrad weep the more. He threw himself down on the
pile of household goods and hid his face.

When he looked up his father sat beside him. In his hand were two
books. He looked at his son anxiously.

"Conrad, we are going among strange people. The first are the
Hollanders, with whom we can make ourselves understood. But of English
we know nothing. Now we will learn as well as we can, I and you. The
schoolmaster gave me an English Bible, in it we will study daily,
comparing it with our own."

"What will we do about the language of the savages?" asked Conrad,
drying his tears. "How will we make ourselves understood by them?"

"There will be time enough for that. It is probable that they compel
them to learn English. The savages are a long way off."

For a few days John Conrad and his son studied diligently. There was
little else to do in the long hours which glided as quietly by as the
stream. The country about them was unbroken and flat; here there went
on a simple life like their own. Everywhere were to be seen in the
brown fields and the dead vineyards the ravages of the fearful winter.

In return for a little help about the boat, the helmsman, who had
served on English ships, did his best to interpret the hardest words
for the students. To the surly captain they dared not speak. Once the
price for the journey was paid into his hand, he seemed to resent even
the sight of his passengers. Frequently he was not sober, and then the
helmsman helped the Weisers to keep out of his way. Unlike the rest
of his race, he could not endure the sound of music and Conrad and his
flute were objects of special dislike. More than once he threatened to
throw both into the river.

When the boat stopped at the city of Speyer for a day and night,
studying and flute-practicing stopped entirely and, urged by the
friendly helmsman, the Weisers went on shore. Now for the first time
the children saw a large town; with eager expectation they stepped on
the wharf. But here, too, was ruin and desolation. The great buildings,
burned by the enemy who had devastated their own village, had not been
restored; the cathedral which towered above the ruins was itself but a
hollow shell. When they reached the next large town of Mannheim, they
did not leave the boat. With increasing longing they looked forward
across the ocean to the Paradise where the enemy had not been.

Daily they were joined by other pilgrims who like themselves looked
forward with aching eyes to the distant country. The newcomers had
each his own story of persecution and famine, of cold and misery. With
them John Conrad talked, gathering from them all the information which
they had about the new country, comforting them as best he could, and
reading to them from Conrad's little book. To the directions they
listened earnestly, hearing over and over again that they must be
patient, quick to hear and slow to speak, that they must be diligent
and thrifty. About the dangers of the sea they talked a great deal and
were relieved to hear that a journey on an inland river was valuable as
preparation for a journey on the ocean. The little book advised also
that those who were about to take a journey by sea should practice on a
swing.

Each day the captain was less and less able to navigate the ship.
Finally the helmsman took command, and while the captain lay in a
stupor, Conrad continued the forbidden flute-playing. Growing careless,
he was caught, and the captain, who could reach neither Conrad nor the
flute, kicked the family spinning-wheel into the river. The loss was
serious and it taught a bitter lesson.

It was the twenty-fourth of June when the travelers left Gross Anspach;
a month later they were still far from the mouth of the river. Each
day passengers clamored on the banks, each day the number of ships in
the river increased, slow packet boats which did not go above Cologne
or Mainz, and faster boats which passed the heavily laden Elspeth
like birds. The river left the broad meadows for a narrow gorge with
precipitous banks upon which stood imposing castles. At sight of the
castles the children were overcome with awe.

"There is Bingen, and its mouse tower, children," said John Conrad.

"Not where the bishop was eaten!" cried Sabina.

"Yes; and about here the treasure of the Niebelungen is buried."

"If we could only find it!" sighed Conrad.

"And there" - the helmsman pointed to ruined walls upon the cliff
side - "there a brave trumpeter defended his master's life. While his
master and others escaped, he blew bravely upon the walls to frighten
the enemy, and when they entered, there was no one left to kill but
him."

The watching of Barbara and John Frederick in their trotting about the
crowded ship grew to be more and more of a task. The first person who
was pushed overboard was made much of, and the man who rescued him was
considered a hero. When many had fallen overboard and had been rescued
the passengers scarcely turned their heads.

As day after day passed and August drew near its close, John Conrad
became more and more anxious.

"It is time we were sailing from England," said he uneasily to Conrad.
"The journey has taken long, food has been higher than I thought, and
we have had to pay tariff a dozen times."

Again and again he took from his pocket the letter of the magistrate of
Oberdorf. Of the chief of his fears he said nothing to Conrad. The good
Queen of England had offered transportation to the distressed Germans;
but had she realized, had any one anticipated that so vast a throng
would take her at her word? The river captains told of weeks and weeks
of such crowding of the lower river. Would there be ships enough to
carry them all to the New World? Would the Queen provide for them until
they could sail?

Presently rumors of trouble increased John Conrad's fears. A passing
boat declared that the Germans were forbidden to enter Rotterdam, the
lowland city at which they would have to take ship for England. The
congestion had become serious. The citizens of Rotterdam announced that
their patience and their resources were exhausted; the Germans could no
longer wait there for English boats; they must return whence they had
come.

At this announcement there was a loud outcry. Like the Weisers, the
other pilgrims had sold or had given away everything except the
property they carried with them; if they returned now, it would be to
greater misery than that which they had left. Go on they must. John
Conrad reminded them of the Lord in whom they trusted. The Queen had
promised and England was rich in resources. The Queen's charity was
not entirely disinterested; she expected the Germans to people her new
colonies. Nor did John Conrad believe that the Hollanders would see
them starve on the way to England. But even as he argued with himself,
his heart misgave him. He had seen persons starve, he had seen men and
women and children struck down by the swords of brutal soldiers. There
was nothing in the world, he believed, too terrible for heartless men
to do.

As they drew nearer to Rotterdam, the anxiety of the helmsman was plain
to be seen.

"I pay no attention to what passers-by say," he told John Conrad. "But
if you see any long, narrow boats, with the flag of Holland flying,
then it will be time to be frightened. They will have the power to make
us turn back."

Each hour the rate of travel became slower and slower. There was
now no current whatever, and for many days the wind did not blow.
Finally, when, at nightfall, the Elspeth came into the harbor, John
Conrad breathed a deep sigh of relief. In the morning the travelers saw
next them at the wharf one of the long boats which the helmsman had
described, and heard that it was to start in an hour to warn all the
pilgrims to return to their homes.

The passengers of the Elspeth were not allowed to enter the city, but
were bidden to wait on the wharf for English ships. Here their quarters
were almost as restricted as they had been on shipboard. In prompt
contradiction of the statement that their patience and their supplies
were exhausted, the kind Hollanders brought food to the guests who had
thrust themselves upon them.

Now the helmsman came to bid his friends good-bye. John Conrad gave him
many blessings and the children cried bitterly and embraced him.

"If he were only going with us, what fine times we should have on the
sea!" said Conrad.

"He seems like our last friend," mourned Margareta. "Everything before
us is strange."

"We thought George Reimer was our last friend," said John Conrad.
"Perhaps we shall find other friends as good."

For four days, the Germans watched for a ship. When at last two English
vessels came into the harbor and they were taken aboard, the Weisers
had little food and less money. When John Conrad heard that no passage
was to be charged, he breathed another sigh of relief.

"The good Queen will keep her promises," said he to his children. "The
worst of our troubles are over."

But within an hour it seemed that the worst of their troubles had only
begun. The channel crossing was rough. From their fellow travelers
there was rising already a cry, which was to grow louder and louder
as the weeks and months went by - "Would that we had suffered those
miseries which we knew rather than tempt those which we did not know!"

When the ship entered the smooth waters of the Thames River, the
Germans began to smile once more. About them were green fields. They
saw pleasant villages and broad stretches of cultivated land and deer
browsing under mighty trees.

"If we might only stay here!" they sighed.

John Conrad shook his head.

"Here we should not find rest."

Once more the Germans disembarked, wondering whether their stay on
shore would be long enough for a closer view of the fine churches and
palaces of London. Of so large a city as this even John Conrad had
never dreamed.

"Shall we see the Queen?" asked Sabina in a whisper of her father.

John Conrad smiled.

"We might see her riding in her chariot."

Then John Conrad grew sober. As they stood crowded together upon the
quay some young lads shouted at them roughly. The ears which expected
only kindness were shocked.

"They say we are taking the bread from their mouths," repeated Conrad.
"They call us 'rascally' Germans."

"There are rude folk everywhere," said John Conrad.

He directed the children to take their bundles and follow a man who
seemed to have authority to conduct them to some place in which they
were to spend the night.

The way thither proved to be long. Again and again it was necessary to
stop to rest or to give time for the short legs of the little children
to catch up. Again and again the heavy burdens were shifted about. They
traveled into the open country - a strange stopping place for those who
were so soon to continue their journey! They passed many men and women
who looked at them curiously. Presently they heard their own German
speech.

"We will have to wait awhile, probably, for ships," said John Conrad to
his son. "Of course we could not expect to go on at once. We - "

John Conrad stopped short and let his bundle slip to the ground. They
had come out upon a great space, which a few months before had been an
open heath. Now, as far as the eye could reach, stretched long lines
of tents. It was no temporary lodging, for here and there small frame
store buildings had been erected and there were long-used, dusty paths
between the tents. Men and women and children were going about, meals
were being prepared, there was everywhere the sound of voices. John
Conrad stood still in amazement.

"What is this?" he asked.

A single sharp voice answered from the doorway of a sutler's shop.

"We are Germans, lured hither by promise of passage to America. Here we
wait. Here we have waited for months. Have you come, oh, fool, to wait
also?"

It was not the rudeness of the answer which startled John Conrad,
nor the discouraging news which it announced, but the voice of the
speaker. For the speaker was none other than his friend the magistrate
of Oberdorf, supposed to be by now upon the high seas or in the new
country.




III

BLACKHEATH


For a long moment Heinrich Albrecht, the magistrate of Oberdorf, and
John Conrad Weiser, his friend, looked at each other. John Conrad was
the first to speak, in a voice trembling with amazement and alarm.

"Have you returned, Heinrich?"

The magistrate burst into a loud laugh. He was a tall, thin man, of a
type to whom inaction is misery.

"I have not been away. Here" - he waved his hand with a wide motion over
Blackheath - "here we lie, idle pensioners. Here we have been since
May, ever encouraged, ever deluded. Here idleness and evil customs are
corrupting our youth. Here we are dying."

Now the full meaning of the crowded Rhine and the warning of the
Hollanders burst upon John Conrad. He looked at his children, at the
young girls, at the little boys, and finally at plump, smiling John
Frederick. He thrust his hand into his almost empty pocket, thinking
of the long journey back to Gross Anspach for which he had no money.
He thought of his high hopes of liberty and peace and independence. He
covered his face with his hands so that his children might not see his
tears.

"I am here, father!" cried Conrad. "I am strong! I can work!"

"They feed us," conceded the magistrate of Oberdorf. "And they have
given us some clothing and these tents. But cold weather will come and
we shall die."

"Cold weather! We should be in the new country by cold weather! You
yourself wrote that you were about to sail, that you would sail on the
next day. There!" John Conrad drew from his bosom the tattered letter.
"I have stayed my soul upon it! I have set out on this journey upon
faith in it!"

"I thought we should start. I was certain we should start. They say
there are no ships. They have begun to send some of us to Ireland."

John Conrad shook his head.

"This whole land is sick. Across the ocean only there is peace."

"I can get a tent for you beside mine," offered Albrecht. "I have a
little influence with those in authority."

Once more the Weisers shouldered their bundles. They crossed the wide
camp, greeted pleasantly here and there, but for the most part stared
at silently and contemptuously. Finally the magistrate acknowledged
grudgingly that the English people had been liberal and kind.

"But they are growing tired. The common people say we are taking the
bread from their mouths."

The farther the Weisers proceeded through the city of tents, the more
astonished they became.

"The poor Germans have washed like the waves of the sea upon these
shores," said Albrecht.

John Conrad shook his head in answer, having no more words with which
to express his astonishment.

The Weisers made themselves as comfortable as possible in the tent
assigned them. They unpacked the bundles which they had expected to
unpack only in the new country, they received a portion of the generous
supply of food which was given out each morning and evening, and
then, like the thousands of their fellow countrymen, they waited, now
hopefully, now almost in despair, for some change in their condition.

But no sign of change appeared. Day after day John Conrad and the
magistrate and the friends whom they made among the more intelligent
and thoughtful of the pilgrims met and talked and looked toward the
Blackheath Road for some messenger from the Queen. The young people
made acquaintance; the children played games and ran races up and down
the streets of the city of tents. Sometimes Conrad listened to his
elders and sometimes he played his flute for the children.

Suddenly the weather changed. The outdoor life which had been pleasant
became more and more difficult to bear. The nights grew cold; the
Germans shivered in their poor clothes. Now, also, another and a more
serious danger threatened them.

The cooking was done over open fires, and the Weisers went daily into
a forest a few miles away to gather sticks for their contribution to
the one nearest to them. One day a young Englishman, with an evil face,
spoke roughly to Margareta, who cowered back. He went nearer to her and
she screamed in terror. For an instant Conrad watched stupidly, then,
suddenly, his heart seemed to expand. He was, as his father had said,
strong-headed and strong-willed.

"Let her be!" he shouted.

The stranger laughed, and approached nearer still. They could not
understand what he said, nor did he have opportunity to continue what
he had begun to say. Before his hand touched the arm of Margareta, he
found himself upon the ground. Conrad was not tall, but he had strong
muscles; now from his safe position on the chest of the enemy he was
able to dictate terms of peace.

"You get up and run as fast as you can down the road," he shouted.
"George Frederick, give me that big stick."

Fortunately the Englishman had no friends at hand. He looked about
wildly, first at the Weisers, then toward the camp, and promptly did as
he was bid. As he went, he shouted a threat.

"Your whole camp is to be wiped out," he yelled from a safe distance.
"Wait and you will see!"

The hearts of the Germans, growing daily more alarmed, were no more
disturbed, meanwhile, than were the hearts of Queen Anne and her
ministers. While the unexpected thousands lay upon Blackheath, minister
consulted with minister, boards of trade met to discuss plans and to
give them up, and to discuss other plans and to adjourn and to meet
again. It was true that Queen Anne desired to settle her colony of New
York, true that the news of her desire had been spread abroad. But she
had not anticipated this great migration, like the locusts of Egypt for
numbers! Ships were lacking to transport them; suitable asylums were
lacking and the Germans themselves, fleeing like helpless children,
were not able to take care of themselves.

Scores of wise and foolish suggestions were offered. The Germans were
to be sent to distant parishes, together with a bounty for each one.
But the parishes did not welcome them; those who were sent returned,
poorer, weaker, more helpless than before. There were hundreds of good
workmen among them, but even the English workman could scarcely earn
his bread. Let them go to Ireland, let them go to Wales, let them
return to Germany.

And still, while the English talked, the Germans came. Finally, Her
Majesty's Council, meeting almost daily, reached a conclusion and
orders were given for the assembling of ships. Action was hastened by
an extraordinary incident in which Conrad and his father had a part.

The heavy frosts had begun and there was not an hour when the Germans
did not ache with the cold. The quantity of food had become smaller,
the quality poorer than at first. But worse than cold or hunger was the
danger from the rising resentment of the Londoners, who demanded that
this great mass of foreigners be removed.

Conrad, left to himself, with little to do, roamed about the city,
staring at its marvels, at strange London Bridge, crowded with shops
and houses which hung over the water, at mighty Saint Paul's Cathedral,
lifting its round dome, still beautifully white and clean, far above
the gabled city roofs, at the other new churches built since the great
fire, and at the soaring monument which commemorated the fire. He even
looked with awe and horror at the sad and terrible spot where had been
buried, in a deep pit, the victims of the great plague.

Conrad's journeys were not always comfortable. English lads taunted
him, gayly dressed young men ordered him out of their path, the bearers
of sedan chairs thrust him rudely against the house walls. But still he
walked about, watching and listening.

Presently he heard terrifying threats. The Londoners determined to
wait no longer to wreak their vengeance upon Blackheath. Conrad hurried
down the long road to make report to his father.

"They mean to attack us with knives, father. They declare they will
have no mercy upon us!"

"They would not dare," answered John Conrad. "We are under the
protection of the Queen."

Nevertheless, John Conrad called together his friends, and together
they drew up a humble petition, praying that the English people
continue to look kindly upon them and to bestow bounty upon them.

But the petition availed nothing. That very night, Conrad, lying in
his corner of the tent near the edge of the camp, heard the sound of
rough voices and heavy steps. Springing up, he looked out the door. On
the heath a large company had gathered, carrying knives and sickles
which gleamed in the moonlight. With a shout Conrad roused his family,
whose cries in turn roused the sleepers in the neighboring tents. The
attacking party was defeated, not so much by the resistance of the
Germans, few of whom had arms, as by a warning that the soldiers were
coming from London. The Germans were not seriously hurt, but the event
was ominous.

Still the days grew shorter, and the dark nights longer, and the air
colder. Hundreds gathered round the fires, and among them John Conrad
counseled further patience and continued courage. Frequently he read
to them from Conrad's little book, at whose directions for life on the
ocean and in the new land there were now bitter smiles and long sighs.
They had ceased to think of the new country with its rich soil, its
mild climate, and its strange, interesting aborigines, except to envy
the Indian his indifference to the comforts of civilization.

Upon the day of the first snow, Conrad went early into the city. He had
earned a penny a few days before by carrying some bales from a ship to
a warehouse, and he hoped to earn more.

Until noon he walked about the streets. Again and again he was cursed
and threatened. The Londoners had not finished with the Germans in
spite of their temporary defeat. At noon he ate the piece of black
bread which he had put into his pocket, and then went into a cold
church to rest. Presently he fell asleep, and when he woke late in the
afternoon the church was almost dark. He was miles away from Blackheath


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Online LibraryElsie SingmasterThe long journey, by Elsie Singmaster → online text (page 2 of 8)