Elsie Singmaster.

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and he must set out promptly or the dangers of the way would be
doubled. The week before he had been caught in a fog and had spent the
night inside a garden gate on the ground.

Leaving the church, he hurried on as fast as he could. It seemed to him
that another fog was rapidly gathering over the city. His long walks
and the insufficient food had made him weak, but it was better to start
on the homeward journey than to linger. He might fall into evil hands
and never see his father or brothers or sisters again. The words of old
Redebach in far-away Gross Anspach came back to him as he stepped out
from the church door into an open square, - "_As a bird that wandereth
from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place._" Perhaps
old Redebach was right!

In the square, sedan chairs moved about, link boys waved their torches
and shouted, rough men jostled him. Presently his tears gathered and
began to fall. He lowered his head and plodded on down the street,
little dreaming that before him waited one of the strangest encounters,
not only in his life, but in the strange history of the world.

Too tired and despairing to remember that traveling with bent head is
unsafe, struggling to keep back his tears, he ceased suddenly to feel
anything. He came full force against one of the new lamp-posts recently
set up, and was thrown backwards.

When he came to himself, he heard but one sound, that of cruel
laughter. The amusement of the onlookers was the last drop in poor
Conrad's cup of grief. As he staggered to his feet, he said to himself
that he wished that the lamp-post had brought him to that death which
was approaching for him and his fellow countrymen.

When the dizziness following his fall had passed and he was ready to
start on once more, he observed that the steps of the passers-by were
unusually hurried and that all led in the same direction. He looked
back to see the object toward which they were hastening. At the sight
which met his eyes he gave a startled cry. He was dreaming or he had
gone mad.

This was England and London, this was the heart of the largest city
in the world. America, the longed-for, with its great forests and its
mighty hunters, lay far across the sea three thousand miles away.
But through the London fog, surrounded by a great crowd above whom
they towered, there came toward Conrad four giant creatures, with
bronze-colored skins, with deer-hide shoes, with headdresses of waving
feathers, and with scarlet blankets. Conrad rubbed his eyes; he looked
again. They came nearer and nearer, they seemed more and more majestic
and terrible.

Then, suddenly, they vanished, as though the earth had swallowed
them. They could not have entered a house since there were no
dwelling-houses here, and the shops were closed. Risking a rebuff as
cruel as that from the lamp-post, Conrad grasped the arm of the man
nearest him and poured out a dozen excited questions.

"These are Indians from the wilds of America," answered the stranger.

"Why are they here? What does it mean? Could I speak to them? Where did
they go?"

The stranger's patience was soon exhausted. After he had explained that
the savages had gone into the theater, he left Conrad to address his
questions to the empty air.

For a moment Conrad stared at the spot from which the Indians had
vanished. If he only had money to pay his way into the theater also!
But he was penniless. The next best thing was to tell his father, as
soon as possible, of this incredible experience. Running heavily, he
crossed London Bridge and started out upon the Blackheath Road, saying
over and over to himself, "The Indians are here! The Indians are here!"

So tired was he and so much confused by the strange sight which he had
seen that it was many hours before he reached his father's tent. He
imagined that the long journey had been made and that he was already in
the forests of the new country. At last an acquaintance, meeting him at
the edge of the camp, led him to John Conrad.

"Here is your boy. He was about to walk straight into a fire."

Fed and warmed, Conrad could only repeat over and over the magic
words, "The Indians are here!" His father thought he was delirious;
the children cried. For a long time after he had fallen into the heavy
sleep of exhaustion, his sisters watched him.

At dawn, when he woke, he found himself stiff and sore and
inexpressibly tired. But his head was clear, and slowly the events
of the day before came back to him. The Indians were real; to-day he
would find them. If they had come from America there would be a way to
return. He would beg them on his knees to take him and his family with
them. Perhaps they had come in their own ships.

Slipping from between his sleeping brothers, he lifted the flap of the
tent and stepped out into the cold morning air. He could not wait for
the family to rise; he would take his share of black bread and be gone.

Then, again, Conrad cried out. Last night he had beheld the strangers
through the medium of a thickening mist and with eyes confused by his
fall. Now he saw them clearly in the bright morning light, here upon
Blackheath before his father's tent! The eagle feathers waved above
their heads; their scarlet mantles wrapped them round; they stole
quietly about on moccasined feet.

For a long moment the Indians looked at Conrad and Conrad looked
back at them. It was as though they measured one another through an
eternity, the tall savages from across three thousand miles of sea and
the little lad from Gross Anspach. The lad's heart throbbed with awe
and wonder. What the savages thought it was difficult to say. They
made to one another strange guttural sounds which evidently served for
speech. It seemed to Conrad that they were about to turn away. It was
as though a heavenly visitor had descended only to depart. Conrad ran
forward and grasped the hand of one of the mighty creatures.

"Oh, take us with you, father and Margareta and Magdalena and the
others and me! Take us with you! We will work and we will learn to
hunt. There is no home for us here. We suffer and die. We - "

There was a commotion at the tent door and Conrad looked round. In the
doorway stood John Conrad, blinking, incredulous.

"I saw them last night, father. I have asked them to take us with
them." Conrad began to make gestures. "Us, with you, far away to the
west!" It was a request easy to make clear.

Again the savages uttered their strange guttural speech. They, in turn,
made motions to John Conrad and his son, that they should come with
them. Not for an instant did John Conrad hesitate. Upon this miraculous
encounter important things might depend.

"Conrad," he began, "while I am gone - "

"Oh, father, take me with you! I beg, take me with you!"

"Run and find Albrecht then, my son, and ask him to look after the
children."

Conrad was gone like the wind. Now the Weiser children and the
neighbors were staring with terrified eyes at the red men. They gave
a little scream when John Frederick toddled forward and fell over the
foot of one of the Indians and then held their breaths while he was
lifted high in the strong arms. John Conrad offered some of his small
supply of black bread and his strange guests grunted their pleased
acceptance. Then John Conrad and his son set out with the Indians to
make the rounds of the camp.

What the savages thought of the assemblage of misery it was hard to
say. They walked briskly so that the two Weisers could scarcely keep
up with them; they pointed now to a sick child, now to some adult who
showed more clearly than the others the effects of cold and anxiety and
hunger. Often they motioned toward the west, a gesture which it seemed
to Conrad had a heavenly significance.

When the circuit of the camp was complete, they made it plain to the
Weisers that they expected them to follow to the city, and father and
son, looking their vague hopes into one another's eyes, obeyed eagerly.

Along the Blackheath Road they went, through Southwark and across
London Bridge - how many times had Conrad traveled the road in despair!
Presently, when, after they had crossed the Thames and were in the
city, a man would have jostled Conrad from his place beside the leader,
the Indian cried out fiercely, and the stranger dropped quickly back
into the long queue of men and boys who had gathered. Now the Indians
motioned to Conrad that he should walk behind the leader and his father
behind him. Thus strangely escorted, the two Germans went through the
streets. Conrad saw in the eyes of the boys whom they passed a look of
envy. The course of fate had changed!

A few times John Conrad spoke to his son.

"Are you afraid?"

"Not I."

"Pray God that this strange way may lead to the new land."

"I will, father."

With heads erect the chiefs went on as though they trod the leafy paths
of their own forests. Presently they came out upon the river-bank once
more, traveled upon it for a short distance, then turned aside. The
crowd about them had changed its character. Here were fine gentlemen
and ladies on foot and in richly decked sedan chairs. A gentleman
came forward with a sharp exclamation and pointed questioningly
at the Weisers. One of the Indians answered by gestures and a few
incomprehensible words, and the gentleman looked as though he were
considering some strange thing. When the Indians walked on without
waiting for his answer, Conrad began to be frightened.

"Where will they take us, father?"

John Conrad's voice trembled.

"They are taking us into the Queen's palace," said he.




IV

A ROYAL AUDIENCE


At the door of St. James's Palace all but a few of the throng which
followed the Indian chiefs and the Weisers were denied entrance.
The finely dressed gentleman who had spoken to the Indians, and who
evidently knew their own language, was allowed to pass under the stone
archway and into the court and thence into the palace itself. The
Indians still led the way, traveling quietly along through intricate
passages and tapestry-hung halls. Courtiers passed them with curious
stares.

Still they kept the two Weisers behind the leader. Presently they
halted in a room where there was a fire blazing on the hearth and where
fine ladies laughed and talked. On the opposite side from the entrance
a thick curtain hung over a doorway. The leading chief walked directly
toward it and there paused, the procession behind him coming to a
stop. A little lady sitting by the fire accepted a challenge from her
companions to salute the strangers, and came across the floor, her high
heels tapping as she walked.

"O great King of Rivers," said she to the foremost Indian, "who are
these your companions?"

The Indian's answer was interpreted by the gayly dressed gentleman who
understood his tongue.

"The King of Rivers says that these are his friends."

"Thank you, Colonel Schuyler. Tell the King of Rivers that his friends
need a red blanket like his own and - "

What else they needed Conrad and his father were not to hear. The
curtain before them was lifted, and from the other side a high, clear
voice announced, -

"The chiefs of the Mohawk Nation!"

Moving as in a dream, their eyes dazzled and their hearts confused,
the two Weisers went on. They found themselves now in a still more
magnificent room. At its far end there was a group of gentlemen
surrounding a lady who sat in a throne-like chair. She was grave of
aspect and there was upon her face the indelible impression of grief.
On her white hands and her neck were sparkling jewels. The gentlemen
about her were wigged and powdered, and wore in their long sleeves
white lace ruffles which almost hid their hands.

So astonished and confused was Conrad that his father had to command
him twice to make obeisance.

"To your knees, boy! To your knees, Conrad! It is the Queen!"

The Indians did not bend, but stood with arms folded under their
scarlet blankets, in their dark, shining eyes a look of friendly regard
for the little lady who was a ruler like themselves. The Queen looked
at the two Germans with curious but kindly astonishment. Neither John
Conrad nor his son was in court array, though the needles of Margareta
and Magdalena kept them fairly neat and whole.

"Good Peter," said Queen Anne, "who are these?"

The stranger who had interpreted for the Indians rose from his knees.

"They are Germans from the camp on Blackheath, dear madam. Your friends
of the Mohawk Nation went early this morning to visit that great
settlement and have brought with them from there these folk, father
and son, to their appointment with the Queen. From this intention they
could not be stayed, but insist that they have a communication of
importance to make concerning these strangers."

The Queen looked smilingly at her Indian friends and then at the two
Germans.

"The condition of those helpless people is on our minds. Let our
friends of the Mohawk Nation speak."

Surely the audience room had never heard a stranger sound than that
which now filled it! The tallest of the chiefs responded, speaking at
length, with many sweeping gestures. Conrad strained his ears - oh,
how longingly! - but could understand nothing. The chief seemed to be
speaking of some spot far away and also of the two Germans. One word
Conrad heard, he was certain, again and again, but he could not retain
its strange sound.

When the Indian had finished, Colonel Schuyler began to translate his
words, imitating also his motions toward the west and his pointing to
the Weisers.

"Your friend the King of Rivers has this to say, O Queen. He and his
companions of the Mohawk Nation have walked about to see the city
where so many hundreds of people live in so small a space. Far to the
south they have visited also the settlement of misery known as the
German camp. The distress of these people is terrible to them. It is
a dreadful thing to them that men should be so crowded together when
there is so much space in the world, so much land for planting corn and
so many wide forests for hunting. The King of Rivers recalls to you the
object of his long and perilous journey across the ocean in an unsteady
ship. He reminds you that he seeks for himself and his allied nations
protection against the growing power of his enemies, both Indian and
French.

"Now he would offer for these poor Germans his country of
Schoharie" - there was the word which Conrad had heard again and
again! - "where there are fine streams for fishing and much land for
planting and hunting. There, when there is no war, men and women are
happiest of all the places on the earth. His people are faithful
people, keeping their word, and aiding and protecting unto death those
in whom they can trust. If you will send these afflicted people to
Schoharie, then together the Indians and the Germans can keep the peace
with the western Indians, and the French will not dare to attack them."

The Indians nodded their heads solemnly as Colonel Schuyler finished.
They had entire confidence in him and trusted him to repeat their words
exactly.

The Queen looked at the two humble figures before her. Their blue eyes
met hers with a great longing.

"Speak!" said she.

John Conrad took a step forward. His English was broken, but none the
less eloquent.

"Oh, Madam, all they say of our misery is true. We are indeed desolate
and afflicted. We have been harried by the sword; we have perished by
cold and starvation. Your enemies the French are our enemies. At the
hands of our own princes we have perished for conscience' sake. We are
of your faith, O Queen! - those of us that are left. The good God in
heaven does not send his creatures into the world to be thus destroyed.
We seek not idleness and repose for our bodies, but labor for our
bodies and repose for our souls. We long as the hart pants after water
brooks for this new country. You have brought us thus far out of our
wilderness; send us now into this new land where there is peace! We
have nothing, nothing. We cannot pay except by our labor in a new
country. We ask bounty as we ask the bounty of Heaven, because we are
helpless. You have already marvelously befriended us. But for you we
should not be living at this day."

The Queen turned to the gentleman who sat nearest to her.

"He speaks well, my lord."

"He speaks from the soul, Madam."

Now the Queen conversed rapidly and in a low tone with Peter
Schuyler - too rapidly for the Weisers to understand. She mentioned one
Hunter of whom they knew nothing, and they waited uneasily, afraid that
their audience was at an end and that nothing had been accomplished.
When the doorkeeper came forward and led them away, leaving their
Indian friends behind, their hearts sank. They made obeisance to the
Queen and went slowly toward the door, not daring to speak. Then they
saw that Colonel Schuyler followed them.

"This day one week at this hour the Queen will see you again. Can you
find your way thither?"

"Oh, yes, my lord!" answered John Conrad.

Outside the two met again curious glances, heard again amused comment.
But they regarded neither, scarcely indeed saw the smiles or heard the
laughter. Hope had once more taken up an abode in their weary hearts.

Daily in the week which followed, Conrad made his way from Blackheath
to St. James's Palace, where he gazed at the stone archway and then
wandered farther hoping to see again the Indians. To the other
Germans the Weisers said nothing of their hopes. The Indians had led
them into the city and had there held conversation with them through
an interpreter, - beyond that fact they did not go. Their fellow
countrymen had been too often cruelly disappointed; until the blessed
possibilities of which the Weisers dreamed had become certainties, they
would say nothing.

Yet hope in their own hearts rose higher and higher. Once more Conrad
read his little book, finding in his new acquaintances proof of all
that was said in praise of the Indian and contradiction of all that was
said in his disparagement. The word "Schoharie" he wrote down and said
over and over in his waking hours and in his dreams at night.

He had formed a friendship with a lad of his own age, Peter Zenger by
name, who, with his ailing father, had suffered as the Weisers had
suffered and who had a similar longing for the new land. From Peter
during this week he held aloof, determined to tell his secret to no one.

Conrad thought a great deal of his father and of the attentive way
in which the Queen and her court had listened to him. His father was
poor and he had miserable clothes, yet he had not trembled. Of all the
Germans no one, not even the magistrate of Oberdorf, who was so certain
of his own powers, could have done so well.

On the morning of the appointment John Conrad and his son waited for an
hour outside the palace gateway. The unkindly feeling of the populace
toward the Germans had increased rather than diminished, and as they
walked up and down many persons spoke roughly to them. But again,
wrapped in their own anxious thoughts, they heard with indifference.

Again the Queen sat in the throne-like chair with her gentlemen about
her, the same gentlemen so far as Conrad could see, except one who
now sat nearest to the Queen and to whom she was speaking when they
entered. They looked in vain for their friends of the Mohawk Nation.

The Queen bade the Weisers sit side by side on a cushioned bench before
her while she continued her conversation with the newcomer whom she
called Hunter. Then she bade John Conrad tell again the story of his
misfortunes and she listened attentively, her eyes fastened upon him.

John Conrad spoke eloquently, though brokenly, once more, and omitted
nothing. When in the midst of his account of persecution and misery,
one of the fine gentlemen would have stopped him, the Queen bade the
story go on.

"It is good for us to hear these things. And your wife, - you say
nothing of her."

Nor did John Conrad say anything. He tried, stammered, halted, tried
again, and failed once more. In a second one of the fine gentlemen,
Lord Marlborough, began to speak in his easy way. The Queen's face was
white, her lips twitched, and she smoothed nervously the black stuff of
which her dress was made. Lord Marlborough talked on and on until the
Queen herself interrupted him.

"We have heard this sad tale before, but never so well told. It is our
intention to do all for these poor Germans that we can. In our colony
of New York we have already settled the first of those who have come to
us. There they dwell in happiness along the banks of Hudson's River and
have made for themselves comfortable villages. It is our intention to
establish others there in a similar way.

"In return we ask certain labors. Our enemies are many. It is necessary
that we maintain for ourselves a large fleet upon the sea. Tar and
pitch we must buy in great quantities from Sweden and Russia - an
enormous and unnecessary expense. In our colony of New York, so says
its Governor Hunter, are thousands of acres of pine trees from which we
could distill, if we had the workmen, our own supplies. Do you think
the Germans could make tar?"

"What others can do, we can do," answered John Conrad. "We are
not below the rest of the world in intelligence, though we are
in possessions. We have among us men of many crafts - husbandmen
and vine-dressers, masons and bakers and carpenters, herdsmen and
blacksmiths and tanners and millers and weavers. Oh, dear lady, if we
were but there!"

"The grapes of the new land are said to be finer than the grapes of
France," said Lord Marlborough. "It would not be amiss if we could draw
from our own stores."

Governor Hunter leaned forward eagerly.

"It will be time to think of wine when Her Majesty's ships are well
caulked," said he impatiently. "The trees must be properly barked
two years before they are cut and burned. There will be no time for
vine-dressing. The project is as sure of success as the rising of the
sun. It cannot fail. Meanwhile, there will be work in other crafts also
as in all new settlements. It is understood that the Germans have here
an opportunity to repay some of the great expense to which we have been
put on their account."

"We would not have it otherwise," cried John Conrad. "We are not
beggars, except as we beg for a chance to earn our bread. Would that
we might begin to-day to pay our great debt!"

The Queen smiled.

"We must have ships, and they are not easy to find in a sufficient
number at present to transport this host. But tell your friends to hold
themselves in readiness."

Now Conrad breathed a long sigh.

"The lad looks at me with a question in his eyes," said the Queen.
"What is it, boy?"

"Will our new home be near these kind Indians?" asked Conrad, trembling.

"Governor Hunter, what of this?"

"There are Indians everywhere in plenty," said he.

Colonel Schuyler rose, and John Conrad, feeling himself dismissed, rose
also.

The Queen stopped them with a lifted hand.

"About these same Indians, good Weiser. Our possessions lie along the
east coast of this great and unexplored country. To the north and to
the west, along the course of a vast river and the shores of large
inland bodies of water, the French have by guile got possession of the
land. Between live tribes of savages, upon whose friendship depends
enormous issues. Give thought to this, you and your friends. These
Indians who are here represent a great nation or confederation of
nations, skilled in the warfare of the forest. It is important that
they continue to be our friends. I am told that they do not regard
lightly deceit of any sort, and that their revenge upon the treacherous
is hideous beyond all describing. Now, fare you well."

Again John Conrad tried to speak his gratitude, but could say no word.
He dropped to his knees once more, then rose and followed Colonel
Schuyler to the door. There Colonel Schuyler put a gold piece into his
hand.

"For you and Magdalena and Margareta and John Frederick and the
others," said he. "The Queen's bounty."

By noon of the next day, the German settlement was ready to take ship.
John Conrad, as he carried his remarkable announcement from tent to
tent and from fire to fire, gave warning that sailing might still be
delayed, that the ships were not yet in the harbor, that only a few
hundreds could be carried on each vessel, and that these hundreds would
be selected according to a method of which they knew nothing.

But the Germans would not hear. They packed their belongings once more
into bundles, and depression gave place to good cheer, solemnity to


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Online LibraryElsie SingmasterThe long journey, by Elsie Singmaster → online text (page 3 of 8)