The Wept Of Wish-Ton-Wish
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The story takes its title from the inscription on the tombstone covering the remains of those who fell in the defense, against an attack of Indians, of Wish-Ton-Wish, an early settlement on the Connecticut River, above Hartford. The name is said to have been given to the place by Mark Heathcote because the Wish-Ton-Wish, the American night-hawk, commonly called from its cry Whip-poor-Will, was the first bird seen. But the title is a misnomer, for Wish-Ton-Wish is the name given by the Indians to the prairie-dog. Mr. Cooper has taken still greater liberties with history in his account of the life and death of Conanchet, or rather Canonchet, as it is properly written, the unfortunate chief of the Narragansetts. He was captured in 1676 on the Blackstone River, in Rhode Island, and executed at Stonington in New London County.
CAPTAIN MARK HEATHCOTE, a country gentleman of means in old England, after serving under Cromwell in the civil wars, threw aside the sword for the implements of industry, and emigrated to New England. A man of deep and sincere piety, bordering on fanaticism, he thought to secure in the wilds of the New World the peace and religious enjoyment that were denied him at home. He was twenty years the senior of his young wife; and he considered that, in the natural order of things, he himself would be the first to pay the debt of nature; but the very day he landed in the long wished-for ¬asylum, his wife made him the father of a noble boy at the price of her own existence. Though this calamity cast an additional aspect of seriousness over his character, he lived on more than two score years in the colony of Massachusetts, respected by all; and when, influenced by certain schisms and doctrinal contentions in the community where he had cast his lot, he announced his intention of removing his altars into the wilderness, the ministers and elders did their best to induce him. to change his mind, but in vain.
"My youth was wasted in ungodliness and ignorance," he said, "but in my manhood have I known the Lord. Much have I endured in quitting the earthly mansion of my fathers, and in encountering the dangers of sea and land for the faith; and, rather than let go its hold, will I once more cheerfully devote to the wilderness ease, offspring, and, should it be the will of Providence, life itself!"
Mark Heathcote had early given evidence of his resignation to the will of Providence when he christened his son Content. The boy had now reached manhood, and a week before the father sailed on his second pilgrimage he was united to Ruth Harding, a maiden of Boston, of equal station and fortune, and of like sympathies with his own. The family sailed from Boston and in due time landed at the fort of Hartford on the Connecticut River, whence Mark Heathcote, with a few followers, went on an exploring expedition into the wilderness; and the end of the summer found him comfortably settled on a small tributary of the Connecticut near the northern boundary of Hartford. Here, in utter seclusion from the world, the years glided by, until through hard labor the family found them-selves in possession of as many of the comforts of life as their distance from the settlements could allow them reason to expect.
Captain Heathcote, with an eye to defense in this exposed situation, had taken advantage of a rounded knoll in constructing his buildings, which occupied three sides of a hollow square, with a strong hexagonal blockhouse on an artificial mound in the center. The foundations of this blockhouse were of stone for about six feet, above which its walls were of massive, squared logs. It had but one entrance and no windows; but in the several stories were two different tiers of loopholes for musketry. About halfway up the sides of the hill on which the buildings stood was a line of strong palisades built of the trunks of trees strongly braced within. The stables and sheds for cattle and sheep were outside the palisade at the base of the hill, and were surrounded by fine meadows and orchards stretching back to the forest in the rear.
At the time of our tale Mark Heathcote had long since yielded the management of the estate to Content, but enjoyed riding through his fields to see the growing crops and the increasing flocks and herds. One evening he was watching his grandson Mark, a boy of fourteen, driving in a small flock of sheep, which domestic necessity obliged them to keep at the expense of time and trouble, on account of the ravages of beasts of prey. On counting the sheep one was missing.
"Thou hast lost a sheep! This carelessness will cause thy mother to grieve."
" Grandfather, I have been no idler. Since the last hunt the flock hath been allowed to browse the woods; for no man saw wolf, panther, or bear from the great river to the outer settlements."
"What art thou twisting in thy fingers, Whittal Ring?" asked the old man of a half-witted servin-glad.
"Wool from the thigh of old Straight-Horns. He gives the longest and coarsest hair at the shearing."
"That truly seemeth a lock from the missing animal," said young Mark. "Where found you it, Whittal ?"
"Growing on the branch of a thorn. Queer fruit this!"
" Go," interrupted the old man, "thou idlest and misspendest the time in vain talk. Go fold thy flock, Mark."
While they had been talking a stranger had ridden out of the forest and appeared to be coming toward the houses. Mark Heathcote, who watched his coming with surprise, for many a day had passed since he had had a visitor, noted that it was an elderly man, coarsely clad, and that he rode a poor and weary horse that seemed scarcely able to carry his load.
"I cannot be mistaken," said the visitor, "when I suppose I have at length reached the valley of the Wish-Ton-Wish?"
"Thou hast reached the dwelling of him thou seekest, a submissive sojourner in the wilderness of the world."
"This then is Mark Heathcote!" remarked the stranger, regarding the other with a look of long and possibly of suspicious investigation.
"Such is the name I bear. Whether thou comest to tarry a night, a week, or even for a longer season, I bid thee welcome."
The stranger thanked his host by a slow inclination of the head; but the gaze, which began to partake a little of the look of recognition, was too earnest to admit of reply. It was evident, however, that personal recollection had no influence in quickening Mark Heathcote's hospitality.
When in the house the stranger drew a pair of horseman's pistols from his saddle-bags, and laid them on the table; and, on opening his doublet, disclosed a smaller one and a hunting-knife. When he laid the latter beside his pistols, the young Mark ventured to examine it, and noted that a few fibers of shaggy wool were caught in the joint.
"Straight-Horns has been against a bush sharper than the thorn!" exclaimed Whittal Ring, snatching the fibers and holding them up in glee. "Master knows that, for he is a scholar and can count a hundred."
"This feeble-minded youth would hint that thy knife hath proved its edge on a missing wether of our flock," said the host calmly.
"Is hunger a crime," demanded the stranger, "that they who dwell so far from the haunts of selfishness visit it with their anger ? "
"From off the hill where my flock is wont to graze it is easy to see these roofs."
"Mark Heathcote," said the accused, "look further at those weapons. Thou wilt find there more to wonder at than a few straggling hairs of wool."
Mark Heathcote took up one of the heavy horseman's pistols and examined it. As he looked, the power of speech seemed to desert him. His eye wandered from the weapon to the countenance of the stranger, who stood erect as if to court a strict examination of his person. Content, observing the dumb show, arose and beckoned all to follow him from the apartment, leaving his father alone with the stranger.
Many anxious minutes passed, during which they could hear the deep smothered voices of the speakers, but nothing to permit a conjecture as to the identity of the visitor. After a long time the voices ceased and no sound came from the inner room. At last Content ventured to enter. Old Mark Heath-cote occupied the chair in which he had been left, but the stranger had disappeared, as well as all his belongings. Con-tent read in the expression of his father's eye that the moment for confidence had not yet come.
The old man lighted a taper, and after asking the hour of the night, said to his son: "Take thou the beast I am want to ride, Content, and follow the path leading to the mountain clearing; bring away that which shall meet thine eye near the first turning of the route towards the river towns. Let the remainder of the household seek their rest."
Content saw, by the manner of his father, that no departure from the strict letter of his instructions was admissible. He dismissed the household to their beds, and he and his wife quitted the dwelling. Ruth would have accompanied him, but he bade her remain at the postern and await his return.
Ruth watched her husband gallop away toward the forest, and then, drawing a single bolt of the gate, anxiously awaited the result of an errand as unaccountable as it was extraordinary. After waiting a long time, she opened the gate and began to walk slowly along the path her husband had taken. Anxiety quickened her steps as she saw no signs of him; and at last, remembering that she had left the postern open, she turned to go back. As she eagerly picked her way along the uneven surface, her eye caught something that looked like the form of a man, and she ran with all possible speed back to the gate. The next instant she caught sight of her husband coming out of the forest. His path lay past the spot where she had been frightened, and, opening the postern, she shouted to him to come directly to the gate.
"What meaneth this terror, Ruth?" demanded Content, as he galloped unharmed to her side. He removed from the crupper of his horse the carcass of the sheep, which he had found dressed with judgment, hanging on the limb of a tree.
"This is not the work of a Pequotl" exclaimed Ruth. "The red men do their mischief with less care. But where is he who counseled so long with our father and hath vanished like a vision?"
"That is a question not readily answered," said Content. "It mattereth not. The affair is in the hands of a man of years and experience. I will return the beast to his rack, and we will go in confidence to our rest."
"Husband, thou quittest not the palisadoes again this night," said Ruth firmly. "I have a warning of evil." The wife then told how she had followed him on the path as far as the nut-tree hillock, and had seen there the glowing eyeballs of a savage.
"This is strange delusion! Go, go, good Ruth, thou mayst have seen a blackened log, or some creature of the forest may have alarmed thee."
But Ruth would not be comforted until men had been summoned and an examination of the place made. Eben Dudley and Reuben Ring were called, and with them Content went out; after some minutes they returned with an Indian lad of some fifteen years, who walked before them with the sullen dignity of a captured warrior.
Content, a man of judgment and resolution, knew well that the Indian youth would not be found in such a position with-out design; and he also thought that his capture would probably cause the attack to be deferred. He took his captive into' the blockhouse, made him mount by a ladder to the floor above, then withdrew the ladder and locked the other door. He then carefully examined the defenses, looked to the muskets and their ammunition, and posted sentinels; and it was not until the last watches of the night that he felt it safe to seek his pillow.
In the morning the Indian youth was taken into the house and examined by Mark Heathcote; but it was found impossible to obtain from him gesture or sound that would betray his tribe or the purport of his questionable visit.
"I know him to be a Narragansett," said Eben Dudley. "You see he hath shells of the seaside worked into the bordering of his moccasins. He beareth, too, the look of a chief slain by the Pequots, called the Leaping Panther. Others styled him Pepperage, but his real name was My Anthony Mow."
"Miantonimoh!" came from the lips of the boy, with a distinct but deeply guttural enunciation.
"The child mourneth for his parent," exclaimed Ruth.
"I see the evident and fore ordering will of a wise Providence in this," said Mark Heathcote. "The youth hath been deprived of one who might have enticed him deeper into the bonds of the heathen, and hither hath he been led in order to be placed upon the straight and narrow path. He shall become a dweller among mine. Let him be fed and nurtured with the things of life and the things of the world; for who knoweth that which is designed in his behalf ? "
Meanwhile the keenest scrutiny in the fields and forest failed to find signs of an enemy; and as the captive had no hostile weapons, he was well fed and cared for. He had scarcely been returned to his prison when Whittal Ring came to announce horsemen, who had just ridden out of the forest.
"We have reached Wish-Ton-Wish, and the dwelling of Captain Mark Heathcote?" said one who appeared to be the principal of the four that had ridden into the court.
"By the favor of Providence, I call myself the unworthy owner of this place of refuge."
"Then a subject so loyal will not turn from his door the agents of his anointed Master."
"One greater than any of earth hath taught us to leave the latch free. I pray you to alight, and to partake of that we can offer."
After breakfast, the leader presented to the host a commission, bearing the great seal of state, empowering the bearer to search the dwellings of the colony.
"Thou hadst better commence thy duty in season," said the host calmly, "for we are many and occupy much space."
The family and all the retainers were gathered and put in charge of one Hallam, while the others, accompanied by Mark Heathcote, made a thorough examination of the premises. Not a chest, a closet, or a drawer escaped their vigilance, and every floor was sounded in search of a hidden recess. The blockhouse was the last place searched, and when they found the Indian boy in the upper story, they inquired of Content, with an arrogance increased by the anger of disappointment at not finding him they sought, "Why is this boy a prisoner? Dost dare to constitute thyself a sovereign over the natives, and affect to have shackles and dungeons for such as meet thy displeasure?"
"The youthful heathen was found lurking near our habitations last night," explained Content, " and is kept that he may not carry tidings of our condition to his people, who are doubt-less outlying in the forest, waiting for the fit moment to work their evil."
"In the forest, didst thou say? Go, fellows, see to our beasts, and let them be speedily prepared for departure."
After the agents of the crown had departed, the residents of Wish-Ton-Wish set out, under the command of Content, on a scout to determine the position of the enemy, if any were lurking under cover of the forest. They found no traces of savages, though they saw the trail of the four horsemen, and of another shodden horse leading away from the settlement. On following the latter into the forest they came upon the carcass of the horse ridden by the mysterious visitor of the night before.
The neck of the animal showed marks of the teeth of a wolf and the cut of a knife, but by what hand was uncertain. All of the accouterments, excepting a ruined saddle, were gone.
The Indian boy was kept during the autumn and winter. He showed no disposition to leave them, and was sometimes permitted to go out with hunting-parties. Once, when the huntsmen returned, the lad was missing. Shortly afterward a summons was heard at the gate and the mysterious stranger was admitted. Young Mark noticed, when he threw off his cloak, that he wore in his belt the heavy horseman's pistols and the dagger that he had seen before.
"Mark Heathcote," said he to the elder Mark, "my visit is to thee. Affairs of the last moment demand that there should be little delay in hearing what I have to offer."
Meanwhile search was made for the Indian boy.
" Go look to the palisadoes," said Content to Eben Dudley. "He may be lurking near, fearful of calling for admission. I can not think the child means to desert us, with no sign of kindness and without leave-taking."
As they spoke the door opened and the lad glided past them and took his accustomed place in a corner of the room.
"Truly," said Content, "this needeth explanation. Hath not the boy entered when the gate was opened for the stranger?"
"It is so," said the person named, reentering the room. "I found this child near thy gate, and took upon me the office of a Christian man to bid him welcome."
"He is no stranger at our fires or at our board," said Ruth. But Eben Dudley was incredulous. "It will be well to look to the defenses," he said.
Dudley was right. That night the place was attacked by many warriors, and all the long range of barns, sheds, granaries and outbuildings were fired and destroyed. At the first onset of the savages Ruth had gathered all the children into a secret chamber in the attic of her house and put them in charge of the Indian lad.
"Thou wilt not deceive me," she said; "the lives of these tender ones are in thy keeping. Look to them, Miantonimoh, and the Christians' God will remember thee in thine own hour of adversity."
The boy made no reply; but the mother thought she saw the pledge she sought in a gentle expression on his dark visage.
The stranger, whom Mark Heathcote addressed as Sub-mission, had meanwhile done good service in the defense of the stockade; but the savages were many, and one succeeded in entering and in finding his way to the room where the children were. The little ones were saved by Miantonimoh; and amid the blaze of the burning buildings the whites took refuge in the blockhouse. Among the last to enter was Ruth, holding in her arms her infant, little Ruth; but when she reached the place of safety, she was horror-stricken to discover that she had saved little Martha, the orphan child of her friend. Her own babe had been left to the mercy of the savages.
The valley now rang with the victorious shouts of the red men as the fire spread from building to building until the whole settlement was in a blaze. Last of all the blockhouse, though courageously defended, was fired and burned, and the morning sun, which rose in a cloudless sky after the savages had de-parted for other scenes of blood, looked down on a mass of charred and smoking ruins, from which rose eight or ten massive chimney-stacks. In the center was the heavy stone basement of the blockhouse, with the naked shaft of the well rising within it like a dark monument of the past. Portions of the palisadoes had escaped the flames, and in the fields around a few domestic animals grazed.
The sun had reached the meridian and the hostile bands had been gone some hours before anything was seen among the ruins to indicate human life. Then a sound as if billets of wood were cautiously displaced, and a head, begrimed and blood-stained, was raised with marked suspicion above the shaft of the well.
"What seest thou?" demanded a deep voice from below.
"A sight to make a wolf weep!" replied Eben Dudley, rising until he stood on top of the shaft so as to command a wide view of the valley. "Come forth! Belial hath done his worst, and we have a breathing-time."
Eben descended from his perch to make room for the others to follow: first Submission, then Content and his father, Reuben Ring, and all the youths excepting those who had fallen. Means were soon found, by chains and buckets, of raising up Ruth, the children, and the handmaidens, all of whom had found a refuge in the underground apartment to which the well gave access, and which had been prepared for an emergency such as had befallen them.
The few hours before night were occupied in preparing food and shelter. Reuben Ring and another were despatched to all the settlements within fifty miles to ask for aid, not to pursue the savages, but to help raise again their ruined habitations. The man whom we have called Submission said, when the young men departed to call in strangers:
"Thou knowest that I may not tarry, Mark Heathcote. I found thee in peace, and I quit thee in the depths of suffering."
"No, indeed, thou mayst not tarry, for the bloodhounds of tyranny will be on their scent. Here is shelter no longer."
Submission pressed the hand of his friend in his and said : "Mark Heathcote, adieu! He that had a roof for the persecuted wanderer shall not long be houseless; neither shall the resigned forever know sorrow."
The last seen of him was at the entrance to one of the retired paths of the forest.
Years later a hamlet of some forty houses had grown up on the site of the Heathcote settlement. Conspicuous among the buildings was a church and a fortified house for a refuge in case of attack, its palisades defended by flanking towers.. Most of the houses, and among them that of the Heathcotes, were outside its protecting walls. In King Philip's War this hamlet was again attacked by Indians under Metacom or Philip and Conanchet, the latter the young chief of the Narragansetts.
In the onslaught the house of the Heathcotes was captured and its inmates made prisoners. On the piazza of the dwelling were gathered Mark Heathcote, his son Content and grandson Mark, and Ruth and Martha. With them was Submission, all the men, excepting the elder Mark, now aged, being bound. The principal chiefs of the inroad were beside the prisoners, and other chiefs were in consultation in front of the house. While it was still a question of life and death, Narramattah, the wife of Conanchet, came forward; and in her Ruth recognized her own daughter Ruth whom she had lost in the previous attack on the settlement.
"Woman of the Yengeese!" said Conanchet, whom all now recognized as the Indian lad who had lived with them so long, "let the clouds blow from thy sight. Wife of a Narragansett! see clearly! The Manitou of your race speaks strong. He telleth a mother to know her child ! "
Ruth could hesitate no longer. Neither sound nor exclamation escaped her, but as she strained the yielding frame of her recovered daughter to her heart it appeared as if she strove to incorporate the two bodies into one. The spirit of even the lofty Conanchet was shaken, and he turned away that none might see his emotion.
Conanchet's resolve to spare the prisoners was not heard without murmuring, but few dared gainsay him; and in an hour after Ruth had clasped her child to her bosom the invaders disappeared.
A week later Conanchet and Submission were in the depths of the forest, where they met Philip and his party. The haughty Wampanoag would have tomahawked Submission at once but for Conanchet, who had conceived a high regard for one who had been so many months a resident with himself in the blockhouse, and later had shared his wigwam in the forest. While they were discussing, a musket-shot killed one of Philip's men, and the rest took to flight.
"Flee for thy life, Narragansett, and leave me to reap the harvest of my deeds."
Conanchet quietly drew his blanket over his shoulder, and said: "If my brother stays to be killed, Conanchet will be found near him."
"Many a Christian man might take lessons from thy faith. Lead on; I will follow at the utmost of my speed."
The result was that Conanchet, pursued by a force of Pequots and Mohegans, his old enemies, under their sachem Uncas, was captured, and taken back to the scene of Philip's camp, where he was put to death. The commissioners of the colony, who consented to the execution, decreed only that the captives should not suffer torture. Among those present from Wish-Ton-Wish were Ensign Eben Dudley and Sergeant Reuben Ring, with the Rev. Meek Wolfe, the minister of the settlement.
Meanwhile Narramattah or Ruth and her infant, and Whittal Ring, were missed from the settlement; and Content and his wife went into the forest in search of them. They met with Submission, and were led by him to the former camp of Philip, where they found the fugitives beside the corpse of Conanchet. Narramattah recognized her mother and died in her arms, with her eyes fixed in love and hope on the defiant face of the chieftain. Ruth, the stricken mother, died in the autumn of the same year, 1675, with, as her tombstone records, "a spirit broken for the purposes of earth, by much family affliction, though with hopes justified by the covenant and her faith in the Lord."
The tombstone of the stranger, whose mysterious coming and going had aroused so much speculation at Wish-Ton-Wish, bears only the name Submission and a half-obliterated date—either 1680 or 1690. His name, parentage, and history are still in doubt, though it is strongly suspected that he was one of those who sat in judgment on the King in 1649, and, like others of his brethren, was sought for by the agents of the second Charles, even in the forests of the New World.