TO MARRY WITH A STRANGER
By Howard Fast
"There's some who like him, some who hate him," said the captain to the frightened girl at his side. And that was the man she was going to marry a man whom she had never seen.
HER name was Ellen Sodworth; she was twenty-two, unmarried, and she lived in London in Draper's Row. Her father, John Sodworth, was a draper, as were most of the good, solid inhabitants of Draper's Row. Ellen had been born there, had never been more than five miles in any direction nor had her mother, although her father in the course of his business had traveled to Holland and Belgium, and was considered by acquaintances to be a great traveler.
The Sodworths lived in the fourth house from the end of the street, and the first floor of the house was given over to the ample stock of linens, velvets and silks. The merchants on Draper's Row were a careful race, solid businessmen whose sons followed in their tracks and whose daughters married drapers' sons. All her life Ellen had taken for granted that it would be that way with her, until that June, in the year 1619.
On the seventh of June, Ellen's father invited old Elias Frome, the mapmaker, to dinner. Before that, Ellen hadn't known what a complex tapestry had been spun from her desire to be something other than a draper's wife on Draper's Row. She had seen her mother, Janice Sodworth, writing letters, having talks with her father that grew into fierce arguments. And once her father turning on Ellen, suddenly, asking her:
"Is there no man good enough for you, none?"
And Ellen, not understanding his anger, trying to say something "I've never loved" lamely, feeling that the words were foolish and she was a fool, afraid of her father for the first time.
"Love! You've had your chances. You've had a dozen chances. Rich, successful merchants."
That was a few weeks before old Elias Frome came to dinner. And before that, for months, Ellen's face had been a mask, drawn more tightly every day. Yet when her mother asked her, she couldn't say what was wrong, what she desired, only knowing it was not a draper's son she wanted, not a good, solid, careful draper's son.
Janice Sodworth schemed and planned. Old John Sodworth raged, and once, half in humor, half in anger, called Ellen "Lady Sodworth." Two words and the visit of an old mapmaker could change Ellen's life. Sodworth, almost in despair with a daughter who had neither the sense nor the desire to marry as she should, still fought his wife's careful planning.
But Janice argued, told him: "She might do it; she's a strange girl. And who is he? He's Lord Bacon's son, that's who he is."
"What's he doing in a wild, heathen land?"
"He's out of favor with the king. That's the way with them of blood one day in favor, one day out of favor."
"What's he want with Ellen? Why don't he marry his own kind?"
"Because his own kind won't go across seas. Because they're men alone and wanting wives."
"You'd like well enough to see your daughter at court one day. I been writing to this agent for the Virginia Company, how it was with Ellen, a pretty girl, black hair, blue eyes. And if he's pardoned someday, then she's a lady."
Then they had Elias Frome, the mapmaker, to dinner.
He was a withered old man, Frome was. He sat at the Sodworth table, enjoying the heavy middle-class puddings and meats, cackling compliments at Ellen, remarking on her black satin dress, on the ruff which might have been worn by the dead queen. He spoke of far-off places, cities, travelers he had known Drake, Raleigh, Capt. John Smith. But the meal was almost over before Sodworth asked him:
"And what would you say of America, Mr. Frome?"
"Ah, there's a land. And if I were young "
"If you were young, Mr. Frome?" Ellen's eyes lit up.
"Then I'd go there, my dear. It's a rich land, a big land. Crops grow without tending, and gold is picked from the ground."
"But far away?" Ellen whispered.
"Not so far; but forty days' sailing for a good ship."
"I met an agent of the Virginia Company," Mrs. Sodworth said, "who was finding women to make wives for the men, men of blood. That's a chance for a girl. Names that would surprise you. Young Jamie Bacon, the lord's son, is over there in Virginia, and wants a wife."
Ellen was staring at her. Silence fell on the room. The old mapmaker fiddled with his fork, Sodworth stared at his plate, and Mrs. Sodworth tried to smile. Ellen was trembling, afraid, yet feeling that she had known all along that it had to be like this.
"YOU'VE arranged it," she whispered, "behind my back to send me there, to have me marry a man I've never seen, to have a title for yourselves. But I'll go, if he'll have me. Will he have me? Won't he want his own kind?"
"His own kind don't go to America," Frome said bluntly.
And Ellen, afraid of herself, of what would come, of awful distance nodded, managed to say, "I'll go, I'll go." She gripped the edge of the table with white hands and stared at three people who didn't know and could never know what forty days of sailing were, or what was Virginia, where men pricked at the wilderness.
But Ellen learned of Virginia, because there was time for that, time and enough for everything; time to stand by the ship's rail for hours and hours, staring at water and nothing but water, alone until fear was icy damp around her heart. She had never known loneliness of this kind. She had never before seen the wretched huddle of London disappearing as the ship slid down the Thames on the outgoing tide.
An old sailorman had come up to her elbow that day, leaving London, leaving England. "I seen them like you, a-plenty like you," he said. "I seen 'em go. Only it ain' no such happy place, that Virginny land."
She started away from him, afraid. He grinned at her, and she fled to her cabin. And in her cabin, weeping for hours and more hours. And then coming onto deck and finding that England was out of sight, realizing that, more than that, for her England had ceased to exist.
The days went slowly. She was not seasick. Rather, her cheeks grew redder, her eyes deeper blue, and the cold sea air was like a steady draught of wine. She was the only woman on board, and old Tom Hardy, the captain, was good to her. She took her meals with him and the three ship's officers. Yet she was lonely, and the officers would not talk with her if they could help it. She asked Hardy why. "I'm thinkin'," he said, "it's that contract ye have for marriage with Bacon."
"But why, why?"
"They're nohow crossing Jamie Bacon."
"You know him the man I'm going to marry?"
"Ay, I'm knowing Bacon."
She hesitated, then forced the words out: "What sort of man is he?"
"Handsome enough. A fine-looking man."
"I don't mean that."
"NOW look here, miss," Captain Hardy said, "ye're contracted to marry with him. I've no words to say agin Jamie Bacon. There's some who like him an' some who hate him, an' that's the way with most men. It's hard enough in Virginia land. I've no desire to set fear in ye, miss, but I've seen many like ye across."
She felt cold fingers pressing her heart, choked for breath.
"I would not worry," Hardy smiled, "Jamie will look at ye, and Jamie will be yer slave."
The ship sailed on. Days and days, until she had lost all count, until it seemed to her that she had never known more than this the little, swaying vessel, the full-blown bellies of the sails, the bluish-green water that was without beginning and without end.
And as days passed and weeks passed, she felt the change within her, felt her fear give way to a sort of calm, detached peace. Sometimes, in her cabin, she looked at her face in the mirror, and wondered whether it was the same person who had lived in Draper's Row. She looked at herself and wondered what sort of children would be hers and Jamie Bacon's trembling: hers and his. What did they know of Jamie Bacon? Didn't she know him better already, know what years in the wilderness meant? And wasn't she going to him unafraid, trusting? He would never return to England. Theirs would be always the life in the wilderness, and for that she was glad.
Storm came, after five weeks of sailing into nowhere. And storm churned and battered and passed. White clouds streaked a blue sky, and warm winds caressed. The battered, tiny, high-pooped ship crept on toward America.
IT CAME in the night. Someone knocked at the door of her cabin. She dressed quickly, her limp fingers refusing to obey her mind. Then she went on deck. The ship was hove to, anchors out, almost all the crew on deck, peering westward where a faint light glimmered in the dark.
Someone said, "America that light, an Indian fire "
The following day they entered the Chesapeake and beat up the broad mouth of the James. Ellen stood on deck and watched the high, dark walls of forest flow past. Once they saw a house with a ribbon of smoke drifting from the chimney, and Ellen wondered wistfully what was within the walls. Again, a canoe full of Indians broke from the bank above them and drifted down across their prow. It was the first time Ellen had ever seen Indians. They frightened her, fascinated her, naked bodies bending to the sweep of paddles, colored feathers swaying over their heads.
"They won't harm us?" she asked Captain Hardy.
"Not those; they've seen our cannon. But others, thousands. A wild land wild men, red and white. Ellen, I'll seal my lips, my crew's, only come along back with us."
"No, I can't go back."
"I'd hide ye aboard ship. Jamie would not know."
"Why do you hate him so?"
"I don't hate him. But I'm caring a dreadful lot for you, child."
The day in her cabin when she dressed so carefully, combed and brushed her long black hair until it gleamed like bright metal. Black velvet and white lace; a Sodworth could look like a queen in black velvet and white lace, A gold chain around her neck. She was a bride and her husband was waiting; hadn't she dreamed of this, known of this? She opened the two great wooden chests her mother had given her. They were tight with fine linens, silks, satins. She wouldn't come empty-handed.
She was still in her cabin when she heard the anchor go down. Through the window she saw what there was to see of Jamestown a wharf jutting out into the river, a huddle of log houses with two or three brick ones among them, a little group of men standing on the wharf. She stared, trying to make out faces, thinking that he was there, somewhere among them, perhaps. She felt a sudden warm bond between herself and the man she had contracted to marry. Weren't they both exiles, emigrants? She went on deck, confident, sure of herself.
CAPTAIN HARDY was waiting for her, and his old face wrinkled with admiration when he saw her. "Ye're a woman for any man to want," he said.
She pointed to the wharf. "That's Jamestown?"
"Ay, all of it."
"So small I thought "
"It's none too overcrowded, this Virginia land. We'll go ashore now, child, an' find yer man."
She held back, and Hardy saw how her face was like the face of a frightened deer.
"Ellen, Ellen," he whispered, "it's none too late. We'll have ye back in England, an' no harm done."
"Take me to him, quickly, now."
They got into the ship's boat, the captain, Ellen, the first officer, and men to draw the sweeps. Her two wooden chests bulked high in the stern; and looking at them, Ellen had a feeling of security, glad that she had not come empty-handed.
They drew up to the wharf, which by now was crowded to overflowing with eager, shouting men. Evidently, this was the first boat in weeks, and even before they touched, Ellen could hear them clamoring for news. She stared at them, trying to break them apart into individuals, trying to realize what manner of men they were dirty, most of them haggard, bearded; none of the glamour here that had belonged to them in England.
Who was Jamie Bacon? Who was handsome enough, splendid enough? Who was watching for her, waiting for her? Who among them had dreamed of a girl coming half across the world for a man she had never seen? But they were all watching her eagerly. Hadn't any of them seen a woman before?
They knew Captain Hardy. They shouted to him, and he shouted back, and as the boat touched they almost dragged him up, plying him with a thousand questions:
"My wife ye got the letter to her?" ... "We heard there's a new king." ... "Where's my brother? He was set to come along with ye." ... "Is England at war?" ... "Only one woman this time? We heard fifty would come."
And more and more, the old man pushing them aside, crying, "Give me time, time " Afterward, to Ellen, it was like a confused dream. She remembered willing hands helping her onto the wharf, eyes staring at her, eyes devouring her, eyes bulking larger and larger, the seamen breaking a path through for her, Captain Hardy calling:
"Where's Jamie Bacon?"
WAITING, watching, trembling, feeling lost, entirely lost, recalling the great stretch of ocean with awful terror, realizing it as a wall that could never be crossed again.
"Where's Jamie Bacon?"
Eyes leering, winking. Mouths whispering.
"I seen him down at the squire's, havin' a drink."
She was through the crowd on the wharf, gripping Hardy's arm, her feet on the soil of America. Muttering to himself, Hardy hurried down the path with her. Some of the men followed, still trying to get a word in with Hardy, who shook his head angrily to all their questions.
Ellen felt cold, so cold she began to tremble, thought she would be ill and unable to walk a step farther. Suddenly, quickly, a clear picture of what Jamie Bacon would be formed in her mind. He had never known her, never desired her. A woman was coming from England, any woman. It didn't matter.
Then Captain Hardy stopped, and the breath came from between his teeth in a long, soft whistle. A man was approaching along the path, and instinctively Ellen knew it was he. The man was tall, booted, blue-eyed; even at the distance she could see the gleam of his blue eyes. He swayed as he walked, and on his lean, handsome face there was a three-day growth of beard.
THEY stopped, waited until the man came up to them. Now Ellen felt that she was ice, all ice, head to foot. The man swayed, bowed, grinned. Captain Hardy put his arm around Ellen, held her close to him.
"Good day, Jamie," Hardy said.
"A devil of a day when a man has to make himself drunk to meet his wife. Mind that, Hardy. The squire says, 'Jamie, it's a shame ye should be drunk and go to meet your bride that way.' I said, 'I'll put enough inside of me to make me forget what she is. I'll be drunk and thinking she's a knight's daughter. And then one more drink,' I said, 'and I'll think that she's the daughter of a duke.'"
He stared at her, and then deep, miserable silence. To Ellen, that silence was only the beginning. It would always be like that. She swayed and felt Hardy's arm tighten about her.
"Is that the draper's daughter?" Jamie demanded.
Hardy's mouth was working, yet he said nothing. His face was pale and drawn.
"Well, take her down to the squire and I'll marry her," Jamie snapped. "Don't be all day about it."
Afterward, long afterward, when many other things had been forgotten, Ellen remembered in all detail the long ride from Jamestown to the plantation. The other things were like a dream: the marriage, the squire's droning voice as he read the service, Hardy's face as he gave her away; the crowd of onlookers, the sailors' small, ship-presented gifts; and then Jamie Bacon studying the woman who was his wife.
The squire saying, "Kiss her, kiss her, Jamie."
"I'm nohow so drunk as that," Jamie answered.
Hardy's drawn, agonized face. He had told her once that in England he had a daughter her age.
And Jamie approaching her, grasping her by the shoulders, and his hot breath in her face. She stood so stiff and still that she might have been lifeless. Now she was his wife.
But the ride to the plantation, the first time she had ever mounted a horse, sitting sidesaddle, cramped, aching for hours and hours, dead inside, all dead, wanting to weep yet unable to weep, never speaking to her husband all that time, never speaking like a hurt child grasping at memories, so many memories: her father, her mother; Draper's Row, tight, secure. If only he had said one word to her, one kind, well-meant word.
AFTERWARD, that ride and what followed stood out clear and sharp.
The plantation was eighteen miles from Jamestown, a sprawling house, barns, sheds, all shapeless hulks in the dark when Ellen first saw the place. Two blacks came running out to take their horses, new slaves, the first in America and fresh from Africa, hardly able to speak a few words of English. They startled Ellen, caused her to cry out.
She heard her husband laugh. He dismounted, came around to her and offered her his hand. She tried to dismount by herself, found that her numb feet would not bear her, and crumpled to the ground. For a minute Jamie stood watching her. Then he came forward and helped her to her feet.
"Evidently," he said, "drapers' daughters do not ride, neither do they hunt. Have I been entirely deceived in my bride?" he smiled.
How much of this? she asked herself, how much can I bear? If this is only the beginning But she didn't speak, only looked at him and permitted his smile to find a faint reflection on her lips. Already she was cold, like ice inside; once she would have screamed or wept, but the sea voyage had done something to her. She would become colder and colder, stronger.
They went into the house. He lit candles, set the fire burning. Even then, in that moment, she was able to see and know the manner of that house a man's house, bare, comfortless, a house of exile; and in that way, instinctively understanding him, his pain, his hatred, his exile, his coldness. She didn't want to understand him, wanted nothing else than to hate him as he hated her; yet in spite of herself she understood.
SHE stood by the fire. Jamie threw himself into a chair and stared at her. He stared for a long time before he spoke. Then he said:
"Turn to me. Let me see what I married. Let me see what I bought myself."
She turned to him slowly, knowing how it was, knowing that there were no roads back, knowing that the sea was too broad to be crossed again, that Draper's Row, with all its comforts, was too narrow to be anything but a prison again.
"Pretty enough." Jamie Bacon grinned. The children won't be ugly, for all their common blood."
"There won't be children," she whispered. "And you didn't buy me. This all of this was my doing, my doing. You didn't buy me."
"A title and Jamie Bacon's name will buy more merchants' daughters than all the gold in Flanders: Let us understand each other. This is a wild, cursed, heathen country, and I'm here until the king dies. No, don't hope. There'll be no pretty home and title for ye in England. The king's son holds no love for me. I'm here in this cursed land until the day I die, and that's it. I'm the last man to bear the name of Bacon, and I won't see the name die. A man can't live alone, even when a man's lost hold of everything. He can't live alone. You're my wife, and there'll be an heir to bear the name. And the sneering I'll do. If there's a man to sneer at my wife, I'll run him through. Understand me?"
"I think I understand you."
"THE household consists of the two black slaves you saw. They're slaves, something new to you, yet you'll try to remember that that and the fact that you are Jamie Bacon's wife."
Standing there, Ellen forced herself to nod. Her limbs still obeyed her, and in that much she lived. The rest of her was dead, all dead, dead beyond awakening.
"Now I'll kiss my draper's daughter my wife," Bacon said, rising, coming toward her.
Ellen stood still, perfectly still. She closed her eyes as he kissed her. She tried to tell herself that there was nothing inside her that could be hurt, nothing. She would not fight him. That was what he wanted; she sensed that more than anything else, he wanted her to fight him, wanted the power to break her. She would never give him that chance, to break her. Her body was his. A draper had sold it to have the privilege of saying that his daughter was one of the "blood." But the rest of her she would sheathe with ice, and that rest of her Jamie Bacon would never know.
And that night, all that night, lying awake and knowing that countless other nights would be that way, sleepless, telling herself that part of her would never be his. He lay beside her, sleeping, but no longer bitter. Sleep had ripped him clean, and he tossed while he slept, muttered of things he had once known, of places and scenes that could never again be his. Once, in spite of all she had been through this day, she would have pitied the sleeping Jamie Bacon. Now she could not permit herself to pity him. All that was left was for her to learn to hate.
THE days went slowly, and for the first time she who had known no other world than Draper's Row knew the manner of the earth's turning. The full, rich Virginia summer lay like a blanket upon the land. The land was beautiful, and here, where the plantation stood, atop a rise, with the green forest dropping away on every side, the land was more than beautiful. Richer than England, this land was, stranger, wilder than England. It was a land you could love, turning the word on your tongue many times, Virginia, Virginia. You could love such a land as you would love a man, had you loved.
Ellen found that there was work to be done. That was the only way for her, to work without ceasing, without thinking, to work until, at the end of the day, her body was as tired and worn as her brain,
To Jamie Bacon, she presented the same stolid exterior, never speaking unless she was spoken to, obeying him, yet never failing to disconcert him with her utter lack of emotion. She cooked for him, mended his clothes, saw that they were clean. Her two wooden chests were filled with the best cloth of her father's shop. She made tablecloths of damask, silvery, rippling damask that a Persian shah might take his dinner from. The almost priceless cream-colored, transparent Irish linen covered the crude windows, the Virginia-made windows that had a round bubble of their origin right in their center, windows you could hardly see through. The wooden chairs, hard, uncomfortable, graceless products of the Jamestown carpenter, she padded with horsehair and upholstered with lovely blue-and-yellow brocade. She tore an old quilt to pieces and hooked it into two rugs for the living-room floor.
GRADUALLY the bare house took on the appearance of a home. In spite of what Jamie had said about the slaves, she made friends of them, and they obeyed her smallest whim. They planted gardens after they were through with their plantation work, and they made lawn of the stubbled fields close to the house. Each new thing Jamie Bacon observed; again and again she thought he would speak of one thing or another, as that time when she set a table of damask, of silver, of tall candles and bright flowers. Yet he didn't speak, and she was glad that he didn't, that he made no move to become closer to her.
Her special delight was the flowers. Somewhere, once, far back, some ancestor of hers had hands that knew flowers. And in all the generations of Draper's Row, that power was not lost. Her hands knew them, could make them grow magically, and always she was seeking new colors, new species. Her slaves would go out of the way to find some flower to bring her, and through them word must have gotten to the Indians.
Once, when Jamie was not at home, two Indians appeared, walked toward the house and stopped a hundred yards from the gate. At first Ellen was terribly frightened, barred the door and watched them thorough the window. Then one of the slaves appeared and pointed out that the two tall, painted, copper-colored men bore not arms but flowers. Strange beautiful flowers that she had never seen before. The flowers were lure enough to make her conquer her fear. She gave them a loaf of bread and took the plants they had brought.
AND once, as she came in from outside, arms filled with flowers, Jamie Bacon stood in her path, stopping her and looking at her curiously. He seemed about to say something, trying to say something; and in that moment she discovered him, saw him in one brief instant beneath the surface, saw all that was Jamie Bacon. In spite of herself, in spite of everything, in spite of the long nights she had lain awake, trying to forget her shame, trying to believe that there had been no shame in spite of all that, her heart went out to him. She fought against it, fought against the thought that had occurred to her; and she was startled, so startled that she dropped the flowers.
He bent to pick them up, and as he gave them to her, he said, "You have a great love for flowers."
"There were no flowers where you lived in the old country?"
"No flowers on Draper's Row. Would you expect flowers there?"
He was silent for a while; then he said, "You're nohow so bad a wife."
She forced herself to say it: "The name of Bacon, surely, could buy the best." And then she ran into the house.
But that incident could not be forgotten. That time she had found him out, and from then on she would know how alone he was.
Again, there was the time he had been in Jamestown for three days, and all that time she was afraid, as she always was when he left her alone. Only this time more so, because for a fortnight already she had known how it would be, that here in this wilderness there was life inside her, growing, living. An heir for the name of Bacon, as he had said.
Always, she tried to tell herself that she was better off without him, happier without him, yet when he was around she was never afraid. Now she was afraid, afraid for herself and the life inside her, afraid of the wilderness that surged on her like an angry sea.
She sat through the night, waiting for him, building the fire higher and higher. She sat there, filled with fear at the thought that he might not return, trying to tell herself that she hated and despised him, that it would be best for her if he never returned.
Toward morning, the third day, she heard his horse outside, ran out and saw him hanging onto his saddle, drunk. Ellen put him to bed, undressed him, while he raved, half conscious, spoke of England, of his childhood, of people he had known, opened up his whole world to her.
Once that night he recognized her, said to her, "You hate me. I could crawl at your feet and plead for a look or a sign, and still you'd hate me."
SHE couldn't hate him then, as he was. "Sleep," she begged him. "Sleep, Jamie."
"A lord's son's not good enough for you. I could put a knife in my breast, and still the hate would not be drained from your heart."
She begged him, "Sleep, please."
All that night, a single candle burning, Ellen sat at Jamie's bedside, watching his restless sleep, wondering whether it was for a draper's daughter he could never have that he had drunk himself into a stupor, or simply to forget.
It was fall already when they had their first guests, when Ellen saw the first woman she had seen since that day in the squire's house. Without her knowing, Jamie had invited Mark Haddome and his wife to come and spend a week with them. Haddome was a knight's son, bankrupt, and come to make his fortune in Virginia. He had married in England.
I've invited Haddome and his lady," Jamie told her briefly. "They know what you are, so you'll not need to put on airs for them."
The Haddomes rode thirty miles to make the visit. Mary Haddome was a tall, light-haired woman, older than Ellen. She treated Ellen with the same noncommittal consideration she would extend toward a servant. Mark Haddome was polite but distant. From the moment they came, Ellen hated Mary Haddome. Even the fact that for the first time Jamie acted toward her with gentleness and consideration, as if to answer Mary Haddome's challenge, could not lessen that hatred. It was only after they had left that Ellen realized that it was not so much hatred as fear, fear that Jamie would see in the blond woman all that she, Ellen, lacked.
"Ye acted none too bad," Jamie said afterward.
For once Ellen let the mask down, felt herself unable to remain silent. "I'll stand for my husband being a boor," she cried. "But I'll not stand it from guests. Your draper's daughter will not stay in this house the next time those people come."
And Jamie stared at her but said nothing, only nodding.
The summer passed. The crops were taken in, stacked in cribs and bins, the tobacco carted off to the market at Jamestown. The red singe of fall came into the trees. The sunsets were longer, ruddier, wilder, as if all the land were heating itself frantically before the final cold of winter set down.
Now, very often, Ellen sat in front of the house, knitting, weaving, thinking and dreaming, watching the sun loop to the west and the colors of the sunset gather, dreaming of a life she had once lived, dreaming of the man she had waited to meet, waited forty days across the broad stretch of the ocean.
THE child was in her, growing, living. It would be one of the first children born to a white woman in this land. This child was no heir for the Bacon title. If nothing else was sure, she was sure of that: that this child was heir to more than any Bacon, heir to an endless stretch of unknown that men called America. He would be a man child, whom other men would call American.
When the sunset came, blazing, promising colors, she felt its beauty, felt that she would never be lonely again, that never again for her would this land be wild and strange.
Winter came, and days passed, snow and frost, brief glimpses of spring in warm winds that blew from the south. Spring would come and bring life, new life inside her and outside her. For a long time she tried to keep it from him, yet finally she realized that he knew. Not through his words. His words were the same, and for him she was still the draper's daughter. But slowly, imperceptibly, his actions changed. In some things he became almost tender. His trips to Jamestown became fewer, and then stopped entirely, as if he was afraid to leave her alone. The only time he ever left the house was when it became necessary to replenish their meat stock, and those times he usually left one of the slaves with her.
Winter passing left the wet ground, the chill of the first days of March, the bare trees that had not yet started to bud. Jamie went out to hunt one day, told her reluctantly that he was taking both slaves with him.
"We need meat, and game's scarce hereabout. I'll take both of them to beat the brush, and that way be back before nightfall. You'll be safe enough. I've seen no Indian sign these two months past."
It was the first time he had spoken to her that way. She tried to hold back, to keep her shell of coldness, and then blurted out, "Come back soon please."
SHE waited for him that day as she had never waited before, anxiously, afraid, hot and cold, strange pains in her body, strange misgivings, almost feeling the pulse of the life within her.
It was sunset, and she waited in front of the house, trembling from the cold, wanting to go into the house, yet afraid to move from where she was, where she could see him as he came from the forest. She was almost sobbing when she saw him at last, alone. She wondered at that, but thought that the slaves must have stayed behind to bring in the game. She rose and walked forward to meet him, only by the greatest of efforts restraining herself; she would have run, laughing, crying. She would have done that. She knew what she would say, knew that for the first time she would not wait for him to speak.
Then she saw how he rode, so slowly, bent over in his saddle. The fear was like fire in her as she ran to meet him. He didn't speak; he tried to smile, looking at her, slipped from his horse and stretched out a hand toward her. And then she saw the feathered butt of an arrow projecting from his side.
Somehow she got him into the house, somehow stretched him on the bed, almost carrying his tall, lean figure, hardly knowing the weight of him, the weight inside her. She barred the doors, closed the shutters of the windows and barred them.
He lay on the bed, his eyes closed, his face pale, the stubble of his beard standing out, his lips moving, speaking, telling her how it was:
" tried to lead them away, not to the house, not to you. I don't matter, only you. In the end, I led them here the horse kept turning home. Knew how it was, all done, all finished. You're alone, alone "
A cold, terrible calm descended upon her. She had found it, all of it, what she had crossed the sea for, and now it would be taken away from her.
She drew forth the arrow, her hands steady. She let the wound bleed a little, and then covered it with tobacco leaves, bound it over with clean white linen. He lay without moving, without speaking, only looking at her. She touched his cheeks, stroked his face.
IT WAS night now. She loaded the one gun that was left in the house, an old matchlock blunderbuss. It was so heavy she could barely lift it, but she managed to prop it against the window sill. Soon they would come; and she wasn't afraid. That was what astonished her most, that she wasn't afraid, that she was able to wait and wait.
That night was eternity. That night was all the nights she had ever lived or would live. That night was all the nights women waited while the men they loved lay dying. That night was the agony of birth.
It came toward morning, fierce, racking pains that made her scream aloud. He heard her. Where he lay, he heard her, and somehow he managed to leave his bed, to stagger to her side. The pains went. They returned again, worse, more racking than ever. Even while she moaned in pain, she pleaded with him:
"Go back to bed. You'll open your wound. Go back to bed."
"No Ellen, let me help you." It was the first time, the first in all those months, that he had ever called her by her given name.
"Go back to bed."
"No, let me stay with you."
"You can't this is for me, for me. Leave me alone. Go back to bed."
He didn't go. He stayed with her. Through all her pain she knew one thing, only one thing that he was with her.
NO INDIANS attacked that night. It was dawn when the men came from Jamestown, a doctor with them. Afterward, she heard the full story how one of the blacks, badly wounded, made his way on foot to the settlement. When the doctor came, she lay in bed, a tiny, squalling thing by her side. Jamie Bacon was huddled in a corner, his face in his hands. She was still awake when the doctor entered the room. She had heard the horses ride up, heard them pry open a shutter and enter the house through a window. She saw the doctor moving about the bed as one sees a person in a dream. Then she saw him bend over her husband and say:
"Jamie, Jamie, come along. It's your son, Jamie."
Then she slept. Long hours she slept, while she forgot pain, while she forgot many things.
It was evening again, twilight, with the last red of the sun over the windows of her bedroom. She woke, and felt the life beside her. She held it to her breast, heard the door open and, turning, saw Jamie Bacon come into the room.
He limped, his tall form bent over. In the half dark, she could just make out the blue of his eyes. He came to the bed and stood there, looking down at her.
"Have you come to see your son, Jamie?" she whispered.
A moment he stood there, then dropped to his knees at the bedside. "No to see my wife," he said, very softly. Then his face was in the covers, and she was stroking his hair, sobbing and wonderfully happy, stroking his hair.