Pocahontas: The Indian Girl of the Virginia Forest


Pocahontas: The Indian Girl of the Virginia Forest is featured in Sweetser's collection, Ten American Girls from History (1917). For very young children, we offer a much shorter version of Pocahontas by James Baldwin
Mary Cowden Clarke, Pocahontas, 1883

Sunlight glinting between huge forest trees, and blue skies over-arching the Indian village of Werewocomoco on the York River in Virginia, where Powhatan, the mighty "Werowance," or ruler over thirty tribes, was living.

Through Orapakes and Pamunkey and other forest settlements a long line of fierce warriors were marching Indian file, on their way to Werewocomoco, leading a captive white man to Powhatan for inspection and for sentence. As the warriors passed into the Indian village, they encountered crowds of dusky braves and tattooed squaws hurrying along the wood trails, and when they halted at the central clearing of the village, the crowd closed in around them to get a better view of the captive. At the same time there rose a wild clamor from the rear of the throng as a merry group of shrieking, shouting girls and boys darted forward, jostling their way through the crowd.

Their leader was a slender, straight young girl with laughing eyes such as are seldom seen among Indians, and hair as black as a crow's wing blown about her cheeks in wild disorder, while her manner was that of a happy hearty forest maiden. This was Matoaka, daughter of the Werowance Powhatan, and although he had many subjects as well as twenty sons and eleven daughters, not one was ruled so despotically as was he himself, by this slender girl with laughing eyes, for whom his pet name was Pocahontas, or in free translation, "little romp."

Having established themselves in the front row of the crowd the girls and boys stood eagerly staring at the prisoner, for many of them had never seen a white man before, and as Pocahontas watched, she looked like a forest flower in her robe of soft deer-skin, with beaded moccasins on her shapely feet, coral bracelets and anklets vying with the color in her dark cheeks, while a white plume drooping over her disordered hair proclaimed her to be the daughter of a great chief. In her health and happiness she radiated a charm which made her easily the ruling spirit among her mates, and compelled the gaze of the captive, whose eyes, looking about for some friendly face among the savage throng, fastened on the eager little maiden with a feeling of relief, for her bright glance showed such interest in the prisoner and such sympathy with him as was to endear her to his race in later years.

Pocahontas: The Indian Girl of the Virginia Forest The long line of braves with their heads and shoulders gaily painted had wound their slow way through forest, field, and meadow to bring into the presence of the great "Werowance" a no less important captive than Captain John Smith, leader in the English Colony at Jamestown by reason of his quick wit and stout heart. The settlers having been threatened with a famine, the brave Captain had volunteered to go on an expedition among neighboring Indian villages in search of a supply of corn. The trip had been full of thrilling adventures for him, and had ended disastrously in his being taken prisoner by Opechancanough, the brother of Powhatan. The news of Smith's capture having been carried to the great Werowance, he commanded that the pale-faced Caucarouse, or Captain, be brought to him for sentence. And that was why the warriors marched into Werewocomoco, Opechancanough in the center, with the firearms taken from Captain Smith and his companions carried before him as trophies. The prisoner followed, gripped by three stalwart Indians, while six others acted as flank guards to prevent his escape, and as they passed into Werewocomoco they were greeted by yelling savages brandishing weapons and surging forward to get a better glimpse of the white captive. The procession halted for a few minutes at the village clearing, then moved slowly on to Powhatan's "Chief Place of Council," a long arbor-like structure where the great Werowance was waiting to receive Captain Smith.

The crowd of boys and girls followed in the wake of the warriors until the Council Hall was reached, when they all dropped back except their leader. Pushing her hair from her low brow, that she might see more clearly, and walking with the erectness of a Werowance's daughter, Pocahontas entered the hall and stood near her father where she could not only watch the white captive, who appealed strongly to her fancy, but could also note Powhatan's expression as he passed judgment on the prisoner.

With inscrutable reserve and majestic dignity the great ruler bowed as the captive was led before his rustic throne, where he reclined in a gorgeous robe of raccoon-skins. On either side of the Council Hall sat rows of dusky men and women, with their heads and shoulders painted red, some of the women wearing garments trimmed with the white down from birds' breasts, while others wore long chains of white beads about their necks.

It was a picturesque sight for English eyes, and fearful though he was of foul play, the Captain could not but appreciate the brilliant mingling of gay colors and dark faces. As he stood before the Chief, there was a clapping of hands to call an Indian woman, the Queen of the Appamattock, who brought water to wash the captive's hands, while another brought a bunch of feathers to dry them on. "What next?" Captain Smith wondered as he watched further preparations being made, evidently for a feast, of which he was soon asked to partake.

Under the circumstances his appetite was not keen, but he felt obliged to pretend to a relish that he did not feel, and while he was eating his eyes lighted up with pleasure as he saw by her father's side—though he did not know then of the relationship—the little Indian girl whose interest in him had been so apparent when he saw her in the village. He dared not smile in response to her vivid glance, but his gaze lingered long on the vision of youth and loveliness, and he turned back to his meal with a better appetite.

The feast at an end, Powhatan called his councilors to his side, and while they were in earnest debate Captain Smith knew only too well that his fate was hanging in the balance. At last a stalwart brave arose and spoke to the assemblage. The captive, so he said, was known to be the leading spirit among the white settlers whose colony was too near the Indians' homes to please them, also in his expedition in search of corn he had killed four Indian warriors with "mysterious weapons which spoke with the voice of thunder and breathed the lightning," and he had been spying on their land, trying to find some secret means by which to betray them. With him out of the way their country would be freed from a dangerous menace, therefore he was condemned to death.

Doomed to die! Although he did not understand their words, there was no misunderstanding their intention. Immediately two great stones were rolled into the hall, to the feet of Powhatan, and the Captain was seized roughly, dragged forward and forced to lie down in such a position that his head lay across the stones. Life looked sweet to him as he reviewed it in a moment of quick survey while waiting for the warriors' clubs to dash out his brains. He closed his eyes. Powhatan gave the fatal signal—the clubs quivered in the hands of the executioners. A piercing shriek rang out, as Pocahontas darted from her father's side, sprang between the uplifted clubs of the savages and the prostrate Captain, twining her arms around his neck and laying her own bright head in such a position that to kill the captive would be to kill the Werowance's dearest daughter.

With horror at this staying of his royal purpose, and at the sight of his child with her arms around the white man's neck, Powhatan stared as if at a hideous vision, and closed his ears to the sound of her voice as her defiant Indian words rang out:

"No! He shall not die!"

The savages stood with upraised weapons; Powhatan sat rigid in the intensity of his emotion. Watching him closely for some sign of relenting, Pocahontas, without moving from her position, began to plead with the stern old Chief,—begged, entreated, prayed—until she had her desire.

"Let the prisoner go free!"

Through the long Council-room echoed Powhatan's order, and a perfunctory shout rose from the savage throng, who were always quick to echo their Chief's commands. Captain Smith, bewildered by the sudden turn of affairs, was helped to rise, led to the beaming girl, and told that the condition of his release from death was that he might "make hatchets and trinkets" for Pocahontas, the Werowance's dearest daughter. So his deliverer was the daughter of the great Chief! With the courtly manner which he had brought from his life in other lands he bent over the warm little hand of the Indian maiden with such sincere appreciation of her brave deed that she flushed with happiness, and she ran away with her playmates, singing as merrily as a forest bird, leaving the pale-faced Caucarouse with her royal father, that they might become better acquainted. Although she ran off so gaily with her comrades after having rescued Captain Smith, yet she was far from heedless of his presence in the village, and soon deserted her young friends to steal shyly back to the side of the wonderful white man whose life had been saved that he might serve her.

During the first days of his captivity—for it was that—the Captain and Powhatan became very friendly, and had many long talks by the camp-fire, by means of a sign language and such words of the Algonquin dialect as Captain Smith had learned since coming to Virginia. And often Pocahontas squatted by her father's side, her eager eyes intent on the Captain's face as he matched the old ruler's marvelous tales of hoarded gold possessed by tribes living to the west of Werewocomoco, with stories of the cities of Europe he had visited, and the strange peoples he had met in his wanderings. Sometimes as he told his thrilling tales he would hear the little Indian maid catch her breath from interest in his narrative, and he would smile responsively into her upturned face, feeling a real affection for the young girl who had saved his life.

From his talks with Powhatan the Englishman found out that the great desire of the savage ruler was to own some of the cannon and grindstones used by the colonists, and with quick diplomacy he promised to satisfy this wish if Powhatan would but let him go back to Jamestown and send with him warriors to carry the coveted articles. This the wily Indian ruler promised to do, and in return offered him a tract of land which he did not own, and from which he intended to push the settlers if they should take possession of it. And Captain Smith had no intention of giving either cannon or grindstones to Powhatan, so the shrewd old savage and the quick-witted Captain were well matched in diplomacy.

Meanwhile, Powhatan's interest in his white captive became so great that he gave him the freedom he would have accorded one of his own subjects, even allowing Pocahontas to hunt with him, and when evening came she would sit by the great fire and listen to her Captain's stories of his life told with many a graphic gesture which made them clear to her even though most of his words were unintelligible.

Then came a day when the captive was led to a cabin in the heart of the forest and seated on a mat before a smoldering fire to await he knew not what. Suddenly Powhatan appeared before him, fantastically dressed, followed by two hundred warriors as weirdly decorated as he was. Rushing in, they surrounded the frightened Captain, but quickly dispelled his fears by telling him that they were all his friends and this was only a ceremony to celebrate his speedy return to Jamestown, for the purpose of sending back cannon and grindstones to their Chief.

This was good news. The Captain showed hearty appreciation of the favor, and at once said his farewells. Powhatan, the inscrutable, who bade him a dignified good-by, repeated his promise to give him the country of the Capahowsick, which he did not own, and said he should forever honor him as his own son. Then, with an escort of twelve Indians, Captain Smith set out for Jamestown, and beside him trudged Pocahontas, looking as resolute as if she were in truth a forest Princess escorting her chosen cavalier through the wilderness.

As they picked their way along the rough trail, the Captain told her such tales of the settlement as he could make clear to her and repeated some simple English words he had been trying to teach her. As he talked and as she said over and over the words she had learned, Pocahontas gripped his arm with rapt interest and longed to follow where he led. But night was coming on, it was unwise for her to go beyond the last fork of the trail, and so, reluctantly, she parted from her new and wonderful friend. But before she left him she darted to the side of a trusty warrior and gave a passionate command, then started swiftly back on the long wood path leading to Werewocomoco. The next night no one could make her laugh or join in the dances around the big fire, nor did she show any likeness to the light-hearted, romping, singing little tomboy, ringleader among her playmates. Pocahontas had lost a comrade, and her childish heart was sore at the loss. But when the warriors returned from Jamestown she became merry and happy again, for had the Caucarouse not sent her back strings of beads more beautiful than any she had ever seen before, such as proved surely that he had not forgotten her?

The truth of the matter was, that on reaching the colony, Captain Smith showed the Indians a grindstone and told them to carry it back to Powhatan, but when they tried to lift it and found its great weight they were utterly disconcerted. Then the wily Captain showed them a cannon purposely loaded with stones, and had it discharged among the icicle-laden trees, which so terrified the savages that they ran away and refused to take another look at it. Then Captain Smith cleverly suggested that they carry back trinkets in place of the articles which were so heavy, and the Indians went happily away without the promised gifts, but bearing many smaller things, some of which the Captain was thoughtful enough to suggest be given to Pocahontas as a slight token of his appreciation of her great service to him.

Little he dreamed, man of the world though he was, that the small courtesy would mean as much to the Indian maiden as it did, nor could he know that from that hour the dreams of Pocahontas were all to be built around the daily life of the pale-faced men in the Jamestown settlement. Even when she joined her playmates in her favorite games of Gus-ga-e-sa-ta (deer buttons), or Gus-ka-eh (peach-pit), or even,—tomboy that she was,—when she turned somersaults with her favorite brother Nantaquaus and his comrades, she was so far from being her usual lively self that the boys and girls questioned her about the reason. In reply she only flung back her head with an indifferent gesture, and walked away from them. Later when the great fires blazed in Council Hall and Long House, she sought the trusty warrior who had accompanied Captain Smith to Jamestown, and he gave her such news of the settlers as he had heard from the Indians who loafed about Jamestown. They were on friendly terms with the white men, who let them come and go at will as long as they were peaceful and did not try to pilfer corn or firearms.

Winter came with its snow and zero weather, and Pocahontas heard of great hunger and many privations among the colonists. She held a long secret conversation with the Indian warrior who knew of her interest in the pale-faced Caucarouse, then, at twilight of a bitter cold day, she stole out from her wigwam, met the warrior at the beginning of the Jamestown trail, and after carefully examining the store of provisions which she had commanded him to bring, she plunged into the gloomy wood trail with her escort, hurrying along the rough path in the darkness, until she reached the rough stockade guarding the entrance to the settlement.

The man on watch, who had heard many glowing descriptions of the maiden who had saved his Captain's life, recognized her at once and admired her exceedingly as she stood there in her dusky imperiousness, demanding to see the Captain. Astonished, but pleased at her coming, Smith quickly came to greet her and was enthusiastic in his thanks for the provisions she had brought. Then by the flare of a torch he showed his eager guest as much of their little village as could be seen in the fast-falling darkness, enjoying her questions and her keen interest in such buildings and articles as she had never seen before. She responded to the Englishmen's cordiality with shy, appreciative glances and would have liked to linger, but it was too late for her to remain longer, and the colonists crowded around her with expressions of regret that she must leave and renewed thanks for her gifts. Then Pocahontas and her Indian escort started back toward Werewocomoco, taking the trail with flying feet that her absence might not be discovered.

From that day she often found her way to Jamestown, carrying stores of provisions from her father's well-filled larder, sometimes going in broad daylight, with rosy cheeks and flying hair, after her morning swim in the river, at other times starting out on her errand of mercy at twilight, always protected by a faithful warrior who was on terms of intimacy with the settlers and felt a deep pride in their admiration for Pocahontas, whom they called "The Little Angel," and well they might, for they would have gone without food many a time during that bitter winter but for her visits.

As for Powhatan, he was too well accustomed to the forest excursions of his "dearest daughter," and to having her roam the neighboring country at will, to watch her carefully. He knew that his daughter was safe on Indian territory, never dreaming that she would go beyond it, and as her guide was loyal, there was no one to prevent her from following out her heart's desires in taking food to her Captain and his people.

But as time went on and Powhatan heard more of the wonderful firearms and useful articles possessed by the white men, he became not only bitterly jealous of them, but determined to secure their arms and articles for his own use. "So when the valiant Captain made another visit to Werewocomoco and tried to barter beads and other trinkets for corn, the old chief refused to trade except for the coveted firearms, which the Captain declined to give. But he did give him a boy named Thomas Salvage, whom Powhatan adopted as his son, and in exchange gave Smith an Indian boy, Namontack. Then there were three days of feasting and dancing, but of trading there was none, and Captain Smith was determined to get corn." He showed Powhatan some blue beads which took the Indian ruler's fancy and he offered a small amount of corn in exchange for them, but the Captain laughed scornfully. Those beads were the favorite possession of Kings and Queens in other countries, why should they be sold to Powhatan? he asked. Powhatan became eager—offered more corn. The Captain hesitated, shook his head, and played his part in the transaction so well that when at last he gave in, he had secured three hundred bushels of corn for the really worthless beads!

In the following months the Indians threw off their mask of friendliness for the colonists and began to steal the firearms so coveted by Powhatan. For some time the white men were patient under the annoyance, but when knives and swords began to go, a watch was set for the thieves, and nine of them were caught and detained at the Jamestown fort, for Captain Smith suspected treachery on Powhatan's part and determined to hold them until all the stolen articles were sent back. In return the Indians captured two straggling Englishmen and came in a shouting throng to the fort clamoring for the release of the imprisoned Indians. Out came the bold Captain and demanded the instant freeing of the settlers. His force and tactics were so superior to those of the savages that they were obliged to give up their captives. Then the Captain examined his Indian prisoners and forced them into a confession of Powhatan's plot to procure all the weapons possible from the colonists, which were then to be used to kill their rightful owners. That was all the Captain wanted of the Indians, but he still kept them imprisoned, to give them a wholesome fright. Powhatan, enraged at hearing of the failure of his plot against the white men, determined that his warriors should be freed at once. He would try another way to gain his end. From his rustic throne in the Council Hall he sent for Pocahontas. She was playing a game of Gawàsa (snow-snake) with two of her comrades, but left them instantly and ran to the Council Hall. Long and earnestly Powhatan talked to her, and she listened intently. When he had finished a pleased expression flashed into her black eyes.

"I will do what you wish," she said, then ran back to join in the game she had left so suddenly.

The next morning she went swiftly along the forest trail now so familiar to her, and at length approached the settlers' stockade and demanded audience with the Captain. He was busy chopping trees at the other end of the settlement, but dropped his ax at the summons and hurried to bid the little maiden welcome with the courtly deference he always showed her, whether he really felt it or not. With folded arms and intent silence he listened to her plea:

For her sake would he not give up the Indians detained in the fort as prisoners? Powhatan was very anxious that the pleasant relations between himself and the Englishmen should not be disturbed by such an unfriendly act as holding his men captive. Would the noble Caucarouse not free them for the sake of that maiden who had saved his life?

Captain Smith listened with a set expression and soldierly bearing and tried to evade glancing into the girl's eager eyes, but found it impossible. One look broke down his iron determination, and bending over her hand with his Old World chivalry, he said:

"Your request shall be granted. They shall be freed, but not in justice, simply as an act of friendship for you, who saved my life."

His intention was clear, though his words were not understood. Joyfully Pocahontas beamed and blushed her rapturous thanks. Smith, none too happy over the result of Powhatan's shrewd move, called forth the sullen warriors from the fort, and sent them on their way back to Werewocomoco, led by victorious Pocahontas.

But the Indian girl did not spend all of her time in such heroic deeds as this, nor in dreaming of the pale-faced Caucarouse. She was usually the merry, care-free child of the forest and daily led her mates in sport and dance. Once when the Captain went to Werewocomoco to confer with Powhatan on matters concerning neighboring tribes, and found the great Chief away from home, Pocahontas did the honors of the village in her father's place. After sending an Indian runner to request the old ruler to return, she invited Smith and his companions to be seated in an open space before the huge fire which had been built for their benefit.

There, with the clear starlit sky over their heads, and the forest on all sides, they awaited the pleasure of their dusky hostess. But she remained away from them for so long that they grew uneasy, fearing some plot against them. While the Captain was wondering what to do in case of treachery, the woods suddenly resounded with wild shrieks and hideous yells. All jumped to their feet, but stepped back at sight of Pocahontas, who darted from the woods to the Captain's side and said that there was nothing to fear, that she would not allow a hair of the white men's heads to be injured, but had merely arranged a masquerade to amuse her guests while they awaited Powhatan's coming. Then she flitted back into the forest, and presently she danced out, leading a band of thirty young Indian girls, whose bodies were all stained with puccoon and painted with gay colors, while such garments as they wore were made of brilliant green leaves. "Pocahontas, as leader, wore a head-dress of buck's horns and girdle of otter-skin; across her shoulder was slung a quiver filled with arrows, and she carried a bow. Her companions all carried rattles made of dried gourds, or clubs, or wooden swords as they rushed out of the forest yelling and swaying to weird music while they formed a ring around the fire. There they joined hands and kept on dancing and singing in a weird, fantastic way for an hour, when at a whoop from their leader they all ran into the forest, but soon came back in their ordinary Indian dress, to spread a feast before the white men and spend the remainder of the evening in dancing and revels, after which, by the light of flaming torches, they escorted their guests to their tents for the night."

The next morning Powhatan came back, and was told Captain Smith's errand. He had come to invite the old Werowance to visit Jamestown, to receive gifts which Captain Newport, a colonist who had just come back from England, had brought from King James. The King had been much interested in what Newport told him about the Indian ruler, and thought it would be a fine idea to send him back some presents, also a crown, which he suggested might be placed on the savage's head with the ceremonies of a coronation, and the robe thrown over his shoulders, while he was proclaimed Emperor of his own domains. This ceremony, King James thought, might bring about a warmer friendship between the red men and the colonists,—a result much to be desired. And so Captain Smith gave the invitation while Pocahontas, never far away when her Caucarouse was at Werewocomoco, listened eagerly for her father's reply.

Powhatan received the invitation in silence and smoked a long time before answering. Then he said:

"If your King has sent me presents, I also am a King, and this is my land. Eight days will I stay to receive them. Your father (Newport) is to come to me, not I to him, nor yet to your fort."

Wily Powhatan! He had no intention of visiting the white men's stronghold, when by so doing he might walk into some trap they had laid for him!

And so Pocahontas was disappointed in her eager hope of going with her father to the settlement where her white friends lived, and where she could see her wonderful Captain daily. But there was no help for it. Powhatan resisted both her pleading and the arguments of the Captain, who was obliged to carry back the old Werowance's refusal to Captain Newport.

"Then we will take the gifts to him!" said Newport, stoutly. "The King would never forgive me if I did not carry out his wish."

And so to Werewocomoco went the two Captains together, bearing their offerings to Powhatan, who received them with dignity, and showed a mild interest when presented with a bedstead and a basin and pitcher such as the English used. But when Captain Smith tried to throw the coronation robe over his shoulders he drew away haughtily, wrapped his own mantle around him, and refused to listen to argument or entreaty. Namontack hastily assured him that the garments were like those worn by the English and would do him no harm, and Pocahontas, seeing the Captain's eagerness to accomplish his end, and also keenly interested in this new game, begged her father to accept the beautiful gifts. Her words influenced the old ruler, and, standing as stiff and straight as a wooden image, he let himself be dressed up in the garb of English royalty. Then he was told to kneel while the crown was placed on his head, but this was too much for even Pocahontas to expect of him. He folded his arms and stood like a pine-tree. In vain Pocahontas urged, in vain the two white men bent and bowed and knelt before him to show him what he ought to do.

At last Captain Smith grew impatient and laid a powerful hand on the Werowance's broad shoulders; unconsciously he stooped. The crown was hurriedly placed on his head, and a volley of shots was fired to show that the ceremony was over. At the shots Powhatan sprang free like a wild creature, sure that he had been trapped, and Captain Smith appealed to Pocahontas to explain to her terrified father that the firing was only part of the program. Meanwhile both Captains bowed ceremoniously before the savage ruler, calling him by his new title—Emperor—and finally soothed and reassured, he stood as erect and dignified as of old, and beckoning majestically to Namontack, bade him bring his old moccasins and mantle to send to King James in return for the crown and robe!

Much amused, Captain Newport thanked him and received the gift, but told him that more than moccasins or mantles, the Englishmen desired his aid in attacking a neighboring and hostile tribe. In this desire, however, Powhatan showed no interest, and the two Captains were obliged to leave Werewocomoco without his co-operation, which would have been of much benefit in subduing the unfriendly tribe. But the coronation ceremony had been accomplished; that was one thing for which to be thankful and Captain Newport had for the first time seen the charming Indian girl who had become such an ally of the settlers, so he felt well repaid for the visit, although to him Pocahontas showed none of the spontaneous sympathy which she gave so joyously to Captain Smith.

And now again came winter and with it privation and hunger for the colonists. Corn must be procured. There was only one man stout-hearted enough to venture on another expedition in search of it, and that was Captain Smith. He decided to go to Werewocomoco once more, and if he found the new-made Emperor rebellious, to promptly make him prisoner and carry away his stores of corn by force.

While the Captain and his men were making ready to start on the expedition, to their great surprise messengers arrived from Powhatan inviting Captain Smith to visit Werewocomoco again if he would bring with him men to build a house and give the Emperor a grindstone, fifty swords, some firearms, a hen and rooster, and much beads and copper, for which he would be given corn.

Immediately forty-six Englishmen set out on a snowy December day, in two barges and a pinnace, for Werewocomoco. The first night they spent at the Indian village of Warrasqueake, where a friendly chief warned Captain Smith not to go further.

"You shall find Powhatan to use you kindly," he said, "but trust him not, and be sure he have no opportunity to seize on your arms, for he hath sent for you only to cut your throats."

On hearing these words many of his comrades would have turned back, but the Captain spoke to them in such courageous words that in spite of the warning all continued on their way.

While they were journeying on toward their destination, Pocahontas, at Werewocomoco, was daily with her father, watching him with alert ears and eyes, for she saw that the old ruler was brooding over some matter of grave import, and she drew her own inference. Only when planning to wage war on an alien tribe or plotting against the Jamestown settlers did he so mope and muse and fail to respond to her overtures. Late one evening, when she saw two of his loyal warriors steal to his side, in order to hear their conversation better she climbed a near-by tree and listened to their muttered words. Her suspicions were confirmed. There was need of her intervention again. From that moment until she had foiled Powhatan's design, she was on guard day and night watching and waiting for the coming of the Englishmen, often lying sleepless in her wigwam to listen for some unwonted noise in the hushed forest.

When the party from Jamestown reached the Indian village the river was frozen over for a half-mile from shore. With his usual impetuous courage the Captain broke the ice by jumping into the frozen stream, and swam ashore, followed by the others, who were ashamed to be less courageous than he. It was nearly night, and they took possession of a deserted wigwam in the woods near the shore and sent word to Powhatan that they were in immediate need of food, as their journey had been a long one, and asked if he would not send provisions at once. In response an Indian runner came to their wigwam bearing bread, turkeys, and venison, much to the delight of the half-starved colonists. Refreshed by a good meal, they slept heavily in the still forest, and early the next morning went to pay their respects to Powhatan, who was in his "Chief Place of Council" awaiting their visit in his gala robe of luxurious skins and elaborate feather head-dress. His greeting was courteous, but he at once turned to Captain Smith and asked:

"When are you going away? I did not invite you to come."

Although taken by surprise, quick-witted Captain Smith did not show his feelings, but pointing to a group of Indian warriors standing near, he said:

"There are the very men who came to Jamestown to invite us here!"

At this Powhatan gave a guttural laugh and changed the subject at once, by asking to see the articles which Captain Smith had brought for exchange. Then began a long and hot discussion in which neither the Captain nor the wily Emperor gained a point. Powhatan refused to trade unless the white men left their firearms on their barges and would barter corn only for the coveted articles. Captain Smith would not accede to his demands even to get the much-needed corn, and was on his guard because of the warning he had received, knowing that Powhatan was only waiting for the right moment to kill him.

The debate went on for hours, during which there had been only one trade made when Smith exchanged a copper kettle for forty bushels of corn. Annoyed at this, he determined to take matters into his own hand. Beckoning to some friendly Indians, he asked them to go to the river bank and signal to his men on the barges to come ashore with baskets to take back the corn for which he had traded the kettle. Meanwhile he kept up a brisk conversation with the old Werowance to divert his attention, assuring him that on the next day he and his men would leave their firearms on the ships, trusting to Powhatan's promise that no harm should come to them.

Powhatan was too clever to be fooled by any such delightful promise; he knew the quick-witted Captain was probably playing the same game that he was, and feared lest the white man should be quicker than he at it. He slyly whispered a command to a young warrior, and at a sign from him two gaily decorated squaws darted forward and, squatting at the feet of the Captain, began to sing tribal songs to the beating of drums and shaking of rattles, and while they sang Powhatan silently drew his fur robe about him and stole away to a forest retreat long prepared for an hour of danger. Before him went a supply of provisions, and with him some women and children, but not Pocahontas. Meeting her father in his hasty flight, she listened to his request that she go with him, but with a laughing gesture of refusal she fled through the woods to the place where the white men were grouped. The old Chief's power over his daughter had been greatly weakened by the coming of the colonists to Jamestown, and who knows what a fire of envy that may have kindled in his heart?

As soon as the Emperor reached his hiding-place, he sent an old Sachem in war paint and feathers back to Captain Smith, bearing a valuable bracelet as an offering, and saying that his chief had fled because he feared the white man's weapons, but if they could be laid aside, he, Powhatan, would return to give the colonists an abundance of corn. Captain Smith, with arms folded and flashing eyes, refused the bracelet and the request, and the Sachem went back to carry the news to Powhatan.

Pocahontas had watched the interview with breathless interest, and when she saw the old warrior turn away, and knew that Captain Smith had foiled her father's intent, she knew that the brave Caucarouse was in great danger. That night, while all the Englishmen except their leader were out hunting, the Captain sat alone in his wigwam musing on ways and means to gain his end. There was a sound in the still forest—a crackling of underbrush—he roused at a light touch on his arm. Pocahontas stood by his side, alone in the darkness; swiftly she whispered her message and he understood its gravity only too well.

"My father is going to send you food, and, if you eat it, you will die," she said. "It is not safe for you to stay here any longer. Oh, go! I beg you, go!"

She was shivering in her fear for his safety, and the Captain was deeply moved by her emotion. Raising her hand to his lips in his wonted fashion, he thanked her and offered her the choicest beads in his store for a remembrance, but she would not accept them!

"He would want to know where I got them, and then he would kill me, too," she said, and vanished as silently and swiftly as she had come.

As she had reported, soon there came warriors from Powhatan bearing huge vessels filled with food, smoking hot. The Chief had returned to Werewocomoco, they said, and wished to show his good-will to the white men. Would they partake of a feast which he had sent?

They set down their burden of tempting food, and the Captain's eyes gleamed; with a profound bow he thanked Powhatan for his courtesy, but he said:

"When we English make a feast for any one, we ourselves first taste each dish before we offer it to our guests. If you would have me eat what you have brought, you must first taste of each dish yourselves."

His manner was defiant as he stood waiting for them to accept his challenge, and, seeing they made no move to touch what they had brought, he said, still more defiantly:

"Tell your Chief to come on and attack us. We are ready for you!"

So soldierly was he, that the frightened Indians turned and fled, while the colonists hastily threw away the food Powhatan had sent. The old ruler had again been checkmated by his daughter's loyalty to the white men and the Captain's courage.

Early the next morning, when the tide was right, the white men were able to leave Werewocomoco, and all on board the barges drew sighs of relief as they sailed away from the Emperor's stronghold.

While they had been absent from Jamestown a party had set out for a neighboring island, but a great storm having come up, their boat had been swamped and all on board drowned. As they were the men who had been left in charge of the colony during Smith's absence, it was necessary to send him word immediately, and one of the survivors, Richard Wyffin, was sent on the errand. When he arrived at Werewocomoco the colonists had left, and Powhatan was in a sullen fury against them for having outwitted him. Wyffin's life was in danger, and he must escape as quickly as possible. Pocahontas hurried to his rescue and at a moment when there were no Indians to see, she took him to a forest hiding-place where he could safely spend the night. Later, under cover of the darkness, she crept to the spot, awakened him and led him to the edge of the woods, directing him to take the opposite trail from that on which her father's braves were watching to capture him. And so he escaped and joined the other colonists at Pamunkey, where they had gone from Werewocomoco, Captain Smith being determined either to get corn from Opechancanough or to burn his storehouses, for he, like Powhatan, had promised to trade with the white men. But he proved treacherous, too, and Captain Smith, exasperated and desperate, sprang on him and "in a fierce encounter nearly knocked the breath out of his huge body, then jammed him up against the wall, placed the muzzle of his gun at his breast, and, seizing him by his scalp-lock, dragged him out into full view of his assembled subjects and gave him the alternative—

"'Your corn or your life!'

"Under the circumstances Opechancanough promptly decided to give the corn, and with a ship full of the much-needed provisions the settlers sailed triumphantly back to Jamestown."

When this was reported to Powhatan it greatly increased his respect for the pale-faced Caucarouse, but he was still enraged at the failure of his plan to kill him, and he commanded his warriors to capture him as soon as possible; but meanwhile events occurred which worked for the Captain's good. A Chickahominy Indian had stolen various articles from the settlers, among them a pistol. He escaped, but his two brothers, who were known to be his accomplices, were captured and one held in the Jamestown fort, while the other was told to go for the pistol, and if he did not return with it in twelve hours his brother would be hung. Away went the Indian—while the Captain took pity on the poor naked wretch imprisoned in the cold cell and sent him some food and charcoal for a fire—the fumes from which suffocated him. When his brother came back with the pistol he lay senseless on the ground. Captain Smith at once hurried to the spot and worked so hard to revive him that he recovered, and the next morning was well enough to leave the fort with his brother, both of them having been given substantial presents of copper. The story was told among the tribe as a miracle, and the belief became current that to his other virtues the brave Captain added that of being able to raise men from the dead. Then one of Powhatan's warriors secretly secured a bag of gunpowder and pretended that he could use it as the English did. His dusky comrades crowded around to watch him manage the strange article, but in some way it caught fire, and blew him, with one or two more, to death. This happening so awed and terrified those Indians who saw the accident that they began to be superstitious about the knowledge of the settlers, who could make such powerful things obey their will. It was better to be a friend than foe of the white man, so even Powhatan concluded, and warriors from all the neighboring tribes came to Jamestown bringing presents, also stolen articles, and begging for friendly relations instead of attempting to capture Captain Smith.

Then came an event which forever changed the life of Pocahontas, the Captain's staunch admirer. He, after having adventured up the James River to visit a struggling colony there, was sailing down the river feeling weary and discouraged, as he had many enemies working against him at Jamestown, and was so disheartened that he determined to leave Virginia forever. As he lay musing and trying to sleep in the stern of the ship, a bag of gunpowder exploded, wounding him so badly that he leaped into the water to cool the burning agony of his flesh. He was rescued and the ship sailed for Jamestown with all possible haste. His wounds were dressed, but he was in a dangerous condition and there was no skilled surgeon to care for him, so his plight was pitiable. An Indian carried the sad news to Pocahontas, who at once deserted her comrades for solitary brooding in the forest. Then she took the long wood trail to Jamestown. Hours later one of the settlers found her standing outside the stockade, peering through the cracks between the logs as though it were some comfort to see into the village where her Captain lay—that Captain who held her heart in his keeping. She would have stood there less quietly had she known that an enemy of his had stolen into his cabin and at that very moment was holding a pistol to the wounded man's bosom, trying to nerve himself to do a deed he had been bribed to do! But his courage failed, his hand dropped, and he crept out into the silent night, leaving the wounded man unharmed. While Pocahontas stood on tiptoe outside the stockade, straining her eager eyes for a glimpse of the Captain's cabin, there were footsteps beside her—a hand was laid on her shoulder, and a voice asked:

"Why are you here at such an hour, Pocahontas?"

It was one of the colonists who was Captain Smith's loyal friend. Pocahontas turned to him, gripping her slender hands together in an agony of appeal.

"He is not dead?" she asked. The man shook his head and a glad light flashed into the girl's eyes.

"He has many enemies," she said. "Can you do nothing to nurse him back to health?"

Tears stood in her black eyes, and her appeal would have softened a heart less interested in the Captain's welfare than was her hearer's. Promising to watch over the brave Captain and care for him as his own kin, the white man soothed and comforted Pocahontas, and at last induced her to leave her place at the fort and go back to Werewocomoco, and never did the Captain know of her long vigil for his sake that night.

Reaching the Indian village without her absence having been discovered, she went about her daily routine of work and play as if nothing had happened, but every sound in the still forest caused her heart to beat fast, and she was always listening for an approaching footstep bringing news of her beloved. Then a warrior brought the tidings—Captain Smith was dead. Dead! She could not, would not believe it! Dead! He who was so full of life and vigor was not dead—that was too absurd. And yet even as she reasoned with herself, she accepted the fact without question with the immobility of her race; and no one guessed the depth of her wound, even though all the tribe had known of her devotion to the pale-faced Caucarouse whose life she had saved.

From that day she went no more to Jamestown, nor asked for news of the settlers, and soon the gay voice and the laughing eyes of the "little romp" were missing, too, from Werewocomoco. Pocahontas could not bear the sights and sounds of that village whose every tree and trail was dear to her because of its association with her Captain. She had relatives among the Potomacks, and to them she went for a long visit, where in different surroundings she could more easily bear the loneliness which overpowered her, child of a savage and unemotional race though she was. It may have been also that Powhatan was beginning to distrust her friendship with the white men. At all events, she, who was fast blossoming into the most perfect womanhood of her race, remained away from home for many months. Had she dreamed that Captain Smith was not dead, but had sailed for England that he might have proper care for his injury, and also because of the increasing enmity against him in the colony, she would have gone about her work and play with a lighter heart. But she thought him dead, and in the mystic faith of her people saw him living in every tree and cloud and blossoming thing.

Powhatan had respected Captain Smith, but for the white men as a race he had more enmity than liking, and now he and his neighbors, the Chickahominies, again refused to send any provisions to Jamestown, and again the colonists faced a famine. Captain Argall, in command of an English ship, suggested once more going to Werewocomoco to force Powhatan into giving them corn, and soon sailed up the Potomac toward the Indian village. One night on the way up, while the ship lay at anchor near shore, an Indian came aboard with the news that the Emperor's dearest daughter, Pocahontas, was staying among the Potomacks visiting a chief named Japazaws. The unscrupulous Captain had an idea. If he could capture Pocahontas and hold her for a ransom he would surely be able to gain anything he demanded from Powhatan. No thought of the kindness and loyalty of the Indian maiden to the white man interfered with his scheming. Corn he must have, and here was a way to obtain it. He quickly arranged with the Indian for an interview with the Chief Japazaws, who proved to be quite as unscrupulous as Captain Argall, and for a copper kettle promised to deliver Pocahontas into the Captain's hands—in fact, to bring her aboard his vessel on the following day.

Having taken his wife into his confidence, Japazaws told her in the presence of Pocahontas that the white Captain had invited her to visit his ship. She retorted that she would like to accept, but would not go unless Pocahontas would go too. Japazaws pretended to be very angry at this:—

"I wish you to go," he exclaimed; "if you do not accept I will beat you until you do."

But the squaw was firm.

"I will not go without Pocahontas," she declared.

Pocahontas was very kind-hearted, as the chief and his wife knew, so at once she said:

"Stop beating her; I will do as she wishes!"

Captain Argall gave them a cordial greeting and had a lavish feast prepared in their honor, and while they were talking together he asked Pocahontas if she would not like to see the gun-room. She assented, entirely unsuspicious of any treachery, and was horrified when she heard the door fastened behind her, and knew that for some reason she was a prisoner. Terror-stricken,—brave girl though she was,—she pounded violently on the door and cried as she had never cried before in all her care-free life, begging "Let me out!" but in vain. She could hear Japazaws and his wife weeping even more violently than she on the other side of the door, and begging for her release, but it was only a pretense. The door remained locked, and as soon as the couple were given the copper kettle and a few trinkets, they left the ship contentedly. After that there was an ominous silence on the vessel, except for the sobbing of the Indian girl, who was still more frightened as she felt the motion of the ship and knew they were getting under way.

But as they sailed down the river to Jamestown, the captain unlocked the door and the girl was allowed to come out of her prison. She faced him with a passionate question:

"What wrong have I done that I should be so treated—I who have been always the loyal friend of the English?"

So noble was she in her youth and innocence, that the captain was horrified at the deed he had done and could do no less than tell her the truth. He assured her that she had done no wrong, that he well knew that she was the white man's friend, and that no harm should befall her, but that it was necessary to take firm measures to secure provisions for the starving colonists. Hearing this, she was less frightened and became quiet, if not in spirit, at least in manner, giving no cause for trouble as they entered the harbor. But her heart was filled with sadness when she again saw that fort to which she had so often gone with aid for her vanished friend whose name now never passed her lips.

Indian girls mature rapidly, and the maiden who had first attracted Captain Smith's attention was no less lovely now, but she was in the full flower of womanliness and her charm and dignity of carriage compelled respect from all.

Powhatan was in his Place of Council when a messenger from Jamestown demanded audience with him and gave his message in quick, jerky sentences:

"Your daughter Pocahontas has been taken captive by the Englishmen," he said. "She will be held until you send back to Jamestown all the guns, tools, and men stolen from them by your warriors."

The old chief, terrified, grief-stricken, and in a dilemma, knew not what to say, for though he loved his daughter, he was determined to keep the firearms taken from the English. For a long time he was deep in thought. Finally he replied:

"The white men will not harm my child, who was their very good friend. They know my wrath will fall on them if they harm a hair of her head. Let her remain with them until I shall have made my decision."

Not another word would he say, but strode out from the Council Hall and was lost in the forest.

Three months went by without the Englishmen receiving a word from him, and Pocahontas meanwhile became their inspiration and joy, giving no sign that she feared her captors or objected to her captivity. Then Powhatan sent seven white men who had been held by the Indians to the settlement, carrying a gun which had been spoiled for use. Their leader brought this message from the Indian Emperor:

"If you will send back my daughter I will send you five hundred bushels of corn and be your friend forever. I have no more guns to return, as the remainder have been lost."

Prompt was the retort:

"Tell your Chief that his daughter will not be restored to him until our demand has been complied with. We do not believe that the guns have been lost."

The runner took back the message, and again nothing more was heard from Powhatan for several months, during which time the colonists became so deeply attached to the young captive that they dreaded to think of the settlement without her cheery presence. Especially did John Rolfe, a young widower, who was by report "an English gentleman of approved behavior and honest carriage," feel a special interest in the charming young savage; in fact he fell in love with her, but felt that he must convert her to the Christian religion before asking her to become his wife. So he devoted much time to instructing her in the doctrines of the white man's faith. Pocahontas accepted the new religion eagerly, and little did John Rolfe guess that to her it was the religion of Captain John Smith,—a new tie binding her to the man who she believed had gone forever beyond her sight, but who would be forever dearest to her loyal heart, untutored girl of the forest though she was. It is doubtful, too, whether John Rolfe would ever have made any headway in her affection had she not believed her beloved Captain to be dead. However that may have been, she became a convert to Christianity, and John Rolfe asked her to marry him.

When almost a year had gone by with no word from Powhatan, the colonists were very angry and decided to force the issue. A party in command of Sir Thomas Dale, who had come from England to be the leader of the Jamestown settlement, sailed for Werewocomoco, taking Pocahontas with them, hoping that when Powhatan heard of the presence of his dearest daughter at his very door he would relent and yield to their demands.

But Powhatan was not at Werewocomoco. Anticipating just such a visit, he was in a safe retreat, and his warriors who thronged to the river bank to meet the white men at once attacked them, and there was lively skirmishing until two brothers of Pocahontas heard of her arrival. Hurrying to the river bank, they quelled the turmoil and hastily paddled out to the ship, where they were soon standing beside their sister, seeing with joy that despite her captivity she was well and happy, with the same merry light in her black eyes as she had in her forest days. Their feeling deepened into awe when with downcast eyes and flushed [Pg 31] cheeks she told them of John Rolfe's love for her and of her attachment for him. Their sister girl of the forest, kin of the red men,—going to marry an Englishman from that marvelous land across the sea, of which one of their tribe who had visited it had brought back the report: "Count the stars in the sky, the leaves on the trees, and the sand upon the seashore—such is the number of the people of England!" Pocahontas, their little sister, going to marry an Englishman!—the stalwart Indian boys could scarcely believe the tale, and on leaving the ship they hurried to their father's forest retreat to tell their wondrous tale. The old Chief listened with inscrutable reserve, but his eyes gleamed with exultation and in his heart he rejoiced. His daughter, child of an Indian Werowance, to become wife of a white man,—the two races to be united? Surely this would be a greater advantage than all the firearms that could be bought or stolen!

But if he expected that the breach between the white men and the red would be at once healed, he was mistaken. Although Pocahontas greeted her brothers so cordially, she would have nothing to do with her father or any of his braves, and when Powhatan desired to see her she sent back the imperious message:

"Tell him if he had loved his daughter he would not have valued her less than old swords, pieces, and axes; wherefore will I still dwell with the Englishmen who love me!"

And back to Jamestown she presently sailed with those men of the race to which she had been loyal even in her captivity.

That Powhatan did not resent her refusal to see him after his long silence, but probably admired her for her determination, was soon shown. Ten days after the party reached Jamestown an Indian warrior, Opachisco, uncle of Pocahontas, and two of her brothers, arrived there, sent by Powhatan to show his approval of his daughter's alliance with an Englishman, although nothing would have induced him to visit the white man's settlement himself, even to witness the marriage of his dearest daughter.

Having become a convert to the white man's faith, Pocahontas was baptized according to the ritual of the Christian church, taking the name of Rebecca, and as she was the daughter of an Emperor, she was afterwards called "Lady Rebecca;" but to those who had known her in childhood she would ever be Pocahontas, the "little romp."

And now the Indian maiden, who by her loyalty to the white race had changed the course of her life, was about to merge her identity in that of the colonists:—

"On a balmy April day, with sunshine streaming through the open windows of the Jamestown chapel, the rude place of worship was filled to overflowing with colonists, all eagerly interested in the wedding of John Rolfe with the dusky princess who was the first Christian Indian in Virginia."

The rustic chapel had been decorated with woodland blossoms, and its windows garlanded with vines. Its columns were pine-trees cut from the forest, its rude pews of sweet-smelling cedar, and its simple Communion table covered with bread made from wheat grown in neighboring fields, and with wine from the luscious wild grapes picked in near-by woods.

There, in the beauty and fragrance of the spring day, up the aisle of the chapel passed the young Indian bride on the arm of John Rolfe, who looked every inch an English gentleman in his cavalier's costume. And very lovely was the new-made Lady Rebecca in her gown of white muslin with its richly embroidered over-dress given by Sir Thomas Dale. Her head-dress of birds' plumage was banded across her forehead, Indian fashion, with a jeweled fillet, which also caught her floating veil, worn in the English way, which emphasized her dark beauty. On her wrists gleamed many bracelets, and in her deep eyes was the look of one who glimpses the future and fears it not.

Slowly they advanced up the aisle, and halted before the altar, a picturesque procession; the grave, dignified Englishman, who now and again cast adoring glances at his girlish bride, of an alien forest race; the old Chief of a savage tribe, in his gay ceremonial trappings and head-dress; the two stalwart, bronzed young braves, keenly interested in this great event in their sister's life, all in a strange commingling of Old World and New, auguring good for the future of both Indians and colonists.

The minister of the colony repeated the simple service, and Lady Rebecca, in her pretty but imperfect English, repeated her marriage vows and accepted the wedding-ring of civilized races as calmly as if she had not been by birth a free forest creature. Then, the service ended, down the aisle, in the flickering sunlight, passed the procession, and there at the chapel door, surrounded by the great forest trees which had been her lifelong comrades, and with the wide sky spreading over her in blue benediction, we have a last glimpse of the "little romp," for Pocahontas, the Indian maiden, had become Lady Rebecca, wife of John Rolfe, the Englishman.

Three years later Pocahontas, for so we still find it in our hearts to call her, visited England with her husband and little son Thomas, to see with her own eyes that land across the sea where her husband had been brought up, and of which she had heard such wonderful tales. One can well imagine the wonder of the girl of the forest when she found herself out of sight of land, on the uncharted ocean of which she had only skirted the shores before, and many a night she stole from her cabin during that long voyage to watch the mysterious sea in its majestic swell, and the star-sown heavens, as the ship moved slowly on to its destination.

London, too, was a revelation to her with its big buildings, its surging crowds of white men, its marks of civilization everywhere, and, girl of the outdoors that she had ever been, her presentation at Court, with all that went before and after of the frivolities and conventionalities of city life, must have been a still greater marvel to her. But the greatest surprise of all awaited her. One day at a public reception a new-comer was announced, and without warning she found herself face to face with that Captain of her heart's youthful devotion! There was a moment's silence, a strained expression in the young wife's dark eyes, then Captain John Smith bent over the hand of John Rolfe's wife with the courtly deference he had given in Virginian days to the little Indian girl who was his loyal friend.

"They told me you were dead!"

It was Pocahontas who with quivering lips broke the silence, then without waiting for a reply she left the room and was not seen for hours. When she again met and talked with the brave Captain, she was as composed as usual, and no one could say how deeply her heart was touched to see again the friend of her girlhood days. Perhaps the unexpected sight of him brought with it a wave of home-sickness for the land of her birth and days of care-free happiness, perhaps she felt a stab of pain that the man to whom she had given so much had not sent her a message on leaving the country, but had let her believe the rumor of his death—perhaps the heart of Pocahontas was still loyal to her first love, devoted wife and mother though she was. Whatever may have been the truth, Lady Rebecca was proud and calm in the presence of the Captain after that first moment, and had many conversations with him which increased his admiration for the gracious forest Princess, now a lady of distinction in his own land.

The climate of England did not agree with Pocahontas, her health failed rapidly, and in the hope that a return to Virginia would save her life, her husband took passage for home. But it was too late; after a sickness of only a few hours, she died, and John Rolfe was left without the vivid presence which had been his blessing and his joy.

Pocahontas was buried at Gravesend on the 21st of March, 1617, and as night fell, and John Rolfe tossed on a bed of anguished memories, it is said that a man muffled in a great cloak stole through the darkness and knelt beside the new-made grave with bowed head and clasped hands.

It was Captain Smith who came to offer reverent tribute to the girl who had given him so much, asking nothing in return, a girl of savage lineage, yet of noble character and great charm, whose blossoming into the flower of civilization had no parallel. Alone there, in the somber night, the silent figure knelt—the brave Captain of her loyal devotion paying tardy homage to Pocahontas, the girl of the Virginia forest, the white man's steadfast friend.

Pocahontas: The Indian Girl of the Virginia Forest was featured as The Short Story of the Day on Sun, Mar 21, 2021

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