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The Men Who Found America by  Frederick Winthrop Hutchinson


 

 

THE LITTLE RED PRINCESS OF THE FOREST

[104] THIS is the story of a princess—not a fairy princess with golden locks and long, silken gowns, but a real princess. You  might have called her a savage if you had seen her running barefooted about in the forest, because she was just a little, black-haired Indian girl, who played with other little Indians in the woods of Virginia. Yet this little girl was a princess and her father was a king.

Now, the name of this princess was Pocahontas. It is a large name for such a little girl; and yet, though it is three hundred years since she lived, no one has forgotten her name. No one has forgotten the story of the beautiful red princess who lived in Virginia, and this is the reason why:

In those days Virginia was very different from what it is to-day. There were no cities, and railroads, and houses, and street cars; no theatres, or parks, or schools. There were no white people there at all. It was all a wild country, [105] with great rivers, and forests where no roads led, and all the people—the men and women, the little boys and girls, even the tiny, dear little babies—were Indians.

Well, as the years went on, little Pocahontas had her twelfth birthday. She was so beautiful, and so very good and kind, that all the Indians loved her. The women embroidered her skirts with bright-colored porcupine quills, and with feathers and beads, and the men brought her presents of beautiful birds and little gray squirrels which they trapped in the forest. But the King, her father, loved her most. Whenever he came back from a journey, his first question was always, "Where is Pocahontas?" And then he patted her on the head and gave her some shells which the Indians used for money. There was nothing in the world that the King would not do for his little daughter.

Now, Pocahontas had never seen a white man. She thought that all men were red like her father and the other brave Indians with whom she lived. You see, there never had been any white men in her part of the country. The brave, cruel Spaniards had gone to Cuba and Florida and Mexico and countries to the south, [106] and the French explorers, who were very brave too, had gone north to Canada and to the great St. Lawrence River. The English, to be sure, had sent men to Virginia, but they had only looked around the coast and had not gone into the forest. So Pocahontas and her father, King Powhatan, had never seen a white man in all their lives.

But one day the soldiers of the King brought into the village a prisoner, whose hands and feet were tied with thongs. This prisoner was a tall man, with light hair and blue eyes, and, what was even more wonderful, with skin as white as milk. The Indians shook their tomahawks in front of his face, and made a motion with their long knives as though they were going to cut off his head, but the man only laughed and he did not show any fear. Now, the Indians like a brave man, and when their prisoner laughed at their knives, they thought he must be a very brave man indeed. And little Pocahontas, who was watching from the door of her father's wigwam, which is the Indian name for a little tent, thought him brave too. She liked this white man, who was not afraid of the tomahawks of the bravest warriors, and she was sorry when she [107] saw how the thongs of deer-skin, with which he was bound, cut into his white skin; so she asked her father to have the Indians unbind their prisoner, and this they did.

Now, the name of this white man who laughed at the tomahawks was Captain John Smith. He was one of the bravest of all the brave Englishmen who came to America so long ago. He had been a soldier in England, and when he was very young had gone to fight against the Turks, who were making war on the Christians. The young John Smith was so very brave in this war that when the English wanted men to win the new country of Virginia for their good King James, they chose him for their captain.

I do not think that anybody ever had more trouble or ran into more danger than did this brave gentleman. It was not easy to cross the ocean in those days. The little sail-boats were often wrecked, and then there were cruel pirates who would catch sailors and throw them into the sea. And even when John Smith and his little band of men sailed up the James River in Virginia, and made the new city of Jamestown, their troubles were not over. They did not have enough to eat, and it was hard to get any food [108] from the unfriendly Indians. Besides, the men who had come with Captain Smith were not used to work. They wanted to find gold and silver and become rich right away, and they did not want to plant corn, and build houses, and barns, and forts.

So you may well believe that Captain Smith had enough trouble. When his people did not have food and were hungry, and when some of them fell sick and died, as they did, then they all complained. They even cried to go home to England. They had much trouble with the Indians, too; and at last, as I told you before, Captain John Smith and some of his men were captured, and Smith was bound and taken to King Powhatan's village. So you can well believe that poor John Smith was very happy when, to please Pocahontas, the King ordered him to be untied.

Now, the Indians were curious to know all about the white men. They spent long hours in front of their wigwams listening to the strange stories of Captain Smith. He wrote a few words on a sheet of paper, and when the Indians saw how the white men in Jamestown could read these little black marks on the paper, [109] they were filled with wonder, for the Indians had no schools, and could not read or write. "It is strange," they said, "our prisoner can talk to a man a hundred miles away. He must be a great chief and a friend of the gods." Then Captain Smith showed the Indians his compass. He told them that with this little needle he could never be lost in the forest; even where the woods were dense, he could find his way back to the camp-fire. Now, you and I know that the needle of a compass points always to the north; but the Indians did not know this, and they thought it was magic that told Captain John Smith the way. So they grew afraid of this white man; but Pocahontas was not afraid.

The days passed, till one morning the King, Powhatan, called his warriors together to see what they wished to do with their captive. They all sat around a great camp-fire, and each man smoked his long pipe. Pocahontas was not there, because no woman was allowed at these meetings; but you may be sure that she was very anxious to hear what they would do with the white man. After a while, one of the Indian chiefs—he was a very old man, with a great scar running across his forehead—spoke:

[110] "I know it is the custom of our tribe, oh, King Powhatan, to kill the men who are taken in battle; but this man is not like other men. He is brave; he can talk to his friends a hundred miles away; he speaks with magic to the stars. So I say send him back to his people."

When the man with the scar had finished speaking, there was a low murmur, which showed that many of the Indians were pleased. But there were others who did not like Captain Smith and were afraid to keep him alive. A little old man, who was very thin, and had a very squeaky voice, arose and spoke:

"Oh, King Powhatan, it is not safe to let this man live. He is the friend of the devils, or how else could he talk with the stars, or by little marks speak to his friends a hundred miles away? Besides, it is the custom of our tribe that we kill all prisoners. Therefore, I say, oh, King, let the white man die."

And so it was agreed. I think that in his heart the good King Powhatan would have liked to save Captain Smith, but he would not go against the wishes of his chiefs. You may well believe that Pocahontas was very sad when she heard that her friend must die. During the [111] long summer days, when he had been a prisoner in the village, she had grown very fond of him. He had told her wonderful stories of England, the great country across the sea, and of the little white boys and girls who lived there, and of the schools they went to and the games they played; and now the man who had been so kind to her must die a cruel death, far from the country he loved.

All day she walked in the forest, trying to think of some plan by which she could save his life; but when night came and she returned sadly to camp, she had not yet thought of a plan. Now, as she neared the village, she met a young brave dressed in his war-paint. "Hurry, oh Princess," he said, "for the white man is to die at sundown."

Poor Pocahontas! She ran even faster than the young brave, and reached her father's wigwam just in time to see John Smith, bound hand and foot, stretched on the ground, his head resting on a big, flat stone. All the Indians made way for the Princess as she pushed her way to the front, and then, as a warrior raised a great club to dash out the Englishman's brains, she fell on her knees and threw her arms around [112] his neck. If the club fell on Captain Smith, it must kill her too. From her knees she begged her father, the King, to give to her the life of the white man.

Powhatan and all the Indian chiefs loved a brave act. They looked at the little girl kneeling before them, ready to die to save her white friend. So the King said, "Let the white man go free." And the Indians all grunted, which meant that they, too, were really glad.

So John Smith rose from the ground a free man, and was sent with twelve Indians back to Jamestown. But this was not the only time that the little Red Princess saved the life of her friend. The Jamestown settlement was in danger of attacks by bad Indians, and more than once Pocahontas came through the great forest at night to warn Captain Smith that his enemies were coming. Then, too, she asked her father, the King, to give corn to the English, and often the little village would have starved but for the Little Red Princess of the Forest, who sent them corn.

One day, when Pocahontas came to Jamestown, she found that Captain Smith had gone back to England to be cured of a wound. This [113] made her very sad, but she still went often to Jamestown to hear news of her friend. At last one day she was told that he was dead. After that the Little Red Princess stayed in the forest. She did not go then very often to the English village, though she still sent presents of corn to the white people.

But John Smith was not dead, and Pocahontas was to meet her good friend once more. Not in the great, silent forests was she to see him, nor yet in the little city of Jamestown, but in England, far across the sea. And this is how the Little Red Princess of the Forest happened to go to England.

In the village of Jamestown there lived a young Englishman named John Rolfe. Now Rolfe was not a prince, and in stories only the prince can marry the princess; but a real red princess is different from a fairy one, and so, after some years, Pocahontas and John Rolfe were married.

The wedding was in the little church at Jamestown, because Pocahontas had become a Christian, and you may well believe that all the good Indians came to see their beautiful princess married.

[114] Well, after some time, John Rolfe and his young wife crossed the ocean to England, and thus it was that in the great city of London Pocahontas met her old friend, John Smith, once more. You may well believe that she was glad to see him again after so many years, and that they had many happy times together. It soon happened that everyone in London was talking about Pocahontas. The London people had never seen a red princess before, especially a princess who had done so many brave deeds, and saved the lives of so many Englishmen. So all London wished to honor her. The King and the Queen sent for Pocahontas, and she was often at their court, where all the great lords and ladies loved her and gave her beautiful presents.

But at last the time came for John Rolfe to go back to Jamestown. Pocahontas was very sad at the thought of leaving England and all her kind English friends, and she was sad, too, because her little son, who had been born in England, must take the long, rough journey. But their plans were all made, and the good ship was ready to sail.

Then it was, at the last moment, that poor Pocahontas was taken ill. All the great doctors [115] of London came to see her, but their medicines were of no use, and, after a few days of suffering, she died. John Rolfe buried her in England, among the white people there; but I like to think of her best in the great, silent woods of Virginia, where, for so long, she had lived with her Indian tribe, and where she was called Pocahontas, the Little Red Princess of the Forest.


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