A short story by Frank R Stockton
The Story Of Penelope Stout
Title: The Story Of Penelope Stout
Author: Frank R Stockton [More Titles by Stockton]
In the early days of New Jersey, the Dutch settlers suffered very much from Indian hostilities. It was at the time that New Amsterdam, afterwards New York, was in the possession of the Dutch, that a ship came from Holland, bringing passengers who intended to settle in the new country. The ship was unfortunately wrecked in the neighborhood of Sandy Hook; but all the passengers managed to save themselves, and reached the shore.
Among these was a young couple whose names we do not know, except that the wife's maiden name was Penelope Van Princis. Her husband had been very sick during the voyage; and getting ashore through the surf from the wreck could not have been of any benefit to him, for, after he had reached dry land, he felt even worse than he had upon shipboard, and needed all the attention his wife could give him.
Although the passengers and crew of this vessel had reached the shore, they did not by any means consider themselves in safety; for they were very much afraid of the Indians, and desired above everything to make what haste they could toward New Amsterdam. They therefore started away as soon as possible. But Penelope's husband was too sick to go any farther at that time, and his wife was too good a woman to leave her husband in that lonely spot; and so these two were left behind, while the rest of the company started for New Amsterdam, promising, however, that they would send help to the unfortunate couple.
The fears of these immigrants in regard to the Indians were not without foundation; for the main party had not long departed, when a band of red men, probably having heard in some way of the wreck of the ship, appeared upon the scene, and discovered poor Penelope and her sick husband. It is unfortunately the disposition of most savages to show little pity for weakness and suffering, and the fact that the poor young man could not do them any possible harm had no effect upon them, and they set upon him and killed him; very much as a boy would kill a little harmless snake, for no reason whatever, except that he was able to do it.
Then they determined to kill Penelope also, and, attacking her with their tomahawks, they so cut and wounded her that she fell down bleeding and insensible. Having built a fire, these brave warriors cooked themselves a comfortable meal, and then departed. But Penelope was not killed, and, coming to her senses, her instincts told her that the first thing to do was to hide herself from these bloodthirsty red men: so, slowly and painfully, she crawled away to the edge of a wood, and found there a great hollow tree, into which she crept.
This made but narrow and doleful quarters for a wounded woman, but it was preferable at that time to the blue sky and fresh air. She did not leave the tree until nightfall, and then she made her way to the place where the fire was still glimmering; and by great care, and with what must have been painful labor, she kept this fire from going out, and so managed to get a little warmth.
In this way, living in the tree the greater part of the time, and depending for food chiefly upon the fungous excrescences and gum which grew on the outside of it,--for she was not able to go in search of berries and other food,--poor Penelope lived for a few days, with her dead husband on the beach, and her almost dead self in that cavern-like tree. The hours must have passed mournfully indeed to this young woman who had set out for the New World with such bright hopes.
That she survived her terrible hardships was due entirely to the existence of the danger she most feared; that is, the reappearance of the Indians. On the second morning, nearly famished and very weak, Penelope was making her way slowly over the ground, endeavoring to find something she could eat, or a little dew in the hollow of a leaf, that she might drink, when suddenly there came out of the woods two tall Indians, who, naturally enough, were much surprised to find a wounded white woman there alone upon the seashore.
Penelope gave herself up as lost. There was nothing now for her to do but to submit to her fate. It was a pity, she thought, that she had not been slain with her husband.
But the Indians did not immediately rush at her with their tomahawks: they stood and talked together, evidently about her, with their fierce eyes continually fixed upon her. Then their conversation became more animated, and it was soon plain that they were disputing. Of course, she did not then know the cause of their difference of opinion; but she found out afterwards that one of them was in favor of killing her upon the spot, and the other, an older man than his companion, was more mercifully inclined, and wished to carry her off as a prisoner to their camp.
At last the older man got the better of the other one; and he, being determined that the poor wounded woman should be taken care of, took her up and put her on his shoulder, and marched away with her. That an Indian should be able to perform a feat like this is not at all surprising; for when one of them shoots a deer in the forest, though many of those animals are heavier than Penelope was, he will put it on his back and carry it through the forests, perhaps for miles, until he reaches his camp. And so Penelope, as if she had been a deer wounded by some other hunters, which these men had found, was carried to the Indian camp.
There she was taken care of. Food and drink were given her. Her wounds were dressed and treated after the Indian fashion. In due course of time she recovered her health and strength, and there--living in a wigwam, among the women and children of the village, pounding corn, cooking food, carrying burdens as did the Indian women--she remained for some time, not daring even to try to escape; for in that wild country there was no place of safety to which it was possible for her to flee.
Although there was a good deal of bad feeling between the Indians and the whites at that time, they still traded and communicated with each other; and when, in the course of time, it became known in New Amsterdam that there was a white woman held as a prisoner in this Indian camp, there was every reason to suppose that this woman was the young wife who had been left on the seacoast by the survivors of the wreck. Consequently some of the men who had been her fellow-passengers came over to the Indian camp, which was not far from where Middletown now stands. Here, as they had expected, they found Penelope, and demanded that the Indians should give her up.
After some discussion, it was agreed that the matter should be left with Penelope herself; and the old Indian who had saved her life went to her,--for of course, being an inferior, she was not present at the conference,--and put the question before her. Here she was, with a comfortable wigwam, plenty to eat and drink, good Indian clothes to wear, as well treated as any Indian woman, and, so far as he could see, with everything to make her comfortable and happy; and here she might stay if she chose. On the other hand, if she wished to go to New Amsterdam, she would find there no one with whom she was acquainted, except the people who had rowed away and left her on that desolate coast, and who might have come in search of her a long time before if they really had cared anything about her. If she wanted to live here among friends who had been kind to her, and be taken care of, she could do so; if she wanted to go away and live among people who had deserted her, and who appeared to have forgotten her, she could do that.
Very much to the surprise of this good Indian, Penelope declared that she should prefer to go and live among people of her own race and country; and so, much to the regret of her Indian friends, she departed for New Amsterdam with the men who had come for her.
A year or two after Penelope had gone back to New Amsterdam, being then about twenty-two, she married an Englishman named Richard Stout, who afterwards became an important personage. He, with other settlers, went over to New Jersey and founded a little village, which was called Middletown, not far from the Indian camp where Penelope had once been a prisoner. The Indians still remained in this camp, but now they appeared to be quite friendly to the whites; and the new settlers did not consider that there was anything dangerous in having these red neighbors. The good Indian who had been Penelope's protector, now quite an old man, was very friendly and sociable, and often used to visit Mrs. Stout. This friendship for the woman whom he had saved from death seemed to have been strong and sincere.
One day this old Indian came to the house of Mrs. Stout, and, seating himself in the room where she was, remained for a long time pensive and silent. This rather unusual conduct made Penelope fear that something had happened to him; and she questioned him, asking him why he was so silent, and why he sighed so often. Then the old man spoke out and told her that he had come on a very important errand, in which he had risked his own life at the hands of his tribe; but, having saved her life once, he had determined to do it again, no matter what might happen to himself.
Then he told her that the good will of the Indians toward their white neighbors had come to an end, and that it had been determined in council that an attack should be made that night upon this little village, when every person in it--men, women, and children--should be put to death, the houses burned, and the cattle driven away. His brethren no longer wanted white people living near them.
Of course, this news was a great shock to Penelope. She had now two little children, and she could not get far away with them and hide, as she herself had once hidden from Indian foes. But the old man told her that she need not be afraid: he could not save all the people in the village, but he was her friend, and he had arranged to save her and her family. At a certain place, which he described so she could not fail to find it, he had concealed a canoe; and in that she and her husband, with the children, could go over to New Amsterdam, and there would be plenty of time for them to get away before the Indians would attack the place. Having said this, and having urged her to lose no time in getting away, the old Indian left.
As soon as he had gone, Penelope sent for her husband, who was working in the fields, and told him what she had heard, urging him to make preparations instantly to escape with her. But Mr. Stout was not easily frightened by news such as this. He pooh-poohed the whole story, and told his wife that the natives over there in their camp were as well disposed and friendly as if they had been a company of white settlers, and that, as these red men and the whites had lived together so long, trading with each other, and visiting each other with perfect freedom, there was no reason whatever to suppose that the Indians would suddenly determine to rise up and massacre a whole settlement of peaceable neighbors, who had never done them any harm, and who were a great benefit to them in the way of trading. It would be all nonsense, he said, to leave their homes, and run away from Indians so extremely friendly and good-natured as those in the neighboring camp.
But Penelope had entirely different ideas upon the subject. She thoroughly believed in the old Indian, and was sure that he would not have come and told her that story unless it had been true. If her husband chose to stay and risk his life, she could not help it; but she would not subject herself and her children to the terrible danger which threatened them. She had begged her husband to go with her; but as he had refused, and had returned to his work, she and her children would escape alone.
Consequently she set out with the little ones, and with all haste possible she reached the place where the canoe was moored among some tall reeds, and, getting in with the children, she paddled away to New Amsterdam, hoping she might reach there in time to send assistance to Middletown before the Indians should attack it.
When Farmer Stout found that his wife had really gone off, and had taken the children with her, he began to consider the matter seriously, and concluded that perhaps there might be something in the news which the old Indian had brought. He consequently called together a number of the men of the village, and they held a consultation, in which it was determined that it would be a wise thing to prepare themselves against the threatened attack; and, arming themselves with all the guns and pistols they could get, they met together in one of the houses, which was well adapted for that purpose, and prepared to watch all night.
They did not watch in vain, for about midnight they heard from the woods that dreadful war whoop which the white settlers now well understood. They knew it meant the same thing as the roar of the lion, who, after silently creeping towards his intended victim, suddenly makes the rocks echo with the sound of his terrible voice, and then gives his fatal spring.
But although these men might have been stricken with terror, had they heard such a war cry at a time when they were not expecting it, and from Indians to whom they were strangers, they were not so terrified at the coming of these red men with whom, perhaps only the day before, they had been trading buttons for venison and beans. They could not believe that these apparently mild and easy-going fellows could really be the terrible savages they tried to make themselves appear.
So Richard Stout and his companions went boldly out, guns in hand, to meet the oncoming savages, and, calling a parley, they declared that they had no intention of resting quietly, and allowing themselves and families to be slaughtered and their houses burned. If the Indians, who had so long been their good neighbors, were now determined to become bloody enemies, they would find that they would have to do a good deal of hard fighting before they could destroy the village of Middletown; and, if they persisted in carrying on the bloody job they had undertaken, a good many of them would be killed before that job was finished.
Now, it had been very seldom that Indians who had started out to massacre whites had met with people who acted like this; and these red men in war paint thought it wise to consider what had been said to them. A few of them may have had guns, but the majority were armed only with bows and tomahawks; and these white men had guns and pistols, with plenty of powder and ball. It would clearly be unsafe to fight them.
So, after discussing the matter among themselves and afterwards talking it over with the whites, the Indians made up their minds, that, instead of endeavoring to destroy the inhabitants of Middletown, they would shake hands with them and make a treaty of peace. They then retired; and on the following day a general conference was held, in which the whites agreed to buy the lands on which they had built their town, and an alliance was made for mutual protection and assistance. This compact was faithfully observed as long as there were any Indians in the neighborhood, and Middletown grew and flourished.
Among the citizens of the place there were none who grew and flourished in a greater degree than the Stout family. Although Penelope bore upon her body the scars of her wounds until the day of her death, it is stated, upon good authority, that she lived to be one hundred and ten years old; so that it is plain that her constitution was not injured by the sufferings and hardships of the beginning of her life in New Jersey.
Not only did the Stouts flourish in Middletown, but some of them went a little southward, and helped to found the town of Hopewell; and here they increased to such a degree that one of the early historians relates that the Baptist Church there was founded by the Stouts, and that for forty-one years the religious meetings were held in the houses of different members of the Stout family, while, at the time he wrote, half of the congregation of the church were still Stouts, and that, all in all, there had been at least two hundred members of that name. So the Baptist Church in Hopewell, as well as all the churches in Middletown, owed a great deal to the good Indian who carried poor Penelope to his village, and cured her of her wounds.
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