New Hampshire

When Keene Was Very Young

by Sewell Ford SCENE *The interior of a log cabin. A door is open at back centre. At Right is seen a crude stone fireplace with log mantle, crane, bake oven, etc. In front of fireplace a spinning wheel and stool. Near that a rough table and half-log bench. At Left a four-post bed. A […]

By Yankee Magazine

Nov 08 2018

by Sewell Ford

SCENE

*The interior of a log cabin. A door is open at back centre. At Right is seen a crude stone fireplace with log mantle, crane, bake oven, etc. In front of fireplace a spinning wheel and stool. Near that a rough table and half-log bench. At Left a four-post bed. A window with hinged shutter at back.

PROLOGUE

(Spoken by two unseen persons; or they may be seated in front row).

1st Voice ( a woman’s) “How perfectly ducky! So quaint and everything. Where is it supposed to be, and what?”

2nd Voice (a man’s) “You are looking into the home of Nathan Blake, on the main street of Upper Ashuelot, later known as Keene, N. H.”

1st Voice: “Well, the idea! That’s going back some, isn’t it?”

2nd Voice: “The year is 1748; the day, April 30th.”

1st Voice: “Why, that was before the Revolution! Mr. Blake must have been one of the first settlers.”

2nd Voice: “So he was. One of the first ten.”

1st Voice: “What a cute, old timey room! You know, I’ve always been crazy to live in a log cabin. So cozy and picturesque.”

2nd Voice: “And so lacking in such things as bath-tubs, steam heat, electric light, and screen doors.”

1st Voice: “All the same, it must have been lovely being a really and truly Colonial Dame, and knowing you were making History.”

2nd Voice: “They made their own soap too, and candles, and butter in a hand churn.”

1st Voice: “But they looked so sweet in those tricky Puritan bonnets, and they were so good and so meek.”

2nd Voice: “I wonder if they were all of them.”

1st Voice: “Any how, those were the good old days. See how neat and comfy this cabin looks, with sunshine streaming in the open door.”

2nd Voice: “Not to mention flies and gnats and mosquitoes.”

1st Voice: “And how calm, how peaceful! No telephone bells ringing, no motor cars honking by. Nothing but a little breeze whispering through the tops of those tall pines. So placid, so restful, so secure, so—0-o-o-oh!”

(An Indian appears in the doorway. He is semi-nude, carries a flint-lock gun. He stares about for a moment, prowls around the empty cabin, then silently goes out.)

1st Voice: “Wha-wha-what was that?”

2nd Voice: “A genuine First Settler who has been kicked out from his hunting ground and doesn’t like it so much. One of the Squawkheag tribe, or maybe an Abenaquis.”

1st Voice: “But-but what is he doing here?”

2nd Voice: “Just scouting around on the chance of collecting either a scalp or a prisoner. The French at Quebec will pay him well for either.”

1st Voice: “How awful of the French!”

2nd Voice: “Your pious Colonists are bidding even higher for Indian scalps or French prisoners. You see, there’s a war on.”

1st Voice: “You don’t mean they actually cut the tops off each others’ heads!”

2nd Voice: “Oh, yes. Pretty custom, isn’t it? But no scalp, no cash. That’s the way they run this war.”

1st Voice: “What is the war all about, anyway?”

2nd Voice: “Well, it is something like this: A lean and disreputable old King in France is claiming all this land as his, while a fat and equally disreputable old King in England is trying to get it away from him. So the French have armed the Indians and sicced ’em on King George’s Colonists, and King George is siccing the Colonists on the French and Indians; and there you are-a perfectly good war with scalping and everything.”

1st Voice: “Is this Nathan Blake in the war?”

2nd Voice: “Very much so. Just about two years ago there was an Indian raid on Upper Ashuelot. Nathan managed to get himself and his pretty young wife into the log fort. Then he ran back to drive his cows out of the. barn and got caught. Six Indians surrounded him, so he claimed when he didn’t make it ten.”

1st Voice: “Did-did they scalp Mr. Blake?”

2nd Voice: “No. He was worth more as a prisoner. They took him to Canada, up near Quebec. But the military prisons were full so the French told the Indians to keep him in their village. Nathan found those savages weren’t such a bad lot, and they rather liked him. For Nathan was quite a stout fellow. He went into their running races and beat their local champs., he wrestled their huskiest braves and put them on their backs, and he was a better shot with a rifle. He picked up their language and told funny stories around the camp fire. They adopted him into the tribe.”

1st Voice: “Imagine!”

2nd Voice: “Try your imagination on this: About then the old chief died and his squaw called a council at which she told the braves that this young white man with the strong arms and the sinewy legs and the jolly laugh ought to be the new chief. They elected him by a majority of two dozen clam shells and she finished the job by marrying him the same day.”

1st Voice: “But didn’t he tell her about the pretty wife he had at home?”

2nd Voice: “If he did it didn’t get him anywhere. That squaw knew what she wanted and took it. Nathan Blake went on being her hubby and chief of the tribe for more than a year and a half. Then he and another prisoner were exchanged for the son of a French Count who had been captured near Swanzey. Yesterday word came that Nathan was on his way back. He was at Fort No. 4, up at Charlestown. He is due home today, should be here any minute.”

1st Voice: “How exciting! Where is Mrs. Blake?”

2nd Voice: “Oh, she must be around somewhere. She has been living here all the time, waiting for Na than to come back.”

1st Voice: “Does she know about—about the squaw?”

2nd Voice: “Everything. A story like that gets around. Yes, she knows.”

1st Voice: “Oh, Oh! What do you think she will have to say to Nathan, and what will Nathan say to her?”

2nd Voice: “Why make wild guesses when we are about to listen to the real thing. S-s-s-sh! Here comes Mrs. Blake now.”

Enter Mrs. Blake: A young, attractive woman, wearing a Colonial bonnet and a long cape over a homespun dress, (She comes in, closes and bars door, also shutter of window. From under her cape she produces an old hat which she hangs on a wooden peg by the door. Also from beneath the cape she brings out an old pair of boots, looks around the room thoughtfully, then places them under the bed. After a moment she pulls the boots a little farther out. She takes off the cape and bonnet; steps to a small mirror on the wall, arranges her hair, rubs her cheeks briskly; smiles, nods her head; opens windows and door, sits at spinning wheel.

A knock is heard at the door.

Mrs. Blake (startled but recovering quickly); “Come!”

Enter the Rev. Ebenezer Smeed, a red nosed person with solemn face and ministerial manner.

Rev. Smeed: “Peace be unto you, Elizabeth Blake, and unto all your household.”

Mrs. Blake: “Meaning peace to Nathan, I suppose?”

Rev. Smeed: “Aye, and also unto you, Daughter. This should be your day of great rejoicing.”

Mrs. Blake: “Well, so I hope.”

Rev. Smeed: “I bring good tidings. Your long missing husband has returned. Even now he reports at the Fort and will soon be here. The Lord taketh and the Lord giveth back. Let us kneel and offer thanks.” (He kneels).

Mrs. Blake: “I would liefer keep my praying until I know for what I give thanks, Reverend Smeed.”

Rev. Smeed: “Thou hast been listening to wagging tongues, Betty Blake. On your knees to ask for grace and guidance.”

Mrs. Blake: (shaking her head firmly) “No. A prayer from me now would rise no higher than the poles of a wigwam. I will wait.”

Rev. Smeed; (rising and shrugging his shoulders) “As always, a willful soul, and I fear a rebellious nature. The spirit of meekness is not in you.”

Mrs. Blake: “So you have told me before. Mayhap you are right. I do not feel meek at this moment.”

Rev. Smeed: “I know what is in your heart and I have come to urge you to cast out such bitterness. Your good man has been held captive among savages and has been forced to adopt savage ways. It was the will of the Lord and he bowed unto it.”

Mrs. Blake: “Did Nathan send you to to say that to me?”

Rev. Smeed: “I need no one to show me my duty as your pastor.”

Mrs. Blake: “Well, you have done it, haven’t you? Dry work, I dare say. Now would a noggin of rum come amiss?”

(The mouth of the Rev. Smeed indicates that she has guessed right)

(Mrs. Blake fetches jug from chimney nook, hands gourd cup to minister, pours generous drink)

Mrs. Blake; “Water?”

Rev. Smeed: (with mock unction) “Water? For baptisms, for laving the hands—yes; in good Medford-never. (He raises noggin) To a warm welcome for Nathan.”

Mrs. Blake: “There shall be warmth in it.”

Rev. Smeed: (having smacked his lips and wiped them on coat sleeve) “He returns to a comely wife, Mistress Blake.”

Mrs. Blake: “Am I so, Rev. Smeed?”

Rev. Smeed: “Comelier than ever.”

Mrs. Blake: “But you would like me better if I hung my head meekly?”

Rev. Smeed: “Not with those eyes, Sister Blake; that is, were I merely a man and not your pastor.” (Pats her on shoulder)

(Murmur of voices heard outside—a cheer or two)

Rev. Smeed: (stepping quickly away) “He comes! Nathan is here. It is best I should leave you together.”

Enter Na than Blake. (As he passes Rev. Smeed in doorway he gives the minister an inquiring look. Rev. Smeed shrugs shoulders and exits.)

Nathan: (hesitates a moment, then holds out his arms) “Betty!”

Mrs. Blake: (quietly, her chin up, eyes steady) “Well, Na han? “

Nathan: “I am come back, Betty.”·

Mrs. Blake: “So I see. May I ask if you come alone?”

Nathan: “Alone? What do you mean?”

Mrs. Blake: “I mean have you brought the Indian woman, the squaw you took for a wife up there?”

Nathan: “The squaw who took me Betty. What else could I do? It was either that or death by torture. Besides, it was the Lord’s will. Come! We will talk no more of this.”

Mrs. Blake: “Oh, yes we will, Nathan. A lot more.”

Nathan (sternly) “Woman!”

Mrs. Blake: “Now don’t ‘Woman’ me, Nathan. I have lived here alone for two years, enduring cold and hunger and terror of savages, and I am not afraid of an overgrown youth who frowns.”

Nathan: “Youth indeed! The St. Francis braves reckoned me a man—the best among them.”

Mrs. Blake: “And the St. Francis squaws, as well?”

Nathan: “Odds-bodds, woman! What a way to greet a husband whom the Lord has delivered back to you out of many dangers!”

Mrs. Blake: “Whose husband art thou, Nathan?”

Nathan: “Thine, Elizabeth Blake, and wearied from long marches through the wilderness.”

Mrs. Blake: “Then seat thyself, Nathan Blake, while I see if the Rev. Smeed has left thee a draft of rum. (lifts jug and shakes it). Yes, enough for one more noggin. (pours into cup). Here. You may need it.”

Nathan: (drinks) “Ah-h-h! Good Medford! A man’s drink.”

Mrs. Blake: “It may help thee to tell of the savage woman. Was she young?”

Nathan: “She was not old.”

Mrs. Blake: “Was she comely?”

Nathan: “Aye, as Indian women go.”

Mrs. Blake: “I have heard that some of those Northern squaws are tall and wll favored and straight as spruce trees.”

Nathan: (somewhat cockily) “She was rated the best of the lot.”

Mrs. Blake: “A queenly savage, eh? What was her name?”

Nathan: “Awoshuka.”

Mrs. Blake: “Awoshuka. A pretty name, but long. I suppose you called her ‘Shuka for short?”

Nathan: (thumping table with fist and rising) “Enough of this! Am I to be put on trial by my wife? Truly my good neighbors would laugh if they could hear.”

Mrs. Blake: “They have laughed their fill at me, Na than Blake; and marveled to know how I liked being second to a squaw.”

Nathan: “She was the widow of an Indian chief to whose place I was chosen. It was not of my doing. I tell you I but bowed to the will of the Lord.”

Mrs. Blake: “Was it the Lord’s will, though? Was it not more the will of the queenly Awoshuka?”

Nathan: “I command you to put her out of your mind.”

Mrs. Blake: “Hast put her out of thine, Nathan?”

Nathan: (after striding up and down the room) “Woman, I will not be questioned further.”

Mrs. Blake: “Very well, Nathan.” (she goes to spinning wheel, spins and hums a hymn.)

Nathan: (storming angrily about) “A pretty pass! I come back after winning my way through many dangers. I, who have ruled a tribe of savages! I, who am hailed as hero by my fellow townsmen. And my wife puts me on trial!”

(Mrs. Blake continues to spin and hum)

Nathan: “Stop that damned singing.”

Mrs. Blake: (mockingly) “Thus sayeth the great chief to his squaw.” (goes on humming) Nathan: (spreading hands in despair) “What a woman!”

Mrs. Blake: “Then you find me different from others? Thank you, Nathan.”

Nathan: “Oh; well! You always could talk me down. (He walks to window and looks out) “What a goodly lot of firewood! Someone has been swinging an axe for thee.”

Mrs. Blake: “Aye. A friend.”

Nathan: “What friend?”

Mrs. Blake: “You may have forgotten him. Obadiah Nimms.”

Nathan; “Obie Nimms, he of the curly red hair and the lispy tongue? The town tinker! Him?”

Mrs. Blake: “The same one.”

Nathan: “Huh! I remember finding him waiting at your gate in Wrentham, before we were wed. I picked him up and pitched him into a snow drift.”

Mrs. Blake: “I know. You boasted of it as you came in.”

Nathan: “So he’s been skulking around while I’ve been gone, has he?”

Mrs. Blake: “Obadiah has been kindly and helpful. He has learned to play the fiddle very nicely.”

Nathan: “Huh! (turns from window and strides about. Catches sight of old hat on peg) “Whose hat is that?” Mrs. Blake: (casually) “Obadiah’s, I suppose.”

Nathan: “I’ll save him the trouble of coming for it.” (snatches hat from peg and scales it through window. Hangs his own hat in its place.)

Mrs. Blake: “At least, Obadiah can teach thee manners.”

Nathan: “And I could twist off his scrawny neck-like that.” (snaps thumb and forefinger)

Mrs. Blake: “Hear the great chieftain!”

Nathan: (scowls, shakes his head, glares about room until his glance comes to the bed. He spies boot-tops. Looks at Mrs. Blake, then back at bed. Goes over and drags out boots. Holds them up accusingly. “And who leaves his boots under thy bed, Mistress Blake?”

Mrs. Blake: “How careless of Obadiah!”

Nathan: “A carelessness that will cost him his puny life. I—I’ll—Where is the sniveling sneak?” (starts for door)

Mrs. Blake: “That’s right! Go bellowing about the town like a mad bull.

Tell them what you suspect. It will give the gossips something else than a squaw wife to cackle about. But you will not find Obadiah. Three days ago he left for Boston to work in the ship chandlery of his uncle.”

Nathan: “Then I deal first with you, woman.”

Mrs. Blake: “Wilt thou wringmy neck, then?”

Nathan: (after standing before her for a moment clasping and unclasping his fingers) “I wish to God I could, but I—I cannot.”

Mrs. Blake: “Thy muscles may be hard,

Nathan, but thine heart is still the soft heart of a boy. Perhaps you are about to forgive me, as you expect me to forgive thee?”

Nathan: “No. There are some things a husband does not forgive. I could have thee haled before the Church Council and branded with the scarlet letter.”

Mrs. Blake: “And you would name Obadiah? How great a hero would you be after that? Betrayed by a fiddling tinker!”

Nathan: (Groans and drops into a chair, his head in his hands) “However you could take up with such sculch! You, Betty!”

Mrs. Blake: “And you, Nathan, encharmed by a red squaw!”

Nathan: “But I was not. I was entrapped. It was the will of—”

Mrs. Blake: “We have been over that. And perchance in my loneliness I was overcome by the Lord’s will, also. Was she very queenly, this Awoshuka?”

Nathan: “She was nigh to being an old hag, and evil tempered at that, if thee must know.”

Mrs. Blake: “Ah-h-h-h! You are not boasting now.”

Nathan: “I am telling the bitter truth. That squaw was a she-devil.”

Mrs. Blake: “Well, my Obadiah wasn’t so much, either.”

Nathan: “Betty!”

Mrs. Blake: “Something of a tame, house-cat sort of person; useful to have around at times, but such a bore.”

Nathan: “Did he make love to thee?”

Mrs. Blake: “He did try, but always his mouth hung open so silly that I could but laugh.”

Nathan: (stares at her, scratches his head) “But—but his hat on the peg, his damned boots under the bed?”

Mrs. Blake: “I put them there just before you came.”

Nathan: “You! But why?”

Mrs. Blake: “To show you what might have happened had I so willed it; and to discover mayhap, if I was still loved.”

Nathan: “Betty, I swear it.” (starts toward her)

Mrs. Blake: “Wait. I must know how we are to face the gossips. They will be clucking and clacking about the savage woman, and there will be some talk of how Obadiah left so hastily. Not only from the old dames. Some of the men are wont to leer and chuckle. And I am no meek wife to walk among them shrinking at your side with my head lowered.”

Nathan: “Nor shall you. I may seem a boy to you, Betty, but men know me as a man. They have made me Moderator of the Town Council, Captain of the Fort. From Lower Ashuelot to Beaver Brook I shall rule, and not with a soft heart. If any beldame cannot still her tongue it shall be slit, and the man who dares leer at the wife of Nathan Blake shall feel my fist on his slimy eyes.”

Mrs. Blake: “A blustery, big-chief speech, Nathan, but not unpleasant to my ears. And these are days when a wife is lucky to have a chieftain-husband.”

Nathan: “No luckier than he to have a wife like thee, Betty.”

(They embrace)

Nathan: “Now, Betty, we will walk through the town with our chins up, both of us.”

Mrs. Blake: “First, Nathan, let us offer thanks. I feel prayerful now.”

Nathan: “And I, too, Betty.”

(They kneel.)

1st Voice: “They did a lot of praying in those days, didn’t they?”

2nd Voice: “Perhaps they needed to pray a lot.”

CURTAIN

*The story of Nathan Blake’s capture and return is included in most histories of Keene and Cheshire County. The site of his cabin is marked by a tablet. S. F.