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Isaac Bradley and Joseph Whittaker

by Charles Carleton Coffin

 

Twelve miles from the sea, on the bank of the Merrimac River, is the busy town of Haverhill. It was a small settlement in 1690. There was a cluster of houses and a meeting-house. The country beyond, all the way to Canada, was a wilderness. The Indians came down the river in their bark canoes, carrying them past the falls where the city of Lowell now stands, past Amoskeag Falls, where the Manchester factories to-day are humming. They caught beaver, bear, and foxes, and sold the furs to the traders.

The Indians were under the influence of the French, and when war broke out between France and England for the restoration of James II. to the throne from which he had fled, the settlers of Haverhill, in common with the people all along the frontier, knew that the Indians, influenced by the French in Canada, might be upon them at any moment.

EARLY SETTLERS GOING TO MEETING.—Drawn by Howard Pyle. EARLY SETTLERS GOING TO MEETING.—Drawn by Howard Pyle.

The settlers had their guns ever at hand. If at work in the field, they placed them where they could seize them quickly. When they went to bed at night, they put a stout bar of wood across the door, and examined the flints and the priming. On Sunday, when they went to meeting, each man carried his gun, and the minister looked down from the pulpit upon men who had powder-horns and bullet-pouches slung across their shoulders, and whose muskets were standing in the corners of their pews. Some of the settlers kept watch outside while the others were in meeting. They went on scouts through the dark woods, peering among the trees to see if the Indians were prowling in the vicinity.

The settlers were obliged to work hard. While the men were at work in the fields, the women were spinning and weaving. Boys and girls had little time for play. There was always something for them to do. When a boy was sixteen years old, he was expected to do the work of a man. They all learned to shoot, and some of them, when they were only twelve, could bring down a squirrel from the highest tree every time, or shoot a deer upon the run.

Two boys—Isaac Bradley, who was fifteen years old, and Joseph Whittaker, who was eleven—were at work one day in Mr. Bradley's field, when suddenly a party of Indians sprang out from the woods and seized them. Isaac was small, but he was bright, cool-headed, and brave-hearted. Joseph, though four years younger, was as large as Isaac, but he was not so stout-hearted nor self-reliant as his companion.

The Indians were from Canada. They did not stop to kill any of the settlers, but hastened away, travelling through the dark woods northward to the beautiful Lake Winnipiseogee, where they remained through the winter. The lake swarmed with trout and pickerel, which they could catch through the ice, and the woods were full of bears and deer.

Isaac made himself at home in the wigwam, and picked up the language of the Indians in a very short time. The squaws made him do their drudgery; but the warriors liked him, and the Indian dogs wagged their tails when he looked at them out of his kindly eyes.

Winter passed and April came.

"We go to Canada now," said one of the Indians.

Isaac had no intention of going to Canada. Day after day he thought over the matter. He knew that the English settlements were far away to the south, but there was no path to them. He had no compass. How could he ever reach them? He would be guided by the sun by day, and the stars by night. He would make the attempt. He might perish, but death was better than captivity.

"I am going to try it to-morrow night, but I am afraid you won't wake," he said to Joseph, who always slept soundly, and snored in his sleep.

"Oh yes, I will," Joseph replied.

The Indians had killed a moose, and Isaac had managed to hide a large piece of meat in the bushes near the camp. He filled his pockets with their corn-bread. Night came. All were asleep except Isaac, who was so excited by the thought of escaping that his eyes would not close. Every sense was quickened. He arose softly and touched Joseph, who was sound asleep. He did not stir, and Isaac shook him harder.

"What do you want?" Joseph asked.

In an instant Isaac was stretched out, snoring; but the Indians did not wake, and after a little while the boys arose softly, and crept out of the wigwam, Isaac with an Indian's gun and powder and balls. They made their way to the meat, took it under their arms, and started upon the run, guided on their way by the stars. On through the wilderness, amid the tall trees, over fallen trunks, over stones, through thickets and tangled brushwood, they travelled till morning, and then crept into a hollow log.

Great the consternation in the camp of the Indians. Their captives gone! a gun lost! At daybreak the Indians, with their dogs, were on the trail, and in swift pursuit.

The boys heard the barking of the dogs, which soon came sniffing around the log. What shall they do now? Isaac is quick-witted.

"Good fellow, Bose! good fellow! here is some breakfast for you;" and he tosses the moose meat to them. The dogs know his voice, devour the meat, and are as happy as dogs can be. The boys are their friends. They cease barking, and trot around, with no further concern.

The Indians come up on the run. The boys hear their voices, as they hasten by, followed by their dogs.

ISAAC BRADLEY CARRYING JOSEPH INTO THE SETTLEMENT. ISAAC BRADLEY CARRYING JOSEPH INTO THE SETTLEMENT.

Through the day they lie hidden in the log, and when night comes, strike out in a different direction from that taken by the Indians. All night long they travel, nibbling at their hard corn-bread. Morning comes, and again they conceal themselves. Once more at night they are on the march. On the third day Isaac shoots a pigeon, but does not dare to kindle a fire, and they eat it raw. They find a turtle, smash its shell, and eat the meat. On, day after day, they travel, eating roots, and buds of the trees just ready to burst into leaf. The sixth day comes, and they suddenly find themselves close to an Indian camp. They peep through the underbrush, and see the warriors sitting around their camp fire smoking their pipes. They steal softly away, and then run as fast as their legs can carry them. The morning of the eighth day comes. Joseph's strength is failing; his courage is gone; he cries bitterly. They are in the wilderness, they know not where, with nothing to eat, their clothes in rags, their feet bleeding.

"Cheer up, Joseph; here are some ground-nuts. Here, drink some water," says Isaac.

No brave words, no act of kindness, can quicken the courage of the fainting boy. What shall Isaac do—stay and die with him, or try to find his own way out? Sad the parting, the younger lying down to die upon a mossy bank, the older turning away alone, lost in the wilderness.

With faltering steps, Isaac pushes on, and discerns a house. No one is there, but he knows there must be white men not far away. With quickened pulse, he turns back to the dying boy, awakens him from sleep, rubs his eyes, bathes his temples, cheers him with encouraging words.

"Come, Joseph, we are saved. There is a house close by."

Joseph's eyes brighten. He stands upon his feet, walks a few steps, and falls. Isaac is stronger than ever. He lifts his fainting comrade, takes him in his arms, staggers on, reaches the empty and desolate house, and discovers a beaten path leading southward. He goes on, resting now and then, but ever speaking words of cheer.

At last they see before them a placid river, and beside it a cluster of houses. They know that in a few moments they will be once more among friends, and brave Isaac Bradley is almost overcome with the joy of this knowledge.

What a sight is that which the soldier on the look-out at the garrison-house on the bank of the Saco beholds, just as the sun is going down—two boys, one carrying the other!

Saved. They are kindly cared for by the soldiers, their wounds are dressed, nourishing food is given them, once more they are clothed in the garments of civilized beings, and there are moist eyes in the garrison as they tell their thrilling story. And what rejoicing when at last they reach their homes!