Based on true events, THE MOURNING WARS is a gripping, powerful, and utterly memorable historical novel. In 1704, Mohawk Indians attacked the frontier village of Deerfield, Massachusetts, killing 50 and kidnapping 112 more, including John Williams, a Puritan minister and prize hostage, and his children.
This is Eunice's remarkable story, fictionalized but based on meticulous research, about a seven-year-old girl's separation from her family, harrowing march to Canada, gradual acceptance of her new Native American life, and ultimate decision at 16 to marry an Indian and reject her stern father's pleadings to return to the fold.
About the Author
KAREN STEINMETZ lives in Grandview, New York. Mourning Wars is her authorial debut.
KAREN STEINMETZ lives in Grandview, New York. She now makes her authorial debut.
Read an Excerpt
The Mourning Wars
By Karen Steinmetz
Roaring Brook PressCopyright © 2010 Karen Steinmetz
All rights reserved.
"Don't forget, Mary!" Eunice Williams calls over her shoulder to her friend as they leave their lessons in the meetinghouse, "Tomorrow you are to show me the stitch you are working on."
"I'll bring my cloth to school," calls Mary, turning toward her own house outside the gate in the stockade at the south end of the village of Deerfield. "And tomorrow we'll have more time. I'll be living inside the stockade near you!" Eunice lives in the brown clapboard house across the street from the meetinghouse, where her father, the Reverend, preaches every day and twice on Sundays.
Indian summer has crept over the frontier town after a solid week of cold rains. Glad to be sprung from the schoolroom, Eunice is dazzled by the sun, the world all mud and spangled brilliance. She lifts her loose-hanging sleeves and flaps them like a bird to create some movement in the still air. Her six-year-old brother John copies her, throwing back his head and raising the hem of his long baby clothes. Her brother Stephen, who at ten dresses like a man in loose shirt and pants, stands apart from them regarding his siblings' game with a look of disdain. But as they round the back of the meetinghouse, all three throw back their heads, spread their arms, and turn in circles as they drink in the blue and gold of the autumn sky.
"There must be a breeze by the river." Eunice slows down, bringing the world back into balance. "We might find cress growing there." She looks at Stephen expectantly. Though at seven she is closer in age to John, she considers Stephen to be her closest companion.
"Oh, do let's beg a whipping from our father!" snorts Stephen in response. "You know he'd punish us if we were to be caught outside the stockade." Eunice frowns. For two years now, ever since the beginning of Queen Anne's War against the French and Indians in Canada, her father has been worried about attacks. Eunice can barely remember what it was like to go down to the river with Parthena and Frank, her family's two slaves, but she thinks often of how cool it was in midsummer, damp, pungent, shady, with cress growing in the shallows like food for some mysterious otherworld creature.
Now, despite the late autumn heat, Reverend Williams won't allow his children to go down to the river with anyone. There have been reports that English towns on the Maine and Vermont borders have been raided by French soldiers and their fiercest Indian allies, known as the Maqua. The men of Deerfield have been working hard, not only to get in the last of the hay but also to mend rotten places in the stockade, where the tall wooden pickets have loosened, and build temporary shanties, barely houses at all, for families like Mary's who must move inside for protection.
"I'd rather go and see how our fort has held up in the rains," Stephen declares, walking around their house toward the weathered stockade at the back of the yard. Eunice runs to catch up. Before leaving for school in Boston, their eldest brother Eleazer showed them a sketch of a lean-to he'd seen on an earlier trip. Local Indians had built it, he said, or maybe voyaguers, the French adventurers who live like Indians. After studying the sketch, Stephen and Eunice collected sticks and hemp sacking and managed to erect a fairly sturdy structure against a section of stockade at the back of their yard.
Eunice had found it good fun playing Indians, until their father began preaching about the heathen hordes in the north that would come sweeping down upon the sinful inhabitants of Deerfield. The people of Esau, he called the enemy. "Let my people go," he prayed. Trying not to squirm on the hard seat during her father's long Sunday sermons, Eunice began to worry about their game; it is hard to know when one is sinful. So before the rains began, she had convinced Stephen that they should be voyageurs, trading in Albany with both the English and the Dutch, and owing allegiance to no one.
But now Stephen won't let Eunice be a voyageur and keeps insisting on calling her a squaw. "Why should I be a savage when you won't anymore?" she complains. "'Tis not fair play when you keep calling me that." There is something sickening about being an Indian woman among the French, though Eunice can't tell why.
"You can't be a man, Eunice. 'Tain't true to life at all. And only savage women travel with the Frenchmen."
"I won't play if I must be that." Eunice bites her lip and glares.
"Then we won't play." Stephen shrugs. "You can't be a voyageur, Eunice. 'Tain't right, is it?" he asks, turning to John, who trails behind them ignoring their bickering. John nods, but Eunice doesn't think he minds what role she takes.
As they pass the north parlor window, Parthena calls out, "Miss Eunice, come get your baby brother. He wants to go with you."
"We're going to look at our fort," shouts Stephen. "I guess Warham can come."
Parthena gives four-year-old Warham a pat, sending him running toward Eunice.
Heading down the incline a quarter mile beyond their house, Stephen lets out a whoop. "It stands!" he shouts. "Pretty woodsmen we are!"
But their lean-to looks smaller than Eunice remembered. They lift a sacking cloth to get inside. Eunice has to pull Warham onto her lap to make room for the four of them, and even then they can hardly move without nearly bringing the whole structure down. They have built the lean-to against a part of the stockade where a loose picket can be pushed aside disclosing a sliver of the hayfield, neatly mowed and running down toward the river. Now, Eunice pushes it so far that even Stephen can squeeze through.
"Why don't you try it?" urges Eunice. A strand of damp hair curls into one of her eyes, and the stiff stays in her dress, meant to keep her back straight, poke her just below the ribs when she bends. As she leans into the opening, a slight breeze makes her face go prickly. Barn swallows skim the stubble left by haying scythes. "Just for a minute. The hay is all stacked now. No one will know. I'll go if you won't."
Stephen slides feet first through the opening into the hazy light of the late afternoon. Eunice cautions her two younger brothers to wait and pushes through head first behind Stephen. Her long overskirt gives her some trouble, and her red cotton gown catches at the waist as she pulls herself through.
She feels the seam give way. "Fie!"
On the other side of the stockade she inspects the damage and straightens her skirts. The river glimmers beyond the tree break. She might fix the tear before anyone notices. The mud on her overskirt will be more troublesome. But the breeze is delicious. Eunice and Stephen sit for a few minutes, their backs against the outside of the stockade, saying nothing until they hear John begging to join them.
So, into the mowed hayfield crawl John and Warham. Stephen has a small deerskin ball dyed red and yellow and stuffed with calico scraps, which he begins tossing in the air. He shoots it unexpectedly at John calling, "You're the Savage!"
The game continues until Warham misses, and the ball rolls down the slope toward the hayfield, giving Stephen the opportunity to go a little farther into the field. Stephen and Eunice begin to miss the ball on purpose, laughing as they fumble and then scramble to get it.
"That first haystack is not very far," Eunice darts a look at Stephen. "If you run to it, I'll follow as soon as you've tagged and climbed it."
Stephen looks doubtful. "If we're caught 'twill be the devil. And who do you think will pay dearest?"
"We're scarcely outside. I can't think anyone would fault us for it. 'twill only take a moment to get to the haystack and back." Eunice gives him a little prod.
"All right, we'll do it. Just us two, though." He warns. "'Tis growing late. There's only time for two of us to go."
"You and Warham go back and be lookouts in the yard," Eunice tells John. But John insists on staying and if he will not leave, Warham must stay too.
As Stephen takes off, Eunice watches with her heart in her mouth. Danger is part of the game: if they are caught they will surely pay with a beating. She herself has had only one whipping, once when she was little and she set out for Mary Brooks's house without permission. Since then, she has had no more than a cane across her hand for foolishness. The joy of being out in the open field beyond the stockade after being shut inside for weeks makes the risk worthwhile.
Far ahead Stephen gains the haystack, but then he just stands looking off toward the river.
"Why doesn't he move?" Eunice mutters under her breath. "Climb it!"
John pulls at her sleeve. "Someone will see him!" He pipes.
"Hush!" says Eunice, finger to her lips. "He'll do it."
And he does, waving from the haystack, a slender figure haloed by the sun. "My turn now. Don't dare to follow me," Eunice whispers to John. "And keep Warham with you. You're both too little to climb it."
Stephen slides down from the haystack while Eunice unties her unwieldy overshoes, kicks off her thin-soled slippers, and takes off. The thrill of fear that courses through her evaporates as she slaps hands with Stephen passing on his way back the stockade. Hair streaming behind her, scalp prickling, Eunice is aware of nothing but the sweet smell of hay, the slippery wet stubble under her stockinged feet, and the wide golden sky suffused with lavender, orange, and crimson. She doesn't even hear the commotion behind her, doesn't stop until she reaches the haystack and turns to see Parthena's husband, Frank, racing toward her, nostrils flaring like her father's bull's. Mahogany forehead furrowed with a furious intent, Frank sweeps her into his arms and turns back toward the stockade at a fast trot. He is breathing too heavily to speak until they have safely reached the stockade where only Stephen waits now, having pushed the younger boys in through the gap when he saw Frank coming.
"You're a lucky miss that your brother came along, Miss Eunice." Frank has put her down and is leaning heavily against the stockade. "It be the devil to pay when the Reverend hears about this, and I'll be telling him too, miss. He has to know. And your little brothers followin' you! What were you thinking of? Wanting to be made a savage? A devil Maqua mayhap? Now get you back inside. I be mending this hole when I come round."
Eunice is amazed at the anger in Frank's voice. This gentle man has never so much as spoken sharply to her before. As Eunice pushes her way back through the gap, she is weeping with fear, not of Indians, but of her father. She is sure of a whipping this time.
Frank puts his hand on Stephen's shoulder, "Master Stephen, your father'll be proud of you, getting your little brothers in from the field."
Eunice, listening from within the lean-to, is sobbing too hard to shout that it was Stephen's idea too, that the Stebbins and Hoyt boys are allowed in the field and even go nutting in the hills sometimes, and that no one has seen any of these fierce Maqua or Frenchmen from the north.
Stephen is quiet for a few minutes, and Eunice crouches, seething at the injustice until she hears him tell Frank that he too has been playing in the hayfield. She is amazed, for he will surely get a beating.
* * *
"Go and tell Frank to tear down that devilish lean-to and patch up the loose picket where the children got through," her father commands Parthena as soon as he hears about their game. Her father's face is dead white now and his mouth is a tight seam that barely opens to let the words out. His eyes light on Eunice only briefly.
"Eunice, get you upstairs with the little ones," he tells her. Then he looks to her eldest sister Esther, just returning from the Carter's with their mother. "Esther, see that she waits upstairs. I'll attend to her next," he commands. "Stephen, you well know I cannot have my own children playing games outside the stockade when I've ordered the whole settlement in. Come." Eunice watches from the landing as her father takes a cane from beside the back door and leads Stephen outside. Her mother moves to say something but shuts her mouth and turns away.CHAPTER 2
He therefore that went before (Vain-confidence by name), not seeing the way before him, fell into a deep Pit, which was on purpose there made by the Prince of those grounds to catch vain-glorious fools withall; and was dashed in pieces with his fall.
— The Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan
In the morning, Eunice sits copying the lesson her father has set for her. The letters of her book squirm, and she aches for Stephen, alone upstairs with his smarting wounds. They have been forbidden to see each other or to leave the house. Her lesson from The Pilgrim's Progress is all about a man named Christian, who must carry a heavy burden through terrible trials and temptations before he can reach Beulah Land and enter God's Celestial City. Writing has always given Eunice trouble. It is easier for her to do it in stitches where the colorful patterns make more sense. The Reverend will surely not think her copy fair. Her fingers, so quick to do her bidding with a needle, are clumsy with a quill. Her mind keeps wandering up the stairs to Stephen, and the ink seems to dry before she thinks to dip the pen. She wants to tell Stephen that she would never in a million years have given him away. At least she thinks she wouldn't. Eunice still cannot think that what they did was so very evil. Again she feels the exhilaration of her race through the stubbly field, feels her hand slap firmly against Stephen's in sweet solidarity.
Parthena is slicing apples to be dried for the winter. The room is dizzyingly fragrant with the sweetness of them. But Parthena will neither look nor smile at Eunice.
Eunice looks closely at her mother, who is settling the folds in her cloak over her growing stomach before heading out on her errands. She notes the weariness beneath her mother's calm. What was it Eunice heard Goodwife Carter say to Parthena last summer? Her mother had been out, and Parthena had whispered something under her breath to Goodwife Carter.
"Not following so hard upon the last one?" came Goody Carter's reply. Then lower, "I wot not how the Reverend could be so careless! A body needs time to rest after losing a child."
Eunice thinks of the twin sisters who lived so briefly the winter before, but she still doesn't understand Goody Carter's complaint. Her father has always seemed a careful man to her. Now she looks at her mother's pale face, framed by a blue and white bonnet and a few escaping strands of reddish hair, and wonders what Parthena and the Carter woman meant.
"Parthena, look to it that Eunice improves her time with her lesson. I would not have her idling or telling tales while the others are in school. The Reverend Williams is greatly wroth with her." Eunice's mother speaks sharply as she makes ready to leave and avoids looking in her direction, causing Eunice as much hurt as the cane across her palm where the welt between her left thumb and forefinger still smarts.
Eunice notices that Parthena looks stricken by the reference to her tales. Despite mild disapproval, her parents have been tolerant of Parthena's storytelling. Once, when her mother tendered some concern, Eunice was surprised to see her father look up from the sermon he worked on, catching her mother's eye with a conspiratorial gleam in his own. "A bit of spice from the Indies will not hurt the children, as long as they are taught to sift true from false. And Parthena is as good a Christian as any of us." It was a secret look, one quick to disappear. When he returned to his sermon, her father's face reclaimed its stern rapture. But ever after, Eunice has smelled nutmeg and cinnamon in Parthena's stories.
She looks up to the window from her copying to catch her mother's blue cloak receding along the road as she leaves the Stebbins's house, Esther beside her. Her mother is forever carrying on the business of her father's parish. She often takes Esther along, leaving Eunice with Parthena on the days when she is not in school. But she is usually sure to tell Eunice about her visits for the day. Eunice looks longingly at her mother's back, wondering where she is heading. She wishes she could go with her instead of copying lessons, smelling apples, and not daring in her disgrace to beg a slice.
Outside the kitchen there is a simmering vat of pokeberry for crimson dye. Despite the steam rising from it, Eunice wants to go out and stir the purplish-looking mixture, and dip a rag to see if it will take the color. Better still, she wishes she were at school with Mary Brooks. Mary will be looking for me, thinks Eunice. And she knows she will not be allowed to eat dinner with the Brooks family when they come tonight, and she will have to wait to learn Mary's new stitch. Eunice whispers the words under her breath instead of copying her lesson, "Now, Christian and his fellow heard him fall. So they called to know the matter, but there was none to answer, only they heard a groaning. Then said Hopeful, Where are we now? Then was his fellow silent."
Wiping one palm on her orange calico apron, Parthena holds some apple slices cradled in her other, "Don't think badly of the Reverend," she says comfortingly, seeking Eunice's eyes. "He had a bad scare. And don't you worry about Master Stephen. His pride is hurt more than his back is."
Excerpted from The Mourning Wars by Karen Steinmetz. Copyright © 2010 Karen Steinmetz. Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part I: Eunice Williams of Deerfield October 1703-April 1704,
Part II: People of the Flint April 1704-August 1705,
Part III: The Door in the Country October 1705-February 1708,
Part IV: Marguerite October 1710-October 1713,
About the Author,