Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Queen Esthers Rock
By Ann Sophia Stephens (18101886)
[Born in Derby, Conn., 1813. Died in Newport, R. I., 1886. Mary Derwent. 1858.]
A CLOUD of white rose upon the water as they swept downward, sending back cries and shrieks of anguish. It sunk and rose again, this time nearer the shore. Then some human being, Indian or white, dashed through the brushwood, leaped into the stream, striking out for that mass of floating white. A plunge, a long, desperate pull, and the man was straggling up the bank, carrying Mary in his arms.
Mary stirred in his embrace. The beat of her arms on the waters had forced them to deal tenderly with her; and the breath had not yet left her bosom. For a moment she thought herself in heaven, and smiled pleasantly to know that he was with her. But a prolonged yell from the plain, followed by a slow and appalling death-chant, brought her to consciousness with a shock. She started up, swept back her hair, and looked off towards the sound. There she met a sight that drove all thoughts of heaven from her brain. A huge fragment of stone lay in the centre of a ring, from which the brushwood had been cut away, as an executioner shreds the tresses of a victim, in order to secure a clear blow. Around this rock sixteen prisoners were ranged, and behind them a ring of savages each holding a victim pressed to the earth. And thus the doomed men sat face to face, waiting for death.
As she gazed, Queen Esther, the terrible priestess of that night, came from her work on Monockonok Island, followed by a train of Indians, savage as herself, and swelled the horrid scene. With her sons tomahawk gleaming in her hand, she struck into a dance, which had a horrid grace in it. With every third step, the tomahawk fell, and a head rolled at her feet. The whole scene was lighted up by a huge fire, built from the brushwood cleared from the circle, and against this red light her figure rose awfully distinct. The folds of her long hair had broken loose and floated behind her, gleaming white and terrible; while the hard profile of her face cut sharply against the flames, like that of a fiend born of the conflagration.
She touched her deformed shoulder, as an angel might have pointed out its wings, and sped onwards towards the scene of slaughterher feet scarcely touched the earth. The missionary, with all his zeal, could hardly keep pace with her.
Queen Esthers death-chant increased in volume and fury as the chain of bleeding heads lengthened and circled along her tracks. Life after life had dropped before her, and but two were left, when Mary Derwent forced herself through the belt of savages and sprang upon the rock.
She spoke in the Indian tongue, which had been a familiar language since her childhood; her hand was uplifted; her eyes bright with inspiration; around her limbs the white garments clung like marble folds to a statue.
They sprang up and away. The Indians saw them, but did not move. Queen Esther heard their leap, and ended her chant in a long low wail. Then she turned in her rage, and would have flung her tomahawk at the angel girl, but the Indians sprang upon the rock and guarded her with their uplifted weapons. Superstition, with them, was stronger than reverence for their demon queen.
The rage of that old woman was horrible. She prowled around the phalanx of savages like a tigress; menaced them with her weapons with impotent fury, and, springing on her horse, galloped through the forest by the smouldering fort and across the plain, until she came out opposite the little island where her son was buried. Her horse paused on the brink of the stream, white with foam and dripping with sweat, but she struck him with the flat of her tomahawk and he plunged in, bearing her to the island. Here she cast her steed loose, staggered up to the new-made grave, dropped the reeking tomahawk upon it, and fell down from pure physical exhaustion, bathed with blood as a fiend is draped in flame.
As the aged demon took her way to that grave, the angel girl turned to her path of mercy. For that night the massacre was stayed. To the Indians she had appeared as a prophetess from the Great Spirit, who had laid his hand heavily upon her shoulder as a symbol of divine authority.