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White Mountain Brides

By Susan Page Davis

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chapter one

Cochecho, New Hampshire, 1689

Richard Dudley bolted upright, his heart pounding in the dark. The sound that had wakened him came once more—a distant but terrible shriek, splitting the night. Only an Indian out for blood could make that gruesome noise.

“Richard!” His father’s forceful voice came from below.

“I hear it.”

“Quick! Wake your sister. We must run to Otis’s.”

“I’m awake,” came Catherine’s voice from behind the half partition that separated their sleeping areas in the loft.

Richard scrambled to pull on his breeches and shoes. A moment’s hesitation could mean death in an Indian raid. He leaped down the ladder, pausing only to be sure Catherine made it safely down in her billowing skirts. His parents hadn’t built up the fire, and only a faint glow from the coals lit the room. Richard sensed movement and knew his mother was gathering emergency supplies. No doubt his father had dashed to grab his loaded musket that hung above the door. Richard groped his way to the corner where his own weapon leaned against the wall.

“Stephen,” his mother gasped, and Richard’s heart sank at the thought of his younger brother.

“He’ll be safe at Otis’s garrison,” her husband said. “It’s ourselves we must worry about. Catherine?”

“Here, father.”

“Come, then.”

“Take this.” Their mother’s voice was low and urgent. She pressed a sack into Richard’s hand, and he knew it held food. He suspected his mother and Catherine also carried food or blankets. They had discussed sudden flight many times across the supper table and practiced it once before when an outlying farm was raided and the warning came to fort up at the nearest garrison.

That would be Otis’s, the closest fortified house. The blacksmith and his large family offered protection for other settlers whenever needed, as did Waldron, Heard, and other prominent men in the struggling community. Their houses were fenced all around, and built of sturdy oak, with rifle loops for windows above and the second story protruding over the first, so that attackers could be fired down upon. Richard prayed the people within would be safe, as well as the other families that were certainly running toward them.

The four of them crept outside and headed silently across their newly planted cornfield, avoiding the path. Richard cringed with each step, knowing he crushed tender plants he and his father and brother had worked hard to nourish. Worrying about that was senseless. If they did not make it to the safe haven, the corn would not matter. His thoughts flew to the Minton family—Sarah and her parents. They were closer to Waldron’s garrison. Had they made it there in safety? He couldn’t think of her now. Distraction could mean death.

His mother stumbled, and his father reached to steady her. Richard hurried on, taking the lead and hearing Catherine panting behind him. Ahead, the savage screams increased, and a flash of foreboding told him they were running the wrong way, even as his feet took him onward.

They topped a rise, and Richard stopped abruptly. Catherine slammed into him, and the air burst from his lungs.

“Sorry,” she gasped, clinging to his jerkin.

“Look.” Richard held her arms and turned her toward what he had seen. A fiery glow lit the sky ahead.

His parents came up beside them and stood silent for a moment except for their labored breathing.

“Otis’s is burning.” His father’s voice quivered with hurt disbelief. The stronghold they had counted on, near the center of the settlement, had been attacked.

“Stephen,” Mrs. Dudley breathed.

The two men said nothing but watched a moment longer. Richard’s heart ached and a bitter taste filled his mouth. His brother had gone to the Otis house yesterday to give a day’s work in exchange for the blacksmith’s sharpening of the Dudleys’ tools.

“Major Waldron’s?” Richard asked.

“Aye. But we must take to the woods,” his father said.

Richard felt Catherine shudder, but it was the only wise course. They dare not stay in the little house or travel in the open. Another glow burst on the sky, beyond Otis’s garrison.

“Come,” his father hissed, and Richard hurried after him, watching the forms of his mother and younger sister in the near blackness. They crossed the stone wall at the far edge of the cornfield and scurried into the woods, slower now. His father halted every few yards and they all stood stock-still, trying to quiet their breath, listening. Far away they heard fiendish yells.

Ten minutes later they emerged from the forest. The smell of smoke broke over them in a wave. A woman’s piercing scream sounded, much closer than the other cries, and Father backed up, pushing them against the trees. An unearthly shriek reached them, and then flames burst against the sky scarcely two hundred yards away. A cottage’s thatch crackled and then whooshed into roaring, orange fire.

“That be Mintons’.” His mother cringed back against him.

Richard swallowed hard, but his nausea only increased. Three days ago he had walked to Mintons’ and asked the goodman’s permission to call upon his fifteen-year-old daughter, Sarah. Instinctively he moved forward, but felt his father’s strong hand on his arm, holding him back.

“Nay, son. Be not hasty to throw your life away,” his father said. “Let us pray they went to Waldrons.”

They crouched together, out of reach of the fire’s light, until the only sounds were occasional snappings from the dying conflagration and the gentle roll of the river beyond. A breeze sighed through the trees, and the branches above them swayed gently, rustling their young leaves. Richard’s heart was like a stone in his chest. He sent desperate snippets of prayers heavenward. Almighty Father, help them to escape. Help us all to live!

“Richard, come.”

At his father’s word, Richard stood. Catherine seized the hem of his jerkin, but he pried her fingers loose and whispered, “Stay here with Mother.”

He and his father ducked from tree to fencerow, silently approaching the ruined house. A few yards from the smoldering heap, his father grunted and stumbled. Richard hurried to his side and knelt by the body he had tripped over.

“’Tis Goodman Minton,” Richard whispered, recognizing his neighbor more from the familiar clothing revealed in the fading firelight that from the man’s mangled features. The embers of the house shifted and a sudden burst of light showed more than he wanted to see—the bloody head, relieved of its scalp and bashed in mercilessly. Richard turned away and retched.

Father touched his arm gently and pointed. “His wife is yon.”

Richard inhaled deeply and scooted toward the prone form, keeping low. Her outer skirt had been torn away—textiles were one of the first things savages looted. Or perhaps she had fled the house without it in her terror. Her petticoats were tangled about her ankles, and she, too, had been scalped. Fighting horror, Richard reached for her wrist to check for a pulse. People were known to have survived scalping before, but Goody Minton’s life had seeped away.

His father crouched beside him, and Richard whispered, “She’s gone.”

“Pity. The savages are between us and Waldron’s now. We must hide until morn.”


His father clapped his shoulder. “No, son. She’s with her parents in glory, or she’s been taken.”

“But she and her sister could be lying nearby, needing help.”

His father hesitated and looked around. “See you any others?”

Richard peered all about, wishing one moment to find her, and hoping desperately the next that he would not discover her mutilated like her parents.


“If it’s quiet, we’ll return at first light,” his father said. “Come. We’ve others to think about.”

His father faded into the darkness, back toward the trees where they’d left Mother and Catherine. Richard hated to leave the spot. He rose and flitted to the fence. Goodman Minton’s byre had burnt, too, and the animals were likely stolen or running loose. Quickly he circled the ruins of the buildings. The house was still so hot he couldn’t get close. He would return at first light and sift the ashes if need be. He searched the yard and found a pewter plate and several articles of clothing strewn willy-nilly on the ground. The savages had plundered before they put the torch to the house. He jumped at sudden movement. A piglet sprang from beneath a bush and squealed, streaking toward the river. Then the night was eerily still.

Cries broke out again at a little distance, and he knew at once they came from the direction of Major Waldron’s garrison and gristmill. Richard crept back to the place where his family waited. His mother wept softly against his father’s shoulder. Catherine squeezed his arm so hard he winced.

“Any sign of Sarah or Molly?” she hissed.


“Hurry,” said their father. “They likely won’t come back here, but we must find a thicket in the forest and wait for dawn.”

They hurried into the trees, away from the destruction.

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