The Pilhannaw

By Richard French

Literary fiction


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2 mins


Even though we are alone in the wilderness and have learned how to thrive in a beautiful if sometimes inhospitable terrain, most of us still have in mind a larger world filled with men and women who think differently from the way we do. We wonder what these dimly-remembered people would say of us if they knew us and realize they might not like us. We’ve tried to free ourselves from the corruptions of the old world and make a new start, but since we’re not perfect and no one has followed our example or has sent messengers to find out what we are doing, we feel lonely and even misguided at times. We’d do well to exchange these runnels of thought for freer channels of hope and gratitude and let ourselves marvel at the opportunity God has given us. We’d do well to prepare for the future.
From Willoughby’s Diary

When Quinsettapen’s dugout finally reached Wamaset after two more stops along the way, some children playing in the snow saw the slender vessel as it rounded one of the numerous bends in the river and raced to the landing to greet Quinsettapen with a song. They danced around him and pressed against his leggings as he stepped onto the shore. One of the children, a girl with long, dancing braids said that they’d been waiting for him since breakfast, because the women had something they wanted to tell him. Smiling and touching their heads and patting their shoulders, the old sachem said that he was sorry if they’d missed him, but he’d stopped to walk in the forest. He hoped that the surprise he’d found for them would help them forgive him. He called to the oarsmen, who brought an enormous pine cone from the canoe, one longer and fatter than any the children had ever seen, and they set to laughing and clapping their hands and singing another song of thanksgiving.
A glance around him told Quinsettapen that a change had taken place during his absence, for there wasn’t a single canoe at the landing aside from his own. “Where’s your father?” he asked one of his grandsons in as steady a voice as he could manage.
Before the boy could answer, though, some women came down the river from a circle of wigwams that was partly hidden from sight by a grove of pine trees. Quinsettapen watched as they walked single-file down the slippery path, heads lowered, saying nothing. Bit by bit, he could feel the light in his soul going out. “What is it?” he asked. “What has happened?”
One of the women said that Kinnyhook had taken the braves and run off with the canoes to the Toconoco camp.
“My son? With the Toconocos? I wish God had given me two sons.”
The women said that they’d tried to stop him, and while Kinnyhook was making his arrangements, they’d talked about hiding the braves’ weapons under a rock or setting fire to the canoes, but they were afraid that action might endanger their lives. Quinsettapen asked if Kinnyhook had been rude to them. “Very,” the women said.
He motioned for them to follow him up the path with long sweeps of the arm that showed his wish to shelter and protect them. “Come, we will talk about this again. Things may not seem so bad by nightfall.” Two of the children then took the pine cone and carried it between them, pretending that it was a burden too heavy for either to carry alone.



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