Winds tossed the Mayflower about the sea for nine long weeks, and when at last land came in sight, it proved to be Cape Cod. This was several hundred miles north of the Hudson river, where the Pilgrims wished to go, and so they turned about, to sail to the south. But the ship ran into shoals and breakers, and narrowly escaped a wreck. So they returned to Cape Cod harbor; but there were only long stretches of white sand banks, and a few straggling pines along this coast, and they decided to send off explorers to look for a better place to land.
Before any left the ship, they made a set of laws which all promised to obey, and chose John Carver to be governor of the colony for one year.
Then Captain Miles Standish and a few others went in search of a town site.
Every man had his musket, sword and corslet, and the little party crept cautiously along, sometimes skirting the shore of the bay in an open boat, and sometimes pushing their way into the mainland on foot.
Whenever the explorers returned they had much to tell, and all in the ship gathered eagerly around them to learn about their adventures.
Once they said they had seen Indians, a group of five or six half-naked, dusky fellows, who ran away as fast as their legs would carry them. Another time they found some frozen mounds of earth, dug into them with their swords, and foul pits lined with bark, in which were the baskets of corn they brought back. None of the Pilgrims had ever seen the maize of the Indians, and the good women fell straightway to wondering how it might be cooked.
Then Captain Standish told how they had dug into another mound, expecting to find more corn, but found instead the bones of a man and the dried mummy of a little child; and the skull of the man was covered with golden hair.
Now they knew that the Indians had black hair, and wondered what this lonely grave by the seashore meant. Could it be the grave of one of the yellow-haired Norsemen, who were said to have dwelt for a time in this region? The little Pilgrims were more curious to know about the little child, and talked about it over and over again.
A long time afterwards they learned of the massacre of the Frenchmen, how five of them had been made slaves, and how one had proved himself so agreeable to his chief, that he was kindly treated, and married to an Indian maiden. Then the little Pilgrims wondered if the dead child, with the beads, and little bow, and arrow and playthings, scattered all around him, were not the son of this Frenchman. But no one ever really knew anything about the Indian child and the man of the golden locks, who lay asleep together in one grave.
Once when the explorers returned to the ship, they told how William Bradford had been caught in an Indian deer trap, and there was great merriment over the thought of this scholarly man suspended in mid-air in the fork of a sapling.
Here and there, from an ambush in the forest, they caught sight of Indians, and upon one occasion were met with a shower of arrows; but no one was injured, and at the sound of the guns the Indians fled.
A whole month was spent in exploring the coast, and the winter weather was so severe that their clothes were sometimes frozen on them like coats of mail.
But they built their camp-fires under the boughs of the fir-trees, and wandered many miles in quest of a landing-place.
On the twenty-first of December, the Pilgrim scouts ran their shallop into the harbor which Captain Smith had called Plymouth on his map, and were so well pleased with the spot, they decided to make it their home; so they returned to the ship with the joyful news, and soon the ship cast anchor in Plymouth haven, with the whole company on board. They stood on the icy deck with the winds blowing through the masts overhead, and the waves roaring about the great black hull beneath, and sang hymns of praise for deliverance from the dangers of the sea. Boatload after boatload left the ship. There was joy at setting foot on land once more. They gathered fuel and built fires under the snow-laden pines.
THERE WAS JOY AST SETTING FOOT ON LAND ONCE MORE.
The women washed the soiled linen at a spring, and the men set about building a shelter. They chose a hillside sloping down to Cape Cod Bay, and put up a log house large enough for all. Then they divided the whole company into nineteen families, and laid out plots of land where each family might build its own house.
Meanwhile, although the Pilgrims did not know anything about it until many years after, the Indians of all that region gathered their powwow priests into a gloomy swamp not far from Plymouth, and for three days and three nights, used all their black charms and cursed the white men in a most terrible manner. They did not venture very near the settlement, but were often seen hovering about the forests. The Pilgrims were in such fear of an attack, that they formed a military company, with Miles Standish as captain, and built a platform of logs on the brow of the hill, and mounted it with cannon.
It would take a long time to tell of the hardships endured by the settlers of New England, as they tried to build homes in the snow. They had difficulty to get stone, mortar and thatch; they lacked boats to unload their goods from the ship; disease fell upon them, and the sick lay in the crowded ship, or in half-built cabins heaped around with snow-drifts, so that sometimes two or three died in one day.
But the living did not falter. They carried out the dead and buried them in a bluff by the river, and smoothed over the graves that the Indians might not know how few remained alive.
At one time there were but seven well ones in the whole company, and when the long, dreary winter was ended, fifty-one of the hundred and two were dead.