Vincent Van Gogh’s Mourning Woman
Molly shrieked Andrew’s name, hoping he’d come out of hiding, till Aggie coolly took control, quickly aware of the danger to them all. “Quiet yourself, woman! Go for Master Wharton. You may bring them down on us! We must tend the one at hand and let the men seek the others.”
Terrified, Molly raced for the cabin rousing Master Wharton to the calamity. He was dealing with a neighbor who raced for reinforcements among the other settlers. It had only been a brief twenty years since the Jamestown Massacre and there had been trouble several times recently. Master Wharton and a party of twenty or followed a trail into the woods. From broken branches, it was clear someone was being dragged. Other women joined Aggie and Molly, helping get Bartles into the cabin.
Though he’d lost blood and was in shock from scalping and other grave injuries, he was able to confirm they’d been attacked by Indians. With that, he slipped into unconsciousness, unable to give any word of the other men. Aggie covered his head wound with a poultice bandage and treated him the best she could with herbal remedies. He lingered between life and death for days. When he finally roused, he remembered nothing about the incident.
The men were gone through the night while the two wives tended Bartles. Fearing attack, the other women returned to the enclosure of the settlement, promising to return the next day with supplies and medicine. Toward morning, the party returned with Benjamin White, barely alive, suffering from broken ribs and broken legs and arms. The Indians had no doubt intended him for slavery, but apparently when he couldn’t keep up, they’d broken his legs, kicked in his ribs and left him for dead. He’d also been scalped and could tell them nothing. The women and the injured returned to the safety of the settlement while the injured men fought for their lives. Amazingly, Bartles, the older, recovered while the younger man who’d languished in the woods for hours perished from a suppurating head wound and fever.
Naturally, the colonists were terrified of a return to hostilities and remained cloistered together for days. Molly was wild with grief at Andrew’s abduction, but held a little hope he’d survived and might somehow escape to return to her, though the hope dwindled day by day. She’d heard enough tales to be aware he might have already been slaughtered or was enslaved at the very least. If he didn’t manage to get away soon, he’d not likely survive long.
After the initial terror, life had to go on. Crops had to be worked, animals tended, and work donei. The settlement could not support the influx of outsiders for long, so they returned to their homes and lives. Molly stayed with Aggie and Bartles in their tiny cabin to help tend Bartles during the night for a time, returning to her duties during the day. She repaired to the barn room left vacant by Benjamin’s death as soon as Aggie could spare her, not wanting to share a cabin with Master Wharton. A bondswoman could easily to fall into trouble that would continue her servitude.
Molly moved through her days woodenly, lost in her grief. At first, she tried to imagine scenarios where Andrew escaped and would be returning to her. In her dreams, he held her in his arms as they counted off the days till they’d be free with their own land, just as he’d always done. They’d have a fine farm, extend their acreage, engage servants of their own, and have many strong sons and sweet daughters to share their lives. They’d looked forward to growing old surrounded by loving family. She was always devastated to awake to the reality of continuing a life of servitude alone. Through gossip, she even learned that Master Wharton could compel her to complete Andrew’s contract when she finished her own. The possibility of six more years faced her. In her fear, she avoided any conversation about her future situation with Master Wharton. She prayed he’d continue to treat her kindly, but understood he’d have to acquire a new bondsman or couple. He’d lost two workers. Where would that leave her? The barn room would be needed if he only engaged a man. Should he engage a couple and a single man, he might sell the remainder of her time to another. God only knew what a new master might demand. There weren’t many single women in the colony. A woman was in danger of being abused then punished should she fall pregnant. The best she could hope was that a fair man would buy her time and offer her marriage. The thought of her future was terrifying.