The Huguenots were the French Calvinists.
By 1562, their numbers had reached 2,000,000 adherents, mostly in southern and central France. This was about 10% of the French population. Because they were seen by the Catholic Church and many of their fellow countrymen, as schismatics, something worse then heretics, they were prosecuted. There were numerous religious wars between the aristocratic houses, the Catholics fighting those that had converted to Calvinism, between 1562 and 1598. The worse single day in Huguenot history was in August of 1572, St. Bartholomew Massacre, when entire towns across the country were burned, and at least 10,000 people were killed. After this Huguenots believed that Catholicism was a bloody treacherous religion.
The government and monarchy tried to calm the sectionalism apparent in the religious warsn and in 1598 the Treaty of Nantes was signed by Henry IV. This gave Huguenots the right to worship, and travel through countries controlled by the Inquisition. The Treaty also gave Protestants civil rights, by separating civil from religious law. The Treaty of Nantes was revoked by Henry IV’s grandson Louis XIV, in 1685.
Although it was illegal, many Protestants had their lands stolen and goods confiscated, enduring countless episodes of persecution. Because of this, even before the revocation of the Treaty, thousands of Huguenots fled from France. They brought with them the French love of good tales, food and joie de vivre.
In her book on the history of fashion, Milla Davenport wrote about the Huguenots’ leaving from the perspective of the trades and skills they removed from France.
“The greatest mistake of Louis’ life, the Revocation of the Treaty of Nantes, for which the Church had longed… The Protestants who were among France’s most worthy and industrious citizens were driven to sympathetic neighboring countries; some of the most prosperous districts of France were depopulated and reduced to poverty as weavers, printers, watchmakers and goldsmiths set for England, Switzerland, Alsace, Holland and Germany on the road to rivalry and supremacy in these arts.” The Book of Costume: vol 1., Milla Davenport, Crown Publishers, New York, New York. 1948.
Matilda’s mother, like Boston’s Peter Faneuil and Paul Revere, was a Huguenot. She was born in Boston, the second stop after the family left France. The Huguenot church in London was established the century before, in1550 by the first emigres. As many Calvinists did, Phillipa’s family came to New England in 1660 and settled in Boston. Phillippa married John Huddleston in 1689. Her younger brother moved to New Rochelle, New York to apprentice with an uncle in his trading business, as Peter Faneuil did.
So with an Englishman, an Agawam, a Marranos and a Huguenot I’ve created the eighteenth American polyglot for my next book, The Silent Bell. Nothing in her captivity is like what Matilda read in her captivity legends, instead the reason for her captivity has its roots not in New France and New England but in a medieval legend, and old hatreds.
Matilda has the key to enable or to destroy the past. If she is not careful her family’s enemy will reclaim their power and she must prevent that by holding her secret tight.
David Rose, the hero of my tale, is one of Pieter Schuyler’s men. Of course not very much detail is known about this sort of operation, but in True stories of New England Captives carried to Canada during the old French and Indian wars, by Charlotte Alice Baker, and published in 1897,
Schuyler did not relax his efforts to protect New England. He openly protested against New York’s maintenance of neutrality whereby marauders passed unmolested, to attack the people of Massachusetts; and remonstrating in the name with the Governor of Canada, he said it was his duty to God and man to prevent as far a possible the infliction of such cruelties. Se sent friendly Indians, as scouts into the enemy’s country, and reported all he could learn of the designs of their captors in regards to them. pp137.
David was abducted ten years before the start of this story, and moves fluidly between Mohawk and French society. After he meets Matilda, he seeks out Schuyler to ask about her. Schuyler is surprised, since her name had not been released either to him, or to Massachusetts governor Joseph Dudley. Schuyler sets David on a mission that is in essence our story, he must discover why Matilda is different from other captives, and how he can save her from the man who wants her secrets.
David and Matilda are typical enough residents of the new world, to be remarkable to ours. Because the population of New England was so low, it made sense to me that there would be little that was typical, and I invented two people who embody nearly all possibilities of background, but not culture; English Puritan culture ran strongly among all the ‘others’ who lived with them.
David’s father is John Rose, born Joao Roaz. John converted to Puritanism after he fell in love. The conversion was not difficult because Calvinism is, as he jokes, an Old Testament based covenanted religion. John was born in Lisbon to a family of hidden Jews, called in Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition, Marranos (meaning swine). John ran away from his family at thirteen. Preparing for a secret Bar-Mitzvah which might cause the arrest of all his extended family was too much for him, as was an apprenticeship with a member of the his father’s guild which bored him. When he entered the English world he adopted the name John Rose.
Growing up in Lisbon, the home of the greatest explorers of the time, gave young John a fantastic opportunity, and he slipped away on a ship. In time his ship is overtaken by pirates and he joins them, finding himself part of the Anglo-Atlantic world and in trouble he jumps ship in Boston, Massachusetts. There he meets a native Algonquin of the Agawam people. She is probably the first dark eyed, dark haired beauty he has seen in months, and he fell in love with her immediately. Mercy’s family are fully assimilated into Puritan New England, (all the Agawam were by 1675.) She is fun to write because she is devoutly Puritan, and celebrates her Thanksgivings with clam bakes and steamed corn.
I am currently undertaking a story that takes place on the frontier in 1708. The frontier in this case is not the wild-west, but northern, central Massachusetts in this case Groton and Haverhill. (See my post on the mysterious stranger) These towns bordered the deep woods of northern New England and were settled by people who were enticed by land to take on the risk of living in this region. It was in fact a dangerous place, full of wild animals, cougars, rattlesnakes, wolves as well as all the smaller predators. The English had not considered the Indians enemies until a legal disturbance in Plymouth Colony led to a conflict named for the Sachem whose English name was Philip. Soon after, southern, central/northern Massachusetts, as well as Connecticut and Rhode Island, were part of the conflict between the English settlers and the local Wampanoag tribes called King Phillip’s War or Metacom’s Rebellion, it lasted from 1675–78.
Although King Philip’s War sets the frontier towns as dangerous places, more important to my story, is that both were attacked from the north, in a series of border invasions, and abductions enacted by the French Army, who used their Indian allies against the English Protestants. Queen Anne’s War, was the second European war with a North American, intercolonial element. It was known in Europe as the War of the Spanish Succession, and fought on the American frontier from 1702-1713.
I have created a story in which Matilda is burned out of her home when town of Groton is under a fictional attack in 1708, and brought to Canada and delivered to the Maqua village. That was, and is a real town, although its location changed depending on soil fertility and safety of the townsfolk. The town was inhabited mostly by Mohawk, but nominally controlled by French Jesuits. These were Catholic Indians who had been schooled by the priests to hate the English Protestants, and the Agawam and other praying (Protestant Indians). In fact one diary by a visiting French priest says he was surprised to find that the Indians were taught, and believed, that the English had killed Christ, their god. Their hatred for the English was created and fed in this manner.
The English government did not send English soldiers to fight the French Army in North America, as the French did to fight the English. This left protection of the towns to the local militia, and farmers/tradesmen who were known as minutemen, meaning that although they were no in the militia they would be ready at a moment’s notice to protect their town. Every New England colony had a standing militia, and tradition held that the colony just to the north was defended by the colony to the south. This worked well in the Maine territory of Massachusetts, southern Massachusetts, aided by Connecticut and New Hampshire, aided by Massachusetts. (Vermont was a disputed region and not yet a separate colony.) However, this system of protection against the Canadian French broke down in New York west of the Massachusetts border.
The Albany area was still controlled by Dutch traders and landowners who owed much of their wealth to the fur trade. Skins were brought down from the north and west to Albany where they were shipped down the Hudson River to the harbor at New York and on to Europe where the desire for beaver skins was insatiable. It was more important to the Dutch landowners to keep trade open, than to protect the lives of English captives, so they gave French and Mohawk armies free reign with their lands.
This was not true of at least one Dutch/New Yorker, Pieter Schuyler. Schuyler was the mayor of Albany and agent for the English relating to prisoners. He often made official exchanges of prisoners between the English and the French, but some records imply that he put “spies” in the Indian villages to monitor English prisoners there.
If you have read my previous books, you know I can’t resist a spy.
This is a tire track left by a city snow-plow in a park.
After last winter’s almost surreal amount of snow, this winter has been a balm for our backs and psyches. Of course we’ve shoveled snow a few times in the past two months, and more may yet fall from the skies, but anything that has fallen has dutifully melted within a day or two. But, of course it has been wet and cold with good melts in between, and that creates mud. Mud in New England is so much a part of late winter it gets its own season, and this year mud season has lasted most of the winter. I wrote this a few winters ago, and this year seemed like a good one to bring it back.
Before the age of corduroy roads; in places where no one had the good sense or ability to lay down a bed of gravel, the roads of New England were dirty and dusty. In the summer, towns sent out large barrels of water which were carted through busy streets and country roads, spraying water to keep down the dust. In winter, the roads were rutted and frozen. During the cold months snow-covered roads were more easily passable, and therefore snow-covered streets were preferable to those that were clear or melted.
But between the snowy or rutted roads of winter, and the dry, dusty streets of summer, there is a separate season. It comes just at the end of winter: we call it mud season. After months of hard freeze, the warm days and cold nights create inches thick mud that seems to sink downward with no end. Some years there is no one freeze that lets go at the beginning of spring. Some winters there is a never-ending freeze/thaw cycle; mud season from November to April.
In fields and woodlands, this cycle brings the ubiquitous boulders, called fieldstones, from deep in the earth. Deposited by three miles high glaciers from the Wisconsin Ice Sheet that ended about 25,000 years ago, these rocks were pried out of the fields each spring, and moved to the edges of the fields by strong young men, creating the stone walls that outline the border of every New England homescape.
This year mud season has been fantastic. Even with concrete sidewalks and macadam streets, the mud from yards and gardens oozes over, practically bubbling up in an icy mess that gets into the deep treads of our Vibram soles and covers floors of mud rooms, kitchen doorways, and front halls throughout the region. All this mud reminds me of a story told in early New England on this subject.
In times past, the mud of early spring was often many feet deep. One day, during such a year, a horseman was riding down a muddy road when he saw a fine hat lying in the lane. Because the hat was a nice one, and worth a bit of money, the rider got off his horse and went to pick it up. When he looked at the road under the hat, he noticed the face of a man staring up at him from the muddy road. “Are you all right?” the rider asked the face of the man in the road. “I’m doing fine,” replied the face, “but I’m worried about the horse I’m riding.” The implication, of course was that the animal was under the man, buried deep in the mud .
Jason gazed at the steeples and masts through the telescope. The watch in the rigging had spotted the town an hour ago, but he always looked for that first glimpse of land through his own tools. He had found rooms in the town the year before and was pleased to be returning. In front of him was a town of churches and ships, and of crooked streets that couldn’t keep a name for more than a block at a time. It jutted into the harbor, connected to land by a spit so narrow that any storm or high tide made it another island in the island-dotted sea. And Jason understood the men and women who lived there. As in any port, the sea was the reason for their town, and for most employment within the town. Good years led to success, as more men were needed to build ships, man the ships and make sails, ropes and tar. Bad years led to failure; being out of work was a constant possibility and worry. Through good times and bad, however, the sea and the harbor were constants in their lives – as regular, and as important, as the four cardinal points on a seaman’s compass.
Boston was built on its three tall hills – the ‘tre mountain’ that gave the land its first name, Tremont, one that only a few streets would retain. By the eighteenth century, as Boston passed its hundredth birthday, the town had become a center for trade. And by 1773 it was the busiest port in the English world west of Wales. Its origins explained the steeples, and deep roots of Puritanism and the Glorious Revolution ran through even the maritime/mercantile culture that had superceded them. Kings and Parliaments had spent a century ignoring Bostonians’ striving for separation that began when James II’s governor, Edmund Andros, was chased out of town by an angry mob, back in 1688. At each event or riot, Parliament had sent troops to control the town. Sometimes that had worked, but when they opened fire on March 5, 1770 it was a disaster, if not an actual massacre. But what everyone could agree on was that Parliament had no idea what to do about Boston.
Now, Jason was sailing into a town that was once again angry at limits that Parliament had placed on trade. Previous restrictions had been bad enough, having confined trade to British ports, which only encouraged smuggling throughout the empire. But although most of the taxes specified in the Townsend Act had been removed, the new limits, suggested by the East India Trading Company and imposed by its shareholders in Parliament, involved picking favored sellers from a list of merchants who were connected to the current governor by blood and friendship. Even Governor Hutchinson knew that other merchants would be angry enough to incite the famous Boston mobs, but with Parliament and the East India Company putting pressure on him to get the greatest profit for the company, the man felt trapped.
Jason left the Chardon anchored off Windmill Point to await the customs officials, and rowed himself to shore. He had sailed on the Chardon as first mate for three years, but he was leaving that security behind. She belonged to FitzSimmon Shipping, an enterprise created by his older brothers, Stephen and Thomas, the second and third sons of the Duke and Duchess of Chardon, the family home.
With the end of that contract, Jason realized that he had no roots in the world. Without the Chardon, the only home he could claim were two rented rooms in a small house on Beech Street. He had chosen Boston because the town offered opportunities not attached to family or loyalty. He loved his brothers, but was rankled that they had not promoted him. Moving on without them seemed to be the only option. He’d reached the conclusion that there was no reason to stand on ceremony waiting for their largesse. If his brothers were taking their time getting him a ship, and its captaincy, he was determined to learn what he could from every mariner willing to teach him.
His status as the son of aristocrats gave him cold comfort. There is nothing so superfluous as the fourth son of a duke. Jason had felt expendable for all of the fourteen years he had lived at home with his large family. Not unloved – his mother Elizabeth loved every one of her many children. She nursed each one herself, and saw to their educations and their happiness. But rules must be obeyed, and tradition dictated that only Robert, the eldest son, could inherit. Tradition also dictated that a second son had value as the spare; at least till the first married and spawned healthy sons. That was something Robert and his wife had done as easily as his parents, and while they were still quite young. That same tradition also ruled that daughters needed dowries to get them properly launched in life, and younger sons fended for themselves. The Navy, Army, law or the ministry were all acceptable options, but he had followed a rebel uncle to sea as a merchant seaman.
Worried that his younger brothers would feel the crisis as keenly as he did, Jason had attempted to instill a sense of worth, and a spirit of creativity and adventure, into them, as well as the need for a profession. Jason was pleased that John and William had never suffered through the crises that he had endured before leaving home completely. The next brother, John had chosen the Army, and an unusual hobby of designing ships Like himself, he must have yearned for the sea, at least occasionally. Now John was in the infantry – last heard, he was in the 23rd Regiment of Foot, and Jason had no idea where in the empire he was stationed. William, the sixth boy and youngest, was at university and happily accepting his life as a scholar. Anne and Janet, his younger sisters, were lively and beautiful, at least to a doting brother. He assumed that with their charm and large dowries, they would easily marry well.
Jason walked from the harbor up Summer Street to Orange, Newbury, or whatever they were calling Boston’s long street these days. Solid earth under his feet lifted his spirits, as did the freedom of owning nothing but his skills and his tools. As well, he felt fortunate to have a meeting with a Boston merchant in need of a navigator, scheduled first thing this morning. Matthew Goodiel was rumored to be one of the best, and richest. Jason had high hopes.
Oona hid her packages and climbed the stairs to watch the ships come in with the tide. It was a twice daily ritual, the shallow waters keeping ships in channels at anything but the highest tides. It wasn’t often that she allowed herself the luxury of communing with the grasshopper weathervane on the top of Boston’s most famous market. But this morning the light was extraordinary, with just the right amount of warm air creating a mist and fog that swirled around the docks. The tip of Faneuil Hall was her favorite place, and the weathervane her most constant friend. She took her collapsible telescope from her pocket and peered over the walls of the tower at the ships sailing toward the town.
She wasn’t sure if she had ever watched the fishing fleet in her childhood, but since arriving in Boston at ten, she had watched ships arrive and leave whenever she had the chance. She didn’t know what had possessed her to put her spyglass in her pocket before she left for her errands. Maybe the day had just called to her. She watched for a while, mesmerized by the steady motion of the sailing ships. Then, realizing that she would be late to buy eggs at Mary Channing’s if she did not hurry, she fairly flew down the stairs, grabbed her things and headed back to Fort Hill and home.
Jason stepped onto the busy street. He turned left toward Fort Hill and was startled by the clot of icy mud that hit him in the chest. It seemed too early in the day to be startled. He jumped out of the way and ducked behind a brick wall. He was fortunate that there was no hard projectile like a rock or ice ball involved. It was rumored that Boston’s mobs were famous for the use of such things. He was not injured and did not even feel targeted, since no one knew him or cared about his comings or goings. But he could not help being curious, since such things did not often fly through the air on their own.
He plopped on the hard ground and waited a moment to gather his wits. It had been a short and productive morning talking shipping and navigation with the man he hoped would be his new employer. Matthew Goodiel was a merchant with a reputation for paying good money to build, staff, and maintain fast ships. Just the sort of man Jason would pick for his next master, if Mr. Goodiel chose him.
He rose onto his heels, staying just out of sight, in shadow and behind the low brick wall of the garden. He peeked over the wall and off to his left, on Oliver Street, was a group of young people singling out one young woman. They were yelling and throwing things at her, among them clots of mud and dirty melting snow. The girl was staying well away from the worst of it, but burdened with a bundle and heavy skirts she held one-handed away from the muddy street, plenty of the projectiles were hitting the blue silk – covering the gown with a gray-brown dusting.
The girl was young and pretty, certainly no more than twenty, and the same age as her assailants. Her long dark hair had escaped cap, hood and pins. It was dancing loose in the wind, down her back and around her face. From his spot, Jason could not see her clearly, but he got a strong impression of clear pale skin and bright blue eyes. He stood to get a better look, but the whole crowd had moved past him, up the hill. He stared after them, not sure what he had just witnessed. Not only was he now terribly curious about Boston’s famous street mobs, but he sincerely hoped that in the near future he would have a chance to see if the quick glimpses of her extraordinary beauty would be proven correct.
Oona’s early morning had left her time to collect the eggs on the way back home. Now she was tired and ready for her breakfast and a cup of coffee, if Mrs. Prince had any left in the pot. She trudged up Oliver Street, with her packages of fresh bread, cheese for lunch, a half a dozen eggs, and the same number of lemons. Just below her house she heard an unpleasantly familiar voice call out to her.
“Oona?” Lawrence called. “You’re wearing that pretty blue gown again! Why don’t you wear homespun and support the agreement?”
“Lawrence!” Oona put her bundles down and spread out her cloak, rolling the food into the thick wool as she spoke. “I get Mrs. Goodiel’s castoffs for free, and you want me to spend my pennies on homespun? You’re daft.” She picked up her bundle of food and cloak, and started to run.
It was very cold, and she wanted to put her cloak back on, but she had had this conversation with her peers before, and she knew what to expect next. She wanted to get into Cook’s warm kitchen quickly, so she picked up her pace. She was almost faster than the ignorant fools chasing her and throwing mud at her.
Being poor themselves, they should have understood her dilemma, but they were so convinced they were right about not wearing taxed silks and lace that they lost sight of her situation. Didn’t they understand that she hadn’t coin for new, whether it was homespun or imported? Her gowns were reworked; years-old and free to her. Not that the lot of foolish howlers cared.
Her mistress, Anne Goodiel, might treat her like an overworked servant, but she wanted Oona to wear pretty gowns, even while doing dirty chores. It was a point of pride with her that she gave her servant the outmoded gowns to make over. She liked to show off Oona’s skill with a needle. After all, Oona had trained with the best dressmaker in town, and it had long been part of her chores to make simple gowns for her mistress and her two daughters. Oona liked fine clothes and had no shame in her skills at remaking a well-designed gown. At least she had liked it until her friends started throwing mud and clots of dirt at her.
Oona turned to the mob of screaming friends, still below her on the hill. She lifted her chin to stare them down and giving them an open grin as she escaped into the safety of the walled kitchen garden. She shook off the dust and realized that the damage was not so bad, and there was no need to change out of the blue jacquard. Luckily, the patterned weave hid whatever mud remained, and all she’d intended to do after breakfast was dust the shelves on the first floor and sit and read her new book, and then learn to use her new octant – two things she had actually wanted, and that she had bought with her few saved pennies.
Jason spent his day resting and enjoying a day off. After dinner at a public house on Essex Street, he walked back to the center of town. There, the mood was charged, as though there was lightning flashing in the air, although there was no storm. Curious at the large crowds, he followed a mass of people to the square in front of the large brick church on the corner of Milk Street. The crowd had moved into the square from a meeting at Faneuil Hall, and now gathered in front of the Old South Meeting House. It was enormous, large enough so that it contained nearly every adult in the town. It was also very quiet. Every man, woman, and young person who had not been lucky enough to get a seat inside on this cold damp night stood at the big windows, straining to hear the speeches. Occasionally the voices inside would make a point or call for a vote, then loud “huzzahs!” and “fies!” would pour from the windows.
It was a typical December night on the New England coast. Jason pulled his collar closer, but didn’t mind. Coming from the north of England, he sort of liked it, but others found the freezing drizzle, constant rain, snow, cold and fog to be unpleasant. He shuffled his feet when the crowd moved, and listened. The arguments had been going on all week, and the crowds were here because of a shipment of East India Company tea – that small leaf, from a small plant, grown very far away, taxed by Parliament, and desired by nearly everyone. And held for ransom, it seemed, on three ships, the Dartmouth, the Eleanor and the Beaver – ships docked, but not yet passed by the customs men.
The three were loaded with legal tea, and their large cargo was ready to offload. The owners, who well understood the mood of the town, were prepared to sell cheap, just to maintain order, and give Parliament their bitty tax. But the mood of the town said that the ships should sail away with their cargo untouched.
The arguments in the Meeting House had to be finished this night because the ships had been docked for weeks, and tomorrow the customs men could legally seize the tea and sell it in the shops. What those same customs men did not know was that among Jason’s possessions on the Chardon, anchored just off Windmill Point, was a lovely little cargo of tea from Holland. Of course, his was not legal tea, smuggled as it was, and then seized as a prize from a French merchantman.
So, as far as the East India Company and their cronies were concerned, his tea, nicely hidden in wine casks, was to rot onboard. The only way he would be allowed to bring his tea into town was to smuggle it in on a dark night. Now, the governor, with his stubborn insistence that the captains of the three tea ships not return to London with their cargo, had made the town too “hot” to sell any tea, even good quality Chinese tea, carefully smuggled.
It was unlike Jason to stand and listen to political discussions. Generally, he did not concern himself with Parliament and their doings. His brothers did that for him. He hadn’t heard from either of them in a while, and there wasn’t time at the present to get their intellectual, reasoned, Parliamentarian reading on the situation concerning the Boston tea. Governor Hutchinson was about to make his decision, and no doubt it would be to land the tea. The governor knew the mood of the town, but Thomas Hutchinson had never listened to the desires of his fellows, and he was not starting now.
It seemed odd, and yet not, to find himself outside Old South, with the young men of Boston. He had been a sailor since he was fourteen, and maybe he had always wanted to defy authority and carefully, methodically, throw cargo off a ship into a harbor. Bostonians’ natural aversion to taxes and restraint of trade might be giving him a unique chance to fulfill that dream, and take part in what was sure to become an important moment in history, something rare in any life.
Jason knew he could not open his mouth to speak. He occasionally was able to sound like a lowly seaman, but he could never sound American. The handicap had never bothered him, and the last times he had stayed in Boston, it had not mattered. But tonight he might sound like a spy, and he was not in the mood to follow the tea into the cold, wet harbor.
After word came from the governor to land the tea, the crowd broke up. Slowly, small groups moved into taverns and parlors around the plaza. He found himself with a group walking up School Street to the Cromwell’s Head Tavern. There, a dark-haired girl, her own hat low on her head almost hiding her face, was distributing feathers and applying black war paint and burnt cork patches to disguise the participants.
The girl stuck a feather into his knit cap and drew some dark lines on his face. Until that moment, Jason had not been sure if he would accompany the men down to the harbor. He ran his fingers over the feather. “Miss,” he asked, “I hate to whine, but do you have a longer turkey feather?” The girl pulled out his feather, grabbed a longer, more colorful one from the table, and replaced it. “Oh, thank you, Miss. If I am to commit treason, I believe it had best be done with aplomb.” He spoke low so that only she could hear. “You agree, of course?”
She nodded quickly, and offered a quick grin in assent. She seemed such a pleasant person, smiling at the men and laughing with the other girls, all very secretive, quiet with a low joy. Then, suddenly, she put her hands on his shoulders, leaned back, and looked up to inspect her work. Jason knew that revelry was probably inappropriate, but she was so pretty, and he had been at sea an awful long time. So, he put his hands on her waist in response to hers on his shoulders, and lifted her up – his arms outstretched – and kissed her. It was a quick public kiss, but it seemed to startle her above proportion.
She opened her eyes wide and looked stunned, but not unhappy. He put her down very gently, back on the floor of the small tavern. He stepped back and looked down to smile at his pretty helper. At the same moment he got an elbow in the side, while someone from the other side shouted at him: “No one kisses Oona!” That was foolish; she was a beautiful girl, and beautiful girls deserved to be kissed – especially this one. Her eyes, lit by the dim candlelight, sparkled back at him in shades of blue and violet.
Oona. Feeling distracted from that simple touch, he wondered where such a beauty hid herself so as never to be kissed. He had never seen eyes so nearly the shade of violets and sapphires. If the crowd had not been so restless, angry, and ready to head down to the harbor, he might have stayed and talked to her. He took an extra moment to stare back as the crowd moved off. If the rest of her matched her face and eyes, she was probably married or promised. He swore off pretty violet-eyed ladies, and headed down to the harbor with the moving crowd. He moved into the dark December night, but he imagined the girl in the tavern applying war paint and pushing feathers into the cap of the next lucky man.
Oona had her own ideas about freedom, both her own and America’s. Years of servitude in a town yearning for its right to independent self-government had made her think long and hard about the words used around her. The minister at New South preached that children and servants should be grateful for their status, and for their parents and masters who cared for them. Yet, at the same time, those same ministers preached in favor of non-importation, and refusal to purchase Britain’s taxed goods, and for America’s right to representation in the Houses of Parliament.
“No taxation without representation,” Mr. Otis had said in court and at meetings. She had heard men call out those words as they drank toasts at the King’s Mount Tavern. And those same words reverberated through the town meetings, and meetings of the body, to which even she had a right to come and listen. Other words crept in, too. Samuel Adams, never shy about how he felt, called for total freedom from Britain, and complete separation from the crown.
Oona had thought that freedom from servitude sounded like a good idea. Tonight, she had been willing to participate in an event that would anger the governor and Parliament, and might well cause them to act against the town. She understood that sometimes action was so important that the consequences needed to be endured.
She had run away once when she was twelve. The beating she received when she was found had not been that bad. It was probably worth those few hours of freedom. Those hours had been sweet, but she had also been scared. She’d had nowhere to run, no family to return to – none that she knew of, and certainly none in America. So, all in all, she had been relieved to be sent back. It was good to be safe.
She decided that afternoon, nearly eight years ago, that freedom and independence were things best dealt with when they presented themselves for real, not in a child’s fantasy. She’d put away her rebellious spirit, and pushed down all attempts at self-discovery. She was a servant, indentured for ten years, and until those ten years were over, she would not try to discover what it meant to be Oona in the world. Instead, she studied and learned what she needed to do in order to survive until her indenture ended on May 25, 1774. And what she needed to do most of all was to let nothing, and no one, prolong her length of service.
She had researched it when she was fifteen. At the time, she had been staying in the town of Milton with her mistress, Anne Goodiel, and her daughters. Elisha Appleton, Anne’s brother-in-law, was an attorney who seemed kind and sympathetic. At breakfast one morning, she summoned the nerve to ask him about herself.
“Mr. Appleton?” Oona carried a coffee pot in one hand and hot water for the tea service in the other, “would you like more coffee, tea?”
“No, thank you, Oona. Girl,” – he spoke kindly, but was curious since she seemed to want to ask him something – “did you want to talk to me?”
“Yes sir, I did, if you don’t mind.”
“No, not at all. Put down the hot pots, and speak with me for a moment.”
Oona sat at the edge of the chair offered. “Mr. Appleton, you know I’m indentured?”
“Yes, ‘till you are twenty. It’s a long indenture, but that is common where a child is involved. The law prefers not to have young people on their own before adulthood.”
“I see. Does an indenture sometimes go longer?” That question was one she had wanted to ask, ever since she was old enough to understand her status.
“There are a few things that prolong an indenture.” He rose from the table and moved out of the room, motioning for her to follow him. He went up the stairs to his study, opened a large book and read for a minute. “Assuming the servant has obeyed his or her master and completed the tasks set before her, there is not much a master can do to make the indenture longer. Not without having complained to the courts about a runaway or slothful servant throughout the years. Not at the end of the indenture. And then at completion, the master owes the servant something to help start a new life. But that is not always adhered to, especially with girls. Many times it is easier to get her married off. Not during the indenture, mind you, but right at the end. It’s fairly common that if the girl finds someone she’d like to marry, and the master can pretend not to approve of the marriage, he can avoid her freedom dues.
“Things you should know, now that you are becoming a young lady.” He read on, deadly serious. “A servant, male or female, may not legally marry without permission, and if a female servant becomes pregnant, any time she misses from her work due to the pregnancy, birth or childcare, has to be made up at the end of the indenture.” He looked up and smiled kindly into the young girl’s eyes. “So my advice Oona, because you are going to be a very pretty girl” – she blushed but he went on – “would be to be very careful not to fall in love, or into any charmer’s bed. Twenty will come soon enough, soon enough for love and marriage.”
Elisha Appleton had meant that as kindly advice. She was sure he hadn’t meant that she hide behind a mask of placid acceptance, but that was what she had learned to do, what she had decided to do. Not only did she not show the world much of herself, she rarely met that person herself, finding it easier to be the friendly servant who didn’t kiss handsome men or ever play at love.
She’d promised herself she would try to learn to be Oona when she was free to be her real self, at the end of this indenture that had run through all her years in Boston. Strange how the town’s move toward ending its role as servant to an empire not of its choice should trigger memories of her own awkward movement toward freedom. Oona moved away from the crowds and walked toward her room on the cold top floor of the Goodiels’s house, thinking of freedom and lost identity and wondering what role that kiss had in bringing them back.
Hundreds may have gathered in the square, but the public arguments that had gone on for three days had been made by men of substance, mostly voters. The speakers may have included a few who were either too young or too poor to be eligible to vote, but in any case, they were all men of reason, and important in their circles. This action at the harbor, the destruction of the tea, on the other hand, was to be undertaken by the anonymous mob.
Anonymity was important. Boston’s important men needed to be seen in public as their proxies acted. They sat together, clothed in fine suits, back at the meeting house and in parlors, while others, dressed like wild-men, committed treason. Not that some of the speakers wouldn’t enjoy their moment at the wharf, but Adams, Hancock, Young and Warren, if searched for in the early hours of December seventeenth, would be found safely, and legally, on higher ground.
Jason followed the crowd from Orange Street down the hill to the harbor. As he got near, the tiny sliver of a new moon became visible. It was just rising from the harbor, creating a weak light that reflected in the ocean from the dark sky. Around him were men disguised with paint, tar and burnt cork on their faces, wearing blankets and feathers – men who had left sail lofts, taverns, and back rooms all over town, and headed to Griffin’s Wharf.
Around him, he saw servants and masters, merchants, sailmakers, sailors and caulkers, all prepared to board and destroy; all nameless, and all sworn to secrecy. The group at the wharf numbered just over one hundred, far fewer than the thousand Mohawks whose war cries the attendees inside Old South described.
At the wharf, they split up and moved in near silence onto the Dartmouth, the Beaver and the Eleanor, the three ships laden with the East India Company tea. Their voices were muffled in the mist and by the sounds of the harbor. As it was, no words were needed as experienced men climbed into the holds and handed and hoisted up the tea crates. On deck, the crates were broken open with axes, and then the contents were lifted and thrown into the dark water, followed by the now empty crates.
The men of the busy port were familiar with ships and cargoes. They moved efficiently, destroying nothing but the tea crates and the tea, carefully leaving all other cargo, and the ships themselves, intact. A few men stuffed tea into their pockets, only to be rebuffed for theft, or tossed into the cold harbor along with the bobbing crates.
When at last the final four-hundred-pound chest was hauled to the deck, the ropes and tackle used to pull them up stored neatly away, the decks swept clear of all rubble, and the last of the tea thrown overboard to join the rest, shouts of “Boston harbor – a teapot tonight!” echoed into the chill mist. Silently, the participants and their observers disappeared into the cold, dark night.
Like the others, Jason moved away from the still silence that now hung over Griffin’s Wharf. He started toward his rooms on Beech Street, but veered off to Bass’s Wharf to find some turpentine at the ropewalk. He sat on the edge of the wooden wharf, his legs dangling over the side, and used a handkerchief covered in the solvent to wipe the bootblack and paint from his face. Then, he hid the rag in the sand under the pilings, and completed the short distance to his rooms. He pulled the feather from his cap, but instead of throwing it high, into the brisk wind that was blowing off the harbor, he put it in his pocket, a strange souvenir from a fateful night, given to him by that beautiful bar-girl with the dark hair and the lovely violet eyes.
Oona washed and changed into her warm bright red nightrail. She climbed into her small bed, blew out her candle and stared into the dark. Her memories came to greet her as they did most nights, and suddenly she recognized the brown-haired, golden-eyed man who had so surprisingly kissed her. Of course, in her memory he was still an impish fourteen year old ship’s boy, who was working very hard to cheer up the weeping ten year old.
She supposed she had changed a lot since she was that weeping child, so it was only fair that the handsome brown-eyed man in the tavern be allowed to age his ten years as well. From what she had seen, the changes had all been for the good. She was used to the men who worked on ships and docks. Jason seemed to have acquired the calm authority of many of the captains and mates, without the gruffness and audacious self-importance that often accompanied that authority.
It was a good thing that the men believed that “no one” should kiss Oona. She had held to that since she had become a woman. She did not own her time, and that edict had simplified her life. Preventing men from assuming a pretty servant was theirs for the taking with a simple flash of coin, or invitation to a good dinner, had kept her safe. But as she stared into the dark, she had to admit she had not minded that kiss from a grown-up Jason FitzSimmon. She had not minded it at all.
She stared at the ceiling, too excited to sleep. Certainly, tossing perfectly good tea into the harbor was going to have major repercussions. Her master, Matthew Goodiel, would not have condoned such hoolliganery, but even he had been angry at not being one of the consignees appointed to sell the tea in his shop. She tried to make herself consider what the destruction of the tea would mean for Boston once Parliament found out, but her mind kept sliding back to Jason.
She hadn’t meant to look so hard, but when he turned away she did. He was wearing a workman’s leather pants and singlet under his greatcoat. The skins hugged his body, showing wide shoulders, strong arms, and a narrow waist. His arms were tanned, probably from months in the warm sun, and she guessed that the rest of him was equally sun-kissed. No one needed to tell her how men on ships dressed, or undressed, on hot, sunny afternoons.
The deep brown of the skins he wore reflected in his dark eyes. She remembered those eyes. She could always conjure them in the lonely dark. Memories of them smiling at her had eased her fears and aching heart during the long, scary nights of her early years with the Goodiels. She would have recognized them anywhere, even in a dark tavern with a feather in a knit cap and black paint on his outrageously handsome face. At first glance his eyes looked dark brown, but the dark was shot through with green and even amber. His hair was like his eyes – they looked plain brown at first, but years of sun and sea had streaked the thick, dark hair with golds and reds. The years seemed to have brought him to a competent and secure manhood, as she supposed they had brought her to an uncertain womanhood.
Jason had radiated the same comforting energy, even in that brief encounter in the large, excited group. His energy said he was a man who was capable of jumping up and doing anything – anything, like controlling a ship in a fierce gale, or smiling at and kissing the untouchable but pretty bar wench. He had joy in his face and laugh lines that deepened when he smiled. He must still smile often. The years had not been too unkind to Jason. Oona wished she could smile more often, but it was obvious that life did not bring luck to everyone. She pulled her blankets higher against the bitter cold of the attic, and drifted off to dream of sun-warmed seas and smiling sailors with brown eyes shot through with gold and green.
Jason rushed the final steps to his rooms in Mrs. Channing’s house, anxious to get out of the chill. His landlady did not know he was back yet, but like most renters in harbor towns, she and her son had learned to be heavy sleepers. The house was a rectangle, with a front door that marked the line of symmetry. It was in the modern style, with two chimneys standing sentry above the slanted roof. There was a low fence around the front, and a brick path that led to the front door and around the house to the kitchen door. Like many houses in the town, it was a wooden structure. Only the fieldstone foundation showed any obeisance to the town laws about building with brick or stone to prevent fire.
Jason walked silently to the back door of the small house on Beech Street. He remembered carefully not wake the chickens, who were very much alive and restless as he followed the path past their coop. The little house was well maintained, even when Mr. Channing was at sea. It had a tidy vegetable and herb garden, dormant and dead now in the early winter cold. He unlocked the kitchen door, quietly turning and locking the door behind him. He had heard there were towns where doors could be left unlocked, but the Channings had impressed on him that this was not one of them.
In the kitchen, he took off his boots and carried them in his hands up the narrow back stairs. Mrs. Channing, or her son, had left a small fire in the hearth, and the fading coals still gave the room a tiny bit of warmth. He washed and climbed into bed.
Tired as he was, sleep was elusive, and he spent a minute watching the clouds out the window and thinking of the extraordinary night. He had had these rooms with Mrs. Channing since the spring a year ago. He was glad. It was so nice to come back to a place he recognized instead of a heartless inn of the sort that would accept sailors. He liked Boston; it might be small, but the harbor was deep and the port had become one of the busiest in the empire. Like many merchants and traders, based in London or here in the Colonies, his brothers used the port for their North American trade. Now he was back, without their knowledge or approval, hoping for work with one of the Boston men.
He hoped his second meeting with Matthew Goodiel would be as successful as the first. It was scheduled for the morning, but the town would be in an uproar and there was no telling. He forced optimism over the melancholy that had been his unnatural companion during the past few weeks, and reminded himself that Goodiel seemed to be a good man. He was a successful merchant with a warehouse on Long Wharf, a fine house on Oliver Street, and a store on Cornhill. The man was known to pay well, and he was adamantly against using his ships as slavers.
Jason wasn’t sure that his feelings were particularly strong in regards to human bondage. That was an issue of great importance for his mother, the Duchess Elizabeth. He had come to believe that carrying humans as cargo was wrong. But servitude and bondage just seemed to be the way the world worked, and unlike other members of his family, he didn’t spend much time worrying over it. It seemed to be another of those Parliamentarian issues best left to his passionate mother and his political brothers.
In fact, the events of tonight would probably illustrate one of Mother’s Parliamentary arguments that he’d listened to last time he was home. During that visit, his mother had been lecturing her eldest sons, both members of that honorable body, that they should pay close attention to the condition of the American colonies and the arguments coming from them. Jason wasn’t sure how strongly he believed the arguments that the Americans were making about their supposed servile status in regard to colonialism. He really couldn’t equate the thriving Atlantic seaboard with the starvation of the Bengalis in India, as one pamphleteer had. On the other hand, he had to agree that the East India Company had taken its cozy relationship with Parliament to an unpleasant extreme.
Only time’s passage would show if the colonists’ decision to ban the importation and sale of certain taxed goods would influence merchants and buyers enough to change British policies, just as only time would show Parliament’s reaction to tonight’s destruction. It was one thing to decide not to buy or drink the “evil brew,” or even to pressure one’s neighbors to refrain from buying and drinking it. It would no doubt prove to be quite another to have destroyed an entire shipment of tea. No, Jason corrected himself, three entire shipments of tea.
Those non-importation agreements enacted by the colonists in response to limitations of trade, and the taxes imposed by the Navigation and Townsend Acts, might not have changed British government policies, but they had made smuggling cheap goods from non-British ports a way of life for ships and merchants in Britain and in her colonies. Of course, the British Navy’s attempts to rein in the smuggling had, in turn, made life at sea more colorful. Just before he fell asleep, he decided they all deserved to have the tea thrown overboard.
Oona shook herself awake, ignoring the bone-tired weariness as she had so many mornings. The sun had not even made an attempt to emerge in the cold dark of the late December morning, but Oona knew from long experience that it was time to start the day. She pulled on thick stockings, wool petticoats, working stays and yesterday’s gown, and shoved her feet into fur-lined clogs. She thought she might as well wear it for dusting – the dress already needed a good-cleaning since Lawrence and his crew had decorated it with dust and mud. Like this one, her gowns were too fine for a workday in winter, but a heavy wool shawl, petticoats and a big work apron would suffice until she could get the fires going.
Mrs. Prince, the household cook, and the closest thing Oona had to family, had already arrived and gotten the kitchen fires started. They nodded “good morning” silently. Each had already focused on her tasks. There was a pile of kindling and light logs stacked by the door. Oona filled her sling and went to work. As always, she carried warm water and vinegar in a small bucket so that as the kindling caught, she could wipe the delft tiles that decorated the hearths in the finer bedrooms and parlors. She had learned through grungy experience that the weak solution cleaned a day’s smoke without too much work or vinegary smell. She didn’t linger in the bedrooms – she didn’t like to be asked to help find a chamber pot or hook a gown, if anyone should wake before she slipped out.
The family Oona had lived with and served, the Goodiels, were as simple as their wealth and stature in the community would tolerate. If left to Matthew, no one would get a morning fire unless one lit it oneself. But his young wife, Anne, had been raised in more opulent settings, and insisted on warm rooms and pretty gowns, even on her young servant. Their daughters – Matthew’s first wife had produced three sons who were now grown and in school near their mother’s family in New York – were charming and lovely, and well on their way to being spoiled by their doting mother, or so Matthew complained when he thought no one was listening. Oona agreed with him, but she had helped raise Mary and Wilhelmina, Willie for short, and they were clever children. Oona had a growing faith in their ability to withstand their mother’s fussing and fuming, even though they were still very young.
The girls had a governess who acted as their nursemaid and helped them get ready, so Oona quietly set the fires in the nursery room fireplaces and retreated. She knew they had a long day of visiting ahead, so she built their fires a little bigger than usual to help them rise faster. Then she took her little bucket and the last of her twigs to the main parlor.
It was there she lingered over the blue and white tiles that surrounded the large fireplace. She understood they were from Holland and were a mark of wealth when displayed in America. To her, though, they were windows into another world. Each showed a different scene: windmills, boats on calm waters, people doing ordinary things, and children playing. Her favorite was of a boy fishing with a pole and string; his small boat was nearby, its sail furled around the small mast. Across the water was a large house, surrounded by fields and gardens. The artist had created a sunny blue day by drawing big fluffy clouds in the sky. She did not know why she lost herself so much in this one tile, but she noticed that it was a bit cleaner than the others, as she wiped it while musing over it most mornings.
There is no way, after a late night, to be prepared for a bantam’s crow at first light. Jason pulled his pillow over his head for a few extra minutes and gave in to the inevitable and opened one eye when little Georgie Channing came in with firewood. The child set the fire in the small fireplace, waved good-morning to Jason, and left. He pulled the pillow off his head, and let the invading warmth convince him to rise. The window in the small bedroom faced northeast by his compass, and the only natural light was the weak, cold light of the early winter dawn.
He took the chill off the wash water, leaving it on the hearth for a few minutes, and wondered again how the town was going to react to the events of the night before. He supposed the town knew all about it already, but official word of the misbehavior would be sent to Britain from Governor Hutchinson, and then Parliament would send its response, probably by summer. By then, he considered, as he scraped four days growth from his face, he would be long gone, hopefully sailing as navigator and mate on one of Matthew Goodiel’s three-rigged merchantmen.
Clean and shorn, he dressed in his cleanest clothes for his meeting with Goodiel. Cleanest did not mean finest, but he had been at sea for nearly a year. It would have to be enough to be clean and be dressed in a clean white linen shirt and clean wool breeches, even if he wore a tan fisherman’s sweater instead of a waistcoat and coat. Of course, if he had any interest in giving orders while on dry land he might acquire a valet, but, by and large, that seemed like nonsense.
Goodiel had hinted at the meeting yesterday that he had new charts of the Caribbean. He said that word was that Jason was a master navigator. He very much wanted Jason’s opinion of the charts. If this morning’s second meeting went well, Jason would be obliged to check them before he sailed, and then edit them during the planned voyage to the West Indies and the Mediterranean. Goodiel said he had enough staff to worry over the lumber, wood staves, dried cod, rice, and rum – he wanted a seasoned navigator to fix his charts, and whose only concern was time, longitude, latitude, and weather. The prospect of being chosen for such an opportunity was overwhelming, especially after being taken for granted by his brothers. It was nice that someone had a good word for him and told Goodiel about his skills. The charts, once returned to Matthew Goodiel, would be published and sold. To a navigator, a trip like this was life’s blood.
Downstairs in the kitchen, he took the time to exchange pleasantries with the Channings, but not breakfast. He left by the back door and headed northeast toward Mr. Rowe’s Wharf.
On his way he walked over to Windmill Point to check on the Chardon’s dinghy. The small boat didn’t seem to be in anyone’s way, so he continued along Sea Street, skirting the wharves until he arrived at Matthew Goodiel’s warehouse. It was a long, strong building constructed of the white and gray granite quarried nearby in Braintree. Unlike so many of Boston’s buildings, it had withstood the economic vagaries that found buildings, built during good times, ignored and allowed to deteriorate as business dried up or the navigation taxes increased.
The wharf was bustling on this cold morning, and Jason stood a minute to admire the bustle. He relished watching a thriving harbor, even when he was only a visitor. This early in the day, the night’s catch was just coming in. Fish sellers and merchants were lined up, haggling over shiploads of cod, haddock, mackerel, halibut, small shark and the shellfish: oysters, clams, mussels, and even that common trash-fish, lobster. Sea gulls flew overhead, suspended in the sharp wind, waiting to grab what they could as men cut and threw away heads and tails.
The wonderful smells of cold salt air blended with those of the fresh catch. He inhaled deeply, pulling the chill fresh air deep into his lungs. Jason knew he was in the right place at the right time. There was nothing so right as a harbor at work, and he found, as he usually did, that he was content to be a small part of it.
Looking around, he found the door to Goodiel’s establishment, and went in to find the master. By process of elimination, Jason found someone who seemed to know what he was doing. Needing to interrupt the foreman in the busy place for as brief a time as necessary, he asked where he might find Mr. Goodiel.
“At his warm breakfast, like as not.” The man laughed as he answered. “No harm in joking, the man knows he can’t wake on time when his woman’s away. Just climb the hill to Oliver Street.” He pointed due west from the warehouse. “It’s the newer brick one at the top of the hill. He has most of his charts there, likes to look them over, bit of a navigator himself, as I’m sure he’ll tell you.” With that, the man went back to his work and Jason turned west, away from the water, to Oliver Street.
The mist and fog were colder than the night before, as though there was a notch that some weather-god could turn to bring deep winter one tic closer. Jason had opened his greatcoat in the windless building, and hadn’t thought about it as he headed away from the water, the cold wind at his back. Then, at the top of the small hill, he was met by even colder winds howling off the marshes and rivers from the north and west. No wonder these New Englanders were so willing to face the sea, he thought to himself as he climbed Fort Hill. Weather on shipboard was nearly no worse than on this spit of land.
We had a wonderful talk today about George Washington. I think one of the saddest and strangest thing about the Washingtons, is that we see George as the hero on horseback, the man who won the Revolution for the Americans. A great rider, dancer… all around hero, married to a an old lady in a mop cap, although if you look, it is a pretty cap.
Some time ago it occurred to the historians at Mt. Vernon, the Washington home in Virginia, that they had no youthful portrait of Martha. Only the ones painted after her death from sketches. So, with the help of the forensics experts from the FBI, hair color from her daughter and the description of a dark blue gown in a letter and her over the top beautiful wedding shoes, an artist constructed this wonderful portrait. They wanted to rescue her from old-ladyhood, and they have.
It’s summer and it’s hot. For reasons having to do with 110.3 official inches of snow in Boston this last winter, and unrelenting cold until late May 2015, I have not put the air-conditioners into the windows. So far my refusal to do so is sticking and sticky. I cope with the heat by recalling our visits to Atlanta every summer. I loved it there, and it was hot in my grandparents’ house, therefore heat makes he happy — or some such nonsense.
Summer also reminds me of music. Most of the family are musical, some fully express their art through their music, others only partly, but it is there. Kate was a pianist and music teacher all her life. She also wrote about making music.
The Schubert Quartet
We fought with music –
we the four –
our bows like battle sabers,
glassanding down to nothingness;
with static of our faces – tense as frozen flowers,
omnipotent as love.
When morning came
with gray and empty sky,
we sought again the oracle.
But eyes were drooped with apathy,
and notes and dotted spaces
vague as angel tracts.
And we forgot antiphonies of tone
can reunite like stars among the billows,
astonishing with light.
Reminiscent of Bach
The ivy presumes ten thousand years
In shaping her fugue to the chapel wall
And makes indelible the tone
Of her green music,
Resonant with stone.
New vine ascends, but only to repeat
The ancient theme,
The polyphonic form –
Star, star, and star, and still more leafy stars
Through cadence, clef and chord –
An also universe
Whose pattern is the Lord.
It’s June again and that means it is wedding season, and that means dancing. In New England a wedding was a secular affair, more often performed by a justice of the peace or the town magistrate than a minister. That changed over the eighteenth century, as did dancing at weddings.
Alex followed the sound of a fiddle toward the front parlor. Furniture had been pushed against the walls, and all the larger pieces had been removed. The tall windows facing the flower garden were open, and the smell of roses wafted into the room on the slight breeze. Guests were just beginning to take their first hesitant steps as the musicians began to play. Dancing at the Parker house was a surprise, even though it had been hinted at. As with the cardroom, he could see that tradition was fading, and old prohibitions were falling away. Still, he was happy to see a reel danced, and a fiddle and pipes played. Someone grabbed his hand and he was pulled into a line.
He bowed to his right, his left, and his partner in the opposite line. His feet barely needed his brain to remember these steps. The simple reel allowed his mind to wander, so he watched the dancers. Most were having to concentrate very hard not to fall over their own, or their partner’s, feet. A general sigh of relief was given when the dancers began their promenade up the line and around. As the dance steps began their repeat, a woman giggled. The others caught the enthusiasm and laughed at their own seriousness. The second set was far more lighthearted.
In a few minutes they had gathered an audience. Some looked on, shocked and surprised at what the younger generation had gotten up to. Others tapped a foot in time to the music, captured by the beat, maybe looking for a chance or the courage to join the dancers. Alex realized with some surprise that he was having a good time. He liked the shocked look on some of the faces, and the admiration on others. The reel concluded, and the dancers reformed into groups of four. Alex took a moment to catch his breath. He stretched his back and looked around, taking a minute to make sure he hadn’t done anything terrible to his leg. He turned, and there was Nina, standing by the window as if she had only just walked through. She was one of those tapping her foot to the opening bars of the next set. He reached out to pull her into the dance.
“You know I have no idea how to do this.” Nina felt ridiculous as Alex held her hands and led her around the small dance floor.
“No one does. This is Newton. How many dance classes have any of the young ladies here attended? How many dance masters have set up shop nearby?” Alex was glad to make her laugh. It was a side of herself she had not fully shown, only hinted at with those smiles.“You are brave to attempt it, keep going and follow my lead. I may step on your feet, but in general, I know where we are to go next.”
It’s June again. The piles of snow left from last winter are finally gone, and the roses, (which did not mind the snow mounded on their roots) are in full bloom again. These luscious blooms were the motivation for a scene in Beside Turning Water when Nina rests in the rose garden at the end of a beautiful summer day.
Nina slipped back out of the long windows toward the rose garden. She found a bench in the flowers and gratefully sat. Her legs felt weak, she felt flushed and her heart was beating in a most uncomfortable manner. She blamed the dancing, but sitting there in the warm summer afternoon, she grudgingly admitted to herself that Alex, her intrepid rescuer, was the culprit. She had sworn off men so many years ago, vowing never to marry again. She assured herself that her short marriage inoculated her, had left her safe from the risk of future discomforts – physical and emotional – that being married would bring her. It was as well she would leave, and he would go back to Cambridge. This time, truly, she would never see him again.
She concentrated on the beautiful roses. In the warm dry weather of the last week, the flowers had bloomed early and now waited, suspended in glorious splendor, their petals open so far they nearly drooped. A few had already stopped trying to hold on, and masses of color littered the nearby ground. It was clear from some empty stems that the flowers that had been fresh and pretty this morning had been cut for the ceremony, or for the party here at the house. She scooped a handful of pale purple and yellow petals into her hands. She inhaled the heady scent.
Alex, too, had enough of dancing and polite pints of ale, good as it was. He had had enough too, of wondering where his Nina, the mysterious blonde, had gone. He found Wythe at the card table and wearily told him that after he picked up a book, he could be found somewhere between Angier’s Corner and the encampment in a dark tavern, getting very drunk on what would probably turn out to be very bad ale. He expected to drink beer that had been sitting too long in a leaky keg. He discovered he felt uneasy and incomplete. He did not know why. It would seem to be a strange reaction to a lovely country wedding.
He whistled for Thorne, and synched his saddle into place. He gazed over the paddock. The two Suffolk Punches were still there. That was odd – he hadn’t seen a workman or a delivery fellow. He didn’t think the Parkers farmed their own land or if they did, he didn’t think they would stable the work horses at the house. Well, curious as it was, it was not his mystery. He led Thorne around to the side so as not to trample on the flowers.
He stopped. Staying out of sight of the lady on the bench, he watched her drink in the scent of spent roses. He allowed himself a daydream. In it, he walked up to her, took her in his arms, and lay her back in the grass, so warm and open in the summer sun. Sweet and willing like those voluptuous roses, she would stare at him with the same rapt expression he saw on her lovely face.
Alex shook himself. He shouldn’t think such thoughts about her, jealous as he was of those rose petals. She might be married. After all, she wore a small ring, and she had a name different from the one Wyeth told him. However, if she were well wedded, where was her elusive husband, and why had his name not come up? No, she would not be married. A woman that lovely, if she were wed . . . she would have the air of satisfaction, the roundness of a child or two. She had none of that. She would, though, if she were his wife. Not having a clue where or why such a thought arose, he shook himself again. It must be the smell of the roses.
History is not for the squeamish. The same goes for genealogy, and it’s too bad no one told Ben Afleck or Deborah Nathan that. Let me explain. The other day, as reported in the DailyMail and then all over Facebook, it became known that Ben wanted the fact that one his ancestors owned slaves, censored from the genetic tracing show ‘Finding your Roots’. The PBS show is hosted by Henry Louis Gates, a man not afraid to confront the history of slavery in the American south, but for some reason, he let his friend fudge the past. The request to alter his genes came from Ben himself through Sony Pictures, and PBS agreed. (The fictional show aired on October 14, 2014.)
Deborah Nathan, commentator and public comedienne, recently discovered that her Texan forbears owned a few domestic slaves in the 1850s. She delved deep to prove it wasn’t so. Jews owning slaves, was that possible? But of course it was. It was Texas in the 1850s and if her ancestor wanted help in the store or house, he owned the labor. It wasn’t as if he could drive by the HomeDepot and pick up a few workers.
It should not come as any sort of shock to Ben or Deborah, that people of means in the south owned slaves. The reality of labor in the southern states, was that labor was in short supply. Owning land was cheap. That meant there were few workers available for hire, slave-holding was the only option, and of course it was legal.
Careful before you gag with superiority, you northern moralists.
Labor is the north – after around 1800 give or take a few Rhode Islands and Connecticuts, which slowly and gradually abolished slavery between the years 1784 and 1848. Those states finally abolished slavery completley just fifteen years before the Federal ban, (known as the Emancipation Proclamation, signed in 1863) – was in short supply too, but keeping slaves in large numbers in the north, was more costly than hiring day laborers. Let me explain.
Think about what an owner owes his slaves. Remember these are expensive commodities, whatever we may feel about the institution itself, no one wanted his slaves killed or made unable to work. So except for a few famous cases (only unusually terrible situations made it into the court system to be transcribed) most slaves were housed and fed tolerably well. For the owner this required space to house his workers, and food to feed them.
I know you want to complain that the food was bad and the space was mean. I agree. (nolo contendere)
But the basic requirement for land and food didn’t work in the north. Families were large, and children supplied plenty of cheap, unskilled labor. Land was poor and rocky so there was little extra, and most farms remained small. Interestingly, those few places with abundantly fertile land, were those few places in the north where slavery held on into the nineteenth century. And by the first decades of the that century, immigration brought new, cheap labor to northern cities, making slavery even more expensive. It is simply cheaper to pay a laborer a few coins, and not care about where he sleeps or what he eats. With freedom comes the right to starve.
Deborah Nathan and her family were able to “come to grips with the past”, a concept I find laughable, because the past just sits there whether or not we can grip it. Also, I’m sorry that Ben feels ashamed of his people. They were within their legal, and historical right. He really shouldn’t have the right to disown ancestors, even if he disapproves of them. As I said, history is not for the squeamish, man up Ben.
For the record, many of my ancestors owned slaves in the south. My great-grandfather and his brothers fought for Georgia in the Civil War, and my father and mother fought for fair housing and jobs for Black Americans in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. I am no more “shamed” by my ancestors, that I take “credit” for their successes and discoveries. (Picture above is of my grandmother and her sister, Mt Airy, Georgia about 1907.)