Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category
On March 4, 1776 the New Englanders under command of John Thomas, began to cart the cannon up the hill to Dorchester Heights. Other people, townsfolk of Roxbury and helpers, had put hay on the streets to muffle the sound of the heavy wagons. These were the cannon brought to Boston by Henry Knox, and his small team from Fort Ticonderoga in New York. As men brought the heavy cannon up the hillside, others were constructing sticks (or fascia) into redoubts to look like an actual fort system built into the hill. The weather cooperated in favor of the Americans, giving them a screen of white, rain and heavy snow to work behind.
General William Howe, commander of the British in America, had observed the Americans gathering on the heights, but he had seen no reason to hurry to take the hill, as it was nearby and easily climbed from the ocean side. On March 5, 1776, (sixth anniversary of the Boston Massacre), Gen. Howe woke to the sight of cannon aimed directly at the British fleet in the harbor. He may have suspected the truth, that the Americans had no cannon ball, and their powder was probably as wet as the mud under their feet, but he could not gamble with the ships or the lives of so many men — not for this tiny, wretched town in the beginnings of a small-pox outbreak.
Howe agreed to terms, and surrendered to town to Gen. George Washington. The British evacuated, twelve days later, on March 17, 1776. Saint Patrick’s Day, known in old Boston as Evacuation Day.
Excerpt from Beside Turning Water
Dorchester Heights, March 5, 1776
Suddenly Alex was glad Nina had help enough without him. He had hopes that his role was over for the day, maybe even longer, but he hadn’t counted on an all-out battle at the edge of town. Again, war had a way of interrupting plans.
“Peele, so glad you are here with a wagon. Excellent. These men need transport to the Heights.” Alex turned around. Men were already seated in the wagon, shovels and rifles stacked neatly against the hinged tailgate. They were bundled in their greatcoats and covered with sailcloth tarpaulins. They were ready to leave. Alex took a deep breath, readied himself for another long night, fixed his cloak and hood over his head, and shook the reins. He turned the team and wagon and headed back the way he came, turning south in order to join Henry Knox’s cannon on the hill.
The wind howled. Alex pulled his cloak closer. He could have missed this, back in his small rooms in Boston, completely unaware that the tide of the siege was about to turn. It would have happened that way if that idiot Josh had not appeared with his pistol in a civilized parlor in Boston. Perhaps even General Howe was unaware of what was happening on Dorchester Heights, almost directly over his quarters on Castle Island. He might be hunkered down, riding out the storm, staying warm and slightly drunk on his favorite brandy. As for Alex, he wasn’t missing this important moment. He felt alive and ready.
He had heard snippets of Henry Knox’s project during that one moonlight trip to Cambridge. The night that had been the most frightening of his war, that is until this afternoon, when Nina blocked the bullet meant for his heart. He reminded himself that she was alive, and she had help. He dragged his mind back to the men behind him. Planning for this mission had started last November. Henry Knox was to bring sixty cannon from Fort Ticonderoga in New York, across the long southern border of Massachusetts, and position them on the Heights, the last undefended hill looming over the closed town.
The warm, wet winter caused Knox trouble from the first. In many places, the snow was not thick enough to support sledges carrying the cannon. Roads were not frozen, and then, too often, the ice on the rivers cracked. More than once the men had to drag a cannon out of freezing water. Conditions were so unusual that the mission, predicted to take three weeks, took nearly nine.
Now, with the help of every farmer and militiaman in Roxbury, the materials were ready to be moved up the Heights and positioned on the hill facing the harbor. The goal was to shock the British with cannon aimed at their ships and redoubts built into the hill, manned and ready to repel any assault from the sea. Washington was ready with terms. The British were not to further loot or burn the town, but to hurriedly pack and leave, to simply evacuate. Under the terms, the Americans promised not to blow the masts off or sink the British warships.
The townspeople, men, women and children, had built large numbers of fascia, the bundled sticks that would cover redoubts and make them look deep and permanent. Each redoubt would be armed with a cannon staring down at Howe’s headquarters, or at a Man o’ War anchored in the harbor. The storm that was battering the region would only help the Americans, adding needed cover to the dangerous operation.
Alex pulled the team to a halt at the base of the hill known as Dorchester Heights, in the little farming town of Roxbury. The roads were covered with hay-straw, muffling the racket made by the heavy wagons rumbling through. The George beckoned, and the men went in for orders, an ale and some food before they climbed the Heights to work. Already, men were bringing barrels of heavy sand to the summit to arm the holes built into the side of the frozen hill. These would be ready to roll down on any invading force of Royal Marines should they attempt to take the hill. Alex climbed off the bench and swore at the storm, as his leg buckled under him and he grabbed the wagon for support.
He’d hoped the weeks of semi-rest as a loyalist fop might have hastened the healing, but inactivity had only made the leg weaker. He pushed aside the thought that the leg might never heal and stomped around the wagon, trying to get some feeling back into his cold feet. He looked around to see who might be in charge of the ordered chaos.
After a few minutes he saw the tavern keeper’s daughter, and asked her who might direct him. She pointed to a small shed partway up the steep hill. Hidden in the apple orchard, a small puff of smoke rose from its chimney. Alex wasn’t surprised to find that General Thomas was using the little shed. Out of the back, it had a view of the men working on transforming the hill. He knocked at the door.
“Come in. Oh, Peele, what are you doing out in this weather?” The man had obviously just walked in himself. He was covered with ice and drenched to the bone. He laughed at his quip.
Alex brushed snow off his shoulders and closed the door behind him. “Evening Sir, I ended up in Cambridge due to a small errand, and was sent here with a wagon load of supplies and men. Wondered if there was anything I could do to help.”
Thomas, who had gotten to know Peele slightly from their talks, watched him rubbing the same spot on his leg he had favored months before. “We can always use help, fill in where there is an opening. No digging possible, the frost is two feet thick on that side of the heights. We are camouflaging the redoubts. Move to the forward lines and see if the field commanders need anything.”
“Yes sir, I will.” He made as if to turn and leave, when Thomas’s words stopped him.
“Son, do you mind if I speak out of turn?”
“Peele, I haven’t been a practicing doctor for some years now, but I know a problem when I see one. If it was my choice, I wouldn’t want you in my regiment. I could just about guarantee that you would be trampled in retreat or worse. If we were to send you as a refugee into the next city, doing there what you did for us here, like as not you’d get caught by someone you diced with at the Province House. They’ll happily hang you.
“So go do whatever you can find to do around here tonight. Then take that leg and go build this nation. Leave the fighting to the men who haven’t got shot yet.”
“Yes, Sir, thank you, sir. General Thomas?” the old soldier looked up, “It’s not going to be that easy, is it?” The old soldier nodded acknowledgment as Alex got up to leave.
“No Peele, I imagine someone will need your unique skills again before this war is over. Could be sooner, could be later.”
The General went back to his work. Word was, this engagement would be the last one of John Thomas’s long career, and he wouldn’t leave his Roxbury farm to move on with the Continental Army. Alex left him to complete his victory. It was going to be a hell of a morning for William Howe, and Alex felt an urge to be back in Boston to see it. First, he would do what he could to help here at the Heights, and before dawn he would make his way back to his rooms in the town. As for his skills being unique? He doubted they were, but he was a good observer, a fine rider and could usually find a way to do what needed to be done.
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.
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.
Christmas during wartime had become a habit he had never grown used to. No matter where one was, there were always parties and dancing with officer’s wives and the daughters of magistrates and potentates. He would love to spend the season decorating with green boughs and attending church at midnight as he did growing up. But army life did not allow for personal extravagances such as those.
Simm made sure he was away from the farm most evenings, busy with meetings or social affairs. When he was at home it was almost never at regular hours, so he had not seen Rebecca for more than a moment in days. The few minutes he grabbed at the farm were precious. He loved the pleasant, homemade decorations and greens. He pretended Rebecca was doing the decorating for him, and that she was missing him as he was her. He also prayed that her anger would dissipate if he were gone.
Where Rebecca’s home seemed to get warmer, with the pine boughs and holly on tabletops and mantles. Amalia had transformed hers completely. Even from the top floors it was hard to miss the beautiful greens being brought in to decorate the house for Christmas. Simm supposed that even with farms completely surrounding the City, there was still enough woodland to satisfy Amalia’s demands for ivy and mistletoe, and in a few days’ time, Amalia’s main rooms were transformed from sheer elegance into Christmas magnificence.
Christmas morning foretold a chilly rainy day. Rebecca left the household asleep as she finished the morning chores, changed her gown, and walked in the constant drizzle down the familiar path to her family church. As always she was torn between her father’s tradition of a joyous day with gifts and too much feasting, and her mother’s. A solemn approach to the day. Bostonians had banned special worship on Christmas during her mother’s childhood, Cotton Mather wrote that every day belonged to Christ, not the one day called his birthday. Still, even her mother had enjoyed the happiness and the decorations in the houses of her husband’s family.
Memories of her parents, and her childhood swirled in her head as she trod through the muddy road toward the Presbyterian Church. Happy and wet people rushed in from carriages and on foot, shaking water onto the floor, and shaking hands and hugging. Rebecca felt peaceful as she entered the empty family pew. That solitude was broken seconds later as she was surrounded by nieces and nephews, brothers, and sisters- in-law.
Simm’s eyes followed Rebecca as she walked forward in the plain white church. He had risen early to find some solace and solitude in the day. This year, more than others, he wanted more from Christmas than a series of fancy parties given out of meaningless duty, thousands of miles from home. The empty church was already illuminated and welcoming as he found a seat in the far back, away from the central aisle. The clear windows glowed with flickering candlelight against the wet, gray morning sky.
The white clapboard church with its high box pews brought back memories of Christmas in Boston. Although he recalled that the Puritans had banned the holiday, it had become a day of fasting and feast by the time of the occupation. The soldiers quartered in the town had gathered what greens they could find to decorate their barracks, and the day was spent with song and food. As Simm sat in the little church, watching the rain against the windows. He thought of another occupation of a very different sort of American town.
He recalled the High Anglican Mass they had celebrated at King’s Chapel with the other officers and wealthy loyalists, who had migrated into the protected town. The beautiful stone church near the top of Queen Street, had stayed alive. This was in sharp contrast with the Old South Church, the Third Meetinghouse, that the first group of soldiers sent into Boston in 1774 had turned into a riding stable to punish the town for destroying the tea. He looked around this Meeting House, holy with Christmas and joyous families, and mourned the destruction of the other.
He watched Rebecca enter the empty a box near the front of the church and sit. In seconds he heard giggling and saw little feet flying down the aisle. Two small girls, the first no more than two years, and the other around four, ran down the center aisle, effectively dodging between the legs of the more sedate church goers singing “Bay-Ca, Bey- Ca.” A song he could only assume meant Rebecca. The small girls were trailed by a number of adults and various older children, all of whom crowded into the box where Rebecca sat. He was glad to see his lonely beauty surrounded by her family.
The service was lovely, and perhaps not long enough for a man so far from home; he sat in the pew lost in thought as the congregation moved out into the rain behind him.
“John?” He heard Rebecca’s voice through the happy voices of the crowd.
“Miss Willent,” he answered “A lovely service wasn’t it?”
“Yes, Major, it was. Well, uh excuse me.” Rebecca turned to her family who were watching her conversation with the strange man.
“Well Becky, aren’t you going to introduce us?” That from someone who must be her older brother.
“Oh, don’t bother,” A woman not much older than Rebecca spoke up. “I’m Jane, the kids are Abby and Mary, the baby is Hackett, but he doesn’t answer to anything yet.” She pointed to a very small bundle currently being held by the larger Hackett. The rest of the herd just left, but if you’re a friend of Becky’s why don’t you follow us to our farm for some dinner? It’s just family, we’ll be eating around two o’clock.”
“ Jane, Hackett, family,” Rebecca jumped in to try to stem the tide before more family was introduced, may I present Major John FitzSimmon, one of the men who has been quartered at the farm. It’s lovely to see you, Major, yes do come for dinner, Jane’s mother stayed home to cook. That is unless you have other dinner plans?” Rebecca almost added, ‘other than the cold ham, bread and Christmas biscuits I left on the side board’?
To have shown reluctance, Rebecca felt, would have revealed too much to her family, and would have been outright rude to Simm. She had been that too often.
He noticed her squirm at Jane’s invitation. He smiled encouragement that only she would notice, and made silently promised that he would not stay past dinner. “No Mistress Willent, no particular plans, but I did promise the men I’d be back in the late afternoon.” He answered both Jane and Rebecca.
Simm liked Jane Willent. She was a woman who did not let life’s larger issues get in the way of raising her family. She continued the informal introductions, while trying to grab the hands of her daughters and push them into their cloaks. She kept up the commentary as they moved toward the exit, partially to marshal her large group out of the church and out into the rain, and Simm was sure, to keep him from feeling left out.
They found the carriage and crowded into it. Simm was pushed in with the crowd, and ended up sitting between Jane and her daughters. Abby clambered over one adult after another trying out laps. Finally she turned and settled onto Simm, finding the thick wool of his cloak and the velvet of his fine suit just right. Soon the child was sleep on his shoulder. Jane made to reach for her sleeping daughter, but Simm waved her off. He adored his nieces and nephews and missed them terribly. It felt very nice having such a trusting fellow human resting in the crook of his shoulder. The child smelled of fresh soap and that special sweet scent that children have.
Nat followed the family to Hackett’s farm on Comet. He laughed, enjoying the fact that the haughty FitzSimmon was stuck in the crowded coach with the babies. Simm and Nat had recognized each other immediately as the family gathered in the vestibule. They had both been involved in military negotiations. The project was a private enterprise between the Continental Congress and Parliament, secret even from their own battalions. It was impossible to explain to the family that they had met before, many times.
The first meeting had been two years before during 1775, before Charlestown and Saratoga, before it became clear that war would need to be fought through to its ultimate finish. Nat found Simm efficient and organized. The Englishman always seemed to know what was expected of each meeting; as though he could see the outcome before the negotiations began. To the less experienced and worldly Nat Willent, all that efficiency was a form of British aristocratic arrogance. He did not understand that experience and careful observation made Simm able to the see the outcome, as each meeting unfolded.
Nat rode the bay into the barn, as his brother, walking the team which was now harnessed to an empty coach, followed. “That FitzSimmon put up a fuss about being crowded in with a bunch of babies?”
“Nope, seemed to settle right in. Carried Abby into the house just now. Like as not, good with kids. Likes ‘em, far as I can tell. You have some sort of problem with him being here? Nat, it’s Christmas.” Hackett half reprimanded and pleaded with his younger brother to stay and behave like one of the family. “We are lucky that you are so close you can get leave to come for dinner. Nat, don’t make me ask ‘the stranger’ to leave the table – at Christmas.” With that said, and the horses cared for, Hackett turned and went out the barn door into the rain, pulling the collar of his great coat over his head.
Nat contemplated leaving, but decided a warm kitchen and good food outweighed any personal animus he felt for John FitzSimmon.
Simm hadn’t been at a family Christmas celebration since he left for the army when he was sixteen. He had visited his family many times, but had been away at the holidays. Now he sat at the roaring fire waiting for a roast goose to be served. He could smell dinner cooking three rooms away. He sat nearly motionless, enjoying the family chaos, but feeling very alone in an alien world.
Soon the children were seated in the kitchen, and mulled wines and ciders were served to the adults. People moved to the table to eat. The five course dinner was an extravagant one for farmers in wartime, of that he was sure, and he tried to eat sparingly so the family would enjoy more days of the wonderful, well cooked meal.
Not feeling comfortable enough to enter into natural conversation, Simm watched the family interact. They were happy to be together, even Jasper Willent was not the angry patriarch he’d been when he visited Rebecca. Nat, home on leave from his unit at Valley Forge, glared at Simm, and ate as much of the good food as he could fit. Simm could not help noting the twist of fate that had him living in Nat’s house, eating well each day, while Nat’s army, the opposing army, was nearly starving not thirty miles away.
Hackett and Jane were devoted to home, family and each other. It was nice to be around such pleasant people, but he wanted to move to the children’s table in the kitchen. He puzzled that, and realized that the last Christmas dinner he had attended had been spent at the children’s table. Again he decided, he needed to leave as soon as it would be polite to do so.
Rebecca, the youngest adult in the family and the only unmarried woman, was busy serving and helping the children in the kitchen as often as she sat down. It was she who allowed Jane and her mother, to enjoy their dinners without hopping up to get the succeeding courses. He wanted to help her, but that would have seen as bizarre, he let the feeling pass. He thought about his brother’s advice and started to consider how he could connect with her so as to prevent himself from falling into some form of insanity.
After dinner, drinks and desserts were served in the parlor so the table could be cleared. Simm sat for a minute, excused himself to go to the privy, then made his thanks and good-byes to his generous host and hostess. The steady rain of the afternoon had turned, with dusk, to sleet. It made the road slick with bouncing ice balls, dancing as they hit the quickly freezing ground. Simm chose the less slippery path, and made his way over the brown fields instead of the rutted road, back to the stone farmhouse. Off the main road, his collar and hood over his head against the weather, he watched others riding and walking to and from their Christmas’ dinners. It all seemed so normal, calm and healthy.
These thoughts were dragging him away from the tight focus he tried so hard to maintain. Maudlin thinking had no place anywhere near a battlefield. Maybe seeing Nat Willent had brought it home, he felt done with the whole project. The months with hard-line Clinton in New York wouldn’t make it better, but it might prove distracting.
Politically he was coming to agree with his brothers’, Robert and Stephen’s, support of the American cause, and was finding it harder to accept the majority position of Parliament. This was perhaps what comes of living too close to real Philadelphians, or maybe because he also had read Mr. Paine’s Common Sense. On top those thoughts, Simm could not get the image of Rebecca laughing with her nieces and nephews, out of his mind. The sight of her holding tiny Hackett in her arms as she politely said good-bye and Merry Christmas at the door, nearly had him breathless with desire. He could not want to destroy any of that, but too often war tore families apart.
The distance to the farm was short and Simm was in the empty, cold kitchen too soon. The other men were out, the fires long cold. Simm set the kitchen fire and coaxed it back to life, then he put a kettle over the flames, to boil water for tea. He sat, alone on a hard wooden chair, eating wondrous shortbread and thinking of soft skin and silky hair. So sweet, so beautiful. His Rebecca was Nat Willent’s baby sister. Had Nat not been told that Simm was one of the men living in her house? He couldn’t like that. If it had been legal, he was sure the young lieutenant would have challenged him to a duel just for being at his family’s Christmas dinner. Honestly, if either Anne or Janet had a strange man, known only as a military adversary, home for Christmas dinner, he might challenge him as well.
He finished his tea and another shortbread upstairs in his room. Then he replenished the wood and kindling in his and Rebecca’s rooms. In time a few of the other soldiers came back and sat in the parlor telling sad stories and drinking brandy. Simm was tempted to go down and join the self pity of soldiers far from their homes on Christmas evening. Instead, his thoughts fell to the future. Something hopeful he could only dream of. Lying on his back staring at the ceiling, he built a dream of a beautiful, caring, wife with blond hair, and smokey blue eyes, his Becky. And children, their children, happy bright haired children. All of them living away from here. Far away from war and the things that would drag them back into war.
Simm had gotten a glimpse of his future in the front pews of the church. He could do something to achieve it, or let it lie fallow and die. He went down to say happy Christmas to the men, but excused himself after a few minutes, and went back upstairs to write letters to his mother and father.
“Simm!” Ellerby called from the front room, “when will ‘Becca get home tonight?” His voice was slightly slurred and it was clear the men had not finished drinking.
“Not till late, Ellerby, I told her I’d do the milking and fires,” John lied, but considered that doing Rebecca’s chores would be a Christmas gift.
“Ish too bad, I have a preshent for her.”
“Lets all do Christmas gifts tomorrow at dinner, Ellerby, when we’re not in our cups.”
“Dash a good idea.”
“Happy Christmas Ellerby.”
“Happ’ Chrishmas, FitzShimmon. Ellerby went back to the others. Simm went to the barn to see if he remembered what the milkmaid said when she taught him how to milk a cow.
Later, while the women were drying the last of the dishes, Jane gave Rebecca a look that said it was time to talk. “Becky, what’s wrong, you are so tightly wound I fear you will break? I’ve never seen you rush around so at a dinner. You know we all share the chores. There was no reason for such.”
“Jane, dear, I know you’re right, I am sorry. Nat and FitzSimmon were making me nervous, or rather, Nat was. He sat there so stiff.”
“He’s still here, Becky, why don’t you ask him why. Maybe it was sharing bread with his enemy. You know we are used to it here, having the soldiers all over the place, it might be harder for him?”
Rebecca thought over Jane’s words. She suspected it was deeper than that, but it would be interesting to hear what Nat had to say. She headed to the parlor, but stopped at the door to listen to the men talking. She learned that Nat had been involved with political missions. Ones that he was glad had failed. That barely answered her questions, unless he and Simm had known each other through those negotiations. As unlikely as another coincidence would be – it would explain why they seemed to know one another. She spent some time reading with the little girls. When at last they were ready for sleep she said her good-byes.
“Beck- you need someone to walk with you. It’s very dark and late.” Her brother Nat asked as she grabbed her cloak from the peg in the hall.
“Nat, you’re as likely to land face down in the ice as not. I know you need to get a good night’s sleep when you have a chance. Besides, you don’t want to see the men at the farm. I’ll find my way home, and I’ll be fine, see the moon is out.” And indeed the storm had cleared to an icy clean night, with a nimbus moon.
Rebecca walked through the barn on her way into the house to see what chores she could put off till morning. She found the cows milked, sheep penned and chickens fed. Pleased and surprised, she walked into the kitchen to find the kitchen fire banked and the floors swept. She peeked into the parlor and sitting room and found most of the men contentedly drowsy or asleep beside a dying fire. Quietly, she put a thick log on the coals, knowing that when house got too cold, the men would find their beds. Carrying her shoes, she tiptoed through the dining room back through the kitchen. She climbed the stairs to the first landing. Simm’s door was ajar and a lanthorn was lit. She could just make out that he was sitting at his desk working. Rebecca continued up to the attic. She lit a candle and covered it with the glass, carefully placing the light on the floor. She went to the large chest that took up most of the wall under the window. It was where she stored her things, since her removal to the attic.
She lifted the lid and rummaged inside the wooden chest until she found a package wrapped in flax homespun in a pile of cedar shavings. She pulled off the wrapping and examined the contents. Inside was a bolt of fabric, about the size of a small blanket. She had woven it a year ago during the fall and into the winter. Everything had felt different then, for although the war was on and her world was upside down, there had still been time to dye and spin. A year ago, there had been space to assemble her loom and sit and weave the tartan she would never look at again, certainly never give away.
Rebecca refolded the soft wool, pushed her feet into a pair of warm shearling leather slippers and went down one flight. “Knock, knock,” Rebecca called hesitantly into the open door. “Major, may I disturb you a minute?”
“Yes, Miss Willent,” Simm jumped at the unexpected and welcome interruption. “Yes. Of course, can I help you?” He looked up, Rebecca was holding a blue and green piece of wool fabric.
“No, I don’t need help. I’m sorry. I won’t interrupt your work.” She made as if to turn.
Simm felt desperate to stop her from leaving, short of screaming. He simply barked an order. He tried to do it quietly.“Stop, please. You’re not bothering me. Let me start over. Miss Willent, to what do I owe this unexpected visit?”
“I’m afraid this,” she held out the limp wool. “It isn’t what I would have chosen – this year, I didn’t make it recently. I didn’t have time or I would have made something more… more formal, a fine linen cravat or something.” Suddenly feeling like she did want to run away and abandon this effort, she made herself finish a bit defiantly.
“You had mentioned that your mother was a Douglass.”
“Yes, her mother’s father was a Scottish Douglass, the clan is dissolved now.”
“You see,” Rebecca took a deep breath and steeled herself to tell her story. “I started this that fall, you remember?” She let that memory hang in the air. “I didn’t have a reason. I never thought to give it to you, I suppose I made it for myself, to remember you while I wove it. Now, I think you should have it.” Embarrassed, Rebecca turned away.
“Becky?” John spoke softly. She turned back to the room and handed John the soft wool weaving. He took it in his right hand, while with his left he reached behind him to grab something on a shelf. He handed her a four inch by four inch by four inch wooden box that rattled as he moved it. “Similarly, I had no reason to write my mother about a girl that I had met. A girl who explained the entire geopolitical industrial history of colonial America by explaining the lack of hairpins, but I did. Mother sent this last year. Jason brought it. I remember writing her about my trip through America. I tried to keep my stories bland, informational. I think I might not have been bland. Mother and my niece, another Elizabeth, went hunting for pins throughout London and Paris. She told Jason to give me this box, that you would want it. I assume, Mother was right?”
Rebecca reached for the box as Simm reached for the cloth. She sat on the floor in front of his warm fire and slid open the lid of the little wooden box. Inside, there were long thick straight pins for closing heavy coats and capes, long thin ones for hats, there were curved decorative pins with dulled ends for hair, even a large set to be used for utilitarian things such as sewing and diapers.
Simm fingered the soft wool. He’d penned these very sheep. He imagined Rebecca shearing, carding, spinning and dying the yarns before she wove the lovely tartan. He ached for her as he imagined those happy, bright haired children sleeping in their cradles, covered with this warm soft cloth.
He thanked her. She nodded and went back to her attic room.
As I said last week, there are very few romances that take place at Christmas. This is Alex in 1775, alone in Boston, acting as eyes for George Washington in the British occupied town. On top of that he has decided to read Seneca.
Early in the day Alex had accompanied his friends, the young sons of families with connections to the previous governor, and officers who had the bad luck to be stuck in Boston on Christmas Day, to church. Although the soldiers and residents might have wanted to celebrate the birth of the lord, the town did not have a festive feel. Not only was it warm enough for snow to turn to mud, few homes had bothered to so much as hang a pine bough in the window.
Before the occupation and naval blockade, the townspeople of Boston had begun to enjoy the celebrations around December the twenty-fifth, but it was always complicated for them. First the Puritan edicts ran contrary to celebrating just one day for the birth of Christ. Cotton Mather, called one of the great lights of Puritan thought, had said that every day was cause for the celebration of Christ, not one day a year.
Further complicating the holiday in the minds of New Englanders, was the Saturnalia. The Roman celebration of the new year. It was traditionally Pagan and raucous. Some traditionalists argued that any celebration around the winter solstice was Popery or even paganism. Others understood that it was important to celebrate the birth of Christ, even if the day had not been a significant holiday in the previous century. Everyone it seemed, had begun to realize that it was unkind, in this cold, dark place, not to have some celebration at the end of the year.
Now however, the occupied town was dreary and sad on the best days. Roads had not been groomed or cleaned, wooden walks had not been repaired, and lights that were scheduled to be hung near the market, had either already broken or had never been set up.
Alex spent as much time as he could, in forced jollity with these men. If he could have attended a service at the nearby New South Meetinghouse, the day would have had some meaning, but to have gone to New South would have attracted attention, the wrong kind of attention. He had worked very hard to be the man everyone liked, but nobody noticed. It wouldn’t do to have notice made of him now.
Ruefully, he acknowledged that this life was exhausting him. He lied so often about who he was and what he was doing, that he had lost his energy. His life had no zest. Every night he dressed and went to whichever club was next was on his list, living the charade of the well heeled Tory looking to entertain himself until his army won back the colonies. He played this role so well, that he had been invited by the young officers to spend time at the Province House drinking with them and their superiors, officers of highest ranks. Lots of inadvertent information had started coming his way. Now was not a good time to be noticed in any capacity, certainly not for the stupid mistake of going to the wrong church.
Christmas morning he had left his fellows’ company as early as was polite, and gone home. Once he was as warm and comfortable as possible, he set a bottle fine cognac next to him on the table and began pouring the warm wine into a crystal glass. He had a copy of Seneca open on his lap, but the wine was more interesting than Stoicism. It was not that the Stoics weren’t compelling, it just seemed redundant to him when what he needed was to get very drunk.
He remembered Christmas a year ago. It had been his first in America after being in Italy the winter before. Music ringing from the churches and halls echoed in his memory. He never expected his New England homeland to celebrate with the elegance of Florence or the abandon of Rome, or even the bells of London, but he had put holly and mistletoe in his parlor, and a candle in his window. Now there was nothing.
Alex looked at his glass and realized that it, and the bottle on the table were empty. He had been making up for an afternoon of staying judiciously sober. He tried to stand, to find another bottle of wine, but he sat back hard when he heard footsteps on the stairs. Pushing himself up, and trying to throw off his despond before the door opened and he was asked to go out to a another boring evening. He had just grabbed a second bottle and sat back down, when the visitor retreated, steps echoing in the hall as they moved down the stairs.
He heard some rustling outside his door, and almost went to look, but the effort did not seem worth it. A minute later, he heard footfalls again. He had no interest in leaving his cognac or his chair, and hoped there was no one there who needed anything from him. The steps came up a third time and knocked on the door. He had achieved the perfect state of inebriation and did not want to alter it, he grunted “enter.”
The door opened and boxes of firewood and food were pushed from the hallway through the door by a lady’s foot in dark burgundy boots. Even in boots, she had a lovely ankle. Very pretty legs from what he could see. Alex sat back, if this was a drunken hallucination, or a fabulous dream. He would do nothing to change it. Ladies with nice legs who brought food and firewood, could only exist in dreams.
Alex smelled the food. The lady was surely a hallucination. She unpacked roast turkey and cranberries, Indian bread and pumpkin pie. Food that shouldn’t be here, he swallowed deeply from his glass. The lady with the pretty burgundy boots, threw off a matching cloak and revealed a green gown with a purple striped petticoat. The gown was silk and low cut. It revealed more than it should have to a man as drunk as he. He reached for his glass to prolong the hallucination.
In this dream, Nina was putting wood on his tiny fire, building it to real warmth. Other boxes of firewood were lined up near the door. She moved nearer, and leaned over. He blinked at a lovely neckline, and the tops of full breasts. He did not move or speak, careful not to wake himself or shake the apparition away.
Nina knew when a man was drunk. She took her tin camp kettle and unpacked it on a small table near the fire, setting up a plate of turkey, stuffing and cranberries. She put it on the small table next to his wine, and sat on the floor at his feet. Nina handed Alex a piece of turkey on a fork. “You need food, eat.” He blinked at the plate of good food at his elbow and the fork. Obediently he took the fork and ate the food. When the plate was nearly empty he blinked again. He reached for his wine. Nina replaced the glass in his hand with a tankard of ale.
“It doesn’t seem right to eat. I have made a policy of not eating.” Alex sat back in his chair, he took a long drink of Nina’s ale. He could feel his head shrink and mind clear.
“Why don’t you eat? You are very thin.” All sorts of panicked worries began swimming around Nina’s head. Terrible things happened to people when they began to starve. She wished she could drag Alex home to care for him, but he would not want that.
“There is little food. Most townspeople are here because they have nowhere to go, the redcoats are only holding warehouse goods here, not people, they are free to leave. I don’t mean the Tories, the refugees, as they call themselves. But the locals. Food is smuggled in for them. I don’t deserve their food. I eat with the Tories, but I can’t eat much.”
It was nonsense, and yet Nina understood. She would never fault Alex for a lack of discipline, or of lacking clear sense, of doing what he believed. It would foolish to try to change his mind on such matters. “Seneca?” She picked up his book from where he had dropped it. “Don’t you think this ascetic life is punishment enough?”
“Punishment? I am not being punished. I am performing a necessary task.”
“Yes, I know.” She turned through the pages of the book.
Alex relaxed back into his drunk. The food was nice, and it was very good to be warm. Having Nina, or her apparition, here was good. He would wake in the morning, cold, hungry and with a terrible hangover. But it was nice, this dream.
It was odd to have the taste of ale in his mouth. He wasn’t sure he could conjure up the taste of Nina’s ale. It had been a long time since he had drunk good ale. The false Alex Peele had completely stopped drinking beer. His apparition was talking to him. He fought to focus.
“Deborah Revere said I should come to town. No, that’s not the truth.” Nina fumbled, trying to find words that would not embarrass.
Alex poured some cognac into his empty tankard and handed Nina a glass of the wine. He rested his other hand in her hair as she sat close to him, still on the rug near the fire. “Start at the beginning. Nina, I’m afraid I can’t focus, but I will try.” His slight laugh gave her courage.
“It was the night of that dinner party. I tried to tell you – after – when we were on Thorne.”
Alex remembered being afraid for Nina’s life, afraid there would be no reason to carry on with his own life. Was there a way to explain all that? “I remember a terrible need to shoot the bastard who held you hostage in the road. I recall you trying to tell me something. I know that gunshots interfered.”
“Yes they did.” Nina took a deep breath. Sitting very straight, she put her hands in her lap. “The next week I made a confession at meeting. They voted. I’m a member of the First Church now.”
“Yes, congratulations. I know your family must be relieved. But, I am sorry. What does that have to do with – what you need to tell me?”
“My confession was that I had stayed angry with Johnny for ten years. I confessed that I had never forgiven him for hurting me, leaving me, and dying before we could make a marriage. Then I told the elders that someone had come into my life. And that I had asked God to help me forgive Johnny. I needed to make room in my heart to love this person.”
Alex held his breath. He had been present at many confessions. Some people had begun to take them lightly, but Nina wouldn’t. Such public confessions were required in the Old Light tradition for church membership. Dr. Tyrie was strictly Old Light. Confessing a sexual love was unusual, but nothing was unheard of.
She looked at her hands and continued. “It happened on the way to the dinner party. I had been screaming – howling even louder than the wind – at the unfairness of my life, at Johnny. I guess I was screaming at God. Suddenly, I felt all my anger leave me. I cried for a while, and then I wasn’t scared anymore.
“When I finished my story, the ladies in the Congregation started to cry, their husbands looked a little uncomfortable. But the wives all ran to hug me. Alex I am not afraid anymore. It may be wrong to say, but after that night I feel reborn.”
Alex pulled himself out of his chair and walked the few short step to the window. He pushed his head against the cold glass and looked at the growing dark of the late afternoon. Clouds blocked the moon making the evening as dreary as the day had been, until now. He thanked the gracious God for bringing Nina here, bringing her, just for a moment, into his complicated life.
But he couldn’t, wouldn’t do it. The false Alex Peele could not be here with this newly reborn and wonderful Nina. He put he head against the cold window. There was only one way he could refuse her generous offer where she would not feel rejected. Dishonestly was his middle name, he would be a sloppy drunk.
“Darling,” he carefully slurred his words, “you may be sure. But I am afraid that you find me in a bit of incapacitation.” He that was a hard one, and he made the most of it. His gait wobbled as he sat next to Nina on the warm rug. He didn’t need to fake that, or his swooning head. Her kiss was very sweet, his mouth must take like cognac. He took a minute and closed his eyes.
Nina stood up and away from him. She began to explore the room. Just behind where they sat, was a short corridor to Alex’s bedroom. She went in. The room was very cold. It was likely he had never had a fire here, she knelt and set a fire. Again she wanted nothing so much as to drag Alex back to the Wheel and Hammer, feed him well, and let him rest. She could see the weariness in his eyes. Even the fact he was long in his cups couldn’t hide the profound tired.
It felt good to have Nina here. Good to have that recurring nightmare over. The one in which watched Nina dragged away and held at gunpoint, while he, so afraid to expose his identity, did nothing to save her. He hated himself in those dreams. If there were any way he could give up this false world, he would. That simple kiss in Nina’s kitchen had nearly cost Washington his eyes in Boston. Only saved by Jack walking in the kitchen door. For all he knew, young Jack saved the American cause that morning.
He had lost his heart that morning, though it had taken some time to acknowledge it. Lost, just as Carlotta had seen in the strange way of hers, to a woman with aquamarine eyes. He remembered when she had given him the bezel and told him to give it to the lady whose eyes matched the stone. The one who would own his heart. Carlotta should be hanged as a witch.
He could see Nina through the door. She had shed her shawl and looked magnificent in the green and violet gown, the colors complimenting each other, and her. Like a spring tulip. He summoned energy to bank the fire, and put the screen in front of the hearth. He half crawled into his room and climbed onto the bed. He let his head fall back into the soft pillows, his eyes closed. These pillows were the one extravagance he had allowed himself in this strange, false life. It was his one delicious moment per day, letting his head sink into softness. The room was warm, which was a pleasant shock. Through his drunken haze he watched his Nina taking off her boots and socks in front of the fire.
The simple act was breathtaking. He had seen the veil dancers in Istanbul, and sat in the salons of courtesans in Paris. Nothing he had seen on his travels compared to watching Nina step out of thick boots, warm socks and thick, quilted petticoats. He swallowed. He willed his body to be hopelessly drunk, as inebriated as he needed it to be.
Nina fiddled with the strings and hooks of her gown. Her heart pounded in her ears. She wished it was with excitement, but she knew that she was afraid. She hated to retreat. She was afraid of hurting Alex’s feelings, more than of anything else. She told herself it would be perfect, she would not curl into a frightened little ball. Her heavy quilted petticoats fell to her feet. She stepped out of them, and turned to the bed.
Alex was soundly asleep, his head deep in the nest of pillows a smile on his lips. She had felt him watching her until just a minute before. Quietly Nina tiptoed around the two rooms. She pulled the blankets over him, making sure he was comfortable. She snuffed the candles and checked hearths, banking coals so that they would be alive in the morning. She washed her teeth in some clean water and braided her hair. Then she pulled back the covers on Alex’s warm soft bed and climbed in next to him, snuggling close against his hard back. She put her arms around him and drew him to her, breathing his scent deep into her lungs. It felt familiar, at the same time she felt a warm, a tingly sensation that had nothing to do with the temperature in the room. She had not expected to feel so physically connected although she had realized that what she felt for him must be love. Nina sighed with contentment, Alex slept deeply and seemed oblivious to all.
Before dawn Alex woke to Nina, as she gently, almost silently climbed out of bed. He remembered just enough of the night, what had happened, and what had not happened. And why. He got up and Alex fixed the fire in his parlor and set water on the hearth, while Nina dressed in the other room. He ran out to the privy, only slightly surprised to see Nina’s Suffolks, already harnessed and ready to leave. He greeted the horses and wished them a good new year, then he pushed a leather pouch under the wagon bench and went back into the house. He climbed back into his warm bed, his head splitting.
“I have to leave.” Nina, dressed in a warm wool gown, leaned over to kiss him good-bye. Alex pulled her down and into his arms. He rolled her beneath him and covered her mouth with his. Deepening the kiss when he felt Nina fingers dig into his back and run through his hair.
Nina opened her lips as Alex demanded. Lost in the whirlwind of sensation, his fabulous hair loose in her fingers. He feet struck the floor as clock struck its second charm. Alex let her go, picking up her fingers and kissing them one by one, and letting them go, letting her go.
Weakly, he waved good-bye.
Recently, on a romance blog, someone asked about romance at Christmas. There are actually very few romance novels set at Christmas, but all three of mine include an important Christmas scene. Beginning tonight, I will be posting one of those a week. This is the first from Cardinal Points. Christmas in 1773 occurred one week after the men dumped the tea in the harbor, but I bet everyone wanted to pretend life would go on as normal.
Oona sat in a public pew in the small wooden church. Her mind wandered from the minister’s words, and she stared out the clear windows at the clear winter light. It always served to clear whatever confusion she suffered in her life. But this morning her mind was full of other things. Oona shivered against the cold, glad of hot coals in her small foot warmer.
She continued her prayers begun the evening before, asking for guidance on the new path she would have to follow. As the minister talked of things that meant little to her, she found her mind wandering and she began to think about Jason FitzSimmon. Not all her musings were pleasant, and she kept asking herself why Jason, son of a duke, with a title and a family that would catch any American heiress, would waste his time with a maid who had nothing. Of course he wouldn’t. She had nothing to offer, no dowry, no family name, no family. What would he want from her but what every man wanted, and that she would not give him, even if that was what she wanted too.
She stopped her wandering thoughts, and pulled her mind back to the service just as it ended. She pulled on her cloak and grabbed her small brazier. Many people would return to the meeting house after lunch for an afternoon of prayer and instruction, but ministers understood that servants had obligations to their earthly mistresses and masters. So when the minister wished them a good meal, Oona thanked him and made her way back over the hill. New South’s service was longer than the Goodiel’s at King’s Chapel, so she hurried home and went right to work in the kitchen helping Mrs. Prince knead pastry dough for the fancy dinner that evening.
That was where Anne found her an hour later. “Oona, when you are done here, could you mind the girls? They need to dress for the party and so do you. Nanny has the night off. Suzie and Darcie are here, so don’t worry about being needed to serve. I think you should wear the red. I haven’t seen it, but if you’ve finished it – I believe the color should suit you.” The woman rushed on, not leaving Oona space to agree, comment, or disagree. Anne Goodiel called back at her “…and Oona? I need you to come to church with us next weekend. It’s Christmas and I think the household should be seen together.”
Finally given a chance to speak, Oona muttered a “yes, Ma’am.” She went up to the girls’ room, where she found nurse putting on her cloak and hood, getting ready to leave. The children curtseyed to her as she left.
Oona dressed Mary and Willie and sent them off to help Darcie, and to tell Suzie to come upstairs to help her dress. She went up to her room to find the red gown Anne Goodiel had requested she wear. Originally it had been a deep red augmented with the rust-colored trim that would bring out Anne Goodiels red highlights. It was a lovely, light wool, made in a split skirt and split sleeves with the dark rust silk used for the petticoat and undersleeves. Oona’s re-creation of it was more daring. She had closed the split skirt and removed the silk in the sleeve, replacing it with a white, ethereal lace. She had changed the neckline too. Lowering it and changing the bodice so that with the proper stays, her breasts were pushed right to the edge of the top of the bodice, waiting to spill over. She was tempted to hide her neckline under a warm shawl or fichu, but she knew that was just cowardice, and she had vowed to be brave on her new path.
Jason approached the well-lit house with some anxiety. He had gone to church at the Christ Church in the North End that morning. It was a church whose architecture appealed to seamen since it was built by shipwrights as an upside down ship. He liked its tall steeple and the clear windows that let in the cold early winter light. It was generally expected that everyone would go to one church or another on a Sunday morning, but that seriousness ended at lunch and he’d spent the early afternoon with friends eating good food and listening to tales.
Although he had gone to sea before his fifteenth birthday, spending another Christmas away from his family left Jason feeling very far from home. He would like nothing more than to find a way to create a home, somewhere in the world, but an evening spent among Boston’s elite merchant class, did not feel like the best way to realize his dream.
A knock with the fox-head brought immediate attention, with little Willie doing the honors, overseen by her sister Mary. The little girls looked up at Jason, and not recognizing him, ran for their mother. Anne Goodiel returned a moment later with her small daughters in tow and took his coat to hang. She offered the rest room, a small room off the main hall he had noticed on an earlier visit. There were guests in there – fixing their clothing and applying powder to hair and face. But, since he had traveled no more than three blocks from his home to the Goodiel’s dinner party, he thanked her and shook his head no.
Anne chased her daughters toward the young maid who came to collect them, and showed him into the great room. There were tables covered with cheeses, fruits, and bowls of various flavors of punch, and everywhere boughs and hangings of pine and fir. Jason thanked his hostess, and helped himself to food and drink.
He realized that he was the stranger in the midst of merchants, captains, their wives and their families. These men and women had known each other their whole lives, grown up together, married into each other’s families and gone into business together. He thought he might know a few of the men who sailed for Matthew Goodiel on other ships, but they were probably at sea, or home with their own families.
The crowd was relaxed, even boisterous. Talk often veered to the tea’s destruction only a few days before. Curiosity, but not real worry as to what Parliament’s reaction would be, ran high. Jason assumed by the talk that most of the Goodiel’s guests were loyalists, with the caveat that they be left alone to earn their fortunes. Jason sympathized with that attitude, it was one he had always harbored toward his aristocratic and autocratic family, and secretly, toward the monarchy as well.
There were people dancing. Jason watched a set and realized that although he had not set foot at any sort of assembly or party for many years, he remembered most of the dances. He turned to a group of young ladies waiting to be asked to dance. He had seen these same girls with their parents only minutes before. Now they had coalesced into a giggling group, leaving their mamas and papas on the other side of the room, but it was obvious they were the daughters of merchant and ship owning families. Jason asked one young lady to dance. She smiled a polite yes, and he escorted her into their place in line. The dance was a reel, and although some couples danced far better, and some far worse, Jason enjoyed moving around the floor with his partner.
He tried to push the thoughts of Oona away, the day they had spent pouring over charts in these very rooms, but he could not help looking to see if she were serving punch or dancing with one of the men. It was toward the end of the first set that he noticed a group of young children dancing and patiently being instructed by Oona and one of the other girls. The children were doing a good job of keeping up with their teachers, and the whole group was obviously having fun. He could not help but be envious of the children who had the undivided attention of the pretty maid. But it was not his place to abandon the young ladies who expected Goodiel’s new mate to partner them in the coming dances.
Oona lifted her head from teaching little Jimmy Russell the steps to a gavotte. As she looked across the hall she recognized many of the guests, and felt comfortable. She had spent the day rehearsing her new outlook. It was good, she thought, to understand the world in which she lived. Even if one did not quite fit in, yet.
Scanning the small crowd, she spotted Jason. He was dancing with a very pretty girl. Cordelia Bonnel, a rich captain’s daughter. Oona knew her and their household. She was precisely the sort of young woman Jason should marry. Her father had the connections that would aid Jason in his work, and her dowry would propel him forward. In no time he would be the captain of a fine vessel himself. She swallowed her sorrow, and worked at being delighted for him.
She turned back to her small charges, but after the next dance they were ushered off to an early dinner, then games and sleep in the nursery while their parents ate and danced. Anne Goodiel had asked Oona to attend the party as a member of the household, so as much as she might want to, she could not go off and hide with the children. She got herself something to eat and drink and set to watching the dancers for a while. She didn’t know if she was delighted for herself or disappointed for Jason as he walked away from the charming Cordelia. The girl made no effort to tie him into another dance. In fact, she barely looked back and walked away not looking at all smitten or wistful. She watched as he next asked Natalie Rowe to dance. Her cousins were the powerful merchant Rowes. Her father was a lawyer. Another good match for him. Natalie was pretty and lively. She smiled and flirted with Jason as they danced. The reel was not one in which partners spent a great time together, and both Jason and Natalie seemed to smile and flirt with all their partners equally. Oona fixed the girl with Jason in her imagination, she remembered that she was a skilled artist and a good musician. She would make a fine wife; her connections and money would help Jason in untold ways. Oona scolded herself that Jason would be happy with these girls or others just like them.
She watched as he took his farewell from Natalie just as he had Cordelia. He kissed the girl’s knuckles very politely, and he smiled pleasantly but blandly into his partner’s eyes. Oona watched Jason’s eyes as he moved from one dance partner to the other. Yes, he’d gazed appreciatively, and smiled gently into their eyes. His eyes lacked intensity. She was sure she would have noticed that yellow eyed glow his eyes had when he looked at her. The gleam that she could only describe as wolfish. She smiled a self-satisfied smile, and hummed silently as the small orchestra began their next piece.
Oona was asked to dance by a merchant’s son, nephew of Dr. Church. Peter Church was a well known dandy and man about town. He was also a fantastic dancer. They spun around the floor, always ending where they should, Peter’s skill making her feel lovely and light. Oona smiled her thanks as Peter leaned over to kiss her hand. He stared into her eyes just a second too long. Oona felt uncomfortable and turned away to stifle a nervous giggle. There was something odd about the man. On the dance floor he was tremendously skilled, but off, he was like a fish out of water. Maybe, Oona held up a linen handkerchief to her hide her smiling lips, his natural domain was the dance floor, just as a fish’s was the ocean. In seconds another young man asked her to dance. And she left Peter Church and images of his floundering on dry land, behind.
Jason watched Oona laughing and swirling with the eligible young men of Boston. These really were the men she should hope for. As the Goodiels seemed to be sponsoring her, maybe this evening was her entre of sorts. He fisted his hands in frustration, knowing he would never be considered eligible. Certainly he had his youth and lack of funds working against him. He stood in the shadows and watched Oona fly around the floor. As the set ended, he saw Anne Goodiel hurry over to speak to her young charge.
Oona thanked her latest partner and leaned against a tall chair for support as she caught her breath. She was having a very good time. She was surprised that Mrs. Goodiel had asked her to attend. She had the thought that maybe now, with her indenture nearly ended, her mistress wanted to secure her entre into local society. Oona hadn’t considered that she ever would, but this evening was an unexpected treat.
“Oona! Could you see to a small problem we have at the punch bowl?”
“A problem at the punch bowl? She followed Anne’s gaze to the other side of the room and a large puddle of punch spreading on the floor.
“Yes, Ma’am.” Oona muttered dutifully her lovely bubble bursting, just as she was so enjoying the evening.
She had stashed a bucket and rags behind the cloth that covered the punch table. She had also pointed out the location of the cleaning supplies to the staff who were hired to work the party, so it had not been necessary to ask her to deal with the sticky floor. Oona understood Anne’s message very clearly, as she got on her hands and knees in her fine red wool gown to mop up the spill. She just didn’t understand why the woman wanted her at the party after the children had left. Oona wished she could wipe so hard a hole would open in the wooden floor and she could fall into it.
Jason was shocked and disgusted as he watched Anne Goodiel send Oona to mop up a spill at the punch table. He hastened over to that table, striking up conversations with the gentlemen and ladies in the area. He hoped to be so distracting they did not notice the dark-haired girl in the beautiful red gown mopping the floor. As he heard her shove the bucket and rags back under the table, he turned to offer his hand and help her rise.
“Miss Oona, may I have this next dance.” Jason spoke in his most elegant tones, thinking his oldest brother, the duke in training, had nothing on him at this moment.
“Oh yes, that would be lovely.” Oona was only barely aware of Anne Goodiel glaring at her from nearby, as she put her cold, slightly damp hand into Jason’s warm, safe one. She looked into those brown, wolfish eyes with their intense light. She felt a tingle of something more than simple pleasure as he tightened his grip ever so slightly, and lifted her up – as if out of a deep court curtsey.
Time stopped. Jason whirled her into the dance. Oona paid no attention to her feet which instinctively followed Jason’s every step, instead she looked into his deep brown eyes. Those canine streaks that had been lacking as he danced with the merchants’ daughters, had reappeared, and her heartbeat sped up more than the jig’s speed required. She recognized the signals of a man’s interest, but Jason’s fascination exceeded that. She understood that she was being hunted. She also knew that she should drop her gaze coquettishly as other girls would. She couldn’t, instead she continued to accept his direct gaze. She held her chin high as that same gaze moved approvingly over her body and gown.
As the dance ended, she curtseyed to him as he bowed. She watched the dancers move off to the dinner room – no one bothered looking in her direction. She took a moment to catch her breath before politely thanking Jason and moving away. He made no move to leave her side, instead he seemed to be scanning the room, seeking something. He turned back to her and smiled, and she smiled back, in what she hoped was appropriately genteel way. She took a step away, as if to do something elsewhere. Jason touched her arm to stop her going. They stood together, each looking out into the room as though they were each looking to move on. Oona felt Jason’s hand on her back. He moved his fingers slowly and teasingly up back to play with the soft hairs at the base of her neck. He had angled them so that his arm and her back were successfully out of the view of anyone still in the room.
Before that dance with Oona, Jason’d had enough of the Goodiel’s party. He could not leave early – his new post on Goodiel’s ship, and a long ingrained politeness, prevented him from grabbing his coat and storming out of the house, but he could not dance with any more town lovelies. It was just as well Mrs. Goodiel had tried to humiliate her pretty maid before the crowd, it distracted him, given him something to do.
He whispered something in her ear, then he moved off toward the dinner room with the rest of the stragglers. Oona walked the room, looking for broken glass and tipping candlesticks. She kept busy with the normal mess left behind by a successful party. The bayberry candles she had helped Mary and Willie put around the room, had burned to stubs, and many were already out. The dancing was over and the musicians had gone home, so there was no need to find replacements. Oona cleaned up the stubs, putting them aside for the candlemaker to reuse. Then she gazed over the room simply enjoying the quiet and privacy of the darkened, empty room.
In a few minutes she stepped behind the heavy winter drapes into the cold, bowed window. She summoned her courage, telling herself that this was a necessary step in becoming her new self, but a part of her knew that she was simply giving into delightful temptation. Footsteps sounded in the empty room and came toward her hiding place. She felt the shiver of something she barely recognized as excitement, from her toes to her chin. She moved back into the darkest shadows of the alcove and looked down. Black shiny boots stood still, just on the other side of the heavy drapes. In one step they were through.
Oona stared at the shiny leather, and then slowly moved her eyes from the fine boots up to the face of the man who had suggested their meeting. As her eyes found Jason’s, she didn’t know if she was delighted to see her new friend, or frightened by the look of conquest in his eyes. She was just realizing that the smart thing would be to push herself away from him. Flee upstairs to the lonely safety of her cold room on the third floor. But instead she pushed herself closer to him. Almost without movement he gently compelled them into the deepest shadows of the alcove and out of the direct draft of the cold glass. He leaned into her, pulling her to him at the same time. He very gently brushed her lips with one hand, while the other wound escaped tendrils of soft dark hair around his fingers at the back of her neck. As he feathered her lips, he traced her delicious neckline slowly with one finger, not upsetting the elegant gown or its wearer.
He kissed her gently, deepening it and holding her close but not intimately, while waiting for her response – positive or negative.
In December 1773, John Rowe wrote in his diary:
Dec 26. Exceeding windy & stormy – it Blown down many Turrets & done Damage among the Shipping at Long Wharff & Tillstons & Blown off the Tiles from my house.
Many New England diaries include weather notations as a matter of course, but in this diary either Mr. Rowe did not include weather notes, or the editor took them out. That this notation made it into the edition published by the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1903, makes it doubly interesting.
Oona had walked to the Common to watch the sun set over the marshes of the Back Bay. The walk back over Fort Hill was made treacherous and plodding by a harsh storm that started just as she turned toward home. She pushed back the hood of her cloak so she could see against the driving sleet. She was happy for the warm fisherman’s cap and sweater Jason had left, the thick lanolin soaked wool was warm and waterproof against the cold and wet. She lifted her face to the stinging ice and steadily increasing gusts, loving the howling wind and the energy of the storm. Hours later, alone in her room after the long day, she looked out the attic window, the wind had picked up and was roaring now. The reflected light from the thick clouds and white ground showed that ice had begun to stick and accumulate on every tree limb, roof, and mast.
The Nor’easter raged all night and all of the next day. It was Sunday, but no one ventured out for church. The ground was a solid sheet of ice, too treacherous for horses’ hooves, or a walker on anything but the most important errand. With each gust of wind, another heavy, ice coated limb crashed to the ground, making the world even more treacherous. Someday, Oona thought while staring out the window, when the sun came out again, this dull gray world will be changed by the ice, snow and freezing rain into a shiny, sparkling otherworld.
And so it was Monday morning that people emerged from their hearths to get on with their week. Frozen mud and brick walks, coated with a day’s worth of accumulated ice greeted them. Oona, like other brave souls ready to face such a day, held tight to her stout walking stick as she maneuvered through town. Like everyone she stepped gingerly, but it was the sight overhead that captivated her. The clouds had cleared away for bright winter light that caught the ice on every surface and brought it to an unearthly life. Nothing looked as it had before. Things like tree limbs, window shutters, shop and tavern signs – glittered in the bright light, moved unnaturally in the wind, broke loose from their anchors and simply shattered when they hit the ground. As the morning progressed and no heat could be coaxed from the sun to melt the layers of accumulated ice, a new wind arrived from the harsh north. Gusts from this frigid wind took the ice covered trees and ships’ masts and snapped them like twigs.
Oona headed home with bread, eggs and stew beef for dinner. She was pleased to have made it home and not slipped and fallen on Mrs. Channings fresh eggs. Back in the warm kitchen on Oliver Street, she put down her bundles and pulled off her cloak and warm undergarments. “Mrs. Prince, it’s bad down at the harbor. Masts broken, ships on their sides. I didn’t see the Catherine, but I don’t see how she could’a come through with nothing. Leastways, not completely. None of them did.”
“Don’t tell the master.”
“Don’t tell? Why not?”
“If he goes out now and gets hurt on a fall, mistress will blame you. I think she is quite angry enough over Peter Church.”
“Really? Did something new happen?”
Mrs. Prince poured two cups of chocolate and sat Oona down for a chat. Nothing had happened. But there was no reason to upset Anne Goodiel, or make Matthew run out before the streets were cleared. The cook was absolutely right.
The day had been hot and long, certainly she was not used to dancing, not used to being touched. Nina assumed that in most places dancers were gloved even on hot days, but for the last three years no one had bought new gloves. There were simply none available since the non-importation agreements – made with such passion in town meeting. Now here they were at a wedding — bare-handed. Non-importation agreements were fine until there was something one needed, like gloves.
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 June sun, she grudgingly admitted that Alex, her intrepid rescuer, was the culprit. She had sworn off men so many years ago. Vowed never to marry again. She assured herself she was safe because of her short marriage, and that there was no time or room in her life for such discomfort – physical or emotional. It was good she would leave, and that he would go back to Cambridge. Chances were, this time she really would never see him again.
She concentrated on the beautiful garden. In the warm dry weather the flowers had bloomed early and now waited, suspended in glorious splendor, their petals so far open they nearly drooped. A few had already stopped trying to hold on, and masses of color littered the nearby ground. It was clear from the empty stems, that those flowers that had been fresh and pretty this morning, had been cut for the ceremony, or the party here at the house. She scooped a handful of pale purple and yellow petals into her hands and breathed in the heady scent.
Roses reminded her of that day John and his sisters had taken them all out to hear the latest preacher, a red Indian with a booming voice. They had sat near the host’s house and their rose garden, facing into the field – along with hundreds of other people. It was so unlike her father’s church. There had been no mention of theology, or of readings or careful translation of the bible, such as he and other ministers did. No this man preached of finding Jesus through one’s heart not one’s head. It had seemed alien at the time, but spoke to her now with so many changes whirling around her.
She had been proud that day when her young husband left to fight for Great Britain and the King against their Catholic enemy, the French. She realized after his death that she had never really understood, her heart had not understood that he should go and fight in a war which had ended in Europe and for which the treaty had already been signed.
It was different this time. This unnatural civil war, as the newspapers called it, seemed inevitable. Just as she had moved from her parent’s home; forge her own life, with marriage, child, and an early widowhood, so America was ready to be accepted as a full member of the Empire with rights equal to all Englishmen. That Parliament did not agree, would not grant them membership or a vote, even though the colonies were important members of the mercantile world and consumers of British made goods, rankled.
She wasn’t sure how she felt about Alex flirting with her, making her feel things she would rather ignore, but she could not help be proud that someone who was a friend of sorts, was engaged in routing the British Army out of Boston.
I live in an old house in Newton Corner. The village label, Newton Corner, is actually incorrect, it’s Newton, plain and simple. But, folks in the other villages, West Newton, Newtonville, Newton Centre, don’t want there to be a ‘Newton’ so we obligingly tack on the word corner. The Corner part of it comes from a bar. A tavern run by a fellow named Angier. The spot where he had this tavern was a major crossroad from north, south, east and west and came to be known as Angier’s Corner. I guess after taverns were no longer the most important landmarks in town, the name was changed to Newton’s Corner and in time Newton Corner. The post office, and tax collector just call it Newton.
As I said, it is an old house (by American standards), built around 1820, somewhere on Washington or Richardson Streets. In 1890 a decision was made to lower the train tracks on the Boston-Worcester-Albany line that parallels today’s Massachusetts turnpike, and residents were allowed to move their houses a few blocks north. That’s how my house ended up catty-cornered on its lot, and slightly crooked on its foundation.
The house used to be a side by side two-family with coal stoves in the diningroom and livingroom of each. These would heat the bedrooms upstairs as well. To accommodate this coal a long chute was built down the center of the basement.
The chute had two walls about a foot apart, with openings to shovel out the coal to bring up to the stoves. I’m not sure how the coal was delivered, but I imagine through one of the basement windows. When we bought the house in 1986, one of the first things we did was to take down this double wall that divided the basement, so along with the asbestos-covered pipes we removed from down there, and the tar and paint we scraped off to the stairs, we cut the old wood and swept up coal and lead paint. On one piece of the wall was an interesting chalk picture. The word Victory with the Morse code for V colored within that letter. It is the only thing we saved from that project.
Here is how I imagine the Victory came to be:
The basement windows had been painted black since December 8, 1941, but Jimmy didn’t mind. Not only was he safe from Germans and Japanese who might want to bomb a town where so many MIT engineers lived, but the neighbors wouldn’t know when he was up all night working on his ham radio. He’d been twelve when the war started; there were days when he hoped it would last long enough for him to join, but not when his mother got that frightened and worried look in her eye.
Now he was fifteen, almost sixteen, and had come to believe that the war had gone on long enough. His father had introduced him to ham radio, before he left for Europe, when he was ten. And there wasn’t an afternoon that he wasn’t buying parts for that radio or tinkering with it somehow. Nights were when he would listen to transmissions from vessels off the nearby coast and pass on interesting things to radio partners further inland.
That was how our Jimmy came to be listening one night in April 1945. The news wasn’t public yet, he probably got it two or three minutes before NBC, CBS or ABC broadcast it, but when it came over his ham radio in the little two-family in Newton Corner, Jimmy picked up a piece of chalk, the only thing he had at hand, and quickly wrote the word that came across his radio… ‘Victory’. Then Jimmy ran upstairs to wake his mother.