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Authors: Jodi Daynard

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BOOK: The Midwife's Revolt
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I pray you never have to read this Letter, for I of all people know the great Joy and the great Suffering of which your fine soul is capable. I know you would not distract yourself from the grief of my death, and this alone gives me pain now.

I am glad to hear you carve a straight row for the corn. You are a good farmer, and all the wife I should ever want. Now, though it shall give you pain, I must say this. Resist the Attempts of my family to o’ertake your life. You should remarry, if at all possible given your unsightly intelligence. Tho you can’t keep a fellow from hoping that he will never be quite so handsome or so gallant as your First, Yours Always—Jeb.

P.S. Cherish my Star, if he survives. I love him second only to you.

“What’s that you read?”

Eliza was standing over me, her black parasol casting a sudden shadow.

I was awash in tears but hastily folded the letter and put it in the pocket of my skirt. “Something Jeb left me.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to intrude,” she said, adding, “but we must hurry. Dinner is set for two o’clock, and our guests will be there before us.”

I felt neither hungry nor inclined to society, especially not the society of those Tories who might have secretly rejoiced at the British victory. But I resolved to bear it as best I could, for I had plans.

I arrived back in Cambridge quite exhausted. Still, I pushed forth with my plan. I engaged a servant boy to take two messages home for me. The first was to Abigail Adams. I apologized for having detained Mr. Adams’s mare and let her know that she would be returned the following day. The second message was to Thaxter, asking him to borrow a horse and chaise of Colonel Quincy and to fetch the horse as soon as may be.

At the reception, Mrs. Boylston smiled at her guests but spoke to no one. Jeb was the Boylstons’ second loss. A younger daughter, Maria, had died of the throat distemper. It seemed to me that the loss of her children one upon the other had closed her heart forever.

She was still beautiful, however: white skin; thin, grim mouth; graying brown hair mounded high above her crown. There was no question of my condoling with her, even had I been so inclined. While she had never approved of me for Jeb’s wife, she now ignored me entirely. She had not the courage for pain. My suffering—so obvious, so overt—was odious to her.

My messages sent, I rested easier, and while the small gathering was still politely eating baked meats, I watched Eliza making conversation with the guests, some of whom I knew to be her jilted suitors. It was said she had already turned down half a dozen eligible men. But Eliza was not content merely to foil her suitors’ plans. She, like her mother, had tried to talk her brother out of marrying me. For this I had not forgiven her. True, my father had left me little in the way of money, but he had been a man of excellent learning and solid background. My mother, on the other hand, was a true aristocrat, far above the merchant-monied Boylstons. Indeed, my mother once told me she could trace her ancestry back to Queen Margaret, wife of Henry VI. That knowledge, though, gave me little solace now.

I turned away from Eliza and made my way out of the parlor. Once in my room, I fell onto the bed in my hot black mourning gown and there lay as if dead.

But I had yet one more letter to write. I knew it to be a great rudeness to shirk my leave-taking, so I thanked Mr. and Mrs. Boylston for their kindness and condoled with them. I wished them a safe journey. I left the note on my desk and, after gathering my and Jeb’s things, slipped out to the stables.

The stable boy seemed surprised to see me.

“I hadn’a any message to ready the carriage,” he apologized with a pained expression.

“Oh, a carriage won’t be necessary. If you could saddle Star, that will be sufficient.”

He looked at me as if I were mad, but I stood there quite resolutely until at last Star was saddled and his girth tightened. The boy made a step with his hands for me to mount, and I rode Star into the darkening afternoon, down Brattle Street, across the Common, across the Great Bridge, and east toward home. I felt the saddle warm against me and felt the aura, one last time, of my husband’s thighs on mine.

6

THE MORNING AFTER my return from Cambridge,
I wandered my house like a newly blind person, brushing my fingers across the once-familiar objects. I touched the old pewter tankard Jeb had liked to take his cider in after milking the cows. I grazed my fingertips across his soft, but dusty, pillow lying next to mine on the bed. I lay my cheek against his farming breeches—grass-stained and smelling of hay and sweat—which were cast heedlessly where he had last left them across a chair in the corner of our chamber. Oh, how his smells lingered! I smelled them once every hour, ever fearful that this act might rob them, little by little, of their perfume.

I listened for the sound of a carriage. In those first days and weeks after I returned from Cambridge, I expected the Boylstons to come and wrest me from my home at any moment. I resolved to run to the sea and let the cold darkness take me rather than go with them.

I wandered slowly into the dairy. Within, the numerous tools of my trade lay neatly arranged or hung by hooks: a brass kettle, a sieve, a gourd, a pair of tongs, several galley pots, a cork, pewter spoons, two strainers, a small cauldron, an iron mortar and pestle, a small tin funnel, a pair of shears, a press, and many vials in a wooden box. A neat and clean slate sink stood in readiness for either cheese- or medicine-making, depending upon the day and hour.

Without, the air was mild; the sun shone as if the world took no notice of my Jeb’s death. I milked the cows, fed the chickens, watered the tender young plants, saw that Thaxter was at his chores, and hauled water from the well. It still had not rained, and while I was tempted to let everything on the farm die with Jeb, I had made him a promise. I thus suffered through the risings and settings, the waterings and feedings of life, though I neither ate, nor slept, nor drank much myself.

While I had not the energy to walk the near two miles to the Adams’s farm, I did send a message to Abigail inquiring about the safe return of John’s little mare.

I received a reply the next day. Not by means of a letter, but by Abigail herself, a neat and dainty little woman who walked with great determination down the path from the road. She lifted her skirts to avoid the dust and dune grass. From my window, I saw her turn her head left and right to admire my fledgling plantings: yellow lilies, pink roses, lavender, and medicinal herbs.

I reached the door before she could knock. As I looked down upon her, I saw that she carried something in her arms covered by a cloth.

She was ready to condole, but when she looked up at me, her expression changed from sorrowful compassion to one of alarm. I reached a hand to my hair, realizing that I had not brushed it in
. . .
well, I could not remember when.

“You look like something I could stick in my cornfield.”

I smiled at that. Such tart and simple honesty from the mouth of such a dainty little thing! Smelling the pie, I tried but could not recall when I had last eaten a meal, and I bade her enter. My voice, unheard by me for many days, sounded strange to my ears. I moved into the kitchen and set the parcel on the table. Then I asked, “Would you like a dish of tea?”

Her bright, pale-gray eyes widened at the question. “
Real
tea?” she inquired.

“Yes. Quite real. My father left me a great quantity of it. Though I do realize I should dump it in the bay.”

“Oh, no,” she said, “don’t do that. I’d sell the shoes off my feet for some right now.”

And with that, this remarkable woman sat down. Together, we had tea and pie, like the real ladies we might have been in another time and place.

Abigail had come bearing not just a wonderful pie but heartening news as well: General Washington had reached Cambridge and taken command of the army. I watched her twirl her wedding band nervously around her finger as she spoke. No doubt she was thinking of John, who had been in Philadelphia since April and had been the first to suggest Washington for commander of the Continental Army.

“Do you truly think he can make the difference? Our men seem neither very willing nor very able.”

“He will make them able,” she said with conviction. “Certainly my husband believes so.” And then she smiled at her own words, as if
husband
were too grand a word for the ethereal memory that was John Adams.

I was gladdened by the news of Washington’s arrival for secret reasons as well: surely the great Continental Army must need such homes as that owned by the Boylstons. Surely the family would have removed to Halifax or some such place by now, and I had but a distant regret.

“You look to be very suddenly quite delighted by something, Lizzie,” mused Abigail, while staring over at me quizzically.

“Oh.” I smiled. “I was just thinking an un-Christian thought. It doesn’t bear sharing with a virtuous woman such as yourself.”

“Lizzie,
please
. Tell me. I will soon go mad with virtue. I am dying to hear something unrelated to children or farming.”

“All right, then.” I smiled. “I shall tell you. I have lived these weeks in daily fear that my in-laws should come and fetch me away and force me to live with them. But with Washington’s arrival, I have reason to hope that they have already departed Cambridge.”

“Know you where they might have gone?”

I shook my head uncertainly. “They spoke of going to Portsmouth.”

“England, preferably,” she offered. “I should like to send all the Tories back to England.”

I glanced at my new friend to see if Abigail spoke in earnest. Upon seeing my questioning stare, a little corner of her mouth tightened against a smile. Then we both began to laugh. Oh, it felt good to laugh!

After recovering ourselves, we spoke a little about Mr. Adams and his doings in Philadelphia. I had seen only glimpses of our illustrious citizen since my arrival that past fall. I had watched him descend from his carriage at meetings on Sundays. I recalled how he’d stood beneath the carriage to take Abigail’s arm, and I’d watched him lift his three young boys and set them safely down beside the carriage. Johnny was eight; Charles, six; and little Thomas but two. Young Nabby had climbed down last, shy of society.

The boys were a rambunctious lot, and only Abigail’s harsh stares kept them from dispersing down the road in hot pursuit of a lone turkey or groundhog instead of going into the meetinghouse. The day I recalled, the boys went chasing an opossum, and Abigail called to them to return at once.

“Oh, just let them go,” Mr. Adams said, waving his arms in the air. “They have all day to suffer through the good parson’s sermons.”

“John!” Abigail had remonstrated, looking about to see who might have overheard.

This memory brought a smile to my face.

“What makes you smile, dearest?” asked Abigail, who had been speaking about George Washington and the likely first step of the Continental Army: Would they attack the British and, if so, when would they attack? My smile, no doubt, seemed incongruous.

“Oh, I was just remembering when I first laid eyes upon your John. He was helping his children from the carriage, and I noticed how fond he was of them. I was thinking how he looked to spoil them horribly. For while his voice was loud, there was nothing stern in his entire countenance.”

“You are observant,” she said. “He’s like that with his family, if not the rest of the world. With the world he is a lion; with us, a tabby cat. He sees his children so rarely these days, he hasn’t the heart to discipline them. That falls to me.”

I grasped my new friend’s hand in silent sympathy.

Soon, Abigail stood and made to leave when she noticed the door to my dairy. “What is all this?” she asked, glancing back at me.

My medicines, my most precious commodities, sat in glass jars, alphabetized. I kept a list of them in chalk on the inside of the door, carefully marking each remaining amount:

After studying this list for some time, she moved closer to peruse my many vials and jars of powders and the odd tools that hung from various hooks.

“Know you how to use these medical tools?” she asked.

“I do.”

“And grow you these medicines yourself?”

“On the whole. Some I have been obliged to order.”

“And know you how to use them?”

I smiled, for she seemed truly astonished. “I do.”

“You must indeed have a real gift.” She gazed admiringly at me then, as if my dairy—and the story it told— had placed me in an entirely new light.

“Perhaps,” I admitted. “Though I hardly have the strength for work, even should any woman of the parish decide to trust me.”

It was her turn to comfort me. “You will use them again, Lizzie, for there are no men left with time for tending mothers. And you shall find the strength, just as I have. For what choice have we?”

I looked at her earnest little face, knowing she was right but not quite believing it.

Suddenly, she started and made for the door. “My children are alone—I must go.”

“Oh, yes.”

She turned back to me. “By the way,” she said after a moment, “would you like a dog? Our bitch just had five pups. We could gladly spare one.”

“A dog? Heavens, no. What for?”

She looked through the kitchen window at the dunes and the dark sea. “It’s far too quiet here, too desolate. If a carriage should come for you, he would bark.”

This latter idea did hold my interest for a moment. But then I said, “No, I shouldn’t know what to do with a dog. It is just something else to care for.”

Abigail narrowed her eyes but said nothing. It was as if she could see right through me. I dearly loved animals, but a dog was just another thing to love and lose.

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