"Do you never tire of being good, Susannah? Do you never think any rebellious thoughts?"
I turned my eyes from my sister and back to my work in the blueberry canes. "Aye. I do."
Mary gasped, though I detected laughter in the sound. "'Tis not possible."
"'Tis not only possible. 'Tis probable. Like this one I think right now, about you." I threw a blueberry in her direction.
She dodged it. "I shall report this harassment to the selectmen. At once!"
I looked up at her tone, for Mary was unpredictable and she might have done it just for spite. But her eyes were dancing despite her labors and the unseasonable heat. Warmth rose in my cheeks as well. But it was not the sun that scorched my flesh. It was my own conscience.
My sister's question had found a mark too close to the condition of my soul. To those in Stoneybrooke Towne, Susannah Phillips was indeed a fair and obedient girl. But I knew myself to be vastly different than the person they imagined me to be.
Aye, I did tire of being good. And I did think rebellious thoughts. Often. Especially on days like this one. I wanted nothing more than to abandon my task and plunge into the nearby brook. I longed for the luxury of one hour, one minute, that needed nothing done.
And more than anything, I wished John Prescotte would finally ask for my hand in marriage.
I was truly wretched. And I knew it. But the problem lay in my past. I had been such a meek, dutiful, obedient child that people had grown to expect nothing less from me. The weight of my unblemished past bore down upon my conscience unmercifully. What if today were the day when my secret thoughts became known? What if today were the day when the town found out how wicked I truly was?
Would that I were like Mary, who had been a hellion and constant thorn in my parents' flesh. Anything might be expected from her. And the least bit of goodness was cause for praise. I, however, was freely cited as an example of the godly woman every young girl wished to be. Except that sometimes, I did not want to be that woman at all.
If only I could tell one person what darkness lurked inside ... then at least I might be able to contain it. And who but Mary would better understand?
My grandfather would have understood. I could tell him anything ... could have told him anything. For a minister he was uncommonly understanding. But we had left him behind when we moved from Boston.
A droplet of sweat slid beneath the collar of my shift, and then continued between my breasts on its journey to dampen the waistband of my skirt. I might have removed my hat, leaving only the linen coif covering my hairs to shelter me from the sun, but it would not have been modest. Yet perhaps I could admit to just one thing. "I would give anything to remove my hat for a moment."
Mary paused in her picking to look at me. "Anything? Even taking on the week's ironing? Twice in succession?"
I shrugged. I should never have admitted such a thing.
Quietly, softly, she began to hum a hymn.
My eyes lifted from the berry canes as I looked at my companions laboring. Like me, they were bent over blueberry canes, their felted hats marking their places. The clothes on all of our backs had been dyed sad colors, shades dark or dull made duller still by the constant toil required to wrest a township from the savageries of this new world.
Please, God, let no one hear! I reached out and grabbed hold of Mary's arm.
Touching the felted brim of her hat, her lips curled into a sly smile. And then she began to hum even louder.
Beside her, our brother, Nathaniel, paused in his task. "Mary? Why do you—"
Our sister hushed him and then poked him in the ribs with a finger. "Sing."
He sighed as if it were beneath him, a great lad of ten years, to understand the thoughts of a sun-dazed girl. But then he emptied a fistful of berries into his pail, stood, and, taking off his hat in deference to the holy words of the hymn, he opened his mouth and began to sing.
Immediately, the berry patch sprouted heads, male and female, all of which were swiftly bared as the tune was taken up and the words were sung.
O Lord our God in all the earth
how's thy name wondrous great.
Who has thy glorious majesty
above the heavens set.
And it was wondrous to hear God praised under the canopy of His own sky in the midst of His own creation ... and more wondrous still to feel the breeze ruffle through the linen of my head's covering. Beside me, hat clasped in her hand, Mary had closed her eyes in an imitation of pious worship. For a brief moment, I forgot myself and did it as well. And I stored up the memory of the coolness to last me through the rest of the day.
As the last word of the hymn forsook us and withered away in the sun, the heads of our townspeople, hidden beneath hats once more, bent toward their work.
All but that of the minister.
He looked at Nathaniel for one long moment, then finally scratched his beard, shook his head, and returned his attentions to the berries.
Mary tossed a blueberry into my pail. "Fail not to tend to the ironing. This week and the next."
I could have pretended I had not heard her, but I had sinned enough for one day. Oh, what my rebellious thought had wrought! Had I not thought of picking berries uncovered, I would never have mentioned it to my sister. Had she never heard it, she would never have begun humming the hymn. Had she never begun, she would never have pulled Nathaniel into her schemes. My own foolish thought had enticed two others into sinning. Two weeks of ironing was not punishment enough.
A babe cried farther down the patch, and my eyes lifted toward the sound. I saw my friend Abigail plant her bottom on top of her pail and take her son up to her breast.
Abigail and I had been friends since before our move to Stoneybrooke, since Boston. A year older than I, she had been an example, in our youth, of everything I ever wished to be. First in womanhood, first in church membership, first in marriage. And now, in motherhood as well.
I had not talked with her in ... weeks. I had seen her, of course, on the Sabbath at meeting, but her attention was devoted to her babe, to her husband, and to her home. In fact, there seemed a dearth of maids in town. All of my friends were now married. Several of them were with child. The others with a babe in their arms.
I wanted nothing more than to join their ranks.
That I was not of their station was not a thing of my own choosing. I waited on John Prescotte, and he waited on the blessing of his father. But his father had been ill. And John, as the sole son, had to care for his family before he could turn his thoughts to me.
But perhaps next year at this time it would be me in Abigail's place. I hoped and prayed for it with all that was within me.
For certain the year after.
Soon I would be married. Soon I, too, would be called Goodwife.
* * *
I bent to my task, plucking berries across the tangle of canes from the Phillips sisters. From Susannah and Mary, and their brother Nathaniel. They thought they were so clever, those two sisters, scheming to spend a few moments hatless in the broad of the day. I hope they enjoyed it. They would find out soon enough that stolen pleasures must eventually be paid for. But far be it from me to judge. Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.
I tore my eyes from the spectacle of them and pulled my hat down tighter around my ears. So tight that I could no longer see them. So tight that I could not see my husband's approach.
I jumped as he said my name.
He took a deliberate step back as one might do from a half-tamed beast. "I wanted only to know if you needed water." He held out a dipper toward me.
"Aye." I took it from him and drank of it. And then I bent to take up my work once more. "Thank you."
I do not know if he heard me.
* * *
Mary sniffed. "She will bite his head off one day, and then what will she do?"
I looked over toward my sister. "Of whom do you speak?"
"Goody Smyth. Small-hope." She said the words with something near derision. "I cannot understand the care that Thomas takes of her. Nor why he dragged her here from ... wherever it was from which she came."
"Newham. She came from Newham." I glanced up from my pail at Thomas. He was a familiar sight. As familiar as anyone else in the town and more so, perhaps, since we were nearly the same age. He, the elder, by several months. Not so handsome as some. Certainly not so handsome as John. But the worst that could be said of him was that his eyes looked in danger of popping out from his head and his cheekbones were so sharp Mary once swore she could skin a rabbit on them.
Swore! She had sworn on a thought as foolish and ill-spirited as that. Only, it was true. She probably could. And that was the maddening thing about Mary. Though two years separated us, looking at her face was like looking into a glass. We both were fair, though her eyes tended toward chestnut, while mine had the look of moss-eaten bark. We may have looked like doubles, yet she could say nearly anything she wanted and always she was forgiven it. Woe unto me whenever I tried the same. I had learned, quite well, to keep such thoughts inside my head.
If any could hear my thoughts, they would think them pernicious indeed.
Thomas was the town's only blacksmith. He was needed, he was important, he was valuable. Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, any praise, then I must think upon those things. 'Tis what the Holy Scriptures instructed. I must try to fix upon those things. I did try to fix upon those things. But why could I not do it?
One thing was certain. Thomas's ... appearance ... would not have stopped any girl from marrying him, and he could not have felt a need to look for a wife beyond our township. No one knew why he had done so. He had gone into Newham one day for a certain smithing tool and returned with a wife instead.
Mary gave voice to my own thoughts. "It must have been that no one else would have her! Though why poor Thomas should feel so burdened ... 'tis not as if she birthed a babe too soon after their marriage."
She had not. And had yet to, for all that they had been married for three years.
I cast a glance at the woman from beneath my lashes and then at Thomas. Though I did not want to, I could not help but agree with Mary. Our friend had taken to wife poorly. If I had any sympathies for the couple, they lay with him. But one thing was true: We had gossiped enough for the day. Both of us. "'Tis the wounded that seek most to wound."
"It would not hurt her to be pleasant."
"Nor would it hurt you."
Mary glared at me before pushing to her feet. She stood there for a moment, looking round the patch, and then she walked over to Thomas. She spoke to him a moment before taking the bucket from him. And then she picked her way through the canes to where Simeon Wright stood. He was watching his mother, and all the rest of us, pick berries.
What was the girl about? And why did she seem so brazen?
Simeon Wright with his flaxen hair, pleasing manner, and cool blue eyes, was the object of many girls' ardor. Girls of Mary's age. That he had not yet chosen to marry only seemed to increase their devotion.
At Mary's approach, Simeon looked toward her, but then his eyes moved past my sister to fix upon me. Even across the stretch of barren between us, I could feel the weight of his gaze.