The first time that he drowns, James Waklee is fifteen years old. You might expect frenzy and gasping, thrashing legs, choked bellows. But he only slips under the pond’s calm surface like a man turning a corner along a well-known pathway, headed home maybe, the ruts and pebbles underfoot familiar as his own skin, thinking about what he’ll do with the money he’s got for mowing the river meadow, or wondering if he has enough turnips in the root cellar still to command a good stew.... The blue closes over his head and goes dark. Then he spews pond water and clutches shore weeds and the sun dazzles his eyes and his brother Henry is pummeling his back and making the most peculiar noises.
The second time that James Waklee drowns he is just turned twenty-one, newly free from his indenture as an apprentice weaver and aboard the Recovery on the Atlantic crossing, wide awake all alone in the gray and grainy light before dawn and leaning over the rail to counter the deck’s surprising slant, the sails above him like a whole village’s laundry hung out to dry. He can hear sailors calling to each other, hidden in the rigging somewhere above, so quiet is it, the chop slap-slapping the ship’s side, the snap of reefpoints against sails. The ship shudders of a sudden and down he goes, right over the side and into the brine, just chance enough to let out a whoop that no one can have heard.
This time he does thrash, having learnt a little of the art of swimming, and heaves himself about, but he can spare no breath for calling out. The ship’s side, like a receding darkness, withdraws from him, wet and surging, and he would think to himself, Tis the end, if he’d got his wits about him enough to compose such epitaphs; I am quite swallowed down. But his mind is wonderfully concentrated on the task of keeping his head above the water. He is not succeeding. Surge and dunk, sink and rise. Three times, then sunk for good, they say, and he can count to three as well as anyone.
A coil of rope strikes his shoulder and he seizes it; his arm wrenches and he loses the rope; finds a new grip and holds it; his head breaks water, his breath wheezes; he begins to pull himself hand over shuddering hand along the line as it’s hauled in; a boathook snags at him; a ladder’s flung over the side and peering over it is Henry’s face (so like his own, like looking into a clouded mirror) but all awork with a brew of anger and relief.
James clambers over the side and collapses on the deck. Henry squeezes his hands. The sun is still not yet risen, and all around them the sky meets the sea at the horizon liked a closed eyelid.
When Henry told their father of his plans for sailing, he’d only grunted doubtfully. A shoemaker, he’d always been a laconic man except when preaching; then a spell as of Pentecost came over him, in church or on a street corner as it might be, and he would stand there for an hour or more, eloquence streaming from out his mouth like cold water gushing from a mountain spring, until, as after a spent cloudburst the sun peeps forth and the birds and little creatures emerge from dripping foliage, he’d stammer for a moment, peered around nervously, and, with a look of mild confusion and perhaps contrition, fall silent.
—Praise be to God, Henry said, we shall soon be free of prating vicars and predatory bishops, oh Father there William Laud will have no remit.
His father looked up from the fire he was fastidiously poking and grunted again, something less than a word, more than a snort.
—With Uncle Thomas and his wife, Henry added, and with cousin Richard.
His father had spent half a year in gaol for smashing a church window that depicted God the Father in glory surrounded by angels, a vain and preening, coxcombly, popish thing, also blasphemous and contrary to the commandments, and replaced now with good, honest, clear glass to admit the light of Heaven into a church that sorely needed it. His ears had been docked as punishment for his unlicensed preaching, but still he preached, still he did God’s work as he knew it.
When at last he had got the fire built up so it pleased him, he hung the poker on its hook and turned to Henry, a shadow against the flickering yellow and orange in the hearth. He rubbed his jaw, his ragged ear; shook his head.
—Don’t run away from a fight, boy, he said.
Henry turned his back to his father.
—I am not fighting, he said, I have already won.
Henry sits now in the cramped canvas-walled alcove (shared with a dozen or more other passengers) in the ship’s stinking hold and turns his heart towards the west. They, the two of them, will make their way across the water to new lands, new homes, new skies, new lives.
America! Yes, and a new England. Everything will be changed, greatly changed. Fields and meadows, forests and woods (forests without end!): dogwoods all in flower, and red, sugar, and mountain maples shaking their leaves in the fresh green light; pines called jack, red, white; black walnuts, black gums, black willows; black spruces and white; white ashes and green ashes, also called red ash; balsam firs; birches yellow, paper, and gray; pin cherries and chokecherries; witch-hazel. Even the useless weeds there will be different. The birds will sing a new song, not yet known to English ears, an untuned music. There are no Archbishops in America. Let us shake this English dust from our shoes.
III & IV.
James stands in the midst of the forest clearing, stock-still, alert to all around him: wind, cloud, birdsong, sunlight, treble trill of water on rock, the play of air against innumerable leaves.
Begin with a sense of the distance of places: from where James stands to the New Towne settlement, five miles; three miles to Wethersfield (as he guesses), thirteen to Windsor; to New Boston, a hundred miles; to Hingham, where they had disembarked, a hundred and twenty miles. And to Gloucester, that is to Old Gloucester, the city where he was born, and nearby which he’d spent his boyhood in mud-puddles and schoolhouses, bent his back over his master’s loom and wished fervently to be somewhere else, someone else—to that place, three thousand and two hundred and eighty miles.
This place is not one of long vistas, of river meadows the eye can rove over like sweet daydreams of love and adventure, but only of thick, heavy trees that stop one’s sight short. Matthew Allens has asked him to find the source of a stream he, Allens, is planning to build a gristmill on, to judge if he can the reliability of the stream’s flow.
James set off in high feelings: the settlement is relying on him for their good future, he is trusted and respected. The whole section traversed by the stream is, of course, an unbroken wilderness, and he has seen no trace of domesticated habitat, not even a cow path or a stray tuft of sheep’s wool snagged in the underbrush. One would not know that this is a settled place at all.
With a pang, James now understands that there is no defined path or trail that he might follow homeward, and he has entirely lost his bearings.
Perhaps he has unknowingly followed a great circle around the village and it now lies somewhere behind him. He attempts to retrace his steps. The shadows darken. Night falls. No stars are visible through the heavy, fretfully soughing treetops. He stumbles; he blunders; all is entirely dark. Does he fall asleep? Perhaps not. Leaves continue to crackle underfoot, twigs still slap at his face.
He returns to a clear space, the ground smoother here. A glimmer, not of moonlight, between the trees.
He calls out!
But now a tall man of noble bearing, but naked, is holding his hands out to him. And the tall man has in his cupped hands a pair of stones, as it seems, about the size of ducks’ eggs, and smooth and rounded, and out of them flares a light not bright so much as penetrating, like a candle’s flame through a sheet of oiled vellum, and this light shines among the trees and casts no shadows at all. A light lighter than day.
James takes the stones.
Henry sits bolt upright on his straw pallet. Everywhere it’s dark, but he sees somehow in front of him a light that is not a light but something else, something vast and mysterious.
And then it’s gone. Henry lies back down, restless now, unsleeping, and when at last dawn seeps under the thatch of his little hut, he arises and goes out into the grayness.
All day yesterday he’d asked around the village:
—Have you seen James?, or:
—Where’s James?, or:
—My brother James, have you seen him, he’s gone astray.
But no one knew. Oh, a few of them told some story about a millstream or a survey party but couldn’t answer his simple question:
—Where is he, then?
And now, as he draws up a bucket of water, Henry is struck by the conviction that James is truly gone, for good this time; not dead, no no no; but that strange thread that joins them has stretched, lengthened, tautened, and finally it is about to snap. Henry can feel it.
Henry splashes a double handful of icy water over his head, rubs his neck, his hair, his eyes with it. He sees a green panorama, as if a limitless hillside full of trees stood before him, a wind passing over them. A vertigo of green. He blinks. The gray dawn is back; the bucket has upset and flooded his feet.
He hurries himself to the house of Samuel Wyllys, who has an old military bugle, and to Wyllys’s cookhouse, where he borrows a kettle and a sturdy wood spoon. The two of them march up and down outside the palisade, banging and bugling.
Before long, Wyllys’s wife has joined them with a tin pail, and with her come others with muskets, drums, pans of tinware, copper, brass; anything that makes noises and signals, calling and banging and thumping, a great human rousing squealing cacophonous stupendous American dissonance! The small parade troops up and down the riverside, ventures through the dense woodland that surrounds the village, up hill and down again, around and around like a swarm of bees circling its hive.
But if the settlement is to survive, they all have their own chores and trades; and eventually, few by few, they go off to deal with them. By noon only Henry and Wyllys are still beating out a loud tattoo, with an occasional bugle blare and even more occasional musket blast.
By mid afternoon, only Henry.
His voice gave out hours ago; his arms and legs move like mechanical things, a human mill actuated by what motive force? Then, near dusk, James stumbles into the village green, smeared with dirt and filth, hair wild and clothes torn, muttering and gesticulating, all his pockets stuffed full of pebbles. Henry drops the spoon from his cramped claw of a hand, the kettle clatters to the ground.
—Ah, brother, he whispers, so there you are.
He limps away.
PART TWO—May 1637
Hartford (as it is now called), Connecticut (a matter of some dispute with the Bay Colony magistrates). A late spring day, green and blue, glissades of sunlight through broken cloud. Men mill about on the town commons, black shadows, up and down, across and back, and a knot of women under the umbrella-spreading oak ladle out mug after mug of beer.
That ambitious, Cambridge-decorated preacher from Boston, named Samuel Stone, clothes black as a crow’s, his body as scrawny, stands atop a not-yet-grubbed-out stump and harangues the crowd:
—Fellow-soldiers, country-men, and companions in this wilderness work, gathered together by the inevitable providence of the great Jehovah; you, my dear hearts, purposely picked out by the godly grave fathers of this government, do not question your authority to execute those whom God, the righteous judge of all the world, hath condemned for blaspheming his sacred majesty and murthering his servants; every common soldier among you is now installed a magistrate; then show yourselves men of courage!
A little apart from the main crowd, a company of solemn men are trading guns hand to hand, examining the mechanisms, hefting them to flash in the sunlight, sighting along the barrels’ lengths. One of them is Henry. James turns to help the women lift a new full firkin into place.
The preacher raises his voice:
—Also their cruelty is famously known, yet all true-bred soldiers reserve this as common maxim, cruelty and cowardice are unseparable companions; there is nothing wanting that may deprive you of complete victory.
Some of the guns are chased with silver, others with brass or steel, Henry’s, plainest of all, with rust, an old arquebus or the like; but where in Heaven’s name had he got such a thing?
That cawing voice grates on the ear:
—And now I ask, who would not fight in such a cause with an agile spirit and undaunted boldness? but some of you may suppose death’s stroke may cut you short; let every faithful soldier of Christ Jesus know, that the cause why some of his endeared servants are taken away by death in a just war (as this assuredly is) is not because they fall short of the honors accompanying such noble designs, but rather because earth’s honors are too scant for them, and therefore the everlasting crown must be set upon their heads forthwith.
More men join the armed group, herded together by common cause. Henry catches James’s eye: a fierce glare. James frowns back.
The preacher winds up his oration:
—How I yearn to join you, my dear, brave souls!
(—Go then, James mutters.)
—March on! march on then with a cheerful Christian courage in the strength of the Lord, and the power of his might, and your feet shall soon be set on their proud necks.
James stands at the edge of the commons and watches the militia (for so the group must now be called) march (if that is the right word for so ragged a gait) away.
It is the screams that tear at the roots of his soul: the screams, the stench of burnt flesh, the open mouth of one woman, running towards him, teeth like glistering bits of oyster shell in a scarlet funnel, throat working, eyes like round, dark pebbles, black as ink on a blank page and blotting bigger, bigger. The man behind Henry shoots her point-blank. She collapses at Henry’s feet, shuddering. Her back is peeling skin in livid stripes, weeping festers that lengthen, where her burnt clothing has clung to her. She chews air, her breath stops.
Also the smoke, greasy in the air, blue with gunpowder and swelling up out of the fortified village in gusts like crooked black ladders. Henry crouches and watches. He sees up on the village’s palisade a woman afire. She flings an infant, tight-swaddled, high and far, in the vain hope that someone will catch it, then she falls away, back into the smoke, like a curtain being drawn across a window.
And furthermore the gun, is it fouled? Or maybe it is wet, maybe he rammed the ball in wrong, or his powder is damp or bad, or the flint badly knapped. Could the mechanism itself be bad? Something is wrong, for sure, it won’t fire at all, he can’t get off a shot, while all along the line, other men are fumbling out cartridges, biting off the twists and spitting out the stubs, charging the pans, ramming down powder and ball and wad, and firing, and firing. And firing. And—
A boy of about eight, no older than that surely, emerges from out of a wall of smoke, naked, running at their line headlong. One of the men, ramrod still halfway down his gun’s barrel, snatches up a hatchet, left behind by a Mohegan warrior (one of Uncas’s men, of the English’s ally tribe), swings the blade wide and catches the boy against the forehead, mid-stride, neat as a split melon. His eyes dead white in a mask of darkened blood.
Conversations with the dead are seldom edifying, and with the living but a little more so, though only the living have the power of reply. There are so few of us, here and now, only his fellow English, and the Mohegans that Henry feels too wary of to speak with, and Henry must talk to someone, he feels his lips moving, as if someone else were talking, but these are his own words arriving unforeseen, unwanted, and unheard (for who could hear in such a theater of fire and thunder, blood and roaring?). It is not a prayer. As he fumbles helplessly with his gun, in the midst of the mayhem, he says:
—Forgive them, for they must die, forgive them, for they must die.
Henry empties his cartridge box into the ditch.
VII, VIII, IX (March 1648/49).
Henry knows who it is without even turning around. James tumbles into Henry’s workshop, all haste and bustle, snow shook off coat, snow and wet stamped off boots, the door slammed shut. Henry sets down the upper leathers he’s trimming. He grunts at the boy (Sam Hardin’s boy, a bit slow but don’t need the stick to set to work, unlike some) to poke up the fire. Finally, he turns and nods. Overhead, the rafters are hung with lasts like the cannibal trophies of some savage tribe.
—It is good to find you in Hartford again, brother Henry, James says.
Henry sees no need to answer this.
—Oh snow, snow, more snow, sleet and ice, James says.
—Sleet and slop and icy rain, James says, if I had but known...
—These iron winters try the hardiest souls, Henry says.
—But it is a blessing from God to buttress and stiffen our faith.
Henry again sees no need to reply.
—The Lord knows my hands are grown stiff from it, James says.
Henry turns back to his work. He plunges the needle through leather and pulls the thread taut. Loops it round, twists the knot tight.
—And Springfield, James asks, how go affairs in my lord Pynchon’s realm?
Henry clips the thread.
—Doth the bee of Assyria yet lay waste the land of Judah? James says.
Henry flings the partly sewn upper at James’s head. James laughs and ducks, and the thing flaps like a shot-struck fowl, flops to the floor. Henry leaps to his feet so violently that his stool topples over.
—Out with you, he shouts, be gone!
—Why, brother, I had hoped to find the shoes I had bespoke ready for me here today.
Henry waves, like pitching a rotten vegetable into the midden, at the boy to fetch them. James rights the stool, pulls it closer, perches on it.
—Tell me, Henry, he says, how does Goodwife Gregory?
—She is well and bears the burdens troubling her as well as any might.
—And her husband Judah, how fares he in his illness?
—He is not much longer for this world as you surely know.
—We plan to remove to Reverend Blakeman’s settlement at Stratford, where the living flame burns yet in the church.
—To lay such plans seems somehow premature to me.
—By one man’s lifetime.
—Were you not my brother I would strike you down!
—Were you not my brother I would not speak so, but tell me now, shall not the widow bring a fine dowry to a handsome swain?
Henry spits into the fire.
—Let me not to the wooing of wealthy widows admit impediment, James says, but I believe most do consent to marriages but one at a time.
Henry once more sees fit not to reply.
—Marriage will not help with the dreams, brother, James says.
A long silence. The boy slips the shoes onto the table and slinks away.
—I saw a red funnel screaming, James murmurs, I saw flames and smokes and blood, I saw a boy’s head cloven in twain.
Henry leans back and lets the table hold him up.
—It is a vision, a vision of Hell, he says.
—It is a vision of yours, James says.
—And I saw another thing, I saw hands throwing away a gun.
—It was faulty, Henry says.
—Useless, yes, and the enemy all dead by other hands, nothing more to be done.
—But why, Henry, why?
Henry looks at him.
—Then you joined Mason’s expedition, to Mattebeseck, even knowing that he planned to do much the same again.
Henry is slowly shaking his head.
—Besieged by enemies within and without, he says, Indian devils and that Hutchinson heretic...
—God rest her soul! James interjects.
—Why, I believe you would bless the Devil and his witches if it earned you a pound.
—The Devil’s never yet given me so much as a farthing.
—God metes out punishments to the enemies of his people.
—Let God do it then, surely he has no need of your help.
—The good hand of God favored our beginnings, Henry says, by much remarkable passages of his providence to our plantation.
—I seem to remember it more as much remarkable passages of hardship.
—In sweeping away great multitudes of the natives by the small pox, a little before we came here, he made room for us.
—A great many Christians in Europe have died of the plague and some in living memory but to what divine end?
—God has blessed us generally with health and strength, we might truly say, more than ever in our native land.
James only shrugs.
—While other plantations have been the graves of their inhabitants, Henry says, God hath so prospered the climate to us that our bodies are haler and our children born stronger.
—Those who found it otherwise have either died or returned to England, James says.
—Despite our small numbers we have planted fifty towns and built churches, prisons, forts, and cartways, and comfortable houses, gardens, and orchards, so that strangers have wondered how much is done is so few years.
—Might we not instead credit our own hard labors?
—In giving us such peace and freedom from enemies...
James laughs out loud: Ha!
—Excepting, Henry continues, that short trouble with the Pequots, and in that war God’s hand from Heaven was so manifested that a very few of our men in a short time pursued them through the wilderness and slew and took prisoners so that the name of the Pequots is blotted out from under Heaven.
—But why must they die, James asks, what crime did they commit, what sins lay upon their heads?
—They murdered six men and three women, killed a score of cattle and horses, and carried away two girls, as you well know.
—An answer to Endicott’s raid, he killed thirteen Pequots, burnt sixty wigwams and all their harvest.
—The savages murdered Englishmen!
—The Englishmen murdered Pequots first.
—They say you turn your face from God’s people, I did not believe it but now I hear the truth out of your own mouth.
—The mouth of a gun speaks louder than the mouth of a man, he says, yet sometimes it is better not to speak at all, unless we are so corrupt that we allow freedom only to ourselves.
He picks up the new shoes and examines them.
—King Charles has lost his head, he says, and William Laud dead too, so will you not go back to the fight that you ran away from?
Henry walks over to the corner to retrieve his work.
—Surely there is much good you could do there, James says, much murder, rape, and pillage.
Henry walks back to his work table, pulls up another stool, sits. The light, reflected off the snow on the eaves, falls evenly across knives, scrapers, burnishers, awls, mallets, all these tools he has known so well since childhood nearly, all worn from use to the fit of his hand.
—This land is ours by blood, he says.
—Not your blood, Henry.
—And the Lord shall destroy all those who remain, and ye shall wield their land, as he promised to you.
—Are we so holy?
—No, elect by the grace of God alone, undeserving, yet bound for paradise, having renounced this world upon the promise of a better.
—A fine reward for the quake-buttock, who threw away his gun, ran away, and wept like a child.
—I neither ran nor wept, Henry snaps, you were not there, I have but done the Lord’s work, an instrument of his will.
—Was it God’s will to murder men like crushing an ant-hill underfoot, or to burn women alive?
—James, what do you want from me?
—A loving brother.
Henry picks up an awl, the point glinting in the snow-dimmed light. He slams it down, butt-first, onto a scrap of leather.
—Sometimes force is useless, he says.
He turns the tool over, presses its point through the scrap. He holds it up, impaled.
—Sometimes the least gesture suffices, it depends on the hand, the tool, the purpose.
He returns the awl to its rack.
—A wedding cannot sever bonds, he says, but strengthens them.
—Then I too should be in search of a wife.
—You, James, marry?
James turns towards the door.
—I can be a comfort to her, Henry says.
X (December 1650).
—Now comes before this Particular Court of Connecticut, the action of James Waklee plaintiff contra Alice Boosey defendant, relict of the late Lieutenant James Boosey, for breach of covenants.
James stands in the open space before the table where the two magistrates are seated flanked by the deputies on the one side and the jury on the other. Magistrate Edward Hopkins, pale and pinch-faced in a black gown, raps the table with his knuckles, gaze fixed on the papers arrayed across its surface.
—This is most irregular.
A murmur spreads through the room like a breeze through a shade tree. Watery December sunlight slants down through the windows, falls across benches and tables of unpainted oak, brightens corners, and glows warm, here and there, on faces and hands of folk who have business there or have come to amuse themselves at the expense of those hapless enough to find themselves under the thumb of the law.
—Did you not appear before this court, or rather not appear, this previous session in the same action of the case?
—I did, but was called away and could not attend.
Coughs and shuffling feet.
—Order! Hopkins commands, tight-lipped.
Magistrate Hopkins, a master showman, lets his dramatic pause lengthen.
—You have brought before this court, he continues, some sixteen actions for debt or slander or some other cause I see not in the record, and appeared as defendant seven times, and even twice as attorney, not to speak of your actions before the General Court; why, you are the most litigious man in the colony!
—I mislike injustice, James says, though it signifies naught in connection with the present case.
—Were it left to me alone, Hopkins says.
He throws his hands up.
—But it is not, the law is the servant of no man but rather governs all men in equal lot, be they foolish or wise.
When the moment has ripened, Hopkins announces:
—In the action between James Waklee plaintiff and the widow Boosey defendant, the Court judgeth that however there appear not evidence to prove a contract of marriage betwixt the said parties, yet there is sufficient to evince some engagement or promise of the said Boosey to James Waklee in reference to such a business, and therefore her proceedings with another before a clear disengagement had from the former was at least disorderly.
Someone, a man of course, laughs out loud.
—Defendant to pay costs, it is so ordered.
James smiles fiercely.
It may be that the seeds of Metals rising in steams, may sometimes, finding a fit room or vault, setle together, and in time become an hardned and metalline substance [...and] may protrude it self further and further (as the roots of Vegetables do in hard Rocks and old Walls) piercing from the root...
—John Webster, Metallographia; or, an history of metals
XI (29 March).
It all begins with the child, a little girl, Elizabeth Kelly: dead. A cold wind climbs the hillside and claws at the rough grass. The men clustered around the grave trade reluctant glances. John Kelly, the girl’s father, snarls at them.
—Go to it, he says, you learned men, find them, the pet, the pret, or nature signs.
Doctor Rossiter, called here from Guilford, bends over Elizabeth, dead in her eighth year, and presses his fingers against her cheeks. He opens her mouth, peers within. Lifts the child’s arm, lets it fall, works the joint. He turns the body over, palpates the ribs, shoulders.
—The whole body, he says, the musculous parts, nerves, and joints, are all pliable, without any stiffness.
Will Pitkin, formerly schoolmaster, now General Court prosecutor, takes down his words, shielding his papers from the rain with a borrowed hat, his desk the coffin lid.
—There is the appearance of pure fresh blood in the back side of the arm.
Rossiter presses two fingers against the girl’s skin, which goes pale there, then slowly flushes. He turns her supine again.
—This symptom is most unusual, Pitkin comments, in my own experience of dead bodies.
He writes it down. Rossiter unrolls his leather chirurgical case next to the papers, the implements neatly ranged in pouches. He selects one, a broad lancet.
—I have never before....
He looks again at John Kelly, who claps his hands impatiently.
Rossiter bends to his work.
—From the costal ribs, he says, to the bottom of the belly, the scarf skin has a deep blue tincture.
He trades his blade for another, more delicate one.
—The bowels are in true order.
He probes with his fingers, teasing the organs apart.
—The bladder of gall, he says, is broken and curded, but without any tincture in adjacent parts.
He peels back the flesh like a blanket, working his way up the girl’s torso.
—Yet blood in the swallow, fresh and fluid, in no way congelated, but as from an opened vein, see, so that I may stroke it out with my finger like water.
He wipes his hands on the skirts of his coat.
—Have we a bucket here? he asks.
The gaping body is sprawled on the heap of excavated dirt, pale with clay and slick with rain. Blood seeps over the clods, trickles down the furrows.
—Come, Alice, James says to his wife, we’ve seen sufficient.
XII (29 March).
Too wet to plant. Too early to harvest. Not for nothing is this called the starving time. But Henry’s own root-cellar is still well stocked (or as well as can be expected at this season) and the flour box’s tinned bottom is still covered with good meal, and Thomas Fairchild (the younger) has paid the interest-money with a brace of coneys, wet and red, like wrung rags, in a basket on the bench next to the table.
The rain beats at the window. The kitchen fire swells and shrinks against the logs in the hearth, like a curious child poking his head out the door to catch a glimpse of a stranger.
—What are you doing, standing there and staring, his Sarah says.
She’s making up a stew against the Sabbath morrow, seething a withered, over-wintered cabbage in the pot with a little salt pork, chopping at the last of the fine Wethersfield onions sent by James (a present that Henry’d resented, as if they couldn’t raise their own kitchen garden for a comfortable sufficiency—).
But Henry’s gaze is fixed not on his wife or little Patience beating eggs in a crockery bowl (the bench just the right height to serve her as a table) but on the skinned rabbits, glistening like currant jelly, their bellies splayed open. His throat clenches, and he tastes bile. A trickle of blood seeps out of the basket and dribbles onto the flagged floor.
—Screw your face all you will, Henry Waklee, but a woman’s work shines as brightly in the eyes of God as a man’s.
—No no, Henry says, all’s well.
Her belly is swollen under her apron, she’s a little heavy on her feet these days; but all’s indeed well.
He steps to the fireside and takes his ready seat there. Automatically, he reaches for the Bible and lays it in his lap, where it falls open. He glances down at the page:
Neuerthelesse, these ye shall not eate of them that chew cud ãd of they that deuyde and cleaue the hoffe: the camell, the hare ãd the conye.
He almost jumps up out of his chair. He closes the book a little less reverently than is his custom.
Sarah glances at him, frowns, turns back to her work.
—There, child, she says, that’s enow, bring it here.
Patience hugs the bowl to her chest, lifts it off the bench, totters towards her mother. But she stumbles, her arms fly apart, the bowl crashes to the floor, cracks in two, yellow floods across the flags. She looks down, both hands clapped to her mouth.
Sarah smacks the girl’s ear with a spoon.
Patience sets to bawling.
The spill spreads under the bench, seeping into furrows between the stones. Rabbit blood drips onto the slick of egg, smears out like an oozing wound.
Henry runs from the kitchen.
XIII (4 July).
A vast over-spreading oak, survivor of the colonists’ axes in the ox pasture, well west of the dark-windowed houses. Peter Grant’s wife is here, and Katherine Harrison, and Goody Seager and Goody Sanford and Goody Greensmith with her husband, and Judith Varlett too, the Dutch woman from New Amsterdam, and others soon, night-walkers all, past midnight.
—There should be fire, a bonefire, a wakefire, and a Saint-John’s fire.
—The fire of the moon is light enough for us, else we’ll bring the constables upon us, James says.
—You, afraid of the constable?
—I was constable in Wethersfield, not here in Hartford, and that five years ago.
—And the dancing?
—But the music for dancing...
—We can sing and clap, and Goody Palmer has a jaw-harp.
—Here’s a drum.
—You see? a fine midsummer’s frolic we’ll have.
Judith Varlett’s nasal voice:
—You said that you would bring jenever, strong water, that your wife makes to sell the Indians, I cannot believe that an English can make good jenever.
James hefts the jug, uncorks it. Judith sniffs suspiciously, then smiles.
A shadow separates from the shadowed tree trunk, a tall man, arms crossed, watching. Glisten of moonlight on bare skin. James fills two wooden cups with liquor, slips away as the loose knot of bodies sorts into a circle dance. Someone drums a quiet tattoo. A rough alto ventures:
Tall shall grow the corn.
We’ll of sin be shorn.
James steps behind the tree. A crow flies overhead, beat of wings against air, harsh caw.
He points up, James follows with his eyes. It settles with a feathery shake on a high bough.
—For me, good luck, my family, the man says.
He accepts a cup politely but doesn’t drink from it.
—I come, for you, not whiskey, he says.
James gulps from his own cup. Alice goes for quantity, not quality, but he manages not to cough. He looks up at him and grins like a fool.
—Tis much like, I suppose, a cross is for us Christians, James says.
—A symbol of Christ Jesus.
—Oh, Bible words.
—What’s that, who’s there?
Rebecca Greensmith, peering, head crooked forward like a turtle.
—Tis James, Mrs Becky, and a friend.
—Who’s there, what’s that about crows, oh! an Indian devil!
She starts back, narrows her eyes, glances back and forth. James’s friend grunts and steps back into the shadows. Not a lost chance, James hopes, not yet. He sips from his cup.
But the faceless anxiety that’s been dogging him all day blurs now to a melting benevolence. He sees under Rebecca Greensmith’s wrinkles and warts the infant she once was, the wide and curious eyes, the guileless smile.
—Henry has a new son, James murmurs.
—What’s that? she asks.
—How we dance in the new sun, James says.
He takes her arm in the crook of his elbow.
XIV (4 July).
In Stratford, a gathering of gossips. It’s been a difficult labor, some twenty hours now, Henry huddled in a corner of his own house while women fetch and whisper and cook and sweep, herd the other children, or sit with the husband and pray, all in the early July heat that even night can’t dispel, after midnight now and the milky moonlight gleaming through open windows. The women come and go, skirts swishing, whispering.
—At the inquest...
—This May past.
—The Kelly girl, Betsy: she died.
—A bad dealing!
—And hold your tongue, she said, I’ll give you a brave lace to set upon your dress.
—At the inquest she did say, this will take away my life.
—Goody Ayres I said, and Lizzy Seager did strike her and say, hold your tongue.
—Lord preserve us all from such doings.
—And she did once tell a story about how as a girl in London she met the Devil and knew him by his cloven hoofs.
—Oh Lord have mercy!
—What terrible times, to have such evil among us...
—Goodwife Ayres? why, I know that tart-tongued jade...
—They was cross-bound...
—Aye, right thumb to left toe and left thumb to right toe...
—And they was laid on the surface...
—Of the water, a mill pond most like, to see if they was to float.
—Did they float?
—Yes indeed, they having renounced baptism they was rejected by the pure water.
—They swam after the manner of a buoy.
—Ha, the water might not choke her but the halter will.
—There still be other witches in Hartford, because someone did help Goody Ayers to escape.
—Fled to Rhode Island, I hear...
—Her husband too.
—Who is that, William Ayers?
—Aye, fled to Rhode Island and left behind two sons...
—The poor little boys!
—There’s worse to come, I warrant.
A commotion from the other room. Hurrying back and forth. Raised voices. Something starts squalling.
—Give me him...
—Oh my how small...
—The Lord be praised...
—Where’s that wash water?
—Let me see...
—How does she?
—Does she yet live?
—She does well...
One of the women approaches Henry with a squirming bundle in her arms. Henry looks down at the puce and wailing face wrapped in homespun and dimity. Plump arms. Bright eyes.
—He will be called James, Henry says.
XV (10 August).
—Tell us a story, tell us a story, a story!
Wanting to say no, James begins a yes. Then he frowns. Is it right to tell children such stories? And on the Sabbath, too.
But they are still clamoring for another one.
—When I was but a boy, he begins, and had been taken out of my school, which was in England, have you been to Old England, you fruit of New England?
—Oh no, says little Patsy, but my mother comes from there and she says tis a dreadful place full of bad people.
—And so it is, James says, so it is, even if tis your mother who says so.
Patsy giggles, covering her face with her hands.
—Well, after being bred up in learning till I was almost fourteen years old, my word!, would you like to go to school for so long a term?
—Oh no, oh no! all the children shout.
—And then I, taken off, and put to be an apprentice to a weaver in Gloucester, I yet, notwithstanding, continued a strong inclination and eager affection to books, with a curiosity of hearkening after and reading of the strangest and oddest books I could get, spending much of my time that way, to the neglecting of my business.
James fixes one of the boys with his gaze.
—Would you neglect your business to read strange books?
—I can’t read, sir, the boy says.
—A prime virtue, James says, well, at one time there came a man into the shop, and brought a book with him, and said to me, here is a book for you, keep this till I call for it again, and so went away; and I, after my wonted bookish manner, was eagerly affected to look into that book, and to read in it, which I did, but as I read, I was seized on by a strange kind of horror, both of body and mind, the hair of my head standing up, like this, has your hair ever stood straight up, Sarah?
—Thank goodness, of course not, so, finding these effects several times, I acquainted my master with it, who observing the same effects, we concluded it was a conjuring book and resolved to burn it, which we did; and he that brought it in the shape of a man, never coming to call for it, we concluded it was the Devil!
The children shriek joyfully.
—I took this as a solemn warning from God to take heed what books I did read, and I was much taken off from my former bookishness, confining myself to reading the Bible, which naturally was most profitable to my soul, as should you all, and as I hope and know that you will.
XVI (10 August).
Summer is the worst time of year. The young people especially: blue skies, warm breezes, soft grasses, all call them away from their duty to prayer and sermon. Henry stalks up Watchhouse Hill, staff in hand, thrusting it through underbrush, behind every tree. He knows that boy’s here somewhere.
—John Birdsey, he calls out, show yourself, I did see you flying!
Henry leans on his staff and presses a fist against his breast, panting hard. He’s not so spry as he was, maybe, but the stone which was refused...
Whispers. Laughter. Where?
A twig snaps.
Henry wheels round.
He sees a white flash through the leaves, what can only be a shirtsleeve. Footsteps, running, distant. Silence then. Henry sighs.
He turns to look down the slope—is the scamp circling back behind him? But there’s only the commons, where a few cows graze, the roofs of houses, the salt pond bright as a coin, the clapboard, hip-roofed meeting-house where he’d dearly prefer to be, everything cleanly marked out, like a plan drawn up on paper. He sighs again. Like a treasure hidden in a field. Henry has sold all he had to buy that field.
He trudges on. Ho! what’s that?
A footprint. The boy’s gone out of the palisade and run off into the undivided lands. Henry follows westward.
It’s mostly hay meadows, clumps of trees. Grass crackles underfoot, bushes swat at his eyes. If thy eye offend thee... A pale boulder striped with dark ragged scratches, that some say Goody Bassett clutched at in her struggle against the officers on her way to the gallows, and call it Witch’s Rock. A vain and foolish tale.
Henry pauses again at the verge of the brook that runs down into the great swamp. A fresh, clean print in the mud. He looks up. Something’s moving in the next field over. Henry steals close, quiet as he can.
There he is. No, it’s two of them, two shirking the Sabbath. Henry opens his mouth to shout, but something stops his lips. He pushes greenery aside.
They both have their shirts off, chests bared to the sunlight, bits of broken grass clinging, skin flushed. The Fairchild boy—Nathaniel, is it?—has his hands deep in John Birdsey’s breeches, which are unbuttoned loose on his hips and whose head is flung back, mouth agape. Gasping. Henry swings his staff. A thump like a broken melon. He swings again. He kicks. The boys scrabble on all fours. Arms, panic, legs, feet, no word spoken, not a cry. Smack and thump. Heart pounding. Divots of dirt fly. Henry’s back slick with sweat. His eyes burn. He pounds the earth, like a smith at his forge, strikes and strikes and strikes the trampled grass, the empty field.
XVII & XVIII (4 September).
Is he happy? Is he a happy man? Is this happiness?
James stands in the doorway of Sam Welles’s new warehouse, amid towering stacks of barrels, heaps, and bales of his own new-shipped goods, and gazes out over Wethersfield harbor, especially busy at this time of year, what with the onion harvest off to Bermuda and the Bahamas, masts and spars like a grove afloat, longshoremen shouting, carts stacked high trundling along the riverside.
Could it be?
Satisfied, he bows to Samuel Boardman, Wethersfield land waiter. Sam—his duties, fees, and a little extra, for friendship, gratefully pocketed—returns the bow. James walks down the sloped plank onto the grassy verge behind the warehouse, claps his hat to his head, and sets off along the high street towards home.
He ticks off the houses as he passes. Thomas Wright: owes me 1£6s0d. Sam Belden: still owes 0£0s10d. John Reynolds 0£15s0d. William Goodrich 2£3s2d. He shakes his head; little hope of ever collecting there.
That epicene whelp, Haines, is huddled at the meeting-house door, reading the bills posted there. He eyes James as one might eye a dog of unknown temperament and disappears inside.
James follows Short Street’s little jog, Hungry Hill on his left, to Broad Street. A pied cow with Sargeant Demings’s ear-mark shambles alongside him, shakes her head, clunk, clank.
James ambles through the kitchen garden where a new boy is on his knees (no, a youth; sixteen if he’s a day), yanking up clumps of weeds and snuffling loudly when dirt flies in his face. James hears Alice shouting in the kitchen. He plumps down on the upturned bucket next to the rain barrel.
—What’s your name? James asks.
—Matty Cole, sir.
—Matty, how does your mistress today?
(James has come up the river from Saybrooke with his London consignment.)
—She is in a warm temper about the return of her husband.
—Why is that, Matty?
—Sally has burnt the pies and now she must waste extra wood to heat the oven again.
(Sally is what Alice calls her Pequot slave-woman; she cannot get her mouth around those devilish noises, she says, that they use for names; and she insists she’ll make a Christian of her yet.)
—Is that all?
—And Mrs Alice, she wants to reuse the fillings of the pies but Sally says they must not.
James tries not to laugh.
—Thank you, Matty, be a good fellow now.
James tosses him a half-penny.
A door slams inside.
Bright flickers across green; breeze and sun play across vines and simples. James sighs, plants his palms on his thighs, and, wheezing, levers himself up from the bucket. Ah, youth. He peers in the window. Safe, for now. He walks round to the kitchen door.
—Sally, my dear Sally, James cries, a sight for sore eyes indeed.
Sally looks up, says nothing. Her arms are pale to the elbows with flour. She pinches butter between her fingertips, flicks the bits over her dough, sifts a fistful of flour over, and rolls it up.
Alice’s in the parlor door, hands on hips.
—You should have sent word ahead of your arrival, she says.
—My dear, James says.
—Close the door, she says, lest the flies plague us.
James pulls it to.
—So, she says.
—Yes, he says.
—Sally, she says, unlace these coneys for a lumber pie, but seeth the livers and kidneys separate and mash them with egg and bacon and nutmeg, and season the whole with cloves and mace, salt and sugar, a little cream.
Sally bobs a curtsey, keeps rolling out the dough.
Alice steps into the parlor. James winks at Sally and follows.
—Where is it? she demands when the door is shut.
—Where is what, my dear?
—My special item from London.
—The officers at Boston impounded it, he says.
She stamps her foot.
He takes the manifest, signed, countersigned, endorsed, sealed, and beribboned, from his pocket, but she snatches it and flings it in his face.
—James Waklee, how dare you forbid me anything!
—I would gladly have been spared the trouble and expense.
He bends to retrieve the document.
—And what is it, he asks, this puppydog-water, that it should sell at five pound the gill?
—Ah, tis common knowledge.
—No, tis not, tell me.
—The great ladies at court wash their faces with it.
—This same decoction of new-born puppy, Canary wine, butter, snails, lemons, mixed with sugar and gold-leaf?
—I know not the details of its preparation, if you know then why ask?
—To rinse your face with such sickens me, it stinks of folly and witchery.
—Tis my own affair, now give it me.
—It was destroyed at Boston as an unlawful luxury.
Alice glances around, but they are in the best parlor, where all is costly and fragile. She slams the kitchen door open, launches herself through, slams it shut. Poor Sally.
James settles into the chair by the window. Matty is at the front of the house now, bending and pulling, making neat green piles. The day is warming fast—not yet noon—and his shirt, darkened, clings to him. It’s a little small; his thick shoulders strain at it when he tugs a stubborn root. Sinews shifting under his skin like a ship’s heavy knotted ropes.
James jerks: Alice stands silently behind his chair.
—Perhaps, she says, next spring, the inventory could be a trifle vague.
—Perhaps, he agrees.
She bends and peers out the window.
—I sorely wish, she says, you might leave the servants at peace in the night.
XIX (15 October).
She’d always been so small, so frail, so sweet; admit it, Henry: your favorite. So dear. His first-born. The needle of the heart.
The pitchfork scrapes (scree-aaap-aatch) the barn’s rough floorboards. Dust motes fountain up like frantic constellations, flaring bright in the stripes of sun through gaps in the hayloft above. Henry heaves another mound of trampled straw into the barrow, scrapes, heaves again. He pauses, chin on his fists grasping the worn-smooth handle. Oh my dear, dear child.
In God’s good clay now. In God’s hands. God’s will.
Anger, smoldering so long, a dim coal under ash, ignites like black powder, a hissing, flaming thing inside him, all smoke and flash and stink—
He shouts, an ineloquent caw, the native tongue of true hatred, and hoists the fork backwards over his shoulder and smashes it down, like swinging an axe, the tines ring like bells and one snaps, a little metal stick that arcs up and back down with a clatter. Henry drops the pitchfork.
Has anyone heard?
No footsteps. No calls. No one at the open barn doors.
The boys are off at the Birdseys’, slaughtering a hog, and the girls will all be chattering in the kitchen, and Sarah—
He bends to pick up the broken tine, a narrow spike long as his little finger and crooked at the tip now. He has a makeshift forge back of the barn for jobs too small to take to the blacksmith. He can hammer out the crook, for sure, and the other tines. Maybe he can weld this one back on. That’s not beyond his small skill. Fix up, make do, borrow, and do without: his whole life. His neighbors’ too, he’s not special. He’ll say it caught in a knot and snapped when he tried to wrench it free.
Henry has tried and tried to speak with Heaven, its still, small voice deep within, like a candle flame licking the darkness. Its silence vexes him. Yet God’s blessings to him are plain, wonders and signs are all around him; that knocking, knocking, knocking is the voice of his own heart. Love is a stern thing, Henry; and God’s love the fiercest of all.
He grasps the barrow’s poles and lifts. The straw’s reek is the smell of life itself: piss and cowflop and spilt milk and a chewed rat. He plods down the plank with it and across the mud to the midden; dumps it in. He wheels the barrow back to the barn. Work and more work, always something waiting to be done. Winter’s a good time for mending.
I shall meet you there, in that farther land, we shall walk together through that gate of margarite, and the streets of clean gold, as of glass full shining, hand in hand, among our Father’s many mansions.
(But it is no consolation. Not yet.)
Little Ruth. My dear, my dear.
XX (14 November).
As soon as James steps inside the Wyllys house, he starts to sweat. Fireplaces at both ends of the great room heaped with flaming logs, candles set out on every flat surface, good wax candles too, not the stinking tallow that Alice insists on though they can perfectly well afford better, and most of all the crowd of people: men and women standing shoulder to shoulder against the walls, kneeling on cushions scattered about, sitting crowded together, and in the midst of them Ann Cole asprawl the floor, dress hiked up, sleeves torn, her face working and throat gurgling, her head cradled in the Reverend Stone’s hands.
—Got in himmel, she howls, got got got him him himmel...
Reverend Stone wipes her forehead with a napkin edged in gold lace.
The crowd murmurs, overawed.
Where is Alice? He’s come to fetch her out and home.
—Der duivel duivel der der duivel...
She lapses limp, eyes closed.
—In my thoughts, the Reverend Stone says, it is impossible that one not familiarly acquainted with it, which Mrs Ann has not at all been, could so exactly imitate the Dutch speech.
—Dutch! says Judith Varlett, if that be Dutch then I am English.
Voices raised in prayer, beseeching.
—Oh Lord save this child...
—Oh mercy mercy have mercy upon us sinners...
—The Lord is my shepherd I shall not fear...
Alice is right in the thick of it, kneeling on the floor, rubbing the Cole girl’s feet. Isn’t that just like her. James pushes through the throng.
—It grows late, he says when he reaches her, let us go home.
—Her feet are unnatural cold, Alice says.
Ann Cole sits bolt upright and shrieks. Her eyes wide open, casting back and forth. Her whey-skinned face beaded with sweat.
—Alice, James says, Alice.
But her gaze is locked on the girl. James puts a hand on Alice’s shoulder. The girl shrieks again.
Alice looks up at James, shakes her head.
—The poor girl, Alice says, she hath related how a company of familiars of the evil one, and she has named them...
—What think you, the Reverend Stone interrupts, of the poor girl, so tormented by these strange fits, wherein the Devil himself, may the Lord preserve us all, makes use of her lips in discourse?
—She runs to her rock, Alice says.
Ann Cole has lapsed into sleep, or something like sleep. She breathes quieter.
—I think she has worked her way deep into a web of lies and cannot find her way free of them, James says.
Reverend Stone’s eyes meet James’s. A flicker as of recognition, then Stone turns away.
XXI (2 December)
Henry leans over, head in hands, elbows propped either side of the great ledger. The neatly ruled columns of figures blur, double, like runnels of rain down a windowpane. He closes his eyes.
If I part with all my goods unto poor men but if I have not charity, it profiteth to me nothing.
He rubs his eyes and looks up.
—Six months, he says, six months in arears, what would you have me do?
Thomas Fairchild shuffles, crumples his hat, says nothing.
—I can extend credit no further, you must pay.
—The good book says, forgive us our debts...
—The Lord, Henry interrupts, does not speak of money debts but of the debts of sin.
—Let he who is without sin cast...
—Do not trifle with me! Henry hisses, nor with the word of God.
—I cannot pay, Fairchild admits.
—Surely you have items of value.
—I can return, return the shoes...
—What is a used pair of shoes to me, a shoemaker? Surely you would not expect free shoes nor free corn nor free land, so why then free money?
—I cannot pay, Fairchild repeats.
—Everything has its cost.
—The child needed new shoes, very well, you borrowed against future cash crops, very well, your crops came in plentifully but so did everyone else’s, very well, and prices fell so now you cannot pay.
Why do such men insist on abusing his generosity?
—I shall strike a bargain with you, Henry says.
—Thank you, sir.
—Your son Nathaniel, his apprenticeship to Isaac Nichols is nearly done, if you will extend it one year more I will speak to Nichols, as I owe him money myself.
Fairchild is trying to look grateful.
—Also you must indemnify me against costs of court.
—I’ll not take you to court.
—And to pay the fee for making the new indenture.
—What, will these debts never cease to pile up on me?
—Everything has its cost, Henry repeats.
Fairchild shuffles his feet, looks down, looks up.
—God bless, sir, thank you, it will be so.
Henry nods. He makes a memorandum in the ledger’s margin, then turns to a blank leaf. He rules a line across and writes out a simple promissory note at eight per-cent p.a., a just requital for his troubles, tots up the total and notes it in the margin. He turns the book towards Fairchild and dips the pen again, holds it out.
Fairchild takes it with a trembling hand. Henry taps the page impatiently.
—There, just there, he says, and let’s be done with it.
—But what does it say? Fairchild asks.
—Only what we’ve agreed just now, a fair settlement of a true debt.
Fairchild ducks his head, leans forward, draws a long, ragged \ in the blank space; pauses, looks up at Henry again; sighs; pulls the pen across the paper again: /. Henry blots the mark.
XXII–XXV (25 December).
Cruelty is a hunger. Winter eats the days, colder, shorter: sky like a lid, scapes of sunlight as kindly as needles, shadows limned with hoarfrost.
James leaves the horse with his Hartford tenant and strolls towards George Steele’s place; from there to Allens’s mill, where he can cross the Little River without wetting his boots; and on towards Centinel Hill. He plans to stop by the town’s pound there—Alice has been complaining about a lost hog—but the black-coated, black-hatted, black-hosed, black-shod gentleman, still four houses uphill, is the Reverend Samuel Stone.
James crosses the street, veers into a narrow lane, nearly walks headlong into Thomas Bracey, who jumps back, arms in the air.
—I beg pardon, James says.
—Let me be! Bracey cries.
—Why whatever ails you? James asks.
—You cursed me, with your railing about that saddle...
—Do you intend ever to return it? James interrupts.
—And my understanding was so bemoidered that seven times I set a jacket’s sleeves wrong, and must rip them off and set them on again, until I was forced to leave working.
—I am sorry to hear it.
—And that night you appeared at my bedside with Katherine Harrison, consulting to kill me, you said you would cut my throat...
—I am sorry you had a bad dream.
—I was well in my senses and perfectly awake.
—You are a fool, Thomas Bracey, who borrows much and lends not, and a poor tailor, who would have me sell cloth for less than it costs to import it, so you spread vile slanders, you fool, and a liar too!
Bracey’s eyes widen. He steps back.
James pushes past him.
Hartford gaol’s a shoddy construction, weatherboarding nailed to posts not so much as debarked. Even inside, James’s breath puffs out in little clouds. Glimpse of metal-gray sky through tiny windows high up one wall. Rebecca Greensmith, dimly lit, on the featherbed her husband brought: head back, drooling, lids half open over eyes blank as boiled eggs.
—Goody Greensmith, James whispers, Mrs Becky, it’s your James Waklee here to see you.
But Reverend Stone, stout in a chair in the corner, harrumphs.
—Many pardons, James says, I was unaware of the Reverend’s presence, your compassion does you honor, sir.
Stone eyes him.
—How does she? James asks.
—Her body soon enough shall be no more, he says in his phlegmy bass rumble, but her soul might yet fly free of its fetters of sin.
—Does she suffer?
—Yes!, Stone thunders, yes! and I hope to bring her home, God’s will be done, as I did the witch Mary Johnson, who died a penitent woman.
James crosses to the foot of the bed, where a bowl and sponge rest on the counterpane. He dips and wrings, wipes her brow, her mouth. Eyeballs swivel to follow his motions. He finds the chamberpot under the bed and carries it outside to the privy.
When he returns, Stone has gone. James drags his chair over to the bedside.
—Oh my dear, what have you done? he says, what have you done to bring yourself to such a disgrace?
Staring eyes. A moan.
—A confession in open court! he says, and to matters you can know nothing of, oh why my dear heart, why would you say such things?
Her lips part like the edges of a wound.
—A paper? James says when she does not go on.
—They read out from a paper.
—What paper was that?
—What she said, Ann Cole, in her fits, Mr Haines had writ it all down and they read it all out, all these things.
—But none of it is true, you have denied it.
—It put me in a rage, to hear all those lies again, I could have tore him in pieces, that smug face and oily smile, I was resolved to deny it all again.
—Yet you did not.
—He read for a long time.
James pats her hand.
—After he had read awhile and it was so hot and crowded in the room and I so weary after so long awake and all their eyes was looking at me and it was as if the flesh was pulled from my bones, and the anger was all washed away and I could deny no longer and I did stand up and declare my guilt.
—Oh my dear, James says.
—My guilt, she repeats.
—Tis not too late to recant.
—No no no they will have me to name all the others.
—Why the other witches of Hartford and Wethersfield.
—But there are no witches, Mrs Becky, there never have been.
—I shall name them all, she whispers, all, and die my sins confessed.
James pulls his hand from hers.
—What have you done! he asks.
—My husband Nathaniel, I confessed it all, Mr Stone has writ it down, so much to tell and they so eager to hear.
—Aye, and he said to me on Friday night when I came to prison, he told me say nothing of him and he will be good unto my children.
—I am sure that he will.
—But often when he told me of his great labor and travail, I wondered how he did it, and I asked him and he answered that he had help I knew not of.
—All men frequently aid others, it is the Christian way of things.
—But I have seen logs that my husband hath brought home in the cart, and the logs such that I thought two men could not have done it.
—So you conclude the help he spoke of was of the Devil.
—Yes, I know it now, the Reverend Stone has helped me to see clear what was before but cloudy and dark.
—What man would sell his soul to shift a log when for a penny he can buy the same service of his fellows?
—I spoke out of love to my husband’s soul and it is much against my will that I should speak against him.
—Then why speak against him?
—I desire that the Lord will open his heart to own and speak the truth.
—The true charge against him is that he built his barn upon the common land, but they do not bring it because they cannot prove it, and they cannot prove it because it is not so, yet they believe it, and hate him.
She is gazing at him wonderingly.
—I wish that you too would speak only the truth, James tells her.
—You have not the fear of God before your eyes, Rebecca mumbles, and you have entertained familiarity with the grand enemy of men and God and by his help have acted in ways beyond human abilities...
James jumps up—the chair falls backwards—and stands over her, hand raised up high.
—If I did not pity you so I would strike you now in your bed!
Rebecca whimpers, holding the bedclothes up against her chin.
James curses under his breath. He turns away.
—Also, Rebecca says, also.
James kicks at the rug on the floor, rucking it up, an icy draft puffs up. He smooths the rug flat.
—Also when the Devil first appeared to me in the form of a deer or a fawn, a red fawn, skipping about me, he was so pleasing in his form that I was not affrighted even when he contrived to talk with me.
—A talking fawn! James says.
—And he came to my house in one shape or another and the Devil had frequently carnal use of my body.
James turns and stares at her, her grizzled hair ragged on the pillow, her rugged nose and scarred cheeks, eyes turned upwards as if towards a vision of wonders.
—I promised to go with him when he called, she says.
—And did he call you?
—Oh often, it was in the night and something like a cat called me out to Mr Varlett’s orchard and Judith Varlett was there too.
—Perhaps it was a cat just as it seemed, cats do cry in the night.
—Your Indian friends worship the Devil and one came in the form of a crow to make mischief and hurt!
—No one worships the Devil, not I and certainly not those men and women we found here on the land when we came here, for they do not believe in him.
—They do, they do, and though I had not yet subscribed a covenant with him he told me there should be a merry meeting at Christmas and I would do it then.
—The Devil loves Christmas!
It’s Reverend Stone back again, with Joseph Haines in tow, a blond-haired man barely over twenty who now supplies the pulpit at Wethersfield.
James rights the chair he has overset, offers it to Stone, who turns to Haines.
—Did I not say to you two days ago, there goes a man who billets the Devil in his heart?
—No man has a keener judging eye, the younger man says.
—Poor Goody Greensmith, James says, has accused her husband and she is clearly not of her right senses.
—She has her eyes on God, Stone says.
—She spoke just now of her covenant, Haines says.
—It is an extremely dreadful sin, Stone says, this Christmas merry-making, or as we should better say, Christ-tide, more mischief being committed then than in all the year besides, what masking and mumming, what robberies, whoredom, and murder, what banqueting and feasting!
—We country people love the old customs, James says, if they be harmless, and all the more so here, so far from England, and to allow us them is to win our hearts.
Stone waves his hand impatiently.
—When the native infidels behold the bacchanalian Christmas extravagances, he says, must they not think our Savior to be a glutton, a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners?
—Do you think, James asks, that because you are virtuous, there should be no more cakes and ale?
—But you may plainly see, Haines intercedes, that today is a busy day like any other.
—But it is not church business that detains us, Stone says, will you read, Mr Haines, the information.
Haines pulls out a bundle of papers, unwinds the ribbon, plucks out a sheet.
—At the mill pond, he reads, after bathing I went out upon the bank to dry myself, and the said James Waklee came to me with his yard erected in his hands, and desired me to lie on my belly, offering me six pence if I would lie with him, but I went away.
—Who says so, James demands, why, I have brought other men into court for these slanders and prevailed!
—Sworn in the fear of God, Stone says.
—Who says so, lies.
—Your servant Matthew Cole, Stone says, has also much to say against you.
—I have coerced no one, James says.
—All the worse if freely done, Stone says.
—A capital crime requires two eyewitnesses, James says, you cannot convict me.
And he nods at Rebecca.
—When the mob put Goody Ayres to the water test, James says, I leapt in myself, but alas I weigh more than in my youth and sank plumb to the bottom.
—That experiment was superstitious.
—Swim or sink, tis no proof, Haines adds.
—If you do a thing it is licit and holy, James says, if I do the same, how is it so base?
He looks from one reverend to the other, who stand grim-lipped and silent.
—Are there no depths, James asks, to which human depravity will not descend, and all the while preening itself on its great virtue?
XXVI (29 December).
—Hail brother Henry, well met.
Henry’s horse ambles to a halt. The sky’s still dark as iron but scored at the horizon like bright file marks. James’s blank form is a shadow stretched across the sand and gravel, one arm raised in greeting.
—I did not hope to see you here, James says, as I’m just off the boat come down from Wethersfield.
—I came not to find you, Henry says, but to sell a bushel of squashes.
—Oh, where is it, the bushel?
—The market must open early here in Saybrooke.
Shore grasses silvered over, rimed with sea-wash and -spray, flicker with early light as they arch and unarch in the steady wind.
—Tell me it is not so, my brother and soul.
—That thou art no witch.
—But there are no witches here, nor anywhere, nor ever was, tis only ignorance dressed up as common knowledge.
—Tis true, a witch, a witch, oh God oh God!
—Henry, you fool!
But Henry flings down the reins and slides out of the saddle and down. The horse sidesteps. Henry slumps to the ground. James rushes over and grasps the bridle. The horse whickers and lets James lead her a little ways to a low clump of bushes, where he loops the reins over a branch.
The sky’s crowded with cloud aglow, brass and lead; everywhere shore birds are crying their dawn chorus. Two gulls are fighting over a fish’s head, tugging it to and fro.
—What will you do, James, have you all that you need?
—I came away with only the clothes upon my back.
—Have you money?
—I sought to redeem a few debts but none would pay.
—And what of your wife Alice?
—I hope that she will follow but I know it to be a vain hope.
—And so you have lost all and for what, James, for what?
—A question that cannot be answered is hardly a question at all.
The wind dies down. The sun’s a blinding splash across the horizon, like spilt quicksilver. The horse whinnies, stamps.
—Take her, Henry says.
—Take what, Henry?
—The mare, take the horse and go, quickly, as far as you must, and sell her.
—What, and will you walk home to Stratford?
—Be sure and get a good price.
—You astonish me, Henry, James says.
—Will none defend ordinary goodness? Henry asks.
—Goodness? James asks, goodness? I would not call it ordinary at all, I have so rarely encountered it.
—You disappoint me, James, Henry says.
—I have run away from a fight, James says, this time.
—Yet so long as you live, Henry tells him, it still goes on.
James holds out his hand to him, empty except for a scour of sunlight.
Henry walked back to Stratford. (The Greensmiths were both hanged.) The Hartford authorities seized James’s land there and auctioned it. (Judith Varlett’s brother-in-law, Governor Peter Stuyvesant, sent a sternly worded letter and she was released on condition that she never return.) Alice contrived to retain the lands in Wethersfield in her own name, and occupied much of her time since then, so far as James could gather from the reports that reached him in Providence, in disputing fence lines. (Ann Cole recovered from her strange fits and acquired the Greensmith house and land by marriage.) Henry promised to press James’s pleas to abate his forfeiture, to void the indictment, to grant a divorce; but he never did. (Katherine Harrison, judged guilty but spared execution, went to New York, where the same troubles cropped up.) Gradually the strands of minor kinship that bound James to Connecticut loosened and broke, fell away; even Alice began to be called Widow Waklee, and at her death, the sons by her first marriage divided up his, James’s, property among them. (The Indian revolt called King Philip’s War thrust thousands into their graves, perhaps least noticed among them Henry and James’s uncle Thomas, slaughtered at his homestead with his wife Elizabeth, his son John and his wife, and their children.) After endless lawsuits, James recovered a portion of his assets, but then began the struggle to force Alice’s heirs to pay what they owed him... but he outlived them, and had to begin again with new heirs; lesser men would’ve abandoned the effort as fruitless. (A bolt of lightning struck Matthew Cole dead while at a prayer meeting in his father-in-law’s house at Northampton.) Henry was elected a townsman at Stratford; from time to time, as his fortunes waxed—and they did little but wax, more and more, new-gained land, new-gained money, new-gained livestock, as well as rank, children, grandchildren—he looked around and wondered how he could have ever wanted any of it. (Samuel Stone, returning home to Hartford one dark night, mistook an outcropping for the bridge over the Little River and fell headlong down upon the rocks and rolled into the water, where he lay, unblinking eyes staring Heavenwards, till daybreak.) James, obliged to live on the charity of the town, which was, as throughout New England, most often dealt out with a strong suspicion that it’s undeserved, boarded with Widow Northup in her attic room, or, some say, was suffered to lodge there out of benevolence; there was also darker talk of goings-on in Wethersfield, or Hartford, or some such place, but though tongues would wag, none could say with any certain knowledge what it was that he had done, or maybe not done; yet still scandal clung to him as smoke to a collier or stink to a tanner.
—No no, Henry says, write it as I say it, just as I say it, write it down.
—Yes sir, Deliverance says, just as you say, I give and bequeath...
—Unto my daughter Mary Stevens.
—Unto my daughter...
The pen rasps against the paper, stops.
—And I further...
—Yes, yes, Deliverance says, you need not repeat the full formula each time, I’ll provide the words, save your strength, this illness has brought you low.
—To Thomas Lattin.
The pen pauses again.
A fit of coughing.
Henry struggles to sit up, cannot.
—Lies lies, James, all lies, all untrue...
He struggles against something not visible.
—We fight, James, we fight.
—I am here, Father, Henry’s youngest son James says from the corner near the fire.
—No no, he says, not you, boy, is he...?
James approaches the sickbed, but Henry lapses back.
—Your brother is in Rhode Island still, Deliverance says, bringing lawsuits against his enemies, as ever he has.
Henry looks around, confused; blinks.
—I would, Henry says, would tell him, tell him...
—Shall we finish the will? Deliverance suggests.
—Oh, Henry says, yes, and put this, put this, to Henry Summers, that lives with me, besides what I have given...
—Hold a moment, Deliverance says, I cannot write so quick as you speak.
Henry closes his eyes.
He must have slept, for when he looks again, the others have all changed places.
—Read it to me, he says.
—In the name of God amen, Deliverance reads, I Henry Waklee of Stratford in the colony of Connecticut in New England being aged and under many weaknesses and bodily infirmities but of sound disposing mind and memory, praises be rendered to almighty God therefore, yet in daily expectation of my great change do herefore make and declare this my last will and testament...
Outside, just visible through one lozenge-shaped pane, snow has begun to fall, flake by flake whitening the limbs of the apple tree that he, Henry, planted himself at the back of his home lot near forty years ago now, just a slip in the ground at first, then a mere sapling, yet growing and burgeoning and yielding fruit year after year, golden-green and sour but crisp against the teeth, the rich juice running down your chin, the crunch of its flesh and its perfume so redolent of summer, the skies bluer in those years and the fields greener, the very clouds whiter than white, brighter, cleaner, whiter than the new-fallen snow.
—...in testimony whereof and in confirmation of the promises I the said Henry Waklee have hereunto set my hand and seal on this fourth day of November in this year one thousand six hundred and ninety.
With a quavering hand, Henry scrawls his name at the bottom of the sheet. He drops the pen, drops back against the heaped pillows.
—Broken, Henry says, he’s gone, O how bright...
The last time that James Waklee drowns, he skids gammons-first off an icy pier into the harbor. Hoping to clear with the sea air a catarrh that’s been troubling him, he has wandered, on the cold, windy first day of November, down steep lanes towards the masts leaning over the house roofs, dark against a cloudless sky. A chop has picked up, and the wind-flung spray’s made a fine, slick coating on rope and spar and pile and board. But the stars are bright and lovely, and the sea sounds like wind soughing in numberless boughs of a vast, unknowable forest.
A ship’s boy sees and hauls him out with a boathook. But where does he belong? A little crowd gathers but no one knows.
—An ugly ragged old man, says a sailor.
—I’ll have him off my ship, the Captain orders.
Someone in the street, stopping to stare at the sopping, shivering wretch supported shoulders and knees by two sailors, recognizes him and directs them to his lodgings.
His health has not been good. At his lowest ebb, guts aflame and feverish, James wrote to Governor Winthrop, asking for a dose of his alchemical physic, and received in time a reddish powder in a screw of paper, but by the time it arrived he had recovered. Finding it now, the sailors pour it between his lips and help him to gulp a mug of water, while Widow Northup stands in the doorway and frets her hands. It works in him a terrible purge. Daylight crawls down the wall like insects.
James vomits blood.
Three days he lies in bed and shivers. It’s a cold that works deep, frigid to the bone. There’s writing on the ceiling, all over the walls, but illegible, he cannot make it out, but it must be more indictments against him, for debt, for perjury, for heresy, for slander, or for who knows what accidents. He tries to erase it. But they take his hands and set them back, he reaches again and they scold him. Who writes it? And why? So many lies, so many omissions, so much to do or say, he must keep fighting on, surely victory is near (and yet, somewhere, a tree is growing...). They say Hush or they say Be quiet in your soul, what could they mean, he, James, is not to be pitied, and if it weren’t for his bodily weakness, which will pass as it has before, he would be up and about, tending to his business, which is urgent, how dare they treat him so, but he has not the strength now to dispute with them, and he quickly forgets what the dispute could have been about, and in fact he is grateful for the warm clout that wipes the frothy spittle from his lips and for the anonymous hand that holds his and for the comforting words (or else why utter them?) that he cannot quite understand.
—He’s gone, James says, it’s broken, ah sunlight...