MOMENT IN TIME
This novel is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's
imagination or are used fictitiously. Any
resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author.
The preacher’s strong voice reverberated inside the small building and bounced off the plain wood planked walls to surround the villagers with his threats of damnation to any who might dare to disregard his warnings.
Bridget wanted to cover her ringing ears and run screaming out of the church. She had spent the last couple of hours listening to the overly passionate fire and brimstone sermon and was wondering if the long winded preacher would ever run out breath. She squirmed about on the hard wooden bench, trying desperately to find a comfortable position for her numb backside while promising herself that if the sermon didn’t end in the next few minutes, she would get up and walk out of the church even if it meant the wraith of the entire village. So intent was she on her need to escape that she didn’t notice when the preacher ended his sermon and silence claimed the room. It was only when the people around her stood that she realized her silent prayers had finally been answered.
Samuel led Harriet, Sarah and Bridget to the building’s lone door where the preacher now stood on the stone steps accepting the gratitude of the villages as they left the church.
“Thank thee, Brother Dolan. Thy words are true as always.”
The preacher acknowledged the statement with a nod. “Thy will do well to spend the day of Sabbath reflecting, Brother Bishop. Thy name has been spoken as one who may be tempted.”
“Thy faith is true, Brother Dolan.”
“To reap more than is thy due can be a sign.”
Samuel tensed. “I must escort thy wife home. Thanks to our Lord.”
“Thanks to our Lord,” Dolan said loudly then lowered his voice. “Heed thy ways. The eye of a witch may indeed follow thee.”
Harriett heard the warning. She glared at the preacher but said nothing as Samuel took her arm and guided her away from the church.
“What did that mean?” Bridget asked as she and Sarah followed.
“Hush,” Sarah whispered as she quickened her steps to keep pace with Samuel and Harriet. “Speak not.”
“Speak not.” Bridget muttered as she lagged behind. “I’ll catch up with you later,” she called to the others. “I think I’ll take a walk.”
Sarah turned around and hurried back to Bridget. “Thy must come.”
“But I need to think. Walking helps.”
“No. It is the Sabbath. Tis is ….”
“Not allowed.” Bridget finished. “Seems that’s all I ever hear around here. Don’t you guys ever get tired of all this negativity? Wonder how we can liven this place up, Toto?” she asked aloud as she fell into step with Sarah.
“Who is Toto?”
Bridget looked up from the washboard she was using to scrub one of Samuel’s shirts. “Who?”
“Toto. Thy speaks often of thee.” Sarah was hanging a clean nightshirt on a rope strung between two poles.
“Oh, him.” Bridget smiled. “A dog.”
Sarah turned and stared at Bridget. “Thy talks to a dog?”
“Why not? He’s the only one in this village who doesn’t tell me to speak not.” Bridget returned to her washing. It was the morning after the Sabbath and she and Sarah had been assigned to do the week’s washing while Harriet cleaned the hut. Not that the spotless home needed cleaning. But like the washing, it was always done the day after the Sabbath. “Besides, he’s not a real dog.”
“Thy speaks to an imaginary dog.” Sarah’s eyes grew wider at the strange declaration.
Bridget chuckled at the look on Sarah’s face. “It’s not what you’re thinking.”
“Does thee know my thoughts too?” Sarah asked. “Are thee a witch?”
“No. What is with you people and witches? Anything you can’t explain, you chalk up to witchcraft?”
“Ye should not speak lightly of those that would tempt us from our faith.”
“You started it.” Bridget wrung out the shirt, squeezing as much soap from it as she could before dropping it into the tub of clean water beside her. She leaned backward, stretching the tired back muscles. “What I would do for a washing machine right about now.”
“Never mind.” Bridget studied her companion as Sarah returned to hanging the clean laundry. “I’m not sure you’ll understand but Toto is a character in a mov…” She stopped herself. There was no way she’d be able to explain something like a movie to the seventeenth century woman. “A story. It’s called Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” she said, deciding that using the real title of Wizard of Oz probably wouldn’t be smart in a conversation that had already included witches. “It’s about a girl who gets caught up in a whirlwind and transported to a land that is strange to her. Her dog goes along for the ride.”
“And thy feels like this girl?”
“Yeah. I guess I do.”
“Did she talk to her dog?”
“All the time.”
“I think I understand.” With no more items to hang, Sarah walked over to Bridget. “Would thee like to change?”
“I’d love a break.” Bridget relinquished the stool in front of the bucket and washboard. Her back ached and, as she stood, she rubbed the tight muscles trying to release their knots. When that didn’t work, she bent at the waist and stretched. Straightening back up, she looked past the hut to the village and spied Samuel walking out of the meeting hall where he had gone immediately after the morning meal. “I wonder what that’s about,” she said when Wellesly followed Samuel outside.
Sarah turned just in time to see Wellesly grab Samuel by the shoulder and spin him around. She quickly turned back to her washing.
“You know, don’t you?” Bridget asked as she watched the two men exchange words. She couldn’t hear what was being said but the men’s body language told her it wasn’t a friendly exchange.
“Tis not for me to speak.”
“Look, I don’t care if it’s for you to speak or not. Something is going on here and, for whatever reason, I’ve been dumped smack dab in the middle of it. Samuel won’t talk about it. Harriet won’t talk about it. But I need some answers.” Bridget grabbed a second stool and set it in front of the tub of cleaned clothing. “And you’re going to give them to me,” she said, sitting determinedly on the stool.
Sarah smiled at Bridget. “Ask.”
Taken aback by the unexpected and sudden capitulation, Bridget opened her mouth to speak then shut it. “Why do I get the feeling your surprise visit to see Harriett was as unplanned as you claim?”
“Harriett knew nothing of my coming.”
“I wasn’t talking about Harriett.” From where she sat, Bridget had an unobstructed view into the village. She sat quietly watching Samuel and Wellesly continue their exchange as several men came out of the meeting hall and literally dragged both men back inside.
“If thee no longer wishes to pose questions, ye shall help Sister Harriett. Thy chore here is close to done and does not require both our toils,” Sarah said as Bridget remained silent.
“Oh, no you don’t. I’m not going anywhere until I get some answers.” Bridget focused her attention on Sarah. She frowned. Was that a look of bemusement on the young woman’s face? That would be a question for later. For now, there were more important answers she sought. “Let’s start with Wellesly. What does he have against Samuel? And where does the council fit in?
“Ye have already seen that Brother Samuel has more rows than others in the cultivated fields. To some, like Brother Wellesly, tis unfair for a man to own what he is unable to put into our Lord’s service.”
Bridget had noticed how almost half of the rows assigned to Samuel were left unseeded. “That would not happen if the other women would help Harriett.”
“Aye. They toil not beside Harriett.”
“Why not? They seem to work on all the rows except Harriett’s.”
“Their reasons are born of fear. They find it easier to obey the tyrant than to suffer with the oppressed. ”
“Can you stop all the convoluted crap and just tell me what the hell is going on?”
Sarah smiled and nodded. Picking up the last item of clothing needing scrubbing, she gathered her thoughts.
“In our homeland, Brother Samuel’s father holds an important position as advisor to the King and the Bishop crest flies over a land grant that is quite large with flowing rivers and fertile ground. Brother Wellesly’s father is not so favored by the King. Some generations ago, their family’s roles were reversed but when a plot against the King’s life was discovered and the plotters imprisoned…”
“Wellesly’s family was part of the plot?”
“Not officially. None that bore the Wellesly name was ever imprisoned but the possibility of their involvement has been whispered ever since. What is known is that the Wellesly crest was removed from the King’s favor and the Bishop crest hung in its stead. The two families have been at odds ever since.”
“So that is why Samuel has so much more land?”
“To encourage settlement in the colonies, the King grants ownership of land. A man’s status in the homeland and his family standing with the King determines how much land he will be granted.”
“And Samuel was granted more than Wellesly.”
“I still don’t understand. Why was Wellesly so intent on Samuel attending council?”
“It is expected, for the good of the entire settlement, that a man will seed all his rows. The survival of the settlement depends on this.”
“And Samuel doesn’t seed all of his.”
“But the village doesn’t appear to be suffering. In fact, there is excess food to sell in other settlements.”
“Yes. And if it wasn’t for Brother Wellesly, none would speak of it.”
“But Wellesly wants what Samuel has?”
“The feud is deeply rooted.”
“Can the council take Samuel’s land?”
“No. But a man who is unable to seed all his rows can offer to share.”
“And Wellesly wants Samuel to do that?”
“We’re not just taking rows in the fields are we?”
“The rows represent the land grants. The ground around the settlement is divided in proportions equal to the rows. To give up a row…”
“Means you also give up an equal portion of your grant.”
“So Wellesly is trying to get a chunk of Samuel’s total grant. The more land you own, the more important you are in the settlement. And by taking the land away from Samuel, he would somehow regain some of what his family lost.”
Again, Sarah nodded.
“That’s absurd. What would a few more acres here do to restore Wellesly’s family name?”
“We may be separated from the homeland by a sea but what happens here does carry weight. If Brother Wellesly should become the largest land owner in the settlement, he would become the Selectman and the King’s representative.”
“And if he returned to England, the King would have to acknowledge him. I get it now. But can’t he just claim some of the un-granted land that surrounds the settlement?”
“That land belongs to the King.”
“I think the First Nation tribes might argue that point.”
“Ah. Perhaps. But that argument is for another time; is it not?”
“Probably.” Bridget said absently as she mulled over Sarah’s information. “Is there no other way for someone to gain more land than what was granted?”
“And that is?”
“If a man dies and his widow does not remarry within six months, his land is divided equally amongst the other landowners.”
“And if she does remarry?”
“Her new husband will assume ownership.”
“Nice.” Bridget sneered at the thought of a woman mourning the death of her husband being forced to remarry in such a short time. And under such circumstances. “What a minute.” Bridget turned to face Sarah. “That means if Wellesly is truly after Samuel’s land, all he has to do…”
The back door of the hut opened and Harriett appeared. “Have you seen Samuel?” she asked, worry written all over her face.
“Brother Samuel remains with thee council,” Sarah answered.
“Is thy washing not yet complete?” Harriett asked as she stepped down to the ground and walked to the corner of the hut.
As Sarah turned to watch Harriett, she saw Samuel exit the meeting hall and walk briskly toward them. “Thee should walk to meet thy husband. Sister Bridget and I will finish our toils.” When Harriett walked out of listening range, Sarah turned to Bridget. “She fears for Samuel.”
“Because of Wellesly?”
“Enough talk. Hurry and get those hung to dry before Samuel returns.”
Sarah stood abruptly and walked to the hut before Bridget could say anything further. It was only after she disappeared inside that Bridget realized the woman had been speaking in non-Puritan vernacular. “Think if I click my heels together, I’ll go home, Toto?”
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