A Measure of Light

A Measure of Light by Beth Powning

Book: A Measure of Light by Beth Powning Read Free Book Online
Authors: Beth Powning
men. They slew one hundred and fifty … people …”
    Her eyes flew up. Winthrop had slurred the words, like spreading softened butter. Her mind shouted them.
    Old people
. Sunken of chest, with spotted, gnarled hands.
    Women
. Firelight, terrified eyes. Arms around their …
    Children
.
    Babies
.
    “We shall have a day of thanks kept in June for this victory.”
    At night, every window in the house was swung wide on its hinges to admit the sea air. By breakfast time, the catnip beside the stone doorstep wilted. Sun stretched across the sill and burned the scouredfloor. Fire glimmered in the grey coals and Sinnie bent over the hearth, stirring them to life.
    Mary sat by the door, eyes closed, holding to her nose a linen-wrapped package of toasted bread steeped in vinegar to assuage her morning sickness. Sweat slid down her temples as she fought waves of nausea. Sounds became sharp, sudden, senseless: the child’s chatter, Sinnie’s croon, a loud snap from the fire.
    “Mistress.”
    “Yes.”
    “Shall I fetch the oven wood?”
    Ah, ’tis bake day
.
    The fire, stoked to ferocity in the domed oven. Coals, scraped out. The table, covered with flour, molasses, vegetables, pans, spoons. Wash, dry, chop, sweat, feed Samuel, walk to the spring. While wanting to curl on her side with her eyes closed and her breathing spare, shallow.
    “Aye.”
    William spent his days at his milliner’s shop in the market. He had bought a share of the new town dock, which included a wharf crane and a warehouse. Jurden had proved as much a godsend to William as Sinnie was to Mary. Patient, uncomplaining, he anticipated William’s needs like a foreman; and along with other men William had hired, made the long daily journey to fields and pastures on Pullen Point where William grew corn and kept cattle and pigs. They set forth before daybreak, rowing up through the inlets and marshes, landing on a sandy beach. Jurden attempted to describe the place; how, veiled in mist, were grasses looped by dewed spider’s webs, and vine-draped fences, and pig pens, and fields of corn. How eagles soared overhead and the cows wandered amongst the trees, grazing in their shade, while the pigs rooted in pens built between the boles of girdled hardwoods.
    Mary stood and went outside. She gazed out over the marshes, the glittering water, the islands. So peaceful, she thought, while those who looked upon it fought over the proper template for salvation.
    —
    Mary and Anne walked slowly, tired. A cool breeze threaded its welcome way through the July heat. It came up between the close-set houses to their left, smelling of the harbour—tarry wharves, tide wrack. In their baskets, they carried small crocks of goose-grease, knives, pennyroyal, rue, juniper berries. A baby boy had been born after a night of labour.
    “I did not imagine that the New World would be so hot.”
    “Aye, as hot as it is cold,” Anne said. “’Tis a place of extremes.”
    She is stretched, Mary thought, sliding her eyes at Anne’s face. The meetings had grown unwieldy, volatile. Anne had become sharp, dismissive and the women were afraid to ask their questions. For they saw how she had no time for slow minds, and that in the cold art of debate she was without compassion, separating thought from thinker. Even men were careful to consider their words before offering them up for Anne’s pronouncements.
    “Reverend Cotton hath become …” Anne mused.
    She spoke as if the thought had escaped, unwittingly, from fatigue. The sun beat down upon the dusty grass and the burning soil.
    “What?”
    Anne’s footsteps made a
pat-pat
, her skirt dragged in the dust. Her pace increased.
    “He is no longer so welcoming to me. He seeks excuses to avoid my visits. His child is sick and must have silence. He hath not the time, his sermon is not yet complete … And so on.”
    She shifted her basket to the other arm. An insect made a long trilling that increased in volume until it broke.
    They

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