“But he would sell children left behind. The mother would know this.”
“Curious.” He drank the rest of his cider, which was growing cold. The bells of Boston’s earlier-assembling congregations—the French Meeting-House on School Street and the Anabaptists over by the Mill-Pond—had not yet begun to sound, but Abigail’s ear was cocked for them as she cleared her own plate and John’s. Once the early bells started up, it was time to go upstairs for the children and herd her family toward the door. “Why should anyone do harm to a slave-woman? Unless she’s returned or been found”—he checked the date on the paper—“in the course of this week. Here, let me do that—”
As he sprang up to forestall her putting another log on the kitchen hearth a tremendous thump sounded upstairs, followed by a furious confusion of treble voices. John’s face crimsoned, and he hurled the wood into the fire. “Drat those children, can they not respect the Sabbath?”
“Not when they were born with your temper, dearest,” replied Abigail, fetching the tongs to straighten the log.
As she did so, she made out Nabby shouting, “ ’ Tisn’t true! You’re a liar!”
“So are you!”
And Pattie, the fourteen-year-old hired girl, cried, “Such words on a Sunday—!”
Small feet rattled in the boxed-in spiral of the stairwell, and a small body caromed off its corners. The next moment Nabby flung herself through the kitchen door and skidded to a stop before Abigail. Had she been a year younger, Abigail reflected, her daughter would have grabbed her around her waist.
“Mama, you wouldn’t run away, if you were a slave, and leave us, would you?”
“She would.” Johnny almost fell through the doorway behind her, pale hair tousled and neckcloth pulled awry. He could never bear to have his older sister get to anything before he did.
The boy stepped back as Nabby’s hand jerked, as if she would hit him, but she remembered the holy day and stayed herself. He made sure all was safe before turning to Abigail again. “You’d value freedom more than
.” Johnny looked up at his mother with those disconcerting light blue eyes. “And
Abigail was spared the answer to this conundrum by Pattie’s voice calling out upstairs, “Charley—!” and the wild clatter of descending feet, followed by the inevitable crash and series of thumps, then, comfortingly, Charley’s wails, which indicated that the boy had not knocked himself senseless. Still, John and Abigail were both across the kitchen and at the door to the hallway when Pattie came down the stairs with eighteen-month-old Tommy in her arms, and knelt beside the stairwell door where Charley sat clutching his head and howling.
“There!” Abigail was on her knees beside the child in the next second, moving aside the round pink hand and the silky light brown hair to ascertain that the damage was, in fact, no more than a bruise above the bridge of his snub nose. “And how did you come by that, sir?”
“And were you walking slowly?”
Charley only sobbed and held out his arms; Abigail gathered him in and kissed the brow above the injury.
“A gentleman walks in the house, sir,” she said sternly, and brushed—very gently—the baby-soft quiff of hair aside. “
on the Sabbath! What must the Lord think of you?”
“He’s always running,” pointed out Nabby righteously. “Mama, you wouldn’t leave us, if you were a slave and leaving us was the only way you could be free? Johnny says you would.”
wouldn’t mind,” declared Johnny, who already showed signs of wanting to grow up to be an ancient Roman. “I would rejoice that Mother valued liberty above all things.”
“You wouldn’t!” Nabby took Charley’s hand and led the boy back toward the kitchen, throwing a glance over her shoulder at Johnny. “You’d cry.”
“Would not!” He lunged at her and Abigail caught his arm with the deftness of long practice.
Why don’t my children ever argue over normal things
? “What I do not value,” stated Abigail, “nor does God either, is children who quarrel on the Lord’s Day. And there’s the meeting-bell,” she added, as John—who had preceded them all back into the kitchen—put into her hand the clean washrag, wrapped around a handful of the snow that still lay inches deep and iron-hard in the yard.
“Nabby started it—”
“Don’t contradict your mother, sir,” said John.
Johnny—who contradicted everybody these days and heard this admonition a great deal—looked instantly abashed. “I’m sorry, Mama.”
At least he no longer protests that he’s only telling the truth.
“I’ll do that, Mrs. Adams.” Pattie had set Tommy down at a safe distance from the hearth—not that anywhere in the kitchen was a safe distance from the hearth, as quickly as the boy moved—and took the washrag from Abigail’s hand. “Though we should by rights have a piece of fresh meat for it—There’s my brave boy,” she added encouragingly, as Charley glanced from her to his mother, clearly wondering if renewed protestations of mortal injury would serve to keep her at his side with the meeting-house bell ringing around the corner on Brattle Street.
He evidently concluded that they would not, and held out his arms for Pattie. The girl—the daughter of neighbors of the family’s farm in Braintree across the bay—had practically grown up in the kitchen of the Adams farm herself and was much more an older sister to the children than a servant. She was friendly and pretty and much taken with the bustle and busyness of Boston. With the first notes of the Anabaptists’ off-key bell, Nabby had gone to gather everyone’s cloaks and scarves from the cupboard by the back door, and Johnny to dump a shovelful of hearth-coals into the fire-box that it was his duty to carry to their pew. Charley, at three, and little Tommy were too young to attend the meeting-house with their parents yet, so it was Pattie who stayed with them during the first service. At eight, almost nine, Abigail deemed Nabby old enough to look after the three boys when she, John, and Pattie returned to church for the afternoon service after dinner.
When John laid the folded
on the sideboard, Pattie glanced at it, asked hesitantly, “Is there word about England yet, Mr. Adams?” and despite the bell that tolled like a nagging conscience, John turned back. “About the King, I mean,” continued Pattie, “and what he means to do about the tea?” She sounded as apprehensive as if she, and not a gang of
disguised as Indians, had dumped three hundred and forty-two chests of East India Company tea into Boston Harbor.
“Nothing yet.” John smiled encouragingly at the girl. “Best we not worry over what we don’t know.”
Pattie bit her underlip and nodded, clearly trying to look as if she hadn’t heard the rumors that had begun to fly around the town in the ten weeks since John’s wily cousin Sam had led the Sons of Liberty in this act of protest, about what the Crown’s reaction would be. Damage was estimated at some $90,000. Given Boston’s history of riots, protests, and stubborn disobedience to every effort of the King to establish royal control over the town and the Colony of Massachusetts, only the most delusional optimists could believe that retribution would not be crushing.
“They wouldn’t send to arrest you, would they, Mr. Adams?”
Abigail paused in the act of taking off her day-cap, tucking up the heavy coil of her sable hair, conscious of the swift glance that passed between her two older children.
“Arrest me?” John widened his eyes at the girl. “For remaining peacefully at home on the night of the ruckus? As any of my good neighbors will attest.”
This made Nabby giggle. Even at the age of eight, she knew perfectly well that no member of the mysterious Sons of Liberty was ever without a dozen witnesses to his spotless conduct, whatever he’d been doing. Johnny, ever the stickler, asked, “Then it’s all right, Father, to lie to the King’s officers?”
—Cousin Sam, for instance
, reflected Abigail—would have answered the question with a broad wink that said,
Well, what do YOU think, my boy
? But John replied soberly, “’Tis never ‘all right’ to lie, Johnny. But men, when they are grown to the age of judgment, are sometimes forced to it by the threat of greater evil that would come upon others should the whole of the truth be told. Only God knows whether this is ‘all right’ or not. And we are now,” he added, scooping his Bible and hat from the sideboard, “well and truly late—”
Johnny picked up his own small hat, pulled his scarf over his fine blond hair, and jammed the hat on top for warmth, as Abigail put on a fresh cap and tied the strings of Nabby’s hood.
And now the whole of the congregation will see us troop in during the opening reading . . .
John picked up the little metal fire-box of hot coals and they turned toward the door into the yard—nobody in Boston went in and out their own front doors except on the most formal of occasions—and stopped with a sort of shock at the sight of looming shadows beyond the misted windows. Two men . . . Nabby caught Abigail’s hand, as if all this talk of treason, liberty, and arrest had conjured the redcoat troops from their camp. A sharp knock sounded on the panels and a voice called, “John? Are you there?”
, Abigail reflected,
be in church—which is where WE should be—
John opened the door. It was wily Cousin Sam, all right, wrapped up in his gray greatcoat and a dozen scarves, knocking the snow off his boots on the scraper. The muffled shape at his heels was the street-level organizer of the Sons of Liberty’s information network, silversmith Paul Revere.
Revere pulled the door to behind them as they stepped inside, for the morning was like frozen iron.
Sam said, “The British have arrested Harry Knox.”
Harry Knox, aged twenty-four, bookseller, was responsible for printing and distributing any number of seditious broadsides penned by the Sons of Liberty . . . and, under a variety of pseudonyms, by John. One of which, Abigail knew, was to have been printed in the cellar of his Cornhill Street shop last night. “The British—”
John asked, quite calmly, “Did they find his press? Or the pamphlets?”
Sam shook his head. “Not that I’ve heard. They took him on his way to church. He’s being charged with murder.”
bigail was accustomed to the sensation she periodically experienced of wanting to smite the husband of her bosom over the head with a stick of firewood.
She knew, when John looked at her following Cousin Sam’s announcement, that the next words out of his mouth were going to be the request that she take the children on to church while he and Sam consulted on the matter, leaving her to speculate, through the two and a half hours of the Reverend Cooper’s sermon, upon who young Harry—whose youth had been surprisingly rowdy for a scholarly bookseller—was supposed to have murdered and why it was the British Army authorities who had come for him rather than the Boston constabulary.
And she knew, too, that if she was going to set a good example to the children about refraining from quarrels on the Sabbath, she could not protest.
Feeling blackmailed, she said brightly, “Come now Johnny, Nabby, we are woefully late,” and took each child by the hand. John handed his Bible to Nabby, and Sam—whom Abigail would cheerfully have brained with a skillet—opened the door for them.
As she had anticipated, the entire congregation of the Brattle Street Meeting-House turned in its pews and stared as she led her children—fatherless—down the aisle in the middle of the first reading of the service, to the little whitewashed cubicle of the Adams family pew.
Devoting the whole of her mind and heart to the Reverend Cooper’s argument, “The State of the Soul Laid Bare before the Eyes of God,” was as difficult for her, she realized, as it was for Nabby and Johnny under ordinary circumstances: a reminder to herself, she reflected wryly, to be mindful that her adult concentration was only a matter of practice and degree, and not any special quality of adulthood. Given sufficient distraction—the possibility that the Provost Marshal of the King’s Sixty-Fourth Regiment might be even now on his way to arrest John for sedition, for instance—she was no more capable than her six-year-old son of focusing her thoughts.
“For behold, God did not set his mark upon Cain in the spirit of vengefulness, but in the spirit of forgiveness, that any that slew Cain should be avenged sevenfold; even Cain who had slain his brother and brought murder into the world.”
Murder. Harry Knox?
Five years ago, one might have believed it possible. Today—
Tall, fat, and scholarly, Harry had spent the years of his early teens running with the South End street-gangs and had been acknowledged as the best fistfighter in many a Pope’s Night brawl. He had helped found the Boston Grenadiers, one of the patriot militia companies, and in his position as second-in-command he’d had no trouble trouncing whoever he needed to among the ranks. But with the acquisition of his own bookshop, he had consciously and firmly put his rough-and-tumble youth behind him.