When I woke again it was the Sabbath, and I threw back my covers, eager to see the meeting house where the prayer service would be held. Tom was gone but Andrew still lay on the pallet, his back to me. His breathing seemed queer, halting and shallow. I reached over to shake him, and his body was warm. He moaned softly and mumbled but did not rise. I told him it was morning and he must ready himself for leaving. I was already dressed and on the stairs before he sat up, clutching his head. His color was high and the shadows under his eyes were dark like bruises. He slowly put a silencing finger to his lips and I went quickly down to the light of the common room. Soon after, Andrew followed, his fingers still fumbling to button his shirt and pants, as though his hands had lost their strength.
As soon as we were able, we left, bundled together in the wagon. Grandmother sat in front between Mother and Father and spoke to us at length of the warmth of the Andover fellowship. After a time Mother said, "I pray that may be so, for though I have not been there for some time, I remember well enough there is little fire to keep a body warm."
Grandmother said sharply, "Martha, you have always spoken for the attention it would bring you. You put your soul and the souls of your children at peril. You, and your family, have come back to live in my home, and it is by my rules that you shall live. The day of the Sabbath is for prayer, and prayer we shall have."
I looked with stealth at my mother's rigid back. I had never heard anyone speak so harshly to her without a quick answer in return. Father coughed into his fist but said nothing. The meeting house was larger than I had imagined it to be, and as we tied up the horse's reins, we saw a town full of people entering through the forward doors. Many faces were turned our way, some in curiosity, a few in open hostility. Just outside the doors stood an aged woman ringing with both hands a large brass bell. Grandmother nodded to her and told me she was the widow Rebecca Johnson, who rang the bell signaling the beginning of service. Many years before, she said, a man would have been selected by the town to beat a drum, marking the beginning of services and ending the day's toil in the fields.
The placement of the people for services was of solemn and inviolable importance. The wealthiest and most prominent families sat close to the front near the pulpit, and so backwards until the last rows were filled with the town's least fortunate or newly arrived citizens. Grandmother had a place of prominence on the women's side, and after much jostling and shaking of heads took place at our presence, space was made for Mother, Hannah, and me. Father and Richard sat across from us with the other men, and Andrew and Tom sat in the gallery above us. I could turn my head and see them clearly, Tom looking expectantly about, Andrew with his head cradled in his hands. I started to wave to Tom but Mother grabbed my hand and pushed it back into my lap.
The pews were set together close and I wondered how Father would fold his long legs to fit under them through the entire service. The building was as cold within as without, and so I was grateful for the number of bodies pressed together for warmth. There was a constant and frigid passage of air rushing past my legs, and through the long hour on the hard bench, my feet and my backside battled for prominence in discomfort. And then a collective sigh went out as the Reverend Dane swept forward past the pews. He seemed to rush towards the pulpit as though his eagerness for spreading the Gospel might overpower him and cause him to begin sermonizing before attaining his lofty position in front of the congregation.
The Reverend Dane was seventy years of age in that year, yet he had all of his hair and carried himself with great vigor. I cannot say in truth that I remember much of what he said that day but I do remember the tone of it well. My expectations were that we were to have a full mea sure of hellfire and damnation, as we had had in Billerica, but he read from Ephesians and spoke pleasantly of the Children of Light. I would later learn that one of the men sitting in the front pew, frowning, was his adversary, the Reverend Thomas Barnard. He had looked hard at us as we entered, pursing his lips and shaking his head at me when I did not drop my eyes in modesty. As I practiced rolling the name "Ephesians" round my tongue, I carefully moved my head so that I could catch a glimpse of Andrew and Tom. Andrew had his head nesting in his arms, but Tom looked transfixed upon the Reverend.
Copyright © 2008 by Kathleen Kent
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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