Unconditional Chapters 21 and 22
Posted: Monday, September 04, 2017
Word Count: 2793
UNCONDITIONAL – A NOVEL
The Price Family
Thomas (Local Magistrate) and Hitty (sister to Susannah)
Cousins to Adams children
Matthew (twins) (19) - married to Hannah Mason, children Pamela and Sam
The Adams Family
Increase and Susannah (local midwife and nurse)(sister to Hitty)
Cousins to Price children
The Mason Family
George (Land surveyor) and Tabitha
Hannah (18) – married to Matthew Price, children Pamela and Sam
The Parsons Family
Henry (Gristmill owner) and Betsy
The Woods Family
James (saw mill owner) and Martha
Eunice (married to Pat) (21)
The Reverend Doctor James Milne, (Calvinist) boards with
The Widow Black (Ruth)
The Paxton Family
Reverend Paxton (Arminian) and Merriam
Doctor Tom Foster
Nathanial, friend of Paxton, lawyer.
The story so far:
It is the eighteenth century in a small village of Puritan pilgrim descendants, in northern New England. Religion, Calvinism, rules people’s lives, theoretically, but the truth is somewhat different. The story reveals how deceit and hypocrisy unravel lives.
In 1771, Hannah and Verity appear to be suffering under a burden of guilt from something that happened two years previously. That something is not revealed.
The story switches to the prior period, 1769. Hannah has had a baby (called Pamela) and named Matthew Price as the father. She reveals that the father may not be Matthew but a stranger in Boston.
Matthew agrees to marry Hannah.
Polly, Matthew’s twin sister is introduced, and she helps her aunt Susannah, a midwife, with a (different) dying baby. Hannah and Matthew get married and Matthew gains an apprenticeship.
Matthew and his cousin Jack attend a hanging. Prior to that the young people read through the execution sermon (a sermon given at meeting a week before the hanging).
In the next chapter Hannah overhears an argument between the town’s Congregational (Calvinist) minister and her father. There is a new minister in town, a Universalist or Arminian, who is challenging the Reverend.
Polly is in the weekly Sabbath meeting, wishing she could go to hear the new minister. She feels too unwell to attend the afternoon meeting and stays home.
The story of Matthew and Polly’s birth (they are twins) is told, Polly finds out about Hannah’s infidelity.
A quilting bee is held for Hannah and Matthew’s wedding quilt. Hannah finds out about Polly’s condition.
The backstory of Josiah Parsons, along with those of Matthew and Hannah’s brother James. James is now living in Boston as a lawyer. Hints as to Josiah being a complete cad, his father and the Reverend having covered up his sexual misdeeds.
Polly confesses to Verity that she is pregnant to Josiah Parsons and that she is taking ‘the trade’ – abortifacient drugs. Matthew is furious. Dr Foster introduced.
Josiah relationship with Doctor Foster is examined. Hannah spends some time with the new minister’s wife Merriam who is full of gossip about the Reverend Doctor.
The Reverend Doctor Milne instigates a law suit for slander against Matthew who has been spreading rumours about him.
Jump forward two years where Matthew is trying to convince Hannah and Verity to confess and tell the truth before a judge, to an as yet unspecified crime or misdeed. Hannah fears Verity is going mad.
Back to 1769. Polly faints in (church) meeting and is visited later and lectured by Rev. Milne.
Josiah’s father has found out about the slander suit brought by Rev Milne and is furious with Josiah as they both are implicated.
Polly is forced to increase the dose of the abortifacient. Thomas Price, Matthew’s father, hears of the libel suit being brought against Matthew by Reverend Milne.
No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes. Psalm 101:7
Increase Adams was doing what he did best. Indignation.
Matthew had opened his door to a fat, red-faced, wheezing old man. His uncle. Not waiting on any ceremony, Increase got started.
How dare you slander the Reverend Doctor! he spluttered at Matthew. Who do you think you are? You may be my nephew but you are nothing compared with that learned and distinguished man.
Well, Uncle, Matthew replied. I am certain that what I say is God’s truth.
At this Increase became almost apoplectic. Matthew, embarrassed, wondered why on earth he had come out with that phrase. It was legal talk, maybe.
God’s truth! God’s truth? Do you speak of God’s truth, you ignorant heathen!
Matthew could see the man was just restraining himself from lashing out.
Uncle, if you would only listen for a short while, I could tell you why I have been saying what I have. He steered Increase’s large body into the parlour.
His uncle sat heavily in one of the two armchairs.
Have you any rum? I could use a drink.
Hannah appeared with two mugs of rum, having anticipated Uncle Increase’s appetite.
What say you, Hannah? Do you know why your husband spreads rumours about our town’s most elegant and learned man?
I do know some things, Uncle, that could justify such rumours. Verity knows more than I do, and I accept what she says as I know she is the most truthful of people. She has had first hand accounts of what the Reverend Doctor did to protect Josiah Parsons and his father from scandal. And what they did not do to protect innocent victims.
But Parsons is a good man, Increase countered. He has been a pillar of this village, giving his services for the good of the town. I know his son has a reputation for chasing the girls but surely he is an inoffensive enough boy, surely he does not cause serious trouble.
Would you call rape serious trouble, Uncle? asked Hannah. What about getting two innocent girls with child and then abandoning them? Is that serious enough?
You mean a girl has cried rape against Josiah Parsons?
Not one girl, Uncle, but two. But they haven’t cried rape, they had to leave the village to cover the shame, on the promise of the Reverend to pay them well to keep quiet. They haven’t sworn rape as they know they would not be believed. And they have not been paid either.
Oh Lord! Increase sighed deeply. Still, it is their word against his. They may be lying.
Ask your wife, Increase. Ask my Aunt Susannah. She knows quite a lot. But she clearly never told you about it.
And there were witnesses to both incidents, Matthew continued. We can call those witnesses still, and can prove the rapes if we have a mind to.
Increase was, for the first time ever witnessed by Matthew, lost for words. His mouth moved compulsively, twisting and grimacing, but no words emerged. He got up and paced the room, gesticulating wildly as if trying to grab words from the air.
Finally he muttered: But why cause trouble by spreading these stories about? I heard the Reverend is swearing a slander against you.
Yes, he is. And I look forward to defending that accusation, with the girls and the witnesses, in court. There will also be present a small boy who bears a remarkable likeness to Josiah.
Just at this instant, Polly entered the room. She was pale and had been crying. Her hair was mussed, with loose strands over her face. She started when she saw her Uncle. Increase stood and took her hands to bring her close enough to kiss her on the cheek.
Why Polly, you look a mess. What have you been doing?
Hello, Uncle, she replied. I’m sorry for my appearance, I did not expect to see you. I have been helping mother in the garden. I have had a reaction to some weed or other, my hands and face itch.
Oh, poor girl, Hannah bustled her away into the kitchen. I will find a salve for you.
Matthew, your sister looks positively dreadful! What can be wrong with her?
Oh she does have these reactions to some plants, Aunt Susannah must have mentioned it at times.
Of course Matthew knew that Increase Adams never listened to his wife; it was a fact that he never really listened to anyone. Even the Reverend Doctor. While he still attended meeting Matthew had caught him out a few times asking him questions about a sermon.
Well she looks very poorly. I am worried about her, Matthew. I will speak to Susannah and she must visit her. In fact we ought to call a doctor. I will see to it myself.
Matthew said a silent prayer to the God of nature: please make Increase Adams behave in his usual manner and forget all about it as soon as he leaves this house.
Well, I pray for your soul, young Matthew, Increase said as he donned his cloak. You had better be able to prove your allegations. I am off to visit the Doctor. He has been most upset by all this nonsense.
He strode to the door and let himself out. I will be praying, young Matthew.
Matthew returned to the kitchen where Polly was sitting at the table. Hannah had her arm around her shoulders. Pamela was tugging at her skirts, a worried look on her face. She looked as though she might start to cry in sympathy.
Polly brushed her cheeks and smiled wanly at Pamela.
I have a little headache, darling.
What was all that shouting about, Matty? Why was Uncle Increase so angry? Was it about your accusations? Verity told me, but I heard it from Merriam Paxton first.
Matthew hesitated. He didn’t want to upset Polly any more than she already was.
What have you done, Matthew? I hope it wasn’t for my sake. I’m in enough trouble already. What if my situation gets out?
Hannah shushed her gently, saying, it won’t affect you dearest. But don’t you want to see Josiah Parsons punished?
Poly slumped into the great kitchen chair, her head in her hands.
Oh I am so .tired of everything. I do not care what happens to Josiah. I do not even care what happens to me now.
Matthew, alarmed, sat beside Polly and held her hands. We care, Polly, we all care so much. Maybe I have been a little rash, but we all know it’s the truth and that two girls have been virtually ruined. I am no longer a believer in the wrathful God of Calvin, but I cannot stand aside and watch good people be deceived by hypocrites and scoundrels.
Judah was told, “Tamar your daughter-in-law has been immoral. Moreover, she is pregnant by immorality.” And Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.” Genesis 38:24
Polly wasn’t vomiting anymore but she was filled with a dread that totally surpassed any physical discomfort. It was a deep and horrible feeling that engulfed her and sent her to find any space or corner that was quiet so she could fight back. She tried doing what Verity did in meetings and think happy thoughts but this did not work for her. She had a dead baby inside her, she knew it now to be true. Any quickening had long since ceased and she was just heavy, heavy with guilt and heavy with dead baby. It was a horrific situation.
Josiah was coming again today and maybe he would bring the doctor again. Nothing had happened. Nothing. Josiah was starting to show signs of frustration. It wasn’t her fault, she tried to reason with herself. If anyone was at fault it had to be the doctor, whose ‘proven’ remedy was not working. But of course Josiah would not be entirely rational at this stage. She was actually surprised at how rationally she herself was thinking.
What was going to happen next, if nothing continued to happen to her body? Is it possible to keep living with a dead baby inside you? Surely not. She suddenly felt nauseous again and lay down, as the room spun around her.
Soon Verity came up the stairs with Josiah and the doctor. The sleeping chamber had been quickly tidied by Verity, but was freezing cold and still smelled of perspiration and the chamber pot, freshly emptied, still stank. Verity hurriedly pushed it under the big bed.
Josiah sat by Polly’s side and said: The Doctor desires that something else should be done as you have not responded to the trade potion. He is worried that you might die because of the dead baby inside you and that it is necessary that the baby be expelled by other means.
What sort of means? Polly asked, her voice weak and shaky.
You have done too much already, she whimpered, looking at the doctor in terror.
There is one more thing that can be done, the doctor said. I can easily deliver you of the dead foetus.
What if there is still life in it? Polly was white, shivering, teary.
Verity sat on the other side of the bed and held her hand, gently squeezing it.
That is impossible, impossible, the doctor asserted. I would say the foetus is about the size of my hand, holding up a fist.
Otherwise it would have come away. It will not come away now unless I perform the procedure I believe can make it happen.
Polly looked beseechingly at Verity. Very I am so frightened.
Josiah sounded frightened as well, but impatient for something to happen.
You will die, my dear, unless … A cold blast of air came through a crack in the ceiling.
Polly let out a low guttural moan, saying alright, do it, do whatever it is. I cannot live like this with a dead baby.
We have to be discreet, the Doctor said. We will do it tomorrow when the children are at school and your mother is still occupied with the marmalade and pickling. Tomorrow at 9 am we will be here and you must be alone. No Verity, you cannot be here in the room. No-one but Polly and I must be present. Not even Josiah.
Verity swallowed and clamped her hands together as if this would stop her from speaking.
The men left the room without another word. Polly and Verity looked at each other and burst into tears. They held each other tightly. Polly then fell onto a pillow and hugged it to her belly.
I’m so frightened, Verity, I don’t think I have ever been so frightened. I could die, couldn’t I?
Verity nodded. I have to be honest.
But if this procedure will put an end to this forever, then maybe it is best. I am so weary of all this.
After feeding samp porridge to the children, Verity hurried through a light rain to see Hannah. She found her feeding Pamela in the kitchen by the fire. Annoyingly Beth was there, and also Tabitha. She thought quickly, how could she get Hannah alone? She asked Hannah if she could show her how the wedding quilt was looking on her bed. She hadn’t seen it since they had finished it. Hannah detached Pamela and they went upstairs.
Verity what’s wrong? You look terrible! Is it Polly? What’s happened? Has she….
That is the problem, Han. Nothing has happened and Josiah and Dr Foster want to do something about it. They want to force the baby out, I assume with some kind of instrument. She shuddered, she hadn’t said this out loud before, and it filled her with pain at the thought of what Polly would suffer.
They’re going to do it tomorrow at 9 o’clock and I’m not allowed to be in the room. I want you to come and help me, Han, can you come? Please?
Oh, Verity. This is terrible. Terrible. How far gone is Polly do you think?
She remembered the pain of Pamela’s birth. And then she had a beautiful live baby to show for it, Polly would have nothing.
Can you come, please Han?
I think I can, let’s go back down and you invite me over to help you with spinning, I don‘t think Mother or Beth had anything specific planned for me. Let’s hope not. Oh, Verity, how awful, how awful. Of course I must be there; Polly will need us desperately after it is over.
The plan was made without objections from Beth or Tabby. Verity breathed heavily with relief as she left the Mason house and hurried home.