Watertown, Next Day, September 1666
William took his seat at the head of the table to begin their lessons in prophesying. He thought the children needed to read the Old Testament, a history of the agreement that God made with the Israelites, His chosen people. The stories told of the Lord’s love, but more importantly, of his wrath and punishment when they sinned. William didn’t believe his God would ever raise humankind’s status to the chosen again, even though he’d joined the church, a sign he was chosen himself. Though Jesus promised a new covenant with God through his grace, true Puritans felt they could not take that as granted. They knew they had much to learn from the Jews to keep that covenant, to avoid the fate of Israelites.
William smoothed the open pages of the great book. “Abigail, will you read for us tonight?” Abigail, who was nine, needed practice as she was the last to learn to read; her older brother and sister gladly conceded this task that all had performed in their time. Abigail read well, unlike Rebecca who stalled whenever she came to a word she could not pronounce. Abigail could sound out the words so they all could follow the story, even if she didn’t know their meanings.
Susanna, who sat near, raised the candle above the book where Abigail stood squinting to read the sacred text. Her mother had opened the Bible to the Book of Exodus, Abigail's favorite so far. Her father liked the Exodus best, too, as it mirrored his own wandering from England to the wilds of Massachusetts. Their mother’s parents too had followed God’s chosen leaders. Abigail had read the story of the Red Sea last week and wanted to know what miracle would befall Moses’s followers next. She began to read the verses that recounted God’s saving the Israelites from starvation in the desert.
When she had finished, William began the discussion. He turned to Will. “The people complained to Moses. Why?”
Will’s cheeks were pink from flames crackling in the hearth. He knew the answer. “They were starving. They said they were so hungry they’d been better-off if they’d died in Egypt.”
“Does that remind you of anyone today?”
Will thought but shook his head. “We aren’t starving.”
Abigail chimed in, “It’s like Goody Livermore, isn’t it? I mean, when anything goes wrong, she says she wishes she’d never left England. She blames it on her husband, says she never wanted to come.”
“Oh. Yeah,” Will agreed.
“Would you read that verse for us again? “William often made them repeat passages he wanted them to remember.
Abigail read: “Would we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate bread to the full. For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
“What’s a ‘fleshpot?’” Rebecca asked.
“A pot of meat,” William answered. “A stew.”
Susanna lifted baby Samuel to wrap him more securely. “Can you remember your grandfather’s story about coming to Plymouth?”
“Yes,” Will replied. “He told us half of them starved.”
“That’s fifty men, women, and children, just like us.” William wanted the reality to sink in.
“That’s right,” Susanna agreed. “The women had no food for children but the clams they gathered every day. Did they make a mistake to come?”
Abigail answered more like a teacher than a pupil. “It wasn’t Moses who brought them to the wilderness. It was God. It’s like us. God brought us here. If we complain …”
Joanna laughed, “Father scolds us!”
“And now you know why.” While William approved of Joanna’s quick wit, her levity undercut his serious mission. “You take the Lord’s name in vain to complain.”
William thought, I know I am supposed to believe I left England because of God’s will. Why don't I feel it? Has God abandoned me? He too often felt the same way that Goody Livermore did. Self-doubt ate at his faith, and he couldn’t shake the feeling that he belonged in Somerset, not Watertown. The children will never realize our trial, he thought.
He continued, “What does the Bible say? Did God teach them a lesson?”
Rebecca stirred. “God had to show them.”
“What did God show them?”
“He showed them his glory. He told Moses he’d give them meat, and manna. Then he sent the pheasants and the manna. He proved he was God.”
“He gave the women in Plymouth clams,” Will exclaimed. The children laughed.
“Did they believe then?” William relentlessly drilled.
Rebecca spoke up. “No, because they ignored what he told them. He said He gave them the right amount of manna every day. They weren’t supposed to save it until the next day, but they did it anyway.”
“Oh right,” said Will. “The food turned maggoty.”
“Ugh!” Once, Rebecca had almost stepped on maggots infesting a dead squirrel on the path.
“Just like our food,” Susanna said. “It spoils.”
“What else did He teach them?” William asked.
“He taught them to gather twice as much food the day before the Sabbath,” Joanna said.
“Why did He do that?” their mother asked.
“God didn’t give them any food on Sunday,” she said saucily. “That’s God’s day to rest. He said they must honor His day.”
“As we now do,” Rebecca said. “We prepare our food for Sunday on Saturday, so we can rest.” She knew this lesson from the past.
“Now let’s look at the New Covenant,” William said. Susanna had already opened to the New Testament, laying the red ribbon between pages at Matthew, Book 12. “What does Jesus say about keeping the Sabbath? Read Matthew 12 this week, and we’ll talk about it on Wednesday.”
“The parable of the sheep!” Will exclaimed. He knew Matthew well, and the grace of the New Testament.
They would study the bible again on Wednesday, the day that they attended Reverend Sherman’s lecture.
William had no more questions to add. They heard a lone wolf howling, and the lamp sputtered. “It’s time for bed.”
William lifted sleeping Benjamin and carried him to the four-poster bed in the master bedroom, where Susanna laid the sleeping Samuel in his cradle. Joanna rose and gathered Will, Abigail, and Rebecca. Philip followed. They climbed the stairs to the chilled loft, finding their straw pallets in the dark from memory. Abigail then led their bedtime prayer, the one they’d all learned from their New England primer. They knelt by their beds, bowed their heads, closed their eyes, and hands clasped, prayed. “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
The last coals on the hearth glowed a deep maroon. Susanna snuffed out the last candle before she joined William where he knelt by the bedside. Susanna had resisted saying the Lord’s prayer when they’d first married. Her separatist Pilgrim parents had taught her that the Lord’s Prayer and hymns were ostentatious, rote prayer that came between their personal connections with the Lord and His word. William had insisted despite her upbringing, and now, the pair said the Lord’s prayer aloud before they slept, and Susanna sang the psalms in Sunday meetings.
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