My cousins Mollie and Nancy gathered around my aunt Jean at the pianoforte, and as the opening chords of the ballad “Turtle Dove” tore at my heart, I picked up baby William and dodged my mother’s restraining hand.
“Anna, stay and listen to the music.”
“He needs his napkin changed.”
“Do you forget we have servants for that?”
“Don’t trouble Phillis or Lynn, Mother. I’ll do it.” My cousins’ voices drifted after me as I hurried from the room.
Fare you well, my dear, I must be gone, and leave you for a while; if I roam far away, I’ll come back again, though I roam ten thousand miles, my love . . .
Upstairs, I shut my chamber door to muffle the rest of the song, hugged William close, and fought back tears. No letters, no word from Benjamin in two months. Most of the time I could bear his absence, but tonight I missed him so keenly I was terrible company. Time spent changing little William’s napkin would grant me a short respite from my family’s Twelfth Night celebration.
Our son’s dark hair and bright brown eyes echoed his father’s, and when he smiled, my warring feelings of joy and sadness threatened to overwhelm me. How I would have preferred to be at home, with just Benjamin and our children. Instead, he was somewhere in Pennsylvania with the army, and the children and I were in exile at my uncle’s house. Our young ones had no memory of fat turkeys, mistletoe, and simple, cozy holidays spent at our dear little home near the apple orchard. The house stood empty and forlorn for a second winter. My own memories were fading.
The baby chortled as I kissed his feet in their knitted booties. “Your father will be so excited to meet you when he comes home, my sweet boy.” When that would be, I could not say. Though it was like picking a wound that wouldn’t heal, my eyes strayed to the ribbon-bound packet of letters on the escritoire. Better to stay in my chamber, where it was quiet, and re-read every one of Benjamin’s letters.
I had long been under the spell of my husband’s words. Most of our courtship was conducted by correspondence, and even now, after ten years of marriage, his writing and oratory skills kept their hold on me. In the pulpit, he had the power to lift a congregation. In an ordinary, he could raise a mug of ale and inflame the passions that drove men to seek political change. I often faded into the background of his public life, just as he let me tend to mine without interference. But at home, we treasured our intellectual discourse. It was one of the many facets of our marriage that bound us, one to the other. At home, we were equals.
I suppose that was why his decision not to consult me before arranging for me to live here, at Uncle’s, still hurt.
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