We are back to 17th Century Rhode Island with Josephine and Davis in Dawn over Narragansett Bay. A tale of a young widow’s anger with God and fear for her son’s future.
Click here to read previous chapters. Also, please leave a comment if you are interested in reading more chapters from this work on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If there is enough interest, then I will begin posting chapters on these days as well. The story will move more quickly that way.
Leaves crunched beneath Josephine’s and Mr. Owen's feet as they walked along the path toward the storehouses. Her twisted ankle still pained her, but Mr. Owen took care to go slow. That was kind of him. Everything she saw of him this week expressed his kindness and goodness. However, he did seem to be hiding something.
She shrugged her shoulders. Time would tell, no doubt. “Why did you come here, to be an apprentice, I mean?”
“’Twas my father’s dying wish.” His cheeks twitched.
He did not seem comfortable to speak of his past. Why so?
“My uncle arranged it.” He helped her over a log that crossed the path.
“He made arrangements through Governor Coddington?”
He looked down for a moment, then gave a short huff and smiled. “Not directly.” He pointed to an opening in the path. “We are near the storehouses.”
Josephine frowned. Maybe his past was darkened with evil works, and he was trying to put them behind him. “So we are.” But a mysterious past, she did not find that a hindrance. ‘Twas what one did in the here and now that mattered.
They stepped into the clearing where two large wigwams stood. The domed shelters always looked formidable to Josephine, like gigantic snails.
On this visit, she saw nothing to suggest any mischief in the darkening field, but she didn’t expect to find trouble. “My brother wishes to build larger houses this year.” She glanced at Mr. Owen. “But I expect he told you that. He believes he can encourage more trade with the Indians for furs and other items.”
“I’m surprised he leaves them unattended for most of the day and through the night.”
“We know all who live in Newport, and no one has reason to steal . . . until now.” She lifted her chin toward the setting sun. “As you see, to the west are cliffs. One can’t escape that way. The trail we came down leads only to our home. It would be most difficult to cut through the brush, as thick as it is. And to the east and south are similar forests. In essence, nearly impossible to come upon except one pass our house or climb the cliff.” She tapped a rock out of her way. “In fact, some of our citizens consider it so safe they store valuables in strong boxes here, like they would at the goldsmith’s in our village in Massachusetts.”
“But if someone were desperate enough. . . ”
Josephine nodded. “I won’t deny that it is somewhat vulnerable. ‘Twould be difficult, however, to get away with large amounts, and anything of great value is kept under lock in those heavy chests. Too heavy for one person to lift. I believe it took two men to place them in the storehouse when they were empty. I can’t imagine how many it would take to remove them full.”
As they stepped into the clearing she could see that the thatched roofs showed no sign of breakage, the walls were intact and the batten doors were still held in place with strap hinges and wooden latches. “I will get Nathaniel’s ledger.”
Each day that week they had taken inventory when men brought pelts and such from their winter hunting excursions. A tedious job, but she’d come to enjoy it. In anticipation of a shipment soon to leave, members of the settlement added daily to the stores. She would not remember each item without consulting the ledger.
Mr. Owen scanned the area and scratched the stubble growing on his face. He pointed to a bird taking flight over the brush in the southern corner of the field.
Her heart thumped against her chest. This would be the most time her brother had left Mr. Owen and her alone together. With his earlier comment and this move, he must be matchmaking.
They moved across the meadow, a place filled with recollections of Little William crawling through the grass and learning to walk then run. Josephine paused to take in the memories.
Perhaps Nathaniel had included her in this business in order to keep her from bothering Sarah. Truth was, she hadn’t always been kind when they first moved to Newport, thoughtlessly telling Sarah what she should do.
“Are you okay? Do you need to rest your ankle awhile?” Mr. Owen touched the small of her back, a warm touch, not possessive, not seductive, just tender.
“I am fine.” She dropped her chin to her chest to hide her blush. “I was just remembering Little William taking his first step by that rock.” Her gaze fell upon a muddy patch where a woman’s clog, about the size of her own feet, had left a clear print. “This is strange. I haven’t been near this rock since the last rain, yet there is a print like mine.”
Mr. Owen knelt by the impression. He glanced at her clogs. “Are you certain? We’ve been to the storehouses several times this week. Of course, it does look fresh.”
“I did not walk by this rock today.” Her mind raced over the days, trying to remember if any woman had come to place their goods in the wigwams, but none came to mind. Only the men had brought items.
He stood. “Another print there suggests she headed for the woods.” He pointed to a barren patch where the woman must have skidded before disappearing.
Josephine blinked several times trying to comprehend how the tracks could just vanish underneath the sprawling butternut tree that bordered the meadow. The distance from the last print to the thick honeysuckle was too great for a person to leap, and the heavy vines lacing over and around the wintergreen bush showed no sign of being trampled.
A bird called in the distance and its mate answered it. Behind Josephine and Mr. Owen, Seagulls cried out to each other. Mr. Owen turned back to the storehouses.
“Perhaps we should see if anything is missing.” She followed him. An intruder would not be good, but it didn’t mean anything was stolen. Simply a breach of security.
For the next hour they inspected every item in the storehouses and found that only enough food to be carried away by one person was missing.
Josephine set the ledger back in its chest and sighed. Might be that someone in need had resorted to thievery out of hunger. Why else would so little be taken? But who was it?
"I see no reason to be alarmed." Mr. Owen stepped from the building and scratched his head.
She stepped out as well. "Perhaps an Indian came for food? Except an Indian woman would not wear clogs."
He nodded and scanned the western horizon as though looking for some clue in the sky.
She took a step toward him. Her foot landed on a rock, and her ankle rolled to the side.
Heat rippled around her ankle, her knees buckled, and she cried out as she crumpled to the ground. “Oh, what a nuisance.” She reached for her ankle, willing herself to endure the intense pain.
Mr. Owen bent over her, his face flooded with concern. “May I look at it?”
“You mustn’t.” Her stomach rose to her throat.
“But if you leave your shoe on and the swelling—”
“You mustn’t see my ankle.” Her throat tightened. “It is unseemly.”
“You need not fear me.” His eyebrows peaked.
“I know, but . . .” Such pain she’d not ever felt. And the canvas shoe did squeeze. She reached to remove her clogs, but the movement increased the pain. “Agh.”
“Let me.” He knelt beside her ankle and gently removed her clog and the shoe.
She took shallow breaths, his touch creating more emotion in her than she would like.
His face, though, remained unreadable as he studied her injured foot.
Each press of his finger caused her to squeal. Why could she not be more graceful, like Sarah?
“When I suggested you would make a good husband, I did not think you would presume upon it.” Nathaniel’s voice caused them both to jump.
Mr. Owen pulled back and stood.
Josephine winced when she attempted to hide her foot.
“She twisted her ankle again. This time it is more serious.” Mr. Owen pointed to her swollen joint.
It did look wretched. She pressed her palms against the soil and dug her nails into the cold dirt.
Nathaniel crouched to look. “You’ll not be able to walk, by the looks of it.” He frowned and scratched his beard.
She pointed to the storehouse. “Some victuals have been taken from this storehouse. I’ve noted them in the ledger.” If only she'd not been so clumsy.
Nathaniel grimaced. “Much?”
“No. Only enough for one person to carry in her arms.” Josephine spoke through gritted teeth.
“Likely a woman.”
Mr. Owen pointed to the stone. “Mrs. Coptin found a lady’s footprint over there.”
A cold drop of sweat trickled down the side of her face. She swiped it away, and her stomach revolted at the quick movement.
“Mm. Did you note from whose stores it was taken?”
“St. Michels’.” Josephine shifted her weight to her other hip and muffled a scream.
“Davis, you best carry her home. I’ll need to inform Mr. St. Michels immediately.”
No, he mustn't carry me.
Josephine’s temperature rose. What if someone saw them? “Let me walk.”
Her brother laid a hand on her shoulder. “Your ankle is very swollen and laying at an odd angle. I would not be surprised if it were broken.”
“It isn’t. I’m sure.”
He waved her comment aside. “Even so, you must not walk on it.” The corner of his mouth lifted as though he meant to mock her. “I might surmise this was most fortuitous for you.” He glanced at Mr. Owen. “However, not for the rest of us. The Baron Pepys has arrived at our humble home, and I’m afraid he has poor Sarah in a nervous wreck. She had thought for Josephine, Little William, and Mother to sleep in the loft, and you to sleep by the kitchen fire. The baron would then take the lean-to. Seems Josephine will not be able to climb the stairs. This will change things.”
Cold rushed through her. Once more, she had made things more difficult for her family. 'Twould be better if she did not even exist. “I’m sorry. With Sarah’s condition, this could not happen at a worse time.”
Nathaniel patted her shoulder. “We’ll not dwell on what might have been. I wish to look myself at the stores then swing by St. Michels’. Tell Sarah I’ll be home shortly after dark.”
“Do you think they will be upset?” Josephine grasped his hand. ‘Twould be better if he carried her than Mr. Owen. Why this breech of etiquette? Nathaniel must truly trust this man.
“Not to worry, Josephine. They are fair people. But I do want to handle this with great care and quickly. I will admit that. We don’t want people worrying they will not receive payment for what they planned to have sold in Wales and London.”
Josephine let go of his hand and watched him enter the building behind her then looked up at Mr. Owen.
The corner of his eyes crinkled as he reached down to pick her up. “Perhaps we are getting to know each other faster than either of us planned?”
“Is that bad?” Her bosom grew cold, and she pressed her clammy palm against it.
He shook his head. “I’m enjoying myself. Aren’t you?” He wrapped his arm below her knees, taking care to keep her skirts in place, and lifted her with ease.
As her face pressed against the velvety texture of his jerkin she breathed out a smile. “I did not plan this.”
“How can I know for sure? Seems I’ve been helping you out since the moment I arrived.”
“Not true.” But he did not seem to mind, and neither did she.
Food for Thought
1. Purity in the 17th century colonies was highly revered. What does the Bible say about purity?
Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. (I Timothy 4:12)Purity in these verses means a sinless lifestyle.
The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity. (I Timothy 5:2)
I think we can all agree with that definition. Where we see a division amongst ourselves is in the notion of having no appearance of sin.
Abstain from all appearance of evil. (I Thess. 5:22)Do you think even abstaining from the appearance of evil is a part of the purity Paul exhorted Timothy to have?
2. Customs in the 17th century said that a man was not to see a woman's ankle. I remember my grandmother saying that only "ladies of the night" painted there toes--the notion being that no one needs to see your feet except your husband. To this day, I still refuse to paint my toes as the "lady of the night" words echo in my mind, though I have no problem with other women doing this. How do you determine what customs align with Biblical truth?
3. Nathaniel showed concern that Mr. Owen was taking liberties with his sister. If you came upon a similar scene today involving a sister or daughter, how would you feel? What thoughts would be running through your head? What does your reaction say about the standards you have set in relation to today's culture?