Thursday, November 18, 2010

Master of My Own House

Concord, Quatsino
April 1731

Zeke Grimm caught Christian Warden's arm as he was filing out of the church with his family. "A moment, brother," he said. "Can I speak with you?"

Christian gave him a sour look, then looked at his feet and nodded. "Wait for me at the bottom of the hill," he said to his wife, who looked fearfully between him and Zeke and then obeyed, whispering to their children as she went.

"Another beautiful sermon, Ezekiel," said Elijah Carpenter, coming out of the church and shaking Zeke's hand. "I wanted to ask you about that passage in Mark that -- "

"Thank you, Elijah," said Zeke. "Please excuse me a moment, I'll be right back."

He gently took Christian's shoulder and guided him away from the church door down the path a few steps, away from the milling people. From here, since the church stood on a hill, they had one of the best views in Concord: south and west down over the quilt of farms and forests, from which mists and chimney smokes were still rising under the hazy late morning sun, and out to where Boston's glittering harbor could just be glimpsed. Beyond it rose the high white peaks of New York's mountains.

"Christian, I'm sorry to pull you away," said Zeke, "but I think this is important. I need to speak with you about Reverence and Steadfast."

"What about them," said Christian, still staring at his feet.

"Christian," said Zeke, as gently as he could, "everyone can see you beat your wife and son, and harshly."

"They need correcting," said Christian. "I don't beat my daughters, they're perfect angels. Besides, that's my family's business. Ain't I master of my own house?"

"Maybe so," said Zeke, "but you can correct them with a word; and if they won't listen to a word, just as much flesh as necessary. I never need to lay a hand to my wife and sons. Justice and Noah and Emmanuel aren't perfect people, and neither am I, but we settle our problems and live together in peace, as God wills it."

Zeke paused, but Christian said nothing. "Christian, I hesitated to speak with you about this, but Reverence's wrists and cheeks were black and blue, and Steadfast's face was bleeding. I -- "

Christian still looked at his feet. "I'm master of my own house," he mumbled. Zeke couldn't see his face, but he heard a hard edge of defiance in his voice.

"And God is master of your soul," he said. "And I am here to stand with you and God, and I tell you that God is a God of mercy, and he looks kindly on those who show mercy."

"They won't mind me," Christian growled. He was getting angrier and angrier. "They don't do as I say."

Zeke pushed on. "They will do as you ask if you show them mercy, as our Lord does," he said. "Reverence and Steadfast are kind and gentle people, and -- "

"Are they?" snapped Christian, looking at Zeke for the first time. "And how is it you know so much about that?"

Zeke blinked and took a step back. Christian squinted at him, and poked his chest, and his voice dropped to a hiss. "You listen to me, preacher. You're a holy man. And you come from a rich family; your great-grandmother was Virginia Dare. So maybe you know what's right and what's wrong. I'm just a farmer, maybe I don't know. But is it right when a holy man lies with a woman who ain't his wife? Is it? And is it right when a wife lies with a man who ain't her husband? And is it right when she bears a child by that man? Is it?"

Zeke felt faint. How could he -- "Christian, what are you saying? Are you accusing -- ?"

"Damn right I'm accusing," whispered Christian, his eyes blazing. "I know you're Steadfast's father. I know it, and half the town knows it. So you tell me if that's right, preacher."

Zeke could not look at him. He had nothing to say.

"That's right," said Christian. "You just look away. You just mind your own business. And I'll mind mine. And I'll order my family as I see fit."

Christian stamped off down the hill to his waiting wife and children, and Zeke watched him go, numb with shock. He was still watching them as they passed out of sight down the road, but Reverence did not look back.

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