A young woman living in Puritan New England is drawn into a mysterious, spiritual journey
| LET THE DRUMS SPEAK
The Village of Quincy lay along the Shawmut Peninsula that hugged Boston Harbor. Under the watchful eye of the church, this prosperous, fruitful community hummed along harmoniously, for the most part. All souls living there were bound to the Boston Church with its strict Puritan laws intended to prevent sin and to preserve order. The community conformed to the dictates of church elders, who, when needed, meted out harsh punishments-public whipping, branding and, in extreme cases, shunning or, the even rarer, execution.
Homes situated on acres of farmland were strewn over the peninsula and onto Taylor's Island, linked to the mainland by a single stone bridge. Under the silvery glow of this night's full moon, the view south from atop Mount Wollaston revealed anchored ships bobbing in the glassy black waters of the harbor. The glow of swaying lanterns provided glimpses of the night watch circling the decks to ensure the safety of the ships and to repel thieves. Down the north slope sat the neat, timber-frame two-story home of Zebulon Cole and his wife, Grace. He was highly successful in his mercantile business and she, heavy with their first child. In the house, the glimmer of a candle moved from one window to another as Grace made her final check before evening prayers. She took extra care this night since Zeb was absent attending to business in Boston. As soon as she extinguished the last candle, Grace knelt beside her bed in the moonlight and earnestly prayed, then slipped into her warm bedclothes for a peaceful night's rest.
After only a few hours of sleep, she sat straight up, threw back the bed linens, and swung one leg then the other off the bed. Silver streaks of moonlight pierced the darkness of the room. As she stood, she eased her feet into slippers while the hem of her soft white nightgown fell around her ankles. She walked toward the bedroom door. Her shoulder grazed the frame as she passed through it, but she continued without noticing. As if being carried along by some unseen force, she passed through the long hallway, then descended the back stairs that led to the kitchen. She crossed the room and opened the back-porch door. Just before stepping into the shadowy garden, she mindlessly donned a shawl that hung there.
A cool, damp breeze ruffled her long dark hair. Dew slipped from the dense foliage of the wild verdure at the edge of the garden. Stems and branches tugged at her shawl and nightclothes as her determined gait led her farther into the dark wildness beneath the cathedral of huge trees. A spider web swept across her face leaving glistening pearls of dew on her cheek. Finally, reaching the edge of the thick brush where the tree line broke into a shock of moonlight, she stopped. In the clearing before her, an ethereal mist swirled along the ground abated only by the densely growing cornfield beyond.
Suddenly, Grace blinked, trying to focus. She shuddered as she thought, "Where am I? How is it that I've gotten here?"
A slight sense of fear swept over her as she began to hear rhythmic drumming, softer then louder and louder. Just beyond the drumming, a cadenced chant began, and the corn rustled loudly. The ground fog swirled upward toward the full moon into a narrow column just in front of the break of corn. Her slight sense of fear gave way to full panic, but she found she was unable to move except for her eyes. At the top of the whirling column of mist, she spotted the silhouette of a bird. It darted through the air before turning and looking down upon her. It hovered a moment, then swooped just short of hitting her face. A larger-than-life brilliantly colored hummingbird darted around and about her head and shoulders. With the humming of its wings beating loudly in her ears, it paused directly in front of her face. As her eyes met the unflinching gaze of the bird, the real world seemed to melt away and the bird, to assume a new form. There before her stood a dark-skinned woman covered in bluish-black tattoos wearing clothing made from animal skins. The woman cupped Grace 's face with a gossamer touch and gently spoke:
Popowuttig mishatowash! (Let the DRUMS speak!)
Popowuttig nanowash! Let the DRUMS speak truly!)
This strange woman moved her hands down Grace 's nightclothes and rested them on her swollen pregnant belly. Again, Grace tried to speak and to move, but could not. Kneeling there, this mysterious woman whispered a prayer, of sorts, as if speaking to the unborn child there:
Kchi-Mwech Gzheminido gmhyg iw sa Bimziwin. (Thank you, creator, for giving everyone life,)
Kchi- Mwech gmhyg Nigig. (Thank you for giving us parents.)
Wwishng ji namang gwayak Jimoseyg. (Guide us how to walk a good path.)
Kchi-Mwech Gzheminido ni mes.(Thank you, creator, for my grandchild.)
Then, she stood and again gazing intensely at Grace, said, "Kuwumaras (I love you)." The woman turned and walked toward the cornfield. The corn rustled as she entered, then no sound; no sound at all. The drumming and chanting had stopped abruptly. The air was still. Grace fell to her knees, her nightgown crumpling on the ground around her. She breathed deeply and urgently as if she'd been holding her breath. As she raised her heavy, pregnant body from the damp ground, mysterious feelings began to swell and tears welled in her eyes. She rushed across the garden, up onto the porch, and back into the kitchen. She stopped to catch her breath and to get a drink. Standing alone in the darkened kitchen sipping the cool water, she found she was unable to stop thinking how familiar the dark-skinned woman seemed and how she somehow understood parts of the native language. As she crawled back into her warm, familiar bed, she whispered to herself, "I must visit Sister Rebekah just after breakfast tomorrow."
After a fitful night's sleep, Grace woke early. Through her bedroom window, she saw the sun had not yet broken the distant tree line and a gray mist still hung just above the ground. The dissonant gurgling croaks of Ravens dragged her thoughts back, back to the eerie chanting and the indigene who had come from the cornfield. Grace tried to convince herself that what had happened was only a dream, but suddenly noticed something was impeding her movements by snagging on her bedding. Throwing back the covers, she looked upon twigs and crisp brown leaves tangled in the hem of her nightgown. She wildly pulled at this leaf litter, threw open the sash, and tossed it out. Had the events of last night actually happened?
She fell to her knees beside her bed, clasped her hands at her forehead, and fervently prayed aloud, "Compassionate Lord, Your mercies have brought me to the dawn of another day. Vain will be its gift unless I grow in grace, increase in knowledge, and ripen for the spiritual harvest. Through grace, let my will respond to You only, knowing that the power to obey is not in me, but that Your free love alone enables me to serve You. If others deem my faith folly, my meekness infirmity, my zeal madness, my hope delusion, my actions hypocrisy, may I rejoice to suffer for Your name. Amen.
Grace stood and was somewhat comforted by her humble petition to her maker. She rushed through her morning routine hoping to abate last night's feelings of panic that had once again poured over her. She reminded herself how nice it will be to see her sister-in-law, Rebekah. Familiar sounds from the kitchen below pulled her back into the now and the warm sunlight filling her room somewhat quelled her unnerving feelings. She tiptoed down the front staircase and was greeted by Phoebe who was setting a hearty breakfast on the dining table.
Phoebe looked up from her task. "Good morning, ma'am. Did you sleep well last night?"
Grace looked across the table at Phoebe's young tender face. The sight of that sweet face resurrected a memory of the young girl weeping and sitting alone on the dock upon her arrival in New England. Grace had sat next to her along one of the moorings and with just a light touch to her shoulder, Phoebe let loose a story of her parents falling ill aboard ship and how thoughts of their dead bodies slipping over the railing into the ocean were still raw in her mind. Grace had such a strong sympathetic, maternal reaction that she swept her up and took her home. She and Zeb argued at length before taking her on as an indentured servant. He had insisted that a thirteen-year-old girl was far too young to run a household. Grace prevailed, though, by appealing to her husband's strong Puritan sensibilities that it would be a sin to turn such an innocent out into a world that would surely exploit her vulnerability. Zeb finally agreed to a temporary arrangement, but under Grace 's tutelage, Phoebe had become a permanent fixture in the Cole household.
"Good morning, Phoebe. I was a little restless last night. I hope I didn't disturb you when I came down to the kitchen for a drink."
"Oh, no, ma'am, but you should've awakened me. I know you need help being with child and with Mr. Cole away."
"Oh, I was fine, but thank you. I see you've done a fine job preparing breakfast. It looks delicious. Please join me in prayer before we eat."
They clasped hands and bowed as Grace recited, "O most gracious God, and loving Father, who feeds all creatures living, which depend upon Thy divine providence. We beseech Thee to sanctify these creatures, which Thou hast ordained for us; give them virtue to nourish our bodies in life and health; and give us the grace to receive them soberly and thankfully, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, and only Savior. Amen."
Grace sat and sipped her tea then savored a bite of hasty corn and ham pudding, one of her favorite dishes. Mealtime made her yearn for England. Those, who had arrived years earlier with their British recipes, had regrettably found that barley, wheat, and rye - staples back home - had failed to flourish in New England's harsh weather and rocky soil. Out of necessity, the ingenuity of the wives had come to bear when they adapted their cherished Old World recipes by substituting cornmeal or Indian corn for the more familiar grains. Although grateful for those women and their recipes, for Grace, it simply wasn't the same.
As she spread strawberry jam on a slice of bread, she instructed Phoebe, "I'll need James to prepare the carriage for I'll be going to Sister Rebekah's this morning."
"Excuse me, ma'am, but I had my breakfast earlier, so with your permission, I'll see to preparing your carriage."
"Yes, of course, thank you."
Just as she finished her meal, James stepped into the room and announced, "Your carriage is ready, Mrs. Cole. I'll be out front waiting for you."
"Thank you, James. I need to pack a few things so I'll be ready in just a bit. Would you, please, tell Phoebe I need her help?"
"Yes ma'am." James bowed then headed to the back of the house.
Grace went to her writing desk, took up a pen, and began making a list when Phoebe appeared. "James said you needed help?
"Yes, please get a food basket from the cellar then gather a few things to put in it for Sister Rebekah. First, slice enough ham for three, then wrap a bit of butter in a cabbage leaf and cotton dish towel. We'll need a loaf of rye bread and some baked beans. Oh, yes, and the leftover pound cake. That should make a hearty lunch, don't you think? When you've finished, please see that James gets them to put in the carriage."
"Yes, ma'am. I'll see to it right away."
"Thank you, Phoebe." Grace cleared the writing desk, then headed to the front hall. She peered into the mirror that hung there while tucking her hair under her coif and donning her Brunswick. She checked her reflection and adjusted the jacket so her ever-growing belly was modestly covered, then tossed the hood forward over her head. When she stepped outside she found James and Phoebe loading the food basket in the carriage. He offered a hand, then gingerly assisted her up and onto the seat under the protective cover of the bonnet. One last time he circled the carriage checking the harnesses, strappings, wheels, and brakes before boarding.
"I secured the food basket in back. Are you comfortable, ma'am?"
"Yes, James, I'm fine. Now, let's be on our way." James clicked at the horses, slapped the reins, then guided the team and carriage to head south on the road that led to Boston. Phoebe watched until the carriage disappeared around a bend.
Grace 's eldest brother, Ruben Emmett Moser, and his wife, Rebekah, lived about an hour south, halfway between Shawmut and Boston. Grace always enjoyed this trek along Boston Harbor, but today she felt every bump and jerk by way of pain in her lower back.
"James, the carriage seems to be riding a bit roughly."
"Yes, ma'am. I think one of the wheels needs tending. I'll make a trip to the wheelwright tomorrow morning and while I'm in town, thought I'd have the farrier tend to the horses. I think Bess, here, may be ready to throw a shoe."
"That sounds perfect, James. I know Mr. Cole will appreciate having a smoother riding carriage when he returns."
As a diversion from the pain, she focused on the scenery she had always so admired. Salt Cedars and Oaks stooped leeward over the road under the constant assault of the wind's bluster off the ocean. Where the tree line broke, she held tight to her hood and pulled it close to keep the damp salty wind from slapping her delicate white skin. She peered around the edge of her hood to view the stony coastline that occasionally gave way to sandy, pebbled beaches. The harbor waters roiled and slapped the rocks with angry abandon today and an ominous shelf of gray hung over the outermost boundary of the harbor.
"I certainly picked an uncertain day to visit my brother's wife, haven't I? Those clouds most certainly don't portend good." Grace startled at the crack of lightening streaking down into the open waters.
"Yes, ma'am, but I'd like to think that storm will pass us by. But don't worry, I'll get you to Mr. Moser's safely. We don't have far to go. See there, that's the beginning of their property's fence." With another crack of the whip, the horses shook their heads, snorted, and picked up their pace. They followed the stone fence until they spotted a break where a sign hung imprinted with "Moser Farms." James turned onto the property and headed up the curved path. Atop the hill sat a large two-story stone home with a sprawling veranda that overlooked Massachusetts Bay. A cherry orchard stood on one side of the road and an apple orchard, on the other. Across the hay meadow was an imposing red barn and next to it were fenced areas where farmhands tended cows, sheep, and slopped pigs in their wallow. A separate brick building, where smoke billowed from the chimney, held an assortment of smoked meat and fish.
"This is certainly a grand property, Mrs. Cole. You brother has certainly been blessed."
"Yes, by God's grace, he has. He works hard to make a success of his shipbuilding company. A number of those ships out there," she said while waving her hand across the distant view of Massachusetts Bay, "were most likely built by my brother and his crew."
One of the housemaids, who had been taking in the laundry drying on clotheslines, ran into the house. By the time their carriage stopped at the door, Rebekah was waiting to greet them near the front steps.
"Well, bless my eyes! Is that, my dear Grace? What a nice surprise. Let me help you down." After she and James assisted her off of the carriage, Grace and Rebekah embraced. "Please, come in quickly. Looks like the weather might take a turn."
While James retrieved the food basket, Grace and Rebekah entered the house. "How have you been, Sister? Oh, yes, I brought some food for us to have at lunch."
"Thank you, Grace. Come this way, James, and we can put that in the kitchen. Please, Grace, let me take your coat and have a seat right in there." Rebekah pointed to their parlor, then headed to the kitchen with James.
Grace circled the parlor, then stepped through one of the open floor-to-ceiling windows that flanked the front veranda. The cool breeze suddenly changed. An icy blast of a down-draft from the approaching storm buffeted the veranda and sent a chill down her spine. She stepped back into the house. As she glanced around the room to find a place to sit, she noticed the handsome furniture. The settee and other chairs and tables were smoothly hewn of maple and oak. She ran her fingers along the burled inlay of a game table and turned the wooden boxes that lay there to read the titles painted on them, The Mansion of Happiness, Pope and Pagan, and Reward of Virtue, all new board games that sparked a bit of giddiness in Grace. She had heard about these new games and longed to have one. Once she had tried to convince Zeb of their value of promoting spiritual growth and advancement, but he simply scoffed at what he thought to be highly frivolousness diversions.
"Oh, Grace, please, do have a seat. Let's get you off your feet," Rebekah entreated. She took Grace 's hand and guided her to the settee. "You've been so blessed in your new life as wife to Zeb with your new house and now a child on the way. Come, tell me about everything. How are you settling in? How's Zeb's business and the farm?"
"Yes, the Lord has so graced us with such prosperity and love." Grace touched the spot where she felt her baby move. "Zeb's working so hard between the farm and his mercantile business. He's in Boston right now for a few days. It's rather exciting, though. He's speaking with a clothier and haberdasher. He's proposing to bring these services to be right here in Shawmut."
"Wouldn't that be wonderful! If he's successful, we won't have to make that overnight trip to Boston to shop for fabric and sewing notions."
"Yes, and it'll be so nice when I need yarn to knit baby clothes and blankets." Grace leaned closer to Rebekkah, glanced at the floor, and placed her hand on her knee.
"What is it, Grace? You look so serious. Nothing's wrong with the baby, is it?"
"Oh no, the baby and I are fine, praise God. I want to ask you about a dream I had last night. It was quite intense and has confused me some. I don't know, maybe God's trying to tell me something and I need your help to figure it out."
A crack of lightening and a long low rumble of thunder interrupted their conversation, then suddenly, an almost unearthly darkness swept over the house. Another flash of lightening let loose wind-driven rain that blew almost horizontally through the veranda windows. An oil lamp blew over, rolled across the game table, then crashed to the floor. Rebekah and Grace shuddered and grabbed each other in a tight embrace. All of the servants and field hands descended upon the house, slamming windows shut, mopping puddles of rain, clearing the glass from the floor, and lighting candles and lamps. One field hand added an armful of wood to the hearth and stoked the coals to bring a warming fire to life.
"Thank you, Edward. That's much better now, isn't it, Grace? Now, back to your dream. Tell me all about it, my dear."
With the turbulent storm battering the windows with rain and wind, Grace began her haunting tale. She chose her words deliberately and carefully weighing how much she'd reveal since some of last night's events felt so unworldly and strange. "I dreamed of a woman. A stranger to me, yet somehow familiar. She wore clothing and had markings on her skin similar to those I saw when some Algonquin Indians were trading furs down on the Boston Bay docks."
"Oh, my, what did this woman do in your dream?
"She spoke to me in a strange language of which I understood little, but somehow understood she was concerned for my unborn child. Not in a bad way, though. I sensed love in her tone and actions. I know this all sounds so odd, but it has occupied my thoughts frenquently."
Sister Rebekah crossed the room and warmed her hands over the fire. "Well, let's see. When I was expecting my children, from time to time, I too had intense feelings and odd dreams. Maybe it's because you're with child that you had such a dream."
"Sister, why won't you face me when you speak? Is something wrong?"
Sister Rebekah turned to face her. "Of course nothing's wrong, Grace, but I'd feel better if you stayed the night here with us. I mean, so you may speak with your brother about this when he returns this evening. Oh, look at the time, you must be getting hungry for lunch. You relax here and I'll see to the meal preparations and arrange a place for James and your carriage for the night." She pulled up a small upholstered gout stool and lifted Grace 's feet to rest on it.
"Thank you, Sister. I appreciate your invitation, but perhaps James should go back home after the rain lets up. My housemaid is there alone and he can let her know when I'll be returning."
"Why, yes, of course. I'll let him know for you. You know, I just remembered some clothing in the attic that I wore when I was with child. They'll be perfect for you. How nice to have you as company for the night."
Rebekah headed to the kitchen in the back of the house while Grace settled back on the settee. She closed her eyes and listened to the rain drops striking the roof. Under the influence of their rhythm, she drifted off into a light sleep. Sometime later, she awakened to a light touch on her hand.
"Grace, lunch is ready in the dining room. Do you feel like eating or would you rather continue your napping upstairs?"
"Oh, I didn't realize how tired I was. Yes, let's eat something."
Just as they finished their meal, the rain let up. Sister Rebekah suggested they take in some fresh air on the front porch and wait for Ruben ride up the path. After settling in there, Grace breathed deeply and thought how she loved the smell of damp freshly cut hay. They watched James head down the front path to return to the Cole's home. The two rocked and exchanged stories until the sun hung low over the bay. They admired the vibrant glowing tangerine reflecting on the last of the storm clouds.
Rebekah fidgeted with the buttons that ran down the front of her blouse and adjusted her shawl. "Ruben's later than usual. Hope nothing has happened. I mean that storm came up rather suddenly. Last time this happened a ship in dry dock came loose and a couple of his building crew were badly injured."
"Look there, Rebekah, he's fine." Grace pointed to Ruben riding up the path.
Rebekah leaned forward and clasped her hands over her heart as she intently watched Ruben atop the galloping horse. "He's still such a fine-looking, strong man, isn't he? Even after all of these years, I still feel such exhilaration upon seeing him." As he dismounted, she tripped down the stairs to greet him. They clasped hands and he smiled then planted a lingering kiss on her cheek.
"Well, who do we have here? Could it be my very pregnant baby sister?" Ruben leaned forward and gave Grace a light peck on forehead. "What a nice surprise! It's so nice you're here. What brings you to our home?"
"Why don't we talk about that later. Besides, Ruben, you really need to get cleaned up before supper." Rebekah took his arm and guided him toward the door, then motioned to Grace. "Come, Grace , let's get ready for supper."