Aunt Fiona left us the following morning. She adjusted her ruffles and ribbons around her and settled onto the seat of the carryall beside the tremulous (and very prompt) driver from Sheffield, whom Fiona knew she could bully with ease. Unlike her impossible brother and his unruly brood.
When she had gone, and my brothers were off about their chores, Papa and Mama walked slowly around to the back of the house, arm-in-arm, with me trailing along behind them.
"I don't know, Molly," I heard my father sigh. "Perhaps it's wrong of me to keep you all isolated out here. Maybe the boys ought to have all the advantages of the merchants' sons. Maybe it wouldn't hurt Victoria to have a petticoat or two," I heard him chuckle as I skipped past them, in pursuit of one of the barn cats who had just come scampering out of the hedge.
|19th Century cariole, or "carryall."|
"And what of you?" Papa went on, gazing at Mama. "You, who could not imagine me wanting to leave the glamor of Boston for a farm. Wouldn't you like to live in a great city with a fashionable home and a fine carriage?"
"Do not talk nonsense!" Mama laughed. "Don't you remember what you once told me about Boston? You said it was a cold place, as full of folly, prejudice, and greed as any grand European capital. You would be miserable there, Ewan, and how could I ever be happy if you were miserable?
"Look around you," and here, Mama made an arc with her free arm that seemed to take in the blue sky, the corn field, just beginning to sprout with green, the line of birches and hickories leading down to the river, and the purple hills beyond. "I have everything I could ever want right here. The children safe. And you—in a fairly rational temper most of the time."
Papa smiled and bent down to kiss Mama, right out in the open. I had run off a way with the cat, who was now rolling on her back at my feet, begging to be petted, but I was still near enough to hear my parents' voices.
"What do you think about Victoria?" Papa asked.
"What about her?"
"Perhaps we ought to start sending her to church." My papa sighed. "A child ought to know her catechisms, and all that—"
"Why, Ewan MacKenzie!" Mama was grinning at him. "You mean you would subject your own daughter to the hard-hearted God you used to rant about at such length?"
"Well, perhaps he deserves another chance." Papa shrugged, smiling a bit sheepishly. "After all, he did send me you."
"It is not for us to guess what forces brought us together," said Mama. "It may have been one of the Hotinoshonni gods. It may have been Orenda, the unknown power that guides our lives. It may have been sheer chance that brought you to the market in Stockbridge the day my mama had such fine corn to sell."
"True enough,"Papa agreed, slipping an arm around Mama's shoulders. "Indeed, it does seem a bit out of character for God the Father, now that I think on it."
Mama laughed softly. "Tory has plenty of time for God, for all the gods," she assured Papa. "You've got her reading already, and your family Bible is always there for her to discover, whenever she likes. After that..." Mama grinned mischievously. "Well, if she ever asks for more particulars on the subject, we can always pack her off to her Aunt Fiona!"
My parents' soft chuckles told me they weren't serious. But I felt an uneasy shudder just the same.
(Iroquois Corn Husk mask, date unknown. Ceremonial masks of corn husks or tree bark imbued the shaman wearing them with the power of the natural spirit world.)