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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

One More Chance to Pray

EXCERPT Abigail – November 23, 1872

Rooster Waiting, CC0
Rooster Waiting, CC0

I dropped my apron on the floor and stood sideways before the lookin’ glass. I pressed my dress tightly over my stomach. All color drained from my face. I adjusted the stomacher this way and that, and I still could not hide my changin’ shape. I pulled my apron over my head and stared at my reflection. I have to wear this apron at all times. I tied it loosely.

The door crashed. “It’s too cold to be out there for long and winter ain’t even here!” Mrs. Blake stomped into the kitchen.

I tiptoed out of her room.

“Where is that girl?” One would think that she had a broken bone the way she moaned as she pulled a ceramic crock from the shelf.

I loosened the apron ties a bit.

“Abigail?” She called me the way Grampa Wills used to call the pigs, startin’ real low and then shriekin’ up like a woman in church tryin’ to hit a high note.

“Yes?” I paused in the doorway.

“Did you collect the eggs?”

“Yes. I did all my chores.” I slipped my hands inside my pockets. “I put them there like always.” I looked at the basket on the cabinet shelf and then quickly pulled my hands out of my pockets when I noticed the bulge. I got to keep the apron hangin’ loosely.

“I ain’t heard your rooster these days. Somethin’ musta got him?” She grabbed the old, splintered broom, not waitin’ for a response. “Now sweep the kitchen and hearth in the sittin’ room. Don’t jest stand there.”

I took the broom and started in sweepin’ long strokes. “About Pearl—”

“What kind of name is Pearl?”

“I named him before I knew he was a rooster, but I was accustomed to callin’ him Pearl—”

“Never mind all that nonsense, jest sweep.” She went into the back room.

“Well, you asked me about Pearl.” I wailed the broom into the floor in short, random strokes.

“I ain’t heard him for a few days now. Did somethin’ git into the coop?” She put her hands on her plentiful hips, suddenly demandin’ to know everything.

“I haven’t seen him. I think he escaped.” I refused to give her the satisfaction of knowin’ Pearl’s fate.

“That means someone didn’t shut the coop properly.” She wagged her meaty finger, grazin’ my nose. “I s’pose Moses should take a look at it.”

“That’s a wise thing to do.” I went into the sittin’ room to sweep the hearth, makin’ the most terrible face at her. She is a cruel woman who already hates me. She will hate me even more after I tell her. Black soot flew about my boots as I swept without aim.

When Moses returned from work, he went into the barn to see that all was well ‘cept for Pearl bein’ missin’. He didn’t know what to think. If there was a raccoon or weasel, it woulda’ got some of the hens and left a terrible mess of feathers and the most gruesome remains. Pearl’s disappearance remained a mystery.

At suppertime I pushed my food around on my plate, wonderin’ if I could actually tell them of my unfortunate news.

We collected our sewin’ baskets and sat in our regular spots. I didn’t care to sew, but I made the mistake of sewin’ that yellow skirt and had to sew each night since. I started stitchin’ a red square for my quilt.

“You know Patience Cook, Miriam?” The smoke from Moses’s pipe swirled into an “S” above his head.

“Of course I know her.”

“Well, she had her baby.” His pipe gurgled as he toked on it.

“I pity her folks. Such shame to bring upon a family.” She shook her head. “Any idea who fathered it?”

The heat rose in my cheeks, and my damp curls clung to the back of my neck.

“Nope, she ain’t sayin’. That man oughta’ be shot. Patience is from a good family.” He leaned back in the chair and puffed perfect smoke rings.

“She has to pay for her sins too.” She set her sewin’ on her lap.

“Well.” My voice was odd, small, far away. “Maybe she wasn’t at fault.”

Mrs. Blake laughed too loud. “There are some folks who pray to have children, and it jest isn’t the Lord’s plan. And then there’s folks like Patience who don’t have no husband and they fornicate, payin’ no mind to what their folks would think.” She rolled her eyes. “Not to mention bringin’ a bastard child into the world.”

I pulled the needle through the cloth and held it up close to my eyes to inspect it. I can’t tell them. I can’t do it.

“Did you go to school with Patience?” Moses leaned forward in the chair and looked my way.

“She’s older than me, but we were in school together for a spell.” I swallowed and the words simply escaped. “I have no choice but to tell you… that…”

“What? Is it about joinin’ your sister in Fall River?” Mrs. Blake couldn’t listen; she had to s’pose.

“No, it isn’t that.” I wiped my sweaty palms on my apron.

“Well, that would be a wise thing for you to do now that it’s been a while since your mother died.” She clucked and bobbed her head.

“Stop.” I could not bear to hear anyone speak of Mother or Sarah. “I mean… I would like to join Sarah. I would like to work in the mills and earn a livin’.”

She peered over her gold spectacles. “Go on.”

“Well.” I fiddled with my fingers. “I have gotten myself into a pickle.”

Young Girl, (Public Domain)
Young Girl, (Public Domain)

“Go on.” She leaned closer. Her eyes nearly vanished into the depths of her saggy face. “Do tell. Git to the point, girl.”

“I am with child.” My temples pounded. All strength was gone.

The fire crackled. Moses spoke in a deep, quiet voice, “I never thought I’d hear them words from you, Abigail.”

“Sinner! You’re a sinner!” Her sewin’ clattered onto the floor when she bolted out of her chair. “I knew that you was hidin’ somethin’. If your mother knew she would cry in shame.”

“Do not mention my mother’s name!” Then came a surge of pain, anger, and guilt that was so twisted up, I couldn’t tell one from the other.

I fell to my knees before Moses’s feet. “I want nothin’ more than to be restored to a state of favor and acceptance. I grieve for my mother. I have blackened my name.” I poured forth my soul in tears, but the Blakes had deemed me a sinner.

“You will pack what few belongin’s you have, and Moses will take you to the County Farm.” She folded her arms over her chest and looked up at the ceilin’, tryin’ to rustle up some tears. “Oh, the shame.”

“It was simply a matter of time.” I looked into Moses’s eyes for a shred of compassion. “I dreaded tellin’ you.”

“Who is the father? He should come forward and marry you.” Although he scowled, Moses remained kind.

“The father?” I bit my lip and tried to erase the vision of Silas from my mind’s eye. “I do not know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?” He stood up.

“She ain’t tellin’ the truth,” Mrs. Blake said.

“I was goin’ for a long ride one afternoon, and I stopped at the brook by the new railroad tracks. I was waterin’ my horse when a strong man of middle age came out of the woods and chased me.” I covered my face with my apron and sobbed as if there were no end to it.

“He had his way with you against your will?” Mrs. Blake was high-pitched.

I dropped the soaked apron. “Yes.” I wiped my nose on the sleeve of my blouse. “He fled into the woods, and I never saw him again.”

“Did you tell anyone?” Moses puffed up his chest.

“No, I was scared.”

“Did you get a good look at him?” He clenched his fists.

“No. I did not.” The little girl in me spoke.

“Well, we ain’t got a choice but to send her to the farm, Moses,” Mrs. Blake said.

“Hold on,” he said. “Let’s think on it.”

“There ain’t no question ‘bout it. I won’t have no unwed mother livin’ under this roof.” She waved a fist in the air.

“I will go. I don’t want to bring shame on anyone. This is my burden and mine alone.” My thoughts turned to Silas.

“Moses will take you after church tomorrow.” She went into the kitchen. “… give you one more chance to pray for your soul…”

“You understand we ain’t got no choice in the matter,” Moses said.

“Yes, sir.” My body took to shakin’ at that awful moment.

“Now go on to bed. You can pack your belongin’s in that treasure chest of yours.”

I dashed into the dark hallway and stumbled up the stairs. The moonlight streamed through the window, lightin’ up the room in a dreamlike manner. I dragged out the treasure chest, grabbed Hope, and clutched her to my chest. I wept until there were no more tears to shed, until the silence of the mornin’ without Pearl was upon me.

Excerpt: Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series Book One


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