Sneak Peek: Prologue, Down Salem Way

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20 December 1691

My life has only just begun. Is that not odd? I am nine-and-twenty years old and did not know who or what or why I was until I met my Elizabeth.

How did I know she was the one for me? In truth, I cannot say, but knew I did from the instant I saw her. Twas but three months ago, over the supper table where we were gathered with friends from the Village where Elizabeth and her father and sister had recently arrived from England. I noticed her the moments I walked in I saw her floating gracefully about the simple wooden cabin, making sure everyone’s mugs and bellies were full, caring for her younger sister, tending to her father. And then our eyes met and my life on earth made sense to me. I wanted to know Elizabeth, and when I discovered that she wanted to know me, I knew why I was brought forth on this earth—to love and cherish this woman.

I am not a religious man. I believe in God, I believe in His mercy, but I do not believe our lives are predestined, mapped out for us before we are born. I do not believe we have to forgo earthly joys in pursuit of some unknown Paradise in a mysterious afterworld. I believe we make our own fortunes through our work, our families, our friends, and elsewhere. I can devote my heart and soul to my wife and still do good and be good to those I love on earth and those I love in heaven. I listen to Reverend Noyes in the meeting house on a Sunday and his brimstone and hellfire sermons do not prompt my piety. There is a lot of brimstone and hellfire here in Salem, but I let it pass over me. If this is what others believe, that is all and well, but I believe in a God of compassion.

I’m certain I sound like an old married man though I have been married but this week past. Though my father is one of the wealthiest men in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, my wife is a farmer’s daughter, and she decided that our wedding would be a simple affair with family and a few friends. My wife, beautiful no matter her clothing, looked ethereal in the brown silk that matched the brown silk of the wisps of her hair that fell from her coif and the brown silk of her soft eyes. My father presented us with the best food and drink money could buy—spiced hard cider, fish chowder, stewed oysters, parsley-flavored mussels, roasted game birds, red pickled eggs, succotash stew, bearberry jelly, rye bread, maple syrup candy, nutmeats, my wife’s bride cake, and my father’s favorite, the Indian pudding with dried plums and West Indian molasses.

For myself I was all of nerves, trembling and stumbling, not from fear but from disbelief that Elizabeth Jones was about to become my wife. I forgot to tidy my hair or my clothing prior to the wedding, and I’m sure I looked like a rumpled roll of bedding tossed from the last ship to dock from England. I had to run to my own wedding, smiling, happy, impatient to create a life with the woman I love. It has been cold this December, but Elizabeth decided we would be married after the harvest months so that my father-in-law, a farmer, and our other friends from the Village could join in our joy. The magistrate recited the vows. My wife and I exchanged rings. My father bought us the rings, for, though rings are unpopular here where any earthly adornment is considered vain, he says that the thin bands represent eternity, which is as long as I shall love my wife.

“I shall never leave you ever,” I said to my blushing bride, and she promised me the same. My father brought us to our new two-story, two-gable house, one of the larger homes in Salem Town, his wedding present to us. When Elizabeth and I were finally alone, I was tongue tied. I had been dreaming of this moment from the very first time I saw her, but there I was in the great room staring into the kitchen where she appeared to be examining the larger cauldron hanging from the center of the hearth. I thought if she spoke first then she might alleviate the awkwardness. Finally, I laughed, and she laughed, and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is where I’m supposed to be, in my beautiful home with my beautiful wife, and there was nowhere else in the world for me.

As I sit here looking through the diamond panes into the fading daylight I see my Elizabeth sitting in her chair by the heat of the hearth, her feet up on the tapestry-covered stool, a book in her lap, the flickering flames illuminating her peach-like complexion, her lips parted as if she had bitten into berries that stained her full mouth red, her dark curls falling down her back, her hair loose since it is just we two in the privacy of our home, her thin linen shift covered by a shawl to protect her from the cold that still filtered between the diamond panes of the windows. She looks from her book to me and smiles, and I know that all is well in the world. As I write this she stands, places her book on the chair she had been sitting on, and walks to me. She is placing her warm hands on my shoulders, and with the knuckles of her thumbs and forefingers presses the tight muscles of my neck and shoulders into submission. I exhale and lean back into her kneading hands, allowing the relief they bring me body and soul.

I thank God every night for this woman. Who am I to have such good fortune? Tonight, I, James Wentworth, am a content man, a joyous man, a grateful man with my loving, radiant wife beside me.

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