The Midwife's Revolt

By Jodi Daynard
Publisher:Opossum Press, (10/26/2012)

Average Rating:
5.00 out of 5 (1 Clubie's ratings)

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The Midwife’s Revolt takes the reader on a journey to the founding days of America. It follows one woman’s path, Lizzie Boylston, from her grieving days of widowhood after Bunker Hill, to her deepening friendship with Abigail Adams and midwifery, and finally to her dangerous work as a spy for the Cause. A novel rich in historical detail, The Midwife’s Revolt opens a window onto the real lives of colonial women.

"A charming, unexpected, and decidedly different view of the Revolutionary War." -- Publishers Weekly

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updated on:11/10/2012


"The Midwife's Revolt"
By Jodi Daynard

Average Rating:
5.00 out of 5 (1 Clubie's ratings)

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The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

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Praise for The Midwife’s Revolt

“An outstanding piece of historical fiction.”
--Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award panelist

“A charming, unexpected, and decidedly different view of the Revolutionary War.”
--Publishers Weekly

“As good as any historical fiction currently on the market.”
--Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award panelist

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Chapter 1

October 28, 1818. My father once told me I had the mind of a man He meant to say I was a freak of nature, as was—so he suspected—my mother. But I feel no such mind within me now. Now I am soft and tired and feel like weeping, though I cannot bring forth any tears.

In death, Abigail rests peacefully. The fever that had her body trembling for near two weeks is gone. The fluid no longer rattles in her poor chest. And the telltale rash of the typhus has begun to fade on her belly.

She lies in the master chamber at Peacefield, the estate John bought while still in London that was such a disappointment to her upon her return. It was nothing like she remembered it as a child. It seemed smaller, somehow, and sadly neglected. John, disappointed with the soil, had dubbed the place Stonyfield. Now, with its fine additions and gardens, the home is rather grand and fertile.

But Abigail is no longer. They say that in her youth she looked like Venus: fair, and so harmonious in all her parts that men grew awkward around her. But John was never awkward in her presence. A fiery Humpty Dumpty to the laughing world, around his Portia he grew tall and handsome.

He called her Portia after faithful Brutus’s wife, but she is no Portia now. Her body, at seventy-two, has wasted to skin and bone. The assaults she bore—the death of Charles; and poor Nabby, her eldest, who died in agony in this very room of a cancer in the breast—lie upon her as defeated folds of flesh. Calluses mark her fingers from days and years of sewing, husking, weaving, and gathering. And there are faded burn marks, too—on her arms, elbows, and palms, scorched often through the years while her mind was on other things. She hardly felt them but wondered afterward from whence they came. And all those years away from John—those marks are there, too, around the eyes that I have shut, in lines that tell the pain of loss. I will anoint them with precious rose oil. I will put balm on her lips and hands and rub it in gently with the love I still feel and have felt for her for more than forty years.

I look out the window at Abigail’s gardens. The roses and hollyhocks are gone to sleep for the winter, but violet asters and pink sedum still line the paths. The maples have rained their gold, red, and orange leaves upon the ground. The wind has scattered them about; no one has thought to rake them. Her last sojourn into the garden had been with John, to pick apples for a pie. But in these two weeks, John has halted all work, except to feed the animals.

One day last week, she seemed to revive. And when she looked out her window across the grounds to where the orchards lay, she was appalled that the apples, bursting with ripeness, had not been picked.

“John!” she called, although Dr. Holbrook had forbidden her to speak. “Fetch John, Louisa.”

Louisa Smith is her niece, the daughter of Abigail’s younger sister, Betsy Cranch; she stays here in the guest room. A bright and obliging woman of youthful middle age, Louisa ran to fetch John, who, believing his wife to be out of danger, had gone to work in his study down the hall.

He came running, panic on his face.

“John—” she turned upon hearing his footsteps “—why are the apples not picked? They will rot.”

“My love, I told the boys to put off their farm work while you were ill. I didn’t want the noise to disturb you.”

“Nonsense,” Abigail replied. “They must carry on, or it shall all go to waste. I couldn’t bear that.”

She glanced at me then, and I knew we were both recalling the summer of the terrible drought in 1778, when mine were the only apples to survive, thanks to the ingenious watering invention of a certain Mr. Cleverly.

The next day, Abigail’s fever returned, and I knew it would not spare her. She lay close to death all weekend, conscious but perfectly still. On Monday, I packed to go home, as my husband had sent a messenger with news of a sick grandchild, but she stopped me. She must have heard a change in my footsteps, because she called weakly, “Lizzie, don’t leave.”

I went into her room, sat on the bed, and took her hand. John was on the other side, and a more stricken man I have never seen, though I have seen many stricken men in my day.

“I feel I am dying,” Abigail said, “and I’m ready to go to my Maker. Except that I hate to leave him.” She looked at her husband. “It is parting from you I cannot bear.”

I turned away to hide my tears.

John kept a brave face, even managing a smile for his Portia. “We shan’t be parted for long, my love. Rest now.”

She seemed to fall into a doze. I gently took my hand from hers and went downstairs to speak with the family. Louisa sat in the large parlor next to Tommy, Abigail and John’s youngest son, now in his late forties. His head was tipped back; his eyes were closed. Also present were Dr. Holbrook, asleep in a chair by the fire, and Abigail’s good neighbor, Harriet Welsh. Upon hearing my footsteps, Dr. Holbrook woke from his doze. They all turned to me inquiringly, but I merely shook my head.

Louisa began to sob; Tommy stood up and took me by the shoulders, begging to know what had happened. In another moment, he disengaged from me as his father, barely able to stay on his feet, entered the room.

John passed a trembling hand over his head.

“I can’t bear it. Can’t bear to see her this way. I wish…” We all held our breaths, wondering what this remarkable man, our great patriot and second president, wished for as his wife of fifty-four years lay dying. “I wish to lie down and die with her.”

Tom went to his father and embraced him. Moments later, they sent for a messenger. The president, John Quincy, had to be notified that his mother was dying.

I waited upon Abigail, but she never spoke again. We all of us took turns spending time in her room so she was never alone. I recalled vividly our many days and years together—before she left for Europe, then afterward, when she returned much changed on the outside, though not at all within. I recalled those first, hard years of our friendship, when I was a new widow and she was a widow to the Cause, with four children and not a morsel of bread for months and months. Our men were dead or gone, and we had but ourselves to rely upon.

It was death that first drew us together: first my husband, Jeb, in April of ’75, then her dear mother in October of the same year, of the bloody flux. We call that the dysentery now. Her mother lingered for two weeks. The children had also been ill, and John was far away, as he often was at that time.

I made her mother a dish of willow bark tea, which relieved her suffering but could not save her. And when I washed the body and dressed it—slowly and carefully, the way I had learned to do from my own mother—Abigail looked on in fascination. Then she smiled, although her eyes remained grave.

“Dear friend,” I said to her gently, “what makes you smile at a time like this?”

She turned to me and replied, “When my turn comes, I want you to wash my body like that.”

“Oh,” I said, shrugging off her comment, “I am sure to go to my Maker long before you. You are made of flint.”

But she would not be put off. “Promise me,” she said.

And by her mother’s eyes, which I then closed, I promised her. Soon I will fulfill that promise. But first let me tell you of those early days. Otherwise, as Abigail might say, a perfectly good story will go to waste.

Chapter 2

May 18, 1775. It was a bright May morning in the North Parish. I had been fighting tears since waking with the dawn. I milked and fed our cows, then fed my husband, Jeb, to whom I had been married but eight months. Then I prepared his sack, and Thaxter brought Star, our horse, around to the front of the house. He was busy gathering his things and so did not notice, as a young man set upon battle will not, that I could not look at him for fear of breaking down.

He was heading to Cambridge, where he would join Colonel Prescott’s regiment. The bloody events of Concord and Lexington were fresh in our minds, but we didn’t speak of them. I kept my face turned to my tasks: filling his flask with cider, cutting a goodly morsel of dried beef, measuring out the preserves.

“Lizzie, have you seen my cap?” he called from our pokey little chamber upstairs.

I espied the cap upon the kitchen chair before me, but said

nothing right away. The sooner he was ready, the sooner he would leave me with only the roaring sea for my companion.

We had come to housekeeping on this parcel of land given to Jeb by Josiah Quincy in September of 1774. Jeb’s mother was a cousin of Colonel Quincy; he had given us the farm as a wedding gift. Josiah Quincy was also Abigail Adams’s uncle. And so, in a sense, I was related to that illustrious lady.

We arrived to discover the splendor of our situation: our parcel had been carved out of a three-hundred-acre estate called

Mount Wollaston, upon which Colonel Quincy had newly built a large home. This beautiful, rolling land stretched all the way from the road to the sea. Our parcel, closer to the shore than the Colonel’s house and slightly to the right of it, contained wooded acres, hay fields, and pasture. We had to clear the land surrounding the cottage-garden plots. Close by our cottage stood several sheds and a barn, all in great need of repair.

Winter in Braintree had made Jeb and me intimate by its very harshness. We had not enough wood despite Jeb’s efforts, and he was obliged to wade through shoulder-high drifts of snow up the hill to the colonel’s house. The old colonel had suggested Jeb take what he needed without coming inside to ask.

But Jeb did not like to make free use of others’ labor. Only in the direst circumstances did we ever impose upon that connection, although Ann, the colonel’s wife, often left parcels on our stoop, for which we felt gratitude and shame in equal measure.

And so, borrowing as little as we could, we slept by the fire in our kitchen. We had a window there, and, oh, what a view we had! How many hours did we spend lying together, looking out that window across the dunes and toward the sea? On days when the wind blew from the northeast, the pungent aroma of the colonel’s stables wafted over us. The stench always made us laugh.

In the parlor—a grand word for what it was—we had placed a settle by the fireplace. Its thick plank top folded down for ironing. We lit the fire in this room only for company. Parson Wibird stopped in every week after meeting to see how we were getting on, which was kind of him. We were still adjusting to our new church. The parson was a gentle but—Lord, forgive me!—somewhat ridiculous man. He had a stooped and wiry frame, and when he listened to us his toothless mouth hung open so long we thought he would drool. We often saw him riding bumpily down the lanes in his rusted curricle. Oh, he was a gentle, kindly soul, but in our youthful eyes that made him all the more laughable. He is gone to his Maker now.

I was happy to lie close to my Jeb in the darkness. From time to time, we heard the drunken groan or whistle of Thaxter, our field hand, making his way to the necessary behind the corn shed. Though we would have been sleeping one moment earlier, upon hearing Mr. Thaxter smack blindly into the necessary, missing the step and cursing, Jeb and I would burst out laughing.

Thaxter, a man of perhaps thirty-five who looked ancient to us, was an odd fellow content to spend his days alone, especially if he had a good bottle of rum and a pouch of tobacco. He was willing enough to work if you asked—much like an old ox reluctant to take a step without a whip. On loan from the colonel, Thaxter was meant to be a temporary fixture in our young married lives. But, finding himself quite content in the little shed behind the necessary, he stayed for several years and soon blended into the landscape like the opossums and groundhogs that crept about by night.

Jeb touched my face by the firelight and teased me that I’d be quite fat by spring, so frequently did we obey the holy command to go forth and multiply. And all around us was silence, save for the crackling embers, the ocean’s roar, and the mournful howling of the wind.

Now, as he readied to leave, I hoped and prayed I was with child. I was naive enough to believe that the Lord would not take a father from his unborn child.

Jeb descended the stairs and espied his cap upon the chair. “Here it is.” He sighed with exasperation, then looked at me.

“Oh, Lizzie.” He smiled and came to embrace me, but I rejected his touch. I had no wish to fall apart then. I wished to give him all my strength. Feeling me reject him, he merely laughed and said, “Oh, you’ll miss me, all right. I know you better than you think.” With a tender smirk, he hoisted his musket and gear over his shoulder and strode out of doors, where Thaxter had readied our beautiful Star, a sprightly Narragansett pacer.

Jeb hoisted himself up, and I handed up his sack. I had filled it with everything I could: cheese, oatcakes, bilberry preserve, good dried meat, and a leg of chicken left over from the night before. Looking up at him, I had to shield my eyes from the sun.

“You are tan,” he remarked, looking down at my arms. “May you be a good little farmer while I’m gone. Watch Thaxter doesn’t drink all our rum.” He smiled. Everything he said to me in those days had an ironical tone, for we were both quite new at this farming business and still felt ourselves to be play-acting at it. Jeb and I had grown up in staunch British families surrounded by city comforts, right on Cambridge’s Tory Row.

He looked back at me thoughtfully and tenderly as he slowly turned Star toward the path to the road. “You’re a strong woman. Oh, how I love you, Lizzie Boylston!” And with that, he blew me a kiss. Star began to trot quickly down the path.

What? Was there to be no tender embrace? Did he think I was made of stone? Did he think I could bear it without at least a final kiss? Why should he think so? Because I hauled bushels of corn? Because I delivered healthy babes in the dead of night, with no help save from ignorant servant-girls? Because, bored and shut in as a girl, I had read my father’s library? Shakespeare, Dante, Ovid, St. Augustine—of what use were they to me now? I wanted to cry out that I was soft inside and could not bear it.

“But I’m not! Jeb, I’m not strong!” I cried after him.

Sensing my agony at last, Jeb slowed. He turned Star around, leapt off him, and came running into my arms. He kissed me then. I reached up and with my fingers touched his soft face, barely yet shaven, and his soft curls, which I had pulled back with a piece of my finest homespun linen.

“Oh, be careful, my love,” I said.

“I will,” he whispered. “Indeed, I have no wish to leave you.” He lingered about my neck, kissing it tenderly. I felt his fingers move toward my bosom.

I might be soft, but he could not afford to be. I pushed him away. “Up you go, soldier.”

He tore himself from me, mounted Star, and gave me a salute. “Yes, sir.” Then he nudged Star with his knees and disappeared up the coast road toward Boston.

When he was truly gone and I could no longer hear Star’s hooves upon the ground, I sat myself in the open doorway of the kitchen garden. The chickens, thinking I had something for them, came pecking at my feet. But I had nothing for them except tears.

Within moments, the enormity of my solitude wrapped itself around me, and I felt quite done in. I had no one in the world now. No one save his family, whom I ardently disliked. My own mother had died of the throat distemper in the terrible epidemic that hit Boston in 1769. And my father, who had been a judge in His Majesty’s court, had fled to England at the start of the Troubles. A man of great secret sympathy for the Cause, he had intended to return once the Rebels had been “put down,” but he caught pneumonia and died within a week of landing there. Finally, there was my brother, Harry, who had joined a privateer ship that fall, just after Jeb and I moved to Braintree. I knew not whether he lived. I missed them all unspeakably now and felt heartily sorry for myself.

To shake off my gloom, I stood and wandered about my too-silent house. I entered the dairy, a small room to the right of the kitchen, to gaze upon my medicines, which lined the wall shelves. “Witch’s potions,” Jeb called them. I ran my fingertips over the jars and vials of powder, potions, and poultices. Senna, manna, Glauber’s salt, snakeweed. Here’s rosemary. That’s for memory. Of what use were they to me now? None could bring back my Jeb.

He wrote me every day from Cambridge, and I wrote him back. I nearly borrowed a horse and rode out to him. But Jeb would not have liked that. Conditions were bad. The water was putrid, and our soldiers, who were drinking cider all day, were dirty and unruly. Many were sick, he wrote. The canker rash was everywhere, and some also had the bloody flux. No, I could not ride to Cambridge. It would have pleased me to do so, but not him. I was just learning to be a woman—to give pleasure freely and to take it when offered in a loving way. But I was also learning to defer. My Jeb was no bully; he was the best of men. To defer was the lot of womankind.

Then, in the second week of June, I received a message that made me shiver: rumor had it that his regiment would soon be marching to Charlestown. The Regulars were poised to fire from Cop’s Hill, and they must be held back.

I can tell you no more at present. But know that you are dearer to me than anything in the world. I will write from our new camp.

I heard nothing further. I wrote once more, but I knew not whether my letter had reached him. All the while, I had hoped and prayed I was with child. Then I began to bleed, late and profusely, and suffered terrible cramps. I lay in bed feeling ill all that hot June day, and did not realize that I had fallen asleep until a loud noise woke me.

Chapter 3

June 17, 1775. At around four in the morning, our entire parish was awakened by what sounded like a terrible explosion north of town. I bolted up in the darkness. I felt the blood that had pooled between my legs during the night but could not stop to wash myself. I lifted my chin to force the tears back into my eyes. No time for tears. He has no heir, I thought. I changed my pad of cotton, wishing desperately to steady my shaking body by a cup of lady’s mantle tea, but was driven abroad by the thunderous noise.

It was a long mile’s walk to the base of Penn’s Hill from Mt. Wollaston, but that was where everyone was headed, as it afforded the best view of Boston. I recall figures passing me in the darkness—vague, shadowy figures, some still in bedclothes and others with torches. The tanner and Parson Wibird, Brackett the innkeeper, and the Cranches—and me, a young wife among many, though some had babes beneath their shawls. We all headed through town to climb the hill.

And, oh, how I prayed it was Boston under siege, not Cambridge or Charlestown. At last I found myself atop the hill where many others stood watching in awe and terror, whispering or quietly sobbing. I did neither that I recall; I merely stood there in the hellish torchlight, feeling the rumble and watching the flames shoot up higher and brighter. There was a rumble of fear upon that hill, too, mixed with that of the cannons. Occasionally, a cry pierced the darkness. Young children clung to their parents’ legs while the older ones ran about, excited by the commotion. I didn’t speak but only watched smoke form above Charlestown, gray against the black sky. Somehow, I knew Jeb was there.

As the sky lightened, I noticed a woman standing by my side with her arm around a small boy of about seven or eight. She, too, said nothing, spoke to no one, but merely watched in horror, clutching her child.

Someone with a torch passed by, and in that momentary flicker of light I saw that it was Abigail Adams, wife of our delegate John Adams, with her eldest boy, John Quincy. When our eyes met briefly, her face softened in recognition, but still I saw she could not quite place me.

“Jeb Boylston’s wife,” I offered. “Elizabeth. Lizzie.”

“Oh,” she said, surprised. “Of course. We met several months ago, I believe, at meeting. We are related. I’m Abigail, and this is Johnny.” Johnny looked up at me from under his mother’s arm. “Is Jeb not here?” She looked around.

“No, he is there—” I nodded in the direction of the smoke “—with Colonel Prescott.”

Suddenly, there was a terrible crack. It sounded close, like lightning hitting a tree. I could feel my knees buckle beneath me.

“Are you hurt?” Abigail fell at once to her knees, searching my person. “Where? Where is the wound?”

“No, no.” I shook my head, endeavored to stand. “I feel—I have this feeling…” I sobbed into my shawl, unable to voice what I felt. What I knew. I struggled up. “I must go,” I said.

“Go? Where do you plan to go at this hour?” she asked, thinking reason had left me, as indeed it had. All around was darkness, save for the hectic torches blurring swaths of firelight.

“I must go to him.”

“There?” She nodded toward the smoke over Charlestown. “You know that’s impossible.” She placed her arm around me. “Oh, dearest, I know what it is like to be separated from your beloved. But you must bear it. There is nothing else to be done.” She sighed. “Tomorrow we’ll know more, perhaps.”

“But I will not bear it,” I rudely replied. “I must go, and go now. I will borrow a horse of Colonel Quincy.”

I moved away, certain she now thought me a most unpleasant woman. I began to walk down the hill toward home but soon felt a hand press against my forearm.

“If you really must go, then take John’s mare,” Abigail said. I shall never forget the way she said “must.” There was no irony in her tone but rather a kind of acknowledgment, even resignation, born of experience. “Tell Isaac to accompany you. It will be faster that way and far safer. Go to Cambridge. They will have news there, if anyone has.”

I hugged her to me, grateful to have made a friend in this darkest hour.

Chapter 4

A shimmer of dawn was just rising to the east, casting faint light across the village, when I found myself knocking at the shack door of Isaac Copeland, who lived behind the small barn on the Adams property. He seemed to have slept through everything. Only my frantic rapping woke him, and when I finally stated my business, the young, dirty lad rubbed the sleep from his eyes with black knuckles.

He moved out of the doorway, and I noticed other farm hands sleeping on straw pallets within. Those shadowy figures would soon rise up to muster on the training field, much to Abigail’s loss.

Isaac shook his head. “We have no lady’s saddle, ma’am. The Missus always rides in the chaise.”

“It is of little import to me, so long as you have a saddle of some kind, and a horse to go beneath it.”

He glanced at me briefly, then went to the barn, which had but three walls and a sorry thatched excuse for a roof, and brought out a sweet little mare to greet me. She came right up to me and pressed her forehead against my side. I took consolation in her warm breath and soft muzzle. Isaac offered his dirty hands to my grimy boot and up I went, sitting astraddle just like a man. Isaac then handed me a dirty-looking blanket, which I placed across my lap, tucking one end into my skirt. It was the first time I had ever sat in that fashion, but I was heedless of any discomfort. I would go to Jeb, I thought. I would go to him whether he was dead or alive.

The  dawn  grew  brighter  on  my  right  flank as Isaac and I made our way up the coast road toward Boston. With the rising light, my strength rallied and my fear calmed.

Many were awake and running about Milton when we arrived in that town; it was Sabbath morning, but there would be no Sabbath that day. Not even the most fervent pastors could draw the people off their hills as the pummelling of Charlestown by British cannons continued, accompanied by a thunderous din and choking black smoke.

People stared rudely as I passed through the center of the town. A woman upon a man’s saddle had never been seen in those parts before. Despite the blanket, my legs were exposed from my knees to the tops of my boots. I hardly cared; it seemed a trifle given the burning of Charlestown.

The closer we came to Cambridge, my birthplace, the more fearful I grew. Isaac looked drawn and jittery, but said nothing. At Roxbury, we came across a camp of ragtag militia. A band of boys with bayonets, giving themselves the airs of soldiers, was stopping all those headed west toward Cambridge. Across the street stood a large and bustling tavern called the Greyhound. Isaac said he wished to water and rest Mr. Adams’s little mare, and I longed for a dish of tea and a biscuit. I reasoned that I would need my strength, though I had no great wish to tarry.

Isaac ducked inside the dark tavern, and I half expected not to see him again; but he soon emerged with a tankard of cider, finished it off, set it down, and went about his business with the horse.

I went in and had my refreshment in turn. When I exited the tavern, a young soldier approached and stood before me.

“They say the fighting intensifies at Charlestown.”

“My husband is there with Colonel Prescott,” I answered simply, and moved to cross the street, where Isaac and his charge waited.

The boy let me pass, but at the last moment called after me. “Colonel Prescott is already upon Breed’s Hill. You can’t reach him. It’s a foolish effort! Everyone seeks to leave Cambridge, not enter it!”

With Isaac’s silent help, I hopped upon the little mare and urged her west toward Cambridge and the Great Bridge. On the road through Brookline, we saw many fleeing in the other direction: families with all their worldly possessions heaped into carts, crying children, dogs darting wildly about, and young men on horseback with the guilty expressions of deserters. They stared at me as if I were a madwoman, but I pressed on.

At last, we arrived at the bridge. The late-morning air had grown hot and, in that moment, I was able to enjoy the grandeur of God’s earth. Here the Charles River was beautifully winding and tranquil, and the trees were all in bloom. Two months earlier, the planks upon which I stood had been removed to prevent the British from crossing over. The ruse had failed.

I glanced at Isaac. He looked as if he might actually faint. His mouth hung open, and his eyes had a wild and desperate look as he stared at the bridge as if it were the river Styx. Perhaps he sensed that, once in Cambridge, he would feel obliged to join the fray.

I took pity on him.

“Isaac, go no further. Please return to Mrs. Adams now. Tell her I am well and have reached Cambridge. Tell her I will take excellent care of John’s mare. I have a horse of my own and am not unfamiliar with their care. Now go. I’m certain she needs you.”

He tried to object but was not very convincing. I insisted and would not move forward until he had turned around and trotted off the way we had come.

Once Isaac had gone, I felt freer. The silence between us had been burdensome. At least that boy’s fate would not be upon my head. My flagging strength had rallied somewhat from the tea and biscuit. As I entered Cambridge, I could almost feel my Jeb’s presence. Prescott’s regiment would have spent the night on the Common, or perhaps upon Prospect Hill farther east. I would soon have news of them, if nothing else.

At the Cambridge Common, a strange scene awaited me. Across the yard lay scattered the vast detritus of a recently abandoned camp: heaps of ash and coal; iron cauldrons too heavy to carry; the stench of urine and feces and horse dung; the tents of men too ill to have moved east with the others. I heard groans and the cries of illness. I shrank before it all, everything made worse by the unnatural summer heat.

On the southernmost edge of the Common, Parson Boardman was in the midst of a sermon. Though his lecture was clearly meant for the soldiers, not half a dozen men of fighting age sat in the audience. Women and old men listened with half an ear. The parson was a large man in a thick wig; perspiration rained down upon his black habit on this hottest of days. He decried human frailty just as officers and servants scrambled to gather their tents and munitions and head east. I stopped one dirty boy as he raced off with an armful of muskets and inquired as to the whereabouts of Colonel Prescott’s regiment.

“There.” He nodded toward Charlestown. “They passed the night on Breed’s Hill. Some of us what’s bringing aid.”

Aid indeed. I studied the boy and his pile of bad muskets that I doubted could kill a crow at a rod’s distance.

“Well, God spare you,” I said.

It was, in all, a journey toward death. You must not suppose me fool enough to believe otherwise. And yet I hoped. I my mind I saw Jeb, dirty yet whole, running toward me. I saw him stumble toward his beloved Star and press his weary head upon the creature’s warm flank. Oh, I saw many a ghost of things that might have been in those hours before I saw what truly was.

I looked back to the parson and felt only a mounting anger. Of what earthly use were his words about human frailty? Let him take up a rotten musket like my Jeb and risk his own mortal skin upon Breed’s Hill!

By now the sun was quite high in the sky. The clock in Christ Church told the time: past one. To the east, I could hear cannon fire, which seemed to intensify. And still the parson droned on. Though hot and faint with exhaustion, I could not bear it on the Common a moment longer and made the decision to move down the road to Charlestown. Unlike Roxbury, this time no one stopped me. I met with no orderly rows of soldiers, no organization of any kind, only chaos. Frightened boys—some bloodied, others looking at me wildly—fled past me.

At the base of Prospect Hill, I found evidence of a recent encampment and a few horses. No sign of Star. I pressed on and within ten minutes came at last to our “army”—a bedlam of sick and dirty men and boys. There was blood and gore such as I dare not describe. I had arrived at the ninth circle of hell, but even the great Italian poet could not have imagined the scene. The clear, still air was pierced by unceasing and wild cries of the wounded and dying, to whom there were not women enough to tend. All around, the suffering of our boys was extreme—some were black with burns; others had multiple bayonet wounds and leaked like stuck sausages. A hasty surgery had been set up in one tent, and it was from this tent that the most terrible sounds arose. At one point, I had the misfortune not to have averted my eyes in time and saw an arm unceremoniously tossed into a pile of white and bloodless limbs at the back of the tent. Oh, Lord, what misery!

I tied the mare to a post where several other horses stood. Looking about me, I saw a boy with a bucket and stopped him, asking would he kindly water my horse. He nodded and went off, I hoped, to get water. I then approached a woman whom, though bent with fatigue, I recognized as a Cambridge lady. Though streaked with blood and dirt, her face was pale and fine. I asked if I could help her, and without a word she nodded to a boy lying on a pallet of straw some ten yards off. He was blue-white in color, and his lips were drawn back across his teeth in suffering. He could not have been more than sixteen.

“Hold his hand,” she replied. “It can’t be long.”

I went to his side and took his hand. “I’m here,” I said. “I won’t leave you.”

His eyes rolled to the side, catching me in their enlarged pupils. He grasped my hand, and when I looked down I saw that half his chest had been torn away.

“Marmy,” he said. “I would like my Marmy.” His eyes leaked tears; he knew his “Marmy” was very far away.

“I won’t leave you, brave soldier,” I murmured. Those two words seemed to give him some faint comfort, and he soon shut his eyes. His face relaxed. In a few minutes, he was gone.

Oh, the suffering of this world!

Around five in the afternoon, when for the better part of an hour we had ceased to hear any sounds of war, I saw a young man lying face down, beside another dead boy, upon a rustic cart. He wore a fine linen ribbon in his hair.

It was the ribbon I recognized first. I ran to him and turned him over. I may have cried out but was not sensible of doing so. I knew at once he was dead. And may the Lord forgive me if I say that this understanding was a great, selfish relief. Had there been time for a parting scene with him, I surely would have gone mad.

“This is my husband,” I told the gentlewoman I had been helping all that day. She looked at me with astonishment; my calm must have surprised her. “Would you like me to wash him?” she asked. “It is more than a wife should have to bear.”

“No, I want to. You are kind to offer.” I did not say that I wished to feel something; I had grown cold and numb.

I will leave my reader to imagine that final caress: the young, healthy man and his single, fatal wound, which I gently felt around. I marveled at how so small, so insignificant a thing as a bayonet tip could bring down my Jeb’s strong spirit. I gently untied the linen with which I had gathered his hair the morning he’d left and placed it around my neck.

After I had washed his body, I began to shake and sat myself upon the ground to keep from falling. The blanket I had brought from Isaac’s shack was upon the mare, but I had no energy to fetch it. I was in a quandary. I knew I could not make it back to Braintree. After a long and anxious wait, I finally saw the boy who had brought water to John’s mare. He was a welcome sight, and I called to him.

I had a message for the Boylstons, I told him. They would give him a shilling for the news that their son was dead and their daughter-in-law requested help. I could not bear for soldiers to bury Jeb on this filthy hill and would not leave him. The boy offered to take John’s mare, still tied forlornly to that post, but I said no. That far, I wouldn’t trust him. But the Boylston’s could search for Star among the officers’ horses at the Common. Jonathan Hastings’s house on the Common was now General Ward’s headquarters, and many of the men might have left their horses in his safekeeping. I made the boy repeat the message back to me, for his restless eyes did not inspire confidence.

It was night before I was delivered of my agony among those dead and dying. At first, I kept glancing at Jeb, fearful lest I fall asleep and he disappear. Or perhaps I sought a glimmer of movement. It never came. At some point I must have dozed, though, for the first thing I recall after being lifted from that field is the voice of someone saying, “Gently, gently! Lift her gently!” I then recall being helped to my feet before the Boylston house on Brattle Street, and the air’s stultifying heat.

I could hear no horses’ hooves and asked, agitated, “Star, where is Star? Did you find him? And have you Mr. Adams’s little mare?”

“Bennett is with the mare,” assured one of the Boylston servants.

“But did you find Star? He is perhaps at Hastings’s place.”

“Yes, ma’am. He is in our stables, rest you easy.”

I was greatly relieved to know the animals were safe. I was led to bed upstairs. Someone came in to bathe and change me, for I was quite, quite filthy. Within the Boylston home, with its thick walls and dark, north-facing chambers, it was cool. A soft feather bolster caressed me. It was blissfully dark. A prayer escaped my lips for the Lord to take me as I slept.

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Jodi Daynard is the author of two previous books (W.W. Norton, Ardis Press). Her stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Paris Review, The Harvard Review, Harvard Magazine, The Boston Globe, Agni, The New England Review, and elsewhere. They have been anthologized and nominated for several prizes. Her essays have also appeared as Notable Mentions in Best American Essays. Joyce Carol Oates recently nominated one of her essays, "Under the Electric Sun," for a Pushcart Prize. She has taught writing at Harvard University, M.I.T., and Emerson College.

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