The settlers continued their long sit on the hard wooden benches, inside the First Parish Meeting House. Some of them sat stiffly upright, others, particularly the youngest, wiggled and squirmed. The sun beat down on the building, and thus indirectly on the church goers. Outside on the road to Maquoit, dogs lay in the shade of nearby trees or in shadows cast by slate tombstones in the graveyard.
Whilst Rev. Rutherford continued to read from the Book of Mark, Capt. Benjamin Larrabee let his mind wander through town and military affairs. When he finally returned his attention to the pulpit, Rutherford was reading:
…whosoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Ah, thought Larrabee, it’s about the taxes. Or the Indians. Or the general court’s desire to close the fort. Assured that Rutherford would cover no new ground as he expounded on the responsibilities of leadership, Larrabee arranged his carriage and expression to convey both understanding of the minister’s concerns and competent authority. Thus armed, he once more let his mind wander, this time to the future of his eldest daughter, Mary. She was but fourteen, but still, ‘twouldn’t be amiss to start on arrangements. Samuel Hinkley at New Meadows had several unmarried sons. Impeccable family, of course, being kin of a long past governor of Plymouth. Well, when Larrabee moved his family to New Meadows, he’d be better able to take each boy’s measure, make the right match.
Ah, Rutherford had reached the end of his tirade. To be fair, the man spoke not from anger but from concern for his fellow townsmen. Larrabee rose stiffly, more from long inactivity than from any reaction to the minister’s speech. He led his family down the aisle and out into the noon sun. Before the boys could run off into the woods, he cautioned them to stay out of the creek. He knew they’d still likely dangle their feet in the running water to cool off. He was pleased to observe a settler’s dog following the boys. Pompey, too, would watch over them, lest there be savages hiding nearby to do mischief upon the lads.
Seeing Mary, as always, had the girls in hand, Larrabee made for Woodside’s wagon. There he purchased a half mug of rum to sip whilst watching the women and girls set up luncheon.
John Malcolm emerged from the wood’s edge and, seeing Larrabee, headed straight for him. Larrabee breathed out slowly, stifling the groan that threatened to spill from his throat. As he suspected, Malcolm wondered when they might hear word on the town’s taxes. Twasn’t bad enough Rutherford pummeled the selectmen during his ceaseless talk; now his neighbors did the same.
Larrabee answered politely. “I should think by town meeting next.”
Malcolm asked, “Informed them on the cost of importing our material needs, did you?”
“Aye,” he answered, “as well as regards the Indian problem. ‘Twas all I could do to keep the fort intact and manned. They were ready to leave off that entirely.” He didn’t bother to tell Malcolm his personal desire was to never set foot in Boston or court again. The man wouldn’t care how much Larrabee detested the long journey, the crowded city, and the men who thought themselves superior to the settlers, even to Larrabee himself.
He downed the last of his drink. “Excuse me, Malcolm, my luncheon awaits.”
He tarried no longer since Mary had set out his favorite cornbread, the one sweetened with maple syrup. ‘Twouldn’t last long with his brood. Rightly, she’d keep a portion just for him, but he liked to choose a second, and perhaps a third, for himself.
After the meal, Larrabee and Nathaniel strolled out behind the meetinghouse, past the stocks, and into the little graveyard. As was his habit, Nathaniel stopped at Andrew Dunning’s stone, the one carved by the son James. As usual, he read out the words and dates carved thereon:
Heare Lyeth the body of Mr. Andrew Duning,
who departed this life January the 18th Annodom 1736,
aged 72 years.
1660 Charles 2d
1666 London Burnt
1685 James 2d
1689 Wm & Mary
1702 Queen Ann
1714 George 1st
1727 George 2d
Nathaniel shook his head. In wonder? In disbelief? Larrabee wasn’t sure.
The lad said, “He lived through all that. So many kings and queens.” After a bit Nathaniel added, “He was alive even when London burnt, Father!”
Larrabee said, “Aye, life isn’t all skittles and ale, Nathaniel.”
“No, Sir, it isn’t. But that’s not what I’m about. It’s the words on the stones.” Father and son continued walking. When they reached the far edge of the graveyard the son said, “They show a man was here. That he had family. That he had a place in the settlement.”
“Aye, but I don’t need a stone to show I was here. You are the proof of that, my boy. Lest ye forget, how you comport yourself tells friend and foe alike what manner of man you are, but, to my mind of equal import, what manner of man your father is.”
“I won’t forget, sir.”
Larrabee saw Snow making for the meetinghouse door. “Come, lad, ‘tis time for the second part.”
He stood aside while his family entered their pew, then settled himself in for the afternoon service. Expecting ‘twould proceed much as the morning one had done, he let his mind wander to the next town meeting. Would the general court forgive the citizens their 1740 taxes?
Rutherford spoke on in his Irish burr.
All of a sudden, Larrabee was startled at the sound of wood rapping against wood. He straightened himself, smoothed down his jacket, pulled the sleeves into place. The rapping, of course, had been George Coombs striking his cane against the side of a pew. Why the man took it upon himself to rouse a gentleman contemplating the doings of the town was beyond him. If Rutherford suffered from a lack of attention, he could call out “Wake up, my hearers” himself.
Larrabee faced steadily forward, ignoring the look Mary likely cast upon him. When Bennie chortled, Larrabee looked him a warning. The boy quieted immediately, tucking himself under Nathaniel’s arm.
‘Course, the knocks might not have been aimed at him since he knew right well he’d paid close attention to the pulpit. After all, each settler, man and wife alike, worked from dawn to dusk. Any man, English or Irish, might lull into a doze, sitting still in the afternoon stifle, listening to Rutherford’s drone. Perhaps ‘twas even that Coombs himself needed the activity to keep his own head from nodding.
It seemed hours later when Rutherford spoke his last and Snow lined out the final psalm. Now they could make their way home to the fort. Perhaps after Larrabee checked in with his men he’d find time to stand on the river banking, watch the sun drop behind the falls. The sound of that water, sometimes roaring, sometimes gurgling, was his lullaby those nights when sleep hid from him.
The village men scanned the edges of the clearing as they led their families home. Their dogs, in the way of the species, sometimes followed the people and sometimes disappeared into the woods, reappearing ahead of them as if to lead the way.
Larrabee’s procession travelled in extra safety, accompanied by his Indian scout Joseph and his African servant Pompey.
The girls nattered on about who knew what. He loved their sparkling voices, but rarely bothered to hear their words.
The family was about halfway to home when Nathaniel spoke. “I don’t understand, Sir.”
“What’s that, my boy?”
“Reverend Rutherford this morning.”
They all walked on. Mary wife and Mary daughter each carried a babe. Larrabee himself had just now scooped up Bennie, whose head already lolled against his father’s shoulder. Well, he thought ‘twas Bennie’s head, but it surely pressed upon him same as a sack filled with stones.
After his accustomed pause Nathaniel added, “He told us to pray ‘for the continued safety of the town against the Indians and the French.’”
As usual, the lad’s quote was succinct and accurate. He continued, “What I mean is, are we not French?”
Larrabee stifled his impulse to shush Nathaniel. He considered his words, then replied, “Aye, a century ago perhaps, our fathers were from France. But now, in this place, we’re of England.”
“But, we’re still French?” Nathaniel asked.
“Not that kind of French, Nathaniel, not Papists who leave off the Bible and instead follow the priests. Hence our escape from France. There’s naught worse than Catholics.” Larrabee thought for a moment, then added, “Not even Indians.”
The family continued to walk, though now in silence. In the near distance, the stone fort awaited their arrival, British flag rippling in the wind. Larrabee listened closely and fancied that, over the snap of the flag and the calls of his soldiers, he could hear the gentle burble of the falls.
He was home.
Next Blog: Beyond the Grave: Pompey’s Circumstance
- Ancestry.com: Vital records, family histories, family trees, and databases.
- BibleStudyTools Staff, compilers and editors. Bible Verses about Leadership. BibleStudyTools.com, Salem Media Group, 2/4/2015. https://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/bible-verses-about-leadership/ . Accessed Jan. 18, 2018.
- Wheeler, George Augustus Wheeler, MD. and Henry Warren Wheeler. (Wheelers’) History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine. (Wheelers’) Alfred Mudge & Son, Printers, Boston, Mass., 1878. http://community.curtislibrary.com/CML/wheeler/index.html, accessed Dec. 15, 2017.
Image of dog: detail from Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Chauveau – Fables de La Fontaine – 02-07.png,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php? title=File:Chauveau_-_Fables_de_La_Fontaine_-_02-07.png&oldid=289263505 (accessed February 27, 2018).