Disclaimer: Everything but what history is in the public domain belongs to Ann Rinaldi, a brilliant young adult historical fiction novelist whom I respect, and, therefore, would not wish to steal from.
Author's Note: I've never written a first person story and this is only my second fanfiction, so please don't be harsh when you comment. Also, I did some research to try to get the names and everything to fit the time period, but I'm not a historian, so if you spot something that you think is inaccurate please bring it up nicely and I will fix it when I get around to it. Thanks in advance for your consideration.
My family was at meat when my sister, Honora, who was one year my senior, deigned to arrive home from her heavily-chaperoned by servants walk with John Williams, the son of a well-to-do merchant. The hems of her skirts were soaked from the hostile weather outside, and stray snowflakes dotted her dark hair like powdered sugar. Powdered sugar. There was a luxury that my father, like most devout Puritans, tended to frown upon, just as they did on frivolities such as lace or brightly colored fabrics.
Speaking of my father, he was fixing my elder sister with his most stern magistrate glower. "You're late," he reprimanded her.
"Sorry, Father." Honora bowed her head in contrition.
"You're also wet," Mother contributed, her scolding milder. "You'll take a cold, Honora."
"I'm dreadfully sorry, Mother, but I'm sure that I'll be fine." Honora knew what I did: it was best to soothe Mother before she could work herself up into a frenzy, or else she would scold until the Second Coming of Christ.
Father cut in once more. "You missed prayers, daughter. Therefore, I expect you to say twice your usual amount before you retire. Furthermore, you are know that supper in this household is always served promptly at seven, and you will arrive punctually along with everyone else or do without the meal next time."
"Yes, Father," Honora muttered, her eyes lowered and the perfect portrait of the compliant child so idealized in Salem.
"Go up to your bedchamber and change out of those sopping clothes then before you catch your death cold." Father waved his hand in dismissal. "When you've finished that, you may join us."
Silence engulfed the table again as my older sister hastened upstairs to change into suitable attire. My five younger siblings, Anne, Grace, Faith, Joseph, and Thomas were not permitted to speak at meals unless they were addressed, just as Honora and I had been forbidden to speak when we were younger. When I was their age, my tongue had itched to speak, but now I had nothing to say, and neither did my parents. Perhaps as one aged one lost the desire to speak.
However, when Honora rejoined us, I could not resist the opportunity to make her blush, as sinful as that sounded.
"Where have you been, sister?" I asked, although I already knew the answer as did everyone else at the table, as she slipped quietly into her chair across from mine. "Here I've been working all day while you've been making cow eyes at John Williams while walking about Salem Town with him. You sly fox, getting all the sport."
"You're notion of work is probably studying up for Harvard, no doubt," retorted Honora, accepting the platter of food offered to her by an indentured servant girl, who left as soon as my sister relieved her of her burden. "Well, you might have spent more time dreaming about darling Susanna English than studying. Speaking of Susanna English, she's a fine young lady. When are you going to call upon her again, brother?"
"When I find the time." I shrugged, taking a sudden, unfathomable interest in my cutlery. The truth was that I was afraid to call upon Susanna again. I'd made several calls on her in the autumn, but whenever I sat with her in her parlor and tried to find something intelligent to say, I always found myself tongue-tied. For some reason, my mind tended to go as blank as a washed slate whenever I was near her, and when I did have thoughts they were the unchaste time no decent young man would mention in conversation. All in all, despite my best efforts, I always conducted myself like a village idiot in Susanna's presence, and, understandably, she had grown impatient with me and had done nothing to encourage me, thereby discouraging me.
"Poor Susanna," sighed Honora. "Her young man doesn't call on her like John Williams calls on me, and it's not any fault of her own. Her Johnathan's just too busy fretting about Harvard."
"I doubt that she thinks of me as her Johnathan at all, for your information, as I don't have the impression that she fancies me at all." Even though I was still bantering with Honora, I couldn't help but feel a twinge of sorrow at the fact that Susanna did not reciprocate my feelings. In fact, I found that the meat on my plate was appearing downright unappetizing, when only seconds before, it had tasted delicious. Of course, that was utter folly, and I took another bite of meat. It was immoral to waste God's gracious bounty, after all.
Her eyes gleaming at me, Honora smiled. "Well, tomorrow, you're travelling to Boston with Father to hear cases for the General Court of Massachusetts," she reminded me, her tone far too innocent to conceal anything virtuous. "There are pretty girls aplenty in Boston, or so the scandalmongers have it. Happen one of them will catch your eye. Then you needn't bother with Susanna, who clearly wants none of your bumbling attentions."
I opened my mouth to offer a rejoinder, but at this point Father, who spent his days resolving disputes and despised hearing them in his home, had enough. "Stop bickering this instant, both of you," he admonished. "It is indecent and ungodly to quarrel at a family table. You two are worse than those in Salem Village with their petty squabbles about pigs and chickens. Johnathan, stop tormenting Honora about John Williams, for if I have no problem with him, then neither should you."
"Yes, Father," I answered, thoroughly chastened for my childishness. "I don't have any issue with John." This was no falsehood. I regarded John as a more than decent young man from a more than decent family. However, no brother could be expected to resist the temptation of mocking his older sister when she began courting someone, and I was a much a sinful son of Adam as anyone else.
Father's severe brown eyes focused on Honora now. "As for you,Honora, you will not taunt Johnathan about Susanna English. If he wants to call upon her, he shall find the time. If he doesn't, he will not do so. For the time being, I see no problem with him focusing on his studies, and you will do well not to involve yourself in the affairs of men of which you understand little."
"Yes, sir," Honora whispered, flushing, and the pair of us said nothing else all through the meal.
The next morning, as Honora had said, Father and I set off for Boston on horseback, eating muffins Mother had the kitchen hands prepare for us. For awhile, we rode in silence, then Father commented, "I want you to keep a sharp eye on the proceedings of the General Court, son. It is a chance for you to learn much, and I expect you to take advantage of it."
"Of course, sir." He need not concern himself with that. I have been begging him to take me with him to the General Court for years, but he had always refused, insisting that my lessons with my tutor, who had left me now that I was soon to be off to college, were more important, and I could guarantee that I would be watching as much of the proceedings as attentively as I could.
"There's no need to neglect the life of the mind just because your tutor has left," Father went on. "After all, you're off to Harvard in the spring, and you don't want to fall behind."
Did he not notice me spending almost all of my waking hours buried in my books, or was it some paternal obligation to lecture me on the importance of my studies even if I had not, to my knowledge, forgotten their significance? Whatever the answer, I never dared to discover it, for I dared not voice the question aloud.
In Salem, slanderous speech earns a body a public flogging, and, in the Hathorne household, insolence garnered you a taste of the rod. Although my father had not physically disciplined me for awhile now, and my tutor, before he had departed to fill the hollow head of some other lad, had not rapped my knuckles in the last year or two, it was best not to provoke God, Father, or any other authority figure with such thoughts, since they might see fit to humble you, probably through punishment.
With these sentiments in mind, I replied only, "Yes, Father. That's why I have been studying several hours a day."
Satisfied with this, my father allowed, "That is why I permitted you to accompany me. However, it never hurts to remind those whose young minds are most apt to lead them astray of their duties."
Ah, so it had been a reminder. I had gotten my answer without having to trouble myself with voicing the inquiry.
"I will heed your words as always." A thought crossed my mind. My father seemed to b e in an open mood, so perchance he was willing to engage in a conversation with me. Testing the waters as I generally did with him, I started hesitantly, "Father?"
"Yes, son." He nodded to indicate that I should continue.
"I have been thinking." Not sure how to phrase what was plaguing me, I halted.
"Always a bad sign. What, pray tell, have you been thinking about, lad?"
"Susanna." One word. I hoped it was enough. It was more than enough for me. In fact, it was incredible how much power over me that one word wielded. It was as though I were a poppet doll in her control, but I knew Susanna was no witch, even if I Was enchanted by her.
"Susanna English, I presume?" A ghost of a grin appeared on Father's face.
"Well, as Honora has suggested, call upon her," my father advised gently.
"I don't think she fancies me, Father," I confessed, my cheeks probably the color of Bridget Bishop's crimson bodice that had landed her in so much trouble. "When I'm around her, I'm horribly tongue-tied."
"The more you call upon her, the more at ease you shall become in her presence. At the present, you cannot fault her if she is cold with you. Mayhap she has interpreted your lack of pursuit as a sign that you are no longer interested in her. At any rate, you have neglected to call upon her, and she can hardly be expected to keep waiting for you, boy. It has been over a fortnight since you have called upon her." A thoughtful note entered his tone. "I do not believe that her parents will object to you calling upon her. You and Susanna are from the same class, after all."
"I'll call upon her upon our return from Boston," I promised, my stomach flipping in a peculiar combination of fear and excitement.
"Don't spend all your time with Miss English, or you'll end up neglecting your studies, Johnathan, and then I will be most displeased with you," warned Farther.
"I won't forget about my studies, Father."
After that, there was nothing more to say to each other, and quiet lapsed between us again.