The Songs of Moses and Miriam

Richard teaches her how to read.

The sisters taught her letters, but when Richard holds a book in his long-fingered hands, patient as she makes her way through sentences and paragraphs, description and soliloquy, something happens. The words become a kind of music and come together so that she can hear the song, with all of its layers of harmony and instrumentation wending their way to a meaning she never dreamed existed. There is a new understanding of scripture that she gains slowly, like picking up grains of sand one at a time.

She doesn't fault the sisters for not giving her this precious gift. As the memory of her home grows more distant, less shot through with fear and the oppressive need to concentrate on just surviving, Beatrice thinks that they taught her what they could -- what they had the time, but mostly the knowledge, to.

Richard is different. Richard knows more than she thought a man could. More than it seems anyone can learn in a lifetime. So she assumes, gradually, that a lifetime to Richard isn't the same as regular people. He's like Moses or Abraham or Noah, only much more soft-spoken (it is years before she hears him raise his voice).

He's like Moses to her even without his living forever. After all, he led her people -- those that were still alive, that is -- out of slavery. Didn't he? When the ship (much later, she learns its name, but for a long time, the Black Rock is just 'the ship' to her) finally came to a creaking, dripping, sickeningly-slanted stop that day, Beatrice remembers that she wishes she'd died earlier of disease, or in the storm, instead of waiting to starve to death belowdecks, in the dark, in chains. And then there was a face on the stairs, and a young man meeting her gaze and calling, "Ellie, haec est salva!" The girl who appeared behind him said, "Semiviva," and then, slipping past them, a man with dark eyes and dark hair who would introduce himself as Richard Alpert.

It turns out there are five of them still alive; soggy, ill, and underfed, and Richard takes off their chains and leads them outside into blinding light, green with life. When the sunlight hits her eyes she finally feels the weight of the shackles lifted from her, and the words come tumbling out, in the English that the sisters taught her; "In you, O Lord, I seek refuge, let me never be put to shame..."

They understand her. Richard takes her hand, and Beatrice thinks that, at the very least, she has weathered a plague of darkness.

He leads her the rest of the way into freedom the first time he hands her a book and asks her what it means to him. And maybe, she will always think, for a hundred and fifty years more, that is her real Exodus.