A/N: I have been disappointed with the lacking number of "The Witch of Blackbird Pond" fanfics on here! It has to be my favorite book of all time. I realized the best way to change the number is to contribute myself, and ta da…..a fanfic has been born. *grin* A big and blissful "Thank You So Much" to those who reviewed my one shot "Blown". Your encouragement has kept me paddling around my oceanic brain to give you more. Perhaps, the feedback I get from this chapter, will lead me to post another? Hint, hint. Thank you so much for clicking into this puritan Cinderella story!
Meadows And Brooms
I ~ The Last Cruff
"Our preacher says passing is peaceful with the faces of loved ones around, bidding you to the Lord. The fever had left my father dim sighted, if not blind, so I pray he discerned my face that night. His last smile returns to me when I bid him peace in my night prayers. I find no peace in saying them alone…"
Prudence ceased writing and gazed at the blackbirds that danced in flight across the meadow. They dived in and out of the golden grass, partnering themselves to the energy of the breeze. She caught her loose leaf stationary from being blown into the smooth pond before her. Her boot heels dug into the base of the bank as she leaned against the slanted earth that shelved her inkwell. She furthered the movement of her pen.
"…Spring will pass my lost peace to your garden, Hannah. I hope those in Saybrook are better from the harsh winter. The wedding is already upon us here. I promise to steal a chance and write you afterwards. Until then, may many blessings be given you. Sincerely, prudence."
Prudence quickly blotted her mistake and capitalized her name. Folding Hannah Tupper's letter, she addressed it and slipped it in her pocket. As she arose, her skirt stuck to her thin frame from the early dew that had remained under her. The fresh sun gave her energy. Pulling a scuffed, leather satchel from a large bush, she slipped her stationary kit inside and returned it to its secret place. A trodden path into the tree line was her exit from the clearing.
The Cruff's cabin was a mile walk from Blackbird Pond. Its crude disposition had worsened through the winter, due to the absence of man in the household. Unlike it, Prudence had watched her mother unforgivably bloom as the spring set in. A new man had begun to call. There was seldom a fire in the cabin before, but Goodwife Cruff would sit at one for long, awkward hours, waiting for Silas Reiner's next visit. The courtship had lasted barely two months, and the wedding was too easily planned. It was as if Adam Cruff's memory had melted with the winter. Prudence pulled her short jacket closed against a sudden shiver. She felt her own existence had melted. The company of the letter in her pocket reminded her of faces that had been gone for years. Hannah. Kit. Nat. Would they recognize her?
The path abruptly stopped at a fence. Nearby, cows ate, paying no attention as she began to climb into their field. As she descended the railing, her sleeve caught on a nail. She yanked her arm free and fell backwards. The nearest cow, a small spotted calf, backed away. His cry had stifled the loud, inevitable tear to her beloved and only jacket. Prudence touched her sleeve sadly and pulled herself to her feet. She stepped across the field in safe distance from the calf and his nearby mother. The other few cows clustered away from her.
"Shhh. No harm done," she apologized, lowering her tone as she moved. The mother cow continued to munch on her breakfast. The spring grass was too sweet to stop for confrontation. The calf gave another piteous cry. "I'm sorry, little on'. Don't cry. I'm going. Your momma will make it all right. That's what Mommas do. " She shrugged, half believing herself. She slipped over a second fence hesitantly, but dropped to her feet without incident. Jumping the ditch onto a main road, she was relieved to see no cows in sight and crossed into another field.
No smoke puffed from the Cruff cabin's chimney. Prudence gathered her long skirt to run. As she rounded the outside walls, she found the door ajar. It have been later in the day she thought. The one room was empty but for a few bundles in a shadowed corner, lit by the stream of light from the doorway. Silas Reiner had nearly moved all their belongings already. Her pathetic home would be forsaken forever. She slipped under the lean-to porch outside. Her chest pounded from her sprint, and her cheeks burned. She stumbled to a pool of ditch water in the corner of the yard. Cupping her hands in the water to cool her face, her murky reflection furthered heartache. She didn't look like she was going to a wedding. Almost violently, Prudence rolled up her sleeves and began scrubbing her arms and neck. She tussled her hair and smoothed her long bangs behind her ears. There was no help for her faded dress and torn jacket sleeve that newly hung from her wrist. Looking presentable under such circumstances was impossible. She crossed the property in a full run toward town..
The Wethersfield road was quiet, but the beat in her chest made its way to her head. Lightheadedness provoked her as she rounded the bend of the low curving road. She slowed, but earth underfoot shifted her into an unavoidable slide. Her other sleeve was thoroughly stained with drying mud from the last rain. No one expected her to look elegant. She was a poor woman's child. A half orphan. Getting up weakly, Prudence restrained self pity and regained her speed.
The Church yard itself was quiet, but inside the wedding had evidently begun. The clear voice of John Holbrook escaped through the walls. She fell onto the steps exhaustedly. Her breath hardly slowed. She slid off her ruined jacket and tossed it under the steps. She had to force herself to enter the building. The room was unusually warm, due to new glass windows. They were a late Christmas gift from the fashionable William Ashby family. Arriving just last week, their employee, Silas Reiner, had hurried the installment as a sort of surprise for his new bride. They were magnificent, too magnificent for the plain building. Prudence tiptoed into a sparsely filled pew. Goodwife Cruff, the mother she had been strangely paired with in life, was smiling at her groom. His returning grin looked silly on his leathery face. They were exchanging rings, or rather a ring. The same ring from Goodwife Cruff's first marriage. Silas Reiner promised a better one…one day.
Prudence searched for the Reiner girls among their neighbors. They had been survivors of the fever that winter. Many of Wethersfield were still plagued. Toward the front, the elder, Dorothy, wore a stilted smile and thick auburn hair. The younger was Dinah, a close replica of her sister, who wore longer hair and a distracted demeanor. She kept whispering with the neighbor children beside her and giggling at something amusing. Dorothy Reiner nudged her sister, impatiently. She herself seemed lost in every word of the event, her chin turned upward and her eyes sentimental. To Prudence the ceremony dragged on with slow spoken vows by the new couple, yet she didn't want it to end. She had questioned herself beforehand of how she would feel when she saw her mother kiss a new husband. She had never seen her parents kiss growing up. Seeing this second marriage seal itself sharpened an odd pang in her chest.
"Please follow respectfully behind and greet Goodman and Goodwife Reiner in the yard." Prudence winced at the proclamation. Goodwife Reiner? The couple exited the building. Anxiously, Prudence searched the small crowd of guests cluttering into the aisle.
"Sir?" Prudence called in a mouse-like tone. Prudence cleared her throat. "Sir!" she said strengthening her tone. John Holbrook stopped his steps down the isle. His sober eyes turned to her. "I was wondering if Mistress Wood had come."
"No, my wife's family is still indisposed." A sad look deepened in his light eyes. He then seemed to remember the girl's plight. His voiced lowered. "She did tell me that you might come to me in her stead. Do you have something for me?" Prudence wished she was talking to his gentle wife. She petted the precious object in her pocket. She surrendered her letter. It was secured in the preacher's shadowy pocket. "It will go off tomorrow."
"Thank you," said Prudence, almost in a whisper. An emptiness swept through Prudence as the he walked away. She hurried after him. "Please give her my appreciation," she continued, catching him in the doorway. He turned. His tall stature loomed over her. "It means so much to have…to keep in touch with everyone. Please tell her." Prudence could say no more.
"May I encourage you to find new sunshine in your life." Prudence followed his eyes to the church yard. The new couple was shaking the hands of their neighbors. Prudence looked away quickly. The last Sabbath day's lesson flashed in Prudence's mind: to thank the Lord for trials and tribulations. Had he meant it for her?
John Holbrook put on his hat and retreated down the steps. Prudence watched him greet the Reiners and retire down the lane toward the house containing his frail wife. His pocket contained the only lifeline Prudence had. Prudence stood in the doorway, directionless. The wrinkled hands across the water would understand her dark plight. How could there be any sunshine in her life? She was the only Cruff left.