"Is something the matter, John?" Elizabeth asked, when he returned, a thin sheen of sweat upon his forehead from the sun, and a frown upon his face from the thoughts of Parris's niece that had plagued him.
"No," he said automatically. "Abigail Williams–"
"Abigail Williams?" Elizabeth cut him off, her mouth twisting into an odd little frown. "Who is Abigail Williams, John? I thought that you were going to see Reverend Parris about his niece."
"His niece is Abigail Williams," John told her. "She will work for you."
He turned away, walking over to the fireplace and gazing into Elizabeth's cooking pot. Thin broth boiled in it, a sheen of grease upon the top and a few kernels of corn bobbing in it. The broth itself was pale and transparent, with only a slightly brown colour visible in the foam.
It looked distinctly unappetizing.
John picked up a spoon from where Elizabeth kept it hanging at the side of the fireplace and stirred slowly, watching the kernels shift around in the liquid. He glanced back over his shoulder and saw Elizabeth watching him nervously.
With a small sigh, he looked back at the pot and raised the spoon to his lips, taking a small sip. It was near flavourless.
As was everything that they ate.
"It needs a pinch more salt, I think," he said, hanging the spoon back up.
All the spices eaten by every heathen in India couldn't give broth a flavour in this house, he thought, but smiled as Elizabeth fetched the salt box and threw a pinch in. It would make little difference, he expected, but he took a bit more and tasted once again and congratulated his wife.
"Perhaps next time you are in the village, you could buy some meat," Elizabeth suggested tentatively. "I think our food is much plainer when we haven't any."
"I'll buy some on Monday, when I fetch Abigail," John told her. He trailed off when he saw Elizabeth turn away. "Is something amiss here, Elizabeth?"
"Why can her uncle not bring her?" asked Elizabeth quietly. "Or she could come by herself – a strong girl can walk from Salem to our house in little over an hour. I see not why you should fetch her."
"Does it matter? I will go before dawn, you will not even know…"
Elizabeth shot him the coldest look that he had ever received from her, or from anyone. Even Reverend Parris could not freeze with a look the way that Elizabeth could, and John found himself wondering what he could possibly have said to offend her so desperately.
"It matters very much, John," she snapped. "The very fact that I will not know matters. Do you aim to keep secrets from me, John?"
"No!" He jolted back, offended. "I have no secrets from you! What secrets do you suspect me to be keeping?"
Silence hung in the air, and then Benjamin scrambled in, crying, with a scraped knee, and Elizabeth turned her attentions to him. John watched, mute, as his wife helped his son into a chair and rolled up his breeches that she might attend to the scrape.
She kept her eyes pointedly averted from John, even as he went around to stand beside Benjamin and tell him that he would heal before he knew it, and John bristled. He did not care for his wife's expression, her coldness or the way she looked at him as though she thought that he was a liar.
She should know me better than that.
But John said nothing. Not in the presence of their son.
Elizabeth scarcely touched him when they went to bed that night, instead lying as far from him upon their thin and narrow mattress as she could. When John tried to touch her, to draw her closer to him, she only stiffened and pushed his hands away.
"I am tired, John."
"You are always tired!" He did not bother trying to keep scorn from his voice. "I work all day in the fields and you sit at home and youare too tired? I would think you would have the energy to please your husband, Elizabeth."
She did not speak, but she did not soften either. She turned away and left John to fume and burn with frustration.