Sarah, Returned--Chapter 13 (A Steemit Original Novel)
God, what if I’m in Dover hundreds of years before Europeans settle it? How will I find a way home if I can’t communicate with the Natives? More important, how will I get by in such a wild, alien environment?
But, no. Look at this rationally, Sarah. Europeans have to be here by now. The wagon trail is indication of that. As far as I know, the Natives didn’t use those before England, Spain, and France came. And, if I’m remembering my history lessons correctly, Central Avenue was once nothing more than a wagon trail, and was the first road in the town. That means I’m on Central Avenue, heading toward Garrison Hill, which the settlers originally called the Great Hill.
It looks so different from the town I know, but the road and the hill give me a sense of orientation and place. I think I know where I am. That in itself is calming and centering. People live here, people who share my culture and language. If I’m right, I should start seeing houses soon, both small log cabins and large frame houses, as well as some huge , heavily fortified garrison houses. The earliest European settlements were on or near the hill, clustered together for protection in this new and foreign environment. If I’m far enough back in time that Dover is new, then this place is almost as alien to the settlers as it is to me.
The sun is almost gone below the horizon as the hill comes more fully into view, with only a few faint pink streaks lighting up the low-hanging clouds, speckled starlight sparking into existence by their rounded edges. The chill in the air is sharp and biting, my long-sleeved dress no match for it. I don’t think it’s fall yet, and it clearly isn’t winter. The grass along the trail is a mix of pale yellow and deep green, and the trees I saw in the distance were just beginning to turn various shades of orange, purple, and red at their tops. It must be late summer, right when the weather makes an abrupt turn from warm to crisp. Not quite cold enough for snow to fall, but getting close. The first flurries of the season should appear in about a month or so.
At least I don’t have to spend time in a freezing, snow-heaped New England winter without central heating. Thank goodness for small miracles.
Just as I’m sure my legs are going to give out under me, my calf and thigh muscles screaming in pain from endurance exercise they are not used to, trickles of sweat dripping down my sides under my dress in spite of the chill, I spot it. The town. Dover. My home, and yet, not my home. The mix of familiar and alien is unsettling, but I press on. I’ve got to get some shelter before the sun is totally gone, and protection from the wolf I don’t see but still hear howling behind me, stalking me down the trail.
It shouldn't be hard. I don’t have any money suitable for what has got to be colonial times, but people were more trusting of strangers in the past. Surely someone in town will take in a 12 year old girl who is all on her own. These are Puritans, perhaps with some Quakers among them if the time period is right for it. They will do the Christian thing.
As I get closer to the town, I spy white smoke coming out of brick chimneys, drifting away into the pink and orange sky, creating thought bubble dots for the clouds above, like a comic book. There are at least three wood-frame houses to my left, with maybe more beyond them. It’s hard to tell from this far away. To the right, at the bottom of the hill, is a large garrison house made of thick logs, a virtually impenetrable log-and-plank fence surrounding it.
I saw a garrison house once at a museum. It had been saved from demolition and moved there decades ago; it dated from the 1680’s. These houses were common in Dover in the mid to late 1600’s, created as wilderness fortresses that would be difficult to breach, and provided the occupants with excellent defensive features such as high ground and keyhole openings for rifle barrels, giving those within the chance to spy their target and shoot without putting them at risk in front of a window. They were mostly built to protect against hostile Native American raids, which were an issue in this area until at least the 1730’s, and also afforded a defense from wild animals. Each one was large enough to hold several families, more if they camped out in the yard inside the fence, and the owners were expected to take in as many people from the town as they could during dangerous incidents. Anyone who owned a garrison house had an unspoken responsibility to protect others in town without such defenses at their disposal.
While I have no doubt the occupants of the smaller houses would take me in, the garrison seems like the best choice. Whoever owns it is obligated to take me in and offer me protection. Plus, I know the garrison will have ample room for me, while the smaller houses may be inconvenienced by my presence.
As I get closer to the hill, I see more garrison houses dotting the side facing me, stretching around to the far sides and going up toward the top. The hill was the location of most, but not all, of the garrison houses in Dover, mostly because it offered the high ground, which is always the best position for defense.
Once I finally cross what has to be the town border, where more small, frame houses are visible to the left, it becomes an easy decision. I’ll take the first garrison house I saw, the one at the bottom of the hill to the right. If I’ve got my bearings correct, and I am sure I do, it’s sitting where the apartments are in my time, just off of Brick Road. It’s the closest garrison to me, and after that five mile sprint, I have no desire to climb the hill to get to the others, especially since I see no trails going up there. The garrison to the right is where I will seek shelter until I can figure out how to get home.
A thought occurs to me, and I almost laugh out loud. Karen’s attempt to frame me for injuring her, and her plan to get me involuntarily committed seem like minor irritants compared to this. I definitely would prefer to go home and deal with being more than 350 years in the past. This is a whole other level of trouble, and I don’t know how to extricate myself from it. Not yet.
I bound the last few yards down the road up to the garrison’s gate, which two men from the house are just beginning to close for the evening; the gate, made of thick, heavy logs with the bark still attached is huge, even bigger than the history books implied. I’m terrible at guessing sizes and distances, but if I had to give it a go, I would say it’s about 10 feet high, 18 feet wide, and two feet thick. No wonder it takes two grown men to close it. I wonder if they are part of the family who lives here, or apprentices or hired hands.
I’m about to find out. They hear the soft crunch of my hose-clad feet on the grass as I leave the wagon road, and look up with surprise as I approach them. Thank God I’m not wearing pants or shorts, as this slinky, too-large-for-me-now dress is probably scandalous enough. Their casual dress of white shirt and black pants in rough, home-spun fabric tells me this isn’t a Sunday, and also confirms my 1600’s-era suspicion. They’re young, not more than in their late teens or early 20’s, faces still clean-shaven, unlike the older men, who will almost certainly have beards, unless they're Quakers. Their eyes go wide as I approach, as if I’m some apparition conjured by the mysterious magic of the woods beyond the town.
I stand there, not two feet from them, box clutched to my chest with one hand, dress held up with my other. I want them to speak first; though I’ve read writing from this time period and the English used is almost identical to ours, I don’t know what the accents were in this time. No one in 2017 does, since the recording of sounds won't be invented for another two centuries. Depending on where were are in the 1600’s, these men might be directly from England, or may be second, or even third generation settlers. They could sound like anything, and I would like the opportunity to copy their accent so I don’t sound as out of place as I look.
To my frustration, they remain silent, frozen in place as they stare at the oddly dressed girl who appeared out of nowhere. Oh geez, this is a superstitious time and place. I have to remember that and act accordingly.
Please, God, don’t let this be 1692, the year of the Salem witch trials.
They dragged people to jail in Salem from as far away as Maine during the height of the hysteria; neither my location nor my magically reduced age will protect me from that abomination if it’s going on right now. They kept children as young as four years old in jail during the witchcraft madness. A 12 year old will be treated just as an adult who is accused of being a witch, and my strange appearance from nowhere and odd clothing will make me a perfect target for accusation.
Eventually, after a few minutes of mutual staring, the older of the two young men speaks, his courage finding him again. In another lifetime, I might have dated him. He is definitely cute, with shoulder-length blonde hair, bright blue eyes, square jawline, and chiseled muscles, carefully sculpted from hard farm work. He can’t be more than 22. Of course, in the 1600’s, a marriage between a 12 and 22 year old was not the felony it is in my time; in fact, it wasn’t uncommon at all.
“Who are you?” he asks, a tentative quiver in his voice. I identify the accent immediately. It is a mix of modern British and Bostonian, with a hint of a Scottish, or possibly Irish, lilt thrown in. A prototype for the modern New England accent. I smile, not only to put the men at ease, but because this is an accent I can adopt with no trouble.
“My name is Sarah Morgan,” I reply, perfectly matching his manner of speech. “I need a place to stay for the night, and maybe a few days. Will the family who lives here accept me as their guest?”
“You are barely more than a child,” the younger one states, gaping at me. He is probably 18 or 19, tops, and looks much like the other one, except he’s about an inch shorter and has dark brown hair and rich brown eyes that are swiftly turning to black as the sun sets. “And what are you wearing? I’ve not seen clothing like that before.”
Of course he would mention the clothes first. I need a back story. During my jog here, I was too preoccupied with getting away from the wolf and finding shelter to consider the need for a tale about my origins these colonials could believe. Put on the spot, I've got to wing it. Time to discover how good my high school improve skills have held up in the three years since I graduated.
“My parents were killed in the woods days ago,” I reply, speaking completely on the fly. “Wolves.” The wolf howl, farther away now but no less chilling, drifts over to us on the breeze as if to underscore my point. “I hid in the wagon while my father and mother were looking for food, and they never came back. When I ventured out to look for them, Natives approached our wagon, and I had to hide behind the trees to avoid being seen by them. They took everything. Later, I found my parents, but they were already gone to the next world. I couldn’t do anything for them, and there wasn’t much left to bury even if I had been blessed with a shovel. So, I took my mother’s outer clothing in case I needed it to be warm, and started off in the direction we were going. After three days in the woods, my own clothes were ruined, and I had to put on my mother’s. Fortunately, I soon found the wagon trail after that, and followed it here.”
Not a bad tale at all. Even I'm impressed by my improv storytelling skills.
“And you have no brothers or sisters?” the older one asks with wariness, as if I truly might be some sprite or fairy come to corrupt him or take him away.
“No. Only me. We came to Ipswich from England and stayed a year, but my father wanted more space and the opportunity to become prosperous with his own farm. That is why we set out for Dover.”
Thank God I enjoyed History in school and paid attention. Ipswich and Salem, Massachusetts were the two most common harbors for ships from England in this area during the 1600’s, and both were fairly built-up towns on the verge of becoming crowded by mid-century. Many people set off for the frontier for more space. Dover, at the time, was part of that frontier.
The two men eye me up and down a few times, as if figuring out what to make of me and my story. They are either going to let me in, or call the master of the house to decide. No other choice exists for them. Finally, they nod at each other, and the younger one turns to me. “You may come inside, Sarah. We will show you to our mistress and she will take care of you. Knowing her, I am sure you will be allowed to stay as long as you like, or until a relative can be found for you. Or, a guardian in town if you have no no relative in the colonies. If she likes you, she may ask her husband to be your guardian, so you can stay here. I promise you, you will be safe within these walls.”
“Thank you,” I say with utter sincerity. I mean it. I was going to get eaten by a wolf or freeze if someone didn’t bring me inside. “What is your name, so I may know who to thank God for rescuing me?”
God was the whole basis of the European founding of New England. I must remember to invoke Him often here. “Joshua Hanson,” he says, giving me a dazzling open, welcoming smile. I immediately notice how white and straight his teeth are; considering the lack of proper dental care in this era, Joshua Hanson won the genetic lottery where teeth are concerned. Whatever unspoken communication just passed between him and his partner, they have obviously decided I am harmless and in need of their protection. Thank God. For real.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Joshua Hanson,” I say, and return his smile, dipping my head slightly to appear respectful. Women were subservient to men in these times, though the extent to which that translated from the Bible to everyday life is still fiercely debated by historians. I suppose I’m about to find out for myself.
“Richard Otis and his family welcome you,” Joshua says, indicating I should walk through the gate and go toward the house.
I go, smiling and nodding at both men as I do, and they shut and lock the gate behind me. Keeping my eye on the wooden door of the massive house before me, I focus on making sure my back is erect and my legs straight, because otherwise, I might fall into a shuddering heap on the muddy, livestock-filled yard. Richard Otis?
This can be no coincidence; a cosmic hand has to be in it somewhere. There was only one Richard Otis in town this early on in Dover’s history. Richard Otis the blacksmith. Richard Otis who gets massacred, along with a good portion of the rest of the town, during a Native American raid in 1689 (meaning I have to be here before that fateful year). Richard Otis who is my 7-times great-grandfather.
The universe, in her infinite wisdom and mysterious ways, has seen fit to not only bring me to my hometown more than 400 years before I was born, but to my ancestors. The original Otis garrison house was at the bottom of the hill. I should have remembered that.
The portal brought me back to my own family. Three hundred years in the past. ________________________________________________________________
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