Read Rebellious Heart Online

Authors: Jody Hedlund

Tags: #Romance, #Christian, #Fiction, #Historical, #General, #Massachusetts—History—Colonial period (ca. 1600–1775)—Fiction, #Young women—Fiction

Rebellious Heart

BOOK: Rebellious Heart
6.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

© 2013 by Jody Hedlund

Published by Bethany House Publishers

11400 Hampshire Avenue South

Bloomington, Minnesota 55438

Bethany House Publishers is a division of

Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Ebook edition created 2013

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

ISBN 978-1-4412-6276-9

Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.

This is a work of historical reconstruction; the appearances of certain historical figures are therefore inevitable. All other characters, however, are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Cover design by Jennifer Parker

Cover photography by Mike Habermann Photography, LLC

To my three beautiful daughters
Jenna, Jessica, and Joy

I pray that God will bless you with husbands who become
The Dearest of Friends


, M


“He’s guilty of murder.” The judge’s voice echoed through the meetinghouse. “I hereby sentence him to be hanged.”

Murmurs of approval broke the tense silence.

But Susanna Smith’s chest constricted with something close to pity. From her spot in the gallery, she had a clear view of Hermit Crab Joe, of the flicker of surprise that rounded his eyes and cracked the weathered skin of his forehead.

He might be a murderer, but that didn’t stop her from feeling sorry for the lonely old recluse.

“Thank the Lord,” Mary whispered. “Now we can finally sleep peacefully at night.”

Her sister’s words gave breath to her own thoughts, to the worries that had plagued her since several local farmers had discovered the battered, lifeless body of the young maiden along the rocky coast of the bay. The surrounding parishes had been able to speak of nothing but the murder for the past week.

Now perhaps they could resume normal life again.

Susanna folded her hands in her lap. “We need to pray for his poor lost soul.” But even as the words left her mouth, her gaze strayed to the slumped shoulders of Mr. Benjamin Ross, sitting on the bench next to Hermit Crab Joe.

Mr. Ross had spoken eloquently and passionately on behalf of his client. His defense had been flawless, and he’d almost made her believe the aged seaman was innocent. Almost.

Yet no one else in their law-abiding community besides Hermit Crab Joe even came close to being a suspect. And it was too frightening to acknowledge the possibility that a murderer still roamed free, that perhaps one of the God-fearing men sitting in the box pews below was to blame instead.

“I hope we’ll have the hanging today and be done with this awful affair.” Mary tucked a loose golden curl back under the wide brim of her hat. Her usually pale cheeks were rosy from the stuffiness that had settled upon the square room. The clapboard building that also served as a place of worship was filled beyond capacity. Even with all three doors open, the crispness of the September afternoon had been unable to penetrate the interior of Braintree’s Middle Parish Meetinghouse, including the gallery where the women sat.

“Poor, poor Joe,” Grandmother Eve said, tears pooling in her usually merry eyes.

All along, Grandmother Eve had insisted Joe was innocent. If Susanna hadn’t known better, she would have been tempted to draw the conclusion that Grandmother Eve was acquainted with the man. But that was impossible. Stooped at the shoulders, with his long hair tangled across the hump of his back, Hermit Crab Joe had always kept to himself in his dilapidated hovel near the shore.

“I’m sorry, Grandmother.” Susanna reached for the
woman’s hand and squeezed her plump fingers. “We don’t have to stay for the hanging. If you’d rather return home—”

“Honorable Justice Niles.” The strong voice of Mr. Ross rose above the clamor that had swept through the meetinghouse. “I plead for mercy on behalf of my client.”

The young lawyer stood. His face was flushed, and beads of perspiration speckled his brow beneath the gray wig he wore tied into a queue like most of the other men.

The judge, who’d been talking with the beadle and constable—likely making arrangements for the hanging—frowned at Mr. Ross and then raised his hand for silence. With the long ringlets of his white periwig, the bands at his throat, and his imposing black robe, Judge Niles was surely the picture of God himself.

The chattering among the crowd ceased, broken only by the distant call of a sea gull.

“Regardless of the sentiment toward my client,” Mr. Ross said, his clear, clipped voice commanding Susanna’s attention, as it did everyone’s, “I plead
benefit of the clergy
. I would like to prove Joe Sewall can read the Bible and thus is a worthy candidate for reform.”

The lawyer stepped forward. His back was stiff and unyielding, his expression earnest. But it was the penetrating keenness of his blue eyes that arrested Susanna more than anything else.

When she’d been a little girl visiting her grandparents at Mount Wollaston in Braintree, she’d seen Benjamin Ross on occasion. He’d delivered shoes to her grandparents’ mansion for his cordwainer father, who like many of the other farmers plied a trade in order to provide for his family. And she’d always liked his blue eyes.

At the time, he had seemed so much older, and she’d been too young to pay him much notice. Except for one time . . .

She pressed a hand against her embroidered stomacher as if she could push away the embarrassing memory.

She hadn’t seen him since that long-ago day—when she’d been such a silly, childish girl and said such silly, childish things. Not long afterward, she’d heard his father had sold ten acres of farmland in order to send him to Harvard.

Over the ensuing years she’d forgotten all about Benjamin Ross and his keen blue eyes, until she’d learned he was defending Hermit Crab Joe. Only then had Grandmother Eve informed her Mr. Ross had finished his education at Harvard, along with his lawyer training, and had recently returned to Braintree.

Mr. Ross turned to address the gathered crowd. “As God-fearing Christians, do we not have the obligation to reform a wayward soul? Would you live the rest of your earthly days with this man’s eternal death and condemnation overpowering your conscience? Would you not stay the execution and give this man a chance at reform first?”

He paused and looked over the wealthy gentlemen of the community—including her own grandfather Quincy—sitting in the front pews in their tailored suits and powdered coifs. Mr. Ross’s impassioned plea reached out to the farmers and laborers sitting in the free pews, and even to the Redcoat officer who stood as straight as a sword at the back of the meetinghouse, likely there to keep the peace.

Susanna was surprised when Mr. Ross looked up at the balcony to the women, almost as if their opinion was important too.

When his gaze flickered over her, Susanna’s breath caught in her throat. Did he recognize her? Did he remember the silly things she’d said to him those many years ago?

But his expression contained only his heartfelt passion for his client and his appeal for compassion.

Grandmother Eve clutched Susanna’s fingers. “I think this might just work. I knew if any lawyer could help Joe, it would have to be Benjamin.”

The dear woman scooted to the edge of the bench, inattentive to her fine satin petticoats imported all the way from London that had bunched together in an ungracious heap. Excitement flashed across her countenance and had obviously chased away her worry. And now she gripped the banister, ready to fly down and hug Mr. Ross if she could.

Susanna held Grandmother Eve’s hand tighter, having no doubt her grandmother would find a way to fly if she could.

“Mr. Ross,” Judge Niles finally said, “are you to have us believe this criminal can read?”

Mr. Ross nodded at Parson Wibird, who was sitting in the pew behind him.

The parson rose and tugged on the crisp tails of the white stock surrounding his neck before handing Mr. Ross a thick Bible.

“Honorable Justice, I would like my client to read the first lines of Psalm fifty-one.” Mr. Ross opened the Bible and scraped through the pages. Then he slipped his hand under Hermit Crab Joe’s elbow and assisted the man to his feet.

Everyone knew pleading benefit of the clergy was an acceptable and common method to avoid the gallows. If a criminal could prove his ability to read and thus his willingness to change, the judge might issue a lesser punishment.

Mr. Ross pointed a finger to the words on the page.

Susanna leaned forward, her stays pressing against her ribs and constricting her breath. Her thoughts jumbled together like tangled bobbins in a loom basket.

How was it possible that only moments ago, she’d been relieved Hermit Crab Joe was receiving the just dues of his
crime? And now she was holding her breath, hoping the murderer really could read and that Mr. Ross would find a way to save the man’s life?

“‘Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness.’” Hermit Crab Joe read smoothly and clearly like a learned man, not at all what she’d expected from a fisherman. “‘According unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.’”

Susanna sat in stunned silence with the rest of the gathering, except Grandmother Eve, who beamed.

“As you can see,” Mr. Ross said, closing the Bible with a thump, “my client can read quite well and is a natural candidate for reform.”

Judge Niles studied Hermit Crab Joe, his expression clearly puzzled. Finally he spoke. “Mr. Ross, how can we be assured the criminal will reform his ways? We certainly don’t want to set him free, only to have him kill another young woman.”

The judge’s words blew at Susanna like a chilly fall breeze, pushing her back, reminding her of the heinous nature of the murder.

Judge Niles was right. They had no jail in their community. What if Hermit Crab Joe decided to strike again?

Mr. Ross cocked his head at Parson Wibird. “Our own Parson Wibird has agreed to take Mr. Sewall under his mentorship.”

The parson of Middle Parish squinted and smiled, revealing several blackened teeth.

“Not only will Parson Wibird study the Scriptures with Mr. Sewall, but he’ll also provide accountability for Mr. Sewall’s whereabouts.”

“Are these your true intentions, Parson?” asked the judge.

“Most ardently,” said the parson. “As the shepherd of this flock, I take my duty seriously. Since no one is beyond the
concern of our loving heavenly Father, how can I do anything less than extend my own arms in an embrace of love toward a lost sinner?”

The judge pursed his lips together, staring first at the parson, then at Mr. Ross before bending to confer with the beadle and constable.

The beadle nodded and started down the aisle.

Susanna watched him weave through the crowd to the west door of the building, so much like the meetinghouse her father pastored in Weymouth. The interior was simple and free of artifacts and decorations. Their Puritan ancestors had sacrificed their lives to break away from the ornate and ritualistic Church of England in order to settle in America. And in the tradition of those early founders, they’d kept their churches pure. Not even a cross hung on the wall.

“Mr. Ross.” Judge Niles stood, his long robe rippling about him. “Based on your plea for benefit of the clergy on behalf of your client, I have decided to lessen the punishment for Mr. Sewall.”

Grandmother Eve released a pent-up breath at the same time Mary sucked in a sharp one.

“Instead of the gallows,” the judge continued, “I hereby sentence Joseph Sewall to have both ears cropped and his right hand and cheek branded with
for manslaughter.”

At the pronouncement of judgment, the meetinghouse broke into a commotion of protests as well as assent at the new verdict.

Susanna didn’t speak. She wasn’t sure if she should be upset a murderer was being set free or relieved that Mr. Ross had found a way to help his client.

Mr. Ross patted Hermit Crab Joe on the back and offered him a smile that said they had won.

Hermit Crab Joe’s forehead wrinkled and his brows pinched together in a moment of unguarded sadness, obviously not sharing Mr. Ross’s satisfaction with the new sentence.

She didn’t blame the old man. The judge had spared his life. But now he’d spend the rest of his life maimed with a ghastly brand upon his face and hand. Perhaps death by the gallows would have been preferable to having the guilt of his crimes forever embedded upon his personage. No one would ever be able to forgive or forget what he’d done—least of all himself.

“This is delightful.” Grandmother Eve broke into one of her cheerful smiles. “I think we shall have a party tonight to celebrate Mr. Ross’s triumph.”

Mary could only shake her head, her fair-skinned face paler than normal. “But Grandmother Eve, what about the young maidens? Won’t we still be in danger as long as Hermit Crab Joe is alive?”

“You’ll still be in danger all right, darling.” Grandmother Eve was already standing and peering over the balcony. “But it won’t be because of Joe. You were never in any danger from Joe.” The spritely woman leaned over the railing and flagged her arms at Mr. Ross.

“Careful, Grandmother.” Susanna grasped the folds of Grandmother Eve’s sacque-back gown.

“Mr. Ross!” Grandmother Eve waved her arms wider.

The young lawyer was immersed in an animated conversation with a gentleman wearing a fashionable melon-colored coat that fell to the knees of matching breeches. Everything about the gentleman spoke of wealth, from his face, clean-shaven in the English style, and his spotless white cravat to his embroidered socks and polished silver buckles. In contrast, Mr. Ross in his plain, well-worn suit had a ruggedness that hinted at his ties to the land.

At Grandmother Eve’s greeting, Mr. Ross glanced toward the gallery.

“Splendid defense, Mr. Ross,” Grandmother called, bestowing a smile upon him.

“Thank you, Mrs. Quincy.” He bowed his head.

“You’ll come to Mount Wollaston tonight for a party, will you not?” Grandmother Eve dangled over the edge like a brightly lit chandelier. Susanna rose and took hold of her grandmother’s arm to prevent her from plummeting to the first floor. Thankfully, Mary had the sense to do likewise.

“My two beautiful granddaughters will be there.”

The well-dressed gentleman spun, and his eyes widened at the sight of her and Mary on either side of Grandmother Eve, holding on to the woman. His gaze swung from Mary to her, then back to Mary.

And of course that’s where his attention stayed. On Mary. On pretty, fair-haired, fair-skinned Mary.

Not on dark-haired, olive-skinned Susanna.

Why would anyone give the moon a second glance when it was next to the sun? Who would want the seriousness of the ocean depths when they could have the freshness of a tinkling brook?

BOOK: Rebellious Heart
6.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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