The Other Farmer’s Wife
Nate had preceded her westward by six long months. Prudence had spent that eternity in the home of her devout in-laws, who thought it was a shame the Puritanism had gone the way of King George III. She was a good Christian, but not quite that good. Her father, a Harvard lecturer, had introduced both her to the Enlightenment thinkers and new ideas in science. She was thrilled not only to be going into a house of her own, but one far enough away from Boston that she’d have room to live as she wished. She felt herself exhale with relief and satisfaction.
“Here we are,” Nate said as he reined the wagon to a stop. “What do you think?”
Beside her stood a one and a half story clapboard house in a small clearing, set back slightly from the road. A wide barn was attached to the right side of the house; a small paddock projected from long side. Nate had built all of this in six months, Prudence thought. He had cleared the land in the frozen, snowy winter, had dug the foundation the instant the ground thawed, and framed the house by May. She had married a man with determination and will power. They would make a fine farm together.
“Speechless?” Nate turned to smile proudly at her.
“It’s truly amazing!” Prudence replied, laughing. She could smell the loamy woodland that surrounded the house. A blue jay was barking an alarm at their arrival. The sun was still high above the trees, glinting off oak leaves and the cedar roof shingles. “I can’t imagine how hard you must have worked.”
Nate helped her down from the wagon. “This is just the start,” he said. “When you get inside, you’ll see the work that still needs to be done. But it’s liveable. Before we finish the interior, we have to clear the land for fields so we can get some crops in this summer.” We? Prudence wondered, but realized anew that they were a unit now, a married couple acting as one. “We" would raise children, keep a house, grow crops and tend livestock.
She walked a few feet to the edge of the woodland beside the house. The ground was slightly damp; she could feel the moisture through the thin soles of her boots. Pine needles and dry crisp oak leaves crackled under each footfall. Somewhere nearby a woodpecker was drilling noisily into a trunk, a percussive thudding like a carpenter’s hammering.
“All these trees must come down?” she asked, gesturing randomly toward the vast, anonymous woods. She had no vision where their land ended or how many fields Nate needed to make a successful farm.
“Well, most of them, at least,” he said. “We’ll be growing for ourselves but also to sell.”
In the undergrowth of dusty blue-green blueberry and privet shrubs, a flash of pink caught Prudence’s eye. Cypripedium acaule, in Linnaeus’s new taxonomy. She had read about lady slippers growing up, their delicate rose pouch that lures and traps bees, but had never seen one. They could not be propagated, she had read, nor could they be transplanted successfully. Lady slippers did not like having their roots disturbed. And now, she realized, they grew in pockets throughout these woods that would soon become fields.
“But Nathan,” she said quietly, “the lady slippers. Look how beautiful they are.”
“What, those?” he replied. “Those are all over. They’re weeds. Enjoy them now, because next week that will be a cornfield. Now, Mrs. Beacham, let’s get you settled in your new house.” Nate grabbed the topmost trunk from the wagon and started toward the house.
Prudence slowly peeled her eyes from the woodland floor and followed her husband into her new home.