Saturday, May 12, 2012

Chapter 17: In which we appreciate the modern world

Because it means this stays firmly in the realm of historical fiction: "A young surgeon was summoned from Hartford to bleed her, and a nauseous brew of ground roasted toads was forced between her cracked lips, to no avail."

The Wood household is sick, Mercy most of all. This means Kit's hard at work, but this time she's got more than self-pity to worry about.
"The meals fell to Kit, and she did the best she could with them, measuring out the corn meal, stirring up the pudding, spooning it into a bag to boil, and cursing the clumsiness that she had never taken the pains to overcome."
Actually, half of Wethersfield is sick. So what does the other half do? They gather for a witch hunt -- because clearly that's the problem here -- and they swing by to invite Matthew to join them.
"From without the house there was an approaching sound of stamping feet and murmuring voices, gathering volume in the roadway outside. There was a crashing knock at the outer door.... The crowd was gathering, a good twenty men and boys and a few women, carrying flaming pine torches. In the hoarse shouting and the heedless screaming of the women there was a mounting violence, and a terror she had never known before closed over Kit's mind like fog."
The witch in question -- this time, at least -- is Hannah Tupper, and Kit sneaks out to save her. Hannah doesn't think much of Kit's escape plan: "Shame on thee, Kit. Thee knows a Quaker does not run away. Thomas will take care of us."

But when the mob arrives, Kit manages to drag her off. "Desperately the two women pushed on, over a marshy bog that dragged at their feet, through a cornfield where the neglected shocks hid their scurrying figures, past a brambly tangle, to the shelter of the poplar trees and to broad moonlit stretch of the river."

As Kit sees it, escape is the only option. She doesn't have much faith in the Wethersfield judicial process, even if it does get a chance to play out sans mob. "What use would a trial be with no one to speak in her defense but a foolish girl who was suspected of being a witch herself?"

Luckily, there's a ship heading up the river: "First two points of mast, then sails, transparent and wraithlike in the fog, then, as Kit strained her eyes, the looming hull, the prow, and the curved tail of a fish." Conveniently, it's the Dolphin.

Which means Nat. However, the urgency of the current situation means there's no time for any further reflections on the Halloween incident. Kit wants Nat to toss Hannah over his shoulder and get her out of Dodge, but when Hannah says she won't leave without her cat, Nat's game. "If she's set on that cat she's going to have it. They've taken everything else."

Nat invites Kit to join them in the escape, but she says she can't leave Wethersfield. He figures he knows the reason.
"The concern in his eyes hardened to awareness. 'Of course,' he said courteously. 'I forgot. You're going to be married.'"
Kit tells him it's all because she's still worried about Mercy, and can't just leave her. But to herself she acknowledges that it's a very close thing indeed.
"She dared not wait to see them reach the Dolphin. In another moment she would lose every shred of commonsense and pride and fling herself into the water after the rowboat and plead with them not to leave her behind."

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