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The Arrival



Rain spit angrily in her face as she surveyed the dock. She was grateful to be off the ship, but the chaos of unloading people and cargo in the downpour made her impatient to get to her lodgings. She held the baby tighter to her chest and tried to cover him as much as possible with her shawl. He wanted to move, not be swaddled, and cried out in protest. Best to walk, that would help calm him.


"Excuse me," she reached out to grab the sleeve of the boy loading a cart with a variety of seemingly unrelated of goods. "Where's the customs house?"


"Right there, Miss. Big blue building. You'll see the sign when you're there." He was polite, with an innocent smile. Too young to be jaded. She nodded her thanks and started the trek to the customs house. She had to find her clocks.


A fire roared too big in the small office. Likely, it was being used to try to dry out the mold visibly growing along the leaking window sills. The air was stuffy and hard to breathe. The babe had settled down on the walk over but quickly became over-warmed and complained as only an eight month old baby could. She bounced him on her hip and tried to maintain a small sense of courtesy as she worked with the customs house manager.


"Your name?" he barked.


"Faris. Abigail Faris."


He ran a finger down the ledger, stopping and tapping twice. "Yes, everything has been sent to the Richardson's place."


She breathed deeply. This was one part of her journey that absolutely had to go right.


The customs house manager glared impatiently, at her and the fussy baby. "Anything else?"


Relieved tears stung her eyes. She blinked them back, swallowing hard. She was tired and soaked to the bone. Every muscle of her body ached from the long sea voyage. She desperately wanted sleep, in a real bed. Warm and dry. She had been strong up until this moment. Impossibly strong. She needed to keep going, just a little longer.


She thanked the customs manager and left the office, almost grateful to be back in the rain where the cooler air was easier to breathe. Chaos surrounded her. People rushed to get from one dry place to another. Sailors bellowed to each other as they unloaded small boats dispatched from larger ships. Merchants haggled even in the downpour. Horses protested against their drivers. A cart rumbled past, splashing Abigail with a wave of dirty water and slimy mud. She hugged the baby close and tried to breathe out the tightness in her chest.


A beautiful, if currently muddy, carriage approached with care and came to a gentle stop as close to Abigail as it could reach. The door opened and out hopped Letitia. Barely bothering to lift her skirt out of the muck she rushed to Abigail and pulled her into a tight embrace. Abigail finally melted into a puddle of weary tears.


***


The gray haze of dawn was slowly transforming to a bright beautiful sunrise. She turned in her bed, luxuriating in an admittedly thin mattress. The babe slept beside her, sprawled on his back with arms and legs extended like the sea stars she had caught as a child. She pressed his perfect nose gently with her finger and allowed a small smile to relax her features.


"William," she whispered and leaned over to kiss his puffy cheek.


She rose from bed and stretched her heavy limbs until some of the ache began to wane. She opened the window to let a cool breeze refresh the closed off room. The city was freshly bathed after last night's violent storms. Lightning had crackled with intense fury, thunder had shaken the house around her, and yet, she had slept deeply. After too many weeks at sea, she was certain she would never fear weather on land again.


The day of her husband's imprisonment had been her first day of freedom really. Never a terribly observant Quaker, she had long lost patience with his religious fervor. But she made good use of her husband's connections and reputation. By the time she could finally be called "widow" she had already put in place a detailed plan to escape London and start over in Philadelphia. Yes, her new life was built on his old work, but she felt no guilt over that. He had abandoned her and their son. He owed her a better life.


A young black girl tentatively opened the bedroom door. Her arms were loaded with a heavy tray, yet still she conducted her business in near silence. She placed the tray on the table next to the fireplace, bobbed a quick curtsey in Abigail's direction and silently left. Within moments, Letitia Richardson poked her head inside.


"Abigail dear? Are you awake?"


Abigail murmured happily and extricated herself from the bed, careful not to wake little William. Wrapping a robe around her nightdress, she joined Letitia at the fireside table. Arranged beautifully on the tray were biscuits and salted fish alongside a piping hot teapot. She poured herself tea, skipping the sugar cone.


"You have color in your cheeks today," Letitia observed warmly. "Do you feel better?"


"Much! Oh what a gorgeous night's sleep!" She chewed appreciatively on a bite of fish. "Are the clocks in good order?"


Francis and Letitia Richardson had sent Abigail and the baby immediately to bed, offering to take care of her belongings while she recovered from her long and arduous travels. She had agreed, in her exhaustion trusting these partial-friends-partial-strangers unconditionally. Well-rested, she now wished she had been just a little more cautious. Without those clocks, she had nothing.


"The clocks are beautiful!" Letitia sighed. "Francis was quite impressed with the craftsmanship." A brief pause, then with a hint of sadness, "It's a shame to have lost William and his talent. How do you fare, friend?"


Letitia reached over to grasp Abigail's hand. Abigail squeezed back, hoping she could play the mourning widow convincingly. "I am finding my way," she said simply.


Letitia's eyes narrowed slightly as she studied Abigail's face. Abigail tensed, knowing immediately that the woman had seen through her charade. Letitia took back her hand and leaned against the back of her chair.


"I'm not much of a Quaker either," she said. Abigail tried to keep her guard up but something about Letitia's knowing smile and the conspiratorial sparkle in her eye melted Abigail's resolve.


"Those clocks aren't solely William's work," Abigail explained, even though she felt certain Letitia knew this. "William was…difficult. But the one thing he did do for me is allow me to study his craft." For a moment, she thought she and her dead husband could have been a formidable team if religion had not injected itself so insidiously in her marriage.


"Francis wants nothing more than to help his friend's widow. 'The Widow Abigail needs us' he told me the minute he heard of William's passing." Abigail chuckled at Letitia's imitation of her husband.


"Thank you!" Abigail's sorrow was a charade, but her gratitude was sincere. "I hope to be of little trouble for you."


***


"I have seen your work, young William!" the lawyer boomed. "Fine quality."


Abigail smiled proudly as she watched her son's cheeks turn scarlett. He resembled his father so closely she sometimes had to remind herself that he had come from her very womb. He had been a dutiful apprentice in the Stretch family and had developed a skillset that she felt would serve him more than well in his trade.


The lawyer placed the papers before them. The deed to sprawling home on a large tract of land. Abigail would need to find a good deal of help to manage it, but it would be a beautiful retreat. At 19, William was ready to be on his own. She was certain he would find prosperity, though his interest in leaving for Annapolis perplexed her. She would remain near Philadelphia where she had toiled to build an abundant and connected life.


William signed the deed, co-owner of property that she hoped someday would be the home of his own growing family.


Above his name, she signed hers.


The Widow Abigail had not just survived. The Widow Abigail had thrived.


###








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