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Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1676. Even before Mary Rowlandson was captured by Indians on a winter day of violence and terror, she sometimes found herself in conflict with her rigid Puritan community.
Her home destroyed, her children lost to her, she has been sold into the service of a powerful woman tribal leader, made a pawn in the ongoing bloody struggle between English settlers and native people. Battling cold, hunger, and exhaustion, Mary witnesses harrowing brutality but also unexpected kindness.
To her confused surprise, she is drawn to her captors’ open and straightforward way of life, a feeling further complicated by her attraction to a generous, protective English-speaking native known as James Printer. All her life, Mary has been taught to fear God, submit to her husband, and abhor Indians. Now, having lived on the other side of the forest, she begins to question the edicts that have guided her, torn between the life she knew and the wisdom the natives have shown her.
From Chapter Two
In the winter of 1673 Mary’s father takes to his bed and dies the next May, just as the earth is greening. Joseph reminders her that she ought not to feel any sorrow, for surely her father was one of the elect. His wealth and influence in the community prove this, for God blesses the righteous with his favor.
He instructs her to pray for God’s peace to fall upon her and she does. But she also seeks the counsel of her sisters, who share Mary’s feeling that the world has become a strange and alien land, now that both parents are gone.
A year later, when Bess Parker’s son is nearly two, news comes that the Court has determined the child rightfully belongs to Deacon Park. Mary can barely contain her outrage.
Joseph tries to reason with her, explaining that the Court’s decision is just and final. That Silvanus is the son of a slave, and thus a slave himself. He assures Mary this is for the best, pointing out that Edmund can barely support his two children. How can he be expected to provide for the babe and raise him to adulthood?
Mary knows Edmund will fight the edict, for he dotes on his grandson. “It is evil to take a child from his mother!” she cries. All she can think of is losing her first child to a sweating fever on a cold January morning when the babe was the same age as Silvanus.
Mary had been a sweetly gentle child; even her death was gentle. Yet when she breathed her lasat, Mary did not want to hold her body, nor even touch it. She refused to look at the trundle bed where Hannah and Elizabeth had laid her out. She felt as a ship in the midst of a tempest, helpless before towering waves of grief. The wound to her heart has never healed.
“Calm yourself,” Joseph says, stroking her cheek. “Do not let sentiment master you. Is not self-control a fruit of the Holy Spirit?”
Mary cannot refute him, but her outrage does not subside. When she learns Joseph has been selected to lead the delegation of six men who will separate Bess from her son, she begs to accompany him.
“Bess will need some Christian comfort from another woman,” Mary insists.
But Joseph refuses, and will not be moved, no matter how much Mary prays and pleads. She waits at home while the monstrous deed is done. She cannot sit still, or concentrate on any task. She flits from one chore to another like a distracted girl. Row, agitated by her distress, flutters in the cage and emits loud, rasping cheeps.
When Joseph returns, he reports that Edmund barred the door, requiring the men to force their way in. “I tried to calm him,” Joseph says. “I assured him that I brought with me the peace of Christ and reminded him that he must do as the Court has ordered.”
Mary pictures the scene as he describes it – Edmund roaring that he will not allow them to take his grandson. The men breaking down the door, subduing Edmund and Bess. Seizing Silvanus. She imagines the boy, John, bravely trying to beat them off as Silvanus throws his head back and wails with terror. Bess, frantic and weeping as her babe is carried away to his new owner.
Mary can think of nothing to say to her husband, though she wants to ask why he agreed to participate in such a wicked enterprise. She believes he ought to fall to his knees and beg the Lord’s forgiveness. She prepares a basket of food – a beef pottage, a loaf of bread, turnips, and potatoes – and makes her way in secret to the Parker farm.
There is no calming Bess. She clings to Mary, sobbing and moaning, wetting her cloak all the way through. Mary wishes she could assure her that Silvanus will thrive, that he will be well cared for. Yet she does not know what will become of him. There can be no assurance that his owner will be kind – or even regard the boy as a child of God.
When Mary leaves, it is near twilight. She walks away with a stone in her heart. It seems that she can hear Bess all the way home, continuously moaning in the most broken voice Mary has ever heard: “Silvanus! Silvanus! Silvanus!”
Excerpted from Flight of the Sparrow by Amy Belding Brown. Copyright © 2014 by Amy Belding Brown. Excerpted by permission of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
About the Author
AMY BELDING BROWN is a graduate of Bates College, she received her MFA in 2002 from Vermont College, where she worked closely with Bret Lott and Victoria Redel. In 2005, her novel Mr. Emerson’s Wife was published by St. Martin’s Press and is now available in paperback. Her new novel, Flight of the Sparrow, is published by New American Library, a division of the Penguin Group, and is available in paperback wherever books are sold. Reach Amy online at AmyBeldingBrown.org.