Elizabeth stood by the stove and warmed her hands. The previous night's frost had given everyone at the Miller house good cause to stay indoors, and she watched as Samuel and Esther played with their children at the table. There was no division amongst the girls and boys, Samuel had long ago decided that they would all learn to read, write, and figure. He prodded them along with the same steady hand he used in getting Pepper to pull a plow, and the children blossomed just as the fields did.
"E-L-I-J-A-H" spelled out one of the children. "That's how to spell my name."
Samuel grinned, then handed him a scrap of paper and a piece of charcoal. "Well then, that's mighty fine. Why don't you show me now?"
Esther and Elizabeth fussed over the holiday meal, and from time to time sent the children scrambling on errands to fetch something from the pantry, or to grab a toy that Jacob had dropped. The lights and voices in the house sent a warm glow out into the night. It was towards this glow that Adam Thoroughgood turned Thunderbolt's head. Elizabeth heard the dog barking, and wiped a spot of condensation clear from the windows to peer out into the darkness. This failing, she wrapped her shawl tight around her shoulders and went out to greet their visitor.
"Why, Mister Thoroughgood! Of all the nights!" she grabbed the horse's bridle and her words drifted up in a cloud. "You are staying for supper, I'll not take no for an answer."
Adam swung down and the two of them led the horse to a warm stall in the barn. He set his saddle on the board and threw his saddlebags over his shoulder before they left the barn. Elizabeth gave a small yelp as the cold air hit her, and she pulled her shawl ever tighter.
"I swear!" she gasped as they walked towards the house
"Yes ma'am," he started "It's colder than a --" and stopped suddenly.
Even in the faint light, Adam could see the grin spread across Elizabeth's face as she turned to face him. "Colder that a what? What? Oh, do tell!"
He straightened perceptibly, and gruffly answered her: "Now, Mrs. Miller, I told you I wasn't fit for polite company..."
She warmly linked her arm in his as they went up the steps "Then, Mister Thoroughgood, you will fit right in."
After supper, the occupants of the Miller house lay sprawled and satisfied across most of the available surfaces near the fire. The children had been amazed at their meager presents to each other and their gifts from Adam's saddlebag, and even Rip, belly full of table scraps, lay snoring peacefully on the hearth. After Esther had retired, Samuel went out into the barn to retrieve a jug of hard cider he had hidden way. Esther had strictly forbid him to make any more of that hideous brew, and Thoroughgood and Elizabeth were delighted to see he'd followed her orders.
"You know if she gets a mind to come back in here, we're all done for." chuckled Elizabeth as she brought down three cups.
Samuel smiled and poured them each a few fingers as they sat down. "To keep away the chill." They each took a drink and coughed slightly. Elizabeth blinked back a tear, and Samuel laughed as he refilled her cup.
"Now that we are all of singularly affected mind," interjected Adam, "I have a gift for you as well, Missus Miller." He reached into his saddlebags and produced a large stack of papers. "To continue with your husband's work."
"My husband died over a year ago, Mister Thoroughgood. Granted, there was a period where not a day went by that wasn't touched by the memory of the year before, but I think you'll agree that we've reached a point where my work suits me better."
Adam watched her take another long drink and graciously nodded when once again her eyes met his. "Then this will certainly help with your work, Ma'am."
Dear Mister Thoroughgood,
We right to tell you that your cousins made the trip to
Pennsylvania in good health. They have been gracious
guests and will continue on their sightseeing tour of the
North country tomorrow.
"There are a few more like that from further north" said Adam. "And another one that troubled me a bit..." he pawed through the stack of papers until he found the offending object "Ah, here." he said, handing her the paper.
Elizabeth read quickly and looked up, "What does this mean?" she asked
"Hard to say. The way I understand it, the Friends are having a bit of a falling out. Where by religion, they are all opposed to slavery, well, now there's becoming quite a few that don't appreciate the work it takes in getting people free."
"What do you think?" she asked Samuel, who read along over her shoulder and shrugged. "Not like you can tell anyone what they is supposed to believe Miss Dolly..."
Adam continued: "The way I understand, there is a pretty steady core of folk in Philadelphia that will help us. There's talk of John and Hannah Cox starting their own meeting groups and that will help quite a bit..."
Elizabeth took a deep breath and stared for a long while at the ceiling. "Just how is that supposed to help us, or the folk that come through here? I appreciate what they are doing, but it's a far cry from how we live. It'd be a shame to send folk up north only to have them have nowhere safe to go because the Friends are fighting. How am I supposed to ask these people to trust me when I tell them things will be fine?" The cider had loosened her in more ways than one, and for the next few minutes, Elizabeth berated every untrustworthy devil from the president down to the clerk at the general store before she gazed upon the startled faces of Samuel and Adam and realized it was Sam's cider, and not that ol' Shorty Hawkins down at the general, that was the cause of all the world's grief at the moment.
"Oh gentlemen," she chuckled softly. "I apologize.... Let's all get some rest and we'll talk more when we have clearer heads?"
They nodded agreement, and Elizabeth kissed each cheek in turn before wrapping herself in a quilt and sitting by the fire. From his small cot, Adam Thoroughgood was swiftly carried off to sleep by the wings of Samuel's cider. His last conscious vision was one of Elizabeth reaching to pull the blanket higher in the cradle, then sitting back again to cross her arms over her chest and stare into the fire.