A crisp breeze crossed the stone fence to my left, and I pulled my coat tightly against my chest, clasping my Bible in my hands. The church was two miles from my home, and I hurried toward home after the evening prayers before it became too cold. The waning moon was out tonight, barely casting a glow in the sky as dark clouds scuttled across it, driven by the cold wind.
My home was modest, but warm enough in the winter. I was a carpenter in one of Boston’s busy shipyards, and I had all the work I could do. The owner was kinder than most, and he paid us men well. I had stopped at the church on the way home this evening. I believed in God, but I looked askance of those who would place such weight on how one behaved, as if a man could earn God’s favor.
More troubling, there was much talk about the witch trials in Salem two years before. I did not believe such talk, but many people did. The court had sentenced several women to death for witchcraft, but their evidence was weak, at least from what I had read of it in the broadsheets. The common man was superstitious and fearful, in my eyes. There were real threats, like the raids from the natives who roamed the land to the north and west. Better to think of that than such foolishness as witches.
My mind was mulling over these thoughts as he passed in front of my neighbor’s house. It was even smaller than my home, with a single small barn next to it. This open area was once a farm, and some of the buildings had been remade into homes as more people moved into Boston. The moon hid behind another cloud, and I saw, for just a moment, a greenish glow from the neighbor’s barn.
I stopped to look as the moon came back out, and then I saw it again, a thin line of green light coming from the barn. The property belonged to a man who now lived in town, but the tenant was a woman I’d seen frequently around town. She was Miss Margaret Fox, and she was an unmarried woman who was a doctor, of all things. She had been educated in Paris, and she spoke French as well as English.
Miss Margaret had moved here in the early spring, arriving on a ship from England. I had met her soon after, when she asked for my help with her stove. I had been uncomfortable about entering the home of an unmarried woman, but I finally gave in and went to help. Over the spring and summer, we would speak with each other, and I had even walked to and from church with her several times.
Some of the loose tongues had us courting, and they had probably said worse, given that Margaret and I were both single. I found her a handsome woman; she was nearly my height, with red hair that she normally kept up in a coiled braid. Her eyes were a brilliant green, and I tried to avoid looking into them for too long, lest I appear forward with her.
In all of that, though, I was reluctant to approach her. I had even penned a letter to her, expressing my desire to see her more formally, but I had tucked it in my desk, not daring to present her with it.
During the summer, a cholera outbreak had started at the farms northwest of town. Margaret insisted on visiting the farms, and I had ridden in her wagon with her as some protection from the natives who were still about. Her skill as a doctor was something to be seen; she carried a large bag with all manner of medicines and instruments of her trade. Yes, some of her patients died in spite of her efforts, but many of them would recover from some illness or injury more quickly than I had seen in my experience, especially with the cholera. She was fearless, not thinking of the risk of falling ill herself. More than once, she warned me to wait with the wagon while she entered a house stricken with the dread disease. I also saw that she would refuse payment from the poorer families, yet she never spoke of a need for money.
Now, though, there was something not right at Miss Margaret’s barn.
I did not want to enter where I was not invited, but that light was certainly not something I could just ignore. I went to the gate, and found it standing open. I walked up the road, more of a trail, which led to the house. Most of the leaves had fallen from the handful of trees on the property, and they looked somehow sinister in the weak moonlight.
The barn was partially open on the side that faced away from the road, so I walked down the side of the barn, and around to the open front. There were several pens that faced the house, and a large wagon sat just inside the opening. I could now see a white light, brighter than any lantern, cast against the opposite wall beyond the wagon. I stepped around the wagon, and froze in my tracks.
Miss Margaret stood in the back of the barn, three paces away. She was tall – and she was well-formed. I could see that clearly, for she wore a ridiculously thin white shirt that came down to just below her breasts and a tiny bit of cloth across her hips. Her dark nipples showed through the shirt, and her legs were bare down to the tops of her shoes. I could see this well, because a lantern sat in front of her on a low table. The light it gave off was white, and to look at it almost hurt my eyes. Her medical bag was opened in front of her, with vials and tools spread out across the table.
She looked up at me, and her mouth dropped open in vast surprise. A small red light glowed on her left temple, just beside her left eye. Something covered that eye, and it glowed a faint green that reflected off the skin around her eye socket. In her left hand, she held a large, flat object that would have covered Elias’ chest. It, too, glowed green, and he could see her body through it. He saw some strange white symbols on the object, and she held it like one would hold a book.
I took hold of the wagon’s sideboard with my left hand, or I would have toppled to the ground. I stared at her dumbly while she gaped back at me. Finally, she took a breath and set aside the object she held.
Finally, she spoke. “Elias, will you let me explain?”
I tried to speak, but I could not force the words out. I nodded once, and cleared my throat. “Yes.”
“You have to promise me that you will not tell a living soul about this. Please, Elias, swear that you will keep this between us.” Her tone was almost pleading, and she looked at me in earnest.
I thought of turning to flee, but I knew Margaret, and the thought that she could be something evil was beyond imagining. A servant of the devil, like witches were reputed to be, would not strive so mightily to heal as I had seen her do. I knew full well what would happen if I were to report what I had seen. The people here would put her to death, and the thought of that kept my feet rooted to the ground where I stood. “I will listen,” I told her.
“I should put my dress on, and then we will talk.” She put deed to words, and turned to pick up her dress from atop a barrel that sat behind her. She donned it quickly, and turned to face me as she buttoned the bodice. “Come, sit with me.”
I stepped into the barn, and sat on a rough stool near her table. Margaret sat on a matching stool, and she rested her hands in her lap as she regarded me in the strange light of her lamp. “Let me first say that I really am a doctor, and I really did study in Paris.”
“Well, that is a relief, then.” My wits were returning to me, and I sat up straighter and glanced around. I noted what was certainly a pistol on the table, but it had no lock or pan that I could see. It did have a trigger, a stock, and a barrel, though – and it was much closer to her hand than to mine. That she could use it, I had no doubt. A woman such as her would not have it if she were not proficient in its use.
“Yes, that is my pistol,” she acknowledged the object of my attention. “Elias, I really don’t want you to come to any harm whatever. Please believe me; I don’t want to hurt anyone. I am a doctor. I am supposed to heal people.”
“What is that on your eye?”
“That, and these other things, are just tools, nothing more. They aid me in my work.”
“What is that work, exactly?”
Margaret sighed. “I will tell you what I can, but can we talk in the house? It’s getting colder out here.”
“Yes, of course.”
She gathered her strange tools, and did something so they would stop glowing. She stored them in a trunk, and then covered it with a large, heavy canvas cloth that might once have been part of a ship’s sail. She closed her doctor’s bag after setting her strange pistol inside it, and led me into her house.
At her invitation, I sat at the table in her kitchen. She had a wood burning stove that was well stoked, and it was almost uncomfortably warm in the room. “Why did you not do your ... work, here in the house? The green light gave you away to me.”
“I tried that, but some of my tools do not work in here. I don’t really know why, but I have to work in the barn.”
“Might I suggest that you obtain more sailcloth to cover the wall, then?”
She smiled at me, her eyes bright. “That is a fine idea.” Her smile disappeared, and she placed her hands flat on the table. “I wish you had not seen me.”
I recalled that I had just seen quite a lot of her, and then that memory triggered a response that was a good deal less than gentlemanly. I silently thanked my good fortune to be seated, where she could not see the evidence of my thoughts about her body. There were less pleasant matters at hand, and I got right to it. “Who, or what, are you?”
“I am Doctor Margaret Fox, but my friends call me Maggie. I am here to practice medicine, and to learn more about this place and the people who live here.”
“You surely did not find your tools in Paris, or London, or even the mysterious East. Where are you from?”
“I really am from Boston,” she said.
I barked out a laugh. “You must take me for a fool.”
“I certainly do not,” she said quietly. “You are many things, but you are not a fool.” She held up her hand when I deigned to speak. “I am from Boston, but the Boston in the year Two Thousand Two Hundred and Three. So, it is a question of when I am from, rather than where.”
I carefully placed my palms on her table and stared at the backs of them as if they contained holy writ. “What here would interest people who will live five hundred years from now?” I tried to reason out my own words even as I said them. “You have tools beyond anything we have, and you would have to have even more wondrous things to make them.”
“Yes, that is true, we do. What we do not have, though, are good accounts of what happened in so much of our early history. I am a doctor, but I am also a historian. I study the past, so that I may better understand my own world.”
“I find it disconcerting to think of the end of my own days as part of your early history,” I said with a laugh. May the Lord help me, but I do believe what you are saying. The things you have,” I pointed at her bag, “cannot be explained any other way. How, then, did you get here?”
“We have machines that take us back in time, and then return us to our own time.”
“Is it here?”
“No, I have to call for it.”
“Call? As in step outside and call its name, as if it were a dog?”
She laughed lightly. “No. In my Boston, there are buildings and other places from this time that still exist then. So, I can write a message now, hide it in one of these places, and my friends will check those places for the message in their time.”
“A tactic of spies, I hear.”
“Of a sort, I suppose. My purpose is to harm no one, in this time or in my own. As a doctor, I am sworn to do no harm to any man.”
“And yet, you carry a pistol that I would suppose works better than ours.”
“That is only there if I have to use it, and I was ordered to have it with me. I can use it, but I don’t think I could shoot another human being.”
“I can understand that,” I nodded.
We sat and looked across the table at each other. Presently, she spoke. “So, where does all of this leave us?”
“I will not betray you,” I said flatly. “If for no other reason, they might think me your partner, and dispense the same punishment.”
“So you value your own skin,” she said dryly.
“No. Yes, I do place value on my life, but that is not the reason.”
She smiled. “So tell me what your reasons are.”
“I love you.” The words came out before I could think to rein in my unruly tongue. “I wanted to write you, and I did, but I did not have the courage to post it.”
Margaret looked at me with wide eyes. “You love me? When did that happen?”
“In for a penny,” I said under my breath. “I knew when I rode with you to the farms north of town. We talked about everything under the sun.” Or, I amended to myself, many things, but certainly not all.
“What will you do now?”
“What?” My mind was still wrapped up in my admission of love to her.
“What will you do about me, now that you know of my circumstances?”
“I suppose we will go about our lives.”
“Oh, I see.” She sat in silence for a moment. “So, you love me.”
I was not unlearned about how a woman crafted her words; I had a mother and three sisters, after all, so Margaret’s meaning was clear to me. “I wanted to court you, but maybe that is not possible due to your work. I would think that you would return ... home ... at some point, when your work here is complete.”
“I could use your help here,” she said. “You are right that it is dangerous to travel outside the city, but I must go out to complete my work.”
“I would have to give up my position to do that.”
“You would, yes.” Margaret picked up a small box with a cover, opened it, and turned it over on the table. The unmistakable clink of coins sounded, and I saw a small pile of gold coins there. “I have more than enough of these to buy what we need.”
“What are you asking of me?”
“Come live with me here.”
“I will not share a house with an unmarried woman.”
“I suppose there is only one other choice, then.”
My Margaret, and there was a thought, was not remiss in speaking her mind, I told myself. There was nothing else for it, and I took a breath and looked into her eyes. “Miss Margaret Fox, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”
Tears sprang to her eyes. “Yes, I will. That was better than I thought it would be.”
“What was better?”
“Being asked to marry. I think most little girls, many, anyway, dream of their proposal.”
“I am pleased that my proposal was acceptable to you, Miss Margaret.”
She laughed. “Please, call me Maggie.” She reached across the table and took my hand. “How soon can we make this official?”
I set my Bible between us. “Right now.”
I smiled. “According to the common law, we declare that we are married, and we are.”
“I thought a clergyman or a judge had to perform a ceremony.”
I shook my head. “They can, of course. But, we also can marry by our own declaration.”
Margaret – Maggie, I had to remember, smiled and nodded. “Well, then, let’s do this.”
I stood and held out my hands to her. She stood with me, and presented her hands. “Well, then, we should place our right hands on the Bible.” I did that, and she put her hand over mine. “Now, um, I, Elias Bendall, do take you, Margaret Fox, as my wife. I promise to hold you dearer than anyone else on this earth, to provide you sustenance and shelter as best I may, to defend you with my life, and to treat you as a joint heir in the grace of life, for as long as we shall live.”
Maggie sniffed once, and smiled at me with watery eyes. “I, Margaret Fox, do take you, Elias Bendall, as my husband, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, in this time or any other, for as long as we shall live.”
I looked down at our hands resting on my Bible. My heart pounded in my chest. I had really just married a woman who would be instantly condemned as a witch if she were ever found out, and, if she were to be believed, was born in another time. Was I mad?
“You’re supposed to kiss the bride,” Maggie said quietly.
“What?” I looked up at her, and noted her questioning expression. “Yes, of course.” I stepped around the table and stopped a foot in front of her. “I must confess I’ve not kissed a grown woman.”
She smiled. “Just let it happen.” She leaned toward me, and her lips met mine. They were soft and warm, and I pushed back against her as she captured my upper lip between hers. The feelings were better than I ever could have imagined, and I gently tugged at her lower lip.
She pulled back from me so we could look at each other. “You are very good at that. I want much more of that, my husband.” She smiled impishly. “But first, I could use a meal. Are you hungry?”
“You can cook?”
“Of course,” she giggled. “Can’t every woman in the greater Boston area cook?”
“Quite right,” I said hastily. “I meant no offense...”
She cut me off with another wonderful kiss. “You did not offend me, Elias. Cooking here is much different than where I’m from, and I did have to learn many new things. Now,” she stepped away and set two redware bowls on the table, along with two spoons and two cups, “I have pease porridge, butter and sugar, with bread and coffee or milk.”
“Yes, that sounds very good.” I turned around as she walked to the stove. “What can I do to help?”
“Please, sit. I will be glad to serve you, my husband.”
“Thank you.” I sat down, and lifted my cup as she brought coffee in a tin pot and poured it for me. I took a sip; it was stronger than I liked, but not overly so. “This is good.”