“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race [is] not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

~*~Ecclesiastes 9:11~*~

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Chapter Twenty-One, Part One

       Dutifully following her new husband’s orders, Elizabeth quit her job at the bookstore two days after the wedding and gave herself over to being a full-time wife.  She would spend her days with the other colony wives in their own special seminars or Bible studies, cooking, and raising the colony children.  She had never realized before how many children there really were in the colony, mostly because she had never seen any of them before.  But there they were.  They were quieter than kids should be.  Every last one of them was more reserved than any child on the outside was.  None of them played with grand toys or challenged each other to games of tag.  Instead they read their Rose Bibles, or listened as their mothers read the Bible to them, and attended school with the other colony kids in the small school house.

            Following her duties as a Rose wife, she spent almost every night allowing Benjamin to force himself onto her in the harshest way he possibly could.  Elizabeth had come to terms with the fact that he wasn’t going to give up until she was pregnant with their first child.  And even after that, after their first child was born and he had met with Pastor Simon to determine what their family would look like, she knew that he wouldn’t give up until she had given birth to how ever many kids she was required to give birth to.  In her mind, the cycle was never going to end—that might very well be the case.

            The days began blending together in a blur of routine.  Elizabeth spent her mornings cleaning the cottage, serving Benjamin breakfast, packing his lunch, seeing him off for his day of work in the church.  She spent her afternoons with the other women, helping care for the babies, preparing Benjamin’s dinner.  Her evenings were spent with Benjamin—usually letting him lead her in prayer or in Bible study, or listening quietly as he yelled at her for something she had done wrong, accepting whatever punishment he chose to dole out that day.

            On one of these blurred days, Elizabeth sat in the square with a dozen other colony wives.  As a group, they were preparing a series of vegetables for their husbands’ suppers—cleaning green beans, peeling potatoes, and shucking corn.  The women stayed focused on their work and the only colony gossip they permitted themselves led directly to a prayer or discussion of a Bible verse.  This pattern continued until the kids were let out of school.  On this particular day, Elizabeth’s eye was black.  The other women had offered her some ice to place on her eye.

            “Keep it on your eye, Elizabeth,” Mary scolded when Elizabeth had let the bag of ice drop to her lap.  Mary was one of the oldest wives in the colony and had adopted all of the new, young wives as her own girls and taken them under her wing.

            Elizabeth nodded to Mary and put the bag back to her eye, but said, “If I hold it here all afternoon, though, I won’t be able to properly prepare the vegetables for dinner.  I don’t think I can handle another punishment like last night.  I don’t want another black eye.”

            “You need to keep that ice on your eye for another couple minutes.  A couple of minutes aren’t going to make that much of a difference,” said Caroline, one of the girls who had been married at the same ceremony as Elizabeth.  “I understand, though.  I have a bruise the size of Texas on my shoulder from a problem a couple of days ago.  What did you do last night that caused…that?”  She pointed to the black eye.

            “I didn’t pass his inspection when he got home from work.  He felt I was showing too much skin, the cottage wasn’t clean enough, and by the time he stopped yelling his dinner had gotten cold,” Elizabeth listed off, the ice still pressed to her eye.

            “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch, as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy,” Mary recited.  “Do any of you ladies know what that is from?”

            “First Peter, chapter four, verses twelve and thirteen,” Tiffany, another newlywed, answered.

            “The punishments you receive from your husbands are only bringing you closer to God and making you stronger in your journey.  We still have some time before the kids get out of school.  Shall we pray on it?”  Mary grabbed the hands of the women on either side of her.  Elizabeth took hands with Caroline and Katherine, who had been a wife in the Children for three years.

            “Lord, please guide us through today and heal our hearts,” Mary said.  “Let us have the strength to follow the expectations of our husbands and to please them to the best of our will.  Let us not shy away from adversity, for we know that our sufferings only bring us closer to you.  Watch over our Elizabeth, for she needs your guidance now as she begins to establish her relationship with her new husband.  We all ask for your guidance in the creation and raising of our own children.  In your name…”

            “Amen,” the rest of the group finished.

            Hands were dropped and work was resumed.  The small school house bell clanged three times, which signaled the end of the school day.  The school house was located on the far side of the colony, on the opposite end of the church.  The school had one teacher and taught the fifty or so kids in the colony who were old enough for school in the beliefs of the Children of the Rose and words of the Bible.  The group of women looked up from their work to see the kids exiting the school and heading toward either their cottages or their mothers, whichever they spotted first.  Every child, regardless if he or she was five or fourteen, wore the same colored scarf or stole—bright red, with no embellishments.  These marked each of them as a child of the Children of the Rose.

            Five of the kids approached the group in the square and quickly went to their respective mothers, Katherine or Mary, giving them a light kiss on the cheek.  Elizabeth watched as the ritual continued and the mothers gave their children kisses on the forehead and said, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.”

            The kids, in response, recited the correct response, “Philippians, chapter one, verse three.”

            “Greet the other ladies,” Katherine and Mary both ordered of their children.

            All of five kids—the two boys and one girl who belonged to Mary, and the two girls who belonged to Katherine—turned to each of the other women in turn and gave her a small peck on the cheek and reciting the same phrase repeatedly.

            “God bless you, Mrs. Karlisle,” they said to Elizabeth on her turn.  As expected, she touched each of them on the head, blessing them silently, and they moved on to the next wife.

            Once the ritual was completed, the children all sat down at their mothers’ feet and began to help her prepare the vegetables.

            “What did you learn today in school?” Mary asked.

            “The story of the prodigal son,” Martha, Mary’s six-year-old daughter, announced.

            “And what was that story?  Can you tell me?”

            Martha nodded and explained, “It’s about these two brothers and one of them wants to go away, so his father pays him his share of the inheritance.  And the son goes away and spends all his money on material things, which is bad, and he ends up feeding pigs.  Then he decides to go home, because he would rather be a servant to his father than feed pigs, but when he gets home his father throws him a party and welcomes him back.”

            “What does this teach us?”

            “That materialism is bad and will get us in trouble.  And that we will always be wanted here with our church family, but we shouldn’t wander because Pastor Simon and God know what is best for us and will only set us free into the outside when they think we’re ready for those temptations,” Martha answered.  Mary nodded her agreement.

            “Good girl, Martha,” she said, patting Martha on the head.

            At that moment another wife approached the group in the square and said, “Elizabeth, there are outsiders at the front gate looking for you.”  The girl paused and then corrected herself, “Actually, they’re looking for ‘Elizabeth McLancy,’ so clearly they aren’t aware of your marriage.” 

            Elizabeth couldn’t tell if the girl was scolding her or not and instead stood to follow her to the gate.  As she stood, she heard one of Katherine’s children say, “Mama, why would someone from the outside be looking for Mrs. Karlisle?”

            “I don’t know,” Katherine answered.  “Do you have any idea why, Elizabeth?”

            Elizabeth said, “No, I don’t,” before walking away.

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