The God-Voices of Settler's Rest
by Ken Scholes
Mother Holton grieved when the god-voices returned because she remembered
what it had cost Settler's Rest the last time, when she was a little girl. It made her
But they were tears of sorrow, not fear. No, she was not afraid. She knew that the
voices came around like Gussuf's Wheel and that after the god-voices quieted, they
would have peace for a season. But this was the second visitation in a century.
They would visit sooner and sooner until eventually they ushered in the next Age
The Seventeenth age, if the Book spake true. "So many," she heard a dry reed-rattle voice whisper into the darkened bedroom. Her own voice, she realized.
The room bell chimed and she sat up from the blankets. With each year, they'd
piled more of them onto her. "These winters are growing colder," she would say.
"What do you think of that?" And they would heat the blankets near the fire that
night and her bones wouldn't ache from the cold nearly as much.
The door opened and a wedge of light pushed into the room. A girl stepped into it.
"Mother, they have started," the girl said. Mother Holton couldn't tell who it was.
Perhaps one of the younger, newer converts. Was that a hint of the Northern
Coasts in her voice?
"I know they have," the old woman said. "Help me to prayer, girl."
The girl shook her head. "I am not permitted, Mother."
Mother Holton laughed. "Them that's told you not to answer the voices are
already on their knees, I'll wager." She coughed and tasted copper in her mouth.
"Whether or not we answer is irrelevant, regardless of what you've been taught."
The girl stepped forward, uncertainty in her voice. "Why do we want it so badly?"
For a moment, Mother Holton allowed herself to hear the whispering god-voices.
Comehomecomehomecomehome, they whispered, toaplacewhereyouwillbeloved.
Only the whispers, when they blended, were a choir that balanced perfectly
between chant and song. Mother Holton forced the voices back down. "Because
we cannot bear to be alone in the Universe," she finally said. "Now help me to my
The girl came to her side and helped her up. There was a time when Mother
Holton would have pretended to accept the assistance without resting any weight
on her helper. But now, she knew she needed all the help she could get. The girl
gently lowered her to the floor. Mother Holton folded her hands and bowed her
"Now pray with me," she said.
The girl shook her head more vigorously. "I can not, Mother."
Mother Holton smiled. "This is your first time, child. You do not know it yet, but
before they pass, you will bend your knee to them that's bidding. It's better to do
it now. It makes what comes later more easy to swallow."
Trembling, the girl knelt beside her.
Then Mother Holton, Settler Priestess of the First Home Temple, answered the
voices from her childhood so long ago.
"Oh," she said, feeling the lump grow in her throat, "I've missed you."
When she was thirteen, Abigail Holton loved Enoch Bentley and knew with a
teenaged certainty that she would marry that farm boy and give herself to corn and
babies. Her grandmother had raised her on the Book and she knew her part in the
Settler's Promise. Grandmother was a seamstress with gnarled hands, doing the
best she could by the baby that came into her care in the sunset of her life.
Abigail's mother had died following a visitation. And though her grandmother did
not speak of it, the other girls in town did.
But Abigail listened to the Book. She would not hate them for repeating the words
their mothers whispered among themselves when they thought their children
weren't listening. Her mother had taken her own life because the voices never
stopped for her.
Abigail was walking in Farmer Bentley's fields, wondering what Enoch looked
like with his shirt off, when she heard the voice that changed her life. Come home,
it whispered and a choir joined in around it. All her life she'd felt empty and
alone, until that afternoon as the day stars set hours ahead of the sun. But when the
god-voices started up on the edge of her womanhood, Abigail Holton knew that
regardless what she'd been taught, she was not alone in the universe.
The voices abated and Mother Holton opened her eyes. She could feel the girl
beside her shaking, and she looked over at her. Head in hands, she sobbed into the
edge of the bed. Mother Holton reached out put her hand on the girl's shoulder.
"What is your name, child?"
The girl sniffed. "Esther Hopewell," she said. "I am Sister Elizabeth Hopewell's
Mother Holton nodded. "I remember you." Sister Elizabeth was one of the seven
Settler's Daughters who had disappeared exploring the ruins in the southern deserts
fifteen years ago. At Mother Holton's insistence, the Temple had been the young
orphan's caretaker. "Do not be alarmed at the voices, Daughter Hopewell. Their
power is in perception alone. They will pass in time. Go, talk with Sister
McDougall about it. She can teach you prayers and meditations that will help
The girl helped her back into bed and tucked the blankets around her. "I will speak
to her, Mother Holton. Thank you."
She could see the shame on the girl's face. Shame for having wept, or for having
prayed? It mattered little. Mother Holton reached a gnarled hand up and patted the
"Remember what I told you," she said. "The voices will pass."
But she fell asleep hoping that they wouldn't, that somehow this time it would be
Maybe they will not change this time, she thought, and the good voices will stay
with us. But she knew from the Book -- from a thousand of years of recorded
Settlement history -- that they would follow the same pattern they always had.
And the Settler's Daughters would write the words down, study them, and try as
they had for centuries to understand the god-voices. They had given up on
silencing them long ago.
Maybe they will not change this time.
But she knew they would.
The day after the voices changed, Abigail Holton snuck into the Temple and
sought out Mother Cassel in her meditation vault.
Her grandmother was a childhood friend of the priestess and she'd grown up in the
shadows of the Temple's massive laser-etched cornerstones. At one time, the First
Home Temple had been the center of Settler's Rest. But at some point, trade and
education had become equally important. Still, her grandmother's friend
recognized the need for both and gave her friend regular mending business, paying
the high end of fair wages for her skill.
The Book told them that the change would come, but she'd hoped it would be
different. When they changed, she spent the day crying, lost and hopeless.
When the voices finally quieted enough for her grandmother to sleep, Abigail
slipped into the night to find Mother Cassel.
"Abigail Holton," Mother Cassel said. "Does your grandmother know you're out
in the middle of the night?"
Abigail swallowed. "She's asleep."
The old woman smiled. "The change was difficult this time, wasn't it?" she said.
"Of course it was, this was your first."
She hung her head. "I was faithless, Mother. I didn't believe the Book. I didn't
believe they would change." Her eyes came up slowly to meet the old woman's.
Mother Cassel clicked her tongue. "Of course you did. How could you not? The
voices are beguiling at first, promising you something better. They gain your trust.
But they always turn, Abigail, they always turn. They cajole, and then they
"But why?" she asked.
Mother Cassel shrugged. "We do not know. It's always been this way." She
smiled. "But with each visitation, we learn more about the voices . . . and more
about the world. We will write it down in the Book, and we will take what clues
we can from the words between their promises, pleas, and threats. We will do
what we can while we can. And someday," she continued, "the voices will win out
for a spell and we will hide our work in the ground until reason comes back into
Abigail thought about the voices, both earlier and today. When they changed and
became angry, she had not known what to do. She had felt betrayal, yet she had
felt love, too. She'd known in that instant that she was made for more than Enoch
Bentley's corn and babies.
"I want to help," Abigail Holton told her grandmother's friend. "I want to join the
"I know, child," Mother Cassel said, and the next morning she came to Abigail's
grandmother and extended her invitation.
Mother Holton took her tea into the Looking Glass room when the voices changed.
Her cup rattled as she put it down and she was certain it was from being startled by
the angry words that whispered at her.
She knew from the Book and from experience that when the voices changed, they
said more in their anger. She had ordered her sisters to listen for this and to double
the Scrivener's Watch. It was the only comfort she could take from the change.
The last visitation, during her girlhood, had pointed them to the ruins in the
southern deserts. It had taken nearly seventy years to find them and they'd lost
many Daughters to the searching. But for the last fourteen years, their excavation
there taught them much about the home their foremothers had forged for them so
She listened to the voices until they passed. She had forgotten how bitter they
were. Time will do that, she thought.
She looked up. "Sister Abernathy?"
Her plump, middle-aged day nurse bustled over. "Yes, Mother Holton?"
"Fetch Sister McDougall for me. I would speak with her in my sitting room."
Sister Abernathy nodded and waddled off to find the woman. Mother Holton
finished her tea and tried not to feel sad at the loss. She knew it was an expected
response. The voices affected most that way. The change usually disrupted
commerce and sometimes even led to violence.
As they occur more and more frequently, she thought, they will become more adept
at handling them. Until the new Age of Unknowing comes to pass. She said 'they'
because she knew she would not live to see it. The frequency between visitations
increased, but not in a way that could be measured and predicted. Hundreds of
years of silence; then a smattering that became more regular until finally, the
voices did not leave. Teachers would rise up, imparting divinity and destiny to any
who would listen. And slowly, mysticism would consume reason. It was easier
than resisting. And, according to the Book, it would eventually undo the work of
the Settler's Daughters over decades -- even centuries -- until the voices finally
faded again and the cycle began anew.
Of course, all of that would be years and years beyond her lifetime. By then,
Esther Hopewell's granddaughter, if she were to have one, would be an old
woman. And that granddaughter's great grandchildren would be old by time the
world was put right again.
Sister McDougall was perhaps a dozen years younger than Mother Holton. Like
the other Daughters, she'd given her life to studying the Book, learning the
nuances of the god-voices. Now that they had changed, this would be her busiest
time. But she sat across from Mother Holton now and didn't look distracted or
annoyed by the interruption.
"Hello, Mother," she said, folding her hands in her lap.
"Hello, Sister. Is your Scrivener's Watch ready?"
Sister McDougall nodded. "It is. We'll get what we can. The change came faster
than we expected."
"Yes," she said. Then she changed the subject. "I sent Sister Hopewell's daughter
"I spoke with her," Sister McDougall said. "I've had talking-to's with several of
the Daughters. The voices are harder on the younger girls."
Mother Holton remembered. "They were hard on me when I was young. But they
brought me to the Daughters." She chuckled. "Before I heard the voices, my
highest aim was to be a farm boy's nervous bride." For the first time in years she
wondered what had become of Enoch Bentley. Dead by now most likely, but it
wouldn't be hard to find out of a certainty . . . if she remembered to ask someone to
look into it.
Enough lolligagging in yester-year, woman, she scolded herself.
Fixing her eye on Sister McDougall, she asked the question she dreaded. "How
many of them do you think we will lose?"
Sister McDougall shrugged. "None if I can help it. Our coping techniques get
better each time."
Mother Holton felt a chill and shivered. "Thank you, Sister McDougall. Please
tell Sister Abernathy that I will sit here a spell and then ring for her when I'm
The woman inclined her head slightly. "Yes, Mother."
Mother Holton pulled at the quilt that covered her lap and Sister McDougall
stooped to lift the heavy cotton patchwork up over her chest and then tuck it in
behind her. She smiled her appreciation and the Sister returned it.
After the woman left her, Mother Holton sat alone in the sitting room and tried to
remember what Enoch Bentley had looked like.
He had whispered beneath her window the night she was to leave her
grandmother's home to take up studies in the Temple. The voices had quieted
some time ago, but Enoch Bentley couldn't understand. He was a man -- or at
least very nearly so -- and the god-voices passed over most of them. Less than
understanding the voices, he couldn't understand her choice to join the Settler's
She heard his voice and went to the window. "Enoch Bentley," she said in the
angriest whisper she could manage, "you mustn't be here at this hour."
She was fifteen now; he was seventeen. The silver moon lit his blond hair and his
eyes were red. "I don't want you to go," he said.
Her grandmother slept soundly in the bed across the room, but not for long if the
fool farm boy didn't keep his voice down. "Wait there," she said.
She slipped into the calico she'd worn earlier at the small gathering of friends and
family her grandmother had hosted. Barefoot, she tip-toed out of the room and let
herself out into the night.
She found him crouched beneath the apple tree. Now she could let the anger into
her voice. "What are you doing here?"
He blushed. "I . . . I wanted to tell you something."
She crossed her hands over her chest and wondered what she'd ever seen in this
awkward boy. Before the voices spoke, she'd been convinced that he was her
future. They'd grown up together on the edge of Settler's Rest. She'd helped him
with his ciphers and letters; he'd shown her how to trap a rabbit. One year, after the
Pioneer Days picnic and barn dance, she'd told him that she would marry him
someday and she'd kissed him quickly on the cheek. He'd blushed and run away.
A few years later, his mother, a dour farm matron, negotiated the dowry with her
grandmother. But they had sent the cedar chest back to the farm just last week,
because Settler's Daughters did not marry.
She looked at him, now, and realized he'd been crying. Her voice was softer.
"What do you need to tell me, Enoch Bentley? You know I'm leaving tomorrow
for the Temple."
He stammered and his foot dug in the ground. "I don't want you to go, Abigail."
His red eyes came up to meet hers. "I want you to stay. I want to be your husband
and father your children."
She shook her head. "I cannot marry you. I have to follow my calling," she started
to say by way of explanation. "The voices --"
"Gods damn the voices," he said, looking away. The anger in his voice stung like
a slap. When their eyes met again, he looked ashamed and tragic. "I -- I'm
When he turned and walked away, Abigail Holton stood and watched him go. Let
him go, she told herself, and let some other girl harvest his corn and babies.
He could never understand, she told herself standing there beneath the apple tree,
the grass and scrub around her washed in moonlight.
Enoch Bentley hadn't heard the god-voices; if he had, he would know that she was
made for more than him.
Mother Holton stretched out beneath the heated quilts and sighed at another day
The god-voices had stayed angry until winter bled into spring and then suddenly
they had stopped. Mother Holton met with the Sisters daily after that to hear what
they'd learned listening for the scraps of truth amid the angry voices. It was long,
slow work. Like the work of evolution or the work of the Book.
Between meetings she napped. Sometimes she napped during the meetings until
someone coughed politely and startled her awake.
Mother Holton told her keepers that with the change in the weather, she no longer
required the heated quilts. They didn't listen and she was glad for it -- though she
kept that a secret. She felt cold all the time now.
The door opened and she heard Sister McDougall's quiet voice. "Mother Holton,
are you awake?"
She sat up. "I am, Sister."
"I thought I should come to you first," Sister McDougall said, "because you've
asked after her."
Daughter Hopewell. Mother Holton felt a stab of loss. She'd known there was
something about the girl. "What has she done?"
"She and three of the other younger girls were caught teaching in the city."
It happened every time. Mother Holton sighed. "How long were they at it?"
Sister McDougall stepped further into the room, her face unreadable in the dim
light. "A week maybe. We've gathered up everyone we could and we're working
with them now."
Working with them. It sounded much nicer than the reality. "And the girls?"
"They are restricted to quarters. I think we're catching them soon enough that we
will be able to reclaim them." She paused, looking away for a moment. "But I
don't know that of a certainty. I only have word of them that's gone before."
Mother Holton nodded. "You must do your best," she said. "And I will want to
speak with Daughter Hopewell in the morning.
Sister McDougall inclined her head. "As you wish, Mother." Then she turned to
the door. "I will bid you good sleeping."
"Thank you, Sister." Mother Holton closed her eyes and listened to quiet footfalls
and the sound of the hinges whispering. A question struck her and she called out.
Mother Holton opened her eyes. "What were they teaching in the city?"
Sister McDougall didn't say anything for a moment and Mother Holton wondered
if something different happened, some new variation of insanity that would
eventually take them into a time where knowledge and reason meant nothing. But
when Sister McDougall answered, it was an old familiar tune. "They were
teaching that the voices prove we are not alone in the universe."
Yes. That was how it started. Mother Holton nodded. "Thank you. Good sleeping
to you, Sister."
"Good sleeping, Mother," she said as she closed the door.
Mother Holton took a long time finding sleep that night.
Daughter Abigail Holton put down her copy of the Book and stared out of the
window at the moonless night. She sighed.
She'd seen him again that day, and once again he'd not realized that it was her
beneath the cowl. It had been two years since they'd spoken and the newness of
her calling had long worn off. The glamour she had imagined was mostly
housework and cooking, though there were small projects with the Sisters and lots
of classroom time. When she'd seen Enoch Bentley and his wagon in the
merchant's square she was surprised at the feelings it evoked. He'd been selling
corn to one of the produce booths and she had been running a message to the
mayor's office for Mother Cassel.
She picked up the Book again, but once more she couldn't keep her mind upon the
words. She tried meditating, but the only image she could conjure was straw-haired Enoch Bentley in his denim trousers and his loose-hanging, stained cotton
Finally, she gave up and went down to Daughter Henshaw's room. "I need the
dress," she said when the freckled girl opened the door, still rubbing sleep from her
The dress was their best-kept secret. Mother Cassel and the others would have had
it burned if they knew, Abigail was certain of that.
Phoenicia Henshaw disappeared for a moment, then came back with a bundle of
cloth. She pushed it through the barely open door. "Now it's your turn to hide it,"
She smuggled the dress back to her room and put it on beneath her cassock and
cowl. Then she slipped out her window and climbed into the nearby tree. She'd
snuck in and out of the Temple dozens of times to visit her grandmother over the
last two years. She easily slipped the gate guard and hid her cowl and cassock in
the Pioneer graveyard before turning west and making for Bentley Farm.
Damn fool girl, she told herself as she stood beneath an alder tree and watched his
house. What are you at?
The windows were all dark. She moved beneath the one that she remembered was
his and stretched up to tap at it gently.
She tapped again and then jumped when it groaned open. Enoch Bentley looked
down, alarm on his face turning to surprise. "Abigail Holton? What are you doing
What was she doing here? She looked away. "I . . . I came to see you."
"In the middle of the night?" Maybe he saw the look on her face. Maybe he just
didn't want to talk in whispers from the window. He frowned. "Meet me at the
barn," he said.
She met him at the large double doors. He wore the same trousers and shirt she'd
seen him in earlier, his high leather boots scuffed and cracked. He pushed one of
the doors open and went inside. Abigail followed.
After they got inside, he lit the stub of a candle and put it on a tin plate. He opened
his mouth, a questioning look on his face, and Abigail swallowed and pushed
herself at him. Her mouth found his mouth and she kissed him like the pictures
she'd seen in Mercurio's Notes on Human Behavior. At first, he tried to talk, but
eventually, he started kissing back.
She felt warmth in her belly, a tingling that spread into the rest of her body, out to
her toes and fingers and hair.
Come harvest, she thought, I'll give him his firstborn daughter and she will be
strong and will not let the voices change her. She would leave the Settler's
Daughters proud of her shame and go to live a life of love in the midst of corn and
babies and Enoch Bentley.
Afterwards, she lay in his arms and pretended it was their wedded bed.
"Have you left the Daughters then?" Enoch finally asked.
She turned so she could face him. "No," she said. "I'm going back after you're
asleep and you'll not see me again."
He smiled. "Then I will never sleep again."
She said nothing. Instead, she pulled him closer and stroked his face and shoulders
and side, pretending she would be there in the morning to cook breakfast while he
tended to the farm.
But after he was asleep, she stood and wiped herself clean with an old towel she
found near the goat stall. Silently, she pulled her dress back on and fought back
She could imagine all she wanted. She could dream a house full of children and a
legacy of love. But in the end, she would go back to the voices.
And if somehow Enoch Bentley's seed did take hold, Abigail would go to Mother
Cassel, confess her transgressions and drink the Tander oil to end the pregnancy.
Tonight was a necessary detour, she told herself. A sacrifice was a sacrifice only
when its worth was fully understood.
Mother Holton insisted that they take her to the girl's room. They sat her in a chair
in the corner and waited outside. Esther Hopewell sat on the edge of her bed, her
red-rimmed eyes dark from lack of sleep. "What will happen to me?" she asked.
Mother Holton smiled. "You'll be reclaimed from the voices."
The girl's eyes went wide and her voice trembled. "I don't want to be reclaimed."
They never did. But with time, the voices outside -- incessant and reasonable and
calm -- would offset the internal ones and the girl would find the discipline to hold
those ghosts at bay. The old woman nodded. "Nonetheless," she said. She leaned
forward. "You've read the Book, child. You understand why."
The young girl's eyes filled with water. "And after that?"
"You'll be watched for a spell. And then you'll be sent home."
A tear spilled over. "This is the only home I've ever known."
Mother Holton reached over and patted her knee. "And so it shall continue to be.
But it will be different for you now." She paused. "And your friends will be back
at the farms." Watched for a spell, she thought, and kept far apart to keep a
resurgence from occurring. The Seventeenth Age of Unknowing would come
soon enough -- no point helping it come faster.
When the girl spoke next, Mother Holton heard the loneliness in her voice. "I
don't know if I even want to be alive anymore," Esther Hopewell said.
"Of course you don't," Mother Holton said. "But you don't have to know anything
right now except for this: Sister McDougall and the others will help you -- if you
I could tell her, Mother Holton thought. I could tell her that it is the easiest truth
of all. That we are not alone in this universe as long as we have each other, as
long as we have the Settlement. But some truths could not be freely given -- they
had to be slowly revealed because the process of revelation was the true engine of
change. They would spend months with her, reclaiming her from the god-voices,
and in the end she'd live out her days in quiet service to the Settler's Daughters or
marry into the Farming Combine and live among someone's corn and babies.
She realized that Daughter Hopewell had spoken quietly and she started. "What
did you say, child?"
"For a moment," she repeated, "I was certain I was not alone."
Mother Holton remembered that feeling. She'd felt it three times. Twice, it was
the voices. Promises of home and love followed by threats and wrath and the
ranting echoes of a people driven mad long ago. But she'd also felt it one other
time, that night so long ago, when she'd pretended to be Enoch Bentley's bride.
"You are not alone," Mother Holton said.
The sacrifice gnawed at her for a month. Abigail Holton sobbed at night when no
one could see or hear. She found herself oversleeping and unable to focus on her
studies. When Enoch Bentley's letter found her, snuck in through an elaborate
network of Daughters' errands, it reached her at her lowest point. She'd been
scolded twice already that week and had just realized she was late with her
bleeding. She opened his letter, read it, and discovered there were even darker
basements beneath the lowest places of her heart. Like the voices, Enoch Bentley's
letter started with promises of love and home, then became angry and cajoling.
The full weight of the sacrifice didn't strike her until later in the day. When she
suddenly burst into tears in the middle of dinner, she found herself in front of
Mother Cassel's desk as snowflakes fell outside the window behind, shining silver
in the moonlight.
"I do not think you need the Tander oil just yet," Mother Cassel said after Abigail
told her story. "You are under tremendous strain. Wait a few more days and then
see me if you've not started."
Abigail Holton sniffed, wiping her eyes with the sleeve of her cassock. "Will I
need to be reclaimed, Mother?"
Mother Cassel laughed. "Good lords, no, child." She clicked her tongue against
the roof of her mouth. "If they made such a way as to reclaim the heart from love,
we'd all be better off dead."
"I do not love Enoch Bentley," she said.
Mother Cassel chuckled again. "You do not know that you do today. But
someday you will, and it will help you know that you've chosen well." She leaned
forward in her chair. "You were making a sacrifice, weren't you?"
Stunned, she nodded slowly. "How did you know?"
"The Addenda speaks of it. It is a common theme among certain of the Settler's
Abigail swallowed. "What does that mean?"
Mother Cassel smiled. "Nothing to worry on tonight, child." She sat back in her
chair. "But it speaks highly of you, that you can be sure."
That night, Abigail carefully folded Enoch's letter and hid it away beneath her
mattress. From then forward, she read it every night until it faded so badly that she
could not read it, holding it in her hands until it finally fell apart.
But even long after that, she lay awake nights and recited it from memory until it
simply became some small part of the other voices she remembered.
Mother Holton sipped her tea and looked out on autumn. She sat wrapped in the
quilt, but near the window so she could see the ducks on the pond. There was a
knock at the door and she turned toward it. "Yes?"
Esther Hopewell stepped into the room. "Hello, Mother," she said.
"Hello, Esther Hopewell." She hated that she could no longer call her daughter.
"Sister McDougall tells me that you are leaving us."
Esther Hopewell nodded. "I am, Mother."
"What will you do, child?"
The girl shook her head. "I do not know. I will find work in the city. Maybe I
will meet a nice boy and bear him a daughter."
Mother Holton nodded. "Maybe you will." Her reclamation had gone well, but
Mother Holton had assumed it would. She'd finally understood what she'd known
about this girl, but she was certain that the girl did not know it yet. She would
know it later, when the irony of this sacrifice would make her laugh for years to
come. But for now, Esther Hopewell was simply a strong young woman who had
once been a Settler's Daughter before the voices changed her life.
I came by the voices and she leaves by them, Mother Holton thought. She raised
her hand for the Matriarchal Blessing. "Go ye in grace and peace, Esther
Hopewell. Be fruitful and Settle the land."
"Thank you, Mother," she said. She curtsied and then left.
Sister Abernathy came in shortly after, carrying a tray with a steaming bowl and a
piece of bread. She helped Mother Holton into bed and then placed the tray on her
lap. "I've done that looking into you asked of me, Mother," she said.
Mother Holton lifted the spoon to her mouth, tasting the sweet corn chowder. She
couldn't remember any 'looking into' that she'd needed recently. But she'd
learned not to show it, to simply nod and wait.
"He died six years ago," Sister Abernathy continued. "I talked with his daughter
when I was in South Hold last week. He left many children and grandchildren
behind." She laughed. "There were Bentley's all over the place."
Mother Holton nodded. She vaguely remembered hearing that he'd gone south
with the earlier expeditions, more years ago than she could count. "He lived a full
life then," she said in a quiet voice.
Sister Abernathy leaned forward. "Who was he, Mother?"
"Someone I wanted to have a happy life," she said. "And it sounds like he did."
She finished her corn chowder, soaking the bread in what little remained to soften
it for the teeth she still had. When she was done, Sister Abernathy took the tray
away just as the linen girl entered with her stack of heated quilts.
They tucked her in and left her to nap, but instead of sleeping, she laid awake and
remembered that night long ago; the night she'd given herself to Enoch Bentley in
order to understand what she was giving up to serve the Settler's Daughters, to
give her life to the mystery of the voices in the quiet halls of the First Home
Temple. Words came back to her, a voice that spoke promises of love and home,
and for the first time in years, she found herself reciting Enoch Bentley's letter.
She was surprised that she still remembered most of the words, and she spoke them
now quietly as if they were a prayer of great power. She moved slowly through the
first half, telling herself that it was to savor the beauty of them. Lie to yourself, old
woman, see what it will get you. She recited the first half slowly so that she would
be asleep before the voice changed. She did not want to hear the angry voices
tonight -- not the voices that had driven her to Temple so long ago. And certainly
not the voice of Enoch Bentley that had given her calling a value beyond a young
girl's fervor. She closed her eyes and smelled the fresh-plowed earth.
In her dreams that night, Abigail Holton raised corn and babies. Beneath it all was
a whispering she could just barely discern.
God-voices assuring her she would never be alone.