WhilesWharton had other matters to attend, Andrew and Bartles worked for hours that afternoon sawing trees with a cross-cut saw, chopping off branches with an ax, then piling the brush for later burning. Andrew’s back ached and the muscles of his arms screamed. At the end of the day, they were rewarded with a half-dozen stumps, a huge pile of brush, and a stack of logs. The timber would be transported to a nearby sawmill for processing into lumber. Wharton told Andrew he could take what he needed to fashion a room in the barn. The remainder would be used on the place or sold in the colonies or shipped back to England. Timber was one of the most important crops shipped back to England since her forests had been stripped. Ship-building, an important trade, was always hungry for lumber. During a brief break, Bartles told him they usually worked the crops in the early morning, then split the afternoon between lumbering and blacksmithing as the need and weather permitted. Blacksmithing was illegal in the colonies, but since their product was not great enough to impact the demand from England, they’d not had a problem yet.
Aggie sent Molly out with a pewter pitcher of beer and the men paused for a short break. Battles spoke to the two of them. When she turned to leave them, Bartles bade her stay. ” I came here as a bondsman almost four years ago. I’d done blacksmithing on an estate in England. Like you, my master died and I had to move on. We’d have starved if we hadn’t bonded. It was a devilish passage we made, more than twelve weeks. That’s when we met Master Wharton, but he warn’t no master then. He was a sailor what broke his leg two days out and couldn’t work. We took care of him or he’d have never lived. When we got here, ship’s captain bound him over for lost work owed. We was all bound to Mistress Ipswich when we landed, the woman that owned this farm. She was a hard, God-fearing woman, the meanest Christian I ever knew. She took a fancy to Master Wharton not long after. Once she was set on marrying him, he had no choice. She meant to have him, one way or another. He give up and married her after awhile, even though he didn’t have no fondness for her. It was a hard bargain with never a minutes’ peace. After a year or so, she fell out with a fit and died three days later. He was Master after that. When he found out I could smith, he got me a forge and helped me get a start. I get to keep half I make. He don’t have to let me keep nothing. My time will be up in a few months and I’d be proud to teach you. I’m telling you this so you’ll know you’ve got a chance. Didn’t me nor Wharton have nothing when he got here. Now he’s got a fine farm and soon, me and Aggie will be worked our time out an able to make a living. Do right by Wharton and he’ll do right by you. He don’t need to know we talked. Lots of bondsman die before they finish their time, but you got a good place.”
Molly and Andrew were greatly heartened by Bartle’s story. “I thank you for telling us, Bartles.” Andrew told him. “We are grateful.” Molly flashed him a smile as she turned back to the house with the pitcher.
“I’d best get back in the house before Aggie skins me.”
“That she will,” chuckled Bartles. “She don’t tolerate no slacking in herself nor nobody else, but she’s a good woman.”