In 1660 on Martha’s Vineyard in the settlement of Great Harbor, fifteen-year-old Bethia Mayfield lives with her pastor father; her brother, Makepeace; and her sister, Solace. Her mother died in childbirth, along with the unnamed baby. Bethia most misses her twin brother, Zuriel, who died in an accident. Resisting the female role that is expected of a Puritan girl of that time, Bethia listened as her father taught Zuriel. When she was forced from the house, Bethia continued to study in secret. Her love of learning is her secret sin.
Outdoors, she wanders the island and encounters the Wampanoag, the island’s first inhabitants. She makes friends with one, who is later called Caleb, though she must keep their friendship a secret. Bethia is bothered by the lack of respect the colonists show toward nature. She is more captivated by the spiritual life of the Wampanoag than by her father’s preaching on the Sabbath.
As Bethia becomes closer to Caleb, she reveals to him her understanding of God. Caleb is confused, but he is interested in her ability to read of past wisdom from a book. He tells Bethia to give him the book she is reading, but Bethia explains it is not hers to give; it belongs to her father. Caleb, like the other Wampanoag, has no understanding of personal property and becomes angry. Bethia promises to bring him her catechism and hopes she can introduce him to Christianity. Bethia feels confused by some of Caleb’s questions, so she asks her father to take her with him when he goes to preach to the Wampanoag. He readily agrees, but Bethia overhears the Wampanoag question his teaching. When Tequamuck, Caleb’s uncle, arrives, all the Wampanoag leave silently.
Caleb announces to Bethia that he will not see her anymore; he is to undergo a trial by ordeal. Bethia feels heartbroken and fearful of Caleb’s fate. She learns that her father is considering marrying her to Noah Merry, a young farmer nearby. When Pastor Mayfield visits the Merrys, Bethia’s mother urges her to go along. While there, two natives arrive to tell of a visitor at their village who is ill. Bethia and her father journey there and discover Caleb’s father, who has taken hellebore in order to have visions. As Pastor Mayfield tends to him, Bethia takes some of the hellebore and has wild hallucinations. Afterward, she sees this as evidence that she is one of those condemned by God from birth.
Caleb’s father is healed, and...
(The entire section is 1623 words.)
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