The Ninth Daughter - By Barbara Hamilton


A bigail Adams smelled the blood before she saw the door was open.

In November, Boston didn’t reek the way it did in summer, especially down here in Fish Street. The coppery blood-stink cut the more prosaic pong of fish-heads and privies from the moment she stepped through the gate into Tillet’s Yard, the way the single thread of gore seemed to shriek at her against the gray of the wet morning, trickling down Rebecca Malvern’s doorstep.

For that first instant, Abigail thought: One of the cats.

Or maybe Nehemiah Tillet’s cook had been clumsy, gutting a chicken.

Only then did she see the open door.

The British—

Her marketing basket slipped from her hands and she gathered her skirts, strode to the place, heart in her throat.


It wasn’t the first time blood had been shed in Boston. Before Abigail’s eyes flashed the red-spattered snow of King Street, three and a half years ago now but alive in her mind as if it were yesterday. For an instant she heard again the shouting of the King’s soldiers and the mob, smelled powder-smoke thick in the air.

Rebecca’s broadsides against the King and the King’s troops were absolutely scathing. If someone told them who she was, and where she could be found—

Abigail froze in the doorway, hand pressed to her mouth.

Her first impression was that the whole floor of the tiny kitchen had been flooded with blood. It pooled in the hollows of the worn bricks, overspilled the threshold. Yet it wasn’t the first thing that slashed her mind, seized her eyes.

A woman lay facedown close to the overturned table. Gray dress, dark hair; skirt and petticoats turned up to her waist. Her bare buttocks and thighs were crisscrossed with knife slits. One shoe of fine green leather had been kicked off, lay on its side like a tiny wrecked boat against the irons of the hearth.


Abigail’s vision grayed.

The British—

Then against her will the words came to her mind—or Charles Malvern?

He wouldn’t! She groped for the doorframe, thoughts momentarily frozen at even a mental accusation of such a thing. Charles Malvern was a pinchpenny, moneygrubbing Tory, violent of temper and outspoken in his opinion that the Crown had every right to kill traitors where they stood. Yet surely, surely, he would never do this to the woman who had walked out of his bed and house.

Would he?

Someone had.

Not Charles! Not Rebecca—!

Abigail took a deep breath, feeling as if her knees would give way. Stepped across the great pool of gore on the threshold, stumbled to the side of . . .

Not Rebecca. The words that had sprung to her mind as a frantic plea to God suddenly rearranged themselves, and she thought, with an odd calm, No, in fact, it isn’t Rebecca.

Or at least, that isn’t Rebecca’s dress.

She dropped to her knees.

Dear God, forgive me for feeling relief. It was certainly some poor woman who had been used this way.

Hands shaking with reaction and guilt, she reached to turn the woman over to see her face, then made herself draw back.

John—her beloved, self-important, irascible John, the hero of her heart, husband of her bosom, and occasional bane of her existence—was forever coming home from the colony courts fuming at the imbecility of police constables who dragged furniture about in burgled houses, who stepped on footprints left by thieves, who casually tossed out broken dishes or torn rags or any of a thousand things by which, he said, any reasonable man could reconstruct who, exactly, had broken into someone’s barn or rifled someone’s strong room. Nincompoops! (This observation was usually made at the top of his lungs and accompanied by hurling his wig against the kitchen wall.) You’d think the lot of them were in the pay of horse thieves themselves!

Abigail took a deep breath, folded her arms on her knees, and bent her body to try to see the woman’s face.

She was obliged to straighten up again and swallow hard. Not only the woman’s backside and thighs had been slashed, but her face, from what Abigail could see of it, had, too. It was difficult to be sure, because of the blood that covered it from her cut throat.

But the dress at least certainly wasn’t Rebecca’s. Her friend had, in truth, owned gowns as fine as that heavy gray silk with its sprigs of pink and green. But she had left them in her husband’s house, when she had walked out of it for good in April of 1770. In the three and a half years since then, the