They found her like that, whispering a prayer under her breath, eyes closed, prepared to meet and be undone by a fiery celestial sword.

“What’s this all about?” Nathaniel whispered to his older brother. The world was a strange, open place to them both now that they’d left Leominster. Nathaniel was still young enough to believe that there was an explanation for everything, and John’s explanation was that the Lord was everywhere. The sunshine was bright that day. There were blackflies in the air, flitting around them, and the sound of bumblebees droned in the tall grass.

“It’s about mercy,” John replied. He gazed down at the woman before him with the rope in her hands and knew that this was a divine moment that would forever change both their lives.

He dropped to his knees beside her, then took her hands in his. The rope fell into the grass, coiled like a snake. Minette looked up, shocked. She had expected to be burned alive. Now she gazed into John Chapman’s kind, soulful eyes.

“You have no idea what’s inside of you,” he said to her. He was younger than she, but he spoke with authority. Minette had indeed believed there was nothing inside of her, so it was as though he had answered her unspoken prayer. There was some sort of spark between them that had to do with questions and answers. But there was also something more. Minette felt as if she were opening, as if what was bruised inside her was in his hands. She wondered if this is what an angel did to you.

Minette stayed on her knees while John Chapman planted the Tree of Life, right there in the meadow. He had hundreds of seeds in his knapsack, taken from the orchard where he’d worked and from the cider mills he’d passed, but he also had a few saplings that were wrapped in cloth and twine, one of which he presented to the town of Blackwell.

After he was done, they sat in the grass and watched meadowlarks and drank some of the hard cider John carried with him in a metal flask. When the cider went down, it burned. The burning spread out into Minette’s chest in an arc and then in a circle. She laughed at the feeling, and at the larks, and at the fact that she was still alive when she hadn’t meant to be.

“You forgot that the world was this beautiful,” John said to her then, and she knew she’d been right in her first impression, that he was indeed an angel, and that he’d been sent to her, and that while she had believed she had come out on this morning to finish her life, there had been a different plan meant for her all along.

MINETTE TOOK THE Chapman brothers back to the cottage William Jacob had built for her in the acre behind her father’s house. The bigger house had belonged to her grandmother Hallie Brady, who had founded the town, and had been added on to piecemeal as more children came along. Minette’s father seemed to have grown old all at once after his wife and younger daughter and grandchild had died. He didn’t seem to notice Minette and her losses. There was no one to whom she could confide her sorrows, but somehow this man John understood them without her needing to voice a single one aloud. “We have one Father,” he told her. “And He knows our pain and our salvation.”

Minette offered the Chapmans an extra pallet in front of the fireplace in her cottage, but they said they preferred to sleep outside, under the stars. She fixed them dinner, and although they accepted bread and honey, they would not take more. “There’s no need for us to have more than our share,” John explained. “We take our lessons from the bees, who work for the glory of our Maker.”

On that first night Minette looked out the window and watched them. The boy was in a blanket roll, but John slept with nothing covering him other than the night air. It was so early in the spring, there were patches of ice in the shady sections of the yard. The bears in the forest still slumbered in their dens. As she sat there, Minette felt her milk come in, even though her baby had been gone for weeks.


In the morning everyone in town knew the Chapmans were there. They had made their camp in the patch of garden behind the house that had a peculiar red soil. People noticed the brothers down at the well in the center of town, pouring buckets of water to wash the soil from their bare feet, stained red from the dirt. Someone said only the devil had red feet. That sort of gossip traveled quickly. Minette’s father, Harry Partridge, came to her cottage soon after. Minette was baking a maple sugar pie. Her father took note of the knapsacks and blankets set against the garden gate.

“You’re letting strangers into your house? Do you think that’s wise?”

“They sleep outside.”

Minette knew that the Chapmans were planting an orchard down in the meadow. They’d gone off early in the morning dark and were at work when most people were in their beds. They planned to do this all across the country so that the land would be a sea of apples, manna from heaven in a line leading west.

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