“They’re just boys,” she told her father, who was hardly comforted by her words.
That night Minette fed the Chapmans pie for supper, outside in the garden. The brothers had worked all day. They had walked past the burying ground in the meadow and had seen the stones for Minette’s husband and child and sister and mother. Before supper, they held hands and said a prayer for those no longer in the living world. As John spoke about meeting with angels in the world above their own, Minette cried for the first time since her sister’s passing. That night she slept with the window open. She slept better than she had in a month.
The Jacobs began it, taking up the idle gossip, insisting that the devils with red feet were now at work in the meadow and needed to be stopped. Soon the town was in an uproar. The men joined together at the meetinghouse and decided to take action. But when they came for the boys, they found Minette outside with the brothers, meaning to sleep in the open air with the strangers. The Chapmans were given ten minutes to get out of William Jacob’s widow’s yard and twenty-four hours to leave Blackwell.
The boys went as far as the meadow, where they set up their camp in the grass. It was a cool, dewy night, and the foxes in the hollow nearby bolted, surprised by the sudden intrusion. It made no difference to the Chapmans where they slept. It was Minette who cared. She packed a bag and followed them. She felt headstrong and light. She’d heard stories to the effect that her grandmother had disappeared one August night, and she wondered if she had felt the way Minette herself did now, not caring if she ever saw anyone in town ever again.
Minette wore her old black skirt, one she didn’t mind ruining if burrs caught in the fabric. She had on a pair of her husband’s old boots. The brothers weren’t surprised to see her. They accepted all they were offered and considered every moment a blessing. They had their supper in the meadow that night. Fresh asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, the last of the maple sugar pie. That was the night Minette realized that John Chapman didn’t sleep. When she startled awake, surprised to find herself where she was, beneath the stars, she saw that he hadn’t yet lain down. He was hunched in the grass, on fire with ideas. He said he didn’t need sleep. It was a waste of time and he had too much to accomplish. Minette stayed beside him. They studied the sky, and she listened attentively when he told her that every set of stars told a story. There was a spider, there was a crab, there was the lion of the night.
Her father came out to the meadow the next day to find that Minette was laboring with the men, planting seeds. There was soil on her hands and on her face. Her black skirt was hiked up out of the mud.
“You should come home.” Harry Partridge would have been firmer but he knew that if you tugged too hard on someone who was beginning to wander, they might just bolt and run.
Minette shook her head. She loved her father, but she couldn’t go back.
That night she and John went for a walk after Nathaniel was asleep. There was a blanket of clouds over the stars, like a carpet, a thin veil separating the world from the sky. They went as far as the start of the mountain, where the caves were. They knew that spring had fully arrived when they saw signs of bear: pawprints, shrubs trampled. She kissed him then, in a way she had never kissed her husband. She leapt forward into the shining light. When she’d been married she had been too busy to notice that the world was beautiful. Or perhaps she’d known and had forgotten.
The next day the men in town came to the meadow with a document they had drawn up that evicted the Chapmans from town. John Chapman stood to face his accusers. He was far taller than any of the other men. He said that someday they would understand his motives and would be grateful that he had lingered in their town. He had divine work to finish before he moved on.
When would that be? the men wanted to know. They were edgy facing him. If they’d had a jail, they would have thrown him into it. Their eviction notice was only as good as its effects.
“Three days,” John told them. “But what I’ve done here will stay with you forever.”
They didn’t know if they liked the sound of that or not, but they backed off and allowed him the time he’d asked for.
That night John and Minette went back into the woods and lay together. John had never been with a woman before, and everything about Minette was a miracle to him. Once she laughed out loud because of the way he was studying her. “It’s because you’re perfect and wonderful,” he said solemnly.
He watched while she slipped out of her clothes, something her husband would have never done. She felt as if she was a constellation or a blade of grass.