ERNEST AND THE boys got on their coats and boots and gloves and went to search outside the house in places where the child was likely to be found. Amy often played in the barn, or in the garden, or in the orchard of apple trees that this year hadn’t bloomed. She liked to pretend she was a horse, or a fine lady, or a man who planted trees. As the youngest, she was used to entertaining herself and going off on her own. Ernest and his sons came back after a while, ashen, huffing and puffing from the cold. The snow was now more than ten inches high. When they admitted they hadn’t seen a sign of Amy, Rebecca burst into tears. Ernest told his wife not to worry, he would search again. He went out once more with Henry and William. He told his boys to keep looking while he himself ran to the pastor’s house. When Reverend Smith heard Ernest’s story, he, too, put on his coat. The men went on to the meetinghouse, where they raced up the steps and rang the bell. Four peals meant an emergency.

In the parlor at home, Olive stayed with her mother, who was nearly faint with nerves, but Mary drew on her coat and hat and slipped outside. The whole town of Blackwell was covered with mounds of snow. Nearly a foot in some places. The world seemed enchanted and strange. Mary could hear the cows in the meadows lowing as she went on to the meetinghouse. Some girls had a fear of the dark and of being out alone, but Mary wasn’t one of those. She had long red hair and a wide mouth and an especially curious nature. She was a voracious reader and secretly borrowed her father’s books, even the ones about anatomy. She was bright enough to have frightened her mother with her ideas. On more than one occasion, Rebecca had taken her eldest daughter aside to ask, “What good can ever come from a girl with so much knowledge?”

When Mary entered the meetinghouse, the men were forming into search parties. Lanterns were brought around, for although the snow made the night quite brilliant, there were dark places they would need to look into, vegetable cellars and sheds, for instance, out-of-the-way spots where a child might have hidden in order to wait out a storm.

Mary’s uncle, Tom Partridge, joined with her father and brothers in the search. There were eight other groups. Every house in Blackwell was gone through. Barns were examined, and porches, and gardens. Tom Partridge even climbed down the well in the town center, a rope tied round his middle. Nothing was found. At midnight they all gathered back at the meetinghouse. The searchers were spent and exhausted. Most people’s fingers and toes were half frozen. Mary noticed that her brother Henry, who was only a boy, the youngest of the searchers, looked blue. His teeth were chattering, and he bit down on his lip, trying to control his shivering. All the same, the townspeople would not stop their searching and only fanned out farther. The men got their walking sticks, refilled their lanterns with oil, then set forth in a large group. People didn’t say out loud what they feared. They stared straight ahead.

Mary walked at the rear. Her brother William came up to her.

“You shouldn’t be here,” he said. “Go home.”

“I’ll be where I like,” Mary replied. She took Will’s hand in hers. They had been allies in all things, and they were once again on this baffling night.

“We’ll find her,” William said, but he was thirteen and he didn’t sound sure of himself. Mary had a lump in her throat. She hadn’t thought before her brother had spoken that they might not.

WHEN THEY GOT to Band’s Meadow they stopped. The wayfarers from Virginia had wagons there; the horses were quiet in the deep snowfall in their corral. Six wagons were set around in a circle. The trees were thick with snow, and the boughs, already leafing, were breaking under the weight. The snow looked green when Mary gazed upward through the frozen leaves.

The travelers had cleared a place for their bonfire, and several people sat around it, as if the falling snow was indeed apple blossom petals and nothing more. It seemed odd that the outsiders would be awake so late at night; there were even children playing in the snow, riveted by the firelight. The men in the search party huddled closer together, their wariness apparent. Mary had snow on her eyelashes. She’d never before noticed there could be color in the dark. The bonfire was red and orange and looked like a sunset when she narrowed her eyes. The group from town stood there, shifting uneasily, until some dogs from the campground noticed them. The dogs barked and ran over yapping, and the spell, or whatever it had been, that had kept the men motionless was broken. The search party went forward, and the men from the encampment came to meet the local men in the meadow. Mary lagged behind. She was afraid of dogs, and one collie shadowed her. A tall young man whistled through his teeth and the collie went trotting off.

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