They stood together in the shallows of the river, the little girl’s sopping body between them, their breath hot and fast while Mary sobbed and Yaron did his best to comfort her. The dog was quiet now, down on his haunches, his eyes never leaving the child he’d been sent to find. Amy’s clothes were frozen stiff, and she was heavy as a block of ice. They laid her down on the riverbank. Mary covered her sister’s body with her own and breathed into the little girl’s tiny cold mouth. She’d read that it was sometimes possible to bring the dead back by doing so. But it did no good.
“They’ll think I did it because I found her,” Yaron said.
“No.” The snow was oddly bright. Amy looked like a fallen star, shining beside them.
Yaron shook his head. His dark hair was wet. “They always think that.”
The clothes he wore were frozen now, too, and there was snow in his hair. Mary thought about the way she’d felt when he’d disappeared into the river. She recalled the look on his face before he dove in. She felt something inside her that was unexpected as Yaron leaned to tenderly close her sister’s eyes.
In the morning the search party found the child on the bank of the Eel River, the blue dress covering her. The snow had hardened overnight, and it made a crunching noise beneath their boots. Ernest Starr had to be restrained. He was in a state of grief so immense he vowed he would never let his daughter go. He claimed he would find a way to preserve Amy’s body in salt or brandy and she would be with him still, but Rebecca wouldn’t hear of it. She insisted her child be taken to the burying ground outside of town, with the service held under the one tree that had managed to bloom in that cold season, the one people called the Tree of Life, which was true enough, for its fruit kept people in town from starving during the coming winter’s famine. Rebecca Starr demanded that the coffin be opened so she could take off her child’s boots and Amy could walk into the kingdom of heaven in her bare feet. No one was about to deny Rebecca anything. They let her do as she pleased. She had lost two daughters in a single day, for Mary had disappeared. No one dared question Rebecca when she kept the horse traders’ pup that had been left on her doorstep. She walked with the collie every day, along the river and through the meadow, where there were still ruts in the earth the following summer when the weather was warm once more and the sky was at last cloudless and clear.
OWL AND MOUSE
EMILY WENT FOR A WALK ON HER LAST DAY at school. Her family was taking her out of Mount Holyoke Seminary; she was needed at home and she hadn’t been happy at the school. Her views were her own, and educators did not always appreciate free thought. It was time to leave. But before she went back to the family house and everyone else’s demands, she wanted to go somewhere she’d never been. She longed for the woods and for great distances. She’d often gone rambling as a child, collecting nearly six hundred species of wildflowers, some never seen before. She liked to disappear, even when she was in the same room as other people. It was a talent, as it was a curse. There was something that came between Emily and other people, a white linen curtain, hazy. It made the world quieter and farther away, although occasionally she could see through to the other side. She had the feeling that if she went home, she might never get away. She thought of birds caught in nets. There was something inside her, beating against her ribs, urging her to do things she might not otherwise attempt. She had the strongest desire to get lost.
She passed the boundary of the school grounds and kept on. She had always been a walker, and being alone was her natural state. Once she was in the woods, she was a shadow. She recognized wildflowers the way someone else might recognize old friends: velvet-leaf, live forever, lad’s love. She stooped to pick a sprig of lad’s love and slipped it in her shoe. Local people said it was a charm that would lead you to your true love. She did feel charmed. She went on, hour after hour. She spied red lily, wood lily, trout lily. She crossed two roads, then went into even deeper woods. The forest here was dark and green. The world had become topsy-turvy. Day was night and night was day, and no one on earth knew where she was. She had a wild, careless feeling that made her limbs feel loose and free. There was bloodroot in among the carpet of moss and leaves, hyacinth and squill. She had reached Hightop Mountain without knowing it. At last, she was visiting a place she’d never been to before. She had been walking for almost ten hours, and for most of that time she’d been caught up in a dream. There were black bears up here that could run faster than any man and weighed up to six hundred pounds. Emily had read that injured bears sobbed like human beings, and that gave her some comfort. They were not so unalike.