When she rose from bed, she went to the window. Her brother was in the yard talking to Olive. He had been searching and had come to take her home. She wondered what she might have said or done if Charles had asked her to leave with him. She wondered if he hesitated as he stood in the garden. Anyone else might have guessed the garden she planted would be white, but Charles had seen it all exactly as she’d crafted it before he went away, the flash of scarlet, the trail of blood, the inside story of who she was.



BLACKWELL, MASSACHUSETTS, WAS REPRESENTED by the Thirty-fourth Regiment in the War Between the States, and every able-bodied man, including Tom Partridge’s grandsons, who were fourteen and fifteen, had enlisted. The Starrs went and the Jacobs and the Hildegardes and all the rest. There was a parade, and people cheered and said the war would be over in six months. After the parade, Constant Starr, who had been named for his great-grandfather and was so handsome half the women in town were in love with him, kissed his wife, Mattie, right in front of the meetinghouse. He kissed her for so long that some other men’s wives swooned just to think of how they might feel in his arms.

When the men and boys left, there were only women, children, and old men left behind in Blackwell. The leather factory where eelskin boots and belts had been made for so many years closed down, and the windows looked ghostly in the dim spring light. The bank was vacated and people kept their money piled inside their mattresses, or buried under a stone birdbath, or in a mustard tin in the pantry. The new history museum, opened only months before, was shuttered, and the barn behind it was turned into living quarters and rented out. The women went out to the fields with the horses and mules. With tireless patience they taught their children how to work a plow and tend the apple orchards, the same way they’d instructed them on how to say grace and how to have faith in the future.

Three months later, one of the Partridge boys was sent home with only one leg. His brother had been killed in the field. Two of the Jacobs, father and son, were missing and considered lost. Letters from loved ones could take months to reach home, and so the days were lived hesitantly, and in fear. Constant Starr had fallen in Virginia, but no one in Blackwell knew he had left his earthly life until eight weeks after the fact. A tintype of his body in uniform was eventually sent to his wife, who wore it pinned to her black dress the way another woman might clip on a corsage. People heard Mattie Starr sobbing but there was nothing they could do, no comfort that could offer real solace, although most tried their best to be neighborly. There was little enough in people’s pantries and larders, yet neighbors brought pies and stews to Mattie’s home, for her and her two children. She didn’t open her door, not even for those who knocked and called her name. The food was left out on the porch. Crows pecked at the pies with berry-stained beaks, dogs that roamed through town came and devoured the stews, and all of the Starrs grew thin.

It was a time of great grief, a season unlike any other. When the blackflies came, as they did every spring, folks nearly went mad because of the infestation. They were on the precipice already, reeling from their losses, unable to make sense of how the war could take so much from a single small town. People were reminded of the way life used to be by the appearance of the flowers in May. The reminder was painful, provoking crying fits, despair, and arguments among surviving family members. Spring itself was an affront, and the worst offenders were the fragrant blooms of the lilac saplings brought over from England many years earlier, which had now grown as tall as the rooftops. A group of women went to cut them down one night, axes in hand, tintypes of their beloved sons and husbands and fathers clasped inside the lockets they wore on delicate gold chains at their throats. In the morning the children gathered up purple flowers and danced in circles singing ashes ashes until they fell down.

NOT LONG AFTER that, when the trees were in full leaf and the meadows were lush, a young girl in a blue dress began to appear on the banks of the Eel River. Old Mr. Hildegarde was the first to spy her. He was fishing early in the morning when the owls were still soaring across the gunmetal sky, out hunting mice. Hildegarde did not wish to beg from his neighbors, all of whom had little enough, but he and his wife were on the verge of starving as they waited for their garden to bear fruit. Eel stew would have to suffice. The river was high after a snowy winter. Mist was rising from the cold waters into the mild air. Perhaps it was the mist that made Hildegarde stumble and nearly fall into the rushing waters. His boots were wet, and he was out of breath as he steadied himself. And then, quite suddenly, there she was, a little girl standing in the tall grass. Emile Hildegarde had never seen her before and he knew everyone in town, having come from Germany to Massachusetts as a young man. He’d lived in Blackwell the better part of fifty years.

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