IN THE DEAD of winter, the drifts were eight feet high. There was very little wood to keep the fire burning. The women on the expedition stopped talking. They had nothing to say. They were starving to death. Elizabeth Starr’s hair turned white, even though she was still a young woman. Susanna Partridge, Harry’s mother, had a ghostly look in her eye. The men could no longer remember how on earth William Brady had talked them into leaving Boston in the first place. He’d said something about owning all the land they wanted, everything for as far as the eye could see, but that didn’t seem so appealing anymore. What they saw was the country of their own demise. Two of the horses and one of the mules had died, then had been eaten, by wolves, it appeared. The last two horses, one black and one roan, were kept inside with the families, in a dark, fenced-off section of the shelter. Once, Hallie thought she heard them crying, even though she knew that was impossible; horses weren’t like foolish rabbits. But in the morning the roan was dead.

Hallie took that as a message from their savior: Those who didn’t move forward were condemned to their miserable fates. That morning Hallie put on all of the clothes she owned. She slipped on William’s high boots. She wore mittens and a shawl that the hatmaker’s wife had given her when she’d left England. That man who had thought Hallie belonged to him had been wrong, and his wife must have prayed that the same had been true for herself. She’d whispered that she wished she was going to Boston as well.

“Those are my boots,” William Brady said when he saw his wife ready to go into the woods.

Hallie already knew her husband was not a generous man. “What’s the difference?” she countered. “You’re not going anywhere, are you?”

William Brady was in a fog of regret due to his bad choices. He’d rather be sitting in debtor’s prison than be trapped beneath the western slope of Hightop Mountain. He wasn’t about to pull on his boots and go in search of his own cold death.

“No.” Hallie nodded when he backed off. “I thought not. You’ll just sit here and die.”

She took a rifle from the shelf. When the other women told her she was mad to go—surely she’d freeze before she reached the meadow—she said she didn’t care. She would rather die trying to live than simply give up like the rest of them. It was still snowing and the wind made a creaking sound. Yes, it was cold, but as soon as she left the shelter Hallie felt better. Being alone was a huge relief. She couldn’t stand the people who’d come here to the Berkshires. They were fearful and small, ready to leap into their own graves. It was a while before Hallie realized that Harry had sneaked out, following in her wake, leaping from the pressed-down snow of one of her boot steps to the next.

“Go back,” Hallie told him.

Harry shook his head. He kept thinking of those rabbits they’d found, broken and boiled in the big cast-iron pot, and how, when he closed his eyes and pretended they weren’t rabbits, they had tasted delicious.

“Fine,” Hallie allowed. “But you’d better keep up.”

They went through the meadow and into the woods. It was easier to walk in the wilderness. Much of the snow had caught in the boughs of the pine trees. They took a path through the brambles, where the drifts weren’t as high. The world was white and peaceful and quiet. A squirrel ran up a tree. Hallie aimed and fired, but she missed it. A bundle of snow dropped from the tree she had hit.


By dusk they were lost. It was the hour when the ink began to spread across the sky, only the dark was dotted with white flecks as snow speckled down. Hallie wrapped her shawl around Harry’s head so that he looked like a little old woman rather than a frightened six-year-old. Hallie gazed at the falling snow and the endless woods. She was not yet eighteen. She thought that when she made it back she would name this area Dead Husband’s Woods. She didn’t think she would laugh at a name like that. She would think herself lucky to get out alive.

A star shone and flickered. Impossible since it wasn’t yet fully dark. Hallie picked up the boy and carried him toward the flickering. She thought about the way the Israelites were led out of the desert. She decided she would simply put one foot in front of the other in her husband’s heavy too-big boots. Because of this she was led to Hightop Mountain where the jagged cliffs were riddled with shimmery mica. Each bit of mica was like a shining star. Salvation was mysterious, wasn’t that always true? There was a cave at the base of the mountain. Hallie thought about manna, how you had to be ready to receive what you were given. She went in without any fears of possible dangers. She had made her choice. Despite everything she did not wish to be back in the hat shop in Birmingham, plucking feathers from the corpses of peacocks and doves, fending off the attentions of the owner.

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