HALLIE BRADY SAVED her neighbors from starvation that winter. But instead of being grateful, they seemed to grow afraid of her, as if they were mere humans and she was something more. The women stopped speaking when she came near. The men made certain to avoid her, including her own husband. She didn’t complain or seem put out. She took every chance to escape their company. Her life had veered off into the mountainside. She had found the place where she was sheltered, where the reaches of the next kingdom seemed close enough to touch. Soon she could find her way to the mountain in the dark.
When Harry turned seven, Hallie made him a little cake out of cornmeal and bear’s milk. It was almost spring. The snow had begun to melt and where it did there was swamp cabbage that was edible if you boiled it for hours and held your nose when you took a bite. There were baby eels gathering under the melting ice, tender when cooked in their own skins. The first stalks of wild asparagus appeared in the marshland that Hallie told Harry was called Dead Husband’s Swamp.
One day Flynn was waiting for her just beyond the clearing. He had never before come so near to where they lived. All winter they had lain together and each time she had run off afterward, leaving him wondering about her true nature. On this day he told her it was the season when the bears were waking. That meant it was time for him to go back to Albany, where, he now admitted to Hallie, he had a wife. He had loved Hallie, truly, but the mountain was only a place to hunt, there was no life for him there. Flynn wouldn’t be back and she knew it. Albany was far, and there were other, better places for a trapper to spend the winter. Hallie didn’t look at him when he said his good-byes. She already knew something was different inside her. And why would she beg him to stay? When she thought back to the winter they’d spent together, what she would miss most of all was the bear.
That night Hallie got under the blankets with her husband. He was surprised, but he didn’t turn her down. She hoped Harry over in the corner wouldn’t hear him grunting, but she was glad that William was loud enough to cause Elizabeth Starr to hush them from the loft where the Starrs slept. Hallie prayed this one time would be enough so when the baby came, everyone would be convinced it belonged to William Brady.
HALLIE WENT BACK to the cave once more. She saw footprints and pools of blood. She sat down and wept. The mother bear had been killed and skinned right there at the mouth of her den. There were bits of bone on the ground. Hallie felt that her heart had been broken. Like a fool she’d trusted Flynn’s promise. He was a liar, like most men. She had worked so hard all winter to survive, but now she wished winter had never ended. As she was leaving, Hallie saw the footprints leading away from the cave, those of a small bear wandering off alone. She sank to her knees, grateful that the cub was out there somewhere, still alive.
She threw herself into work in the hopes that she would stop mourning the bear. The settlers began to follow her lead and became equally industrious. They snapped out of their gloom and worked hard all through the summer. Soon all had blood blisters on their hands. Tom Partridge chopped off half his thumb while swinging an ax, but even that didn’t stop him. People were renewed by the simple fact that they were still alive. They were mindful of the many ways in which they’d been blessed each morning when they saw the first glimmer of daylight.
By November, when the babies were born—twins, a boy and a girl—the families each had their own houses. The new homes were built in a circle around a wild grassy area that Hallie and Harry had dubbed Dead Husband’s Park. Hallie’s baby girl was very beautiful, with eggshell-blue eyes and skin that shone with good health, but the boy was too small. He couldn’t seem to breathe. He didn’t open his eyes. That was when Hallie knew he wouldn’t last. He lived for only one week. Hallie insisted on burying him behind the house, in the place where she’d begun a garden in the summer, to ensure he wouldn’t be too far away. After the burial she sat down in the weeds. She didn’t get up again. No one could urge her back to her house, not even Harry. She wouldn’t hold her baby girl or even drink a sip of water. She wrapped herself in the shawl that the hatmaker’s wife had given her when she left England. She wore her husband’s leather boots, the ones she’d had on when she tramped through the forest that first time, when she’d found her way the way pilgrims do, following nothing more than her own faith.
During the day she was silent, but at night they could hear her crying. Susanna Partridge covered Harry’s ears so he wouldn’t have to listen, because every time he did, he cried as well. Rachel Mott had not long ago had a baby herself and she took in the Bradys’ little girl and nursed her. She gave her a name as well, since no one else had bothered, calling her Josephine, after her own mother.