ONE NIGHT HARRY Partridge looked out to see Hallie in what should have been the garden but was now a graveyard. She wasn’t alone. There was a bear out there with her. Harry rubbed his eyes. It was late, after all, and very dark. The night was pitch, the wind was rising. He thought about the time he’d been so certain there was a bear up in a tree in the meadow and it had only been a squirrel’s nest. He remembered how all the men had laughed at him, including his father. Harry hadn’t liked that one bit. He blamed himself for the name the men had given their town. Every time someone passing through said Bearsville he thought they were making a mockery of him. He wished the town was called anything else, even New Boston, a name that would not remind him of what a fool he’d once been.
Harry often thought about the time when he’d nearly frozen to death, when he hadn’t had solid food for three days, and he’d run after Hallie Brady because she was the only one who seemed sure there was a future waiting. He’d had a dream about a bear then, too. That bear had saved him and sang to him and told him to hush. That bear had promised that everything would soon be set right.
In the Partridges’ house Harry’s bed was downstairs by the fire while his parents slept up in the loft. He thought what he saw in the garden of the Bradys’ house was most likely a dream, so it was best that he creep back to his mattress, which was stuffed with late-summer straw. Still he worried about Hallie Brady out in the dark with a bear. If the truth be told, he wished Hallie were his mother. His own mother was distant and afraid of things such as thunderstorms and blizzards and bears. Hallie, he knew, wasn’t frightened of much in this world.
When he woke the next morning, Harry wondered if there really had been a bear out behind the Bradys’ house. Perhaps he should have rescued Hallie, or at the very least, called out. He was terrified to think he might peer through the window only to see blood and bones. But when he gazed outside there was only the patch of tall grass that marked the little burial ground. Hallie Brady wasn’t there anymore, however. She’d recovered her strength. She had gone to Rachel Mott’s house and taken back her baby girl, whom she renamed Beatrice, the name of her baby sister who had died at birth, even though everyone else continued to call the child Josephine.
THAT NIGHT HARRY Partridge sneaked out of his house. His mother had told him never to go out alone after dark, but he went anyway. It was growing cold. The sky was blue-black and still. All the brilliant leaves had dropped from the trees; only a few brown ones remained. Ice was forming on Eel River and skimming the pond Harry and Hallie called Dead Husband’s Lake. There were squirrels nesting high in the trees, the mark of a hard winter to come.
Harry knocked and when Hallie called for him to come in, he did so. She was in a chair rocking the baby, engrossed in the little girl’s lovely face. William Brady was already up in the loft, asleep. The past year had taken a toll. It had done that to them all.
“She looks like a nice baby,” Harry said in his most polite voice. He didn’t really know how children were supposed to behave because he was never around them. When he thought of himself, he envisioned a small, fully grown individual, only one without the privileges of a man. His mother refused to let him have a gun, for instance. She wouldn’t let him ride the horse, either.
“She is a nice baby,” Hallie said. “Her name is Beatrice.”
“I thought it was Josephine.” Harry was confused. He always felt that way when he was with Hallie. As if anything could happen. He liked that feeling, but he was afraid of it too.
“It’s Beatrice,” Hallie said firmly.
Harry sat down on the floor even though there was some new furniture a peddler from Lenox had sold the Bradys. William was no longer poor. He’d been the first to craft expensive items out of eelskin—belts, then wallets, now boots. They were beautiful and waterproof and highly valued. The other men had followed suit, just as they’d followed him into the unknown Massachusetts wilderness. Peddlers from Lenox and Albany and Stockbridge were more than happy to trade for the fine leather goods, which they then resold in Boston at a higher cost.
Because of the eels in the river the Partridges had been able to buy a cow, the Motts some chickens and goats, and the Starrs could afford some sheep and a brand-new barn.
“I dream about bears sometimes,” Harry said, offhand. He gazed up, curious for Hallie’s reaction.
“That sounds like a nice dream,” she replied.
“A lovely dream.”
Hallie put the baby in the cradle that Jonathan Mott had made for the infant. The Motts had been led to believe they would be raising the baby, since Hallie hadn’t seemed the least bit interested after the other twin’s death. They had actually seemed a little put out when Hallie came to fetch her own child. “Don’t come by my house,” Hallie had protested when Rachel Mott tried to stop her from taking the child. “Don’t you even try.”