The baby was dozing, so Hallie went to the cold box for a serving of the Indian pudding she’d made for Harry. It tasted of molasses and honey. It was so delicious Harry felt he could eat a hundred bowlsful. But before he was even half done with his serving, he heard his mother calling. She must have woken to find he wasn’t in his place by the fire. She would most probably not let him go hunting with his father in the morning. She would say he was a bad, irresponsible boy.
Harry took another forkful of the corn pudding. Hallie was humming a little song. Her face was plain and pretty at the same time. In the firelight her eyes looked bright.
There was Harry’s mother right outside, knocking at the door. He would have to go home now.
“Did you ever wish you had a different life?” Harry asked.
Hallie Brady nodded. She was looking right at him. “All the time.”
SIXTEEN YEARS LATER there were ten more families living in Bearsville, mostly from Boston, although a pastor from New York had settled in, along with a couple named Collier who’d been lost in a snowstorm, just as the original settlers had been all those years before. The Kellys stayed with the Mott family, then decided to build a house near the creek since Clement Kelly was a fisherman by trade. A well was dug in what became the town center, surrounded by black mica stones, and people liked to meet there and gossip. It still wasn’t much of a town. When William Brady died, after a fever that left him unable to move or to eat, thirty-seven people attended his funeral, and that included everyone in town. The pastor, John Jacob, gave the epistle, and although Hallie declined to speak, Josephine Brady read a poem she had written about her father. She was a dreamy girl of sixteen who hadn’t inherited her mother’s instincts for survival. In fact, she seemed a target for the cruelty of the world. She was often stung by bees, for they were drawn to her because she was so sweet, her mother told her. She was also extremely bright, the only one in town who could write a poem. There was hardly a dry eye at the service by the time she was through, even though William Brady wasn’t particularly well liked. He was a taciturn man who preferred to be left alone with his eelskins and his tools.
There was a proper burying ground now. The Motts’ third son had died in a fall, and a traveling peddler had frozen to death before anyone had known he’d come to town and holed up in the meetinghouse, which was so cold ice formed on the floor. The Starrs had experienced the greatest portion of sorrow. Byron and Elizabeth had buried two of their six children—Constant, Patience, Fear, and Love had survived, but Consider had come down with fever when he was two, and Wrestling had taken four days to be born, his spirit having already flown before his body arrived on this earth.
A burying ground was the true mark of an established town. Theirs was at the far end of the meadow. It was a spring day when they buried William Brady. Larks and swallows flitted through the grass. There were tufts of white pollen drifting beneath the budding branches in the woods. Josephine Brady followed the wagon that carried her father’s pine coffin. Her mother walked along behind her, with Josephine’s intended, Harry Partridge.
“Now it truly is Dead Husband’s Meadow,” Hallie murmured to the young man who would soon be her son-in-law.
“I suppose so.” They exchanged an amused look. Harry often dreamed about the year when they’d first come here, when there were so many things that needed naming.
Josephine turned around when she heard them chatting. “What are you two talking about?”
“Nothing, Bee,” Harry assured her. It was the nickname Josephine’s mother and her beloved used for her. Josephine thought it was because she’d been stung so often. She had no memory of her name being Beatrice; no one in town ever used that name, although her mother had called her Bee for as long as Josephine could remember. People thought Josephine was young and innocent, just a loose-limbed girl with long blond hair, but she knew more than people gave her credit for. She knew, for instance, that Harry Partridge was by far the best man west of Hightop, just as she’d known that her parents hadn’t the kind of love she wanted for herself. In the winters her mother often went off to the mountain. Sometimes she didn’t return for days.
“Don’t ask her where she’s going, because she’ll never tell you the truth,” Josephine’s father said when he was alive, and so she never did. Her mother was an unusual person, quiet and self-assured and very private. She was able to take care of herself in the wilderness, for once upon a time the wilderness was all she had. She assured Josephine she was fine on her own, even up on the mountain. The strangest thing about her was the way she gazed out the window, as if there was someplace she wanted to be, some other life that was more worth living.