Authors: Eleanor Kuhns
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To Laura, who wanted this book written and who served as my first reader
Thanks to my agent, Mitchell S. Waters, and to Elizabeth Lacks, my collaborators in the writing process. This would be a much poorer book without their help.
When Rees heard the buggy rattle up the drive, he left his loom and went downstairs to meet his wife of two months in the kitchen. Lydia had thrown her cloak over a kitchen chair and was intent upon the letter in her hand. Her mouth was trembling. He hurried to her side and put his arm around her shoulders.
“What happened?” he asked. “Is it bad news?”
“Nothing like that,” she said, brandishing the letter. “It's from the Elders at Zion.”
Rees smiled. Zion was the Shaker community in Maine where they had first met. He'd been searching for his runaway son and she living on the outskirts of the Shaker community.
“Ahh, another offer to buy your farm?” Since she'd inherited it from her previous husband, the Zion Elders had expressed interest in purchasing the property several times. And Lydia was eager to sell. She felt that the farm was cursed.
“No.” She shook her head. “I mean, yes, Elder Hitchens mentions it.”
“We'll deal with that when the weather turns this spring.” A traveling weaver by profession, Rees was also a wanderer by nature, and he took any excuse to return to the open road. He was especially eager to leave Dugard now, after he'd hit his brother-in-law Sam Prentiss and knocked him into a mounting block. Remembering the sound of Sam's head hitting the granite block and the red blood blooming from his head sent a shudder through Rees. And the resulting injury had left Sam touched. If it weren't winter, Rees would be eager to leave.
“But that's not the primary reason for this letter,” Lydia rushed on. “Elder Hitchens encloses a letter from Mouse.”
“Mouse?” Rees repeated, his voice lifting in surprise. Hannah Moore, also known as Mouse, was a Sister at Zion. Although the uncertain mail service meant they heard from her infrequently, both Rees and Lydia still considered her a good friend.
“Mouse is no longer at Zion,” Lydia said, sliding an interior sheet from the outside page.
“No longer at Zion?” Rees asked. “Did something happen? Why did she leave?” He paused, thinking. He knew Mouse had been happy at Zion, and she had family living nearby. He added with a twinge of remorse, “Did the Elders transfer her? Is she in trouble for helping me last spring?”
“I don't know. Sometime last summer she was transferred to Mount Unity near Dover Springs, New York, and is now a member of the Second Family. Her note to the Elders in Zion begs for our aid.”
“Our aid? For what?” Rees's heart sank. He would always help Mouse, of course, but he didn't favor a long trip in February.
“Mouse is accused of kidnapping.” Lydia handed the letter to Rees.
Kidnapping? Mouse? Astonished, he skimmed the carefully printed lines. “I beg you,” Mouse wrote to Elder Hitchens, “please locate Will Rees and Lydia Jane Farrell. I know they will help me with the charge of kidnapping.” The note attached by Elder Herman of Dover Springs yielded some additional information. Mouse did not deny taking the children, but claimed their mother was unfit. The town officials of Dover Springs refused to intervene and Sister Hannah was now restricted to Mount Unity, forbidden to leave for any purpose, even to visit the distressed family.
Rees brought the letter to the fireside and held it closer to the yellow light of the leaping flames. Elder Herman had written crosswise over Mouse's lines and his elegant cursive was difficult to read.
“He says that Mouse is much distraught, unable to accomplish her tasks and eating poorly,” Lydia said, moving to Rees's side. “And why would she be accused of kidnapping? We must help her.” She tipped her face up to look into her husband's and put her hand upon his arm. “If this is true, and she broke a law, she may be expelled from the Shakers. Where would she go then?”
Rees looked down into his wife's upturned face, still startled sometimes by the mobcap of a married woman over her red hair instead of the Shakers' white linen square. Although no longer a Shaker when he met her, she'd lived near Zion and maintained the Shaker ways. “It's February, Lydia,” he said. “The roads are near impassable and the weather chancy at best. The Shakers would not be so cruel.” He was more concerned about the prospect of finding Mouse in jail. Or even worse, the target of a vigilante.
“But this is Mouse,” Lydia said, looking up at Rees. He saw to his horror that her eyes were full of tears. “We must help her.” She took the letter from him. “Mouse wrote this in December, before Christmas. She's been waiting for us for nearly two months. And,” she added, “this document cost me nearly three dozen eggs. I went to Borden's for candles and Mr. Borden gave me the letter.” Rees nodded. Although there was a postmaster general and miles of post roads, letters still went to taverns and general stores, and the proprietors charged whatever they wished.
“So we'll be short of both eggs and candles,” Rees said with a sigh. Lydia nodded. The chickens laid fewer eggs in the winter and this one had seemed particularly severe to Rees. Maybe that was because he'd spent the winters of the previous few years further south, weaving for farmwives in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. It felt strange to be home for so long; in fact, it would be unbearable if Lydia weren't here.
“Mouse doesn't even know we're married,” Lydia said, looking up at Rees.
“I know,” he said. He stroked her cheek gently. “If it were later in the springâ¦”
“Please, Will. David can handle the farm in our absence,” Lydia said. “We can take the sleigh.”
Rees shook his head. “You said New York, did you not? Perhaps it isn't cold and snowy in New York. We would be marooned in the sleigh.” He paused, comparing the wagon and the buggy in his mind. The former, although heavier, had no covering, and he was loath to travel a distance with no protection from the elements.
“Then we must take the stage,” Lydia said, her voice rising. “I don't want Mouse to think we've forgotten her.”
“She's living in Mount Unity, not homeless and living on the road,” Rees said, exasperated.
“What if that community expels her? She has no family in New York.” Lydia's mouth trembled in distress.
“I doubt Mouse will be expelled,” Rees replied, putting a hand on her shoulder to calm her. “Especially not now. They would not be so cruel. The Elders in Zion allowed you to remain near the community.”
“Elder White was kind,” she agreed.
He hesitated and added tentatively, “The weather will surely break in six weeks or so.â¦” He would gladly make the journey then.
Frowning, Lydia shook her head. “She's waited long enough. Will, she's relying on us. We must help her. Please.”
Rees heaved a sigh, but he couldn't bear seeing Lydia so upset. “The stage will take too long. And I would rather have my own vehicle. I'll speak with Mr. Wheeler at the livery stable and see what he might recommend.” He glanced out the window. The bright sun glittered on the snow and sent melted water dripping from the icicles, promising an illusory balminess. The buggy still sat outside the weathered gray barn, waiting for David's attention. “There's several hours before dark,” Rees said. “I'll drive into Dugard now and talk to Wheeler and be back in time for supper.” Lydia nodded and tucked the letter behind the candlesticks on the mantel. Rees went out to saddle Bessie. He realized as he rode down the snow-packed drive that somehow, without even realizing it, he'd agreed to make this ill-advised journey.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
“Mr. Wheeler strongly advised us not to travel until the weather breaks,” Rees said when he sat down to supper a few hours later.
“What did you say?” Lydia demanded.
Rees shifted uncomfortably under her scrutiny. “That you were fixed upon this course.” She did not often display an absolute inflexibility on a decision but when it struck, Rees knew better than to argue.
“Good. What else did he say?”
“He reminded me of the fights I jumped into as a boy,” he said. He tried to pass it off as of no importance, but she knew him too well.
“The beast,” she murmured, referring to the term Rees used for his temper. “Did he criticize you for striking Sam?”
“No. Congratulated me. Wheeler said Sam is a difficult man.” Rees managed a faint smile, although his throat closed up with guilt and shame. Lydia patted his hand. She knew how much the fight and its aftermath troubled her husband. He would not have chosen to travel in the depths of winter, but he would be glad to escape the accusation that suffused every one of his conversations here in Dugard. “Wheeler recommended taking either the buggy or renting a gig from him. We will want a roof over our heads in the event of snow or, less likely, rain. He further suggested we follow the stage route, as the roads will likely be more passable. Some of the stages are equipped with rollers that flatten the snow and make a smooth hard-packed surface.”
“Did he say how long such a journey might take?” Lydia asked, her brow creasing as she began to plan.
“Two weeks or so if nothing untoward happens. We'll have to change horses at the stagecoach stops, and I expect we'll have to spend several nights at the local inns.”
“This is beginning to sound expensive,” Lydia said.
“Indeed. Besides the aforementioned, we'll also have expenses for food and tolls.â¦” Rees paused, thinking of the strongbox upstairs and the coins inside, last summer's earnings. He'd spent very little of it.
“When I sell the Ellis farm to the Elders in Zion we'll recoup all we've spent and more,” Lydia promised. “Will we take Bessie?”
“No,” Rees said, shaking his head. “She is coming to the end of her working life. Soon I shall have to invest in another Bessie to pull my wagon.” Bessie number four. “We won't take Amos either. I arranged to rent a horse from Mr. Wheeler. Since he engages in regular custom along the post roads, we can switch horses as needed, and his horses will be returned to him. I am not so sure that will happen if I take any of mine. Besides, David will need ours.” He paused. He didn't look forward to sharing these plans with his son. Although their relationship had improved over the last six months or so, David still blamed his father for leaving him with his aunt and uncle after his mother's death. Rees had to travel; his weaving brought in the money that helped support the farm, but abandoning his son to the cruelty of his sister and brother-in-law had been a mistake. David's anger still surfaced every now and then, especially when his father left on another journey. Rees accepted it, understanding that it would take a long time for David to forgive him.