Read Elm Creek Quilts [07] The Sugar Camp Quilt Online

Authors: Jennifer Chiaverini

Tags: #Historical, #Adult, #Romance, #Mystery

Elm Creek Quilts [07] The Sugar Camp Quilt (25 page)

BOOK: Elm Creek Quilts [07] The Sugar Camp Quilt
11.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

In the excitement of the previous night, Dorothea had forgotten. The will would be read that morning. They were due at the lawyer’s office at eight o’clock sharp.

Dorothea told her mother she would come downstairs presently, and as Lorena left, Dorothea rose and washed herself in the basin of water on the nightstand. Her teeth chattered as she bared her skin to the cold air and the even colder water, then swiftly pulled on her red flannels and second-best wool dress. She unbraided her hair, brushed it out, and braided it up again, coiling the long brown braids at the nape of her neck. She had done her hair by herself in the attic before dawn so often she needed neither mirror nor light to complete the task.

The previous evening, they had moved the runaway—whose name was Zachariah—to the larger and more comfortable bed in Uncle Jacob’s old room. Jonathan had slept in the front room at his own insistence, to keep watch. Dorothea paused to check on Zachariah on her way to the kitchen and found him still sleeping. Jonathan and Robert were just returning from the barn. Lorena had already finished cooking breakfast, so all that was left for Dorothea to do was set the table.

They ate in near silence. Dorothea could hardly force herself to swallow a bite. The fate of Uncle Jacob’s farm would be decided that day, and yet she could hardly think of the will for the images of Zachariah and Mr. Liggett crowding her mind.

Zachariah emerged just as the family was about to depart. He hobbled into the kitchen, bracing himself with one arm against the wall. “You should be in bed,” said Jonathan, going to his side.

Zachariah waved him off. “I’ll be fine.” He winced as he lowered himself into the chair Lorena held out for him at the kitchen table. Dorothea brought him a cup of fresh milk, cooled now, and a plate of food, which he began to eat hungrily, eyeing the Grangers as they put on their wraps.

“We have some business in town,” said Robert. “We will be home before noon.”

“When we return, I’ll have another look at those toes,” said Jonathan. “When you’re finished eating, you should get back into bed.”

“Into bed or under it?” Zachariah grimaced and looked away to Lorena. “Thank you for the food, ma’am.”

“You’re welcome.” Lorena hesitated. “The man who pursued you here yesterday might not have been put off for good. He may return.”

“It would be wise for you to remain hidden,” said Robert. “He is not above entering our home in our absence.”

Zachariah made a humorless chuckle. “I might be safer at the next station.”

“You won’t be safer traveling in daylight,” said Dorothea. “Lock the doors and stay away from the windows. Take my bed in the attic just to be sure. You will be fine.”

She forced certainty into the words as she imagined Mrs. Braun would have done, but Zachariah looked dubious even as he agreed to do as they suggested. After they closed the door behind them, she heard the solid thunk of the bolt sliding into place.

Robert had hitched up the sleigh, and as the horses pulled them smoothly over the snow-covered road, Dorothea glanced back at the house. There was no sign anyone remained inside. “Do you think Zachariah will be there when we return?”

Her father shrugged, and the gesture seemed to mirror Jonathan’s thoughts. Lorena said, “Of course he will. Surely he knows to wait until nightfall to depart. Besides, I threw out those old burlap rags of his and he hasn’t any shoes.”

Dorothea recalled the look in the man’s eye when he had rejected Jonathan’s medical treatment and thought that Zachariah might very well decide to limp off in the snow barefoot, if it came to that. She feared that it might. All the way into town, from the farm that might no longer be theirs, across the frozen creek, her thoughts dwelt on what might be happening behind her. Even at that moment Mr. Liggett might be lurking about their farm, following the trail through the snow, examining the bloodstains on the floor of the sugarhouse, letting his dog lead him again and again to the Granger’s back door. She thought of what might befall Zachariah should he not wait for Dorothea to return and explain to him the secret route stitched into the Sugar Camp Quilt, and how he would fare if he did not consent to Jonathan’s treatment.

The meeting with the lawyer, which had loomed large and foreboding in their imaginations for years—the day they would either secure their futures or be forced to leave Uncle Jacob’s farm forever—had been diminished by the previous night’s events. Even Jonathan’s admission that he had not done all he could to secure his uncle’s affection did not fill them with dread as it might once have done. Dorothea knew from her parents’ distracted expressions that they, too, were preoccupied with thoughts of their hunted guest. Lorena confirmed Dorothea’s suspicions when, upon entering the lawyer’s office, instead of encouraging her family regarding the possible outcomes of the meeting, she said, “Likely Mr. Liggett will be sleeping off his inebriation well into the afternoon. We will be home before he even rolls out of bed.”

Later, Dorothea wondered if they had surprised the lawyer with their lack of elation when he declared that Jonathan Augustus Granger was the sole heir to his uncle’s estate, with the exception of a few smaller gifts to his family and his church. The Grangers were so eager to return home that they barely stayed long enough to sign the papers. Only Dorothea managed a laugh when she learned of Uncle Jacob’s bequest to herself: his best steamer trunk, three hundred dollars, and a book about the western territories. His plan for her was clear. She mused that if he had wanted to guarantee she follow it, he should not have left the farm to her brother.

The Grangers hurried home. As many times as Dorothea had thought of this day, she had never envisioned her parents quiet and pensive as they returned to what could at last be called
land. Only once did a sense of triumph overcome Lorena’s uneasiness. As the farm came into view, she declared, “From now on we shall call this place Thrift Farm the Second.”

Jonathan shifted uncomfortably.

“No,” said Robert. “We will call it the Granger farm.”

Lorena shot him a look of surprise, but something in his expression silenced her intended protest.

While Jonathan and Robert remained behind in the barn to unhitch the horses, Dorothea and her mother hastened to the house. Dorothea’s heart leaped into her throat when her mother tested the kitchen door. It swung open easily. The bolt had been drawn back.

Lorena hurried to check Uncle Jacob’s old room while Dorothea raced upstairs. She found Zachariah resting in her bed, the Sugar Camp Quilt spread over him.

“Where else did you reckon I’d be?” asked Zachariah, bemused. “Did you think I was fool enough to go my own way in daylight?”

“The bolt was drawn back. We thought you had left us, or—that you had been taken.”

“That bolt locks from the inside,” he told her. “If that man did come back and found the door bolted, he’d know someone was in here. I thought it best to leave it as you folks would have.”

“What if Mr. Liggett had returned and come inside?”

“What if he’d been watching the house when you came home and saw you folks knocking on the door and calling out for someone to let you in? He’d know for sure you had someone in here.”

Dorothea was stumped for a moment, but she said, “At least the bolt would have kept him out until our return.”

Zachariah shrugged. “Maybe, unless he thought to kick in a window. This is a nice place, but it ain’t a stockade. You can’t keep out someone who’s bent on coming in, not unless you got a rifle.”

“We do not believe in violence.”

He snorted. “Just because you don’t believe in it don’t make it any less real.”

Dorothea had no reply to that. She changed the dressing on his leg as Jonathan had taught her and brought him a cup of water, then returned downstairs to help her mother prepare dinner. When her father came in from the barn to inquire after Zachariah, Dorothea told him of their scare. Robert shook his head and said, “We must contrive a better hiding place.”

Jonathan went upstairs to check on his reluctant patient, and when he returned he wore a disgruntled expression. He drew on his coat and announced he was going back into town for something for Zachariah’s foot.

Not long afterward, when Dorothea carried a tray upstairs to Zachariah, she drew a chair closer and explained the route to the next station, using the quilt draped over him as a guide. “Remember these patterns and you’ll remember the way,” she told him.

“What about that doctor brother of yours?” he asked. “Think he’ll let me go?”

“He would never keep you here against your will.”

“Where is he?”

“He went into town for something for your foot.”

“What would that be? A hacksaw?”

Dorothea rose and gathered up his dishes. “He means the best for you. You would do well to take his advice.”

“It’s not his foot. It’s not his choice.”

“That is certainly true.” Dorothea paused and sat down again, the tray on her lap. “You would risk your life rather than sacrifice two toes. Do you mistrust his skill so much?”

“His doctoring don’t have nothing to do with it. Don’t you know what they do to runaways they catch? They cut off their feet—and not just so they can’t run no more. It tells everyone he’s a runaway. He’s a slave.”

“It’s just two toes, not your whole foot. Two toes to purchase your life.”

“I’m not going to die because of two shriveled toes.”

His expression was resolute, and Dorothea knew further argument was futile. “Summon me if you need anything,” she said quietly, and left him to rest and memorize the quilt.

She helped her mother complete the day’s housework, then settled in the front room to sew while Lorena knitted. Robert passed through on his way to Uncle Jacob’s old room carrying his toolbox and an armload of boards of all sizes. All afternoon while Dorothea and Lorena worked and discussed measures they should take to improve their station—in hushed voices as if they expected to discover Mr. Liggett crouched outside beneath a window—the sounds of sawing and hammering came from Uncle Jacob’s room. Just when their curiosity could not bear another moment, Jonathan returned with a paper-wrapped bundle beneath his arm.

“What’s that?” asked Dorothea.

“Did Dr. Bremigan ask why you needed the medicine?” Lorena added.

“I didn’t go to see Dr. Bremigan.” Jonathan shrugged out of his coat. “I went to see Mr. Hathaway.”

The cobbler? Dorothea and her mother exchanged a look of bewilderment as Jonathan began to tear off the paper wrapping.

“If Zachariah’s going to travel on foot, he’ll need boots,” said Jonathan, holding them up so the women could see. “Before you ask, no, I didn’t tell Hathaway why I really needed them.”

“But they’re too small for you or your father,” said Lorena, drawing closer. They were good work boots, solid and warm. If only Zachariah had had them weeks ago. “Even if they did fit you, everyone knows you are not here often enough to need them. Mr. Hathaway is sure to wonder.”

Jonathan grinned. “He did wonder. I told them they were for Dorothea.”

Dorothea laughed. “You must not think much of my sense of fashion if you considered that a credible story. Don’t you think Mr. Hathaway will wonder when he does not see me clomping about the streets of Creek’s Crossing in these boots?”

“Now that you mention it, Mr. Hathaway did say he didn’t remember you having such large feet.”

Lorena said to Dorothea, “Between now and the time you buy a new pair of shoes, you will have to think of some reason to explain how your feet shrank.”

“That, or purchase my shoes in Grangerville.”

“I don’t believe that will be necessary. Mr. Hathaway was so glad to have the sale that he didn’t question my story.” Jonathan grinned at his sister, amused. “One other customer was more curious, though. He overheard our conversation and said that he didn’t recall ever seeing you wearing anything so coarse. I believe he said you had much too delicate a foot and too graceful a manner to wear such things.”

Immediately Dorothea thought of Cyrus. “What did you say in reply?”

“I said that obviously he had never seen you stomping outside to milk the cows in the winter before dawn, and that you have the most enormous, clumsy feet of any woman alive.”

“You didn’t,” protested Dorothea. “You could have simply agreed with him.”

“On the contrary. I’m your brother. Someone has to dispel your suitors’ illusions.”

“Jonathan,” scolded Lorena, feigning displeasure. “Cyrus Pearson has danced with Dorothea many times. He surely saw through your exaggeration.”

“He might have, except he wasn’t there,” said Jonathan. “The man was not Cyrus Pearson.”

“Not Cyrus?” asked Lorena.

“Who, then?” asked Dorothea.

“No one I had ever met. The cobbler called him Mr. Nelson.”

“You must be joking,” said Lorena. “You must mean Mr. Nelson the elder. He must be in town visiting his son.”

“This man did not seem more than a few years older than Dorothea.”

“Then you must have misunderstood his manner,” said Dorothea. “What you interpreted as flattery was certainly intended as sarcasm. Mr. Nelson has never had a kind word for me.”

BOOK: Elm Creek Quilts [07] The Sugar Camp Quilt
11.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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