Into the Wilderness

Page 29


Elizabeth found that she had most of her time to herself and this was a great relief. Her father was often out on his errands, and Julian went down to the village where he had got into the habit of sitting with the farmers and other men who spent odd moments in the trading post or in the tavern that adjoined it.
In the third week of the new year, Galileo made a trip to pick up the trunks which had traveled up the Hudson behind them, and stopped in Johnstown for the post on his way home. Elizabeth came down to breakfast to find letters from her aunt Merriweather and her cousins, but more importantly, her school supplies. She immediately set to unpacking the texts and materials she had bought in such a spirit of hopefulness in England. There were grammars and composition books, volumes of essays and histories, philosophy and math. She was a little shocked now at how poorly she had anticipated the needs of the children of a place like Paradise, but Elizabeth refused to be shaken in her resolve. She spent a good part of the morning making plans and notes to herself and constructing a letter to aunt Merriweather in which she requested another shipment of more basic texts, more writing materials, a large supply of ink, horn tablets, and after some consideration, storybooks, fairy tales, and mythologies.
She wanted to engage the children and not alienate their parents, and she spent a good amount of time pacing back and forth in the study while she chewed thoughtfully on the end of her quill. So deeply was she entrenched in her thoughts that she started at the knock on the door.
Hannah Bonner stood framed against the snowy landscape in her winter cloak. The fur—lined hood was pulled high over her dark hair, framing her glowing face, her teeth flashing white against the bronze skin flushed into deeper shades by the cold. She smiled brightly at Elizabeth and curtsied.
"I've come to fetch you home to eat turkey," she said by way of greeting. "Grandfather says it's high time."
Confronted with this logic, Elizabeth could see no recourse but to change her boots and go. She resolved firmly not to check her hair, or change anything about her appearance. Then she stopped in the kitchen to tell Curiosity where she was going, and she saw with some vexation that her agitation was not lost on the housekeeper.
Curiosity raised one eyebrow, pursed her lips, and set Daisy to wrapping things and putting them in a basket for the Bonners.
"Won't do to go up Hidden Wolf empty—handed," she said, and sent Elizabeth on her way without further commentary, but with a knowing look that made her feel Hannah's age instead of her own.
* * *
Elizabeth had seen Nathaniel, outside her dreams, exactly four times since the turkey shoot on Christmas Day. Twice he had been too far away to greet, driving the oxen he borrowed from her father to drag logs out of the forest. Once he had come to the house to speak with the judge about building supplies and she had not known he was in the house until she saw him on his way out.
It was at that point that it became clear to Elizabeth that the whole conversation in the dark woods had been a lark, a game: Nathaniel did not dwell on it, nor on her. Then she saw him, accidentally, for the fourth time.
She had been walking down to the village and heard the cry of a hawk; looking into the forest, she had seen Nathaniel standing in a grove of pine with his axe in his hands, and his eyes fixed on her. Startled, Elizabeth had stood very still. Then he just disappeared into the forest, as if he had never been there.
Elizabeth did not know what to make of it. He was watching her. Perhaps he had been watching her for days. For weeks. There was no good explanation for it; she pushed away impatiently the images and thoughts that worked their way to the surface, refusing to consider them. But they came to her unbidden, in her dreams.
And there was no escaping word of Nathaniel. Daily reports on how much timber he had hauled and the ongoing preparations for the building of her schoolhouse came to the dinner table. While she was tempted to retire before Richard Todd's evening visit, her curiosity always won out, and she ended up sitting with the men, a book in her lap, waiting for him to volunteer details about Nathaniel's progress without the necessity of asking.
Now Hannah walked quickly, glancing back once and again at Elizabeth as if to assess her endurance. She had her grandfather's easy way about her, talkative without being repetitive or tedious, and before they were even through the village and on the path up the first inclines of Hidden Wolf Mountain, Elizabeth had heard about every other child in the village who would be at her school.
"What about you, then?" she asked at the first opportunity. "Will you come and see what I can teach you?"
"I can read," Hannah offered. "And do sums, and write a fair hand, and I know how to sew, and I can spin and weave, and do some beadwork, though I ain't very good yet at it. And I know where things grow—" She stopped and pointed to a set of tracks in the snow. "Moose," she said, clearly surprised. "And see." She pointed farther. "Otter and my father are tracking him."
Elizabeth stared for a moment but couldn't make out much more than jumble of footsteps in the snow.
"Who is Otter?"
"My uncle. His Kahnyen’keháka name is Tawine—Otter, because of the way he swims. In the north, the Catholics call him Benjamin."
"What's your Indian name?"
"They call me Squirrel but my skin name is Used—to—Be—Two."
Elizabeth wondered about this strange name, but waited to see if the girl would supply an explanation without prompting.
Hannah pointed out the tracks of a fox, and spots where boneset and wild plum grew thick in the summer. Then she glanced at Elizabeth, and seemed to consider.