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

BOOK: Elm Creek Quilts [07] The Sugar Camp Quilt
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Also by Jennifer Chiaverini

The Quilter’s Apprentice

Round Robin

The Cross-Country Quilters

The Runaway Quilt

The Quilter’s Legacy

The Master Quilter

Elm Creek Quilts: Quilt Projects Inspired by
the Elm Creek Quilts Novels

Return to Elm Creek: More Quilt Projects Inspired by
the Elm Creek Quilts Novels

SIMON & SCHUSTER
Rockefeller Center
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2005 by Jennifer Chiaverini
All rights reserved,
including the right of reproduction
in whole or in part in any form.

S
IMON
& S
CHUSTER
and colophon are registered
trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

E
NDPAPER ILLUSTRATIONS BY
M
ELANIE
M
ARDER
P
ARKS

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Chiaverini, Jennifer.
The sugar camp quilt : an Elm Creek quilts novel / Jennifer Chiaverini.
p. cm.
1. Maple sugar industry—Fiction. 2.Women pioneers—Fiction. 3. Quiltmakers—
Fiction. 5. Historical fiction. I. Title.
PS3553.H473S84 2005
813
.54—dc22             2004059043

ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-8852-8
ISBN-10: 1-4165-8852-3

Visit us on the World Wide Web:
http://www.SimonSays.com

In memory of my father,
Nicholas Robert Neidenbach,
who left us too soon to read any of my books
but knew I would write them someday.

I am deeply grateful to Simon & Schuster and Witherspoon Associates for their ongoing support and for their tireless efforts on my behalf. I especially wish to thank Denise Roy, Maria Massie, and Rebecca Davis for their countless contributions to the Elm Creek Quilts novels through the years.

Many thanks to Lisa Cass and Jody Gomez, for caring for my boys so I could write, and to my dear friend Anne Spurgeon, for her careful reading of the manuscript, insightful suggestions, and historian’s eye for detail.

I also wish to thank Tom McCrumm, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, for his gracious and informed responses to my questions about maple sugaring in the early 1800s.

Thank you to the friends and family who continue to support and encourage me, especially Geraldine Neidenbach, Heather Neidenbach, Nic Neidenbach, Virginia and Edward Riechman, and Leonard and Marlene Chiaverini.

Most of all, I am grateful to my husband, Marty, and my sons, Nicholas and Michael—and they know why.

1849

“A
BEL
W
RIGHT INTENDS
to purchase his wife’s freedom before the month is out,” Dorothea’s father said to Uncle Jacob.

“At long last,” Dorothea’s mother declared. “If Abel has raised the money he must do it quickly, before her owner can change his mind again. You will go with him, of course?”

Robert Granger nodded. They had spoken of this occasion often and had agreed that Robert ought to accompany Mr. Wright south to Virginia, both to share the work of driving the horses and to discourage unscrupulous interlopers. The abolitionist newspapers told of proslavery men who became so incensed at the sight of a newly freed slave that they would seize him and sell him back into slavery. Not even Mr. Wright was safe from their ilk, for all that he had never been a slave. If anything, enslaving him would bring them even greater pleasure.

Uncle Jacob’s face bore the grim expression that Dorothea likened to a block of limestone. “You can’t think of leaving in the middle of harvest.”

“Abel needs to leave at sunup,” Robert explained apologetically, as if humility would protect him from Uncle Jacob’s wrath.

“Surely he can wait a few weeks until the crops are in.”

“He said he can’t. He’ll go alone rather than wait for me.”

“Then let him go alone,” glowered Uncle Jacob. “Hasn’t he done so often enough to sell that cheese of his?”

“This time is different,” said Robert. “He will be exchanging a considerable amount of money for the person of his wife.”

“Wright raises goats. He likely has more goats than corn on his place. He can afford to leave his farm during the harvest. We can’t.”

Dorothea waited for her uncle to announce yet another visit to his lawyer. The implication was, of course, that he intended to change his will, and not in favor of his only living relatives. Dorothea waited, but Uncle Jacob said nothing more until mealtime gave way to evening chores. As they cleared the table, Dorothea’s mother remarked that Uncle Jacob had not expressly forbidden Robert to go, which in his case was almost the same as giving his blessing.

“According to that logic,” Dorothea replied, “if I tell my pupils not to put a bent pin on my chair, what I really mean is that I would prefer a nail.”

“Your pupils have far too much affection for you to do either,” said Lorena, deliberately missing the point. They both knew she was putting her brother’s obvious disapproval in a better light than it deserved. Dorothea knew her uncle would have expressly forbidden the journey for anyone but Abel Wright. Uncle Jacob had no friends, but he respected Mr. Wright for his independence, thrift, and industriousness, qualities he would have admired in himself if doing so would not have occasioned the sin of vanity.

Uncle Jacob had never declared whether he was for or against slavery, at least not in Dorothea’s presence. According to Lorena, Uncle Jacob’s long-deceased wife had been a Quaker and a passionate abolitionist, but he never spoke of her and Dorothea had no idea whether he shared her views. Still, she suspected her uncle’s objections to the journey had nothing to do with his moral position on the subject of slavery and everything to do with the pragmatics of farming. Despite Mr. Wright’s reasonable urgency to free his wife from bondage, Uncle Jacob likely could not comprehend how a sensible farmer could take off on any errand when the most important work of the year needed to be done. Of course, Uncle Jacob knew all too well that his sister’s husband was
not
a sensible farmer. If he had been, Uncle Jacob would not have been obligated by the ties of family and Christian charity to take in his sister’s family after they lost their own farm.

Later that night, Dorothea asked her father if she might accompany them, but her father said this particular errand was too dangerous for a girl of nineteen.

“But Mr. Wright has made the trip so many times,” protested Dorothea.

“You are needed at home,” said Uncle Jacob. “Already I will have to hire hands to make up for your father’s absence. I will not hire kitchen help, too.”

Even without Lorena’s look of warning, Dorothea knew better than to protest. Her uncle had not even looked up from his Bible as he spoke, but any interruption of his nightly devotion was unusual enough to reveal the strength of his feeling on the subject.

Robert left for the Wright farm as soon as the sky had lightened enough for safe travel. Though the sun had not yet risen, Uncle Jacob was already at work in the barn, but he did not break away from his chores to wish his brother-in-law a safe journey. Lorena had packed the horse’s rucksacks with so much food that they strained at the seams, and Robert thanked his wife for providing enough to eat for a month of sightseeing. Mother and daughter smiled at his joke, for they knew he intended to make the journey as swiftly as possible. They kissed him and made him promise to take care, then followed him down to the Creek’s Crossing road, where they stood and watched until horse and rider disappeared into the cool, graying mists that clung to the hills south of the farm.

When they could no longer see him, Lorena glared at the barn and said, “See how little he cares for us. He might never see my husband again, and yet he cannot even stir from the barn to bid him farewell.”

Dorothea’s heart quaked at her mother’s ominous words, but said, “Likely Uncle Jacob knows how little we care for him and feels no need to make any pretense of fondness. Likely, too, he knows Father will certainly return.”

Immediately Lorena was all reassurance. “Of course, my dear. Of course your father will return. Perhaps earlier than we expect him. Mr. Wright will not want to linger in the hostile South.” She frowned at the barn. “If I would not miss him so, I would ask your father to take his time just to spite your uncle.”

Dorothea smiled, knowing her mother would never wish for anything that would part her from her husband. Dorothea knew, too, that her mother often spoke wistfully of small acts of disobedience none of them dared commit. They were beholden to Uncle Jacob and must not commit any transgression that might tempt him to send them away. Uncle Jacob had no wife and no children, and therefore, no heir save his nephew, Dorothea’s younger brother. If they served Uncle Jacob well and bided their time, one day Uncle Jacob’s 120 acres, house, and worldly goods would belong to Jonathan.

For five years her parents had clung to these hopes with almost as much fervor as they pursued the abolition of slavery. They rarely seemed troubled by the doubts that plagued Dorothea. Uncle Jacob might marry again. He was older than her mother but even older men had taken young brides, although Dorothea could name no young woman of Creek’s Crossing whose prospects were so poor she should settle on a stern, gray-haired, humorless man who had ample property but eschewed anything that hinted of romance. If he had once had a heart, he had buried it in the maple grove with his young bride and twin sons long before Dorothea was born.

Sometimes Dorothea suspected her parents were not entirely certain Jonathan would succeed in inheriting his uncle’s farm. From an early age they had fostered his interest in medicine, and for the past two years he had served as an apprentice to an old family friend, a physician in far-off Baltimore. Jonathan had learned enough about farming to earn Uncle Jacob’s grudging acceptance during his infrequent visits home, but he made no overt attempts to win his potential benefactor’s affection. Dorothea wondered if his assured success in the vocation of his choosing had made him indifferent to the inheritance the rest of his family relied upon.

Either way, Jonathan surely would have been permitted to accompany their father and Mr. Wright south to Virginia. Though he was three years younger than Dorothea, he was a boy. Dorothea felt herself restricted and confined every minute she spent beneath Uncle Jacob’s roof, even when he himself was not in the house. Her only moments of ease came as she walked to and from the schoolhouse on Third Street where she taught twenty youngsters reading, arithmetic, natural sciences, and history. When she felt the wind against her face as she crossed Elm Creek on the ferry, she feared that this was as close as she would ever come to knowing the freedom Jonathan took for granted.

At noon, Uncle Jacob and the hired hands came inside to eat. There was little conversation as Dorothea and her mother served; the men, whom Dorothea knew to be lively enough in other company, were uncomfortably subdued under Uncle Jacob’s critical eye. It was well known in Creek’s Crossing that he had once fired a man for taking the Lord’s name in vain when a horse kicked him, breaking his jaw. Dorothea did not care for rough language, either, but even she could concede the injured man had had cause.

The men had seconds and thirds, clearing the platters of corn, baked squash, and shoofly pie as quickly as Dorothea and her mother could place them on the table. The other men quietly praised Lorena’s cooking, but Uncle Jacob did not address her until after he finished his meal, and only to state that Robert’s absence had hurt them badly. As they did every year, the Creek’s Crossing Agricultural Society had arranged for a team from Harrisburg to bring a horse-powered thresher into the Elm Creek Valley. Every farmer of sufficient means paid for a share of days with the machine, and Uncle Jacob’s turn was fast approaching. Robert had left before the oats and wheat could be cut and stacked, and if Uncle Jacob did not finish in time, the threshers could not wait for him. He had no choice but to go into Creek’s Crossing and hire more men.

Dorothea and her mother exchanged a hopeful look. “May we accompany you?” Lorena asked. “Dorothea and I have many errands we were saving for a ride into town.”

“I have no time to waste on your errands,” said Uncle Jacob, pushing back his chair, “and your time is better spent on your chores.”

The hired men recognized the signal to leave and bolted the rest of their food. One man quickly pocketed the heel of the bread loaf, while another hastily downed a generous slice of pie in two bites.

“What errands?” asked Dorothea as the men returned to the fields.

“I would have invented some for the chance to go into Creek’s Crossing.” Lorena sighed and began fixing a plate for herself, motioning for her daughter to do the same. “It has been three weeks. We might as well live a hundred miles from the nearest village.”

“If Uncle Jacob goes on horseback, we could take the wagon.”

Lorena shook her head. “Chances are we would run into him in town if not on the ferry. Even if we managed to avoid him, he would discover our incomplete chores upon his return.”

“No two mere mortal women could finish all he has assigned us.” Briskly Dorothea scraped the remnants of her uncle’s meal into the slop bucket for the pigs. “He cannot be satisfied. He knows you and Father are merely waiting for him to die so that Jonathan may have the farm, and he is determined to thwart our every attempt at happiness until then.”

“Dorothea.” Lorena laid her hand on her daughter’s arm. “Clearing can wait. Eat something. We have a long day yet ahead of us.”

Rather than argue, Dorothea complied, although the ravenous men had left little for the women to share. She resented her uncle for his power over them, but her parents’ morbid anticipation shamed her. She remembered a time when they would not have been content to live at the whim of another. Perhaps they had been too idealistic in those days, but at least they had insisted upon setting the course of their own lives.

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