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From New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini, this riveting novel in the Elm Creek Quilts series is thick with secrets in the years before the Civil War.
History is thick with secrets—and Pre–Civil War America comes to vivid life—in this stunning and suspense-charged Elm Creek Quilts novel from New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini
Abolitionist schoolteacher Dorothea Granger faces the ultimate test of her courage and convictions when the national debate over slavery sets friends and neighbors against one another in rural Creek’s Crossing, Pennsylvania. . . . When her cantankerous Uncle Jacob designs five unusual patterns—and gives Dorothea an urgent deadline for assembling them into a quilt—she reluctantly agrees. But annoyance turns to intrigue when she learns her handiwork contains hidden clues to guide runaway slaves along the Underground Railroad. As her family embraces her uncle’s clandestine mission to help runaways escape to freedom, Dorothea embarks upon a dangerous, heroic journey that allows her to discover her own courage and resourcefulness, newfound qualities that may win her the heart of the best man she has ever known.
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Jennifer Chiaverini is the author of seventeen Elm Creek Quilts novels, as well as four collections of quilt projects inspired by the series, and is the designer of the Elm Creek Quilts fabric lines from Red Rooster Fabrics. She lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter One: 1849
"Abel Wright 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.
Dorothea and her mother could not have stolen into town in the wagon after all, because Uncle Jacob took it. Three hours after his departure, Dorothea heard the wagon coming up the road. She stopped scattering chicken feed and straightened, shading her eyes with one hand. What she saw made her want to duck behind the hen house and hide.
Her mother had also paused at the sound of the wagon. "It couldn't be," said her mother, with a soft moan of dismay. "Not Amos Liggett."
"I wish it were anyone else." Dorothea watched as the wagon brought the gangly, round-shouldered man closer. His red face was beaming with jovial pride behind greasy, unkempt whiskers. Uncle Jacob drove the horses stoically, apparently oblivious to his companion's chatter. "I can almost smell the liquor on him from here."
"Dorothea," her mother said reprovingly.
"You don't like him any more than I do." For that matter, Uncle Jacob despised him. Every winter Mr. Liggett asked Uncle Jacob to exchange work with him at sugaring time, a request Uncle Jacob always refused. "I don't want that blasted fool to set one foot inside my sugar camp," he had grumbled the previous winter, after Mr. Liggett had cornered him in church before Christmas services to plead his case yet again. "He's more likely to overturn the kettle and tap an oak than to give me a penny's worth of real help." There must have been no one else in all of Creek's Crossing to hire, or her uncle never would have brought Amos Liggett home.
Mr. Liggett offered the women a gap-toothed grin as the wagon rumbled past. Dorothea and her mother nodded politely, but quickly averted their eyes. "Stay clear of him," her mother cautioned, as if Dorothea needed the warning.
Mr. Liggett had brought his own scythe, an implement Dorothea surmised must be as sharp as the day he purchased it, given his inattention to his own fields. Uncle Jacob put him to work cutting oats with the others. Throughout the afternoon, as Dorothea passed from the garden to the kitchen where she and her mother were pickling cabbage and beets, she glimpsed him at work, swinging his blade with awkward eagerness, with none of the practiced, muscular grace of the other men. More often than not, he was at rest, his scythe nowhere to be seen, probably lying on the ground. The blade would not keep its shine for long.
At sundown, the men washed at the pump and trooped wearily inside for supper, smelling of sweat and grass and fatigue. Uncle Jacob offered Mr. Liggett the loan of a horse so that he might return to his own home for the night -- an uncharacteristic display of trust and generosity that astonished the women -- but Mr. Liggett declined, saying he would spend the night in the hayloft quarters with the others. Then he said, "Before we retire, I surely would like to get a look at that sugar camp of yours."
Uncle Jacob frowned. "For what reason?"
"Because everyone knows you make the best maple sugar in the county." Mr. Liggett let out a cackle. "And you never let anyone near your sugar camp. I know folks who'd pay good money to know your secret."
"I have no sugar-making secrets to share," replied Uncle Jacob.
Mr. Liggett chuckled and waited for him to continue, but when Uncle Jacob said nothing, his grin faded. He had thought Uncle Jacob spoke in jest, which, of course, he never did. Dorothea doubted Mr. Liggett had noted her uncle's careful choice of words. He did indeed have sugar-making secrets, but he had no intention of sharing them with Mr. Liggett.
"Perhaps you burn the syrup," suggested Lorena as she offered Mr. Liggett more mashed turnips. "It must be watched and stirred constantly or it will be ruined."
"I can't stand in front of a kettle all day," said Mr. Liggett, scowling. Then he brightened. "Say, Jacob, how about we trade work this winter? I'll help you with your sugaring, and you can help me."
"Thank you, but my family will provide all the...
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