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When the brig Orion, three weeks out from Havana, appeared off her home port of New Bethany, Maine, Miss Evangeline Frye was just parting her bed curtains, formally banishing night.
While those who'd chanced to spy the sails wondered why the ship hadn't fired a salute, Miss Frye was combing her coarse, gray hair. While the Orion drifted unexpectedly about, at last presenting her stem to the harbor, Miss Frye was blowing the hearth fire into being. And while the harbor pilot's drowsy son rowed his father out to the ship, to return in a frenzy, eyes wide and hands trembling, Miss Frye was stationed at her parlor window, awaiting the sight of Sarah Peel.
She peered down the length of Bartholomew Street. Straight-spined as a mast and so tall that her gaze was aimed out through the top row of windowpanes, Miss Frye eyed the clock on the town hall next door. It was eight fifteen. The girt was late-and plenty of scrubbing and spinning to be done.
She pursed her lips, lowered her eyes, and looked out upon her flower garden. It was nearly Independence Day-tansy was thriving, pinks were in bloom, marigolds were budding on schedule. But the poppy seeds she'd bought from a rogue of a peddler, and gullibly planted with care, still hadn't sent up a single shoot. And probably never would, she reflected. In memory, she heard her mother's voice: "Girls take after their mothers, Evangeline. Men take after the Devil." She regarded the bare stretch of soil below, sneering at this latest confirmation.
The door knocker sounded. Miss Frye opened up and was surprised to find not Sarah Peel, but her ten-year-old younger sister, Tekoa.
"I'vecome to do chores, ma'am."
Miss Frye cocked her head. "But where is Sarah?"
"In bed, ma'am. Taken ill." The girl spoke softly, tucking a strand of straw-blond hair under her kerchief.
"Well then." Miss Frye motioned her in and closed the door behind her. "I suppose you've had practice scouring pewter."
Tekoa stood in the hallway, silent.
Miss Frye blinked her eyes. Was this some impertinence? Then at once she recalled what Sarah had told her-that the girl had been left deaf by a fever and was able to listen only with her eyes, by reading the words on others' lips.
Miss Frye passed Tekoa, then turned to face her.
"You can begin with the pewter."
"Yes, ma'am," said the girl.
Miss Frye led her down the hall to the kitchen. "And what manner of illness has seized poor Sarah?"
"Her jaws," said Tekoa. "They won't come open."
Miss Frye appeared startled. "And when did this happen?"
"This morning, just after the news of the Orion."
Miss Frye's eyebrows jerked. "The Orion? What news?" Among the crew of New Bethany boys was Miss Frye's adopted son, Ethan.
"She appeared offshore this morning, ma'am," Tekoa calmly replied.
At once Miss Frye rushed to the window.
"All of the crew were found to be dead."<%END%>