Branches barely clouded with late April green, the sour- wood, beech, maple and oak trees across her upcountry valley seemed to Natalie to be arranging the lavender morning around their trunks as though they had fingers and could lift mist and drape it to their liking.
Natalie’s own body, slender and lithe the first time she stood in this enchanted spot behind her cabin home Nearly three years ago, today leaned heavily against the old pignut hickory which stood guard over her iron soap kettle. She’d managed late yesterday to finish making the soap, in spite of a strange, dizzying weakness; in spite of the added weight within her, the oddly quiet, still weight of the child she would give to Burke in a little over six weeks.
Today, she meant to fill and store her cleaned, dried gourds with the lovely soap—gourds she’d proudly grown herself from seed. She loved living in this exact spot in the Georgia upcountry, beside the winding Etowah River. There was new life within her and her own life became new each time the sun rose from behind the nearest mountain. Every single thing she’d done in the years before she began to love Burke Latimer now seemed frivolous and without meaning. How had she endured the boredom of her girlhood years without hard work to do? One of her happiest memories from last fall was the evening spent with Buike scraping and cleaning the green- and-yellow-striped gourds. How they’d laughed and how proud he was of those gourds. He’d be proud of the new soap too. She could count on that.
“Burke,” she breathed, and felt comforted by speaking his name into the early-morning chill of their own backyard. Burke, her heart cried, you should be close by me now... but it’s all right that you’re not here. I always mean it when I tell you that. Day after tomorrow you will be here and Indian Mary will be back sleeping in her own cabin with her moon-eyed brother, Ben. I don’t really need Mary to stay with me anyway. I agreed just to humor you, Burke. You can’t help it because the church you and Ben are building is too far away for you to ride home at night. I’d be fine in our cabin alone. I’d be a lot better, in fact, than having Mary tipping around being so kind she gives me the creeps!
Natalie shivered in the crisp, new day, but found the lightly greening hills in the distance so familiar and safe—so hers and Burke’s—that she couldn’t bring herself to go inside.