Rose Callahan, newly appointed eldress of the community of Believers at the Kentucky Shaker viliage of North Homage, confesses to a nagging resentment toward Andrew, sent by the lead ministry in Mount Lebanon to act as trustee. She knows little about the man, except that he's taken charge of the Medicinal Herb Garden, over which Rose previously had control, and he's been expanding the tiny industry and experimenting with new medicinal herbs.
Now two little girls have suddenly become deathly ill, and Rose's attention turns to the herb garden. Suspecting that the girls may have taken a notion to nibble on pretty but poisonous plants, she fears their hallowed land may have accidentally been turned into a killing ground. But as Rose investigates, mysterious death invades the gentle oasis of their spiritual world, and some chilling secrets come to light...secrets that bring Rose closer to a truth that even a nonviolent Believer might kill to keep.
|File size:||557 KB|
About the Author
Deborah Woodworth spent her childhood in southern Ohio near the abandoned sites of several Shaker villages. Before turning to writing, she earned her Ph.D. in Sociology of Religion and spent a decade conducting research and teaching. She lives in New Brighton, Minnesota, near the Twin Cities.
Read an Excerpt
"I'm thirsty," Seven-year-old Betsy grumbled, plunking her cracked white teacup on the ground. The melting heat of a Kentucky July edged her voice with irritation.
"If you are thirsty, then you must drink more tea," said Nora, a whole year older, in the stem voice she reserved for younger children whose imaginations wavered. She lifted an invisible teapot and poured air into Betsy's cup. With prim concentration, she set the pot back on the moss under the sugar maple they had chosen for their tea-party canopy. "Mother Ann made the tea herself, you know. An angel kept it warm under his wing as he brought it down to me. So you just have to keep drinking it until you stop being thirsty." She sat cross-legged and brushed a dusting of dry dirt from her loose-fitting, pale blue dress, a facsimile of an adult Shaker sister's work dress.
"But it isn't really real," Betsy said. Her face scrunched into a pout. "I keep being thirsty 'cause this is just pretend tea." She slapped the cup away. Soft brown curls fell across her flushed forehead, and she pushed them off with a swipe of her hand. Both girls had tossed aside the thin cotton caps that usually covered their hair.
From under her own dress, Betsy's stomach rumbled noisily. "My tummy hurts," she said.
"Well, silly, then you must eat more of your magical salad." With two hands, Nora lifted a blue flower from a pile next to her and placed it on a broken white plate in front of Betsy. Next to the new flower sat a white one, with several bites missing, nestled in a bed of nibbled leaves. Noralicked her fingers as if savoring juices.
Betsy was not to be convinced. "The other flower tasted bad. I don't want any more." She scooted back against a tree and pulled her knees up to her stomach.
Nora clucked her tongue with impatience. "I keep telling you, this is a magical salad, and it tastes wonderful. What's wrong with you, Betsy? You're not any fun at all today."
"Nora, I want to go back now. My tummy really hurts. I want Sister Charlotte." Her voice rose to a tearful wail. She hugged her knees tightly and began to rock. "We're not supposed to be here," she added, her small voice starting to quiver. "Charlotte will be mad that we sneaked off."
Nora frowned, but she sensed defeat, and her own stomach felt queasy, too. "All right," she said, "but we have to clean up first." Her insistence had less to do with neatness than with hiding evidence of their unsanctioned outing. She gathered the two cracked cups and the broken plate and slid them into their hiding place, a pile of leaves. The flowers they had used for their meal, she dropped into the nearby undergrowth. Betsy did not help her. She clutched her knees against her stomach as if the pressure was a relief, and beads of perspiration appeared on her pale forehead.
"Mama," Betsy said, her voice soft and breathless. "Mama, the boys are pulling my pigtails." She grabbed at her short hair. "Make them stop, make them stop."
"What? Betsy, your mama is ... She isn't here anymore, remember?" Nora clutched Betsy's shaking shoulders. The younger girl's mother, and father as well, had been dead for two years, which was why the Shakers were raising her. Nora slipped her arm around the smaller girl and urged her to her feet. "Come on, I'll get you home, don't worry." Betsy shivered and moaned. Nora felt none too well herself, and she was close to panic. If they didn't get back, she thought, Sister Charlotte would blame her, and that would be awful. All the children adored Charlotte; she was firm but kind. Sneaking off to the woods for a play tea party would earn her wrath.
"Come on, quickly," Nora urged. By now, Betsy was gasping for air. The two girls staggered out of the woods, past the herb fields and the old cemetery. Betsy's legs wobbled, and she tripped over a tree root. Both girls fell to their knees. Nora struggled to her feet.
"Please, Betsy, please get up," she begged. She hooked her elbows under Betsy's shoulders and yanked her upright. Nora felt her strength ebbing and wished she could curl up in a ball to soothe her own stomach. But the image of Charlotte's anger kept her going, especially when she thought about Charlotte telling Eldress Rose how disobedient they'd been. To be in the bad graces of both women was more than Nora could bear to contemplate. She tightened her grip on Betsy and forced her feet forward.
They cleared the herb fields, and the Center Family Dwelling House came into view. At least, she thought it was the dwelling house. It seemed to be moving, rippling like a lake in the wind. Betsy crumpled in Nora's arms. Whimpering with fear and her own pain, Nora let Betsy slide to the grass, then stumbled toward the building. The thick grass seemed to clutch at her feet, pulling her down. The sky began to twirl around her head, then turned green, and she was dimly aware that she had fallen. Her stomach lurched. She curled into a tight ball.
From somewhere nearby, Nora thought she heard a voice call her name. She lifted herself on one elbow but could push no higher. Through half-closed eyes, she looked toward the sound. She saw a movement, and the movement became an angel in flight. Voluminous robes billowed around the hovering figure. It was carrying something. More tea? Yea, it must be more magical tea, Nora thought. The tea. They shouldn't have sneaked away, shouldn't have had the tea. She squinted again at the creature, now leaning over her, and saw that it was a devila monster with a huge head. Just like Janey had said. Nora cried out, flailed her arms, but the thing caught her in a viselike grip, and her straggling ended.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Great read you want be disappointed.