In the spring of 1824, in the remote village of Paradise on the New York frontier, Nathaniel and Elizabeth Bonner celebrate a glorious reunion as their children return from far-off places: Lily and her husband from Italy, and Martha Kirby, the Bonners’ ward, from Manhattan. In the peace that follows a devastating flood, childhood friends Martha and Daniel, Lily’s twin brother, suddenly begin to see each other in a new light. But their growing bond is threatened when Martha’s estranged mother arrives back in Paradise. Jemima Southern is a dangerous schemer who has destroyed more than one family, and her anger touches everyone, as do her secrets. Has Jemima come to claim her daughter—or does she have other, darker motives? Whatever transpires, Martha, Daniel, and all the Bonners must stand united against the threats to both heart and home.
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1 Letters elizabeth bonner to her daughter lily ballentyne
4th day of August 1823
This letter is overdue, I know. I hope you forgive me when you learn that I have held it back in order to share good news. Yesterday your sister Hannah was delivered of a healthy son. Both mother and child are in good health and spirits.
Your nephews Henry and John are beside themselves with joy, but the girls were disappointed. When Ben brought them in to see Hannah and meet their new brother, Amelie patted her mother on the shoulder in a consoling manner. Eliza told her to never mind, the next one was sure to be a girl.
It was all Curiosity and I could do not to laugh aloud.
It is my impression that Hannah is finished with childbearing. She said to me not so long ago that five healthy children are more than enough, though she believes Ben would cheerfully continue until they were overrun like the old woman who lived in a shoe.
You are wondering what name they have given to this newest Savard, but I have promised Birdie that she could be the one to tell.
There is quite a bit of news that will interest you. Now that Blue-Jay is remarried and settled at Lake in the Clouds we were all hoping for a peaceful autumn, but Gabriel has declared his intention to marry Annie straight away.
I must admit that I am concerned. Annie was to go to Albany to study at Mrs. Burrough’s School next month. It is my sincere belief that she deserves that opportunity, but it must be her decision. My concern right now is making it clear to Gabriel that he must be guided by her in this. And they are so very young.
Daniel is in good health and seems to have less difficulty with his arm of late, but then it is hard to know exactly. You know your twin, and will not be surprised to hear that he cloaks his feelings much of the time, and we see less of him than we would like. If it were not for his responsibilities as a teacher I suspect he would follow Robbie MacLachlan’s example and be content to live alone, far from any settlement. But he is the teacher, and a good one. Birdie finds him very strict in the classroom, but she does not claim that he is unfair.
In the village we Bonners continue as the main topic of conversation. Blue-Jay’s marriage and now the promise of Gabriel’s is of unending interest. Missy Parker—pardon me, I mean Missy O’Brien as of this winter past. I said the other day that I can never remember that she married Baldy O’Brien, and Curiosity laughed, and said that Missy must want to forget that herself.
So Missy came into the trading post while I was looking at fabric, and she told Mrs. Mayfair that the Bonners were reaping their reward for keeping such close quarters with Indians. Gabriel would be giving Mrs. Elizabeth Middleton Bonner red-skinned grandchildren and just how would she like that? Then she turned around and saw me standing there and she hopped in place, like a very plump rabbit.
I plan to have a discussion with Mrs. O’Brien. It is unacceptable for her to speak so, when any one of Hannah’s children—my grandchildren—might be close enough to hear.
Other friends are mostly well. Martha is still in Manhattan and it seems unlikely that she will ever come back here to stay. Apparently there is now a young man who calls on her. Young Callie has had more than her share of trouble. This past season she lost almost her whole crop, for the second year in a row. The season was wet, and apples are prone to rot. With Levi’s help she presses just enough applejack to survive from one harvest to the next.
Now I will pass this letter over to Birdie. Your father and I, your sisters and brothers, we all send you and Simon our love and affection.
Your mother Elizabeth Middleton Bonner
Dear sister and good brother:
Hannah and Ben have named their new son Simon. Is that not good news? Now that we have a young Simon, you must come home so old Simon can see his namesake. It would be the polite thing to do, and you know how much Ma likes it when we do the polite thing.
Some things that Ma should have writ: When I complained that if Gabriel got married and moved out of the house I’d be alone, our fine brother said that is what comes of being an After-Thought and Da said, I would call Birdie our Best Idea. So you see, if you and Simon were to come home that would be a great comfort to me.
I have finished my nine-patch quilt. I am sure I had to pick out every seam at least three times. If I never hold a needle again it will be far too soon, but Curiosity was talking about buttonholes just yesterday and giving me a look I did not like at all. I have come to think of it as her Woe-unto-thee-Birdie look. Last week Daniel showed me how to balance a knife on the palm and how to grip it properly, the first steps toward accurate throwing.
I have very little room, but Curiosity wants me to tell you that she tried her hand at that paste receipt you sent, but she fears she got it wrong. It took a prodigious amount of butter to get it down her gullet.
Your loving little sister
30 September 1823
Dear Ma and Da, dear Everyone,
I write under separate cover to congratulate my sister Hannah and her Ben on the birth of a healthy son. Simon was very honored to learn that he now has a namesake.
We are just back from a long walk in gardens at the Villa Borghese, and now I sit down to share with you the decision we have reached after many days of discussion. Simon paces the room while I write and so I will take pity on him and put down our news in plain words, as my father and mother will approve.
It is time for us to come home. It is six years this month since we left on our travels. I have done what I set out to do and more, and we are both homesick. Your coordinated siege by post has brought me to surrender, although I will miss Birdie’s letters especially.
To be very clear, I cannot promise that we will settle in Paradise permanently. Some part of this decision will depend on Luke’s interests in Canada and what role Simon may play there. I can say that we have every intention of spending at least a full year with you, and we hope much longer.
We have had a letter from Ethan with the news that there is a new house in the village near his own, one that he would like us to have for as long as we require. This means we will not have to turn Mr. and Mrs. Lefroy out from our place, something we are loath to do. And so all the pieces have come together. We plan to sail as soon as we can sell this house and settle other business matters. If all goes well we will be home before the spring thaw. Then we can sit together by the kitchen fire and tell our stories to each other. Now that the decision is made I wish I could grow wings and fly to you.
When we have booked passage I will write again with the particulars. With all our love and affection we remain your good-son & devoted daughter
Simon and Lily Ballentyne