Kentucky Girls Books - Sample chapter

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What has Grace done to get in trouble this time?

Grace reached behind her head and tugged at the white cap that tightly corralled her wild blonde curls. She smoothed her kerchief over the roundness of her shoulders and fluffed the folds out of her long skirt, letting the drab gray calico skim over her knees and fall to the floor.

What am I to be scolded for this time? Grace wondered. Making rag dolls for the little girls from fabric scraps? Coloring in the flowers on seed packets? Only the Shakers would consider those sins, she thought. The Outside World would appreciate my art, not punish me for it.

The room looked the same as the last time she’d been called into the Eldress’s office. The stove in the corner hadn’t been lit for a long season, but that would change soon enough. Chairs, just like the one that held Grace’s back straight as a broom handle, hung upside down from the pegs on the wall. Leather-bound ledgers lined up in order on top of the tall desk. The gold numbers emblazoned on their spines marked the years from 1805 through the current 1839. Not a speck of dust, not a touch of color, not a single thing that didn’t have a purpose. Everything the same, same, same. Always the same.

The clock in the hallway above the spiral staircase ticked away the minutes. Grace guessed that the loud clock and the long wait were designed to make her squirm, to give her time to mull over her sins before Eldress Mary came to actually list them for her.

Lifting her feet from the floor, Grace crossed her ankles and swung her legs in time with the clock. She smiled, remembering how she’d swung them just like this, out of sheer nervousness, when her family first came to Shaker Village. Her feet dangled far from the floor then; she was a young woman now. Fifteen, going on sixteen. She pulled the neckline of her dress a little lower in the front. She was definitely not a child anymore. Just ask Seth.

Grace’s eyes widened and her back stiffened against the ladder back chair. No one saw her sneak behind the barn with the neighbor boy, did they? Did they?

The Eldress’s daily ledger lay open on the writing desk. Some of Grace’s best gossip came from diaries like this. If anyone had been caught slipping around with a boy, it would be noted, probably in bold strokes, right here. Grace itched to peek at the notes on the pages but Mary could come in at any moment.

After a quick glance around the empty room, Grace decided to risk it. She tip-toed to the edge of the desk. Her eyes scrolled down the freshly-inked entries in the ledger. Halfway down the column, she spied Ned’s name. Her brother in Cincinnati often sent letters back to the village. His letters were censored—“to protect the family from worldly things” the Elders said— before being passed along. Those were the parts Grace most wanted to read.

Her finger followed the line across the page from Ned’s name to his address. Apple’s Boarding House. She’d have to remember that. It was always blacked out on his letters.

The door latch rattled. Grace’s finger jumped, smearing a few letters on the page. She frantically fanned the blot with her hand to dry the damage before racing back to her chair. She’d just fallen into the seat when Eldress Mary stomped into the room and dropped a huge basket of clothes near the desk.

Good. Grace released the breath she’d been holding. Only the laundry.

“You’ve been busy, Sister Grace,” Mary puffed in clipped, controlled syllables. She lifted a chair from the wall pegs and scooted it between Grace and the basket. She took a deep breath and tucked a few gray hairs back under her prim, white cap before locking her hawk-sharp blue eyes on Grace.

“Are busy hands not the way to avoid temptations?” Grace countered. Her words sounded like puffed syllables, too, as she struggled to recover from the close call at the desk.

“Indeed. But, some of the Sisters have been very, shall we say, surprised at the condition of their new undergarments.”

“I just….” Grace started.

Mary gestured for Grace to halt. “Allow me to do the talking. What do we have here?” Mary reached into the basket and pulled out a small petticoat. “There seems to be a butterfly perched on little Polly’s initials.”

Mary unfolded a pair of cotton drawers, these a little larger. “And, here’s a study in roses for Sister Betsy,” she said, pointing to the B.A.J. entwined with the flower in bud stage, followed by a few open petals and then in full bloom. “And,” Mary continued, holding up a set of underpants so big the tiny Eldress disappeared behind them, “it seems here we have gathered a full bouquet.”

Grace giggled, but stifled herself silent when Mary dropped the drawers like a curtain at the end of a bad stage play. Mary’s face, too, dropped into a deep frown. “May I remind you, your job is to embroider only the Sisters’ initials in the hem so the clothing can be easily sorted and returned to the owner after being washed. How long have you been at Pleasant Hill, Sister Grace?”

“Six years.”

“By now, you ought to know that the simplest methods work for us. It is, indeed, who and what we are.” Mary said. “Had you stuck to simply putting the initials on the hems—as instructed—you could have gotten many more finished in the same time it took to ‘prettify’ these.”

“How dull,” argued Grace. She crossed her arms and pulled them close to her waist in a pout.

“How efficient.” Mary mirrored Grace’s movements with her own arms.

“What’s wrong with adding a little decoration to our lives?” Grace asked. She glanced out the second story window of the Trustees’ Office, where the leaves of a tall maple had deepened over the summer from the color of new clover to the lush, dark green of the forest. Soon God would paint them with her favorite reds, oranges and yellows. “Imagine what this room could look like if the harvest colors blew in through the window and brushed over these dull surfaces. How about a scarlet scarf spread across the table? Or a cheery vase of blooming poppies set on the desk? Maybe a scrap of orange ribbon tied on the oil lamp?”

Grace reached toward the basket. The black smudge on her fingertip stood out like giant, dark blister against the orderly stack of crisply-ironed white cottons. Mary noticed immediately. She shot a glance at the inkwell on the desk and then back at Grace, who had already tucked the telltale spot into her palm.

Grace quickly snapped the underpants to their full length to divert the Eldress’s attention. “Can’t you just imagine this rose on a table scarf, or a shawl?” she said. “Wouldn’t it absolutely shimmer in silk? Just like the fine ladies in the Outside World wear. Look.”

Without thinking, Grace pulled a wrinkled piece of newspaper from her apron pocket. She held the torn edges next to Betsy’s drawers. “See,” she said, awkwardly twisting her hand to hide her inky pointer finger and point instead with her pinky. “The roses on this corset seem to tumble out of the lace at the bosom and…”

Mary snatched the scrap of newspaper from Grace’s hand. The Eldress’s eyes bugged as big as boiled eggs. “Where did you get this?” she said, shaking the advertisement at Grace.

Grace sighed. It was always the simple things that tripped her up. She couldn’t be in more trouble now if she had pulled a snake out of her pocket and wrapped it around the Eldress Mary’s neck.

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