Walking into the Wild.
(A "tween" novel, set in 18th-century Vermont. The narrator is 13-year-old Deborah. Her 17-year-old sister, Rachel, betrothed to an older man, has discovered that he's a Tory...and worse...)
"What's worse?" I asked when I ran out of the cabin to greet Rachel, where she was tethering the horse. Before I could get a word out, she shouted, "Oh, I always suspected. I'm no fool. That servant of his, she was more than a housekeeper, oh yes." She flung her arms high. "Lord, I can't tell you all of it now, I'm too exhausted from that ride. I came alone. A two-day ride!"
She took a shuddering breath, then sank onto a stump and dropped her head in her hands.
"What about Esther?" I dropped onto the grass beside her. "What about her, Rachel? Tell me." Though I'd already begun to suspect.
"What happened between them--that's what it was. I faced her with it, and she didn't deny."
"You mean the way she acted, coming here, camping outside our cabin?"
I bit my tongue before I upset my sister the more.
Anyway, Rachel wasn't listening. She went on like a brook overunning its banks. "Esther won't leave. She can't go back to the Iroquois, she says, her father's a Frenchman. And Nathan won't make her, no! It's because of the boy she had by him, oh, yes. It was his child, she told me. His! She considers him her man."
"Oh," I said.
"So I left him a letter. The wedding's got to be postponed, I said. Or cancelled. Cancelled, I think, yes! I couldn't stay in the house after that. All that silence between the three of us. I could freeze it into blocks of ice!"
Esther was proud, hostile, selfish, mean," she went on. a long string of contrary traits that were probably true only to Rachel. I rather admired Esther, truth to tell, and felt bad, the way Nathan was using her.
The next I saw, Rachel was up and swinging an axe into an old maple Pa had wanted taken down--it was shading the garden. She looked almost calm now. She'd measure with her eye, then heft the axe back over her shoulder and come down on the wood with a thud. Thud, thud, thud. The muscles stood out on her slender arms. Sweat sprang up like fine lace on her brow.
I swept the cabin floor, the broom flying in my hands, flinging the dust out the door. I heard the gasping noise where Rachel was hacking at the trunk. It was as if she were drowning, and couldn't catch her breath. The noise got louder; she was bent over the axe as though stuck to its handle. Like our mother, after the Indians came and Ma thought we'd all be killed.
"Rachel," I called, "Rachel!" I felt stuck there myself in the doorway. Without looking at me, Rachel slowly straightened up, eyed the trunk, and swung the axe back over her shoulder. The trunk split with a great crack.
"Watch out!" I cried, but she jumped neatly aside.
She wiped her face with her sleeve and called, "That does for this tree all right. We'll make potash out of it."
Hardly hearing my voice, I yelled, "Good work."