Kentucky Girls Books - Sample chapter

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girls on bed drawing

Betsy spends her first night in the Shaker village.

Betsy had barely closed her eyes when she heard a breathy, hacking noise coming from one of the nearby beds. It sounded deep and raspy, like the way Tad coughed when he had the croup as a baby.

Betsy looked over at Grace. From the rise and fall of the blankets, and the deep sighs coming from beneath them, she could tell Grace was sound asleep. There it was again, a bit muffled, but definitely a cough. It must be coming from Ruth, Betsy thought. Ruth was the only other person in the room.

Peeking over the covers, Betsy adjusted her eyes to the moonlight that bathed the room. With Ruth’s bed right next to hers, Betsy could easily watch a thin, white arm snake from beneath the blankets and reach under the mattress. The arm pulled out what looked like a small twig of dried leaves.

Betsy watched as the dark-haired girl propped herself up, plucked part of a leaf from the twig, and slipped it into her mouth. Ruth tucked the twig back under the mattress. Within minutes, the room was quiet again.

The long, egg-shaped leaves, and their arrangement on the stem, looked familiar to Betsy. She also thought she recognized the stinky sniff she got when the plant rubbed against the mattress. What did Ma call it? “Is that the devil’s cherries?” she whispered to her roommate.

The startled girl stared at Betsy with wide eyes. “What? What are you talking about?” she snapped.

“That leaf you put under your mattress,” Betsy said. “It reminds me of what my ma called ‘the devil’s cherries.’ Doesn’t it have purplish flowers shaped like bells and dark berries about the size of cherries? Ma found it growing wild in the woods and I helped her dig some up and move it into her garden. She warned us never to touch it because it is dangerous.”

“Well, this isn’t the same thing,” Ruth spit out in clipped syllables, rolling over in bed so that her back was to Betsy.

Ruth’s sharp words stung Betsy like a wasp. What did she do wrong? Had she made a friend—and an enemy—all in her first night at Shaker Village?

A couple minutes later, Ruth turned to face Betsy again. This time her voice was softer. “Please, please, please don’t tell anyone about those leaves,” she begged. “I just use them for my cough. They work, too — and fast.”

“I think Ma used it for folks with nervous fits or the gout. Is that what you have?” asked Betsy.

“No! It’s just a simple cough,” insisted Ruth. “But the Shakers might think it’s…it’s…it’s…” She started over. “They might think it’s something worse.”

“Couldn’t they give you some cough medicine or…?”

“No!” Ruth cut Betsy off. “Back home in Danville, when old Mrs. Mattley got a bad cough, the people in town thought she had consumption. They made her move to a shack on the outskirts of town. Nobody would go near her. If the Shakers even thought I had something contagious like that, they’d make my whole family leave. Like I said, it’s just a simple cough. See, it’s gone already.”

Ruth sounded on the verge of tears. “You have to keep my secret,” she pleaded. After a slight hesitation, she added more forcefully, “And I’ll keep yours.”

“Mine?” Betsy asked. “I don’t have any secrets.”

“The hair comb,” said Ruth. “I saw you put it in the drawer. Shakers frown on trinkets like that. They don’t hold with anything that is pretty instead of useful. If they find it, they’ll take it away. I won’t tell about the hair comb if you won’t tell about my cough. Promise?”

Take away her precious hair comb? Would the Shakers really do that? It was nearly all Betsy had left of Ma. But then, they took Tad away tonight, didn’t they? What else could Betsy say?

“Promise,” she reluctantly agreed.

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