New in April 2016
The Shady Sisters


New in 2014
Acts of Balance


New Historical Novel:
    Queens Never
    Make Bargains


    Questions for
    Midnight Fires


Walking into the Wild
Broken Strings


Nancy's Backstory


Ruth Willmarth


Nancy's Books:
Mad Season
Harvest of Bones
Poison Apples
Stolen Honey
Fire and Ice
Mad Cow     Nightmare
The above 5 novels in print, and now
e-books, Belgrave House.
The Losing


Nancy's Books for Children:
The Pea Soup

Agatha Award 2006
Best Children's/YA Novel
Down the Strings
The Great Circus
    Train Robbery

Agatha Finalist


Make Your Own
Vermonters at
    their Craft


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An Interview with
Another Interview
    with Nancy
Brief Bio For Busy Librarians (and other readers)
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Nancy Means Wright

Harvest of Bones

Chapter One:

    Zelda leapt at the gate and the old wood split in two, making a path through to the outer pasture.   The bawling in the early-morning field she'd just left quieted.   The other cows were lined up along the fence to watch—unwilling, it seemed, to venture far from the barn.   Already they smelled winter.   Zelda, though, wanted out.  It wasn't that she was hungry.  She was off her feed for a time, she'd eaten everything: hay, ground corn, prickly ashes and nettles.  But now these foods didn't tempt her.  She needed solitude, a quiet spot to drop the load inside her.  She charged ahead on the hard October dirt, where a thin, cold rain was starting to fall.  She shuffled about, peered back at their flanks as though she'd swat a fly—then rammed a second fence.
    But this fence gave a jolt.  Something sharp zinged through her, penetrated the bones.  She wouldn't give up.  She rammed again, and again, until the pole was knocked sideways, then, when a sharp pain scissored through her insides, gave up.  She turned sideways into a declivity of dried underbrush, near a cold stream, into a hole partly dug; she smelled dog, but only on the bone that was half-unearthed there.  She trampled it back in, almost; with her back feet shoved in damp red leaves, the wind did the rest.  She beat her head against the fence, mewling.  Somewhere a crow called, a cricket spoke.  A soft grayish pink crowned the mountains to the east.  
    She thumped down on the frosty grass, cramped into a swollen sigh; the birth sack heaved with each bellow.  Her noise was echoed by the wind, and by the other cows, watching at a distance, like women at a home birth.  Her insides screamed; her breath squealed as she pulled in, pushed out, bellowed again.  And then an ivory hoof kicked out, a black head, followed by white shoulders, and ribs like furrows of hard earth.  Finally, it lay there on the ground, a bloody steaming package of spindly limbs.  Zelda licked the soaked calf dry, then lifted her head and trumpeted her prize.
    Back in the inner pasture, she heard answering cries.
    Ruth Willmarth arrived on the scene a half hour later with Joey, the hired man's foster boy—a bit backward but a sweet lad and useful for all that.  He'd burst in that morning before she could even grind her morning coffee beans.  The calf was already up on its stick legs and sucking.  Zelda had tried to hide it, of course, but a bit of rummaging located the calf behind a pile of brush, by the stream that meandered over from the Flint farm to the south.  There was no use scolding Zelda for breaking out.  It was her first calf; she'd been ornery from the start, a dominant cow, though not always a leader.   They'd gotten her to replace poor Charlotte, burned to death in last spring's barn fire.
    And here the miserable cow had broken through a gate—more work for them all when there was still late corn and alfalfa to be gotten in.   It was already mid-October and the beast had practically battered down the pasture fence in its birth agony.
    "Ow," said Joey, his bony fingers leaping back from the hot wires.  Ruth clucked in sympathy and pulled him away.
    Her husband, Pete, had electrified those wires.  She'd been meaning to switch them off, actually.  Pete was in New York.  "We'll get Tim to fix the fence; you can help," she told Joey.  "But we have to get this calf back in the barn.  Now Zelda's had it, she won't want to feed it any longer—what do you bet? Not much of a mother, I'm afraid."
    It was true.  Already Zelda was rolling away from the calf, her white switch whirling like a helicopter as she moved off through the open gate, toward the other cows.  They parted to let her through, then followed her lead, over to the pond that already had a rim of ice on it.  The calf just stood there on unsteady legs and gazed at Ruth with plaintive brown eyes, wanting to suck.
    "I haven't got anything for you," Ruth said.   "My milking days are over.  But Jane Eyre does.  She's a good mom.  She'll share."  Ruth had named her cows after favorite characters from books, like Jane or Esmeralda, and from movies, like Dolly Parton.  Zelda, for example, had been named for the wife of a novelist, who'd claimed his wife had stolen all his subject matter.  Of course, Ruth's husband thought her crazy; to him, cows were merely objects that gave milk.  But Pete had taken off with that actress woman—though things weren't going so well with her at the moment, according to Ruth's daughter Emily, who spoke on the phone each weekend with her father.   It gave Ruth a certain satisfaction to hear that.  
    She put an arm around the calf's neck, propelled it gently toward the barn.  Already, the red and gold leaves were crackling down off the trees, the tourists heading home.  In Vermont, winter came early.  A hard winter—she could feel it in her bones.  An aching in her joints.
    Behind her, Joey yelled, "Hey, Ruth, Ruth, look what I got.  Ruth—hey, look!"
    She turned, and the calf sank down on its black knees, stumbled into a hole.  She hardly saw what Joey held out; she was trying to tug the calf upright again.  She needed the animal; the herd was down to twenty-nine, an all-time low.  She couldn't afford to buy a grown cow, since times were bad: everything was going up—farm machinery, chemicals, fertilizer—and her buying power was dropping.  Some weekends, when Pete called, she wanted to give in, say, All right, all right, I'll sell; we can liquidate.  You can have your half in cash, if that's what you want.  And of course that was what he wanted.
    "I thought, jussa bone," Joey said.  "But look, look, Ruth, it's got a ring.  A bone with a ring."  His hair was almost white with frost, and his mouth with its two missing front teeth, was set in a grin.  His words came out with a slight whistle.  "Ruth, you gotta come see."
    She smiled.  When Joey got an idea in his head, he wouldn't let go.  She let the calf loose and it staggered on ahead, toward the barn, as if it knew already where the feed was.  Sighing, she looked at the bone Joey held out, and was surprised to see it was a finger, a long brownish finger—not a hoof, not a skeletal paw, but a human finger.  A finger with a narrow gold ring above the bony hump of knuckled joint.  


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