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Faithful Unto Death

Becky Thacker

Publication Year: 2011

Benzonia, Michigan, 1894: a sleepy Congregationalist community, dedicated to the education of hardworking and virtuous young people of both sexes and all races. Anna Spencer Thacker is the daughter of missionaries, a faithful wife, and mother of five, pious to a fault. She is suddenly stricken with a mysterious ailment that soon proves fatal. Was it truly an unfortunate illness? Or was it murder---or suicide? Taking a true story of a murder in her own family, Becky Thacker has crafted a historical mystery novel whose cast of characters rapidly builds, including William Henry Thacker as deputy sheriff, deacon in his church, a kind man . . . but perhaps just a trifle too fond of the attractive young housekeeper; and Charlotte Spencer, the pretty missionary sister, almost saintly in her efforts to bring Jesus to the Armenians in the mountains of Turkey, though a bit prone to exaggeration. She could be a suspect---or the next target. The children are Roy, 19: musical, a good student, but a little too wild for Benzonia; Ralph, 17: trying to shoulder the responsibilities of farm and family; and Lottie, 14: a talented young artist trying to take care of young Will and Josie. Faithful Unto Death provides a window into the daily lives of small-town Michiganders at the turn of the century wrapped up in a riveting whodunit. Cover image by Hemera/Thinkstock

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title Page

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pp. v

This book required the assistance of several folks who cheerfully gave their time to the project. I want to thank Debbie Eckhout, former director of the Benzonia Historical Society, who...


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-2

Shortly after 4:30, Ralph, aged seventeen, awoke in the dark. The sun would not rise for another four hours. He slid silently from beneath the heavy layers of worn quilts and shivered into his overalls, then...

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Death in the North Woods

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pp. 3-5

Charlotte lay gasping in the small upstairs room. It felt to her that the warm close air was a hot woolen blanket that would not go through the tiny opening that was her throat...

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Benzonia: A Congregationalist Utopia

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pp. 6-7

Michiganders will demonstrate locations on the Lower Peninsula by holding up a hand, fingers together, thumb extended to the right. At the tip of the little finger lies the region known as Sleeping...

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"A Little Dolly"

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pp. 8-15

That the Spencers' arrival at Benzonia caused a stir among the villagers wasn't surprising. The town was so tiny that any addition of live breathing bodies was enough to inspire a round of welcoming din...

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As the Twig Is Bent

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pp. 16-17

Dust spurted up from Henry's bare feet as he tried to match strides with his father. "Papa, why are we going to help Mr. McNair mend his chicken coop? I thought you said he was a mean...

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Sunday-School Teacher

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pp. 18

Anna, fifteen and mature-looking in her long navy blue poplin suit, burst through the door. Her cheeks were flushed a lively pink, and her dark eyes shone. "Elvira! Can you guess...

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The Hired Boy

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pp. 18-22

"Mr. spencer, this is John Thacker, the fellow I spoke of the other day. His boy William thinks he'd like to partake of higher education, and needs a place to board. John, I'd like to introduce you to David Spencer. He and his good wife Elvira have kindly offered to open their home to a young man of good...

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A Student of the Fairer Sex

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pp. 23-29

Henry returned home that first afternoon proudly carrying his three "new" (secondhand) textbooks. He paused, thunderstruck, in his walk around to the back of the dooryard. There were the results of Monday's washing, displayed for all to see. His simple faded three-but...

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pp. 30-33

"My boys, look upon the works of the Lord and marvel," intoned Professor Cottrell, as he led his botany class along the through the woods to the west of campus. "This maple tree has labored through the summer,...

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Brainard and "the Benzie Boys"

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pp. 34-35

"Brainard? brainard! Are you out there?" called David, irritation plain in his every lineament. He scanned the yard one more time and turned back. "I don't know where he's gone this time." He shook his...

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Shall We Gather at the River?

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pp. 36-38

"A new day of prosperity for all the good citizens of Benzonia" was the theme of Archibald Jones's speech to be delivered on the final day of the canal project. The remaining shovelfuls of sodden dirt between the flowing Betsie and the lake were to be removed ceremoniously...

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A Mormon Husband

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pp. 39-48

"Henry? are you planning to attend the magic lantern show tonight?" Henry looked up from pushing his peas onto his fork. He and David were the only ones still at the table. "I thought I might. Is there something...

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Henry Makes Up His Mind

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pp. 49-53

Anna gathered her tracts and checked the contents of the basket again. The Little Friends Bible class picnic would begin at 11:00, and the wagons that were to carry children and provisions needed to be...

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Riding One and Leading the Other

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pp. 54-56

"Henry, I've taken a step without consulting you, and I hope you'll forgive me. I want you to go to Traverse City this Friday, and fetch back two horses from Cooper's livery."...

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To Be a Missionary

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pp. 57-60

"Charlotte, you have a letter. It appears to be from the Congregational Near East Board of Missions." David frowned as he handed the letter to his daughter. "Why is it addressed directly to you and not the Christian Endeavor Society, I wonder?"...

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Henry and Anna

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pp. 61

"Anna!" Henry burst through the screen door. "Henry, you nearly scared me out of two yeas' growth!" Anna set down the paring knife that had come close to removing her thumbnail....

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Leroy Ferry Arrives

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pp. 62-64

Henry, gray in the face, paced in the parlor. Another groan floated down the staircase. "Dang," he muttered and then looked around guiltily. David, in the kitchen, clanked dishes busily....

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Leroy amongst the Angels

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pp. 65-66

Leroy, age three, danced with excitement as his mother helped him dress. She had promised him that if he was very good in church the day before, neither squirming nor rustling during the two-hour homily...

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They Just Keep On Coming

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pp. 67-68

Anna suppressed a sigh as she sank into the rocker, her hands full of mending. She noted that her workbasket had begun to look frayed, the green and white cane cracking near the top. Anna cared not a whit about the basket's appearance, but too many perfectly good stockings...

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A Full House

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pp. 69-71

Henry stomped the wet leaves from his boots. The rain had eased off, but the brightness of the lamps and the warmth of the stove were welcome nonetheless. Roy and Ralph sat at the kitchen table with their book...

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Arcadian Interlude

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pp. 72

Ten miles south of Frankfort, at about the second knuckle of the little finger in the Michigan "mitten," is a lake once called Bar Lake because of a sandbar that separated it from Lake Michigan, later renamed...

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Elvira Rejoins David

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pp. 73

A robin stood on the peak of the Thacker home, tweedling chirpily to the westering sun. Sad, how cheerful the rest of the world seemed, when in this darkened room Elvira struggled for each breath. Anna...

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Charlotte, the Belle of the Ball

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pp. 74-77

"Ralph! shame on you!" whispered Lottie, scandalized. Ralph, his worn brown boots in one hand, stood in his stockings in the passageway outside the front parlor, eavesdropping on the ladies. Ralph flapped a...

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Those Dreadful Sundays

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pp. 78-79

Ralph looked out the window again.Try as he might to focus on his verses, those thin cries insistently blew up the hill and into the kitchen with him. Archie, Neal, and Charlie were sledding on the hill across the road. This hill dropped down all the way to the meadow below, and Saturdays...

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Works and Days

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pp. 80-81

"hear the rain! My land, it sounds fit to blow straight through the window panes!" "Mother, isn't Papa coming home again tonight?" Ralph shivered to think of his father out in the driving rain, patrolling the empty country...

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How They Grew

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pp. 82-84

Henry came downstairs smiling gently. Lottie ran to meet him and tugged at his hand. "Papa! How is mother? Is the baby well?" "Children," began Henry, and then included Charlotte in his smile,...

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The Massacre

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pp. 85

"Who can open the doors of his face? Round about his teeth is terror . . ." Charlotte rocked as she read aloud, tears streaming down her face. Anna ushered their longtime friend Mary E. C. Bailey into the room....

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pp. 86-88

"Anna, aren't you ready yet?" Henry, spruce and neat in his new broadcloth suit, paced impatiently in the passageway. Lottie, in her new gingham dress with a tiny velvet ribbon at the neck, held his hand....

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Orah Bunker Comes to Stay

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pp. 89

"Orah Bunker, ma'am," Orah held out her hand. Anna wiped hers on her apron and gave it a tentative squeeze. "Oh, we needn't stand on ceremony. I'm Anna. Lottie and the boys...

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A Much-Needed Rest

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pp. 90-92

"Anna! Lottie! Ohhhh . . ." Charlotte's voice, quavering, drifted into the kitchen. Lottie pushed her chair back, jumped up, and hurried across to Charlotte's room...

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pp. 93-97

One at a time, the older children excused themselves and went to bed. "Orah, there's no need for you to sit up any later. I can let Mrs. Thacker in when she gets home."...

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A Man of Your Position

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pp. 98-104

Henry stood at the door of Reverend Shaw's office, rotating his hat brim slowly through his fingers. The hat was two years old, but weather and much handling had worn the felt shiny in spots; the band was spotted...

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Charlotte Changes Her Will

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pp. 105-111

"Anna! come running!" Charlotte's wail drifted into the hallway. Anna snatched up a towel and used it to move her skillet to the cool side of the stovetop. She hurried to Charlotte's room and paused at the door,...

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And Anna in the Middle

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pp. 112-115

Anna paused at the parlor door, adjusting her light spring coat. She had lost more weight since Josie's birth, and the sleeves hung low on her wrists. Take up the cuffs? Or wait another year and see if she filled out...

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Poisonous Words

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pp. 116-120

Henry awoke, confused, to a silent house. Normally he awoke to morning kitchen sounds: rustles and clatters, metallic tones of spoon on bowl and mellower ones of dish on plate, and heavy thumps of firewood...

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Prayers to No Avail

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pp. 121-122

How long had she been lying here in a puddle of something wet? Days? Hours? She moved her head; neck muscles creaked. The inside of her head buzzed, the echoes crescendoing at times to a shriek,much like the din when the cicadas come out in August. From behind her eyes,...

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"He's Trying to Poison Me as Well"

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pp. 123-124

Lottie stood at the kitchen table, kneading biscuit dough.Twice she had needed to turn her head to the side and sniffle, to keep her nose from dripping into the dough. How had everything gone from normal...

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Exeunt Charlotte

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pp. 125-127

On Saturday, Ralph stood at the grocery counter and doled out $2.73 for his items. It was odd how your outlook could change so quickly in the face of misfortune. Among his purchases was a pile of pads, white...

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"Make Mother Better if It Be Thy Will"

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pp. 128-132

On Tuesday, Dr. Dean brought Dr. Kinnie, from Frankfort, to examine Anna. At that time they noted that her pulse was between 140 and 160 beats per minute, so they gave her some digitalis "to strengthen the...

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Gone Home

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pp. 133-134

After Dr. Dean had snapped his bag shut and left, it was Mrs.Waters who first spoke of practical matters. "I suppose Mary Bailey should come and do what's necessary for Anna?"...

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The Widower

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pp. 135

Henry brooded at the dressing table. Anna's things were still here, the plain comb, the wooden-backed hairbrush, handle polished from...

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Brainard Capitulates

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pp. 136-137

Charlotte was livid. "I cannot believe it. I will not believe it. Even our brother-in-law would never do such a disgusting thing, with our sister not yet cold in the ground!" Brainard made no attempt...

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Sheriff Chandler Pays a Call

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pp. 138-139

"Did Roy come in yet?" Clutching the bushel of potatoes before him, Henry held the door ajar with a foot. Ralph, his arms full of wood, elbowed in behind him. Lottie, pouring milk into glasses on the table,...

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The Children

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pp. 140-142

Ralph pulled off his straw hat and wiped his forehead. He'd do six more rows and then stop for a drink, for himself as well as for the horses. Star, the off gelding, was starting to wheeze again. Ralph was...

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Henry's Trial

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pp. 143-157

Henry's trial began at the Benzie County Circuit Court on July 12, 1894. "Why does it take so long to select a jury?" sighed Lottie. "When do they start the important part of the trial, so Papa can come back home?"...

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The Scandal, ad Nauseum

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pp. 158-163

Ralph, Roy, and Lottie sat on the hard bench in the third row back as the prosecution called fifteen assorted members of the church and both of Orah's parents to the stand, each to testify in turn what he...

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The Verdict

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pp. 164-166

Will was beginning to squirm, and Josie had taken refuge in a nap with her head in Lottie's lap, when the closing arguments droned to an end. There followed a lengthy...

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A Nestful of Orphans

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pp. 167-170

The Thackers always returned home by the kitchen door, then up three short steps to the back porch, the boys being sternly enjoined to "wipe those dreadful feet, for merciful heaven's sake" by whatever...

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The Shipwreck

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pp. 171-172

The wave that broke over the Thackers' craft caused many a ripple within the Benzonia community. Like his father, Henry had been known as a good man to have around if anyone needed another hand....

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Appealing to a Higher Court

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pp. 173-175

"Roy? Roy!" Roy came down the stairs half dressed, mumbling. "Can you give me a hand today? You said you'd help put out the potatoes." "Oh,Ralph, what's the use? We can spend the next two...

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A Note among the "Skellingtons"

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pp. 176-183

Ralph stood on the back porch, muttering in annoyance. His shoes, thick-soled, with substantial leather high-top uppers, were heavy enough in normal circumstances. This afternoon they had doubled in...

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More Than a Brother

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pp. 184-186

"Good to see you again, Mr. Thacker," said Mr. Dodge. He'd begun to reach his hand across the table, until he noticed the guard scowling and shaking his head. He pulled it back. Henry appeared not to notice...

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Conflicting Depositions

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pp. 187-194

The clerk for Wilson & Bailey, Dodge & Covell, tapped his pen absently against the tip of his nose. Married for less than a year, he wanted very much to file these tiresome documents away and hurry home to...

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Sheriff Judas

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pp. 195-196

Sheriff Chandler knocked at the back door. Then, without awaiting an answer, he stepped into the kitchen and removed his hat. Lottie, sitting at the kitchen table shelling dried lima beans, stared at...

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Premature Burial

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pp. 197

Henry walked slowly down a tiled corridor, a guard on each side of him. His heart thudded like the hooves of a trick pony in the circus ring. The door at the end stood open, and the guards walked him through it...

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A Stormy-Weather Friend

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pp. 198-199

The noise gradually subsided. Stillness prevailed, a stillness that rang in the ears, made one afraid to take a step, to bump into a door jam, to knock over a lantern. Hesitantly the youngsters stood up, crept to the...

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The Retrial

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pp. 200-219

The case against Henry Thacker had brought him to trial two months after the initial accusation was made; within three months of Anna's death, Henry had been escorted to prison to begin his life sentence....

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Henry Comes Home

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pp. 220-222

Henry sighed and leaned his head against the window to block his own reflection, the better to see and focus on the world outside. For two years his eyes had hungered to see these things, the corn in tassel, leaves...

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Missionary to the End

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pp. 223

Charlotte took a deep breath and stepped into the dining room at Mrs. Porter's boardinghouse. She had moved there nearly two years ago. It seemed best, in view of the circumstances. Though she...

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Orphans No More

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pp. 224-226

Lottie awoke early, feeling unaccountably joyous. Oh! Papa was home! Home for good! She slid out of bed, quickly changed nightgown for undergarments and a light cotton dress, and went downstairs, bare...

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Another Shock for Benzonia

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pp. 227-230

Fred Branson, Benzonia station's porter, pursed his lips and squinted his eyes. There was that Henry Thacker again, fresh out of prison, gone away and come back on the same day, and wasn't that Orah Bunker, his...

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"It's Impossible"

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pp. 231-234

Meanwhile, Henry and Ralph stared helplessly at one another across the table. "Father, it's impossible. Even if Mr. Bates were to help with a loan, they'd want collateral." "Well, we'd just have to...

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"Faithful Unto Death"

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pp. 235-237

"Ralph, what's this about your mother's grave? Chandler wouldn't tell me." "We should have written to you, but couldn't think how to tell you. Someone put a stone on Mother's grave...

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The Auctioneer

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pp. 238-245

"My name's Driscoll, auctioneer. I'll be presiding over this little shindy on Saturday." He stuck out a large and hairy hand. Chandler had taken a dislike to the man...

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The Road South and East

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pp. 246-247

The wagon traveled south with its load of refugees, following the road that meanders along the woods bordering Lake Michigan, to Manistee. "I can't thank you enough...

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New Neighbors

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pp. 248

Harriet Madole, hearing her father's step on the back stoop, quietly closed The Natural History of Man and pushed it behind the serving bowls. She supposed he was right when he said there was a time for...

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Death in Hadjin

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pp. 249-252

The room shimmered and danced before Charlotte's half-open eyes. Insects buzzed in her ears, burrowed into her skin; worms chewed through her joints, or so it seemed. Her fever raged, as it had every day...

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A Humble and Christlike Life

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pp. 253

"Word was received today of the death at Hadjin, Asiatic Turkey, of Miss Charlotte D. Spencer. Miss Spencer left Manistee nearly four years ago as a missionary under the American Board. Her maintenance...

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Ralph's News

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pp. 254

Ralph stirred his fried potatoes around on his plate, not looking up. He wished Father weren't so cheerful just now, planning next spring's activities for them all as though he expected everything to stay the...

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Hattie and Ralph Get a Parcel

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pp. 255-258

Ralph armed sweat from his forehead, leaving a black smudge on his faded blue work shirt; I'd been burning out some stumps on the north foeld. Several cords of firewood lay seasoning under a lean-to...

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Charlotte Spencer's Journal

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pp. 259-263

Ralph immersed himself in the book all evening, fascinated by the various vignettes of life for a group of American missionaries isolated in the eastern Turkish mountains. Charlotte had not made entries every...

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It Is Finished

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pp. 264-267

Ralph took a deep breath. He felt Hattie's eyes on him, so he stretched ostentatiously before continuing. "Dear Lord, I pray that I haven't given her too much of the medicine! I have had to estimate the...

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The Next Generation

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pp. 268-270

Charlotte limped across the dooryard, trying to control the trembling of her lower lip. The ache in her foot was sickening; she imagined she could still feel the point of the nail as it punched into the...

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pp. 271

As most American children enter their teens, a typical rite of passage is marked by their elders' deeming they are old enough to know "the facts of life." It was the same in our family. One day in our teens we...

E-ISBN-13: 9780472027644
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472034697

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2011

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Subject Headings

  • Murder -- Investigation -- Fiction.
  • Mystery fiction. -- gsafd.
  • Small cities -- Fiction.
  • Benzonia (Mich.) -- Fiction.
  • Michigan -- History -- 1837- -- Fiction.
  • Missionaries -- Fiction.
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