Authors: Cynthia Voigt
Tree by Leaf
Books by Cynthia Voigt
Winner of the 1983 NewberyMedal
A Solitary Blue
1984 Newbery Honor Book
Tell Me If the Lovers Are Losers
The Vandemark Mummy
Come a Stranger
Stories About Rosie
Sons from Afar
The Callender Papers
Seventeen Against the Dealer
On Fortune’s Wheel
If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”
First Aladdin Paperbacks edition May 2000
Text copyright © 1988 by Cynthia Voigt
An imprint of Simon & Schuster
Children’s Publishing Division
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
Designed by Steve Scott
The text for this book was set in Adobe Garamond
Printed and bound in the United States of America
4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3
The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows:
Tree by Leaf.
Summary: A father’s return home following World War I creates problems for his family, especially for twelve-year-old Clothilde, who struggles to accept his horrible disfigurement and opposes her mother’s plan to sell Clothide’s land, a peninsula off the coast of Maine, to help pay the family’s expenses.
[1. Family problems—Fiction. 2. Maine—Fiction]
PZ7.V874Tr 1988 [Fic] 87-17512
ISBN 0-689-31403-5 (hc)
ISBN 0-689-83527-2 (Aladdin pbk.)
Peter—Remember walking across the bridge by Robin’s house one summer night? Remember what you asked me? I think this is my way of asking the same question; I know it’s my way of remembering walking across the bridge with you, hearing you ask it.
Silence. Except for her footsteps, except for the soft thunk of mussels dropped onto the rocks by gulls, except for the wind that moved murmuring through the distant trees above her, there was silence. The tide had slipped out, leaving mud flats bare and mussel beds exposed. Her skirts tangled at her legs. As Clothilde walked on, following the curving beach, her skirts made a weak echo of the sound of the breeze.
At the far end of the beach, boulders lay piled upon each other, great masses of rock abandoned eons ago by retreating glaciers. Clothilde climbed up behind a chunk of granite. The quiet enfolded her. She put down the slatted clam basket and the thick-tined rake. Leaning against the rock, she pulled off her rubber boots, first the right and then the left. She took off the heavy socks Mother made her put on
under the boots. They were Father’s socks, too big for her. In a corner of the attic were four trunks of Father’s clothes, packed away—shirts, trousers, coats, sweaters, waistcoats, ties, long johns and nightshirts, socks, boots and shoes. Clothilde balled up the second sock in her hand and dropped it onto a flat ledge of rock. She hoisted her skirt to unfasten the petticoat underneath, pulled the petticoat down and off, shook it out and folded it neatly on top of the socks. Reaching through her legs, she took the back hem of her skirt and pulled it forward, tucking it into its waistband at the front. She rolled up the long loose sleeves of her blouse.
Some day, Clothilde thought, clambering up, working her way along the familiar invisible path, she would like to strip down to her shift and drawers. She could do it. Nobody would know. Once she was out of sight of the house she could be entirely alone. Mother could call and she wouldn’t hear. Mother could ring the old hand bell until her arm fell off, Clothilde wouldn’t hear it.
Above the boulders, the woods crowded up to the land’s end. Once within the trees, Clothilde moved quickly.
, her bare feet said, landing surely—
, her heart beat strongly; running around her
body her blood said it too—
. It was, too, it was hers, the whole mitten-shaped peninsula.
She stayed within the woods. She had marked the way with little cairns of piled stones, but she didn’t need markers. Her feet had worn it down until it was as distinct as a deer’s path, and her eyes found it easily. If she had gone farther inland, she could have made better time on the dirt road that ran beside the fields, but Clothilde preferred her own path. Pines, the older ones towering up high, grew thick and straight. Slender white birches clustered together among the pines. A few maples and spruces were scattered through the pines and birches. Underneath, on the soft pine needles, ferns flourished in the shade, and mosses spread out. Sometimes, one of her own cairns, no more than three fist-sized rocks arranged in a way that would look natural to the careless eye, marked the path; sometimes she had used one of the boulders that thrust up through the ground.
She didn’t run through the woods. She walked—avoiding branches and prickly scrub growth, her ears hearing the waving of branches in the wind, her eyes seeing the dappled sunlight moving through the trees. She moved through patches of sunlight and patches of shade. Sunlight and shade ran over her, like the water
in one of the little falls that cascaded down the rocky headlands after a rain.
When she reached the easternmost point of land, Clothilde sat down on a ledge of rock, with the trees close behind her. Here, the boulders made a steep slope she could climb down, if she wanted, to sit on whatever rock was at the water’s edge. Here the tides moved up and down over the rocks, always moving, rising tides of seaweed growing on them, long yellowy-brown air-pocketed strands crowded out from the center.
Around here, they called it rockweed, not seaweed. At first, Clothilde had refused to call it that, and then she had changed and called it rockweed, and now she had stubbornly gone back to her old name for it, the name she had first learned.
, she’d say, knowing she was going to be corrected.
, she’d say, wanting whoever she was talking to to know that she wasn’t going to change what she named it even if everybody here tried to make her. They couldn’t know that—like a word you learned you’d been spelling wrong so that ever after when you started to spell it you contradicted and confused yourself and never were sure it you were right—inside her head she called it
Rockweed, no seaweed
. Not that she talked to
anybody much. Not that anybody cared what she called it.
Away to the east, beyond the two little islands that lay so close to shore that she could make out trees and coves, and the clear, white, round lighthouse, beyond the three dark shapes, which were outlying islands, lay the Atlantic Ocean, and beyond that Europe—England, France, Belgium. The water, so clear beneath her that she could see the colors of underwater rocks and the floating fingers of seaweed out afar, rippled under the breeze into a blue field that struck gold from the sun, rippling gold as it moved. The sky was clear above, with only a few little fluffy white clouds drifting aimlessly across it. The sun poured warm over Clothilde where she sat with her bare legs against the rough stone, with the woods rustling behind her.
, she thought, her imagination picturing the entire peninsula,
And it was. She didn’t know why Great-Aunt Clothilde, Grandfather’s ill-liked sister, had left it to her, unless it was her name. She didn’t even care why the three-hundred-and-fifty-acre, mitten-shaped peninsula was hers, and only hers. Clothilde had met her great-aunt just once, and she had no memory of the meeting. She had been only three or four at the time, the time
years ago when Grandfather had reluctantly asked his sister to dinner, since she had come to Boston to revise her will. That must have been the time when she decided to give the peninsula to Clothilde, but there was no answer to the question Why. The will had simply said, after everything else, “To my great-niece Clothilde I leave that property known as Speer Point, Maine, and all the buildings upon it.” The big summer cottage Great-Aunt had built had burned down, long before Clothilde had gotten there, maybe even before her great-aunt had died. The only remaining buildings were the farm manager’s house they lived in, at the curve where the mitten’s thumb began, and a dilapidated boathouse across the peninsula, close to where the big summer cottage had stood. Where the cottage had stood, at the knuckle below the mitten’s little finger, tall blackened timbers pointed up into the sky like scorched bones, a mass of burned rubble rotted away, and one glass wall, all that was left of the conservatory, collapsed more every year. Nobody knew how the cottage had burned—maybe tramps, maybe children, maybe lightning. Clothilde had gone to look at the ruin, just once. It was too much like war and she never went again.
The whole peninsula was hers, and it lay behind her like a right-hand mitten, a mitten with a terribly
narrow wrist where the high causeway road led away to the village. Clothilde would have preferred an island, but a peninsula—almost an island in the Latin Mother made her study with Nate—was good enough. Especially if it was all hers: the acres of over-grown fields, where Queen Anne’s lace and black-eyed Susans grew among the long grasses, and the two tilled fields, land they traded to Mr. Henderson for milk and butter; the high rocky blueberry fields at the center of the peninsula; and the woods, acres of timber. The peninsula was her future. Lumber companies always wanted to buy timber. The woods, felled and transformed, cut into poles for telegraph and telephone wires, sliced into boards, chipped into shingles, cooked into a pulp for paper, or carved into furniture—the peninsula gave her a future.
Clothilde couldn’t sit for long that day, much as she would have liked to. The tide was still going out, but soon it would turn and begin to edge up along the rocks below and slide back into the cove. She had clams to dig and she couldn’t linger long. She sat for a few minutes longer, even so. She didn’t think about anything. She watched and listened and let the sun shine on her bare head and bare arms, with no more will than one of the flat jellyfish the tide sometimes
left stranded on the beach. It wasn’t really like a mitten, her peninsula, Speer Point. It wasn’t smooth edged at all. If there was a hand it had actually been knitted to fit, that was a monster’s hand with lots of sharp pointy fingers crowding out of the knuckles and a huge disproportionate thumb, and the scrawny wrist about one narrow bird-bone thick. If there really was such a hand, and you saw it, it would be so bad you’d have to turn your face away and pretend it wasn’t there, or look at it and feel so sorry you’d want to just weep. Or get angry—at the mother and father for having the monster, or at the whole world that included it, or at God. The peninsula was really a thick monster hand of land, clawing out into the sea with sharp little fingers. She supposed it was ugly—remote, uncultivated, grown wild—but that didn’t matter because it was hers. Besides, she knew it was beautiful.