(I gobbled up this book in several marathon reading sessions. I loved how the mystery unfolded. I especially loved seeing the bond between Ruth and Amanda coming into being.)
Three-year-old Ruth thinks she has drowned. No, Aunt Amanda says, only your mother drowned.
Aunt Amanda says Ruth’s free-spirited mother went out on Lake Nagawaukee at the onset of a Wisconsin winter to ice skate and fell through the ice. But it is only a guess. Aunt Amanda was away delivering a baby the night Ruth’s mother went missing.
The mother of the baby Amanda helped deliver died; the baby had no father; and Amanda gave the orphaned babe to the Lindgrens, proprietors of the local bait and tackle shop. Mary Louise Lindgren had recently miscarried. She and her husband named the foundling Imogene and raised her as their own.
A few months after Mathilda’s drowning, Ruth’s father Carl returned from the war, limping from a Hun’s bayonet jab.
Eventually Ruth and Imogene become playmates. Arthur Owens, who at age five discovered Mathilda’s gray body beneath the ice, returns each summer to his family’s summer home on the Lake Nagawaukee shore. Eventually the girls’ paths cross with his.
But what about the baby? Ruth remembers seeing one the night of the drowning. Aunt Amanda insists Ruth is wrong about that, too. But it’s enough for Carl to start wondering. Mattie and he didn’t part on the best of terms when Carl went off to war. Mattie didn’t like the idea of Carl going. There was no reason. Carl was married. He had a family. He could have gotten an exemption.
Did Mattie cheat on Carl while he was away? That’s ridiculous, Amanda says, but she doesn’t know. She was nursing wounded soldiers at a convalescent facility in Illinois the spring Carl left to become a doughboy. And how else does one explain Imogene’s striking resemblance to Mathilda?
Ruth hasn’t asked about the scar ringing Aunt Amanda’s thumb. It looks like someone bit her. Maybe Arthur or Imogene will know.