I might mourn the existential despair that floods me later, but for now, a cup of tea in my hands and the sun on my cheeks, this moment is enough.
Under the moon
I feel serenely alive
as its quiet presence
infuses my soul,
while its gentle waves
of liquid silver
purify the night.
Chapter 46: Farewells to Kith and Kin
Berlin, Germany – Summer 1890
Etta Mae Kincade alighted from the carriage with the help of her driver and found her footing on the uneven pavement. She took in the bustling thoroughfare as she smoothed her dress and adjusted her hat so the ribbons and feathers lay just so.
Then, thanking the driver, she tipped him generously, asking him to wait for her return, and turned to join the flood of eager spectators. They were all there for the same reason: the world-famous traveling show, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World, had come to Europe once again, and Etta had been just lucky enough to be in Berlin on the exact date of the performance.
The news in the city was that Kaiser Wilhelm II himself had recently gotten a private performance in which a famed young female sharpshooter had shot a cigar right out of the Kaiser’s mouth. Now the rest of the city and half of Europe were here to see it for themselves.
Etta had been traveling through Europe and parts of Asia for the past few months. Maybe it was a bit reckless to do at her age, and alone at that, but she didn’t know how much time she had left.
Since the death of her beloved James, Etta had been feeling the life force seeping from her in gradually quickening succession. She’d known she needed to prepare Chadlynn for her departure before she undertook this journey. And when Etta left Sam and Chadlynn’s farm on the eastbound train, she knew it was for the last time.
She thought Chadlynn suspected the same, from the unending rivers cascading down the younger woman’s cheeks as Etta waved from the departing train. Chadlynn had thrown herself into Sam’s comforting arms when she could watch no longer, and Etta withdrew from the window and faced forward as the tears began to flow down her own cheeks.
She wanted to see the world before she left it. This trip was a last hurrah of sorts, a final goodbye to this mortal world as she departed to join James in the immortal one.
Etta was not sorry to leave; it had been a good life, full of adventure and bursting with love and joy. She had no regrets, save for the dear ones she would leave behind.
This was partly why a trip was a good idea: let them get used to her not being around for a while; then, they might not take her death so hard. She shook her head at herself. Well, at least it was worth a shot.
Anyway, she’d enjoy herself while she was here. And what luck to be in the city at just the time the Wild West show was performing.
Etta had heard of this band of circus-like performers; they accomplished great feats of skill, bringing to the world the wonders and exotic flair of the grand, wild American West. They had performers of every kind, from riders and sharpshooters, to cowboys and Indians, to Turks and Mongols decked out in their traditional costumes. Events ranged from staged races, shooting matches, and reenactments of common western scenarios such as Indian attacks on wagon trains and stagecoach robberies.
It was a world Etta Mae knew all too well, having lived her whole life as a main character on the western stage.
She finally found a seat in the crowded stands surrounding the arena just as the show began.
Oh, it was such fun. She hadn’t laughed like this in ages. She oohed and ahhed with the crowd and cheered and clapped with the thundering applause. Smiling at the awed Europeans on every side of her, she knew they’d probably never seen anything like it. The American Wild West was as foreign and exotic to them as their own lands and peoples were to her fellow Americans.
Still, Etta enjoyed the performances as enthusiastically as anyone else. One of her favorite parts was the reenactment of the Pony Express. She and James had known Buffalo Bill personally back then, and it was strange to see him again from a distance, performing on a stage the stories that they’d lived through in years past.
Oh, did that bring back memories from her wild youth: running like the devil to escape chasing bands of Indians or no-good thieves, pushing through blistering heat, withering winds, and winter snow, crossing high mountain passes and wide desert plains, camping under inexpressibly beautiful starry skies, stumbling into each station ready to fall off her horse from exhaustion.
Every day a new, thrilling adventure.
She’d give a great deal to go back and taste those winds of freedom again for just a minute.
“And now,” rang out the rich voice of the show announcer, “we will give up the stage to one of the finest sharpshooters of the century, the wondrous, the peerless, the fantastic lady crack-shot of the West, ‘Little Sure Shot,’ Annie Oakley!”
Applause broke out, and Etta stared transfixed at the little woman who strode out into the middle of the arena holding a rifle and sporting a confident grin as she waved at the spectators. So this was the famous wonder of the West who’d shown off for the Kaiser. She was dressed in a sharp western-style uniform complete with cowboy hat and boots, distinctly American in every way, and Etta’s heart swelled with pride toward this female sensation that reminded her so much of herself when she was young.
Annie performed several nearly impossible shots, ones Etta would have struggled to achieve, with perfect ease and grace. She shot backwards looking into a mirror and, for her final act, shot a cigar perched casually in her own husband’s lips. Etta felt the collective relief of the crowd when the smoke cleared and Frank Butler was holding up the smoking stub of his cigar.
After the show ended, Etta was making her way along the slowly moving current of bodies toward the exit. She looked down to clutch her reticule tighter in preparation for returning to her carriage, but her hands were empty. Somewhere along the way she’d misplaced it.
Fighting against the flow of outgoing spectators, she headed back toward where she had been seated.
Several minutes of searching, however, turned up nothing. Etta was puzzled, but not overly worried. The bag hadn’t been carrying anything of great value besides around twenty dollars. She had more money back at the hotel.
Etta prepared to head back toward the exit when she heard a delicate voice call out in an American accent: “Excuse me, ma’am. I believe you were looking for this?”
Etta turned and saw none other than Miss Annie Oakley standing before her with a smile and an outstretched hand. Etta took the bag and tipped her head graciously.
“I thank you, Miss Oakley.”
“Thank you, Annie.”
“My pleasure, ma’am…Miss…” Annie trailed off, clearly wondering the name of the woman she’d just assisted.
“Etta Mae Jenkins,” Etta offered. Why had she felt compelled to give her maiden name? Something about this place, this setting, was causing Etta to revert to her old life.
Annie repeated the name to herself. “Etta Mae…Jenkins…Jenkins?” She jerked her head up, looking Etta directly in the eye. “You aren’t by some miracle the Etta Mae Jenkins, lady crack-shot of the Pony Express?”
Etta’s jaw dropped open. “I, well, uh, yes, I am. That is, I was.”
“Well, land sakes alive!” Annie exclaimed. “Frank!” She motioned to the man standing fifty paces away on the torn-up dirt of the arena. “Frank, get over here, quick!”
Her husband joined them with a curious glint in his eyes. When Annie eagerly explained who Etta was, he appeared just as excited.
“I beg your pardon, but…how do you know me?” Etta asked, befuddled.
“Well, you’re only one of my girlhood heroines, Miss Jenkins,” Annie said. “Ever since I got interested in shootin’, I was hungry for anything I could learn about guns and sharpshootin’ and stories about famous gunslingers and crack-shots. I ‘specially loved the stories about females; made me realize I could be like those incredible women of the West. And you’re one of ‘em. Heard about you from a former Pony Express rider I met when I was fifteen. And then when Frank and I joined up with Buffalo Bill, he told me more about you, knowin’ ya personally.”
Etta was stunned.
“Speak of the devil—hey, Billy! Over here!” Annie shouted at a distinguished, white-bearded man across the arena and motioned vigorously.
“Well, goodness gracious, if it ain’t Etta Mae Jenkins herself,” Buffalo Bill Cody exclaimed as he crossed the distance between them. He let out a great laugh and Etta couldn’t help joining him.
“After all these years,” he said, shaking his head.
“I’m surprised you recognized me,” Etta joked, a twinkle in her eye.
“Why, Etta Mae, you know I could always pick you out of a crowd of pretty faces.”
“Oh, fiddlesticks,” Etta laughed, her cheeks reddening. “Regardless, it is good to see you again.”
“Likewise, Etta Mae, likewise.” Buffalo Bill grinned widely. “What are you doing in Germany?” He glanced around her. “How’s my man James these days?”
Etta’s face fell immediately, and the three people around her sobered. “He’s been gone three years now.”
“Ah, my deepest condolences, dear Etta Mae,” Buffalo Bill said. “He was quite a remarkable man, and one of the best riders we ever had.”
“Indeed, he was,” Etta agreed. She took a deep breath and forced a smile. “I am traveling the world, finally. My daughter is grown and married, with children of her own, and I thought it high time to see the world before it comes time for me to leave it as well.”
“A fine idea, at that. Although I ’spect you will be around for many years to come. You’re as hale and healthy a woman I’ve ever seen.” Buffalo Bill winked.
Etta smiled serenely. “We shall see.”
Lander, Wyoming – September 1890
Paris, France: We regret to inform you that Mrs. Etta Mae Kincade was found in her hotel room this morning. Appeared to pass peacefully in sleep. More details forthcoming.
Chadlynn felt the telegram slip from between her fingers as she sagged against the wall, seeking support. Vaguely, she felt Sam hold her up and guide her to the couch.
“It’s happened,” she whispered, her voice hoarse. “She’s gone, Sam.”
“Yes, my dear Lynnie. Your mother has gone to join your father in the great cloudless beyond.” He kissed the top of her head and pressed her tightly to his chest as great sobs released themselves from her throat.
Little voices came from the kitchen as the back door opened and closed. Two pairs of feet ran into the room and tumbled onto the couch between Sam and Chadlynn.
“Mama, Mama, what’s wrong?” came little Vivian.
“What’s the matter, Mama?” echoed Violet’s softer voice.
Chadlynn sniffed loudly and wrapped her arms around her girls, giving them each a kiss. “My little darlings. Your grandmother has gone to heaven.”
Vivian and Violet looked back at their mother, their matching brown eyes wide and solemn.
“You mean she went to be with God?” asked Vivian.
“Yes, my little Viv. She went to be with God.”
“She’s not coming back to see us?” Violet wanted to know.
“No, sweet Vi, she’s not coming back.”
“But…” Violet seemed to be thinking deeply. “We will see her again someday, won’t we?”
Chadlynn nodded wordlessly, the tears beginning to escape from their prison again.
“Indeed, Vi!” Sam said, lifting Violet up high so she giggled and then cuddling her to his chest. “We will see her again, and your Grandfather James as well. They are both waiting for us in the sweet by and by, in the land that is fairer than day.” He smiled at the twins, who looked particularly thoughtful for their five years.
“That’s silly, Papa,” Vivian broke in. “How can a land be fairer than day?”
Sam seemed to puzzle over that. “I’m not sure, my child, but that’s what the song says.”
“You should write a better song.”
“Maybe you should, Vivian,” Sam said, tapping her on the nose. Her childish giggles filled the room and spread to Violet, their innocent laughter bringing a blissful lightness to the room.
Chadlynn and Sam smiled at each other. The girls had been their saving grace throughout the months following Etta’s and James’ departures.
“All right,” Sam said, standing up and causing a cacophony of tumbles and squeals as the girls struggled to hold onto him. “Who wants to go help Papa milk the cows?”
Both girls then started arguing over who got to help milk the cows.
“Now, now. Quit your fussin’. Both of you can come.”
Chadlynn laughed as the troupe headed toward the door. Yes, she was devastated at her mother’s passing. Yet, she knew that as long as she had her beloved Sam and her girls to comfort and strengthen her, she could face whatever this world had to offer.
Picking up the fallen telegram, she read it again, blinking the tears from her eyes, and folded it carefully and placed it in the cupboard drawer along with the letters her mother had sent from her travels. Then she went out to join her family.
April 14, 1891
I hope you are well. I have exciting news. I believe you have heard of the upcoming opening of Carnegie Hall here in New York; well, would you guess? I have been invited to participate in the Hall’s inaugural concert on May fifth! I will be playing with the New York Philharmonic orchestra, along with a number of other skilled musicians, and I feel utterly inadequate for the task. Nevertheless, I will enjoy it and make the most of it as an opportunity I will never have again in my life.
Of course, I must insist that you be present for my performance, Father. As kin to one of the performers, you will certainly be admitted free of charge, and Frank, too, if he feels up to it. Please tell him I long to see him, Father. I know he is in a state from the lingering amnesia, but he cannot give into it. I have heard that many former soldiers and people in violent situations suffer such ill effects from the trauma inflicted. But there is hope for him. There must be. I believe a night of glorious music may be just the cure…
William looked up from reading Randolph’s letter and sighed blearily. “What cure?” Lifting his glass, he added, “This is the only cure to what ails.”
He took another long swig and frowned when it drained to empty. Rummaging through the boxes and junk cluttered around his chair, his fingers closed around the half-full brandy bottle, from which he tipped a generous amount into his tumbler. Then he sat back and nursed it, staring out the window at nothing.
With a startled laugh, he realized he couldn’t remember the last time he was completely sober.
A shadow crossed over his face in the already gloomy room. Tilting his head up, he saw a pair of fiery green eyes looming over him, and he felt the slightest bit terrified. Muted, of course, from the influence of the alcohol.
“Oh, Azalea, what brings you here?” he said as nonchalantly as he could muster, trying not to slur his words.
She didn’t reply at first, merely eyeing the bottle of brandy and the tumbler that seemed permanently attached to his person now.
“Why the frightful look? I suppose I must look a sight.”
She propped her hands on her hips. “When was the last time you bathed? Or ate a decent meal? Or went to see your son?”
The disapproval oozed from her tone.
“I’m not sure. A couple…days ago.” He answered the first two questions, hoping Azalea wouldn’t repeat the last one. “Maybe.”
“Why, William? Why do you do this to yourself?” A hint of pity entered her eyes, and William grimaced.
“I don’t have the strength to do anything else.”
“But you’ll never find the strength you need unless you get sober. You’ll never recover and get back to living your life unless you do something about your condition. You might…die if you don’t, Will. You know what the doctor said—”
“Oh, hang the old doctor. Don’t you get it, Azalea? I don’t want to be sober anymore. It—hurts too much.”
“Will, that’s why you need us, your family. Please, let us help you.”
Azalea nodded, and William noticed a tall, silent figure standing behind her in the shadows. Funny he hadn’t noticed before.
“Well, Jeremy.” William raised his glass in mock salute. “So you’re back, too? Come to help pull your poor ’dopted uncle outta Hell?” He thought he saw Jeremy’s head shake side to side. “Ah, no matter. It won’t do any good. I’m headed there a’ready. Devil’s got his claws in deep.”
“Uncle William, don’t say that.”
“Why not? We all know it. I’m good as done with this miserable life. Just have to wait until it comes and takes me away.”
“Will, what about Frank?” Azalea asked.
At the mention of his son, William hesitated with the glass poised at his lips. “What about him?” he asked evenly.
“He’s your son! And he needs you, desperately. He needs his father.”
William gulped, avoiding Azalea’s gaze. “What could his poor, old, broken father do for him? He needs better care. The people at the institution, they’ll be more suited for that.”
“I disagree,” Jeremy said firmly. “What he needs is his father. His flesh and blood. A family member who loves him and will promise to be there for him no matter what. Though my adoptive family is now as dear to me as my own mother and father, nothing can replace blood,” he said, softer now. “I know that to be true. Don’t lose out on this chance, Uncle. Please don’t do something you’ll regret.”
Silence stretched as William recalled how Jeremy had lost his father as a baby and his mother in the Chicago fire so many years ago. He felt vaguely apologetic, but it couldn’t pierce the haze of hopeless indifference that had been pervading his being for too long.
“I’m too far gone now, Jeremy. I’m sorry.” He glanced at Azalea. “Go do what you can for Frank. Give him the motherly care only a woman can bring. Tell him—tell him…to go see Randolph perform at Carnegie Hall.” He thrust the letter into Azalea’s hands.
“And leave me be.”
Carnegie Hall, New York City – May 5th, 1891
Randolph took a deep breath and surveyed the buzzing auditorium from backstage; it was filled to the max with eager patrons. And well they might be. This building was a feat of architecture, a wondrous marvel of stone and marble and red velvet that would last for centuries to come. And the acoustics of the place…he’d never experienced anything like it.
As nervous as he was, he couldn’t wait to overflow the hall with the glorious strains of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. Mere minutes were left until his performance.
He’d been overjoyed when a horde of his relatives had found him earlier while he’d been assisting with setting up the stage: Azalea, Charles, and Jeremy; Fiona and Arthur and their five children; Cora and John and their young son Harry; even his brother Frank had made it, and Randolph had embraced him heartily, bringing a smile to Frank’s face.
The only person missing was his father. When Randolph had inquired of his aunt softly, she’d only shaken her head sadly.
So, his father still insisted on drowning his sorrows. Randolph’s heart ached for him, but there wasn’t much he could do unless his father made the choice to come out of it himself. You couldn't save someone who didn’t want to be saved.
The sounds of the orchestra warming up reached his ears, and Randolph put all other thoughts aside for now.
It was time for his moment to shine.
New Orleans – July 1891
Halting piano sounds filtered from the music room next door to the drawing room where the rest of the Brimford family was gathered.
“Would you listen to her play, Arthur?” Fiona said, a proud smile stretching over her face. “She’s barely stopped touching the keys since we found that old piano.”
“I believe the greatest measure of thanks belongs to Randolph,” Arthur grinned. “I think she fell under his musical enchantment during that concert. I’d never seen her eyes sparkle so.”
“Yes, I as well. Our Rosie is certainly destined for great things.” Fiona ended a row of her knitting and flipped it around to start again. She paused, a thoughtful gaze in her eyes. “Dear, should we begin to make plans for music school, or a tutor? After all, she is already twelve. Many a prodigy has started years younger, you know. Too bad we did not discover her affinity earlier.”
Arthur considered this. “Perhaps I shall write Randolph and ask his advice. I hardly know whether our Rosie is a prodigy, though.”
“Pshaw, of course, she is. Just listen to her!”
The two listened for a few minutes to the eager efforts of their daughter; though she missed a note here and there, and the rhythm was not quite right, the girl plowed through magnificently for one who was practically self-taught as yet.
“I suppose Randolph will perceive her projected abilities more readily.”
“True,” Fiona murmured, counting her stitches. She glanced over at nine-year-old Owen, lying on the floor on his stomach and whose head was currently buried in a copy of The Strand literary magazine. “And which story has you so entranced this time, Owen?”
Unsurprisingly, she had to call his name at least twice more before he finally looked up. Wordlessly, he just raised the magazine up and let her read the title herself. “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I like his name.” She glanced at Arthur with a grin. “Another mystery, I suppose?”
Owen nodded, clearly annoyed by his mother’s interruption.
“Oh, I recognize that look,” she said with a wave. “Do go on back into your fantasy world, son. And I apologize for bothering you.”
She let out a brief laugh and then focused her attention on the other three children. Owen’s twin, Diana, was sitting cross-legged while fashioning a slingshot with a forked stick and twine. Six-year-old James was building a tower out of wooden blocks; and baby Artemis, Artie for short, was napping in her cradle, a blissful smile on her face.
Fiona called Diana’s name and motioned to her to sit more ladylike, to which Diana gave a sour expression, but complied.
“Frank appeared greatly improved from the last time we saw him,” Arthur stated.
Fiona nodded. “Cora seemed in better spirits, too. In fact, I think all of us were somewhat cured by that concert. Seems that music is indeed a miraculous tamer of even the wildest of beasts.”
Arthur snorted. “Frank and Cora would have something to say about that particular label, I think.”
“Ah, but who is to say I was referring to them?” Fiona said with a mischievous glint.
Arthur shook his head. “And I suppose it is I to whom you were referring?”
Fiona only smiled enigmatically.
New York City – October 1891
Charles Kincade hurried his way down the grand wooden staircases and columned halls of New York University, which had been his home for the past three years, toward the crowded main lecture hall of the School of Law.
He had awakened late this morning after staying up half the night to complete an essay assignment and had just dropped it off at his professor’s office, but now his lateness was threatening to deprive him of this special event he’d been anticipating for weeks now. Even if he had to stand at the very furthest corner of the highest balcony, he was determined not to miss the guest lecture by a prominent judge here in New York, Justice Walter Lloyd Smith.
Justice Smith, Charles’ newest hero and idol, was recently appointed to the New York Supreme Court, and had been invited to address the student body at the university.
Charles had still not lost sight of the dream he had carried in his heart since a teenager: to become the greatest judge in the state of New York, and if possible, the United States. He would be known for his sagacity and just rulings in the courts, bringing order and progress to society. He would accomplish what no court of law had done before, whatever that may be (he did not know what; he only knew he would accomplish it), and his name, Justice Charles Henry Kincade, would resound in the hallowed halls of every law school, courtroom, and civic building throughout the country.
Charles was just a few months away from graduating with his Juris Doctor degree. From there, he would take the bar exam, and then secure a position as a lawyer here in the city while he worked toward his goal of becoming a judge. The only thing to detract from his passion and determination was the somewhat recent death of his father.
Though it had already been four years, Charles could not fully blot out the bloodstained image of his father dying in front of his eyes. Oliver had been his greatest supporter, and had given his blessing to Charles’ plans to attend NYU that fall.
Then, without warning, his father had been snatched away from him, and Charles had nearly canceled his plans. It was only by Azalea’s fervent imploring to not give up that Charles had begun his first year of law school.
“Your father would have wanted you to follow your dreams,” she’d reminded him through the despair and gloom.
And that was the memory he’d carried in his heart these past four years, the memory that had gotten him through many a weary night.
These, and many similar thoughts, ran through his mind as he pushed his way through the rows of lecture seats, finally glimpsing an empty one a third of the way down the aisle.
Well, more like half a seat. Bodies had smashed their way in so that some seats were nearly occupied two a piece, despite the narrowness and nonexistent padding of the wooden seats. Charles could not see his seatmate until he had fallen, half out of breath, into the seat.
He heard a soft—and surprisingly feminine—voice murmur an “Ouch!” whereupon he quickly turned and offered his apologies to the lady.
“My deepest apologies, dear lady, I did not mean to crush you.”
The woman was younger than he’d imagined, perhaps a few years older than himself, her hair a shade lighter than raven black and her hazel eyes clear and perceptive as they scanned him over.
She dipped her chin in acknowledgment and turned toward the stage, smoothing her skirts and clutching her reticule in her pale hands. Despite her sharp appearance, she seemed just slightly uneasy.
Charles tried not to stare, but she was extremely attractive. “Where are you from, Ma’am?” he ventured, then thought that was probably a foolish question. From all appearances, she was most likely a socialite residing right here in New York City.
The lady turned and gave him another piercing gaze, causing Charles to falter. Just as he thought she was going to ignore him, she opened her mouth and he heard the most musical voice.
“I come from Virginia.”
“Indeed?” Charles replied eagerly. “Why, that is my home of origin as well! I hail from Galena.” When she knitted her brows in confusion, he added, “Ah, it is a small town of no consequence, southwest of Roanoke.”
“My parents reside in a small township near Richmond,” she said, her subtle southern accent beginning to show.
“Are you a farm girl, then?” Charles inquired rather boldly.
Her eyebrows narrowed once again, this time with a defiant arch to them. “Former,” she corrected firmly.
“Of course,” Charles responded, grinning. He was suddenly feeling quite happy and wide-awake, for what reason, he couldn’t tell exactly. But now he was looking forward to the upcoming lecture even more than he’d realized.
He glanced toward the stage and saw one of his usual lecturers preparing to approach the podium. Sitting at the back of the stage, facing the audience, were two other men, one of which he recognized as the esteemed Justice Smith.
Lowering his voice slightly, he turned to the young woman again. “May I introduce myself? I am Charles Kincade.”
He offered his hand, which she took after a moment of hesitation. “Miss Kate Rodney.”
“Well, Miss Rodney, and who are you here with?”
“Whatever do you mean, Mr. Kincade?”
At her confused look, he continued, “Did you come to visit a family member, acquaintance, friend? Which man here got you into the lecture?” He chuckled. “You must be an exception, as I don’t see any other women in here.” He glanced around playfully, as if searching for her companion in the individuals surrounding them.
With a sudden jerk, Miss Rodney extracted her hand from his grasp and faced the stage again, her jaw tight and eyes fixed in cold detachment.
Charles stared in shock at her abrupt withdrawal. “I do beg your pardon, ma’am, was it something I said?”
“You are an astute one,” she muttered.
Charles realized that she was mocking him. Instead of being insulted, he was more intrigued. Who was this fireball of a woman? And what the deuce had he said to offend her?
Finally, she sighed and faced him at an impersonal angle, as if he were of no more significance than a bug she was forced to deal with. “I am a student at this university, Mr. Kincade.”
He tried to reply, but his mouth just flapped like a fish.
“I am studying to become a lawyer,” she added, arching a brow for emphasis. Charles shrunk into his chair away from Miss Rodney, wanting to make himself as compact as possible.
Ah. Now he understood. There he went stuffing his foot into his mouth again.
It wasn’t his first time doing so, and it wouldn’t be his last.
Dublin, Virginia – March 1892
Uncle William was in another fight. This time, over a bottle of whiskey at the pub down the street.
The intoxicated stupors had been getting worse, leading to violence and fits of rage. Jeremy had volunteered to be his uncle’s unofficial caregiver, but Jeremy was beginning to consider his role as more of a warden. He was living with William for the time being, but even then, William managed to get into trouble.
He wasn’t in good shape these days; his health was rapidly deteriorating, yet he refused to change his lifestyle or accept any offers of aid. Jeremy’s heart hurt watching his uncle drive himself into the ground. What could he do? He felt helpless most of the time.
“Uncle William, let it go and come with me. You need to get yourself to bed.” Jeremy reached out to take his uncle’s arm, but William just shoved him away and kept on whaling on the poor drunken sop beside him.
“Beat it, Jeremy. Told ya…don’t need you to look after me…not some helpless old foozler…”
Jeremy sighed. By the clock over the bar, it was nearing three in the morning. He’d gotten no sleep so far tonight and hardly any the night before.
After many minutes of clever persuasion, Jeremy coaxed William from the bar and pulled him toward the door.
“Wait here, Uncle, while I go borrow a lantern from the shop next door.”
Jeremy left William sitting on an overturned barrel and headed down the boarded walk. When he returned several minutes later, his uncle was missing.
Scanning the darkened street urgently, Jeremy glimpsed a dark human-shaped lump lying at the mouth of an alley. He gasped and ran toward it…
Chadlynn jolted awake and sat up in bed, breathing heavily. Sweat beaded on her forehead and she pushed away strands of hair that had stuck to her face.
No, she begged. No, no, no…
“Please, no,” she whispered hoarsely.
“Lynnie?” came Sam’s groggy voice as he stretched his hand out to touch her arm and then sat up beside her. “What is it? Another dream?”
Chadlynn sat frozen for another few seconds before nodding reluctantly.
Sam was quiet for a minute. Then he asked softly, “Who was it about this time?”
Chadlynn shook her head, feeling the tears trickle down her cheeks. She sniffed and shuddered as the dream, no, nightmare, washed over her again.
Never had one of her dreams not come to pass before. But this one…it couldn’t be…not again. Why must she keep witnessing the horrible fates of her beloved family members? It was too cruel.
“Who, Chadlynn?” Sam repeated.
She turned to face him, letting his warm, dark eyes steady her in the night.
“Uncle William. He’s…I think he’s dead.”
Chapter 37: The Storm that Brought a Deafening Calm
Early 1872 – Galena, Virginia
“Though her mortal body is not present with us, being reposed among the wild splendor of Wyoming Territory, her spirit will always reside within our hearts. The memory of our dearly departed mother, grandmother, aunt, and friend, Flower Kincade Farragut, will live strong and deep among us forever.”
The minister finished his eulogy, whereupon he opened the podium for any of Flower’s friends or relatives to say a few words. William, Anna, and Oliver all rose in turn to speak of the fond memories they had with their mother and aunt. When it came time for Hope to speak, however, she could barely hold back the flow of tears.
“My mother was . . . she was the very best friend I had. Even when my husband passed away, and . . . my—my children were not present with me, my dear mother was always there for me. I will be ever grateful to her for that and I will cherish her memory forever,” she finished on a great sob.
The rest of the Kincade clan exchanged sorrowful glances. They all knew the pain and grief poor Hope had gone through with losing her husband Owen to a freak accident and then losing her children—though not in death, the experience as painful as if they had perished in flames before her very eyes. Thankfully, Hope’s relationship with Samuel had greatly improved in recent years, but that did not make all the hurt from before simply vanish, especially with the fact that Maria had not been heard from in years.
“I do wish Samuel had been able to make the funeral,” Anna murmured to William as they left the church and passed through the quiet graveyard toward their buggy.
“As do I,” William agreed. “It might have given Hope some much needed strength and consolation in this difficult time.”
“Hope says he is still living in isolation,” Oliver joined in from behind, holding a squirmy Cora Mae in his arms. “He refuses to leave or have many visitors.”
“As well I can understand, I must say,” William replied. “The thought of living in quiet solitude with the freedom to live and do as I please is an enticing one.” At a not-so-subtle shove from his wife, he amended with a shaky laugh, “I mean, with you and the children there as well, of course.”
The two families paused in front of their buggies, parked side by side.
“Any word about Maria?” Azalia inquired softly. She glanced toward the door of the church, where Hope was receiving condolences from the minister’s kind wife.
William shook his head gravely. “Nothing.” After a pause, he continued in a low tone, “I know that she had committed some serious crimes against the state, not to mention the heinous acts she was involved in with the blacks during the war…” He pressed his lips tightly and rubbed his head. “The authorities are no doubt seeking her incarceration. But I do not know what has happened. Perhaps we may never know.”
The cousins regarded one another solemnly, but the increasingly wild antics of the restless children required them to be on their way. They would all be gathering at Hope’s home for a meal, a final celebration of their beloved matriarch’s life.
The last original Kincade to make this country their home had finally been laid to rest.
August 1872 – Wyoming Territory
A young escaped convict had been moving gradually along the western territories, terrorizing settlers and fellow criminals alike. What surprised most when they found out the convict’s identity was the fact that this now infamous name was that of a woman.
Veronica Kinley, she was known by. Not many knew her real name, and perhaps that was how she wanted it. With the alternate identity she’d adopted upon herself, Maria had severed any remaining ties to her former life and family. Plus, it made it easier for her to stay undetected from any nosy detectives or peace officers still assigned to her case.
Word was she’d escaped the Kansas State Penitentiary in January, leaving a bloody and gruesome trail of bodies behind her, and had gone West, eluding her pursuers and undertaking a campaign of terror with her half-mad behavior and merciless methods.
Though her twin, Samuel, was still greatly immersed in his life of solitude, bits and pieces of the real world beyond his small farm slipped through the cracks here and there. He did not regularly read newspapers—the few that actually made their way out to his remote region of Wyoming, that is—but every so often, he found himself with the curious urge to know what was happening out there.
On just such an occasion, Samuel happened to read an editorial in a copy of the Rocky Mountain News, a paper published in Denver by a man named William Byers.
He read the description of the escaped convict and newest female terror of the West, his eyes widening in complete shock as she began to feel more and more familiar. When he saw the crudely drawn likeness of her face, most likely taken from her prison file, his fingers trembled around the paper they were holding and a tear slipped from his eye.
Then he read the name below the picture that confirmed his fears.
It was his sister—or what was left of her—the twin he had held dear to his heart even after she had made her choice to go the way of destruction. The fact of her imprisonment and subsequent escape was not what surprised him—it was the abject madness the artist had captured in every line of her face, the stony set of her mouth, and the stark blankness in her eyes.
Maria, his once beloved sister and friend, was now a stranger to him, unredeemable, irreconcilable, lost to him forever.
Samuel threw the paper down and tried to distract himself with his accordion, and then his violin; he’d taken to playing on his instruments for hours at a time and it seemed to bring him peace like nothing else.
This time, however, he couldn’t seem to focus or lose himself in the rhythm of the music. Finally, he grabbed the paper with the article, crumpled it up, and threw it in the fire. After watching it disintegrate into ashes, he left the house and went on a long, long walk.
November 15, 1872 – Dublin, Virginia
My Dear Etta,
I hope all is well with you and your family. I am sorry it has been so long since my last letter. Life seems to never give me a break these days. My brood of sons is growing up and they are just as wild as—if not more than—I’m told William and his brother were as boys.
William has recently taken up cartooning, alongside his oil paints, and reckons himself to be the next Thomas Nast. He was quite engrossed in the recent campaign and re-election of President Grant and the accompanying Nast cartoons which humorously depicted the rivalry between Grant and Horace Greeley, which I’m certain served as a great deal of inspiration for William’s new endeavor. His mission now is to have his cartoons as regularly published as Nast’s. I would laugh at that, except for the fact that several of his cartoons were actually good enough that the local paper agreed to publish them. So I am compelled to take his new passion seriously, and I am not entirely convinced that it won’t someday bring us a small fortune.
Timothy, my young man, has begun to follow in his father’s footsteps and sits in his room drawing at all hours of the day when he does not have schoolwork to attend to. He is quite the studious lad, though, and is now taller than I—can you believe that?! How they do grow. He spends a good amount of time with his favorite cousin Seamus as well; the two are surprisingly close, considering their apparent dissimilarity: my Timmy is more reserved and dark-haired, while Seamus is endowed with a temperament to match his fiery hair. It is quite fun to watch Timothy come more alive when he is with Seamus, and Seamus, as his more thoughtful side is encouraged around Timothy; the two bring out each other’s best qualities.
Randy and Frank are shooting up just as quickly, and are thick as thieves with their boyish shenanigans. I cannot turn my head for a minute without them falling into some mischief or other.
One more thing I feel I need to tell you: You know that I had secretly mentioned to you and Azalia last spring about my activities with the women’s suffrage movement here in Virginia. I have become more active in my local association and recently was elected to the position of Treasurer. I have not yet told William; he thinks I’ve been attending the Ladies’ Aid Society meetings. Somehow I cannot find the words to say it and, truthfully, I am unsure of what he will think. Not that he would be against the civil rights of women—I believe he would be in favor—but the fact of my heavy involvement. I would be more than just involved, truth be told. I would love to lead a rally of my own; I feel so strongly about this matter. I shall inform you of future developments.
I am greatly looking forward to seeing you all soon, I hope, at Thanksgiving, and if not then, at Christmas.
Give my love to James, Chadlynn, and little Scottie.
Your loving cousin-in-law, and sister in spirit,
January 1873 – Chalfin Springs, Colorado
I am so dreadfully sorry we could not make it to Virginia for Christmas. I can well understand your busy life, as work on the ranch has increased ten-fold since last year. James has purchased a new herd of cattle and intends to grow our herds to triple their size by this spring once the heifers begin calving. He is determined to have the largest cattle ranch this side of the Mississippi, I believe.
What with ranch work and taking care of the children, I hardly have time to write letters these days. I mostly cook meals, supervise Chadlynn’s schoolwork (we do not currently have a school close enough to send her to), and watch Scottie, while also assisting James and his ranch hands with milking the smaller herd of dairy cows and feeding the main herd of beef cattle, as much as I have time for. James and I fall into bed each night with no energy left for more amorous activities. Chadlynn is now old enough that I have put her in charge of the care of the chickens and our goat, which she has adopted as her own pet. James and I had considered slaughtering the goat next year, but I think we will reconsider that and keep her solely for milk.
I must confess that I still worry some for Chadlynn. Though her dreams have begun to wane in frequency, she still occasionally wakes up in fits of tears and terror, even crying out to her father and I sometimes. Just two nights ago she confessed to a horrible dream of a woman gone mad who traveled the country slaughtering innocent victims in cold blood. Oh, Anna, the look in my poor girl’s eyes as she told it to James and I with violent shudders . . . I wish more than anything that I could bear these nightmares in her place. Why must they be so dark and foreboding? A young girl should be dreaming of soft starlight and endless blue skies . . .
In regards to your suffrage work, I must commend you, not for the fact of its secrecy, but that you are determined enough to give your all to a cause you believe in so strongly, despite the challenges. I am reminded of my days riding for the Pony Express, when I threw caution to the wind and simply lived for the thrill of adventure and danger, letting the miles disappear behind me among clouds of dust. Ah, I miss it in many ways, but I speak honestly that I would not give up the life I have now for anything. I love James with all my heart and he is so good to me, more than I deserve; my little woman Chadlynn, and even Scottie now, though born under duress, have both become my whole world and reason for existing. But alas, I wax long and am surely tiring your busy self with my flowery words.
I will conclude by saying that I wish you the best in your endeavors. I recommend that you broach the topic to William as soon as you can, but use wisdom and caution in choosing the time and place to tell him. I’ve heard that women in Wyoming have already won complete voting rights, four years ago now. One can only wonder how that has happened, with the rest of the Union holding so rigidly to their old-fashioned ways. Perhaps it has to do with the fact Wyoming is not yet an official state of the Union, thus, less encumbered by more rigorous legislation. As we in Colorado Territory have still not managed to be admitted to statehood either, I am curious what the women here could accomplish in comparison with our sisters to the north. I believe I will speak to James about the matter and look into whether we have a suffrage association anywhere near us. I am interested in lending my aid to this cause.
All my love to you and yours,
Etta Mae Kincade
May 1873 – Wyoming Territory
The woman halted her mount at the edge of a green meadow. Giving the loyal mare a pat on the neck, she dismounted, leading the horse to the verdant grasses. She’d rest here for a while, perhaps overnight, before heading into the town to mark her next target, preferably a Northern sympathizer.
The bank? The local mercantile, maybe? Those reticent shopkeepers were known for hoarding large amounts of cash overnight before making their deposit in the morning. It was definitely an easier job than a bank. Lighter security and easier to control the outcome. She knew that from personal experience gained over the past year and a half.
People expected a bank to be robbed at any given moment, but not always so with a shop or mercantile. Those arrogant, stuffed-up proprietors turned into yellow-bellied suckers the minute they saw the flash of steel. It was all too easy to threaten their families to keep them quiet, and then she had a ready-made cash flow the entire length of her stay in town. If it required a few dead bodies to maintain silence, she didn’t much care. She’d do whatever it took for her freedom. They would never report her to the local sheriff until she was out of town, and by then, she was long gone.
A perfect set-up.
A whinny of a horse from the trees opposite her position alerted her to a lone traveler who appeared to be bedding down for the night. The bearded man looked worn and dusty, but he had a refined look about him and she glimpsed a fat saddlebag slung over his arm as he unpacked his loaded horse.
She grinned. Tonight, she’d feast.
Straightening her simple riding gown and securing a bonnet over her neatly coiled hair, she took a moment to assume the mien of a modest pioneer wife who’d recently lost her husband. Then she crossed the flower-strewn meadow, hardly giving thought to its wild beauty.
The traveler gave a start when he became aware of her presence.
“I apologize, sir,” Maria began, a single golden tear poised at the corner of her eye, “I did not mean to startle you.”
“It is all right,” he ventured, still frozen mid-process of lighting his small campfire. “Ah, do you need assistance, ma’am?”
“No, indeed, sir, I shall be on my way back toward town soon. I only ask that you lend me the comfort of your fire a moment.”
“Of course, ma’am. Take your time.” He hesitantly finished lighting the kindling and blew on it to enflame the larger sticks.
“I have come here to mourn my dead husband,” she continued, sniffing loudly for effect. “He was buried just over there.” She gestured toward the meadow with a delicate nod of her chin.
“My condolences, ma’am. Has he recently passed?”
“Yes.” She looked down at her hands, folded demurely in front of her.
“A fine location for burial,” the man said.
That was unexpected; Maria tilted her head curiously. “How so?”
“You’ve not heard the story about that meadow?”
She shook her head.
“Strange, being that you are a resident of the town.” He shook his head as if dismissing the thought. “Anyway, the story I’ve heard is that an old woman was traveling here with her nephew a few years back. After peacefully watching the sun set in the west, she breathed her last and was buried in the meadow, under a tree at its center. Her name was Flower. Since then, wildflowers have claimed the entire meadow as if in tribute to the pure soul resting beneath.” He paused and appeared lost in thought.
Maria blinked several times, thoroughly disarmed in that moment. For several minutes, she lost the crazed look pervading her being beneath the façade, and a genuine tear beaded in her eye. One could only surmise the content of her muddled thoughts.
But then, she looked to have gained a hold of her nearly escaped emotions once more. Before the tear could loose itself from her eyelid, she wiped it away firmly and a wooden smirk came over her face.
“What a lovely story,” she crooned before drawing out her long-toothed knife and stalking toward the unsuspecting man.
Three months later, still somewhere in Wyoming Territory . . .
Samuel settled down in his easy chair, ready to enjoy a tranquil evening with a book and a cup of tea. He’d been reading through the works of Henry David Thoreau, one of his new favorite authors. Thoreau’s thoughts on solitude and transcendentalism intrigued and inspired Samuel, giving him hope that he would someday find his own true peace and solace.
He was distracted from his reading by a noise outside. Setting down his copy of Walden, he rose and grabbed the rifle over the mantle, not willing to take any chances with the possibility of bandits or horse thieves. He’d lost one of his favorite mares that way just last month.
Blowing out the candles, he crept out the back door and rounded the corner toward the barn. In the dim light, he could see that his horses had been startled by something. Then, a figure dashed from the barn to the chicken house.
“Stop where you are!” Samuel yelled, but the man ducked behind the building. Samuel gritted his teeth and narrowed his eyes. This intruder apparently wasn’t going to be taken easily, but he would not be getting away from Samuel tonight. He began to stalk the man; his better knowledge of his own farm gave him the advantage.
As Samuel leaned out from his spot just inside the barn, the intruder let a shot loose.
Samuel muttered a curse and whipped his head back inside. He readied his repeater rifle, the Winchester Model 1873; he’d been lucky enough to secure one of the newest guns on the market just the week before. He hadn’t even fired it yet past a few practice rounds. Despite his newness with the firearm, Samuel was confident in the gun’s superior abilities. He knew it wouldn’t let him down.
He fired off a shot to distract the intruder. Then, leaving the shelter of the barn, Samuel managed to reach a spot behind a tool shed midway to the chicken house. He maintained complete silence and after a minute, heard the squawking of frightened hens coming from the other building.
He grinned. He had this scumbag over a barrel.
The intruder fired again, thinking Samuel was still at the barn. Samuel heard a muffled, guttural laugh utter from the man’s lips, and shuddered slightly. The guy seemed to be partially mad.
When there were no return shots, the man must’ve figured something was up, and cautiously made his way out of the coop.
Taking aim once more, Samuel let his eager rifle rip loose and shot two bullets, one right after the other. He’d been aiming for the man’s arm or shoulder, but he must’ve had luckier aim than he thought. Blood oozed from two wounds in the intruder’s lower abdomen.
The man let out an anguished moan and sank down against the building.
Samuel rose and put up his rifle; no one could survive those wounds. He slowly crossed the yard, needing to have a closer look at his would-be thief.
The injured man was holding a hand to his stomach, twisted with pain, but he looked up at Samuel as he approached. The full moon illuminated Samuel’s face. The intruder’s eyes widened.
“S-Samuel, i-is that . . . you?”
Samuel froze to the spot. The voice was not male, as he’d thought. The intruder was a woman. She was dressed in rough men’s clothing; from a distance he’d assumed the figure was that of a man.
But how did she know his name? And why was she staring at him as if he were the devil himself?
Samuel leaned forward to get a better view and finally recognized the face behind the madness and trail dust. She was so altered, so—so . . . but it was her. Agony pierced his heart as the awful truth rammed its way home.
She shook her head with trembling, rapid breaths. “No, it can’t be . . .” She let out a choked laugh. “I don’t have a brother anymore . . .” Her voice faded into silence.
“Maria!” Samuel shook her shoulders. “No, no, no, no, no . . .” Blood soaked his hands as he vainly pressed them against the wounds. His voice broke as great sobs tumbled free to mingle with his words. “Please, sister, don’t go. I’m here for you, always here for you. I’ll protect you. I won’t let anything bad happen to you . . . Maria!”
Her eyes fluttered shut and her body stilled. As Samuel laid his forehead on her pale, clammy cheek, he felt as she let out a long breath and did not breathe again.
If one had looked upon the scene from a distance, it would have appeared as a heartwarming vision of a man embracing a woman under the light of the full moon.
A panic had struck the United States, starting in New York and spreading down the Eastern seaboard, eventually affecting the western states. Financial trouble in Europe had led to investors selling off their bonds and investments in America, particularly with the railroad, leading to banks closing and companies going bankrupt. The effects of the Panic would be felt in a depression for years to come.
Lower class working men and women felt the brunt of the economic slump. The Kincades and Farraguts encountered their share of troubles from the Panic and were forced to adjust their lives accordingly.
William had heretofore been making an impressive sum from his paintings and, more recently, his cartoons, but with the financial strain all around them, people were not buying art like before, not enough to live on, anyway.
With his background in dentistry, William eventually found a job working as a medical aide at a local hospital. It didn’t pay much, but at least it was enough to scrape by in these hard times, along with money Anna made taking in laundry and seamstressing jobs from whomever would pay her. Even Timothy helped bring in extra money doing odd jobs and errands for those who needed the help.
In the nearby Oliver Kincade household, times were similarly difficult. Oliver struggled to find writing or journalist opportunities, and not many were willing or able to publish his works these days. Even his frequent publisher, Edward Dutton, had been forced to temporarily shut down his small publishing house. Azalia helped where she could, but her days were busy with their five children and everything that came with running a household.
Finally, Oliver broke down and found work in a local meat-packing factory. He still toiled away at his beloved books and stories whenever he had the chance, collecting an impressive repertoire of manuscripts that lay dormant, waiting for their time to shine in the sun of public acclamation.
By mid-March of 1874, circumstances for Oliver and Azalia had once again improved, so much so that Oliver quit his factory job and told Azalia of a plan that had been formulating in his mind.
“Do you remember that famous photographer, William Henry Jackson, who went on an expedition to Wyoming a couple years ago and took all those incredible photographs?”
Azalia nodded, though a knowing look came in her eyes. “My, I cannot guess where this is leading,” she said playfully.
“You know me too well, love.” Oliver laughed. “Yes, I’d like to go there myself, and, if you don’t have objection to it, take Seamus with me as well. But I was thinking: how about we take a family trip to see James and Etta first, and you and the younger children can stay with them while Seamus and I go up to Wyoming?”
Azalia’s smile turned eager. “Yes, let’s! We’re long overdue for a visit. Plus, this house now has the smell of ham permanently embedded in it. I cannot wait to escape it.”
“So you have mentioned from the day I started that job. I will inquire with Hope as to Samuel’s precise location, and perhaps we can drop by his farm as well.”
“It is settled, then,” Azalia announced, then went to tell the children the exciting news.
Oliver and Seamus had a grand time basking in the wild splendor of Yellowstone. They were entranced at seeing with their own eyes the majestic sights that they’d only seen in monochromatic photographs before. Oliver captured his own share of photos, albeit, in his opinion, less refined in quality to Jackson’s.
Fifteen-year-old Seamus was living out all of his wildest fantasies of being a great explorer and adventurer of the American wilderness. Oliver taught him what he knew of shooting a rifle and they managed to shoot enough small game to sustain them for the entire trip. They were fully satisfied in both body and soul by the time they emerged, father and son, from the mountain passes and thick forests, and made their way southeast to Samuel’s farm.
April 4, 1874
My dearest Aza,
I have distressing news to share, but first: do not be alarmed. Seamus and I are both in fine health. My news is regarding Samuel, whom we are now visiting, and his twin sister, Maria.
Yes, I have news of Maria. When Seamus and I arrived at Samuel’s farm, he was in low spirits, lower than I’ve ever seen a man. I thought he was nigh ready to throw himself off the nearest cliff. I was frightened for him, Azalia. He was like a dead man walking, barely finding breath to draw into his corpse of skin and bones. He would not rise from bed, would hardly eat a bite. Finally he roused himself enough to tell us the story.
One night last August, he was alerted to something or someone on his farm and went out to discourage or dissuade the intruder by any means possible. After a short showdown, Samuel ended up shooting the intruder twice in the stomach. The intruder was quickly dying, but Samuel went to get a closer look, and, horror of horrors, Azalia, the intruder was not a man, but a woman bandit, none other than his own twin sister, Maria.
Samuel said that several months before, he had seen a newspaper article that said Maria had been imprisoned following the war, since ’66, but had escaped in January of ’73. She had turned half-insane and was killing and pillaging without mercy. He had not told anyone what he had read, as it was too painful for him.
Oh, Aza, I weep as I write this. He shot his own sister, and buried her with his own hands. I cannot comprehend the agony and grief he must have been feeling all this time, with none to comfort him. It has been eight months since that event. How has he been surviving? I can only guess that his animals and farm, which depend on him implicitly, have been his saving grace. He was always the softhearted one for creatures in need. Yes, including his sister.
. . .
Azalia, it has been several days since I wrote the above. I was hesitant to send the letter before I found some measure of serenity in my own mind, as well as a more positive ending to this tragedy, if there was one to be had.
The day after I wrote that first part, a young black man showed up at Samuel’s farm. He introduced himself as Samuel Martin, and claimed that his mother told him that Samuel—our Samuel—had saved his mother’s life almost fifteen years ago. I was skeptical, but after Samuel broke from his stupor, he confirmed that this is indeed true.
He had not told any of the family of this story either. It happened in October of 1859, when John Brown attacked the U.S. arsenal in Harpers Ferry. Samuel happened to come across Eloise Martin, who’d been injured in the fighting, and brought her to a doctor where Sam—we are using this nickname to distinguish the two—was born several hours later. Eloise named her son after the man who saved her. Samuel.
It is a fantastic story. I wonder at the secrets poor Samuel has been keeping for so long. At any rate, young Sam seems to have done wonders to Samuel’s spirits in the short days he has been here. Seamus has taken to him as well and the boys have been spending much time together on the farm. Sam shows great promise in tending to livestock and crops. I do not know where he gained such knowledge, but I only hope it was not on a slave plantation. I understand he is a natural-born freeman, since his mother was freed several months before his birth. However, I don’t know what circumstances have been like for him since then.
Sam told us all last night, as we gathered around the great fireplace in Samuel’s cozy home, that he had been searching for the man who saved his mother, and his own unborn life, for two years. His mother, Eloise, was searching with him initially, but tragically passed away six months ago. Sam forged on alone, and his perseverance has been rewarded handsomely.
He seems determined to stay on with Samuel, and I am relieved that he won’t be alone any longer.
I must end this now before I use up all of Samuel’s writing paper. Samuel has given his permission to share the contents of this letter with the rest of our family. He desires to mourn Maria’s life with us all, and has consented to travel to Virginia soon for a proper funeral. His soul is broken, Azalia. Yet I have hope he will one day find healing.
I will send more news when I have it, but for now, Seamus and I plan to stay here another week at most, whereupon we will journey back to Chalfin Springs.
I hope you do not mind the delay much. I know you are enjoying your extended visit with Etta and the children.
All my love,
Chapter 30: Crossroads of the Soul
August 1858 – Freeport, Illinois
The Great Debates of 1858 were the biggest news of the year, indeed, nearly of the entire decade. The debates were between the incumbent Senator of Illinois, Stephen Douglas, and the Republican Party candidate, Abraham Lincoln.
So far, they had covered key issues on slavery, race, and equality. Douglas accused Lincoln of being an abolitionist who was threatening to overthrow state laws on slavery; Lincoln argued that Douglas was part of a conspiracy to nationalize and perpetuate slavery, thus endangering the Union.
The second of these debates was being held in Freeport, on August 27. In attendance were none other than Oliver and Azalia Kincade, with their four-month-old son Seamus.
They’d arrived on the train in Chicago, amazed at the hubbub permeating the entire city. Scores of newspaper companies from around the country had sent journalists to capture and record this historical debate.
By the time they got to Freeport, the crowds were numbering nearly 15,000, drawing spectators from neighboring states as well.
Oliver didn’t consider himself a journalist, but he knew that this series of debates was significant enough to witness, photograph, and write about. Even more, he knew his cousin Owen would have wanted to be here had he still been alive. Journalism had been Owen’s heart and soul; he’d risked his life many times to capture momentous stories, many of which had become immortalized as part of American history.
Oliver remembered his cousin telling stories of his adventurous trip to Illinois and meeting the tall, thoughtful young Lincoln who’d shaped much of his ideology on slavery and politics. How fascinated Owen would be now to see the progression of that young man’s career, much closer to the Presidency than even Owen could have foreseen.
Oliver knew a big reason for this trip was because of his cousin’s unrealized aspirations. He was here for Owen; but he was also here for himself, and for his country. He knew great things were burgeoning here, though he also feared the worst.
Tensions had grown so bad that the idea of a civil war breaking out among the states was not so farfetched anymore. He felt Lincoln was the Union’s last hope.
He and Azalia found places to sit on the large field where the spectators gathered, waiting for the debate to commence.
Oliver mused in silence while he surveyed the scene. He had been thinking that he would probably turn his notes and drafts into a series of opinion pieces for one of the local papers that would detail each debate, comparing and contrasting the ideas, styles, and policies of the two candidates.
Now he realized that he would be contending against many other writers for the privilege of publishing his own unique viewpoint of the debates.
Perhaps he would need to go a different route. A book? A pamphlet? He needed some sort of angle that would set him apart from the others. Maybe…
He widened his eyes and turned to Azalia, who was intently observing the crowds while bouncing little red-haired Seamus in her arms. He looked to be just as entranced by the sights.
She turned to look at him, curiosity at the eagerness in his gaze. “What is it, love?” she replied in her soft, Irish-Australian accent that he so loved.
“I have to meet him personally!”
“Mr. Lincoln!” He rushed on. “I need to obtain a personal audience with him, take his portrait if he’ll allow me, and interview him one-on-one!”
“Yes, that would be quite something, indeed, but…” She paused. “Is it possible?”
“I will make it possible, dear.”
Her brows lifted.
“If I knew anything about my late cousin Owen,” he continued, “it was that he was fearless when it came to getting his stories. He was dauntless, and I shall be the same. After all, Cousin Owen knew Mr. Lincoln personally when he was younger. They served together in the war. That will be my link to getting to Mr. Lincoln. He would be overjoyed to speak with the relative of his former military comrade, don’t you think?”
She bit down on her lip thoughtfully, leaning down to coo to the baby, before giving him her steady gaze. “I say, anything’s possible for my husband to accomplish. You must try it.”
He grinned and planted a kiss right on her lips. She gasped and looked around them, but the spectators around them were otherwise occupied waiting for their first glimpse of the famous politicians.
“Thank you for your support,” Oliver said earnestly. He knew this would be the edge he needed to make himself stand apart. Mr. Lincoln was a somewhat reticent fellow, difficult to reach for personal interviews, so if he accomplished this, it would be an irresistible enticement for the media.
Their attention was drawn to the stage; Mr. Lincoln and Sen. Douglas had taken their places at the podiums. Oliver readied his pencil and notebook.
The debate was about to begin.
December 1859 – Norfolk, Virginia
Following their frightful experiences in Colorado Territory with Uncle James in July of 1857, the twins had decided to come with their mother back to Virginia for a rest. It hadn’t taken much persuasion from Grandmother Flower—a rough life in the West simply wasn’t for them any longer.
Truthfully, Samuel had needed the rest more than Maria, but the girl was hard-pressed to go anywhere without her brother, or to let him go off without her, especially in his partially invalid state.
Had it not been for their uncle James, things might have turned out drastically different when a half-crazed bandit waylaid their wagon. James’ calm fortitude and courage prevented any harm being inflicted from the bandit, but the freak accident just following was a different matter. The loud crack of a rifle spooked the horses and caused their wagon to flip multiple times until it lay half over the side of a jagged ledge.
James had feared the worst when he rushed to get to the twins. What he’d found was Samuel wrapped protectively around Maria, cradling her from the worst of the impact. She’d come out of it with nary a scratch. Her tears flowed unabated when she saw what Samuel had endured to protect her.
Samuel had injured his shoulder and leg in the accident. His shoulder was healed now except for the dull ache that would rear its head during a particularly nasty rainstorm, but his leg had not been so fortunate. Despite the work of the skilled surgeon who set the bone as best he could, Samuel would never walk fully normal again in his life. His limp was part of him now, and he figured he’d better welcome it as an uneasy acquaintance sooner than later.
He could not have known that the seemingly unfortunate accident would prove to be a blessing in disguise not five years later when he would be denied enlistment in the Army during what would turn out to be the bloodiest conflict the Union had yet seen. His talents were vast, however, and would lie in a different direction than he would have chosen himself.
Now that Christmas was coming, Diana had come down from New York, and William and Anna had traveled from Baltimore with their young boy, Timothy, to visit the family and stay for the holidays.
Oliver and Azalia couldn’t make it, but they sent their love. They had settled near Chicago where Oliver worked at a small book publishing company, and they now had a little girl, Fiona, who was doted on by her older brother, Seamus.
On this particularly icy December evening, the family was gathered around the toasty wood stove while Diana read aloud a recent news article written by one of her own journalists back in New York City.
“After a hasty trial, held in Charles Town last month, John Brown has been found to be guilty of all charges brought against him and sentenced to execution. These charges were named as treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia, murder, and inciting a slave insurrection, during which he led a revolt of both white and black men to take over the United States Arsenal at Harpers Ferry in October.
“Brown was defeated by a company of Marines, led by one Col. Robert E. Lee, who were ordered by President Buchanan to put down the revolt and take the insurrectionists into custody. After a lengthy contest over several days, the Marines subdued the conflict, jailing Brown along with others of his co-conspirators.
“Brown was interviewed by several officials, including Governor Wise and Senator James M. Mason, and has been said to be a fanatic or madman by some, but a man of courage, truthfulness, and intelligence by others. It must be concluded that only God himself can truly judge and pronounce this man’s just reward.
“Brown will be hanged on December 2.”
Silence reigned while the family members processed their individual thoughts.
“He was doing God’s work,” Flower said finally, her face lined with sorrow and defeat. “His accusers will face their own divine justice one day.”
“He’s somewhat of a radical, I’ll admit, but his intentions were just and true,” William, Sr., commented, taking a deep puff of his pipe.
“He’s getting what he deserved, I say,” Maria threw in.
Her mother, grandfather, and grandmothers turned to stare at her, though not entirely surprised at her words. William and Anna, however, appeared positively shocked.
“Maria, dear, how can you say that?” Anna asked as she cuddled little Timmy closer to her chest.
“How can I say that, Aunt Anna? How can I not? Men like John Brown are tearing our country apart. Unsettling the core of our society with their strong rhetoric and violent acts. They threaten to destroy the solid system that has kept our country thriving until now.”
“Slavery is not a healthy system, Maria,” William, Jr. joined in. “You must see that. It is a travesty of humanity.”
Maria gritted her teeth, her gaze searching Samuel’s out. Why was he not backing her up? She sent him a glare.
“There are…advantages and disadvantages to both sides, depending on the perspective one takes,” Samuel ventured, but reluctantly, Maria thought. What was going on in her twin’s mind? she wondered.
“Your father died helping the slaves, Maria,” Hope said, drawing her daughter’s focus once more, “doing what he believed in. What would he think of you now?”
“Well, he’s not here,” Maria fired back angrily. “What do the thoughts of a dead man matter now?”
Hope reared back as if Maria had slapped her on the face, the blow no less painful. Avoiding the anguished eyes of her mother, Maria turned and left the room without another word.
“Let her go, Hope,” the soothing voice of Grandmother Diana floated from the room behind her. “She’s a headstrong young woman. Let her stew for a while. She’ll eventually come to her senses.”
Hope scoffed. What did they know of her true feelings?
She left the house, walking aimlessly down the street for several minutes, not sure where she was headed but needing to let out her agitation. The chill was biting and she gathered her cloak tighter around her.
As Maria took a shortcut down an alley, a noise ahead caught her attention. Walking to the mouth of the alley, she peered into the street and saw a group of men combing the buildings and houses, with guns and torches held high. What were they searching for?
As if in answer, a wracking cough came from the small shed in the alley just to her right. Curious, Maria noticed one of the wooden shutters sat ajar and edged her way toward it. Looking through the window slats, she saw five figures huddled together.
Even in the dim interior, Maria could make out the gleam of the moonlight reflecting off their dark skin. She looked back toward the street at the rough band of white men, the coils of rope held on their shoulders, the merciless set of their mouths and jaws, their ominous shouts as they closed in, and she understood.
She turned back toward the refugees. One of the figures noticed her watching and gasped sharply. The woman’s eyes pleaded with Maria to not say anything, to let them be.
Maria held her gaze for several seconds before stepping away from the window crack. She straightened and took two paces toward the main street.
The men were approaching. She could hear their distinct words now.
“Dirty, filthy rats,” one man spat. “Wait’ll they get what’s comin’ to ’em.”
“They actually thought they could make it?” joined in a higher, whiny voice. “It’s that damn Brown fella, givin’ them slaves ideas above their stations. I can’t wait to set ’em straight.” He cackled madly.
Maria’s pulse quickened the nearer the men drew to her place, but she refused to cower. The torchlight filtered into the alley, illuminating her statuesque figure.
The men were surprised at her presence, but merely nodded, a couple giving her an “Evenin’, ma’am,” one or two of the more rowdy—and, she guessed, intoxicated—ones giving her probing leers, which she ignored.
The men lumbered on, moving almost fully past the shed. It seemed they weren’t going to search it.
Maria’s chest rose and fell rapidly, and her heart felt as if it would pump right out of her body. Time seemed to slow as she took a step forward, her bone-dry mouth opening and closing like a catfish.
Then she spoke: “Excuse me, sirs.” Her voice was steady and calm.
As one, the men halted and rotated to stare at her openly.
“I think you’ll find the runaways you’re searching for in here,” she continued quietly, gesturing toward the plain wooden shed.
She didn’t flinch as they brought out the two men and three women, who struggled and wept openly; she hardly blinked as the escapees were tightly bound with pieces of rope amid the triumphant cackles and leers of the men.
The only sign that all was not as tranquil inside Maria as she appeared on the outside was a slight trembling of her hands as she wiped them on her skirt and a quiver in her throat as she swallowed.
She knew what she’d done, but this was how it had to be. She knew she was right. She had to be. This was how she was going to help bring peace and unity back to her crumbling country.
This was how she would help save the Union.
Meanwhile, Samuel had also left the family gathering and walked in the opposite direction of his twin, struggling with his own conflicted mind.
He had a secret; one that he had not even told Maria—and they usually told each other everything.
Back in October, William had invited Samuel to come to Baltimore to attend a dental convention there. Samuel knew William desired to get him into the dental field as well; though Samuel wasn’t interested, he decided the visit would do him good anyway. He hadn’t seen them in quite some time and had not yet had the chance to meet his little cousin Timothy.
His visit was pleasant and peaceful, and Samuel had started back on the train toward Norfolk, which happened to run directly through the town of Harpers Ferry.
While the train idled in the station, bringing on supplies, Samuel had taken a little walk to stretch his legs. That evening, the raid on the U.S. Arsenal had broken out just a few streets over from the train station where Samuel was…
October 16, 1859 – Two months earlier…
Samuel breathed in the clear evening air and tipped his head up to take in the brilliant starry sky. The time was nearing midnight.
He was glad to have a small break in the eight-hour train trip to stretch his legs. He’d never been to Harpers Ferry before; it was a quaint, industrial village situated between the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, the home of the first railroad junction in the United States, as well as essential telegraph lines.
He’d learned recently that it also boasted a federal armory and arsenal for the United States government. That might be an intriguing site to visit someday, should he ever have the chance.
Faint shouts broke out somewhere to his right, deeper into the town. Then, a shot rang through the air.
Samuel jolted in surprise, but assumed it was a random, isolated discharge. It was soon evident this was not the case.
More signs of fighting carried from across the bridge nearby. Samuel crept down a darkened street, wanting to see what was going on, but cautious to keep out of sight.
A young boy ran from the direction of the ruckus. Samuel grabbed his arm as he ran past.
“What is it, boy? What’s going on?” he asked the pale-faced boy, who stared at Samuel with terror stricken eyes.
The boy shook his head as if unable to form words. Then he stammered, “They—they…be attackin’ the armory.”
“Who?” Samuel pressed.
“Are they white men? Or black men?”
“Mos’ly white, but I saw a few black ones in the fightin’, too,” the boy replied.
Samuel’s eyebrows furrowed. The boy licked his lips and seemed to have something else to say. “What is it?”
“They shot a black man. I saw it myself.”
“Why would a group of white and black men fighting together shoot another black man?” Samuel mused out loud.
The boy, apparently taking advantage of Samuel’s distraction, yanked his arm away and darted into the night.
Right then, a loud alarm bell began ringing, alerting the entire town.
Samuel wasn’t sure whether to keep going or head back toward the train station. He didn’t want to miss his train, though with this new unrest, he wasn’t sure if the train would keep its original schedule.
He decided to go a little further, just to the edge of the Potomac River where the bridge was. The sounds of fighting and shouts grew louder as he walked closer.
Movement down the street made him pause and duck into a darkened storefront. As he watched, a stumbling figure made its way toward him. When the figure stepped into the moonlight, the person’s features became clear.
He wasn’t expecting it to be a young black woman. He hesitated; she looked to be injured. But this was none of his business. Whatever had happened to get her hurt was probably deserved on her part, anyway.
He turned away.
The woman uttered a soft moan, and then Samuel heard a thump behind him as she fell to the ground.
Involuntarily, he twisted to face the young woman.
“Help, help me,” she was whispering. Was she praying?
Samuel closed his eyes and gritted his teeth. He wasn’t supposed to care about slaves and their problems. With a final deep breath, he pushed away from the wall and approached the woman.
“Are you…all right?” he asked uncertainly.
She opened her eyes and looked at him blearily. “Help me, mista’, please.”
Close up, she didn’t appear to be more than fifteen or sixteen years of age. Her shoulder was gashed open, bleeding freely with what looked to be a gunshot wound.
Samuel felt something in him shift as he stared down at the bleeding woman. In this moment, she was but another human being who needed aid. Why should he not provide it?
“What can I do to help?” he asked, bending down on one knee.
“The docta’,” she rasped. “Docta’ Starry, get me there. He live—he lives jus’ across the river.”
Gasping for breath, she laid her hand gently on her abdomen, which Samuel noticed for the first time was round and large. Could she be expecting a child?
He felt the urgency rise within him as he picked the young woman up as carefully as possible. She grunted, squeezing her eyes shut against the pain.
Samuel carried her down to the bridge and cautiously made his way across the deserted road. Shifting her in his arms, he rammed his fist on the doctor’s door.
A kind-looking man opened it several minutes later. His front was covered in blood, some streaked on his face as well. He wiped his hand across his eyes and inquired, “What can I do for you?”
“This woman, she’s hurt,” Samuel said, “I think she was caught in the fighting going on across the river.”
“I see,” Dr. Starry said, scanning the woman’s body for injury. “Yes, I have just been treating a man who was wounded there. He didn’t make it.” The doctor looked dejected.
“I am sorry, Doctor, but please, hurry. She’s also expecting a child.”
“A child?” The doctor appeared to gather his strength. “Let’s bring her inside.”
They entered the cramped building and Dr. Starry motioned to a blood-streaked exam table. “I apologize I have not had time to clean up yet. But we must hurry—she looks to be nearly at her time. I must stop the bleeding in her shoulder first.”
The doctor went to work and Samuel hung back, feeling uncomfortable, but not willing to leave yet.
The young woman lifted a weak hand and turned her head to look at Samuel. Slowly, he neared and took hold of her hand.
“Thank you,” she said.
Samuel nodded, pressing his lips together.
“What’s your name, mista’?”
“Samuel,” she repeated. “It’s a good name.” She inhaled a labored breath. “My name is Eloise Martin.”
“Shh, Miss Martin, you must stay quiet and still,” Dr. Starry urged gently.
She closed her eyes as the doctor gave her an anesthetic, then slipped into an uneasy rest. Samuel held her hand until the doctor finished sewing up her wound.
“She should be fine,” Dr. Starry said with a sigh, wiping his hands on a dirty rag. “As long as the wound is kept clean. She will sleep for another couple hours.”
“She’ll probably go into labor soon, but from all appearances, I anticipate a healthy delivery. ”
Samuel let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding.
Dr. Starry looked at him curiously. “Are you…a friend?”
“Ah, no, I happened to come across her in the street just before I brought her here.” He rubbed his head. “Actually, I am just passing through. I need to catch the train before it leaves…”
Why did he feel so reluctant to go, then?
The doctor nodded. “I understand, though I must warn you to expect possible delays with the ruckus in town.”
Samuel nodded. He gave Eloise one last glance and laid her hand down on the table. Then, he turned to go.
The doctor was right. The train was delayed until the next morning. Samuel spent the time curled on a wooden bench trying, and failing, to find sleep. At one point he thought he saw a man board the train who bore a strong resemblance to the portrait of John Brown that had been circulating in the papers.
Before Samuel finally departed Harpers Ferry on the train that morning, he’d heard from Dr. Starry that Eloise had delivered a healthy, beautiful boy. He’d also mentioned one significant fact: she had named her new son Samuel—in her words, “after the man who saved me.”
By the time Samuel arrived back in Norfolk, the news of John Brown and his attack on the arsenal had traveled across the country to become front-page news.
Samuel had resumed his normal life in Virginia, but somehow, he felt that nothing would be “normal” for him again.
December 1859 – Norfolk, Virginia
The day following her encounter with the slaves, Maria was walking nearby to the spot where she had helped the slave owners recover the runaways. Keeping her head held high and her eyes straight ahead, she picked up her pace toward the Mercantile.
A man idled on the boarded sidewalk but she felt his eyes on her. Not fully certain why, she quickened her pace, soon realizing he was following her. She darted down a side alleyway hoping to lose him, but her efforts were for naught. Two other men were standing at the other end of the alley blocking her escape.
Maria was nearly ready to scream out for help when one man closed in on her. But then she recognized him. He was one of the slave owners she’d seen last night. He sized her up for a moment, making her feel self-conscious under his scrutiny.
What did he see in her? What did he want?
Then he opened his mouth and spoke the words that would change the course of her future. “You were a big help to us last night, girl. How’d ya like to come work with us? Help bring back runaway slaves to their rightful places? We could use someone like you.” He continued his unabashed scanning of her person, then tapped the barrel of his pistol on his stubbled cheek. “Well? How ’bout it? Ya want to do some more spying for your country?”
She hesitated but a moment—she knew only one answer that would satisfy her newfound passion: “What do you need me to do?”
Mr. Oliver Kincade will be giving a lecture this evening to present his newly published book, titled, “Political Debates between Hon. Abraham Lincoln and Hon. Stephen A. Douglas, In the Celebrated Campaign of 1858, in Illinois.” The book is edited personally by Mr. Lincoln and contains an exclusive interview between the author and Mr. Lincoln himself. Mr. Kincade will be signing copies of his book following the lecture.
My Dear Brother and Sister-in-law,
I have begun a new venture. About a month ago, I was scouting around the edges of my land in Colorado, when I ran into some men assailing a lone rider who had taken refuge in a rocky area. I helped the besieged man scare them off with no delay and brought him back to the house where we talked. His name is William Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill Cody, and he is a rider for the newfangled Pony Express mail delivery system. He told me all about it and said if I joined, I would be part of one of the greatest new innovative systems of the century.
I’ve been feeling a bit restless here on my land, so it didn’t take much convincing. I will leave my cattle ranch to my foreman Johnson for now, and check on it periodically, whenever I come through the area. Blue Snake has been off on his own lately, but I may try to contact him and persuade him to join me.
One other thing: I met a lady rider for the Pony Express. Imagine my surprise at that! Her name is Etta Mae Jenkins, and she’s the prettiest, gun-totin’-est, crack-shot of a woman I have ever met in my life. Her mother was a Cheyenne who married a white explorer. I hope to spend more time with her in the future.
My best wishes for your family’s health and happiness.
Reading Orwell: A Grim New World
Reading is more than a habit or fun activity for me, though it is both of those. It’s a way of life for me. Though I can’t recall the first book I ever read, I also can’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading something. Stories are my mind’s lifeblood—I think I would suffocate from a lack of mental air if I were ever to lose the ability to read.
One of the stories that I remember first making a significant impact on me is Animal Farm by George Orwell. I had a writing class on the dystopian novel in early high school, and though I only read it because it was assigned to me, it really affected how I viewed the world, history, and political ideologies. It opened a new world to me in the form of veiled parallels and pictorial parables, a startling message that is more adequately conveyed through what seems at first glance to be a children’s fairy tale, albeit a bit gruesome, in true Grimm Brothers fashion.
Prior to reading Animal Farm, I hadn’t realized that the world could be such a deceptively awful place, what is intially appearing as innocent and innocuous ultimately turning rotten and warped. Sure, I’d read about the Holocaust, the Spanish Inquisition, the Cold War and its subtle terror, and many other tragedies and terrors of history. But I hadn’t understood how those came about, that the atrocities of dictators like Hitler and Stalin had such simple and, seemingly avoidable, beginnings.
Reading a historical account of an event is drastically different from reading a story of that same event, complete with plot, characters, tension, climax, resolution. That’s what is so powerful about a novel. Often from small, uncluttered origins, the conflict takes root more quickly and less noticeably than our brave hero or heroine always realizes. Before they can blink, they find themselves standing waist-deep in a problem that they didn’t know they had. The reader, inevitably, feels deeply on behalf of the characters and this is how Animal Farm drew me in to a larger world than I’d known before.
Though to an enlightened reader, it seems obvious what the animals in power are doing through their propagandizing and the twisted meanings of certain words and phrases (e.g. “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”), Orwell is unflinchingly clear on how the masses are so easily manipulated and swayed. It highlights how mere idealism can rapidly deteriorate into actual violence and injustice, and that if we are not aware of what is happening around us in real time, we will miss our chance to put a halt to potentially damaging perspectives and policies that will entangle an unsuspecting nation if left alone.
Change is possible, if I care enough to see my world for what it is, and do something in my sphere of influence. Waves begin with the smallest of ripples, and the power of storytelling is the pebble tossed into the pond.
Mirrors are terrifying things. One, for what they reflect about yourself that is true; and two, for what they do not reflect that you wish was true.
Mirrors are unrelenting in their honesty; they do not lie or cushion reality. Yet, they are also kind in that they don’t exaggerate. What you see is what you get—no more, no less. Then why do many a viewer accuse their looking glass of being a harsh, unforgiving critic? I believe it’s in the double-fold nature of the thing. A mirror is an object, made of reflective metal or glass; it’s not sentient—it has no thoughts or feelings. One cannot rationally blame their mirror for what they see in it. At the same time, your mirror is an instrument that reveals a part of yourself you often desire to forget. No wonder we hate them, even up to hiding or smashing them in horror or rage.
I’ve had my own quibbles with my mirror, employing a myriad of avoidance or selective viewing tactics. But I’ve realized that in detesting my mirror, I detest my reflection; and in detesting my reflection, I detest myself. Projecting my fears or disgust on an inanimate third party does not remove my issues with myself, it only delays them and the inevitability of confrontation. While I work at ignoring my own reality, I’m ignoring the deeper harm inflicted upon my soul.
I think we all know you can’t deal with a problem by avoiding it. However, self-reflection issues seem to be more vague, and therefore deeper, obscurer, more difficult to exorcise.
It starts with a willingness to be utterly honest with ourselves. Ask the hard questions, which are invariably the right questions. Embrace our truth, no matter what it looks like; in the end, our reflection is what we make of it.
And stop blaming our poor innocent mirrors.
Window of Opportunity
Never enough hours in a day
to say all I want to say
and do all I want to do
Never enough time in a single life
to say all I need to say
and do all I need to do
So I’m gonna say what I want
while it’s fresh on my tongue
I’m gonna do what I need
before it sours in my belly
I won't let my chance slip away
while I wait for the time to ripen
This fruit only ages once in this life
and that window of opportunity is now
Chapter Seventeen: Owen Journeys West/Providential Meetings
Late February 1832
“He won’t survive on his own!” Diana’s tone was sharp with worry.
“Chadwick is a smart man, dear,” the deeper voice of her husband answered. “He’s traveled those lands most of his life; he will find his way back.”
“But injured? Without an eye, and—and his letters give me cause to fear he has developed a sickness of the mind as well, being alone for so long. How…how can we leave him to his fate?” Her voice broke. “It’s already been more than a month since his last letter. What has happened to him? I-I fear I will never see him again.”
Soft sobs came from behind the partially closed bedroom door, and the rustling sounds of Tyler drawing her into his arms. “I know, dear Diana, I fear it as well. But we must have hope. We thought he was dead these two years already. And now that we know he survived on his own by the greatest stroke of Providence, can we not also trust that same divine hand to bring him all the way home again?”
Silence persisted for a moment, during which the young man who had been quietly listening in the hallway assumed that Diana had nodded in resignation.
He gritted his teeth as he soundlessly stepped away, leaving Diana and Tyler to their commiserations. They may be able to leave matters to the whims of Providence, but he wasn’t so ready to acquiesce. He was a man of action, and right now, Uncle Chadwick needed his help.
March 15, 1832
Dear Ma and Pa,
I know that you must be thinking the worst of me right now, but I will not apologize for doing what I feel I must, as I’m sure you would do the same. I only write you now to beg you to stop worrying or searching for me, and to assure you that I am well and will see you as soon as I have found Uncle Chadwick and brought him home with me safe and sound.
I came across a troupe of traveling booksellers while on the road south, a husband and wife with their daughter, and two other men. They took me in after I explained the purpose of my journey and have been uncommonly kind to me, sharing their food and resources. When they heard that I also am in the book trade, they pressed upon me to join them in their travels permanently and assist in buying and printing new books for their inventory. I confess I was drawn to the idea, but the thought of Uncle Chadwick’s plight draws me stronger still, and so I explained that to them, much to their distress. I do believe they have designs of matching me with their daughter. She is a delightful fairy of a girl, but I know I cannot get caught up in romantic fantasies as yet.
The peddlers mean to go all the way to New Orleans via steamboat, and so I shall be traveling with them for much of their journey, since I presume Uncle Chadwick to be wandering somewhere between Nashville and the grand Mississippi River.
I will write again when I have more news of significance to report. Until then, I ask you to stay healthy and rested, Ma, if not for yourself, for the sake of my baby brother.
I do hope you will not be too angry with me.
Your loving son,
April 10, 1832
Dearest Ma and Pa,
Alas, my circumstances have changed much since I last wrote you. The Perrys, the book peddlers I had been traveling with, with their two men Rolfe and Taggart and myself, had been sailing down the Ohio River in our stout riverboat a short while yet, with plans to board a steamer heading to New Orleans as soon as we reached the Mississippi, when we were put upon by a band of Indians. I know not from which tribe they hailed.
It surprised us all, as we had been given to understand that river travel has been peaceful in these last few years, but we could not entertain our shock for long. Mr. Perry ushered the women down into the hold for safety and then distributed the muskets to myself and the two other men. We attempted our best at defense, but none of us were well skilled in musketry or combat—after all, we are simple booksellers and printers—and we quickly succumbed to the greater expertise of the Indian warriors. Poor Mr. Perry was shot clean through the throat mere minutes after the advent of the attack, Taggart also cut down soon after. Oh, how I wish I had trained in fighting tactics and defense when Uncle Chadwick offered to teach me when I was a younger lad. Well might it have altered the course of this incident. As it was, I was no match for one brave who gave me a good knock on the head, and the last thing I knew were the deep cold waters of the Ohio.
When I awoke, it was night and I had washed ashore on an unknown bank. I saw not a hint of the boat, the battle, or my companions—I fear what has become of Mrs. Perry and young Lavinia.
I do not know what might have become of myself, had I not been found by an unusually tall young man who helped me to his camp. He was traveling home after taking a load of cargo to New Orleans, and I learned from him that I had drifted onto the north shore of the Ohio on the border of Illinois. I hardly desired to delay my journey any longer, but I felt it was my best chance to go with him to his hometown where I could regroup, procure more supplies, and plot my next move.
And so, that is what I have done. My new companion makes for intriguing company; somewhat gangly and few of words, but seems a wise, honest, and well-spoken sort of chap, and when he opens his mouth one is sure to enjoy a sharp wit and keen perception on life. Lincoln is his name.
I must wrap up this letter before the post arrives. My deepest love to you all.
Your devoted son,
Diary of Owen Kincade
April 13, 1832. We have arrived in New Salem, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln’s hometown. He has kindly given me temporary accommodations at his home. I struggle to know what to do next, seeing that all my funds and resources were washed down the Ohio.
This Lincoln fellow is quite the orator and politician. We have discussed topics of importance ranging from policies of the Jackson Administration to matters of slavery and the future of the Black Man in America. I believe Lincoln and I coincide in our opinions in those respects.
He has put in his candidacy for the Illinois House of Representatives, but in the meantime he has promised to lend his services to the militia fighting against the Indian leader Black Hawk. He urges me to go with him, and I think I will, if nothing else than to collect the small pension promised to every man who volunteers. That, and I feel beholden to Lincoln for all he has done for me.
April 15, 1832. It is a rough sort of folk here in New Salem, those good at heart who have unwillingly seen the darker side of life. I suspect by the time I find my way out of here I will have gained my own kind of worldly education on this serendipitous trip.
Lincoln and I plan to ride soon for Beardstown to be sworn into the militia there. I find myself at odds with my own mind. We go to fight for our lands and property against the Indians, but I cannot forget that the right to that land belongs to them first. We deprive them of their livelihood and they are only doing what all good men do when their homes and families are threatened. Is America committing a terrible wrong against these native peoples in forcing them out? I inevitably think of my own dear Aunt Rosie and Uncle Peter, himself a Native man, and my heart says yes, though my head is irrevocably sealed in loyalty toward my own nation. The West is certainly a different place from my easy life back in New York City.
April 29, 1832. We have been training with our regiment for the past week now. Lincoln has been commissioned as our captain, and a darn good one he is at that. We have procured what supplies and weapons we can, and will march to Rushville tomorrow in preparation for battle. I feel much more prepared for the fighting we may encounter there than I was a month ago. I constantly think of Uncle Chadwick and what has become of him. Ah, dear Uncle, I have not forgotten about you, but this is the hand dealt to me and I feel I must see it through ’ere I find you. I know you will understand.
May 16, 1832. Our company still has yet to see actual combat, though we have encountered the gruesome effects of this war. Last night we came across a company of militia at Stillman’s Run, all dead, bestowed with the unique treatment the Indians so enjoy to confer upon their enemies. I do not feel the need to elaborate on it. We honored and buried the dead this morning.
June 14, 1832. These past few weeks have been filled with marching, planning, and reconnoitering, but still no fighting. I am beginning to second-guess my decision to come on this hitherto fruitless endeavor.
We did have a bit of excitement today, however. An Indian of the Potawatami tribe wandered into our camp. Most of the men were suspicious and assumed him a spy, wanting to string him up or shoot him straightaway. Before the riled men could act upon it, Capt. Lincoln threw himself before the hapless Indian, knocking their weapons aside and defending the man with his own body. Lincoln would not be moved until the men had backed off.
I confess this incident caused what respect I already had for Lincoln to swell into great awe and pride for this man. I feel he is destined for great things. He has the makings of a leader, wise and just. The leader of a country, perhaps? Only God knows.
July 10, 1832. Lincoln and I have been mustered out of Army service, no longer needed for this Black Hawk War, and I am glad for it. Having collected our pensions and departed the company, Lincoln and I parted at the junction of the road leading north and south; he, returning north to resume his political duties, and I, to continue down the river toward New Orleans. Lincoln fixed me up with a man needing help taking a load of cargo south. It will pay my way until I reach my destination. I’m not yet certain where that will be.
Roselyn and Peter Kincade sat at the open door of their tent in Arkansas Territory, situated near the western banks of the Mississippi. The sun was nearly set, and the low calling of birds and buzzing of cicadas and crickets were in full force as they began their nightly ritual of song.
Nearby, the larger camp where Peter’s tribe had been living for the past few months stirred in preparation for sleep. Since the fateful news of the Indian Removal Act in 1830, the group had been steadily making their way west, and Peter, though it wasn’t required, had felt compelled to join them out of loyalty. Of course, Rosie went with him. He was her home now.
Peter stoically cleaned his gun while Roselyn stared out past their campfire into the deepening shadows waiting to glimpse the first flash of the lightening bugs.
Sighing, she picked up the letter she’d reread countless times, her eyes focusing on the somber lines Diana had written several weeks before.
“…our darling little Chad took ill with cholera…did everything we could, but with his small body already sickly from his early and complicated birth, he faded away so quickly we barely had a chance to say our goodbyes…buried him in a cemetery near the park, where I go daily to weep and pray…I am so tired, dear Rosie, so dreadfully tired…the city is in a panic with this fearful disease…how long will this epidemic persist?...and with Chadwick still missing, I am at a loss how to keep on living. What has happened to him? I can only assume the worst. Owen says that despite not finding his uncle, he has found a new purpose down in Texas, but I miss my boy so dearly. Our family is scattered into the four winds and I feel so alone, except for Tyler’s comforting presence…I do not know how much more I can take…”
A tear escaped from Rosie’s eye, even though she’d wept her eyes dry many times already. She grieved for her sister, as any kin would, but the grief she bore was one of particular acuteness.
A small cry came from inside the tent. Roselyn moved to get up, but her husband was quicker on his feet. Before she could say a word, Peter had brought the baby out and laid it in her arms. Rosie gratefully sent him a weak smile and he smiled in reply.
They both stared at this little miraculous treasure she held.
“She has grown,” Peter remarked in a low voice.
“Yes.” She had Peter’s dark hair and Roselyn’s brilliant blue eyes. A rarity. Peter’s people called her “Blue-Eyed Fawn.” Her parents called her Lily.
Rosie’s heart swelled with love for this little life, as much as it ached for the one who didn’t make it. She’d experienced a difficult labor, and no sooner had she realized that she was expecting twins than the devastation of losing their baby boy had hit her. He’d never even drawn a single breath, their native midwife had said.
Rosie ached for her sister, and she pleaded with God to lighten Diana’s burden in whatever way possible. No mother should have to feel this pain. Rosie knew it intimately; she had suffered her share of grief and despair, but she still had a baby to nurse and cuddle. Diana was utterly bereft, and Rosie feared what it might do to her sister if she could not bear through it.
A blip of light in the corner of her eye distracted her from her thoughts, and Rosie glanced up at the dancing bugs that glowed in the meadow, reminding her of the woodland fairies in a book her mother read to her as a young girl. At times, this wild, raw Arkansas territory felt like a fairytale. She loved to listen to the old storytellers around the main campfire; the aged men and women who’d seen the better part of a century would weave enchanting tales of their lives intermingled with native history and legends of ancient, magical times. Freer times. Times that seemed to fade with every passing year.
A distant call came from beyond the trees, and Peter tensed instinctively. They exchanged speculative glances—it sounded like a woman or child. In tandem, they rose to their feet. The sound came again, louder.
“It’s coming from the river,” Rosie said. “Someone needs our help.”
Peter grabbed a lantern and they started forward, reaching the trees guarding the banks of the Mississippi in minutes.
“Help! Help us,” a child’s voice called.
“Over there,” Peter pointed.
When they rushed to the dark shapes huddled on the shore, two figures emerged in the light of the lamp, a boy and a man.
Peter aimed the light more directly, illuminating a familiar male face.
“It—it’s Chadwick,” Roselyn breathed. “How—?”
“Please, will you help my father?” the boy asked again.
“Yes. My name is James, and I came across my father lying on the beach half-drowned. I don’t know what’s wrong with him.”
Roselyn and Peter were nearly frozen with shock. Here was their lost brother, after so many months. And James, her runaway nephew who she had never met, nearly a young man now.
Here was a mystery that begged to be unraveled.
Several weeks later
“It’s a fantastic story, utterly unbelievable! Amnesia, being rescued by a friendly tribe of Indians and—and becoming one of them? Then somehow regaining his memory and finally departing to rejoin his family…I can’t believe it. Can you, Will?”
Flower was in a tizzy as she read Roselyn’s letter aloud—for the third time today—to no one in particular.
“Hardly, dear,” came Will’s slightly preoccupied voice as he pored over his captain’s log, pen and ink in hand.
“Simply fantastic, Ma,” agreed Hope, sipping from a mug of spiced cider. She was a thoughtful young woman of seventeen now. Her fourteen-year-old twin brothers, Willy and Randy, paid little attention as they busily constructed models of the ships their father had commanded.
The sound of a nearby train whistle startled Flower out of her thoughts, and she shook her head. It would be a while before she got used to that sound.
The railroad was the newest thing around here. Some of her husband’s retired shipmates had ventured into the industry and struck it rich. They attempted to persuade Will, but he was committed to his ship.
She sighed. It was just as well. The speculating business was a risky thing; more often than not, speculators lost a considerable deal in the process and rarely, if ever, made a profit.
She turned back to Rosie’s letter. “She says he’ll be coming around for a visit with his family at Christmastime. Won’t that be marvelous?”
“Merry Christmas to us,” Willy remarked out of the blue, holding a tiny black cannon up to the light.
Flower grinned. “Yes, I do believe it will be.”
Chapter Eight: Wandering into New Territories
Roselyn Kincade peered out from behind the tree line at the edge of the clearing and sighed deeply when she saw the telltale column of dirty gray smoke rising from beyond the next hill.
This was the second time this week she’d come across the needless carnage being wrought among the settlers during the brutal Creek War. And it was happening more and more often lately.
She’d left the small militia encampment early this morning in the hopes of finding more civilians or soldiers to aid with her nursing skills. She didn’t want people to be hurt, particularly settlers who were unfortunate bystanders in this war. But she knew enough not to let her optimism cloud reality: many out there were injured and needed her help.
War in general was tragic, but what magnified the tragedy infinitely were the countless innocent families and children who were caught between opposing forces. About ten months back, Rosie had heard of an attack on a fort near Mobile, Alabama that had resulted in the deaths of nearly five hundred settlers, both white and mixed-blood. This bloody conflict had been a major impetus in rallying more American support and recruits for the militia. In the months since, the attacks had increased. Rosie only hoped that the rising number of soldiers would help bring the war to a quicker end rather than prolong it.
She wiped the beads of sweat on her forehead with the back of her hand. The sun had passed its apex an hour ago and the heat was sweltering. Glancing from side to side, she gingerly stepped into the clearing she needed to cross to reach the valley where the trail of smoke originated.
One couldn’t be too careful. She’d had a couple of near run-ins with both angry Creek warriors—known as “Red Sticks” for their weapon of choice, clubs painted blood red—and American militia—comprising both conscripts and volunteers—and one time she’d witnessed an honest-to-goodness skirmish between the natives and the American soldiers that had taken place entirely in canoes on the Alabama River. It had been a truly terrifying sight, almost akin to her experiences in Spain several years back.
Rosie shuddered whenever she thought back to her first introduction to war. It had affected her deeply, more than she’d initially registered. Something had been crushed inside her soul that she wasn’t sure would ever be repaired. Most days she pushed aside her complicated feelings and focused intently on the task at hand. It was easier that way for now.
As she neared the site of the burning house, the acrid scent of burning wood and flesh floated into her nostrils and she involuntarily cringed. She didn’t think she’d ever get used to it. Walking closer, her heart sank at the sight of several bodies strewn in the field adjacent to the cabin. She didn’t need to closely inspect them to know that these poor souls were beyond all earthly help.
Rosie began murmuring the prayer she’d taken to chanting when she came upon scenes like this. Please, Heavenly Father, let there be at least one survivor. Please allow me to bring healing to a needy man, woman, or child.
Scanning frantically, she froze when a weak moan reached her ears. It was coming from the backside of the rough cabin! Rosie rushed around the house, her heart beating furiously all the while. When she rounded the corner, movement caught her attention.
Thank Heaven! It appeared to be a boy or young man. She hesitated but a second when she glimpsed the rougher clothing and tribal markings on his face and arms. It was a young Creek warrior.
After rapidly determining where his wounds were located, Rosie got to work. With many of the friendlier villages of the Creek nation being allied with American forces, this wasn’t the first time she’d had a native for a patient. One time she’d even cared for a prisoner from the enemy force of Creek warriors who’d been captured in a brief clash. It always made her feel a twinge of—what might she label it? Nervous thrill?—whenever she treated Creek or Cherokee warriors, mainly due to their exotic culture and strange clothes.
So many years had passed since that fateful day with her sister running from the Indian encampment. But since becoming a nurse, Rosie had expanded in her capacity for compassion and forgiveness toward these people so unlike her own. When it came to healing their bodies, Rosie saw no difference in skin color or political affinity—they were all her patients who deserved the best care she could provide them.
This boy was no different.
As she cleaned out a gaping laceration on his lower abdomen, he moaned again, louder and turned his dark-haired head toward her. His face was streaked with dirt and blood, but she could see that he was older than she’d believed—possibly nineteen or twenty years of age.
“What’s your name? Do you speak English?” she asked as she fashioned a bandage from strips torn from the hem of her dress and wrapped them across his stomach and around his back. Many Indians had learned a broken form of English, which made it much easier to care for her patients effectively.
Several minutes of silence passed and Rosie assumed her questions were not going to receive replies; then a hacking cough sounded from the young man and a weak voice uttered, “Y-yes…speak English. Name is Little Eagle.”
Rosie met his eyes in surprise. His dark ones, exceptionally keen for his injured state, were fixed on her face. She stared in mild astonishment, mouth slightly agape, before stuttering out a reply. “Little Eagle. My name is Rosie. I have bandaged your wound and will assist you in getting to a safe place. Can you sit up?”
As Rosie attempted to help Little Eagle come to an upright position, the pounding of horses’ hooves sounded from close by; too close, she decided, but before she could make a move to do what she knew not, a group of blue-coated soldiers rode determinedly into the clearing opposite her. Instinctively, Rosie leaned over the young brave protectively. He was friendly, but who knew what they might do. Stories had been told of Americans committing terrible acts even upon the allied Indians.
They spotted her quickly and approached. The leader dismounted, followed by two lieutenants. His long stride closed the distance and Rosie looked up at his austere face. He had a striking figure: tall stature, grim lips, and a prominent nose. A curved sword hung at his waist. She guessed him to be a general by his livery and comportment. He looked down at her and then over at the wounded man, and she wanted to shrink under his commanding presence.
“We saw the smoke. Are you all right, madam? What is happening here? Who is this Indian?”
Rosie hesitated, which must have given the impression that she was in distress, and the general motioned to his first lieutenant. The other man moved forward, but Rosie rose to her feet before he could reach them.
“Wait! See the pendant he is wearing?” She gestured to the distinctive silver medallion resting on his chest; it bore a likeness of Thomas Jefferson. “He is an ally; he tells me he is from a Lower Creek town near here. You can trust him.”
The general’s features relaxed, but then a slight sneer crossed his face. “When is a Red Skin truly trustworthy?” he muttered.
“General Jackson?” his lieutenant questioned uncertainly.
General Jackson waved him back. “It appears our help is not required here.”
They turned to leave. “If I may, Sir,” Rosie called out. The general stopped and regarded her evenly. Rosie blinked and glanced at the ground, then raised her eyes to meet his unflinchingly. “With all due respect, Sir, this land was theirs before it was ours. I—I ask you to deal kindly with them when this war is all over.”
General Jackson’s eyes narrowed severely and Rosie felt she had overstepped her bounds. But she refused to cower from the conviction she held strongly in her heart.
He seemed to look at her more closely, as if for the first time, and with a final “I will take that into consideration,” the general swiveled on his feet and marched off without another look back, his men following in like fashion.
Rosie let out a long deep breath. She could only hope that her words, meager though they were, might pierce a heart as stoic as Andrew Jackson’s.
General Jackson Claims Overwhelming Victory Over British in Miraculous Battle of New Orleans!!
A mere few months have passed since the celebrated victory of General Andrew Jackson over the Red Stick Indians and the subsequent relinquishment of 23 million acres of Indian Territory over to the United States Government in the Treaty of Fort Jackson, and our esteemed General Jackson has successfully secured for our great nation yet another miraculous conquest, this one over the British forces who would invade our Lands from the South. Our Star-Spangled Banner yet waves o’er the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave! No longer must we wait to see justice served upon the British troops who laid waste to the Capital city of Washington, D.C., burning the White House and wreaking havoc in our fair Land.
It was in the final hours of the battle raging in the heart of New Orleans, that many devout nuns and residents of the city gathered for a nightlong vigil to implore the God of Heaven for His hand to intercede, lest the great city be captured by invading forces. It is reported that a courier ran into the chapel during communion with the wondrous tidings that the British had been defeated! It is also said that our marvelous General Jackson “Old Hickory” himself visited the convent where the vigil had taken place to thank the congregants for their prayers. His very words were recorded as the following: “By the blessing of Heaven, directing the valor of the troops under my command, one of the most brilliant Victories in the annals of War was obtained.”
Diana clucked her tongue thoughtfully as she read over the galley proof of the front-page article that would be going to the presses for tomorrow morning’s newspaper.
“It’s accurate enough to the facts, if not a bit…excessively fawning over the good General,” she mused, more to herself. The young apprentice standing before her desk squirmed, his face reddening slightly. “It’s just too bad, seeing that the war had in actuality been ended by treaty eighteen days preceding, that this so-called ‘miraculous victory’ served no practical purpose in the war against Britain, is it not?” she continued. “There is something to be said about the virtues of establishing more effective communication between America and her European kin. Ah, well; perhaps the engineers and inventors of our country will someday find a means of supplementing those particular shortcomings against which we now struggle.”
The young man stammered and closed his mouth again, apparently unsure how to respond. Diana set the sheet down and met his nervous eyes. “Relax, Thomas. I cannot complain. You’ve done well for your first major assignment. I can count on you to begin a regular contribution to our front-page news from now on, can I not?”
He froze and eyes widened to round discs that made her want to snort in laughter, but she just barely held it in. “Y-yes, Miss Kincade. Yes, indeed!”
After he left, Diana stood and walked to the window of her second story office that overlooked one of the countless bustling streets of New York City. In the past couple of years, she had worked her way through the ranks of the newspaper staff until she’d reached the coveted position of Associate Editor, just below her boss, Mr. Barlow, the Senior Editor of their middling print shop.
Despite the fact of her gender, which would have held other women back, Diana had fought determinedly for this, accomplishing what most might label as foolhardy, improper, or, worse, shamelessly scandalous. But she was here, and nothing and no one would take it from her. And she had plans for this newspaper. Mere dreams as yet, but plans, nonetheless.
Her mind wandered to her far-flung brother and sisters. Chadwick was reported to be somewhere up in Indiana territory after the promise of abundant, cheap farmland. Flower had sent word of her newest young one that was to be born in the autumn, joining Will and Flower’s eldest daughter Hope, namesake of their dearly departed mother, and now an energetic toddler.
And Rosie…Diana sighed. Her impetuous, brave, adventurous sister was off in distant lands doing great deeds for God and humanity that Diana could only write about. She wondered if the time would ever come when she would accomplish a deed half as monumental.
Movement on the street below caught her eye; a boy with tousled brown hair and ocean-blue eyes dashed into the building. Soon, quick steps sounded on the wooden slats coming toward her office, and a smile bloomed on her face.
“Mama Di, Mama Di!”
“What is it, Owen?”
His face was flushed and he barely got the words out before he was forced to gulp air.
“Slow down, sweetheart. Catch your breath, then tell me your news.”
He allowed only a couple breaths before plowing forward. “Mama Di, Auntie Rosie is an Indian Princess!”
“What? Owen, dear, whatever are you talking about?”
“Auntie Rosie! She’s here!”
Diana’s heart jumped into her throat. Rosie, her brave, reckless little sister, was here? But her last letter told of being on some mission of mercy down in the everglades of Florida. How could she…? Well, that letter was dated more than six months ago. Perhaps…
Diana leaped from her position by the window toward the door of her office, but footsteps approaching on the stairs below made her stop.
Seconds later, two figures stood in the doorway.
It was Rosie, who, were it not for her blue eyes and bright golden tresses, could be mistaken for an Indian princess. She wore a dress made of soft leather hides and matching moccasins. Her hair was done in intricate plaits with feathers and beads interwoven throughout.
In a word: scandalous. And those gossipy townspeople had thought they had something to talk about with Diana. This would get those mouths flapping double time.
Then she saw the dark-haired, young Indian man, likewise dressed in moccasins but otherwise wearing European-style clothing, standing beside her.
“Hello, Di,” said Rosie.
Diana opened her mouth but could not think of what to say.
Rosie gestured to her companion. “I want you to meet Little Eagle, or Peter, the English name he has chosen to be called while amongst the more civilized city folk.”
Diana nodded faintly. “Ah, Peter—erm, Little Eagle—uh, forgive me, where are my manners?” She smiled at him and curtsied. “How do you do?”
He nodded curtly, but did not speak.
“And he is…?” Diana prompted.
“Ah, yes.” Rosie said. “He is my husband.”
June 24th, 1816
I have been traveling and exploring the territories of Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri for the better part of a year now. How I wish you could join me. I have begun to learn to see the beauty and wonder of our great country again, but I still wrestle against the despairs and pain I knew so intimately on my maiden journey West. I am searching for a place which I would be proud to call my home and raise my future babes to full maturity as did our beloved Mother and Father, but I have yet to find it. I will know it when I see it.
Always, I remain
Your loving brother,