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Excerpt for The Angels' Lament: Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series - Book Two by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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The Angels’ Lament

Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series

Book Two




Mj Pettengill


Copyright © 2017 Mj Pettengill



Cover Photography © Mj Pettengill

Author Photograph © Brenda Ladd Photography

Cover Design – Mj Pettengill

All rights reserved.


Smashwords edition license notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


***


I dedicate this book to my parents and a young girl named Maria—a pretty little dancer who never gave up.


PREFACE

***


The Civil War ended. It was a time of radical social and economic change in America—a time for expansion, discovery, and healing. For some, it meant piecing together the fragments of their lives, rebuilding families, homes, and communities. For others, it was time to leave the safety of their small towns and venture into nearby, rapidly growing cities, to prosper and find their long-awaited independence as industrial wage earners.

This transition was not new. In the late eighteenth century, with men at the forefront, the Industrial Revolution in America began to take shape. By the 1830s, women and children started flocking to the mills. While many of the obstacles that the workers faced are still present in today’s workforce, most labor practices were horrific beyond measure.

The Angels’ Lament is the second book in the Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series. It was not enough to recover the names of 268 souls buried anonymously in a long-forgotten pauper cemetery. It was not enough to pen a historical novel about those who lived and died there. And, it was not enough to place a monument at the burial site to acknowledge them. Yes, these events served a higher purpose, but it was the beginning, not the end. Many untold stories are begging to be unearthed and acknowledged.

In Etched in Granite - Book One, we come to know the inmates, workers, and various individuals connected to the County Farm. We are afforded a brief glimpse into the life of Abigail Hodgdon’s sister Sarah, who follows her dreams, departing from the deadening effects of farm life in the rugged New Hampshire landscape, and goes to the textile mills of Fall River, Massachusetts. There are many possibilities for one who has never seen the ocean and only read about cities in well-worn books.

Why Fall River? Throughout the process of my ongoing research, I have learned that my passion lies in the unveiling of that which has been consistently hidden, and in some cases, banned from conventional sources. Challenge motivates me. The less material available on the surface, the more determined I am to dig.

I chose Fall River, located in the southeastern part of the state, because, between 1820 and 1840, information pertaining to the mills is abundant. However, there is little mention of what transpired a few decades later in Fall River.

In the 1870s, Fall River became the second largest producer of cotton cloth in the world. Manchester, England was number one. During this time, along with the rapid increase of wealth for the few families that dominated the industry, a massive surge of immigration occurred, changing and reshaping the labor force, and altering the roles of men, women, and children for generations to come.

Insight brings illumination. The most profound narratives are tucked away in rare books— considered controversial in their time—yellowed newspaper articles, diaries, and letters. This extraordinary information consistently pulls me deeper into the complex structuring of our social history while broadening the spectrum of varied strands available to weave into the fabric of who we are today.

My initial research focused on the torment and adversity of women in the workplace while crammed into filthy tenements, rising up to the meet the challenges of daily life. During my analysis, a natural shift occurred, bringing my attention to the children, work conditions, general management, and labor practices.

It was my examination of the power struggles within the political, economic, and cultural development that sparked a desire to acknowledge the lives of immigrants. It is impossible to focus on one group and not the others. As divided as they appeared to be, they were often bound by their afflictions. Setting aside their differences, they came together to stand up for their rights. They were agents of change. This civil unrest has been a work in progress now for almost two centuries. Looking back, it may appear as if much has changed. However, it is wise for us to examine their efforts through a more transparent lens and refocus.

Seeking that which never existed, workers traveled to mill cities from lands across the sea, neighboring farming communities, and Canada. They became victims of social and moral collapse due to public neglect, incalculable abuse, and corporate greed, unknowingly paving the way for the future.

With empty promises of a prosperous life, wealthy factory owners lured immigrants to America, where they suffered cruel punishment, and endured hard labor while under life-threatening conditions. In an effort to adapt to their new world, the lives of thousands of men, women, and children disintegrated. With hunger and disease rampant, their wretched circumstances persisted, seemingly without end.

Within this high-charged environment was an ever-present undercurrent—conflict between gender, race, ethnicity, social class, and religion. All of this existed in the face of oppressive paternalism, the growth of corporate power, and textile capitalism.

As with Nellie in Etched in Granite, the narrative spans generations, reaching back to the shores of Ireland during the Great Hunger—mass starvation and exile— a catastrophic historical event, systematically deemphasized and misunderstood. The harrowing world left behind followed these immigrants as they boarded coffin ships, embarking on a perilous transatlantic voyage, to a world that did anything but embrace them.

The characters are fictitious, intended to bring voice to actual historical events.

Sarah makes her way down to the textile mills, bringing us into a spinner’s world while living in filth, in a cramped tenement unfit for humans. Her sheltered background could have been a fatal weakness. Her determination to stand firm contains many valuable lessons.

August Wood shares his experiences as a street kid in New York City, in and out of the Children’s Asylum, and on a westbound Orphan Train.

Bess Adams, pianist extraordinaire, daughter of an influential corporate lawyer, and surrounded by servants, seems to have it all.

My background as a cornetist and Civil War Music Historian is a significant resource. The element of music propels the story, forging a strong bond between the characters.

I am grateful for the courage required to enter into these dark places, providing the opportunity to discover what once was; for the fortitude necessary to stay with it, when the somber truth threatens to overwhelm; and for knowing when to walk away, allowing information to seep in so that my work is effective.

For her expertise and ability to ignite my critical thinking skills, I offer my deepest gratitude to my editor, Mariel Brewster; David W. Cooper, Jr., for his continued support, making things possible; and Shelby J. Trevor for countless hours of conversation, sifting through grim discoveries. For inspiration, I thank Anna and Miles Trevor; Alan Richardson for his valued feedback; and Brian Height for his technical computer skills.

Finally, for facing the unthinkable, this story honors my maternal grandparents, their children, and current and future generations. It is through my learning of their experience that I came to understand the significance of intergenerational healing. The umbilical cord is not severed; although invisible to the naked eye, it continues to grow.

—Mj Pettengill


CHAPTER 1

Sarah Jane Hodgdon

August 30, 1872

Ossipee, New Hampshire


Our mother had come undone. The Irish stoicism, bred in us for countless generations, was a myth. While a euphoric birdsong softened the edges of her cries, she lay on the platform in a pitiful heap. Once again, God turned away.

She rose to her feet, pausin’ long enough to catch her breath. When her beggin’ resumed, I remained uncommonly rigid and cold. The slightest indication of givin’ in would have been to surrender. I would do no such thing. She dug her fingers into my arm, first pullin’ and then pushin’ me away.

We shared our disbelief, hers born of the idea that I had abandoned her, the way Papa did, and me wonderin’ if she had no shame. I was the one headin’ into the wilds of the unknown and climbin’ aboard a beastly train. Where was her courage? I had prayed for the possibility to depart with a light heart and a kind word. God ignored that part of my prayer.

I looked into her green eyes, hoping to find a trace of the woman who taught us how to snuff out any and all emotions, especially those that were unpleasant. She wasn’t there. I kissed her on the cheek, broke free from her grip, and said a simple goodbye.

I walked away, leavin’ her curled over in despair, unaware of the people inside the station with their hungry faces pressed against the windows, watchin’ without shame. Her usual kindliness, fortitude, and ability to fight in the face of adversity was dead. She had unknowingly crawled into her own coffin—her daughters givin’ the final push.

My sister Abigail stood taller than me, yet I knew that her soul withered within her small, sturdy frame. She waited just a few steps away from our mother, smilin’ to overcome the fear. I embraced her. It was possibly my turn to come unraveled, but I remained intact.

“Do you have everything?” she asked.

Somehow managin’ to function without takin’ a breath, I nodded. It was time to leave. My body was prepared to do so, but my heart would not have it. I had no choice but to keep movin’.

I hurried over to Eb Burrows, the station attendant. “Did you carry away my trunk and bags? I need my small bag and bandbox for the trip.” I tightened my grip on my lunch-basket.

Eb was rather unpleasant with his yellow-stained teeth and a guaranteed dribble of tobacco on his whiskered chin. He was never a man about town until he got this job, and suddenly he was of great importance.

“I can get yer bag if you want,” he said, lookin’ past me at my sister, who innocently triggered a deep longin’ of the flesh amongst most of the men, both young and old, in town.

The train whistle blasted three times causing me to hurry and stumble on the steps. Being so far north of Boston, there were only a few stragglers onboard. I went towards the back and slid into the seat, immediately positionin’ myself near the window.

“Sarah Hodgdon?” Eb walked towards me with my smaller bag.

“I’m here,” I said with a bit of disgust, as we knew each other well.

I supposed that it was with too much disgust that I snatched my bag away from him. It was not the fault of that poor, simple fellow, but he became the object of my discomfort.

Relieved that he would disembark, I didn’t answer him when he wished me well. I had known this foul little man for all of my life. He was simply another reason why I needed to leave.

The train car rolled ahead with a jolt, hesitated, and then started in again. The steam whistle blew harmoniously as the mighty engine chugged and hissed, propellin’ me into my bright future and away from my home that was cradled safely within the breast of the familiar mountains.

I took one last look. Eb had joined Abigail in liftin’ my mother off the platform floor and bringin’ her to our sturdy, old cart. I opened my bag and without taking my eyes away from the changin’ scenery, ran my fingers along the stitches of the small leather case. I rested my hand on it. I was prepared to go anywhere.

Against my better judgment, I took yet another look and waved to my sister as she stood motionless with her eyes locked onto mine. Mother pushed Eb out of the way and started to run after the train. I tried to look away, but I could not. Abigail raced after her, finally catchin’ up, but Mother struggled against her as I knew she would.

My sister never gave up. She always tried and always failed. I thought of dashin’ down the aisle and leapin’ from the train while it still moved at a crawlin’ pace. I bit my finger through the glove and waved with my other hand as if it were a joyful departure, lyin’ right up to the last moment. The sun formed a bright golden outline around them, makin’ it impossible to see Mother’s scowl, but I knew it was there. As much as I denied it, my sister was right. I was our mother’s favorite.

***

I had become quite weary of the task of seekin’ the right words. Even the gentlest expression spoken in a kind manner would not soften the blow that I delivered to my mother and sister a week before my departure. They chose not to hear me, disregardin’ my deepest desire to leave our dreary little town and strike out on my own. The young women were expected to embrace the shackles that kept us enslaved to our crumblin’ farms and the awfulness of waitin’ to be chosen by a wounded soldier or an uneducated, toothless farm boy, to endure a tedious life, one which held no promise of happiness or abundance.

I found it unhelpful to complain, knowing that dark thoughts would simply bring about more of the same. However, it had become an urgent matter when Abigail was obsessed with Silas Putnam, following him around, hidin’ in the shadows, quick to deny it. We used to share all of our deepest thoughts, but she was no longer present in the realm of our sisterhood. I had lost her to love.

***

When Papa died in the war, we had to carry on. I believed that our willful determination to do so was our way of avoidin’ the unimaginable pain and finality of his death. Mother only cried in secret, and when we talked about him, she quickly hushed us as if we were cussin’ or mentionin’ somethin’ forbidden. Perhaps in her mind, it actually was forbidden. We were expected to hold our feelin’s inside at all times, which is why there was so much confusion over the small things that we often magnified to a higher degree.

It was cruel to instill a love for someone or somethin’ only to steal it away. Being quite naive and unworldly, I failed to comprehend the full risk of Papa goin’ off to war. The fanfare at the train station was unrivaled by any other gatherin’ that I had attended.

It was a predictable November day, one that brought a deep chill and offered no hope for comfort. We were thankful for the frozen ruts that just a day earlier were endless puddles of muck, threatenin’ to swallow the wheels of our carriage, keepin’ us stuck in a place in which we never wished to return.

I stood still within the dense crowd, denyin’ the ache that most others accepted as a way of life. It was the silent acceptance of bloodshed and despair, loss, and troubled loneliness—a peculiar call to patriotism.

His regiment, the Sixth, mustered with other New Hampshire infantry regiments. They were settin’ out to fight for the Union. There were well over one hundred soldiers biddin’ farewell to their loved ones. We were driftin’ in a sea of blue woolen coats, muskets, canteens, and weeping women with their desperate children.

Like many others, Mother and Abigail were overwrought. Just as I began to feel that very same distress, the brass band started in playin’ a familiar quick-step. My heartbeat quickly assumed the rhythm. I temporarily lost sight of the reason for our bein’ there and aligned myself with the remarkable strains of what I would later learn was a soprano cornet. I stared at the young man’s fingers as they gracefully and quickly danced on the paddles of his lovely silver horn. His sound was as sweet as chocolate and as smooth as cream. I thought for certain that I was dreamin’.

After his farewell kisses, Papa made promises that, unbeknownst to him, he could not keep. Oh yes, he did return, only in the most grievous manner, nailed shut inside of a blood-stained pine box. From Mr. Wood’s gruesome account, I was able to conjure up an image of his lifeless body, shot in the heart while breakin’ up a rebel camp at Roanoke Island.

“Goodbye, Papa!” My sister cried, wavin’ her handkerchief and squeezin’ my hand. I joined in with the other women and children and waved my handkerchief, secretly watchin’ the cornetist play a rendition of Yankee Doodle that didn’t seem possible.

***

The familiar curves of the mountains diminished into lesser rollin’ hills as we left the fertile and inexhaustible valley and headed south. The sun was warm on my face, and the constant swayin’ of the train car rocked me like a sweet lullaby.

My thoughts drifted to Weston Jones, a handsome boy I fancied in my younger days. I had hoped that he would have taken an interest in me, but my attempts to capture his affection fell flat, until one day last year when he finally seemed to notice me. I realized then that my attraction to him had become nothin’ more than a habit. He just didn’t have anything interestin’ to say. I supposed it was all for the best, as he was like the rest who had no desire to expand his world beyond the narrow confines of Ossipee and the struggles that came with it.

Many of the girls who left to work in the mills penned detailed letters, sharin’ their stories of the new world—Fall River—and other mill towns that had been thrivin’ in the cities south of us. We heard stories of travelin’ circuses, people from far away lands, and the thrill of bein’ away from home. There were some who returned, claimin’ that the work and general lifestyle were too demandin’ because they were probably weak in mind, body, and spirit.

I was prepared to work hard. After Papa died, and except for Grandpa Wills, Mother, Abigail, and I managed the farm on our own. The only outside help we required was for the repairs on the house, barn, and fences, and the cuttin’ and splittin’ of firewood. We were very capable of the stackin’ ourselves. From time to time, we requested aid in the birthin’ of a calf, shoein’ our horses, and breedin’ the pigs, but this was not unusual for any farmers in good standin’.

My sister and I were nothin’ alike. Abigail spent countless hours with Lizzy, our favorite milker, dawdlin’ in and about the barn and pasture. She was a dreamer and had no interest in readin’, schoolwork, or sewin’. I, on the other hand, was swift with the chores, gettin’ to the business of it all so that I could study, read, and practice my cornet.

***

The passengers began to stir, rummagin’ through bags and fidgetin’ with their tickets. The skies were exceedingly disagreeable, swollen with gray rain clouds bearin’ down on the city. Thick smoke billowed out of giant smokestacks from the mills, perched along the river’s edge. The wheels screeched as the locomotive slowed down. I had never been to Manchester before. Not only did it lack mountains, but even the hills had vanished into a dull, flat landscape. The lush greenness was glaringly absent.

Although we were still in motion, folks quickly filled the aisles, eager to disembark. I held tight to my things and continued to stare out the window. All I had to do was find a train headin’ to Boston. My heart raced. What if I boarded the wrong train? If only I could have stashed away in my trunk and let the porters get me to Fall River, I would have had no worries. I chased away my doubts and sat up straight. I lied and told myself that it would be easy, somethin’ I knew better than to do.

The conductor announced our arrival, and the passengers poured out of the train. As soon as I stepped onto the platform, a young man rushed by, almost knockin’ me off of my feet. He didn’t even stop to assist me or offer an apology. I searched for a sign for Boston and was bumped again, first by a large, burly man and then by another man with a slight build. People were dashin’ about in every direction. I tightened my grip on my belongin’s and followed what seemed to be the general flow.

I paused when I spotted a girl about my age standin’ on the sidelines. At first, she looked to be one of those types from the County Farm, underfed, a shabbily dressed sinner. But Mother taught us to take a moment to release the urge to pass judgment and if possible, lend a steady hand.

She had reddish-blonde hair, a fair amount of freckles, and a lovely face. Her bleak dress—gray, somber, and void of any and all warmth—matched our surroundin’s. She appeared to be unruffled. I was certain that God had shined his light upon me when we made eye contact.

“Ya goin’ to Boston?” she asked.

“Yes, yes, I am,” I said.

“Well, I am too. We best be headin’ that way.” She pointed towards a platform where most of the others were goin’.

“Have you been there before?” I asked.

“Of course!” Her laugh was like that of a child.

“I’m on my way to Fall River. I’ve never been this far south.”

“I’m goin’ to Fall River, too!”

“Really? What great fortune to meet up with you.” I hurried along to keep up with her.

“So it’s ya first time, eh?” She picked up the pace.

“Yes, I left my home up north to go to work. I’ve been lookin’ forward to it for a long time. I’m Sarah, Sarah Hodgdon.”

“I’m Mary. Pleased to meet ya.”

Suddenly the crowd stopped, and we were at the end of a long line of people waitin’ to board another train, one that was much longer and fillin’ up quickly. She set her satchel down in front of her, unfolded her ticket, and dabbed her forehead with a dirty cloth. Beneath the grime was a pretty girl. I felt safe with her.

As the line dwindled and we approached the train, we passed by a young boy standin’ on the edge of the tracks beggin’. I caught sight of his holey boots and shabby hat, covered with half-sewn patches, and thought that I could spare a two-cent piece. I rooted around frantically in my reticule.

“Ya won’t be givin’ away ya money now, would ya?” Mary asked.

“I—I thought that…”

“Never mind. You’ll be workin’ your backside off and wishin’ for it back in no time,” she said.

I forced myself to look away from the young boy, pulled the drawstring tight, and boarded the train. “I’ll accept your advice this time, but it’s always best to give to the poor.”

She laughed. After the conductor checked our tickets, we made our way towards the back and found an open seat where we could sit together. There was an air of desperation as folks scrambled for seats. The constant rushin’ around was unsettlin’, but I was beginnin’ to expect it. Some of the men were tippin’ their flasks without any shame and took to playin’ cards. I had heard cussin’ before, but it seemed to be the common language of many of the passengers headin’ to Boston. Even the women were cussin’. I saw one or two of them spit right out by the tracks as if they were chewin’ tobacco.

Once we were in motion, I reached for my lunch-basket. With all of the commotion, I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast, which was barely enough to sustain me. I fixed a biscuit with fresh strawberry jam and felt Mary’s eyes upon me.

“Would you care for a biscuit?” I asked.

“No, no, I wouldn’t want to take your food,” she said.

“I have plenty here. I’d love to share with you. After all, you made it easier for me to find the train. I insist.”

“Ya woulda’ found your way. You’re a smart one,” she said and smiled.

“Please? Mother would be insulted if you passed on her strawberry jam. It’s from the recent crop. It’s most pleasin’.”

“Fine, if you insist. I could use some nourishment.”

We ate our biscuits along with a hearty piece of perfectly aged cheese. If there was somethin’ that gave me satisfaction, it was the sharp yellow cheese from the wheel at Tibbetts’ store. Like a field mouse, I took small bits throughout the long afternoons that I spent workin’ there. Of course, Mr. Tibbetts didn’t mind, and he encouraged me to eat as much as I wanted, an offer that in spite of my wish to be humble and polite, I couldn’t refuse.

“What’s so special in that bag of yours?” Mary asked.

“Oh, nothin’ special.”

She grinned. “Ya sure ‘bout that? I can tell it’s somethin’ by the way ya hold onto it.”

“It’s really nothin’ of interest. Some things that my mother insisted that I take,” I said, uncertain of the need to lie.

“Suit yasself. I don’t mean to press,” she said. “I’ll git me some sleep. You should try to do the same.” She fussed with her shawl, fashionin’ it into a pillow.

Sleep had become a lost friend. I was in much need of it, but it was nowhere to be found. The combination of tobacco and wood smoke burned my eyes and stung the back of my nose and throat. The scent of damp leather and oil hung heavily in the air, takin’ me back to the rainy afternoons when I sat on the sawhorse watchin’ Papa work in the barn. I was content to be a bystander, unlike Abigail who insisted on helpin’. I wasn’t one for doing a man’s work, although I did learn to do much of it after Papa’s death.

Once again, I found comfort in the soothin’ rhythm of the train car as it clicked and rocked along the tracks. The more I tried to quiet my thoughts, the more they rushed in, keepin’ me alert. I tried to suppress the overwhelmin’ urge to move my legs, to get up and walk about.

At that moment, there was nothin’ more intriguin’ than the young woman sleepin’ beside me. I couldn’t help but stare at her peaceful, dirt-smudged face. She could have been an elegant princess had she been born in another place and time. How cruel and unfair to be birthed into a life based upon the circumstances of our parents.

She stirred, restin’ her head on my shoulder and pullin’ her tattered shawl up under her chin. Although the seams had come apart, she held tight to her blanket. Pinned to the inside of the frayed hem was a piece of baby blue fabric with the initial “M” embroidered on it. I wondered if perhaps she too had left her mother behind at a train station, or on the busy docks, where great steamships come and go. She seemed so unafraid, at ease in the dusty shadows of the train station where herds of vulgar people pushed their way through it all. I closed my eyes.

Heavenly Father, Spirit of Love and Truth, I thank You for sendin’ this angel. It was through Your divine guidance that she arrived to bring me safely to Granite Mills, to help me leave my humble nest in the mountains so that I may enter the new and modern world of progress and independence. I shall honor and respect my new friend and live accordin’ to Your word, Amen.

Because of the stranger beside me, I was finally able to relax. Although she was my age or even younger, I sensed that I was free from danger. She had a way of knowin’ that was different from any other. I envied her ability to stay with it, to block out the chatter, and surrender to sleep.

We made frequent stops along the way, every few miles or so. At that rate, I wondered if we would ever make it. Some stations were small and quaint, but even in the darkness, it was apparent that Lowell was abuzz with activity. Many people exited the train and even more boarded, fillin’ the car to capacity. I did manage to close my eyes from time to time. Sleep was beyond the bounds of possibility.


CHAPTER 2

Bess Adams

August 30, 1872

Boston, Massachusetts


The movers were at her mercy, dashing here and there, carrying heavy steamer trunks, crates, and bandboxes down the steep stairs and going in circles as Mother pulled their puppet strings. If I tried hard enough, I could blot out her frantic nagging and imagine that she was singing an opera. Without playing a note, I rested my fingers lightly on the keys.

“Bess!” she shouted. “Why are you dawdling? We’re almost ready to leave. Tempy, please see to it that she tends to her business. She’ll listen to you.”

Our house servant Tempy, a negro woman who had been with us since before I was born, stood still with the sun coming in from behind, illuminating her distinctive silhouette—soft curves and massive, coarse locks of hair twisted into an orange head rag, as she called it. Always wear colors of power, she told me when I asked about them.

“Yes’m,” she said while Mother fluttered away in a whirlwind of nonsense.

We went about our business, as we were all familiar and comfortable with Mother’s lack of reasoning. It was when she tried to be what she was incapable of that caused us to falter. What Tempy and I shared between us was ours alone, and Mother gave up on being part of it. If it were not for my fair skin and blue eyes, I would have thought that Tempy was my mother.

My heart pounded. Only Beethoven could have matched what was inside of me. I began to play. Though I grumbled a bit at first, I was pleased to have memorized a section of Concerto No. 5, which had become my favorite. Mr. Todorov insisted that I do so. If it weren’t for him and my long afternoons at the conservatory, I would have gone mad.

I was careful not to allow uninvited tears to spill onto the keys, possibly spoiling my slightly imperfect, yet brilliant performance. I would not give in. I would play through it, through the grief of having to leave my home, my friends, and more importantly my music. Yes, there would be music in Fall River. Yes, a well-known teacher eagerly awaited my arrival. Father had promised me all of that. However, my dreams of staying on to pursue my studies at the conservatory had vanished. Everything that I loved was in Boston.

Although they would gain me no sympathy, my tears were finally liberated. I played with more passion than I knew existed. Mr. Todorov would have been pleased. It wouldn’t have mattered that my playing was driven by pure rage. How unfortunate he never knew the fullest extent of my capabilities, for he was a distraction, and I played much better when he was not in the room.

When I got to the part where I usually stumbled, I did not falter. The clanging and shouting in the background were no longer a part of my world. I leaned in closer to the piano, leaving no separation between us. The shaking that began in my hands had reached that passionate place within, nearer to my heart, bringing about a burst of energy that transported me even further away from the present situation. The crescendo finally exploded. In fact, one may have called it a tantrum. Over the years, I had learned how to use fury to my advantage.

A lock of hair fell from my favorite tortoiseshell comb, and my cheeks were aflame. For an instant, I regretted that my dress, freshly cleaned and ironed by Tempy, was damp. I stared at my hands, frozen in place, unwilling to release the last note. We’ll have an Irish washerwoman in Fall River. I exhaled. Tempy will be free.

“Excuse me, Miss.” The younger man in the group was the first to break the silence. Three other men stood behind him, staring at me, not knowing whom to fear more, my mother or me, something that I grappled with as well.

Keeping my eyes down, I folded my hands on my lap, unable to move from the stool.

“Miss, it’s time to move the piano,” he said.

Mother walked into the room, muttering and fussing. She stopped when she saw me. Her tone softened. “Bess, the men are going to move the piano now.”

I couldn’t find a word, not one word. Even though it was a sultry day, and I had become quite heated in my playing, I was chilled.

“Now, now, dear,” she said, ushering me away from the piano. “Everything will work out just fine.”

I caught sight of Tempy and dashed down to where she stood in the middle of the empty kitchen. She turned and gave me a look that I relied on and craved, a look of reassurance.

“What is it, child?”

“I can’t go through with this,” I said.

“Ah course you kin go through with dis… and you will,” she said, crossing her arms.

“No, no I can’t.” I started to cry. “Why can’t you see that this is horrible?”

“Ah, Miss Bess, you can’t know dis is horrible ’til you been there,” she said. “You ain’t even left the house, and you made up you mind dis is bad. Then it will be bad if you say it is so.”

I had hoped that she would agree with me and complain about how unfair it was to be moving away, but she was of no help.

“I will never be able to play music like I do here,” I cried.

“That’s right. You will not have anything like it is here because you will be there. You don’t know what it will be like. Cryin’ makes it worse.”

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Because I’ve been here, and I’ve been there. It is what is in here that will bring you happiness or sorrow.” She pressed one hand upon my heart and the other upon her own. “You will decide and trust in God.”

Tempy would never lie to me. She had lost everyone in her family. Her father drowned in a river before she was born. When she was six years old, her brother and two older sisters were sold, leaving her in Georgia with her mother. Although she and her mother were sold together more than once, they were finally separated when my grandfather purchased Tempy and took her to Virginia.

Because he was a doctor, Tempy learned a bit about medicine. Following his death, she was sent north to live with us. Mother told me that she was always free to go, but she preferred to stay on, becoming a superb house servant, with her most vital task being to relieve my mother of her nurturing duties.

“We’re waiting, Bess,” Mother called.

Tempy cradled me in her arms. “It’s gonna be fine.”

Hand in hand, we left the kitchen. I decided, once again, to trust her, that what was coming next would be up to God and me.

Dismissing any sad thoughts that chased after me, I followed Mother down the stairs. I turned back, looking one more time. The piano was the last to go.


CHAPTER 3

Sarah

August 31, 1872

Boston, Massachusetts


I dreamt that I was dreamin’. The fact that I awoke with a start was the only proof that I had slept at all. Other than Mary’s shawl rolled up in a ball, the seat beside me was empty. I took a quick look around. I thought that my eyes had tricked me when I saw her clustered around a crate, playin’ cards with three crude men. She had a serious look about her as she tossed her cards down. The men paused at first and then all of them started in swearin’.

With a broad smile and her face aglow, Mary swept the coins from the table into her pouch.

“It was a great hand. Thanks to ya, gentlemen. I’ll be off now.”

“Wait a minute. Ya surely cheated to get that straight flush.” An older, portly man with a clouded eye and jagged face grabbed Mary’s arm.

“Ya callin’ me a cheat?” She broke free and glared at him. “It was a fair game.”

“Jest leave her be. It weren’t for high stakes or nothin’.” A handsome young man with thick ginger curls and clothed in rags stepped in.

“Never mind, Brian. I can take care of myself,” she said. “I don’t need your help, and I can take care of Mr. Sullivan, too. It ain’t ‘bout the money. He’s cryin’ ‘cause he was beat by a woman. Ahh… It shatters my heart to be the one.” She broke into vicious laughter and headed towards our seat.

“You played cards for money?” I asked.

“Well, ya saw with ya own eyes,” she said. “I only do it from time to time.”

I knew firsthand of the menfolk who played cards at Tibbetts’ Store and from Mother tellin’ us about the others in town who gambled. From the back room of the store, I could see those scoundrels shufflin’, cussin’, and tuggin’ on the jug, willin’ to lose their hard earned money. Of course, it was an outright sin.

“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith”—I cleared my throat— “and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

“You’re quotin’ the Good Book here… and at me?” She stared at me. Her eyes were bright green, the color that I imagined my mother’s to have been in her youth, before all of her vibrancy faded with the loss of her one true love.

I admit that I was somewhat surprised at my response. The words simply spilled out from my lips without a thought. Although I was quotin’ the Bible, it seemed more like I was quotin’ my mother. I blushed and looked out the window. “I’m in need of a bath and a good cup of tea.”

“We’ll be pullin’ into Boston shortly. There’s plenty to eat and drink there, and we’ll have to wait for the next train,” she said.

I knew that I relied on her in Manchester, but I wondered if it was a wise choice for me to keep company with such a wild one. I feared that she had become an unsocial companion. Perhaps one to lead me astray. She seemed completely comfortable in the company of vile, wretched men, and what was worse, willin’ to take their money in a card game. Who knew what she would have done next on this dismal train, so devoid of light and spirit?

“I don’t know. I still have some merries in my lunch-basket.” My voice had become surprisingly meek.

“I can return your favor and buy ya’ a cuppa,” she said, “and maybe a cinnamon roll?”

“You don’t owe me anything.”

“I think ya got nerved up at me playin’ cards.” She laughed. “Even quotin’ the Bible.”

“I don’t mean to judge, but gamblin’ is considered to be a pastime of weak and devious men. I was shocked to see you engaged in it.”

“Ya find me playin’ cards to be a shock? Ya got quite a road ahead.”

A potent, unfamiliar scent washed over me. At first, it reminded me of the food scraps that we fed the pigs after it had set for a few days, but it was nicer than that. I didn’t feel the need to pinch my nose. It was similar to gunpowder or maybe when Grampa Wills made fish chowder a few times. It was a weedy, pungent odor that commanded my full attention.

Then, the ocean came into view. I leaned towards the window to see the harbor, bustlin’ with ships of all sizes, goin’ in various directions. The risin’ sun glimmered, wave upon wave, like a million jewels. I could not take my eyes away from the scene and held on tightly as we rounded another sharp corner in time to see the silhouette of a grand train station surrounded by many buildin’s, more than I had ever seen.

“This must be Boston?” I asked, quietly.

“Sure thing! We’re pullin’ in,” Mary said.

“Boston! Boston Station! Boston! Boston Station!” The conductor called as the whistle blew. I looked back out over the harbor.

“It’s quite the busy place. I don’t mind stickin’ around and takin’ ya to the next train,” she said. Her earlier untamed look had transformed into one of grace and beauty. Perhaps I had been too harsh. After all, it was a new journey, and along the way, I would meet others who were not at all like those unworldly folks from home.

“I would like that. Thank you,” I said.

“And we’ll get a cuppa and a bun.” She rifled through her satchel. “Maybe two, thanks to Mr. Sullivan.”

I joined in her laughter, not at the expense of old Mr. Sullivan, but because I was in need of a cup of tea and to stretch out my legs. As I watched the scene unfold, I was convinced that I would get gobbled up in the crowd and fall between the multitude of endless train tracks. I needed Mary to get me through it.

“That sounds lovely,” I said, holdin’ tight to my bag and basket.

“By the way, the verse that ya preached?” She looked me square in the eye. “Timothy 6, verse 10.”

***

The pink mist vanished, revealin’ a pumpkin sun as it rose up behind the tall buildin’s. I had seen pictures of cities in library books and newspapers, but this was much grander to the naked eye. From afar, it appeared to be serene, just awakenin’ to the new mornin’. My senses—dimmed from smoke and oil, filthy faces, and harsh language—had suddenly become heightened. I had anticipated that moment and dreamed of a new land, abundant with adventures. I prayed earnestly to leave the old behind, maintainin’ impenetrable faith that God was good and would not have led me there if it did not hold promise. Lookin’ out over Boston, renewed my faith. Indeed, God was alive.

It was well before the brakes squealed when most of the passengers, packed tightly in the warm filtered sunlight, swayed together in the aisle. They leaned and looked out the windows with their sad strained eyes, eager to escape the congested car. Mary and I sat patiently in our seats, clutchin’ our bags, and knowin’ that it was not worth the tramplin’.

We finally made our way through the dwindlin’ crowd and onto the platform. I stopped, frozen in place, and looked up at the largest buildin’ I had ever seen. It was fit for royalty, hardly what I expected of a railroad station. There were many pale wanderin’ souls, driftin’ about, rushin’ quietly, flowin’ around me as I had become an island.

“Whatcha’ waitin’ for?” Mary tugged at my sleeve. “Let’s go!”

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” I said while she ushered me through the herd.

There were rows of pleasure carriages lined up with men and women of high character gettin’ in and out of them. Some of the women’s dresses had high bustles and delicately ruffled designs that I had not even seen in the newspapers. The men wore smart black suits and carried leather bags. Quite a few colored men scurried about, protectin’ them all from possible mishaps.

Small, sweet birds darted in and out of the eaves, while pigeons strutted about, peckin’ away at pebbles and debris. The scent of coffee and bacon merged with an assortment of exotic foods, causin’ a rumble in my stomach. There were long lines of people waitin’ for tickets and others asleep in random lumps along the walls of the station.

I stopped when I noticed a little boy with only one arm. I could feel his heavy little heart as he sat with a tin cup in front of him and his gaze fixed upon the many feet that hurried past.

“We should see if he needs help,” I said.

“And what about him? And him? And that one over there?” Mary said, pointin’ to three other boys with dirty faces, dressed in rags, with tin cups by their feet.

I stumbled along after her. “We cannot simply think that they should starve or die? Surely, we can help?”

“We hafta’ begin by helpin’ ourselves. It don’t make us bad. When we find our way, we’ll return. But for now, we gotta’ move along.”

“But that one has lost his arm. How can he look after himself in such a sorry state?”

“He is likely one of the mill boys that met with an unfortunate accident. You’ll get used to it. They get along jest fine and swear like grown men. Some are even bold enough to use the pennies from their cup to go into a beer store and drink,” she said.

“What kind of unfortunate accident would take his arm?” I asked, knowin’ full well what the answer might be.

“Their lil’ hands and arms get caught in machinery. It can happen to anyone,” she said.

It was hardly possible that I would suddenly doubt God. I had just decided that He lived and that He was good. “There must be a way…”

“Look! A bakery!” she shouted.

We entered a small shop where, without question, the scent of Heaven overflowed. A growin’ line of people meandered towards the door. We stood behind an older woman, once lovely in her youth, in a much-blessed state. She held the hand of a young boy with beautiful yellow locks. He looked up at her and smiled, the sort of smile that could bring the world to laughter, upliftin’ my own weary heart. The wild-eyed urchins that sat in hollow places beyond the walls could only dream of such warmth and joy. The door opened and closed in a flurry, with people comin’ and goin’, payin’ no mind to the wounded and untamed children only a few feet away. I wondered why all people would not weep at such a sight.

A plump, laughin’ girl stacked shiny rolls, gingerbread, and small white cakes on top of wooden shelves. Her ease at puttin’ in an honest day’s work was expressed fully in her graceful movements. Without lookin’ up, she asked in a rushed manner, “What pleases you today?”

After two cups of strong black tea with lemon, a large piece of braided sweet bread, and a conversation filled with riddles, Mary paid the girl with some of the money that she won in the card game. I insisted that she needn’t do so, but she would have it no other way.

Without success, I tried to look away from the sad-eyed children wanderin’ about with various injuries, arms filled with rags, and some sellin’ newspapers. Clutchin’ my bandbox and basket close to my chest, I was unable to comprehend where I would find the energy to carry on. I admit that the thought did pass that it would be easier and safer to wake up in my own bed, ready to face a day of farm chores and siftin’ through the usual problems of the day. I concluded that easy was not the answer; it was not the way. I would dash those notions should they enter into my mind again.

“We have a lil’ time before our train comes. Do you want to look in the shop windows?” Mary asked while continuin’ to rush at least two steps ahead of me.

“Yes, yes, I would like that very much,” I said.

I continued to follow behind her, stoppin’ now and then to reposition my bags. The shops that lined the streets went on in every direction and as far as the eye could see. In front of them were open markets with people speakin’ languages that I had never heard before. Dark skinned men and women with black eyes and perfect white teeth sold their wares, stacked upon barrels and crates. Ragged women hung out of windows, callin’ out to their men and children, scoldin’ and wavin’ their hands. The flutter and cluckin’ of nervous chickens and pheasants added to the riotous sights and sounds. Although she did not return the gesture, I smiled at a petite Chinese woman, who from a wheelbarrow, was sellin’ mismatched stockin’s with large holes that had been darned. There were even some negroes siftin’ through the ash barrels very quickly, mergin’ fine ash with the spicy smoke pourin’ out from a buildin’ that had large sausages hangin’ inside the doorway.

I laughed aloud when I recalled our little feed store, Mr. Tibbetts’, the seedy tavern with clouded, cracked windows, and the random shops scattered about Ossipee. I blushed at the thought of Abigail and me, primpin’ and fussin’ in case we bumped into one person of marginal importance durin’ our weekly trip into town. Who would have believed that a magnificent place such as this existed? How could one not want to see the outer world?

Carriages and horses clattered against the cobblestones, swellin’ with the emergence of the new day. As I picked up my pace and walked beside my new friend, my previous doubts gave way to a surge of hope and excitement.

There were what seemed to be endless side streets lined with stalls and carts filled with vegetables, fowl, fish, and everything a girl could imagine. A well-kept gentleman stopped abruptly in front of us, almost causin’ me to take a spill. He looked out over the crowd, takin’ it all in.

“A lot of faith, he has… stoppin’ like that in the middle of it all,” Mary said, elbowin’ past him.

“Excuse me, sir.” I blushed and raced to catch up with her.

“We ain’t got the whole day to flit about without aim,” she said. “Hurry up.”

“You don’t have to be rude.”

“Rude? There ain’t time to stop for silly conversation.”

The throng of people that were movin’ in the same direction came to a sudden halt. A man wearin’ a full-length black coat and fancy hat stood on a platform shoutin’ and surveyin’ the onlookers.

“Step forward! Anyone who has an ailment or illness of any kind. Come up and try Foley’s Brain Tonic and Pain Relief!”

The salesman’s eyes met mine, and I quickly looked away. I would never try anything of the kind. I stared down at my feet and almost fell over when a man from one of the fancy carriages bumped into me with force. Had a rough man of about the age of twenty not grasped my elbow, I would have fallen. I tried to hang onto my bags, but everything tumbled to the ground in disarray.

The man who prevented me from fallin’ helped me gather my things. I found myself to be quite frozen, and my face heated with an unwelcomed blush.

“Here you go,” he said.

“Thank you,” I replied, not certain why I felt so small and helpless.

“You should be careful,” he said. He had chocolate eyes and butterscotch hair, and he wore a smart, yet faded black cap. He appeared strong with an air of confidence, unlike anything I had seen before. I was about to thank him again when he vanished.

“You seem to attract trouble, girl,” Mary shouted from behind.

For a moment, I thought that I had lost her. And though she delighted in peckin’, I was happy to see her.

I scanned the crowd. “Did you see where that man went?” I asked.

“Of course I didn’t. Why would I do such a thing or care?” She started in walkin’ again.

Determined to avoid another calamity on the wild streets of Boston, I kept a tighter grip on my bags.

***

We seemed to walk in circles. I had had my fill of cryin’ babies, tobacco smoke, and vendors endlessly callin’ out to passers-by. It did not occur to me that I was one of them. Somehow, I felt removed as if I were an observer, only aware of bein’ part of the chaos when Mary pulled me into it with her demands.

We made our way back to the train station, where due to the echoin’ inner walls, the hollerin’ got worse. The red-faced conductor called out train numbers like a well-rehearsed song. Mary was so far ahead of me that I feared I would lose her. She stopped and looked my way with what I expected to be a frown, but she was smilin’. It was time to board the train. I intended to sleep. No swearin’, joltin’, or sharp corners would prevent me from gettin’ the rest that I needed before arrivin’ at Fall River.


CHAPTER 4

August Wood

August 31, 1872

Boston, Massachusetts


The dingy blue cape covered most of her face, but I could still see her eyes. She hugged me and said somethin’ that I couldn’t understand. I always thought that I’d remember, but never did. I heard footsteps comin’ from behind. When I turned to look, she was gone. I stared at the church steps with that old feelin’ in my gut. I didn’t know which direction she went, but I knew that she was gone.

The shriek of a baby from a nearby window pierced into my dream. The sun lined up just right, blindin’ me when it burst into the alley.

The others stirred, nestlin’ deeper into the safety of each other, pressed up against the brick wall, under the partial shelter of the fire escape, covered with a blanket that we found. I pushed Aaron off to the side and got to my feet. He was the youngest of the boys, probably about nine. He rubbed his eyes and rolled back into the heap. The city had awakened; the sounds of carts, shops, and tenements made their way out into the streets to begin another day. The baby’s cries blended in with the commotion.

I headed down the long alleyway and looked back at the pile of sleepin’ boys, feelin’ lucky that the rain held out for more than a week. Although it was not what I had hoped for, I had become a father figure to ‘em, somethin’ I didn’t much want, but I couldn’t turn away. I can’t say that I blame ‘em for not wantin’ to be placed out, and the Children’s Aid Society was surely gonna put ‘em on the next train.

I picked through my rusted tobacco tin and found my comb. It weren’t really nothin’ fancy, but it had enough teeth to tidy up so that I would look presentable. I reached into my pocket only to find that I had fewer coins than I recalled. My first thought was that one of those rascals helped themselves while I slept, but then I remembered that the smoked sausage cost a bit more than expected.

I put on my cap and went to the rain barrel near the slanted gutter. I was sure that it would fall one of these nights, but it hung on tight. It was nice that we didn’t have to sleep in the rain, but we had surely reached the bottom of that barrel.

I splashed some of the murky water on my face and swished a good mouthful, before spittin’ it out. The only person in sight was an old man carryin’ a small load of potatoes, so I took to relievin’ myself, aimin’ for the same spot every time. I was ready to make my way down to the train station.

I turned the corner, the place where folks gathered around to hear about snake oil and all those other remedies. I usually spotted someone with a kind heart who was lookin’ for directions, who would buy coffee, tobacco, or beer for a poor wounded soul like myself. It wasn’t as easy in Boston, but it would do until I got to the next place.

I tried to grab money or watches, but I always lacked the nerve. Although it was easier when I was a youngster, it usually worked to roll up my sleeves. One look was enough to get ‘em searchin’ for a coin unless they were the type that ignored things that made them squirm. I couldn’t dwell on that. I was after the folks that refused to look away. They’d likely toss a coin.

Just as I was about to move closer to the center of the crowd, a carriage driver stepped out in front of a young woman, nearly causin’ her to go down right in front of me. When her bags went flyin’, I reached out and caught hold of her arm. She was a pretty thing, and I wondered what errand brought her to the station as it wasn’t her place. She was scared and brave all at once. Yeah, she was strong all right, but not from the streets. Her wildness came from somewhere else.

I helped her gather her bags, gave her a kind word, and thought it best to move along. It seemed that she was keepin’ company with one of those Irish girls. I had enough of the likes of them in Lowell.


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