Chapter 18- Ever After

Ever After

Catherine had not yet opened her yes, but she sensed her body. It felt strong- powerful. She could feel every muscle. There were no aches. No pains as she had become so accustomed to feeling. She opened her eyes. Never before had she seen such a blue. It was deep and full and it seemed to Catherine that the color itself was alive. She sat up and ran her hands over the grass. It was plush and soft and of a more vibrant green than ever she had seen. She looked down at her hands. They were young. Golden and beautiful. She stood. She felt stronger than she ever had felt before. She felt she could run a thousand miles and never grow weary.

 

Catherine! Catherine! He laughed as he ran toward her, a smile spread across his face. He was tall and strong. The shadow that once fell endlessly across his face was lifted. Catherine had never heard him laugh like that.

 

“Dane!” She ran to him. She knew she felt powerful, but her own strength surprised her as she ran. She felt part child, part wild animal. She embraced him.

 

“How I’ve waited for you, my love!”

“How I’ve missed you, my husband!”

“My Children,” Catherine looked up into the face of one more beautiful than she had ever seen before. He was light and joy and life. And he loved her. She had known him a little on earth, now she would know him more, and she wanted that more than anything. She ran to him and fell to her knees.

“My Savior.” He knelt and gently lifted her. His smile seemed to radiate through her body. His laugh filled her with a lightness and joy she had never known.

“My daughter!” He said.

“This place….these bodies.”

“Just wait until you see the New Earth and your resurrected body.”

“What could possibly be better than this?”

“In time, you will see. Come.” He turned and she and Dane followed him.

“I can’t wait for you to meet them.” Dane said, holding her tightly by the hand as they ran.

“These are our daughters.” Catherine thought her heart could have burst. She had left Gwendolyn behind, who would be joining her soon enough. But here were the daughters whom Jesus had cared for from the moment they left her womb. They were grown, but when she looked at them, it was as if she could see every year. She could see them as infants, toddlers, young women. She could see everything they had been as they grew up here, in this beautiful place.

 

“Come, someone else has been waiting for you.” She followed them through the beautiful garden. The each picked a piece of deep red fruit as they went. She did the same. When she took a bit, the flavor filled her mouth in a way food on earth never had. She felt alive and strong. Her mind felt sharp. The garden was full of every shade of green, every color of fruit. The trees trimmed, the fruit arranged by color. Some fruits she recognized, others were entirely new. The colors of all were deeper than any colors she had seen on earth. The grass was soft and cool beneath her feet. The came to the edge of the garden and stepped out of it onto a beach. It was white and warm. She felt the change in sensations under her feet first as she moved from the cool garden into the warm air and onto the hot sand. The water a few leagues in front of her was a crystal blue unlike the ocean on earth. It was so clear, she could see the dolphins swimming beneath the water from a long distance away. She looked up and down and all around her, and her heart was full. The beauty of the place was staggering. When they reached the edge of the sand, she dipped her feet in the cool sparkling water. A small fish nibbled at her toe. There was a woman out a few yards, swimming.

“Harriet! Come and see who is here!” Dane called. Catherine dove into the water. Her body was powerfully strong as she swam to meet Harriet. A few dolphins jumped and played beside her, seeming to feel the excitement of this reunion. She embraced her old friend. Harriet was young now, with a body equally as powerful as Catherine’s. There was not a wrinkle on her face. Her lips were full, not thin and old as they were when Catherine knew her on earth. But her eyes….those dark soulful eyes Catherine would have known anywhere.

“Harriet!”

“Catherine, my dear!”

“Come, it’s time!” Dane called out across the sea. Catherine and Harriet raced to the shore, matching each other stroke for stroke, their strong arms moving them across the water effortlessly.

They reached the shore, stepped out onto the sand, and the warmth seemed to instantly dry them. Dane and the girls ran ahead. As they ran, it seemed to Catherine they were children, laughing and running and holding hands. She grasped Harriet by the hand and together they ran, like children.  As they ran, they saw people and animals running from every direction. Catherine noticed various languages that created a beautiful song that moved her soul and sent shivers down her spine. She noticed as they ran that more and more people came closer and closer together. People of every color and ethnicity. People of every language. People from every land on earth were here, together. Suddenly, everyone stopped running and she looked up to see why they had all stopped. Before her, there was a throne. And on the throne, a magnificent man, with eyes full of love and a smile full of life. He laughed a loud infectious laugh and it spread throughout the crowd.  They all bowed together and voices of every language shouted out,

“Holy, Holy, Holy” and as she shouted, the excitement of the word and what it meant filled her from her toes to the tip of her head. She looked at her God, her Savior, and felt herself come alive, so alive that she wondered whether she had ever really been alive before.

“Holy, Holy, Holy. My God. My Savior. My Jesus.”

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Chapter 17- Spring 1920

Spring 1920

Catherine passed by her bedroom mirror and glanced at herself. She always felt a sense of shock at seeing herself. She looked like Harriet, not Catherine. So often, she almost expected to see her 20 or 30 year old self peering back at her. But she saw a woman old and frail, with thin pursed lips. She looked down at her hands. They were gnarled with very purple veins spider-webbing in every direction. She picked up the old Bible Harriet had given her so many years ago. She could hardly hold it without its falling apart in her hands. But it was precious to her. It had changed her life, her marriage. It had given her Gwendolyn. She set the Bible down and picked up a picture of herself, Gwendolyn, and her granddaughter Sophia. What a blessed life I have lived. She thought of all that she had seen. The completion of a railroad. The building of many churches and schools. On the streets outside her house, she watched horses and carriages turn to motorized vehicles. She remembered when she first heard of the “horseless carriage” and how she had laughed at the idea. She watched the girls go from petticoats and full skirts to dresses sleek and slim and short.

She carefully placed the picture down and picked up the Bible again. She leafed through it until she came to the Psalms, her comfort. Tucked away in the Psalms was Dane’s letter. The last she would ever hear from him. The years did not make the pain go away. She missed him more in this very moment than she ever had before. The pain was not so searing as it had been all those years ago, but it was present nonetheless. She never moved from the little house along the Mississippi. She raised Gwendolyn there, alone. She baked bread with her and talked with her of love and life. She cried with her when Grandpa Charles had died, and went Grandma Elizabeth died shortly thereafter. She thought of Dane and the seemingly endless amount of money he had left her. She had joyously done just as he had wished in his letter. She sent significant amounts of money to missionaries everywhere. She thought of the schools and supplies the money sent to the Freedmen’s Bureau. She thought of the evangelists sent to Ecuador and China. She looked up and whispered, I miss him. Oh, how I’ve missed him. But You knew what You were doing, Jesus. You knew.

She read Dane’s letter over again and the tears settled between the wrinkles in the corners of her eyes. I will see you soon, my dear, she whispered, pressing the letter to her heart.

 

Ever After

Chapter 16- Winter 1864

Winter 1864

The black clouds smoldered above the city. The very ground cried out for relief from it’s thirst. How cruelly it was salted and burned. Homes burned. Crops burned. Oh, the crying of children! No, no. Not children. They could not possibly have burned children. Did they? Could they? Dear, God! And the men, singing. Oh, why are they singing? John Brown’s Body. Screaming women and children. The dry and thirsty ground.

 

“Forgive me, Father. Receive my soul.” As the dry scorched soil desperately soaked up his lifeblood, he breathed his last and his soul left his body lifeless on the barren fields of the deserted Confederate lands.

 

Postmarked December 16th, 1864.

 

My Dearest Catherine,

How I hope this reaches you, in case I never do return. I need you to know that I have been made to know what a bad sort of man I am. I came here, thinking that I would fight for righteousness cause, to free the slave and be a part of bringing justice to the country. I would have told you that the Union soldier was altogether more righteous than the Confederate. I left home thinking I was a good man. I now know that I am not. I never have been. I will spare you the atrocities I have witnessed, but I feel you must know that I, who thought myself so good and righteous and just, have not only witnessed but taken part. I have been as much a scoundrel as any man. In the misery of facing the darkness of my heart, I thought of your words to me so many years ago, when you said that you had changed only after you came to believe that you were not a good sort of woman. I do not know whether believing God would forgive me gave me the courage to face the badness of my wrongdoings, or whether facing the badness of my wrongdoings has made me lift my face to God. I do not know in which order it happened. My soul changed so quickly. I understand you more now than ever. I do not know what made you see, but I know what has opened my eyes, and I know that when I thought myself a decent fellow, I was not being honest with myself. Before this, I could never have faced the kind of man I truly am.  All those times, you have told me that you had been changed by the very blood of Jesus, I did not understand. I do now, my dear. I do. If only I could hold you in my arms now, I would be a different sort of man, Don’t let Gwen forget me, my love. Read this letter to her when she grows, and make sure she knows that she is a very dearly loved girl.

Oh, how I love you.

Your husband forever

Dane

P.S With the railroad finished, you will be seeing a great profit from the shares I bought years ago. You will be able to live off a very small portion of it, actually. With the oil shares, I fear you shall hardly know what to do with it. If there is any way the money can be used to bring a great many people to what you and now what I have discovered, I trust you will know how.

Dane Johnson was killed in Sherman’s famous March to the Sea. He would never know that the very march in which he lost his life ended the War. Slavery was over, and the Union saved. The very thing Catherine and Harriet had prayed for so many times. Little did Catherine know it would be at the cost of her own beloved. Dane would never know the part he played. He would see only the atrocities that men with him committed. The burning of land, the tormenting of Confederate citizens, the murder, the bullet as it hit him square in the chest.

Chapter 14- Fall 1853

Fall 1853

It was nearly a year since Dane had ridden through the rain and met Harriet. Not much had changed in Dane, though everything had changed in Catherine. She was fully happy. Joy exuded from her smile and her eyes. Her step was light to match her heart. Her joy seemed untouchable. Though she lost Harriet for a time, she knew she would be with her again.  She thought that should she lose everything, she would not feel any differently, for she was still a daughter of the King, and that never could change.

It was a cold winter day, and Catherine was ready to brave the winter winds and ride to St. Donatus to spend a few days with her mother and father. Elizabeth seemed in as good of health as she ever had been, and she continued to bake bread and collect eggs daily. Her father, Charles,  was not faring so well. His mining days were all but over. He coughed often and puffed on his pipe. Yet, with the help of their hired hand since Catherine’s marriage, they had been able to maintain their living even so.

 

She was packing her bags and humming a hymn when Dane approached.

“Catherine,”

“Yes,” she turned around with a smile.

“What happened?”

“Happened?”

“Yes. What happened?”
“When?”

“I don’t rightly know. A few years ago, I suppose.” Catherine knew what he meant. She had changed. Just like Harriet had told her the night they met- she had switched out her insides. She was a different person. She had tried to tell Dane how God had changed her, but he did not want to believe it. He kept saying he didn’t want to be forced into a church. Catherine had promised him she never would. But she knew that he could not help but see what a different sort of woman she had become.

“Oh Dane, I tried to tell you. Over, and over I have tried to tell you, but you didn’t want to hear. ”

“About church, I know. But not that.”
“Well, it’s not about church, really. It was more that I came to believe…..or rather I was faced with the reality that I was not a good sort of woman. And having come to realize I was not a good sort of woman, I had also come to see forgiveness and life and purpose, and meaning beyond anything I thought possible.” There was a brief pause and they looked at one another.

“I thought…” His face looked pained. She came to him.

“You thought what, dear?”
“I thought. That you had taken a lover.” Her eyebrows seemed to shoot up of their own accord. “Well, you can hardly blame me, Catherine. You were leaving nearly every day at the same hour and heading in the same direction and always claiming you were having tea with a friend. I knew of none of your friends, neither had I ever met this one. You had never had this friend over to our home, never offered to introduce me. You always came back with a light in your eyes, and I was certain you had taken a lover. I was enraged, but I could not prove it. Neither could I ask you.”

“Why on earth could you not?”

“Because if you had taken a lover, I knew that you would not be able to admit it, and you would take greater pains to hide it and I might never know for sure who he was. So, and I know I had no real right, but I followed you.”

“The day you showed up in the rain.”

“Yes, the day I showed up in the rain. You must understand. I couldn’t bear the thought of my wife in another man’s arms.It was only then that I realized how very much you do mean to me, that I would do anything to keep you and that I couldn’t bear the thought of losing you. Couldn’t bear the image of you in another man’s embrace.  I was so certain that was how I would find you. I was so angry I could hardly feel the rain soaking through to the bone. I was furious. As furious as ever I’ve felt. I was going to tear him limb from limb. I hardly knew what my next move would be, but I was not certain whether this man would make it out alive. I was certain I would never lay a hand on you, but he was going to pay with his life.  I was seething with anger as I followed you that day. I could hardly see straight. I watched you go in. I waited. I wanted to be sure to catch you in the act. I wanted there to be no doubt. As I waited what seemed enough time, I wondered who he was and what he gave you that I could not. It seemed like an eternity before I finally knocked, ready to bust through the door. I did not expect an answer. You can imagine my surprise when you opened the door, and there you were having tea with an old woman.”

Catherine could not contain herself. The hilarity of it was too much, and though Dane poured his heart out to her for the first time in years, she could not contain the laughter. It bursted out of her, a deep infectious laughter. Dane laughed too, deep and long. They laughed together until their stomachs cramped and their mouths ached and they had to wipe tears from the outer corners of their eyes. Catherine was not sure whether it was the incident itself which was so funny as to merit this kind of uncontrolled laughter, or whether it was that they had not laughed together in so very long that neither of them wanted it to end. It was good to talk about Harriet, to think about her, and to laugh. When finally the laughter died down, she found herself in his arms, a place she had not been for five long years.

 

Chapter 13- Spring 1850

Spring of 1850

Catherine had begun meeting with Harriet almost daily for afternoon tea. They often prayed together, talked together, read together, and always Catherine left feeling as though God had given her soul a gift in this old woman.

It was no extraordinary day when Catherine grabbed her cloak to leave for afternoon tea with Harriet.

“Where are you going?” Dane asked.

“To have tea with a friend.”
“Did you not do that yesterday?”

“Yes, I did, but we were not quite able to finish our conversation.” He said no more, and she kissed him on the cheek and bounded out the door. The kiss was a habit she had purposely formed, and though it was difficult at first, not knowing how he would respond, she had kept it up and imagined that he was growing warm to it. It was what little physical contact she and her husband shared, and she hoped to gain back his trust, his soul, his mind, and body. She knew it would take time, but that she had plenty of.

 

Shortly after arriving at Harriet’s small, humble home, the thunder came rolling in and the rain began to make soothing pitter patter sounds on the roof above their heads. Harriet poured the hot tea and sat down across from Catherine. With the hot cup in her cold hands and the thunder and rain outside, Catherine thought there had never been such a perfect moment in time.

 

They heard a knock at the door.

“What an odd time for a caller,” Harriet said, “in the pouring rain.” She moved to hoist herself up.

“Oh, stay, I’ll answer.” Catherine moved toward the door, opened it, and stood in shock. Before her stood her own husband, sopping wet and with a flustered look on his face.

“Dane! Come in” He glanced at Harriet, then around the room. “Is everything alright? Has something happened that you’ve ridden here in the rain?”

“Happened?” He asked. He sounded confused. “No. Nothing has happened. You forgot your, umbrella.”

“Oh, how thoughtful of you. Did you bring it, then?”

“I dropped it on the way.”

“Oh.”

“And I have a meeting this way, I thought I might meet the friend who have spent so many afternoons with.”

“I am sorry to have never offered to introduce you to Harriet. Harriet, this is my husband, Dane.” He held his hand out to her.

“My pleasure.” She took his hand in both of hers.

“The pleasure is all mine, I assure you,” Dane said, looking flushed and out of sorts.

“Are you quite alright, dear?”

“Yes. I have a meeting in town I’d better be getting to. I must pull my shares out of the cotton industry you know. India provides cheaper cotton to Britain now than we can.”
“I didn’t know,” said Harriet.

“Yes, well, I’ll be off.” He turned and disappeared into the rain.

 

“What a strange husband I have married! He seems to grow stranger by the day. Not a lick of interest in me for some years now, and then suddenly he rides through the rain to bring me an umbrella.”
“Odd indeed.” Harriet agreed.

 

On a cold September day,  Catherine reached Harriet’s home at her usual time,  but no one came to answer. Quickly assuming the worst,  she rattled the door handle and, finding it to have been left unlocked, burst through the door.  Harriet was not there. At least, she thought not until she heard a faint whimpering. She moved toward the sound,  opened Harriet’s bedroom door, and found her kneeling, praying, crying.

“Why Harriet,  whatever is the matter?” She knelt down beside her and thought she’d never looked so small and frail before,  she looked almost the size of a child. Catherine put an arm under Harriet’s elbow and gently lifted her to her feet.  “What’s happened?” When she’d gained enough composure, she said, “It’s time I let you in on a little secret about your old friend,  Harriet.” She patted her eyes dry, motioned for Catherine to follow her, and moved down the hall into the bedroom across from hers. She rustled through a chest and came up with an old picture.  A picture of a woman and two children. The woman and the toddler in the photograph were of a light complexion much like Harriet’s. The older child, whom Catherine supposed to be eight to ten years old,  was of a dark complexion.

“Who are these?”

“My mother and my sister.  And myself.” Catherine stared,  trying to figure it all out. “Sit down, dear.” Together they sat at the edge of the spare bed.  “When I was a baby, so young I cannot remember any of the actual event, my mother crossed over.” Then,  reading Catherine’s quizzical look, added. “She passed. As white, that is. Her father had been a slave master,  and likely her mother’s father. It’s hard to say exactly except that she was quite fair skinned. She married a black man who was of the same household.  But when I was born white, the master’s wife insisted I be sold. Instead, my father, or my mother’s husband, insisted that she cross over. Pass as white. And escape with me as her daughter and my sister as a house slave.  He knew, she had only to cross the magical line into freedom. So, together they bleached her hair, stole clothes from her mistress, and vanished into the night. Escape was easier for my mother than for many others, but she still needed to get fat enough away that no one knew her.  She never saw her husband again. But my sister’s dark skin and my light skin made life very painful for her, even in the north here.” Catherine thought of how Harriet often switched back and forth from accent to sounding quite like Catherine. It made sense to her now.

“But what has brought you to your knees in tears now, today?”

“Oh I’ve picked up a newspaper.  I usually know better than to do that very often.  But a law has been passed. The Fugitive Slave Act,  they call it. Senseless, it is. Slaves are now to be returned even in the free states. The underground railroad will have to extend into Canada now.  

“Try to understand. I am not ashamed of where I come from. But to claim that I understand….that I remember life before I was white….that I even remember my sister before she was sent up to Canada with my mother’s sister. I can’t remember hardly any of it. My mother gave me this picture when she thought I was old enough to keep the secret. She told me why we had our own special way of talking to each other that was slightly different from how we talked in public. Often in tears, she talked of my sister, promising me and herself that she had never planned to send her away….that she had no way of knowing how hard life would be even in the north….that she did what she thought was best for her. My poor mother. Her broken soul. I think of her often, her hands clinging to her Bible. Her tears shed every night.  I couldn’t understand it all. I was white. I had been born white. I had no memories of anything to the contrary. And yet, their story is a part of me. I have their blood. And this law. This evil, treacherous law…oh, I can hardly stand it. Here I am living a lie. Living in freedom and relative comfort, while my brothers and sisters suffer. Oh, Catherine, if only I had done more for them. If only.”

 

Chapter 12- Summer 1849

Summer 1849

 

There was no way out. One of them had to go. It had been nearly four years of constant struggle, and she could take it no more. Her thoughts were dark, as dark as ever they had been. She had only to decide if it would be her own life she would end, or his. Whether or not anyone would believe it had been self-defense, she did not know. It didn’t matter. But could she live with herself if she went through with it and was allowed to live? She did not know. She only knew that something had to change. That she was stuck in a marriage that was killing her soul slowly. That she hardly recognized herself in either action, word, or looks. Where was that girl? The girl she was five or even ten years ago. Had it really been that long since she ran the countryside on Chestnut, free in spirit and mind? Could it have been so long ago since she was the talk of the town…the girl who could have swept any man off his feet. And yet she had pledged her life to one who would ruin her. She had lost two unborn children since then, and she tried to comfort herself with thoughts of meeting them again on the other side.

I wonder if they are waiting for me, up there. I wonder if they were boys or girls or one of each. But then, the disturbing realization hit her like an avalanche. If she tried to go to them, it was more likely than not she would instead separate herself from them forever and end up in eternal torment. Could someone who took themselves out of misery ever be admitted into paradise? She suddenly wished she had been to church more. Perhaps she would know the answer. Church. God. If anyone cares, surely He would. If He were really there, surely He could help her.

She felt she had come to the very end of herself. She had exhausted all options, so that even ending her life was no longer feasible.

 

But God, she whispered desperately, would you really do that to me? Would you really make me face life with this man…this shell of a man? You’ve taken my children from me….my only chance at happiness and comfort in this life. You have left me alone with a man who cannot love me. I am alone, God. Utterly alone. Do you care? Oh, God, if you are there, Do you care for me? Why would you create me, allow me to be born and to live to adulthood only to leave me alone with a man who cannot love, cannot even feel? A man who does not know what it does to me to be so very alone in life. And if I end it, God, will you not receive me? Will you not give me some comfort? Will you not allow me to hold my children?  And for a moment, she wondered if they were yet the unborn ages they were when their souls left their tiny helpless bodies inside of her. Or if they had grown since then and were in fact ages three and two. She wondered what they looked like, what they acted like, and who they had become attached to on the other side. Perhaps one of her grandparents she’d never met. Perhaps Jesus himself. She didn’t know, but she couldn’t help but wonder and long to be there with them. But she saw no way out. No option of getting there. If she left this world at her own hand, now, she was unsure if she would be reunited with them in the next.

 

God….God what should I do? Her whispers had turned to desperate cries and she clutched the rifle in her fist.

 

She felt a sudden surge of energy unlike anything she had ever felt before. She grabbed her cloak, turned for a moment to look at Dane’s large figure on the bed, and pushed through the door. She mounted Chestnut. She was old, but sure and she knew the way to town by heart, even in a night as black as this. Catherine need hardly guide her. She knew not where, exactly, she was going. She knew not what drove her there, but as Chestnut picked up pace, she buried her head in the coarse mane and continued in desperate whispers to ask God what He could possibly want with her.

Chestnut stopped of her own accord.

St. Lukes.

A lamp was burning in the front window. Catherine dismounted, and pushed through the front door. She saw no priest.

“Hello,” she called, “Is anyone here?”  She looked around, but saw no one. Odd she thought, I wonder why the lamp is burning. Then she heard a faint sound in the distance, and she moved toward it. It took her out into the hall where the sound became more distinct. It was singing, someone was singing. Catherine moved toward the voice until she could hear the words,

 

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

Look Full in His Wonderful Face

And the Things of Earth

Will Grow Strangely Dim

In the light of His Glory and Grace

 

Oh, Soul are you Weary and troubled?

No light in the darkness to see?

There’s hope for a look at the savior

And life more abundant and free

 

It was as if the words were written for her soul. Yes, she thought, I am weary. I am troubled. There is no hope. No light.

 

“Hello,” she called again. The voice continued in song. “Hello!” she called in a loud voice that reverberated against the walls.

 

“Oh, well hello dear!” A small, frail woman turned the corner.

“I’m looking for someone who can help me.”

“No one here tonight but me, dear. I believe I have quite lost track of time.”

“Oh. Well. Perhaps you can help me, then.”

“Perhaps I can.”
“I came here because…because I don’t want to be me anymore.” She could not quite find the words to describe how she felt or why she was there or what it was that she had just been about to do. She thought she sounded foolish, her words jumbled together and barely making sense even to herself. But the old woman smiled knowingly and gestured for her to sit down with her on a pew near the front of the church. She sat.

 

“It’s an odd thing it is, to change one’s insides. To switch out your soul. No matter how you try to be better person, it can’t be done. You’ll try til you’re blue in the face, but you still got the same insides. And all that tryin won’t make a lick of difference.”

 

“Change your insides. Switch out your soul. Do you really think….can it really be done?”

 

“Daughter, I’ve done it myself”

 

“How, please, how?” Her voice came out trembly and desperate. She all but fell to her knees at the old woman’s feet.

 

“To give your soul to the who gave your breath,” said the woman. Catherine thought it something mysterious, to see eyes ablaze with young life embedded in the leathery, wrinkled, old face.

 

“Please,” said Catherine, “I’ve nothing left to do but that. If you only knew what I’ve done. Or what I was about to do. I’ve as good as done it. If I go home now, one day I will. There’s no doubt about that. I will do it. I should be hanged. I don’t want to be me any longer. There is something dark and sinister and alive within me….something I don’t want but cannot be rid of. It harbors my anger and lashes out before I can stop it.”

 

“You are possessed, child?”

“No. No, not possessed. T’would be better if I could believe I was. This is much worse. The anger isn’t something residing in me. It is me. A part of me. I am….I am….something…someone I never wanted to be. Someone I never thought I could be.”

 

“Ah, child, but you are right where you should be now.”

“What do you mean? How could I be? Where I should be is hanged from the gallows.”

“Ah, but you’re not. And someone brought you here to me tonight. Someone drove you here. Else you wouldn’t be here.” At this, Catherine’s tears began to fall free and fast and warm upon her cheeks.

“What should I do? How can I…..how did you say it? Change my insides? Switch out my soul?”

“You’d like to be new, child? New you shall be. You can say it, if you like. You can say it, what’s in your heart. Say it to Him.” And she pointed a knobby wrinkled finger to the ceiling. Catherine brushed her tears quickly from her face and turned to face the alter at the front of the building. She fell to her knees, and in a voice she barely recognizable as her own, called out to the only One who could help her now.

“God, if you’re there as I’ve always been taught You were. Well, then you know what I’ve been about to do. You know what was in my heart. The thoughts that were in my mind. You know I ought to be hanged. But you carried me here. What is it you want with me, a murderer at heart? A wicked, selfish, cruel person. What could you want with me? I’ll tell you what I want with You. I want for you to switch out my soul. I want for you to change my insides. I want for you to…to forgive me for what I’ve thought and what I’ve done. And what I would have done if you hadn’t stopped me. I want for you to change me.” The tears were falling, and her heart was beating fast and steady. She felt a small cold hand on her shoulders.

“You are forgiven, child. It’s what the cross does mean. You ought to have been hanged, you said. But He was hanged for you, and you are new. Forgiven like you asked. His arms open wide. But you hurt, my child. I can see it in your eyes.  A new soul you got, but the hurt….the pain….it lingers. It hides in the crevices of your heart. But you have a Healer now. And when hurt comes, and come it will, you will ask Him to heal.

“I will ask him to heal.” Catherine turned and looked up at the frail old woman, and the woman lifted her chin, took her face in her hands, and kissed her on the forehead. A cold, rough, dry kiss but it was the greatest act of warmth and kindness done to her, and Catherine wept.

Before dusk, she rode home, quietly opened the door, and walked across the room. Dane still slept soundly. He never heard her leave. He never heard her return. She slipped into bed next to him, and watched his mighty chest heave with each breath.

 

It took Catherine three days to track down the woman at the church. She’d been foolish enough to forget to ask her name. Then again, she was beside herself with grief and guilt, and then moments later alive with forgiveness and new life. She was hardly composed enough to think about asking her name. She had asked around, however, for the woman who cleans St. Luke’s church on Sunday Evenings. Finally, someone had known. Her name was Harriet Brown. Somehow, Catherine thought the name suited her quite well.

She looked surprised to see her when she showed up at her door in the rain.

“Harriet…I’ve been looking for you.”
“Come in, child, come in! I’ll put some tea on. Have a sit by the fire, dear. Warm yourself.”

“Harriet, I….I don’t know what to do next.” A smile crept across Harriet’s face.

“I have something for you.” When she returned, she had an old leather bound book in her hands.

“T’was mine.” Catherine leafed through the pages. It was as if she were holding the most precious item in the world, a treasure to be discovered and held dearly. She looked up at Harriet, mouth slightly open, eyes full of gratitude.

“Are you…are you quite certain? The pages….they have markings and writings. This looks very precious to you.”

“Catherine, The good Lord sent you to me for this very reason. Do you know how old I am, Catherine?” She shook her head.

“I am ninety. This book has been precious dear to me for many, many years. But it is yours now, and may it be precious dear to you.”

“Thank you. Thank you.” Catherine held the book close to her heart for a few moments before leafing through the old pages. She felt the pages might crumble at her touch. They were very old and very fragile. They resemble Harriet very much. Old. Fragile. Precious.

Catherine had felt a desperate need to locate the old woman from the morning after her encounter with her. She had gone to the church feeling dead, and road away feeling more full of life than she had ever been. She felt free and alive, but the pain had come again, just as the old woman had promised her that it would. And Catherine felt a desperate need to talk to her about the pain, and how ever time Dane looked at her, she felt it. How she was forced to live out the rest of her years with a man who could not love her. The happiness she felt did not entirely drown out the pain that came when she looked into her husband’s eyes. “Harriet. I came here to talk to you about….about my husband. I don’t know what to do next. For so many years, I have hated him but I have hated myself more. I have felt trapped and alone and I wanted to get away from him. But I also wanted to get away from me. But I have been changed. There is no denying that. But I don’t quite know what to do now, either.

“Moment by moment, dear, He will show you, but you must ask him into the situation.”

“Ask Him in?”

“Yes, when you feel angry….when the pain is more than you can bear….when you are mistreated….you must first stop and ask Him to come into the pain. To come in and say what He will say about the anger. He will hear you…and Catherine, you must understand that you are loved by the Creator of the universe. You are not worthless.You are of great value to the One who saw fit to breathe life into you. The more you learn about the love He has for you, the more you can value yourself. The more you value yourself, the more you will love others and refuse to be dismayed by their lack of affection for you.”

“Thank you, Harriet. Thank you.”

 

Catherine when home and began to write. She wrote furiously, her tears dropping on the paper and smearing the ink as she went.

 

The Human heart- the world’s greatest mystery. The mind, the soul, the spirit of man. In its deepest crevices lurk memories, thoughts, and feelings which its occupant cannot herself understand, nor sometimes dare to face. It is, it would seem, equal parts wicked and good. There seems to be the invisible imprint of God, of all things good. So much so, that a man or woman who has defied goodness cannot face the reality of it so as to admit that he is not as he should have been. Yet, intertwined with this knowledge of goodness, there is hidden the darkest of evils. The human heart can be understood by none but its Creator, the only One who can redeem it and make it whole.

 

She looked up from her paper, so drenched and bleeding she could hardly make out some of the words, but it seemed fitting. She folded it up and tucked it away inside her her Bible and whispered, “God, look into my heart. See what is there, and show me. I won’t hide from it any longer. I cannot hide from it anymore. As bad as it is, I will go there, Jesus.

She didn’t particularly expect an answer, but the words filled her mind, and she was certain they had not come from her. And when you do go there, Catherine, you’ll find I was already there, waiting.

 

After this night, Catherine assumed things might be easier, but she was wrong. Dane came home still cold, silent, stoic. But Catherine began to change slowly and steadily. Where once she would have slipped into self hatred or burst out into anger toward him, instead she reminded herself that Jesus had spoken to her. She had heard his voice, undoubtedly. That meant He cared for her enough to speak to her personally. That meant that she was, as Harriet so elegantly put it, a child of the King. And so, she began to smile, not just on the outside. Her whole inside radiated, even when she felt pain. It was a strange sensation to Catherine to feel palpable sadness and yet…of all things…and overwhelming sense of peace. Her anger had dissipated, and though it lurked around every corner threatening to creep back into her life at any moment, she would close her eyes and ask herself why she felt such anger. She would ask herself what would happen if she were not angry, and by doing so would come to realize her real reason for her anger, which would fade as quickly as it came as she realized that Jesus had not and would not abandon her, even if Dane did.


It was a warm summer day when this realization came upon her. She was hanging up laundry on the line, and the sun was bright but the wind cool. It smelled of the Mississippi and wildflowers. It came to her out of nowhere, and she was surprised by it.

If Dane left me, God would not abandon me. She was so surprised by it that she laughed, and said it out loud to herself once, then louder. “If Dane left me, God would not abandon me!” She twirled like a schoolgirl, laughed, and ran out into the field laughing and laughing until she fell upon to cool green ground and looked up into the clear blue sky. She felt new. She felt she was finally free. She found it increasingly intriguing that she did not feel a desperate need to get away from Dane any longer. A year ago, she had felt desperate to get away from him, but she feared her life as a divorced woman of thirty. She feared poverty. She feared being alone. But now, she did not fear it. Now, she knew that she would never really be alone. She could face poverty. She could face hunger. She could face anything because she knew who she was and who her father in Heaven was. But, strangely enough, this newfound sense of freedom did not tempt her to leave Dane. At one point, only fear kept her with him. But now, it was a force more powerful and more real. One that filled her with peace and strength. She was with him, because God was there with her, giving her new strength and life. Dane no longer had the power to drain the life out of her, because Dane was no longer the source of her happiness. Her joy did not depend on whether or not Dane treated her with respect. It did not come from whether or not he came home on any given night. It did not come from whether he spoke to her or remained silent behind his book.

Her happiness came from something untouchable. From a supernatural force that Dane could not touch no matter how he might try. She knew, that in God, she was free to leave if ever she was in danger. But, more importantly, in God she knew she was free to stay and he would have no power to kill her soul.

She laughed now to think about how very angry she had been with Dane. She had been angry that he did not make her feel loved and cherished and wanted. She had been angry that he had not given her the type of marriage that was certain to be her happily ever after. She was angry that after all of her waiting and careful choosing, she still felt empty in her marriage, and alone when she was with him. She was angry that he did not fill her with life and purpose. It all seemed so silly to her now. Dane could never have done any of those things had he tried with all his might. To be angry at him was about as rational as being angry with a potato. She laughed to herself, but was quickly sobered by the thought of how helpless he must have felt, trying to provide for her the happiness he never could.

Slowly, Catherine began to remember the good memories. Even after Dane had become mostly withdrawn and stoic, he had done some kind things for her. She could see now, how he had tried, in his own way, to be the kind of husband he knew he should be.

When she had gotten crawlers from the Martin children, he had ridden all night to the traveling apothecary to procure a bottle of tea tree oil.

“I knew a family in London,” he had said, “Who swore by the stuff, and they were the only family for miles around without any. They claimed they hadn’t seen one in years. Every day before they went out, they put a drop of it at the backs of their necks, and they claimed if you had them, you need only soak your hair in it and pick out the nits. The Britain’s import it from Australia, and not so long ago I asked the traveling apothecary to procure some on his next visit to Britain.”

He had returned with the apothecary’s entire stock of it, and he had soaked her hair in it and spent the entire morning combing carefully through it. She had not seen it as an act of love at the time. She figured he feared catched the crawlers himself. And he probably did, but even so he had taken the time to care for her, and she had hardly been aware of it. In fact, she had been so wrapped up in her own self destruction, she was hardly aware of his attempts at all, much less his own needs. She began to realize that she had neglected her husband as much as he had neglected her. She vowed to make slow and steady changes that would prove to Dane over time that she loved him. She was surprised at the thought. I do love him, though. She said to herself. Not so long ago, she thought she hated him more than she could ever hate anyone. Now, she saw him for what he was. Broken and flawed. Unable to give her what she really needed. Yet, she loved him, and she knew she would continue to love him.

She talked to Jesus often. He was the one who loved her with a perfect and unrelenting love. She thought it preposterous that she ever believed that Dane could love her with that kind of all powerful love. He was only human after all. It was the voice of Jesus who told her these things. Sometimes in the busyness of the day. Sometimes in the quiet of a sleepless night, sometimes through the ancient lips of Harriet. Sometimes through the words on the pages of her worn Bible.

Catherine pondered the voice of Jesus as she heard it in her soul. It was quiet, and gentle and personal. She doubted that the same voice which spoke to her also shouted “Manifest Destiny” into the ears of what was apparently thousands of others. She did not fancy herself a politician, nor a theologian, but she did know that whenever the voice of Jesus came to her, it was gentle and deeply personal. It told her that she was free, loved, cherished, and protected.  She could hardly imagine that same Jesus as the God of Western Imperialism, nor the God who kept Africans in slavery. She slowly became aware that there were those who heard the true voice of Jesus, and those who claimed to hear His voice and used it to their own advantage. When she asked Harriet about this, she told her it was called blaspheming the Holy Spirit.  

 

 

Chapter 11- Spring 1849

Spring 1849

“Catherine.” It was Isla. It took a powerful willfulness not to roll her eyes and sigh in annoyance.

“Isla, how are you?”

“Fine. I suppose.” Catherine eyed her warily. She looked about ready to pounce. “Except that I would prefer if you would stop making eyes at my husband.”
“What on earth are you talking about?”

“Oh, please, Catherine! You don’t have to play the fool with me. I have seen the way you look at him. Ever since he chose me over you, you haven’t been able to give him up, have you? Oh, you married that old man of yours, but we all know the truth. You still have eyes for Fritz, and I would appreciate if you would leave him alone.”

“You are quite wrong.”

“I’m sure I’m not.”

“I’m sure you are. You couldn’t be further from the truth.”
“So we are in agreement then, you will stop trying to seduce my husband?”
“Oh, for the love of all things good, Isla, I never tried to seduce your husband!”

“Right, and you married Dane for love, too, I suppose.” The sarcasm in her voice was heavy, and Catherine thought she would punch this flighty woman in the face if she didn’t leave this minute. What would her mother think if she knew that Catherine had even harbored such an uncouth thought? No matter. She wouldn’t think about that now.

“I did marry Dane because I loved him, not that my love life is any of your business.”

“Oh, do stop with the pretended ignorance! Everyone around here knows that you married him out of misery when Fritz chose me.”
“I see you leave me no choice.”

“No choice?”

“Leave, now, Isla, and never again tell me or anyone else that I have been trying to seduce your puffed up husband. Leave now, or I fear I shall say something we will both regret.”

“I will leave when you admit you have been trying to seduce my husband and make an oath to never do it again.”

“I cannot possibly do that.”

“So that’s it then. I will be forced to have Fritz tell your husband what you have been doing. He ought to be keeping you in line anyway.” Catherine felt her stomach lurch. Things had been bad enough between her and Dane. She feared he would believe this story. She feared she would be blamed for something she she never did, never even thought of. She feared she would be a divorced woman, accused of adultery and left alone for the rest of her life. She wanted to say, Isla, your arrogant husband asked for my hand in marriage first, and I would have nothing to do with him. She wanted to say, It isn’t my fault your husband is bored of your dull wit. She wanted to say anything except for what she actually did say.

“Isla, I have never attempted to seduce Fritz, but if you feel that my actions have in any way communicated that intention, I do apologize and promise to be more careful and aware in the future.” She seemed mildly satisfied.
“Thank you,” she said, turning on her heel.

Catherine sat down on the pile of newly washed clothes she had been hanging out to dry. She was unsure whether she felt more angry with Isla or herself. The object of her anger hardly mattered. It boiled up within her until she could no longer sit. She stood, paced, sat back down again.

It was true, she had found herself eyeing Fritz when she chanced to run into him down by the mines or in town on a busy Sunday. Certainly she had never intended to seduce him. She had only been wondering whether Isla and Fritz were happy together, or whether they were more or less miserable than she and Dane. Fritz was full of life, vibrant and engaging. Full of himself, yes, but at least they would converse, she imagined. She had once loved Dane’s quiet strength. She had thought of him as silent and powerful. She had loved her ability to draw him out of himself. She had hated Fritz’ endless chatter about himself. But now…now she wondered. She wondered what it would be like to be married to someone who would talk freely with her, engage in social life, be interested in her. It was true, Fritz was more interested in himself than anyone else, but he was young and vibrant. His light hair and dazzling blue eyes fit his personality exactly. Catherine still found herself annoyed with his persistence in talking of his own achievements, but she could not help but wonder how much different her life would be had she accepted Fritz.

And so when she saw Fritz or Fritz and Isla together, she simply wondered. She dreamed of what it might be like to live with someone less quiet and sullen. Of course it was ludicrous to suppose that she intended seduction. Yet, Isla was not entirely insane, Catherine admitted. For it was true, Catherine had likely been staring- not with lust but with listless thoughts of what might have been.