On Tuesdays, Catherine road to town, now called Dubuque, with her father, saddlebags filled with ready made loaves of bread, fresh milk, eggs, and wool to sell to the miners. It was one of those very wet spring days and the ground soaked her skirt and petticoats and ankles until she could feel the cold in her bones. The mines were busy and the ice harvesters packing up to head north, or going back to work in the mines.
Catherine set up shop outside the mine as her father prepared to go in.
“I’ll take two loaves of bread and a dozen eggs,” came the gruff voice of a stranger. Catherine looked up. A tall man hovered over her.
“That will be three dollars, sir.” The man let out a chuckle.
“I’ll pay you two, and that’s more than generous.” She rose and placed her hands on her hips, looked at him resolutely and said,
“The price is three dollars, sir.”
“Worth but 50 cents, perhaps a dollar.” Catherine tightened her lips and in a clearly restrained voice said,
“The price is three dollars. If you are displeased, by all means, move along and find your eggs and flour elsewhere.”
The man chuckled again.
“You’re a regular thief, you are,” he said, but reached into his pocket, handed Catherine three bills. She snatched them out of his hand and turned her back.
“A thief, and a snarly one at that,” he chuckled to himself as he walked away. Catherine was thoroughly irritated. She hoped he was not to be in the area very long. She had never seen him before and concluded that he was likely just passing through.
But the next Tuesday, he was back and wanted to buy more milk and eggs. Before he even approached, she was irritated at the sight of him, tall and strong and lumbering toward her with his head held high as if he were someone important. She wondered what he did. He wasn’t a miner, that was sure. She hardly knew a man in the area who was not a miner. What could he be. She wondered. What is his story.
He did not argue her prices this time, but chuckled and muttered to herself that this was most certainly robbery.
“What do you do, anyway?” Catherine asked, curiosity getting the better of her.
“I’m a merchant.”
“You don’t look like one,” she retorted, with more hostility in her voice than she’d intended.
“Well, you’re none too fat for starters.” Dane nearly choked on his first gulp of milk. Catherine felt indignant at being laughed at as if she were a child who had said something silly.
“And why else?” he asked, sounding amused.
“You’re not dressed all fanciful either. I suppose you’re not a very good merchant.” He laughed again, and Catherine grew more irritated.
“I’m a very good merchant, I’ll have you know. Forgive me for not dressing a fool and becoming a glutton simply because I have the means to.” She eyed him warily, then said,
“Well, if you’re a good merchant and you don’t intend to keep yourself fat or clothed in furs, then can I assume you are plenty wealthy enough to stop whining like a child over my prices?”
“You have my word,” he said and went away chuckling.
And he was true to his word. He did not utter another breath about the prices. He didn’t call her a thief, and over all, he began to be less irritating and more interesting. Catherine took a great interest in his part in trading, his interactions with the Sauk, and his ability to see the profit in just about anything. He knew when prices would rise and when they would decline, and he was nothing short of an opportunist. He would hold goods until he knew the prices would rise, and prepare to purchase products right when he knew they would drop. He had excellent relationships with various tribes without seeming to compromise his relations with settlers. Catherine couldn’t help herself from asking him every question that crossed her mind. She noticed quickly that he began to stop by on Tuesdays, even when he did not purchase anything. Or sometimes he would purchase more wool or eggs when he could not possibly have run out, unless he was feeding a family of seven he’d forgotten to tell her about.
“Do you have a family?” She asked him one day. She knew it sounded very forward, perhaps even fast…but it was innocent enough, she reasoned. She was quite simply interested in this man and his life- a life so entirely different from hers. His person so different from anyone she had ever met. His experiences were wide and varied and hers so small and routine. For the first time in her young life, her mind began to wander beyond her little home and farm and the town of Dubuque and life on the Mississippi. Her mind began to wander West and South and even as far east as across the Atlantic.
“No family,” he had answered. “Least none I have contact with. I never married. Last I talked to my brother was nearly three years ago.”
“And your mother?”
“Died when I was twelve.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, feeling a deep sadness at the thought of losing her own mother, especially at so tender an age. It was the first time their conversation went beyond the material world and into the soul. She looked at him in a different light now. He had a wealth of experiences and knowledge, and yet she had to draw them out of him if she wanted to hear. He did not seem overly eager to share his world with her. She thought he was the strong, silent type. But when once she had urged him enough to begin to tell his tales, she sat mesmerized by all that he had seen and done, by all that he knew of the world. He seemed to want to tell Catherine mostly about his profits from different parts of the Western territories, but Catherine cared little for his profits. She wanted to know of the people. What did they look like? How did they live? What did their languages sound like? What did they believe in?
When he talked to her of England, he focused on the pretty penny an upper class lady would pay for furs. Catherine wanted to know what they looked like in the furs. She wanted to know if they sounded much like her mother, who had never lost her English accent after all these years. She wanted to know about people. Dane gave her this information as much as he was able, but she could see clearly that his time and energies had always revolved around profit and stocks and shares in the newest inventions. She had to admit to herself that she often became bored with these details, but she listened eagerly to catch any information she could about the people and the way they lived and talked…the way they existed.
Dane found her questions as asmusing as she found his experiences. He had never thought about the people much before, unless it was in regards to the potential income they presented him. He never much cared for observing the way people lived and what they believed, how they raised their children or treated their servants. It took him by surprise to hear such questions, and he wondered why he himself had never pondered such things. He was interested in money, and she was interested in people. He had never met anyone so genuinely interested in him. So genuinely interested in other people. So quick to ask questions and slow to talk about herself. It intrigued him. He had never met anyone quite like her.
Her beauty alone would not have been enough to hold his attention. He had seen many beautiful women, from the sophistication of English royalty to the captivating beauty of the Indian women. It was not her beauty that reached out and grasped his soul. It was her zeal for life, her interest in him and in others, her ability to draw out of him experiences which had long been put to rest in the recesses of his mind, and her way of looking at those memories in ways he never would have. She was altogether different from him. She was altogether different from anyone he had ever met. Her eyes were dark and soulful- her face full of life. Her smile radiant, her laugh infectious. She began to take up the spaces in his mind.
Catherine began to long for her Tuesday visits with Dane. It was her only door into a world completely unfamiliar to her.
“I noticed every week, you bring home loaves and milk that no one buys. What becomes of it?”
“We eat it, of course, what did you think I would do with it?”
“All of it?”
“Well, no. Some of the bread goes dry before we can get to it. I crumble it to feed the chickens.” He frowned.
“And I suppose some of the milk goes a bit sour before we can drink it.”
“Suppose you came to town more than once a week?”
“One day a week is quite enough to leave mama to care for the animals and the gardening.”
“Quite right. I see now why you must charge as you do. To cover your wastefulness.” Catherine was indignant.
“How dare you? You know nothing of my business. It is mine to run. I suggest you mind your own business. And what would you do with it, oh all knowing one?” she mocked. He gave her a stern look of disapproval.
“No need to get snarky. Let me show you what I had in mind.” He began loading her bundles into his saddlebags, then offered a hand to hoist her up. She looked at him warily,
“And what if I don’t wish to go. Father will be up from the mine any moment.”
“Just why I’ll take you on my horse. Leave yours for your father. Come, it won’t take long. I suppose he can wait a few minutes for you.” Knowing full well that it could actually be hours before her father emerged, she went with him.
She held on ‘round his waist. To her, the very feel of him was one of strength and confidence. She felt safe with him, much safer than she felt riding alone when it was near dark, and she felt glad of his companionship for a little longer that evening. The horse trudged through the streets and into the heart of the town, and down some poorly arranged alleyways. The place was significantly more populated now than it had been when Catherine was a child. As they rode on, the homes began to look more and more drab. A sadness fell over Catherine’s heart. Dane halted the horse, helped Catherine down, and began unloading. Silently, he handed her one bundle, took two under his arms, and with his head motioned her to follow him. She stepped into a dimly lit room. One candle glowed in the darkness.
“Mrs. Martin, I have someone I’d like you to meet.” The woman stood. She would have been tall, had she not been sort of hunched over. She held a baby on her hip. Catherine looked around the room. There were children sprawled about the floor. There was not a piece of furniture in sight. And yet, there were furs. Rich furs. Each child held one close. Catherine looked at him, knowing instantly he was the only reason these children were reasonably warm when the cold of the night hit and the winds off the Mississippi came blundering through town.
They rode in silence, save for the clicking of hooves. Finally, as they neared the entrance of the mine, Dane broke the silence,
“Catherine, I didn’t bring you to the Martins to bring you sadness.”
“I know, but it did all the same.”
“Did it not bring you any joy?”
“Oh, yes, I suppose. At feeding them. But looking down the lane, I knew there were more children in more houses just like that one.”
“If everyone took on the world’s sadness like that, I fear no one should ever feel happy again.”
“I wonder if I shall.”
“You shall. You must.”
“By knowing that the cares of the world are not on your shoulders. By knowing that you have done what you could do and offered what you had to offer, and that if everyone would do the same, the world would be an altogether happier place.”
She smiled and leaned her head on his back. She was very tired.
“Catherine,” her father called.
“Dane Johnson. He talks with you often?”
“And what do you think of him? Is he a decent sort of fellow?”
“Yes, very decent. He is kind to the poor. He’s an interesting man. He has been so many places.”
“And he is not vulgar in speech with you?”
“Oh, heavens, no! Never! Never so much as an indecent glance, Papa.” Charles looking satisfied, grunted and went back to his reading. Catherine stood there for a moment, hoping to talk to him more about Dane. She wanted to know what her father thought of him, if he had ever talked with him. If he might invite him in one day soon, before his Autumn trip to England. Before she could think of how to begin, Charles was so immersed in his reading she thought it best not to interrupt.
She could not fall asleep that night. She thought about Dane and all of his adventures. She thought about the furs he had given to the Martins. She was sure he had lost a pretty penny on those. He would be leaving soon, she knew. She wondered, more than anything, what England was like. She knew he traveled there every fall to make what must be a small fortune on what they called exotic furs and she always wished for him to tell her more about it, the place her parents had come from. But Dane seemed always much more interested in his stories from the West and South. Though she hung on his every word, waiting to hear about England, he rarely described it. She resolved to ask him directly on his next visit.
“What is England like?” The question had been ready on her tongue from the moment she saw his black horse galloping in the distance. She’d never heard a clear answer from her mother, and had felt that England was a place so awful she should never ask about it. But still, she wondered, knowing it was likely she had grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins there, people she’d never heard mentioned but had always wondered about.
Dane eyed her carefully.
“Would you like to see for yourself?” He asked. She looked at him, confused.
“How would that be possible?”
“Well, you would pack up your things and board the ship with me.”
“Dane, that would hardly be appropriate!”
“It could be.”
“How do you mean?”
“If you would go as my wife.”
“I’ve asked your father, already. If that’s what you are concerned with. He hardly knows me, I know. But he knows my reputation well enough, and he knows I could provide for you very well, and he gave me his blessing to ask.”
“I….I can’t” she stammered. “I can’t just marry you just like that!”
“Forgive me,” he replied. “I thought…your father thought… this was something it clearly was not.” His face went sullen, and he mounted his horse and rode off. As Catherine watched him disappear into the distance, she wondered if he would be back to her the following week. If he would continue to answer her questions. If their conversations would go on. If he would take her to see the Martins again. I think I shall never see him again, she thought, and she felt a heaviness come over her heart. She would miss him, she was sure.
“Mother,” she asked one night as they performed their ritualized, almost synchronized bread making. “Mother, how do you know what love is. That is, how do you know what real love is. And what is just friendship or perhaps interest?”
Her mother thought for a while. And said,
“I am not sure if I have felt true love, Catherine, or if I’ve only felt infatuation. But the Good Lord must have a reason for allowing one to feel such a pull, such strong feelings of desire, else I can’t imagine He would have created our bodies so. Though those first feelings will melt into something different, I suppose they are important enough that they must be there at the start of it all. The memory of those first feelings have been a comfort to me when times grew hard. I remembered what it felt like to look at your father and feel a fire burning deep within my soul When I met your father, the pull was strong. He was handsome and his eyes were full of life, just like yours,” she tenderly crushed Catherine’s curls from her face, “And he was, to me, an escape from being married off for status and money, which my father had worked so hard for. The very thought of him made my heart flutter. But whether that was true love, dear, I can’t rightly say. It grew into something akin to love, to be sure, but I was so very young, and your father was exciting. He was an escape from the borish world of self- important aristocrats I had been forced into. And I wanted it. I wanted out. I wanted an escape. I wanted something new and exciting. And I suppose that is also why we ended up here, across the Atlantic and as far west as we could get.” It was the most detail Catherine had ever heard, and she relished in it.
“You’ve never told me much about England. You know, I’ve always wondered.”
“England was not good to me, dear. I had no place there. America was the place for me. I’ve no wish to return or to remember that life. It was easier on the body but it beat down your soul.”
Catherine lay awake, yet another sleepless night, trying to recall if she had ever felt that flutter of her soul, a skipping of her heart. She could not remember. It had begun in irritation and ended in what could only be described as an attachment of some sort. If it were not an attachment at the very least, why would she be awake now, thinking of his firm set jaw and grayish blue eyes that seemed to peer through her soul. Why would she be wondering what it might have been like had she said yes and gone with him to England, as his bride? She couldn’t have done that, she knew. At the time he asked, it had caught her so completely off guard that she almost laughed. No, she could not be in love with him. And yet…and yet, as she came to understand the very real possibility that she would never see the man again, the tears formed against her will and slid down her cheeks.
If he were being honest with himself, Dane would have admitted that he felt quite embarrassed. But he was rarely honest with himself, and so what he thought he felt was indignant. Indignant, and yet determined. He would go to England and forget all about Catherine Turner, he promised himself. It was foolish anyway to have fallen for a poor miner’s daughter who probably carried more debt than wealth. Yet, even as he promised himself to forget her, he could almost see the red glint of her dark auburn hair in the summer sun. Her soulful dark blue eyes, her inquisitive brow, her lust for life, her zeal for knowledge. Yet, that was all it was. It was not an interest in his person, but in his experiences. He realized that now. He’d been a fool to think otherwise. He was twenty eight. She, but eighteen. That fact alone made him feel all the more foolish. He was like a friendly older gentlemen, to her. No wonder she had responded in such shock to his question. She’d marry a boy her own age, probably. Dane shook his head as if he could physically shake the thoughts of her out of his mind.
While Dane tried to forget Catherine, she tried to remember him. How had she felt when he had talked to her? If she had not known she was in love, was it possible she could know it now? She could remember no fluttery feelings, yet she missed him terribly. She longed to hear his voice again, to ask him questions and to hear his answers. She missed him terribly. And the longer he stayed away, the more his face appeared to her in her dreams, both day and night. And his voice seemed to linger in her ear. She could almost feel the deep rumble of his hearty laugh.
She was nearly chilled to the bone that mid- November day, unpacking her goods and setting up shop as she had done hundreds of times before. She had long since stopped looking off into the distance for the site of Dane’s horse. But she thought of him often.
“I came to say good-bye.” For a moment, Catherine wondered whether the voice was in her head. But then, she looked up and there he stood, tall and dark and fierce. And then, she felt it. She was sure of it this time. That fluttering of the chest. The skipping beats of her heart. She felt her face go red and her insides hot. She knew without a doubt that it was type of feeling her mother had told her about. It was, if not love, infatuation.
“I came to apologize for my presumptuous behavior earlier this year. I pray you will forgive me.”
It took her a few moments to gather herself.
“Yes, yes of course.”
“Then until we meet again,” he took her hand and kissed it in a very gentlemanly like fashion.
“When do you leave?”
“Can I see you again before you leave?”
“No, I don’t think that is in either of our best interests. Don’t forget to visit the Martins while I am away.”
“I never could.”
With that, he rode off. He had said until we meet again. Yet, he had also kissed her hand with no more lust than if he had been kissing the hand of a great aunt. And then he had called her a good girl, as if she were a child. She felt a strange blend of excitement and disappointment. She was excited that she had seen him again, and that she would see him again. She was disappointed at his seeming lack of romantic interest in her He had apologized. Perhaps he felt he had made a mistake in asking her in the first place. She cursed herself for ever having refused his offer. But then, she had not felt that pull as her mother called it, until that moment when he had rode up and offered his apologies.
Other men seemed to take Dane’s absence as an open door, one Catherine did not welcome. She had no interest in any of the miners with their coarse language and lusty eyes. She felt a sort of repugnance at them, and she missed Dane all the more for knowing that he had been a barrier between her and them. She had been completely unaware of the goings on around them whenever she had been with Dane. She was zoned in on him and and his experiences so much so that she did not even notice the other miners who had all but assumed she was no longer available. Now that he was away, she could see quite clearly the hungry eyes of the men about her, and she felt ill at ease and even unsafe at times. She was sure to have her father with her on her journey’s to and from town, to the Martins and back. She had nearly enough money saved for a horse of her own, but thought she might put it off as she preferred to ride with her father anyway. The men made her feel unsafe. But Dane, like her father, made her feel safe and protected.
She thought of him throughout the days. Her days in town she thought of him most, but even at home she thought of him while she milked the cow or tended the chickens. She talked of him with her mother as they made bread and tidied the house.
“You think highly of him,” Elizabeth had said with a smile.
“I do. But he is ten years my senior, and I wonder if he sees me as nothing more than a child.”
“I hardly think he would have whisked you off to England if he thought of you that way, dear.” Elizabeth’s face was creased and her hands rough from hard work, but she had an unquestionable between that shone through the lines of age and work. Catherine thought her mother the most beautiful woman she had ever seen, and she often tried to remember what she had looked like when she was younger. She remembered the touch of her hand and the feel of her skirts, but she could not remember her face. She imagined she had been a great beauty in her prime. She was a great beauty even now.
“I have reason to believe he had changed his mind- realized he made a mistake.”
“Yes, you’ve said so dear. But you’ve no reason to be sure of it.”
“If you’d been there, mama. If you’d heard the way he apologized, the way he kissed my hand.”
“But child, you nearly laughed when he first asked you. I don’t blame or accuse you. You were quite taken by surprise, I imagine. But you must understand what that might do to a man, to see you in shock and suppressing hilarity when he has only just barred his soul to you.”
“Oh, no, mother, don’t. Don’t make me think of it that way.”
“It is no fault of yours, dear. But you must be honest with the past if you ever expect to be honest about the future.”
“What have I done?”
“It will all work out, dear. Don’t worry. If you marry Dane someday, you will be happy. If you do not, you will be happy.”
“How can you possibly know that?” Her mother smiled that soft, tender, knowing smile that Catherine had come to be so familiar with.
“I know, because your happiness does not depend so much on whom you marry or even if you marry so much as it depends upon your decision to be happy.”
“I hardly think it is so simple, mother.”
“You will see. With time, you will come to believe it just as I do.