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 15-November 1864

November 1864

She looked at this great man with his broad chest, dark brown locks and gray blue eyes. Her heart swelled. He took her face in his hands, thinking to himself that her sweet little head meant more to him than anything in the world. He was sorry to be leaving her.

“I’ll return,” he had promised. “The Lord is on our side, and He will give us victory. You will see. I’ll be back, I promise you.” He took her frail neck in his large hands and bent to kiss her lips. She leaned into him, breathing in his warmth and smell, trying to commit it to memory that she might access it whenever she most missed him. She felt a pull on her skirt, and she turned to pick up Gwendolyn.

“Gwenie, dearest, say good-bye to Papa. He will be back soon, very soon.” Gwen squeezed her Papa around the neck and said, “Go, go!” pointing to the door. They laughed. “No dear, you cannot go with me. Not this time. But when I return, you will go with me, and we will ride into town and I will buy you something sweet.” He kissed her fat neck and she giggled at the tickling of his whiskers. He put her down and turned to face Catherine again.

“And you, dear, behave yourself while I am away.” He gave her a look of mock authority. She threw her arms around him.

“And when have you ever known me to behave? I shall do what I like while you are away, and enjoy it very much.” He laughed a loud, hearty laugh.

“Ah, that’s my girl,” he said, kissing her again. He mounted. She reaching up to take hold of his head, not wanting to let go.

“Be safe,” she said.

“My safety is up to God, not me,” he replied. “But I will be brave. That, I will promise you. And I believe He will keep us safe and bring us sure victory. And it will all be over. Just think of it, Catherine. No more men disappearing by the hundreds.”

“It is far from a sure victory,” She cautioned him. “What we thought would be a sure victory has been long and bloody and awful. I wish to God we could go back and make it all stop.”

“They are battles fought for righteousness sake, dear. As you well know. The devils holding other human beings as if they were animals. It ought to have been stopped long ago.”

“I know. As my father has long said. The American hypocrisy.”

“Indeed. And here it ends. We’ll get to tell our children and grandchildren how God brought us to victory in ending the greatest atrocity ever committed by the American people.”

“We shall see. That will certainly be my prayer.”

“Take good care of your mother,”

“Of course.”

“And do not let Gwendolyn forget me.”

“Never.”

“Speak of me to her every night before bed.”

“I promise.”

“And leave a lamp out for me in case I return in the night.”

“I will.”

Chapter 13- Spring 1852

Spring 1852

 

Uncle Tom’s Cabin had swept the nation, changing minds and hearts at their very core and moving people in a way that laws and politics and arguments never could. Harriet and Catherine read every page of it together, Harriet often in tears. When they read the words that so painfully described a mother’s loss of her child, Harriet collapsed under the weight of it all. Catherine realized immediately that Harriet was that child. The child who would have been sold away, torn away from her mother.

“My sister took my place,” She said mournfully.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Catherine attempted to comfort, but words would not come. And, in reality, Harriet was right.

“I wonder if ever she made it to Canada. If ever she had a chance at freedom, like I have had. Oh, but nothing is for a black woman as it is for a white woman. Yet, we share the same blood. We share the same mother.”

“It’s wrong, Harriet, and I am so sorry.”

“This,” she said, holding up the book, “this is going to change the world.” She kept the novel next to her Bible, and prayed daily that God would use the words to liberate her people, at any cost. Catherine prayed this prayer with her.

 

Harriet Brown did not make it through the winter of 1852. With a sense of guilt, Catherine was thankful that she had not been the one to discover her, as she really was the person most likely to. It so happened Reverend Laurence had been by to call. Catherine had been with her the day before, and she seemed herself, though she had a cough. She was to stop by a few days later. The Reverhad had called upon Catherine soon after discovering her frail, lifeless body. Dane had answered the door, and Catherine heard Reverend Laurence introduce himself. She instantly knew the reason for his call. She ran to the door. The look on his face confirmed it. She was surprised at her own shock. She had been expecting this, hadn’t she? She had enjoyed three wonderful years with Harriet.  She was thankful. She was thankful that Harriet was enjoying her new home, her heaven, her Jesus. But mostly, she missed her immensely. She felt selfish for worrying about herself, but she wondered what life would be like without Harriet. She wondered with whom she would talk. She wondered who would answer her questions, pray with her, have afternoon tea with her. Dane still held himself at a considerable distance, and Catherine felt more alone than she had felt in years. Almost as alone as she had felt the night she walked into the church and heard that sweet old voice singing Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.

 

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.

Chapter 10- Fall, 1848

Fall 1848

“I’ll not tolerate a disobedient wife.” It was yet another, impossible, fierce battle of words and wits. Both knew no one would win. Both thrust ahead despite it, tearing at each other in whatever hateful words they might muster up.

“And I’ll not tolerate a hateful husband!”

“Hateful! Is that what you think I am? I who brought you up out of poverty and gave you a home to live in and food to eat? Hateful! Is that all the thanks I get? I travel by horseback day in and day out across the country, managing stocks, trading with the Indians, sailing across oceans to sell and provide for you. And you think I am hateful?”

“It was hardly poverty I was in before. How you do exaggerate. I had food in my belly every night. And besides that, I’d rather starve than live every day facing a man who married me but now hates me. It is better when you are away overseas. I can hardly stand when you are home. You played an awful trick on me, and it has ruined my life and every chance at happiness I could have had. I’d rather be married to a farm hand and go without a meal here and there than have my fill and have to look into the eyes of a man who hates me.”

“If you would only listen to me, you would understand that I don’t hate you. I never said anything of the like.”

“Nor did you need to”

“What the devil do you mean?”

“You never talk to me. You never ask me how I am feeling. You never brush the hair back from my face and tell me I’m beautiful. You never tell me anything about yourself. You go on your business ventures, come home and sit in front of the fire to read if you don’t go out to the tavern first, and fall asleep next me. I barely know you. And then you have the audacity to tell me you will not tolerate a disobedient wife, when I’ve done nothing but serve you and put up with your impudence these seven years.”

“Impudence. If that is what you call it. You’d do well to consider yourself blessed you have a husband who provides. I don’t visit the brothels. You know how many husbands around here do? Ginny, down the way, you know her, fourth child on the way…husband can be seen leaving the brothel every Friday night…”

“I don’t need nor want to know what Ginny’s husband does. If you mean to say that you think you are a jolly good husband simply because you have never visited a brothel, then go! Visit one! It won’t matter to me. T’isnt as if you are my husband in anything more than written records. Your vows clearly mean nothing to you. Did you not promise to love, honor, and cherish? I don’t recall your standing up there before God and everyone else to declare your promise to put food in my belly and avoid the brothel.”
“That’s enough. I’ll have no more of it. I’m a bloody good husband and you know it. I done more for you than my father ever done for me.”

“Your father was a drunken brute.” He blinked in astonishment and seemed almost hurt. For a moment, Catherine thought she would see a softer side to him. But he did not break down. Any emotion that she had seen in his eyes was gone a second later.

 

He got up and moved toward her. She felt a sinking feeling in her belly. For all his threats and cold looks, he’d never laid a hand on her, nor did she ever expect him to. She backed herself up against the fireplace, preparing to fight. She thought at least if this happened, it might give her an out, an excuse to leave this pitiful marriage and perhaps find happiness someday. She still had a glimmer of beauty left, she thought. Perhaps enough to draw the attention of a kind-hearted man.  Just as she thought he would descend upon her, he fell backward into the chair, called her an ungrateful wench, and opened his book to resume his reading.

To her surprise, she felt disappointed. She thought finally it would all come to an end, even if it be a violent one.Her thoughts went dark again. If he would not give her an excuse to leave, she would have to find her own escape.

She began to wonder what her life would have been like had she married Fritz.