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By Carol Ann Didier
Copyright © 2008 Carol Ann Didier
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Baltimore, Maryland Early Spring 1860
Amanda Carroll stared at the letter lying in front of her on her father's walnut and green leather-topped desk. She sighed deeply as tears pooled in her hazel-green eyes. She missed him so much at times that the pain overwhelmed her.
I should have been a boy, she thought. Then it wouldn't be so hard to accept all that's happened in two short months. As if being a boy lessened grief and sorrow. A young man, though, could go off on his own at nineteen with nothing thought of it. It might even be expected of him. But a well-bred lady-never! If she stayed in Baltimore, Amanda knew she could possibly find employment as a governess or a companion to some wealthy older woman; however, the desire to live her own life was too strong to be forever at someone else's beck and call.
Sighing deeply again, she pushed the letter from her uncle away. How was she going to broach this to her sister? She got up, too restless to sit any longer. Troubled, she walked to the bow window that overlooked the Baltimore Harbor on the Chesapeake Bay. The smell of salt water, mixed with the cries of the sea birds, drifted in the open window on a balmy April breeze. Tears clouded her vision once more as she looked down on her father's clipper ship anchored below, sails folded, looking as lost and forlorn as she felt.
The ship had been named after her and her younger sister Candice. It had been the last in a fleet owned by Carroll and Sons. Sadly, the most beautiful ships ever built with their graceful hulls, sleek lines, and billowing sails were giving way to the new steam-powered ships.
"Steam will never replace sails," her father had said. But it had, and sooner than anyone expected. Her father would have hated to see that. Progress, people called it.
But Walter Carroll would never sail the Amaracanda again. Two months ago he had slipped from the rigging of the ship in a gale off Cape Hatteras and died as a result of the fall. When Suzannah Carroll, Amanda's mother, received word of Walter's death, she had fainted and fallen down a flight of stairs, losing the baby brother they'd all been expecting. Two weeks later, she lost her own life as well. Amanda believed she had died from losing Walter as much as from the fall down the stairs. They had buried Suzannah beside her baby boy.
Amanda turned toward the door when she heard footsteps coming down the second-floor hallway. Her sister's lovely heart-shaped face surrounded by strawberry-blond ringlets poked itself around the corner.
"I thought I'd find you in here," Candice said. She looked like a piece of cotton candy confection in her pink taffy-colored day dress. "Bessie and I were wondering if you're ready for some lunch?"
Candice, at seventeen, reflected the cultured and refined womanhood of her day. A perfect replica of their mother, she'd never be caught without a bonnet to protect her delicate skin and she detested salt-spray in her face or wind in her hair. She had no love for the sea.
Amanda, on the other hand, loved the water. After completing Mrs. Chatham's Finishing School for Young Ladies, her father had taken her with him on a sailing trip to China and several islands in the Pacific. She'd never forget their sights and sounds if she lived to be a hundred.
Under her father's careful tutoring, Amanda had been quick to learn the port from starboard, a flying jib from a foresail, and how to order and stock provisions for a six-month voyage. She'd even learned where to sell the goods brought back from those exotic places and it was one reason she thought she might be of use to her uncle now.
Amanda couldn't help noticing the dark smudges under Candice's moss-green eyes. They were the only things that marred her peaches-and-cream complexion. The loss of their mother and father had taken its toll on both of them.
"Yes, I'm ready to eat," Amanda answered. "And we'll talk about Uncle Joshua's letter after lunch. He sends his regrets and condolences. He was as shocked as we were and writes he is sorry he wasn't here to help us through it all. Father and he were always close, even if they lived a continent apart. He sends his prayers."
Seeing Candice's face cloud up, Amanda quickly changed the subject. They had cried so much, it was making them sick. "What scrumptious feast has Bessie fixed for us today?" she asked, taking her sister by the arm and heading back down the hall toward the stairs.
As they rounded the turn on the stairs, Amanda had a flashback of her mother fainting after reading the telegram telling of her husband's demise. Amanda had reached out to grab Suzannah as she felt her slipping by her, but had only succeeded in losing her own footing as well. They'd tumbled down the stairs together in a tangle of petticoats and hoops. At the bottom, they'd lain like rag dolls. Amanda bruised and stunned but unhurt, Suzannah deathly still.
Candice felt her sister tremble as they reached the landing and knew she was reliving that terrible moment. Would they ever get over the loss of both parents and the baby brother they never had a chance to know?
"You can't blame yourself for Mama's fall," Candice said. "How could you know the telegram contained bad news about Father? We all thought it was from Papa saying he would make it home in time for the baby's birth. They both knew the risk of having a baby so late in life and they were happy about it. We just have to believe they're all together now ... somewhere in heaven."
For a moment, they just stood there clinging to each other and crying a little more.
Dear Lord, where did all the tears come from? thought Amanda.
Taking control of her emotions once more, she said, "Thanks, Candy, I know that. It's just hard at times to accept the fact that Father will never walk in that front door again and yell, 'Ahoy Mates, the Captain is home,' and see Mama come running and fly into his arms and have him sweep her up and twirl her around."
"Yes, then his big boisterous voice would yell out 'And, where are my swabs?' And we would run and get in on the bear hug, too. He was such a big man, so tan from facing the sea-reflected sun all those years. You take after Papa in that you have his hair coloring and wide-set eyes, and you love the sea."
"Yes, I guess I should have been the son he wanted so badly," Amanda answered, laughing at the image that presented itself in her mind.
"Oh, good gracious no. Few ladies have your dignity and fine mind."
"Well, thanks for that ... I guess. Is that supposed to be a compliment, little sister?"
"Yes, of course. Papa taught you things he never taught me or Mama."
That was true, Amanda thought. In a time when young ladies were constrained to hearth and home, Amanda had discovered the world and a good deal about what made it function-money, goods and services. Her father claimed to have no use for empty-headed, useless females. Not that he ever viewed Suzannah or Candice that way. He just had different standards for them.
She knew she took after her father in temperament as well. Her eyes would change from green when pleased, to a smoky gray-green when angry like his. Her one vanity was her chestnut hair with the two lighter streaks down either side of her face. When she let it down, it hung to her waist in thick waves. Amanda didn't worry that she wasn't considered a beauty like her mother or sister. She'd heard enough comments about her "arresting face and presence when she walked into a room" over the years to feel comfortable with her own looks.
Entering the dining room, they smelled the aroma of freshly baked rolls and fried chicken and gravy. The table was set for three as Bessie, their black maid and nanny, ate with them. Walter Carroll had not believed in slavery and had freed Bessie when he brought her home as a companion and lady's maid for Suzannah. Even with Amanda's parents gone, Bessie still set the table with the good dishes and silver. Cobalt blue glassware and plates offset the white lace tablecloth on a Queen Anne mahogany table that could seat twelve people comfortably. Bessie had picked some yellow jonquils from the garden. They added a needed touch of sunshine to the gloom that had permeated the house since their parents' death.
Amanda wondered what they would do without Bessie if they followed through on their uncle's request.
Bessie greeted them with a big smile. "Come on now, chilen'. I've done cooked this up special. You two young'uns is losing too much weight lately. We've all been through a bad time, sure 'nuff, but it's over now, and we gots to get on with livin'. Have you made any plans, Miz Manda? Me and Miz Candice ain't been much help to you in the decisions you've had to make."
"Yes," Candice admitted, "I've been too devastated to care much about anything lately and I'm sorry, Mandy. I just couldn't handle it at first ... Mama and Papa and the baby. But Bessie's right, we've got to do something. There are more rumors flying around town about a possible war with our southern states. I've also seen more strangers and military men on the streets now when we go to market. Can you believe this is happening? It's downright frightening. I wonder what Papa would say about it?"
"Well, one thing I do know is that before he left on his last trip, some of the city fathers came by and talked to him about carrying some 'unspecified cargo' to California by way of Cape Horn. I'm thinking it might have had some military significance, although Father never said so. He just acted a little shook up and concerned after they left."
They ate in companionable silence for a while. Then as they were beginning dessert and coffee, Candice broached the subject of what they were going to do about their future once more.
"Well, what did Uncle Joshua's letter say?" Candice asked. "I'm dying of curiosity. Is he going to come east now and take over the shipping business for Father?"
Amanda had feared that was what Candice was hoping for. How could she tell her sister the truth?
"Well, I have been going over different possibilities. I guess I could get a job as a governess or a companion to an older woman in the city. Or we could just bumble along for a while longer in the house by ourselves. The house is paid for and there is some money in the bank from Father's last trip. I'm just not sure whether we three women, and a gardener, can keep up the house if a war breaks out. You know with Fort McHenry and the harbor so close, they're likely to become targets."
"Oh, it just sounds so dreadful, doesn't it? How can Americans fight against Americans? I don't understand politics at all. Men just seem to have to have something to fight about ... like they can't be content with peace. But you didn't tell us what Uncle Joshua said. If he comes, we can stay here. There won't be any problems. We can manage that long, at least."
"Yes, that's true. But, remember, Uncle left because he never liked sailing or the shipping business. He headed west in that California Gold Rush in '49 to find his fortune out there. Clearly he didn't make his fortune in the gold fields because now he says he plans to move to the New Mexico and Arizona Territories where new gold strikes have been discovered. He says he realizes that gain only comes from hard honest work. It appears from his letter that he plans to use what little gold he did find to open a trading post in a pueblo town in Arizona. He says he's decided to sell the equipment and foodstuffs to the hopeful prospectors flocking there now, instead of becoming one of them again."
Candice sat her teacup down hard. "But now that he knows our situation, he is going to change his mind, right?" she asked, unable to keep the plea out of her voice.
"Well ... not exactly. He wants us to come out there and make a new life with him."
Candice gasped, precariously rocking her teacup when her hand flung out in denial. "No, he can't mean that. All the way out west! Oh, Amanda, that's too far and too dangerous. What could he be thinking? I don't want to go. That's ridiculous. Make him come home."
Amanda heard the hurt and dismay in her sister's voice.
"Oh, Candy, I know it sounds terrifying. You and I both wish things hadn't changed, but they have. Maybe it will help us heal our broken hearts by being reunited with him. After all, he is our only living relative, and we did love him so as children."
"How could he do this to us?" Candice cried, not convinced. Her voice rose in fear and anger. "We don't even know where he is for sure. How would we get there? Who would go with us? It's wild, uncivilized country out there, nothing but desert, savage Indians, and Mexicans."
Amanda felt a chill run down her spine as Candice echoed some of her own fears. Joshua's return address had only read "Old Pueblo, Presidio of San Augustin del Tucson, Arizona Territory." Amanda didn't know whether that was a hotel, a saloon, or the town jail.
"Oh, Candice, I don't know. He's just bought a place and doesn't want to leave it right now. It doesn't sound like he has any intention of ever coming back to Baltimore. He sees this as a great opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a great western migration in this country. The west is just beginning to expand, he says, and he wants to grow with it. I guess he figures you and I will eventually marry and this is going to be his livelihood for the rest of his life."
"Well, that's a laugh. Neither one of us has any prospect of marriage," Candice said dejectedly, which was all too true at the moment.
Amanda's independent nature and outspokenness had not led her to receive a single marriage proposal in all of her nineteen years. Nor had anyone awakened her young woman's heart to the thrill of love and desire. Without a man to protect them, Amanda had hoped Candice would see the need to join their uncle. Ten years Amanda's senior, he was more like an older brother than an uncle.
"Candy, I understand your fears. I can even admit that I share some of them. But I have been giving this a lot of thought. If we stay here, I'm not sure I can continue to handle everything alone. But with my knowledge of merchandising and bookkeeping, I might be of some help to Uncle Joshua in his store. Or barring that, maybe I could get a post, teaching. There must be children out there who need schooling."
"But what would I do?" Candice wailed, thumping the table in her distress. "This was supposed to be my debutante season to be presented in society. Are you saying, now, it's not going to happen?"
At the anguish in her voice, Amanda got up and went around the table and knelt beside Candice's chair. Taking her hand, she looked pleadingly into her eyes. "Candy, I know it hurts. I wish with all my heart that Mama and Papa were still with us; but they're not, and we have to make some decisions here. I need you to help me with this, not make it any harder. Please try to understand. I know I'm asking a lot, but it doesn't have to be a permanent move. We don't have to sell the house. If war does come, it probably won't last very long, and we can come back. I'll get Father's solicitors to make arrangements to store everything, and we'll rent the house out for a year. Then, we'll see what happens after that."
"You have been thinking about going, haven't you?" asked Candice indignantly.
Amanda suspected her sister was confused and hurt that this information had been kept from her. But surely she saw the logic in what Amanda was saying.
"Well, what else did Uncle Joshua say?" Candice asked. "How would we get there? Is he going to come get us?"
"No, but he promises to meet us halfway. He says we can either go by land or by sea, sailing around Cape Horn on Father's ship. It's about eighty-nine days to San Francisco by boat. Then we'd have another month of traveling by wagon or stagecoach to Tucson. If we go by land, it's still some twenty-eight hundred miles by train and coach."
"Oh no, Mandy! Not by boat, please! You know how deathly seasick I got that one time Papa took us to the mouth of the harbor. I couldn't handle a long sea voyage. Please, if you think this is best, and you have determined that we have to go, don't make me go by boat."
Excerpted from Apache Warrior by Carol Ann Didier Copyright © 2008 by Carol Ann Didier. Excerpted by permission.
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