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In 1861 New...
In 1861 New York State, librarian Glynis Tryon investigates the murder of a businessman, followed by the disappearance of his kitchen maid. A tale of sexual abuse.
Let us cast our eyes over the history of man, and we shall scarcely find a page that is not tarnished by some foul deed or bloody transaction.
—Mary Wollstonecraft, 1794
Violence does not always trumpet its coming. Its advance may be hushed, like the creak of the stair where a predator treads, the click of the bolt before a door opens, the whish of the knife while it plunges. Or it may be as silent as one look of hate sent across a room.
And the night conceals what the day will reveal.
In the predawn hours, foghorns began to sound, and the morning gave hint of what had passed, breaking as it did with a chill mist that rose from river and canal to wrap the village in a tattered shroud. Bells tolled from church steeples draped in ragged gray. And while foghorns and church bells were frequent enough in Seneca Falls, they could mute less commonplace sounds that otherwise might have been heard. When the mist lifted at noon on a flawless day, skeptical townsfolk crept out of doors, none quite believing that at last the belated spring had come. Although nearly none could have known what its coming would bring.
Glynis Tryon was among the disbelieving when the first shafts of sunlight glanced off the tall, glazed windows of her library. She decided it must be true, the return of the sun, when dust motes flurried over her cluttered desk, and the clear cheerup notes of a robin came through the door that her assistant had opened minutes before. Then she heard a faraway train whistle. With another glance at thetall pendulum clock standing against one wall, Glynis rose from her desk and went to the hooks beside the door to fetch her cloak.
She nodded to several library patrons, and called, "I'm off to the rail station again, Jonathan, for what I trust will be the last time."
The only indication that Jonathan Quant had heard came from a bob of his head. His bespectacled eyes did not raise from the pages of the book propped before him; a book whose dustcover displayed a distraught-faced, nubile young woman in the clutches of a red-caped, mustachioed man whose intentions were clearly not good. And in the event this illustration might prove too subtle for readers, the title in crimson letters blared: A Lady in Distress.
Glynis sighed in what she knew was futile frustration with Jonathan's long-standing passion for these popular melodramas, and went through the door to climb shallow steps to a wide dirt road. She had not thought to wear a hat that morning, depending instead on the hood of her cloak, and now she used a hand to shade her eyes against the unfamiliar sun. Like everyone else in town, she felt as if she had spent the previous months entombed.
Seneca Falls had endured the dreariest of winters, much like a prolonged illness which the afflicted comes to believe will end only with death. A blizzard in November had stripped the trees of leaves and buried the last chrysanthemums. An ice storm in April had doomed the first daffodils. And the Christmas season, the brightest note in the darkest month, had been paired with a clarion call from the Southern states, joined by a drum of hooves from the horsemen of the Apocalypse. But many had not heard or had refused to listen.
Since then, Fort Sumter had fallen to the newly formed Confederacy, the city of Baltimore had seen first blood, and the key border state of Virginia had announced that it too would leave the Union. These were events sufficient to discourage even the most sanguine of souls. At least those souls in western New York, and elsewhere in the North, who paid any heed.
Glynis, walking up Fall Street, slowed to watch robins search the warming earth, and when she passed under the tall elms that lined the road, it seemed that she could almost see their leaves unfurling to cast over the town the heart-lifting, green haze of spring. On such an afternoon as this, the reality of civil war seemed remote. But when she had seen Lincoln inaugurated in March, the city of Washington had bristled with cannon as it readied itself for siege.
She turned off Fall Street, the road that ran east and west through the center of town, then started up a side road that led to the railroad station. Just moments later, she heard behind her a rapid thud of hooves and moved quickly to the road's edge, although she could see no good reason why a horse would be urged to gallop while still within village limits. She turned as it pounded past her, catching only a glimpse of its hooded rider, who was mostly obscured by a long, dark cloak.
Despite its pace, the dapple gray horse appeared to be under control, yet the impression Glynis had from what little she could see of the rider's blanched face was that it held tear. The face also struck her as being somehow familiar. But she had lived in Seneca Falls long enough for nearly everyone in it to look familiar; everyone but the transients who worked the canal and the railroad, or those simply passing through town on the way to somewhere else. Still, as she watched the retreating horse, the rider's face nagged at her. Where had she seen it before? But then, as the hoofbeats faded down the road, a train's long whistle sounded from the east, followed by another from the west, and Glynis put everything else from her mind and walked quickly toward the rail station.
When she neared the station's cobblestone drive, she could hear a babble of male voices, and upon reaching the one-story depot she found twenty or thirty men outfitted in spanking-new militia uniforms. Sunlight glinted from a forest of steel gun barrels, many of them on the Springfield-type rifles manufactured by the Remington Arms Company in the Mohawk Valley of central New York. The canteens and haversacks slung over shoulders looked new, as did the scabbards on swords and bayonets. Some of these men were striding back and forth beside the station house, holding forth heatedly, while most were speaking quietly among themselves. A few, saying nothing at all, simply gazed down the railroad track.
They must be members of New York's 33rd Regiment, Glynis guessed, made up of companies from Seneca County who would proceed to Elmira, the central rendezvous point. From there they would head south to Washington. Lincoln had asked for 75,000 volunteer troops to guard what had become an increasingly vulnerable city. Since New York had been among the first states to respond to the President's call, this company was not the first to leave Seneca County. And, as was daily becoming more evident, it would not be the last. Some civic-minded group must have foreseen this, because the station house entrance had been draped with a red, white, and blue bunting, and there were red, white, and blue flags flying from every possible upright object. Even from the baggage carts.
Scattered here and there among the men stood a small number of women. While they were discouraged from coming to the train station—the thought being that women would bring a maudlin sentimentality to the occasion—there were always a few who persisted. These were usually young women, and, as on this day, they were far from being maudlin; most of them, dressed in pastel-colored spring frocks and straw bonnets, were lightheartedly cheerful, waving nosegays from which trailed long blue ribbons.
One of the younger women, Faith Alden, Glynis recognized because the girl worked in her niece Emma's dress shop. Faith appeared to view this leave-taking with somewhat less enthusiasm than the others; her eyes looked red-rimmed and their lids were swollen. Her hair was tied with glossy white ribbon, and she carried a bouquet of violets, perhaps given to her by the subdued-looking young man in uniform standing at her side. More than once she buried her face in the violets as if she might be hiding tears.
The few older women there forced wan smiles, as if they too might be attempting to withhold the unacceptable signs of grief.
In spite of the sunlit afternoon, Glynis experienced an oppressive gloom. She could remember well the first months of the Mexican War and the festive air of those soldiers' departure. She also remembered the men who did not come back. Like young Jamie Terhune, married for just one year before he left. His bride Jenny still kept vigil at the railroad station, sleeping at night in the baggage room and meeting each incoming train lest she miss Jamie's return. She was known as Mad Jenny, waiting for a man who fifteen years before had died in battle on the slopes of the continental divide. How could that war have been forgotten so soon?
Most of the men in town, at least most of the younger ones, believed that the "Dixie Rebellion," as they persisted in calling the secession crisis, was something that would be over shortly; just a few weeks of skirmishing before the South came to its senses, dropped to its knees, and begged a return to the Union. In the meantime, the volunteers held daily drills, marching and target shooting with others who came from their home-town militia companies. Making it still more a community affair was the fact that even the men's drillmasters and immediate officers were their friends and neighbors. And after all, they'd only signed up for ninety days. So why fret about the future?
Glynis, hurrying past the men, saw this carnival atmosphere as a celebration of failure. Not something that she wanted to watch. As she walked to the far side of the station house, several male voices burst forth with Stephen Foster's "Oh! Susanna." The singers were immediately joined by others, and yet, while the song had been so widely popular for so long that almost everyone knew the words, it was, Glynis thought, a singularly inappropriate one to be singing now. Oh! Susanna / Don't you cry for me / For I come from Alabama / With a banjo on my knee.
While she waited against a backdrop of men's voices rising and falling with each verse, her earlier impatience, together with a measure of anxiety, continued to grow. It was the third time today she had stood there, stating down the empty tracks. Each time a New York Central train had approached from the west, she had expected her niece Bronwen Llyr, and each time Bronwen had not appeared. But she must be on this next train. It was the last one scheduled until the following morning, and Bronwen had promised to arrive for her cousin Emma's pre-nuptial party to be held that evening. Breaking promises had not in the past been among Bronwen's shortcomings.
At last, and after a series of piercing whistles, the eastbound, twenty-ton locomotive roared around a bend, its brakes already screeching. Several minutes later brought the westbound train grinding to a halt. Now facing each other on their separate tracks, the engines followed by their long tails of passenger cars looked like two fire-belching dragons about to engage in mortal combat.
Glynis had moved away as the trains steamed into the station, spewing sparks like live volcanoes. One of these days a spark would fly too far and send the entire village up in flames. But while she had been predicting this for a decade, and although it had happened in other places, it had yet to happen in Seneca Falls. Perhaps because someone had demanded that the station house be built of brick.
When passengers began descending to the station platforms, Glynis inched forward, hoping they didn't notice how thoroughly they were being scrutinized. It would not be the first time that Bronwen, now employed as a United States Treasury agent, had traveled in disguise. In fact, she had cheerfully admitted, "It's as good as being invisible. Just consider the possibilities!"
Glynis considered many as she stood there studying each arriving passenger with a wary eye and craning her neck to see past the uniformed men now waiting to board. Although there could be no reason for her niece to disguise herself here in Seneca Falls, she might do it just for a lark.
"Miss Tryon?" said a familiar voice beside her. "Glynis?"
She looked around in surprise at the tall woman, close in age to her own early forties, in a simple dark dress; her thick brown hair, visible under a small bonnet, had been drawn back over her ears into a coiled bun at the nape of her neck. Glynis felt a warm flush creep into her face. She'd been so engrossed in the role of unmasking her niece that she'd missed the arrival of Susan Anthony.
"I'm sorry, Susan, I didn't see you," she apologized.
"No, you looked right past me. You must be expecting someone?"
"My niece. You might remember Bronwen. Bronwen Llyr?"
Susan began to smile, and the keen blue-gray eyes held an expression that said: I would be unlikely to forget her.
She would not, of course, actually say that. But what rose in Glynis's mind was a memory, a very clear one, of being brought to the window of her library above the canal by the noise of ducks and geese squawking furiously as they scattered in every direction. The reason for this uproar had appeared in the form of Bronwen, astride a horse that she was galloping, to no earthly purpose, along the canal towpath. As it happened, a team of mules, their towlines running to a packet boat, had been plodding along the path minding their own business. And Glynis had made what seemed to her, and surely to any other sane person, the natural assumption: that when Bronwen saw the mules she would rein in the horse. But no; she had urged it on. Glynis had sucked in her breath, wanting desperately to turn away, but unable to tear her gaze from the looming catastrophe. Then, with the aplomb of two veteran circus performers, horse and rider sailed over the mules as if they were just another programmed obstacle. The mule driver's reaction had been obvious from the clenched fists he'd shaken, and it had been a long while before Glynis could breathe normally.
And what brought this to mind at the moment was her later discovery that Susan Anthony had that day been aboard the packet boat.
But the woman was now smiling broadly. She pulled a scarlet shawl around her shoulders, saying to Glynis, "I like your Bronwen. I like all of your nieces—"
Susan was interrupted by a sudden surge of noise. The men of New York's 33rd had begun clambering aboard the passenger cars, and there was as yet no sign of Bronwen. But perhaps she was still on the train, struggling with her luggage. Although Bronwen rarely struggled; most men as a rule were more than eager to shoulder her freight. A fact of which she, at least some of the time, appeared to be blithely unaware. Appeared to be, Glynis thought, being the operative phrase here.
In the meantime, Susan, looking for a baggage handler and apparently finding none, went to pluck her valise from a baggage cart. After hailing an open carriage, she told Glynis, "I'm on my way to Mrs. Stanton's for a long-overdue visit, and I am delighted that it coincided with Emma's wedding date."
"Mrs. Stanton" was always called so by Susan, despite the fact that she and Elizabeth Stanton had been, for nearly ten years, fast friends and mutual supporters.
Glynis watched the woman's carriage leave, and when she turned back to the train it was with sinking hope. It now seemed certain that Bronwen would not appear. The militia men had finished boarding the passenger cars and were leaning out of the windows, while the women had lined up alongside the tracks, waving their flowers and flags. A young boy, standing apart from the others, wore an expression of utter dejection, as if he were being forced to stay behind while his friends went off to the fair.
Someone with a reed flute had begun to pipe "Yankee Doodle," which was quickly joined by boisterous singing. When the conductors went up the steps, indicating that both trains would depart shortly, Glynis began to wonder if she should consider taking up residence in the station's baggage room together with Jenny Terhune. Jenny, who at the moment was skittering toward the station house, clutching several crusts of bread.
A clip-clop of hooves behind Glynis made her turn to see the Seneca Falls constable, Cullen Stuart, astride his Morgan horse. An amused expression creased his face along the lines worked by time and weather, his sand-colored hair had grown shaggy around his neck and ears, and the thick brush mustache was scarcely trimmed. Not that it mattered. Cullen, like Bronwen, seemed unaware of his effect on those of the opposite gender; but in his case, Glynis had long since decided, the lack of awareness was more than likely authentic.
He leaned down to speak to her over the noise of the nearest locomotive's gathering steam. "I take it Bronwen hasn't shown up."
"No, Cullen, she hasn't. As you see."
"You sound exasperated."
She knew she did, and tried to smile. "A common enough reaction to Bronwen—"
She broke off when she found herself shouting over the deafening noise of the locomotive, the men on board yelling the last chorus of "Yankee Doodle," the young women screaming their good-byes, and over it all the reed flute shrilling like a frenzied bird.
She and Cullen waited while one train, then the other, pulled slowly out of the station. When the roar of the engines had begun to diminish, the older women allowed themselves to weep openly. And a number of the younger ones, as if they had just now realized that the party was over, had also begun to cry. Faith Alden, the wilting bouquet of violets now crushed against her face, was among them.
Cullen's earlier smile had long since faded. He had watched the departing trains with an odd expression, and Glynis suddenly wondered if he might be thinking that he, too, should be heading south. "Cullen," she began, hearing the catch in her voice, "you aren't considering—"
"So where is Bronwen?" he broke in, as if he'd anticipated her question and didn't want her to ask it.
Trying to push aside the specter of Cullen leaving for war, Glynis answered, "You know Bronwen. She changes her plans as often as she changes her opinions, wouldn't you say?"
"No, I wouldn't say. She's usually reliable enough—when she chooses to be."
Not exactly unqualified praise, thought Glynis, who had begun to worry in earnest.
"Bronwen's coming from Washington?" Cullen asked.
Glynis nodded. "But she wrote that first she wanted to spend a few days in Rochester with her family. Then she would come on here by train. Today."
"If the trains were filled with troops, though, she might have taken a packet boat." Cullen twisted in the saddle to look toward the canal. 'T 11 check down at the boat landing."
He guided the Morgan toward Fall Street and the Seneca River and canal, which ran below and parallel to the road, while Glynis decided she should check the telegraph office in the event Bronwen had wired. She tried not to imagine how Emma would react when told that her cousin had failed to arrive.
She was walking past the station house when a tall, fairhaired woman emerged from it. Her face was plainly distressed as she glanced around her, and she stood there at the door before taking a few steps to a nearby wooden bench. After sinking onto it, she brought up her hands to cover her face. Glynis had slowed, at first thinking she had seen the woman somewhere before, although the burgundy wool, hoop-skirted dress and cloak looked more elegant than were usually seen in Seneca Falls; the black, soft-leather shoes and kid gloves more appropriate for city streets. In comparison to her garments, the woman's fine gold hair beneath a black velvet bonnet struck a discordant note. Its disheveled appearance suggested a long train ride. Which could mean that she, despite Glynis's initial impression, was a stranger to Seneca Falls.
Glynis could not have said what made her approach the woman. It might have been the prod of memory, a sudden recollection of another well-dressed woman who, years before, had come to town a stranger, and whose life shortly thereafter had been ended by murder. A murder that could possibly have been prevented, Glynis had always felt with guilty remorse, if someone like herself had thought to inquire the woman's intent.
She crossed the cobbled paving to stand before the woman, and said cautiously, "Please excuse me if I'm intruding, but I wonder if I might be of help?"
The woman's hands dropped to her lap and startled, blue eyes met those of Glynis. "I don't know," she answered in a hesitant voice which sounded not so much weak as troubled.
"Were you to be met?" Glynis asked, although the woman did not strike her as one who would collapse over the absence of a reception.
"No," the woman answered. "But I believe there is someone I know ... that is, I hadn't expected anyone to meet me." Her voice now sounded more steady, and she attempted a smile. "I'm just feeling somewhat overwhelmed by what I've done."
Glynis seated herself on the bench, nodding in encouragement, and trusting that the woman would go on to explain what exactly it was she had done. When she did not, Glynis gave the woman her name, then said again, "I'd like to be of help, if I can."
The woman straightened, saying, "I apologize if I've seemed ungrateful. My name is Elise Jager and I've come here from ... from east of Syracuse, and ..." Her voice trailed off, while she studied Glynis, but then she evidently came to a decision, because she continued, "I have reason to believe that my daughter is here in this town, but I don't know where to begin looking for her."
When she did not offer more to Glynis, her silence raised immediate questions: Why was this woman's daughter in Seneca Falls, and not in Syracuse? How on earth could a woman lose track of her own child? Glynis didn't ask. Elise Jager's wary expression held every indication of intelligence, so she must have known that her words would be heard as odd ones. And if she didn't choose to explain herself, Glynis wouldn't intrude further, not with Bronwen's whereabouts continuing to concern her. She should be off to the telegraph office.
"Perhaps you could start with the constable, Mrs. Jager," she said. Because of the gloves, she could see no ring, but assumed that if the woman had a daughter she was, or had been, married. Or, if not, that might answer the questions.
"Constable Stuart left here a few minutes ago," Glynis went on, rising from the bench and gesturing toward the canal. "He planned to stop at the boat landing, but if you don't find him there, you should try his office. Anyone in town can direct you to it. I'm on my way to Fall Street," she added, "so I'd be happy to walk with you that far."
Elise Jager had gotten to her feet, and she gave Glynis a brief nod.
"Do you have any baggage?" Glynis inquired, glancing around.
"I've had it sent to Carr's Hotel," the woman answered briefly.
As they walked toward Fall Street, Mrs. Jager said nothing more, showing little interest in the church and the school that they passed. Glynis found the woman's lack of curiosity peculiar. One would have thought, after arriving in an unfamiliar town and needing to find a daughter, she would be asking questions.
When they reached the corner of Fall Street, Glynis again gestured in the direction of the boat landing. "You may meet the constable on your way down there."
"How will I recognize him?"
"He rides a black Morgan, and he wears a badge," Glynis said, smiling. "Both horse and man are markedly handsome, so I doubt that you'll miss them." She extended her hand, saying, "I wish you well in your search, Mrs. Jager, and should you want to see me again, I can usually be found in the Seneca Falls library."
The exception to that, she thought with some irritation, being those days when she was forced to wander the railroad station like an out-of-work drifter. She stood for a moment, watching the woman walk toward the canal, then hurried on to the telegraph office.
When she'd questioned the telegraph operator, Mr. Grimes, he had been adamant: no wire had come from her niece. So where was she? thought Glynis as she emerged from the tiny cubicle of an office. She remembered much too clearly that the only time Bronwen had failed to send word, she had been in serious trouble. But what could possibly have happened to her now?
While in the telegraph office, Glynis had debated with herself as to whether she should send a wire to Rochester. But if Bronwen had simply been delayed en route—and connecting trains were often late—such a wire would cause her family needless worry.
Glynis sighed, then raised her eyes from the road, as she became aware of some commotion on the far side of Fall Street. A handful of townsfolk were standing there, pointing excitedly and shading their eyes as they gazed at the sky. Since she heard anxiety in their voices, Glynis discarded the simplest explanation: a late flock of Canada geese winging northward. As she started across the road, people began pouring from shops and offices, all pointing upward, so before she reached the others, Glynis stopped to search the cloudless sky. She blinked several times to clear her vision, then looked again. And still did not believe what she saw.
There, high over the land to the west, was something that appeared far too large to be a bird, or even a flock of birds. It bobbed slightly on the nearly windless air, and as Glynis watched, along with what had become a growing crowd, the object looked to be slowly descending.
She decided that if she were losing her mind, then she was at least not alone in madness, as the voices of those on the street were reaching fever-pitch. When her elbow was suddenly nudged, she turned to find the Morgan nuzzling her sleeve. "Cullen! What is that? Do you know?"
He gave her an odd smile when he dismounted, as if she were asking him the obvious. But he seemed fairly unconcerned, and while this had the effect of calming those nearby, they looked to him for an explanation. Glynis, staring upward at the now rapidly approaching object, said with some frustration, "Cullen, if you know what that—"
She broke off, because all at once she knew. It must have shown on her face, because Cullen nodded, saying, "Sure, it's a balloon."
"A gas balloon!" she said, suddenly recalling articles that she'd seen in library copies of Harper's Weekly. And now it did seem obvious. A pale, shimmering balloon that floated on the air like an immense, gone-to-seed dandelion. With her references now in mind, Glynis knew that it must be made of India silk contained in a net of thin, knotted silk twine.
"It's a lot bigger than the ones I've read about," Cullen said. "Must be fifty feet high, and I'll bet it weighs a ton or more. Wonder where it's going to land."
"Surely it won't land here," Glynis said, shading her eyes against the canal's reflected light. "How can it? We don't have coal gas yet, so it couldn't be reinflated to take off again."
While this seemed reasonable to her, Cullen just shook his head, and there now could be small doubt that the balloon, coal gas or not, was descending. As it came closer, Glynis could pick out, suspended from ropes that hung below the balloon, what appeared to be a large, rattan or wicker basket. And on the balloon itself, like a ship of the sky, had been painted the name Enterprise.
Since Cullen's announcement, the crowd had quieted, all eyes straining upward, until a voice shouted, "Look! There's somebody in there!"
Glynis felt a sudden prick of foreboding, then pushed it aside as being too outlandish to consider. She remained uneasy, though, and by the time the deflating balloon had neared the far reach of the canal, she began to think that her fear might have been justified.
She then heard Cullen's quick intake of breath, followed by, "Glynis, it looks as if there are two people in that basket. You don't think one of them could—" He broke off, shaking his head again, at the same time beginning to smile. A minute later he was laughing. "It's her, all right! I'd know that redhead anywhere."
"No, it can't be!" But even as Glynis denied it, she spotted, above the rim of the basket, a red-gold blur.
Just as the now wrinkling balloon seemed to tower above them, the crowd gasped with one voice. The rattan basket began to brush the first branches of several lofty elms, swinging erratically with a sickening, bobbing succession of jerks. Then, with a series of sharp, crunching noises, it struck the tree's lower limbs. A piercing cry—and if Bronwen's, it would be fury rather than terror—reached those standing below, and over the side of the basket appeared strands of long red hair lashing like bloodied ropes.
Glynis was barely aware of Cullen's hands gripping her shoulders. With her own hands clenched to her mouth, she watched the balloon swing slowly to one side like a ship listing in high seas, while the basket, now lurching wildly, was dragged through a tangle of whipping branches. Its occupants, if the forked limbs did not impale them first, would surely be thrown out. And no one dropping from that height could possibly survive.
Posted December 27, 2013
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