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The stylish carriage swayed on the dusty road which led to the Yellow Pines Lumber Mill. Katharine Fremont shivered and looked out the window at the dense pine forest which towered on either side of the road. These tall, monstrous trees were the reason for her husband's death. The timber war had taken Frank, her husband, and now she was alone in an alien land. Though she had lived in the South nearly six years, she still felt like an outsider, an intruder.
She studied the stooped shoulders of Big Hill who sat hunched over the reins, quiet in his own thoughts. Loyal, colored Hill. He had stayed on after Frank's death in spite of her friends' predictions that he would be the first to leave. He helped her with the horses and with the few cattle which she still had not sold. In fact, it was Big Hill who had insisted that he drive her to the lumber mill this morning, maintaining in his gentle way that it was dangerous for her to make the trip alone.
Her heart beat hard against her bodice and her hand involuntarily moved to still it, feeling the tautness of her corset through the layers of her clothing. Had it actually been nine months ago? The memory was still fresh in her mind, as if it had occurred only the day before.
The posse of men on horses in her front yard had been real. And the Telfair sheriff, hat in hand at her door, his eyes first looking into her own, then lowering to study the wide planks of her front porch which extended as a veranda on three sides of her house ... he, too, had been real.
Yes, there was a clarity about it all, which the passage of time had not eclipsed.
Her throat tightened and she found it difficult to swallow, as she retraced the events of that fateful day. She closed her eyes, remembering the halting, gruff voice of the sheriff.
"Mrs. Fremont," he had said, "something terrible has happened." With a shaking in his voice, he had continued. "Maybe you'd better sit down, for I bring the worst kind of news." She remembered touching the smooth white column nearest her, as if for support, for she had refused his suggestion that she sit down. She would remain standing. She would be strong.
"It's your husband, Mrs. Fremont," he had said. "He's ..." The sheriff had looked toward his posse, and then she had seen the wagon hitched to a horse, with a deputy in the driver's seat. She remembered clutching the column then, desperately seeking in its stony hardness the reassurance that everything wasn't so terrible, after all, that she really wasn't experiencing the end of her life as she had known it in the piney woods of Georgia.
"Yes, Ma'm," the sheriff had said, "someone killed your ..." Before he could complete his duty of informing the corpse's next of kin, she had felt her knees buckle, and only with iron resolve did she straighten them again. Something had warned her that these very men who faced her on their exhausted horses, with feigned expressions of horror and sympathy on their bearded faces, might well have been the murderers of her husband. She would not - and she did not - cower before them.
She remembered releasing the cold column and, holding up her long dress with one trembling hand, descending the porch steps. She had refused the outstretched arm of the sheriff. After all, the former Telfair County sheriff, before this one, had been convicted along with others of having John Forsyth, her husband's close associate in the timber business, murdered only a few months before. He was now serving time in the Ohio State Penitentiary.
Somehow, she had managed to walk without stumbling to the wagon, even as the sheriff beseeched her not to view her husband's remains. He was holding Frank's watch, with its gold fob and chain, and his initialed money clip, with the money intact, which ruled out robbery as a motive, he had said. These, he had assured her, would suffice for identification.
They had known Frank Fremont, anyway. Everyone knew who he was. He oversaw the smooth operations of the Dodge Company's turpentine still at Camp Six and its sawmill at Willcox Lake on the Ocmulgee River, just as John Forsyth did at the Normandale sawmill.
Walking rapidly ahead of her, the sheriff had reached the wagon which had become a funeral bier, and he had held his arms wide across its side, as though wanting to shield her from the burden it bore. She had ignored his raised, uniformed arms which exposed weapons hanging from his gun belt, one over each hip, for she felt compelled to witness the wrong that had been perpetrated on her husband.
Nothing, however, could have prepared her for the brutalization of the body which rested on someone's quilts in the floor of the wagon, now soaked in her husband's blood. She had felt a retching in her throat, which she managed - she knew not how - to subdue. An unexplainable and invisible force had held her in its grip and had refused to let her faint ... or weep.
She remembered the clothes that her husband had worn that day. Otherwise, she might not have recognized him, for his face had been blown away. No features were distinguishable. He had received bullets in the chest, also, for his fashionable brown coat still oozed blood onto the saturated quilts.
"Ma'm," the sheriff had pleaded with her, "let me help you back to the house. Do you have someone here ... a maid perhaps? You need somebody, Mrs. Fremont."
"Yes," she had murmured coldly, trying to keep herself from falling to pieces, trying hard to repress the tears which wanted to gush forth. This time, she accepted his arm as he led her back to the house, for she knew she was too weak to walk alone.
"We found his body 'bout a mile from Camp Six," he had said. "His horse was nearby. We brought the horse back ... we'll take him on to your stable when we leave."
"Oh," the sheriff had continued with relief in his voice, now that his duty had nearly been finalized, "let me give you these." He had held out Frank's pocket watch with its long chain and the money in its tight clip. Both were streaked with Frank's blood.
Katharine shuddered at the memory of it all. It had been rumored that angry "squatters" had waylaid her husband near Camp Six and had killed him. The murderer, or murderers, had never been found. She brushed at tears which stung her eyes. Her husband, like John Forsyth, had been a kind, gentle man. All that she knew about the tense situation in the Georgia piney woods was what he had told her, and Frank, not wanting to trouble her, had told her very little.
She remembered her initial grief and anger and solitude, enforced by her refusal to accept invitations from solicitous friends in the transplanted Northerners' timber circles. She had finally decided that she wanted to go home, back to New York. However, there were business matters to settle, especially the sale of her house and timber, the latter being the reason for her present trip to the lumber mill.
Suddenly, a heavy rumbling shook the ground, and Katharine was jostled from her reverie. The horses, wild-eyed and tossing their heads, slowed their gait, then began stepping backward, rocking the carriage from side to side.
"Whoa dar, Gen'l Lee an' Ha'ey!" Big Hill spoke soothingly to the matched gray geldings. "It dat lok'motif agin, and you's heard it befo'. Stop dat now, and git a move on!"
The horses lurched to a stop, their fidgety hooves swirling dust over the carriage. Only after more coaxing words did the frightened animals resume a slow trot, their sensitive ears twitching, as the train continued its whistling, steel-clanking journey along the railroad track which ran almost parallel with the eastern part of the dirt road.
Katharine straightened her hat, pulling the loosened wisps of her chestnut hair under the rounded brim. She still wore her widow's weeds, as she thought she should, since Frank had been dead now less than a year.
The groaning locomotive and the rumbling carriage arrived at the lumber mill almost simultaneously, the engine hissing to a stop at the depot, the carriage pulling up to the manager's office. The Negro driver slowly climbed down and opened the carriage door.
"Thank you, Hill," Katharine Fremont said, as she stepped to the ground. Drawing her long cloak about her, she moved toward the office door.
"I'll only be a short while, Hill, but you'll have time to go to the commissary."
"Ah sho' will, Miz Kat'rin. Ah be lookin' out fer you, w'en you's ready to go."
Katharine entered the office and was pleased to find the new manager there.
"Mr. Paul Owens, I believe?" As he nodded assent, Katharine held out her gloved hand.
"I am Katharine Fremont. My husband, Frank, was killed nearly nine months ago."
The portly Paul Owens studied Katharine intently. A pretty one, he thought, and a brave one to risk coming to the mill, even though there was a decided lull now in the land war.
"Oh, yes, I heard and read all about it, Mrs. Fremont. Your husband and Mr. Forsyth were killed about the same time. As you know, I have been trying to fill in here at the Normandale mill since their deaths. I'm so sorry about your husband, Mrs. Fremont. But I'm sure you know the local people have calmed down in their opposition to the timber company. Perhaps it took your husband's death to bring them to their senses. We haven't found any railroad spikes in the timber recently and we haven't lately heard of any squatter meetings." He paused, then adeptly changed the subject.
"Yes," he said, "I've been here at the mill about a year now. I'm originally from New York, as I believe you are, also, Mrs. Fremont, but I'd been working at the Dodges' sawmill on St. Simons Island for years. You know, they buried Mr. Forsyth there at Christ Church on the island. After Captain Forsyth's death, Mr. Norman Dodge asked me if I'd mind going upriver, into the piney woods, to manage the mill here at Normandale. You know, the mill here was named for Norman Dodge. Well, I had some qualms about it, at first, because of all the land troubles but he made the wages so good I couldn't turn it down."
Katharine found herself listening with interest to the talkative mill superintendent. Though she had been to the mill before, she had always waited in the carriage while her husband transacted business. She realized that this was the first time she had even been in the mill office and the first time she had talked with the mill superintendent.
"Yes," she said, "I knew the town was named for Norman, though I don't know him very well. My father, Mather Stuart, was a friend of William E. Dodge, Norman's father, who died around ten years ago."
"Yes, Ma'm, well ... Norman and his brothers own over 300,000 acres of the finest longleaf yellow pine in the world. Of course, the squatters say they own the land, and some of them have deeds to prove it. Guess the Dodges' ejectment suits in this area have been going on for the past twenty years. I tell you, there's been a lot of blood shed over these land squabbles." The mill manager suddenly became contrite. "Oh, please forgive me, Mrs. Fremont," he said with sincere regret, "I didn't mean to bring up sad things and get you all upset."
"Oh, that's quite all right, Mr. Owens. I'm still trying to understand all that's going on with the Dodges and the squatters. I just don't understand how the squatters can possibly think the land belongs to them!"
"Well ... some claim they bought it at the 1845 Tax Sale, and they've been living on the land and paying taxes on the land for the past forty-six years. Of course, a federal judge has said the tax sale was illegal but these Southerners just refuse to believe it. They have deeds and they've been paying taxes on the land ... I tell you, it's a sad, mixed-up situation. We just don't know what's going to happen next. They're fighting over about 500 square miles of yellow pine that's over a hundred feet tall and big around as wagon wheels. It's virgin timber ... been growing over a hundred years, some of it several hundred years." The mill manager smiled before continuing, "But you know the timber, Mrs. Fremont. You own some of it yourself."
"Yes," Katharine said, "my husband bought our lots from William Dodge before we even moved to Georgia, and that's what has brought me to the mill today, Mr. Owens. I need some help, some direction, actually. You see, I want to find someone to cruise my timber, get it to market, and sell it for me. As soon as I find an overseer to do this for me, I intend to move back to New York."
"You're not going to find anybody from the timber company to help you, Mrs. Fremont, since most of your timber, probably all of it, will have to be rafted. No, we Northerners came in and built the sawmills here and at Darien and St. Simons, but we don't have the rafting skills. We just don't know the rivers the way these local Crackers do."
Motioning for Katharine to join him at the office window and directing her to look across the mill yard, Paul Owens said, "There's your man, Mrs. Fremont ... Micah MacRae ... lives in Telfair County near Sugar Creek. Actually, you cross the old bridge over Bear Creek, and his place is on up the road to the right a mile or so."
Katharine's first look at Micah MacRae was forever welded like molten steel into her memory. He was a big man but he moved with the fluid grace of one accustomed to the rolling river under his feet. His clothes, befitting the backwoodsman he was, were of homespun and his coat and hat were of deerskin. As Katharine watched, other loggers joined him, and the raftsman, unaware of her gaze, withdrew some chewing tobacco from his pocket, cut off a plug, and implanted it firmly in his jaw. Katharine cringed slightly at this lack of civility, then turned to the mill manager who was still talking.
"He's the best you'll find, Mrs. Fremont," he said. "He knows the rivers and he knows timber. He'll take it down the river or he'll load it here at the railroad, just according to where the trees are located."
"I appreciate your help, Mr. Owens. I'll go and talk to Mr. MacRae now."
As Katharine moved to leave the office, the door opened, admitting a man with a jagged scar which joined his right ear with the corner of his mouth. Katharine presumed he was a mill hand, and it was on her mind to ask him to help with rafting her timber. However, the way he looked at her, leeringly, caused her to hurry on past him. It embarrassed her that he made intimate remarks, so that she could hear, as she walked across the front porch of the mill office, down the steps, and toward the group of loggers. Seeing her coming, the men hurriedly whispered among themselves, all except Micah MacRae who left the group and walked a few steps toward her.
"Hello, Mr. MacRae," Katharine said, extending her hand. "I'm Katharine ... Mrs. Frank Fremont. Mr. Owens suggested that I talk to you."
Excerpted from Widow of Sighing Pines by Jane Walker Copyright © 2002 by Jane Walker. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted December 30, 2004
I was given this book a few days before Christmas. I had a little time on my hands and decided to go ahead and read the book. Boy was I surprised! I would reccomend this book to anyone who likes to read period. I am not from Georgia and do not know a lot about that State's history. I had no idea that a second civil war erupted in Georgia during the Post Reconstruction Period. I was treated to a romance novel and a history lesson at the same time. Just like the Civil War, it is 'North vs. South' again and the characters are so real. If you like anything having to do with the Civil War, and the 'domino effect' it caused many years later in South Central Georgia, combined with fictional but realistic characters; you will love this book. I just had no idea that another war broke out in Georgia from 'friction,' the Civil War left in its wake. It is a very classy book. It incorporates history, romance, and very detailed descriptions of timber rafting, as well as other related outdoorsman activities. A well written and very exciting book!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 17, 2004
'Widow of Sighing Pines' is an excellent book for both students of United States History and Georgia History. Additionally, the book would also appeal to readers who love romance novels. Author Jane Walker obviously went to tremendous lengths to conduct extensive and exhaustive research to gather the background/historical data for this book. She then added fictional, but seemingly real characters that in no way interfere with the book's backdrop of the Post Reconstruction Land War that occurred in Georgia. From a historical perspective, the violence between Northern and Southern interests over land rights and the Yellow Long Leaf Pine and the rafting of the latter are well documented. Then there is the budding romance between what would seem like two unlikely characters, a Northern Lady with financial interests in the piney woods of Georgia and a tough, but well respected and seasoned Southern timber raftsman. The way Author Jane Walker intertwines the historical dualism and romantic parallels is incredible. This book isn't just a 'gotta read,' but also a 'gotta be made into a Movie!' Bravo the Author!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 12, 2004
This is a great book. It does not matter where you live; you will love this book. I really find it hard to believe that this book is not listed on websearches about the] civil war. I read the review that got 5 stars and I fully agree with it. I strongly urge' my people, African Americans, to read this book and at least check it out.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 12, 2004
This book is wonderful. I got it as a present and thought it was just another boring history book. I had no idea that so much went on in Georgia after the Civil War. The characters and the romance were so believable. If you love romance books, you will ove this book. It is really a 'must read' book. I have not figured out why it has not made Opera's Book Club. I generally read romance novels and I was really surprised that I got caught up in the history.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 13, 2004
I was skeptical of this book but was given it as a gift from my mom. To my surprise I enjoyed it and it was a well written book of the historical-romance genre. It will be particularly well recieved by persons familiar with the georgia landwars and the clear cutting of the long leaf pines.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.