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In writing this story, no point of fact was intentionally negated. Characterizations, and interaction between these, were fabricated to facilitate the story line.
Author's Note: It is easy to forget what life was like for our grandparents, even more so our great or great, great grandparents but these experiences define who we are in the ever-changing world around us. They can give a sense of stability and focus for the future.
Author Biography: Ann Cullen lives in the western United States, and graduated from Pacific Lutheran University where she majored in American history. Possessing a deep interest in the past where facts and statistics reveal little of their context, Ann Cullen seeks in her writing to explore the world of individuals, to walk in their shoes and to see life from their eyes.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)|
Read an Excerpt
Light burst into the passenger car as the train emerged from the long, dark tunnel. Mary Cruse squinted against the late afternoon sun as she sat next to her father. The scenery outside her window was magnificent. The snow covered Rocky Mountains stood strong and majestic with deep gorges dropping hundreds of feet off the side of the tracks. The sight was so dramatic, it nearly took her breath away.
"No wonder Uncle Tommy came here," she stated quietly.
"It is a commanding sight," her father agreed, "and there are enough trees that he should have been able to make his fortune in lumber if he hadn't struck gold."
Mary turned. "You and mother could have moved to Montana." She smiled.
"Your mother was big with your brother when we settled in San Francisco, and she was tired of moving. Besides, she loves having the bay so close. The water makes her feel at home." William Cruse patted his daughter's hand. "My brother has offered you a very nice place in his house. It should give you every social opportunity."
"Fie, with the social opportunity," she laughed. "Look at the scenery! This is an adventure."
William Cruse gazed out the window again. The mountains were powerfully close, the snow falling down the slopes to the very tracks they traveled. Suddenly a white, snow wall obscured the view, encasing the train in a virtual toboggan run.
"I think we are making good time," Mary's father noted as he pulled out his pocket watch.
"Just so we don't fly loose of these tracks," she gasped. The train had just broken free from the snow wall to travel across a trestle.
William Cruse smiled. "It's just as well your mother didn't come with. She hates heights."
Mary relaxed back against her seat. "Frank would love it. He would be hanging out the back of the caboose, shouting with glee as the wind stole his hat, and formed icicles in his hair."
Her father grinned. "Your brother would do that all right. That he would."
The snow wall suddenly encased them once again. Mary stared out through her window anyway, noting the deepening shadow the train was traveling through. It would be dark by the time they got to Helena. They had another two hours on the train.
The afternoon elapsed, and dusk increasingly stole the light of the February sun. The scenery outside Mary's window dimmed into shades of darkness, illuminated only by the reflected light of the stars. By the time they pulled into Helena, Montana, Mary Cruse was ready to give up the train for a soft bed. She was tired from all their traveling.
William Cruse rose to his feet as the conductor announced their arrival. Mary gathered her things, and joined her father as they followed the passengers from the car. The crowd of people slowly made their way outside under the depot's lights.
Mary shivered in the Montana cold as she strained to find her uncle. It had been so long since she had seen him, she hardly remembered what he looked like...despite the many times she had stared at his photo before she left her parents' house. His last visit to San Francisco had been years before when she was only a girl. Uncle Tommy had brought her a porcelain doll. It had been her prized possession until one of her brothers slammed her bedroom door so hard, it jarred the dresser where the doll was enshrined. The porcelain baby fell to the floor, smashing the precious face.
"Tommy!" her father shouted. His tired stride took on energy.
Mary searched for the image of her uncle as she quickly followed her dad. Within minutes he was embracing a man in a long, wool coat. She stared at the two. The two brothers were ecstatic, but the image of Thomas Cruse was not that of the photo at home. This man was nearly the age of her father, and though she expected this, she would not have recognized him if it hadn't been for his twinkling, blue eyes.
"Mary," Uncle Tommy greeted as he turned to survey her from head to toe, "ye have grown into a fine woman."
"Uncle Tommy," the young woman responded. She gave him the expected hug.
"I am so glad ye have come," he stated with genuine feeling. Thomas Cruse smiled broadly. "Ye like children, Mary? Wee babies?"
"Of course," she replied with a gracious smile. "When do I get to meet little Mamie?"
"Not 'til morning, I'm afraid. Her nurse puts her to bed early, too early for me way of thinking, but what can an old man know? I am glad ye are here, Mary."
"We need to collect our luggage," William Cruse decided.
The three made their way into the depot. Twenty minutes later they were in route to the house. Conversation had slowly faded as they left the light of the depot. Mary and her father were tired, and the cold was taking its toll. Still, talk did not die completely.
"It is certainly dark in Montana," Mary commented. She could barely make out her uncle's silhouette sitting directly across from her.
"Ye get used to it," Uncle Tommy chuckled lightly.
"How does the driver see well enough to guide the horses?" she asked.
"Ah well, Mary, there are the lanterns. But the man atop is used to dark mines, like me. If he had even one star to guide by, he would be finding his way out of the prairie in the middle of the night," her uncle replied. "Ye needn't worry."
"It certainly is cold," William Cruse noted, "but you don't have much humidity here, do you, Tommy?"
"Not once the mercury drops," he answered. "Any moisture freezes, and falls to the ground."
"The chill doesn't penetrate like in San Francisco," Mary's father noted.
"But ye dare not be staying out in it for any length of time," Thomas Cruse offered. "The frigid air can kill."
Mary was looking out the window. There were a few lights now from the houses they passed. Within minutes the carriage pulled up in front of a stylish, two story house with a mansard roof encasing yet another floor. Lights poured from it as if a party was being held.
"Do you have company, Uncle Tommy?" Mary asked.
"I have. Ye are here," he responded with a smile she could see through the increased light.
The party of three left the confines of the carriage, and hastened up to the front door. Thomas Cruse's maid met them, taking their coats, and directing them to the dining room where hot coffee was waiting.
Mary gravitated to the nearest fireplace despite the warmth of the house. Here she thawed her numb fingers and toes, and then turned her backside to the heat.
"Don't catch your skirts afire," her father advised as he handed Mary a steaming cup.
"Thank you," Mary responded as she moved to the side so her father could share the warmth.
"Montana gets cold," William Cruse noted.
"Hmm," Mary agreed as she took a sip of the hot liquid. She glanced up. Her uncle had momentarily disappeared. "Why does Uncle Tommy have such a thick Irish accent?" she asked quietly. "You don't."
"We all did when we first came over," her father replied with a smile, "but I suppose Uncle Mike's English and mine became more American, considering our work. We are around people all the time. Your Uncle Tommy, on the other hand, kept more to himself, especially with all his prospecting."
"Tommy," Mary's father responded as his brother reappeared, "I received greetings from Connecticut the day before we left. I'll see if I can find Mike's letter tomorrow, if you would like to read it."
"I would. It has been a good long while since I had news from Michael," Thomas Cruse stated as he observed his niece. "Mary, ye look tired."
"I am," she agreed.
Her uncle took her empty cup and saucer, and set them aside. "Perhaps I should be showing ye to yer room," he offered.
"Please," Mary responded.
Thomas Cruse picked up a lamp, and escorted his niece up the handsome staircase. They turned down the hall, and entered a bedroom. "Me maid thought ye would be liking this one overlooking the garden," Cruse offered. He placed the lamp on a nearby table.
"It is very nice," Mary noted.
"Yer father will be sleeping directly across the hall," her uncle noted.
"Thank you," she murmured. "What time is breakfast?"
"Ye may eat at any time, though I will be having me meal at six, and be gone by half past the hour," Uncle Tommy replied. "Maybe yer father will be joining me."
"And what do you expect of me during this time," she asked.
"Nothing, Mary. Ye are tired from yer journey, though I dare say me Mamie will be finding ye out." He smiled.
"Yes, I can meet your daughter in the morning," she agreed. "I can take care of her."
"No Mary, ye needn't be doing that," her uncle responded. "She has a nurse."
"If I'm not to care for little Mamie, why did you send for me?"
"Mary, me dear Mary," Uncle Tommy responded, "I need ye to be taking care of Mamie and me, but we aren't poor. Ye needn't be doing everything yerself. We have Mamie's nurse, Cook, and the others. But I need someone I can trust, someone who will be taking care of all this as if it was their own." His voice fell off as a momentary sadness entered his face. "I am an old man, Mary. I don't know what it takes to run a fine house. Me Maggie did, but me..." He shook his head. "...not me." Then a smile crept back into his face, and his eyes again took on their twinkle. "It is good to be having ye here, Mary. I want ye to feel at home. I want this to be home for ye."
"So you want me to take over the house?" Mary asked quietly.
"With what limitations?" Mary asked now.
"Limitations? There are none," her uncle replied. "What limitations could there be? Ye spend whatever ye have need of."
"Uncle Tommy," Mary began, and then hesitated. "Thank you for inviting me to Montana."
A warm smile rose to his lips. "Ye are welcome, Mary Cruse. Ye are welcome." Then his gaze shifted across the room. "I had yer trunk and things brought up. Ye have a good night's rest," he stated as he turned to leave.
She watched him go, and then turned back to her room. It was spacious with floral wallpaper and rich woodwork. A double set of sash windows rose behind a fine, writing desk. Mary went to her trunk, and rummaged through until she found her nightgown. Taking this over to the bed that had already been turned down, she changed and crawled in. The mattress was soft, a welcome change from the vibrating berth of the train.
Mary looked up. The noise that had awakened her did not come from her room, but from above. Distinct footsteps crossed the upper floor, and then all was still again. Mary strained, listening, but the wood above creaked no more.
Mary shivered. The fire in the stove had died. She slid down into her bedcovers, her eyes wide open. What could be on the third floor in the middle of the night? The minutes ticked slowly by until the darkness and her fatigue again claimed her.
She rose, and dressed. When Mary stepped from the room, she nearly collided with a small child. The tiny girl darted behind her skirts.
"Mamie." The word ended in a higher tone than it had begun. A woman slowed to a stop before Mary. "Excuse me, Miss, but Mr. Cruse's daughter has just escaped from a good nutritious breakfast, and I fear, has smeared your skirts with mush." Exasperation told in the woman's face.
Mary turned to the toddler. Mush was extruding from between the little fingers as they clutched the fabric. She bent down to Mamie. "I am your cousin, Mary." She held out her hand to the child. The little girl pulled the skirt up over her face.
"She's a difficult one," the nurse retorted.
Mary did not rise. "Mamie, I have come a long way to meet you. Do you suppose we can be friends?"
"Train?" the child asked.
"Yes, I took the train," Mary responded.
"Choo, choo," the child cried as she suddenly emerged from the fabric, and raced back the direction she had come.
"I'm sorry about that," the nurse apologized as she now curtsied slightly to Mary. "You must be Mr. Cruse's niece. Welcome."
"Thank you." Mary rose. Her eyes still lingered on the child's retreating figure. "Is she always so unpredictable?"
"The child is predictably unpredictable," the nurse replied. "A damp cloth should sponge those spots from your skirt."
Mary looked momentarily down. She knew how to remove the mush, but her thoughts were not on this. Suddenly, she followed her uncle's daughter. Surprised, the nurse hurried after her. When the two reached the nursery, they found Mamie playing with her toy train. Mary sat down on the bare floor.
Mamie offered her shiny black engine. "Choo, choo."
Mary smiled. "Choo, choo," she repeated as she accepted it. The young woman ran the train over the floor to her little cousin.
Delight danced in Mamie's eyes.
So this was her uncle's only child. Mamie was dressed in an expensive gown, and her room was grandly decorated. But this obviously held little interest to the toddler who preferred brightly painted trains to the magnificent, porcelain dolls encased behind the glass of a nearby, display case.
Mary turned to the nurse. "Does Mamie have a rag doll?"
"A rag doll?" The woman's cleanup paused. "No," she replied in disgust, "the little girl has good dolls."
"But they are behind glass," Mary responded.
The nurse promptly retrieved one. She handed it to the young woman. "You need to watch Mamie, though, so she doesn't break it. Her father hates waste."
Mary offered the doll to her little cousin, but Mamie ignored the gesture, taking greater interest in the white tunnel her gown created for her little train. Mary got up, and returned the doll to the cabinet. She stood a moment noting the wonderful creations, all with porcelain heads.
"Mr. Cruse ordered them from all over," the nurse offered as she worked. "Some are from France, others from Germany."
"They are beautiful," Mary noted. One looked a lot like the doll her Uncle Tommy had once brought her.
"Yes," the nurse agreed. "It's a shame little Mamie doesn't take more interest in them, but maybe someday she will."
"Yes, maybe," Mary agreed. "She is very young." She turned then, and left the room.
The way downstairs was not a certainty for Mary Cruse as she retreated through the hall. She made it back as far as her room, but from there the passage looked different. Daylight made it look shorter and more spacious.
She knocked on her father's door. Had he already left with her uncle? No sound came from the room, and the door did not open.
Mary now followed the passage to the stairs, and down. The hall below was handsomely clad in rich cherry paneling, rising midway up the walls. Mary returned to the fireplace where she had warmed herself, noting the heavy mirror suspended over it. She turned. The front parlor had a nice stature with furniture matching the cherry woodwork.
"Would you like some breakfast, Miss?" A woman emerged from the dining room.
"Yes please," Mary replied. "I'm Mary Cruse." She offered her hand.
"Cook, Miss. I'm Cook, and I'm pleased to finally meet you," the woman responded warmly. "Mr. Cruse is so happy you came."
Mary smiled. "Surely you have a name other than 'cook'. ...or is that your surname?"
"Oh, of course I have a real name," the woman laughed, "but I don't use it here. None of us do. You see, your uncle's Irish tongue twisted our names so badly, and they came out sounding so Gaelic, we didn't even realize he was talking to us. So we just keep it simple. I go by 'Cook'." Her eyes twinkled.
"How long have you worked for my uncle?" Mary asked.
"Oh, ever since he moved into the house here," Cook replied as they slowly strolled into the dining room. "A year and a half, maybe two. I was here before Mrs. Cruse passed."
"Yes," Cook responded as they came to a stop, "but we don't talk about Mrs. Cruse, at least not in front of your uncle. He loved her so, and took her passing hard, harder than anyone I ever knew. At the funeral, he couldn't even get out of the carriage by himself, he was so overcome. ...but you being here, should help." She smiled.
"It has been over a year since Maggie died. Surely..." Mary responded.
"Your uncle gave his heart to Mrs. Cruse, his whole heart," Cook replied solemnly, "and a good chunk of him died with her."
"But he has a daughter," Mary insisted.
"More's the pity," Cook retorted. "What does he know of children? A big important man like him! I don't know if he blames the little one for causing her mother's death, or if she just reminds him of what he lost, but the child gets more attention from her dead mother than from him." Cook suddenly looked embarrassed. "I beg your pardon, Miss. Can I get you some breakfast?"
"A soft boiled egg, two slices of buttered toast, and tea," Mary responded automatically as her thoughts drifted to the night before. She had heard noise from the third floor. Was it Maggie Cruse's ghost?
Cook disappeared into the kitchen.
Mary stood at the table. There was one place set. It was near the end. She glanced at the ticking clock on the fireplace mantel. It was nearly eight-thirty. Her father must have gone to work with her uncle. Mary wandered over to the china closets built into the rich woodwork. The craftsmanship was magnificent, just like the staircase. As she looked through the glass, stacks of fine china, and rows of sparkling crystal filled the shelves.
Cook appeared with a cup of tea. "Your egg and toast will be ready in a minute."
Mary returned to the table, and sat down. The table was wide and long. At home, four people could have sat across either end of it, and countless friends along the sides.
"The dishes were almost all wedding gifts," Cook offered, "and Mrs. Cruse received some handsome table linens as well." She disappeared again, and returned with the egg and toast.
A single question burned in Mary's mind, a question she really shouldn't ask. Yet the woman had already said almost as much. "Cook, is this house haunted?" she asked bluntly.
Cook turned. Her head cocked ever so slightly as her eyes glowed mysteriously. "It is haunted by memories, Miss. A love like the two of them had... The memories are strong, so strong that sometimes I think your uncle can actually see her again. He does talk to her. I know that. I overheard him once."
"You overheard him?" Mary repeated.
Cook smiled. "Mrs. Cruse loved a fire crackling there in the fireplace." She nodded in its direction. "Mr. Cruse would often tend it for her as they talked about where they would go on their wedding trip. You knew, didn't you, that your uncle couldn't get away directly after the marriage ceremony because of some business he was involved in? Anyway, it was probably just as well, because Mrs. Cruse had time to set up housekeeping before she got too far along, being with child almost from the start." Cook paused momentarily as her eyes took on a far away look. "She and your uncle had the best time planning that trip together, there where the fire was so warm and cozy. I often cleared the dinner table while they talked, and sometimes kissed." Cook grinned as her attention reverted to Mary. "Their love was special, no matter what anyone says."
"But you heard Uncle Tommy talking to Maggie," Mary pressed.
"Yes, it was just before he sent for you. I think his in-laws were wanting him to see other women, telling him that he needed a woman in the house." She paused momentarily. "It was as if your uncle was asking his dead wife what she thought he should do about it all, as if they were again talking while he tended the fire."
"But there aren't any real ghosts?" Mary insisted.
"The only apparitions in this house are in the minds and memories of the beholder," Cook declared quietly. "Maggie Carter had a right to marry your uncle no matter what that Graham fellow claimed."
"Graham fellow?" Mary repeated in surprise. She had never heard anything about this.
"Oh, my big mouth," the woman suddenly lamented. Then she met Mary's look. "Your uncle was happy. She was happy. That is all I'm going to say." Cook disappeared out to the kitchen.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
For anyone interested in being introduced to Montana History. This book skims just a small piece of what today is one of the queen cities of Montana. The peoples names that are listed in any one of Ann Cullens books are a list of who's who, of important names that helped build what we now know as the state of Montana. Recommended reading for kids and adults of any age. Thank you Ann Cullen.