13 May, 1850.
I am in fear for my life as I lie under a blanket, in this musty old wagon, in the middle of a prairie, surrounded by paint-faced Indians bent for Jesus on killing us all. And I am only 13, too young to die, and too small to fight. If I live through this, I promise you diary that I will keep account of every blessed thing that happens to me from now on...
Elsie looked up from reading the first passage of the diary she had just discovered in the attic of her grandmother‘s San Francisco home. She realized she had found a treasure long overdue after having spent the last 8 months cleaning out the overly cluttered fire-hazard of a house on top of Portrero Hill.
It was the summer of 1966, the Vietnam war was in full bloom as were the protesters demonstrating in Haight-Ashbury, their clothes reeking of patchouli oil and marijuana, their eyes glazed over from LSD, and their radios playing the songs of their hero's and gurus. And in the midst of all of this San Francisco madness, was Elsie, who, at the tender age of 15, was earning money for a trip to England next summer.
The deal had started out with her grandmother wanting Elsie to go find her old wedding album so that she could show Elsie her wedding dress. Grandmother believed that one day Elsie herself would marry a nice man and this would be a wonderful style of dress for her. Elsie complied and dutifully trod up to the attic to begin her own mining expedition.
Two hours later, Grandma showed up, looking for her wayward granddaughter only to find she hadn't even made a dent into the massive piles of memorabilia; as Grandpa had called it; before he passed.
Then it was a done deal. Elsie would dig, sort, clean, sell or otherwise get rid of the mess in the attic and Grandma would pay her handsomely. She would have fully half of the money she needed for the trip.
It was now, into her eighth month of weekend cleaning that she had first found out that there was a light fixture above where she had been working. She had pulled out, sorted, and cleaned up enough merchandise for two huge yard sales, and with the help of her brother and the grace of the City's refuse service to have one pick up of any large appliances and furniture, that she got rid of much more.
Now with the old rust-stained toilets, folded mattresses, ratty sofas and useless refrigerators out of the way, she could get down to the boxes. A myriad of boxes stacked from floor to ceiling and every way outward. Some were old Coke boxes made out of wood, and others were plain old cardboard boxes retrieved from the grocer's produce man. All had something in them Grandpa considered treasures: Old Reader's Digests, Life Magazines, ashtrays and pill bottles. He had even saved all of his old pill bottles.
Elsie, now covered in dust, the smell of mildew tickling her nose, gathered up the old diaries with their stained, parched, pages, and headed home. She would have to do more digging tomorrow.
Jacob sat at his kitchen table with his newspaper in front of him and rubbed his bewhiskered chin absently. The headlines in the paper today read, "Gold Discovered in California", and the article boasted of gold so abundant you could cut it out of the dirt with a pocket knife.
"What are you thinking so hard about," his wife Mary asked as she filled his cup with strong, black coffee.
"Gold, Mary. In California. Seems it grows so thick there you can just carve a chunk out with your pocket knife."
"Sounds a little exaggerated to me, Jacob. Where ever in this world can you just go pick up gold like it was just so many rocks?"
"Well, that's what it says in the newspaper. Men are getting rich there by the dozens, and the gold is just ripe for picking."
"So's the wheat in the field Jacob, so you better get out there and get busy." Mary said this with a wink and a smile that always threw Jacob off guard. He smiled back at her, got up from his seat and kissed her, and headed out to his field.
"Is father going to go to California and pick gold mother?" Sarah asked as she sat down at the table with her bowl of steaming oatmeal.
"No, I think you father is just doing some dreaming. Sometimes this little farm is just too small for him. Men are like that. Which is why," Mary went on taking her now empty bowl to the sink, "women will never be out of a job keeping men's feet on the ground."
"Three thousand dollars," Uncle Vernon said disbelievingly.
"Yes, three thousand dollars. I think that's what we will need to get to California."
"Listen Jacob," Uncle Vernon said as he watched Jacob's look of determination grow, "you can't just go uprooting your wife and daughter and dragging them all over tarnation, so you can hunt for gold. It just isn't sane."
"But Uncle Vernon," Jacob said sitting up closer to him in his Uncle's parlor, "neither is finding chunks of gold with just the pick of your knife. As hard as I have to work in my fields just to keep food on the table, it seems that I could make enough money to keep us all comfortable for the rest of our lives. And I won't have to depend on this damnable weather every year."
"Your heart's really in this then?" Vernon said tamping tobacco in his well used pipe.
"Absolutely. And I will pay you back with interest."
"Ok, you can have the money. Against my better judgment. But you have to do whatever is necessary to prevent Mary from killing me when she finds out I loaned it to you."
"You don't have to worry about her Uncle, she will be excited about it."
"Oh, I am sure she will be."
Sarah sat on Mud Creek's little pier with her best friend Alice, their fishing poles dangling lazily from their hands as they watched the Bluebirds pick wild berries from the bushes nearby.
Mud Hole, the nearest creek to Sarah's house got its name for obvious reasons. Water coming off the Missouri River filled the sandy hole, leaving it, well, muddy looking. It was a great place to fish though, boasting of the best catfish in the state. Of course, everybody said that about their own little creek, and of course everybody in the town believed it.
"I can't see why you are so excited about going out west, my daddy says there's Indians out there that'd just as soon kill ya as talk to ya," Alice said critically as she reeled in her line to check the worm.
"Oh, they all say that Alice," Sarah replied wistfully, "but there's Indians here too and we don't all go moving do we? Besides, it will be a real adventure. And anything's got to be better than here fishing in this same old creek every day."
"Well, I hear your mother isn't all too pleased with the prospect of leaving her home to go a gallivanting all over the territory."
"Yeah, but she's just worried about my pop getting a head of steam about gold and then being disappointed. She'll change her mind though when he comes home with a sack of nuggets that'll keep us the rest of our lives."
"Oh, you and your daddy are just cut from the same cloth. Always dreaming and wandering."
"That's not true," Sarah replied indignantly, "my pa's a good man and a hard worker."
"And a dreamer, just like you. Don't you go thinking that we all don't know that you know the town better than most of the boys around here," Alice said, casting her line back into the brackish water, "why word's out that you and that scallywag James are meeting somewhere and getting the intimates with one another."
"Oh," Sarah huffed, "Alice May Macintyre, you take that back this instant! You know I can't stand that stinky old James Adams, and that he really has a pounding heart for you!"
"He does not, and you are the biggest liar in all of St Louis you are!"
"Am not. You can just see him a getting all googly-eyed over you." With that, Sarah let out peels of laughter and began hurrying to reel her line in before Alice started hitting her. Much quicker than Alice, Sarah had gathered her pole and basket and was running off down the road.
"I am so mad at you Sarah," Alice shouted over her shoulder as she gathered her things up, "go on to California then, I don't care!"
"You will if an Indian gets me!"
"I won't care if a whole tribe takes you and scalps you!"
The two would be arch enemies for several minutes and then be walking down the dirt path toward home with their arms around each other, not remembering a word of their quarrel. That's the effect Sarah had on people.
The small family started out for California a year after Sarah's father Jacob convinced his Uncle Vernon to lend him three thousand dollars. Uncle Vernon, a stodgy, life-long bachelor, had money stashed in his mattress, money he swore he would use come some rainy day. But Uncle Vernon didn't like adventure as much as he liked his old stuffed chair and pipe tobacco, so he was willing to live his dream through Jacob, provided Jacob promised to write often and keep a journal.
So Jacob took that money and began purchasing supplies, while his wife Mary packed up what little they had left in the way of worldly goods after selling what they could and giving away what they couldn't.
The one thing Mary couldn't give up was her Singer sewing machine. Mary loved to sew and had made all of Sarah's dresses from the time she was a baby. She also mended the family clothes as well as taking in odd mending and even some tailoring jobs, mostly for Uncle Vernon who's girth seemed always to be ahead of his clothing alterations.
Jacob scoured the town for buyers of his farming equipment, spending several months negotiating and trading for the supplies he would need for the journey. The tough part was knowing what supplies to get now and what to hold off on until they got their wagon in Independence.
Jacob hired three spaces on a ferry heading out of Jefferson City Missouri right on the Missouri River, landing in Independence two days later, and the start of Indian territory. That's when Jared Bartlett took ill with cholera and died right there on the boat. The group stopped off for a quick burial, Jacob wrote a letter to Bartlett's wife, and left it at the post in Independence.
Jacob planned to stay in Independence for three days while he gathered supplies, but God's will kept him and his family for nigh on a week waiting for the rain to abate and the trail to dry. In the meantime, he bought supplies, and packed and repacked the wagon.
Jacob sold several horses at home and used the money to buy four head of ox as he figured it would be stronger on the trail and easier to feed. He also purchased a small but sturdy wagon they call a "Prairie Schooner", from Jed the local craftsman who had originally made it for a man named Thomas and his trek out west. Thomas never even made the start of his trek. Died of cholera before he even hitched up a mule.
He also bought a pick ax, and a rifle, neither of which seemed of much use to us in our little town, but came in real handy out in the wilderness. Jacob practiced with the rifle for two days trying to shoot a bottle from twenty yards and fared horribly.
Beyond that he had to purchase a shovel, tent, two lanterns, pants for Jacob made of flannel and coats made of canvas and waterproofed with linseed oil. In Mary's medicine bag she brought hot drops, peppermint sauces, blister plasters, sticking salve, laudanum, and tincture of bobelia.
Barrels of flour, sacks of sugar, cornmeal, salt and coffee also laden the little wagon that is nothing more than a bed, a box of some 9 or ten feet long and four feet wide, some running gear made of well seasoned hickory, and a canvas top. It had no brakes (or springs), and so the men tied chains around the rear wheels to lock them up when riding down a slope.
Two fights broke out in the week Jacob, Mary and Sarah were in Independence, one of which left an opening in Providence Company for there little wagon. Seems, one Samuel decided to usurp leadership of the company due to his time spent in the army some years back. Shots were fired sometime near midnight, and Samuel fled his wagon and as much provision as he could stuff into it. Oh, and with a bullet hole in his thigh. Some expected they would run into him somewhere on the trail. Since Jacob had the money to repurchase the lost supplies, his family became the logical choice for Samuel's replacement.
The second fight broke out two days later among the men of Wild Badger Company, a company which disintegrated completely when William, the leader, was shot dead in his wagon, apparently the result of a bad gambling debt in town. Without William to lead the company, those left would not go, not trusting his myopic second man.
Providence Company finally set off on April 16 of 1850, a bright sunny morning after what locals swore was the last of the heavy rains. The morning started out cool and moist, but soon gave into the sun's rays, the heat causing the tent canopy's to sweat and steam. Sage brush covered the entire area for many hundreds of miles, its pungent pollens tickling Sarah's nose and causing her eyes to water furiously.
She warmed up to the excitement of the trip from the time the family began, being always the one who saw the fights break out first hand, the one ever on the alert to spot a new kind of bird or animal, and the one always ready to lead the other children into adventures in the group.
"We weren't getting into no trouble," Sarah said to her mother as Mary dragged her by the ear to their wagon, "we were just playing cowboys and Indians."
"That's not the kind of game you should be playing out here where there are real Indians Sarah, besides, it isn't lady-like to be playing with all those boys."
"Who wants to be lady-like? Those silly old girls of Mr. Carter's are just spoiled babies who want to play afternoon tea. It's boring."
"Boring it may be," Mary chided Sarah as they sat down to make supper, "but it's safe."
"Are we ever going to see any real Indians Mother? With their faces all painted up, and riding bare-back on their ponies?"
"Child, what an imagination you have. Let's hope we don't meet any of those savages. God knows what they would do to us."
"Mother, why don't we eat the food that the other people are eating?"
"Because you have seen Tiny, the cook, he's filthy. And always drunk. I dare say, I am surprised he hasn't caught his cook wagon on fire. Nearly fell into the fire this morning."
Sarah looked up from her work just in time to see Mr. and Mrs. Carter with their daughter Honorea heading their way. "I'll go into the wagon and get the flour," Sarah spurted out as she ran for the wagon.
"Evening," Mary said rather more sternly than she would have liked.
"Evening," replied Mr. Carter. "We have come to invite your lovely daughter Sarah over to help us celebrate Honorea's birthday."
Honorea promptly spotted Sarah peeking out from the tent and stuck her tongue out at her. Sarah promptly replied in like kind.
"It isn't going to be anything outlandish, just a slice of cake and some songs," Samuel Carter went on, his wife nodding her head in approval, "it's just that, there aren't any other girls her age to celebrate with you know."
"Oh I understand Mr. Carter," Mary said, as she turned to walk toward the wagon and get Sarah.
"I don't want to go over there," Sarah hissed to her mother from behind the wagon tarp, "They're so stuffy."
"I know they are a bit uppity Sarah, but they are our traveling companions. I think you should go. She'd be delighted," Mary said a little to cheerily. "I'll send her over presently."
Sarah let out a very audible groan.
Elsie walked down the hall of her high school toward her 6th period class--Public Speaking. She had to rush, her sandals clicking and clacking on the cement as she tried to beat the ring of the bell and a tardy slip. Her "quick" stop to the restroom to vomit, turned into a much longer trip of vomiting and crying.
She loathed even the thought of public speaking, and now she was having to take a class in it as part of the requirements of Freshmen. And her first speech was due today--right now.
As Elsie walked through the door, the bell rang and she grabbed the nearest desk to where she was standing. The room was filled to capacity, that of 35 students, every desk being taken and every face looking excited, or nervous.
The teacher, Mr. Blackburn, had been teaching forever by the look of sheer boredom on his face along with the red pressure marks of his glasses on the bridge of his nose. Probably a World War Two vet. Probably got through college on the GI bill that was so popular after the war. Now, he was just happy to be teaching for minimum pay, and raising his post-war baby-boomer family.
"Today as you all know," he said with an air of propriety, "is speech day. I hope you all have come up with a startling new issue to argue before the class, for you have to speak for two minutes each."
Mr. Blackburn took his seat with his clipboard and red pen, and began calling out victims. He had mixed the names up to keep the class at the ready. Elsie could feel her stomach clench each time a speaker finished and sat down.
Sean Carter, captain of the freshman football team and son of Sean Carter Sr., heir to the Carter Emporium, the biggest high-end department store in Union Square, was up and speaking on the unfairness of curfew the night before a big game. When he finished his two minutes, Mr. Blackburn clapped unenthusiastically.
"Leave it to Mr. Carter to argue something as inane as curfew for football players. Well Mr. Carter, you have underachieved again. Next," Mr. Blackburn said looking over his glasses to his student list, "we will hear from Elsie."
Elsie shuffled to the front of the class and stood behind the podium. Setting her notes up, she cleared her throat, looked out at the room full of people and froze. "I," she hesitated and then coughed, "I think that compulsory public speaking class for girls is wrong."
Mr. Blackburn looked up from his ledger at Elsie and raised an eyebrow.
"That is," Elsie went on, wringing her hands and shifting her weight from one foot to the other, "it should be an elective like home economics or wood shop because most girls like me will never need to make a public speech. I mean, I plan on getting married and raising a family. What do I need public speaking for? It's a man's job to make speeches, like President Kennedy or Martin Luther King."
Elsie shuffled her papers once again, cleared her throat, and looked at Mr. Blackburn who's face was a violent red. "That's all I have to say," she said meekly and hurried back to her desk in the back of the room.
Mr. Blackburn had nothing to say in front of the class about Elsie's speech, but he kept her after class for a teacher-student discussion.
"I just wanted to say that public speaking is wrong for me, Mr. Blackburn," Elsie said hoping he wasn't going to give her detention and get her into trouble with her mom and dad, "it's wrong to make someone do something that's going to make them wish they were dead."
She knew she had done it now. Gave a World War Two vet an opportunity to pontificate about having to do something they don't want to. And she was right. The talk went on for several minutes, Mr. Blackburn ending the sermon with the old, ‘you gotta reach down for some guts or you will get no where in this world' line that he was known for.
Trouble was, Elsie didn't know if she had any guts to reach down for. Or if she did, what she would do with them.
As the weeks went by, Sarah and Honorea Carter began to have a pleasant, if not a bit strained, friendship. While Honorea worked to be as pleasant as a spoiled rich girl could be, Sarah worked to make things as strained as a strong willed girl like she could be.
There was little time though for much of any real playing for the girls who, along with everyone else in the group, had to help unload and load the many wagons to hoist them up and over mountain ridges or pull and push them out of mud bogs.
Not a single day went by that a wagon didn't break down, an animal get hurt or lamed, or a member of the company come down with Cholera. Life was tough on the long arduous journey.
Half way to Fort Kearny the company doctor died of Cholera, leaving the doctoring up to the women. Mostly up to Mary who had the best supplies of ointments and treatments, and whose expertise as a seamstress made her the logical surgeon.
"It's just got to come off," Mary said to Percy's wife. Percy, a member of the company, had gashed his foot with a hatchet and in spite of Mary's ministrations had developed gangrene. Mary had worried about this from the start knowing that Percy, who was a good 50 pounds over weight and had poor circulation wouldn't take care of the wound properly. And so she began. Her first amputation of a human body part. And she had to have Sarah assist her.
"I don't think I can do this Mother," Sarah said as she watched Mary cleaning her knife by holding it over the fire.
"We don't have a choice child," Mary replied, her voice giving way to her worry. "If we don't remove that foot, Percy will die."
"But, we don't know what we're doing Mother," Sarah pleaded softly, her face turning gray as she walked with her mother back into the tent where Percy lay moaning in pain and fever.
"All I know Sarah, is that we have to remove the bad part and then cauterize the wound. I will do the work, and the fellas will hold Percy down, I just need you to hand me the branding iron when I call for it."
Percy let out a howl of pain as Mary poured whisky on his wound to sanitize it, and began cutting away the putrid green flesh. Mary unconsciously wrinkled her nose while two of the men holding Percy down, fainted, and a third man ran out of the tent trying not to puke as the stench continued to fill the already steamy, stuffy tent.
At Mary's request, Sarah brought the red-hot branding iron in and handed it to her mother who deftly held it onto the now bleeding stump where Percy's foot had once been. The heat of the iron coupled with the reeking burning flesh caused Percy to finally, mercifully, pass-out as the remaining assistants, choking and gagging, ran out of the tent leaving Mary and Sarah alone with their unconscious patient.
"That was the bravest thing I ever saw anyone do Mother," Sarah said, suddenly seeing her mother in a different light.
"Oh, that's not bravery darling, that's fear," Mary replied wiping the perspiration from her brow. "I just kept thinking about how I would feel if that had been your father lying there and me unable to help him. I would hope someone else would rise above the terror and help him. You see, fear can cause a body to do foolish things or honorable things."
"And what you did was honorable?"
"I hope so. Just the same, it could have been foolish. I don't know about cutting no foot off a man. All I know is that gangrene doesn't stop growing ‘till it gets to the heart, so it had to go. The rest is in the hands of the Almighty."
Just then, Percy started to moan and Mary got up to tend to him. "You should go get some sleep," she said to Sarah, "I'll watch him for a while."
Percy survived the surgery and recovered enough to make it to Fort Kearny where he could get rest and hopefully join another group later. Mary and Sarah never heard what became of him and his wife thereafter, but Sarah learned a lesson that would follow her the rest of her life. A lesson about fear and bravery, and how if her mother could be that brave, so could she.
Elsie marked her stopping point in the diary and lay back in bed to go to sleep. She thought of Mary and how brave she had been (even if she did deny it was bravery), and how it so impressed Sarah.
It then occurred to her, in that twilight time just as the rational thoughts of the day give way to the dream state, that if her ancestor could reach down for some guts like that, surely, she could do her public speaking class.
20, June, 1850 We have reached Fort Kearny on the Platte River today. The fort is built out of turf with sod roofs. There are several amenities for the weary and needy traveler: A Mormon run boarding house, a store and a blacksmith. I am sure it is a raucous place at night...
Elsie tried to picture a place where the fort itself was made of sod and soldier's tents dotted the treeless scenery like candy sprinkles on a donut. To be a young girl in the midst of all of the chaos that must have been going on had to be daunting for Sarah, yet her diary notations spoke of a girl happy to be out seeing the world and having an adventure.
Tomorrow, Elsie would be learning about another speech she would have to prepare for. This time, a more polished argument for or against something. She knew she would have to find something she was passionate about if she was going to give a good speech.
But passion had never been Elsie's strong suit. She had been taught that her role in life was to be the help-mate of a man and a mother to her future children. Passion for a subject beyond the realm of home and hearth was not ladylike.
But it was 1964 and so much was happening in the world: The Vietnam conflict was growing, there was the Negro movement down south, there was a Cold War and Arms Race going on with the USSR. Rock and Roll music was changing from love songs to revolution songs. And space travel. What about space travel? Surely, there was something in all this chaos she could speak on.
"I think you should speak against the war in Vietnam," Brandy, Elsie's best friend since third grade said as the two stopped at one of the many "corner stores" that dotted San Francisco, to purchase a Coca Cola. "My brother's going to be of draft age next year, and I don't want to see him get sent off to die even if he is the major pest of the world."
"But isn't this war supposed to do something bad to the Communists?" Elsie replied taking a large pull from her drink and letting out a commanding belch sending the two into gales of laughter.
"The Communists are all over the place. I don't see why we have to fight them all."
"Because they hate God," Elsie replied incredulously, "and they hate us."
"Then, maybe you should speak for the Vietnam war, if you feel so strongly about it."
"Shya, and have everyone hate me. No way. I'm going to speak on something safe like not smoking or something."
"Boring. You know my brother's going to an anti-war rally on Saturday, and I'm going with him. There's supposed to be some cute guys there you know."
"You are such a hormone, Brandy. Boys, boys, boys."
"So, do you want to come?"
"Oh, fine. I'll come. Just don't tell my parents."
The travelers' stay at Fort Kearny was short, and for many of the merchants of the little town, profitable. So many wagon trains ripped, roared, or meandered through it from east and west, its company either excited and still stupid about western life or jaded and beaten and heading home defeated. Those heading west were the best customers.
Sales of pick axes and shovels, tents and other camping gear, not to mention the niceties that they thought they would need in California, were sold at exorbitant prices. Even a piano, sold by travelers heading back home to the United States and traded for provisions got sold to a man who thought he would make a million dollars with it in the saloon he planned on opening up in Sacramento. Tale is told the piano was so out of tune by the time he managed to finally get it to Sacramento, only the deafest of patrons ever enjoyed it.
Seven miles out from the Fort, the company witnessed its first sighting of a herd of buffalo, the excitement so stirring the men that they rode out in droves--pistols waving and rifles swinging from their arms, as they set out to hunt the big game.
The dust and noise of the herd thundering across the prairie was frightening, leaving the rest of the company which remained behind working feverishly to keep the children and animals calm. The men in the hunting party were stunned to find themselves in the midst of what seemed like a stampede so devastating that nary a sage bush nor an oak sapling survived the onslaught.
There were hundreds of bulls running abreast, their heads up and proud, while every muscle and sinew in their bodies pumped and twitched as they ran. Their shoulders, tall, broad, and with long hair, stood in stark contrast to the rest of their bodies that were smoother and smaller. They looked like prize fighters, tense and taut, ready for the fight ahead.
"We rode out there figuring to shoot us some game like we had read in the books, but the buffalo ran so fast and so close together, we could hardly keep up," one of the hunters said when he returned, bloody and bruised and missing his horse and gun, "it was pure mayhem."
Three of the men managed to kill three calves who had somehow meandered to the outer edge of the fray, and Josiah said it was "the best most tenderest meat his teeth had ever had the pleasure to masticate".
The company made short work of the three calves, eating well the first night, and making soups and stews for many more. Little did they know that this would be the last fresh meat they ate for several weeks as they were too busy having to unload wagons to repair them, or to hoist them across ravines.
By supper each night, it was all they could do to summon the strength to collect enough dried ox dung from the trail to make decent fires for the meal and warmth. But Sarah was still in good spirits though exhausted, for the business of the day meant she had little if any contact with Mr. Carter's snooty daughter, Honorea.
Elsie was flabbergasted to find out that Sean Carter, the school football captain was going to make his speech FOR the Vietnam war. She knew, as did most of the city, that his father was making a fortune off the war having invested heavily in the chemical industry that produced Napalm.
After Mr. Blackburn had gleefully announced that he was going to try and schedule the speeches so that pro and con speeches could be heard on all subjects, Sean was the first one to raise his hand and volunteer to speak for the war. When, after several seconds of acute silence, no one volunteered to take the con side, Elsie begrudgingly raised her hand and took the assignment. She had originally thought to speak against capital punishment, a topic well overdone in speech classes, so doing this would be refreshing anyway. And Brandy will be thrilled.
"It just makes me so mad," she confided in Brandy as they walked to school on Friday morning, "that he would go and be so political when we all know it is because of his father's influence."
"Well, I showed him, I volunteered to speak against the war."
"Good for you," Brandy beamed, "I am a good influence on you."
"No, not because of you, I am doing it because the class needs to hear the other side of the issue as well. After all, it is something that these guys may have to face if the war's still going on when they turn 18."
"Now, don't be such a gloomy-gus Elsie, there's no way we'll still be fighting over there in three years."
"You had to do it, didn't you?" Sean said menacingly to Elsie as he cornered her and Brandy as they stepped on campus.
"Oh, what are you talking about Sean?" Brandy said in Elsie's defense, "did she steal your Brill Cream and smear it all over your locker again?"
"I never did that," Elsie said, not getting Brandy's taunt.
"You had to pick a topic opposite mine to speak about, when you can't hardly stutter out a word. What are you trying to prove anyway?"
"Just that even we freshmen, mere mortals that we are, can have an informed opinion," Elsie retorted.
"Yeah," Brandy piped in feeling left out of the fray, "informed by someone other than our fathers. Elsie's gonna cream you Sean Carter, you just wait. She'll have people wanting to storm Washington DC when she's through."
Elsie looked alarmed.
Sean looked livid. "You think so, eh?" he retorted to Elsie as if she had said all this.
"Witty reply jock-head," Brandy said to Sean, "come on Elsie, we don't want to be late for class."
It seemed to the weary travelers that the Platte River was so muddy it must be flowing upside down. They could hardly fathom what kind of fish could live in it, or why anyone would want to live near it.
Exhausted and nearly mad from the constant walls of mosquitoes, the group now had to cross the muddy expanse before nightfall. This meant sending men ahead on horses to find a crossing that was shallow enough for the wagons to ford. After much waiting in the hot, dry, sunshine, the men came back ready to lead everyone across.
"Just a mile or so more west, and there's a good shallow spot to cross," the Captain said as he sat atop his prancing horse. It seemed the horse was more excited to get across the river than the people.
"If we can make it to that island of reeds out there, it gets even shallower on its other side."
Slowly and with extreme trepidation, the wagons started off and were soon heading into the river and finding that thought the horses, unencumbered by pulling the weight of the wagons, could get across easily, the pulling horses, oxen and mules were sinking into the slushy mud. No lack of noise was being made as the animals howled in fear and furry, trying to pull out of the sucking mud.
"We've got to get them across now!" shouted the Captain after many hours of helping animals, wagons, people, and himself out of the mud only to take a few steps and sink knee-deep into the mire again. "There's a storm approaching," he told his second officer, Matthew, "and we don't want to be stuck in this here muddy water with a bunch of terrified and angry animals."
"Mother, there's a storm a coming," Sarah said as she and Mary--covered in sticky mud--pushed and pulled their wagon to get it once again unstuck from its sludgy prison.
"I know," Mary said looking worriedly up at the sky, "it's been darkening up nigh on three hours now, and it looks like the devil's in it."
Then the rain came. In buckets it came. The only joy in it was its cleansing of the mud-caked people and possessions. The joy didn't last for long as the rain soon turned into thunder and lightning and hail. Hail the size of a goose egg coming down so thick and furious as to nearly blind visibility utterly.
Those who had made it to the other side of the river made a run for it hoping that it would subside a few hundred feet down the trail. Those stuck in the mud or still awaiting their turn across the river, ducked down under the wagons, while the few brave and hardy struggled to keep the nearly berserk animals from hurting themselves in their struggle to get free and away from the pelting torture, the crashing thunder and the blinding lightning.
The noise was deafening: Hail pelting everything in sight, lightening scorching across the sky, thunder booming, cattle and oxen bellowing, horses neighing, women screaming, children crying, the crashing of wagons being upset by frightened animals, and the cussing of men helpless to do anything but wait the storm out.
Mary's skin prickled and Sarah's hair felt like it was standing on end as the electrical aftermath of each jagged lighting strike made its way across the parried. The two were huddled as well as they could under their mud-bogged wagon getting some relief from the storm, though they were far from calm at the thought of crouching in water while the lightning went on unabated.
The storm held its merciless fury for nearly an hour before it finally moved on seeking new ground to wreak its havoc upon and leaving a sky so blue in its wake, it was hard to believe they had just gone through hell.
Wagon tops pock-holed by the hail had to be mended, wagon tongues shattered from the struggling animals had to be repaired or replaced, cattle, oxen, horses and mules who had sustained a myriad of cuts and bruises on their backs and rumps, had to have salve applied to them, while Mary stitched up the badly injured of the company. Sarah, dressed in her oilcloth coat, walked from wagon to wagon applying unguent to the many animals and collecting all the news, rantings, and scuttlebutt from the camp.
"Old Jedediah Harper is madder than a wet cat. Thinks the captain should have done something about the approaching storm before it got started," Sarah said to her mother and dad as they finally settled in for their supper which consisted of dried meat, rice, biscuits and steaming hot tea.
"Oh, that old Jedidiah," Jacob said wearily, "only the Almighty can predict them storms and only the Almighty can protect a man from them. He's just sore because he didn't oil his wagon tarp and so it took more of a beatin' than it should have."
"Well, Clancy isn't all too pleased with the captain either," Sarah went on rather nervously, "he says we'd all be better off getting a new captain."
"Sure he would," Mary said wrapped in a blanket in front of their fire, taking a bite of her ship biscuit, "and he'd like to be it. Darn fool is always drunk or drinking, what does he know about leading?"
"Now, it don't matter none Mary," Jacob said soothingly, "we're gonna get to California with or without the bellyachers. Don't you worry about that. Now," he went on as he scooted down to lie under his sleeping blanket, let's just all get some sleep. Tomorrow will be another day."
The three finished their meals and, too tired to stay up and talk any more, they huddled under their blankets to fall into a deep and dreamless sleep amid the sounds of fires crackling, harmonicas softly playing "Clementine" or "Old Settler‘s Song" , and the baritone voices of men talking of the day's events.
Moving ever forward, the company ate away more miles and suffered more hardship as they drew closer to their promised land. Along the way to Fort Laramie, the next big military post along the Platte River, they passed well known landmarks like Chimney Rock and Courthouse Rock, and many man-made sights like hundreds of abandoned wagons, pick-axes and shovels, and even an entire lumber mill, jettisoned from previous wagon trains for being to heavy or bulky to carry the rest of the way to California.
Abandoned wagons along the trail often became make-shift post offices where people heading west or east posted messages on whatever paper they could find, for their friends and loved ones heading the opposite direction. More dire, were the messages left unintentionally by the myriad make-shift graves along the trail. Graves filled mostly with those who had succumbed to Cholera, had died in accidents or had been killed by an angry comrade in their group. Fights broke out among wagon trains over disputes as minor as a dog upsetting the horses, or as major as a "friendly" card game gone sour.
As it would turn out, the company found little help from Fort Laramie, help they really needed like goggles to protect against the merciless sun and driving sand, or fresh oxen or mules to replace lost or nearly lost ones in their own company. Fort Laramie had just been too over-run by emigrants to sustain the onslaught of need.
And so, they moved on with little else to say about Fort Laramie but that many were able to send letters home or receive letters from home through the real post office.
West of Fort Laramie, the land began to change. Gone were the broad, open plains of the North Platte. Now they climbed slowly onto the steep ridges of the Black Hills, the trail twisting and winding its way toward the north bend of the Platte where they would again have to cross, and leave it behind after enjoying its company for so many weeks.
In a month or so, they would be at the foot of South Pass and would take a moment to celebrate their having reached the Continental Divide, some 1000 miles from the frontier. Pushing on, they would reach Goose Creek in August and begin what seemed an interminable decent to Humbolt River. There, the fear of Indians returned.
"Diggers." Clancy nearly spat the word, tobacco juice foaming on his parched lips. "They's called Diggers. Them blood-thirsty savages that's been tormenting our cattle."
Much of the company stood staring at the dead animals whose throats had been slit and left to bleed to death in the middle of the night. "Who was on watch last night?" the captain said, his steely eyes searching the crowd.
"I was," came the reply from Jedidiah, "and I didn't hear nothing. Them Injuns are as quiet as death, even the cattle weren't allowed to scream out their pain."
"We're all in fer it if we don't get outa here," Clancy went on, fomenting a panic in the crowd, "next they'll come after our women and children."
"Well, there's nothing for it then but to pack up and get moving," the Captain said, his grizzled face twitching at the thought of being over-run by Indians, "let's get as much meat from that carcass as we can. We're running low on supplies."
And they were too. Between having jettisoned so many pounds of provisions at Fort Laramie, and losing much food to rot from the sweltering heat, they were left with rancid bacon, musty flour and sacks of pilot bread, crumbled and covered in alkali. They would have fresh meat for dinner tonight--thanks to the kill the Indians had made and left, but it would be the last they would taste for many days.
"It's just a sit-in," Brandy said cheerily as she and Elsie got on the bus and headed downtown. "Some will play music, and there will be speeches. Say, maybe you could copy down some of the speech stuff you know?" Brandy went prattling on, snapping her gum and watching for their stop, "Might be some good stuff you could use. That would really send Sean into orbit, wouldn't it?"
"I'm not doing this to be his enemy you know," Elsie said sharply as she poked Brandy in the arm for good measure, "I'm just doing this because I couldn't think of anything else to speak on. You make it sound like we're at war."
"This is war," Brandy said emphatically as the two disembarked from the bus near City Hall and walked to where all the color, music, and shouting were coming from. "That's pretty good isn't it? This is war? I mean, it really is you know. That stupid Sean doesn't know shit from shine-ola if you ask me."
"I think you have a mombo crush on him Brandy," Elsie said only half-heartedly, her concentration on the crowd of young people milling around.
"Do not," Brandy squealed, "you do."
The air seemed to vibrate with the sounds of protesters and the shouts of their opponents. The smell of marijuana, garbage burning in their bins, and draft cards being torched on the make-shift stage that was the steps to City Hall, all combined to send shivers up Elsie's spine. She had never seen such a display of dissent in real life. Oh, she had watched plenty of it on TV as the South worked through its own civil war, had watched anti-war rallies televised on the evening news from other states, and had even caught a glimpse of one while riding the city bus through Haight-Ashbury.
But this was the real deal, out in the open, and without her parents near by to poo-poo it. Now, she would have to listen on her own, watch the people and make her own judgment. And then, she would have to use this information to make a speech in front of her own class. And her teacher, a World War Two veteran himself.
Shouts of, hell no, we won't go, crashed into her thoughts and startled her so that she physically jumped back. As she looked around, she noticed to her sudden panic that Brandy was gone.
"Don't sweat it man," some pimply-faced boy said to Elsie as she looked around in an obvious panic, "just groove man, this is a sit-in."
"Did you see my friend here?"
"Yeah, she wandered off with some guy toward the front of the crowd. She'll be all right, we're a peace group."
"Are you protesting the war then?"
"Sure am," the young man replied looking rather puffed up. "Just burned my draft card. Why should I go to some country I can't even spell, and fight a war that doesn't even effect us here?"
"But, isn't it part of the war on communism that we are fighting?" Elsie was asking questions she didn't even know she had until she had to think about it, so there was no guile in her probing.
"That's what they say we're fighting, but then, that's what they said about Korea too and look at how many guys died there. This isn't like World War Two," the young fellow said, his passion for his subject rising with every word, "it's not like we have North Vietnamese bombing Pearl Harbor or anything."
"You know, I hadn't thought of it that way before," Elsie said suddenly feeling better about the speech she was going to have to make.
"Well, good then, my work here is done," the young man said, a beguiling smile warming his face. "By the way, my name's Craig. What's yours?"
"Oh, it's Elsie. I'm not a protestor," she kind of gushed as she shook Craig's hand, "I'm just doing a speech in school against the war and I came here to get some information."
"Groovy," Craig replied, "why don't you come sit with me and my friends, we'll find your friend later."
"Well. Groovy," Elsie said, and she followed her new friend to the center of the undulating crowd.
"I feel that we should be involved in helping the South Vietnamese people fight for their God given right to be free just like we are," Sean spouted as he stood proudly in front of the class giving his speech, "it's the American way. Fighting the bloody-red scourge of communism is the right thing to do..."
Elsie gazed around the classroom to try and get a bead on how everyone was reacting to Sean's speech. Mr. Blackburn wore his usual poker face like a rich lady wears her gloves, a, don't touch me, sort of sign to the little people. The rest of the class, with the exception of a few of the hippie kids, sat bleary eyed, chewing gum or doodling in their peechee folders. Before Elsie knew it, Sean was finished and the class applauded as they were expected to for every speaker.
"Very good Sean," Mr. Blackburn said as he wrote furiously in his notebook, "very clear and concise. Next, Elsie will give us a passionate and stirring rebuttal to Sean's speech.
"Saturday afternoon, I attended a peace rally at City Hall where I met a young man named Craig. Craig is 18 years old and his draft number is coming up soon, so he did what his conscience told him to do: He burned his draft card..."
Elsie's speech was powerful and poignant to the young men in her class who would soon be up for the draft themselves, and for the young girls in the class who would certainly lose boyfriends and future husbands to the unpopular police action. The class sat up in their chairs and listened raptly to her words, nodding their heads and clapping here and there. Even Mr. Blackburn, usually so aloof from the speakers, took notice and never looked down at his notebook while she spoke.
And Elsie, for the first time in her young life, began to feel that even she could have an effect on her world. Even if it had to be one speech at a time.
Sarah would be proud.
It is mid September and the company finally reaches Humboldt Sink and from there splits off onto the Carson trail through the Sierra mountains to Sacramento city. Ahead was over 40 miles of treacherous desert that would take the lives of several oxen and mules, and nearly deplete the morale of everyone in the company.
Low on provisions since lightening their loads in Fort Laramie, they relied on hunting to fill their bellies on the way. Squirrels made for nice eating as were marmots. Rattle snakes, or bush fish as the locals called them made up many meals as well as rabbits and ravens.
The days are now filled with taking care of the sick and lame and prodding the livestock on through the hot dry desert. Wagon wheels mired in the sand, the lack of fresh water, and the overwhelming, unrelenting sun nearly drove men mad.
Gone is the Cholera that had plagued them during the first leg of their journey, but now many suffered from scurvy brought on by too little vitamin C in their meager diets, and then mountain fever as they ascended in elevation. But, in ten days, they would hit Sacramento City, once known as Sutter's Fort.
Berries were scarce along the trail, the bushes having been cleared of their fruit by the backpackers who had the time and opportunity to forage.
"I've been talking to Samuel Carter," Jacob began with Mary as she sat by the evening fire doing some mending, "and he's agreed to provide you and Sarah lodging and food at his ranch in return for your work at his general store."
Mary gave a non-committal uh-huh as Jacob prattled on about the lodgings that Samuel had and how comfortable she and Sarah would be.
"So, I made the decision to have you two go live with him and his family. In your own little cabin of course."
"I thought we were going to stay in Sacramento valley and wait for you," Mary finally said looking up at Jacob.
"That was the original plan, but I hadn't thought it through. This is a rough area for two females alone."
"And San Francisco won't be?"
"I expect it will Mary, that's why it would be good for you and Sarah to have a place where I know you will be safe."
And that was the end of the conversation. When the company got to Sacramento City, Jacob went off with a group of men for the gold mines, while Mary and Sarah accompanied Samuel and his wife and two girls on a steam boat down the Sacramento River to the San Francisco Bay.
In Jacob's mind they would be the better off with Samuel.
He was wrong.
No Joy in Mudville
5, November, 1850.
There is scant but hills and sand dunes in this town called San Francisco, and everywhere one sees the dilapidated masts of so many ships left to rot in the harbors, their sailors gone off to find their fortunes in the hills of the Sierra mountains...
Elsie had been reading for hours, her Saturday half gone before she had set the diary down to pad off to the kitchen and find something to eat. She was feeling pretty proud of herself for having beaten Sean Carter in public speaking on Friday, and was treating herself like a queen today.
Not that she had really won anything, even Mr. Blackburn, who had appeared to attentive towards her during her speech, deigned to admit it was even good. She still had no clue as to his stance on the war. Being a veteran himself, he could go either way.
And the class, though many whooped and hollered after her speech, might have been doing so because she had turned a little preachy and had just riled them up.
She still didn't know what to do about her current problem though. After class, Mitchell Robinson approached her about writing for the school newspaper. He said he liked her speech and thought she could bring a fresh perspective to the paper on the war.
She hadn't planned on becoming an anti-war protestor. She had planned on making a speech that would ensure her a passing grade in this class she loathed. Joining the school newspaper would mean having to attend more peace demonstrations. Would mean having to take a real stance against a war that, up until a few weeks ago, she hadn't even thought about. It would mean speaking out on something that students and faculty may not like, or may get her into trouble.
And, if there is one thing Elsie doesn't like to do, it's get into trouble.
Never in her life had Mary ever seen such a mess as this new town called San Francisco was in. There were no paved streets, few buildings that looked like they would survive a strong gust of wind, and sand everywhere. Everywhere. Piled in dunes on the streets, filming the floors of the existing buildings, in the eyes of every being that owned a pair, and in the teeth gritting every syllable one uttered.
As they rode to Samuel Carter's ranch along what would become Kearny street, they at least began to see some signs of civilization: Good sturdy fences for the livestock, barns, and a few homes.
Carter's ranch, well-built and pristine compared to other ranches, boasted of 30 acres for horses and a few livestock animals to provide milk and eggs. His love was horses and he bred and raised them to sell to the many newly rich gold miners wanting to set up ranches of their own.
Carter's home was a two story redwood house with a small one bedroom house out back where Mary and Sarah would live. Behind it was a small patch of earth where someone had tried to plant a vegetable garden and failed due to the sand which held no nutrition, and the bedrock underneath which forbade anything to grow very deep.
The inside of the little house was clean and bright, with curtains on the windows a double sized feather bed, a small stove and a little table with two chairs. Obviously, Sarah and Mary weren't the only guests to use this house.
"Well, it seems we will do just fine here, don't you think Sarah?" Mary said as she bustled around their new little domicile, dusting here and moving things there, "Jacob has always taken good care of us," she went one in a bit of a stutter, "and he will be back before we know it."
"But, what about the town, Mother? It seems like there's no one in charge, doesn't it? Did you see all those ships in the harbor, Mother? What do you suppose they are doing there? And, how do other ships get into port to deliver goods?"
"You ask too many questions my daughter. Too many for a girl as young as you are. Let's just be thankful we have a roof over our heads and food to eat. We'll leave the state of this wretched town to the men folk."
Sarah let out a protracted sigh and headed out the door for some fresh air. The thick fog of the morning had finally burned away leaving bright sunshine and a stiff cold breeze.
Sarah walked to the horse paddocks and watched as several beautiful painted mares munched on stacks of alfalfa, their long tails slapping flies off their haunches and their noses snorting out the sand that had blown into them. Horses had always had a calming effect on Sarah, their big brown eyes looking so serene and caring. She ached to ride one but had been given strict orders from Samuel not to touch them.
Not that she didn't know how to ride them, or how to treat them with a kind but firm hand. She had ridden plenty at home in St Louis with her friend Alice. In fact, Sarah learned when Alice's father taught her how to ride. He loved horses too and had a fair hand with the animals.
One of the mares that was carrying a foal walked over to check Sarah out, sticking her nose out for Sarah to pet. It was warm and soft and the mare let out a low whinny of comfort at Sarah's touch. It was a sure bet that they would bond quickly.
Monday morning and Mary was readying herself for work, the first work outside the home she had ever done in her life. Jacob had always provided a fair living for his family, and Mary's mending and sewing for the rich ladies in town more than made up for any short fall. She had always worked hard, but never away from her home and hearth. Jacob just wouldn't have allowed it.
Soon, Samuel Carter would be giving her and Sarah a ride into town, a full two miles, to his general store on California street. He would have Sarah and Mary run the store while his wife would finally be able to stay home and manage the household. He had never much liked his wife working at his store. It wasn't seemly for a man of his stature to have to make his wife work outside the home, especially with two school-aged girls to tend to. And in this town, school age girls were thought to be marriage material to most men. But not to Samuel. His girls would marry up, to men who could give them a good life, and help him climb the social ladder.
Having a successful business in town and a successful business at home breeding horses was not enough to get one into the higher society in San Francisco, even in its wild youth. One still had to have breeding or darn good contacts to find a name here.
Samuel's store, called "Carter's Emporium", was a general store in every sense of the word. In it, he sold or would sell anything that could make him a profit from dried foods to pick axes and shovels. He even once toyed with the idea of selling a lumber mill out of his store, in pieces of course, but his supplier never came through.
"My, you certainly have a lot of different items to sell," Mary said as she strolled through the 1,000 square foot shop with the huge show window, "what kind of customers do you usually get here?"
"Mostly I get fellows who are going out to find their fortunes in gold or are back with their fortunes. Of course, we get the odd sailor now and again too." Samuel was strutting around his store with his thumbs hooked around his suspenders, an air of superiority showing in his puffed up chest, though he had to admit, Mary was asking pertinent questions--for a woman.
Just then Sarah came bounding through the door, flushed and out of breath, "Mother, there's a man coming up the street claims he's...oh hi Mr. Carter, um, there's a..."
"Where is that low-down, scallywag of a thief," the skinny, bearded man shouted as he stormed into the shop, "I'm gonna run him through..."
"Pardon me sir," Mary said indignantly, "but you can't use that kind of language in front of my daughter."
This caught both the angry man and Sarah off guard and gave Samuel the opportunity he needed to sneak off into the back room. The angry man shuffled his feet and began to mumble his pardons.
"Now," Mary said leading the man back to the front door of the store, "you just step outside and get some fresh air while I take your problem to Mr. Carter." Mary had no idea what the man's problem was, but she did have an inkling that Mr. Carter did and would need no more explanation from his angry customer.
While Mary strode back to find Samuel, Sarah stepped outside to stare at the angry man. She was sure she had never seen such an outbreak of temper from a man in her life, and surely didn't want to ever see another. But men were different here in rough and tumble San Francisco. Usually shy around women, the lack of "respectable" women in the town made them rowdy. Seeing Mary had actually startled the poor man who hadn't seen a fresh female face, a respectable, fresh, female face in these parts in months.
"What are you so mad at Mr. Carter about?" Sarah asked politely as the man wiped his brow with a dirty handkerchief.
The man was taken aback. "You talkin' to me?"
"Well, yeah, I followed you out here because you looked like you were gonna faint or something."
"It's just that," the man said leaning over to whisper to Sarah, "I ain't seen, let alone been talked to by a proper woman in months. Guess she took the wind outa my sails a bit there."
"So, why is that man wanting to murder you Samuel?" Mary said standing over him like an angry mother even though the two were of similar age, "did you cheat him or something?"
"Did he cheat you or something?" Sarah asked the man now that he was calming down."
"No, I didn't cheat him", Samuel said in his defense, he bought some tools from me at the going rate."
"Yes he did cheat me," the angry man answered Sarah, "he charged me three times what this derned shovel's worth," he went on as he showed Sarah his broken shovel, "and the dern thing's not worth a man's spit."
Sarah immediately marched the man and his broken shovel back into the store while Mary marched Samuel out of the back room to deal with his customer. "You have no right," Samuel sputtered as Mary continued marching him through the store.
"Well, say something," Mary snapped at Samuel as he stood before the angry customer who was nearly brandishing his shovel at Samuel and blushing madly at the sight of Mary.
"Don't be shy now," Sarah encouraged the man, "just tell him you want a new shovel."
"I want a new shovel."
"Fine," Mary said decidedly, "Sarah, get the man a new shovel."
"How could you just decide for yourself to give that man a new shovel?" Samuel nearly spat at Mary after the customer left the shop, "now I am out one good shovel and all I have to show for it is this shoddy piece of..."
"You can have it fixed, surely, Mr. Carter, it just needs a new handle. Then, you can sell it to someone else. But, having unhappy customers coming in here swearing and threatening to kill you is not good for my daughter to be exposed to."
Sarah was completely at sea as to her mother's sudden courage in the face of a man who was also her boss and landlord, and wondered if this refreshing change would last. Indeed, her mother had never said a word back to Jacob, wouldn't even look at him in disagreement with anything he ever said or did in all the time Sarah could remember. Now the question was, would her mother stand up to Samuel again, or would she revert back to her old ways.
Christmas hit San Francisco with a fervor only gold fever could match up to, and it did. Several companies hit it rich in the gold mines and their men were in town whooping it up and spreading the gold dust.
Everywhere the brothels were humming, the taverns were serving, and men were in the mood to buy anything and everything that tickled their fancies. Money, was no object.
Sarah and Mary had just settled in to their new lives and work at Samuel's store and had gone every day to the post office to see if there was a letter yet from Jacob. Each morning Mary bustled with excitement while getting ready to make her walk to the post office, only to be disappointed by the lack of news. She would then walk slowly, shoulders slumped, back down Kearny street to Samuels store and a new work day. Sarah had long since stopped attending her mother on her daily sojourns, unable to take the disappointment herself, or to endure watching her mother's.
This morning, Mary busied herself finishing up an apple pie, placing it near an open window to cool so she could bring it to work for their dessert at lunchtime. Being so close to Christmas, Mary loved to bake goodies for Sarah, and often shared them generously with Samuel and his family. Today, she would bring the entire pie to work and share it with Samuel and maybe even a regular customer or two.
But today was different. As Sarah sat outside on a bench enjoying the sun and eating her piece of pie, a man, heading into the store to buy a new shirt and singing "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" quite broadly, noticed Sarah, and more importantly to him, what she was eating.
"Is that a fresh apple pie you are eating miss?" he said with a gentlemanly tip of his dusty hat.
"Yes," Sarah replied, "my mother just made it today. It's apple."
The man, skinny by all accounts, wiry really, looked like he had just arrived from the gold mines. His clothes were shabby and dirty, but he had a softness in his blue eyes that warmed to Sarah right away. This was a nice man.
"I would be willing to pay you top dollar for a slice of that pie, if you have any left that is," the man said, his mouth watering at the sight of the delectable treat.
"Well," Sarah said finishing her slice, "let me go ask my mother if there's any left."
Two minutes later, Sarah had a large slice of the pie on her plate for the man, the apples oozing out of the flaky sugar speckled crust. "Here you go," she said, handing him the pie, "you can sit here and eat it if you like, and leave the plate and fork on the bench. I'll pick them up later. Sorry," she said, sincerely apologetic, "I don't have a clean plate or fork for you."
"Oh, don't you worry about that ma'am," the man said handing Sarah a dollar and taking the plate, "this here's cleaner than most of the plates I been eatin off of."
"There must be a mistake mister," Sarah said looking at the dollar in her hand, "you want to give me a dollar for one slice of pie?"
"Is that not enough?" he said, his mouth full of the dessert, "I got more if you want. This is surely the most delicious treat my mouth has had the pleasure of tasting for a long time."
"No," Sarah stuttered, "this is more than enough." She pocketed the money.
Before Sarah had even taken her hand out of her apron pocket, the man was finished and letting out a satisfied sigh. "That truly was a delicious pie. Does your mother bake often? I would be willing to pay you five dollars for a whole pie."
"Five dollars," Sarah nearly hollered out, "for a pie?"
"Oh, yes ma'am. That there is some good eats. Tell ya what," he said, rising from his seat, "you bring a pie to the Hang-nail Saloon Wednesday morning and I'll pay you five dollars for it. In gold dust if you prefer."
"Sir, that is a generous offer, but my mother won't let me near that saloon, or any saloon for that matter. It just wouldn't be seemly for a girl."
"I guess you are right," the man said rubbing his chin in thought, "then meet me out back of it. Eight am, and I'll have the money."
"Well," Sarah hesitated, wondering how she would pull this off, "ok mister, I'll see you Wednesday morning."
Wednesday morning came around and Sarah was up bright and early to help her mother bake pies. She hadn't told her mother about the deal she had made with the stranger, she only suggested that they make an extra pie to use up the apples before they spoiled.
At precisely 8 am, while Mary was making her daily trek to the post office, Sarah took one of the pies and headed off for the Hang-nail Saloon's back door and gave a tentative rap. Before she could lose her nerve and run back to Samuel's store, the skinny man opened the door with a wide grin on his face. He had gathered a few of his friends from the gold mine to share his pie with--for a price of course.
He handed Sarah what she had to believe was at least five dollars in gold dust, eagerly took the pie, and made arrangements for the following Wednesday.
She waited until she and Mary were alone in their little house before showing her the money she had made in just two days. Mary's eyes literally bulged when she saw what Sarah held in her hand.
"How in hell's tarnation did you get that money Sarah?"
Sarah new full well that her mother using swear words was a mother who was livid. "I made it on your pie, Mother. Remember on Monday when I came in and asked for another piece of pie at lunch? It was for this skinny fella who saw me eating my slice and offered me a dollar for one. A whole dollar Mother, can you believe that?"
"You charged some poor man a dollar for a little slice of pie? Sarah, you should be ashamed of yourself."
"I never charged him anything Mother, he gave it to me and when I questioned it, he offered more. He really liked your pie. Then, when he finished that piece, he offered me five dollars if I would bring him one on Wednesday. So I did."
"Five dollars?" Mary was stammering now and completely shaken. She had never heard of making that much money on a pie. They could practically buy a new stove with the money Sarah had made with just one and quarter pies.
And that, was how the Riley baked goods business, got its start.
Before long the rear entrance of the Hang-nail saloon became the morning stop for many of the men. Local business men, tired of their own wives baking, single men just back from gold panning, vagrants, drunks, gamblers, they all had a sweet tooth for Mary's baking.
After the apple supply ran out, Mary began baking sugar cookies and chocolate cakes. Banana breads and ginger snap cookies were a favorite among the men as well as any kind of tart or cobbler the local fruit supply could handle.
Everything was going well and Sarah and Mary were making money faster than Samuel in his shop even with Mary's insistence that they not charge such exorbitant prices for their baked goods.
Everything was going well that is, until Samuel got wind of what was going on. One day, he happened by the bank where Thaddeus the bank manager was sitting in his office enjoying a huge piece of Mary's chocolate cake.
"What news Thaddeus?" Samuel said cheerfully as he strolled into Thaddeus's office, his stub of a cigar dangling from his mouth. "My, that is a tender morsel you have there. Where did you get such a lovely piece of cake? Surly not your wife's baking, I'm still awaiting your payment for the broken tooth I suffered last year from her Christmas fruit-cake," Samuel said in jest as he sat himself down in one of Thaddeus's naugahyde chairs.
"You mean to tell me you really don't know where this cake came from?"
"Well, I dare say, if I did, I would be enjoying a piece myself right now."
"Well, I dare say, this cake and many other bakery goods are being made and sold right under your nose by those two women in your employ!" Thaddeus got such a tickle out of breaking the news to Samuel, that he laughed heartily, his chins giggling over his necktie.
"Damnation, that's what they have been doing every night. And with my stove!"
"Now Samuel," Thaddeus said calmly, having finished his cake and lit up a fresh cigar, "there are a lot of men in this town who are entirely enjoying the fruits of Mary's labor, and they wouldn't be too happy with you if you made her desist. Just thought I would warn you, you don't want to make any unnecessary enemies."
Samuel's face was nearly purple from his fit as he stood to storm out of the bank to have a word with Mary. He would be tactful of course, but firm. A man, after all, had to be in control of all the women in his life.
He strode back to his store like a man going to war, not stopping to converse with anyone, and hardly even noticing that the streets had become nothing more than slushy mud holes from the latest rains.
"Mary!" he hollered from his office in the back of the store after he had managed to walk calmly inside and through all the customers, "I would like to have a word with you!"
"Yes, what is it Samuel," Mary said somewhat out of breath from hurrying to measure out flour and salt, coffee and sugar for many customers.
"I heard a rumor that you and Sarah have started a baking enterprise right under my nose and I'll not have it."
"Sir, this may not be America, but it is still a free country from what I can tell..."
"Not for women it isn't," Samuel retorted, "especially women who live under my roof and eat my food."
"I pay for everything by working here in case you had forgotten Mr. Carter, and I work very hard."
Sarah, out behind the counter, was measuring out flour and sugar as she listened to the discussion going on in back. When she had finished making change for her last customer, she walked back to Samuel's office where it had now grown chillingly quiet between the two.
"Mr. Carter is demanding that we put an end to our baking business, Sarah,"
"Now, I never said that," Samuel grumbled, remembering the warning from Thaddeus, "I just think that I should be getting a percentage of what you are making. After all, you are doing this with my stove and wood."
"No, Mr. Carter," Sarah piped in, "we would be using the stove and wood to heat the house anyway, we are just using the hot oven to bake in as well. And if you want us to stop baking, you will have to cut back on your ordering of flour, sugar, and lard because we have been buying those supplies here and at full price."
"So you see, Mr. Carter, you are making a profit by our business venture. No one is being cheated."
"Well then, at least sell them here at the store," Samuel said, "no sense parading around the muddy streets when you can sell it right here. Is that a deal?"
"Absolutely," said Mary knowing full well that Samuel's sudden act of charity had ulterior motives. He just wanted to have a new draw for business. And what would draw hungry miners to his store more than home made baked goods. It would be good for both businesses.
Sarah couldn't help taking a walk to the wharf in the afternoons while her mother ate lunch. The wharf had a vibrant energy, that was nearly palpable, with ships entering and leaving, people embarking and disembarking, and the many men toiling to unload the cargo.
She especially liked to watch the Hawaiian men for she thought their bronze skin and almond eyes made them extraordinarily handsome. They would work and sweat, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and sandals, unloading crates of pineapples. Sarah had never tasted the fruit, but she had watched once as a man cut one open, and she thought it looked like sunshine.
She reveled in the excitement and danger of the wharf, the songs of the seagulls as they jockeyed for a spot to get the offals from the fisherman's catch and the earthiness of its people, some of whom appeared to have been born on the docks, and others to have--
"--What are you doing here," bellowed a gruff voice as a huge hand grabbed Sarah by the collar, pulling her from her hiding place among the crates.
Sarah was so surprised, she nearly peed herself as she struggled to get lose of the man's grip. He was a huge man with salt-dried skin and bushy hair. Handsome in a rough sort of way with soft brown eyes that belied his gruff voice. "I, well, I am lost," Sarah said finally after composing herself, "and I was just looking around."
"Uh-huh," the man grunted in disbelief as he let Sarah's hair free. "Do you know what kind of girls hang around a wharf? Unseemly girls. Girls who are looking for desirous men. Is that the kind of girl you are?"
"No sir I am not, sir! I was just--"
"Hanging around the docks like some kind of...where's your mother?"
"Just who are you sir, to be asking me all these questions?"
"I am Joseph Adams, young lady, and I am first mate of this ship." Joseph pointed to a rather large clipper ship sitting in the harbor waiting to dock and unload. "Now, who are you and where's your mother?"
"I am Sarah Riley, and my mother is at work over at Samuel Carter's store."
"She works at a store eh? Where's your father?"
"He's over to the American River panning for gold."
"A fool he is then."
"He is no fool, sir," Sarah said defiantly, "one day he will return with a pocket full of gold nuggets, and maybe he will even buy that ship of yours and be your boss!"
"Bah," Joseph snorted, "you better come with me, I will walk you back to Carter's store where you belong."
"I don't need you to chaperone me sir, I can find it fine by myself."
"But, I thought you were lost."
"Well," Sarah said contritely, "the truth is, if you bring me to the store, my mother will tan my hide to next Sunday. So, if it's all the same to you, I would rather walk myself."
"Suit yourself, young missy."
"And don't call me young missy. Call me Sarah."
"Yes ma'am, Sarah," Joseph said doffing his hat to the lady.
"And you may call my Joe."
Joe walked off laughing and digging in his shirt pocket for his smoking pipe. "Call me Sarah," he said to himself.
Next day, as Sarah dutifully worked along side her mother in Samuel's shop, Joseph sauntered in, ostensibly to do some shopping, and strode right up to Mary.
"Excuse me ma'am," he said rather tentatively, "but do you sell mending supplies here?"
"Why, yes we do sir," Mary replied, "your wife run out of thread?"
"Oh, no ma'am," Joseph replied rather sheepishly, looking over at Sarah who was now fit to be tied and shoveling flour from a large sack into a bin, "I am not married, and the fella who usually does the mending on the ship has run off with another who...well, a lady. I'm afraid I'm not much of a tailor, and now my clothes are looking shabby.
"Yes, they certainly are. Did you do this?" Mary asked, pointing to a button on Joseph's shirt that looked like it had been tied on with string using sailor's knots.
"Pretty miserable job, wouldn't you say?"
"You know, I do lots of mending here when business is slow, I would be honored to mend some of your things."
"Well, that's mighty kind of you, but I couldn't pay you."
"No need, let's just call it a favor for a friend. You bring your things by and I will mend them for you. No sense in you going around with all your clothes tied in sailor's knots."
"Yes, well..." Joseph stuttered looking again at Sarah who was beet red now except for the many flour smudges on her face from her violent shoveling, "Yes, I will bring some by. Tomorrow."
One week later, Sarah headed for the Clay Street Wharf where she would find Joseph and deliver his newly mended clothing.
"You sorry son of a whore!" she heard Joseph holler at a sailor when he dropped a bag of coffee beans on the ground splitting them open like an overstuffed turkey.
"Um," Sarah said now frightened, "I have your mending for you."
It wasn't like Joseph to be so violent to his men, but he was preparing to go to sea again, and the stress was at an all time high. It seemed his captain was pushing all the men hard, pushing them through Joseph who had to shoulder the brunt of the men's complaints. Joseph looked at Sarah and blushed. "I didn't mean for you to hear that, it's just that," Joseph said pointing at the pile of coffee beans, "he's been spilling things all day. Here," he said reaching out to take the pile of clothes from Sarah, "let me take those."
"Where are you going to sail to now?"
Joseph inspected the clothing quickly and looked at Sarah, "To New England at some point. But we'll make lots of stops along the way."
"Sounds dangerous. Don't you get frightened?"
"Of course. A man would be lying if he said he didn't."
"Then, why do you do it?"
"I love the sea. The smell of it. The unpredictability of it. The sheer expanse of it. It can sure make a man feel small and insignificant in this world."
"I can only imagine," Sarah said wistfully picturing herself out on a big ship, the waves pounding up its side and her leading the charge toward some foreign bay and safety.
"You know," Joseph said breaking Sarah's daydream, "I might just have something I can pay your mother with. Wait right here." He started off and turned abruptly, "I mean right here."
Sarah watched Joseph walk up the gang-plank and onto the beautiful ship and disappear. She watched the men scurrying about on the ship, cleaning this or hauling that like they knew just what they were doing.
The Susan Drew, the ship was called, a three masted vessel with a looking lady carved into it's bow. Sarah wondered if that was Susan.
"Here we go," Joseph said handing Sarah a bolt of deep blue cloth that felt like canvas. "I know it won't make any dresses or anything," he stumbled along, "but it's from Genoa. Maybe your mother could use it for something."
"That's very kind of you," Sarah said not knowing quite how to take this gift or payment. It was generous, but what in the world would they use it for? "I am sure my mother will find many uses for it."
"We could make horse blankets with it," Sarah said to her mother as they examined the foreign cloth from the secret confines of their little rented house.
"It was sweet of him any way," Mary said dismissively as she set off to find a place for the large bolt. It was the last she ever looked at it.
Elsie scanned the group surrounding her: the hippies, flower children, Jesus Freaks, Hells Angels, anti-war protestors and anti-anti-war protestors. All had gathered in Golden Gate Park to listen to Jefferson Airplane perform and be a part of the Be-In.
Bottles of wine passed from hand to hand as easily as batons in a relay race, everyone getting a sip or two before they passed it on. Joints too, strong Mexican weed, their pungent odor tickling Elsie's nose, made their way through the crowd, mellowing everyone out but the bikers, while Grace Slick belted out, "Go ask Alice, when she's ten feet tall."
Suddenly, just as Elsie was deciding to leave the gathering, Craig, the young draft dodger she had met at the protest at City Hall, approached her. He beamed a great smile at her, though she wondered if the smile was because of her or due to some substance he had just inhaled.
"So, you're back for more hippie, love-in I take it?"
Sarah balked. "No, I am doing a story for my school newspaper. I thought I could get some information here. So, I thought you were going to Canada to avoid the draft?"
"Oh, I am, but I gotta get some bread first. Me and a couple guys are gonna head off in a month or so. Go live off the land, you know?"
"But, what about your family? Your parents, won't they wonder what happened to you? Doesn't it bother you that you can't ever come back? That you may never see your family again?"
"That is a real bummer, I know. But, if I go to Vietnam, chances are, I won't come back either. You dig what I'm saying?"
"I would like to interview you for my school newspaper. Would that be ok? I mean, I wouldn't use your name or anything. But, I think that it would make the whole war thing more personable."
"That would be radical, Elsie," Craig said sitting down on the grass right then and there, "let's get started."
It was a sunny spring day in San Francisco, a Sunday, and Samuel Carter had taken his wife and daughters on a picnic for the afternoon. Jose, his ranch hand was busy taking care of the horses, and was at the moment saddling up Abigail, Sarah's favorite mare.
"Que pasa," Sarah said in her best Spanish accent to Jose.
"Ola, senorita Sarah," Jose replied as he tightened the straps on Abigail's saddle and set the stirrups to fit his leg length.
"Jose," Sarah began timidly, "may I ride Abigail?" She knew his English was limited, but her Spanish was even more limited. She made up for her lack by using hand gestures which Jose understood just fine.
"Senorita," he said apologetically, "Senior Carter say no," he shrugged and shook his head.
"Senior Carter is far away," Sarah said gesturing what she understood to look like far away.
"Oh, Senorita," Jose moaned, "you get me in trouble."
"No, Jose," she said taking the reins from him and getting on the horse, "I just go around here," she said pointing around the paddock they were in. "You see."
Sarah was in Heaven. Abigail was a spunky horse but not too spunky for Sarah, and the two seemed to have a rapport right from the start. Sarah started by just walking her and then nudged her into a cantor. Abigail responded immediately to Sarah's directions, and seemed to be enjoying herself. An hour went by like minutes, and before Sarah knew it, the Carter family was meandering their way up the road to the house.
Jose came running over to Sarah in a real panic, rattling off something in Spanish which she could not understand, though she did understand the look in his eyes.
She jumped off Abigail and handed the reins to Jose just in time as Samuel Carter began to assay his property.
It was too close a call for the both of them.
23, January, 1854. Still no sign of father though miners and drifters, gamblers, and entrepreneurs, continue the seemingly endless parade through town at a phenomenal rate....
Mary and Sarah woke early this morning and carried with them to Samuel's store a myriad accumulation of shirts, pants, and coats all tailored or mended by Mary and ready for their owners. Mary's sewing machine, though it had been a heavy item to move from St. Louis, had become her most prized posession and her greatest asset in San Francisco where women who could sew were in demand. In fact, often her business of mending was so brisk, Sarah had to make up for her absense at the store.
The morning air was thick with wet, hanging, fog that stuck in the lungs as the two drove the carriage to town. Seagulls squaked and circled the area in search of breakfast while the town itself began another day. Vendors combed the streets with their carts full of fruits and vegetables while milk wagons, their horses meandering slowely and resolutely, made their daily rounds, many of their drivers tipping their hats at Mary and Sarah as they rode by.
"What a morning," Mary said briskly as she lay her bundles on a table in the back storeroom. Sarah was right behind with her packages, eyeing suspiciously, a gentleman, a stranger, who seemed to be loitering out front of the shop with a pair of pants in his arms.
The young man, maybe in his twenties and well tailored, seemed to be steeling himself for something, and Mary and Sarah were about to find out what.
"Ah, good day to you madaam," he said a little too cheerily as Mary made her way behind the counter and tied her apron on, "My name's Strauss. Levi Strauss, and I was wondering if you would be interested in carrying a line of men's pants." He layed the pants on the counter for Mary to inspect, when Samuel, hearing the man from the back office, came strolling out, Sarah right behind him.
"What's this you want to sell in my store?" Samuel said to the salesman, treating him like a bug in his soup, "I am the proprietor here young man, you will have to deal with me, and I am not in the mood to deal with you. Good day sir." With that, Samuel turned on his heals and strode back to his office and his comfortable chair leaving the salesman and Mary and Sarah staring at each other in stark silence.
"He is the owner here," Mary said apologetically, as she continued to look over the man's line of pants, "but I have to say these are very well made trousers. I would imagine they would do very well in the mines. And you know," she went on her brow knitted in thought, "if you oiled them, they would make wonderful rain gear."
"You know," the man said looking again at the pants, "you are right, that would make them great rain pants."
"Or just pants to wear in the streams," Sarah went on, "I hear that the men must work in the streams all day. Oh," Sarah blurted out just getting the idea, "I know where you can sell these," she grabbed up the ‘waist pants' as Levi called them and started heading out the door, "follow me."
Levi was more than a little nervous as he followed this until now unknown young woman down to the wharf where there was a store just for the sailors. There, she had met and gotten to know the owner, Mr. Randolf, and though he was a cantankerous, old, sailor-turned-land-lubber as his sailor customers called him, he was always looking for something new and unique to sell. These pants would just fit the bill.
"Mr. Levi Strauss, meet Mr. Jackson Randolf," Sarah said proudly as she handed Randolf the pants to inspect, "these here pants are going to be your biggest seller to date. Once Mr. Strauss makes some up that are oiled, these sailors will be flocking in here like pigs to the slop bucket to buy them."
Mr. Randolf eyed Mr. Strauss for a moment and then looked over the pants. "What's it you call these?" he asked.
"Waist pants, sir. The canvass will last forever and as you can see, there are rivets in the areas of the pants that are most often torn from heavy work. Thse will last forever, sir, I guarentee it."
"Rivets?" Mr. Randolf said in disbelief, "in pants? Well, we'll see about that. You get me two dozen pair, and I'll put them on consignment. If they sell, you got yourself a store to sell from. Deal?"
"Deal," said Levi and he and Sarah strolled back out to the wharf and shook hands.
"I just don't know how to thank you Miss Sarah," Levi said as the two made their way back to Samuel's store.
"Just sell lots of them and prove Samuel wrong, Mr. Levi. I think you have an excellent idea using the rivets."
Elsie had never been called into the principal's office in her life. She had always obeyed the rules in school, had been a straight A student, and, in fact, every teacher she had ever had, loved her.
She was nearly terrified when her math teacher, Mr Sattler handed her the note directing her to go to the principal's office immediately, and all eyes in the class were on her as she picked up her books and left. The walk down the long hall took no time and before she knew it, she was sitting in the principal's waiting room.
She slinked past his secretary who gave her a baleful look, and sat down uneasily in the chair in front of his desk where he was holding this month's copy of the Serramonte Crier, the school newspaper.
"Do you know why you are here, Elsie?" Mr. Rush asked, his face still burried behind the newspaper.
"No sir, I don't." She replied timidly.
"It's about this," he said holding the newspaper out to her with her article in front. "This article is completely out of line with the school's ideology."
"I thought the school's ideology was to produce thinking adults. This is just an article to get people thinking about the war."
"This article is not about the war, it's about deserters. Are you wanting this school to start promoting deserters?"
"Well, no, sir," Sarah said squirming in her chair, "I was wanting to put a real face, a real person in the paper. Someone who is having to face a crisis of conscience about the war and his part in it. It's a human interest story."
"This man you portrayed in this story," the principal said as he stood up and threw the paper on his desk, "is not a human interest story. He's a criminal who has no morals. Willing to shirk his responsibility and run off to Canada."
"But, he does have morals. And he thinks that this war is immoral. It's not the same as World War Two you know."
"Any time our country calls men to war, it's moral. We are a Christian country after all."
"It is a free country, that I will agree with. And freedom of the press is a part of it. And that is what I have." Elsie stood up and crossed her arms in front of Mr. Rush, almost daring him to take her freedom of the press right away.
"Yes it is a free country young lady, but not a free school. Any more articles like this and we will be calling your parents in for a meeting."
The principal sat back down in his chair feeling like he had won a battle for himself, the school and all of America. He put his feet up on his desk as Elsie left and all but patted himself on the shoulder for being such a patriotic American.
Elsie walked back to class steaming and planning another article. She was sure Mary and Sarah wouldn't have taken this kind of thing sitting down either.
Captain Joe stood on the bow of his ship as she made her way toward the great Golden Gate of San Francisco. He had been away to sea some four years, meandering across the Atlantic from New England to Europe and back again carrying cargo or passengers; he didn't care which, as long as it paid for the voyages. But, he missed San Francisco, though he knew not why, nor did it occur to him immediately that this was the first time he had missed anywhere for any reason.
He had been born, it seemed, to sail. To wander about on the sea like those old time sailors he used to read about when he wasn't busy working in his father's cobble shop down near the wharf cutting leather for shoe repairs or new shoes. His father was known throughout their little Maine town as the best leather craftsman around, but he preferred to work on shoes. Said they were more forgiving and of far greater use to him. Easier to display a couple of styles of boots in a window than saddles, and they were lighter too.
So, Joseph worked for his father in his quiet little shop and watched the sailors in their mighty vessels sail in and out of port. And dream. He dreamed of high adventure on exotic islands. Of dangerous storms and deep blue oceans. Of pirates and marauders and bejeweled ladies taken hostage and needing rescuing by a rugged and handsome Captain.
The ocean was choppy as they navigated their way into the bay, and calmed little once in it. Of course, the constant blanket of fog, so prevalent in this area of California, made even finding the Golden Gate dicey, let alone recognizing the right port.
He wondered on his way in if Mary and Sarah still worked for Samuel Carter, and if Mary would be able to do some mending for him. He had been at sea so long, he hardly had a shirt or pair of britches that didn't need some TLC, and he knew of no one better at mending than Mary.
The ship found its port in spite of the dense fog and the men began in earnest to unload their cargo, motivated by thoughts of shore leave after their labors were through. Each man talked incessantly of the lady to whom he thought he would be spending time, or the gambler to whom he owed revenge or the slaking taste of a fresh beer, and all the talk and bragging and dreams made the work go quickly.
Captain Joe supervised the men making sure that the cargo was handled well and handed to the right people on the docks. More than once a cargo has gotten into the wrong hands either by accidental chance or by a shipman's designs for extra money.
The fine Captain had to get his land legs as he made his way from California Street Wharf up California street to Kearny where Samuel's shop was. He passed saloon after saloon alive with the shouts and laughter and mad piano playing of the men who had just made port. Lots of ladies and lots of saloon keepers were going to make lots of money tonight.
"What can I do for you sir," Samuel said as the Captain strolled around his shop with his arms full of tattered clothes.
"I am looking for Mary, or Sarah. Are they here?"
"Hell no they aren't here. Where have you been? They left 6 months ago. Think they're going to start their own store and put me out of business." Samuel's face had turned a deep crimson and his moustaches were twitching with every word.
"Oh," the Captain replied rather stymied, "where is their shop?"
"The damn fools went and bought a store front over on Jackson street. Think their going to make a million dollars. Have you ever," Samuel went on leaning closer to the captain, "heard of a woman business man? It just ain't natural. But they are determined. Moved out too. Living up top of their shop, cozy as can be I am sure."
"Well thank you Samuel," the Captain said as he turned quickly to get out of the store.
"Sure, don't mention it. But, let me know how they are doing would ya? Man to man?"
Joseph just smiled as he made his way out of Samuel's store, hoping that Samuel wouldn't press him for an answer. Joseph may have spent the last four years away at sea, but he still heard the news of San Francisco and knew that Samuel had gotten more than his money's worth of work out of Sarah and Mary. They deserved to have their own place regardless of their sex. Far stranger things were being done in this town of misfits anyway, and at least being a merchant is better than a lady of the evening.
As Joseph walked along Kearny street towards Jackson, he noticed just how much the city had grown. Gone were the many tents and shacks, being replaced by real wooden houses. Gone too were many of the gambling establishments, replaced by respectable businesses like tailors and smiths, bakerys and even a few prominent hotels.
More children seemed to be around as well, working in the stores or hawking fruits and vegetables from push-carts downtown. The city was right bustling and not just with drunken gold miners, but with suit and tie businessmen, a new police force, and of course, politicians. Not that the new police force or the politicians could hope to reverse the onslought of lawlessness that plagued the town.
There was Shanghai Kelly, who, in an effort to supply ships with crews willing or not, would throw lavish parties on his paddle boat where the food was free and the libations generous, until the poor unsuspecting men found themselves several days later, hung over and members of ships on long sea voyages they had never signed up for.
There was "Little Chile", a red light neighborhood of every sort of brothel where a man could slake his lust--or lose his life.
Finally, Joseph turned the corner onto Jackson street and there was Mary and Sarah's little store, right on the corner. They had a store front window decorated with assorted mining tools and a small corner dedicated to women's notions.
Inside, business was brisk, with both Mary and Sarah working behind the counter scooping out pounds of flour and sugar, bottles of molasses, tins of lard. They didn't even notice Joseph standing at the counter patiently watching them and noticing just how much of a lady Sarah had turned into. Gone were the pig-tails, replaced by a bun with a wisp of hair having escaped. Gone too was the dress that came down to highlight skinned knees, replaced by a dress that showed off well muscled and tanned legs.
After several minutes, Sarah finally noticed Joseph as he bent over in front of the glass display case she was fishing bread out of for a regular customer. Her helper, a young boy of about eleven, eyed Joseph warily as he beemed a huge smile at Sarah.
"Well, if it isn't Captain Joseph himself," Sarah said standing up and returning his smile, "Jack," she said to her young helper, "this is Captain Joseph Adams, of the ship, the Susan Drew. Captain Joseph, this is Jack London."
Young Jack London blushed as he shook Joseph's hand, "I am at your service, sir," he said and then ran off to complete his task.
"Fine young man," Joseph said, surveying the lad as though he were part of his crew, "and you have grown to be a fine young lady."
"Thank you," Sarah said, wiping a smudge of flour off her cheek. "So, what brings you back to these parts?"
"Business," he replied.
"Is that Captain Joseph?" Mary said, having finally gotten the chance to make her way over, "why I believe it is." She smiled brightly at him and looked at the bundle of clothes in his arms. "Brought me a present I see," she said taking the bundle from him and then noticing what else was in his arms.
"Is that a pineapple?" Sarah said, surprised and excited.
"Yes it is," Joseph replied rather proudly, "it's a souvenier from Hawaii. I brought it just for you two lovely ladies."
"Mother, it's a pineapple," Sarah said breathless. "Oh, I have always wanted to try one of these. What do you do with it?"
"You have to cut it open and slice this outer skin off," Joseph said, enjoying the chance to give Sarah such a fine gift, then you core it and eat the flesh. It is quite delicious plain."
"Let's get a knife," Sarah said walking to the back room, "and have some right now."
Sarah cut the strange fruit in half and marveled at the bright yellow color. Then she began slicing the thick, spiney, skin off in chunks and cored the whole fruit, licking the sweet juice off her fingers as she worked.
"So, when did you two get this place of your own?" Joseph asked as he watched Sarah deftly use the large knife.
"About six months ago," Mary replied. "Sarah talked me in to it, truth be told. I wasn't much for running my own business."
"But Samuel was driving us plum crazy, always hollering at the customers," Sarah said, "charging prices that were a king's ransom, and for shoddy merchandise."
"But, how did you get this place?" Joseph asked again, "it must have cost a fortune."
"It didn't cost too much. We are leasing it right now," Sarah said popping a slice of pineapple into her mouth, "yum, this is just so delicious." She handed Mary a slice, "try it mother, you'll love it. Anyway," she went on, "Mother did quite a bit of mending, and we both baked and sold pies and cakes. We made more money some days than Samuel did."
"I can imagine that didn't sit well with him," Joseph said.
"You imagined right. He got so mad one day, he threatened to fire us both and kick us out of his house," Mary said enjoying the pineapple.
"So, here we are, business women," Sarah said, "and not doing a bad job of it either. We had to hire Jack three months ago to help us keep the stock from sitting out back while we helped customers." Sarah finished cleaning the knife and took her apron off. "Let's go sit outside for a few minutes. I could use a rest."
As Sarah and Joseph sat next to each other on the wooden bench in front of the store, he noticed for the first time how good it felt to chat with a woman who wasn't a bar maid or a "working girl". It was refreshing.
"We have made many friends here while working at Samuel's and selling our baked goods, so we had a clientele before we even started this store. In fact, one of our best baked goods customers is Joshua Norton."
"Ah yes, I have heard of him. He is planning on making quite the rice deal here soon," Joseph said, "says he's going to buy up all the rice that comes in to port and hold it to make the price go up. A shrewd man."
"So I hear. We are just going to eat more potatoes I think."
"But, are you going to sell his rice?"
"We will have to I suppose. Some folks just have to have it."
"Should drive the Chinese mad."
"And Samuel. He doesn't like it when someone outsmarts him at his own game. So, how long are you staying this time Captain?" Sarah said wryly.
"Long as it takes to either get kicked out or tempted away by a lucrative shipping deal."
"Not long then, I gather."
Business at Mary and Sarah's little store was always brisk, often leaving them little time to take a break or even eat lunch. Often, lunch was a meal on the go for them, sandwiches that they could carry around and nibble on while they waited on customers.
"What kind of sandwich have you got today Mary," one of the customers would say with a big grin on his face, "you know, Samuel Carter has time to sit and eat his lunch unbothered!" This would be followed by a huge laugh from the customer and anyone within ear-shot.
But, no matter how busy it was in the store, Sarah always managed to get away at least two times a week and take a walk with Jack down to the shipping docks to see what merchandise was coming in, and what was going on.
The shipping docks were the life-blood of all the merchants, and though the men working them were often rough and crude, they respected and liked Sarah, and treated her with kid-gloves. She, in turn, always had some home baked sweet to offer many of the fellows and in return they would give her the latest shipping dock scuttle butt.
"Word is," one of the sailors said to Sarah as he munched on a cookie, "that Joshua Norton is in a right state these days."
"What ever for?" Sarah replied
"Seems his shipments of rice aren't comin' in like he had planned. See those two ships over there?" he said, pointing out at two beautiful and heavily laden schooners waiting in the bay to dock at the next available spot on the harbor, "they's full of rice, and more's coming. Instead of a rice shortage, he's got hisself a rice glut."
"Oh, poor man. And he had pinned his hopes on that deal. In fact, I think he has several investors in on it too."
"Where's Captain Joe?" Jack asked looking around the port for his ship.
"He set sail last night for Hawaii," the informant told him, "haulin' flour to the Island and bringing sugar back. Shortest trip I think I ever saw him take."
"Well, thanks Curly," Jack said as he took Sarah's arm and led her away down the boardwalk. "He'll be back soon, I'm sure of it."
"Oh, yes. Well, I wasn't even thinking about him. I was thinking we should go pay a call on Mr. Austin and..."
"You mean the shipping commissioner? You know him?"
"I do. He was one of Mother's most ardent admirers--of her baking that is."
The two walked arm in arm down the boardwalk, listening to the cursing of the dockworkers and the complaining of the seagulls, the creaking of ships rocking in the water, their flags snapping in the wind, and taking in the smell of fresh crabs boiling in huge vats. She would buy some and serve them for tonight's dinner.
Mr. Austin's meager office was a sailor's delight. It's walls, festooned with maps and atlases, that would draw Jack's attention immediately upon arrival. Compasses, sextants, chronometers and timepieces of every design lay strewn about the office like cast-off bottles in a saloon.
And there, amid the alien apparatus at the desk sat Mr. Austin, his balding head bent low over documents and his wire-rimmed glasses dangling at the edge of his nose. So busy was he in the course of his duties, that he didn't even hear the small tin-tingle of his door bell as Sarah and Jack walked in.
"Mr. Austin?" Sarah said tentatively, not wishing to startle the man.
"Ah, Miss Riley," Mr. Austin said as he struggled to rise from his seat, his 60 plus years of age having sapped him of his agility, "how good to see you. And who is the young buck here with you?"
"This is Jack. Jack London. He works for Mother and me at the store, but he is itching to get on a ship and travel the world."
Jack blushed as he left his entranced state before all the maps on the wall, and gave Mr. Austin a hardy hand-shake.
"And a fine lad he is," Mr. Austin said shaking the young man's hand. "There will be plenty of sea captains looking for muscles like yours soon enough, boy. Right now, you are blessed with the pleasure of working for the two loveliest ladies in all of San Francisco," he said winking at Jack, "enjoy it while you can."
"So, what can I do for you today Miss Riley?"
"Oh, nothing of any particularity Mr. Austin, I just came by to give you some of mother's home-baked cookies and of course to learn of any scuttle-but in the area."
Mr. Austin took the plate of cookies gladly, even eating one as they conversed. "Everything's ‘bout the same ‘round here", he mumbled, "Your handsome Captain Joe just set sail yester eve for Hawaii. But then, I imagine you already know that."
Sarah was a little taken aback by the man's presumption that she would know about the Captain's whereabouts. She and the Captain were, after all, simply friends; if even that. Acquaintances really. He had given her a pineapple, not an engagement ring.
"In fact, I didn't know about it. He and I only talk on the odd occasion."
"Ah, yes. I see. Well, Joshua Norton's big rice deal went south and I hear he is about to as well. Has lots of creditors on his back now, including the shipping commission. And I hear tell that rice prices are falling anyway. Poor fellow. But, you win some and you lose more in this city, isn't that right?"
"That's the truth," Sarah replied. "So, what's due to come in that we can get for our shop?"
Mr. Austin started looking through his shipping logs and manifests, calling out items, and prices, and times of arrival, while Sarah took notes and Jack studied the maps on the walls. Knowing the shipping commissioner and having him like Sarah was a real boon to her business as she could find out what was coming in and when, and at what price. All of the merchants worked like this of course, but for a woman to be able to just stroll along the shipping yards and converse with the commissioner was nearly unheard of. But, she always brought Jack along just to make double sure that no one got any wrong ideas about her. She had a witness and an escort as was proper for a woman.
And, she always got the information she was looking for.
If there was one thing that everyone did in the San Francisco of the gold rush days, it was sweep. They swept their houses. They swept their shops. They swept their sidewalks--if they had any--and they swept their neighbor's sidewalks just in case their sand blew toward their property .
Sand was the unrelenting, unwelcome guest in everyone's clothing, eyes, homes, and beds. It could grind a man until he was nearly mad with it as it gritted his food and wore out his machinery. And what the sand didn't ruin with its constant polishing or pitting, the salty fog coroded or mildewed.
Mary and Sarah fought the sand and fog courageously, sweeping their floors and the sidewalk in front of their shop several times a day, trying to turn a blind eye to every customer who entered dragging in with them yet another uncountable sweeping's worth of sand.
Constant was the fight to keep their metal goods from corosion as they laboriously washed, polished and dusted the lanterns, pick-axes, cooking pans and nearly everything else of metal in the shop.
Flour and sugar mildewed in the sacks from the misty fog that seemed able to seep into anything, while the rice and beans collected--sand.
It was often Mary who did the sweeping, tut-tutting, and tsk-tsking with every stroke of the broom. Today, she swept the boardwalk in front of their store with extra vigor as it was extra blustery and busy. Just as she finished the last bit of residue, two men on horses came a galloping down the street sure as the devil was on their heels, kicking up dust and more tut-tuts and tsk-tsks from Mary.
Finally finished with her task, or just frustrated into quitting, Mary went into the store. "I am quite certain," Mary said to Sarah as she put her broom away, "that a body could spend eternity sweeping and never beat that old devil sand."
Mary scarcely got the words out of her mouth when their stock boy Jack came bounding into the store out of breath and full of excitement.
"There's two Negro men going to open a boot store right next door to us," he said breathlessly, "and the whole town's up in arms over it."
"What exactly, is ‘up in arms', Jackie?" Sarah asked as she made her way around the counter and toward the store front window. "That crazy vigilante group downtown hasn't gone and got themselves all liquored up and fighting again have they?"
"That's it exactly," Jack replied as he pulled Sarah out the door and into the fray of men shouting, horses rearing up from the commotion, and the two negros, Marlin Franklin and Paul Leigh, guarding their store front with shot guns.
The head of the fray, standing stout and filled with self-importance was Samuel Carter. "Now, gentlemen," he shouted over the crowd, "Let us not proliferate obscenities upon these poor men. I understand your grievence, as I am in complete agreement that the Negro has no right to own or opperate a business. It is as unnatural as a woman running a business, is it not?"
As the men cheered, Samuel's chest puffed up even further, spurring him on to continue his speech, having finally found a way to get back at Sarah and Mary for having started their business and taken away his. Not that they had intended to take his customers. It was just inevitable. The men liked being waited on by the two beautiful women, and the women loved seeing other women getting ahead. That, and the fair prices and honest business deals that the two practiced, swept customers out of Samuel's shop and into theirs like locusts to a field of wheat.
Samuel had been steaming over this for months now and looking for a way to put the two women out of business. Now, he saw his opportunity to sway some of the public his way, even if the public he was swaying was not up to his sensibilities. Riff-raff, would be his exact words.
"But I don't think we need to be animals about this, gentlemen, for God is on our side. Let them have their businesses, and let God be the judge. We certainly don't have to frequent their unnatural establishments, and those that do, well, let God be their judge too."
All of the men cheered heartily and scrambled to shake Samuel's hand in agreement. Sarah stood amid the crowd, most of whom shopped at her store regularly, and seethed. Somehow that old fox had managed to tangle her in this mess and set half the city against her and now she would be in for the fight of her life to keep herself and her new neighbors afloat. Samuel had thrown down the gauntlet.
And Sarah would gladly pick it up.
Elsie tossed the diary across her bedroom in a pique of righteous anger as she thought of what a caniving, selfish, glory seeking, man Samuel Carter was. To find such a devious way to try and put Mary and Sarah out of business was unjust and unfair. As unjust and unfair as Mr. Rush, the principal telling her she couldn't write anti-war columns in the school newspaper anymore. He had thrown down the gauntlet, she thought to herself, just like Samuel Carter.
Still curled up on her bed, she reached for her notebook and began to write. She wouldn't write another article, she thought. That would get her expelled and that would get her into trouble with her parents. As it stood, they knew nothing of her article, her father being too occupied with work and her mother busy at her womens meetings. No, getting them involved would assure her of never writing another article in the school newspaper.
But, she could write an anonymous letter to the editor asking why there weren't anymore articles by Elsie. No, she couldn't do that. She tore the piece of paper out of her notebook and tore it up. That would be too obvious. And besides, no one in the school really cared anyway. All they cared about was the Beetles and dances and how to get rid of their acne.
Even the boys didn't care and they were the ones about to me most affected by the war. It was as if they would rather hide their heads in the sand and hope it would go away.
Discouraged, she put her notebook and pen away, padded over to the diary and began reading again. Sarah and Mary were in a similar situation, what did they do?
Even in its wild days, when men walked around armed to the teeth with guns and knives, and women sauntered about looking for such men--ones with money that is--and businesses ran out of the backs of wagon and push-carts, and affairs of state were seldom talked of, even in those days, San Francisco yet had a notion of propriety when it came to elected offices and their officials.
Someone had to run the banks and keep a gold standard. Someone had to run the postal service. Someone had to keep the stagecoach transportation moving fluidly.
Someone had to keep the hundreds of ships coming into or sailing out of the ports from bottlenecking. Someone had to choreograph the tons of merchandise and thousands of passangers through the channels of maritime. And someone had to keep track of all those someones.
"There's going to be a meeting tonight Sarah," Jack said as he strolled into the shop, "a meeting of all the business owners in town. Business owners that are not female or Negro, that is."
"Oh, really?" Sarah replied as she stocked Mrs. Blandard's freshly canned jars of peaches on a prominent shelf, "and just who is in charge of this meeting, as if I didn't know?"
"Mr. Carter is. Least wise that's what Mr. Austin down at the wharf said. He's the one who heard about it and he's going too even though he doesn't own a business. He is surly involved with the businesses here he says, so he's going."
Samuel Carter had finally found the edge over Sarah he was looking for; a meeting of businessmen--white businessmen--to band together and put Sarah out of business. He would happily accept Mr. Austin's presence at the meeting for Mr. Austin was going to be the unwitting focal point of his whole plan.
"Well then, if Mr. Austin is going then we are in good hands. Who knows Jack, this may be a meeting to decide what to do with all that rice in the bay that Mr. Norton purchased, and to find out what has happened to Mr. Norton."
"Ran off crazy as a bed bug's what folks are saying," Jack said matter of factly as he tied his work apron on, "they say he's holled up in a cabin some where's in San Jose drinking tequilla and talkin' to himself. Mr. Austin doesn't know what to do with the rice, says he's going to have to sell it for pennies on the dollar just to get it unloaded so he can get the ships out to make room for all the others."
Jack and Sarah worked quietly for two or more hours awaiting the next rush of customers. It wasn't like Sarah to put much stock in mens'meetings, thought they were just a lot of cigar puffing, card playing, and big talk. Leastwise, that's what she had learned sitting under the window's of some of the most successful businessmen, listening to their "meetings" when she was a young girl. She had done it purely out of curiosity years ago, not particularly interested in the business end of their meetings, just liking to hear the voices and the laughter of men. She had missed her father from the minute he left for the gold mines in the Sierras and had ached for the sound of a man's voice besides Samuel Carter's.
She had relished in her own father's baratone voice and his good-natured laughter. His joy at watching a prank or listening to a joke was displayed not only by his chuckles but by the laugh lines he would get around his eyes and mouth. He was a handsome, gentle man, and Sarah had wondered as a young girl if she would ever meet a man like that to marry one day.
"We're nearly out of oats again," Jack said, interrupting Sarah's thoughts, "should I go down to the wharf and see what Mr. Austin has coming in?"
"Oh, yes indeed Jack," Sarah replied, "tell him we will need at least twenty of the 50 pound sacks at the best price. And if you stumble across any more information about the big meeting tonight, let me know."
Mr. Austin and Jack London walked up Montgomery street in the shadows of the street lights illuminating a warm summer night, heading toward the businessmens meeting that was to start at precisely 8pm. Howard Flannery was to host it in the back of his tailor shop as he had been coerced into it by Samuel Carter.
Samuel didn't want any women knowing about his meeting, and Howard Flannery, a self-proclaimed and now life-long bachelor after divorcing a woman he had wed through a mail order bride company, a woman who'd gotten drunk every night and chased him about the house with his sewing sciccors, and then ran off with a gambler from Omaha. Flannery wouldn't have any woman around to explain things to Samuel thought, and besides, he owed Carter money and would do anything to have Carter forget that.
Flannery's shop was big by San Francisco standards, most shops in the city being tiny cubicles within larger buildings. Made completely of brick, Flannery was sure that his would survive any and all fires, a plague to the city as sure as the fog and almost as frequent.
His shop was messy, cataclysmic really with bolts of cloth, bobbins of different colored threads and sewing needles everywhere strewn about as if someone had ransacked the place. He claimed that he couldn't work in a place that wasn't cluttered, that clutter was the sure sign of a busy man doing a bang-up business. He was, in fact, struggling, hence the money he owed to Samuel who had bailed him out when his landlord had come looking for his rent.
Mr. Austin and Jack entered the little shop's back room to find it stuffed nearly shoulder to shoulder with men in verying stages of sobriety. Samuel had made sure that the whisky flowed freely to lubricate the men and allow them to speak freely.
Mr. Austin and Jack squeezed by two men know to be the town drunks and trouble makers, and found a spot in the back to stand and watch. The din grew as the men drank, as did the smell of cigar and pipe smoke and sweat.
Samuel strolled in just as the men were getting riled up at being cramped in the tiny room, feeling that he had waited long enough for them to begin to get ill tempered.
"Gentlemen," he said waving his hand in the air to grab their attention, "gentlemen, please. If I could have your attention for just a few minutes, I'll make this brief."
The crowd roared at this remark as Samuel never made any speech brief, loving the lime-light and the sound of his own voice as he did.
"I have gathered us all here tonight because we are the only men in this town it seems, who have seen enough of the liberality with which the women, the Chinese, and the Negro have been given to own property and run businesses! As many of you know," he went on clamping his thumbs around his suspenders and jutting his chest out, "another business has just opened down the street. A Negro business. Now, are we going to just stand around like sheep and take this?"
The men were silent, puffing on their cigars and pipes, making whorles of smoke rings. Finally, when they could stand the silence no longer, Jack piped up.
"Those Negros are selling quality boots. Ya gotta admit that."
"Who said that," Samuel called out as the crowd opened around Jack like the Red Sea had for Moses.
"And would you look here," Samuel said pointing to Jack and Mr. Austin, "these two are the very reason why we have this problem festering in our midst. They encourage it by helping these people even though it is clearly against God and decency. Don't you know gentlemen, that women are to stay home at the hearth seeing to the Godly raising of our children? And that the white man who is by nature superior to the Chinese and the Negro, has a duty to conduct business?"
"I agree," said a man in the middle of the crowd, "if we let this go on we will be staying at home feeding babies while our women folk wear the pants, earn the money, and smoke our cigars!"
"It's time to put a stop to this!" another man said with a whiskey thickened slur.
"Now you are seeing the light gentlemen," Samuel said smiling to himself, "but we just can't grab our pitch-forks and run them out of town. We must teach them a lesson that will not only stick with them, but will show any others that they are not going to out think the men--the white men in our town."
"Well then, what do we do?"
"We put them out of business by cutting off their supplies. The election is coming up for Port Commissioner. Elect Edgar Wakeman as Commisisioner, true Comissioner, and I will see to it that none of these infiltrators gets their hands on any goods coming by ship. That should put them out of business in six months, and we will have this town back to normal!"
"Emporor Wakeman?" one man slurred, "why, he's already dubbed the Emporer of the port. Who cares about Austin?"
"Mr. Austin is a hinderence to Wakeman, citing government regulations that were not made by any of us. If he goes, our hindrances go gentlemen, and it's high time Austin goes!"
Mr. Austin blanched at Samuels words. Samuel was going after his own position and was getting support for it.
"Don't worry Mr. Austin," Jack whispered, "Wakeman will never win that election.
Elsie was the first one up on Sunday morning wanting to catch the San Francisco Examiner just as the paper boy delivered it, puffing as he always did on his bicycle up the street and then zooming like the wind down the other side.
Trotting back up the stairs to the kitchen, Elsie quickly opened to the editorial page to find her letter had been printed:
Dear San Francisco Examiner Staff,
I am a high school student concerned about the Vietnam war the the effect it is having on our school and community. I am a reporter for my school newspaper and have been strictly forbidden to write any articles pertaining to the war, the draft, or the protests.
Is this not the same suppression of free thinking that drove our fore-fathers fought against England about?
Are we as a nation, comprised as it is of cities and towns, homes and families, honest men and women, who are now sending our men to
Southeast Asia, willing to give up our First Ammendment rights in the name of patriotism?
If I write one more article for my school newspaper about the war, I will be punished. I believe this is wrong, and I believe this is dangerous.
Elsie was elated and energyzed by her letter to the editor and couldn't wait to see what the reaction at school would be. She re-folded the paper, finished her Tang orange drink, and quickly called her friend Brandy to see if she had read the paper.
Of course, brandy hadn't read the paper, she hadn't even gotten out of bed yet and her voice sounded groggy and thick with sleep. At Elsie's behest, she got out of bed and tip-toed downstairs to get the paper and read Elsie's letter to the editor.
The best she could do was encourage Elsie's bravado. But she feared that when Mr. Rush found out, he was going to be steamed.
"You're going to get into a lot of trouble you know," Brandy said, "my father would kill me if I did something like this. He is just so square."
"It's not like my folks aren't going to blow a gasket when they read this either Brandy. They are more square than yours. But, whose parents do you know who aren't out of it? My mother thinks ‘I Dream of Jeannie' is pornography because she wears silk."
"I know," Brandy giggled, ‘my dad won't let us watch the Smothers Brothers on TV because he thinks they're communists. So, have your parents read it yet?"
"Nah, they aren't up yet."
"Maybe you should come over here until they do, in cast they blow or something."
Elsie thought for a moment at how her father ranted and raved over the paper every Sunday anyway calling it Socialist tripe and un-American, "maybe you're right. I'll be right over."
"He's just awful steamed Sarah," Jack said as they discussed Samuel's plan and Mr. Austin's reaction, "feel's as though the rug's been pulled out from under him, he says." Sarah stood at the sales counter rubbing her chin and thinking, while Mr. Ling finished bringing his line of ladies slippers in through the back door for Sarah to sell from her shop.
"We all be in trouble," he said in his broken but passable English, "Mr. Samues bad man. Hate Chinese."
"He hates everyone," Jack quipped as he picked up a broom and began sweeping the continual flux of sand that seeped through the door with the windl. "And what tears me is that most everyone hates him. Most of the men at that meeding have had run-ins with him. They were there for the whiskey."
"Yes so I heard. Mrs. Cramdon was in earlier and said that Mr. Cramdon came home so drunk he kicked his mule Nye-on to death."
"Jack ass," Mary mumbled to herself.
"Well, he is a jack-ass, and a mean one at that. He kicked his mule because Mrs. Cramdon wouldn't let him in the house to kick her."
"We don't have time to argue this, we need a plan to stop Samuel from getting Wakeman to win this election. And, I think the way to the heads of these men is through their wives. Jack, go round up as many of the wives of the men who were at that meeting as you can. Tell them the coffee is on us. I am going to go pay a little visit to Samuel at his shop."
"Yes, it is a fine day," Samuel replied to Sarah, smiling and puffing on his cigar, "a very fine day indeed. But, I would gather that a busy woman such as yourself did not venture out of her busy store just to discuss trivialities with an old man like me."
"No, Samuel, I didn't." Sarah said adjusting her apron, "I came to hear from your own mouth that you are planning on running Wakeman for Port Commissioner even though we have had a fine and hard working one in Mr. Austin for quite some time now. Is this true?"
Samuel sat down at his office chair and propped his feet up on the desk, leaving Sarah to stand like a servant, "why yes it is true little lady. But that's men's business. Not something I think you need to worry over."
"I dare say that I should worry over it. First of all, you have no business trying to put your own man in this office when it is in obvious contradiction to you profession.
"But it is not in contradiction, it will serve me and my brother business men well and good."
"And seek to put those of us who don't fall into that category of your brother business men out of business by cutting us off from supplies. Don't think we are ignorant of that sir, or that we are going to stand idly by and allow it to happen. You and your thugs don't own this town."
"And you and your kind don't own it either. I am going to see to that. Good day Sarah."
Sarah returned to her shop fully expecting to find it filled with wives livid the news of Samuel's plan and ready for action. What she found was Mr. Ling and his wife waiting patiently just outside the back door of the shop.
"Did no one wish to come and help us Jack?" Sarah asked incredulously.
"They all said they had babies to tend or dinners to cook. I think they are afraid Miss Sarah, I really do. It was like there was a hex on them or something."
"A hex called Samuel," Sarah replied as she walked out the back door to thank Mr. and Mrs. Lang.
"It seems you fancy yourself a bit of a martyr Miss Riley," Mr. Rush, the principal said to Elsie as she sat nervously in a straight-back chair before his desk where the Sunday edition of the Examiner lay open to the editorial page, "and feel that it is a good thing to let the whole city know about this at the expense of your school's honor."
"Mr. Rush, if what we are fighting for in Vietnam is the basic Democratic freedom of speech, then I am well within my rights to express myself in the newspaper regardless of the effect it has on the school. Not that I believe that it had an effect."
"And you are wrong again. The school superindentant called me first thing this morning wanting to know if I knew anything about this letter and the student who penned it."
Elsie could feel her heart pounding like a war drum in a cowboy movie as she sat ramrod straight in her chair and stared at the portrait of George Washington behind Mr. Rush.
She wondered what Washington would have thought about this situation having been labeled a rebel himself in his day. Or would he be on the side of the conservatives of this day too, having been lulled into a false sense of security and strength. She also wondered what Sarah would do.
"You have nothing to say in your defense? Are you just going to sit there and stare at me?"
"I am just waiting for the punishment Mr. Rush."
"I am sure you are waiting. Waiting so that you can write another letter to the paper about how mistreated you are for speaking your mind. Well, I am not going to give you the satisfaction young lady. You are free to go."
Elsie knew reverse psychology when she saw it. Her mother had used it on her many times before. Do the opposite of what they want or expect and they will swing your way like a pendulum.
He sat smugly in his chair smirking at Elsie like he had just gotten a leg-up on her while she slowely got up to walk out the door feeling like maybe he had.
She would compose a new letter for next week, and the week after that, and the week after that until he let her write about it in the school newspaper.
"And so you see Mr. Clemens, that writing an article about this travesty in the Californian would make an enormous difference to the citizens of this city who have no vote."
Samuel Clemens sat at his desk in the editor's office of the Calfornian, one of the two weekly newspapers in San Francisco, smoke billowing from his imported Cuban cigar, which he spun deftly with ink stained fingers as he considered all that Sarah had told him. It would make a good story, it had appeal to everyone in the city and it was certainly a good versus evil tale.
"Well, as you may or may not know Miss Sarah, I too have little love for Samuel Carter. He is a snake and a cheat at Monte. That is, I hear he is a cheat at Monte. But this kind of article could get a lot of the towns folk riled up at me."
"Yes, it very well could," said Sarah, who sat in front of the man's desk sipping tea he had offered her upon entering. He was truly a Southern gentleman. "But it is a story well worth telling, and you would only be telling it as an outside observer and teller of news. Samuel will be hopping mad, and he may just send one of his henchmen to see you, but..."
"Ach," Clemens spat out with a puff of cigar smoke, "his drunken cronies do not scare the likes of me, I've sailed the rivers with men far meaner and much smarter." Mr. Clemens sat pondering for a few more seconds, mumbling to himself and working his cigar until he finally sat up, pounded his fist on his desk and said, "by God lady, I will do it! Not that I have any love of the political ramifications of this whole sordid activity, but because you make a good point. I am an observer, and a newspaper man, and by God I am going to tell this story."
Sarah nearly gushed as she jumped up and pumped the man's hand thanking him profusely as she nearly backed right out of his office in an effort to avoid breaking eye contact with him. "You won't regret this Mr. Clemens, I have a feeling that you are a great man with a great story telling future."
It was a bit of a walk from the newspaper office back to her shop, but Sarah didn't notice. She had started out the door with her feet hardly touching the ground, satisfied that she had finally found an ear that was interested in her side of the story.
She had started out the door that way. Until she saw the smoke cloud rising fro the vicinity of her shop.
"If you ever hope to get Old Man Rush off your back, you are gonna have to become the editor of the paper," Brandy said to Elsie in the school cafeteria.
"Yeah, right Brandy, how am I gonna become the editor? I barely have a column to write. And besides, I would have to go up against Sean Carter and he's been the editor for two years now."
"Oh, he doesn't count. He's only the editor because he's popular. He can't even spell."
The two girls took a moment to steal a gaze at Sean who was sitting across the room with his football budies laughing like a mule and spewing Coca Cola our his nose.
"He's not exactly editor material if you ask me. In fact, he's barely house broken," Brandy went on as she examined her peanut butter and jelly sandwich like it was growing horns, "besides, he is after Sandra and she is after him. That is the only reason the two are even on the paper, so they can have the google eyes at each other. Maybe the school is ready for a serious editor and some serious stuff in the paper for a change. And you would be perfect."
"Mr. Blackburn isn't going to let me become editor Brandy, he hates me."
"He's just the teacher Elsie, he doesn't have all the say in the matter. As long as you can do the job, which you can, it's up to the other writers on the paper to push for you."
"So I have to..."
"Kiss some ass," Brandy said, hardly thinking of the language she used, language that used to get her mouth washed out with soap by her strict mother.
Two weeks later, Elsie was at the monthly Saturday gathering of the newspaper staff at Mr. Blackburn.s home in the Mission District where they put the finishing touches on the articles and followed up on various dates that would be published in the upcoming issue.
Mr. Blackburn and his wife were always wonderful hosts of this event, providing plenty of potato chips and Coca Colas to keep any teenager happy, though they had no children of their own. Mr. Blackburn even took them to lunch a couple fo times at the Mr Taquito burrito house on 16th street. Today, in fact, was the third month in a row that he had taken them to lunch and as Elsie sat across the table from him, she thought this was as good a time as any to ask him about becoming editor of the paper.
The crowd of students were noisy and jovial, feeling good about having finished the paper (and an enormous burrito each), and they were just settling into their comfort and ease when Elsie spoke up.
"I think maybe I would like to become the editor of the paper," Elsie said to Mr. Blackburn who was taking a deep drink from his cola glass, "it seems like we need some new blood."
Mr. Blackburn placed his cup back on the table and wiped sweat off his forehead with a paper napkin. "This doesn't have anything to do with your Vietnam protest does it Elsie?" Mr. Blackburn had also been called into Principal Rush's office when Elsie's editorial came out in the Examiner two weeks ago, and was warned to do his best to squelch this "uprising" as he called it. "You know, I got called into Rush's office Monday just before you did about your editorial, don't you think you should let this whole thing drop?"
"No, I don't. This is important information and I believe that the students need to hear about it so that they can make important decisions about their futures."
"And what about Sean? He's doing fine as the editor right now."
"Sean is only interested in sports Mr. Blackburn, and there's a lot more to life than sports, even for a high school student."
"Well, this seems to be a good time to have a meeting then," Blackburn said, "if I can have everyone's attention."
Elsie was mortified. She hadn't counted on Blackburn telling the whole staff and she wasn't prepared.
"Elsie seems to feel that the newspaper should take a different tack for a while and would like to take over as editor."
The group looked immediately puzzled, except for Sean who was shocked and angry. "But I'm the editor," Sean said in his defense, looking for signs of approval from the others in the group, "and I think the paper is doing just fine the way it is. Why change it?"
"Because it doesn't represent everyone at the school, and it doesn't address any important issues," Elsie said in her own defense, "it says mostly the same things every month. Who won what game and who went to the last dance. It's boring and it isn't relevant to today's issues."
"Maybe it's boring to you Elsie because you don't participate in sports," said Maggie, one of the reporters and an ardent fan of Sean.
"Or to any of the dances," quipped Nancy, another reporter.
This got the laughs and nods from all the students, and a deep crimson blush from Elsie who now regretted even broaching the subject with Blackburn.
After all, she thought to herself, it was all true. She didn't participate in sports and she didn't go to the dances. And she wasn't popular, and neither was her cause. But it was important to her and she had never had such a passion for a cause in her life. Especially a political one. In her mother's opinion, politics was for men not women.
But reading Sarah's diary told her different. Politics effected women as much as men; maybe even more as it effected the children that women were told they were responsible to raise.
"Now folks," Blackburn interjected, "this is a very important issue to decide. Sean has been the editor for two years now. Maybe we need new blood, and maybe we don't. But I don't think that we have the right to make that decision without the imput of our readers. So, I think that we should have Sean and Elsie each write an article supporting their side of the issue and have a school-wide vote."
Now Elsie knew why Brandy had suggested a campaign as this was turning out to be more than just a position change for the paper. It was going to be war.
There was little that scared San Franciscan's more during the gold rush than a fire in the city. Made mostly of wood, the buildings, walkways, piers, ships barns and fences could be decimated in a matter of minutes by one mishap with a cigar or a wandering spark from a wagon axel hitting stone.
Sarah had seen many such fires raging unabated through the city in her day and though the city had water on three sides, it didn't have the engineering to get the water to the fire.
Horse-drawn steam pampers and hook-and-ladder waggons would careen up and down the hills of the city often in a race with each other to see who could get to the smokey blaze first while rubberneck watched with a mixture of curiosity and horror.
This was a day just like that. By the time Sarah had run the several blocks to the shop and fought her way to the front of the store, the Knickerbocker Engine Company Number 5, all volunteer, had arrived and was fighting madly to put out the blaze in Franklin and Leigh's boot shop. A blaze set by an angry demonstrator who in fact was an employee of Samuel Carter. Among the volunteers was a young woman about Sarah's age whom Sarah would later find out was Lillie Hitchcock, an avid follower of the engine company. She was busy untangling ropes, moving hoses and seeing to the injured men.
Sarah immediately looked around for her mother and Jack whom she found beating at the side of the shop with wet towels to try and prevent the flames from licking around the doorway and into their building, their faces blackened with heavy soot and Mary looking on the verge of collapse from the heat and stress.
Sarah jumped in and began to help, gathering water fro the pails they kept on hand at all times as required by the city, but Sarah new that 6 pails of water was but little consequence on this conflagration lest the fire department put it out quickly. Soon she began to be overcome by the thick smoke, but out of desperation continued to work until the dizziness overtook her and she fainted.
To Mary's amazement, rather than attend to their own fire, Franklin and Leigh began helping her and Jack while Lillie Hitchcock saw to the unconscious Sarah. The men had surmised that their shop was lost and so decided to lend help to their neighbors and friends. To the shock of everyone present, it helped and after several grueling minutes of backbreaking work, the wind shifted sending the flames in the other direction until the fire company could get it under control and extinguish it.
Franklin and Leigh's shop was nearly completely destroyed, its front window blown out by the smoke and its roof sheared off by the flames. What boots and shoes that didn't burn in the blaze were now smoke-saturated and soaked. If there was anything left to salvage, they would have to sell it at an incredible markdown.
When Sarah awoke several feet from where she had been working, she felt the seering pain in her smoke filled lungs and began a coughing fit that nearly broke a rib. Covered in soot, her dress in rags and her hair soaked from sweat and spraying water, the sight of her and the wreckage sent the town looking for the arsonist, Gary Mackenzie who was by now in Pockface Gertie's saloon shooting his mouth off at anyone who would listen about his antics and how he was going to be getting a raise from his employer. Gertie had no trouble letting the mob know of the man's whereabouts and even offered to help pay for the rope if they hanged him. He and Pockface Gertie had been enemies since he strolled into her bar two years ago with a pocket full of gold dust and a head full of ego. He had played plenty of Monte at her tables and sent many a whisky bottle flying when he lost, once fomenting a melee that nearly cost her the bar.
So, when she looked out the bat-wing doors at the angry crowd and heard Mackenzie's name being shouted, she was delighted to stand in the doorway and wave the frenzy her way. Even if it did cost her the bar.
"He's over here boys, shootin' his mouch off like a snake-line of firecrackers the Chinese shoot off every year. Seems, he's been playing with matches again."
Gertie cast several of the men--the married men--a playful lear as they stomped into the bar after Mackenzie, and then waved good-bye as they left.
"Don't forget boys, I'm in for part of the cost of the rope!"
Brandy crushed her Salem cigarette into and enormous ceramic ashtray she had won at a county fair and given to her father for his birthday. She had begun smoking a year ago at the urging of some of her friends and the advertisements of big movie stars.
"The biggest stars smoke Salem brand you know," she said to Elsie who rolled her eyes in disgust. Elsie believed that the havit was unhealthy and thought that it was stupid and expensive.
"Where do you get all the money to buy those things anyway. Sheesh, at 19 cents a pack, they are pretty brutal on your allowance aren't they?"
"Nah, I steal them from my dad. Once he's had a couple of Vodka martinis, he doesn't know what he has and hasn't smoked."
"Right," Elsie replied unconvinced, "So now that you've gotten me in this mess what are we going to do about it?"
"Well, you're gonna write a killer article to support your position and we are going to make a bunch of groovy posters to put up all over the school. Yeah, that's it. We'll get some Tempora paint and some butcher paper and make up psychedelic posters like the Yellow Submarine cover."
"Now, that is a cool idea. We could go over the the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood and get some ideas."
"It will be radical Elsie, you'll see."
Elsie looked dubious. The last time Brandy offered her a radical experience it was when they went to a free rock concert in Golden Gate Park and Brandy dropped some acid that a hippie looking fellow had givern her. Elsie had to walk her home in the midst of a paranoia attack, sit with her in her back yard running interference with Brandy's parents until she could get her into bed and quieted down. It was a nightmare for both of the girls.
"I know what you are thinking Elsie. Will you ever let me off the hook for that concert thing? It was an accident you know, and I swear, I will never do it again."
Years later, when Elsie went off to UCLA, Brandy tuned in, dropped out and turned on--in a big way--living with some guy in the Haight and shooting heroin and eventually having an illegitimate boy she named Archimides, claiming he would one day be a god. She got really strung out.
"OK, let's go down to the store and get some paint and paper."
"Cool. You won't regret this."
Words Elsie didn't need to hear.
Sarah and Mary had witnessed many a destructive fire in their days in San Francisco, having seen entire neighborhoods end up nothing more than smoke and ash, the owners wandering lost around the town begging for money, their wives and children sent off to family or friends to live while the business was built back up. Many a husband went back to the gold fields where they had gotten their original wealth, to find that the claims they had established were picked over like a carcass in the desert.
Fire devistation was fire devistation, be it big or small. It was an innate fear. A primal terror that sat in the gut and stewed, waiting for the next event.
Sarah was terrified of fire, having been caught in one as a child in St. Louis when the marne was milking Nora, their cow, in caught fire from the cat being spooked and knocking over a lantern. The straw was a welcome tinder to the flame which urged the fire dancing up the barn walls to the roof in a matter of seconds, leaving Sarah and Nora stranded and choking in the thick cloud of smoke.
Sarah was saved by climbing up a ladder to the hay loft and down another ladder out to safety as her father and mother worked to get the flames under control. They lost the barn and Nora that day and felt lucky. Lucky to have Sarah and the rest of the property saved from disaster.
To this day, Sarah has nightmares of fire. Dreams of small fires starting here and there in the house that she would just get put out before another one would start. The dream would end when the house was fully engulfed and she had to run for her life.
She awoke in her bed in the tiny San Francisco apartment over the store she and her mother lived in, her lungs stinging from the smoke she had inhaled earlier and her mind reeling from the sight of the fire.
Lillie, the young woman who had accompanied Knickerbocker Engine Company Number 5, was sitting in a chair next to Sarah wiping Sarah's forehead with a wet cloth and consoling Mary who just paced and fretted. Lillie had been impressed by Sarah's bravery in the fire, and had opted to stay behind and help Mary get her into bed and looked after. They had closed their shop for the day.
"How could someone do such a vile thing," Sarah asked.
"It's pure hatred is all," Lillie replied holding Sarah's hand, "but you needn't worry about it, they caught Gary Mackenzie and hour ago and hanged him in a tree. Pockfaced Gertie even paid for the rope."
"He's dead?" Sarah asked now sitting up in bed, "why, he didn't even get a trial or anything. What kind of justice is that?
"It's cowboy justice's what it is. I don't agree with it, but I am not one to fight a posse. And they were doing it for you. Everone knows about the feud..."
"It is not a feud, it is business."
"Whatever it is, people know about the friction between you and Samuel Carter, and Gary Mackenzie is...was, an employee of his."
"What happened to Mr. Franklin and Mr. Leigh's shop?"
"What didn't get burned up got smoked up. I think it will be a substantial loss."
"But why did Mackenzie go after them if the plan was to get me?"
"I imagine they thought that folks wouldn't get as upset if a Negro's business got burned down, and well...if yours went too it wouldn't be a surprise."
"Devils. They are just devils."
"If that be so, then Mackenzie should be right at home where he's goin."
"If we are to become a civilized society, and not just a gaggle of roustabouts, then it is high time that we stand up to men the likes of Samuel Carter, men who would disallow the free commerce of hard working people for his own ill-gotten gain."
Sarah finished reading Mr. Clemens' article in The Californian, feeling like he had truly done her side justice. And now, with her spirits lifted and two days bed rest, she was ready to get up and go back to work cleaning the shop.
When she arrived downstairs she was greeted by her mother and Jack, and several townspeople, all clearing and cleaning, dusting and whitewashing walls and counters to get the smoke smell out. Many items had to be discarded, and those not fit for selling but too good to dispose of where given to charity.
Mrs. O'Quinn, a quiet woman from Georgia whose husband was one of the town blacksmiths, was scrubbing away at the floor with a brush and tsk-tsking to herself at the mess. Her husband had been set to work by her to clean and repair the iron table lets and cabinet knobs for free. And he did it gladly having received many slices of pie from Sarah and Mary when he was single and homesick.
Jason Abernathy, another miner from Sarah and Mary's baking enterprise days also helped out with his carpentry skills. Then, to his surprise, Sarah asked him to go next door and help out in the boot shop where he could, stating that anything he did to help them was a thorn in Samuel Carter's side.
Samuel Carter had done Abernathy wrong many times back when Sarah and Mary had worked in Carter's shop. He had sold Abernathy used mining tools that were in dire shape, for exorbitant prices, claiming that he had paid dearly for them himself. Mary often repaid Abernathy with many a free pie to help him out and often to cheer him up.
Even Lillie helped out and brought some of her friends from the fire department to do the heavy work. They all pitched in and helped Franklin and Leigh as much as they could though the two men were fretting that someone else might try the same trick all over again and were considering leaving San Francisco for good.
It all helped. And Sarah and Mary, and Franklin and Leigh were grateful. But there was still the underlying problem of Wakeman running for Port Commissioner. He had clout among the powerful men, the week-kneed men, and the easily bribed men.
Sarah's friends and supporters were for the most part women, or Chinese or Negro men who couldn't vote, and vagabonds and drifters who appreciated Sarah's honest business practices and dimpled smile, but who were the "marginalized" as well.
They were all good friends and loyal to the end. But, nont had the right to vote in an election, the clout to get anyone's attention, or the power to pursuade.
And there was just nothing to be done about it.
The great wooden ships docked in the bay swayed and creeked like so many drunken old men, the wind blowing against their wooden bodies as their anchors held tight, and the salty frigid water splashing against their tar-slick hulls leaving little bubbles in their wake. All was quiet otherwise, as Captain Joseph Adams, standing at the helm of his clipper ship The Susan Drew, slipped into harbor, the ship's belly filled to the brim with goods from Hawaii. All was quiet that is, until a parade made its way toward the harbor, a parade celebrating Wakeman's decided victory in the race for Port Commissioner.
Leading the parade was a rag-tag little marching band consisting of a trombone, whose player was nearly as skinny as it, a snare drum ratta-tapping as its player kept time with his head nodding, a tuba player hump-bumping along a half step behind the beat, and a picalo player, a young boy in tattered shorts and not shoes.
Samuel Carter looked the picture of a politician sitting astride a white Stallion as he rode through the town next to Wakeman, waving to the crowds, crowds who would gather for anything if there was music involved, and throwing small bags of peanuts to the children. Behind the two was a wagon festooned with ribbon and banners for declairing Wakeman the new Port Commissioner, and inside rode Samuel's wife and daughters smiling and waving to the crowds and trying to keep their bonnets on in spite of the gusting wind.
At the end of the parade, in front of the office of the Port Comissioner, Edgar Wakeman deftly dismounted from his steed and strutted up the front steps of the office to make his acceptance speech to his adoring, if not mostly inebriated, fans. It was as pompous a speech as one might expect, extolling the virtues of the city and its people, and promising swift changes of high impact on the community.
It was a sight to behold and as Captain Joseph beheld it, he could scarcely believe his eyes. When he had left port 6 months ago, there was no mention of an election coming up. He had no idea just what all had transpired in his absense.
Joseph had never particularly liked Wakeman and his "Water Police", but he had never had a real run-in with them either. Wakeman had no time for Captains of the ships beyond getting their goods unloaded and them back to sea. He didn't seem particularly political either. He just liked his power and the money. Something had to have happened to change this.
He would find out from Sarah. And soon.
Joseph wasted no time walking to Sarah's shop after his ship docked, and looking inside the storefront window, found her hard at work, her hair in its usual bun and a smudge of flour on her face as she added up one of her customer's accounts. Joseph thought she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, and in his travels, he had seen plenty.
Surly, she would have known of the election, and of wakeman's landslide victory, and of the parade that was obviously the product of Samuel's coffers, and surely Joseph knew this had to have something to do with her. He was fully aware of Samuel's dislike of Sarah and Mary since they had started their own business, but he had not known it would come to this.
He stopped a moment to survey the damage to the neighboring shop, a shop that had been vacant when he left for Hawaii 6 months ago. He was certain that the story behind the obvious fire would be a good one and likely have something to do with Darah and Mary.
"And so," said Sarah as she finished telling her story to Joseph who was now pacing furiously before her as she sat calmly on a bench in front of the store, "that's where we are now. Samuel has seen to it that Wakeman won the election and now Mr. Austin is out of a job."
"A job Austin has done very well," Joseph said almost to himself, "not letting riff-raff like Samuel Carter bully him around."