On Tuesday and Wednesday I re-read my novel Endless Chain, published in 2005 and reissued in trade paperback last year. The reason why is a secret, but what I found in the pages isn’t. I liked this book. A lot. I liked the characters and the story and the history behind it. And as I was reading it, the story within the story jumped out at me.
Writing a story within a story became something of a trademark for me, and after the first time my publisher insisted–for a long time–that I continue that mix of past and present. The Shenandoah Album novels were the last novels where I did this because times and tastes changed, but I always liked this particular story, told by letters from a woman to the man she loves in 1853.
Sarah and Dorie’s story is an Underground Railroad story, a short one, and I’ve decided to excerpt it here for you in the next weeks, beginning today. I hope you enjoy this peek at life in the Shenandoah Valley before the Civil War through the letters of Sarah Miller to Amasa Stone about a woman named Dorie Beaumont. Even if you’ve read the book, I hope you’ll enjoy the story as it stands alone here.
May 18, 1853
My dearest Amasa,
How far away you are and how unlikely you will receive this letter before the events I recount are long past. Such it always will be, now that you have gone home to Lynchburg to assist your father. I picture you every day at his forge, although I have never seen you thus. In my loneliness imagination is my worst enemy, for sometimes I also picture myself beside you, bringing water to ease your thirst or wipe your brow. I know this can not be, that there is no room for me there. But still, the thought will not fly away.
I hope your father improves, though I fear the worst. Daily I pray that he will be delivered from his illness, but I also pray that if death is his deliverance, you will find a way to return to me. I would live in the poorest mountain cabin with you, dear Amasa, even though I know you will never allow it. I would share the humble room over your father’s shop, as well, although I know that this, too, can never be.
I study my Holy Bible each night, looking for a sign for our future. Last night, in James I found this verse: “God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.” You are a humble man, yet I wonder if it is not pride that stands in the way of taking me as your bride? I have never asked for more than you can give. Yet too well I understand your desire to care for and protect me as well as Jeremiah does in our family home. Nightly I struggle for patience and the acceptance of God’s will.
I do find solace here. Jeremiah needs me, I know. The man you remember, a man overflowing with wit, piety and affection, has not yet returned to us. He is silent still. Days pass and the only words I hear my brother utter are prayers before meals. His tone is mocking, as if he is daring our Lord to strike him dead, even as he prays outwardly for grace. At night from my room above the stairs I hear him pacing. Sleep is a rare thing indeed for either of us.
Rachel has been dead nearly a year, and the children two weeks longer. I visit their graves and lay fresh flowers on them when I can. Jeremiah never goes to the cemetery, and I have seen him turn his head to avoid gazing in that direction. The fever that took his family still steals the breath from my chest when I think how suddenly they were gone and Jeremiah was left behind. Would that I only knew how to help my brother feel joy again.
But I promised you news, and there is news. We are no longer alone here. You must not tell anyone of this, Amasa, but, of course, I know you will not. So I will confess to you is what has transpired.
The end of this letter debuts next Fiction Friday, then more of the story. Let me know if you’re enjoying a chance to revisit this section of Endless Chain. And stay tuned for Shenandoah Album news.