Today’s Fiction Friday is the conclusion of the first letter that Sarah Miller writes to the man she loves, Amasa Stone, in 1853 about the event that’s happened on the Miller farm in rural Shenandoah County, Virginia.
This excerpt comes from my novel Endless Chain, the second of the Shenandoah Album novels, and Sarah’s letters continue through the book. I think you’ll enjoy this peek into pre-Civil War life in a county that had a fair number of residents who disapproved of slavery when that kind of thinking was extremely unpopular.
The first half of this letter debuted last week. The cover on this post is the mass market paperback version. Last week I showed the newer trade paper version.
This evening a storm swept through the valley like few I have seen before. Our sunny day was followed by a sudden rain and hailstones larger than a fist. I had just put supper on the table, but we quickly abandoned it. Jeremiah went out to the barn to be certain all was well with Betty Gray his plow horse and her new foal. Lightning shattered the sky and struck the chestnut tree behind the spring house. The sound was something I never hope to hear again.
I was frightened. I can tell you this because you have seen me when lightning flashes and know I am not the bravest of souls. I was terrified for Jeremiah, and I am ashamed to say I was afraid for myself, as well. I ran to the porch to peer into the storm to search for him, hoping he was safe. By then the skies were dark, and the ground looked as it does after the first snow of winter. As I watched, the hail began to melt under the relentless pounding of the rain.
I had left a quilt on the porch to air, and as I bundled it into my arms to bring inside I thought I saw movement near the house. I peered over the railing, wondering if Jeremiah had not gone to the barn after all. There was nothing to be seen until lightning split the sky once more. Only then did I spy a figure on the ground some feet to the side of our porch. A woman lay there, completely still, water washing around her as it ran off our roof. She lay, as if on an island as the rain made twin creeks around her.
I confess I screamed. No one could hear me, of course. The storm was still raging, and as rain battered the ground, thunder roared at regular intervals. I was afraid to go out in it, but even more afraid to leave her to the storm’s mercy. Inside I pulled my shawl from it’s peg, covered my head and ran to help.
By now I know you are wondering why I take so long to tell this story? I fear it is because I do not know how. I do not know what to tell and what to leave out. All of it seems immense to me, you see. The body, the rain, my own fright. The storm was powerful, but what transpired was more.
When I reached the woman I knew immediately what I had found. She is darker-skinned than I, Amasa, with soft rippling hair, like that of the enslaved people I have seen on my few trips to Winchester or to the neighboring farms that imprison them. I could see little but this, but knew what it meant. This was not a neighbor who had lost her way, but a woman escaping bondage.
I tried to revive her, but with no success. I tried to lift her in my arms, but again, could not. The storm had not abated. I feared for both of us. We were fodder for lightning bolts. Perhaps this is what made me strong? I managed to squeeze my arms between hers and lift her high enough to drag her toward the porch.
Jeremiah found us at the bottom of the steps. He knows how storms frighten me, and he had returned as quickly as he could. (As you can see he is not completely lost to his own sorrow.) He took one look and lifted her in his arms and carried her up the steps and into the house.
She is tucked safely into my bed tonight, and I sit beside it writing you by candlelight. She has wakened only once. I told her she was safe and we would not betray her. That seemed to satisfy her. I asked her name and she whispered, “Dorie. Dorie Beaumont” Then she fell asleep again.
I close now as my candle flickers and dies. I will write again when there is more to tell. Pray for us, my beloved.
The Shenandoah Album novels, with interconnected stories, number five: Wedding Ring, Endless Chain, Lover’s Knot, Touching Stars, and Sister’s Choice, each named after a traditional quilt or quilt block. I hope to add more in the future, but the first three were reissued last year and are easily available at online bookstores. I hope the next two will be reissued in the future.