Fiction Friday: Sarah’s Final Letter

Shenandoah Sunset I by John MuellerFor the past months on Fiction Friday I’ve shared the historical portion of my novel Endless Chain. The novel is set in contemporary times, but the story hearkens back to an incident in the past, told through letters from Sarah Miller to the man she loves, Amasa Stone, who is in Lynchburg caring for his father. You can read them all by going to Fiction Friday to the right under categories, scrolling down to March 21 when they begin, then reading them all by scrolling up one by one to this one.

This is the final letter Sarah writes Amasa, broken into two parts, the first part today. Do you wonder what happened to Sarah, Amasa, Dorie and Jeremiah after the letters end? There’s only so much I can tell you here without spoiling the novel. The likeliest conclusion is revealed at the end of Endless Chain as Elisa and Sam, who are the major contemporary characters, put together everything they’ve learned and determine what must have occurred after the letters ended.

After illustrating the first four blog posts with cover treatments of Endless Chain, I’ve continued illustrating with photos (all from Flickr) of the Shenandoah Valley. Today’s illustration is by photographer John Mueller.

Here’s the beginning of Sarah’s final letter to Amasa.


June 15, 1853

Dear Amasa,

I am sick at heart and reluctant to burden you with my sorrow. I have read all your letters and fear there will be another soon that confirms the dream I had last week, that your father has slipped away at last.

If this be so I fear not only this news but your decision to find a life in the west now that you are no longer tethered to Lynchburg. I know if you do leave to seek your fortune you intend to send for me one day, and that this is the only way we can hope to have land of our own. But Amasa dear, I know in my heart if this transpires, I will never see you again. There will be too many miles and too much time passed.

Several nights ago Jeremiah told me, yet again, that he would welcome you to share this farm as my husband. I know your feeling, too, that there is not enough land to divide between two families and that it is not your right to create such a burden on my brother. Jeremiah says he will not marry again and bring up children on this land, but as you have said before, Jeremiah’s grief speaks for him and blocks his vision of a happier future.

Perhaps I am being morose, but when I tell you what has occurred, you will understand why tonight everything seems so bleak.

Yesterday Jeremiah received, at last, a response to his inquiry about Marie. As you know there are good people everywhere, and some of them have helped us.
The news was not what we hoped it would be. Marie is not at the plantation on the Rhode River where Dorie believed her to have been taken, nor would anyone say what if anything happened to the child. We did learn there were floods in that area in early spring and reports of those illnesses that too often come in the wake of flood waters. I fear a motherless child would be the last to be cared for and the first to succumb to such an illness.

Jeremiah waited until evening to tell Dorie his news, afraid if he told her sooner she would disappear without a word. He promised he would continue his search, but Dorie understands the worst. It is likely Marie is lost to her forever, either by death or sale, and the chances Jeremiah will learn her daughter’s fate are slim indeed. There are so many slaves on the plantations of that region, indeed tobacco is a crop that depends on many hands. What overseer will remember the fate of one small child?

We are blessed in this part of the valley, I believe, that our soil does not happily support tobacco, and that we are not as tempted to force others to labor for our benefit!
Dorie did not weep, but I confess I wept for her. I believe the memory of her daughter’s tiny arms around her neck is what carried her this far. Freedom has little value without Marie.

Late that night I was awakened by voices downstairs. I sat up with a start, afraid that the slave patrol had visited late at night in hopes of discovering their prey. They have not left the area, and Dorie has been forced to remain in the house at all times because someone might be on a neighbor’s hillside watching from afar.

Dorie was no longer in her bed. At the head of the stairs I listened, only to realize that the voices I heard were hers and Jeremiah’s. My brother was attempting to persuade her to stay, promising he would do everything he could to determine the truth about Marie. Although I could not hear them well, I realized that despite everything that had happened, Dorie was uttering words of comfort. Deep in her own grief she still found the strength to help my brother.

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