My husband Dave recently gave me a postcard image that shows one of the important locations in my 1850 Vermont adventure, THE LONG SHADOW (2018 update: now published by Five Star/Cengage). This is the house where Alice Sanborn and her friends decide they have no other choice -- they race for the horse and carriage and ... but I'm getting ahead of myself. Here, instead, is how the book begins:
THE LONG SHADOW
North Upton, Vermont, March 1850
Uncle Martin wiped his plate with a thick slab of graham bread and pressed the gravy-soaked slice all into one mouthful, brushed his hands off on his jacket, and pulled a rustling handful of newsprint out from under his chair with a flourish.
“Your man’s gone soft of thinking,” he told my father as he shoved the pages toward him. “Webster the golden orator has turned coat on us. What use is the Union to us all, if we let the stinking reek of slave-holding move into the Territories after all?”
My mother made a small sound of protest. Thump, came my uncle’s fist on the table, and the dishes rattled. At the same moment, I heard a light tap at the kitchen door. At my mother’s nod, I rose to see who had arrived.
Standing in the dooryard, faces flushed with cold, were my two sweetest friends, both speaking at once. “Alice, school’s finished for the week, the doctor said it’s too close a space, and the Hopkins twins are fevered,” Jerushah announced in a burst, overcoming Sarah’s softer voice. “So will you come across after supper to sew with us? We’ve only one guest at the house, you know, and there’s no stage arriving until Monday, and my mother said to ask your mother.”
Jerushah was the most beautiful girl in North Upton, Vermont. Her hair shone like black silk, and her clothes were always the latest styles. I loved the way her eyes crinkled with merriment, and her mouth smiled naturally, even when she was at her books. And Sarah, well, she was our adopted sister, we say: a sister dark as tanned deerskin, with deep brown eyes that hold the hurt and horror of all the Africans pressed into Southern slavery. The moment we first saw her, bundled off the stagecoach into the inn as a frail armful, Jerushah and I had pledged ourselves to her. Sarah’s parents still lingered under the wicked South’s cruel lash. But transported north, Sarah stayed safe with us. Though as best anyone can tell she was only some twelve years of age, she had brightened and sharpened in our care so that she studied with Jerushah and me at the schoolhouse. We were both more than fifteen years of age ourselves, nearly out of the schoolroom and into an age of preparing our womanly selves for the years ahead of us.
I held up a hand to my friends for their patience and slipped back into the steam-fragrant house to ask my mother’s permission. Distracted by a loud interchange between my father and his brother, she gave a short nod and told me to send the others on their way, for my own dinner lay cooling on the table. This I did, dashing back out the kitchen door to brush a quick kiss onto Jerushah’s cheek and then Sarah’s, promising I’d be at the inn across the road as soon as the day gave way to dark evening.
A roar and more table thumping came from within the house, and I told my startled friends, “It’s news of the Senate and Daniel Webster himself. I’ll tell you everything, later.” They laughed with me, knowing how men love to argue politics, and I watched them pass back to the road before I took a final thirsty breath of the clear March air and returned to the family dinner.