Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Serial Novel: Burning Kansas - Chapter 6

If it's coming up on the 15th, then it's time for another chapter of Burning Kansas, the serial novel from my monthly newspaper, The Deadline.

Miss a chapter? Don't worry, you can click on the label serial novel or Burning Kansas and catch up.

__________

Caroline gets some shocking news about the missing children.

__________

Burning Kansas - Chapter 6

Despite the shock and stress of the day, Caroline couldn't help watching his straight back as he rode away. When he was out of sight, she sat on the carriage block and King put his head on her knee.

"That's a good boy," she said, scratching him behind the ears, "So, what do you think of Mr. Blaylock?"

As if in response, the dog growled low in his throat.

"You're probably right. But until we find Emma, it looks like he is our traveling companion. I have to confess, we could be in less interesting company, so behave."

The thought of Emma darkened her mood.

"I should have known she was up to something when I came home and found she hadn't taken you with her. According to the letters Creighton showed me, she's been sneaking off to see this Jacob for almost six months. You've kept her secrets well," she said, giving the dog a final pat before standing.

"Alright King, let's go see if Uncle Donald knows what's going on here. If he doesn't, then we may be out of luck."

The deceptively rusty gate swung open on soundless hinges. Caroline picked her way up the overgrown path with its riot of late summer flowers onto the sagging porch with its chipped curlicue trim. The door flew open before she could raise the brass knocker.

"Caroline, to what do we owe this pleasure? Not that seeing your lovely face isn't reason enough to celebrate."

The Moore family red hair that sparkled on Caroline burned on her Uncle Donald. Tall and thin, his ginger hair flared in a corona of wild curls. Before she could answer, he swept her into a hug that knocked her hat to the ground.

When he released her, she said, "Uncle Donald you know why I'm here."

The confusion and suspicion on his face surprised her. For a moment she thought she might be wrong.
"Emma."

"Caroline, is there something wrong? You don't seem as joyous as I expected. She gave me a letter from you giving your permission. I'm also surprised to see you here. She told me you were in Lawrence and she and Jacob were on their way to see you."

She ignored the bulk of the lie to focus on one word. "Permission? Permission for what?"

"For her to get married. I performed the ceremony right after breakfast."

Emma is married?

The warm afternoon swam before her eyes. Caroline reached out and steadied herself on the door frame.

"Oh my. Please come in and have some tea. It seems we need to talk." Donald took her arm and led her inside with King close at her heels.

* * *

At the end of the block Creighton turned left, but instead of heading toward the main street, he took another the turn into the rutted alley that led behind the house. Curiosity and wariness wouldn't leave him alone. He needed another look.

Slowing his horse to a walk and trying to act like he belonged there, he studied the backyards on either side of him. Laundry, woodpiles, a delivery wagon. There was nothing out of the ordinary. On the surface anyway.

The back of the brick house had the same studied disarray of Caroline's farm. Instead of the brick-like neatness of the neighbor's yards, the woodpile was strewn in front of the door to a sagging shed. The crooked shed doors contrasted with the neat tarpaper roof. An old quilt flapped on a clothesline. Worn and faded, it had obvious been hanging there for some time. What looked like a small chicken coop stood at one end of the shed's overhang, but he didn't see any chickens. Blaylock's practiced eye told him that things were not what they seemed.

Given who she was married to, this is probably a Jayhawker nest. Jacob, what have you gotten me into?

It had taken all of his practiced calm to not react when she told him her late husband was Michael Cassett. That name had been on a Partisan Ranger enemy list since well before Osceola. They'd toasted his death as a victory. It seemed so important then. What surprised him was how little he cared now. It was more ironic than concerning.

"What you be doing back here? Can I help you?"

Blaylock turned in his saddle. The scullery maid had a basket of wet laundry perched on one hip. As she took him in from head to toe her eyes narrowed.

Dammit, Caroline is right. I must look like hell.

He swept off his hat and said, "Ma'am, I am new in town and got myself lost. I thought this alley might be a shortcut to Main. Could you help me find my way please?"

His charm worked. Disarmed, her broad face split into a smile. "Mister, you are all turned around. Go to the end, turn right, and then right again. You can't miss it."

With his excuse to be in the alley gone, he tipped his hat in thanks, gathered his reins, and whistled his way town.

* * *

The cool spotless parlor contrasted the shabby exterior of the house. Caroline settled onto the edge of a brocade settee and took the tea from the black maid.

"Thank you Elspeth. How are you and Moses? Are things going well?

The question carried more weight than her casual tone implied.

"Things go well Mrs. Cassett. We delivered ten special birds to Lawrence this month. Moses is making a late shipment as we speak. One of them wasn't ready to fly until yesterday."

"Good for him. Give him my best. Please leave the tea. We'll serve ourselves."

The woman winked at Caroline and bowed out of the room.

I can't believe Donald is still running an Underground Railroad station out of this house. That is insanity.

Sipping her tea, she decoded the brief exchange. Donald Moore, on his face, was a preacher with a penchant for rare and exotic birds. He raised songbirds and parrots that he sold to wealthy patrons as far out as Topeka and Wichita. On the surface, Moses and Elspeth kept the house and tended their eccentric employer. The reality was much more complicated.

No one paid any mind to Moses in the custom-built enclosed delivery wagon with its false bottom and custom compartments that often carried another type of living cargo.  Neither did Elspeth's occasional purchase of medial items raise any suspicious. Along with the birds, Elspeth cared for the runaway slaves in the secret rooms beneath the aviary shed. Her words, "one of them wasn't ready to fly," meant she had tended someone who was sick or injured.

Well, sanity and the Moores have never been close bedfellows.

The parlor door opened and Uncle Donald swept in carrying a large black ledger and a journal. Without waiting for Caroline, he poured a cup of tea and sat across from her.

"So, where should we begin," he asked.

"At the beginning." 


To be continued . . .

1 comment:

french sojourn said...

I am caught up now. Really enjoy the story. be well TLC

Cheers Hank