Victoria had ignored the warning but, to be fair, it didn’t come in the form of a vision, which was the usual case with her portents. That morning, she had decided she could no longer put off her visit to the cemetery. Winter storms had stopped her earlier in the week, but she felt an intense need to visit the grave of her son on this fourth anniversary of his passing.
She wouldn’t bother her husband. She knew he mourned the loss of Wash as much as she, but he showed it in different ways. No, she would go alone, right after breakfast. The subtle subconscious voice saying, “I don’t think so,” didn’t register with Victoria when she mentally planned her day. She didn’t know that it was the beginning of the end.
Victoria rose from her bed and dressed. Her room, chilled from the nighttime temperatures, certainly was warmer than their caravan accommodations. She had pushed for the purchase of East Hartford’s old Farmer’s Hotel, and, like most of her ideas, it had been a good decision. It was large enough that her children and their families could come and go as they needed, and had an innkeeper quarters for their married son. She sat down at her mirror and, as every morning, she braided her long graying hair, coiled and pinned it to her head, and covered it with her turkey red silk diklo, which she knotted at the nape of her neck. Her dark eyes stared back at her briefly as she put on her gold earrings and bangles. She never left her bedroom without them, a habit she had acquired when her husband had shown his appreciation of them. As her final step, she pulled on and laced her boots.
She stood, somewhat reluctantly, as her achy bones reminded her that she was getting on in years and should brew some willow bark tea. She shook her shoulders, covered them with her silk brocade shawl, and opened the bedroom door. Descending the stairs, Victoria heard noises in the kitchen. Her youngest daughter, Daisy, standing at the stove, was frying eggs. Victoria was pleased someone had remembered to check the chickens. She smiled at Daisy and considered she was becoming a useful young woman.
“Good morning, Mammis. Do you want some?” Daisy asked.
“Yes, dear, thanks,” said Victoria as she poured herself some strong coffee and sat at the table. She glanced around.
“Dadrus and the others have taken the work wagons on the ferry across the river to Hartford,” commented Daisy in response to her mother’s appraisal of the kitchen. Victoria wasn’t sorry she had missed the commotion but, for a brief second, she ached for her husband’s embrace.
She glanced out the window at the weak winter sunshine. Bare tree limbs, outlined against the blue and white of the sky, were still, although she was certain it would be cold even without wind.
Daisy, following her look, said, “The men said they are forecasting a snowy February.”
“This century is going out with a bang,” Victoria added, thinking it was all the more reason to go to the cemetery that day. “I don’t think so,” was the subtle refrain that wafted past her consciousness. Her daughter placed a plate of eggs and crispy bacon in front of her and Victoria nodded her thanks.
“Any news?” asked Victoria, knowing that her husband and sons always had lively breakfast discussions.
“There’s talk of a run on gold. The banks don’t have enough to back themselves up.”
Victoria’s hand reached to pat coins sewn into her dress, as she said, “We don’t have to worry about that.”
Daisy smiled. “No, and they say President Cleveland is taking care of the situation.”
“Well, that’s good. We don’t want people to stop buying horses.” Victoria finished her breakfast, poured another cup of coffee, and considered her choices. She wanted to go on her mission without much fuss. Probably it would be best to walk. A horse and carriage would be too much. Even saddling up the horse would require a groom. No, she would walk. Ignoring the whispering in her head, she glanced out at the dirt street, rutted by wagon wheels, and was pleased to see that most of the previous storm’s snow had melted. It might be a bit muddy, but that she could maneuver.
Daisy was busy washing dishes, which provided Victoria an opportunity to slip away. “I’m going out,” she called over her shoulder as she left the room. “I’ll be home shortly.” She wrapped a brightly colored woolen scarf around her neck and over her head and then put on her heavy winter cloak. She quietly let herself out the front door and took herself the long way around, so she would pass through the business district.
When she reached Main Street, Victoria could feel her blood moving through her body. Her breath was in rhythm with her steps and she imagined that she made a sharp picture as she walked past various stores. All her life, people looked at her and, even at her age, men would watch and imagine. They were always respectful. Lord knows they didn’t want to incur the legendary wrath of her husband. Even though the town folks treated them well, she knew that they were seen as different and would always be the first suspects if something went wrong.
She glanced in the courtyard behind the dentist office but she did not recognize any of the horses. She nodded at Mr. Gaines standing in front of his harness shop. She could feel his eyes following her as she continued up Main Street to the cemetery. Her skirts twirled enticingly around her boots as she walked. She couldn’t help her natural hip movement. Even though every inch of her skin was covered, she could feel the old man seeing through, imagining exotic actions unavailable to his staid upbringing. And, with years of experience, she knew how to encourage that fantasy to the point that it was fun for everyone: Mr. Gaines, herself, and even her husband, the proud old peacock. Oh, how often they would laugh afterwards at the upright citizens and their eyes on her. It could whip both of them into a deep yearning that they waited only as long as necessary to satisfy.
As she continued northward, her thoughts returned to her mission and she slowed. Just a few more blocks and she would turn down the path toward the cemetery. She envisioned the monument, a tall and handsome stone, topped with a bronze cantering horse. A lovely tribute, she supposed, but the fact that her wonder-son, the one intended to be head of the clan after them, was already there churned her insides. Their firstborn boy, pride and joy. Already gone. Victoria was contemplating her ensuing sons and an appropriate successor for Wash’s place when her right foot slipped out from under her. She felt herself fall backwards, rapidly, and could find no purchase or handgrip. After that, everything went black.
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