Read Excerpts.

These are the A-Z excerpts from the challenge in April 2012. Originally published at ‘A String of Pearls’ ( my ezine for women)  I decided to bring them across here, even though it’s a duplication.  I cannot bring the comments so feel free to hop over there to read them.  I’d be interested in reading your new comments. Thanks for Tweeting and or Facebook-ing this link.

Let’s start at the very beginning….

A is for Aiken

 Attired in mourning black, the young man stepped from the shade of the mercantile out into the afternoon sun. The heat of the day did not touch him; nothing could warm the cold of his sorrow.  Aiken Graham is tall with jet black eyes and hair. Harvard educated and surprisingly well travelled, Aiken speaks three languages as well as a smattering of Latin. He has had all the advantages of being the first son of a wealthy man.  He is, however, also practical and well informed. He is well regarded in town, and though still quite young, he is known through the territory as a fair and able man. He has read a great deal and allowed himself to be moved by poetry art and music.   For all the current coldness of his heart he is in fact a sympathetic caring man. Schooled to be this way by his mother he had also learnt from her the art of doing his good works in secret, thus not many knew of the generosity he extended.  Independent, physically strong and reserved Aiken was more of a loner then his brothers and twin sister. The recent death of his mother had carved a swathe of searing loss through his otherwise abundant life… 

B is for Ballard

Aiken held the child’s hand as they went in to the office.  He hoped this would go well. He had talked to his father and told him he would bring the little girl to meet him this afternoon.  He had talked to the child about his father in general terms. Either they would take to each other or not and there was little he could do now but wait and see.

Ballard was sitting at his desk writing as his son and the girl child came in. 

 Ballard Graham was tall like his son, his once black hair is silver grey now. His face is somewhat leathery from years of riding through all kinds of weather. A self made man who took his role as husband, father and provider very seriously. With his wife dead just a week ago, he heart was broken, however the years of self discipline meant that he had come to his desk as he normally did after supper. 

Through a simple misunderstanding the child had asked if she could call him Papa Bear?

“If you want me to be, I will be your Papa Bear.”

“Oh yes please” she flung her arms around his neck and around his heart and he was captured forever.

 The next day, when they heard it, Jerrick and Harry had smirked at this name she had given their tough unyeilding father. Lan Jing and The Venerable were most animated in their discussion when they heard it. The Aunts allowed that the child had inadvertently captured Ballard’s essential nature and henceforth used the name also.  All were fascinated to see he did not object. They watched amazed as the child unknowlingly healed his broken heart. 

C is for Colorado.

As Ballard rode west he reflected back on the long journey that had bought him from his birthplace in Wales. His father could not see beyond the steady work of the mines; however his mother was a women of vision and given to dreams. These she shared with her only son.

It was with his mother’s encouragement that Ballard – by then awealthy merchant –  had bought his young family to teeming metropolis that was New York. When he tired of the novelty they travelled further west to St Louis.

Now, he was headed west again, riding into the Territory that would become Colorado.  He encountered neither friend nor foe as he roughly followed the Platte River. He eventually turned south.  Excited but what he saw, Ballard rode beyond Pikes Peak and then turned east again coming across The Great Plains. He marveled at the way the Rocky Mountains rose so majestically and suddenly. The wide plains and clean fresh air, so important to a child from a mining village in Wales, encircled him and seemed to embrace him. 
It was summer now and Ballard liked he saw. This looked the ideal location for the plans he had been working on for the last five years.

D is for Denver

Ria, Aken’s twin sister and named for her mother, Victoria, lived in the fast growing gold-rush town of Denver. She was married to a man of influence, a wealthy land owner. Involved with the St Charles city land office he was a man with ambitions for his town, and it had to be said, for himself.

E is for Escape

She sat up sobbing. She looked up at the train as it rolled away into the distance. Now tears ran down through the dirt and dust on her face as she realised how far she had rolled after the boys had pushed her through the open carriage door. “I hate you” she screamed at the receding train.

Only later did she realise that being shoved off into the afternoon desert was in fact an escape. A very lucky escape.

F is for Fidgit

She had inadvertently named Aiken’s horse by complaining that he was such a fidgety beast; and so he became Fidgit.
It was her birthday the day the boys tried to lead her blindfolded to barn. She had cried out at her eyes being covered, but with Aiken’s reassurance, and holding tightly to his hand she agreed to it.

They walked to the barn, she could smell it. Harry took the blindfold off, and they presented her with the most beautiful horse she had ever seen. Or dreamed of. Or imagined. Jerrick told her the horse was all hers. She looked to Aiken. He knelt beside her and drew her close. ‘This is how it is in families. We make each others dreams come true’. She looked deep into his eyes. She had decided to trust him before. Now she decided to trust him always. She smiled. as Aiken folded his arms around her and as she lay her head on his shoulder she thought that perhaps family also meant safety.
Later when she was telling The Venerable about her wonderful gift she said the horse was the colour of the * fudge that Lan Jing cooked. And so her horse was named.
In town, at The Grange and on the open plains Fidgit and Fudge became a common site. Rarely was one seen with out the other. If you saw one you knew the other was not far away, for their riders, it was noted, had fast become inseparable.

*this tale being fictional, I have exercised my creative liberties by having the invention of fudge happen 20 years before it actually did. Don’t blame me, when I ‘saw’ the scene that is what she named the horse.

G is for The Grange

When Ballard was a child, back in Wales, he had lived in the shadow of The Grange. Set high on a hill apart and significantly above the village The Grange wielded a powerful influence over his life. His father worked for Mr Williams, the owner of The Grange, and of the mine his father descended to every day bar the Sabbath. Even Mr Williams conceded God has right of ownership to that day. On the the other six days Mr Williams word was absolute in the village. Some boys grew to hate The Grange, that big old imposing pile at the top of the hill.

Ballard was inspired by it. His mothers dreams for him, the dreams that became his own, the dreams that he made come true were fired by living in the shadow of The Grange. ‘One day that could be you up there’ she would say. If he complained of study, of faltered in any way she would remind him that laziness would not get him to the top of the hill. Of all her sons Ballard had been the only one to believe.

Later as a successful merchant he had left his mother comfortably settled in a solid cottage with a maid and a gardener. There was money invested for her and a lawyer to see to all things financial for her. She would not relent to the repeated invitation to sail with them to the new world.  Her parting gift hung over his desk first in Cardiff, then London.  Later in New York, St Louis and now in the territory of Colorado. Beautifully framed and under glass; a charcoal drawing of the original Grange.
When visitors came from town and turned west onto Ballard’s land their eyes were drawn to the distant purple majesty of the Rocky Mountains and the as they came round a slow curving bend there was a gateway marked The Grange.

The Graham family, with Ballard at the head had made his mother’s dreams come true. And with Victoria at his side and influencing his heart, together they had made many other people’s dreams come true also.

H is for Harry

Harry loves animals. He was the child that bought home the injured the broken and the forsaken. He’d been the same in St Louis and New York. Though his parents were at a loss to how he found such critters in the teeming streets of that city.

He had begun this adoption of every orphan he came across whilst in London. Ballard and Victoria had looked askance when he bought home an orphan child. While Ballard returned the toddler; Victoria tried to help the tearful Harry understand the difference between puppies and children. Though as she spoke Victoria wondered at her own words.

Harry was therefore immediately in agreement with Aiken’s spoken intent when he rode home to The Grange with the unknown little girl tucked up before him.

Harry had proven to her he was a loyal and faithful brother and she loved him for it, but she had quickly let it be known that her heart belonged only to Aiken.

 I is for Injury 

(this was quite a challenge to edit and yet maintain…)

Judge Samuel T Colby was gunned down just as he had arrived home from the local circuit. Fortunately Mrs Colby was out at her dressmakers when the shooting took place and had not therefore witnessed it but she was deeply deeply shocked and deeply saddened. Up until now such violence seemed to lay only beyond the town. Ballard had had much to do with the Judge and Mrs Colby over the years; the families had socialised together which bought an added sense of stability to the community. 

Last night the child was given clear and strict instructions by Aiken to stay indoors all day and to be visible to Lan Jing at all times. Not to be nervous just careful.Now she clung to Aiken at the front door suddenly afraid for him.

“If I must be careful here then you must be extra careful there” she cried to him in French. He replied in the same language that he would be.

In English he tried to calm her as he peeled her arms away from him “We are not expecting any trouble”

“Oh Aiken” She broke into a mishmash of Italian and Spanish “I have heard you all talking each night, I have seen…never seen Papa Bear look more worried than now.

Promise me…”

Aiken lent and gave her a peck on the cheek and brushed his hand across her hair

“I promise”.

She didn’t look much comforted but as he stood on the doorstep, but she turned and shut and bolted the door.

Later….

The venerable fourth son shuffled into the now tidy kitchen.

“Many come, very quick” he said to his daughter Lan Jing.

The courtyard filled with shouting me and stamping snuffing horses.

Jerrick crashed through the kitchen doorway and called to Lan Jing “there has been an accident we need…”he stopped, of course she knew what was needed.  “Doc Willett will be here any moment.”

The child stood unable to move. Her world stopped. Everything went silent. Coldness poured through her veins; fear and dread exploded in her mind. She knew. 

“Can you hear me” Harry was now in front of her, down on his knee.

“Harry you get Aiken I will talk to her – I will tell her” Jerrick pulled on Harry’s arm. Jerrick stood before her and put a hand on her shoulder. But before he could speak there was flurry of activity as Ballard and Harry pushed through the door way carrying the wounded and bleeding, no longer conscious Aiken.

“He promised” she wailed.

“It didn’t happen at the funeral.” Jerrick tried to calm her….”he left straight after to come back to you, we found him on the road, he’d been ambushed”.

Ballard shook his head at Jerrick.

“So much for the discretion we decided upon. Jerrick! Catch her”. Jerrick turned in time to catch the child and as he gathered her up into his arms she whispered:

“No no, not again. Don’t lose me, not again. Aiken Aiken.” and slipped into unconsciousness.

At the very moment she called to Aiken, he stirred and saw Jerrick carrying her past. He could hear the words in his mind calling to her to reassure her but he could not make them come out as sound.

J is for Jerrick

The fourth son, and fifth child (yes I am counting correctly, I had forgotten about the oldest brother who is in Europe…now what was his name?) of the Graham family, he is the only child born in America. With inexplicable red hair he had a temper to match. (the Aunts allowed a similarity in looks and temperament to Ford Graham said to be their Grandpa’s older brother)  Swift discipline by his father and brothers had seen him learn early to control that fire, to curb his tongue and keep himself out of trouble.  Most of the time. Ria could light a short fuse in him anytime she chose. 

Only a few years older that the little orphan girl, he had, when she first arrived, treated her somewhat like a play mate. However as her confidence grew he found she could soon outsmart him in anything. Besides which she had unconditional back up from Aiken, even when in the wrong, so things changed quickly.  

The Spring before her adoption he decided that perhaps he was in love with her and he set about wooing her. He thought they would make an ideal match. Harry caught on and cuffed him around his ears.

“Don’t you know? Can’t you see? She loves us all but the only room in her heart is for Aiken. And it don’t take much to see that he is the same; just probably don’t know it yet.’
Jerrick complained that Aiken was ‘much older’ than her, earning him another swift cuffing. “What’s that got to do with anything?” Jerrick gave up on women and decided to learn tree felling instead.

K is for Kansas

The Graham family spent quite a few years in Kansas City. They built friendships and the community. Business continued to build for Ballard. He had expanded his enterprise from Cardiff to London; New York to Indianapolis. Jerrick grew from baby to toddler to school child

In Kansas young Aiken had come to the defence of a Chinese girl. She was about his age. Bullied and teased because she was different, and probably because she was smart, Aiken had come to her aid. He then took her home to his mother to tend her cuts. Within minutes her parents arrived at the door. Ballard welcomed them in. And thus an unusual yet strong friendship began.

New dreams were begun in Kansas.

With Victoria’s urging Ballard took Aiken and Ria to New York and then sailed for Liverpool. They journeyed into Wales where he his mother was found to be in good health.

He spent much time talking to her about this new dream. In his large notebook he wrote her suggestions next to his.  He made long lists. They often talked late into the might. He went for long walks through his childhood country.

He became eager to return to Kansas and commence building.

L is for Lan Jing

(I had a Chinese girl living with me an asked her to name my Chinese characters based on their strengths and weaknesses. Except for The Venerable, who unexpectedly appeared to me whilst at a stop in a traffic jam. I asked him who he was and he bowed and gave me his name, which seemed more like a title, but I have never heard or seen, or thought of him any other way. He was like the hologram of Princess Leia  in Star Wars)

She is the daughter of The Venerable 4th son, of the Honourable House of Wu.

As an obedient daughter Lan Jing had had no choice about travelling west with her family. Her father’s word was law. When her mother told her they would be travelling with many families Lan Jing smiled inwardly. Deep in her heart she cherished the news that she would be near her friend Aiken on this adventure. Secretly she loved him. She had many dreams and hopes for the future.

On the journey her mother was injured during a wagon accident. Lan Jing accepted her new role as cook-housekeeper for the Graham family. Victoria was busy tending her children. Lan Jing nurtured her dreams by cooking Aiken’s favourite foods; taking extra care with his clothes and waiting patiently. They were easy friends and Aiken always took the time to talk with her and ask after her mother.

Much later when Aiken bought the little girl home Lan Jing thought nothing of it. As time passed she became loyal and protective of the child. Just as Aiken was. When she recognised he loved the child she began also to love the child. When the little girl grew and fully captured Aiken’s heart, Lan Jing put away her hopes and dreams. Only her father noticed. ‘There are many kinds of love’ he told her. In time she came to know this was true. In time she came to love the child as if she was her own.

M is for Merthyr

Ballard was born and grew up in Merthyr in South Wales. As was his father, and his mother. The brothers and sister were born there too. Most of them also died there. 

His father worked long hard hours at the iron works (not a coal mine – it’s called research) and his mother worked hard at home. There was much to go without. But there was always song and Chapel. As a young man Ballard had sung in the Choir. Mam sang around the house and Tad sang in his weekly bathtub. There was love and happiness no matter what they went without.

When they sailed for America Ballard took these sweet memories in his heart. As he searched for a better life for his young family he always looked back to see where he had come from. In Kansas he began to dream forward.  Travelling back to his mam’s kitchen he shared his dream with her. Tears filled her eyes as she caught his vision. A new Merthyr. No she would not join him, she would stay here near Tad who lay in little graveyard by the chapel; yet she joined in the planning and contributed many ideas.

N is for Newlyn

The birth of the 1st born son of a 1st born son did a great deal to increase Victoria’s acceptance in the local community. Almost Ballard was forgiven his choice of an English wife. She had been invited to help bring in the flowers and wheat and so forth for the end of harvest Sunday at chapel. She found herself deeply moved by the honour given her and graciously accepted. 

Newlyn did not disappoint his family or his community. A beautiful baby he grew into fine boyhood. His did well in his studies, sang beautifully at chapel, and had a caring heart.  It didn’t hurt that his looks continued to improve as he grew taller.

There was only one problem. He did not want to follow his father into a merchants career; even a very successful one. He wanted to be a doctor. After some persuasion by Victoria and his own mam, Ballard agreed if the boy would wait until he was 21 he would provide the wherewithal. Until then he must work diligently for his father.

During the family’s time in New York, Newlyn almost ran away so much did he hate the shop work, the accounts and other drudgery. Victoria spoke to him and then Ballard called him into his office.

“Your mother informs me there is a great University in Boston area that has a superior medical school. If you will bide with me until I have the family settled in the new territory I will provide all you need, and then some, for your chosen profession. Will you”?  Newlyn gladly and most eagerly accepted. In his wildest dreams he had not expected to attend the Massachusetts Medical College of Harvard University.

 O is for O’Reads

In 1857 Aiken travelled East with a very excited, yet nervous school-girl. She was to attend O’Reads in  Worcester, Massachusetts. Ballard’s thought behind this decision was for her to round out her education, to acquire some gracious skills and assist her to be a good marriage prospect. He considered there were no such marriage options for her in Merthyr so he hoped she might meet a few prominent families while at school. He mentioned these thoughts to Aiken. Aiken listened carefully but said nothing. He did not speak then, or ever as to what the future might hold for  the girl.  A lot could happen.

(*O’Reads was a real college for young women in Worcester Mass. It existed before the Civil War.  I made an online enquiry at the local library and they sent me a significant folder of photocopies of records from pre Civil War years. I thought that very generous)

After he installs her at O’Reads Aiken travels to Europe via Wales.  He makes a Grand Tour and returns to Boston in 1858 time to collect her for the summer. The plan is for her to return in the Fall.  She has one year of study to complete. 

They go by train then horse and eventually reach Denver.  They visit with Rhia, Aken’s twin sister for a few days.

There is a shooting…she is wounded. Aiken is taking care of her while a doctor is located. It is late at night. She has lost a lot of blood, and is in shock.

Looking at her paleness and thinking of what has happened, Aken’s feelings crystalise and for perhaps the first time he understands clearly that she is the most important person in the whole world to him. Actually she has been for quite some time. He had held these thoughts at bay but in all honesty when he had turned and seen her in the Entrance Hall at O’Reads….his brotherly feelings had dropt away.  Now, here he lay with her in his arms, wounded by his hand. As the fire burnt down he smiled at his secret knowledge, that he loved her…. and thus he drifted away to sleep with a prayer in his heart, and his heart in his arms.

P is for Popitt (in which the girl child is named) 

In an attempt to stem his own grief Aiken was working on the Grange accounts. He had forgotten both the child and his request to Lan Jing. She knocked softly then pushed the door open and stood the child in front of the desk; then stepped back.

Aiken looked up, a frown creased his brow, then it cleared.   Silently nodding his head, he recalled the events of the morning and smiled reassuringly. For all that the little girl was clean now she still looked terrified.  

“Well then, who is this little popitt we have here?” he asked. She stared back at him, silently.  Her lip began to tremble and her dark eyes filled with tears.

Lan Jing spoke softly “It is alright Miss Popitt; Mista Aiken will not hurt you. You safe here.”

Looking to Aiken she continued

“Little girl have many bruises. Many cuts. Very very dirty. Very very hungry”.

Coming around the desk he now crouched down in front of the child.

 “ Now, popitt – what is your name?” 

The silent stare continued.

 “I won’t hurt you, can you tell me who did this to you? How you came to be in the lane way?”

The tears began to spill and as Aiken reached out to reassure her. Popitt fell into his arms.  He gathered her in and stood holding her close.  Lan Jing left quietly

Aiken gently rocked the child back and forth; humming a tune from his Welsh childhood. He whispered  words of reassurance. In time her tears eased and Popitt, as she now seemed to be called, lay her head on his shoulder.

 Their hearts beat against each other and his was stirred with a great love for this child.  He stood holding her a long while; her soul comforted by his embrace and his grieving heart comforted by her soul.

Q is for Questions…

There were so many questions. Who was she? How did she get to be where she was, in the lane way behind the Mercantile? Where was her family? Why was she so distrusting and scared of people. And why was she not like that with Aiken?

How was it that she spoke so many languages? Who had taught her? And why was a mere girl as educated as she appeared to be?

What caused her nightmares? Why was she desperately afraid of loosing her doll?

What should the family do with her? Was it wrong to simply keep her and later to adopt her? Why had she not been able to recall her real name? And once she did, did that change things in any way?

R is for Rhia (formerly Ria)

She is Aiken’s twin sister. She is married and lives in Denver. A head strong and wilful child she grew to be a petulant young woman. One of life’s takers rather than a giver as her twin brother is.

She married young in haste and is now repentant in her splendid leisure. Her husband is wealthy and driven. He has political ambitions and a handsome wife as his hostess aids his cause.

Rhia may have anything she wants in life except her freedom. She is rarely permitted to travel to Merthyr but welcomes her family in her home. Indeed she desperately delights in their visits. She misses her mother terribly and suspicious, perhaps even jealous of Popitt.

 S is for Strawberry plants

*NOTE: Popitt is spelt this way as that is the way she wrote it and so it stuck.

The family is in Colorado Springs for several days for Ballard has business to conduct as does Aiken.

On her own one morning Popitt visits some local businesses to look at all the goods they have from back East. In a Mercantile she sees a little girl trying to buy some warm gloves for her mama. She does not have enough money. As the store door swings shut on the disappointed shopper Popitt rushes to the counter and purchases the gloves.

The little girl is sitting on the stoop crying. Sitting beside her Popitt gives her the gloves

‘You left these behind’

‘No I didn’t. I don’t have enough money. I have nothing but Papa’s s..s..silly s..s..strawberry plants…’ The child spoke with an accent Popitt was not familiar with. 

‘I will swap you these for those’ Popitt offered. The child beamed.

‘You will? Oh yar, please’. Popitt would only accept 2 plants for the 2 gloves.

Back at home with some uncertainty, Popitt and The Venerable carefully planted the 2 leafy green plants and watched as to their amazement the plants thrived and grew. The vibrant green plants sent out runners that imbedded in the soil and made new plants. It was like magic. Then tiny green buds appeared, grew bigger and turned red. They were sweet and delicious. The plants spread and spread.

Harry fenced the field and Jerrick made a sign ‘Popitt’s Patch’.

The second summer they all pitched in to help harvest. Popitt and Lan Jing cooked Strawberry jelly and the rows and rows of jars glowed a happy red in the sunlight.

Mr Anderson at the Merthyr Mercantile bought 24 jars.  Aiken opened a new account book and took Popitt to the bank. At 16 she had become a business woman

T is for Travel 

HER FIRST journey had been as a newborn baby strapped against her fathers chest under the voluminous drab cassock he wore as a disguise. Apparently she did not cry or made a sound but sleep contentedly lulled by his warmth and the steady beat of his heart. Her French grandmother was most surprised when her only son arrived back from England, in the dark of night. He ripped off the cape to reveal his baby daughter. His eyes filed with tears as he recounted the death of his wife and the desperate flight from England.
Her next journey involved a late night departure from that very grandmother. Rugged up in a thick cape and clutching her much-loved doll Grandmere said she must not lose…

and later…

It had become too much for the children.  All unwanted. All rejected. With no possessions and no hope. All afraid, frightened, tired and hungry.  A bigger girl suddenly turned on the little girl and spotted her doll. ‘Why should you have a doll when we have nothing?’ she lunged forward and tore the dolly away from the hands so weak and desperate to hold on.
‘Ohh She’s mine Granmére said I must keep her with me always. She is the last thing…’ tears began to fill her eyes ‘Please, please….’
‘I have nothing so why should you?’ the girls jolted as the wheels went over a rock ‘you have to be like us and have nothing’ Another major jolt and the bigger girl dropped the doll over the side as she tried to stop herself from falling.

Our little girl screams and tries to catch….read the name here

‘Stop screaming’ suddenly the big girl felt angry and she lunged at the smaller girl ‘If you want your dolly, go get her’ and using all her strength she pushed the smaller girl up over the edge and out of the buck-board’  The other children watched in horror and screamed to the driver. He turned and swore at them in such a way as to render them silent. The buck-board lumbered westward.

U is for Unexpectedly/Understanding 

One day most unexpectedly Popitt taught them something; something even she did not know she knew.

Aiken was reading the 1837 book The Pirates (real book – enter actual details (that’s a note to me. The library actually found the book I wanted.)  Popitt and Jerrick were acting the story out. Dashing around with invisible make-believe swords, suddenly the dinning room table became the deck of the pirate ship – Jerrick pulled Popitt to safety just as the attacking vessel sailed past.  “We are safe” he shouted brandishing his sword over his head….

“Merci, merci” replied Popitt and said on in a gush of French! Her words fell into a shocked silence followed by the  snapping shut of the book in Aiken’s hand.

In two bounds he was beside her.  The brothers were were equally stunned. Their astonishment was mirrored on Popitt’s face……

“Parlez vous Françoise”? Aiken ventured? You Speak French?

“Oui, je fais”…..she looked startled and then looked like she was going to cry ….Yes, I do

Aiken reached out and took her hand, enough to comfort but not so much as to disturb the moment.

“Je suis Aiken qui êtes-vous??” I am Aiken who are you?

Her eyes cleared and her chin tilted up

“Je suis…..Je suis, ah mmmm…  Je suis Popitt!” she smiled.

Aiken asked her in French how old she was, where she lived and many other common questions. All the answers came in perfect French but were relative to The Grange and the life she had there. Not a word or inkling of memory from before he found her.

V is for Venerable. as in ‘the’

‘I am The Venerable 4th son of The Honourable House of Wu’. He bowed deeply. I was impressed. 
I looked at him. I thought he might say you can call me…?  However he did not.
He looked at me. Then he was gone.
I now know his wife, son and daughter. She is Lan Jing, childhood friend of Aiken.
I believe The House of Wu are a book unto themselves.
The Venerable travelled to America as a small child. His father was wealthy beyond measure and yearned to see the world.
When the time was right his parents found a bride for him. A women worthy of his name. The future Mrs Wu, having demanded – and won – the right to be a modern woman, now demanded also that she be The Venerable’s only wife. It was an arranged marriage but love had blossomed after the ceremony in New York.
Mrs Wu has not disclosed The Venerable’s name; neither have the children. The son is to slow to answer such an enquiry and the daughter too smart.
The 4th son took his wife, now with child and travelled to Indianapolis. He had received a portion of his father’s wealth and used this astutely in order to grow more whilst protecting his family from discrimination. He was moderately successful on both fronts.
When Mr Ballard Hopkins invited the Wu’s into his front parlour The Venerable understood this was a significant event. As the friendship grew – which it did as the men had more in common than not – the astute Chinaman thanked his ancestors for this unexpected blessing. After Ballard shared his dream of traveling west The Venerable consulted with these same ancestors and concluded they were well pleased.
The roots of the Honourable House of Wu were to be transplanted into the rich earth of the territorial lands of America.

W is for War, as in The Civil War

(my 1st attempt in writing as a man – what do you think?)

 29th July 1861

Washington 

Dearest Papa and brothers,

We had been assured that the Union army would have no trouble defeating the supposedly disorganized Confederates, and bring to a close this dark era in our Fine Nations History. However it was not to be and instead our men and boys have come crawling back to the Capital. Many are severely wounded, and many more have died whilst attempting to return home. Countless numbers have died upon the battle field.

.

I was astounded to hear reports abroad of some of our most wealthy and influential citizens – including at least one Senator – driving out in carriages loaded with  picnics, and champagne to witness  what was to be our famous victory. It is reliably reported that good men died as the road to safety was blocked by the vehicles whilst the air filled with shouting, and even the screams of woman. I despair of understanding such actions, such frivolity in the face of the tragic drama that befalls our young country.

 I operate all morning, and when I can take a break I attend funerals. We war-gathered strangers stand, and stare, and our faces show our thoughts ‘there but for the grace o’ God…I am doing all I can do but I am one man. 

 We are all one man. But we are no longer one nation…and I fear we may never be again. Or not for many years to come.

 I remain you most obedient and faithful son, and brother,

Newlyn Hopkins.

X equals ten. 

In Roman Numerals X equals ten. It was X miles, that is ten miles from town to the local graveyard. It was set this far out for three reasons. One, the church is there; two, the vista was breath-taking and three, this allowed for expected town growth, as in more houses and places of business being built along the east road out-of-town.


Ballard had marked clearly the point at which the town could spread no further along that road.


Although Aiken had travelled this way many sad times before, he had never contemplated travel to the graveyard for the burial of his mother. Not his beautiful good-hearted mother, whom everyone loved.  Not Victoria, the woman everyone in every town or city they ever lived in would protect, from any harm.

Of course an accident is something it is hard to protect anyone from.

Aiken’s heart is broken. The woman he loved most in the world now lay dead. She had shaped him and guided him; helped him make his dreams come true. His fine education had been her doing. Hadn’t she gotten him the travel through Europe even though Ballard had other plans for him?

As he rode Aiken locked part of his heart forever.
Whilst doing so, he gave no thought to the wild girl-child he had found that morning.

Y is for Your mother’s pearls.

*Note – this scene was written many years before I even thought of a site called “A String of Pearls’.

On their 10th wedding anniversary Ballard had presented Victoria with a string of pearls. Actually it was a triple strand. With a diamond clasp.

It was a breathtaking gift. She felt it was too much. He felt it was not enough.

Over the years she wore them almost daily. They gained a beautiful lustre.

Her second son, Aiken had always loved them. Even as a baby he liked to reach up and play with the baubles.

As he grew he would run to his mam’s room and give her the pearls to put on each morning.

As the years passed it was always Aiken that noticed if she was not wearing them. 

When they travelled west into the territories Victoria told him that one day the pearls would be his, to give to his bride.

“They will not look as beautiful on her as they do on you” he told his mother.

“Yes they will” she replied “for she will be beautiful to you”.

“Will she? And will she have a beautiful heart like you mam”?

‘Indeed she will”.

“Will she love me like you love Da? Will she be wise and tender like you? Will she guide me and stand beside me? Will she want your pearls?”

“She will be all those things and more. My dear son and so much more….and yes she will want to wear the pearls for they will be a gift from you. A gift of love, as they were to me. When you find the woman you want to wear my pearls, it will be like this, it will be just as your dreamed it.”

“Is it really alright if I wear them? You won’t be upset later that you changed what you said you’d do….I mean how you wanted it; dreamed it?”

She’d turned towards him, stepped closer with concern for his decision. He was chewing his lips, again. Reaching out she gently touched his hand. He turned away gazing into the distance. She was close enough to hear him softly say ….

Z is the last. The last scene…

*you might need kleenex    (plus a note from the author)

Aiken Hopkins arrived back just after dawn on 9 September 1900. The hurricane had smashed down upon Galveston Island during the night.  Now 61, tall and lean: leathered and weathered by years on the frontier, he’d ridden easily, though frantically through the night to return to his family. He rode with The Venerable’s warning ringing in his ears; ringing from some 40 years before.

Standing stunned by the Gulf’s edge he thought he could hear his sweetheart’s voice, or was it just a memory in his heart?

He shook his head and rubbed his eyes.

Now struggling and now falling, he made his way to the railway bridge; or what was left of it. Hand over hand he swung his way across. The track was gone and just the barest structure remained, he willed it to hold. A few more men followed him, now he prayed the structure would just survive long enough. 

Through the murky dawn he could see no familiar structures. Again he was stunned, and briefly uncertain.  Aiken rubbed his chin as he cast back though his memories. Hadn’t young Peter counted all the steps from the train to the front gate? So many to the east and then turn and so many north.

He started walking, all the while thrashing and sifting the memory of that first summer: 1880, twenty years ago. 

 “Two thousand, three hundred forty-one…” Peter had laughed and swung on the gate…

Aiken turned. This pile of rubble was his home.

Dawn’s light was pushing into a shattered Sabbath morning.  He scrambled forward.

He called his wife’s name. He shouted. He tore at wood and bricks. His hands bled, his heart screamed, his throat rasped. Gasping for breath he stopped. Sudden silence surrounded him. Then came

“Mr. Aiken”

He whirled around.

Of course, of course Lan Jing was here, she would have …

He moved towards her voice.

“Lan Jing where..?”

He was tugged to the ground. He couldn’t see…the fragile Chinese woman turned his head

“Missy, Missy here” She took his hand and drew it to what he could not quite make out. 

His hand reached…reached, Oh oh it was her.  He’d found her.  It was her. He could just make out her distinct wedding ring.  

A shaft of light he thought was hope now told him there was none. He saw the rubble of the house upon her.  His heart broke. 

Great grey clouds gathered across his life.  Hours passed. Rain fell, stopped and started again. Strangers called to him.  He’d eased the ring from her finger. Familiar kindly hands pulled him to his feet, drew him away. Everything was gone. Destroyed. She was dead. He felt dead. The coldness of her hand had crept into his heart...he turned and walked away through the rain

  • Author’s Note. This is not the end apparently. I have been given another scene.
  • ‘The Honourable House of Wu’ is in its own Journal.
  • I need a publisher, an advance and a secretary! I have readers, yes YOU! Thank you so very much for reading and supporting my efforts on the A-Z challenge…and behind the scenes.
  • Visit my Pinterest Board for ‘The Avalon Journals’
  • The Doll is now named. Thankyou for all your suggestions.

more to come….

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