Genre – Frontier Action Adventure
Time Period – 1800’s
Location – Ohio, Illinois
Description – Sarah Rose’s husband comes home drunk and angry once again. He lunges to grab Sarah Rose and falls down the cellar stairs breaking his neck. Sarah Rose knows his family will accuse her of murdering him so they can take her children. With the help of her Uncle, Eli, she devises a way to hide his body so that no one will find it, packs up her three boys and leaves Ohio to settle on a claim on the plains of Illinois.
#marriage #love #abuse #abusive husband #murder #northwestern #frontier #covered wagon #Conestoga #historical #novel #travel #Ohio #Illinois #books #land grab #action #adventure #crime #suspense #1860’s #overcoming #romance #strong female lead
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Sarah Rose grasped the polished handrail and leaned forward, straining to see into the gloom at the foot of the stairs. The dark shadows made it impossible to see all the way down to the last step.
“Are you hurt Hans?” She called for the third time.
Hans didn’t answer. Sarah turned away from the open cellar door and rushed across the kitchen to get a lighted candle from the table. Returning to the open doorway, she held the candle holder high to throw light onto the bottom of the steps.
Hans’ long legs splayed across the last step. Gray dimness hid the rest of his body.
Descending the steep stairs step by careful step, Sarah continued to hold the candle above her head.
Her heart pounded. A crushing fear made it hard to breathe.
But I must find out. I must know.
As she moved down the staircase, Hans’ entire body came into view. Her thoughts raced and jumbled.
Maybe he’s knocked himself out. He probably hit his head and knocked himself out. He looks as limp as an old rag.
Hans lay perfectly still. Sarah gathered her skirts and hopped awkwardly over the last step to avoid touching his sprawled out legs.
Bending low, she placed the candle holder on the hard dirt floor. She moved back a few feet to watch her husband’s face.
His ruddy cheeks were deathly pale, and his eyes were closed as if asleep. He still did not move.
I’m afraid to move nearer–afraid Hans might only be pretending he’s knocked out.
Sarah expected her husband to jump up from the floor at any moment, reach his rough hands out to grab her. He would laugh out loud when she screamed in fright.
Minutes seemed to stretch into hours as she stood trembling, watching her husband. He didn’t move.
Still afraid, but finally beginning to hope, Sarah bent close to Hans. She reached out to touch his chest with one finger.
When she felt no movement she hesitated, caught her breath and gathered her courage to place one hand flat in the middle of his waistcoat, just above his gold watch chain.
She felt nothing. There was no response to her touch, no sign of life.
Hans wasn’t breathing. He really wasn’t breathing. Still trembling with fear and dread, Sarah moved closer to kneel at the man’s side.
She placed the fingers of her right hand along the side of Han’s throat. Her heart seemed to leap when she could feel no movement. His skin still held warmth, but he was surely dead.
Dead. Hans is dead. He would never hit me again—never scream at me again, drunk or sober.
Gasping with shock at the rush of gladness that filled her body with strength. Sarah Rose straightened to her full height to stare down on the body of her husband of eight years.
She felt stunned. She was almost numb with the shock of her reaction, but she could feel no shame for her joy.
Hans came home only a few moments earlier. He was drinking, or to be precise, he was drunk.
As usual when he drank too much, his voice grew too loud and raucous and his temper became uncertain.
He visited his brother Otto’s tavern in the village to drink and gamble almost every evening in the last few months. The hour was extremely late. It was long past midnight when he threw open the back door.
Sarah Rose sat at the polished oak table in the main room of the house. She was writing a long overdue letter to her brother James.
Both of Sarah Rose’s brothers were much older. They left home years before, determined to see the world and make their way doing anything except farming.
Sarah Rose remembered the comfort of their love and care when she was a small child. It had been so long though, she could hardly remember their faces.
Michael still wandered somewhere. No one knew where. He hadn’t written in years, but James finally grew tired of his aimlessly traveling here and there and moving from job to job. He met a young woman somewhere in the west, fell in love and married.
He and his wife took up a land claim and started a farm near a place called Lacon in Illinois. He wrote to Sarah Rose every month, telling her in great detail how he progressed in planting crops and building a home.
Hans began yelling even as he slammed the back door wide open so it banged against the wall. “Why are you sitting up here in the middle of the night wasting a good beeswax candle, you stubborn, thoughtless woman? What are you doing?”
“How many times must I speak to you about your wastefulness? Will you never learn anything? Are you unable to learn anything?”
Sarah jumped up to stand beside her chair. Staring down at the floor, she kept silent, letting the tirade flow past her.
She knew from experience that anything she might say to defend herself would only make matters worse. When Hans was far-gone in drink there was no reasoning with him.
Hans closed the door and stopped to hang his hat and coat on the pegs in the wall near the back door. He took time to straighten his coat with exaggerated precision. He adjusted the drape of the coat twice to make sure it would stay exactly as he placed it.
He always became excessively careful of his clothing when he drank. He finished fussing over his coat and hat and turned to reel across the room. He fell into the chair Sarah Rose vacated when he entered the house.
The candle light sparkled on the gray hairs just beginning to show in his thick hair. Still a handsome man, with his dark hair and large eyes in a well-shaped face, his excessive drinking could be seen in several ways. He had gained a lot of weight, and the skin around his eyes was puffy and discolored.
“Since you’re astir anyway Woman, fetch me some food. I’ve not eaten a bite since I ate my dinner at the mill this noon.”
Sarah Rose turned to open the cupboard. She took down a platter of ham and some biscuits left over from supper.
Suddenly, Han’s eyes fell on Sarah Rose’s almost completed letter to James. He jerked himself forward in his chair to stare down at her words.
Angered either by what he read or by the whole idea of the letter, he reacted by grabbing up the sheets of paper in one hand and waving them over his head. He leaped from the chair, knocking it over backwards with a crash as he lurched across the room to confront Sarah Rose.
Placing one hand against the side of the oak dish safe to steady himself, Hans screamed, “Why are you writing to that good-for-nothing brother of yours again?”
“Look at this. Just look.” He shook the papers over Sarah’s head.
“I told you before I will never again allow you to truck with such a fool in any way. What’s wrong with you? When he refused to give up his foolish adventures and come back here to civilization to help me with this farm I forbade you to ever write your brother another letter.”
“Don’t you remember what I said? Can’t you remember anything I tell you?”
“But, Hans, please. I must write to James. He’s my brother.”
“Why do you insist on defying me? Do you have no respect for me as your husband? Is that it?”
“No Hans. No–of course that isn’t it.”
Hans’ face flushed an ugly red. His words slurred and his voice took on a far-away, thick sound.
He took a step closer to Sarah Rose. He still held the crumpled pages of her letter to James high in the air with his left hand.
Holding the platter of ham in trembling hands she turned to face him. He stared down at her for a long moment, then reached out to slap her cheek sharply with the fingers of his right hand.
Jerking away from the sting of the blow, Sarah Rose dropped the wooden platter of ham slices to the floor and turned to run toward the back door. Hans reached out to catch her shoulder and spun her around to face him.
“Don’t attempt to get away from me, you clumsy fool. You can’t get away from me. You’ll never get away from me.”
“You know I’ll always catch you and when I do I promise you. Your punishment will be ten times worse than if you stand still and face me.”
Roughly pushing down on Sarah’s shoulder, Hans continued yelling, his head down, his face held close to hers, “Just look at what you’ve done now.”
“Look,” he repeated, pointing to the platter and the pieces of ham scattered on the floor.
“How can you be so wasteful? You know I’m short on money this year. Anything we don’t need to eat we could sell.”
“Do I have to watch you every minute? Get down there on the floor and pick up that food.”
“You don’t fool me at all, you vindictive witch. You dropped that meat on purpose. You dropped it because you knew I wanted it, didn’t you?”
“No—no, of course I didn’t, husband. Please, I’ll pick it up. I can clean it so it won’t be wasted.”
“Do you think I would eat food from the floor like a filthy dog?”
Sarah dropped her head and didn’t try to answer.
“You will though. You’ll eat every mouthful. Do you hear me? I’ll see you get nothing else to eat until this meat is gone, until you eat every piece of it.”
“Maybe that will teach you not to be so wasteful. Now hurry and clean up your mess. I still need my supper.”
Sarah knelt on the floor at Hans’ feet. With shaking hands she gathered up the slices of ham to place them back on the platter.
As she hurried over to the larder to replace the platter on the shelf, Hans turned back toward the table, bending to pick up the over-turned chair from the floor.
“I’ll cook you some bacon and an egg or two. It will only take me a moment, Hans. See, the fire’s still bright.”
“I don’t want any bacon or anything else. You’ve completely ruined my appetite with your clumsiness. Go get a rag or something and clean up that streak of filthy grease you left in the middle of the floor. Try not to be such a slattern.”
“My mother would be horrified if she could see this. I think you do things like this hoping to shame me with my family.”
Head down, Sarah Rose crossed the room to open the cellar door. She felt angry and afraid, but helpless.
I know Hans is burdened with debt and directs his fear and anger over that at me, but he will eventually kill me in one of his drunken rages. Perhaps I’ll be better off when he finally does it.
She knew from bitter experience, she could do nothing but agree with Hans until he stopped his raving and dropped off to sleep. He always became completely unreasonable when he drank. He seemed to regret it though. He never failed to beg her forgiveness and vow never to drink again the next morning.
Sarah Rose grabbed the rag mop from its hook behind the cellar door. Leaving the door standing open, she rushed back to scrub the mop at the streak of grease the slices of ham left on the polished oak floor.
When the floor was clean of grease, Sarah Rose started back across the room to return the mop to its place on the cellar door. She heard heavy footsteps behind her and realized Hans rushed after her.
Startled and afraid, without thinking, she whirled to face him, still holding the mop handle in both hands.
When Hans reached one hand out to grab Sarah she flailed out in panic with the mop handle, striking him sharply on his right shoulder.
Clearly beside himself with drink and consumed with rage that she would strike him, Hans made a harsh sound deep in his throat—an animal like growl as he spun to lunge for her, both hands like claws. She jerked away in fear, moving closer to the cellar door.
In his maddened rush, the tips of Hans’ fingers slid from Sarah Rose’s shoulder. He staggered a step or two and lost his balance.
One hand grabbed for the doorjamb, but could not hold his weight. He fell backward through the open door.
Heart pounding and hands trembling with shock Sarah continued to stare down at the body of her husband.
Over and over she thought. I am free. Free of his drunken rages.
He will never scream and rail at me again. He will never again hit me or twist my arms to torment me.
I am free of Hans. I am free.
Then full realization came to her. A sickening knowledge that shook her so deeply she almost cried aloud. She was wrong. Completely wrong. Free of Hans she certainly was. Yes, but she was not free of Hans’ family. She was not free of Otto and Han’s mother.
As soon as Hans’ brother Otto and his mother know he is dead they will surely accuse me of murdering him. They will see me hanged so they can take over this house and farm.
After that, it will be easy for them to take all of Hans’ property. They’ll take the Mill, everything.
They will take Hans’ sons as well. They will take my sons.
Still trembling with shock and fright, Sarah bent over the body of her husband once again. She placed her hand against her husband’s throat to further assure herself that his blood did not flow.
It seemed so impossible Hans could really be dead. She felt compelled to reassure herself.
Convinced her husband indeed lay dead, not just knocked out, Sarah stood up, straightened her shoulders and stepped over his legs to climb back up the stairs. When she reached the kitchen she transferred the candle to her left hand and used her right to carefully shut and latch the cellar door.
Her soft lips set firmly in an expression of determination, Sarah Rose moved quietly but purposefully. She immediately crossed to the front of the house and climbed up the ladder to the unfinished second floor.
When she reached the middle of the ladder, she thrust her head and shoulders through the opening and into the loft. Holding the candlestick high. she could see the pallet her sons Daniel and Thomas used for a bed spread close against the chimney for warmth. Both boys slept soundly. Only the tops of their white-blonde heads peeked out above the quilts.
Relieved the children slept undisturbed through her husband’s tirade, Sarah climbed back down the ladder. She walked over to place the candle in the middle of the table.Resuming her chair, she sighed aloud and dropped her head into her hands.
I must think of something to do. There must be some way to keep Otto and the rest of Hans’ family from finding out he is dead. To keep them from finding out at least long enough for me to get the children away from here.
The obvious thing would be to dig a hole in the dirt of the cellar floor, bury him and cover the place with old furniture or something.
No-No. That wouldn’t work. That wouldn’t work at all. Otto would know Hans was somewhere on the farm as soon as he saw his horse in the paddock.
Even if I got rid of the horse, Otto would search everywhere until he found Hans’ body. Then when he named me murderer my guilt would be unquestioned. If I do that I will certainly hang.
Minutes passed. Suddenly, Sarah Rose finally knew what she must do.
Raising her head high she let her hands fall away from her face. Pushing her chair back and squaring her shoulders, she stood up.
She walked over to the eastern side of the house to lift the curtain and peer out of the window. It was almost dawn. No red yet lay in the pale gray sky of early morning.
As soon as it’s light enough, I’m going to run to Uncle Eli’s cabin. I’ll fetch him back here to the house to help me.
Eli will help me–I know he will. He’s strong enough to help me. I will need his strength to do what I must.
Taking a spill from the fire, Sarah Rose lit the lantern she kept hanging beside the cellar door. Opening the door again she slowly descended the stairs.
Shuddering in distaste, she pulled her skirt close to her side to avoid dragging it against Hans’ legs.
When she reached the dirt floor, she crossed the cellar to look intently at the two barrels sitting on racks that rested against one earthen wall of the cellar. Grasping the edge of the largest barrel with one hand, she shook it as hard as she could. It barely moved.
Nodding her approval of the sloshing sound the liquid made when the barrel moved, she turned back to the stairs, again carefully avoiding Han’s body. She hurriedly climbed back up to the kitchen, closed the cellar door firmly and re-latched it. Blowing out the lantern, she returned it to its peg.
In the few minutes left before full light, Sarah quickly but carefully folded the best of her clothes and all of the children’s things. She emptied most of the fine hand-embroidered linen out of her wooden trunk and packed it full of clothes. She even took all of Hans’ clothes that hung on the wooden pegs driven into the wall near his side of the bed.
Moving about the bedroom as quietly as she could, she worked in the dim glow thrown through the door by the candle on the table in the main room.
She didn’t want to bring the candle into the bedroom for fear the light would cause baby William to wake.
When she finished packing the clothes, Sarah Rose returned to the main room. She gathered up the books and slates she used to teach Daniel and Thomas their letters.
Once she arranged the school things in the trunk, she added her grandmother’s candle mold and made room for a few of her favorite books. Satisfied she had remembered the most important things, she forced the trunk lid closed and locked it.
Sarah Rose stopped her work and returned to the window now and again to look out at the sky. As soon as the first streaks of red touched the horizon, she went in the bedroom bent over the cradle a moment, checking to make sure the baby was well covered and slept soundly.
Grabbing a knitted shawl to throw around her shoulders against the morning chill, she crossed the kitchen to pinch out the candle flame. Silently, she left the house by the back door.
Gathering her skirts against her legs to keep them away from the wet grass and weeds bordering the narrow way, she ran along the path to Eli’s cabin.
Plans—desperate plans filled her thoughts.
Eli is big and strong. If I can only convince him this is the right thing to do. He’ll agree to help me do it–he must agree to help me.
He’s all I have—the only one who can help me. We’ll be able to do this together.
If the children will only continue to sleep for another hour, it will all be over. They’ll know nothing about it.
We will be safe. Everything will be all right—will be hidden and we’ll be safe.
Eli must understand. I know I can make him understand.
Soon Sarah’s breath took on a ragged sound, as much from nerves as from the effort of running. She raced past the fallow fields and through the edge of the wood to enter a tiny clearing.
Eli’s cabin was small, perfect for a man living alone. It had one room and a sleeping loft, with a shed addition where he stored wood out of the weather and kept his horse. Sarah never saw the inside of the cabin any way but neat and spotless.
Eli even kept the yard area around his home swept free of leaves and brush. He said it was to keep snakes away.
Pounding on the door with her fist, Sarah Rose called Eli’s name twice then stepped back away from the cabin far enough so he could identify his early morning visitor through the window.
Already awake and dressed when Sarah knocked on the door Eli jumped to his feet to answer. She heard the sound of his boots striking the floor before she finished knocking. He lifted the bar, and threw the door open.
“What is this, Sarah Rose? Whatever is wrong?
“It’s not even full light yet. Is someone sick at your house?”
“Oh, Eli, I desperately need your help. I have killed Hans.”
Eli froze in place as though something held him still. His mouth dropped open in astonishment.
He didn’t say anything—he couldn’t, but after a long moment he sort of shook himself and hurriedly stepped back from the door, motioning with his hand for Sarah Rose to step inside. Turning to shut the cabin door firmly, he dropped the wooden bar back in its brackets as though to keep out an invisible enemy.
Eli didn’t speak, but turned away from Sarah Rose to walk over to the fireplace. Taking a cloth from the pocket of his loose vest he lifted the iron teakettle from the bracket that held it over the fire.
Moving to the table he poured hot water into a china teapot.
Returning the iron kettle to the hob, he took a tin canister from the chimney-piece and poured a generous number of black leaves into the pot.
“Come over here and sit down at the table, girl. Your face is as white as a sheet and you are obviously beside yourself.”
“You must drink a cup of this hot tea. Then you can tell me what in the name of heaven really happened. You’re not making sense.”
“Here, put some of this sugar in your cup—use more. The tea will be ready directly. You’ve clearly had a terrible shock to be talking so wildly.”
He pushed a pewter dish half filled with brown sugar across the table so Sarah Rose could reach it easily.
“Oh…Eli.” Sarah bowed her head to cover her face with both hands. After a moment, she drew a deep breath and dropped her hands.
Staring up at Eli with haunted eyes, she fixed her tea, took a sip and spoke in a shaky voice, “You must listen to me, Eli. I’m telling you the truth. I killed Hans.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Please Eli, just listen to me. Don’t argue—just listen.”
“Hans came home in a drunken state very late last night, as he often does these last months. You’ve seen him. You know.”
“He screamed and shouted, ordered me to fix him some supper. When I began preparing the food he found a letter to James I had just written lying out on the table.”
“The sight of the letter inflamed Hans with anger. He literally screamed at me in his rage.”
“He finally struck me. You can see the mark on my face.”
“His raving and the blow unsettled me so much I dropped a platter of meat on the floor. After I picked the meat up, he ordered me to clean the traces of grease the meat left on the floor.”
“I opened the cellar door to get the mop and without even thinking, I left it standing open. When I finished cleaning the floor and started to return the mop to its hook on the back of the door, Hans suddenly jumped up and ran across the room behind me. I heard his footsteps and realized what he intended.”
“I don’t know how it happened, Eli. I felt so frightened I really don’t know what I did.”
“I still held the mop in my hands. I can’t remember exactly how, but some way I hit Hans on his shoulder with the mop handle.”
“When I did that, his face got so red and ugly he was simply terrifying. He reached out for me again, but in his wild anger and drunkenness his hand slipped off my shoulder.”
“He lost his balance and fell through the open cellar door. He hit about half way down the stairs.”
“He fell really hard, Eli. He must have struck his head on one of the steps or something as he went down.”
“I thought at first he was only knocked out or maybe even lying there faking, hoping I would come close to check on him so he could reach out and grab me to give me a fright.”
“I didn’t mean to kill him, Eli. I swear to Heaven I didn’t mean to kill him, but he’s really dead.”
“I put my hand on his chest and he wasn’t breathing and then I felt his neck. He is truly dead.”
“Don’t fash yourself so about it Child,” Eli’s face paled with shock and surprise. He turned away from the table to pace back and forth across the room.
Finally came back to stand beside the table. Looking down at Sarah Rose, he said, “It was clearly an accident Girl, anyone can see that—it was an accident.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong, Sarah Rose. It wasn’t your fault. Hans did it to himself.”
“Everyone who knows Hans knows he is—was drunk more often than sober lately. He stayed drunk most of the time for almost the whole of last year.”
“His excessive drinking has been a scandal for at least two years. All you must do is explain what happened, just as you’re telling me now.”
“Hans’ brother Otto won’t know it was an accident, Eli. You know he won’t. Neither will his mother.”
“They hated me from the first—you know that.” Sarah’s voice sounded strained and her eyes were full of fear.
“They’ll deny Hans ever drank himself into such a state.No one will refute their word.”
“That is probably true, Sarah. I hadn’t thought of that. Otto wants this farm, doesn’t he? He may even have taken a mortgage on it when Hans borrowed money from him to start the mill.” Eli shook his head in concern and lowered himself into the chair across the table from Sarah.
“Eli, you must listen to me.” Sarah put down her tea cup to stand up and lean over the table toward her uncle. “Otto and his mother will go to law and accuse me of murdering Hans.”
“That is how it will be. Surely you can see that.”
“I can say I was there at the house with you and saw what happened, Sarah Rose. I will swear it was an accident. That it happened because Hans was drunk.”
“That won’t work either, if you stop and think it through. You know it is as I say. Otto will only accuse you of lying to protect me and he will be believed.”
“Remember, Otto and Han’s cousin Luther Biedermiester is the county magistrate. Luther will believe exactly what Otto tells him he must believe. He will agree with Otto and his mother when they say that I killed Hans deliberately and you are only lying to protect me.”
“I know that if I don’t do something this morning I’ll be hanged for Hans’ murder. They will take my sons and this farm and all the other lands my father left. They will find a way to get even the fields and woods that are to go to my brothers.”
“Think Eli–please think. You can’t get involved in that way. They will never believe you. They may even say you helped me to murder Hans and hang you for murder as well.”
“What in the world do you mean to do Sarah Rose? How can I possibly help you?” Eli stood up and began pacing back and forth again.
“Come back up to the house with me, please Eli? I have an idea, and I need your strength. What I must do I cannot do with only my own.”
Eli Rossberg stared at his sister’s child for a long moment. Tall and well made, when she stood up straight as she did now her brilliant blue eyes were almost level with his.
Strands of dark hair escaped from the thick single braid that reached below her waist. Soft wisps had pulled loose to curl around her face.
Even pale and worried sick with the burden of this trouble Sarah Rose was strikingly beautiful. Her lips were usually smiling when she visited him, but today she held them grim and tightly closed.
Her head was high and her chin firm. Three angry red streaks left by Han’s fingers stood out on her white cheek.
“What is it that you plan to do, Sarah?”
“I’m going to hide Hans’ body so no one will ever find it. Once it is safely hidden we will pack the big wagon full of food and tools.”
“We’ll take my boys and go to my brother James in Illinois. Later we will take up a claim of our own near James. We will be free of Otto and the rest of Hans’ family forever.”
“My conscience, Child. You can’t even think of doing such a thing. Hiding a body is like admitting guilt. Besides, there is no time to do it anyway.”
“Otto will be here in a few hours. He will surely catch us. You know he comes here every week to see his brother, and he hasn’t been here since early last week.”
“No he won’t, Eli. No. Otto won’t come here today—not today and not this week. He left yesterday morning for Philadelphia.”
“How do you know this?”
“Hans told me day before yesterday that Otto would go. He said Otto needed to tend to some business about wagons for the new hauling enterprise he started. He won’t be back here for close on to three weeks.”
“I thank the Lord for small blessings. We’ll be gone away from here long before he comes back. If I have my way, we’ll be packed and loaded and gone from here before this day is over.”
“I’ve thought it all out Eli. Listen to me—just listen.”
“We won’t carry any furniture with us. We’ll take only what we must have to live and those things necessary for us to start a farm when we get to Illinois. If we work fast we can pack everything in the wagon and leave before this day is gone.”
“If we do that we’ll be completely out of Otto’s reach by the time he returns from Philadelphia. We’ll be so far out of his reach we’ll never have to worry about him or his mother or any of Hans’ family ever again.”
Eli shook his head. Watching Sarah’s strained face, he asked, “What made you think of this, Child?”
“I’ve told you. You know I have dreamed of going to Illinois to be near James for years. It was impossible before, but now it’s the only way.”
Eli Rossberg continued to pace for a moment, then he turned to face Sarah Rose. “Let me get my hat and coat. You finish your tea and I’ll come with you.”
Sarah Rose moved to the door. “I must run ahead back to the house. Baby William will be waking. It will soon be time for his morning feeding.”
“Please stop and check around the paddock when you come up, Eli. It’s almost a certainty that Hans’ horse will need tending.”
“He was very drunk when he came in last night and he often forgets—he often forgot to tend the animal when he drank too much. The poor thing is probably standing outside the gate still saddled and with the bit in his mouth.”
When Sarah left Eli’s cabin it had grown light enough for her to run freely along the path back to the house. Her thoughts were a jumble strained. She felt almost dazed.
This plan to leave and join my brother has lived in the back of my mind for a long time. Many nights in this last year, waiting for Hans to come home and fearing he would come home drunk yet again, I dreamed of leaving him someday.
I made the lonely hours pass by planning and scheming and dreaming of finding a way to leave him. A way to take my boys and homestead near James in Illinois.
A woman with only young boys to help her can’t begin to fell large trees to clear land and earn a living creating a farm in the forests here in Licking County. It’s impossible, it takes great strength—a man’s strength—to cut trees and remove stumps to clear land and prepare it for planting.
My father left me this farm but only a few of its acres have yet been freed of the forest. What few trees that were cut since Hans and I made it our home were cut with hired labor. Han’s showed little interest.
He always disliked farming. He was much more interested in other ways of earning a living.
He did well for us at first. He sold a large piece of the farm to pay for the materials he needed to build his woolen mill and for several years enjoyed great success.
The mill preyed on Hans’ mind. He got in trouble financially. He didn’t want to have to go to his brother or his mother for help.
They helped him find part of the money he needed to build the mill in the first place. Shame made him hide his need.
He caused the trouble himself through his gambling—gambling and drinking. He lost money he needed to keep the mill in raw materials and pay the workers.
Hans always found difficulty controlling his temper, but as the trouble at the mill worsened, he began to drink more and more.
When he drank, Hans always became loud and ugly. He made no effort to control himself.
I love James’ letters—I read them over many times. He describes in detail the open plains interspersed with stands of timber covering the area of Illinois where he and his wife settled and built their home.
He repeatedly mentions there are many open claims made up of naturally cleared acres just waiting for the plow. He also notes proudly that there are few stones in the soil of his claim.
James makes Illinois sound an easy land. A land filled with deep, rich soil perfect for growing corn and other grains.
Moving there to take up my own claim is my dream. My beautiful but futile dream for three years–a waste of thought I indulged in to take my mind away from my unhappiness.
But now—now it’s possible. I can join James, take up a claim where the land is naturally cleared and ready for plowing.
I can make a home for my children. I know I can support myself by farming with Eli’s help.
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