Just as the sun was beginning to rise in the eastern horizon, a young woman glanced around her elegantly furnished parlor with some regret and sadness. She reached out to touch an object here and another there, feeling the memories come to mind. As she drew back her hand slowly from each one, she felt saddened but she shook her head of the regrets and set her chin, looking forward to the future. No more would she dwell on her unhappiness. At least not now, there was too much to be done.
She walked briskly to the front door, brought forth the key and quietly locked the large entrance. As it turned and clicked, its sound seemed to echo in the mechanism. She removed the key and held it in the palm of her hand. Looking directly across the street, she saw a woman sitting on the front porch of the grand house opposite hers and she knew it was time. After stopping to pick a delicate rose from her favorite rose bush, and tucking it in the book held beneath her arm, she set out across the street to say goodbye.
"Please don't be upset, Sarah. You know it won't be too long before I'm back."
"But Jim," she pleaded against his strong shoulder, in his arms that held her close, "you needn't go. We are doing fine here. We have this beautiful house, we have a comfortable sum of money and our family is here to take care of us if we ever should need assistance. Why do you feel the need to go?"
"Sarah, we live comfortably, but for how long? We have a sizable amount of money for the two of us, but what about when children come along? We are well-off presently, what of the future? I want to provide for our family with the best of everything. I love you and want you to have every comfort."
"You are my every comfort." she whispered, throat choked with tears.
He gently stroked her cheek. She knew that her pleas would not stop him unless she put up a real fight. James Hadley had always been an adventurous, happy young man. He had been eager for fortune, eager for life's joys and eager to partake in the chances of a life time. The year was 1891 and the call of rich gold had come from Colorado the previous year.
Jim had been born after the California gold rush, missing it entirely by a few decades. He wanted a chance at gold himself, but Sarah knew how the fevered rush to California had turned out. Many left, few returned, and if they did, it was a rare sight to see the fortune they had collected. She could only think the same thing would happen to her young husband.
She could just picture him sitting on the bank of a creek in the middle of the wilderness, panning for gold that wasn't there. Tears trickled down her cheeks as she gave in to his sweet, but headstrong enthusiasm. After all, hadn't she married him for that reason? Wasn't it his jovial ambition that had drawn her to him?
She forced a tiny smile as she drew back to look into his warm brown eyes. "If you feel you must go, then you must. I'll not stop begging you to stay, but I will not cause trouble if you truly think it is best. If anyone can find gold in that brutal territory, it would be you."
Sarah leaned forward against him as he talked with a husky gentle voice. "Sarah Hadley, I love you so. And if I hadn't married you, I wouldn't have married any other woman on earth."
Two and a half years later, Sarah's fears had taken a new course. She had fully expected Jim back in the fall of 1892. After all, he had said the journey and gold finding should not take that long, by his careful calculations. Thanksgiving came, no Jim. Christmas came, no Jim. She had received but two letters in the first five months of his absence. She had tried not to worry much, knowing how unreliable the mail service was in the crudely settled west.
As spring drew near, Sarah began to worry that something was wrong. She felt that Jim in trouble of some sort, though she knew not what it was. She had only to ponder his lack of communication. Though some tongues wagged producing, "Poor girl, husband ran off..." she knew that their words were meaningless; merely gossip that no one who knew Jim well would listen to. Sarah knew deep in her heart that Jim had not "run off", he had not returned because of circumstances he could not control. He was the most devoted husband in the whole town and would never have left her without intending to return; of this she was firmly sure.
When fruitless efforts were made to contact him near Cripple Creek, Colorado, where his last letter had come from, Sarah knew that there was nothing else to do but to personally go and find her husband. Her parents and sisters begged her not to leave on such a treacherous journey. It was not at all a simple little trip. She would have to take trains to Leadville, Colorado and then take a stage coach. Riding for eighteen miles in a cramped coach in the heat of the summer and in dangerous land would not be pleasurable.
Sarah argued that she did not mean for it to be pleasurable and that her mind was made up. She would not allow anyone to dissuade her from it. She was leaving and the only person who agreed with her course of action was her oldest sister, Eliza. She was the only person in the town of Topsfield, Massachusetts that agreed with her, it seemed. Sarah walked across the street to her sister's home. The house, slightly larger than her own home, stood casting a shadow over the porch, lawn and street. On the porch was Eliza waiting patiently for Sarah to say goodbye.
As she reached the steps Eliza nodded to her and asked if she was ready. "Yes," Sarah replied, trying to keep her voice from quivering with emotion, "everything is put away or covered with sheets. My clothes and things are packed, there is nothing left but to give you this."
Sarah placed the key in Eliza's hand and after her sister had placed in her own pocket, she embraced her. They stood in this way for several moments before pulling back. "You'll take care of everything, won't you?"
"Of course," Eliza said with a sad smile, "when you return you won't even know that it's been locked up."
"I know, thank you."
"You are a brave woman, Sarah. I admire you and pray that you'll find Jim in good circumstances."
"So do I." she said.
"You take care of yourself. Be a lady when and where it is possible, but by no means be ignorant. Find out everything you can and keep yourself alert at all times. There are some, I hear, that would take advantage of you in that crude place, but don't let them. You have your money placed were I told you?" Sarah nodded, patting the clever pocket sewn into the waist of her skirt.
"Then nothing should go wrong on that account."
"Thank you so much. I'll remember what you've told me. I'll send word within the month if I can." She stepped into Eliza's embrace once again before stepping down off the porch and walking to the street.
"You just take care and go find that wonderful man of yours. Bring him back to us." Eliza called softly as Sarah went to where Mr. Jefferson, their carriage driver, was waiting to escort her to the Boston train station.
Whistles and bells sounded everywhere. The roar of the locomotive was deafening as it sat waiting for its passengers. Sarah, after checking-in her larger luggage, found the First Class coach and stepped up gingerly into it with the assisting hand of the conductor. She walked down the small aisle looking for a vacant seat. Soon she found one right next to a window. Her small personal traveling valise fit snuggly beneath her seat and she, most gratefully, sank down to rest from the exertions of the early morning.
The train would not be leaving for a few minutes yet, so she took her small book from the valise and opened it to a random page. Pasted on the book's pages were old, faintly faded letters. Sarah ran her finger over the lines, the carefully penned words. They held the dreams, hopes, and love that she still felt. They were from Jim. He had written to her while he was away attending university in their youth. He and Sarah had met when she was visiting her aunt in Philadelphia in 1888. She had been sixteen then and he had been nineteen.
Her mother and father had agreed to lend her to Aunt Geraldine for a month's time. Aunt Geraldine had never married nor had children of her own. Naturally, she was delighted to have her niece visit her home. It was not only an enjoyment for the aunt, but even more of a holiday for the niece. Her aunt ran a popular boarding house that provided the older woman with a handsome income.
James Hadley, the son of a wealthy lawyer, was boarding there while he attended the school nearby. Sarah had noticed him passing through the door as she arrived earlier that day and had thought she'd like to make the acquaintance of such a dashing young man. Her chance came sooner than she anticipated. Two hours later he was sitting in the library with a book of verse in hand. She and her aunt were taking an introductory tour of the house when they came upon him.
When they arrived in the library, he immediately stood up and gave a bow, a nice gentlemanly bow which impressed Sarah very much. She had been raised in the ways of refinement and knew quality when she saw it. The introduction was warm and personal without the appearance of forwardness or awkwardness. All together she was pleased with him and her opinion was never diminished but continued to climb into higher depths of admiration.
The thrills of Philadelphia were not tossed aside for her. Her aunt, fond of young people enjoying themselves, sent Sarah to every social event possible. She, with the careful permission of her aunt, was escorted around the town to parties, plays, operas, and everything of that sort. Though she took turns with the different respected university boys, Jim was her escort most often. Aunt Geraldine, though never having been in love herself, knew a good match when she saw one and pointedly, yet properly, encouraged their activities in one another's company.
At the conclusion of the month, neither she nor her aunt thought it improper that he write Sarah from time to time. They wrote one another at least once a month and both seemed to enjoy the friendly banter of the other. Twice James had come to visit at Topsfield over the next years. As her family became acquainted with him they too fell in love with his vigor for life and his devotion to her.
When she was eighteen, he came to stay in Boston for five months after graduating. The business he was conducting for his father did not occupy his entire time. He came to call upon her almost every evening, bringing her flowers or some small trinket but that was not what caught her heart. It was everything about his character and his sweet, caring disposition. She had never heard or seen him say a harsh word to anyone. Each time he was near her Sarah felt deeper that he was her kindred spirit and she wished it always to be so.
They were soon married and moved into the house on Treymont Lane, situated directly across from Eliza and her husband Harry. How young and happy they were that year! Before the talk of gold came to Topsfield, nothing pleased Jim more then to come home from his office in the afternoon and take Sarah to supper someplace or eat a delicious meal in her company. Sarah knew that he still loved her with the same passion as before, but the excitement of Colorado's gold rang in his thoughts constantly. He withstood his desire to go for nearly a year until he could stand it no more.
Then he had gone, with her reluctant blessing. Now she could just kick herself over and over for not insisting he stay. She did not know it would bring her to this, traveling to an unknown land with danger lurking at every turn, with no protection, excepting the small handgun she had in her coin purse, and without knowing the exact location of her husband. The last letter she had received merely stated that he was visiting the town of Cripple Creek for two weeks and would move on farther into the mountains to try his luck. Such a sketchy scenario would dishearten any young woman, but Sarah's resolve was strong. She would not give up hope until she found him.
© 2005 Copyright held by the author.