Authors: Erica Vetsch
“You’re leaving?” She gripped the napkin, crumpling the precise folds she’d just created. “What about me?”
He rubbed his hand down his face and tested his temple with his fingertips. The bruise had faded to a pale yellowish green, and he didn’t wince as he probed. “I can’t very well travel alone, now can I?” His lips twisted. “I can’t do much of anything alone anymore. You can come along and get a taste of what it means to be married to someone in my condition.”
“Why leave your family? And why your mother in particular? I would think you’d prefer to stay here where everything is familiar.”
“Suffice it to say, I’ve had enough of my family pushing me around. Mother can’t help herself, and I’d rather you were away from her influence as well. At least if we’re in Denver, she won’t be dreaming up any wild notions like having her own son sued.”
Karen stared at her plate. “You know about that?”
“I know about a lot of things. You’ve gotten your way about the wedding, you and my mother, but that’s as far as I’m willing to go. We’re leaving in two hours, so if you’re coming, you’d best gather your things.”
She swallowed and took a staggering breath. Denver. Perhaps it wasn’t such a bad idea. They could be alone, just the two of them in the family’s town house. Maybe then some of the barriers to their happiness could begin to come down.
Karen boarded the railcar first, with David following, his hand on her shoulder.
Jesse helped the porter with their bags and hovered in the doorway. “Wallace said to congratulate you on the wedding, and that he’s happy he could provide the private railcar for you, especially on such short notice.”
Karen stood on tiptoe and kissed her father-in-law’s cheek. “Thank him for us. I’ve never traveled in such luxury before. And thank you for all you and Matilda have done. I’ll wire you when we reach Denver, and I’ll write every chance I get.”
“Be sure you do.” Jesse hugged her, his voice gruff. The door slammed in his wake, and Karen stooped to look out the window at his tall frame striding across the platform.
“Alone at last.” She unpinned her hat and set it on the table. “It will be nice not to be interrupted for a while. Here, there’s a chair just to your right.”
David shrugged off her hand and found the back of the chair himself. He removed his overcoat and hat, and once seated, leaned his head back. “We won’t be in to Denver until well after dark. I didn’t sleep well last night. I’m going to nap.” With that he closed his eyes, shutting her out.
She contemplated the transom windows in the high point of the roof. Every time she thought she might have found a way past the armor and walls he’d erected, he cut her off. She dropped onto a velvet upholstered davenport, and her hand fell on the Godey’s Lady’s Book Matilda had given her. Her mother-in-law had written a letter of introduction to her dressmaker in Denver and instructed Karen to purchase a trousseau and spare no expense. Karen leafed through the pages, but her mind hopped from one thought to another so she couldn’t concentrate. Finally she put the book aside to contemplate her husband.
She studied his features, loving each plane and angle of his face. In sleep, his face looked younger, less careworn, relaxed. He had loosened his collar and tie. His watch and fob glinted in the lamplight from the wall sconce.
Jesse had taken the crystal from the watch so David could feel the hands and know the time. His entire family had worked hard to show him they cared, that they loved him and wanted to help him, and yet he’d repelled them at every turn.
“Oh, David,” she whispered, “where do we go from here? The more I try to fix what’s between us, the more snarled things become.”
Conviction whispered through her soul, forcing her to own up to what she hadn’t wanted to face. She’d rushed into this marriage, scheming and plotting instead of praying and waiting. Now they were married, and there could be no turning back.
Lord, please forgive me. I have been selfish and willful. Instead of asking for Your will and direction, I rushed ahead, grasping for what I wanted, taking it without waiting for You to give it to me. I’m like Jacob in the Old Testament, conniving to get the blessing rather than waiting for You to give it to me. How can a marriage based upon a scheming plot ever be happy? How can love grow, or how can we glorify You? I am broken, Lord. I beg Your forgiveness and ask You to show me Your will. Help me to love David. Help me to show him Your love.
She wiped at the tears on her cheeks and moved to the desk in the corner. A quick check of the drawer revealed stationery and pen and ink.
Dearest Aunt Hattie,
There is so much I need to tell you, that I feel a letter can hardly hold it. The first thing you must know is that I am now married.
Karen tried to explain about the accident and David’s blindness and thus the quick and quiet wedding. As she wrote, she could almost feel her aunt’s arms encircling her. What wouldn’t she give to be able to see her aunt now, to petition her for advice?
Hattie had been Karen’s lifeline, her only family after her father passed away. Hattie, who had accompanied her brother to the mountains to help him raise his daughter, who had waited until Karen was grown before moving back to Kansas City, her much-loved and much-missed hometown. Perhaps, if Hattie was fully recovered from her illness and back to full strength, she could come to visit them. Maybe for the Christmas holiday.
When David awakened some time later, Karen knew a measure of peace, though she was no closer to knowing how to reach her husband. “Did you have a good nap?”
He rubbed his hands over his face and rolled his shoulders. “Have I slept long?” He reached into his vest pocket and retrieved his watch, his fingers whispering across the face.
“Almost two hours. Are you hungry? A porter brought a tray, but you were sleeping so soundly I didn’t wake you.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“You hardly ate anything at the wedding breakfast. You need something. There’s chicken and biscuits and some apple pie.” She lifted the cover on a plate. “I had some. It’s really good.”
“I told you I’m not hungry. Stop hovering.”
She replaced the lid and tugged at her lower lip, considering him. “I believe I’ll excuse myself for a while. If you change your mind, the tray is on the table beside you. I’ll just be down the hall, so if you need me, call out.”
“I’m quite capable of sitting here alone without your help, Karen.”
Her steps swayed with the movement of the train, and she kept her hand on the wainscoting as she edged down the narrow passageway. She passed a bedroom where a double bed took up almost all the space then another small compartment with two chairs facing one another and a bed folded up into the curve of the ceiling. Beyond that a tiny galley and a washroom.
She splashed water on her face and patted it dry, then took pains to re-pin her hair. When she’d wasted nearly ten minutes, she made her way back to the salon.
He’d eaten at least a little, confirming her suspicion that his proposed lack of hunger was a ruse to avoid eating in front of her. A few biscuit crumbs dotted his vest, but his face was clean.
“This is the most beautiful railcar I’ve ever been in. There are green velvet drapes and stained-glass transoms overhead. The woodwork—I’m not sure what kind—is stained a honey-gold. And the chairs and davenport are a deep blue. There’s a patterned carpet on the floor in greens and blues and golds that harmonizes everything. There’s the most cunning little bathroom about four doors along the passage. Though the tub is so small I imagine you’d have to step outside to change your mind.”
His hand caressed the armrest of his chair, and his shoe moved slightly, as if picturing in his mind all she said and testing it for himself.
Because he remained silent, she found the courage to continue describing things. “I’m wearing a dark burgundy dress. It has a high-standing lace collar and white cuffs. The skirt is full, probably too full for traveling, but I wore it because you once told me you liked it.” She picked up the catalog. “Your mother told me to order some new clothes for the winter season while we’re in Denver.”
“I’d rather not talk about my mother right now.” He stretched his legs out and laced his fingers across his vest. His brows puckered and he brushed the fabric, scattering the few crumbs onto the floor. “I have no idea what I’m wearing. I merely put on what Buckford laid out.”
This glimpse into his new dark world set up an ache in her heart. She tried to keep her voice matter-of-fact. “You are wearing gray trousers, a white shirt, and a black silk vest.” Her gaze traveled over him, assessing and describing. “Your face is thinner now, and your hair is a bit longer. Only a trace of bruising remains on your temple.”
“No one has bothered to describe things for me as you have just done.”
Fearful of saying the wrong thing, she tried to put into words what he needed to hear. “Perhaps they didn’t know how best to help you. Your family loves you, David. They would do anything for you. They just need to know what.” She held her breath for his reaction.
Before he could answer, the train began to slow. A shutter fell over his face, cutting off whatever he had been going to say. His lips formed into a taut line.
She began gathering things and placed David’s hat and coat in his hands. “I’ll see to a cab and getting our luggage aboard,” she said. “Do you want to wait here or in the station?”
“I’ll wait here.”
A heavy weight sat on her shoulders. He’d been relaxed, almost as if he enjoyed her company, and then he’d reverted to the hurting man hunkering in his shell.
She stepped from the train and scanned the platform. A row of cabs stood lined up at the end of the depot in spite of the late hour. She hailed a driver, and when he’d trotted over to her, beckoned him to retrieve the bags. The conductor walked by, and she gave him the directions Jesse had given her about seeing to parking the private railcar in a siding. Then she turned to get David.
He stood on the railcar platform, hat on his head just so, his coat buttoned. He held the handrail and eased his way down the steps.
She walked over to him and, instead of taking his arm, slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow as she would have if he could see. “This way,” she whispered, guiding without being too obvious, she hoped.
David mocked himself for his uselessness when the cabbie asked Karen for the destination. Shame licked at him that Karen had to see to everything—the cab, the luggage, and the instructions for siding the private car.
Her hand came to rest on his arm, and her body moved against him as she turned in her seat. “David, I don’t know the house address.”
Realizing now just how much he had disrupted her life, yanking her out of all that was familiar, marrying her in haste, tying her to a blind man who couldn’t even walk from the train to a cab alone, he hated himself. He gave the address and sank back into the corner of the cab, inching away from her to cocoon himself in solitude.
The horse’s hooves clopped on the hard-packed dirt street. A hurdy-gurdy’s tinny melody washed over them as they passed a dance hall, and a tinge of smoke hung in the air. Somewhere someone was cooking cabbage. He tried to envision just where in the city they were and surprised himself when the cab turned when he thought it should. The hooves plopping changed to a clatter as they crossed a wooden bridge. Then the cab rocked to a stop.
“There’s a light burning in one of the lower floor windows.”
He noticed the relief in her voice. “Father said he sent a telegram to Mrs. Webber to inform her of our arrival.”
“The housekeeper.” He realized anew how little he’d prepared her for this abrupt uprooting. The house they had planned to build in Martin City this spring would forever stay unbuilt. How could he orchestrate the building when he couldn’t see? Yet another piece of his future to throw into the bottom drawer of his mind to molder and decay.
The doorknob rattled. “Is that you, Mr. Mackenzie? Bless me, but come away in. The night’s too damp to be standing on the doorstep. And this must be your lovely bride. You could’ve knocked me down with a gesture when I got your father’s telegram.”
He pictured the housekeeper as he’d last seen her, gray haired, deep bosomed, motherly, and chatty. “Good evening, Mrs. Webber.” His hand hit the iron railing, and he made his way up the steps.
She latched on to his arm and tugged him into the house.
The sounds of footsteps on the walk and the thunk of bags hitting the parquet floor informed him that the baggage had been deposited. Coins clinked, and the cabbie muttered, “Thank ya, ma’am.”
Once more his wife had to do tasks that should be his, leaving him sidelined like a toddler in a world of adults.
Karen sighed, as if grateful to have arrived, and the fabric of her dress rustled. He pictured her removing her hat and gloves.
Mrs. Webber’s familiar lemon verbena scent surrounded him as she bustled past. “I’ll take the bags upstairs.” The housekeeper patted his arm again, and he just refrained from brushing her away. “Here you go, missus. You take the lamp and I’ll follow you up.”
Karen linked her arm through David’s. The faint odor of burning kerosene reached him. She stopped him when they reached the upstairs hall and directed him aside.