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(From the next book to be titled That Fateful Lightening, the story of Miss Minnie Vining’s adventures as an activist for abolition, and as a Civil War battlefield nurse. In support of this, my daughter and I are going to Liendo Plantation’s Civil War reenactment weekend, to see what I can see, and to take pictures…)

“Minnie dear, there is a telegram just this last hour delivered for you,” Lolly Bard hovered in the ladies’ parlor of the rooming house in Rochester on the lake. “I haven’t opened it, I assure you. Things like this are private … but …” Lolly handed Minnie the envelope, and fussed with the sleeve of her wrap – it was cold, now that it was winter where the wind blew off Lake Ontario, even colder than Boston where the wind came from the Atlantic. Minnie and Lolly had just returned from a lively lecture and discussion upon the topic of the necessity for good citizens of abolition sympathies to resist and nullify the Fugitive Slave Acts; those which commanded that citizens of the North cooperate in the capture and detention of escaping. “I pray that it is not bad news although it is my sad experience that sudden telegrams usually are…”

Lolly’s voice trailed off as Minnie ripped open the
telegram envelope and read the brief contents.

Mother A dying stop. Return home soonest stop.
Richard sends.

“I … we have to return to Boston,” Minnie felt the
world around her suddenly jolt, and then return to its customary place. “This
is from Richard Brewer. Annabelle is … she is desperately unwell. Never mind –
we must return to Boston at once.”

“Oh … my dear Minnie!” Lolly looked as if about to
burst into useless tears, but then recovered herself. She had been traveling
with Minnie as companion, adjutant and secretary for some five years now, as
the second-most-dedicated woman of abolitionist sympathies in the Beacon Street
Congregationalist Church. Minnie had to admit, against considerable prejudice
that Lolly had an unparalleled gift at making railroad connections and finding
friends and sympathizers to offer hospitality, in all their travels across the
North in support of the cause. Also, for organizing church bazaars in support
of suffrage and abolition. Minnie had never been able to work out how Lolly
accomplished such miracles of connection and courteous compliance;
mild-speaking, silly, fluttery Lolly, who blinked apologetically when asked to
explain such successes.

“I am just persuasive, Minnie, dear.”

Over those years, Minnie warmed to Lolly as a
traveling companion, although the other woman was and would never be as close
and dear as Annabelle was. Now Minnie’s heart turned over again. Not
Annabelle, dear sweet Lord, do not take my sister in all but blood from me
,
she pled silently. She sank into the nearest chair, the telegram crumpled in
her hand. She sensed Lolly’s hovering presence, the quiet rustle of her
petticoats and day dress, as Lolly put a handkerchief into her other hand,
saying,

“I will arrange it all, for our journey – Miss Anthony
will understand perfectly that you cannot appear tomorrow. She and Mrs. Stanton
and their friends will understand perfectly that you need to be at home with
your dearest ones. As for the train arrangements; do not fear. I have many
connections among my husbands’ friends, and I will call upon them and request
their favor and courtesy. I will even go to the State Street Depot this very
moment and see what I might arrange through an interview with Mr. Corning’s
agent; he is the major shareholder of the New York Central, you know. He and
Mr. Bard were good friends. He will take the time to meet with me, if he is in
town. I fear, though – that we will not be able to commence a return to Boston
until tomorrow – midday at the latest.”

“Do what you think best, then,” Minnie replied, as
Lolly quietly took her leave from their apartments; a comfortable one, Minnie
had to admit. She had been a guest in many such, since embarking on a career as
a lecturer in the great cause – the cause which loomed over her life, took hold
of her every thought, thoughts and emotions reinforced by the fellows she
associated with in that great endeavor. There were so many friends and fellow
warriors for the cause which she had encountered over a decade in the lecture
circuit; men and women alike, passionately devoted to the abolition crusade,
many of whom had become fond friends and valued correspondents; the ascetic Miss
Anthony and the comfortable and matronly Mrs. Stanton, who had very kindly
invited Minnie to Rochester to appear in a lecture series with others of sympathy
to the cause of abolition and female suffrage. The cause had drawn Minnie into
friendship with many others; with Miss Dix, who was also from Boston and
scribbled improving stories for children between her inscrutable concern for
the indigent and insane, the elegant and suave Mr. William Still, a man of
color from Philadelphia who fearlessly organized the escape of slaves from the
South and saw to their safety and welfare afterwards. Minnie had made many
generous contributions to Mr. Still’s crusade from her own purse over the
years, feeling as Miss Van Lew had done; while many slaves still languished in
the vilest of servitude, being of assistance and encouragement to those
sufficiently bold and reckless to grasp at freedom by their own efforts – meant
everything to that few.

At this present moment, all of that was a momentary
distraction, for which Minnie now felt some small guilt. Family, dear friends –
that was all! Dearest friend, sister in all but blood – now Annabelle was
dying. And Richard Brewer was not a man given to pointless drama; he would not
have sent the telegram worded otherwise. Annabelle, dear ‘Belle – she had never
been blessed with the same robust constitution as Minnie, had hated to travel,
sworn herself to be devoted to hearth and home, to the care of Sophie and
Richard’s small son, a child produced after so many tragic disappointments.

Minnie did not know Little Richie well enough to have
any established opinion of him, other that he was a handsome lad, a small
version of Richard Brewer, and superficially charming. Annabelle’s daughter and
Richard Brewer were the younger generation which she thought the world of – and
Richard honored her with his friendship and respect. An advantage of age,
Minnie had come to see. Once past the age of blooming youth and primed to see
every untied bachelor as an object of courtship, and well into what was
presumed to be the arid age of spinsterhood – the boundaries of friendship
expanded. When the presumption of flirtation was off the table, then honest
friendship and respect between men and women was possible. Minnie found that to
be a rewarding prospect. Once removed from the marriage market – how many other
possibilities for friendship opened before a woman! And all of that had
distracted her over the last decade from those first close ties!

She wanted to pace up and down, to rage against the
fates – yea, even to begin walking east; but that would be silly and pointless,
as she very well knew upon a moment’s consideration. Would that she had wings,
and to fly!

At least, she could pack; might Lolly return,
breathless within minutes, with the welcome news that she had procured tickets
on the train-cars leaving this very instant! Minnie set to work; but this
distraction took only a few minutes. Both she and Lolly traveled with very
little but two small trunks between them. They were in the habit of wearing
their heaviest and most bulky garments for travel … she accomplished that small
task and took up the novel she had brought along to read, not expecting to
think very much of it; Mrs. Stowe’s dramatic opus Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Minnie
had first read it as a newspaper serial. Both Papa-the-Judge and Tem would have
condemned it for containing too much sentimental Christian flummery, and
contrivances of plot – and honestly, a slave-master beating a fit and useful
slave to death, out of pique over defiance? Well, really, and with that slave
being worth at least fifteen hundred dollars at auction? Minnie had learned
much about the lamentable trade over the previous years; one of those being
that the owner of a valuable slave would be as likely to kill that slave as a
good Boston ship-owner would be to willfully sink one of his own clippers.

But it made a touching element in the story, and the
book was being read avidly across the North. Minnie had to admit that the silly
and sentimental yarn had likely brought at least as many to Abolition
sympathies as had ten years of herself giving lectures and writing articles. She
thumbed through the chapters of Mrs. Howe’s opus in the spirit of a duty and
distraction. Soon she would have to admit honestly that she had read it
and say something laudatory should she ever be asked. Although she had
concluded that the saintly Little Eva couldn’t die any sooner for her taste, by
the time that Lolly Bard came through the door of their rooms, announcing with
an air of triumph,

“We have tickets through to Albany and beyond
tomorrow, on the morning train, Minnie! Mr. Corning’s agent gave me every
consideration! It’s all arranged! He has even promised to send a carriage for
us, and for our trunks … oh, excellent – well, I shall pack my own things, and
I think we should have a quiet supper and retire early. Oh, you have finally been
reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin! Is it not the most engaging account of the
horrors of slavery?”

“And the most sentimental tripe I have read in years.”
Minnie replied. “I disliked the good characters, could not care any less for
the bad, and wish they would have all drowned together. I think that Twelve
Years a Slave
was a much more truthful narrative.”

“Minnie, you are so unruly!” Lolly giggled. “No –
really, I expect that you will encounter Mrs. Howe sometime, and you simply
must say something nice about her novel.”

“The print was easy to read, and the paper was of good
quality,” Minnie replied, acerbically. “Which is what my brother Tem used to
say when pressed. No, I expect that I will say something like ‘Your efforts for
the cause are so warmly appreciated,’ and leave it at that. Perfect literary
flummery, but if it brings more sympathy to the cause … it is what it is.” She
closed the volume and laid it aside. Her head ached, with the effort of reading
in dim lamplight, once that daylight had fled. She closed her eyes.

“Has there been any further news from Boston?” Lolly
asked, in swift concern.

“No, no further news,” Minnie replied. “But I was not
expecting such.”

“Mr. Turner was kind enough to send a telegram for me,
to my son; that we are returning with all haste. I am certain that Arthur will
send word to your family – he has always been so terribly responsible and
considerate …” Lolly continued chattering as she repacked her own trunk and
carpetbag, and Minnie let it pass over her as water passes over stone; not that
Lolly ever seemed to notice when she was being ignored.

Tomorrow. Nearly six hundred miles. Three days, maybe four
or five – more if there were delays on the track. Anything could happen in that
time.

Anything.

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