Read Sisters Online

Authors: Lynne Cheney

Sisters

Lynne Cheney

 

Sisters

This is the transcription
of the Lynne Cheney Sisters blog, devoted to spreading the wonderful
book to all
those who want it, but cannot find it in any of the
used bookstores which were supported to meet their need for it.
Please, read on, as the book finally gets what it is due.

 

 

The
original transcription can be found at
http://www.livejournal.com/users/lynnecheney/

 

 

Chapter 1 –

 

 

On every side, there was
emptiness. On every side, the prairie stretched on and on, unbroken
to the horizon. Even the dome of sky was a naked stretch, swept bare
of clouds by the unceasing wind. In all its vast blueness, the only
interruption was the inescapable sun. She felt its heat. She saw the
shadow it made, her shadow, a startling darkness in the bright and
infinite loneliness.

Sudden she knew she must
hurry. But which direction? Which way should she go? She scanned the
landscape, her head moving in nervous jerks, but there was no
indication, no hint at all, and she had to hurry! Panicky now, she
grabbed up her skirts and started running. Without plan or direction
she ran , the hard earth jarring her every step, the wind tearing at
her until her hair fell loose around her shoulders. She ran until her
breath came in deep rasping sobs, forever it seemed, but when she
stopped and looked around, she still saw the uninterrupted expanse of
prairie, and so she forced herself to run again.

She hadn’t pushed
herself like this since childhood, but she remembered the trick to
it. Her body screamed at her to stop, from a place somewhere in the
base of her skull, and once she identified where the screams were
coming from, she bundled a quivering mass of nerves and lifted them
to her forehead, to a spot above her eyes, where she could smile
disinterestedly at their violent protests and go on.

But it took such an
expenditure of will to keep the jangling mass suspended. She could
only do it so long before it began to break loose and invade every
part of the brain. Finally she knew it was too much. She continued to
run, but now she was courting exhaustion, hoping for oblivion. She
kept forcing herself to take one more step, then another, until at
last she fell, collapsing into a heap on the dry prairie floor. The
sun beat down on her. The wind whipped around her. She tried willing
herself into unconsciousness, but it was no use, and so with great
effort she drew her knees to her chest in a gesture of
self-protection. Would it never be over? Would this nightmare never
end?

Time passed. Seconds,
hours, perhaps even days. She didn’t know how long, and she
didn’t care. But gradually she became aware of a growing
quietness and coolness. She pulled herself to a sitting position and
found that somehow she had come into the shelter of a bluff. It
loomed hugely above her, an ancient hill, striated by winds, rid of
its gentle slopes, and pared to an inner core so that it rose
abruptly from the prairie. In its presence she felt protected,
soothed, comforted.

It wasn’t long before
she rose to walk closer, and as she approached, she saw that the face
of the bluff was less regular than she had first imagined. Partway
up, just slightly above her head, was a large cave. Where once there
had been a softness in the core of the hill, the elements had carved
an opening, and when she saw it, she knew this is what she had been
running toward. This is what she had sought—and been terrified
she might never find. Within the cave would be an embrace of peace
and protection. Everything would be taken care of once she was
inside, all pain relieved, all worry and fear turned aside. Although
she had never seen this place before, she knew that she was almost
home.

She reached up for the cave
the way a child reaches up to be lifted, and she was vaguely
surprised when no one bent down to help her. She began to struggle to
pull herself up, clawing for a fingerhold, straining her arms until
she felt the muscles start to cramp. And then, just when she thought
she couldn’t make it, she managed to get a leg over the lip of
the opening, and with a final, aching effort she was up, rolling into
the cave. She came to rest on a rocky floor, and in an ecstasy of
relief, gave herself over to the darkness.

But suddenly she knew she
wasn’t alone. No sight or sound told her, but she knew with
every atom of her being that someone or something was with her. The
knowledge immobilized her. She didn’t move. She scarcely
breathed. Not because she thought she could hide her presence. It was
too late for that. Whatever was in here had to know she was here too.
She didn’t even hope to be ignored; she was simply paralyzed by
the stunning realization that she was not alone, locked in an
unreasoning atavistic response.

Her heart pounded wildly.
In a moment, she dared move her eyes, and she let them follow the
floor of the cave to deeper within. Accustomed to darkness now, she
saw the body. Even as the paralysis broke and she scrambled toward
it, she knew who it was—what it was. Helen. She looked down at
the broken figure on the cave floor and saw her sister, Helen.

Horror engulfed her,
counterpointed instantly by a paroxysm of terror running up her
forearms like an electric current, seizing the muscles of her neck,
forcing her head up to what she already knew was there. Gleaming
animal eyes. Black lip curled back to reveal white fang. Carcajou!
Carcajou! Spawn of the devil. Destroyer of life. The animal screamed,
and she called out its name: Carcajoooouuu!

*

Her eyes snapped open, wide
open, the pupils too dilated to focus at first.

“Mrs. Dymond, are you
all right?”

She took a moment to
answer, a moment trying to shake off the nightmare.

“Mrs. Dymond? Ma’am?”

“Yes, Connie, yes,
I’m fine. I was just dozing.” But her heart was racing.
She focused on the sound of the moving train, trying to calm herself
with its rhythm. “Is it far now?”

The maid shook her head.
“Not far, ma’am.”

She stood, steadying
herself against the train’s sway with on the back of the plush
settee. She started toward the rear of the private car, but the maid,
who chose that moment to step forward with a clothes broom, bumped
into her. The clothes brush clattered to the floor.

“Oh, ma’am,
excuse me--it’s the dust and cinders.” Connie fluttered a
hand toward the ashy speckles on her employer’s navy-blue
skirt, then got down on her knees and groped under the settee for the
clothes broom. “It was so hot, I opened the windows, and
everything started blowin’ in.”

“In a minute, Connie.
I’ll be back in a minute.” She walked to the rear of the
private car and entered the mahogany-paneled dressing room with its
white marble fixtures and green velvet draperies. Twisting an ornate
tap, she rinsed her hands, then dampened a fresh linen towel and
dabbed at her face. It helped her feel less hot and grimy, though it
did nothing to dispel the slight nausea which comes with so many days
on the train. Nor did it remedy the nightmare’s lingering
horror.

Quickly she shifted her
thoughts. This was her third journey by train from New York to
Wyoming. The first had been in 1874, twelve years ago now. Rail
travel had become easier in the time since, but only because it was
over sooner. Trains might be faster now, but they were as hot, dirty,
and noisy as ever. She ran more water on the linen towel, wrung it
out, and held it over her face. Then she discarded the towel and
massaged the back of her neck until the tight muscles began to
loosen.

By the time she had put
fresh scent at her wrists, she was cheered a little. A nice bath
could be dangerous, she thought, turning to look in the mirror. It
might make her so recklessly good-humored she’d consider
another long trip by train soon. She brushed at her skirt, adjusted
the sash, and then moved close to the mirror to put on her hat. As
she studied the image in the glass, an unexpected thought brought a
wry smile. That face--she’s seen it pictured so many times, it
seemed incomplete without a caption. The label was missing, the
tagline calling her “a beauty of the day” or some such
gush. And where was the inevitable second line? The one set in
smaller type that portentously declared: “Sophie Dymond
commands publishing empire founded by her late husband, Philip.”

Her appearance and her
position were always mentioned together, and she suspected it was no
accident. If she was considered beautiful, it was probably because
the editor of Dymond’s Ladies’ Magazine ought to be.
Certainly the face looking out from the mirror was unusual, striking
even, but it had none of the round and rosewater kind of prettiness
currently in favor. Judged by those standards, her mouth was too
wide, her cheekbones too high and flat, her complexion entirely too
dark. And her heavy black hair wouldn’t hold the curly fringe
fashion demanded. Instead it was all long and loosely waved, drawn
back and knotted low on the neck.

With a fingertip she
smoothed at the tiny lines radiating from the outer corners of her
eyes. Was it age that was troubling her? Though few people guessed
it, she was only a few years from her fortieth birthday. Could
growing older account for nightmares of death and dying? She let her
hand fall, thinking it was less age than circumstance. She was going
to Cheyenne to see her grandfather, Joe Martin, who was dying after a
stroke. Three years ago, her husband had died of cancer. Not even a
year ago, her sister… Her mind tried to skitter away from the
thought of Helen because it threatened to call up the dream. But why
Helen? Why was her death the one that troubled above all? When she
had learned Helen had died, she had been plagued for months by an
unreasoning terror she would encounter her corpse somewhere. It made
no sense at all. She was in New York. Helen died in Wyoming. And yet
she was possessed by a fear of finding her body lying in the entryway
of her brownstone in New York or thrown on the floor of her office,
its limbs at odd angles, like a huge discarded doll’s.

She shook her head and
forced herself to the task of pinning her hat. Was it the way Helen
had died? No, it was guilt troubling her more likely, regret for not
knowing her sister better. For not liking her more, to be honest.
Quiet, proper Helen; her careful ways had always seemed a reproach.
Her caution had stirred an antagonism which Sophie had to admit she’d
done little to still.

And the way Helen had died
was probably far less important than the fact she’d been just a
year younger than Sophie. The frights and dreams were probably fears
natural to having a sibling who was such a close contemporary die.
Probably it had made her afraid of dying herself, she thought,
holding the eyes of her mirror image for a moment before she turned
away.

Back in the observation
room, she picked up Tom, her black-and white Pekingese, from the
basket where he was sleeping and then sat down, letting him arrange
himself on her lap. She stroked him absentmindedly and looked out at
the prairie. She could see so far, it reminded her of crossing the
ocean. “An inland sea,” she murmured. “It’s
like a great brown sea.”

“Oh, ma’am,
that’s true. I never knew there was anything like it!”

Sophie looked at the girl
in surprise. Hardly aware she’d spoken aloud, she hadn’t
meant to start a conversation.

The girl hurried on, her
eyes wide. “I mean, you keep expecting something different, but
it goes on forever, and it’s all the same!” She was very
earnest and very young, and though she meant well, still her
breathless assessment grated a little.

“Not really, Connie.
Not when you look closely. It just seems the way to you because it’s
different from what you’re used to.” Sophie turned away,
looking out the window again, and she saw a line of cattle walking
along the edge of a dry creek bed. Ridiculous creatures, she thought.
Just like human beings, the way they can move so purposelessly along
without the slightest notion of a destination. And then the cattle
disappeared into a draw, and she saw a flash of the dream. She saw
herself running, running.

Quickly she looked away
from the window. “You know, Connie, when my sister and I were
small, we used to watch the wagon trains coming into Fort Martin, and
the people in them always looked bewildered. We thought it was
because they were tired and had come so far. But I wonder if it
wasn’t the prairie. I wonder if they weren’t dazed by the
openness of it.”

“I know I sure miss
the trees, ma’am.”

Sophie had been talking to
distract herself, not really expecting the girl to understand, but
when Connie caught some of her meaning, she went on, “I
remember when I first went East, the trees nearly drove me mad. I
couldn’t stand so many things growing everywhere. I felt as
though I couldn’t breathe and couldn’t see.”

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