Nymph-like, she is fleet and strong.
Saint Louis, Missouriâ1853
The small room was dark and airless. There were no mirrors. There was no dressing table. The sparse furnishing consisted of only a bed with a lumpy mattress, a bedside table on which sat a kerosene lamp, and a hard-backed chair. The only window was at the very top of the room, near the ceiling, purposely giving no one access to it.
Feeling like a caged panther, Hannah Kody paced the room nervously, the long skirt of her black dress tangling around her legs as she made her swift turns.
She stopped and looked up at the window. Outside white puffs of clouds floated across a brilliant blue sky. The sun was straight overhead. It was noon. Soon someone would come and break the silence that was near to driving her mad.
“Isolation.” Hannah breathed out in a low, agitated whisper. “I've been put in isolation!”
She ran her fingers through her flowing waist-length golden hair. Never would she part with her hair! She would not allow anyone to chop it off, almost to her scalp. She was in a convent in Saint Louis, Missouri, not of
choosing. So she was certainly not going to part with her hair only because it was the rule of the convent to do so. It was required of all young women who entered the teachings of becoming a nun.
“Hah!” she whispered, and begin pacing again. “Just let them try. Even if I have to stay in isolation until hell freezes over, I won't part with my hair.”
Hannah had been called a tomboy all of her life and hadn't minded it. But she didn't want to have short hair like a boy! She had always treasured her long, flowing golden hair. As she saw it, it was the only thing beautiful about her.
She knew that she was tall and lanky. There was nothing she could do about that.
But she could certainly make sure nothing happened to her only assetâher hair!
“Mother, Father,” she agonized in a whisper. “Why did you do force this sort of life on me? I don't want to be a nun!”
Of course she knew their reason, and had fought them every inch of the way. But, due to her father's bullheaded determination to change her into a lady, she had lost the battle. He had said that if her very own parents couldn't tame her tomboyish ways, surely the sisters at the convent could!
Hannah had been there only a short time, but it had seemed an eternity. And as far as she was concerned, nothing about her had changed, except for making her even more rebellious than before.
“I'll show them,” Hannah whispered. She plopped down on the chair in an unladylike manner, her legs widespread, the skirt hiked up past her knees. “I'll make them want to send me away. They will grow tired of battling me as I stubbornly fight for my rights.”
She gazed up at the window again and daydreamed that she was riding on a horse in a wide-open meadow, the ground dotted with a beautiful tapestry of wildflowers.
Her hair was blowing in the wind.
The horse was galloping hard, its mane flying.
If she closed her eyes even now, she could smell the horseflesh. She could feel the wind and sun against her face. She could capture that wonderful feeling of freedom!
The sound of a key being placed in the lock of the door drew Hannah back to the present. She eased up out of the chair and backed against the wall in the deeper shadows. Although she suspected that someone was bringing her dinner, she never knew for sure whom to expect to walk through the door. Every nun in the convent had tried to scold her into obedience. But all had turned away, sighing, or whispering beneath their breaths some small prayers for her salvation and forgiveness.
Hannah could scarcely feel the beat of her heart as she watched the doorknob turn. Although hungry for food
company, and hoping that food was just outside the door, she did not look all that forward to eating. She had not only been placed in isolation, she had been given small portions of food, and nothing tasty.
Nor had she had a cup of tea or coffee since she had been in isolation. She had been on a ration of water.
When the door slowly opened and Hannah could smell a familiar perfume, that which her mother wore, her eyes widened. She gasped softly when her mother and father entered the room. She became numb, for surely they had been told about her being so uncooperative, and had come to shame her into obedience.
“Hannah,” her mother said, moving in a dignified glide across the room in her lace-trimmed, pale blue velveteen dress, her arms outstretched toward Hannah. “My sweet darling. How could they treat you this way? Never would I have expected this or I would have fought much more aggressively your father's decision to place you here.”
Hannah welcomed her mother's soft hug. Ah, but she was such a short, petite woman, someone Hannah would have loved molding herself after. But she had inherited her father's tall height, his
She returned her mother's embrace, relishing the familiar aroma of her mother's French perfume, yet watching her father over her mother's shoulder as he stood just inside the room, somber.
He was dressed in an expensive dark suit, a diamond stickpin glittering in the folds of his ascot at his throat. His long legs were stiff as he slowly rocked back and forth on his heels while staring back at Hannah with his piercingly dark eyes, those which she had most definitely not inherited. Hers were green, as green as spring grass, like her mother's.
She could smell the cigar scent of her father, yet even that could not hide the overpowering smell of medicine that clung to him and his clothes, which he acquired from his daily medical practice. He was a well-known surgeon. He had wanted Hannah to follow in his footsteps.
She had refused. She wanted no part of attending medical school. And she most certainly didn't want to be imprisoned by hospital walls, reeking of medicine herself, day in and out.
For so long it had been Hannah's dream to train show horses. Until her parents had interfered, she had been working with a trainer, learning his skills.
Unlike her older sister, who was a senior in college, and her brother, who now owned a ranchâthanks to their rich father, who had backed both their ambitionsâHannah had vowed never to accept her father's “charity” by him giving her a start in a career, especially one not of her own choosing.
She wanted to pay her own wayâearn her keep.
She didn't want to be beholden to anyone, especially not her overbearing father,
Howard Kody, whose name was known throughout the midwest for his skills at doctoring.
“Hannah,” her father said, his voice deep and gravelly. “Grace and I have come to take you from the convent.”
Hannah was taken aback by what he said. She eyed him speculatively as her mother moved to her side.
“Father, what did you say?” she gulped disbelievingly. Could it be true? she wondered anxiously. Could he actually care enough for her feelings that he would end this charade that he had forced on her? Did he truly care for her so much that he would put her feelings before his?
“I said we've come to take you from the convent,” Howard said, then had no time to say anything else. Hannah rushed across the room and flung herself into his arms. It had been a long time since she had been given any reason to hug him. She had not known until now how much she had missed his powerful arms around her, his breath stirring her hair as he leaned his cheek into it.
They embraced for a moment longer, then Howard gripped Hannah by her shoulders and held her at arm's length.
“Thank you, Father,” Hannah said, tears streaming from her eyes, now realizing he cared so much for her. She even felt somewhat guilty for having disappointed him.
“Grace, get Hannah's things together,” Howard said, nodding toward his wife of thirty years. “Then we'll go and try and clear things up with Sister Kathryn. We've got to make her understand why this had to be done. When she hears that our son is going blind, and that this is the only reason we are taking Hannah from the convent, she will understand.”
“Yes, she'll understand that a sister's place is with a brother at times like this,” Grace said, going to take a satchel from beneath the bed. “Hannah is needed there, to see after his best interests, especially since
can't stay with him. And Chuck most certainly will not leave his ranch to live with
Hannah paled. She looked in jerks from her father to her mother, then back at her father, her eyes wavering. She had been wrong to think that her father had had a change of heart for
sake. He was taking her from the convent for someone else. Not for her, or
She wrenched herself free of her father's grip. She glared at him and wiped the tears from her eyes as she squared her shoulders.
Yet she couldn't find the words to tell him how he had just let her down again, as he had so often in her life.
Then his words about her brother sank in. Blind? Her brother was going blind?
Chuck?” Hannah blurted out, now feeling guilty for having thought of herself, when all concerns should be centered on her brother.
“His eyesight is quickly failing him,” Howard said solemnly. “Damn it all to hell, anyway. He has followed his dreams to the Kansas Territory, established a ranch, and now
“Will he go totally blind?” Hannah said, her heart aching over her dear brother's misfortune.
“Seems so,” Howard said, then turned to Grace when she brought Hannah's satchel to him.
“Father, Mother said something about me looking after Chuck's best interests,” Hannah said, swallowing hard. “What does that mean? That I am going there? To live with him?”
“Yes, Hannah.” Howard nodded. “You will be his eyes.”
“His . . . eyes . . .” she said more to herself than to her parents. She weighed this in her mind. She wanted to find the good in how her life would change again.
Yes, she was jubilant to leave the convent. And in Kansas she would be able to ride horses in the open range. She would be as free as the wind, to do as she pleased; the outdoors had always beckoned to her, as if it were her lover.
But she could not allow herself to be jubilant over her quickly changing future, and that in her brother's misfortune came a beacon of light for
. She was deeply saddened over her brother's worsening condition.
“Do you mind traveling to Kansas, dear, to help your brother in his time of need?” Grace asked, placing a gentle hand to Hannah's cheek. “You and Chuck have always been close. It will delight him to have you with him.”
“Of course I don't mind,” Hannah said.
Then she stepped away from her mother and turned glittering, mutinous eyes to her father. “But I wish just once that I could be allowed to make my own decision about something,” she blurted out. “I
eighteen, you know.”
“And so you are,” her father said, sighing. “And so you are.”
She inhaled a quivering breath, then left the room with her parents.
After bidding a good-bye to Sister Kathryn, Hannah left the convent with a wild, thumping heartbeat. She could hardly wait to board the riverboat that would take her to the Kansas Territory. She would be with her brother again. And without her parents or the sisters there to dictate her every move, she would finally know the true meaning of the word
For the first time ever, her life would be hers, to do with as