Finally, the day had arrived, Friday, July 4, 1817. Katie had longed for, dreamed of, this day for weeks. She couldn’t believe it had finally arrived. But it had. 5:45 a.m., she watched as the sun peaked over the horizon. It was the prettiest sunrise Katie had ever seen.
Katie was 15-years-old that summer’s day on Macedonia Ridge, just north of Burlington, Ohio. She was living with the Borden family. She was originally from Killarney, County Kent, Ireland, but had shipped to the Americas two years earlier, at the age of 13, when her parents died. Everyone said it was pneumonia what killed them, but Katie knew better. They had just given up. The endless days of hard work and starvation had finally extinguished the light in their eyes and as Katie watched, they each in turn smiled at her with love and pity, closed their eyes, and then were gone. First her mother passed and then a week later, her father passed.
Katie went to her mother’s brother, Pat, but he didn’t want her. He already had too many mouths to feed. However, in his defense, he did the best he could for her, or so he said. He took her to Kenmare and sold her into an indentured servitude contract for five years in exchange for passage to America, and a few coins in his pocket for his trouble. After all, virtue is it’s own reward, but a few coin don’t hurt none.
In Boston, Mrs. Borden's brother bought Katie’s contract and sent her west to his sister. She had wanted a girl to help her around the house. Katie had worked for the Bordens ever since. It wasn’t a bad life. Sure, she had to get up at 5 a.m. to punch up the coals and start breakfast, but she had plenty to eat and at night she had her own room to sleep in, except for the baby. She had to keep an eye on little Jessica, but that was all right. Katie was mature for her age. She had grown up quickly. She had to.
Anyway, the important thing was that last Christmas, at a church social, she had met Nathan. She had seen him before from a distance and he had seen her. After all they lived in the same area. But they had never met. When they met that night she knew. He didn’t know, of course. You know how guys are. Clueless. But she knew she would take care of that. God, he was so handsome. At 17 he had transformed from that gangly new born colt look that boys go through into a young man who turned many a girl’s head. And charming? Lawsy-mercy! Katie was sure that he could talk the birds down from the trees.
But what really, really made Nathan special was that he thought Katie was special, too. He liked her spirit. There was something about her. She was interesting. Hell, he just liked being with her. He talked to other girls but he kept going back to Katie. Not that it was easy to do. She had her share of admirers who gathered around her. But he could see that her eyes always followed, always knew where he was in the room.
Okay. Enough is enough. Breaking away from the bevy of beauties that surrounded him, Nathan made straight for and pushed his way through the ring of admirers surrounding Katie. “Katie. I remembered. I didn’t forget. I’ll get us some eggnog and meet you over by the fireplace.”
One of Katie’s admirers looked after Nathan and asked, “What? What didn’t he forget?” Katie just smiled. She knew that Nathan didn’t know what it was that he didn’t forget, but she also knew that she was going to teach him.
Mmmmmm. The fire was warm. Katie soaked up the heat from the fire, at least, that’s what she thought it was, as she watched Nathan walk across the floor toward her. Then he stood before her, extending a cup of eggnog. She could feel him just as if he were embracing her. She could smell him, fresh soap and masculinity.
He smiled his brightest smile as he looked down at her and said, “You look different tonight. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good. But I can’t quite make out what it is.” Katie looked back up at him, directly into his eyes. She started to confidently speak a clever retort, but before she could do so, her body betrayed her true thoughts. A flush, hot and bright red, spread across her chest. She quickly raised a hand to conceal it but Nathan had seen and still could see the color that had arisen in her cheeks. They were silent for a while, awkward, embarrassed, but during that interlude something changed, something changed between them forever.
They were secluded the rest of the evening, alone with each other in the crowd. He told her a little about himself. She told him a little about herself. He confided in her some of the things he held most dear. She did the same. They spoke earnestly, almost passionately, as they alternatively revealed themselves to each other with an urgency they did not understand but unmistakably felt.
After that night they found many ways, some quite creative, to be together. Often they were observed walking hand-in-hand, apparently discussing matters of great importance. And speaking of importance, that is why Katie is so excited this 4th of July. Two weeks earlier Nathan had said, with the gravest formality, and that is noteworthy, “Katie, I think it is time you met my family, I mean all of the cousins, aunts and uncles. We are getting together at the Camp Creek picnic grounds for the 4th of July, and I would like you to go with me. I want you to meet them and see the people I come from. They are not all something to write home about, but they are, all-in-all, a decent lot. I hope you will like them and I know they will love you. What do you say?”
“Oh, Nathan. Of course I want to meet your family. Mrs. Borden told me she had heard that we were walking out together and she said her family has always respected your family and considered you to be good people. I am sure she will give me the day off after I finish my morning chores.”
“WOW,” thought Katie, “Nathan wants me to meet his family. Meet the family. Meet the family. Yes. Yes. Yes. Boys don’t ask girls to meet the family unless,,,Could it be? God, I hope so. I really hope so.”
That morning, Friday, July 4th, 1817, Katie raced through her chores with a passion driven by the urgency of young love. And as she worked she sang to herself. Mrs. Borden smiled. She had always liked Katie. Finally she said, “It’s okay Katie. I will finish your chores. It is getting late. You need to hurry and clean up. Why don’t you wear that blue dress? I think you look very pretty in that one.”
Less than half an hour later, out the front door Katie raced, across the lawn at a diagonal and turned right at the road. She had to restrain herself from running any farther. For one thing, she didn’t want to start sweating, and for another she didn’t want to stir up the dust on the road any more than necessary. But still, if she didn’t run she would be late. She had to get there before they sat down to eat. She just had to.
Then it occurred to her. Yes. Why hadn’t she thought of that earlier. Of course. That was the answer. She would leave the road and cut through the woods. She had never done that before but how difficult could it be? The Camp Creek picnic grounds are over there, in that direction. She would just have to be careful to not scratch her legs or tear her dress. From the road here she would chart a course, and then, after she entered the woods, she would forge ahead accordingly. Yes. That’s it. Nothing to it. A piece of cake.
Katie stepped into the woods. She shivered. The cool, damp dark of the woods was an ominous change from the warm, dry sunshine of the road. Careful not to scratch her legs or tear her dress, Katie picked her way through the under brush. All went well at first. She seemed to be making good time as she pressed on, deeper and deeper into the forest. Her eyes adjusted to the dim light. She could see more clearly. Her ears adjusted to the sounds of the forest. She could hear more acutely. Maybe too clearly. Maybe too acutely.
What was that in the shadows to the left? Did it move? What was that sound? Could it have been a low growl? Eyes. Katie was sure she saw eyes. Intense eyes. Yellow eyes. The eyes of a cat. Oh my God. It must be a black panther. Just last week Mr. Borden said a panther had killed his best sow.
What to do? Climb a tree? No. Panthers can climb trees. Play dead? Katie had seen Plato, the Borden’s house cat playing with its victims. Playing dead didn’t help them. Run? How can you out run a panther? But what else is there to do. Run! Run! Run!
Katie could hear her breath as it came in ragged gasps. She could hear the pounding of her heart as it threatened to explode out of her chest. She could hear the crack and crunch of limbs as she raced over them in her terror. But above all of that, she could hear it behind her, running, running, smashing through the forest, closer, closer, coming ever closer.
And then she fell. An exposed root had caught her right foot. She fell hard, face down. She heard it, still coming. It was almost on her. She cried. She was racked with sobs. But through it all she repeatedly called out his name “Nathan. Nathan. Nathan.”
“Yes, grandmother. I am here. Let me help you. Are you all right? Everyone at the campground is worried about you. Please don’t wander off like that again.”
Katie didn’t understand. But it didn’t matter. It was Nathan. He had come. He had saved her. That was all that mattered. He picked her up and held her closely to his chest. Overcome with gratitude and love she looked up through tear bleary eyes at her handsome young savior. And then she saw it. She saw her right hand, the hand that she had lovingly laid against his left cheek. It was old, bony, withered, with dark age spots on pale paper-thin skin.
Then she did understand. Then she did remember. And she wept.
The purpose of this blog is to share my ideas, thoughts, and stories.
The ideas and thoughts are mine alone and are not intended to malign, demean, libel or harm anyone in any way.
The stories are not representations of any aspect of reality, past or present, and are not published for informational purposes. They are creations of my imagination and are published simply to entertain. The names, characters, business, places, events, and incidents are either fictitious or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.