THE BOOK : For Love of Charity
PUBLISHED IN: 2016
THE AUTHOR: Wanda Parker
THE EDITORS: Lindsey Marder, Saundra Kelley and Terri Gerrell
THE PUBLISHER: Terri Gerrell of Southern Yellow Pines Publishing, 4351 Natural Bridge Rd, Tallahassee, Fl. They promote southern writers and stories about the south.
SUMMARY: Charity, raised with wealth and privilege has her world shattered when her fiancé runs away before the wedding. With determination, she reinvents herself from a lady to a frontier lad, to join a trader to find her fiancé Robert. During the long journey carrying a heavy pack, and masquerading as a young boy, she learns the hardships and dangers of frontier life, from bear attacks, rogue white men, and fierce Indians. She also learns she has the inner strength to be a survivor.
THE BACK STORY: Most history is dry and lacks the colorful details of the Colonial people and their considerable strengths. My research began as a passion for knowledge about my ancestors, the Scots-Irish, and that passion developed into the many stories I have written. My research is a combination of oral history, internet research, and a vast collection of historical non-fiction books.
It takes me roughly three months to research and write the story, with another month or two of rewriting and editing.
WHY THIS TITLE: I grew up in the 40s- and 50s among many strong-minded women, all independent and full of grit. My “Charity” is a composite of women in my family, and others that I knew. A few were not particularly charitable, but they were full of grit. So I made my heroine, Charity, a combination of such strong independent woman.
WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO READ IT? This book should interest anyone who likes a good story that is historically accurate, has action, bravery, adversity and romance.
REVIEW COMMENTS: The book has not been released so no reviews have been done at this point.
AUTHOR PROFILE: I grew up in Oklahoma so close to the Texas line we could have spit over it. I was the youngest child of nine and one of my earliest memories is of me, from the time I could walk, carrying a book, and feeling grown up. I spent hours pretending to read while my siblings poked fun at me. When I finally learned to read, I devoured westerns, adventures, magazine stories, and not the normal fare for kids my age; but my passion was history. I read in between chores feeding chickens, dishes, hanging clothes and walking a quarter mile sandy road to get the mail with an evil bull watching me over the fence. I always found time to read, even when an older sister criticized me for having my “nose in a book.” This made me feel guilty for reading but I’ve never stopped enjoying a good article or book. While raising a family and having a career I wrote stories in my mind and occasionally wrote one down. After I retired I had
time to devote to writing full time and 16 stories later For Love of Charity is my first novel being published, and another is under contract.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: What I hope to show is how middle class Scots-Irish who fled from English tyranny were not the dregs of society as they were portrayed by the plantation owners, but they were better educated than most immigrants. They were God fearing, clannish, fiercely loyal to their own, contentious, and deadly toward their enemies. Ignoring settled areas they preferred the privacy of secluded hollows and lofty mountains. They might as well have invented the slogan “Don’t Tread on Me!
For Love of Charity
By Wanda Parker
Holding on to the splintery wooden rail, Charity climbed up stairs made of hewn logs. She stood outside the door, fighting the urge to throw up.
“A lady doesn’t throw up in public,” she mumbled, repeating what her mother once told her. “Nor does a lady keep going into places like this,” she said to herself, taking another deep breath. “A place like this. Ha! This is one of the nicer places I’ve been to in the past few months. I hope this is almost over and I find Robert inside. Then we can go back to civilization and have the wedding we planned.”
Squaring her shoulders, and stiffening her back, she walked into the dingy roadhouse with her head high. Unshaven, buckskin clad men nudged each other and stared at her, as the hard wooden heels of her city shoes clicked across the uneven split
log floor. Cheeks aflame, she looked around for the owner; a portly man wearing a soiled apron approached her.
Miss, you shouldn’t be in a place like this,” he said. “There’s a nice inn just down the road. I can get someone to escort you there.”
“Thank you, you’re very kind,” she answered, “but I’m already staying at that inn. Have you ever heard of Robert Larkin?”
“Robert Larkin?” He said, wrinkling his brow and scratching his nose. “Nooo, I can’t say as I have.”
Taking another deep breath, she bolstered her courage. “Then how about John Mason? I heard he was staying here so may I see him? It’s very important that I talk to him.”
“Yes miss, he was staying here until he ran out of money. Now, I think he’s sleeping in the stable out back. Sit down and I’ll send for him. It wouldn’t be proper for a lady like you to go out there alone.”
Sitting down at a rough table, Charity thought if the innkeeper knew what she intended to ask John Mason to do, he wouldn’t think that proper, either. Ignoring the stares of the men, Charity dusted off the log bench, and sat primly in the corner. She tried to look out the window, barely seeing through the wavy glass, dirt and spider webs. All the houses were similar, built of heavy logs, weathered, with no apparent thought to property lines or directions. The chinking between the logs, needed so badly in the winter, was already pushed out for ventilation in the coming summer heat. How appropriate that the name of the roadhouse was Mud Flat.
What am I doing here alone, she thought to herself. This is insane for me to even attempt. What would Mother and Father think if they were alive and saw me here? Well, for one thing, if they were alive, I wouldn’t have to be here. Now, if I can get this man to take me to Robert, maybe my life can settle down without having to chase my future husband across mountain ranges. Then I can be a proper wife.
While she waited, she thought back on the events that had brought her on this journey. Her parents owned a small farm that provided the family a modest living. They insisted Charity be raised proper so she would be able to marry well, educating her far better than most girls her age. Her manners and her clothing had to be spotless, and her father even taught her to handle finances and accounts.
Their closest neighbors were the Larkins, owners of the largest plantation in the area. A motherless child, young Robert Larkin liked to come over and spend time at Charity’s house when they were young. He said her home was warm and inviting whereas his was cold and impersonal since his mother died. With so few children in the area, she was his only friend and they spent many hours dreaming of things to come when they grew up. Robert was going off on some adventure and maybe sail around the world. Charity was going to meet Prince Charming and live in a castle.
Charity’s life was uneventful until her parents died in a carriage accident when she was thirteen. Her parents had ridden into town to get supplies for the party they were hosting for Mr. Larkin and Robert. When word came that an accident had taken the lives of both her parents, she was left in a void filled with terror.
According to workers in the fields, something spooked the normally calm horses. They started an uncontrollable gallop, veering off into a deep ditch with no thought to the
carriage they pulled behind them. Her parents had been tossed from the carriage like rag dolls, leaving her forever.
As she had no other relatives and he considered her part of the family, Mr. Larkin moved Charity into their palatial home, handled all of her legal affairs and set up a trust for when she reached maturity.
Suddenly the Larkin house came to life with the sounds of two teenagers getting into mischief and running down the long halls giggling at the latest prank they just played on the servants. With others to do the housework, Charity and Robert spent most of their time together, studying the classics or playing the piano. Charity was able to help Robert, who struggled with his lessons, until even the tutor was pleased with his progress.
Mr. Larkin hinted many times over the years that he hoped she and Robert would marry when they reached eighteen. When the day was approaching Charity, who was always fond of Robert, convinced herself that she really loved him and began to plan the wedding.
Three months before the wedding, however, they woke to find Robert gone. He had packed a small valise, took what money he had from his mother’s inheritance and left home, leaving no note, no explanation, nothing. Mr. Larkin’s health seemed to deteriorate from that day on.
She had begun her search by questioning Robert’s acquaintances and that was where she first heard of John Mason. It appeared Robert had a partner and John Mason was a man she and her future father-in-law knew nothing about.
It took weeks of asking questions at frontier settlements to track down anyone who knew how to find John Mason. Mostly, she got only blank stares, or disgusted looks
at the mention of her search for two men who evidently didn’t want to be found. She kept going from settlement to settlement, each one smaller than the last, until by a stroke of good fortune she stumbled on Mud Flat. It was her first hint of luck. Grimy floors and judgmental stares were nothing to her now if only John Mason would point her in the right direction.
Now, remembering the embarrassment of having her fiancé walk out on the eve of their wedding, she thought it strange that she did not think of it so much as losing a fiancé, but of losing her best friend.
The wait seemed like hours. Ignoring the stares of the other customers, she waited patiently until the innkeeper re-entered, guiding a drunken man with one arm around the man’s waist, holding the drunk’s arm over his shoulder. When he plopped the man down right across from her, the stout log table wobbled when his body bumped against it.
“Here he is, miss. I knew he was drinking but I didn’t expect him to still be this drunk. I’m sorry about this, but you did say it was important that you speak to him, and I couldn’t let you go talk to him in the stable! Get some coffee in him and maybe he’ll sober up, but it may take awhile. That rotgut he’s been drinking would kill a mule.”
Watching the man go limp, then start sliding slowly toward the table, her eyes widened. When his head slammed down on the hard wooden tabletop, his dirty blond hair tumbled way too close to her, but the table held him in place.
Instinctively, she sprang back from him, taking out a dainty handkerchief, which she held close to her nose. Unfortunately, it couldn’t block the smell of alcohol, unwashed hair, horse manure, dirty straw, and chicken droppings spilling toward her. Again she wondered, what am I doing in this situation?
Just then, the innkeeper waddled up with a huge pot of coffee and two beer tankards and plopped them on the table in front of her.
“Here you go miss. I’ll let you pour this down him. I gotta wait on my other customers.”
“But…but how am I supposed to get him to drink it when he’s out cold?” She asked.
“Just lift him by his hair and pour,” was his response as he walked back behind the bar to his customers.
“Fill him up ‘til he pukes!” Said a man at another table. “That should sober him up. Say, ain’t that the feller that’s always trying to hire men to go into Cherokee territory with him? Stupid fool, I ain’t crazy enough to get in the middle of them Injuns.”
Charity’s ears turned red and her cheeks flushed as the men called out; she fought the instinct to run, but she desperately needed information. Holding her breath, she slid next to the inebriated John Mason and with shaking hands she poured a liberal amount of coffee into one of the tankards. Grabbing a handful of his dank hair, she poured the scalding hot coffee into his half-open mouth.
“Holy Hell! I’m on fire!” he screamed, then his eyes rolled up and he passed out again. Well, at least I had his attention for a little while, Charity thought with a smile.
She blew on the coffee to cool it, and then, begging and cajoling, she forced almost a whole gallon of coffee into him. When his eyes finally stayed open, he started gagging. Knowing what was coming, she moved quickly to get him outside, but his deadweight was more than she could handle.
Seeing her struggle, the innkeeper helped Charity to get the man named John Mason to his feet and out the door. They got him outside just as the coffee shot out his mouth and nose. John held on to the rail and retched for several minutes, amid laughter from onlookers crowding the door, watching his misery.
“Isn’t there a gentleman among you who will help us?” she said, hoping someone would take the hint.
“Mam, there ain’t ary a gentleman around here,” said one of the rough-looking men. “We’re all just common hard-working folk, but we’ll help you with him if’n that’s what you mean.” A man with long hair and beard walked over and put John’s arm over his shoulder. “Where do you want him, miss?”
“Over by the well, if you please,” she said with real gratitude. “Maybe some cold water will bring him around.”
Together they helped John Mason to the well, sitting him beside the stone trough. Charity’s helper drew water from the well, and using the gourd dipper hanging on the side, poured water over his head.
“There you go miss,” her helper said. “I don’t know what you want with him. But, now he’s cleaner and a little more sober. Good day to you.”
“My thanks for your help sir.” Charity said, watching him leave with dismay. Now, she was left with a drunken, sodden and barely coherent, John Mason, who was sitting in a mud hole in front of her. She sat still watching cautiously as he tried to focus on her, shaking his head occasionally. She figured he was trying to place her among the women he has known.
Suddenly, he shook his head hard, sending spray, bits of straw and other stuff that had been clinging to his hair all over her. Then he grabbed his head in pain, saying, “hey ladies, why’d jou make me shober up? Who are you three anyway?”
“My name is Charity,” she said, thinking quickly. “My…my husband is Robert Larkin. I’ve been told you are his partner and you know where he is. I need your help to find him.”
“Well, he ain’t lost, sho…sho which one of you ladies need to find him?”
“Me! I’m trying to find him, Mr. Mason,” she said with more force. He’s my husband so will you take me to him?”
Mason’s eyes started to roll again when he hollered, “hell no! I ain’t takin’ shome
helplessh woman out in the woods full of Injuns, wild animals and sssuch. You wouldn’t last a day out there, a del…a deli….” He took a deep breath, “ a delicate woman like you.”
“I can pay you to take me to him.”
“Pay me! Hail, you ain’t got ‘nough money,” he paused, again trying to decide which of the women is speaking, “to pay me to…to…to…” His tongue seemed to stick to his teeth, “take you where few white men hasss ever been. There’s danger all around,” he swung his arm in a wide circle and nearly fell over, “ever step of the way. Beshides, I don’t think Robert wan’s to be found.” His energy depleted, he slumped back down.
“Why do you think that?” She asked trying to keep her voice calm.
“I have my reasons,” He tried to look mysterious, but he leaned too far to one side to keep it up for long.
“So, you hate Robert?”
“Who shaid I hate him? He’s my partner and, an, my bestes fren’. Who shaid that? I’ll whup the bastard!” His eyes closed and he leaned his head against the cool water trough thinking, Wife she said! Robert never mentioned he had a wife back home and he never acted like he had one either.
“And yet you refuse to help me find him?” There was that cool, insistent voice again.
He sat with his eyes closed, wishing this pushy woman would go away and let him sober up in peace.
“We all have our reasons for doin’ what we do. Jus’ tell me what you want Robert to know, an, and when I see him, I’ll tell him.”
“No, Mr. Mason, I have to see him and talk to him myself,” she said. “I must convince him to come home. I promised his father before he died that I would find Robert and …and bring him home. He can’t waste his life out here in this God forsaken wilderness, living with heathens. He should be home where he belongs. Please help me. I’m not used to having to beg, but I’m begging you.”
“Lady, I’m telling you for the las’ time, I ain’t takin’ you nowheres. You wouldn’t last a day carrying a heavy pack and I don’t have time to waste babying you all the way, what with Injuns and all. Beshides, it’s indecent for you to even aash me. Shame on you, a lady like you, wantin’ to traipse off into the woods with me. Now, that’s downright sscandalous. So, you go home and if you wanna send a message to Robert, I’ll take it to him. Now, ‘scuse me, I gotta get ready to leave. Good day to you, miss, and good-bye!”
Charity watched him rise painfully and stagger toward the livery stable. Resting her head against the cool rock of the well she thought, what a disagreeable man. But, he’s my last hope to reach Robert. If he won’t help me then I’ve failed to keep my promise to his father. Failed miserbly!
She watched Mason enter the livery stable to find the stable boy. She followed and stopped just outside the door to listen.
“Did you get word to your cousin? Is he goin’ to be here afore dawn? I need to know he’ll be here for sure since I want ta get an early shtart.”
“Yessir,” said the boy, Charity saw his fingers crossed behind his back. “He promised he’d be here. He’s anxious to earn the money you promised him if’n he carries a pack for you.”
“None of the men aroun’ here has ‘nough guts to leave the clearing, let alone travel for hundreds of miles into Injun country. Jus’ a bunch of gutless wonders all of ‘em. I even off… offer…” he belched, “offered a bonus when we came back loaded with furs, Nooo takers. You sure your cousin is comin’? He’s reliable, you say?” John sat on a pile of straw holding his throbbing head.
“Yessir, he’ll be here.” His hands back on his pitchfork, the boy watched Mason begin dividing his wrapped packets of trade goods into two piles.
Charity waited until John Mason finished dividing the packs and then lay down in the hay to sleep off his hangover. An outrageous plan formed in her mind that made more and more sense to her. What if, what if she went with him, not as a woman for sure, but what if she didn’t appear to be a woman?
Walking over to the stable boy she softly asked, “Excuse me, I overheard you talking with Mr. Mason just now. May I ask you a question?” She watched Mason to make sure he couldn’t hear their conversation.
“Yes miss, can I help you? Having never seen a well-dressed lady on this side of the settlement, he looked her up and down.
She fixed him with a steady stare and asked, “Is your cousin really going west with Mr. Mason?”
His face turned red, he glanced at Mason before giving Charity a sheepish grin and slowly shaking his head. “No miss, I ain’t even got a cousin. I just told him that so he would stop pestering folks about going with him. I was going to make sure I wasn’t anywhere around in the morning when he got ready to leave. Are you going to tell on me?”
“What’s your name?” Charity asked, her excitement growing. This might work after all, she thought.
“My name’s Levi, miss,” he answered, his face grim. What she said next came as a surprise to the boy.
“All right Levi. This will remain a secret between us on one condition.”
“A secret between you and me, miss? What’s that?” Sweat formed on his upper lip, how do I get myself in these messes, he wondered.
“I want some buckskin clothes my size and in the morning I want you to introduce me as your cousin to Mr. Mason. I’ll pay you for that and for the clothes, but you can’t tell anyone else about this. Is that a deal?”
“How much are you willing to pay me?” His already wide eyes widened even more at the thought of having actual money of his own.
“I’ll give you two shillings. One now, and the other when you deliver on your part of the deal. You have to promise not to tell anyone about our arrangement, since this is very important to me.
“Two shillings?” His mind reeling, he thought I’ve never had that much money in my life! “Don’t worry miss, I won’t tell anyone here that I have any money or they will take it from me. I’ll bring you the clothes early so you’ll be ready before dawn, but you’ll have to pay for them.”
“I’ll pay for the clothes and your second shilling after you introduce me as your cousin. If Mr. Mason sees through my disguise the deal is off. So, outfit me to make a long journey, as if I really am a young man instead of a twenty-year-old woman. It’s a good thing I’m taller than most women or this might not work.”
Accepting his shilling from Charity, Levi thought to himself, I wish I could go with them. He looked at Charity with longing in his eyes.
“When my indenture is up, I intend to head for those hills. I want to see what’s behind that mountain, that one, and the one way over there. I ain’t ever coming back to be a servant to anyone.”
Charity watched the boy run off on her errand, she smiled, satisfied with the deal she made. Suddenly very tired she made her way to the inn. Built of stout logs and rustic with few amenities, the inn was run by a respectable family, and suitable for ladies traveling alone. She had to wonder how respectable the family would think her if they
knew what she planned to do. Cornhusks in the mattress rustled as she climbed into bed in the tiny room thinking how different it was from her home.
Dreading the thought that Levi might renege on their deal Charity barely slept. She had been awake, dressed, and on pins and needles for hours, waiting to see if he’d keep his part of the bargain. It was still dark outside when she heard a soft knock on her door.
“Here they are, miss, Levi whispered, knowing the outrage it would cause if he were discovered inside a lady’s room. “I even found some moccasins for you. You won’t look much like a boy if you wear them shoes you got on.”
“Thank you Levi,” she said. From now on don’t call me miss. Call me…ah, Charles, yes, now I’m Charles. And thanks for the moccasins, I hadn’t thought of my shoes giving me away. Remember now, I’m your cousin. Tell John Mason that I’m thin but I’m strong and I don’t talk much. Do you have it all straight?”
“Now turn your back. I know it’s pitch black in here but I’d feel better knowing your back is turned.
“Yes mi…Charles.” Still scared by the prospect of being found in Charity’s room, he turned and pushed against the stout, split plank door to keep it closed while she dressed.
Quickly, Charity dropped the long petticoats and long heavy dress she wore, then pulled on the unfamiliar leather clothing. The soft buckskin pants and shirt clung to her body as she slid them over her bare skin, and she felt almost naked without all the
petticoats and long skirts she was accustomed to. Twisting her long blonde hair into a long rope, she tucked it up under the hat, jamming it down low on her forehead.
“All right, Levi,” she whispered, “I’m packed and ready. I’ll leave my valise downstairs with a note on the table that I met my friends, and I’m checking out early. I will send for my clothes when I find Robert. Now, let’s see if we can convince Mr. High and Mighty John Mason that I’m a strong healthy boy, and just the person he needs as his helper.”
Slipping into the inky darkness of the stairwell, Charity hoped the stairs wouldn’t creak and give them away. She and Levi felt their way to the front door, lifted the latch, and slipped into the night.
They found John busy with his skin-wrapped packets of metal arrowheads, knives, tomahawk heads, ribbons, cloth and beads. He was mumbling to himself, saying, the more I carry now, the more wealth I can bring back in prime pelts. I should’ve asked Levi to find more than one helper.”
“God! I wish my head didn’t hurt so much,” he said, checking his rifle and powder. “That old coot’s white lightning is powerful enough to kick like a mule, and I think the mule is inside my head, still kicking.” He stopped to rest, hoping the pounding would stop. “Not only do I have a horrible hangover, but my tongue is burned raw. That stuff would eat your guts out. When are them two boys getting here?”
Griping about Levi and his cousin being late, he looked up to find them standing beside him. He jumped up in surprise, which increased the pounding in his aching head. “Holy Damn! If we were in Indian country, you’d have scalped me before I knew it. Damn this hangover!”
“This is my cousin…Charles, Mr. Mason. He’s kinda wiry and skinny, but he’s strong. He don’t talk much so he won’t talk your ear off.”
John Mason peered at the new boy in the predawn light, doubtful of his thin, wiry frame. Knowing that beggars can’t be choosers, however, and that he needed the help too much to be picky.
Struggling under the weight of his over-stuffed pack, he said, “Damn! They weigh too much. This will wear us out the first day. Damn! Damn! I got greedy and bought too much! Damn! Come on boy, shoulder this pack and let’s get on the trail.” Charity’s knees nearly buckled when he put the heavy load on her shoulders, but she managed to stay on her feet.
Levi, standing nearby, watched them with envy, knowing they were going in the direction he wanted to go and that they needed more help. He knew few would miss him, especially not the stable owner who wouldn’t leave his still that long. Stepping next to his newfound cousin, he made the most momentous decision of his young life.
“Mr. Mason, my employer said I could go with you as long as he gets a fair price for my services and a share of the profits when you return. I know where there’s another pack we can use. If I carry one, would you let me go with you?”
“You’re hired, boy! Go get that pack, and make it quick, we have a long way to go.” Relieved beyond words the trader took his and Charity’s packs and got to work redistributing the goods into three stacks.
“If you’ll pay me now for finding Charles for you,” said Levi, “I could leave it with my employer. It would ease his mind some about me leaving.” Mason agreed, and adding the pay from John Mason to the pay given earlier by Charity, Levi ran back to the
stable. On his return, he brought a leather carry pack, and set to work helping load the bundles for their trek.
When they were ready, the trader looked at his young helpers and said, “You two will be weak at first. The second day you’re going to be so sore you’ll think you can’t walk. By the third day we should be making good time. Come on boys step lively.
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