by Lynne Handy
Third of five sisters, all comely and bright with learning, I was reared in a Calvinist home. My first husband, Emmet, a widower, was handsomely English, mannerly, and wealthy by prairie standards—all a woman could want. Then the Devil sent typhus, and my good man, his face purpled, tongue cracked, bowels muttering, went to his Christian reward while I wept, one hand stroking the child inside my womb. Shortly after, Abigail pushed out into the world. Emmet’s brother, Rob, became her male guardian, which the law required.
Emmet had bequeathed his land, half to Abigail and half to me. Our solvency drew into our lives the village butcher. His black, hypnotic eyes consumed me. I fell into John Neal’s arms, heavy-muscled from wrestling sheep to their deaths, and married him. When he moved into Emmet’s house, he dropped all pretense of affection for Abigail and slapped her to show who was master.
He claimed to dislike the child because she reminded him that I’d shared Emmet’s bed. When he thrashed Abigail with the buggy whip, I prayed for my girl and me. I struggled to be a submissive wife to win God’s favor—and Neal’s too. He continued to abuse the girl; I could only acquiesce, for I knew Neal was in Satan’s grip “Why does Abigail no longer smile?” asked my sisters and her Uncle Rob. Neal said he’d kill Abigail if she went bawling to her kinfolk—forced me to say it, too.
But Abigail told.
Neal was arrested. He was thick with the Masons and they attested to the fitness of his character. He returned home filled with bile, but also with respect for Abigail’s power. He no longer struck her. Years passed. Neal sold my land and used up the profits. We had four little ones, he and I, and times were hard. Neal, who had seized guardianship of Abigail from her Uncle Rob, plotted to sell her land.
Was it Satan who whispered in Abigail’s ear? Who knows? But she learned of Neal’s plan and with help from my own sisters and the Rogers clan, eloped with Ed Cassidy, a farmer living across the road. Then he became her guardian. Learning of Abigail’s elopement, Neal began drinking heavily, and set fire to the davenport in what was really Abigail’s house. The sheriff came and handed him an eviction notice.
We headed east on the blacktop with our household goods heaped onto a wagon and took the train to Cleveland where Neal had kin. The city! Another test! A prairie raped, no grass, few trees. Lake Erie did not compensate the loss! Bricks and stone eruptions—no limbs for nesting birds; trolleys, their infernal clangs and whistles defiled the purity of silence; smells—piles of animal dung in the streets, smoke from factories. Within the year, Neal left us.
I died in Cleveland among the ruins, but I had met God’s test and was worthy of His love.
Retired librarian Lynne Handy lives in North Aurora, Illinois, where she enjoys nature, and writes poems and short stories. She’s a member of the St. Charles Writers Group, Chicago Writer’s Association, and Kentucky State Poetry Society. Her work has been published in several literary journals. Reach her at lynnehandy.com.