lay on her bunker on the river boat as it wound its way northward up the mighty Mississippi. The constant flip-flop of the paddle wheel calmed the butterflies
in her stomach. Soon it would be daybreak, and the captain had said they should arrive in Lake City in the early morning hours. Her whole future stretched out ahead
She wondered if it would be as exciting as she imagined. It was just barely two weeks since she had finished her normal training,
making her a full-fledged teacher. Now she had her first job, and here she was, embarking on an adventure beyond her wildest
reached inside the bodice of her dress and took the letter out. She squinted in the darkness, trying to make out the words.
She wondered, as she unfolded the fragile paper, already worn from the countless times she had opened and closed it, why she
even bothered. She knew every word by heart.
“My dear friends,”
the letter began. “Uncle Lath and I have found the Garden of Eden. Never has there been a place equal to Lake City, Minnesota. Uncle Lath built a ferry, and together we run it back and forth
between Lake City, Minnesota
and Maiden Rock, Wisconsin. The water on the lake is as blue as the clearest sky, sparkling
and bright. As you look up at the high bluffs on every side, the brilliant colored sand seems to create its own rainbow.”
She held the
letter close to her heart. Such beautiful words; they were like poetry, even though they didn’t rhyme. She pondered
the mysterious Denis McLeod, the author of the letter. Was he as gentle and tender as he seemed? Too good to be true, she thought.
She shook her
head, trying to rid her mind of such silly thoughts. A mosquito buzzed around her head, as if to help her concentrate on something
besides Denis McLeod. Anything but Denis McLeod.
She was a mere nineteen
years old. She had plenty of time for love and romance. Besides, Denis McLeod was a complete stranger to her. Oh, yes, her
Uncle King Smith had known his Uncle Lathrop McLeod for years. Maybe she was overly anxious because so many of her friends
in Morris, Illinois,
where she had lived most of her life, were getting married. It was almost like an epidemic. Was she afraid of being a spinster
at her young age?
“We have only
two minor shortcomings in Lake City,”
he wrote. “There is no honest-to-goodness schoolmarm, and we need one real bad. Perhaps, if you decide to come join
us, you could persuade a teacher from Morris to accompany you.”
It was a wonderful
invitation, especially since Uncle King and Aunt Caroline, who had raised Violet since she was only three years old, quickly
decided to pack up everything they owned and head for the “Promised Land.” Little Henry, their six-year-old, would
be one of her first students at the new school. She wondered how many others there would be. She knew she couldn’t count
on Aunt Caroline to help her if she needed; Baby Palmer would keep her busy.
Lath McLeod promised
Uncle King in his letter that there was plenty of land for everyone just for the asking. And Uncle Alonzo, who lived just
across the lake in Wisconsin, had been trying for nearly two years to persuade the rest of
the Keith clan to join him.
reading. This was where it got so confusing. Denis McLeod seemed so pure, so wonderful. Then he was like a different person.
Like good and evil, day and night, hot and cold.
“The only other
drawback to this place is the Indians. ‘Dakotas,’ they are called.
They are savages. Terrible wild creatures. If only there was some way to rid us of all of them, but such an effort would certainly
lead to war. Our only hope is that if we get a real teacher, maybe they can help civilize the creatures, although I sincerely
doubt that such a thing is possible.”
Violet shivered, in
spite of the warmth of the summer. Countless times Grandpa Benjamin told stories about his own father fighting the Indians
in Vermont. They destroyed entire families, burning their homes and even
killing women and children. Maybe Denis McLeod was right; maybe they weren’t even human beings. She wasn’t sure
she was up to such a challenge, but she had to try. It was too late to back out now. She had already sent a letter of acceptance
to Mr. McLeod. Still, she reminded herself, they were people, and they deserved a chance to prove themselves too.
the letter and returned it to the inside of her dress, once again placing it inside her chemise. The thrill of the unknown
caused her heart to skip a beat. Or was it the writer, with his flowery flowing words?
“What a foolish
idea!” she scolded herself. Denis McLeod was no more interested in her—as a woman—than anything. He wanted
her for her mind, nothing more. He needed a good schoolteacher for the children in Lake City, and she just happened to be the most available one. He didn’t
even indicate in his letter if he expected a man or a woman. She hoped she wouldn’t disappoint him.
Try as she might, she
couldn’t shake the idea that there might be something more to it than he let on. After all, Lake City was a new town. The choice of single, available women was probably
pretty slim, but she would not be a prize for some game he had in mind. No, she was going there on business. She had a job
to do, and that was all there was to it.
She conjured up a mental
picture of Denis McLeod. She knew he must be a Scotsman; his name told her that much. Even though her name was Seymour—a very English name—she was half Scottish herself, her mother being a
Her mind wandered to
her mother and father. The trip the entire Keith family took years ago from Vermont to Illinois had been one wrought with hardship. Both her mother and father
died on the journey. Violet was too little to really remember them, although Aunt Caroline had done a wonderful job of telling
her so many stories about them that she felt like she knew them, even if her memories were secondhand.
Denis McLeod must have red hair, she reasoned. Every true Scotsman she had ever seen had red hair. Of course,
most of the Scotsmen she had seen were her own relatives, but surely if they were all redheads most other Scotsmen must be
redheads as well. He probably had a beard. He was a sailor, and every sailor she had ever heard tell about had a beard. Oh,
yes, and a curved stem pipe, and he no doubt wore one of those silly flat captain’s hats perched askew on his head.
in the silence of the night. I’ll just bet, she thought, that he imagines himself to be a great sea captain sailing across the wide oceans when he sets sail on little Lake
Pepin. Such a silly fool. He probably had visions of grandeur, while in reality he was simply a delivery boy from one
state to another across a lake you could see both sides of.
She heard one
of the other members of the group stirring. She closed her eyes, pretending to be asleep. She certainly didn’t want
anyone to know about her wild thoughts. She hardly dared admit them to herself. Remember,
she reminded herself, he wants you for your brains. The rest of you is of no consequence
up onto the deck of the riverboat as it smoothly glided over the glistening blue-green water. She knew the current on the
river was strong, but with no wind at all it seemed as still as the air. It is almost,
she thought as she watched the trees and shrubs on shore, as if they are moving and
we are standing still. She looked up at the clouds. The sky was a lush shade of orange as the sun rose. She studied it,
etching it in her mind, as it changed, moment by moment, to red and yellow. She wanted to capture it forever.
I wonder if Denis McLeod has any idea we are this close to Lake City, she thought. She instinctively placed her hand to her bosom, where his letter of invitation was safely
tucked away—next to her heart.
slapped her own face, embarrassed at the direction her mind was wandering. She had to get over this silly notion she had before
they arrived. If she didn’t, she was sure she would make a first-rate fool of herself. She was as transparent as a drop
of morning dew on a leaf.
She stood quietly,
myriads of thoughts and ideas swirling around in her head. She tried to imagine what her school would be like. How many children
would there be? Would the parents all be supportive, or was this just a whim of Denis McLeod’s? Did they have a special
school building? If not, where would she hold the classes? Did any of the children have any learning at all, or would she
have to start with the same basics for teenagers as well as the six-year-olds?
her mind’s sight, a figure appeared. She envisioned a small log building, with children running to and fro in the yard,
and a strong, muscular man—boasting a full head of red hair, a red beard, a captain’s cap and a long-stemmed pipe,
its smoke winding up into the chill of autumn air. She knew, immediately, who he was.
not sure if she was dreaming or awake, as she watched him carry the load of wood in his arms to the side of the schoolhouse
and stack it neatly. The children skipped merrily over to him, begging him to give them a ride on the ferry.
now,” he said, his voice deep and resonant. “On Saturday, when you don’t have school. Miss Seymour wouldn’t
like you skipping out on your classes.”
to the side, nearly losing her footing as the boat swerved. At least, she realized, she was awake. It wasn’t a dream.
A fantasy, perhaps, but not a dream. She could hear the clap, clap, clap of the
paddle on the riverboat as it pushed them on their way to the place Denis McLeod called “heaven on earth.”
when little Henry spoke. She hadn’t seen him come up behind her.
gonna be in Paradise today, Violet,” he said.
“Yes, we are,”
she said, smiling at him. “Only it’s called Lake
City, not Paradise.”
“I know that,”
Henry said. “But Denis said in his letter that it was like the Garden of Eden. That’s Paradise, you know. Ma’s told me that story lots of times.”
he did,” Violet agreed. “We’ll have to wait and see for ourselves when we get there.”
really funny, you know,” Henry said.
funny?” Violet asked.
letter. Pa kept Lath’s letter, but he couldn’t find the one from Denis at all. He looked high and low for it,
but he said the wind must of blowed it away.”
have blown,” Violet corrected, touching her hand to her bosom where the letter was still carefully guarded. They didn’t
need the letter. After all, it was meant for her. It was her invitation to a new
Soon everyone was stirring
and the tension was high at the prospect of arriving at Lake
Pepin. For some of the passengers there was nothing new about this
ride at all. They were going on business, or to visit family or friends, but for others, like Violet, it was the beginning
of a brand new adventure and there was uncertainty as to what they would find when they arrived, but great hope and expectation
True to his word, in
less than an hour the captain bellowed “Lake City ahead!”
Violet hurried to the
opposite siderail with the others, anxious to see if it was everything Denis McLeod promised. She gasped, her breath catching
in her throat. It was all he said, and more. The bluffs rose on all sides of the lake, creating a haven of solitude, oblivious
to the rest of the world. Just as Denis had said, the sand on the bluffs was brightly colored, creating their own rainbows
towering above the water. The reflections bounced back at them, making it seem like they really were in their very own Paradise.
As the boat
pulled in toward the shore, the captain slowly steered it alongside a long pier. A black haired, clean-shaven tall, slim man
reached out to help guide it, then fastened a chain around a high post on the dock.
down and smoothed her long dark brown cotton skirt. She wished she hadn’t been trapped in the same outfit for days—and
nights. She must look a mess. In a frustrated effort to improve her disheveled appearance she grabbed at her hair, forcing
it back into place the best she could. At least, she thought with relief, Denis McLeod isn’t here to meet us.
One by one
the passengers climbed off, carefully setting foot on the pier and then hurrying to dry ground. When it was Violet’s
turn, she reached up to grab hold of the captain’s hand, which had been available for each one, and lifted one foot
firmly onto the dock. Just as she got ready to step out the rest of the way a gust of wind charged at them and the boat blew
out into the lake just far enough for Violet to fall into the water between the boat and the dock.
Splash! They all gazed in amazement as Violet disappeared, then bobbed up and down. In an instant the tall dark
man threw off his jacket and plunged in after her.
she realized what had happened, began to swim frantically towards shore, but she felt a hand grasp her around her neck.
on,” the deep voice commanded. “I’ll get you there safe and sound.”
Violet kicked at him
frantically. She was so embarrassed she wished she could stay under the water until everyone was gone. She wanted so desperately
to make a good impression on the people of Lake City. Now she wouldn’t dare face any of them.
at her skirt, which ballooned up around her on the surface of the water.
fight me!” the man ordered. “It isn’t that far to shore.”
in, Violet settled back and let the stranger rescue her. Not that she couldn’t have managed perfectly well without him,
but if he thought she was some helpless little female... Well, let him think what he wanted to. He probably wasn’t anybody
important, anyway. For all she knew, he probably hated children!
The man helped
her to her feet when the water was shallow enough for them to stand in. He grasped her elbow firmly, steadying her as she
stumbled onto the sandy beach.
you are...” he asked as they walked along, leaving a trail of water to mark their steps.
“Violet Seymour,” she answered shyly. She wished she could go back on board the boat and start
all over again, but it was too late for that.
The man threw
his head back, his wet dark black hair trailing down his back. He laughed, a hearty guttural laugh. He stretched his hand
out towards her.
McLeod,” he said. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, ma’am.” He looked at her long and hard, then
smiled. “Do you always enter with such a splash?” Then he laughed that same deep laugh again.
As they walked
along, Violet did not dare look at him. He was not at all like she had imagined him, but he was true to his letter. He was
kind enough to jump in and rescue her, yet cruel enough to laugh at her, mocking her. Two different people rolled up in one.
Like good and evil. Like day and night. Like hot and cold.
“I think the
children will like you just fine,” he said, smiling warmly at her as they walked through the main street of Lake City like they owned the town. “I think they’ll like you