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Destiny's Whirlwind

By Catherine Ulrich Brakefield

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Chapter 1
“… taking the shield of faith…” Ephesians 6:16
March 1, 1898, Emerald, Kentucky
Snow slapped her face, but it was the townspeople’s taunts that hurt the worst.
“Smallpox carrier Collina May, go away. We don’t want you or any McConnell to stay.”
It had been two weeks since the McConnells had come down with the pox. She had come to town to get hay and a thousand pounds of feed for their livestock. Mother said to stop at Doc Baker’s to pick up more salve and not to forget her father’s medicine.
“Tell Doc I need him to come tomorrow.” Mother would say no more, only that Collina, in spite of the storm, must go today.
“Smallpox carrier Collina May, go away!”
Her thoughts chilled her more than the boys’ hateful remarks or weather ever could.
Joseph McWilliams rode up. He’d helped her load the supplies. He rode his sorrel gelding next to her wagon, scowling at Emerald’s townsfolk, his fiery-red hair and thick beard adding to his frightful appearance.
As the two made their way to Doc Baker’s, store clerks sweeping the wooden porch leading to their doorways paused in midstride. Children stopped their snowball fights. Three men outside of Jim’s Mercantile halted their chatter.

A woman from the crowd of bystanders who had congregated on
the mercantile porch ran down the steps like a passel of hornets was
attacking her, hauled her boy up by the inside nape of his collar, and
glared at Collina. “Pox May go away!”
“No, ma’am.” How could she ever face the townsfolk again? Did
they truly think she gave her people the smallpox?
She pulled her team to a halt and jumped down. Her boots slammed
up the wooden steps of Doctor Baker’s office, and she pounded on
the door until the prickly pin needles of pain from her cold hand
made her stop. No answer. As she prepared to leave, her boot hit the
package marked Collina McConnell. It sat like a forlorn pigeon on the
threshold, covered with snow. Where could Doc be?
She snatched the package, then took the steps down two at a time.
Joseph jumped off his horse and barred her escape, his large hand
like an iron anvil weighing her shoulder, his red head as alert as a bird
dog’s on a sudden shift in wind. “What you fixin’ on doing, drivin’ your
team home in a snowstorm just cuz some mama boys called you a
name who ain’t got nothing better do with their day than pick on a
lone woman?”
“Let go, Joseph.” She yanked away from his grip. “I can handle
myself and my team as good as any—”
“Man? When you going to realize God made you a woman for a reason?
You just say the word and those gents won’t feel like singing anymore.”
Her puckered eyebrows met his scowl.
“Seems like yesterday you were just a freckle-nosed kid, kicking that
big Macintosh boy in the behind cuz he’d muddied up your stockings.”
“Wasn’t just the Macintosh boy that got my boot, I’m recalling. And
it looks like I…” She looked away. Joseph heard plain enough. Now she
knew what a leper must have felt like back in Jesus’ time. No matter,
she needed to get home with this medicine.
Joseph’s six-foot build had a width of shoulder that won him easily
every arm wrestling fight from Kentucky to the Tennessee border,
but he let go of her without a struggle. His arms fell to his sides as he
hunched his muscular shoulders against the north wind. “These are
truly bitter days in more ways than a thermometer can record.”
“I’ll be all right,” she whispered, swallowing down the lump that
followed, seeing the pity in Joseph’s eyes.
“Take Haggerman Road, not that lane you came in on. I’d go with ya,
only Pa’s come down with a bad case of gout; I’ve got to tend the store.”
“Too long that way. The lane will cut two hours off my trip. When
Doc comes back, can you please tell him to come to Shushan first thing
tomorrow morning?”
She mounted the wagon; the seat was cold and damp. She clutched
her red-plaid blanket. Thick white flakes of snow flew gracefully
downward, as if they’d sprouted wings. Wet and pearly white, they
rested on her lap blanket like tiny flies—little snowflies. Just a passel of
fly-flakes. She could make it through the pass. Pa always says a person
can make good of any situation.
“You might cut two hours out of the trip, but you risk getting stuck
or worse yet, busting a wheel or an axle. That lane is hard to navigate
in good weather—”
“I’ll get through.” Her hand rested on the package. Mother wouldn’t
have sent her out in a snowstorm unless her father needed this medicine.
Joseph swept his hat off and wiped his brow. “Someday someone
will come along and make those stubborn feet of yours want to follow.
But I sure pity that gent’s toes before you learn the step.”
She chuckled. “You’re not bad lookin’ from up here. You might even
be powerful handsome if you ever took a razor to those whiskers you
call a beard.” She laughed as deep crimson spread across his face like a
signpost telling of his adoration for her.
He bent forward, resting on his strong forearms, his voice low and
masculine. “Most girls tell me I’m handsomely appealing.”
She knew that to be the truth. She couldn’t figure why he bothered
looking her way. She bent down and cupped her hand lightly on his
upturned cheek. “Don’t forget your promise. Find Doc.”
“I’ll hunt him down like a hound on a coon; don’t you worry about
that. Doc will get your message before nightfall.”

Joseph’s word was as good as the US Treasury. She never held much
store in the prating tongues of the townsfolk. So she’d not miss anything
losing their friendship. She had the friend that mattered. She slapped
the reins. “Giddup.”
If the townsfolk want something to gawk at, she’d oblige. “Yah!”
Her six white horses picked up the pace to a trot. She gave the clucking
sound and with heads arched, her horses went into a high-stepping gait.
The ground beneath the wagon pounded their rhythmic beat.
“Yeehaw, Collina, you show ’em.” Joseph hooted.
She grinned. Every storeowner’s nose was pressed to the window pane.
The harness and breast plate buckles jingled in unison like bells on
Santa’s sleigh. The ice and snow wasn’t so bad. The ground was soft, and
taking the lane meant she wouldn’t have to endure the townspeople’s
gawking stares. Like Joseph, Pa had warned her not to, said you never
know what’s lurking around a bend in the lane, but Pa hadn’t heard the
townsfolk’s new song about them, either.
She burrowed into her wool collar. The snow blanketing western
Kentucky had put everyone in a bad spirit. January had started out
cold and stayed that way. It being the first day of March, surely the
worst was behind them. What more could happen?
The wind picked up as she made her way home, and so did the
snow. Flakes blew about her team like dandelion seeds. She wished it
was dandelion seeds and not a storm she had driven her horses into.
The horses strained against their harness, heads bent low to the
ground, their strong hindquarters digging into the hill as they pulled
the heavily laden wagon through the rutted and snow covered lane and
up the steep hillside.
She couldn’t see for the blowing flakes. Then just as suddenly as
the storm had begun, the wind seemed to sweep the snowflakes away.
She could see now that the stars were just appearing in the new night,
and through the scurrying clouds that swept the sky like grey ghosts,
the soft, mellow rays of the full moon suddenly lit the snow-covered
pathway before her with a luminous glow. The words of Matthew 17:20
came to mind. “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say
unto this mountain, remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove;
and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” Lord, please get me and my
team home safely is all I’m asking. But if You feel like moving something,
please take this smallpox plague off the McConnells’ shoulders.
The old vagrant Mother and Father had fed and clothed during the
winter months gave the McConnells the smallpox. That old vagrant
who lost his home and family after the Civil War always wintered in
the McConnell’s sharecroppers’ cabin. Mother nursed him and Father
buried him. Mother said she’d do no different even if she had known
the outcome. Nine of the McConnells had contracted the pox. Only
she and Mother had proved immune.
She hunched her shoulders to ward off another blow from the
chilling wind.
What is the matter with me? Mother always said never to look back
at trouble or else it was sure to follow you around like a long tail to a
hound dog!
The left front wheel of the wagon rolled into a rut with a jolt. “Whoa,
Daisy. Easy, Jude.” Collina braced her boots against the bumper panel,
her lap blanket falling to the floor. Daisy fell to her knees, then Jude.
She could feel the hay on the wagon shift. Daisy neighed, whipping her
head from side to side, fighting to free her front leg from the crevice.
Collina jumped down from her high seat and worked her way to
the lead mare.
Daisy’s nostrils glowed red in the darkness. Collina blew on her
hands, willing her cold fingers to become nimble, and tried to loosen
the taut leather straps. Daisy snorted, neighing her fright to the others,
and fought to free herself.
She heard an answering neigh, then a man rode up.
“You hurt?” A pair of strong, hardened hands wrapped themselves
around hers. “Are you hurt?”
The wind whipped away her words of gratitude as a blowing snow
squall peppered her eyelashes. The stranger wore brown trousers and
leggings tucked in his shiny black boots. A uniform with brass buttons,
collar, cuffs, and an epaulet in yellow gold that matched the brass
eagle insignia on his shoulder straps temporarily mesmerized her. She
glanced up. He scowled back.
Her smile wilted like last year’s roses, replaced with a grimace to
match his. “Just who are you, and why are you riding Pa’s stallion?”
“Guess that means you’re not hurt,” the man yelled over the howling
wind. “Can you hold the harness taut?”
She nodded. He grasped the slippery strap, then motioned for her
to take his place. Daisy, feeling the slackened pressure, struggled to
rise, thrashing out wildly with her foreleg. Collina clung on, digging
her fingernails into the wet leather.
“You’ve got as much strength in those arms of yours as a fly does to
lift an elephant.”
The wagon moaned, swaying and twisting like a ship lost on a
billowing wave. Flakes of timothy hay flew about their heads. She
coughed, spewing fragments of the hay from her mouth. Another of
her horses reared and the front wheels bounced from the force, causing
pressure on the shafts of the last four horses.
“Get out of here,” he yelled.
The man’s large hand gripped her shoulder like an iron vice and
shoved her nearly two yards across the mud and snow.
A groan escaped her. She’d hit the ground hard. Her tongue tasted
blood from a gash in her lip. She stumbled to her feet, wincing with pain.
The man threw his hat to the ground. His straight dark hair shone
blue black in the moon’s rays. Placing his broad shoulder underneath
the cross bars, the glint of his steel knife shone in the moon’s light.
“A knife? Don’t cut that harness. It’s from London, England!”
The soldier glanced up.
She gasped at the boldness in his eyes. The blade of his knife gleamed
in the moonlight at her to beware. Recalling her shotgun on the
floorboards of the wagon, she inched toward it. Daisy jumped to her feet.
“Shove that rock behind the front wheel…Good, now you take the
mare and bring me back that gelding.”
He hooked up Jude, kicking the rock away from the front wheels.
“Yah! Yah!” He guided horses and wagon safely onto the high side of
the lane. “Only right thing you did was hitch up enough horses to pull
this overburdened wagon.”
He hitched Daisy to the one remaining strap, then retrieved his hat.
The inside lead rein dangled like a disjointed rudder on a ship.
“Thank you for your help, mister.” She marveled at his tenacity.
He could have ignored her scream. Charles Dana Gibson could have
acquired his inspiration for his Gibson Man from him. His cavalier pride
was as evident as the coat he wore proudly about his broad shoulders.
“Franklin Long of the 1st Volunteer Cavalry, ma’am, at your service.”
He swept his cavalry hat off his head.
That didn’t say much about his trustworthiness. She reached into
her buckboard and cradled the shotgun in her arms. “And where were
you heading with our stallion?”
His eyes sparkled into hers. “Looking for you, ma’am. Say, just
how old are you?” He could barely contain his humor. “Your mother
was worried you might have gotten yourself in trouble; she gave me
permission to ride the stallion when Doc Baker told me to fetch you.”
“She did? Our home’s under quarantine. How do you know Doc?”
“We were on the same polo team back in Long Island. Only, seems I’ve
been enlisted by Doc Baker as a medical dispatcher for the McConnells.”
Looks like Doc came a day early. That should please Mother. She
placed the rifle back onto the wagon floor. After all, if he wanted to do
her harm, he’d have tried to by now.
Franklin, hands akimbo, studied her. “Your lip is bleeding a little,
right there.”
“If you recall, I encountered a nasty fall.” Her hands felt gritty. She
wiped them on her riding skirt.
Iron black brows knitted together; a half-smile teased the corners
of his mouth.
“Here,” he said, extending his handkerchief. “A young girl like you
shouldn’t be out alone.”
“I’m old enough.”
“I apologize for that tumble I gave you.” His fingers wrapped around
her hand, as if seeking solace for his actions. “Your hand is cold. Take
my gloves.”
He was too forward to suit her. She yanked her hand away. “I’m fine.”
“Couldn’t be helped…you did a foolish thing taking this lane tonight.”
“I cut two hours off going this way.”
“Good thing Doc warned me not to expect the expected from you.”
It was on the tip of her tongue to call him a liar. Doc Baker would
never say such a thing about her—would he? The gall of this man. “I
almost made it. This was the last big hill. After this one I’d have been
home in half the time it would take going down Haggerman Road.”
“I’d just hate to see that pretty head of yours crushed beneath your
wagon bed.” Franklin’s thick brows arched in deep angles above his
troubled eyes. He raked his fingers through his hair. “You’ve got more
gumption than most men I know. Now, I need to get you home, girl.
Take the stallion. I’ll bring the wagon.”
“Quit referring to me as a girl. I’ll have you know I’m full grown.”
“Sure, kid. Doc Baker wrote me how hard it’s been. How you and
your mother have been doing all the work on your farm. I’ll stay on
until I get my orders. You’re going to need help now that your father—”
“Do you even know what you’re volunteering for? Lincoln freed the
slaves some time ago. It’s not the glamorous Old South of yesteryears
and hardly as adventurous as riding off to some exotic country in a
shiny uniform.”
His mouth contorted into a grimace. Collina met his scowl with
one to match. “Then there’s the smallpox. Some believe I’m a carrier.
Even after Doc explained to everyone in town about smallpox, people
still part like the Red Sea whenever I walk down Main Street. I can’t
blame them. Smallpox leaves terrible pit marks on your face. No, you
go back to your make-believe war and allow the rest of us to live in the
real one.”
Her hand gripped his handkerchief. She had the very thing that
would crumble that proud and arrogant face. “Here’s your handkerchief,
Mr. Long. But are you sure you want it back? Some of my blood’s on it.”

His eyes turned an icy steel-blue color.
She shivered. She’d hate to meet that gaze when he was toting a gun.
His fingers wrapped around her hand and she felt the strength of them.
“Yes, some of your blood is on it.” He lifted the soiled cloth to his
lip. His eyes never left her face. He wiped his mouth. “Girl, you’ve got
a lot to learn. Now, get on this horse. I’ll follow you with the wagon.”
Her shotgun was in that wagon. She didn’t know this stranger well
enough to leave him with her team and a loaded shotgun. She turned
to climb onto the seat. He restrained her from mounting the wagon.
“Let go of me.” All she could sniff was his aftershave, which
reminded her of what she must smell like, thanks to her horse. Her
arm felt like it was caught in a vice. She kicked him in an effort to free
herself. What has he got for arms, lead? “Let me go this instant!” She
kicked him again.
“Ow!” He let go of her arm. “Get on that horse, or I’ll place you on
him myself. You can ride, can’t you?”
She swung at him. He ducked, holding her at arm’s length. “I see I’ve
got my hands full of one spitfire tonight.”
“You’re a bully. Picking on a defenseless—” She kicked him again.
She took the remaining steps to Raymar at a run and jumped into
the saddle.
“Just as I suspected, you straddle a horse like a man.” Bending over,
he rubbed his leg. “And you have a wallop like a boxer. Now go. I just
hope you’re not too late.”
“Late?” She’d totally forgotten. “The medicine.” She galloped Raymar
toward the wagon, grabbed the package and tucked it into her coat,
then turned Raymar sharply toward the lane. He did a half-rear.
The clamor of her horse’s hooves matched beat for beat the pounding
of her heart. Was that soldier being overly alarmed? Still, if Doc had
asked a perfect stranger to fetch her back to Shushan, something must
be seriously wrong.

The moment Collina entered the house; she realized why she had felt
uneasy earlier in the day. A heavy foreboding hung in the air. The large
oak doors of her parents’ chambers rested partly open. She gave them
a thrust and stepped through. In the kerosene lamplight, Mother’s big
mahogany furniture etched jagged shadows across the Indian rug; the
fire on the stone hearth shone crimson hues of light. Collina crossed
the small parlor and entered the bedroom quarters. Like silent sentries,
the McConnells stood around their parents’ big four-poster bed.
Her mother’s walnut-colored hair tinged with silver was swept into
a coiffure. A wan smile creased her lips. She walked toward Collina
with a regal poise that always flowed invisibly about her countenance,
that impeccable grace that always claimed recognition.
“Collina,” her mother whispered. “Your father’s been asking for you.”
Doc Baker’s graying hair appeared more silver in the lamplight, and
the shadows etched deep lines around his forehead and beneath his
eyes, making him appear older

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