My name is Abigale Cavendish. I am 64 years old. I will tell you everything just as I remember it.
* * *
The last day I spent with my sister, Josephine, we were dressed entirely in black and holding hands in Hannibal, Missouri. It was 1872. She was six, and I was ten. We were walking behind a horse-drawn carriage decorated with epitaphs. Neither of us made any attempt to read the commemorative inscriptions. Our eyes were glued to the black-draped coffin resting in the wagon. When we approached the entrance to St. Mary's Cemetery, Josephine, or Jo as I always called her, had a coughing spasm. As it subsided, she whispered to me.
"What will happen to us, Abigale?"
"I don't know," I told her, and I didn't.
Our world had been turned upside down. We were so grief-stricken we were in shock.
* * *
Our parents, James and Margaret Carmody, came to Hannibal in 1851 seeking a better life after the blight in Ireland. Father found employment at the North Missouri Courier newspaper, and Mother, worked as a seamstress. I was born in 1862, and Josephine in 1866. We attended Hannibal's Catholic school, and while we were not rich, there was always food on the table. Life was good.
Then, like lightning, tragedy struck. While adjusting a new printing press, Father's leg got caught in the press and was crushed. He lost a great amount of blood and died during the operation to amputate his leg.
Mother, overcome with grief and weakened by illness, did not attend his funeral. She asked me and Jo to accompany Father's coffin to the cemetery. When we returned home, we found Mother in a much-deteriorated state. She passed away two days after Father's interment. The doctor attributed her death to consumption, but Jo and I believed she died of a broken heart.
For the second time in four days, Jo and I walked behind a funeral wagon to the cemetery. A freshly dug grave waited for Mother. We watched her coffin lowered into the ground.
When we arrived home, Father Stewart from the Blessed Sacrament Parish was there. He said our landlord had contacted him about vacating our home. The landlord already had new renters waiting to take up residence. Father Stewart had met with members of our church, and May and Henry Flynn were willing to take Jo to live with them. They had always wanted a little girl, but they could only take one child because they were reluctant to expand their family to more mouths than they could safely feed. The leaders of the church felt Jo should stay with the Flynns because she had been ill with a persistent cough. They did not feel Jo was well-suited to traveling a great distance.
"Traveling?" I asked him.
"Yes," he answered. "A Methodist preacher and his wife, Reverend James and Martha Weber, arrived in Hannibal yesterday. They are on their way to Arizona. They also have longed for a daughter, and they believe you are God's answer to their prayers. They promise to treat you as their own child. Since you have no relatives in Hannibal and there is no orphanage, we believe this is the best solution."
I started to cry, but Father Stewart stopped me.
"Now, Abigale," he said. "You are older and need to act your age. This is the best solution, and in time, you will see its merits."
Within minutes, a horse-drawn wagon arrived in front of our house. A man and woman were seated behind the horses.
I knew I had to do something quickly. I ran to the cupboard and grabbed Mother's bone china tea cup and saucer. This set originally belonged to my grandmother. Mother had carried the cup and saucer all the way from Ireland. Over the years, a small hairline crack had developed in the cup, but Mother had still used it daily. It was her favorite possession. The delicate blue flowers surrounding the lip of the cup and the edge of the saucer were beautiful, and I felt they should stay in the family.
"Take this cup," I told Jo. "You know how much it meant to Mother. Keep it with you always. I'll take the saucer, and someday, I promise, we will meet again. Don't cry, you must be brave. Remember what Mother always said: 'Be of good cheer. God will show you the way'."
These words had hardly escaped my lips when Reverend Weber entered the house, introduced himself, and escorted me to his wagon.
"Abigale, climb up in the back of the wagon," he said.
As soon as I sat down, the wagon started to move. I looked back at Jo. There were tears flowing down her cheeks. I waved, but I was too confused to speak. Everything happened so fast. With a few turns of the wagon's wheels, my sister and the only home I had ever known were out of sight.
* * *
Reverend James and Martha Weber did not really want a child. It took me a few months to appreciate this fact, but by that time, we were in Arizona. They actually wanted a hired hand to help with their "evangelical work." This work, I came to understand, had little to do with the preaching of the gospel.
Reverend Weber could recite Bible verses and spout the benefits of Christianity as loudly as anyone, but Mother would have called him a "flim-flam man." In time, I discovered he wasn't a real minister, and Martha Weber was not his wife. She was his sister.
Month after month, James and Martha Weber traveled across Arizona spreading "the word of God" and passing the offering plate. They were careful not to stay in any town, settlement, fort, mine, or camp too long. It was the money they were after, and as long as it kept coming in, they were happy. Martha made me set up benches for meetings and post fliers about revivals. My most important job, however, was to pass the collection plate. James told folks the offering was for the poor and he only took enough to feed his "wife" and "daughter." It was all a lie. James and Martha took it all.
I knew what they were doing—what we were doing—was wrong, but I felt trapped. We never stayed in one location long enough for me to get to know anyone or to feel comfortable telling someone what they were doing. James also threatened me on several occasions. He told me if he caught me talking to any "locals," he'd make sure I never got back to Missouri.
I kept quiet, but I was miserable. There was barely enough to eat, and my clothes were dirty and ragged. James always said "the Lord will provide," but that meant he'd ask folks at our next stop for food and clothing donations for the poor—which, if there was anything, would then be given to me.
I missed Jo terribly, and I missed being able to go to school. I was often sad and upset, and I learned to lie and steal. You see, I did not always post all of Martha's fliers. I told her I did, but often I used the back side of the paper to write letters to Jo. Rarely were we near a post office, but when we were, I needed three cents for postage. I took the coins from the collection plate. Both were sins, but I had to write to Jo.
I never got any response. Since James and Martha moved around so much, there was no address to provide for a return post. Still, I wrote to Jo every chance I got.
For five years, I put up with Reverend James' ruse and meanderings, but on my fifteenth birthday, I decided to run away. That night, while James and Martha were busy counting their money, I left.
* * *
I went to Tucson. It took me five days—walking and hitching rides with folks. When I got there, I was delighted to find houses, stores, and a Catholic church. There was also a stage line that carried mail. Back then, mail delivery was informal and sporadic, but I was excited with just the possibility of being able to post letters to Jo more regularly.
One of the first houses I passed in Tucson had sign in the window stating "Seamstress Wanted." Mother had taught me to sew many years earlier, so I went inside and asked for the job. Mrs. Rachel Miller owned the home. She was a seamstress, but she was getting on in years and needed help. When I proved I could follow a pattern and hem an apron, I was hired.
For the next two years, I worked as a seamstress. Mrs. Miller let me sleep on a cot at the back of her house. I was never particularly fond of sewing, but it did feel wonderful to earn a little money honestly and to stay in one place.
I wrote letters to Jo in Hannibal every week. One day I was thrilled because I actually received a response. My joy was short-lived, however, because the letter was from the Hannibal postmaster. He indicated my letters were undeliverable as addressed. He wrote that the Flynn family, including their adopted daughter Josephine Flynn, had moved to Arkansas several years ago. He had no forwarding address.
When I got that letter, I felt like my link to the world was severed. I'd promised Jo we would be together, but now that seemed unlikely. It was a very discouraging time, but I tried not to give up hope.
"It is difficult to be of good cheer," I told myself, "but if I can, maybe God will show me a way."
One day, shortly after my seventeenth birthday, a tall man with wavy, black hair and the bluest eyes I'd ever seen knocked on Mrs. Miller's door. His eyes were the color of the sky. He identified himself as Adam Cavendish, a cattle rancher, and he wanted two new shirts made. As I measured his chest, neck, and sleeve length, I could hardly take my eyes off his face. I felt an immediate attraction, and I believe Mr. Cavendish did, too.
During the next eighteen months, Adam Cavendish stopped by often. Our relationship grew, and one day he asked me to be his wife. It had never been my ambition to be a "slave of the needle," so I gladly accepted his offer.
* * *
Adam owned a ranch north of Holbrook, and I fell in love with the place the first time I saw it. The raw beauty of the desert, the magnificent rock formations, and the distant mountains conveyed strength, fortitude, and endurance—all qualities I value.
The beauty and serenity of the land, however, contrasted sharply with lawlessness and violence in the area. Reports of ranches ravaged by outlaws and rustlers stealing cattle were frequent. There was little law, courtesy, or civility in the area. Holbrook had no schools or churches, and Adam told me the town was no place for a woman. Gunfights were common, and suspected wrongdoers were executed on the spot—without benefit of a judge, jury, or trial. Justice came from the barrel of a pistol or the end of a rope, but Adam and I were not discouraged. We were young, happy, and in love.
Adam was an honest man and a hard worker. I loved him more each day. He was so kind and thoughtful. Every time he sold cattle, he bought me a gift, and one day, he brought home a mahogany china hutch for my little saucer with the blue flowers. I'd almost lost hope of ever finding its mate, but it was wonderful to see my saucer at the front of that cabinet.
During the next ten years, with our hard work, the ranch grew significantly. It was an arduous life, but a fulfilling one. I found it easy to be of good cheer when I was with Adam. I loved him immensely.
One day, Adam brought home six baby lambs to keep me company when he was busy branding cattle or managing the ranch. I loved these sweet creatures, and in a few years, I had fifty sheep in my flock. As I cared for these innocent animals, I thought about having a child, but since the ranch took so much time and effort, I doubted there would be sufficient time to devote to a child. Besides, as the lawlessness in the area increased, I worried for Adam and my own safety. It seemed irresponsible to put an innocent child in this unreligious and uncivilized place.
Increasingly, the cattle ranchers, sheepherders, and farmers were competing for the land. Turf battles were common, and eventually an all-out range war ensued. One faction in this battle was the Hashknife Outfit—a group of rough, lawless, and unruly cowboys. These hired guns altered brands and shot rustlers without concern. They also harassed local farmers and ranchers over property, water, and grazing rights. The Hashknife cowboys saw everyone as competition. They especially hated sheepherders because when sheep grazed the range, there was nothing left for their cattle.
One night, while Adam and I were sleeping, I heard a lamb bleating fervently and sat up to listen. My movement roused Adam, but he heard nothing, so we went back to sleep.
The next morning, we were horrified to find all my sheep dead and floating in a nearby river. They had been herded into the flowing water where they drowned. To see those puffy, white-cloud creatures dotting the river was a surreal scene. I was heartbroken. At first, I was so upset I couldn't cry, and then so distraught, I couldn't stop.
Adam knew it was most likely the Hashknife cowboys, and he rode off to confront them. I begged him not to go, but there was no stopping him.
"You have to stand up for what is yours," Adam said, "or you don't deserve to have it."
Adam did stand up to the ruthless cowboys, but there were six of them and only one of him. He killed two and wounded two others, but the remaining two put four bullets in his chest. He died alone on the dusty ground, with his sky-blue eyes focused on the blue sky of Arizona.
The ranch was an empty place without Adam. Every plant, animal, fence, and building on the property reminded me of him. I no longer liked the view. I thought about what Adam had said about standing up for what is yours, but I felt, without him, I didn't deserve the ranch.
In a gunfight, there are no winners. Only mourners and survivors are left. I mourned. I survived, but after five years, I could not be of good cheer. I decided to leave
* * *
After selling the ranch, I returned to Tucson in 1896. The only furniture I brought with me was my mahogany china hutch. I couldn't leave it behind.
When I arrived, Tucson was bustling. There were rail lines, a hospital, a library, and even a newspaper. I knew my father would like me living in a place that had a newspaper.
With the money from the sale of the ranch, I opened "Mrs. Cavendish's Boarding House." There were only four rooms to rent, but because my house was near the rail station, the rooms were always in demand.
For thirty years, I've managed this house. I cannot say I was always happy, but I did my best to be of good cheer.
Then, last week, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kendrick came to my door asking if I had an available room. I did, and I invited them in to see it. After they agreed to take the room, I made coffee and suggested we share a cup in the dining room.
"Are you in Tucson for business or pleasure?" I asked Mr. Kendrick.
"My wife has been a patient at St. Mary's Sanatorium, Mrs. Cavendish, but her condition has sufficiently improved for her to be released. The arid climate of Arizona has been so beneficial. I am a teacher at Saint Joseph's Academy. Are you familiar with the school?"
"Yes. My family was Catholic, and I attended a Catholic school as a child. I have been to St. Joseph's Academy many times. May I pour you a cup of coffee, Mrs. Kendrick?"
"Yes. Thank you, Mrs. Cavendish."
When I reached for the pot, Mrs. Kendrick took a handkerchief-wrapped object from her bag. She removed the handkerchief and placed a white bone china cup on the table. It had a small hairline crack on one side and delicate blue flowers surrounding its lip.
I stared at the cup. My body stiffened. My hand was frozen to the coffee pot.
Concerned at my state, Mr. Kendrick addressed me.
"Please forgive my wife, Mrs. Cavendish. She always uses that cup. She takes it with her wherever she goes. It is a family heirloom. I assure you, she means no disrespect."
Slowly, I forced my eyes from the cup to Mrs. Kendrick's face. Even though I was looking through the veil of time, I saw Jo's eyes.
I got up from the table and opened my mahogany china hutch. Taking out my little saucer, I placed it on the table next to Mrs. Kendrick's cup.
Now, it was Mrs. Kendrick's turn to stare. She looked at the saucer and then at me. Her hand shook as she reached out to touch the saucer. Tears swelled in her eyes.
"Oh, Abigale," she cried, "at long last."
We embraced. Tears flowed freely.
"What is it?" Mr. Kendrick asked me. "What has happened? Are you ill?"
"We are fine, Mr. Kendrick. Do not concern yourself. These are tears of joy and good cheer. Very good cheer indeed."
* * *
This is my story. It is true. You may print it in your newspaper as you see fit.