One day, in the spring of 1816 Sam Sievers sat beside his sister Sarah on a log not far from his house. Every once in a while he’d get a whiff of the lilac bushes near the back door.
Anyone who didn’t know the Sievers would think they were an odd match. Sarah resembled her father, Lucas, a white man who was wild and as dangerous as his Indian friends. She was half Cree with brown eyes and long brown hair. Her skin was on the pale side. At thirteen, Sarah was becoming a strong-minded woman. She dressed in pants and worked with the animals, preferring to be outdoors than working in the house.
Sam couldn’t help but notice how dark his skin colour was compared to Sarah’s. He was half black with wavy dark hair and blue eyes. His skin colour leaned toward the white side of his heritage. Most of the white people treated him as a black man and the black people claimed he was too white. Women were attracted to him.
His wife, Sophie, left him just after Thanksgiving last year. She found out he was cheating on her. Sam once loved her delicate features, small nose, and mouth. Her hair was almost white, her pale skin dotted with freckles. Now he didn’t know what he felt about her.
At thirty-one Sam was a single father of two boys. His boys took after Sophie in looks. Their skin colour was ten times lighter than Sam’s.
“It must have been scary being a slave. Was it, Sam?” Sarah leaned her head on his shoulder. He wrapped his arm around her.
Sam had told no one except his father what he experienced during the War of 1812. His wife only knew a small part of his ordeal. He did tell her that he was a breeder, had sex with several women to get them pregnant, stressing the fact that he was a slave. Their marriage hadn’t been the same since.
The Americans had captured him and sold him into slavery. Several times he changed owners, the price jumping higher each time, reaching seventy-five dollars. Robert Spencer had been his last master and the only one Sam wanted to kill.
“It was,” Sam said as he gazed at the goats in the nearby pen. He knew that whatever they talked about would stay between the two of them. Sometimes Sam thought of Sarah more as a daughter than his sister. And sometimes he wished she were older so he could talk to her about adult stuff.
Sarah lifted her head and looked at him. “You don’t talk about it. What did you do, work in the cotton fields?”
“No, I was too slow.” Sam shifted uncomfortably. He didn’t want to think about his time as a slave.
“Well?” Sarah nudged him.
“You heard why Sophie left me.”
“Yes. You have a mistress.”
“That’s what I did when I was a slave. There was a big black man with the brains of a pea who made sure I performed every night.”
Sarah was smart enough; she’d get it. “Oh,” she said after a bit, her face turning red. “I heard Dad tell John that they whipped you,” she blurted.
“Yes, they did.”
She leaned into him again. “I’m sorry, Sam.”
Lucas Sievers watched his other daughter, Sarah’s twin sister, as he stood by the back window of his house. Amy kneaded dough for bread at the kitchen workspace. She was taller than Sarah and had dark hair and green eyes. Amy resembled her mother, with her high cheekbones and red skin.
He glanced out the window at the cross that marked his wife’s grave, then quickly turned away. He didn’t want to dwell on her any longer. Winda had been the only woman he had ever loved. Lucas still dreamed about her every night, seeing her laugh, smelling her lavender-scented hair. He missed her council, her wit; and holding her. Lucas wiped his eyes with his hands then watched his grandsons at the kitchen table.
Ben, eleven, looked up at him with inquisitive blue eyes. His brown wavy hair curling around his ears. “Is this how you spell ‘leverage’ Grandpa?”
‘Grandpa’, a word that he loved when the boys were born. Now it only proved how old he was. Lucas noted how grey his hair and beard were getting, the stiff joints in his knees. He glanced down at the slate in front of Ben. “Yes, it is. Do you know what it means?”
Ben studied the word, squinting. “It’s like when Grandpa Pete and his men use poles to shove logs down the river. The poles give them leverage.”
Lucas placed a hand on Ben’s shoulder. “That’s right. But remember that Pete doesn’t work for us anymore.”
“Why did he quit? Why did he have to take Mom away?” Tears filled his eyes.
Cody watched his brother from across the table. The eight-year-old was working on his arithmetic. His hair was darker than his brother’s, his eyes a blue-green mix. “Cause, he’s mad at Dad.”
“So?” Ben said. “He could have just quit. He didn’t have to take Mom with him.”
Amy covered the dough with a cloth then turned to face them, wiping her hands on her apron. Lucas cleared his throat then said, “Your dad did something that she can’t forgive him for.”
“No, he didn’t,” Ben argued.
Cody wiped his answer off the slate with his sleeve then sat back glaring at the ‘14 + 6 =’ that Amy had written for him to solve. “Yes, he did. Mom said he had another girlfriend. You’re not supposed to have another girlfriend when you’re married.”
“No, you’re not,” Amy said.
Lucas recollected the conversation he had with Amy last night. He’d told her, “He had a good reason for cheating on Sophie.”
Amy turned to face him, scowling. “A good reason to cheat on your wife?”
“You know that Sam was sold into slavery.” He waited until she nodded. “His job was to …” He changed what he was going to say, instead, coming up with, “have other girlfriends. If he didn’t, he’d be whipped, maybe even killed.”
Amy glared at him. “And that gives him the excuse to cheat on her now?”
“Grandpa?” Ben said, bringing Lucas back to the present. “Is my dad a bad man?”
“No, he’s just a man who did something wrong is all.”
Lucas sat down and leaned his elbows on the table. “I’m just glad he is home.”
Amy put her hand on his shoulder. “I don’t blame Sam. I blame the blasted war.”
“The war has taken a toll on us,” Lucas said. “We all carry scars from it, both inside and out.”
Twenty-three-year-old John Sievers left his dad’s house and went across the bridge that spanned Black Creek to his uncle’s place. He smiled as Ben and Cody dashed out the back door and ran toward their own house. He didn’t knock but walked into the kitchen. The aroma of bread baking in the oven made his stomach growl. John sat down at the table and read the word scrawled on a slate with chalk. “Leverage,” he said.
“Ben’s schooling,” Amy told him as she set a cup of coffee in front of him.
John dropped in a spoon of sugar and stirred, all the while watching his uncle stare into space. “Dad wants you and Sam over at his place sometime today.”
Lucas nodded, took a sip of his coffee then set the cup down. “What does he want?” He finally looked at John.
“It’s about Adam,” John said.
Lucas nodded. “Still haven’t heard from him?”
John saw the worry lines on his uncle’s face, the sorrow in his eyes. As much as he loved Aunt Winda, John hoped that Lucas would get over her death soon. Lucas had aged considerably since her passing. He shivered at the thought of whooping cough and how it travelled through the region. Winda had been one of the seventeen people who died from the disease.
He watched Amy. She had whooping cough and managed to fight it. She still looked pale and tired easily. Amy did her best, cleaning her dad’s house and watching Ben and Cody when Sam was working the farm.
They drank their coffees in silence for a bit, then Lucas said, “I’m going to tame more wild horses tomorrow.”
John nodded but wondered why an old man like his uncle still insisted on getting thrown around on a wild horse. He said nothing as he drank the last of his coffee then stood. “Thanks for the coffee, Amy.”
“You’re welcome,” she said as she picked up his cup.
“Meet you over there in twenty minutes,” Lucas said.
John brushed the brown hair out of his eyes and headed toward the door.
Grant Sievers was the head of the family and older than Lucas by three years. He had a bald spot on top of his greying head that seemed to get bigger every day. At forty-four he had just begun to walk again. He had fragments of buckshot in his legs and was brought home from the war in a wheelchair. Not long afterward he found out that Carrie was cheating on him. He tossed her out of the house.
Grant hired Rose In The Water of the Algonquin tribe as a nurse around that time and married her shortly after he divorced Carrie. She showed him what real love was. Grant had never been happier. Rose didn’t put him down all the time, she praised him and encouraged him. She looked after him and the house without complaint. Rose smiled at him when their eyes met. She never refused his advances. Carrie had been selfish and never missed a chance to run him into the ground.
He had just returned from a long walk with Rose. They had gone down to the pasture where five new foals kicked up their heels in the warm sunshine. Now his legs felt weak and wobbly. But he was walking more every day, his legs getting stronger.
Last week’s frost killed the barley they had planted. This week they were re-planting. He watched his workers for a bit then looked up at the cloudy sky and hoped the weather would warm up soon.
Grant poured himself a brandy, sat in his favourite chair in the parlour and lit his pipe. While he was in the barn earlier, he had made Sly Morgan the new foreman for the sawmill, replacing Pete Brown. He lifted his brandy in a salute. “Bye, Pete.” Although he trusted Pete with doing a decent job while under his employment and paying the men fairly he didn’t trust Pete in other areas. For starters, he pretended to be a reverend and married Carrie to an outlaw who took full advantage of this, raping Carrie even though he was married to another woman. Grant blamed that man for the way Carrie turned out. And although Grant had been gentle and tried to show Carrie the difference between just having sex and making love, love was never going to happen. At least when it came to him. He wished her new husband good luck.
Grant closed his eyes and shook his head, flinging Carrie out of his mind. He opened them again and puffed on his pipe.
His twelve-year-old daughter bounced into the room, sat on his lap, and kissed him. “Love you, Dad.” Her reddish-blonde hair was tied back into a ponytail. Her brown eyes looking into his tired ones.
“Love you too, sweetheart. To what do I owe this?”
Megan smiled. “John gave me a new horse today. Said I’m getting too big for Spots.”
“Good.” He thought she was too big for that horse a year ago. “What are you going to name the new horse?”
“Well, it’s white with black on its legs.” She watched him smoke his pipe. “I’m going to call him Spirit.”
“A gelding then?”
“Yes. He’s three years old. Sam broke him in. I’ve ridden him. He’s gentle.”
“I’m glad you like him.”
Megan jumped up. “I better get back outside and help Rose. She’s planting cucumbers today.”
Grant smiled as he watched his daughter skip out of the house. His smile faded when he thought of how Megan took after the Sievers side of the family. He knew it was one reason why Carrie treated her indifferently. And because Megan was his daughter.
As Lucas went next door to get Sam, it crossed his mind what his brother wanted. “I hope he’s not going to send Sam to find Adam.” There was still too much planting to be done, trees to chop down, a new well to dig, fences to mend. And Alfred, their foreman, was getting on in years. Soon he’d have to talk to Sam about Alfred’s replacement.
Lucas was so deep in thought that he didn’t remember trudging through the trees that separated his house from his son’s place. As he stepped out into the open, he watched Sarah take a drink at the well. Lucas paused for a second and studied his daughter. Sarah had never acted like a girl. She wasn’t feminine like Amy. She didn’t fuss with her hair except to tie it back out of her way. Sarah didn’t like fancy dresses, preferring a new pair of cowboy boots or moccasins instead.
Winda used to worry that Sarah was of two spirits: acting like a man and preferring women. But he had seen Sarah flirt with the young men working their farm and felt relief settle in. He smiled as he approached her.
Sarah turned, her eyes lighting up when she saw him. “Hi, Dad.” She hung the ladle on the end of the well then stepped up to him. “You need me for something?”
“Looking for Sam. Know where he is?”
“In the house. Cody scraped his knee. Sam’s putting salve on it.”
“Thanks,” he said then turned toward the house.
Sarah called after him. “I’m heading down to the valley to check on the horses.”
“Good,” he yelled back. “Be careful.”
Lucas walked into the house to hear Cody crying.
Ben stood in the kitchen and said, “He hurt his knee on a rock when he fell.”
Lucas eyed his grandson. “Was he running?”
Ben looked away then nodded.
“You were chasing him, weren’t you?”
Ben bobbed his head. “We were playing chase.”
“Were you? Or were you being mean to him again?”
Tear-filled eyes glanced up at him. “No. We were playing.”
Cody stopped crying. Moments later Sam walked into the room, shaking his head. “You’d think it was the end of the world, the way he carries on.”
Cody followed his dad then sat at the kitchen table with a cloth wrapped around his right knee. His face was shiny and red. Sam wet a cloth at the pump and wiped his son’s face. Cody shuddered then fell silent.
“Um,” Lucas began. “Grant has summoned us to his place.”
Sam grimaced at his boys. “I can’t go now.”
“I could have asked Sarah to stay with the boys, but she’s halfway to the big valley by now.”
Sam set the cloth down. “Why don’t we take the boys with us? Maybe we’ll come across Megan. If not, then I’ll take them to Marian.”
“Marian has enough with her own kids.”
Sam took his sons’ hands. “I’ll only ask her as a last resort.”
After John talked to Lucas, he ran home for a quick lunch. “I better get going,” he told his wife as he stood and handed her their infant son. Jack had been born three months too soon. He was still tiny and feeble. John didn’t think this son would survive much longer, despite Marian’s efforts.
Marian took her sleeping baby and received a kiss on the cheek. “I love you,” John told her.
“I love you too.”
John looked past her. Ten-month-old Thomas stood by the settee, grinning. He took a hesitant step and left the safety of the settee. Thomas stumbled toward John.
“Look,” John said as he squatted down to take Thomas in his arms. “You’re walking,” he said as he lifted his son in the air and twirled around.
Thomas laughed then bounced and kicked John in his side.
John spun around.
Thomas started kicking again. His laughter contagious.
“No. I can’t do that anymore, I’ll get dizzy.” He set Thomas down then kissed Marian once more.
Marian was smiling. “He’s just like his father, impatient.”
John rubbed his infant son’s cheek. “You be good for your ma. Hear me, Jack?”
“Go,” Marian told him. “So I can put these boys down for their naps.”
John walked through the trees and down the hill to his father’s house with a sad heart. Jack had to get better. He had prayed every day since his son was born for him to grow strong and healthy like Thomas. Jack hadn’t gained much in the two months of his life. And he sounded like a kitten when he cried, as if he didn’t have the energy to live and was waiting to die. Had he gotten Marian pregnant too soon after Thomas was born? “Fight for me, Jack. Fight for your mother.”
A chilly rain made John tightened the collar on his jacket. He saw Sam and Lucas talking to his sister.
Megan said, “Sure, I’ll watch them.” She steered them toward the barn. “Want to see my new horse?”
As John watched them go, he thought about how Megan was only a year older than Ben. And that Sarah and Amy were a year older than Megan. The women were more mature for their ages than the ones in town. And he knew that Sophie had babied her boys. Maybe Sam would make them grow up now, take on more responsibility.
Sam and Lucas turned as John joined them. Lucas led the way into the house.
Sam refilled his uncle’s glass with brandy and poured three more. He handed one to John and one to his father. They sat around in the parlour sipping on their drinks, waiting for Grant to begin.
Grant tapped out his pipe then eyed them one at a time. Sam became uncomfortable. It wasn’t like Grant to look so worried.
Grant said, “I fear something bad has happened to Adam. I would like you, John, and you, Sam, to go find him.”
“Not now,” Lucas said. “Not in our busy season.”
Grant waved his arm. “We can spare them. We have enough men to run the farms.”
“I need a babysitter,” Sam said. “Amy and Sarah are too young to look after the boys fulltime.”
“He’s right,” Lucas said, frowning at Grant. “Amy is still recovering from whooping cough. And we need Sarah elsewhere.”
“And Marian won’t be able to handle them all,” John said.
“I wouldn’t even think of unloading my kids on her now,” Sam told him. “Not even if Megan helps her.”
Grant studied Sam for so long that Sam shifted in his seat. Finally, Grant said, “What about your mistress?”
Sam glanced around the room. “Aw, she’s black.”
“So?” Lucas said.
“You mean, nobody will mind if I bring her home, to watch my boys?”
“It makes sense to me,” Grant said. “If you’re serious about this woman.”
Sam nodded as he looked down at the floor. “Her name is Telsa.”
“Tell them what else,” Lucas prodded.
“I have a daughter.” Sam glanced at his uncle. “Her name is Alice.”
“Wow,” John said as he sat forward. “How old?”
“Well,” Grant said, “In that case she’ll have other kids to play with around here. And I’m sure that Marian and Rose will help her.”
Lucas shook his head. “You had this all planned out from the beginning, didn’t you?”
Grant just smiled.