Her Hesitant Heart - By Carla Kelly
December 31, 1875
I am somewhere in Nebraska. I am told by other travelers on the Overland Express that when the sun comes up we will see Chimney Rock, that prominent landmark to settlers and gold seekers years ago.
Be diligent in your studies. It is my fondest wish that you will do well in your schooling and be a blessing to all who know you.
I think of you constantly and would give the earth to see you. I wish you well with all my heart.
On a separate sheet she wrote,
If you have commandeered this letter like all the others, rest assured that I will continue to write to Thomas, even when I arrive at Fort Laramie. Should some spark of sympathy enter your heart, send his letters to me, care of Captain Daniel Reese, Company D, Second Cavalry, Fort Laramie, Wyoming Territory.
Susanna Hopkins sealed the letter, and tried to make herself comfortable. Her back ached from sitting upright since she had boarded the Pennsylvania Central some days ago. Her coach ticket had been a gift from her uncle. He had not mentioned a Pullman berth and she had been too shy to ask.
Susanna knew her relatives were relieved to send her to a place so distant that it wasn’t even a state yet. She knew her aunt was overjoyed to have her gone from the house in Shippensburg, where she had fled from Carlisle for refuge more than a year ago. Now her aunt could invite her friends into her home again, without the presence of an embarrassing niece.
Susanna waited for the steward to turn out the lamps. Apparently the Union Pacific felt that if its less well-heeled clients could not afford a sleeper car, they should sit in the dark, contemplating the sin of poverty.
The trip had been pleasant enough, except for her hunger. Quick stops at cook shacks along the route were designed for aggressive men who snatched pie and coffee before the train whistle blew. The last stop had found her with only a piece of corn bread. Just as well. She had no idea how much the Cheyenne-Deadwood stage would cost, once she reached Cheyenne, and she needed to save her money.
Susanna regarded her reflection in the glass. Her eyes were only the barest outline, but she removed her spectacles and fingered the bone under her left eye, seeking out the ridge where the occipital bone had almost reconnected, leaving her with a little droop.
“You’re lucky to have an eye, Mrs. Hopkins,” her physician had told her, prescribing a mild correction to the lens. With the lights out, she would be able to rest her eyes. It was treatment the doctor would have ordered, and apparently the Union Pacific agreed.
Susanna turned her attention to the full moon. As her eyes accustomed themselves to the dark, she saw large, dark shapes in the near distance. She touched her cheek. I could have dodged his hand, she told herself for the hundredth time. It was the sight of Tommy, rushing to grab his father’s upraised hand, that had surprised her. Tommy, you should have stayed in bed! The blow had driven her face against the mantelpiece.
She closed her eyes against the memory of her son’s efforts to help her, and then his cries of protest as his father carried him upstairs. It had been her last glimpse of her son. Some instinct had warned her that to remain this time would be to die.
“Pardon me, ma’am.”
“If you have two cents, I’ll take that letter to the mail car,” the porter whispered.
She handed two pennies and her letter to the porter. He came back later with a blanket and pillow.
“I cannot afford those.”
“No one’s using them” was all he said.
She nodded, still surprised at unexpected kindness.
“Happy New Year.”
Emily Reese, not the brightest lady, had been unable to furnish Major Joseph Randolph, Fort Laramie’s post surgeon, with a working description of Susanna Hopkins, her older cousin. “I think she is thirty-two,” Emily had said. “Old, anyway.”
Joe smiled at that. “I doubt traveling females will be thrilled if I ask if they are thirty-two,” he had told her. “Give me a better description, Emily. She’s your cousin.”
He knew her well enough to call her Emily. Almost five years ago he had delivered her son, Stanley, in an army ambulance between garrisons. Emily Reese had been neither his best patient nor his worst one.
Emily obliged with a better description. “She is of medium height, average figure, and her hair is