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Darkness at Morning Star

Darkness at Morning Star by Joyce C. Ware
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Faced with a detestable arranged marriage, Serena takes advantage of an invitation to Morning Star from her twin sister, unseen since childhood, and flees to Kansas. Unprepared for Belle's coolness, she is further unsettled by the intrigue and ancient mysteries surrounding the prairie mansion and its repellent garden. Alarmed by the mounting danger, she is forced to rely on Quinn, despite her distrust of him.

Gothic by Joyce C. Ware; originally published by Zebra Gothic

Belgrave House; October 1992
234 pages; ISBN 9780821739389
Read online, or download in secure PDF format
Title: Darkness at Morning Star
Author: Joyce C. Ware

Would I have responded to Belle’s letter differently if her loving words had given me any reason to suspect what might follow? I’ve often wondered about that. My dear friend Malcolm Wilcox had often prodded me, in that gentle way of his, to reach for the sunlight. Had he mentioned the shadows my reaching arms might cast? I can’t recall now that he did, but it doesn’t really matter; life was quick enough to reveal them to me.

The morning the letter arrived I was being fitted for my wedding dress. It was a hand-me-down from Mother Rogg as all my dresses had been. Plenty of wear left in ‘em, she used to say, and there was; but for my wedding I had hoped...

“Stand straight, Serena,” she commanded. The words emerged from around the pins she held between her lips as a faintly comical “Stan state, Seena,” but there was no mistaking the testiness of her tone. “A body’d think I was fitting you for a shroud. I’ll never get this ruffle on right if you keep slumping like that.”

As if I cared. The ruffle, a cheap bit of yellowed trim scissored from a neighbor’s cast-off parlor curtains, would serve only to extend a skirt of unseemly shortness to a length that would seem merely skimpy. Nevertheless, in response to her impatient nudge, I obediently resumed my slow revolution on the low wooden stool that wobbled uncertainly on the braided rug whose wool strips, cut from worn-beyond-repair clothing, had crisscrossed through my hands on many a dark winter evening. Waste not, want not, Serena.

Do I sound ungrateful? I shouldn’t and I’m not. Wilma and Howard Rogg were not my real parents, and although I addressed them as Mother and Father, they didn’t pretend to be anything other than what they were: caretakers of an orphan child. They were dutiful guardians, exacting employers, and although rarely kind, never cruel. In short, we had a contract, the Roggs and I, and love had no place in it.

Mother Rogg shoved the last pin home with a heartfelt “There!”

She lumbered to her feet, her breathing labored, and pressed a fisted hand to her back as she moved two steps back to look up at me critically. Plump fingers darted out to pluck at the amply cut, fussily trimmed bodice in which my modestly rounded bosom was lost. I curved in my shoulders protectively.   

She sighed. “There you go slumping again. It’s a good thing Ernest values a good character above good looks. I swear you look more like a ghost every day.”

It was true. I would not be a glowing bride. The silver-blond hair I was secretly proud of was not enough to compensate for my pallor and the increasing prominence of my collar bones, but then Ernest Rogg was not the kind of man to kindle a glow in a girl’s cheeks.

Father Rogg was a pharmacist. He owned his own shop and served the medical needs of the population, both human and animal, for many miles around. He was modestly prosperous—which is to say he had no debts to speak of—and his reliable, conscientious and devout nephew, Ernest, was both his assistant and hopeful heir-to-be. I have no doubt the parents of the other girls my age thought I’d landed on my feet a lot smarter than I deserved. I was equally sure their daughters harbored nary a pang of envy.

“A couple of inches taken in on each side should about do it,” Mother Rogg mused, “but you’ll have to come down off the stool. I can’t reach way up to you from here, you know.”

I jumped down, overturning the stool in the process. Ever since attaining my present height of five feet, six inches, I had been made to feel as if I had somehow done so deliberately, in order to discomfit the diminutive Roggs. I complained of it once to Malcolm Wilcox when, after completing the daily tidying of his house, I stayed on, as I often did, for tea. Without comment, except for the smile in his faded blue eyes and a twitch of his white moustache, he lent me his copy of Gulliver’s Travels and suggested I read the section about Lilliput. As he intended, the misadventures, at once comic and frustrating, of a human of normal size among a population of very little people persuaded me to take my own plight less seriously. Oh, how I missed that dear, wise man!

“Did you hear me, Serena? You can get yourself out of my dress now, but be careful!”

The warning was unnecessary. What with the pins and all, it was like trying to make my way out of a blackberry thicket. When I said as much to Mother Rogg, she agreed that it was, and, with a rare smile, began to help, but a loud knock on the front door cut her efforts short.

“My stars and body! Who on earth ... ?” She pulled her apron over her head and tidied disarrayed hair with quick little, darting plucks of her finger­tips. “Serena! Close the parlor door behind me so you can’t be seen... it could be Ernest, you know.”

Heaven forbid that Ernest should see his intended in her pinned-up frumpy wedding dress before their nuptial day! I stood, huddled, in the airless gloom, my mood as dark as the parlor’s uninviting horse­hair-stuffed suite. Pristine as the day it was bought, I couldn’t imagine anyone choosing the drab gun-metal-colored mohair with which it was uphol­stered. I preferred to think it was either the only fabric available, or the only kind the Roggs could afford at the time. I never asked, for fear of learning otherwise.

I stared at the motes of dust dancing in the narrow shafts of sunlight beaming through the parlor’s stained, pin-holed shades, pairing and parting in a glittering gavotte animated by errant wafts of air. Lord knows my origins were as humble as that drifting dust; was it so wrong to wish for a brief flashing dance of my own?

Self-pity ill becomes you, I told myself sternly. Ernest will be a good provider; you will have security, and one day you will have children to love and to love you in return. I knew, deep down inside, that romance couldn’t hold a candle to that kind of enduring love, but oh, what a lovely flame it must make!

I sighed deeply, and the pins marking the tucks to be taken in the bodice of the wedding dress pricked me into renewing my efforts to extricate myself before Mother Rogg returned. When she did, she seemed oddly distracted, and I turned away, hoping to ease the dress off before she took frowning notice of my lack of progress.

“It was Abner Quarles, Serena. He brought a letter.”

I turned, unsurprised by the wonderment in her voice. Everyone the Roggs knew lived right here in Jericho, New York. The mail Mr. Quarles usually brought were bills to do with the pharmacy, delivered monthly from Albany and New York City, with religious periodicals arriving twice a month for Mother Rogg and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News­paper every week for Father Rogg, because, he claimed, of his professional need to keep abreast of the burgeoning trade in patent remedies it advertised. But letters? Never.

“It’s for you,” she added bemusedly, turning the envelope end over end as if to discover a different, less surprising addressee.

For me? The only person I knew who had ever left town for longer than it took to shed a tear at a wedding or a funeral was Malcolm Wilcox, and he was dead. I looked at Mother Rogg expectantly as she continued to revolve the long oblong in her hands.

“It’s from that orphanage. What business could they have with you after all these years?”

What business indeed, I thought resentfully. I thrust out my hand, causing the pins in my bodice to prick the tender-skinned swell of my breasts as if to chastise me for my impatience. “Mother Rogg?”

She surrendered the envelope reluctantly, the transfer fanning the illuminated dust into a frenzy. I inserted the tip of my pinky into the corner of the flap.

“The dress first, missy!”

I swallowed hard, stifling the protest that clam­ored in my head, and stood, wordlessly obedient, as Mother Rogg slowly peeled the dress from my arms and body and just as slowly folded it, all the while darting glances at the letter now in my hands. Pretending unawareness of her curiosity, I heaped the musty fabric into her arms and waited until she had left the parlor before allowing my impatient finger entry into the mysterious missive.

Folded inside the outer envelope was another, creased and stained, which had already been opened. It bore a Kansas postmark and was addressed to the agency that had arranged for my placing-out.” A note was pinned to it. To whom it may concern, it began in an awkwardly formed yet strangely familiar hand. Nine years ago, while wards of your institution, I and my twin sister, Serena Garraty....

The words blurred before my eyes. Belle. The letter was from Belle. My hands trembled as I eagerly unfolded the pages. The note, which had probably originally been folded around them, fluttered to the floor. The letter was dated March 6th, my—our— twenty-first birthday, a month and a half ago.

Dearest Reenie, I surely hope, if this letter reaches you, it finds you in good health. I have never forgotten the sadness of the day we parted at the Randall’s Island Orphanage in New York. Hardly before I knew what was happen­ing, I was aboard the westbound train the Children’s Aid Society had assigned us. Before the week was out I found myself standing on a station platform in Kansas, where I was the first chosen from a whole lot of others....

I smiled. Even as a child. Belle had been vain. It must have meant a lot to her to be the first chosen.

I was taken by Mr. Ross Cooper to the Morning Star Ranch to be a companion for his ailing wife, Charlotte. She and Mr. Cooper have now passed on; but Morning Star is still my home, and I want you to come and share this wonderful place with me. I didn’t write be­fore, because if you were adopted—I never was, but the Coopers always treated me like one of their own—I don’t reckon you had much of a say about your destiny before you reached your majority....

Adopted or not, I hadn’t had much of a say either before or after my twenty-first birthday about my destiny, if that was what marriage to Ernest Rogg constituted. Destiny. Something foreordained by the stars. What was that Turkish word Malcolm Wilcox fancied? Kismet, that was it. Could Ernest be my—be anyone’s—kismet? If it weren’t so sad, I might have laughed.

Please say you’ll come, my own dearest twin, if only for a visit. We have so much to catch up on and share. I don’t even know if your poor leg ever healed properly! Whatever you decide, telegraph me at the address below. That way I’ll at least know if you are still alive.

It was signed, “Your lonely, ever-loving sister, Belle.”

At the bottom, after the address, a few additional lines were scrawled: Remember that song of Mama’s about the pretty little horses? Bazz says you can have a little spotted Indian horse of your very own to ride across the prairie!

The postscript, clearly a dashed-off afterthought, touched me deeply. Imagine Belle remembering the lullaby Mama used to sing! And who, I wondered, promising me a pony of my own, was Bazz? I traced my finger under the address: Morning Star Ranch, Ellsworth, Kansas. Kansas. It might as well be the moon. I would never know who Bazz was; never see Belle again ... unless....

I hastily slipped back into my cambric wrapper, determined to test the waters with Mother Rogg before my resolve wavered. I found her in the kitchen, preparing potatoes for the midday meal. Her head was bent, and I marveled as always at the pin-wheeled precision of the tightly braided salt-and-pepper plaits that encircled it. Malcolm Wilcox, who did not admire her hidebound ways, wondered if a match set to the end of it would send her off into a sparking cartwheel like the fireworks on the Fourth of July. “Everyone is entitled to a little excitement, don’t you think, Serena?” The memory of his irrev­erence made me smile.

Mother Rogg turned. Her face was carefully expressionless; but she couldn’t quell the glitter of curiosity in her lashless dark eyes, and I could have sworn that just before she spoke, her little button nose twitched with it. “I guess your letter brought good news. I haven’t seen you smile like that in a month of Sundays.”

“It’s from my sister,” I said. “My twin sister, Sybelle. I haven’t seen her in ... let’s see it we were eleven when she left, it must be nine years, going on ten.” Ten years. Why, that’s almost half my life, I realized with a pang. “She’s living out in Kansas on a ranch called Morning Star and she wants me to visit, and please, mayn’t I?”

The words rushed out like a torrent through a downspout. Mother Rogg’s mouth turned in on itself; her doughy cheeks puffed with indignation.

“My stars! Have you taken leave of your senses? Your wedding in two months’ time and all there is to do? And where you think the money would be coming from—”

“There’s the money I earned cleaning at Mr. Wilcox’s—”

“More lollygagging than cleaning if you ask me! Besides, that’s your dowry. Promised to Ernest. Better spent on furnishings to last you a lifetime than a visit to Kansas that’d be over before you could take a deep breath. No, put it out of your mind, Serena. Now you know where your sister’s at, you can write to her,” she continued in a bright, brisk tone. “Why, you can have a regular correspondence, exchange photo­graphs and the like.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I replied dully, knowing it wasn’t the same at all. Belle and I had been apart so long, I felt I hardly knew her anymore. After she had joined me in the orphanage where my father had placed me two years earlier, we failed to develop that close bond, born of intuitively shared joys and appre­hensions, experienced by other identical twins I had known.

I could not recall if we had enjoyed that special affinity before our separation—my memory of those hungry, fearful, helpless years is mercifully blurred—but I knew that neither words penned on paper nor likenesses captured by a camera could invoke it if we had. No, I had to see her, to smile into blue eyes set aslant like mine, touch those similarly blue-veined, white-skinned arms and stroke the mirror-image silver hair, which, last time seen, had been confined in a single, long braid. I recalled its brushy tip bouncing at her waist as she walked away from my infirmary bed and, as I tearfully thought at the time, out of my life forever. As I reread Belle’s letter, tears again filled my eyes. Oh, Belle! There must be a way! I can’t give up… not yet, anyway….

Just then, I heard through the open window Father Rogg’s heavy, uneven steps on the front porch. Injured by a runaway carriage many years before, his twisted left leg increasingly protested the burden of his bulky body. By noon more often than not, his mood was testy and his temper short. It would do me no good to present my case to this judge.

“Mother Rogg, is Ernest’s dinner ready to take to him yet?”

She looked at me in surprise. Such eager willing­ness was uncharacteristic of me. For the last year, it had been Father Rogg’s custom to stay at home after the midday meal rather than return to the pharmacy, which left Ernest in sole charge until closing time. To compensate for the added duties and responsi­bility thrust upon him, it had been agreed between them that I would deliver a proper dinner to him every working day, which I dutifully did, whatever the weather or temperature. It was an agreement I hotly resented, for as Malcolm Wilcox had shrewdly observed when I expressed my indignation to him, the added responsibility served to strengthen Ernest’s position, the covered dishes I brought him merely icing on an already provided cake.

I hastily packed a basket with the towel-wrapped dishes and, avoiding Father Rogg’s frowning en­trance into the kitchen by a hair, made my escape down the back steps and out the rear gate to Maple Street. The unfurling new leaves of the well-grown trees that gave the street its name twinkled greenly in the late-April sunlight. The Mossbachers’ front walk, two doors down from the corner of Main Street, was edged with daffodils coaxed into early bloom by the unseasonably warm weather of the past week. I paused to admire their cheery golden trumpets, wondering as I did so if there were daffodils at the Morning Star Ranch in Kansas.

Kansas. My mind fair boggled at the thought of that wild vastness. Could a person like me feel at home on those high, wild, windswept plains so unlike the verdant farmland ringing this quiet, pretty town? Did Belle?

“Home,” Malcolm Wilcox used to say, “is as much a state of mind as a place,” which was why, perhaps, I had felt more at home in his house—where we spent more time talking and reading together than I did cleaning—than anyplace else I had ever been.

“Where you off to with that basket, Little Red Riding Hood?”

I looked up, startled, to see Mrs. Mossbacher sweeping her front walk clear of fallen maple wings. Tall, gaunt and knobby-boned as an aged horse, with a long, wide-nostriled nose to match, her ready smile swept all such unkind comparisons away.

I returned her smile. “It’s Ernest’s dinner, Mrs. Mossbacher. To make up for the extra hours he’s been working, you know.”

She looked at me consideringly. “Do you think there’s a chance of that weedy intended of yours fattening up some before your wedding day? I swear, it’ll be like embracing a bag of antlers, Serena.”

“He’s a good Christian man, Mrs. Mossbacher,” I protested weakly.

She gave a loud, eloquent sniff. “Fussing about how good everyone else ought to be doesn’t add up to Christian goodness in my book. But I admit that when it comes to reckoning up vice and virtue most people in this town have doubts about my arithmetic.”

“Maybe so,” I conceded, “but as for me, I think the sum of your parts is something to be reckoned with.”

“Hah!” she snorted. “I guess I’ll take that as a compliment, Serena.”

“That’s how it was meant, ma’am.” I ducked my head in a goodbye nod. “I’d better be going along now. Ernest’ll be fretting for his dinner.”

Mrs. Mossbacher’s comment to that was conveyed wordlessly by the vigorous resumption of her sweep­ing. The rhythmic pump of her meaty forearms sent the maple wings swirling over my head, and as I rounded the corner onto Main Street I could still hear the brisk skritch-skratch of her broom on the herring-boned brick.

The Rogg Pharmacy was well situated, flanked as it was by Harold Cannon’s hardware store on one side and Abe Seligmann’s dry goods on the other. A farmer could hitch up after milking, come into town to pick up barbed wire, bag balm and sewing notions for the missus, and be home before noon.

On either side of the pharmacy entrance long, narrow windows framed enormous glass apothecary jars, one filled with a clear red liquid, the other blue, that shone like a maharajah’s jewels when il­luminated by the midday sun. Even in summer, with the green-and-white-striped awnings cranked down to provide welcome shade, a luminous fire seemed to glow in their depths. Father Rogg was very proud of his windows: no dust, no cobweb wisps, not even a marring fingerprint was tolerated. I could not count the times I had polished and repolished those plate glass expanses to suit him.

As I pushed open the door, the bell above it announced my overdue arrival. Ernest stood behind the counter polishing his spectacles. His neat white coat was as immaculate as always; the combed strands of his thinning hair lay across his domed pate as precisely as rows in a corn field. His head snapped up.

“Considering the hour, I don’t know if it’s dinner or supper you’ve brought me.”

“I’m sorry, Ernest,” I said, placing the basket on the counter. “I’ve had a busy morning,” I added as I offered my cheek for his damp kiss.

“And do you suppose I’ve been idle, Serena?” he demanded, his polished jaws jiggling with indig­nation. “It’s been one thing after another all morning, ending with Jake Grimes insisting on showing me the boils the remedy I prescribed had failed to cure. Enough to take a man’s appetite clean away.”

“It’s chicken potpie today, Ernest. Your favorite.”

I lifted a dish from the basket and unwrapped the insulating napkin to release the tantalizing aroma of flaky-crusted chicken in a well-seasoned, creamy sauce. Ernest’s tongue darted wetly around his lips. For a man as slim as he was—I don’t know that I would have gone so far as to call him weedy, as Mrs. Mossbacher had—his appetite was awe-inspiring.

“Shall I set it out in the back room for you?” I offered. “I thought today I’d join you.”

Ernest coiled a protective arm around the fragrant dish. “I really doubt there’s enough for two—”

“Oh, I’ve already eaten, Ernest,” I untruthfully assured him. “I just thought, with our wedding day so close... it’s not that I don’t value Mother and Father Rogg’s counsel, for of course I do, but there are a few things only we can decide.”

I lowered my lashes with maidenly modesty. Ernest bustled to the front door, pulled the heavy shade and, after consulting his pocket watch, revolved the tin hands attached to the clock inscribed upon the window covering. “It’s half-past one, Serena. To accommodate you,” he announced im­portantly, “I’ll not reopen ‘til two.”

Heaven only knows what he thought I had in mind, but my heart sank at the thought of his reaction at having sacrificed a half-hour of trade to discuss the possibility of a visit he was sure to think idiotic. I waited to speak until he had finished his dinner and was chasing a last crumb of crust through the remaining gravy.

“A visit to Kansas?” he exploded. “With all there is to do in the few weeks left before our wedding? Abe Seligmann tells me you haven’t been in to order the bed linens even though the brass bed you wanted arrived from Albany a month ago! Whatever can you be thinking of?”

“I thought maybe we could go there on our wedding trip, Ernest. Everyone goes to Niagara Falls ... maybe it would be interesting to do some­thing different.”

“Different? Well, Kansas would certainly be different all right! A dusty, flat wasteland instead of a renowned natural wonder? Sleeping in louse-ridden railroad way stations when we already have reserva­tions at the grandest hotel in the Falls area? No thank you very much!”

“Sybelle is my twin sister, Ernest. She’s my only kin! I haven’t seen her for ten years....” In the face of Ernest’s implacability, my voice trailed off in whispery despair. I might have had better luck wresting a bone from a bulldog than understanding from Ernest.

He flicked crumbs from the corners of his set mouth, then slapped his napkin down on the deal table. “You’ve managed to survive the last ten years without seeing your sister. When you’re Mrs. Ernest Rogg, there’ll be more than enough to keep you busy and contented for the next ten.”

I dropped my gaze to my folded hands in my lap. Busy, yes, but contented? Resigned was more like it. All at once I felt something hot and white begin to burn in my chest. Something more than resignation; bigger than resentment. Anger, that’s what it was. Anger undiluted by guilt or harnessed by common sense. Anger so strong I tossed the dishes, tableware and napkin higgledy-piggledy into the basket and scraped back my chair until it screeched in protest.

“I’ve taken up enough of your valuable time, Ernest,” I said with a desperately achieved evenness. “There’s no more to be said on the matter.”

“That’s my good girl!” Although his tone was lightly placatory, I didn’t have to see his face to be assured of the self-satisfied smirk on his lips.

As I walked toward the door, he called after me. “Pull up the shade on your way out, will you, Serena? And stop in to see Abe about the bed linens before you go home. Time’s a wasting, you know!”

His “good girl” was I? Instead of turning left into the dry goods store, I marched across the avenue and down toward the railway station. We’d see about that!

My impulsive errand, once embarked upon, be­came a duty. That it was self-assigned did not in the slightest soften the grim determination with which I pursued it.

I spent the rest of that fateful afternoon interview­ing the stationmaster and doing certain investiga­tions at the town’s modest library. In due course, the deep pockets of my skirt received for concealment three slim borrowed volumes and a packet of timetables with notations of railway fares, the amount of which made me feel quite faint. By the time I returned to the house on Maple Street, lavender shadows had invaded the dooryard, but Mother Rogg’s annoyance about my “gallivanting” was soon assuaged thanks to an embroidered version of my visit with Ernest. She, too, pronounced me a good girl, and I went to bed that evening feeling more wicked than I ever had in my life.

How quickly I acquired a taste for wickedness! Over the next few days I stealthily assembled the clothes and few belongings that according to the old journals I had borrowed from the library, would equip me for life in Kansas. Day-to-day living may have become easier since the time of those early overland accounts, but progress could not eliminate altogether the hardships described. I regretted leav­ing my few bits of finery behind, but a prairie ranch ravaged by cyclones and blizzards was no place for furbelows. The wool mittens and scarf set Mother Rogg had knitted me for Christmas was more worthy of a place in my portmanteau than my Sunday-go-to-meeting lace collar and fancy clocked stockings.

The day before my departure, I slipped my bag into a burlap sack and out of the house before the Roggs were astir. Later, I loaded it into an express wagon— rented for a nickel from the Candler boy down the street—along with Ernest’s dinner, which I delivered on my way to the station. Ernest, busy with a customer when I arrived, noticed neither the wagon nor the burlap sack, and none of the acquaintances I chanced to pass remarked upon it. By the time I consigned my portmanteau to the incurious stationmaster’s care and returned the wagon to its youthful owner, I decided that a successful life of crime, if one were bold enough, would not be nearly as difficult as I had once imagined.

That night I lay awake, pinching myself when I felt my eyelids droop, until the snores from the adjoining room settled into the rhythmic rumbling of deep sleep. I donned the costume I had chosen for my journey, then slipped downstairs into the small room off the parlor which was used, in lieu of adequate space at the pharmacy, as an office. Once, when I had asked for part of the weekly wage Malcolm Wilcox paid me for cleaning his house, Father Rogg had marched me in, opened the wide drawer of his huge oak desk and showed me the flat tin box in which my wages were deposited. “For your dowry, Serena. You came with nothing, but you will have this to take with you.”

I was aware the Roggs had every right to keep my wages as partial payment for my room and board, and except for an occasional frippery denied, I never felt deprived. Indeed, after returning home, stimu­lated, from a day spent with Malcolm Wilcox, it seemed to me I owed him far more for the privilege of his company than I received for my housekeeping chores. For the hours spent at his bedside during his last weeks reading aloud passages from Shakespeare and Chaucer, I refused to accept anything. Be that as it may, when I opened the tin box and began to count out the bills stacked inside, I had to keep reminding myself that I had earned, them: twenty-five cents a day, three days a week for four years and three months.

Count your pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves. A penny saved is a penny earned....

Mother Rogg’s oft-quoted proverbs marched through my head as I flicked the bills through my fingers. Twenty-five ... fifty ... one hundred ... one hundred and sixty-five dollars! I could hardly believe it. Did I dare? Did I really dare? I swallowed hard, patted the bills into a neat bundle and secured it with a length of stout string. Better me than Ernest Rogg.

Before returning the box to its accustomed place in the back of the desk drawer, I placed in it the note I had written earlier, expressing gratitude for the shelter Mother and Father Rogg had provided and regret for abusing their trust. As I eased open the back door, Mother Rogg’s sleek black-and-white cat slipped through, pausing briefly for a purring arch against my ankle.

“Goodbye, Sugar,” I whispered. He would, I realized sadly, be the only member of this family I would miss, and not even him very much. I stepped out on the porch. The morning light had not yet begun its pearly advance above the horizon. A cardinal called tentatively from the quince bush, pink-budded now, grown from a cutting given me by Mrs. Mossbacher. I would never see it in bloom again. But there would be prairie flowers blooming in Kansas, and who was to say the songs of the birds they sheltered would fall less sweetly on my ear?

I set my chin resolutely, patted my bill-stuffed, needleworked bag and set off down the path. Above me I glimpsed the morning star, bright symbol of my journey’s end, and as I latched the gate behind me, Mother Rogg’s high-pitched voice echoed in my head. The Lord helps those who help themselves, Serena—my footsteps quickened—and don’t you ever forget it!