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Open Features: Suzanne

...The next day they'd struck the lode, the largest ever found in the area. "Jack, come here". His comrade staggered over, unwashed, his face scarlet, looking like raw meat from the pitiless sun. Alistair looked up at him. "We're alright Jack. It's a winner!" he whispered. "Don't say a word! Tell nobody."...

Betty McKay, her imagination prompted by a famous painting by James Tissot, weaves a tale of changed fortunes.

She stands, bonnet pushed back off her face, a provocatively posed adolescent. Hips thrust forward and to one side, her croquet mallet stretched behind her back and delicately balanced across two fingers of her right hand. Her gaze is pensive and eyes questioning, "Come on Alexander, all you have to do is hit the ball."

Her brother throws down his mallet, "Oh, I've had enough for one afternoon, it's so hot. I don't know how you can stand this heat, wrapped up in that shawl. Shall I go to the kitchen and see if cook has made us any lemonade?"

"No, Mama said you weren't to go into the kitchen, not since your last contretemps with Mrs. Hardy. I'll go instead."

Alexander grins, "Good old Sue!"

She grimaces, "Less of the old, little brother, I'm only fifteen."

To twelve-year-old Alexander 'little' constitutes the height of infamy. "Beast!" he cries after his sister.

At that Hester and Caroline scramble to their feet and run giggling up the
garden towards the house. "Wait for us Sue, wait for us."

Catching up with long-legged Sue, they link arms, one on either side of her. Swaying and singing, the three of them stride along.

Not to be outdone, Benjie the dog bounces alongside them barking, joining in the fun.

Their fond papa, laughing as he gazes out of the window, thinks they look like three drunken sailors as they wobble along. Drunken sailors! He'd seen plenty of them in his past life. The life now buried but never forgotten.

He remembers his arrival in Seattle and the thankful, joyous letter from his beloved Eileene awaiting him there. 'Alistair, you have a beautiful daughter and she is to be named Suzanne.'

Later, accompanied by his ship-mates, Tom Compton and Jack Marshall, they had to 'wet the baby's head'. In the taverns visited, all the talk was of the latest gold rush to California. By this time the three bedazzled matelots had stopped drinking. They listened, bewitched by promises of fortunes amassed with a pick and shovel and rivers awash with golden nuggets.

Quickly they returned to the 'Miranda', abandoned their sea-chests and jumped ship carrying their bulging ditty-bags.

They earned money working their way down the coast until they reached California where they purchased a wagon, four mules and provisions. Then they struck out for the interior and the Sierras. Three healthy young men, stalwart and muscular, needing every ounce of stamina that they possessed. They were lucky travelling without wives and families. Unencumbered, reaching the gold fields in record time to stake their claim.

It wasn't a period of his life that Alistair Montgomery recalled with any joy. A time of suffering and a longing for cessation of weariness. They'd suffered from dysentery, hunger and poor nutrition for most of the long journey. Sadly Tom became ill and died within a week from the cholera. Poor foolish Tom, he'd drunk polluted, unboiled river water and suffered the consequences in a matter of days.

They buried their friend wrapped in the blanket he'd slept in, constructing his coffin from wooden slats used for shoring up the diggings. Alistair wept for Tom, himself and Jack and his aching heart longed for Eileene, his child and his homeland. He was terrified his life would end in this God-forsaken place.

The next day they'd struck the lode, the largest ever found in the area. "Jack, come here". His comrade staggered over, unwashed, his face scarlet, looking like raw meat from the pitiless sun. Alistair looked up at him. "We're alright Jack. It's a winner!" he whispered. "Don't say a word! Tell nobody."

They dug until the seam ran out. Then filled their sacks and loaded the wagon, and took the gold to the Assay office. The look of envy on the mens' faces conveyed all they needed to know. That now they were rich beyond their dreams. No more working on shipboard. Their futures were assured.

"Alistair, the post has arrived. It's the letter from Interlaken." Eileene, excited as a schoolgirl ran into the room. "Where is she?"

"The last I saw of her was when she staggered up the garden accompanied by her sisters. A trio of young hoydens, if ever I saw one - hardly looking like a young miss intended for a Swiss finishing school."

"Oh my dear husband, very amusing. You do realise what this stupendous adventure means to our dear Suzanne."

Alistair beetled his brows in mock consternation. "I'm well aware that she speaks French like a native and has her charming nose stuck into a book three-quarters of the time. You think perhaps our young daughter is going to turn into a blue-stocking?" He put his arms around her.

Eileene tapped Alistair on the nose with the letter. "Oh much worse than that. From next autumn onwards, my darling, our dear long-legged daughter will have lengthened her skirts and put up her hair. She will be sixteen and a young woman. I don't want her to change too much but I know I will miss my darling, spirited young daughter."

"So will I! Eileene, I have an idea. Shall we commission James Tissot, that young French artist you admire so much, to paint Suzanne before she goes to finishing school? Then in that painting our Suzanne will remain unchanged forever."


Croquet circa 1878 by James Tissot http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/detail.php?ID=4887


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