After their mother’s death in 1855, Ella and Jennie went to live with their Aunt Hannah, a single woman who ran the family’s hotel in Westport. When the hotel was sold in 1860 and Aunt Hannah left town, the two sisters went from her loving care to a cold, judgmental existence with Aunt Hilda and her husband, Reverend Graham Russell. Now it is 1864, and their world is falling apart as war rages around them.
What Jennie wants in her own words:
I’m twelve years old and the baby of the family, and that’s all my sisters and Ambrose see when they look at me: a child who needs protection. They all have advice about my dreams: mainly how I should keep quiet about them. I did that once, and my baby brother, Mark, died. And now I’m having dreams about Pa, and I know he’ll die if I don’t find him, so I have to make my siblings believe me. While I was trying to convince Ella, Uncle Graham and Aunt Hilda overheard us, and Uncle Graham beat me to get rid of the demons he said were working inside me.
Ambrose and my sisters rescued me, but now Ella and I have no home, and she feels responsible to get us one. I’ll have to think about that later because right now, the most important thing is to save my father’s life. I didn’t save my baby brother’s life. I was only three years old then. Pa thought I smothered him when I crawled into his cradle to get him warm, but he was already cold. He didn’t move. Ambrose says Mark was already dead. All I know is I didn’t tell anyone about my dream and Mark died. This time, I have to tell. I have to make people listen. I don’t want to be responsible for another family death.
What Ella wants in her own words:
I’m fourteen years old now. I remember when our family was all together, and Jennie and I were the little sisters. We lived in our cabin in Hidden Springs: Ma, Pa, Ambrose, Cordelia, Lucy, Jennie, and me. Those were good days. Then Mark, only one week old, died and Ma got in the family way again, and Delia ran away to get Aunt Hannah. Then Ma had to stay in bed and Lucy took over the cooking and cleaning and taking care of us. I was five and tried to help, but the best I could do was keep track of Jennie. That’s been my job ever since.
I love Jennie, but keeping her out of trouble hasn’t been easy, especially since Aunt Hannah left and we had to go live with Aunt Hilda and Uncle Graham. I’ve told her over and over that she can’t talk about her dreams, but sometimes she blurts them out—and they come true. Now we are homeless. I know Ambrose will find a place for us, maybe with Aunt Gertrude, but that would be only temporary. I want a permanent home. I want to get married, but with a war on, how will I find a husband.
Lucy complained that five years ago when she went to live with Pa, he wanted to find her a suitable husband, someone well-off and respected in the community. If we find Pa and he’s alive, I’m going to ask him to do that for me. I want a real home for me and Jennie.
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