Splendor in the Moss

By

Charlotte Russell

Chapter 1

Seattle, Washington Territory, May 1853

“Tilford, are we alive?” James Caldwell did not open his eyes, but the absence of the sound of raindrops plopping onto the canvas roof caused him to think he’d died and gone to a dry afterlife. He shifted on his straw pallet, which poked and pricked him enough to prove he was indeed alive.

“Aye, sir. We are alive and well on this fine day.” Tilford’s cheery voice came from the far side of the tent—all of eight feet away.

By James’s calculations—and granted he had never had the mind for mathematics his oldest brother did—he’d grown up in a house at least one hundred times the size of this tent. With quarters this small, it was a good thing he liked Tilford. Of course, he wouldn’t have asked the manservant to follow him from England if he hadn’t, but still, their adventure had thrown them much closer together.

“By alive, do you mean we are still in this godforsaken place and not in heaven? And by fine, do you mean it hasn’t rained yet?” Just because it wasn’t raining now didn’t mean it wouldn’t start again soon. It always did.

“Open your eyes, sir, and observe the fair skies. I think we might escape the rain for today. Shall we set to work on the cabin?”

Tilford, ever the optimist. James saw it as his duty to keep the man from dying of happiness. “I don’t care if the sun shines for the next ten days. We are leaving this wet, moss-covered piece of land as soon as possible.”

He sat up. Sunshine limned the entire tent, giving it an ethereal glow. “Ahhh! My eyes are burning.”

Tilford turned his back and let out a frustrated sigh.

“I’m jesting, Tilford. Of course we’ll start on the cabin; it will give us something to do until we leave. I’m certain the next claimant will appreciate the dry shelter.”

“Very good, sir.” Tilford’s face, lean and framed by dark wavy hair, beamed once more. “I will step outside and build the fire for our breakfast.”

James nodded. Once the manservant was gone he washed up and donned a fresh shirt, trousers, and boots. Muddy boots. The rain had fallen every day since he and Tilford had arrived at this new, sparse settlement named Seattle after the chief of the Duwamish Indians.

The United States government was offering new settlers a land grant of three hundred and twenty acres and James had staked a claim to this hilltop meadow surrounded by trees. Most of the settlers who had arrived in the last eighteen months had claimed the land along the shores of Elliott Bay. He, however, had chosen a plot farther east, about two and a half miles from the water, thinking he might be able to sell it as the settlement expanded. Unlike the others, he had no need to strip the land of its trees and sell the timber, so the plot could be quite valuable in a few years.

The tall evergreen trees were a sight to behold and the hills made for an interesting landscape, but after spending eleven days here, James had found nothing that begged him to stay and quite a few things urging him to jump back on a ship to Baltimore. Most of them being raindrops.

He raised the flap on the tent and stepped outside. The bright blue sky hovering over the green trees and even greener meadow captured his attention.

“Magnificent.”

The word slipped out unbidden. He glanced around, hoping Tilford hadn’t heard him. The other man had lit the fire, but wasn’t tending to it. Instead, James saw his tall, thin figure on the other side of the tent, staring off into the distance.

“For God’s sakes, man, you can take one of your photographs if you must, but we are not going to fawn over the scenery just because of a little sunshine.”

Instantly he regretted his petulant words, for Tilford didn’t deserve them. In truth, James was frustrated with himself. He’d left England four years ago to strike out on his own, to make a life away from his family. But ever since, he’d felt as if he were chasing an elusive star. Three years in Baltimore, another four months sailing around the southern tip of the Americas, a few months in San Francisco, none of it had brought him peace or a measure of happiness or any idea of how to survive on his own without running through his inheritance.

And now he’d landed in this bog.

“Sir, I think you should see this.” The awe in Tilford’s voice drew his curiosity.

James strode to the back side of the tent, stopping short at the corner. “My God.”

He was facing southeast now, where there was an opening in the trees surrounding their clearing. A majestic, snow-draped mountain towered over the evergreen trees, as if it were sitting on a throne overseeing its kingdom. One small cloud hovered over the peak like a crown. It was beautiful.

“I would like to correct myself, sir,” Tilford whispered. “I believe we have died and gone to heaven.”

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