by Varden Frias
Follow Leslie Colden in her adventures in the year 1776
Eerie it is how night both hides and exposes that which we fear most and indeed ‘twas night as we neared the next town, where I would dismiss Elaine and continue on in my journey. Was she a terrible creature to rid myself of? Nothing of the sort, but a loathsome nocturnal devil was I and ridding myself of her was necessary if I were to arrive upon the spring meeting of the Naturalists’ Society of Philadelphia within the fortnight as I had planned.
No, not a soul could pull me from such an unrelenting vision.
Fortune favored me that day in terms of weather but then decided to play a rather nasty trick on me as well with regards to my surprise company. Throughout most of the day came her bombardment of questions in terms of my area of expertise. Yet, after a while, she drowned herself out in a monologue due to my growing contemplative silence. Although she one of the many slaves living in our household, we never shared a moment’s conversation but upon mutual escape from the Madam’s wicked clutches, our solace was matched by our will to better our lives.
When the next town came into view, the horse was quite tired and so were we.
We dismounted, which was about the fifth time that we had done so that day. My aching legs trembled, feeling more like jelly and noodles then sinew and muscle. Scaling the town with my eyes, a row of cypress trees lined its edge behind the bone white spire of the church. Two rows of houses, a blacksmith, a butcher’s house, the baker’s shop, the wax and soap shop and other assorted commodities sat across from each other separated by a dirt street. A few nightly stragglers wandered that lonely road, one of which was a stout, wigged man who made his way for us.
“Well hello there!” he called out to me. I cleared my throat and offered a greeting before taking his hand and shaking it.
“The name’s Abraham Monroe,” his handshake sent a rack of pain through my palm into my wrist until we let go.
“Leslie Colden,” came my instinctive answer. Young lady etiquette had been ingrained into my mind from a very young age, the recitation of names being of high importance.
“Leslie Colden!” he boomed with the enthusiasm of a man who had happened upon a freshly and unguarded vein of gold.
“Wait!” his icy blue eyes stared into mine, deeply as though he could cut straight through me from behind his glasses. Beneath his gaze, I awaited his judgment.
“Colden, that name rings a bell. Are you perhaps related to the late Cadwallader Colden?”
“Yes, he was my grandfather.” Then the man slapped my upper arm with his bear claw of a hand, almost knocking me clean over.
“Haha!” his bark of a laugh was actually quite charming, almost. “Old Cadwallader was a dear friend of mine! I daresay I didn’t know he had a grandson, though.”
“Now that I think of it, he did mention an Abraham at some point,” I said. It was true. My grandfather spent a good amount of his life with a certain Abraham, both of them involved in the art physicians only knew. I would often see Abraham when I was a child, when I was under the tutelage of my aunt Jane, and I am fairly sure that Abraham saw me. Abraham did not know that Cadwallader had a grandson because I was the only child of Jane’s younger brother David.
“Well, Leslie, what brings you here?” he asked me, bringing me from my reminisce. I stopped myself short before answering.
“I have some business down South,” I said in my usual beating of the bush type voice. “I would like a place to stay for the night so I may resume my journey tomorrow.”
“Quite so, I shall find you a place,” he told me, then added with a rather rollicking pat on my upper arm. “Anything for a grandson of my best friend!”
No sooner did we walk down the street, a sharp shriek pierced the night air. I had heard many cries in my life, but this was just about the most jarring that I have ever heard. Over near the church, a woman hunched over a figure splayed on the ground. Her cry turned into a good row of screams and spasms. Doors to houses flew open; lights from windows flooded the streets, and a whole horde of people crammed the once desolate street. Abraham broke into a wobbly gallop, brushed past me, and headed for the church.
I probably should not have followed. Alas, I did