Had those snickers and snatches of song bothered him? Or did he
come so to believe his own recounting of events that he became detached from the
pain and the lies that destroyed so much? Isabella wonders where that calamity
lives in his heart. She knows where it is in hers.
She draws back into the room. She can't afford to let anyone see
her yet, particularly her sister Harriet, who arrived in her carriage late last
night. It was Harriet, after all, who sent the chilly note reminding her she was
not welcome in Henry's home. Sitting back in Hartford with that note on her lap,
staring at the formality of its stiff phrasing, parsing each word for hidden
meaning, Isabella had made her decision: enough of deferring to the nurtured
wrath of her family. She would go to Brooklyn.
She walks now over to the chest and picks up a pink
tortoiseshell hand mirror, stroking the garnet beads that frame the back in a
graceful, curving line. How many times has she done this? Hundreds of times.
"They aren't real," Hattie had said quickly when Isabella, with
a cry of pleasure, pulled the mirror from its wrappings on her fifteenth
"Why would I care? It's beautiful, Hattie, it's the most
beautiful thing I own. Thank you, thank you!" She threw her arms around her
"I wanted you to have something elegant," Hattie whispered,
hugging her back. "I wanted you to see how lovely you are. But be sure to keep
it in your room. Father would disapprove."
Isabella had nodded silently. Lyman Beecher was a towering
figure of moral authority, both at home and throughout the nation, and he would
call this a vain, frivolous gift, a bauble flouting modesty, an occasion for the
sin of pride. It awed her to realize Hattie was willing to risk his displeasure.
"I would like to be a writer someday, like you," Isabella had
said shyly as Hattie leaned over to pick up the wrapping paper crumpled on the
floor. Harriet glanced up with a smile, and then said something Isabella would
never forget: "You are a dear girl, Bella, and just as smart as anyone in this
family, and you will find your own way. I want you to start by enjoying the
gifts God has given you."
So long ago...Isabella stares down at the mirror in her hand.
She has never reached the level of Hattie's fame, but she has made a name for
herself. She has traveled the country, speaking and organizing women to fight
for suffrage and legal rights, trying to instill in them a passion for what
should be theirs. She has tried to stay true to her values. Would that Hattie
valued her for that.
Why has she kept this old treasure all these years? And why did
she bring it with her?
Slowly she turns the mirror and stares into the glass. She no
longer sees the surface image -- the dark hair and smooth skin that still draw
attention. She would like to find some clue as to who she really is, but the
mirror won't tell her that. So what is she looking for? Hattie, of course. All
her life, she has looked for resemblance to the vibrant, brilliant sister she
loves most, straining to see more similarity than could ever have been possible
with two different mothers. How exciting it had felt as a young woman to stand
proudly and say, "Yes, my sister is Harriet Beecher Stowe, and yes, she is
indeed the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin." How thrilling to realize her big sister
had awakened the nation to the evils of slavery and shaped the focus of the War
Between the States, an amazing achievement, all with the imagined story of one
"Hattie, where did you go? Where are you?" She listens to the
sound of her own voice in the empty room, hearing it more as an echo deep from
the past. From when?
She closes her eyes. It was that first summer in Cincinnati,
after Lyman Beecher moved the entire family west to establish a new seminary.
She was ten years old. She can feel the spongy wood of the old dock under her
feet, smell the acrid, soupy air, hear the water sloshing against the rotting
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