Brambles and Thorns

By: Jocelyn Kirk

“Willa!” she cried.

“Look what you’ve done!” While the gentleman assisted Willa, Elena gathered her belongings and stuffed them into the valise. The effort left her splattered with mud, and her temper rose in proportion to the abatement of her dignity.

As she attempted to brush off her dress, she became aware that the gentleman was staring at her. She faced him and his angry dark eyes.

“Madam,” he said coldly, “I do not know your city of origin, but if you are an example of its inhabitants, they are a heartless set of beings.”

Elena gave him an icy glare and pulled her eyes away, too shocked to reply. Hoisting her valise, she said, “Come, Willa,” and turned to move away. The gentleman, to her utter amazement, reached out and seized her arm.

“Will you have the goodness, madam, to take notice that this young lady has injured herself?”

Elena jerked her arm away, but she looked at Willa, who was on her feet but leaning heavily on the gentleman.

“Willa, are you indeed injured? I did not realize…”

“It is nothing, Miss Bellwood. If the gentleman could assist me to the boat, I’m sure I will be well in a few minutes.”








Dedication

To Heather and Eric and Jen and Josie—my world.





Prologue

Rosalie

Mystic, Connecticut, September 15, 1840

Early evening was pulling shadows across the hills as Rosalie walked home. She had traveled farther than usual into the forest in search of wild herbs and mushrooms, and now she shivered as the evening air crept into her shawl.

“Must hurry,” she whispered to herself. She stepped up her pace, climbing the next hill at a trot and hurrying downhill. She jogged past a stand of white birches showing spring leaves of soft green. She left the forest and entered a bushy expanse, the result of tree-felling. Thorns and vines had taken over, and thousands of rabbits made their home in them.

Rosalie slowed on the narrow path to ease her way around the vicious thorns. A dark shape on the ground next to a thicket surprised her, and she froze with a gasp.

“What on earth…?” she whispered. She cautiously moved toward the shadowy form, pushing the vines and briers aside as she scrambled through them. As she neared the thicket, the shifting shadows revealed a wolf lying prone, with one hind leg ripped and shattered by the trap into which it had stepped.

Rosalie knelt and felt the body. Cold but not stiff—the animal was out of rigor. The teats were enlarged for nursing, and nearby lay the bodies of four pups, dead of starvation.

“How could anyone be so cruel?” she cried. “To leave this creature to die in agony and her pups to starve…how horrible!”

Rosalie removed the ugly trap from the wolf’s leg and tossed it as far away as the chain would allow. The trap hitting the ground disturbed a creature in the thicket, and it mewled weakly. She peered into the brambles. Something moved within the dense foliage.

“A pup! One of the pups is alive!”

Rosalie pulled her herb-gathering shears from her pocket and began to cut away at the brambles. She scrambled into the thicket on her hands and knees and spotted a tiny pair of yellow eyes watching her. She frantically cut away more thorns, seized the pup, and backed out of the brambles.

Rosalie clutched the pup against her chest to keep him warm and began running. Her basket jumped and jostled on her arm as she ran across the meadow. Gasping for air, she stumbled into her own barn, startling the sleeping chickens and cows. She moved quietly to her milk cow so as not to frighten the animal and thrust the pup’s face against a teat. Rosalie squeezed gently and milk ran into the pup’s tiny mouth. He wheezed and coughed, but she tried again, and little by little he swallowed the rich warm milk and had a fine meal.

“You, little bramble puppy, are a survivor,” said Rosalie as she carried the pup out of the barn. The little creature, his belly full, gazed at her with his amber eyes and then promptly fell asleep.





Chapter One

Elena

New York City, January 1, 1842

Mrs. Clyde Bellwood preferred her blue and ivory parlor to any other room in her elegant townhouse. She adored the room’s pale blue watered-silk draperies, flowered settees, and Persian carpet with its blue hues as deep as the sky and sea. She proudly ran a hand over the smooth silk of her chair and brushed a tiny speck of dust from its curved arm.