The Hour Comes
A local Indian prophet has predicted a coming earthquake. Cassie fears the earthquake but perhaps she fears change even more.
December 15, 1811, New Madrid, Missouri Territory
It was a small ripple, over before Cassie’s bare feet on the log cabin floor sent the message to her aching head. She gripped the slatted back of a chair, waited for the earth to shift again. It was happening. Just like that Shawnee, Tenskawata, had sworn it would. Many in New Madrid, including her husband, Lionel, had outspokenly doubted the prophet’s predicted earthquake. They forgot the man had also foreseen the comet that had burned the night sky for months. Tecumseh’s Comet, named for Tenskawata’s brother.
“Earthquakes don’t happen along the Mississippi,” Lionel had said.
Cassie believed. Some nights she couldn’t sleep for worrying about the earth swallowing her up. She shivered at the idea of being buried alive, taken somewhere she didn’t know.
The floor stayed steady so she took the roast chicken from the fireplace and placed it on a platter. Meat or fowl was a rarity, but Lionel had won it in a card game. Cassie then took sizzling hot cornbread from the little oven on the side of the fireplace and placed it on the trestle table.
She went to the door and yelled for Lionel to come for supper. He was chopping wood in the December air. Watching him she thought him the handsomest man in all Missouri territory. Also possibly the meanest. She still suffered from the backhanding he’d given her jaw that morning.
He laid down the axe and came toward her. She backed away as he entered the cabin. He laid his huge hand on her shoulder. “Easy now. I’m not gonna hurt you none. You shouldn’t make me angry. You know I hate nagging.”
Cassie doubted the blow he’d given had been about her reminding him the ladder to the loft needed fixing. What angered Lionel was her waking up that morning with blood on the muslin sheet beneath her. That was how it always started. First blood. Then pain. Then the end of Lionel’s hope for a son. He hated disappointment.
She’d cried hard the first couple times she miscarried, but today she’d reached deep inside herself for feelings of grief and found none. Even when the spasms started just after their mid-day meal, she’d gone to bed, lay on her side, and waited for her body to push out the little soul that hardly looked human. She’d wrapped it in a quilt square and hidden it. Later she would sneak to the church yard and secretly bury it in hallowed ground. It was all she could do for it.
Lionel wouldn’t like her performing the ritual. He’d given up on religion, but he needn’t know. There was also something else she’d been up to that he hadn’t a clue about. Nathan. Best kept that way too until she made a final decision.
She realized Lionel was staring down at her. He raised his hand. She flinched, but he only traced the swelling on her right cheek. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. It won’t happen again.”
Cassie had learned his apologies meant nothing. Something always set him off.
They sat at the table in silence until she asked him if he’d too felt the tremor.
“Pshaw. Didn’t feel nothing.” He grabbed a second piece of cornbread and spread molasses on it. “Ain’t no earthquakes here.”
She bowed her head, tucked her chin. “But that prophet said it was coming. He said it was gonna be bad.”
“That redskin don’t know jack squat.” He chewed some more. “If he was so goldarned smart why didn’t he get his people out of Prophetstown before General Harrison rode in there and burned all them buildings and tore up them cornfields?. Naw, you forget that fool nonsense. Ain’t no such thing as prophecy. That Injun and his brother, Tecumseh, are finished. Best action they could take would be to go on out west. Leave this land to us white folk.”
She let him drone on, also eat most of the chicken. She wasn’t hungry anyway.
At the gloaming, Lionel went out to stable the horses. Cassie cleared the table and thought about Nathan. If only she’d married him when she’d had the chance. Lionel’s good looks and small holding had swayed her mind. It hadn’t taken long for her to regret that decision. Six months ago she’d found out her former beau still loved her and had turned to him for comfort. If Lionel found out she’d been seeing Nathan on the sly, he would kill both of them.
Nathan had been begging her to run off with him to New Orleans. Cassie was sorely tempted even if it would make her a fallen woman. Still, she feared the flames of Hell.
When night fell, Lionel banked the fire. In bed he turned his back to her and fell asleep. Cassie lay awake. There’d been no more tremors, but she couldn’t turn off her imagination.
At 2 AM a deafening roar came out of the darkness. It catapulted them out of bed as the ground beneath the cabin pitched and rolled like a ship at sea. Cassie huddled on the floor, wrapped up in her own arms as the log walls groaned.
Lionel grabbed a lantern. He ran like a blur in the darkness toward the door. Cassie followed him into the night. The ground had quit shaking but the tall poplar tree had uprooted itself and fallen across the stable roof. Inside the horses kicked and bellowed in their stalls.
She felt close to collapse. Her body ached. Not once did Lionel look her way so intent was he on seeing to the horses. At last she understood her place here, now that she was about to leave.
Another shock shook the ground. Cassie’s flannel nightgown billowed around her. Her fear shifted, adjusted, turned to strength. She stood her ground, imagined every wave was taking her away from her husband, separating them as surely as if she was on a boat bound for New Orleans.