“Hey you” I say to a passer by, “can you help me get my valise to the train? There’s a silver dollar in it for you”
The boy, you can hardly call him a man although he appears sixteen and probably is married, immediately looks alert.
“Miss, I should be delighted to help you.”, he picks up my valise and starts off to the train depot with me trailing behind. It’s hard to walk in all the clothing women are required to don these days. It’s 1867 and I’m in Vicksburg. Although much of the small city is in ruins, signs of rebuilding are now well established that the government has sent aid.
“Hot weather miss, you must be terribly uncomfortable” the boy remarked
“Oh, I’m used to it. Still, escaping the hot weather is one of my goals in moving to New York State”
His eyes narrowed and I was thinking I had made a mistake in my candor. Then he sighed. “I guess we need to get beyond the war. But it’s mighty hard with my having lost an uncle and a brother. Our land was seized by the Union for a time and we were hardly able to eat.”
Hatred of the Union was still very strong in the Southern states, and the sting of losing the war to the Union, especially when the South had so many more trained officers, was sharp.
“My name is Agnes” I tell him. “The war was tough on all of us, my family lost people too.” It was a bald faced lie as I had no living family, but it was one I had carefully prepared by picking a family with a maiden aunt. The family itself was gone, a few run off to the southwest and the republic of Texas hoping for a new start away from the war ravaged South, others had died of consumption and smallpox in the terrible conditions during the siege. I felt rather badly for them, but serving a purpose for me wasn’t going to harm their cold bones.
We were not far from the train before he spoke again. “Miss, I hope you have a good trip, even to the god forsaken Yankee land way up North. Just remember this Southern gentleman helped you on your way regardless of your destination.”
I asked his name, “Jeremiah, thank you so much for your help. He’s the dollar I promised” and I held out my hand. He reached for my hands with his much larger ones and softly and gently closed them on the coin.
“It would be scandalous for me to take your money. Please just say a prayer for my ailing mother.”
I promised to do so as he put the valise down on the train steps and gave a small bow. I gave him a curtsy and continued back to my seat, half carrying and half dragging the heavy valise.
Twenty minutes later we were on our way. The conductor took my fare of fifty cents and I relaxed. After a few more minutes I was fast asleep on the seat.
“You don’t recognize me, do you? We met in another story. I think I claimed to be eighty four.”, she chortled, “Well try three hundred and eighty four”
“A long life has it’s benefits and problems both”, when I was born just before the Renaissance outside of Florence, women had one option and after I was grown I was given to a local businessman to cement the relationship with my family. He wasn’t a terrible husband compared to some. He mostly asked about sex before going ahead with it, but it was nice he thought to ask before coercing me.”
“I had had enough, so I hid a long knife in my bedclothes and he conveniently just got on top of me to do his business. I felt along his back until I found the two ribs behind his heart and I thrust the knife between the ribs into the rapist’s heart.”
“I had to flee or I would have been captured, tortured and killed somewhat slowly since my bastard of a husband was respected in the community”
“Lying on a rack while my bones were stressed and perhaps broken didn’t appeal to me so I fled from the area. Somewhere in hell I hope he’s still screaming.”
“I managed to avoid capture as the home had plenty of portable food, my having planned for the eventuality, and I disguised myself as a young man. I made my way from Florence avoiding the first few towns I passed since riders would have been sent with my description in hopes of capturing me.”
“As my supplies grew short I finally reached Genoa and carefully bought supplies for the next stage of the journey. I nearly had a heart attack when I heard my name called, but a scant second later a woman near me answered”
“From Genoa I went north and finally entered the Swiss alps where I reestablished myself under a different name.”
“There are many stories to tell about the time between then and now of course, but suffice it to say that I had to die a number of times in order not to stand out. The first time I was forty five. I had already noticed I had no gray hair or wrinkles.”
“The comments started in my late thirties and to quiet them I started to put grey in my hair and makeup made it look like I had wrinkles. However, being hale at forty five wasn’t so common.”
“I travelled to a large city and found a forger to create new papers for me. In the journey I found some portion to walk and during that portion removed the wrinkle makeup and gray from my hair. I adopted a small birthmark to change my appearance a little bit and of course the forged papers had yet a different name.”
“Enough history for now, I’ll see you soon”