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No Eye Can See

Jane Kirkpatrick

  Praise for

  No Eye Can See

  “No Eye Can See breathes with authenticity, nourishes with its depiction of women of courage, and inspires with its simplicity. It is truly an experience in faith and hope.”


  best-selling author of Edwina Parkhurst, Spinster

  “Come enjoy Jane Kirkpatrick's No Eye Can See, a novel that captures the rich historical path of eleven women pioneers. It's the autumn of 1852, and their journey west is drawing near to its destination of Shasta City, California. A new life awaits, one that will require courage, love, and faith even greater than the journey west. They are building for themselves and their families a place to call home. No Eye Can See comes alive under Jane's pen, a tapestry of faith woven together in beautiful words. It is a book that should not be missed by those who want to feel and breathe the journey west to settle a new frontier.”


  award-winning author

  “No Eye Can See is a poignant story of compassion, courage, and tender relationships. Rich with hope, it spoke gently to my heart.”


  editor of the Stories for a Woman's Heart series

  “Sweeping in scope, No Eye Can See deftly draws the reader into another time and place. Through the wonderful cast of characters who people this novel, I came to feel as if I was one of them, a courageous soul building a new life in a strange new land. Kudos, Ms. Kirkpatrick!”


  author of Ribbon of Years

  “Jane Kirkpatrick brings Californias Shasta City back to life in this exuberant gold-rush tale of remarkable women making a place for themselves on the frontier. Sensitively written, vividly imagined.”


  author of For Californias Gold and Daughter of Joy,

  winner of the Willa Award for Fiction

  “As few contemporary novelists can, Jane Kirkpatrick serves admirably as omniscient narrator. Not surprising with her credentials: seasoned historical novelist, inspirational speaker, Oregon rancher, consultant to American Indian communities. The dramatic question she constructs is simple: Can eleven pioneer women, their male counterparts lost to cholera, accident, or perfidy, complete an 1852 wagon train journey and make new lives in raw Pacific Coast communities? They lack money-earning and decision-making skills; ones blind, ones lovesick, two seethe over spousal wrongdoings; others are paralyzed with grief and uprootedness. Of Kirkpatrick's many skills, most magical is her ability to see her characters as souls-in-progress. Their choices are always unpredictable, yet once made, inevitable.”


  author of Pioneer Jews

  “Graceful and poignant, Jane Kirkpatricks second book in the Kinship and Courage series imparts hope for the journey. We struggle with the courageous women we met in All Together in One Phce, as they confront disappointment, disillusion, and heartbreak, wondering if Shasta really is the promised land. As the women stretch their faith in the certainty of things hoped for, we get a glimpse of what No Eye Can See.”


  author of Un-Nimble Thimble,

  fourth book of the Choir Loft Mystery series




  All Together in One Place


  Mystic Sweet Communion

  A Gathering of Finches

  Love to Water My Soul

  A Sweetness to the Soul

  (Winner of the Wrangler Award

  for Outstanding Western Novel of 1995)



  A Burden Shared

  This book is dedicated to

  my husband, Jerry

  for always helping me to see.


  The widows, All Together in One Place

  Suzanne Cullver, a former photographer

  Clayton and Sason, her boys

  Mazy Bacon, a farmer

  Elizabeth Mueller, Mazy's mother

  Ruth Martin, a horsewoman and auntie to Jason, Ned, Sarah, and Jessie

  Lura Schmidtke, a businesswoman

  Mariah, her daughter

  Matthew, her son

  Adora Wilson, a shopkeepers wife

  Tipton, her daughter, age 15

  Charles, her son

  Sister Esther Maeves, a contractor for mail-order brides

  Zilah, Mei-Ling, and Naomi, the surviving Celestials

  Shasta City characters

  Seth Forrester, a white-collared man

  Zane Randolph/Wesley Marks, Ruths husband

  David Taylor, a stage driver

  Greasy, a gold miner

  Oltipa, a Wintu Indian woman Ben, her son

  * Nehemiah Kossuth, hotel owner and silversmith

  *Ernest Dobrowsky, jeweler and gunsmith

  *Sam Dosh, editor, The Courier

  *Rev. Hill, a pastor

  *Koon Chong, a Chinese merchant

  Johnny, a Cantonese helper

  Estelle Williams, a banker

  No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.


  Im not afraid of lightning nor the wolf at my door

  Im not afraid of dying alone, anymore.

  But when journeys are over and there's fruit on the vine

  I'm afraid I'll be missing what we left behind.

  What We Left Behind


  Home is not only the place you start from, but the place you come back to…where dreams are sustained, hurts healed, where our stories are told.

  From Landscapes of the Soul


  * Actual people in Shasta City, 1852

  His arms outstretched, he called to her, his voice deep and far away. “Look up here, then. At me.” Suzanne Cullver found his gaze behind round lenses, the sun glinting off the wire frames. “I'll catch you if you fall,” he said.

  She heard, wanted to believe, but she hesitated, watching her husband brace himself against the current as he stood in the middle of the stream. He didn't belong here. Something was wrong, but she couldn't imagine what. He wore butternut-colored pants with a row of silver buttons just below his waist. Water splashed up high on the pant legs he'd rolled up to his knees. Suspenders, two lines of cedar-red tracks, marked his bare chest. He looked boyish, hair falling over one eye, a wide grin of encouragement given just for her. “Put your foot on that rock, there.” He pointed with his chin to a gun-gray stone smeared with moss of green.

  “It looks…slick,” Suzanne said above the water's rushing. Bryce's bare toes shimmered jagged beneath the water swirling around his legs. She could see the sinew and muscle of his calves, how he held himself steady against the push of water. He looked so sturdy. Then in an instant, he whooped aloud, arms circling like a windmill. His face took on a flush of worry—but then he laughed, his hearty life-loving laugh, as he straightened, keeping himself balanced.

  “It's not so bad out here in the middle,” he said. “Just look up. Keep your focus and you'll be fine. Just like the good photographer you are.”

  Her mind drifted with the word. Focus. She remembered something about the word in Latin meaning hearth. The hub of home. Why that word?

  She felt a pain in her side, a sharpness that irritated her. She set it aside. Instead, she gazed down at her feet, surprised to be able to see them. Then she lifted the hem of her ruffled skirt and stepped forward into the stream. Stay focused? On what? The water, the rocks, him?

  She became aware of sounds around her. Mules grinding at grain. Oxen bawling. W
omen chattering and the scent of lavender and herbs. The sounds floated through the air as she slid down the grassy bank— no, drifted—toward her husband.

  Now Suzanne could see herself as though from a distance, her tapered nails holding the embroidery of her lingerie dress, her reticule dangling at her narrow wrist. She shivered with the coldness of the stream covering her slippered feet. She longed for the warmth of Bryce's hands.

  “I'm falling!” She heard the warning in her own voice. “Bryce? I'm falling. Help me.”

  “You're fine. Keep coming.”

  He smiled, oh, how he smiled at her, so warm, so brushed with feathery love. He pushed the shock of dark hair from his eyes, adjusted the tiny round glasses, bent, and reached for her outstretched fingers.

  She could see her own face reflected in the water then, her full lips, the blush of geranium petals she'd rubbed that morning against her rounded cheeks. Wispy strands of hair the color of spun gold drifted over her eyes, eyes as warm as summer, as rich as sable. Inviting, everyone said. Water pooled in them. Could that be? How could she see herself? And in such a fast-moving stream?

  Suzanne felt a pain again at her side, then the cold and something else—an ache of knowing and not wanting to, of waking and not wishing to leave. “Bryce,” she said again, a cry this time arriving on a wave of anguish that tightened her chest. “Bryce!” His name caught in her throat. She knew he could not stay in this still place while water swirled about, knew her cry could not keep her from waking to what already was.

  She felt the wetness press at her eyes as the dream-state drifted away—taking with it the sight of the man that she loved.

  Awake, she blinked back the tears. This was her life now. The sounds of the women and oxen, those were real. And the darkness—her darkness. She lay in it, resigned. She was not a wife reaching out to her husband, but a widow, a blind widow, wistful and full of desire.


  Autumn 1852, west of Fort Laramie

  The sucking in of his own breath broke the desert silence. He forced himself to relax, open his mouth slightly. Noisy, this habit of breathing. He would have to change that once he reached his destination, change the way he took in breath as he'd changed the way he dressed, the way he'd now survive. The shallow breathing had allowed him life, when he merely existed inside the smell of his own stench, inside the walls ofthat Missouri prison. Back then, he took in gasps of air. He forced his tongue against the roof of his mouth and kept from crying out when the beatings couldn't be stopped.

  But now he straightened his shoulders, inhaled deeply of the dry air around him. The trail west looked long and empty, but it lured him. Enticed him.

  She enticed him.

  He forced his heartbeat to settle into a rhythm as steady as a guard's night stick tapping against iron bars. Back then, he had transformed his pain and humiliation into something driven, something of steel that pounded inside him like a hammer. And he'd thought of her. Every day. A woman more loathsome than what he had become. It was her flesh the canes struck against; her body he imagined would someday lie awake as he had—listening for the raspy breathing of a guard or an inmate gone mad. Someday she'd hear her own breath sucked in with worry and confusion, hear her racing heart seek freedom. It was her world he would torment. He'd make her wonder whether the sounds she heard were rats scurrying across a floor or the steps of someone coming in the night for her as she lay unguarded.


  1852, beside the Humboldt River

  The last week in the life of the Celestial known as Zilah began as it had those past few days on the desert: hot, yet scented with hope. Trying not to wake them, Zilah pulled her trembling body from the straw mattress she shared with the boy Clayton and his mother, Suzanne. Out of habit, she looked up and scanned the narrow wagon, seeking the white shawl that held the baby, Sason, suspended in his cloth cradle from the wagons iron bow.

  All fine. Baby all fine, sleep.

  She swallowed, took in a deep breath. Her heart raced.

  No reason, no reason heart race like startled dog.

  Zilah fluttered over the unseeing mother who said two, three times a day now, maybe more: “I'm so glad you'll be with us in California, Zilah. We couldn't do it without you, we just couldn't.”

  Why she say that? Not do what without Zilah? What she plan, that woman?

  Missy Sue made moaning sounds but did not wake.

  Neither did the boy, neither one. This was good. Once awake, the child Clayton moved like dust chased by whirlwinds, racing, racing. “Boy like satchel named desire, always looking, wanting, try fill it much,” she told his mother once after a morning crawling after the child beneath wagons, whisking him, too close behind the tails of oxen switching at flies, too fast.

  “I suppose you're right, Zilah,” Missy Sue told her. “We all are just satchels of desire, wanting things to fill us up.” Suzanne had twisted her yellow hair then, into a roll at the top of her head as they'd sat outside in the shade of the wagon. “Still, it's desire that drives us. All of us. Why should it be different with a small boy?”

  Finished, Suzanne had stood and reached for the leather halter worn by the dog that behaved as the woman's eyes. “My husband always said that desire was nothing to fear. It need only be focused.”

  “Yes, Missy Sue,” Zilah told her, almond eyes dropped to the ground. Zilah wasn't certain of the meaning of the word focused. Keeping safe, that was Zilah's wish, what she filled up her satchel of desire with. Spiders of fear ran up her spine. Who knew what kind of husband waited for her in California? Who knew what danger lurked behind the eyes of people? So much was uncertain.

  This morning beside the Humboldt, all in this wagon slept on.

  This good.

  Zilah dropped through the oval canvas opening, landing on the earth soft, like a bat dropping from a clinging place. The wide blue silk pants fluttered at her ankles.

  No more long dress now. Not wear dress. Catch on sage and stickers. Wear legs now. Better, like Missy Ruth.

  Zilah looked for the slender woman dressed as a man, whip on her hip. Did not find her.

  Must be with horses, always with horses.

  Zilah, turned, listened, then looked up. Two red-tailed hawks danced above her. Wind threaded through their wings. She watched the pair rise, catching currents over the white desert sand like children catch snow-flakes on their tongues—one moment there, then gone. Zilah sucked in a deep breath, cowered.

  Bird hurt me! Fly chse! Too close!

  She swatted at them, swirled herself around in the dirt, batting at birds high above.

  She watched then as something black with small ears and a long tail sniffed beneath a wagon.

  Bear too chse! No bear. Dog. Belong Missy Suzanne. Stay away! Stay away!

  Zilah shook her head, took in a deep breath. All the other women still slept, and she felt alone in this vast bowl of sagebrush and sand held by mountains with purple arms. She headed out. Hard white pebbles pressed through her thin slippers as she shuffled past the wagons. The day promised more sand and rock and uncertainty once they left the safety of the Humboldt.

  Today, they headed west, Seth Forrester said, away from the sure-ness of the river trail, out across the desert. Her stomach filled with butterflies. Her arms ached and she shook.

  Carrying boy Chyton, too much. Make weak, steal strength.

  She scowled, her eyes squinted into a thin, dark line. She patted her face, felt the pockmarks left there from a long-ago disease. Her face felt moist.

  Child Clayton cause much energy to flow. Bad child. Need too much.

  He already wore three summers on his narrow frame and moved quickly, tiring her.

  Boy steal strength. On purpose hurt me.

  Zilah noticed a band of moisture above her lip. She wiped at it with her palm, felt dampness there, too. Noticed the scar on her hand where a dog had once bitten.

  No get sick not now, not now!

  She found the water bucket. The round of the woode
n dipper settled at the narrow base before she tipped it slightly to cover the bottom of her porcelain bowl. She lifted the bowl and drank. Others shared the wooden dipper, but Zilah liked the bowl. Her bowl. Over the lip, she could see the heat of the amber desert build and shimmer like agitated snakes above the surface of the sand.

  The water carried a sour taste, and she wrinkled her flat nose. The liquid reminded her of the time of the graves, foul tasting, laced with death. She swallowed. Her throat hurt more today. She did not wish to speak of it to anyone, did not wish to see the fear in their eyes the way she'd seen it when the others had died. She'd developed a cough in the last week, a thickening that made her swallow often and yet not cough it clear. Why now, when everyone else walked well? Why now did she fear illness and what it might bring? She clucked her tongue, dismissing. So much came wrapped in the rice paper of the unknown.