BVC Announces The River Horse Tsar by Brenda W. Clough

The River Horse Tsar by Brenda W. Clough

The River Horse Tsar
The Thrilling Victorian Adventures of the Most Dangerous Woman in Europe
Book 6
by Brenda W. Clough

Hidden in the back of an artist’s canvas is a golden token that draws Marian Halcombe Camlet into a web of international intrigue.

A desperate father hides a little slip of solid gold in the back of an artist’s canvas.

It is a token, the clue to a vast international conspiracy to assassinate a world leader and change the course of the 19th century. A train crash puts it into the hands of Marian Halcombe Camlet and Walter Hartright.

They unravel its secrets in a breakneck chase that takes them across Europe, through kidnappings, catacombs and nunneries, a major project to domesticate the hippopotamus for the British Army and, at the last, deep into the depths of the cruel dilemmas of women. Even the most dangerous woman in Europe can do only so much, when every law in Victoria’s Britain is weighted in favor of men.

PRAISE FOR VOLUME 1, MARIAN HALCOMBE

Just last night finished reading Marian Halcombe: The Thrilling Victorian Adventures of the Most Dangerous Woman in Europe, by Brenda W. Clough, and I had such a good time! The steadfast alliance between Marian, the dangerous woman of the title, and her more decorous sister, Laura, is a delight, as is the growing consternation of the men – hero and villain alike – as they come to realize just exactly what – who! – it is they’re dealing with. The book’s voice is pitch perfect, which adds to the fun. I’m in for the next one. – Sharon Lee, co-author of the Liaden Universe® novels

It’s a sequel to The Woman In White – but it’s so much more than that. This is a bodice-ripping yarn, a Victorian melodrama with a modern sensibility, a delightful romp, a thriller and a romance and a comedy of manners all at once. I adored it. – Chaz Brenchley, author of author of Three Twins at the Crater School

Brenda Clough’s invincible and endearing Marian Halcombe Camlet easily enters the company of Jane Marple, Miss Maud Silver, Pamela North, and Prudence Ford as a British female sleuth in the mid-1800s. The Marian novels are an absolute joy to read. – Paul S. Piper, author of The Wolves of Mirr

A ripping yarn! Thrilling, lushly Victorian, with a dashing heroine who is not even handsome, yet she bags a delightful husband – not without considerable heroic effort and derring-do – and upholds the finest traditions of pure womanhood! (Well… kinda pure.) – Jennifer Stevenson, author of Coed Demon Sluts

Buy The River Horse Tsar at BVC Ebookstore

Read a Sample:
From the papers of Marian Halcombe Camlet
The Times of London
5 April 1866

A dastardly attempt was made yesterday upon the life of His Imperial Highness Alexander II, tsar of all the Russias. The tsar was assailed as he was leaving the Summer Gardens in St. Petersburg. An attacker armed with a pistol fired upon him as he was departing in his carriage, but the imperial coachman was able to lash the horses into a gallop and thus saved the monarch’s life. The perpetrator was immediately dragged down by outraged bystanders and arrested. A wider conspiracy is being laid bare by the energies of the Imperial Ministry of Internal Affairs…

Walter Hartright’s narrative

My artist friend Albert Moore was determined to secure me a fair shake. “Tcha, Dunsfold,” he said, “Was not your late lamented father my favorite colourman? And Hartright here’s been a member of the Mahlstick Club since Hector was a pup. Certainly he should get the professional discount.”

Harassed, the boyish shopkeeper said, “Of course, sir, of course. Your pardon, Mr. Hartright. Shall it be these paints, then?”

“My condolences on your bereavement,” I said kindly. “A shocking thing. I read of the crime in the papers.” The elder Dunsfold had been murdered in the street a fortnight ago, and the lad wore a bit of crape around his arm. “No apology is called for. I haven’t painted professionally in years.” I mulled upon my selection of a dozen or so oil-paint tubes on the shop counter. “A canvas. A large one.”

“By all means, sir. Shall our largest standard size be sufficient? It measures 45 inches by 39.”

The shop was an old-fashioned warren of artists’ materials. There were brushes in racks or tied in bundles, cabinets of wide shallow drawers to hold expensive imported drawing papers, ranks of cubbyholes from which the ends of pencils peeped, jugs of linseed oil, boxes of crayon, tins of turpentine, colorants in jars and drawers: the ten thousand thrilling tools of my former trade. I looked up at the rack of prepared canvases. “Too small. A custom job then. I need it to be at least sixty inches.”

“Ambitious, Hartright.” Moore came only up to my shoulder, but at this period was sufficiently prosperous with his portrait painting to have grown a comfortable double chin. “Landscape?”

“No, I’m poaching on your territory. It began as a portrait of my sister-in-law.”

“Mmm.” Moore nodded. “Mrs. Marian Halcombe Camlet, I remember. Fascinating woman.”

“No beauty, but I agree her face is interesting.”

Moore’s plaint was from the heart. “You can’t conceive how many pudding-faced men and cow-like women there are in London. I’ve painted them all. And children like piglets. It was a distinct relief to portray Mrs. Camlet. Turned out quite well, too. Fuchsia silk’s always amusing to render. Mr. Camlet has it in his office. Is yours to be full-length?”

“You might call it that. I began by sketching her while she was asleep in bed. The drama of the pose, her loosened hair falling over the edge to form a great black pool on the floor – it was irresistible.”

“Women abed.” Moore approved. “Always popular with buyers.”

“But like a fool I titled it Sleeping Beauty.”

“Not so dusty, in my humble opinion,” Moore said. “Makes the viewer look twice. She’s not your conventional stunner, with that square jaw and swarthy complexion, but even more attractive.”

“She vehemently disagreed. Scolded me up one side and down the other, denouncing it as false advertising and sharp practice. I fobbed her off by telling her it was a sketch for a larger conception. My notion now is to turn the figure into a sleeping German warrior maiden, and perhaps add another figure, a Siegfried, to her Brunhild.”

“Ah! Mythological matters, the coming thing.”

“The bed curtains can become walls of flame, and there’ll be armor, gems, and such. A technical challenge shall be good for me.”

Moore grunted. “Splash out and show what you can do.”

“But to get all the gubbins in, I need elbow room. How long shall a custom panel take?” I added to the youthful shopkeeper.

“Wouldn’t take our artificer but a fortnight, sir.”

“Too long.” Laura had come up to town to consult a dentist, and incidentally attend Parents’ Day at Marlborough, where our son Wally was a pupil. In a day or so Marian was to take her two younger children and return with Laura to Limmeridge for a visit. The ladies would carry all these supplies back to Cumberland for me. My London rooms had neither the light nor space for a studio, and my time in town was solely dedicated to my duties as a member of Parliament. “Perhaps I can find one elsewhere,” I mused.

Young Dunsfold’s boyish treble warbled in his haste. “My mother the manager is not in, sir. But I happen to know of a canvas, ordered but never paid for, in back. I’m sure she would approve of its sale to you. It’s 65 by 50, somewhat larger than you require, sir. But if you would care to inspect it?”

“Bring it out, by all means.”

Moore was stern. “It had better be solidly morticed and braced. None of your patchwork! And the canvas without any flaws. Don’t want a defective reject foisted off on you,” he added to me.

The panel was carried out by two of the smallest shop boys I had ever seen, probably more Dunsfold sons. They set it on the floor, leaning it against the counter so that the light trickling in from the rain-wrinkled bow window could fall full upon the fabric surface. It appeared quite pristine. The canvas was smoothly woven, awaiting its primer coat of base color – white? Perhaps primrose yellow would be better, to lend punch to the flames.

The fabric was tautly and evenly fastened on all four edges. I tipped the chest-high canvas forward so that I could inspect the back. At the beginning of Victoria’s reign when my father was a drawing master, oil paintings were executed upon actual wooden boards, and occasionally smaller ones still are. Venetian artists invented the canvas tacked over sturdy wooden stretcher bars, lighter, cheaper, and easier to construct.

Because of its size this frame was notably sturdy, the four sides braced by three crossing horizontal timbers and one vertical one. At every morticed joint and at all four corners, triangles of wood were nailed to keep the angles true and the entire framework rigid. As is customary, a square label was gummed over one of the central junctions. This proclaimed the name of the firm in curly letters: “Dunsfold & Son, Artists’ Colourmen since 1839.” When I leaned on it the frame betrayed no wobble or give. The entire thing was not heavy, but surpassingly awkward to handle, like a kite as large as a tabletop.

I gazed into the blank white surface again, and my fingers itched for the pencil or charcoal. The hero of Nordic legend, the great Volsung himself, seemed to hover on the verge of existence, with perhaps a sweeping cloak, leaning back in astonishment from the supine figure on the bed. A stormy Northern sky, to make the flames show up well…

“It’s a monster, though,” Moore said. “We can’t possibly take it with us.”

“Can you have it crated for rail shipment, and delivered to my rooms? Safely, mind.” And when the young shopkeeper promised it should be carefully boxed and carried to my rooms off St. James Street that very afternoon, the bargain was made. I left him my card and we stepped out from the comfortable linseed-oil fug into the April drizzle of Fitzroy Square. “I owe you a drink, for introducing me to your favorite colourman. The one up in Carlisle is unreliable. The madder he sold me went orange after but two years, another reason I have to redo the picture.”

“Shameful! No, Dunsfold’s crimsons are stable as Gibraltar. One couldn’t use them otherwise; if their portraits fade or turn purple my clients would yowl. Let it be your club, then. You fly high these days, Hartright, and some political custom would be very welcome.”

“What, even if they have faces like puddings?”

“Needs must, when the devil drives. Mrs. M is in the family way, did you hear?” It was too wet to walk, so we hailed a hansom and were off to the Reform Club.

Marian Halcombe Camlet’s journal
28 April, 1866

I write this in our first-class rail compartment on our way north. Laura and I are bringing only my little daughter Merry after all. My five-year-old William developed the measles yesterday. A light case, but so tiresomely contagious that my son must stay at home. The older three already had it, and are safely immured at their schools. All of Theo’s children have inherited his intelligence, but can it be prudent for Lottie to give her younger sister a copy of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman? Lester is only eight! Surely she’s too young for such an alarming work. At least I shall read it before passing it to her.

What a deal of luggage Laura travels with these days! I had assumed that she was bringing down more clothing for the boys, but these black-painted tin trunks with their curved lids, the massive leather trunks, the hat cases, all are hers. And she had an equally heavy baggage of worry. “I was horrified to read in the News that Marlborough is held to be one of the harshest schools in Britain. Oh Marian, and our sons are there!” Fair and fragile, my beautiful sister never looks on the bright side.

“But they’re thriving,” I pointed out. “Wally has made a host of friends and plays cricket. And you may always rely upon his older cousin Micah to watch over him.”

“Mr. Trollope’s brother was of no protection to him, when they were at Winchester.”

I took refuge in the incontrovertible. “We were there, my love, for Parents’ Day. Such a clamor about rugger and the school play I never heard.” Then I added, “It’s hard, when your darlings move away from home and hearth into a larger life. When Micah went to boarding school, that first day in his Marlborough jacket? I cried on the train platform, Laura, truly I did. Though he is Theo’s son I love him like my own. And you remember what a calamity his first venture out of the nest was. But it was different this time, better. He didn’t even look back at us. He was off, to woods and pastures new. And Theo told me that young birds must fly.”

“Your husband is so wise,” Laura admitted. “Yes, that’s the root of my trouble, I know. If only my dear ones could always stay close by me! But I know Wally needed to go. You, even, needed to fly.”

“And you let me.” For I am notably plain, and had no dowry. With neither beauty nor fortune, I had never looked to marry. My life had been fixed in its spinster course until Laura urged me to open my mind to the notion. And with the thought came opportunity, and everything changed. For the better! Now I clasped my dearest sister’s hand. “See how time brings us around again. We go to Limmeridge and it shall be as it was when we were girls, the two of us.”

“And Merry.” She glanced fondly down at my pretty youngest. Laura has longed for a little girl of her own. But her health will not allow of another parturition, and so she spoils Merry instead. My daughter sat on the seat beside her aunt playing with her first doll. A real doll with a wax or china head is too fragile for a two-year-old. Inspired by the discovery of two gray shoe buttons in her button bag, Laura made a rag doll to resemble my gray-eyed Merry, knitting brown yarn and then unraveling it to make curly hair and stuffing the muslin body with fleece. Leftover calico sufficed for a wee gown, and she even contrived doll-sized leather boots by snipping the fingertips off an old pair of doeskin gloves.

I had to smile at the sentimentality of a doll version of my youngest. “She shall be no trouble, with Miss Biddie to keep her in order.” Miss Biddie the nursemaid and Laura’s maid Nettie were riding in a second-class compartment. “What amusements shall we pursue? Shall Fairlie enjoy it, if I read aloud to us after supper? It’s spring now, and we can walk to church…”

Thus I beguiled Laura with pleasant thoughts of the future. Left to her own devices she may fret herself into real illness. But I must put this journal away. Merry is tugging at my skirts.

From the papers of Marian Halcombe Camlet

The Times of London

5 April 1866

A dastardly attempt was made yesterday upon the life of His Imperial Highness Alexander II, tsar of all the Russias. The tsar was assailed as he was leaving the Summer Gardens in St. Petersburg. An attacker armed with a pistol fired upon him as he was departing in his carriage, but the imperial coachman was able to lash the horses into a gallop and thus saved the monarch’s life. The perpetrator was immediately dragged down by outraged bystanders and arrested. A wider conspiracy is being laid bare by the energies of the Imperial Ministry of Internal Affairs…

Walter Hartright’s narrative

My artist friend Albert Moore was determined to secure me a fair shake. “Tcha, Dunsfold,” he said, “Was not your late lamented father my favorite colourman? And Hartright here’s been a member of the Mahlstick Club since Hector was a pup. Certainly he should get the professional discount.”

Harassed, the boyish shopkeeper said, “Of course, sir, of course. Your pardon, Mr. Hartright. Shall it be these paints, then?”

“My condolences on your bereavement,” I said kindly. “A shocking thing. I read of the crime in the papers.” The elder Dunsfold had been murdered in the street a fortnight ago, and the lad wore a bit of crape around his arm. “No apology is called for. I haven’t painted professionally in years.” I mulled upon my selection of a dozen or so oil-paint tubes on the shop counter. “A canvas. A large one.”

“By all means, sir. Shall our largest standard size be sufficient? It measures 45 inches by 39.”

The shop was an old-fashioned warren of artists’ materials. There were brushes in racks or tied in bundles, cabinets of wide shallow drawers to hold expensive imported drawing papers, ranks of cubbyholes from which the ends of pencils peeped, jugs of linseed oil, boxes of crayon, tins of turpentine, colorants in jars and drawers: the ten thousand thrilling tools of my former trade. I looked up at the rack of prepared canvases. “Too small. A custom job then. I need it to be at least sixty inches.”

“Ambitious, Hartright.” Moore came only up to my shoulder, but at this period was sufficiently prosperous with his portrait painting to have grown a comfortable double chin. “Landscape?”

“No, I’m poaching on your territory. It began as a portrait of my sister-in-law.”

“Mmm.” Moore nodded. “Mrs. Marian Halcombe Camlet, I remember. Fascinating woman.”

“No beauty, but I agree her face is interesting.”

Moore’s plaint was from the heart. “You can’t conceive how many pudding-faced men and cow-like women there are in London. I’ve painted them all. And children like piglets. It was a distinct relief to portray Mrs. Camlet. Turned out quite well, too. Fuchsia silk’s always amusing to render. Mr. Camlet has it in his office. Is yours to be full-length?”

“You might call it that. I began by sketching her while she was asleep in bed. The drama of the pose, her loosened hair falling over the edge to form a great black pool on the floor – it was irresistible.”

“Women abed.” Moore approved. “Always popular with buyers.”

“But like a fool I titled it Sleeping Beauty.”

“Not so dusty, in my humble opinion,” Moore said. “Makes the viewer look twice. She’s not your conventional stunner, with that square jaw and swarthy complexion, but even more attractive.”

“She vehemently disagreed. Scolded me up one side and down the other, denouncing it as false advertising and sharp practice. I fobbed her off by telling her it was a sketch for a larger conception. My notion now is to turn the figure into a sleeping German warrior maiden, and perhaps add another figure, a Siegfried, to her Brunhild.”

“Ah! Mythological matters, the coming thing.”

“The bed curtains can become walls of flame, and there’ll be armor, gems, and such. A technical challenge shall be good for me.”

Moore grunted. “Splash out and show what you can do.”

“But to get all the gubbins in, I need elbow room. How long shall a custom panel take?” I added to the youthful shopkeeper.

“Wouldn’t take our artificer but a fortnight, sir.”

“Too long.” Laura had come up to town to consult a dentist, and incidentally attend Parents’ Day at Marlborough, where our son Wally was a pupil. In a day or so Marian was to take her two younger children and return with Laura to Limmeridge for a visit. The ladies would carry all these supplies back to Cumberland for me. My London rooms had neither the light nor space for a studio, and my time in town was solely dedicated to my duties as a member of Parliament. “Perhaps I can find one elsewhere,” I mused.

Young Dunsfold’s boyish treble warbled in his haste. “My mother the manager is not in, sir. But I happen to know of a canvas, ordered but never paid for, in back. I’m sure she would approve of its sale to you. It’s 65 by 50, somewhat larger than you require, sir. But if you would care to inspect it?”

“Bring it out, by all means.”

Moore was stern. “It had better be solidly morticed and braced. None of your patchwork! And the canvas without any flaws. Don’t want a defective reject foisted off on you,” he added to me.

The panel was carried out by two of the smallest shop boys I had ever seen, probably more Dunsfold sons. They set it on the floor, leaning it against the counter so that the light trickling in from the rain-wrinkled bow window could fall full upon the fabric surface. It appeared quite pristine. The canvas was smoothly woven, awaiting its primer coat of base color – white? Perhaps primrose yellow would be better, to lend punch to the flames.

The fabric was tautly and evenly fastened on all four edges. I tipped the chest-high canvas forward so that I could inspect the back. At the beginning of Victoria’s reign when my father was a drawing master, oil paintings were executed upon actual wooden boards, and occasionally smaller ones still are. Venetian artists invented the canvas tacked over sturdy wooden stretcher bars, lighter, cheaper, and easier to construct.

Because of its size this frame was notably sturdy, the four sides braced by three crossing horizontal timbers and one vertical one. At every morticed joint and at all four corners, triangles of wood were nailed to keep the angles true and the entire framework rigid. As is customary, a square label was gummed over one of the central junctions. This proclaimed the name of the firm in curly letters: “Dunsfold & Son, Artists’ Colourmen since 1839.” When I leaned on it the frame betrayed no wobble or give. The entire thing was not heavy, but surpassingly awkward to handle, like a kite as large as a tabletop.

I gazed into the blank white surface again, and my fingers itched for the pencil or charcoal. The hero of Nordic legend, the great Volsung himself, seemed to hover on the verge of existence, with perhaps a sweeping cloak, leaning back in astonishment from the supine figure on the bed. A stormy Northern sky, to make the flames show up well…

“It’s a monster, though,” Moore said. “We can’t possibly take it with us.”

“Can you have it crated for rail shipment, and delivered to my rooms? Safely, mind.” And when the young shopkeeper promised it should be carefully boxed and carried to my rooms off St. James Street that very afternoon, the bargain was made. I left him my card and we stepped out from the comfortable linseed-oil fug into the April drizzle of Fitzroy Square. “I owe you a drink, for introducing me to your favorite colourman. The one up in Carlisle is unreliable. The madder he sold me went orange after but two years, another reason I have to redo the picture.”

“Shameful! No, Dunsfold’s crimsons are stable as Gibraltar. One couldn’t use them otherwise; if their portraits fade or turn purple my clients would yowl. Let it be your club, then. You fly high these days, Hartright, and some political custom would be very welcome.”

“What, even if they have faces like puddings?”

“Needs must, when the devil drives. Mrs. M is in the family way, did you hear?” It was too wet to walk, so we hailed a hansom and were off to the Reform Club.

Marian Halcombe Camlet’s journal

28 April, 1866

I write this in our first-class rail compartment on our way north. Laura and I are bringing only my little daughter Merry after all. My five-year-old William developed the measles yesterday. A light case, but so tiresomely contagious that my son must stay at home. The older three already had it, and are safely immured at their schools. All of Theo’s children have inherited his intelligence, but can it be prudent for Lottie to give her younger sister a copy of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman? Lester is only eight! Surely she’s too young for such an alarming work. At least I shall read it before passing it to her.

What a deal of luggage Laura travels with these days! I had assumed that she was bringing down more clothing for the boys, but these black-painted tin trunks with their curved lids, the massive leather trunks, the hat cases, all are hers. And she had an equally heavy baggage of worry. “I was horrified to read in the News that Marlborough is held to be one of the harshest schools in Britain. Oh Marian, and our sons are there!” Fair and fragile, my beautiful sister never looks on the bright side.

“But they’re thriving,” I pointed out. “Wally has made a host of friends and plays cricket. And you may always rely upon his older cousin Micah to watch over him.”

“Mr. Trollope’s brother was of no protection to him, when they were at Winchester.”

I took refuge in the incontrovertible. “We were there, my love, for Parents’ Day. Such a clamor about rugger and the school play I never heard.” Then I added, “It’s hard, when your darlings move away from home and hearth into a larger life. When Micah went to boarding school, that first day in his Marlborough jacket? I cried on the train platform, Laura, truly I did. Though he is Theo’s son I love him like my own. And you remember what a calamity his first venture out of the nest was. But it was different this time, better. He didn’t even look back at us. He was off, to woods and pastures new. And Theo told me that young birds must fly.”

“Your husband is so wise,” Laura admitted. “Yes, that’s the root of my trouble, I know. If only my dear ones could always stay close by me! But I know Wally needed to go. You, even, needed to fly.”

“And you let me.” For I am notably plain, and had no dowry. With neither beauty nor fortune, I had never looked to marry. My life had been fixed in its spinster course until Laura urged me to open my mind to the notion. And with the thought came opportunity, and everything changed. For the better! Now I clasped my dearest sister’s hand. “See how time brings us around again. We go to Limmeridge and it shall be as it was when we were girls, the two of us.”

“And Merry.” She glanced fondly down at my pretty youngest. Laura has longed for a little girl of her own. But her health will not allow of another parturition, and so she spoils Merry instead. My daughter sat on the seat beside her aunt playing with her first doll. A real doll with a wax or china head is too fragile for a two-year-old. Inspired by the discovery of two gray shoe buttons in her button bag, Laura made a rag doll to resemble my gray-eyed Merry, knitting brown yarn and then unraveling it to make curly hair and stuffing the muslin body with fleece. Leftover calico sufficed for a wee gown, and she even contrived doll-sized leather boots by snipping the fingertips off an old pair of doeskin gloves.

I had to smile at the sentimentality of a doll version of my youngest. “She shall be no trouble, with Miss Biddie to keep her in order.” Miss Biddie the nursemaid and Laura’s maid Nettie were riding in a second-class compartment. “What amusements shall we pursue? Shall Fairlie enjoy it, if I read aloud to us after supper? It’s spring now, and we can walk to church…”

Thus I beguiled Laura with pleasant thoughts of the future. Left to her own devices she may fret herself into real illness. But I must put this journal away. Merry is tugging at my skirts.

29 April

Oh, what calamities yesterday held! I almost cannot bear to write of them. But Laura says events must portend that my little daughter is meant for great things. For otherwise why would the Lord have spread a hand of salvation over Merry? And once recorded in my journal, tragedies are over: confined, safe between the pages, so that I can go on.

I had just put a biscuit into Merry’s little hand when we were flung forward, hard. Laura, sitting with her back to the engine, almost caught me in her lap, and Merry bumped her head on the edge of the seat and set up a wail. But our surprised cries were entirely drowned out by the shriek of brakes. The first-class carriages are towards the rear of the train, to lessen the inconvenience of the smoke from the engine, and all the cars ahead of us crashed and shuddered against each other. The scream of steel on steel was deafening, racking our bodies, pouring through the very structure of the car, a terrifying harbinger of some awful impact.

It seemed to go on for an eternity, but surely was but a moment or two. And then the crash, infinitely worse! We scarcely had time to clutch each other in a panic before the fearsome impact came. We were flung around like toys. Our car, the entire train perhaps, lurched inexorably sideways off the rails.

There is a gap in my memory, but it is a small one. The next thing I knew, I was in the open air. I lay face down in thick frigid black mud. Fragments of clinker were everywhere, in my hair, scraping my cold palms. I had been thrown clear, to tumble down the railway embankment.

I staggered up, dragging my sodden skirts. “Laura? Merry?” For one fearful instant I was alone. But then beside me something surged and rose in the black mire. It was Laura! “Oh sister, are you hurt?”

“I don’t know, Marian. What happened?” Between the black smears her sky-blue eyes were glazed with shock.

“A collision – oh God, but where’s Merry?” I turned, and the terror of the spectacle almost made my knees buckle. Far down to my left our train engine had collided with some cars blocking the line. The locomotive was shattered. Metal firetubes with a disturbing resemblance to intestines spurted out of the broken steel. Ominous steam poured up, billows of furious white against the steely afternoon sky mixing with the roiling black coal smoke. The cars behind the engine had been flung off the rails by the impact. Our own carriage was turned onto its side and slithered part-way down the muddy embankment. Everywhere there were injured and frightened passengers, crying out for help. “Merry,” I screamed. “Merry!”

Terror chilled me as I clawed back up the slippery slope. How could a child of two survive this? Laura and I had sat nearest the door. Merry had been on the inside. She must be trapped in the compartment.

The broken carriages were still coupled together, a bulky and dreadful necklace. As best I could in my shivering panic I fixed upon the right car from the several lying there. And our compartment, it had been second or third from the front.

Was that a childish cry? I pressed my chilly palms against a great metal panel that used to be the roof of the car. There were other screams, trapped and injured passengers crying for rescue. Behind me Laura called, “Merry! Can you hear me?”

Somehow having my sister at my back inspired me. I bent and gripped an edge. And I lifted it. Fear and love ignited in my heart so that I no longer felt the frost, and I had the fiery strength of Samson for that one instant. The entire section of roof rose a foot or two. Those within cried out in joy as they scrambled to safety. Beside me Laura cried, “Merry, give me your hand, instantly! Yes, you must creep out!”

With astounding daring Laura reached perilously in past my knees, and gripped a little hand. My little daughter slithered wailing out, down the muddy slope past my skirts, just in time. I had to let the roof fall. The gift of supernatural strength was for but a moment.

“Is she injured? Don’t cry, dearest!” Laura cried. “Marian?”

But I could not speak. I could no longer stand. Having expended all my power in a single titanic effort, I swooned dead away.

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