Montana Gallagher Series
Rousseau Mansion, New Orleans, October 1883
Nothing existed of the life she had known.
Her slender arm wrapped around the little boy’s shoulder and pulled him closer to her side. She could feel his slight trembling and wished more than anything that she could take away his sadness. They were alone in the world. They had each other, and she prayed that would be enough for them both.
They stood and listened as the priest gave the final blessing, and two men lowered the caskets into the ground. The few other mourners who had been kind enough to attend the funeral asked her to leave with them, but she needed the closure. She needed her eyes to see what her heart refused to accept. “An unfortunate affair,” everyone called the incident, for it wasn’t every day that a man murdered his wife and then shot himself. Isabelle wished not to think on the possible reasons why, but she couldn’t seem to help herself. She never imagined her family to be anything but happy. Their father’s death, however, revealed the truth. No one spoke of it with them, of course, but the lawyer had made the situation quite clear.
They were penniless.
Isabelle thought back to the days before college, when she kept the family’s books. Did I miss the signs? She remembered her father’s stories and struggles about commerce during the war and knew how difficult it had been for him. They enjoyed great prosperity after they left Philadelphia for New Orleans five years after the War Between the States ended. His struggles paid off, and wise investments in land and timber after the war ensured the Rousseau’s wealth. Her mother did not seem to care about the hard work it took her husband to make it through the war, but she enjoyed spending his hard-earned money. She thought of little more than to host party after party, ball after ball.
Isabelle recalled their last ball—her mother lay unmoving on the ballroom floor. Dr. Simmons assured them of a full recovery.
Her mother’s episodes began four months later. She argued with her husband over the most mundane details of their lives. She treated the servants and children deplorably. Isabelle’s father placed his wife under the care of a doctor, and after a month of treatments, she returned to her family, once again herself. No one knew what caused the illness.
Isabelle’s father gave her the opportunity to attend college—she wanted to be a teacher. When she returned from school, she had planned to take a position at Landers Preparatory School for Girls rather than keep the family books. Therefore, she didn’t know the truth of their dire finances. The only truth Isabelle knew now stood solemnly next to her. She would give up everything for him, but right now she needed to find a way to support him properly.
Isabelle managed to set aside enough funds from her modest teacher’s salary to last a few months, but they couldn’t stay in New Orleans. She wouldn’t do that to Andrew. She refused to let him grow up in a city where whispers and gossip could reach his ears.
Gently and with great love, she guided her brother away from the church cemetery to the waiting buggy. They’d be without a buggy after today, for the bank wanted all of the property, down to the last piece of furniture and candlestick in her home, to pay off her father’s recent and massive debts. The lawyer kindly informed them that they may stay at the mansion until the end of the week.
Isabelle helped her brother into the waiting buggy and sat down beside him, pulling him close and covering them both with the light, woolen, travel blanket. He’d been silent in the three days since their parents’ death, and she worried for him fiercely. She swore to herself to find a way to give him a better existence and to help chase away his haunting memories.
Andrew fell asleep with his head of golden hair resting against the crook of her shoulder, as the smart-looking black curricle made its way through the streets to the home they no longer owned. Without waking her brother, Isabelle pulled out the small advertisement she had found the week before in the paper. She didn’t know at the time that what should have been an adventurous idea would now be a necessity. It was a chance at a new beginning, and she longed to grasp it, if for no other reason than to keep her brother safe. With resolve, she placed the notice back in her voluminous skirt pocket and laid her head back against the buggy. Sleep and appetite had eluded her the past few days, but at least for these precious moments, she closed her eyes and dreamed of what could be.
Her life now followed a path she never imagined, but a more traditional path was no longer an option. Her lack of desire for marriage or to carry on in society had vexed her mother for many years. Most women and acquaintances of her age married and dutifully began families of their own. They frequented the city’s best tea rooms and spent their evenings at parties, while their children stayed at home with nannies. That might have been her had she made other choices. Isabelle preferred not to socialize, but she was always encouraged to attend the balls and parties, much to Isabelle’s dismay. She knew her mother’s only purpose had been to ensure her daughter’s place in society and secure a good marriage with a man of wealth and influence. Her tall stature, long, golden hair, and soft-gray eyes made her popular among society’s young gentlemen. Isabelle recalled the last time a young man courted her—an experience she had no desire to entertain a second time.
Isabelle studied the mansion one last time. The driver loaded the luggage onto the buggy for the ride to the train station, and the heavy air of the Garden District weighed heavy on her skin. She had imagined such a different future.
No matter how her father had left them in the end, he had given them a good home. He didn’t arrange a marriage for her as many other fathers in their social circle had done.
Isabelle gazed out the window of the train as it slowly carried her and Andrew into a wilderness that excited her as much as frightened her.
During the war, Isabelle had heard stories of men and boys heading west to avoid joining the fight. Their family had been lucky in that regard. With her father old enough to have been left alone and her brother not yet born, their family had remained intact. When her father moved the family to New Orleans, society welcomed them, regardless of where they had lived during the war. Their French heritage and wealth had certainly helped.
That acceptance mattered little now. She left behind no one who meant anything to her. When it became known that she and her brother had been left penniless, many of those she called friends stopped visiting after they’d paid their initial respects. One young man offered marriage. She declined and immediately sent a telegram to Briarwood, Montana Territory, accepting the position as a schoolteacher.
Isabelle scanned the changing landscape. The last three days offered views of dense trees and farmland but nothing to excite her about what lay ahead. Before they left, she had spent hours reading accounts about massive mountains so high a person could never climb them and land so vast that people lived lifetimes on it and never saw everything.
She glanced down at her brother, who rested quietly in the seat next to hers, his head against her arm. Isabelle brought her gaze back to the landscape and welcomed a small rush of pleasure at what she saw in the distance. The grand mountains loomed over the landscape, and pine trees became more plentiful the closer they came to those majestic peaks. Her heart raced as excitement overpowered the fear, and for a short time, she allowed herself the pleasure of imagining something better.
Excerpted from Gallagher's Hope by MK McClintock. Copyright © 2012 by MK McClintock. Published by Trappers Peak Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author or publisher.
Disclosure of Material Connection: As an Amazon Associate, MK earns from qualifying purchases. Some of the links on this site are "affiliate links." Meaning that, at no additional cost to you, MK may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. We're disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."