Third Sons: April 1886
“Fourteen years ago,” Deuce says to himself as much as to Jacob. He gazes into the bank of fog that surrounds their southbound steamer. Deuce asks himself, How many times did I walk up and down that hill? “I knew Mary from school,” he tells Jacob, who’s standing next to him. “Mary’s sisters and cousins, too.” Deuce realizes he’s been telling Jacob the story the full two days since they left Seattle.
“So, now you know how my Uncle Joe met Mary, the woman I was telling you about in San Francisco,” Deuce says to Jacob. “What do you think?”
Jacob regards the wall of fog, his head barely above the deck rail. “What happened to the three sisters?”, he asks.
“The seam-stitchers? They got work with the tailor Joe met in the saloon,” Deuce replies. “Ended up taking over his shop. Volunteered at St. Pat’s for awhile. That’s where they met Mary. Taught her all they knew about seam-stitching.” He decides not to tell Jacob about Bernie.
“Will we have to hide again when we get to San Francisco?”, Jacob asks.
Deuce shakes his head. “We didn’t need to hide in Seattle,” he says. “When I’m with my Uncle Joe and cops show up,” Deuce explains, “I naturally duck out of sight.”
“He sure does attract them,” Jacob replies.
Deuce laughs. “Joe has a true knack for rubbing police the wrong way,” he says. “They tend not to take to me, either,” he adds. Jacob nods.
Not for the first or the last time, Deuce thinks, this is the most serious nine-or-ten-year-old I have ever encountered. Jacob just watches.
“We’ll get those Army folks in the Presidio working on finding your father’s whereabouts,” Deuce tells Jacob as they watch the fog float by. “First thing after we get settled. We'll get a good meal at my sister's. And a bath might be a good idea. Perhaps a nap after. Then it’s off to the Presidio to get the word to your father he should come fetch you. Before the priest makes you Catholic.”
“He can’t make me Catholic,” Jacob replies, “not if I don’t want to be.”
“That won’t stop Father Laurent from trying his best,” Deuce says. He notices the concern on Jacob’s face. “He can’t really make you a Catholic,” he says. “Still, best if you don’t make his acquaintance.”
“What do priests look like?”, Jacob asks.
“Oh, you can spot ‘em a mile away,” Deuce replies. “They wear black robes and spray water around.” Jacob gives Deuce a sideways look. “I know,” Deuce says, “crazy. But they all do whatever the priests tell ‘em to do. Pretend to, anyway.”
“After they dry off,” Jacob says. Now Deuce gives Jacob a sideways look. “From getting sprayed with water by the priests,” Jacob explains.
“Precisely,” Deuce replies. The fog stays thick around the deck, but it turns a lighter gray as day breaks. “Still not cold?”, Deuce asks. Jacob shakes his head. Deuce sees his eyelids dropping. “Let’s get some rest before we dock,” he says. “Big day today.”
Jacob just stares. “What if they can’t find my father?”, he asks quietly.
“Then we’ll find him ourselves,” Deuce answers. “How hard can he be to run down? What you need is some good Irish stew to puff out your cheeks. Make sure your father recognizes you when he sees you.”
“He can’t reconnize me,” says Jacob. “He’s never seen me.”
“That won’t matter,” Deuce says. “Blood knows blood.” He pats Jacob’s shoulder.
The seas grow calmer. The occasional light blinks through the thinning fog. Deuce says, “I believe we’ve talked our way to San Francisco.”
A moment later, Jacob says, “I’m not tired.” He turns from the rail and heads for the crowded cabins.
Deuce joins him. “I sure am,” he says.
Inside they find two benches they can stretch out on. Jacob falls asleep immediately. As tired as he is, Deuce’s thoughts keep him awake. He’s sent on another fool’s mission by Mary to retrieve his wayward uncle and see him brought back home to San Francisco safe and sound. Deuce sprung his Uncle Joe from the prison in Paydirt that turned out not to be a prison at all. He also got Joe across the Canadian border.
It was just a few weeks ago Deuce found this nine-year-old kid Jacob stowed away in his wagon beside that long lake in British Columbia. A runaway from a Provincial farm, sent there after his mother died, he said. Looking to reunite with his father, who’s in the U.S. Army. Deuce decides it will be easier to explain Jacob to Madame Bouchet than to his mother, who has her hands full with five kids still at home.
Deuce’s youngest sibling is seven-year-old Cecelia. The three oldest after Deuce, two brothers and a sister, are making their own way. That’s the nine of us, thinks Deuce, the children of Andrew and Alice Laffingstock. Plus the two oldest, James and Joseph, who died young. James they lost as an infant, Joseph at three. That makes Alphonsus Januarius, dubbed “Deuce” by his mother, the eldest surviving Laffingstock child.
Alice and Andrew’s third son has spent three years running away, running back, away again, back again. Away. Back. Deuce knows his mother is as happy to see him go as she is to see him come home. Alice probably feels the same way about her husband.
Deuce couldn’t recall a time his father was home for more than three weeks running. Andrew’s life was spent in rail camps and sleeping cars. Alice expressed no preference. Whether her husband was home or away, Alice’s work wasn’t much changed. Orchestrating her family’s diaspora.
Deuce realizes San Francisco no longer feels like home. Wherever Mae is, that’s home. Deuce promised he would return by the end of summer. Now I’ve got Jacob to settle, he thinks. Not to mention delivering his Uncle Joe to Mary, with no idea where either of them might be.
Deuce calculates how long it has been since he was in California. A couple of years? He doesn’t recall missing the place for a single day. Deuce never thought he would miss a place called Saginaw. He pictures its low, rolling hills dotted with ponds and clumps of hardwood trees. As he drops off to sleep, Deuce pictures a woman among those rolling hills, her light brown hair billowing. Not Mae, not Mary, yet familiar.
The woman ties and reties her scarf in an attempt to keep her hair in place. A machine roar blends with the sound of the steamer’s whistle. In his half-sleep, Deuce tries to decipher the look on the woman’s face. There’s a touch of annoyance, but mostly the woman seems contented. Deuce tries to catch the woman’s eye, but she keeps turning away from him. As he dissolves into to sleep, he hears someone calling her name.
January 1967, continued
January 1974, continued
June 1900, continued
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