Linda Weaver Clarke

Leave or Perish!

(Frances Davies 1844-1913)

As Frances gripped the railing of the porch and looked out toward the distant Wasatch Mountains, she heard the words ringing in her ears, "Please don't go, Frances. Don't leave me. Stay here and everything I own will be yours."

Frances Davies loved her Aunt Susan dearly. But Frances felt an overwhelming desire to leave her beloved country of Wales and go to America. She longed to have an adventure and surely there would be plenty in the Wild West. That was just five years ago, in 1861. So much had happened since then.

Her skirt began to wave gently in the breeze as she looked over the expanse of this beautiful valley and remembered how angry her aunt had been at first. Her grief-stricken words echoed through her memory.

"How can you leave me? You were like my own child. I asked your mother when you were born to name you after my own daughter who died, and I vowed right then and there that I would make you my heiress. I sent you to the finest boarding schools and educated you. You were going to inherit every thing I owned. And then you join some fool church and say you are leaving for America. How can you do this to me?" Taking a deep breath, she added more calmly, "Your parents can leave without you, but you stay here with me, Frances."

Frances slid her hand into her pocket and pulled out a picture of Aunt Susan. Holding it in her hands lovingly, she smiled at the image of her aunt. She remembered how Aunt Susan would take her up to the attic to show her the hampers of expensive china and then promised it would all be hers when she married. She remembered how much Aunt Susan adored and spoiled her. Then shortly after Frances's decision to leave Wales, Aunt Susan's anger and broken heart caused her to withdraw all of her promises. She told Frances she wouldn't inherit a single thing if she left. But Frances was not easily swayed. She stood firm in her decision and unyielding. She wanted to see the Wild West more than anything she could have inherited. No matter how hard Aunt Susan tried, she could not seem to influence her niece's decision to go to America.

Aunt Susan was furious with Frances's mother, Elizabeth, and laid the entire blame upon her for taking Frances away. In fact, she tried her very best to influence her sister to leave Frances in Wales, but it was to no avail. Elizabeth would not hear of it.

In defense of her mother, Frances told her aunt, "I know you think I'm still young because I'm only seventeen but I can make up my own mind. My parents haven't forced me to go with them. I want to go to America. I feel it deep down inside my heart that it's something I must do."

Aunt Susan raised her voice in anger, "You are so self-willed." Then she stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind her.

As Frances watched her aunt walk across the street, she murmured, "You're wrong. I'm not self-willed. I'm just determined."

Frances shook herself back to reality, and stuffed the picture back in her pocket. How she missed her aunt! They had been so close and she loved her dearly. The last thing she had wanted to do was to hurt her.

Frances smiled as she remembered how her aunt's heart had softened just before she left on the ship. On the day she was packing to leave, Aunt Susan had sent a messenger to her home with a tiny package. Frances was not sure if Aunt Susan had had too much pride to bring it herself or if she simply could not handle the thought of her niece leaving and the possibility of never seeing her again. When Frances opened the small package, she found a 15-pound note and a short message saying, "Just a little money for the trip."

As she read the note, tears welled up in her eyes and her bottom lip quivered with emotion. She knew that Aunt Susan had forgiven her for leaving, even though she did not bring the note in person or even see her off at the ship. The memory brought instant tears to Frances's eyes and she quickly wiped them away with the back of her hand.

In making her decision to go to America, she knew that she would miss the beautiful beaches of her homeland. Frances often passed the time by collecting shells on the beach near the cliffs of Manobier Castle. She enjoyed feeling the sand between her toes and the ocean breeze in her hair. Those were wonderful times and she knew she would keep it in her memory forever, but now she had a new life.

Frances remembered the excitement that ran through her veins when she thought about America and now she was here, experiencing what the Wild West was really like.

Frances was an elegantly beautiful young lady with rich dark brown hair and brown eyes so dark one could not see the pupils, and the olive tone of her complexion enhanced her beauty.

Frances awoke from her daydreams and thoughts of her aunt and beloved Wales. She walked into the house and quietly closed the door behind her so as not to awaken her two sleeping children. She was happily married and had two young children, which was an adventure in itself, to say the least. When she first arrived in the West, almost every single young man had tried to win the heart of this winsome lass, but her quiet dignity gave the boys little encouragement.

Frances made it very clear to her suitors that she had no intention of getting married. But it did not take long for her to change her mind when she met a rugged, good-looking cavalryman named Bill. It was love at first sight. He seemed to notice right away that she was a woman with much courage and he was very impressed.

As she pulled the freshly baked bread out of the oven, Frances realized that she had never had her adventure. She thought that the Wild West would be full of it. So far, life had been quite tame. On the other hand, Bill was a captain in the cavalry and he had an adventure almost every day, especially since Black Hawk declared war on the settlers.

Bill was in charge of keeping peace between the Indians and the settlers and was known as a great friend of the Indians, but Black Hawk and his band of warriors seemed determined to run the settlers out of the Utah Territory. Bill usually was out on patrol and had many narrow escapes because of the uneasiness between the people. At least once a week Bill would come home and tell his family about the exciting day he had had.

As she thought about it, she wished she could have at least one exciting experience that would last a lifetime, something she could tell her children and grandchildren about. Just one little adventure would do and then she would be content.

Frances heard the crack of a twig in the distance that interrupted her thoughts. Was some animal attracted to the scent of the bread she was baking? she wondered. It would not be the first time. She slowly arose from her seat and quietly peered out the open window. What she saw was not what she had expected. She thought perhaps it was a raccoon or some other pesky animal, but it was not. She tried to control the fear that overwhelmed her. What was she to do?

Her eyes widened with anxiety as she watched six Indian warriors fill their bags full of grapes. The protest inside her lodged in her throat and she did not know what to do. She knew if she left them alone, they would leave quietly. But at the same time, she had babied those grapes along, watering them and trimming them back. It just was not fair. They were stripping them bare and she could not do a thing about it.

The heat in her cheeks intensified as the anger rose within her. She realized that she could not let this happen. It was up to her to do something, but what? These Indians were thieves or perhaps Black Hawk's warriors, not the peace loving Indians that she had met in town. If she screamed, it would not make one bit of difference because they were not afraid of women. They could do as they pleased because they believed that women were weak and would not fight back.

The ache in her chest grew until she could scarcely breathe. "What shall I do?" she muttered to herself.

Bill had gone into the mountains to gather wood early that morning and it was up to her to defend their home. She ached inside knowing what she must do. Her courage rose as her eyes quickly searched the kitchen, trying to come up with some sort of plan.

She noticed her husband's Cavalry uniform draped over a chair. A brilliant idea came to her mind. Next she searched for a weapon and could only find a large bowie knife. This was of no use for such a situation as this. Her eyes continued searching the room. Then she noticed Bill's sword leaning against the wall in its scabbard.

Thinking quickly, Frances slipped into his uniform. She pulled on his pants, his jacket and his cap, tucking her hair inside so it would not show. She quickly powdered her face with white flour and then grasped his sword from its sheath. Thoughts raced through her mind. Would they know she was a woman? If so, then they would most likely challenge her.

Frances swung the door open and strode onto the porch, holding the sword tightly in her hand. Brandishing the sword in the air, high above her head in a threatening manner, she demanded in a loud voice, "Leave or perish!"

As she waved the sword wildly in the air, the warriors froze and did not move a muscle. Terrified by her unexpected appearance and ghostly features, they immediately dropped the bags filled to the brim with grapes. Then they quickly mounted their ponies and fled as fast as they could, all except for one who stared at her questioningly. He sat erect and magnificent on his pony and stared into her dark eyes. Her heart pounded as fear tried to wedge its way to the surface.

The Indians had pride and were fighting men. Mercy to his enemy would show weakness and fear. The Indian respected bravery and courage in defending oneself or one's property. And Frances had shown no fear of her enemy but only bravery. And perhaps the ghostly features of her face added to all this because the young brave gave a kick to his pony and took off over the hill and out of sight.

Frances's heart was pounding as it had never done before. This young Brave might have known she was a woman and let her be or her white face did the job. Whatever the reason, it worked.

She breathed a sigh of relief. Exhausted from the adrenaline that had rushed through her body, she collapsed in a nearby chair on the porch. Bill was riding down from the side of a hill when she saw him approaching. His horse was pulling a load of wood. He was lazily riding along, as if exhausted from the day's work. He stopped in front of the porch, slid off his horse, and walked up to Frances with a grin on his face.

"So, Frances, you thought you would try on my uniform eh? How does it fit?"

All she said to him was, "I'll tell you later when my nerves have settled down a bit and after you help me gather up a few bags of grapes so I can make grape jelly."

Bill's eyes widened as he gave his wife a tender kiss. "My, you've been busy today. I thought you were going to wait until next week when they were riper."

"So did I."

She grinned. Frances had had an adventure of a lifetime, something to tell her grandchildren and great grandchildren. The memory would last forever.

Leave or Perish COPYRIGHT 2006 Linda Weaver Clarke.
Reproduction prohibited without permission from the author.