“He wasn’t very happy,” Kimber Sharp commented with an impertinent scowl on her face.
William looked down at his little sister and smiled. He watched as she played with the end of a blonde braid that draped over her shoulder and stared angrily after Mr. Ostrum. She was awfully opinionated for a six-year-old. “Now, Kimber, be nice. Mr. Ostrum is a widower and misses his wife very much. Do you remember when father went away for a few days and how much you missed him?”
His sister furrowed her brow in consideration, then, in a small voice, answered, “Yes.”
“Well, he feels like that all the time. So, maybe, we could be extra kind to Mr. Ostrum next time we see him. What do you think?”
Kimber, again, considered his words for a moment and then answered in a determined voice, “Yes, I think that is a good idea.”
William gave his sister an approving look and said, “I agree. Now, keep on the lookout for Marie. She should be along soon.”
He had already spotted Marie a moment earlier, but he liked to keep his sister occupied. Their purpose for being out that evening was to deliver a meal to Mrs. Fox. The poor older woman had come down with quite an illness, a high fever, and the neighbors were taking turns to provide assistance to the family until she recovered. William and Kimber’s mother had cooked a venison stew to share, which was in a steaming pot that William held carefully at his side.
The siblings were standing on the corner of the village square, across from the green, the heart of Kinderhook that the village radiated out from. Other than Mr. Ostrum, William only saw two other people – besides Marie – outside at that time. Across the street, he spotted Mr. Van Vleck entering his home, no doubt having just locked up his store. Walking down Hudson Street, he could see Mrs. Wynkoop hurrying her steps against the approaching night. Although the square was quite active in the warmer months, it was lonely on a cool fall evening.
The Village of Kinderhook was in an excellent location, beautifully situated among fertile lands near the east bank of the Hudson River. It was also on the Post Road between New York City and Albany which made for many visitors and easy trading. The Kinderhook Creek and other nearby waterways were home to many mills – wood, paper, cotton, to name a few – and employed hundreds in the area. Farming, of course, was the primary occupation of the small community.
“I see her! I see her!” exclaimed Kimber, pointing excitedly up the road.
William looked in the direction indicated, pretending to search for the person he had already seen. “Ah! Well done!”
His sister beamed with pride while they waited for Marie to reach them.
Marie Holland, like William, was seventeen years old. As she approached, her auburn hair flowed freely out of her cream colored bonnet, she clutched at her well-worn brown shawl, and a melancholy smile played on her lips. As usual, William felt a warmth at seeing her; a contentment that he didn’t experience around anyone else.
Her large dark eyes, impossibly expressive, haunted William, both for their beauty and for their tragedy – for it was rare that they could hide her story. When very young, the Sharps and the Hollands, William and Marie’s parents, were good friends and the families spent much time together. The two children being born only a few weeks apart created a bond between the new mothers and the proud fathers. Circumstances, however, changed drastically when the children were five. At that time, Marie’s father, James Holland, was discovered to be involved in some criminal activity and, instead of facing up to his crimes, decided to end his life.
It was a shock to the community, but the effect on the Holland family was absolutely devastating.
William only had faint memories of that time, but could not forget the feelings of great pain and sadness. Marie’s mother, Elizabeth, quickly spiraled down into depression and became completely withdrawn. William wasn’t sure when, exactly, Marie’s mother had started to drink, but she had never stopped.
Marie and her mother now lived in a small home, a shack really, on the edge of a field north of the plough factory along Chatham Street – a far cry from the nice, respectable house they enjoyed when Mr. Holland was alive. They probably couldn’t even afford their shack if it wasn’t for the charity they received from the villagers. Marie made a little money by doing whatever jobs offered her – lately working at the Van Vleck store – but, without her mother contributing anything, it wasn’t enough to fully support the two of them.
Completely opposite of the Holland’s, William’s family had thrived during that same time. Their farm was very successful and they always had plenty of everything. That divergence of circumstances, especially the withdrawal of Marie’s mother, led to William’s family spending less and less time with the Holland’s. He often wondered how things would be different if Marie’s mother hadn’t become a drunken recluse. He knew that their life would still be difficult, but surely it could have been a little better.
Regardless of the difficulties and differences between the two families, William and Marie remained good friends. In fact, although it concerned him occasionally, William knew that he was Marie’s closest companion; practically her only one. She confided everything in him and he listened. He felt that he had to be, not only her friend, but, at times, her father, and even her mother. She had no one else. The citizens of Kinderhook were kind to her, certainly pitied the poor girl, but generally kept their distance. William’s parents were always very generous to Marie, but he saw their subtle looks of uncomfortableness at his continued friendship with her – all the more so as they were approaching the age of romance. Their peers, however, were merciless. They teased her about her clothes, her home, her drunken mother, and even about her dead father. They never let her fit in, viewing her as too loathsome to associate with.
William didn’t care how others felt. Yes, their friendship nearly overwhelmed him at times, but William was happy to have such a relationship with Marie. He may have only been seventeen, but he knew that he loved her. Not some fanciful, wishing love, but true love rooted in appreciation for who Marie was.
“Marie! Marie!” Kimber exclaimed excitedly as she neared them. “I spotted you first!”
Marie lowered down and Kimber flew into her arms for a hug. “You saw me first, did you? Do you think William needs some spectacles?”
“Yes!” Kimber laughed and then added, “And a cane! And he should walk like this!” She proceeded to mimic a stooped, shuffling walk, one hand on her back while the other leaned on an invisible cane.
Despite being the object of the joke, his sister’s walk was so funny that William couldn’t help but laugh. He looked at Marie and she was laughing too.
After the merriment had mostly passed, William said, “Come along, comedians. Let’s get to Mrs. Fox before the stew becomes completely cold.”
“Try to keep up, old man,” Marie commented with a smile. That started Kimber laughing again and she skipped around happily in front of them as they walked up Broad Street.
William saw that Marie carried a small paper package and asked, “What did you bring?”
She looked a little despondent as she answered, “Oh, just a couple sweets that I purchased before we closed the shop.”
He knew that Marie and her mother had very little, and that anything they provided was difficult for them. With complete sincerity, he said, “That is very nice of you.”
With a bashful glance away from him, she replaced her look of despondency with a small smile.
Before long, they passed Frink’s Famous Mansion House, the light and liveliness of the tavern inviting amidst the cold evening. A short time later, they were just across the street from the church, a large building that looked intimidating in the low light, its peaked roof and spires reaching stoically into the darkened sky.
When they reached the Fox’s residence they were actually greeted at the door by Mrs. Fox. Her being out of bed was a good sign, although she looked paler than usual and seemed awfully tired by the time she sat down. The warmth inside felt good, and Marie and Kimber went about getting a serving of the stew ready. Seeing that the food was in good hands, William went out to the wood pile and grabbed an armful of logs to make sure Mrs. Fox had all she needed to stay warm.
After many thank-yous and promises to send love to their families, the trio left. It wasn’t completely dark yet, but would be soon. The temperature had a bit more of a bite after the warmth of the house, and they all walked a little quicker. They passed the church again and neared the village square. However, unlike before, when there were only a couple people about, the square was alive with activity. There must have been more than a dozen men and women outside, talking animatedly, with many heading, rushing, towards Frink’s Tavern.
What had happened?
Seeing a fellow student from the Kinderhook Academy heading their way, William stopped him and asked, “Frederick, what’s going on?”
“You haven’t heard?” the boy asked in surprise, his eyes wide with nervous excitement. “Markus Groet was killed!”
The news stunned William, for he knew Markus Groet and his family well. To hear that he was killed was upsetting and quite difficult to actually believe. “How…How did it happen?”
Frederick looked around, as if it was dangerous to be overheard, and then whispered, “It was a monster!”