Jared hastened for a stout tree, ducking behind it to observe the goings-on. The men with flickering lanterns entered the mouth of the cave. The breeze from within blew out several of the lanterns. He waited, wondering what would happen. He rubbed his arms. His teeth began to chatter. This wasn't from the effects of cold but a growing fear mixed with uncertainty. To him, the cave entrance was like the opening of some gigantic beast, swallowing up the innocent like the huge fish that consumed Jonah. He prayed it had not swallowed up his aunt in death.
For a long time, he waited. Then a new noise erupted from the entrance, startling him. He heard excited voices and then saw the men appear once more, bearing the stretcher. Rubbing his eyes, he stared harder, only to have his stomach lurch. The men carried a white shrouded figure, the face covered by a cloth.
He swallowed hard. His limbs trembled. Please God, no. He rushed forward.
"Go back!" they ordered. "You are not to be here!"
"Please, you must tell me who this is. Please, I have to know."
The men paused and looked at each other.
"Wwe were told she was very ill," Jared went on, unable to steady his tremulous voice. "Her name is Mattie Edwards. Please tell me if that's her or not."
He saw the glow of recognition in their faces. Then came the nods that confirmed his fear. "Yes. She died this morning. I'm sorry."
Sweat broke out across his brow. He covered his face. What he dreaded most had come to pass.
Aunt Mattie. Dead.
He turned away and stumbled up the path. The tears clouded his vision. How would he ever tell his uncle the terrible news?
Jared gazed upon the ghostlike face of the woman whom he had come to love like a mother. Mattie's final resting place would be the burial ground not far from the Mammoth Hotel. Beside him, loud wails rose from Uncle Dwight. His uncle's grieving began the moment Jared gave the sorrowful news and continued until now, as they looked upon her in a silent state of death. She was dressed in her wedding gown of flowered calico, which Dwight had packed in her trunk. Her hands clasped the few yellow lilies the young lady at the hotel offered. He fingered a lone flower from the bouquet given by the woman in the white dress and gazed at its beauty before looking at his aunt one last time.
When the coffin was nailed shut and the burial completed, Uncle Dwight's wails came to an abrupt end. He turned to face Jared. His face grew red. His fists clenched. It began as a mutter within him and then grew to a roar filled with pain.
"You killed her!"
"You did it. You're to blame. You killed her just as sure as I'm standing here."
Jared stared in disbelief. "Uncle, please." Tears clouded his eyes. "I loved Aunt Mattie. I would never. . ."
"Yyou made me send her toto that death cave. You told me I could trust you. You told me that doctor could cure her. Now she's gone! My sweet Mattie is gone forever." He waved his fist, nearly striking him.
"Uncle. . ."
"Get out of my life! I don't ever want to see you again!"
Excerpt from INTO THE DEEP, historical romance. To order: Call Barbour Publishing Customer Service (740) 922-7280 and ask for H.S. 695, Into The Deep. For other titles and to see Lauralee Bliss's ongoing book sale, visit her web site at www.lauraleebliss.com
Copyright 2006, Lauralee Bliss. All rights reserved.