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The Fugitive Wife

Esther Crummey foresaw the accident as it unfolded. "The line!" she cried, waving both arms at the man on the ship's deck who signals the derrick operator, but he and the others nearby were watching the load rise, and Esther's voice was swallowed by the din.

She had tucked herself between a piling and a crate of machinery on the Arlington dock at the foot of Seneca Street, occupying a narrow wedge whitened by gulls, perhaps the last vacant corner in the port, standing resolutely in her faded housedress and thin wrap, a pale blue scarf protecting her head from the weather. The place smelled of wet canvas and hemp and the brine and fetid rot of low tide. She was waiting for a chance to speak with Nate Deaton, to deliver a message from the Major and say goodbye and be off with her own life. Mr. Deaton stood fewer than ten yards across the dock in his campaign hat and oilskins, directing the loading of the company's freight with such importance that she hadn't felt free to approach him through the better part of forty minutes. As she watched him she felt critical of her hesitation and told herself that he wasn't so big a man as she made him --- he was two years younger than she (she was twenty-five), and no smarter --- but he had an air that made her hold back. It was the smell of an upper-crust education and eastern money.

The docks were a snarl of ropes and cables, men, wagons, horses, and stacked cargo. None of it had to do with her, she felt untouched by the chaos of it, didn't mind standing in excrement. She'd grown up on a farm and knew that it isn't the animals of this world that do you in. All of Seattle was consumed with getting ships loaded and off for the Bering Sea. The hotels and boardinghouses were overrun. The outfitters, teamsters, longshoremen, and stable keepers --- the boilermakers, blacksmiths, lumbermen, and ships' crews --- all were testy with overcrowded workshops and stores and the teeming gold seekers who had converged in their rush for Nome.

There were twenty or more ships at the piers and more standing off, the owners of each making their best judgment when to sail, late enough to avoid getting caught in the Bering ice pack but early enough to draw the passengers who'd pay a premium to be among the first to land their outfits at Nome.

Excerpted from The Fugitive Wife © Copyright 2012 by Peter C. Brown. Reprinted with permission by W. W. Norton. All rights reserved.

The Fugitive Wife
by by Peter C. Brown

  • hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton
  • ISBN-10: 0393061108
  • ISBN-13: 9780393061109