Chicago; April, 1872
“Saints above! Where is it?” Jessie muttered, slowly making her way across the dark, fog-shrouded field. She couldn’t see one blessed thing.
The moon had shown brightly when she left the boarding house, but this irksome blanket of white had rolled in off Lake Michigan when she was halfway here. She’d thought of turning back, but her errand was too urgent.
She shivered in the chilly, moist air. Tugging her shawl tighter about her throat, she stepped cautiously, afraid of slipping on the wet grass or tripping over a snag. Encased in worn leather high-tops, her feet ached with the cold. Not for the first time, the wooden bucket she carried whacked the side of her knee, drawing a pained gasp from her lips.
After blindly crisscrossing the field twice, she was growing frantic when, suddenly, the bucket struck a hard, immovable object. Stopping short, Jessie reached out and touched rough stone beneath her questing fingertips.
“At last!” She’d found the artesian well. Situated within this small clearing on Chicago’s West Side, the well was surrounded by wooden cottages inhabited by working class families much like her own, but she doubted she would meet any of the occupants. Unlike her, they weren’t mad enough to risk their necks in this fog, not for a mere bucket of water. Still, she cautiously listened for any rustle of footsteps in the grass, but heard only the croaking of frogs and the wild hammering of her own heart.
She expelled an uneven breath, wondering if she truly was mad for coming here. This well had never been blessed like those in the old country; surely it held no power. Yet, instinct had driven her here tonight, compelling her to honor the old ways in this, her desperate undertaking.
And why not? Wasn’t she living proof that her mam’s tales of ancient magic were true? Besides, she didn’t dare attempt this at the boardinghouse. Da’s temper would explode like a firecracker if he caught her at it, especially after the row they’d had over supper.
As always, their quarrel concerned her lack of a husband. She had spurned another “foin Irish lad” – the latest in a long line of prospective beaus Da had cajoled into meeting her. Furious over her choosiness, he’d threatened to arrange a marriage for her. It was an old threat, to be sure, but from his determined tone, she’d known he meant it this time. She’d decided then and there that she must act before it was too late. However, now that the moment was upon her, she dreaded what she might learn.
She gnawed her bottom lip. Never before had she deliberately sought one of her visions. They had simply taken hold of her, always as she gazed upon flickering water. She shuddered, recalling one ghastly vision – Chicago engulfed in flames. To her horror, her premonition had proven true last October. Shying away from that terrible memory, she prayed her gift would be kinder tonight. She had to know if he, the man in her nightmarish dreams, truly existed.
“Get on with it then,” she whispered, impatient with her fear.
Trusting the fog to conceal her, she set her bucket down and drew a stubby candle and a lucifer from her skirt pocket. It required three tries before she managed to strike the match on the well and light the candle. Grateful for the light, she placed the candle atop the low wellhead then bent to lift a small bunch of lilacs from the bucket. Drinking in the flowers’ fragrance, she gently laid them aside and set to work pumping water into the bucket. When it was nearly full she positioned it at the base of the well so that the candle flame reflected in the pail’s glistening contents. Finally, she knelt and propped her flower offering against the well.
The cold dew swiftly soaked through her skirt and petticoat, chilling her legs and making her shiver once again, but the lilacs’ sweet scent calmed her. Breathing deep, she gazed at the flickering light in the water and chanted softly,
“Water, water, tell me truly,
Who is the man I shall love duly?
Under the sky, upon the sod,
Show him to me, in the name of God.”
Jessie repeated the incantation in Gaelic, and something shifted inside her, like a hidden door opening. Eyes focused on the candle’s reflection, she gradually lost touch with her surroundings. She no longer felt the cold or smelled the lilacs or heard the frogs. Sight was the only sense left to her, sight that reached out, searching.
The water grew hazy and a pair of gray-green eyes topped by dark, rakishly slanted brows appeared. It was him, the man who always saved her in fiery nightmares. As usual, his other features remained a blur, but she knew those gentle, caressing eyes.
“Where shall I find you?” she asked, her voice an entranced whisper. At first no answer came, but she waited and was soon rewarded.
“Look west,” a ghostly voice replied in her head.
She had but a moment to register the words. Then those familiar eyes faded away; from the dark depths emerged a second pair of eyes. Flame-orange, they glared at her with maniacal hatred. A black, clawed hand reached out for her.
Jessie screamed and recoiled, tumbling backward onto the wet grass. Trance broken, she huddled there, trembling with fear for several moments before she could bring herself to peek at the water again. Much to her relief, she saw only the candle flame and her own terrified image.
Scrambling to her feet, she emptied the bucket, doused the candle and stumbled across the field to the road. Then she hurried homeward, thoughts consumed by the twin messages she had received. The first was easy to decipher. To find the man of her dreams, the man she believed she was destined to love, she must travel west with her brother Tye, who intended to embark on the latest silver rush in far off Utah Territory.
The second message was less clear. Did it mean the owner of those mad, burning eyes also awaited her somewhere beyond the western horizon? Dear God, she hoped not.
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