In advance of the publication of Hart’s Crossing on November 23, here is a short excerpt:
I don’t recall the exact details of my return to Hart’s Crossing. It was after the accident, that much is certain, but beyond that nothing is. My memory is troubled, whether from that incident, or some other that followed. This uncertainty worries me, on the occasions when my thoughts drift to those days, though I try not to allow them to. That is a futile struggle when I find myself unable to leave Hart’s Crossing. So much of the past is still alive for me in this place, for it cannot die.
Hart’s Crossing was once my home, a place where I loved and was loved in return, but no longer. Now it is my prison, a place where it seems I am doomed to remain for all the time that is left to me, embittered against my captors and hated and feared by them in equal measure. Such a cruel twist of fate that it should come to this end, after such a beautiful beginning. I cannot account for it, but then my memory, since the accident, is not what it was.
My days now are spent hiding from those I once welcomed with laughter and delight. I lurk in the bedrooms when everyone else is downstairs taking their meals, or whiling away an evening at cards. Only at night, when they are asleep, do I dare to descend, stalking the parlor and the kitchen like a cat after a mouse. Sometimes the floors creak at my passage, or I brush against some book sending it to the floor, announcing my presence for all to hear. In those moments I flee to the cellar or the attic, if I am able, and remain until they leave me in peace.
But there can be little solace here for me. No longer. Why do I remain then? It is hard for me to explain, but I shall try.
I came to Hart’s Crossing three years ago, a girl of no more than fourteen. My father had died suddenly of a hidden ailment in his heart, according to the doctor who examined him. My mother had passed of tuberculosis not long after I was born. My father’s sister, Muriel, who I had never met, sent for me to come live with her. She had settled with her husband in the Northwest Territories. His name was Andrew Hart and he was a well-to-do rancher, living in the foothills west of a growing town called Calgary.
Having no other family to call my own, I undertook the long journey from Port Arthur, traveling with all the belongings I could claim as my own in a single matchbox case. My father had left me little—having little to begin with—and so I needed to rely on the kindness of these relative strangers if I was to hope to survive. My journey was one of relative boredom, watching the unvarying prairie countryside pass from train car, relieved only by fear at what awaited me at journey’s end.
My aunt met me Calgary at the station. She was much younger than my mother, not much older than me, in fact, and, as many would soon comment, we looked as though we were sisters. She treated me as a sister from the first, taking me into her arms and welcoming me warmly. A carriage was waiting for us, and a ranch hand loaded my meager belongings, while Muriel told me all there was to know of Hart’s Crossing.
It was named after her husband, a man as stern and forbidding, as Muriel was inviting and kind. Hart’s Crossing was what everyone called his ranch house, for, as Muriel told me, it was near a crossing of the Elbow River which everyone in those parts used. The house itself was vast beyond my imagination, just as were the mountains I could see to the west. Mr. Hart and Muriel had a young son Andy, of no more than two years. There was also an elder son, of an age with Muriel, from an earlier marriage, by the name of Jonathan, though everyone called him Jack.
I settled into my new home rather easily thanks to Muriel and Jack, who was a charmer with a smile that took my breath away. Mr. Hart and I exchanged only a few brief pleasantries upon my arrival, otherwise he was distant and preoccupied, seeming not to notice that I, or indeed his wife and children, were present. I helped out as best I could in my new home, caring for young Andy and assisting Muriel in her chores, and tried to be happy in this new home that did not feel it.