How do you tell somebody you love that you are not what you seem to be? How do you tell anyone that you are immortal?

I met Jeremy in California in 1829. We journeyed together across what was then northern Mexico, pretending to be an Irish couple to avoid problems with what few local authorities we encountered. Most of the land was wide open then and we managed to avoid the natives, who were somewhat of an unknown for me since I had had no dealings with them at all, though Jeremy claimed he had and I believed him. From the Pacific coast to Jefferson City it was an adventure the likes of which I had seldom experienced, and by the end of that trek I knew that I would be spending many more years with him.

He was an odd man. Not handsome by any measure, and small, barely taller than myself, but possessed of a wiry strength, wily mind and an optimistic wisdom that shone through whenever he graced me with a smile. In short, he was infectious in his likeability and somewhat of a rascal in his behavior. A Gentleman he was not, but he could fake it, and when people deserved it he could mean it, heart and soul.

We traveled across the States, staying wherever the night found us, sometimes under a roof, often under the stars. We huddled together through miserable rain and blinding snow with naught but our shared warmth to hold us against the chill. I nursed him back from the edge of death when his lungs were assaulted by pneumonia of immense virulence. By then we had been together for six years and he had begun to suspect that his lovely and fearless young lady had secrets both deep and profound.

That is how I told him, or at least how I began to. I let him see the true me in small pieces, and every part of me that I gave to him, he returned to me in his devotion, his trust, and his admiration. He never questioned how I had come to learn to survive in the wilds, or how I had learned to handle even the most bizarre situations with learned aplomb. He accepted it and adored me all the more for it.

Then came Philadelphia, 1836. Jeremy had an attorney in Philadelphia who handled all of his correspondence. He tried to check in with him yearly, but oft times it was longer than that. He would collect his letters and spend a few weeks composing responses, or writing to his family- then he would entrust those letters to the lawyer for delivery. In this case it had been a full two years since they had corresponded so we traveled to the city to meet with him personally. It turned out to be a fortuitous choice.

I remember the look on his face when he returned to the Inn- there was pain etched in every line of his countenance, but there was also an aura of anticipation, something immensely hopeful. Without a word he took my hand and led me up to our room where he motioned me to sit by the fireplace.

“What has happened?” I asked. He knelt before me and took my hands in his, his eyes moist with tears barely held in check. I could feel him trembling, and even though the confused pain he radiated I knew what his next words would be.

“Elaine, would you be content to settle down with me? To end this vagabond life and be my wife, the lady of my house? Will you marry me?”

“You already know the answer…” I began, but I could see his need to hear it, so I said it, “I would be proud to be your wife. I will be content to be by your side wherever we may be, whatever we may do. I will be your bride. Now, tell me…”

“My brother is dead… and Clarice as well.”

Dear, Lord! How? What…”

“There was a fire. Five of the children escaped, but Reginald and Clarice could not find little Sarah. They were trapped…” he gasped then, deep wracking sobs shaking his body as he laid his head in my lap and I folded my arms about him, holding him, just holding him until his sorrow was spent enough to let him speak again. He slipped from my arms, standing and composing himself and I could see a definite change in him for he had made several decisions, and now that his first had been made real, he knew he could move forward with the remainder. He knew that I would be beside him.

“I’ve been a very fortunate man. I was never able to sit still, I always wanted to see what was over the next hill, what was beyond the horizon. I have sailed the seas, and visited lands most people only know through the tales told by great men. My father never accepted this- he always thought me a failure, but not Reggie. Reggie envied me. He loved his wife and adored his children. He was a farmer and a gentleman through and through, but he would have lived my life if he hadn’t found his love first. He is the one who made my journeys possible; always willing to part with a little treasure just so he could receive letters from far-away places. In very many ways he bought me a freedom I could never have earned for myself.

“I’ve always known that someday I could be called to stand and account for his patronage of me. It’s somehow unseemly that I should be the benefactor of a man ten years my junior, no matter what the reasons.”

“You’ve spoken of Reggie before. I know he never once resented you, never once begrudged you the money he provided.”

“Of course not, never,” he smiled at me then and I saw that he was content with that, “but there is a debt, a moral debt. A debt of honor.” Somehow he seemed taller, stood straighter as he continued, ” I am responsible for his legacy. The news only arrived here three days prior. Mr. Hannaford was just setting about hiring men to find me when I arrived at his door. I am executor of Reginald’s estate and responsible for his children.”

He grinned a bit sheepishly then and I laughed. “You already wrote back, didn’t you!”

“Yes… I told them that I would return home… with my wife.”

“Presumptuous man!”

“I prefer ?prescient’. Elaine, I am forty-six years old. I have never married, and I have no children. I know that you can give me none. I am content with that. I crave only your companionship…” and then he was silent for my lips were on his for a very, very long time.

The first year was wrenching for everyone. Jeremy’s family was wealthy, but wealth is a relative thing when counted in the context of that time. They had land and crops, and social standing, but Reginald’s accounts were hardly overflowing and Jeremy desperately wished to rebuild the house and move the children back to their own home though his sister, Catherine, was somewhat mistrustful of Jeremy’s judgment and even more so of me. I could hardly blame her on either account for Jeremy had remained in contact only with Reginald. Catherine insisted we remain in the guesthouse on her husband’s estate and much rancor ensued.

Four months in things were getting out of hand when I finally took receipt of a package I had requested from a law firm in Boston, Massachusetts. It arrived at Catherine’s attorney’s office, a deliberate act on my part for I needed her cooperation. We took a carriage together in to town and at the lawyer’s office I opened the package with Catherine in attendance. It contained a small locked wooden chest, which I opened with a key I had been carrying for years. The chest contained 300 gold coins, Spanish doubloons to be precise.

“My word!” Catherine exclaimed.

“My dowry?” I offered.

“Jerome never mentioned a dowry. I thought you had no family living.” Catherine was probing, trying to be polite, but desperate to learn all she could. She knew Jeremy from her childhood, but despite the past months she knew little to nothing of me. I was about to test her taste for scandal. I asked the lawyer to excuse us.

“Jerome never mentioned a dowry because I never told him of it.”

“You never…” her blue eyes widened, “You have kept this a secret for six years?”

“Not at all. You see, this money, it is no inheritance. It is my money. I earned it.”

She digested that information, then her eyes narrowed a bit and she asked “How?”

“I spent a few years in the British ruled islands. The Gentlemen from London pay handsomely for comely whores with refined manners. Less unsightly, you understand, easier to pass off as a visiting niece should the wrong people take notice of the goings on.”

She started to laugh, derision lighting her face, then she saw my eyes. “Oh, my God! You’re serious! My brother… oh!” This last came as the inevitable result of the combination of shock and tightly laced stays- Catherine wobbled and sought a nearby seat. I took little mercy.

“Your brother, my husband, is well aware of my past. Remember, we met in a Mexican port. He had some money and I had a supply of fine whiskey and a warm bed. We bonded instantly and after just a week he invited me to leave my sordid past behind and join him on his journeys. He knew a kindred soul when he met one. We have been inseparable ever since. When news of this tragedy reached him we married at once and travelled here.”

“Why…” she gasped, slowly recovering her breath, “Why are you telling me this?”

“Because Jeremy and I love each other. It is a love born of our own pasts, a love that we could never have found with anyone else. I never expected to find myself in a place like this, in a situation like this. I did not marry your brother to better my place in the world, I married him because he needed me to be his wife, so he could face this and conquer it, and because the thought of being apart from him was too painful to bear.

“You don’t trust me, Catherine, and if you started snooping about and having me investigated… things are already too sharp between us, between you and Franklin, and Jeremy and I. This must stop. I am being as honest as I can be with you because I hope you might understand that neither Jeremy, nor I, are looking to make off with the family fortune or to ruin reputations. We are here because we see a responsibility to Reginald, and Clarice, and the children. I am giving this money to my husband because he needs it to rebuild the children’s home. I am giving you the truth because we need you to be a partner in this, not an obstacle. Your distrust breeds ill will amongst people with whom we must live, who form the circles these children should be part of. If you can find it in your heart to believe we have no intention other than to do right by Reginald’s trust, then that, too, can spread amongst your friends, and perhaps then they can accept us freely and without reservation.”

Catherine sat very still, very silent and I could almost see her mind working, feel the conflict in her beginning to resolve. I took a seat across from her, quietly waiting for her to speak.

“I know that you love him,” she finally whispered, and then in a firmer voice, “it shows so clearly. And he adores you, that is unmistakable.” Her eyes lifted to meet mine. “I cannot even begin to… no, that is not what I want to say…”

“You will help us,” I whispered, but it was a statement, not a question. I had read her correctly.

“Yes… yes! We will put this behind us, a secret that none need know of,” she nodded, her conviction growing, “and you and Jerome will make your home here, and we will be family. I can respect your honesty with me, even if I can’t imagine… never mind, we should not speak of this again.”

Together we took my small treasure to her husband’s bank while I quietly patted myself on the back for working out a resolution to one of our many problems. Unfortunately I still had one very large secret to share, but that would have to wait.

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