For the record, trains are a far better ride than a carriage ever could be.
Though the smoke smell's enough to drop a Carlow stallion, its seats are a
great bit more comfortable, and there's space to move about.
Also, tis faster, which is an arguable benefit.
"Mary Katherine! Is that you?"
Stepping off a little trepidly onto the platform, the sudden lack of
movement beneath me strange, I glance up to spot a man I've not seen in
years. Standing there in the full dress of the New York upper class is
Uncle Charlie, the smile on his face as wide and bright as when my family
and I climbed off the boat on Ellis. "Uncle!"
He nods. "My my girl, you've grown quite a bit since I've last seen you!"
Crossing over to the small party-- my brother and brother-in-law standing
dutifully aside from the reunion-- I smile and embrace Charles Xavier, our
American benefactour in many, many ways. "Only as tall as the heather on
the hills. We're sorry we're late, but there was a delay through the middle
Logan steps up for a second round of reunions and squeezes me so hard I
might burst. "Good to see ye again, lass. Ye look well."
I kiss his cheek and touch his shaggy hair. "Aye, ye look fine too, but the
hair's a bit ragged for my taste."
He chuckles and releases me. "And did ye bring Marie with ye?"
"And a... companion. Aye, there they are."
Catching Marie and Remy come from the back of the train car, each carrying
their own luggage, I see the glimmer in Logan's eye as he sets eye on my
friend, skitters across and greets her a little more gently-- and arguably
more affectionately-- than he did me.
Nothing quite like being the youngest sister.
"Was it a good trip?"
I glance away from Remy sauntering over towards us, smiling at the married
kin watching me. "Aye, Scott. Much better than the carriage that was bound
and determined to take off my head through the Carolinas. Is my sister
Charlie nods. "At the house. She sent the lot of us 'strong backed men' to
fetch yours and Marie's bags."
I suppress a smile. Well, there's good. About to make a jake, Remy's hand
touches my shoulder and I do my best not to let my cheeks flush. "Tis good.
Uncle, Scott, this is Remy LeBeau. Tis his plantation that I've been
employed at since for the last years. Remy, this is Charles Xavier, my
Westchester uncle, and Scott Sumner, my brother-in-law."
Stepping to the side and bowing a little, the showoff, Remy flashes the
smile he uses when hosting the other landowners at his house. "A pleasure
to meet you. Kitty has spoken of her family, but now I see that she was
telling t'e truth."
"Aye," I grin, " and ye owe me a pence."
I get another bow and a nod. Oh please. "In t'e bag, cherie."
My kin exchange glances. "Welcome to New York. Is this your first time?"
"Well then, we've best show you the prizes of the area then."
Listening to the conversation continue between my uncle and employer, I
catch a pure English stare of careful concern. Somehow, it only
intensifies the feeling of being a stranger in a field of freshly painted
walls and new marble floors. Peculiar how even a train station can change
over the years. "What?"
Scott just continues to stare.
"Is somethin' wrong?"
He sighs and shakes his head, playing his hands at the cravat tied loosely
around his neck. Since was he so frayed with his nerves? "Just seeing if
you've changed. My apologies, Kitty, it's been a while since we've heard
"I'm sorry that I couldnae make Christmas."
"So were we. Anyways, Jean is anxious to see you. The lot of you haven't
been together for a long time and I hope that some bad blood will be mended
before you have to return back Southside."
I frown. Something's going on here. Something I'm missing as I try to
ignore the feeling of no longer belonging here. Eh, strange thing, that.
"I hope so too. Is something wrong I should know about?"
"No," he pauses. "Things change over the years though. I rather hope
you'll be pleased to meet your nephew and niece-- they've been asking about
Kitlings, ach. "Then let's nae delay. We've got reuniting to do."
He nods. This should be interesting.
The funny thing about a homestead, whether it be hovel lodged in the Irish
quarter of New York City or a palatial home in Westchester, it's still home.
When I was younger my siblings and I used to come here for Feast Days,
supping with Uncle Charlie and his clan. They put us younger folk to a
different table nearer to the kitchen with the poorer linen, and I vowed at
the surly age of fourteen that I would'nae sit there when I was old enough
to hem my own petticoats.
However, considering there are now enough people in this veritable mansion
to rebuild the Parliament, I'll consider myself lucky to get a seat at all.
Moira, Charlie's wife of twenty years after Aunt Lily died in childbirth,
stands off in the corner of her world, observing the crowd of extended
family. Patting Peter, my elder cousin and her stepson, on the shoulder,
she ushers him into the sitting room with a smile aimed my way. "Kitty!"
I cross the room, waving at Marie when she practically stumbles over a chair
to sit by Logan and Kurt, spinning yarns by the fireplace. "'Allo, Moira.
I didnae realise that there was so much bein' thrown together tonight."
"You thought that it'd be your siblings and you."
I screw my face up in a half-frown. "Aye."
Moira smiles and hugs me. "Didn't quite mean to go this far on the
inviting, but Charles thought it would be a good idea to bring everyone
together at least once. Raven and Kurt came at my requesting since I knew
your brother's intentions."
"A good idea... " I pause, almost uneasy to ask the next question. "Is
"No, he and Bobby went and joined the militia a fortnight after ye two left.
Posted in the Ohio Valley last I heard."
"Ah." I'm almost sad. Makes me jealous more than anything, but considerin'
what's sitting across the way discussin' land with Charlie with his French
accent standing out more than the German ones, I cannae say much. "So who's
the rest of the crowd? I recognise my own and Marie's, but nae the rest."
Moira cocks her head my way and pushes me back a little to point people out
with discretion. It's a credit to her nature, and to Charlie's for having
found such a good woman. "The woman I sent your cousin to is his current
interest and a New England lass by the name of Emma. Her elder brother, a
bit of a social player in our social circles, is Erik. If you weren't so
interested in your Cajun employer-- and I fully understand why now-- I'd
introduce you to Erik as more than just family."
I blink and nod. I'm nae big on the social strata of New York, which might
explain why I miss New Orleans even amidst the family and friends.
"The lass with the lovely black hair is your sister-in-law Betsy, and the
one who just called her 'knock-kneed' is Alex, your other brother-in-law."
"And here I thought the British heathens weren't as prolific."
Moira laughs a little, covering it with her fan. "The Sumner's are not so
heathen as most. Scott's done right by your sister; their children are
I squint into the crowd and nod, looking for said ideal family. "Where are
they, by the by?"
"Oh, ah," Moira grins, "Your nephew Nate is sitting... well, he was sitting
with Logan... Scott's making the rounds with Hank, but I think they might
have stopped by the kitchen for a treat. Never could pry my dear darling
son's hands out of the bread dough, may as well not start now. Oh... your
sister should be along. Rachel was throwing a bit of a fuss and is being
put down for a nap. Would you like to wait or meet her now?"
Cranky niece or crowd of people, one of which is bound to tackle me in a
strangling hug. Hmm. "Remy says I've a soothing voice with children."
Moira flashes me a smile that screams her approval of my apparent
willingness to help the family line continue. "Well, then, follow me."
I nod and try to keep myself from commenting further. Catching a glance
from Remy as we pass into the hall, I wave and blow a kiss, to which my
Uncle grins and murmurs a comment to the other man. I suppose this is
approval from part of my family.
Moira points to the open door furthest from us and takes the lead, a glint
in her eye. "Jean lass, did you need any help?"
Waiting for a hard comment from the woman I last saw as my sister, I stand
"Nae really, but if ye wouldn't mind lending a blanket and bringing my tea
from the other room I'd be grateful."
I blink. Same voice, different creature.
"In a moment, then." Turning to me, she winks, holds a finger to her mouth
to keep the surprise intact and slips silently out of the hall.
Me, I'm left with my jaw hanging about my corset. Suddenly playing with my
hands, straightening the edges of my dress-- one of my favourite ones from a
Parisian's shoppe in New Orleans, blue silk and wool-- I feel discomforted.
As if I have to please the girl who used to tug my braids until I squealed
and Pa called her off me. The girl who threw peat at my good apron after I
called her a Leprechaun.
Moira touches my shoulder and hands me the blanket. "You handle this,
lass," she whispers as she strolls into the slightly lit room, the tea cup
and saucer balanced effortlessly in her one hand. "Here you are. Can I get
you and the child anything else?"
I inch into the room, clinging to shadows like a skulking kitten.
"Bless ye, Moira. As much as I love seeing everyone, I'll promise to help
with the kitchen if ye let me stay here for a spell."
I hear Moira's pleasant "tsk." "The wee one's unsettling your stomach
There's a snort as I try to sneak a peek behind Moira's back. Damn my
bloody feeling of being a stranger here.
"Nae, being nearly wrestled to the ground by a three year old with the
strength of her father inclines me to sit."
"In that case, let us offer you the blanket and some quieter company than
the men discussing a turkey hunt in the other room."
My sister groans. "Bloody hell, I'll just hide in here all eve then."
Moira's hand latches onto my arm and nudges me forward. I take a breath and
step up, holding the blanket out like I do when I'm actin' as Remy's head of
household, and smile nervously, glad the shadows are still hiding my face.
"Bets... sweet Lord. Is that you, Kitty?"
And now it's too late to run. "'Tis been a while, Jean."
Standing up a little unsteady at first, I'm pulled into an embrace that's
stronger than the one I was left with when we parted ways... and nearly gasp
despite the fact that a corset was nae meant to handle such a gesture.
Under a shawl that I vaguely recall as being related to our clan colours, my
elder sister is wearing a full length shift and surcoat that masks the fact
that she couldnae wear a corset even if she wanted to. "Aye, it has. Ye
look good, sister."
I cannae help hiding the surprise. "Ye look like ye've been busy."
Moira walks past us and checks the small figure curled up on her side,
laughing quietly. "Indeed she has. I still should be upset for not telling
the lot of us after Christmas Mass about the latest one."
My sister blushes and sits back in the rocking chair absently placing a hand
across her belly. Watching her, I sit on the bed and touch my sleeping
niece's hair. "We weren't certain and what with Ma ailing, we didnae want
to taint the holiday with uncertainty."
"What's 'er name?"
Jean smiles and tugs at the laces of a surcoat that's nearly too tight. I'm
still nae used to seeing her like this. "Rachel Ann."
"She's... beautiful." Brave Kitty of the plantation, caving to the site of
my niece and her curly red hair. "Has your hair."
"And your strong grip." My sister leans back, sips her tea and frowns at
"Ye've been gone a while, Kitty."
"I know. Marie and I went to Georgia like we said we were goin' to, but
where we were was... worse than some of the burghs here, so we took a chance
and went to Savannah. That's where we met Remy."
Moira, taking the blanket from me-- oh, aye, I forgot about that-- hands it
over to Jean, who lays it across her shoulder and extends her arms. Without
a hesitation, with me watching like a useless half-a-lump, the elder woman
lifts Rachel out of the bed and sets her against her mother's side.
Immediately the little girl nestles into the warm lap, laying her head
against Jean's breast, her small hands curling around the available waist
and rise of unborn sibling. "He has a home in New Orleans, right?"
I nod, watching Jean drape the blanket around herself and the flannel clad
girl. I don't think I want to be talkin' about meself right now. "A
plantation. So how old's the boy?"
"Nine in June."
I open my mouth to point out the obvious wee detail.
"We adopted him when his mother died. She was Cheyenne; we think his father
was a white trapper that victimised her. Nathan was brought to my class by
our local priest and I was helping him learn English when she took ill last
summer... Father Martin asked us to be his wards. Scott couldnae say no.
The boy loves him and Nate watches Rachel like he's her real brother."
The frown is still playing at my lips, but I nod anyways. "I dinnae know
if I can picture Remy in that role."
Moira sits down next to me and pats my leg. "If you can picture him in your
conjugal bed, you should picture him chasing your son across the lawn."
I blush, looking down suddenly. "Ach, how am I supposed to do that when
we've nae even kissed."
The other two giggle, partially waking the small figure under the blanket. I
try to shrug it off, but with good Paris stitching, that's nae an easy task.
"I can say it without risk of embarrassing myself considerin' the fullness
of my lap, Kitty," Jean starts, "but if Remy's the one that ye intend to
settle with, I'd make sure there's a wee bit more than a blush behind your
feelings for him."
I'm still nae looking up. They cannae force me. "Are ye saying that
despite what our sainted mother taught us, a lass should know what there's
to offer... ?"
"Beneath his kilt, as my mum used to say," Moira grins.
My sister smiles and nods. Well, I suppose this answers the question I've
had for years about how far the pair of them went before leavin' home.
"D'ye think Logan's goin' to scare him back past the Mason-Dixon line?"
There's a pause. Moira, standing up and kissing me on the top of the head,
then turning to my sister and offering a fond squeeze of her hand and a
kiss, bows out before there's any response.
Likely a smart move.
"I think our dear brother could scare the peat straight out of a bog if he
were so inclined." She nudges the small hand tucked under the blanket a
little lower, shifting for her own greater comfort. "And I've nae met Remy
so ye don't have me standin' on your side yet. Bring him by the guest house
sometime tomorrow-- Uncle Charlie has threatened to make that our permanent
home if it would mean bringing the children to live here-- and we'll see how
he fares. If I think he's good enough for ye-- and I do love ye Kitty and
want to see ye happy-- I'll stand with ye if Logan's nae happy."
I nod, crack the smile that shows the relief bubbling inside and leap up off
the bed. Hugging my elder sister as well as possible, I laugh. "Thank ye,
Jean, thank ye so much!"
I think I hear her squeak. "Kitty, be careful. I'm nae that tough
I laugh a little and stare into green eyes. "Anyone who can survive
clot-headed siblings, live in the untamed frontier and bear children whilst
in the presence of an Anglican is tougher than any burke I've shoved over at
a cabaret in New Orleans."
"Tis true." I start to dance my way out of the room.
"All except the Anglican bit. He's a good man and he's made ye happy. I
only tease in affection now."
"Ach, Kitty," is the last bit I hear before humming my way back into the
mulling crowd of kin.
"Can I have everyone's attention please? Ladies and gentles, kin and kith,
Sitting in the back of the room-- Moira dragged both Jean and I back into
the parlour after brandy made its rounds-- I look up to see Uncle Charlie
standing in front of the stone fireplace, clinking his crystal and silver
chalice with a fork.
"Tis sad to use a reason such as my sister's passing to bring the family
together, but here we all are. Extended families, met with blood and
marriage, and especially in the case of my nieces--"
I look down quickly to hide the embarrassment of being pointed out.
"--whom come here with blessings of their own. So, to the lot of you, I
thank you for coming here and celebrating the life of a woman that could
make the very seas part to her will. Katherine Ann McCleve was from Callan,
Kilkenny, a right Irish Catholic if there was one. A mother of five, she
survived the loss of her husband and two children in the famine, the move to
the Americas and managed to see her first grandchild before she met the
Sitting next to my sister with Rachel in his lap, I catch Scott nuzzle the
braided red mane leaned against his cheek out of the corner of my eye.
"But we'll not mourn her any more than she would want us to. To my dear
sister Katherine. May ye hold onto the good seats for the rest of us up
I watch as glasses are lifted into the air, family responding to Charlie's
words. I crack a smile. It's the most I feel like doing, considerin' I
still feel guilt for not seeing her since I left New York all those years
"And," Charlie smiles our general direction, "to my nephew and nieces, who
are celebrating Katherine's life by living their own to the fullest. To
Margaret Jean and her... well, soon to be three children. We're proud of
ye lass, and the offer still stands. You're still too good for the wild
west. Logan Michael--"
There's applause as Scott kisses my sister's forehead, unsettling the
sleeping form of Rachel against her, Nate obligingly moving her to his lap
on the floor. Across the way, I catch Marie nudge Logan, who raises an
"-- it's about time ye settled down, lad."
Most of the men break out into cheers and "about time"s.
"May you and Marie be as happy as the saints will let ye, and as long as
that bar stays polished we'll not say -how- happy you are."
My friend, the one who once told me that lacing a corset a little tighter
was a faster way to get noticed in New Orleans, blushes deeply, making Logan
"And last but not least, to the lass we thought would come back with a
drawl, my dear Mary Katherine. Kitty, I know you've found a place to call
home away from the lot of us. but you'll always be welcome here. And if you
find gold down there amidst the crocodiles and southerners, do pass the
wealth along to your family."
Everyone laughs and applauds again. I'm inclined to stand up and mention
Remy, but hold off as I glance about the crowd. I need to make sure
everything is okay with my closest family before I pop my mouth off around
the extended clan.
"And, as always, to the rest of you, even if you're not as Irish as the day
is long, may the Faeries bring you luck, fortune and happiness."
One by one hands come together and the parlour, hall and the rest of the lot
sitting in the main room fill with clapping and praise to arguably one of
the greatest men I've ever met in my life. But Charlie, nae, he takes it
like it's nae deserved, smiling and nodding at various smiling faces.
I only wish I could grow up to be like him.
"Do it 'ere, Kitty."
"His family's in Louisiana. Bella would be furious if she didn't see her
brother wed, even if she does think me plain."
Betsy, Jean and Moira exchange glances. "Then they could come here. At
this rate we could get St Patrick's Cathedral to hold the ceremony-- and
there's always room here for them to lodge."
I shake my head. My life has been the thread of discussion over the last
hour. "Someone has to watch the plantation."
Marie grins, plays with the ring Logan gave her-- I missed the placing of it
on her hand when catching up with Jean-- and taps the table. "I don't have
to be back for at least another month until Madame Toussaint is ready to
"Not helpin', Marie."
But she shrugs and continues on, her success as a midwife in the deep south
an accomplishment, apparently, to the rest of the ladies in the clan. "And
really, with the right placing, neither you nor Remy need to return til then
either. We can send word, and ya know as well as I do that if there's one
slave that can keep the others behaving, it's Ororo."
"Remy saved her life, tis understandable."
Betsy holds out a hand, cradling the freshly dried teacup. "It's not that
difficult an arrangement. I know the emphasis is on a Catholic ceremony--"
Jean makes a disgruntled sound.
"--but Pa can help arrange the secular bits. We'd be happy to."
"Ye love him Kitty?"
I actually pause. I've nae answered this question out loud before.
"Well?" Jean prompts, reading my facial expression.
"Aye, I do."
All the other woman squeal with delight. What club have I just initiated
myself into? "But what about all that bollocks we were raised with about
staying to our heritage, or is it somethin' to do with Johnny off to
Moira nods. "Yes, but it's fairly clear that neither of ye would get
together, so better you find happiness with a man of differing blood than be
an old unhappy maid for the rest of your days."
Or happy, single and proud of that fact... "S'pose it makes sense, Aunt
"All I know," Betsy starts, "is that I would'ave been a content bird to sit
on my laurels as a free-thinkin' woman for the rest of my life, not tied to
some buggerer with a purse to show for dowry."
I raise an eyebrow. I wonder if Mother Sumner ever talked like this.
"But then, there's Warren, and although there are times that I'd rather have
a shanty with the Devil hisself and a hound to match, he's an excellent
"Though ye still yell at him when he wonders about children, darlin'."
"One to talk, Jean," I murmur.
"Tis nae my fault," she points a finger at me, ignoring the fact that she's
the only one without a jigger of whisky in her glass, "and besides, I love
it. With Nate about, Rachel's already learned to ride one of the ponies
we've back home, and I'm nae taxed for constantly minding her. This one,
well, if it's another lass, she's getting her grandmother's name in honour
of Ma, and--"
"And," there's a wink. I guess we've all loosened up after a few years, "if
it's a lad, I can finally give off the task of chasing that damnable cow
back to her pasture after she escapes, then be prepared to rein in the charm
his father has likely passed on."
Betsy giggles into her glass, taking a sip before picking up one of the
plates to dry. "Charm of a wet haddock, aye."
"Enough to slide under the skirts of an Irish lass."
"No small task, that," I agree.
"Ach, no kiddin'," Logan grumbles as he stomps into the kitchen, bearing a
tray of dirtied dishes. "Now, how do I convince the lot of ye to forgo so
much gossip and a bit more cleanin'?"
"When it's your tavern to rule, brother," Jean shoots back.
My eyes widen as the insults deepen, but both of my siblings are on the
verge of laughing. It's always been this way, and judging by Marie and
Betsy's looks, they're enjoying the spectacle.
"Oooh," Jean holds her hand to her head in mock surrender. "I've been beat
by my own flesh and blood and in such a delicate condition, the horror of it
all! You ruffian!"
Moira's head is on the table, hiding hysterics. Sitting up, pointing at the
pair squaring off like jesters in a court, she swallows a chuckle before
chiming in. "The only thing delicate about you, Jean, is the way you tell
your man that you're coming to New York despite the fact that he'd tie you
to the bed if it'd keep you safe."
Logan crosses his arms, at which point Marie stifles a comment and a smile.
My sister tries to bow, fails miserably for all the bending she can do, and
shrugs. "Eh, true enough. So anyways, now that we've the future couple in
the kitchen, what are the chances of getting joined before everyone else
Marie glares at me, to which I point helplessly at Jean. When the stare
shifts, my sister aims it right to the only male in the vicinity.
Nae, we're not siblings, nae at all.
"Well, I've been here all these years. Tis up to my dear Marie about what
she wants to do," Logan mutters in his victim-of-destiny voice.
Marie gives him a last deathly glare, then before she can accidentally break
a stack of clean plates in the process of acting overwhelmed, she drops her
head to the table and sighs heavily.
It'd be wrong to laugh... it really would... "Hahahahahahaa!"
[cont'd in part 10]
"To touch is to heal
To hurt is to steal
If you want to kiss the sky
Better learn how to kneel" --"Mysterious Ways," U2