Harry Potter sat alone in his room, in the house on Privet Drive. As much as he hated living with the Dursleys, they did give him a home, if one could call it a home. All Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia did was shower an already spoiled Dudley with every luxury and attention afforded, relegating Harry to fend for himself. They dressed Dudley in fine, expensive clothes while Harry got his cousin's hand-me-downs.
Today was another otherwise boring day. Harry, on his summer break following his first year at Hogwarts, mostly kept to himself. He spent most of his days in his room (by orders of Uncle Vernon), looking at photos of his parents and wizarding friends. How much he wished not to be stuck on Privet Drive while his best buddies, Ron and Hermione, spent their summers travelling and doing interesting things. Oh well...
Somehow, Professor Dumbledore sensed Harry's needed an outlet, so he sent, via owl post, a packet containing a diary and several letters. Of the latter was Mae Forrest Love's last letter, circa 1871, to Silas Potter. The former was Silas' diary, detailing a very involved journey to America, the West to be exact. Silas' reason was to search for Mae who was an old childhood friend.
Mae was an Englishwoman who came to America in the late 1840's. She was an orphan and was sent to the States to live with a distant cousin, Dolley Donelson of Cincinnati. Mae, once she arrived in Ohio, settled in nicely, even found employment with a textile mill. Dolley had a much younger sister, Abby Jo, who had left Ohio to move West with her new husband. The letters she sent detailed an adventuresome lifestyle: Wide open spaces, freedom to move about, plenty of land and water. However, there was also the matter of dealing with Indians and the rougher lot of folks from back east who ventured out west for a better life – and land of their own.
Unfortunately, all letters from Abby Jo stopped at the onset of sectional quabbles in Kansas. That didn't daunt Mae who fell in love with Cyrus Love, a modestly successful trapper and sometimes farmer. Cyrus wanted to move out west, and Mae, bored of her too-neatly arranged life in Ohio, gladly accepted his marriage proposal and agreed to strike out for California.
"Only," said Harry to Hedwig, his messenger owl, "they didn't get that far. According to Mae's first letters, after she and Cyrus began their journey, the wagon broke in Nebraska, just past the Kansas border. Let's see, that was in 1854, a few years before the war. They settled in Nebraska and built a house then started a small farm. But the place never produced much; the land and climate were different than Ohio's. And, by the next year, Mae was expecting a baby."
Harry read more of Mae's last letters to Silas Potter. She described a life that was hardscrabble at best, and Cyrus' increasing dissatisfaction of his unproductive farm. Mae spoke of the sheer isolation, the loneliness. The Loves' nearest neighbor was more than two week's ride away. There was hardly anything remotely resembling a city nearby, except for a tiny settlement which was nothing more than a haven for drunkards and outlaws. Not the type to talk to or with whom to pass the time.
The Loves' days were filled with work and more work. Cyrus managed to build a tiny sod cabin which was hardly enough room for two people, let alone for a baby on the way. Although they brought seeds for crops and what livestock that survived the journey from Ohio, the Loves saw their dream of freedom and prosperity literally blow away. A series of bad winters, stormy springs, and incredibly hot and dry summers made for poor crop yields. Though they didn't exactly starve, there was never enough left over to sell. Most of what they produced was consumed themselves, that along with whatever wild game Cyrus managed to hunt. Then William Jefferson Love was born in the spring of 1856, which added one more strain to the Loves' scanty resources. The unproductive farm, the loneliness, and the fact that Cyrus found his way to the nearby settlement and stayed for days on end, put a strain on the marriage.
One day, Cyrus left for the settlement and never came back. This came on the heels of a tremendous argument between Mae and her husband.
Mae insisted they go back to Ohio. Forget California or wherever in the newly opened western lands. It's no good. Nothing grows here, nothing to do but work and more work, and for what? Besides, little Billy is need of food and a safe place to grow up. We have none of that. Our only cow died on us, starved to death from lack of good feed. Only the two oxen survive, and surely someone in that settlement can lend, or build, a suitable wagon to carry us back to Ohio.
Of course, Cyrus never blamed himself or his lack of farming expertise on the family's failures. He turned on Mae, accusing her of forcing his hand. If she had any sense, she could have persuaded him to remain in Ohio, put off the trip west another season. No, she had to say "Yes."
"Put a man in this position," he stormed at her. "A man needs to have something to call his own. What do we have? Nothing! I can't support a wife and baby on nothing more than ground gleanings. Mae, let me go into town, find work, and we can settle there. At least we can save enough to make it to California. Maybe not this season, but the next."
Mae wouldn't hear it; her mind was made up. She issued an ultimatum to Cyrus: Either find a way to return to Ohio or just walk out of her life and never come back. Cyrus took the latter option.
"Mae wouldn't see Cyrus ever again. He left her and the baby, just like that. There were stories coming back from the settlement that Cyrus fell into a bad lot, bandits and rustlers."
Harry read more of Mae's last letters to Uncle Silas. Things hadn't gone very well for Mae, what with being practically marooned out on the lonesome prairie and not having much to feed her growing boy. Facing starvation and dealing with the elements, Mae believed the end was near for both her and Billy. Yet, in a stroke of incredibly good fortune, salvation came in form of wagon heading for Hays City, Kansas. On that wagon was a group of young women who traveled from town to town in search of work. Well, the work, to put it politely, wasn't exactly the typical female pursuits of sewing or cooking. These ladies provided "entertainment."
In that group was a young woman who had bigger dreams, but that dream wouldn't be realized for another decade. Odd that a grown Billy would cross paths with this woman, even become one of her best friends. At any rate, Mae, desperate to get her and Billy out of a dire situation, didn't care what these women did for a living. She just wanted to leave this awful place and get on with her life.
Odd how things turn out for the better, even if it did take much accommodation on Mae's part not to question her newfound friends or what they did for a living. At this point what did it matter? It was too plain Cyrus was never coming back; he decided to run away from his problems and not take the necessary steps to secure a life for his young family. Winter was coming soon, and Mae had to leave the foundering homestead and seek a safe environment for an ever-growing Billy. The boy was now three and surprisingly healthy despite the hardscrabble existence and ever threat of disease and starvation.
When that wagon of women stopped by, Mae took it as a sign to move on and never look back. Perhaps the future lies the one who called herself Kitty; her real name was Catherine Russell.
Never would Mae forget that initial meeting, and the ladies' questions on why a single mother and her little boy were stuck out on the frontier with no husband to protect them.
After Mae explained her situation, Kitty said quite lividly, "You mean your man skipped out on you? Didn't he think of the baby? What if Indians attacked? He left and took the only gun in the house, if you can call it a house. Look, honey, come along with us. We're heading for Hays, and I think you could find work there. This wilderness is no place for a fine lady as you and a young'un."
"Several weeks later, Mae settled in Hays, even took a job as a dressmaker. Things began to look up for her and Billy, but she always thought of Cyrus and what became of him. This she reveals to Uncle Silas in this letter, dated April 1862. Oh, seems she included some photographs."
Harry sifted through more letters and came across a small photograph album. Just a small, simple book with worn brown leather cover. Nothing fancy or too ornate. However, once Harry opened it and looked at the pictures, he realized Mae and her child weren't ordinary 19th Century American muggles. No, they were magical, Harry deduced from the photos. These were not your average flat, 2-D, no-action photos; the images moved and breathed as if living, just like photos in the magical world.
In this particular photo, the Loves beamed at the camera. In the background was the bustle and dust of the Kansas town of Hays. Harry could see a herd of cattle driven down the street, the many people of all sorts scurrying here and there. Dominating the scene was Mae and her seven-year old son Billy. Both, despite the usual wear of life in the still wild West, were all smiles. Mae Love was a pretty lady, if a bit careworn, with golden hair and clear gray eyes. Billy was a charmer, the spitting image of his father, all chubby cheeks, rosy complexion, big blue eyes and loads of dark hair. Billy, sensing Harry, waved from the picture, giving young Mr, Potter a jolt of amazement.
Harry intently peered into Mae's face, trying to decipher what she was saying. Was she talking to the photographer? Considering photograph images, unlike those of painted portraits, don't often interact with their observers, Harry endeavored to read Mae's lips.
Photograph images don't always carry on conversations with their observers, however, and Harry just now noticed this, Billy seemed to catch Harry's attention.
The boy spoke so quietly as not wanting his mother to hear him. He said to Harry, "Read Ma's letter to Uncle Silas dated 1865. The war was over, and so many soldiers, from both sides, came through town that year. Some were sick with all kinds of diseases. That year, Ma caught...Well, you read about it in her letter. She'll write more to Uncle Silas, but the last would be in 1866. By the way, Ma is talking to Abby Jo who met Miss Kitty years ago. But Miss Kitty went to Dodge City and Abby Jo left town with a man who promised to take her to San Francisco. And if you're wondering, yes, I'm magical, but I still can't figure out if I got it from Pa or Ma. Can't be Pa, so it has to be Ma, but I've never seen her do magic. I can do some things, but I can't seem to make it do what I want. Go on, Harry, read more of Ma's letters. Then read what Uncle Silas says once he gets a telegram from me, but that won't come until I'm almost grown...and in a new home..."
In those unsettled months following Lee's surrender and close of the war, Hays, like most western towns, saw an influx of war-weary soldiers, some barely in their teens. Most suffered various physical and mental ailments. So many with missing limbs, a few with sightless eyes and disfigured faces. That many more suffered terrible body ailments – dysentery, consumption, lice. Mae, like most women of the town, volunteered to make the men comfortable, cooking and seeing to their every need. One young man, who Mae met in Cincinnati, remembered her, even asked about her husband. Of course, Mae had to tell him everything, and the young man seemed sympathetic, even asked her to a dance that would take place the next weekend. Despite his loss of a leg and a persistent consumptive cough, Mae fell in love with him. Alas, happiness was so short lived.
It was obvious she could never marry the man; she was still married to Cyrus. Divorce was out of the question as she couldn't sue for dissolution of her marriage to Cyrus, not in this slice of 19th Century America. However, Mae continued to see Robert as much as she could, despite the precarious state of her own health.
She detailed her current love life, as well as her declining health, in her letters to Silas Potter. She even voiced how much she wished Cyrus had been killed, either in the war or during a robbery; Mae knew her husband had fallen into a bad lot since leaving his family. She even entertained Cyrus losing his life while striking out for California on his own, maybe ambushed by Indians or the very outlaws he currently ran with.
"I hate to think this way," she said in her next to last letter, "but I love Robert, and I desperately want Billy to have a steady father figure in his life. However, I feel this is not to be. I am not well, not since the end of the war. I've suffered faining spells, endless listlessness. No, it's not consumption, but I believe I've caught something from the returning soldiers. I have no idea what to do with Billy if I should die. He has no family to speak of, and I can't simply put him on the next stage to St.Louis as he's too little to travel by himself. Cyrus does have a married sister there, so Billy could stay with her, but what if she refuses to take in the boy? I don't know what to do. If it were possible, you could come to America and take him home with you. At least he would be among his own kind. It is simply too risky to leave him on his own, and he still doesn't know of his magical talents. I just hope Cyrus doesn't show up at the most inopportune time and discover his boy is a wizard."
Copyright©2007 by PRP.