Read From Sea to Shining Sea Online

Authors: James Alexander Thom

Tags: #Historical

From Sea to Shining Sea

BOOK: From Sea to Shining Sea
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By James Alexander Thom
Published by Ballantine Books:


For my mother
. J
S. T
A pioneer in her own time


I am Ann Rogers Clark. My blood’s flowed across this land like rivers, from sea to sea.

If ye know my name, tho’ that’s not likely, it’s on account o’ the deeds of my offspring, which were considerable. I mean the deeds were considerable. Aye, but the offspring were considerable, too. I bore ten, my first in 1750 and my last in 1773. Their father was John Clark, as solid and goodly a man as ever did eat bread.

Of my children, six were boys, and they all came up heroes, each in his own ways. There’s kinds o’ heroes, y’ understand. There’s conquering heroes, and exploring heroes, and thinking heroes, and then there’s enduring heroes. My boys were all of those. Lord ha’ mercy, what they did! That ye well know; it’s in history books.

Most men would say the fame of her sons is fame enough for a woman. Most women would say likewise. Even I, oftimes, have said ’twas enough for me.

But what I’ve done, that’s considerable, too. I bore them, and I reared them through all the croups and agues and festerations, and the putrid fevers and the tick-sicks—not a one o’ mine died a child, as many did in those days—and I made them what they were, with a little help from menfolk and tutors. And then I watched them go out one by one to battlefields and frontiers they’d likely not come back from, all over the high and low and the hither and yon of this land, where they’d tend to risk their dear fool necks against every sort o’ hazard that God, Devil, King, or Man could conjure.

That’s no inconsiderable thing, what a mother o’ heroes does.

Wherever they went, my young’uns, they went first, and showed the way, all across this continent. They took big chances and made big changes. And talkers! They could change the look o’ the world by what they said about it, and harangue men into doin’ what they’d never ha’ thought they could do. A joke and a song and a dream o’ glory, they’d say, will carry a man through the Doors o’ Hell. Some of my sons had dreams o’ glory that the others made to come true, you’ll see as you hear their story. They were all of one heart, they were made o’ flint and steel, and they were bold. Aye, it was boldness that put the name of Clark in all the history books and clear across the map o’ this land, from sea to sea. No one family wrought more change on this country than did the Clarks o’ Virginia, and they were my offspring, I’m proud to say.

What follows is the story of what we did, and how, and who we were, and why. I’ll vow there’s not a made-up yarn y’ve ever heard to compare with it.

, V
September, 1773

in a bright, warm rectangle of September sunshine on the waxed wood floor of the nursery and played with the gray wooden horse with red saddle and wheels that his Papa had carved and painted and given to him on his third birthday. He rolled it a few inches on the floor by pulling its string, and thought about the real horses in the stable, about how they smelled and blew their noses. But most of his mind was on something far away and outside, and most often he was gazing at the sky outside the west window, seeming to listen for those songs or sounds that only a child can hear.

He saw the sunlit blur of his blond eyelashes, and heard, in the shadowy part of the room beyond his island of sunshine, the pleasant voices of his oldest sister, Annie, and his Mama, who had baby sister Frances Eleanor at her breast. The baby made wet sounds and said, “Ng, ng,” in her throat, and the women’s rocking chairs creaked.

They were talking again about that thing called Annie’s wedding, which was to be soon. Annie talked about it all the time now, with joy and fear in her voice. The boy didn’t understand much about it and was not very interested in it. But he liked the music of their voices in the room.

He was always enveloped in the voices of his family. Their voices were always around him like a comforter of many colors. Even when his Papa and his older brothers were out in the barns and fields and woods, and his sisters were elsewhere in the house, he could hear their voices, and the sounds of what they were doing, and know where they were. Right now he could hear his Papa’s deep voice outside below the window, with the murmuring voice of Cupid the skinny slave man, and the
thunk, thunk
of a mallet striking wood. And …

He frowned, and listened hard again for that faraway something,
trying to hear through the spinning shrill of the locusts. His Mama would always say he was like a dog listening for summer thunder. Something not quite a sound, something in the sunny distance beyond the meadow gate, had at last softly troubled his inner ear, and his heartbeat sped up a little and he looked at the blue sky over the yellow-green treetops.

But he could not tell yet. He turned back to his little wooden horse. He picked it up in his right hand and with his left he reached for a large ball, a ball made of a dried, inflated pig bladder painted blue and green. He put the wheels of the wooden horse on the surface of the ball and made it roll, as if the horse were walking around the world. Then he put them down and listened hard again, now with his eyes shut so he could hear even better. His Mama and sister were still talking, and the baby was still groaning and sucking, and his Papa and the Negro were still talking and hammering down in the driveway, and the locusts were still shrilling, but now Billy knew something was coming, something out beyond the meadow gate, though he could not yet really hear it, and he was growing excited, and behind the bright orange of his sunny eyelids he began to see a remembered face, a pair of dark blue eyes like his own.

“Mama!” he said. His eyes were open wide.

Ann Rogers Clark turned to him. “Aye, son?”

“Jo jee common!”

“Say what? Georgie’s comin’? Nay, Billy, I think not. Georgie’s far, far yonder,”—she nodded toward the west—“out behind the mountains, where th’ Indians are. Y’know that.”

BOOK: From Sea to Shining Sea
5.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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