Katelyn Kavanagh’s mother dreamed her daughter would one day escape the oppressive environment of their Upstate New York farm for service in the enchanting Thousand Islands, home to Gilded Age millionaires. But when her wish comes true, Katelyn finds herself in the service of none other than the famous George Pullman, and the transition proves anything but easy.
Thomas O’Neill, brother of her best friend, is all grown up and also working on Pullman Island. Despite Thomas’ efforts to help the irresistible Katelyn adjust to the intricacies of her new world, she just can’t seem to tame her gossiping tongue—even when the information she’s privy to could endanger her job, the 1872 re-election of Pullman guest President Ulysses S. Grant, and the love of the man of her dreams.
Editor's Note: Let's see if this little outline gets you - like it got me! I asked the author, Susan Mathis, if I could get a wee bit more and she wrote: "Here are a few excerpts from Katelyn’s Choice, the first in my Thousand Islands Gilded Age series. The book was released March 15th! I hope it’ll whet your imagination and a desire to read the entire story."
General Sheridan cleared his throat. “Tell me more about this area. Perhaps I’ll purchase a place for my retirement days.”
Mr. Pullman sat up straight. “You’d be most welcome to, General. We determined that for a spot of land to be classified as an actual island, it must have at least one tree and stay above water year-round. The islands range from barely six feet in diameter to the size of a small city, and they number well over a thousand, perhaps closer to two thousand.”
Mr. Pullman paused for a sip of coffee and a nod of acknowledgment from Sheridan before
continuing. “The farthest islands sit at the mouth of the mighty St. Lawrence, and they continue nearly fifty miles down the river. Some belong to Canada, but the United States—New York State, specifically—owns more than half of them. But when you’re traversing the waterway, it’s quite hard to know when you’ve entered the country of Canada.”
“Such are the challenges of our international boundaries,” President Grant said. “I haven’t heard of any disputes about these waters, have you, Porter?”
The president’s aide, Brigadier General Horace Porter, rubbed his ridiculously long—and Katelyn thought rather ugly—goatee and mustache with his hand. “No, the Canadians are right amiable neighbors and haven’t brought a whit of consternation to your administration, sir.”
President Grant gestured to General Porter. “This man is a walking encyclopedia and a mighty good chap. Do you know that he refused a $500,000 bribe during the Black Friday gold market scam and then alerted me to it? Couldn’t have a more honest and brilliant aide, I tell you.”
General Sheridan clapped his hands. “Bravo, General!”
Mr. Pullman snapped open his pocket watch to check the time before shoving it back into a tiny pocket in his vest. “We have a marvelous fishing expedition planned for this afternoon, for all who would like to partake. At noon, Mr. McCue, an expert fishing guide and excellent oarsman, will be here to escort us to the abundant fishing areas around these parts. Who would like to join us?”
The president, General Porter, and General Sheridan raised their hands like schoolchildren, and Katelyn grinned at the sight.
But when she opened the door to the veranda, she found Richard and Claudia laughing and talking together. They turned to look at her, and Richard said, “Ah, there’s the lovely Katelyn again. Come join us. We were just discussing what we liked and didn’t like about our jobs. Tell me, what do you think about the newspaper business, Katie?”
She wanted to run, but she feared being rude, so she reluctantly joined them. “Though I do enjoy a grand adventure, the world of politics and intrigue does not sound like a tasty cup of tea to me.”
Richard quirked his head and addressed her while glancing at Claudia. “And what do you think the president is doing right now?”
Katelyn noticed Claudia’s pursed lips, sure sign of annoyance at Katelyn’s arrival. But she had to give the newsman a safer topic to pursue. “Oh, Thomas told me all about it. Of the many traditions handed down by our St. Lawrence River fishermen, excursion parties are the most popular. He said that skiffs are attached to a small steamer launch, which takes the fishermen out to a favorite fishing shoal. Then the parties of two or three go fishing, while the steamer team sets up a buffet on a nearby island. When the fishermen return, they add their fresh-caught fish to the other delicacies, some of which you made, Claudia.”
Katelyn purposely paused and smiled at her. “And oh, they fly a white flag on the return voyage if they catch a muskellunge.” She grinned.
Claudia wrinkled her nose. “Why?”
“They’re the most popular sport fish. Literally hundreds of prize-winning muskellunge have been caught here on the river and mounted over the years. Mr. Pullman has one hanging in the dining room. I’d know because I have to dust it.” Katelyn giggled.
“Please, can we be finished with such boring chatter?” Claudia’s eyes darted from Richard to Katelyn, narrowing into angry slits when they landed on her.
“For certain. I’ll leave you two to talk.” With that, Katelyn scurried away before Richard could stop her. She strolled around the perimeter of the island, allowing the beauty around her to soothe worries about Richard’s article from her mind.
As the sun sunk to a fiery demise and tiny stars popped out on a blanket of blue, Katelyn changed, tucked a stray hair up under her cap, and smoothed her freshly pressed uniform, ready to serve the honored guests of the Presidential Masked Ball. The dancing on the lawn, illuminated by Chinese and brass lanterns, should ensure a glorious conclusion to the president’s visit to the Thousand Islands.
Shooing gnats away from the crystal flutes that would soon hold fine champagne, Katelyn turned to McCarthy. “Doesn’t the island seem magical with its twinkling lights, flags, and banners, and the fine guests now arriving by the dozens?”
“Indeed it does.” McCarthy even seemed to twinkle as, having adjusted his bowtie, he clasped his hands behind his back like he so often did. Katelyn had become accustomed to his ways and now saw him as a friend. “It’s been quite a week. I’m relieved that Thomas came to your rescue yesterday.”
Katelyn didn’t know how to respond, so she croaked out a simple “yes” and turned to survey the growing crowd. As darkness descended and a warm breeze arose, couples sauntered along the path in a steady stream. Cottagers from all the islands for miles up and down the St. Lawrence as well as many others from the mainland paraded arm in arm, their colorful finery reminding Katelyn of a lovely summer garden.
Thomas slipped up beside her and handed her a tray of elegant hors d’oeuvres. “You look fetching tonight. Let’s serve the receiving line, shall we?” He held his tray of champagne flutes high overhead as if it were nothing.
“It’s a good thing those huge Pullman car lamps light the waiting line so well. I fear it’ll be awhile before all those people work their way through to meet the president. Just like yesterday.”
Thomas stepped aside and waved for her to go first. “I doubt any of them will regret the wait. He’s quite a man.”
When the two arrived at the front of the cottage, Katelyn offered the Grants hors d’oeuvres. “Care for a refreshment?” When both declined, she noticed that President and Mrs. Grant appeared rather tired. She wondered if the week’s fanfare had been too much for them.
A woman shaking the president’s hand seemed to have lost her tongue. Her face grew red, and she stared at him as if frozen. Mrs. Grant grinned and took her hand, ready to chase away the woman’s nerves. Katelyn supposed that many a guest might be intimidated into silence by such a man.
But then an elderly gent stepped up and shook the president’s hand vigorously. “I do hope, sir, you will be re-elected. I shall pray the Lord allows it, for I favor the work you are doing for our country. And you mustn’t worry about all the scandals them there journalists write about. The man on the street don’t believe nary a tale.”
President Grant quirked a brow. “Thank you.”
Katelyn served General Sheridan, who chose a pastry as he laughed with a man and woman who held a small child. “This is a fine gathering, and on such a perfect evening. Your babe won’t remember this night, but I surely will.”
The mother nodded, smiled, and then thrust the baby into the general’s face for him to kiss. The general complied and said, “I’ve kissed the baby, now how about a kiss from the mother?”
Everyone around them laughed, including Katelyn, and with much drama, the general proceeded to press a kiss on the woman’s cheek, while General Porter guffawed loudly.
By Susan G. Mathis
Susan G Mathis is a multi-published author of stories set in the beautiful Thousand Islands, her childhood stomping ground in Upstate New York. Her first novel, The Fabric of Hope: An Irish Family Legacy, her Thousand Islands Gilded Age series, and her novellas will transport you to a time and place few have visited. Susan makes her home in Colorado Springs, enjoys traveling globally with her husband, Dale, and relishes time with her four adorable granddaughters. Find out more at www.SusanGMathis.com.
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