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Synopsis of Maiden Rock Mistress


            The year: 1857

            The place: Lake City, Minnesota


            Word has come to the residents of Morris, Illinois of the beautiful new area of Lake City, Minnesota, situated on Lake Pepin and the beginning of a settlment there.

            Denis MacLeod, a handsome young Scotsman, has accompanied his Uncle Lath (Lathrop MacLeod) to the promised land.  Denis, fascinated since childhood by Uncle Lath’s tales of adventure on the “high seas,” gets a job with Captain I.A. Fuller, who owns and operated the ferry, crossing between Lake City, Minnesota and Maiden Rock, Wisconsin.  It is his way of fulfilling a dream of being a sailor.

            Denis MacLeod has one other dream.  He was taught by Uncle Lath to read and write, but never had an opportunity to attend a “real school.”  He is determined that there will be a good, formal school in Lake City.  When he writes to his friends in Illinois, asking them to join them, he also asks them to find him a “schoolmarm.”

            Violet Seymour, the young niece of Denis’s friends has just completed her “normal” training.  She is excited about joining her family as they undertake a new adventure.  She is especially enticed by the wonderful, poetic letter Denis has written them, calling Lake CityParadise.  The closest thing to heaven on this earth.” 

            Denis MacLeod is forced to rescue Violet from the moment she steps off the riverboat--directly into Lake Pepin!  She gets herself into numerous predicaments, and Denis is fortunately always there to bail her out.

            On one of Denis’s trips across Lake Pein, he sees something suspicious up on top of Maiden Rock. He wonders if the sun, dancing on the colored sand on Sugar Loaf Bluffs, are playing tricks on his vision, or if there is really something there.  Finally, hearing a strange noise, he goes to investigate.  He finds a young Indian girl, “Wenona,” whose parents have just died.

            Wenona refuses to talk to Denis, so he takes her to the only person he knows who might be able to help with her: Violet Seymour.  Violet “adopts” the child, although not formally.  Denis, in spite of his own hatred for the Indians--because of something in his past which he is not willing to discuss--is smitten with the child.  Between Violet and “Gentle Lamb,” Denis’s new name for her, his attitude begins to change.

            The school is established and Violet takes Gentle Lamb with her, causing the people in Lake City to riot.  The school was never intended for the “Redman’s children.”  Denis and Violet argue over the situation.

            When the townspeople call a meeting to discuss the problem, Gentle Lamb sneaks out and hides below the window.  She hears that she has caused the problem in town, so she runs away. 

            Denis learns that she has disappeared, so they go together into the bluffs to find her.  An early autumn blizzard hits, and they are forced to find shelter in a cave.  They discover far more than safety; they discover their true, deep love for one another. 

            In the morning they go to search for Gentle Lamb.  They find her inside another cave, and convince her that none of what has happened is her fault.  Denis proposes to Violet.  She accepts, telling Gentle Lamb they will be a “real family” now. 

            As they leave the bluffs, Violet realizes that Denis MacLeod is indeed a man of his word.  In the letter inviting a teacher to come to Lake City he promised to show her Paradise.  He has done that--and more.  The magic of Sugar Loaf, just as he said, has spun its spell on them. 


Note:  Lake City, Minnesota, is a real town on Lake Pepin, which is situated on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border.  My mother grew up there.  The bluffs, which hold wonderful multi-colored sand, do seem to be filled with mystery and magic.  It is the perfect place for a romance.  Many of them have occurred there!



     Violet Seymour lay on her bunker on the river boat as it wound its way northward up the mighty Mississippi. The constant flip-flop of the paddle wheel calmed the butterflies in her stomach. Soon it would be daybreak, and the captain had said they should arrive in Lake City in the early morning hours. Her whole future stretched out ahead of her.

     Her future. She wondered if it would be as exciting as she imagined. It was just barely two weeks since she had finished her normal training, making her a full-fledged teacher. Now she had her first job, and here she was, embarking on an adventure beyond her wildest hopes.

     She carefully reached inside the bodice of her dress and took the letter out. She squinted in the darkness, trying to make out the words. She wondered, as she unfolded the fragile paper, already worn from the countless times she had opened and closed it, why she even bothered. She knew every word by heart.

     “My dear friends,” the letter began. “Uncle Lath and I have found the Garden of Eden. Never has there been a place equal to Lake City, Minnesota. Uncle Lath built a ferry, and together we run it back and forth between Lake City, Minnesota and Maiden Rock, Wisconsin. The water on the lake is as blue as the clearest sky, sparkling and bright. As you look up at the high bluffs on every side, the brilliant colored sand seems to create its own rainbow.”

     She held the letter close to her heart. Such beautiful words; they were like poetry, even though they didn’t rhyme. She pondered the mysterious Denis McLeod, the author of the letter. Was he as gentle and tender as he seemed? Too good to be true, she thought.

     She shook her head, trying to rid her mind of such silly thoughts. A mosquito buzzed around her head, as if to help her concentrate on something besides Denis McLeod. Anything but Denis McLeod.

     She was a mere nineteen years old. She had plenty of time for love and romance. Besides, Denis McLeod was a complete stranger to her. Oh, yes, her Uncle King Smith had known his Uncle Lathrop McLeod for years. Maybe she was overly anxious because so many of her friends in Morris, Illinois, where she had lived most of her life, were getting married. It was almost like an epidemic. Was she afraid of being a spinster at her young age?

     “We have only two minor shortcomings in Lake City,” he wrote. “There is no honest-to-goodness schoolmarm, and we need one real bad. Perhaps, if you decide to come join us, you could persuade a teacher from Morris to accompany you.”

     It was a wonderful invitation, especially since Uncle King and Aunt Caroline, who had raised Violet since she was only three years old, quickly decided to pack up everything they owned and head for the “Promised Land.” Little Henry, their six-year-old, would be one of her first students at the new school. She wondered how many others there would be. She knew she couldn’t count on Aunt Caroline to help her if she needed; Baby Palmer would keep her busy.

     Lath McLeod promised Uncle King in his letter that there was plenty of land for everyone just for the asking. And Uncle Alonzo, who lived just across the lake in Wisconsin, had been trying for nearly two years to persuade the rest of the Keith clan to join him.

     Violet continued reading. This was where it got so confusing. Denis McLeod seemed so pure, so wonderful. Then he was like a different person. Like good and evil, day and night, hot and cold.

     “The only other drawback to this place is the Indians. ‘Dakotas,’ they are called. They are savages. Terrible wild creatures. If only there was some way to rid us of all of them, but such an effort would certainly lead to war. Our only hope is that if we get a real teacher, maybe they can help civilize the creatures, although I sincerely doubt that such a thing is possible.”

     Violet shivered, in spite of the warmth of the summer. Countless times Grandpa Benjamin told stories about his own father fighting the Indians in Vermont. They destroyed entire families, burning their homes and even killing women and children. Maybe Denis McLeod was right; maybe they weren’t even human beings. She wasn’t sure she was up to such a challenge, but she had to try. It was too late to back out now. She had already sent a letter of acceptance to Mr. McLeod. Still, she reminded herself, they were people, and they deserved a chance to prove themselves too.

     She folded the letter and returned it to the inside of her dress, once again placing it inside her chemise. The thrill of the unknown caused her heart to skip a beat. Or was it the writer, with his flowery flowing words?

     “What a foolish idea!” she scolded herself. Denis McLeod was no more interested in her—as a woman—than anything. He wanted her for her mind, nothing more. He needed a good schoolteacher for the children in Lake City, and she just happened to be the most available one. He didn’t even indicate in his letter if he expected a man or a woman. She hoped she wouldn’t disappoint him.

     Try as she might, she couldn’t shake the idea that there might be something more to it than he let on. After all, Lake City was a new town. The choice of single, available women was probably pretty slim, but she would not be a prize for some game he had in mind. No, she was going there on business. She had a job to do, and that was all there was to it.

     She conjured up a mental picture of Denis McLeod. She knew he must be a Scotsman; his name told her that much. Even though her name was Seymour—a very English name—she was half Scottish herself, her mother being a Keith.

     Her mind wandered to her mother and father. The trip the entire Keith family took years ago from Vermont to Illinois had been one wrought with hardship. Both her mother and father died on the journey. Violet was too little to really remember them, although Aunt Caroline had done a wonderful job of telling her so many stories about them that she felt like she knew them, even if her memories were secondhand.

     Denis McLeod must have red hair, she reasoned. Every true Scotsman she had ever seen had red hair. Of course, most of the Scotsmen she had seen were her own relatives, but surely if they were all redheads most other Scotsmen must be redheads as well. He probably had a beard. He was a sailor, and every sailor she had ever heard tell about had a beard. Oh, yes, and a curved stem pipe, and he no doubt wore one of those silly flat captain’s hats perched askew on his head.

     She laughed in the silence of the night. I’ll just bet, she thought, that he imagines himself to be a great sea captain sailing across the wide oceans when he sets sail on little Lake Pepin. Such a silly fool. He probably had visions of grandeur, while in reality he was simply a delivery boy from one state to another across a lake you could see both sides of.

     She heard one of the other members of the group stirring. She closed her eyes, pretending to be asleep. She certainly didn’t want anyone to know about her wild thoughts. She hardly dared admit them to herself. Remember, she reminded herself, he wants you for your brains. The rest of you is of no consequence at all.




     Violet climbed up onto the deck of the riverboat as it smoothly glided over the glistening blue-green water. She knew the current on the river was strong, but with no wind at all it seemed as still as the air. It is almost, she thought as she watched the trees and shrubs on shore, as if they are moving and we are standing still. She looked up at the clouds. The sky was a lush shade of orange as the sun rose. She studied it, etching it in her mind, as it changed, moment by moment, to red and yellow. She wanted to capture it forever.

     I wonder if Denis McLeod has any idea we are this close to Lake City, she thought. She instinctively placed her hand to her bosom, where his letter of invitation was safely tucked away—next to her heart.

     She lightly slapped her own face, embarrassed at the direction her mind was wandering. She had to get over this silly notion she had before they arrived. If she didn’t, she was sure she would make a first-rate fool of herself. She was as transparent as a drop of morning dew on a leaf.

     She stood quietly, myriads of thoughts and ideas swirling around in her head. She tried to imagine what her school would be like. How many children would there be? Would the parents all be supportive, or was this just a whim of Denis McLeod’s? Did they have a special school building? If not, where would she hold the classes? Did any of the children have any learning at all, or would she have to start with the same basics for teenagers as well as the six-year-olds?

     Suddenly, in her mind’s sight, a figure appeared. She envisioned a small log building, with children running to and fro in the yard, and a strong, muscular man—boasting a full head of red hair, a red beard, a captain’s cap and a long-stemmed pipe, its smoke winding up into the chill of autumn air. She knew, immediately, who he was.

     She smiled, not sure if she was dreaming or awake, as she watched him carry the load of wood in his arms to the side of the schoolhouse and stack it neatly. The children skipped merrily over to him, begging him to give them a ride on the ferry.

     “Not now,” he said, his voice deep and resonant. “On Saturday, when you don’t have school. Miss Seymour wouldn’t like you skipping out on your classes.”

     She swayed to the side, nearly losing her footing as the boat swerved. At least, she realized, she was awake. It wasn’t a dream. A fantasy, perhaps, but not a dream. She could hear the clap, clap, clap of the paddle on the riverboat as it pushed them on their way to the place Denis McLeod called “heaven on earth.”

     She jumped when little Henry spoke. She hadn’t seen him come up behind her.

     “We’re gonna be in Paradise today, Violet,” he said.

     “Yes, we are,” she said, smiling at him. “Only it’s called Lake City, not Paradise.”

     “I know that,” Henry said. “But Denis said in his letter that it was like the Garden of Eden. That’s Paradise, you know. Ma’s told me that story lots of times.”

     “Yes, he did,” Violet agreed. “We’ll have to wait and see for ourselves when we get there.”

     “It’s really funny, you know,” Henry said.

     “What’s funny?” Violet asked.

     “That letter. Pa kept Lath’s letter, but he couldn’t find the one from Denis at all. He looked high and low for it, but he said the wind must of blowed it away.”

     “Must have blown,” Violet corrected, touching her hand to her bosom where the letter was still carefully guarded. They didn’t need the letter. After all, it was meant for her. It was her invitation to a new life.

     Soon everyone was stirring and the tension was high at the prospect of arriving at Lake Pepin. For some of the passengers there was nothing new about this ride at all. They were going on business, or to visit family or friends, but for others, like Violet, it was the beginning of a brand new adventure and there was uncertainty as to what they would find when they arrived, but great hope and expectation as well.

     True to his word, in less than an hour the captain bellowed “Lake City ahead!”

     Violet hurried to the opposite siderail with the others, anxious to see if it was everything Denis McLeod promised. She gasped, her breath catching in her throat. It was all he said, and more. The bluffs rose on all sides of the lake, creating a haven of solitude, oblivious to the rest of the world. Just as Denis had said, the sand on the bluffs was brightly colored, creating their own rainbows towering above the water. The reflections bounced back at them, making it seem like they really were in their very own Paradise.

     As the boat pulled in toward the shore, the captain slowly steered it alongside a long pier. A black haired, clean-shaven tall, slim man reached out to help guide it, then fastened a chain around a high post on the dock.

     Violet reached down and smoothed her long dark brown cotton skirt. She wished she hadn’t been trapped in the same outfit for days—and nights. She must look a mess. In a frustrated effort to improve her disheveled appearance she grabbed at her hair, forcing it back into place the best she could. At least, she thought with relief, Denis McLeod isn’t here to meet us.

     One by one the passengers climbed off, carefully setting foot on the pier and then hurrying to dry ground. When it was Violet’s turn, she reached up to grab hold of the captain’s hand, which had been available for each one, and lifted one foot firmly onto the dock. Just as she got ready to step out the rest of the way a gust of wind charged at them and the boat blew out into the lake just far enough for Violet to fall into the water between the boat and the dock.

     Splash! They all gazed in amazement as Violet disappeared, then bobbed up and down. In an instant the tall dark man threw off his jacket and plunged in after her.

     Violet, when she realized what had happened, began to swim frantically towards shore, but she felt a hand grasp her around her neck.

     “Hang on,” the deep voice commanded. “I’ll get you there safe and sound.”

     Violet kicked at him frantically. She was so embarrassed she wished she could stay under the water until everyone was gone. She wanted so desperately to make a good impression on the people of Lake City. Now she wouldn’t dare face any of them.

     She slapped at her skirt, which ballooned up around her on the surface of the water.

     “Don’t fight me!” the man ordered. “It isn’t that far to shore.”

     Finally giving in, Violet settled back and let the stranger rescue her. Not that she couldn’t have managed perfectly well without him, but if he thought she was some helpless little female... Well, let him think what he wanted to. He probably wasn’t anybody important, anyway. For all she knew, he probably hated children!

     The man helped her to her feet when the water was shallow enough for them to stand in. He grasped her elbow firmly, steadying her as she stumbled onto the sandy beach.

     “And you are...” he asked as they walked along, leaving a trail of water to mark their steps.

     “Violet Seymour,” she answered shyly. She wished she could go back on board the boat and start all over again, but it was too late for that.

     The man threw his head back, his wet dark black hair trailing down his back. He laughed, a hearty guttural laugh. He stretched his hand out towards her.

     “Denis McLeod,” he said. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, ma’am.” He looked at her long and hard, then smiled. “Do you always enter with such a splash?” Then he laughed that same deep laugh again.

     As they walked along, Violet did not dare look at him. He was not at all like she had imagined him, but he was true to his letter. He was kind enough to jump in and rescue her, yet cruel enough to laugh at her, mocking her. Two different people rolled up in one. Like good and evil. Like day and night. Like hot and cold.

     “I think the children will like you just fine,” he said, smiling warmly at her as they walked through the main street of Lake City like they owned the town. “I think they’ll like you mighty fine.”



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