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The Scourges of Heaven

The Scourges of Heaven: A Novel

David Dick
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    The Scourges of Heaven
    Book Description:

    A historical novel of prejudice and plague,The Scourges of Heavensweeps gracefully, joyfully, painfully across centuries and generations. Through Cynthia Anne Ferguson, orphaned aboard a vessel carrying immigrants, hopes, dreams, and cholera from the Old World to the New, David Dick paints a world where the causes of disease are little understood, where faith is not always a comfort, where human questioning often goes unanswered, and where unexpected death is frequently attributed to the wrath of an angry God. Cynthia's story unfolds in the midst of the first of four great cholera epidemics to sweep America in the mid-nineteenth century, and her journey through life, from New Orleans up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and across the Bluegrass to Lexington, parallels the track followed by the deadly scourge. More powerfully told than any factual, statistical, or scientific account could ever manage, yet based upon historical events, this tale of disease, ignorance, and narrow-mindedness is supported by a central theme of hope that ultimately brings redemption.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5840-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iii])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [iv]-[vi])
  3. [Illustrations]
    (pp. [vii]-[xi])
  4. Owl Hollow, Kentucky, October 1998
    (pp. 1-11)

    The steel teeth of the backhoe made a scraping sound as they struck iron in the ditch, and the yellow machine vibrated with the unforeseen resistance. Lutlier Duncan felt a curious flutter in his hands and feet. He did not like the interruption, did not like it at all. He was in an all-fired hurry. Lutwhaesr digging a new water line from the road to his house, near Owl Hollow, where his life was anchored.

    It was October 15, 1998.

    The leaves on the pin oaks and black walnuts, the dogwoods and locusts had finished turning to their flaming reds,...

  5. London, England, April 1833
    (pp. 12-27)

    “Hear ye the Lord! Worthless sinners! God’s Wrath! A-men! His way of punishing mankind for ALL wrongdoing! Scourge sent from Heaven! The Lord has no other way, no choice but to bring down another scourge. This cholera pestilence. A-men!”

    The Reverend Daniel C. Goodman’s words mercifully died on darkened Borough Road like the prestorm splatterings of oversized raindrops quickly absorbed by a thick layer of dirt, garbage, and excrement. Homeless human beings, cats and dogs, pigeons, and scavenging hogs wandered through the narrow passageways of the city, where Reverend Goodman’s words hung in the cool, damp air. The extremes of...

  6. London, Dockside, April 1833
    (pp. 28-40)

    St. Katherine Dock was packed with family members hurrying to take their places aboard theCynthia Anne. There was a carnival atmosphere and a sense of desperate urgency. Whole families, uprooted from a decaying agrarian economy, victims of the industrial revolution, clung together in tribal despair. Departure on the graceful sailing ship, it was generally believed, meant escape from miserable conditions. It represented hope for a new and better life. But some would not reach America, and they were seeing their loved ones for the last time.

    “Charlsie, me girl, and what am I to do without you?” moaned the...

  7. Bishop Rock, April 1833
    (pp. 41-65)

    Mountains of water heaved beyond the Isles of Scilly and Bishop Rock, a logical location for a granite-based lighthouse to send out final warnings to captains and first mates, navigators and helmsmen, to beware the many rocks that could tear a ship apart. The vastness of the North Atlantic became a new religious dominion for pilgrims embarking upon its uncompromising waters, which gave no quarter, expected none. The wind blew with its own sense of timing. The waves rolled in methodically, never asking what they might be breaking or what new formations of rock they might be creating. The ocean...

  8. The Sargasso Sea, May 1833
    (pp. 66-94)

    Mrs. Harmony Fischer had cared for her elderly husband as long as he could draw a painful breath. When he died, she closed his eyes, fixed his hands in the traditional way, wrapped him in bedsheets, hoisted him to her shoulder, and carried him herself to the starboard scuppers of theCynthia Anne. She almost stumbled going up the ladder to the top deck, but if anybody had offered help, she would have told them to stand out of the way. She had carried sacks of coal. She had carried firewood. She had carried buckets of water. If there was...

  9. New Orleans, May 1833
    (pp. 95-125)

    When Lou Belle, the black maid, opened the door to the captain’s house on Dauphine near its crossing with St. Peter, she cried out, “Oh, Lord, it’s the Captain. Lord, Lord, Lord, Miz Abigail, come see, come see! The Captain, he’s home, he’s home!”

    Lou Belle opened the iron gate with the large letter “L” in the center and swung it wide. “Come in this house, Captain, and who’s this chile you got with you?”

    “My name is—”

    “Lord, Lord, Lord,” Lou Belle squalled at the top of her lungs and all the way up to Abigail Lovingsworth who,...

  10. The Mississippi and the Ohio, May 1833
    (pp. 126-146)

    The accommodations aboard theThomas Jeffersonwere sumptuous, far and away superior to the best of any cabin space aboard theCynthia Anne. Captain Lovingsworth, who had his own definition of obscenity, was not used to being pampered. Waited on hand and foot, indulged to the utmost, he missed not having an excuse for breathing fire on an underling who wasn’t moving fast enough to catch a good wind. As a prominent passenger aboard one of the grandest of steamboats operating on the lower Mississippi, Lovingsworth felt discomfited, disoriented, and fidgety. He had booked the honeymoon cabin as a comfort,...

  11. Washington, Kentucky, June 1833
    (pp. 147-156)

    By the time of their arrival at Maysville, Abigail was virtually on her deathbed. She had remained in her cabin through most of the grueling ten-day journey. She was able to walk only slowly and haltingly across the gangplank with the careful assistance of the captain and Cynthia. Abigail’s shoulders were slumped forward, and with a twisted linen handkerchief she caught some of the water flowing from her eyes. When she wasn’t fast enough, she dabbed the corners of her mouth. It was mortifying to a gentlewoman who had lost all dignity in her latter years.

    “James Henry, why am...

  12. Paris and Lexington, Kentucky, June 1833
    (pp. 157-191)

    The ride in the chartered Concord stagecoach on the old Buffalo Trace from Washington through Paris to Lexington was a jarring, lurching trip lasting, with one change of horses, from sunrise to sundown. The driver’s surly behavior and the frequent blasts of his bugle must have been annoying in the best of times, and these were certainly anything but that. Cynthia’s shoes, which Lou Belle had provided from one of Abigail’s closets, pinched her toes, and Captain Lovingsworth was deep in a thicket of confusion mixed with both grief and undeniable relief that Abigail was gone so quickly. He stomped...

  13. Lexington, June 1833
    (pp. 192-214)

    “Where are we going?” Cynthia asked King Solomon after he’d buried the captain.

    “We’re going to Aunt Charlotte’s.”

    “Who is she?”

    “Old black woman.”

    “Remember, I told you, she a free niggah, like me,” said Jem.

    “Why are we going to see an old black woman?” asked Cynthia, ignoring Jem for the moment.

    “She free like me,” said Jem again, softly, toward his feet.

    “She’s all we got, is about the size of it,” said King Solomon.

    “I don’t understand what you mean,” said Cynthia.

    “Like Jem is trying to tell you, Aunt Charlotte’s a freed slave.”

    “I don’t understand...

  14. Owl Hollow, Kentucky, 1833-1840
    (pp. 215-234)

    Cynthia returned to Postlethwait’s Tavern, ducked behind the counter, and opened the two bags left there by the captain. Hurriedly, she rummaged through his clothes, checking in each pocket for anything of value. Finding a small tinderbox, she put it in her own valise. She checked to see if Abigail’s banknotes were there, counted to be sure there were twelve, rose quickly with the single bag, and walked out the front door. She headed north. Abigail’s parasol was strapped to the outside of the awkwardly swinging bag, and Cynthia hoped she wouldn’t have to use it. The rawhide thongs of...

  15. Owl Hollow, 1844
    (pp. 235-255)

    The dogtrot cabin built by John Shelby in 1838 was silent, empty, and heavy with memories. Cynthia sat on the edge of the bed where Little John was born the same month the last log was chinked and the last plank of the puncheon floor was pegged. Hadn’t the birthing been more painful than she ever imagined it would? Oh my God, yes! She was certain that she would have died had it not been for Agnes Caudill, a traipsing woman who, most of her long life, specialized in delivering babies. She knew exactly what to do and when to...

  16. Owl Hollow, 1852
    (pp. 256-273)

    The conflicting tales about Cynthia Anne Shelby, her virtue and her wickedness, took root—stories spreading far and wide about the incident with the pistol and the threat on the life of such a well-meaning man of God as the Reverend Samuel J. Jones—and the many times she arrived just in time to save a neighbor’s newborn, be it calf, lamb, or colt. She was variously described as a hellcat who drove hard bargains, an immigrant Catholic, somebody with a lot of money, and—by those who lived the nearest and knew her best—a good woman whose word...

  17. New Orleans, 1855
    (pp. 274-293)

    Cynthia Anne Ferguson Lovingsworth Shelby raised the shining brass knocker on the mammoth oak door and let the hammer fall. The sound startled her. She had not expected it to be so loud. Within a few moments a small peephole slid open and an eye appeared. From Dauphine Street the eye looked like any other, but the voice was softer than the outside discordance of drivers urging on old dray horses and the shouts of the vendors hawking their wares.

    “Yes? With whom do you wish to speak?” asked the nun.

    “I’m inquiring whether there is someone, someone by the...

  18. Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, October 1998
    (pp. 294-306)

    Mabel Stone, the cleaning lady, was sweeping the floor of Mother of Good Counsel Church in Mt. Sterling early on the Saturday morning of October Court Day. It was her self-imposed weekly ritual to work from the altar up the main aisle to the front door, using a small broom with stubborn little tufted straws to move a handful of dirt and bits of torn paper. The church was otherwise immaculate. Mabel had carefully dusted the Stations of the Cross, making sure that no particles of dirt clung to the corners. Daily devotions before each of the stations had become...

  19. Afterword
    (pp. 307-315)
    David Dick

    The original stories of Asiatic cholera in nineteenth-century Kentucky exist today only in scattered bits and pieces. There is no published volume that attempts to bring the subject together in a form that communicates the despair and destruction caused by the disease, which was endemic to India by 1817 and swept to England in 1832, to the United States in 1832-35. Asiatic cholera returned to Kentucky in 1848-54, 1866, and 1872, and in this state alone untold thousands of lives were lost.

    All of the characters inThe Scourges of Heavenare fictional or fictionalized. I have sketched them across...

  20. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 316-320)