A Family for Maddie
Battery Kemble, northwest Washington, DC
This morning eight riders were gathered at Battery Kemble field for a steeplechase. Madelyn McClellan was the lone female, and it was her time to ride. Mounted on a filly, she leaned forward, patted the horse on the neck, and whispered into its ear.
“We’re the only two ladies out here, so let’s show these men a thing or two, shall we?”
Maddie slapped her legs against the sides of her mount, and the horse burst forth like a cannonball.
Maddie loved the feel of a powerful horse and the sensation of speed. When the animal leaped over the barriers, she felt as if the horse had wings, and all she had to do was pull back on the reins and the horse could sail out over the city.
She continued around the two-mile course, crossing the finish line in four minutes and fifteen seconds.
“Miss McClellan wins!” the timer shouted. “Her time is the fastest of the day.”
“That’s not fair, she’s a woman, she doesn’t
weigh as much as any of us,” one of the other riders complained.
“Don’t be a sore loser,” said Sergeant Mark Worley, the army NCO in charge of the stables at Battery Kemble. “Miss Maddie, congratulations. It was a great ride.”
“All I did was sit in the saddle,” Maddie said. She patted the horse on its neck again. “Dame Eleanor did all the work, didn’t you, girl?”
“It takes a team,” Sergeant Worley said. “Rider and horse.”
Maddie dismounted, handing the reins to the sergeant. “Thank you for letting me ride the best horse in the whole stable.”
“Think nothing of it,” Sergeant Worley said. “Dame Eleanor knows when it’s you on her back. And besides, she won, and that will put her in a good mood all day.”
Maddie patted the filly as the horse whickered and nodded.
“See what I mean?” Worley said. “Now there’ll be no living with her.”
“You will give her an extra ration of oats, won’t you?”
“I promise I will, but Sergeant Cornett will be taking care of Dame Eleanor after tomorrow.”
“Oh no, where will you be?”
“I’m leaving Washington,” Sergeant Worley said, a broad smile crossing his face. “I’ve been assigned to an army post out West.”
“I guess I should be happy for you, but I’m not—and I know Dame Eleanor won’t be happy either.” Maddie slipped the horse a cube of sugar. “Will you
tell this new sergeant that I’m not like most of the other women who come down here?”
Sergeant Worley laughed. “I’ll pass on the word—no gentle Nellie for Miss Maddie. She wants a spirited horse.”
“Where have you been?” Diana McClellan asked when Maddie walked into the front entrance hall of her home. “Did you forget? We’re expected to attend Mrs. Delano’s reception this evening.”
“Since I’m late, why don’t you go without me? I hate these functions and you love them,” Maddie said.
Diana closed her eyes and clenched her teeth. “Why do you do this to me? I don’t know why I even try to make you acceptable. You have thirty minutes—now get dressed.”
“Didn’t you once say that if a woman can get herself ready in half an hour, she has no business going out in the first place?”
“Well, will you at least try to make yourself presentable?”
Diana was Maddie’s older sister, and no two sisters were ever more dissimilar. Maddie was athletic and tended to meet men on an equal footing. Diana, on the other hand, was every inch the “proper” lady.
The two sisters did have one thing in common: both were quite attractive. Maddie’s cobalt-blue eyes were set above high cheekbones in a face of almost perfect symmetry, but she seemed totally unconscious of her own looks. She often wore her light-brown hair hanging in one long braid, simply because it was easier that way.
Diana, on the other hand, knew exactly what she must do to accent her beauty, and it showed in the clothes she chose, how she wore her hair, and the way she deported herself. Her eyes were brown and her hair, which was nearly black, was swept up in a loosely wound chignon.
“I can just imagine what you were doing,” Diana said. “You smell like horse.”
“Some men like that smell,” Maddie said, further irritating her sister.
“Well, not the ones who will be at the reception. There’ll be dancing tonight, so dress appropriately.”
“I hate doing that kind of stuff.”
“Of course you do. You’d much rather be out riding, and I daresay you were riding astride, like some common farm girl. You know that isn’t at all ladylike.”
Maddie and her sister had one or more variations of this conversation almost on a daily basis, and she stood without comment.
“Don’t just stand there. We’re going to be late as it is,” Diana said as she stomped off to the parlor.
The purpose of Mrs. Delano’s reception was to raise money for the District’s exhibition for the centennial celebration to be held next year in Philadelphia. As the year progressed, each of the wives of President Grant’s cabinet took it upon herself to compete for the honor of raising the most money for the cause. Tonight’s reception was being held at the Willard Hotel, and Mrs. Delano had announced that her fund-raising scheme was for gentlemen to make a donation each time they danced. The woman who
brought in the most money was to be recognized at the end of the evening.
Maddie and Diana had barely set foot inside the ballroom when a young army lieutenant approached them.
“Miss McClellan, I’ve been waiting for you. May I be the first to add my name to your dance card?”
“Why, thank you, Lieutenant Kirby, I would be delighted to dance with you,” Diana replied, flashing a smile that she knew would accent the dimples in her cheeks. She retrieved a booklet from her pocket and handed it to the lieutenant. “Make sure you make a generous donation. You know it is for a good cause.”
“Of course. I’m going to try my hardest to see that you win the contest.”
“I’d like that,” Diana said as she cast a glance in Maddie’s direction. With that one look, she had challenged her sister.
Maddie watched as Diana walked off with Lieutenant Kirby. This was one contest she was sure she wasn’t going to win.
She wasn’t at all jealous of her sister’s popularity with men, though she was envious of the ease with which Diana could turn on her charm. She was sure that she would never be able to do that, as she approached a bevy of women who were seated together. Maddie worked her way into the group, content that she was now invisible.
When an intermission was called, Diana curtseyed and smiled at her last dance partner. Looking around the room, she spotted Maddie and headed toward her.
“The point of this event is to raise money by dancing. How much have you raised?” Diana asked.
Maddie had no reply.
“I thought so. Now get out here. You will dance.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Maddie said as she gave her sister a mock salute.
“Stop that,” Diana said as she pulled her away from the women. “Do you want to wind up like your cohorts there? Look at them. Every one may as well be wearing a sign that says Spinster, and you were right in the middle of them. Is that what you want?”
“I’m twenty-three years old. I hardly think I’m an old maid yet.”
Just then a gentleman approached, and Diana’s demeanor changed immediately.
“Are you available, Miss McClellan?” the man asked.
“Which Miss McClellan?” Diana answered. “I’m afraid my card is filled, but my sister is free.”
“I would be honored,” the man said, offering his arm to Maddie. “I’m Captain Jason Gilliland.”
“And I’m Maddie McClellan.”
The two stepped out onto the dance floor, and within minutes Maddie was swaying to the music. For the rest of the evening, she danced with multiple partners, and she questioned why she had been so reticent. Secretly, she was thankful Diana had forced her out on the floor, but she would never admit that.
At the conclusion of the evening the band played a fanfare. Elizabeth Delano, the wife of the Secretary of Interior, stepped out in front of the bandstand. She was also the president of the Ladies’
Guild for the Capitol Exhibit for the Centennial Celebration. The dance tonight had been her idea, and though she had done none of the labor in getting it produced, she had monitored it from idea to fruition. She raised her hand to call for attention.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to report that as a result of this gala tonight, we have raised one thousand, one hundred and fifty-seven dollars to be used in making the Capitol exhibit at the Centennial the most glorious of them all.”
The applause was generous.
“And now,” Mrs. Delano said, as she twittered nervously, “I want to announce the winner of the contest.”
Maddie looked toward Diana, who was beaming proudly.
“The young woman who brought in the most money for the cause was . . . Miss Antoinette Delano. I am very proud of my daughter.”
“Sure you are,” someone yelled from the back of the room. “Just like you’re proud of your son, who’s giving out all the bogus contracts to his cronies.”
The room grew quiet as the man’s words registered with most of the men and several of the women who were in attendance. It was well known in Washington circles that Secretary Delano’s tenure in office at the Department of Interior was riddled with scandal, much of which centered around his son, John.
“Oh dear,” Mrs. Delano said, clearly flustered.
“Do you think the band could play one more piece?” Maddie called. “I’m not quite ready to go home.”
Mrs. Delano was clearly grateful for Maddie’s request. “That’s a wonderful idea, my dear. Let’s have a lively tune for our final number.”
The White House, office of President Ulysses S. Grant, Washington, DC
March 22, 1875
“Is there no end to the perfidiousness of those who are sworn to serve the people but wind up stealing from them?”
There were only two men in the president’s office, which was on the second floor, southeast corner of the White House. President Grant had asked the question of Edward Parmelee Smith, commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Grant held a match to his cigar and continued to talk between audible puffs as he lit the cigar.
“When Jay Gould and James Fisk tried to corner the gold market, I thought it couldn’t get any worse than that.” The president’s head was now enwreathed by aromatic smoke. “But no, my own vice president was right in the middle of Crédit Mobilier, and my private secretary was taking graft from the whiskey ring. Edward, do you know how that makes me look? There’s no way I can run for a third term.”
“The people don’t blame you, directly, Mr. President,” Smith said. “If they express any opinion at all it’s that you show too much loyalty to friends and associates who often betray that trust.”
The president pulled his cigar from his mouth
and turned to face Commissioner Smith. “And now you’re telling me the next scandal is going to involve my Indian policy.”
“Some are saying that, sir.”
“Some? That’s not good enough. Where are you getting this information?”
“Several of my agents are sending communiqués that are somewhat troublesome.”
The president dropped into a nearby chair, glowering. “Give me an example, and name names.”
“All right, sir. I recently heard from my Blackfoot agent, John Wood.
He says the Blackfoot have no head chiefs right now, and they have become disorganized and spiritless. The different bands are at the very least unfriendly, and some are downright hostile to each other. They appear to have no purpose in life other than to trade buffalo robes and peltries to the traders—in exchange for whiskey, I might add.”
“Stop,” the president interrupted. “A drunken Indian might be bad for morality, but that’s not a scandal.”
“According to John, the scandal is how the Indians have become so dispirited. He says it’s because of the greed of evil white men who have reaped immense profit from illicit dealings with them. Too often the Indians are being cheated by the very people who should be serving them—by the trading posts, and, I’m sorry to say, Mr. President, some of the agents.”
“Unfortunately, what you say confirms some earlier reports I received.”
“I can’t solve this problem systemically, you understand, but I believe I have the beginning of a
solution. I would like to send a few good men out as field superintendents. We could position them in the western states and territories to monitor agencies and trading posts.”
“All right. Didn’t you say this report was from the Blackfoot agent?”
“Yes, sir, in the Montana Territory.”
“Then we’ll start there. Find a good man and send him to Montana.”
“I will do my best.”
“Ouch!” Maddie McClellan said as she kicked at a rock that was lying in her pathway. “Why? Why does she have to do that?” She kicked the stone again.
Maddie was on her way to the Smith house, where she was employed as a tutor and companion to the Smiths’ nine-year-old daughter, but before she had left home, she had been upbraided by her sister and her mother.
“A lady never speaks out in a public place,” Maddie said in a stilted voice as she attempted to mimic her mother. “What was I supposed to do? Let Mrs. Delano embarrass herself, just because of the remark of one ill-mannered buffoon?”
She turned onto the walkway that led to the home of Edward Parmelee Smith, and looking up, saw Samantha waving to her from the window. The door opened before Maddie reached the porch.
“There you are, Maddie. I was afraid you were going to be late,” Hannah Smith said, as she grabbed her cape. “You and Sam have a good time.”
Hannah Smith was so active in civic affairs that she was seldom at home. During the war she had
worked in hospitals taking care of the wounded; now she was involved in several church and civic charities, especially those that benefited Indians.
Maddie enjoyed tutoring Samantha, who was called Sam, and was soon lost in the lessons and thus able to put her irritation out of her mind. They worked on math and geography, and then came reading. This was the part of the lessons that Sam liked most, and because Sam enjoyed it, so did Maddie.
“Do you think Cinderella and the prince really got married?” Sam asked, after they finished reading the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “Aschenputtel,” the story of Cinderella.
“Yes, I do.”
“Because they loved one another.”
Sam was quiet for a long moment. “Do you think you’ll ever get married?”
“Yes, I do, if I fall in love with the right man.”
Just then someone called from the front of the house.
“There’s Mama,” Sam said, starting toward the sound.
“How was your day?” Hannah greeted as she embraced her daughter.
“Miss Maddie is going to get married.”
“That’s wonderful news. Who’s the lucky gentleman?”
Maddie laughed. “I’m afraid Sam may be putting the cart before the horse a little bit. We were reading ‘Aschenputtel,’ and then we were discussing whether Cinderella and her prince really did get
married when the question of my status came up.”
“Oh, Sam,” Hannah said, a scowl crossing her face. “It’s most impolite to inquire about someone’s personal life.” She turned to Maddie. “I’m sorry if my daughter offended you.”
“Sam didn’t mean anything by her question. We were just talking about the story.”
Hannah chuckled. “Well, young women—all young women—need to learn proper etiquette. They cannot be speaking out of turn, no matter how innocent it seems.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Maddie said, as she lowered her gaze. It was obvious Mrs. Smith did not intend Sam to be the only recipient of her admonition.
Hannah turned to her daughter. “Dear, now go to your room and prepare yourself. Your father will be home shortly, and I’m sure he’ll want to see you looking your best.”
“Yes, Mama,” Sam replied, turning and leaving the parlor.
“Maddie, you’re doing a wonderful job with her. She so looks up to you.”
“I enjoy being with Sam. She is very precocious.”
“Perhaps too precocious,” Hannah said, handing Maddie two dollars. “I know tomorrow isn’t your regular day, but can you come anyway? I have another meeting to attend.”
“Thank you, I’ll be here.”
With the two dollars securely in her purse, Maddie walked home. She knew that the money Mrs. Smith paid her was twice as much as most domestics earned, and it was more than Diana made when she worked as a hostess in the Willard Hotel’s
Maddie thoroughly enjoyed being with Sam, but she knew her employment was limited. Her long-range plan was to open a school like the one Mrs. Elizabeth Somers had opened in Washington. Mrs. Somers had been asked to tutor daughters of prominent men in the city, and Maddie had been enrolled in her first class. Her thoughts were that perhaps the Smiths wouldn’t mind if Maddie looked into inviting two or three more girls to join Samantha in her studies.
When Maddie arrived home, she was surprised to hear her father’s voice. She glanced at the grandfather clock standing in the hallway and found it was much too early for him to be home from school. But then she heard another voice and was sure the voice was that of her employer, Commissioner Smith.
Even though she knew it was wrong, she stood motionless as she listened to the conversation.
“You know I don’t have any administrative experience,” Roy McClellan was saying. “I teach agrarian studies, and I can’t see that that would be a valuable skill for what you are asking me to do.”
“It’s not what you teach; it’s where you teach,” Edward Smith said.
“Most people don’t look at Howard University as the best stepping-stone to a career in government.”
“But in this case it is,” Smith continued. “Working with the recently emancipated students, as you do, gives you a unique perspective on treating people of a different race with dignity and respect. That is exactly the trait I want my field superintendents
to have. Where you would be going, the people are called savages. And whether they deserve it or not, the very word calls to mind a difficult environment.”
“That’s just it, Edward. Since this would be such a major disruption for my family, I would certainly need Annabelle’s approval before I moved all the way to Montana.”
“Oh, Roy, I wouldn’t expect you to leave Annabelle here in Washington. I intend to station you in Helena, should you decide to take the position. From what I hear from my agents, Helena is a thriving little community. The gold has petered out a little, but the capital of the territory has just been moved there. And if Washington is any indication, that in itself could prove a boon for the economy.”
“You’ve given me a lot to ponder,” Roy said. “How soon do you have to have my answer?”
“As soon as possible. But now I need to be on my way.”
Commissioner Smith grabbed his hat and stepped out into the hallway.
“Maddie. How nice to see you.”
“Hello, Mr. Smith . . . Papa.” Maddie looked from the man to her father, knowing full well that the men were aware that she had been eavesdropping.
“This is my daughter, who has not quite learned her place.”
Edward laughed. “Don’t be too hard on her. She’s instilling this very spark of curiosity in Samantha, and should you chose to accept my offer, I will hate to see her leave.”
“I’ll let you know my answer by the end of the
“Excellent. Good day, Roy, Maddie.”
“Good day,” Roy said.
When the commissioner closed the door, Roy turned to his daughter. “How much did you overhear?”
“Oh, Papa, I haven’t been here long. I didn’t mean to listen, but when I heard Mr. Smith’s voice, I thought I might have done something wrong.”
“Never mind, but in regards to the commissioner’s offer, I would appreciate it if you did not mention this to either your mother or your sister,” her father said, and then he smiled. “I will tell you right now, I am flattered by the offer, and I am going to take the position, but I don’t want your mother to know she didn’t have a hand in my decision.”
“Yes, sir,” Maddie said as she hugged her father.
For the last three weeks the McClellans had been living in a suite at the Willard Hotel, because all of their belongings had been shipped to St. Louis. From there, the crates would be put on a riverboat to make their way up the Missouri River as long as it was navigable. When the boat reached Fort Benton, Montana, everything would be loaded off the vessel and onto wagons, to be taken via mule train to Helena. This hope was that the McClellans’ things would reach their destination before the family arrived.
On this warm May morning, a hired carriage dropped Maddie and her family off in front of a building that looked more like a church than a train depot. Maddie looked at the clock tower that stood
beside the door. They had less than an hour to wait until the train departed.
“Why don’t the three of you find a place to sit while I check our baggage through to St. Louis,” Roy said. “Don’t walk off and leave your traveling valises anywhere.”
Maddie smiled when she heard her father’s comment. Even though he would never admit it, she knew he was every bit as excited as she was. He was to be a field superintendent for the territory of Montana.
“I’m going with you,” Annabelle said. “I want to make certain you don’t lay our tickets down someplace and then walk off and leave them.”
Roy smiled at his wife. “I guess I am excited.”
Maddie and Diana found a place to sit.
“I can’t believe Papa is making us do this,” Diana said.
“You didn’t have to come. He gave us a choice.”
“Humph. Some choice. Where was I going to stay when he leased the house to the Jacksons?”
“You could have taken a room in a boardinghouse,” Maddie said.
“Absolutely not. How could I have entertained in a boardinghouse? If you hadn’t been so keen about going along with this, we could have found a halfway decent flat to rent together.”
“Diana, aren’t you even a little bit excited?”
“Why should I be? It’s going to take us a month to get there, and the last part of the trip we’re going to be traveling by mule train. The whole thing is disgusting. I just know I’m going to hate it in Helena.”
“No, you won’t.”
“What makes you think that?”
Maddie put her hand on her sister’s and smiled at her. “Because I know you. I’ve never known anyone who makes friends as easily as you do. Besides, look at it this way. You’ve already won Washington over. Now you’ll have a whole new territory to conquer, and once we’re settled I can watch you, and maybe I’ll learn a few things.”
Diana smiled. “What makes you think you’ll listen to me once we get to Montana? You’ve never paid any attention to me before.”
“Well, I didn’t say I would be a good student.”
“Maybe I can start the Diana McClellan Charm School for Young Ladies.”
“Westbound train is now loading on track number five!” someone shouted through a speaking trumpet.
“Here comes Papa,” Maddie said, picking up her bag.
“They’ve just called our train, and your mother’s waiting by the gate. Come on, girls, our adventure begins.”