(They're written like novels with dialogue based on journals, diaries and newspapers)



"There came a band of angels white,

Graced with a golden halo bright,

But wildly followed in their track

A grisly train of goblins black"

Heinrich Heine [1799-1856]




TORMENTED WEDDING ......................FEBRUARY 1859


ebruary was not a traditional month for weddings. But none of 21 year old Laura's weddings had been even remotely traditional. She ached to get this one over as quickly as possible before the unspeakable happened. Even the weather fought her. Northern California's winter rain clouds smothered glorious, arctic glaciered Mount Shasta as they lashed the shingled roof of the Methodist Church with watery whips. The Reverend Noah Barton's basso profundo was muted to a whisper. Most of Shasta, California's upper crust had brought their dry coughs and mutterings. Some held their hand to their ear to show they could not hear the preacher.

Laura and her intended, dashing attorney William D. Fair, 36, stood at the alter in a starker nuptial than she had anticipated. He'd confided that he was a graduate of West Point and former Colonel. The scarcity of flowers and her rather plain gown were bearable. She had tried, but failed, to keep news of their wedding out of the newspapers both here and in San Francisco. Any moment Crazy Tom would burst in to blast her and her Ma in the front row with his ghastly pistols.

Laura conjured a smile on her ashen face before turning to check those bull-chute double front doors. She fervently hoped this ceremony would end before murder was done in this church. She turned discreetly back to the Reverend Barton, who had stopped the ceremony to cough. Laura wanted to scream, "For the love of God, get on with it!" but she didn't.

Instead, his pause hurled Laura's reflections back to her first wedding with New Orleans liquor merchant Stone, over twice her age, when she was but 16. Her dying Daddy had stopped moving the Hunt family from Laura Hunt's birthplace in Holly Springs, Mississippi to Texas to New Orleans long enough to urge her to give herself to that rich, drunken buffoon Stone. She did, looking vastly more womanly than all the grown women at her wedding. But in less than a year Stone drank himself into his deathbed. Stinking of whiskey from every pore, he died with a bottle of rye clutched in his hand and a gulp of it drowning the death rattle in his throat.

Her young mind driven to desperation, Laura joined the Convent of the Visitation at New Orleans and resumed her education as a schoolteacher. Almost at once she'd become the love interest of wealthy parishioner Thomas Grayson. After six months of intensive learning, Laura bid farewell to the sisters. She married Grayson in a bounteous and unstinting wedding that was the opening act of a tragedy so tumultuous, it made the sustained terror of Edgar Allan Poe's writings seem comical..

After a drunken honeymoon pilgrimage to Vicksburg, Mississippi, Tom took Laura to live with him at his mother's New Orleans chateau. This mansion soon assumed the aura of Poe's Haunted Palace. When Grayson was playfully tipsy, he flaunted his marksmanship by repeatedly shooting the head off of one chicken and striking another until heaps of dead and squawking bundles of gory feathers defiled the manicured grass. When sullen drunk, Tom fired bullets into their bed's headboard outlining Laura's curly blonde head as she stifled her sobs. In his ultimate drunken rage, he dashed after his screaming mother, slashing the air with his Bowie Knife and snarling that he would scalp her. After his hysterical mother locked herself in the cellar, Tom flopped beside the impregnable door and howled, "Laura, fetch my brandy!"

Unnerved by Crazy Tom's attempt to maim his mother, Laura saddled a horse in the stable. Back inside and terrified of every shadow, she stuffed enough clothes into a laundry bag to get by, rifled Tom's drawer for $183 and yelled, "I'm fetching it!"

Tom's swamp-bear growl ran icy chills up her back even now. "You lying white Nigger! You're running off, and when I catch you, you are DEAD!"

Laura's retort was her galloping mount's hoof beats. Sure Tom would murder her Ma too, Laura persuaded her to flee and hoped that her married name Mrs. Mary Lane would shelter the tearful lady from his maniacal quest. They hied to San Francisco under bogus names. Corresponding with New Orleans friends, Laura learned Grayson had sued for divorce on grounds of desertion. She had a lawyer send her the divorce papers and received them with his note warning of Tom's drunken vows of death. Laura and her Ma tried running a boarding house, but decided they'd be harder for relentless Tom Grayson to find in far off Shasta even though Laura was interested in one of their boarders -- named William Fair.

Looking up at William standing beside her, Laura was startled by the turmoil reflected in his face. Was he sorry he'd given up his practice in San Francisco to follow her to Shasta?

William wrestled his writhing thoughts. Laura was the most idyllic, blue-eyed blonde temptress on earth. Her lilting southern accent would charm bees from bee trees because it was so much sweeter than honey. He'd handed Laura's New Orleans divorce papers to a Shasta Judge before asking him to perform their wedding. Because Louisiana's law rested on the Napoleonic Code and California's marital law descended from Spain, the Judge doubted that Grayson's inept divorce had left Laura sufficiently single to marry. Anger rouging his wrinkled countenance, the Judge refused to join William in a marriage "that was a bigamous felony." William had not revealed the Judge's vehement refusal to Laura, although his stomach was knotted with worry that the Judge would jail Laura to foil a major crime in commission and crush their wedding at conception.

A dog barked stridently in front of the church. The couple's dismayed faces moved Reverend Barton to comfort them. "I know you're city folks, but it's only a dog -- a wolf is not at our door."

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