To Live Forever:
An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis
An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis
by Andra Watkins
To Live Forever is currently on tour with Enchanted Book Promotions. The tour stops here today for an excerpt. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.
Explorer Meriwether Lewis has been stuck in Nowhere since his mysterious death nearly two centuries ago. His last hope for redemption is helping nine-year-old Emmaline Cagney flee her madame mother in New Orleans and find her father in Nashville. To get there, Merry must cross his own grave along the Natchez Trace, where he duels the corrupt Judge, an old foe who has his own despicable plans for Em.
Explorer Meriwether Lewis Dead at 35
The Natchez Trace, south of Nashville, Tennessee - Meriwether Lewis, renowned co-captain of the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific and territorial governor of Upper Louisiana, died Wednesday, October 11, 1809. He was thirty-five.
Accounts suggest his death was a suicide, though murder is still being investigated. He was found with gunshot wounds to the head and abdomen. No one witnessed the incident.
Meriwether Lewis was born on August 18, 1774 near Charlottesville, Virginia. After a successful military career, he served as personal secretary to Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States. Jefferson selected him to lead the Corps of Discovery, an expedition to find the Northwest Passage to the Pacific. Along with William Clark, Lewis guided the thirty-three person team through thousands of miles of unexplored wilderness.
Upon his triumphant return in 1806, Lewis was appointed governor of the Upper Louisiana Territory, succeeding James Wilkinson. While he accepted the appointment with great promise, colleagues noted that he struggled in the position throughout his tenure. A source said he was more outdoorsman than administrator, more scientist than politician.
In September 1809, he journeyed to Washington DC, both to explain his gubernatorial affairs to James Madison’s administration and to publish his prized expedition journals. No one knows why he diverted from his planned water route through New Orleans to the notorious Natchez Trace in Tennessee, where he died.
Authorities are still evaluating the circumstances of his death. Lost in mystery, may his spirit rest in peace.
A New Orleans Courtroom
March 24, 1977
March 24, 1977
A drop of sweat hung from the end of my nose. I watched it build, cross-eyed, before I shook my head and made it fall. It left wet circles on the front of my dress.
"Emmaline. Be still, Child." Aunt Bertie fanned her face and neck with a paper fan, the one with the popsicle stick handle.
A popsicle would be so good.
The waiting room of the court in New Orleans was full. People were everywhere I looked.
Reporters in stripey suits talked with some of Daddy's musician friends. I loved to watch their fingers play imaginary guitars or pound out chords on their legs. Once or twice, Daddy's band members came over to squeeze my arm or pat my head. “In spite of what they’s saying in that courtroom, we all love your Daddy, Kid.”
Everybody loved Daddy. Well, everybody except Mommy.
My nose burned when I breathed, because the whole room stank like sweaty feet. My face was steamy when I touched it, and my lace tights scratched when I kicked my legs to push along the wooden bench. I left a puddle when I moved.
I snuggled closer to the dark folds and softness of Aunt Bertie. She turned her black eyes down at me and sighed before pushing me away with her dimpled hand. "Too hot, Child. When this is done, I'll hold you as long as you want."
I slid back to my wet spot on the bench. The wood made a hard pillow when I leaned my head against it and closed my eyes. Wishes still worked for nine-year-old girls, didn't they?
I thought and thought. If I wanted it enough, maybe I could shrink myself smaller. It was hard to be outside the courtroom, imagining what was going on inside. Behind the heavy doors, Mommy and Daddy probably shouted mean things at each other, like they used to at home. Both of them said they wanted me, if they had to fight until they were dead.
I watched Mommy's lady friends go into the courtroom: Miss Roberta in her drapey dress with flowers, Miss Chantelle all in white against the black of her skin, and Miss Emilie in a red skirt and coat that tied at her waist in a pretty bow. They all went in and came out, and they always looked at me. Miss Roberta even left a red lipstick kiss on my cheek, but I don't like her, so I rubbed it off.
Aunt Bertie took her turn inside the courtroom, leaving me to sit with a reporter. He watched me from behind thick black glasses, and he asked me all kinds of questions about Daddy and Mommy. I didn't understand much. I knew Daddy was famous, at least in New Orleans, but I didn't understand what the word “allegations” meant.
My daddy was Lee Cagney. People called him “The Virtuoso of Dixieland Jazz.” He played the upright bass, and when he sang, his voice made women act silly in the middle of Bourbon Street. They cried and screamed. Some of them even tore their clothes.
I understood why women loved Daddy. I adored him, too. But some grown women sure did act dumb.
None of the lawyers asked me who I wanted to be with.
The Judge said I was too little to understand, and Mommy agreed. But if they asked me, I would shout it all the way to Heaven: I wanted to be with Daddy.
When he sang Ragtime Lullaby, the sound of his voice put me to sleep. He always splashed in the fountain with me in front of the Cathedral and gave me pennies to throw in the water. Thursday afternoons before his gigs, he sat with me at Cafe du Monde, sharing beignets with as much powdered sugar as I wanted. He didn't even mind my sticky fingers when he held my hand. He wasn't always there when I had nightmares, but he came to see me first thing in the morning.
People around me whispered about Daddy's “adulterous proclivities.” I didn't understand what that meant, but it had something to do with his loving other women besides Mommy. No matter what they said, Daddy didn't do anything wrong. When he wasn't playing music, he was always with me.
A skinny reporter held the courtroom door open. "The Judge's ruling." He whispered, but his voice was loud enough for everyone waiting to hear. He kept the door open, and I saw my chance.
I struggled through all the legs to the door. Mommy's red lips curled in a smile as the Judge addressed Daddy. The Judge's face was loose, like the bulldog that lived in the house around the corner, and his voice boomed in my chest. When he stood and leaned over his desk, his hairy hands gripped the gavel.
"In the case of Cagney v. Cagney, I am charged with finding the best outcome for a little girl. For rendering a verdict that will shape the whole of her life. The welfare of the child is paramount, regardless of how it will impact the adults involved.”
The Judge stopped and cleared his throat. I held my breath when his baggy eyes fell on me. I counted ten heartbeats before he talked again. “Mr Cagney, I simply cannot ignore the fact that you had carnal relations with your then-wife's lady friends repeatedly, both under your shared roof and in broad daylight. The photographic evidence coupled with the testimonies of these poor women damns you, regardless of your expressed love for your daughter. From everything I’ve seen and heard in this courtroom, the evidence does not support your claim that you were set up. Justice demands that your nine-year-old daughter be delivered into the arms of the person who has demonstrated that she has the capability to be a responsible parent."
He looked around the room and sat up straight in his chair. "I am granting sole custody of Emmaline Cagney to her mother, Nadine Cagney, and I hereby approve her request to block Lee Cagney from any and all contact with his daughter until she reaches the age of eighteen. Mr Cagney, should you violate this directive, you will be found in contempt of this court, an offense that may be punishable by imprisonment of up to 120 days and a fine of no more than $500 per occurrence. This court is adjourned."
He pounded a wooden stick on his desk, and everyone swarmed like bees. Daddy stood up and shook his fist. He shouted at the Judge over all the other noise. “Lies! Set out to ruin my reputation—my memory—in the eyes of my daughter! I'll appeal, if I have to spend every dime of my money. I'll—"
The Judge banged his stick again, lots of times, while my eyes met Daddy's. I ran from the doorway. The room was like the obstacle course on the playground, only with people who reached for me while the Judge boomed, "Order! Order! I will have order in my court!"
Daddy's lawyer held him and whispered something in his ear. It was my chance. I ran toward Daddy and his crying blue eyes. They matched mine, because I was crying, too.
Daddy elbowed his lawyer into the railing and reached out his hand. “Come to me, Baby.”
I kicked at pants legs and stomped on shiny shoes. At the front, I stuck my hand through the bars and stretched as far as I could. My fingers almost reached his when my head jerked like I was snagged at the end of a fishing pole.
Mommy had the ties at the back of my white pinafore. Her glossy red lips fake-smiled. "I'm taking Emmaline now, Lee. Good luck to you."
She squeezed my hand. Her red fingernails dug into my skin.
"Ow, Mommy. You're hurting me."
Her high heels clack-clack-clacked as she dragged me through the chairs and down the aisle toward the waiting room. I planted my heels and tried to get one last look, my mind taking a picture of Daddy. Before we got through the door, I saw his shoulders shake. Three policemen held him back and kept him from following me. The world was blurry like the time I swam to the bottom of a pool and opened my eyes underwater.
Mommy picked me up and cradled me in her arms. Her blood-tipped fingers stroked my hair, but her lips whispered a different story, one the crowd couldn’t hear. “Stop crying, Emmaline. You know this is for the best." She shifted me to the ground and adjusted the wide sash of her floor-length dress. Its sleeves fanned out as she pushed the bar on the door. I wished she'd take off and fly away.
Summer heat turned my tears to steam, and my eyes ached. Mommy struggled to pull me along through the reporters that blocked the path to the car. They shouted questions, but I didn't hear them. All I heard were Daddy's words. "Come to me, Baby."
Mommy smiled and pressed our bodies through the people. She kept her gaze glued on the car.
Aunt Bertie waited behind the wheel of Mommy's fancy red Cadillac Eldorado. Mommy always said the whole name with a funny accent. The engine was running. "There's Bertie. In you go, Emmaline. I'm ready to be done with this madness."
My legs squeaked across the hot back seat. Mommy ran her fingers under my eyes to wipe away my tears, but they kept coming. “Please. You’re upsetting my daughter.” She shouted over her shoulder.
The door slammed, and it was like a clock stopped. Like I would never be older than that moment. Everything would always be “Before Daddy” and “After Daddy.”
His face appeared in the slice of back window. I put down the glass, trying to slip through, but Mommy ran around the car. She screamed and hit him, over and over. "You stay away from her, Lee! You heard what the Judge said!"
Her black hair fell out of its bun as she pounded him with her fists. He tried to move away from her. Toward me. He reached his hand through the window and touched my face. His mouth opened to speak to me, but a policeman came up behind him and dragged him away from the car.
"I'll write you, Emmaline! Every day. I promise,” he shouted. “I'll prove these things aren't true! I’ll give up everything to be with you!” The policeman pushed him through the courthouse door, and he was gone.
"I'll write you, too, Daddy." I whispered it, soft so nobody but God or my guardian angel could hear. "Somehow, I'll make us be together again."
I'll be honest. Yesterday, the weather was beautiful and I was looking forward to spending maybe an hour or possibly two, reading a little in my Adirondack chair. Andra Watkins had me so engaged in her book that I spent the entire afternoon reading her first book. I loved the journey that led Em and Merry to "freedom". Not to spoil a thing, I'll just say that I loved your ending, too. Thank you for this great book!
About the Author
Andra Watkins is the first living person to walk the 444-mile Natchez Trace as the pioneers did. Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee, 15 miles a day. 34 days. Alone. Her historic walk launched her debut novel To Live Forever, a mishmash of historical fiction, paranormal fiction and suspense that follows Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis & Clark fame) after his mysterious death on the Natchez Trace in 1809.