Episode Twenty-three ♦ Finding Hannibal

George stopped as Anita drank from her bottle. He wished he had not left his behind. “If I may ask,” he said to Jane, “how did you find us?”

Jane’s headlamp left her face in shadow making her expression hard to read. She said, “Your tracks were easy to spot. I would have followed, but you had two hours on me and I needed supplies. Why didn’t you wait?”

“We needed out of the crate,” answered Anita. “Then some man came and we got scared. So we took off into the forest.”

“Well, it was risky. We haven’t far to go now.” Jane motioned her light to a spot in the distance. “Road’s just over there. You ready?”

“Yes,” the couple replied.

Emerging from a gully onto a well-worn dirt road, George found Polaris. They were walking towards Hannibal. Ten minutes along the road a dim light flickered. They closed in; a couple rested on a log, torches in the ground on either side.

“You found them!” A man with a tangle of white hair and wearing a pale suit stood and ambled towards them. “Never understood why they call you Calamity Jane. Seems finding people is a good thing. Unless you want to be lost.” He brought a thumb-sized cylindrical object to his lips. The tip glowed.

“Thank yah, Mister Mayor. Sumpin’ told me they’d settled in fer the night. Found ’em right down in the gully back thar. Tired and thirstin’. Bet they could use some vittles too.”

George looked at Anita. Her raised brow and pulled back head showed she too was bewildered by the sudden change in Jane’s vocal demeanor.

The four walked towards the log, the man calling ahead. “She’s found them, Livy. Word is they’re a hungry pair. Could probably eat a buffalo. But they’ll just have to make do with what you brought.”

Seated on the log beneath the torches, the woman opened a basket. “I brought supper. Fried chicken, sliced raw vegetables, bread and cheese, and apple pie.”

The man’s bushy mustache became a straight line. “I’ll have pie, Livy.”

“Jane, introductions are in order,” said the woman, standing.

The mustache drooped as the smoldering object returned to his lips, the end flaring.

Posture erect, Jane said, “Mister Mayor, ma’am, it’sin a pleasure presentin’ George and Anita Winston, Hannibal’s newest shop keepers.” She turned to Anita and George, “And it’s my honor presentin’ you to the Mayor of Hannibal, Mister Mark Twain and his wife Olivia.”

The four shook hands saying “pleased to meet you” and nodding in agreement with the shared sentiment.

“My hand, son. Whenever you’re through with it. I’m rather attached to it,” Twain said. Embarrassed, George let go.

“Thank you.” Twain removed the smoldering object from his mouth. “Politicians live for this moment. Yea-ah. You’ve traveled a long way. Hungry. Probably tired as well.” He waited a moment. “Perfect time for a lengthy speech. A bad politician can talk for hours. A good one can talk all day. And not say a thing. Which of you is the politician?” He pointed the glowing cylinder at Anita then George.

Olivia rested her fingertips on his forearm. “Let’s not keep them waiting for supper any longer.”

“Beggin’ yur pardon, I’ll be tendin’ to the horses,” said Jane with a brief nod. She passed the log. Four horses stood harnessed to a wagon waiting on the side of the road. Twain sat near one end of the log, his wife on his left, Anita to her left with plenty of room for George. George squeezed in on Twain’s right.

Removing a piece of gingham cloth from a bowl, Olivia said, “The quarters above the store aren’t much, but I’m sure you’ll be comfortable there while working in Hannibal. Get a good rest tonight. You’ll have orientation and costume fitting tomorrow. We hope you’ll like it here.”

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A dim glow ahead stoked George’s anticipation: they approached Hannibal, but well outside the village Jane guided the wagon off the road, down a well-lit ramp, and into a building with clean white walls and a dirt floor covered with hay. It reminded George of a subway station, only for horses. He asked Olivia, “We’re not going into town?”

“We’ll travel underground from here,” said Livy. “Thank you, Jane.”

“Yes, thank you for all your help, Jane,” Anita said as they got down from the wagon.

Jane touched a non-existent hat brim. “Pleasure ma’am.”

“We don’t usually join her in looking for strays,” Twain said. “But there was a council meeting tonight. So I decided Jane needed our help. Livy, will you help them to their store? I have to arrive at the end of the meeting. Preferably, just after.” Not waiting for an answer, he walked away.

“I’m sure we can find a handicart,” Olivia said leading. “The most important thing to remember is, Hannibal does not exist in the present. People come here because they want to experience the past.”

George asked, “So it’s roughly 1845 in Hannibal? Tom and Huck’s era?”

“That’s the idea. Since residents west of the Mississippi were resettled over a century ago, no one is allowed to live here permanently. But the company received permission to build a destination resort on the prior townsite. Please remember, everyone is a visitor here and has come to experience a time long since passed into mythology. We encourage those working in Hannibal to stay in period at all times. Don’t worry, you’ll learn all about that tomorrow.”

Grinning, George nodded and looked at Anita. Her eyes rolled.

Olivia held out a hand next to a three-wheeled cart. “You’ll see a bit of technology like this handicart underground.” She steered the electric vehicle through an underground network of mostly deserted concrete tunnels. They stopped in front of a red door. It said, “Trade Goods Shop 3.”

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A good night’s sleep wasn’t enough preparation for Anita’s day spent learning the old fashioned way. The trainer explained, “Nineteenth century technology was mechanical, not neurodigital. Since most people here want to experience that, we don’t use the Informateur.” Anita longed for digital osmosis as a day of meetings would extend into two – the costuming people were unavailable until the next. Bored with orientation, she slipped away from the underground tour as they neared the shop. She wanted to see the town, but only those in costume were allowed on the streets. Ready to go, the shop only lacked trained staff. While George attended merchant training she cleaned the living quarters and napped.

George bounced on his chair that evening saying, “I get to use real money!” She was used to dealing with market script back in Hartfield, so the wooden coins they would take in the shop weren’t as new to her as they were for George. But that would have to wait until they were costumed. “I’ve only been an accountant. Just numbers on the Informateur. Here I get to track sales in a register. Balance at the end of the day,” he said. His exuberance wasn’t infectious, but she smiled for him.

They’d been warned about the schedule. The little store was two doors down from the Daniel Boone Theatre – currently featuring Lewis and Clark Meet the Indians three times daily. They would be busiest when the show let out; kids wanting stick candy, trade beads, coon-skin hats and war bonnets, keelboat toys, cornhusk dolls, and peace medals. They also sold copies of some Mark Twain books.

The next day the costumer said, “Corseting a pregnant woman is undesirable even if the wife of a successful 1840s shop keeper would have worn stays well into her pregnancy.” Until Anita could alter her dresses – one, a heavy-weight cotton day dress of alternating forest green and ivory bands making horizontal stripes on the full skirt and a V on the bodice – she gathered the waist with a green belt to produce the desired shape so she could help George in the store or explore Hannibal. George opened the store that afternoon.

The following day Anita pulled her needle through yellow cretonne with thin vertical grass green stripes and piping, knotted the thread, and snipped off the excess. Alone upstairs, she rose from the straight-back chair wearing an unbleached muslin shift and white cotton petticoat. She pulled the day dress over her head and let the full skirt fall to the floor. Starting at her navel she closed an uncounted number of tiny hooks until the grass green collar closed at her throat. She walked over to the free standing mirror.

Pleased that her darts created the historic silhouette, she pulled at the puffy sleeves. “These’ll have to go,” she said to her reflection, “but that’ll wait until we get out of here.” She picked up a white apron from the nearby chair, tied it in place, and added a green bonnet that matched the piping. Holding her gaze in the mirror, she twisted her torso from side to side, enjoying the billowing skirt.

Ting-ting. A small bell rang on the shop’s public door. Lifting her skirts, she approached the narrow stairway down to where George was serving the morning’s customers.

She wanted to look for Sid and Mary and took the advice on the last card to heart – “Be cautious. In Hannibal. Like Tabeau wrote of York.” – keeping to herself. She trusted George to figure out the part about Tabeau. Stepping through a curtain onto the shop floor she said, “I’m going to the church now. I’ll be back before the theatre lets out. Can I have your pocket watch?”

“Uh huh.” George handed her the watch and continued with his customer. “That will be fifteen dollars and twenty-five cents, young master.”

Ting-ting. She walked along the wooden sidewalk past the Daniel Boone Theatre, through the town square where families queued, parents paying a small fee to have their children punished the old fashioned way – with a long board tapped on clothed buttocks. She shook her head, lifted her skirts, crossed a dirt street, and passed the Hannibal Library and a large, two-story, white clapboard house. A young blonde with striking blue eyes and wearing a white muslin dress stood on the porch, embroidered pantalettes showing far below the hemline. Anita shook her head again, crossed another street, and entered the open doors of a white building with ringing bells.

Inside the church, well-lit by the late morning sun, was less than half full. Most of the people were in costume, sitting near the front. Anita slipped onto an empty wooden bench midway down the aisle and looked around, a few guest families scattered here and there.

At the front and costumed like the blonde on the porch, another young woman arranged some flowers before the podium. She finished and, nose in the air, walked past an older woman sitting with two young men on either side. The one to the woman’s left fidgeted and squirmed. A young lady to the left of the restless one said, “Sit still Tom.” He looked out the window.

Anita followed his gaze outside where a dirty young man paced. She returned her attention to finding the sign and saw flowers on bonnets, in buttonholes, and on display. But nowhere could she find a single daisy.

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