6:1 Leaving California

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA  |  1889

A wet, gray blanket lay over the bustling San Francisco waterfront as Fox and his ersatz daughter rushed to make the steamship that would take them across the Pacific Ocean to Hawai‘i. The pair had been traveling a day and night, taking the Central Pacific Railroad down from Sacramento where Fox had telegraphed ahead to arrange their passage but not before drawing a considerable amount of cash out of the local Wells Fargo.

The train would only take them so far, and they caught a waiting ferry at the terminus in Vallejo. Fox had plenty of time to ruminate on whether he was doing the right thing. He did not have the opportunity to speak with Urias before leaving and he wondered if his old friend would have tried to talk him out of whatever this plan would prove to be.

Philomena had been fast asleep against the cold window of the ferry and for the first time since the fireball had upstaged her father’s suicide, he took a good look at her. Her skin was olive-tinged, like his, and betrayed a Mediterranean ancestry of some sort, although Fox knew nothing about his family tree.

He, too, had been an orphan and knew what it would have meant to leave the girl in the hands of the state, or worse, the church. What kind of life would she have now? He wondered, watching the girl’s thin chest fill and fall with each exhausted breath. He carefully reached out to sweep a lock of Philomena’s dark hair from her face and found it to be as thick as his own, whereas the late Mortimer Gilliam’s hair was as blonde and fine as a hapless child in a fairy tale, and her mother’s hair was as red as the trail of the meteor that had cleaved the sky in two and set the pair on this path.

By the time the ferry put in at its berth in San Francisco, Fox had become more or less comfortable with the idea that he now had a daughter. As comfortable as a man on the run from possible complicity in a murder/suicide could be, that is; as comfortable as a man who was suddenly faced with waking a sleeping child who may or may not be in shock from the events of the past few days.

Fox bent down and nudged the girl who stirred not with a start, but with a recognition that warmed his soul.

“We are here,” he said, tamping down the riot of hair on top of her head.

“Hawai‘i?” Philomena stretched and looked around.

Fox laughed in spite of himself. “No, child. This is San Francisco. We have to catch a ship. Quickly. Can you do that?”

“Yes … what should I call you?”

Fox thought for a moment. “Philomena, I know you have been through a lot in the past seventy-two hours, but if this has a chance of working … that is, if I can keep what happened to me when I was your age from happening … well, you should probably call me father.”

Philomena’s eyes swam with emotions she was ill equipped to handle as she looked up at Fox. Did she love this man as she did her father? No. Did she hate this man for taking her away from the only home she had ever known? That remained to be seen. She was old enough to recognize that her life was never going to be the same. The girl burst in to tears as Fox stood by uselessly.

“Come on, dear,” he soothed, “we have to go.”

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