Papa always said you make your own luck.
But after being seasick for five months, two weeks, and six days, I felt certain that luck had nothing to do with anything aboard the Lady Luck
, a poorly named vessel if ever there was one. I had just spent the morning of my sixteenth birthday puking into a bucket, and I had little hope that the day would improve.
I had no doubt that I was the unluckiest young lady in the world.
It wasn’t always this way.
Once I was the luckiest girl in the world.
When I was eleven years old, in 1849, the sea seemed to me a place of great wonder. I would lie on my four-poster bed in my room overlooking the street and pretend I was on one of the sleek ships that sailed along the waterfront, returning from exotic, faraway places like China and the Sandwich Islands and Liverpool. When the light shone through the window a certain watery way, it was easy to imagine that I was bobbing gently on the waves of the ocean, the air around me warm and sweet and tinged with salt.
We lived on Walnut Street, in a brick house with green shutters, just steps from the State House. Heavy silk drapes hung in the windows, and there was new gas lighting in every room. When the lights were on, it glowed like fairyland. I believed it to be the loveliest house in all of Philadelphia, if only because we lived there.
And my father was the most wonderful father in Philadelphia—or perhaps the whole world.
Each morning Papa would holler, “Where is my favorite daughter?”
I would leap out of bed and rush to the top of the stairs, my feet bare, my hair a frightful mess.
“She is right here!” I would shout. “And she is your only
“You’re not my Janey,” he would roar, his white beard shaking, his belly rolling with laughter. “My Janey’s not a slugabed! My Janey’s hair is never tangled!”
My mother had died giving birth to me, so it had only ever been Papa and me. Papa always said that one wild, redheaded daughter was enough for any sane man.
As for my sweet papa, how can I describe the wisest of men? Imagine all that is good and dear and generous, and that was my papa.
Papa was a surgeon, the finest in all of Philadelphia. He took me on rounds with him to visit his patients. I was always proud to hold the needle and thread while he stitched up a man who had been beaten in a bar brawl. Or I would sit on a man’s belly while Papa set a broken leg. Papa said a man behaved better and didn’t scream so much when a little girl was sitting on his belly.
I was the luckiest girl.
Copyright © 2010 by Jennifer L. Holm. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.