We learn more about Eliza’s past. As I suspected, her son was the result of being rape. It was New Year’s Eve. Her parents threw a party like every year, and this time Eliza attended. One of the guests was her uncle Gideon, her father’s younger brother, who was studying to be a lawyer. Her mother was displeased to have the young man in her house and she hinted that he was up to no good at night. Eliza danced with Gideon and felt happy and special as Gideon was one of the most eligible bachelor. Then that night someone sneaked into her bedroom. Before Eliza could react, Gideon put a hand over her mouth, and even though she tried to fight him, he raped her. The next day nobody bothered to ask why her cheek was red from the slap Gideon gave her or why Gideon wore a long collar to hide her bite. This simply shows how isolated and lonely she was in her family. Poor Eliza.
A few months later she missed her period several times, and her parents sent her to stay with her aunt in confinement. Nobody asked her how she had got pregnant. After Jonathan was born, she stayed with her aunt for a year. Then her father turned up, and he made a deal with Jacob, a minister who desired to find a parish in the west. Isaiah Waite paid him a thousand dollars for marrying Eliza, and Jacob agreed even if he didn’t think much of Eliza and despised the fact that she had a child. After all, he knew that people would assume the child was his in a place where nobody knew him. It is clear that Jacob wasn’t good to her, and like her father he didn’t appreciate the fact that Eliza had ideas of her own. Eliza is a believer in the suffragist cause, which her father despised. When Eliza openly told Jacob her ideas about their marriage, he slapped her, but she had weapons of her own. She threatened to leave him, and Jacob knew that this shame was something he couldn’t afford. I like how strong and determined Eliza is.
Now it is the first of January, and Eliza goes out, intending to fish. Then she falls and breaks her leg. Knowing she has to see a doctor, she takes her boat, a dory, and tries to row to Orcas Island. She is in pain, and then another boat intercepts her and helps her to the shore. The man is Alpheus Steiner, who is the nephew of the store owner. His uncle recognizes Eliza and rushes to find the doctor. Meanwhile, Alpheus stays with Eliza, who he has placed in his bed. Eliza sleeps and Alpheus thinks how lovely she is.
We learn a bit more about Alpheus and his past. For a long time he worked for the Union Pacific, building the railway. It was hard work, and the thousands of men working moved from town to town as the railway extended across the country. We know that Alpheus was in a relationship with a prostitute, Pearly. He also disliked his foreman, Mike O’Malley, who treated him unfairly and harshly. On one night out in Benton, he went to the saloon to drink before visiting Pearly. When he finally went to see her, the owner of the brothel tried to stop her from going to Pearly, but he was too drunk and pushed the woman away. He found Pearly with Mike O’Malley. Boiling with fury, he broke a chair on the man’s head, killing him, and he also hit the owner of the brothel and Pearly. Then he ran away, and found refuge with his uncle on Orcas Island, thinking that the law wouldn’t find him there. I am confused about the relationship between Alpheus and Pearly. If she was a prostitute, he wouldn’t expect her to remain faithful, would he? Or maybe he was angry because she was entertaining the man he loathed.
It is clear that Alpheus is going to pay an important part in the novel. Would he try to seduce or court Eliza? In the prologue, which is set in 1898, a year later, Eliza is alone, so that means that if something happens with Alpheus, he is not part of her life any longer. Maybe that is why Eliza decides to leave? To escape from him? Or maybe Eliza has a relationship with him, but then the law catches him?