In Sight of the Mountain
by Jamie McGillen
Publication Date: September 4, 2019
The Evergreen Bookshelf
eBook & Paperback; 356 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Inspired by the trailblazing women of the 19th Century who dared to summit Mount Rainier
In the devastating aftermath of the 1889 Great Seattle Fire, nineteen-year-old Anna Gallagher faces considerable pressure to marry well and soon. She has two serious suitors: a well-meaning but condescending doctor, and an evasive fisherman who challenges her mind. But Anna has no intention of giving up her freedom to keep house; she has a dream to reach the summit of Mount Rainier. Despite her family’s disapproval and her own self-doubt, she secretly trains, raises money for supplies, and buys a train ticket to the base of the mountain. If she succeeds in reaching its icy peak, she could pioneer the way for women mountaineers; but it’s a tall task and there’s much at risk—including the heart of a man who just might love her as an equal. On the journey, Anna will face glaciers, avalanches, and frozen temperatures, all without knowing if she even has a family or a future to return to. In Sight of the Mountain is a charming coming-of-age story, but it also casts the reader’s gaze upon issues of colonialism, class, and women’s far-too-narrow options.
"As a resident of the Pacific Northwest, I found it entertaining to try to picture Seattle as a frontier town and see Mount Rainier without its modern trappings. The story begins with the 1889 Seattle fire (a true event) and I was immediately hooked... In all, In Sight of the Mountain is a really great read--compelling, educational, containing complex characters and a well-crafted plot. Recommended for all readers YA and up who enjoy historical fiction. I'd give it more than 5 stars if I could." --Donna Gielow McFarland, Reader's Favorite (5 Star Review)
Jamie McGillen lives in the shadow of Mount Rainier, and no matter how many times she moves away, it draws her home. Everything about large evergreen trees delights her, except how poky they are, and the sap. Her poems and essays have been published in numerous literary journals, and she teaches English Composition at Highline College. When she's not teaching or cutting strawberries for her starving children, she enjoys writing rhyming poetry, but it's simply not as popular as it used to be. You can find out more about her at www.jamiemcgillen.com. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.
Seattle, Washington Territory
6 June 1889
Anna Gallagher tucked a wrapped package under her arm and escaped out the front door as a light wind rustled her favorite summer dress. It was possible Greta hadn’t spotted her, so she tiptoed across the porch, but just as she reached the top of the wooden steps, she heard the familiar voice.
“Your grandfather’s waiting for you,” Greta called from the kitchen. “At the hardware store by the Opera House.”
Anna strolled back to the front door and popped her head in. “Just need to make a quick stop at June’s first.”
Greta shook her head as she pulled strawberry muffins out of the oven.
“Be careful. If anyone recognizes you there, they’ll think you’re one of those girls.” She eyed Anna’s hair with a grimace. “Your hat, dear.”
Anna sighed and grabbed her hat with a small lace veil before racing out the door again. Finally free, she didn’t mind Greta’s tone or her warning as much as she usually would.
To save time, she took the new electric streetcar. Usually, her grandfather accompanied her to town, but it was still daytime, so she could take liberties. She leaned out the opening to cool herself, holding the frame with one hand as they rattled past maple trees lining the street. In her memories of Ireland, it was never this hot. But that was so long ago—before her parents had died, before her grandfather had taken her and her brother to America, and before he’d married Greta.
She hopped off the streetcar at Front Street before it came to a full stop. With the scent of hydrangeas in the air, she strode south, past wooden buildings with connected, yet uneven awnings. The shared walls looked as if they’d been pushed together—smashed, even. The bustling, wood-planked sidewalk creaked below her with every step, and her low heels clicked a steady rhythm beneath her rustling skirts.
With a deep breath, she paused across the street from the brothel—June’s current home. A carriage passed in front of her on Third Avenue, the horses holding their heads high as they clopped along, kicking up a cloud of dust. She hurried across the street, her face angled away from the crowds as she pulled her hat lower to obscure her features. The thrill of secrecy sent an electric jolt down her spine as the minor chords of a string quartet drifted from the second-floor windows. Still catching her breath, she hesitated, motionless before the ornately engraved front door.
The lace veil on her hat covered her eyes. Her reputation hung in the balance. She looked up at Mount Rainier, the great snow-capped mountain to the south. The rocky peak was nearly covered in snow, with dark blue ridges bearing themselves in the summer heat. It was hard to imagine snow falling so near when the warm air blew around her, making her neck sticky with sweat.
It was a sight she’d been in awe of since childhood—it grounded her. She exhaled a shaky breath, gathering the courage to enter the building. Now was not the time to lose her nerve and abandon her dearest friend.
But before she could knock, a muffled boom shook the air. A black-purple cloud of smoke rose from a building back the way she’d come. On the tips of her toes, she strained to see which buildings were near the explosion—if that’s what it was. The blood drained from her face. Firemen flew past her, and her feet sprang into action before she could decide—she dropped the package and ran in the direction of the hardware store.
Crowds on the street drifted toward the commotion as others ventured out of stores, squinting in the bright sunlight. Anna raced past them toward her grandfather. As she grew closer, her lungs began to burn. Gray smoke swirled around her legs, caressing her arms, prickling the hairs on her neck.
She jerked to a stop before Frye’s Opera House, stunned to see flames licking up the brick. Spray from a firehose rained down, misting her face and arms, before she jumped out of the way of a flaming piece of lumber as it crashed to her feet. Heat from the sun and fire gave the street an unearthly aura with sunbeams slicing through thick air.
A man with his face covered in black soot darted by. He cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, “The tide’s out, and there’s no water pressure! Run to the docks and fetch buckets of water!”
Anna struggled to peel her gaze away from his grimace—the panic in his wrinkled eyes surely matched her own.
A rush of bodies raced past her, but she pushed her way to the entrance of the hardware store. She swallowed her fear and flung the heavy wooden door open. Thick smoke rolled out to meet her like trapped water. She tried to call out to her grandfather, but choked on the smoke, succumbing almost immediately to a painful coughing fit. The floor was hot, and it was only a matter of time before the flames burst through the basement or the walls from next door.
Covering her face with the hem of her dress, she searched, passing by wooden buckets lining walls and filled with nails, tools, and hinges. Five empty aisles. Shelves of mirrors reflected the hazy, empty rows. There was no trace of him. An image of her grandfather—dusting a bookshelf, smiling warmly at her—filled her mind, and her chest tightened.
Confusion settled in. Could he be in the back room? Dread seeped down her arms as a muffled shout escaped the dense air.
She dropped to her hands and knees, crawling toward the sound with shallow breath, her eyes burning. There was no oxygen left, but her mouth opened wide to gasp for it as she reached her hand toward the doorknob of the back room to pull herself back up. It scorched her palm.
The ground below her seemed to sway as she struggled to stand, and her legs gave way beneath her. The last thing she remembered before losing consciousness was a pair of strong, familiar arms catching her.
* * *
Half awake, Anna felt herself being passed into someone else’s arms. The sudden force of a second explosion caused the person holding her to stumble, and the jolt snapped her back to reality, sharpening her surroundings.
Where was her grandfather?
She opened her eyes in confusion. The man’s carefully trimmed mustache stood out from his smooth-shaven jaw, and his light brown hair was swept to the side. One of his arms wrapped around the back of her shoulders, the other under her knees. Surprised to be in the arms of a stranger, she wasn’t sure if she should be grateful or struggle to free herself.
He cleared his throat. “I’m glad to see you awake, miss. What’s your name?”
He set her down carefully into a seated position on the sidewalk.
“I’m—” She coughed painfully before gathering herself. “I’m Anna Gallagher.”
She glanced down at her dress with its high collar and pearl buttons and frowned as it was now covered in soot.
“I was looking for my grandfather. Did you see a tall man with a white beard?” The words burned in her throat.
“Sounds like the gentleman who carried you out.” He rubbed the back of his neck and squinted at the fire. “He said to look after you—then ran. You’ve breathed a lot of smoke, Miss Gallagher. I’m Doctor Evans, and I’d be happy to escort you home.”
Relief flooded her, and her eyes stung with tears. Her grandfather was alive.
“Thank you, but no.” She paused to cough again, then cleared her throat. “I should help get buckets of water.”
She took a closer look at the man’s face. Although it hardly mattered in the moment, he was handsome. She felt for her hair ribbon that tickled her neck, dangling haphazardly, and she reached up to tuck loose waves of her long brown hair into what was left of a bun.
The doctor furrowed his brow. “I don’t think so. I promised to keep you safe.”
Anna crossed her arms and stared down the street at the fire. It was just like her grandfather to bar her from participating in something dangerous. The good doctor should move along, save someone else. Now that she knew her grandfather was safe, there was something almost enticing about the fire; a strange exhilaration flowed through her at the thought of running wildly through the streets. It would be the most independence she’d experienced in months.
“Miss Gallagher, this fire is growing fast. It’s no place for a lady. It’ll put your grandfather’s mind at ease, as well as my own, knowing you’re safe at home.” He smiled encouragingly, offering his hand.
She rested her hand on his arm—no harm in letting him feel useful. But staying home with the city in flames was out of the question.
“Thank you, Doctor Evans.” She raised her voice over the wailing fire alarms. “Our house is down East Madison Street, almost to Lake Washington.”
“Let’s go.” He placed his other hand on hers and pulled her close as they hurried away.
A group of men ran by with buckets and strained faces while others darted away with their arms full of goods.
“Do you suppose those men are store owners or looters?” she asked.
Doctor Evans surveyed the scene with a wary eye. “Probably both.”
“Does anyone know yet where the fire started—or how?”
With a shrug, he offered a half-smile. “I’m sorry. I’m afraid I know very little.”
Ash fell like snow, landing on Anna’s arms, coating her dress with grayish-white. She struggled to match the doctor’s long strides.
As they passed a group of on-lookers, she recognized June’s face, and they locked eyes. June pushed past the crowd and ran to her, curls wild. Anna released the doctor’s arm to squeeze her in an embrace. After the hug, June set her hands on her hips and leaned forward to catch her breath.
“I’ve been lookin’ out the window and waitin’. You’re late, by the way.” Her low-cut dress, supplied by the brothel, exposed her cleavage. “Goodness, you’re covered in soot! What happened?”
She glanced at Anna’s companion, then straightened and smiled suggestively. “Who’s this fine-lookin’ fella?”
“I’m fine. This is Doctor Evans. Doctor Evans, meet June. Come with us. I don’t want to be worried about you along with my grandfather.” Anna lifted her eyebrows and glanced pointedly at the fire, desperately signaling to her friend that she had every intention of returning.
June’s hazel eyes betrayed her confusion as she glanced down at their interlocked arms. “You go ahead. I’m headin’…home.”
She sauntered away, her pink satin dress reflecting the sunlight as her hips swayed.
Anna frowned. No matter—she could just find her later. “I’ll see you soon.”
June turned and blew a kiss.
Home meant the brothel. Now, she needed a polite way to say goodbye to the doctor. Her lungs felt clearer already, and she wondered how difficult it would be to slip back to town without notice.
“Let’s take the trolley.” Doctor Evans held out his hand to help her up.
He paid their fare, and the smoke thinned as they rattled away. By the time they made it the twenty-five blocks to the long dirt road in front of her house, the doctor had barely spoken another word—all business, this man. Anna peered over her shoulder, dull panic settling inside her now that she was distanced from the action.
A shy smile danced on his lips. “Perhaps I’ll see you again—under different circumstances.”
She smiled sweetly and squeezed his arm. “You’ve been so helpful—thank you. I can walk up the road from here.”
“Are you sure? I’m happy to walk you all the way.”
“I insist. I’m sure you’re needed with the fire. Please.”
Was he buying it? It was hard to tell from the way his jaw clenched.
He nodded solemnly, then tipped his hat. “As you wish.”
She watched him leave. He was exactly the type of man her grandfather wanted for her, and quite the opposite of what she needed. Although he was attractive and the press of his arm still lingered on her skin, she couldn’t bear the thought of simply clinging to a gentleman.
As soon as he turned the first corner, she lifted her hem and started back toward the brothel.
Monday, November 18 Review at The Green Mockingbird Tuesday, November 19 Review at Bookish Rantings Thursday, November 21 Interview at Let Them Read Books Friday, November 22 Feature at What Is That Book About Monday, November 25 Review at 100 Pages a Day Tuesday, November 26 Feature at The Book Junkie Reads Wednesday, November 27 Review at Gwendalyn's Books Friday, November 29 Guest Post at Encouraging Words from the Tea Queen Monday, December 2 Interview at Passages to the Past Thursday, December 5 Feature at View from the Birdhouse Friday, December 6 Review at Passages to the Past
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In Sight of the Mountain