The Pining Princess
By Kathleen Kersch Simandl
"Don't fret, darling," Louis Tainter had crooned, slipping his arm around his bride's cinched waist. "When my dear father
had this house built as our wedding gift, he knew those Menomonee Indians could get uppity, despite the treaty. So, I want
you to look at something." He dropped his arm and took the hand of the delicate, young woman he'd brought west to ornament
his holdings in the Wisconsin Territories. Leading her toward their ornate parlor, the Lumber Baron pushed open one of the
pocket doors, then walked toward a panel of wainscoting centered between the high windows overlooking the river. Pushing on
the right-hand edge, he caused the entire panel to swing into a vertical recess. .
"It's..it's.." stuttered Effie.
"Yes, my dear. It's a… secret tunnel," Louis had confirmed with widened eyes, saying the last two words in an exaggerated
whisper. "It runs underground to the river," he added in a more natural tone. Then he concluded matter-of-factly: "If Indians
come, you just hide yourself in here, and then float the skiff down to the Wilson's. You'll be safe with old Henry and his
Effie, more peeved than scared, responded, "All alone?"
"Well, perchance Mother and Father will be here, but…" He looked steadily into Effie's eyes. "Don't worry, my pet."
And then he had gone.
Effie was very disappointed - The Harvest Ball was coming up! - and a little nervous. When her maid’s husband had
come to collect her yesterday, she’d overheard the nervous woman whispering stories about some Indians murdering a family
over by Downsville. She didn't know if it was true, but there were rumors of revenge and massacre running rampant. And with
all the young men now gone off to fight against the Rebels, the town was defenseless: a puff of sawdust blown in the wind
of its former bustling activity.
Effie peeked out the beveled glass window of the front door for the twentieth time, and… there they were. The Indians.
She heard their horses coming up the drive, in no hurry. Clop. Clop. The horses inexorably approached the mansion. Now she
could hear the Indians speaking in their foreign tongue. Effie could wait no longer. Breathing hard, she ran into the parlor,
pulled open the hidden door, climbed into the enclosure and pushed it shut again. She stood frozen on the top step and listened,
willing her breathing to slow. Weren't Indians supposed to whoop or something? She could hear them in the front hall - she
could smell their musky difference. But, they sounded like they were discussing the weather or another commonplace topic.
The voices came closer. The "savages" were in the parlor. Effie heard the scrape of chairs being pulled across the marble
floor, and what sounded like someone putting wood in the fireplace. They meant to stay!
Effie waited, listening, at the top of the wooden staircase until her right leg and arm began to cramp. Finally, to her
horror and disbelief, she realized she had to take the other way out. Thank God Louis had told her about this escape! She
inched down the steps, holding her skirt high, and then felt her way across the chilly, inky, dampness of the enclosure. Finally,
the young woman could discern hard-packed dirt, and rock, arcing above her outstretched hands. The tunnel. Using her hands
as antenna, and staying very, very quiet, Effie edged her way toward the river below the mansion. She assumed she saw no light
because someone had placed branches to conceal the opening at the far end.
When, finally, Effie could go no further, she felt along the cold dirt carefully, searching for the exit: first, directly
ahead, patting the damp, moldy-smelling rock and mud - then a little to the right, no more than a foot distant, carefully
touching, feeling, caressing. Then a little further over yet, patting, searching for escape. She was beginning to breathe
raggedly again, but forced herself to be methodical. The concealing tree branches had to be there. She had to break through
to the light soon. Effie went over and over the same muddy area so many times she memorized its contours. Yes! she thought
deliriously, this is the section that feels just like the curve of my dear Louie's cheek when we dance.
No way out.
Effie felt light-headed. She knew her only hope was that the Indians had left, but she lacked the strength to re-trace
her steps up the tunnel. Louis! she mentally pleaded, Help me! Unsure of what she should do, lacking confidence in her own
choices, she became disoriented in the Stygian cave. She turned directly into the dirt wall, hit her head on an embedded rock,
and fell to the floor - stunned. Later, she raked at the dirt and rock alongside her head, but…still… no exit
to the world of sunshine and fancy dances.
Effie lay there, her thoughts spinning in a waltz of confusion. What gown she could wear to the fall dance? She wanted
to wear one that would be warm enough; she felt so cold right now! Was it too early in the season to wear velvet? She lacked
the volition to roll over, much less sit up. Again she attempted a desultory scratching at the unyielding dirt, but began
to worry about her manicure. She must look her best for the Harvest Ball. Effie decided it would be best just to lie there…
and wait for someone to come help her.
From the Dunn County News, September 15, 1862 –
In an unprecedented Conciliatory gesture, Chief Oshkosh and two elders from his tribe attempted to talk with
our Illustrious and Well-known civic leader, Louis Tainter, about the possibilities of forming an all-Indian Union Army regiment
to serve alongside our brave fighting men of the 104th. Our Volunteers, as this readership knows,
had already departed for the state capital, so the outcome of this most exceptional Gesture of Cooperation is yet unknown.
Louis Tainter's wife, the missus Effie, was unavailable for comment.