Catherine’s Castle - The Story
The continuing adventures of the Colorado Girls.

Chapter 11

Catherine’s Castle © Linda Pilkington

Stay Silent and Invisible

At the last minute of the hour, Catherine Emerson slid into the last chair, in the last row, of the last class of the spring semester.

“You’re ten minutes late. I’ve ticked off two flirty girls, by refusing to let them have this seat, and offended three older, determined women, who glared at me. And then there was the frail little man, with very bad knees; the look of dismay in his eyes will haunt me for days. I thought you’d decided to ditch.” Jon Rutledge muttered at her, out of the side of his mouth.

“Ditch, after eight weeks in hell?  Not on your life; I’ve suffered for that A, and, by heaven, I’m getting it.” Catherine murmured, and then quieted as her teacher ended a conversation with her fellow instructors, took her place behind the podium, and smiled widely at the students who filled the small theatre.

“As you know, this diversity session, should have been given the first week of your Leadership Class, however scheduling conflicts delayed it. So my colleagues and I decided to save the best for last, and to combine our classes for the final.”

Mrs. Campbell gave a light little laugh, which the audience quickly reciprocated.

“Most of you already know Ms. Owens and Ms. Webb- the instructors for the other leadership classes this semester.”

The students, aged eighteen to forty-plus made solemn nodding motions very much like third graders.

“Before we begin I want to take the opportunity to say to my own students, that it has been a pleasure to have you in my class and that I hope to see you again next semester.”

“That’s for the benefit of the teacher evaluation sheets that the students fill out at the end of class tonight.” Jon whispered.

Catherine nodded.

“To the other students here, I am teaching a second level, summer leadership class. Please see me after this session if you have any questions about the class.”

She smiled broadly, and ingratiatingly to light applause.

“That’s a commercial, which means she’s desperate to fill up her class before it’s cancelled,” Jon said.

“Hush, don’t antagonize her in the last class,” Catherine said. And when Mrs. Campbell’s gaze met hers, Catherine assumed an expression of intense interest, and deep sincerity.

Their instructor continued.

“Some of you may not agree with the questions that we ask you tonight. You may not like the exercises - but I know that you will all cooperate.

“We hope that you will leave here with renewed respect for those people that are different from you. Our goal is better understanding, and good relationships between individuals and groups. This country’s best resource is the richness brought to it by the diversity of races and countries. They add their beliefs and traditions to create a wonderful and rich multicultural society.”

“This session is given in the spirit of growth, and goodwill, which are necessary for peace between individuals. There must be peace between individuals before there can be world peace. And now, without further ado, I will turn you over to Ms. Webb our facilitator this evening.”

There was enthusiastic applause, and Ms. Webb, a broad lady, whose grim face, and angry eyes, belied those who might take her for the “fat and jolly type” took her place at the podium.

There was a long moment of silence, as she gave the audience that filled the small theatre, a sweeping, intense look, that seemed meant to calculate each student’s hates, and prejudices.

“When this night’s session is over, you may realize that to confront a lifetime of, bias, racial hostility, gender discrimination, and class hatred, much more is needed than a mere three hour seminar.”

“Therefore, I recommend that each of you join my summer class, Minority/Majority Relationships, and Gender Identities in a Prejudiced Society. Handouts with the times and dates are on the tables in the vestibule.”

“If only she would let us know where she stands,” Jon said. The audience around them broke into applause.

“Do you know how glad I am that I’m going back to Colorado?” Catherine said.

“Are these people, phony, or spineless; my prejudice is that they are both.”

Jon gave Catherine a cynical look.

“Just you remember this, Buddy. This is a diversity class; for tonight, you have lost your right to opinions, and to free speech,” she warned him, under cover of the applause.

Despite the applause, the audience was treated to another long stare from the facilitator, and then to an even longer silence that made the atmosphere edgy and uncomfortable.

“Now, for the first exercise, I want you to stand, turn to your neighbor and smile-whether you smile a small shy smile- or a broad grin- you are to make the choice. After the smile, you may be seated again.”

“That’s a nice, friendly touch- maybe their version of world peace will begin with a smile,” Catherine said.

“You forgot the guns, Catherine. First the re-education class, then our rights, then guns as they take control, and finally world peace.  Jon reminded her.

The audience stood. Jon Rutledge leered at Catherine, and Catherine flashed a wide phony smile back at him.

“We’ve lived through the first half hour.” She informed him, her eye back on the clock.

The audience sat down again.

“What kind of smile did you smile?” Ms. Webb asked looking around the theatre.

The audience, afraid to commit to which kind of smile they had chosen, in case they had picked the wrong one, murmured indistinct, and noncommittal answers.

“It doesn’t matter. What I want you to realize is that choice- how you smile- is nearly the only freedom you have left.”

“Forget world peace, Catherine.  I thought her smile was sinister. Now she allows us one freedom; Roosevelt said that there were four, and he had winnowed the Constituion,” Jon murmured.

Catherine glanced towards the clock, and comforted herself that the first forty minutes were over. Then turning away, she caught a hostile stare from one of her classmates, and flustered, lost the thread of Ms. Webb’s lecture.

Then Ms. Webb announced a two- page diversity quiz, which the audience was assured would be self-graded. In the general buzz of conversation that erupted as the quizzes were handed out, Catherine turned to John.

“It’s awful, But still, it isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It doesn’t come close to the class they made us attend at work. I kept wanting to leave that one and check the news to make sure the country hadn’t fallen into the hands of communist.”

“Anyway, the quiz, and the discussion will take at least half-an hour, maybe longer. Then we are out of here- with a good grade, and with some of our identity, and a remnant of our dignity intact. Be good, all we have do is remain silent and invisible.”

“Catherine, do you know how many people, long dead and buried have thought the same thing? Silence and invisibility have been tried with very bad results,” Jon said.

Catherine gave him an irritated look and a sigh of impatience.

“Please read the questions. And then imagine the kind of follow-up discussion there is going to be before you heave any more sighs at me, Ms. Emerson.”

“Quit muttering at me,” Catherine said.

Leadership Class Diversity Quiz Final

1. ‘Complete the statement, I consider myself to be
___________, Politically.’

2. ‘Circle the statement that you most agree with: 1.‘Government is responsible for its citizens’ health and happiness. 2. Each citizen of a country is responsible for his own health and happiness.

3. ‘Have you ever felt discriminated against?’

4. ‘What racial group makes up the majority of your friends?

5. ‘What groups of people do you most dislike?’

6. ‘Are there groups of people that your parents dislike?’

7. ‘Is there some individual member, a leader, of a minority group that you dislike?’

8. ‘Complete the statement, ___________people are lazy, and have lower standards than_____________.

9. ‘As a student, do you believe that illegal immigrants have a right to in-state college tuition rates?

10. ‘Explain why or why not?’

11. ‘Have you ever been threatened because of your race, gender, sexual preferences or religion?’

12. ‘Do you believe that the United States will ever reach a state of justice for all?’

13. ‘What steps should be taken in order to reach social justice in this country?’

Two pages of questions, which ended with:

14. ‘Have you ever felt that your race, gender, sexual preference, or religion has been insulted?’

Catherine had been overly optimistic; forty- five minutes later, they had sat through accusations, several emotional outbursts, two shouting matches, and one diatribe, and they hadn’t gotten to the last question on the quiz.

Ms. Webb hadn’t felt called upon to intercede.

Catherine was desperate to leave. She thought that the last question on the quiz had been answered even though they hadn’t gotten to it, because she, at least, felt quite insulted, on her own behalf, and on behalf of her country.

The crowds’ answer sat all around her, and was reflected by smoldering eyes, jutting chins, and raised voices. Obviously, everyone, in the theatre felt that his or her own race, gender, sexual preference, or religion had been insulted. That excepted those for whom the class was absolute truth, and another group, the “pleasers” who, ever eager to ingratiate themselves with their instructors, or their fellow students, swallowed whole, the aggressive politics of the diversity class.

After awhile, she had stopped listening. She was thinking of a picture that her aunt had painted for her. In it, twelve- year- old Catherine and nine year old Melinda stood together wearing their Prairie Princess costumes. They stood in front of the scenery that their uncle had made for that year’s Fourth of July pageant.

It was a sweet little painting. The girls were posed with their backs to the viewer. Little patriots, they looked through the open- heart shaped window that had been cut through the backdrop. The view through that valentine showed the pretty, and fertile Connor farm, the American flag billowing above the house, trees and green hills beyond. The picture offered all of the beauty that was summertime in Iowa.

At the moment, Catherine couldn’t remember any of her lines from that play, but she could recall the summer breeze that had belled out their skirts and wafted the fragrance of fried chicken over the audience.

Startled, she came back to the present, someone was shouting –something about the myth of the so called, old time, Southern gentlemen…shouting that the very term, “Southern Gentleman-when you considered that they had been slave owners- was an oxymoron.”

Jon Rutledge was from Virginia-and he had told Catherine that his mother claimed relationship, in some convoluted way, to at least one signer of the Declaration of Independence.

“ Stay quiet. Don’t get involved; nothing you say will make a difference.” Catherine whispered to Jon- who was standing, his face flushed and angry.


The next morning, Catherine made coffee and sat thinking about the semester that had just ended.

From the beginning, she had despised the leadership class. It was a weekly insult to all that she loved about America.

Going to the class was like working four additional, unpaid hours each week. Her instructor, Mrs. Campbell, reminded her of her office manager, and her fellow students were like her fellow workers. All except Jon Rutledge.

Jon sat to her right, and they had gotten acquainted when they caught each other rolling their eyes at something Mrs. Campbell said.

His asides, usually sarcastic, sometimes funny, had made the class bearable. They took their breaks together, and talked about books, politics, and history.

Catherine wasn’t sure how she felt about him. He wasn’t handsome; the most that could be said for him was, “he’s not ugly.” He had sun streaked tawny hair, was tan and lean, with eyes that held an amused expression.

He was years ahead of her in life experience, had traveled, and had held important jobs. So far, Catherine was entertained, but wary. The first class had begun their friendship; she expected that the last class would end it.

Catherine dreaded the last diversity session; she hadn’t seen much good come out of them.

She liked to learn about other countries, their customs and their history. She could easily respect other nationalities and customs as long as her own country’s customs and traditions were not denigrated.

There was joy in discovering other cultures for yourself. But Catherine thought that the appreciation of other cultures should not be forced. Acceptance and appreciation would come if you left people free and able to choose for themselves. Catherine thought that the fastest way to get people at each other’s throats was to force them to go to a class to teach them understanding and respect.

The next morning Catherine still wasn’t sure how she felt about Jonathan. But she was sure that what he had said the night before had been important. She was proud of him.

Jordan Emerson, her father, had once told her that some of the greatest speeches in history hadn’t been written down. He was talking about the pre-revolutionary hero, James Otis, whose famous speech against the writs of assistance was remembered, only because someone had taken notes.

Most of that brilliant speech, in which Otis said, “…one of the most essential branches of English liberty is the freedom of one’s house. A man’s house is his castle…” hadn’t been written down, and so was lost.

She knew that Jon Rutledge’s eloquent words would also be forgotten. So self consciously, Catherine took up a notebook and tried to remember what he had said.

First, he had said that owning slaves had been a great wrong. And that the country had suffered greatly for slavery by fighting a war that killed over 600,000 of its people. That the Civil War had destroyed property, and peoples lives, that it had nearly destroyed the union and the nation. He said that even after that war that the country had suffered because it had denied equal rights to African Americans.

“But democracy and unity require a people who are able to see the whole truth. You do that by reading books that tell the truth about the country and about that war. And we do that as people by seeing the good things about the country as well as the bad. That is how you should judge the people who led the country,” he said.

“You’re telling me that these “Southern Gentlemen”-these slave-holders did things that made up for treating people like animals?” Someone yelled.

“ If you can’t get over your anger at the Civil War era “southern gentleman”, then let’s look at the Revolutionary War southern gentleman.”

“ I’m saying not to be so biased that you can’t see that people can have great faults and still have virtue within them. I’m asking you to look at what those men, many of them slave owners, wrote. Look at the institutions they created. No other country in the world created an America. No country stated its beliefs, from the beginning, as America did in the Declaration of Independence. This country, our country, is unique.”

“And I’m saying, those men were human. They weren’t perfect. just as we are imperfect. They made mistakes.”

“You bet they made mistakes, Man!” Someone shouted.

” No, they weren’t perfect, but they brought into being a country where you can still stand up and criticize them, and you can criticize the country they created. If you take the time you will find out that they suffered quite a bit, personally, and financially, during and after this country’s creation. The cost of your freedom came pretty high to them.”

Catherine tried to remember more, but it had happend too fast.

One man, twice Jon’s size, and boiling over with hostility, first took over the stage, and then the microphone, without any resistance from the class instructors.

 He launched into a disjointed speech. It was full of past wrongs, attacks on other races, and was so volitale that it sent many of those who were “devoted to diversity” sneaking away to the exits.

Jon did not sneak away. He stood and he listened. He listened until the theatre had lost half its audience, and still, the man at the microphone hadn’t finished. Around him had gathered a group of those who were as angry as he was.

The man, who seemed bent on a fight, looked up at Jon.

“So, man, you think this— —— country is about the best place ever…do you? I’ve told you all that it has done to people like me. What have you got to say about that?”   

 ”For one thing, I’d say, don’t let the bad that has happened in the past, ruin all of the good that could be yours in the future,” Jon said.

Then he had gone on, “Sometime in their lives, every country, every person, each race, and sex has to decide whether to hold on to the wrongs, the animosities, the grievances, grudges, and the resentments of the past. If you hold on to the hate, you lose. You can fight old battles, but it means living in the past.”

“To see what comes of fighting old battles- look at the Middle-East. Thousands of people, caught up in the hatred that they have brought forward from the past. They spend their lives, with their hands locked around someone’s throat. And so they themselves can’t live.”

“What should we do just forget all of the wrongs that happened before the Civil War?” Someone yelled.

“Instead of the bitterness of the Civil war, look to the ideals and the sacrifices made by the patriots of the Revolutionary War period. And remember, some of those patriots were from the South. ”

Then he had gone on to speak of the signers of the Declaration, and reminded the audience of how many of them had been Southerners.

A shout from across the room, “Southerners, and slave holders, were rich men-they wanted power for themselves, they didn’t care about freedom for ordinary people.”

“Didn’t care about freedom? I said it before, people can have both vice and virtue in their hearts. Please try to look at the results. Look at what they left for us. What about Jefferson- he wrote the Declaration of Independence that gave us liberty,” Jon said.

“You want to call that southern slave owner a gentleman? You have proved our point.”

“Where is Mount Vernon?” Jon, eyebrows raised to the highest, asked.

There was silence.

“General Washington, from Virginia, watched his troops march barefoot in the snow. He commanded the army that gave this country independence and liberty- he was a Southerner.”

“At the end of his second term as president- he had the love and the trust of the people- he could have held on to power- but he turned away from power and left government service.”

Finally there was silence.

And Ms. Webb quickly handed out the teacher evaluation sheets to the fifty students still left standing.


Catherine saw Jon the following day to celebrate both the end of the semester, and the fact that she was going home to Colorado. They drove to Iowa State University in Ames, to see Reiman Gardens.

Jon said, “You need to take time to sniff the roses and visit the butterflies in the pavilion. You need silence, you’ve had people talking at you for months.”

They walked silently through the butterfly pavilion. Trying to maintain the silence, Catherine watched the people as well as the butterflies.

One couple, as quiet as themselves, intrigued her. The woman was blond, slim, and pretty. She sat close beside a man that, despite the lack of rings, Catherine guessed to be her husband.

She watched as a beautiful blue butterfly landed on the blond woman’s blouse.

“She’s smiling, but her eyes look sad,” Catherine said.

“Maybe she has reason to be sad, maybe he’s leaving her, or she’s leaving him,” John said.

They left the pavilion and went into the grounds. Jon walked companionably beside her.

“What’s the name of the rose bush we are looking for?” He asked.

“The Prairie Princess; we don’t really have to find it – the roses aren’t even blooming yet. I’d forgotten that they wouldn’t bloom until June.”

“Let’s look, and then you can tell me what that rose means to you.”

They searched for a while, gave up, and sank down on a bench under an arbor.

“That was quite a scene that played out in the theatre the other night,” Catherine said.

“You’ve heard the quote, from the Bard, ‘A tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury and signifying nothing’.”

“But you were the main character in the play. You spoke so well, maybe you changed some minds.”

“I hope so. It would be good if someone chose to find some happiness, instead of misery, once in awhile.”

“Now, tell me about the Prairie Princess.”

Catherine was silent. That he made so little of that night said much about his character.

“The rose, the Prairie Princess, was developed by Griffith Buck, who was once a professor at Iowa State,” she said.  She paused, and glanced at him.

“It’s not that important, just a silly story…”

“Just what I’m in the mood for, go ahead,” Jon said.

“When I was young we visited Iowa each July. My aunt lives near a small town which celebrates the fourth with commemorative events, one of them is a pageant about the Revolutionary War.”

 “Aunt Colleen wrote the pageants. Sometimes her plays told our family’s history along with the country’s patriotic history. She named the group of girls who acted in the plays for her favorite rosebush-the Prairie Princess.”

“My sister and I joined the group and acted in the plays; my aunt directed, and my uncle constructed the scenery.”

“One year the scenery consisted of a backdrop that had an open window cut in the shape of a giant heart. Through that heart shape, which symbolized love of country, was the rest of the scenery, which was the Connor farm, with the American flag flying above it, and the green fields surrounding it.”

“The play that year was about two young sisters and their grandmother, supposedly our ancestors, who lived in Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War.

There was Molly Connor, ten- years- old, red haired and fearless, and her sister, Ginny, who was nearly thirteen.”

“Their mother had died the year before. While their father was away fighting for the patriot cause with Mclane’s troops, the girls lived with their grandmother, a widow, on the edge of town.”

“In the mornings since he left them, the girls had come down the stairs and stood for a moment at the front window. That was where they had watched their father as he left for war. It was the last time they had seen him.

 ”Every morning Mrs. Connor joined them at the window, and the three of them stood waiting, for a moment, almost expecting to see Sean Connor coming towards them from down the road.”

“Time passed, and life went on for the Connor women until Ginny came down with a fever.  They weren’t sure what it was, but there were rumors about smallpox in the area.

For over a week her grandmother and Molly nursed Ginny. They cried when she cried out in pain. And, they felt sick at heart when in her delirium she called out for her dead mother and for her absent father.”

“The girls’ father, Sean Connor, was the light of both his mother and daughters’ lives.”

“On a windy Sunday night, Ginny was sleeping in a little chamber off the kitchen. She was burning up with fever.”

“ Mrs. Connor, weary with watching, stepped into the hall to get away from the smell of the sickroom.”

“ ‘If the wind would stop howling the child might rest.’ Mrs. Connor thought as the Hawthorn tree scraped against the window, and the wind howled through the attic.”

“ ‘If Sean could come home, Dear God, the child might live,’ ” she said. 

She never guessed how close he was to home. He was a scout and had been sent to deliver a message to the patriots trapped in British occupied Philadelphia.

“Big battles between the armies were infrequent; but constant fighting went on between the scouts and guerrillas of both armies. His mission was a dangerous one; it was rumored that the dreaded Queen’s Rangers, a group of loyalist raiders, was in the area, and raiders seldom took prisoners.”

“Sean Connor traveled cautiously, and for awhile, luck was with him. He delivered the message, and hid the return message in his boot. Then, in answer to his question of, ‘What’s the news?’ He was told that Ginny Connor was sick with a fever.”

“Mrs. Connor, paced the hallway, not able to return too quickly to the sickroom. She longed for summer. She thought about the rose garden outside her front door and remembered the sunlit mornings when she tended the roses instead of a sick child.”

“She shivered as the wind swept through the trees that lined the driveway. The Hawthorne tree scratched and scraped at the glass, and Mrs. Connor already nervous, stood tense- staring at the front door.”

“She was all alone except for the girls. Ginny was sick, maybe dying. Little Molly was sleeping on the parlor sofa. Whatever the night might bring Mrs. Connor had to face it alone.”

“There was a muffled bump. She froze for a moment, and then turned, and ran to the kitchen. She came back holding a knife.”

“Another bump, and the door swung open. Sean stood before her, his face white and blood streaming from his arm.”

“She ran to support him.”

“ ‘Mother, they are after me!’ He said. And then he passed out.”

“ ‘Father!’ ” Molly Connor, red hair flying, ran to help her grandmother.”

“Minutes later, seated in the parlor Molly heard a sharp knock at the door. She barely had time to call, ‘Come in!’ when the door opened and a soldier strode in. He was tall, and thin; he looked mean.”

“ ‘His Majesty’s business. Where’s your father?’”

“ ‘He has been away. But my grandmother is here,’ Molly said. She tried to act calm, but her voice shook.”

“ ‘Go, and get her. I am looking for a prisoner who escaped. I captured him just up the road from here.’ ”

“ ‘There’s no prisoner here. My sister and grandmother are here with me.’ ”

“ ‘I’ll go see for myself,’ The soldier said. He started down the hall.”

“ ‘Molly raced in front of him. ‘You better not go in there. Grandmother won’t even let me go in Ginny’s room.’”

“ ‘Now why wouldn’t you want me to see what’s in the other room?’ He said. He gave her a suspicious look.”

“ ‘Because she is sick with a bad fever.’ ”

“The soldier slowed down when Molly said, ‘fever’, but still continued down the hall.”

“Trailing behind, Molly heard him open the door to the sickroom.”

“ ‘Who are you and what are you doing in my house?’ ”

“ ‘A soldier, looking for a prisoner.’”

“ ‘There is no prisoner here- only a sick child.’ ”

“The soldier hesitated, looked at the flushed child on the bed, and then, without meaning to, he took a breath that was full of the stench from the sickroom.” 

That was a time when Dr. Buchans’ advice ‘not to visit the sick in order to avoid disease’ was circulating in the country. Perhaps the soldier had heard it. For whatever reason, he turned white, and backed away from the door of the room.”

“ ‘Sorry to have bothered you,’ he choked. Then he ran from the house.”

“Later Molly helped pull her father from under Ginny’s bed. And his tired mother tended his wound.”

“In time, Ginny’s fever broke, and she improved.” 

“Time passed, and Sean Connor lived on, and took care of his family.”

“But he wasn’t strong enough to return to the fighting. Sean, like many other patriots, was never the strong man he had been before the war.”

“When the war ended, Mrs. Connor wondered if all of the losses, and sacrifices had been worth it. Had the cost of freedom been too high? Night and day the question plagued her heart. And a terrible depression settled over her. She no longer took pleasure in her grandchildren or in her rose garden.”

“ ‘My pain would be eased, and my heart would be full of gratitude if I could know, if only for a minute- that freedom was worth the fight. I need to know that the lost lives were not wasted. I need to know that the pain we suffered had meaning,’ she thought.”

“Then, one night months later, Ginny had a fever again. Once again, Mrs. Connor sat beside her, dozing, and waking, then dozing again throughout the long night.”

“It was nearly dawn when the dream came to her. She dreamed that she saw Ginny and Molly dressed for the day, coming down the stairs as they had when their father fought in the war. They didn’t speak to her but she was there behind them as they looked out the window.”

“Mrs. Connor wanted to see past her granddaughters, to see the yard, the rose garden, and the road that ran in front of her house. She leaned forward.”

“But this was a dream, and so there was a different view from her window.”

“There before them was a brilliant risen sun, shining over a prosperous and peaceful farm. Above the house flew a flag –different than the flag that had flown over the patriot army, but recognizable as the same flag. Mrs. Connor could see it, bright and beautiful, flapping in the wind. She longed to go out into the sunshine and walk to the pretty house that was bathed in sunlight.”

“Later she would never be able to explain how real everything had seemed. As she looked at that scene a wonderful sense of peace flowed over her.”

“When Mrs. Connor woke, the depression had lifted and she was certain that good would come out of their sacrifice. She told her son about her dream, but he never understood why a dream had changed things for her.”

“She tried to tell him that the dream was providential, and that for a moment, some miracle had allowed her to look through the ages.”

“She wanted him to understand, as she did, that the sacrifice they had made, and the freedom they had won was not just for them, it was for Ginny, and Molly, and their children. The sacrifice had been for the people who would live in that sunlit house a hundred years after Mrs. Connor had died.”

“ ‘The sacrifice was for people that I will never know. But I know this, they will dwell in the sunshine of freedom!’ She whispered to herself as she went out into her garden.”