This beautifully constructed family saga spans three generations set all within the macabre world of the civil war era American funeral industry where weepers, warners, death photographers and the new practice of embalming the dead dwelled. For generations, the women of the Fenn family have been traditional “weepers”; paid mourners who attend wakes and weep for the dead. Their counterparts, the men of the True family, are undertakers, or “warners.”
The current warner, Archer True is good at his job, but has a vice for whiskey and women, but the latter has disastrous repercussions as he’s also a married man. The weepers were always veiled and always, like him, wore black. The day that he heard a youthful voice from under her veil and it intrigued him. It wasn’t the older, raspy one he had been used to. When he finds himself irresistibly drawn to the "Weeper," Charlotte Fenn, their passionate affair results in pregnancy. The scandal of their unborn child threatens to destroy the reputations and livelihoods of both families.
To avoid ruin, Charlotte agrees to give her baby, Augustus, up to the Trues to be raised as the "twin" brother of Mrs. True's new baby. But a mother’s love doesn’t die easily. She may have given up her son, but she vows to watch and protect her Augustus grow up from a distance, secretly yearning to be close to him once more.
But every lie has its consequence, and as Augustus grows older, the truth of his origins will soon reveal itself in the most devastating way possible…
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Weeper's audiobook narrator interviews Greg about writing the book
Constantly fixing typos
Getting started on the audiobook with narrator Mark Woodruff
And my painful but true history channel was very short lived. Too busy with writing.
Prologue and Chapter 1 as narrated by the fabulous Mark Woodruff
The feeling of seeing your work in print is incredible
Yes, I'm a little disturbed
Allegheny Mountains, Pennsylvania
Life is eternal and love is immortal,
and death is only a horizon,
and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.
He knew her as “The Weeper,” a paid mourner. She was sitting away from the others, her face cloistered under a darkened veil. He couldn’t stop himself from approaching her, until a huge black man almost three times his height stepped in front of him, blocking his path. The giant of a man moved away, waved off with the slightest, most graceful gesture of her left hand. Standing before her, the only parts of his body that could move were his eyes as they examined the veiled creature intently. Without the fear that would typically overwhelm him, his arms moved up. His small, six-year-old fingers slowly lifted her veil, and his bright eyes peeked under. Puffy eyes. Red nose. Tears streaming down smooth cheeks. He was mesmerized by her slate-gray eyes as they looked tenderly into his own. “Hello, sweet boy,” her lips whispered with slight hoarseness from crying. Her voice was also calm and gentle, like a good storyteller reading a bedtime story. The corners of her mouth raised to a small smile, a contrast to the tears falling down her cheeks. Her emotions moved him. So beautiful, but so sad. Is the remembrance for somebody she loved?
A tear formed and rolled down his cheek. She wiped it away with her thumb.
“They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.” The small smile rose again, brightening her face. “I remember well the day of your birth, Augustus.”
“You do?” Augustus asked.
It was then that his brother, Jefferson, pulled him away from her, and her veil fell like a curtain. Although Augustus didn’t know it yet, these were the first words he had ever spoken to his birth mother, and he would not uncover this secret for another eighteen years.
Seven Years Earlier
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more
He rode on a brown horse stained black. His business demanded a black horse, but he also thought the black went better with his clothes; a black stovepipe hat and its long, black, crape streamers that flowed behind it. He complemented his look with a black overcoat that he’d wear even on sweltering days along with black slacks and boots. He was tall and slim with dark, straight hair, although it could barely be seen under the hat he always wore. His eyes were big, round, and brown under dark eyebrows. And as always, he was clean-shaven and smelled of pine sap. He took pride in his appearance, and his black-stained horse added to it.
Mr. True believed it to be her wagon ahead of him, and his horse’s pace was catching up slowly. Yes, it indeed was “The Missus.” He thought of slowing down so as not to pass her—passing her would be rude. But he didn’t slow down. Micah, the Fenn family slave, or so Mr. True thought, walked in front, leading the buggy’s mule. As he heard the hoofbeats behind him, Micah turned and peered around the mule to see who it was. Upon seeing Mr. True’s familiar face, he smiled, nodded, and returned his attention to the road.
They called her “The Missus” for no other reason than that’s simply what her mother and her mother’s mother were called before her. “The Missus” was the name laid upon all of the women in the Fenn family because none of the local folk knew their real names. They usually didn’t even know if one of the Fenns passed on or if a child was born. The title “The Missus” seemed to come from a place of respect: all the women born into the Fenn family were weepers. Weepers were given the respect of a preacher or a nun, and if it weren’t for that respect, the Fenns would not have any. They were a good distance closer to poor than rich, and aside from selling a few pigs or some extra vegetables now and then, weeper’s income was the only income they had.
Mr. True and The Missus knew each other but had never been formally introduced. Mr. True was in a similar line of business to The Missus; he was a warner. Like a funeral director, a warner attended to almost every aspect of a loved one’s burial. Mr. True’s father and grandfather had also been in that profession. It was probably due to this professional proximity that he and The Missus had never officially met; they just assumed each knew who the other was. As for Mr. True, he didn’t know if the current Missus was the daughter, mother, grandmother, or granddaughter. She was always veiled and always, like him, wore black. He assumed she was the woman his father had always dealt with.
Weeping had always been the main trade for the Fenn family. If an outside man married a Fenn, he should expect her to continue her trade and keep the Fenn surname—that would always be discussed before the wedding was arranged. The only thing that would stop a weeper from weeping was pregnancy. A pregnant woman was a bad omen at funerals, not just for the family of the deceased, but the pregnant woman herself.
Although the weepers didn’t believe this myth themselves, it was a common notion, and the weepers abided by it. If there were a pregnancy or sickness, a sister, mother, or any of the other previous weepers would come out of retirement to take over the duty.
Mr. True rode alongside her and kept pace. “Mornin’,” he said to The Missus.
“Good morning, Mr. True,” came a youthful voice from under the veil. It wasn’t the older, raspy one he had been used to. The soft sunlight filtered through the canopy of trees covering the dirt road. One soft beam of light came through her veil and just touched her chin, but that was all he could make out.
“Fine morning,” he said. It was all he could think of saying. He was curious. He wanted to see more, hear more. Mr. True looked over to Micah as he led their mule. Micah was as dark as he was big, so dark it would be hard to see his expression in the dim, light-filtered road. His salt and pepper hair had a two-inch bald patch in the center. He turned to Mr. True as if he felt his eyes on him. Mr. True sharply turned away. Micah was very protective of The Missus and the Missus was very protective of Micah.
“Fine day for a remembrance,” The Missus replied. Mr. True was a little nervous, but he wanted the conversation to continue.
“You must be the daughter of the last Missus.”
“We’re all daughters of the last Missus,” she replied with an unseen grin.
Mr. True also smiled. “Suppose that’s true.” He again tried to see through her veil, wanting at least a glimpse of what was beneath. “It was your voice that gave you away,” he said. “I musta been workin’ with your ma before this.”
“I’ve been with you at the last two remembrances. This is my third after taking over from my momma.”
All weepers learned the trade starting at age four. Fenn girls practiced with dead birds or squirrels, burying them as well. Sixteen would be the earliest a daughter could take over for their mother, but Charlotte was not as enthusiastic as her predecessors at that age. She wasn’t that enthusiastic now.
“I took over for my pa about ten years ago now. I spoke to the last weeper a few times…”
“Suppose. No one really knows which one of ya it was.”
She giggled. “I’ve heard whispers of how we never die and that I’m a hundred and eighty years old.”
Mr. True let out a small laugh. “Yep. Heard that many times.”
“I don’t know why. It’s tiring. You’d think they’d know; they see us at market or in town on occasion.”
“But y’all are never at church.”
“You know we go to the same church y’all do every Sunday. Preacher Dunn. Yep, we just don’t use the same church service y’all do. We come later in the afternoon.”
“Why’s that?” asked Mr. True.
“Preacher Dunn likes it that way ‘cause of the foolish rumor of us all being black widows and all. I was told it used to cause a big commotion when we would show up.”
“Yep. I heard that too.”
“And might you be thinking it too?”
“Oh, me? No.”
“Well, my Pa and my Grandpa passed on before I was born but died same as any other fella. No different. And my uncles and brother? They all moved on. When Fenn boys marry, they tend to move on with their wife’s family.”
“I remember a couple of your uncles moving on down to Johnstown.”
“All the Fenn boys do. Who would want to be living with a gaggle of weepers?”
“I would,” said Micah.
The Missus rolled her eyes, facing the back of Micah’s head. “Anyway, it’s all them rumors. You know what folk say about us, Mr. True. That ain’t no secret. If it were up to me, I’d be in church with y’all, but it ain’t up to me. I guess it’s the way it’s always been done.”
Mr. True nodded and adjusted his hat. “Better be gettin’ on. Nice talking to ya. Good day.”
“Good day, Mr. True.”
It was the most he’d ever spoken to any Missus. But this one intrigued him, and the desire to see beneath her veil grew with every step his horse took away from her.
The Fenns lived in a five room log home located on a lonely, wooded forty acres. There were three other smaller cabins located on the property two of which were occupied and vacated at some time or another as the family grew and shrank through the years and the third was the slave cabin. The slave cabin was never occupied by slaves. In fact, the Fenns never had slaves. Great grandfather Davis Fenn, the founder of the family, was a Shaker who believed in buying all the slaves he could afford and freeing them. As most of them had no where to go, they would stay on at the homestead and help with the farming and chores and even help the women with weeping work by taking them around to the funerals and wakes. Davis Fenn had always wanted to be able to send the blacks back to their home in Africa, but decided to buy and free more slaves instead. There was a time when twenty-five blacks were living in the slave cabin at one time. This was one reason why Davis decided he should only buy male slaves. The Shakers believed in equality between men and women, equality between all races and they believed in celibacy. Davis followed the Shaker code to the end with one exception: celibacy was just a little too rigid for him. Davis started out as a messenger of the faith, but there was no Shaker church nearby with Shaker brother or sisters to study the bible with. Far out and on his own, he decided to preach the faith a little differently than the church had originally taught him and celibacy realistically couldn't be a part of it. How would his followers go on after him? To set straight for this sin, he would only buy male blacks so his sins would not be followed.
Currently, there were only three freedmen left in the slave cabin; Micah, Thane and Taylor. Micah was now forty-six-years-old with salt-and-pepper hair. He was huge at six-foot-two and was a hulk of a man with a voice that could out do an October thunderclap. Micah's father, George, was the last slave bought out of slavery by Davis Fenn at the age of eighty-seven, the only male Fenn ever to reach that ripe old age. George was just one-year-old with no mother or father. Davis saw him sitting on the auction table in a wicker basket and knew he had to take him. Being a baby with no milking mother made him an inexpensive purchase as his chances were slim. And at that time in Davis's life, he had little money, but just enough to buy the baby.