She woke from a low slung bed with a great indrawn breath. The stink of old straw permeated the air as her eyes tracked wildly around the room she found herself in. Slowly, she settled on the face of the Chinese woman, O-Lan, the one who had escaped with her.
O-Lan’s cuts had been cleaned and she looked at peace. The sister looked down at her own hands and cloth bandages encircled her wrists. She felt along her head and another bandage was wrapped tightly across her forehead.
With some effort, she slowly lifted herself to a sitting position to see more of the room. Beds were lined up in rows against the stone back walls and across from each other in what she could only assume was a wine cellar.
Many of the beds were occupied by the young women she had last seen in the mines. A sense of accomplishment settled into her bones. She was startled when she felt a hand touch her on the shoulder.
“Would you like some water, sister?” asked the young girl from the wagon.
A simple smile painted her lips, “Coffee. Black if you’ve got it.”
The madam appeared behind the girl and spoke quickly with her fingers. The adolescent girl nodded and moved off toward the single staircase. The sister watched until she disappeared around the corner.
The madam smiled politely before taking a seat next to the sister. Her hands spoke quickly, “We got your message as you can see. None of them are badly hurt. Even you and the one you came in with only suffered some cuts and bruises.”
After a moment, the nun signed back, “How are things out there? Is it bad?”
The madam shook her head in the negative. She leveled a frank gaze at the sister, “How did you know I would help them? How did you know I would help you?”
The nun leaned in and gave the madam a long appraising look before she shifted back. Her fingers moved in quick succession, “I’ve heard stories of a Pinkerton woman who disappeared into the West. From those tales, I hear she works tirelessly to end the slave trade of girls and women to the brothels of mining camps and small towns.”
A shy grin colored her face, “These stories are quite popular amongst the sisters of my order. We strive to end this devilish trade as well, and it is good to know that we are not alone.”
The madam stared at her quizzically, “But why would you think that I am this Pinkerton?”
The sister’s voice echoed loudly in the cellar as she made a knifelike gesture against her face, “All of the stories talk of this woman as having a cut across her face, but she refuses to keep quiet. Even Fahn Quai herself has told me of you.”
Many voices took this up and the cellar reverberated with her name, “Fahn Quai? Fahn Quai?”
O-Lan appeared behind the nun and rested her nine fingered hand against her shoulder. She waved the other girls quiet as she squeezed the shoulder tightly, “You can get us to her?”
The sister placed her hand over O-Lan’s. “We can get you to her and back to your homes. It will take some time…”
O-Lan interrupted her, “We cannot go back home! Our families sold us into this servitude! We… we have nowhere else to go.”
The madam reached out and covered both their hands with hers. Her fingers flew in quick succession and while everyone watched in silence, the nun translated into Mandarin, “Fahn Quai is a friend. She has helped many like you. She will know what to do.”
The tension in the cellar relaxed while some of the girls translated the Mandarin into Cantonese for the other girls.
While the conversation continued, the young lady made her way down the stairs and placed a cup of hot black coffee in the sister’s lap.
The monotone voice of the girl boomed loudly in the room, “The Major and his men are riding for the town. I think they mean to find you and murder you, sister. If they come across these Celestials, that little town will be filled with nothing but death.”