Tuesday teaser: Mist-Chi-Mas

A sample of the novel of captivity

By J.L. Oakley

Jeannie could sense the presence of the trees around her, the Douglas firs and cedars standing like gentle sentinels in the gloom. A subtle chill crept around their toe-like roots. Candlelight from the windows brightened their trunks like fairy lamps. She was so far from England, so far from the last place she had called home, but for the first time since she had left, she felt like she could finally put down roots just like those grand trees. She was going to stay in the Northwest.


Thinking it was one of the officers come to escort her in, she thought of something witty to say and turned only to come face to face with someone wild and foreign. She put a hand to her throat.

He was a tall, lean man, half hidden by shadow, but she didn’t miss his long dark hair hovering above broad shoulders nor his dress. The man was not in uniform or in any settler dress for that matter. Instead, he wore a hodgepodge of clothing including what appeared to be a linen shirt, a loose fitting coat made of a Hudson’s Bay Company blanket, and dark wool pants. Around his neck was a thick necklace made of cedar rope. In his left ear, he wore an earring. So exotic was his appearance, she wondered if he weren’t some native. His high cheekbones and beardless face certainly added to the picture. Then he moved and she saw he was a white man. Recovering her wits, the thought occurred to her that she might still be in danger.


Coming out from behind the man, Jeremy sank into the folds of her dinner gown, causing the crinoline underneath the lavender muslin skirt to sway gently. When Jeannie put her hands on Jeremy’s shoulders, he turned and smiled at the stranger.

“He seems to have found what he was looking for,” the stranger said.

“Pardon?” Jeannie’s voice cracked, a particularly unladylike breech of comportment.

“Found him wandering on the parade ground. Said he got lost going to the privy.”

Jeannie’s heart pounded. “Were you wandering around?”

“I got lost,” Jeremy said in a sleepy voice. He pulled on her to pick him up.

Jeannie obliged, tucking his nightshirt around his bare legs. “I thought you were with Mr. Green.”

“I was. I woke up. I heard bears.” He leaned his head on her shoulder and put three fingers into his mouth. She hadn’t seen him do that in some time.

Jeannie stroked his hair, the color of her own. “Then you shall come and sleep with me, but first I’ll let uncle know.”

 “But the bears,” Jeremy protested.

“There are no bears on the island.” The man sounded amused. He moved into the light. She couldn’t discern his nationality. He spoke in the flat tone of an American, but he might be a Hudson’s Bay Company man. Rubbing Jeremy on his back, she rocked him.

“Thank you.”

The man nodded. “Do you know where to go?”

“I think so.”

He dissolved into the gloom. To her horror, two other men slipped in behind him. One of them was surely an Indian by his flat forehead and dress, but it was too dark to be certain. She had no idea they had been standing there. Her heart began to pound. Her head felt light.

“Are you done, kahpo?” a voice asked softly.

The stranger answered in a low voice. Accented by throaty clicks, the words were like babbling brook water and unfamiliar. Briefly, the three figures shared space with the shadows, then were gone.

For a hushed moment, Jeannie stood frozen, oblivious to the laughter and cheerful fiddle music inside the officer’s mess. She wasn’t exactly sure what had taken place. Her legs felt weak.

Dr. Parker appeared. “Mrs. Parker is asking for you. Why it’s your little boy. A little overwhelmed by everything, I suppose.” He started to say something else, then noticed Jeannie was quiet. “Is something wrong?”

“I don’t know. The most curious thing just happened. Jeremy got lost on the parade ground. A man brought him here. I don’t believe he was from the camp. There were Indians with him.”

Parker laughed. “And Kanakas, most like. That sounds like Jonas Breed. He was here earlier to drop off a deer haunch. Favors us time to time.”

Jeannie put Jeremy down. “You know him?”

“Everyone knows Jonas Breed or of him. He’s an unusual man, captured as a boy by Indians just off the Queen Charlotte Islands. A mistchimas.”

“Mist -she -moose?”

“Mist-chi-mas. Like in Christmas.”

“What does that mean?”

“Captive, is one of its meanings, but in truth, it means slave.”

“Truly? How awful. Did anyone free him?” She wrapped her shawl tighter.

“After a time, he freed himself. Now he’s the best shipman in these waters Boston or Englishman.”


“Chinook Jargon, my dear Mrs. Naughton. Means he makes his living on the waters.”

“Then he’s from Boston, back in the American states.”

“No, Boston means American out here. The Jargon again.”

Jeannie stared into the dark space.  Though the man was gone, his presence lingered like a will o’-the-wisp. She pulled her shawl tight. I’m more confused than ever. The language, the curious people. How will I ever manage?

About Mist-Chi-Mas

A novel of captivity

Everyone is bound to something.

Englishwoman Jeannie Naughton never intends to run away from life, but in 1860 a woman’s reputation is everything. A scandal not of her own making forces her to flee to an island in the Pacific Northwest. The island, home to Coast Salish people and Hawaiians working for the Hudson’s Bay Company, is jointly occupied by British and American military forces.

Jeannie settles into life at English Camp where she meets American Jonas Breed. As a youth he was captured and held as a slave—a mist-chi-mas—by the Haida. Jeannie forms a passionate, hidden liaison with Breed.Jeannie and Breed plan to run away and marry.

News that Breed has been killed in a fight with a dangerous smuggler causes Jeannie to take refuge with Andrew Pierce, an acquaintance of Breed’s. She marries Pierce, then moves to Seattle.

Twenty years later, recently widowed, Jeannie receives a note that Breed may be alive. Jeannie now embarks on a journey to find Breed, unaware she is stirring up an old and dangerous struggle of power and revenge.

J.L. Oakley

writes award-winning historical fiction that spans the mid-19th century to WW II. Her characters come from all walks of life, but all stand up for something in their own time and place.

Her books have been recognized with a 2013 Bellingham Mayor’s Arts Award, the 2013 Chanticleer Grand Prize, the 2014 First Place Chaucer Award, 2015 WILLA Silver Award and the 2016 Goethe Grand Prise.

When not writing, Janet demonstrates 19th century folkways, including churning some pretty mean butter.

She has loved history since she was a girl, sharing her mother’s love for swashbuckling novels and the stories her grandmother told of settling the West in the 1870s.

In addition to historical fiction, J.L. has also written four mystery novellas set in the Hawaiian Islands.

Her most recent historical novel, Mist-chi-mas: A Novel Of Captivity, launched in September 2017. It is set in 1860 on San Juan Island in Pacific NW during a time with the British Royal Marines and US Army jointly occupied the island—peacefully.

 Visit her on:

And follow her on Twitter @JlOakley.

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