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PATRICK SHANNON SAT crosslegged on the roof of the Texas deck, staring up at the pilot house. The Eclipse was an hour below Vicksburg. Ahead was Great Grandmother Shannon, and - his father had told him - Shannons from every corner of America. But this was not to be a celebration: Diana Shannon was dying and she wanted to see the clan she had created before passing away. Patrick hoped and prayed this woman, whom he could barely believe had actually seen George Washington, would still be alive when they arrived. He also hoped she was still capable of solving problems and bringing justice, as she had been doing for years.

Patrick Shannon, grandson of James Emmett, had serious problems - problems, he believed, which could only be solved by running away. Perhaps to sea. Perhaps north. Perhaps to become a soldier. Almost anything that would take the boy away from his father’s lonely, haunted, dying plantation in Virginia. At this moment, Patrick was considering yet another career.

In the Eclipse’s pilot house was the 12 year-old boy’s newest hero. Said hero stood, resplendent in his brass-buttoned blue coat and plug hat, behind the open window of the pilot house. One hand was negligently draped on the packet’s great wheel, the other held a long cheroot.

Patrick Shannon imagined himself pilot of the great steam packet Eclipse. Not the Eclipse whose deck he sat on, but a new Eclipse, one that was longer, wider, faster - much faster - and with more gilt and crystal. He would paint his own symbol on each of the paddle houses. Maybe a shamrock, or his initials. The captain be damned. Patrick would be the best pilot on the river. If the captain would not let him do what he wanted... why, he’d find another boat. He’d have a uniform and the respect of anyone who boarded the steamer. And if anyone gave him any lip, why, he’d pull the steamboat over - no matter if there was a landing, an island or a swamp - and put that person off. Let them walk.

He liked the idea of his stepmother wading through quicksand, alligators all around her. Would he put his father ashore with her? Not unless he objected too much. Even then... he’d just put him down with the deck passengers. Let him ride upriver with the servants and peckernecks.

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