Civil War nurse Charlotte Evans uncovers a mystery at a Mississippi plantation during the middle of the war.
She breathed heavily while the man above her pushed further inside. In and out he moved. Then suddenly he gasped her name. "Marie!" She shuddered as the exquisite pain vibrated throughout her body.
Both woman and man laid flat on the soft bed for a few moments, catching their breaths. The warm air did nothing to dry their glistening bodies.
The woman heard a noise against the door. She sat up. "What was that?" she asked.
"Probably someone walking down the hall, darlin'. Nothing to worry about," the man answered. He began to caress her back languorously.
She looked at the clock on the side table. Two-oh-five. She must get back to Richard. "Ma petite. I have to go and check on Richard. I didn't mean to stay away so long."
"Damn! I was hoping you would stay a little longer. But, if you must." He began planting kisses on the back of her neck and his hand cupped her right breast from behind. "How about we meet near Walker's Pond tomorrow? Around two?"
She turned around and kissed him deeply. "Of course, cheri. I'll see you then. Bonne nuit." After one last kiss, she put on an old faded dressing robe and left the room.
The stairs were centered in the middle of the hallway. She stopped in front of the banister and peered down. Who had passed by a few minutes ago? She leaned over, trying to get a glimpse of the person. There seemed to be no one.
Suddenly someone's hot breath seared her left ear. "You whoring bitch!" the voice hissed. She twirled around and found icy cold eyes glaring at her. Mad eyes. Before she could do anything, a pair of hands shoved her against her chest over the railing she flew. Down she fell, screaming with terror until there was nothing but darkness.
* * * *
Gasping, I sat up in bed like a shot. Perspiration trickled down my face and under my arms. I glanced around. I had returned to the bedroom I shared with Alma. Over to my right laid Alma, snoring lightly. I sighed with relief. It had only been a dream.
Too scared to go back to sleep, I laid back down with my eyes wide open. Marie. Not only did she haunt me in the day, but also at night. Had she died in that manner? Pushed over the railing by someone with mad eyes?
Oddly enough, I had dreamed the entire incident through her eyes. As if it had been I who made love that night before being pushed over the railing. Even odder, Marie's lover strongly resembled the present master of Green Willows. His father perhaps? I was not sure, but curiosity made me determined to find out.
The next day, Miriam and I helped Doctor Henson tend the patients situated in the front hall. Many of the soldiers suffered mainly from fever, dysentery and smallpox. And there were those who still suffered from battle wounds sustained during the Vicksburg and Port Hudson sieges.
Miriam's lean face wore a worried expression as it hovered over a soldier convulsing under a thin blanket. She glanced up. "Sarah? Could you do me a favor? I had left several bottles of laudanum in the Rose Room. Could you get one for me?"
I told her yes and headed for the parlor. As I entered the room, I spotted the bottles on the large fireplace's mantle. A large portrait of a young woman hung above it. Judging by the style of the blue gown she wore, the painting must be dated some thirty years ago.
I must admit that she looked rather pretty, though she did not resemble a Scott. With her birdlike nose, thin lips, brown hair and pale blue eyes, she looked nothing like the major.
"That's my grandmother," a silvery little voice said. I turned around. A small and handsome, dark-haired boy entered the parlor with Maum Janey. It was Major Scott's son.
I replied politely, "She looked very pretty."
"Not anymore. She looks old now." He smiled and stuck out a small hand covered in dirt. "My name's Shelby. What's yours?"
"Charlotte. Charlotte Evans."
"How come you sound funny? You don't sound like the other nigras."
"Mister Shelby! I didn't teach you to be rude," Maum Janey scolded with a frown.
Little Shelby's face puckered with confusion. "I wasn't bein' rude. I just wanted to know . . ."
"That's because I'm a Yankee," I answered. "From a small town in Massachusetts called Falmouth. I didn't see your grandmother last night. Was she ill?"
"No. She didn't want to come down. I heard her tell Papa that she'd rather die than sit with Yankees and niggers."
"Shelby!" Maum Janey again.
Shelby protested, "It was Grandma who said that! I know that Papa doesn't want me sayin' that word." He turned to me with a grave expression. "'Never call people names by what they are'. That's what he told me."
I decided to excuse his remark. At least young Shelby had been raised properly. "What about you?" I asked. "Why weren't you at supper? Or don't you like sitting with Yankees and Negroes?" I refused to utter the other word.
"He's too young to be up that late Miz Charlotte," Maum Janey replied. She tugged Shelby's arm. "Time for your nap, honey."
"But I want to talk with Sarah some more!" Shelby argued. "You know, you look a lot like Marie. Maybe that's why Papa seems to like you. He's been talking about you ever since you all got here."
Utterly speechless, I stared at him. I did not realize that he was aware of Major Scott's growing friendliness toward me. I barely heard Miriam's voice.
"Marie? You know what she looks like?" I asked.
"Course. She visits my room every night."
Maum Janey, I noticed, seemed nervous. "Let's go honey." She started pulling Shelby toward the door.
I wanted to ask the boy another question but Miriam popped at the doorway. "Charlotte! What happened to the bottle?"
I handed the bottle to Miriam and she left. Maum Janey and Shelby started to follow her.
"Wait a minute," I said. "Just how did Marie die?"
Maum Janey's dark eyes became somber. And sad. "She fell over the railing, from the second floor."
* * * *
Over the next several days, whenever I had the time, I became better acquainted with the Scott household. It amazed me how they all warmed to me so quickly. Major Scott, Maum Janey, Shelby and the remaining slaves on the plantation.
"Oh, they're not slaves anymore," Major Scott corrected me. We sat inside the white gazebo, facing a garden that had seen better days.
Despite President Lincoln's proclamation, I knew that all slaves residing in loyal states or areas under Union occupation were exempted from the so-call 'freedom' document. I did not realize that an Confederate and slave owner like Richard, would take it to heart and I said so.
"I know that Mr. Lincoln only 'freed' those under the Confederacy," he said with a slight smirk. "But I decided to free mine on my own."
"Well they deserve to be free. Don't you think so? I always did."
Well, well. So Mississippi harbored a secret abolitionist in its midst. "But you fought for the Confederacy."
He replied simply, "Well, Mississippi is my home. I was defending it from invaders. Besides, I do not believe that the Federal government has the right to free slaves. It still should be left to the states and individual owners to do so." And yet, Federal occupation gave him the chance to finally free his slaves. I knew that except a few, most Southern states had outlawed manumission. "I never thought about it before, until Marie became my nurse mammy. Through her I found out what it was really like to be a slave. Whenever I noticed my parents, especially Mother, treating her badly, I'd wish she could be free from them. That's when I really started to hate it."
I asked, "Do you miss her? Marie, I mean."
Major Scott nodded. There was a sad smile on his face. "Oh yes. Course I grew real fond of Maum Janey. But she was my nurse mammy for a short time. On my tenth birthday, my papa thought it was time I had a more masculine companion. But Marie and I were very close. If fact, she was closer to me than any of my. . ." The major suddenly stopped and looked up. I followed his glance. Peering from a second floor window was a middle-aged woman with gaunt and pale features. It was the first time I laid eyes on Richard's mother. I could detect her displeasure of seeing Richard and myself together, by the stiff set of her shoulders.
"I see that Mother us awake." He smiled briefly. "Would you pardon me please? I have a feeling that she requires my attention for a moment. I shall return."
Sighing, I watched as he rushed inside the house and then I glanced up. Mrs. Scott had disappeared from the window.
End of Chapter Two