Civil War nurse Charlotte Evans uncovers a mystery at a Mississippi plantation during the middle of the war.
* * * *
Several days later, Major Scott and the few remaining plantation hands took a large wooden cart deep into the south fields. When they returned, the cart was filled with expensive furnishings - valuables hidden from Union troops. Since the war was practically over in this neighborhood, the major deemed it safe to bring it out in the open again.
One of the furnishings turned out to be a heavy, walnut bureau that was placed in the room I shared with Alma. We decided to use it to put some of our clothing and other belongings in it.
"Look what I found!" Alma declared. She held up a stack of letters tied together by a blue ribbon. "Wonder who they belong to?" She started to untie the package.
Outraged, I cried, "Alma!"
"That is someone's private letters! You shouldn't be prying into someone's affair!"
"So what? I already know who they belong to. Someone named Brent. And there's nobody name Brent living in this house."
"That's because he is dead! Brent was Major Scott's brother," I retorted sharply. I took the pack of letters from her hands. Waving them in front of Alma's face, I added, "And if anyone had ever dared to poke into any of my correspondence or those belonging to my family, they'd wish to God they hadn't been born." I threw the letters back into the bureau.
Pouting, Alma went back to her packing and later left the room, mumbling. After I put the last of my clothes into the bureau, I spotted one letter lying on the floor. I picked it up and started to return it to the bureau when I heard a whisper in my ear. "Read it." I glanced around the room and peeked outside the door. No one was around. "Read it," the voice repeated.
Slowly I unfolded the letter. It read:
April 2, 1842
Darling. Why haven't you answered any of my letters? Ever since you returned from Texas three years ago, I have tried repeatedly to regain the love we once had. Yet you continued to spurn my efforts. What have I done to deserve this? Don't you realize that I have never stopped loving you?
When you had informed me we were through that night at the Dickersons' ball, a fire inside had extinguished. I thank God I had our son Richard as a reminder of you during all those years living here alone with Matthew. I knew that Matthew always went to the slave wenches to warm his bed. A brute like him would prefer savages. But I never thought you would be the same. And yet, I saw you kiss that woman at Walker's Pond, two days ago. I nearly died right then and there. That creature who is Richard's mammy. I could not believe that for the past three years, you had prefer her to me, a woman who loves you heart and soul!
Please come back into my arms, my darling! I'm so unhappy and I need you so much. I know that deep in my heart, we belong to each other. Nothing, not even HER, can ever change that.
I stared at the initials below. D. I believe that Maum Janey once call Mrs. Scott, Miss Deborah. Now I knew why Richard's mother hated me so much. I reminded her of a woman - a colored woman - who had took away the affections of the only man she had ever loved. And history was in danger of repeating itself twenty years later.
Did Richard ever suspect his mother of murder? Did he ever discover that his uncle Brent, not Matthew, was his father? Part of me wanted to reveal what I knew. But something else inside me said to keep my mouth shut. There was no need to reopen that can of worms. Without realizing what I was doing, I tucked the letter in my skirt pocket and went downstairs.
* * * *
Once more, Major Scott invited the hospital staff to dine with his family. Only this time, Mrs. Scott was present. Her presence brought a pall upon suppertime. The fried chicken, potatoes, okra and bread were delicious, but the mood was tense. It was hard to feel jolly with Lady Medusa at the table not speaking but staring at everyone. And when Mrs. Scott spoke, she was cold, polite and short.
After the strained meal, Doctor Anders quickly excused himself to look after the patients. The coward. I asked for Major Scott's permission to play the beautiful Steinway piano in the parlor. It had returned with the other furniture. Everyone gathered inside the parlor and I started to play "Lorena". Somewhere in the middle of the song, Alma asked Richard if someone named Brent was an uncle of his.
"Why yes," Major Scott replied. "Brent was my father's younger brother. Why do you ask?"
"Miss Charlotte and me found this pile of letters in the bureau that was put in our room. On the top someone had wrote, 'To Brent'. Your uncle must have been a popular man. I ain't never seen so many letters to one man in my life."
Major Scott smiled cheerfully, unaware that his mother's face had suddenly paled. "Uncle Brent was always a popular one with the ladies. Best looking man in the county. Wouldn't you say so Mother?"
Mrs. Scott merely nodded.
"Unfortunately, after he became engaged to the daughter of a Natchez merchant, someone accidentally shot him during a deer hunt, twenty years ago. No one really knew who pulled the trigger."
Suddenly I hit the wrong note on the piano and everyone glanced at me. I waved it aside and started playing again. However, there was no mistaking the suspicion in the eyes of the mistress of the house.
"How sad," Alice commented. "I saw the portraits of him and your father. They were both handsome."
From the corner of my eye, I saw Mrs. Scott tremble with emotion as she got up and excused herself. So, more than one ghost resided at Green Willows. I found myself wondering about the "accidental" nature of Brent Scott's death.
End of Chapter Four