Authors: Debra Diaz
Tags: #romance, #suspense, #mystery, #espionage, #civil war, #historical, #war, #virginia, #slavery, #spy
Catherine climbed the long steps of the
church and turned the doorknob of one of the great double doors. It
was never locked. She went inside the foyer and through the
sanctuary, passed through another door and entered the area where
the classrooms were located.
The rooms were dark and cold and smelled of
chalk dust. She found her book, then took a few moments to look
through a set of drawings to see if there might be a sketch of
Elijah she could use. She found one where the prophet stood
watching the pagan priests beseech their gods to send fire upon
their offering, and went to place it in her classroom.
A door creaked somewhere in a draft.
Catherine glanced around the hallway and noticed that a window was
not closed completely. She put it down with an unintended bang.
Walking quickly, she went down the long corridor, through the
library, and passed again through the huge sanctuary.
The sun caressed her as she stepped outside,
easing the chill from within. She carefully shut the door behind
her, turned, and began descending the steps. On the last step she
lowered the gloved hand that had been shading her eyes from the
bright sunlight and looked up to see a group of people staring back
She recognized the church custodian, Mr.
Humphreys, and two older ladies, Mrs. Gates and Mrs. Whiteside. A
camera mounted on a three-legged stand stood directly in front of
Catherine; two human legs bent at the knees were planted beside it,
with the rest of the figure hidden beneath a black canopy. Her
wide-eyed gaze moved from the camera to the small, covered
photographer’s wagon that stood nearby.
“Oh, Catherine,” moaned Mrs. Whiteside. “Of
course you couldn’t have known. Mr. Pierce was just making a
photograph of the church.”
“For the historical society,” added Mrs.
Gates. “Tomorrow, you know, is our seventy-fifth anniversary.”
“Of the church.” Mrs. Whiteside thought it
wise to be specific.
“Well, of course, Beatrice, I didn’t
“I’m terribly sorry,” Catherine said quickly.
“Did I ruin the photograph?”
“Not at all,” came a muffled voice from
beneath the canopy. The cloth lifted and she found herself looking
up at a tall, black-haired man with eyes almost as dark as his
hair. His black brows were neat with a slight curve, his jaw lean
and firm, his nose straight. He was, she thought recklessly, the
most handsome man she had ever seen.
“In fact,” he said good-naturedly, “I’d say
you enhanced it considerably.” He smiled, revealing a glimpse of
even, white teeth, which gleamed in sharp contrast to his tanned
Catherine dropped her book. She knelt to
retrieve it just as the man made the same gesture. Their hands
touched. She released the book and straightened, knowing her face
had turned as red as the scarlet ribbon on Mrs. Whiteside’s
lorgnette, through which the woman now peered avidly.
She kept her eyes downcast as the man handed
her the book.
“Thank you,” she murmured. She glanced at the
two ladies and Mr. Humphreys. “I must be going. Good day.”
“Good-bye, Catherine,” they said.
“Good day, ma’am,” said the stranger.
Catherine hurried away, knowing they must
think her rude for not staying to be introduced, but she was
too…embarrassed. No, embarrassed wasn’t the right word. She was
mortified to her very soul for some reason she could not begin to
She did not want to know who the photographer
was, and hoped she would never see him again.
s Catherine moved
to enter the house, Bart came through the doorway in a rush, saying
over his shoulder, “I’ll be bringing a friend for supper tonight,
Ephraim. Tell Hester
He stopped as he ran into Catherine, though
she had tried to step aside. “Oh, Catherine!” He grabbed her around
the waist to keep her from falling off the porch, but instead of
letting go he kept his arm around her and guided her firmly to the
front door. “Please forgive me,” he said in a smooth voice, looking
down into her eyes. “How lovely you look in that green.”
“Thank you.” She pulled away and went into
the house before he could say anything else. He reminded her of a
snake. He was always appearing unexpectedly, and she always wanted
to run away at the sight of him.
“Miss Catherine,” Ephraim said as she entered
the vast central hall, “Miss Delia came to call while you were
gone. She left you this.”
Quick as a magician, the always-proper butler
produced a tray with a small white envelope lying on it.
“Thank you, Ephraim.”
She looked up. “Yes, Ephraim?”
“I’m real sorry about what’s happened to Mr.
Andrew. The Lord willing, everything will work out for the
Catherine smiled and touched his wrinkled
hand. “Thank you,” she whispered.
When she got to her room, she laid her shawl
across the bed and sat in a chair to open the envelope. She guessed
the contents—yes, it was a formal invitation to Delia’s wedding,
scheduled for next Friday evening at four o’clock. Her friend was
marrying a soldier, a man she’d known since childhood. They had
recently become engaged and decided to marry while he was on
furlough. Delia had already asked Catherine to serve as one of her
attendants. She turned the envelope over and looked at it
Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Kelly.
A wave of nostalgia and sorrow swept over
her. No doubt she would have to go to the wedding without Andrew.
She could barely remember her own wedding, could barely remember
what Andrew had even looked like…before. Now she must go and try to
share in her friend’s happiness when her heart was baffled and
aching and, yes, grieving over the fate of her husband.
She rose quickly, before she could think
about it too much, and set to work studying the life of Elijah. By
the time she’d made notes and organized them into a talk of
acceptable length, it had begun to grow dark.
Catherine thought guiltily of Andrew. He had
been alone in his room all day. Swiftly she lit a candle and walked
across the sitting room. After a brief hesitation, she knocked on
“Come in,” came the whispery voice.
He’d been sitting in a chair, but he rose as
she came into the room. A lamp burned low on a table near the
chair, no doubt for the nurse’s benefit, and she watched as he set
aside what appeared to be a book.
“Andrew, are you all right? I’m sorry I’ve
not been in sooner. I tried to see you this morning, but Mrs.
Shirley told me to wait.”
“I hope Mrs. Shirley has not been
too…domineering. She only does what she believes I want her to do.
She’s usually right.”
“Well, she’s certainly…assertive. You will
let me know if you want anything, even if Mrs. Shirley says you
mustn’t?” she asked, smiling.
“Yes,” he said soberly. “I will. Would you
like to sit down?”
She nodded and then remembered to say, “Yes,
I’d like that.” She settled herself into a chair, wondering a
little nervously what she would find to talk to him about. He
resumed his seat.
“You must be reading according to that new
system. What is it called? I read about it in a magazine.”
“The Braille system.”
She nodded with interest. “I’ve never seen a
Braille book. Do you mind if I look at it?”
He reached for the book without moving his
head and handed it to her. She opened it and flipped through the
pages, which consisted only of upraised dots, all in different
“How remarkable that a person can read this
way. Did it take you long to learn it?”
He hesitated. “I have some sensation in my
right hand, enough to discern the order of the dots. It wasn’t
difficult to learn. There was a woman at the hospital who was kind
enough to teach me. Before the war started, she was a teacher at
the Missouri School for the Blind in St. Louis.”
“What good fortune that you met her. Was it
“No,” he said. “Someone else.”
“What’s it about? The book, I mean?”
“It’s the story of Louis Braille, the
Frenchman who developed the system. It was actually created by a
soldier named Barbier, to enable his men to read messages at night,
but it was too complex, not practical at all. Braille simplified it
and made it usable. He was blind himself, you know—blinded at the
age of three when something he was playing with pierced his eye.
Infection spread to his other eye and he lost his sight
“How sad! Somehow when I read the article I
pictured him altogether different, a rich old professor maybe,
sitting around experimenting with dots.”
Andrew tilted his head toward her. “He was
only forty-three when he died of tuberculosis, caused by the
terrible conditions under which he lived. He overcame many
obstacles in his life, many setbacks and disappointments, but he
was dedicated to the idea of devising some method to enable blind
people to read and write.” He paused and added, quietly but with
feeling, “A most admirable man.”
“Why, Andrew, I’ve never heard you talk like
this before. But then, we’ve never really talked about such…serious
things. There’s so much about you I don’t know. Your life before
the war, your family—”
“I’ve changed. I’m not that man anymore. With
all I’ve lost, how could I not change?”
“You still have me.”
“Yes,” he said. “I still have you.”
“I would very much enjoy reading to you
sometime, if you’d like.”
His head moved in a barely perceptible nod.
“Sometimes Mrs. Shirley reads to me but…it’s somewhat lacking in
Catherine laughed. “Would you like me to read
to you now? I just finished one of Mr. Dickens’s novels, though I
don’t think it’s his most recent one. It’s very good.”
“I’d like that, but some other time, I think.
You were about to go down to supper, weren’t you? And I’m ready to
retire for the night.”
“All right.” Her skirts rustled loudly in the
still room as she stood up. He stood also and waited politely for
her to speak.
“Have you had your supper?”
“Mrs. Shirley will bring it.”
“Well, good night, then.”
“Good night, Catherine.”
As the door closed behind her, she saw Jessie
in the sitting room lighting the lamps, her gingham dress and white
apron clean and neat on her plump figure. Her round dark face
looked strangely disembodied over the flare of a candle. “Supper’s
ready, Miz Catherine,” she said. “They say they’s waitin’ on Mr.
“Thank you, Jessie.”
Catherine hurried to her room where she
changed her dress and smoothed her hair. She didn’t usually like
Bart’s friends any more than she liked Bart, but her uncle would
expect her to look her best. No doubt Sallie would be as ornamented
as a Christmas tree.
When she reentered the hallway, she saw
Jessie waiting for her, the long taper smoking in her hands. She
never seemed to relish her task of seeing to the lamps once dusk
had fallen, and she stayed close behind Catherine as they started
down the stairs.
Catherine stopped on the landing so suddenly
Jessie bumped into her with a loud “oomph.”
“Oh, ’scuse me, ma’am,” Jessie said quickly,
waiting for her to resume her descent, but Catherine had become as
unmovable as a statue.
Just down the hallway and over Bart’s sandy
head, Catherine saw the man who had been photographing the church
that morning—the man from whom she’d run away for some unfathomable
reason and hoped never to see again. The thought raced across her
mind that she could turn and flee up the stairs and remain in her
room all evening, but the stout maid stood behind her like a
Someone said her name, and she became dimly
aware that her uncle stood in the parlor doorway with Sallie,
calling to her. Bart turned aside.
The stranger stood framed against the massive
front door, looking at her. Catherine made herself move
Bart said, with excessive cordiality,
“Clayton, may I present Martin’s niece, Mrs. Catherine Kelly.
Catherine, this is my friend, Clayton Pierce.”
“How do you do?” she said automatically.
He bowed. “How do you do, Mrs. Kelly? I’m
happy to see you again.”
“You know each other?” Bart asked,
“I had the pleasure of seeing Mrs. Kelly this
morning at church.” He did not elaborate, but his dark eyes gleamed
at her and she felt reassured that he held no resentment toward her
for the unexpected addition to his photograph.
“I fear I caused you some unnecessary work,
Mr. Pierce,” she said lightly. “I’ve posed for a photograph or two
and I know it’s rather complicated and involves much attention to
detail. I suppose you had to start all over with another