Authors: Debra Diaz
Tags: #romance, #suspense, #mystery, #espionage, #civil war, #historical, #war, #virginia, #slavery, #spy
“A minor chore, ma’am. As I said, I thought
it much improved by your presence, but the two ladies felt the
building needed no adornment.” He smiled and added quietly, “Please
don’t concern yourself.”
“Do come into the parlor, Mr. Pierce,” Sallie
said, looking confused but apparently deciding that Catherine had
had her share of attention. As Catherine expected, Sallie’s pale
blond hair was piled into an elaborate coiffure, and the starched
ruffle of her bodice revealed a large expanse of softly powdered
Everyone moved into the parlor to await
official summons from Ephraim that supper was served. Catherine sat
on the far end of the sofa, half in shadow, and watched as her
uncle poured a glass of port for each of the men.
Clayton Pierce, in fawn-colored trousers and
matching coat, blue waistcoat and white shirt, was no less handsome
than he’d been that morning. His broad shoulders tapered to a lean
waist, his legs were long and encased to the knees in riding boots.
His black, well-groomed hair touched his collar, and she noted with
approval that his face was clean-shaven, for she didn’t like men
with beards, except, of course, for her father and Uncle
Now why did I think that? she asked herself.
Why should she care if he shaved daily or sported muttonchops?
Her feelings about Mr. Pierce were still
strange and ambiguous. Whenever he looked at her, she felt as if he
knew her, as if they had met somewhere long ago and shared some
sort of bond. But that was impossible. She’d never met him; she
would have remembered. Something deep inside her consciousness
seemed to caution her, but against what?
She wanted very much not to like Clayton
Pierce. That shouldn’t be difficult, since he was Bart’s
“How do you know Bartie, Mr. Pierce?” Sallie
was saying. “I thought I knew most of his friends, but I’m sure
we’ve never met before.”
“We went to the University of Virginia
together,” Bart explained. “I just ran into him yesterday,
discovered he didn’t know many people in town, and decided to ask
him to supper.”
“And what brings you to Richmond, Mr.
Pierce?” Martin inquired.
“I travel a great deal, sir. I’m a
correspondent for several newspapers.”
“More than one?” asked Martin. “Isn’t that a
“Yes, sir, I suppose it is.” There was a
modesty about him, an honest, self-deprecating quality that
Catherine struggled not to admire. “I started out with one of the
Atlanta papers, but it’s worked out well enough that I now
telegraph dispatches to editors in six or seven cities. I’m more or
less waiting to see what the Yankees’ next move will be. Since
their main objective is to capture Richmond, this is, for the
present, the best place to be.”
“Well, to hear your earlier conversation with
Catherine, I thought you were a professional photographist,” Sallie
said, her eyes round with interest.
“I like to stay busy, ma’am. Sometimes
there’s a gap between reports and articles. I take photographs of
soldiers and battlefields and send them to my editors, and they put
them up on the walls of the post office or general store, or
wherever they can. It helps to sell newspapers.”
“But how did you come to be photographing the
church?” Sallie asked.
“The owner of the hotel where I’m staying
mentioned my ability with a camera to the hotel custodian, who also
happens to be the custodian for the church. He knew some ladies
with the historical society were trying to find someone to take
photographs. He sent them to see me, and before I knew it—” he sent
a smiling glance toward Catherine and winked, “—there I was.”
Catherine lowered her eyes. No, she wouldn’t
like him. But he didn’t seem anything like Bart.
“I assume you have a partner or an assistant
of some kind who helps you in this process?” Martin asked.
“My assistant recently left me to join the
army. I know a couple of young men I can call upon if the need
Bart, who was still standing, planted one
foot on a low stool and said, “I once read about a photographer who
grew so irate when his customer kept moving about that he pulled a
gun on the poor fellow.”
“Not really!” cried Sallie.
“And then again,” said Bart complacently, “I
heard about a man so determined to have his picture made for a lady
friend that he actually had to hold a gun on the photographer, who
kept claiming he had another appointment. In the picture you can
see the barrel of the pistol showing beneath his coat.”
“How shocking! I trust nothing like that has
ever happened to you, Mr. Pierce?”
“I don’t usually do portraits, Mrs.
Henderson, though I recall being chased once through a meadow by an
outraged bull. I can well imagine that the whole apparatus, myself
included, did look rather suspect—to the bull.”
Catherine had to join in the laughter as
Ephraim said from the doorway, “Excuse me, Mr. Henderson. Supper is
Sallie rose and linked her arm with their
guest’s, and Martin followed, smiling indulgently. Catherine found
herself being escorted by Bart to the dining room.
Hester had indeed outdone herself, no doubt
with the able assistance of Ephraim. Fricasseed chicken, pork
cutlets, and a rich beef and herb stew over rice sent ribbons of
steam undulating upward. An array of vegetables and platters filled
with sliced bread and biscuits sat at strategic positions on the
long table. The china plates and silverware had
been polished until they gleamed beneath the
chandelier, which cast a pleasant, soft candlelight upon the
It seemed extravagant; indeed it was, when
food prices were rising every day. But this was Sallie’s doing—no
doubt to please Bart—and Sallie usually liked to pretend that
nothing had changed, that there was no end in sight to Martin’s
wealth or the income he derived from his land-office business.
Catherine suspected that if she had any feeling about the war, it
was merely irritation at the inconvenience of it all.
“Seems like I’ve heard of you, Pierce,”
Martin said thoughtfully. “Are you C. A. Pierce?”
“Yes, sir. That’s the name I write
“Well, well!” Martin regarded him with
increased respect. “Yes, I’ve read some of your work. Heard some
good things about you, too. Your dispatches are most informative.
You seem more concerned with facts than emotion, which is more than
I can say for most of the writers in this city.”
Their guest looked uncomfortable but said,
“Thank you, sir.”
Martin went on, “I do remember one article,
however, in which you ventured to give your opinion. You said
something about war beginning with a dream, its horrors not being
realized until it was too late for retreat…something about the
South being asleep and her waking wouldn’t be pleasant. Some of my
friends didn’t like that, but I thought it was true, very true
“But you know, Mr. Pierce, there is
justification for this war. Our dream is to live in peace, but the
North won’t allow it. They’ve given us no choice. We’re like our
forefathers who fought against the British. Why, my own grandfather
fought at Valley Forge. It’s a shame it’s come to this.”
Catherine thought her uncle had completely
missed the point.
“Do tell us about your present assignment,”
Sallie entreated, still exhibiting, whether real or feigned,
wide-eyed interest in everything Clayton said.
“I go around speaking with different
regiments of soldiers to get their perspective on the war, find out
what they believe, what they need. I also report on the outcome of
battles.” He paused. “Sometimes I take photographs of the field
directly after the fighting.”
“But how exciting,” Sallie chirped. “I can
imagine it must be rather dangerous.”
“Not as dangerous as actually being in the
battle,” Catherine said tartly. She didn’t know why she said it,
but she had and she didn’t regret it.
Sallie’s eyes got still wider until Catherine
thought they must surely loosen from whatever held them in and pop
right out of her head. She saw, out of the corner of her eye,
Martin’s frown and Bart’s look of amusement.
A light in Clayton’s dark eyes belied the
seriousness of his expression. “You are quite right, Mrs. Kelly.
But I like to think I perform a service for our new nation and for
our soldiers. One can’t underestimate the power of the newspapers.
People can be influenced by just the angle of a story, and public
opinion can have great effect on an army.”
“Well,” Martin said, in a conciliatory tone,
“there’s no doubt about that. It’s important to keep morale high.
I’ve read too many negative things in the papers lately. Too much
criticism of our officers.”
“Some criticism is warranted, of course,”
Clayton replied. “But they’re human and will make mistakes.”
“Take Lee, for instance, at Sharpsburg—”
Martin began, but he was interrupted by Bart.
“Come, gentlemen, let’s not bore the ladies
with talk of the war,” he said, smiling at his brother-in-law.
“Oh, I’m not bored,” Sallie said quickly, and
with such feeling that Catherine raised her eyebrows. “Why, what
else is there to talk about? Tell me, Mr. Pierce, do you think the
war will ever come here?”
here, Mrs. Henderson; in
fact, it’s practically at our doorstep. If you mean, will the Union
Army ever take Richmond, I can only say it isn’t outside the realm
“Is it true what they say about the Yankees?
That they burn people out of their homes, even old people and
children, and that they treat women like…well, you know…like the
order from that horrid Yankee general who took over New
“They do burn homes, yes,” Clayton answered.
“It’s a tactic of war, of course. As for their treatment of women,
I really can’t say. One hopes that most Union officers are not as
lacking in good sense as General Butler.”
The incident he spoke of concerned Butler’s
decree that any southern woman who showed disrespect to a Union
soldier should be treated as a common woman of the streets.
Catherine had read about Butler’s array of vices; he was vehemently
disliked in New Orleans and its citizens had bestowed upon him
several unflattering but descriptive nicknames.
The conversation continued about various
aspects of the war. Catherine watched their guest covertly. He was
courteous, but she sensed he didn’t enjoy talking about himself or
the war. More than once their eyes met, and each time she hastily
lowered her gaze and hated the fluttery feeling that stirred
insistently from somewhere inside her.
Once, though, he caught her eye, and before
she could look away, asked quietly, “Forgive me if I’m being
forward, Mrs. Kelly, but I’m curious about your husband. Is he with
Caught off guard, Catherine did not answer at
once. Sallie hastened to enlighten him.
“Andrew was severely wounded. He’s here at
home but I’m afraid, not able to join us.”
“I’m sorry,” Clayton said, still looking at
Catherine. “Was it Sharpsburg?”
Catherine realized for the first time she
didn’t know where or when Andrew had been wounded. Somehow with her
shock at seeing him she’d never even thought to ask.
“Why, I really don’t know. I’m sure it must
have been before that. My husband was in a hospital in Georgia for
a long time.”
“Perhaps I could speak with him, write an
article, if he’s willing.”
Catherine’s brows drew together in a small
frown. “I don’t know. He isn’t well. He doesn’t like to be around
people just yet. I suppose I could ask him.”
“I would be grateful.”
She glanced at him and was surprised to see a
gentle expression of kindness on his face. But of course he would
be sympathetic; no doubt he’d seen and interviewed many wounded
Ephraim came out to serve dessert, a perfect
rice soufflé straight from the oven. Catherine picked at hers, as
she had at her supper, for her appetite had flown the moment she
saw Clayton Pierce at the door. At last Sallie suggested they
retire to the parlor for coffee or brandy (or both, as Sallie
usually braced the former with the latter). Catherine took
advantage of the opportunity to plead a headache and escape to her
“I’m sorry you’re not feeling well, Mrs.
Kelly,” Clayton said, taking her hand and making a shallow bow over
it. “It’s been a pleasure meeting you.”
“Thank you,” she murmured. “Good night.”
She walked up the stairs. At the top she
looked at Andrew’s bedroom door and wondered if he were still
awake. It was not late; perhaps she could read to him. She went to
the door and knocked softly. No sound came from within. On impulse
she touched the doorknob and turned it. It was locked.
The door next to her suddenly opened, causing
her to jump. Mrs. Shirley stared at her disapprovingly. The woman
was still fully dressed, her hair tucked severely into its bun.
“Captain Kelly is asleep, madam.”
“Oh, of course. Thank you, Mrs. Shirley.”