Read Shadow of Dawn Online

Authors: Debra Diaz

Tags: #romance, #suspense, #mystery, #espionage, #civil war, #historical, #war, #virginia, #slavery, #spy

Shadow of Dawn (8 page)

BOOK: Shadow of Dawn
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“I don’t think people will particularly enjoy
looking at some of those photographs. If anything, maybe future
generations will be touched by the reality, by the horror of war.
This war should never have started.”

 

She sat up straighter, staring at him. “What
do you mean? How can you say that after everything they said about
us, calling us seditionists and saying we should be
exterminated—”

 

“That’s just it,” he said softly, looking up
at the sky. “I’m afraid we will be exterminated. Do you realize the
North has three, perhaps four times as many men, more ammunition,
more food, more everything?”

 

“What does that matter? I agree that war is a
terrible thing, but it would have been cowardly to back down after
they’d insulted us, and after Mr. Lincoln sent troops out to
subjugate us.”

 

He turned toward her with a low laugh. “You
are a true daughter of the South.”

 

“And pray tell me, sir, if you are a true
son, or an illicit one and not worthy to be called a
Southerner!”

 

She heard her own words with dismay, but as
before when she had spoken her mind, she could not regret it. She
wanted to know exactly where he stood.

 

He came to stand before her. “Believe it or
not, I’m just as southern as you are, my dear Mrs. Kelly, and just
as proud to be called one. Do you mind if I sit down?”

 

She moved her skirt to make room for him.
Though she was not cold, she drew her shawl more securely over her
shoulders, then tucked his handkerchief into the sash at her
waist.

 

Clayton sat next to her, the sleeve of his
coat lightly brushing her arm as he settled himself on the hard
wooden bench. “If you’ll permit me, I will try to explain my
feelings, which may have seemed to you rather ambiguous. You see, I
was present in the Senate chamber, in the reporters’ gallery, last
year when those famous speeches were made. The place was packed
with spectators and yet there was no noise, only a brooding
silence, until the men began to speak.

“One by one the senators renounced their
allegiance to the United States. One by one, they proclaimed their
state’s withdrawal from the Union. Far from being a frenzy as has
generally been believed, it was the most sorrowful scene I have
ever witnessed.

 

“There was no doubt these men loved the
Union, but still they left no doubt that they believed the South
had been wronged. They believed that the federal government
intended to destroy our right to function as independent
states.”

 

“And what did you believe, sir?”

 

“Everyone has been wronged in this affair,”
he replied thoughtfully. “This war has been a long time coming, and
I believe it will be a long time before it’s over…even after the
last cannon is fired. I wonder if this country will ever recover
from it.”

 

“I can now understand your decision to fight
with words rather than arms, Mr. Pierce—I mean, Clayton. You’re
very persuasive. Perhaps if you had been on the Senate floor you
could have made a difference in the outcome.”

 

He shook his head. “No. The fire-eaters had
done their damage. The situation had so disintegrated that
bloodshed seemed to be the only solution. All we can do now is pray
that Almighty God will get us through it.”

 

“What do you mean…about fire-eaters?”

 

“I mean the men who got us into this war,
from the signing of the Declaration of Independence on down to the
present, men from both North and South struggling for control,
yelling about slavery but offering no solution, yelling about
states’ rights and secession without examining all the
alternatives. They made loyalty to the Union mean disloyalty to our
own state, leaving us with no choice but to fight.”

 

“That’s just how our General Lee felt,” she
said softly, “when they offered him field command of the United
States Army. We’ve all heard how difficult it was for him to resign
his commission. But his loyalty was to Virginia.”

 

Clayton nodded. “His home, his children, his
heritage. How can any of us be blamed for wanting to defend those
things? And yet there’s more to it than that, more than will ever
be written in the history books—”

 

He stopped abruptly and she said, “Do go
on.”

 

But he stood up again, saying in a lighter
tone, “Forgive me for waxing eloquent, my dear Mrs. Kelly. Your
obvious devotion to the cause inspired me. May I prove my gallant
nature by forgiving your insinuations and asking you to dance?”

 

Catherine became aware of the music floating
out upon the still night, accompanied by the sounds of swishing
skirts and the rhythmic scraping of booted feet. “Oh, I couldn’t,”
she said quickly.

 

“I’m afraid you’ll have to,” he replied. “Or
it will be difficult to forget how greatly you have offended
me.”

 

She looked into his eyes and saw that he was
joking. Her lips curved in a small smile. “I don’t think it would
be appropriate to dance with you, Mr. Pierce, when everyone knows
about Andrew. I hope you’ll understand.”

 

“ ‘Everyone’ doesn’t have to see us. Come,
it’s only a dance.” He reached out, took her hand, and pulled her
up. Before she could react, he put his arm around her and began to
lead her in the waltz. She drew off her shawl and held it in one
hand. She realized suddenly that he had made her forget her
feelings of despair, for the moment.…

 

Because of the confining space they had to
stand quite close and move slowly over the walk and around the
little plot of flowers. They were hidden from any prying eyes by
the tall hedges. Catherine’s head was spinning, not because of the
small circular movement, but from the many fragmented thoughts that
raced across her brain, none of which she could seem to catch and
comprehend. Her feet moved automatically, but he was an excellent
dancer and kept her in perfect rhythm.

 

She looked into his eyes…and could not look
away. Their bodies moved as if they were one person, as though some
invisible thread had somehow twined around and connected them, as
though they had been created for each other…Stop, she thought,
stop.

 

The music stopped, and there was a brief
pause before it started again. Clayton slowly released her. She
stepped back, staring at him dumbly. A small frown creased his brow
and his dark eyes were suddenly unreadable. “Catherine—”

 

She put a trembling hand to her temple. “I
have to go,” she said. “Please excuse me.”

 

She picked up her skirts and ran up the steps
and the brick walkway, feeling ridiculous and thinking again of
Cinderella, except she did not lose her slipper and he did not
pursue her. She paused inside the doorway to catch her breath. No
one saw her except a servant passing with a tray; he widened his
eyes but didn’t stop. She made herself move slowly across the room
to the hallway, asked another servant to find Ephraim, then hurried
out the front door to wait for him.

 

***

 

As though in a dream, Catherine walked up the
stairs toward her room. Night had fallen, but the brightness of the
moon made it unnecessary to light a candle. She paused on the
landing where a small, octagonal window looked down upon the
Henderson’s backyard, which was completely enclosed not only by a
tall fence but also by several trees and large bushes. She didn’t
know how long she stood there, staring at nothing. If she had not
been standing there at that particular moment she would never have
seen him, and then—she thought later, appalled—it would have been
too late.

 

A movement caught her eye, startling her. A
man was climbing a tree to the second-floor balcony. He was agile
for his size, swift, and stealthy. It was Clayton.

 

Her heart in her throat, she spun around and
darted up the stairs. The fool! she thought. He had to be coming to
see her. What other reason could he possibly have for sneaking
about in the night and gaining access to the second floor? Oh, the
cad!

 

She ran into her room and pressed her face
against the rear window, straining to see. She saw him lift himself
lightly over the wooden railing.

 

There was no time to plan. Catherine ran
across the sitting room to the door that opened onto the balcony.
The latch stuck; she twisted the knob frantically until it turned,
and hurried outside.

 

Clayton stepped back at once into a deep band
of shadow.

 

“Mr. Pierce, what do you think you’re
doing?”

 

“Catherine,” he said, apparently recovering
from his surprise. He moved forward into the light.

 

“Please don’t call me Catherine,” she said
coldly. “My name is Mrs. Kelly. How dare you try to see me in this
manner?”

 

He remained silent, his eyes probing into
hers. At last he said, “I don’t blame you for being angry—”

 

“Angry! I am horrified. How did you know
where…who told you…how could you—” She sputtered to a stop, unable
to find the words to express her outrage.

 

He seemed to withdraw slightly, becoming as
formal as when they had first met.

 

“I was mistaken, Mrs. Kelly. My actions are
inexcusable, and I can only blame my own foolhardiness, and perhaps
the effects of the moon and your…great beauty.”

 

She dropped her gaze and raised her chin
still higher. “Whatever did you hope to accomplish, Mr.
Pierce?”

 

He paused. “I wanted to tell you…that is, I
wanted to ask you—”

 

She waited, knowing she should scathingly cut
him off and send him on his way, but some purely feminine instinct
would not allow it.

“Yes?” she prompted.

 

“You were distraught when you left me
tonight. I had to see you. I knew everyone was out…Bart told me of
their plans. I thought I could induce you to come out here and
speak with me, so the servants wouldn’t know I had been here.”

 

“Indeed! I assure you I am not the sort of
woman who meets strange men on the balcony.”

 

“It was not my intention to compromise you in
any way. I have the greatest respect for you, Mrs. Kelly. I beg
your forgiveness.”

 

Her shock and indignation fading, she could
think of nothing further to say and merely stared at him.

 

“What happened tonight was not your fault. It
will never happen again,” he said quietly.

 

It seemed a long time that they stood looking
at each other, but must have been only a moment. Clayton turned
abruptly, swung himself effortlessly over the balcony railing onto
the nearest tree branch, and began climbing down as swiftly as he
had ascended. Catherine did not wait to watch him but whirled to
reenter the house.

 

Again the doorknob stubbornly resisted her
efforts to open the door, and she knew from experience that this
time it would not turn without the assistance of some kind of tool.
She groaned out loud with frustration. She was stranded.

 

She looked over the railing. Clayton was
nowhere in sight. The others would not return for another hour, at
least.

 

Looking back toward the wall of the house,
Catherine saw that the window to Andrew’s bedroom was up slightly.
She would have to open it and climb through; if he heard her
movements she would explain, truthfully enough, that she had been
locked out of the house.

 

She tugged at the window. It must have been
recently greased, for it made not a sound as it slid upward. She
put one leg over the sill, struggling with her heavy gown, and
finally half fell with a soft thud into Andrew’s bedroom.

 

The moonlight revealed him lying beneath the
covers of the bed, his back to her, the black scarf on his head.
Her heart lurched with pity. He even slept in it, or one of
them…surely he had more than one. Holding her skirts tightly, she
tiptoed across the room and let herself out the door.

 

When she reached her own room, she discovered
her legs were shaking. From
Cinderella
to
Romeo and
Juliet
, she thought rather hysterically…all in one evening. She
felt, as she stripped off her clothes and heaped them
uncharacteristically on the floor, as though she might burst into
laughter at the absurdity of it all.

 

But no, she didn’t feel like laughing. She
put on her nightgown and sat down on the edge of the bed and stared
at nothing for a long time. By the time she crawled into bed and
fell asleep, her pillow was wet with tears.

 

***

 

She found it difficult, the next day, to read
to Andrew.

 

When she went in at her customary time, he
told her that Mrs. Shirley had read some of the novel to him the
previous night and that the page where she had stopped should be
marked. Unfortunately, it proved to be the chapter where Sydney
Carton more or less declared himself to Lucie Manette. Catherine
found his words so poignant she felt absurdly close to tears.

 

“…
think now and then that there is a man
who would give his life…”
Catherine gulped
.
She closed
her eyes and took a deep breath.
“…to keep a life you love
beside you.”

 

“Is anything wrong, Catherine?”

 

“No,” she said. “No.”

 

“You sound as if you have a cold.”

 

“No. Well, the air was rather chilly last
night.”

 

“How was the wedding?”

BOOK: Shadow of Dawn
4.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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