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Betty Cox"Atlee's unerring talent for strong narrative and character development is brilliant in this second saga of the waning days of the Civil War. Highly recommended."
—Reader to Reader Reviews
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.
--Julia Ward Howe
April 26, 1865
Stupid Yanks were having a damned picnic. A picnic, while loyal men starved not fifty yards away.
With the use of his remaining eye, Asa Graves peered through the screen of underbrush and focused on the lone man, clad in a uniform of Union blue. His attention narrowed like a ray of sunlight through a magnifying lens, excluding the three women with the fellow, blotting out their easy laughter and the Yank's infectious grin.
Didn't help to think on who they were, just what they had. A team of sleek brown horses, a solid-looking wagon, and of course, that picnic lunch. They had what he needed, and they were the enemy.
His focus shifted to two of the women, both young-looking and slender, and he smiled to himself. From time to time, the spoils of war were sweet.
Turning carefully, Asa nodded to his compatriots. And his heartbeat quickened in anticipation of the bloody rebel yell.
Not a single drop of blood here. Rebecca smiled, allowing the budding glade with all its myriad greens to soothe her eyes and ease a strain she'd felt so long, she hadn't recognized its full extent.
As Drew halted the team of dark-brown horses, Rebecca leaped down from the wagon without awaiting help. It felt so good to escape the makeshift army hospital, to feast her eyes on the verdant shoots, to listen to the tree frogs peep and the birds sing songs of birth, of growth and life. Not far from the clearing, the Mississippi River meandered southward,its moisture softening the eastern sky to a hazier shade of blue.
Thank God for her cousin's idea of a country picnic to celebrate her birthday. Rebecca hadn't known how much she'd needed to escape the ward, with its rows of faces pinched with pain, of empty sockets, and limbs that ended too abruptly. She hadn't guessed how badly she'd needed this distance from her failure.
"No one eats until she opens her present!" her blond friend, Sarah, called cheerfully.
Drew helped Sarah from the wagon, his touch lingering a bit too long at her slim waist.
Rebecca had long suspected a growing bond between the two, in spite of Sarah's laughing assertions that she'd rather wed a spotted hog than an almighty army surgeon. As Drew set her down, a peculiar look passed between them. When the two caught Rebecca watching, their glances skittered apart, and Sarah's fair face colored. During the ride here, the normally effervescent blonde had been far quieter than usual, as if she were attempting for some reason to contain all her emotions.
Aboard the wagon, Eleanor loudly cleared her throat, and Drew quickly turned to help her down, too. Rebecca thought she heard him grunt under the strain. The ward matron's physique, like her manner, was about as delicate as the average army mule. Yet, like Sarah, she'd been uncharacteristically quiet during the drive.
They're worried I'll turn my nose up at their gift. Rebecca sighed. She wore the same dark, austere clothing as the other nurses, but even here, in eastern Arkansas, she could not escape her family's fortune. Drew hadn't helped, eager as he'd been to tell everyone his cousin was Rebecca Marston of the famous Philadelphia Marstons. Rebecca supposed he'd only done it to impress the other surgeons (and possibly Sarah, despite his protests to the contrary) about his family connections, but in her opinion, someone ought to suture his mouth shut.
Rebecca had wanted only to offer up her hands to this conflict, to ease the suffering of those boys injured while they wore the Union blue. Early in the war, she'd been content attending patriotic speeches, rolling bandages, and gathering relief supplies to help both the soldiers and the newly freed slaves who fled northward in droves. But ever since her only brother, Thomas, had been killed at Cold Harbor, she'd grown increasingly eager to find a more active method to support this war.
Her parents had been mortified by her idea of enlisting as a Union nurse.
"Merciful heavens!" her mother, Harriet Wells Marston, exclaimed. "You mean to scrub sheets and wash filth from the wounded? How would you ever hold your head up to the servants after that? And how can you even think of consorting with common soldiers and the men that run those hospitals? It's challenge enough finding a girl of your age and temperament a proper husband without your ruining your reputation."
As always, Mother ignored Rebecca's insistence that she fully intended to remain unwed, like Aunt Millicent.