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Yankee in Atlanta
By JOCELYN GREEN, Pam Pugh
Moody Publishers Copyright © 2014 Jocelyn Green
All rights reserved.
Atlanta, Georgia Sunday, July 5, 1863
A rifle butt slammed between Caitlin's shoulder blades, pitching her forward on the narrow plank. Stumbling, she righted herself again, wrists bound behind her. A dangling rope brushed her face.
How could you?
She squinted up at the voice, edged with hatred yet still familiar. Jack? Blood streamed from his chest.
His hazel eyes blazed. You did this to me.
If you do not stand with me, you stand against me.
The noose was around her neck now, burning like live coals. It is only distance that separates us!
He shook his head, his hair curling over one eye. It is everything that separates us. The chasm can never be crossed.
Caitlin looked past Jack to the shallow grave behind him. The seven bodies of the Andrews raiders lay decomposing into one brittle mass. But there was room for one more. Terror pulsed in her ears.
I had no choice!
You made your choice. To be one of them.
I am one of you!
You are neither.
A single kick to the scaffold beneath her feet, and—
"Jack!" With a scream in her throat and fists clenching her collar, Caitlin burst from her nightmare into the hot breath of Atlanta. Surviving in enemy country is not a betrayal! She railed against her recurring dream. I am not a turncoat!
A knock on the door. "Caitlin? It's me, Minnie." She knocked again. "I haven't got my key." Caitlin sat up and rolled her neck. The residual fear of her nightmare dissolved under her roommate's muffled drawl. "You didn't fall asleep on your books again, did you, honey?"
At nineteen years of age, Minerva Taylor was four years younger than Caitlin, and she called everyone honey, whether she was truly fond of them or not. As the Atlanta Female Institute's music teacher whose pupils ranged from the talented to the uncooperative, it was a capacity that proved to be as diplomatic as it was habitual.
Caitlin tripped on a dog-eared book as she went to open her door. "What else is a Sunday afternoon for if not reading and napping?"
Minnie shook her head of perfectly coifed sunshine-blonde hair, her face radiant in spite of the pockmark scarring. Parasol in hand, she stepped into the room and shut the door behind her, muting the rowdy conversations of the other boarders at Periwinkle Place. "Reading for pleasure I could understand. But something tells me you're preparing for your classes. On a Sunday!" She plucked the worn volume from the floor. "Why, we're almost out for the summer! You're such a bluestocking!"
Caitlin's grin faltered. Her classes were the best thing about Atlanta. When they ended for summer break, she would sincerely miss teaching. Perhaps the Southern sun had addled her brain for her to not hate living here the way she once did. Atlanta had given Caitlin what New York City could not. A way to survive without marrying. Or soldiering.
She pasted a smile back into place. "And who's to say I don't find pleasure in Paradise Lost?"
"You would." Minnie laughed, her grey eyes dancing. "But tell the truth. It's in your curriculum too, isn't it?"
"What kind of a literature instructor would I be if it weren't?" The fact that Caitlin was a literature instructor at all was no small miracle. But the Atlanta Female Institute was only three years old and, with the war calling the men away, in dire need of teachers. Caitlin had been offered the position vacated by an enlisting soldier as a personal favor from the principal to Dr. Periwinkle. That they believed her to be a Confederate veteran had worked to her benefit, as well.
"What about you?" Caitlin asked, twisting her shoulder-length, cinnamon-colored hair back into place beneath her pins. "Don't you play the piano and sing when you're not in class?"
"Of course I do. But this ?" She read the text with a hint of vibrato: "'Live while ye may, Yet happy pair; enjoy till I return, Short pleasures; for long woes are to succeed ...' That's just morbid, honey!"
"What's morbid is how you completely murdered the iambic pentameter!"
Minnie shrugged. "I've got to let you be better than me in something. Aside from shooting a gun, that is." Her dimples deepened in rosy cheeks, as they always did when she teased.
"Let's leave the past where it lies. I've certainly won few friends with mine."
"I know you don't like to talk about your soldiering in the army, but the truth is, I only wish I were as brave as you so I could lick some Yankees myself!"
But Caitlin had not felt brave in battle. Not with lead tearing toward her and cannons shaking the earth beneath her. Not with men unraveling around her like rag dolls in the mouth of an unseen beast. Not with her lifeblood seeping out of her. She'd been terrified then, and the recollections jangled her still. "Never wish for a fight, Minnie. It is a horrid thing."
"But for a just and righteous cause such as ours—"
"For any cause."
Minnie laid a hand on her arm. "I've upset you. I'm sorry, honey." Her gaze traveled to the white line on Caitlin's jaw, likely assuming it was a mark from the war, and Caitlin did not correct her. "Come, let's go for a stroll."
By the time they stepped out onto Alabama Street, Caitlin's heart rate had almost returned to its normal pace. Apple peels and peanut shells crunched beneath every step along the busy dirt road where soldiers swarmed between local residents and travelers.
When two Rebels half-bowed in their direction, Minnie trilled the chorus of the ever-popular Bonnie Blue Flag. "Hurrah! Hurrah! For Southern rights, hurrah! Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star."
Caitlin smiled at her friend's beautiful soprano voice, but could not stop the Battle Cry of Freedom from running through her own mind at the same time.
The Union forever! Hurrah, boys, hurrah!
Down with the traitors, up with the stars;
While we rally round the flag, boys, rally once again,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!
"That one's looking at you," Minnie whispered.
Caitlin kept her gaze straight ahead. "Not likely. Or necessary."
"Don't you want to find a beau?"
"Why ever not? With your education, you could secure quite a husband."
"With my education, I don't need a husband." She arched an eyebrow. "I can make my own way."
Minnie's jaw dropped. "You don't mean you'd rather have 'single blessedness' instead."
"I most certainly do."
Their conversation stalled at the corner of Whitehall Street and the railroad tracks. Knots of women and old men huddled in silent groups outside Wittgenstein's saloon.
"What is it?" Minnie asked a woman nearby.
"There is news." She nodded to the second floor of the building, the Atlanta Daily Intelligencer office. "If we can but survive the waiting for it."
Minnie blanched and gripped Caitlin's hand. "Father." Jack. "Pray, stay with me until we hear."
Hours passed, and the sun glared haughtily down upon them, baking all those who waited, exposed, below it. Sweat pricked Caitlin's scalp beneath her palmetto hat and bloomed beneath her arms.
Prudence Periwinkle stood on the fringe of one cluster, clutching a bottle of smelling salts the way young mothers press babies to their chests. Horses swished their tails and pawed at the red dirt road, and the people choked on dust and suspense and fear.
No one spoke.
All eyes were on the arched door leading up to the Atlanta Daily Intelligencer office, waiting. News from the West reported that Vicksburg had surrendered. The Confederacy lay cut in two. But every breath still hinged on the news that would come from a little town in the North called Gettysburg.
Minnie's whispered prayers were for her father, while Caitlin's only thought was of Jack.
"There it is!" someone cried.
In the shadow of the door's alcove, someone reached out and fed a ream of papers to hungry hands. Finally, the casualty list had arrived.
The sheets of names passed through the crowd, sending up wails and moans from nearly all who touched them. When it was Minnie's turn to read them, her hands shook so fiercely she thrust the pages into Caitlin's hand.
"Please," she whispered, eyes squeezed shut. "Thomas Taylor. Quickly, quickly, I can't bear another moment."
Caitlin scanned the tiny columns of names, the fresh ink now blurred and smudged. Hastily, she skipped to the Ts.
And found the name.
"He is ..."
Minnie's eyes popped open, and Caitlin labored to force out the words. "He was ..." She shook her head. "He is at peace."
For a moment, Minnie sat in silence, as if frozen by the incomprehensible news. Then her face crumbled, yet she did not make a sound. Caitlin wrapped her arms around Minnie, and the grief of a father's daughter bled out onto her shoulder. Caitlin's face was wet with empathy.
Around them, sorrow thickened in the air, souring every breath. Caitlin tasted no victory in their despair.
In the edge of her vision, she saw a woman drop to her knees in the dusty road. Heart hammering on her ribs, Caitlin looked once more at the casualty list, slowing when she found the Ps.
Pelton, Pemberly, Pendleton, Periwinkle ... Blood rushed in Caitlin's ears. Periwinkle, Stuart. Dr. Periwinkle's son. Prudence's precious nephew, the one she helped raise and love as a mother would have done. Gone. Prudence bowed down on the street, clawing fistfuls of dirt and letting them crumble over her silver hair.
The war would not come to Atlanta, they said. But from the fields of Pennsylvania, its long fingers wrapped around its throat with an iron grip. The sons of the city had been slain. They had even been defeated.
The fissures in the House of Dixie were running deeper, yawning wider. How long would it be before it came crashing down, as the crack in Edgar Allen Poe's "House of Usher" had sent it rushing into the sea?
And if I am here when the Confederacy collapses, will I be saved by the North? Or will I go down with the South?
Words from her nightmare reverberated in her spirit. You are neither.
Caught between two nations desperately at war, Caidin McKae was on her own.
* * *
New York City Sunday, July 5, 1863
"Jesus loves me—this I know, For the Bible tells me so." Ruby O'Flannery rocked her one-year-old son and relished his warm weight on her lap. "Little ones to Him belong—They are weak, but He is strong." She hummed the refrain and mused what a difference the truth of the song had made in her life, and in his. Before he was born, she had not wanted him, for reasons too painful to dwell upon. Now however, she could not imagine life without him. He had brought joy back into her life and laughter to her lips.
Aiden's eyes drifted closed, and his dimpled hands loosened their grip on the zebras from his wooden Noah's Ark set. Pressing a kiss to his pillowy cheek, Ruby laid him in his crib and gently brushed copper curls off his forehead.
"Sleep well, darlin'" she whispered.
Ruby tiptoed out of the room and descended the wide walnut staircase of the Waverly brownstone just as a knock sounded on the front door. Caroline Waverly, her employer, was reading in the rear parlor, but no matter. This caller was for Ruby—the only caller she ever had.
She opened the door, a smile already on her lips, to see Edward Goodrich still in his Sunday best. He was not devilishly handsome—she wouldn't trust him if he was, given her previous experience with that sort. But he was genuine. Kind. His coffee-colored eyes were deep and warm, not mischievous—and certainly not lustful, thank heaven.
"Is he down?" Edward looked past her to the stairway.
"You just missed him. You know, sometimes I wonder if you come here for our Bible studies or to play with my wee babe." Tilting her head in mock disapproval, her smile didn't fade. "Come in, come in."
Edward hung his hat on the hall stand, swiped a hand over his caramel-colored hair, and followed Ruby. She stopped in the kitchen to pour two glasses of lemonade before they went to the garden for their Sunday discussion. Ever since she had come to work for Caroline last year as the maid, she could not get enough of this beautiful space. Growing up as the daughter of a potato farmer in Ireland and as an immigrant living in New York City tenements for years, nature's beauty simply had not been part of her life, until now.
Shaded by a maple leaf canopy, Ruby and Edward sat at a wrought iron table flanked by hydrangea bushes drooping with white blooms. The rest of the garden was splattered with vibrant hues: yellow primroses, pink and red roses, and, hugging the tree trunks, green-and-white-leafed hostas.
"Thank goodness for the shade," Edward said as he shrugged his shoulders out of his tan broadcloth suit jacket and tugged at the cravat at his throat. Not a single breeze stirred the air. "Still, it beats the heat of Washington, doesn't it?"
"Aye." She sipped her lemonade, the glass already sweating in her hand. Ruby had first met Edward in Washington City the first year of the war. He was a hospital chaplain there, and she was there to be close to her husband in the Sixty-Ninth New York regiment. She had lodged with Sanitary Commission nurse Charlotte Waverly, her employers daughter, and Charlotte s sister Alice. Now Charlotte was co-director of a Rhode Island military hospital, and Edward ... Ruby sighed as she looked at his lean, care-worn face. Edwards plans had been altered by news of his father's accident at the shipyard. He had stepped into a coil of rope, which tangled around his legs when the pulley yanked up. Not only did his legs break with the force, but when his body hit the block at the top, his arms, which had been raised to cover his head, broke too. Edward requested a transfer to New York so he could care for him at his home only a few blocks from the Waverly residence. Lucky for Ruby, he also helped her understand the Bible during Aiden's Sunday afternoon naps. Ruby's faith was about as old as her toddling son, and though eager, it was not always sure-footed. She was grateful for Edward's guidance.
Edward laid his black leather Bible on the table and leaned back, stretching his long arms behind his head. "So, Ruby. What shall we talk about today ?" She had insisted long ago that he dispense with calling her Mrs. O'Flannery. After all, she was just an Irish immigrant, a servant. His family employed people like her.
"I read about a Samaritan in the gospel of Luke chapter twenty-one."
"Ah. One of my favorite parables." He leaned forward on his elbows. "What do you think it means?"
"Well, the lesson seems to be that we should help people in need. But I stumble over the 'thees' and 'thous.'" She'd been working on matching her Irish tongue more to American-English speech patterns like Mrs. Waverly s, but the poetic language of King James sometimes stumped her.
"It takes some getting used to. You've gleaned the main point, but let's dig a little deeper. The first two men who found a man stripped, robbed, and beaten on the road were Jewish religious men. They knew the right thing to do, but they didn't do it, because it wasn't convenient. The third man was a Samaritan. Do you know what that means?"
Ruby shook her head.
"Samaritans were despised by the Jews. But it was the Samaritan who loved his neighbor when the religious leaders chose not to. That should alarm us. See, we can be full of Bible knowledge, but if we don t love our neighbor, we still aren't pleasing Jesus."
"Who is our neighbor?"
Edward's smile broadened, and faint lines framed his eyes. "Anyone who God has brought into your life. Friends, family, Mrs. Waverly, but even those you meet at the market, or perhaps people you knew before you came to work here. Many times it isn't convenient to love your neighbor, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't."
Inwardly, Ruby shuddered. I've spent this year trying to forget my past entirely. Am I really to go back and care for those in the tenements now?
The French doors opened and Caroline rustled out into the garden with Dickens, Charlotte's cat, beside her. "I do apologize for interrupting." She sat on a stone bench opposite Ruby and Edward, her olive-colored day dress billowing from her waist. "But I've made up my mind. I'm going."
Ruby's eyes widened. "To Gettysburg?"
Edwards eyebrows arched. "What's this?"
"The fighting at Gettysburg. If the papers can be believed, it was by far the worst battle of the war to date." Dickens jumped into her lap. "The need is desperate and the resources few. Charlotte asked me to join her; she says I can be of use just by stirring a cauldron of stew. For once, I said yes." She paused, stroking Dickens's marmalade fur.
Excerpted from Yankee in Atlanta by JOCELYN GREEN, Pam Pugh. Copyright © 2014 Jocelyn Green. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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