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Alas RichmondA Civil War Romance
By Nikki Stoddard Schofield
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Nikki Stoddard Schofield
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLynchburg Depot
Monday, August 29, 1864
A sudden thunderbolt burst from an angry sky. Rain beat against the tin roof of the Lynchburg train depot. Travelers on the crowded platform huddled against the brick wall to protect themselves from the storm. Two oarsmen on the James River, down the slope from the depot, were struggling to get to shore as waves sloshed over the sides of their rowboat. Giles Tredwell, inside the large building, loosened his silk cravat and rubbed away the trickle of perspiration under his collar. The August heat and humidity reminded him of the Roman sauna at Bath, England, which he had visited many times with his family.
Maybe it will be cooler on the platform, thought Giles, opening the door to go outside. A blast of hot wind struck him in the face. He backed against the bricks and set his tan leather bag down beside him. Two young women a few feet away were arguing. They stood facing each other on opposite sides of a pine coffin.
"That's my husband's body!" shouted Sarah Winthrop, a gaunt woman with straw-colored hair. She was standing beside her father-in-law who was bearded and glum. Hands on her hips, she was loud enough to be heard clearly over the howling storm.
"No! It's my husband!" declared Verity Stuart, in a firm but calmer voice. She was standing alone, her gloved hands clutched together at her waist. "It must be," she added softly.
But Giles heard her because she was near. Both women were dressed in black and wore veils, but Sarah's was flipped back over her bonnet so her angry face was visible. Giles could not see if Verity was angry but her voice, sounding raspy, quavered on the last three words. He knew she was upset.
"Look at the undertaker's certificate," said Joseph Tompkins, the station master, carrying a crate past the end of the casket and pointing.
Mr. Winthrop slowly read aloud. "Certificate of Undertaker, Lynchburg, Virginia. I hereby certify that I have embalmed this dead body for transportation so no fluids will escape from the case and no offensive odor will be detected."
"What's the name?" his daughter-in-law asked.
"Cain't read it. Rain smeared the ink," Mr. Winthrop answered.
"Just open the casket. Look at the face," said a one-armed man in a dirty Confederate uniform.
"Manico, fetch a crowbar," Mr. Tompkins ordered as he set the crate beside the train tracks.
Manico Wrenn, the porter, did as he was told. Although a free man now, Manico had been a slave most of his twenty-five years and was accustomed to taking orders.
Giles looked west, saw no sign of the 3:00 o'clock train, and turned his attention back to the drama surrounding the coffin.
"Pardon me, ma'am. Pardon, suh," said Manico, shouldering his way through the crowd.
"Pry it up," ordered Mr. Tompkins, just as a flash of lightning illuminated the roiling dark sky. Verity, watching the crowbar dig into the casket lid, swayed backwards. Giles quickly moved to her side.
Is she going to collapse? He lightly touched the small of her back but quickly removed his hand when she straightened.
The roaring wind muffled the sound of creaking nails in the pine.
Mr. Winthrop snarled at Verity, "I paid for his embalming. If it's your husband, you gotta pay me back."
The lid was up. Thunder boomed. Verity jerked at the sound. Mrs. Winthrop peered over the coffin's edge, held her handkerchief to her mouth and turned her face toward the brick wall. Her father-in-law leaned forward to see the dead body.
"Will you look?" Giles said to the widow beside him.
Glancing into the wooden box at the same time Mr. Winthrop did, Verity immediately fainted. As she crumpled to the platform, Giles grabbed her around the waist.
Mr. Winthrop declared, "That's Herbert! That's my son!"
"Nail it up, Manico," the station master told the porter.
Giles lifted Verity into his arms and felt a stab of pain in his left shoulder which radiated down his arm.
"Take her inside," someone said.
"This way," said the soldier with the empty sleeve as he opened the door.
Giles carried Verity toward the entrance, but her hoop skirt ballooned up in the wind, obstructing his view. Turning around, he went through backwards. The one-armed man yanked the door shut.
Inside, Giles lowered his burden to a bench and felt the sharp pain ease. His left shoulder had a piece of shrapnel from the Battle of Winchester. It ached during rainy weather but was usually tolerable. He knew better than to lift something heavy, but he would not let this woman fall on the platform.
"Poor thing," said a white-haired woman, coming to the bench. "What happened to her?" She began tucking the hem of Verity's skirt around her ankles.
"She fainted at the sight of a man in the coffin," Giles answered, tugging his arm from under her voluminous black silk skirt.
"You a Yankee?" asked the woman as she pushed down the whale bone hoops of Verity's full skirt and made certain that her legs were covered.
"No, ma'am. English," said Giles.
Using her railroad timetable to fan the still form, the woman said, "English, huh? Well there's water in the corner."
As Giles went to the water bucket, the woman called after him, "You English haven't been much help to us fightin' this war."
The onlookers murmured agreement. The station was more crowded inside than it was on the platform. Travelers milled around. The train was expected momentarily. Elderly people sat on the few benches.
"No, ma'am, we haven't," Giles agreed with her as he took a tin dipper and filled it full.
The travelers watched the unconscious woman, the foreigner getting her water and the old woman fanning. Giles returned to the bench, knelt and lifted Verity's lace veil.
"Pretty thing," said the woman with the fan.
A whistle sounded above the noise of the wind.
"Trains are always late these days."
"Have to go!" said the woman, thrusting her timetable at Giles. She rushed out the door with the others.
Giles stuffed the timetable into his jacket pocket and reached behind Verity's head. She moaned softly and fluttered her eyes open. Tilting her head toward the dipper, he said, "Here. Drink this."
Her lips parted. She drank. Her gaze focused on his face, inches away from hers. Giles saw that her eyes were brown but the whites were tinged pink.
Is that from crying or are you sick? He wondered.
"W-what happened?" Putting her hand under the bowl, she held the dipper away from her mouth.
"You fainted." He held firmly to the dipper handle with one hand and the back of her neck with the other. Although she wore a stiff bonnet, his hand was beneath it, touching her damp hair encased in a net.
"No, it was not him."
Her chin trembled. Her eyes sparkled from unshed tears. Her cheeks were drained of color. She looked as pale as the dead man. But, Giles thought: She is the prettiest woman I have seen in a long time.
"Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Giles Hensleigh Tredwell. I am from York, England."
I need to get her mind off her dead husband.
"What is your name?"
"Verity Louisa Stuart." She took another sip of water before adding, "No relation to General J.E.B. Stuart." She pronounced J.E.B. as Jeb. Giles was well aware of the famous Confederate general.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
"My home is in Richmond." Another swallow. "I'm very thirsty." She finished the warm water in the dipper.
"I am traveling to Richmond. I have business there." He carried the empty dipper back to the pail. The door to the street closed. The room was deserted. They were the only two people in the large waiting room.
"The train?" Verity sat up straight, putting her feet on the floor, and looked around.
As if the big machine had been spoken to, it answered with a whistle, ground its wheels and chugged out of the station. The sound of the storm almost covered the noise of its departure.
"It seems we must catch the next one," Giles said, coming to sit beside her. She scooted away to sit at the far end of the bench.
Verity coughed several times, covering her mouth with her fingerless lace glove.
"Are you here alone?" he asked.
"Yes," she said, glancing at him and coughing again.
"What made you think that coffin contained your husband's body?" he asked her.
"The l-letter," she said. From her wrist, she pulled at the drawstrings of her small purple purse, saying, "In my reticule." Taking out two pieces of paper, she looked at them. Travel pass. Letter from the army. She put the pass back in the small purse and held out the other paper to him. Giles read silently.
Mrs. Reilly E. Stuart, It is possible for you to remove your husband's remains from the Lynchburg Depot. Please advise when you will expend the effort to do so. Major W. T. Grigsby, Commanding, 41st Battalion, Virginia Cavalry, Lynchburg.
"Did you advise Major Grigsby that you would be coming to Lynchburg?" Giles wanted to know.
She shook her head. "I was not able to. The telegraph lines were down." She coughed. He waited. She continued, "Yankees cut the wires. I came as soon as I received this." As she tucked the paper back into her handbag, another boom of thunder sounded, causing her to jump. "By courier," she added.
"The message does not say that his body is here," Giles said. "It simply states that it can be transported from here when you advise the army that you are coming to fetch it."
Again, Verity's chin trembled. She covered her mouth and coughed.
What am I doing here with this sick widow? I have important work to do. This is not how I planned my day to go. I should be on that train now. But I cannot desert a fellow human in need. My parents taught me better. Jesus taught me better.
Quickly, Giles said, "If you will permit me, I will help you locate your husband's body."
"Would you?" Her eyes were shimmering. Giles thought the tears would trickle down her cheeks at any moment. She coughed hard, with her head bent and her hand over her mouth.
"Yes, Mrs. Stuart, I will," said Giles.
Joseph and Manico came inside and glanced at the couple on the bench.
"Storm's not letting up," said the station master as he went into the ticket office at the far end of the waiting room. Manico silently entered the baggage room near them.
"When is the next train?" Giles called after the porter.
Tomorrow! I will miss my appointment. Will the transaction await my delayed arrival? What if someone gets there ahead of me? Nevertheless, I cannot desert this widow. She needs my help. There appears to be no one else.
Turning to Verity, Giles asked, "May I escort you to your hotel?"
"I don't have a room. I just arrived today."
"Where is the nearest hotel?" Giles asked Manico, who was exiting the storage room with a small, dark green, wooden trunk. Although Giles had stayed at an uptown hotel the previous night, he knew it was a twenty-minute walk there, which would be even longer in this fierce wind.
"Smallwood Hotel across Jefferson Street." He gestured behind them. "Rooms fill up fast." Setting the trunk beside the bench, Manico added, "Here's the lady's trunk."
"My valise!" exclaimed Giles, remembering it. The quinine! Quickly, he rushed outside. Looking up and down the platform, he saw no sign of his luggage. Gone! All that quinine just gone.
Coming back inside, he scowled and declared, "Someone stole it!"
"Tan leather, wasn't it? I saw you with it, suh," said Manico. He too went outside and looked briefly. The platform was empty.
What will the thief think when he finds twenty bottles of quinine neatly tucked away among the clothes? Giles asked himself.
"Thieving is rampant," Manico said to Giles.
Rampant is not a word I would expect to hear from you, an uneducated porter, thought Giles, who looked intently at this black man standing in front of him.
"I'm so sorry," Verity said. "This is my fault. Because you assisted me, your traveling bag was stolen." She coughed.
Turning from Manico to the coughing woman, Giles said, "No, it's not your fault. It could have happened if I was standing right there."
"Anything valuable?" asked Manico.
"Just clothes," Giles answered him.
My new clothes and quinine intended for Union prisoners. Can I get more quinine in Lynchburg?
Joseph Tompkins, having locked his office, called across the waiting room, "Leaving, Manico. Night watchman's here. See you tomorrow." He went out into the storm.
"Will you allow me to escort you to the Smallwood where you can rest out of this weather?" Giles asked Verity. "Then, I will go to Major Grigsby and inquire about your husband's body."
"I would like to rest. I don't feel well," she said.
Her statement did not surprise Giles or Manico who had listened to her coughing.
Manico handed Giles an umbrella he retrieved from the baggage room before locking it, and said, "I'll carry the lady's trunk. You take care of her."
At the street door, Giles opened the umbrella and pressed it low to keep his hat from blowing off. He held Verity's upper arm firmly and led her out into the storm behind the porter's large body, providing a wind break for the couple.
Manico knew where the deep ruts were and avoided them. Nevertheless, Verity, holding up her skirt in front, trailed the back hem in the mud.
If I must let go of something, I'll let the umbrella fly away before I let go of your arm, Giles thought. If it's hard for me to stand in this wind, it must be harder for a little lady like you.
Verity stepped in a low spot and seemed to be sinking. Giles quickly grabbed her around the waist and held her up, but only for a moment. When he felt that she had steadied herself, he moved his hand from her waist back to her arm.
"It's just ahead, folks! Not far now!" Manico shouted over his shoulder. His thin cotton shirt was soaked, outlining his muscular arms and broad chest.
Giles, too, was drenched. The lady had no shawl so her bodice was rain-soaked and her hoop skirt blew like a sail.
Into the storm, Giles shouted, "How many military trains come through Lynchburg?"
Manico shouted back, "Ten or twelve a day!" and wondered why this stranger wanted to know about military trains.
"Lynchburg's a big supply town for Lee, isn't it?
Before answering, the black man looked down the rain-swept street and saw figures scurrying in the distance. They were too far away to overhear. "Not just Lee! All the Southern armies!" His words were quickly swallowed by the wind but Giles heard them clearly. Manico had a suspicion that this gentleman, who was aiding a lady in distress, was not just a tourist from England but possibly a spy.
Stepping into the lobby of the Smallwood Hotel, Giles had trouble pulling the heavy wooden door closed with his bad arm. Manico reached around him to grab the handle and yank it shut. The three people crossed the musty-smelling lobby, past the parlor on the right and the dining room on the left, to the registration desk where a teenager sat on a high stool.
"Good afternoon. Welcome," the boy said, smiling at the wet arrivals. "Hello, Manico."
"Hello, Francis. These folks need a room," the porter said.
"Frank! I've told you, Manico. My name is Frank," said the fifteen-year-old, retrieving a brass key from a hook behind him and slapping it on the desk. "Room three."
Verity moved away from the two men as Giles opened his jacket to get his billfold. Manico saw the gun holster the Englishman wore under his coat but thought it nothing unusual. This was war time and a man needed to carry a weapon.
Just as Giles was unfolding his leather wallet, he glanced at Verity gripping the newel post at the bottom of the stairs. Her eyes closed. She swayed. Is she going to faint again? Quickly, Giles pulled out twenty dollars which he knew was the going rate and his calling card. Dropping them on the opened guest book, he snatched up the key, saying: "Please sign for me. She's ill. I need to get her upstairs."
Excerpted from Alas Richmond by Nikki Stoddard Schofield Copyright © 2011 by Nikki Stoddard Schofield. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
About the Author....................xv
One Lynchburg Depot Monday, August 29, 1864....................1
Two Rodents in the Room Tuesday, August 30, 1864....................17
Three No More Laudanum Wednesday, August 31, 1864....................39
Four Identifying the Body Friday, September 2, 1864....................52
Five James River and Kanawha Canal Saturday, September 3, 1864....................67
Six Overcrowded Capital Sunday, September 4, 1864....................87
Seven Preparing For Burial Monday, September 5, 1864....................106
Eight Hollywood Cemetery Tuesday, September 6, 1864....................125
Nine Morgan Is Dead Wednesday, September 7, 1864....................138
Ten Surgery Saturday, September 10, 1864....................146
Eleven Fugitives Saturday, September 24, 1864....................163
Twelve Who is Esek? Friday, October 7, 1864....................184
Thirteen Summer Meadows Early November 1864....................201
Fourteen Stolen Jewels Late November 1864....................220
Fifteen Castle Thunder December 1864....................238
Sixteen Chunder and Motley December 25, 1864....................252
Seventeen Joe's Sixteenth Birthday Friday, January 13, 1865....................263
Eighteen Arming Slaves February 1865....................279
Nineteen A Visitor Friday, March 17, 1865....................291
Twenty City Aflame Sunday, April 2, 1865....................306
Twenty One The Burnt District April 1865....................322