From a New York Times–bestselling author: After the Civil War, a young Confederate bride finds herself living in the shadow of her husband’s first love.
Having lost her fiancé in battle, Lora Blair knew it was the heartache of war, not true love, that drew her to Union soldier Wade Taylor, a grieving widower who still mourned his late wife, Virginia. Married quickly in the ravished little Southern border town where Lora was born, they headed back North to Wade’s Staten Island mansion, where he lives with his motherless son and bitterly unwelcoming family.
It’s not just Lora’s Southern roots among wealthy Yankees that are met with severe disapproval. Lora knows that she’ll forever be in the shadow of Wade’s adored, devotedly maternal, and peerlessly beautiful first wife. Though her most dangerous opposition is yet to come, Lora must face the secrets hidden in the Taylors’ past—including those Virginia took with her to an early grave.
The recipient of the Agatha Award for Lifetime Achievement, Phyllis A. Whitney is “a superb and gifted storyteller” (Mary Higgins Clark).
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Phyllis A. Whitney including rare images from the author’s estate.
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About the Author
Whitney resided in several places, including New Jersey. She traveled to every location mentioned in her books in order to better depict the settings of her stories. She earned the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award in 1988, the Agatha in 1990, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Midland Authors in 1995. Whitney was working on her autobiography at the time of her passing at the age of 104.
Read an Excerpt
One bright smile shone among more sober faces in the ferry crowd that evening as a tall young woman in her early thirties walked proudly aboard beside her husband in Union blue. To have your captain home for Christmas — that was cause for joy, and Serena Lord revealed her feelings in the look of love she turned upon him.
They hurried through the lower precincts, which smelled strongly of cigar smoke and horses, and mounted the stairs to the draughty upper cabin. Here they found a seat not too far from the circle of warmth cast by a glowing stove, and Edgar Lord seated his wife, hoops and all, with a slightly military flourish before he took his place beside her.
Serena was a handsome woman, far from stingily built, though she carried her buxom quality well, thanks to her height and good-sized bones. Beneath the peak of her green bonnet rusty red hair shone in the light of kerosene lamps, and there was a saucy sprinkling of reddish freckles across her nose. But it was her eyes that made you look twice — warm and brown and alive with interest. Even now as she sat with her hand tucked through the crook of her husband's arm, as if she could not let him go for a moment, her lively gaze found time to note other passengers, so that she might smile and bow to those she recognized, speculate about those who were strangers.
Paddle wheels churned the waters of New York harbor to a froth and black smoke studded with sparks poured from tall stacks as the ferry pulled away from the Whitehall slip for the last trip of the evening to Staten Island. There was the usual sprinkling of uniforms among the passengers and the all too frequent evidence of wounds or crippling.
As the war wound along through its second year uniforms had begun to look less spruce, the brass of buttons had tarnished a bit and the expression of men in blue had grown more grim. No one talked these days of licking the foolish South in a hurry. Though Christmas was only two weeks off, New York had been unable to whip itself into a festive spirit. With the disaster of Fredericksburg so recently upon them, the hospitals so full and the prospect of victory doubtful and distant, it was difficult to stir up any semblance of holiday joy.
A few moments after the boat left the slip Serena noted with recognition a soldier who leaned on a single crutch, swinging himself painfully toward a bench not far distant in the center of the cabin. At his side moved a slightly built girl in a brown mantle and drab brown bonnet. The man's cheeks were hollowed, his blue eyes sunken, but there was still the mark of extraordinary good looks upon him. Dark brown hair grew thickly back from a brow which belonged more to a man of thought than of action. Remembering him in a happier role, pity rose in Serena.
"Don't look now," she whispered to her husband, "but in a moment ... there, she's helping him down. Edgar, that's Wade Tyler!"
Edgar nodded gravely. "You wrote that he'd been wounded. He looks ill too. Is he just coming home?"
"He must be," Serena said, her gaze flicking away, then swiftly back so that she could study the girl. "I saw his mother only yesterday, but she said nothing about his returning. And I asked about him too. But then, that's like the old lady. Do you suppose he's brought home a new wife?"
"Why not?" Edgar smiled at his wife's familiar flaring of curiosity. "The sooner he forgets Virginia the better."
"I'm sorry for the girl then," said Serena firmly. "Going into a gloomy old house with a woman who is an invalid, to say nothing of that difficult little boy. Edgar, do you suppose we could go over and speak to them? After all, I grew up with Wade. It seems discourteous not to greet him and —"
"Let him be," said her husband gently. "He looks worn out. This is no time for neighborly chatter. If they need help when we dock, we'll go speak to them then."
Serena had to be satisfied with that. She tightened her hand in an affectionate squeeze upon her husband's arm and gave all her attention to him for a few moments. But her curious interest soon turned again to the girl and she speculated silently.
Wade's companion was a thin, rather drab little thing. Her brown mantle looked shabby and her hoops were unfashionably small. The strings of her bonnet, though neatly tied, were frayed. Well, Mrs. Tyler would change all that. She would never tolerate shabbiness in her son's wife. Not with her exalted opinion of the Cowles-Tyler position to uphold.
"Virginia was so pretty," Serena mused. "I wonder what he could have seen in this girl. She's brown as a winter berry and as plain. I wonder if he's got himself another meek one."
Edgar chuckled. "You women! And especially you, my dear. It must always be hard to guess what any man sees in another girl. But since you're going to pay no attention to me until your curiosity is satisfied, let me tell you about her."
It was an old game they used to play — making up stories about people they did not know. Serena's brown eyes sparkled and she hung on his words.
"I doubt that she has married him for his money," Edgar went on. "She doesn't seem that sort, even though wealth is obviously not a part of her world. So it must be love."
Serena nodded. "The girls always fell in love with the Tyler charm — all except me. That's the way it was with his father before him. Though he was a different sort — that one."
"I think," Edgar went on, "that she is not meek. If you'll note — there's a set to her chin, a certain firmness of mouth. I'd like to see her smile — she might surprise us."
But the girl with Wade Tyler did not smile. Now and then she glanced solicitously at the man beside her, but she did not touch him. Her hands lay quietly in her lap, as tanned as her face, the gold wedding band their only ornament. They were square, sturdy hands, the nails short and broken — not the well-kept hands of a lady.
Wade winced, apparently at a twinge of pain from his leg, and she bent toward him anxiously. Serena could not hear her words, but the girl evidently persuaded him to stretch out on the empty seat, to sleep if he could and rest his wounded leg. His cavalry uniform, with its lieutenant's insignia, was far shabbier than Edgar's and had been patched in several places. He stretched out willingly and seemed to fall at once into exhausted slumber. His wife bent over him for a moment, touched his forehead lightly, as if to reassure herself that he had not fever, and then sat back in her seat, her dark eyes looking straight ahead unseeingly, as if she were hardly aware of those about her.
"Jemmy Tyler needs a mother," Serena murmured softly. "If it weren't for Adam I don't know what he'd do these days. Adam's been fine with the boys."
"How is Adam?" Edgar asked.
Serena considered for a moment. Her brother had been released from Libby Prison in an exchange only two months before and it was still too early to say how he was. He needed to recover his strength and there were still fever bouts. He'd always had a wry twist of mind and now he sometimes seemed very bitter. But he had been wonderful with her own two boys, and especially kind to Jemmy Tyler. Before she could find words to answer her husband, the girl in shabby brown suddenly rose and walked toward the ladies' cabin. Serena saw her chance. She waited no more than forty seconds, then excused herself to her husband, who nodded in amused understanding, and followed the girl into the cabin.
Here there was red upholstery, curtains of red rep and a watery mirror. To her satisfaction, Serena saw that they had the place to themselves. The younger woman had taken off her bonnet and was smoothing down dark brown wings of hair drawn over her ears from a center part. At the back of her neck a snood held a thick, lustrous coil and her fingers worked absently at a more secure pinning. She paid no attention to Serena's entrance, but continued to stare at her image in the wavery glass as if she looked at some person she did not know and about whom she was curious.
Serena coughed gently and when that attracted no attention, she stepped to the girl's side and frankly held out her hand.
"Good evening," she said. "I am Serena Lord, Mrs. Edgar Lord. I would like to welcome you to Staten Island. My husband and I are neighbors of the Tylers, just along the lane."
The girl threw her a startled look, then seemed to gain reassurance from Serena's warm smile, and gave her small, rough hand into the older woman's clasp.
"Thank you," she said. "It is nice to meet a neighbor so quickly. I am Lora Blair. That is" — color darkened her cheeks — "that is, I'm Lora Blair Tyler now. I keep forgetting."
Serena's laugh was warm as her smile. "I know! I can remember doing that myself in the beginning. Of course you realize I followed you in here deliberately because I was curious about whether Wade was bringing home a new wife. I'm glad he is."
Unexpectedly the girl smiled, and Edgar had been right. Her teeth were whitely even, her lips generous, and the smile lighted her face to prettiness. She would never be a beauty, but when the dark weight of worry and weariness lifted, there was a bright look of youth about her that was appealing. Serena's ready heart was touched.
"You must come to see us very soon," she said.
The smile faded and the look of doubt returned to cloud the young face. "I'd love to — but my husband — well, you see ..."
Serena nodded. "Don't let him mope in that old house, my dear. Or if he will not come out, then run away to visit me yourself. Any time you are lonely. Or if anything should go wrong. Not that it will, of course," she added hastily.
Lora Tyler bowed and turned gravely back to the mirror. Serena had the feeling that while the girl had warmed to her for an instant, she had as quickly forgotten she was there. Without further speech Serena slipped out of the cabin and went back to her husband.
"Forgive me, Edgar," she told him contritely. "I simply had to greet that poor, lonely little thing."
"Of course," he said. "I'd love you less if you weren't ready to take every lost kitten to your heart. But now you are to forget her and attend only to me."
Her hand was upon his arm again. "I have never for a moment stopped attending to you. Edgar, I wonder if she knows about Morgan Channing?"
Edgar sighed in mock resignation. "What does it matter? The fascinating Mrs. Channing spends most of her time abroad these days, does she not?"
"She's coming home," Serena said. "They're opening up the big house and when I saw Ambrose the other day he told me she was due any time now. None of us who knew Morgan and Wade in the old days is likely to forget that stormy affair."
"I think it hardly matters now," Edgar repeated. "All that belongs to the past before he married Virginia. And now we will talk about no one but you."
Back in the ladies' cabin, Lora Blair Tyler tied the frayed ribbons of her bonnet and stared at her own somber reflection. Already she had forgotten Serena, returning to the treadmill of her concern. Had she made the right move in this step she had taken? Or had she done a dangerous, wicked thing that would bring disaster upon Wade as well as herself? It was so hard to know. Nothing was clear and simple any more. She turned away and went back into the wavering lamplight of the main cabin.
A glance assured her that Wade still slept in complete oblivion, in spite of the vibration of the boat, and she did not for the moment return to his side. Restlessness drove her and she walked toward the front of the ferry to glass windows where she could look out at the water. December cold seeped in upon her through the cracks and she drew her brown mantle more closely about her, pulled neatly darned gloves over her hands. She had lived too long on the rim of the South and her blood was thin. But the cold woke her, drove lethargy from her veins, and she peered ahead anxiously toward the dark mound that rose out there across the black waters of the harbor. It was a mound sprinkled with pinpoints of yellow light and she knew it must be the island. What lay ahead of her there she could not tell, but she straightened her shoulders, knowing she must face without faltering this life she had chosen.
Yet, even as she accepted this, a name flashed unbidden through her mind as it had so often in these last months. "Martin," she thought. "Oh, Martin!"
The ringing of his name in her mind carried her back to that October day in Pineville when she had stood in the kitchen of her father's house washing dishes after the noon meal. She had been thinking of him then too, and she had not even started at the sound of shots, though they meant skirmishes again on the edge of town, perhaps in the very streets. Pineville was on the border, neither wholly North nor South, and many a time since Sumter blue uniforms or gray had marched its streets.
To Doc Blair it made no difference what color a soldier wore if he were wounded or in need. Her father's great hatred was for war itself, for its wicked wastefulness of life. All his long working years had been spent in saving life and he boiled with anger against governments which valued it so little. She was glad he had dropped into heavy sleep in the darkened parlor that afternoon. He took so little time for rest these days.
Her hands in soapy water, she had returned to thoughts of Martin. They would have been married on his next leave. A leave that now would never come. He had died of wounds in Kentucky some two months before and she still could not believe it. No one she had ever known had been so gaily, so vitally alive as Martin. The little that had been carefree in her own life had vanished with his dying. Nothing mattered to her now except her father.
The rattle of shots sounded in the very street outside the house, but she was at the back and only hoped dully that her father would not hear, that no one would be hurt, that no new panes would be broken. It was not until she heard the front door open that she snatched up a towel to dry her hands and ran into the front hall.
The door stood ajar and Doc was running down the steps into sunlight when she called after him, while a riderless horse screamed in the street.
Her father snapped at her over his shoulder, "Feller by the front gate. Needs me!" and on he went.
She looked up and down the street in fright and saw the handful of cavalry, heard again the ugly rattle of shots. Shots not intended for the town's citizenry, but playing no favorites if the wrong man got in the way. Even as she stood helpless in the doorway, the damp towel twisted in her hands, she saw her father crumple, saw the familiar crimson seeping against his white shirt.
He was coughing when she reached him, the bright, betraying bubbles on his lips. She bent above him and he clutched at her, choking out words.
"Feller needs help. Never ... mind ... me. Get ... him ..."
He sagged in her arms and the crimson spread against her white apron. She knew. She had seen men die before. And as suddenly as this. No tears came because what was happening could not be. Her father was needed so badly — by others as well as herself. Doc Blair had always considered God his good friend, and surely He would not reward a life of faithful service by an act such as this. But apparently He had and Lora could only hold her father numbly against her heart while the warm October sun beat upon her head and there was a galloping in the street.
A voice shouted at her suddenly, angrily. "Gawd's sake, ma'am, get in the house! Y'lost y'senses?"
She looked up dully to note without interest that the boy on the prancing horse wore gray. The wounded horse screamed again and the Confederate soldier hesitated, perhaps counting the waste of good ammunition, then leaned from his saddle to put a bullet through the beast's head. A moment later he was gone and the horse lay quivering in the dust. Near at hand someone moaned in pain.
"Go get him," Doc had said. But why should she? If it had not been for that sprawled heap of blue out there in the dusty road her father would not have thrown away his own life, wasted it so cruelly. She held him closer against her heart, but in her mind he seemed to speak to her sternly from the dimness into which he had gone. "It is wasted if that boy dies too. I came out to save him, Lorie. Now you go do it."
She knew him so well.
Gently she lowered him to the grass beside the path and got shakily to her feet. The heap of blue in the road had turned into a man with a thick shock of tumbled brown hair and eyes that looked at her in agony as she stepped into the street.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Quicksilver Pool"
Copyright © 1955 Phyllis A. Whitney.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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