Lavinia Wheeler (Georgia, 1864)
The bodies of the slain lie in windrows along the grassy-banked roadway leading from the heart of town toward the gracefully sprawling white house. The battle has moved south and east, but the sounds of pain and death echo in the air. A Union surgeon pauses to take a needed break from the squalor and stench…
He stepped from dim cacophony into bright chaos, the pepper-sharp sting of drifting gunpowder catching at the back of his throat. He coughed, drew a deep breath, held it, and expelled it, feeling the sun-warmed air fill his lungs. It seemed, somehow, to lessen the noise behind him, screams, bitten-off curses and prayers. The dull rasp of a bone saw brought more shrieks, spiraling up higher than his ears could hear.
He grimaced and stepped farther into the sunlight.
The fighting had been hot and furious along this roadway, the artillery hurling shells into masses of gray-clad bodies that had turned to make a stand and then fallen back under the assault. Now the dead lay in rows as they had fallen, beneath the shattered branches of an alley of willows that led up to a house that seemed to stand empty and somehow silent in the hectic sunlight.
He drew another breath and looked down at his reddened hands. He would have to wash them before he returned. It didn’t matter what the others said, clean hands led to better results, and he needed everything he could find to tip the scales in favor of the lives he was trying to save. He would need to find water, to have a bucket brigade set up to bring it to the hospital tent…
He turned to peer back over his shoulder at the hospital tent, caught a glimpse of the dim interior, more horrible than anything Dante could have conceived. He wouldn’t return just yet. He needed the breather to give him some strength before he resumed command of the field hospital.
He raised his head and gazed down the alley of willows, his tired eyes fixing on the gracious lines of the house set between them. A house would most likely have a water source. A house this size would have a considerable water source; he only needed to send some men to find it.
Movement in the distance, somehow foreign to the carnage before him, made him pause to push his spectacles up on his nose and look more closely. Movement again, a flicker of color that resolved itself into a woman.
He stared, saying the word to himself. A woman, here in the middle of hell.
He could see her clearly now, the silhouette of a wide crinoline skirt, a small waist; a small woman, in fact, with a shawl draped over her shoulders. She was pale, disheveled, and clutching a bucket.
He watched her stoop to give water to a wounded man, touch him lightly on the forehead with a movement that spoke clearly of grace and compassion. She rose again to give more water, looking around her with a sort of dazed pity.
A lady, he thought.
He could see the men on the ground motioning to her, calling to her, and she turned to offer more water before straightening again. She motioned to one of the orderlies, who had paused before her. He could see her lips move. The orderly, inclining toward her in an attitude of respect, turned, looked toward the tent, and caught sight of him.
The orderly’s expression eased. He turned back to the lady and spoke to her.
As the surgeon watched, she set the bucket down, gathered her skirts and, after one last glance over her shoulder at the big house, turned back toward him, squared her shoulders, fixed her eyes on his, and moved resolutely toward him.
He faced her, inclined his head to her, and waited as she approached him...
Lavinia is descended from merchants who sailed to the coastal city of Savannah and settled there amassing a fortune in trade. As the only surviving child of her father, she manages the family’s trading ventures, administers their holdings, and holds a position of respect in Savannah society. She has watched the progress of the war, calculated the likelihood of Southern success, and sold the family’s Confederate bonds at thirty percent below their face value, buying gold with the proceeds. It has been a good investment. But even gold fades before the realities of war.
Lavinia gathered her skirts and set a foot on the stairs. “I’ve told Bathsheba to warm the sheets for you,” Callie said behind her. “Heaven alone knows what we’d have done if she’d run off like the rest!”
Lavinia smiled wearily at her. “We’d have managed,” she said.
“Just barely,” Callie said. “The good Lord said we wouldn’t be overcome, but He didn’t say we wouldn’t be beaten half to death before we triumphed. Well.” Her expression softened. “Good night, Lamb,” she said.
Lavinia smiled back at her. “Sleep tight, Callie,” she said, and went up the stairs to her bedroom. She had moved into the large bedroom that her parents had once shared, leaving her narrow, whitewashed bed without a moment’s regret. A large armoire stood against the far wall. She went to it and opened it and looked within as though it held in its shadows the key to her strength.
The shelves that had once held lavender-scented linens and petticoats were now crowded with pottery of all shapes and heights, all the colors of the earth. A forest of faces gazed back at her, and ranked before and behind them were ramekins, plates, cups, tankards, all formed of the earth, and all very, very old.
She took the largest one and touched the rough glaze. One of the settlers had dipped this in the James River and drunk from it. He and his family had probably sat of an evening and gazed into the fire, and maybe set this jug on the hearth to warm the wine that was in it. It must have been a hard life, as she had said to General Stanley. Hard, exhausting, frightening at times. But surely, surely nothing like this time of trial that had overtaken her world and split it apart!
She sighed and held the jug closer. Everything had changed so terribly that she felt lost. All the set phrases, all the carefully choreographed motions of life had broken down and fled before the maelstrom. Now it was important to bring some ceremony, some sanity back to everyday living. One clung to what was decent, one did what was right. But it was proving to be a strain.
A lone horseman was approaching her across the lawn. The rider sat still and square in the saddle with only a slight motion of his hips cushioning the movement of his mount. The sun, hovering behind his left shoulder, turned him to a black silhouette against the bright sky. He paused, then touched the horse lightly with his heels. His mount tucked its chin in and ambled toward her.
I am also giving away two signed paperback copies of The Safeguard. Leave a note on the comments section along with your email address (which I will delete) and I will have a third party who does not write and is good at reaching into bowls to retrieve pieces of paper select the winners.
If you would like to read more about The Safeguard and my other books, visit my website at THIS LINK which will take you to The Safeguard.
Elizabeth Revill follows the life of Carolyn Llewellyn in her splendid Family saga that follows Carrie from her tragic childhood through to her time as a District nurse during World War II:
(Click below for the International links to the books)
For more enjoyable reading, click here: http://www.elizabethrevill.com/blog
Who has not enjoyed the stories of Elizabeth Bennett, daughter of a humorous gentleman and a scatterbrained lady, sister of four, witty opponent and resourceful, though proper protagonist? Regina Jeffers takes us into the universe of Pride and Prejudice, opening sidelights, telling the tales of other characters who played a fleeting part, but have left the reader liking them and wondering where their paths will take them,
Elizabeth Bennett has said that Mr. Darcy is the last man she would want to marry. …But is he? Can Elizabeth Bennet come to terms with the fact the one man she most despises is the one man who owns her heart? Find out and win a giveaway book!
Our Hostess speaks of Ladies who bore the same name – Edith – and shaped history:
Helen Hollick lives on a thirteen-acre farm in Devon, England. Born in London, Helen wrote pony stories as a teenager, moved to science-fiction and fantasy, and then discovered historical fiction. Published for over twenty years with her Arthurian Trilogy, and the 1066 era, she became a ‘USA Today’ bestseller with Forever Queen. She also writes the Sea Witch Voyages, pirate-based fantasy adventures.
…and if you were not able to read last week’s posts, here are the links: