Civil War nurse Charlotte Evans uncovers a mystery at a Mississippi plantation during the middle of the war.
* * * *
The following day proved to be very busy. A calvary company had a brief skirmish with some rebel renegades that refused to accept the news of the Vicksburg surrender. They had been plaguing the countryside for the past two months. Because of this latest military action, Green Willows received new patients for its hospital.
My second shift ended around midnight. I felt extremely tired and anxious to crawl into bed. Miriam and I were downstairs helping Doctor Henson with the patients. Soon, it would be time for Alma, Alice and Doctor Anders to relieve us, thank God.
Doctor Henson decided he could not go on any further and retired to his quarters. I volunteered to make one last round of the patients and advised Miriam to follow the doctor's example. By four minutes after midnight, the relief team had not arrived, but I was too tired to wait for them any longer. I wanted to get some sleep.
A moonbeam streaked through one of the foyer's windows and lit up the staircase. Exhausted, I struggled to climb the winding staircase, one step at a time. As I reached the top, I heard the voice whisper in my ear again. "Garde," it said. Beware. I swerved around. No one seemed to be nearby. Dear God, not only was I tired, but I was hearing things as well. I had not taken three steps when I felt a pair of hands on my back as they shoved me forward. Terrified, I cried aloud and gripped the railing. Thankfully, I did the latter or I would have sailed right over the banister.
Breathless, I turned around and there stood Mrs. Scott, her narrow, pale face contorted with rage. She shrieked loudly and attacked me again. She grabbed my throat and arm and attempted to force me over. I was young, but I was also tired and she was in a state of rage and insanity.
"I won't let you take him away from me again! I won't, you hear!" Mrs. Scott screeched as her claws forced my body to arch over dangerously. My right foot was already off the floor and I my strength was ebbing away. Exhaustion and panic began to set in my mind as we continued to struggle. This is it, I thought. It was just a matter of time before I would fall to my death. I was in serious trouble.
"Mother!" It was Major Scott. Thank goodness! I felt Mrs. Scott's hands being forced away from my body. "What in God's name do you think you're doing?"
Free from Mrs. Scott's grip, I slid to the floor, weak with exhaustion. Green Willow's matriarch now fought her son with maddened frenzy. "Let go of me! Let go! I've got to stop her before she takes you away from me!"
"Mother! Mother, stop it!" Mother and son continued to struggle. Then to my surprise, Mrs. Scott caught Green Willow's owner off guard and shoved him against the wall. Her eyes red with rage, she rushed me for the second time that night. Unfortunately, I was in no condition to fight her. Realizing I was in danger of being attacked again, I quickly stepped aside, as she made a grab for me. Finding no one to shove, Mrs. Scott fell over the banister with a shriek and slammed unto the floor.
Major Scott rushed downstairs. Ignoring my exhaustion, I quickly followed. Tears streamed down his cheeks, Major Scott knelt beside his mother's body as he murmured, "Mother" repeatedly. Marie's killer was dead.
* * * *
As it turned out, it was Miriam who had alerted Major Scott about his mother, not my screams. She had spot Mrs. Scott walking along the hall with a strange expression and rushed to the major's room.
The following afternoon, Doctors Anders and Henson helped Major Scott bury his mother next to her husband . . . the man she had loathed for so many years. The major informed the local sheriff that she had been sleepwalking, when she fell to her death. Everyone knew Deborah Raymond Scott had not been in her right mind since the war began. Perhaps even before.
For the next two days, I suspected that my friendly relations with Major Scott had ended with his mother's death. He spent the next two days in his room, in solitude. On the third morning, he finally came out and found me in a wicker chair on the second-floor piazza. He sat down in a chair beside me. I gave him the letter I had found a few days ago. He read it and looked completely stunned. "Uncle Brent and Marie?"
"Yes," I said with a nod.
"Considering how much you look like Marie, no wonder Mother went after you. And Uncle Brent . . . is my real father? I cannot believe it." He paused for a moment. "On second thought, perhaps I can. Mama and Daddy could barely tolerate each other. I used to see him heading for the slave quarters all the time."
Realizing that the good major may be revealing some very private matters about his family, I gave the impression that his words had not shocked or embarrased me. The circumstances surrounding his mother's death, along with these new revelations, seemed to have made him less discreet than he would usually have been. "Have you ever seen your mother and . . . uncle together?"
"No," Major Scott replied with a shake of his head. "But Uncle Brent used to hang around Marie and me a lot. I even remember Mama being upset that day when he got engaged to that Miss Spaulding." He paused dramatically, before adding in a small voice, "Uncle Brent died the next day."
"You don't think she had . . . shot him, do you?"
The major's eyes widened with the shock of a possible revelation. "You know, I would not be surprised." We were both silent after that.
* * * *
Our makeshift hospital remained at Green Willows for another three weeks. By then, the patients who had survived, were transferred to a hospital steamboat that would take them to Memphis. We had received word from the Sanitary Commission of General Rosecrans's defeat at Chickamunga and entrapment in Chattanooga. The War Department had ordered General Grant to relieve them. So, Doctors Henson and Anders, Miriam, Alma, Alice and I were ordered back to Vicksburg to prepare for a trip to Bridgeport, Alabama and join Grant's troops.
The remaining Scott household stood on the veranda out front, to bid us good-bye. The calvary company stationed with us were mounted and waiting. I was the last one to say good-bye. I kissed Maum Janey on the cheek. "Take care of yourself honey," she said. "I don't know how long this war will last but you make sure you get home safely."
"I'll do my best," I answered. I leaned down to hug Shelby. He gave me a quick peck on the cheek and whispered good-bye. I finally turned to Major Scott and extended my hand for him to shake. It seemed strange that I would miss him, considering my first misconception of him. "I am sorry about what happened to your . . ." I started to say.
He waved it aside. "Please. You really should not apologize, Miss Evans. After all, Mo . . . she was trying to kill you. I am just relieved that you managed to come out of this safe." He still had not taken my hand. "Listen, I doubt if we'll ever see each other again, but I was wondering if you would mind us writing to each other now and then." His dark eyes expressed hope.
I stared back and thought of the differences that would keep us apart. But we had a few things in common. Mutual attraction, dislike of slavery and strong personalities. Frankly, I saw no harm in corresponding with him occasionally. "Of course," I replied. Major Scott took hold of my outstretched hand, and kissed it instead, taking me completely by surprise.
I entered the carriage blushing fiercely. As the carriage started down the driveway, everyone stared at me, but remained silent about the kiss. If someone had, I would have gladly helped that person out of the carriage - the hard way.
I turned in my seat for one last look at Green Willows. Major Scott, Shelby and Maum Janey remained on the veranda, waving. I waved back. My eyes raised to the second-floor piazza. There stood a female figure, her skirt billowing about her. She waved slightly and I murmured under my breath, "Au revoir, Marie." And the figure disappeared from sight.