Excerpt from Double-Edged Sword
I’m very excited about my new book, Double-Edged Sword, and I wanted to share an excerpt from the novel. This is from the first chapter. It will give you an idea of what it must have been like to see the South after the Civil War ended.
Excerpt from Double-Edged Sword
He turned and drove several blocks, trying to recall the direction of the house where he had stayed on his first night away from home. Everything appeared so different, and bluecoats were everywhere, swarming like flies. Down the street, a row of sutlers’ shops had been erected for the benefit of the Union troops. The newlyweds turned a corner and continued on, past structures that were once beautiful homes, but now sat empty, the glass in their windows shattered, their walls crumbling. Tent cities and clapboard structures cluttered vacant lots. Some of the boards were still adorned with wallpaper, an obvious declaration that the walls had been torn from citizens’ private dwellings. David recognized a two-story house, even though the paint was peeling around the window frames and the yard was filled with knee-high weeds.
“This is it?” Anna asked. “It isn’t quite how you described it.”
“It ain’t how I remember it, either,” he said.
He jumped down and tied the mule, then assisted his wife. They climbed the steps together. David tapped on the door. The brass knocker that had been there before was gone; holes from the bolts that had held it in place were all that remained. There came no response, so after a few moments, he tapped again.
“Last time I was here, she had a butler. Tall black feller, name of … Henry.” David nodded as he recalled. “He didn’t take to us much.” He flashed Anna a grin.
“He’s long gone by now, no doubt,” she said.
David tapped once more, but still no response came, so he tried the knob. The door stuck in the jam at first, but then creaked loudly on its hinges.
“Do you think we should go in there?” asked Anna.
He stepped inside. The long hallway was as dark as he remembered, but the lavish paintings that had adorned the walls were missing. Anna followed him down the hall to a large room that was empty except for a solitary wooden stool that squatted in the center. The ornate draperies David remembered had been ripped down, and a transparent gauze sheet had been draped across the broken windows in an attempt to keep insects out. The fireplace stood dark and empty, and the tapestries David remembered seeing were all gone, along with the furniture and knick knacks.
“I don’t think anyone’s here,” Anna whispered.
David walked to the window and looked outside. The back of the house was just as neglected as the front, and the stable doors yawned open with a passing breeze. There was nothing inside. He heard a thump and reeled around to see a small man standing behind Anna. She turned and gasped at the same time before rushing to her husband.
“Can I be of service to y’all?” the man asked feebly.
“Josiah?” David said, taking a step closer. “Is that you?”
The little man held his hand out to him. “That would be me. How may I help y’all?”
“Don’t you remember me?” asked David, trying to keep his voice quiet. “I’m David Summers. I came here with my friend, Jake Kimball. We met on the train from Huntsville, remember?”
The man didn’t seem to recall, so David went on.
“Your wife, Miss Martha, she had us stay the night. And her sister was here. Miss Mattie?”
“When did you say this was?” The old man shuffled to the wooden stool and sat down.
“It was in April of sixty-three. We were on our way to jine up with Jeb Stuart.”
The words seemed to register. Josiah looked up and smiled. “Yes. Yes! I believe I do remember you!” He stood up and vigorously shook David’s hand.
“This here’s Anna, my wife,” he introduced.
She stepped toward him. “Sir,” she said, taking his bony little hand in both of hers.
“Where’s Miss Martha? I’d surely like to see her.” David chuckled. “She made me promise to stop by the next time I was in town.”
The smile vanished from Josiah’s furrowed face. Suddenly, he looked very old. “She’s gone,” he said flatly.
“Where did she go?” Anna inquired.
Josiah sank back down onto the stool. “She left me … when the Yankees came. She got so upset with the occupation that one day, she …” His voice trailed off.
David exchanged glances with his wife. “She what, Josiah?”
He looked up at them, his eyes filled with grief. “She took the pistol out from under the mattress … and put it to her head.”
“Dear God!” exclaimed David.
Anna’s mouth dropped open.
“It was more than the poor darlin’ could bear, havin’ Hooker’s army come in here and take everything we owned. They took the nigger, they took the horses, they even took the rugs out from under our feet. Stripped clean, jist like a plague of locusts.” He paused, the silence overwhelming, then said, “Wilst they were fightin’, there was a lunar eclipse. Do you reckon it was some kind of omen?”
David gulped. “What happened to Miss Mattie?” he asked, afraid to hear the reply. “Where’s Miss Martha’s sister?”
“She’s gone too. Ran off before they got here, and I haven’t seen nor heard from her since.”
“Do you know where she went?” Anna asked, taking her husband’s arm to steady herself.
“No idea. I’m all alone here. Have been for quite some time now.”
David was at a loss, not knowing what to say. “We could take you somewhere. So you ain’t alone,” he suggested.
“And where would that be?” Josiah stood, slowly straightening. “The whole of the South is like this now. And besides, this here’s my home, and I’ll be damned to leave it.”
“Can we do anything for you?” Anna inquired.
“Jist leave me be, young’uns. I can fend for myself. Nice of y’all to stop by, though.” He sashayed into the parlor, or what David remembered to be the parlor, and closed a dark oak door behind him.
“We should go,” suggested Anna.
David glanced at her, unable to speak. He felt helpless, like he should do something, but was at a loss as to what. She took his hand and led him outside, where they boarded the wagon in silence and rode back to the depot. Chattanooga, David understood, had aged tremendously, just like Josiah. The town of two thousand was now overrun with bluecoats who seemed unconcerned with the annihilation they’d caused. What was once an elegant town was now demoralized by Yankees, and the whole city appeared beaten down and ancient.