In the spirit of Christmas, I would like to share with you an excerpt from my novel, A Rebel Among Us. In this scene, the protagonist, David Summers, finds himself in an awkward predicament, and does his best to fake his way through it. This book is the recipient of the prestigious John Esten Cooke Fiction Award. I hope you enjoy this sample of A Rebel Among Us.
The dogs barked outside.
“Oh, they’re here!” Anna hurried out of the kitchen.
The young men followed.
David heard people being greeted at the front door. He stood back from the rest behind Patrick, mentally preparing himself for his performance. Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery exchanged compliments with Grace, Claudia, Sarah, and her nieces. A blonde girl with ringlets entered, followed by a Union soldier in uniform. David glared at him, repulsed by his appearance, but concealed his disgust. Anna hugged the soldier.
“It’s been so long, Stephen,” she said. “How I’ve missed you.”
David’s heart lurched.
“And you, my dear.” Stephen stepped back, removing his kepi to expose a full head of thick blonde hair. “So much has happened since I last saw you. How have you been? How is your health?”
“Fine. Everything’s fine.”
“Since your father passed, my thoughts have been with you constantly,” he said. Surprisingly, he laughed. “I remember him telling me, when you and I were both in our youth, how I should be the one to marry you once we were grown.”
“I know, Stephen. He told me many a-time as well. But now we know better. Things have changed significantly since Father passed.” She requested their coats. Turning her back to him, she threw a glare at David, who read the sarcasm in her countenance.
The soldier approached Patrick and shook his hand. Approaching David, he asked, “Anna, who do we have here?”
The girl with the pipe curls who had entered with Stephen drew closer to David, making him somewhat uncomfortable.
“This is my second cousin, David Summers, from New York,” Anna responded cheerfully.
“From New York,” the soldier repeated. Smiling, he extended his hand.
David hesitated but forced himself to take it.
“Splendid to meet you, sir. I’m Stephen Montgomery.”
“And I’m his younger sister, Mary,” said the girl with the ringlets. Pushing past her brother, she drew so close to David that he felt compelled to step back. “Hello, Mr. Summers,” she said, extending her hand. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.” Batting her lashes, her blue eyes sparkled.
“Miss.” He cordially took her hand and kissed the back of it.
She giggled. “Why, Anna, you never told us you had a cousin in New York.”
Her demeanor reminded David of Callie.
“Yes, well, we haven’t seen each other since we were very young,” Anna replied. She flashed a questioning look at David.
Patrick saw and snickered.
“And these are our neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery,” Anna introduced.
“David Summers,” Mr. Montgomery said as they shook. “Are you related to the Summers of Lancaster?”
“No, Father,” said Mrs. Montgomery, allowing David to kiss the back of her hand. “He’s from New York.”
“Oh.” Mr. Montgomery scratched his gray-streaked beard. “What do you do for a living, young man?”
David glanced at Sarah, who smiled reassuringly at him. “I’m—a farmer,” he said, remembering to accentuate his R’s.
“And what do you farm, sir?” asked Stephen.
“Crops, mostly,” he stated.
The gathering chuckled. Stephen frowned.
“David, may I see you for a moment?” Anna requested.
He excused himself and heard Sarah suggest they all take a seat while he followed Anna into the kitchen. Once he had entered, he breathed a sigh of relief.
“Try not to act so nervous,” she instructed in a hushed tone and handed him a plate of hors d’oeuvres.
He sighed again to summon his courage before following her back into the parlor.
Claudia and Abigail began their performance. They started by playing “There’s a Song in the Air.”
David set the plate on the marble-topped parlor table and looked up to see Patrick grinning at him.
Stephen stood and strode over to him. “So, Mr. Summers, are you here for the holiday?” he pried, smiling. He had a warm, friendly way about him. David wondered if Anna had misread his intentions.
“For the duration,” he responded.
Stephen’s brown eyes grew concerned. “The duration of what?”
“The war,” Anna told him. “He’s here to oversee the farm for Uncle Bill until he returns home.”
Stephen’s expression darkened. David realized Anna hadn’t misread him after all. “Oversee? What does that mean?”
Patrick moved closer to the little gathering.
“It means he’s in charge of operations, and he will probably inherit the farm,” Anna said with conviction.
Stephen glared at David. “Oh,” he said cheerfully, his demeanor transparent. “Why haven’t you enlisted, Mr. Summers?”
David glanced at Patrick. “I paid my three-hundred-dollar computation fee,” he lied.
“You’re not one of those bounty jumpers, are you?” Stephen leered.
David scoffed at the notion. He remembered being told about bounty jumpers by his messmates. Some men in the North joined up to receive a cash bounty, promptly deserted, and joined up again in order to obtain another bounty.
Mary, who had been standing close by, asked, “Where on earth did you get three hundred dollars?”
“It’s an inheritance,” said Anna. “Let’s sing carols.” She took Mary by the arm and directed her toward the box piano.
“Who died?” Stephen inquired. His eyes narrowed as he stared at David.
“His father,” Patrick interjected.
“Oh.” Stephen frowned. “Would that be the cousin of Anna’s father or mother?”
David couldn’t remember the drill. He looked at Patrick for support, but the Irishman only shrugged.
“Uh, her mother,” David replied.
Trying to mask his uneasiness, he walked across the room, nervously sat down, and wondered if he would be discovered after all. He stared at the floor, listening to Abigail play “We Three Kings from Orient Are.” Struggling to regain his composure, he thought another swig of whiskey might do him good. He glanced around, noticing how the ornaments on the tree sparkled. The firelight and candles resplendently flickered and reflected off them. Everyone was dressed in beautiful clothing, except for him. Instead, he wore Anna’s deceased father’s suit, which was barely long enough. Realizing his inadequacy, he grew even more self-conscious, so he crossed his arms and legs.
The little girls took turns playing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel,” and “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” Deciding to take a break, they headed straight for the plates of gingerbread and sugar cookies, meringues, rock candy, and chocolate creams. Patrick motioned to him, so David quickly followed him into the kitchen. To his relief, Patrick uncorked the whiskey bottle.
“How am I doin’ so far?” he asked.
Patrick handed him the bottle. “Here, take another nip.” He chuckled at his friend’s worried expression.
David took a long pull from the bottle and handed it back.
“Here’s to your nerves,” Patrick said with a laugh and swigged from the bottle.
Stephen soon appeared in the kitchen and took the opportunity to interrogate further, making David feel like a mouse being stalked by a cat.
“Where did you say you’re from, Mr. Summers?” he inquired with a smirk.
“Ala—er, Albany,” he replied, nearly choking on his mistake.
“What county is that?” Stephen asked.
Mary and Anna entered the room.
“Um, it’s in New York,” he responded, glaring at Anna in panic.
“Have you seen the armory?” asked Stephen.
David shook his head.
“The Quakenbush House? How about the Hudson River itself?”
David shook his head again. “I don’t get off the farm much.” He shrugged.
Patrick cleared his throat. “Tell us, dear Stephen, how ye managed to evade the fightin’ yourself.”
He smiled at Stephen, but David could sense deep-seated resentment between the two of them.
“I was injured at First Bull Run,” Stephen said. He ran his hand through his thick blonde hair.
“Injured, ye say?” Patrick pressed. “And where might that be?”
“Right here.” Stephen extended his left hand to show a mangled little finger.
David stifled a laugh. “Pshaw,” he said. “Is that it?”
Mary drew closer to her brother. “Stephen has friends in Washington who decided he was eligible for a promotion. He is now a sergeant-major.”
She smiled proudly at her brother, who flashed a grin at her before he turned his gaze to Anna.
David noticed the three chevrons with three rockers on his sleeve, the insignia of a sergeant-major. They were blue, which told him Stephen had served in the infantry. “You got promoted all the way up to sergeant-major for a crushed finger?” he asked in awe.
“Yes, that’s right,” Stephen fired back.
David snorted. “A promotion for an injured finger from First Mannass—uh, the Great Skedaddle,” he corrected himself and remarked, “If that don’t beat all.”
“At least I’ve seen the fighting. Unlike you.” Stephen glared at him with indignation.
David felt his anger rising. Clenching his teeth, he glowered back scornfully.
Sarah came into the kitchen. Immediately noticing the two young soldiers glaring at each other, she gasped and glanced at Anna, who appeared stunned.
“Please come into the parlor for singing and lively interview,” Sarah said, attempting to diffuse the situation. Stepping toward David, she quickly took his arm.
“Bully for Grant,” Mr. Montgomery bellowed from the parlor. “Bully for Sherman too!”
“Don’t lose your temper, dear,” Sarah whispered and escorted him into the parlor.
They entered the candlelit room. Expelling a sigh, he sat down on a green velvet chair beside Stephen’s father, who vigorously puffed on a fat cigar.
“He’s a humbug, I say,” Mr. Montgomery exclaimed, speaking to his wife and Grace.
“Who’s a humbug, Papa?” Mary inquired, sitting in a chair on the other side of her father.
“Jefferson Davis, that’s who!”
David scowled, his ire rising. Biting his lower lip to contain it, he glanced over the gathering. He felt so out of place he thought he might burst. This was becoming far more than he could bear.
“That man is a tyrant,” Mr. Montgomery continued. “When this war is over, I’ll be the first in line to see him hang.”
David stared at the Oriental rug on the floor. Unable to sit there any longer and listen to Mr. Montgomery’s rhetoric dishonoring the South’s beloved president, he abruptly stood, walked out of the parlor, and went outside onto the front porch.
Patrick followed. “Now, David, don’t be gettin’ your Irish up.” He grinned, handing him the bottle.
He took a few swigs.
Patrick jokingly remarked, “Best be slowin’ down a bit, lad.”
“Do you think they’d notice if we left?” David’s head started to spin.
Patrick snickered. “Aye. Sure’n you know our Anna needs us here. The party will be over soon enough.” He pulled out his pipe, so David obligingly handed him the pouch of tobacco he’d shoved into his pocket in preparation for his friend’s arrival. Patrick took a deep puff and said, “‘Tis nearly a full moon.”
Stephen emerged from the house. “Chilly evening, isn’t it?” His charming smile had returned. David felt like he was in the company of an alligator, calm and docile on the outside, but ready to strike and devour at a moment’s notice.
“Indeed,” Patrick replied.
“Mind if I have some of that?” Stephen pulled a pipe from his coat pocket.
David glanced over at him. He noticed the buttons, the piping, the blue fabric, and the embroidery on his sleeves that reminded him of all the Yankees he’d seen on the battlefields. He looked away. Patrick handed the pouch to Stephen, who filled the bowl of his pipe. He lit it and puffed.
“This is very good,” he stated, inhaling again.
“‘Tis David’s,” Patrick blurted.
Stephen smiled. “Hmm. Where did you get this? It tastes like Southern tobacco.”
David shuddered. He was glad the darkness concealed his reaction. “A friend of mine,” he responded, unable to say any more.
Maggie came to the front door and called them back in. They followed her into the parlor, where the discussion was still taking place. Mr. Montgomery immediately drew Patrick and Stephen into the conversation. He expressed his feelings on how he disagreed with the Copperheads, who were willing to accept the South back into the Union under a negotiation with concession, and how he agreed more with the Radical Republicans, who were in favor of total surrender and victory followed by severe punishment. He then proceeded to complain about how the confounded War Department had been purchasing shoddy uniforms for the grand army of the United States.
“They ought to be ashamed,” he said, finishing his rant.
According to Sarah, The Sanitary Commission was doing an excellent job improving conditions for the soldiers in battle. Mrs. Montgomery agreed, noting the book she’d recently read, titled Hospital Sketches. It was written by a nurse named Louisa May Alcott, who was assisting the Union army.
The topic drifted to paintings of Whistler and Monet, how men were now able to measure the speed of light, and the oil wells in Titusville and Oil Creek. Mr. Montgomery brought up Darwin’s theory of evolution, which David had discussed numerous times around the campsite with his fellow cavaliers. He sat back and listened silently while the others exchanged conjectures. Most of the discussion concerned things he knew very little about. Mr. Montgomery invited his opinion, but he declined, afraid of revealing himself.
The little girls resumed their repertoire of carols during all of this, entertaining their audience with “Joy to the World,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.”
Anna turned to David. “My cousin here has a very lovely singing voice,” she said. “David, why don’t you sing something for us?”
Mortified, David gawked at her in disbelief. “Uh, what would you have me sing, cousin?” he asked, embarrassed he was now being put on display after all.
He rebounded by suggesting, “How about ‘Silent Night’? Do you girls know how to play that song?”
Claudia nodded, turned toward the piano, and played an introduction.
Drawing a deep sigh, David began singing. He barely glanced at his audience. As he sang, his baritone voice grew stronger and more confident, and soared to a high note before he finished the first verse. Deciding that was more than enough, he stopped. Everyone applauded.
“Bravo,” Mr. Montgomery bellowed.
David grinned, feeling his face flush as he sat back down. He glanced at Anna, who beamed at him.
Not to be outdone, Stephen announced, “I brought each of you girls a gift.”
Abigail clapped her hands with delight. He withdrew several packages from under the tree.
“Abigail, this is for you. Claudia.” He handed them each a package. “Maggie, here you are,” he said.
Maggie smiled and took the present he handed to her.
“And this, darling Anna, is for you.” He gave her a small box wrapped with a bright red bow.
She smiled at him. “Why, thank you, Stephen,” she replied.
David glowered. Stephen’s display of affection repulsed him.
Tearing into her package, Abigail exclaimed, “It’s a stereograph!” She positioned one of the thick cardboard photographs in front of the lens and held it to her face.
“I have one too,” squealed Claudia.
They exchanged pictures.
David glanced at Patrick, who rolled his eyes. “‘Tis all for show,” he whispered loudly.
Mrs. Montgomery glared at him.
Maggie opened her gift. “Oh, it’s a journal. I’ll so enjoy writing in this.” She glanced at David, who raised an eyebrow at her. He wondered if he would be her topic.
Anna opened her gift. She stared into the little box cupped in her hand. “Stephen, I don’t know what to say,” she said quietly.
“It was my grandmother’s,” he explained. Walking over to her, he pulled a dainty gold necklace from the box and placed it around her neck.
David watched silently, his blood reaching its boiling point. He forced himself to remain silent and tightly clutched onto the arms of the chair to help him contain his anger. Anna’s actions confused him. After describing Stephen’s story, why was she being so receptive to him? David hoped she was putting on a performance for the Montgomery’s, but he wished she would turn her attention to him, instead, and repel Stephen’s revolting advances.
“I have something for you as well,” Anna told Stephen. She knelt beneath the tree, pulled a package out from under it, stood, and handed it to him.
He grinned and glanced around at the spectators before opening it. Staring at the contents, he hesitated for a moment before bursting into laughter. “Oh, darling, how did you know?” He pulled the contents from the box, revealing a pair of trousers. Holding them up, everyone took notice of how large they were. “I must admit,” he said, “I have put on some weight.”
David and Patrick looked at each other and grinned, recalling how Anna had told them Stephen had gotten too big for his britches. She had obviously taken it upon herself to make him a bigger pair.
“By the way, Mrs. Andrews,” Stephen said as he placed his gift on the sofa cushion, “my condolences on the loss of your cousin.”
Sarah glanced at Grace before looking back at Stephen. “Why, whatever are you talking about? I didn’t lose a cousin,” she replied.
David’s eyes grew wide.
Stephen turned to glare at him. “I thought you said it was Anna’s mother who you were related to.” He reached down toward his sidearm, the formidable revelation impending.
Anna hurried over to stand in front of David. “Is that what he told you?” She forced a laugh. “Well, it’s as I explained, Stephen. We haven’t seen each other since we were children, and I’m sure he’s forgotten, that’s all.”
“Why, yes,” Sarah said, coming to the aid of her niece. “He’s just confused. After all, he’s been through so much lately, what with the loss of his father, the journey here, and all the responsibility that has been placed upon him.”
David glanced at Patrick, who wore an amused grin on his face.
“The poor thing,” said Mrs. Montgomery. “How terrible it must be for you.”
“Yes, um, ma’am,” David responded.
Stephen was still staring at him. To his relief, he had moved his hand away from his holster.
Anna glanced down at David. She noticed his stark white face. “My dear cousin is still reeling from grief.”
“Well, we should be leaving, my dears,” Mr. Montgomery said as he gazed up at the mantle clock. “It is nearly eleven, and we must all be tucked in before midnight!”
He pulled himself up. The Montgomery’s followed his lead and made their way toward the front door. Stephen glared at David. He turned toward Anna and took her hands in his.
“Thank you, my love, for the gift, and for this enchanting evening.”
“You’re welcome, Stephen,” she replied, gently withdrawing her hands from his.
“Gentlemen,” Stephen said to Patrick and David, donning his kepi. “I hope to see you again in the next few days before I return to Washington.”
“Stephen,” Patrick acknowledged, puffing merrily on his pipe.
The ladies escorted their guests outside.
“It has been so wonderful to see you again, my dear,” Stephen said to Anna. “This reminds me of when we were children, and our families spent the holidays together. I know I’ve been away recently, but I hope we can resume our close relationship once again.”
“Yes, Stephen,” she said. “We’ll reunite soon.”
David glanced outside to see Stephen climb aboard the Montgomery’s sleigh. Finally, the sound of chinking bells drifted off into the distance. He breathed a deep sigh of relief.
Patrick chuckled. “Well, ye did fine under the circumstances, lad.” He patted David on the back.
“I reckon I’ll retire,” David weakly stated. Two traumatic Christmas Eves in a row had left him exhausted. He bid everyone goodnight and started toward the stairs.
“You two had better get to bed as well,” Grace told Claudia and Abigail, “or you won’t be asleep by the time Santa arrives.”
The girls smiled widely at each other. They rushed past David and bounded up the stairs as fast as their little legs could carry them. Once upstairs, he heard them scurry around inside their room. Soon, they appeared at his door with a book.
“Will you read to us?” Abigail asked.
“Of course, I will,” he replied with a smile.
He finished lighting his fireplace, led them back to their room, and tucked them in. Sitting on the edge of Abigail’s bed, he read the cover.
“A Visit from Santa Claus.” He opened the book and read, “‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirrin’, not even a mouse.” Glancing at the girls, their eyes large and full of wonder, he continued reading until he reached the end of the poem. “…But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight, Happy Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight. The end.” Closing the book, he stood and set it on the dresser. “Goodnight, girls.” He turned down the lamp.
“Goodnight, David,” Claudia responded.
“Goodnight, cousin.” Abigail giggled.
He closed the door and turned. Startled to see Anna standing in the hallway, he nearly jumped.
“That was lovely,” she said, smiling.
“You’d better go to bed now too, if you want a visit from Santa Claus.”
David chuckled. They stood there, smiling at each other, neither one knowing what to say next.
“Well, goodnight.” She started toward the staircase, but turned back to face him. “By the way, you were wonderful tonight. Stephen doesn’t suspect a thing.” She softly snickered and descended the steps.
His head began to spin from the whiskey taking hold. He went into his bedroom and closed the door. Dropping down onto the bed without bothering to remove his boots, he fell asleep within seconds.