>Here is an excerpt from my current novel, Fire on the Mississippi (tentative title), which is the sequel to >From the Darkness Risen and you can find that on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. This is a raw, unedited draft. I’m trying to write the whole thing from start to finish without editing and then re-approach the whole thing after an entire first draft is completed. This is a new writing method for me but I find it liberating, actually. All of the characters in this scene were real, historical figures in Civil War era St. Louis, except Eva Grimm, who is my creation and one of the central figures. This pro-Confederate network actually existed in St. Louis and I’ll be writing about the actual things they did. Robert Louden alias Charles Dale in St. Louis history was a rat bastard and I think I will thoroughly enjoy writing him. He was the equivalent of a domestic terrorist. Here is his first scene.
St. Louis, Missouri
Eva considered hiring another carriage and going back home as she stood before the building at the address scrawled on the mysterious letter clutched in her hand. Was she really back there again, back to a place of secrets and lies in her life? Thaddeus had worked tirelessly at her side to eradicate those behaviors from her character. Her secretive behavior nearly cost her the presence of that loving man in her life once already.
The limestone building towered three floors above her and appeared to be someone’s home. Surely it could not be Mrs. Sappington’s home. That woman, who regularly engaged in espionage work for the Confederacy, lived out on the Manchester road, not there in the center of the city.
Curtains fluttered in the window to the right and she suddenly felt observed. Self-consciously, she touched her bonnet and fluffed her blue plaid skirt, but did she truly want to stay?
The front door swung open and Mrs. Sappington’s round, smiling face appeared. She lightly descended the front stoop and met Eva in an embrace that instantly made her uneasy. She glanced around the street to see if anyone watched them. No one paid attention but she had never gotten along with that woman and found her greeting quite bizarre.
“Miss Reed! I mean Mrs. Grimm! So good to see you again.”
“Yes,” Eva replied with distinctive Southern politeness over her internal suspicion. “It’s been many months since we last shared company.”
“Indeed, it has. Come now, let me help you get inside out of the cold. There’s a good fire going.” Mrs. Sappington gripped Eva as if she knew about the amputation, which she found unnerving. She allowed herself to be led inside nevertheless.
The very moment the door shut them away from prying eyes, all politeness dropped from Eva’s countenance and Mrs. Sappington looked more like herself, always plotting her next move. “Why have you lured me here?” she demanded in a low, calm tone. “My husband would be none too pleased with this.”
“Your husband?” Mrs. Sappington’s voice tittered lightly with cynical laughter. “Forgive me, Mrs. Grimm, but I find it highly amusing that you are an honest and true married woman, to a Yankee schoolteacher no less! Why, if that were true, would you be here? Curiosity killed the cat. Come along.” She looped her arm through Eva’s and aided her to the back of the house. “I brought you here because of your special talents in our field matched only by your deathless love for our glorious Confederacy.”
“But I’m not involved in those things anymore.”
Eva lost her words as they entered a shadowy back parlor that seemed to exist at the end of a long, rambling maze within the house. Gaslights smoked unchecked, giving the room a macabre feeling, with the fireplace blazing. All manner of tables and desks withstood the weight of clutter from stacks of paper to stacks of books and scattered half-empty bottles of wine and partially eaten tins of crackers and even chocolate.
Four men and two women looked at her and the entire scene reminded her of a European painting of mysterious figures. One man in particular openly took measure of her as he stood with a bent arm resting on the fireplace mantle and the other hand gripping his waistcoat. His black hair combed back with oil still gave the impression of haste, as did the stubble peppering his face. He glared at her through hardened icy blue eyes. She instinctively dropped her own eyes to the floor, recalling the demure training of her childhood.
“You should have used the back door,” he said darkly.
“I had not instructed her properly,” Mrs. Sappington interjected as she poured a glass of wine. She faced Eva and thrust the glass into her hand. “Next time use the back door.”
“What is all this?” Eva pressed.
“You are among friends, my dear,” replied Mrs. Sappington, although she rather nervously swallowed mouthfuls of her own wine. She gestured to the hateful creature hanging from the fireplace mantle and the submissive creature seated nearby. “This is Robert Louden and his wife, Mary.” She moved to the back and gestured to another couple. “This is Absalom Grimes and his fiancée, Miss Lucy Glascock. The gentlemen just there are Albert McClure and Charles Clark, respectively. Their wives are with us as well but upstairs with the children at present.”
Eva nodded a general greeting to the room, short but polite.
“Everyone, this is Mrs. Eva Grimm, formerly of Charleston but now a resident of our fair city by way of her husband who teaches at St. Louis University.”
“You married pro-Union?” Louden observed as he took a long swallow from his glass.
“I don’t see how that is any of your business,” snapped Eva under the veil of cool politeness. The inquisition made her rage underneath her courteous exterior.
“Robert,” Mary, the mousy wife, attempted with a gentle touch.
“No, the question must be asked. How must we be expected to give her our trust if she willingly and knowingly married the enemy?”
“Mrs. Grimm,” interrupted Mrs. Sappington with a commanding voice, “was shot just this past summer while aiding the escape of our own Confederate men from the military prison across the river. Even with a gunshot and bleeding into the street, she concealed the identity of one of the escaped soldiers from those who meant him harm. That very gunshot resulted in the amputation of her foot above the ankle. She did all of this while married to the professor and, as I recall, he aided in the escape.”
Eva had never heard the Sappington woman speak so highly of her. Typically, she reserved her praise for Isabelle during their brief association in the spring. It appeared that the woman’s glowing report of her bravery under fire silenced the hostility hanging over the room, although Eva could not make sense of the odd gathering. It was like something out of a novel.
“If I am not told why I was brought here right this instant, I will have to take my leave,” she announced. “I feel rather unwelcome and I do not intend to stay where I feel like the enemy by association of my husband.”
Perhaps they waited for her to call their bluff. No one responded to her threat. After a moment, she placed her untouched wine glass on the nearest table and turned with her crutches to leave.
Louden’s voice cut through the room and the cold, calculating tone sounded as if it was the natural way he spoke. “We are agents dedicated to the survival of the Confederacy. A few of us have served in the army, however, the purposes and practices of this organization are done under the cloak of secrecy and without seeking public glory. We conduct our business beneath the superficial layer of society but it is no less important to the conduct of the Confederacy in Missouri and along the Mississippi.”
“You’re spies.” Eva eyed him and shrugged. “Mr. Louden, I played this game once already for General Jackson. Smile, flirt and charm one’s way into the Yankee’s good graces for facts and figures to be reported back to our army. My participation in these games resulted in my friend being raped by a Yankee officer. I’m tired. I’m weary of this life and I left it behind me.”
“What you did for General Jackson was akin to a nursery rhyme compared to what we do,” scoffed Louden. “We actually make a difference with the war effort in the West. We ensure the passage of mail through enemy lines, for instance. Much of our work is handed to the Confederate government through our mail. We’ve also begun intensifying our efforts with destroying enemy steamers carrying supplies and men. It will become the focus of our work as we have found it to be the most effective with frightening the Yankees and destroying things they need to survive. Our women are just as involved in the work as our men.”
Louden shrugged deeply and tilted his head in disbelief for effect. “If you don’t feel that you have the internal fortitude for this, then you may see yourself to the door, Mrs. Grimm. If you want to make a difference,” he paused, “and honor the glorious death of your brother for the cause, then you must join our efforts.”
“Once you join us, there is no turning back,” added Mrs. Sappington, “and no one must know. No one.”