Image in the Looking Glass

Image in the Looking Glass
Jacquelyn Cook

July 2012 $12.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-128-9

She may survive the war..but only if a mysterious enemy doesn’t kill her at home.

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She may survive the war...

but only if a mysterious enemy doesn’t kill her at home.

With the Civil War threatening the citizens of Macon, Georgia, young Caroline Hannah is forced to leave her studies at Wesleyan Female College. When she arrives at Looking Glass Plantation to live with her mother’s cousins, she instantly senses peculiar tensions in the family. Cousin Sophronia is welcoming, but Cousin Penelope clearly doesn’t want Caroline there. Why? Is Penelope capable of channeling her disapproval into threats, violence, even murder?

After the terrifying incident at the mill, Caroline sank wearily into bed. Night fell, and still her strength had not returned. Letting go, she slept. And dreamed.

Screaming and struggling and beating her fists against the pillow, Caroline fought death in a cotton-lined coffin. A streak of light came toward her. Chaddy was bending low.

"Hush, child,” she said. Setting the candle beside the bed, she grabbed for a basin as Caroline bent to vomit.

The nightmare and the retching reoccurred throughout the night. When daylight finally came, she breathed a thankful prayer that she had been spared and joyfully watched the sunrise. Gingerly, she moved sore muscles. Pain stabbed, wakened her fully and drove the fuzz from her brain. Now recalling the frightening episode with more clarity, she clapped her hands over her mouth in horror. She had not stumbled and fallen into the press. She had been pushed.

Trembling violently, Caroline relived that instant. She had discounted all of the things that had happened since she came to Looking Glass Plantation.

But there was no discounting those hands. Someone was determined to kill her.

Jacquelyn Cook is the beloved author of antebellum Southern novels including SUNRISE, THE GATES OF TREVALYN, THE GREENWOOD LEGACY, and THE RIVER BETWEEN series.


Coming soon!


Chapter 1

Purple trumpets shattered against Caroline’s wildly rocking hoop skirt as she ran heedlessly along the garden path past spikes of foxgloves. Crushing the letter against her mouth to stifle her cries, she plunged through the arch of the shuttered-and-latticed gazebo and sank to the cool marble floor. She had no direction, no one to care for her. Leaning her head against the bench she shook with sobs.

Fighting for control, Caroline clapped her hands against round cheeks rosy with embarrassment. She had left Cousin Penelope standing, mouth agape. Even before the tall, plain woman handed Caroline the letter upon her arrival, Penelope’s expression had belied her cordial invitation to take refuge on Looking Glass Plantation.

Papa’s instructions had been to leave Wesleyan Female College and come to southwestern Georgia for safety, but even here the signs of war threatened normal life. When Caroline had alighted from the train in the village, clusters of soldiers were waiting.

Tension had quivered on the sultry air as the buggy bumped along the red dirt road that snaked its way through an impenetrable pine forest. Caroline wondered why the strapping farmhand, Will, who had come to meet her, had scanned the woods with the eyes of a bird about to take flight.

Surely we are far from the battle lines, she thought.

Now as she smoothed the crumpled letter and tried to read Papa’s loving words, she reflected, Nothing is as it seems. She noted the date, April 1, 1864, one month ago, but once again her eyes riveted to the strange handwriting that added contradictory words to the page. Both her father and her fiancé, Samuel, had been killed in this war that was tearing apart the states and everyone’s lives.

A short-legged black dog skidded by the doorway, yipping. It trotted back to her and licked her face.

"Oh, Shadow...” She scooped the dog into her arms and buried her golden curls into the fluffy fur. "You’re the only one left in the world to love me.”

Loneliness overwhelmed her. There was no one anywhere to write a loving letter to her, to share her small triumphs and joys, to turn to with her insurmountable problems. Her cousins would not want a dog in this perfectly manicured home. Remembering the way Penelope had drawn away in surprise when they had met just now, she felt she was not wanted either. Even if her tuition had been paid, she lacked train fare back to her friends at school.

Stroking Shadow’s silky ears, she smiled sadly and tried to remember the warm feeling of her school chums pressing around her like cheeping biddies around a mother hen. Isolated from dilemmas, they had been happy at school in spite of the fact that this silly war had been going on for three years. Enjoying the challenge of the rigorous courses, Caroline had helped her friends and encouraged everyone to study together as they worked diligently toward college degrees. With all of their sweethearts and brothers away at war, they missed having young men call upon them. Searching for fun, the vivacious girl had led in singing happy songs after vespers. Long after "lights out,” the roommates whispered together of their dreams. Caroline’s goal was to get an education, have her fill of fun, and then marry Samuel.

Dead! Dead! The throbbing thought numbed her. The world seemed upside down. Past and future died with Papa and Samuel.

Shadow squeaked as the trembling girl squeezed too hard. Murmuring an apology, Caroline patted the dog’s long ears and set her down on the marble floor of the gazebo. Throwing off her blue bonnet and running her fingers through her long blond hair, she stared up at the peaked, shingled roof and wondered how she could go on living with all of her security ripped away and no one to love her. A breeze, filtering through the latticed sides of the summerhouse, cooled her cheeks. Opening the drawstring of her reticule, Caroline fished out her handkerchief, dabbed at the tear streaks, and stood shakily. She did not know which way to turn. She sighed. The first step must be to apologize to Cousin Penelope for her rude behavior. She drew in a determined breath.

The bitter fragrance of surrounding boxwoods suddenly mingled with a whiff of lavender. Rustling taffeta alerted her that someone was approaching along the garden path. She shrank from the open doorway behind one set of the green wooden shutters that screened four walls of the octagonal gazebo.

"Find her and send her away!” A voice echoed sharply in the stillness. "You should not have...” She gulped a rattling breath. ". . . told Rufus you’d let her visit. It is useless to—umh—open old wounds.”

Behind the sheltering shutter, Caroline compressed the steel hoops in her crinoline to keep her voluminous blue worsted skirt from being seen through the doorway. She could not face them yet.

"You know I can’t send her back, Sophronia,” answered Penelope in a nasal whine. "Rufus fears Wesleyan might be forced to close its doors as so many other institutions have done since the war. He’s too far away to look after her. You know there’s no other family!” Her tone changed to smug satisfaction. "I was delighted to write him that we’d keep her ’til he could come. When times get better, he will find the money to send her back to school.”

Caroline dropped her head in her hands, thankful that she had sensed Papa lacked funds to pay tuition and had suppressed a pout when he told her to leave the Macon, Georgia, college for safety below the battle lines. As her mother’s cousins, Sophronia Bearden and Penelope Greene, strolled toward her, she swallowed the bitter taste of panic. Trembling with fear of discovery, she wondered how she could leave here with only a few coins in her reticule?

The nasal voice continued hesitantly. "She must have run into the kitchen garden. Rufus intended to come for her soon, but I’m very much afraid that letter contained bad news... The way she bolted—perhaps her fiancé...”

"The idea of having her here is foolhardy! You know,” she said, panting, "no good will come of this!” The older woman’s voice was breathy and tremulous, but it commanded attention.

"Now, Sophronia, you must understand that their home is north of the battle zone. Right now it’s totally inaccessible. Besides that, Berry will want to stay here with a pretty girl his age, and Rufus will come, and we’ll have parties—”

"You’re letting your emotions get the better of your good sense, Penelope. There’s no telling what—umh—might happen if she stays, and...”

Their voices drifted down the path. Caroline remained drawn back stiffly. Shadow cowered under the safety of her skirt. Afraid of strangers, the tiny dog shivered silently. Caroline waited until she was certain they had left the garden. Resetting the tortoiseshell combs that held back her tumbling curls, she straightened her rumpled clothing, put on her bonnet, and composed her dainty features. She must try to piece her life together. The first step was to face her cousins. She started resolutely down the path.

Confused by the intricate geometrical design, she was unsure which curve or angle of the path to take. Shadow followed tail down, her small body drooping.

"It’s all right, Shadow,” Caroline whispered to steady her own nerves as they advanced along cleanly swept walks bordered by clipped boxwoods. Perennial flowers filled the beds in a gay profusion. This was a sunny place of well-ordered beauty; yet, Caroline shivered with the contagion of Shadow’s fear. Evidently, Papa was wrong about this place being safe. From the moment she had reached the nearby town she had sensed a tension in the atmosphere. Somehow, it was not the sleepy village it seemed.

Trying to relax, she bent over the circular rosebed and took deep breaths of the sweet fragrance of La France and Marechal Neil. Touching the dainty buds of Devoniensis, she wondered if Mama had smelled the roses when she came for extended visits. According to Papa, she had especially loved the motherly Sophronia. Although she and Penelope were nearer the same age, they were never close. Papa met Mama while she was visiting here. They married after an engagement of only a few months, a shockingly short time twenty-five years ago.

Smiling at the remembrance that their love had flowered in this garden, Caroline chided herself for her silly fear. Reaching the place where she had run into the brick-walled, formal area, she examined the foxgloves with chagrin. The tall spikes were as high as the petite girl’s head. With a worried frown, she picked up some of the trumpet-shaped purple blossoms knocked off in her haste. Only the lower blooms had been disturbed. The fresh ones at the top of the spikes still gleamed, and their little, spotted throats looked as if they were spilling tiny drops of dew.

"We must be more careful, Shadow, if we are to be welcome here.”

At the entrance, marked by two large hydrangeas, she stepped through the wrought iron gates into the wide avenue bordered by tremendous boxwoods. She looked around warily but did not see the sisters.

On the left was a neat building with a clean-lined efficiency that suggested a plantation office. No one was stirring among the outbuildings behind the main house. Beyond the cookhouse, she wandered through the kitchen garden where culinary and medicinal herb beds were bordered by tilted bricks. Fragrance drifted from freshly watered mint. Its clean scent was so strong that she could not smell the garlic, although she identified the tall, straight stems topped with round lavender globules.

Farther down a narrow road, stood a smokehouse, a "necessary house,” a barn, cribs, and further still a row of cabins. Seeing no one, she staunchly returned toward the front door determined to behave like a proper guest.

Circling right, she approached the entrance of the shining white Greek Revival mansion. She felt dwarfed to insignificance by the huge round columns that rose thirty feet from ground level to the second story.

Gathering her courage, she crossed the wide front porch, tapped at the double doors over which a wrought iron balcony hung suspended, and held her breath as moments stretched nervewrackingly before a large woman pulled back both doors. Her round face puckered in dismay as if she were about to cry, and she twisted her long white apron which fell nearly to the floor with only the hem of her blue and white cotton skirt peeping out.

"I... ,” Caroline stammered. She had expected Penelope to open the door again. "I... I’m Caroline Hannah.”

"Lord ’a’ mercy, chile,” she said, puffing. "I know you be Miss Mary Lillian’s girl. Look just like her.” She clucked her cheek and a smile spread over her broad face. Then she shook her head until the gold hoops at her ears trembled and the white kerchief tied around her hair threatened to come askew. "You be too young and pretty. You shouldn’t of come to this here plan’ation.” She clucked again. "Bad clouds here. Bad clouds. Go back where you come from!”

"Nonsense!” snapped Penelope, startling them. "Stop frightening the girl, Chaddy.” She motioned Caroline into the wide entrance hall that extended completely through the middle of the house with rooms off to either side.

"I apologize for my shameful behavior earlier, Cousin Penelope. I was brought up much better than that, but the letter you gave me contained terrible news.” Tears flooded to the surface, choking her. She thrust the letter toward Penelope unable to say more.

"I was afraid you had bad news, but young girls are so emotional. Surely it’s not as terrible...” Her eyes found the notation at the bottom, and her plain features crumpled with grief. Caroline noticed that she had great difficulty controlling herself. From the folds of her full-skirted black dress, she produced a handkerchief whose tatted edge matched her collar and blew her large, hooked nose.

They stood in uncomfortable silence. Was Penelope so upset about her father’s death or about having an unwelcome guest?

Blowing her nose again, Penelope said, "Chaddy will show you to your room. When you’ve had time to freshen up, come down to the parlor, and we’ll have tea.” She gestured to the room at her left. "This news does change your status, but a cup of tea always helps one to bear the worst situation. Later we will see what to do with you.” She turned away.

"Please, Cousin Penelope...” Caroline’s voice squeaked with misery. "May I take Shadow to my room just for now? She’s very well-behaved, I promise you. She’s much too frightened to leave me until she gets used to the strange place.” Her last words came as a near wail as she moved aside to show Shadow cringing behind. With her legs tucked under and her soft, appealing eyes concealed by a fall of hair, the Spaniel part of her showed only in her long, silky ears.

Penelope looked with disgust at the dejected lump of black fur. Then she said with a snort, "I don’t like animals in my house, but she certainly is a pitiful specimen. Take her with you for tonight. But see to her.”

"Oh, thank you, ma’am.” She scooped Shadow up with one arm and her carpet satchel with the other and followed Chaddy as she puffed her way up the spiral staircase with Caroline’s larger bag.

Having enough problems without the old servant foretelling doom, Caroline was determined not to be affected by her superstitions. Meekly mounting the stairs, she wondered how to befriend her. She followed silently as Chaddy opened a door on the right side of the hall.

"Oh, it’s lovely!” Caroline stepped into the serenity of warm cream walls. The beautiful bed of white iron and gleaming brass looked inviting. The canopy above it was whipped cream dotted swiss topped by a brass crown that skimmed the ceiling. The dotted swiss draperies tied around the bedposts and the dust ruffle brushed the floor in deep scallops.

Caroline relaxed. She scuffed her feet slightly before she stepped onto the goldenrod of the needlepoint rug. "It’s lovely. Thank you, Chaddy.”

Taking off the hot coat of her worsted traveling costume, she went to the marble-topped washstand, poured water from the porcelain pitcher into the bowl, and splashed it on her face. Greatly refreshed after removing the soot from the train ride, she peeped around the linen towel.

Dark face clouded with a scowl, hands on ample hips, the old woman watched with eyes darting and lips muttering.

"I promise we won’t be any trouble, Chaddy.” Caroline flashed her sunniest smile. "And we don’t eat very much.” She included Shadow who had immediately hidden herself underneath the bed.

"Humph. Us got food in the storehouse. Feed all the no ’count folks in this here county.” She smoothed her wrinkled apron. "Feed a scrap of a girl and a rag of a dog. But you cain’t stay here. You got to go tomorrow.”

"I wish I could, but I don’t have the money for train fare or for tuition if I did get back to school.” She struggled to make her shaky voice pleasant. "Why don’t you like me?”

Chaddy shook her head in a motion that set her earrings jingling. "I loved Miss Mary Lillian. I dreamed last night that pretty thing come here again—and she died. That must be you. Sumpin bad’ll happen if you stay.”

Startled by her words, and seeing by her dourly drooping cheeks that she believed them, Caroline forced herself to laugh. "Get along with you now, Chaddy. I’ll be fine. I must get ready for tea. Cousin Penelope will be waiting for me.” She turned her back.

Brushing the cinders out of the golden curls that fell halfway to her waist, she wondered why Chaddy was determined to prophesy doom. Her reflection did resemble Mama. Staring in the looking glass, she could hear again Papa’s loving voice: "You grow more like dear Mary Lillian every day, Caroline... the way your hair escapes its fastenings into golden ringlets around your face. It’s apparent that you’re going to remain just as tiny as she.”

For a moment she was warmed as she remembered his approving smile and eyes full of love. Rather than arguing with his assessment, she had reconciled herself that she would always be too short and treated like a child. She had not wasted time being dissatisfied with her looks.

The wan face looking out of the mirror was tearful as she recalled how her father had lavished love on her without resentment even though Mary Lillian had died giving birth to her after only a few happy years of marriage. He never stopped loving Mary Lillian. He enjoyed retelling experiences that they had had together and sharing her excitement over the small joys of living.

Trying to take courage from the memory of their love, Caroline squared her shoulders and hurried to present herself to Cousin Penelope and Cousin Sophronia.

When Caroline stepped into the parlor, Cousin Penelope was already seated before a blue and white porcelain tea service. The room was beautifully appointed with the warmth typical of aristocratic Southern homes; however, Caroline shivered with a chill of nervousness as she sat beside Penelope on the heavy, square-shaped Empire sofa.

Looking around the room, which preserved the pure form of the Greek Revival with simple elegance of architectural detail in woodwork, moldings, and fireplaces, Caroline felt that her smile was stiff. "It’s a perfect background for your Empire furnishings with their use of Greek curves and metal ornaments.” She cleared her throat, trying to gain the proper register for polite, tea-time conversation. "Oh, I love the rich, bright colors of that picture! Is it silk embroidered on silk?”

"Yes,” Penelope agreed curtly. Her black hair was parted in the middle and pulled back severely into a knot at the back of her neck. "Sister is not feeling well. She’s taking tea in her own room.” She passed a plate of tiny, flaky biscuits.

Caroline ladled on soft butter and sticky fig preserves. Suddenly she realized she was eating more than was considered ladylike.

"We still have enough of what we raise here,” said Penelope looking down her hooked nose, "but other things are in short supply or selling for outrageous prices. Salt is five dollars a sack, and flour is seven to nine dollars a barrel. Of course, we are glad to share with you—until you can make other arrangements.”

"Yes, ma’am.” Caroline swallowed a large mouthful. "I appreciate your letting me visit. Surely I’ll be able to find out soon if there’s enough from my father’s estate for me to finish my education. With a degree, a suitable position should become available.”

"A degree?”

"Yes, ma’am, I finished the usual academy for young ladies.” Blistering her lip with a scalding sip of tea, she chattered nervously. "I learned how to sew and play the piano, how to enter and leave a drawing room correctly, and how to paint a daisy in watercolors, but, oh, I wanted to learn more. I finally persuaded Papa to let me enter Wesleyan Female College.” Her voice shrilled and words tumbled out unbidden. "Did you know it’s the first college in the entire world to grant honors, degrees, and licenses to women the same as the ones conferred to men in colleges and universities? When Catherine Brewer received her diploma in 1840, it was the very first ever awarded from a women’s college.”

"It’s time girls were allowed more than a butterfly education.” Penelope nodded with a smile of approval.

"Yes, but even though Wesleyan’s charter was granted way back in 1836, many men still oppose it and hold the position that women are incapable of learning.” She laughed and shrugged her narrow shoulders. "My Samuel was one of them. He thought we should be married instead of my wasting time in school. The only reason Samuel agreed to an extended engagement was that the states started seceding and he... and Papa joined the army. The best solution was for them to leave me in college—” A sob jerked forth, unbidden. "Some parents have become frightened by the war and sent for their daughters, but the college is steadfastly continuing classes. If only I could go back...”

"Now, now don’t you worry.” Suddenly Penelope was all smiles and friendliness. "We will be delighted to have a pretty, young thing like you for a visit. Go to your room now and rest. Berry won’t be here tonight, but change that dirty frock before you come down to supper and meet Sophronia.”

Returning to her room, Caroline tried not to dwell on the fact that Penelope’s apparently friendly invitation to take temporary refuge here had emphasized the words prettyand young—the words Chaddy kept muttering.

Emotionally drained, she stepped out of her grimy traveling attire and the steel hoops and petticoats Paris fashion decreed. Wearily she crept beneath the linen coverlet. Tears slid down her cheeks. Even though she had not seen Papa and Samuel for two years, she had been secure in the knowledge of the love they lavished, asking little in return. Surrounded by friends in similar circumstances, waiting for the war to be over, Caroline had filled days, from morning until late at night. Now the only thing to fill the aching void was the scent of Shadow, hiding under the bed, reassuring her that one warm, friendly being loved her. Sleep came in drifts. The dread of meeting Cousin Sophronia still awaited her. The plantation was a place of sunshine, flowers, and beauty; yet strange contradictions made Caroline shiver. She felt like hiding under the bed with Shadow.



Chapter 2

Gathering darkness alarmed Caroline when she awoke. Fearing she had slept past suppertime and further affronted Cousin Sophronia, she fumbled to light a candle. Having been too upset to unpack, she resigned herself to a mass of wrinkled clothing. To her delight she discovered that someone had folded her petticoats and everyday cottons into dresser drawers and hung the best clothes in the large wardrobe.

Quickly she selected her Sunday best, a yellow silk with five flounces beginning with a narrow tier below the waist and ending with a deep ruffle at the hem. The loose borders spread and fluttered as she brushed her hair in a head-hugging style. With her hair falling loose, she looked like a little girl. Wrinkling her nose at her reflection, she added a flat, double bow of velvet ribbon to the crown of her head to add height, give courage.

Hurrying down the stairs into the ladies’ parlor where they had taken tea, she stopped to look in the petticoat mirror on the console below the keepsake-covered shelves of the étagère to make sure that no crinoline was showing. Anxiously, she moved beyond the Corinthian columns that framed sliding doors opening into the gentlemen’s parlor. This room was also empty. The twin parlors were separated from the dining room by another pair of sliding doors of beautifully etched ruby glass.

Smiling in relief, she stepped into the dining room, brilliantly lit with candles glowing in sconces around the walls and in a chandelier hanging low over the table. Each branch of the crystal chandelier swooped down in a graceful curve and back up to lift a lighted candle. Refracted light twinkled from the lustrous woods of the furniture and the gleaming silver.

A slender young girl entered with platters of food.

"Good evening,” said Caroline sweetly.

The girl’s face contorted. Opening her mouth soundlessly, she set a platter of fried chicken down with a whack.

"I’m sorry I startled you. I’m Caroline Hannah,” she said in a soothing tone. "I’ll be visiting here for a while.”

The frightened girl made no reply.

"What’s your name?”

"Ret,” she whispered shyly.

Cousin Penelope bustled into the room. "Ah, my dear Caroline, you look greatly refreshed. A little more food and rest and things will look much better to you tomorrow.”

"I don’t know what I should do without you, Cousin Penelope. Thank you so much for your kind hospitality.”

"Think nothing of it.” The tall woman waved both hands to dismiss her appreciation. "Come, sit down. Sister is too ill to join us tonight.” She passed a bowl of dried field peas. "We’ll have better fare as soon as the garden comes in.”

Gnawing a drumstick ravenously, Caroline took a second piece of cornbread and assured her, "It seems a banquet to me!” The piercing black eyes slowed her down. Eating more politely, she struggled for something to say. "You mentioned that Berry would not be here this evening. I think I’ve heard the name, but I don’t remember who he is.”

Penelope beamed. "Berry Bearden. My nephew. A fine young man. I’m very proud of him.” Her sharp features softened with tenderness. "Sophronia’s son, you know. He is in business and does a great deal of traveling. He visits here every chance he gets. The dear boy is so attentive to his elders.”

Sophronia’s son must be well past middle age, especially since he was not in the army, Caroline thought. She dismissed him with a bite into a crisp watermelon rind pickle. "Is that all of the family? It seems that I recall hearing of another sister named—Adeline?”

"Adeline died—quite young,” she replied. "Sophronia is a widow, so that leaves just us three.”

At that moment Chaddy entered with dessert.

Penelope brightened with the air of a pleased hostess. "I know you’ll like this sweet potato pudding. It was our mother’s favorite recipe. Tell me, how were you allowed to take your dog to school?”

Hating to put down a spoonful of the fluffy cinnamon cloud dessert, the girl laughed easily for the first time since her arrival. "I didn’t take her there; I found her there. Shadow was a stray. One day between classes I was sitting out on the veranda. Along came some boys chasing a pitiful little dog. Throwing rocks. Whooping like Indians. I just had to run out and stop them.”

"You’re just as softhearted as Rufus was,” Penelope said, smiling.

Pleased that Penelope had thought well of her father, Caroline beamed at a newfound friend. She resumed the story in a heartier voice. "I discovered the dog had been alone for quite some time. The boys had taken to making sport of her daily. She was pitifully afraid. I thought she was a puppy—she was just a tiny rag of dirty hair and bone. I just hid her in the flowing sleeves of my dress and slipped her to my room.”

"Isn’t she a puppy?”

"No. When my roommates and I fattened her up, we realized she’s an old dog. She was well-trained by someone, but I never could find out who. She became my shadow. It was hard to keep her hidden at school.” She took another bite of crusty pudding. "I just couldn’t leave her there. Shadow’s been so mistreated that kindness can’t seem to overcome her fears.” Caroline’s blue eyes met Penelope’s. "I promise to watch her and not to let her cause any trouble.”

"See that you do. Sophronia would be distraught if she dug up any flowers.” She gestured with her spoonful of pudding. "You must be careful not to upset Sophronia.”

"I’m sorry Cousin Sophronia is not feeling well and I could not meet her.” Caroline winced slightly at the untruth; she was thankful the meeting had been postponed. "Is she seriously ill?”

"Her health is bad. She will do well for a time and then have another...” Penelope pursed her lips wryly. ". . . spell.”

Penelope arose brusquely and led the way into the music room, where she suggested that Caroline play the piano for her. Caroline lifted her skirt daintily around the stool and sat with hands poised nervously over the mother-of-pearl keys while Penelope showed her the front panel, inlaid with mother-of-pearl and softly colored lacquered flowers. Caroline knew that her simple Chopin étude, performed dutifully, did not do the piano justice. Pleading weariness, she excused herself, took Shadow for a short walk, and then tumbled into bed.

Awakened next morningby a fresh, cool breeze, Caroline responded with youthful resiliency to the beautiful spring day. Penelope was right, she nodded. She did feel a great deal more courage to face the sudden turn of her life. Dressing hurriedly, she descended the curving staircase, noting that, although it was early for her city ways, this household had been stirring for some time. Dew-freshened roses were on a hall table that shined without a speck of dust. She looked about uncertainly, then followed the hallway to the back of the house. She stood for a moment on another columned porch. At the left corner the dogtrot, a covered walkway with a raised wooden floor, connected with the cookhouse.

The drifting aroma of frying ham drew her into the semidarkness of the brick-walled kitchen. Sniffing the clean smell of wood burning in the fireplace and the spicy scent of herbs hung from the mantel to dry, she squinted to adjust her eyes.

"So, you woke up, lazy bones.” Chaddy laughed before pulling a dour face. "You best hurry if you’re goan to get to Anderson to catch yo’ train.”

"I’m not going to catch a train today, Chaddy.” Caroline dimpled. "I’ll get up earlier tomorrow, but I’d be obliged if you’d give me some breakfast now. That ham smells so-o-o good!”

"That’s fo’ dinner.” Chaddy frowned. Her broad face was too used to smiling to remain foreboding, and she began to beam happily as she bent over a huge iron pot hanging on an arm over the open fire. She dipped a stuffed sausage out of the boiling grease.

Caroline settled on the bench in front of a simple table of native pine and waited. Chaddy brushed hot coals from the top of a black iron Dutch oven sitting on short legs over more coals on the hearth and took out large, brown biscuits. She poured coffee from a blue enameled coffeepot sitting on the hearth. Caroline’s house in town had one of the new iron cookstoves, but food had never tasted as good as this meal cooked entirely on the open fireplace. Savoring the biscuits, soft inside, crusty outside, she licked her greasy fingertips.

Ret slipped into the room with a pail of foamy milk in each hand. Without a word, she strained the liquid through a clean, white cloth, poured a glassful of the warm milk, and set it by Caroline’s plate with a shy smile. Chaddy chided Ret for finishing the milking so late. Both cast sidelong glances at Caroline as she ate.

Afraid to ask for food for Shadow, Caroline made herself stop eating and fed the little dog her leftovers. Then she wandered through the lower floor looking for Cousin Penelope. Unable to find her, she returned to her room, took a book from her carpet satchel, and went to the front porch to read.

Choosing a rocking chair in a sunny corner, she retreated from her problems by immersing herself in the romantic poetry of Lord Byron. Shadow fidgeted at her feet. Turning, twisting, shaking her thick black fur, she finally let out a disgusted snort, sidled off the porch, and burrowed under the shade of a boxwood at the edge of the porch. Caroline smiled at her sleeping pet and curled around her book.

"Screee! Screee! Screee!”

The book clattered to the floor as Caroline jumped to her feet and looked around wild-eyed. Where was that shrieking coming from? A lean, but powerfully built man swung down from his horse and limped toward her. Clinging to a column, she looked down into the flower bed waiting for Shadow to bark. Startled, she saw that it was the dog who was emitting the frightened screams.

"Hush, Shadow, hush,” she soothed. "He won’t hurt you.” Her voice shook.

The tall man in a trim-fitting uniform of Confederate gray swept his hat from neatly cut brown hair and bowed gallantly. His mustache quivered as he said something unintelligible above the din. Dropping his eyes, he stood waiting patiently.

Cheeks blazing, Caroline scrambled down and squatted in an unladylike fashion to stroke and coo to Shadow. She sensed this man was an officer even before she stole a look at his gold collar and cuffs.

"I’m so sorry that I frightened you,” he said in a deep, quiet voice. "I’m Jeremy Medlock, at your service, ma’am.” He bowed again and clicked his heels together. "I should have made myself known.” A sadness welling in his eyes and lining his tanned face lifted suddenly with a warm smile. "But I hadn’t heard that a lovely young lady had come to Looking Glass Plantation.”

"I’m sorry that we acted so silly.” Caroline giggled nervously. "With all of the gentlemen away at war, we’re only used to seeing a few old men.” Her words caught in her throat as she looked up into the first young and handsome face she had seen in many months. "And, and small boys,” she finished lamely. Recovering her composure, she flashed a dimpled smile. "Shadow has had a very bad experience with boys.”

"Boys can be troublesome.” He laughed, tilting his head sideways in a boyish grin that lifted the corners of his drooping mustache, spread across his clean-shaven cheeks, and sparkled from his eyes.

Tongue-tied, Caroline pressed her hands to her chest as the frightened pounding changed to a tremulous sensation she had never felt for Samuel. With innocent blue eyes, she stared at the officer.

"I would not have come upon you unannounced but I have business with Miss Penelope.”

The tall woman emerged from the hallway as if on cue. Undoubtedly she had been summoned by Shadow’s screams. Penelope frowned at the book on the floor.

With down-cast eyes, Caroline fervently wished they had caught her reading something more edifying than the writings of a scandalous man like Lord Byron.

"Good morning, Lieutenant Medlock. You are looking for me, I believe.” Her dismissing tone clearly indicated that their business was private, and she did not intend to conduct it in front of an outsider.

At least she saved me from chattering on foolishly, Caroline reflected as she strolled across the yard carrying Shadow. Straining to hear the man’s deep voice drifting after her, she caught the mention of money and realized they were negotiating. Heading toward the formal garden with as much dignity as possible, she forbade herself to look back. She would not forget his face, nor the way his sorrowing eyes met hers and warmed with delight.

From behind a sheltering screen of crape myrtle bushes, she watched as he strode to his horse. She pondered why the lieutenant was so far from his troops and the battlefield. Shadow had judged him an enemy, yet, something in the proud and uncomplaining way he tried to hide his limp caught at her heart.

Lest he catch her watching and think her a silly schoolgirl, Caroline hurried away toward the kitchen area. In a pen behind the milking shed, two prancing calves, their faces foamy from nuzzling their mothers’ warm bags after Ret had milked enough for the family, waited for their mothers’ return for the evening milking. The milch cows had not yet moved very far down the lane. They turned to stare at Caroline with curious brown eyes. She smiled at their interest in a stranger. They were evidently docile because they were allowed to run loose and forage for themselves. The garden was enclosed with vertical boards, and the cornfield was encircled by a split rail fence.

Barking in rapid spurts as if to assert herself after her embarrassing encounter with the lieutenant, Shadow ran suddenly toward the cows. The raw-boned cattle started in surprise and retreated from the yapping dog in a side-stepping fashion.

"Shadow, come back! Shadow!” Caroline pleaded anxiously.

"Stop that dog immediately,” a voice commanded. "Don’t let her—umh—upset the cows.”

Whirling, Caroline saw a large, soft-fleshed woman at the kitchen door. Her ears pricked to the same breathy voice that had said, "Send her away.” It was Cousin Sophronia!


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