25. March 2023 · Comments Off on From the Book in Progress – That Fateful Lightning · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book

(From the work in progress, the Civil War novel that has been languishing in my to-do pile for several years… but not to worry, The Golden Road, the Gold Rush adventure sat there half finished for almost seven years because I kept being dist — oh, a squirrel! In this excerpt, Miss Minnie Vining has become a staunch abolitionist, traveling the north-east and campaigning for the abolition of slavery. While on a winter visit to upstate New York, she receives a telegram urging her return to Boston…)

The carriage sent by the generous Mr. Turner arrived before sunrise; the sky in the east holding the faint flush the color of mother-of-pearl, while the stars themselves remained faint pinpricks of light in the west. It was icy cold, a brisk wind from off the lakeshore cutting through Minnie’s heaviest mantle, woolen traveling dress and several flannel petticoats. It was a positive relief to reach the shelter of the State Street Station, the depot for the New York Central Railroad; a stately and classically elegant building, a noble façade pierced by twin arches. There was a good fire already blazing in the iron stove which heated the passenger waiting room; which at this early hour was blessedly empty. The only other occupant was a well-set gentleman in Army blue. Minnie barely spared a glance in his direction, noting with a small pang at her heart that he rather resembled Pres Devereaux. Something about the set of his shoulders, and dark hair somewhat threaded with grey … and when he raised his eyes from the newspaper that he seemed to be reading with much attention, she noted that they were the same fierce pale blue.

“Miss Minnie Vining!” he exclaimed, setting aside the newspaper and rising from the comfortless wooden bench upon which he sat. “If I might presume upon old friendship! It’s been a good few years, but … we met in Richmond, at the house of your Cousin Edmonds… Levi Ennis, Major, US Army …” he added, with a suddenly diffident manner, and Minnie’s heart turned entirely over in her chest, remembering that gilded summer at Susan’s palatial home there; the comforts provided by attentive servants, the lavish, flower-filled garden, the parties, gatherings and picnics, all embedded in her memory like the fragile wings of an insect, preserved in amber.

The place where she had come face to face with the brutality of the slavery system. And Levi Ennis and his cousin, Pres Devereaux had been the means of that fateful meeting. It came to Minnie that she owed him courtesy in that respect.

“Major Ennis! You are promoted! So splendid – it has been my understanding that promotions come so terribly slow in peacetime! Did our affray in Mexico do you that good? They do say that it is an ill wind that blows no one any good; I expect that it is the same with wars. We are now laden with slave states, so I am cheered that at least some small gain has been made from that abomination of a war!”

At her side, Minnie was aware of Lolly briefly closing her eyes and taking in a small breath. But Lolly had become accustomed to Minnie’s outspoken ways, after all this time.

“As war is my profession, I expect so,” Levi Ennis smiled, with a reckless expression which so recalled the countenance of Pres Devereaux to her. “A bloody encounter does have a brutal way of clearing out the deadwood. Just so does a wildfire, out on the western plains; clear out the useless and overgrown, make way for the fit and able.”

“I am most astonished at finding you here in Rochester,” Minnie ventured, after belatedly introducing Lolly Bard, “And then I remembered that Mrs. Ennis is from this town – I pray that she and the children are all well; I have such pleasant memories of watching them at play in Mrs. Edmonds’ Garden.”

“Indeed,” Levi Ennis’s expression warmed at the mention of his family. “We were visiting my wife’s parents. My Dearest thrives on motherhood – we have two more children, both girls, since that happy visit to Richmond. My boys are now grown so tall, I am certain you would not recognize them, Miss Vining. My oldest son is determined to follow in my footsteps and apply for a position at West Point.”

“It has been some ten or eleven years,” Minnie agreed, with a deep sigh. “I wouldn’t expect to recognize them, since so much has changed, since they were small children, frolicking in my cousin’s garden! I should tell you, Major Ennis – that we have become estranged from our Richmond cousins over the matter of the peculiar institution. My cousin, Mrs. Edmonds took it so personally, when I first began giving public lectures against the practice; it grieved me very much, but she was adamant and unforgiving. And when Cousin Peter – you recollect, the veteran of Washington’s Continentals – he went to his heavenly reward a year or two later, there seemed to be no basis for a reconciliation. Now, I do recall that your cousin, Mr. Devereaux was courting Charlotte Edmonds, and that was considered an excellent match; can you tell me – did they marry after all?”

“They did,” Major Ennis nodded, “It was quite a notable social event in Richmond; I couldn’t attend, as I was off to fight in Mexico about that time, but my brother James wrote to me with a full accounting. You will recollect that it was my younger brother who married the eldest Miss Edmonds, in that summer when you visited Richmond? I understand that Pres and his young missus have several children now, and Pres has taken over management of the family acres.”

“I was teaching Charlotte to play chess,” Minnie allowed, stifling the brief pang of regret that she felt, upon mention of Mr. Devereaux. The carved Chinese ivory chess set held a place of honor in the study in the house in Boston, which was still her own, no matter how far she ventured from it. “Since your cousin so relished the game. I thought it a fine thing that a married couple should have a common intellectual interest, since I knew that both your cousin and I derived so much pleasure from the game of kings.” Her voice trailed off, as she recollected Pres Devereaux’s sudden declaration of love for her. “I am glad to hear that they have been blessed with children. I often watched your cousin playing with your little boys in the garden. So happy were they, and he also. I am glad to hear that domesticity agrees with him.”

She detected a sudden flash of sympathy on Major Ennis’ weathered countenance and wondered if he were about to speak it aloud; and too, if Pres Devereaux might have confessed to his cousin anything of that bolt-out-of-the-blue love for her spinster self.

“And that your great devotion to the cause of abolition has been rewarded as well,” he said. “My Dearest’s friends in Rochester were agog to hear that we had met you socially – the indominable and celebrated Miss Minerva Vining! But what of your sister, Mrs. Annabelle?” He hesitated, obviously anticipating bad news from the somber expression on Lolly Bard’s face.

“We received news last night that she has taken very ill, and so we are returning to Boston in haste, to be at her bedside whilst she recovers,” Minnie explained. “We hope that her condition will not worsen… Oh, why did we travel all this way – we did not expect this sad news!” She was abruptly overcome with apprehension, desolate with the fear that Annabelle would already be gone from this earthly existence before she and Lolly returned to Boston! Oh, why had she placed her devotion to the Cause over care for kin? How had she let her undying determination to see the institution of slavery made unlawful override her concern for those she held most dear?

“That is … most disheartening intelligence,” Major Ennis’ expression reflected nothing but the most profound sympathy. “Allow me to extend my sympathies, Miss Vining. Our duties and obligations … even those taken on without being oath-bound … take us far. Sometimes too far on a campaign to be with those whom we love in a time of crisis. Because of our duty to those with whom we serve, and the orders of those whom we serve.”

“I serve no one but the Almighty,” Minnie replied, warmed by Major Ennis’ profound sympathy and understanding. “But I see that you understand, and your sentiments are most comforting. Fortunate is our encounter, on this dreary morning. We are bound for Albany, and then … if Mrs. Bard has secured our connections … we may be in Boston before many days have passed. Where are you bound on this morning?”

“To Baltimore, and then to Washington,” Major Ennis answered with a sigh. “On official duties…” Outside of the waiting room, the distant rumble of iron wheels on tracks echoed through the depot. Lolly cocked her head to one side, listening carefully.

“Minnie, dear – I think that will be our train arriving. On time – such an achievement! Regularity in arrival and departure is the standard which Mr. Bard demanded. The whole enterprise depended upon timing, you know – not just to serve the passengers, you see – but that the train should be the single one advancing upon a single track, without meeting another. At dreadful speed, you see … a head-on collision between locomotives! That would be frightful, indeed. And would not do any good for the fortunes of the line…” Lolly blinked, as if she had just made the deepest insight, instead of the most banal. Minnie sighed again, and rose from her seat, giving her gloved hand to Major Ennis in farewell.

“We have tickets for the first train east in the morning,” she said. “And I trust in Mrs. Bard’s experience in judging these things – that this be our train. I am so happy for this chance meeting, Major Ennis – and I hope that we shall soon have another such happy encounter.”

“You might count on that!” Major Ennis rose likewise and bowed over her hand.


The arriving train was, indeed – the one for Albany and points east. Minnie and Lolly Bard arrived in Boston three days later, to see the black crepe hung on the Brewer house, shredded by winter winds, for Annabelle’s funeral was already done. Minnie sat in the Brewer carriage and wept into her hands. Too late, too late! Her sister of the heart was gone! She took some strength from Major Ennis’ words – about duty, campaigns, and oaths. He would know about such things, being a soldier.

Minnie encountered him again; when the war was already begun, another ten years later. By then, the cause had been baptized in blood, and the two of them were alike sworn to serve.

Comments closed.