Authors: Miranda Beall
The Dark Closet
Text copyright © 2013
Miranda Beall. All Rights Reserved
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental
“Or I shall shut thee in the dark closet!”
Hester Prynne to her daughter Pearl.
The Scarlet Letter
, Nathaniel Hawthorne
Table of Contents
My mother sees appariti
ons in the night
ut swears they are not ghosts.
I hear voices and footsteps
But we cannot put the two together,
My mother and I,
To make a ghost.
My sister hears bangings in the night
wears there is no one there to make them.
we cannot put the three together,
ther and sister and I,
To make a
My brother hears the latching of doors
Deep in the dark of ni
But swears there is no one there to turn the key,
And we cannot put the four together,
My mother an
d sister and brother and I,
To make a ghost.
has been many years since my father died.
Yet, before that time,
My mother saw never an apparition,
Nor heard I
a stray footstep,
Nor my sister a banging,
Nor my brother the tumble of a latch;
we cannot put the four together,
My mother and sister and brother and I,
To make his ghost.
Christopher John had always fascinated her for reasons she could not qualify. It was as if there existed a connection between them that stretched into infinity, that infinity that travels along a line with no beginning and no end, that dictates that the nature of time is of such a fabric man can never weave it nor stretch it nor fold it. It was not love. It was an obligation to one another cast at the conception of time that brought with it whatever darknesses spotted the soul of Christopher John Mainwaring IV. Despite those pools of darkness that besmirched his chances of filtering through the width of that line into whatever lay beyond, Lamerie could not fully let go of him. She wondered how many lives had passed after which they stood in the ethereal mist understanding that they must rectify past transgressions against one another to part company for all eternity. Christopher John, however, she feared from the depths of her spirit, did not wish to part company, even for the good of his soul. His aspirations that penetrated that fabric of time with their own stains lay not in a natural progression of the soul.
She had known him from
childhood. She had played with him and gone to school with him. They had run through tall, wavering cornfields in the August humidity and inhaled the coughing pollen; whipped through the broad green tobacco leaves and captured the bulbous green worms that lingered there; danced with sunlit laughter through the reedy weeds of fallow fields. In the barns they giggled with their numerous siblings beneath the tiers of hanging tobacco, the air pungent with the plant’s dusty odor, and clipped about the heels of humming slaves as they stripped the bulging veins from the center of the leaves. As they grew, they danced in cotillions, practicing on one another with unsure feet as the violins streamed out into the icy air of January when the fields slept beneath the crusted snow. And when courting time came, they faced one another squarely and happily, until the weft of Christopher John’s personality began to unravel publicly. After his father died, the rumors about the new master of Winterhurst became rampant, and Lamerie separated herself from him. He swore again and again that it was merely vicious gossip about one of Southern Maryland’s most prominent families, but she was inclined to believe the hearsay because there was so much of it, nor would her father have the Wighte name tarnished by so close an association as marriage with Christopher John Mainwaring.
way to Richmond he had stopped at Wightefield. As drawn to him as she could sometimes be, she was uncomfortable in receiving him at that particular time when Robert was out tramping through the fields of Manassas and the beaches of Hattaras Inlet, living off cornmeal and bacon grease and black-eyed peas. She had risen from the mahogany rococo chair, the tips of her fingers still touching the smoothly carved leaves and birds that embellished it and gazed through the two floor-length windows that looked out over the expansive lawns of Wightefield. A fresh, slow breeze trembled the drapes. She could just see the edges of the tobacco fields and the line of weeping willows of bright, early green with infant leaves on their swirling tendrils. And she could see Christopher John’s approach.
He was in the Maryland
Guard Zouaves, as was Robert and many of the other men of eminent Barrow families. The sunlit morning set his colorful red and blue uniform in relief against the pale blue sky. In several months his bright red kepi and short red-trimmed jacket would prove too easy a target for McClellan’s troops at Antietam Creek.
Mainwaring here to see you, Missus,” Deli had said as she shuffled away from the doorway to resume her dusting.
He had held his red and
blue forage cap in his hand, and his white canvas leggings had stretched his long legs so that he seemed taller than usual.
“Are you headed for Richmond?” she had asked.
“What? Not even a ‘hello’?” he had returned with a warm smile as he approached her.
was always effusive, his smile infectious, his bow sweeping as he reached for her outstretched hand. His hands, long and tapering, were always warm and gentle as if they knew a woman’s touch and how to return it; the glint in his soft brown eyes was always merry and feral. He had stood before her awaiting the return of the laughter in his eyes, his obvious pleasure at seeing her, his lingering hold on her hand.
“Are you ahead of your
regiment? Where is Samuel? You and Samuel always travel together. Is there sickness at the Forsters’?”
His brows had
crossed playfully at her unwillingness to greet him.
The regiment will be coming through in a day or two, and Samuel is traveling with his brothers. We plan to meet in Bowling Green. You look worried.” He had turned from her to stand before the cream-colored Federal mantel of the fireplace.
tell Robert when I see him that he must write to you more often.” His smile had not been completely honest. “Or perhaps I shall write to you myself.”
“Really, Christopher,” she had said with exasperation. “That
“But not visits on the way to garrisons in Richmond?”
“Stop it or I shall have to ask you to go.”
He had shrugged his shoulders
a little as he looked down at his cap.
“You should smile at a
soldier on his way to war.”
hat was when she had run across the room and thrown her arms around him. The thought of his dying on a battlefield with the summer corn trampled beneath him had brought too many emotions to the surface. Her extensive apologies for the impropriety of her action had brought only a crease beneath his brown eyes and a lift to the corners of his full mouth. He had clearly been pleased.
“You must take care of
yourself,” she had concluded. “And do let me know if you need anything at all. I am always sending things to Robert, and I can send things to you as well.”
“I must ask my neighbor, must I,
because I have no wife?” He seldom missed a chance to chip away at the armor of her decision to marry Robert Wightefield and not Christopher John Mainwaring IV, both of equally distinguished families.
“Never mind,” he
had continued once he had been satisfied that he had made her uncomfortable. “I shall be back to strip tobacco in August.”
Union troops do not trample it first.”
not harm the homes of Barrow citizens,” Christopher reassured her.
“Maryland is uncertain of her own mind.”
“But I have it on good authority that the Union troops will not harm the holdings of Barrow citizens. Too many of them run the state government, and President Lincoln wishes to keep Maryland undamaged so that he can persuade her to remain with the Union. She is valuable to him as a border state. Besides, Union troops marching to Richmond will bypass Barrow, if they make such a march. You are safe. No one would dare injure Wightefield or any of its inhabitants. After all, isn’t this the Wighte home? Think of the outcry if a Wighte were harmed so close to Washington.”
guarantee my safety, Christopher, but you do make me feel better.”
go,” he had said boldly kissing her on her cheek, ignoring her look of surprise and pleased that he had continued to make her uncomfortable just when she was beginning to feel safe. Without waiting for her farewell, he exited quickly from the house and galloped away on his horse, leaving a cloud of dust after him down the long dirt road and, he hoped, a lingering memory. She watched the bright red of his uniform long after he had gone.
so she thought little of it when several days later Deli languidly called her to the front porch to point out the tiny specks of red bobbing in the distance along the dirt road that passed before the long winding entrance to Wightefield.
“It’s the Maryland Guard,” she said matter-of-factly as
her hands fell to the stiff, billowing skirt that moved slightly in the spring breeze. “I wonder if they’ll need anything,” she mused. “How many chickens are there, Deli?”
‘Bout a hundred.”
“Will that feed a regiment?”
“I reckon, missus.”
e continued, stepping down the brick steps to the greening grass, “there are the pigs, as well.” Then she turned back to Deli. “Tell Nathan to get forty chickens and a hog—and be quick about it! They haven’t all day!”
The slaves moving
slowly in the fields and those on the front lawn stopped to watch the wavering red and blue column far beneath them on the road. Some lifted their brown arms and solemnly waved.
“That’s odd,” Lamerie said to herself. The
red that flecked the road seemed to be on just the head of each man, not at the breast where the intense red shirt should be.
well,” she sighed. She knew many of the men had to provide their own uniforms and perhaps had only blue shirts, not red ones. It was getting worse she knew, how ill-provided for war the Confederacy’s sons were. Such a deep blue, she thought. So unlike Christopher John’s. How new his uniform must have been! How bright and full of hope and victory!
“Nathan ain there, missus.”
in the house to tell bout the chickens and hog.”
They’re turning up the road. They’ll be hungry, Deli.”
“Cain fine Nathan.”
“Well, go get Jeremiah.”
The dots of red snaked in a curve as the column turned.
“There Nathan, missus.” Deli’s outstretched arm
pointed down the undulating road. A small dark figure moved quickly toward the house at the top of the sloping hill.
Why is he running?”
“Doan know, missus.”
“He probably thinks I haven’t seen them yet.”
moving at an incredible pace. Even Lamerie had never seen Nathan move so fast, hard worker as he was. She felt her stomach contract a moment as she swallowed involuntarily. As he came closer, his distorted features were discernible, the sweat that stood out on his skin catching the rays of the sun, his pink mouth wide open with his rapid, deep inhalations. The heads of those lining the drive at the house turned to watch him run by, and when he reached Lamerie, he fell panting at her feet, struggling to speak.
“Union soldiers,” he gasped. “They already been
to Masta Wetherton’s and Masta Teilbright’s”
What happened? Are Mrs. Wetherton and Mrs. Teilbright all right?”
Lamerie bent down to lift
“They stealin and burnin
their way to Richmond, Miz Wightefield! Ain no help comin.”
ave they been to Winterhurst?”
“Go warn Winterhurst, Nathan!”
Lamerie ran to the asc
ending knoll on which the house stood as Nathan disappeared into the woods nearby. Yes, she thought, the back of her hand finding its way to her mouth, the blue was too dark, the red was too crimson, and each man wore a fez instead of a forage cap. And their shirts were blue. Curling borders of embroidered red piping replaced the straight red stripes of the Maryland Guard Zouaves.
She whirled around.
“Jeremiah! We’ll need sixty chickens and two hogs. Maybe if we give them want, they’ll go away. Deli, come with me.” A light breeze lifted the hem of her skirt as she ran back into the house, pulling the phlegmatic Deli behind by the arm.
“Gather the silver,
Deli,” she said breathlessly as she turned around and around in the entrance hall, “from all the rooms, upstairs and down.” Her arms waved in the air encompassing the whole of the house.
“But leave a piece or
two here and there, enough to satisfy a sticky-fingered private. Leave one set of flatware and gather up the twelve others.” She was on the stairs now. “You know where to put it, Deli. No one to help now,” she called from the upper landing. “You do just as we planned.”
“We must save
the Wighte heritage,” she whispered from above to herself.
Deli’s upturned slackened face watched that of her
frantic mistress. “Yez, ma’am. Doan you worry. I knows jus what to do.” Her own long, petticoatless dress sighed across the planks of wood as her sliding feet scuffled into the parlor in which Lamerie had received Christopher John.
Upstairs, Lamerie ya
nked open the top drawer of the embellished Victorian Rococo dressing table. The oval mirror shivered. Releasing the silver hook of the wooden box within and flipping up the lid, she grabbed its contents.
“What’s happening, Mama?”
“Child!” she breathed, startled by her presence, the stones of the necklace spilling through her fingers like emerald water.
“Are you going to wear your necklace? When will I
be allowed to wear it, Mama?” The brunette child approached her mother, her own green eyes glistening with the morning sun and curiosity.