Authors: Robb Forman Dew
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Family Saga, #Historical, #Sagas, #Historical Fiction, #World
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
THE EVIDENCE AGAINST HER
. Copyright © 2001 by Robb Forman Dew. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
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A hardcover edition of this book was published in 2001 by Little, Brown and Company.
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First eBook edition: September 2001
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Also by Robb Forman Dew
Dale Loves Sophie to Death
The Time of Her Life
A Southern Thanksgiving
The Family Heart:
A MEMOIR OF
WHEN OUR SON CAME OUT
For Charles, always . . .
And in memory of
Bernice Martin Forman,
John Crowe Ransom,
and Robb Reavill Ransom
HERE ARE any number of villages, small towns, and even cities of some size to which no one ever goes except on purpose. There are only travelers on business of one sort or another, personal or professional, who arrive without any inclination to dally, or to dawdle, or to daydream. And yet, almost always in these obscure precincts there is a fine grassy park, a statue, perhaps, and benches placed under tall old spreading trees and planted around with unexceptional seasonal flowers, petunias or geraniums or chrysanthemums in all likelihood, or possibly no more than a tidy patch of English ivy. A good many visitors have sat on such benches for a moment or two, under no burden to take account of their surroundings, under no obligation to enjoy themselves. A stranger to such a place may settle for longer than intended, losing track of the time altogether—slouching a bit against the wooden slats, stretching an arm along the back of the bench, and enjoying the sun on a nice day, comfortably oblivious to passersby and unself-consciously relaxed—without assuming the covertly alert, defensive, nearly apologetic posture of a tourist.
By and large these towns are middling to small, and are never on either coast or even any famous body of water, such as a good-sized lake or major river. These are communities that lie geographically and culturally in unremarkable locales: no towering mountains, no breathtaking sweep of deep valleys, no overwhelming or catastrophic history particular only to that place. In fact, with only a few exceptions, these unrenowned districts are all villages, towns, or small cities exactly like Washburn, Ohio, about which people are incurious, requiring only the information that it is approximately forty-five miles east of Columbus.
As it happens, Monument Square in the town of Washburn is not four sided but hexagonal and was a gift to the city from the Washburn Ladies Monument Society, ceded to the town simultaneously at the unveiling and dedication of the Civil War monument on July 4, 1877. The monument itself is a life-size statue of a Union soldier at parade rest, gazing southward from his perch atop a thirty foot fluted granite column, the pediment of which is over twelve feet high. Altogether the monument stands nearly fifty feet, and on its west face is the inscription:
Y THAT DREAD NAME
WE WAVE THE SWORD ON HIGH
AND SWEAR FOR HER TO LIVE
FOR HER TO DIE
Within a year of the dedication ceremony the common idea among the citizens of Washburn was that the stonecutter— imported all the way from Philadelphia, hurrying the work, eager to catch the train, and possibly with a few too many glasses of beer under his belt—had chiseled into that smooth granite the mistake “dread name” as opposed to “dear name.”
In the spring of 1882, Leo Scofield, soon after he and his brothers had cleared the woods and begun construction of their houses on the north side of the square, had written to Mrs. Dowd, who commissioned the statue but who had moved back to Philadelphia soon after its unveiling, to inquire if he might have the mistaken inscription altered at his own expense. He had attempted to cast his offer along the lines of being an act of gratitude for her generous gift, but Leo was only thirty-one years old then, a young man still, without much good sense. He was enormously pleased by the largesse of his idea—which had occurred to him one day out of the blue—and delighted that he finally had the wherewithal to make such an offer. A slightly self-congratulatory air tinged the tactlessly exuberant wording of his letter, and he was brought up short by her reply:
. . . furthermore, I shall arrange to have the statue removed piece by piece if need be, as it is I who pays out the money each year for its upkeep, should the inscription in any way be altered. I never shall believe in all the days left to me that the preservation of the Union was worth the price of the good life of my dear husband, Colonel Marcus Dowd, who left his post as President of Harcourt Lees College to head Company A. He died at Petersburg. The statue was undertaken at my instigation only as an honor to him. I shall live with nothing more than despair and contempt for this Union and Mr. Lincoln all the rest of my life. As my children do not share my sentiments in every respect, however, I have made arrangements to fund the maintenance of the monument and the fenced area of its surround. I have engaged a Mr. Olwin Grant who lives out Coshocton Road as a caretaker, and any further questions you may address to him. I implore you, Mr. Scofield, not to raise this matter to me again.
Leo spent several long evenings sitting in the square, contemplating that handsome statue, which towered over the young trees installed by the Marshal County Ladies Garden Club. It was his first inkling of the fickleness of legend, the ease with which one is misled by myth. He wrote a letter of deep and sincere apology but did not hear again from Mrs. Marcus Dowd, nor had he expected to.
He was young and perhaps still a little brash, but he was not an insensitive man, and he applied this glimpse of the possible effect of grief to his own circumstances, admonishing himself to take all the good fortune of his business and his marriage much less for granted. The spirit of expansiveness that had characterized his outlook up until the receipt of that letter was checked somewhat over the year that followed, and as his business ventures grew increasingly complicated, as his house took shape day by day, as his infatuation with his new wife inevitably grew more complex and profound, he became a man of a fairly solemn nature.
• • •
The three houses built just north of Monument Square in the early 1880s for Leo, John, and George Scofield fronted on a semicircular drive and shallow common ground that in the summer became a crescent of feathery grass that bent in bright green ripples across the lawn in the slightest breeze. In time the grass at the inner curve of the drive gave way to a golden velvet moss under the elms as the trees matured and produced heavy shade all summer long.
The houses were comfortable though not grand. They were well built and nicely spaced, one from the other, and for a number of years those three south-facing houses marked the northernmost edge of the town of Washburn, Ohio. During the several years the houses were under construction, and long after, the residential property of those three brothers was known all over town simply as Scofields, whereas the twenty-odd buildings comprising the flourishing engine-manufacturing business of Scofields & Company, begun as no more than a foundry in 1830 by Leo’s grandfather, had for some time been referred to merely as the Company.
The second Sunday of September 1888, on either side of a muddy wagon track that led into the east yard of his new house, Leo Scofield, at age thirty-seven, planted eight pairs of cultivated catalpa saplings. Six days later, on Saturday the fifteenth, there occurred the unusual incident of the births—all within a twelve-hour span—of his first and his brother John’s second child—a daughter and son respectively—and of the third child of Daniel Butler, a good friend and pastor of the Methodist church. John and Lillian Scofield’s first child, Harold, born in 1883, had died before he was a year old, so the Scofields’ compound had been childless for some time.
Some years earlier Leo had given up the idea that he and his wife, Audra, would have children. His wife was twenty-nine years old with this fourth pregnancy, and through the early months they both had dreaded and expected another miscarriage. They had been married for eight years when Lily was born. The planting of those young catalpa trees was only a coincidence, of course; Leo hadn’t intended any sort of commemoration, but in spite of himself he developed a superstitious interest in the welfare of those trees. He had started them himself from seed six years earlier, and they were just barely established enough to transplant. Several days after his daughter’s birth, when it was clear she and his wife and the other mothers and babies were thriving, his brother John and he walked the lane he had created, staking the saplings when necessary to guide them straight.
“And on the ides of the month, John,” Leo said. “It’s an amazing thing! All the Scofields are born on the ides of the month.” Leo’s birthday was March fifteenth, and his youngest brother George’s was the fifteenth of October. John’s birthday was February fifth, when he would turn thirty.
“Well, but this is September, Leo. The ides of the month was on Thursday. On the thirteenth, this month.” But Leo wasn’t paying close attention, and John himself, not born on the ides, was just as happy to be a little disburdened of “Scofieldness.” He followed along, helping his brother. “But this is really something, isn’t it, Leo?” John said. “Here we are. Two
Only three days ago, Leo—three
ago!—we were . . . fancy-free. We were just
Leo glanced sharply at John but didn’t reply for a moment. John was a tall, elegant figure among the little sloping trees, which were leaning this way and that. Leo himself was one of those men no more than average height who are somehow imposing because they possess an inherent certainty, a lack of hesitancy, an easy assumption of authority. “No, you’re right about that, John. You’re right about that. Three days ago we were only two
John had squatted to secure the burlap around the spindly trunk of one of those young trees, and he aimed a considering look Leo’s way and finally grinned, acknowledging the edge of chastisement in his brother’s voice and feeling a genuine joyousness spike through him at all his sudden connection to the wide world. “Ah, Leo. Don’t you think this’ll make a good husband of me? Don’t you imagine I get a clean slate now? The first baby . . . Leo, that nearly killed Lillian. And me, too.” John’s ebullience abruptly fell away. “But Lillian was just . . . It was like she had broken. That was it. That was what she must have been feeling,” he mused. “But I was so stupid. I was just scared to death. I didn’t know what it took . . . That poor little boy. Poor Harold! I couldn’t
anything to help, though, Leo! It nearly drove me crazy to see Lillian so sad.
“But this one’s so . . . he’s so
Leo. Why, he hardly stays still a minute. Healthy as a horse! And I haven’t even raised a glass to toast their health. I haven’t touched a drop, Leo. And I won’t. I won’t.” Then John fell back into his usual wry tone, which signified that it was at the listener’s own peril to take him entirely seriously. “I’ll start all over with the lovely Lillian. And I can, you know. Because at least
loves me more than you do,” he said, but with a lilting, teasing cadence.
Leo watched John a moment as he stooped to hammer in a stake at an angle that would pull the rope tight, and he thought that even in so small a task his brother was graceful in the uncommon way with which he was at ease in his own body. “There isn’t anyone in the world who doesn’t love you, John. But that might not be such a good thing,” he said, and he was quite serious.
“You’re harder on me than anyone, Leo. Even Dan Butler’s not so stern!” John straightened up and exhaled a short laugh, leaning his head back to take in the pale sky. “You’ll have to go a little easy on me, you know. I’ve got to get used to it, still! It’s wonderful that they’re all healthy. As strong as can be. Lillian . . . and Audra and Martha Butler . . . everyone doing so well.
of them,” he said. “I can hardly believe it!” They moved along, carefully wrapping the tender trunks before they looped and staked the guide ropes.
Leo had left the planting late because it had been an edgy summer and so dry that he had to haul water until the middle of November to irrigate that double row of saplings. The memory of June, July, and August merged into a blur of heat. The days had stretched out dry and hot, eventually falling into unsettling yellow green evenings preceding night after night of crackling thunder and hailstorms that lingered over the town with great bluster but produced very little measurable rainfall.
It had been a season that was not much good for planting, and a season that had produced a sort of communal unease, transforming the nearly simultaneous births in mid-September of Lillian Marshal Scofield, Warren Leonard Scofield, and Robert Crane Butler into an event that seemed less remarkable than inevitable. And the unwavering alliance of those three children took on the same quality of inevitability. Lily and Robert and Warren were rarely apart from one another during all the waking hours of their early youth.
But during the first months following his daughter’s birth, when the heat finally loosened its grip and September led into one of those autumns of rare clarity in which everything seems to be in perfect balance, Leo made grand plans for his garden. In late November he stood in the wagon yard on a chilly but glorious day so dazzlingly clear that the air itself was charged with a blue translucent brilliance. He stood still and imagined the plot transformed. He became lost in the idea of abundant flowers, blooming bushes, towering trees.
The catalpas stood in fragile regulation, spare sticks once their leaves had dropped. They looked forlornly tenuous on the clear-cut acreage where the Scofield brothers had built their three houses. But by the time Lily was seven months old the following spring and those shoulder-high saplings finally budded and then leafed out, Leo privately exulted at their survival of the unusually brutal, snowless winter.
Leo Scofield was a good businessman, always a little skeptical, a trifle suspicious by nature. But he wasn’t at all prone to melancholy; his brooding followed a more pragmatic course— he might fret persistently, for instance, about a minor innovation to a Scofield engine or an antiquated valve design. But it was quite in character, in late April of 1889, when he was a year closer to forty years old than to thirty-five, that the notion of the future flying toward him was only exhilarating. He wasn’t at all troubled by the idea of his own mortality. He walked the rutted track between those newly planted trees and imagined his daughter’s wedding procession making its way along a raked gravel avenue beneath the catalpas’ eventual leafy canopy under an overarching clear blue sky.