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Authors: Gilbert Morris

The Dixie Widow

BOOK: The Dixie Widow
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Copyright © 1991 by Gilbert Morris

Published by Bethany House Publishers

11400 Hampshire Avenue South

Bloomington, Minnesota 55438

www.bethanyhouse.com

Bethany House Publishers is a division of

Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

www.bakerpublishinggroup.com

Ebook edition created 2011

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher.

The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

ISBN 978-1-4412-7035-1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Cover illustration by Dan Thornberg

Cover design by Danielle White

To Lynn

A man’s firstborn
is always a miracle—
a gift from God.

And you have always been,
are now,
and always shall be
a treasure to me.

CONTENTS

Cover

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

PART ONE

THE AGENT

1. A Cause to Die for

2. Just Another Soldier

3. Agent in Place

4. Belle Meets Stanton

5. An Encounter at Church

6. “She’s Paid Too Much!”

7. Arrested!

8. Home to Richmond

PART TWO

THE PRISONER

9. “He’s All We Have Left!”

10. Little Round Top

11. Chimborazo

12. Libby Prison

13. A Prophecy for Thad

14. A Slight Case of Bribery

15. A New Patient

PART THREE

THE MASQUERADE

16. Back to the World

17. Hospital Visit

18. Death in the Night

19. Love Never Changes

20. Two Meetings

21. The End of the Masquerade

22. The Homecoming

23. The End of It All

PART FOUR

THE PREACHER

24. The New Banker

25. New Preacher

26. On the Way Home

27. The White Knights

28. Davis Gets a Shave

29. The Wedding Supper

About the Author

CHAPTER ONE

A CAUSE TO DIE FOR

Belle Wickham glanced quickly over her shoulder. The footsteps, faint but distinct, were coming closer. At first she thought it was the wind shuffling the crisp October leaves along the cobblestone street. Her heart raced as she peered into the darkness, but only the faint, bulky outline of the Confederate Chimborazo Hospital loomed behind her.

Belle had stopped to look at the bright yellow moon just perched above the First Congregational Church. The hour was late and she was on her way to the hotel where her father sometimes stayed. It had been midmorning when she had gone to help with the wounded, and the time had slipped away.

She hesitated, then remembered the warning her father had given that afternoon: “Better get back home before dark, Belle. Richmond’s not as safe as it used to be—too many drunken soldiers and riff-raff roaming the streets.”

Now, thinking of his words, she wheeled and walked rapidly down Cherry Street. The air seemed charged with danger as she hurried along the darkened sidewalk. Only the moonlight illuminated the center of the cobblestone street, casting deep shadows over the area. Because of the shortage of lamp oil—and everything else—in Richmond in 1862, street lights were reserved for special occasions.

Suddenly a man’s bulky form appeared out of the darkness on the opposite side of the street. Belle stopped abruptly, frightened, then moved back into the shadows, her back pressing against the cold window of a shop. Fear gripped her as
the man lurched across the street toward her. Her mind raced. What should she do? The police station! But that was five blocks down—on a side street! She could run or scream, but who would hear? Who would answer a cry for help?

The man moved unsteadily in her direction, mumbling in a rough, drunken voice. He stumbled, cursed loudly, then seemed to look straight at her. In the moonlight she could clearly see the outline of his heavy face. She remained motionless, thankful that she was wearing black. But even in that moment as fear washed through her, the thought of her widow’s dress brought a bitter taste to her mouth.

A rising wind gave a keening note, and the drunk turned and lurched off, his muttering fading as he dissolved into the gloom. Belle sighed with relief and walked briskly, almost running, her shoes tapping a loud staccato on the sidewalk. As she reached Elm Street and moved across it, the town clock struck, sending its bass voice along the deserted streets.

She counted the brassy notes to herself until the eleventh sounded. In the silence that followed she heard the footsteps again. This time there was no mistake! It was
not
rustling leaves! It was the regular, crunching sound of heavy boots! She gave a gasp at the nearness of the sound and jerked her head around.

The tall outline of a man appeared not ten feet away! She began to run, but her heavy skirts and high-heeled shoes hindered her escape, and she stumbled, nearly falling. Catching herself, she heard the footsteps break into a run, and a voice called urgently, “Wait—!”

Belle’s heart was beating wildly as she lifted her voice to scream, but before she could utter a sound he grabbed her and jerked her around to face him.

“Oh—help—!” she managed.

His hand clamped over her mouth, cutting off her words.

He was a large, powerful man, and pulled her into the recesses of a shop as easily as if she were a child. She tried to bite his hand, but his arms were like a vise. Stark fear clawed
at her mind as he held her in the darkness. Her arms were pinned to her sides, and when she tried to kick him, he simply leaned against the wall, trapping her in an immobile position.

“Mrs. Wickham, please don’t be afraid.”

Mrs. Wickham!
A flicker of hope raced along her nerves.
He knows me!

The grip on her arms and the pressure on her mouth eased somewhat, and he said quietly, “If I release you, will you promise to hear what I have to say?”

She nodded quickly, and he slowly removed his hand from her mouth, pausing to see if she would scream. When she didn’t, he dropped his arms and stepped back, saying, “Thank you.”

She drew a deep, shuddering breath, and though she noted that he was dressed like a gentleman—not like a hoodlum—fear threaded her voice. “What do you want?”

“I must talk to you, Mrs. Wickham—but not here. Will you give me twenty minutes?”

His voice was soft, and even a few words revealed that he was educated. As she stood there regarding him, the fear turned to anger. “What is the meaning of this, sir!” she demanded. “If you want to talk to me, you can do so without attacking me on the street!”

“I can’t argue with you here, Mrs. Wickham,” he replied. “Give me the time, and I’ll be out of your way—but I must speak with you now!”

“Where?”

“Anywhere you say—but we must not be seen together.”

Belle stared at him, intrigued by his proposal. Now that she was fairly certain he would not attack her, she felt some assurance return, and said, “There is a place. Come with me.”

As the man followed her, he noted with approval her swift recovery. She walked quickly, saying nothing as they covered two blocks, then turned off into a narrow side street. A single light threw out feeble rays in front of a two-story frame building with a sign PALACE HOTEL over the door.

“We’ll be seen in there,” he protested.

“There’s no clerk on after ten,” she answered, and without a pause entered the hotel. He followed, glancing around at the deserted lobby, then stepped beside her as she walked down a corridor dimly lit by a single lamp mounted on the wall. She stopped before a door near the end, fumbled in her small purse for a key, inserted it, and stepped in. “Light this candle from that lamp,” she ordered.

With a slight grin at her bossy command, he entered the room and lit the lamp on the table while she shut the door. She removed her short cloak and stood waiting.

“My name is Ramsey Huger,” he began, then paused. “I’ve been trying to see you for three days, Mrs. Wickham, but you’re never alone.”

Belle was examining him closely, noting his expensive attire. He wore a gray wool suit that accentuated his athletic figure, a pair of fine black boots, and a royal blue cloak, which he now removed, tossing it on a chair along with a rich-looking tan hat with a light brown band.

His face was square, and there was a bold look in his deep- set brown eyes. A small, thin moustache followed the contours of his lips, and when he smiled, as he did now, one side of his mouth rose higher than the other, giving him a sardonic look. His hair was carefully cut and brushed, and he had the air of a man secure in his good looks.

“Well, do I pass inspection?” he asked, noting her careful examination.

“Do
I?
” she shot back, her quick response bringing a slight flush to his broad cheeks.

He had seen her before, but always at a distance. Now he thought,
She’s even better looking than they say.
She was somewhat taller than average, and her figure was perfect. Even the plain black dress could not conceal the slender waist and swelling curves, and her face was no less striking. Many women had one good feature and achieved the reputation of beauty by emphasizing it—but Belle Wickham’s features were
flawless, insofar as Ramsey Huger could tell. Her glossy black hair was coiled in a corona around her head, but would hang in a heavy weight if she let it down. Her skin was smooth and the coloring without cosmetics spectacular—cheeks that glowed with a rose tint, full red lips that curved softly, and large almond-shaped eyes. Her eyes were not black, as he had thought, but violet tinted and shaded by thick, inky black lashes that curved upward.

He smiled and said with some embarrassment, “Forgive me for staring, but—I suppose you’re used to it. A beautiful woman like you must be.”

She returned his gaze calmly, ignoring his compliment. “State your business, sir. Your twenty minutes are slipping away.”

He was boldly handsome, accustomed to easy conquests, and her abrupt manner grated on him. He needed more time. He took out a thin cigar from a gold case, lit it from the lamp, and asked, “Whose room is this?”

“My father’s.”

“Ah, Mr. Sky Winslow.” He puffed at the cigar thoughtfully, saying, “He’s a man I admire greatly, though we’ve never met.”

“Did you attack me on the street to tell me how much you like my family, Mr. Huger?”

He bit down on the cigar, took it out of his mouth and stared at her, still trying to find a way to gain her confidence. He knew this woman was almost as impulsive as he himself—that she might simply turn and walk out of the room. He was a gambler by choice, and now was the time for bold action. “I want you to be a spy for the Confederacy.”

BOOK: The Dixie Widow
8.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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