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General Leigh Excerpt


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I want my own genre: hysterical historicals

CHAPTER 1

 

General Alexander Davis sat across the table from his cousin, Jefferson Davis. The general’s wife, Mercy, was busily scurrying about the kitchen, readying the tea and biscuits for the two men.

"It is so exciting," Jefferson Davis said. "I can hardly believe they have chosen me! I am the president of the Confederacy. We have plans to attack at Sumter tomorrow. We will secede from the Union before we will agree to Lincoln’s terms."

"President Lincoln!" General Davis shouted, obviously irritated by the lack of respect shown by his cousin.

"I want you to lead our forces," Jefferson Davis said. "You can go to Virginia with me today."

Mercy watched her husband with great interest. For at least six generations, the Davis family had produced a war hero. She wondered if her husband would be able to pass up such an invitation, in spite of his disagreement with the ideals Jefferson Davis had set forth.

"I am honored that you think enough of me to request my services, but I must refuse. I do not agree with the secession of the southern states. Here in Maryland, we have chosen to go with our own consciences; as to where that will lead us, it is up to each man as an individual. I must support the president. If I am to fight, it will be on the side of the right."

"But where does that leave us?" Jefferson Davis asked. "If you will not head the troops, who can we get?" His voice was filled with desperation.

"I suggest you get Bobby Lee. He is from Virginia. Surely he will defend his birthplace."

"Ah, yes," Jefferson Davis joked, "but you know, of course, that he is second best. Everyone has heard that Robert E. Lee placed second from the top when we were at West Point. But how many people know that you, my very own cousin, placed at the top of the class? Now, I will have to settle for the man below you again. Is there no justice in this land?"

The two men shook hands as Jefferson Davis took his leave. Alexander watched him as he rode off, knowing that for the immediate future they were opposing forces. He hated such disagreements, but just as his cousin was too stubborn to listen to reason, so was he, the general, too rigid to give in to Jefferson’s demands.

Alexander walked slowly into the house and sat down. He called Mercy to come and sit by his side.

"Are you sure you did the right thing?" she asked. It was unusual for her to question her husband’s decisions in such matters.

"I am positive," Alexander replied. "Does that bother you?"

"Me? Why, did you forget that I am from Massachusetts? Our whole life has centered around freedom for all men--black or white alike. I am very proud of you for the stand you took with Jefferson."

Mercy leaned forward and kissed her husband. She felt him pull away from her, ever so slightly.

"What is troubling you?" she asked.

"I cannot hide anything from you, my little Mercy," Alexander said, a faint smile on his lips. "And what makes you think I am troubled?"

"When my own husband does not want to kiss me, there is something very wrong!"

"Do you remember what Nathan Hale said during the Revolution?" the general asked.

"A great many things, I suspect," Mercy teased.

"Yes, but he is remembered for one in particular."

"Which was?"

"I regret that I have but one life to give for my country," Alexander said. "I, too, have that same regret."

"Do not speak thus!" Mercy ordered. "If there comes a war, and if you are called to serve, I pray that God will bring you safely back to me at its end. I cannot think any other way. If I thought you were so incompetent on the battle field as to get yourself killed, I should lock you in chains and irons and not allow you outside the house."

Alexander laughed heartily at such a picture. He was a large, strong man, over six feet tall and muscles to match the greatest fighter in the land. His now graying beard and mustache added to the appearance of gruffness.

"I was thinking about someone other than myself."

"I do not understand," Mercy said.

"For generations the Davis families have all had at least one son to fight for the cause in which they believed. I love Leigh dearly, but she cannot go by my side to fight for the freedom and unity of our country."

"Did I hear my name?"

A young person appeared at the doorway and joined Alexander and Mercy Davis. It was hardly distinguishable whether the figure in question was that of a boy or a girl. While the facial features appeared quite feminine, the buckskin garb she wore, the cap perched on her head, hiding her long blonde curls, and the heavy combat boots indicated it might well be a boy.

"Leigh, come here and sit with us," her father invited.

"Yes, sir," she replied, sounding like one of the general’s charges, rather than his daughter.

"Leigh," he began, "it appears that the likelihood of war is more than we had thought. If it comes to that, and if my services are desired, I shall have to leave and fight for the good of the country."

Leigh studied her father’s face carefully.

"On which side?" she asked hesitantly.

"Why, on the side of the president, of course. Do you even need to ask?"

"I saw cousin Jefferson leaving a short time ago. I assumed he would ask for your help. I heard he is in charge of the southland now. Isn’t that what he wanted?"

"That is what he sought," the general explained, "but he did not get what he wanted. He left empty-handed."

Leigh straightened in her chair. She loved her father, but she had never shown any affection for him. He was, after all, the general. He demanded respect from her, and he had always gotten it. Now, if he left for the war, she would show him that same respect, even if her heart ached to tell her father just once before he left that she did love him.

"General Davis! General Davis! It is news from the President himself! He is looking for you."

The officer jumped off his horse, yelling as he ran into the house, interrupting the family gathering.

"General Davis! President Lincoln wants you to be the general for the forces of the north. He wants you to report to him at Washington tomorrow. Oh, sir, he is so counting on you. Please do not disappoint him."

The general did not hesitate before giving his reply.

"Please return to President Lincoln and tell him that I shall be honored to meet with him tomorrow. Tell him that my answer is a definite yes."

"Oh, thank you, General Davis!" the officer said, shaking the general’s hand vigorously. "It will be an honor to serve under you, sir!"

Mercy offered the man some morsels, but he declined, saying that he must return to the president immediately. She insisted, however, that he take some bread and dried beef with him.

As they lay in bed, Alexander held his wife tightly. Neither of them mentioned the dreaded war, nor talked of his departure in the morning. They had tonight, and for the moment that was all that mattered.

When they were finally ready for sleep, Mercy said softly, "I am sorry to be such a disappointment to you."

"Such nonsense!" Alexander said. "You have never done anything but the best for me. No man could have asked for a better wife than you, my dear. I know I am a man of few words, but before I depart, I must tell you how much I love you."

"It is just," Mercy began to sob, "I know how much you always wanted a son. I have never been able to give you that son. Only Leigh. She will never be a son to you, even though she can do anything any boy could ever do, and probably do it far better."

"I love Leigh just as much as if she had been a son," Alexander said. "And I certainly do not hold it against you that you could not have any other children. Why, when I thought you were going to die, well, I couldn’t even stand to think of it. I don’t know what I would have done all these years without you. Raising Leigh by myself..."

Suddenly Mercy laughed through her tears.

"I couldn’t talk, but I could hear you. I never did tell you that I heard what you said to me that horrible day so long ago."

"I don’t remember myself," Alexander admitted.

"You told me that you loved me and you needed me. Then, as if you thought another approach would be more affective, you ordered me to get better! Like I was one of your little soldier boys!"

Alexander smiled at his wife as he ran his fingers through her auburn hair.

"Well, it worked, didn’t it?" he asked.

In the morning, as General Alexander Davis sat with the two women in his life, the mood was one of sadness. They knew he would be leaving in a few minutes, but no one knew how to bring up the subject. Finally, Leigh spoke.

"I shall miss you, Sir."

Alexander realized how firm he had been with his daughter. At a time like this, it was not necessary for her to address him as her general.

"I hope that you will think of me while I am away. And that your thoughts will be of the many hours we spent together. We are closer than most men and their sons. I am very fortunate to have you, Leigh. And another thing, you may address me as ‘Father,’ not ‘Sir.’ It is much more fitting, today, somehow."

"Father," Leigh said. Her tongue seemed to stumble over the word. She realized that it was the first time she had ever addressed her father as anything other than "Sir."

Alexander stood up and walked to his daughter’s side. He pulled her up and embraced her warmly. Leigh bit her lip to keep from crying.

"I love you, Leigh," her father said.

"And I love you, too, Sir--Father," Leigh said, returning her father’s embrace.

"You have a very important job to do while I am away. You must care for your mother and see to her safety. I am depending on you."

"I won’t let you down, Father. I promise!"

Alexander went to Mercy and gathered her into his arms. She was so tiny, she seemed almost lost. Yet, as Leigh watched them together, she knew that they belonged right where they were--in each other’s arms. She had never given men much attention before, but now she wondered if she would ever be that fortunate. With her luck, all the available young men would probably get killed in the war and it would be the end of the human race!

"If I have to report for duty right away," he told Mercy, "I will send word to you. And whenever I am anywhere near the area, I will sneak away from the troops and come to you."

"I will be here, waiting for you," she assured him.

General Alexander Davis, his army uniform well groomed, rode towards Washington, D.C., where he knew the president was awaiting him. He had met the president on numerous occasions, and he sensed how difficult this day must be for him. As he rode, the news of the Confederacy’s attack on Sumter traveled far and wide.

"They interrupted a picnic!" the rider informed the general. "Can you imagine? With women and children scattering in every direction for their own safety!"

General Davis pushed his horse harder, anxious to make himself available to President Lincoln. His thoughts now turned to home--to his wife, and to Leigh.

I wonder if I did right by her? he pondered as he rode. I trained her as if she were a son. Why, I even named her Leigh, after Bobby Lee. What kind of a name is that for a girl? And what comfort will she be to Mercy while I am gone? She can’t help her cook or sew or tend the house. She knows nothing about such matters.

His mind filled with pictures of Leigh as she was growing up. He insisted that she dress in buckskins and "practical" clothes from the time she was old enough to toddle around. He envisioned her as they rode off together, father and son--no, daughter, he reminded himself--when he taught her to track the enemy, whether it be animal or human. He saw her as she sat at the table, studying such things as arithmetic, reading and writing. He caught a glimpse of her as she went on his surveying jobs with him, then as she tended the garden and fed and milked the cattle and slopped the pigs. Yes, Leigh was a child any father could be proud of. But, he realized suddenly, he had never allowed her to be his daughter. What had he done to this child of his? She was not a son, yet neither was she a daughter.

The tears streamed down the general’s face as he saw, for the first time in his life, what a failure he had been. He was one of the most successful military leaders around, but at what cost! He had paid for his fame and rank in life with his very own daughter’s life.

Leigh and Mercy began to share the chores on the farm. While they had never been close, the general’s absence formed a bond between them which defied words.

"How good for us that your father taught you about running the farm," Mercy said to her daughter one morning as they made their way to the barn. "I am afraid I would destroy the place while he is away. But I have you to teach me about such things."

"Mother," Leigh scolded, "you would do no such thing. If you were forced to do it alone, you would manage quite well. You always do whatever is needed."

A rider pulled his horse into the yard. Mercy ran to greet him.

"Do you bring word of Alexander? The general," she added quickly.

"Yes, ma’am," the soldier announced. "He is helping President Lincoln call out the troops this very moment. They are being called out from nearly every state in the Union for ninety days."

"Ninety days?" Mercy asked.

"Yes, ma’am. The president figures that in ninety days everything will be whipped back into shape. And he doesn’t figger on losin’, neither."

Mercy smiled. She was sure that neither the president nor her husband "figgered on losin’."

The soldier started to ride away, then called back to the two women, "Case you wanna join up, mister, they’s a camp settin’ up over in the woods near Harper’s Ferry. They can use all the young men they can git."

Leigh raised her fist in the air at the soldier, then sat down on the dewy grass and began to laugh.

"Isn’t that something, Mother? Maybe I should join up! Dare say most of the men wouldn’t even notice the difference!"

"Leigh Davis!" Mercy yelled. "Don’t you ever get such a crazy idea! Why, I’d skin you alive all by myself, just like your father taught you to skin a deer, if you ever tried such a stunt."

Day after day, Leigh tuned her ears to listen to the noises as she rode through the woods. She could hear the soldiers talking, groaning, singing, shouting and sometimes even laughing. She had learned that they were all Union men, so she knew they would be friendly to her, especially once they knew her father was General Davis.

Leigh sneaked out to the barn, unloaded the goods from her leather saddle bags, and hid them under a hay stack in the corner. She stood back and took account of all the items she had accumulated. There was not nearly enough to feed an army, but it would soon be sufficient to make a big difference to one small troop.

"Only a few more days," she said aloud, stroking one of the cows as she spoke. "Wish you could go with me, Bossy, but I’ll just have to take the extra butter I’ve been saving in the ice house."

"I’m going out to check around the farm," Leigh told her mother as the dusk settled in. "It’s cooled off a bit, and I want to make sure any cows out in the meadow are okay."

"I really wish you wouldn’t go alone," Mercy told her daughter. "I hear the men shooting. So far, I think it has just been to keep them in shape, but one of these times it could be for real. It isn’t safe out there."

"Mother," Leigh argued, "you know I can take care of myself. Besides, there aren’t any men to go along. You know they’ve all joined up with the army. They all know me, and if they see me, they’ll watch out for me."

"Well," Mercy said, "don’t be gone long then. It will be dark before you know it."

Leigh slipped into the barn and loaded all of the food she had collected. She put it into four big leather bags, then strapped them on the back of Bucky, her faithful horse.

As she rode through the woods, she was unaware of the shadowy figure which lurked behind one of the huge oak trunks. The young man, obviously a soldier, wanted to make sure no one would spot him.

If that’s a Union man, the soldier wondered when he spotted the stranger, why isn’t he with the rest of the troop? Could it be a deserter?

As he watched the horsebound figure head directly for the camp, he ruled that possibility out. A deserter would be riding in the other direction, and much faster, too.

Smelling a strange scent, Bucky veered to the right and went directly to the stranger’s hiding place. He tried to run, but Leigh and Bucky raced after him.

"Care to tell me who you are?" Leigh asked, keeping her voice at a husky level. She knew the only way she would be safe was to pull off the charade her father had taught her so well. If the soldiers all thought she was a man...

"Just a soldier trying to get a little peace and quiet," the young man answered. He, too, was hiding his true voice. He did not want to be recognized as a rebel by his Southern accent. "It’s so crowded and noisy over yonder," he said. "The men got no respect for another man’s privacy. None whatsoever."

"So you come out and sit alone in the woods?" Leigh asked.

"Got a better solution?" he asked. "By the by, where are you headed? Haven’t seen you around the camp."

"I’m not one of them," Leigh said.

The stranger pondered this statement. Was it possible that this was another spy from Lee’s side? Unsure of himself, he decided against asking.

"But you’re going there?"

"I brought some grub," Leigh explained. "If you come on in, there’s enough for everyone to get a little. Thought it might help the men’s morale, at the least."

"I’ll be along in a few minutes," he said. "Go on in ahead."

In almost no time at all, Leigh could not only hear the sounds of the camp, but she could see the crude tents that were set up. She slowed Bucky to a walk and quietly approached the edge of the camp.

Nearby she saw another young boy, writing in his journal. He did not look as old as Leigh, and he looked desperately alone.

"Psst! Soldier boy!" Leigh whispered.

"Stop or I’ll fire!" the boy shouted, aiming his rifle at Leigh. His yell brought a number of men running to aid him against the intruder.

"Peace!" Leigh said. She laughed as she thought that she sounded more like an Indian than the general’s daughter.

"Somethin’ funny?" one of the soldiers asked.

"Nothing you did, Sir," Leigh replied, glad for the proper upbringing her father had given her. "A little respect can go a long ways," he had said, time and time again.

"State your name, rank and company," the man ordered her.

"Leigh," she replied. Before she could go any farther, she felt and saw the barrels of at least a dozen rifles pointed at her.

"As in Robert E.?" an officer asked.

"Well, sort of," Leigh replied. "I was named after the scoundrel, but that was before he chose up sides against us. Leigh, that’s my first name. Actually, I got Leigh from my father. He was at West Point with Bobby Lee. My last name, it’s better. It’s Davis."

The rifles, which had come to rest, were pointed at her again.

"As in Jefferson?" the officer asked. Leigh laughed once more.

"No, sir. As in General Alexander Davis. He’s in Washington right now, helping the president set up the whole messy war."

"And you are lost from your troop?"

"No, sir," Leigh said. "I’m not a soldier. I’m just a civie watching out for my mother."

"I can’t believe the general wouldn’t recruit his own son," one of the men muttered. "If we’re good enough to fight, so is he."

"I’ll thank you to show some respect for the general’s son!" the officer snapped at the soldier. "I’m sure the general had his reasons."

"Actually," Leigh said, "the reason I came is to bring some fresh food for you. Line up, all of you! Single file! I’ll pass out the grub so you all get your fair share. If I let you loose after it, the first of you will get fat and the last will die of starvation."

The men, not questioning her orders, formed a single line. The officer who had defended Leigh headed the line. Leigh made her way, giving each of them one small portion of fresh vegetables, a homemade biscuit with a tiny dab of Bossy’s butter, and a sliver of dried beef. The men, forgetting their manners, ate like the pigs at the general’s farm. It had been a long time since they had seen such fare.

Leigh sought out the soldier she’d met earlier. He was nowhere to be found. Maybe, she thought, I imagined him.

Leigh took her leather pouches, jumped onto Bucky’s back and headed off into the evening wind.

"I’ll be back with more whenever I can," she called to the men as she disappeared.

One of the men remarked to the others as she rode off, "He takes charge just like the general!"

"We’ll call him General Lee!" one of the other soldiers remarked, causing all of the men to laugh. "The south may have their General Lee, but he can’t hold a candlestick to our General Lee!"

It was only the officer in charge, the man who had been so quick to come to Leigh’s defense, who saw her cap blow off in the wind and her long golden tresses fall freely over her shoulders.

"And we’ll call her General Leigh!" he said, too softly for anyone to hear.

Readers are calling it "a Civil War romantic comedy"

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