Spring 1861 - Roswell, Georgia
I was eleven when the war started. I didn’t understand enough to worry, but I did understand it when Miss Finch, my teacher, said that since Georgia had been out of the Union since January we weren’t going to be called Abigail Adams Academy for Young Ladies anymore but must find a new name. And Georgia might as well be cut off from the rest of the country.
As my brothers got ready to leave for the fighting, there was muster on the town square every day. Cicero and I went each morning to watch. So did Primus, our negro overseer, when he could get away.
When Louis caught me crying one morning after drilling was over and asked me why, I said, “Miss Finch said Georgia is no more part of the country.”
“Miss Finch is an idiot,” he said. “She speaks in idle fabrications. If I had my way, I’d take you out of that ridiculous school run by that raving maniac and have you tutored at home.”
“Can’t you tell Pa that?”
“You know Pa hasn’t been himself these days, sweetie. Teddy makes such decisions. And Teddy has too many other things on his mind. So for now at least, we’ll leave things as they are.”
Pa’s mind was already starting to turn because he had money worries, Louis had told me, because his Northern customers wanted him to continue shipping goods and he wouldn’t.
But I had other worries. “Who will take care of me when you and Teddy go away?”
Louis knelt before me so that his fine sword scraped on the cobblestone walk. “First, we won’t be gone long. We’ll have this thing with the Yankees over with by Christmas. Teddy and I are going to have a meeting about the care of our women tonight. Likely it will be Viola and Carol. Do you think you can mind them?”
“Viola and I are friends. Carol never liked me. She’s been acting strange lately. She and Teddy fuss a lot.”
“That’s their business, Leigh Ann.”
“I know why,” I persisted. “Viola told me. It’s because she hasn’t been able to give him a baby in the year they’ve been married.”
He scowled. “What do you know about women givingmen babies?”
“Everything. Viola told me.”
More scowling. “I don’t know whether to be angry or not. On one hand, Viola has saved Teddy and me a lot of trouble. On the other hand, she’s done it too soon.”
“Don’t be angry with Viola. I asked her. But that’s not the only reason Carol and Teddy fuss. He wants her to stop teaching at the school for mill children. He says it wears her down. She won’t. And she’s jealous of the time Teddy gives me. The other day she slapped me for being impertinent to her.”
“Were you impertinent?”
“I suppose so. But she didn’t have to slap me. You and Teddy never slap me.”
“Does Teddy know she slapped you?”
“No. I didn’t tell him.”
“Or, she might want to be in charge because she’s always wanted permission from Teddy to paddle me. He won’t give it. If he’s not here, no one can stop her. Please, Louis, you mustn’t let Teddy leave her in charge.”
“Well, Teddy and I will discuss all this and likely leave it to Viola to care for you. She has sense. I’ll suggest that if things get bad Viola write to Grandmother Johanna in Philadelphia for someone to come and take you all on up there until things settle down.”
“Why is Grandmother Johanna so nice when Mother is so bad?”
“It just happens that way sometimes, sweetie.”
“Mother whipped you once with a riding crop, didn’t she?”
“We don’t want to talk about that now.”
“And you were twenty years old! Viola said you were in your cups, and you laughed and came out of the barn and said you didn’t feel a thing, then fell down and fainted. Teddy had to carry you in the house.”
“Leigh Ann . . .” It was said with icy admonishment. So I kept a still tongue in my head.
And so he explained the war in fine fashion. I thought he looked so handsome in his captain’s uniform. I was puzzled as to who was more handsome, he or Teddy. And I teased them both about it that afternoon in Louis’s bedroom, until Louis came at me playfully and I ran downstairs, just in time to see Pa coming up.
He went into Louis’s room and began to take on about his boys leaving to fight the battle of some “no-count, money-hungry bankers and grubbing land-stealers up north.” All relatives of his wife.
“They want the Southern lands,” he shouted. “First the Indians wanted it and now the Northerners. I’d rather give it all back to the Indians, though they didn’t have the courage to fight for it but let the white man take it from them!”
He bellowed. The walls shook. At that last remark about the Indians, Louis came tearing out of the room, his cheekbones high with color, his boots stamping on the stairs as he passed me.
“Louis!” I cried.
“Out of the way,” he said gruffly. “Before I knock you over.”
I’d seen him this way only once before, when Pa had accused him of “doing a bit of thrumming” with one of the women negroes.
That’s when he had run away for two days and Teddy had to go and search for him and fetch him home. Louis had come home leaning over his horse, which was led by Teddy, and Louis had been so full of a cheap excuse for mint juleps that Mother had ordered him to the barn. The servants had to hold Teddy back, Viola told me. Mother had another servant tie Louis’s hands to a wooden rail and asked Primus to whip him, or be whipped himself.
Primus said no. So Mother did it. And she is strong. And Primus was whipped later. And the bond between Louis and Primus became so strong, nobody could break it. I asked Teddy what “thrumming” was. He wouldn’t tell me.
So I asked Viola and she told me. Viola, at fifteen, knew everything. So it led to my asking her how women gave men babies. And she told me that, too.
From the hall steps I immediately burst into tears as I watched Louis go into Pa’s library and slam the door. Pa came down and saw me and picked me up, sat down on the bottom step, and held me on his lap.
“Don’t worry your pretty little head about Louis,” he soothed. “He acts like that because he’s part Indian.” I just stared up at Pa’s face. Was this part of his “madness” coming on?
“He most positively is,” he assured me. “Can’t you see his dark hair? And eyes? And how he’d rather ride with no saddle? And his high cheekbones? And how good he is working with silver?”
I only saw one thing. That if...