The Last Cavaliers #1
About the Book
I feel like a bag of sticks in a bunch of gaudy Christmas baubles." Daniel Harvey Hill, normally of a dry and caustic humor, still glanced at his wife with a look of tenderness in his eyes.
"Don't you dare call me gaudy, Harvey," Isabella Morrison Hill retorted, "after you practically forced me to buy this material for this dress." She was a pretty woman, as were her two sisters who accompanied them in the carriage.
Isabella was the older sister, with ash brown hair and dark eyes set in a small oval face. Her younger sister, Mary Anna, had a more quiet beauty. Her hair was a darker, thicker chestnut brown and her brown eyes were soft and warm. The youngest sister, Eugenia, was vivacious, with sparkling eyes and a bow-shaped mouth that looked as if she were always smiling. All three sisters were smallboned, petite women.
On this fine snowy day of December 12, 1855, D. H. Hill, in his somber black suit, had indeed almost disappeared in the finery worn by his wife and two sisters-in-law. His wife, Isabella, wore a scarlet dress that showcased her tiny waist, with a touch of white fur on her collar and cuffs and hem. Anna Morrison wore a festive holly green trimmed with frosty white lace. Her bonnet was velvet and framed her face perfectly. Eugenia Morrison Barringer wore a daring winter white trimmed with black velvet. Instead of a traditional bonnet, she sported a skullcap hat bordered by rich black sable, and her black gloves and hem were trimmed with the same expensive fur.
"You look lovely, my dear," Hill said gruffly. "You all do. Very festive. Puts me right in the Christmas spirit." His looks belied his words; he was a rather severe-looking man with sandy hair and a stubborn chin.
"Wonderful!" Eugenia, the saucy one, said. "So you won't be so grumpy, brother?"
"I'm never grumpy. I'm just matter-of-fact."
"Here's the bookseller's," Anna said, always the peacemaker.
"Perhaps we may find a thesaurus, and each of us can pinpoint our particular dispositions. For myself, I do agree that brother Daniel is always factual and to the point."
"Pointy, you mean," Eugenia said merrily."As for me, I believe I am of a spirited disposition. Isabella is good-humored and personable, and you, Anna, are reserved and of an intellectual nature."
"Boring, you mean?" Anna asked, her eyes twinkling.
"Never, sister," Eugenia said."You're much too smart to be boring. So, shall we go in? If we don't settle all of this soon, we'll be late for Uncle William's party." Their driver opened the carriage door and pulled down the steps.
Anna started to step out and was surprised to see a hand extended to her and a gentle voice ask, "May I be of assistance, Miss Morrison?"
"Why, yes, Major Jackson. How wonderful to see you!" In spite of her reserve, Anna flushed slightly and her eyes lit up. He helped her out of the carriage then gallantly handed down the other ladies.
D.H. shook his hand heartily."Thomas, it is very good to see you. It's been far too long. You do look well."
Thomas Jonathan Jackson was thirty years old. For almost four years now he had been at Virginia Military Institute as professor of natural and experimental philosophy --- at which he was an indifferent teacher at best --- and instructor of artillery tactics --- at which he was uncannily expert. He still wore the uniform he had worn during the Mexican War, where he had learned his artillery skills and, along the way, had been breveted a major for gallantry at Chapultepec, where he showed conspicuous courage and bravery.
This uniform was not, however, made to show him off; it was a rather dusky blue, much worn and mended, double-breasted with two modest rows of buttons and the one oak leaf of a major on his shoulder flashes. The breeches were shiny at the knee, and the red stripe down the side was much faded. He wore his old cavalry boots and army-issued blue-caped greatcoat.
He was about five-ten and weighed one hundred seventy-five pounds. His complexion was smooth, his forehead broad, his nose aquiline. His hair was dark brown, soft, and had a tendency to curl. Jackson's most striking feature, however, was undoubtedly his eyes. They were of a lightning blue, such a bright color that they seemed almost to glow at times when he was feeling strong emotion. One of the nicknames the cadets at the Virginia Military Institute had given him was "Old Blue Light." His manner was always dignified and somewhat stiff, with an undoubtedly military bearing. In spite of this he was a forthright man, natural and unaffected. When he spoke to a person, his full attention and that frank gaze were fixed unerringly upon them.
"Thank you, D.H. ," he answered. "As do you. But I must say that you lovely ladies positively brighten the day --- even the whole town. Miss Morrison, that particular shade of green becomes you very much. Mrs. Hill, you look so much like a Christmas spirit that I wish it was Christmas today. Mrs. Barringer, as always, you are positively sparkling."
The ladies murmured their thanks.
D.H. asked, "Thomas, are you going to the bookseller's? Or have you already been?"
Jackson had a brown-wrapped parcel under his arm. For a moment he looked slightly uncomfortable. "No, this is a picture. That is, a daguerreotype. Of me." Next door to the bookseller's was a photographer's studio.
"Really?" Anna exclaimed."Oh, may we see it?"
"I --- I wouldn't deny you any pleasure, Miss Morrison," Jackson answered, obviously flustered. "But I think that would not be a very great pleasure. Besides, it --- it is wrapped securely for my trip home."
Now Anna was embarrassed."Of course, Major Jackson, it must stay --- wrapped. I wasn't thinking."
Jackson bowed slightly."But if you are going to Parson's Books and Reading Rooms, may I beg to accompany you all? I didn't have any particular book in mind, but I love to browse around."
"Please do, Major," Eugenia insisted prettily."We are going to dinner at Uncle William's tonight, and we wanted to stop and get him a book for Christmas. We were thinking about A Christmas Carol. Don't you think he's much like old Mr. Fezziwig?" The sisters' uncle William Graham was a merry gentleman, a Whig of the old school who wore antique knee breeches, ruffled shirts, silk stockings, and heeled shoes with silver buckles. Thomas smiled broadly and his eyes burned brightly."So he is! A delightful old gentleman, if I recall. It has been, I think, two years since I've seen him."
"He looks the same," Eugenia said mischievously."He always looks the same. I think he was born looking like Mr. Fezziwig." "Then A Christmas Carol it must be," D.H. said."Though he will never get the joke. My dear?" He offered Isabella his arm, and Jackson gallantly escorted both Mary Anna and Eugenia into the shop.
It was much like booksellers' shops everywhere, comfortably crowded with books both careworn and brand-new. The shop smelled like aged leather and old paper.
Mr. Parsons was a short, balding man with glasses perched on the edge of his nose and a perpetual slight squint, probably from reading almost continuously for at least forty-two of his forty-five years. He welcomed them and urged them to take tea or coffee in one of the reading rooms. Mr. Parsons was not a grasping man; he loved books so much that he had included two parlors attached to his shop that were far too inviting to promote quick sales. He barely made a profit on his shop, but he didn't care. He loved reading and avid readers and encouraged his customers to sit in one of the comfortably overstuffed chairs by the fireplace to peruse the books at their leisure.
The group wandered about the shop, Jackson to find Shakespeare and Hill in search of Dickens.
Eugenia was heard to exclaim, "Oh, look sisters! It's the newest Godey's Ladies' Book!"
The three sisters crowded around the magazines then went into the nearest parlor to spread them out on the library table so they could all look at them together. Jackson selected a copy of Shakespeare's sonnets then followed the ladies. The parlor was a large room, with four armchairs grouped comfortably around a brisk, crackling fire. The library table was large enough to accompany twelve people, and the sisters were grouped at one end, excitedly talking about the newest ladies' fashions. Jackson helped himself to hot tea from a sideboard then sat down by the fire.
Soon D.H. joined him, with his newly purchased copy of A Christmas Carol. Hill and Jackson had been friends for almost ten years now, because they had served together in the Mexican War. Hill, who in 1851 had been professor of mathematics at Washington College in Lexington, had recommended Jackson to the post at VMI that he had been awarded. The previous year, in 1854, Hill had joined the faculty of Davidson College, near Charlotte, North Carolina. In the last year he and Jackson had not corresponded much, both because Hill had moved and because of the tragic death of Jackson's wife, Elinor. She had died in November of 1854, giving birth to a stillborn son.
Hill settled into the armchair next to Jackson.
Jackson looked up and smiled, a sad and lonely smile that had been his customary expression for more than a year.
"How have you been, Thomas?" Hill asked quietly.
Jackson sighed."It has been very difficult, I admit, D.H. I miss my Ellie more than I can say."
Hill shook his head."I cannot imagine the trial, Thomas. I am so truly sorry."
"God has given me comfort, but you're right. It is indeed a trial. I know that Ellie and my son are waiting for me in Paradise. . . and sometimes I wish I could join them." He stared into space for a moment then continued, "But I have found solace in my work, and in my home."
"You are still living with Mr. Junkin?" Hill asked. When Elinor and Thomas had married in August of 1853, her father had built onto the family home for them.
"Yes, and he is a pillar of strength. And my sister-in-law, Margaret, has also been a great help to me," Jackson answered.
"Sometimes I wonder at the enduring faith and love that seems to strengthen women more than men."
"I agree," D.H. said."I also think Isabella is much stronger than I am, in so many ways."
Jackson brightened a bit."She and her sisters are all such lovely ladies. A man would be blessed to have a wife from the Morrison family."
"So true, my friend," Hill agreed.
Carelessly Thomas commented, "I'm surprised that Miss
Anna has not married. She is such a lovely lady, so intelligent and engaging."
"She is, and she has had two offers that I know of," Hill said.
"But she wasn't the least bit interested. It seems that it must be very difficult for a man to persuade her to have him."
"Mmm," Jackson hummed noncommitally."Most of the time the things that are hardest to obtain are the more precious to have."
With some negotiations about exactly how many Godey's Ladies' Books to buy, and whether or not to also purchase Bleak House, which Isabella had never read, the group finished their book shopping and returned to the carriage.
Once again Jackson escorted Anna, but Eugenia was walking with Isabella, still talking excitedly about their new magazines. Anna asked, "Won't you let us drive you home, Major?"
"Thank you, but no, I prefer to walk. In spite of the cold, it is a lovely day."
It was true; Lexington looked like an idyllic greeting card. The small village had feathery pillows of snow, but the sun was shining beatifically. Far on the horizon were more snow clouds, but they only served to accentuate the brightness of the late afternoon. The walks had been shoveled by industrious boys who earned a nickel from the town's treasury. They had done a fine job, pushing the snow up into neat snowbanks bordering the streets.
Anna agreed."It is a beautiful afternoon. But I'm afraid if I walked too far I might muss my hem." Her hooped skirt was floorlength, as was fashionable, and it took particular care to hold it up without exposing a glimpse of a forbidden ankle.
Jackson smiled down at her."In that case, Miss Morrison, I would be obliged, like that gentleman Sir Walter Raleigh, to cast my cloak at your feet. But I'm afraid it would be a sorry carpet for you." Jackson's blue caped coat, like his clothes, was worn and thin.
"I would still be honored, sir," Anna said."I would be glad to tread on your cloak any time."
He handed her up into the carriage, and D.H. stopped at the open carriage door."Thomas, won't you join us for dinner? Not tomorrow --- Isabella and I have a prior engagement --- but what about on Friday night? Rufus and Eugenia and Anna and I would, I think, make a merry party."
"That you would, D.H. ," Jackson gravely agreed. Glancing at Anna he added, "It would be a very great pleasure, and I will be sure to bring my cloak."
Excerpted from THE CROSSING: The Last Cavaliers #1 © Copyright 2011 by Gilbert Morris. Reprinted with permission by Barbour Books. All rights reserved.
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