A free sample (about 10%) of the novel.
A novel of British spying
during the American Civil War
by Paul Gresham
Copyright of Paul Gresham 2018 All rights reserved
An aristocratic Englishwoman, her husband who is a fanatical Confederate officer and a freed Negro slave who is an overseer on their Southern plantation are lured into a bizarre scheme to save the Confederacy from defeat during the American Civil War.
Will it succeed?
Her husband is enthusiastic about the scheme but she doubts if it is
genuine, and so does the Negro, but no-one takes any notice of him because of his inferior social status.
They are lured into the scheme by a mysterious visitor who claims to be a Confederate officer.
But he has a slight British accent.
Is he really what he claims to be, or is he a British secret agent?
When she hesitates to agree to the scheme he unleashes a series of terrifying attacks in an attempt to persuade her.
Will she surrender?
What happens when
Chapter One: ‘the same Anglo Saxon people…A Negro overseer’
He finished his breakfast and glanced out of the window at the front of the plantation house, then looked closer at the end of the long sweeping drive.
A horseman had passed through the sturdy wooden entrance gate with the ‘Buckley House’ sign on it, and was riding at a leisurely pace towards him, probably grateful for the intermittent shade which the live oak and magnolia trees cast over him.
As he drew nearer he saw that he was wearing a grey Confederate uniform, including a grey slouch hat with the yellow tassels around the brim that signified he was a cavalry officer.
He was also armed with a pistol that was holstered in a gun belt around his waist.
While he was waiting for him to arrive he limped towards the side table and glanced at the ‘Richmond Examiner’ newspaper which was lying there.
It was dated the 10th. of July 1863, and a long article in the centre column described the battle of Gettysburg which had been fought just over a week earlier.
Apparently it was a Confederate victory, but an indecisive one for the Confederacy had suffered considerable losses, although so had the Yankees.
He felt a moment of regret.
If he had not been wounded at the battle of Chancellorsville a few months earlier he could have led his men into battle at Gettysburg and maybe helped transform it into a decisive victory.
But much could have happened since then – General Lee could have advanced and defeated General Meade’s Yankee army, he consoled himself.
However, he had no means of knowing this for the newspaper was three weeks old, he had bought it on a visit to Hampton Landing, a sea port on the Virginia coast that was about twenty miles away.
He waited for his Negro servant to open the door and announce his visitor, and wondered what business the army had with him.
He overheard a few words being exchanged and a few seconds later the Negro appeared in the doorway of the dining room.
“Somebody to see you, Mister Blunden” the Negro said.
“Show him in please, Afra.”
“Yes, Mister Blunden.”
He stood up and waited in the centre of the dining room to receive his visitor, wincing from the pain in his thigh where the Yankee musket ball had struck him at Chancellorsville.
Suddenly the visitor was standing in the doorway. holding his hat in his hand.
He was a big square jawed man who was around forty to forty five Blunden guessed – ten years older than himself, and he had a short cropped beard and the ruddy complexion of a sailor.
He reminded him of the British ships’ captains that he had sometimes seen on his trips to Hampton Landing, when their ships were tied up at the waterfront there.
There were three gold stars on his collar, so he was a Colonel.
“Captain Blunden?” his visitor asked in a soft Virginia accent.
“Yes. And you are?”
“Honoured to meet you captain. I’m Colonel Robert Burrows of the Confederate Army Of Northern Virginia.”
He looked at Blunden appraisingly and saw that he was aged about twenty five, and was about six feet tall, with a boyish face and fair hair which was rather long.
“How’s your wound? You’re recovering well, I hope” he said.
“I have few problems riding, but walking is rather different, sir” Blunden answered.
“May I enquire about the purpose of your visit, sir?” he added.
“That will become evident in a few moments, when we can discuss it in private.”
He glanced at the open door and raised his eyebrows quizzically, so Blunden went to the door and closed it.
“Not here – outside” Burrows ordered.
He ushered the other man through the entrance door and led him towards the stables, a couple of hundred yards away at the rear of the house.
“This will be fine” Burrows said, when they were standing a few feet from the stable doors.
He inclined his head towards the building.
“No, nobody’s in there” Blunden assured him.
Afra was still in the house, he presumed.
“Very well” Burrows concurred.
“This matter is so private that you are not to discuss it with anyone else. Do you give me your word on this, as an officer and a gentleman?” he said.
“Yes, sir” Blunden agreed.
“Before I continue, I’m required to show you this Letter Of Authority” Burrows said.
Blunden looked at the letter curiously and saw that it was made from heavily embossed paper with a seal, a kind of mark or stamp which was often used on official documents, at the top of it.
“It’s the Great Seal Of The Confederate States Of America” Burrows explained.
Blunden looked at it curiously and saw that it was a circular shape which depicted General George Washington, the hero of the American Revolutionary War, and the first president of the United States, in military uniform prancing on a horse.
He was surrounded by a wreath which depicted the most important crops that were grown in the Confederacy, such as cotton, tobacco, wheat, corn, sugar cane and rice.
It also bore the motto ‘Deo Vindice,’ which meant ‘God is our Protector,’ at the bottom of it.
He read the Letter Of Authority and saw that it stated: ‘I the undersigned do hereby grant Colonel Robert Burrows, of the Confederate Army Of Northern Virginia, the right to command any person whatsoever in any matter whatsoever and without hindrance from any person whomsoever.’
‘Signed By My Hand On This Day The Fifth Of June 1863’
‘Robert E. Lee’
‘Confederate Army Of Northern Virginia’.
He looked closely at the signature and saw that it was written in an italics style, with the letters slanted forwards and with loops in some of them.
“Is this the general’s signature?” he suddenly asked.
“Of course. Why do you ask?”
“It just seems…”
“What?” Burrows said sharply.
“Well…the letter and the signature, it all seems rather… grand” he finally said.
“That’s because you aren’t accustomed to seeing Letters Of Authority which have been signed by General Lee” Burrows snapped.
Burrows raised his eyebrows.
“My apologies, Colonel, you’re quite correct” Blunden said hastily.
“We’ve wasted enough time, we must now discuss the matter at hand” he said.
He looked around and lowered his voice.
“The General believes that Great Britain can be persuaded to help us fight our valiant Confederate cause.”
Blunden looked at him incredulously.
“Why? I mean why would the British want to do that?”
“Kinship, for one reason.”
“We are the same Anglo-Saxon people, are we not?”
“I guess so, but –”
“Captain Blunden do not, I repeat do not, constantly question your orders” Burrows said irritably.
He looked around suspiciously, then continued.
“Your wife is English, and has connections with the British parliament” he said knowledgeably.
“A very slight connection” Blunden said evasively, for he sensed that he was being manipulated.
Burrows nodded agreeably.
“Her half-brother is Lord Calverton, an influential Member of parliament” he said.
Blunden reluctantly concurred.
Sarah had mentioned his new role as a politician in the British government some time ago, after she had received a letter from him.
“He’s heavily in debt. Gambling debts mostly, but he’s also made some unwise investments on the London Stock Exchange” Burrows continued.
Blunden looked at him incredulously.
“How do you know all this?” he said.
“Because we have friends over there” Burrows said quietly.
“Let’s just call them sympathisers.”
Blunden looked thoughtful.
“Your wife hasn’t told you about the debts, has she?” Burrows added.
“That’s irrelevant” Blunden said angrily.
He tried to remember what else she had said when she had received the letter from her half-brother.
Then it came to him.
“He has only limited powers, he can do nothing without the consent of parliament” she had commented.
“He cannot authorise military action alone, only parliament can do that” he said.
“He can influence parliament though” Burrows said flatly.
Blunden shrugged disinterestedly.
“She is a wealthy woman, she can easily afford to pay his debts” Burrows said.
“I think she will do anything for him, because the family honour will be at stake, that kind of thing, unless he pays them” he added.
“What if I refuse to allow her to do it?” Blunden said.
“And hinder me? Have you forgotten the General’s order already? ‘Without hindrance from any person whomsoever?’”
“This is what will happen next. You will persuade your wife to travel to England” he ordered.
“How else can she make contact with the British parliament?” Burrows said.
“No, you will accompany her.”
“My overseer. I would prefer him to travel with us.”
“Afra, the Negro who opened the door for you, he also acts as my servant.”
“Why do you want him to go with you?”
Blunden did not feel inclined to discuss the nature of the relationship between himself, his wife, and Afra, with a complete stranger.
“Because he is…loyal to us” he finally said.
“A Negro overseer – that’s unusual” Burrows said thoughtfully.
“My previous overseer, a white man, was killed at Sharpsburg last year.”
Burrows nodded soberly.
“Yes, tell him to go with you” he said.
“I can’t, he’s a free man, I’ll have to ask him.”
“He’s free?” Burrows said surprisedly.
He was aware that Negro slaves could purchase their freedom, or be granted it, but it was unusual.
“Do whatever the hell you want with him” he finally said irritably.
He paused thoughtfully.
“No, do your best to persuade him, he might be useful, it’ll show the British that we don’t treat Negroes as badly as the Yankees say we do.”
He could no longer contain his curiosity.
“I will not enquire why you did not employ another white overseer” he added coyly.
“You may enquire as much as you wish sir, for I will freely appraise you of the reason.”
“Very well. The plantation is hardly profitable and I cannot afford to employ a white overseer; in fact I cannot afford to employ anyone apart from Afra, which is why you did not see anyone working in the fields when you arrived.”
Burrows nodded attentively, but wondered why he had hired an overseer when there were no field hands to oversee.
He also wondered why he claimed to be suffering from financial problems, when his wife was a wealthy woman.
Surely she was willing to spend her money on the plantation. Maybe she was, but he was too proud to accept it.
“As you’re aware, the Yankee blockade has ensured that there is a relatively limited market for our cotton and tobacco crops” Blunden went on.
“However, it is not entirely effective for the British send ships to pass through the blockade and trade with us” Burrows interposed.
“True” Blunden agreed.
The blockade runners, as they were called, were fast sailing ships – although sometimes they were steam powered, that supplied luxury items, which were much in demand, to the Confederacy, in
exchange for a handsome profit.
“But why are we discussing this?” he added, puzzled.
“The fact that the British send blockade runners proves my point. They are already supporting our Confederate cause in an economic sense, so there is every reason to suppose that they will be willing to support us in a military sense, as well.”
He was not exactly being truthful, he admitted to himself.
The British government did not finance the blockade runners, they were financed by British private investors who were only interested in making a profit from the Confederacy’s financial woes, they did not necessarily support the Confederate cause.
However, he doubted if Blunden knew this.
“May I discuss this with my wife?” Blunden finally said reluctantly.
“Of course, I understand that it cannot proceed without her consent.”
He shook hands with Blunden.
“That will be all for now, captain.”
“Today is the…” he had to think for a moment, for he had little use for dates, then it came to him.
“Today is the first of August” he finally said.
“Let us agree to meet here at the forenoon in seven days time, on the seventh of August.”
“There is just one further matter; do not make enquiries about me and do not enquire about my position in the Confederacy, or you will jeopardise the…‘undertaking,’ let us call it.”
“Furthermore, do not speak about this matter to anyone else, except your wife, of course.”
“You may simply tell the Negro that you have to travel to England.”
“And he may accompany you if he wishes” he added distastefully.
“That will suffice for him” he finished.
Blunden watched thoughtfully as Colonel Burrows rode along the drive towards the gate and disappeared from view.
Burrows was apparently unaware of the fact that his wife was not an ardent supporter of the Confederate cause.
In fact she was opposed to the South’s secession from the North, and was not afraid to make her views known.
He turned away from the window and sat down in a soft cushioned chair, for his leg was becoming painful again.
There was something unusual about Burrow’s accent; it was a Virginia accent but sometimes it almost sounded like a British accent.
However that wasn’t important.
The Letter Of Authority from General Lee was more important.
Was it genuine?
Afra left the back of the house and walked across to the stable, a couple of hundred yards away.
It was a small low building with sun bleached clap board walls, a shingle roof and a strong double door at one end that was secured by a sturdy bolt.
The drawing room where Mister Blunden and the officer were talking was at the front of the house so they couldn’t see him.
It was better if he kept out of their way, so that nobody could say that he was listening to whatever they were talking about.
He unbolted the stable doors and opened them, they swung shut when he was in the stable because the hinges were loose.
He went towards the stalls where the two mares were kept, each in their own stall, then forked fresh hay into their hay racks and picked up a couple of buckets so that he could take them to the well and fill them up with fresh drinking water.
They should be outside in this weather, maybe Mister Blunden would tell him to exercise them later.
While he was forking the hay he thought about the officer who had called on the Blundens.
Where had he come from?
He couldn’t have stayed with a bunch of other soldiers in the area because there were no other soldiers around – he was sure of it.
As far as he knew the nearest soldiers were further up north, where the fighting was.
Maybe he had come from Richmond, because that was where the Confederate headquarters were, everybody knew that.
No, he couldn’t have come from there because it was a hundred miles away; it would take four or five days to ride that kind of distance.
Unless he had come from Richmond and had stayed at some places on the way, maybe at a few plantations.
His horse, a gelding, hadn’t been ridden very far, he could tell that by looking at it – it was too fresh.
So where had he come from?
He thought about it.
If somebody asked him – not that they would, he would say that the gelding had been ridden for about fifteen miles, maybe less.
What was there that was around fifteen miles away?
There were no more plantations, the nearest plantation was fifty miles away.
The only places that he could think of were a couple of farms, both in the direction of Hampton Landing. One was about five miles away and the other was about ten miles away, but that was abandoned so he couldn’t have come from there.
Suddenly he heard voices outside; one was Mister Blunden’s and the other was the officer’s, he guessed, although he had only heard him speak a couple of times when he had showed him into the house.
He tried to decide whether to make a noise to let them know that he was in the stables or whether to just keep quiet.
But it was too late because they had already started talking.
He started to move towards the stable doors so that he could hear them more clearly, there were plenty of gaps between the doors and the wall.
But he suddenly changed his mind – if they saw something moving in the gap they would know that he was in there.
He moved towards the wall instead where there were no gaps and pressed an ear against the wood.
“This will be fine” he overheard the Confederate officer say.
“Unless?” he added.
“No, nobody’s in there” he overheard Mister Blunden say.
He kept very quiet and listened to their conversation.
She put the paint brush down in the brush tray of the easel and looked critically at the water colour picture of the house that she was painting.
She had not quite captured the afternoon sun on one of the columns, she decided, the light was softer than she had interpreted it.
She had rather optimistically given the picture a title, which was ‘Sun On A Plantation Home.’
‘Optimistically’ because it implied that she was finally satisfied with it and was ready to show it to her friends in Richmond, or perhaps even display it in one of the art galleries there.
Although it would be a long and arduous journey to achieve that, for Richmond was over a hundred miles distant, and several days ride away.
At the foot of it she had signed it with her name, ‘Sarah Blunden,’ in small copperplate handwriting.
Below this she had written ‘Buckley House Plantation, Hampton Landing, Virginia, 1st. of July, 1863.’
Edmund would like it of course, but he knew nothing of art, he would like it because he thought that this would please her.
He had once suggested that she should paint a self portrait but she had said that it would probably be too self flattering.
“It would not be so if it captured your beauty” he had said gallantly.
“You are a true Southern gentleman, Edmund, however perhaps your compliment should be paid to someone who is younger than I” she had replied.
At the age of thirty two she was beginning to be sensitive about her age, especially as she was seven years older than he was.
A few mornings ago when she was sitting at her dressing table she thought that she had seen a strand of grey hair among her normally fair hair.
But she could not find it in the brush when she had brushed her hair so perhaps she was mistaken.
In any case, she was not beautiful.
Her features were pleasing, certainly, she had no doubt about that, she had no false sense of modesty about it, but she was not a beauty.
She glanced around the garden and suddenly through a gap in the trees saw someone riding towards the house.
It was a man, a middle aged man with a cropped beard who was wearing a grey Confederate uniform.
He was an officer – a Colonel, judging by the three stars on his collar.
She was tempted to abandon her picture and go to the house to discover who it was, but decided to make one more attempt to capture the light on the column before the sun moved around the building.
No doubt Edmund would enlighten her when she returned indoors.
She mixed some more paint in the palate and tried to capture the light again.
As she lightly brushed the picture she thought about the officer’s visit.
Perhaps it was something to do with Edmund’s wound, although she could not imagine why a senior officer such as a Colonel would visit him about that.
In fact they hardly received any visitors, for their home was fifty miles away from the nearest other plantation.
When they lived in Petersburg, and later Richmond, they had hosted many social gatherings.
But now with so many young men fighting in the war their social life – and the social life of the entire South she supposed, had been disrupted.
In truth she did not miss the social gatherings that much for they had become what could only be described as celebrations of anticipation for the impending war.
She loved Virginia and the South but in recent years it had changed, it had become poisoned by hatred – by hatred of the ‘Yankees’ as some in the South
called those that lived in the North.
One of the plantation owners – they were usually called ‘planters,’ had even held a celebratory party with fireworks and champagne when the ‘Confederacy,’ as it described itself, had fired on the ‘Yankee’ government fort of Fort Sumter.
The planter was quite drunk and had said something about ‘teaching the Yankee scoundrels a lesson they wouldn’t forget.’
He had raised his glass to her and invited her to drink what he called ‘a toast to victory’ but she had declined.
“You are mistaken, sir, the ‘Yankees,’ as you call them, are not scoundrels, they merely do not wish to divide the nation” she had said coldly.
However, her husband was an officer of the Confederacy and it was her duty to be loyal to him, which meant that it was her duty to be loyal to the Confederacy.
She put the paint brush down and pursed her lips disdainfully.
She would do her best to be a good Confederate.
She would try to hate the Yankees.
She glanced at the picture again – and blinked with disbelief.
The sun was no longer shining on her home, it was grey and sombre as if a cloud was passing over it.
But when she looked up at the sky there were no clouds, it was a clear sunny day, as it had been a moment ago.
She felt a moment of unease, almost a superstitious dread.
Was it a portent of the future?
No, she decided, she had imagined it.
Blunden walked thoughtfully around the garden, partly to exercise his injured leg and partly to think about the visit by Colonel Burrows.
He carefully avoided the area around the magnolia tree where his wife was painting for she disliked being disturbed when she was engrossed in her art.
Several things were puzzling him.
He had not dared ask Burrows where he had set out from in order to visit him because he would probably regard it as impertinence.
Even so, it was rather puzzling.
Perhaps he had travelled from Hampton Landing, the nearest town, and a sea port, but it was twenty miles away and he did not seem to have travelled that far, his appearance was pretty fresh and his horse was only slightly jaded.
He paused to look at the rose garden and noticed that the leaves were wilting in the summer heat; the bushes required watering, he would mention it to Afra.
The notion of neglect, of something being abandoned and uncared for, made him think about the plantation.
Who would care for it while they were absent, if they complied with Colonel Burrow’s order?
They could hardly ask another planter to do it.
In more certain times other planters might offer to buy it, but these were uncertain times and the market for plantations was probably depressed.
In any case there would not be enough time to sell it because Colonel Burrows would be calling on them in a weeks time, on the seventh of August, when he would be expecting them to decide whether to take part in the ‘undertaking,’ as he called it.
Even if there was enough time, a prospective purchaser would invariably ask awkward questions, such as “Why are you selling?” and “Where are you going?” etc.
They could hardly explain that they were selling because they planning to travel to England to try to persuade the British to help the Confederacy.
In any case, Colonel Burrows had made it clear that they were not to discuss the undertaking with anyone else.
He walked along the drive to the entrance gate, a few hundred yards away and paused in the shade of a live oak tree.
But the effort of walking had cost him dearly, his leg began to throb with pain.
Would he have to resign his commission in order to take part in the undertaking?
Burrows had not mentioned that possibility.
If so how would his fellow officers and men react?
Would they suspect that he was a coward who was deserting them because he was afraid of being killed, or because he had lost faith in the Confederate cause?
No, surely not, he had often proved his courage in battle, and his faith in the cause.
He would be absent from his duties for quite a while, regardless of the consequences, so Burrows must have a considerable amount of power if he was able to withdraw an officer from his duties.
Unless General Lee had approved it.
If so, maybe he had been wrong to be suspicious of the Letter Of Authority which had apparently been signed by him.
Then there was Sarah – how would she react?
She loved Virginia but was openly opposed to secession, so much so that word of her opposition had reached his commanding officer.
He had made his disapproval known when he had visited him as he was lying in the makeshift field surgery tent after he had been wounded at Chancellorsville.
He had first expressed his sympathy, then changed the subject.
“Captain Blunden, I expect my officers to have the correct attitude towards the war” he had said.
“This means that I expect them to have complete commitment to our Confederate cause.”
Blunden had nodded weakly.
“However, they cannot have the correct attitude if they are married to someone who does not have the correct attitude.”
“You must speak to your wife, and order her to abandon her rebellious attitude.”
Blunden looked away thoughtfully.
‘Her rebellious attitude.’
Was that so terrible?
Surely the Revolutionaries who had fought for independence during the Revolutionary War also had a ‘rebellious attitude.’
“She is English, is she not?” the officer said accusingly as if that was sufficient evidence of her disloyalty.
“Yes” Blunden concurred.
“Her father was a Virginian and his father fought the British during the Revolution” he added wearily.
“I’m aware of that.”
Blunden found new strength and looked at him defiantly.
Did his English wife who had a rebellious attitude prevent him from leading a cavalry charge during a raid against the Yankee Army Of The Potomac the year before?
Of course not.
Did her rebellious attitude prevent him from slashing the throat of the Yankee sergeant who had tried to kill him at the battle of Chancersville a few months ago?
Of course not.
“Speak to her about it,” his commanding officer had ordered.
But of course he had not done so, for she was entitled to her opinion, however misguided it was.
In any case she was not alone, there were others in the South who were also misguidedly opposed to secession, and were willing to surrender to Yankee oppression.
Finally his thoughts turned to Afra, their overseer.
Maybe he would refuse to go with them to England, maybe he would prefer to seek other employment rather than embark on the uncertain and possibly dangerous ‘undertaking’ which Colonel Burrows had proposed.
Or maybe he would agree to the undertaking and promptly join the Yankee army when they reached the North.
However, that could be dangerous too, because he had heard that Negroes in their army sometimes fought on the battle field, although they were usually only given menial tasks.
Apparently Negroes sometimes fought for the Confederacy too, although he had not personally encountered any Negro Confederate soldiers.
But Afra was a free man so he was different to the slaves that had escaped from the South and had joined the Yankee army.
Maybe he would decide that he had no reason to fight for the Yankees.
Why should he? To gain his freedom?
No, he was already free.
He did not consider the possibility that the Negroes who had joined the Yankee army had done so not because they thought that it would help them, but because they supported the Yankee Union.
He thought a little more about Afra’s sense of loyalty.
Why did he stay with them at the plantation?
Was it because he was loyal to them?
Or was it only because they provided regular employment for him?
Or rather which Sarah provided for him, for it was the regular remittances which she received from England that paid his wages.
In truth he relied on the remittances too, for he had no funds of his own and his captain’s pay was not sufficient to maintain a plantation, especially in these difficult times.
Suddenly he thought of something.
If Afra came with them he would probably need the document which proved that he was a free man, or he could be in trouble.
He had given it to them for safe keeping and it was stored in the…what was it called – the cabin trunk which Sarah had brought with her from England, along with their own personal documents.
He had shown it to them before they agreed to store it for him, and as he recalled it stated that ‘Afra Hunter a free man of color aged twenty one who was heretofore registered in the’ etc., he couldn’t remember the rest.
But he did remember that it had been issued by the ‘Clerk of the Hustings Court in The City Of Petersburg, Virginia,’ sometime during the year before, in 1862, and that it had the red seal of the state of Virginia at the bottom left hand corner of it.
He had not asked him how he had acquired his freedom, but he remembered thinking that it was unusual for a Negro who was so young to be free.
In any case, even if he had asked him he would probably not be given a truthful answer.
But he could not blame him for that.
He would speak to him later, after he had spoken to his wife.
He walked back along the drive to the house, sometimes pausing to rest his leg and sometimes to admire the live oak trees that were on each side of it.
He went through the front entrance door and walked into the drawing room where there were some comfortable chairs to rest his leg on.
He found that she was seated at the roll top desk under the window, writing a letter.
“Edmund” she murmured without looking up.
“We’ve had a visitor” she said matter of factly.
“Yes, a Colonel Burrows” he said.
“Oh? Was it a social visit, or was it about your return to duty? If it was the latter I hope that you advised him that you’re barely fit enough to walk.”
“Colonels don’t pay social visits to captains, and soldiers don’t walk – they march.”
“Don’t be pedantic. In any case at the moment no-one is doing any…marching, as you put it, thank goodness.”
“According to the ‘Examiner,’ following the battle of Gettysburg, General Lee with his Army of Northern Virginia, and General Meade with his Army Of the Potomac, are encamped on the opposite banks of the Rappahannock River” she added.
“Hopefully, that is where they will remain, and there will be no further unnecessary bloodshed” she finished.
Blunden looked away, it was impossible to reason with her on the subject of the war.
In fact, General Lee wasn’t sitting around doing nothing, as she implied.
He was consolidating his army in readiness to successfully attack the Yankees again, and lead the South to victory.
He was convinced of it.
“However, what was the purpose of his visit?” she asked.
“Sarah, would you like to see a speedy conclusion to the war?”
“Of course. The sooner this madness is over the better.”
“Surely you mean the sooner the Confederacy achieves victory the better.”
“If you say so.”
“Yes, I say so” he said angrily.
“Would you prefer to be ruled by the Yankees?” he went on, still angry.
“Would that be so terrible, compared with the terrible cost of this war?” she said.
“Yes it would, and I would rather you kept your opinions to yourself.”
He began to pace up and down.
“The Yankees are an alien creed, they have nothing in common with the South” he said passionately.
“Did the British not fight the French in their war against Napoleon so that they would not be ruled by an alien creed?” he added.
She was not surprised by his knowledge of Britain’s war against the French emperor Bonaparte Napoleon, during the Napoleonic Wars of 1803 to 1815, because he had several books about military history in the study.
“That was a nation at war against another nation, not a nation at war against itself ” she countered.
She turned to face him.
“My dear grandfather would…what is the common expression? He would turn in his grave if he could see what is happening to his beloved country.”
“I will not shut up!” she said defiantly.
“Do you think that he fought the British – and I am British of course, so that father could fight father, and brother could fight brother, in a futile war that will destroy the South and will leave a festering wound between North and South that will linger for generations?” she said, her voice rising.
He turned away uneasily.
“Sarah, I have something to tell you” he said after a few moments.
She put the pen down and turned around to face him.
“Colonel Burrows has approached me with a proposition.”
“How’s your brother – your half-brother, I should say?” he suddenly added.
“William? He’s quite well, I believe” she said calmly.
Was she reluctant to mention his debts because she had a sense of loyalty to him? he wondered.
“Sarah, Colonel Burrows has proposed that we do something to further our Confederate cause.”
“Really? What is it?”
He described the ‘undertaking’ which Burrows had put to him, mentioning her half-brother but omitting his supposed financial problems.
“Do you believe that Great Britain will help?” she said bluntly.
“I don’t know” he admitted.
“This Colonel Burrows – what do we actually know about him?” she suddenly said.
“Nothing,” he admitted. “His orders were that we should not enquire into his background.”
“Really? How convenient.”
“Yes, I suppose that’s true.”
“No matter, I have a friend in Richmond who is familiar with the Confederate higher command, perhaps she is acquainted with him, perhaps I should visit her.”
“I would rather you didn’t” he said quickly.
“I dare say you would. However that is irrelevant, for unlike you I am not subservient to any orders from General Lee.”
“Unfortunately, you are.”
He repeated Burrow’s warning that no-one including his wife and overseer should speak to anyone else about the order.
“Nonsense!” she scoffed, throwing the pen down on the floor and turning to face him angrily.
“Let us consider the matter dispassionately” she said.
“Someone in Confederate uniform, who may or may not even be a Confederate soldier, let alone a Confederate Colonel, gives you an order which may or may not be genuine, and you jump to attention.”
They looked at each other in an angry silence for a minute.
“My friend in Richmond is very discreet, I assure you” she said softly.
“Your friends are chatter boxes, they are incapable of being discreet.”
“That’s not entirely true, Edmund.”
“It would assure us of his bona fides” she added thoughtfully.
He looked at her uncomprehendingly.
“It’s Latin, it means his credentials – it will assure us that he is genuine.”
“No! I absolutely forbid it!”
“You aren’t in a position to forbid anything Edmund, you would be penniless without my money.”
“Please, Sarah, I beg you.”
“It makes perfect sense to investigate his background. Why are you so opposed to it?”
“Can’t you see?”
She looked enquiringly at him.
“Because a Confederate officer does not question his orders, whatever he might think of them” he said tiredly.
Afra waited until he was pretty sure that Mister Blunden and the officer had finished talking, then casually strolled out of the stable.
The yard was deserted, they must have gone.
He started to walk towards the barn, that was about fifty yards away, planning to get some gardening tools out and tidy up the garden.
But suddenly a voice called out from behind him.
He turned around and saw that it was Mister Blunden.
Where did he come from? Had he been watching the stable? Did he know that he had been hiding there?
“Afra,” he said calmly.
“Mister Blunden,” Afra answered equally calmly.
They looked at each other for a moment without speaking.
“Quite soon we – Mrs. Blunden and myself, might have to leave Buckley House” Blunden finally said.
“Mind if I ask where you goin,’ and what you’re fixin’ to do, Mister Blunden?”
“I can’t tell you.”
Afra looked away thoughtfully, and Blunden decided that he deserved a better explanation.
“This journey, I don’t think that you’d approve of it” he said hesitantly.
“You could give me a chance not to approve of it, Mister Blunden.”
He was correct but…
“If you were aware of its purpose I doubt if you would wish to accompany us.”
“Some folks say that maybe England can help the South win the war” Afra suddenly said.
Blunden searched his face.
Where had he heard that?
Was he hiding in the stables when Colonel Burrows was talking to him? Had he overheard their conversation?
Probably, he decided, but there was nothing he could do about it.
“Yes, I have heard that too” Blunden said casually.
“Maybe the North will win the war” Afra suddenly said.
Blunden stiffened with anger.
“I doubt that very much” he said harshly.
“What would happen if the North did win the war, even though you doubt it very much?”
“You’re being insolent!” Blunden said angrily.
“Just curious, Mister Blunden.”
Blunden became calmer.
“Nobody knows what would happen, in that unlikely event. But if you’re concerned about your future I surmise that the North would view Negroes very favourably.”
“How would the North treat you, Mister Blunden?”
“Probably not so favourably” he said evenly.
He had long ago decided what would happen if the Yankees won the war.
They would want their revenge, and they would be particularly vengeful towards plantation owners, whether they were slave owners or not.
Afra looked thoughtful.
“You’re a free man, it’s your choice, what do you want to do?” Blunden said.
But before he could answer he decided to tell him some more.
“If you came with us on this journey you would have to go to England” he said.
Afra looked surprised.
“What would I do there?” he said.
Blunden had to think for a moment, for he had never been to England.
“Mrs. Blunden has sometimes mentioned the Negroes that are in London, and this is how she described them” he began to explain.
“In London the Negro is employed by certain gentlemen as a ‘companion,’ which is a kind of friend.”
Afra looked puzzled.
“Why? Don’t these gentleman have any friends of their own?” he asked curiously.
“Yes, they have plenty of friends, but if they have a Negro companion it makes them more interesting to their friends” he said.
“So I’d have to be interesting” Afra said soberly.
“No, you would just have to be a Negro, that would be interesting enough for them.”
Afra nodded understandingly.
“Maybe I could sing a song or dance for them” he suddenly offered.
“I don’t think that will be necessary” Blunden said irritably.
“Go on, Mister Blunden” Afra urged him.
“They share their gentleman’s house, they are present when he is entertaining his friends and associates at his home, and they accompany him in his carriage whenever he ventures abroad on the streets of the city.”
He tried to think of the word that Sarah had used when she had been describing them.
Then it came to him.
“They are regarded as a ‘novelty’” he said.
“Are these Negroes happy, bein’ treated like a…novelty Mister Blunden?”
“I don’t know” Blunden admitted.
There was a short silence.
“I’ll think about this, Mister Blunden” Afra said.
Blunden nodded and walked back to the house, and Afra watched him for a few seconds.
“Would you be happy, bein’ treated like a novelty, Mister Blunden?” he muttered.