Blood, Innocence And Glory by Lydia Anne Klima by Lydia Anne Klima - Read Online

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Blood, Innocence And Glory - Lydia Anne Klima

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ONE

Chapter One

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI, OCTOBER 1859

Caroline Richards ate dinner with Robert Delancy at her coming-out party, but if truth be told, she’d rather hide in her cell at St. Mary’s Convent. Delancy, a thirty-year-old physician and surgeon, belonged to one of the oldest Creole families in St. Louis, and he owned many slaves. Though Caroline also came from wealth, she was an eighteen-year-old abolitionist, dying to leave her mark on the world; society meant nothing to her. In this, she was the complete antithesis of her cousin Sarah, who sat across the dining table from her. Known as the Belle of St. Louis, Sarah Collins stopped conversations when she entered a room. Poised, confident, and beautiful, Sarah’s proud deportment made her appear haughty, but it was a vain attempt to keep people at bay. When Sarah rode her chestnut through Lafayette Park, she wore a top hat with black netting and a skin-tight riding habit to show off her amazing figure. People gawked at Sarah, applauded Sarah, and worshiped her. Women copied Sarah’s outfits down to the buttons and bows, and men gave Sarah long looks that infuriated their wives.

It was the end of October, 1859. Earlier this month, John Brown was arrested at Harpers Ferry, Virginia for trying to start a slave rebellion. To Caroline’s dismay, Robert spoke about this to Silas Collins, Sarah’s husband.

I trust you’re following the John Brown trial.

Silas nodded with solemnity. Every Southerner’s following it. The jury must deliver a guilty verdict to send a message to abolitionists.

Sarah sipped her champagne. Hang John Brown and the South will make him a martyr.

My dear Mrs. Collins, Robert said, his voice hardening, as we speak, Southerners are organizing militias to defend their property, and despite John Brown’s effort to free slaves, they remained loyal to their masters.

Then you obviously don’t see the trend of our future, Sarah said. "England abolished slavery in 1833; France in 1848. The institution of slavery is dying as we speak."

Robert laughed. Where would you be without your slaves, Mrs. Collins? They pick up after you. They dress your hair. They prepared this delicious meal. Robert faced Caroline. What do you think, Miss Richards? Will slavery spread to the new states and territories?

Caroline felt her ears go red. She wanted to slip under the table.

Don’t worry, Robert said. Your opinion won’t be held against you.

Caroline faced Sarah in desperation.

Sarah made eyes of disapproval, then wisely changed the subject. The weather’s a bit chilly, don’t you think?

Robert held up a hand to silence her. I asked Miss Richards a question. It’s not every day a gentlemen asks a lady her opinion.

Once again, Caroline faced Sarah for support. Sarah gave a slight nod, knowing there’d be trouble, so Caroline bared her heart.

I don’t know if slavery will spread, Doctor. I hope not. As for John Brown, I think he’s a freedom fighter.

Robert could hardly suppress his shock, but since Caroline was young and impressionable, he would reason with her.

You come from a good Southern family. Your parents are slaveholders.

That’s their misfortune.

Robert couldn’t believe his ears! He clasped the lapels of his frock coat and spoke in a dismissive manner. Senator Albert Brown of Mississippi said slavery is a great moral, social, and political blessing; a blessing to the master as well as to the slave.

Caroline smirked. How would he know? He’s not a slave.

Robert scoffed, The very clothes on your back are the result of slavery. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

I know more than a young lady should.

Then you’re a disgrace to your family.

"Robert." Sarah frowned. You asked Caroline her opinion. She gave it to you. Now please let’s drop this distasteful subject.

Robert shot up and threw down his napkin. I came to meet your cousin, a friend of my family’s, but I won’t break bread with an abolitionist. Come on, Silas.

After the men left, Sarah sat down beside her cousin and put an arm around her. Don’t worry, Caroline. Robert didn’t mean it.

He said it wouldn’t be held against me.

I know, but slavery’s a sensitive topic.

Caroline’s eyes widened. You provoked Robert this evening.

Believe me, Robert and I have no love for each other.

Why?

It doesn’t matter. As you know, Southern women don’t discuss politics. We’re expected to devote ourselves to our family’s interests.

I guess I ruined everything.

Nonsense. The evening’s just beginning. Besides, Robert needs to be put in his place. Most women fawn over him.

Meanwhile, Robert and Silas talked in the library over brandy and cigars.

Those damn abolitionists, Robert barked. They’ll incite slaves to revolt with their malarkey. If we’re not careful, we’ll be murdered in our beds.

I should have warned you about Caroline.

What?

She threatened to have an affair with her father’s most rebellious slave, if he didn’t manumit his slaves.

Why, I’d beat the tar out of her.

That’s why she lives in a convent. The Richards don’t visit her, and they only provide her most basic necessities. They hoped an austere life and a lack of social activity would reform her.

Well it hasn’t. If I were her father, I’d disown her.

It may come to that. I hope not. Silas wagged his head, but Robert didn’t pity Caroline. He pitied her family.

Reading his thoughts, Silas added, Look at it this way: Caroline may be foolish, but she’s one of the richest women in the country.

Why?

Her father owns gold and silver mines.

No wonder she’s arrogant.

Don’t be too hard on her. Think of how you were at her age. You thought you knew everything. So did I. Silas drank some brandy, then said, Remember, Caroline’s been locked away in a convent for two years. Tonight represents freedom for her.

Freedom or social disaster?

Don’t worry. Sarah will straighten her out.

After the men returned to the party, Robert ignored Caroline the rest of the evening, but when Elias Townsend arrived, Robert introduced him to Caroline before another pretty girl caught his eye. Elias sat beside Caroline, talking to her in hushed tones, whispering in her ear, as if they were old friends. Caroline turned pink, growing all the more lovely. Of course Elias wasn’t the kind of man young ladies associated with. Obviously, he didn’t mention his occupation or Caroline wouldn’t speak to him, so Robert slipped away laughing.

The next morning, Caroline took a walk around St. Mary’s Convent and waved to Hosea Washington, the caretaker. Nothing much ever fazed Hosea. Positive to a fault, he never saw a problem even if there was one. Caroline met him when she arrived at the convent two years ago. Hosea felt sorry for her because her parents didn’t visit, so he gave her a flop-eared bunny with red eyes.

As Caroline went down the circular drive, five horsemen surrounded her holding shotguns and rifles. Their leader was Elias Townsend, the man she met at her coming-out party. Elias was dark and handsome with long wavy hair that ran past his shoulders. He had a strong physique and large hands that gravitated toward her thighs. Now he looked her over and tugged the brim of his low-crowned hat.

Mornin’, Miss Richards. These are the sons I warned you about. He nodded to the young men surrounding her, knowing he was better looking than all four combined. Did you enjoy your party?

Yes sir.

Me, too. Now to the business at hand. Elias shifted his weight in his saddle and looked around. We’re huntin’ a runaway slave named Tom Henry. He’s stands around six feet tall; has a brand on his cheek in the shape of a cross. Have you seen ‘im?

No sir.

Elias spat tobacco juice on the ground. Helping a runaway slave is a crime, young lady. You could get fined or imprisoned.

I haven’t seen him, Caroline insisted.

Elias smirked. Everyone knows this convent’s a stop on the Underground Railroad.

You’re mistaken, sir. The closest railroad’s in St. Louis.

The Townsend boys burst out laughing, but Elias wasn’t amused. His eyes narrowed. Don’t mess with me, young lady.

Caroline smiled. Older men didn’t interest her, but Elias was appealing in a crude sort of way. She spent most of last night fending him off. His conversation was suggestive, if not downright vulgar. Now he gave her a baleful glare before he rode away.

At the main road, Isaiah Townsend rode up to his father and grinned. What’d you think of ‘er, Pa?

She’s a foolish young woman.

She’s an abolitionist.

"What? Who told you?"

Robert Delancy.

Elias swore, for not seeing the obvious.

Whatcha gonna do, Pa?

Nothing if she keeps her mouth shut.

If she don’t?

Then we’ll silence her.

Later that afternoon, Caroline read The Hunchback of Notre Dame to a group of orphaned girls, who sat around her in a semicircle. The girls rooted for Esmeralda, the beautiful gypsy dancer, but Caroline had another listener. Dressed in black, a young man watched her from the back of the room. His flat-crowned hat was pulled low over his eyes; his black overcoat concealed his gun belt. He had delivered a wagonload of clothes and food to the orphanage; then he stayed to hear Caroline read.

After she finished, the orphans clapped and begged her to read more. Alas, Caroline declined, but she promised to return soon.

When the orphans left, the young man approached her.

You must like Victor Hugo, he said.

Can you tell? She laughed, but not unkindly. Not only is he a great writer, but he supports John Brown.

The abolitionist?

Caroline forgot herself and curtsied. Sorry if I offended you, mister.

No offense taken. I’m Abraham Spencer, head of the Anti-Slavery Society. My friends call me Bram.

Caroline Richards.

Don’t worry, Miss Richards. Most St. Louisans oppose slavery, but they still auction slaves on the courthouse steps. He scratched the side of his face because she made him nervous. I publish an abolitionist paper. Would you like a copy?

Sure.

After Caroline put on her cloak and gloves, they went outside and stood on the boardwalk. Abraham looked around to see if anyone watched them. After pedestrians passed, he lowered his voice.

Our country might split, Miss Richards. The violence started before John Brown, but it won’t end with him. Have you heard the latest?

What?

John Brown was found guilty on three counts: he’ll hang.

No.

It’s the only way to appease the South. They know the tide’s turning against them. Abraham opened his saddlebag and gave her a copy of The Downtrodden. I give abolitionist speeches. I’ll be speaking in East St. Louis next Thursday. Will you come?

Where?

Independence Hall at sunset.

I’ll try.

I look forward to seeing you. He tugged the brim of his hat and left.

Caroline waved good-bye. Then she mounted her grulla and rode away, grateful to have found another abolitionist.

Though her parents were slaveholders, she hated the institution of slavery. As a child, she played with the light-skinned slaves born in her father’s house. They were her father’s children. In fact, he corrupted the very girls who waited on her. Of course Caroline should have been ignorant of this, but she overheard slaves talking.

When a slave girl entered adolescence, an unscrupulous master sweet-talked the girl and gave her presents, as well as the promise of freedom; anything to get her in bed. If that failed, the girl was locked in a slave pit and fed bread and water. If she still didn’t give in, she was whipped or sold as a field slave, which amounted to toiling under the hot sun until the day she died.

Caroline’s mother, like other Southern women, married knowing her husband fathered many slaves, but she looked the other way. As you can imagine, this caused a great deal of strife in their household. Not to mention, Caroline’s mother was gorgeous. How could her father look at other women? This made Caroline dislike him even more, so she begged her mother to stand up to him.

I don’t trouble myself about such matters, her mother replied. Neither should you.

But he’s committing adultery.

Don’t be ridiculous. After God cursed Ham, Africans were destined to be slaves. Look on the bright side: we give them food and a proper home. If not for us, they’d live in mud huts, and hunt with bows and arrows.

How did they manage before we arrived?

I dislike sarcasm, Daughter. Talk like that is subversive.

I don’t care. You should have seen what happened to Lucinda.

The best thing I did was send her away.

Caroline remembered a slave girl of incomparable beauty with golden curls and bright blue eyes. Unfortunately, Lucinda’s beauty was a curse as well as a blessing. Caroline’s parents argued over her. To Emily, Lucinda never did anything right. Her mother’s friends inquired about Lucinda, and her father guarded Lucinda like a watch dog; no man was allowed to come near her. After numerous family arguments, Lucinda was sent to the auction block, fetching an exorbitant price.

As Lucinda was led away by her new master, Caroline broke through the crowd to hug her good-bye, her face wet with tears.

Don’t forget me, Lucinda!

I won’t, Miss Caroline. God will take care of me. Don’t fret.

I love you!

Me, too.

Those were the last words Lucinda uttered before boarding a steamer for New Orleans, her fate unknown. Back then, Caroline was powerless to help Lucinda, but in a short time Caroline would leave St. Mary’s and embark on new life.

At the quarter-mile drive leading to the convent, a man called Caroline. She wheeled her grulla around and saw Elias Townsend riding up to her on his black gelding. He reined in hard and tugged the brim of his hat. Miss Richards.

Good afternoon, Mr. Townsend. Did you find Tom Henry?

You have a good memory.

I remember things that interest me. She gave him a suggestive look.

You certainly get to the point. He decided to challenge her. Sleep with me, Miss Richards.

"Mr. Townsend." She pretended to be shocked, but she liked his attention. Then she remembered her good upbringing and changed the subject. I’m sorry. Did you want something?

I want you.

Caroline laughed, growing all the more lovely.

Then Elias grew serious. A word of caution, Miss Richards: Stay away from Bram Spencer. He’s trouble.

I disagree, I like him.

I thought you liked me.

Elias grabbed Caroline and pulled her out of the saddle. He kissed her face and neck while she pounded his chest, trying to free herself, but after a while she didn’t want to be free. Elias’s kiss was so provocative, her whole body went slack. She melted in his arms. Then she came to her senses and slapped him.

Elias blinked, but when he saw Caroline’s stricken face, he cocked back his head and crowed with laughter.

Caroline mounted her grulla and galloped away.

Chapter Two

Damon Delancy, Robert’s younger brother, sat in his office at the St. Louis Sun staring at a mountain of paperwork. As editor-in-chief of his family’s newspapers, Damon worked twelve-hour days, six days a week. His Northern papers supported John Brown and had an abolitionist slant. His Southern papers denounced John Brown and were proslavery. It was a way to make money and it worked.

To rest his eyes, Damon studied the dirt street four stories below and saw workmen laying track for the new horse car lines.

Suddenly, his thoughts became disrupted by a pair of seductive gray eyes. Those eyes distracted him at the most inopportune times. They belonged to Sarah Collins, Silas Collins’ beautiful wife. To the envy of many women, Sarah was the most photographed woman in the city. Her photographs and sketches graced shops from Galena to New Orleans. Damon’s newspapers usually featured Sarah in their society column. Wherever Sarah went, she attracted attention. In fact, men fought duels over her.

Sighing with regret, he pushed Sarah out of his mind and went back to work.

* *

As Caroline Richards left the men’s ward at the Catholic Hospital, she carried a bedpan full of piss and shit and was scarcely able to breathe.

All at once, Robert Delancy rounded a corner and bumped into her. He jumped back. What in blazes are you doing? he barked.

I volunteer here.

Do your parents know?

Certainly not.

Wait for me in the supply room. He took the bedpan and left.

When he returned, he found Caroline waiting for him as he asked. She stood by a window gazing at the bleak November sky. Her blouse with the lace-trimmed collar made her look pure and angelic. She wore a full-length apron and calf skin slippers, but her folded arms and tight mouth registered disgust.

Robert washed his hands over a basin and sighed. I trust you’ve washed your hands as well, he said.

She snorted and looked away.

He spoke his mind. You don’t belong here, so you’re quitting.

I can’t quit. My work is considered penance.

"Penance?" Robert laughed. Honestly, Miss Caroline, you don’t cease to amaze me.

She prayed for patience, then tried to explain herself.

My parents sent me to St. Mary’s to break my...rebellious spirit. Mother Superior arranged for me to work at the hospital and the orphan asylum to learn submission.

Well, I’ll speak to Mother Superior, but for now your volunteer work has ended. He dried his hands, not believing the aggravation she caused him. By the by, he said, why were you in the men’s ward?

I bathe the sick and dispense medication.

"A girl of eighteen bathing men?"

I don’t wash their private parts.

Hospitals are outgrowths of prisons and asylums. Nursing’s a lowly occupation.

The Sisters of Charity are nurses.

So are alcoholics and prostitutes. He held up a hand to silence her. I won’t discuss it. Come, I’ll drive you home.

As they drove back to the convent in Robert’s horse and buggy, Caroline’s anger and disgust radiated over to him, making him feel small and insignificant.

By the time they reached the quarter-mile drive leading to the convent, Caroline broke her silence.

I feel I’m making a difference at the hospital. Why can’t I stay?

Because hospitals are full of disease. Honestly, Miss Caroline, I don’t understand you. Someday you’ll inherit millions, and here you are, cleaning bedpans.

He stopped before the Gothic-style convent and took a good look at her. Soft tendrils had escaped her bonnet and were tossed by the wind. She had an attractive profile and full lips. Perhaps she wasn’t too bad.

Feeling his eyes on her, she faced him. What?

When he tried to kiss her, she backed away and laughed.

Do be serious, she scoffed.

What’s wrong?

Big brown eyes glared at him.

All right, he said. We had a bad start. I’m sorry.

I’m sorry, too, Robert. Our mothers are friends. I thought we could have been friends.

We can.

No we can’t. You don’t respect my opinions. You mock me. She lowered her voice because she had grown excited. I know my views offend people, but it’s like fire burning in my bones. If I don’t say something, the rocks will cry out.

This is the South, Miss Caroline. Abolitionists aren’t welcome here. Why, the very idea of abolitionism is rejected.

I’m sorry.

All right. Let’s put you to a test.

What?

I must attend a dinner party next week. The host is proslavery. Will you join me? When she hesitated, he quickly added, Silas and Sarah will be there.

I don’t know.

It will give you an opportunity to practice self-control.

She had reservations, but agreed anyway.

Robert smiled. Remember, a lady doesn’t start an argument. She disarms one.

I’ll try.

That’s all I ask.

Caroline had flashing dark eyes, an infectious smile. He stared at her like a lovesick schoolboy. Then he helped her out of his buggy and drove away.

Caroline felt better than she had in days, so she went to see Mother Superior in her office.

May I speak with you, Sister?

Come in, child.

Caroline shut the door and sat before a massive desk with a crucifix. Mother Superior was a plump comely woman of German descent. She became a nun after her husband died. Now her children were grown and had children of their own.

Caroline shifted in her seat a couple times, then spoke her heart. I’m afraid of my future, Sister.

Why? God has plans for you.

How do I know God wants me to marry?

Do you have someone in mind?

No.

Well, if you have peace and your heart doesn’t condemn you, then you should marry.

And if I have doubts?

A serious nod. Go to a quiet place, turn off your head and listen to your heart.

Thanks. Mother Superior made it sound easy.

Inside her cell on the second floor, Caroline lay in bed and cradled the flop-eared bunny Hosea Washington gave her. Now that she was out in society, she dreaded the prospect of courtship. Sarah warned her about the men who wanted her money, and she pointed out the men of good character. Though Caroline was attracted to Elias Townsend, she knew he was couldn’t be trusted while Robert Delancy was honorable, even if they disagreed most of the time.

The next evening, Caroline crossed the Mississippi River into East St. Louis, Illinois to attend Abraham Spencer’s lecture.

About two hundred people filled Independence Hall. Caroline took a seat at the back of the auditorium and listened to Abraham deliver fiery words against slavery. He made great hand gestures to drive his points home, and he used alliteration, a poetic device employed by the best orators.

Abraham compared slavery to an antiquated feudal system. He said slavery was like a cancer spreading through the land. It had produced an entitlement society: whites lived off the sweat of others and were rewarded for not working; the spirit of self-reliance and self-help that made America great was gone. In fact, Abraham roused the crowd to such a frenzy, teenaged girls swooned and had to be carried outside.

After the lecture, Abraham made a beeline over to Caroline, but a group of teenaged girls surrounded him to touch his hair and clothes.

Abraham fended them off. Then he grabbed Caroline’s hand and brought her outside.

Since his admirers followed them, he asked Caroline to come home with him so they could talk in private. His housekeeper would chaperon them. Caroline foolishly agreed.

Inside his parlor, they sat before a blazing fire that cast their shadows against the walls. Abraham reached across the table and pressed Caroline’s hand.

Thanks for coming, Miss Richards. Did you enjoy my lecture?

Very much. She skillfully pulled her hand away. "I read The Downtrodden and have some questions."

Shoot.

She weighed her words with care, not because she wanted to impress him, but because the cause of abolition was dear to her.

I’ve read the Bible, but can’t find one Scripture that condemns slavery. The apostle Paul told slaves to obey their masters. He never encouraged them to revolt.

True, but western civilization is abolishing slavery. In my opinion, Russia will free their serfs in the near future.

But the situation in America’s complex. Many Northerners are racist like Southerners. Illinois has infamous laws that strip blacks of their civil rights.

Abraham nodded glumly. The best we can do is spirit slaves out of the South.

Suddenly, violent pounding came at the door.

Abraham grabbed his revolver and stood beside the door. Who’s there? he asked.

Damon Delancy. Open up!

Abraham faced Caroline. Do you know him?

Yes.

When Abraham opened the door, Damon burst in and punched him.

Abraham fell down, stunned.

Damon jabbed a finger in Bram’s face. Stay away from Miss Richards!

Having said that, Damon grabbed Caroline’s arm and brought her outside. He put her on his roan; then he climbed in the saddle and galloped away. Damon met Caroline at her coming-out party. He arrived with a group his friends, but his friends were more interested in watching Sarah play the piano. Who could blame them? Being beautiful, Sarah could bang the keys and mesmerize people.

At St. Mary’s Convent, they went in the reception hall, a cavernous frame-and-panel room with a man-sized fireplace. Caroline sat by the fire while Damon paced before her in a cape and knee-high boots. His voice shook with emotion.

Bram Spencer’s our enemy. Why were you alone with him?

We discussed slavery and abolition.

Those subjects aren’t worthy of discussion.

They are to me.

The soft glow of the fire made Caroline stunningly beautiful, and since she was far too lovely, he backed away from her, but spoke his mind. You don’t belong down South, Miss Richards. You’re too independent, too strong-willed.

At least I’m not a hypocrite.

I beg your pardon?

She shot up. You detest Bram Spencer, but his ideas make you rich. I’ve read your Northern papers. They have antislavery, anti-Southern views.

My job is to turn a profit.

At the sake of losing your conscience? Ha!

Damon grabbed Caroline and pulled her against him. She thrust him away. He pulled her back. Then she barred her arms against his chest and said, What are you afraid of, Damon?

I’m not afraid of anything!

No? She stepped into him.

He held back from kissing her. Now he understood why Robert liked her. That being the case, he would distance himself from Caroline, no matter how alluring she was, so he started to leave, but he stopped at the door for one final look.

Caroline was smiling at him and sexy as hell. I thought you weren’t afraid, she said.

Damon left before he did something foolish.

Chapter Three

Robert Delancy and Silas Collins sat in a second floor box at the St. Louis Theater waiting to see a dramatized version of Jane Eyre. Since it was the kind of play that appealed to women, they went out drinking beforehand and were in very good spirits, so when Sarah Collins walked in and saw their drunken condition, she snorted and walked out.

As it so happened, Sarah sat directly below them on the main floor of the theater. She wore a low-cut silk taffeta gown that showed off her generous cleavage.

Laughing wickedly, Robert put an arm around Silas and pulled him close. Does your wife really have huge tits or does she stuff?

Silas laughed, not the least offended. Sarah’s got the real thing.

Do you mind if I have some fun?

What do you have in mind?

Robert whispered his intentions.

Silas laughed. Go ahead, but you’ll incur her wrath.

She’ll get over it. Robert checked his pants pockets and found a couple silver dollars.

Suddenly, the stage curtains opened and the play began. It was the perfect Victorian drama about an orphaned girl going from rags to riches. During the scene where Mr. Rochester meets Jane Eyre for the first time, Robert dropped a couple silver dollars over the balcony.

The first coin struck Sarah’s head. The second went down her cleavage. Robert and Silas burst out laughing.

Red-faced, Sarah looked up gaping. Then she stormed out of the theater, followed by her friends, who were equally appalled.

Robert thumped Silas’s back. Don’t be offended, old man. It was all in fun.

Silas wiped away mirthful tears. It’s funny, but there will be hell to pay.

At intermission, Robert and Silas went down to