Sunlight shone through the windows of the well-appointed parlor, bringing a welcome warmth to a slightly chilly Illinois day. Elizabeth studied the dark-haired, dark-eyed, woman seated across from her. Young, very young, not too far out of her teens, perhaps. Willowy. Her dress was clean, but plain and just a bit careworn, in sharp contrast to Elizabeth’s fine morning dress.
Elizabeth set her tea down and picked up the letter of introduction from the table next to her. “So, Mary, Genevieve’s letter says I may be able to help you, but it doesn’t explain what you are seeking. ” Her deep Mississippi accent had been refined by years of very expensive finishing schools, but she’d never lost it entirely.
The younger woman looked down at her hands for a second before looking back up at Mary and responding in a quiet voice heavily tainted with a deep Virginia hill country twang; no refinement here, although she was obviously struggling to speak properly. “She… she said you might understand my problem. She said you had one like to it.” “Might” came out “Maht” and “Like” came out “Lahk”.
She sighed deeply, almost shuddering. “I find my situation… dreadful.”
Elizabeth waited patiently. The girl had to muster her own strength, and in any case, Elizabeth had no other engagements until the evening.
Finally, with an obvious struggle, Mary continued. “I need to find a former Yankee soldier. I don’t know for certain that he is alive. His name is Captain Jeremiah Lodge of the 3rd Illinois Cavalry. They were stationed in Virginia, near Wheeling.”
The new state of West Virginia then, Elizabeth reflected. “What is your purpose in doing so?”
Mary looked stricken. She obviously really didn’t want to answer the question, but it simply wasn’t seemly to ignore a direct question from a woman of Elizabeth’s station. “I don’t rightly know, Ma’am. I ain’t sorted that out yet.” But her nerves made her accent deepen so it came out a little different. “Aah don’t rahtly know Ma’am… Aah… haint sorted thet out yet.”
The tears welled in her eyes and for a moment, she looked as if she was about to completely break down. Mary struggled with herself, set her jaw firmly and continued in a more measured and precise manner. “I can’t stop thinking about him. I’ve tried.”
Elizabeth wondered if there was a baby involved. Scandalous, of course, but hardly unheard of. Especially for a young hill country girl during the war.
“If I may ask. Are there any… obligations?”
Mary looked frankly puzzled, then blinked as she took Elizabeth’s meaning.
“Heavens no! But if he is alive and I find him, he may not be willing to see me.”
Elizabeth eyed her critically. She was certainly pretty enough in a dark, sloe-eyed way. “I’d rather think any man would be more than willing to entertain a visit from you.”
“Well, maybe not him. You see, I shot him. Twice’t.”
Even Elizabeth’s carefully crafted and maintained demeanor cracked. “You shot him two times?”