Monday, December 8, 2008

Shades of Gray Excerpt - Chapter 16

Excerpt from Chapter 16

Confederate Captain Hunter and Andrea Monroe have met on several occasions. But in this chapter, Captain Hunter finally figures out that the spy he has been chasing and the young lady he met in Richmond are one and the same.

Hunter cursed without looking up from the map he studied when Private Malone knocked and stuck his head in the door.

“Sorry, sir, but you said you wanted to see anyone the pickets stopped from now on.”

“What do you have?” Hunter snapped from behind his desk.

“Just a young boy traveling alone. Says he’s lost, what with the weather. We can send him on his way if you like.”

Hunter felt inclined to do just that. The weather was indeed atrocious. A soupy mix of fog had moved in, making it impossible to see three feet in any direction. An interrogation would likely not be worth the interruption. “Where did he say he was heading?”

“Uh, he didn’t quite say. He’s being rather impudent.” Malone paused as if gauging Hunter’s reaction. “He wants to know by what authority we halted and questioned him. Says he shouldn’t need a pass nor answer to people while traveling in his own country.”

“Is that so?” Hunter looked up for the first time. “Well, I would be delighted, and indeed it is my duty, to enlighten him that he is traveling in my country now. By all means, send him up.”

By the time word passed down to the pickets, more than a few minutes had passed. Hunter resumed reading a captured dispatch, comparing its contents to former notations he had placed on a map.

Malone brought the boy in, saluted, and made a hasty retreat. Hunter did not realize another person was in the room until he looked up from his communication and saw the youth staring at a large map on the wall. When their eyes finally met, the moment of recognition was simultaneous. The boy looked instantly down, and Hunter let out an oath.

Hunter continued to stare at the figure, blinking as he tried to allow his brain to catch up to what his eyes were seeing. There could be no mistake now. The youth looked identical to the one he had seen from across the stream almost a year earlier. But now he was close enough to see the green, almond-shaped eyes and feminine-shaped lips, the same ones he had seen just three months ago in Richmond.

“So.” He stood up and crossed his arms, glowering at her. She stood stoically still, looking him squarely in the eyes, doing a good job of not betraying the terror he sensed she felt. Hunter walked around her slowly, trying to figure out how this supposed Southern aristocrat had fooled him and so many others. “It appears I finally have the opportunity to meet the war’s most famous gadfly.”

“I was under the assumption that honor belonged to you.” She flashed him a smile.

Hunter looked at her severely for a moment, then continued, his voice losing its casual tone. “Where are you going ? What is your business here?”

“I am going—” Hunter watched her eyes flick up to his and then to the floor. He could tell she had been considering telling an outright lie and thought better of it. “I’m going to visit my cousin north of here.”

“Dressed as a boy?”

She shrugged and met his stare with a corresponding look of defiance. “I’ve grown tired of Richmond. And I, uh, I had no escort.”

“You have no escort, so you dressed as a boy,” Hunter repeated, rubbing his chin. “I don’t believe that’s an option most women would choose.”

“Your memory is short, Captain. I believe I told you before, I am not most women.”

“As to the former, unfortunately for you, it is not,” he answered. “And as for the latter, yes, I believe we are quite in agreement on that point.”

Despair, disappointment, and even a little humiliation, showed clearly on her face. Hunter swept his eyes over the image of her ragged and well-worn clothes. His mind drifted back to the ball in Richmond, then to Fredericksburg and his brother’s final devotional words to her.

“Would you care to extend me the courtesy of telling me your real name?”

“I have no desire to extend that courtesy, nor is it my duty or obligation to do so.” She turned her back on him and began to rudely tap her toe.

“Well, I guess I can call you Maryann. You are accustomed to that name, are you not?” The room filled with silence. “Or do you prefer Miss Marlow?”

She turned back toward him. “My name is Andrew Sinclair.”

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