Set during the aftermath of the American Civil War, Confederado do Norte tells the story of Mary Catherine MacDonald Dias Oliveira Atwell, a child torn from her war devastated home in Georgia and thrust into the primitive Brazilian interior where the young woman she becomes must learn to recreate herself in order to survive.
Mary Catherine is devastated when her family emigrates from Georgia to Brazil because her father and maternal uncle refuse to accept the terms of Reconstruction following the Confederacy’s defeat. Shortly after arrival in their new country, she is orphaned, leaving her in Uncle Nathan’s care. He hates Mary Catherine, blaming her for his sister’s death. She despises him because she believes Nathan murdered her father. When Mary Catherine discovers Nathan’s plan to be rid of her as well, she flees into the mountain wilderness filled with jaguars and equally dangerous men. Finding refuge among kind peasants, she grows into a beauty, ultimately marrying the scion of a wealthy Portuguese family. Happiness and security seem assured until civil unrest brings armed marauders who have an inexplicable connection to Mary Catherine. Recreating herself has protected Mary Catherine in the past, but this new crisis will demand all of the courage, intelligence, and creativity she possesses simply to survive.
I dreamt the dream again last night. In the small hours, I awoke in a tumble of bedclothes and bathed in perspiration despite the howling snowstorm blanketing the city. I rearranged quilts and plumped pillows, but sleep remained elusive. My mind refused to be quiet.
As often happens after such a night, I felt unable to rise at my usual hour and remained abed long after the maids cleared breakfast from the morning room. My daughter-in-law, bless her heart, meant well. I told her it was ridiculous to bring the doctor out on such a frigid day, but apparently the very old, like the very young, are not to be trusted in matters of judgment. After the doctor listened to my chest, a studied sympathy filled his eyes and he gently suggested that perhaps I should get my affairs in order. No doubt he wondered at my smile for he couldn’t have known I have no affairs other than my memories and the emotions they engender.
Unlike most elderly persons, I don’t revel in slogging through the past. It isn’t wrapped in pretty ribbons or surrounded by a golden aura. Instead, its voices haunt my dreams, demanding and accusatory. Until recently, I’ve resisted their intrusion into my waking life, but I now believe the past can no longer remain buried in nocturnal visions. It must be brought out into the light of day. From its earliest moments onward, the past’s substance must be gouged out, pulled apart, and examined bit by bit until its truth is exposed. While total objectivity may not be possible, I have concluded that committing the past to paper is my best hope for sorting facts from imaginings. Perhaps then I will achieve the peace that has so long hidden its face from me.
You see, when I was quite young—only a girl really—I killed four people. Two were dearly beloved, one was a hated enemy, and the last was a dangerous criminal.
My story begins at the end of a terrible war, one that destroyed many lives and much property. But for that war and a handful of newspaper editorials and advertisements, my life would have turned out quite differently. Sometimes it seems no time at all has passed since I was a nine-year-old child standing on the deck of a ship watching home disappear over the horizon.
Warm Gulf breezes tugged at the brim of my bonnet, setting its ribbons dancing. Leaning over the Alyssa Jane’s railing, I stared back in the direction of Mobile Bay and pretended I could see the dock where my beloved Bess stood, probably still waving. Mama, her pretty features marred by a furrowed brow and down turned mouth, paced beside me.
“Mary Catherine MacDonald! Get down before you fall overboard. All we need right now is another crisis. And stop wiping your nose on your sleeve.”
Mama didn’t seem to understand anything anymore. Before we left home, she was calm and kind. Afterward, she snapped at the least little thing. I threw her a hateful glance, but she had already turned away, so I stubbornly leaned a little farther out over the railing. The wake trailing behind the Alyssa Jane looked like a blue-green path lined on either side by mounds of ginned cotton, a path pushing me away from the only life I had ever known. Only my sniveling broke the silence of that October morning.
A swish of crinolines brought Mama beside me. She grabbed my arm and whispered through clenched teeth, “Mary C., I told you to get off that railing. Go below and stay there until you can do as you’re told!”
I stomped across the deck, pausing once beside the mainmast to scowl over my shoulder. It was all so unfair. I hadn’t asked to be dragged along on this blasted trip. I wanted Bess. I wanted to go home, no matter how damaged it was, no matter who ran the stupid government. I wanted to be anywhere but here. But Mama turned away from me. She wasn’t even going to watch to see that I did what she said. Her indifference was like a slap in the face.
As I jumped through the open hatch leading below deck, the pungent odor of pine tar mixed with burning kerosene assailed my senses. I hated the smell. Besides making me slightly queasy, it reminded me of how final my losses were. Nothing at home smelled like the interior of that old tub. I hit the steps at a near run with plans to fling myself into my hammock and stay there forever. It would serve them right if I just upped and died. I bowled along toward the sleeping area blinded by tears and the sudden gloom of the narrow passageway.
Without warning, I crashed headlong into a pair of wool-encased legs. The trousers’ owner and I struggled momentarily in an awkward dance. With a standoff in the making, he harrumphed once, picked me up by my arms, deposited me on the other side of him, and stepped toward the hatch.
Tears forgotten, I tugged on his retreating coattails, ready to let him see my displeasure. Hooded eyes with ink black irises stared down in return. He didn’t look particularly angry, but authority hung about him like a mantle.
I swallowed, choked back what I intended to say, and instead muttered, “I’m sorry for running into you.”
He gazed at me for a moment and then simply nodded before turning away. The Reverend Jonas Williams might be a man of God, but his unsmiling countenance raised the hair at the nape of my neck as though someone stepped on my grave. Mama often fussed that Bess planted too many of her superstitions in my fertile imagination. I was now old enough to understand that some of what Mama said was true. But the Reverend Brother Williams still affected me like a haint. A slight shudder slithered down my spine, as though my body was trying to rid itself of his effect. I turned and fled down the hallway toward our sleeping quarters. Many months later, I would come to see this encounter as an omen, a foreshadowing of all that came afterward.
TO WIN A COPY OF CONFEDERADO DO NORTE AND Al CAPONE AT THE BLANCHE HOTEL, ALSO BY LINDA PENNELL, ENTER AT RAFFLECOPTER AND ANSWER THE QUESTION BELOW:
I have always found the past fascinating, so naturally I am drawn to historical fiction as a reader and writer. What is it that draws you to historical fiction as a reader, writer, or both?
About the Author
I have been in love with the past for as long as I can remember. Anything with a history, whether shabby or majestic, recent or ancient, instantly draws me in. I suppose it comes from being part of a large extended family that spanned several generations. Long summer afternoons on my grandmother’s porch or winter evenings gathered around her fireplace were filled with stories both entertaining and poignant. Of course being set in the South, those stories were also peopled by some very interesting characters, some of whom have found their way into my work.
As for my venture in writing, it has allowed me to reinvent myself. We humans are truly multifaceted creatures, but unfortunately we tend to sort and categorize each other into neat, easily understood packages that rarely reveal the whole person. Perhaps you, too, want to step out of the box in which you find yourself. I encourage you to look at the possibilities and imagine. Be filled with childlike wonder in your mental wanderings. Envision what might be, not simply what is. Let us never forget, all good fiction begins when someone says to her or himself, “Let’s pretend.”
I reside in the Houston area with one sweet husband and one German Shorthaired Pointer who is quite certain she’s a little girl.
Favorite quote regarding my professional passion: “History is filled with the sound of silken slippers going downstairs and wooden shoes coming up.” Voltaire