Wednesday, August 19, 2020

MAGNOLIA by James S. Kelly

Author: James S. Kelly
Publisher: Outskirts Press
Pages: 432
Genre: Historical Fiction/Civil War Love Story


Two young men grow up in the south, become great friends and love the same woman. One moves north as the civil war nears and becomes Administrative Asst to Abraham Lincoln The one who remained in the south vacates his office of US Senator to become the south’s chief spy. Both men are pitted against each other during the war. As the war ends, they try to renew their friendship but will the presence of the one they both love be an impediment.


            The Bureau of Indian Affairs under the US Department of Interior had its main office in the nation’s capitol.  Cameron Harris worked as an agent for them over the past ten years. Prior to obtaining this position, he served as an Army Scout for ten years in the far west, leaving the service with a military rank of Lt. Colonel. There were twelve agents in the entire directorate that were responsible for all the Indian Reservations in the United States, including about two hundred and fifty million acres of land. Cameron’s territory was the mid Atlantic States to include the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey; he was responsible for twenty five reservations.
This week he was in South Carolina to witness the treaty signing between that state and the Catawba Nation or what was left of it. The Catawba had lived in the South Carolina Region for over five thousand years and at one time were a great Indian Nation. But the incursion of immigrants continually squeezed the nation into smaller and confined areas. There were continuous claims made by the Catawba with very little resolution. Eventually, the federal government awarded the Catawba about fifteen square miles of land in York and Lancaster Districts to resolve their claims. As late as the American Revolutionary war, there were between four and five thousand Catawba; in 1820 their number had dwindled to less than one hundred.
There were many reasons for their decline, including the numerous viruses brought by the Europeans. But the primary one was that they fought on the side of the colonists during the war for independence and the English retaliated. For siding with the Americans, the British destroyed their major villages, which had a huge economic impact on their future. It was the British vindictiveness that devastated their nation. It forced them to turn to the plantation owners for their livelihood. They were now dependent on cotton and tobacco for work and subsistence.
But the signing of this treaty wasn’t the only reason that Cameron Harris left his office in the nation’s capital to be in South Caroline today. He was going home to Charleston to be with his wife, who was expecting their first child. They already had the name picked out. He was to be named after his great grandfather, James Stephen Harris, that is, if it was a boy.
The old chief of the Catawba Nation, Running Deer, had known Cameron for ten years and wanted to celebrate the treaty signing with his friend on this auspicious day. Members of the tribe had dressed in their finest and several state officials remained behind after the ceremony to give support to the Catawba. There wasn’t supposed to be any spirits at the ceremony, but it didn’t take long for a bottle to be passed around. “I’ve got to go, chief. My wife is going to have a baby.”
“Women have baby all the time. Don’t need help. We drink to treaty.”
“You’re not supposed to drink in the court house.” Cameron pleaded.
“No one care; you have drink.”
Cameron smiled. “I’ll come back next week and we can have a party. I’ll bring a deer, but I’m leaving now. I can be home in three hours.”
“You our friend. You have one drink and dance with my people, then you go.”
He shook hands with several state officials, staggered to his horse and made his way home after he had four drinks and did a five minute dance with Running Deer and five other members of the tribe. His wife was living in Charleston with her parents until the baby came. He had a three hour ride to be with her; it started to rain.
He’d come to Charleston two years ago to meet with South Carolina officials to discuss how to supply food to the reservation in their area when there was an emergency, which happened far too frequently. After the meeting, his contact within the State’s Indian Section, Charles Morgan, asked him to join him and another state official at the Beef and Rye Restaurant, downtown. Since he was by himself, he readily accepted. By eighteen hundred standards, the restaurant was average but the food and service were excellent. Cameron had a busy day and was tired; besides he needed to return to Washington the next morning; he wanted to turn in early. But Morgan insisted he meet a friend of his, who was an expert on Indian Affairs.  Rather than be difficult, he allowed Morgan to walk him over to another table in the restaurant and be introduced to Frederick Hendricks, a Professor of American History at the University of South Carolina.
It seems that Hendricks wasn’t the only one at the table. Cameron met Hendricks’ wife Hilda and his daughter Amy, an attractive and perky daughter of twenty one. After the introductions, Cameron went back to his table with Morgan but kept looking back at the Hendricks’ table. His two companions so became engaged in a spirited argument dealing with slavery, but he didn’t hear a word they were saying. He had his eyes glued on Amy Hendricks. When their eyes met, she smiled. As soon as he got up enough courage, he went back to the Hendricks’s table and apologized for the interruption. “Sir, I wonder if I could have a word with your daughter?”
The father nodded and Cameron turned to the young woman. “I hope that I’m not too presumptuous, but would you care to have lunch with me tomorrow at the inn in the town center?”
Amy answered immediately. “I’ll expect that you’ll call at my home tomorrow at noon. If that’s acceptable, here’s my address.” She handed him a small piece of paper with her address printed on it.
He stammered a yes and went back to join Morgan; Hendricks and his wife smiled at each other.
There’s was a white two story, two bedroom home with blue trim around the windows sitting in the middle of the block on First Street. He arrived thirty minutes early and talked to her father while Amy was getting ready. The two men found that they had a lot in common and were engrossed in a discussion when Amy came down the stairs. Cameron got up and complimented her on her light green dress she wore with a matching shawl.
He shook hands with her father and promised that they wouldn’t be gone long.  As they walked to the inn, he was astonished at how small she was. Barely five feet tall with a slender frame; yet she walked with the grace of a dancer. Cameron was no giant. He stood five feet ten inches tall on a one hundred sixty five pound frame. His black hair and brown eyes were in stark contrast to her red hair and blue eyes. This was the start of a one year courtship from Washington to Charleston.  Initially his visits were once a month but gradually increased to twice a month. His main transportation from the nation’s capitol was by a boat that resupplied Forts Sumter and Moultrie, lying on an island in the Charleston harbor. He made this commute for a year before he asked her father for Amy’s hand in marriage.
When her father gave his permission, he stammered a proposal. The only thing she said before he kissed her was, “what took you so long? A girl could get tired of waiting.”
The ride to see Amy took longer than the three hours he estimated, primarily because of the heavy down pour that drenched him to the skin. His father-in-law met him at the door with a glass of wine and a wide smile on his face. “It won’t be long now. She’s in labor and the mid wife and my wife are with her. I think you can go up, but they’ll throw you out when it’s time. I suggest you change into something dry first. Use the kitchen; no one’s there. I’ll put your horse in the paddock out back and give it some oats.”
Cameron only had time to kiss his Amy before her mother said he’d have to leave. Ten minutes later he and Hendricks heard the cry of a new born. Soon, her mother yelled down the stairs, “It’s a boy.”
Within the same time frame, on a plantation ten miles outside the city’s limits, Francois Beauregard, a West Point Graduate, was waiting with his father, Ambrose for the birth of his first child. Similar to Cameron, he hoped and prayed for a boy to carry on his tradition. He wasn’t to be disappointed.
The Beauregard family had lived in the Charleston area since the late seventeen hundreds. They left Haiti in midst of a revolution and arrived at Charleston Harbor with forty of their slaves. Ambrose bought six hundred acres and planted cotton; they named their plantation, Rosebud. Subsequently, they grew so large that they had to employ three white overseers to manage seventy five slaves, who planted and picked cotton; tobacco was a secondary product. Ambrose was a firm but tolerant master and his overseers took his lead in dealing with the blacks. What made his operation work so smoothly was the fact that he worked in the fields alongside the slaves.  He personally operated the cotton gin and baled the product. To date there’d been no runaways that plaqued other plantations in the area. He felt grateful for his good fortune in coming to this country and tried to make life on the plantation as tolerable as possible for everyone, including the slaves.
Cameron owned a modest three bedroom home on the Potomac a few miles from the Capitol; he planned to move his young family there as soon as his wife was able to travel. But he hadn’t counted on his wife’s depression that persisted after the baby was born. His mother in law told him that it was normal for a woman to feel tired and emotional after giving birth. “You must have patience. It may take a little longer than normal, but she’ll come around She’s a tiny woman and it may be weeks before she can build up her strength. I’m going to have Doctor Watson keep an eye on her. Maybe he can recommend a tonic that’ll help.”
“I’ve stayed longer than I anticipated. I must get back to my office or I won’t have a job. Do you think I can leave Amy and the child here for a couple of more weeks and then I’ll come back and take them with me?”
“Cameron, my husband and I want to do as much as we can to help you and our daughter. The boy will be fine with Frederick and me until you come back.”
With a heavy heart he took the ship back to Washington. His boss, the Under Secretary for Indian Affairs wasn’t happy with all the time he’d been taking to handle his personal business. “Look Harris, you either get your personal life squared away or get yourself another job. I’m sorry to be so tough on you but that’s the way it is.” With that he dismissed Cameron.
When he returned to Charleston two weeks later, Amy’s symptoms were the same and the prognosis unsure, but this time there was a different doctor attending to her. When Cameron went into her bedroom, he kissed her on the forehead but she barely acknowledged his presence. He stayed by her bed for over thirty minutes holding her hand and finally stepped out of the room. He walked down the stairs and joined Doctor Allen, who’d recently taken over Amy’s care and was talking to both parents at the kitchen table. “She doesn’t look any better than when I was here the last time.” Cameron interrupted.
Allen turned around to talk to Cameron. “I gave her a sedative to relax. She hasn’t been attending to the baby and she’s not sleeping. I think I’ve done all I can at this time. Perhaps a psychiatrist might be better suited to treat her symptoms.”
“You mean she’s crazy?” Cameron blurted out as he sat down.
“No. I didn’t say that, but she’s troubled. I’ve tried everything I know, but it’s not working.”
“Doctor, I don’t know what to do. My supervisor has threatened to fire me if I don’t spend more time in my office. I’m just a simple man, what can I do? She seemed to be so full of life during her pregnancy. Tell me that this will go away.”
“I’m not sure. This is the worst case of post pregnancy depression that I’ve ever seen. I’m out of my element. There is nothing physically wrong with Amy, but she’s depressed. I’ll contact a colleague of mine, who’s a psychologist; he may have better results with her than I. Since you were coming down this weekend, I took the liberty of asking him to come by and meet with you. His name is Doctor Herman Rosen.”
When Doctor Allen left, Cameron and Amy’s parents sat without saying anything for a few moments. “I don’t know what to do. I can’t take Amy and the child with me. I’m gone three out of five weeks to Indian reservations and some military installations. She seems to need constant care. I don’t know what the cost will be for that.”
“She can stay with us as long as it’s needed. We’re her parents and we love her very much. We also think you’re a fine man and we’re glad that you’re our son-in-law.” Mrs. Hendricks said.
“But the child needs attention. You heard the doctor say that she’s not taking care of young Jimmy. This seems like too much of a burden for you, since your husband is in Columbia during the week.”
“If it gets too much for me, I’ll let you know.”
Cameron stayed long enough to meet Doctor Rosen. “It will take me at least two to three weeks to evaluate your wife and then a week to determine if there is a cure for her depression. Your in-laws told me of your predicament. How often can you visit?”
“I can be back in three weeks.”
“Make it four and I’ll be able to give you a professional analysis.”
Although sad at the turn of events, he went about his duties as before. But all the joy he had in his marriage and the birth of his son was lost; he was lonely and he didn’t know what to do. He travelled extensively before returning four weeks later. He was anxious to hear what Doctor Rosen’s evaluation. They talked for over an hour and although Dr. Rosen was encouraging, Amy didn’t respond to any of his methods or medicine.
”To be honest with you Mr. Harris, I’ve exhausted everything I know. I don’t seem to be able to help her and I don’t know who can. It may be just a matter of time and then again she may never recover.. I’m sorry.” Rosen said.
During the same period of time, her father retired from teaching at University of South Carolina and devoted himself full time to the care of Amy and young Jimmy. With the Hendricks in one of the bedrooms and Amy and Jimmy in the second, .Cameron would sleep on the couch in the living room when he visited. In spite of the trauma with his wife, he and her father became close friends and discussed the mood of secession that was griping the south, and especially in South Carolina.
“How can the south survive? They seemed to be so dependent on cotton and tobacco. What if they have a poor crop one or two years after they secede? Where will the money come from to allow them to survive?” Cameron asked his father in law.
“They’re optimistic that France and England will buy their produce, because those European Countries are heavily dependent upon cotton. In addition, there are many who think both nations will interfere on the southern side if there is an armed conflict. Great Britain has cities that are so dependent upon cotton, that there may be massive unemployment, if the flow is stopped.””
“I don’t know what the southern states will do, but if they do secede, then a naval blockade would seem to be one strategy that could be used to bring then back into the union.” What do you think about the slavery question?” Cameron asked.
“I believe it’s morally wrong, but those who own the plantations are also the drivers behind the secession movement. They don’t think they can survive without the slaves; therefore, they’re not going to give them up. The power of the plantation owners is immense. Although they represent only four percent of the population, they control the majority of the wealth and therefore the legislature. You may not realize this, but the majority of the people in the Charleston area are black. With the law prohibiting the importation of slaves since 1808, they become an even more valuable commodity; those that control them become richer and therefore they increase their power.”
Weeks turned into months and then years. He’d visit every two weeks for the first year, but with no change in Amy’s conditions, his trips were becoming further apart. All during this time, Amy would sit in her room and stare into space; she hardly recognized Cameron when he visited. The Hendricks, were acting as Jimmy’s parents, though at no time did they intentionally ignore Cameron’s rights to his child. He couldn’t have asked for a more cooperative and sensitive in- laws.
After five years, he and her parents came to an accommodation. The boy and his mother would live with his in-laws in Charleston and Cameron would reside at his home in the nation’s capitol. He’d be able to visit his son anytime during the school year and would take Jim with him when school was out.
In the summer, Jimmy would live in Washington with his father or accompany him on his many trips to the Indian Reservations and military installations. Even though the grandparents said it wasn’t necessary, Cameron sent money each month to help defray Amy’s doctor bills. When he returned Jimmy at the start the school year, he’d hold Amy in his arms, kiss her on the cheek, but she didn’t appear to know who he was.
Young Jimmy Harris’ first exposure to any Indian was at The Catawba Reservation, lying along the Catawba River in the Western Carolinas. The Indians had cleared space for over two hundred tents but only seventy were visible. James could see about thirty people in the village doing various chores as they rode up. It was Chief Running Bear, who greeted them and took young Jim under his wing almost immediately. The young man idolized the chief and followed him around as though he was a lost puppy dog. Jim delighted in dressing as an Indian Brave and wearing the old man’s headdress. It was large, filled with yellow and red feathers and dragged on the ground as he walked behind the chief.  One of the braves taught Jimmy how to use a bow and arrow and throw a spear. Each summer he’d stay at the village for at least a month: this was the highlight of the young man’s year. On one of his first trips with Cameron, they visited the Creek and Cherokee villages in South Carolina. Jimmy was exposed for the first time to the plight of the Reservation Indian. He didn’t understand it yet, but he knew what he didn’t like and asked his father why the people in the village didn’t have any energy.
“They’ve been squeezed into smaller and smaller plots of land that can barely sustain life. They’re suffering from malnutrition and now lack hope; they seem to accept their station in life.”
. Most of Cameron duties were to ensure that food supplies were being delivered on a timely basis and occasionally mediate a dispute between tribal nations. On most trips to his list of reservations, he had to find out why the food supplies seemed to be late or not delivered at all; this wasn’t lost on a six year old. He couldn’t put his feelings into words; he just knew something was wrong.
Before the first summer was over, Cameron and his son went fishing on the Pee Dee River making their way through the cotton plantations which were so important to the south until after the civil war, when the dependency on slaves was lost. It was a three day trip to introduce his son to outdoor camping. They stopped at one of the landings along the river and fished from the bank. They didn’t save the young man’s first catch, because Cameron cooked it over a fire and they ate it. Jimmy would have plenty to tell his maternal grandparents when they returned to Charleston.
It was September when Cameron brought Jim back to Charleston. His wife Amy, was sitting in the parlor and welcomed her son; she seemed to have regained some color in her cheeks. The meeting between husband and wife was cordial and even friendly, but not warm.  Cameron had resolved that his wife would never be the same and he started seeing other women in the DC area. He spent most of his time with Abigail Stanton, the widow of Miles Stanton, a British Diplomat, assigned to the consulate in Washington. Left with a small fortune, Abigail felt more comfortable in Washington Society where she lived for the past eight years prior to her husband’s death, rather than return to her home in England. Cameron didn’t feel guilty about his affair; he felt it was the way it was.
As the years passed, the visits to Charleston during the school years were becoming less frequent. When he came to pick up the boy in the summertime in the seventh year of their marriage, Amy seemed to have improved but not enough for Cameron to spend any time with her. He didn’t blame her for the affliction; he just lost interest. The love they had when she was twenty one wasn’t what they had now. The parents were getting older and her father confessed to Cameron one day, that he wasn’t sure what would happen to his daughter after he was gone. Her mother was becoming impatient with her and devoted very little time to her well being. Sooner than later, a decision had to be made about Amy.  Cameron didn’t know what to do.
Eleven years had passed when he received a telegram from Frederick Hendricks to come home immediately. It took him two days but he was too late; his wife had passed away. He tried to remember how it was during their first year of marriage, but too much had happened; all he could remember was how she seemed so distant for the remainder of her life. James Stephen was a fine young man and although he spent some time helping his mother, it was his grandparents who he related to. They filled the role as parents. The question now was what was best for the boy. With the grandparents, he had a home and love; with his father he had love and adventure.
The grandmother seemed to be her old happy self again. The burden of the daughter had been lifted from her shoulders; she wanted Jimmy to live with them. “I know this is your decision, Cameron, but I believe my husband and I can handle his raising; he’s such a wonderful child and he keeps us young.  Frederick thinks the world of the boy. He doesn’t want to replace you as a father; he just wants to be part of James’ life.”
“Why don’t we leave it the way it’s been and see how that goes. I want your word that when the time comes for him to be entirely with me, you won’t stand in my way. You’ll work with me and do what’s best for my son. It’s a couple of months until the end of the school term.  I’ll take him with me for the summer and then bring him back for the school year.” Both grandparents agreed.


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