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Ric Wasley interview with "Books & the World"
Ric Wasley interview with Tell-Tale Publishing
“Here's your invitation to visit Civil War America, to go to the seat of war and the seat of domesticity as well, to know not only the fears of the soldier but the worries of the family he leaves behind. Once Candle in the Wind takes hold, you will not want to put it down. It's lively, evocative, and bursting with drama.”
-- William Martin, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Lincoln Letter
The year is 1863 and the Civil War – the “cruel war” as the poets and songwriters call it, is raging with a fury unimagined just two short years ago.
Back then, in April of 1861, when the ‘Fire-eaters” of South Carolina had fired upon the Federal flag in Charleston Harbor, the prediction on both sides of the Mason/Dixon line was unanimous that the forthcoming, “gentlemen’s disagreement”, would be over in three months. The boys would be home by Christmas; chests festooned with medals and noble brows crowned with laurel wreaths of glory.
But as said the poet Bobby Burns; “The best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.”
And so they have.
The “Gentlemen’s war” has evolved into a bloody slaughter with scarcely a town or home on both sides untouched by the tragic loss of the flower of its young men.
And as if to emphasize the seriousness of the struggle, President Abraham Lincoln has just announced the first order of “Draft” in the history of the American Republic. Because he knows that if the war is lost, the fledgling attempt at self-government will collapse into the dustbin of history.
It is against this background that two families come to realize just what the war means to them, their lives and their countries.
They are the Dawes: Jeptha, Fiona and their five year old daughter Bridget; A young family of farmer/fishermen living on a thin spit of sandy peninsula stretching out into the Atlantic from the rocky coast of Massachusetts.
And the Denby’s: The proud descendants of Southern planters turned lumber producers from the foothills of the Carolina’s.
Both families are heading for wrenching events that will propel them into the maelstrom of war and leave them all changed forever.
As the story opens a young wife and her daughter begin a desperate journey and race against time. Fiona Dawes has traveled from their seaside home in Massachusetts through New York, Gettysburg and south into the Confederate capital in Virginia and up to the Piedmont Mountains in search of her husband who was listed as missing presumed dead since the three day battle at Gettysburg. She does not believe it.
She is also being pursued by cutthroats in the pay of their arch Nemesis at home; the powerful Frost family - who own most of the town. For reasons Fiona does not understand they want the Dawes farm and a mysterious chest of old documents rumored to be hidden there. And they are ruthlessly prepared to get it by whatever means necessary. There is also an even more sinister collusion under the surface between the Frosts and a malevolent southern colonel that hints of war profiteering by smuggling southern cotton to northern mills.
This mystery deepens as Fiona finds sketchy accounts that her husband Jeptha, survived the hellish cauldron that was the Battle of Gettysburg and was taken as a prisoner to the infamous Confederate prison of Belle Isle in Richmond.
To make matters worse, the long arm of the Frosts and their minions dog Fiona and her daughter at every turn. They struggle desperately to stay ahead of Frost’s cutthroats who pursue them through the perils of New York during the infamous Draft Riots (made famous in “Gangs of New York), Richmond and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
It is in a backwoods tavern there that Fiona’s luck finally runs out and she runs afoul of the odious Confederate colonel, Vincent Bouchard, who in addition to being secret partners with the Frosts has developed a smoldering lust for Fiona that once refused leads him to threaten Fiona and her daughter with the most vile retribution possible.
Events then takes an unexpected turn and Fiona’s narrow escape throws her into the company of a man who offers her protection out of the most chivalrous of motives which Fiona gratefully accepts. But in doing so she has perhaps exposed herself to unexpected feelings of her own which may ultimately prove more devastating than the Frosts and the evil Bouchard combined.
The story races from there through a multilayered plot in which Fiona and her husband find themselves separated not only by distance and war but the temptations of other loves and perceived betrayals. And along the way our protagonists are not just immersed in love, danger and heart stopping action, but witness to and participating in history with some of the giants who helped to write it – such as Abraham Lincoln himself!
Fans of History, Mystery and Romance are certain to enjoy, “Candle in the Wind.”
An Excerpt from: Candle in the Wind
Copyright © 2013 Ric Wasley
All rights reserved, Wild Child Publishing.
Fiona stood at the back of the throng crowding the post office steps and wondered if she was holding back from the press of bodies in front of her out of politeness or fear.
She sighed, because while she had always been taught to be polite, an even firmer legacy inherited from her parents was being honest, especially with herself. And she knew in her heart that the reason she was holding back from pushing her way up to the list tacked to the notice board was not out of politeness—it was from fear.
She knew that most of her neighbors made the apprehensive pilgrimage to these steps every time the papers gave news of a great battle. But anxious as she was to know that Jeptha was safe, she had not been able to bring herself to go when her neighbors had previously offered her and Bridget a place in their wagon.
She tried to tell herself that she had too much to do on the farm to go traipsing off to town, but that wasn’t it. No, it was the dread of seeing the name of Jeptha Dawes on the smudged impersonal list with the single harsh line printed across the top: “Casualties.”
“Stop it, girl!” she scolded herself. “You did not come all this way not to know.”
So with a deep breath, she pulled her shoulders back and pressed firmly forward, saying, “Excuse me, ma’am—I beg your pardon, sir.”
Gradually enough, backs turned and elbows moved to allow her to inch her way to the front row of the crowd. She stood on her tiptoes and peered at the list—Daniels, Davis, Dawson…but no Dawes.
Her knees weakened. She muttered a small prayer of thanks and turned to go. She had taken two steps back when she heard a gasp from the large, plain woman beside her.
“Oh my Lord! No!” The woman staggered and sat down heavily on the post office steps, clutching her chest.
Fiona recognized her and quickly dropped to her knees beside her. Taking her hand, she said, “Mrs. Hanson, are you all right? Shall I fetch you some water or…?”
The big woman shook her head, dazed. “It—it can’t be…not Billy…not my baby.” She buried her head in her hands and sobbed, great fat tears leaking from between her fingers.
“Oh, Mrs. Hanson. Is it your son Billy, then? Has he been…?” She couldn’t finish the question. Slowly she rose and peered at the notice board, again running her eyes down the page until the stopped at Hanson, William. The stark words read, “Killed.”
A tightness pulled at Fiona’s her chest. That boy was in Jeptha’s company. The same shot that killed him could have killed… But no, his name was not on the list. He had been spared, and she was—
What? What was she thinking? There was a grieving woman next to her. A woman who had lost her son.
She bent down and gently took one of the older woman’s hands. “Oh, Mrs. Hanson, I’m so, so sorry. Is there anything I can do? To help, I mean. I—I…”
How inane and hollow her words sounded in her own ears. What could she say? What could anyone say to a grieving mother who’d lost a child? What could anyone say to her if something were to happen to Bridget or Jeptha?
She gripped the hand of the woman tighter and tried to force the thought from her mind, but it seemed as though the morning sun had dimmed and the summer day had turned December cold.
Gettysburg – July 2, 1863 Little Round Top
Jeptha startled himself with the volume of sound that broke from deep down in his lungs with that single word. He felt dizzy for a moment, but only for a moment. Sucking a great draught of humid summer air back into his lungs, he gripped his musket tighter and vaulted over the breastwork.
He turned and raised the musket over his head, shouting, “Com’on, you Cape Cod men. Let’s show ’em how we gaff bluegills at home!”
With a ragged cheer, the handful of men in his squad joined him and the rest of the Union troops streaming downhill into the flashing muzzles of the Confederates surging upwards to meet them.
Jeptha dodged around a shattered tree stump just as a .58 caliber Minie ball whizzed past his ear and buried itself into the scarred pine beside him. He instinctively winced and gripped his musket tighter. A second shot plowed the dirt at his feet and sent particles of grit into his eyes. He wiped them with the back of one dirty hand and felt for the Colt in his belt. He pulled it out and checked the single load. One shot. One chance against a loaded musket but only at twenty paces or less. And inside of that killing range, better the bayonet. Besides, wasn’t that what this charge was all about? The bayonet. Cold steel against warm flesh. Rebel flesh or Union? They were going to find out in about ten seconds.
A Confederate shell plowed up the earth in front of them.
Daniel Samuelson, a fisherman from Wellfleet, clawed at his face and fell heavily to his knees. “My eyes! Oh Lord Jesus, my eyes!”
Jeptha swung three paces to the right and quickly bent down. The private from a small fishing village at the tip of Cape Cod stared back at him with bloody, vacant eye sockets.
“For God’s sake, someone help me!” He swung his hands back and forth, seeking a friendly hand to guide him back to safety. Jeptha’s hand moved tentatively forward. But in the instant before the shaking, bloody fist grabbed it, he pulled it back. His men were already ten paces ahead of him. He couldn’t do anything for the blind fisherman who would never fish again.
“I’m sorry, Daniel,” he whispered and took three loping strides until he was even with his men once more. And now he could see the faces of the Sesh troops rushing up to meet him. Four more steps, three more, two more—one and—
There was a crash of steel against steel and sharp, glittering metal tearing into soft flesh. Screams—curses— oaths—gasps. Then men yelling, calling out in pain and triumph, some with bestial atavistic cries of victory, and others in the throws of terrified, lonely death, calling out for their wives, sweetheart, mothers with heart-rending cries born of desperation against the horrifying knowledge of impending death.
All this Jeptha felt in the heartbeat between the crash of the two lines meeting and the slashing aftermath. But almost as soon as it registered, the dozens of images blurred, and he found himself fighting for his life. A private with brown teeth and a ragged hat discharged his weapon inches from his ear. Jeptha shook his head to clear it, and the Reb was on him, bayonet stabbing for his vitals. He stood on tiptoes and sucked in his stomach as the Reb’s bayonet tore through the front of his blouse.
Almost without thinking, Jeptha brought the heavy steel-banded butt of his musket up and smashed it into the tobacco-stained teeth of the southern solder in front of him.
The man dropped his musket and grabbed his blood-spurting mouth, gurgling inarticulate sounds as he tried to spit out pieces of broken teeth. The point of Jeptha’s bayonet wavered around the man’s midsection for a moment, and then with an unconscious shake of his head, he was off again down the hill.
He gritted his teeth, bayonet level with his hips, but saw with disbelief that the Rebel forces were falling back. The few who still had rounds provided their comrades with covering fire, and officers waved swords and discharged pistol shots. But nonetheless, they retreated.
They had broken the Confederate charge. The Union flank was saved!
“Drop that rifle, sergeant!”
Jeptha looked around, perplexed. The battle was over. Who was yelling at him? He looked up. A tall, fair-haired Confederate captain had a big revolver pointed at his midsection. What was the matter with him? Didn’t he know it was time to go back to his lines? Which was just what Jeptha was going to do.
The captain took two more steps brandishing the revolver. “I said drop that rifle, sergeant. You’re now my prisoner.”
Oh, no, I’m not. Jeptha grimaced and swung the long rifle in a sweeping arc that took the captain by surprise, catching him in the shoulder, knocking the pistol from his hand and sending him stumbling backwards.
He scrambled for his revolver, but before he could grab it, Jeptha was on him with the point of his bayonet centered at the captain’s throat.
He looked up at Jeptha with defiance but also with certain knowledge that within moments he’d be dead.
But Jeptha was done with killing, at least for the moment.
“Captain, my compliments, sir. You and your men fought bravely, but right now I’m mighty tired and thirsty so I’m going back up that hill—Little Round Top, the colonel called it—and get me a cool drink of water and lay down in the shade of whatever tree I can find.”
Jeptha slowly backed away and moved up the hill, leaving the captain blinking in the late afternoon sun.