A Crinoline for Caroline
The day Caroline Fredricca was eighteen was the day the Civil War broke out. That day, instead of everyone being gay, the people in the mansion near Natchez were in a turmoil.
Nobody said much. Even Eliza, the coloured maid who was usually full of talk, went about her work silently.
Seeing that no one in the house would talk to her, Caroline went to the stables in an effort to find someone. But the stable boy, Landy, was shoeing a horse and didn’t pay her any heed.
She went over to see her pet mare, Star-Belle Lady and her colt, Star-Lucky. As she stroked the mare, Caroline wondered whether or not the war would come near them. She was loyal to the south and also to Craven Slattery, the town gent who came out often to see her.
Now Caroline knew Craven would be in the army. Maybe he’d even be killed but Caroline didn’t want to think of that.
She went back to the house and up to her room. If Craven came today he’d like her in her prettiest dress. And was there not to be a party tonight?
Caroline opened her closet door and surveyed the array of dresses before her eyes. They were beautiful dresses, of silks, satins, net and lace and were of most every colour of the rainbow.
There was one Caroline liked especially. It was a pale green net dress with white dotted marquisette over it. And there was a green fan and a dark green velvet bow to wear with it.
Craven liked it too, because it brought out the green of her eyes.
That night, an almost happy crowd gathered at the mansion. Caroline, in the green dress, waited out on the stone verandah until the sound of horses hooves echoed in the lane. Then he came into view. The white stallion halted at the gate. He leaped off and raced up to the lawn into Caroline’s waiting arms.
“Craven, oh Craven! The war?”
She pulled herself away from him. Craven Slattery looked down at her.
“Liney, they made me a solider. I’m leaving here tonight.”
As her gasp, he continued.
“General Lee, he done called all us boys to come and fight.”
“Then you won’t stay?” she queried anxiously.
“I cain’t, honey. But I’ll try and see you when I get my first leave. And I guess it isn’t right for me to say it, but ‘Happy Birthday.’”
He kissed her and went back to his horse. Caroline watched as he wheeled the horse around, blew a kiss to her and then was gone. She sank down on the grass and wept.
The war was three months old when a winded courier sped through the gate of the mansion and swung off his horse at the front verandah. Caroline, sitting inside, went to answer the knock. The boy panted the message that said something about Captain Slattery.
Caroline seized the boy and said in an anxious voice, “What about Capt. Slattery? Did he get hurt?”
“Ma’am, that I don’t know. But he said to tell you that them Yankees are a-sneaking around this here country.”
Caroline would have prodded the boy for more information, but he was gone. She turned to see Eliza standing in the archway.
“Miss Caroline, you father wants to see you.”
“Thank you, Eliza.”
Mr. Fredricca, a handsome man of sixty, was in the study when Caroline knocked at the door.
“Poppa, Eliza said you wanted to see me.”
“Oh, yes. Caroline, do you realize that the Union Army is within twenty miles of this house?”
“No, Poppa. I just got a message from Craven. He said the same thing. Oh, Poppa!”
“Caroline, I want you to destroy all your clothes and hide your jewels in a cloth sack.”
“We are going to leave this house and live in a smaller one, Caroline.”
“But Poppa. All my lovely dresses! The beautiful things Craven gave me!”
“You will have no need for them, my dear. You will wear crinolines like the slaves and heavy shoes.”
“When do we go, Poppa?” said Caroline rather drably.
Caroline turned and fled. Up in her room, she flung herself on the bed and wept. Only the sound of the horses galloping up the lane made her stop. She got up and went to the window. There below was a heavily lathered horse.
Just then a knock came at the door and Eliza handed her a note. The writing was small and barely legible. Only when she saw the name Craven Slattery did she give a deep sigh. Then she made a rush to the closet. From behind the long line of dresses, she took a pair of men’s pants and a shirt. Quickly she changed into them. Then she seated herself on a bench by the fireplace and began searching through some papers. But it was on the top. A picture of a handsome man signed, “To Liney from Craven.” She put the picture in her pocket, threw the other papers into the burning coals of the fireplace. Then she went downstairs.
Even Eliza was surprised to see the girl.
“Why, Miss Caroline, you is all changed.”
“How do I look, Eliza?” said Caroline, trying to be gay. Then her smile faded as she noticed the crates and boxes piled around the room.
“Is your clothes all ready, Miss Caroline?”
“Poppa said I couldn’t take any.”
“Well, your Poppa’s wrong. We’ll hide them in here. Now you get them, honey.”
That night, the mansion was, for the first time since it had been built, in darkness. Behind it, plodding silently through the wood, seven people walked with a purpose. Caroline sat silently astride the mare.
They were going to the small stone house five miles from the mansion. It was dawn before they stopped to rest a little.
Caroline wanted to make a fire, but her father said no. So she walked and thought. In her mind she could hear the guns roar, see the Yankees coming, see Craven, wounded, battling them bare-handed only to fall dead! Caroline screamed and ran back to the others.
Mr. Fredricca ordered her to get the mare and go ahead to the house. Caroline mounted and galloped off.
The house was cold and barren so Caroline went out to find some wood. Suddenly, a bush parted and there stood seven Yankee soldiers. Caroline’s hand went to her mouth in terror. They stepped out, but didn’t touch her.
Then a young lieutenant came up and caught Caroline’s hands.
“Look what we found, men. A little southern belle!”
“Take your filthy hands off me!”
“She’ll make a good hostage, Steve,” said one of the men.
“Yeah, full of fight, she is.”
Caroline struggled, but the strong arms would not break. When she saw it was of no use, Caroline let her captors carry her away for all into the woods to a cave.
There they left her, along with another girl, one Caroline knew as Adrian Carlisle, Andy Carlisle’s wife.
When one of the men tried to make love to Adrian, she slapped his face. Then Steven Beaumont turned to Caroline who sat gloomily in a dark corner away from the men.
She ignored the metal plate of food he brought her but Steven Beaumont was not be himself ignored. He seized Caroline and crushed her to him. She tried to resist him but it was of no avail. Caroline found his kiss, warm and sweet, and she responded.
Only when one of the men came racing in saying something about people walking through the woods, did Steve release her. Briskly, he told one of the men, a Private Hadley, to keep an eye on her. Caroline saw the way he looked at her and turned her head away.
That was when she saw it. A rattler, at least three feet long. Caroline screamed and pointed. Private Hadley grabbed his rifle and fired. The snake fell, a foot from Caroline’s trembling body.
Private Hadley put his arm around her. She looked up into his eyes, and said a quiet, “Thank you.” He kissed her lightly on the forehead. Caroline’s arms went around him and she wept.
Steve came back in to see this. Sternly he ordered the boy to leave Caroline alone. That was when the sound of gun-fire rang out.
Caroline stiffened. Eliza, Poppa, Landy and the others from the mansion were dead. Then she burst into hysterical sobbing.
Steve’s arm was around her, but she didn’t feel it. Then the fight started. Private Hadley, thinking Steve wasn’t tender enough, struck him.
It was a vicious fight, which ended with Private Hadley lying dead and Steve bruised and bloody. Tenderly, Caroline fixed the wounds under Steve’s now kind eyes and Adrian’s scornful ones.
When Steve took her in his arms, Caroline pulled away. She went and sat down by the fire.
At dawn the next day, she was still there. Asleep.
They broke camp the next day. Caroline and Adrian were both dressed in Union uniforms. Uniforms of an army they despised. They passed the mansion house and kept going.
That night Steve sent two men back to the mansion to burn it. When they camped that night, Steve kept a watchful eye on Caroline as she bed down. Some time during the night, he crept over to her and searched her clothes. That was when he found the picture of Craven Slattery. But he put it back and kissed her sweetly on the cheek.
The next morning, Steve and Caroline rode together, his arm about her waist.
Where were they going? To the Northern Army’s encampment. Caroline shivered at the thought. Steve saw it and held her tighter.
At this time a few miles north of the approaching riders, Craven Slattery lay in a coma in a Confederate hospital tent. Though neither Steve nor Caroline knew this.
When the camp was asleep that night, Caroline stole away. She didn’t know where to, but she just kept running. All the while her head was spinning with thoughts of Steve and Craven. Sometimes, they were mixed up, but always they were there. Even when Caroline burst into the Confederate camp, exhausted, they were still there. Only her name “Caroline” could she say before she collapsed.
Next morning, the chirping of a bird awoke the camp. Caroline got out of the bed she found herself in and went to see where she was. A grey hat hanging on a peg told her the answer.
She started to look about the building and that was when she saw Craven. She flew to the side of the bed and whispered, “Craven, darling. It’s me, Liney.”
The doctor heard her and came up. “Captain Slattery has been in a coma for five days. Only something of fear or love could break it.”
“I’d like to try, doctor.”
“Well, I can’t say.” Then he noticed the anxious look in her yes. “All right.”
Caroline turned to Craven and kissed him. The boy stirred and his eyelids fluttered. She bent over him and whispered, “It’s me, Liney.”
The boy opened his eyes. “Liney, my Liney.” He reached out his arms and Caroline went into them.
“The Yankees killed Poppa, Craven. We’ll have to get married some place else.”
“Liney, you came.” That was all he could say.
“Yes, darling. Doctor, is there a preacher here?”
“Well, in cases like this, I double as preacher. And you want to marry this man, Miss…er…”
And so Caroline and Craven were married and the war went on.
News came to the camp that a Lieutenant Stephen Beaumont of the Union Army was killed in battle and that girl, Adrian Carlisle, was found alive but badly beaten in the woods some miles from where Caroline left them.
News came that President Lincoln was dead, assassinated in the Ford Theatre in New York. The year was 1865 and it was April. The Confederate Army had surrendered to the Union Army at Appomattox.
But this couldn’t darken the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Craven Slattery.
They moved into the stone house, so folks said, and Caroline Slattery, the girl who had always worn silks or satins, wore crinolines.
This day, Craven presented a huge box to his Caroline. The box contained a dress of yellow with a green velvet sash. As Caroline hugged him he said simply to her,
“It’s a crinoline for my Caroline.”