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The Agony in His Eyes
Bullets whizzed all around Alice Connelly. The young woman tried to duck down and hide in the long grass but found no escape. Bewildered, she glanced forward and viewed the grotesque, dead bodies of her fellow southerners. Her husband, Richard, had a bullet through his side. Entranced, Alice looked into Richard’s mournful eyes that revealed the agony he was experiencing. With just a look from his deep blue eyes, he had the ability to communicate the feelings of his heart. Alice wanted to run to him and communicate her remorse, but shame held her back. She could see that the anguish he was suffering was not only from the bullet in his side but also the deep wound in his heart.
Behind her was Steven Manning, a rugged union general. His horse charged across the muddy terrain as he bellowed orders to the men shooting the cannons. Alice felt such resentment over Steven’s manipulation that her heart raged with murderous anger. As she observed her husband’s slow death, her limbs were frozen stiff. Tears welled in Alice’s once haughty eyes as she gazed at the dying face of the spouse she never loved. Her betrayal caused her cheeks to flush bright crimson with shame as she realized the pain she had inflicted on an innocent man. The tortured woman felt everything fading and realized that it was just an awful dream- a flashback of this morning’s horror.
Alice thrashed between her sheets as she awoke from her stupor. Her cotton nightgown clung to her body which was covered in a cold sweat. Horrified, she sat up and pulled away from Steven Manning, who was asleep next to her. She couldn’t suppress the loathing that she felt for Steven and his manipulation of her. In her passionate mournfulness, she had to get away from him! Crying out loud, Alice slipped out the back door, “Will I be tormented forever?”
The sky was as black as the soldiers’ dried blood from her dream, and there was no moon. Even the stars seemed to withhold their usual cheery shine. Alice paced along the river as she was haunted by the evil she had committed.
She had known Richard, who was six years older than she, ever since childhood. Their parents were best friends, but Alice never paid much attention to him because of his subdued personality. Although Richard rarely spoke, he was very intelligent. Alice didn’t see any need for him because she always had many men surrounding her.
As a young woman, Alice was an independent, only child who was spoiled and loved parties. She gravitated towards the strong, young men and received much notice because of her beauty and outgoing personality. Stunning Alice idolized the men’s attention and flirted ceaselessly. In her view, significance was deemed a success or failure based on how many men were captivated by her womanly charms.
Alice cared little for most men, except maybe one. She mastered the skill of keeping an interested beau’s rapt attention without her full commitment. She planned to postpone marriage as long as possible in order to continue this selfish game of vanity. Her parents, Matthew and Mary Miller, unwisely expected that Alice would outgrow this trend. They let their beloved daughter enjoy herself, pampering her every fancy, in hopes, at the appropriate time, she would wed the man of their choice.
Buying the most revealing gowns and staying out later than she was permitted, Alice pushed the limit on everything, If her parents requested she return by eleven, the spoiled girl would appear around eleven forty-five, escorted by a handsome young man. After a moon-lit stroll or some other frivolous gallivant, Alice would saunter egotistically passed her lenient parents without a hint of remorse.
By the time she was twenty, the Millers were growing impatient. They came to Alice one evening and hesitantly began a conversation.
“Dear,” her mother started soothingly, “all of your friends were married long before you. Have you considered doing the same?”
“Not now, Mother! I’m far too young.” Alice replied grinning and dismissing her mother’s comment as foolish.
“Alice, we thought the situation might remedy itself, but the time has come. A young man has come to me and asked permission to marry you,” her father, Matthew, stated in his usual calm manner.
“Who?” Alice questioned, her bright, green eyes flashing eagerly. “Has he come for me from the North? I know he hasn’t written in awhile, but…”
Her father cut her off. “No, I have given permission to Richard Connelly. It has been our wish for quite some time. Your mother and I believe that Richard will take good care of you. He has inherited a large plantation and hundreds of slaves.”
“No, not him!” Alice cried indignantly. “He’s such a vile, repulsive, homely creature and… and…”
“Dear, don’t be rude!” Her mother reproved, not surprised by Alice’s strong judgment. “He’s wealthy, intelligent, and owns a beautiful plantation. We’ve given you everything you want up to this point. We expect that you will obey us in just this one matter.”
“He’s nothing like the handsome man I imagine! I will not marry that abhorrent wretch as long as I live!” Alice declared, dashing out of the room in tears.
But her parent’s wishes prevailed, and Alice was soon married to Richard. In the first year of their marriage, Alice barely tolerated the poor man and treated his kind gestures with contempt, bristling at any attempt of closeness. With each rejection, she could see in his eyes an ever growing hurt and dissatisfaction with their marriage.
One Sunday afternoon Richard had taken Alice out for a horse ride. At first she had tried to show her annoyance. But, as she was dismounting from her horse, her skirt caught. She fell to the hard, prickly ground and skinned her elbow.
He came over, helped her up, and cleaned the wound. At first she glared at Richard, but her heart softened momentarily.
“Thank you,” she said softly, touched by his continual kindness. For the first time in their year of marriage, she hugged her husband. He was so shocked that at first he didn’t respond. Alice had even surprised herself. It was then that she realized that their lives would be more tolerable if she stopped treating him with contempt.
When they returned to the large plantation house, Richard picked up the newspaper. It said that a war had just been announced by President Lincoln. The North wanted to take control of the states’ rights by prohibiting slavery. Richard’s entire life had been built on the backs of slaves, but he was a kind master and didn’t see what was wrong with his lifestyle.
“How can I make any profit if I have to pay hired hands?” he remarked to Alice, “The North has no right to challenge something that doesn’t affect them. I can’t just stand by and watch my life be destroyed.” With a determined mindset, he prepared to enlist in the militia.
Richard left, and Alice remained to manage the plantation. Often times, she heard gunfire in the distance. During the times of loneliness in Richard’s absence, Alice realized that she did admire his character.
One evening, someone knocked on the door. Alice tip-toed down the ornate mahogany steps and opened the matching door. There was a small group of soldiers carrying a man.
“He’s hurt,” one man said.
Wary of the strangers and unsure of their alliance, Alice hesitated. But when she looked at the injured man, he seemed familiar, and she impulsively ushered them into the warm house. But as soon as the light revealed the color of their tattered uniforms, Alice cried, “Out! You fight against my husband and father.”
The men began to murmur but made no move towards the door. Alice began to shriek wildly as she flew into one of her typical outbursts.
“How dare you tell us how to live!”
The ill leader groaned, as he was disturbed by Alice’s commotion.
“And him,” Alice gestured menacingly towards the sick man, “can die for all I care. I hope he does too!”
Several men attempted to subdue Alice, but she was inconsolable, and clawed and yelled at them more. Soon, slaves began to rush into the room to come to their mistress’ aid.
Suddenly, the man on the floor said something nearly inaudible.
“What, General Manning?” one man asked as the room grew quiet.
After taking a closer inspection, Alice asked what his first name was.
“His fellow officers call him Steven, Ma’am,” a kind-looking young man answered, glad that her hysterics were over.
“Steven Manning? Is that you?” She cried suddenly rushing to his side.
“Alice!” Steven exclaimed.
“I’ll take good care of him.” Alice assured the men. “Fanny, get me some warm water. George, take the men with you and construct cots in the barn.”
Steven was Alice’s friend’s cousin from the North. Prior to her marriage to Richard, her friend, Laura, introduced her to the strong, handsome Steven Manning. Instantly, the two became romantically involved. Their fling lasted all summer until Steven returned home. They had written to each other every day for two weeks when Steven’s letters stopped coming. At first Alice was hurt but then consoled herself saying maybe he had lost her address. She quickly recovered and returned to her former flirtatious self.
Now, at age 21, she felt some of her old feelings being rekindled. She planned to ask Steven about her address when he felt better. Flipping her long, golden hair over her shoulder, Alice gave into her impatient spirit and remarked testily, “I suppose you lost my address,”
“I was wondering the same about you.” Steven answered, “My father sent me away to school and never forwarded any of your letters.”
Strangely enough, Alice thought she recalled Laura telling her about a factory owner’s daughter going with Steven, but she dismissed the thought quickly.
“You still haven’t changed. I knew it was you right away when I heard the shrieking,” Steven smiled. “You’ve only grown more beautiful.”
Alice struggled to keep her composure. “Well…” she trailed off. “I’m married now.”
Still in her day dreams, Alice recalled the pain of having to tell Steven, the man that she loved, that she was married to someone she disliked. She remembered how easily she was persuaded by Steven that, because she never really had loved Richard, any feelings of affection were really longings for him. They planned to get married as soon as the war was over. Alice would leave Richard and run away to meet Steven in New York.
A few days later a messenger came with a note for Alice. She opened it, anticipating a letter from Richard. Instead, it was her father informing her that Richard’s brigade had been ambushed in Charlotte, North Carolina. No one had survived.
Alice was not sure if she should be glad Richard was out of the way. She could easily marry Steven, but somehow, she still felt horrible rejoicing in his death. She told Steven what had happened, but he didn’t share her feelings, saying it was the hand of Providence who destined them to be together.
After ten days, Steven had fully recovered. Alice was with him in the master bedroom helping him pack. Steven was about to kiss Alice when they heard the slaves making a commotion outside. After rushing to the window to investigate, they both grew pale. A haggard looking man trudged up to the house. It was Alice’s husband Richard! The two lovers rushed to remove Steven’s things from the master bedroom.
Alice could never forget Richard’s blue eyes piercing her inner being as she and Steven tried to pretend that everything was okay. He looked at both of them and then asked to see Alice in the parlor.
“I thought you were dead,” Alice began, struggling for breath as she collapsed on the plush, green sofa.
“I caught a fever and wasn’t with the men when the ambush occurred in Columbia. I stayed in the hospital until they doctors believed I was well enough to travel home to finish recovering.”
Although Richard didn’t say anything else, she knew what he was thinking. She wondered how much he perceived about her relationship with Steven. She felt exposed and humiliated, wondering why this had to be the outcome. This wasn’t what she had planned. A sickening sensation overcame her, and she held her stomach. Finally, Alice walked back to the kitchen, her body shaking nervously.
When Richard returned to the kitchen, he saw Alice looking at Steven. He could tell that she was in love with him and he wanted to attack Steven. Richard rushed at him, but Steven saw it coming. Richard was the larger of the two and could have overpowered Steven if he had been in good health. Steven escaped by leaping onto his horse and galloping away.
Richard only stayed long enough to get better. He stayed in the parlor and didn’t say anything to Alice. When she would walk by, she could sense his eye on her, perceiving what she intended to keep hidden. Alice was consumed by shame. After six weeks Richard was in good health. He left without a word to rejoin his regiment.
After Richard returned to the army, Alice took long walks alone through the gloomy woods at night. One evening, she heard Steven’s voice calling to her. She rushed to him, and he held her in his arms for a minute before revealing the reason he had come.
“Do you remember where that man said his brigade was ambushed?” Steven asked, refusing to use Richard’s name.
“Yes,” Alice responded, knowing who “that man” was. “Columbia. Why though?”
“We have intercepted some letters and are aware of a secret attack. I believe that the letter from your father was a code that told where they would strike. Thank you, my love. We will now be able to crush the uprising. Another letter told us that it will occur early tomorrow morning, so I must rush back.”
Without another word he rode away. Alice thought over the scenario in her mind. She had just given Steven the information that could possibly get rid of her husband for good. Alice contemplated the consequences, feeling faint, she leaned against a gnarly tree. She just couldn’t be the cause of her husband’s murder. Then she thought some more. Her father had sent the note. That would mean that he was a part of the attack.
Disregarding any danger she might face, Alice ran out to the barn, saddled the chestnut stallion, and began the 20 mile journey to Charlotte. In her haste, she had neglected to bring a lantern. She had to move slowly enough so that her horse wouldn’t get hurt. She lifted up her watch from its chain and caught a glimpse of the time- 12:15 A.M. After a tiresome ride, she was nearly there.
A ray of sun was peeking over the trees when she heard the fire of cannons. Alice tried to make her horse gallop, but the animal was spooked by the loud gunfire. She jumped off and ran the last quarter mile to the battle site. Alice insanely began to charge through as she yelled at the Union soldiers to stop. It did no good, and she finally collapsed in exhaustion next to a tree.
At the conclusion of the skirmish, nearly all the confederates lay dead.
“Maybe he survived,” Alice surmised, trying to come to grips with the possibility of being an accomplice to her husband’s murder.
With the smell of death that nauseated her, Alice began to search through the bloody bodies. First she saw her father; his arm lay mangled next to his corpse. She gasped and cried out in agony realizing that she was the cause of her father’s death. Finally, she caught a glimpse of Richard. She was reliving her nightmare. As she lifted her head to try to regain control of her emotions, Steven rode by and lifted her onto his horse. Almost totally overcome with grief, she sobbed hysterically the entire ride home.
After remembering today’s events so vividly in her mind, Alice tried to escape the harsh reality that she caused the death of her husband and father. She despised herself for hating Richard and realized that he had been good to her. In an insane frenzy, Alice bolted back home and retrieved a butcher knife from the kitchen. Unable to admit that her selfish choices had caused her life so much agony, her anger burned towards the only other person where she could place the blame.
She dashed up the steps and into the bedroom where Steven was sleeping under the pale green covers. She raised the knife above her head and, without any hesitation, drove it through his heart. This didn’t bring the relief she had anticipated. Now there was no one left to blame but herself.
Maddened by the three deaths that she had caused, Alice scrambled down the steps, ran out of the house, and lept into the murky, rushing river, completing the destruction. Alice finished her selfish existence in one final act of rage. Most devastating of all was that Alice unwittingly not only ended her life but that of the unborn child growing inside of her.