Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Face On Miss Fanny's Wall by Gwyneth Greer Book Trailer

The Face On Miss Fanny's Wall by Gwyneth Greer

After recognizing her great-grandmother’s picture on the wall of a restored bordello-turned-visitor center, Tessa Steele sets out to track down exactly how Hallie became one of Miss Fanny’s ‘ladies’. Threatening phone calls and letters warning her that Nosy little girls get into trouble become the least of her worries when she meets Sgt. Dale McCord, a state police officer investigating a series of so-called ‘hauntings’ at Miss Fanny’s.

Caught between her own curiosity about Miss Fanny’s and Dale’s disapproval, she goes ahead with her research. Each time she uncovers a new piece of information, she faces an even more sinister threat as well as Dale’s unexplained anger. She’s as determined to learn the truth as someone is to stop her. And Dale is determined to keep her alive—if he can.


Tennessee, Haywood County on the Hatchie River, September 1864
 Francine sat in the only remaining wicker rocking chair on the fire-blackened brick porch and tried to make sense of the unending ruin that stretched to the road and beyond. Split-rail fences lay scattered like driftwood. Wagons bearing weapons and supplies had driven their wheels deeply into the once-smooth road, until even ten thousand marching feet couldn’t undo the chasm-like ruts.
She could still smell the burning cotton in the scorched fields now laid to waste. Most of the trees in the fruit orchard had been cut down for firewood. Above all, the smell of blood and death permeated the late September air.
The Union Army had spared the farms directly in its path no indignity--nor had their residents escaped. Much of the furniture now used in the house came from the empty slave quarters whose residents had fled or been enticed by the blue-coated soldiers with promises of uniforms, guns, and money. Only Lige and his wife Remma remained. As Francine pulled the tattered shawl closer around her thin shoulders, her hand brushed her breasts straining at the thin camisole, then traveled down to the bulge beneath them. No matter how much she tried to will it away, it was still there. Lately, she’d wondered if she could get any bigger without exploding.
~ * ~
The face of the soldier who had cornered her in the barn, when she went out to beg him not to take Dapples, remained a permanent stain on her soul. The pony was twenty-two, seven years older than she was, and past hard riding.
“What’s it worth to you, Reb?” he asked.
“She’s too old to be any good to you. She’s a pet.”
“I could be talked into leaving her.” His tongue flicked the thin line of hair that masqueraded as a mustache.
“Please. You’ve got everything else.”
“Not quite everything.” He took a step toward her.
At first she didn’t understand. “Please,” she said again. “There’s nothing left.”
“You are.”
She remembered trying to run, but it was no use. His dirt-encrusted fingers dug into her arm, then fastened themselves around her neck, cutting off her breath.
When she woke naked in the darkness, her throat was so swollen she couldn’t even cry. Somehow she managed to find the clothes he’d torn from her body and wrap them around her. Feeling her way toward the door, she fell across Dapples’ body, her blood mingling with that of the pony.
Her mother sent Lige for the doctor, while Remma helped wash her and get her to bed. The doctor came, examined her, and turned away, shaking his head in silent pity and disgust. The medicine he left was bitter, but it eased her pain.
That was in June. In November, typhoid took Lige and her mother, and Francine prayed to die, too, because by then she could feel the Yankee soldier’s baby moving inside her. Florence, her widowed sister, came from the next county for the burying and stayed on.
When Florence realized her sister was pregnant, she raged for two days. “Why’d you let him? Now look at you.”
Francine tried to explain, but it was no use. Remma said Florence was angry because she had produced no children in three years of marriage before her husband died at Chancellorsville. Francine waited for Florence to leave, but she seemed in no hurry to go. As the months dragged by, the two sisters rarely spoke.
~ * ~
Francine pushed herself out of the rocker, reaching around to press her fist into her back, which had been aching since before dawn and was getting worse. She started for the door hanging crookedly on the leather hinges Lige made to replace the ones broken by the Yankees. A sudden gush of warm wetness spilled between her legs. Stepping aside, she stared at the puddle on the porch.
“Remma!” Her scream brought the woman from inside.
“You done started, child,” Remma said. “Come on. Let’s get you upstairs.”
She thought she was dying, and, in fact, wanted to die. She bit her lips until she tasted blood and screamed until her throat was raw. Remma sponged and crooned, but nothing helped. Through the glassy haze of unrelenting pain, she thought she heard Florence laughing.
Dr. Bradley came and left and came again. “It’s too big,” she heard him say. “She can’t have it.”
Somehow, when she thought she must surely be splitting apart, the pain stopped, and a baby’s weak wail made her force open her heavy eyelids. Remma held the swaddled baby near Francine’s face, but she turned away. Sometime later, Remma brought the baby back.
“You gotta feed her, honey.”
“No. I don’t want her.”
“She’ll die then.”
“Let her.” She heard a thin bleat from the bundle in Remma’s arms, but she kept her face toward the wall.
“You can’t let this child die.”
Remma’s harsh words startled Francine. Then a warm softness brushed her cheek. Opening her eyes, she looked into her own green eyes set in the pinched face of her newborn daughter--and fell in love.
“What you gonna name her, honey?”
Francine touched the golden down covering the baby’s head. “Aura Lee. Like the song.” She leaned to kiss the baby and began to sing.
Aura Lee, Aura Lee, maid of golden hair. . .
Sunshine came along with thee, and
swallows in the air.
~ * ~
Florence stalked out the dangling  front door and plopped down on the chipped brick steps of the porch. Holding a bowl between her knees, she began to shell the butter peas she’d just picked. “We can’t stay here, two women by ourselves. There’s nobody to work the fields and no money to plant them anyway.”
Francine moved Aura Lee to her other breast before she answered her sister. “What can we do?”
“Go somewhere and start over.”
“There’s no money for that either.”
“I can sell the house in Gordon, and we can sell this place, too.”
“Nobody wants this place, Florence. It’s ruined.”
“Then we’ll leave it. I’ll get some money for my house, and we’ll go.”
“Arkansas. Corrie Temple said her brother Will was going. There wasn’t as much fighting in some parts there.”
“How will we live?”
“Maybe I’ll get married again.”
Francine put her lips against the baby’s soft scalp. “Maybe I’ll get married someday.”
“You. Who’d want you after what happened? You and your brat.”
Francine squeezed her eyes shut to hold back the tears. It was no use trying to explain yet again that what happened wasn’t her fault.
“It’s not Aura Lee’s fault,” she said finally.
“You could give her to Corrie Temple. Her baby’s dead, and her husband can’t sire another one since what happened at Chickamauga.”
“How can you say such a thing? I’d never give my baby away.” Francine clutched her daughter so tightly that the baby mewed in protest. “I’m sorry,” she whispered in the tiny ear. “I’d never hurt you.”
“No decent man will ever have you with her around.”
“Then I won’t get married. I’ll take care of Aura Lee by myself.”
“You don’t know how to do anything but be Papa’s spoiled baby girl.”
“What can you do, Florence?” Francine flared.
“Something. I’ll do something to take care of myself, and I guess I’ll have to take care of you, too. Papa and Mamma would expect...”
“They’re dead. They won’t know or care if you leave me here. I don’t care either.” Francine buttoned her bodice and positioned the baby against her shoulder. “But I’m not giving my baby away.”
In October, Florence went home and sold her house. When winter came, earlier and colder than Francine ever remembered it, they were able to buy flour and cornmeal, and with what Remma had put up from her garden, they didn’t go hungry like so many others.
Typhoid came back in the spring. Francine watched Aura Lee take her first steps on Palm Sunday, then collapsed. When she woke after weeks of delirium, Florence was gone, and so was Aura Lee.
“Begged her not to do it, Miss Francine,” Remma said, wiping the tears that streamed down her face. “Begged her. Told her the Lord would punish her for stealin’ your baby.”
Too weak to cry, Francine whispered, “Maybe it’s my punishment.” She had to gather strength to go on. “But I didn’t let him, Remma. You know I didn’t let that Yankee do what he did.”
At the end of the summer, Francine rented the farm to Corrie Temple’s husband, whose brother lent him the money to pay a year in advance. “I’ll let you know where to send the money next year,” she told Corrie, “and where you can find me if you hear from Florence.”
“You should’ve gone to the sheriff,” Corrie said.
“He couldn’t do anything. She’s gone now, out of Tennessee.”
“I wrote to Will to be on the look-out for her in Arkansas. Why’d she do it, Francine? She didn’t care anything about that baby.”
“He won’t find her either, and I don’t know why she took my baby except that she hates me. Always has.”
“What are you going to do?”
Francine pushed her hair back from her face. “I don’t know. I don’t really care.”
“Remma going with you?”
“She says so. She’s taken care of me all my life. I guess we’ll take care of each other now.”
“Be careful, Francine. It’s not the same world out there that we grew up in.”
“Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. If our world had been any good, maybe it might have lasted longer.”
~ * ~
The riverboat took them to Cedar Bluff on the White River. The first things Francine saw when she stepped onto the dock were the “fancy houses” lining River Street. She’d heard about them on the boat and considered that, soiled as she was now, one of them might be her chance. Florence had insinuated she wasn’t fit for anything else. Though Remma begged her not to do it, she climbed the front steps of the largest house and knocked on the door.

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