An Acquaintance with Darkness

BOOK: An Acquaintance with Darkness
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An Acquaintance with Darkness
Ann Rinaldi

GULLIVER BOOKS
HARCOURT, INC.
Orlando Austin New York
San Diego Toronto London

Copyright © 1997 by Ann Rinaldi

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be
reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means,
electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording,
or any information storage and retrieval system, without
permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the
work should be mailed to the following address:
Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive,
Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

www.HarcourtBooks.com

First Gulliver Books paperback edition 1999

Gulliver Books
is a trademark of Harcourt, Inc., registered in the
United States of America and/or other jurisdictions.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Rinaldi, Ann.
An acquaintance with darkness/Ann Rinaldi.
p. cm.
"Gulliver Books."
Summary: When her mother dies and her best friend's family is
implicated in the assassination of President Lincoln, fourteen-year-old
Emily Pigbush must go live with an uncle she suspects of being
involved in stealing bodies for medical research.
Includes bibliographical references.
[1. Body snatching—Fiction. 2. Physicians—Fiction. 3. Lincoln,
Abraham, 1809–1865—Assassination—Fiction. 4. Washington, D.C.—
Civil War, 1861–1865—Fiction. 5. United States—History—
Civil War, 1861–1865—Fiction. I. Title.
PZ7.R459Ac 2005
[Fic]—dc22 2004054038
ISBN
0-15-205387-5

Text set in Electra
Designed by Lydia D'moch

DOM G H F

Printed in the United States of America

For my husband,
the wind beneath my wings

1. Johnny
April 3, 1865

I
KNEW THINGS
were going to be bad when I heard the knock on the door early that morning.

Nobody was up yet. I remembered that Mama and I were the only ones living in the house now. Ella May, our housegirl, had left yesterday. Ella May was a freed woman, just up from slavery. Nobody could keep freed men or women. They couldn't even keep themselves, they were so confused. Ella May told me she had thought freedom meant that Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln were going to give her two new shifts. "My old mistress give me two new shifts a year," she said gloomily. "She take care o' me. Gov'ment supposed to take care o' me. Better I go back to my old mistress."

"Don't go back," I begged her. "I'll make you a shift. Two, if you want. It's just that I've been busy taking care of Mama."

But she up and left. And our boarder, Mrs. Paxon, left—because I couldn't do for her and Mama and go to school, too. And now I was here alone. With Mama dying.

I couldn't think for a minute. The house was cold. The fires had died during the night. And it was raining. All it had done was rain this spring. Washington was crying. Four years of confusion, pain, crowding, and mistrust, with half the people on the streets carrying knives and guns and the other half crazy. Four years of scavenging for food. If I were a city I would cry, too.

I got up, put on my robe, and went out into the hall. "Who is it?" I called over the banister, just like my daddy had taught me back home in Surrattsville. "Always ask who's knocking, Miss Muffet," he'd say. My daddy always called me Miss Muffet, not Emily. He'd raised me on the Brothers Grimm and taught me all life's important lessons from fairy tales and nursery rhymes.

Here in Washington I'd already applied much of what he'd taught me. I had to. All kinds of unsavory people walked the streets. Oh, we were used to the Blue Soldiers and the Free Issue nigras like Ella May, who overran the city asking for the forty acres and a mule that they said "Mister Linkum" promised them with freedom, but now it seemed like every other person was a stranger, an interloper, an outlander who had come to prey on us.

Maybe it would be a boarder at the door, I thought. Out of the goodness of her heart, Mrs. Mary sometimes sent us a boarder when she couldn't accommodate the stranger who knocked on her door in the middle of the night.

"What goodness?" Mama would ask. "What heart?" She hadn't spoken to Mary Surratt since that woman's brother foreclosed on our house in Maryland when Mrs. Mary's husband died, over two years ago now. And they were girlhood friends. We lived over the creek from them in Maryland. And now we lived at 543 H Street. And they lived at 541.

"The same goodness that made her find us this house," I'd remind Mama.

"A small enough favor, since they took our other."

"Mrs. Mary still didn't have to find us this house," was always my reply. "It wasn't her idea in the first place, to take our old one."

It did no good. I could never make peace between them. Mama was going to die without ever speaking again to Mrs. Mary. Would I do that to my best friend? (Who was my best friend? Annie Surratt, Johnny's sister.) No, I wouldn't.

I paused in front of Mama's room. She was still sleeping. Good. I started down the narrow stairs, wishing I had forty acres and a mule right now. What I would do with them, I didn't know. But I'd do something. Anything would be better than living here in this narrow, sad little house, with the rain pouring down outside and Mama dying. I couldn't blame Ella May for leaving.

"Who is it?" I asked again.

"It's Johnny," came the muffled answer from the other side of the door.

How had I known it would be Johnny? The same way I'd always known he'd be down at his daddy's tavern-post office-store of an afternoon, back in Maryland. I was just a skinny little kid back then, down in Prince George County, and I'd get the feeling he'd be there. And he would be, too, standing on the front porch talking politics with his daddy, the squire, and the other planters who'd come to jaw away the afternoon.

"Just a second." When had he gotten back? He'd been gone since the end of March. And I hadn't seen him since a week before, when he took me and Honora Fitzpatrick to Ford's Theater. Honora boarded with his mother. She was nineteen. We sat in box number 10.

The president's box! Up so high over everyone else! The draperies were silk brocade, the seats crushed velvet; the chandeliers sparkled overhead. Johnny wore a blue military cloak. Where had he gotten it? Where did he get anything he had these days? His large revolver, his bowie knife, the two horses he kept at Howard's stables.

Everyone looked at us that night, wondering who we were. I wore my blue silk moire. The play was
Jane Shore.
And then John Wilkes Booth stopped in, and I thought Honora would swoon. Booth was a matinee idol. All the girls were crazy for him.

More knocking. "I'm coming!" I stumbled down the narrow steps. Johnny hadn't spoken to me since that night at the play. The next day he rode off with six men, one of them Booth. I went over with a pie to show my thanks for the theater. He wouldn't look at me; just rode off.

Annie took the pie. "If any harm comes to my brother because of that scoundrel Booth, I'll kill the man," she said. She had Booth's picture in her room. Signed.

How had Annie gone from thinking Booth was a matinee idol to wanting to kill him? And what did it have to do with Johnny? Booth was pure Secesh,
loved the South. So did all the Surratts So did half the people in Washington. Mrs. Lincoln herself had had four brothers killed fighting for the Confederacy. You couldn't sort things like that out anymore. And you couldn't kill people for it, or there wouldn't be anybody left in Washington.

I saw Johnny's shadow through the frosted glass of the door. I unhooked the latch. A cold blast came in.

"Hello, Emily."

"Hello, yourself."

"Don't be like that."

"Like what?"

"All huffylike and contentious."

"I'm not huffylike."

"Well, you're contentious."

I smiled. Johnny could do that to me, always. Make me smile no matter what was going on around us. But still, I wasn't about to let him off that easy. "What do you want, Johnny?"

"To come in out of the rain."

"You are in."

"Not all the way."

I moved back in the hall. He came in, and I closed the door. "What's the matter?" I asked.

He took off his hat. He was nothing if not polite, Johnny Surrart. How could he be anything else, with all that fancy schooling? St. Ignatius's here in Washington, then St. Mary's outside Baltimore, and finally St. Charles's Seminary near Elliot Mills in Maryland. He was once going to be a priest. But that was all before the war, when his family had money.

"I'd offer you something hot," I said, "but the stove isn't started. Ella May's gone. Left yesterday. It's only me and Mama now."

He nodded. "What will you do?"

"Take care of Mama. There isn't much else to do."

"How is she?"

"Not good, Johnny."

He nodded and looked at his hat in his hands. "I recollect when my daddy died."

"So do I." I'd been there. In their villa in Surrattsville when his daddy was laid out in the parlor, surrounded by white candles, white roses, dimness, and Johnny crying.

"I wish I could stay and be with you," he said.

"You haven't spoken to me in three weeks."

He looked abashed. "I've been busy, Emily."

Doing what?
I wanted to ask. Only I didn't. These days you didn't ask what a person was doing. People weren't what they had been before the war. They did strange things to survive. For a while Johnny had a job with the Confederate mail service, running letters and God knows what-all else South, skulking through Union picket lines, crisscrossing creeks, reaching Pope's Creek, Maryland, in six hours, crossing the Potomac, then on to Port Royal on the Rappahannock River, then crossing that river with only eighteen miles to an open road to Richmond.

But he was doing something else now. His new job took him North. To Canada. To New York. He'd brought me back a darling pair of gloves from New York. They had eighteen buttons on each cuff. Better than Myra Mott at school had. And you had to go pretty far to best Myra Mott. Johnny got the gloves in a Fifth Avenue shop. He'd seen John Wilkes Booth and his famous brothers in
Julius Caesar
at the Winter Garden.

"I'm going away, Emily. I came to tell you."

"You're always going away."

"I may not be back for a long while. The war's ending. You know that. The Confederacy is dying."

I didn't care about the Confederacy dying. The Confederacy never should have been born, as far as I was concerned. My daddy died fighting it. The Confederacy had ruined everything. But Johnny believed in it. So I didn't argue the point.

"Dying," he said again. "You can hear the death rattle. Petersburg has fallen. Richmond is being evacuated. People are going crazy out on the street. Don't go out if you can help it."

"Richmond? My aunt Susie lives in Richmond."

"I know. I delivered all those letters to her, remember?"

"Mama wants me to go and live with Aunt Susie after she dies."

"That's why I'm here. To tell you you'll have to make other plans."

"What other plans? There's nobody else, except Uncle Valentine. And Mama and he don't get on, you know that. She says he's crazy."

"Everybody is crazy these days."

"She says he does things I wouldn't want to know about."

"So does everybody else. So do I."

"Do you, Johnny?" I peered into his handsome face earnestly. I was fourteen. He was twenty. But I'd loved him for years, ever since he used to take me into the store, away from all those jawing planters on the porch, and give me peppermint candy. He taught me to swim, too, in the creek back home. I was like a little sister to him, no more. I knew that. It wasn't enough, no. But beggars can't be choosers, Daddy always told me.

"Dr. Mudd holds your uncle in high esteem," he said.

"Dr. Mudd?"

"You remember. From Charles County. I told you how Booth wants to buy a farm from him down in Maryland."

Booth again. I looked at Johnny. He was wearing a new suit of clothes. Gray. Good cloth. I know cloth—before she took sick, Mama had worked for Elizabeth Keckley, Mrs. Lincoln's personal seamstress. Was he getting things from Booth, then?

"I'm here to tell you that my mother says you can come and board with her when your mother dies," he said.

I looked up quickly. "At your house?"

"Well, I won't be there anymore. But you can have my room. Mama would be glad to have you. So would Annie."

"I couldn't pay thirty-five dollars a month board. Mama hasn't been able to work for a while now and our money is giving out."

"Mama says not to worry about that. You know she feels responsible that my uncle Zad foreclosed on your house."

I was going to cry, I was sure of it. And then I started.

"Don't, Emily, please," he said. He pulled out a handkerchief and gave it to me. I looked at it. It was so fine.

"Annie made it for me," he said. "Last Christmas. From cloth laid away before the war. She made me seven of them. You see how she put my name on the corner? And the day of the week?"

I nodded. "This one says
SUNDAY.
"

"Yes. You can keep it. I want you to keep it," he said.

I wiped my face with the handkerchief. Next thing I knew, Johnny had his arms around me. Like a brother would do if I had a brother. Which I didn't. He patted my shoulder and held me until I stopped. Then he reached into his pocket and took out some gold coins. "Take these," he said.

"Twenty dollars! Oh, Johnny, I couldn't! You need them."

"I have all I need. And I'll get more. Take them now, I said."

I looked at the gold coins in my hand. Where had he gotten them? Nobody I knew had so much gold to give away in Washington these days. What had he done to get them? I did not want to know. I sniffed. "Thank you."

"I've got to go now, Emily. There's things I've got to do. Pack. Exchange some gold for greenbacks. They go farther, where I'm going."

BOOK: An Acquaintance with Darkness
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