"Fadette’s Secret"


The northbound train on which Dr. Kendal was riding stopped in Wilmington long enough to take on passengers and for a vendor to come aboard briefly to sell copies of The Every Evening. Dr. Kendal, who had been employed part of the year in his advancing age at the Old Soldiers’ Home in Washington D.C., bought a copy. He was travelling to Boston, where he would catch a coach to a little plot of land with a modest cabin homestead in Maine. He bought the newspaper to keep abreast of the latest tensions with Spain. War clouds were looming only weeks after the explosion that had sunk the U.S.S. Maine in Havana’s harbor.

Dr. Kendal had been a deserter during the Civil War some thirty-five years before. As part of the Union medical corps, he’d experience too much battlefield carnage and fled to the peaceful forests of Maine, but after a short spell while he grappled with his conscious, he returned to the battlefield to try to save the wounded. While in Maine, in a hopeful gesture, he’d bought a small piece of land as an incentive. It was there, after the Civil War had ended, that he met Fadette.

Dr. Kendal must have dozed. He was shaken awake by the lurching train. It had just picked up passengers in Philadelphia. In a vacant moment he picked up The Every Evening to read more about the growing war tensions. Growing weary of reading the war mongering rhetoric, he began to leaf through the other pages snatching a morsel of an article here and there. Then he stopped startled on the page that contained the death notice. He had found Fadette. She had died suddenly on April first. He had known her as Fadette, but her real name was Marian C. L. Reeves and her hometown was New Castle, Delaware.

Marian, or Missy as her mother had called her, or “Fadette” as she wished to be called, was also a veteran of the Civil War. She and her family had fled into the Confederacy. Her mother, a granddaughter of George Read, a Signer of the Declaration of Independence, had eventually landed at Rossmere, which was in the Chicot Country, not far from the Mississippi River. He remembered her brown warm eyes, her delicate square jaw, her brown and often disheveled tresses, and her knack for appearing suddenly and almost magically disappearing. She could find those moments when no one was watching to eavesdrop, only to later divulge a tidbit of gossip no one suspected she’d been harboring.

Dr. Kendal and Fadette were both avid readers of books and poems, and often shared the books they’d read. She liked the stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe, as well as stories by Washington Irving. She had liked their supernatural and sometime nefarious nature. One of the novelists she liked was one who lived in New Castle before she was born. His name was Robert Montgomery Bird, and he had written a novel using the new science of metempsychosis as a theme. She also liked novels by Charles Brockton Brown, James K. Spaulding, and particularly those by Timothy Shay Arthur, which she had found reassuring. She had also read some novels in French, but because Dr. Kendal didn’t know any French, they were not discussed.

Not long after leaving New York, after changing trains for Boston, Dr. Kendal saw a familiar face walking down the aisle toward him. The familiarity was mutual.

There are certain days, or tight knit periods of time, when coincidence gathers, driven by forces as mysterious as covert agents peddling suspicion. The man who settled in the seat beside his was Dallas Fraser.

The last time Fraser and Dr. Kendal had seen one another was in southern New Brunswick, near the border of Maine. The reason they were there was Fadette.

It had not been long after the Civil War. Each separately had been fleeing the aftermath of the war. For both the green and changing seasons were remission for the deep red of fresh blood, the gray of gun smoke and black of gangrene. Better the babbling of the brook and the rich scent of the forest after rain than the distant trembling of cannon fire and sickly stench of death.

The difference for Fadette was that she was fleeing as a refugee, from the raw recriminations from the victorious who gloated in her face back home in New Castle. It was much better to be far away, in a comforting forest and soothing comforting waters.

Many of the manners Fadette had adopted reinforced her recovery from the trauma of war, her ease with avoiding contact with human cruelty, her knack for exiting a scene unnoticed and suddenly reappearing only to make herself inconspicuous almost to the point of being invisible.

Upon his arrival Dr. Kendal had assumed his role as a doctor, and while he was attending to the death throes of a distant relative of Fadette did he first encounter her, brief as it had been.

After greetings infused with surprise Dr. Kendal handed him the newspaper he’d picked up in Wilmington with the page with the news about Fadette opened.

“You most certainly remember her,” pointing to the article.

Fraser, who was about eight years younger and with a fairly full crop of blonde hair and cleanly shaved, took a moment to read the article then fell silent and brooding for a moment.

“Yes,” he said, “how could I forget? Fadette and I got lost when we absently allowed ourselves to drift in a canoe down an unfamiliar stream. We were so captivated by each other. I’m sure you remember. You came along with some others and found us.”

“That was such a brief encounter,” remarked Dr. Kendal smiling beneath his thick moustache, “I thought you might’ve forgotten.”

“It was quite memorable in fact,” said Fraser looking into the past through the train window and into the daylight emerging from the dank of the station. “I got to know Fadette fairly well that day. I even stole a kiss,” he said with a whimsical grin.

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