See, I have this friend. She writes, too. Yes, one of those people. A few weeks ago she emailed me to see if I would like to help her use some gift certificates to a spa. Spend a day with nothing to do but sleep, eat, read and write? Oh, yeah, I’m game. Twist my arm.
So here we are, lounging in the Battle House Hotel Spa Quiet Room, barefoot and dressed in fluffy chenille bathrobes. Recessed lighting softened by the orange glow of a fire pit. The muted roar of a hot tub background to twanging sitars in the sound system. Leafy palms and ferns tucked into a couple of corners, and candles glowing on glass-topped tables.
A girly room.
I’ve been here more than seven hours, and I’ve had a manicure and a nap, I’ve eaten lunch, worked a crossword puzzle, read a couple of articles about historic Mobile. It’s time to write. So I sit here daydreaming, thinking about the historic Battle House Hotel. Wondering about the journalists and politicians and everyday people who stayed here when it first opened, prior to the Civil War.
As it happens, my first completed manuscript—which was my eleventh published novel, Redeeming Gabriel—contained a couple of scenes set in the Battle House. I wrote those scenes purely from imagination and a couple of history books, because at the time, the Battle House had been long closed and fallen into disrepair. It has since been restored to glistening, luxurious splendor, complete with crystal chandelier in the domed atrium of the lobby and antebellum mural in the grand ballroom. It’s delightful to walk through, gaping at the columns and parlors, even more beautiful than I’d imagined them.
If you’ve read Redeeming Gabriel, you didn’t find those scenes. The manuscript was published by Steeple Hill Books for their inspirational romance series, Love Inspired Historical. That won’t mean anything to most people, but prior to ebook days, series books were constrained by word-count—read: short. The original manuscript was way too long, so my editor insisted on chopping off the first two-and-a-half chapters. I reluctantly agreed (to me it was like hacking the nose off a sculptured bust).
Anyway, as I was thinking about the Battle House and those cutting-room-floor scenes, I thought it might be fun to polish them up a bit and plant them here for my handful of die-hard fans. If you haven’t read Gabriel (whose ancestor, by the way, is the hero of my Work-In-Progress, The Pelican Brides), it’s available here.
Enjoy this deleted scene!
At the western edge of the city of Mobile, Gabriel Laniere paused and pulled off the disreputable slouch hat he’d found somewhere on the side of the road. Slapping it against his knee, he knocked off a cloud of dust and plopped it back onto his head. A stream of sweat dripped off his blistered and peeling nose. He had ridden in a straight shot from New Orleans for a day and a half and couldn’t decide which would be most welcome—a bath, a meal, or a good night’s sleep. He sat his no less travel-weary gelding and wished he could go back to those simple times he’d spent on the Texas plains. No war. No orders. No people. No women.
Well, he supposed women were people in the loosest sense of the word. He’d rather argue with a greenbroke mustang any day, but he was going to have to deal with one this very night. Not only deal with her, but entrust to her everything for which he’d been working for the last six months. His very life would be in her lily-white hands. The knowledge made him bare his teeth in a snarl that sent a little colored girl, pushing her hoop past him, scurrying as if the devil himself was after her.
At the sight of those rolling eyes and bobbing pigtails and the pink soles of her flying feet, he chuckled and chirruped to the horse. No sense putting it off.
Gabriel had more than once cursed Admiral Farragut’s courier system, which forced him to depend upon other agents. He had to admit, though, that it eased the transmission of time-sensitive tactical intelligence. He knew for a fact that New Orleans’ surrender would have been delayed by several months, maybe even a year, if he’d had to leave the city in order to deliver information. Gabriel was to report this time through one Delia Matthews, an actress who traveled aboard an Alabama River showboat.
An actress. Gabriel snorted with disgust, and the bay danced at the jerk on the reins. “Sorry, fella.” He settled the horse, but his thoughts continued to seethe. He of all people knew better than to trust an actress.
He really had no choice except to meet the woman as planned. The information he had to give her was so incredible that only the influence of Farragut’s stepbrother, David Porter, had convinced the Admiral that his favorite agent hadn’t simply cracked under the enormous pressure he’d been under for the past year.
A boat that traveled underwater. Unthinkable.
But the fishboat was real—or had been, before it was hastily scuttled by its inventors just before New Orleans surrendered. And more than one source confirmed that the financiers and designers had removed to the nearest Confederate port to try again. The military implications of such a vessel boggled the mind.
Gabriel was determined to not only annihilate such a tool for the enemy—but to seize the plans as contraband. No matter what he had to do to get them.
He rode through downtown Mobile and reached the famous Battle House Hotel, named not because it had anything to do with the war, but for the family who had built it. Presidents, entertainers, journalists—everyone who was anyone had spent some days basking in its luxury. Even the livery stable was appointed in the first style of quality, its whitewashed shingles neat and free of the mildew that blackened most wooden buildings in the city.
Gabriel left the bay in the care of a decrepit but genial Negro, who grinned toothlessly when Gabriel flipped him a coin.
He crossed the muddy yard to the grand entrance, where he had to scrape his boots before entering the elegant lobby. Last time he’d been in this city, he’d barely had boots on his feet, much less a horse of his own and money in his pockets. In fact, the day he left some ten years ago, he’d possessed little more than the clothes on his back, a head full of useless knowledge, and a mountain of pride.
Remarkable how time could change one’s perspective.
Mobile, which had once seemed to him the embodiment of gaiety, arrogance, and self-absorption, now neither impressed nor intimidated him. He’d seen Boston, New York, St. Louis, and other cosmopolitan cities that made this little backwater town rather an object of pity to him. Indeed, he could almost forget his resentment.
Almost, but not quite.
Shrugging off bitter memories, he headed for the registration desk, his boots sinking deep into a plush oriental carpet. The fourteen-foot ceiling dwarfed even his six-foot frame, and the wrought-iron railing of the oval atrium drew his gaze up and up to a sparkling crystal chandelier hanging two stories above. He gave a soundless whistle. His stay here was going to cost the United States a pretty penny.
Behind the registration desk, a prune-faced woman dressed in black bombazine sat behind the counter knitting what appeared to be a deformed stocking. “Livery’s in back,” she said without looking up.
“I’ve been to the livery. I need a room.”
The flying needles paused as the woman looked up and took in Gabriel’s heavy, unkempt beard, singed hair, and wrinkled clothes. “I’m afraid—” Her gaze lit on the gold half-eagle Gabriel had flipped into the crease of the book. The pursed lips softened. “Ah. I believe Governor Slough checked out just this morning.”
“How fortunate.” Gabriel smiled. “Then maybe you could show me to my room.”
“I’ll call Sally right now. Sally!” The woman turned toward the doorway behind her stool. “Take this gentleman’s luggage up to—” She glanced at Gabriel, who shook his head. She sniffed and turned to the doorway again. “Never mind, ask Mr. Cottrill to step out here for a moment.”
“Thank you—Mrs. Battle, I presume?” Gabriel dipped the quill into the inkwell.
The woman simpered. “Oh, dear, no! I’m Lucretia Price-Williams. And you’re—” Glancing at the registry, she melted noticeably. “Oh, Reverend Leland! We’re honored to have you as a guest. Clergymen are always—” She broke off as a portly little man, notable for gray chin-whiskers bristling with self-importance, popped from a side parlor off the lobby. “Mr. Cottrill, there you are. Come meet Reverend Leland.”
Cottrill prissed up to the Gabriel and shook hands limply. His bald pate didn’t quite reach Gabriel’s shoulder. “How d’ye do, Brother Leland?”
Gabriel smiled. “To be perfectly frank, it has been a long ride from New Orleans. I’m ready for a bath and a meal.”
“Yes, I’m sure—won’t keep you a moment. General Withers made it policy some time ago that newcomers must be questioned by the Vigilance Committee—search out Lincolnism, you know.” Cottrill pulled a handkerchief from the pocket of his tight suit and mopped his brow. “Forgive the inconvenience, dear sir, but I must ask you to step into the parlor for a moment.”
Suppressing a sigh, Gabriel followed the man into a parlor decorated in the grand French style, where Cottrill sat down behind a cherry escritoire and motioned for Gabriel to take a seat in a brocaded Louis XIV wing chair. He complied as the Vigilance Committee noisily adjusted a stack of papers, dabbed his forehead, and cleared his throat.
“So pleased to have you, sir—er reverend.” Cottrill scrabbled in the desk for a quill. “That is, we hope your stay in our fair city will be a lengthy one. That is, will it?”
Gabriel hid a smile. “I may be here for several weeks. I am assuming responsibility for the churches of Reverend Tunstall.”
Mr. Cottrill tsked and looked sympathetic. “Naturally you’ll need time to acquaint yourself with your new flock.”
“I don’t know a soul here.” Gabriel sighed and glanced at the other man, whose whiskers fairly quivered with emotion. “I don’t suppose you could—No, no, I shouldn’t impose on such short acquaintance…”
“Brother Laniere, I am honored—” The good man applied his handkerchief to his moist eyes. “I would be more than happy to introduce you to any parishioners of—which church did you say you are pastoring?”
“The First Methodist Church of Spring Hill. A young but growing congregation, I understand from the widow Tunstall’s communication.”
Mr. Cotrill pursed his lips in thought. “I shall write you a letter of introduction.” He fumbled in a lap drawer and produced a scrap of pink wallpaper. He proceeded to cover it with tiny, elaborately curly manuscript, mumbling aloud as he wrote. “…make you acquainted…the Honorable Reverend Gabriel Leland…late of—” Cotrill blinked up at Gabriel. “I beg your pardon, sir, what is your city of origin?”
“Boguechitta. Over in Mississippi.”
Mr. Cottrill brightened. “A most felicitous little community. I visited my wife’s family there not a fortnight past.”
Forcibly reminded that southern families invariably extended their tentacles in unexpected directions, Gabriel decided he’d best extricate himself from this conversation as quickly as possible. “Mr. Cottrill, I deeply appreciate your hospitality.” He reached over to snick the wallpaper from his host’s pudgy fist and perused the salutation. “‘Mrs. Thomas St. Clair.’ A matron of some social stature, I assume?”
“Indeed, yes. Mrs. St. Clair will introduce you to any number of prominent citizens who can prosper your ministry.”
“I’m sure the good Lord needs all the help He can get.” Gabriel stood and ruefully indicated his own grubby attire. “But I can hardly pay my respects to such a grand dame in all my dirt. Is the Vigilance Committee satisfied as to my credentials?”
“Oh, dear me, yes.” Cottrill launched himself to his feet and motioned for Gabriel to follow. In the lobby he hailed the proprietress with a flap of his handkerchief. “Mrs. Price-Williams, Reverend Leland is cleared to take up residence in our city. I beg you to make him comfortable with every amenity possible.” After a jerky bow, he sprinted back into the parlor, leaving Gabriel to withstand Mrs. Price-Williams’ bellow for the long-suffering Sally.
Sally, a minuscule scrap of femininity in an enormous mobcap and apron, duly appeared and dipped a shy curtsy. “Follow me, sir.” She swung her starched apron sideways in order to maneuver it up the stairs.
Struggling not to laugh, Gabriel followed. Halfway up he touched her elbow. “Miss Sally—” The girl squeaked in surprise, and nearly sent them both tumbling back down the stairs. He steadied her with a smile. “I was just going to ask, what happens to those unfortunate souls who don’t meet the requirements of the Vigilance Committee?”
Sally fanned her rosy face. “Oh, sir, that ain’t never happened. Mr. Cottrill and Mayor Forsythe yap about how they gonna deport the abolitionists, but far as I know they ain’t no abolitionists in Mobile. You ain’t no abolitionist, are you?”
Gabriel winked. “Do I look like an abolitionist to you?”
“No, sir.” Sally giggled. “You look just like Jonah, steppin’ outa the whale! I ain’t never seen no preacher looked like you before.”
Gabriel tried to look pastoral. “Perhaps you could have a hot bath brought up, so that I might remedy that.”
“Oh! Yessir!” Blushing, Sally turned to wrestle her apron up the remainder of the stairs.
Gabriel followed, feeling a certain kinship with the reluctant prophet to Ninevah. Hail and brimstone would be too good for these southern traitors, and he hoped Farragut would find a way to blast their sleepy little port to smithereens.