Chapter one, continued.
“Mr. Lincoln been elected.”
It was like walking down a staircase and finding a step missing. I couldn’t believe it. But here was James with a message from my father that I had to obey.
It would mean war.
“The extra horse is for me?” I asked, and James nodded. “Well, the horses will need to rest and so will we. Go out and put them in the barn. You’ll find some corn in the feed box. Rub them down well, mind you. Then come up to my room and help me pack. You can sleep on the floor when we’ve finished.”
Mr. Harding had come in, looking a little sleepy in rumpled nightclothes. I said to him, “Sir, I am afraid I have to leave you. Congressman Williams needs me more than I need Latin, at least for the moment. I can’t say when I will return.”
“So I overheard. Well, Matthew, we all have our duties. Come back when you can. I’ll have Mrs. Brown prepare a breakfast about daybreak.”
“An hour before, if it is convenient. And now, if you will excuse me . . .”
I turned back up the stairs to pack. I had remained calm. I had kept my voice even and low, just as Father had taught me. But inside I was crying out at the shambles fate was making of my life.
James and I held the horses to a steady pace all the way back to Washington City. Father had rented a small house a few blocks from the Capitol. There were two house slaves and James took care of the horses. Otherwise, Father lived alone.
It was well past ten at night when we rode in, but Father was not alone. I could hear angry voices raised in argument in the formal parlor and the smell of cigar smoke rolled through the half open door. I knew Senator Jacobs voice – he was often a visitor at home at Waterside. The others were strange to me, but I could hear enough to know that they were discussing Lincoln’s election. Loudly.
I sent James upstairs with my bag and went to the kitchen. By the time I had finished eating, I could hear Father seeing his visitors to the door. When he returned from the porch, I was waiting in the hallway. He held out his hand and smiled.
I don’t think he felt like smiling, or that he had felt like smiling for a long time. I could tell that he was full of anger. I asked, “Father, why have you called me back?”
He led me back into the parlor and motioned me toward a chair. “You know Lincoln was elected. You know war is coming.”
This is not a thriller, so it can’t be started at a full gallop. The tone and pace of this opening chapter are correct for the kind of book Voices is setting out to be. Nevertheless, after reading it back at the end of the first day of writing, I knew that it needed something to hook the reader’s attention.
Also Matt isn’t much of a person yet. The reader is likely to give us a little time to correct that. Readers tend to like people named “I” until something happens to change their mind.
If you didn’t just start reading Voices today, you know that Matt is going to undergo some major changes in his outlook. Even a reader of the finished book would know something of that from the prolog. He doesn’t yet look like a candidate for that change, but his personality will unfold over the first few chapters, and readers tend to give us time to let that happen.
Even at this point in the writing, I knew I was going to need a prolog to hook the reader.