Story Excerpt Sunday: from A Call to Arms by P.G. Nagle

A Call to ArmsA Call to Arms

by P.G. Nagle

 Washington, D.C., 1883

Mr. Glass looked up as a tall, inelegant woman entered his office. She wore a sober black dress of modest and unfashionable cut, and a trim hat with the veil drawn over her face.

Soldier’s widow, he decided. God knew Washington was overrun with them still, almost twenty years after the war.

The eyes of the three men waiting to see his employer followed her as she approached Mr. Glass’s desk with a slightly halting step. Mr. Glass set his pen in the standish and stifled a sigh.

“May I help you, madam?”

“I am here to see Congressman Cutcheon,” she said in a voice both quiet and rather firmer than he’d expected.

Mr. Glass reached for his ledger book. “The Congressman is fully occupied today. You may make an appointment for next week.”

The woman coughed—whether it was a gesture of discretion he could not tell, for she raised a handkerchief to her lips beneath the veil—then spoke again, quietly.

“If you would be so kind as to tell him I am here, I believe he will see me at once. It is in regard to a matter of which I have written to him, as have several others—”

“Madam, the Congressman receives many letters. All are dealt with in due course.”

She paused for a moment, drawing a breath. “I understand, but I have traveled a great distance at considerable expense to come here. I have not the means to remain indefinitely.”

“You have my sympathy, madam,” Mr. Glass said politely, if rather insincerely. “However, I am afraid I cannot favor you before others who have already been waiting.”

He nodded toward the three men, whose expressions had gone from curious to resentful. The lady paid them no heed.

“If you will just give him my name, I will be content to wait as long as he requires.”

Seeing that he would not be rid of her until he acceded to her wishes, or at least gave the appearance of doing so, Mr. Glass drew a slip of paper toward him and picked up his pen. “Very well, madam. Your name is?”

“Seelye. S. Emma E. Seelye.”

He recorded it in his elegant hand. “And your husband’s name, Mrs. Seelye?”

“My husband’s name is of no consequence to the Congressman. I am here on my own behalf.”

“If you are here about a pension—yes?” Mr. Glass paused to judge the effect of his discernment upon her, but her veil prevented him seeing whether she was surprised. “Then your husband’s name is needed.”

“I am here about a pension,” she said in her quiet voice, “but not for my husband. He did not serve during the war.”

Mr. Glass looked up at her, frowning. The fact that she was here, instead of at the Pension Office, implied that she was seeking intervention from the Congressman to overcome some obstacle to the normal, tedious process of collecting a soldier’s pension. If she sought to claim the pension of a brother, father, or some other relative, the knot could be tangled indeed. Mr. Glass knew his employer disliked such problems.

Before he could compose a phrase of courteous discouragement, the door behind him opened and several voices, bidding cheerful farewell, intruded. Four men, all connected with various members of Congress, took their leave of each other as they departed Congressman Cutcheon’s office. The door closed, and the gentlemen strolled toward the outer hall, two of them deep in debate, the others nodding to Mr. Glass. The woman standing before his desk watched them, and as the last of them passed her, she spoke.

“Jamie.”

The man addressed—Mr. Reid, who was an aide to Senator Dalton—halted, then slowly turned, a frown on the face that a moment before had been smiling and carefree. He stared at the woman, his nostrils flaring as if, like a hound on the hunt, he could identify her by scent.

“Do I know you?” he said, the slight trace of a Scottish burr to his voice.

She raised her hands and put back her veil, revealing a countenance more handsome than lovely, and weathered by not a few years. Yet still she was striking, Mr. Glass observed without reservation. Her hair was dark and neatly pulled back from her face, though a strand had escaped to curl at her temple. Her eyes, dark and commanding, gazed steadily at Mr. Reid.

“It’s Frank,” she said simply.

A convulsive swallow moved Mr. Reid’s throat.

The sound of a polite cough distracted Mr. Glass from this interesting scene. One of the waiting visitors had risen from his chair and taken a step toward the desk, raising his eyebrows in inquiry. The other two sat watching Mrs. Seelye and Mr. Reid with unabashed curiosity.

The door behind him opened again and Mr. Glass was distracted by his counterpart, Mr. Whitfield, who spoke in a discreet murmur.

“The Congressman will see the gentlemen from Detroit, now.”

Mr. Glass hastened to usher the three men into the Congressman’s office, hiding his annoyance and curiosity and fear that his chance at learning more was lost, but he need not have worried. When the door was safely closed again and the office now empty of all observers save himself, it did not appear that Mr. Reid or Mrs. Seelye had moved.

“What are you doing here?” Mr. Reid said in a tight voice.

“I have come to claim my pension and back pay,” said Mrs. Seelye. “I need the money.”

A corner of Mr. Reid’s mouth turned up wryly. “And you expect to get it?”

Her head remained high and her eyes flashed momentarily, but her voice as she answered was cool. “I hope to, with the aid of many of my old friends.”

“Old friends,” he repeated, and gave a laugh that to Mr. Glass sounded bitter.

***********

P.G. Nagle was born and raised fifty miles from Glorieta Pass in the mountains of northern New Mexico. Her Far Western Civil War series of novels includes Glorieta Pass, The Guns of Valverde, Galveston, and Red River.

Nagle still lives in the mountains and is always at work on plans for more novels. She is a member of Novelists, Inc. and a founding member of Book View Café.

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