Good morning friends! On Tuesday I shared with you an introduction to two of my newest characters – Robert and Hannah Bishop, they are just two of the people you will get to meet in my newest novel (currently still being written) based around the battle of Gettysburg.
I’m doing something a little bit different in this novel by playing around with dual timelines. Part of the novel is diary style – told from the point of view of Hannah Bishop as she chronicles the year 1863; the other timeline is modern – it’s told from the point of view of Molly Williams, Hannah Davis’ great, great (I haven’t done the math yet so I don’t know how many greats) granddaughter.
I though today I might give you a little back story for Molly, and introduce you to her and an additional character…but first you have to know Molly’s history:
When Molly was a child she lost both of her parents in a fatal car accident and went to live with her grandmother in Lakeland, Florida. She lived with her Gram all through her school years before going off to college. Molly has a core group of friends that she relies on heavily – she met them all in college, Ellie, Erin, and Charlotte – they were roommates as freshman and got an apartment together for the last three years. (Trust me, this is very VERY important for Molly’s story going forward). All four of them in some way or another go into writing – Molly writes for Engel Travel, a magazine based in Lakeland. Ellie is a sports writer, covering baseball in Upstate New York. Erin is a novelist, introducing her friends and readers to brilliant characters and stories. Charlotte started out in media but worked her way up to being some big-wig baseball executive’s assistant (again, just trust me…this is important stuff!!).
Gram dies, leaving Molly everything – the house and all that comes with it – but also leaving her without any family.
Molly calls in the troops to help her sort through and clean out Gram’s things – Ellie, Erin, and Char show up bearing junk food and cheesy movies to help sort through the myriad boxes of things that Gram in all her wisdom never threw away.
While the girls set to work sorting through boxes – each of them tackling a corner of the basement – Molly comes across an antique trunk.
In the trunk she finds several quilts, an old sewing box, a dress, and a diary.
The diary of Hannah Bishop.
This discovery launches Molly on a journey to find her family (and possibly love along the way).
Molly’s first stop is Davis Plantation where she meets a young and dashing (somewhat snarky) museum director…
I make my way an hour outside of Atlanta’s city limits to the Davis Plantation; I wind my way up what seems like a mile long driveway, lined with magnolia trees, and catch a glimpse of the house beyond the trees – it’s a formidable looking home with giant stone columns and a sturdy wooden door, I take a deep breath and brace myself as I climb out of my car.
I walk up the front steps, pushing open the massive door and am immediately greeted by a young girl maybe eighteen or nineteen years old.
“Good mornin'” she drawls, her accent heavy, “you here for a tour? We have guided tours and self guided tours, whatever you’d prefer” she says, while handing me maps of the house and the grounds. Looking over the pamphlets she’s handed me I make my decision.
“I’ll do the self guided, thank you.”
“No problem, if you have any questions my name is Laurel, and I’d be happy to help you.”
I walk through the massive foyer, and start by looking at the family portraits on the wall, looking for Hannah Davis. The first portrait is that of George Davis, the family patriarch – a man with a slim face and a bushy mustache above an intimidating scowl, he does not look like the kind of man you would want to disagree with.
Next in line is Mrs. Margaret Davis, Hannah’s mother; a slight woman with a weary and worn face – a small frown on her lips, and sad eyes.
There is a third and final picture – Jonathan Davis. A young man of nineteen or twenty, with bright eyes and a wide smile. There is no trace of Hannah Davis anywhere – which I suppose makes sense however I’d hoped that the historical society would at least tell the whole family’s story.
I wander around on the main floor a while longer, looking for anything that connects Hannah Davis Bishop to this house and family, but I come up short. Finally, after a fruitless search for Hannah, I make my way back to the front desk to ask Laurel “excuse me,” I interrupt, and she lifts her eyes from the pages of her book. “Am I in the right place? I’m looking for information about Hannah Davis Bishop and my research pointed me here but there is nothing about her mentioned anywhere in the house.”
“Yes, this is the right place, but hang on just a minute…” She says before bolting down the hall to an employees only area of the mansion. I’m left to my own devices for about five minutes before she comes rushing back down the hall toward me “okay, come with me.”
Garnering several curious glances from the other visitors here today, Laurel leads me down the hallway to the office of the museum director, “wait here, it will just be a moment” she says with a slightly nervous tone, before making her way back to the information desk.
“You know,” a smooth baritone voice intones from behind me “in the 1860’s asking about Hannah Davis was a punishable offense on these grounds.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that – thank goodness this isn’t 1863.”
“I’m Eric,” he says, extending his hand, “Eric Lancaster, museum director.”
“I’m Molly” I reply shaking his hand “Molly Williams, writer and avid history buff…and I’m hoping you can help me.”
“Well, if it’s Hannah you’re interested in I can certainly help you out.”
At the quizzical look I gave him, Eric continued. “When I got here a few years ago, fresh out of grad school I made Hannah my project; it wasn’t sanctioned by the historical society but I wanted to find out for myself what happened to her. You grow up down here and all you’re told is that she died young, nothing more – no explanation, no elaboration – she just died. Sixteen years old with her whole life ahead of her.”
“But she didn’t die” I interject “her father sent her to Washington to live with her grandparents William and Margaret Russell”
“Where she met and married Robert Bishop, Captain in the Union Army” Eric volleys back.
“Robert died and his last wish was for Hannah to move north to Gettysburg Pennsylvania; at twenty three years old, a grieving widow, Hannah closed up the dress shop she inherited after the death of her grandmother, packed up all of her belongings and boarded a train bound for Gettysburg. She moved in with a sister she’d never met, and started a brand new life for herself in January of 1863.”
He stares at me open mouthed, at a loss for words “how can you possibly know all of that?” he asks, “I lost track of her in DC. As far as I know she stayed in DC until the day she died.”
I sit back in my chair, place my hand on my shoulder bag, feeling the heft of Hannah’s diary under the quilted cloth of my bag. I do my best to hide the smug smile I feel tugging the corners of my lips; I have information that the museum director doesn’t have, I still have cards in my hand I just have to figure out when to play them.
“What about her brother?” I ask him, remembering Jonathan’s own change of heart.
“Disinherited, just like Hannah. Charlotte Davis, Master Davis’ niece, inherited the plantation; she took over when George felt he was too ill to run the place.”
Cousin Charlotte…exactly as Hannah feared.
“Can you tell me how you know all of that” he asks again.
This diary is the only link I have left to my family, and I can’t let it go – I don’t know that at this point in my journey I’m willing to give it up – on the other hand I know that Eric is capable of helping me. Never one to mince words, I explain…
“My grandmother died a few months ago and my best friends and college roommates traveled to Florida to help me sort through Gram’s belongings and I came across a diary that I think may have belonged to Hannah Davis Bishop and there is some small part of me that wants to believe I’m related to her…I’m hoping you can tell me more. I’m actually hoping you can answer some questions I have as well.”
“Come with me.” He says by way of response. Eric pushes himself away from his desk and takes a key ring from his pocket. Leading me down the corridor, through the main foyer, past groups of tourists, and up the main staircase.
“I probably shouldn’t do this – but since I am the museum director I can,” he smiles at me as he tries to locate the correct key. “Aha!” he exclaims, holding up an antique skeleton key before sliding it in the lock. “At the request of the Davis family this room has never been open to the public but, I think you may benefit from this.” He opens the door slowly, and steps aside, guiding me gently into the room. In an almost reverent voice he tells me “it’s been preserved exactly as she left it when her father sent her away in 1856.”
I take a deep breath and step from the hallway into the dark room. Eric steps in front of me and walks to the windows, drawing open the heavy drapes allowing golden sunlight to fill the room. I can see dust swirling in the sun’s rays, the smell of dust and books fills my nose and throat, and I’m suddenly transported to 1856.
There are bookshelves bending with the weight of books, stacks of books on every flat surface – the desk, floor, and bed – and all manner of pens and ink wells littering the room.
I take it all in – the four poster bed, floor to ceiling bookshelves against one wall, heavy dust laden purple-ish drapes, books on every surface…it’s almost too much to process at once…
What?! Did you really think I would give you more than that?! No way! You’ll have to wait until the novel is finished and published, but stick around because there is a good chance I will introduce you to a few more characters (maybe from some other projects!!) in the future!
I hope that you’ve enjoyed meeting Molly and (what little bit I show you of) Eric, and Hannah and Robert before them! I look forward to being able to share a completed novel with you in the future!