Summary (Masterplots, Definitive Revised Edition)
Cavalier Philip Surry, who rode and fought under Prince Rupert in the English Civil War, escaped to Virginia when King Charles I was beheaded. Establishing a home, which he named Eagle’s-Nest, on the Rappahannock River below Port Royal, he enjoined in his will that the oldest son of the family in each generation should sign himself “Surry of Eagle’s-Nest.”
The present Surry, who had attended the Virginia Military Institute for one session and had studied law at the University of Virginia, was in Richmond in April, 1861, when the State Convention passed its ordinance of secession. One evening at the Capitol Square, he saw with rapture a beautiful girl, whose dropped handkerchief contained the initials, M.B. On another day, in Hollywood Cemetery, he witnessed by chance a duel between a tall, bronzed stranger named Mordaunt and Fenwick, the encounter ending when Mordaunt put a pistol bullet through Fenwick’s lungs. Surry left Richmond the proud recipient of a captain’s commission in the Provisional Army of Virginia, and in his new gray uniform, he rode toward Harper’s Ferry for duty under Colonel Jackson.
Losing his way in the Wilderness, which bordered the Rapidan River, he spent a night in a house where dwelt an insane woman in white, still possessing traces of youthful beauty, who was attended by her lovely young cousin, Violet Grafton, and by a harridan, Mrs. Parkins. Surprisingly there appeared at this house Fenwick, whose duel wound had not been fatal. In the night, the “White Lady,” tiptoeing into Surry’s room, slipped into his coat pocket a package bearing the words, “Read these when I am dead—and remember ... Your own Frances.”
Further, while en route to Harper’s Ferry, Surry was overtaken by a hurricane in a forest and was knocked from his horse by a large limb. He was stunned and his arm was broken. A female equestrian, whom the flying branches had spared, ordered her servant to take the injured man to her father’s home, “The Oaks.” There he convalesced under the eyes of Colonel Beverley and his daughter May, his rescuer and the owner of the handkerchief which he had picked up in Richmond. Surry’s heart was fully captivated, but May was already bound by a between-fathers contract and a young-girl engagement to Frederick Baskerville. The fact that her new lover knew Baskerville to be a scoundrel made Surry’s plight doubly bitter.
Fairly near “The Oaks” was the home of Mordaunt, which Surry visited. Its owner, who lived hermitlike with Achmed, a faithful Arab, was destined to become one of Surry’s best friends. Mordaunt’s air of melancholy indicated the gentleman’s deeply tragic past.
After long delays, Captain Surry finally reported for duty to Colonel Thomas J. Jackson, who made him an aide-de-camp. Shortly afterward, the young staff officer met Colonel J. E. B. Stuart. The two colonels, soon to become generals, would be Surry’s idols to the end of his days.
Before their first battle, Surry and Mordaunt, now a Confederate colonel, saw an eerie night burial in the garden of a stone house at Manassas. They observed on the scene Fenwick, the Parkins woman, and Violet Grafton. The dead person was the insane White Lady of the Wilderness. Again...
(The entire section is 1336 words.)
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