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The Treason of Mary Louvestreby My Haley
Synopses & Reviews
From the widow and collaborator of Alex Haley, award-winning author of Roots, comes a new American epic from the Civil War. The Treason of Mary Louvestre is based on the true story of a seamstress slave from the Confederate town of Norfolk, Virginia. When her owner gets involved with modifications to the ironclad CSS Virginia, Mary copies the plans and sets out to commit treason against the South. Facing certain death as a spy if caught, she treks two hundred miles during the bitter winter of 1862 to reach the office of Union Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, where she hands over the plans. Mary's act of bravery is ably told by Haley, using a rich narrative and characters drawn from that pinnacle era of American history. First there was Roots, now there is The Treason of Mary Louvestre.
The Treason of Mary Louvestre is based on the true story of Mary Louvestre, a seamstress slave from the confederate town of Norfolk, Virginia who steals and carries plans of the rebel ironclad to Washington DC.
She knew she looked like hell but she didn’t care. She was alive.
Pausing a moment, she dug into her bag. From a small pouch she retrieved the ring with the Louvestre crest and returned it to the middle finger of her left hand. She straightened her clothes, which were mostly rags now. Slipping her gloves back on, she worried over their threadbare and holey condition. They would have to do, as they were her last pair. After all, a lady could not meet important government officials without her hat and gloves. Reaching back into her knapsack, she drew out her last remaining kufi. Placing the elegant cap on her head after so long, it still reminded her of the importance of her mission.
She lifted her shoulders and her chin, and took a deep breath. “I’m ready now, sir.”
Tired to the point of grateful numbness, she limped down the long, ornate hallway following the young assistant. Having lost her walking stick as well as her make-do staff, walking was a painful hobble.
“Ma’am,” the young man said holding out his arm to help her.
“Thank you, but I’ve made it this far on my own. I can make it the rest of the way.” She had set out on this incredible journey upright and on her own two feet and she was bound to finish it that way.
In another moment, they reached their destination. The plaque on the door read: Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy. The assistant pushed inside and held the door open for her to enter.
The impressively tall older man stood up from behind his desk. An expansive white beard flowed like a bib from his jaw. He looked at her directly with a curious expression. “I was told you had important information for me.” No preliminaries.
“I do,” she said, “right here in this gourd.” She indicated the length of it she wore slung over her shoulder.
The assistant backed out and closed the door, leaving them alone.
“I’m very busy and some runaway slave or vagabond is always passing information about Southern doings,” he said impatiently. “We have specialists in the field for that.”
“I see,” she said returning his direct gaze. She waited. If this man was going to be an officious bastard, he could work out this war on his own.
Welles softened. This woman was different somehow, he told himself. He could feel it. He came from behind the large, mahogany desk and extended his hand. “I’m Gideon Welles. Won’t you sit down?”
She sat. The visitor’s chair faced another one and that was where he sat. The paned windows across the room filled it with light.
“What do you have?” Welles asked getting comfortable.
“Blueprints for the refurbished CSS Virginia.”
His eyes grew wide and he scratched his cheek, still assessing her. “The old Merrimac? We already know what that ship looks like.”
“From the inside? With all of the latest modifications?”
“Where did you acquire such detailed documents?
“I’m from Norfolk, born and raised. I was a fashion designer there, owned by a very influential family.”
“You’re a slave?”
“Was a slave. But my life was that of no common slave and because of it, I came into possession of these plans.”
Welles’ interest was piqued by the circumstance and most assuredly by this woman. “I have to admit, you and your story make a striking pair, indeed. And may I comment on the ring you’re wearing? It’s an elaborate, obviously expensive piece.”
“It’s the Louvestre family crest set in a stone of carnelian, trimmed in gold. Everyone in the family wears one, me included.” She said nothing further. Let him get it all out, she told herself. Men, especially, seemed to need to comment on her looks and, from time to time, her unique ring.
He cleared his throat. “Why do you bring these papers to me?”
“You’re the Secretary of the Navy. There’s a war going on between the states. Your Northern ship is going to fight that Southern giant very soon and you need to know how to beat it. Isn’t that correct?”
“Well put. Go on.”
“Your surveillance has probably told you that the ship is huge, thickly iron-plated, looking invincible. What you likely don’t know is where her weaknesses are in order to defeat her—one in particular.”
Welles ran his fingers through his hair, thinking. “You’re telling me that inside that gourd are papers that will show me where to hit the CSS Virginia and score a lethal blow?”
Welles hit a button and the assistant opened the door. “Yes sir?”
“Please bring us a pot of coffee, lad. We’re going to be a while.”
“Right away,” the assistant said and closed the door.
“You stole these papers?”
“I copied them a few weeks ago, just before I left Norfolk.”
“How did you get here carrying items that could have gotten you hung if you’d been caught?”
Welles eyebrows arched. “Walked? In this weather?”
Her dry lips turned up in a pleasant expression.
“I’ll be damned,” he exclaimed. “You’re a spy.”
“That’s not how I thought of myself before, but I suppose I am.”
Welles leaned back in his chair. “Well, well.” He sighed. “I’d like to hear how that came to be. Will you tell me?”
“It will take more than coffee for that to occur. I need food and rest. But yes, I will tell you everything. It’s quite a story.”
“I’m sorry, what did you say your name was?”
“Mary. Mary Louvestre.”
“Well, Miss Mary, may I see the ship’s blueprints? I assume you brought them to help our boys turn things around.”
Mary glanced out the office window to an unfamiliar place she might have to make home, with an uncertain future for herself. She took a deep breath. “They’re in pieces and in code. I’ll put them together for you. And yes, I brought them to help you win,” she said.
“Win. That’s a fond notion. But I want to know about you. No one goes from slave to spy just like that.” He snapped his fingers.
“It’s a long story. One that’s not pretty.”
Mary sighed. “It feels like an eternity ago, but it all began....”
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