Rose was sewing at her desk when the Condor jerked suddenly, a terrible grinding noise deafening her as the oil lamp was cast to the floor. The glass shattered and in a small plume of light and smoke, the fire was smothered and died out.
Rose sat silently for a moment, listening for sounds of the ship sinking, of water rushing in to find her. Instead she heard yelling, the sounds of artillery fire echoing above her.
She took a breath, straightening her back, and finished sewing the last golden coin into her undergarments. The darkness hardly troubled her as she twisted the needle through and around; she had done so over a hundred times already, amassing no less than two thousand dollars in all the folds of delicate fabric sliding between her fingers.
The yelling became louder; no doubt someone was coming to find her. Rose undressed quickly and slid into her golden undergarments. The coins were cold against her body and their weight tugged upon her uncomfortably. She wriggled inside the garments, twisting ever so slightly, elongating her spine to relieve any unnecessary pressure.
Rose had just pulled on her dress when her cabin door burst open and a young man, panting, called out, “Mrs. Greenhow, are you in there?”
“I am here,” she said stately, grabbing a thin book from her desk and shoving it under her collar as she approached. “What was all the commotion?”
“We’ve run aground,” the young man said. “The Condor‘s going no more, Mrs. Greenhow.”
Rose gasped and quickly muffled the sound with a cough. Run aground? Going no more? Her heart began beating faster, her blood suddenly hot then cold, then hot again. Her head began spinning. What would she do? She couldn’t stay here–she couldn’t be caught–she wouldn’t go back to prison. Never! No more days under house arrest, no more hours spent moving curtains and lighting candles in secret codes. And for what? For the lousy business of relaying messages beyond her windows–beyond her imprisonment.
Rose clenched her fists and dashed at the young man, shoving past him–“Mrs. Greenhow, Mrs. Greenhow!”–and hurtling down the corridor. The blockade runner rocked and she lost her footing, slamming into the wall, but she could see the faint light ahead and pushed onward, the young man’s echoes ever following after her.
She reached the open air gasping for breath and threw herself toward the nearest life boat. Two men grabbed her, knocking the wind from her lungs, and pulled her back.
“Let me go, let me go,” she screamed, flailing her arms and legs, trying to bite the hands that held her. “Let me go!” Her heart beat ever faster, surely it would burst from her chest at any moment. She had lost her husband, her daughters, her home–
She would not lose the war.
“Let me go,” she yelled so loudly her throat stung. “I have word for President Davis!”
The hands unleashed her and she flopped forward, howling as her hands broke her fall against the Condor‘s wooden deck. All around her, men were moving at a hurried pace, their movement illuminated only by the silvery light of the moon and the occasional bright burst of light from some far-off firing squad.
Suddenly another young man was at her side, taking her hand and lifting her. “Right this way, Mrs. Greenhow.” He led her to a small rowboat and placed her inside. Within minutes, they’d dropped into the ocean and the men around her were rowing toward the shore, toward the gaping mouth of Cape Fear before them.
Rose swallowed, still dizzy from her frenzy on the ship, and now sickened by the back-and-forth of the rowboat over the choppy waves. The moonlight danced atop the water, medallions of silver even richer than the gold pressed against her skin. The saltwater spray stung her skin and brought tears to her eyes. The men around her yelled orders to one another, but she did not listen, absently recalling the time not too long ago when she was in Scotland, and in London, and in France.
The rowboat lurched and water splashed her face–but the ice ended not there, and Rose realized the boat had capsized and tossed them into the ocean’s unforgiving embrace.
“Help,” she screamed, splashing her arms, “help me!”
Her treading failed her as the gold dug deeper into her flesh, pulling her under like cold fingers sliding against her breast and bodice.
The flash of the lamp shattering filled her eyes, returning Rose to her moment of capture, the hearth roaring with fire as she tossed inside her papers, pages of encrypted messages for President Davis and love letters laced with military secrets. Now that fire filled her veins and the roaring belonged not to mortar and bricks, but the ocean itself.
For a moment all sound stopped, for a moment she hung motionless in the tide. She saw nothing, felt nothing past the crushing weight of all her gold and the watery tomb encircling her. Rose ran her hand along a single golden coin, destined for the Confederacy even in death if not in life, and let her last breath slip past her lips into the darkness of death.