J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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I hope everyone has a very safe, happy Thanksgiving. In honor of the holiday, here is an excerpt from my novel, A Rebel Among Us. Endulge and enjoy!

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A week later, on the following Thursday, the Montgomery’s invited the Brady household to celebrate the nation’s first Thanksgiving Day. Since David had no desire to partake in a Northern holiday with strangers and was still unable to come to terms with the deception he was embarking on, he gladly agreed to remain behind. After hitching Alphie, he watched the girls and their aunt ride toward the Montgomery farmstead, visible at the top of a hill about a mile away. He knew he had the opportunity to leave, but his conscience gnawed at him and compelled him to stay. It wasn’t because of Renegade. It was the look in Anna’s eyes, those magnificent blue-green eyes, and the expression on her face when he told her he’d stay. He couldn’t bring himself to disappoint her. She was relying on him.

Entering the kitchen, he sat down at the table and looked over the newspaper while he ate the meal Sarah had prepared for him. He read about another battle that had taken place a few days prior near Lookout Mountain in Tennessee. The reporter referred to it as “the battle above the clouds.” This time, the Confederates didn’t fare so well, and he was glad the family wasn’t there to witness his disappointment. He walked out to the barn and tended to the animals. After checking on Renegade, he led him out to the yard, walked a short distance from him, and whistled. Pricking his ears, Renegade gingerly trotted over to him. David looked at his hoof. The crack was nearly sealed shut, but David was still apprehensive about putting extra weight on it. Perhaps in another month he would start riding him again.

He spent most of the afternoon with his colt, treating him to carrots, handfuls of oats, and an apple before leading him to his stall. On his way back to the house, it dawned on him. This was his chance. He looked upstairs and explored every room in search of his elusive pistol. Coming up empty-handed, he went downstairs and ransacked through the kitchen cupboards. He discovered items he’d never seen before: a bottle of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce, a few cans of Van de Camp’s Pork and Beans, Borden’s Condensed Milk, and Underwood Deviled Ham. He checked the dining room, scoured the parlor, looked under the piano lid, and came upon a loaded shotgun stashed under the upholstered sofa. His search led him out to the front porch, as well as to the spare bedroom across from the parlor now occupied by the girls’ aunt. Still, no pistol appeared. At a loss, he went back upstairs to start again. He found no sign of it in Abigail’s room, but this time he noticed her toys. Along with the patriotic ones she had previously shown him, she owned several dolls, a doll house, and a wooden horse on wheels. All were neatly placed against the walls. The bedroom Anna and Maggie shared held virtually no hiding spaces, except for one loose floorboard where they had hidden twelve silver dollars. He searched the storage closet across from his room but still couldn’t locate his pistol. The quest led him back to his bedroom.

He plopped down on the bed and sat there thinking. An idea came to mind, so he pulled out each dresser drawer and felt around inside but found nothing unusual. He walked across to the armoire, opened the doors, and peered inside. Mr. Brady’s old clothes still hung there. He pushed them aside but failed to see anything out of the ordinary. Reaching inside, he rapped his knuckles against the back while turning his right ear toward the sound to hear. A hollow echo reverberated. He felt inside the back of the dark, wooden wardrobe. Finding a hollowed out groove, he pulled on it. The door slid open. David discovered his missing handgun ensconced in its holster. He withdrew it and smiled at it like it was a long lost friend. Tempted to let out a whoop, he restrained himself and checked inside the chamber instead. Five balls still remained. He put it back in its hiding place, amused he had outsmarted the womenfolk without their knowing it.

Later that evening, when the girls and Sarah returned, he walked out to greet them. “Ladies, did y’all have a nice time?” he asked, smiling like the cat that had eaten the canary. He helped Sarah out of the carriage.

Anna failed to return his smile. “Fine, thank you,” she said, allowing him to assist her. “Would you please unharness Alphie and come inside? We have something to tell you.”

He helped Maggie down. “Had that good of a time, huh?” he sarcastically remarked.

“It isn’t that,” Anna said, quickly turning away.

Abigail smiled sadly at him and tagged behind the others.

Wondering what could be so dire, he led Alphie to the barn, unhitched him, lightly brushed him down, and put him in his stall. After rubbing Renegade gently on the nose, he walked back to the house; but as he entered the kitchen, only grim expressions greeted him.

“David,” Sarah began. “I’m afraid we have unpleasant news to tell you.”

He apprehensively stared at her.

“Today, we learned our beloved Union has gained control of Chattanooga.”

His mouth dropped open. Consumed with remorse, he sank onto a kitchen chair and recalled the train ride he and Jake had taken. Their first night away from home had been spent in Chattanooga. He thought of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the Confederate infantrymen he and Jake had met on the train, and wondered if they were still alive. Then he remembered Miss Mattie and Miss Martha, the two elderly sisters who had taken him and Jake into their elaborate home and provided them with accommodation before the boys had ventured on to Richmond to join up with General Stuart’s cavalry. His heart ached as he thought of those two rebellious, precious old women. The Yankees were undoubtedly demolishing all that was in their wake, pilfering, ravaging, and defiling everything they could get their hands on. He knew Miss Mattie and Miss Martha’s spectacular townhouse was no exception. In a way, he felt a twinge of sympathy for the loathsome Yankees who were confronted with the scorn of Miss Martha. He wished he could be there to hear her cuss them out. But more than that, he hoped, with all his heart, the dear soul survived the Union Army’s terrible assault.

“I’m so sorry, David,” Anna said softly.

“It’s a sad victory,” Sarah reiterated.

He sat there for a few moments, unable to look at them. Finally, he drew a deep breath.

“Ladies, I’ll see y’all in the mornin’.”

Avoiding eye contact, he walked upstairs to his room, closed the door behind him, and locked it. He sat down on the bed and remembered the two elderly sisters and the loss of his best friend, Jake. His thoughts turned to his father.

If only I could have defended them all somehow, he thought.

His father’s best friend, Bud Samuels, had given David the pistol he now owned. The handgun gave him solace. He walked across the room and pulled his Colt .45 army pistol out from the back of the armoire. Hot tears burned their way out, searing their way down his cheeks. This was yet another defeat for the Confederate cause, and he felt defeated along with it. Once again, his heart burned with all the hatred and contempt he had previously held for his aggressors. He decided he was prepared for any Yankee tyrant who dared try to take him against his will because he was more than eager for the chance to blow a hole through the vermin. On this first Thanksgiving holiday, he had no reason to give thanks. This was war, and he was still willing to fight.

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