A Beautiful Glittering Lie
Winner of Editor’s Choice Award
Honorable Mention – 2013 DIY Book Festival
Honorable Mention – 2012 Los Angeles Book Festival
In the spring of 1861, a country once united is fractured by war. Half of America fights for the Confederate cause; the other, for unification. Rebel forces have already seized Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines, a new Confederate president has been elected, and the Constitution has been revised. In north Alabama, a farmer and father of three decides to enlist. For Hiram Summers, it is the end of everything he has ever known.
After Hiram travels to Virginia with the Fourth Alabama Infantry Regiment, he is quickly thrust into combat. His son, David, who must stay behind, searches for adventure at home by traipsing to Huntsville with his best friend, Jake Kimball, to scrutinize invading Yankees. Meanwhile, Caroline – Hiram’s wife and David’s mother – struggles to keep up with the farm as her world revolves around the letters she receives from her husband, whom she misses dearly. As Hiram and his son discover the true meaning of war, they soon realize that their choices have torn their family apart.
In this historical tale, the naïveté of a young country is tested, a father sacrifices everything to defend his home, and a young man longs for adventure – regardless of the perilous cost.
Check out a preview of this book at:
Author: J. D. R. Hawkins
Fiction / Historical
- Paperback: 200 pages
- Publisher: Westwood Books Publishing LLC (January 31, 2020)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1643619942
- ISBN-13: 978-1643619941
Available from Westwood Books Publishing
Any people, anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable – a most sacred right – a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people, that can, may revolutionize, and make their own of so many of the territory as they inhabit.
—Abraham Lincoln, January 12, 1848
“Oh, look! Here he comes!” Jenny exclaimed.
The crowd exploded with cheers.
David looked over to where she was pointing, his hazel eyes squinting in the bright sunshine. An elegant black-lacquered carriage drawn by six white horses pulled up to the steps of the regal Greek revival-style state capitol building. Eight musicians burst into “Dixie’s Land.” A slender, stately, middle-aged gentleman stepped out of the carriage, and was escorted by military personnel to a waiting platform, where he took his seat.
“He looks a mite sickly to me,” remarked David’s father, Hiram.
Mr. Kimball concurred.
“Well, I’ll be glad when this here circus act is over,” grumbled Hiram’s longtime friend, Bud Samuels.
He was an amusing man with a scraggly beard and a constant twinkle in his eye. David thought of him as an uncle. But the distressed tone in Bud’s voice alarmed him, for it was unusually out of character.
“I thought you wanted to bear witness to this,” Hiram fired back. He looked at his son and winked. David saw a glimmer of devilishness in his father’s blue eyes.
“I did, till I had that vision last night,” Bud replied.
“Vision?” asked Mr. Kimball.
Bud frowned. “I’ll tell y’all about it later.”
A pastor stood, walked up onto the platform, and requested that the people bow their heads before he started a short prayer. The crowd chanted “Amen,” in unison, and the middle-aged man who had arrived with his entourage approached the podium. Withdrawing his notes from his inner coat pocket, he began to speak.
“Gentlemen of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, friends, and fellow citizens. Called to the difficult and responsible station of chief executive of the provisional government which you have instituted, I approach the discharge of the duties assigned to me with a humble distrust of my abilities …”
David glanced over at the spectators standing beside him, who were listening intently. He noticed several soldiers on horseback, patrolling the area. The stately man’s voice brought him back, recapturing his attention.
“I enter upon the duties of the office to which I have been chosen with the hope that the beginnin’ of our career as a confederacy may not be obstructed by hostile opposition to our enjoyment of the separate existence and independence which we have asserted, and, with the blessin’ of Providence, intend to maintain.”
Looking at his friend, David nudged him with his elbow. “Hey, Jake, what do you think of ole Jeff Davis?” he asked in a hushed voice.
“Ain’t sure yet,” came the reply. Jake grinned at him, his young face beaming, and a gleam in his brown eyes. “I jist hope he keeps it short.”
“Our present political position, achieved in a manner unprecedented in the history of nations,” continued Jefferson Davis, “illustrates the American idea that governments rest upon the consent of the governed, and that it is the right of the people to alter or abolish governments whenever they become destructive of the ends for which they were established …”
David found himself swaying slightly, his feet growing tired from standing, since he had been in the same spot for over an hour, waiting for the president’s arrival. His tall, lanky frame slumped as he shoved his cold hands deep into his coat pockets. Unintentionally, his mind drifted, and he began daydreaming out of boredom, thinking about the changes that had taken place. In his opinion, it had all started two years ago and had escalated from there. First was John Brown’s raid, followed by his hanging. After that came Lincoln’s election, and now, one by one, Southern states were seceding. His own beloved Alabama had been the fourth to leave the Union only a month ago. Since then, three more states had disaffiliated. The country was splitting in two. A slight breeze blew by, causing him to shiver from the cold February chill. He forced himself to listen once again.
“If we may not hope to avoid war,” Jefferson Davis read, “we may at least expect that posterity will acquit us of havin’ needlessly engaged in it. Doubly justified by the absence of wrong on our part, and by wanton aggression on the part of others, there can be no cause to doubt that the courage and patriotism of the people of the Confederate States will be found equal to any measures of defense which their honor and security may require …”
“It’s mighty cold out here,” Jake complained. His vaporized breath floated away like a small, wispy cloud.
“Sure is,” David responded with a sniffle.
“Will you two please hush up?” Jenny quietly growled, her dark brown pipe curls swirling out from under her amber bonnet, encircling her porcelain-like face.
“Sorry, sis,” Jake said with a smile.
She rolled her eyes at him before looking back up at the platform.
“There can be but little rivalry between ours and any manufacturin’ or navigatin’ community, such as the Northeastern States of the American Union,” said the president-elect. “It must follow, therefore, that mutual interest would invite goodwill and kind offices. If, however, passion or the lust of dominion should cloud the judgment or inflame the ambition of those states, we must prepare to meet the emergency and maintain, by the final arbitrament of the sword, the position which we have assumed among the nations of the earth …”
“Is he sayin’ that we’re fixin’ to go to war?” Jake asked his father.
“Don’t rightly know what it means,” Mr. Kimball replied. He gave his son a sidelong glance before returning his gaze to the platform.
“I reckon he’s referrin’ to the fact that Northern tyranny has suppressed us here in the South,” Jenny’s husband, Nate, said softly, giving an affirmative nod. “And if the Yankees don’t allow us to leave peaceably, we’ll take up arms if need be.”
A horse nickered from the street, distracting David. His gaze meandered over the crowd of a few hundred. Although it was a Monday, most were dressed in their Sunday finery, complete with hats, shawls, topcoats, and hooped skirts. Some had their children in tow. People, both black and white, stood in awe of the newly elected official, and David wondered if they had the same thing on their minds as he did. Where is this man leading us?
“There should be a well-instructed and disciplined army,” Davis continued, “more numerous than would usually be required on a peace establishment …”
Jake and David threw awestruck glances at each other from under their slouch hats.
“It’s jist as I thought,” Bud whispered ominously.
Hiram gave him a doubtful look.
“I also suggest that, for the protection of our harbors and commerce on the high seas, a navy adapted to those objects will be required,” said Davis.
“Well, I’m jinin’ the navy, then,” Jake proclaimed.
“I’m fixin’ to jine the army,” added David.
They both snickered at each other and were unable to stop. Afraid that their laughter would spark an outrage, David covered his mouth with his hand, trying to suppress the urge.
“Shhh!” Jenny’s stare bore into them, making their snickers cease.
Hiram leaned in close to his son. “You two young’uns need to keep it down,” he growled.
Biting his lower lip to regain his composure, David glanced at him, noticing his father’s lofty stature, and the concerned expression on his clean-shaven face as he listened to the president’s words. Looking back at the dignitaries, he could pay attention only momentarily before his mind drifted again. Instead of the army, he envisioned himself enlisting as a Pony Express rider, even though he knew they only allowed orphans. For a few moments, he imagined riding through the wilderness, alone on horseback across the dusty desert, pursued by marauding Indians. It was a dangerous adventure, just like those in dime novels he had read, about his hero, Kit Carson. In order to do it, he would have to run away from home, and steal his father’s horse as well. Even though he was only fifteen, enlisting in the army would probably be easier for his kinfolk to accept.
Jefferson Davis rambled on. “Should reason guide the action of the government from which we have separated, a policy so detrimental to the civilized world, the Northern states included, could not be dictated by even the strongest desire to inflict injury upon us; but otherwise a terrible responsibility will rest upon it, and the sufferin’ of millions will bear testimony to the folly and wickedness of our aggressors. In the meantime there will remain to us, besides the ordinary means before suggested, the well-known resources for retaliation upon the commerce of an enemy …”
“Those are fightin’ words if I ever did hear them,” remarked Mr. Kimball.
“It’s jist as I feared,” Bud muttered, dismally shaking his slouch hat-covered head. “It’s the end of all things as we know them.”
“Your generosity has bestowed upon me an undeserved distinction, one which I neither sought nor desired,” said the president-elect. “Upon the continuance of that sentiment, and upon your wisdom and patriotism, I rely to direct and support me in the performance of the duties required at my hands.”
“At least he’s humble about it,” observed Jake.
David glanced at his friend’s sister, who scowled at him. He could feel himself recoil, for even though he had known Jenny nearly all his life, he was still painfully shy, especially in front of girls. Even his own sisters made him self-conscious at times, but he reasoned it was because he was the only boy left in their family, and the oldest sibling at that. Deciding to keep quiet, he merely nodded in agreement.
“We have changed the constituent parts, but not the system of government,” Jefferson Davis went on to say. “The Constitution formed by our fathers is that of these Confederate States …”
Expelling a sigh, David felt his stomach rumble. The president’s lengthy speech was becoming nothing more than a long-winded drone. Turning his gaze toward the soldiers, he wondered what it must be like to be one, and what adventures were in store for them. He couldn’t imagine a war igniting, and yet, there was much talk of it. Noticing Bud, who was also staring at the military men, he inexplicably felt a twinge of apprehension. The soldiers stood clustered together, waiting for an uprising. He suddenly realized that it wouldn’t take much provocation for them to dispense their ammunition into an unruly crowd.
“It is joyous, in the midst of perilous times, to look around upon a people united in heart, where one purpose of high resolve animates and actuates the whole; where the sacrifices to be made are not weighed in the balance against honor and right and liberty and equality.” The president’s voice rang out like a church bell, his words becoming more fervent. “Obstacles may retard, but they cannot long prevent the progress of a movement sanctified by its justice and sustained by a virtuous people. Reverently let us invoke the God of our fathers to guide and protect us in our efforts to perpetuate the principles which, by his blessin’, they were able to vindicate, establish, and transmit to their posterity, and with a continuance of His favor, ever gratefully acknowledged, we may hopefully look forward to success, to peace, and to prosperity.”
With that, Jefferson Davis folded his speech and stuffed it into the breast pocket of his long coat. The crowd erupted with applause. Another man stood, joined Davis on the platform, withdrew a Bible as the audience grew silent, and requested that Davis place his right hand upon it. Everyone present stood in silent admiration while he took his oath of office. The president echoed the man’s sporadic phrases, and ended by lifting his eyes and his hand toward the sky, saying, “So help me God!”
For a moment, all were stunned, stirred by the impressive scene, but then several started applauding enthusiastically, and the rest followed. The band broke into a jaunty rendition of the “Bonnie Blue Flag,” and a few men tossed their hats into the air. Upon the completion of the ceremony, the president was quickly surrounded by swarming admirers and the media, while the militia stood by.
“Well, that monkey show’s over,” remarked Bud.
He followed David, Hiram, and Jake’s family across the frosty lawn to their waiting carriage. Mr. Kimball, who limped along behind them, was the last to climb aboard.
While they rode back to Jenny and Nate’s small two-story house, the conversation centered on the inauguration they had just witnessed.
“What did you think of his speech, Pa?” asked Jake.
Mr. Kimball smiled. “I reckon he’ll make a fine president. Don’t you, Hiram?”
Jake looked across at David’s father, who was seated between his son and Nate. “Do tell, Mr. Summers.”
Hiram nodded thoughtfully. “I’d have to agree with your pa,” he said.
“What if everything he says is true?” asked David. “And he asks for volunteers to jine the army?”
His father shrugged. “We’ll cross that bridge when we git to it.”
“I don’t reckon they’ll take me, due to my bum leg,” stated Mr. Kimball forlornly.
“You already paid your dues in Mexico,” Bud remarked.
Jake and David glanced at each other from across the carriage.
“Can I enlist?” David asked meekly.
“Oh, here we go,” Bud muttered under his breath.
Hiram chortled, causing his son to frown. He said, “Now, David, you’re mighty young,” but seeing his disappointment, he added, “We’ll discuss it later with your ma.”
David smirked. His mother would give in, he was certain. Removing his hat, he ran his long fingers through his thick shoulder-length hair, dark brown in color like that of a pecan shell.
Noticing, Jake followed suit, doing the same, although his hair wasn’t nearly as long and was much darker. “If Zeke’s jinin’, then I should, too,” he remarked, referring to his friend by using the nickname he had given him years ago.
“Jist as Mr. Summers said, we’ll discuss it later.” With that, Mr. Kimball put out the fire.
Changing the subject, Hiram said, “It was right kind of you, Nate, and you, Miss Jenny, to allow us to stay here in Montgomery with y’all. Reckon the hotels are all filled up for the inauguration.”
“You’re quite welcome, dear sir,” replied Jenny with a sunny smile, accepting his graciousness.
David looked over at Jake again, who winked at him. Each knew what the other was thinking. If there was adventure afoot, they’d pursue it.
For the rest of the afternoon and into the evening, the family enjoyed each other’s company. Mr. Kimball apologized that his wife couldn’t be there, for she was required to stay home, due to a sprained ankle. His faithful slaves, Percy and Isabelle, were looking after her. They were newlyweds, and seemed happy to oblige. Therefore, Mr. Kimball brought his son down to see Jake’s sister and her husband, who had moved to Montgomery two years ago. Jake insisted that his best friend come along, and when asked, David requested the presence of his own father, too. Hiram then invited Bud, knowing that if war broke out, he would want to be one of the first to know.
They enjoyed a delectable meal that Jenny had prepared and laid out on her banquet table, complete with fine china, crystal, and linens. She prided herself on her domestic abilities, and Nate raved about her cooking. Following an evening of quiet discussion in front of the quaint marble fireplace, they retired to their designated bedchambers upstairs: David with Hiram, Jake with his father, and Bud in his own small room. Early the following morning, they arose to enjoy breakfast with Nate and Jenny before catching the nine o’clock train. Their ride to Huntsville took most of the day. Once they arrived, they checked into a nearby hotel, sharing one room. After dining in the hotel, they returned upstairs and promptly fell asleep.
Loud voices outside awoke them in the morning. David and Jake immediately sprang to the window to find out what the commotion was, and saw groups of people rushing toward the train depot. Quickly dressing, the travelers went downstairs, where the hotel clerk informed them that President Davis had just arrived via the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, so they rushed out into the street, and hurried to the depot to investigate.
As they walked, Bud commented under his breath, “This is it, Hiram. This is how it all starts.”
Overhearing the comment, David frowned. Bud wasn’t acting like himself at all, which deeply concerned him. Remembering the vision Bud had mentioned before, he promised himself to riddle the man about it later.
A crowd had gathered, who cheered welcomingly. The president raised his hand to say a few words, and all fell quiet. After greeting everyone, he alluded to the causes that had imposed the formation of what he called the “Southern Republic.” According to him, the South had no desire to aggravate hostilities with other sections of “this great continent.”
“The North,” he continued, “will find that while we are their best customers in peace, we will become their worst enemies in war.”
The congregation reveled in his proclamation. Someone near the rear shot off a pistol, startling the horses. David saw Bud jump at the noise. Mr. Davis waved to the crowd before disappearing into his boxcar.
Looking at each other, Jake and David shrugged. Now it seemed obvious that war was imminent. They followed their fathers to the city stable to retrieve their horses.
While they rode home, Hiram, Bud, and Mr. Kimball immersed themselves in discussion, most of which went over the boys’ heads. Talk about the Constitution and the right to secede, the Founding Fathers, and how Lincoln had won with only 40 percent of the vote, beating out their favorite, John C. Breckinridge, dominated their conversation.
“By electin’ ole Abe, the Yankees made a declaration of war,” said Bud.
“He wasn’t even on the ballot in ten states, all Southern, of course,” stated Hiram. “They burned him in effigy, right here in Huntsville.”
“The stock market plummeted because they elected that black Republican,” said Mr. Kimball, referring to the fact that Lincoln’s ticket supported abolition.
“Well, before all this occurred,” said Hiram, “there was talk of incorporatin’ us North Alabamians with Tennessee, and makin’ it a whole new country in and of itself.”
“I heard about that,” responded Mr. Kimball. “They were fixin’ to call it the Free State of Nickajack, so’s it would be a neutral state betwixt the North and South.”
David grinned at the name. He wouldn’t have minded living in a state named “Nickajack,” for it had a nice ring to it.
“I don’t suppose that’ll happen now,” Hiram said. “The troops have already seized Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines down in Mobile Bay.”
“And they’ve elected our new president,” stated Bud, “along with his cabinet, and a revised Constitution.”
Hiram nodded. “He’s been elected for six years, instead of the usual four. Talk is that they wanted Huntsville to be the capital for the C.S.A.,” he informed the others.
“I’m glad it’s in Montgomery,” Jake interjected, “because it gives us a chance to see Jenny.”
His father chuckled, amused by his fifteen-year-old’s naiveté about the events taking place around him, even if it was fleeting.
Recalling Bud’s earlier comments, David decided to probe him. “Mr. Samuels, if you please, tell us about the vision you had.”
Bud’s demeanor suddenly turned dark. He sighed. “There ain’t much to tell,” he finally said.
David and Jake looked at each other, both raising an eyebrow.
“Now you’ve got us all scared!” remarked Hiram with a chuckle.
Bud glared at him. “We should be scared. If my vision is any indication, there’s a mighty dim future in store for us all. I reckon we’ll be seein’ a heap of bloodshed.”
“Oh, Bud,” said Hiram, “now you’re soundin’ like one of those radicals, or ole John Brown himself.”
“Mark my words, Hiram,” Bud said seriously. “There’s only sadness in store for us. For you, for me, and for the young’uns here. It ain’t good. Tain’t good at all.”
The smile faded from Hiram’s face. He looked away.
David couldn’t help feeling an ominous presence, like a storm cloud was gathering over him. He shuddered, impulsively attempting to shake it off.
As dusk approached, Bud, Mr. Kimball, and Jake bid their farewells and went their separate ways, splitting off down a frozen dirt road. Hiram and his son continued on until they finally arrived home. Relieved that he was back with his family, David volunteered to unsaddle their mounts, while Hiram went inside their wood-slat dogtrot house. As David led the two horses into the tin-roofed barn, his yearling colt whinnied a greeting to him.
“Hey, Renegade,” he called out to the colt, who snorted in response, stomping a forefoot.
The yearling was his pride and joy, the offspring of Hiram’s stallion. Renegade was piebald, a dark chestnut highlighted with white patches spanning under his belly, and white socks reaching up to his knobby knees. His mane and tail were light flaxen, and his uniquely colored eyes were hazel, the same color as David’s.
Whistling the “Bonnie Blue Flag” while he removed the horses’ saddles, David curried his father’s grand stallion, Cotaco, named after a famous Indian chief who had lived in their parts long before the Trail of Tears took place. It was also the name of a creek that ran through the back end of their property. The stallion had been gifted to Hiram by an Indian acquaintance in Texas, and was a magnificent mustang, covered with brown and white splotches that transformed, if David used his imagination, into faces of people and animals. To him, Cotaco was all-knowing, and a sly devil at that. It was he who had bred with the neighbor’s prize thoroughbred mare, thus creating Renegade. The owner, Mr. Collier, insisted that David’s father purchase the foal, or “mistake” as he called him, so Hiram was obliged. He gave Renegade to David, letting him choose a name, and was teaching him how to gently break the colt.
Because Renegade was still too young to ride, David’s current mount was a Standardbred mare named Sally, and she was a fine animal as well. Not as special as Cotaco, but pretty, just the same. She actually belonged to his mother, who allowed him to borrow the mare when the need arose. Sally’s shiny brownish-black coat glistened with sweat from where the saddle on her back had been positioned, so he gently rubbed her down. He gave the horses their oats, stroked Renegade’s muzzle, and went inside, where he found his family gathered around the rough-hewn pine table that his father had constructed.
“And ole Jeff Davis said somethin’ about bein’ ready by recruitin’ an army,” Hiram was saying. His mother and sisters looked over at David as he entered.
“Come sit down and eat your vittles before they git cold,” his mother instructed, motioning him toward her with a swoop of one hand while she brushed a stray strand of dark brown hair away from her face with the other.
David took his seat. He folded his hands, quickly gave thanks in silence, clutched the fork in his left hand, and started shoveling in grits.
His mother shook her head. “Worked up an appetite, did you?” she remarked.
Josie, his youngest sister, laughed. “There’s a whole potful out in the kitchen Ma made jist for you!”
David grinned, exposing grit-covered teeth.
“Ew!” Josie squealed.
“David, you mind your manners,” his mother scolded.
“Beggin’ your pardon, Ma,” he mumbled through his grits.
“As I was sayin’, Caroline,” his father continued, “the president sounds like he means business. He ain’t takin’ no muck off the Yankees.”
“Hiram!” she exclaimed. “I’ll not have you talkin’ like that at the dinner table.”
He chuckled, but suddenly became somber. “We’re in for a fight, all right,” he declared. “So we’d best hold on tight.”
“I’m all for the fight!” David hollered.
His sister Rena glared at him. “You’re fixin’ to go fight the Yankees? Did Pa say you could?”
“No, I did not,” Hiram responded. “I said I’d discuss it with your ma.”
“I’ll have none of it,” Caroline announced, rising as she took up empty plates. “You’re much too young to go gallivantin’ off to chase Yankees.”
“But Ma!” David protested.
“That’s all I’m sayin’ on the subject,” Caroline firmly stated, and she walked out of the room.
David glared at the doorway through which she had just exited. “It ain’t fair,” he muttered, shoveling a piece of ham into his mouth.
“You don’t know that there will be a fight, anyhow,” said Josie.
With a frown, Hiram solemnly remarked, “For the good Lord’s sake, I hope there won’t be.”
Several weeks went by. The air grew more static with anticipation. David and his father traveled to the nearby mercantile one afternoon in mid-March. As soon as they entered, they were absorbed into a debate.
“Governor Moore has authorized establishin’ an army in Alabama,” said Mr. Skidmore, a local resident who was standing near the wood-burning stove in the center of the store with several others. “He’s called for two thousand troops to garrison the coasts.”
“Well, now that Lincoln has been sworn in,” said Mr. Banes, a finely dressed man about the same age as David’s father, “it’ll really git the ball rollin’.”
“I hear tell that the Spotsworth Apothecary up in Huntsville is flyin’ the Stars and Bars now. The first merchant to do it, they say,” Joseph Ryan informed the group.
Ben Johnson, the shopkeeper, put his two cents-worth in by informing the crowd, while he dusted, that during the Secession Convention in February, the Republic of Alabama flag was severely damaged by a storm, so it was moved to the governor’s office, and he hoped it wasn’t a bad omen. Because the flag had flown just once, he had only seen a drawing of it in a local publication: the Goddess of Liberty was on one side, holding an unsheathed sword in her right hand and a flag with one star in the other. The words “Independent Now and Forever” were arched above her head. On the other side was a cotton plant with a coiled rattlesnake. Beneath the plant, in Latin words, it read, “Noli Me Tangere,” or “Touch Me Not.”
Kit Lawrence, a childhood friend of David’s father, protested. “We should support the Union by not takin’ up arms,” he growled.
“Why in God’s name would we support the Yankees,” said Mr. Skidmore, “when all they want is to take away our livelihoods and privileges?”
“I’m supportin’ the state, and the majority has voted for secession, so it’s our duty to protect her!” ranted Mr. Copeland. David had been friends with his daughter, Callie, ever since they started school together nine years ago.
“Now that there’s a call out for troops, we’d best be thinkin’ about signin’ up,” said Mr. Powell, a lanky, fine-boned gentleman.
“This war won’t go on for long, anyway,” remarked Mr. Garrison, another neighbor, who lived in nearby Arab. “Why, I’ll be amazed if it lasts more than ninety days.”
“We should all sign up now, put those Yankees in their place, and git on back home before harvest,” said Bud.
Mr. Foreman looked up from the newspaper he had draped over the countertop. “It says here that on the twenty-seventh of last month, Russian troops in Warsaw shot five people who were protestin’ Poland’s rule.” He shook his head slowly. “It’s as though the whole world is ablaze with violence.”
“Well, I’m fixin’ to enlist, so I can put this fire out before it gits any worse!” exclaimed Billy Ryan, who was Joseph’s cousin.
“Those damn Yankee nigger lovers will pay dearly!” proclaimed Mr. Copeland.
The gentlemen agreed boisterously by hollering, “Here! Here!”
David glanced around at the gathering, taking it all in, and wished Jake was there to witness it.
“I’m fixin’ to enlist, too,” announced Bud.
Hiram glared at him. “This is the first I’ve heard of it,” he said concernedly.
Bud nodded. “It’s what’s required of us, and I, for one, am a patriot’s son.” He grinned. “Well, grandson, anyhow. This is our war for independence.”
Frowning, Hiram patted David’s shoulder. “We’d best be headed home.” He placed his slouch hat on his head. “See y’all later.”
David followed his father outside, and they climbed up onto the buckboard. Taking the reins, Hiram slapped them against the withers of their big white Percheron.
“Git up, there, Joe Boy,” he commanded. He clucked to the gelding, who lurched, pulling the wagon behind him.
During the ride home, Hiram said very little, which was fine with David, who preferred not to discuss what he knew his father was thinking. One thing was for certain, though. If his father enlisted, so would he.
On March 27, the Huntsville Democrat reported that a company known as the Madison Rifles was being called into service, and a few days later, so were the Huntsville Guards under Captain Egbert Jones. Alabama was preparing for war, and things were heating up. The entire Southern nation was up in arms, waiting for a reason to fight.
The weather grew milder, and soon it was April 2. David went about his farm chores as usual, anticipating with excitement what might be in store for him later on in the day. He saw the family’s hogs, all five of them, wandering around on a nearby hillside, and noticed his father busy at work building a pen.
Curious, he walked over and asked, “Whatcha doin’, Pa?”
“I’m buildin’ a pen for the hogs,” he replied.
“Because I decided they’d be safer penned up.” Hiram pounded several nails as his son watched. Stopping momentarily, he said, “I want you to make sure they stay in this pen, you hear?”
“Now go fetch me some more nails, and help me finish it.”
David did as he was told, even though a strange knot formed in the pit of his stomach. His father had never been concerned with confining the livestock before. Instead of prying to find out more information, he dutifully went about his tasks, and when the pen was finished later that afternoon, he rounded up the hogs, with the assistance of his two black-and-tan coonhounds, Si and Caleb. Renegade whinnied from behind the pasture fence the entire time, wanting to come out and frolic with the pigs, but David knew that would only mean trouble. When he was finished, he dragged himself to the well to wash up. Exhausted, he decided to find time for a nap before supper, so he went in through the breezeway of the saddlebag house and entered one of the two doors on the right side of the dwelling to his room. Throwing himself onto his bed, he quickly dozed off.
Startled awake, he looked around the room frantically, and saw Josie standing in the doorway, a huge grin on her face. Her long auburn locks hung down past her shoulders, and her hazel eyes glistened.
Sitting up, he asked, “What’s wrong, Josie?”
“Nothin’, silly! Come on out to the kitchen for your surprise!” She giggled before bounding off.
He rubbed the sleep from his eyes, rose to his feet, and sauntered outside to the summer kitchen. As he entered, his family greeted him by yelling in unison, “Happy Birthday!”
David’s grin grew to be so huge that it spread across the faces of his family members. “Why, I thought y’all forgot!” he said bashfully.
“Oh, darlin’, we could never forget you!” his mother said before smothering him with a kiss and a hug. “Now sit down whilst we sing!”
Rena came toward him with a small vanilla pound cake in her hands as they sang “Happy Birthday.” She set it in front of him. “Cut the cake, and make sure all the pieces are the same size this time.”
“Yeah. Last year you got the biggest one,” remarked Josie, plopping down beside him at the long table.
They took their seats, said a quick blessing, and enjoyed their cake.
Hiram stood. “You know we don’t have much money, son,” he said, “but we all chipped in and bought you this.” He pulled a white cotton sheet away from what had been hidden beneath it to expose a saddle.
“Oh,” David uttered, his eyes widening in delighted surprise.
“When the time comes for Renegade to wear this, you’ll be ridin’ in style,” said Caroline. “In the meantime, you can break it in on ole Sally.”
“I … I don’t know what to say,” he stammered.
“Thank you would be right appropriate,” remarked Rena with a radiant smile.
“Yes, thank y’all very much.” David stood and walked over to the saddle, which was balanced on a slat-back chair. Running his hands over the tanned leather, he admired his gift with awe.
“It really ain’t new,” admitted ten-year-old Josie. “Pa got it off a feller in Marshall County whose brother kicked the bucket …”
“That’s enough, Josie!” Caroline intervened. She smiled at David. “Your pa has another surprise for you.”
Looking over at his father, David saw that he was hiding something behind his back.
“It ain’t really what you wanted,” Hiram said, smiling, his blue eyes dancing, “but I made you this.” He withdrew the instrument from behind his back, and held it out to his son. “I know how musically inclined you are, so I thought you could learn to play this, and think of me when you do.”
David took the stringed instrument, sat down, and balanced it on his knee. Strumming the strings, he asked, “What is it, Pa?”
“It’s a guitar. They’re mighty popular up North. I started makin’ it for you before all this talk of war broke out.” He withdrew a small hand-drawn booklet from his vest pocket. “This shows how to play chords on it, kinda like a pianee.” Giving it to his son, who began studying it intently, he added, “I know you wanted a banjo, but I’m hopin’ this will suffice.”
“Pa, it’s beautiful,” he said, turning the instrument over to look at the remarkable craftsmanship. Different colored woods, consisting of maple, rosewood, and mahogany, were combined over the hollow body and neck of the instrument, and sanded down to form a rich, lustrous finish. He had never seen anything like it. “I’ll cherish it always,” he said. Smiling, he strummed an off chord, causing everyone to wince.
That evening, before the family went to bed, Rena entered David’s room, and handed him a small package wrapped in brown paper. Her long amber hair hung down haphazardly around her shoulders, so she brushed it back while grinning at him.
“How’s come you didn’t give this to me earlier?” he asked, eagerly tearing into it. “It’s Ivanhoe!”
With a snicker, she said, “I knew how much you wanted this book, and I finally secured a copy from Miss Callie.”
“Miss Callie? She had a copy?”
Rena nodded, her violet-blue eyes sparkling. “I didn’t give it to you sooner because it’s a hand-me-down.”
“Pshaw,” David said. He gave his sister a hug. “I’ll read it and give it back to you when your birthday comes next month.”
She laughed, aware that he was joking. “No. That’s quite all right. I have certain things I would prefer to receive instead. After all, I am nearly fourteen, and I must prepare for ladyhood.”
Amused, he chuckled and blushed at the same time. “All right, then. Thank you, sis.”
He gave her a swift kiss on the cheek before she shuffled off. Reclining on his bed, he opened the pages to discover fantastic wood-carved illustrations depicting characters in cathedral-like settings. Soon, a tap came at the door. His mother entered.
“Darlin’, I brought you an extra blanket,” she said, setting the quilt at the foot of his bed. “The Farmers’ Almanac says it’s fixin’ to git cold as a witch’s … heart tonight.”
David chuckled at her hesitation, but then shuddered, for the thought of witches terrified him. “Thanks, Ma.” He sat up and closed his book.
“Oh, I see Rena gave you that book she got from Callie.”
“She wasn’t sure if she should or not, but I told her you’d treasure it.”
“That I do.”
Caroline sat beside him and smiled, her hazel eyes misting. She slowly shook her head. “I can’t believe my boy is already sixteen years old!” She took his hand and kissed his cheek. “I’m so very proud of you.”
“Thanks, Ma.” He hesitated, wondering what had brought this on. “What is it?” he prompted.
“Oh, it’s jist that we’ve had so much loss the past few years, what with your brother, Elijah, passin’ on to our Lord after bein’ sick with the cholera, and then your granny last year. I only hope this war we’re headed into …” Her voice trailed off.
“Ma, there ain’t gonna be a war. We’ll whip the Yankees good, and it’ll all be over before harvest. Least that’s what Jake’s pa says.”
“Well, I hope he’s right.” She patted him on the knee, and stood. “I’ll see you in the mornin’.” With that, she left the room.
David turned down the kerosene lamp, and lay back on his bed in the dark. Closing his eyes, he pondered the situation. Mr. Kimball had to be right, didn’t he? The war would probably end before it even began. Smiling to himself as he thought of the gifts he’d been given, he fell into a blissful slumber.
Two quiet weeks passed. He helped his father plant rows of peas, and tilled the soil, preparing it for corn and sorghum. Their peacefulness didn’t last long, for news came that Fort Sumter, off the coast of South Carolina in Charleston Harbor, had been bombarded by Confederate forces and captured. Two days later, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers, evidence that a war was now truly imminent. On April 17, Virginia seceded, and two days later, a mob of Southern sympathizers in Baltimore attacked the 6th Massachusetts Regiment while it marched through on its way to Washington. Newspapers reported that four soldiers and twenty rioters were killed.
By April 20, every state in the Confederacy was bracing for war. When David rode to the town of Arab for supplies, he couldn’t believe his eyes. Excitement filled the streets. People hustled about, and small groups of men and boys, firearms in hand, were practicing drills. Two would-be soldiers attempted to play a fife and drum. A newspaper boy hollered out the latest news from an intersection. David’s heart pounded with exhilaration. His moment was close at hand. When he returned home to report the news, to his amazement, his father seemed disinterested, said very little about the event, and told him to tend to his duties.
On the following morning, Hiram addressed his family at the dining room table. “I have some news for y’all,” he said, his voice strained with seriousness. “Your ma and I have discussed it, and I’m enlistin’ in the army.” He looked around at his children, who gaped at him. “In fact, I’ve already signed up.” At a loss for elaboration, he fell silent.
“Pa,” Rena said with apprehension, “when are you leavin’?”
“I ain’t quite sure yet,” he replied somberly. “Bud’s enlisted with me.”
David scowled, his mouth dropping open. “Pa, you know I want to go, too,” he groused.
Hiram shook his head authoritatively. “No, son. We’ve discussed this. You’re too young, and your ma needs you here.”
Clenching his teeth, he glared at his father momentarily before he jumped to his feet and stomped outside, his face burning with anger and resentment. How could his father leave him with the womenfolk when there was excitement commencing elsewhere? He had always longed to escape his mundane life, and did so by burrowing his nose in books. His paternal grandfather, a Baptist minister, had taught them all how to read, and David prided himself on his ability. But now, the likelihood of seeing anything besides the crops growing seemed like a pipe dream.
He stood at the split-rail fence with his arms folded over the top rail, and stared out at the empty fields, noticing dark clouds gathering on the horizon. Thunder rumbled far off in the distance. Renegade nickered to him from across the barnyard, alerting him to the impending storm. Across the field, a mourning dove began its melancholy song, so David responded by calling back. Using a method his father had taught him, he cupped his hands, blew into them to produce a low, whispery whistle that rose to a high note, and followed it with three short notes. Presently, Hiram came out of the house and walked over to him.
“David, you and I need to have a talk.” He was well aware that his son was fuming. “Now, don’t be gittin’ yourself all worked up. I won’t be gone long.” He hesitated, waiting for David to look at him. “I need you to stay here and look after the place for me. I’m dependin’ on you.”
Unable to resist his father’s stare, David relented. “I was hopin’ I could go,” he stated softly.
“I know. With everyone leavin’ to go fight, someone has to stay here and protect the womenfolk. You’re the man of the house now.”
“I don’t have a gun.”
“I’m leavin’ you with the shotgun.”
“What are you fixin’ to take?”
“My ole flintlock. It shoots straight enough to hit a few Yankees.”
The grin on his face made David smile back. “All right, Pa. I won’t let you down.”
“And I have your word that you won’t run off once I’m gone?”
“No, Pa.” He chuckled. “I mean, yessir, you have my word. I promise I’ll stay here and tend to the farm.”
“That’s my boy,” he said, giving his son a pat on the back. “Best tend to your chores, and then go on in and apologize to your ma and sisters. It looks like there’s a storm over yonder.” He gestured toward the darkening horizon. “And it’s fixin’ to come this way.”
“Yessir,” David responded. Obediently, he walked off toward the house.
Hiram watched him, watched the slow, gangly gait that he knew so well. A storm was brewing, all right, in more ways than one. That much he knew. Hopefully, it would all blow over soon.