A Rebel Among Us
Readers Favorite 2017 Honorable Mention for Historical Fiction
David Summers never expected any of this…not in a million years. He thought for sure he was a goner.
After leaving Alabama and enlisting with the cavalry, his delusion of chivalry was suddenly quashed when he saw for himself the horrors of battle. Now, after being shot and ending up at a strange farmhouse, he’s found himself being nursed back to health by four beautiful girls, and has learned that his Confederate brethren have deserted him in Pennsylvania after fighting at Gettysburg. It’s more than he can fathom. On top of that, he’s been presented with an even bigger dilemma. He knows he’s falling in love with the older sister, Anna, and she has enticed him with an interesting proposition. However, her scheme goes against his principles, and the reasons why he enlisted in the first place – to avenge his father’s death and defend his sacred homeland.
To David’s dismay, he must make a decision. Should he stay and help Anna with her underhanded plan, deceiving everyone around him by pretending to be a Yankee? If discovered, he would be considered a traitor to the cause, and she could be in jeopardy of treason. Or should he leave the farm, say goodbye to her, and risk certain capture? Either way, his perilous situation doesn’t seem to offer an encouraging outcome. If that isn’t bad enough, Anna’s neighbor, a Union officer, is in love with her, too, and he would stop at nothing to have David arrested … or worse.
Author: J. D. R. Hawkins
Fiction / Historical / War/Military / Drama / Suspense/ Romance
- Paperback: 494 pages
- Publisher: Westwood Books Publishing LLC (April 9, 2020)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1648030793
- ISBN-13: 978-1648030796
Available from Westwood Books Publishing
Featured on Ron’s Amazing Stories podcast:
Soldiers you know are born to suffer and they cannot escape it.
—Robert E. Lee, letter to his wife, April 5, 1863
She dropped the darning in her lap. Her sister called her name again, this time with more urgency. Springing from the rocker, Anna ran from the room and scurried down the wooden staircase.
Maggie clung to the newel post. “There’s someone in the barn!”
“Who is it?” Anna asked, but her younger sister was already racing from the house with a lantern in her hand.
Anna followed her out the back door, lifted her ankle-length skirt, and hurried across the dark barnyard. She entered the warm, musty building.
The lantern’s glow illuminated the barn’s interior. A saddled, spotted steed stood nearby, its eyes an eerie, glowing, brownish-green. The horse snorted and stomped. Something in the corner moaned.
Anna’s heart skipped a beat. Stifling a scream, she clamped her hand over her mouth to suffocate the sound.
“He’s over there,” Maggie said and pointed at a heap in the corner.
Anna squinted in the dim, flickering light. She cautiously made her way over. Her sisters and Claudia, the little girl they were in charge of, followed so closely behind they all seemed to be attached.
“Stay back, Abigail,” Anna commanded. “You too, Claudia.”
“Who is he, Anna?” Abigail asked.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “But he’s bleeding.” Anna drew closer.
The stranger’s horse snorted threateningly, but allowed her to advance.
The interloper moaned. He opened his eyes and gazed around at them, either confused, delirious, or both. “Please,” he groaned, nearly in a whisper, “please, can y’all help me?”
The girls stood frozen, looking down at their quandary.
Anna came to her senses. “Come on, Maggie,” She kneeled down beside the young man. “Help me get him inside.”
Maggie failed to react. “I don’t think we should touch him.”
Anna glared at her, forcing Maggie to give in under her stare and pull him up. Anna reached around his other side. The soldier cried out in pain. Balancing the young man between them, they made their way out of the barn and past the sentry steed.
“Girls,” Anna called out over her shoulder, “give that horse some hay, lock him in, and bring the lantern.”
Staggering toward the house in the dark, Anna and Maggie dragged the weak man across the barnyard toward the house. Two dogs, one a black-and-white sheepdog, the other a sable collie, approached to sniff at the stranger.
“Colby,” Maggie hollered in annoyance. “Floyd! Go lay down.”
The dogs scurried off into the dark.
Entering through the back door, Maggie asked, “Where are we going with him?”
“Upstairs to Father’s bedchamber,” Anna replied.
Maggie’s eyes widened, but she complied.
The sisters made their way through the kitchen and struggled to hoist the man up the long wooden flight of stairs. Abigail and Claudia ran into the kitchen and followed the others upstairs. At the top, Anna opened a bedroom door. Its hinges squeaked loudly. They led the wounded stranger over to the four-poster bed. Carefully, they eased him down, lifted his legs, and gently swung him up onto it. The young man moaned in agony.
“He’s too long for the bed,” Claudia commented.
Anna noticed his feet hung over the end. She quickly turned to light a kerosene lamp on the bedside table while Maggie pulled the windows open to let out the hot, stale air. Flickering lamplight illuminated the soldier’s condition. The front of his shirt and his right trouser leg were soaked with blood. Anna’s heart clenched.
“Oh,” Claudia exclaimed at the sight. “He’s all leaky.”
Abigail pulled her long, blonde hair back from her face and drew closer to him. “Eew!” She pinched her nose shut with her thumb and forefinger. “He smells like a horse!”
Claudia giggled at the sound of her friend’s voice.
“Abigail,” Anna said. “Go downstairs and boil some water. Claudia, please fill that pitcher on the dresser and bring it back up with the prongs, a long knife, and some clean towels. Go quickly!”
The two girls scampered off downstairs. Their feet thumped like sticks on a snare drum.
“Maggie, help me remove these filthy clothes from him,” Anna said.
“Do we have to?”
“Yes.” Anna was reminded of how she had tended to their ailing father not so very long ago. The recollection made her shudder.
Both sisters gingerly lifted him. They pulled off his shirt, boots, socks, and belt. Anna noticed the letters “CSA” embossed on his belt buckle.
“Anna.” Maggie’s voice caught on her breath. “He’s a…Rebel soldier.”
Pursing her lips, Anna nodded. “He must have come from the battle at Gettysburg. “But that’s over ten miles away. How could he have made it this far in his condition?”
The girls exchanged cautionary glances. They carefully set his gun and holster on the floor and removed his trousers, but left him with his drawers for modesty’s sake. Anna passed the limp, frail soldier to her sister, and thought he felt like an oblong sack of potatoes. He fell back onto the bed and moaned again.
Anna’s heart ached at the sound of his agony. Stifling a sob, she covered him with a sheet. “Fetch two large needles and some heavy thread.”
Maggie winced but did as she was told.
Looking down at the failing soldier, Anna summoned her strength. It was all too sudden and overwhelming, but she had to be strong—for herself and her sisters. “You’re going to be all right, sir,” she comforted him.
The soldier opened his eyes and tried to speak. She understood he was asking for water.
Claudia returned with the supplies. Anna took them from her and laid them on top of the dresser. She poured the pitcher’s cold well-water into the glass and porcelain bowl. After dipping a towel into the bowl, she placed it across the suffering soldier’s brow and helped him take a sip of water. He faintly smiled at her.
“We’re going to take care of you,” she assured him. Pulling her golden blonde hair back from her face, she wiped the sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand and fanned her face with the other. She noticed the soldier’s eyes were a brownish-green color, which intrigued her. Leaning in to get a closer look, she stared into his eyes for a moment.
The soldier stared back. “Are you an angel?” he asked, his voice raspy. He paused, licking his cracked lips. “Am I dead?”
Anna smiled at him. “No, I’m not an angel,” she said, shaking her head. “And no, you are not dead.”
She looked up to see Maggie return with the needles and thread. Abigail followed, struggling with a large kettle. She carried it over to the empty fireplace and set it down on the hearth. Anna submerged their makeshift surgical utensils into the kettle’s boiling water. Overcome by the task at hand, she gasped and buried her face in her hands.
“Anna?” Maggie asked.
“I’m not certain I can do this,” she admitted, gazing anxiously at her sister. A slight sob escaped her. “I wish Aunt Sarah was here.” Her stomach somersaulted, making her nauseated.
“Me too,” replied Maggie. “We could simply let him pass away.”
Anna scowled. “No,” she said sternly, “We can’t.” Taking a deep breath, she summoned her inner strength. We can do this, she thought. I can do this.
“It’s like that time you sewed up the Montgomery’s little dog,” Abigail said.
That’s right! She had saved their neighbor’s dog. If she could do that, she could certainly save this soldier’s life. “Yes. Well then, I’ll work on his shoulder, and Maggie, you repair the stab wound in his leg.”
She glanced at Maggie and back down at the soldier. Dust and specks of blood covered his anguished face. Sweat and tears had trickled down, leaving tiny trails along his cheeks and temples. Anna’s heart grew heavy at the sight, but she resolved to save him. Her pity gave her power. She knew what she had to do, so she mustered her own authority.
“I’m sorry I don’t have anything to give you for the pain,” she said sympathetically. “I only wish we had some laudanum or chloroform.” She walked over to the black kettle, used the prongs to extract the needles and knife from the scalding hot water, and proceeded to thread a needle. “Abigail,” she said, “please fetch Father’s good bourbon.”
Her little sister ran downstairs, followed by Claudia.
Maggie pulled a wooden chair from its place against the wall and moved it over to the bedside. Seating herself, she proceeded to thread the needle Anna had given her.
Abigail ran back in, panting, and handed the amber bottle to Anna. She uncorked it and held it to the soldier’s lips. He took a swallow. She prompted him to take a few more.
“Abigail, when I tell you to, place a towel in his mouth,” Anna instructed her little sister.
“Why?” Maggie asked sarcastically. “So no one will hear him scream while we torture him?”
Anna sneered at her sister. She looked at the soldier, surprised to see he was gawking at her, his eyes wide with fright and his lower lip quivering.
“Are y’all—witches?” he asked, terror sweeping over his face.
“Now see what you’ve done,” Anna scolded.
Anna glared at her sister. Looking back at the young man, she said, “No, we’re not witches.”
She didn’t think he believed her.
Maggie sat near the foot of the bed, gazing down at their new discovery. “Why are we going to all of this trouble, Anna? He is a Confederate, after all.”
“Because it is our Christian duty. If we don’t try to help him, God will surely cast His wrath upon us later on.”
This explanation seemed sufficient enough for Maggie, who glowered.
“Let us pray he can be saved,” Anna suggested.
She recited a short prayer. The girls chanted “Amen” in unison. Anna signaled to Abigail.
“Please don’t bite me, Mister Rebel, sir,” she said and carefully inserted the towel into his mouth.
“Let’s get this over with,” Maggie complained. She stuck the needle into his thigh.
The soldier screamed and pushed her away.
“We can’t help you if you don’t let us,” she yelled at him, exasperated.
“Abigail, go out to the barn and fetch a long piece of rope,” Anna requested.
Abigail and Claudia ran downstairs while she uncorked the bottle of bourbon, removed the towel from the soldier’s mouth, and encouraged him to take several more swallows. He did so with much effort. The little girls returned with a thin rope. Fearing he would die before they had a chance to save him, Anna quickly cut the rope into four pieces.
“We’re going to have to tie you. I’m sorry,” she apologized to him.
The soldier’s face expressed his apprehension. Even though it was covered with dust, it appeared to pale. “No,” he whispered, barely shaking his head. “No, please!” He let out a sob, squeezing his eyes shut as if trying to block out the pain he knew he was about to experience.
Anna could tell by his reaction he still thought he was going to be tortured by witches. Her heart ached at the sight of him, for she hated to see suffering of any kind. She drew a deep breath. “We have to hurry.”
She distributed a piece of rope to each girl. They proceeded to tie his wrists and ankles to the bed. Once again, Abigail carefully placed the towel into the soldier’s mouth. Maggie started to sew the gash in his leg. He flinched and let out a moan.
“Abigail,” she said, inserting another stitch, “you and Claudia go downstairs. Put together an unction for each of his wounds.”
The two little ones departed. Maggie continued to sew, even though each needle prick caused the soldier greater anguish.
“I’m sorry it hurts, Johnny Reb,” she said, inserting another stitch, “but I suppose this is what you deserve for all of the pain you’ve caused.”
Anna ignored her sister’s remark. She sat on the bed beside him, grasped hold of the long-handled knife, and gently inserted it into the soldier’s wounded shoulder. He cried out and pulled against his ropes while she dug around for the piece of metal buried inside. Plucking it from his wound with her fingers, she cast it into the chamber pot. It hit the metal bottom with a clank. She proceeded to thread the soldier’s wound together. Sewing quickly, carefully, diligently, she tried her best not to hear the anguished, muffled cries he let out with every stitch. Finally, she completed the gory task.
The girls looked across the bed at each other, their foreheads covered with sweat. Their patient had lost consciousness. His chest rose and fell in shallow breaths. They removed the towel clenched between his teeth, as well as his bindings, and noticed rope burns around his wrists.
Maggie lifted the holster from the floor. “What should we do with this?” she inquired.
Anna glanced around the room. “Put it in Father’s armoire for now. Hide it in the secret compartment.”
Maggie walked over to the tall piece of wooden furniture, opened the door, and reached inside. She placed the pistol and holster in the hidden compartment at the back of the armoire before closing the door. They began cleaning up the bloody mess.
“At least he’s easy on the eyes,” Maggie said. She hesitated, gazing down at him. “What if he should die, Anna?”
“Well—we’ll have to bury him then,” she sadly replied.
“Or we could just feed his filthy carcass to the hogs,” Maggie snidely suggested.
Anna looked at him and noticed his eyelids flutter. “Maggie, I think he heard you.”
“I don’t care,” she growled. “He’s a traitor.”
Recognizing her tone, Anna knew her sister was fatigued. She pulled the rocking chair out from the corner and dragged it near the soldier’s head. “I’ll sit with him tonight. Could you please bring me my knitting? Oh, and in regard to our party tomorrow with our neighbors, the Montgomery’s, I think we shall be inclined to cancel.”
Maggie raised an eyebrow. “That might seem a bit suspicious,” she replied, glancing at the mantle clock that had long since stopped ticking. She left the room and went downstairs.
Anna heard the three girls conversing in the kitchen. She walked over to a window and deeply inhaled the night air. Unable to control her trembling, she felt like she would burst into sobs at any moment. She glanced back over her shoulder at the young Confederate asleep in her father’s bed, and wondered again how he had managed to get to their farm in his condition.
Maggie returned with the poultices Abigail and Claudia had prepared. The two little girls followed her in. Anna took the basket of knitting needles and yarn Maggie offered her and set them on the floor next to the rocker.
“I need to know what happened earlier,” she said. “So, perhaps we can discover who this man is.”
“Yes,” Maggie agreed, pulling her dark blonde hair from her face. “Please, do tell, girls.”
Abigail and Claudia looked at each other.
“Go ahead,” Claudia goaded her friend. “You know they won’t leave us be until we tell.”
“All right,” said Abigail. “Claudia and I were practicing on the piano downstairs. Our song for the party tomorrow. The ‘Star Spangled Banner’.”
“Yes, we know, Abigail,” said Maggie. “I was helping you, remember?”
Claudia nodded. Her dark brown hair, tied in a ponytail, bounced as she did so.
“After Maggie left the parlor,” said Abigail, “Claudia and I grew tired of practicing, so we decided to go play. But then, we heard the dogs barking outside, and we heard a strange noise coming from outside the front door.”
“It sounded like a monster,” Claudia exclaimed, her eyes growing wide.
“It pounded on the door,” said Abigail.
“So we looked out the parlor window and saw it,” Claudia said.
“Saw what?” asked Anna.
“The man’s horsey,” both girls cried in unison.
“The horsey led us out to the barn,” explained Abigail. “And that’s when we saw him. The butternut coat the man was using to hold in his blood was all icky, so I shoved it in the wall slats.”
Maggie frowned. “Of the barn?” She wrinkled her nose in disgust.
Claudia giggled at her reaction. “I ran to the house to tell Maggie the man was here, and then she told you, Anna.”
“And that’s the whole story,” Abigail said in her childish voice, summing it up with a shrug.
Anna sighed. “That still doesn’t tell us who he is.” She looked over his belongings.
“One thing is for certain,” said Maggie. “He doesn’t belong here.”
A chill shivered down Anna’s spine. She gazed at the wounded soldier. The lantern cast shimmering rays of dancing light across his face. “Girls, it’s past your bedtime,” she said.
Abigail and Claudia moaned, but resigned themselves to obey and left the room.
Striding over to the mantle, Anna wound the clock and set it to twelve-thirty. “It’s officially Independence Day,” she said tiredly to her younger sister.
The two girls knew what the other was thinking; both were exhausted from their ordeal.
“Anna, I’ll stay. You need some rest,” she offered.
“No, I’ll be fine. Get some sleep.”
Maggie nodded and forced a smile. She turned, walked toward the hall, and partially closed the door behind her.
Placing the wrapped mustard plasters on his wounds, Anna covered them with torn towels that now served as bandages, dipped a towel in the basin of water on the dresser, and sat down beside him in the rocker. She wiped the dirt and sweat away, noticing how tanned his face and hands were. Slowly, gently, she ran the towel over his chiseled features, observing his long, dark eyelashes, defined nose, eyebrows, and cheekbones. His lips were cracked, so she tenderly wiped the towel over them. She touched the stubble on his face with her fingertips and let them run down over his Adam’s apple. His masculinity intrigued her. Embarrassed, she quickly pulled her hand away, like she had been stroking a venomous snake. He was quite handsome, and she guessed him to be nearly her own age. An idea came to her, but it was too farfetched. How could he ever go along with such a scheme? After all, she didn’t even know him. He might not survive anyway, so she dismissed the notion. Slowly rocking, she listened to the tick of the clock and the soldier’s shallow breathing until she dozed off.
Maggie woke her as promised the following morning. To their amazement, the soldier was still alive, but unconscious. Claudia and Abigail came into the bedroom, and all gathered around, staring down at the slumbering Rebel: a foreign intruder from a distant land. They refilled the porcelain bowl and pitcher with fresh water and gathered logs for the fireplace. The girls decided to inspect his clothes before burning them, since his worn out garb was infested with fleas. Rummaging through his pockets, they discovered a buckeye, a pouch-full of tobacco, a one-hundred-dollar Confederate bill, which they gazed upon in awe, and a pocket watch with an embossed eagle on the front of it. Abigail clicked it open. The girls gawked at the picture it contained.
“Do you think he’s her beau?” asked Claudia.
“She is pretty, isn’t she?” Maggie remarked. “That is, for a Southern girl.”
“Look,” Anna observed, “the watch stopped at half past two.”
“And the glass is cracked,” said Abigail.
“I wonder if he was in battle at that time,” Maggie said.
“From the looks of this watch,” said Anna, “I’d say it has gone through some kind of trauma.”
The girls glanced at each other.
“Did you see his ring?” Claudia asked.
They walked around the bed to the soldier’s right side and gazed down at the band of gold around his little finger.
“It’s awfully pretty,” said Abigail, bending down to look at it so closely her nose nearly touched his hand.
“Abigail, get back,” Maggie scolded, pulling her away from the Rebel.
“It is quite pretty,” Anna agreed. She wondered why a soldier of the South would own such a lovely piece of jewelry. It occurred to her he might have stolen it from someone. Maybe even a dead Union soldier. The thought made her shudder.
“Look how long his fingers are,” commented Claudia.
“And his toes too,” added Abigail.
She touched the soldier’s left foot. He twitched his leg spontaneously and grunted.
Maggie snickered. “You know what they say about a man with ticklish feet.” The other three girls looked at her quizzically. She cupped her hand and whispered into Anna’s ear. “That he’s good in bed.”
“Maggie,” Anna exclaimed, knowing her sister was trying to make her blush. “You should be ashamed of yourself! Where did you hear such a thing?” She giggled along with her little sister.
The two younger girls looked at them, waiting for them to share their secret.
“Hear what?” asked Abigail.
“Never mind, sweetheart. I’m going to rest,” Anna announced and left the other three girls to ponder the soldier’s condition.
She slept for a few hours until distant voices awoke her. Sliding into her pale blue summer dress, she combed through her long blonde hair, parted it down the middle, contained it in a beige snood, and went to check on the soldier. He had bled through his bandages, so she gently replaced them, trying not to stir him.
Once she had finished, she quietly opened the door to leave, but heard footsteps coming up the stairs. Her heart leaped. Should her guests find the intruder there, Anna and her sisters would undoubtedly be in dire circumstances. She knew her neighbors were avid Unionists. If they discovered a Confederate in her father’s room, it would mean certain death for him and, most likely, a jail sentence for her. Being the oldest, she would surely be held responsible. Quickly, she scurried down the hallway to intercept the unwanted guest.
“Hello, my dear,” Mrs. Montgomery greeted her. “I was just coming up to give you this.” She smiled and handed Anna a small basket of handmade soap. “I fragranced them with roses. Your favorite.”
Anna returned the smile. “Why, thank you very much, Mrs. Montgomery,” she replied. “I’ll set these in my room and be right down. Go on ahead and help yourselves to some lemonade.”
Mrs. Montgomery turned and went downstairs. Waiting until she was gone from sight, Anna tossed the basket into her room, closed the door, and came downstairs to find her neighbors in the parlor. All were dressed in their Sunday finery, even though it was Saturday.
Mrs. Montgomery embraced her this time. Her daughter, Mary, mimicked the gesture. Stepping back, she looked Anna over. “Why aren’t you in mourning?”
“Father specifically requested that we not wear black or cover the windows, so we’re honoring his wishes,” Anna explained.
She remembered her father’s words while he lay dying only a few months ago: I don’t want darkness to befall my sunny girls. This explanation seemed sufficient for Mary, who smiled at her and walked over to talk with Maggie. Anna hoped the soldier wouldn’t awaken or start making a lot of noise…or even worse, come downstairs himself.
Inviting everyone to the dining room for dinner, she graciously went around the table, serving her guests. She couldn’t help but glance several times into the hallway, waiting for the soldier to clomp down the wooden steps in his worn out boots.
“Anna, are you all right?”
She froze like a deer in the rifle sights. “Yes, of course, Mary,” she replied. Taking a seat, she spread her napkin across her lap. “Why do you ask?”
“It’s just that you seem a bit distracted,” said Mary. “As though you are nervous about something.”
Anna and Maggie exchanged glances.
With a forced smile, Anna said, “It’s the heat. I’m fine, really.”
It was a lie. Truth be told, she wasn’t fine. Not at all. She wished they had never invited their neighbors over for an Independence Day celebration, and she also wished her guests would leave before something happened. Unable to eat, she dabbed at the perspiration on her forehead with her napkin. She listened for the slightest sound from upstairs and resisted the temptation to look out into the hallway or dash upstairs.
Once dinner was finished, everyone returned to the parlor. Abigail and Claudia played their piano piece flawlessly, encouraging everyone to sing along to “The Star Spangled Banner.” Their patriotic spirit soared.
Mr. Montgomery raised a toast for the preservation of the United States. “Here’s to our country’s victory,” he exclaimed. “To the Union!”
“To the Union!” everyone chanted together and raised their glasses. They sipped their lemonade like it was champagne.
“I’ve been informed this morning we have won the fight at Gettysburg,” Mr. Montgomery added. He lit a cigar and puffed on it while happily smiling.
Anna scowled. It’s as I thought. That Rebel did come from Gettysburg. She looked at Maggie, who raised her eyebrows, apparently thinking the same thing.
“What’s wrong, Anna?” asked Mary. “You appear to be unhappy about the news.”
Anna flashed a smile at her. “On the contrary. I’m elated.” She glanced around the room. “Why don’t we go out onto the porch,” she suggested. The room had become stiflingly hot.
They accepted her invitation and proceeded outside. As soon as they congregated with drinks in hand, it began to sprinkle.
“Oh, dear,” said Mrs. Montgomery. “I’m afraid we’ll have to leave now, girls. I left the sheets out to dry, and the chickens are out in the yard.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that, Mrs. Montgomery. But thank you for coming,” Anna said, trying not to appear too eager to be rid of them, even though she couldn’t wait for them to go.
Mr. Montgomery assisted his wife and daughter into the buggy before climbing in.
“Anna, we had a lovely time,” Mary said, her blonde pipe curls bouncing as she exaggerated her compliment.
Anna didn’t know if she was sincere or not.
“I’m only sorry my brother couldn’t be here today,” Mary added.
“Have you heard from Stephen?” asked Maggie.
“Yes,” Mary replied, tying on her pale yellow bonnet. “He said he would be home on furlough in a few months. Anna, he wanted me to tell you that he misses you.”
She smiled cordially, but secretly, she wanted to scream. She knew she wasn’t what Stephen missed. His attitude had changed, and it alarmed her. What he really missed was her farm. The thought of his counterfeit attraction enraged her, and knowing that he would be back in a few months to woo her repulsed her even more.
“By the way,” Abigail said, “how’s your dog, Corky? The one Anna mended?”
Anna’s eyes grew large. She stared at Abigail and hoped she wouldn’t say anything about a Confederate being in their midst.
“Why, he’s doing just fine, sweetheart,” Mrs. Montgomery responded. “Spry and lively as ever.”
“Well, goodbye all,” said Mr. Montgomery. He smiled through his neatly-trimmed beard and slapped the reins.
Their tall, dark chestnut horse pranced down the lane, pulling the buggy behind it. Watching their neighbors drive away, all four girls let out a sigh of relief.
“Let’s go check on the Rebel,” Claudia hollered.
She and Abigail ran into the house. Maggie and Anna followed. The girls gathered around the big bed, gazing down at the unconscious soldier.
“Is he still breathing?” asked Abigail.
“Yes, unfortunately,” replied Maggie. She looked at Anna. “I’ll go clean up the dishes,” she said.
As she went downstairs, Anna called out to her. “Maggie, could you please bring a spoonful of tallow when you come back up?”
“What do you need tallow for?” asked Abigail.
“Never mind,” said Anna. “Why don’t you and Claudia assist Maggie?”
Claudia followed Abigail out. Anna heard them descend the stairs. She listened to the three girls engage in lively colloquy, their conversation accented by clanking dishes. A strong breeze blew in through the open windows. She realized it was getting much cooler, so she partially closed them. Noticing the Rebel’s forgotten pile of clothing that had yet to be disposed of, she started a fire in the fireplace. It had been several months since a flame had been lit there, not because of warmer weather, but because of her father’s passing. While she waited for the fire to blaze, she heard a church bell chime repeatedly in the distance. She stood gazing out the window in the direction of the Lutheran church she knew was positioned just beyond the hill.
Maggie entered, carrying a tray which held a teapot, cup, and a spoonful of lard. She set it on the dresser next to the porcelain pitcher and bowl.
“What do you imagine the bells are for?” Anna asked. “The holiday?”
“No, I think it’s in celebration. Because we won the battle,” Maggie replied.
They both looked at the Confederate soldier, who was sleeping peacefully.
Maggie shook her head and sighed. “We’re going to round up the livestock,” she said. “There’s a storm headed our way.”
Anna nodded in response. Her little sister left the room. She poured herself a cup of tea, carried the cup and spoon over to the bedside, and sat next to the Rebel. Gently, she rubbed the tallow over his dry, cracked lips with her fingertips in hopes it would soothe them. A chill wind blew in through the partially opened windows. Glad she’d lit the fire, she watched the flames grow higher before tossing in the Confederate’s clothing. She gazed into the fire as it consumed the worn-out garments. Once they were destroyed, she seated herself beside him, lit the kerosene lamp on the table next to her, picked up her needles, and commenced knitting. Rain began pelting against the glass. She stood, walked to the window, and looked out into the yard to see her sisters and Claudia scurrying about to gather the last of the chickens. They contained them in the coop and ran toward the house. She heard them enter downstairs.
Gazing back at the wounded soldier, she wondered how his horse was doing. Abigail and Claudia had secretly informed her during the party that they had gone out earlier to observe the spotted horse when they noticed his injured hoof. Finally relieving him of his saddle and bridle, they rummaged through the Rebel’s saddlebags and discovered a container of ointment, which they assumed was to be used on the horse. They also found a small Bible, along with some personal effects, a few items of clothing, and his slouch hat. Abigail had proudly informed her older sister she had brushed the horse down with his curry comb and applied the liniment to his hoof. She and Claudia had cleverly snuck the soldier’s belongings upstairs and hidden them in a dresser drawer while everyone else was enjoying dinner.
Upon this recollection, Anna walked over to the dresser. The Rebel’s hat, coiled belt, and buckle sat on top. She pulled the top drawer open. Beside her father’s forgotten socks, she found some of the soldier’s personal effects, including a tiny sewing kit, a pocket knife, a pouch of tobacco, and a Testament. She picked up the little Bible. Pulling the flap open, she discovered a tiny, hand sewn Confederate flag inside. It was saving a page of Scripture, Psalms 23. She glanced over the words.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Curious why his Bible was covered with dirt, Anna looked over at the young man. She noticed that, even though all of his items were from the South, they looked the same as any she’d ever seen. She placed the Testament back in the dresser drawer, set the Rebel’s hat in her father’s armoire, and returned to the rocking chair.
A loud burst of thunder exploded, so close it sounded like it was directly over the house. The soldier screamed. He bolted upright, his eyes wide with terror. Anna’s heart leaped. She nearly shrieked from fright. The Rebel looked around in confused panic. He sobbed and gasped for breath.
“It’s all right,” she said calmly, even though her heart was in her throat. Rising to her feet, she lightly nudged his uninjured shoulder.
The disoriented young man looked at her. His frightful countenance relaxed. He lay back down, moaned again, and began to shiver. She pulled a blanket from a dresser drawer. As she covered him, she noticed he was sweating profusely. Bending down to collect the damp towel he’d spilled on the floor, she walked to the dresser, dipped it into the water bowl, and replaced it across his forehead.
“Ma?” he cried out, his voice a distressed, raspy growl. “Ma?”
Anna didn’t know what to do. “Hush now,” she soothed. “I’m right here.”
She sat beside him on the bed, gently raised his head, and lifted the glass of water to his lips. He sipped in a few swallows before she eased him back against the pillow.
“Go back to sleep.”
The sound of her voice calmed him. He trembled for a few minutes, but then relaxed, yielding to slumber.
Her heart raced. She was afraid of what he might do next. He’s just a boy, she reasoned, returning to her rocker.
Thunder rolled off into the distance, but rain continued throughout the night. Anna sat close to the lamp and kept herself awake by knitting. She occasionally glanced over at him while he slept. The firelight flickered, dancing over his face. His only movement was the slow, steady rise and fall of his chest. The tick of the mantle clock lulled her. She inevitably dozed off.
Before dawn, the sound of their rooster’s crow awoke her. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she quietly went downstairs to make herself breakfast. As she finished eating, Maggie came into the kitchen, poured herself a cup of coffee, and sat down beside her.
“How is Johnny Reb this morning?” she asked, sweeping her long, unkempt hair back from her face.
“He awoke last night from the thunder,” Anna replied, “and nearly scared me half to death. Did you hear him?”
Maggie shook her head.
“We need to find out his name, just in case,” she continued. “His mother would want to know if he died.”
Taking a sip from her cup, Maggie said, “And now you’re going to say it’s our ‘Christian obligation,’ aren’t you?”
“Well, it is, and you know it to be true,” she replied. “If I was a mother with a son in the war, I’d want to find out what happened to him, wouldn’t you?”
Anna knew what she was thinking: their Confederate traitor didn’t deserve the compassion he was receiving. “Will you help me change his bandages?” she requested.
Rolling her eyes, Maggie reluctantly agreed.
The girls went outside to gather hemlock and golden seal. They returned upstairs to their father’s bedroom and saw the young soldier was still asleep. The sisters tore pieces of cloth into strips and tended to each wound they had sewn two nights previously. They combined mustard with herbs to make plasters. The unintentional pain they created caused him to open his eyes. He looked at them like a frightened animal.
“We’re just changing your dressings,” Anna reassured him with a smile.
His expression relaxed. “Whiskey please?” he whispered.
Anna gave him a drink of bourbon from the bottle as Maggie applied a fresh poultice. The soldier grabbed the bottle from her and guzzled down the remainder.
“A bit thirsty, are we?” Maggie sarcastically commented.
The Rebel fell back against the bed, moaning loudly. At the sound of his voice, Abigail entered the room with Claudia at her heels.
“He’s awake,” she exclaimed, plopping down on the bed beside him.
He groaned in agony.
“Abigail,” Maggie scolded, but then smirked in a sinister fashion.
Anna looked at the young soldier, whose eyes were fixed on Maggie. “Sir,” she said, attempting to attract his attention.
The Rebel turned his gaze to her.
“We need to know your name. What’s your name?”
He frowned as though he didn’t understand the question, but then softly responded. “David.”
“David,” Anna repeated.
The soldier barely nodded.
“What’s your surname, David?”
For a moment, he hesitated, moaning quietly while Anna removed the bandage from his shoulder. She glanced down. The stitches were red and swollen.
Maggie glanced over. “No laudable puss,” she remarked. “Aunt Sarah would say that’s a bad sign.”
The soldier looked at Anna worriedly, but she smiled to assure him.
“You’re doing just fine, David. Now, what is your surname?”
“Summers,” he responded, but his drawl threw them off.
“Summus?” Anna asked.
The soldier slightly shook his head. “No, Summers,” he answered again.
“Summuz?” Maggie questioned.
The soldier sighed in frustration, closing his eyes. Anna placed a new poultice on his shoulder wound and covered it with a fresh bandage.
“No,” he said slowly. “Like winter, spring, fall, and summer.”
“Oh, Summers!” all four girls chanted together.
He chuckled in reaction, but it caused him great pain. His chuckle turned into a sob. He groaned.
“David Summers,” Anna recited. “Where are you from, David Summers?”
“Alabama,” he hoarsely whispered.
“Where in Alabama?” asked Abigail.
He winced for a moment as Maggie finished wrapping a bandage around his thigh. “Morgan County,” he said.
“Mogan County?” Abigail inquired.
“Is that near Montgomery?” asked Maggie.
He looked over at her. “No, it’s near Huntsville.” He turned his gaze to Abigail. “It’s Morgan. Like a horse.” An expression of pure terror swept over his face. “My horse!” he gasped. “Where’s—” He tried to sit up, but the pain assaulted him.
Anna eased him back down. “He’s fine,” she told him. “We’re taking good care of him, just like we’re taking care of you.”
The young soldier’s panic left him, and his face relaxed. He sighed.
“Now let me be certain I have this correct. You are David Summers from Morgan County, Alabama,” Anna said.
He nodded weakly.
“Maggie, would you write that down for me, in case I forget?”
“I will,” Maggie said. She stood and went downstairs.
David looked at Anna. It was apparent to her he was still very depleted and confused.
“I’m going to put your left arm in a sling,” she informed him. “That will prevent you from moving it too much, and your shoulder will heal more quickly.”
He closed his eyes while she constructed a sling with torn cloth. Carefully, she cradled his elbow in it and tied the ends together behind his neck. The young man appeared to have fallen back to sleep. She glanced over at the empty whiskey bottle on the bedside table.
“I think he has a pretty name,” Abigail said.
“So do I,” said Claudia.
The two little girls stood gazing down at him.
Maggie returned and scoffed at the sight that awaited her. “You two act like he’s a precious little lamb or something.”
They looked at her, grinning.
“Just be careful,” she cautioned. “He’s really a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Even though she was quite serious, the girls giggled, disbelieving her.
“Maggie, we need more liquor for this poor soul. Go over to the Meyers’ and see if Patrick can help, if you please.”
She scowled at her sister. “Oh, Anna, don’t be ridiculous. Haven’t we done enough for him already?”
“Please, Maggie, it would mean the world to me if you did this. Please go and fetch him.”
Maggie glared at her. “Are you certain we can trust him?”
Anna smiled. “Yes, of course we can. He hasn’t chosen sides; and you know he adores us, just as we adore him. Now go!”
“Fine,” Maggie said, smirking. “But you’re doing all the cooking and cleaning up tonight.”
“Agreed,” said Anna.
The three girls departed. Anna sat next to the soldier, whose name was David Summers, whose home was in Morgan County, Alabama, and wondered what Alabama was like. She wondered if he had any brothers or sisters. He must still have his mother, she thought, because he called out for her. He’s probably not an orphan…like me. The memory of her dear father swept over her. Even though his death had been long in coming, it was still a shock, still too recent and painful. She missed him terribly.
Hearing the girls outside, she turned to look out the window and saw them lead their big Shire, Alphie, out of the barn. The two little girls boosted Maggie up onto the gigantic horse. She rode off bareback down the lane. Anna giggled at the sight of her little sister on such a big horse. She saw Claudia and Abigail run toward the barn, presumably to check on David’s horse again. Turning back in the rocker to resume her knitting, she glanced at the mantle clock. Its minutes slowly ticked past.
Within an hour’s time, Maggie returned, and Anna knew he was with her. Patrick’s jovial laughter infiltrated the air. She went downstairs to greet him. He had already dismounted his horse and was assisting Maggie down from Alphie when she reached them.
He turned to see her. “Well, there’s me bonnie lass!” he exclaimed in his melodic Irish brogue and gave her a hug. Releasing her, he said, “Your lovely sister, Maggie, has informed me there’s a party here this very morn, so I brung along some refreshment.” His green eyes twinkled with amusement. “But I’ve never known ye lasses to indulge in spirits so early in the day, and on the Sabbath, no less.”
“Don’t be silly, Patrick.” Anna laughed.
With a wink, he handed her a bottle of whiskey.
The two little girls came out of the barn. “Patrick,” they screeched, running toward him.
He picked Abigail up and twirled her around, causing her to squeal with delight before he set her back down.
“We haven’t seen you in so long, Patrick,” she said. “Where have you been?”
“Why, workin’, of course.” He gave Claudia a hug. “‘Tis a busy time with the crops right now, lass. I’m sure you’re well aware.” Turning back to Anna, he pulled the cap from his head, revealing thick, brown hair. “So, how might I be of service to ye fair maidens?” he asked.
“We have something to show you,” Anna said, “but you have to swear not to tell a soul.”
Patrick raised an eyebrow and smirked. “Well now, if I agree to it, will ye be fixin’ me a fine meal in return?”
“Of course,” she replied, taking his hand. “Come with me.”
She led him into the farmhouse’s back door, through the kitchen, and up the staircase to the second floor. Stopping at the doorway at the top of the steps, she turned to look at him.
“There’s somethin’ ye want to be showin’ me in your father’s bed chamber?” he asked, comically raising his eyebrow.
Anna bit her lower lip. She turned the knob and pushed the squeaky door open. “We found him in the barn the night before last with a bullet in his shoulder,” she explained.
The three other girls followed behind.
“He’s a Confederate soldier.”
Patrick’s jaw dropped slightly. “Saints preserve us,” he partially whispered. He walked to the bed to get a closer look. “Ye know for a fact he’s a Confederate then?”
Maggie held up the belt with the CSA buckle attached to it. “We also have his pistol, and we found a rifle tied to his saddle.”
Patrick’s emerald eyes grew wide. He chuckled. “Well, now, if this ain’t a fine kettle o’ fish!”
“We were hoping you could help us. I know we can trust you with our secret,” said Anna.
“Aye,” said Patrick. “Sure’n you’d be in dire distress if they thought ye were harborin’ the enemy.”
Anna sighed. “It’s just that, well, I want him to have a chance to recover first, before—”
“Before what, lass?” Patrick asked. “Before ye turn him over to the authorities? Or before Stephen returns from Washington City?” He snickered. “I know how your wee mind works, me dear.” He turned to Maggie, winked at her, took the whiskey bottle from Anna’s hand, and sat down on the bed beside the wounded soldier. In a low voice, he asked, “Did ye learn of his name?”
“David,” Anna replied, walking around to the other side of the bed. “David Summers. From Morgan County, Alabama.”
Patrick glanced over at her. “Ye got all of that out of him, did ye?”
She nodded in response. The soldier began to stir at the sound of voices, so Patrick called to him.
“David. Time to wake up and take your medicine.”
The soldier’s eyes fluttered open. He slowly focused on Patrick. Uncertainty crossed his face, and he had a hard time keeping his eyelids open.
“Here, lad.” Patrick reached around the young Rebel, pulling him up. “Here’s a good stiff drink for ye.”
He pulled the cork out with his teeth and held the bottle up to David’s mouth. The young soldier took in a few swallows. He moaned and closed his eyes as Patrick released him back onto the pillow.
Shaking his head, Patrick glanced at Anna from across the bed. “I don’t know, lass. He seems in a bad way to me.” He stood, handed the bottle to Maggie, and walked to the doorway where the two little girls were standing. “If he makes it through another night, then perhaps he’ll have a fightin’ chance.”
Anna followed him downstairs to the back door. “Thank you, Patrick,” she said. “I know I can always rely on you.”
“Sure’n ‘tis a fact, Anna, me dear,” he replied. “But I have to get back to the Meyers’. They’re payin’ me by the day, ye know, Sunday bein’ no exception.” He walked over to his strawberry roan and mounted. “Now, ye be sure to keep me informed as to your Confederate’s progress, and I’ll be returnin’ in a few days for that supper ye owe me,” he said with a wink. “That is, if I don’t receive a request to come over sooner.” Spurring his horse, he trotted off down the lane.
“Say hello to the Meyers for me,” she called out after him.
Noticing Claudia and her sisters had remained inside the house, she decided to walk to the barn. The spotted horse was halter-tied in an open stall. She cautiously came toward him. He raised his head to look at her. She noticed the unusual, fascinating color of his eyes. They’re the same color as his master’s eyes, she thought.
“Hello, boy,” she greeted him.
The horse nickered softly in response. His ears twitched back and forth.
“I want you to know your friend, David, is doing just fine.”
He allowed her to approach. She patted him gently on the neck and stroked the side of his long face. The horse’s eyes started to drift shut. She understood he was just as worn out as his rider.
“What you must have gone through,” she wondered out loud.
She walked over to the corner of the barn, found a rag, and dipped it in a bucket of water. A rustling noise in the opposite corner alarmed her. She straightened. Listening intently, she failed to hear anything further and brushed it off, contributing it to her anxiety caused by recent events.
She rubbed him down with the damp cloth, wiping away dirt and dried blood Abigail had missed, and cleaned the horse’s eyes and nostrils. He stood patiently as if relishing the attention. Looking down at the injured hoof she’d heard about, she saw the crack was deep. Her heart fluttered with trepidation. She found the tin of liniment and applied a coat. To her astonishment, the little horse stood patiently.
Stroking his neck, she said, “You are a pretty boy, aren’t you? Just like your owner.”
The horse blew.
“I hope he’s as sweet as you are.”
Turning his large head toward her, the spotted equine nuzzled her sleeve.
Anna chuckled. “Well, I’d better go now.” She walked over to the barn door. Turning back toward the Rebel’s mount, she said, “I’ll bring you some carrots later. Would you like that?”
He raised his head and whinnied, like he understood, which astounded her. She turned and walked toward her family’s two-story wooden frame home. The whitewash was beginning to peel under the gutters, and thistles heavy with bulbous lavender blooms were high up next to the structure. Other than that, it was in fairly good shape after being neglected for nearly a year. She gazed up at a second-story window, at the room that had been her father’s for so long, the room now occupied by a Rebel. The bizarre turn of events left her pondering. Was this the good Lord’s way of providing her with a solution to her problem, the one that had recently presented itself in the form of a neighbor gone awry? Anna had always considered Stephen to be a dear friend, but now, she harbored deep resentment for the way he was trying to take advantage of her situation. Although she had known him all her life and thought of him as a relative, he had shown his true intent.
She slowly walked into the kitchen to find Maggie preparing the midday meal. “I’ll be down shortly to assist you,” she offered.
Her sister looked over at her and smiled.
Anna ascended the staircase to the bedroom at the top of the steps and cautiously opened the door. The hinges squeaked to remind her she needed to oil them. She walked toward the bed. The smell of death permeated the air. It was the same odor that had lingered in that room only a few short months ago. Her heart ached with the recollection of how she had tried so desperately to nurse her father back to health, but all her efforts had failed. Hopefully, they wouldn’t be in vain this time. Holding back tears, she prayed for the soldier’s survival, even though his existence could very well endanger herself and everyone around her. She didn’t want to have to bury him secretly out in the fields and have to live with that memory haunting her for the rest of her life. Nor did she desire writing home to his family to inform them of their son’s demise. Dread swept over her as she gazed down upon the young man’s face. Shuddering, she drew a heavy sigh and prepared herself for the worst.