After David Summers enlists with the Confederate cavalry, his delusion of chivalry is soon crushed when he witnesses the horrors of battle. Shot by a Union picket, he winds up at a stranger’s farm. Four girls compassionately nurse him back to health. David learns his comrades have deserted him in Pennsylvania following the Battle of Gettysburg, but his dilemma becomes much worse. He falls in love with the older sister, Anna, who entices him with a proposition. To his dismay, he must make a decision. Should he stay and help Anna with her underhanded plan, or return to the army and risk capture?
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.
About the Author:
J.D.R. Hawkins is an award-winning author who has written for newspapers, magazines, newsletters, e-zines, and blogs. She is one of a few female Civil War authors, uniquely describing the front lines from a Confederate perspective.
Her Renegade Series includes A Beautiful Glittering Lie, A Beckoning Hellfire, and A Rebel Among Us. All three novels are award winners, and tell the story of a family from north Alabama who experience immeasurable pain when their lives are dramatically changed by the war. Ms. Hawkins is a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the International Women’s Writing Guild, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and Pikes Peak Writers. She is also an artist and singer/songwriter. Ms. Hawkins is currently working on a nonfiction book about the War Between the States, as well as another sequel to her series.
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