This is the start of the next installment in the civil-war based series I'm putting together.. It (the installment) is nearly complete and will be released in early January.
1. Eggs and Vegetables.
George Oats wiped the sweat from his forehead and replaced his wide-brimmed hat. He asked his friend Dan Patrick, “Tell me again why we're riding out here along this damned road in this blazing heat?” It was a hot summer day in mid-Georgia and they were riding along the remains of the Georgia Railroad and Banking Company track that lead east from Atlanta to Augusta and its port. What little shade there was, came from the telegraph poles that ran along the road. It only gave the promise of shade without delivering any of it.
“The board won't sell bonds to raise the money for expanding the road unless we personally survey the line. Don't blame them, too many of these southern railroad companies only exist on paper and we need to know exactly what we're getting into.”
George took a swig from his canteen. Its cotton cover had dried out and the water was getting hot. Still, it was better than going thirsty. “True, and most of the rest do their best to hide the gaps our boys made in '64. You remember that line from Marietta to Jackson?”
Dan laughed, “The one that went just out of sight of the city and then transferred the goods to horse carts. How can I forget it?”
“At least there's a single track here. Looks like it's in decent repair. The embankment could take two tracks. Pity it's not a standard southern gauge.”
“We'll need to fix that. Do you think the line makes it all the way to Augusta?”
“There hasn't been much traffic. Probably not.”
“Either that or there's no freight to send.”
“Could be bankrupt. No money to pay the workers or buy the wood for the engines.”
“How far do you think we'll make it today?”
“In this heat? Not too far, maybe Covington.”
“George, we need to find someone else to help survey the line. This is going to take us forever.”
“My wife won't like it if it takes that long.”
“Don't blame her. Send her a telegram from Covington. If the hotel's decent, she could always come out and meet you.”
“That might work. This trip would be better if she were along.”
“Dan, you aren't still grieving for, what was her name?”
“Charlene. No. Just haven't met any females that take my fancy. They're just too insipid for my taste.”
“You've certainly had enough of them throwing their caps at you. Just pick one, you won't regret it.”
Dan tried to change the subject, “Wonder if there's anyone we can trust to help survey the roads?”
“Down here, or perhaps 'Dauwn heyar', no idea. Too many unrepentant Johnnies for my taste.”
“Is Annie worried about you?”
“What do you think? Even if she isn't, I'm sure she misses me.”
“Why don't you cut south and take the Atlanta highway to Covington. We can see the road from here. That'll be quickest. I'll check the,” Dan looked at his notes, “the Yellow River trestle and then meet you at the hotel this afternoon.”
“Will you be safe with me heading off like that?”
“I wouldn't have suggested it if I were worried. The war's been over for five years, and they haven't shot anyone lately. Send Annie a telegram, and include my love.”
George shouted, “See you this evening in Covington!” Then he rode off to find the Atlanta highway.
Dan followed the line to the Yellow River trestle. It was a rickety looking thing, built on the remains of the bridge Sherman's men burnt. He noted its condition as one more thing in need of repair or expansion, and rode his horse to the edge. The rails lay on sleepers and the sleepers lay on beams, and the beams spanned the stone pillars that were all that was left from the old bridge. The river was visible between the sleepers. A man could easily walk across, but not a horse. His horse shied at the sight. Dan reached over and patted its neck, “There, there, old boy. I'm not going to make you cross it. We'll find a ford and cross there.”
He turned his mount around and rode back from the bridge. His map, while it showed the railroad, and a few of the major roads and towns didn't show the nearest ford. He was toying with the idea of turning back to where George had cut down to the Atlanta highway when he was met by boy riding out from the north. “Son, is there a ford across the Yellow River back up that trail?”
“Sure is. 'bout a mile back, near the Cummings' place.”
That name seemed vaguely familiar. “Can I get back from the Cummings farm to Covington?”
“Easy, it's a good road. I'd show you, but I'm headed for Conyers and I'm late. You can't miss it.”
Dan thought, “That usually means a twisty maze that ends up nowhere, but at least it's out of this sun and my horse could use a drink.” He replied, “Thank you.” Then he climbed down the embankment and started up the path.
Much to his surprise the path led straight to the ford. A rill in the water showed where a band of gravel and rocks spanned the river. The river banks were cut down low so that a horse could reach the river without too much difficulty. The muddy river sides made it a tricky ride, but nothing an ex-cavalryman couldn't handle. While not much deeper than the rocky crossing, the mud on either side of the ford could trap a horse. Dan clambered down, and his horse splashed in. He let his mount stop in the middle and enjoy the cool water. Then they walked the rest of the way and started up the bank. They hadn't gone much farther when the horse started to limp. Dan expertly dismounted and walked the horse for a few paces. “Damn, that right rear shoe's loose, about to come off.” He patted his mount, and told it, “It looks like we're both walking now.”
He led the horse along a wooded path and after a few hundred yards walk, the brush opened up and revealed a dilapidated farm. A weather beaten farmhouse stood near a barn. The noise of chickens could be heard from a large hen-house that was behind the buildings, and the neatly weeded vegetable patch nearby showed signs of recent activity. As with many of these old farms, a row of vacant slave cottages stood, or more accurately slowly collapsed, next to it. Dan led his horse to the house, tied it to a post, and then knocked on the door. There was no answer. He peaked through a window and saw that the house was occupied, just that the residents were away on some errand or another. He looked at his horse, who seemed comfortable enough and told it, “We might as well wait. In the worst case, it will be a whole heck of a lot cooler if we walk to Covington in the evening.” With that, he stretched out on the porch and fell asleep.
Someone was poking him. He rolled over, but the prodding continued. Suddenly awake, he sat up and tried to focus on who it was.
“If you've come for eggs, we've sold them all. Have some more tomorrow.”
It was a woman. It was a young woman, a pretty young woman, and she looked vaguely familiar from his dreams. “Do I know you?”
She looked at him, stared, speechless. Then she started to stammer, “Y-y-you aren't.”
Another woman, about the same age but black, came around from the stables and asked, “Mary, if our visitor wants eggs we're all out. He can have some tomorrow. The potatoes won't be ready for another month, and we've sold the sweet corn.”
“I know you,” he continued, “you're Mary, Mary Cummings.”