Monday, January 5, 2015
Start of the Third Installment of "From the Ashes"
Still don't have a title yet, but this is the start of book 3.
Sally, Mary and Anne had just sat down to eat when there was a knock on the door. It was followed by a man's voice saying, “Is that chicken I smell?”
Sally rose, took her plate and ran out the back of the house. Anne said, “What is going on?”
“It's Reverend Pottle.”
Mary rose and started to walk to the door. “He doesn't like 'niggers', and that includes my sister. Please don't mention Sally.”
“I won't. What does he think about Yankee's?”
“Not much either.”
“So I should keep my mouth closed.”
The Reverend Edward H. Pottle accepted Mary's invitation to dinner. It was hard for her to do other than extend her hospitality, once he made his presence known. Seeing as he was already inside the front parlor and complimenting her on the smell of the chicken. He followed her to kitchen and bowed to Anne.
“And who might this delightful young woman be?”
Anne's reply could have frosted the Yellow River on a hot day in August, “Mrs. Oates, Mrs. Anne Oates.”
“Y'all are not from 'round here are you?”
“I hear a touch of a buckeye twang in your voice.” He smiled and put a copper Indian-head penny on the table. Then pointed at it. Anne stared at him for a few awkward moments and then said, “No.”
Her response didn't seem to bother the reverend. He returned the penny to his pocket and asked Mary, “Where's your servant?'
“She's eating in the barn.”
“Excellent. That's where she belongs.” Anne shot a look at Mary. The reverend continued, “I think your brother's in there too. He followed my from town for some reason.”
Anne broke in to the conversation, “Is that Sam, the clerk from the hotel?”
“Why yes, Mrs. Oates. Who else?”
“If you'll excuse me for a few minutes, I need to ask him about my bags. I think I left one there.” Anne rose, and despite her being a Yankee, the reverend rose as well.
Mary gave her a pleading look and said, “You will be back, soon, please.”
“Mary, you can come with me if you wish, but I do need to check with your brother.”
Mary rose as well, and said, “If you'll excuse me Reverend, I should accompany my guest.”
“Are you sure, there is something private I want to discuss with you. Something close to my heart that I need to say.”
Anne stopped, and noticed the distress on Mary's face. She said, “Is this a frequent occurrence?”
Mary said, “He's been most persistent.”
Anne thought for a few more moments, weighing the consequences and what she knew of Mary. Then she spoke the fatal words, “Reverend Pottle, you should know that Mary and I are soon to be sisters. My brother and her are engaged, and I am here to help with the arrangements.”
The reverend sat upright, “Is this true Miss Cummings?”
Mary nodded, then said in a quiet voice, “Yes, it is.”
“Is this brother one of those Yankee's who came through town a couple of days ago? The one your brother was going to horsewhip?”
“Yes, he is.”
Reverend Pottle stood and stated, “Ever since I commanded the 1st Georgia Militia, back before I saw the light and was called to ministry, I have detested Yankees. If y'all are going to be kin with one of them I shall depart.”
Anne clenched her teeth and said, under her breath, “Good riddance.”
“Mary I am sorely disappointed in you. Not just turning down the hand and heart of an honorable man, but accepting those of a Yankee vandal.” He took his napkin, Mary's actually, and the piece of chicken. Then he turned in a reasonable approximation of an about face and walked out.
Mary looked at Anne and said, “Thank you, Annie.”
“For what? That was craven.”
“Acknowledging me. Now the fat's in the fire.”
“What do you mean?”
“He's a grand dragon. We'll have visitors tonight.”
“Is that bad?”
The look on Mary's face answered her question better than the words she tried to say.
“I still need to see Sam, and Sally. Come” Anne strode out to the barn.
When they arrived, or to be more accurate, when Anne arrived with Mary trailing behind her, Sam was sitting in the corner of an empty stall and shaking. Sally was trying to comfort him, and not succeeding.
Anne bluntly walked to him and said, “Mr. Cummings, what seems to be the matter?”
“Don't you know?”
“I can guess, but you need to tell me.”
“They visit me.”
“My friends, their ghosts. In my dreams.”
Anne looked at Sally and Mary. Then she said, “Is your brother often like this?”
Mary said, “Every few months. Since.” She couldn't continue.
Sally answered for her “Ever since 'the massacre'. When your brothers' troops were camped here. Sam's the only survivor.”
Anne nodded. Then she simply said, “The war. I'm sorry.” After a few moments she sat next to Sam and held his hand.
“Sam, or would you prefer I call you Mr. Cummings?”
“Sam, tell me what happened.”
Sam couldn't, at least not at first. He just leaned on her shoulder and cried. Anne hugged him and patted his back, simply saying “There, there,” and “It will be alright.” Eventually he stopped, and said, “I can't. Not yet.”
“That's fine Sam. I'll wait. There's no hurry.”
“Yes there is.” Sam jumped up. “I'll show you.” Anne, Mary and Sally struggled to follow. He ran out to the plot where several of his friends were still buried. Six graves remained from the war, the others had been claimed by their families. The six remaining graves, including Mr. Fair, their teacher, were left to honor the dead on the battlefield where they fell. It was also because there wasn't any family left to move them.
He stopped and scanned the place. “There, them Yankee's were camped there.” He pointed to the yard. “Mr. Fair, he had his orders. We was to form up behind those trees and walk our horses silently. Then we would charge. Kill 'em while they slept.”
Anne asked, “Where were you?”
“I was too small, so he had me climb that tree. Keep an eye on the blue-coats and signal the militia once we started the attack.”
Mary was startled, “The militia? Where were they?”
“Up back. I signaled, they.” Then he stopped. He started to cry, again. This time Mary comforted him. While she was comforting her brother, Sally asked Anne, “Mrs. Oates, how'd you know to do that? That's more than Sam's ever said about it.”
“Call me Annie. Please. What do you think I did in the war?”
“I don't know,” she paused, “Annie.”
“I was in the Sanitary. There were plenty of boys who simply saw too much. I learned the knack of getting them to talk. Don't cure it, but it helps. Still get letters from some of them.”