I hope that the ending wasn't too abrupt. I also hope that you enjoyed the story as much as I enjoyed writing it. I willingly acknowledge that it probably lacks in historical acuracy in a few places and if I ever attempt to turn it into a screenplay that I would certainly go back and do some research :D
Do you have any thoughts (positive or negative) as to how I write or on the story itself in general? I know my spelling isn't the greatest, so I thank everyone who pointed out the misspelled words.
Now...just for fun...can you guess at which point in the story I had tears streaming down my face as I scribbled in my book? (I'm such a sop sometimes :D)
Mr. McRae's method's of speeding matters up were soon forgotten in the excitement of wedding preperations and the arrival of a fine bay steed. James was delighted and almost had to be pried off the animal at suppertime. Harry declined riding lessons at that time saying, "I'd like to be in one piece for my wedding. Remember what happened last time I was on a horse?"
James grinned, "I would have taken him in for you, but I didn't figure you felt like being shown up that day."
The young men laughed together remembering that stressful afternoon two years before. Then James added softly, "I'm glad that fellow never came back."
"Me, too," Harry responded, "Me, too..."
Harry Finch and Meredith Drewry were wed shortly thereafter. Meredith wore a pale blue gown--made of cotten, for they could afford nothing else. Harry was surprised when he was presented with a gray woollen uniform--an exact replica of the one he had worn in defense of his beloved Georgia. Laid in state upon the neatly folded uniform was his old battered kepi, lovingly brushed and cleaned. The man's eyes filled with tears in rememberance of the dead and the failure of their struggle. His Confederate pride showed itself as he stepped forth in his new gray uniform. He stood a little straighter and squared his shoulders a little broader. His jaw was well defined as he placed the kepi firmly on his head. A grim, proud, tender smile gleamed in his eyes as he offered his arm to his bride, as unconventionally they walked side by side to the church.
Life was not easy for the South and yet, with peace in their hearts, looking forward to continued trials, Harry and Meredith pledged themselves to one another for life. Together, they would help rebuild the South, together they would praise the Lord in joy and sorrow, together they would face life--united in love and faithfulness.
As they walked home, the late afternoon sun streamed down kissing Meredith's beautiful brown hair as she looked up with loving pride into Harry's strong, broad face crowned with an old gray kepi.
Harry was panting as he caught up to the girl was walking briskly along the edge of the wood.
She stopped short, keeping her back towards him, her fingers working agitatedly along the sides of her apron. If he could have seen her face, he wouldn't have been surprised to see her biting her lip and tears trickling along her nose.
"What'd you want?" She finally asked in an attempt at a 'nothing is wrong' tone of voice.
Harry reached out and grabbed her shoulders, turning her around. Meredith didn't raise her eyes, but she tucked her chin tighter against her chest.
"Lookee here, Meredith, your Grandpa did that on purpose."
Meredith glanced up quickly, then down again, "You know what he said?"
"No. Not really, but I got a close enough idea."
Suddenly, Meredith looked up and exclaimed, "Why? Why did he do it? It's so embarrasing having what you think you have cleverly hidden thrown out like that in front of everybody!"
Harry's good-nature and sense of fun suddenly took over as he looked down at the weepily indignant girl standing in front of him and he began to laugh softly. It didn't help her mixed-emotions any and she straighted up some.
"What's so funny?" she demanded.
"Your grandpa must have been planning this for a while...he knew right where to hit both of us and when. He saw me coming and knew that I'd be worried about you and that I'd come after you after hearing his explaination of his scheme to your mama."
"His what?" Meredith looked surprised.
"No matter..." Harry plowed on, ignoring her question, "I might as well finish what he started. Meredith," he paused momentarily, then stumbled on, "I haven't said anything becuase I love it here and I knew that if you didn't want to marry me, the only honorable thing for me to do was to leave. I spoke to your mother and she said it was fine with her, but I still didn't say anything because I thought maybe Daniel..."
At the mention of young Mr. Erwin, Meredith, who had been trying to soak up the full import of Harry's passionate outburst, suddenly put her hand up and stopped the flow of his words.
"Daniel!" she exclaimed. "You really thought...why he comes to see you more than he does me! I told him months ago that I liked him, but I wasn't really interested in marrying him." Her voice softened, "I-I didn't realize how much I cared about you until I thought you were going to die."
Harry's face glowed with delight and he grabbed Meredith's hands in his and beamed into her face, holding her hands to his heart. No more words were needed. Blue eyes and green eyes smiled understandingly at each other.
While the two young people were getting themselves on the same sheet of music, Mrs. Drewy had risen after giving her father a somewhat reproving glance. She went into the barn to start supper. Janet followed. She didn't like trouble, and she keenly felt that something wasn't right, even though she didn't understand it all. Samuel streached out on the bench and stared at the sky. He grinned to himself. Sophia and James captured their grandfather and hauled him towards James' prize-field--a 5 acre cotten field that the boy had almost single handedly planted and tended. Harry had borrowed the Harvey's plow every other weekend during planting season and taught James how to use it.
"Grandpa," James demanded, "Why did you pull such a stunt? Nobody will ever trust you after this!" He started to laugh uncontrollably, gasping, "Though I will admit that the thought of doing something similar has entered my mind before!"
"And mine!" broke in Sophia. "Meredith didn't think her face told tales...but it did!"
"I actually noticed Harry first," James put in. "He'd stand around watching when the young fella's come to call. I remember once I saw his eyes flash when Meredith was laughing over some idiotic joke...I knew then that he was sweet on her--big time!"
"I think," Sophia expounded, "that Harry wanted to marry her long before she started to think of him as anyone more special than Francis' best friend. After he got on to her for flirtting, I think she really began to respect him...and then the respect turned to something deeper."
James nodded his head in agreement and both children looked at their grandfather. He was smiling broadly.
"Well now, my fellow conspirators," he grinned, "what do you think of my little scheme?"
With a flurish of his hand, he indicated a young couple strolling along towards the barn. The girl was leaning on the young man's arm and they were talking...about what, no one ever knew.
To be continued...
The following day saw the Drewry's and Mr. McRae discussing life in general. Grandpa learned about each and every child from their own lips--questioning the them from the youngest to the oldest.
Samuel had taken a decided interest in carpentry. "Harry's taught me everthing I know," he added proudly after pointing out places where he had helped to make repairs and improvements.
"Very good, my dear boy!" Grandpa McRae looked extremely pleased.
Janet, who's shyness often prohibited her from speaking freely, had her interests deftly pryed out of her by her grandfather. "Tell me, Janet," he began, placing the girl on his lap, "do you like carpentry as much as Samuel?"
She entirely missed the twinkle in his eyes. "Oh no, Grandpa! It is noisy and hurts my ears. And," she added thoughtfully, "I always hit myself with the hammer."
"I see. I don't suppose it is a very lady-like business anyway, is it?"
Janet shook her head, "Sophia likes to help sometimes, but she's a lady, too. Aren't you Sophy?"
"Of course! One can be a lady and do 'boy' things, too. Can't they, Grandpa?"
"I think so," he laughed. "So long as you don't try to take the man's place."
"She wouldn't do that!" protested Janet. "She just like to help. Harry says she's a very good helper."
Grandpa smiled over Janet's head at his daughter who returned it merrily. "So, little lady, what do you like to do?"
Janet got a very contented look on her face, "Well, I like to make messes in front of the fire--Harry says I make a fine mess of greens--and I like stitching and reading and walking in the woods."
"Ah, a little homebody, I preceive." Grandpa smiled and kissed the little girl tenderly.
James came around the corner at that moment, having just knocked off for the day. He had refused to "be lazy, simply because Grandpa is here."
"Ah now, here's our young farmer! Jamie, me lad, I want to know what are you interests?"
"Other than farming?" He grinned and ran a grimy hand through his mousy hair. "Someday I'd like to own a horse again and ride. I used to be a pretty fair horseman--at least I thought so. But really, it's kind of funny. I never expected that I would end up working as a field hand " (here his mother glanced up startled, but relaxed again as he continued) " much less enjoy it! I get very tired, of course, but it is rewarding to see the crops rise from the ground, mature, and harvested. I know now why Harry has always been so happy to be a farmer."
James lapsed into silence and beamed--Harry-like--at the gathered family.
"I see now, Elizabeth, with my own eyes, and hear--with my own ears--that your young farmer has been a good, edifying influence on your children."
Mrs. Drewry smiled and put her hand over her fathers, "If he hadn't been, I wouldn't have let him stay."
Sophia's turn came next. At fourteen, she was a bundle of energy and one never knew what the clumsy girl would upset next.
"As for me," she declared, "I like nothing better than laughing. But I also like to work hard outdoors."
James nodded his agreement. She was his right-hand man when he needed help and Harry was unavailable.
"Besides that," she rambled on, "I love babies and children and boys of all ages...and animals."
At the mention of 'boys of all ages', James and Samuel burst into laughter.
"But I do," she threw back at them. "I like old men who can bearly walk, middle-aged men who don't understand why a little girl cares diddly-squat about a new kind of plow, young men who think I'm just a silly little girl," she rolled her eyes to demonstrate their attitude, and brought another shout of laughter from her audience. She continued, "boys my own age who feel threatened because I can work as hard as they do, and little boys who occasionally need a piggy-back ride!"
Having defended herself ably (at least in her own mind), Sophia returned to her knitting. James leaped upon the bench by the door and whooped as he gave her thunderous applause. The rest of the family laughed and joined in.
Meredith was the only remaining one to be questioned; she felt rather apprehensive about it because she knew that her grandfather was an alert old gentleman and had probably seen her pointed and tell-tale ignoring of Harry the night before.
Mr. McRae's gaze roved over to where she sat; industriously mending Harry's shirt.
"My dear lassie," he smiled, "you look as though that shirt must be mended--or else!"
There was no verbal response, but she fumbled her needle.
"And why would my cheerful girl be so agitated by her grandpa's traditional questioning spree?" He paused, then added slyly, "A young man, perhaps?"
"Father!" Mrs. Drewry exclaimed in surprise, while her daughter turned scarlet and dropped the needle.
He smiled, "I think he's a fine young man and I would be quite proud for him to officially join the family."
At this, Meredith sprang to her feet, dropping the shirt in the dirt, and rushed off. She ran headlong into Harry, nearly throwing both of them to the ground.
"Whoa, now!" Harry was more than a little surprised. "Wha...?" he began and he stared after her as she disappeared.
Puckering up his brow, he demanded, "What's wrong with her?"
Sophia and James exchanged glances and burst into an uncontrollable fit of giggles. Janet opened her mouth, then snapped it shut again--understanding dawning in her eyes. Samuel just stared at everyone. Mrs. Drewry gave her father a preplexed looked.
"It's best they get it out of their systems early, my dear. Keep it up as it is and there will be much greater unrest and tension."
"But Papa, in such a fashion!"
"Oh, aye. Why not? I saw him coming and I can read Merry the same why I can read you...My plan was and still is, for her upset to start the chain of events."
Suddenly, it hit Harry like a shot between the eyes what the old man was talking about. He spun around on his heel after giving him a hard, disbelieving look. As Harry's back disappeared in the direction Meredith had taken, Mr. McRae leaned back with a mischeveous smile.
To be continued...
That evening, upon returning home, Harry found the household in a bustle. The place had quite clearly had some sprucing up. The meager furnishings had been rearranged to give the room a more fashionable air. In other words, the table with its seats of various materials had been moved towards one end of the room, away from the fire. It was as thought they wanted to give the appearence of a kitchen and dining room--which was the exact purpose.
Harry looked around bewildered. Mrs. Drewry and James were not there. Meredith had Sophia and Janet dressed in their best frocks and she herself looked rather stunning in her Sunday best, faded as it was and covered with an expansive apron. Her face was flushed with excitment as she flew about putting the finishing touches on supper.
"Looks like it woulda been nice if I'd caught a rabbit," Harry mumbled for the sake of speaking.
Samuel appeared at his side, also neatly dressed. He pulled at his collar and squeaked hurridly, "Harry, wash up and put your good clothes on!"
Harry stared at him for a minute before demanding, "What is going on?"
Meredith bustled over and grabbing him by the shoulders turned him about and gave him a shove towards the door, "Out! Go wash yourself up. Once you have cleaned up, come back in and put your good clothes on. Hurry now!"
Finding his nose pointed in the direction of the well, where sat a wash basin, Harry obligingly, though somewhat irritated, trundled over while stripping off his filthy shirt. He scrubbed himself good, by no means rushing himself and wishing that Samuel would come over so he could find out what was going on.
As soon as he was clean, he went back into the barn. While changing his clothes, he asked causally, "So, what's the excitment all about?"
Once again, his question remained unanswered as Samuel started shouting, "They're here!"
"Who?" Harry demanded in frustration as he stepped out of the stall where he had been dressing.
Meredith had quickly hustled the children into a line and had just barely whisked her apron off when the door opened. Harry stood off to one side with his thumbs hooked into his suspenders (he and James had made all the young men in the family a pair.)
James, with the air of a peacock, ushered in his mother and a small bent man with clear blue eyes, kindly like those of the woman beside him. After getting a shy greeting from the younger children and a more enthusiastic one from the older girls, Mrs. Drewry turned the old man toward Harry. By this time the young farmer had the the identity of the gentleman fingured out.
"Father," Mrs. Drewry said, "this is Harry Finch. Harry, my father, Mr. McRae."
Harry shook his hand gravely, yet with a wide smile, "Greetings, Grandfather!"
Janet giggled as she leaned on Harry, "He's not your grandfather, Harry!"
Harry winked at her, "Close enough, little lady."
At this 'Grandfather' laughed, "I see, young man, that you really do love my daughter's little family. I thank-you, sir, for the care you have taken of them. I have heard much of you on the walk here."
Harry blushed up to his roots and attempted to make some depricating remark, but was roundly routed in the attempt by Sophia and James.
Supper was served in style on wooden plates and real silver (somehow rescued from the burning house.) Francis McRae was a lively old man, despite the fact that he was bent, and after supper he caught Meredith up in a spirited jig. Once they had danced themselves breathless, he collaspsed into a chair to rest.
Turning toward Harry, who had watched the exhibition with delight and amusement, he boasted, "I taught her that jig when she was just a wee lassie of four!" And he laughed gaily at the memory of a chubby baby with big blue eyes keeping up with her grandpa.
Meredith leaned over his chair and put her arms around his neck, "I still remember the first time we danced it, Grandpa. You kept enccouraging me and I loved the sound of your boots on the parlor floor!"
Mr. McRae directed a wink at Harry, "Teach your granddaughters to dance young man and you won't regret it when you are old!"
Harry grinned back, "Yes, sir!" Almost immediately he leaned forward, "Forgive me, sir, but haven't I seen you someplace before?"
Mr. McRae leaned back thoughtfully, "Perhaps in my grandson Francis? He looked a lot like me."
"Perhaps, but I don't think so...Did you don the gray, sir?"
"My dear boy, I'm an old man!"
"But you did, Grandpa! It was right after Francis and Harry took off like the rascals they were!" Meredith cried, know from her grandfather's tone of voice that he was stringing Harry along. Mr. McRae was quite fond of harmless jokes.
He laughed, seeing he'd been found out. "Yes, that's true. But I was nothing but a lazy quartermaster!"
"That's it!" Harry sprang to his feet excitedly. "You are the kindly old gentleman who slipped me some extra hardtack!"
"Well! Really!" Mr. McRae puffed as though angry, but the twinkle in his merry eyes belied him. "Enumerating my crimes! But I do remember that scrawny green-eyed lad with the wide mouth now that you mention it."
To be continued...
Being a sturdy young man, Harry's recovery was fairly short and he soon returned to the fields.
"Working hard," he commented one evening, "suits me better than laying around being lazy." He streached his corded arms out comfortably and placed his hands behind his head, smiling happily at the Drewry's. His eyes wandered from face to face: Mrs. Drewry, her kindly face creased with lines, both from care and smiling, was adorned with the brown hair that now shown mostly silver; Sophia, who's quick sense of humor kept them all laughing, even in the hardest times; James, his mouse colored hair topping a visage repleat with serious gray eyes; Samuel, an undergrown boy with a sweet face; Meredith, her blue eyes holding a somewhat troubled look; Janet, a pigtail limpy laying on the table as she absently stirred her food around in the dish. These were the people he loved, lived for, and would die for.
Harry's glance drifted back to Meredith's face. She smiled back at his semi-quizzical look and immediately refocused her attention on her meal.
As the dawn was just beginning to hint at its existance, Harry was pattering around before starting his daily routine. The moon was still up and a few stars peeked out of the lightening sky. Normally the rest of the family stayed snug in bed for another hour or so. This morning however, as Harry fumbled over the fire in preparation to cook his breakfast, he felt a presence near his right shoulder. As the fire blazed up cheerfully, he reached for the iron skillet and put his hand down over someone elses.
"Let me do it," she said.
In the shadows, Harry smiled gently, "I can fix my own breakfast, Meredith. You don't have to."
"I want to," she responded unmovingly.
"Alright." Harry relinquished his claim on the pan and moved over. As Meredith cracked the usual three eggs into the skillet, he inquired, "What are you doing up so early?"
"Oh, I was awake and I didn't feel like I could go back to sleep." She said it lightly, but with a something struck a dissonant chord in Harry, so he pressed further.
"Meredith, what's bothering you? Ever since that appendectomy of mine you've been looking kind of funny. Is it because Daniel appears to have abandoned you? I saw him yesterday and asked if he was ever going to come back and see us...he said 'sometime'."
Meredith flipped the eggs over deftly. "There's nothing wrong." That was all she would say.
Harry decided to wait and press her further some other time--something clearly was wrong. Meredith may not have been as constantly cheerful as Sophia, who could only be squashed occasionally and for short periods of time, but she certainly wasn't given to moodiness. No...something was on her mind.
Harry scarfed down the eggs and a hunk of cornbread, grabbed his hat off it's peg, and in the act of placing it on his head paused and asked Meredith if she would like to check traps with him. She had never gone with him before and indeed had not shown much interest in it, so he was suprised when she said yes. As she stuffed her raveling braids into a snood, Harry gather his things. These consisted of his game bags--a couple of old gurney sacks, a strong stick, and his knife. He checked the blade as he asked, "Ready?" She nodded and they set out as the stars quickly faded and the sky lightened.
"Keep a step or so behind me," he warned as they reached the edge of the area where he laid his traps. "I don't want you to step on any unsprung traps."
Meredith obediently dropped back a pace, but still collided with his broad back when he stopped suddenly. "Easy now!" he laughed. "I guess I should have warned you I stop abruptly."
"I should have been paying more attention," she rejoined, her voice conveying that she too was finding it funny.
She peered around him and saw nothing but trees and leaves in the dim light. Harry was poking around in the leaves with his stick and without warning as sharp crack rang out. Meredith jumped and grabbed Harry's arm. She started to laugh somewhat shakily after Harry screwed his head around and gave her a funny look.
Harry freed the end of his stick from the trap and moved off again, saying, "Sorry I scared you; they can be pretty noisy when they spring."
"Why do you spring and uncover them?" she wanted to know as the moved along. She had never paid much attention while he was instructing James on traps or she would have known the answer already.
Harry streached and yawned cavernously before answering, "So innocent, unsuspecting, possibly barefoot people don't end up with mangled feet."
"Oh. Yes. Yes of course, I probably could have figured that out myself..." She felt rather silly now.
"Oh, probably," Harry agreed as he moved off again, "but then again, the sun's not even up yet and your brain still has some fog in it. At least," he added with a grin, "if you're anything like me. I don't get my brain to work at full capacity until it's daylight."
Here he stopped to trip another trap and they continued to drift through the wood; rather randomly Meredith thought. Harry kept up a steady patter of small talk, loosening Meredith's tongue. He grinned wryly to himself as she began to elucidate on various embroidery stitches--not that she had done any for the last four years, she added rather wistfully. She was unaware that all six traps had been sprung--not having caught anything--and now she was just talking as Harry leaned against an old oak.
Harry pounced as Meredith's voice became wistful. "Do I detect a note of longing? Longing for the days when these hands were white and soft, not sunburned and calloused?"
He had taken Meredith's hands as he spoke and now held them on his open palms, looking from the small hands so capable at many tasks to their owner. She was completely surprised by this turn of affairs.
"N-no," she said slowly. "I should like someday to do embroidery work again, but no. I am not longing to go back in time. I'm...I'm..." she paused.
"Yes?" Harry prodded, still holding her hands in his as though they were a specimen of some sort.
Meredith looked down at her toes and wiggled them slightly in the leaves. As though she had made up her mind, she threw her head back, gripped Harry's hands tightly and taking a step forward so she could see his face better, exclaimed passionately, "I'm not looking back, Harry! What good would it do me? No. Rather I'm looking forward. I'm longing for the future, but..."
She stopped short and suddenly ripped her hands away and went charging off in the growing daylight.
"Good gracious!" exjaculated the young man. "What a fool I've been!" However, one listening would not have said that he sounded at least one bit sorry. Indeed, they would have been right, for Harry's heart was singing. He had caught enough from the girls eyes, attitude, and words to tell him what was wrong with her. If it hadn't been time for him to head to the Harvey's he would have chased her down and made her admit that she didn't care two pins for Daniel in comparison.
"It's a good thing the traps are all sprung," he mused practically as he exited the woods and dropped the gurneys and stick by the barn door on his way to work.
To be continued...
Three hard years after the end of the war, tired and strained, Harry stumbled into the barn; which by this time was actually beginning to look like a house, particularly indoors. He fell sprawling onto his sleeping mat. Mrs. Drewry was out, having taken Sophia and Janet into town with her. James was diligently and doggedly hoeing corn while Samuel was cheerfully whistling as he hunted pests in the garden--of both the weed and insect sort. Meredith was getting ready to start on super when Harry staggered in. By this time, he fully looked a man. At 20 he still was not overly tall, but he was muscular, though thin. He kept his face clean shaven and his square face was quite tanned from his many hours in the sun. However, on this particular day, that open face was rather sallow.
Meredith stood for a moment struck speechless. Harry was never home this time of day! What's more, the young man groaned softly where he'd fallen. As she ran over to him, a knock sounded on the door and was followed by a head poked in. Daniel Erwin had continued his wooing, the only of Meredith's suitors to do so; but sometimes the girl woundered if it wasn't simply to talk cucumbers with Harry. The two young men had become great friends and Daniel was finding that gardening suited his shy personality. It was by no-means unusual for him to appear mid-afternoon and help in the fields or garden in return for supper. His family had ended up dispersed over Georgia and Tennessee with relatives, being rather large and needy.
"Hullo!" he said cheerily. His attitude quickly changed to one of anxiety. "What's wrong with Harry?" he demanded, charging in.
"Thank-goodness you've come!" Meredith jumped up and grabbed his arm. "I have no idea what it is, but he is very sick! As long as I've known Harry, he has never had anything worse than a cold!"
Daniel bent down, gently grasping Harry's shoulder, "Harry! Harry, ol' man, what's wrong with you?"
With effort Harry rolled over onto his back and lay there gasping, holding onto his side as if in great anguish. Great beads of sweat were forming on his forehead, which had a clear delination of where his hat normally sat.
Almost immediately, Daniel leaped to his feet and bolted out the door, yelling over his fast departing shoulder, "I'm getting the doctor!"
"What is wrong?" Meredith shouted after him, her fears that it was something serious confirmed by the young man's actions.
Either he did not hear her or he did not think it worth the time to answer because he never slowed down. Both James and Samuel sprinted up though. Unable to do anything, James despondently went back to the cornfield--he could do that much for Harry. Samuel just watched as his sister got a bowl of water and a cloth and began to wipe the sweat off him. She also attempted to get him to talk. To her seemingly unneeded question, "Are you in pain?", he nodded. "Where?" she wanted to know once she got the affirmative answer. Words would not come, for Harry had his lips pressed together so tightly that they were white. Suddenly, he gasped as though he'd been slugged and clutched at his side as he rolled over. In the process, he spilt the bowl of water and put his head on Meredith's knee. Laying curled in a ball with his eyes squeezed shut, he continued to gasp spasmatically and groan in between gasps. His forehead bit into Meredith's knee painfully. She had never seen anyone in such a state and she felt totally helpless.
Sam stared at Harry. He felt rather frightened and sick all at once. He left his chair, crept over beside his sister and putting a hand on Harry's steaming face, whispered, "Is he...is he going to...to die?"
Meredith looked over sharply at her little brother and then her blue eyes spilled over, "Oh, Sammy, I don't know."
Sometime later, Daniel Erwin got back with Dr. Holt. They had come in the doctor's buggy and James ran in as they arrived. The doctor took one look at Harry and said, "You were right, Erwin. Appendix. Miss Drewry, get some water on to boil immediately. Boys clean off that table. Erwin, help me get him undressed and lifted on the table. You will assist me during the operation."
Everyone hurried to do their prescribed duties. "Sam," Meredith gently pulled him aside, "stand outside and if Mama comes home tell her that Harry is getting emergency surgery." By this time Meredith had regained full control of herself.
James inquired urgently, "Is there anything I can do, sir?"
The doctor sent a scathing, but not unkindly glance over the young fellow. He was thin, but sturdy. Blue eyes stared out of a brown face thatched with mousey hair. The hands were steady. At nearly 14, James was not as handsome as his brother Francis had been, but he was a great deal stronger.
"Yes, son," Dr. Holt replied briefly, "You can control the chloroform."
James whitened ever so slightly, he understood that chloroform could kill if used too liberally.
"The water is boiling, doctor," Meredith reported.
"Good! Let's get started." Dr. Holt turned toward the patient.
When she refused to leave, the doctor put Meredith to work holding a lamp. The grisly opperation was executed as quickly as Dr. Holt could perform it. Still, it seemed like hours to Harry's friends.
As they cleaned up and beded Harry down, Dr. Holt explained, as he had not taken the time nor effort to do so during the proceedure, "His appendix was ruptured. If Erwin hadn't come for me when he did, that young man might very well have died."
This news shook Meredith so badly that she nearly burst into tears again. The doctor left with directions on how best to care for Harry until he was healed. Meredith hardly processed a word of it, but James very seriously look mental notes and wrote them down with a piece of charcoal on the wall, referring to Daniel to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything.
Arriving home, Mrs. Drewry was surprised to see Samuel and James sitting on the doorstep talking in undertones with Daniel Erwin. All three had serious faces. Daniel, as the eldest, quickly explained the situation and the woman hurried in. Meredith was sitting on the floor holding one of Harry's strong hands in her lap.
"Mama!" the girl cried in a choking voice as soon as she saw her mother.
"There, there now." Her mother held the poor girl in her arms while she poured out the story.
"And I completely forgot about supper!" she ended pathetically.
In the meantime, Sophia had come in and quietly set to work making supper. Janet was terrified to come in. Finally the boys convinced her to go in and she crept over. "Is he dead?" she whispered tearfully.
At that moment, Harry's eyelids began to twitch. "Who's dead?" he muttered thickly.
Meredith tightened her grip on his hand and leaned in a little, Janet sat down next to his head, and Mrs. Drewry also leaned in. Sophia hurried to the door, "He's waking up!"
Daniel had just left with the intention of stopping by the Harvey's on the way home. He figured that, Scalawags as they were, they deserved to know their hired help wasn't going to show up in the morning.
The boys hurried in. Thus it was, that when Harry opened his green eyes that he found the six people he loved most surrounding him. "Well now," he grinned slowly, though a touch painfully, "I feel a whole lot better now. What happened by the way?"
Several voices started to talk at once.
"Whoa! Hang on, there...Okay now, James, please continue."
James told him in gory detail all about it.
"I was outside," Sam inserted, "I'm glad."
Harry attempted a chuckle and reached up and ruffled the boy's hair, "Sure, Sammy, sure." The look on Samuel's face reminded him of Francis' timidity about entering the hosptials...
To be continued....
Harry worked hard that year and was rewarded with enought money to pay the years taxes. In addition, Mrs. Drewry sold several acres to the Harvey's that fall. It had been a hard, painful decision, but it was finally done. She had promptly put the remaining money in the bank. She knew that without field-hands--even with the able bodies that they had--that the land was useless to her and rather was a financial burden. She sold only a small part because she wanted to retain as much as she could to pass on to her children.
Mrs. Drewry attempted to give Harry some of the money to help pay back his debt. "Keep it," he said gently, pushing the proffered bills away. "Save it for next year's taxes and emergencies. I'm doing alright with those monthly installments." His own bank account was slowly growing. Each weekend upon receiving his wages, he deposited them in the bank to gather interest. Once a month, he payed an installment on his debt.
The gray kepi had been replaced over the summer by a gray slouch hat. Mrs. Drewry had bought it for him with the explaination that it would be a pity for him to wear the beloved cap out. At the rate it was getting worn, it wouldn't last to show his children. Harry had held the old grey kepi between his hands lovingly; his throat tight with emotion. Finally, he agreed to put it back. However, until he had completely broke the new hat in, the kepi continued to hang on its peg by the door.
About a month after the arrival of the new hat, Harry took his kepi down and gently brushed some dust off of it. Smiling rather sadly, he carried it over to Meredith. "Would you wrap this up and put it in your box?" he asked. "I'll still want to wear it for special occasions, you know."
Meredith quickly agreed and she gently and lovingly wrapped it in a linen napkin rescued from the burning house (simply for the fact that it had been tied around James' head as he had been playing soldier the day that Sherman's men had ransacked and burned the house.) Smiling up a him, somehow sensing that for Harry to put his kepi in a box was rather like putting a friend in a grave, she said, "You'll look quite handsome it in when you are old."
He almost laughed, "Tell me that when I'm old and cripple."
"Thank-you," she replied, "I will."
Life was hard, dangerous and deadly. It became worse once the Radical Republicans gained control of Washington. These haters of the South made life as miserable for the Confederate veterans as they legally could. Justice was mostly diverted or ignored. In many cases, former slaves were used as tools by the Radicals to dishonor and degrade the men who had owned them. In an attempt to bring justice to their weary land, many Confederate veterans joined the Klu Klux Klan. Those initally of worthy aspirations, bad men crept in and distorted the original purpose for the group.
Harry watched, like other Confederate veterans, helplessly, as these changes and trials decended on his beloved state, on his fellow veterans, and on their families. He keenly felt it when his citizenship and rights were stripped from him.
"If I'm not a citizen," he grumbled, "I ought to at least get by without paying taxes! But no, I still have to pay taxes--what's more, I have to pay to cover the expense of those Yankee brutes who burned my home! We Confederate veterans--no longer citizens--are forced to pay the wages of those who have destroyed our lives! Didn't we already pay for it during the war? We payed highly to our Richmond government. Why should we have to pay extra high taxes to pay for the Yankee's side of the war? That's what I want to know." He continued to ramble on as Meredith, to whom he was ranting, shook her head. "After all, the people of the South are for the most part left in poverty. We are having to scrape to feed our families...have they no compassion? If there were any chance that it would do any good, I'd start agitating for the South to resort to arms again!"
"Harry!" Meredith pleaded, "Please don't say such things!"
"Alright," he replied grumpily, "but you can't stop me from thinking them!"
Another time, after hearing how a neighbor had been denied justice, he exploaded at the supper table. "They call it 'Reconstruction'! Bah. It's more like continued distruction! Once they completely break our spirits and our backbones--then and only then will 'reconstruction' happen! 'Reconstruction'--a rebuilding of our society on their false philosophies!"
Mrs. Drewry smiled weakly and in an attempt at humor remarked, "I can tell that Reverand Blake has been discussing philosophy and theology with you."
Harry glanced up from his grits with a mischeivous grin, " 'Else how'd an ignant, illerate feller like myself know'd the diff'rence twixt orthodoxy an' transendentalism?"
The Drewry family laughed then--Harry's good humor had been restored. He didn't often get in a funk, but when he did it was unpleasant business.
To be continued...
*note: the discussion of Reconstruction is very thin and weak because I need to do A LOT more study on it...I believe however that the facts I presented are facts. If not, please do not hesitate to correct me. (Though, if coming from a Northern position, I might beg to differ with you on certain topics...within reason of course :D )
Mrs. Drewry was very happy to have peace restored to her household even as it got more hectic. All the children were well now and Harry tasked the boys with weeding corn. The girls were all becoming fine gardeners.
One evening Harry came home with a box under his arm. Samuel's eyes nearly popped out of his head--the box was making a high-pitched peeping sound! Laughter erupted at the poor little fellows expense. Harry promptly asked the little man if he'd like to make sure the box was taken care of. Samuel eyed it and said, "I don't know."
"Come a wee bit closer, me lad," Harry coaxed. Inch by inch the small boy came closer. "Look in," Harry ordered gently.
"Oh!" Samuel cried, "Oh! Baby chicks!"
"You want to take care of them?"
"Can I?" Samuel asked delightedly.
"Of course you can, Sammy-boy! I'll show you how and tell you what you have to do everyday."
Sam nodded, then added excitedly as he realized, "You've been building a coop at the far end of the barn, haven't you?"
Harry threw back his head and laughed, "Smart little man! Yes, sirree."
Later, at supper, Harry explained, "I only bought five. I didn't think I could justify spending any more. Anyway, if one of those chicks is a rooster, they ought to reproduce."
Suddenly, the sound of horses hooves were heard coming up the drive. Harry got up and went to the door. He was clearly suprised by whom he saw, exclaiming under his breath, "What in the world?" This caused some consernation among the older and more aware members of the family. "I wonder..." mused Mrs. Drewry, rising from the table and also going out the door.
Outside, Harry was standing in the barn lot just like he had almost a year ago. Facing him was the same man, on the same horse, bearing himself with the same condesending attitude.
"What?" the man was saying, "You are still here? By now I would have figured that you and your ragged bunch of people would have surely have been gone!"
Harry said "Tthank-you" in a very scathing voice, before continuing. "As for you, sir, I am suprised that you came back after last years warm welcome!"
"You rebel brat!" the man practically spat it out. "You are unfit to even be in the employ of man such as I, much less own land!"
Harry stepped in closer, "I do not work for you nor do I have any desire to do so. I am my own man!"
"You are a boy!" the man shot back.
Harry's temper flared. His green eyes blazed fire. Mrs. Drewry thought she saw the hair on the back of his next stand up.
"I am a man." He asserted it with deadly firmness. "If you please, sir, leave this ground, or I will escort you off."
At this the man laughed derisively. Without another word, Harry turned on his heel, marched to the barn and retreived the revolver Mrs. Drewry had threatened to shoot him with upon his arrival.
"Harry," that lady now said, "What are you doing?" She had followed him in.
Looking up, Harry's eyes seemed to have darkened, his face was set, and suddenly Mrs. Drewry realized the soldier was still in this boy--and the real reason he had fought. He made no answer and marched out again. Mrs. Drewry gathered her children around her and started to pray inaudibly.
Harry stepped out the door and closed it carefully behind him. The silence was more effective than if he had slammed it.
The carpetbagger was riding his horse through the stunted corn, trampling the plants that were just beginning to form ears. Enraged further by this wanton act, Harry nearly shot the man in the back. Being a sniper, it would have been very easy for him. However, his conscience would not allow him to shoot a man from behind; especially as he had no idea if he was armed or not. Also, he took into consideration the martial law then in effect. Shooting a Yankee wouldn't be very wise. 'Not that threatening one was either', Harry had to admit to himself. But the Scotch-Irish blood in the Geogrian's veins was up...
"Mister!" he bellowed, "Take your beast out of my corn!"
There was no response. Harry stamped in behind him, reversed the revolver and put all his weight into it. The horse shrieked in pain and took off like a shot. His rider was thrown and before he could regain his senses, being somewhat stunned, the farmer hauled him to his feet and trundled him off down the lane. Reaching the end of the Drewry property, Harry shoved the man out roughly onto the road. As the sleek gentleman groveled in the dirt, Harry said levelly, with deadly calm, "Don't come back, mister."
The man had staggered to his feet. "I want my horse!" He was very angry, but also quiet frightened. Though six inches taller than the young man, he had been suprised at the ease with which he had hauled him to the border of the property. What's more, only a fool would acost a man with a deadly calm like Harry's.
"I understand, sir. I will bring him into town as soon as I find him."
Not wanting to anger the young farmer any farther, the tall man started off somewhat unsteadily. He turned back at one point to see Harry still standing there.
It took about half an hour to locate the horse. As soon as he caught him, Harry climbed on and promptly got bucked off. He grunted to James, who had accompanied him on his search, "Only horse I ever rode was an old draft animal."
James nodded gravely. He had ridden a lot before all their horses had either been sold, conscripted, stole, or killed. He didn't think it would improve Harry's mood any to say so; so he wisely kept his mouth shut.
That is how it came abou that the horse was returned--being led by the insulted young man.
To be continued...
Life between Harry and Meredith was very strained. To make things worse, Mrs. Drewry took the opportunity to address ths issue.
"You're taking Harry's side!" Meredith complained.
"No, I'm not." Her mother's voice was firm. "I'm taking the truth's side. Meredith, when I was your age, I did my own share of flirting. Not only is it silly and foolish, it is dangerous." She paused. "Let me explain. Your father was really the only man I ever felt attracted to. He was tall, handsome, manly, and strong. His strength was more than skin deep--he was morally strong. I was out to 'catch' him--not a very Christian, nor ladylike attitude to be sure--but that is how it was. Well, up until the time I started acting foolish, James was gratifyingly attentive, though somewhat reserved. I decided that I would have some fun with him. I started to flirt, not just with him, but other young men. I saw the hurt in his eyes, but I continued my horrible flirtations. It was thrilling, though ultimately unsatisfying to hold sway over a man's heart like that. Due to my foolishness, I almost lost him." Mrs. Drewry stopped here to let the message sink in before continuing. "I began to realize that his visits were fewer and farther between. When I saw him at dinners, or at church, or just passing on the street, he seemed reluctant to talk to me. Your father was a man of integrity, Meredith, even at the age of 22!" She smiled tenderly in memory of her husband. "I mentioned it to my mother, who did not offer any suggestions. My father overheard and took me aside. 'Elizabeth,' he told me, 'you realize that you are the one who has driven him away, don't you?' 'How?' I asked him, even though deep down inside of me I knew the answer. 'Flirting.' That is all he said. That was all he needed to say. That night I cried my heart out. I had been toying and playing with James' heart so cruelly; I thought he would never come back. I was afraid that he would never trust me again. I didn't know how to apologize for my folly. Once again, my father stepped in. He invited James over to supper. Your father accepted, more I think in order not to be rude to your grandfather than anything. Papa managed to contrive a way to remove himself and Mama from the room." Mrs. Drewry shook her head with a half smile on her face. "I had hardly looked at James all evening so ashamed did I feel. As Papa left the room, I must have looked frightened, or something, (I was rather), because James strode across the room and planted himself in front of me, inquiring, 'Are you quite all right?' Not knowing what to say, I did what at that time I thought was the most foolish thing for me to do; but in hindsight I think it was the best thing I could have done--providence works that way sometimes." Mrs. Drewry laughed slightly, as she did so she noticed the rapt attention she was receiving from her daughter; she had never told this story to her children before. "I covered my face with my hands and started to cry dreadfully. Poor James was totally unprepared for this. Startled, he knelt down in attempt to look me in the face, but I wouldn't let him. 'Elizabeth!' (It was the first time he had called me that--just plain Elizabeth.) 'What on earth is the matter?' I was sobbing so hard I couldn't answer; but as soon as I could speak I started repeating over and over, 'I'm sorry, James! I'm sorry.' 'For what?' he wanted to know. 'For being a fool!'" Mrs. Drewry actually laughed at this point, her blue eyes glowing and her cheeks flushing with pleasure. "He said, 'Oh!' in a such a happy voice that I looked up. How he knew exactly what I meant I'll never know; but he understood. He sat down next to me and before the evening was over we were engaged. I have always thought that proposal was a bit premature after the way I had been acting, but I have never regretted it. I will never, ever forget the lesson I learned. Flirting is foolish, my child. Harry," here she brought up the offending personage, "was simply addressing a problem that he saw because he cares about you. I should hope Francis would have done the same. Indeed, I should have addressed it. Take it to heart, Meredith. Pray about it. No one can make you stop flirting; you have to do it yourself--if you want to. I sincerely hope that you wish to stop...you will damage both yourself and the young men you flirt with."
Meredith said nothing, but nodded slowly and wandered off; scowling somewhat.
"Pride," her mother remarked to herself, "is the hardest sin to beat. We smash it in one form only to have it pop up in another. O Father," she prayed softly, "give Meredith the softness of heart to do what is right."
Knowing that she could do nothing more at this point, Mrs. Drewry turned her face toward the kitchen. Afterall, supper needed to be cooked.
To be continued...