The boy paused, pulling a battered gray kepi down over his eyes. He squared his shoulders resolutely and lifted his chin a trifle. He started down the narrow path that wound through a burnt and sparse wood.

The boy's eyes were green, set rather widely in his square face. Shaggy brown hair poked out from under the the kepi in unruly wisps. There was no hint of fuzz on the steady chin or the still child-like upper lip. Indeed, the boy, though broad was short for his age. Recently having reached 17 years of age, he stood just inches over 5 feet. His coat sleeves revealed thin, sun-browned wrists and hands. Big hands made to seem larger by the shortness of the sleeves. In a similar manner, his gray woollen trousers were too short for him. His bare feet were dusty and brown, calloused to leather-like toughness by time.

Upon breaking out of the wood, he stood still. A variety of emotions chased each other across his hitherto calm, solid face. He drew his hand across his face and once again resettled his gray kepi.

                             *****************************************************

The scene before him was one of desolation and destruction. The setting sun lit up the skeletal remains of what had once been a fine house. Behind the ruins of the home was a charred barn. Here and there a board had been replaced, denoting that the place was not abandoned. By the doorway was a small fire ring, in which the remains of a fire was barely smoking.  A lone chicken scratched in the dust before the derelict barn.

The chicken continued to gleefully scrape in the dirt as the boy aproached, glancing at him occasionally with a beady eye. He stood on the threshold of the barn, the doorway being covered only by a thin, but neatly mended blanket. He lifted his hand to knock on the jam, when his movements were preempted by a challenge from within--and the sound of a hammer being cocked.

"Mrs. Drewry?" the boy asked slowly and cautiously.

"Who is it?" repeated the same feminine voice in determined tones.

"It's me, ma'am. Harry. Harry Finch."

As soon as the words left his lips, the blanket was flung aside and he stood looking into a pair of wary blue eyes. The woman who stood before him, one hand holding the covering back and the other clutching a revolver, was thin and drawn. Her formally brillant brown hair was now mostly gray. Her dress was stained and worn, but neatly mended. Behind gathered five children, three girls and two boys.

She said nothing for a few moments, but looked the boy in the eye. Suddenly, she burst into tears and threw her arms about his neck.

"Harry!" she cried, "Is it really you? Oh, my poor boy, my poor boy!"

Harry wrapped his arms around the weeping woman, understanding fully that the 'poor boy' she was referring to was not himself, but her own son, Francis.

                            ***************************************************

In 1862, at the age of 14, the two boys had snuck off to join the army. They were allowed to stay, both of them becoming drummer boys for the Georgia Infantry. Francis was killed in '63 when a cannonball tore through him. Harry saw it happen. Never would he forget it. During the next battle, he had picked up a rifle and joined the fray. From that day until the surrender, he was a soldier. He ended the war as a Corporal and a sniper.
 
Now as he tried to comfort Mrs. Drewry, he wished yet again that he had never convinced his best friend to run away with him to war. Though the same age, Harry had always felt a responsibility for, if not a superiority to Francis.

Mrs. Drewry gained control of herself, "You've seen your home place, no doubt?" she asked, while wiping tears from her eyes. Harry nodded, "That's one of the reasons I came here. I knew you would take me in--if you were still here," he added.

Her eyes hardened momentarily, "Oh yes. We are still here. I will not leave until I'm dead!" Hary smiled briefly in spite of himself, "Neither will I," he promised, "neither will I."

To be continued...
 


Sandra K Sullivan
04/12/2012 8:19am

You have got my attention here. I look forward to the next segment!

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    A Gray Kepi

    I saw the opening scene for this story in my head and I knew that I had to finish it. I wrote it over several days. Some of it won't be as intersting or as polished as others.  I even teared up while writing it...but I won't say where.

    The War Between the States and Southern Reconstruction are a period of history that hold a great deal of interest for me. I hope that all my facts are historically accurate. (I rather suspect that as I type it up I shall do some fact checking...)

    Perhaps some day I may be able to turn this into a screenplay...but for right now, I will just post it in sections, or 'parts'. Some will be longer and some will be shorter. And so, without any further ado, here is "A Gray Kepi"