Instead of nails he used wooden pegs made by himself and 10-year-old James. Samuel, at age 6, was deemed too young to be safely entrusted with a sharp knife and a chunks of hard oak. He built a door and fixed the horse-stall partitions which served as bedroom walls. Harry taught James how to make wooden shingles and the two of them fixed the roof. For this job, Harry scrounged old nails from wherever he could find them. If Samuel was looking bored, Harry would hustle him off to search for more nails. Samuel considered it something of a treasure hunt, for Harry would praise him for his sharpness whenever he found some.
Along with the boys, Harry instructed the girls, Meredith, Sophia, and Janet, aged 15, 11, and 8 respectively, in gardening techniques. Mrs. Drewry observed and learned much of both gardening and the construction. She also did an admirable job of cooking for a woman who had always had servants.
Harry longed to expand the gardening operation, but could not as the land had been salted and, just as importantly, seed was sparse. As the fruit came off the plants in the garden, he began to dry and horde the seeds. It soon became Janets job to make sure Harry's seed collection was drying properly. She took this duty seriously and once when she found that some tomato seeds had moulded, she went wailing to Harry that she had not done her job properly. Harry quickly comforted the little girl, "It's not your fault Janee [he nicknamed her that shortly after his arrival]; it's been so rainy that nothing can dry very well! Don't worry, we'll get some more seeds out of the next tomato."
It wasn't long before the youth began to wonder how the Drewry's were going to pay their taxes, as pay they must. He wished heartily that either his father or Mr. Drewry had survived the war. Certainly they would have known what to do. Harry fully understood that he had put himself in the position of defender and provider for the Drewry family. He felt that he owed it to them, having convinced Francis to run off with him. Still, the responsibility weighed heavily on him and he often was not as patient as he would have liked to be. On top of that, he found himself with a growing affection for Meredith that he didn't consider healthy to the circumstances.
One day, as tax season* drew closer, and Harry more irritable, a tall man on an exquisite black horse rode up. The man was fashionably dressed in a three piece riding suit and the bold cravat he wore set off his thin features and black beard. Harry stepped over the charred threshold--a constant reminder of the invading Yankee's--and walked halfway across the barnyard. He stood there immovable, his arms across his chest. The gray kepi was pushed back on his head and the mid-afternoon sun lit the stern face.
James grinned, "Sam, isn't he imposing?" Samuel giggled back, "Sure is!"
Their merriment ceased however, as their mother laid a hand of both of their shoulders. The boys glanced into her serious face and then looked at one another. They got the feeling that all was not well.
The gentleman on horse back took in the state of the land and the people of it with a sweeping glance around. He rode his horse right up to Harry and asked pleasantly, "Is this your land?" Harry cringed inwardly as he heard the heavy New England accent; he had heard rumors of these Yankee Carpetbaggers...
Staring the man straight in the eye, Harry replied, "It belongs to Mrs. Drewry. At this point and time I so-happen to be caretaker."
The edge in his voice caused the man on the black horse to raise a dark eyebrow as he stated, "Caretaker? Looks rather run-down to me."
Fire flashed from Harry's green eyes and his retorted, "That's what happens when marauders going under the name of 'soldier' salt the land, sir!"
"Oh, I see." The smooth voice was unruffled.
Harry glared at him, "Get to the point, sir. You didn't come here to banter about crops and tactics of war."
The man laughed softly, "How insightful, my dear boy! No. I did not." Here his voice got even smoother, "I came to see about purchasing the land. What will your mistress sell for?"
"I will not sell at any price, sir!" Mrs. Drewry had come beside Harry. She held herself with great dignity. At that moment Harry felt an even greater admiration for her than previously; and he held her in great esteem to begin with.
"I see," said the man. "However," he added swiftly, "quite obviously you have nothing of value left, madam. How do you intend to pay your taxes? Surely it is better to sell at a reasonable price (which I am quite willing to pay), than to have your land confiscated?"
Harry looked down at his bare, scratched feet. He couldn't stand to see Mrs. Drewry's face. She had turned pale and had let out a tiny gasp as though someone had slapped her, but she still held herself with dignity. After a moment or two of oppressive silence, Mrs. Drewry calmly and coldly replied, "If I want to sell, I will advertise. Until then, I advise you and those like you to stay off my land! Next time, I will not hesitate to fire on you as a tresspasser!"
The sauve man looked highly startled, then bowed low in the saddle, "As you wish, madam." This he said somewhat mockingly Harry thought. With that, he touched spur to horse and slowly ambled down the drive.
Mrs. Drewry grasped Harry's arm, "What shall we do? For he is right in one respect, you know. How, my dear, are we goiong to pay the taxes?"
Harry whipped off his cap, slapped his thigh with it and stamped his foot in impatience and worry. The anxiety he had been feeling welled up inside of him. "I don't know!" he snapped with sudden vehemence. Immediately, he felt repentent for his outburst, for Mrs. Drewry's kind blue eyes filled with tears as she started to turn away. He reached out impulsively and grabbed her arm, "I'm sorry ma'am," he said humbly, "I really am. Please forgive me. I shouldn't let my anxiety through like that."
She turned and taking his head between her hands responded, "I know, dear boy. I know." Then she kissed his sweaty forehead gently and went back to the barn.
Harry moved off in the other direction, feverishly trying to think of something--but nothing came. Nothing had ever presented itself as a means of retaining the land. They had no money. Even if they had had seed, the ground was salted and would be for unproductive for several years.** There weren't enough trees large enough to sell for lumber. What could he do?
"A fine protector and provider, I am!" he grumbled unhappily to himself. Looking up at the sky, he cried out, "Lord, what shall I do? Poor, dear Mrs. Drewry's heart will break if she has to sell her land! I'm a poor, ignorant young man. All I know is how to till the ground. I cannot do that with salted land." His heart aching, Harry collapsed on a stump and sobbed.
Meredith came to fetch him for supper and found Harry streached out full-length on the ground, fast asleep. His face was swollen with weeping. She knelt beside him and took his shoulders gently. "Harry," she began, "Harry, even if we have to sell, we know that you have done your best and," here he began to stir, "we love you for it."
Harry shook the sleep out of his eyes and propped up on his elbows. Then he rolled over and sat up. Meredith stood looking down at him. Her face was sorrowful, but kind. "Supper's ready, Harry." Harry sighed and ran his fingers through his messy hair. "How can I eat? I cannot think of any means to save the land! I'm completely muddled."
She smiled ever so slightly, "Didn't you hear what I said?"
"What? I guess not if you're referring to anything other than supper," he replied.
Meredith sat down on the stump. "I said," she began, "that even if we lose the land, we all know that you've done your very best...and that we love you for it."
"But have I done my best? Really, truely, honestly. Have I given it my all?" He looked up into a pair of blue eyes. He scrambled to his feet restlessly. Meredith stood up and extended her hand, "Harry, supper's ready."
To be continued...
*I freely admit I have no idea exactly when taxes were due in 1866--the year in question...