A Musket In My Hands (Civil War Romance #3)

By: Sandra Merville Hart

August 1864, just outside Cageville, Tennessee


CHAPTER ONE





Clopping in the yard drew Callie Jennings’ hand to her throat. She rushed to the window and lifted the curtain. A moment of relief washed over her. It wasn’t Yankees looking for food again, thank the Lord. Pa had returned. He never said much about being a ranger, one of those irregulars who participated in guerrilla warfare for the Confederate States of America. The irregulars cut telegraph wire, pulled up railroad tracks, and worse—so some of the townsfolk said. His mood—and his drinking—depended on the success of their last mission. Would he be the even-tempered pa of her childhood today, or the drink-induced stranger she barely recognized?

Porter Jennings rode his horse into the barn and disappeared from sight. Callie dropped the curtain and hurried to the stove. Frying a batch of corn cakes didn’t take long, thank goodness. Pa would have a hot meal waiting when he got done brushing down Midnight. Must have been a hard night’s riding to take nigh onto noon to get back.

She didn’t like the Yankees all over Tennessee any better than Pa, but she’d heard rumblings about the irregulars catching one or two of the enemies alone and hanging them on a tree. That didn’t set well with her. It didn’t seem fair, though she kept those thoughts to herself. He wanted to protect his daughters and, being past the draft age of forty-four, this seemed his only choice.

Her shoulders rose and fell with her sigh as lard melted in the skillet. She patted three generous portions of corn batter onto the skillet as the door slammed open.

She cringed.

“Why ain’t you working at Mrs. Hobson’s today?” Pa tossed his wide-brimmed hat onto a wall hook. “Ezra Culpepper said she has an order.”

She glanced at Pa’s clenched jaw. His friend knew the town’s gossip almost before it happened. “She does. Mrs. Robbins needs a dress. That job won’t pay enough for Mrs. Hobson to hire me to help.”

“That ain’t good enough.” The gray streaks in Pa’s auburn hair were as wide as the calloused fingers he ran through it. “You need to pull your weight around here.”

“Hardly anyone hereabouts has money to pay for seamstress work.” Her cheeks burned hotter than the sizzling cakes warranted. Not pull her weight around the house? She was the one who cooked and cleaned and tended the vegetable garden, for all the good that did. Yankees passing through got most of the crop. “She hasn’t needed me regularly for two years.”

“When the Yanks took over Tennessee.” He pounded a fist into his hand.

“The same year Mr. Hobson died at Shiloh.”

His brown eyes shifted toward the back window where his cornfields used to be. “Another widow left to raise her children without a pa.”

Callie caught her breath as worry for another soldier arose, one she prayed for daily. Best think about that later, when she was alone.

Pa’s neck turned scarlet. Time to give him something else to think about. “Are you hungry?” Her stomach rumbled at the appetizing smell. She turned a corn cake with a spatula too quickly. Oil splattered the stove.

“Yep. Starved.” He pulled a chair away from a rectangular table in the middle of the large front room and sat. “Pity Jeb Booth can’t use both you and your sister at the Mercantile. Louisa’s job puts food on the table.”

Such as it was. They’d all grown accustomed to getting by on less since the Northern invasion. Callie rubbed her sleeve against her forehead. More than August heat stifled the air in the clapboard home. “Here it is.” She placed a plate with two corn cakes and a cup of water in front of him. “We’ll have fried tomatoes from the garden for supper tonight.” She retrieved her plate with a single cake from the narrow table next to the stove.

“I’ll drink whiskey.” Pa started eating without saying grace.

This early in the day? Callie swallowed and plonked her plate back on the side table. Ma would be turning over in her grave at the sight of hard liquor in the house. About a lot of things, in fact.

Callie hated Pa’s angry mood when he drank.

“Fetch that liquor.”

She forced her legs to move toward Pa’s bedroom. She suspected his friend, Mr. Culpepper, of having a still. She’d like to give that old man a piece of her mind about supplying Pa with liquor. Any fool could see how drinking affected his personality—much less someone who professed to be a friend. On her knees, she reached under the bed and grabbed the first jar she touched.