A Musket In My Hands (Civil War Romance #3)(2)

By: Sandra Merville Hart

The liquid in the jar sloshed up the sides, stirring up a repugnant odor that reminded her of corn and turpentine. Walking slowly, she held it away from her side to give to Pa and then brought her lunch to the table. She bowed her head, asking for strength and guidance along with the blessing for food.

“Any Yanks here while I was gone?” Pa gulped down his water and then poured a generous portion of liquor into his cup.

“Not since last week.” She savored a bite of corn cake. This would have to last her until supper.

His lip curled. “You mean when they stole the corn?”

Callie’s hand jerked, rattling her wooden plate. She’d worked hard to have extra vegetables to put aside for the winter. Their precious food going to feed Billy Yanks liked to turn her stomach, but it wouldn’t do to throw a log onto the fire that burned inside Pa. Thank the Lord for the tomatoes and string beans still on the vines. “Half of it wasn’t ripe yet. They left us that—and they paid for what they took.” Though not nearly enough.

“Cold-hearted buzzards!” He pounded a fist on the table. The clear liquid in his cup sloshed over the side. “Wasn’t enough to take last year’s harvest—they had to trample what they left.”

She tugged at the high collar of her dress. Pa hadn’t been this bothered when Confederate agents confiscated the majority of their crop two years ago. He hadn’t had much say in that either, but at least it had fed their own soldiers. And she’d still had a reserve of dried and canned vegetables back then—food long since consumed. “They suspected our loyalty is with the South.”

“That it is.” Porter took a drink. “They invaded our state, replaced our governor, burned our mills, ate our crops, killed our brave sons—what’d they expect?”

His heart was in the right place, but she hated how he’d changed since the Yankees had attacked cities and towns throughout the state. “They haven’t bothered my garden patch—except for buying that corn.” She spoke in a soothing voice. “I reckon an acre is beneath their notice.”

“And better than twenty-five acres goin’ to waste.” His Adam’s apple bobbed. “I ain’t gonna plant a field to feed the Yanks and get nothing from it for my family.”

“We’ve still got vegetables in my garden.” She wrung her hands. Bitterness rose up in her throat.

He shoved the last bite into his mouth. “Finish your lunch. I’ll start harvesting whatever’s close to being ripe.”

“I’ll dry, pickle, and can the vegetables.” Some of the burden slid off her shoulders with Pa sharing the load.

“Then we’ll bury it—hide it from those varmints so’s we can eat this winter.” His shoulders pushed back, he stood.

“Yes, Pa.” It seemed the only way to keep their food for themselves. Now that he had a plan, Pa left his cup half empty. She tossed the remains in the grass when he took a basket to the field. He always stayed calmer when not drinking to excess.

How she missed her mother’s calming influence over Pa. If only Ma had survived that bout of pneumonia. She grimaced as she washed dishes. Some things couldn’t be helped.

Seemed that list grew daily.

A shell from a Yankee thirty-pound parrot gun swooshed over Zachariah Pearson’s head. He followed the missile’s path toward Atlanta behind him. Shouting—too far away to discern the words—must have alerted citizens to get out of danger. The artillery moved slowly enough that it didn’t threaten lives if soldiers and citizens alike kept their wits about them.

The ground under his feet rumbled at the impact. Black smoke billowed against the clear sky.

“No screams.” His cousin, Nate McClary, watched for activity in the city. “That’s a good sign.”

“Most are likely hiding in gopher holes.” The town’s residents should have taken cover in their hastily-dug cellars. Zach turned to watch the sky near the Yankee line. No need to remind his fellow soldiers that artillery sometimes burst in the air, scattering deadly shrapnel along its path.

“Yanks are just reminding us they’re around.” Nate took a long drink from his canteen and then swiped water from his bearded chin.