A Musket In My Hands (Civil War Romance #3)(5)

By: Sandra Merville Hart

“You don’t have red hair for nothing, Sister.”

“Auburn.” Callie rounded on her. “My hair is auburn, just like Pa’s.”

“You’re right. Those wavy locks are auburn.” She held up her hands, palms forward. “Except no one can tell your hair is curly the way you keep it twirled into a tight bun on top of your head.”

She wiped the table. Her sister’s wavy blonde hair was coiled and pinned at her nape. Perhaps Louisa was right, but she wanted a different look than her beautiful sister. Callie couldn’t compete. “Weren’t we discussing Nate?”

The animation on Louisa’s face died. “I have to know if he’s loyal to me.”

Callie squeezed her shoulder. “I don’t know if you can be certain. His comrades are the only ones who really know.” Maybe he’d changed since proposing to her sister. She sighed. Though she couldn’t say why, somehow she believed Martha Rose.

The back door opened. “Here’s a bushel of beans.” Pa set the dusty basket on the table. The earthy smell of fresh vegetables entered with him. “Once you get that corn ready for drying, start stringing these. Gonna have another bushel today and then more in about three days.” He glanced at the mantle clock. “You’re home early, Louisa.”

“There weren’t any customers. Mr. Booth sent me home.” She picked a leaf off a bean.

Pa grunted. “Reason enough to prepare for winter. There’s two flour sacks of corn buried by the barn … not near enough. Since you’re here, help your sister get these beans strung.” He poured them on the table and strode outside with the empty basket.

“Wash the beans while I finish the corn.” Callie tilted her head. “We can talk later.” They’d have to discover the truth about Nate’s fidelity. Was it worth asking Zach? Would he tell the truth if it meant betraying his cousin?

Callie stirred bubbling vegetable soup for supper two days later, its savory steam tickling her nose. The pleasant scents of dried parsley, marjoram, and basil she’d added to the broth filled the kitchen. Perhaps Louisa might have something to add to their meal when she got home. It had been weeks since she’d received her pay, but a slab of bacon, a can of peaches, or a couple of potatoes certainly stretched the little they had.

Pa had walked to town after lunch. If he had another mission, he’d come back for Midnight. He kept their horse rested in between trips, hiding him in the woods if Federals were near.

Word around town was that things weren’t going well for the Army of Tennessee in Atlanta. The news increased her prayers for her brave soldier. If only Zach considered himself her soldier. It seemed the twenty-two-year-old had married the army. He’d taken to soldiering in a way he never had to working on his uncle’s horse farm.

“It’s so hot today.” Louisa trudged in, leaving the front door open. “Not much better in here.” She dropped a paper sack on the table. “Five pounds of corn meal this time. My pay for the whole week.”

Callie ran her hand over the coarse sack. “This is good. We were almost out of meal.”

Louisa peered out the back window. “Where’s Pa?

“In town.”

“Good, then we can talk. I figured out what I want to do about Nate.”

“Oh?” Not much could be done from Cageville, to Callie’s way of thinking. “What’s that?” She stored the meal on a shelf.

Booted feet struck the porch. Pa wobbled through the door. The smell of liquor entered with him. “Need coffee.” He swiped his forehead with a handkerchief. “Riding out tonight.”

Callie exchanged a wary glance with Louisa. “We don’t have any coffee beans, Pa, but I can make rye coffee. I put back some rye that I boiled and dried.”

“Pack it.” He grimaced. “Looks like we’ll be gone a while. I’ll take a sack of corn, too.”

“I’ll pack it for you.” Callie kept her tone even. “Supper is ready.”

“Good.” He went outside, leaving the backdoor open.

The well crank creaked from the backyard. Water gushed from the spout.