Authors: Jennifer A. Davids
©2011 by Jennifer A. Davids
©2011 by Jennifer A. Davids
©2012 by Jennifer A. Davids
Print ISBN 978-1-63058-152-7
Adobe Digital Edition (.epub) 978-1-63409-343-9
Kindle and MobiPocket Edition (.prc) 978-1-63409-344-6
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted for commercial purposes, except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without written permission of the publisher.
All scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any similarity to actual people, organizations, and/or events is purely coincidental.
Published by Barbour Books, an imprint of Barbour Publishing, Inc.,
P.O. Box 719, Uhrichsville, OH 44683,
Our mission is to publish and distribute inspirational products offering exceptional value and biblical encouragement to the masses.
Printed in the United States of America.
I would like to thank the Ohio Historical Society, Slate Run Living Historical Farm, and the Columbus Metropolitan Library for helping me with all the historical information needed to write this book. Many thanks to my husband, Doug, our two children, Jonathan and Grace, my extended family, and my church family for supporting me as a writer. And last but never least, a great deal of thanks to my Father in heaven. Thank You for giving me the honor of being Your scribe.
This book is lovingly dedicated to my grandma Minnie and my great-aunt Jennie. You both were Ohio to me and are dearly missed.
atherine Eliza Wallace looked around her with wide eyes as she stepped off the train. Rising over the top of the tiny railway station were the false fronts of buildings, their painted signs announcing the Ostrander Hotel and Decker’s Dry Goods. Yet another store advertised furniture notions to her left. But it wasn’t the sight of the simple country shops that caused her to stare. A light snow was falling, the first the South Carolinian had seen in the twenty-two years of her life.
Her companion watched her with a gentle smile. “I’ve missed snow,” she said as she also watched the tiny flecks of icy softness swirl through the air.
Katherine turned to look at the woman, slightly embarrassed. “It’s lovely,” she declared in her soft Southern drawl. Then she shivered in spite of her warm wraps. “But my, it’s chilly!”
The older woman chuckled. “It’ll be spring in a couple of weeks. I warned you it would be different than living along the Congaree.”
“I don’t mind.” Katherine’s face grew pensive. “You know I had nowhere else to turn.”
Mary grasped her hand. “Welcome to Ohio,” she said with a grin. “Ten to one it’ll be warmer tomorrow and then freezing the day after.” They laughed.
A shrill cry rang out, and they turned toward it. “Mary O’Neal!” A graying, scarecrow-like woman was bearing down on them from the direction of the dry goods store.
Katherine looked at Mary nervously.
The older woman smiled reassuringly and smoothed back a strand of Katherine’s dark hair, tucking it back into her bonnet. “It’ll be fine,” she whispered and turned to the new woman’s outstretched arms. “Ruth Decker!” Mary smiled as she gently returned the strong embrace. “It’s so good to be home.”
Grasping her friend by the elbows, Ruth smiled back as she examined Mary’s face.
“We thought you might be here soon. I’m so glad. We heard about General Sherman’s march. The
said he went right through where your plantation stood.” She drew a little closer to Mary. “Did the general … burn your house down?” She finished the last sentence in a sort of loud whisper.
“No, he was very good to us while he and his officers stayed at the house.”
Ruth gasped and her eyes became so large, Katherine thought they looked just like those of the tree frogs that were so common in her home state.
“Mary O’Neal,” she gasped. The train began to leave and her voice rose above the laboring engine. “You met General William Tecumseh Sherman and didn’t tell me straightaway!” She picked up one of the carpetbags Mary had set down on the platform. “Now you just come with me and tell me everything!” Mary gave Katherine a droll little smile, and they picked up their other bags and followed.
With the train gone, Katherine got a glimpse of the rest of the town. The tall spire of a church rose up further down, and across the street and a block or so closer was a brick schoolhouse. Several other homes dotted the rest of the town, and in the distance she heard the distinct sounds of bleating sheep.
“A purebred sheep dealer a street or two over,” Mary explained.
They stepped up onto the wooden boardwalk outside the dry goods store, and Katherine noticed there was a post office just around the corner. Evidently it was also taken care of by the Deckers, for Ruth stuck her head in as they passed to tell her daughter, a young lady named May, to mind the counter; she would be “back in a bit.”
The walkway ended at a stone-lined path, at the end of which stood a quaint whitewashed two-story house. Quicker than a body could say “knife,” Ruth Decker had them out of their wraps and sitting in her elegant little parlor sipping tea out of a china service she claimed her grandmother had brought over from Ireland.
“Now,” Ruth said as she came into the room with a plate of cookies, “tell me everything.” She sat down next to Mary and took her hand.
Mary smiled gently at her friend. “If you don’t mind, Ruth, first I would like to introduce you to my dear friend, Katherine Wallace.”
“Good heavens, where are my manners?” Ruth leaned over and patted Katherine on the leg. “I am so sorry, dear. I was caught up with seeing Mary again.”
“Please don’t give it another thought, ma’am,” Katherine said softly. “I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Ruth started at the sound of the young woman’s gentle accent and looked at Mary.
“Katherine’s family owned the plantation next to ours, Ruth.” Mary calmly took a sip of tea. “The Wallaces. I’m sure I wrote you about them.”
Ruth looked at Katherine a moment longer. “Oh, of course. Yes. How do you do?”
Katherine noted the cooler tone to the woman’s voice and flushed slightly as she took another sip of tea. It wasn’t the first time since they had passed the Mason-Dixon Line that she had been snubbed in such a way. But it hurt just the same. She lightly fingered the long, thin scar that lined her left jawline.
“For man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”
The verse sprang into her mind of its own volition, and Katherine remembered it as one Mary had quoted after a particularly bad incident in Springfield, west of Ostrander. Katherine felt her face cool a little and, dropping her hand away from her jaw, took mind of Mary and Ruth’s conversation.
“You mean General Sherman used your house as his headquarters!” Ruth was gushing.
Mary smiled. “Well, not exactly. He and his staff simply stayed the evening. We gave him what we could, and he provided Katherine and me with a horse and wagon, which got us up to Lexington. There was no catching a train so far south. He’d ruined the lines.”
The tree frog eyes appeared once more. “You traveled from South Carolina to Lexington, Kentucky, all by yourself! Mary O’Neal, wasn’t it dangerous?”
“No.” Katherine spoke now with a soft voice. “There are many refugees on the roads these days. We had a great deal of company on our way here.” She looked at Mary. “I’m afraid General Sherman has made many a family homeless.”
Ruth gave her a sharp look and then turned to Mary. “What is the general like?”
“He’s a bit rough, but he’s a good man,” Mary said with a sympathetic glance at Katherine.
When Sherman’s army had arrived at her family’s plantation, they destroyed everything, including burning the house to the ground. Katherine and her aunt Ada had fled to the O’Neals’, whose plantation was mostly spared when General Sherman discovered it housed a fellow Ohioan. Her aunt had been quite indignant over that fact, but Katherine had been very glad her friend’s home had been spared.
“My people were so happy to see him,” she said. “He remarked that many former slaves clamor around him as if he were Moses.”
Ruth looked at her friend with reproof. “I still can’t believe you and John actually owned slaves. How could you, coming from a family like yours? Your people have been abolitionists for years.”
Mary patted Ruth’s hand. “Well, you know my husband’s inheriting the place was quite a surprise to us. We had intended on freeing our people and selling the land, but a stipulation in the will demanded the plantation couldn’t be broken up. It would have been given over to a distant cousin we knew to be terribly cruel. So we thought it best to keep it.” Mary smiled at Ruth. “We were kind to our people and kept them well cared for.”
“And you were the least popular family for it.” Katherine smiled broadly. “Folks said they would turn on you because of your kindness.”
Ignoring Katherine’s comment, Ruth clasped Mary’s hand once more. “Dorothy told us about John and Thomas. We’re so sorry.”
Katherine looked compassionately at her friend. The mention of the loss of Mary’s husband and son had brought a strained look to her face. Her husband, John O’Neal, and their son, Thomas, had sneaked north and joined the Union army not long after the surrender of Fort Sumter. John had been with a Pennsylvania regiment and Thomas with one from New York State. Thomas had perished at Chancellorsville; John only two months later at Gettysburg. With her son and husband gone, Mary had longed for family and decided to abandon her plantation and return to Ohio where her sister, Dorothy, lived along with her three sons. Dorothy’s husband had died before the war, and other relatives had either gone west or passed on.
Katherine frowned as Ruth prattled on about who else in Ostrander had lost loved ones in the war. Couldn’t she see how tired Mary was and how sad the news made her? When the woman finally paused to draw breath, Katherine spoke up. “Shouldn’t we be getting along to your sister’s farm, Mary? You said you wanted to go there directly, seeing how it’s been so long since you had a letter.” Mary shot her a grateful glance.
“Oh, of course,” Ruth exclaimed. “I’ve been keeping you! I’m so glad you’re on your way to Dolly’s. It’s been at least two weeks since I’ve seen her here in town.”
“Two weeks?” Mary immediately rose and made for their wraps, which hung on an oak hall tree near the door.
Katherine followed her lead.
“Well yes. Elijah Carr was coming to get her mail—”
“Mr. Carr has been coming to town for my sister?” Katherine started at the stern look on Mary’s face as she handed her things to her.