Read Soldier Boy's Discovery Online

Authors: Gilbert L. Morris

Soldier Boy's Discovery (4 page)

BOOK: Soldier Boy's Discovery

Later, at evening Bible reading, Dan noticed that his oldest daughter was moody, but he decided to let her work it out on her own. After he had read from Scripture and explained what he thought it meant, he closed the big, old family Bible and began to talk about his plans.

“I've made up my mind to go again,” he said quietly. “I know I'm not in the best of health, but God and Leah will go with me.”

“I'll take care of you, Pa,” Leah said. “We'll get along.”

“I really don't think you should go this time, Dan,” Mrs. Carter protested. “You had a bad spell two weeks ago. Suppose you have one while you're out in the camp?”

“I'd take care of him, Ma,” Leah repeated. “He's had them before when we've been out, and we did just fine.”

“You're a fine young woman, Leah,” her mother said. “You do very well with cooking and caring for your father, but there's things only your father can do. And I worry about you too, a young girl in those rough camps with all those soldiers.”

The family discussion went back and forth. Jeff took no part in it but sat leaning against the wall, his chair tilted back. He himself felt Mr. Carter was making a mistake, but he was not really family, and he sure didn't feel like chiming in on their affairs tonight. He kept watching Leah, stealing glances at her. Once their eyes met, but they both glanced away quickly.

“Well, I've never tried to tell you what to do, Dan,” Mrs. Carter said. “That's not a wife's place, but this time I think it would be foolish for you to go. You're just not able. You're not as strong now as you were the last time you went out, and you struggled the whole time.”

“I'll go with them, Mrs. Carter.”

Every eye turned on Ezra, who, like Jeff, had remained silent until now. He added quickly, “I can do the driving and cut the wood, and even bargain
with the soldiers. All Mr. Carter will have to do is order me and Leah around and do his preaching.”

“Why, you can't do that, Ezra,” Leah interrupted. “We're counting on you to keep the farm up and watch Mother and Sarah.”

“I surely would feel better, knowing Ezra was helping you, Dan.” Mrs. Carter's voice brightened. “And you said Ray Studdard was looking for extra work. You were going to hire him before Ezra came.”

“I was hoping that with Ezra I wouldn't have to dip into our savings to pay Ray … but I could use Ezra's help on the way … and Ray is a good hand.” He nodded. “Are you sure you want to go, Ezra?”

“I guess this Mr. Studdard can take care of the farm. Not as good as I could.” Ezra grinned. He turned to Mr. Carter and said, “I'd really like to go. It would give me a chance to show how much I appreciate what you've done for me.”

Mrs. Carter broke in. “If you've got to go, Dan, I insist you take Ezra with you. If you do need help, he'll be there. Between the two of them, Ezra and Leah can make things about as good as they can be on a journey like that.”

In the end the Carters all agreed. Ezra would go along with Dan and Leah. The three would have the best supply and Bible preaching business around.

Dan smiled at his helpers. “Well, looks like I'm just going to be taken care of like a king.”

Leah went over and hugged him. “You deserve it, Pa. You just sit back and tell Ezra and me what to do, and we'll take care of you.”

No one seemed to notice that Jeff had said nothing during the entire discussion and that the scowl on his face had deepened with each passing minute.

Later he silently climbed the ladder to the attic room he bunked in. In slow motion he stripped to his underwear and collapsed on the narrow cot under the eaves. For hours he lay awake, staring out the single window at the full moon. No one heard his quiet plea, “If You're there, God, why don't You help me like You do Mr. Carter?”

Jeff would have given almost anything to be the one to travel with Dan and Leah—without Ezra. But he wouldn't give up his loyalty to his father, and that meant returning to the army with the supplies. Life just wasn't fair, and God didn't seem to care about the Majors family as He did about the Carters.

The next morning at breakfast Jeff announced that he was leaving immediately to rejoin his father. His wagon was hitched to the front porch, and his mules were fed and watered.

“Jeff, it's Sunday. Please go to church with us first,” urged Dan. “It's your last chance to say goodbye to your old neighbors.”

“No, sir, thank you just the same. I need to get an early start,” Jeff replied without quite meeting the older man's gaze. “I'm thanking you, and my father is too, for all you've done for Esther and for us, but I've got to go.”

“Why, it can't make that much difference in your travel time, son,” Mrs. Carter urged. “And you don't know when you'll get as fiery a sermon as you will from Preacher Edwards.”

“Thanks, Mr. and Mrs. Carter, but I'll just be on my way.”

A few minutes later Jeff brought his bedroll and pack down from the attic and threw them behind
the wagon seat. The wagonload of corn, oats, and salt pork would make a big difference to the troops.

He and Leah had helped Ezra escape by offering to go after supplies and “hiding” him in plain sight in the wagon. Sometimes he wished he'd never given in to Leah and helped Ezra, but at least his father's troops would get the benefit.

He said good-bye to everyone, nodding to Leah and mumbling an emotionless “Good-bye, Leah” to her. He climbed up on the seat and barked out the order for his mules to move out. He'd not gotten far, however, when he heard a voice calling. He slowed and looked back to see Leah run up beside the wagon. “Whoa!” he said, and the mules drew to an abrupt halt.

“I just wanted to really say good-bye.” Leah looked up at Jeff nervously. “I wish you didn't have to go.” She half raised her hand toward him, then let it drop to her side.

Jeff's hurt erupted in his voice. “You've already said that, and so have I. We just don't get what we want sometimes, do we?”
Leah bit her lip, for his tone was curt. “Jeff, don't be so mean to me.”

“Mean? I'm not mean!”

Jeff didn't know if he wanted to be mean or sorry, but somehow it seemed easier to be mean. He'd always been proud, hating to admit he was wrong; and now he wanted more than anything to get off the wagon and take her hands and tell her he'd been wrong and foolish, but somehow he couldn't do it.

“It … might be a long time before you come back,” Leah half whispered.

“I'll be all right.”

“You can't know that. Anyone can get hurt in a battle.”

“Don't worry about it,” Jeff muttered.

Leah seemed fully aware that her entire family, and Ezra too, were watching from the yard. If they had been alone, he thought she might have reached out and taken his arm and said what was in her heart. She, too, must be sorry and hating the argument that they'd had.

But people were watching, and he figured she couldn't bring herself to be the first to give in, in front of them. She didn't say more than, “Well, I hope you have a safe trip.” Then she turned and walked away, her face stiff.

Jeff stared at her straight back, fought the urge to jump down and run after her, and instead turned angrily around, gritted his teeth, and yelled, “Git up!”

The mules, startled as much by his jerk on the reins as by his shout, jumped forward into their harnesses, abruptly pulling the heavy wagon into the lane.

As they finally rounded the bend and the house faded away behind the trees, Jeff slammed his fist against the wagon seat, frustrated and angry. “Why do I have to be such a stubborn, no-account fool!”

Jeff Makes Another Mistake

he trip back to Virginia seemed to last forever. Jeff had no trouble getting through the lines; his pass paved the way just as it had when he and Leah had traveled the opposite direction with Ezra. But despite the good weather and the bright, sunlit countryside, his heart seemed to grow heavier as he drew closer to his new Virginia home.

At night when he stopped at farmhouses and traded a little of his grain supply for a hot meal and a barn roof to sleep under, everyone talked about how Lee had whipped Pope. When they discovered that Jeff was a member of the Confederate army, though only a drummer boy, they plied him with questions as if he were an expert. And when they found out his supplies were for “their boys in gray,” most returned the small grain payment he had made to them.

Jeff actually knew little more than the farmers and ended each conversation with “We'll just have to whip them, same as we did before.”

He arrived in Richmond on Saturday afternoon, the twenty-third day of August.

When he pulled up in front of the quartermaster's, the young lieutenant who'd issued him his pass came out to greet him. Looking at the heaping load of feed, he smiled, saying, “Well, you did come back. What happened to the girl who was with you?”
Jeff hesitated, then said simply, “She's staying with her family for a while.”

“Well, we can use this feed.” The lieutenant nodded. “After you get unloaded, come to my office, and I'll see you get paid for it.”

Jeff did what the lieutenant said, and later, as he took the Confederate currency from the officer, he said to himself,
Mr. Carter'll be glad to see this. It'll help pay for having that neighbor in to work when he leaves with Leah and Ezra
. Aloud he said, “What's happening with the army? My pa's an officer in the Stonewall Brigade.”

“They're getting ready for the next fight,” the lieutenant replied. He leaned back in his chair and shook his head. “General Lee doesn't say much bad about anybody, but he sure gets his dander up sometimes about those bluecoats!”

“Where's it going to be?” Jeff inquired.

“Don't know. But General Lee sure did make a monkey out of Pope! That Pope, he made all kinds of boasts about how he's going to whip General Lee. He said anybody caught helping us Rebels will be treated as a spy. Did you ever hear of such a thing?” He grinned. “General Lee just drawled that fancy talk he has and said Pope must be ‘suppressed.' I said a lot worse words, myself! But I guess we'll whip those Yankees. Just like we did last time.”

After his wagon was emptied, Jeff took his leave of the lieutenant. Knowing he couldn't catch up with the army that night, he decided to pay a visit to Silas Carter, Dan's uncle, who lived just outside Richmond.

He climbed into the empty wagon and drove down the main street.

Richmond was still a beehive of activity. The city contained the only Confederate factory set up to manufacture arms, the Tredagar Iron Works, and smoke poured out of its chimney night and day, even on Sundays. The Richmond streets were packed with soldiers—officers and enlisted men–as well as what seemed to be thousands of civilians.

Richmond was the heart of the Confederacy. He'd heard talk reported by the Northern newspapers that the Union troops were threatening, “On to Richmond!” and General McClellan had promised to take the city for the North. He had failed, however, at the Battles of the Seven Days, and now was planning another attempt.

Silas Carter's house was five miles outside of town. Jeff had visited Leah there often over the previous year, when she and Sarah had spent several months caring for their elderly uncle, whose health was much worse than their father's. After Sarah had left abruptly, accused by a Confederate officer of spying for the North, Jeff and Leah had spent hours talking and laughing as they cared for Uncle Silas's farm. It was there that she had discovered Ezra Payne, who had escaped the disease-filled Confederate prison camp outside town.

As Jeff drew near Uncle Silas's house, he thought again of the quarrel he'd had with Leah and muttered, “She sure is stubborn, that girl is!” And he remembered it was that same stubbornness that had finally convinced him to help her rescue Ezra and get him to her family in Kentucky in the first place. Pulling up in front of the house, he leaped out, tied the team to the hitching post, took the porch steps two at a time, and knocked smartly on the door.

It opened almost at once.

“Why, Jeff! Come in the house, boy. I didn't know you were back.”

“Good to see you again, Mr. Carter.” Jeff smiled and shook his hand. It startled him how much alike Silas and his nephew Dan were getting to look, especially now that Dan's hair was turning gray.

Silas was older, with a white beard and a headful of silvery hair. There was a smile on his lips as he pulled Jeff inside. “Come in, boy, and tell me what all has been going on. How's my Kentucky family doing? I've been sort of concerned about you too. That's a long haul for a young feller. Sit down there at the table and tie into some of this cornbread and beans. There's plenty. I want to hear about how you three got away.”

“Why, I wrote you about it, Mr. Carter, as soon as I got to Kentucky.”

“Oh, sure, but hearing about something is better than reading about it, don't you think?”

“Yes, I guess it is.” Despite his new resentment of Ezra, Jeff remembered with pride and pleasure how they had sneaked him through the lines and made it all the way to the Carters' farm in Kentucky without a hitch.

“Sit down, boy,” Silas insisted, and soon Jeff was eating the sweet cornbread and smoky beans that Silas made so well, washing them down with cool buttermilk.

Jeff was glad to see Silas again. He'd grown fond of him, and now he sat and watched Silas clean up the dishes and wipe the counter and table with a damp rag.

“Well, we had quite a time of it, but we made it back.”

“It was Lucy Driscoll who told the soldiers about Ezra, wasn't it?”

“Yes, sir. I sure didn't think Lucy would do a thing like that.”

Silas grinned suddenly. “I think she was jealous of you, Jeff.”

“Jealous?” Jeff's bewildered face echoed the surprise in his voice.

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