Authors: Michael Phillips
Tags: #Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865–1877)—Fiction, #Plantation life—Fiction, #North Carolina—Fiction
The Soldier's Lady
Copyright Â© 2006 by Michael R. Phillips
Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Ebook edition created 2012
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any meansâfor example, electronic, photocopy, recordingâwithout the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Cover design by John Hamilton Design
Cover photograph by Steve Gardner, PixelWorks Studio
To our friends from many years ago of Campus Christian Fellowship (CCF) and InterVarsity at Humboldt State University. With you we learned, we studied, we questioned, we laughed, we struggled, we prayed . . . and we grew into faith. What can be a more powerful foundation for lasting affection than that! Judy and I still look back at those days and those friendships as among the richest in our lives, for which we are eternally grateful. We think of you often and miss you. The hearts of all those who were part of those special bonds will forever be united with us by ties of love. How dear you are in our memory!
As those of you who know something about me already know, I like to tell stories. When I was young, I used to make up stories to tell my little brother. We were slaves and life was hard, and stories helped the time pass easier.
As I got older, I realized that the best kind of stories weren't made-up “stories” at all. They were true stories. They were just what happened.
So that's how I first started telling about my life during and after the war, and about the people I grew to love through those timesâKatie and her uncles, and Emma and Josepha, and Henry and Jeremiah. And I came to see that everybody's life is a story worth telling, because everybody's life is a “true story” just like Katie's and mine.
But it's sometimes hard to tell someone else's story. You have to try to think like they would think, and feel the kinds of things they feel. To tell someone else's story you have to “get inside” them, and that's
a mighty hard thing to do. But then that's what makes another person's life worth tellingâthat inside part of them that's the real person God made.
If there'd never been a war and if slavery hadn't ended, maybe I'd have grown up to be one of those old white-haired slave women rocking in a chair with little black children all around, telling them all the old slave stories and singing them the old colored spirituals.
But the war did come, and slavery did end. I used to be a slave, then I was a free black girl. Change came to blacks like me all over the South. Change came to whites too. It was a time when this country was turned upside down in the way folks thought about the color of people's skin. So the stories I'm telling are the stories of black folks learning to be free and about white folks learning to live with free black folks, and about those times after the war when it was dangerous to be black, but also exciting. It was a time when things were changing so fast you could hardly keep up with them, in good ways and bad ways both.
I reckon I say that because there were good people and bad people, of both colors of skin. And some of the stories I have to tell are about both kinds of people.
What happened in those days involved danger and heartbreak because, though there are lots of happy memories, they were frightening times. But those of us who lived through them discovered how deep love can be. Because when it weathers change
and danger, love comes through stronger than ever.
So I reckon you'd say those times taught us to endure heartache, but mostly they taught us to love.
S THE SUN SLOWLY CREPT ABOVE THE HAZY HORIZON
Â and then inched its way into the sky, it was clear enough to anybody who'd spent much time in North Carolina that this would be a hot and muggy day.
By ten in the morning it was ninety degrees. At noon it was over a hundred. Not a breath of wind came from anywhere. What work there was to be done around the plantation called Rosewood was finished by lunchtime, and no one felt inclined to go out in the hot sun after that if they didn't have to. The cotton and other crops would continue growing. The weeds in the vegetable garden would keep for another day. The animals would take care of themselves without any help until milking time came for the cows late in the afternoon. It was the kind of day that made the dogs too tired to do anything but lay sprawled out on the ground with their tongues hanging out. The chickens were too listless to make much racket. Only the cattle in the fields
didn't seem to notice the heat. They just kept munching away.
“You want ter go dab dose feet er yers in da ribber, William?” said twenty-one-year-old Emma Tolan to her four-year-old son.
“Dat I do, Mama!” replied the boy eagerly. “Kin we go now?”
“We'll go right after lunch,” answered Emma.
Forty minutes later, the tall slender black girl and chubby little boy of tan complexion walked away from the house hand in hand. They crossed two fields of green ripening stalks whose cotton the young mother would help pick later in the summer as she had for the past four years since coming to this place. Back then she had been a scatterbrained former slave with a half-white newborn son to take care of, fathered by her former master. She hadn't been much use to anyone all her life up until that moment, and she knew it. If ever anyone felt worthless as a person, it was she. Though she had been the oldest of the three girls thrown together by the war and left to figure out a way to survive alone, she had needed more taking care of than both the others combined.
On the memorable day when the white girl discovered Emma hiding in the Rosewood barn, she was babbling incoherently and frightened out of her wits, and her labor with little William's birth had already begun. But she had grown and changed in the four years since that day she had found her way here. The roots of that change had matured slowly and invisibly under the influence of her two friends and saviors, white Kathleen Clairborne, whose plantation it was, and black Mary Ann Daniels, whose home it became.
And new and even more far-reaching kinds of changes had begun to stir in Emma's heart a month or two ago, in the spring of 1869. These changes had been obvious to everyone at Rosewoodâand what a strange assortment of people it was! Emma's countenance grew quieter. A look of peace and dawning self-assurance gradually came over her face. More often these days, rather than the most talkative, she was the quietest member of the Rosewood family around the kitchen table, sitting content to listen, watch, and observe.
Emma's soul had begun to come awake.
And that is about the best thing that can ever happen to anyone.