“Ma!” Albert ran in yelling from the trees at the corner of the yard. “Somebody’s riding in, mighty confident like,” he panted.
Julia Owen looked up from the corn she was grinding and pushed back a loose lock of dark hair.
“Confident, you say? Does he look like a Yankee?”
Albert hung his head. “I mostly just saw him a-coming before I ran in, Ma. But he’s riding real straight and sure of himself.”
“Get your pa,” she said, grabbing the Sharps rifle from the corner. “There won’t be no Yankees set foot in this house.”
Julia walked through the doorway with the Sharps in firing position and watched as a horseman neared the end of the lane from the pike. Albert spoke the truth, she thought. That man rides bold.
“Hold up right there,” her voice rang out. “Put them hands where I can see ‘em, and get down off that horse.”
The mud-covered young man in the gray coat laughed. “You always did look fine with fire in your eye, Ma.”
“Carl?” She took a step, lowering the rifle barrel toward the ground. “Carl! Is it really you? Lawsy, boy, we almost gave up on ever seeing you again.” She swiped at her eyes with one hand. “Get off that horse and hug your ma.” Her son dropped gingerly to the muddy ground and approached with long strides.
“Ma, I’m home.” He grabbed her—rifle and all—and swung her into the air.
She caught sight of the wince that he tried to cover and the dried blood on his face, and immediately began to worry over his health.
Setting her on her feet, Carl brushed at the mud he had transferred to her dress. “I’m sorry about the mud, Ma. I had a little trouble with some fellers down the road a piece, and we wrasseled around a bit. Here, let me put that rifle aside. I reckon you don’t want to put a ball into me.”
“You ain’t been hurt? What’s that blood?” She followed him to the front of the house, where he leaned the rifle against the stone wall. “Here, let me look at you.” Julia grabbed his arm, moistened the corner of her apron with her tongue, and dabbed at his face.
“Ma!” he protested. “It’s just a little cut.”
“And it needs tending to,” she insisted, then hugged him again.
Do you remember your mother ever expressing her concern with a little spit polish like Julia did with Carl?