Sunday, March 20, 2011
Sample Sunday: The Man from Shenandoah, Excerpt 5 from Chapter 1
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From Chapter 1 of The Man from Shenandoah
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Rod approached his chair and sagged into it, while Carl returned to his stool. Both men sat slumped for a time, saying nothing as the pain sat upon their shoulders. After a time, Rod threw back his head.
“Your ma’s kept the family going whilst we were gone, son, and she’s the one saw to it that we didn’t starve when we returned. I got a leave to come home in December, on account of our mounts were starving for lack of forage, and I’ll be switched if she hadn’t outsmarted that cocky Phil Sheridan. She saved most of the corn by tying the sacks on the backs of the stock, and sending Clay and Albert to the hills with the animals. She saved the crop and the herd, both. I’m mighty proud of her.”
“Ma, that was right canny thinking. I’d like to see Sheridan’s face should he find out you outfoxed him.”
Julia shook her head and continued with the meal.
“We ain’t tooting our horn about the food we got, Carl,” Rod said. “It’s mighty little for our needs, and even so, we had to send the girls into town.”
“How serious was Rulon hurt, Pa?”
“Well, he had a right smart mess of holes in him. The surgeon sent him home to die, but there ain’t no quit in Rulon. That little wife of his nursed him along real well, too. He’s mostly out of bed now, finally on the mend.” Rod rose to his feet. “Say, come out and help me milk, son. That brindle cow the Yankees stole last fall wandered up to the fence today, bawling and kicking and carrying on to be let in the gate, but she’s still half wild. There’s a calf trailing her, so she must have milk.”
Carl nodded. “Sure, Pa. I reckon a body don’t forget how to do the chores.”
As the men stepped out the back door, Carl glanced around at what was left of the yard behind the house, and took in a rasping breath. The vegetable garden was a sea of mud, while out yonder, wreckage marked where the barn had been. All that remained were the burned beams and blackened supports that had fallen onto the floor. Two mounds of gray ashes, scattered by wind and rain, showed where the hay had been stacked. The animal pens were in ruins, poles broken and strewn about. Someone had piled brush in the gaps until new poles were cut.
Carl waved an arm at the view. “Was it like this when you got home, Pa?”
“Pretty near. The boys and I ain’t had a lot of time to clean up much.”
The brindle cow tied in the pen rolled her eyes and lowed in fright at the men’s approach. Rod expelled his breath. “She always was skittish, Carl. I reckon she got away from Sheridan’s soldiers and wintered back in the oak groves. She had her calf, then got lonely for home.”
Carl stepped around behind the cow. “Mind that hoof.” Rod spoke sharply as the brindle kicked out at the young man.
Carl dodged away and snorted. “She must be a Yankee lover. Welcome home to you too, cow.” He patted her flank.
“Grab the pail and set to work, son. She wants milking.”
Just then the hungry calf tied behind the remains of the barn began to bawl. Brindle pulled her head backward, and Rod reached for the rope to snub her on a shorter line. Lacking a stool, Carl squatted on his heels and began to milk.
The cow sidestepped, nearly catching Carl’s foot. He avoided her hoof, and then she whipped her tail against his face. He turned away, saving his eyes from the coarse hair. Then she lifted her hoof and banged it hard against the pail, but Carl snatched it away in time to save the contents from spilling.
“Whoa, cow!” he yelled, as she swung her hindquarters against him. “You’re right, Pa. She’s gone wild.” He scrambled out of the way, bringing the pail with him. “I call the job done. Let that calf come over here.”
Rod grinned, went for the bawling creature, and untied the tether rope. “We’re all out of practice of milking, son,” he called. “I reckon I’d druther fight Yankees than get stepped on by a wild cow. I know James feels the same, after milking the white-face cow.”
“Is he in one piece?” Carl asked, looking sidelong at his pa.
Rod turned the calf loose, and it ran to its mother. He grinned again as it began to suckle. Then his face went somber. “He got a flesh wound at Five Forks, outside Richmond, but it’s healing clean. He can swing an ax, so I sent him up by the mountain to cut wood. Likely he’ll be home tomorrow night with a load of fence poles.”
“It’ll be good to see him.” Relief softened Carl’s voice.
How do you feel when you attend family reunions or get-togethers and have the opportunity to greet someone you love and haven't seen for a while? Does you heart swell and make your eyes leak, or do you approach the moment with more of a stoic outlook?