“Look here,” Rod threatened, stepping forward.
Carl turned to meet him. “Have I changed so much, Pa?” He grinned under his smeared camouflage.
“Rod, it’s Carl. He’s home at last.” Julia wiped the mud from her face with the apron.
Without a word, Rod enveloped his son in his arms. After a long embrace, he held him off to look at him, and shook his head. “By gum, you sure get your growth dashing around with Mosby. We thought you were dead, boy, not hearing from you, nor seeing you home yet.”
“I took the long road home, Pa. The Colonel disbanded the Rangers about three weeks into April, but me and some thirty others wouldn’t leave him, so he took us south to join up with General Johnston in the Carolinas. The General gave up before we got there, so Mosby cut us loose and made us go in to get paroled.” He paused a moment, scratching his nose. “They won’t give him a parole, Pa. There’s a price on his head!”
“I reckon there’s mighty little justice around now, son. Your colonel won’t get fair treatment since Booth shot the President. There’s rumors Mosby had a hand in it.”
“Somebody shot Jeff Davis?”
“The other president, Abe Lincoln.”
“Is he dead?”
Rod set his jaw, turned his back on his son, and walked toward Carl’s horse, his hand worrying the mud at the front of his shirt and pants. He picked up the horse’s trailing reins and approached his son. “Yes, and it brings hard times upon us. There’s no mercy in the boys running the country now.”
“Mosby had no part in it. I rode with him day and night for over two years. He done no such a thing.”
“He didn’t. That’s all.” Carl’s stomach growled aloud, and he looked at his mother. “Is there anything to eat? It sure don’t look like Phil Sheridan left much. We heard about his orders to burn out the Valley, Pa, but we laughed. Not one of us believed he could do it with you and Jeb Early’s troops on home ground.”
“They sent in two and three times our number, son. All we could do was pester them around the edges some.”
“Well, I’m home now, and this ground will grow food—if we can get seed.” Carl looked about the yard. Albert stood in the shadow at the corner of the house.
“Who’s that young’un? I don’t recollect leaving anybody that big at home when I left.”
“It’s me, Albert. I growed a mite.”
“Can’t be. You were just a little bitty sprout.”
Albert came out of the shadow and stood where Carl could see him. “I ain’t a sprout now." His voice was a touch heated. "I’ll be fourteen nigh on to Christmas time.”
“You aged a right smart bit, Albert. Been doing most all the chores, I reckon.”
“You left ‘em to do.”
Carl nodded. “I figured you three boys could handle the farm. When Peter died, I felt obliged to take his place in the fight.”
“I reckon.” Albert looked at the ground and kicked the mud.
“I didn’t know James would go, too.”
“They drafted him.”
Julia moved forward and pulled on Carl’s arm. “Come in and set, boy. Doubtless you’re weary, riding all day. I’ll finish the pone we’re having for supper while you tell your pa what shape the Valley’s in down south of here. He’s been asking after news of the state of things since he got home.”
“Now Julie, the boy’s just got here. I can quiz him later while he eats.” Rod turned to his youngest son. “Albert, take your brother’s horse out back and put him in the pen behind the barn. See if you can find some grain. That animal’s come far with your brother.”
“Yes, Pa.” Albert took the reins and led Sherando around the corner of the house.