Wondering what Christmas would be like during a war, Mary tried to be cheerful for the sake of her younger sisters, but the absence of her husband and the unsteady gait caused by her increased weight pulled her spirits downward. Although no word had been published of conflicts with the Federal army, the men defending Virginia and the Confederacy had not come home during the cold weather, as her father had said they would. This was a grave disappointment, but with the excitement of a new baby in the house, Mary was putting the best face possible on her outlook for the holidays.
Papa brought the mail home at noontime, and there was a letter for her! She snatched it away from his hand, and opened it in the kitchen with the aid of a sharp knife.
"My belov'd wife," Rulon had written. Mary could have burst into tears at the swell of emotion this brought forth, but if she did, she would wash out the ink, so she restrained herself and commenced to read of her husband's desire that she name the child for his father.
"Mama wants her dinner right away," Ida said as she entered the kitchen. She paused to look at Mary's rapt attention to her mail, and said in a nasty tone, "Stop lally-gagging around with that moon face and dish it up. I'm giving you fair warning. Don't you dare be as demanding as Mama when you drop that brat."
It was all Mary could do to keep from slapping Ida's insolent face, but she gathered her wits without a retort and folded the letter to tuck it into her apron pocket, out of sight. When would this war be over so she and Rulon could get their own place?
When dinner was finished, Papa had returned to the store, Mama was placated, and the dishes were washed and put away, Mary retired to her room to read the rest of Rulon's letter. She put her hand into her pocket as she sat, but her fingers did not find the precious envelope. She stood, digging deeper into the material, but her letter was not in evidence.
Horror rising in her throat, Mary clung to the bannister as she made her way as quickly as she could back down the stairs and into the kitchen. Where had she been standing? There, beside the food safe. But she could see nothing on the floor. Of course. Sylvia had swept. She went to the dust bin. Nothing. Had the letter been kicked underneath the food safe or a cabinet? How was she to find it if it had? As big and ungainly as she was now with her belly full of child, she would never be able to get down on her hands and knees to look. Even if she did get down on the floor, she would never be able to get up again.
Sobbing now, Mary tried to get the broom underneath the most likely hiding spots, but she could coax nothing from beneath them. Again and again she tried to maneuver the broom straws to her advantage, but it was not to be. Wherever the letter had gotten to, it was as good as lost.
What have you lost that was precious to you? Where did you look for it? Did you ever find it?
I hope you enjoyed this short bit from Gone for a Soldier, my forthcoming novel set during the American Civil War. Thank you for visiting. I love to read your comments, so if anything in the sample compels you to speak up, rest assured that I eventually read what you write and will reply, if needed. Questions? I'm open to them, too.
Please come back next Saturday for another sample. Thank you!
Marsha Ward is the award-winning author of the acclaimed novel series featuring the Owen family. Her latest book, Spinster's Folly, won the 2013 USA Best Book Award for Western Fiction. A former journalist, Ward has published over 900 articles, columns, poems and short stories. She is the founder of American Night Writers Association aka ANWA.