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Yankee Belles in Dixie
Bonnets and Bugles Series 2
By Gilbert L. Morris
Moody PublishersCopyright © 1995 Gilbert L. Morris
All rights reserved.
Leah Carter had stepped halfway over a rotten log in the woods, but at the sound of Jeff Majors's voice she froze where she was. At the same instant she heard a buzzing that made her blood seem to run cold. With her foot half over the log, she lowered her eyes to a diamond rattler thick as a man's wrist and poised to strike. Its needle-sharp fangs were white, and its rattles blurred as they sounded their dire warning.
"Don't move!" Jeff whispered again.
Leah longed to turn and run, but she knew that the striking snake would catch her in the leg if she tried that. She heard Jeff to her left and wanted to cry out to him to be careful.
She felt the sun beating down on her head as she stood rigid in position.
Suddenly Jeff sprang into her line of vision. He struck at the snake with a large stick, shouting, "Get back, Leah!"
Leah leaped backward and in her anxiety sprawled full length on her back. She scrambled to her feet and saw Jeff still thrashing at the snake with all his might. "Be careful, Jeff! Don't let him get you!"
Jeff straightened up and turned to her, his face pale, and said in a voice not quite steady, "I guess that'll take care of him!"
Now that the danger was over, Leah suddenly felt sick. Her knees were weak and trembling. When Jeff dangled the snake over the stick, she cried out, "No, I don't want to see him!" She walked unsteadily away and leaned against a tall hickory. Her shoulders began to shake, and she put her head against the rough bark trying to hold back the tears.
Jeff dropped the snake at once and came to stand beside her. "Aw, Leah," he said uncomfortably, "don't cry. It's all over now." When she did not move, he tentatively put a hand on her shoulder and turned her around. Looking down at her, he muttered, "That was pretty close, but we made it all right."
Jeff Majors had the blackest hair possible and eyes so dark he was called the Black Majors by some of the family. Tall for his age and looking older than his fourteen years, he had large hands and feet. There was a look of durability about him. He wore a pair of worn tan trousers and a faded checked shirt, both somewhat small for him.
Leah pulled herself together, swallowed hard, and looked up. "You saved my life, Jeff. He—he would have gotten me for sure!"
"Well, I'm glad you didn't step on him. They're bad business."
Leah was sobered by the experience. "I could have died," she whispered. "You never think about such things until something like this happens."
"Sure. I reckon it pays to be careful in the woods—but when you're stepping over a log you can't always see what's on the other side."
* * *
Jeff looked down at Leah, thinking how pretty she had gotten in the last year. Today she wore a pair of faded blue overalls that had once belonged to her brother, Royal, but somehow she looked nice in them. One thing they had in common was their birthday—June fifteenth—but she was one year younger than he was. He admired her green eyes and blonde hair, now falling down her back, but to cover his embarrassment he said, "Well, you would've done the same for me."
"I don't know if I could have." Leah turned, and the two walked slowly along the forest path.
When they reached an opening in the trees, they paused and looked down into the wide valley. "I sure got lonesome to see that house of yours when I was gone to the army," Jeff murmured. He studied the Carter home, then lifted his eyes further. "Can't see our place from here. I missed it too—thought of it every day."
"Someday you'll all come back," Leah said softly. "The war will be over, and we'll all be together again just like we used to be."
The Civil War had shattered the little town of Pineville, just as it had other towns all over the country. Dan and Mary Carter, Leah's parents, had stood for the Union, but Jeff's father, Nelson Majors, had been Southern born. He had taken his wife and two sons South, settling in Richmond. Jeff's mother died soon after their arrival, bringing a new child, named Esther, into the world.
Looking down, Jeff thought of how it had been when they were growing up together.
Leah asked suddenly, "Do you have to go back and be a drummer boy, Jeff? Can't you just stay here until the war is over?"
"Why, I can't do that! I've got to be with my pa and Tom."
"But—but your father's in prison in Washington. He's not in Richmond."
Jeff's lips made a thin line, and he nodded curtly. "He won't be there for always. He'll get exchanged or ... or ..." The thoughts that ran through his mind disturbed him. His father had been taken as a prisoner of war at the Battle of Bull Run, and since that time Jeff had thought of little else except how to free him. Leah seemed to see that he was troubled. "Well, in any case, we've got Esther here. We'll take good care of her."
The Carters had volunteered to take the baby since Nelson Majors was in the army and had no way to care for a child.
Abruptly she looked at him and said, "Jeff, you know what I heard one time?"
He looked down at her curiously. "You hear a lot. What is it this time?"
Leah pursed her lips and looked thoughtful. "I read somewhere that if someone saves your life, you belong to that person somehow."
Jeff grinned. "Well, I guess you belong to me then. That means I get first helpings at the table tonight—and you have to wash all my clothes while I'm here."
Leah was more serious. "You always get first helpings—but I'll never forget how you jumped in there and killed that old rattler!"
"Oh, shucks, Leah, that was nothing." Jeff shrugged. But he was pleased with the way she looked at him. "I'm glad that I was there. I wouldn't want anything to happen to you. You're my best friend, aren't you?"
She smiled instantly, her teeth looking very white against her tanned face. "Yes, we'll always be best friends."
Jeff was shy in many ways. Although he and Leah had been best friends for a long time, he somehow felt embarrassed to talk about it. "Come on, let's go see old Napoleon."
They walked quickly down the path, emerging finally at a bridge that spanned a sparkling stream. Leaning on the rail they watched the small minnows sparkle in the sunlight. Occasionally a fish would break the water, and Jeff said wistfully, "I wish I had a line here. I'd catch some of those bass."
"I don't see old Napoleon though."
"He's a pretty smart fish, and I caught him once. So I don't think he's going to be dumb enough to get caught again."
Jeff remembered. They had been at this very bridge when word came that the North and the South were at war. That had been the beginning of hard times for them both.
"That was really something when you caught old Napoleon," Leah said quietly.
Old Napoleon was a huge bass, legendary almost, that had been able to avoid being caught for years. But Jeff had snagged the huge fish on his last visit and managed to get him to shore.
"You let him go, Jeff. I never did really know why you did that."
Jeff traced his initials on the wooden rail with his forefinger and was silent for a moment. Finally he said, "I guess I just like things to stay where they are. Everything's changing so quick. When I was in the battle at Bull Run, for some crazy reason I thought about Napoleon. We don't have a home here anymore, but I thought, Well, as long as old Napoleon's there, not everything will change."
He thought again to the time he had pulled the thumping fish in, how he'd stared at him, then bent over and loosed the hook and let him go free. "Some of these days," he whispered, "when the war is over, I'll come back, and we'll catch him again, Leah."
"I don't know—I don't think I could eat old Napoleon. That would just be like eating Delilah." Delilah was the hammer-headed tomcat that dominated the Carter household.
Both of them laughed at the idea of eating Delilah, then they turned toward the house. On the way they stopped to look at several bird nests. For years they had collected wild bird eggs until together they had the best collection in the county. Leah had taken it when Jeff moved with his family.
"Look, Jeff, there's that tree where we got the wren's egg. Do you remember that day?"
Jeff stared up at the branches and thought for a moment. "And that's the day my brother Tom and your sister Sarah parked under it in the buggy." He smiled. "I sure felt bad about eavesdropping on them."
Tom Majors had been courting Sarah Carter before the war began. They were very much in love. Jeff only too well remembered perching in the tree with Leah when their buggy pulled up. Tom demanded to know why Sarah would not marry him. She had said it was because Tom may soon be fighting for the South but her brother Royal would fight for the North. "What would it be like if I married you—and you killed my brother—or he killed you?"
Thinking of this, Jeff shook his head. "Things sure have gotten mixed up, haven't they?"
Tentatively, Leah touched his arm, drawing his eyes around to her. "One day it will be all right. The war will be over, and Tom and Sarah will get married. And Esther will grow up, and you and your father will come back and live in Kentucky again."
"You really believe that, Leah?"
Jeff examined her face carefully. "I'm glad you do. Sometimes I doubt it—but I hope you always believe it, Leah."
When they got within a hundred yards of the house, Jeff suddenly halted and took her arm. "I'll be leaving here soon."
"Oh, don't go back to the war—you could get killed!" Leah pleaded, looking up at him with alarm in her eyes.
"Well, I'm not going back to the army right now."
"Where are you going then?"
Jeff pulled off his straw hat and ran his hand through his black hair. He bit his lip. "I'm going to Washington—to see my father."
"Why—you can't do that!" Leah exclaimed. "You're in the Confederate Army. You're a drummer boy—not carrying a gun—but I don't think that matters!" She shook her head so that her blonde hair swung over her back. "You can't do it, Jeff! You'll get caught, and they shoot spies!"
"I don't care—I've got to do it!"
She stood there arguing with him.
Finally, when he said, "I'm going, and that's all there is to it," and she said, "You are the most stubborn boy on the face of the earth!" Leah seemed to have a sudden thought.
"Well, you can't go alone," she announced. "You can go with me and Pa." Jeff stared at her. "What do you mean?"
"Why, now that Pa's a sutler, you know we follow the Union Army everywhere, selling them things. The army's just outside Washington, and Pa said last night we're leaving soon to take care of the soldiers."
Dan Carter had decided that it was God's will for him—even though he was not in good health—to follow the Northern army and sell supplies to the soldiers. In addition to the usual tobacco and paper and thread, he carried Bibles and tracts, which he distributed to the lonesome soldiers of the Army of the Potomac.
Jeff shook his head stubbornly. "No, that wouldn't be right. You both might get caught. Then we'd all three get shot."
"We won't get caught."
Jeff knew she was almost as stubborn as he was.
For a time she seemed to be thinking hard. Finally her eyes began to sparkle. "You can be our helper," she cried. "You don't look like a Southern spy. Just wear those old clothes you've got on, keep your mouth shut, and nobody will ever know but what you're just a helper."
They talked excitedly, and by the time they got back to the house and went to find her father, Leah had already thought of a plan. She explained it carefully to her father.
Daniel Carter was a thin man with a rather sickly look and faded blue eyes. He listened, his eyes on the two of them, his mouth firm under a scraggly mustache. He had been badly wounded in the Mexican War and could not join the army now, but he wanted to serve his country. When Leah was finished, he nodded slowly. "Well, I think that may be the thing to do." He cut off Jeff's protest by saying, "You don't know this young lady like I do, Jeff. When she gets her mind set on something, she's as stubborn as a blue-nosed mule!"
"Pa, don't say that!" Leah exclaimed. "I'm not a bit like a mule!"
"Well, you're a lot prettier than one." Her father smiled. "But I still say you're just about as stubborn." Then he turned back to Jeff. "We'd better do it that way, Jeff. I know you're worried about your pa. You can go with us, and we'll see if the Lord will help us get to see him."
Jeff swallowed hard. The kindness of this family was more than he ever bargained for. When they had agreed to take his newborn sister, Esther, for as long as necessary, he'd thought they were the finest people in the world. Now he knew so!
"Thanks, Mr. Carter. Me and Pa and Tom, we won't ever forget you for this!"CHAPTER 2
A Matter for Prayer
Mama, I think Esther's the prettiest baby in the whole world!" Leah was holding Jeff's baby sister, making dimples in her rosy cheeks, and stroking her fine blonde hair.
Mrs. Carter stopped folding blankets and smiled over at her daughter. "You love all babies. You never saw an ugly one in your whole life."
"An ugly baby?" Leah was shocked. "Why, Ma, there's not any such thing!" She swung the child around in her arms and stuck her finger in the creases of her fat neck. "You're just the prettiest one, now aren't you?" she cooed.
Her sister, Sarah, sitting across the room churning, didn't break her stroke as she smiled at the pair. "I wish you did all your other work around here as well as you take care of Esther."
Sarah was a beautiful girl with dark hair and blue eyes. She had an oval face and a beautiful creamy complexion. However, she had not been as lively since the war started—especially since Tom Majors had left to join the Army of Northern Virginia.
But now she seemed to shake off the sadness that had come to be almost habitual and found a smile. "I thought you and Jeff were going to go trot lining."
"We are. I'm supposed to meet him down at the river." Leah put the baby into the cradle her father had made and ran her hands once more over the silky hair. "I'll be back, but you'll be asleep. I'll see you in the morning, Esther."
Leah's younger sister, Morena, was standing beside the cradle. She was eight years old with dark hair and powder blue eyes. She was pretty, but her mind had never developed.
"You take care of baby Esther, Morena," Leah said, hugging the younger girl. "I'll bring you a fish when I come back—all right?" She got no answer. She never did. However she did get a smile from Morena.
"Don't you fall in the river and drown," her mother said sternly.
* * *
Mrs. Carter folded the last blanket as Leah ran out of the room. Then she said to Sarah, "She's enjoyed Jeff's visit so much. They've always been such great friends."
Sarah continued to churn. "I hate to see him go back. Leah will miss him, almost as much as I—"
Mrs. Carter looked up quickly. "As you miss Tom?"
"Yes. I sometimes don't think I can stand it, Mother! He can be killed any day." She sighed and made a few strokes with the churn handle. Then she asked, "Do you think this war will ever be over?"
"All wars are over, sooner or later—and the good Lord will take care of Tom—and Royal too. We'll just have to keep praying."
* * *
Leah ran up to her room and put on her faded overalls. They were ragged and patched, but they were comfortable. It would be cold on the river, so she grabbed a blue woolen sweater. Stopping suddenly before the small mirror on the wall, she looked at herself, then shook her head. "You giant you, why can't you be small like other girls?"
Leah saw herself as a giantess, and her mother had a time with her when she began stooping. "Leah, be as tall as God made you!" she'd said.
Remembering her mother's words, Leah straightened her shoulders involuntarily. She picked up an old black felt hat that had belonged to Royal, then dashed out the door.
The sun was far down in the west, throwing its red beams over the valley as she ran along the road. Already she could hear the night birds calling softly.
When she reached the river she saw a flickering fire and Jeff Majors sitting beside it, feeding sticks into the blaze.
"I've been waiting for you. We've got to get that line out before it gets dark."
"What've you got in your sack? Something to eat, I hope!"
"I knew you'd be hungry—you always are. Anyway, Royal's coming later," Leah said. "Right after dark. He's going to be our chaperone."
"Chaperone! What's that?" Jeff demanded.
"Oh, kind of a babysitter for boys and girls like us."
"Well—" Jeff shrugged "—maybe he'll be some help running the lines. Come on, let's go get the trot line out."
They clambered into the twelve-foot-long john boat. Built out of cypress, it would float even if full of water.
Jeff shoved off with a paddle. "I know a good place," he said. "We're going to catch more fish tonight than you've ever seen, Leah!"
Excerpted from Yankee Belles in Dixie by Gilbert L. Morris. Copyright © 1995 Gilbert L. Morris. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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