Widow of Gettysburg
Heroines Behind the Lines Civil War Book 2
By Jocelyn Green, Pam Pugh
Moody Publishers Copyright © 2013 Jocelyn Green
All rights reserved.
The Holloway Farm, Adams County, Pennsylvania Friday, June 26, 1863
Shhhh. Someone's coming." Liberty Holloway cocked her head toward the window as the muffled rhythm of hoofbeats rose above of the drumming rain. "Rebels?" The word sat, bitter, on her tongue as her fists sank deeper into the bread dough she'd been kneading. They had taken enough from her already, long before a single Confederate soldier had set foot in the North. Were they now here to raid her property as well?
"Traveler, looks like." Bella Jamison wiped her hands on her flour-dusted apron and peered between the curtains without parting them. "Wet and hungry, I'll wager. You know Black Horse Tavern and Inn down the road are full up right now, and you just hung that sign out by the road last week."
Libbie exhaled, her pulse matching her fear. Though she was a grown woman of nineteen years, she had yet to tame her runaway imagination. But perhaps her hired help was right, and a traveler would be welcome, provided he could pay in greenbacks.
"Then again, we just can't know for sure." Bella backed away from the window, her coffee-with-cream complexion darkening in the shadows. "Rebels don't always have proper uniforms, you know. I only see one on the road, but there could be more coming."
Serves me right for not heeding Governor Curtin's proclamation. Libbie pulled her hands from the sticky dough and went to the window herself. "If he doesn't break into a gallop, we'll have just enough time."
Before the words had left her mouth, Bella had already moved the worktable away from the bricked-in fireplace and slid out several loose bricks. The cast-iron stove and oven served for their baking and cooking, but the summer kitchen's walk-in fireplace still had its purpose. Together, they hurriedly filled the space to keep their stores out of sight: jars of molasses, peach and strawberry preserves, applesauce, tomatoes, and sacks of potatoes, onions, flour, and oats.
Drip. Drip. Drip. The leak in the corner marked time like a metronome as water dropped into a tin pie plate on the floor. Soon, all that was left was the freshly baked rye bread cooling on the sideboard, the abandoned lump of dough, and bunches of parsley and oregano hanging from the rafters to dry.
After replacing the bricks and the table in front of it, Liberty stole another glance out the window. "We can still hide the horses. Make haste." Resolve pierced through her anxiety as she hung her apron on a wooden peg and stepped out into the rain with Bella close on her heels.
Hurrying into the barn, Libbie swished her skirts to scatter the clucking chickens in their path. The horses, Daisy and Romeo, twitched their tails as the women bridled them, then led them past the summer kitchen and into the great hall of the two-story stone farmhouse.
"We'll be fine here." Bella stroked Romeo's withers to calm him. "Remember, you are the lady of this house. Stand your ground."
"If it's a Rebel—"
"I can take care of myself. Go."
The hoofbeats grew louder outside. Liberty patted the thick, black braid that circled her head and hurried over to Major, the 140-pound Newfoundland sprawled on the rug inside the front door.
"Wake up, boy. Time to look menacing" she said as she buried her hand in the scruff of his massive neck. Not that he could hear anything. "Come on, Major." She hooked a finger under his collar and tugged. Groaning, he lumbered to his feet, yawned, and turned his head slightly to wink at her with his one good eye.
"Come, he's almost here," she whispered, and immediately regretted her choice of words. I could swear that dog can read lips! Major perked up and jumped at the door. "No, Major, not Levi." She shook her head. "No Levi."
Liberty led Major out onto the porch and pointed to the splitting wooden floorboards beside her. "Sit." He obeyed. Wild roses the color of lemonade hugged the porch from all sides, lifting their faces to catch their drink. Their heady fragrance infused the air as a man on a gaunt horse rode up the lane to Libbie's dooryard in no particular hurry, as if it weren't raining at all, as if the shelter of a covered porch didn't stand right in front of him. Feeling a pull on her skirt, she glanced down to find Major sitting sideways on one of his haunches, leaning against her leg. So much for my canine protector.
The stranger drew rein and dismounted his horse with graceful ease. A rain-soaked denim shirt and brown woolen trousers revealed a lean, muscular body, the kind that was used to work. A farmer perhaps? Carpenter? Or a soldier.
"You don't look like a Rebel." The words escaped her without thought.
So did Major. Before she could stop him, he ambled down the steps to the dooryard and slammed right into the man, stumbled back a little, then nuzzled his big furry black head under the man's hand. Liberty sighed. Major's sense of balance was lacking since he'd lost his eye.
The man bent to scratch Major behind the ears and on the white patch on his chest. "I take that as a compliment, ma'am." His accent was Northern, a blessed relief. Straightening again, he doffed his felt hat and bowed slightly before appraising her with moss green eyes. Rain darkened his hair to the color of polished oak and coursed down his stubbled cheeks. He took a step forward. "Miss Liberty?"
"How did you—"
"The sign by the road. Liberty Inn." He rubbed his horse's nose before glancing up at her again. "I'm guessing you might be Miss Liberty?"
Liberty spun the thin gold band around her finger. "Yes." She hoped he would not also guess how very new this venture was. She had three rooms ready for guests on the first floor of the farmhouse, each complete with quilts stitched by her own hand, but not one had yet been used.
"You've lost someone." His voice was quiet, tentative, but for all the world, Liberty could not think why. Two years into the war, women in mourning were a common sight. She crossed her arms across the pleated waist of her faded black dress and wished she had at least worn her hoops under her skirt this morning. She never did while doing chores, they got in the way so much. But now, the way he looked at her, she felt practically naked without them. "You'll forgive me if I ask you to kindly state your business, sir." She caught Major's eye and stabbed her finger at the porch floor again until the dog returned to her side.
He cleared his throat and offered a smile. "I'm a long way from home, and I sure could use a little hospitality."
"Do you mean to say that you need a room?"
"I have neither time nor money for a room, but my bread basket's been empty for quite a spell." He laid a hand on his stomach. "Could you spare anything for me to eat?"
She sighed. Times were tight at Holloway Farm, but she'd never been very good at saying no, to anyone. "Your mount looks as though he could eat something too." She led them both to the barn where the horse could eat hay and oats, then took the stranger into the summer kitchen. Twenty feet behind the house, this was the small outbuilding where she did most cooking, baking, preserving, and laundry during the hottest season of the year. It would serve to feed a stranger without allowing him into the house.
"Sit there." She pointed to the rough-hewn table butting up against the old fireplace and crossed the room to slice a loaf cooling on the sideboard. Major spread himself out to dry on the floor in front of the warm stove, the smells of wet dog and fresh bread thickening the air.
When Libbie turned back to the table, she found the man still standing. He shrugged, his hat still in his hands. "I never sit when a lady still stands. Won't you join me? Or do you mean to make me stand while I eat alone, like a common beggar?" His smile dissolved any argument on the tip of her tongue, and she allowed him to seat her at the worktable, her face flooding with warmth that did not come from the oven. Even Levi's manners had not gone this far. But to be fair, Libbie had not expected it. Aunt Helen had raised her to believe that manners were not meant to be wasted on the likes of her. Liberty swallowed. She should not think anything uncharitable of the dead. Either of them.
The man's stomach growled as she set the loaf of rye on the table, yet he made no move for it. "Are you waiting for me to serve you?" The question sounded more prickly than she intended.
"Ladies first." He nodded at the bread. "You baked it. You should be the first to enjoy it."
"Well, you certainly don't act like a beggar," Libbie admitted as she helped herself to a steaming piece.
"Wouldn't Mama be proud." He laughed, but a shadow passed over his face. He took a slice for himself then, but before taking a bite, bowed his head for a moment.
Then he ate. And ate—until the loaf was gone.
Finally, when the last crumb had disappeared, he leaned back in his chair and raked a hand through his hair. "I haven't been full in a very long time. Thank you, ma'am."
She nodded and stood, and so did he.
"It doesn't suit me to take something for nothing, though." He flicked a glance at the water dimpling in the pie plate. "I can fix that for you."
"You needn't trouble yourself."
"Your husband certainly didn't." He dropped his gaze to the ring she twisted on her finger. "Perhaps he is away."
"Quite. He's dead." Libbie bit her tongue in punishment for its bluntness.
His eyes softened. "I do beg your pardon. I meant no disrespect."
"I can get along just fine by myself." Liberty dropped her voice. "This is my property, and—"
Libbie blinked. Most likely, he thought her too young to own property. "Yes, mine. So I should manage it myself. It wouldn't do to let you spoil me."
One eyebrow hitched up as he looked down at her. "Every woman deserves to be taken care of every now and then, no matter how capable you are." An easy smile curved his lips. "I'd consider it a pleasure to help."
"That isn't necessary." To be alone with a man, even for this long—it was almost indecent. Liberty hoped the warmth she felt in her face did not color her cheeks.
"Necessary? Neither was your sharing your bread with me. But courtesy, kindness, and good manners are all necessary now more than ever."
"Thank you kindly, but I'm sure you have some place to be. Godspeed on your journey." She waited for him to take his leave. But, rolling the brim of his hat in his hands, he remained planted in the doorway. Rain fell on the ground behind him, speckling his trousers with tiny flecks of mud.
"I am sorry for your loss, truly." His eyes probed her face, and she wondered if she looked sorry for her loss, too. Or just guilty. "How long's it been? Since your husband died."
She swallowed. "Since the Battle of Bull Run. The first."
"Almost two years. You should be out of mourning soon."
Liberty stiffened. "If I so choose. Some widows wear black for the rest of their lives." Will I forever be told what to do?
"And bury yourself with the dead? I can't imagine that kind of life for you."
Liberty stared at him. "I can't imagine why in heaven's name you—a perfect stranger—feel compelled to even comment on such a private matter! It's not your place to judge." She turned her back and pummeled the bread dough she'd left on the sideboard earlier that morning.
"There's enough death in this war as it is, ma'am." His tone was tender, not spiteful. As hers had been. "Just when do you plan to come on back to the land of the living? There's so much more to life than death, you know. Sure would hate for you to miss out on it."
An unwelcome tingle ran down her spine. "It's not your concern." She pounded the dough again.
"Just remember what I said. There is more to life than death. Whatever happens. There is more."
"You speak in riddles."
"You'll see soon enough." He stepped outside, and Liberty followed, her doughy fingers gumming together in the rain. "If I were you, I'd go visit kinfolk somewhere else. And don't come back for a few weeks." As if she had family to visit. As if she had anyone at all, aside from her hired hands and her horse.
Her mouth went dry. "What do you know?"
"There's trouble brewing."
"We've been hearing that for months." But her pulse quickened at the intensity of his gaze. "You're crying wolf along with the rest of them."
He looked down at her for a moment, as if testing his reply in his mind before speaking. "Don't you remember? In the end, the wolf actually came."
"It will take more than a wolf to scare me off my farm."
The mysterious stranger shook his head and sighed. "Good day to you. Be well." He held her in his gaze for a heartbeat before tipping his hat and fading back into the rain.
Liberty's heart thundered as she entered the farmhouse, still dripping with rain. It could have been worse. She told herself. It could have been a raiding party.
But it wasn't. It was just a man passing through. Now if only his words weren't still echoing in her mind.
As she passed her bedroom on the way to the great hall, she caught a glimpse of herself in the looking glass on her bureau, and paused to weave an errant curl back into her braid.
She walked closer to the mirror. At a mere five feet two inches short, if it wasn't for the gentle curve of her waist and the way her corset filled out her bodice, she could pass for a tall child. She ventured a smile, and dimples popped into her cheeks. No one would guess she was old enough to be married, let alone widowed. But her sapphire blue eyes were shadowed by the valley of death the war had carved into her life.
When do you plan to come on back to the land of the living?
The question was, when would her conscience allow it?
She picked up a framed daguerreotype of Levi in his new uniform and studied it. She was sure he had been told not to smile while they captured his image, but he couldn't help it. He was so happy to fight for the Union, even though it meant taking a break from his studies at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg to do it. I want to fight while I have the chance, he had told her. The war will be over before you know it, Libbie, and I have to do my part. They married first, right after she had come out of mourning for Aunt Helen. It had seemed like perfect timing, and a dream come true for the orphan girl. A family of her own. A new beginning.
But I barely knew him. She was seventeen when they married, a mere child. They knew nothing, absolutely nothing. They believed he would be fine, would come back and finish his schooling and take over the Holloway Farm, and they'd have the rest of their lives to discover exactly what it was they loved about each other. The thought of his possible death was only fleeting. The idea that he may be wounded—wounded beyond recognition and yet still alive—never occurred to either one of them. Her mind reeled back to the day she learned the news.
She had not responded well.
Struggling to bridle her memories so they would not run away with her again, Libbie sat on the edge of her bed and absentmindedly traced with her finger the pattern of the colorful patchwork quilt that covered it. Her first. She smiled wistfully as the last two years flashed through her mind. When other girls her age were having fun together and being courted by their beaus, Liberty Holloway was home, forced into the social isolation of widowhood, learning to quilt and preserve the harvest she grew with her hired hand.
Not that it was that different from before ... As an orphan living with a spinster in a community of large families, Libbie had always been an oddity, a curiosity, but never really a friend. Levi's death had merely changed the reason for her solitude. She went from being Libbie the Orphan to Libbie the Widowed Bride.
But that was two years ago. There's so much more to life than death. Levi would have agreed. He had told her, in his one passing moment of gravity, that if he died, he would be happy knowing he had died in the service of his country. That he wanted her to find a way to be happy, too.
Maybe it was time, at long last, to try.
Kneeling on the rag rug at the end of her bed, Libbie pried up a loose floorboard, dug out the key she placed there nearly two years ago, and unlocked the cedar chest in front of her. The smell of a sunbaked forest greeted her as she lifted the lid, and she inhaled deeply. Slowly at first, and then like a child on Christmas morning, she lifted out dress after dress that she hadn't seen since those first bewildering months of the war. They were simple, practical, made by her own hand. But they weren't black, and some of them were even pretty.
Liberty's eyes misted over, and suddenly, she couldn't get her black crepe off fast enough. After unfastening the fabric-covered buttons she could reach, she cast her mourning into a rusty black puddle on the floor and stepped into the blue muslin, perfect for a summer day.
Excerpted from Widow of Gettysburg by Jocelyn Green. Copyright © 2013 by Jocelyn Green. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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