So, avid GtA readers, this month we have four quality authors offering themselves up as your sacrificial... errh, for your reviewing pleasure. The topic of the month is A RETREAT. And of this our authors have concocted a varied menu ranging from drama to hilarity.
From this round on, since there have been no opinions voiced to the contrary, I'll be picking the piece to send on to the AARlander based on which one I think has recieved the most interesting critique. You're still encouraged to pick a favourite.
Deadline for critique is June 29th!
Gentlemen, I give you
Martha Morgan bent in the late day sunlight, precious few golden rays left but enough to cause her to squint. Picking at the weeds from her garden, she looked up into the sky and held her hand to block the glare. She felt the ground shake beneath her. It was only slight, but enough to give her an alert in her system – one she’d grown accustomed to as the months and years counted towards a possible end to this war.
It was the sound of someone approaching…or perhaps more.
Instinct instantly took possession of her body and she ran to the house, her arms flailing from her side as if trying to signal someone watching. Catching herself at the broken wooden door of her home, she brought her eyes to the needed work. Her need for husband and son weighed heavily upon her but not the door. She threw it aside and called out into the front room “Come quick!”
In front of her sitting in a well worn rocking chair, her father-in-law looked up over his glasses, “You look to seen a ghost!”
She rushed past him and yelled out into the loft that made up a small but useful second floor, “Come on down girls. Now!”
The old man next to her reached out a hand and grasped hers, “Calm now, Martha…what’s got you in such a hurry?”
“Someone’s coming, Hugh. We best get ready.” Martha moved to the sideboard that ran the length of the main room and pulled open the top drawer. In it was a pistol left behind by her husband. She knew how to use it. But she’d never even considered having the need. Not until recently. The sound of guns in the distance gave her some suggestion that it might be a possibility, but even then she had the good cheer to hope for a victory for “our boys”…her boys.
“Who is it?” Hugh asked calmly, as if it was a neighbor perhaps calling on them.
She turned to him and tried to smile, blowing a stray hair from her dirty face. He was old, she knew. And at times even feeble. But he had to be aware of their danger…and yet he never was. Brushing the sweat from her brow with the back of her hand, she allowed a small silent sigh and went to him.
“Poppa…sit back down. I’m sure it’s nothing. But we never know…you’ve heard the guns.”
“Guns? I ain’t heard a thing. Are they firing on us? Get the shotgun!”
“No such thing, poppa…just sit.” She regretted the extra force she offered to help him to his seat, but she had little time. Her daughters, Emily and Katherine, stepped down from the last step just as she looked up to see where they were. Both had eyes wide and a telling look on their face. They’d been here before as well. Katherine, much younger than her sister, allowed that she was afraid. Emily was older and her calm steeled her mother.
“There you are,” she nearly whispered as she went to them and gathered her children in her bosom. “Do not get too far from me. I do not know who this is.”
A knock on the door startled them all. She had not heard the sound of a horse outside in her worry. She caught her eyes spying the gun once again but moving slowly to the sideboard, she pushed the drawer closed in silence. Martha turned to straighten her apron as she looked upon her family once more and then moved to open the door. She was greeted by two soldiers, one tall and lanky, dark red blood staining his grey uniform and coming from an even larger man heaved upon his shoulders. The weight must have been unbearable as both collapsed at her feet. Without a thought, she bent over towards the men and tried to see if they were wounded.
“You won’t find a scratch upon me, miss…” the lanky one spoke out, “…but Alley here…he took it pretty awful.”
She looked down at the large man holding his belly before her and saw the pain he felt in his eyes. “This way,” she beckoned to the lanky man and tried the best she could to help him move Alley inside.
Hugh stood at the commotion in front of him and hollered out as if trying to make sure he heard himself, “The man’s bleedin’ all over the daggum floor!”
“Yes, poppa…he’s hurt. Step aside, if you please.” Martha paid him no mind and joined Emily already getting water and bandages prepared.
“Ain’t got time for that, miss.” The lanky soldier stood straight as he called across the room. “Them soldiers’ll be headed this way any time now. They combin’ the forest for what’s left of us. Spect they’ll be here soon enough.”
“But…they wouldn’t hurt us,” Martha tried to reason with herself as much as the soldier.
The lanky man held his head low as if thinking on some personal tragedy, “It’s Sherman, ma’am…he’s taking everything in his path and that what he don’t need, he burns.”
The look of horror on her face was not of what would become of her or even her girls, though that was reason enough to worry. It spoke of something more, very deeply calling to her that her husband and son were no longer safe. If it was true and the war was this close…and this horrible… then surely they must be dead. They would never allow…
She stopped herself and spied clearly the young man before her. He was young indeed. And alive. As were many, her son perhaps included. So was she, for that matter, and her nerve caught up with her mind. She quickly untied the apron around her waist, carelessly allowing her picked tomatoes to fall freely on the floor and moved with speed to the sideboard. Martha turned her gaze to Emily and Katherine, “Gather all you want to take with you…now!”
“What in hell are you aimin’ to do, missy?” Hugh suddenly asked, standing as tall as his elder frame would give him.
Martha allowed her frown to lessen as she walked to her father-in-law, pistol now in hand. She gently placed it on the table in front of his chair and drew her hands up to place them on his cheeks.
“Poppa…” she calmly answered as she led him to once again sit. “The Union has broken through and is on the doorstep. We must move or they will overrun us. Who knows what misfortune should befall us if they do? We must fly…as Preston told us…your son?” she presented the question to remind him.
“Pres?” he asked at first…“My boy,” he answered himself almost instantly. “Is he alright?”
Martha brushed his cheek again, “I don’t know, poppa.”
The old man looked at her for a few seconds, questioning…but not. He turned to look on the girls, his grandchildren…
“Go Martha…I’ll protect the farm.” He said as he moved to pick up the gun and sat firmly in the chair facing the door.
“You must come with us, poppa…we can return…”
“If anything’s left!” he answered without a second thought. “Nope. Better to stay. I’ve lived on this land for as long as I have memory and I’ll be damned to give it up to Billy Yank.”
He sat there like a statue, waiting and perhaps even hoping. Martha could not budge him from his home. But she and the girls had to go. When she looked up to the lanky confederate soldier, his look was much the same. A slight nod of her head towards his fallen comrade caused him to shake his head no. Alley would not be joining them. If Hugh was a statue, Alley was an effigy.
“Name’s Jessup…Tom. We need to go,” said the lanky soldier.
There were no further words required. Martha gathered Emily and Katherine to her after packing some small parcel and the three joined Tom Jessup at the door. She turned back to look at her father-in-law and she swore he had a smile on his face. A smile that said he’d done his part. Had his son…and grandson? The door was closed and the small party moved towards the barn where they would mount on fresh horses and ride. To Atlanta? No, it had fallen two weeks ago. To Savannah? Likely not since the Union was moving swiftly to tear it down too. Martha Morgan had little other family. Only her daughters, Hugh, her son fighting in Lee’s army and her husband…a spy. But go somewhere she would. She had to flee, just as Prescott told her. A reach to her side to feel to the important papers she’d packed reminded her of his words. And the time was now before she, her daughters or her husband’s papers fell into Union hands.
“Soldier,” she called out as the four moved from the barn on horseback, Emily and Katherine sharing a mount.
He turned his ride to face her, “Ma’am?”
“Do you know of your commander’s headquarters?”
“No ma’am…not yet. But I spect we could find them soon enough. He’d regroup, certainly.”
“Then take us there…quickly. For I have something he may require.”
Tom Jessup looked confused, but his haste caused him not to question. Just ride.
And he did as he led them away from their imminent danger and to the safety of his army. The Union would soon be upon this house and the man inside. Bravery or foolishness, Hugh Morgan would protect his farm to the very last. But Martha and her girls…and her secret…would be away. To safety, to freedom…and maybe someday to return.