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By Courtney E. Taylor
What had been a morning filled with the sweet, lemony smell of magnolias turned into an evening of dust and smoke. Every road was filled with soldiers, nearly every home too.
Already it had been a hard year. Only sixteen, young Master Cummins had gone off to join the Confederate States Army, following in the footsteps of his father who had been victim to the first conscription two years earlier. The missus had wept as she praised their courage and demanded that they win the war and be home by Christmas.
They were nowhere near December, but the end of the war didn’t feel close either. They had heard that Mister Sherman and his horrible army were marching across the state, that they would destroy every town they passed. Yet the citizens had little choice but to continue with life as normal.
The missus, her children, and most of the slaves had left barely a day earlier on the last train out of town to hide with a cousin in South Carolina. Those very tracks were now twisted beyond use. Ruthie wondered how they’d ever come home.
She had been left alone to protect the property. The army had poured into town midafternoon. Ruthie had screamed as the men burst through the front door, but they didn’t lay a hand on her. They were only three, yet they searched the house with the vigor of twenty. Not a drawer went unopened, not a pillow still filled. The missus had taken the gold, but what jewels she had hidden were gone. The kitchen and cellar had been ransacked. The garden had been overrun too, only a few rotting vegetables left to keep Ruthie’s hunger at bay.
Ruthie knew not if the family would return. If they had sent a telegram to their soldiers, the men might ride north after the war. Ruthie wondered what would become of her.
That didn’t matter. The house must be ready in case they came home.
She had cried through the night but spent the next day restoring the main room. Much of the furniture had been damaged. The rocker had been destroyed, the table was broken, and all but one of the chairs were in pieces. She had swept, dusted, and scrubbed, attempting to return the space to its former glory. She had dragged the wooden remains out to the slave quarters in case Mister Kitch could fix them in his workshop.
She needed to tackle the bedrooms while evening light still poured through the windows. After dark, she would build a fire and start on the kitchen, lest they arrive hungry. Miss Abigail wouldn’t tolerate a dirty workspace for preparing the missus’ meal.
Ruthie sighed, straightened the bow in her black, tightly-curled hair, and reached for the broom.
When would they come home?
Please visit Courtney’s Facebook author page and give her a like! https://www.facebook.com/byCourtneyETaylor