Lily sat on the porch, the days plowing done and her year-old child asleep in his crib. In her hands, the long steel needles clicked together and spread apart in a rhythmic sparring as yarn slowly unspooled from the deep pocket of her gingham dress, became part of the coverlet draped over her knees. Except for the occasional glance down the valley, Lily kept her eyes closed. She inhaled the aroma of freshturned earth and dogwood blossoms. She listened to the bees humming around their box. Like the fluttering shed begun to feel in her stomach, all bespoke the return of life after a hard winter. Lily thought again of the Washington newspaper Ethan had brought with him when hed come back from Tennessee on his Christmas furlough, how it said the war would be over by summer. Ethan had thought even sooner, claiming soon as the roads were passable Grant would take Richmond and it
would be done. Good as over now, hed told her, but Ethan had still slept in the root cellar every night of the furlough and stayed inside during the day, his haversack and rifle by the back door, because Confederates came up the valley from Boone looking for Lincolnites like Ethan.
She felt the afternoon light on her face, soothing as the hum of the bees. It was good to finally be sitting, only her hands working, the child shed set in the shade as shed plowed now nursed and asleep. After a few more minutes, Lily allowed her hands to rest as well, laying the foot-long needles lengthways on her lap. Reason enough to be tired, she figured, a day breaking ground with a bull-tongue plow and draft horse. Soon enough the young one would wake and shed have to suckle him again, then fix herself something to eat as well. After that shed need to feed the chickens and hide the horse in the woods above the spring. Lily felt the flutter again deep in her belly and knew it was another reason for her tiredness. She laid a hand on her stomach and felt the slight curve. She counted the months since Ethans furlough and figured shed be rounding the homespun of her dress in another month.
Lily looked down the valley to where the old Boone toll road followed Middlefork Creek. Her eyes closed once more as she mulled over names for the coming child, thinking about how her own birthday was also in September and that by then Ethan would be home for good and theyd be a family again, the both of them young enough not to be broken by the hardships of the last two years. Lily made a picture in her mind of her and Ethan and the young ones all together, the crops shed planted ripe and proud in the field, the apple trees branches sagging with fruit.
When she opened her eyes, the Confederate was in the yard. He must have figured shed be watching the road because hed come down Goshen Mountain instead, emerging from a thick stand of birch trees hed followed down the creek. It was too late to hide the horse and gather the chickens into the root cellar, too late to go get the butcher knife and conceal it in her dress pocket, so Lily just watched him approach, a musket in his right hand and a tote sack in the left. He wore a threadbare butternut jacket and a cap. A strip of cowhide held up a pair of ragged wool trousers. Only the boots looked new. Lily knew the man those boots had belonged to, and she knew the hickory tree where theyd left the rest of him dangling, not only a rope around his neck but also a cedar shingle with the word Lincolnite burned into the wood.
The Confederate grinned as he stepped into the yard. He raised a finger and thumb to the cap, but his eyes were on the chickens scratching for worms behind the barn, the draft horse in the pasture. He looked to be about forty, though in these times people often looked older than they were, even children. The Confederate wore his cap brim tilted high, his face tanned to the hue of cured tobacco. Not the way a farmer would wear a hat or cap. The gaunt face and loose-fitting trousers made clear what the tote sack was for. Lily hoped a couple of chickens were enough for him, but the boots did not reassure her of that.
Excerpted from Burning Bright by Ron Rash. Copyright © 2010 by Ron Rash. Excerpted by permission of Ecco. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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