Afternoon, he said, letting his gaze settle on Lily briefly before looking westward toward Grandfather Mountain. Looks to be some rain coming, maybe by full dark.
Take what chickens you want, Lily said. Ill help you catch them.
I plan on that, he said.
The man raised his left forearm and wiped sweat off his brow, the tote sack briefly covering his face. As he lowered his arm, his grin had been replaced with a seeming sobriety.
But its also my sworn duty to requisition that draft horse for the cause.
For the cause, Lily said, meeting his eyes, like them boots youre wearing.
The Confederate set a boot onto the porch step as though to better examine it.
These boots wasnt requisitioned. Traded my best piece of rope for them, but Im of a mind you already know that. He raised his eyes and looked at Lily. That neighbor of yours wasnt as careful on his furlough as your husband.
Lily studied the mans face, a familiarity behind the scraggly beard and the hard unflinching gaze. She thought back to the time a man or woman from up here could go into Boone. A time when disagreement over what politicians did down in Raleigh would be settled in this county with, at worst, clenched fists.
You used to work at Old Man Masts store, didnt you? Lily said.
I did, the Confederate said.
My daddy used to trade with you. One time when I was with him you give me and my sister a peppermint.
The mans eyes didnt soften, but something in his face seemed to let go a little, just for a moment.
Old Mast didnt like me doing that, but it was a small enough thing to do for the chaps.
For a few moments he didnt say anything else, maybe thinking back to that time, maybe not.
Your name was Mr. Vaughn, Lily said. I remember that now. The Confederate nodded.
It still is, he said, my name being Vaughn, I mean. He paused. But that dont change nothing in the here and now, though, does it?
No, Lily replied. I guess it dont.
So Ill be taking the horse, Vaughn said, lest you got something to barter for it, maybe some of that Yankee money they pay your man with over in Tennessee? We might could make us a trade for some of that.
There aint no money here, Lily said, telling the truth because what money they had shed sewn in Ethans coat lining. Safer there than anywhere on the farm, shed told Ethan before he left, but hed agreed only after shed also sewn his name and where to send his body on the coats side pocket. Ethans older brother had done the same, the two of them vowing to get the others coat home if not the body.
I guess I better get to it then, Vaughn said, try to beat this rain back to Boone.
He turned from her, whistling Dixie as he walked toward the pasture, almost to the split-rail fence when Lily told him she had something to trade for the horse.
What would that be? Vaughn asked.
Lily lifted the ball of thread off her lap and placed it on the porchs puncheon floor, then set the half-finished coverlet on the floor as well. As she got up from the chair, her hands smoothed the gingham around her hips. Lily stepped to the porch edge and freed the braid so her blonde hair fell loose on her neck and shoulders.
You know my meaning, she said.
Vaughn stepped onto the porch, not speaking as he did so. To look her over, Lily knew. She sucked in her stomach slightly to conceal her condition, though his knowing she was with child might make it better for him. A man could think that way in these times, she thought. Lily watched as Vaughn silently mulled over his choices, including the choice hed surely come to by now that he could just as easily have her and the horse both.
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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