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Excerpt from In the Valley by Ron Rash, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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In the Valley

Stories and a Novella Based on Serena

by Ron Rash

In the Valley by Ron Rash X
In the Valley by Ron Rash
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2020, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2021, 240 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kelly Hydrick
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After he'd read the first letter, Allen read quicker, then merely scanned. Coming to the last, which, unlike the others, had been written on rag paper, he read slowly again, then raised his eyes.

"Why didn't you tell us?" he asked, his voice as perplexed as his eyes.

When Rebecca didn't respond, he refolded the letter carefully and set it back in the container. Colonel Allen placed the lid back on and stood.

"Tell the men to put everything back, Sergeant Reeves."

"Sir?" the sergeant said.

"Free those chickens, and put that ham back too," Allen said, addressing the corporal as well. When the sergeant didn't respond, he added, "That's a direct order."

"Yes, sir," the sergeant said, not alone in watching hungrily as the ham was returned to the barn.

"Mrs. Penland, it is too cold for you and your children to be out here," Allen said. "You must go inside."

He took off his hat and followed them. Colonel Allen set the crock on the fireboard and went out to the porch, first for kindling, then one of the hearth logs Brice Fothergill had cut. Allen took a tin of matches from his pocket and lit the kindling, waved his hat to coax the fire into being.

"You children," he said as he stood. "Come closer and get warm. You too, ma'am."

Rebecca did as he said, placing the children before her. The flames thickened and Hannah and Ezra ceased to shiver. Rebecca took a quilt from the bed and laid it before the fire.

"Lay down there," she told them.

"Their real ages?" Allen asked.

"Seven and ten."

"Yes," he said, looking at them. "I guessed about that. Had my son and daughter lived, they would have soon been their sizes."

Rebecca hesitated, then spoke.

"I know," she said, "about their dying, I mean. It's said you blame people here for it."

"They are to blame. They came at night like cowards and terrorized my wife and sick children. Do you deny that?"

"No," Rebecca said.

The sergeant knocked and opened the door.

"Your orders have been carried out."

Colonel Allen nodded and the door closed.

"The commendation from General Buckner," he said, nodding at the fireboard. "It speaks well of your Aaron as a soldier, and the letters speak equally well of him as husband and father. I regret that I had to peruse them, but it was necessary. I ask your forgiveness for that and for what has occurred today. I, we, will attempt recompense. We have sugar, and if you need more wood cut . . ."

"No," Rebecca said. "I want nothing from you but what you and your men came here to do."

"Your anger at our ill treatment I understand, Mrs. Penland, but had you simply told us what we now know."

"And after you're gone, what do you think will happen if you and your men leave this farm as if you'd never come?"

Colonel Allen's mouth tightened into a grimace. The only sound was the fire's hiss and crackle. Rebecca looked down and saw that Hannah's eyes were already closed. Ezra's too were beginning to droop, though his mouth remained in a defiant pout.

"What would you have us do then?"

"What you came here to do," Rebecca answered, "that and you and your men don't tell anyone about the letters."

He nodded and stepped to the doorway.

"Corporal, go get the ham."

"But, sir, you said . . ."

"I know what I said. Get the men to catch three chickens, no more. You can kill them. We'll eat them when we're out of this godforsaken valley."

"That won't be enough," Rebecca said.

Allen turned.

"Yes, it will."

"No," Rebecca said. "It won't be."

"What more then would you have me do? You have no well to foul."

"The barn, you must burn it."

"I will not do that, Mrs. Penland. Your husband died for our cause. The ham and chickens will be enough. Tell your neighbors we were here only minutes. Say we set the barn afire but did not stay to ensure if it fully caught. But those letters, they should be burned. If one of your neighbors were to come upon them . . ."

Excerpted from In the Valley by Ron Rash. Copyright © 2020 by Ron Rash. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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