This is Part 2 of my story, Wait For Me. Please come back tomorrow for the conclusion.
Mr. Patterson began his story.
“This was my Grandpa’s farm. He built the house, the barn too. Had it all done before he asked Amanda Carpenter to be his bride. She said yes, on one condition. She wanted a cellar house. Not just any cellar house, either. She wanted a cut stone cellar with a smokehouse on top so she could store their food properly. Grandpa promised to build it before their first anniversary, so she married him. She was hardheaded, was Granny. But a worker. Everyone said she could work rings around most men. That’s probably what attracted Grandpa, come to think of it.
Grandpa built the cellar just as he promised. It was good-sized, 14 feet deep and 10 feet wide. Folks laughed about that, said Grandpa was making sure he didn’t go hungry! He had it ready for the fall harvest, and they almost filled it up that first year.
Now this was in 1861. They didn’t get to town much, but they heard a little news here and there. Folks were talkin’ about a war back east, some trouble over slaves. Well, around here there was some owned slaves, but most didn’t. Those as had them needed the hands to work their fields—owned big bottomlands, you know. No one had very many, anyways. Grandpa and Granny didn’t own slaves and didn’t think God-fearing people ought to. But they kept out of other folks’ business. Granny said they had enough to do tending to their own souls. So the talk of war was around, but it might as well have been in Europe for all my grandparents cared about it.
It got tougher when men started joining up. That’s when it began to hit home. You see, some boys went for the Union and others went for the South. Sometimes in the same family! There was a family lived next farm over, they had a boy who went with the Confederacy. Down the road not even a mile was another family whose son joined the Union Army. So it was like that, and it made for hard feelings and high words.
More and more men left for war, but Grandpa didn’t go. He wanted to, wanted to fight for the Union, but Granny didn’t see the need. They argued about it. He felt it was his duty; Granny said his duty was right there on the farm, not going off to get killed. Then Grandpa broke his leg real bad in a haying accident and that ended the argument. The Army didn’t want him with that bad leg.
Them two kept on farming, even when there was fighting right here in Jackson County. Yes ma’am, that war even reached these backwoods hollers. Grandpa couldn’t do the work he had before he broke his leg, but they managed.
One day he had to drive some cattle he’d sold to a neighbor’s farm. The trip took all day, and he would not be back ‘til midnight. Granny went about her work that day with no idea that the war was coming right to her very farm.
There was a little skirmish that day, up between Ripley and Spencer at the mouth of Big Run. It wasn’t much, nothing that even made the history books far as I know, but it was a right dust-up. Confederates got ambushed by a bunch of Union boys. One Confederate soldier was wounded, but he held onto his horse somehow and escaped. Someone seen him and told the Yankees, and they sent a few men after him.
Granny was milking in the barn when this horse come flying up the road, a man slumped over the saddle horn. When Granny hollered the horse come to a stop and that soldier fell off. He was hurt bad, blood all over the place. He looked up at her. “Help me,” he said. “They’re after me.” Granny didn’t hesitate. Rebel or Yankee, he needed help. Politics didn’t have nothing to do with helping someone in trouble.
Granny knew where to hide him. She had a big barrel in the cellar that she used for cider. It was big enough to hold that poor boy—he wasn’t very big anyways. So that’s where she took him.
“Climb in here,” she told him. “You can hide here until it’s safe. I’ll come back when it’s safe and take care of those wounds. I promise.” Grandpa said she never forgot the look the boy gave her when she put the lid back on the barrel. Haunted her for the rest of her days. But she had to leave him. She had to cover up any sign he’d been there.
She worked like a crazy woman. Put the horse in the barn and brushed him down. Took the saddle and saddlebag up into the attic. There was a hidey-hole behind the chimney. She threw his stuff in there and hid it with crates and old quilts. Then she ran outside, swept away the tracks and blood. Just finished when she heard horses coming.
The soldiers rode into her yard as if they owned the place. Stopped right in front of her. The leader of the bunch—arrogant feller, way my Grandpa told it—pranced his horse around a little before he spoke to her.
“How can I help you, sir?”
“I’m Captain Ansted, ma’am, US Army. We’re tracking a Rebel soldier and his tracks led us to your place.” He stared at her, and Granny stared right back.
“You see any rebel soldier, here, young man? All I see is a few chickens myself.”
That didn’t please the Captain none. “We’ve been told by several people that he was traveling this way, ma’am. I have no reason to suspect them of lying.” Way he said it, Granny knew he suspected her, all right.
“Suit yourself, Captain. Search the place. I’ll be as surprised as you if you find him here.”
The Captain bent down and looked at Granny’s apron. “You got blood on your apron, ma’am. Cut yourself?”
“Dressed out an old hen, Captain, and she’s boilin’ on the stove. You’re welcome to inspect her.”
“Very well, you won’t mind if we just have a look around then?”
“I can’t stop you, can I?”
Well, those soldiers searched the place. They made an awful mess. They didn’t just check the pot of chicken on the stove, they took it outside and ate it. That was why they didn’t find the boy in the barrel, Grandpa said. See, one soldier was supposed to search the barn and cellar. He just got through with the barn when the Captain came out of the house with the chicken and two loaves of bread. Soldier knew the food would be gone if he didn’t hurry, so he just threw a quick look around the cellar and skedaddled back to the others.
“Nothin’ in the cellar, Captain.”
By then it was getting dark and them soldiers decided to make camp right there. They built a fire, set up their bedrolls, and settled in for the night. Granny was plumb worried—that young soldier needed help. How was she going to get it to him?
Finally she had an idea. She filled her apron pockets with food, bandages, salve and whatnot. Grabbed a basket and went to the chicken house, got a hen. Put it in the basket and covered it with a cloth. Then she headed toward the cellar.
“Hey! Where you goin’, lady?”
Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.