Sunday, December 09, 2018

Destination Hope - Book 5 - Reconciliation - Chapter 21



Destination Hope – Book 5 – Reconciliation

A Novel By:

Charles J. Patricoff


Copyright © 2014 by Charles J. Patricoff. All rights reserved.
Chapter 21

New Sheriff


The mayor grabbed the carriage handrail and stooped to clear the low egress. He climbed out of his plush official transportation—near the size of an overland stagecoach. With both feet planted on the dusty street, he scanned his surroundings, straightened his suit jacket, and called over his right shoulder to his driver, “Take the horses and coach to the livery down the street and make sure the horses are well fed and watered.”
“Yes, sir,” the driver said, loud enough to be heard over the rousing piano music resonating from inside the saloon and inn located on the east side of the Harpeth River on the main road to Nashville, Tennessee. The driver gazed in the ordered direction and asked, “How long will you be, your honor?”
Tugging at his jacket and smoothing it along his upper thighs, the mayor said, “At least an hour, Mr. Boyd, maybe longer. I’ll send for you when I’m finished with my business this evening.”
“Yes, sir, your honor. Do you mind if I come in and have a drink myself, sir?”
The mayor glanced at his driver. “I suppose it will be all right. No, I don’t object, Richard.” He leveled a direct glare on his driver. “But try not to lose too much money. I’m not paying you to gamble and drink your wages away.”
A shout and laughter erupted from inside the saloon, causing both men to turn toward the frequented watering hole. “Thank you, sir,” Boyd said. I’ll behave myself, sir. I understand what’s at stake.”
The mayor took a step toward the inn’s entrance. “Sounds like the welcoming party has started. I’ll see you inside, Richard.”
Former Confederate Army captain and prisoner of war Mr. Richard Boyd slapped the reins and whistled a command to the two horses. As the coach eased forward, he called over his shoulder, “Enjoy your evening, Mr. Merritt, sir.”
The mayor waved and with a broad grin said, “I’m sure I will.”
Mayor Jason Merritt, Esquire, pushed open the swinging gate-like half doors and stepped into the cigar smoke-filled saloon. The stench of stale, home distilled, corn-mash whiskey caused his nostrils to flair. The attentive bartender’s eyes caught Jason’s. Drying a shot glass, he nudged a patron with his right elbow. When the guest raised his eyes, the keeper tilted his head in the entrance’s direction. The man swiveled and hopped off his stool shouting, “There he is.”
Jason smiled his broad, toothy grin and began shaking the hands of his new constituents and “friends.”As the greetings and false praises for accepting the appointment grew, Jason’s countenance softened. He appeared like a man who had taken his first bite of a delicious, cooked to perfection, marbled steak. He moved through the crowd of well-wishers as he made his way to the dance hall’s small stage that upheld a smiling piano player on its right side. The sweating musician tickled the keys and stomped his feet to an upbeat tune. A thin wooden podium stood in the center while two Federal soldiers guarded both ends of the stage. A new American flag stood in its proper place of honor on the left end.
As if moved by a mystical power, Mayor Merritt almost glided to the lectern. He held up both hands as if greeting the two dozen, Caucasian male audience. Most of the men sat at various wooden tables in the hall—some round, some rectangular. A few folded their arms and leaned against the parameter walls. The grumblings subsided as more lent their attention to the newest resident of their community. Mayor Merritt inhaled and shouted, “Hello, Franklin, Tennessee.”
The men responded with a respectful applause.
“I can’t thank you enough for coming here tonight and giving me such a warm welcome.”
One of the many gray and white bearded men harrumphed. “Where else would we be, Yank? You think we’d want to be home having to bear listening to our womenfolk clamor in our ears?”
The twenty-four community elders laughed.  Mayor Merritt joined with them. He understood that he, being a Yankee appointed official, violated their long-held American tradition of self-governance. He stepped away from the podium and his prepared speech. He let his laughter subside to a slight chuckle and approached these proud volunteers from a different, unfamiliar, angle. He decided to tell them the truth—well, maybe partial truth. “Gentlemen, I won’t pretend to understand what it might be like to have a perfect stranger come into your town and assume all local authority.”
His driver, Mr. Richard Boyd, entered the saloon and took a standing position just to the right of the door in front of a large glass window that revealed the torch-lit thoroughfare beyond. Boyd nodded at his boss.
Encouraged by an associate’s face, Jason said, “While I’m here representing the United States Federal government, you have my word that I will do all within my power and office of Mayor to represent your interests as well.”
A few skeptical grumblings surfaced, and Jason noticed one of the scarce military service age men lean over and say something to a possible fifty-year old table companion with well-leathered features.
Jason said, “For example, the government charged me with a key objective—to restore and maintain order in this fine town, which bears the name of one of our finest founders.” He paused for affect.
Several men grunted and nodded their assent.
Jason turned toward the right side of his audience. “I’m sure you have all heard about the ragamuffin gangs roaming the woods and preying on those who travel between towns or raiding the surrounding farms.” He placed his hands on the podium and twisted his head to make a connection with those to his left. “We all know that this anarchy cannot be tolerated by an open, yet ordered society.” Now he squared his shoulders and faced forward. “As a community, we all want to see the return of civilian, rather than military, control as soon as possible.” Noticing some patrons gazing at the posted guards, he pursed his lips and blinked in rapid succession a few times as if to emphasize his last appeal.
As he let the gravity of their common objective register, he noticed a couple of men speaking to each other, as if they understood and agreed with his point. One member of the crowd shouted, “What do you propose to do, Yank?”
Jason released his practiced smile as he leaned forward over the lectern. “I confess this is where I will need the help of every man in this county who wants to re-establish self-governance.”
“Answer Johnson’s question, mister. We ain’t got no time for no double speak.”
One of the armed Yankee guards swiveled in the direction of the angry voice. Jason held up both hands in a surrendering gesture and pushed to his point. “We need to conduct a civil election for a man to serve as Williamson County Sherriff. Whoever we elect, I promise to work with that man to help organize a volunteer deputy corps with police power to bring these menacing lawless ruffians to justice. We will prove to the Federal authorities we no longer need their—” he cleared his throat— “assistance. And, that we can be trusted with the God-given gift of self-governance.”
He struck the positive note. Their ears finally heard what they wanted to hear. Their new Federal government’s appointed mayor might work out after all. They responded with an enthusiastic applause. Many cheered.
Jason said, “Well my friends, and I do expect us to become friends, I want you to enjoy this evening, and I’ve instructed our fine bartender, Mr. Walters, to grant each of you a drink on me.”
A ruckus ovation erupted. Some men headed for the bar. Jason finished, “I hope I get a chance to meet and speak with each of you tonight. Gentlemen, thank you for your attention and may God bless our town, Franklin, Tennessee.”
Another cheer burst forth, and Jason waved. He stepped from the stage. He began greeting some, while others took full advantage of his generous offer and lined up at the bar. After a few minutes, one of the Yankee guards, a sergeant, approached and came to a rigid attention right next to Jason. He said, “Sir, my Captain would like a word with you.”
Jason nodded. “If you will please excuse me, gentlemen. I apparently have some official business to attend to with our government occupiers. Hopefully, I won’t be too long.” He addressed his Yankee helper. “Lead the way, Sergeant.”
The inn owners configured one top-floor room into its finest “Franklin Suite.” It was less accommodating than Jason had grown accustomed to, but for a small town it was more than comfortable. The office area contained a desk and storage credenza under a window, which overlooked the river with a good view of the town. It also had a sitting area with a couch, a short serving table and two cushioned leather-wingback chairs useful for conducting informal conferences. Of course, the suite contained a separate private bedroom.
Again, it may not be up to the new mayor’s standards, but it served as his home for now and the foreseeable future. He had plans to have the inn add an indoor water closet like many of the larger, more modern northern cities. If he was going to drag this town forward, he would lead the way in establishing current civilized conveniences.
A Yankee Captain sat with his legs crossed in one of the leather, wingback chairs. He leaned his head against the cushioned tall back and seemed to savor his cigar.
The new mayor of Franklin sat across from him on the couch and said, “I thought the evening went very well. What’s your opinion, Sean?”
“Much smoother than I expected, sir. I am curious, how could you be so confident that you would be able to win them over?”
“It’s really quite simple, Captain. There are three, timeless rules of politics, and if you follow them with a cheerful smile on your face, you’ll succeed every time.”
“Just three?”
“Yes, Captain O’Brien. And a maxim.” Jason grinned. “The overarching maxim is nothing in politics just happens, it’s always well planned in advance. Following this principle makes applying the rules easy. The first is, the Master Politician must know his audience—the masses are asses, easily manipulated, and incapable of governing themselves. They need strong leadership, but they don’t want to be ruled by a king. They want to believe they have a say in their future. A Master Politician will give them the illusion of participation. The second rule applies once the leader has the people believing that he is capable of meeting the first rule’s key need.”
“So, what is the second rule?”
“With the broadest, yet most sincere, friendliest smile, tell them what they want to hear. If it is an election year, those useful and useless idiots will vote for the one who resonates with the voters. Even if a friendly, smiling leader feeds them a mouthful of lies, because they’ve had their ears tickled, they won’t discern the truth. You saw how they responded to the idea of holding a special election for a new sheriff. They want to govern themselves. We will promote this illusion. Now, for this campaign we need to select our candidate before we let him run for office. If we control the message…”
“That’s why you wanted Boyd here.”
“You’ve got it. If we control the flow of information, those simpletons downstairs will elect our man.”
“Okay, so what’s the third rule?”
“If you give them something, anything, of some perceived value…”
“Like a free whiskey?”
“Yes, Captain, like free liquor. If kept intoxicated, it's easy to manipulate and control them.”
“How long do you think one drink will keep them on your side?”
“Oh, there will be other things and opportunities. Tonight softens them up to the notion of letting a Yankee into their circles. After a few more gifts,” Mayor Merritt expounded with a wink, “they’ll start following me where ever I lead them. The more you provide for them, the more they will support you with what little they have.” He grinned. “And I will need all they have to be re-elected in the ’66 election. Then, I can turn my attention to the future gubernatorial race.”
O’Brien pulled the riding glove from his right hand and raked his fingers through his hair. He shook his head slow and soft. “Hum. Boyd’s vices could become a liability. Do you have someone else in mind in case…?”
“I’m not sure yet, but this is where your, special talents will be of service.”
“You want me to find a man we can trust.”
“Take your time and make sure. Be cautious of anyone who might be too ambitious.”
“Like you?”
Mayor Merritt laughed. After he recovered, his eyes bore into his Federal associate. “I see we have an understanding.”
Captain O’Brien nodded and took a long draw on his cigar. Exhaling the bluish smoke, he said, “Well, I don’t know about the man for the job at this point in time. However, I do have a woman who could be of valuable service to you, sir.” He gestured with his chin in the direction of the bedroom.
Jason’s smile broadened. “I see you’ve already learned the rules well, O’Brien.”
A few minutes later, Jason entered the bedroom and closed the door behind him. He locked it with its key. He examined the woman sitting on the foot of the bed. He smiled and said, “I understand you and I have a common objective, Miss Guthrie.”
Thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Destination Hope - Book 5 - Reconciliation - Chapter 20

This is a short chapter. For new readers to this story, I linked Chapter 1. Chapters 2 - 4 are linked under September, 5 - 10 under October, 11 - 18 under November, and 19 under December.

Destination Hope – Book 5 – Reconciliation

A Novel By:

Charles J. Patricoff


Copyright © 2014 by Charles J. Patricoff. All rights reserved.


Chapter 20

Passenger


She traversed another hill along the rutted, much in need of repair, turnpike connecting Knoxville, Tennessee and the state’s capital city, Nashville. With each blistering step, a seething hatred for all things Yankee rooted deeper into her embittered heart. She had suffered unspeakable abuse at the hands of Union prison guards. She came within the width of a horse’s course tail hair of swinging from the end of a rope. The soldiers who captured her had charged her with spying for the Confederacy. However, the Federal Government had its fill of female executions. Jailers had told her that she was lucky because the Federal Government seemed satiated with executing women after they accused Mary Surratt of conspiring to assassinate President Lincoln and conducted a sham of a trial resulting in the taking of Mrs. Mary Surratt’s life.
The Federals had released her over a month earlier. Many of her captors remained convinced of her guilt. These less-than-honorable government officials refused to provide her with the transportation vouchers afforded soldiers captured on the field of combat. Another exhausted step brought her closer to her former hometown but no closer to any sense of peace or resolution. She blamed the northern abolitionists for starting the war. She accused the Yankees for invading and occupying her peaceful home. She resented the Negroes who became a military protected special class who took full advantage of their “sacred” freedom.
She also charged God, if He existed, for all she had suffered. How could a loving Creator allow Yankee officers the opportunity to pleasure themselves with her? Then, after she gave birth to the inevitable child, they ignored her protests and denied her the knowledge of whether her baby was a boy or girl, preventing her from holding her carried burden in her longing arms for even one second. Regardless, no one deserved more of her fury than the man who chose duty to the lost Confederate cause over a future with her.
Oh, she remembered the lovely letters he wrote, expressing his gratitude for her kindness and pleasant companionship. If he only knew she would have done anything, and did, to protect their mutual interests. Now, she walked alone. But if she lived to see his face again, he would pay for all the horrible things that had happened to her. She coughed.
She heard the sound of a horse-drawn wagon or carriage approaching from the rise she had topped moments before. She steadied her hardened constitution and prepared for the worst—a woman on the road traveling without an escort made for an easy target. But she had become well practiced in using all of her available assets, again no thanks to the one who earned her scorn. She stood by the side of the road and prepared to meet another clash with fate, or take her next step toward a self-made destiny.
Disguised as a young man carrying a pack upon his back, she resembled so many former fighting men making their way home. She picked out a tree off the side of the road, hurried to it, let down her backpack, sat and braced her back against the tree’s sturdy trunk, pretending to sleep. Her left hand rested inside her pack, just in case. Coughing, she settled every tense muscle as the horse appeared above the hill’s crest. Attempting to steady nerves and calm her throaty spasms, she took a slow, controlled, deep breath. I’m ready.
A few seconds later, she heard a man’s voice. “Whoa.” After a few steps, the horse and wagon came to a halt. Next, she heard, “Hey, you, mister, you okay?”
She raised her head, twisting her neck to let a kink pop. She stretched and yawned. With her deepest male-vocal impression, she asked, “You talking to me?”
“Fella, there ain’t a soul ’round for miles. Who else would I be talking to?”
“Do you mind giving a stranger a ride?”
“Where you headed?” The driver asked.
“Nashville,” she said.
“Nashville, eh?” The driver elbowed his passenger.
“Well, that’s more than a day’s walk from here.” The passenger said. He locked his gaze on the young lad. “We ain’t going that far. We can take you as far as Lebanon.”
She got to her feet, and slapped dust off her trousers just like a man would. I suspect they’re sizing me up. Well, I’m doing the same.  She shouldered her pack with her left hand and picked up her walking stick with her right. Sauntering toward the rear of the wagon, she said, “Much obliged, fellas.” Standing in the settling-residual dust cloud, she started to cough.
As she reached the back of the wagon, the passenger said, “Sounds like you got yourself a nasty cold, mister.” He asked, “Where you from?”
She offered a practiced, short-male response: “Franklin.” Climbing aboard she said, “That cough ain’t nothing. Throat’s dry is all.”
The two men glanced at each other. She noticed.
The driver said, “I heard Franklin is in pretty bad shape.”
“Uh-huh.”
The passenger introduced himself. “Name’s Robert. This poor excuse for a farmer is my older brother, John.” He paused. “Were you in the war?”
She nodded as she crouched in the right rear corner.
The driver, John, shook the reins and the horse pulled forward. He twisted his head in his new passenger’s direction. “What outfit were you with?”
She pulled her floppy hat low to shade her eyes. “Twentieth Tennessee.”
Robert kept his head forward, and his right hand clasped to a short barrel shotgun. “We served under General Thomas.”
Unionists.
John asked, “What’s your name, friend.”
You ain’t my friend.  “Well, my name is Thomas, too, but it’s my given name.” A plan formed. “My family name is Graham. Folks call me, Tommy.”
John snapped the reins. “Well Tommy, you shouldn’t be traveling alone. It’s not safe.” He tilted his head toward Robert. “We hear bandits roam these woods.”
Robert turned bringing his shotgun around between him and his brother.
A blast caused the horse to whinny. Robert’s forehead exploded. The next shot took John. The horse darted forward as the bullet whizzed past the draft-animal’s left ear. At the same instant, two bodies fell from the wagon’s bench seat, sprawled in unnatural positions on each side of the road.
Marah Guthrie jumped onto the empty seat, gathered the reins, pulled and shouted, “Whoa, boy, whoa.”
Once the wagon came to a stop, she set the brake. Marah rushed to check on the two would-be assailants by first kicking at their blood-leaking bodies. As she bent over the dead men, she began coughing in uncontrollable spasms. Rifling through their pockets, she took all their coins. Then she gathered any other valuables, including their weapons. Marah returned to the wagon, securing her revolver and pack on the seat next to her. She swiveled in the seat and gave them one last look. A black bird was pecking at the one who had lost his head. She released the brake, snapped the reins, and called over her shoulder, “I can’t thank you boys enough for warning me about them there highway bandits.” She grinned as the horse reached a steady trot. “And, oh yeah, thanks for the ride.”




Sunday, December 02, 2018

Destination Hope - Book 5 - Reconciliation - Chapter 19

It's hard to believe Christmas is 23 days away, and at sundown, Hanukkah begins.

Again, I want to thank those who have written encouraging comments either on my blog or on social media. For new readers to this story, I linked Chapter 1. Chapters 2 - 4 are linked under September, 5 - 10 under October, and 11 - 18 under November.

Destination Hope – Book 5 – Reconciliation

A Novel By:

Charles J. Patricoff

Copyright © 2014 by Charles J. Patricoff. All rights reserved.


Chapter 19

Errors


With the priority list tucked into Eleanor’s purse, the Graham family struck out for town to obtain more provisions for the deepening fall and soon-coming, anxious winter. After they crested the ridgeline at Mount Hope Road, the town of Franklin, Tennessee came into clear view.
“It sure is a nice day,” Nathaniel initiated as they bounced over the washboard ruts etched in various patterns across the mixed dirt and gravel road.
“It is,” Eleanor said matter-of-factly.
With those two words, Nathaniel detected her nervousness. He offered another soft weather probe. “Feels a bit cool, don’t you think?”
“I wouldn’t know.” Eleanor lifted the blanket covering little William and checked his face. “It’s almost October.”
Another short answer. I wonder what’s bothering her. Do I dare ask? Nathaniel resorted to his reliable talent. He changed the subject. “Have you decided on a name for our horse, yet?”
“No, you do it.”
This is going to be a long day. Avoiding the issue, Nathaniel stated, “Well, she still seems to be afraid of her own shadow, so I thought we’d call her that.”
“Whatever you think is fine.”
Lord, did I do or not do something? “Okay then, unless I think of something else, or if you want to call her another name, Shadow it will be.”
Nathaniel expected a reply, anything, but Eleanor sat and stared at the town. What do I do, Lord? What should I say? What did the men say about their wives back in camp?
Nathaniel listened to the rhythmic clopping of the horse’s hooves striking the road, grateful that Chubby had put on a new set of shoes. He searched his memory. I remember the older, married men teasing me, how I knew nothing about women, and that the Bible is not much help. I think I’m seeing how right they were. If I recollect, Sergeant Huff stated that whenever his wife said something was, “Fine,” he might be in trouble and could expect a right fearful dressing down. Ellie said, “Fine.” I think one of the other fellas said something like, “If she says, ‘Nothing,’ you’re in bigger trouble.”
Nathaniel gulped. Well, here goes, nothing.“ Sweetheart, you seem to be troubled by something. May I ask what’s bothering you?”
“Nothing.”
Oh, dear God, help me.
Nothing.
Several minutes later, the Graham family rolled into the west end of Franklin, Tennessee, along Bridge Street. Nathaniel turned left onto Main Street and drove them past the Presbyterian Church located southeast from the town’s center. He turned right on the next avenue and pulled in front of their destination. After setting the brake, Nathaniel hopped down from his driver’s seat and tied Shadow to a hitching post within easy neck reach of a full water-trough. With horse and wagon secure, he rushed to aid Eleanor in disembarking.
He offered to take little William. Eleanor refused. She carried herself and William right into Mr. Puckett’s General Store. Nathaniel stood outside alone, with nothing.

Sunday, October 2, 1865 arrived and offered the first chilly morning in what most remembered as the worst drought in decades. However, a massive, early-fall storm brought much needed rain to the sun beaten crops.
With the blessing from Heaven, the people of Franklin, Tennessee gathered in their respective houses of worship to give thanks. Many came out of a sense of obligation. Some regulars looked forward to this time of worship, and a curious few came to hear their preacher who had returned home from the war. The pastor fought anxiety, for he would soon deliver a message he believed God ordered but assumed, they might not receive.
The congregation concluded their time of song with, “Amazing Grace,” which had become most popular, even in the South, where much unfinished business remained. As they completed the final chorus, Nathaniel mused, I’d wager most of these folks are unaware of the story behind John Newton’s inspiration. If they only knew, it represents not only his personal redemption, but also, his fight against the English slave trade.  This recollection bolstered Nathaniel’s courage as he eased into his place behind the podium for the first time since he left for the war four years prior.
Nathaniel placed his Bible on the wooden support, grabbed on to its sides with both hands, and surveyed the congregation. He stared for a second at the folks seated in the rear balcony, then said, “Good morning, everyone.”
As most responded in kind, he located Eleanor. She sat in the front pew to his right holding little William, who she covered with a baby-blue blanket. She offered an encouraging smile. If she only knew how much he needed it.
Adjusting his gaze, Nathaniel said, “It is very good to see so many familiar faces this morning.”  He smiled at Miss Pearl Peterson, Mr. Puckett, and the pillar of the community, the owner of Carnton house, as he attempted to calm his nerves, then added, “And a few new ones. There is no need to remind all of you that much has changed since I last delivered a message to our church community.”
As a few chuckles surfaced, a thought penetrated. They are nervous, too. So, rest in Me and present My word.
“Since this is my first message, I thought it would be appropriate for us to begin at the beginning. If you have your Bible with you, please open it to Genesis, chapter one.”
Many congregants flipped pages to locate the noted passage. Nathaniel noticed Miss Mary Alice Carter sitting a little greater than arm’s length away from Eleanor. Miss Carter did not offer to let her look on to her good book. His knuckles whitened.
Nathaniel gazed at his text. “I will read the entire chapter. I titled this message, ‘God created all of us equal.’ I suspect some of you might have opposed the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to our Federal Constitution, so I hope you will consider today’s sermon in light of our nation’s great need for reconciliation. Please follow along with me as I read.” He lifted his Bible began, “In the beginning, God created…”  When he reached the last verse, he allowed his tone, beat, and measure to emphasize, “And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”
Nathaniel laid his open Bible down on the podium and clasped both hands behind his back. He took a limping step to his left, reversed three labored paces to his right, and then returned to the center. “I admire God’s handiwork, don’t you?”
No response.
“Would you agree this morning’s air has a degree of freshness to it after all the rain we’ve had?”
Still, nothing.
Nathaniel chastened his line of inquiry. They did not come here to hear a weather report—get to your point. Gulping, Nathaniel stated, “I would like to draw your attention to verse 26. In times past, I would expound upon God’s use of the plural form, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness,’and I would couple this passage with Genesis chapter eighteen, how Abraham addressed the three visitors in the singular person as Lord. But I do not want to take note of these, today. Please consider the words God chose to use. ‘Let them,' referring to created man and woman, ‘have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.'  Nathaniel paused.
Okay Father, here I go. I sure hope this is Your idea.  “What I want to draw your attention to is what God did not include in the list of things He has granted to us dominion over. Notice, He does not give us authority to dominate the lives of other men.”
A grunt came from near the rear of the church, off to Nathaniel’s right. It sounded guttural, disgusted, an obvious disagreement. Nathaniel noted no one affirmed his point with an, “Amen,” or even a casual, “Uh-huh.” He mustered courage. This seems harder than combat. He stepped to the right of the podium and offered a gracious, open gesture with both hands, palms up. Sweat beads surface on his forehead.
Nathaniel recalled a verse from Jeremiah, chapter 1, verse 8. “Be not afraid of their faces.”  He said, “I wish to couple this verse with an admonition from our Savior. Please turn to Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 20, verses 25 through 28.”
Nathaniel returned to the podium and located the passage in his Bible. “On more than one instance, our Lord’s disciples squabbled concerning who would be important in His kingdom. In these verses, Jesus commands that they become like Him.” Again, Nathaniel lifted his Bible. “I’ll begin at verse 25.”
He read aloud, “But Jesus called them unto him, and said, ‘Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.’”
Nathaniel expounded, “In light of our restored nation, I am convinced we must embrace this truth from God’s word. I believe our founders understood this to be a ‘Self-evident’ truth, which nature—God’s creation—discloses. That great Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, documented this vision in our founding declaration. Have we forgotten that our founders attempted to remove slavery from the original colonies in 1774? But King George, a tyrannical ruler who dominated other men, refused to see the godly wisdom in our decision and forced the institution upon us by using his military might against his subjects.”
Several congregants adjusted their postures and posteriors in their respective seats. Nathaniel believed he had struck a resounding cord. He reached the point of his sermon that might stimulate a decision. “My friends, Abraham Lincoln understood this revelation and after reading many of his writings and speeches, I think he believed it with his whole heart and mind. For example, the speech he delivered at Gettysburg opened with the reminder that our nation was conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
Rummaging rumbled from near the rear of the church.
Nathaniel tried to ignore the disturbance. “Many of you, my friends, know I served in the Confederate Army. We fought to decide the matter for ourselves. We did our best to preserve our understanding of freedom. But folks, our country has embraced a definition of liberty for the whole nation and for all citizens.”
Mr. Arnold Orwell, a shabby, bearded man known as the town drunk, grabbed Mrs. Annie Orwell’s resisting arm and pulled her out of the pew.
Nathaniel looked to his left away from the noise. “Even if you personally disagree with this new definition of freedom, we must embrace it. The fact is, the institution of slavery is incongruous in a nation of free people.”
The disgruntled parishioner and his wife exited the church, slamming the entrance door as if to emphasize they would not return.
Pretending to be unmoved, Nathaniel said, “Yes, Lincoln used the same, possibly illegal, force against us. But today we have an opportunity to resolve the issue peacefully. We in Tennessee have resolved the issue at the state level. We have ratified the Thirteenth Amendment. I’m asking you to settle it within yourselves. I fear if we do not abolish slavery in our own hearts and minds, we may suffer the scourge of a greater judgment from God in the future. I believe He has given us an opportunity to repent of this national sin at a personal level. So that you know, as for me and my house, we reject slavery in all of its forms, and we embrace His liberty for all people.”
The silence in the church was deafening.

Later that afternoon, the Graham family rolled west, away from the Harpeth River valley. The lack of conversation caused a fleeting concern to the household’s head. Something might be upsetting his beloved, but he dismissed it almost as fast as it had poked his consciousness.
As the road’s incline increased, he shook the reins to encourage their young filly to keep up a steady walking pace. He asked, “How do you think the folks took to today’s message?”
The clopping of the horse’s hooves soon let Nathaniel know that at least two possibilities confronted him. One, he didn’t speak loud enough for Eleanor to hear, or maybe she took a minute to gather her thoughts before speaking. Nathaniel rejected the second notion and repeated the question with a touch more volume.
“I heard you the first time,” Eleanor said. “I’m not deaf, you know.”
“No, I know. You have good, if not perfect, hearing.”
“But what, then?”
“Uh,” he stumbled. “I wasn’t sure it you were preoccupied with other things and didn’t pay attention to my question.”
“What things?”
“I don’t know, maybe something for William?”
Eleanor nodded and then gazed into her baby’s face. They seemed to roll into a pocket of cooler air as she said, “I wish you would not have begun your ministry with a sermon like that. It seemed so…”
His wife’s long pause caused Nathaniel to take a deep breath. “Forceful, condemning, inappropriate, what?”
“I think the word I’m looking for is separating.
Nathaniel snapped the reins, hard. “Separating.  You can’t be serious.”
The passenger’s side rear wheel bounced over a rock as if to stimulate Eleanor’s explanation. “Yes, I am. You told me your main objective is to foster a spirit of reconciliation in our church community, the rest of the town, and surrounding farm families. Is this, so?”
Nathaniel fought the challenge to his authority. “Yes, reconciliation is the mission I believe God called me—us—to accomplish.”
“I feel you took a Goliath stride in the opposite direction.”
“Why do you feel like that? It makes no sense to me.”
Eleanor’s tone hardened. “My husband, I thought you knew that most people remember the final point of a speech more than those made during it.”
Nathaniel filled his chest with cooler, leaf-moldering fall air. Smiling, he said, “Yes, I wanted our position known.”
“Oh, you made it clear, but I believe you failed to consider how your listeners might perceive it. And I feel you never gave it a moment’s thought how what you said might affect me.”
“I don’t understand.”
The little family neared the hill’s crest. From there, they would be able to see their home near the Sharp Branch Creek’s valley. However, Eleanor held her eyes closed. Nathaniel wondered she edited her coming response.
Then she lifted her chin and opened her eyes. “Whether or not you intended it, you drew a line between us and the fellowship. They may not be ready to accept the possibility that slavery is a sin in God’s eyes. Telling them makes you sound holier than the others. I fear this will make things harder for me. People will think I put you up to saying those things.”
Nathaniel rejected the notion. “I don’t believe anyone will think like that.”
“You don’t.” Eleanor shook her head as if she could not believe what she just heard. “How many people addressed you or shook your hand after the service?”
Nathaniel blinked. “A few.”
“How many greeted you in the past after services?”
“Many.”
“How long did it take you to discern God’s attitude toward slavery?”
With a quieter, almost childlike tone, he confessed, “Years.”
“What made you think you could change folks’ minds with a single message—one they may not be ready to hear?”
Nathaniel choked on his next words as he steered the horse to the left onto the path leading to their farmhouse. “I guess I assumed…”
“Too much, I fear.”
Nathaniel gulped. The possibility of his error sunk into the pit of his gut. “Maybe I should run my messages before you, first.”
“Maybe you should.”
“I think I will.”
 

Eleanor, Nathaniel and William rolled past the family graves in silence. When they reached the house, Eleanor climbed out of the wagon and gathered her blanket-wrapped baby and the baby’s things. She watched her husband drive the horse and wagon toward the barn. She wanted to enjoy the rest of the Sabbath, but a familiar emotion swept over her. Dewy-eyed, she tried to ascended the house steps, but her legs felt like foot-long iron chains linked them together, with shackles encasing her entire being. Lifting her eyes heavenward, she begged for an answer to her demanding question. Why do I feel so lost and alone?
Happy Hanukkah!



Thursday, November 29, 2018

Destination Hope - Book 5 - Reconciliation - Chapter 18

In every story I write, sooner or later my addiction to coffee surfaces. One of my favorite past times is to enjoy a hot cup of coffee while watching a gentle snow fall.


Destination Hope – Book 5 – Reconciliation

A Novel By:

Charles J. Patricoff

Copyright © 2014 by Charles J. Patricoff. All rights reserved.

 
Chapter 18

Adjusting


Nathaniel and Eleanor consumed several, blustery-fall days putting the house, barn and granary into some semblance of order. They agreed that they would prioritize their needs. They could forget about wants for the foreseeable future and beyond. Eleanor convinced her husband that their discussion would reach better conclusions if they enjoyed a hot cup of coffee. Nathaniel collected what little bread remained and offered it as they prepared to meet the third week after arriving at their home.
Nathaniel straddled his chair and set his tin coffee cup down on the wood-planked table. He glanced at his bride making notes in the journal she purchased to aid her in managing her household. He settled, took a sip of the hot elixir, and felt its warmth slide toward his stomach. He cleared his throat hoping to capture Eleanor’s attention. “Where should we begin? I could tell you what I found, or you could start.” He watched her hand scribe some insights into her book. She’s fascinating.
Keeping her eyes fixed on the page and continuing the flow of her quill, Eleanor said, “I’ve tried to strike a balance between what resources we have, what we could do without…”
“That can’t be much.”
Eleanor stopped writing. Her gaze lifted. Nathaniel received “The Look” he’d seen before. His stomach flipped. His throat choked preventing him from adding another foolish outburst. She’s a little scary.  Bit and bridled, Nathaniel offered an apologetic, “I’ll try not to interrupt.”
Eleanor grinned. “That would help.” She picked up her quill and pointed at her list. “As I see it, the kitchen has the basic essentials and not much more. The stew pot is fine, but I’ll need you to repair,” Eleanor swiveled on the bench and pointed at the fireplace, “the iron-crane swivel arm.”
Nathaniel nodded, stretched so he could see around Eleanor, and assessed the crane’s condition. “I suspect we’ll have to replace it.” He got up from his chair and shuffled to the fireplace. After rubbing the iron surface, he said, “I’m not sure I can repair this crack in the metal. Rust is eating it, too. But maybe the Blacksmith can repair it.”
Eleanor’s face grimaced as if a pain gripped her. “I wonder how many necessities will drain our account. I didn’t plan on this one.”
“If it’s any help, most of the farm tools are in good enough shape. I’ll have to repair and balance the large door’s hinge someday, but I think we’re going to need a horse right away.”
“I figured as much. I wonder if we could borrow or rent one for plowing.”
“I’ll look into it when we walk into town.”
Eleanor twisted her head and stared at little William sleeping in the crib Nathaniel had built the week before. “I’m not sure we are ready to make the trek, yet.”
Nathaniel sauntered back to his chair and as he sat down. “Maybe, if God provides a horse today, we could go tomorrow.”
“How’s the wagon?”
“Seems fine to me. The wheels appear sound—could use some grease.”
Eleanor’s left hand covered her forehead. “I didn’t factor that. I wonder how much more I failed to consider.”
“Darling…” Nathaniel clasped Eleanor’s forearm. “Please, try not to fret. I found plenty of grease in a can in the barn.” He added a reassuring smile to his peace offering.
Eleanor’s expression softened.
“Then, it’s settled. I’ll walk to town and, from your list, I’ll bring home what I can carry. So, what would be the most important?”
Eleanor lifted her head and blinked. Tears welled; one fell. “How are we going to survive? We have no livestock, not even a chicken to boil in a pot. Our money will soon dry up.” Eleanor waved at the front door and window. “The land is barren for all practical purposes, and it is too late to plant anything.” All of a sudden, she yelled, “Did you bring us here to starve us to death?”
Nathaniel leaned back. His heart began to race.  He put both hands on top of the table and his fingers dug into the wood—the tips turned white under his nails. I brought you here because God told me to take you and the boy out of Chicago and return to my home. He pushed away from the table and stood up, pressing into a man’s posture, almost at attention. His mind flashed with the memory of his comrades-in-arms worshipping God and thanking Him for His provisions, even if it was a handful of peanuts and a cup of tepid water.  He marched out the front door and slammed it.

Eleanor heard his stomping footsteps disappear once he reached the dust. She rushed to the window and watched him limp between the wagon-wheel impressed lanes, leading to Mount Hope Road. Bailey charged from the barn, chased after Nathaniel and then matched his pace.
Nathaniel passed the spreading, ageless oak, standing as a sentinel between the lane and the family plot. Eleanor took note of the grave markers and muttered, “I guess that’s where I’ll be soon.” She threw her hands to her face as her once-bottled tears poured. “I could bear it all if I knew he loved me.”
As his floppy hat disappear beyond the ridge, she said, “I know he’s a good man.” She glanced at the mirror hanging by the front door. “I know I’m not pretty. I suspect he’s taking care of us out of a sense of obligation, but I don’t know if he loves me…like I feel he must have loved her.” She stared at the hopeless nothingness at the end of the lane.
Turning from the window, she gazed at her sleeping son and regained her composure. “I will make the best of it.” All of a sudden, her eyes widened as she remembered. “The list.”

Thirty minutes later, Nathaniel kicked a rock in the dirt road and continued his rant. “But why, Lord, did she charge me with such contempt? I know farm life is not easy, but she knew that when she agreed to marry me and move here. I don’t understand.” He lifted his eyes and saw the town in the distance. “Am I doing something wrong? Have I failed her in some way? This is all too confusing. Do other men face this, this…?” He struggled to find the right word.
He picked up a stick and tossed it toward town. Bailey chased it. “She seemed so happy. What happened? What changed? Where did this mean-spiritedness come from?”
He retrieved his handkerchief from his back pants pocket, lifted his floppy, broad-brimmed hat, and wiped away the accumulating sweat in his hair and beading on his forehead. The band inside his hat felt soaked, too. He secured his hat and allowed a slight alteration to his perspective. “Maybe, she’s scared, Lord. I trust You will provide for us. You have never failed me yet, and I’m fully persuaded You do not change.”
Bailey trotted carrying the prized severed limb from a silver maple tree.
Nathaniel hiked his trousers as he kept talking to his Creator. “Well, Sir, I know we need a horse. The fields may not yield a crop until next year, but they won’t get plowed without some help. If You provide one, I can bring home a few more supplies.” With renewed focus, Nathaniel reached the edge of town. “Let’s go, Bailey.” He spotted the livery and increased his pace. “That ought to make her happy.”

Nathaniel had been gone for about an hour when William began to fuss. Eleanor placed the cast-iron skillet she struggled to clean into the washbasin and turned to address her son’s assumed needs. “Are you hungry my little man, or do we need to be cleaned up, or a bit of both?” She strode across the wood-planked floor, wiping her hands on her apron.
As she reached for William, she noticed a change in his color and a little more than normal mucus running from his tiny nose. She picked him up and and detected that he felt a little warm, too.
Taking him into the bedroom to change his diaper, she noticed his stool seemed looser. Hoping to illicit a responsive smile, she asked in a squeaky voice, “Are we not feeling well?”
William sneezed.
After she cleaned up William’s little mess, she tried to feed him, but he refused—another abnormal behavior. She jostled and rocked him in her arms and patted his back. She walked over to the window and searched the ridgeline. “Where’s your daddy, Billy?”
He coughed.
She gazed at the building afternoon clouds. “Where’s my husband, Lord, when I need him?”
No answer.
“Oh God,” she cried. “Please, don’t take my son.”

Nathaniel felt proud of himself as he walked out of town with a reddish-brown, three-year old, filly in tow. Bailey led the little band ranging from one side of the road to the other. Nathaniel had the young horse loaded with a fifty-bound bag of wheat, another like size sack of rice, twenty-five pounds of corn, and twenty pounds of beans. Nathaniel figured these staples would provide survival sustenance for a long time if rationed and preserved.
The blacksmith, Eleazar Salem, had assured Nathaniel the young female horse had been broken and was ready to ride and work. The townsfolk called the blacksmith “Chubby”for obvious reasons. Nathaniel and Chubby agreed to a term contract. For ten dollars down, Nathaniel could pay off the balance over the next year.
As the threesome made progress out of town, there were moments when the filly did not seem to want to follow Nathaniel’s lead. Nathaniel could not afford to have his new friend buck off his now priceless acquisitions, so he adopted a much slower pace home, careful to keep her calm by stroking her majestic neck.
Bailey kept wandering off but would find his way back to the road, check on his master, and then disappear on another sniffing adventure.
Nathaniel stroked the horse’s mane and asked, “What shall I call you? I think Ellie will be happy to see you. Maybe we should let her give you a proper name. What do you think, girl?”
The horse’s ears cocked and turned as her neck and head bobbed to the rhythm of her gate.
A rabbit darted across the trail and scrambled for some thick brush. Bailey raced in hot pursuit. The horse whinnied and snorted. Nathaniel grabbed the bridle and, with as much calm as he could pretend, he said, “Easy, girl, easy. It’s just Bailey. He’ll do you no harm.”
Hanging tight to the leather rigging, Nathaniel stood in front of the big animal and looked into each widened eye. The horse jerked her head, almost lifting Nathaniel off the ground, but he did not, would not, release his hold. Soon her breathing eased. Nathaniel said, “You’re a bit skittish, aren’t you, girl?”
He came along the animal’s left side and began another slow stride up the long, sloping, winding road. The horse seemed to submit and followed. “Maybe you’re just young with much to learn. Well, girl, we’ve got plenty of time.”
They crested the ridge. The little yellowish-white, farmhouse appeared as it had in so many times past. Nathaniel spoke to his animal companions and to the One who knew his thoughts. “I hope Ellie comes to love this place as I do.”
He noticed smoke drifting from the chimney. “I wonder if she’s cooking something. After I grind some of this wheat, we’ll be able to bake bread. There’s nothing like a hot meal with some warm, fresh bread to make a person feel better about themselves and their surroundings.”
As he passed the family plot, he detected William’s crying. “Sounds like, the new master of the house is making his usual demands for comfort.” Yet even his untrained ear perceived something different. He caught a glimpse of Eleanor passing the window holding William in her arms. A sense of unease gripped him. At first, his pace slowed. Next, he processed racing speculations. Then, he jogged the last hundred yards.
Nathaniel tied the burdened horse, rushed inside, calling in a raised voice, “Sweetheart, I’m home. I got—” His eyes met his bride’s, and her horrified expression stopped him cold.
“We need a doctor. Does this backwoods town of yours have one?”
Nathaniel removed his hat and scratched the top of his head. “We used to. Doctor Pritchard.  I suspect he still has his practice.”
“How soon can we leave?”
“Why, what’s wrong?”
“William’s sick. He’s thrown up, and he’s warm with fever—coughing, too.”
Nathaniel looked at his adopted son. “Do you think its Pneumonia?”
“I don’t know for certain. But, if it is what I think it is, we’re all in for a rough few weeks.”
Bailey strutted in through the open front door. He glanced at his human friends and hopped on the lone easy chair, circled the seat a few times and plopped, licking the side of his mouth.
Eleanor’s head followed the dog’s progress. Her shoulders drooped as if she noticed the mud on Bailey’s paws and stains on the seat. She shook her head and repeated, “How soon can we be on our way?”
Nathaniel replied with confidence. “Give me a few minutes to get the wagon ready.”
“Wagon?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Nathaniel said, puffing out his chest. “I didn’t get a chance to tell you.” His smile now stretched from ear-to-ear. “We have a horse.”
“Well, glory be.”
“I told you everything would be all right. God will take care of us.” Nathaniel walked over to Eleanor and placed his right hand on top of William’s warming head. “And our God will heal him from this affliction, too.”
Eleanor searched Nathaniel’s eyes for reassurance. “Do you really believe that, husband?”
He locked his eyes on hers. “Yes, sweetheart, in Jesus’ name, I do.”

After two weeks of nearly sleepless nights, God intervened, and the illness released its hold on little William. With his noticeable improvement, the shackles of worry that tormented Eleanor fell off. A degree of what might be normalcy returned to the Graham homestead…although this little family did not have an appreciation for what normal looked like, at least not yet anyway.
Even Bailey ceased his incessant patrolling of the property.
This day, Nathaniel surveyed their land as Bailey chased after the wind. “Lord, I’m going to need Your help remembering which crops grew where.” He leaned against the trunk of an aged silver maple, examined the clouds drifting above, and said, “Maybe I’ll ask some of the locals for advice. I know it is too late to plant anything, but Lord, I also know the ground won’t produce a single ear of corn if not plowed.” He watched Bailey bound over a hill and disappear. “Well, Lord, I’ll do my part. I’m depending on You to do Yours. I can’t make it rain, You know.”
He made mental notes of ground conditions, soil composition, and areas that would require clearing of fallen trees, rocks, or both.  Later, he located the old boundary markers his father drove into the ground years ago, replacing the moveable boulders his grandfather placed long before Tennessee became the sixteenth state on June 1, 1796.
Some criticized the Federal territorial leaders for how they manipulated the political system to attain statehood, but it was all in the past.  Now Tennessee took credit for being the first former Confederate State to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which abolished slavery.
When Nathaniel reached the boundary marker closest to town, he noticed the boulder remained with it. Nothing of rock appeared special in anyway. It was smooth and rounded, like thousands of other rocks lying on the ground. Why didn’t my father remove this one like the others when he drove in the iron spikes?  Nathaniel wondered.
Soaking wet, Bailey raced down the hill. He must have spotted a squirrel drop from a Conifer tree. He changed directions and gave chase. The squirrel took to another tree, and Bailey tried to climb up a low-hanging branch but fell to the ground. He hopped up barking, and jumped onto the trunk as if begging the rodent to come down.
Nathaniel yelled as he circled the stone, “Bailey, give up. Leave it alone.” Nathaniel reached the public side of the rock. There he saw the answer. Chiseled deep into its side, he read, “Deuteronomy 6:10-13.” Nathaniel lifted his eyes toward heaven. He felt the morning’s coolness yield to the warming sunshine. “Thank You, Lord God, my true Father, my Redeemer, and Keeper of my soul.” He let his gaze traverse the entire expanse of the land he now called home. “It is a good land, and You have given me a good wife. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
“This is what you wanted.”
Becoming accustomed to these sudden interruptions from higher authority to his prayers, Nathaniel said, “I won’t ask how You knew, because You know the deepest thoughts and intentions of everyone’s soul—the righteous and the wicked alike. But I admit there were many days throughout the war, and my time in prison when I thought I would never see this day.”
“I am the Lord your God and I choose to show My loving-kindness to those who love Me and keep My commandments.  Remember our conversation near Manassas as you recovered from a head wound and burns to your legs.  I kept my promise to your fathers; now, watch yourself, lest you forget the Lord who brought you from the land of captivity, out of the house of bondage.”
Nathaniel eased to his knees and bowed in reverence. A sense swept over him as a gentle rolling wave, like being in a holy place as the truth of his personal exodus deepened.
Bailey came to Nathaniel’s side, sniffed Nathaniel’s right ear, gave it a soft lick, and sat down on the cool grass.
Nathaniel began to weep, this time from an overwhelming joy. “Thank You for giving me life, thank You for placing me in a family to give me a godly heritage, thank You for saving my soul and forgiving me of my many evil sins against You, and thank You for bringing me safely home. You are faithful. Mold me and shape me into a reflection of Your faithfulness.”
A cool breeze passed over Nathaniel as if to say, “I will.” 
As always, thanks for reading. If you like the path the story is taking, please let me know by leaving a comment below. If you think others may enjoy it, feel free to share it.