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Welcome To SORMAG's Blog

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I have Seen Him in the Watchfires - Cathy Gohlke

I have Seen Him in the Watchfires

By Cathy Gohlke

ISBN# 0-8024-8774-2

Publisher Moody Publishers

Genre Fiction/General/Historical

Copyright 2008

Published date 9/1/08

Where it can be purchased bookstores/Amazon

Website http://www.cathygohlke.com/Cathy_Gohlke_/Home.html


Ma left us to go south and live with Grandfather Ashton a full year before the Confederacy fired on Fort Sumter. When President Lincoln called for 75,000 Union troops to squelch the rebellion, Pa telegraphed Ma that North Carolina wasn’t safe, that he was coming to get her, to bring her home to Maryland, to Laurelea. Ma shot back, “Ashland is my home. I’ll defend it with my last breath. I am proud of our men who will do the same on the battlefield. Do not come unless you come to enlist with them. I will not go with you.”
I wanted Ma to be proud of me, too—more than anything. And I was itching to fight, like every boy I knew, but not for the Confederacy.
I’d cast my lot with Pa and the Henrys, and with Mr. Heath, their employer, in running Laurelea as a station—a safe house, part of the Underground Railroad. I’d run escaped slaves north on the freedom train, beginning with Grandfather Ashton’s son, born of a slave woman—the boy he’d planned to sell. I’d buried my best friend, William Henry, who’d died protecting us all for the same cause.
I could not fight for states that bought and sold human beings. But with Ma and all her kin in the south, how could I carry a gun to her door?
Pa made me promise that whatever I decided, I’d stay at Laurelea to help Mr. Heath and the Henrys with the farm and the Underground Railroad, that I’d wait to enlist until I turned eighteen. “Then think long and hard,” he said, “before you agree to shoot one of your countrymen—or kin—between the eyes.”
It was a promise I sometimes regretted, but kept true, until the spring of 1864, until the day Emily’s letter came.

Late May, 1864
Chapter One

Our worst spring storm broke on the edge of midnight, a river thrown from the sky. By dawn the Laurel Run had overflowed its banks and was busy stripping the lower fields clean. I knew it even as I lay in my bed, listening to the downpour.
Maybe it was the wind and thunder, or maybe my mind so bent on worry for our new crop, but I never heard the parcel thrust inside the parlor door, never heard so much as a knock or footfall. When, at first light I found it, battered and beaten, bound by twine, I knew that the messenger had taken care to keep it dry. But the seal on Emily’s letter was broken, proof that somebody knew our business.
It wasn’t that violation that made the heat creep up my neck as I tore open the letter.
It was the first words Emily’d ever penned me: “Dearest Cousin Robert.” She’d written on Christmas Day—five long months before. Still, it was a miracle that it had come at all, the mail from the south being what it was.
“Yesterday,” she wrote, “I was visited by Lt. Col. Stuart Copeland, of the 11th North Carolina, lately a prisoner, exchanged from Fort Delaware, Pea Patch Island. Lt. Col. Copeland informed me that Papa—Col. Albert Mitchell—there, I’ve written his precious name—was chest wounded, and captured at the battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 3rd July, along with his remaining men from the 26th North Carolina. He said that Papa, like so many prisoners at Fort Delaware, suffers gravely from smallpox.”
It was the first news she’d had of him in over a year, and she was desperate to know if he lived . . . “I beg you, by all the love of family we have ever known, to forget the estrangement of this maddening war and do all you can for Papa.”
I raked my fingers through my hair. It was a hard request. I’d turn the world over for Emily, if given the chance, but Cousin Albert was another matter. I figured him to be the reason, or a good part of the reason Ma never came home.
“Gladly would I go myself,” she wrote, “but the railroads are a shambles, and Uncle Marcus is not well. I do not know if he will see the spring.” I couldn’t imagine Ashland without Grandfather, or Ma without him—and why was all this left to Emily’s care? She was no older than me. I took up the letter again.
“I would send Alex, but Papa sent him to school in England for the duration of the war, and we have heard nothing from him in two years. The blockades prevent all such communication.”
I felt my jaw tighten, remembering Emily’s younger brother. Alex’s first priority was always Alex. I couldn’t imagine him risking life and limb to help anyone, his father included, if it meant he’d inherit Mitchell House, and possibly Ashland, sooner. That was his life’s goal, even before his voice began to squeak.
“As you can imagine, this horrible war has taken its toll on us all, especially your dear mother. I promise that Cousin Caroline will want for nothing that I can provide in this life as long as I live and am able to care for her. If there is any way you or Cousin Charles can come to her aid, I urge you to do so. But I beg you to see about Papa first.”
My heart raced to think of going to Emily, and to Ma, that they might need me, might want me. It was the first news I’d heard of Ma in months. I tried to conjure their faces, but they wouldn’t come. I remembered that Emily was a younger, darker version of Ma, that Ma’s eyes were blue, and Emily’s brown. But four long years had passed since Ma’d left, longer still since I’d seen Emily, and there was not so much as a tintype to remind me. I forced myself back to the letter.
“With this letter I enclose a parcel of comforts for Papa. I have no hope that they would reach him if I sent them directly to the prison. We have heard such stories of the prison guards. . . ”
I set the letter on the parlor table and counted the days since the battle of Gettysburg. After ten months, stuck in a Union prison—chest wounded, and with small pox—I couldn’t hope that Cousin Albert lived. But for Emily’s sake, and for all she’d done and bound herself to do for Ma, I vowed to heed her plea, to go and see, and do my best by him.

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