Authors: Gilbert L. Morris
© 1995 by
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All Scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
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Cover Illustration: Brian Jekel
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Printed in the United States of America
To Mike Haley, Jr.,
a chip off the old block!
ineville, Kentucky, was so close to the state line that the Virginia mountains were clearly visible. The quiet little town had few celebrations. Usually the Fourth of July was the most important. However, on one cool day in March 1861, the streets were filled with people, music, and the sound of laughter. Fifty years earlier the village had been incorporated, and this celebration had been ordained to call attention to that time.
The day was raw and windy, but no one seemed to mind—least of all the pretty girl who was tugging urgently at the sleeve of a boy close to the square dance platform.
“Come on, Jeff—we’re old enough!”
Leah Carter was barely thirteen, but she’d been yearning to square dance with the grown-ups for a long time. Her honey-colored hair gleamed as the pale sun touched it, and the green dress she wore matched the color of her eyes. It was her best dress. She’d been hoping that Jeff Majors would tell her how pretty it was—but he had not.
“Aw, I don’t know how.” Jeff was tall for fourteen years and had the blackest hair Leah had ever seen. He had black eyes too—and brows to match. He was wearing a pair of stiff new jeans, a red-and-brown checked shirt, and a pair of new brown
boots. Digging the toe of the right one into the dirt, he said stubbornly, “Anyway, your pa would paddle you if he caught you dancing.”
“He would not!” Leah tossed her long hair. “He’s never paddled me!”
Jeff suddenly grinned at her, his eyes crinkling until they were mere slits—they crinkled like his father’s and brother’s. “I can think of a time or two when he should have tanned you. Like the time you and Walter Beddows—”
“I don’t want to hear about Walter Beddows!” Leah interrupted, her face turning pink. She hated Jeff’s teasing. They’d grown up together, their families were the closest of friends, but for the last year she’d suddenly become aware of how handsome a boy Jeff was—though she’d never admit it. “Come on, I’ll teach you.”
Jeff tried to draw back, but she caught his arm and pulled him toward the low platform. The square dancers were moving to the music of a five-piece band, including two guitars, a banjo, a fiddle, and a dulcimer.
“I feel like a fool, Leah!” he protested. But somehow he found himself on the platform. He kept his eyes on his feet, trying to follow Leah’s instructions. He knew he’d take a great deal of ribbing by his friends.
Right now he heard one of them calling, “Hey Jeff! Where’d you get that pretty gal?”
“Don’t pay any attention to that old Jay Walters!” Leah whispered. “You’re doing fine!”
Two men arrived at the long refreshment table just then, and one squinted at the square dancers. He was six feet tall, and a fine black suit set off his trim figure. Nelson Majors had the same dark hair
and eyes as his son Jeff. “Will you look at that, Daniel!” he exclaimed.
Daniel Carter was a smaller man than his friend, no more than five feet ten inches. His light brown hair was growing thin on the crown, and his eyes were a faded blue. His mouth was firm under a scraggly mustache, but there was a fragile quality in his features. A look of surprise swept over his face. “Why—that’s Leah and Jeff!”
Nelson Majors laughed at the expression on his friend’s face. “They’re growing up fast.”
“Not fast enough to start square dancing with the grown-ups, I don’t reckon.” Carter scowled. Then, in spite of himself, a grin touched his lips. “That girl! She’s stubborn as a blue-nosed mule!
I’ll give her a thrashing when I get her home!”
“Be the first one, I reckon. Say, look at that.” He grinned as his older son, Tom, approached the young couple. “He’s going to tease the life out of Jeff for this stunt!”
Jeff, concentrating on his feet, jumped when a hand tapped his shoulder. He whirled around to find his brother standing there, a smile dancing in his dark eyes. “Cutting in on you, little brother,” Tom announced cheerfully. He turned to Leah, adding, “I make it a habit to dance with every pretty girl.”
Leah almost giggled, but decided that was not ladylike. Instead she let Tom Majors direct her around the floor. She caught a glimpse of Jeff stomping away—and then she did giggle. “He’s mad at you.”
“Do him good to be jealous.” Tom smiled down at her. “I didn’t think anybody on earth could make Jeff get up and dance in public. What’d you do, Leah—put a spell on him?”
“Oh, you just have to know how to handle Jeff.” Leah nodded wisely. “He’s shy Mister Tom, but I know how to get him to do things.”
“I’ll bet you do!” A merry light gleamed in Tom Majors’s eyes. “You’ve been bossing him around since you were six years old. What I want to know is, how—”
He broke off suddenly, as a shout caught their ears. “It’s a fight!” he exclaimed. Releasing her, he dashed off the platform. Shouldering his way past a circle of men, Tom stared at the two young men who were pounding each other furiously.
The crowd was urging them on, but Tom instantly stepped between the two.
“Royal—Dave—!” He caught a wild blow on the cheek that drove his head back, but he yelled, “Stop this foolishness!”
Royal Carter’s face was contorted with anger. “Get out of the way, Tom! I’m going to stomp him!” Royal was not tall, but he was muscular and strong. Blond-haired and blue-eyed, he tried to look older by wearing a large mustache and heavy sideburns. He was Tom’s best friend.
“You ain’t stompin’ nobody, Carter!” Dave Mellon was much larger than his opponent but had taken several blows in the face. His lip was cut, and a large bruise was darkening on his cheek. His face was crimson with rage, and he tried to push Tom aside. “You taking up for him, Tom? You ought to know better!”
“What’s all this?” Now Mr. Carter had arrived at the inner circle, followed by Nelson Majors. He took his son’s arm. “Royal, you know better than to brawl in public!”
Ordinarily Royal Carter was a gentle young man—the last person one would expect to see in a fight. He was nineteen and had the nickname of “Professor” among his friends. Now he was pale with anger, and he glared at Mellon. “He cussed the president and the Union,” Royal said. “I won’t stand for that!”
“You and the rest of your Yankee friends will stand for more than that, Carter!” Dave Mellon was an outspoken abolitionist—which meant he was for freeing the slaves even if it meant war. President Lincoln would fight only to preserve the Union. “This country can’t put up with slavery!”
An angry mutter ran around the crowd.
Mr. Carter glanced around. Mellon’s words had divided the men into two groups. All were his neighbors, but they differed strongly on the matter of states’ rights—and slavery.
It’s the same all over this country
, he thought sadly.
Men who’ve gotten along all their lives are ready to start shooting at each other!
“Come along, Royal,” he said quietly. He turned, and his son—giving one hard glance at Dave Mellon—obeyed. They pushed their way through the crowd.
A man said loudly, “Why don’t you just go South, Carter?”
But Daniel Carter ignored him.
When the men reached the refreshment table, they found their wives waiting. “Are you all right, son?” Mary Carter was younger than her husband. She was a strong woman—which was very good, because Mr. Carter was not always well. “I thought you and Dave were good friends.”
“Not anymore,” Royal said sharply “You should have heard what he said about us!”
“You’re going to hear worse, Royal.” Nelson Majors was very fond of young Carter. The young man had spent much time in his home over the years. Now worry disturbed Mr. Majors’s dark eyes. “This business about slavery and states’ rights isn’t going to get any better.”
“Do you think there’ll be a war, Nelson?” The question was asked by his wife, Irene, a frail woman who wore a worried expression. In her youth, she had been a great beauty, but sickness had drained her, and now she looked frightened.
“I hope not,” Mr. Majors said quickly. But his eyes met those of Daniel Carter—and he knew they were thinking the same thing.
“There’ll have to be a war,” Tom insisted. “The Yankees will force it on us.”
“Why, you don’t own any slaves, Tom,” Royal said.
“No, and I never will. But a state has the right to decide for itself what to do!”
That was the real issue that faced the country—whether or not a state could leave the Union if it so decided. And though the two families said no more, the celebration was spoiled for them.
They all seemed to realize that the lifelong friendship between the Carters and the Majors family was in peril. Indeed, the United States of America was on the verge of disaster.
* * *
“Oh, Jeff, it’s the robin’s egg—the one we’ve looked for for so long!” Leah held the tiny blue egg
in her hand. Her face was alive with pleasure.
Leah and Jeff were high in a towering sycamore tree. They’d become expert tree climbers in their joint determination to collect a specimen of every bird’s egg in the county. Leah was wearing her old overalls, and the two sat as easily on the limb as if it had been a solid bench.