Authors: Gilbert L. Morris
Â© 1995 by
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All Scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
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Back Cover Design: Brady Davidson
Cover Illustration: Brian Jekel
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who has brought sunshine into my life
1. Leah's Plan
4. A Good Yankee
Leah Carter had stepped halfway over a rotten log in the woods, but at the sound of Jeff Majors's voice she froze where she was. At the same instant she heard a buzzing that made her blood seem to run cold. With her foot half over the log, she lowered her eyes to a diamond rattler thick as a man's wrist and poised to strike. Its needle-sharp fangs were white, and its rattles blurred as they sounded their dire warning.
“Don't move!” Jeff whispered again.
Leah longed to turn and run, but she knew that the striking snake would catch her in the leg if she tried that. She heard Jeff to her left and wanted to cry out to him to be careful.
She felt the sun beating down on her head as she stood rigid in position.
Suddenly Jeff sprang into her line of vision. He struck at the snake with a large stick, shouting, “Get back, Leah!”
Leah leaped backward and in her anxiety sprawled full length on her back. She scrambled to her feet and saw Jeff still thrashing at the snake with all his might. “Be careful, Jeff! Don't let him get you!”
Jeff straightened up and turned to her, his face pale, and said in a voice not quite steady, “I guess that'll take care of him!”
Now that the danger was over, Leah suddenly felt sick. Her knees were weak and trembling. When Jeff dangled the snake over the stick, she cried out, “No, I don't want to see him!” She walked unsteadily away and leaned against a tall hickory. Her shoulders began to shake, and she put her head against the rough bark trying to hold back the tears.
Jeff dropped the snake at once and came to stand beside her. “Aw, Leah,” he said uncomfortably, “don't cry. It's all over now.” When she did not move, he tentatively put a hand on her shoulder and turned her around. Looking down at her, he muttered, “That was pretty close, but we made it all right.”
Jeff Majors had the blackest hair possible and eyes so dark he was called the Black Majors by some of the family. Tall for his age and looking older than his fourteen years, he had large hands and feet. There was a look of durability about him. He wore a pair of worn tan trousers and a faded checked shirt, both somewhat small for him.
Leah pulled herself together, swallowed hard, and looked up. “You saved my life, Jeff. Heâhe would have gotten me for sure!”
“Well, I'm glad you didn't step on him. They're bad business.”
Leah was sobered by the experience. “I could have died,” she whispered. “You never think about such things until something like this happens.”
“Sure. I reckon it pays to be careful in the woodsâbut when you're stepping over a log you can't always see what's on the other side.”
* * *
Â Â Â
Jeff looked down at Leah, thinking how pretty she had gotten in the last year. Today she wore a pair of faded blue overalls that had once belonged to her brother, Royal, but somehow she looked nice in them. One thing they had in common was their birthdayâJune fifteenthâbut she was one year younger than he was. He admired her green eyes and blonde hair, now falling down her back, but to cover his embarrassment he said, “Well, you would've done the same for me.”
“I don't know if I could have.” Leah turned, and the two walked slowly along the forest path.
When they reached an opening in the trees, they paused and looked down into the wide valley. “I sure got lonesome to see that house of yours when I was gone to the army,” Jeff murmured. He studied the Carter home, then lifted his eyes further. “Can't see our place from here. I missed it tooâthought of it every day.”
“Someday you'll all come back,” Leah said softly. “The war will be over, and we'll all be together again just like we used to be.”
The Civil War had shattered the little town of Pineville, just as it had other towns all over the country. Dan and Mary Carter, Leah's parents, had stood for the Union, but Jeff's father, Nelson Majors, had been Southern born. He had taken his wife and two sons South, settling in Richmond. Jeff's mother died soon after their arrival, bringing a new child, named Esther, into the world.
Looking down, Jeff thought of how it had been when they were growing up together.
Leah asked suddenly, “Do you have to go back and be a drummer boy, Jeff? Can't you just stay here until the war is over?”
“Why, I can't do that! I've got to be with my pa and Tom.”
“Butâbut your father's in prison in Washington. He's not in Richmond.”
Jeff's lips made a thin line, and he nodded curtly. “He won't be there for always. He'll get exchanged or â¦ or â¦” The thoughts that ran through his mind disturbed him. His father had been taken as a prisoner of war at the Battle of Bull Run, and since that time Jeff had thought of little else except how to free him. Leah seemed to see that he was troubled. “Well, in any case, we've got Esther here. We'll take good care of her.”
The Carters had volunteered to take the baby since Nelson Majors was in the army and had no way to care for a child.
Abruptly she looked at him and said, “Jeff, you know what I heard one time?”
He looked down at her curiously. “You hear a lot. What is it this time?”
Leah pursed her lips and looked thoughtful. “I read somewhere that if someone saves your life, you belong to that person somehow.”
Jeff grinned. “Well, I guess you belong to me then. That means I get first helpings at the table tonightâand you have to wash all my clothes while I'm here.”
Leah was more serious. “You always get first helpingsâbut I'll never forget how you jumped in there and killed that old rattler!”
“Oh, shucks, Leah, that was nothing.” Jeff shrugged. But he was pleased with the way she looked at him. “I'm glad that I was there. I wouldn't want anything to happen to you. You're my best friend, aren't you?”
She smiled instantly, her teeth looking very white against her tanned face. “Yes, we'll always be best friends.”
Jeff was shy in many ways. Although he and Leah had been best friends for a long time, he somehow felt embarrassed to talk about it. “Come on, let's go see old Napoleon.”
They walked quickly down the path, emerging finally at a bridge that spanned a sparkling stream. Leaning on the rail they watched the small minnows sparkle in the sunlight. Occasionally a fish would break the water, and Jeff said wistfully, “I wish I had a line here. I'd catch some of those bass.”
“I don't see old Napoleon though.”
“He's a pretty smart fish, and I caught him once. So I don't think he's going to be dumb enough to get caught again.”
Jeff remembered. They had been at this very bridge when word came that the North and the South were at war. That had been the beginning of hard times for them both.
“That was really something when you caught old Napoleon,” Leah said quietly.
Old Napoleon was a huge bass, legendary almost, that had been able to avoid being caught for years. But Jeff had snagged the huge fish on his last visit and managed to get him to shore.
“You let him go, Jeff. I never did really know why you did that.”
Jeff traced his initials on the wooden rail with his forefinger and was silent for a moment. Finally he said, “I guess I just like things to stay where they are. Everything's changing so quick. When I was in the battle at Bull Run, for some crazy reason I thought about Napoleon. We don't have a home
here anymore, but I thought,
Well, as long as old Napoleon's there, not everything will change.”
He thought again to the time he had pulled the thumping fish in, how he'd stared at him, then bent over and loosed the hook and let him go free. “Some of these days,” he whispered, “when the war is over, I'll come back, and we'll catch him again, Leah.”
“I don't knowâI don't think I could eat old Napoleon. That would just be like eating Delilah.” Delilah was the hammer-headed tomcat that dominated the Carter household.
Both of them laughed at the idea of eating Delilah, then they turned toward the house. On the way they stopped to look at several bird nests. For years they had collected wild bird eggs until together they had the best collection in the county. Leah had taken it when Jeff moved with his family.
“Look, Jeff, there's that tree where we got the wren's egg. Do you remember that day?”
Jeff stared up at the branches and thought for a moment. “And that's the day my brother Tom and your sister Sarah parked under it in the buggy.” He smiled. “I sure felt bad about eavesdropping on them.”
Tom Majors had been courting Sarah Carter before the war began. They were very much in love. Jeff only too well remembered perching in the tree with Leah when their buggy pulled up. Tom demanded to know why Sarah would not marry him. She had said it was because Tom may soon be fighting for the South but her brother Royal would fight for the North. “What would it be like if I married youâand you killed my brotherâor he killed you?”