Free sample: Volunteer for Glory

As promised, here is the first excerpt of Volunteer for Glory.

The Paths of Glory lead but to the grave.

—Gray, Elegy in a Country Churchyard


The Illinois snow all but covered the cabin; it mounded on the roof, bulked over eaves and formed icicles that glinted gold, blue, and pink.  Smoke from the fieldstone chimney rose into the cloudless sky, and wind-sculpted drifts swirled around fence posts and barn walls.  In an unusual quirk of benevolence, the previous night’s storm had scoured most of the snow from the road leading out of the farm, a fact Stuart noted as he looked out the small frosted kitchen window.  Scraping a circle on the glass with his hand, he squinted against the blinding sunlight that danced over the white fields.

Rachel stirred in their bed, and he heard her sleepy voice.  She had been dreaming when he’d gotten up, her eyes moving behind her closed lids, one arm out-flung, pink lips parted.  He had lingered, tempted to indulge in lovemaking, but he had more important plans for the morning.  He pulled on warm trousers and a thick flannel shirt and added wood to the fireplace.  Felt-lined boots in hand, he sat on the bed.

Rachel drew her nighttime braid from behind her shoulder, and when her husband leaned down for a quick kiss, she took his face in her hands, rubbing her thumbs over the dark sandpaper of his jaw.   “Hurry back,” she whispered.

“I’ll be ready for breakfast after chores.  I’m going to town, so if you need anything at the store, write it down.”  He shrugged into his coat and stepped out into the cold.

He hadn’t closed the bed curtains, and a gust of ice crystals and sharp air blew in, making Rachel gasp.  She dressed by the fireplace, now crackling with flame, and stepped into flannel bloomers, petticoats, and skirt.  Dropping her shawl, she hurried into her camisole and linsey-woolsey blouse.  A splash of cold water to wash, and, thank goodness, the builders of this cabin had situated it directly over the well.  A water pump came right up through the floor into the kitchen.

Rinsing her mouth, she reached for the little elm twig with its frayed end and rubbed it vigorously over her teeth.  She had learned to do this from one of her father’s old parishioners and employed it twice a day.  A tiny mirror over the washbasin enabled her to admire the results.

Touching the circle Stuart had made in the frost, she looked out at the snow.  She couldn’t see the barn, but easily imagined him gently haranguing the cow before milking, throwing grain to the chickens, corn and slops to the pigs, and hay for the horses.  She knew he would slip his riding mare, Flossy, an extra helping of oats.  But the two draft horses would stomp and snort until they too were favored.   When she told him he should treat them the same, Stuart had only laughed, saying it was a game between him and Flossy.  “She’s like you.  Wanting to be noticed and made over.”

Removing a stove lid, she put bits of wood shavings and twigs over the coals that smoldered under last night’s ashes.  The hinged stove door was left open to encourage a draft.

Winter had begun early that November, and now, in January of 1861, spring seemed far away.  Before moving to Illinois, all of Rachel’s nineteen years had been spent in Massachusetts, so she had experienced cold weather.  But winter in the city was a far cry from the isolation of a farmstead.  In Boston, streetcars provided transportation, and houses were cozily situated side-by-side, making visitors and shopping only steps away.  In that old life, she had been kept busy with church and household duties.

Her father, a widowed Presbyterian minister, had not remarried after his wife’s death.  By the time Rachel was fifteen, the parishoners considered her a permanent fixture, prevailing upon her for everything from visiting the sick to baking and selling cakes at fundraisers.  Now her own mistress, she was expected to obey her husband rather than her father.

Taking the mixing bowl from its shelf behind the calico curtain, she dipped two cups of flour from the storage bin.  Salt, baking soda, and two brown eggs to break into the cup of milk came next.  A bit of lard set to melt on the stove, and she was well on her way to making pancakes. But her thoughts wandered from pancakes to late summer when she could wear cotton dresses with big skirts and ruffled aprons.

She and Stuart would walk through the tall prairie grasses, surveying their hundred and twenty acres.  It was a vast amount of land to a city-reared girl, and this would complete their first year of residence.  Although the deed was in Stuart’s name, the land had been purchased with an inheritance from her mother—money her father felt should have been his by rights.  And, hadn’t she had to work to screw that out of her father’s tight fist?  Arthur Comstock hadn’t known what to make of his meek little daughter flying at him with fire in her eyes.

Rachel loved their cabin with its round logs, beautifully hewn, and tightly chinked. On the plank floors were the bright rag rugs she’d made when she was still in her father’s home.  They weren’t large, but added color and warmth to the furnishings.  The bedroom was a curtained alcove, and the lean-to kitchen narrow..

She thought of Stuart.  He wasn’t fooling her with talk of groceries.  The papers would be in from Chicago, and the local men would be waiting to receive them.  Following Lincoln’s election only months ago, South Carolina has openly rebelled against the Union. Talk of war dominated every gathering from Atlanta to Massachusetts.

But war wasn’t in her plans. She and Stuart were starting out, their whole lives ahead of them. Whisking the eggs into the milk, she tried to think of something else.

The fragrance of boiling coffee filled the room, making Stuart sniff appreciatively when he returned from the barn.  Ruddy with cold, he set the milk pail on the sideboard.  Tossing jacket and hat onto a chair, he caught Rachel about the waist, and held her against his slim, horseman’s body.  He nibbled her neck, just under the ear, where she was ticklish.  Giggling, she fended him off, and when he had taken his seat at the table, she set his plate before him piled high with hot cakes.  A jug of maple syrup and a pat of butter completed their breakfast.

“Anything special in town today?” she asked, pretending she had no idea why he intended to travel miles through the snow.

“Papers’ll be in.  If more states follow Carolina’s lead, there’ll be a showdown. Buchanan might play safe, but once Lincoln’s inaugurated, things’ll change.  He won’t take secession laying down.”

“I don’t see how threats will change anything,” Rachel objected.  She salted the smoking griddle, and set it on the stove shelf to cool.

“Not threats.  A good fight.”  Wiping his mustache, Stuart abandoned breakfast.  “Pat and Carter say there’ll be a military call-up come spring.”

Rachel flushed with more than the heat of the cook stove.  “You’d like that, I suppose?” she asked with sarcasm.

“For Christ’s sake!”  Stuart threw his napkin down where it stuck to his pancakes.  “What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing. But I know what’s in your mind.  And I won’t be left to milk cows and slop pigs while you play soldier.”

“Oh, you won’t, will you?”

Stuart’s expression was alarming and suddenly hateful.  Unthinkingly, Rachel raised her hand, but before she could slap him, he seized her wrist.   They glared at each other fiercely.

“Goddamn you, Rache!” He shook her hard enough to make her head wobble before he released her. When he did, she was sent staggering into the doorway.

As Stuart moved toward her, Rachel ran behind the unmade bed, posture defiant, eyes brilliant.

“Rache.”  He extended a hand as though she were a skittish animal.  “ I’m sorry.”  Tense seconds passed before she came into his arms, barely suppressing a sob.

“I’m going to have a baby,” she blurted.  “You can’t go to war.”

He sat on the bed, pulling her down beside him. Sunlight had begun to melt the frost on the window, and thin beams of light crossed the quilt.  “You couldn’t be mistaken, could you?”

“No. It’s been over two months since­­—”

They heard the fire shift in the stove, the wood settling. She pressed his reluctant hand against her still flat belly.  “You wouldn’t leave before the baby’s born, would you?”

“I guess not,” he said grimly.  “But there’s no reason why I shouldn’t go to town now, is there?”

Published in: on June 27, 2011 at 8:47 am  Comments (6)  
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How Sweet It Is

In this moment, I think of the happy or memorable events most of us experience in a lifetime. There are graduations, marriages, the birth of children or grandchildren, buying a first house, getting that awesome job, taking a great vacation, and, if you’re a writer, having a book published. Such times seem to engender other special moments, such as a baby’s first smile, the first paycheck, or the first party in a new home.

I experienced on of those watershed moments when Volunteer for Glory was published as an e-book on March 20. But holding the solid, print version is a not-to-be forgotten thrill for any author. To my mind, e-books seem somewhat ethereal, for I’m a throwback to the analog age. On June 9, that first copy rested heavy and real in my hands, the cover new and shiny, and suddenly the whole publishing process seemed real.

The characters and events I knew so well returned to vibrant life. Rachel, Stuart, and Jared assumed a kind of independence, and, I suspect, are living beyond the last page.  So what happened to them?  Other children must have been born. Did Philip go to Louisiana in search of his southern roots?  Did Jared take up a profession other than farming?  Did Rachel ever forget her first love?  So many questions whose answers lie only in conjecture.

I confess I’m as proud and nervous as any parent watching a beloved child wave good-bye at the schoolhouse steps.  To celebrate, I’ll post the first chapter in installments over the next several weeks. For those who haven’t read the book, this is a preview.  Hope you like it.

Published in: on June 20, 2011 at 4:00 am  Comments (10)  

Summer Dreams

Although cloudy, the day is warm. On the deck, eyes closed, filtered sunlight warms me, and I think of yester-years, when summer stretched from the first day of June all the way to anywhere. Each glorious day offered a wealth of possibility; games of pretend, bike riding, roller-skating, Saturday matinees, and stacks and stacks of library books. Even through my teens, summer brought freedom.  Horseback rides, rodeos, sun tanning, and boyfriends. Time to play, to lounge, and even watch pale moonflowers unfurl in early evening.

Gripped by nostalgia, I mourn the quickened pace of time. Summers that bordered unknown futures have dwindled into weekends. Seized by sudden melancholy, I recall Thomas Dylan’s admonition: “Do not go gentle into that good night.” Onward, upward, out of my chair! I must find that summer train. I may send postcards.

Published in: on June 12, 2011 at 7:47 pm  Comments (11)