Gone for a Soldier
Rulon — April 19, 1861
Rulon Owen hadn’t intended that crisp Friday in April to be momentous.
In fact, when he’d saddled his horse in order to do an errand in Mount Jackson for his ma, he hadn’t given much thought to anything but stealing a few moments to see Mary Hilbrands.
She was only a little bit of a thing, a girl with dark hair and eyes that shone like… well, they kind of smoldered nowadays whenever she looked his way. Those smoky dark eyes gave him a shaky feeling that spun his head in circles and tied his gut into knots that…
“Whew.” Rulon realized he’d let the horse slow to a walk while he’d been off in a reverie, somewhere not in Shenandoah County, as far as he could tell. He got the horse loping again, and wished it was already a year from now. Mayhap folks wouldn’t get their tails in a twist about them keeping company once Mary turned sixteen in May next year. He was almighty tired of Ben and Peter, and especially of Pa, accusing him of trying to rob the cradle because he’d taken such a shine to the girl. Yes. He’d concede that she was young, but when she spoke his name, his knees felt like they was composed of apple jelly.
Ma sides with me, he thought. Pa was the true cradle-robber of the family when the two of them wed. Him twenty-four. Ma barely sixteen.
He wasn’t likely to throw his opinion on that subject in his father’s face any day soon. Firm. Formidable. The entire county used those words to describe his father. Rulon shook his head. Receiving back-sass from his offspring did not sit well with Roderick Owen. But at age twenty, Rulon hadn’t taken a lickin’ for a long spell. Maybe Pa’s gone soft in his old age. That’s likely, now that he has nigh onto forty-five years pressing him down.
Rulon rode on, wondering what to do to get his father off his back on the subject of Mary Hilbrands. It’s time I ask Ma to say a word to Pa, he determined at last. She won’t let him ride me once I begin to court Mary in earnest.
He slowed the horse to a walk as he entered the town. Ahead, he spotted his brother Ben pulling sacks of grain out of a wagon parked in front of the mill where he’d taken employment over the winter. Glancing up, Ben saw Rulon, and stopped to raise his hand in greeting, a big grin splitting his face.
Rulon drew rein and halted. “Brother Ben.” He clasped the outstretched hand. “What makes you so happy today?”
“I am put in a smilin’ mood from seein’ you with that enraptured look on your face. Can’t wait to thrust your hand into the cookie jar, huh?”
Rulon snorted at Ben’s fancy.
Ben kept on talking his nonsense. “Oh yes, indeed. You’re an enchanted man, spellbound and smitten, ready to do that girl’s bidding.”
“Speak for yourself, brother.”
Ben laughed and said, “Give my best to Miss Mary,” then smacked Rulon’s horse on the rump, which caused it first to shy and then to run.
After a block atop the runaway, Rulon regained control of the animal. “Heartless boy,” he grumbled, his face hot with humiliation. He settled the horse down to a sedate walk once again as he proceeded on his errand.
As he came in view of Mr. Hilbrands’ store, he saw a crowd of excited men, some coming, and some going. Some were running. Running! What was amiss?
He drew up and dismounted. As soon as he had his feet on the ground, a friend of Pa’s shoved the newspaper from Harrisonburg into his hands and bid him take it home. Slapping him on the back, the man ran down the street.
Rulon watched the man’s hasty departure, then looked at the immense black headlines of the special edition. WAR. He read the subtitles interspersed with the text on the front page. Ft. Sumter surrenders. Lincoln calls for troops. Via. Conv. votes to secede. Ratification vote in May. Counties raising Companies. Defend the Homeland. His heart went cold at the urgency of the words. It soon rebounded, and began to beat at a rate he’d not experienced many times in his life. He looked up from the paper, his breath as quick as his heart rate, and made a decision. Feeling the cogs of his life shuddering to a halt and then changing direction, he strode into the store to put his plan into action.
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