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 The Road To Home: Mary's Story

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cindergirl6
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PostSubject: The Road To Home: Mary's Story   Thu Aug 11, 2011 12:33 pm

Preface

April 30, 1865
Ellenton, Georgia

It came from the bushes.
A rough hand, calloused and smelling of gunpowder covered her mouth and swept her into the brush. She struggled against the strength of her captor but his grip tightened.
“Well, well. If it isn't my best friend’s blank.”
Her blue eyes widened in terror as she recognized the familiar-gruff tone.
Jamis, she thought as her heart sank.
“Just what do you think you’re doing with that Rebel?”
He jerked her by the arm, out of the bushes and dragged her down the road. He took her the back way toward the little cabin in the clearing that she shared with her husband, bypassing anyone that might be finishing a day’s work in the fields. He burst in the door of the cabin and threw her down at someone’s feet.
“Believe me now?” Jamis said as she sat on the floor before him. Her head was bowed and her dark curls in disarray as she knelt. “She's been staying at his house while you were away. I saw her with him.”
“Leave us,” he commanded Jamis.
Jamis smiled and sauntered out the back door and closed it.
“Is it true?” He asked in an eerily calm tone.
“I was staying there but I was only caring for his mother, she was ill. That's all.”
“Jamis said that he saw you with him. Do you deny it?”
“It's not what you think, you must believe me. He came home and I gathered my things and left.”
He strode over to the back door and opened it. Jamis was standing there on the porch, waiting; waiting like a snake in the grass.
“You saw her with him?”
“They looked pretty close to me. I saw her kiss him.”
“That's a lie!” Mary shouted and looked at her husband. “Please believe me. I would never.”
She knew she mustn't falter; she was not guilty though he would never believe her. It did not matter; his mind had been made up a long time ago.
Tears fell down her cheeks, she felt dirty and used. All this time she was living a lie. She shuddered to think that she let this monster touch her. This wasn't the same man she married. Clearly he was a shell of what he once was.
She ran away from home and found herself in the middle of the heated battles along the Potomac River. She went to save her fiancé from the certain death that would come from being in a Yankee prisoner of war camp. Her romantic ideals of the war were soon brought to an end on the banks of the Potomac. It was there that she too found herself the enemy’s prisoner.
She closed her eyes and all she could see was him, the one who loved her first…remembering the day she left and the road to home that left her at the mercy of that new enemy, just one short year ago…
One
December 26, 1863
Ellenton, Georgia

The sun rose high above the trees, painting a beautiful array of red, oranges and yellows across the horizon. Mary Lou Bryant stood in front of the ashes of what was left of her family's farm house, with her right hand resting on the curve of her hip and the other shading her eyes as she watched the new day begin. The sight of her standing before what had been a modest farm house might have been a breath of fresh air to any passer-by. Perhaps, it was a glimpse of hope to the dying Old South.
She was the definition of southern beauty. Her hair, ebony as a raven's wing, shined in the light of the rising sun. The wavy curls of her dark mane were flowing freely in the brisk December wind and framing the delicate features of her face. It had been just this past year that her features were beginning to turn from that of a young girl to the softer more elegant features of a young woman. She had fine high cheek bones and full rose-colored lips, accented by a single dimple upon her right cheek that only appeared when she smiled. To a passer-by, she seemed a reminder of the way things once were and the way things would never be again.
Coming down the road something caught her eye. She immediately recognized the approaching carriage to be that of Mrs. Lawrence. Becky Sue Lawrence was the mother of Tristan, Mary’s fiancé. He had ridden away to war the same time as Mary’s brother Jesse, with promise of her hand in marriage upon his return. That was the last time that she saw him, in 1862. She received but two letters in a little over a year’s time; his mother, four.
Mary checked the death list that the newspaper published after each battle; his name was never written there. So she clung to hope over the years that her gallant young cavalier would ride, soon, back into her life. Mary loved him with all her heart and it was his promise of marriage that kept her going when her father and brother were killed. When her mother died, it was dreams of life with him, beyond the tribulations of war, that gave her hope and she was his, all the same.
Timothy, Mrs. Lawrence’s Negro driver, pulled the horses to a halt in front of the farm house where Mary was standing. He jumped down from the driver’s seat and opened the door. A delicate gloved hand appeared and Timothy reached out and grasped it, helping his mistress from the carriage.
She was an elegant lady, dressed in a fine printed calico with blue and brown windowpane print. The collar was no doubt cotton with bobbin lace trim, cotton voile under sleeves with broderie anglais cuffs. She was certainly the picture of Southern aristocracy, having been the daughter of a cotton plantation owner and wife to the largest tobacco grower in Georgia. The Lawrence family had a good reputation that extended back to their arrival in America in the 1650’s.
Mrs. Lawrence was a polite, sophisticated and strong gentlewoman, but when she saw Mary standing before her she threw all etiquette aside and embraced the woman whom she loved as a daughter.
Mary was thrown off guard as the woman began to sob in her arms.
“Mrs. Lawrence, what’s wrong? Have you heard something from Tristan?”
“Dear child, he’s been captured… a battle near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, I think. They took him to a prison in Maryland …Point Lookout.”
“But he’s okay? He’s not wounded?”
“The letter didn’t say.” Mrs. Lawrence dabbed her eyes with her lace handkerchief. “Oh Mary, the prison’s aren’t much better than the battlefields. I’ve heard the most awful things about what Yankee butcher-surgeons like to do to our wounded boys. I wish there were some way…something we could do. I feel so helpless. He’s all I have left, you know.”
Mary felt her legs weaken beneath her and she braced herself against the well. “There must be something that can be done.”
She did not realize her thoughts were said aloud but Mrs. Lawrence hardly noticed for she was staring, wide-eyed, over Mary’s shoulder at the charred remnants of the Bryant’s parlor.
Mary followed her gaze. “Forgive me, I'd ask you inside for a mint julep but...” She gestured toward the half-burned structure.
“I am so sorry about your home Mary Lou. If there is anything I might do…”
“Don’t worry yourself over our misfortune Mrs. Lawrence. We Bryants are a hardy folk. We’ll have this shined up like new before you know it was even gone to begin with.”
Mary managed a smile that comforted the grieving mother, as she wiped her hands on her apron. “Tristan is a good officer and respected among his ranks. I am sure there will be exchanges before we know it.”
“You are too kind my dear. Yes, we will hold onto that hope. Well, I must be getting on. The ladies are rolling bandages for the hospital. Say, has Jenny received word from her husband? I hear Lee was mixed up in the Gettysburg campaign and well, Tom is one of his personal physician's, is he not?”
Mary nodded but in truth she was hardly paying mind to what Mrs. Lawrence was saying.
“Jenny really found a catch in that Scotsman. I do wish he would come home. Dr. Hynns is in need of him in Ellenton.”
“When this cruel war is over...” Mary said, her mind in a daze.
“Yes, my dear. We'll show them Yankees soon enough. Well, Mary. I’m sorry I had to bring such dreadful news to you. I know your dear family is frantic enough after that awful raid by them Pennsylvania stragglers. Just, when I heard about my boy, you were the first person that came to mind that I had to tell.”
She reached up and cupped Mary’s cheek. “We must be strong for him, my dear. He is a fine young man. I know he’ll come out on top, he always has. After all, he did find me the most lovely, kind hearted future daughter-in-law in the entire South.”
She smiled and Mary followed suit. “I really must go now, my dear. Keep your chin up. He’ll come home to us.”
“Yes ma’am.”
She hugged Mrs. Lawrence once more and then Timothy assisted her into the carriage.
“Tell your family that my unending prayers go with them.”
“I'll tell them.”
Mary watched the carriage disappear and then lowered herself, slowly, to the ground. Her side ached as she fought back the tears that gathered behind her eyes.
Her beloved Tristan was in a Yankee prison. To some that seemed a fate worse than death.
She leaned back against the well and closed her eyes. She remembered the way he looked the day he left her; so dashing in his new Confederate gray. The day when he rode away to join the 50th Georgia on their march to glory. He stood proud and confident, as all the men were that left. After all, the war wasn’t going to last more than a month. Three long years of fighting with no sign of an end.
The words, missing and dead, were all too prominent in the local papers.
Captured.
Dear God, not my Tristan.
Again her eyes closed as she remembered the moment she fell in love with Tristan Lawrence.
It was the Twelfth Night Ball of 1861 and the Scott Manor was filled with the lively sounds of those in attendance. People came from as far away as Atlanta to see what young Eva Scott had planned to entertain them with at the gala.
She remembered standing next to Eva and Jenny feeling like a thorn in between two roses. It didn’t help that she had to wear a hand-me-down evening dress of Jenny’s. But, she watched him enter the room, looking debonair in his West Point uniform. He seemed to walk with such confidence that she wondered if it truly was the same shy and clumsy Tristan that left Ellenton two years prior. But when he glanced her way and smiled, that warm-sweet grin that made his golden eyes gleam, she knew it was her Tristan.
Mary smiled as she remembered. For he wasn’t her Tristan…not yet, anyway.
As he crossed toward them, she was sure that Jenny and Eva could hear the loud thump of her heartbeat. He stopped in front of them and kissed each of their hands, always the gentleman. Oh, but the feel of his lips on her cold hand sent shock waves up her arm and she couldn’t help but blush as again, his eyes met with hers.
“Good evening ladies,” his voice was like the warm summer breeze, “Eva, thank you for inviting me. Your parties are always spectacular.”
“Well, I knew you would be home for the holidays. We have missed you around here. Some of us perhaps more than others,” Eva gestured towards Mary and then winked at him.
“Mary Lou, that can’t be you,” he said as he reached to turn her face up to look at him. “My God, you have grown, haven’t you?”
Mary felt her face go warm and she tried to conceal the blush by looking down at the floor.
He offered her his arm. “Will you dance with me?”
From the moment she took his arm and he led her to the dance floor she knew that things between them could never be the same. That night, he made sure that his name filled her dance card.
“Tristan,” she said to him later that same evening, “I do believe Miss Georgina Hynns wants a dance with you. She has been pouting all night because you won’t as much as glance her way.”
“It seems, my dear Miss Bryant, that I will be occupied a bit longer. She’ll just have to wait.”
“And what of Jeremy Miller?” She gestured in the direction of the handsome son of the banker in Macon.
Tristan whirled around as they danced away from the center of the floor. “He can wait too. I don't think you will be dancing with anyone else tonight.” He winked. “Or ever again.”
“Perchance, I might wish to dance with someone else.”
“I think not,” he jested. “For none could be as good of company as I am.”
“Well, you are sure of yourself.”
“I'm sure of only one thing, Mary. You have me hypnotized with those bright eyes of yours.”
Her eyes opened as she found herself once again in the present. The cold stone of the well upon her cheek seemed fitting company in that moment.
Of all the memories she had of him, there was one that had become the scene played over and over in her dreams and even now found its way into her mind’s wonderings.
The memory should have been a happy one. But in that moment it struck her with a sudden clarity…it was the day he left her, the day he promised to marry her…how could she have known that when he walked away that day, the goodbye would be forever.
They sat beside a spring-fed creek in the clearing that had become their secret spot, for it was the place where he first kissed her. He held her hand in his and gently traced over each of her fingers with his thumb.
“I have always liked your hands,” he broke the silence and Mary, feeling a bit self-conscience tried to pull her hand away from his. He held it firmly and smiled up at her.
“It is just a hand, silly,” Mary said quickly.
“Ah, but it is your hand. I like it, it’s soft. As are your eyes...” he let go of her hand and touched his finger to her cheek causing that strange new tingling sensation to flow through her once again, “and your cheeks.”
She felt her face grow warm with her blush but he continued to trace his finger down her face until it met with her bottom lip.
“I like these too.”
“Tristan…” She began to protest but at once his lips came crashing down on hers.
“I am in love with you, Mary Lou Bryant.”
“And I love you.”
“Mary, I…” Suddenly he was acting strange.
“I’m nineteen now. I know that to some that may seem a big difference between our ages.”
“I’ll be sixteen soon,” she said matter-of-factly.
“Yes, well, what I mean is…your brothers might not like it much now…but maybe in a year or so…”
“Tristan, what are you trying to say?” She stared at him, puzzled.
“I’m saying…when that day comes, will you?”
“Will I what?”
“Will you be my wife?”
“Oh, Tristan!” She flew into his arms. “I want to spend my whole life with you.”
“You do?”
He always doubted himself, but to Mary he was everything and he had always been perfect. The shiny new Confederate uniform with its honor medals and feather plumed hat to top it off just made the whole picture complete. Even without the show, underneath the façade, he was Tristan and the only one she could ever truly love. There could be no one else for her but him. She would wait decades if he wished it; she would marry him now if society and her brothers, of course, allowed it.
“Tristan, please don’t go. They don’t need you,” she said as the tears streamed down her cheeks. “They don’t need you like I need you.”
“Oh, my love,” he drew her close and kissed her up-turned nose. “Don’t dwell so much on the goodbye, it’s not forever, you know. Think, instead, about how you will feel in that moment when you see me ride down that road towards your Shady Creek, claiming you for my bride…and you will be my wife, Mary. Have hope, my love.”
Mary opened her eyes and was once again looking toward the clay road; the acrid smell of the ashes burned her nose seeming to push her further away as she stood and wiped the dirt from her apron.
Hope.
She had never been one to sit idly by when something needed doing; never wait for months on end not knowing what was to become of him. For that she knew she had to take matters into her own hands. She thought about poor Mrs. Lawrence in that big plantation house all alone. She had already lost her husband and youngest son to this war. What would happen to her if her only surviving son was left to die in that awful place? No, she couldn’t let that happen. This was Tristan, the man she loved and the man she would do anything for. Even if by doing so she risked not only her life but the scorn of her family.
Looking beyond the road, toward the wire grass and pine, she knew that she had no idea what lie ahead on the road that led from Shady Creek. She had never traveled further from home than Macon. Her brothers had once protected her from the unknown that lie beyond the boundaries of Ellenton. But now they were gone, all of them beyond the confines of the wire grass and pine. If they could do it then why not she?
What was out there? War, Yankee’s…death.
She loved him and for that she cast all fears aside.
“No war, no Yankee and no picket line will keep me from you.” She stood slowly and straightened her day dress. “I’m coming, my Tristan.”

* * *
Ellenton, Georgia.
Early the next morning…

“Mary Lou!” Emily called as she ran frantically through the east wing of the Scott plantation. The estate belonged to Eva, Jesse's wife, and now housed the entire Bryant clan while their house on Shady Creek was being rebuilt. She almost tripped over Tad, who was seated in the floor next to Jim, the Bryant’s old Cur dog.
Tad was Mary’s ten-year-old brother. He had curly-blond hair which was in stark contrast to hers. The only likeness she shared with any of her siblings were their blue eyes, lightly touched by a hint of silver.
He deliberately ignored the fact that his sister-in-law was standing before him with her hands on her hips. Emily knew that he must be hiding something because he was never deliberately rude, unless he was harboring a secret for someone.
Since the death of Alice Bryant in 1862, Emily had served as a second mother to Mary and Tad. Emily was married to the oldest Bryant brother, John, yet she was the same age as Jenny and her twin brother Jesse. They had all, whether they came from money or not, attended the old wooden school house in Ellenton along with Tristan and Eva. Mary was two years their junior.
Those were the days when those wooden walls shut away the outside world and all its boundaries set by money and station. They were all so young then, the best of friends with no thought about war. Times had changed and in turn so did Emily. She looked just over her twenty years, but no stress could wear upon her charm, no, that would stay intact despite the hardships.
“Tad,” she kneeled down and reached a gentle hand out to turn his face toward hers, “Have you seen Mary?”
Tad scratched the curly mop upon his head.
“Tad you know it’s not good to lie,” she warned.
He stood and helped Emily up from the floor like a good southern gentleman. Tad always seemed to function well beyond his age.
“She left early this morning.”
“Left?”
“Yes ma’am. I saw her take Jesse’s uniform from Eva’s room.”
“Tad, listen to me carefully. Did she say where she was going?”
“No ma’am. I expect it could have something to do with Mrs. Lawrence’s visit yesterday while ya’ll were in town.”
“Mrs. Lawrence came here?”
“No. Mary was back at the Shady Creek and Mrs. Lawrence went there.”
Emily stared at him, her brown eyes wide with question. “Thank you Tad. Why don’t you go wash up for breakfast?”
“Yes ma’am.”
Emily picked up the bottom of her skirt and darted for the staircase. She found Mary's older sister Jenny in the nursery, dressing Rose, Jenny and Tom‘s two year-old daughter. Eva was at the other crib rousing Emily’s son William from his slumber. Willie had been born just one month before Rose, on Christmas.
“Jenny, it’s Mary, she’s gone.”
“What?” She and Eva both exclaimed.
“Where?” Jenny asked.
“I don’t know. Tad said she left early this morning.”
“How Mama could ever handle her, I’ll never know.”
“Where do you think she’s gone?” Eva asked them.
“I don’t know… but Mrs. Lawrence might,” Emily revealed. “Tad said that she was at Shady Creek yesterday.”
“Good gracious,” Eva interjected. “You don’t think this has something to do with Tristan?”
“Eva, call in Jaffe and have him ready the carriage. I’ll go to see Mrs. Lawrence and get to the bottom of this.”
* * *
Jenny arrived at the Lawrence Plantation and looked up at the massive structure awestruck. It easily rivaled that of Eva’s with its towering size, hand-carved marble mantles and intricate plaster frieze work. The three-story mansion had about sixty-four rooms that housed the once large Lawrence family ever since they came from England. Now its massive interior was home only to Mrs. Lawrence and her only remaining son, Tristan. The war had taken her husband Charles in 1862 at the battle of Murfreesboro and her youngest son George lie dead somewhere in the Shenandoah Valley.
She stood at the base of the massive stone porch steps. She had played here many times but still, she felt awed by the sheer size of the place. Shady Creek did not even compare to the out buildings of the Lawrence plantation.
“Oh Mary Lou, you’ve outdone yourself with this one.”
She took a deep breath and ascended the steps. When she reached the large oak doors she paused for a moment to straighten her dress and bonnet. Though the Bryants came from modest means, they always looked and carried themselves at their best. It was for this reason that they befriended the antebellum gentry, always fitting right in at their parties.
She raised her hand and knocked.
The door was opened by a heavy-set house slave.
“Good day,” Jenny said politely. “Is your mistress here?”
“Yes missus, she be out on da back porch havin’ tea.”
“Oh well, I do not mean to intrude on her tea time. But it is very important I speak with her.”
“Who I says be callin’?”
Jenny smiled. “Oh really, Hattie? Since when are we on formal terms.”
Hattie grinned. “Time be flyin and yous be grown and a missus so I hear. We’s gonna do this right.”
Jenny sighed impatiently. “Mrs. MacCrae, Mary’s sister.”
“Yes missus. Yous wait right here in da stair hall.”
She led Jenny just inside the door and left to inform her mistress of Jenny’s presence.
The stair hall was a colossal space undoubtedly designed to impress. The two-story space had 27-foot ceilings and a stairway, whose base was where guests were greeted, and the Lawrence wealth and tastes were immediately apparent. Beautifully crafted mahogany wainscot, balusters, handrails, and brackets featuring lotus and squash blossoms, stained a bright red-orange vermilion and varnished to a glossy finish.
Jenny was startled from her trance when the Negro woman re-entered the room.
“Mistress will sees ya. Folla me missus.”
Jenny followed her through the great hall and out onto the back patio that overlooked an impressive rose garden. It reminded Jenny of the one on Shady Creek farm.
Mrs. Lawrence gave a warm smile to greet her guest. “Why Mrs. MacCrae, to what do I owe this pleasure?”
“I thank you kindly for seeing me with no notice. I’m afraid there’s no time to be formal. Mary has gone missing...well, it appears she has run away.”
“Good gracious,” Mrs. Lawrence gasped. “She wouldn’t would she?”
“Wouldn’t what?”
“Forgive me, Mrs. MacCrae, I thought she told you. My Tristan was taken at Gettysburg. He is at Point Lookout Prison. I told her just yesterday morning. She wouldn’t…she couldn’t…”
“Mary can…and I think she did.”
Jenny sat back in her chair as her heart began to pound in her chest. “She stole my brother Jesse’s uniform and I think she is headed toward that prison.”
“Oh dear, I feel this is my fault. I should have warned you all. I’m sorry.”
“No ma’am. You mustn’t blame yourself. Mary is very strong and stubborn. If she got it in her head to go and rescue your son, nothing in this world could stop her.”
“You’re right about that. Oh, but what do we do? The open road has never been the place for a unescorted young woman…but now, oh dear, with the war on…what can I do to help?”
“I’m afraid there is nothing we can do now. She could be anywhere, and if we go looking for her then we are going to bring unnecessary attention to the situation. She is dressed as a soldier, if they find her out to be a woman then God knows what will happen…they might even think she’s a spy which is a hanging offense.”
“They wouldn’t hand a woman would they?”
“I wouldn’t put anything past them, Mrs. Lawrence. This is war…and Mary has just cast herself into the middle of it.”
“Then all we can do is pray.”
Jenny nodded. “And hope she sends word soon.”




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Lora
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PostSubject: Re: The Road To Home: Mary's Story   Thu Aug 11, 2011 1:49 pm

Hello Cindergirl6,
Welcome to Christian Creative Writers. We are glad to have you. Is your story already published? Is so, congratulations. If not, it's very well written and you should have a publisher look at it.
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cindergirl6
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PostSubject: Re: The Road To Home: Mary's Story   Thu Aug 11, 2011 2:13 pm

Admin wrote:
Hello Cindergirl6,
Welcome to Christian Creative Writers. We are glad to have you. Is your story already published? Is so, congratulations. If not, it's very well written and you should have a publisher look at it.

Thanks so much...No it is not published yet. I am looking for someone to publish. It's a hard task. Thank you for creating the site. I am a published writer though...Contributor for Yahoo! and Authonomy. Thanks so much! Elohim Gadol!
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PostSubject: Re: The Road To Home: Mary's Story   Thu Aug 11, 2011 2:54 pm

cindergirl6 wrote:
Admin wrote:
Hello Cindergirl6,
Welcome to Christian Creative Writers. We are glad to have you. Is your story already published? Is so, congratulations. If not, it's very well written and you should have a publisher look at it.

Thanks so much...No it is not published yet. I am looking for someone to publish. It's a hard task. Thank you for creating the site. I am a published writer though...Contributor for Yahoo! and Authonomy. Thanks so much! Elohim Gadol!

I know this sounds like a plug, but, really, it isn't, but have you heard of www.writersmarket.com. They have a huge listing of all of the publishers, what they pay, and how to submit your work. They even have a large list of christian author publishers.

I created this site because I got tired of all of the not-so-nice writing forums I've come accross, and I felt christian authors were sorely underrepresented. I didn't feel comfortable posting any of my christian material for fear of even worse rejection.

I would also like to ask you a favor. Would you mind posting in the published writers section? It would be nice for unpublished writers to get to see someone who's been published and how they did it.
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PostSubject: Re: The Road To Home: Mary's Story   Thu Aug 11, 2011 3:43 pm

Yes, I have been to that site. I have submitted the novel to several publishers but it is a tough market, even if you have experience. I leave it in G-d's hands. When it is time for my voice to be heard, it'll happen. I will check out that topic in the forum...thanks!
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