The Raging Hearts: The Coltrane Saga, Book 2

BOOK: The Raging Hearts: The Coltrane Saga, Book 2
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Dedication

For my son, Don Blandon Walker

“I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.”

—William Tecumseh Sherman

General U. S. Army

(1820—1891)

 

“I am a good old rebel—

Yes; that’s just what I am—

And for this land of freedom

I do not give a dam’.

I’m glad I fit agin ’em,

And I only wish we’d won;

And I don’t ax no pardon

For anything I’ve done.”

A Good Old Rebel

Innes Randolph

(1837—1887)

Chapter One

The warm breath of spring that whispered across the Southland in 1865 held no sweetness in its scent. The lingering odor of the sulphuric smell of war permeated every soul. Waves of rainbow-hued flowers no longer danced in the wind upon a carpet of green, for the terrain was gutted and blackened by the footsteps and fires of war. Few trees dared to bud into new life, as most stood stark and naked against the sky, grim sentinels to remind every living thing of the tortured years of civil strife as North and South had clashed head-on.

Dead. A proud Southland was defeated and lay lifeless among the ruins. Those who survived grieved painfully for the hundreds of thousands of brave men who gave their lives in vain to preserve the world they staunchly believed in.

Kitty Wright was one of those who mourned. The lavender eyes she wearily opened on that chilly March morning no longer sparkled. Now they were dim, gaunt, reflections of her own four years in hell. At seventeen, before it all began, she had been the most lovely and sought-after maiden in all of eastern North Carolina. At twenty-one, she felt very old and very tired. The beauty was still there but shadowed by grief and despair. Her face reflected the agonizing memories that were forever branded upon her soul.

On this chilly March morning, a mist crept up from the swamplands behind what had once been her home. Rubbing her arms to warm them, she blinked sleepily, wondering where Travis and Sam had gone so early. It had been late when they reached this place, making camp in the thicket to avoid being seen by stray Confederate soldiers. Exhausted, they had fallen on their tattered blankets, and, during the night, Travis had drawn her to him.

The thought of Travis warmed her now. Once, she had loathed him, despised him, even wished him dead. Now, she knew she loved him as she could love no other man. She had only to close her eyes to conjure a picture of the ruggedly handsome cavalryman, his body lean and hard and muscular, his eyes a smoky gray that could shine with mirth or smolder with lust.

While she had known his tenderness, Kitty had also known his harshness, especially during their early times together, when she had been his prisoner of war. He had not raped her. No, Travis Coltrane was not a man to force a woman. He knew other ways, ways to make a woman weep with desire, pleading for fulfillment. This was what Travis had done to Kitty, and she had despised him for it.

The sound of metal scraping against earth made her scramble to her feet and peer out of the scrub brush. There, across the field, on the little knoll she had told them about, the two men heaved their shovels. They were digging a grave for her beloved father. That little hilltop had been John Wright’s favorite spot on Earth. It was there, beneath the pecan trees, that he could sit and survey all his land. It was only fitting that he stay there until Judgment Day.

John Wright had loved his land, though it had not been a prosperous farm. A man of strong convictions, he did not believe in holding souls in bondage. He freed the slaves who had belonged to his father, and there had never been enough money to hire labor to work the lands. So, they had been poor, John Wright, his wife Lena and the daughter John had adored.

It was with unrelenting horror that Kitty recalled the night when vigilantes had caught her father helping runaway slaves. The hooded men had beaten him so mercilessly that he lost the sight of one eye. For months he was a broken spirit, having lost all will to live. But when war broke out, John Wright took his old hound dog and left to join the Yankee Army.

His move had left Kitty confused and sick at heart, torn between love for him and loyalty to her homeland. And there had been Nathan Collins, the handsome son of the richest plantation owner in all Wayne County, who was courting her. She had fancied herself in love with Nathan, so she stayed near home and worked in a way hospital with old Doc Musgrave, who had taught her medicine.

Early in the war, Kitty had been taken prisoner by a cruel slave driver who had once been overseer on the Collins plantation. Luke Tate assaulted her brutally and held her captive while he foraged the countryside, plundering and murdering with his men. He took great satisfaction in keeping Kitty prisoner. She was beautiful, and he gloried in making the high-spirited woman submit to his cravings.

It had been Travis Coltrane who rescued her from Luke Tate.

 

 

The fighting was terrible, and men were dying by the hundreds on both sides. General Johnston called for his Confederate forces to retreat. But Nathan took Kitty and said they were not going with the other Rebels. He was taking her to Richmond to try and escape the final battles. Realizing he was a coward, she had turned against him. But he forced her to start off with him. Then they encountered her father, who demanded to know where Nathan was taking his daughter. Kitty lied, not wanting to see the two fight. She told her father she was leaving of her own will. As John Wright turned to leave, Nathan shot him in the back.

Travis and Sam had come upon them as her father lay dying in her arms, and Travis avenged John Wright by killing Nathan.

And Kitty had learned in the last moments of John Wright’s life that Nathan had ridden with the hooded vigilantes when her father was so cruelly beaten. Whatever love she had ever felt for Nathan Collins fled forever.

“Kitty.”

She looked up to see Travis staring down at her, warmth and compassion in those smoky-gray eyes. She could only stare at him, her thoughts still whirling.

He knelt in front of her, his voice soft. “We’re ready, Kitty. The grave is dug, right where you wanted it. And last night, while you slept, Sam looked around and found some scrap boards from the farmhouse that weren’t completely burned. He’s made a coffin. We couldn’t just lay your father in the ground.”

“That was kind of Sam,” she murmured. “I think Poppa would like being buried in a box made from the house he loved. Oh Travis, he did love this land.” Her eyes swept the now-gaunt fields.

Travis’s eyes followed her gaze. “I imagine it was pretty—once.”

“Everything around us was pretty—once,” she said, her voice thick. “Now it’s ugly, like the people who walk upon it.”

He placed gentle hands on her waist and drew her to her feet. “Soon it will all be over. The South is beaten. Once the Rebels admit that and surrender, we can all start making new lives.”

“What about the pain that comes from remembering? Can’t you see, Travis? I hate both sides. Everyone! I hate the North for destroying the South, and I hate my Southern neighbors for what they did to my father. Look at this land. Look at the rubble where the farmhouse and the barn once stood. They did that, our good neighbors, because they wanted to vent their rage against my father for joining the Yankees. Wasn’t there enough burning and destruction without them attacking my father? And what about me? I did my part for the South! And now this land is mine—but they destroyed it. I hate them all! I hope they suffer as much as—”

“Kitty, Kitty, get hold of yourself.” He shook her gently. Folding her against his chest, he murmured against her soft golden-red hair. “The time for hatred is past. It has to be. This land will prosper again. I promise you that. For now, we have to bury our dead, in reverence and in love. Now is not the time for your heart to be filled with hate. Do you think your father would have wanted you to feel this way?”

“No,” she whispered. “Poppa would not want me to hate at all. Let’s put him to rest. His suffering is over. Ours is only beginning, or so I fear.”

They walked silently to the little sloping hill. Kitty stared down at the gaping hole. She bit down on her lower lip, tasting blood, determined not to cry. Poppa wouldn’t want her to cry. He would want her to be strong. He would want her to hold up her head and go on. And this she vowed silently to do, her body starting to tremble with determination.

Travis and Sam had gone into the woods and returned with the crude wooden coffin. They struggled with the weight, positioning it slowly above the grave, then slowly lowering it. Then they stepped back, hands folded in front of them, and Sam said gruffly, “He deserves to have a preacher here. John Wright was one of the finest, bravest, most God-fearing men I ever knew.”

“No preacher would stop running from the Yankees long enough to conduct a funeral,” Kitty snapped, “much less to pray over the body of a man everyone here considered a traitor. And he was ten times the man any of them were.”

“Amen to that!” Sam cried, then, lowering his voice reverently, said, “I’ve seen John Wright hold a dying soldier in his arms and comfort him along the road to eternity. And maybe that boy would be a’screaming in pain, and with the pure fright of dying. John Wright could talk him into being calm, coax him into praying for his soul with the last breath he drew in this world. And that soldier would die with a smile on his lips. A fine man, John Wright was, and if ever a man was fit to walk through the gates of heaven, it’s him.”

“I don’t think a preacher could have done a better job,” Travis said, nodding.

Kitty swayed, feeling dizzy. This could not be happening. The man she adored could not be down there in that hole in the ground, inside that pieced-together wooden box. Sam was straightening, picking up his shovel. With slow, methodical movements, he began to scoop at the mound of dirt beside the grave, dropping clods down into the hole. And as the first thuds hit, the finality of the sound made Kitty gasp and knot her fist against her parted lips to stifle the scream that fought to escape. Travis saw and reached to pull her tightly against his chest.

“I loved him, too,” he whispered.

Blinking back the tears, she raised her face to the sky. Taking a deep breath, she began to sing the words to an old hymn her father had taught her as a child, “Rock of ages, cleft for me…”

Sam sang along with her, shoveling the dirt in faster. Travis stood silent, a grim, set look to his face. He was not a religious man, certainly not one given to the singing of hymns. He didn’t know the words, anyway. But he cared. He hoped Kitty understood that.

When the grave was completely covered, Sam told her that her father’s old dog, shot as he leaped to protect his master, would be buried beside him. “I figure John would have wanted it that way.”

Kitty closed her eyes tightly, teeth gritting, as the horrible scene flashed before her once again. Killer, the seemingly lifeless old hound dog, leaping with fangs bared, his body arched in midair, snarling as he hurtled himself toward the man who had just shot his master in the back. The second blast from Nathan’s gun had killed the dog instantly. There was not a sound as the animal crumpled beside his master.

“Yes,” Kitty whispered. “Killer was with him all through the war.”

Sam nodded firmly. “That old dog would march right into battle like he wasn’t scared at all. Balls a’flying all around, men screaming, but as long as John kept a’going, Killer was right alongside him.”

Kitty turned away, walking slowly across the rutted field, stumbling now and then, her eyes blinded by tears. She stopped suddenly, trying to focus her vision. Bending down, she touched the tiny green vine that was fighting its way out of the starving earth. Was it possible? It was! It was! And she could see another…and another. The scuppernong vines that Poppa had planted so many years ago. He had said scuppernong would thrive in this soil because it was sandy. And he had talked about how tobacco would be king one day, saying she should one day turn the land to tobacco. She got to her feet, smiling, lifting her face to the sun just now breaking through the early morning mist. There was life here, after all. The Southland was not really dead, and surely not the Wright farm.

BOOK: The Raging Hearts: The Coltrane Saga, Book 2
7.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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