The War between the States—or the Civil War, as it is now being called—never had much of an impact on my life past having to memorize dates and battles. After all, the War was over three years before I was even born.
Maybe that’s why, aside from what I learned in school, I never had any interest in the war. Or maybe because it’s because I always lived in California, so far from where the whole, messy disaster took place. The Eastern States seem like a world away.
Either way, the War has never been something that occupied my thoughts any further than scribbling a list of Rebel States and Union states (of which California was one—the Union). It never impacted me as it had my friend Macy Walker. Her family had suffered greatly. And I’m glad I didn’t have to know much about it.
Well, until today, that is.
But today . . . today the War came to my doorstep. I suddenly realized just how horrible this conflict was that tore our nation apart twenty years ago.
I was out on the porch, a cup of lemonade in my hand and a pile of clean clothes in a basket at my feet. Perhaps it’s not exactly proper to fold one’s laundry outside. But really, how often do strangers ride miles and miles out of the way.
Besides, the day was beautiful, and I’ve spent practically all my life out of doors. Staying inside to do the chores drives me nuts.
I had finished just about everything when I saw a lone rider trotting up the drive. I squinted, trying to make out who it could be. It didn’t seem to be anyone I’d seen around before.
As he drew nearer, I realized it wasn’t anyone who lived in town. It was a gentleman who must have been in his late forties. His clothing indicated that he wasn’t from around here. While it wasn’t anything fancy, it was styled more like an Easterner’s clothes.
He dismounted and approached the steps, whipping off his hat and bowing his head slightly in my direction. “Ma’am.”
By this time I was standing. My hand gripped the porch railing with a bit of uncertainty. Who was this man, and what did he want? I nodded, acknowledging him.
“I was wondering if perhaps you had some work I could do? Maybe around the house, or—” his eyes swept over the land—“on the ranch?”
My grip on the railing relaxed. He was simply looking for a job. “My husband is out on the range right now, and he works for my brother over on the Circle C. If you want a job, it would probably be best to ride over to the ranch and ask for Chad.”
The man placed his hat back on his head and moved back as if to mount up again. “Many thanks, ma’am.”
I don’t know what made me call out to him. Maybe it was the hopeless look that hovered about his eyes, or the way his shoulders drooped, even when every other part of him seemed to be a perfect gentleman. Even down to the accent, which was clearly Southern. I knew that. Macy and her brothers had that very drawl, but theirs had been ruined by their poor roots.
This man had refinement in his soft, slow drawl that affected each of his words.
He turned, his eyes questioning.
“It’s a bit of a ride, and the sun’s a might hot. I thought maybe you’d like a glass of lemonade before you leave.”
Considering for a moment, he nodded. “That’d sure be nice of ya, ma’am. I’m much obliged.”
I motioned to the steps. “Sit there and I’ll bring you a glass.”
He sat, and I hurried into the house, closing the screen door behind me. He looked as if he’d been riding for a while, and in the hot California sun, I knew that was no small feat.
Pouring a glass full of the sweet, tangy liquid, I made my way back out to the porch. As soon as I stepped out of the door, and man jumped to his feet.
I tried hard to keep a smile off my face. This man was every bit a gentleman. He took the glass with another “much obliged.” And sat back down.
I took my seat and stacked the folded laundry back into the basket. When I was finished, I asked, “Where are you from?”
Swallowing another gulp of lemonade, he said, “Georgia, ma’am.”
Georgia. Well, that was a country away. I put my hand out. “My name’s Andi Prescott.”
For a second, I wondered if I had said something wrong. He quickly stood and shook my hand. “Sorry I didn’t introduce myself right off, ma’am. My name’s Paul Sullivan. It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Prescott.”
The way he said “Mrs.” made it sound more like “miss.” And then, he sat down again. Perhaps that was a custom I was not used to. Standing to introduce yourself.
“So, what brings you to California? That’s quite a ways away.”
It was a simple question, and I was surprised when he hesitated for a long time before answering. But even when he did, he didn’t meet my gaze.
No, he looked off across the fields as he spoke. “I wanted to try and start over. There are some things back east I’d like to forget.”
I knew I shouldn't pry. But he’d roused my curiosity. “Anything you’d care to share?”
For a moment, I was sure he’d simply say no. But then he looked up and met my gaze. There was something in his eyes . . . I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen someone appear so broken before. His words were soft, and as he spoke, he swirled the lemonade around in his glass. “I was a Confederate soldier way back when the War was going on. And there are some folks back East who will never forget what color uniform I wore.”
Well, I’ll have to finish this entry another time. I didn’t realize how late it is, and Riley’s already climbed into bed.