Over the next few days, Emily fed broth, wiped brows, and changed bedding, in her attempt to reconcile her new perception. It seemed like the heat from a wash fire was constant, as Louise and Irene and Jaimie did their best to keep up with the few blankets and the constant soiling. Thankfully, the soldiers who were able helped around the farm, harvesting the corn, and earning their keep.
The extra hands were welcome to Emily and her mother, although the younger girls were wary of all the strange men around. They had been very small when their father and brother left, so they weren’t used to having men around, especially not so many. Jaimie, though, was loving the adventure. Having men around made the little boy puff up and preen under their attentions, whether Emily liked it or not.
The Sargent Major seemed to take a particular interest in little Jaimie, and it kept Emily on guard. He was constantly picking Jaimie out to give him special attention, which to Emily at least, was unwarranted.
“Hey little soldier, you want to shine my boots?” Breck would call out to Jaimie, who beamed at the older man with the shiny buckle.
Snapping a salute to the man, Jaimie yelled, “Yes, Sir!” and would excitedly get to work, shining boots Sargent Major Breck should have been taking care of himself. Emily bristled at the fact Breck never seemed to do anything. The soldiers were staying on a corn farm, with chores to help with, fences that constantly needed mending, and a never-ending harvest. He didn’t help with anything, and in Emily’s eyes, he was taking advantage of the hospitality, eating their food, and using their barn. But it seemed to please Jaimie, and Mama didn’t seem to think anything of it, so Emily tamped down her irritation at the man and went about her business, constantly grinding her jaw together to keep from being rude.
About the most the Sargent Major ever did was take Jaimie fishing at the creek, even though it was almost more trouble than it was worth. Jaimie was so excited to have something to do, he usually snuck off without finishing his chores, which put more work on everybody else. Emily resented it. Not because Jaimie was getting out of work, she couldn’t fault her brother for wanting something to smile about. But the creek was her spot in the early mornings. She usually bathed there when the weather was warm, and now she had to go another time of day because she didn’t want anything to do with Breck. There was just something distasteful about him, the way his eyes twinkled when there wasn’t anything funny, especially, like he was having private thoughts at others’ expense.
But there were good aspects to the soldiers being there. Emily learned about farms in other parts of the country, as there was a man there from Pennsylvania and another with a farm in New York, both of whom raised corn, and were very helpful. They had ideas about crop rotation that Emily had never heard before, and she made a mental note to talk to her mama about it when she got the chance.
One night, after the children were asleep, Rachel sat Emily down with cups of warm buttermilk.
“We’ve got to keep the farm until William gets back. I know he’s coming home, I can feel it.” The earnestness in her mama’s eyes told Emily not to argue, although it didn’t escape her attention that Mama didn’t say anything about John or Jakob. Did she feel something about them? She didn’t ask, only nodded at her mother’s declaration as she sipped on her warm buttermilk, their nightly ritual.
She watched her mama hold her cup with leathery fingers, Emily’s gaze suddenly focused on her mama’s hands. They looked so old. She could remember when her mama had looked youthful, back when Papa was still around, and they smiled at each other over supper, or even the water pump. But now, her mama just looked older. The war had aged her, even though the fighting was far away.
“That banker can talk down to me all he wants to about growing interest and such, but this is our farm, and he’s not coming in here to take it. You saw what happened when he came by yesterday, when he saw the Union army camping here. So we’re going to take care of those boys, and get them on our side of this. They’re not going to let Mr. Stein and his stuffy cohort take this farm.” She lowered her voice, her blue eyes staring deep into Emily’s brown ones. Mama’s wrinkles were deeper around her eyes, from squinting into the sun when she worked the plow behind Patches, and rubbed dirt out of them on particularly windy days. But her vehemence belied her looks, as the determined turn to her mouth smoothed out some of the lines on her face. “Because he’ll be back. I know it.”
“But how are we going to manage that?” Emily couldn’t imagine how a bunch of Yankees were going to help them keep their farm after they’d gotten what they needed. While they were here, sure, they were very helpful. Emily might actually find a time soon to write more in her journal, or help Mama sew some new dresses for the girls, or even do some decorative needlepoint. Maybe they could even make it to town for church on Sundays, again. She couldn’t remember when they’d had a day of rest. Neither of them had had time for any of that in so long. But why would the soldiers stay once they were better?
Thinking of them being better gave her pause. Some were getting worse, and others, like Isaack, were getting better, but so slowly. As always, thoughts of Isaack made her think of Jakob and the familiar pang of guilt hit her. Where was he? Was he even okay anymore? Or alive?
Rachel patted her hand, a secretive smile on her tired face at Emily’s unasked question. “They’re just men, dear. We feed them, we dress their wounds, we heal them the best we can, and they’ll help us out of this situation. You watch.”
Emily couldn’t help but think there was more to it than that, but she trusted her mama. Rachel had been through a lot, growing up in an affluent family in Boston and living a life filled with coming out parties and entertaining visitors, moving out west with her new husband in a covered wagon over miles of uncharted territory. Rachel and William settling here, in Texas, to build a house, plow fields, plant cotton and start a farm and raise a family. They’d worked the little plot of land hard, then having her men leave her to the farm alone with a passel of children to help run it. The women had managed to make it through the cotton fiasco, switching the crops over to corn when the Union armies had blockaded the rivers. They would make it through this. Even though it seemed Mr. Stein was trying to capitalize on the uncertainties blanketing the southern states after the war had ended.
But when Papa came home, would he understand what they’d had to go through? Feeding the enemy? Healing the enemy? All to keep the farm?