A Novel that Exposes a Different Side of the Civil War South

            HANK GOSS KNOCKED THE MUD OFF HIS BOOTS AT THE DOOR, then angrily slung his oilcloth on a peg behind his desk.
            "I'm tired of rain, and I'm tired of cold weather, and I'm sure as hell tired of all this gummy mud," complained the jailer as he moved quickly to the woodstove near the back of the jail.
            Hank, in his late forties, was short, stocky, and almost bald. What little hair he had was cleanly shaven. The only real hair was on his face, a long black mustache that he kept waxed and curled.
            "John, you awake? I'm ready for some checkies."
            The covers rustled and a sleepy-eyed young man poked his head from underneath a pile of blankets.
            "You sure can be loud when you want to. Yeah Hank, I'm awake now. How can a man sleep with all the racket you makin'? And yore complainin' is enough to give a band of angels a headache. And for playin' you in a game of checkies, it ain't no fun no more."
            "Ain't no fun! What ya mean, boy? You and I has had many a good time playin'."
            John, wrapping a blanket around his shoulders, got out of bed, opened the barred door, and pulled a chair near the stove.
            "Hank, look at it this way. We play one or two games; I always win; and then you get mad and throw the checkie board and checkies all over the place. That ain't exactly what I call fun," complained John.
            "Hell! That's what I like about it," laughed Hank. "It's gettin' mad and seein' them checkies fly all over the place that makes this game for me. Let's play. Who knows, this might be the day I win one, and then you can throw the checkies," joked Hank.
            "Well, I guess I is still the prisoner. Get the board and let's go at it," agreed John. "Hank, has I got any work to do today?"
            "Naw, the weather's too bad. We stayin' in," grunted Hank. "You know, we going to miss you when yore time's up. You has sure turned out the work these last six months. I believe you is better than them slaves you said worked for that Olliver man down near yore homeplace."
            "You sayin' I been doin' slave labor, Hank?"
            "That's right, boy. You has done it well," snickered Hank.
            When John was put in jail, he had resented his confinement at first. But, with the passing of time, he gradually accepted what had happened and decided to do the best he could to prove himself. If he could survive Camp Douglas, he certainly could stand being jailed for a few months. Prisoners in this part of Kentucky were expected to work. Any citizen who needed a laborer could contact the county sheriff and, if the prisoner wasn't considered dangerous, he provided free help.
            John had quickly gained the reputation of being not only a hard worker, but one who could handle almost any job. His friendliness and trustworthiness made him one of the most requested prisoners in the county.
            After only two months, the local Methodist preacher, Robert Thomas, who had used John on several occasions for church work, began coming down each Sunday and taking John to morning services. People soon realized that John Wilson was no criminal.
            "Hank, you ever talk to Judge Topper 'bout me? I've been on my best behavior and has done everything I has been asked to do. You know I ain't no bad sort."
            Hank laid the checkerboard out and started placing the checkers on their squares.
            "The judge knows 'bout you. He ain't no fool," remarked Hank, trying to avoid the issue. "You move first."
            Hank soon jumped a few of John's checkers and, when it looked like Hank was going to make a run, John slowly made his moves toward cleaning the board. Hank's face was red with anxiety. With only two of his checkers left on the board, Hank could already sense the outcome. Just as he was about to admit defeat, the door opened.
            "Well, what do we have here? I thought you'd be long gone by now John. You must love this place," commented the Reverend Thomas.
            "Shhh!" whispered Hank. "I ain't beat yet. I still got two left."
            Instantly, John made his move and snapped up Hank's last two. "That does it. The board is clean. Games over. You can throw the board now, that is if'n you want to show the preacher how yore temper can get the best of ya," chuckled John.
            "And Preacher, what do ya mean, I ought to be long gone?"
            "Hank, you haven't given this boy the note from the judge yet?"
            Hank could not look John and the preacher in the eyes.
            "I was 'bout to give it to him. I only got it yesterday," replied Hank, reaching into his coat pocket.
            Embarrassed, Hank handed John a note, turned, walked to the front of the office, and stared out the window at the rain pounding down on the boardwalk.
            John read the note and then quietly folded it and placed it in his pocket. Trying not to show his emotions, John said, "Thank you, Preacher. I knowed you probably had sump'n to do with this pardon. I'll forever be thankful to you all." John then awkwardly embraced the man who had helped to gain his freedom.
            "Just glad we could help, and I'm glad you didn't leave yesterday. We also took up a little donation so you won't have to starve before you get home," replied the Reverend, reaching into his pocket for a small bag. "And Hank gave the judge a few good words for you, too."
            "That right, Hank? You spoke up for me?"
            Hank turned and moved toward John. "When I first met you, I didn't care much for ya, but with time, you kind of grew on me. You're all right, boy," said Hank, extending his hand. "The only reason that I didn't give you the note yesterday, was I wanted one more chance to beat ya in checkies," smiled Hank.
            "You can forget that, Hank. You best find you another game or a sorry checkie player, if you expect to win."
            John quickly gathered his few belongings and said his goodbyes to Hank and Reverend Thomas.
            As he was leaving the jail, Hank caught him by the sleeve. "What's yore plan, boy? How you going to get home?"
            "Hank, I ain't going to walk it, and I sure ain't stealin' no horse. That leaves the train."
            "Well, it's December the twentieth. You got five days to make it home by Christmas. The train just might be yore answer, but you stay out of trouble, you hear," advised Hank. "And I'm givin' you a little present early. I'm going to send that telegram to yore folks you been nagging me about and let them know you comin'. Who do I send it to and what do I say?"
            John grinned and replied, "Send it to Rebecca Ann Walker in Little Rock, Mis'sippi. That's near Meridian and tell her I is alive and comin' home to her."
            Struggling to keep his footing in the deep mud, John was oblivious to the drizzling rain and cold December wind. He was finally going home, and nothing was going to stop him from reaching Little Rock by Christmas Eve.
            Trudging down the road, he could visualize himself running across the front yard and bounding up the front steps into the arms of his mother and father. He also fantasized how he would get a good bath and put on his best clothes and rush down to surprise Becca on Christmas Eve. John could see Becca's surprised face when she opened the door and found him standing there waiting with open arms. With dreams of home swimming in his head, John felt a joy and excitement he had never felt before.
            Walker was tending his store as a rider dismounted and entered the front door.
            "You Thomas Walker, ain't ya?" said the rider.
            "The last time I checked," responded Walker.
            "You got a daughter named Rebecca?"
            "I have. Why do you ask?"
            The rider took a note from his pocket. "She got a telegram from up in Kentucky."
            "Kentucky. She don't know nobody up there," remarked Walker. "Let me take a look at this thing."
            "Well, I made the delivery, and I got to make a run over to Union. The top of the day to ya, Sir."
            Walker nodded and quickly opened the letter.
            "Ump," he grunted. "She don't need no note like this, not now. Damn, this is going to create some kind of problem."
            Walker crumpled up the letter, walked over to the stove and threw the note into the fire.
            As daylight slowly broke on Christmas Eve, John stood under a gray overcast sky on the walkway outside the train depot in Memphis, Tennessee. What little money the congregation of Wickliffe had given him was gone. To his surprise, he found jumping trains was easier than he imagined and he had been able to avoid the railroad inspectors who were constantly looking for drifters.
            A commotion down the tracks caught John's attention. A train was waiting on the tracks with steam puffing from its smokestack, and the conductors were peering down toward the engine, wondering why the delay.
            Walking closer, John saw a man being lowered to the ground from up near the engineer's compartment. Easing up to the group, he discovered the problem.
            "Just my luck. This train's ready to pull out, and I got a drunk fireman. How can the railroad expect me to stay on schedule with a no-good drunk firin' my engine?" complained the engineer.
            John immediately pushed through the crowd. "Where's this train headed?" he questioned, stepping up to the man.
            "Goin'! We ain't going nowhere till I get somebody sober to fire that damned old boiler."
            "Where you goin' then?" pressed John. "You headed south?"
            "Yep, we headed for Corinth, Mis'sippi and from there south to Meridian and then west to Jackson. That is, if I get this crate movin'."
            John shoved his hand toward the engineer. "How about takin' me on. I can fire it. I'm John Wilson, and I need a ride as far as Newton, Mis'sippi. You let me do the firin', and I want charge you a thing."
            The gentleman studied the young man for a few seconds and then extended his hand. "You fought for the Confed'racy, didn't ya?"
            "Yes Sir. Mis'sippi infantry, and I'm tryin' to get home. Today if'n I can," replied John, excitedly.
            "Well, Mister Wilson, yore pay ain't too bad. You have just been employed. I'm Amos McCleary, and as for reachin' Newton, it's going to shove us to make it by dark. Let's see you get up there and fire that thing, and by the way, I rode with Gen'ral Forrest. You heard about him, ain't you?"
            "Yes Sir, who ain't heard 'bout Forrest?"
            John knew home was only hours away. By mid-morning the train had reached Corinth, and after a two hour delay, it was steaming south toward Meridian.
            John was sitting on a stack of wood behind the boiler, enjoying the north Mississippi countryside when McCleary turned and shouted, "John, you notice how cold it's gotten durin' the past hour. This don't look too good. Might mean trouble."
            John nodded his head in agreement. "I know it must be might near freezin', and by the looks of them low gray clouds, it could mean snow," observed John. "But it don't usually snow down here in December."
            "I agree with that, but you can't ever predict what the Good Lord's going to send us," replied McCleary.
            At ten minutes after five, the train pulled into Meridian. Rain had been falling for the past hour and as the train came to a stop, sleet was bouncing off the sides of the train and surrounding sidewalk.
            "I told you it might snow, Mister McCleary. It's too cold for rain," said John, stepping up to the boiler to warm himself. "This going to cause us any trouble gettin' on to Jackson?"
            "No sir, Young Man. It'll take a whole lot of that white stuff to slow this engine down. We'll get you to Newton before seven tonight."
            John smiled back at McCleary, thankful he would soon get to Newton, but disappointed that he was not going to get home in time to fulfill his Christmas Eve dream. Even if the train reached Newton by seven, John still faced an eighteen mile walk.
            The train soon pulled out of the depot and headed west. The sleet that had fallen for the past hour was now turning to snow. John kept throwing logs into the boiler and praying they would reach Newton without a problem.
            At ten minutes after seven, McCleary pulled the whistle cord which sent a shrill blast echoing through the darkness.
            "John, we pulling into Newton Station. You think you going to recognize the place?"
            "Sure will, Mister McCleary. Been down here many a time with my Papa. Seems like yesterday."
            "Well, it's changed some since you last seen it. The Yankees burnt the station and some of the buildings with it. A Yank named Grierson made a raid through here. John, look at them big flakes coming down. I tell ya one thing, I ain't ever seen snow like this in this part of Mis'sippi, not in December. I hope you ain't planning to go it on foot tonight. You might just freeze out there."
            The train came to a slow screeching stop and John carefully eased down the ice glazed side of the train. "Mister McCleary, it's been might near three years since I seen my folks, and I ain't going to let no snow stop me when I is as close as I is now."
            McCleary followed John to the ground, almost slipping on one of the steps.
            "Hold up boy!" he insisted. "I want to thank you for the job you done for me. It sure helped us keep this ole crate moving. I just hope the man I picked up in Meridian can fill your shoes. But I'm more concerned about you being out in this weather. You best stay here in town till morning."
            "Can't do that, Mister McCleary. Got to get on home. Ain't nothin' going to stop me now."
            "Well, I guess I'd do the same. But, if you start gettin' cold and sleepy, you stop at somebody's house or barn and get out of the cold. Remember now, don't go sleeping out in the open. You'll freeze. You hear me?"
            John shook McCleary's hand. "I hear you. Don't go to sleep out in the cold," repeated John. "And, thank you for takin' me on with ya."
            McCleary quickly crawled back up to his compartment and threw a blanket down.
            "You ain't got much of a coat. This here might help some. You take care boy and a Merry Christmas to ya."
            "Merry Christmas to you, Mister McCleary," replied John, as the train moved out.
            The streets were completely deserted with only a few dim lights from several store windows silhouetting the street. The townspeople had already retired to the warmth of their homes.
            John suddenly felt a surge of loneliness. With no one in sight and a deep snow covering the ground, John thought, "I've got eighteen miles to go. Just one step at a time. That's all it's going to take."
            Home for John meant walking nine miles north to the village of Decatur and then another nine miles northeast to Little Rock. This time of the year, roads would be almost impassible by wagon, and since few bridges had been built, several streams would have to be forded. Travel on foot, especially at night, was dangerous.
            The snow was now falling heavier than ever and visibility was difficult. Deep ruts in the road helped him find his way through the darkness and to his surprise, the bridges outside of Newton were still intact. After more than three hours, John reached the outskirts of Decatur. Facing a stream south of the village with no bridge, he had to take off his shoes and wade across. As he reached the opposite bank, he recognized a large bent oak tree up ahead and knew he was only a short distance from the town.
            Through the falling snow, a dim light appeared. Probably Taylor's Tavern, John thought, the stage stop located on the edge of town. The light and the thought of getting out of the cold spurred him on, but in his haste, he slid down several times before reaching his destination. With hands almost frozen, he pushed the door open and stumbled in. Toward the back of the tavern was a low fire burning in a large fireplace. John's sudden entry startled two elderly men sitting next to the heat, quietly enjoying an evening smoke.
            "Hell boy, where'd you come from?" questioned one as he pushed his chair back so the stranger could get to the fire.
            John stood, shivering as steam rolled from his wet clothing. He tried to speak, but was shaking so hard the men could not understand a word he said.
            "Jacob, this here boy is 'bout froze. Here lad, take off that wet blanket and let me get you sump'n dry. You must be some kind of fool to be out on a night like this. I'm Jimmy Taylor. I own this place, and that there is my cousin, Jacob."
            After more than an hour, John began to come around. "Want to thank you for the dry blanket, and I ain't a fool. I'm from Little Rock, and I'm on my way home, tonight. Been gone for most near three years. I'm John Wilson, son of Lott Wilson."
            The old men shook their heads. "We know of Lott Wilson and I has had more than a few run-ins with that Uncle Jake of yores. That is, 'fore he got himself killed," commented Taylor. "You sure don't need to be tryin' to get to Little Rock. You best stay here tonight. You won't make it. They'll find you froze dead out there."
            John reached for the blanket he had spread out to dry next to the fire. "I'll make it. I come too far to stop this close to home, but I do thank ya for lettin' me share yore fire."
            One of the men pointed to a pot hanging near the hearth. "'Fore you leave, there's a little stew left in the pot. You best get a bite to eat, and I still says you's a fool to get out there in that cold. I guess you get some of that foolishment from yore uncle. He used to do some outlandish things 'round here."
            John carefully wrapped his blanket around his shoulders and again thanked the men for their hospitality. The severe cold and the perils that lay ahead caused him to hesitate momentarily before stepping out into the night.
            When he reached the edge of town, John found the fork in the road that led to Little Rock and veered to the right. Only eight and a half miles more, a short walk from there to his house, and then he would be home.
            For the first hour, John had no trouble finding his way, but, the freezing temperature soon began to take its toll. He would fall in the ruts and with each fall, it became harder to regain his balance. Dizzy and confused, he thought, "I'm spendin' more time on the ground than I am walkin'. I've got to stop and rest a while. I got to find some kind of shelter."
            Up ahead, he saw a tree that had foliage on the low branches. He crawled up the bank and slid under its cover. From the scent, he realized he had found protection under a cedar tree. He curled up drowsily and pulled the blanket over his head. For the first time since leaving the tavern, he began to feel a sense of warmth.
            "I'm just going to take a short nap and rest a spell, then I'm goin' to get on home," thought John. Before losing consciousness, John remembered what McCleary had told him, "Don't go to sleep out there in that snow. You'll freeze."
            "I'll only rest a few minutes," John thought.
            Later that night, a light wind shook the branches causing snow to come crumpling to the ground. The sound of the wind and the shock of the fallen snow awakened John and he crept from underneath the branches. He found to his surprise that the storm had passed. A clear sky and a full moon reflecting on the snow made the night as light as early dawn.
            Suddenly, he heard a horse approaching in the distance and as the rider drew near, he recognized the markings.
            "Hey, hold up there!" commanded John, stepping in front of the rapidly moving stead.
            The rider jerked the horse to an abrupt stop, straightened himself in the saddle and stared down at John.
            "'Bout time you got home. We all been waitin' for ya," replied the rider, removing his hat and dusting the snow from its brim.
            "James Earl, what you doin' out here?" exclaimed John, rushing to the horse's side. "Am I glad to see ya!"
            The horse bolted forward a few steps, startled by John's quick movement.
            "Woah, Lightnin'! Woah!" shouted James Earl. "You sure know how to spook a horse, don't ya. What is I doin' out here, Little Brother? It's Christmas Eve, and I'm out serenadin', that's what I's doin'."
            John extended his hand, but his brother seemed more interested in calming his mount.
            "James Earl, give me a hand and help me up. We'll be home in no time. Help me up. I'm 'most froze."
            He smiled down at John. "I got places to go 'fore I go home, and Little Rock is right over that rise. You get on home. Mamma's been waitin' for ya a long time. Every mornin' and afternoon she waits. So don't you go back to sleep. You get on home."
            With that, his brother slapped the side of his mount and away they galloped.
            "James Earl, you got to take me home!" screamed John, running after his brother. "Serenadin' ain't as important as yore own flesh and blood! We ain't seen each other in years! You actin' crazy!"
            The rapidly disappearing rider shouted over his shoulder, "The folks need you. Get on home, John! I loves ya, boy."
            John couldn't believe that a brother that he hadn't seen in ages, wouldn't even help him get home. That just didn't make sense.
            "Just wait till I tell Papa 'bout how he left me out here. He's going to be in some kind of trouble," mumbled John, angrily stomping up the hill.
            At the crest, John paused and stared down at the scene. In the valley below, he could make out the winding stream that bordered the western edge of the village and beyond he could see stores and houses with swirls of smoke curling upward from their chimneys.
            John started running and screaming to the top of his lungs. In a matter of minutes, he had covered the quarter of mile, splashed through the shallow creek, and stood in the center of town. Before him was Walker's store, and up the street, he could see Becca's house. She was only a few hundred feet from him.
            "Do I rush over and surprise Becca, or do I go on home to my folks?" thought John. Without answering himself, he headed for the Walkers. But, as he drew closer, he suddenly remembered what James Earl had said, "You get on home, the folks is waitin' for ya."
            John stopped and looked down at himself. He saw that he was in rags and filthy. "Can't see her like this. Got to clean up first," reasoned John. "Goin' home and rest a bit. I'll see her first thing in the morning. I'm going to be at my best."
            John turned and headed north. The countryside was beautiful in its thick covering of snow and its quietness. With the exception of an occasional howl of a lonesome dog, there was no sound at all.
            It was comforting to know the village was still standing. John had heard that the Yankees had come through Little Rock on the way to make a raid on Meridian, and he was afraid Sherman might have burned the town.
            "Only a half mile to go," he thought.
            Once more the cold tore through his body and the dizziness returned. Pushing on, he realized his feet and hands were completely numb.
            "Got to get home. Too close now," John mumbled.
            A large stand of timber bordered by an open field came into view. He was on Wilson property.
            "What happened to the rail fences that used to hold in the stock?" muttered John. "Sump'n must've happened."
            "It won't be long now, 'fore I'll spot that big ole log home of ours," thought John. "Hope it'll still be standin'. Maybe the Yankees burnt it. What about the family? How 'bout Thomas, wonder if'n he made it back like James Earl?"
            Only a few more steps and he would know. He could feel fear building in his stomach. But, there it stood like a fortress. as he had always remembered.
            "And look at the barn, it's there too. Thank God," thought John.
            As he neared the house, one of the hounds caught the familiar smell and came tearing from underneath the house, barking with excitement. Bolting through the snow, Spot leaped up and knocked John to the ground. Lying there on his back, with the hound licking his face and beating his tail vigorously in the snow, John remembered how he had raised this dog, along with his brother, Joe, from pups and had spent many a night following the dogs as they chased coons through the hills and hollows in the woods nearby.
            John brushed himself off and trudged across the front yard and up the front steps. Spot could not leave him alone. He whimpered and brushed against John, making the icy steps treacherous.
            As John reached the porch, he knew only the open hall and a thick wooden door separated him from his family. "What if no one's home; there's no smoke comin' from the chimney."
            Frozen and numb, he could barely limp down the hall. He tried to lift the door latch, but it was bolted from the inside.
            Lott had heard Spot barking earlier and thought someone might be approaching. But when the barking stopped, Lott just figured some critter had excited the hound.
            "That dog ain't never barked like that before," mumbled Lott. "Sounded like he was barkin' at somebody."
            "Barkin' at somebody?" asked Sarah who had been awakened by her husband's voice. "Lott, hand me the lantern," demanded Sarah. "Got to light it, quick."
            "Ain't nobody out there, woman. You dreamin' again. If you want to check on that hound, do it yoreself. I ain't gettin' up."
            She worked frantically to light the lantern.
            "Sarah, you be careful openin' that door," warned Lott. "And don't go wanderin' in that cold."
            Finally, the lantern was brought to life and Sarah hurried to the door and lifted the latch. Cautiously opening the door, she peered into the darkness and was startled to see the figure of a man leaning against the doorway with a snow covered blanket wrapped around his shoulders. Snow and ice was crusted in his hair and beard, his face drawn and thin. Sarah slowly lifted the lantern and detected a familiar twinkle in the man's deep blue eyes.
            "'Bout time you got home, boy. You runnin' a might late, ain't ya," said Sarah quietly, as she placed the lantern on the floor and held her arms open to her son. "I knowed you was comin'."
            John stumbled into his mother's arms as Lott came to the bedroom door.
            "What's goin' on! Sarah? Who is this man?" exclaimed Lott, rushing up to the intruder and grabbing him by the arm.
            Sarah pushed Lott away. "He's home, Dear Lord All Mighty! John's home," cried Sarah with both arms wrapped around her son.
            Lott lifted the lantern as he studied the man's face carefully.
            John shook his head and smiled at his father. "It's me, Paw. It's John. I'm home," he muttered.
            "Sister, get out here! Yore brother's home!" shouted Lott as he wrapped his arms around his son.
            John held his hand out to his astonished sister. "Don't you know me?" he said.
            "Mamma! Papa! It's him!" exclaimed Sister, grabbing her brother around the waist
            Suddenly, feeling weak and faint, John sank to his knees.
            "Lott, feel of this boy!" Sarah said. " He's might near froze. Go start the fire and build a big un. His face is like ice. Sister, get some of James Earl's long underwear and thick socks," she instructed. "And make up some hot tea and bring it to the fireside."
            "Yes Ma'am, I'm goin'," replied Sister, as she ran out to the front porch.
            "Toby!" she screamed over her shoulder. "John's come home! He's here in the house."
            Lott soon had a fire going and had helped John into dry clothing. Sarah and Sister placed a thick pallet of quilts in front of the fireplace and wrapped several blankets over him. John was soon able to get the hot tea down, and began regaining his strength. Even though he was covered with thick quilts, his whole body continued to shake.
            Sarah motioned to Lott. "We best get him to a bed. It'll be a lot warmer than this here floor."
            John shook his head. "Don't move me, Mamma. I dreamt of sleepin' front of this fire for a long time. Just let me be," whispered John as he closed his eyes.
            A light tapping was heard at the door.
            "Come on in, Toby. We got one big Christmas present here with us," said Lott as Toby shook the snow off his shoes and placed his hat under his arm.
            "What ya got there, Mist' Lott? Could it be . . . ?" questioned Toby.
            Toby edged up to the man in front of the fire and stooped down. "Good Lawd, it sho' be Mist' John. Where'd that boy come from, Mist' Lott?" marveled Toby. "He sho' don't look like a boy no more. That boy done gone and made a man. Just wait till I tell Liza 'bout this. She won't believes it nary a bit."
            Toby soon returned to his wife's bed. She had been freed by Frank Olliver at the end of the war and was now with her husband on the Wilson farm. Their two sons, Andrew and Caleb, had remained with the Ollivers as hired laborers.
            Back at the main house, light filtered through the windows as dawn approached. Sister, wrapped in a thick quilt, had curled up on the floor next to her mother and was still asleep. Lott sat next to the fireplace watching the fire pop and crackle as he enjoyed an early morning smoke.
            "Lott, the boy's done growed a beard," whispered Sarah. "And look at that touch of gray hair, just like yores," she continued as she pushed his hair back. "Lott, come look at this," insisted Sarah, motioning to her husband. "This boy has got a bad scar on the side of his head."
            Lott squatted down and gently examined his son. "Sarah, sump'n sure hit this boy. No tellin' what John's been through, nor where he's been."
            "Don't care where. Just glad he's come home," whispered Sarah.
            Several hours later John turned over on his side. "Mamma, why didn't James Earl bring me on home last night? Just wait till I get up. We going to straighten that matter out," grumbled John. "He just left me out in that snow and rode off."
            "What do ya mean by that, John?" questioned his mother.
            "He was out there serenadin' last night and rode up on me. We talked a spell, and he just rode off into the night on Lightnin'and left me standin' there."
            Sarah and Lott were speechless, shaken by John's words.
            "John, you is just dreamin'. It's hard to tell you this, but James Earl died over two years ago. He got real sick up in Virginie. Thomas told us 'bout it when he come home. Right after that big battle in Pennsylvanie. He's been gone over two years. You just dreamin', boy. Just a bad dream," explained Sarah.
            John shook his head. "Ain't no dream, Mamma. I seen him clearer than light. He told me to get on home, and that you been waitin' for me a long time.