WAIT FOR ME
May 18, 1863
Benjamin Richardson stood in front of the headquarters for the Vicksburg campaign and winced as a trickle of sweat slid down his back. Headquarters was currently a whitewashed southern townhouse with six pillars as wide as oak trees lining the front veranda. The paint was peeling and the third step up to the ten-foot wide porch was cracked along the right edge, leaving an exposed splinter sharp as a bayonet point.
The sounds of camp blended with the everyday sounds of town. Soldiers shouting orders. A woman scolding her child for running into the street. Pots banging as a wagon left the general store. The crack of wood splintering beneath the sharpness of an axe.
Benjamin slipped a finger under the collar of his gray wool uniform, letting in the barest drop of air. Even in mid-May, the heat was heavy. In a month, maybe less, the heat would make the air so heavy it would be hard to breath. Being born and bred in the south didn’t make the summer any more tolerable for him, nor did it lend him any fondness for the heat.
The smell of bacon from the morning’s breakfast mingled with the scent of gunpowder reminding him of the dry cornbread he’d eaten at daybreak.
He pulled out his silver pocket watch and checked the time. It was only nine o’clock in the morning. His grandfather had given him this watch on his sixteenth birthday. You’re a man now, he’d said. It’s time for you to make something of yourself. Every time you look at this watch, you remember that. Don’t dishonor our family name by living on the coattails of those who lived before you. Even now, ten years later, his grandfather’s words haunted him.
Benjamin’s meeting with General Pemberton had been scheduled for thirty minutes ago. Every minute that passed gave the sun more ammunition.
Benjamin couldn’t explain it, but the air had a dark feel to it.
He squinted to the east. The sun beamed through a cloudless sky. He shook off the thoughts. No storm on the horizon. A flight of fancy, his mother would say.
General Pemberton was known for his punctuality.Benjamin checked his watch again. He needed to get back to his men. The fortifications had already been started, but he Yankees had been slipping past in their ships, mostly at night.
They had to be stopped.
The door to Pemberton’s headquarters opened and Benjamin watched as a soldier stepped outside the two-story white house. “You can come in now Sir. The General is almost ready for you.”
“Very good. I appreciate you.” Benjamin stepped into the foyer and into the welcome shade. He blinked as his eyes adjusted to the dim light. The inside of the house smelled like cinnamon and vanilla. It was a mystery where people managed to get everyday things despite the chaos all around them.
General Pemberton’s loud laugh drew his attention to the parlor on the left.
But it was the young lady whose silhouette captured his gaze. Whatever she had said doubtless would not have mattered. Any full-blooded Confederate soldier’s eyes would have been drawn to her.
He was drawn first to her red gown. Even the high neck and long sleeves didn’t distract from her narrow waist accentuating her feminine curves. Her midnight black hair curled softly around her delicate shoulders unlike so many women, even young women, who wore their hair pulled severely back from their faces.
Even from here, he could see the soft curve of her cheek. Benjamin had spent some time up north. He had family in Boston. He had been struck for as long as he could remember by the soft beauty of the southern woman. None could compare.
It had been five years since he’d taken more than a passing glance of appreciation of a southern girl.
Not since the girl in North Carolina had stolen his heart.
The girl stood on her tip-toes and whispered something that Benjamin couldn’t hear. Pemberton laughed again and presented his elbow.
The woman placed a white gloved hand on his arm and turned, her hoop skirt swaying.
The smile on her face turned to an expression of confusion and disbelief.
Benjamin’s feet were glued to the hardwood floor. He could neither take a step forward, nor turn and back away. It was just as well since he couldn’t discern in that split second that seemed like an eternity which of the two he wanted to do.
His jaw dropped and he felt the same confusion and disbelief that he saw on her face.
It was her.