Ophelia Quinn was not who she pretended to be.
Between the squawking chickens and mooing cows, she might go out of her mind. Using her wrist, she swept the hair out of her eyes, and wrinkled her nose at the foul smell of cow manure.
To make matters worse, it was merely seven o’clock in the morning. There was still dew on the grass, soaking the hem of her best everyday dress, a light blue plaid.
She scooped another shovelful of cow manure from the rusty wheelbarrow and dumped it out next to the tomato plants. After a few feet of that lovely task, she went back with a hoe and smoothed the manure out along the base of the plants.
Glancing up, she saw Aunt Melanie doing the same several yards over. Aunt Melanie smiled and waved when she saw Ophelia looking in her direction.
Ophelia smiled, though the taste was bitter on her tongue, and waved back.
Uncle Adam had gotten to go into town today and Ophelia envied him. Even a small town like Mansfield held more interest than this farm.
She wondered for the hundredth time how she drew the short straw. Her sister, Isabella, had gotten to go live with Aunt Allison in Vicksburg. Sure, she’d had to endure the siege and all, but for the two years before the war really came to Vicksburg, she’d enjoyed music and plays, and all sorts of social events.
Events she probably didn’t even bother to take advantage of.
Their father had been desperately confused when he’d sent his youngest daughter to live on a farm.
In the middle of nowhere.
At age nineteen, she was already an old maid. She’d spent the last three years here. Her best years.
Her father’s sister and her husband were good people. The kindest really. Ophelia loved them dearly. Her uncle was in the home guard, so he went into town frequently, but at least there was a man around to take care of things the women would have trouble with. Like cutting firewood, repairing the roof. Uncle Adam did the hunting, hauled water and firewood. He didn’t like the women doing heavy work. She supposed he didn’t think manure was heavy.
So she was grateful for them and did the chores they asked of her during the day. In the evenings, after supper, she retreated to her room and spent her evenings reading. Thank heavens they had a library of books. Her aunt had a love of books in common with Ophelia’s father.
But they didn’t have a piano. Her fingers hadn’t even touched piano keys in over three years.
She stretched her back. It was time to get another load of manure.
At first she thought she imagined the ground’s quiver.
Then the quiver was accompanied by a rumble.
Standing next to the wheelbarrow, she jammed her shovel into the ground and leaning against it with both hands, stared across the fields towards the main road.
The rumble became the sounds of wagons carrying heavy artillery, pots and pans banging against the wagons, horses’ hooves pounding the ground, thousands of soldiers marching, and over it all, men’s voices.
Ophelia knew what it was before she saw it.
It was an army on the move.
She was relieved to see the Confederate flag flying high at the front of the line. She watched as thousands of soldiers marched along the little road that passed their house and fields. Soon the line stretched from horizon to horizon.
Ophelia trembled, her knees shaking.
Perhaps her father had been right after all. There was no way she could have survived the Vicksburg siege that her sister had endured.
The sight of soldiers, especially this many, struck fear in her heart.
This could mean only one thing.
The Yankees were coming.