It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Martha Rogers’ novel Not on the Menu debuted on May 1, 2007, as a part of Sugar and Grits, a novella collection with DiAnn Mills, Janice Thompson, and Kathleen Y’Barbo. Her series Winds Across the Prairie debuted in 2010 with Becoming Lucy, Morning for Dove, Finding Becky, and Caroline’s Choice. Her other credits include stories in anthologies with Wayne Holmes, Karen Holmes, and Debra White Smith; several articles in Christian magazines; devotionals in six books of devotions; and eight Bible studies. Martha served as editor of a monthly newsletter for the writer’s organization Inspirational Writers Alive! for six years and is the state president. She is also the director for the annual Texas Christian Writer’s Conference and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, for whom she writes a weekly devotional.
Visit the author’s website.
In April 1865, the day following the surrender at Appomattox, Manfred McDaniel Whiteman and his brother, Edward, are released in an exchange of prisoners. They are given a few provisions, and they begin a long journey to their home in Bayou Sara, Louisiana.
At home Sallie Dyer is waiting word of her beloved Manfred. Though just a young girl when Manfred left, Sallie has grown into a caring young woman who is determined to wait for her love—despite her father’s worries that she is wasting her life on someone who may never come home.
On their journey Manfred and his brother encounter storms and thieves and are even thrown in jail. Will he make the journey home before someone else claims Sallie’s hand?
List Price: $11.33
PublisherRealms (May 7, 2013)
Product Dimensions8.2 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
He shut his eyes against the sun’s rays, but sleep would not return. He lay still in the quiet of the new morning and sensed a difference in the air that settled over him like a cloak of peace. Raising his head, he glanced around the room. The same familiar stench of wounds, dirty hay, unwashed bodies, and death permeated the air, but in it all the difference vibrated. Something had happened, he could sense it, but nothing unusual appeared in the confines of the prison barracks.
After being captured in the Battle of Nashville in December, he, his younger brother Edwin, and other prisoners had made the long march from Nashville to Louisville, Kentucky. From there they were transferred to Camp Chase in Ohio. Then, in the first week of February, they had been loaded onto trains like cattle and sent to Point Lookout, Maryland, a prison housing nearly fifty thousand men. Upon their arrival the captured soldiers had been stripped of everything personal, and as the days progressed, hundreds of men died. Manfred mourned the loss of friends but thanked the Lord every day for sparing his life, as well as the life of his brother.
Edwin lay sleeping on the pallet next to him, curled on his side as usual. Others still slept, their snores filling the air with sound. No use in trying to sleep now. Manfred’s stomach rumbled with hunger, but most likely the only breakfast would be hard tack or biscuit.
Several weeks ago an officer with the rank of general had visited. For some reason the general had asked Manfred about the one thing he would most like to have. When Manfred answered he wanted his Bible, the man had been somewhat taken aback. Still, he’d managed to find the Bible and Manfred’s journal, which he returned.
Manfred now pulled that worn journal from beneath his dirty mat. The almost ragged book, his lifeline for the past three years, fell open. Manfred wrote.
April 10, 1865
Three more died the night before last. The nearly full moon shining through the windows gave me light to see. I took one man’s shoes and left him with my holey wornout ones. He won’t need shoes, but I will. Took his socks and another man’s for me and Edwin. God, I never dreamed I would do such a thing, but we are desperately in need. Please forgive me. Help Edwin and me to get out of here and get home safely. I so desperately need to see Sallie and my family.
The scrape of wood against wood echoed in the room. Union soldiers, making their usual morning inspection, checked for any who may have died during the night. Manfred shoved the journal under his mat just before the door thudded against the wall and the guards’ shoes clomped on the wooden floors. He turned on his side once again to feign sleep. The blunt toe of the sergeant’s boot kicked Manfred’s hip and sent a sharp pain through his leg. He grunted in response and raised his head to let the sergeant know he was alive. When the man passed, Manfred sat up on his mat and stretched his legs out in front of him to relieve the usual early-morning stiffness.
Others awakened, and their groans filled the air as they rose to sit on their bedding. Manfred waited for breakfast, not knowing if he would even get rations this morning. The guards exited carrying the bodies of the souls who didn’t make it through the night.
Manfred voiced a silent prayer for the boys and their families who would receive the news of the death of their loved ones. He bit his lip. He and Edwin had to survive. They had too much life to live, but then so had the ones just taken away. What if God chose not to spare him or Edwin? No, he wouldn’t think of that. Instead he filled his mind with Scripture verses memorized as a child. God’s Word stored in his heart gave him the comfort and hope he needed to survive each day.
A little later the guards returned and ordered them to the part of the cookhouse where they would eat what the cooks passed off as food. Manfred accepted the cup of what the men called “slop water” coffee and a hard biscuit that would have to suffice until they brought a lunch of greasy water soup. Weeks ago the putrid smells of death, the filth in the camp, and the lousy food sickened him, but now he barely noticed.
Manfred managed to eat half his biscuit and drink a few sips from his cup then leaned toward the man on his right. “Here, James. You take the rest of mine. You need it more than I do.”
The man clasped a trembling hand around the cup and reached for the biscuit with his other. A few drops sloshed over the rim. “Thank you, Manfred. You’re a true friend.” He stuffed the biscuit into his mouth and lifted the cup to his lips to gulp down the last dregs of liquid. With a nod to Manfred, the young soldier returned the cup.
After they were sent back to their quarters, Manfred breathed deeply and almost choked on the rancid air. What he wouldn’t give for a bath, shave, and haircut. A good meal wouldn’t hurt anything either. His nose had mostly numbed itself to his body odor, but dirt and scum became more visible every day. When he had tried to wash his shirt, the brackish water left stains he couldn’t remove.
When would this nightmare come to an end? A question unanswered for these four long months of marching, fighting, and incarceration. Too many lay ill and dying. The end had to come soon.
He glanced once again at his brother, who cushioned his head on his crossed palms with his eyes closed. Manfred reached over to touch the boy’s shoulder. “You all right, little brother?”
Edwin didn’t open his eyes. “Yeah, I’m okay. Just hungry. I dreamed of home last night and Bessie’s cooking. When I close my eyes, I can see her and Momma in the kitchen, Bessie up to her elbows in flour making biscuits and Momma stirring the fire and making grits.”
“Shh, brother, you’re making me hungry too.” Manfred pulled what was left of his jacket tighter about his thin body. “We’ve been captive four months, but it seems a lifetime. Home, our parents, and Sallie may as well be a million miles away.”
Edwin sat up and pounded his fist into the straw. “Yeah, and sometimes I think we’ll never get back there.” He stretched his legs out on his mat, hugging what passed for a pillow. “I sure pray I’ll get to see Peggy again soon.”
Manfred positioned his body to sit squarely on his mat. “Soon as we’re home, I’m asking Mr. Dyer for Sallie’s hand in marriage, that is, if she still wants me. No telling who she’s met since I’ve been gone.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that if I were you, big brother. Sallie loves you.” He smacked his fist into the open palm of his other hand. “I just want to be out of here and out there where the action is, fighting with Lee. They told us the Yanks are fighting Lee in Virginny, and that’s just across the river. Lee has to beat them Yanks. We’ll be hearing about it any day now. I just know it.”
Manfred simply nodded. He didn’t agree with his brother, but Edwin cared more about the war than Manfred. At this point Manfred had resigned himself to waiting out the war.
If only he could somehow communicate with Sallie and let her know he was alive. Almost a year had passed since he’d seen her last summer and six months since he’d been able to send a letter to her or received one. From his Bible he removed her last letter and opened it, being careful to handle it as little as possible. Already small holes appeared in the creases from his folding it so often. She had written from her grandfather’s home last fall before he’d gone to Nashville. He prayed her family was safe there in St. Francisville, Louisiana. He’d been at Port Hudson, Louisiana, two years ago and would have been involved in that skirmish in May, but he’d been among the ones in the brigade deployed elsewhere in March. Major General had been sure he had enough soldiers to turn back the siege, but that had not been the case, and Port Hudson fell into Union hands in early July.
That battle took place too close to his hometown of Bayou Sara and had even damaged Grace Church up at St. Francisville. He’d seen the damage on his furlough home. His two older brothers had been captured at Port Hudson, and Manfred had no idea where they were now.
St. Francisville may have been spared, but it had been a close call for Sallie’s grandparents and the other citizens of the small town. He held the worn paper to his lips. With God’s help he’d get home and claim Sallie for his bride.
The hair on the back of his neck bristled, and goose bumps popped out on his arms. The foreboding feeling from earlier wouldn’t leave and swept over him now even stronger, as though he sat on the edge of something powerful looming in the day ahead.
St. Francisville, Louisiana
Sallie Dyer sat at her dressing table running a brush through her mass of tangled curls. Tears blurred her image in the mirror, and she grimaced as the bristles caught in another snarl. She dropped the brush onto her lap.
“Lettie, what am I to do? Not knowing about Manfred is too painful to bear.” She scrunched a handful of auburn hair against her head. “Nothing’s going right. I can’t even brush my hair. I hate the war and . . . ” Her voice trailed off, and she dropped her gaze to the floor then turned toward Lettie. “What am I to do?”
The housemaid clucked her tongue and fluffed the pillows on the walnut four-poster bed. “I don’t know, Miss Sallie. I hate the war too. Too many are dyin’ out there.”
Lettie’s skirt swished as she crossed the room. She picked up the discarded brush and began smoothing out the mass of curls. “You know, Miss Sallie, you have the prettiest red hair in all of Louisiana.”
Sallie lifted her tear-stained eyes and found Lettie’s reflection in the mirror staring back.
“You got to have courage. God is takin’ care of Mr. Manfred.”
“Oh, but the waiting is so hard.” Sallie swiped her fingers across her wet cheeks. In a letter last fall Manfred had written that he was headed to Nashville. Stories coming back from that area spoke of the volumes of soldiers killed at Franklin and then up at Nashville in December. Reports said the surviving young men had been taken prisoner, but no one knew to which prison.
“Lettie, do you truly believe Manfred will come home?”
“Yes, Miss Sallie, I do, and when he comes, you’ll be ready and waitin’.” In a few minutes Lettie’s skilled fingers had tamed the unruly ringlets and secured them with a silver clasp at Sallie’s neck.
“Thank you. I’m all out of sorts this morning. Here it is April, and I haven’t heard a word since November.” Her fears tumbled back into her mind. “Too many have died, and I don’t want Manfred . . . ” She couldn’t utter the words. Saying them might make them true.
She pressed her lips together and pushed a few stray tendrils from her face. She had to get her fears under control. She once believed God would give her the peace He promised, but no matter how hard she prayed, no answers came. God had abandoned her on that awful day last week when she had killed that young man. He hadn’t protected her that afternoon, and now her prayers fell on deaf ears.
Lettie secured the wayward strands with the others under the clips. “Now, Miss Sallie, I done told you we got to believe they’re alive and comin’ home. We can’t do nothin’ about the war. Your mama and grandma need you to be strong. When Mr. Manfred gets home, he’ll be courtin’ you right proper like. You’ll see.”
Lettie must be more concerned than she let on. She only slipped back to the dialect of her family when worried. Sallie turned and wrapped her arms around the dark-skinned girl’s thin waist. “I want to believe you, I really do, but it’s almost more than I can bear.”
After blinking her eyes to clear them, Sallie stared into the dark brown eyes of her friend. Lettie had been with Sallie since childhood, and they shared so much life with each other. If it had not been for Lettie and her mother, Sallie might never have regained her sanity after the incident in Mississippi that brought them all to St. Francisville.
A chill passed through her body at the memory of the day they had fled from their home. Sallie’s last act of defense would be one that would stay with her the rest of her life. Even now she could see the young soldier with the red oozing from his chest. It was the first time she’d ever seen a dead person, and now, only a week later, the image would not leave her, fresh as the day it happened.
The young servant’s brow furrowed, and she pursed her lips. “Are you thinking about what happened back home?”
How well Lettie knew her. Sallie sniffed and blinked away the tears.
“Then you best stop it. What you did had to be done, and we both know it. You saved all our lives.”
It didn’t matter that Lettie spoke true. The images of war could not be erased from Sallie’s mind. “I just want this war to end.”
“Well now, I want that too, but it’s all in God’s hands. But think how Mr. Charles and Mr. Henry got back from the war only a few weeks ago. Theo’s back home too, so you have to believe the other two will come home before long.”
True. Of the five Whiteman brothers, only Edwin and Manfred remained unaccounted for. Charles and Henry Whiteman had been taken prisoner at Port Hudson but exchanged and sent home. Even Theo now sat safe at home after his last escapade revealed him too young to be in the army. She must have hope for Manfred and Edwin.
Lettie lifted the edge of her white apron and patted Sallie’s cheeks dry. “There now, Miss Sallie. It’s all goin’ to be fine. It’ll all be over soon. I just know it. I feel it in my bones. Besides, Easter’s a comin’, and that means a new season, new life, and new hope.”
“You and Mama, the eternal optimists, but I love you for it. You always know how to make me feel better.” Sallie breathed deeply and reached for a green ribbon to secure in her hair.
She would get through this day just as she had all the ones since Manfred left. Then the memory of what she overheard between her father and mother last night drained away her determination. She peered up at Lettie. “I need to tell you something.” Sallie squeezed the hand now clasped in hers.
At Lettie’s solemn nod Sallie took a deep breath and revealed her worry. “Last night I couldn’t sleep, and I heard Papa come in from his trip back to Woodville. I sneaked downstairs to see him, but he was in the parlor talking to Grandpa.”
Sallie’s lips trembled. “Our house in Woodville is ruined. The Yanks ransacked the place and took all kinds of things from our home. Papa said they’d left it in shambles. Mama’s beautiful things. Oh, Lettie, it’s just terrible.” After Sallie and the other women had fled the land, Papa and her brothers stayed behind until the next day, then joined the rest of the family in St. Francisville. He’d gone back to Woodville a few days ago, a twenty-five mile journey, when he heard the Yankees had moved on north.
Lettie pressed her hand against her cheek, her eyes open wide. “Oh, I’m sorry. Your poor mama. It’s so sad. No wonder you’re feelin’ blue this morning.”
Sallie squeezed Lettie’s hand again and for the next few moments sat in silence. Lettie understood her better than anyone else. The servant girl knew her deepest secrets and could be trusted to keep them.
“You are such a comfort. I don’t know how I’d get through these days without you to share my worries.”
Lettie patted Sallie’s hand. “We’ve been together too long and been through too much for me not to be with you.” She stepped back. “Come, now, let’s get you dressed. Your family will be waitin’, and you know your grandpa doesn’t like cold eggs or tardy children, even if you are his favorite.”
That statement brought a bit of smile. She did love Grandpa Woodruff, but he could be gruff when the occasion arose. She hastened over to a bench by the bed and picked up a green and white print cotton dress. Lettie grasped it and slipped her arms up inside it, and Sallie held up her arms.
“I believe Mama invited the Whiteman family for supper one night soon. I’m anxious to speak to Manfred’s mother. Perhaps she’s heard from him.”
The dress billowed about her as Lettie placed it over Sallie’s shoulders. She pulled the bodice up over arms and let the full skirt fall down over her hips and the myriad number of petticoats. At least Mama and Grandma didn’t require her to wear a corset or hoops with her day dresses. Lettie’s nimble fingers went to work on the buttons lined up the back.
“I think you lost more weight, missy. This dress is looser than it was last week. You sure don’t even need your corset. You have to eat more.” She peered over Sallie’s shoulder into the mirror and shook her head.
Looking over her shoulder, Sallie smoothed the dress around her waist. She gathered the wrinkles from the excess fabric. “It is big, but I’m just not hungry.” At Lettie’s stern gaze she added, “But I’ll try to eat more.”
Lettie sniffed the air. “If that aroma coming from the kitchen is what I think it is, my mammy’s ham and eggs should do the trick. She’ll have biscuits and gravy too.”
Sallie nodded. “I promise I’ll eat some of everything this morning.” A promise she would try to keep, especially with her grandmother’s and Flora’s cooking being so delicious.
The two girls locked arms and walked down the stairs together. At the bottom Lettie headed for the kitchen to help her mother. Sallie forced a smile to her lips and went into the dining room to join her family for breakfast.