This excerpt is also from the anthology NORTHERN ROSES AND SOUTHERN BELLES. NO DECORUM is the only story in the book dealing with the Red River Campaign. Most of it occurs in Camden, Arkansas, a bustling river town at that time, second only to Little Rock in population. The book is available in e-book and print from The Wild Rose Press, www.thewildrosepress.com and also from the usual online sources. It finaled in the 2011 EPIC Book Awards.
Like many writers, Mary Ann Webber began writing fiction in elementary school. Writing took a backseat to life. She wanted it all – marriage, home, children, grandchildren, and a teaching career in Virginia and Arkansas.
During the years her writing was on hold, she collected books related to the periods she found fascinating. She often spends more time researching than writing. The Americas provide the backdrop for all her stories. Her favorite era is the thirty-five-year period between the Civil War and 1900. It’s called the Gilded Age and was actually named by Mark Twain.
Mary Ann also loves the Old Dominion (Virginia in the 1600’s) and works intermittently on a novel set in that place and time.
After taking early retirement, she moved to Dallas to be near her children and grandchild and immersed herself in writing.
Juliet hurled the broom across the front porch and immediately regretted causing such a clatter. She wanted to observe the man who’d topped the hill and now walked down the road toward the house and the church.
He couldn’t be Randolph. This man limped slightly, used a cane, and was very thin. Besides, Dolphie was shorter. Or did she remember him as shorter? Every step he took caused her perception of him to waver.
Now she could see the man’s shoulder-length-hair. He appeared to look at her, and his long dark beard parted, framing his beautiful smile. In spite of his limp, his speed increased.
With a shriek, Juliet left the porch and flew to the gate. Unable to call his name, she ran headlong to him. He tossed aside his cane and waited with his arms held wide. Laughing and crying, she embraced him and called him darling.
Randolph’s damaged leg impaired his balance and he tottered until Juliet slid her arm around his waist. “Wait. Get my came.” His voice croaked, and he had trouble with the words.
Out of nowhere, Samuel was with them. He handed the cane to Juliet and scooped Randoph up in his powerful arms. “Suh, you light as a feather. I carry you like a baby.”
“Oh bless you, Samuel. Bless you.” Tears ran down Juliet’s cheeks, as Randolph’s eyes closed. “We must get him inside. He’s in thin rags, and he’s very cold.” She cried as her husband went limp, and his head fell against Samuel.
“We gone take care of him, Miss Juliet. Don’ you worry. You know my momma can fix sick folks.” Samuel broke into a double step as he carried the sergeant.
He left Juliet behind in the road. Ambrose reached her before she collapsed and helped her into the house.
The guest room door stood open and they heard Patsy barking orders to Samuel. “You jus’ hol’ him right there ’til I get this bed covered wid this sheet. Now, put him down an’ we get these clothes off him. Easy, now you go get firewood and start a fire in this room.”
Juliet crept into the room, and Patsy gave her some orders. “Miss Juliet, go find Miss Martha and tell her to b’il water. That’s somethin’ a maiden lady can do.” She stopped and listened. “Where the Reverend?”
“I think he’s offering thanks to God for bringing Randolph home,” Juliet whispered.
“Well, you tell him the Lord done finished hearin’ his prayers. The Lord say for him to bring some warm clothes for this lamb.”
“Juliet,” Randolph’s voice was painful to hear. “Come here where I can see how beautiful you are.” He grinned. “Where’s our baby? All that work for nothing? They had a big prisoner exchange at Camp Ford and sneaked me into one of the wagons. I got a ride to Shreveport because I said I had a baby coming.”
Juliet grinned. “We’ll just have to start over.”
“Give me a couple of days.” Randolph’s voice faltered and faded with his last word. His eyes closed, and his body went limp.
Horror choked Juliet. She couldn’t draw breath into her lungs and her heart was bursting. “Randolph? Randolph?” Her head dropped facedown onto the bed.
“Now, Miss Juliet, you hush. I put a couple drops of my special medicine on his lips, and he gone sleep until tonight. You keep aggravatin’ him and yo’self, and I’m gone put some drops on you.”
Juliet raised her head. “He’s not dead?”
“Course not. Now you got time for a nap an’ a warm bath wid pe’fume in the water. You need to look lak you did las’ time he saw you. Not all poorly.”
Juliet sobbed loudly but Patsy’s unending admonitions continued.
Lawd, Miss Juliet! Here. I help you get youself up on the bed an’ you can hol’ onto him while he sleep.”
Wiping her tears on her apron, Juliet’s terrors abated somewhat. “Thank you. Patsy. I promise not to bother him.”
“That’s better. Here, take this mirror and hol’ it unda his nose if you can’t heah him breathin’.”
“Thank you, Patsy.” Juliet arranged herself beside Randolph and placed a hand on his arm while Patsy covered her with a quilt. “I won’t disturb him. I just want to lie beside him and watch him sleep.”
Patsy turned and spoke before she closed the door. “Come to de kitchen when you get hongry.”
Juliet rolled over and stared at Randolph’s peaceful profile. She couldn’t recall having this vantage point of his sleeping face before. Smiling, she remembered how she tried to steal glimpses of him across the church aisle on the day she first saw him. “I have you now, my darling Dolphie. I have you and you have me. We will always be together.”