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Hearts of Stoneby Kathleen Ernst
I patted the mule. Until Jasper grew big enough to help, I’d tended Star. “It’s a fit chore for you, Hannah,” Papa had said more than once. “You’re as stubborn as the mule.” But he always smiled when he said it.
“Are you up to the trip, Star?” I whispered. Poor girl. Her sides were furrowed as a new-plowed field. “You can get us to Nashville, can’t you?” I scratched her between the ears, then took stock. Jasper’d come back with the bucket. The cart was packed. Mary and Maude stood waiting. Everything was ready.
My chest began to ache. “I forgot something,” I said.
Jasper snorted. “Hannah – ”
“Just hush up and wait!”
Back inside I touched the marks my fingers had made in the clay and straw chinked between the logs when we’d had to repair damage done by mice and bees and rain. I set Mama’s rocking chair to motion and so I could hear it creak. I trailed my hand over the oak table Papa had hewn, and toed the crack between the puncheons where Jasper always dropped his string beans through for the chickens. Jasper didn’t much care for string beans.
“I can’t protect the hearth, Mama,” I whispered. I tried to pry the flowered china piece free of the chimney, but it stuck fast. I polished it with my apron instead.
Then my gaze lit on the family Bible, kept on its own little table near the fireplace. Like the wedding ring, it came across the ocean with my papa’s family many years before. The huge book had a tooled-leather cover that was surely the envy of Preacher Peabody. Inside were special pages where generations of Camerons had written down births and weddings and deaths. That faded, spidery writing was all that was left of their lives. The Bible rested on a square scrap of plaid wool, dark green and blue with thin yellow stripes, which had come across the ocean with Mama’s parents.
I carried the Bible and the tartan cloth outside, wrapped them in a quilt, and stowed in the cart. “Now we’re ready,” I said, putting a hand on Star to steady myself.
“Hannah?” Jasper chewed his lip. “What happens if we can’t find Aunt Ellen in Nashville?”
“Well…we’ll come back here. We can always go to the neighbors if need truly be.”
“But what will happen here?”
I drew a deep breath. “Nothing, I hope. We own this land, legal. There are papers in Knoxville to prove it. When the war’s over we’ll come back and start again.”
I took a last look around. The ash hopper beside the big boiling kettle was full, waiting for Mama to fire up a batch of laundry. The big iron hoisting hook still hung in the walnut tree by the pig pen, waiting for Papa to haul up a butchered pig to dress out. Corn was coming up in the field and the garden needed tending and a pile of ginseng waited on the porch. Two fresh ‘coon skins were nailed on the front wall to dry.
And Mama’s grave still fresh and bare.
I finally pried my gaze away and planted myself in the road. I folded my arms, staring west. “You look just like Pa,” Jasper said.
That shored me up some. “I’ll get us to Nashville,” I promised. “Let’s get going.”
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