Black Iron Mercy – Chapter nine excerpt

Posted: February 11, 2014 in Manuscript
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An excerpt from chapter nine of my manuscript, “Black Iron Mercy,” a novel of the Civil War.


Manuscript is subject to editing.

Mineral Point, Wisconsin

March 4, 1857


Arlis stood still, listening to the silence.  He held his breath and concentrated.  The loudness of the dormancy seemed deafening.  He had often done this, especially in the winter, when the inactivity of everything was total.  The calming affectation was profound and immediate, and he relaxed, his pulse returning to normal.  He closed his eyes and raised his face to the sky, absorbing what little heat the sun offered and breathed again, auscultating the din of his own respiration.

“Hiya, Arlis.”

He nearly jumped out of his skin, and then whirled around.  There she was, standing in a pair of well defined foot prints he hadn’t noticed near the edge of the woods.  She was carrying a book and her slate.

“Darn it all, girl!  You scared me out of my wits,” he said, his heart rate elevating right back to the level it had been before.

“Didn’t mean ta, surely,” Violet said, sounding concerned but looking amused.  “You scare easy is all.  It’s not like I’m out here sneakin’ ‘round.  You’re the one outta place. I come home this way every day.”  She walked over and stood near him, eyes on the sled.

Arlis smiled.  She looked beautiful.  Her eyes as green as ever against this colorless backdrop, she had her hair all tucked up under her bonnet and her red scarf tight around her neck.  Her cheeks matched her scarf in rosiness.

“Whatcha doin’ out here all by yourself, fisherman?” she asked, eyeing the fishing pole.  “Can’t wait for spring to try out your new tackle?

Arlis glanced at the sled and felt the panic coming back again.  “Oh nuts, Violet.  You had to go and… and…  You ain’t supposed to see this yet.  Aren’t.  You aren’t supposed to see it, yet.”

“Well, that’s a terrible way to talk to a girl on her birthday,” she said, scolding him and smiling.  She seemed to be enjoying his discomfort.

“Oh, heck,” Arlis said, surrendering to the hopelessness of this encounter going anything like he’d imagined it.  “Happy birthday, Violet.  These gifts are for you.  The wrapped box and the fishing gear, too.”

She went to the sled and set her school things on it.  Then, untying the rod and holding it in her hands, she examined the reel.

“I’ve never seen one of these before, Arlis.  I reckon it’s right nice.  I’m not sure I’d know how ta use it.”  She ran her hand down the pole.  “One problem.”

Arlis gaped at her.  Oh, oh, he thought.  “What?” he asked, his head tilted like a dog trying to comprehend.

“I can’t accept it,” she said, setting it back on the sled and standing up straight.

“What?” he asked, dumbfounded.  “Whatta you mean, ‘can’t accept it?’”  His heart was breaking.  “You have any idea what I had to go through to get that reel?”

Violet smiled, looked around, and then stepped forward and kissed him, firm and long, surely longer than the five second rule allowed. After a short while she backed off a little, and he felt the softness of her lush lips on his.  Their tongues touched briefly, light and exquisite, another new experience, and then she withdrew, keeping her face just inches from his, the smile returning to her face.  Her mittened hand found his and held it gently.  “You gotta come to the house and give it to me, Arlis, or my Pa will ask me a lot of questions.  He’ll probably wonder who I been sneakin’ off with ta get such a gift.  Wait five minutes and then follow me home.  I’ll say ‘thank you’ to you proper like then.”  She picked up her book and slate and turned, walking toward her house.

Tasting her on his lips, he mumbled, “I thought you just did…”

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