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Caves, Cannons and Crinolines
cover design © 2010 Ardy M. Scott.

 

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Caves, Cannons and Crinolines
YA historical

Beverly Stowe McClure

 

Chapter Two

 

It wasn't the spiders that helped me make my decision. It wasn't even the cave. It was something deeper, something inside me that rebelled at the thought of cowering in this burrow, while my brothers fought for our home, for our beliefs. Even though I'm a girl, I am a Stamford. I shall do the same.

The sound of musket fire, a baby's cry, a temporary lull broken by the wind's song echoed in my ears, mingled with my thoughts. I dared not tell Nat my plans. He'd think I was abandoning him and try to talk me out of it. Best to wait until everyone had retired and then slip away. I'd leave Mama a note, so she wouldn't fret. I sighed, knowing she would anyhow.

It seemed hours before Nat settled down. At last, when nobody was stirring, I rose and crept to the entrance. The servants--Aunt Lois, thin as a silk thread, and Uncle Morris, tall and white-headed--slept alongside Nat, their satiny black skin blending with the shadows. They aren't really my aunt and uncle, but my brothers and I have always called them this, out of respect. They're family. They've cared for me since the day I was born. Aunt Lois nurses me when I am ill. Uncle Morris teaches me to work in the garden and grow delicious vegetables. They praise me when I play the guitar or piano or do something good. They reprimand me when I leave my clothes on the bed or floor, instead of putting them away in the armoire, or when I behave unladylike, which is most of the time, according to them.

"Good-bye, Aunt Lois, Uncle Morris," I whispered. "Pray for me."

Quickly, before they awoke, I stepped over Nat, flat on his back, snoring lightly, and into the fresh air. I paused a moment to breathe in the sweet scent of crepe myrtle, passionflower, and magnolia, a welcome reprieve from the musty cave. My mistake.

"Where you going, Lizzie?" Nat asked, behind me.

I had forgotten how lightly he slept. "Um … for a walk," I said, for that was all I could think of.

He moved in front of me. "A young lady does not wander the streets in the middle of the night without a chaperone," he said.

Normally shy around others, Nat spoke his mind with me, unfortunately. I gritted my teeth at his stubbornness, a trait that ran in our family. Grasping his hand I yanked him away from the cave, to keep from disturbing the servants. "A young gentleman does not tell his older sister what she can and cannot do."

"When his sister puts herself in danger he does." Nat inclined his head toward the crack of gunfire coming from the rifle pits. Even though we could not see them, Papa had told us some of the ditches where the fighting took place were less than two miles from town. "Yankees are out there, Lizzie," Nat said.

"The roof of the cave might collapse on me, too, the way the Ridgley's roof did." My voice rose an octave. "The men had to dig them out, remember?"

Nat remained calm. "Girls do not fight in wars."

He suspected what I was about to do, or else he was guessing. Either way, I'd have to wait until another night. Without admitting a thing and speaking as softly as he, with some difficulty, I asked, "Why not?"

"Because … because they're girls."

A truly male observation.

***

Disappointed by my failure to escape and wondering if another opportunity would present itself, or if I was trapped in this dreadful cave for the rest of my life, I tossed this way and that on my mattress. I received some satisfaction from the fact that Nat was restless as well. I know, for I heard his footsteps, pacing. In the hills, a voice wailed. In pain? The staccato pop of rifle shots sent a tremor through me. I burrowed my face in my pillow and thought of Joseph and Willie, on a battlefield somewhere in Virginia.

"Stay safe," I prayed. "Come home soon."

Once, I had overheard Papa telling Mama about his patients who died from infected wounds. Sometimes the soldiers were brought to the hospital too late. Other times Papa held a hand for comfort, until the gallant soul took his final breath. Finally, I slept and dreamed of Willie, just seventeen, and Joseph, nineteen. I dreamed of Patrick, their friend and mine, who went with them but became sick with the yellow fever, never to recover.

My mattress shifted as someone sat down, snapping me from my dreams. "Aunt Lois says breakfast is prepared."

I blinked one eye partway open, flicked a hand at Nat. "Go 'way," I said, still annoyed with him for interfering with my plans last night. Besides, I could not swallow another bite of cornbread and bacon. Cut off as we were from the rest of the world, thanks to the Yankees who controlled the river and the fact that the railroad tracks were partly destroyed, our supplies were scarce. As a consequence, our meals consisted of bacon and cornbread three times a day and milk from a neighbor's cow. Occasionally Aunt Lois made biscuits from the small supply of flour we had left, but without soda they were tough and hard to chew. I expected to break a tooth each time I ate one. And vegetables and fruit were almost impossible to procure.

I pulled my blanket over my head. "I'm not hungry."

"I hear your stomach rumbling."

I could not deny the obvious. Yawning, I peeled off the covers and sat up. The cave had not improved since yesterday. I was choking already. Immediately, a new plan began to form in my mind. After breakfast concluded, I would beg Mama for permission to fetch my books and my guitar to the cave. If she did not ask Nat to accompany me, I would soon be in the army. If she did, well, I'd think about that should it happen. I stood and slipped my dress over my chemise, not bothering to put on my hot, bothersome petticoat. I felt ten pounds lighter without it.

Nat looked at the ceiling, his face redder than the sunset.

I laughed, enjoying his embarrassment. He deserved it, the toad.

I ate quite a bit, considering I wasn't hungry.

But Mama's reply to my request was a sharp "No!"

Later, she sent Nat and Uncle Morris to the house for our toothbrushes, books, and other personal items, including my guitar.

"My brothers get to do exciting things," I mumbled and grumbled, "and I'm stuck with dishes and sewing. What an awful bore. Oh, I wish I were a boy!"

Aunt Lois clucked her tongue and gave me that look, very much like the one Mama often gave me. I lifted my chin in defiance. "Well, I do."

Aunt Lois smiled. "I knows it, Miss Elizabeth. But you isn't a boy. Makes no sense to wish for it then, does it?"

Such words of wisdom. She always managed to lift my spirits. "Not a bit," I said.

I had dusted the table and was putting Mama's thread in her workbox when hoofbeats echoed on the street in front of our house, and a courier rode up the hillside with a message. Since Mama was in her room, pinning up her hair, I took it. On the way to deliver the note, I peeked inside. I only read the first line before I cried, "Mama!" and skipped into her room, my heart lighter than gossamer.

"Elizabeth! Good heavens! What is wrong?"

I thrust the note at her. "Nothing's wrong. Everything's right. Papa's coming home."

Mama read the message, smiled. Then she slapped her hand to her cheek. "He is! Today! Oh my! Your father expects to find us at the house. He doesn't realize it's injured. I'll have to send word--"

Refusing to let the opportunity pass to leave this disgusting hole, I interrupted quite rudely. "The cave is much too small for Papa. Why, the ceiling is so low he'll have to bend over, and he'll have a terrible backache from it. He'll be much more comfortable at home, even with its injuries."

Mama skimmed an anxious look around. "I hadn't considered that. You may be right, honey. I'm hesitant, though. The thought of being in the midst of cannon fire, not knowing where the next shell will strike, gives me a headache. Still …"

She was wavering. I handed Mama her bonnet and parasol. "If we hurry, we can catch Uncle Morris and Nat before they leave the house." I put on my own bonnet.

"Your father is quite large," Mama said. "The poor man works so hard. He needs to be able to rest." She made up her mind. "Yes. We'll return, at once."

In minutes, Aunt Lois, Mama, and I had crossed the cool, shady ravine and covered the short distance to our house. Mama paused at the black wrought-iron gate leading to the front veranda. "Go on ahead, Lois. Elizabeth and I will be in soon."

She straightened my crooked bonnet. "You and Nathan were engaged in quite an argument last night, honey. Your voice was raised."

She had heard us. What exactly had she heard? Hopefully, not everything. "We weren't quarrelling, Mama. We just had a difference of opinion."

She wasn't convinced. "Honey, Nathan confides in you. Unless I'm mistaken he mentioned fighting and war. He's not considering enlisting in the army, is he?"

The idea of Nat in the army was ridiculous; but at least Mama didn't suspect I was the one he meant. She had enough worries with Willie and Joseph and Papa, without adding Nat to her concerns. I had to set her mind at ease. "Nat would never enlist, Mama. The cannon and muskets terrify him. Anyhow, he's too young."

"Boys his age have joined," she said.

"Nat would never."

"Then why were you arguing?"

I meant to be honest with her, I truly did, but sometimes it's better if a person doesn't know the whole truth. For Mama's peace of mind, I fabricated a story, a fairly convincing one, I might add. The words rolled off my tongue, smooth as honey. "I couldn't sleep and went outside for air. Nat came to see if I was all right."

A wrinkle line formed between Mama's eyes. "Are you all right?"

A hard knot gripped my middle. Was it guilt or the greasy bacon I had eaten earlier? My mouth tripped along, saying what it wanted. "I'm fine. Are you?"

"I'm doing the best I can." Mama's voice trembled.

That knot twisted deeper, burrowing into my very soul. The bacon was not to blame for the ache in my stomach. I had never lied to Mama or Papa. I couldn't now. I was ready to confess, no matter the consequences. "Mama--"

She kissed me on the cheek. "Thank you for easing my mind about Nathan, honey. With my family scattered hither and thither, you and your brother are all that keep me sane these days."

I swallowed my confession.

 

 

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If anyone had told Beverly she'd be a writer one day, she’d have thought they were crazy. When she was a child, she hated to read. Even though her eighth-grade teacher sent her poem "Stars" to a high school anthology, and it was published in Young America Sings, she hated to write. No favorite stories come to mind from her childhood.

In spite of her rocky relationship with books, she attended Midwestern State University and became a teacher. Reading to her students and to her sons introduced her to Dr. Seuss, and she made an amazing discovery: books were fun. She also started to write. To her surprise her stories and articles were published in leading children's magazines. One of her articles was reprinted in a Scott Foresman PreK anthology. Her breakthrough article about her writing journey appeared in the June 2007 issue of the Writer magazine. Caves, Cannons and Crinolines is Beverly's fourth young adult novel. Her other novels for teens are Listen to the Ghost, Secrets I Have Kept, and Rebel in Blue Jeans.

Beverly is a member of the national Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, as well as the North Texas chapter. She lives with her husband, Jack, in the country, where an occasional deer, skunk or armadillo come to visit.

Visit Beverly's web page

TTB titles: Caves, Cannons and Crinolines
Listen to the Ghost
Rebel in Blue Jeans

 

###

 

Caves, Cannons and Crinolines Copyright © 2010. Beverly Stowe McClure. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

To order this book:
Format: ePub, PDF, HTML, Mobi, Palm
    Payment Method
PayPal -or- Credit Card -or- Apple iBookstore -or- BN.com -or- eReader.com -or- Fictionwise -or- Kindle -or- OmniLit -or- Sony eBookstore
List Price: $5.95 USD

Format: Trade Paperback
    Available now!
Order this book via check or credit cardaStore 
~ or visit ~ Amazon;  Barnes & Noble; Bamm.com;  Borders;  Indy bookstores.
List Price: $14.95 USD

 

 

  Author News

Caves, Cannons and Crinolines by Beverly Stowe McClure is an Award-Winning Finalist in the 2012 Eric Hoffer Book Award in the category Young Adult, an Award-Winning Finalist in the Novella category of the 2011 Next Generation Indie Book Awards and also an Award-Winning Finalist in the category of Teen Literature Fiction in the 2011 Global eBook Awards.

Listen to the Ghost,/A> is a finalist in the Dream Realm Awards for the Young Adult category.

 

  Reviews

"The year 1863 finds outspoken, 14-year-old, Lizzie Stamford at a crossroads of what her parents believe to be acceptable behavior for a young lady and her secret desire to join the Confederate Army disguised as a boy. Her two brothers, Willie and Joseph, willingly joined the Confederacy to defend Vicksburg from the Yankees, and Lizzie longs to be part of the glory. Her blind courage brings her into the midst of a battleground at night. Much to her dismay, war is not what she believed it to be. The horrific acts of violence overwhelm her and she runs away quickly after she arrives.

"Lizzie’s emotions and beliefs that all Yankees are evil is put to the test by an unexpected encounter with a Yankee soldier. Will Lizzie come to terms with the ever changing world and circumstances that surround her? And what is to become of her beloved brothers and the city of Vicksburg?

"McClure balances the emotions of the Confederate and Yankee characters with such in-depth feeling the reader will find himself switching sides throughout the perilous journey of Lizzie Stamford and her family and their quest to reclaim Vicksburg."
Reviewed by Donna M. McDine, contributing editor for
The National Writing for Children Center
 



"Caves, Cannons and Crinolines, is thought provoking young adult historical novel. Set in the days of the Civil War where families are torn apart, readers are given a very real picture of life in 1863. Ms. McClure has clearly done her research and skillfully brings her characters to life.

"The main character, Elizabeth Stamford, or Lizzie as she is called by her family, is a girl on the brink of young adulthood. Everything she knows has been thrown into confusion and turmoil as the Yankees lay siege to her home in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Lizzie’s two older brothers have gone off to war, leaving Lizzie home with her younger brother, Nat, her mother, two slaves, and her father, who is a doctor.

"With shelling occurring on an almost daily basis, the family is forced to move from their lovely home to a cave carved into the hillside behind their house. Food is scarce, tempers are high, and living conditions difficult. Lizzie is torn between her desire to please her family, and her convictions that even girls should fight in the war. How does a young girl deal with this conflict?

"Lizzie has a lot of growing up to do, and in the midst of death and despair, love comes calling in a most unlikely young man. Is Lizzie up to the challenge? Will her family support her choice? Can love blossom despite the stench of blood and the pounding of cannon balls?

"We all know the North fought the South because President Lincoln believed all men should be equal, despite the color of their skin. Ms. McClure lightly deals with this subject as Lizzie struggles to determine if her family’s slaves, Aunt Lois and Uncle Morris, are happy. Lizzie thinks of them as family, but do they feel the same way?

"Ms. McClure answers these questions and more, but you’ll have to read Caves, Cannons and Crinolines to find out the answers. I know I enjoyed reading this novel and felt transported to another time and place each time I picked it up to read another chapter.
Reviewed by Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz, author of Ghost for Rent.

 

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