"Promise Me You'll Help Her."
Former Union soldier Jeremiah "Jack" Murphy should never have given his word to a dying man, especially a Rebel. But now he feels honor-bound to carry the message to the man's young bride. Besides, with false charges following him, Jack needs somewhere to turn. After he fulfills his promise, perhaps the North Carolina mountains can give this weary soldier some shelter. Yet when he meets beautiful widow Sayer Garth, leaving is the last thing on Jack's mind. Sayer, and her young sisters-in-law, need help that Jack is more than willing to provide. If only he could be certain that his presence--and his secrets--won't put them all at risk....
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Jack Murphy hadn't intended to go looking for the wounded man. He couldn't hear him now, and it was likely that he had finally died, but for which heartfelt cause, Jack couldn't say. The soldier they all heard calling from the battlefield could be one of their own or one of the Rebels--or it could be a ruse engineered by either side to draw some gullible soldier into the open.
He stopped crawling and listened intently. It wasn't gullibility that had brought him out here, and it had nothing to do with the Golden Rule Father Bartholomew and the Sisters at the orphan asylum had done their best to teach him. His hands were still shaking badly, and he simply hadn't wanted the others to see him like this. He was Jeremiah "Jack" Murphy, and Jack Murphy's hands never shook.
The sweet, dank smell of scarred earth rose up from the ground beneath him, land that should have been plowed for spring planting by now, not fought over and bled on. He could hear his comrades in the distance, the quiet murmur of their voices. Every now and then, one of them laughed despite their recent ordeal. Little Ike was finally reading his letter from home, sharing it with the others. Jack envied him that letter. It had been a long time since he himself had gotten one from the only person who ever wrote to him, Elrissa Suzanne Barden, the girl who had promised to marry him when the war was over. The irony was that he hadn't wanted to go to war at all. He'd enlisted because so many of the boys he'd grown up with in the orphanage had already joined. He'd always looked out for them; most of them had been culled from the dirty backstreets of Lexington as he had. They looked up to him. He couldn't let them deliberately go into harm's way without his overseeing the effort. He gave a quiet sigh. So many of them dead now, despite his determination to keep them all safe and together, their faces coming to him whenever he was on the verge of sleep, faces of the boys who had too quickly become men and then were gone. A line of clouds moved across the moon. He lifted his head, trying to see in the darkness. He couldn't detect any movement, couldn't hear any sound. Most certainly the wounded man had died.
His hands were steadier now, the tremors fading as they always eventually did. There was no reason for him to stay out here. He'd made what must at least seem like a humane gesture, and now he could go back. He could eat some hardtack and wish he had coffee to soften it. He could make Little Ike reread his letter. He could think about Miss Elrissa Barden standing in lantern light on a dark and windy railroad platform and try to remember her pretty face.
"Wait," a voice said distinctly when he began to move to what he hoped was a less conspicuous place.
The voice was close by, and he turned sharply in that direction.
"Will you...wait?" the man asked.
Jack made no reply. He was still trying to get his bearings. Where--and how close--was he? And how close was his musket?
"Please," the voice said, feebler now. "I don't..."
The moon appeared from behind the clouds, and Jack could just make him out in the semidarkness. Surprisingly, he was sitting upright, leaning against the wheel of a broken caisson. And he was farther out into the open field than Jack was willing to go.
"Wait!" the man said sharply when Jack was about to move away again. "I'm shot. Don't leave me...out here. Please."
Jack hesitated, his head bowed. This man was nothing to him. Nothing. For all he knew, he was the one who had shot him.
The soldier was weeping now, his sobs carrying eerily into the night....
The Soldier's Wife
By: Cheryl Reavis