The Return of the Magi by Steve Batson
Nancy heard the fox horn and the two quick shots. She jumped from her bed and jerked up
the children. "Run to the spring and up the creek, I will meet you at the
headwaters," she screamed. She ran up into the loft and grabbed the shot and powder
bag and the shotgun. Down the stairs and grabbed the old Bible. Up past the spring house
and unto the hill overlooking the trail and the cabin. It was muddy and cool and she
caught the children as they came up to the headwaters of the creek at the cold spring.
They moved quickly in the cold morning light and she slowed and listened. She heard
nothing yet. She put the Bible in the shot bag and got the powder horn out and slung them
both over her shoulder. She set two new caps on the shotgun and continued to walk along
quickly behind the children. Soon she was in the crow's nest. It was a cluster of rock up
on the mountain, a hollow behind it led toward Outliars Cove. The crow's nest was a place
of safety that overlooked the cabin and the road. She saw smoke in the distance down
toward Slater back toward Tigerville and she heard before she saw . . . horses coming
From up here the men all looked very small. The first rider sprung from his horse and
knocked on the post of the porch of her cabin. He went inside and came back out. He
directed two men to head out into the fields and woods. They mounted their horses and took
some mules and headed out toward the spring. Later she noticed them standing on either
side of the first rider as he sat on the porch of her cabin. The two men would stand there
all day and she watched as what appeared to be a host of horsemen came and went headed in
all directions but mostly moving up the mountain away from Greenville on toward Tryon or
maybe Hendersonville or Brevard.
Shortly after came the wagons. They began to pass and they passed for most of the
morning. Several stopped at her cabin and she saw the first man direct others to carry,
boxes and crates, toward her cabin.
About noon, a man on a fine horse rode up and went into her cabin. He stayed there a very long time. Then he came out and got on that fine black horse and headed north. Soon after a third man came and went into the cabin. When he came out he pointed up toward her and talked to the one who had been there all morning. A large column of cavalry came up and they all left riding slowly toward the northwest, all except the two who had pointed toward her. They sat in
the yard for a long time and the man on the fine horse came back and he joined them.
There they sat 'till about late afternoon. Suddenly all three stood up, took off their
hats and made a long sweeping bow toward her and the mountain.
They mounted their horses and rode off after the column. She knew about flat-landers
and she knew it was a trap. She just couldn't figure out what kind. She pondered 'till she
saw an old man riding up the road on a mule. That would be Mr. West on Jesaw. He came up
on the cabin porch and knocked and went back to the mule. He had an old saddle and he took
off the fox horn and sounded the call of clear.
She got the children up and headed back toward the cabin. When she got to clearing, she
hailed Mr. West who ran to meet her. "Lord God Almighty in heaven, creator of this
earth . . . he said as he ran. We thought you dead for sure, Nancy Brookshire. Yankees
done burned the store and the lodge down in Slater and headed this way and ever' last one
of them blue-coated skunks got your name on his lips. We just knowed Tol done got caught
"Don't know nothin' about it," she said, "heared the call this morning
and so I got the young'uns and headed up to the crow's nest, been watching all day they
was a bilin' round my house like bees round a hive. You say they called out Tol's
"Don't k now about that," said Mr. Wes. "Jus' what I figured, they shore
called your name though . . . all day long."
They went up on the porch and she heard one of the younguns say, "Ma come quick.
Look what they done done to our cabin!"
Nancy Brookshire could not believe her eyes, "Lord God Almighty," was all she
"Lord God Almighty" said Mr. West who peered in over her shoulder,
"Looks like Commissary Banks himself done moved in your cabin."
Stacked to the ceiling in the tiny cabin were Yankee crates. Flour, Sugar, Salt, canned
meat, cornmeal by the barrel. Things she had never seen or heard of. On the table in the
center of the room lay six children's dresses and two dresses from some woman. What had
the Yankees been doing on her bed? She looked to the bed but it weren't her bed. A
beautiful counterpane covered it and Lord Almighty, some Yankee soldier done left four
china dolls on that counterpane.
"Ma," said one of the young'uns seeing the truth quicker than any grown man
ever would, "it's us, the sisters and you . . . one for each of us."
She fell down in the rocker by the hearth and noticed for the first time that a fire
burned on the hearthstone. Mr. West sat on the bench by the table and he saw it first.
"There is words here," he said, as he handed her the paper.
North of Slater, S.C.
Dear Mrs. Brookshire:
It seems that time and fate have allowed the three of us to visit you again. We got
across the mountain and when there we were able to persuade General Stoneman that we had
friends in South Carolina. We were ordered to accompany his column on his raid. We found
that we would be in your neighborhood and felt that we should attempt to repay your
kindness and the kindness of your children.
I came with nothing and received the greatest gift of all, the widow's mite. Truly it
was the greatest gift of all. As a widow's son it is with great pleasure that I return a
small token for that great sacrifice. I have daughters, far away, and I have spent many
hours considering the dolls you had made for your children. I would ask that you make four
dolls, one for each of my daughters and my wife. Make them at your leisure and I will
consider myself under obligation to return to your home in the future to purchase them
Although we did not see you, it is our hope and belief that you have seen us.
John Mason Holmes
Brevet Brigadier General
Army of Tennessee
Late of Boston
It would be some days before she would get it all sorted out, but she went to a box
marked whiskey and pulled out two bottles and handed them to Mr. West. "Go get your
wagon and come back up the mountain," she said. "Mr. West, I want to strike a
bargain, I want you to take most of these things and start a store. I want half or
everything you make for my young'uns and a tenth to the church. You come on back up
tomorrow and we will sort it out."
"All my life I wanted to be a storekeeper," Mr. West said, " but you knowed that
for years ain't you, Nancy?"
"Reckon everybody who ever knowed you . . . knowed that Mr. West," she said.
"I'm can't believe the Lord done brought this day on top of this time of
pestilence and tribulation. Lord . . . Lord . . . Lord," he said as disappeared
through the door.
As soon as he was gone she got down on her knees and got out the Bible and she prayed
and prayed and prayed. She got up and turned to the forty-ninth Psalm, she vowed silently
before God, that these verses would guide her the remaining days of her life.
She lay down on the bed and slept. The girls played with the fine china dolls on their pallet until they too drifted off to sleep. It would be morning before she noticed the sag in the loft. She went up the stairs and found it packed with harness and tools and pots of all types. When she went up to the spring she found the mules tied to a laurel that had been cut in the form of a cross with
arms raised to heaven. It would be days before she checked the hearthstone and found the silver cross with uplifted arms and the ten five dollar gold pieces. It would be years before she realized that Stoneman's men had burned nothing but what would have been her competition.
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