tagRomanceWhen Thunder Rolls Ch. 03

When Thunder Rolls Ch. 03


November 9, 1865

Milledgeville, Georgia

My train crawled to a stop as it entered the yard at the Milledgeville depot and I had never been so happy to gather my belongings and climb off an infernal contraption as I was on that day. The air outside was crisp, cool and a stark reminder that I had limited time to conduct my business at home before I returned to Beth and Shannon in Kentucky. Winter would be here soon and the faster I finished what I had come here to accomplish, the sooner I could return home to the ones I truly wanted to be with.

The month previous I had received a correspondence from my mother stating that my father had contracted Scarlet Fever and the prognosis was grim. Within a week, I received a second stating that he had "passed quietly into the arms of the Lord on the 12th of October, 1865". I remained inconsolable for days after due to the guilt of not having traveled home immediately following Appomattox. My father, whom I loved, revered and respected was gone and I would never have the chance to say goodbye.

In the second correspondence, my mother requested that I come home as soon as practicable in order to settle my father's estate and to visit with my family. She, or more likely one of my uncles, had arranged for the train tickets and sleeping accommodations in hotels for my stop overs in Nashville and Atlanta for the three day trip. While I could have most likely made the journey on horseback and been just as comfortable, I was admonished in her letter with the following; "Due to the current unpleasantness in Georgia, you must never forget that you are a Thatcher as a well as a gentleman and former officer. Therefore, it is imperative that you travel and present yourself in a manner reflecting your status in life."

While most of that may have been true, my status in life as of late had been farmhand, planter, overseer, woodcutter, hunter, business partner, surrogate father of an adorable young lady and lover to her mother. Hence, the complete lack of any type of clothing that would indicate my "status". Those clothes were neatly packed away in a trunk that I had purchased in Williamsburg.

After arranging for my trunk to be delivered, I walked back toward the stock cars. When I got closer to them I could hear a livestock wrangler barking commands to his helpers and I couldn't help but smile as I came upon the scene of an older black man with his hands on his hips cursing the heavens as three young Negro males attempted to off load a very spirited coal black stallion.

"Damn yer worthless black hides! Git a holt of his halter! His halter you idiots! That horse'll kill all youn's dead here in a second and then I'm gonna have ta hire me three new niggers to replace yer asses!"

"Pardon me." I interrupted.

"WHAT!" the old man snapped turning around and taking an involuntary step back when he saw he was speaking to a white man, he removed his hat from his head so quickly that his arm was a blur.

"Excuse me?"

"Naw Sir! Excuse me! I didn't mean no disrespec' sir!"

"That's my horse your boys are trying to offload. Would you mind if I lent a hand?"

"Lawd God no sir! Not a little bit, that horse of yorn got the Devil in him."

"You're not the first to say that." I said with a grin, dropping his saddle, bridle and blanket as I turned to walk toward the stock car.

"Uh huh." came the reply as his men moved aside, hats in hand.

"Thunder, it's over, it's just us now." I said as calmly as possible while Thunder's eyes rolled back and his front hooves came off the car floor again.

"No. Calm down boy. Here, I got something for you." I said as I reached out, holding an apple slice in my palm. "It's ok, just calm down."

It took the better part of three minutes and two more apple slices but I finally got him calmed down enough to take him by the halter and lead him onto and then off of the platform. Once his hooves touched solid ground, he became as docile as a kitten, allowing me to quickly saddle him up for the ride to The Willows. I think he seemed to sense my angst at what was happening because for the briefest of moment, he whinnied softly as he nuzzled my chest with his forehead, then stepped back and pawed at the ground.

Three days ago Beth had insisted that I use my military saddle, tack and saddle blanket for the trip home. Her argument was that the men in my family might need to be reminded that I may have left as a boy and private soldier but that I was returning as a former officer of the Confederate Army. The strength and brilliance of her argument was compounded by the fact that she was nude beside me in bed at the time, with her fingertips drifting slowly across my chest.

"You win Beth." I said in surrender.

"Mmm. I always do Thad." she chuckled. "Now be a dear and see if you can find it in you to find your way into me again."

"I should be able to do that." I said, smiling up at the ceiling.

"Stop smiling Thaddeus." she replied, slapping my chest.

"It is pitch black in here woman. How did you know I was smiling?" I whispered as I spread her legs.

"You always smile when I start things my Love."

"Yes I do." I said as I slipped inside her, still smiling.

As we trotted past the capital building I realized that sitting atop a McClellan saddle with a Confederate officer's saddle blanket underneath it may have constituted a grievous error in judgement on my part. Milledgeville was the state capital of Georgia and as such it was awash in Yankee soldiers. I thought to myself that if I had half this many men under my command in '63 or '64, I could have ridden into Washington City and had tea with Abe Lincoln himself before Grant knew I was there. Unfortunately, I was now in my home state, trotting down the streets and gathering looks from blue clad soldiers at every corner.

Through the grace of God or by sheer dumb luck, we made it through town and headed south for the last 10 miles of our journey without being stopped or questioned. When we did head onto the road that would lead me home, I decided that Thunder needed a little exercise. So I loosened the reins and allowed him to gallop, more so to put as much distance between the Union Army in the city as to stretch Thunder's legs. With him setting the pace, we gobbled up the ground between the crossroad and The Willows.

It was shortly after four in the afternoon when I reined Thunder to a stop at the road leading to the front of the house. I paused for a moment as my restless mount pranced under me. A mile or so earlier he had seemed to remember our surroundings and knew that we had finally come full circle in our little journey. Now he sensed that he was moments away from a hot walk, a rub down and a feed bag and he was letting me know that he felt he deserved all three.

As we trotted up the road I began to smile because inwardly, I had been more than concerned about the condition of the house and grounds. I had seen too many plantations laid to waste by the Yankees, but my ancestral home had apparently been spared. The grounds and gardens were still in immaculate condition, the house was still as white as when I had departed four and a half years ago and if my eyes were not deceiving me, my father's Stable Master, Nathan, was waiting on the front porch.

As I dismounted, I handed Nathan the reins and I was greeted with the flash of his teeth as he gave me the warmest smile I had received in days. He dropped the reins, wiped a tear from his eye then stepping forward he clapped his massive hands on my shoulders and pulled me into a giant hug adding "It's good to have you back home Mister Thaddeus. We sure missed you here."

"You stayed?" I asked, perplexed somewhat by his presence.

"We all stayed Sir. Well, all but three at first. But they came a runnin' back soon enough. It's still a mean, ugly world out there even if we is all free now."

"All of you? Even the field hands?"

"Most of them stayed, some of them left. The men without wives were the first to go, but most of the single women and all of the ones with babies, they stayed. There is about thirty of us all told still here. Your momma can explain it better so you best git on inside. She has been pacing the floor all afternoon waiting on you."

"Lord knows only a fool would keep that one waiting." I said with a sly smile as I turned to walk up the steps leading to the porch.

"I ain't disagreein' with you Mister Thaddeus, but you was the one what said it; not me." Nathan said as he walked away laughing; presumably leading Thunder toward the stables and his reward.

Stepping inside the front doors was a surreal experience. The entryway was exactly as it was on the day I left. Nothing had changed, not one picture or stick of furniture was out of place. I stood silently for a moment taking it all in. Hearing voices, I began to walk toward the back of the house and the parlor, where I assumed Mother would be waiting. I had taken no more than three steps when she stepped into the hallway from my father's office instead, stared at me for a moment and gasped.

She flew toward me and wrapping her arms around my waist she began to sob against my chest. Her words were unintelligible at first because of the crying and I was too overcome by my own emotions to attempt to speak, so we stood there in the hallway holding each other as she wept.

Eventually she pulled away from me and wiping her tears away she looked up and smiled. The last few years had, in my opinion, been kind to her. She looked tired and definitely older but I saw the girlish beauty that had most likely beguiled my father in her youth when she smiled. I used my thumb to wipe the remaining tear off her right cheek then I handed her a hand kerchief.

"It's good to be home Mother."

"Oh my baby boy. How I have missed you so!"

"I've missed you as well. Who were you speaking with when I came in?"

"Your Uncle, Randolph." she said with a sigh.

"Randolph is here? Whatever for?" I asked as we began to walk to the office.

"You will see. But I must warn you Thaddeus, he is in one of his moods."

"I see." I said flatly. "Well Mother, let us go listen to dear Uncle Randolph and see what he thinks he has in store for us both."

My dear Uncle Randolph was, first and foremost, a rattlesnake that was born into the wrong body. He is, or was, my father's oldest brother and more often than not was the subject of the unpleasant family gossip during Christmas and other family get togethers. If he sensed an opportunity to make money or to increase his social standing, he was ruthless in its pursuit and having him here made me wonder what he saw in The Willows and my late father's holdings.

Randolph rose to his feet as we entered the room and held out his hand with a smile on his face that almost indicated his happiness in my safe return. More than likely he was simply thrilled at the opportunity to cheat yet another widow out of her home in the presence of her child. Either way, I took his hand in a firm grip and shook it.

"Thaddeus my boy! I am thrilled that you made it through the unpleasantness that befell our beloved Confederacy unscathed."

"Thank you Randolph. What brings you here today of all days?" I asked, looking him in the eyes.

"I was passing through on my way to the capital and I wished to extend my condolences to your dear mother then visit my brother's grave Lad. That is all." he answered, in a sincere voice.

"You were not present for the funeral?" I asked.

"Unfortunately, I was tied down by pressing matters at home and I was unable to attend."

"I see." I replied, walking toward the cupboard and picking up a bottle of brandy. Holding it up and shaking it in his direction I said, "I hope you will forgive me for partaking so early in the day but it is a tad nippy out. Would you care for some?"

"Please." he answered, ignoring my mother's disapproving glare at both of us.

As I poured the brandy I smiled inwardly. Randolph was about to have a very bad afternoon and I felt that he was beginning to sense it. When I handed him his drink, I sat mine down on Father's desk, then walked behind it and sat down in his chair. The shocked looks that I received from both of them confirmed my suspicions. They were both expecting that the boy that left was the one who would return.

"So Randolph? Why are you here?" I asked flatly.

"He offered me a business proposition with the plantation Thaddeus. It sounds as though it is a good deal too." mother said softly.

"I see and what is it Randolph?"

"I simply offered to handle the business operations of The Willows in exchange for a small fee. A conservatorship so to speak. One which would allow Olivia here to continue to enjoy the lifestyle to which she has become accustom without having to worry about the minute details." he said with a grin on his face that reminded me of a snarling bobcat.


"Excuse me young man?" Randolph said as the grin slid away to be replaced by a stunned look on his face.

"No." I repeated firmly shaking my head.

"Exactly whom do you think you are speaking to in that tone boy?" Randolph replied as his cheeks turned red.

"Randolph, I have yet to see my father's will and I would hazard to guess that mother hasn't seen it either. But I am willing to bet a substantial amount of money that when it is read, I will be the sole owner of The Willows and there will be a clause in it that allows Mother to live here in perpetuity. So, with that said, your generous offer to run the business aspect of my plantation is politely declined."

"You don't know that." he said coldly.

"Even if the ownership does transfer to Mother, I am here now and I am more than capable of handling the day to day operations. Therefore, your services are not and will not be required. Will you be spending the night here or will you be travelling on to Milledgeville?" I asked as I took a sip of brandy.

He stood and silently placed the sifter on my desk, then turned and left the room without so much as a word. I glanced over at my mother and saw that the blood had all but drained from her face leaving her ghostly pale and seemingly speechless. The speechlessness lasted for a full ten seconds before she reached over, picked up Randolph's sifter and without so much as a feminine gasp, downed the entire drink in a single gulp.

"I have some things that need be said Thaddeus." she finally said as the color began to return to her cheeks.

"Yes ma'am."

"First and foremost, it was incredibly rude of you to speak to your uncle in such a manner. Not even your father would have said those things to him. Secondly, you are correct, no one has seen your father's will. We need to go into Milledgeville tomorrow or the next day at the latest to hear it read. And finally, when did my baby boy grow up?"

"I said what needed to be said to silence him and remind him that we are family and not some widow and her orphan to be taken advantage of. We can leave with Randolph in the morning. I'll have Nathan saddle Thunder and get your cabriolet ready with a driver. As for me growing up? You can thank Generals J.E.B Stuart and Robert E. Lee for that."

"Why did you stay in Kentucky Thaddeus? Why did you not come home after the surrender?" she questioned softly.

"Her name is Beth, or Elizabeth, if you please. Honestly Mother, she is the best thing that has ever happened to me."

"A woman! We had, I had, no idea a woman was involved. Did you tell your father? I was under the impression he believed that you were staying up there as some sort of business partner on a small farm."

"I am, only it is not a small farm; there are several thousand acers of land involved.

"Several thousand?" she asked in a surprised tone.

"Yes ma'am." I replied, suddenly growing very weary, "Mother, I am exhausted. Can we discuss all of this later this evening or possibly tomorrow? I need to write to Beth so that she and Shannon will not worry about my safe arrival."

"Who is Shannon?" she inquired.

"Her daughter. Beth is a widow; her late husband was a Union officer who died at Shiloh in sixty-two."

"Daughter? How old is she Thaddeus?"

"Mother. I promise you, we will discuss this tonight or tomorrow. I have had a long and very exhausting day. I have a letter to write and I would like to freshen up and possibly change out of these clothes into something that is a little less travel stained."

"Yes Thaddeus. Dinner will be served at seven sharp. Please try to behave in front of Randolph this evening. I think you may have upset him far more than he is letting on."

November 9, 1865

The Willows

My Darling Beth,

I hope this finds you and Shannon both safe and in good health. I have arrived safely in Georgia. The trip was uneventful and there were no major delays or unplanned stops. The destruction that I have witnessed here in Georgia is beyond anything that I saw in Virginia. It would seem that Sherman's army left a swath of death and destruction wherever it went. That Milledgeville is even standing is a miracle in and of itself. The public library was ransacked with many records and other important papers put to the torch.

As they departed, the Union troops poured molasses and sorghum down the organ pipes of the Episcopal Church. Other than those few instances, there seems to be very little damage in the city proper. However, in the outlying areas, the Earth itself still bears the scars of his army's passage. For miles in any direction you can see the shells of burnt homes and manors. I fear this winter will be harsh on many families throughout Georgia and the South as a whole.

The Willows, thankfully, was spared. I have yet to hear the entire story but most of our former slaves have stayed on. I am beginning to believe that most of the Negros remaining have no intentions of leaving and actually prefer the safety and security that my parents provided them after they were emancipated. I am also starting to believe that in some way, my father played a larger role than I know of in keeping my ancestral home safe and secure from an invading force.

My Darling, sadly I may have to extend my stay here through spring, due to unforeseen circumstances. If it is possible, I would like to know if you and Shannon would be agreeable to joining me here at The Willows for the winter if I can arrange for someone in Williamsburg to look after your farm while you are here; the Sheriff perhaps?

Please consider it as a possibility before you dismiss it outright as another of my follies.

I paused to gather my thoughts and my mind drifted back to a cool Sunday evening in late August. We had driven into Williamsburg that day to attend church at Beth's insistence. I'm not a religious man but when she informed me that we would attend church at least once a month, I wasn't going to argue with her. So I acquiesced to her demand and we loaded up the wagon and went to Williamsburg to keep the good Presbyterians in the area company.

When we returned home that afternoon, Beth seemed distant and rather subdued. I confronted her about it as I sat on the porch swing enjoying a brief respite from the usual August swelter.

"The sermon today made me think." she responded.


"Us. Our arrangement."

"What about it?" I asked, glancing up at her.

"Our intimate moments together at night seem so deliciously sinful to me when the sun rises in the morning."

"Perhaps we should have a few intimate moments while the sun is up so you have something to compare your nighttime deliberations to." I said with a smile.

"Thaddeus!" she exclaimed loudly with a smile forming on her lips.

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