Voices in the Walls 26

Chapter five, continued

Strength is a family heritage; my grandfather was a noted amateur wrestler, and I have always been active. Even when I was studying with Mr. Harding, I took the time to ride, to hunt, and to take long walks. So I was surprised when I could hardly get out of bed the next morning. In lifting rocks onto a stone boat, I had been twisting into awkward positions. It had strained a whole different set of muscles than I was used to using.

The morning’s work was agony, but I wouldn’t let Ben Sayer see that. By afternoon I had everything stretched out again. The next day was better, and by the fourth day, I was feeling normal again. Of course, that was the day we finished carrying rocks.

Aunt Rachel and Ben Sayer had similar ideas about barn building. Their theory was that anything worth building was worth building right. Ben Sayer said that he wanted any building he had a hand in to last at least a hundred years.

To Ben it meant that, except for the siding, there should be no nails. Everything was to go together in the old timber frame style, with properly cut joints in the beams. Here, finally, the skills I had picked up in the shipyard would become useful.

In the old days, each beam would have been shaped from trees cut locally and squared with broad axes. That alone would have taken months, but Aunt Rachel and Ben decided to accept modern times and get the timbers from a sawmill. They were delivered by wagon on Saturday the seventeenth, half-way through November, in the first snow storm of the year. Mr. Dreyfus was driving one of the teams, and complaining all the way about people who don’t know enough to settle in for the winter. Ben replied that a man couldn’t do proper work during hot weather.

Ben was not satisfied to leave the timbers where the teamsters had dropped them, so we spent the afternoon with a pair of peavies and a drug, restacking them so that they would dry without warping. By that evening, I had discovered still another set of unused muscles.


The next morning, I hitched the team and drove Aunt Rachel to a nearby farmhouse where the Society of Friends was holding their meeting that week, then took Sarah on into Gettysburg to the Presbyterian church. Aunt Rachel had invited us to join her, but I was not ready to become a Quaker.

Reverend Cummings was a preacher in the old style; his sermon went on, point by point in learned argument, for the better part of two hours. There is a certain pleasure in following a closely reasoned sermon, but it was lost on me that day. I sat, eyes wide open, apparently attentive, but my mind was elsewhere.

I had been in Pennsylvania for about a week. Except for the letter explaining to Aunt Rachel why we were coming – which came two days after we did – I had heard nothing from Father. I actually enjoyed working on Aunt Rachel’s barn, but it was not my life’s work. I kept thinking of the appointment I had to enter Annapolis. I was scheduled to arrive there on January first. I wanted a miracle to happen; I wanted a terrible disease to strike Lincoln down before he could take office. I wanted war and rumors of war to just go away and let me get on with my life.

I knew that none of those things were going to happen.


Here is an example of a historical novelist ignoring history. I doubt that Annapolis classes begin January first, but I needed them to, so that is the way I wrote it. A later run through after the rough draft is finished will give me the chance to change my mind on this kind of minor point.


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