Tales Of The Old South: A Last Gift For Matilda

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We were awful tired, the Captain and me, as we topped the hill on the old red clay road. I’d promised to see him home as he would’ve never made it by himself. He only had one eye left, thanks to a piece of shrapnel come flying through the air. Now not much of his face was left, barely enough to see he was a man. He never went into the yard of those who tried to give us a bite to eat, or maybe a drop of whiskey if we were lucky.

"You go on ahead, Phillips,” he always tole me “jest tell ’em I thank ‘em for their goodness.” I got used to talking to folks in place of the Captain, got accustomed to telling’ about our sad battles and even worse losses. “The Capn’ ’ud ruther sit out there under that ole tree and eat alone, ma’am. He feels sorta embarrassed like cause of his wounds. I do hope you understand?”

“Oh tosh,” the present owner of the house and voice said “I’ve doctored all mannuh of wounded boys in thuh last few years, seen evah thang there is tuh see concerning bad injuries in this crazy woah. I’ll go sit with you boys under the tree for a bit, sit quietly if it makes him nervous when I talk. Everyone needs to hear another voice occasionally, even me.”

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Her name was Matilda Young. A very pretty lady, many men would perhaps even consider her beautiful when she was fixed up. Still was now, as a matter of fact. The Captain kept his back to us, ate his meal by lifting the black cloth from his chin and forking the food underneath. He was listening to every word Matilda said, even though he pretended not to. Her voice seemed to perk him up somewhat, made him sit a little straighter than normal. A pert female will sometimes stir the most stubborn of men it seems.

“It’s so good to jest sit heah and rest a minute,” Matilda began. “Funny how my situation is so different now than a mere few yeahs gone by. I once had hours of leisure time to fritter away. I was boh-ud to death most times, never suspecting how I’d wish to be so carefree again. I bet you and your Captain have similah stories from your formah lives, stories of happiness, I’d wager.”

“Yes Ma’am, I thank we all had better things to ‘member befoah this woah,” I responded. I could tell she was anxious for any news after the surrender. This was a relatively isolated lane leading through the many small swamps and bays of this part of Georgia, wandering through small fields and a few large plantations formerly operated by slaves before the war’s end. Not many soldiers traveled this way going home.

Her ash blond hair was covered with a one-time fancy scarf, now faded a bit, but still evidenced its former festive nature. Her lips, still pink with no evident lines to mar their pertness, were parted as she listened to my responses to her queries. Her green eyes were shimmering with tears as I told her of troubles during the war.

“Yes’m, we been through a bad time. Me and Capn’ got caught alone when we were tryin’ to get back to our boys. I thought we was goners, but “Capn’ brought us through, even though he got hurt real bad with that old shrapnel. He still cain’t see real good outten his one eye. I ain’t got nowhere else to go now, so I’m seein’ ’im home.”

“That’s so very kind of you,” Matilda said “I’m sorry you have no where else to go, though. If you pass back this way please stop and visit. You seem like such a nice young man, perhaps I will have some work for you by then. My father recently died and the man I was supposed to marry was killed in a battle near Atlanta not long ago. I could use the help if you’re a mind to do such labor.”

She was a pretty woman, Matilda was. A bit sad and maybe a bit desperate the way she begged me with her eyes. A man could do worse I suppose, could do a lot worse. Maybe I would come back this way when I got the Captain to where he was headed. I smiled at her and told her I would surely come back this way in a few weeks when I finished my duty to the Captain. She seemed so grateful I felt a bit ashamed for some reason, but I didn’t know why at the time.

We finished our meal and headed on south after Matilda went back to the house. The Capn’n didn’t say anything for awhile but this wasn’t unusual as he seemed to brood a bit after being around other people. I always waited until he got ready to talk until I spoke to him. “We’ll be near McCall’s Bay in a a couple o’ days, Phillips,” he finally said. There’s an ole cabin purty deep in the swamp I plan to live in. I don’t figger nobody will care if an old faceless soldier moves in and lives there for a while. Probly not too long anyhow.”

“I’d appreciate it if you could help me fix it up a bit and get settled in. I know yore anxious to git back and see thet purty Matilda, I don’t blame ye fer it.” And sure enough, we reached the old cabin a few days later and it was just as I pictured it in my mind. It was a sad and lonely place. Just the spot for someone who didn’t want others to stare at his face, to feel pity for a man who had done his duty. Just right for the Captain.

I did return by way of Matilda’s little farm. I helped her out until we married not long after I returned. She was indeed beautiful, both inside and out. What a lucky man I was I thought, what a very lucky man. But somehow I couldn’t stop thinking about the Captain. I suppose my good fortune made me feel guilty about his bad luck. When I told Matilda how I felt about the man who I escorted home, she insisted I go check on him as soon as the crops were in. And so I did.

I had no trouble finding the old cabin, but the Captain wasn’t there. He had disappeared not long after I had left him there in McCall’s Bay, but he had left me a letter in plain sight on the old pine table in the one-room cabin. It said:

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The Captain's Letter

I knew you’d come back, Phillips. I learned to tell a soldier’s worth early on in that old war. You have character, as you’ve shown so many times during my brief acquaintance with you. That’s why I chose you for the most important mission I could ever send a man on. In this case, it was to save the person I love the most from a lifetime of sacrifice.

It was fate when the former owner of my coat with the Captain's insignia gave to me after my horrible injuries. I knew the man well, knew he had no family to return to after the war was over. I suppose it was also fate when one of the few surviving boys in our outfit didn't recognize me because of terrible wounds. He told the doctors I was the Captain, and I was too hurt to tell them otherwise at the time.

I was declared dead on the death rosters--another bit of fate--so now my fiance Matilda would not feel duty bound to spend her life looking at my horrible face. She deserved so much more than that. I wanted to see Matilda’s face one more time, and I did. If I know both of you like I think I do, you two will marry soon. Please don’t tell her I didn’t die in the war, even though in a way, I really did. Thank you for everything, Phillips. Take good care of her as I know you will, she’s worth it.

Your grateful friend always,

Artemis Parker

No, I never told Matilda about how her betrothed had survived the war, or that I feared he had finally succumbed to his heartbreak and injuries. She seemed sad that the person she knew as the Captain had disappeared from his special place of isolation though. Her heart had always been soft for such unfortunate creatures, it was just in her to be so. I always made sure Matilda knew she was greatly loved after we indeed became married. But she never knew just how much.

© 2013 Randy Godwin

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Comments 35 comments

IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 2 years ago from UK

A wonderful story - well told as always Randy!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thank you very much, Izzy. Actually, This tale was written a few years ago and forgotten until I found it yesterday. lol! I really need to look back at the ones I simply wrote,put away, and forgot about. I'm bad about doing that, and sometimes I don't remember writing the story at all. I think I may have Old Timers disease. :( Thanks again for your time.:)


Becky Katz profile image

Becky Katz 2 years ago from Hereford, AZ

Beautiful story Randy, and beautifully written. I always enjoy your writing so much.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hey Becky, good to hear from you again. Thanks for your loyalty in reading and commenting on my short stories. I can't tell you enough how appreciative I am of your time and input. :)

Randy


DreamerMeg profile image

DreamerMeg 2 years ago from Northern Ireland

What a fantastic story! I really enjoyed that and never guessed the ending at all.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

Wonderful story Randy, one of the best I have read on Hub Pages so far. I can't believe you put it away and forgot about it...it needs to be out there for everyone to read. Glad you found it. Voted up.


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 2 years ago from Central Florida

Randy, this is such a sad story but also a wonderful spin on heroism. You are a master story-teller. I always look forward to your posts.


DJ Anderson 2 years ago

You make us wait, much too long, for another amazing tale of the Ole South.

Your stories are riddled with realistic hints. As a child, I spent many days playing at the end of an old red clay road. The barn had a rusted tin roof, just as in your photo.

Randy, you bring us your best, each and every time. No one can give

us the stories from a world gone by, like you.

You are a gifted writer, my friend. Can't believe you put this story away

and forgot about it.

Super read!

DJ.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thanks so much for your time and nice comments, Meg. I really appreciate you taking a look at this tale. :)


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hello again, Jodah. Yes, I often write a tale and put it back until I can read it when my mind is not concentrating on the plot so much. It seems to help me look at it more critically. Unfortunately, I forget about them sometimes. lol!

Thank you for the kind words and vote up. :)


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Nice to hear from you again, bravewarrior. I'm very pleased you found this tale worthy of reading and I do appreciate your time and input very much. I have been too lax in checking out yours and others writing lately. I promise to make up for it soon. Thanks again! :)


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Your encouragement towards my southern tales is always welcome and appreciated, DJ. The first photo is from a painting done by an old friend who lives in Middle Georgia. The farm depicted in the photo still exists close to his home and is a wonderful reminder of the way things used to be many years ago.

My goal with these short tales is to remind people of the struggles many went through during this sad period of heartache and loss. I truly believe we must remember these times, good and bad.

As always, thanks for your support and time, DJ. I won't forget it. :)


HollieT profile image

HollieT 2 years ago from Manchester, United Kingdom

Randy, not only do you have that rare ability to capture your reader's attention within the first few words of your story, but to always add the unexpected twist to the tale at the end. And the accents, I can hear their voices when I read your tales!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

I've often wondered how those from another part of the world viewed my attempts at recreating the southern accent, Hollie. Thanks for your nice comments regarding my writing and for allaying my fears re the accents used in them. :)


diogenes profile image

diogenes 2 years ago from UK and Mexico

Yew ol heart string tugger, yew! Loved the story, and, having lived in the States for some years, following the Southern way of speaking.

Bob


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

@diogenes--Hey Bob, I'm glad you were able to understand the southern drawl used in this tale and enjoyed the story enough to give your two cents worth on it. Always pleased to hear from you. Thanks for your time and input. Don't be a stranger! :)

--RG


annart profile image

annart 2 years ago from SW England

What a beautiful, sad story, Randy! I guessed but not until nearly at the end. It tells a great tale of three wonderful people. Well done! Ann


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

annart, so pleased you found this story to your liking. Yes, this war had lots of sad incidences, some worse than others as this tale reveals. Thanks so much for your kind comments and time reading, Ann. :)

--RG


klidstone1970 profile image

klidstone1970 2 years ago from Niagara Region, Canada

Such a master storyteller! And it was put away??? I'd love to be able to root around your cache and see what other gems are there!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

@klidstone1970--I really need to "root around" in there some more myself, Kimberly. lol! I'm bad at writing tales and forgetting about them until I stumble on them later on. Sometimes I don't remember writing them!

Thank you for your kind words and especially for your time. :)

Randy


eppie 2 years ago

Hey randy, book country. Do a google search. They allow a platform for you to write out a manuscript, make a cover and then sell your work. You should maybe browse around it and see if its good. The world needs a story teller like you.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thanks eppie, I'll check it out. I've some stuff in the works and am considering several options for publishing.


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 2 years ago from North Carolina

What an enjoyable read this evening - even your sad ones are so because they do often bring out what was the best in those ancestors of ours from the War Between the States. And your imagination and knowledge of your region's history in particular are treats to a reader like candy to a child my friend.

So glad your son is fine and it brings to mind what would have happened to a sufferer in those far off days now with the same malady. We have progressed in this world in ways haven't we.

Thank you Randy. My out-of-the-box, well, out of the USA story will be published in a day or two and then soon after it will be a pleasure to have your next one up on the website.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hello Alastar! So good to hear from you today as I was just thinking of you. Yes, Josh is fine now but as you say, it would have been a tragedy not too long ago.

Looking forward to your to your future story. Thanks for the kind words and the visit.

RG


habee profile image

habee 2 years ago from Georgia

Randy, this is a really wonderful tale. I love your indirect characterization of the narrator, along with the dialogue. And I can picture Artemis eating under that cloth. Great job! You need to be selling these stories or combining them into a book of short stories and having it published.

Oh, and Mason's painting is a perfect accompaniment!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thanks for the nice comments, Holle! I am planning to publish some of these tales in book of some sort, but may have to get you to edit them for me. Us old sod busters don't have the eddicashun to handle it. :P

And yes, Mason's painting fits the tale well. He loved the story too. :)


habee profile image

habee 2 years ago from Georgia

I have some short stories I need to do something with. I'm not posting them on HP.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

What genre are they, Hollie? Perhaps we could collaborate on something?


ziyena profile image

ziyena 2 years ago from Southern Colorado

Randy

I applaud your short! Very sweet and redeeming through all the tragedy ... It's not often I read a story on HP that actually holds my attention. Perhaps you should publich on Amazon? Or, is it worth your time? keep up the talent. Voting UP


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

@ziyena--I really appreciate your comment about this tale holding your attention. An author cannot ask for more than that from a reader. I am in the process of editing some of my short tales for a book of some sort, whether it e-book, printed version, or hopefully both formats. Thanks again for your input. :)


Mary McShane profile image

Mary McShane 2 years ago from Fort Lauderdale, Florida

What a lovely story, Randy. I loved it, shared it and voted it up!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

I'm very pleased you enjoyed this short--for me that is--tale about the perils of war. Your time and comments are certainly appreciated. :)


Mary McShane profile image

Mary McShane 2 years ago from Fort Lauderdale, Florida

I'm replying to your other hub, but you are redirecting people to a spin off hub. So I'm putting my comment on under your reply on my "Do you have trouble holding your tongue" hub. Catch ya there.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 16 months ago from Southern Georgia Author

Okay! :)


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 13 months ago from Southern Georgia Author

Sorry James, I cannot allow you comment because of the link you included. Thanks for the kind words anyway. :)

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    Randy Godwin1,197 Followers
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    Randy Godwin is a true southern male who enjoys writing about the past in his part of the world. I hope you enjoy my Tales of the South.



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