Yesterday

 

 

A Novel of Reincarnation

 

A tender love story pulls the reader back to previous lives and a time richly elegant. Yesterday is also a harrowing tale of escape through the American Civil War, the heart wrenching love of slaves for their young white charges, and The Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

In modern day Chicago, deja vu draws together a handsome mounted policeman and the beautiful young woman who saves his life. Amanda Parker saves Mark Callahan from being crushed to death by a falling elevated train in Chicago’s Loop.

In this historical romance, Mark fights through Amanda’s rejection to prove that she will love again as she once loved – Yesterday.

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With my compliments

Chapter 10

Charleston, South Carolina — 1862

Bats fluttered from louvered slats as the bells tolled nine o’clock. Bonnie pushed sweat-dampened tendrils of dark curls from her eyes and looked up at the towering steeple. The setting sun tinted the white paint orange-red against a deep azure sky. The looming belfry dwarfed the live oaks in the churchyard.

“What are you looking at now, Amanda?”

“A church.”

“You know somethin’?”

Bonnie glanced at Jack’s profile and stretched to touch her toes on the wide pine boards of the porch floor. The swing creaked.

He tugged at the collar of his white shirt. “When they ring those bells again, this war will be over.”

“Papa said it wasn’t over yet.” Curling the black ribbons of her bonnet around her finger, she studied the tower. “The bells’ll ring tomorrow morning ‘cause they always do. You’re silly.”

“Nope.”

“They will so.”

“You know what they do to church bells like those?”

Bonnie shook her head.

“They melt ‘em down.”

She turned to him, startled. “Who?” Bonnie frowned at the soaring steeple. “How can they do that?”

“I dunno how. The soldiers, they melt ‘em down to soup. And make ‘em into stuff they need, like cannons and muskets and things. They don’t need no church bells.”

“You’re making this up. They can’t do that.”

“Your pa says they can. And he’s gonna see it don’t happen to these.”

Stopping the swing, Bonnie looked at Jack, her eyes starting to tear. There are so many soldiers in town. Maybe what Jack’s saying is true. “Papa’ll get in trouble. And they’re not gonna hurt our bells anyway.”

Jack pushed himself from the swing and walked across the porch, slapping a mosquito on his ear. “Don’t start bawlin’. He won’t get in no trouble. But the soldiers are gonna take the bells.” Jack turned to her and hitched up his britches. “Your pa won’t get in no trouble,” he said again. He pushed up the canvas brim of his hat and whispered, “Everything’s fixed. They’re gonna hide ‘em about sixty miles north of here, on an abandoned plantation.”

“You’re gonna get in trouble listening in like that. Magdalene will catch you again, and pinch you ‘til you cry. Besides, they can’t do that, ‘cause the bells are too big.”

“Amanda, who is with you?”

“Cousin Jack.”

A lumbering dray drawn by two emaciated oxen rattled down Meeting Street. Wooden wheels rolled on broken cobblestone, rat-a-tat-a-clatter-tat. Hooves kicked up swirls of orange dust. Jack and Bonnie waved at the driver, Ben. He returned their wave with a broad smile.

“Well, they got it figured out. They’re gonna use a big wagon just like that one.” Jack added with an excited whisper, “Tonight! And the only way I find somethin’ out is when they think I can’t hear ‘em. Come on.”

He grabbed Bonnie’s hand and they ran down the porch steps. She stumbled to keep up as they raced across the road into the shelter of thick bushes with red flowers at the side of the church.

“Shhh.” Jack pushed her shoulders back against wood siding, excited mischief in his brown eyes.

Bonnie grabbed bouffant wads of skirt and gave him a disapproving glare. “We’re supposed to stay on the porch. It’s almost dark.”

Jack bent at the waist to make their eyes level. With a finger held to his lips, he said, “Shhh.” He squinted through the darkness to his left, then right. “We’re gonna see if that’s the wagon they’re fixin’ to use.”

He pressed his back against the building, looked right, over her head. “Come on.”

They sidled along the wall. Bonnie tapped a toe on the flinty red soil beneath the bushes and whispered, “I can’t see where we’re going. There better not be any worms in here.”

“Shhh. Just follow me. All the worms are sleepin’.”

Jack stopped at the end of the building and crouched down. “Look.”

Bonnie scrunched her way between him and the building, and followed his eyes to the heavy wagon, now behind the church. She inhaled sharply. “That’s my—”

“Bonnie, I know! Shh!” Jack pulled Bonnie back against him, his hand tightly over her mouth.

“Who do you see, Amanda?”

“Papa.”

She shook her head to release his hand and whispered, “Let me see, Jack. I’ll be quiet.”

They scooched back and peeked around the corner of the building, the conversation among the four men muffled.

Bonnie’s Pa, John, handed a piece of canvas up to Ben in the wagon, saying, “We need to cover those bells, or we won’t get five miles with them.” Ben was their Negro foreman. That’s what everybody said he was. Bonnie simply thought of him as Ben. He let her watch when he carved little animals out of sticks. Ben was the biggest man she ever saw. She thought of the beautiful plantation party when Magdalene married Ben and jumped over a broom.

John pushed the brim of his hat up with an index finger. “It’ll take more than one trip to get them all.”

“We gots help.” Ben’s voice was soft, low. “It’ll get done, suh.”

Bonnie and Jack turned at the sound of footsteps and made themselves as small as possible. She whispered, “Who are those men?”

“Jumpin’…there’s six more of ‘em.” Jack peered through the darkness. “Guess that makes sense ‘cause there’s lots ‘a bells.” He glanced at Bonnie. “I think they’re gonna help your Pa.”

John put an elbow up on the side of the big wagon, and scratched a match on the heel of his boot. He puffed on an ivory pipe, embers glowing in the dusk. The sweet, woodsy smell of pipe smoke drifted toward Bonnie and Jack. John shook the match to extinguish it as he said, “You know the big bell weighs in at close to two thousand pounds.”

“Michael’s less’n dat. Not much, but he ain’t no two thousan’ pound.” Ben raised a hand in greeting to the approaching men.

“Michael?”

Ben sat on the back of the wagon, dangled one foot. “I tells ya ‘bout ‘em, suh, if’n I kin git a chaw.” He pulled the other leg up and rested an arm on a knee.

John chuckled, tossed Ben his leather tobacco pouch, and nodded to the men. “Thanks for coming out. These bells are heavy and I appreciate your being here. Help yourselves to the pouch.”

The group of men nodded and shook hands around. Two of the men carried huge wooden pulleys they leaned on the wagon. Two others carried rope as big around as Bonnie’s waist. They dropped the rope on the dirt, throwing up swirls of rusty dust.

Ben stuffed a wad of tobacco deep in his cheek and leaned on the wagon rail facing John. He waited until he was certain he had everyone’s attention. In a quiet voice, he began the tale of St. Michael’s chimes.

“Dem ain’t bells. Dey’s angels.”

“Mmm. You don’t say.” John blew out a long plume of smoke. He looked down at his scuffed boots and swished talcum-fine red dirt with his toe.

Bonnie and Jack glanced at each other and then back to the shadowed faces. They settled quietly into the bushes, Bonnie snuggled under Jack’s arm.

“Where are you, Amanda?”

“Hiding, with Jack.”

“Smallest angel we got’s a Seraphim.” Ben looked around the group and shrugged. “Smallest bell we got’s a Seraphim. But dey’s de highest, biggest angels dey is. Flies ‘round, locked up in a song. Dem bells sings, dey sings like…well, dey sings like angels. And we gots one.” He nodded toward the church. “We gots a Cherubim.” Ben spit over his shoulder. “Nex’ angel is a Cherubim.”

John grinned and shook his head. “You’re telling me each bell, each one, is an angel?”

“Yup. And the nex’ is a Thrones.”

“Okay. Far be it from me to argue.” John pointed his pipe stem at Ben and laughed. “They sing, too?”

Ben frowned and tipped his head to the side. “S’pose dey do, ‘cause dey’s angels.” His eyes widened. “Dey does more’n jus’ singin’, though. Cherubims is de Lord’s mean ‘ol dogs, His guards of paradise. Dey stands at dem gates and checks evvabody out. Now Thrones, dey’s kinda, dey’s de thinkers. Dey thinks.” He spat. “An’ sings. We gots one of dem.”

Several of the men looked at each other and then back to Ben. “We gots a Dominion, too. Dey conducts.” Ben rolled his eyes at the puzzled faces. “Dem angels all needs one leader, all dat singin’, so de Dominion be doin’ the conductin’. An’ we gots a Virtue angel.”

“Hold it.” John rubbed his hand over his mouth, his eyes glinting with laughter. “Don’t tell me a bunch of angels needs one that specializes in virtue. Where’d you hear all this, anyway?”

“Mah mammy tol’ me, an’ her mammy tol’ her.” Ben straightened, puffed out his barrel chest with pride. “Dat’s a fact. You kin fine bells in any ol’ church. But in St. Michael’s Church, dem bells is angels, all eight of ‘em, angels.”

John knocked the bowl of his pipe on the spoke of a wagon wheel, scattering fireflies of ash. “You’ll have to tell us about the rest of the angels later.” He glanced at the corner of the church. “You fellas get started. I’ll be back directly.” He put the pipe in his shirt pocket, hooked his thumbs in embroidered braces, and sauntered toward Bonnie and Jack.

Jack plastered his back against the wall of the church. “Damn.”

Bonnie covered her mouth. She looked up at him. “Jack, you said a swear!” She struggled to her feet and took a step toward her father as he dropped to one knee in front of her.

Papa tugged a ribbon on her bonnet, untying the bow, and pulled the bonnet into his hand. He looked up with a half smile and tickled her chin. “What are you doing out here, little one?”

Bonnie looked at Jack and back to her father. “Nothin’.”

“Nothing?”

“We, me and Jack. I mean, Jack and I. We were listening about the angel bells.”

An ominous bellow emanated from the direction of the house. “Bonnie May Belle Lexington! Jaaacksonn! You two come in heah dis very minute! Bonnie May! Where you at, li’l girl?”

The two children turned to the sound of Magdalene’s angry voice.

Bonnie looked back at her father; suddenly struggling to keep her eyes dry, and felt her heart thrum. “Magdalene said to stay on the porch and I, and we…”

Jack sheepishly stepped up behind Bonnie, pulled off his hat, and fingered the brim. “It’s my fault, sir. Bonnie came…I made her come here with me.”

John pulled Bonnie to him and kissed her cheek. He lifted her in his arms as he stood and whispered in her ear. “It’s all right, baby.”

“Papa, I’m not a baby!” Bonnie put her arms and legs around him. “I’m too big to be a baby!”

With long, easy strides, John carried her around the church toward the street. “Yep, and you’re heavy as a big sack of flour,” he teased. “But someday soon Papa won’t be able to heft his little girl at all.” He rubbed his bristled face into her neck and she fought a giggle. “So for now I will.”

John raised his voice. “They’re with me, Magdalene.” He winked down at Jack as he called out, “Forgot to tell you.”

* * * *

Magdalene lifted the black and white silk dress over Bonnie’s head. “Bonnie May Belle, dis here dress is yo’ Sunday best. Jes’ you take a look at it now.” She lowered her lean backside onto a wooden chair that protested with a creak. Magdalene shook her head at the dress and puffed out an exasperated sigh. “I’ll be scrubbin’ out dat dirt fo’ a day at leas’.”

Bonnie frowned defiantly at the dress and grumbled, “I hate it. I hate these old petticoats. I want my overalls back.”

“And what are you doing now, Amanda?”

“I hate the dress.”

Magdalene huffed and put her hands on her hips. “Now, Bonnie May Belle, why wouldn’t a pretty lil’ gal lack you want to be wearin’ dis nice dress?”

Bonnie crossed her thin arms. “Because I can’t do anything in it. I can’t climb over the fence in the back, can’t get up Jack’s tree. I gotta learn a whole new way to ride on Ben’s horse.”

Magdalene put a slender hand on each side of Bonnie’s face, squishing cheeks together, making her mouth pucker. “But you’s a lil’ lady, now, Bonnie May. You gots t’ do things a li’l different.”

Bonnie studied Magdalene’s kind brown eyes. “Make Jack wear a dress, too.” Her face blossomed to a grin at the idea of Jack in a dress.

“You’s a silly li’l gal. I s’pose we might could stuff ‘m into one. But it’d likely be like puttin’ a mad dog in dat thunder jug. Now, get out o’ dem petticoats and put on yo’ nightgown.”

Bonnie jumped into her canopied bed and Magdalene hovered over her, pulling up the soft woolen coverlets and tucking them around her tiny frame. “Magdalene?”

Magdalene leaned toward the oil lamp. “What, sugah?”

“Are the church bells angels?”

Magdalene’s big brown eyes twinkled as she sat down next to her on the featherbed. “Why, dey sho’ly is, li’l gal. Ain’t you heard dem angels singin’?”

Bonnie turned and stared up at the gauzy canopy, her brow wrinkled. She looked back at Magdalene. “I guess I have.”

“Well den, dere you go.” Magdalene pushed herself up and turned off the oil lamp. She walked quietly around the bed and dropped gossamer netting from the canopy.

Bonnie turned on her side, listening to a frog’s plaintive song. A cicada buzz soared, softened, and vanished. Crickets chirped. Sleep pulled her eyes closed to a distant rat-a-tat-a-clatter-tat of wagon wheels on cobblestone.