The smell of cooking venison drew was what drew him in. A small cabin, on the edge of civilization, stood in stark contrast to the darkness. A flickering light sat in the window and James smiled. His wife, Mary, had survived the war without him. He stood in the night air, just savoring the sight of the farmstead that he had left over a year ago.
He could hear the animals settling down in the barn. The cattle were lowing, hogs squealing, and the sheep bleating. He never realized how welcome those sounds were, until now. He swallowed and took a hesitant, limping step towards the cabin. With each step, the scent became stronger, compelling him forward.
James smiled as he paused near the frost covered, glass windowpanes, the last thing he had purchased for Mary before he left. The fire in the fireplace was crackling merrily, and he could see a large cast-iron pot hanging over the fire. He smiled and glanced at his pack. Gifts for Mary and the children were still tucked away safely.
With a grin, James opened the wooden door, and stepped inside. Mary set down her silverware and stood—staring at him in disbelief. He could see how the war had affected her. Worry lines were etched in her young face and a lean strength was evident in her stance. Her small, strong hands were gripping the stock of the black powder rifle.
“Papa!” Elizabeth squealed, leaping to her feet and almost flying across the room. She leapt into his arms and James grinned as he swung her around before setting her right again.
Mary was still staring at him in disbelief. Her green eyes filled with confusion. “I did not think that you would be home...”
James smiled and pulled her into his arms. Mary was trembling, her breathing became short hiccups, and finally, she hit him on the back with her fist. “Do not ever do that again.”
He raised an eyebrow and laughed, kissing the top of her cap.
“Do what again?”
“Scare me like that.” She paused, and smiled up at him before taking his hand. James smiled at the silent strength that she had developed while he was gone.
“Papa, Daniel Smallfoot went hunting for us last week and he got a deer.” Elizabeth began to rattle, her smile lighting her sun kissed face and revealing her missing front tooth. His little girl was growing up. “Mama is cooking it right now. I found some carrots and onions so its stew...”
Stew, the one thing that he had been wishing to have the last winter. With a grin, James scooped up Elizabeth and crossed over to the fireplace where Mary had retreated. Her hands were trembling as she briskly stirred the meal.
“And Mama helped me make bread to go with it. I’m just glad that you are home, Papa, I missed you.”
James smiled and hugged the raven-haired child and set her down on the rough wooden floor. “I am glad that I am home too, now, go wash up, your mother and I--” Elizabeth was running out the room.
Mary set the ladle on the hearth and turned to face him. Wordlessly, James opened his arms and she rushed into them. The emotions that she had been holding in erupted with a silent fury. He could feel her tears seeping through his cotton shirt and silently he stroked her back.
“I am not going anywhere without you again.”
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