As I closed the door behind me, a hearty laugh rang out, and I turned to find a sandy-haired, freckled man at the entry, two large canvas sacks slung over his shoulders. He dropped the sacks and hurried to clasp Joseph’s hand.
“Joseph! It looks like Uncle’s come up in the world since I last saw him. I didn’t expect a hero’s welcome, but when I heard all the hollering, I thought it prudent to wait to announce my presence.” His face lit up when his gaze fell on me. “Anna? Saints be!”
“Henry?” I rushed into my brother’s arms and he swung me around with ease. “It’s been nigh eighteen years! What brings you here at last?”
“Joseph wrote that he was going with the Third. The recruiters over in Stafford are after us night and day to enlist, but I figured I’d rather go with this lot, so I sold my interest in the shop.” He gestured at Benjamin. “Are you going to introduce us?”
Joseph clapped Benjamin on the shoulder. “Meet the man who won our sister’s heart. Ben’s fearless in battle . . .”
“As he must be!” Henry flashed the same mischievous grin that annoyed me so much when we quarreled as children. Not angry at all, I played along, putting my hands on my hips, but stopped short of sticking out my tongue at him.
“. . . Plus, he’ll pray for your soul.” Joseph finished. “He’s the best of the best. It’s bully to have you with us again, Brother.”
Now that the shouting seemed to be over, Rhoda’s curiosity emboldened her to speak. “What’s in the bags?”
“Shoes and boots.” Henry smiled at her as he stooped to untie one. “Who might you be?”
“Rhoda, sir.” She bobbed a quick curtsey.
“Well, Miss Rhoda, I believe you may call me Uncle Henry.” He brought out a pair of shoes. “These are first quality—not like what they issue to the army. I should know, as I made them myself.”
Joseph inspected them. “But won’t you regret selling your interest in the business?”
Henry tossed me a pair of ladies’ riding boots. “Here. See if these will suit you.” To Joseph, he said, “The cost of raw materials keeps going up. I couldn’t take an army contract at the price they offered and still deliver a product that would last more than a few months, so I thought I’d try my hand at soldiering.”
Uncle took dinner alone, in his study, but for the rest of the household, it was a jolly meal, with all of my brothers together around the table for the first time in our adult lives. Henry’s personality had not changed since I last knew him, but now I found his sense of humor akin to Thomas’s, and much to my liking. His disposition rounded out Joseph’s steady, good nature and Jeremiah’s youthful rebelliousness. I could not recall my mother ever looking so happy as she sat between Joseph and Henry.
At the end of the meal, Phillis brought out a frosted cake, made as a surprise for my twenty-eighth birthday, and I insisted it also serve as a going-away treat for Benjamin and my brothers. I hadn’t expected to see all four of them off to the army at the same time and found my feelings quite in sympathy with Uncle’s. Had Jeremiah given in to Uncle’s wishes, I’d have one less brother at war to worry about now.
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