"What would I do without you?" Ruby Weaver's sister, Elizabeth Kaufman, sighed as she sat on the edge of her bed.
"You'd probably sleep until noon." Ruby propped the door of the old cabin open as she took a deep breath of the morning air.
She stood in the doorway and threw her shoulders back, taking in the scene that stretched before her. Elizabeth's dingy cabin stood on a rise above the valley that had been home to the Weavers for more than fifty years. Weaver's Creek wound through Daed's fields, sparkling in the morning light. The Berlin road made its way past the cabin before it ran along the slope down toward the creek and the farms beyond.
Ruby corrected herself. This was Reuben's cabin, not Elizabeth's. Once she had married Reuben, Elizabeth had given up everything that she could claim to be her own. Her home, her name, even the clothes she wore belonged to the man who had gone off to fight for the South, leaving his wife and property behind. What was it about men that made some women lose all the sense the Good Lord had blessed them with?
She paused, the doorframe rough beneath her hand. She knew. She knew all too well.
Ruby leaned into the cabin and plucked her shawl off the peg by the door. Elizabeth still sat on her bed.
"I'm going to do chores." Ruby paused, watching Elizabeth yawn as she rubbed her face. "I'll bring the eggs in first thing, so you can start breakfast."
"I'll be ready for them." Elizabeth stretched. "I don't know how you can be so cheerful this early in the morning. Is the sun even up yet?"
"I still think you need to ask Daed or Samuel to put a window or two in this old place. Wouldn't the morning sunlight streaming in make everything more cheerful?"
Elizabeth shook her head. "You know I can't think about making any changes while Reuben is away. When he comes home, he's going to want to find everything just the way he left it."
Ruby settled her shawl around her shoulders without answering her sister. If Reuben came back from the war, Ruby doubted he would notice any changes that had taken place during his absence. He had left nearly a year ago and Elizabeth hadn't heard anything from him since that day.
When Ruby opened the door of the henhouse, the rooster strutted out ahead of his wives and flew to a fence post, ruffling his feathers in the chilly morning air. He crowed a few times, then hopped to the ground to grab his share of the cracked corn Ruby scattered for the chickens.
Last year when Reuben left to fight for the South in this terrible war, Ruby had volunteered to move in with her sister.
At the time, it was to protect Elizabeth from having to put up with Ned Hamlin. Reuben had asked his friend to look in on Elizabeth and take care of her in his absence, but Ruby knew Ned and his ways. No woman was safe with him around. Two women, especially one who was experienced enough to see through his schemes, could keep him at bay, though.
Ruby closed her eyes. Had it been wrong of her to rejoice when Ned followed Reuben off to war? Had it been wrong of her to feel relieved when they got the news that Ned had died in faraway Mississippi? She pulled in her bottom lip and bit it to keep her thoughts from running to the next thing, but it was too late. She couldn't pray that Reuben would meet a similar fate, but she could wish it, couldn't she? Glancing toward the cabin that squatted into the sloping ground like a gray toad, Ruby hoped Elizabeth didn't guess her thoughts. But perhaps Elizabeth had her own dark hopes concerning Reuben. In the past year, she had returned to acting like the little sister Ruby loved rather than the dim shadow she became whenever Reuben was present. Ruby feared the change wouldn't last once Reuben showed up again.
By the time Ruby returned to the cabin, Elizabeth was dressed and coaxing a fire to life in the smoking stove. Leaving the basket of eggs, she went to find the cow their brother Samuel had loaned to them. Without the milk and eggs, they would have had a hard time during the winter, even with Mamm's canned goods to help stretch things. But the spring greens were already plentiful, and soon the garden would be giving them fresh vegetables. In a few weeks they could start picking berries along the creek bank and filling the root cellar with the summer's bounty. In spite of what the women in the church said, a woman didn't need a man around the house. For sure, sometimes it was handy for Samuel to stop by when they needed the garden plowed or the well cleaned out, but that didn't mean she and Elizabeth couldn't get by on their own.