Off to War – Chapter 1 (News), Scene 2
Abigail Thompson sat in her favorite chair in the family parlor, working a cross-stitch that would become a decorative pillow. She enjoyed this craft as it gave her ample time to work things out in her mind as she worked the thread with her hands. If only everything could work out as easy and clean as her designs did! As her mind wandered amidst the ornate décor of her parlor, her thoughts dwelt on how weary she had grown of watching her daughter mope around the house these last few days. Since the night of John’s big announcement, Elizabeth moved about her days as if she were a million miles away. Always sad, always downhearted.
Abigail could only imagine the pain her daughter went through knowing her best friend and beau would soon be off to the war, perhaps never to return. It could not be an easy prospect to face. Indeed, they were all shaken by the news. While she admired John’s decision to fight for his country, to stand for the principles for which the Union stood. Still, she couldn’t agree with his decision to leave. As he neared the end of his internship, the prospect of his future lay before him. There was so much good he could do right here in Boston. So many people here needed him. Including Elizabeth.
Gentle footfalls neared the parlor. Abigail paused her work. Whomever dared disturb her solitude stopped just behind her chair. She turned as Amanda, one of the maidservants, came around to face her.
“Excuse me, ma’am. I have the menu for this evening.”
Abgail set her cross-stitch in her lap and, smiling up at Amanda, encouraged her to continue. “Alright.”
“Roast, potatoes, carrots, green beans, yeast rolls, and custard dessert,” Amanda recited.
“Let’s change that custard to a cherry cobbler, but everything sounds fine indeed.”
Amanda curtsied and took her leave.
Every night since John made known his intentions to join the Northern army, the Thompsons and Taylors had dined together. John insisted on spending every available moment with Elizabeth. Even now, she was due back from the hospital. She spent her midday there to take lunch with him. Of late, their lunches became drawn out. Abigail found it doubtful that any of John’s supervisors minded, considering the circumstances. But no matter how long they were together, Elizabeth always returned in a sullen mood, causing Abigail to wonder what they talked about. What did one talk about when you were off to war in a handful of days?
Just then, the front door creaked. It must be Elizabeth’s return.
“Elizabeth!” Abigail called out.
“Yes, Mother?” she heard from the direction of the foyer.
“Would you join me in the parlor?”
“Of course.” Elizabeth let out a deep sigh. She sounded so tired. No – weary, fatigued.
Moments later, Elizabeth came into the parlor, countenance as downcast as ever.
Abigail’s heart broke for her daughter. “Please, sit with me for a while.”
Elizabeth nodded, taking a seat on the settee near her mother’s chair. She seemed disinterested in anything her mother had to say. It was clear all she wanted to do was escape to her room.
Abigail put her cross-stitch to the side. “Tell me. How was he today?”
“Just as he always is…excited about the difference he’s going to make.” The exasperation in Elizabeth’s voice was evident.
“Perhaps he will make a difference. I’m sure he will save lives.”
Elizabeth became quiet. This wasn’t what she wanted to hear.
“But it doesn’t help your heart to hear that, does it, darling?”
Elizabeth shook her head and fresh tears appeared at the corners of her eyes.
Abigail reached out and took her daughter’s hand. “Do not fear for him so, Lizzie. I understand that the doctors are kept far from the front lines in the camps where they can do the most good. He will be out of harm’s way.” Abigail hoped to assuage her daughter’s fears if even the slightest bit.
“John said as much, too. But I don’t know if I can take it. Not knowing day to day if he is well. If he is alive, or…”
“I know, darling, I know,” Abigail said, hoping her voice betrayed the tenderness she felt in that moment.
“If only I could go with him…” Elizabeth started.
“Shhh,” her mother patted her hand. “Darling, you know that’s not possible. Women of our station do not say such things. We will support him in the ways we can. You can join a booster or write letters.”
Perhaps Elizabeth didn’t think that Abigail understood. She did. Elizabeth wanted to go with him. But that wasn’t possible. Taking another long look at her daughter, she confirmed that Elizabeth’s tears had been dried, replaced by a look of determination. There now, they would work together to support the cause. And that would be the end of it.
Off to War – Chapter 1 (News), Scene 3
Martha Moore stood in her family’s parlor, hanging her head, not able to brace herself against the tidings she just received, stunned. It couldn’t be so. Shutting her eyes against the news her seventeen-year-old son brought to her, she felt faint. She reached for the arm of the closest chair.
Her husband, Henry, must have seen her distress for he reached out an arm to help her sit. Though her husband’s hand stayed on her shoulder for strength and comfort, she felt numb. If only time would stop so she did not have to endure the pain of what lay ahead. The parlor whirled around her for several seconds. This room was filled with happy memories of family times spent together. Now it would forever be scarred with the memory of this interchange.
Her son, her sweet boy, Jacob, barely a man, had enlisted to go to war. Oh, he was old enough to be recognized by the state as a man, old enough to enlist. So, she could do nothing but let the tears come. And she did nothing to stop them. How could he do this to his hapless parents? He was too young to understand the ramifications of what he had done. But, of course, the Union army didn’t see things that way. No, he became one more soldier added to their roster today. That was the price of war.
Martha’s older son, Benjamin, had already enlisted and gone off to war months ago. At that time, they had been proud of his bravery and respected that he wanted to fight for his country. But he was a grown man! And Martha had been naive to the burden of having a son at war. Every day since he left had been a lesson. She had since learned what it was to have a son off at war. Since last she saw his face, she feared for his safety every minute of every day. But at least she’d had Jacob at home. At least, that is, until now.
“Mother, I promise, I’ll make you proud. Just like Benjamin!”
She shook her head. So that was it. He had seen how pleased they were when Benjamin enlisted. Had he been counting down the days until his enlist date? Did he think this was what they hoped for? This was the last thing she wanted.
“You don’t understand, Jacob, I can’t…” Her husband’s grip tightened on her shoulder, cutting her off.
“We are proud of you, son. You’ve done us both proud,” Henry said. “I think your mother is just surprised. We both are.” Her husband’s voice was steady.
How can he be so calm when my whole world is falling apart?
“I know I should have said something first, but I wanted to surprise you,” Jacob said.
“Well, you certainly did that.” Henry smiled at Jacob.
Martha began to understand what her husband tried to communicate. The deed was done. He needed support.
She didn’t know if she could do that. All she wanted to do was scream. What could he have been thinking enlisting? Didn’t he know he was breaking his poor mother’s heart? But she knew she would have to lean on her husband’s wisdom no matter how her heart cried out against it. At this point, there was no going back.
“Do you think they’ll put me in Benjamin’s regiment?” Jacob asked, his voice hopeful.
“No. Not likely,” Henry said, his voice even.
Jacob’s features dropped. It was clear this hadn’t occurred to him.
“But I’ll get to wear a uniform and carry a gun?”
Henry nodded. “Yes, you will.”
Martha’s stomach churned. The thought of her little boy who used to play with wooden guns carrying a real weapon into a fight…it made her nauseated. She looked away lest Jacob see her sickened expression. He was so eager. And he hadn’t a clue. War was a game to him. The reality had not yet set in. Looking back up at her son, she motioned for him to come closer to her.
He did, crouching in front of her so they were eye-to-eye.
“Just promise me one thing, Jacob,” she said, taking his face in her hands.
“What, mother?” his eyebrows went up.
“That you won’t go rushing into any fight. That you will stay back and watch out for yourself.”
His brows furrowed, but he nodded all the same. If he didn’t understand now, Martha hoped at that critical moment, he would remember and heed her advice. And so, she smiled at him and leaned forward to kiss the side of his face.
He accepted her affection, smiling back at her.