OFF TO WAR
Chapter One (News)
Dr. Franklin Taylor walked into his home and was welcomed by his butler. The man relieved the doctor of his overcoat and bag. Franklin thanked him and moved toward the parlor where he would be certain to find his wife, Charlotte, working on any number of projects. This afternoon, she sat at her small desk writing letters. She had been on such the campaign since John enlisted, trying to secure more support for the troops, and for the wounded soldiers in the hospital. John was proud of his mother taking a more active role in the war effort on behalf of the soldiers who couldn’t help themselves. But it wasn’t for their sake she made such tireless efforts.
As Franklin entered the parlor, Charlotte looked up from her work.
“Good afternoon, darling. You are home early. Is everything alright?”
Closing the distance between them, he leaned over to place a kiss her on the forehead. “Our son has news for us.”
The pen slipped from Charlotte’s fingers. Could her heart take the news? Settling himself on a settee nearby, he beckoned his wife to join him.
“Come, my dear. Come sit by me.”
Her movements were slow, hesitant. But after some moments, she rose and took the steps to where her husband sat.
“Let us just sit together for a while.” Franklin wrapped an arm around her as she sat.
Her brows furrowed as she searched his eyes.
Was his behavior so suspicious? It wasn’t as if they had a loveless marriage, but he had never come home early from his practice to just sit on the couch with her. He sighed. She was bound to at least suspect that he already knew John’s news. Taking her left hand in his, he softened his tone.
“How are Rose’s studies?”
“Quite well. She is in her room even now, busy with school work. Shall I have her come down?” Charlotte shifted as if to stand.
“No,” he said as he moved his hands over her arms, stilling Charlotte.
They sat in silence for a few moments.
“What is this news from John? Do you know?” Charlotte blurted out after several seconds, an edginess in her voice. “Or are we waiting for him?”
Franklin sighed again. He had wanted to wait until Charlotte was much calmer.
“John is coming home soon. He stopped by the practice before lunch and had a discussion with me.”
“And?” her voice rose.
“Charlotte, he is shipping out tonight.”
“Tonight?” The color drained from her features and her body became stiff.
“Yes, tonight. Look, I know it’s not ideal, but we need to be supportive. He’s coming here from the Thompson’s home. He will have told Elizabeth and said his farewells to her. You know how hard that will have been. We cannot make this more difficult.”
She nodded, but the way she drew in a broken breath betrayed that there were many emotions rushing through her. They played out across her face. The news hit her hard.
Charlotte took one more deep breath, this one more even. Then, when she looked at her husband, there was only determination in her features.
Franklin found a smile for his wife. One thing he loved and respected about her was her ability to gather her wits and face emotional situations with grace. And while he would be holding his wife as she cried tonight, he knew that for her son’s sake, she would be strong for him right now.
Franklin kissed the side of her face. “If you’re ready, we need to go upstairs and tell Rose.”
Charlotte nodded. “I’m ready.”
And he knew she was. Ready for anything.
Chapter One (News)
The Moore family would never be the same. They had been splintered when the eldest son, Benjamin, had gone off to war. Now they were hopelessly split this night as Henry Moore left his house to take his youngest son, Jacob, to the train station. Martha had not been able to leave her room since news of the early departure reached their home. Had it just become too much for her to bear to say farewell to her second son?
And so, Henry decided he and Jacob would slip out this evening while she napped. Try as he might, Henry had been unable to disguise for Jacob how this affected his mother. How could Jacob not know why she kept to her room? How could he not hear her as she cried at night?
“Please help her understand, Father,” Jacob said as Henry closed the door to the house.
“I will do my best. She will come to understand in time.”
Jacob nodded, his heart aching.
“Let’s get you to the train.” Henry turned in the direction of the train station, putting a hand on his son’s shoulder, clad in Union blue.
Jacob thought he looked rather distinguished in his uniform, perhaps even a bit older. His father even told him as much when he’d first put it on. But he felt a hesitation within himself on this night. He no longer felt the confidence he once had. Yet he obeyed his father and moved in the direction of the station.
They walked much of the distance in silence. Jacob wondered if his father, too, dealt with his own thoughts and emotions about what would happen in the minutes to come once they arrived at their destination. He did. How would they say good-bye? What would it be like to walk away from his father for perhaps the last time?
“Did you pack enough paper to write us?” Henry broke the silence.
Jacob nodded, “I’ll write often and tell you all about what’s happening.”
Benjamin’s letters had become something the family enjoyed together these last couple of months. Jacob could envision his parents and younger sister huddled around the parlor’s fireplace as his father’s booming voice recited his letters from the front. As he dreamed this scenario, he remembered the numerous letters from Benjamin that his father read in just this fashion.
However, this time, instead of focusing on the letter’s contents, he let his mind’s eye take in the people in the room. He saw, for the first time, his mother’s reaction to these letters – relief that they had another letter, fear for her son’s safety, helplessness. How had he never noticed these things before? Had he been so caught up in the grandness of the idea of what Benjamin was doing to see her response?
In that moment, Jacob determined that he would write faithfully, but also that he would guard his writings to give his mother comfort and not cause unnecessary worry.
“Will you write to me and tell me of Benjamin?” Jacob asked.
“Of course. We’ll send word of your brother as often as we have it.” Henry flashed him a half smile.
Neither of them could think of anything else to say the remainder of the walk to the station. As they arrived, they met with ordered chaos. Supplies were being loaded and soldiers were saying good-bye to all manner of family. There were also women registering to join the regiment as part of the Sanitary Commission as well as a myriad of other passengers milling about, saying their farewells and trying to find places for their luggage amidst the soldiers’ things.
Jacob’s gaze wandered across the platform at those families saying farewell. There were no shortage of tears. Though his heart ached to not have a farewell with his mother, he told himself to be glad she had not come. He had no desire to cry in front of the members of his unit. And his mother’s tears would inevitably lead to his own.
Henry clapped a hand on Jacob’s shoulder as he turned toward his son. “This may well be the worst part of it,” his father said, his voice soft and low.
Jacob nodded, a lump forming in his throat.
“I wish I had some great words of wisdom to impart to you, but I have none. You are your own man now and we are so proud of who you have become.” The shaking in Henry’s voice was almost imperceptible. Almost.
“Thanks, Father.” Jacob attempted to swallow past the lump. It was not easy.
Then Henry’s eyes became serious as he laid a firm hand on Jacob’s other shoulder. “Be mindful of yourself, son. Be careful. Come home.”
Jacob nodded, and with a confidence he didn’t quite feel, said, “I will, Father.”
Henry pulled Jacob forward into his embrace. They held each other for only a handful of seconds. Then Henry gave his son one last smile and clapped his shoulder again. His lips quivered, but he didn’t speak as he indicated with a wave of his hand that Jacob should check in with his commanding officer.
As he moved in that direction, a familiar voice called for him.
He whirled around, eyes scanning. At last, he spotted his mother running through the station, barreling straight for him. His father reached out to stop her, but Jacob moved around him and toward his mother to embrace her. They crashed into each other.
“Jacob! How dare you try to sneak out like that!” his mother admonished him. The tears rolling down her face wet his neck and the tears forming in his own eyes wet his face. And in that moment, it didn’t matter who saw him crying.
“I’m sorry, Mother, I didn’t want to…I thought…I shouldn’t have.” He buried his face in her shoulder.
“It’s alright.” She stroked his back.
He rested for a few moments more in her embrace. And Henry’s arms encircled the both of them. After some time, his father pulled back, tugging on his mother to do the same. She wiped Jacob’s tears away as she did so.
“I love you, Jacob. Take care of yourself,” she said through her tears.
“I will, Mother. I promise.”
She nodded, straightening his jacket for him.
“You are so handsome in your uniform.” She offered him a smile.
One side of his mouth curved upward in a half smile.
“I’m certain your commander is waiting,” his father interjected.
With slow movements, Jacob took a step back from his parents and, turning, walked toward his commander. After he had taken few steps, however, he turned and saluted his parents, wanting to show them all the love and respect he felt for them in that moment.
Smiling, the dipped their heads in response.
With that, he turned toward his commander and did not look back.