Off to War
Chapter 2 (Shipping Out)
Night fell upon the grand house that the Thompson family called home. All within lay in the comfort of their beds, in peaceful slumber. All but one. Elizabeth strained her ears, listening for any sounds outside the walls of her bedroom. The time had come to put her plan into motion. It pained her to leave like this, sneaking off into the cover of night. But her parents would never let her go if they had any idea. Still, she could not sit idly by if John was in harm’s way. She just had to be with him…somehow.
Grabbing her bag, she packed the few things she might need: clothes, shoes, paper, and writing tools. She had no real idea what she would need for the journey. One thing was clear – her current wardrobe would not do. There weren’t many simple dresses in her collection, so she had bartered for some from a young maid in the house she supposed to be about her size. Even now, she slipped into one of the simple frocks. Thankful for the darker blue of the fabric, she hoped it would make her disappearance into the night easier. As she adjusted the skirt, she noted that it was a bit loose in the waist and bust. But it would do.
A knot twisted in her stomach as Elizabeth set out the letter she had written for her parents to find in her absence. It wasn’t fair. In the letter she apologized as best she could for that and begged their forgiveness. She also explained she would not be able to live without knowing about John’s whereabouts or well-being, that she had to find a way to be with him.
They would shake their heads. And they would try to find her and bring her back. She prayed they wouldn’t be able to. Grabbing the money she’d been able to gather these last few days, she frowned. There wasn’t much, but she hoped it would be enough to buy her passage closer to the front lines.
Moving through the house with soft footfalls, she made her way to the kitchen to gather what foodstuffs she could carry in her satchel. Some bread, a small bit of cheese, and a few apples. What more was there to prepare? Maneuvering toward the servants’ entrance, she steeled herself against what she had to do. Then, opening the door, she slipped out into the night.
As she came back around to the front of the only place she’d called home, she stopped to let her eyes soak it in. Who knew if she’d ever be returning? That evening, when she hugged her parents good-night, she’d had to fight the urge to linger in their embraces. Would she ever see them again? She was determined that she would. So, she kept her good-nights as simple as any other night, not wanting to arouse suspicion.
Yet even as she gazed at the only home she’d ever known, she couldn’t look upon the house without thinking of John and times spent here. In her mind’s eye, she saw him as a younger boy standing outside her window on the street throwing pebbles at her window to get her attention. John. The reason she was doing this. She had to be with him. Her resolve deepened and she turned in the direction of the train station to face her destiny.
Chapter 2 (Shipping Out)
John meandered through the train, looking for an empty seat. He spotted one next to a young man who seemed almost too young to have enlisted. The boy appeared apprehensive about the train ride and, more probable, their destination and what they would face when they arrived.
“This seat taken?” John put on his most charming smile.
“No, sir,” the young boy responded, his voice shaking.
John settled into the seat and took his hat off, trying to calm the boy by doing his best to relax. He stuck out his hand. “John Taylor.”
The boy shook it. “Jacob Moore.” Even his hand trembled as John shook it.
It was difficult for John to think of anything encouraging to say because he couldn’t imagine any reason this young man should be here.
At last, he found some words. “You’re doing your country proud, you know.”
Jacob shook his head. But he still had a haunted look.
Facing forward for a moment, John took a moment to think. The silence between them was thick and uncomfortable. He just had to get a conversation going.
“I’m a doctor. I signed up because I wanted to make a difference. Thought I could do a lot of good for the soldiers getting wounded if they could get good medical attention sooner. What about you? What made you enlist?” he tried.
“M-my older b-brother enlisted a couple of months ago,” Jacob stammered through his simple explanation.
“Ah, what’s his name?”
“Benjamin.” Jacob’s voice was already stronger. Talking about himself and his brother did seem to calm him down some, so John kept pushing.
“Did he send a lot of letters from the front?”
“Yeah! They were incredible. The stuff he wrote about was amazing and I wanted to be right there beside him.” The young man seemed much calmer.
“Yeah. When we were kids, we did everything together.”
“That sounds amazing,” John said, truthfully. He had always wanted a brother.
“It was. We would play pirates, or cops and robbers, or army. Yeah, we’ve always been there for each other. Do you have brothers?” Jacob’s eyebrows raised.
“No, I have a younger sister. But she never wanted to play any of those games. She just wanted to play princess.” John laughed a little.
“I have a sister, too. I know what you mean.” Jacob’s gaze turned forward and John feared the conversation might dwindle.
“I think girls get better as they get older.” John stretched out his legs as much as the tightly-spaced seats would allow.
“Yeah?” Jacob quirked an eyebrow. His features displayed his skepticism.
John stifled a laugh. “Sure. Don’t you have a girl back home? Someone you care about in a special way?”
“I don’t know.” Jacob’s words came out slow and hesitant. His tone betrayed that he didn’t, but his eyes said that he was at least interested.
“I do.” John laid his head back on his seat. “Her name is Elizabeth and she is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
“That is special. Does she like you back?” Jacob was beyond curious.
Then John leaned toward him as if he were sharing a deep secret. “Oh, it’s more than that, Jacob. We’re in love.”
“How do you know?”
John paused. This was a deep subject to get into with someone you just met. But it kept Jacob’s mind off of what awaited them on the other side of this train ride. So, he decided to share what he knew of love.
“When you’re in love, you want to spend all your time with that person. You get a certain happy feeling inside when you think about her. It’s hard to explain. Trust me, you’ll just know.”
Jacob remained quiet.
“Being in love isn’t always easy, though. Because the women we love won’t always understand the decisions we have to make. We just have to hope they have the courage to support us.”
Jacob nodded, but John’s gaze drifted toward the window and into the distance. He wasn’t talking to Jacob anymore. His thoughts were on Elizabeth and how she tried so hard to understand. But in the end, had she been able to? Already, he couldn’t escape that he missed her terribly.