Off to War
Chapter 2 – Shipping Out
A sharp blast from the train’s steam whistle pierced the air. The train jerked and began its forward momentum. Elizabeth grasped for a handhold as the train started moving. Thrown off balance, she knocked into another young woman who had been sliding past her.
“Pardon me!” Elizabeth apologized, mortified at her clumsiness.
“It’s alright.” The woman fought to right herself amidst the rocking motion. “Are you looking for a seat?”
“There’s one available in my car. You are welcome to join me.”
Smiling her thanks, Elizabeth was relieved to no longer have to hunt for a seat in the crowded train. She followed the young woman into a car just a few doors down. Two middle-aged women sat on one side of the car, both dozing. The young woman moved toward the bench on the other side and indicated for Elizabeth to sit beside her.
“I’m Melanie,” she reached out a hand.
Elizabeth shook it. “Elizabeth.”
“This is Louisa and May. Both of their husbands are on this train. Enlisted. Myself, I’m not married. I’m just looking for some way to assist with the war effort. I thought I’d come along and do laundry and mending and cooking and whatever else the men needed. Why, I’d fight if they’d let me.”
Elizabeth nodded, trying to take it all in. She had a lot of respect for Melanie’s passion even if she didn’t share it. Take up a weapon? Unimaginable.
“You?” Melanie’s eyes were bright and earnest.
“Same as you.” Elizabeth plastered a smile on her face. She had not been prepared to answer questions about her presence. “I’m ready to help out wherever I can.”
“That makes us kindred spirits,” Melanie said, her voice elated. “Which is just as well. We’ll be seeing a lot of each other, I’m sure.” Melanie smiled at her.
Elizabeth didn’t know about kindred spirits. Melanie seemed a little chatty for her liking.
“I don’t mean to interrupt your tea party,” Louisa spoke up, opening one eye. “But we will have a long day tomorrow. I advise we all get some sleep if we can.”
Melanie and Elizabeth apologized, sharing another smile with one another. And Melanie quieted down.
Elizabeth leaned her head back and gazed out the window, watching Boston fade out of view. She still couldn’t believe she had done it – left her home and everything she had known to join a Union camp’s Sanitary Commission. Not just any Union camp – John’s camp.
How was she going to keep John from finding out? If he ever did, he would see to it she was sent home. The women that traveled with the troops were either wives coming to help out with the cooking and laundering or nurses for the most part. She would have to steer clear of the hospital and blend in with the wives as much as she could. Which apparently seemed to be Melanie’s plan.
The rocking of the train and the lateness of the hour began to work on Elizabeth, causing her eyelids to feel heavy. In a matter of minutes, she was sound asleep, dreaming of what the next day might bring.
Chapter 2 – Shipping Out
One of the Thompson’s maidservants, Alice, made her way into Elizabeth’s room as she did each and every morning. Her job included waking Elizabeth and getting her ready for breakfast. Upon entering the room each day, she would open the curtains and let some light into the room. Any sound in the room was usually enough to rouse Elizabeth. So Alice never paid her much mind until she returned with fresh water, at which time Elizabeth would be getting out of bed and moving over toward the vanity.
Such had their routine become, that Alice moved about her part of the morning independently, not even observing the state of the bed or the absence of its owner. However, as she returned with the pitcher of water, Elizabeth was not at the vanity where she was expected. Instead, Alice found the room quite empty. Had Elizabeth roused and gone somewhere?
Calling for her mistress, Alice moved around the space, glancing back and forth. After convincing herself that Elizabeth was indeed not in the room, she walked over to the vanity to think. And she saw it – the letter inscribed with “Father and Mother”. Something was wrong. She took the envelope and rushed to Abigail’s room.
Alice hurried into Abigail’s room, so disturbed she forgot to knock.
Abigail, at her own vanity, sat in the process of getting her hair curled when. She turned at the intrusion. Eyebrows up, a question graced her features.
“Excuse the intrusion, Ma’am,” Alice said, curtsying. “But I cannot find Miss Elizabeth.”
“Can’t find her?” Abigail’s eyebrows knit together.
“She wasn’t in her room this morning. But I found this note.” Alice handed the envelope over.
Abigail took the it and confusion became concern as she recognized Elizabeth’s penmanship on the front. She ripped at the seal and began reading. A gasp escaped her lips and she grabbed at her chest.
“Go get Dr. Thompson!” she said, looking up at Alice.
A sick feeling filled Alice, but she turned and moved off after her given task.