Off to War
Chapter 2, Scene 9
The next morning, Elizabeth awoke to the sound of a bugle blasting. Time to rise and shine. As promised, a pair of soldier’s boots were by her mat. Sitting up, she was tempted to remove the dressings and examine her blisters. It would be best to leave them alone for a day or two and let them heal. So, instead, she slid her stockings over the bandages and, with great care, worked her feet into the boots. They were a perfect fit with the bulky bandages. She silently thanked the kind doctor.
“They work for you?” Melanie yawned as she sat up.
“Yes,” Elizabeth said, lacing them. “They’re perfect.
Melanie moved over to the tent flap and looked out. “It is too early for all this activity.”
“I think we’re going to have to get used to that,” Elizabeth said. She tested her weight on her feet. Grimacing, she noted the slight pain that shot through her feet, but she could manage.
“I think you’re right.” Melanie stretched her arms.
A quick look over to where Sarah and Lily’s mats should have been told Elizabeth that the two women had already risen and packed up. Her best guess was that they were helping the other nurses catalog and pack the medical supplies onto the wagon.
“Let’s get these mats rolled up and this tent packed. How hard could it be?” Melanie said, her voice confident.
But Elizabeth was skeptical.
As it turned out, it was, as she feared, quite difficult. They’d had a lot of help from Sarah and Lilly setting up the tent. And now they were left to their own devices trying to get it down in an orderly fashion. They made a bigger mess of it than they intended to before a kind soldier, Denny, who happened to be passing by, offered to help show them how to fold it. With Denny’s help, it was done in short order. They thanked Denny, who moved on to the next task without further ado.
Melanie watched him go and Elizabeth wondered if perhaps part of her volunteerism was spurred by her desire to find a husband.
“He’s good-looking. Don’t you think?” she asked, an eyebrow raised.
“Yeah, but I’m a little more concerned with getting our packs together.” Elizabeth said, hoping to pull Melanie back to the task at hand.
“You’re no fun.” Melanie grabbed for her packs.
“That’s fine. You can be enough fun for the both of us.” Elizabeth offered her a smile as she picked up her load. She stifled a grunt under the added weight.
Melanie made a face, but did as she was directed, gathering her things to carry in one spot.
And then Elizabeth spotted him for the first time since leaving home. John. He was several feet away, examining boxes in the back of a wagon. Everything seemed to slow down as if she watched him in slow motion. She thought to turn away, but he was so concentrated on his work she doubted he would look in her direction.
Elizabeth reveled in the sight of him as if it had been years since she had seen him, not a mere two days. His dark hair, dark to match his eyes, was less kept than she was used to seeing it. Strong, capable hands moved over the boxes and packs with ease, checking and securing everything. Was it just her imagination or was his skin more tanned? Long ago she had memorized the curves of his face, but here she stood studying them anew.
“Look who’s all moon struck now?” Melanie’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “Who’s caught your eye?” She looked off in the direction Elizabeth had been staring.
At the same moment, John must have sensed he was being watched. He turned his head in her direction. Without thinking, Elizabeth threw herself down on the ground.
When she looked up, she caught the confused eyes of her companion.
“What has gotten into you?” Melanie asked, concerned.
“I, um…I thought I saw a bee.”
“A bee? I didn’t see a bee.”
Elizabeth returned to her feet. She glanced at where John had just been. He was no where in sight.
“My mistake,” she said as she brushed at her skirt.
“Who were you looking at?” Melanie pried, eyes narrowing.
“No one.” Elizabeth attempted to side step Melanie, but it was no use.
“Come on, Elizabeth. You were burning holes into someone with that stare. You can’t lie to me. Remember, we are kindred spirits.”
“I just thought I might have recognized someone from back home.” Elizabeth busied herself with her packs.
“An old beau?” Melanie stood right behind Elizabeth, her voice rising. She was not going to let this go.
“Something like that,” Elizabeth tried to sound dismissive.
“I feel a good story coming.”
“I assure you it’s nothing of the kind,” Elizabeth said, turning to face her.
“I’m up for a dull story. Anything to break up this trip.” Melanie pleaded, sticking out her bottom lip.
“All right.” Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “I’ll tell you all about it.”
So Elizabeth wove a fabricated tale of a beau that never existed for Melanie’s amusement. She used some of the details of her and John’s story, but most of the story was good old fashioned tales. It seemed to entertain Melanie for the portion of the trip she could stretch it out. Melanie rewarded her with a story of one of her beaus. However, Elizabeth believed this recounting to be the truth and it proved to be quite intriguing. And a little disturbing. Melanie was quite a girl.
By midday, they arrived at the place where they were to set up camp. This would be their base for the coming weeks. The camp would be situated on the edge of a field, backing up to a forest. To the north, there was a sloped hill from which one could overlook the camp. And to the south, there were rolling slopes for several yards before being cut off by the forest line. Not far into the woods was a stream with fresh water as they needed it. And the tree line wrapped around to provide some cover for the camp while the field offered ample ideal sites for tents. A sentry post was set up on the hill top. It seemed to be quite a happy situation for their camp.
As much as Elizabeth and Melanie were determined to learn more about how to put up the tent, Sarah and Lily were half done by the time they found their campsite. Today, however, after Elizabeth and Melanie laid out their mats, they congregated with the other women to set up a makeshift kitchen and laundry. By the time that was done, Elizabeth was ready to head back to her tent and lay down, but Melanie stopped her.
“Not just yet, Bright Eyes, now we serve supper to the menfolk.”
It was all Elizabeth could do to not give in then and there. But she remembered why she was here and somehow found the strength to make it through dinner service. Then she stumbled to her tent and collapsed in a heap on her mat. The day was over.