“OFF TO WAR”
Abigail sat in front of her vanity, putting the finishing touches on her appearance: a pair of earrings Elizabeth had gifted her at last year’s birthday celebration. They were simple, beautiful pearl earrings. Elizabeth wasn’t much for elaborate ornamentation. But Abigail treasured them. All the more today. They made her feel as if Elizabeth was with her.
Gazing at her reflection in the mirror, not a hair was out of place; her gown had been pressed for show. Yet they were out of place with face that looked back at her. Her features were downcast, true, but it was her eyes. They were soulless. As if the life had been drained from her.
She was as ready as she’d ever be. What other preparation could be done? But something was still missing. This feeling had haunted her since Elizabeth’s flight. What was this emptiness? Is this what it felt to lose one’s child?
Thomas came from behind her and kissed the side of her face.
“You are beautiful, darling. Even if you must wear this ridiculous hat.”
Smiling in the mirror at him brought life to her features, but not to her eyes. Still, she gave him an amused look. Thomas never understood women’s fashions, the hat least of all. He couldn’t comprehend why she needed such a collection.
Thomas stood once again and fingered his tie. The knot was askew. Had he attempted to work it himself?
“I don’t know why you won’t let someone help you with that.” Abigail sighed as she turned. “Here.” She batted his hands away. “Let me.”
“I don’t have someone help with it, because I prefer when you do it.” He winked.
She afforded him another smile. What a charmer she had married! Even after all these years, he could make her smile. “I appreciate you coming to this event,” she said, her voice serious. “It’s very important to me.”
“It’s important to me, too.” He put his hands on her arms as she finished, letting her hands fall. “Elizabeth is, after all, my daughter too.”
“Of course.” She let her eyes linger on his. Could he see what she had seen in the mirror? She hoped not.
“Besides,” he said with a sly smile. “You and Charlotte have been working night and day to make sure this is the grandest party of the season. I want to see it for myself.”
“I just hope everything goes as planned,” she moaned, her brows coming together. What if it wasn’t? What if the hall…?
“I have every confidence it will.” Thomas pressed another kiss to the side of her face. “We’d best get you there before it all falls apart,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.
She gave him another smile and allowed him to lead her down the hall. Soon enough they were helped into their coverings and ushered out the door to the waiting carriage.
The ride to the Event Hall was quite unremarkable. Abigail busied herself going over her mental checklist. But Thomas kept talking. What was he saying? Something about the weather? She needed to focus. He continued with his questions, his eyes beckoning her to respond.
“What?” Her reply was sharper than she’d intended.
His eyes widened.
“Sorry,” she whispered. “I’m…distracted at the moment.”
He nodded. “I understand.”
Thomas spoke not another word the remainder of their ride.
But she still couldn’t focus her thoughts. She shouldn’t have been so crisp with him.
They arrived at the Hall in short order. And Abigail would crawl out of her skin if it took one minute longer. How was the decorating going? Were they following the plan?
Stilling her movements, she allowed Thomas to get out first though everything in her seemed to stretch forth.
Thomas reached a hand in for her.
She took it and he helped her down. Then she took off. Had he offered his arm in escort? Most likely. Could she wait for him to escort her into the event space? It was not physically possible. Abigail moved as quick as polite society would allow inside.
As she stepped inside, hands laid hold of her wrap. She slid it off with only a nod in the direction of the hands. The space captivated her. Banners were hung, flowers were on display, food tables were being prepped. Almost everything was done. And Charlotte stood in the midst of the hustle and bustle, directing it all.
Abigail shook her head. Of course Charlotte was here. How could she have given it a second thought?
“Charlotte,” Abigail greeted her friend, crossing to her. “I should have been here to help you.”
“Abigail!” Charlotte paused to embrace her friend and co-host. “Nonsense, I promise I just arrived myself.”
“It seems as if everything is running smoothly.” Abigail let her gaze wander over the hall, admiring the realization of all their planning. The hall looked better than they’d imagined. Tonight would be a success. She had to believe that.
“Appears so. I haven’t checked the registration table yet. Would you mind?”
Abigail nodded. “Consider it done.”
The next half hour became a flurry of activity as the final touches were put on the space and the two women worked side by side to make sure even the tiniest detail was managed. By the time the guests arrived, everything was set and running like clockwork.
And so the following half hour became a different kind of din. People checked in, milled about, conversed, enjoyed the décor, and partook of the refreshments. Everything was going well.
The time came for the guests to be properly welcomed. This particular task fell to Abigail. Now that she prepared to sneak in front of the crowd, shaking hands touched her necklace. Why was she trembling so? These were her friends and people from her community. And this event was for Elizabeth. She clasped her hands together to still them. But the quivering came from inside of her.
An arm snaked around her waist. She jumped back from the contact. Who? But arm held her fast. And the presence seemed familiar to her. Turning, she met the eyes of her husband, her rock.
Thomas leaned toward the side of her head and whispered into her hair, “You’ll do fine.”
Abigail took a deep breath and smoothed over her dress.
“Trust me,” he said, pressing a kiss to the side of her face.
She nodded, squeezing his arm. The shakiness had subsided somewhat. Adjusting her hat, she then stepped up to the podium. But the crowd seemed too engaged in their own conversations. No one noticed she had stepped up to address them. Searching out Charlotte, she became desperate. Her friend was nowhere.
Clink, clink, clink. The sound drew her attention to where she had just been standing. Thomas used a spoon to bang against his glass, trying to get everyone’s attention. As members in the audience noticed her at the podium, they joined in with their glasses. Soon, all voices paused.
Once all eyes were on Abigail, she began, hoping she sounded more confident than she felt. “Welcome, esteemed guests and friends. As you know, this is a fundraiser for our brave soldiers who, as we speak, are fighting for our country. We hope you have come feeling patriotic and ready to give of yourselves for the sake of those men who are sacrificing that our nation be made whole again. As many of you already know, our men need many things, so we accept all manner of gifts. Foodstuffs and monetary support are the most crucial at this time, but anything you can give will help.
“Tonight, we would like to put a face on this issue. I want to introduce my dear friend and co-chair for this evening’s event, a woman who has given tirelessly to this cause herself and stands as a model of patriotism: Mrs. Charlotte Taylor.”
Abigail prayed Charlotte would have appeared by the time she turned. Applause sounded as she turned her head in time to see Charlotte moving toward her to take her place. And Abigail clapped for her friend, never more relieved as she stepped to the side, allowing room for Charlotte to take center stage.
As Charlotte began her speech, Abigail moved off to find some water. All of a sudden, she was parched.
“Thank you, Mrs. Thompson, for that wonderful introduction and for your efforts in making this event possible. And thank you all for being here. Some of you may know that my son, Dr. John Taylor, is on the front lines fighting for this nation. Let me tell you a little bit about my son. John…”
Thomas came up behind Abigail and put his hand on the small of her back. “You were great,” he whispered in her ear.
“Thanks,” she said, not taking her eyes off Charlotte. But she wasn’t truly listening to her either. Would that she were allowed to tell Elizabeth’s story!
It was not a well-kept secret that Elizabeth was no longer at home and some even knew she had fled to help out with the war effort. But, Abigail would never be able to step up to a podium and talk about it. What Elizabeth had done was respectable, even admirable, but definitely beneath her station. Women of their station did not go prancing off to war. They did just what Charlotte and Abigail were doing.
Oh, if only Elizabeth were here she could make a compelling speaker! But she wasn’t. She was miles away in some war camp doing God knows what. No, Abigail had not come to peace with Elizabeth’s decision. And she did not think she ever would.
Applause erupted around her. Abigail set her drink down and joined in.
“Enjoy yourselves and please don’t hesitate to see any of the women in the Booster Club if you have any questions about donations.”
Charlotte stepped down from the podium and the din of the crowd rose again. But Abigail’s thoughts were numb. She stared straight ahead. There was movement in front of her, but she looked through that and beyond somehow.
“How was that?” Charlotte appeared in front of her. Where had she come from?
Abigail focused on her friend’s face.
Charlotte’s eyes begged for reassurance, eyebrows raised.
Abigail wished she had been listening better.
“It was great,” Thomas interjected. “John would be proud.”
“Yes,” Abigail said, nodding. “Of course he would.”
Smiling, Charlotte seemed relieved. “Thank you.”
“I think we’re bound to get donations after all of this,” Abigail said, sweeping her arms over the Event Hall.
“For certain,” Charlotte agreed, looking around.
The three stood in silence. For a handful of moments, it was amiable. And then it became awkward.
Charlotte took Abigail’s hand. It felt warm. Was that because Abigail’s hand was cold? “If you’ll excuse me, I need to find Franklin.”
“Of course,” Thomas said. “I think the last place I saw him was over by the refreshment table.”
“I have no doubt.” Charlotte sighed.
Abigail squeezed her friend’s hand before she walked away.
“Forgive me,” Thomas said, his words coming out slow and careful. “But you seem as if you are miles from here.”
Abigail looked back at her husband. “I am.”
“Thinking of Elizabeth?” He reached up and touched her hair, his fingers grazing her locks.
Abigail nodded, fighting tears. Why did it sting so? These thoughts?
Thomas waited for her to speak.
“She should be here,” Abigail started, tears welled, threatening to spill over. She stopped speaking, trying to gain control of herself.
Thomas pulled her to the side, to a corner where they would be less conspicuous. He kept his hands on her arms. It brought her some measure of comfort.
“She had no business running off! There is so much more good she could be doing here!” Abigail cried.
Thomas’s eyes seemed deeper somehow in that moment. And his voice was soft, not much more than a whisper. “Can you not see that she did it for love?”
Abigail let out an exasperated gasp. She was in no mood to entertain such schoolgirl notions.
“We need not understand, my dear. We can only try to accept it.”
“And what if I can’t?” She looked up at him.
Thomas had no words to offer in response.