“Off to War” – Chapter 3, Scene 7

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“OFF TO WAR”

Chapter 3

Scene 7

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.

“Off to War” – Chapter 3, Scene 6

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“Off to War”

Chapter Three ~ Battle

Scene 6

The battle raged on. All Elizabeth could do was sit and listen to the cannons and gunfire in the distance, grimacing at every sound. There was no laundry to do, no sewing that was called for, nothing to be done. Just sit and wait for news. It was the longest wait of her life. Looking at the water, she couldn’t help but imagine the laundry that they would have to do the next day. She envisioned the blood discoloring the water as they would work to clean the dark blue uniforms. Shaking her head to clear such morbid thoughts, she tried to think of something more pleasant. Nothing came to mind. What was there to think of at a time like this? Nothing but war and bloodshed. Not for the soldiers, and not for her.

Though she had long since been released from duty, she found herself unable to leave her post. The camp seemed abandoned with the troops gone, the hospital staffed, and the other women…where? Where were the other women? Waiting and praying in their tents? Elizabeth sank to her knees by the water tub and sobbed, praying for the men in their unit that were facing their mortality even then.

“Father, Keep Your gracious hand on these brave men. It is my will that You keep them safe from harm, but I know that it is Your will not mine that we should seek. Comfort those who are wounded. Give the doctors wisdom and skill. Be with John.”

“Elizabeth!” Melanie interrupted her thoughts. “Elizabeth!”

Elizabeth got to her feet. “What is it? Is there news?”

Melanie was almost out of breath as she stopped by Elizabeth. She nodded. “The fighting is over, but there are many wounded. They need help in the hospital. I told them I would bring you.” Melanie grabbed her hand and walked in the direction of the hospital.

Elizabeth froze. She wanted to help, but how could she avoid John in the hospital? He would see her and her plan, and her time here would be over. Her head fell. What purely self-serving thinking! There were men wounded and in need of care, and she was worried after something so selfish! Embarrassed by her reaction to Melanie’s request for help, she turned away.

When Elizabeth didn’t move, it caused Melanie to jerk back. “Come on. What are you waiting for?” Melanie asked, confused.

Determined to do what she could to help these men who were in such need, she took Melanie’s hand and followed her, rushing toward the hospital tent.

Nothing could have prepared Elizabeth for what she saw at the hospital tent. The battle had been gruesome. Every space available was filled with men in all states of horror. She did not have time to take it all in before a nurse approached.

“Take the men water, sit with them, and tell them the doctors are making it around. Do you know how to clean a wound?”

Elizabeth was numb to everything around her, but she nodded. Melanie shook her head.

“Good,” the nurse said to Elizabeth. “Do only superficial cleaning. You’ll find supplies over there,” she indicated a shelf at one end of the tent. And you,” she turned to Melanie. “Come watch me for a couple of patients and you’ll learn.”

Looking over the tent full of men in agony, being recognized by John was the furthest thing from her mind. Elizabeth made her way over to the shelf and grabbed some supplies. She stopped at the first man near the shelf unit. He was young, much younger than John. His sandy-blonde hair fell over deep brown eyes that looked up to her as if to find some reassurance that all would be well. There was a fear there. Fear remaining like an echo from the emotion of the battle and fear that nothing would ever be the same. Fear of what might happen to him. Elizabeth knew that she would never forget the look in his eyes.

“Hello, soldier.” She put on her best smile for him. “I’m Elizabeth. What’s your name?”

The man was shaking badly, with a terrible leg wound. He was in shock. In all likelihood he would lose the leg.

“A-Adam.”

She offered him some water. He drank it, thanking her. She began to clean the wound, but she didn’t see much point in it. The leg was in need of a deeper cleaning. Still, she did as the nurse had instructed her and basically put a strip of cloth on a gunshot wound.

“I-is it b-b-bad?” Adam asked.

She shook her head. “You’ll be fine,” she told a half-truth. “The doctor will see you in a while.”

Man after man, wound after wound, all Elizabeth could do was offer water and assurances that the doctors would see them soon. She could tell by looking at some of these men that they were not going to make it and it broke her heart. But she put on a brave smile for them, and spent more time by their bedside, talking with them, singing to them, praying with them. A few of them passed on while she was with them, but she refused to cry.

After a couple of hours, she noticed that she had not had to duck from John’s view. Glancing around the hospital, she couldn’t spot him anywhere. She excused herself between patients to find a nurse.

“I’m looking for Dr. Taylor. Dr. John Taylor,” she said, knowing her voice betrayed her worry.

“A doctor will be around to see each patient in turn,” the nurse said, a little annoyed.

“No,” Elizabeth grabbed her shoulders, desperate. “I’m looking for Dr. Taylor.”

The nurse stopped to think. “He went to the front lines to patch the wounded there and prepare them for transport. He hasn’t come back.”

Elizabeth’s eyes widened. She whirled around and took off running. Where to, she did not know. At first she turned this way and that, confused about what she was going to do. Then, she was struck with a plan and ran for the laundry. It was easy enough to get her hands on a small enough uniform, carry it back to her tent, and slip into it, binding her breasts. Shoving her hair up in a cap, she rubbed dirt and mud on her face to disguise her feminine features. And, making her way across the camp somewhat unnoticed with all of the mayhem from the recent battle, she ran toward the battlefield.

The field was littered with bodies and limbs. Elizabeth had thought the hospital was bad, but this was a million times worse. There were no words to describe the grisly state of the men there. She felt the urge to vomit, but held her stomach. Taking several deep breaths, she reminded herself that she was here for a reason, she had to find John. He might need her.

Walking the battlefield, she looked for signs of her beloved. With the front line a little ways in the distance and to the left of her position, she could search here for a while before risking being discovered. What was he doing out here in the first place? Why would he come? Hadn’t he promised to stay a safe distance from the fighting? But she knew he would go where he was needed. Stubborn, selfish fool!

She was getting close to what had at one time been the front line when the bodies thickened and the number of gray uniforms matched the blue ones. One look to her left told her that she was almost in line with the current front line, just in a section that wasn’t being patrolled. She found herself being forced to move bodies in order to check for John. Having to touch the bloodied corpses ended up to be too much for her stomach and she did vomit. But, her determination took over and she moved onward.

As she came upon one particular Union soldier stabbed with a bayonet, the blade protruding out of his back, she could see that the man underneath him was a Confederate soldier, so she turned to move on. But a hand shot up toward her. He was alive!

“Help me,” came the weak voice of the man trapped underneath the dead Union soldier.

Something in her told her to run, but another part of her bid her to stay. Gray uniform or blue, this man needed help. How could she, in good conscience, leave him to die knowing she could have saved his life?

With much effort, she pushed the dead soldier off of him and saw that the Confederate soldier had a wound in his upper arm. It began to bleed out. The weight and body of the Union soldier must have put enough pressure on it to stop the bleeding. Thinking quickly, she tore off enough sleeve from the Union soldier to fashion a tourniquet.

“Thank you,” he said, his voice still weak.

That’s when she looked into his eyes. It was hard to imagine that this man, whose blue eyes she found herself gazing into had played a part in the destruction around her, had killed men, perhaps this Union soldier she had just moved. But it was true.

There were sounds in the distance and she jerked her head up, standing when she saw more Confederate soldiers headed her way. What was she going to do?

“Stop! Thief!” One yelled out, raising his gun. He fired.

A hot searing pain in her left shoulder whipped her around and threw her to the ground. Elizabeth was still conscious when her head found a rock as she landed. And then all was black.

“Off to War” – Chapter Three, Scene 5

OffToWar_Medium

“Off to War”

Chapter Three

Scene 5

Jacob scrambled for cover as shots rang over his head. The battle had been raging for what seemed like forever. He was surrounded by cannons exploding and men screaming in pain. It was nothing like he had ever imagined. This was the worst kind of horror he could have pictured. He wished he could recall some of his training, but it was all a blank, replaced by images of bloodied soldiers. One by one, he saw his comrades fall. Blue uniforms stained with red littered the ground around him. In the distance, someone shouted commands, but he couldn’t make out anything clearly amidst the muskets firing.

As he moved through the field, he kept low. Bullets whizzed past his head left and right. It was surreal. He was a target in this open field and his eyes searched in the haze created by weapons’ fire to find a safe haven. His drive to survive pushed through the shock until that’s all there was. Survive. Moving almost by instinct, he made his way, stumbling, through the field of bodies. By luck, he came upon a ditch protected by a berm and he ducked into the safety it offered.

Many other soldiers lay in this ditch, fighting from this position. They had crawled up onto the berm on their bellies and were firing into the enemy line. Leaning back against the cool earth that made up the wall of the ditch, he took a few moments to catch his breath. His emotions washed over him. He was alive! And that was all that mattered.

Having survived the first wave and made it to a safe position from which to keep fighting, the thought to remain here throughout the rest of the battle was tempting. But he knew those men on the berm needed him. They counted on him to help them defend their position or else they would all be lost.

After he got a hold of himself and steeled his senses, he climbed out of the ditch and up onto the berm, staying on his stomach lest he create too much of a target. The man to his left nodded as he took position and began firing at the Confederate army. He did his best to aim at targets, as hard as they were to see. On occasion, he saw a glint of steel in the distance or the profile of a soldier running. And he tried his best to hit those targets. It was difficult to tell if he was successful.

That’s when Jacob spotted a dip on the far left flank. The Confederate line had shifted to the right in response to the Union’s first wave offensive. As the minutes of realizing he was alive passed, his confidence began to return. Then he remembered the briefing from his unit’s commander and the mention of flanking the Confederates on that side. It seemed their offensive had started to work, but something had gone wrong.

Jacob cursed himself for not listening more closely and instead assuming his platoon’s sergeant would be here to keep things in order. Then he remembered the plan of attack.

“The left unit. Hey! Where is the left unit? Aren’t they supposed to be moving in on the second wave?” he shouted to the others crouched with him behind the berm.

They looked at each other, more confused than he.

“I think they got pinned down back there,” one soldier responded, his thumb pointed behind them.

“What’s your name again?” Jacob asked.

“Daniel.” His voice broke for just a second.

“The Confederates have responded to the first wave and are moving to the right. It is up to us to move in to that dip over there and flank them from the left.” Jacob pointed to the weak spot in the enemy’s line.

Daniel nodded, probably ready to take orders from anybody. Jacob had a renewed sense of purpose, thinking that his ability to run fast might just pay off.

“We’ll split in half. Daniel, me, and you,” he said, tapping the soldier to his right. “We’ll make a fast run for that spot while you continue to cover us. When we get there and start shooting, the rest of you will follow. That may hold back the Confederates just enough for the rest of our unit to catch up and take ’em!”

The rest of his new war brothers nodded in quick agreement.

“I’m Steven,” the soldier he had tapped said, his voice shaking.

Jacob shook hands with him. He and his small crew loaded their Springfield muskets and gathered up to the left edge of the berm. With a quick visual signal to the others, they broke out in a fast run. Jacob’s legs flew. It was as if he rode the wind. Jacob soon noticed how far their target truly was. Could they make it? I’ve made it this far, we are going to get there!

Loud artillery fire boomed. It was deafening as it hit a spot they had just passed. The shock knocked him to the ground. Daniel and Steven were just as startled. They both looked to Jacob. Their courage and morale hinging on his own, he dragged himself to his feet and continued, as fast as he could. His comrades were close behind. As they ran across the fury of the battlefield, they wove around fallen soldiers. It was a bit much for Jacob, but he somehow held it together and kept moving.

How far is that dip in the line? How long does it take to get there? It seemed like an eternity. A moment later, he saw it! Jacob had pulled out well ahead of the others when a piece of shrapnel ripped through his jacket. Falling to the ground, his eyes feverishly sought out the direction it came from. Here he was, sprinting like it was a race, forgetting that they were fighting for their lives. Steven and Daniel caught up to him with wide eyes. Looking at the spot where he had been grazed by a ball, he felt a sting of pain. And he saw a torn part of his uniform near his shoulder, but then realized it hadn’t penetrated anything. Instead it had just missed him. While it left him a noticeable mark, it hadn’t entered his shoulder.

Jacob picked up his musket and started running again, at last diving into the dip in the line. Steven and Daniel had closed the gap enough to jump in right behind him. They raised their weapons, looking for targets. One enemy soldier looked in their direction. Was that the man who almost hit him? Before he could react, Daniel fired, and the man fell. Another Confederate moved up from behind the fallen soldier, and Steven took him out.

Jacob was shocked into action, eyeing his men as they hastily reloaded. Picking up his Springfield, he trained his sights on another Confederate rushing in. His fingers twitched, almost as if he couldn’t decide whether to accept the fate of killing another man. Everything had been surreal. Marching, inspections, field stripping, rations. Almost like a dream. But now it was real. This was what war was about: killing another man. In the instant it took him to trace his thoughts, he understood one thing: if he waited, he or one of his war buddies would be dead, so he pulled the trigger. He started to reload his weapon, when he felt the shakes and couldn’t keep it down anymore, vomiting on the ground.

“First kill?” Daniel asked.

“Yeah,” Jacob said, wiping his face with his sleeve. His legs were weak.

“I did the same.”

With that, Jacob crossed a threshold he never knew existed. His father had told him he looked like a real man. Those words echoed true. Jacob didn’t get lost in thought though. This plan would be a complete failure unless they provided enough cover for the rest of his unit to take this position. Having dropped three soldiers, there weren’t any more nearby. Most of the Confederate unit was much further down the line and just didn’t know they were about to be flanked. Filled with excitement, Jacob was about to tell Steven and Daniel to finish loading their Springfields when he noticed they were way ahead of him. Time to give the signal for the rest of his unit to join them and hold this position.

Jacob stood, more than he liked, but knew the men behind the berm would be looking for a signal. He took off his hat and waved, calling back to them. They were not quite visible, but as they grouped together on the left side, he could tell they had gotten his signal. Reaching over and grabbing his weapon, he put his hat back on.

The sound of more artillery firing in the distance shook him. Was it closer or further away? As he slid into the dip, seeking better cover, the crack of a rifle was followed by a hot, piercing pain in his left leg. Looking down, a lot of blood covered his leg. Stunned, his gaze shifted to take in his surroundings. The man he had hit earlier wasn’t dead, but had gotten in a final shot with his loaded weapon. Jacob let out a loud cry while Steven attacked the man with his bayonet. Then things started to swirl. Jacob’s vision blurred. As if everything was in a daze. Daniel came to his side, applying pressure to his leg. As he started to fade out, he kept looking back, wondering if the rest of his unit had caught up to them. And then, nothing.

“Off to War” – Chapter Three, Scene 3 & 4

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“Off to War”

Chapter Three

Scene 3

Troop movement outside the thin fabric walls of the tent awakened Elizabeth. They would have risen before dawn in order to practice maneuvers. If she strained her ears, she could hear the artillery unit doing the same thing, loading cannons to prepare for battle. Would it be today? Would the men head to the front lines today?

Making slow movements, she sat up and stretched. Looking over, she saw that Melanie still slumbered. Elizabeth was not so blessed to be such a deep sleeper. Sarah and Lily, of course, were already gone, their mats made up.

Elizabeth begrudgingly moved out of the tent and toward the women’s common area. How she longed for those cozy mornings when her vanity was but a few steps away from her warm bed and she could freshen up in the privacy of her own bedchambers! But she had become accustomed to this new level of modesty, walking about in her nightshift, nodding to the women she passed on the way to the common area.

Once she arrived, she gathered some water to pour into the simple bowl. She splashed some water onto her face, hoping to liven her features and waken her senses. Rinsing her hands as well, she then dumped the water so the bowl would be ready for the next woman who came by.

She was more alert on the trip back to the tent, but not always in better spirits. It was still too early and she was still in naught but her nightclothes. Upon returning to the tent, she made her way over to her bag and pulled out yet another simple frock she had acquired from the maid servant in her parents’ home. Time to get ready for another day.

Home. Ah. Just thinking of her parents’ home brought back memories that seemed thousands of miles away. It had been quite an adjustment for her to be wakened by troops or a bugle blowing. At home, she was roused from sleep by a maid coming into her room to open the curtains and help prepare her for the day. She was then helped into her attire and her hair was done for her. Next it was downstairs to a hot breakfast that was prepared by the family cook. Elizabeth could almost smell the aromas of the numerous pastries and breakfast meats that she could indulge in each and every day. Then her day would be filled with hobbies and the things she wanted to do, not the menial tasks that filled her days here. Yes, she had taken that life for granted. When she had made the decision to leave, she had known she would be leaving all of that behind, but she had neglected to realize what an adjustment it would be.

Once she was dressed and her hair pinned, she shook Melanie.

“Time to rise and shine,” she said in her brightest voice.

A groan was the only response she got.

“See you at breakfast?” Elizabeth said, it was not truly a question.

Melanie waved from under her blanket. That meant ‘yes, but get out of my face or you’ll regret it’. Her new friend was not a morning person.

Elizabeth grabbed her papers and charcoal and stepped out of the tent. She wouldn’t have a lot of time to herself. Breakfast would start soon and then they would be on to the tasks of the day.

Moving a little ways outside of the camp and up the hill to give herself a bird’s-eye view, she found a spot to settle. This little patch of grass was far enough away from the sentry’s post to not give him grief, but far enough up the hill to still have a good view of the camp. So, she plopped down and, without ceremony, began to sketch. She had not the chance to capture these morning maneuvers and now was a prime opportunity.

This had become a favorite spot for her as she could see the whole camp from her vantage point. There were the family tents, the mens’ tents, her tent, the hospital, the place the women did laundry and cooked whenever they had something to cook. On one side of the camp, the soldiers were marching in lines and on the other, the artillery unit worked with the cannons. Though the camp already buzzed with activity, she tried to capture it all on paper.

Elizabeth could never have imagined this place would affect her so, but she had already begun to form relationships with so many of the people she came in contact with. If anything happened to any of them it would devastate her. Yes, Melanie had indeed been right in what she had said. War changed people. This war was already changing this girl who had been born to privilege and never faced any real hardship in her life.

Looking with an artist’s eyes, Elizabeth’s gaze swept over the camp again as she put the finishing touches on her sketch. Two figures walking on the outskirts of the camp caught her attention. They looked in her direction and waved. She responded in kind. Seconds later, she realized it was John and Dr. Smith. And they were headed straight for her!

Searching for some place to hide, she came up short. There was no where to go. And they had already spotted her. Elizabeth swallowed hard. So this was it. John would finally discover her. It would only be seconds now until they were close enough. She braced herself for his reaction as the two men came ever closer. Any moment her features would be clear enough that he would know.

Boom! The sound of cannon fire filled the air. Elizabeth hit the ground, covering her ears. Had the troops set off a cannon by accident? As she sat back up, she saw that John and Dr. Smith were crouched down, looking around, perhaps wondering the same thing. A glance over at the artillery unit told her that they were just as confused.

From her perch on the hillside, she saw a scout flying toward camp from the south. His form appeared out of the forest line moments after the cannon fire. Spotting the scout as well, the two doctors ran toward the camp. Elizabeth followed suit.

The camp was in utter chaos. Elizabeth tried to make her way to her station to get some information from her direct report, but there were too many people moving here and there. The troops were all moving in one direction, like a wave. It was difficult to push against them. At last, she spotted Melanie.

“Mel!” She called out, “Mel!”

Melanie jerked her head in Elizabeth’s direction and grabbed for her hand. Together they pushed through the crowd and found a space next to a tent where they were out of the rush of people.

“What’s going on?” Elizabeth panted with effort.

“It’s the Confederates. They’re here!”

Elizabeth’s heart stopped. What would happen to them all? To John?

“The troops are marching out to meet them,” Melanie continued.

Elizabeth nodded, feeling numb. “What can we do?” Her voice shook.

“Pray. Pray and get to your station!” Melanie squeezed Elizabeth’s hand once more before heading back out into the throngs of people.

Elizabeth was surprised how level-headed Melanie was in the face of crisis. And though Elizabeth was on laundry duty this morning, the last thing anyone would need, she did as Melanie had said and headed for her post.

 

“Off to War”

Chapter Three

Scene 4

The Moore family was seated around their dinner table. From the outside looking in, one might never know this was a family torn apart by the war, a family missing two of its members as they gathered together for this special family time. But Henry Moore knew differently. Their presence was indeed missed by each member present. And their empty chairs served as reminders of their absence. Still, those there reveled in the closeness they shared. And they put on brave faces for the others in their company. It was in the final stretches of the meal when, as Martha Moore watched, her husband produced a letter from his pocket.

“Who’s it from, Father?” Susan asked, wide-eyed.

Martha’s heart stopped and her eyes met her husband’s.

“It’s from Jacob,” he said as he was able to pull himself from his wife’s gaze.

“Please, do read it, Father!” Susan all but jumped up and down in her chair.

“You know how we do things,” he admonished her. “We’ll read it in the parlor once everyone is done with dinner.”

“Let’s go then,” Susan begged, pushing her plate away from herself.

“I’m finished.” Martha laid her napkin on the table.

“Me too!” Susan followed suit, setting her napkin next to her plate. She looked up at her father with wide, expectant eyes, willing him to say he was finished so they might retire to the parlor.

He waited a handful of seconds, eyeing Susan and Martha’s expressions. “Alright, then,” he said at long last, laying his own napkin down, signaling the end of dinner. “To the parlor, then.”

Henry led them to the small family room where they huddled in their spots around the fireplace. He took a seat to the left of the massive structure, Susan took a spot on the floor near his feet, and Martha sat nearby on the sofa, picking at her cross-stitch. Taking the letter back out of his pocket, he opened it and began to read.

“Dear Mother, Father, and Susan, I hope this letter finds you well. I miss you all. We settled in our camp and I’m trying to get the hang of things. I’m learning all kinds of stuff. There are definitely things that Benjamin failed to mention in his letters, but I understand. He just didn’t think it was interesting enough to mention. Like how we get up every day before dawn. That’s boring stuff. But it’s important, I guess, since we do it every day.

“We spend most of our time doing things to keep us from getting fat and lazy. But no one here cooks as well as you, Mother, so I don’t think anyone is going to get fat. Don’t worry, though, I’m eating well enough. I have met some people here and am making friends. I rode the train down here with one of our camp doctors named John. He gave me some good advice about life. My tent mate’s name is Phillip. He’s a couple of years older than me. We get along just fine, but he doesn’t talk much.

“Well, I’d better head out to lunch before it’s all gone. I’ll write again soon. Love, Jacob. P.S. I am eager to hear about Benjamin.”

“Well that was nice that he became acquainted with one of the doctors,” Martha said, working her cross-stitch, moving furiously with her fingers.

And Henry understood. She’d rather not allow her mind to wander to those places every mother’s mind must go to when receiving a letter from the front. Would this be the last letter?

“I wonder what he eats there,” Susan said, looking up at her father.

“It’s not as good as what you get to eat,” Henry said, patting her on the head.

“But is it yucky food or just a bad cook?” Susan’s brow furrowed.

“I think they get rations for the most part,” Henry sighed, looking back over the letter.

“Rations?” Susan tested the word.

Henry nodded, “An allotted amount of food. Crackers, pork, and coffee, stuff like that.”

“Coffee?” she blanched at that. “Jacob doesn’t drink coffee!”

“Chances are he will when he comes back.”

Susan looked at her father, eyebrow quirked.

“Susan, there may be other things that will have changed about Jacob and even Benjamin when they come home.” His voice softened. He’d rather not say more than he already had.

“Like what?”

She was so innocent to the goings on of war. Too innocent.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Henry forced himself to continue the conversation with Susan. “It’s just something I want you to know.” He prayed that would be enough for her.

Susan shrugged it off, “Okay, Father. Will you read the letter again?”

“Of course. ‘Dear Mother, Father, and Susan…’”

“Off to War” – Chapter 3, Scenes 1 & 2

OffToWar_Medium

“Off to War”

Chapter 3 – Battle

Scene 1

It didn’t take long for the other women to find out that Elizabeth didn’t know much about cooking or laundering or more than basic stitching. They all found this rather curious, Melanie reported to her, but they appreciated her willingness to learn. And they seemed pleased with how quickly she picked things up. By the end of the first week, she was performing all of the basic tasks with surprising proficiency, even if she was slower than the other women. Everyone became most impressed with her drawing skills. In her free time in the afternoons, she would draw portraits or scenes of the camp.

Melanie continued to feed Elizabeth a running commentary on the men in the unit: who was available, who was married, who was cute, who was plain, who was ‘husband material’, who wasn’t anything special. Elizabeth’s suspicions had been laid to rest. She was certain Melanie would go home with a fiancé.

Elizabeth and Melanie seldom saw their tent mates as the nurses’ time was taken up at the hospital, setting it up to receive casualties, only returning to the tent to sleep. Even then, Sarah wasn’t much of a conversationalist. Not even at the behest of the ever-chatty Melanie could they get more than rudimentary pleasantries out of her. Was she shy or tired or just not interested in concerning herself with making new friends? Lily, on the other hand, would engage in simple conversation, but was always more interested in hearing about Melanie or Elizabeth than talking about herself.

Everyone became more and more certain their unit would find themselves in combat soon. After getting to know some of the soldiers, it broke Elizabeth’s heart to think that some of them would leave the camp and not return. At least John would be safe. The doctors would stay in the hospital to receive the sick and wounded. They would remain a safe distance from the fighting. Still, that was of little comfort.

“What do you think, Elizabeth?” Melanie asked. They were in their tent, preparing for bed.

Elizabeth hadn’t been paying attention as Melanie went through her evening litany of the men she had encountered that day.

“I’m sorry, what?” Her face warmed in spite of herself.

“I met the young doctor. What was his name? John. He’s handsome. I may have found my match,” came Melanie’s gleeful voice.

Elizabeth dropped her apron. Her John? Was Melanie talking about her John?

“He has a girl back home,” Sarah piped up, startling Melanie. But she recovered well.

“Is that so?” Melanie fingered the edge of her pillow.

“Yes,” Lily said, settling herself onto her mat. “I hear they’re engaged.”

“Well, he didn’t marry her before joining up. That says something. War changes people. Maybe I still have a chance. After all, I’m here and she’s not,” Melanie met Lily’s gaze as she eased herself onto her own mat.

Elizabeth drifted back off into her own thoughts. War changes people. Was that true? Did war change people? Would it change her? Would it change John? Would it change the fact that they loved each other? Surely not. What they had was so deep, so real. Elizabeth could not, would not accept that the war could change that. Melanie didn’t know what she was saying. She didn’t know John.

“What do you think, Elizabeth?” Melanie interjected into her thoughts.

Elizabeth had missed Melanie’s question again.

“I think it’s time to get some shut eye,” was all Elizabeth could manage to say.

“I agree!” Lily said, her voice quite loud.

Melanie’s eyebrows furrowed and her bottom lip protruded as she crossed her arms.

Sarah leaned over and turned out the lantern, plunging the four women into darkness.

“Melanie,” Elizabeth said, as she slid down onto her thin bed, her voice gentle. “I think you need to realize that one day soon some of these men are going into battle and they’re not coming back.”

“I know that,” she said, her voice quiet and soft.

“Then why plan futures with so many of them?”

“Because it keeps me from thinking that way, that there’s a time clock on their lives.”

Elizabeth had to almost hold her breath to hear Melanie speak, her voice was so quiet.

“I don’t want to treat them that way. I don’t want to think about them like that.”

Elizabeth glanced in her direction in the dark, but was only able to see her silhouetted in the night. This was a deeper side to Melanie. Elizabeth never could have guessed that there was something more behind all of this boy craze.

“I’m sorry,” Elizabeth whispered. “I didn’t realize…”

“I know,” Melanie said into the darkness. “It’s all right. Let’s just get some sleep.”

“All right.” Elizabeth lay down on her pillow and listened to the gentle breathing sounds of the women in her company. But her thoughts were on John and on what Melanie had said about war changing people. And it kept her awake long into the night.

 

“Off to War”

Chapter 3 – Battle

Scene 2

Another early rise for the troops. Jacob sighed as he sat up and moved his legs to wake his limbs. This was definitely something Benjamin did not write about. They had been rising well before dawn these last few days. Yawning and stretching, he pulled on his uniform pants first, then his uniform jacket. He had to report soon.

His tent mate was already dressing as well. It wasn’t long before they were both regulation, gun in hand, and ready to go. Making their way outside of their tent, they reported to the command post, taking their places in the line up.

All of the soldiers stood at attention while the captain walked up and down the line, inspecting the troops. Jacob held his breath as the man passed by. On occasion, the captain would find what he considered a sloppy appearance and yell at the soldier. For the most part, they were a ship-shape unit, if not by nature, by fear of this particular commander. Their captain had a reputation for remembering anyone who dared show up sloppy. Thus far, Jacob had escaped that nightmare.

After inspection, they were released to breakfast. On occasion, the women would make a warm breakfast for them, but that all depended on what foodstuffs were available. This morning, it was the hard tack bread rations and some bacon, which had been cooked.

Jacob ate his food, all the while thinking about his mother’s flapjacks and maple syrup she often fed him if he had a test that day or needed cheering up. He appreciated the women who had given up so much to come stay at the camp and cook for the soldiers, but they could not compare to his mother’s home cooking. Especially the blonde girl they called Elizabeth. Whenever she had been cooking, he could hear the other men groaning. It just wasn’t her strong suit.

Forcing down the last of the hard tack, Jacob saw the captain signal the troops to line up for their early morning run. After a quick breakfast each day, they would line up again for maneuvers. This could mean any number of things physical. They would run for some length of time every morning. Sometimes they would have obstacle courses of sorts where they would have to crawl with their muskets in hand or climb with them. There were days they had exercises where they practiced hand to hand combat with their bayonets. And there was his least favorite – taking apart their muskets and putting them back together.

Even now, Jacob moved toward the front of the line for their morning run. One of the faster men in the camp, he could keep up his speed throughout the duration of the run. The captain counted them off and they started moving.

Though the never dared breathe a word of it, he found the morning run invigorating. He enjoyed the fresh air, the scenery, and, though he was sure most of the men did not find the run enjoyable, the camaraderie was something to be appreciated.

So they were off, out into the field. Jacob allowed his mind to wander during the run when, before he knew it, a couple of other soldiers began shouting at him from behind.

“Hey, you trying to make us look bad?”

“Yeah! What’s in your head?”

“Show off!”

“You’re just jealous,” Jacob yelled back with a slight grin on his face. That would bug them. After all, it was the same heckling every morning. A handful of them would get together after morning drills and chide each other. It almost seemed like everyone had a certain thing the others would tease about. They ribbed Frank about how he always had a piece left over during musket drills. George would be razzed about his poor time on ground drills. And they hassled Jacob about his running.

“What are you doing? Running from the front lines?” They tried to make him mad, but it wasn’t working. Jacob turned his head for a second, eyeing which ones managed to keep up with him.

“No, I’m leading a rag tag group of misfits,” he howled back, wanting to show them they weren’t getting to him. A hand landed on his shoulder. He glanced back. One of them had gotten close enough to touch him.

“So, one of you can actually run!”

Jacob feinted left and right, dodging this other soldier who tried to grab him. It brought back memories of he and Benjamin playing in the back yard when they were boys. He hurled out taunts. The guy behind him started to pant and lose his gain. Slowing down a bit, Jacob turned while still jogging.

“What now? Can’t keep it up, Old Man?” He laughed. The troops seemed as if they were chasing him.

Old Man sprinted faster.

Jacob’s eyes widened and he realized that Old Man just might get him. He turned back around and picked up the pace. Right as he did so, he hit a dip in the path. His feet stumbled, and Jacob hit the ground hard.

Old Man was so close behind him that he crashed into Jacob as well. They both lost their breath, the wind knocked out of them.

The captain was soon on the scene. “What is wrong with you two? Moore, Johnson!”

Jacob was just then catching his breath and pulling himself to his feet. He took the fall relatively unscathed. Old Man didn’t look too good though. When he got up, his ankle seemed twisted.

“Moore, you get Johnson back to the infirmary. Move out!”

Jacob extended a hand to help the man. “What’s your name?”

“Daniel. Daniel Johnson.” The man said, grimacing as he attempted to put weight on the injured ankle.

“Well, Daniel, congratulations on figuring a way out of morning drills.” Jacob offered the young man a smile. “I just hope the captain doesn’t clean your clock for it later.”

Daniel chuckled, leaning on Jacob while they limped back to the hospital. Once there, it wasn’t long before the doctor had wrapped Daniel’s ankle and told him to take it easy for the next few days. As the doctor walked away, Jacob decided to get one more jab in.

“See, I knew there was a way to slow you down!”

Daniel gave him a cross look and Jacob knew he had made a lifelong friend.

“Off to War” COVER REVEAL!!

cover revealIt’s that time again! I have decided to self publish one of my novels and Cora Graphics has been hard at work on the cover.

I want to thank the people in my life who make so many allowances for me and my craziness. My friends and family are so good to me, so patient and loving. You know who you are.

My husband is my tireless supporter and hero. He is my number one encourager and does whatever he can to further my goals and my career. To say I love that man would be an understatement.

My beta readers are awesome. They keep me honest and real. They not only help me with the words on the page, but give me feedback (often instantly) on cover concepts and details really anything I need help with. Y’all are the best.

And, of course, I am grateful for Cora Graphics. She is so talented and just amazing to work with!

So, without further ado…here is the cover (click on the “PLAY” button):

 

Off to War – Chapter 2, Scene 9

Off to War Cover 1

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.

Off to War – Chapter 2, Scenes 7 & 8

Off to War Cover 1Off to War

Chapter 2 – Scene 7

Dr. William Smith tracked down a spare pair of boots that would suit Elizabeth and had them sent to her tent. He then headed back toward his own tent, deep in thought about the young woman whose acquaintance he had just made. How many others were there like her in the camp? In the war? The wives of working class men would often come along with their husbands to assist in the war effort. But women of the upper class found other ways to contribute, ways that did not involve getting their hands dirty. Yet, here she was, her hands red and raw from carrying the packs today. Those hands had likely been smooth and free from callouses until today. One thing was for certain – this war would change her.

Arriving at his tent, he entered, nodding to Dr. Taylor as he did so.

“Nothing needing a second pair of hands, I hope.” John looked up from inventorying some of the supplies in their medical kits. There wasn’t much chance anything had gotten lost between their itemization at the train and here, perhaps Dr. Taylor just liked to know where everything was.

William offered his colleague a smile as he moved toward his cot. “No, only some bad blisters needing to be lanced.”

“That was quite a walk today. Someone have improper footwear?” John asked, his focus now back on his work.

William nodded, sitting. “One of the women.”

“Seems about right.”

“I wouldn’t be so quick to judge this young woman.” William yawned and stretched. His body was worn from the walking of the day and sleep would be good.

“What do you mean?” John looked up from his ledger.

William’s eyes settled on John, trying to wager how much to share. How much could he trust the man? Soon enough, he reasoned, they’d be putting their lives in each other’s hands. Might as well start trusting him now. “She is a woman from a privileged life. From an upper class home.”

“What is she doing here?” John jerked upright from his crouched position.

“Choosing to serve her country.” William responded, his voice even.

“We have to tell the commanding officer,” John said, his voice rushed. “Her parents couldn’t be aware that she…”

William shook his head, and spoke in a firm voice. “No matter her circumstances at home or how she got here, I’m doing nothing of the sort. I respect what she’s doing. It’s rather brave, don’t you think?” Though tired, William tried to be patient with John’s knee-jerk response. He was young. And he still saw things in black and white.

“But she has no idea the hardships she’ll endure out here while…” John started to argue.

“It’s her choice to face them.”

John fell silent, shrugging his shoulders. After some moments, he refocused on his work and left William in peace. Perhaps John was so adamant because he thought of his own sister or fiancé out here facing such adversity and danger. William hoped that this woman’s family and friends would be able to make peace with her decision. Someday.

 

Chapter 2 – Scene 8

The doorbell rang at the Thompson residence. Charlotte Taylor was admitted to the house, her coat was taken, and she was escorted to the parlor. Once she entered the parlor, Charlotte rushed over to her friend and embraced her.

Abigail welcomed her dear friend’s hug, fighting fresh tears.

When they broke apart, Abigail led Charlotte to a couch.

“Oh, Abigail, I scarcely know what to say!” Charlotte confessed, eyebrows furrowed.

“It’s alright. I don’t know what to say myself,” she sniffled, dabbing at her eyes with her handkerchief.

“Elizabeth gave no indication she was planning anything like this?” Charlotte asked the obvious question. But it needed to be asked.

Abigail shook her head. “We knew, of course, that she was unhappy with John’s leaving.”

“As did we all,” Charlotte added, laying a hand on Abigail’s arm for support.

“But who could have imagined this?” Abigail cried.

“Who indeed, dear friend? And what is to be done?” Charlotte’s eyes widened.

“Nothing,” Abigail said, near tears. “Thomas says there is nothing that can be done now that she is gone.”

Charlotte hung her head. She pulled herself to her feet, taking some steps away from Abigail. “I must confess, friend, I feel as if I am partially to blame. My son…”

“No! I won’t hear of it,” Abigail said, her voice firm. “Elizabeth is head strong all on her own.”

Relieved that her friend was not blaming her in the slightest for having any part of Elizabeth’s flight, Charlotte turned back toward her friend and took a deep breath before continuing. “Do you think John knows?”

“Her letter didn’t say, but I find it doubtful.” Abigail’s eyes held Charlotte’s

“I, too, doubt it. It’s unimaginable that he would have let her go through with it.” Charlotte moved across the room again. This time toward the window that overlooked the front of the house.

“That is what I told Thomas,” Abigail said, unwavering.

Turning to face her friend, Charlotte said, “I imagine once he discovers her, he will send her right back home to you. He doesn’t want her in harm’s way any more than you do.”

“I know, dear friend. Your son is a good man and he loves my Elizabeth a great deal.”

Silence fell between them for some moments. Charlotte’s attention was drawn out of the front window toward a young couple walking by. That should have been John and Elizabeth on an afternoon stroll, on their way home to announce their engagement even.

“I know we haven’t spoken of it, but I was surprised they did not make plans to marry before he went off to war,” Charlotte wondered out loud.

“I admit, I was as well. But I think we’re all relieved they didn’t add the stress and emotion of a wedding to the mix, but it was what I expected when John first made it known he had enlisted.” Now focused on something else, Abigail’s voice was not so charged with emotion.

“I wonder which of them convinced the other to wait.”

“It is a mystery with those two,” Abigail sighed.

“Everything always is with them.” Charlotte turned back toward Abigail.

“Indeed,” Abigail said, looking into her friend’s eyes.

As Charlotte watched, Abigail’s eyes filled with emotion again. Charlotte rejoined her on the sofa, laying a hand on her shoulder. She waited for her friend to speak.

“I now know what torment you have been going through, knowing your child is off to war.”

Charlotte nodded, swallowing hard.

“And I understand your obsession with the war effort,” Abigail added, meeting her friend’s eyes again.

“It’s a way to stay connected to him,” Charlotte confirmed.

Abigail nodded her understanding. “Do you think you could use another hand to write letters? Or another person to collect donations?”

“Of course!” Charlotte said, excited at the prospect of her friend working alongside her. “We’ll be happy to have you!”

“Good. Because as long as she’s out there, I want her to have everything that she needs.”

Off to War – Chapter 2, Scenes 5 & 6

Off to War Cover 1

Off to War

Chapter Two (Shipping Out)

Scene 5

Dearest Father and Mother,

By the time you read this letter, I’ll be far away…

Abigail’s heart froze in her chest as she read those few words. Her maidservant moved to make another curl in her hair, but Abigail waved the woman off. What should she do? Continue reading or wait for her husband? Waiting for Thomas seemed by far the wiser thing to do. He would be able to keep a level head. Yes, he would know what to do.

Moments later, he appeared at the doorway, his features twisted in concern. Abigail couldn’t form the words, so she held the note out to him with a shaking hand.

He read the first few lines and looked up at her, eyes wide.

“Out loud,” she managed, her mouth dry.

Excusing the servants, he closed the door behind them and then sat on the edge of the bed nearby.

“Dearest Father and Mother, By the time you read this letter, I’ll be far away. I am sorry to have to do this in a letter. It’s not fair to either of you. Please forgive me. But I could not risk that you would stop me. What I am about to do is too important.

“I can no longer imagine continuing on here while John is at war, risking his life every day. The thought that I would wake each day not knowing where he is or if he is even alive is too much. I have to find a way to be with him. So, I am joining the women who follow the camps. This is the only way. Do not worry so, Mother, I will be away from the fighting. And I will write often. I love you both. Elizabeth.”

Abigail’s face fell onto her arms on the vanity. “My girl!”

Thomas stood and closed the distance to his wife, placing a hand on her back. “There, there.”

“You must go after her, Thomas. You must bring her home!”

“You know that’s not possible. The train left last night and for where I do not know. She is beyond our reach.”

“No,” Abigail insisted. When John first made it known he had enlisted, Abigail had sympathized with what she imagined Charlotte to be going through. Now she knew all too well the emotions that had coursed through Charlotte on that day.

Thomas’s arms surrounded her, holding her while tears poured forth. But in the midst of it all, Abigail felt moisture on her husband’s face. And she knew, he felt it too. Their daughter had gone off to war.

 

Off to War

Chapter Two (Shipping Out)

Scene 6

Just as Louisa had said, the next day proved to be arduous and every bit as long as she had promised. The train took them as far south as Charleston. From there, they walked for miles upon miles before they set up camp for the night. It couldn’t come soon enough for Elizabeth.

While she considered herself to be in excellent physical condition, young and capable, only a few hours in, her feet hurt. No doubt she had blisters from her impractical shoes. Why hadn’t she thought to exchange those when she bartered for plainer dresses? Her lack of foresight left her with no choice but to suffer.

For the sake of the women, the unit commander did pause from time to time for a break. However, the infrequent stops weren’t quite long enough for Elizabeth’s poor blistered feet. Finally, as evening neared, the unit came to stop and set up camp for the night.

Elizabeth and Melanie had been assigned a tent together with two nurses. Once the tent was miraculously assembled, due for the most part to their tent mates, Sarah and Lily, the girls went to setting out their sleeping mats. The tent only had room for their four sleeping mats to squeeze in, but they were thankful for beds and shelter all the same.

After her mat was set up, Elizabeth fairly collapsed on the padding. She wanted to lay there for the remainder of the day, but that would not be possible. Forcing herself into a sitting position, she pulled one foot close to herself and tried, with great difficulty, to take the shoe off.

“You’re over there grunting and whimpering about something. What’s the matter?” Melanie teased.

“It’s these shoes,” Elizabeth moaned. “I can’t seem to get them off.”

“Let me help.” Melanie came over to take a closer look.

Elizabeth’s face warmed. How was it that she couldn’t even get her shoes off by herself?

“Where did you get such fancy shoes?” Melanie asked, awestruck.

“It’s a long story,” Elizabeth looked away, hoping to dissuade Melanie from further questions.

“But, they…”

“It’s not important,” she snapped, a bit louder than she meant to. “I didn’t mean that. I’m just in a lot of pain. Please,” she begged her new friend. “Help me.”

Melanie untied the shoes and freed the laces all the way down, then worked at loosening the leather. Then she tugged at the shoes with great care. It still took some effort due to Elizabeth’s swollen feet. But after several seconds, Melanie managed to get them off.

Melanie’s breath caught.

“What is it?” Elizabeth worried about what Melanie might have found.

“These blisters. My goodness, Elizabeth! You need to see the doctor about this.”

Looking over her knees, Elizabeth caught sight of her lumpy feet even through her foot dressings.

“No, I’ll be fine.” The words rushed out. A doctor did need to look at her feet and tend to the blisters, but the last thing she needed was for John to find out she was here.

“Let’s take off your stockings,” Melanie countered. Without waiting for consent, she removed Elizabeth’s stockings. Then the angry, red, water-filled blisters on her heels and the pads of her feet were plain to see.

Elizabeth, grimacing, reached out to touch one, but drew back.

One of the nurses had walked back to the tent for something and Melanie beckoned her over to where Elizabeth sat. “Sarah, I am trying to convince Elizabeth that the doctor needs to take a look at her feet. What do you think?

She glanced at Elizabeth’s feet and made a small sound. Then she made her way back into the thick of camp before Elizabeth could protest. Sarah would certainly return in short order with a doctor.

Elizabeth fell back on the cot, throwing an arm over her face. Her well-laid plan was over before it had begun. All of this…for nothing. John would be here in a matter of moments and he would send her back home.

Two sets of footsteps crunched in the grassy area nearby. A whisk of a breeze flew through as the tent flap opened. Still, Elizabeth refused to look up into John’s face.

“What seems to be the problem here?” a male voice said, but it wasn’t John.

Jerking back to her sitting position, Elizabeth sought with her eyes to confirm what her ears had heard. The kind blue eyes she stared into were decidedly not John’s. Had she gotten the wrong unit?

“I have, um, that is…there are some, um…I’ve got blisters,” she managed.

“Is that all?” The man watched her, smiling, and a little laugh escaped from deep in his throat. He was older than John, but not quite her father’s age. And he seemed rather amused at her tongue-tied state. Getting down on one knee, he examined her feet.

“I’m Dr. Smith. We’ll be seeing a lot of each other. There are two other doctors in the unit – Dr. Taylor and Dr. Rhodes. You’ll meet both of them in time.” As he spoke, he began to examine her blisters. “And I’m afraid I’m going to have to lance these.”

Elizabeth nodded. She had known as much to be true.

“Sarah,” he called over to the nurse who stood behind him. “I need some clean bandages and a sterile needle.”

She moved off to fetch his supplies and he let his eyes wander around their tent. Salt and pepper eyebrows went up when he spotted her shoes not far away. When he met her eyes again, it became clear. He knew she was playacting, that she was from an upper class home.

“I hope you have other shoes for the journey tomorrow. There will be more walking and I can’t guarantee it will be any easier in those. In fact, I doubt your swollen feet will fit back into them.”

Elizabeth shook her head, looking down. She hadn’t planned well at all. And now she was terribly embarrassed.

“No matter,” Dr. Smith said, his voice kind and gentle. “I’m sure we can find a spare pair of soldier’s boots. You’ll need a larger size shoe with the bandages on anyway.”

Elizabeth nodded, meeting his gaze.

They both turned as Sarah shuffled back toward the tent with the things Dr. Smith had requested.

Taking the needle in one hand, he clamped a hand around Elizabeth’s ankle. “You shouldn’t feel much, Miss. But even if you do, you must remain as still as you can.”

Nodding, Elizabeth braced herself. But, true to his word, she didn’t feel much of the pin pricks. Then he cleaned them and began wrapping her feet.

“I’ll find you some suitable boots,” he said, as he tied off the last bandage. “I need you to stay off your feet the rest of the evening, understand?”

“Yes, Dr. Smith.”

He stood, turning to leave.

“Dr. Smith,” she called after him.

He turned back toward her.

“Thank you,” she said in a meek voice.

“Of course. Anything for a woman so brave she would leave all behind to join this ragtag bunch.”

Elizabeth nodded. They understood each other. He would not disclose her identity to anyone.

As he left the tent, she lay back on her mat and stretched out her tired legs so she could rest her bandaged feet on her folded jacket. The bed mat, a far cry from the down feather pillows and soft mattress she had back home, was little more than a thick blanket on the ground. Even so, after the exhaustion of the day, it wasn’t long before she slept.

Off to War – Chapter 2, Scenes 3 & 4

Off to War Cover 1

Off to War

Chapter 2 – Shipping Out

Scene 3

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?”

Elizabeth nodded.

“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

Scene 4

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.