(A/N: Sorry this took so long! If you read 'A Coat of Faded Grey' or my profile, you already know that I had mild carpal tunnel syndrome about a month ago, and so was banned from basically everything that makes my life enjoyable (;P): piano, typing, longhand writing, and drawing. And then I went on vacation to Gettysburg, Washington, D.C., and other places for a little over a week. And THEN I had to read "Uncle Tom's Cabin" for school, which starts week after next. But it was a very good book! Anyway, glad to be back , and here you go!)
Jay soon found himself almost looking forward to Char's visits now that Tom and Daniel were gone and there was no one else in the house with whom he could speak intelligently. She was quite engaging, when she wanted to be, and read Tom's letters to him in such a charming way that he couldn't help but think she should be a schoolmarm, as she was able to get his attention with a single well-chosen word.
And so May turned to June, and June to July. Sometimes, it was hard for Jay to believe that men were really suiting up for war, as the Negroes were lively, Pa and Ma spent less and less time reading papers and embroidering and more time with their children, Ben was busy winning the affections of his Patience, and Almira and Anna were flushed and pretty from laughter and sun. Jay even began to wonder if there would be a war, at all; if he and Char hadn't somehow thrown off the delicate balance of history.
"I don't think that's our biggest issue," said Charlotte. She poked her needle through the fabric in the hoop she was holding, then muttered something under her breath and pulled it out again. "Ugh. I hate needlework."
"Well, what is our biggest issue, then?" Jay replied, feeling a sense of relief that he wasn't a woman.
She took a pair of scissors and cut all the bright thread away from the fabric. "Well, I'd be worried if we were, for example, President Davis' children, or something, in case we might accidentally affect his decisions. But we're just farmers' families. No one important."
Jay saw the logic in her words. "But how come nothing is happening, then? It's 1861, and nothing, except Fort Sumter. And that was bloodless."
Char gave him a look that clearly said 'Just you wait, Johnny,' and gave up on her embroidery. "There's been rumors of action in Maryland, but nothing solid as of yet," she replied, neatly tucking the loose threads under the hoop and setting it aside.
"Did Tom have anything to say about it?"
She gave a noncommittal nod. "Same as I told you. Rumors, nothing worth mention. Almira said Daniel was more convinced in his last letter, though."
Jay nodded and put his hands behind his head; it was getting stuffy in the drawing room. "He said the 67th was on the move, even if the captain was keeping mum about why."
There was a brief silence, and then they both stood up and said in unison, "I think I need fresh air."
Jay couldn't help but grin, and Char returned it. "Almira and Anna have been wanting to show you their garden," he suggested. "I think they have questions about…well, I don't remember, but they do."
"Oh, yes, I'm quite the garden guru," Char said solemnly. "Women trip over themselves trying to gain my advice."
"Are you as good at gardening as you are at needlework?"
"Most definitely," she said with a grave nod.
The doors to the drawing room burst open, and Almira flew in, followed closely by an unusually bright-eyed Anna. "Oh, you simply won't believe it," the former cried, rushing towards them with a crumpled piece of paper in her hand. "Father! Mother! Come quickly!"
"What's happened?" Charlotte asked. "Is everything all right?"
"All right?" Almira echoed, waving the paper. "Everything's wonderful! Oh, Johnny," she added, throwing her arms around him and squeezing exuberantly.
"What is all this?" Pa had come into the room, Ma clinging to his arm. "Jonathon, are you the cause of all the hullabaloo?"
"No, Pa," Anna breathed. "We've just had an express from Danny!"
"Calm yourself, Missus Hall," Pa said bracingly as Ma gave a cry of alarm. "Tell us why you've disrupted the peace, Anna, Almira."
"The rumors of battle are true, all true!" Anna cried, her bright eyes sparkling. "Our brave boys have engaged the enemy at Manassas Junction. The 67th struggled valiantly for our Virginia!"
"Oh, Daniel!" Ma exclaimed, tears leaping to her eyes.
"Read us the letter, Almira," Pa commanded.
Almira obeyed. "July the twenty-first, 1861. Manassas Junction, Virginia. My dearest Mother and Father, and to my brothers Benjamin and Jonathon, and sisters Almira and Anna,—I hope this letter finds you all in good health. It is gray here. Rain is not far off. Perhaps it is fortunate, for it will wash these fields of the crimson blood spilt this day.
"I am well, not hurt too much, only tired and perhaps a bit sore. I found a wounded Yankee soldier under the brush after the fighting, and he attempted to shoot me through. Managed to bruise my shins a sight with his musket stock after his shot went wide, but bled out before I could get him help.
"I should feel like sleeping for a week, but I am far too exhilarated,—yet heartbroken,—to get a moment's rest. We fought valiantly under our glorious "Stars and Bars", and the Yankees were forced back before long. I am quite full of pride for my comrades. We have earned this victory, and Heaven knows we have been working hard to warrant it.
"I am not all merriment, however. I came upon a dying soldier only a moment ago. He was a Yankee, but he struggled valiantly under the Union colors. It had been my bullet that felled him in the midst of the charge, though I wished it not so. I tried to give him Christian help, mother, but it was a gut wound, as it is called, and he was soon gone. I did not disgrace you, my dearest family, for I read to him from the Psalms. He was a Rhode Island boy, with two little sons of his own, and a wife at home. I did not ever learn his name, only that his family name was Ballou,—it was written on his canteen,—but he was heartbroken at the realization that his boys,—Edgar and Willie, if I recall correctly,—would grow to manhood without the tender care of a father. I am not sorry to say I was near brought to tears, as I thought of the life that awaits me with my beloved Belle, when and if I return.
"I do not regret the decision I have made to follow my country. I only regret that so much blood must be spilt. We whipped the Yankees soundly, but the ground here is awash with the blood of sons that the Union will not easily let go unavenged. They will take their dues, just as we will ours.
"I hope this post reaches you before you hear from others, and draw perhaps erroneous suppositions about the 67th's safety, or my own. I assure you again, mother! I am quite well, though both Lyon boys were wounded, and Missus McCord's youngest, Nathaniel, was killed only a few minutes into the action. Andrew Kittredge died but a moment ago, leaving Julia to grieve for her lost husband in loneliness. I will spare thee the gore, mother, but oh! comfort the women for me; Nathaniel and Andrew were fine men and steadfast comrades. I am now much subdued, and my breast aches with grief over those brave fallen, both Union and Confederate. The sergeant says I will grow callous to the Death-Angel; I only wish I did not have to be it.
"I seem also to have done something first-rate today; Cpt. Cushman has had me made a corporal. I don't quite know why. He mentioned 'uncommon courage,' though I think all my comrades demonstrated as such, and much more the stark, stiff corpses still lying in the battle-field. I shall speak to Cpt. as I have written here.
"Is Johnny still writing in his book? Remind him for me; he will know what you speak of.
"I remain respectfully your son. Pvt. Corp. D'n'l Hall, 67th Virginia regiment."
Ma gave a short little cry and sank into a chair, and Jay took the letter from Almira's hand and glanced over it. Daniel's handwriting was crisp as ever, but his signature, scrawled at the bottom, was slightly distorted, as if it had been written by a trembling hand. Jay felt a rush of sympathy for him, and glanced uneasily about his comfortable surroundings. The stuffiness of the drawing room seemed a mere snowflake in the face of Daniel's avalanche, now. But Jay couldn't resist a quiet chuckle at Daniel's modesty—'I don't quite know why.'
As if reading his thoughts, Anna said, "What did Daniel do, do you think, to earn corporal?"
"Oh, it must be something extraordinary," Almira gushed. "Oh, I can just see him in the midst of battle with his glittering sword drawn high and flashing in the sun!"
"Almira, dear, swords are only awarded to officers," Pa said. "Daniel wouldn't've had one during the skirmish."
"Pardon me, Mister Hall," Charlotte said hesitantly, "but don't you think this was more than just a skirmish?"
"Oh, pshaw," Pa said. "Manassas Junction is a simple railroad intersection, hardly anything more. If you were as learned as I in the geography of Virgina, perhaps then you would know, but, then, a woman may not be expected to do such things."
Charlotte's right eyebrow lifted the tiniest bit, and Jay hastily jumped in. "Pa, why doesn't Anna write to ask Daniel why the sudden promotion?"
"Capital idea, Jonathon," Pa said. "See to it, dear Anna, and we shall take the opportunity to polish your handwriting."
"Yes, Pa," Anna said obediently. "I'll go and fetch my things—"
"Oh, don't be foolish, dear. Have Chloe get them; that maid is becoming too lazy for her own good."
"She's just given birth last week, Pa," Anna said reproachfully, and Jay used Pa's careless response to cloak his and Charlotte's exits. Char went far less willingly than he, as her cheeks were now flushed with indignation, but Jay lured her out with the tantalizing chance to educate him.
And so they found themselves out on the lawn under the beating sun.