A Not So Happy 4th
This year marks the 155th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. After three days of bloody conflict, Lee’s army retreated back to Virginia. It must have been a very sad 4th of July for the Confederacy indeed, as the South not only lost the battle in Gettysburg, but Vicksburg also fell.
Here is an excerpt from my novel, A Rebel Among Us, and how three sisters react to their unexpected “guest” on the 4th of July.
She slept for a few hours until distant voices awoke her. Sliding into her pale blue summer dress, she combed through her long blonde hair, parted it down the middle, contained it in a beige snood, and went to check on the soldier. He had bled through his bandages, so she gently replaced them, trying not to stir him.
Once she had finished, she quietly opened the door to leave, but heard footsteps coming up the stairs. Her heart leaped. Should her guests find the intruder there, Anna and her sisters would undoubtedly be in dire circumstances. She knew her neighbors were avid Unionists. If they discovered a Confederate in her father’s room, it would mean certain death for him and, most likely, a jail sentence for her. Being the oldest, she would surely be held responsible. Quickly, she scurried down the hallway to intercept the unwanted guest.
“Hello, my dear,” Mrs. Montgomery greeted her. “I was just coming up to give you this.” She smiled and handed Anna a small basket of handmade soap. “I fragranced them with roses. Your favorite.”
Anna returned the smile. “Why, thank you very much, Mrs. Montgomery,” she replied. “I’ll set these in my room and be right down. Go on ahead and help yourselves to some lemonade.”
Mrs. Montgomery turned and went downstairs. Waiting until she was gone from sight, Anna tossed the basket into her room, closed the door, and came downstairs to find her neighbors in the parlor. All were dressed in their Sunday finery, even though it was Saturday.
Mrs. Montgomery embraced her this time. Her daughter, Mary, mimicked the gesture. Stepping back, she looked Anna over. “Why aren’t you in mourning?”
“Father specifically requested that we not wear black or cover the windows, so we’re honoring his wishes,” Anna explained.
She remembered her father’s words while he lay dying only a few months ago: I don’t want darkness to befall my sunny girls. This explanation seemed sufficient for Mary, who smiled at her and walked over to talk with Maggie. Anna hoped the soldier wouldn’t awaken or start making a lot of noise…or even worse, come downstairs himself.
Inviting everyone to the dining room for dinner, she graciously went around the table, serving her guests. She couldn’t help but glance several times into the hallway, waiting for the soldier to clomp down the wooden steps in his worn out boots.
“Anna, are you all right?”
She froze like a deer in the rifle sights. “Yes, of course, Mary,” she replied. Taking a seat, she spread her napkin across her lap. “Why do you ask?”
“It’s just that you seem a bit distracted,” said Mary. “As though you are nervous about something.”
Anna and Maggie exchanged glances.
With a forced smile, Anna said, “It’s the heat. I’m fine, really.”
It was a lie. Truth be told, she wasn’t fine. Not at all. She wished they had never invited their neighbors over for an Independence Day celebration, and she also wished her guests would leave before something happened. Unable to eat, she dabbed at the perspiration on her forehead with her napkin. She listened for the slightest sound from upstairs and resisted the temptation to look out into the hallway or dash upstairs.
Once dinner was finished, everyone returned to the parlor. Abigail and Claudia played their piano piece flawlessly, encouraging everyone to sing along to “The Star Spangled Banner.” Their patriotic spirit soared.
Mr. Montgomery raised a toast for the preservation of the United States. “Here’s to our country’s victory,” he said. “To the Union!”
“To the Union!” everyone chanted together and raised their glasses. They sipped their lemonade like it was champagne.
“I’ve been informed this morning we have won the fight at Gettysburg,” Mr. Montgomery added. He lit a cigar and puffed on it while happily smiling.
Anna scowled. It’s as I thought. That Rebel did come from Gettysburg. She looked at Maggie, who raised her eyebrows, apparently thinking the same thing.
“What’s wrong, Anna?” asked Mary. “You appear to be unhappy about the news.”
Anna flashed a smile at her. “On the contrary. I’m elated.” She glanced around the room. “Why don’t we go out onto the porch,” she suggested. The room had become stiflingly hot.
They accepted her invitation and proceeded outside. As soon as they congregated with drinks in hand, it began to sprinkle.
“Oh, dear,” said Mrs. Montgomery. “I’m afraid we’ll have to leave now, girls. I left the sheets out to dry, and the chickens are out in the yard.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that, Mrs. Montgomery. But thank you for coming,” Anna said, trying not to appear too eager to be rid of them, even though she couldn’t wait for them to go.
Mr. Montgomery assisted his wife and daughter into the buggy before climbing in.
“Anna, we had a lovely time,” Mary said, her blonde pipe curls bouncing as she exaggerated her compliment.
Anna didn’t know if she was sincere or not.
“I’m only sorry my brother couldn’t be here today,” Mary added.
“Have you heard from Stephen?” asked Maggie.
“Yes,” Mary replied, tying on her pale yellow bonnet. “He said he would be home on furlough in a few months. Anna, he wanted me to tell you that he misses you.”
She smiled cordially, but secretly, she wanted to scream. She knew she wasn’t what Stephen missed. His attitude had changed, and it alarmed her. What he really missed was her farm. The thought of his counterfeit attraction enraged her, and knowing that he would be back in a few months to woo her repulsed her even more.
“By the way,” Abigail said, “how’s your dog, Corky? The one Anna mended?”
Anna’s eyes grew large. She stared at Abigail and hoped she wouldn’t say anything about a Confederate being in their midst.
“Why, he’s doing just fine, sweetheart,” Mrs. Montgomery responded. “Spry and lively as ever.”
“Well, goodbye all,” said Mr. Montgomery. He smiled through his neatly-trimmed beard and slapped the reins.
Their tall, dark chestnut horse pranced down the lane, pulling the buggy behind it. Watching their neighbors drive away, all four girls let out a sigh of relief.
“Let’s go check on the Rebel,” Claudia suggested.
She and Abigail ran into the house. Maggie and Anna followed. The girls gathered around the big bed, gazing down at the unconscious soldier.
“Is he still breathing?” asked Abigail.
“Yes, unfortunately,” replied Maggie. She looked at Anna. “I’ll go clean up the dishes,” she said.
As she went downstairs, Anna called out to her. “Maggie, could you please bring a spoonful of tallow when you come back up?”
“What do you need tallow for?” asked Abigail.
“Never mind,” said Anna. “Why don’t you and Claudia assist Maggie?”
Claudia followed Abigail out. Anna heard them descend the stairs. She listened to the three girls engage in lively colloquy, their conversation accented by clanking dishes. A strong breeze blew in through the open windows. She realized it was getting much cooler, so she partially closed them. Noticing the Rebel’s forgotten pile of clothing that had yet to be disposed of, she started a fire in the fireplace. It had been several months since a flame had been lit there, not because of warmer weather, but because of her father’s passing. While she waited for the fire to blaze, she heard a church bell chime repeatedly in the distance. She stood gazing out the window in the direction of the Lutheran church she knew was positioned just beyond the hill.
Maggie entered, carrying a tray which held a teapot, cup, and a spoonful of lard. She set it on the dresser next to the porcelain pitcher and bowl.
“What do you imagine the bells are for?” Anna asked. “The holiday?”
“No, I think it’s in celebration. Because we won the battle,” Maggie replied.
They both looked at the Confederate soldier, who was sleeping peacefully.
Maggie shook her head and sighed. “We’re going to round up the livestock,” she said. “There’s a storm headed our way.”
Anna nodded in response. Her little sister left the room. She poured herself a cup of tea, carried the cup and spoon over to the bedside, and sat next to the Rebel. Gently, she rubbed the tallow over his dry, cracked lips with her fingertips in hopes it would soothe them. A chill wind blew in through the partially opened windows. Glad she’d lit the fire, she watched the flames grow higher before tossing in the Confederate’s clothing. She gazed into the fire as it consumed the worn-out garments. Once they were destroyed, she seated herself beside him, lit the kerosene lamp on the table next to her, picked up her needles, and commenced knitting. Rain began pelting against the glass. She stood, walked to the window, and looked out into the yard to see her sisters and Claudia scurrying about to gather the last of the chickens. They contained them in the coop and ran toward the house. She heard them enter downstairs.
Gazing back at the wounded soldier, she wondered how his horse was doing. Abigail and Claudia had secretly informed her during the party that they had gone out earlier to observe the spotted horse when they noticed his injured hoof. Finally relieving him of his saddle and bridle, they rummaged through the Rebel’s saddlebags and discovered a container of ointment, which they assumed was to be used on the horse. They also found a small Bible, along with some personal effects, a few items of clothing, and his slouch hat. Abigail had proudly informed her older sister she had brushed the horse down with his curry comb and applied the liniment to his hoof. She and Claudia had cleverly snuck the soldier’s belongings upstairs and hidden them in a dresser drawer while everyone else was enjoying dinner.
Upon this recollection, Anna walked over to the dresser. The Rebel’s hat, coiled belt, and buckle sat on top. She pulled the top drawer open. Beside her father’s forgotten socks, she found some of the soldier’s personal effects, including a tiny sewing kit, a pocket knife, a pouch of tobacco, and a Testament. She picked up the little Bible. Pulling the flap open, she discovered a tiny, hand sewn Confederate flag inside. It was saving a page of Scripture, Psalms 23. She glanced over the words.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Curious why his Bible was covered with dirt, Anna looked over at the young man. She noticed that, even though all of his items were from the South, they looked the same as any she’d ever seen. She placed the Testament back in the dresser drawer, set the Rebel’s hat in her father’s armoire, and returned to the rocking chair.