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Elsie Singmaster - Emmeline - Chapter 1

Elsie Singmaster was a local author. We will be selectively republishing some of her stories on the #15SouthBlog. You can learn more about Singmaster's work here.



For an hour at least Emmeline lay quietly curled up on the rear seat of the Willing surrey. This vehicle was very old and low and broad; it had been built in the days when people made long journeys in carriages and liked to have them comfortable. At present the surrey was not in motion, but in repose in the Willing wagon shed. 

Tranquillity was not characteristic of Emmeline. She was by nature a jumping jack. Although she was fifteen years old and very desirous of appearing much older, she had put few of the ways of childhood behind her. 

This June day was hot, and Emmeline had been active since early morning. She had risen at six o'clock, eaten her breakfast, fed the chickens, washed the dishes, and picked the last of the red raspberries; then, while she sat by Sister Bertha's bed, she had raveled enough lint to fill a pint measure. After taking Sister Bertha her tray, she had gone downstairs to eat her own dinner hungrily. While she waited on Sister Bertha, or when she heard the neighbors talk about Sister Bertha, Emmeline's face was a blank mask. Of her sister—or, rather, her sister-in-law—Emmeline was deeply ashamed. 

Sister Bertha was, alas! a rebel. She had come from the South before the war had broken out to teach school in a village near Gettysburg; there young Henry Willing had seen her and had loved her, and nearly a year ago had married her. It was an act not hard to understand after you had seen Bertha. But it was war time, and between the two, in the opinion of Emmeline, there should have been undying hatred instead of love. Henry had already enlisted, and had gone away in his beautiful blue uniform to join his regiment. He cherished the comfortable conviction that his mother's home was still his, and thither he had brought his bride. To Emmeline the act was subversive of all order; it was contrary to the traditions of the world. Henry was, moreover, hers; he did not belong to this pale, dark-eyed creature to whom she had to carry trays. 

To Emmeline's mother, Henry's marriage had brought great care. Soon after Bertha had come to the old home she had been taken ill with a slow fever, and had lain for weeks helpless in her bed. After a while she had got better, and had been able to walk to the window and to look out across the green fields toward the south, where two small hills lifted rounded heads above the undulating fields. 

"One is called Big Round Top and one Little Round Top," Emmeline had explained in a rare moment of confidence. "There are queer rocks on Big Round Top. One is shaped like George Washington's head, hat and all, and there are two tremendous elephants, and there is Devil's Den. I climbed through Devil's Den once when we went for a picnic. When we go to grandfather's you can see it. At grandfather's there is a new calf, and there is Willoughby Run, where I go fishing. I—" 

At that point, Emmeline, reminding herself that she was holding commerce with an enemy of her country, had stopped. 

Emmeline's mother bore cheerfully the addition to her family. Bertha was Henry's—that was reason enough; she was helpless, and she was, besides, a very lovable person. Mrs. Willing had begun bravely to make quilts for Henry's setting up in housekeeping, and even poor Bertha had tried to lift a needle in her slim, white fingers. Bertha could pick lint, but she did not succeed in sewing. Now for two weeks she had lain once more quiet and pale in her bed. Her improvement had been inspired by Henry's letters; at the coming of one she had sat up; at the coming of the second she had walked to the window. Suddenly, alas! letters had ceased to arrive, and poor Bertha rose no more. The neighbors—Mrs. Schmidt across the street, Mrs. Bannon next door—were certain that Bertha could rise if she would. Mrs. Schmidt undertook to condole with Mrs. Willing upon the difficulties of her situation. In that Mrs. Schmidt was unwise. Mrs. Schmidt's husband was a sutler in the army; and she had a great fear of his enemies. 

"Ach, I pity you!" she cried in her German way. "She is strange to you and a rebel to it yet!" 

Mrs. Willing's eyes flashed. She was a stout, able person with a great deal of common sense. 

"She is my daughter-in-law, Mrs. Schmidt," she answered sharply. 

Mrs. Schmidt said no more to Mrs. Willing, but to Mrs. Bannon and to Emmeline she continued to express her pity for Mrs. Willing. Emmeline made no consenting answer, but her heart was meanly pleased. 

Now, lying in the old carriage, Emmeline dreamed. She had a favorite vision, in which she saw herself an army nurse, bringing comfort to hundreds of wounded Union soldiers. At the end of a long career she became engaged to a young Union general. Of course she realized that there was little chance of such dreams coming true. The war could hardly last until she was old enough to be engaged, or wise enough to be a nurse. Indeed, as a practical nurse, she had already failed. Long and irksome were the hours she spent by Sister Bertha's bed—that fact was plain even to the poor invalid herself. 

It is impossible to tell to what length Emmeline's dreaming might not have gone this hot, sleepy afternoon. But Emmeline heard, or thought she heard, a sound, and to her, dreaming was far less interesting than doing. She sprang up, tossed back the long braids of her hair, and climbed down out of the carriage. Here she shook herself thoroughly awake, and thus prepared for active life, ran out into the hot sunshine. 

Standing still in the garden, Emmeline cocked her head. She had been certain that she heard shouting. Gettysburg, which was near the border, had often prepared itself for the arrival of the enemy, but now almost all the inhabitants except Emmeline had relinquished that fear. Emmeline still expected a battle. She went out by the side of the house and looked up and down the street, which lay bare and hot and quiet. She could hear her mother's voice as she talked in a low tone to Bertha; across the street the Schmidt baby whimpered. Emmeline, who loved babies, often took charge of the Schmidt baby. 

Emmeline listened for a long minute, but heard nothing more. She shook one braid to the front of her shoulder, braided it tighter, and shook it back; then she examined the other, which proved to be still securely fastened. 

Emmeline had long, thick hair and sparkling eyes. Her dress of blue and white striped calico was made with a skirt as full as a ruffle; her active legs were clothed in pantalets to match her dress; her arms and neck were bare, according to the fashion of '63. Having smoothed down her dress, Emmeline sauntered across the street, and went to the kitchen door of the Schmidt house. She realized uneasily that Bertha was crying and that her mother was trying to comfort her. 

"I'll take the baby down the street, Mrs. Schmidt," Emmeline offered. "I have to go to the store." 

"Thanks to you," answered Mrs. Schmidt, whose dinner dishes were still on the table. "With these six indeed, I don't know what to do, Emmy." 

Emmeline took the baby with the condescending air of perfect capability to perfect incapability. She would never, she said to herself, suffer her house or her children to get into the condition in which Mrs. Schmidt's house and children were. When she had washed the baby's face and smoothed his hair, he stopped crying at once, and with a beaming smile settled himself into his little cart. Then, with "Get ups!" and with prancings, Emmeline took him through the gate and down the quiet street. At the corner she stopped to look up the hill toward the seminary building and out toward the college. Now that the boys had formed a company and had gone to war, the town and Emmeline were denied even the excitement of their presence. 

Emmeline traveled more and more slowly. The air was hot and heavy. She had seen nothing that day of her bosom friend, Eliza Batterson; perhaps if she waited, Eliza might appear. Her other boon companion, Jessie Mullin, had long since been sent away from Gettysburg to visit friends in the country to the north, so much did her parents fear an invasion. Emmeline prayed that no such ignominious experience would be hers. 

Presently old black Tom, who sold peanuts on the streets of Gettysburg, stopped to inquire about Henry; and then Mrs. Peter, the ever-curious, asked about Bertha. To black Tom, Emmeline gave gracious response; to Mrs. Peter, Emmeline returned an answer so short and sharp as to be impertinent. Mrs. Bannon and Mrs. Schmidt were neighbors, and had a right to discuss Bertha; Mrs. Peter had none. 

When Mrs. Peter had gone, Emmeline remembered uneasily that Bertha had been crying, and that there was constantly a strained, anxious look in her mother's eyes. But Henry would come back; there would probably be a letter from him in the evening mail. Not for an instant would Emmeline admit to her mind the possibility of anything else. 

Presently Emmeline yawned. She could hear now unmistakably the sound of voices, but it was only the laughter of the pupils of the Young Ladies' Academy. Next year Emmeline would enter the academy; there was at present, however, between her and those young ladies a gulf as wide as the Atlantic. She nodded to them, and then took the handle of the baby cart and proceeded on her way to the village store. 

But Emmeline did not reach the village store, neither then nor for a long time thereafter. She heard a new sound, and looked up. Men and women were running past her; the courthouse bell gave a single startling peal; she heard the clatter of galloping hoofs. 

"What's the matter?" cried Emmeline to a passer-by. "What in the world is the matter?" 

"The rebels are coming! You can see them from the corner!" 

"I don't believe it!" cried Emmeline, with a throbbing heart. 

Emmeline thought of the Schmidt baby. He was heavy, and could not be dragged, cart and all, through crowds; he would be an annoying encumbrance to a girl who liked to be in the forefront of everything. It was certainly not true that the rebels were coming; but something was coming, and Emmeline wished to be at hand to see. If she hurried up this alley and down that back street, she could reach her own yard and then the front street. She could leave the Schmidt baby, fast asleep by now, on the side porch of her house, or could thrust him, cart and all, into the kitchen. 

Planning as she ran, Emmeline hurried down the alley and the back street, and at last reached her own garden. Leaving the baby in the kitchen, she came through the side yard to the gate. There she halted, with quaking knees. 

It was not the rebels that had come, but some strange, tanned, half-clad creatures; they marched in good order, and looked steadily from their hollow eyes at astonished Gettysburg, which crowded, half fearful, at corners, and hung, curious, from windows. Many of the soldiers were barefooted; others wore shoes from which the soles had fallen; some had tied the soles to their shoes with strips of soiled and blackened rags. Emmeline stared with open mouth. 

Half in fun and half in earnest, the strangers began to jeer at their amazed and paralyzed audience:— 

"We're not a parade, Yankees!" 

"We've come to eat you up!" 

One of them caught sight of Emmeline, with her ruffled dress, staring eyes, and open mouth. "Hello, sissy!" he called. "Look out that when you close your mouth you don't bite your tongue off!" 

Emmeline did not realize the full measure of the insult, for as he spoke, she had caught sight of a flag that hitherto she had beheld only in pictures—a flag that she scorned and despised. She mounted at once to a higher bar on her mother's gate. 

"'Oh, say can you see, by the dawn's early light,'" sang Emmeline. 

"'What so—'" Suddenly she felt some one seize her. She struggled, and cried, "Let me go! Let me go, I tell you!" 

Then she realized that the hand on her shoulder was a familiar one. 

"Emmeline," commanded her mother, "be still!" 

"He insulted me! He's a rebel!" 

"Emmeline," commanded Mrs. Willing again, "be still!" Then from her mother's lips came an incredible order: "Go and fill the water pail, and bring it here with a dipper." 

"Mother!" gasped Emmeline. "Are we going to give them water?" 

"Go, Emmeline!" 

"They are the enemies of my country!" 

"Go!" said Emmeline's mother. 

When Mrs. Willing spoke in that tone, even Henry, who was a man, moved swiftly. Emmeline looked up into her mother's face, but her mother was not looking down at her. Her eyes were turned toward the street, toward that apparently unending line of weariness and raggedness and burning eyes. She saw only the men's hunger, their thirst, their need. 

When Emmeline returned, her mother told her to put the pail under the tree at the edge of the pavement; as she stood there waiting, with her mother's hand on her shoulder, her eyes flamed and her heart fumed. But no soldier stopped to drink. 

"Go offer them water, Emmeline." 

"Mother!" protested Emmeline again. 

Emmeline went and filled the dipper and stood holding it out; but no soldier left the line, although the lips of many were almost black. Some looked in Emmeline's direction, some passed grimly without a glance. 

"They will not drink it, mother!" cried Emmeline. 

“You don't end our lives that way, sissy!" jeered a passing voice. 

Emmeline dropped the dipper and fled back to her mother's side. Her mother had covered her face with her hands and stood shivering. Emmeline, watching her, was for the moment awed. For the first time something of the heavy horror of war penetrated her young heart. 

"We are not really going to have a battle, mother!" 

Mrs. Willing shook her head. "They have come for money and supplies." 

"Will they get them?" 

"Not here, dear. We haven't them." 

"Where will they get them?" 

"At York, perhaps," her mother replied. 

"May I go down to the square now, mother?" 

With the passing of the soldiers, the feeling of horror had passed also. Emmeline felt secure here in her own quiet village. 

"Why, no, of course not!" In Mrs. Willing's eyes was still that anxious, strained expression. "Where is your baby? Take him to his mother and come right back." 

With a heavy heart Emmeline went to obey. She said to herself that she never could see anything; she remembered all the pleasures that had been denied her in her short life,—the political meetings and funerals she had been forbidden to attend, the parties for which she was thought too youthful,—and she felt sadly aggrieved. There was nothing to do in this dreary town. Even picnics had ceased, and home itself, devoted to the care of Sister Bertha, was home no more. 

The afternoon passed, and Emmeline was sadly aware of the stir down the street. Presently, after burning a few cars on a siding, the troops went on their way. Saturday brought no excitement to brighten Emmeline's dull lot. On Sunday, when a body of Union soldiers rode through the town, Emmeline was, alas! in church. Once or twice troopers galloped through the streets, and people whispered that soldiers were riding about the fields with maps. Gettysburg was once more alert and frightened. 

On Tuesday, Emmeline, sitting by the bedside of Bertha with her patchwork in her hands, heard a thrilling sound—a bugle blast. Forgetting Bertha, and dropping her patchwork and workbasket, she flew to the window and stood entranced. Fate was again directing affairs in Emmeline's way. A great body of soldiers was coming down the street. They were all mounted soldiers—dusty, tanned, and weather-beaten, but well clad and well fed. Above them floated a banner that Emmeline knew,—stripes of crimson and of white, with white stars on a blue ground, like the stars of heaven,—Emmeline's flag, Henry's flag. 

For almost a minute Emmeline held herself in check; then a black-slippered foot went over the window sill, and a blue-and-white-pantaletted leg followed. Sitting on the sill, she raised her voice in song. 

'Glory, glory, hallelujah!'" sang Emmeline, beginning with the chorus. "'Glory, glory, hallelujah!'" 

This time no one grasped Emmeline; there was no one near enough to grasp her. The soldiers cheered her, and waved to her, and saluted her. With her red cheeks, and her long braids, and her ruffled dress, she was a quaint and lovely figure. After a long time her mother called to her, and she clambered back into the room. The troops had passed, but huzzas still filled the air. Out through the town the soldiers went, and camped on Seminary Ridge. 

To her keen disappointment Emmeline was not permitted to visit the camp, but from her room that night she could see the camp-fires glitter. It seemed to her that her heart would burst with excitement. What would she see to-morrow? A battle? 

But such good fortune could not last. When Emmeline opened her eyes the next morning, she found her mother by her bed. Mrs. Willing looked as if she had not slept. 

"Get up, Emmeline," said she. 

To Emmeline's dismay, she saw a little satchel in her mother's hand. Emmeline's mind was quick. 

"You are not—you are not going to send me away, mother!" 

"You are to go out to grandfather's for a little visit." 

"O mother!" wailed Emmeline. 

"Yes, Emmeline. Get up and dress. Mrs. Schmidt is going to her brother's, and you are to ride with her." Mrs. Willing was firm. 

"Is there to be a battle?" 

We do not know." Mrs. Willing turned away. 

"O mother!" wailed Emmeline a second time. 

But no "O mother!" availed. Slowly, with a bitter heart, poor Emmeline gloomily but obediently put on her striped dress. 

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