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Elsie Singmaster - Emmeline - Chapter 3

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.




It seemed to Emmeline, as she stood at the outlet of the wood road, that an hour passed before any one spoke or moved. She herself was too much confused to speak. How had these men come up so quietly? Porch and dooryard and fields were thronged. The ridge that cut off Gettysburg from her view, the road down which she had run after she had left Mrs. Schmidt,—they, too, were filled with men, and horses, caissons, cannon, and huge wagons. And the soldiers were clad, not in friendly blue, but in hateful gray. 

Only in Emmeline's immediate neighborhood was silence. Beyond, men were shouting, horses were neighing, and wheels were creaking. Yonder, a body of troops advanced to the music of a fife; here a bugler was playing. Men were laying fires with little piles of sticks; men were going to Willoughby Run for water; men were leading horses down to drink. The throng seemed to be thickening every moment. 

One man, tall and lean and brown, lifted his hand from the latch of Grandfather Willing's door and came to the edge of the porch. He had only one arm; under his coat were the bandages that still bound a recent wound. He had quiet gray eyes, which smiled at Emmeline. 

He and his friends could have been to Emmeline no more startling an apparition than she was to them. The dust of travel had soiled somewhat her blue-and-white dress and her white stockings, but she seemed to the soldiers immaculate and fairy-like. Some exclaimed sharply; into the eyes of others came a sudden smarting and burning. In their minds they saw far away other little girls with dark braids and ruffled dresses. But Emmeline did not see their tears; these were her enemies. 

The tall man with the kindly face crossed the dooryard and approached Emmeline. 

"Well, sissy," he drawled, "and who may you be?" 

A variety of emotions almost suffocated Emmeline. Uppermost was hatred of that particular form of address. 

"I am Emmeline Willing," said she, with dignity. 

Men left their piles of sticks and crowded to the fence; others, who were going on errands, made a détour in order to come a little nearer to the group. 

"And who," drawled the tall man, "who may Emmyline Willing be?" 

Emmeline saw the thickening crowd and remembered the dull roar that had ceased only a little while ago. She grew pale, but she answered bravely:— 

"I am the granddaughter of the owner of this place." 

"So-o-o! And where may the owner of this place be?" 

"He has gone away." Emmeline's courage was failing. She felt the cooler air of evening and saw the shadows lengthening as the sun sank behind the woodland. "My grandfather would not wish you to be here. You ought to go away." 

"Now, sissy," drawled the tall man, in a distressed voice, "don't cry!" 

"I am not crying," protested Emmeline, in spite of good evidence to the contrary. "I want you to go away!" 

"Well, sissy,"—the tall man seemed actually to be considering Emmeline's command,—"we couldn't very well do that." 

"You will have to!" cried Emmeline. "Our soldiers are here by the million! They will make you go!" 

The tall man made no answer to Emmeline's assertion. 

"You come here to the porch, sissy. Nobody's going to hurt a leetle gal." 

"I am going home," announced Emmeline. "I am going home to my mother. The battle is over." In spite of her brave words, Emmeline moved a little nearer to the porch. "Isn't the battle over?" she said. 

"Not exactly," said the tall soldier. 

As he mounted the porch, the others moved away. Busy men could not stand forever looking at a little girl in a striped dress. The tall soldier laid his hand on the latch. 

"Sissy, do you know any way to get this door open short of breaking it in?" 

"You can't get in!" cried Emmeline. "It isn't your house! You—" 

"Look here," interrupted a rough voice, "get this door open! Stop your crying and keep out of the way!" 

The new comer set his shoulder against the door. The old latch held for an instant, and then, as the soldier gave another sharper thrust, the hasp tore from the wood. Emmeline grew still paler. From the porch she could see farther over the country; on hills and fields men were still marching, horses were still being led or driven, cannon and caissons were rumbling along. 

The soldier who had burst open the door was now in Grandmother Willing's kitchen. He threw wide the shutters, and rattled the lids of the stove, and opened the doors of the cupboard. 

Once more little Emmeline protested furiously:— 

"You can't touch those things!" 

The soldier lifted a handful of kindling from the box by the stove, and heaping it into the fire box, lighted it. 

"Can you bake?" he demanded rudely. 

Emmeline did not answer. Could she bake? She had been taught here in this very kitchen, she had mixed her dough in that very bowl on the table, and had set her rising in that old-fashioned bread trough in the pantry. Would she bake? Never while breath was in her body! 

Men were now crowding in at the door; an army wagon had stopped at the gate, and rough soldiers were bringing in great coffee-pots and cans. One of them brought Grandmother Willing's hens and roosters, headless, plucked, ready for the pot. Emmeline backed farther and farther into the corner, speechless and tearful. 

"If I were you, I'd go upstairs, sissy," the tall man said. "Set at the window and look out. There'll be a lot going on that you can see." 

Blindly Emmeline turned to obey. Crying bitterly, she climbed to her own little room, and there sat down on a chair by the window. 

Where were those thousands of blue-coated soldiers? Why did they permit this great army to camp on these hills, to occupy her grandfather's house, and his fields, and the other fields round about? The enemy were now chopping down trees and tearing down fences; they had already ruined her grandfather's wheat and killed her grandmother's chickens. Why did not the blue-coated soldiers come and drive them away? 

At the sound of galloping hoofs, Emmeline looked out of the window. She saw that a man on horseback had stopped at the gate and was talking with the tall soldier. His voice rose exultantly:— 

"We drove 'em like sheep through the town! We have thousands of prisoners! To-morrow we'll settle them!" 

"There's a leetle gal here," the tall soldier answered in his slow way. "She came to see her gran'paw, but he had gone. She lives in Gettysburg." 

"She'll be safer here than in Gettysburg. Tell her to stay indoors. There'll be hotter work to-morrow." 

"So they say!" drawled the tall soldier. 

Presently the aroma of chickens boiling in the pot began to spread through the house. It seemed to spread to an amazing distance, for from all directions men came crowding into Grandmother Willing's kitchen. The surly cook swore at them and at the stove, whereupon a drawling voice reminded him that there was "a leetle gal" within hearing. The cook's tones sank to a rumble. 

But Emmeline paid no heed to the loud voices of the hungry men; she did not even smell the delicious odor of the cooking chickens. She heard only those dreadful, exultant words from the lips of the mounted soldier:— 

"'We drove 'em like sheep through the town! We have thousands of prisoners! To-morrow we'll settle them!'" 

So that was why no Northern troops had come to her rescue and the rescue of her grandfather's house! 

Emmeline ceased to cry; alarm and terror dried her tears. She thought of her mother and of Bertha. She recalled the deep earnestness of her mother's eyes. 

Had there been fighting in quiet, peaceful Gettysburg? Emmeline had picked lint for padding, had wound muslin strips for bandaging, and had seen Gettysburg soldiers who had returned with a leg or an arm missing; but of actual battle Emmeline had no clear idea. She had thought of bugle blasts, of banners flying, of loud, inspiring commands; beyond that her imagination had failed. Now for the first time it became clear to her that actual danger of death threatened those whom she loved. 

Where was her mother? Had Bertha been taken into the cellar as the soldier advised? Vague recollections of the details of Bertha's illness came to her, scraps of conversation between her mother and Bertha that she had heard as she passed the door of the sick room. A vague, half-formed suspicion flashed into her mind. At this moment Emmeline began suddenly to grow up. But the first speech of her adult life was childish. 

"I must go home!" she cried, as she sprang from her chair. 

She ran down the steps and out to the porch. Darkness had come; soldiers lay about on the grass, and the murmur of their voices spread in all directions. The moon was rising; in its first oblique rays all things looked queer and distorted. 

There were many sounds: the click of pickaxes against stones, the crash of trees that were being felled, the hoarse shouts of officers giving orders. Emmeline rushed to the side of the tall soldier, who was sitting on the steps. 

"I must go home!" she declared again. "I must go home!" 

"Now you're just frightened," the tall soldier said. "There ain't no reason for you to be skeered. No harm'll come to you. We ain't wild beasts, sissy." 

"I must see my mother!" 

"You'll see her soon, sissy." 

"My sister-in-law is sick and my brother is away." Emmeline forgot for an instant that this was an enemy of her country. "We haven't heard from him for weeks. He's in the reserves; he—" Remembering the character of her audience, Emmeline paused. Then she added, "I must go home!" 

The tall soldier changed the subject. 

"I've got a leetle gal like you; Bessie is her name—Bessie Christy. I haven't seen her for two years." 

"Why not?" asked Emmeline, curious in spite of herself. 

"On account of war. Now, Emmyline, 'tisn't every leetle gal can watch the sappers at work before a battle. They're the folks that build the breastworks. Look at them up there! You might see great things if you watched, 'stead of crying. You might see General Lee ride by." 

"I hate him!" 

"Now, sissy!" 

"I hate you all!" 

Private Christy looked at Emmeline for a moment with a smile on his lips. 

"I'll explain the army to you, Emmyline," said he. "It's a wonderful thing, an army. If you begin at the top, there's the commander-in-chief, and next below him—" Private Christy went on and on in his pleasant, drawling voice. The duty of a private was this, he explained, the duty of a sutler was that. Presently Emmeline asked him what he did. Her voice was no longer sharp; it was soft and drowsy and gentle. After a long time, when Private Christy said, "I have my work, too, Emmyline," without saying what that work was, Emmeline did not hear. Feeling a light touch on his arm, Private Christy looked down and beheld Emmeline's head resting upon it. 

"Well, I vum!" said he softly. 

For a long time Private Christy sat still; presently slow tears rolled down his tanned cheeks. He called to one of the men:— 

"Say, you, Mallon!" 

The soldier approached. 

"Well, I'll be switched!" he said. 

"You take her upstairs, Mallon." 

It may have been that Mallon, too, had a "leetle gal" at home; at any rate, he seemed to know how to lift a sleeping person of Emmeline's size. 

"The pore leetle gal!" said one-armed Christy, as he led the way. 

"I'm sick of this war!" answered Private Mallon soberly. 

Through the hot kitchen, where the cook had ceased his work, up the narrow stairs, they carried Emmeline to her room, and there, without waking her, laid her gently upon her bed. 

"Couldn't she be got out of this?" asked Private Mallon. 

Private Christy shook his head. "Not nohow," said he. 

Private Mallon returned to his sleep on the grass, Private Christy to his seat on the porch steps. Far away to the west there was a sudden, indefinable suggestion of a great body of men marching. Private Christy heard it and shook his head; Private Mallon nudged his neighbor. 

Private Christy shook his head. "Not nohow," said he. 

Private Mallon returned to his sleep on the grass, Private Christy to his seat on the porch steps. Far away to the west there was a sudden, indefinable suggestion of a great body of men marching. Private Christy heard it and shook his head; Private Mallon nudged his neighbor. 

"More coming," he said, and turned on his side. 

All about on the daisies of the field lay the great carpet of sleeping men.  Everyone got some sleep that night. Those who dug pits in which to lie half hidden on the morrow, or who threw up semi-circular walls of earth or timber to shelter the great cannon, gave pick and shovel after a while to others, roused from sleep, and threw themselves down near where they had been working. 

Later in the night Private Christy lay down on the porch floor and slept heavily and comfortably. 

Meanwhile to the rear of the great army pressed on another great army, which, being assigned its place, lay down also. The time between sunset and sunrise in early July is short enough even for those who are not exhausted by long marches. 

On the ridge, officers riding back and forth in the bright moonlight marked positions and looked speculatively across at that other parallel ridge, which takes its name from the Evergreen Cemetery near one end. Far to the north, where the heavy cannonading had been, ambulances traveled the fields, guided by a whimper or a groan of pain. The greatest general of all, whom Private Christy had promised Emmeline she might see, rode about on his white horse studying the victory won, planning fresh victory for to-morrow. Thus, rapidly enough, the night waned. 

When the sun rose on July 2, the thousands of soldiers in gray stirred and woke. In the Willing kitchen the surly cook began to bake his miserable biscuit; on the porch Private Christy rose and yawned, and persuaded the cook to give him place on the stove for his coffee-pot. All about in the fields and woods the thousands rose and prepared their simple breakfast. Emmeline slept and slept. Five o'clock yesterday had found her awake and dressed; but to-day five o'clock passed, then six, then seven, then eight. 

Along the lines of battle all was peace; it was almost as quiet as on any other summer morning. Cannon were moved without noise under cover of the woodland, as if each great army wished to hide from the other. 

Emmeline, waking, lay still and stretched out her arms. Where was she? Why was she still dressed? How had she got to bed? She sat up and looked out of the window. Then it was not a dream, after all! Round her were still the thousands of Confederate soldiers; below her on the porch she heard Private Christy's voice. 

"'Bout time to begin, ain't it?" he queried. 

A voice answered that it had been time long ago. Emmeline saw the sun high in the sky; she smoothed her dress and braided her hair, and ran down the steps. There was no battle; it was the middle of the morning, and still there was no battle. Surely she could go home! 

In the kitchen the surly cook gave her one of his soggy biscuits. It was nine o'clock, according to the stubby hands of Grandmother Willing's clock, which ticked on the mantel-shelf. 

Emmeline's tall friend was on the porch. 

"Good-morning, Emmyline!" said he cheerfully. 

Emmeline's war code, which she remembered clearly this morning, did not permit her to say good-morning to the enemy. 

"There is no battle," she announced. "I want to go home." 

"Oh, but you can't do that!" 

"I must!" Emmeline looked about her. Still all was peaceful. "Just up that road! I walked almost all the way yesterday." 

Private Christy shook his head. 

"No, Emmyline. 'Twouldn't do." 

"You are an enemy of my country!" cried Emmeline. "You have no right to keep me! I am going home!" 

When Emmeline reached the gate, Private Christy called to her. 

"Come back, sissy!" he said. 

Emmeline obeyed, weeping. 

"Aren't you afraid that there biscuit'll p'isen you?" he asked. "Seems to me if I was a woman and could bake, I couldn't swallow that biscuit. You wouldn't bake me a real biscuit, I suppose?" 

"No," answered Emmeline with decision, "I wouldn't." 

"Well," drawled the quiet voice, "you don't have to." 

Emmeline, standing with one foot on the step of the porch, considered. She had taken one bite of the biscuit. Although she was wretchedly hungry, she could eat no more. 

"Will you let me go if I bake you some?" Emmeline asked. 

"I'll see," answered Private Christy. 

The cook had left his stove, and  Emmeline went to work with the familiar utensils—the yellow bowl, the wooden spoon. When the biscuits were in the oven, she looked up to find the doorway crowded with soldiers; some of them were bandaged like Private Christy; all of them were thin and deeply tanned. 

"Are you going to give we-all some of them real biscuit?" asked an eager voice. 

Emmeline's face flushed crimson; the position of almsgiver to her enemy was not altogether unhappy. "I'll see," she answered. 

When one pan was taken from the oven, Emmeline had another ready and then another and another. Emmeline grew warmer and warmer and her cheeks rosier and rosier. 

"Now," said Emmeline, "you can watch that last pan. I am going home." 

"But I haven't had any!" cried Private Christy. "Nobody here knows anything about watching and turning 'em! Oh, please, sissy, bake me a pan!" 

Private Christy brought in fresh fuel for the fire. A half-hour passed, another half-hour. 

"Now," said Emmeline, "I am going." 

Private Christy made no answer. The hungry crowd in the yard had faded away; the very atmosphere seemed charged with suspense. Emmeline looked out of the door. Was the army still here? 

The army was still here; but the army was formed, massed. It was like a great animal, alive, awake, crouching for a spring. 

Then Emmeline screamed, and whirled round on the step. Near at hand—almost, it seemed to her, in the very house itself—the cannon roared.


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