By John Thomas Tuft
“When giants stride across the treetops, and the hawks of war seek prey below;
As the gods collect their thunder, for the warrior’s soul to sow…”
Abigail stops reading and looks up. She sits before the mirror, slowly brushing her long, thick hair. The book of ancient verse sits open on the stressed wood of the vanity before her. Outside her bedroom window the river collects the heat of the summer sun and shuffles it along in an endless, sauntering Virginia reel. Cicadas chatter endlessly in the giant willow oaks that shade the modest home. Too many women her age and older now wear the bombazine fabric of mourning as they go about the small town. Lord willing, that will never be her. Lord willing. But…
She married Jacob in the Fall of 1862, knowing that he would be leaving soon to join the 151st Pennsylvania Regiment. Abigail continues to pull the whalebone brush, a gift from her mother, through her lustrous auburn tresses as she remembers those early days. The giddiness of young love, the all encompassing sense of surety and safety in each other’s arms. Jacob was tall and strong, handsome and clear-eyed about what he wanted in life. Throughout their courtship they were aware of the storm clouds gathering across the land, the vitriol and strangling hatred separating states and country, political persuasion and ideologies and idealisms, morality and economics. And all too often, friends and families.
When the storm broke in a hail of gunfire and bloodshed, they set a wedding date as their way of saying to the world, there is more. There is still hope. Still love. The hardest thing she’d ever done was waving goodbye as Jacob and his friends, laughing and joking, ambled off to war. Jacob’s father, the Rev. Farnsworth, tried to reassure her of God’s care but she determined to write to Jacob every day to surround him with her care, three pennies a day to keep the spectre of fear at bay. He wrote to her, notes full of braggadocio, a soldier’s easy humor and complaints of dull drills and endless duties. Abigail poured water from the porcelain pitcher into a basin and splashed some on her face. Now the papers were full of the news of Gettysburg.
Jacob’s last letter stayed safely tucked into the pages on the vanity table. It arrived a week ago and the dogeared paper held the words now burned into her heart. “My dearest Abigail, We went off to war singing ‘John Brown’s Body’ but there is no music in my heart at this moment. They tell us we won this godawful battle, but I don’t know what measure they use for things such as this. Me and the boys fought hard in the fields and knolls and woods around this little town. Glory is not what we found. Three fourths of the 151st are casualties. The stink of blood hangs heavy over everything. I don’t want you to fret yourself none but a Johnny Reb Minie ball got me in the leg. Those boys fought hard too. It was awful to watch them be cut down at the end. All that keeps me going is the thought of coming home to you, my Abigail, the scent of your hair, you sitting by the window while you brush. With my last breath I just want to hold you. Yours forever, Jacob”
Abigail finished getting ready and stepped out to buy what she needed. At the Morgan Mercantile and telegraph office townsfolk gathered around the posted casualty lists. “God bless ‘em,” said one woman. “God rest their souls,” claimed another. Abigail changed course and wandered over to the graveyard around the church. “What’s God got to do with any of this?” she asked the silent stones. She stepped carefully to where her mother lay and picked at the rosebush she had planted, mother’s favorite. Black spots on the leaves betrayed the rot setting to work. Without hesitating, Abigail reached to pull them off. She pricked a thorn and a dot of blood formed on her fingertip. “Here, you’ve drawn blood,” said a voice behind her.
She turned. Before her stood a thin, ragged looking stranger with a shallow stare, and one pant leg pinned up over the stump of his left thigh. He shifted his weight on the crude crutch that gave him balance. She stared, not recognizing him. He spoke again, “With my last breath I just want to hold you, dear Abigail.” Abigail stood still, unbelieving. “Jacob? You’re home?” The man smiled from a thousand miles away as he reached to catch her tears. “No, my dear Abigail. You and your love. You are my home.”
“…the heart of the seeker grows ever stronger, and the wind of love forever blows.”
Words are magic, and writers are wizards.