Read Soldier Boy's Discovery Online

Authors: Gilbert L. Morris

Soldier Boy's Discovery (7 page)

BOOK: Soldier Boy's Discovery

The sober look that had been on the girl's face had vanished. She smiled, and her eyes grew bright. “Oh, Jeff, I am sorry! I don't know what made me do such a terrible thing! I don't know what Leah must think of me.”

“Well, she was put out with you, Lucy, just like I was. But like I said, we all do foolish things from time to time.”

He suddenly laughed. “You know, I stayed awake last night till after midnight practicing that speech, just saying, ‘Lucy, I'm sorry.' I don't know why it's so hard for us to confess we're wrong—at least it is for me.”

“It is for me too,” Lucy said quickly.

She made a pretty sight as she stood before him. She was wearing a bright yellow dress trimmed with light green ribbons and a matching ribbon in her hair that brought out the green highlights in her blue eyes. Her hair was the color of spun honey.

She moved close to Jeff, extended her hand until her fingertips were barely touching his chest, and pled, “Let's not ever fuss again, all right, Jeff?”

“That's fine with me, Lucy, but I just don't know if I can promise it. Folks do tell me I tend to have a
quick temper,” he answered with a grin. He bit his lip. “I'm such a stubborn cuss—always getting my foot in my mouth. I'd like to promise, but all I can say is I'll do my best.”

Lucy laughed. “That might be a description of me,” she answered. “I'm always getting in trouble. Daddy spoils me frightfully and doesn't even seem to know it.” She smiled, her cheeks dimpling slightly. “Of course, I let him do it.”

“I don't blame you a bit,” Jeff said cheerfully. “I wish somebody'd spoil me! I'd take all that I could get.”

Lucy moved closer. “I'm so glad you came! Now we can be friends, can't we?”

Jeff stared at her with surprise. “Sure we can. Of course, I'm hardly ever around here. I'll be leaving to catch up with the Stonewall Brigade—probably right away.”

“I know, but you'll be coming back. And when you do, I'll be waiting. I'll have another party, and you can come and bring anybody you want to. If Leah comes back, she can come too, and I'll be very nice to her, to make up for last time.”

“That'd be real good, Lucy.”

Jeff was amazed to discover how pleased it made him feel to forgive Lucy—it had taken away all his ill will toward this girl. Although he knew it was he himself who had changed, it was like she was a different girl too.

When he and Silas got in the buggy and started for home, he commented to the older man, “You know, she's not a bad girl at all, Lucy Driscoll. She just made a mistake.”

Silas looked at him. “I guess we all do that, as I've said so often. She's a fine young lady. Spoiled a
little bit, but no wonder, as pretty as she is and coming from a fine home like that. It'd be a wonder if she wasn't.”

They talked as the horses trotted down the road, the dust rising behind them in a lazy spiral. Jeff thought about the day, took a deep breath, and said, “I wish I could get out of every jam I get in as easy as I did this one, Mr. Carter.” He looked at Uncle Silas. “You sure gave me some good advice. I made an important discovery today.”

Silas grinned at the young man. “If you'd listen to me more, you'd know more, Jeff,” he teased. “But you're doing fine for a young fellow.”

There was a comfortable silence between them for a few minutes until Silas asked suddenly, “You going back to the brigade tomorrow?”

“Yes, sir. I've got to get back. I've been gone too long.”

“Well, I'll be praying for you and your father and brother. It may be a hard fight.”

“I appreciate that. We need all the prayer we can get.” When they got to the house, he got down and added, “I'll be praying for you too. My prayers don't amount to much, I guess. They're not very flowery like that preacher's this morning.”

Silas stopped suddenly, turned, and fixed his eyes on the boy. “God's not looking for flowery prayer,” he said evenly. “He's looking for hearts that are right and opened to His will. Remember that, Jeff.”

“Yes, sir, I will.”

“Don't know why we try to be so fancy with the Lord,” Silas pondered. “He must get tired of our foolishness sometimes.”

“I guess so, Mr. Carter.”

“Well, you and Tom will have to come and see me when you get back to Richmond.”

“We sure will—but I don't know when that will be.”

Jeff turned down Silas's invitation to stay the night and instead reported to the officer in charge for his company. He said, “I'd like to catch up with my brigade as soon as possible.”

The lieutenant replied, “That won't be hard. We're sending some reinforcements. You can go with them tomorrow morning. Your pa will be glad to see you.” He hesitated, “Or maybe he won't. Be hard on a father seeing his son go beside him into the bloody fight we're likely to have.”

Jeff spoke up at once. “I want to be with my father and brother—and with the Stonewall Brigade.”

The lieutenant grinned. “I wish we had another twenty thousand like you,” he said. “We need them against that passel of Yankees that's coming!”

The Army Pulls Out

eff quickly discovered that this departure of reservists to replenish the brigade was little like the scenes he remembered from when he and his father had pulled out with the main brigade the previous year. As he joined the men gathered to form this replacement unit at dawn, he saw no bands and no crowds.

He thought back to when the Stonewall Brigade had marched out before the Battle of Bull Run. The air then had been filled with the sound of gunfire, bugles, and stirring songs. The streets were lined with cheering throngs, relatives and friends of the brave soldiers who looked so sharp in their soft gray uniforms and shining black leather boots. The excitement had stirred his own blood as he marched with his brigade.

By contrast, today's makeshift company looked more like a ragtag collection of ruffians bent on mischief. There were hardly any hardy young men in the group. Instead, most were either older, gray-haired patriots or boys scarcely older than Jeff. No one had a complete uniform, and fewer than half were armed. Old muzzle-loading muskets were standard; no one had a sleek breech loading rifle.

The sergeant in charge was distinguished by voice rather than uniform. His bellows bullied and pushed the raw recruits into line. “Fall in! Line up!
How do you pansies think you can fight the Yankees if you can't even line up to march?”

As far as Jeff could see, his bullying didn't help a great deal. Smiling at the sergeant's growing frustration, Jeff took his place in line and wished he had his drum so that he could add a little order to the sorry-looking group.
, he reflected,
they wouldn't know how to respond to the drum signals anyway

The men grew restless at the continuing delay as the sergeant rushed around making sure all their supplies were loaded and all the wagon drivers took their proper order. Jeff shifted from one foot to the other, wishing they were already finished with the long march.

Daydreaming about settling back into the routine of brigade life, he didn't hear at first as his name was shouted. Finally he realized the angry sergeant was yelling
name, and he turned quickly to respond.

To his surprise, he saw the Driscoll carriage pull up twenty yards short of the troop. Lucy disembarked like a princess, leaning on Old Sam's arm as she carefully stepped to the dusty ground and lifted her skirts just high enough to keep them clean but not high enough to provoke catcalls from the assembled men. The brilliant blue of her day dress was in stark contrast to the drab surroundings.

Lucy's gaze almost instantly rested on Jeff, and as it did she raised a dainty gloved hand to wave, and a clear, broad smile broke across her face.

She called, “Jeff! Jeff!” and he ducked his head in embarrassment.

The grizzled sergeant threw up his hands in mock disgust, grinning at this new, but not unwelcome, interruption to his attempts to call his men to order.

His wide grin revealed the dark gaps of missing teeth, and his shout carried across the assembly area. “Which one of you fellers is Jeff?” he demanded.

Seeing no hope of escaping the ridicule of his jealous companions, Jeff promptly stepped out and lifted his arm in a half salute. “That's me, Sergeant.”

The sergeant grinned more broadly. “Looks like you got somebody wants to see you off real proper, soldier. Go get your kiss and fall back in, quick like.”

Jeff moved briskly toward Lucy and away from the hoots and hollers of the troop, whose comments followed him the whole way. “Give 'er a kiss for me, Jeff boy … If'n you don't want 'er, I'll take 'er…. Whoo! Whoo! Ain't she a purty one!”

Jeff's face was flaming by the time he reached Lucy's side. He grabbed her arm and muttered, “Let's get out of sight, Lucy. You shouldn't be hearing such things!”

Lucy giggled and clasped her hand over his as it still gripped her other arm. “I brought you some food for your long march, Jeff. You said how much you liked our Rosalee's fried chicken, and I couldn't stand to think of you on the road with nothing but hardtack. I've got a bundle all made up special for you in the carriage.”

Jeff pulled her quickly around to the other side of the carriage, away from the eyes of the troops, and turned to her, his expression betraying his confused feelings of embarrassment, irritation, and pleasure. “I didn't expect to see you here.”

“You should know, Jeff. I had to come and say good-bye to you!” She smiled shyly.

“Do your folks know you're here?”

Lucy shook her head. The golden curls swung around her shoulders, and she said lightly, “Oh, I'll tell them when I get back.”

Jeff stared at her for a moment, then shook his head and grinned. “You sure lead your folks a merry chase. Don't you ever ask them for permission?”

“Only if I have to.” She winked and laughed. Then she explained that she had risen early that morning and cajoled Sam into bringing her to the camp. She had hinted to Sam that her father had agreed to the trip, but she carefully explained to Jeff that she never actually said she had talked to him. Sam finally gave in, as he always did eventually.

“And so here I am, and here you are, and Daddy will just have to understand later!”

Jeff squeezed her arm. “Just so you don't go doing something really dangerous. I guess your father knows Sam'll take care of you.”

“It's dangerous for you going off to war, Jeff,” Lucy replied, tears welling up in her eyes. “I wish you weren't going. How long do you think it will take the army to whip the Yankees this time?” Despite her tearful entreaty, she also seemed a little bit excited to think about the Confederates routing the Union army.

Jeff stared at her. “I don't know. There's a big bunch of them, from what I hear, and we have a long way to go. It won't be a simple trouncing like you think. It might take a long time, and a lot of grief.”

Lucy watched his face carefully. She frowned then and bit her lower lip. It made a rather fetching sight—and she was certainly aware of that fact. She leaned toward him and whispered, “Be careful. I couldn't stand it if something happened to you.”

“Oh, shucks, Lucy.” Jeff shrugged. “I'll be all right. Don't worry about me.”

“But I do worry about you,” she said. “I want you to promise me that you won't take any chances.”

At that Jeff smiled broadly. “Can't promise that—” he chuckled “—without promising to stay in bed the rest of my life. If a man's going to live, he's going to take chances. He just needs to pick the situations where it's worth taking a chance.” Jeff paused, and his face turned serious. “When the minié balls start flying, they don't have any sense. Anybody could get shot.”

Lucy looked troubled at Jeff's last remark. She had no relatives in the war—no brothers or sisters at all—and her uncles were working like her father to be sure the troops were supplied, so they weren't active soldiers either. Perhaps, for the first time, Lucy was beginning to feel some of the anxiety others had felt since the beginning. Her life had been caught up in parties and clothes, but now the reality of war was changing her.

“All right, get ready. Line up …” the sergeant began to call.

“I-I'll write you all the time, Jeff,” she whispered.

Jeff felt embarrassed. “That'll be good. But I don't think the mail will keep up with us.”

“Then I'll give you all the letters when you get back!”

“It's pretty hard to write on a march, Lucy … no paper or ink … and mostly we're too tired. Don't count on hearing much from me.”

“Do you write to Leah, Jeff?”

Awkwardly Jeff shrugged. “I did, Lucy, but now—well, to tell the truth, we had a fight.”

Lucy seemed surprised. “Do you two fight often?”

“Hardly ever, and I wish we hadn't this time.”

“Well, people get into arguments. It happens to the best of us, but we don't have to like it!”

Lucy's words reminded Jeff of their own disagreement, recently mended. “You're right, Lucy. I made up with you, and I guess I need to with Leah too.” He sighed. “I guess I will write—to both you and Leah. At least when I can.” He laughed. “Seems like all I do these days is tell girls I'm sorry for acting like a fool!”

Lucy touched his arm lightly. “I'll look forward to your letters, Jeff. I'll be praying for you. Take care!”

“You too, Lucy,” Jeff responded. “Well, I'd better get back to my company.”

They walked together around the carriage, and Lucy beckoned to Sam, who quickly swung down a large bundle wrapped in brown paper.

Jeff took it gratefully, saying, “Thanks a lot, Lucy.”

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