Authors: Lynn Austin
Bebe made a face. “It still doesn’t feel right to wear a dress all day.”
“I know. But you look lovely in one. Don’t be surprised if men start looking at you and tipping their hats. They take notice of pretty girls.”
Bebe had never ridden on a train before, and when the monstrous thing finally arrived, rumbling into the station with its whistle shrieking, belching smoke and cinders, she walked toward it on trembling legs.
“Ready?” Reverend Webster asked as he prepared to help her climb aboard. The locomotive hissed at her like an angry barn cat. Bebe nodded. The minister had recently preached on Jesus’ command to “fear not,” so she was embarrassed to admit her fear.
The train chugged out of the station like an old man wheezing for air, but once it built up speed it traveled so fast Bebe feared it would fly right off the narrow rails. Scenery whipped past her window at a frantic rate. Any minute now, her heart would simply hammer itself to death. Surely there was a less frightening way to travel. She was wondering how long it would take her and Franklin to walk home from Philadelphia, when she remembered his missing leg.
They traveled south to Stroudsburg, then to Allentown, where they changed trains. Late that afternoon the view of Pennsylvania farmland gave way to jumbled buildings and smoking factories as the train neared Philadelphia. The city was a huge, bustling place bursting with people, and more horses and carriages than Bebe had ever imagined. She inched closer to Mrs. Webster, feeling lost and out of place.
Mrs. Yeager met them at the train station and led them to her waiting carriage.
Everywhere Bebe looked she saw soldiers in blue uniforms, and she searched their faces as if expecting one of them to be Franklin. She longed for the peace and quiet of her farm and hoped to convince Franklin to come home with her on the very next train so she wouldn’t have to spend a single night in this frightening city.
“Would you like to get settled at home, first?” Mrs. Yeager asked. “Maybe freshen up from your trip?”
Bebe had no idea what “freshen up” meant or how she would go about it. “I’d rather go to the hospital and see my brother, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course,” Mrs. Yeager said. “You must be anxious to see him. The hospital isn’t far.” And it wasn’t. The carriage halted in front of a large redbrick building before Bebe had time to figure out what to say to Franklin.
“I’ll have my driver come back for you in an hour. Will that be enough time?” Mrs. Yeager asked.
“Yes. Thank you.” Bebe climbed from the carriage and walked toward the hospital’s entrance, where a group of men stood smoking cigarettes. Every one of them had an arm or a hand or a leg that ended abruptly in a bandaged stump. Bebe quickly turned away.
She couldn’t do this. The sight of those mangled, wounded men—the sight of her own brother Franklin without his leg—was too awful to contemplate. She had tried not to imagine what his missing limb would look like as she’d planned her trip, and now she couldn’t face him. How could she cheer him up when even these strangers’ wounds horrified her?
She hurried toward the street, waving her arms and calling to the departing carriage, “Wait! Come back!” But it drove away. Bebe could either stand here on the curb in the hot sun for an hour, or go inside the hospital. She drew a deep breath and turned back toward the entrance. The gathered men had stopped talking. They were watching her. She tried to speak but nothing came out. Then one of them snatched off his hat and gave a little bow.
“Good afternoon, miss.” The rest of the men quickly did the same.
“Ain’t you a beautiful sight?”
“Need help with that basket?”
They broke into wide grins as they looked her up and down. Bebe gripped the basket handle. “No, thank you.” Her cheeks burned.
One of the men held the door open for her and she scur- ried inside. A nurse in a white uniform greeted her. “May I help you?”
Bebe’s words came out like questions. “I-I’m Beatrice Monroe?
I’m here to see my brother? Franklin Monroe?”
“Oh yes. He’ll be so glad you’ve come, Miss Monroe. Follow me, please.”
Bebe stared at the floor as she followed the nurse into a long, narrow room. It smelled of iodine and illness. Rows of beds lined the walls on both sides, and Bebe glimpsed white sheets and white faces and a blue uniform or two. She had the uncomfortable feeling that the men in the beds were watching her. Except for the occasional cough, it seemed unnaturally quiet. Halfway down the length of the room, the nurse halted at the foot of a bed.
“You have a visitor, Mr. Monroe.”
Bebe never would have recognized her brother if the nurse hadn’t led her to him. The sturdy, carefree boy who had marched away a year ago had become a withered old man with a gray face and a shrunken body. The dazed look in his eyes reminded her of the stuffed deer head that hung above the door in Harrison’s General Store. Thankfully, a sheet covered Franklin’s legs. She smiled as best she could and walked to his side, resting her hand on his arm.
He didn’t seem to recognize her either, at first. Then his eyes filled with tears. “Bebe? Is it really you?”
She nodded and set the basket down on the floor so she could embrace him. The last time she had hugged her brother was before he’d marched away, and he had nearly crushed her in his arms. Now she was the stronger of the two. She clung to his frail body and asked God to forgive her for complaining about doing farm work.
When they finally pulled apart, Franklin turned his face away to wipe his eyes, embarrassed by his tears. Bebe let hers flow. They were the first tears in four years that she hadn’t shed in self-pity or exhaustion. She kissed his whiskered cheek.
“What are you doing here, Bebe? How’d you get here?”
“I came on the train. Mama sent you some food.” She lifted the basket and set it on the bed beside him. “She sent me to take care of you until you’re well enough to come home.”
“I don’t think I’ll be coming home—unless you mean home to heaven.”
His words made her stomach roll over. He looked as though he was knocking on the pearly gates already and St. Peter was about to open them.
“Of course that’s not what I mean! You’re coming home to the farm, Franklin. I’m tired of doing all your chores.”
He shook his head. “I’m worthless now. They should have let me die.”
“Don’t say that!” Bebe shoved his bony shoulder. “Losing Joseph was bad enough.”
“He’s better off . . .”
“Stop it, Franklin. Mama grieved something awful for Joseph. Don’t you dare let her lose you, too.” His self-pity reminded her of her own these past few years. She drew a breath and started again. “James and William came home a few weeks ago. It’s wonderful to have them back. Mama is so happy.”
“You left her there all alone? Who’s helping her in the kitchen?”
“She insisted that I come. She was so glad to have the boys back that she’s been cooking enough food for an army. She sent some for you, too.”
He shook his head and closed his eyes. “Go away.”
Bebe had never felt ill at ease with Franklin before, but she did now. She had no idea what to say to him or how to cheer him up. She was searching for ideas when another patient limped over, leaning on an ebony cane with an engraved silver handle. The bed squeaked when he sat down on the end of it.
“Hey, Franklin. You never told me you had a girlfriend.”
Franklin slowly opened his eyes. “She’s not my girlfriend; she’s my kid sister, Bebe.”
“You never told me your sister was beautiful.”
“She was just a kid when I left.”
“Well, she isn’t a kid anymore. A rose would wither in despair if forced to compete with such beauty and grace.”
Bebe glanced around, wondering who the man was referring to. When she realized that he meant her, her heart began to pound the same way it had when the enormous locomotive had rumbled into the station. She had no idea why.
“I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Monroe,” he continued. “It’s not every day that I have the good fortune to meet such a lovely young woman. My name is Horatio Garner, by the way.”
Mr. Garner had hair the color of mown hay and the palest blue eyes Bebe had ever seen. His mustache and beard were sprinkled with red as if he’d dusted his face with copper shavings instead of talcum powder. Something about the tilt of his chin and the confident, laughing way that he spoke made him seem very self-assured. The simple folk back home would call him a “dandy,” with his fancy cane and flowery words, but Bebe was intrigued.
“Your brother and I have had the good fortune to march side by side since the day we reported for duty, isn’t that right, Franklin? He used to read your lovely letters out loud to me—so often, in fact, that I feel I already know you. But he never breathed a word about your matchless charms. How old are you, Miss Monroe, if you don’t mind my asking? I’m twenty-two, by the way.”
Bebe couldn’t speak. She wished she had a fan she could unfurl to cool her burning cheeks. The changes Mama had talked about seemed to be coming much too fast, as if the river of life was at flood stage. She’d barely had time to adjust to being a woman, much less learn how to respond to a handsome man’s advances.
“Are you always this quiet?” Mr. Garner asked when she didn’t reply.
Franklin nudged her. “Answer the man, Bebe. Where’s your manners?”
“I-I haven’t needed any manners for the last four years. The cows and chickens didn’t care about them, and there was no one else on our farm to impress.” Mr. Garner laughed as if she’d said something very witty. “But to answer your question, I’m seventeen.”
“How lovely. Seventeen. . . As fate would have it, your brother and I were wounded on the same day in the same battle—isn’t that right, Franklin? Although I have to admit that the nature of his wounds was much more grievous than mine. The doctors have informed me that my foot has healed, and they have declared me well enough to return home, but I’ve been hesitant to leave Franklin this way. I’m worried about him, Miss Monroe. I’ve been trying to cheer him up, but I haven’t been very successful. I’m pleased to see that you’ve arrived to help me. By the way, what did you bring in that basket, if I may be so bold as to ask?”
Bebe folded back the napkin, grateful to have something simple to talk about. “Um . . . there’s some of Mama’s sourdough bread— she baked it for Franklin this morning. And a jar of that rhubarb jam he always liked . . . and fry cakes. Would you like one?”
The hour passed quickly, with Mr. Garner doing most of the talking. He was a very cheerful fellow and quite interesting to listen to, but Franklin’s glum expression never changed. Bebe felt like a failure. She would have to do better tomorrow.
“I need to go,” she told Franklin when the hour was up, “but I’ll be back in the morning. In the meantime, please eat some of this food so you’ll get your strength back. Mama is expecting you to come home with me.” She bent and kissed his forehead.
“Well, would you look at that?” Mr. Garner said.
Bebe glanced up. “Look at what, Mr. Garner?”
“I do believe that’s the first smile I’ve seen on Franklin’s face in a good long while. Your kiss is like sunshine melting away the frost.”
Bebe stared at the floor, embarrassed by his flowery words. “Good-bye for now,” she said. “It was nice meeting you, Mr. Garner.”
“Wait.” He stuck out his cane to block her path. “I won’t let you leave until you promise to call me Horatio.”
“Very well . . . Horatio. I’ll be back tomorrow.”
His grin could have lit up a root cellar. “I can hardly wait, fair Beatrice.”
Bebe took great care getting dressed and fixing her hair the following morning, hoping she would see Mr. Garner at the hospital when she visited Franklin. She had loved listening to the smooth, eloquent flow of Horatio’s words—he had called her beautiful. But when she arrived, she was very disappointed to learn that he was no longer a patient.
“The doctors discharged him earlier this morning,” Franklin told her. “He didn’t lose his leg the way I did.”
Bebe heard the bitterness in Franklin’s tone and struggled for a way to cheer him. Nothing came to mind. “Listen,” she finally said. “Mama sent me here to help you get well, and to be honest with you, I don’t know how to do that. I thought about it all last night, and . . . and I think that the only person who can help you get well is yourself. You have to want to get better and come home, but for some reason you’ve given up.”
He flung back the sheet to expose the stump of his leg. “Look at me, Bebe! Would you want to live with this?”
The sight shocked her, and she averted her gaze. When she faced him again, the pain she saw in Franklin’s eyes made her angry with herself for flinching.
“I can’t stand to see people turn away from me like you just did. Or even worse, to look at me with pity.”
“Franklin, I’m sorry—”
“Why? It’s not your fault that you couldn’t stand the sight of me. I’m not a whole person anymore, Bebe. There’s part of me missing . . . and I don’t want to live this way.” He pulled the sheet over his leg to hide it, but Bebe yanked off the cover again.
“Part of you is missing, yes. But back home,
of you is missing. We feel that loss the same way you feel this one. Joseph is gone, and it’s horrible to see his empty chair at the table and his empty bed upstairs. Losing you would be even worse for me. You’re not just my brother, you’re my friend.” She saw his jaw quiver as he struggled with his emotions. “I missed you so much after you left home, Franklin, and not just because I had to do all of your work. If you died I would miss you forever. Yes, they cut off your leg— but it will heal if you let it. Don’t cut yourself out of my life. That wound will never heal.”
“Don’t you get it, Bebe? I’m useless this way. How can I work on the farm?”
“We’ll figure something out. Remember how useless I was with the chores at first? But we made adjustments for the fact that I was smaller and weaker, and eventually things got done. You can adjust, too, Franklin—if not to farm work, then you’ll find something else to do. Your family doesn’t love you for the work you do, but because you’re our brother. You mean so much to us. I don’t know how else to say it, but I love you and I want you to come home!”