Across the Lines

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Across The Lines
by Ethel Lynn Beers
published in: Pen Pictures of the War (1864); under Ethel Lynn

Left for dead? I—Charlie Coleman,
  On the field we won—and lost,
Like a dog; the ditch my death-bed
  My pillow but a log across.
Helpless hangs my arm beside me,
  Drooping lies my aching head;
How strange it sounded when that soldier,
  Passing, spoke of me as "dead."

Dead? and here—where yonder banner
  Flaunts its scanty group of stars,
And that rebel emblem binds me
  Close within those bloody bars.
Dead? without a stone to tell it,
  Nor a flower above my breast!
Dead? where none will whisper softly,
  "Here a brave man lies at rest!"

Help me, Thou, my mother's helper,—
  Jesus, Thou who biding here,
Loved me like an earthly mother,
  Be thou still to aid me near.
Give me strength to totter yonder,
  Hold me up till o'er me shines
The flag of Union—there she promised
  To meet me, just beyond the lines.

Well I know how she will wander
  Where a woman's foot may stray,
Looking with those eyes so tender
  Where the poor boys wounded lay.
How her hand will bring them water,
  For her own boy Charlie's sake,
And when dying bid them whisper,
  "I pray the Lord my soul to take."

Ah! I stand on foot but feebly,
  And the blood runs very fast,
Yet by fence and bush I'll stagger
  Till the rebel lines be past.
"Courage, Charlie! twist it tighter,—
  The tourniquet about your arm;
Be a man—don't faint and shiver
  When the lifetide trickles warm."

Faint and week,—still coming, mother,
  Walking some, but creeping more,
Fearing lest the watchful sentry
  Stops the heart-beat,—slow before
Stay—with fingers ruddy dabbled
  Loose the belt your waist confines;
Write upon it "Charlie Coleman—
  Carry him across the lines."

Trembling letters—but some stranger
  Chance may read them when I'm gone,
And for the sake of love and pity
  Bear my lifeless body on.
Coming! ah—what means this darkness—
  Night too soon is coming on.
Mother, are you waiting?—"Jesus,
  Tell her that with You I've gone."

Then the head her heart had pillowed,
  Drooping laid it down to rest,
As calm as when in baby slumber
  Its locks were cradled on her breast.
Glowed the sunset o'er the meadow,
  Lighting up the gloomy pines,
Where a body only lingered—
  Charlie's soul had crossed the lines.

A passing soldier—foe, yet human—
  Stooped to read the words of blood;
So pitiful, so sadly earnest;
  And bore him onward through the wood.
Beneath the white flag bore him safely.
  Now, while Indian Summer shines,
A mother's tears dew springing myrtle,
  O'er Charlie's grave across the lines.

This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.