The Story of Aunt Becky's Army-Life/Chapter XXII
A beautiful day out in the free sunshine; within my cloth house the shadows are still lying, but we have many sick ones now, and I try to pass the most of my time with them, to avoid the loneliness of my tent.
I had a call from a bride to-day, Mrs. Major Eden—how happy she seemed, and how proud in the love of her excellent husband. Well, that joy comes once to the most of human hearts, but alas! how soon the tenderness of the lover melts away into the indifference of the husband, and then—God help the young heart pining for sympathy, and guard it that she falls not into temptation.
If men only knew how they hurt their own cause by this neglect and coldness, and how much brighter the world would be for them, if they cherished and sympathized with a wife as they ought, much of the misery of the household would be done away.But, wrapped in selfishness, many men draw themselves into an impenetrable shell, and the world goes on with hearts growing sadder and sadder every hour.
The day and evening have gone—dragged heavily away with the drift-wood of the past, and I go to bed to forget life if I can, and if not forgetting it, to dream of those whom I would fain see soon.
Bright again, and two days of sunshine have worked their little wonder in my heart. I am thinking with pleasant anticipations of home, and yet the time may be afar off, for while health and strength last I shall not leave the army.
I wonder if any one is to blame for my being a woman, and not having a sister? I think my heart should have had a broader breast to beat in, because it feels cramped and confined as it is, and I am eager to do something which will tell amongst my fellow-creatures, and my slender woman's frame still holds me in check.
If I only had a sister, if not a sister by blood, why not a sister in the intimate companionship of kindred souls? There has been heavy cannonading to-day on the left, but we have not yet learned to what it is tending—this much I feel, as I shudder with my woman's nerves, somebody is maimed, and dying on that trampled space in front of Petersburg.
Very lovely to-day, and I am still feeling better. Our sick are doing well, and a large number have been sent to Washington, on the transport State of Maine—only the wounded are left. My brother has just gone from here;—he came down from the front, and reports all quiet there to-day. I begin to feel anxious to have a letter, it seems so long since I heard from those dear ones—why do they wait thus? If they knew at home how eager our homesick hearts were for the little messengers of love and friendship fluttering down to us on thin white wings, recording every item of change in and about the one dear spot, they would not count it lost,—the time spent in giving them to us poor waifs, thrown out into the country of a hostile people.
The sunshine forgot to open its eyes this morning, and the cold wind moaned for it, and I sit shivering over my fire scarcely able to keep myself warm, and the stove-pipe in position. Well, the time comes to all of us when we are sick of soldiering, and wish we were out of the service, then, ashamed of the seemingly coward thought, they grow eager to rush into the fray, and wipe out the stain of seeming dishonor.
Many rumors are floating about, but no reports on which we can rely—still Hope holds aloft her streaming banner, and our hearts throb in unison with the great swell of her soul-stirring music. Will peace come? God grant it may come soon.
Some are very ill to-day, with typhoid fever and diphtheria. I have just come in from the tents, and find them doing as well as can be expected. They have ornamented for the advent of the good news, but those extra fixings will hardly crush out the rebellion. I wish they might. I have been over to the Second Corps to do some talking, which only we war nurses know how to do rightly.
Oh! the beautiful spring day, with birds singing, and the air filled with the yellow radiance, how it reminds me of long gone days, in years away back down the hill of life. There is a peculiar sadness, yet a half-glad feeling mixed strangely therein, which my poor philosophy is puzzled to explain.
The soldiers are enjoying this—sitting by the sunny side of their tents, looking bright as a May day when no moving is going on. I feel languishing and weak, while I ought to feel bright and strong.
My little box-stove and poor wood make me feel cross to-day, when so many are waiting for a bit of cooking from my hands.
I think longingly of the great Stewart's, which stand with reservoirs filled with water, and tin attachments, where the toast would keep so nicely warmed, and wish I had Aladdin's lamp, or ring; I would send the good spirits after one out of somebody's kitchen, who was able to get a new one, and wouldn't there be a stir in the Northern streets, as the clatter arose high over the house tops.
Oh! such salt messes as those cooks prepare in that low-diet kitchen—low diet, indeed—codfish, which seems to have slipped, without preparation, into the dishes from the briny barrel—a starving man would have hard work to eat some of that food, and how would one expect sick men to recover their appetites under such a regimen?
Still, a woman is not supposed to know, and these Lords of Creation, first in everything, deem themselves also first in the mysteries of cooking, when a corn mush for the hogs, or a kettle of Irish potatoes, fresh from the hill, was perhaps the extent of practice which they had previous to the advent of secession. Secession! thou hast developed many a trait which dormant lay!—thou hast raised many a talent which lay buried deep—art thou to be cursed or blessed? Oh, shapeless one!
Now for the boat again; those who are to go, are as pleased to go as any child with a long-promised visit to a place filled with rare and curious things. I am glad to see them go, for they are nearer home—the spot for which we yearn with wistful eyes turned hitherward, and my homesick heart beats pulse to pulse with their own.There is heavy cannonading again to-day, but I hardly think Petersburg has yet fallen; delay—defeat! Oh! when will it be ended, and the city lie under the flutter of the old flag?
Spring is again affrighted, and the air blows raw and chilly, nearly taking my tent over, and I am fearful of danger if I venture without its walls.
I have just had some calls, which have shortened the time a little, and a letter over which I have puzzled some little time to divine the author's meaning. The nights are freezing. I have never been so exposed before, and consequently never suffered so much from cold as this winter. Feather beds, downy pillows, easy cushioned chairs, when will you welcome this ease-loving woman to your softness!
I slept cold all night, and thought of the warm chambers and bedrooms leading from the great old-fashioned kitchens, and of the glow of comfort which crept all through them from the unstinted supply of logs at the farmer's door. My feet were like clods, but I set myself resolutely upon them, and made the gruel which I have not failed to do every day since last June.
Many of our men have bad throats, and I must have contracted the disease by sympathy, for mine is so sore I can scarcely swallow. Still I feel it my duty to go out, and think nothing serious will result from it.
The sun shines very pleasantly to-day, and I am myself again, and the men are so comfortable, I have but little to do this morning, only to think how lonesome I am in this great concourse of men, and wonder how I should enjoy a right old-fashioned tea-party with Mrs. Grundy as host, and the lesser lights of village scandal revolving as satellites around her, in unbounded innocence of heart.
I should like to listen to the shortcomings of the prim dames, who had fallen from their high estate, and hear the virtuous indignation which was expressed at the wrong doing—it would revive my faith in the old creed that "Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do," and that human nature was a frail plant, likely to wither under the rude blasts of temptation.
My brother has just come in from the regiment, all ready to go home on a furlough. I am so homesick, I could cry if it would do any good, but it would only make him feel unpleasantly, and I hope to be on the same road and journey not many months hence. Then, children, comforts, quiet, and content, I will welcome you all into my dwelling. I am glad he can go if I cannot; he at least can tell me how things look there, when he returns, and till then I can live on the anticipation.
May at the North is not more beautiful than this morning. The boat has just gone with its load of sick men, and the day was so lovely I could not withstand the temptation to ramble, and so went over into the Second Corps, and had a lively chat with Miss Vance and Miss Blackman.
The great guns keep up the heavy cannonading, but hope deferred maketh the heart sick, and Lee's strength holds its own with Grant's pertinacity.
The last day of winter in the calendar. I felt so ambitious this morning I wished to wash—to do some real hard labor, and I knew I should sleep better tonight if I could do it.
Farewell, old Winter, stern, icicled fellow; you were not very welcome to me, yet I wonder what will happen to this soul and body before you bring your chilly winds again to our planet. Welcome, sweet Spring—joyous season of tender green and brightest-tinted flowers—I see your fluttering robes in the days just coming; your head droops low, and you drop tears for the cold old winter, which to-night creeps off to the North, and leaves you to contend with some bitter winds which, sad truants, forgot to follow their lord.
To-day the rain-drops fall silently and persistently—no wind drives it against the walls of my cloth house, but the constant patter, patter soothes me beyond measure, when some days it would drive me wild. When my mood is right, I like a calm, steady rain like this; but when gusty winds drive it into frozen sleet, and my stove-pipe falls off, and it burns and blackens me in efforts to replace it, I can safely say it is not entirely agreeable to the deponent.
The rain continues, and I could not get about much, the mud was so deep and sticky. My tent leaks under the drenching, and I am not very comfortable, as I sit tucked up in my seat, feeling the chilly March air an unwelcome invader to-night. We have quite a large number of sick now—two from my own regiment, not in danger however.
The paymaster has made his welcome appearance, and the little strips of green paper were eagerly gathered up, and some changed hands rapidly. It is the staff of life as well as the bread, and nowhere better appreciated, when gone, than in the ranks of the Volunteer Army.
Still the clouds pour down their showers, yet I have waded out to see the sick, and have found some very low. How I wish they could be sent home, to be cared for by the hands of those who love them.
Miss Blackman, from the Second Corps, has been here to see me, and we had a woman's long talk about everything in general and nothing in particular.
Since morning the clouds have cleared away, and the sun has deigned to look upon our drenched camp, with its yellow light. Seven of the One Hundred and Ninth boys on their way home, have been in to see me to-day. I wish I were a soldier that I might avail myself of a furlough; but then I don't think I should particularly like being shut up on my return in the "Bull Pen," for fear I might run away again.
A disgrace to the service; it ought to be riddled, and the material burned, a funeral pyre for the countless host of swarming lice which devour the inmates alive. If Government sanctions the keeping open of that pen, where deserters, prisoners, convicts, and sick men returned from furlough, are put in together, then Government ought to be ashamed of itself, and wipe it out with all speed.
They must have a fine opinion of the courage and honor of enlisted men, when they throw them into that unclean, lousy place to harden towards their keepers. Were I a man, and a soldier, and on return from a furlough, with no crime for which I was held responsible, put into that den, I would shoot somebody when I got out—that I know. I would be avenged in some way. Men who volunteered for the salvation of their country to be treated thus like cattle, and worse than cattle!