It was a quiet night. There was no laughter coming from the Prancing Pony inn. There weren’t even any lights shining through the windows of the general store. Everyone was in the comfort of their own home. Fires burned low in the hearths, and babies slept peacefully in their cradles. In almost every house though, there were at least a few people pacing the floors, worrying about tomorrow. They were waiting.
Waiting for what, they did not know. The next day could bring a celebration, or also great mourning. The men and boys had left, and would return in the morning. What they would find waiting for them was the mystery. Would the Rebs have marched into town by then, or might reinforcements have arrived? It was anybody’s guess.
The worrying had begun a week ago when a man came galloping into the town square. He brought news of an army, a huge army that was heading straight towards Gettysburg. General Lee had finally dared to cross into Union land, and no one was stopping him. No one, except old John Burns.
France had always admired her grandfather. She and her older brother Frank loved hearing him tell stories about his days in the War of 1812. His hands would fly through the air as he demonstrated how to shoot at the “fleeing Brits.” The two children listened with rapt attention to tales of heroic men who had died fighting for their country. Frances disliked the parts about battles, and instead wanted to hear about what the Indians looked like. Frank, however, loved to listen to long boring battle strategies, and Frances would have to sit through them. Her eyes would begin to glaze over, and her head begin to nod. Finally, grandfather would notice, and tell a more interesting story. Frank loved to pretend he was a great general, and marched around the house with a broom balanced on shoulder. Momma would swat him on the head when he pointed it at the baby. To appease her, Frank would pretend to miss. It did not make her any happier about it for some reason. Grandfather would chuckle and tell Frank how to strategize his maneuvers better.
There had been no story-telling or play acting these last two years however. Battles and deaths were no longer just stories; they were reality. A few boys from town had joined the army. None had come back yet, but thankfully they weren’t dead. Frank had wanted to volunteer, but the recruiters said fourteen was too young to go to war. He had sulked around the house for a few days, but was finally back to his old self now.
Frances was very glad the recruiters had said Franks was too young. Her brother did not seem to realize that war was not a game. Grandfather wasn’t helping her case either.
“If I weren’t so old and bent over, I’d run over to that draft office as fast as I could, and get myself a uniform,” he always said. “The army needs a hearty veteran like me to help ‘em out.”
Momma would just shake her head. She did not approve of fighting, and thought war a great evil. She had a right to think so, as her father had died in the same French and Indian war that Grandfather told so many stories about. She disapproved of him telling the children about the war, but did not forbid it. She would just cluck her tongue and go about her business.
It was a few days after Frank had tried to enlist in the army. Frances was trying to make a cake for bay Mary’s third birthday. She had never attempted it, but Momma said it was very simple. Two cups flour, a cup of milk, three eggs. Sounded easy enough. It turned out to be much more difficult than it looked. First, the flour was clumped up so Frances had to run it through a sieve. Then, the cow had to be milked, and there were no eggs to be found.
“Why don’t you run over to Mrs. Prewett’s and see if she has any eggs you can borrow?” Momma was brushing Mary’s brown curls while trying to stir a pot of soup boiling over the fire. “She’ll probably have a few to spare.”
“I’ll be back in a few minutes then,” said Frances. She grabbed a small basket and went out to the road that ran in front of the house.
The day was bright and sunny. Bluebirds chirped in the trees, and you could hear the clip-clop of horses trotting up and down the street. There were lots of people out and about, since it was such a nice summer day. Children played tag in the street, and darted out of the way when a carriage rumbled past.
Frances walked slowly down the sidewalk. She was in no hurry to return to the stuffy house. Mrs. Prewett, who was an older lady, often gave visiting children cookies and cakes. That was one of the reasons that Frank and Frances loved going there. Mrs. Prewett was a sweet, grandmotherly type of lady, and since she lived alone, enjoyed having people visit her.
When she reached the small bakery that Mrs. Prewett owned, she knocked quite loudly on the wooden door. Momma had told her to knock a bit louder than usual, as Mrs. Prewett’s hearing wasn’t as good as it used to be. She wasn’t as capable of running her business, and her only daughter lived far away in New York. So Frances had volunteered to help her a couple times a week. The old lady was almost as interesting as Grandfather, as she had been a little girl during the revolutionary war. She seemed ancient to Frances, who was only 12.
She could hear Mrs. Prewett slowly approaching the door. The footsteps stopped and the door was flung open.
It wasn’t Mrs. Prewett standing behind the door. It was a total stranger. “Who are you?” asked Frances. “Where’s Mrs. Prewett?”
“She’s in bed, miss. She got a fever, and ain’t ‘allowed to git up ‘til tomorrow,” said the stranger. It was an older girl, maybe around 18. She spoke like she was from the country. Maybe a distant relative of Mrs. Prewett.
“Can I see her? I was supposed to borrow some eggs for my mother.” Frances had had no idea that Mrs. Prewett was ill. Normally, the doctor would take care of sick people, but since the war, he had gone off to an army hospital. He was one of the few men from Gettysburg who had gone off to fight against the South. Frances was proud to say that her father was one of them.
“I dunno ‘bout you seeing her, but I sure can give you some eggs. How many you need?”
“The recipe said three,” Frances said.
“Three it is,” said the girl. She bustled around the kitchen, trying to find the eggs. “Now where would Mrs. Prewett stick her eggs? You have any idea, girl?”
“I think they’re in the top cupboard next to the stove,” said Frances. All the time helping Mrs. Prewett bake pies and bread had gotten her well acquainted with the kitchen.
Sure enough, the eggs were right there. The girl, whose name Frances hadn’t learned yet, grabbed three and wrapped them in a towel. “You got a basket? Good, then the eggs won’t break.” She handed them to Frances, and then proceed to take a pie out of the oven. “You want a piece of cherry pie? Just popped it out of the oven.”
Frances loved cherry pie, so of course she said yes. After all, Momma wouldn’t mind. They weren’t very busy today, only doing the regular chores and celebrating Mary’s birthday. These kinds of days were few and far between, so Frances took advantage of them the best she could.
The two girls sat down at the kitchen table to eat their slices of pie. Frances didn’t know what to say to this girl who she had never met until five minutes ago. “Umm, I’m Frances. What’s your name?”
“My name’s Katie. It be a pleasure to meet you. I’m takin’ care of Mrs. Prewett for awhile. She’s my mother’s aunt, you see, and I’m the only one that could be spared to come. The rest of the family’s busy takin’ care of the farm. Rebs ransacked it, so we have to replant all our field again.”
“That’s terrible!” gasped Frances. She had heard about how the Rebels had marched through towns and farms, taking anything they wanted. It was horrible.
“Yes, well, my brother’s off trying to stop them, so that might do some good. He even got a right proper uniform now. And badges too!” There was pride in Katie’s voice. “He’s a real soldier now. Doin’ some good in this world. Mr. Lincoln should be proud to have him as his soldier. Danny was a good boy.”
“My poppa’s fighting too,” said Frances. “He signed up last year. We haven’t heard from him for six months since it takes so long for letters to get places. He used to try to write every three months.”
“Wonder if Danny and your pa ever met each other? Danny always said that soldiers often had to get others to write their letters for them since they couldn’t read. You’re lucky that your pa can write.”
“Grandfather taught him when he was a little boy,” said Frances. She glanced at the clock hanging over the fireplace. “I’ve been here for half an hour! Momma wants me to finish making that cake. It’s my little sister’s birthday today, so I’m trying to make a chocolate cake for her.” She stood up and took the basket of eggs. “It was nice meeting you. Maybe I’ll see you sometime. I often come over and help in the bakery.”
“I reckon I’ll need help baking so many pies and cakes for people. Never did much of that, as my brother would eat them all before the rest of us got as much as a crumb.” She laughed and waved as Frances walked out the door.
This time, Frances didn’t walk slowly, she ran. She had to get home soon, or there wouldn’t be enough time to bake the cake before dinner. Her legs pounded the packed dirt, and she slowed a bit as she rounded a corner.
Apparently, slowing down hadn’t been enough, and she ran smack dab into someone.
“I’m so sorry, are you all right?” Both of them had fallen to the ground, and Frances was now trying to get up. She had no idea who she had run into, and hoped they had not gotten hurt.
“Yes, I’m fine,” said the mystery person. They were also getting up.
“Good,” said Frances. She turned to see who she had knocked over. It was the mayor. “Oh, I am so, so sorry, Mr. Hunt. I wasn’t watching where I was going, and I just sort of raced around the corner, and didn’t see you there, and well, you were just coming around the corner too, and-“
“Yes, that is quite all right,” he said, cutting her off. “Just be more careful next time. He turned back towards the town square. “Now let me listen to what this messenger has to say.”
For the first time, Frances noticed the man standing on an old stump in the center of the green. He was shouting something to the quickly growing crowd. Frances moved closer to hear what he was saying.
“We must prepare for them! They are getting neared, and are more powerful than anything we have ever seen! If we are to stand against them, we must do something!” the man shouted from his perch. He paused for a breathe, then continued his rant. “We cannot just sit here and wait for them to arrive! They will have no mercy on us! They are animals, not human beings!:
Frances was very confuses. Who were they talking about? Was their town going to be destroyed by ferocious animals? She tugged on the Mayor’s jacket. He turned around. “What is going on? Who are they talking about?”
“Isn’t it obvious? The Rebs are marching towards Gettysburg at this very moment. We are in danger!” The mayor was very disturbed, it seemed.
Frances’ eyes widened. This was terrible, horrible. The Rebs were considered the most deadly army in the history of the world. Her little town could never stand against them. The man on the stump was wrong; they couldn’t fight back, they had to flee. That was all that could save them from Lee’s brutal forces.