“What can we do? They’re terrible people, and they’re coming here!” Frances was very distressed. “We’ll all die! And what about our farms? They’ll be destroyed!”
“Hush, dear. It will be all right.” Momma patted Frances on the shoulder. “We’ll think of something.”
“But what? The Rebels are a ferocious army! They have no pity on the Union!” Frances was getting frantic now. “There’s nothing we can do to stop them!”
“The mayor will most likely call a town meeting tonight, and there they’ll decide what can be done,” said Momma. “Everything will be fine.”
“Scalloped potatoes! My favorite!” exclaimed Grandfather as they sat down to eat supper. There were lots of special dishes for Mary’s birthday. Mary probably didn’t realize it was an exciting day, but she was still pleased at her food.
“Mine!” said Mary, reaching her chubby little baby hands across the table towards the potatoes in Grandfather’s hand.
“Oh, no you don’t!” he said. “These are ALL for me!”
Sometimes Grandfather acted like a child, Frances thought. She supposed that was one of the benefits of being an old man with three grandchildren to spoil. Not that she minded the spoiling though. Even though he lived in a separate house than them, he spent most of his time with his son’s family. A neighbor girl would sometimes help him clean his house, but since he wasn’t there very often, it didn’t get too messy.
“Why don’t you say the blessing, Frank?” Momma asked.
Frank’s hand stopped midair, the piece of bread he had been grabbing in it. There was a guilty look on his face, and he quickly put the bread down on his plate and nodded vigorously at Momma.
“We thank you Lord for this food, and for the wonderful day we are having. We thank you for baby Mary, and that she is now three years old. We pray that we can hurry up and eat, because I am very hungry.”
At this, a snort could be heard from Grandfather’s direction. Momma just tsked at Frank.
“Umm, we pray that we have a wonderful day tomorrow, and Amen.” Frank quickly finished the prayer, and grabbed the bread.
There were scalloped potatoes, of course, but Momma had also made stew, peas, and even some fresh bread. Frances had squeezed some lemons earlier in the day, and now there was lemonade to drink. The table had been set with the best dishes, and there was a hand embroidered tablecloth on it. The silver was polished to sheen, and the napkins were light blue. Momma had brought them from the plantation she had lived on as a girl.
Momma’s family was from the south, and ever since the war had started, she hadn’t heard from them. For all she knew, her brothers could be fighting in the same battles as her husband. Her husband might have even killed them! It was a sad state this country was in, relatives killing each other.
But now was not the time to mourn over the fate of the United States, or even about the approaching Rebels. There was still joy in the midst of all the trouble and despair, and people had to take advantage of those times.
Just like Momma has expected, the Mayor called a town meeting. It was to be held in the schoolhouse at seven o’clock. Since children were not allowed to go, they just played in the yard. Grandfather and Momma went, taking Mary with them, and Frank and Frances joined some of their friends for a game of tag.
By the time all the children had been caught, the meeting was underway. They could hear the Mayor speaking loudly, but couldn’t quite catch exactly what he was saying.
Children are naturally curious, and that curiosity often gets them in trouble. Frank was a very curious person, and tended to forget about past things that had got him in trouble. So of course, he wanted to hear what the Mayor was saying.
He motioned for Frances to follow him, and without waiting for her, ducked behind the schoolhouse.
Frances rolled her eyes. She had a pretty good idea what Frank wanted to do, and while she didn’t necessarily approve of it, she followed after him.
She found him straining to look over the window sill. He had always been rather short, so he had to keep jumping up and down to see inside.
He jumped when she tapped him on the shoulder. “Why don’t I stand on your back? That way you won’t need to constantly jump up and down.”
Frank nodded and crouched on the dirt. Frances clambered onto his back, and carefully peered into the school.
She could see the Mayor standing on the platform at the front of the room. The towns-people were nodding in agreement with whatever he was saying. One of the men, George Millson, raised his hand to say something.
Frances tried to hear what they were saying, but she could only hear snatches of the conversation.
“We must volunteer. Harrisburg – own regiment – three days.”
This was no help at all. She jumped off Frank’s back, and landed in a heap on the ground. She brushed some dirt off her skirt and stood up.
“Well? What did they say?” prodded Frank. He looked very eager to hear the news.
“Not much,” said Frances. She sounded annoyed. “Not much that I could hear anyways. Just something about a regiment in Harrisburg that volunteered.”
“That was helpful.” One of Frank’s specialties was being very sarcastic when he was annoyed. “What can we do now?”
“Nothing that I can think of.” Frances grabbed Frank and went back to the front of the school.
The rest of the children were just standing around, doing absolutely nothing. As the two walked up, everyone turned to them expectantly.
“Well, what did you hear?” asked Aaron Smith. He was the son of the butcher, and known for being very impulsive. That was probably why he was Frank’s best friend.
“Like I told Frank already, I couldn’t really hear. All I could hear was something about a regiment in Harrisburg that volunteered. You can all just ask your parents when you get home.”
“Nothing?” piped up little Sammy Green. “Absolutely nothing?” He straightened his glasses that were perched on his nose, and jumped up on a log.
Frank and Frances exchanged glanced. Not again.
One of Sammy Green’s favorite things to do was to pretend that he was making a speech. He often would coerce other children into listening to them, no matter how boring his speeches were. It seemed that he was going to give a speech right now unless somebody stopped him.
“Umm, why don’t we all play hide and seek?” shouted Frances. Hopefully that would distract everyone.
“I’ll be the finder!” yelled Marcy Keeton. The other children scattered across the school yard as she began to count. Sammy gave a little sniff with his turned up nose, but hurried after some other little boys. It seemed the distraction had worked.
“I can’t believe the mayor would say I was too old!” Grandfather said. He and Momma, who was holding Mary, were coming down the schoolhouse steps. A stream of other people followed after them. “I mean, I fought in the War of 1812! How dare he say I wasn’t soldier material!”
He seemed rather upset about something the mayor had told him. It wasn’t like him to be so angry.
“What’s wrong?” asked Frances. She had to find out what had gone on in the meeting. “Did something bad happen?”
“Bad? No, something terrible.” Grandfather snorted. “That mayor apparently thinks that I’m not ‘soldier material’. I happen to disagree. Did he fight in the War of 1812? No, I did. And he doesn’t think me competent enough to lead the Gettysburg Regiment!” He stopped his rant and his face became a less red than it had been a moment ago.
“Gettysburg Regiment?” echoed Frank. “Does that mean I can fight now?”
“I suppose so,” answered Grandfather. “We need all the help we can get.”
Momma looked astonished to hear him say that. “I thought we’d already discussed this! Frank is not going to become a soldier. I will simply not allow it.”
Frank gave a huff, but did not say anything else. When Momma made up her mind about something, there was no changing her mind. And it looked like she was pretty serious about this.
“What did they actually talk about in the meeting?” Frances asked, reminding the rest of the family of the topic at hand. “What did they decide to do?”
“Well, Gettysburg is going to make a regiment and send it to Harrisburg for training. They’ll have to be fast though, since the Rebs will be here in a week or so, maybe sooner,” explained Momma. “Most of the men are going to volunteer, but they still need a leader. That’s what your grandfather and the mayor were arguing about.”
“Exactly! The mayor thinks that he should be the regiment leader, but he doesn’t know a lick about war!” exclaimed Grandfather excitedly. “I, on the other hand, am much more qualified for the position. After all, who fought in the War of 1812?”
“You!” shouted Frank and Frances.
“Yes, me! I know all about battle tactics, how to work a gun, and excellent maneuvers! Who else could do the job?” He looked at the children for an answer.
“No one!” said the two in unison.
“You’re right. That’s why we have to convince everyone that I’m the only one who can lead the regiment.
“And just how are you going to do that?” said Momma. She had been quiet while Grandfather extolled his virtues, but now seemed quite interested in the conversation. “Are you going to walk door to door and give speeches?”
“Just ask Sammy Green to do that,” Frank whispered to Frances.
She giggled a little. Now that was an idea. If the mayor’s son was on their side, their goal would be simply handed to them. Mayor Green never refused his son’s requests unless he wanted a huge temper tantrum, so Grandfather would get his way for sure.
“Maybe we can,” said Frank to everyone. “Some of us kids can talk to all the neighbors about it, and try to get them to choose Grandfather to lead the regiment.”
“It will be like campaigning for the President!” exclaimed Frances.
Grandfather clapped. “What a wonderful plan! You two can get started tomorrow. I’ll go to the square and talk to anyone I see there.” He waved goodbye to his grandchildren and daughter-in-law, then turned down the road towards his house.
Mother just shook her head after him. “He is so impulsive. You children watch out for him, you hear?”