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American Rebirth 1865â"1893
4 Stories in 1
By Norma Jean Lutz, Callie Smith Grant, Susan Martins Miller, JoAnne A. Grote
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Barbour Publishing, Inc.
All rights reserved.
New Year's Eve
Music and laughter floated throughout the expanse of the large Brannon house. The guests who'd come for the New Year's Eve celebration were dancing and singing and visiting. If Elise Brannon stood still and closed her eyes, she could almost forget for a moment that a war existed. The War between the States was now going into its fourth long year.
But at this moment, she had no time to close her eyes because there was too much to do. Elise and her friend Verly Boyd were in the kitchen just off the ballroom. Berdeen O'Banion, their Irish maid and nanny, expected both Elise and Verly to help take the large serving trays full of food and pass them among the guests.
Handing a tray to Verly, Elise said, "Can you handle this one? It's pretty heavy."
Verly's blue eyes shone as she smiled. "I can handle it just fine." Elise picked up another tray and said, "Forward, march. I'm right behind you."
"Careful you'll be, lassies," Berdeen said as she held open the door that led from the large kitchen into a pass-through and out into the formal ballroom.
Before the war, Mama would have hired extra help for such an occasion, but Elise didn't mind helping at all. In fact, she rather enjoyed it.
As she moved among the crowd, she heard her papa saying, "I never thought I'd live to see the day—Congress finally allowing the contrabands to fight in their own war for freedom."
"And good soldiers they've made, I hear," another man put in.
To which Elise's papa retorted, "I've been trying to tell people that for many years. Now they can see it for themselves—clear as day."
Elise knew that contraband referred to the freed slaves. Ever since President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation a year ago, freed slaves had been longing to don uniforms and join the fighting. At last it had happened. Elise's papa, attorney Jack Brannon, had long been a fighter for the abolition of slavery. Elise was overjoyed that his dreams were at last coming true.
As Elise moved through the little knots of people gathered in the vast ballroom, she also heard men discussing President Lincoln's speech at the battleground in Gettysburg last November. Others discussed the ineptness of Union generals. Conversation of the women covered men who were off in battle and the work being done at various hospitals to aid the war wounded.
Verly's papa had died in the first fighting at Bull Run, and now her brother, Alexander, was off fighting, as well. She and her mother had been forced to sell their home and move into Aunt Ella's boardinghouse. Mrs. Boyd supplemented their meager income by taking in sewing. All these troubles had made Verly understandably sad.
Through the crowd, Elise could see her friend smiling shyly as she offered her tray of sandwiches to the guests. At least the festivities had managed to cheer Verly and keep her smiling.
After her tray of meat and cheese was emptied, Elise went over to Verly. "It's time to gather our troupe and go to the playroom," she said.
"Oh, good!" Verly's eyes lit up. "This'll be such fun!"
After taking their trays back to the kitchen, Elise said, "We're going to the playroom now, Berdeen. Will you come and help?"
"Aye, lassie. I mun put the fresh teakettle back on the stove, and I'll be with ye."
"Verly, you go gather the others. Berdeen and I'll go up the back way. We'll meet you upstairs."
Verly gave a little giggle. "Meet you upstairs."
A few moments later, Elise entered the playroom, where her brothers and the other children of attending guests were gathered. From the table, she picked up Mama's little portable writing desk.
"Make a straight line," she said, making checks on the paper lying atop the wooden frame she was holding. "Let's have the oldest at this end, down to the youngest." She watched as they scrambled a moment to line up, some having to ask the age of the others.
"But I don't want to be on the very end," protested Elise's eight-year-old brother, Peter. "I always have to be on the tail end."
"It doesn't mean anything bad, Peter," Elise said in a gentle tone. "It simply serves to make our presentation more organized." She took him by the arm and guided him to the end of the line.
"I don't mind being on the end," Verly said. "I'll trade places."
"Hurrah for Verly," Peter said. "Let's trade."
But Elise shook her head. "It's important that one person be the organizer, Peter. Stay where you're placed."
Peter groaned, and Verly reached out to pat his arm in sympathy.
Just then Berdeen, who was keeping watch in the hallway, stuck her head in the door. "Be ye nigh ready?"
Berdeen had promised she would help get the adults seated and quiet just before Elise and her troupe were ready to come downstairs to perform their recitations.
"A few more minutes, Berdeen," Elise said.
Elise hoped that the humorous recitations she'd chosen would brighten the evening for everyone. The other youngsters were agreeable. Earlier in the evening, they'd all been given scripts and poems to present, and each had had a chance to practice. Now the room fairly bristled with excitement. Even Elise's older brother, Samuel, had acquiesced to her leadership—which was a surprise. At eleven, a full year older than Elise, Samuel could be pretty bossy at times. But as he said, this program was all her idea. Because Samuel followed, the other two older boys, Cleve and Adam Scott, did the same. The Kilgour sisters were also cooperative. With a little luck, Elise's plan would come off smooth as silk.
"Let's run through the order of presentations one more time," she said, making little checks on her list as she did so. Once she was satisfied that each one knew his or her place and lines, she said to Samuel, "Tell Berdeen we're ready."
Samuel strode to the door, opened it, and gave Berdeen a wave.
"Stay at the balcony rail and watch," she told Samuel, "then let us know when they're ready."
It took a few minutes for Berdeen to quiet the revelers and get them all into the parlor and seated. When it was time, Elise led her troupe to the balcony. At her signal, the first half of the line went down one of the curving twin staircases while the last half took the other. They converged at the bottom, fell back into line, and marched into the parlor, where the gathered guests applauded their entrance.
Reading from her written notes, Elise introduced her troupe and then announced the first presentation. "Each member of our troupe will recite a verse from a humorous poem titled, 'Our Minister's Sermon.'"
Sandy-haired Cleve Scott stepped forward. He was a bit nervous at having to go first, but as the oldest of their little conclave, he wanted to set a good example. Clearing his throat, he gave the opening lines.
Elise smiled as twitters and chuckles swept over the crowd. Next it was Adam's turn with the second verse:
I tell you our minister's prime; he is—
But I couldn't quite determine,
When I heard him givin' it right and left,
Just who was hit by his sermon.
Of course, there couldn't be no mistake
When he talked about long-winded prayin'
For Peters and Johnson, they sot and scowled
At ev'ry word he wuz sayin'.
Following Adam, Samuel took his turn speaking clear and full as though he were already a professional attorney like his papa. Amelia and Madeline Kilgour took the next two verses.
Elise scanned the crowd and saw the smiles on the faces. Her heart raced. There was Aunt Ella, whose husband, Dr. George Harvey, was off tending wounded soldiers at the front lines. Beside her sat her elder daughter, Melissa Baird, whose husband, Jeremiah, was also in the war. Alicia and Alan, the Harveys' fifteen-year-old twins, were too old to be a part of this troupe, but they were both laughing aloud at the skit.
It was fairly possible that at this time next year Alan might be in the heat of battle, as well. Elise knew he was torn between staying home to care for his mother and sisters or answering his call to duty.
Elise's papa was smiling, as were his business associates. Mama was standing in the doorway beside Berdeen, and Mama's beautiful dark eyes were crinkling with laughter. How thankful Mama was that Papa was past the age of serving in the war—how thankful they all were.
Now Verly stepped forward. Though her voice was rather soft, she managed to recite the sixth verse without a mistake. When she was done, the laughter in the room had grown a bit more boisterous. Peter, loving the sound of it, launched into his part:
Just then the minister sez, sez he,
"And now I've come to the fellers
Who've lost this shower by usin' their friends
As a sort of moral umbrellers.
Go home!" sez he, "and find your faults
Instead of huntin' your brother's.
Go home," sez he, "and wear the coats
You're trying to fit on others!"
Elise had to wait a moment for the laughter to subside before she finished with the final verse:
My wife she nudged, and Brown he winked,
And there wuz lots of smilin',
And lots of lookin' at our pew—
It sot my blood a-bilin'.
Sez I to myself, "Our minister
Is gettin' a little bitter,
I'll tell him when the meetin's out
That I ain't that kind of a critter."
At Elise's hand motion, her cast made their bows and curtsies to the sound of rousing applause. Then the Kilgour sisters went to the piano and played a duet while the others sang about a fly on the head of a bald-headed man.
Following the song, which also caused a good deal of guffaws and snickers, each performer gave a short recitation, beginning with Peter. Elise stood back near the piano with her notes as each of the troupe members performed.
The grand finale was to be a recitation titled "How We Hunted a Mouse," which dramatically told of a husband rushing to the aid of his wife, who was frightened by a mouse. He was rewarded for his efforts by having the mouse crawl up the leg of his trousers. It was Elise's favorite recitation, and she'd liked to have presented it herself, but she deferred the honor to her older brother.
She had laboriously copied it from the recitation book and made it large so it would be easy for Samuel to read. He'd run through it earlier in the playroom and had put all the other children in stitches.
Now she introduced her brother to the crowd. He'd asked her if he could announce his selection himself, and she'd agreed. Samuel stepped forward, and everyone grew quiet. "Our Flag," he said solemnly, "an essay by A. L. Stone."
From behind the piano, Elise tried in vain to get his attention, shaking her head and waving, but he ignored her. Samuel was taking matters into his own hands, after all.
"Ringed about with flame and smoke of rebel batteries," he began, "one solitary flag went down, torn and scathed, on the blackened and battered walls of Sumter."
Inwardly, Elise groaned. The last thing she wanted was for the war to be brought into this happy moment. The whole point of the entertainment was to help the guests forget the war for a little while. Samuel continued:
"Then the slumberous fire burst forth and blazed up from the hearts of the people. The painted symbol of the national life, under which our populations of city and country had walked to and fro with tranquil footstep, stirring its peaceful folds with no shouts of chivalrous and romantic deference, had been torn down and trodden under the feet of traitors."
The Union officers in the room who were in uniform stood to their feet. Samuel held his head high and continued the reading that he'd memorized many months ago.
"It was torn down from a single flagstaff, and as the tidings of that outrage swept, ringing and thrilling through the land, ten thousand banners were run up on every hilltop and in every vale, on church towers and armed fortress and peaceful private homes, till the heavens over us looked down upon more stars than they kept in their own nightly vault...."
Now the rest of the guests were standing. Some held their hands over their hearts in a proud salute. Samuel's eyes were shining.
"And then the cry went forth, 'Rally 'round the flag, boys!' and every instrument of martial music took up the strain and church bells pealed it forth, and church choirs sang it...."
Elise looked at Mama. Her fair cheeks were wet with tears as were Aunt Ella's and Cousin Melissa's. The men were solemn and grim-faced. That Samuel—why did she agree to let him take the final act?
"And the voices gathered into a mighty chorus that swept over the New England hills and across the breadth of midland prairies and dashed its waves over the summits of the mountains and down these western slopes till they met and mingled with the waves of the Pacific—the full unison echoing here through all our streets and homes, 'Rally 'round the flag, boys! Rally once again!'"
When he was finished, Samuel bowed his head. It was quiet for a moment, then the entire room erupted into cheers and shouts. "Rally 'round the flag," some guests called out. "Let this year bring the end to the war!" others cried. "Hurrah for the Union!"
Verly evidently noticed Elise's downcast expression. She came over and put her arm around Elise's shoulder. Ever since Verly and her mother had moved into Aunt Ella's boardinghouse, Verly and Elise had become close friends. Now she seemed to sense how Elise was feeling. "Everyone thinks you planned the program to end like this," she said. "You look like a heroine."
Elise just shook her head. "Oh, Verly, I wanted everyone to laugh and be happy. Laughter is the best medicine. Why can't people forget the terrible war, even if it's only for one evening?"CHAPTER 2
Though Elise was upset with Samuel, it was too nice a party to let a little thing ruin it. Mama had planned to send Peter to bed after the recitations. After all, before Elise turned ten, she was made to go to bed before midnight. But Peter begged so hard that Mama relented.
At the stroke of midnight, Papa partially opened the windows so they could hear the church bells sounding across the city from their vantage point in Walnut Hills. The guests were still somber from Samuel's dramatic reading as they lifted cups of eggnog and punch in toasts to the year of 1864. The long, costly war put a damper on looking forward to a new year. Everyone said it would only be more of the same. Elise wasn't sure she could bear another year of the news of so much killing, so much pain, so much sorrow.
She stared at one of the opened windows as silvery snowflakes came blowing inside. She knew her uncle George was on the battleground in the cold somewhere in Tennessee. And Melissa's husband, Jeremiah, was out in the winter cold somewhere in Virginia. Verly, who was standing close beside her, was quiet. She was no doubt thinking of her slain father and her absent brother.
Papa came to the center of the room and asked that everyone be quiet for a moment. Pastor Terrence Thomas and his wife, Hope, were among the guests, and Papa asked the pastor to pray. As the guests bowed their heads, Pastor Thomas prayed for an end to the war and violence, for the Union to be preserved, and for family members to be kept safe.
Elise allowed herself a peek at her handsome father as he bowed in prayer. She was terribly proud of him. He was a good and fair attorney and had helped many people by giving his services away. Elise had asked Papa many times why God would allow such a terrible war. He spoke often of the unimaginable atrocities of slavery. "Perhaps," he told her once, "we are suffering God's wrath and judgment for those despicable sins."
Before the war, Elise's papa and another Cincinnati lawyer, Salmon Chase, defended runaway slaves who had no money to defend themselves. Papa still kept in close touch with Mr. Chase, who was now the secretary of the treasury in Washington, D.C. Papa knew many people in high places of government. Even though Elise was proud of her father, she couldn't help wishing he had a little more time for her. He was a terribly busy man.
As the prayer continued, Elise heard a little sniff beside her and realized Verly was fighting back her tears. She reached out and took her friend's hand. Verly looked over at Elise and managed a weak smile.
Elise was glad she could be Verly's friend. The Boyds had lost so much since the war began. In spite of Mrs. Boyd's talents as an excellent seamstress, it was a struggle for the two of them. Due to the war, there was so little cloth to be had and so few people were purchasing new clothes. Much of her work was patching, hemming, and altering.
As soon as Pastor Thomas said "amen," someone muttered,
"Close those windows; I'm freezing." A ripple of laughter moved through the room, dispelling the solemn mood.
Elise guided Verly closer to the heating stove. "Can you come over tomorrow to play?"
"Mama needs my help in the morning. I may be able to come later."
Elise couldn't imagine having to work during Christmas vacation from school. She was relieved there were no studies to tend to. "When you come, we'll have Berdeen serve us tea up in the playroom. I'll have the dolls ready for a tea party."
Verly's face lit up. "That sounds like such fun. I hope I can come."
The menfolk were pulling on their cloaks and going outside to bring their carriages up to the front portico. There the ladies were able to embark without getting in too much of the deep snow. In spite of having boots, no one liked to get their long skirts wet.
Excerpted from American Rebirth 1865â"1893 by Norma Jean Lutz, Callie Smith Grant, Susan Martins Miller, JoAnne A. Grote. Copyright © 2006 Barbour Publishing, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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