After Union forces expel Hannah's family from Holly Springs, Mississippi, because they are Jews, Hannah reexamines her views regarding slavery and the war.
- Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.20(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.70(d)
- Age Range:
- 10 - 13 Years
Read an Excerpt
December 17, 1862
I walked into my room to find my favorite porcelain doll lying on its side on the floor.
"Not Elizabeth," I exclaimed aloud, although there was no one there to hear me. I rushed over to see if she was broken. I picked her up gingerly and found, to my great relief, that she was still in one piece. Jule, my servant, was cleaning my sister Joanna's room, next to mine. I summoned her immediately.
"You know, Jule," I said in my sternest voice, "that I do not enjoy reprimanding you."
"Yes, Miss Hannah." Although her words were meek, she did not appear to be particularly worried. I had to make it clear to her that I was the mistress and that she had to pay attention to me. I was a child no longer.
"I cannot tolerate such things," I warned her. "My doll could easily break if treated in this heartless manner."
"Missy," Jule replied, eyes to the floor, "I swear I put it up proper. Now your little brother David, he be in here earlier. I don't like to tell no tales, missy, but if I was you, I'd look to your diary."
Horrified, I followed Jule's pointing finger. Of course, I always put my diary behind my dolls. Why that little...!
I drew myself up with as much dignity as I could muster. "I am sorry, Jule, I know you are always careful with my things. Please excuse my bad temper."
Recently my dear friend Eugenia had pointed out to me that I was far too familiar with our slaves and I had resolved to change. I turned away to look for my younger brother, feeling both confused and a little ashamed by my sternness with Jule. Eugenia was right, of course, but then why did I feel so uncomfortable?
Jule gave me an inscrutable look out of the corner of her eye and went about her work. I immediately determined to find my younger brother David and to scold him mercilessly. I was so angry I began to run out of my room, but hearing Ma's voice in my head, I slowed down. Naturally, I had been reminded over and over by Ma that young ladies, unlike girls, never run. At long last, on my thirteenth birthday, which I had celebrated only a month earlier, I had been allowed to wear a three-hoop crinoline instead of the babyish two-hoop variety, which proved that I was now a young lady.
I was proud of my new status and I was trying terribly hard to behave with appropriate dignity which wasn't easy in this instance, with my brother provoking me in this manner. That little devil had been making my life a misery from morning until night. But my diary! That really was beyond anything and everything! Why, I would thrash him! Yes, he deserved it and he'd be sorry.
"Hannah?" Ma was climbing the stairs, slowly, as if she were too tired to make it to the landing. "Hannah, slow yourself down, I must speak to you."
"Yes, Ma," I answered, reluctant to stop even for a moment.
"You must go take over in the store for me, dear. I've been there since five this morning and I am so tired, I need to rest."
I tried not to show my displeasure. It was bad enough that those dreadful, hateful, brutish Yanks had thrown all of us children out of our schools so that they could use the buildings for storing guns or food or whatever other endless supplies with which they kept filling up the town...but now my lessons at home were constantly being interrupted by work in the store.
"Isn't Joanna there?" I asked. "Or Henry?"
"Why, yes, but your sister can't manage alone; and your brother had to make a delivery to Mrs. Grant, so he won't be back for a bit. Go on, now."
Well, that just took the cake! It would be the Yankee general's wife who was the cause of my having to go and work in the store. Still, I had more important things to discuss with Ma, namely the little troublemaker.
"Ma," I said, "David has been reading in my diary!"
"Hannah," Ma answered in a weary tone, "please do not trouble me with such things. If you would take him in hand as I have so often asked, he would not get into so much trouble."
"But, Ma, I cannot roughhouse with him; I cannot play with him in a way that would help him get rid of all the energy he has. That is a boy's job. And with Pa and Simon and Leon away, surely it is Henry you should be speaking to about this, not me!" I was indignant. How on earth did this end up as my fault?
"You well know that Henry is much too busy in the store to watch David. I have told you, Hannah, that you must take on more responsibility." She sighed. "I am far too fatigued to have this discussion with you now, and Joanna needs help immediately." With that, she continued to her room with no thought whatsoever to David's obvious misdeeds.
Despite my preoccupation with young David, as I walked down the stairs I held my head high and tried not to look down, practicing the graceful descent in my new hoops, and imagining a fine young gentleman gazing up at me adoringly as I floated elegantly toward him. When I gained the foyer, instead of a handsome young admirer it was David's voice that surprised me out of my daydream.
"Hannah, Hannah, may I come with you? Where are you going?"
I whirled around and glared at him. He was tall for his age of seven years, and thin. His eyes were as big as saucers and as blue as a midsummer sky; they seemed to be the only thing you could see when you looked at the boy. He was so adorable, one glance and my heart always melted. But I reminded myself that his behavior had not been that of a gentleman, and that even if no one else in the household cared, I would have to teach him right from wrong.
"David, did you read my diary?"
"Well now, Hannah," David replied, "I'm not so sure how to answer that."
"Explain yourself, young man," I ordered.
"The thing is," he said, his eyes shifting away, "I was bored and I went looking for you and you weren't there. And I needed someone to talk to so bad, and yet, your diary was there and that's a kind of talking, isn't it?" He looked up at me to see if his words were having the desired effect.
They were not. "Yes, it is me talking to my diary, privately. And you well know that! So you, David, you will come with me to the store, and you will fetch and carry for me the entire day!"
"Thank you, Sister!" David replied, his eyes lighting up.
"This is a punishment," I exclaimed, exasperated.
"I know, I know!" David said, beaming from ear to ear.
I sighed. "Where is Jule?" I turned and called, "Jule? Jule?"
Jule came running. "Yes, missy?"
"Please dress Master David. He is accompanying me to the store."
It was cold out and looked like it would rain any second. Our house, on the south side of the town square, was about a five-minute walk from the store, which was catty-corner to the other side of the square. I put on my coat, pulled an umbrella out of the stand, just in case, and pulled on my gloves. It took some time before Jule managed to get David bundled up, but finally, holding tightly to his hand, I took a deep breath and stepped out the door.
It was a shock, as always, to see how the Yanks had spoiled our town. Our house stood on one of the most beautiful streets in Holly Springs, but I hardly recognized anything anymore and I hated walking out-of-doors. As long as I was inside our beautiful and elegant home, everything was orderly and controlled (and if it wasn't, I made certain it was). Outside, though, one never knew what one might encounter.
I pulled David along behind me as we walked quickly to the store. We had to step carefully, however, because the streets were filled with barrels of flour and bales of cotton. Yankees on their horses hurtled this way and that with no thought for those walking, so between the supplies and their mounts there was hardly room for a citizen to move.
I always loved to gaze at the houses whenever I went to the store two- and three-story homes, covered in Virginia creeper, many made from red brick, with Victorian gables up high and elaborate ironwork on the front verandas. In the spring and early summer the magnolias and the white-blossomed Kwansan cherry trees would flower, and the scent would be enough to make any young lady swoon. On the other side of the street red and yellow tulips and white and yellow daffodils were planted all around the town square, shaded by white pines and Atlas cedars, and white and red oaks. Inside the town square the big buildings that used to house the law and government offices for our town were now bursting at the seams with medical supplies, sutlers' goods (clothing and uniforms), and guns and munitions. I gazed up at the old four-faced clock tower, the only thing undisturbed by the Yanks, and tried to put my focus on it, disregarding the intruders around me.
"Hannah, Hannah," David shouted, "watch out!"
I almost walked right into a large bale of cotton. However hard I tried, I couldn't ignore my surroundings. I remembered the peaceful beauty that had existed before General Grant took over Holly Springs in the middle of November to use it as a storage facility, a staging place for his planned attack on Vicksburg, and the memory made me long for those days.
We reached the store without further incident, and I paused outside for a moment to admire my handiwork.
"It looks mighty fine," David said as he stared at the window display.
"Thank you, David." I smiled, finally forgiving him for his bad behavior earlier. I'd worked so hard on the Christmas display I only wished Pa could see it. In the center of the window was a metal toy train; beside it was a little toy drum, and just behind that were toy soldiers. Then I had made two displays for girls one of beautiful porcelain dolls, the other of intricately designed music boxes.
When we walked into the shop I felt the welcome blast of warm air from the big potbellied stove in the center of the room. The store was packed with customers, but as I looked around I quickly realized that no one was helping them. Joanna was, in fact, ignoring them all because she was talking to Captain Mazer!
I could feel my cheeks turn red, I was so incensed. A Federal officer! And my sister, Joanna, apparently mesmerized by the young gentleman, completely under his spell! Ever since he had walked into the store in November with greetings from our uncle Jacob in Cincinnati, a neighbor of the captain's, Joanna had been hopeless. And Ma had been just as bad, treating him as if he were a normal boy. Why, he was a Yankee!
"He's an Israelite," Ma would say. "He's one of us, and he's lonesome. Would you not want a family to take care of Simon or Leon?" I would, of course, but Simon and Leon were handsome young gentlemen. Who would not want them in their home?
I examined Captain Mazer as I took off my bonnet. He was handsome, I had to admit, with fine whiskers and a shock of black hair. Tall, with broad shoulders and gray eyes, he cut quite a figure in his uniform. But how could Joanna look at that uniform every day and not become queasy? And she was ignoring the other customers, who were testy at the best of times these days since there was a different shortage each day either flour or sugar or salt. People still demanded coffee, too, even though it had become as scarce as a fresh peach in December.
I hurried to the counter and with a curt nod greeted Captain Mazer and Joanna.
Joanna, her cheeks aglow, didn't seem to notice my disapproval. "Hannah! I've just invited Captain Mazer to our Chanukah party tonight. He's accepted and is bringing his dear friend Mr. Katz."
I tried to be polite and not make a face. Mr. Katz Private Katz was the most accident-prone individual I had ever met. Why, the man could trip over his own two feet!
At the same time, I couldn't believe I had temporarily forgotten about Chanukah. It must have been that business with my diary. It had wiped everything else from my memory. Still, there was not too much to do. Ma had long ago trained our cook, Emily, to make potato pancakes. And, of course, we would play dreidel games and eat chocolate.
I felt better. Even with Yankees in the house there would still be a party, things would proceed as they had every year. We would light the menorah and some feeling of order would return. I smoothed my skirt and then looked around the crowded shop. Where to begin?
Joanna wore her new gown that night, a blue silk dress with three-quarter sleeves that matched the blue of her eyes exactly. I had put artificial flowers in her black hair and her creamy skin glowed with good health. She looked radiant. I was such an ugly goose in comparison to her. I did put on my cream tulle, however, and thought I was as presentable as I could be. Normally Captain Mazer complimented both of us, as well as Ma, on our looks, but that night, despite Joanna's extra efforts (and mine), he said nothing. He seemed preoccupied right from the start of the evening. For instance, Private Katz tripped on the doorstep on his way in, and Captain Mazer would normally have teased him mercilessly. Instead he seemed not to even notice.
The potato pancakes were delicious. Because Captain Mazer was so inattentive, Private Katz tried to keep the conversation alive.
"What do you hear, ma'am," he asked, "of your sons and your husband?"
"We have had letters," Ma answered, "from Simon and from my dear husband, but have heard nothing from our Leon since he left here in October."
I glared at Private Katz. How dare he ask about our family, as if he cared wasn't it due to his Union army that our men were in danger? It's true Pa wasn't fighting; he had been appointed chief commissary for the troops of Mississippi. Somehow he had to find food, medicine, uniforms, and shoes for the troops, which wasn't easy because of the Federal blockade. He always tried to cheer us up, though, by reminding us that while he obtained supplies for the army, he was able to obtain supplies for the store as well. We had the best-stocked store in town. But Ma scoffed at such thinking. She just wanted him home, as did we all.
"I hope, ma'am," the private said, "that you will have good news of him soon."
And I hope, I thought, that he is at this moment killing many of your compatriots. Naturally I could voice no such thought. I would be regarded as bloodthirsty and unladylike.
"Simon is rough!" David declared, speaking to Private Katz. "He's rough!" he repeated with pride.
Ma smiled. "Our eldest, Simon," she explained, "is with the Barksdale's Mississippians. Their nickname is the Rough and Readies."
"Ready to shoot Yanks!" David exclaimed.
"David!" Joanna reprimanded him. "Please do not be rude to our guests. I am sure you are aware that they are Union."
I tried not to laugh aloud. Good for David!
"'Course I am, Sister," David said, shaking his head. "Look at their uniforms. I ain't a baby."
"I am not a baby," Ma corrected him.
"Leon was at military academy," David continued, ignoring Ma's interruption. "He always got into trouble."
Ma laughed. "David, you do remember the funniest things." She thought for a minute. "Let me see if I can recall all his infractions. I believe he was cited for throwing spitballs, skylarking at mess, laughing at exercise, and being disorderly at drill."
"Do not forget," Joanna added, "being noisy in the study room and having his musket out of order."
I had to add my laughter to theirs. Leon was always in trouble. He had signed up just this summer at age sixteen, against Ma's wishes. And no doubt he was keeping his entire regiment in stitches.
After our meal we moved to the front parlor, where we played the dreidel game. We each bet with pecans supplied by Henry from the store. I spun and the dreidel fell on halb, so I got half the pot. Joanna spun next and got a shtel, so she had to add three pecans, which was the ante. Ma spun a nichts, as did Private Katz, so they got nothing. Captain Mazer spun a shtel, as Joanna had, and for some reason the two of them found it humorous that they had spun the exact same thing. Finally it was David's turn and he spun a ganz, winning the whole thing!
"I win. I win!" he exclaimed. "Can I eat them, Ma?"
Ma smiled and nodded. She knew how terribly David missed his pa and his brothers, and was just pleased to see him happy.
Jule brought in the tea and the chocolate. Ma served everyone, and at that point Captain Mazer seemed to come to life. He turned a deep red and cleared his throat.
"I have had some very bad news today," he said, turning to address Ma.
"And what is that, sir?" she replied, obviously concerned.
He stood then and cleared his throat again. "There has been profiteering in cotton in this area, as you know," he said.
Ma looked puzzled. "Yes, of course I know."
We all did. Pa always told us how carefully he priced everything, so as never to take advantage of the war to make excess profit.
Captain Mazer seemed unable to continue.
Private Katz took pity on him. He rose to talk and immediately tripped over his own foot. He would have tumbled onto the floor had Captain Mazer not shot out his hand and caught him in the nick of time. Once upright, he began to talk in the speedy way he had.
"General Grant's dad, Jesse, he's in business with a Jewish man. And I hear they got into a big fight with the general, wanting special treatment to buy and sell cotton. And General Grant got so mad, what with all the profiteering that's going on already, well, he's made an order for the Department of the Tennessee, which is all the land hereabouts in Mississippi and into Tennessee and Kentucky, that all Jews must be expelled from these territories within twenty-four hours of the order. That is, twenty-four hours as of today."
Ma looked blank. "I don't understand," she said.
"He blames the Jews for trading in cotton. He wants them out."
"But we live here," Ma said, still not comprehending.
Henry spoke up then. "It isn't true!" he exclaimed. "The Jews aren't involved no more than anyone. Why, it's mostly the army that's doing it. I see it all the time."
Joanna had turned pale and could not seem to speak. I tried to make sense of it all but was unable to.
"I know it is not true," Captain Mazer said. "I am ashamed to be part of an army that would issue such an iniquitous order, and I want you to know that I for one will do what I can to protect you. I won't send you away, that is for certain. The townsfolk depend on you. They don't see you as different because you are Israelites, and I am sure they will not give you away. And with your last name, Green, why, it isn't obvious, is it, that you are Israelites I mean, to the Union troops. I am sure it will all blow over."
"Do you mean to say," Joanna said slowly, "that we are to be thrown out of our house and sent away because we are Jews?"
There was a long, horrible pause.
"Not if I can help it," Captain Mazer said quietly.
Suddenly I understood. Suddenly I realized what we could be facing.
"And you," I said, standing up, "you Yankees lecture us on equality. You lecture us about our slaves! Yet you would stand by and let this happen?"
Captain Mazer couldn't seem to answer. After an awkward pause he bowed, and thanked Ma for her hospitality. Then, along with Private Katz, he withdrew, leaving us to try to comprehend what we had just been told. I sank back into my chair, a feeling of dread washing over me. Could this happen? And if it did, what could be worse?
Copyright © 2001 by Carol Matas
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