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Authors: Bobbi Miller

The Girls of Gettysburg (9 page)

BOOK: The Girls of Gettysburg
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Miss Mary whirled on her heel as the Jackson boy ran past them.

“It's the rebs,” he shouted. “General Early's taking over the town!”


The rebels were here!

And the moment was more terrible than anyone could have imagined.

“You can't be here, Grace.” Miss Mary pushed Grace inside.

“Miss Mary”—Grace shook her head in disbelief—“
Pappa was wrong
. The rebels are coming to take us away!”

“Mary.” Mrs. Scott herself could scarcely breathe. “They're just around the corner. If they find the runaways, they'll shoot us on the spot. I heard stories of neighbors burning neighbors out once they found out they were hiding them runaways.”

“Then keep your mouth shut so no one will find out,” Miss Mary hissed, bolting the front door. Mrs. Scott bit her lip. Miss Mary straightened her shoulders and said, “If they come in, we give them whatever they ask for. Foods, stores, blankets. We give them the family silver, Martha, do you hear? Seems to me, you be nice to a man with a gun, and he won't shoot. You give them what they ask for, and they have no reason to look for anything else. Meanwhile, Grace, we have to hide you.”

Miss Mary took hold of Grace's arm and led her down the hidden stairs to the cellar. Frantic, she removed the stones and planks. “Grace, we need to keep you safe. This will be uncomfortable with the three of you packed in there like crackers. But it's only for a little while. And we can do anything for a little while, right?”

Grace gave a shallow nod as she squeezed her way into the room.
Sorry and Weezy looked frightened, holding each other. Grace felt the same fear growing in her own belly.

“Pappa?” Grace said before Miss Mary closed the door.

“He's fine,” Miss Mary said, already covering the doorway. “We'll hold to that thought until we're told otherwise. No need bringing more trouble on our shoulders just yet. God keep you safe, all three of you.”

Miss Mary replaced the wooden shutter and the daylight disappeared. Grace heard the creaking and muffled scuffling of Miss Mary's footfalls as she raced up the stairs.

And Grace sat, her foot tap-tapping. The dark seemed too heavy for the candlelight to break through. The quiet hung just as heavy as the smells of musk, soggy wool, ripe peaches, and body odor.

It was all Grace could do to breathe.

“Wade in the water, wade in the water, children. Wade in the water . . . ,” Weezy sang, quiet as a cricket's whisper. But in the tiny room, in the dark, it seemed loud enough. There was comfort in the sound. Grace was glad for it.

“Wade in the water, God's gonna trouble the water.”

“I know that song,” Grace whispered back. “Mamma sings it when she's afraid. She says it's about Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, when they come to the Red Sea. Moses told the Israelites to go into the water, have faith, for God would raise up the waters and protect them against the pharaoh's men.”

“It's one my pap taught me,” said Weezy. “He made us know it by heart for our journey here. Said General Tubman taught it to him. Said when the slave chasers are hunting you down, cross the water and the dogs will lose your scent. The song keeps us safe.”

“My mamma is a teacher; she tells us stories.” Grace worked hard to swallow her guilt for running away. “She says stories tell us who we are.”

“I know another story,” Weezy said. “God sent an angel to touch the pool of Bethesda, gave it special powers. And people bathed in them waters, got free of all that ailed them. And here we are, to bathe in them waters of freedom.”

“Now you sound like my pappa. When he speaks, his voice is full of sky and trees and swooping barn swallows.”

Sorry touched Weezy's shoulder.

“She's no bother, Sorry,” Grace said.

“She don't believe it,” whispered Weezy. “You free. I heard of free blacks, but I don't believe it neither.”

“Now you sound like my mamma. She says there's free for the white, then there's free for the black. Same word, but the word seems smaller for the black folk. But Pappa says there's possibilities. His great-great-grandfather fought in the War of Independence. He was freed when the war was won. We've been free ever since.”

“That's why you in this here hidey-hole, because you so free?” Weezy asked.

“Pappa don't walk small for no one,” Grace huffed. “Isn't that why you coming up north, to be free?”

“We come up here so not to be killed. Not the same thing.”

Loud rapping on the floor above quieted their whispers. Sorry blew out the candle. They heard Mrs. Scott scream, and strange voices boomed in anger, followed by the sound of heavy boots scuffling across the kitchen floor.

Rebels were in the house!

Wade in the water, wade in the water, children
. Weezy's song echoed in Grace's thoughts. She closed her eyes tight, and clung to the comfort in the song.
Wade in the water, God's gonna trouble the water

She felt Weezy's hand grip hers, and she held it tight.

Then it was quiet, a booming quiet that seemed to last forever. They dared not whisper now, dared not twitch a muscle. And so Grace sat and waited. She waited for Miss Mary. She waited for Pappa.

She waited for the light to find them.
Wade in the water
 . . .

More time, more quiet.

She thought of Mamma, and tears of guilt welled up.
went her foot. She had to hold it to make it stop.

The creaking stairs warned them: someone was coming! Grace couldn't tell if it were a man's step, or a woman's. But whoever it was,
they were coming closer. Then someone was scraping against the shutter. Grace held her breath, and her tears rolled. They were found!

Wade in the water
 . . .

“Gracie?” Miss Mary poked a light into the room. Grace exhaled so hard it hurt. “The rebels are gone. See, we gave them what they wanted, and they left. They were just boys, really. They were far from home, and close to starving, by the looks of them. Gave them a good meal, and they left as they came. But they're coming back.”

“They'll come back?” Grace stiffened.

Miss Mary gave a slow nod. “They're coming, they told us. And there's thousands more of them.”




The Same Day: Friday, June 26

The classroom was small and tidy, with a large window facing the streets of Gettysburg. A few had their noses in their readers, but most struggled to see outside. People scattered across the walkways and roads and yards. Her back to the room, Mrs. Eyster was writing on the board, her perfect lettering gliding across the slate without a screech. Tillie was amazed that there was school at all, given the circumstances of the past few days. Most of the colored folk had left, except the stubborn ones like Abraham Bryan. Mother said they should all leave, but Father refused. Many of their neighbors refused, believing the rebs wouldn't get this far north. So they held church services on Sunday, and even opened some shops, and school. Life almost seemed normal.

“The rebels are here!”

“It looks like a big snake.”

Tillie rolled her eyes. How many times had they heard those words since Father and the volunteers had gone to fell trees in the Gap to block the rebels' passing?
The rebels are coming!
The call was becoming more like a chicken's chirp. No one believed it anymore.

“The rebels are not coming,” Tillie huffed.

“Oh, yes they are.” Allison pointed across the town to the seminary. There in the distance, a dense, dark mass moved toward the town.
like a giant snake, big enough to swallow Gettysburg whole. Tillie's heart pounded. She shook her head in disbelief.

“Ladies.” Mrs. Eyster had joined them at the window, herself all atremble. “Hurry home straightaway. Go as quickly as you can!”

Tillie did as she was told. That mass looked too big to be another raiding party sweeping through the town. She had reached York Street when she heard the galloping sounds and shouts of men on horseback.

At the diamond, she turned onto Baltimore Street and made a beeline home. Looking over her shoulder, she saw nothing behind her. But as she finally reached her own stoop, she could see the rebels nearing her street. Slamming the door behind her, she rushed to the sitting room to find Mother peering out the window.

“They're here, and so many!” Mother stood, pale as a clean sheet. “Where's Father?”

Tillie could hear cavalry racing pell-mell down the road. The very air trembled with the pounding horses hooves and the footfalls of the rebel infantry as they marched through Gettysburg.

“They call themselves human beings?” Tillie looked out the window. “Why, I never saw a more unearthly wild bunch of ruffians—dirty, shoeless, and hatless! What are they going to do, Mother? Are they going to ransack the town again?”

“They won't find much. There's nothing left. Where's Father? Have you seen Father?”

“Why do they do this?”

“Just to frighten us, Tillie.” Mother wrung her hands.

“Well,” said Tillie, “wait until our boys get them, those dirty scalawags. I have half a mind to—”

“Hush your bold talk, child,” Mother scolded her, “and do something useful! Find your father!”

At that moment she heard a fearful screech. Tillie turned to see two rebels leading away her pony! Kicking and screeching in protest, ears flattened against its neck, the pony kicked a rebel. The man shouted, and retaliated with a stick to the pony's neck and forelegs. A
third rebel had hold of the Jackson boy by the cuff. Like the pony, the boy kicked and screeched to get away.

“They're taking Sam Jackson!” Tillie screamed, bolting toward the door.

But already Mother was rushing down the stairs and through the door. Tillie ran after her.

“Sir!” Mother pleaded with the soldier. “You don't want that boy. He's too puny, small and lazy, good for nothing. Take the pony, but leave the boy!”

BOOK: The Girls of Gettysburg
4.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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