To commemorate the 159th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, I’ve completely rewritten this piece from a few years ago. The original post has been tweaked since then – originally they weren’t married. The story has changed more since the tweaks, hence why I rewrote it.
Someday, it’ll be part of a novella. And in case you’re wondering, yes, they are related to the Matthews of the Arrows-verse. They are Connor’s…um…I wanna say 4x great-grandparents. I could be wrong.
Anyway…without further ado:
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 1863
Sleep would not come. No matter how long Alice kept her gray eyes closed when she had the chance to rest, sleep would not come.
The stench, the sight, the cries…everything about the past three days had drained her very soul, making her want to curl into a ball and weep until she could weep no more. Instead, she had pushed aside the feelings of despair and focused on helping care for the wounded men that had been brought into Gettysburg’s homes, just as she had been doing for the past two years.
Harder still was not knowing the whereabouts of her own husband, of whom she had known to be at the battle. Every time another man was brought in, she looked to see if it was Zeke. Every time, it wasn’t, and so her heart would sink.
Perhaps he’s in another home, she told herself on occasion. Or perhaps he’s out there in the field, helping search for the wounded, or burying the dead.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…
Alice couldn’t help but think her prayers had become stilted. A week had now passed since the battle and she had yet to see or hear from Zeke. It didn’t help that the lady of the house she was in had just discovered her own husband was killed.
Night came, but again, Alice could not sleep. All she could think of was hers and Zeke’s daughter, at home in Philadelphia under the care of Zeke’s parents.
She leaned back against the bloodstained wall, her blonde hair long loosened from its bun, and listened to the moans of the wounded men around her. Some wept. A few that weren’t as severely wounded quietly conversed amongst themselves. A fellow nurse nearby wrote a letter for one man.
Then she heard it. It was low, almost like a humming at first, but it grew louder. Not too loud, but loud enough for her to make out the words to a hymn.
One of the nurses was singing. “A thousand ages in your sight are like an evening gone, short as the watch that ends the night before the rising sun.”
Alice closed her eyes. Bit by bit, comfort seeped into her soul, threading the broken pieces of her heart back together. Her eyes stung with growing tears and she wiped them.
Her own voice joined as the last verse began. “O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, still be our guard while troubles last, and our eternal home.”
When it faded, she took a deep, shaky breath. She didn’t know when the war would end, but she knew that it would end.
She thought of her husband again, knowing she needed to prepare herself for whatever outcome. Yet she also wondered, Can I still hope that God has spared him from death?
A clock chimed the hour, interrupting her thoughts. Two o’clock in the morning. She yawned, realizing how heavy her eyes felt. Alice shifted to get more comfortable, if that were even possible, and closed her eyes with a prayer in her heart.
Thy will be done…
“Alice! Alice, wake up!”
She batted at the hand shaking her.
With a groan, Alice opened her eyes to see Florrie, the sister-in-law of the lady of the house. There was a telling excitement in her wide green eyes, even as the grief from losing her brother still remained.
“What?” Alice said amidst a yawn.
“You must come with me to Mrs. Farnsworth’s!” Florrie replied, grabbing her arm. “You’re needed there!”
Florrie tugged her to her feet and didn’t bother to let her get her bearings before heading towards the front door, dragging Alice along with her.
Outside, the stench of blood still hung in the air. Other residents of the town looked up from the soldiers that they tended two as the two women passed by. The army and their nurses had already left earlier in the week, on the fourth.
“Florrie, what is it?” Alice asked, annoyed.
The other woman stopped on the bloodstained stoop of a house near the edge of town and, her eyes still twinkling, opened the door and gestured for Alice to go inside.
She did so, her mind still foggy from the lack of sleep. Being rudely awakened hadn’t helped.
Inside, wounded men lined the walls and the rooms. Just like the one she had been in for the past week. Just like everyone else’s house here in Gettysburg.
An older woman, one Alice vaguely recognizes, came towards her, asking, “Are you Mrs. Matthews?”
Alice blinked. “Yes. Why-” Her breath caught. “Zeke?”
The older woman nodded, taking her arm and guiding her into the parlor. There, in the middle of the floor closest to the nearest wall, was Zeke. Alive, yet wounded.
Alice knelt next to him, taking his hand. Oh, God, thank you!
“His fever broke last night, and he called for you,” Mrs. Farnsworth explained. “Miss Andersen arrived not long after, saying she was searching for him on your behalf.”
At that, Alice looked up to thank Florrie only to find she had left to tend to another soldier, a young boy of perhaps fifteen.
About an hour passed before Zeke started to stir. Alert, Alice cupped his unshaven cheek. “Zeke, it’s me.”
Another moment, then his blue eyes opened.