Lieutenant Reil Bardlow by Ciegra
Forsake The Devil
The unfinished sequel to This Is War
The haze that covers ones soul in times of stress can either cloud judgment, or make a body strong enough to dispel the haze. Never knowing which will prevail is what makes life interesting. For some, finding a deep dark cave is the answer. But their lives are forever clouded by fear and regret. For others, they take lifes bittersweet tendrils and tie them together to make a strong fiber by which they pull themselves out of any dilemma. These are the lives worth observing.
And thus deciding this direction, in the service of ones country, and hearing the bugle call to arms, in which direction does one go when the bullets fly and cannons thunder the earth beneath mortal souls? Which way, indeed, when push comes to shove. Flee in horrified terror, and face possible damnation for eternity (for who among us would wish to spend eternity with a coward). Or rise up and fight, but ah… sweet perplexity, to be brave and righteous for a cause, but to kill…
One can only pray as Hades tallies up the sides. Will the scales tip in the preferred direction? Make the choice. Decide…now. But keep in mind, dear friends, death cares not which side won or lost. Nor does it care how ones demise occurred. Time is never on anyones side. Decide…now.
The early morning mist had long since burned away as the sun fully committed itself to the start of the new day. Only a month before, it would have been a gentle start welcoming a new day. Today, it blossomed the land into a full inferno, causing its short trek of one day to seem like an eternity. Barely an hour had gone by since the orb had made its daily appearance, and already the heat was unbearable. Reil didn’t have time to contemplate this phenomenon, she had other things on her mind.
Strong muscles coiled and relaxed beneath her as she took a steadying breath in preparation for the next motion. Sweat poured off her brow, stinging the eyes and blurring the vision. Vaguely, in the back recesses of her mind, Reil knew the pain in her leg would soon become unbearable, but the sheer exhilaration kept the pain at bay. Carefully shifting positions, she tightened her grip, flowing gracefully along the crest she was riding, never slowing her pace. Tears poured from her eyes, mixing with the sweat. Her mind was unable to tell if the tears were those of joy, or those of sorrow. She was one with the here and now, one with the past, her heartbeat racing ahead of her to capture the future. A sense of urgency overwhelmed her, nearly causing her to cry out from the ache that filled her heart. Try as she might to hold and capture that moment, it lasted forever and not at all. In that brief span of time, she knew the secrets of the universe, and also how little she truly did know. She came crashing down hard, her body trembling and taut from the strain. Her body no longer able to sustain the emotions, she drew her knees to her chest, inhaled a ragged breath and began to cry harder still.
Riding a bit behind Reil, Rock was able to pull his horse to a stop and dismount almost immediately. He ran up to the small form and heedless of the mud, knelt down and drew his daughter into his arms. A small keening sound was all that was heard for several minutes from the young woman. Alcaeus stood nearby, pawing the earth in only mild distress for the rider he had thrown. “Why?” The question came out as a tiny plaintive wail to which Rock had no answer. He knew that the question was multilayered, and he didn’t have the answers to any of them. Still, they filtered through his mind as a series of statements. Why was the war happening. Why were they racing pell mell into another life threatening situation. Why did two young married people have to be separated so soon after being joined. Right now, the world was filled with more questions than any one man could answer. All he was able to do was offer a temporary safe haven, so he did.
The comforting presence that Rock was offering finally found a foothold in Reils’ mind and her body finally relaxed. “You didn’t break anything did you? Neither Alcaeus, nor you, have done any serious riding lately. Maybe it’s too much to ask, what with your leg and all.” Reil sat in the mud, thinking about all that had happened in the past weeks, and that a fall off her horse was small in comparison to what she had already overcome. Drying her tears with the back of her hand, she came to the conclusion that she had been thinking entirely too much lately, and wanted only to see her way through whatever came along so that she could once again be by Emmas’ side. Reil shoved herself to her feet, ignoring the concern that Rock had voiced. Come hell or high water, she would get through it all. Grabbing the reins of her horse, Reil turned to her captain, her face a cold mask to the emotions inside threatening to rip her apart if she let them loose. “Let’s get moving again. We still have quite a ways to go before nightfall.” With that, she mounted up and was on her way again at a slightly slower pace, not bothering to see if Rock followed or not.
It took Rock a moment to comprehend the emotional ends that Reil seemed to be swinging between. ‘Best leave it alone,’ he thought to himself, ‘else she’ll get even testier.’ Rock had seen this determination in Reil before. It was not a sign that she didn’t care, but that she cared too much. Such raw grit was what had brought Reil into the service of her country. Was what kept her fighting against overwhelming odds. Being away from Emma clearly was tearing her up inside, but seeing her country torn apart was unacceptable to Reil. Business first, he knew she was thinking, because solving that problem eventually solved the other more personal one. The look in her eyes, even though she was the junior officer of the two, told him volumes of how far she intended to go to do what was right.
Still, Rock worried that his young officer was pushing herself, mind and body, to already fragile limits. As the captain of Company A, it was within his power to declare her unfit for duty. He knew what his duty should be, and what her reaction to that would also be. A leg injury as severe as hers had discharged many a man from duty. A discharge such as that would not be seen as cowardliness, it would be seen as a soldier who had fought bravely, and was simply no longer able to continue as a soldier. But he knew that his young lieutenant would not see it that way. Sending her home now would eventually eat away at her soul. That was something that even Emma couldn’t heal with her love.
So, no, he knew he couldn’t send her away, anymore than he could make all of her problems go away in one fell swoop. Gathering up his own reins and mounting his horse, he followed after Alcaeus. As he looked upon the small figure, which had become steadily smaller with the distance the young woman had put between them, he wondered, not for the first time in his life, just what fate had in store for them all. Pulling a cloth from his pocket, Rock wiped his brow. He wasn’t sure where the day would end, what it might bring, but he was sure of one thing. He had very little control over it all. Glancing up with a quick prayer to the heavens, he kneed his horse to a canter. Some days he knew deep in his heart that he was meant to follow Reil, help her with some higher purpose, but he was buggered if he could tell what that purpose actually was at times.
When Emma had been arrested, Jimmy had simply locked the house up and left for Fredricksburg as he had been instructed. Consequently, upon returning for the wedding, she and Flo had been hard pressed to make the house suitable for company. In the short time they were given prior to the reception, they had managed to tidy up the sitting room, the dining area and the small front room as well as making the kitchen as functional as possible. Flo was still beside herself at the condition of her kitchen, and truly didn’t want to know what her own small cottage looked like in the light of day.
The soldiers had done an even more complete job than Emma had remembered, and all had been left just as it had been. Furniture still lay overturned, drawers pulled out and their belongings scattered everywhere and while the men had been exhaustive in their search, they had been unexpectedly honest.. Emma was extremely surprised to find that the house had not been looted…very surprised indeed. After saying her tearful good-byes to Reil that morning, she, Flo and Jimmy set about putting the house and barn back in proper order.
Several hours later, Emma sat on the back porch, eating her midday meal. As she reached for her glass of lemonade, her mind relived those last tender moments shared with Reil on this very spot, just moments prior to being arrested. Unwittingly, the precious though brought up the distasteful one and her mind skipped ahead to the visits Reil would pay her while she was confined in prison. Those bright spots of each day, when Reil would wait out on the sidewalk, were the only thing that had allowed Emma any sense of sanity. Looking back on it now, it all seemed so very romantic, however trying it was at the time.
Wistfully, she traced an abstract pattern through the condensation forming on her glass as her thoughts turned to the early hours of that very morning. Emma felt a pang of guilt, knowing that Reil had gotten very little sleep before leaving to rejoin her unit. The two had spent many hours alone in their room while still in Washington, but their wedding night was something special for both of them. It had become a moment in time that neither would soon forget, wild abandon taking precedence over any thoughts of tender moments. Each knew that their time together was put at risk each day the war continued. Reil had shown a passion that had taken Emma’s breath away. She could, in fact, still feel every spot Reil had touched, both within and without, with every breath she took. A feeling of loss swept over the woman, hot tears making soft splashes on the wooden planks of the porch.
Flo peered through the windowpane, saddened by the sight she saw, yet knowing that any comfort she could offer would only fall short of the type which Emma truly needed. All morning, Flo had been having an odd sensation flicker through her mind, teasing her senses and leaving her feeling so very empty. Seeing Emma sitting there looking so forlorn, she put it down to empathy, but tucked away the emotion to examine later. Quietly she walked outside, sat down beside the younger woman and enveloped her in a warm embrace. Deep down inside, she knew it would only help the pain ease for a short while, but Flo found it difficult to stand by and do nothing.
Flo knew well the feelings of loss that Emma now struggled with. Flo’s family had once been slaves many years ago when she had been just a young girl of nine or ten winters. She and her mother, Ustice, had escaped north, thinking that perhaps Canada would be able to welcome them and treat them as more than just property. On the way there, they were hired by Emma’s father, a reputable businessman by the name of Miles Kilgore. Ustice realized that the atmosphere in Philadelphia was quite different from that of the Carolinas. But the trip had been a difficult one, and at first had been leary of hiring on to a family she knew nothing about. It had taken many months, but Flo and her mother had eventually come to the conclusion that they had indeed found a new home.
Not long after arriving in Philadelphia, Ustice had tried to contact her husband. He had made them promise that they would do all they could to escape. They had to, he had said, because a mother and child should not be separated. Those were the last words Flo remembered her father saying, right before he had been taken to be sold at auction. Ustice had tried for years to find him, but to no avail. Finally word came from some relatives who had managed to escape, Bernard Jackson, Flo’s father, Ustice’s husband, had died trying to escape. His last thoughts had been to find his family. So Flo sat there, gently rocking Emma. She had never been able to tell her that story, never able to put into words the feelings she had for a father she remembered so well. Just as now, Flo knew that Emma couldn’t talk about her pain. So she simply rocked her.
Pushing hard all morning, Reil and Rock caught up with the 124th near Emmitsburg. Rejoining her unit was a strange sensation for Reil. Her stepfather had tried to fill her in on the activities of the unit since her injury, but seeing the changes nearly caused Reil to faint. As the two walked their mounts through the area belonging to Company A, Reil was hard pressed not to ask Rock if they were in fact in the right location. So many new faces, so few old. Due to the severe losses sustained at Chancellorsville, a draft had been ordered. The new recruits still hailed from the same small towns in New York, some even bearing resemblance to relatives lost in the last battle. One such strong resemblance had Reil looking twice at a young private. She made a mental note not to make that boy the guidon bearer.
She walked along next to her captain, pitching her voice for his ears only. “They look scared and green. How far along have they advanced with their drills?” Rock nodded in agreement, his face showing clearly his thoughts on the matter. “Most can load and fire, march in a fairly orderly fashion, those that can’t will have to pray for divine intervention. The original company looked near the same when we all first signed on.” Reil studied the ranks of soldiers, her keen eyes seeing far to many flaws, no matter the amount of intervention involved. “True, but we had time to get our act together before going into battle.” A runner approached, handing the captain a note. Rock dismissed the young private. “The time they’ve had will have to do. We leave for Gettysburg immediately.”
Wet wool, Reil thought, great. The only thing she could think of that was worse than wet wool was wearing said items during the high heat of summer. Which was exactly what she was doing. The hard ride which had brought them to Emmetsburg had also led them into a heavy downpour. Add to that the fact that most soldiers uniforms saw about as regular a washing as did the soldiers, well…Reil made a mental note to formulate a roster rotation the next time the unit camped near anything remotely resembling a bathtub. At the moment, the unit was approximately ten miles from Gettysburg, and as she rode up and down the lines of soldiers a certainty formed within her. A good scrubbing was by far the last thing in this world she needed to worry about at the moment. Reil dodged in and out of conversations with her men. Hat pulled low, she maintained an upright posture on her mount, even though the rumors she gathered caused her heart to sink.
“Big battle ahead, sure ‘nuf.” One burly corporal said to a skinny, tow headed young soldier next to him. “Sure ‘nuf you gonna see some mighty fierce fightin’ up yonder.” The younger man turned pale, but to his credit, only a small bit. It was hard to ignore rumors that were more than likely true, but rather than focus on the sad truth that some might yet die before the day was out, she instead directed her questions towards the more mundane. Reil wanted her soldiers keyed for battle, not mired in morbid thoughts of impending death. A kind word here, a supportive statement there…it was difficult, but necessary. Up and down the rank and file she rode, trying to spot those who looked likely to turn tail and run during battle and giving them some extra encouragement. Sometimes they were easy to spot…stragglers, nervousness, excessive unease. Reil knew all too well that even the man who thought himself invincible could very well be the person to freeze up in the heat of battle.
She wanted only to be done with this business of war, and wondered not for the first time why it was that men could never settle their differences with words. Well, she thought to herself, if it took thick headed men to start this war, no reason why a thick headed woman can’t try to set things right. From what little she could gather, the fighting had already started early that morning. It did not appear the 124th would arrive in time to see any fighting. It was somewhat ironic to Reil that the battle had begun on July 1st, just days away from what had enabled the United States to become independent. She silently vowed that this would not become the southerners independence day. Reil continued to ride, listen and bolster the troops. Her one comfort was that Emma was safe and sound, far away from the upcoming clash.
Flo didn’t quite know what to make of all the fuss that suddenly sprang up around her. One minute she was comforting Emma on the back porch, the next she was watching a very tired looking man hand a letter to Miss Emma, jump back on his horse and leave again as quickly as he had come. She was currently in the process of tossing clothing into a carpet bag and searching for what else might be needed for the trip. “Flo, did you pack the extra cloth for the bandages? Check the sewing room…I believe there are more in there. While your there, grab some needle and thread, can’t have too much of that either!” The constant call came from down the hall, and Flo was keeping a mental note running of all the hundreds of things Emma continued to call out. So much to do! she thought, Land sakes, but that must’ve been something powerfully important in that letter! Flo continued to hurry about, collecting this and that, double checking everything. It wasn’t the first time Emma had decided on moving so quickly. One did, after all, have to keep on ones toes when acting as a double agent.
Emma sat on her bed, sorting piles of clothes and running through the list of things she needed over and over again in her mind. Hope I told Jimmy everything, so much to do… Her mind wandered off momentarily to wonder how Reil was faring. From what the letter had said, there had been word that the battle was to be larger than any other yet fought during the war. It had been a call to arms, of a sort. A small group of women had been meeting silently for months, not interfering, neither pro nor con for either side, discussing issues related to the war, and how it affected them. They had realized that this battle would be somehow different. That it might change or determine the final outcome of the war. It was voted upon by all active members that they would do all in their power to help, and a call was put out to all inactive members to do what they could as they saw fit.
Emma took the letter to heart. She could not bear to think of losing Reil out on some horrid battlefield. Not if she could be there to do anything about it. Knowing in her heart that she was attempting the impossible, knowing that even if Reil were hurt in the upcoming battle, she would likely never find her, she still had to do something…anything. For Emma, anything was better than sitting still, just waiting for something to happen. She packed up the last of her things and carried her bags downstairs. Jimmy was waiting out front with the wagon laden down with provisions. Emma silently prayed one last time that she had remembered everything, and helped Flo up into the front seat. By the afternoon of July 1st, after spending the night with friends several miles outside Emmetsburg, Emma would have been surprised to learn that Reil had passed that way just hours prior.
Where Reil and Rocks’ journey had been more tactical, having to go through checkpoints, making contact with company commanders, and then finally moving on at a much slower pace to accomadate the infantry, Emma had made better time since all the units had been moving forward in the process of reaching Gettysburg. Unhampered by unnecessary delays, the trio arrived tired but well in Emmetsburg.
As Emma rode into town that afternoon, two women whom she recognized approached the wagon as they were pulling up in front of the local hotel. “Well hello Mrs. Collingsworth!” The first woman called out. She was older than Emma by more than a decade, but looked far more fit than any woman half her age. “So nice to see you again.” The first womans companion said as the two moved closer to the wagon. “I take it you’re here to join up with the other Sisters of the Union to assist at the battlefield?” The first turned to the other and said, “My, my, sister, but doesn’t the Lord work in mysterious ways! Why, just the other day, wasn’t I telling you how nice it would be to see Mrs. Collingsworth again!” Both women were dressed in plain homespun which had been dyed a deep black, but it was clear from their manners and speech that they were, in fact, well bred. “Yes, sister, you were…what a pleasant surprise!” “Why, hello there Mrs. Weston, Mrs. chaney. How are you ladies doing today? And, please, call me Mrs. Bardlow now…I’ve recently remarried.” Mrs. Weston, the first who had spoken, beamed a radient, almost childlike smile. “We do most fine today. Oh, and what wonderful news, you’ll have to tell us all about your new husband. I do hope you’re not planning on staying here though, all the places in town have considerably raised their rates due to the upcoming battle.”
It pained Emma to know that the two women lost practically everything because of the war. While she had heard that there was some price gouging going on, she knew that even the original rates would have been a hardship on the two elderly ladies. Both their husbands had died years prior, and they each only had the other for company and comfort. Confederate soldiers had raided their small plantation, stripping it of most of its valuables. Had it not been for the grace of God, and the fact that both their husbands had buried a small amount of their earnings, the two women would have been surely worse off than they currently were. Emma had visited their home often before the war, and knew the two quite well. If they couldn’t be found in their parlor knitting lace, it was a sure thing that they could be found around back, tending to their still. It was carefully hidden in a copse of trees, and the rebel soldiers had never even suspected it of existing. Between that, and their small nest egg, Emma knew she needn’t worry about the two sisters. They sold what hooch they didn’t drink, tended their small garden, and basically kept to themselves. That was, of course, until the war.
After tying off the horses leads to the brake lever, Emma climbed down from the wagon. All the while, the two sisters batted questions back and forth. “Oh, yes,” replied Mrs. Chaney in affirmation to her sisters statement, “and your wagon and its contents would be gone when you awoke, no doubt. Surely you’ll come with us and have supper, and you’ll stay as long as necessary.” Emma smiled as she gave each woman a brief hug. “I’ll be joining up with the Sisters of the Union. I recieved their missive only yesterday, and packed what supplies I had on hand. I was hoping to pick up more here. We needn’t worry about the hotel, since we won’t be staying the night. Time is of the essence.”
“Oh, indeed it is Mrs. Collingsworth, indeed it is. I was just telling Sister that this morning. Wasn’t I Sister?” The two women were still wearing their bright smiles. “Oh, yes, Sister. That is so true. Why, we can even send along our supplies that we’ve been saving. That would save our old bones the trouble of delivering it ourselves.” Emma smiled to herself. She knew those ‘old bones’ had been doing an awful lot of work behind the scenes in order to help the war effort. Supplies would show up for soldiers who hadn’t seen a decent meal in days, bandages would arrive at field hospitals, letters were written and things happened. All because of these two women. It was quickly decided that they would all retire to the home of the two sisters, clean up, rest a bit, and get a good meal inside them before heading out again.
Never To Be Continued