Since Jeremiah had been sent to the front, Clara hadn’t slept a night through. Every time she laid her head upon the pillow and closed her eyes, her mind began racing with a myriad of awful possibilities. Finally admitting that rest was an elusive wish, she had given up on the effort and taken to passing the sleepless hours of the night in the rocking chair. At least there she could see the open expanse of the sky and hope that somewhere her husband was gazing up at it too.
Of all the bloody battles the Civil War had seen, the battle at Gettysburg had been the bloodiest. The Union had claimed it as a victory, but with the ever rising toll of the dead and wounded, there was no glory to be found in it.
Every day the casualty list grew as the reports trickled in from the front. Jeremiah’s name had not appeared in the paper, but that was little assurance when so many injured were still being found, and the identity of many deceased would remain forever unknown. Clara couldn’t explain it, and she didn’t even try, but she knew her husband had been present at the battle and was wounded there.
As the hours of the night grew long, Clara’s eyes finally grew heavy. She waited until she could barely carry herself up the stairs to fall into bed, grateful for a brief escape from the suffocating black cloud of foreboding that pressed in on her.
Morning came too quickly, and Clara dragged herself wearily from the comforting oblivion to meet another day. Her mind was numb with exhaustion and she fumbled through her morning routine in a trance. The sunlight streaming through the muslin curtains told her she had already slept longer than she should have, and she felt a twinge of guilt as she rushed down the stairs.
The sound of a man’s voice in the parlor brought her to a halt, heart thumping wildly against her ribs. Despite the warmth of the day, she could feel the blood draining from her face and her fingertips felt cold as ice.
“She hasn’t come down yet. I’m afraid she isn’t going to take it very well,” Francis replied, an edge of pain layering his words.
“I’ll wait so we can give her the news together,” her father’s somber voice replied.
Clara closed her eyes, taking a deep breath before she squared her shoulders and willed her feet to propel her forward. She dreaded hearing the words, but the truth would find her sooner or later.
She entered the parlor as if she was facing a firing squad, determined to meet the pain with as much dignity and courage as she could muster. Her father stood rigidly by the window, a newspaper crumpled in his hands. Francis sat in the armchair as if he had collapsed there, shoulders stooped and face drawn.
“What’s happened to Jeremiah?” Clara demanded in a quiet, steady voice.
The men’s gaze met, then shifted slowly back to her. It was her father who answered, “He’s been wounded at Gettysburg.”
Clara’s breath left her lungs in a rush. At least he was still alive, or had been at the time the information was released to the paper. Instead of the tears they expected, Clara lifted her chin stubbornly as she announced, “I’m going to be with him.”