Thee I Love
Joshua had been wounded in the Civil War much more deeply than his splinted arm indicated. He wouldn’t lose his arm, the Army doctor had assured him of that, but he might have lost his soul. He was raised a good Quaker boy, his mother was even a Sunday Meeting Leader, and he had gone off to war.
He couldn’t say exactly why he went to war. It wasn’t because he didn’t believe in the things his mother had taught him. It wasn’t to rebel. If he had to put words to the feelings that compelled him to join the Union Officer who came to his church recruiting, he would say that it felt wrong to let other men die to protect his home–actually, his parents home in Northern Missouri. Even after the war had ended, long after his part in it, he still wasn’t sure if he had made the right decision, though he was fairly sure he hadn’t made the wrong one. He thought about it in the morning. He thought about it In the evening, and he thought about it every First Day, on his way to meeting.
It was on his way to meeting that he saw the girl. He had been driving his father’s two person rig since his parents carriage had been full. She was standing at the crossroads of the road that led to the red brick bridge that crossed over the Grand River and the road that led to the meeting house.
She had a white dress, dark hair, and she was holding something in front of her. He couldn’t tell exactly what it was, and he didn’t stop, but he watched her, and she watched him as they passed. He even looked out the back window to see she was still watching him. She was too far away for him to see the color of her eyes, but he knew, absolutely knew, they were violet.
It was hard to concentrate in meeting on that First Day he saw her. The meeting didn’t offer much of a distraction to his own thoughts either, which inevitably led to the girl in white, or the war, or the boy his age he had killed, or the old man he killed, or the sound of the cannon as it whistled toward him, or how he might not ever be able to use his hand properly.
What kind of a farmer would he make with just one useful hand? What kind of husband would he make if he couldn’t be a good farmer?
And then he wondered about the girl again.
He made his mind up to stop the next time he saw Her, and hadn’t expected to see her in the exact same place on his ride back. He pulled the two seat buggy up beside her.
“Why are thee here?” he asked, though it was not What he had planned to ask her. He had planned to Ask who she was, where she was from, and look deeper Into her eyes.
They were, as he knew they would be, violet, and her dark lashes made the color stand out. Her lips were lush and pink as she pursed them a moment in thought before answering.
“I came to see the place where they killed my father,” she said. Her voice was feminine–high in pitch, but rich in tone. The way she stood, facing him without flinching, blinking or any sort of girlish blush, gave her a fearless air–as if she were beyond the conventions of normal courtship.
“Did he die in the War?” he asked and was not shocked at the way the War had made it so easy to take about dead fathers and sons.
“No,” she said simply and held up a little leather bound book. “He died over this.”
“What is it?”
“What is it?” She looked at it as if wondering why he couldn’t tell it was a book. “It’s a book.”
“What book, I mean?”
“The Book of Mormon.”
Joshua’s mind raced. Mormon. Mormon. Why was that word so familiar? He frowned in thought. “Why would someone kill a man over a book?”
“That is the question, isn’t it?” She laughed softly. “There were people who tried to kill Martin Luther for just translating a book.”
Joshua frowned even more deeply. It was not unusual for a woman of his acquaintance to talk about the Bible, but it was very unusual for her to talk about the history of the Bible itself as a whole, ohtside of the Jews and Israel. Especially a woman so young. She had to be younger than he was. “When did he die?”
“Martin Luther?” She asked tilting her head at him so that her dark hair, piled in a bun that was starting to unravel, bobbed just a little toward the sode she tilted to.
“Thy father,” he clarified.
“Eighteen years ago,” she whispered. “I hadn’t even been born yet.”
Joshua had unconsciously leaned in closer to hear her. He was so close that he could see the tendrils of hair escaping their confines to drape down her neck. She looked as if she might cry, her eyes going liquid. She grasped the book, looked down at It, her perfectly bowed eyebrows moving toward one another over her sunburned nose. “I thought I would feel something here. Where he died.” She shook her head. “But I can’t feel anything more here than anywhere else. And I don’t know…” Her voice and the thought she expressed seemed to trail off at the same time. She looked up and off toward the sun and she seemed suddenly far away.
“Are thee alone?” Joshua asked, as if he had justst recognized that she had been. “Thee probably shouldn’t be alone here. There are still rebels out–bushwhackers. They lost the war and they’ll rob thee blind for it here, or worse.”
Her eyes flickered up to quickly look around her, then back to him. “You are a Quaker?” she asked, her voice more curious than respectful.
“Will thee drive me to my grandparents house?”
He smiled, despite himself, nodded his head and scooted over in the bench to reach down for her hand and help her up.
She smelled like lilacs and sun. Now that she was closer, he could see that her dress was dotted with embroidered purple flowers. They were tiny and pale, trying to hide in the field of white linen.
“My name is Amanda Abbott,” she said with a nod, and he noticed again that she had no bonnet. That was the most unusual thing of all, even stranger than the fact she was barefoot.
“Joshua Hart,” he said in reply, trying not to stare. “Where are thee staying?”
“In town. You just follow the road here to the Twin Oaks Bridge-”
“I know the way.” He was distracted by her pointing finger and her long pale arm with the short linen sleeves. She was not married. That much was clear. But she seemed older than she looked and he didn’t trust his judgement with her so close. He tried again not to stare, but could only manage while talking. ” This is probably all very improper.” He tried not to smile, but couldn’t stop the grin on his face as he breathed in the scent of her sun warmed skin and lavender.
“Probably,” she agreed. He wouldn’t let himself look at her, but he did glance at the book held in her lap with both hands.
“Though,” he began again, “I hardly know what is rightly proper anymore. Not after the war.” He frowned at himself and forced his mouth shut. He felt like a damn that had sprung a leak, and shoving his finger in quickly, he managed to stop it for a moment. But the pressure was still there, pushing, demanding.
That was all she said. It was the inquisitive tone of her voice that broke the dam–that made fissures spread until the pressure forced it open.
“The first person I killed was a calvaryman. He had a chestnut mare and wore a fancy Confederate Grey uniform. He had his saber raised and the reflection caught my eye.” He couldn’t stop now that he started and even slowed the horse to a slow, steady gait while he spoke. “I knew he was dead the moment it struck him in the head. He fell into the river the Rebels were crossing. It seemed like such a long time he was falling…
“I started crying then. I had never wanted to kill anyone. I just thought it was wrong to let others kill to protect my farm and family. I thought they would be safer if I made the sacrifice for them–somehow.” He shook his head and his eyes narrowed as he frowned at the tail of his horse, Duchess. He felt strangely hollow repeating the event. “I don’t know. But I had to stop crying. Rebels were swarming our position and I had to see clearly.
“I shot a lot of rounds then. I don’t know how many. When it was over, for just a few moments, it was absolutely quiet. All you could hear was the river. Then a man groaned and it seemed as if all I could hear was the sound of the wounded and the dying.”
He couldn’t look at her now, afraid of what he might see on her face–and at the same time, he wondered what he might see there. But he couldn’t stop. Not yet.
“They made the prisoners dig the grave. It was such a very big grave…” He snapped the reigns suddenly and the horse jumped forward for a moment and began to trot.
She was quiet, and he felt very odd. He looked over at her and was surprised to see the look on her face. It wasn’t shock or pity, but the attentive eyed look of a child listening to a story. He had no idea what to make of it and so turned back to look at the horse, feeling uncertain and unsatisfied, frowning a little bit harder. He hunched forward, letting his hat with its wide black rim cover his view of her.
“Is that battle where you injured your arm?” She asked, and he saw her hand flick from the book toward his wrapped arm.
“No,” he replied in a voice that was perhaps too clipped to be polite.
For a few moments, all he heard was the clip-clop of his horse’s hooves, but after a few paces, Amanda spoke again.
“There’s a story in this book about young men, just like you,” she said. He glanced under the brim to see her hand patting the cover of the book in her lap. When she didn’t say anything more, he looked up and directly into her violet eyes.
“Their parents promised God they wouldn’t fight,” she started, “but they felt guilty when their home was being defended by others. They were ready to break their covenant with God, but a man named Helaman convinced them not to. He told them that their children had not made the same covenant and that their sons could defend their home for them. He took two thousand of the young men.
“Helaman called them his sons. The young men said the things their mother had taught them strengthened them and that they knew God would be with them if they continued in those goodly precepts.
“Helaman led them into battle, successfully defeating the forces that had come upon them.”
Joshua felt a lump form in his throat and it was difficult to speak, but he croaked out the question in his mind. “There is truly a story like that in thy book?” His mouth was suddenly dry and his heart beat just a little faster in his chest. “Thee didn’t make it up?”
She laughed softly and blushed, it spread past her sunburn and down her neck. “I’m not that good of a writer.” She turned her violet eyes to him and he felt the lump in his throat expand, but for an entirely different reason.
“Read it for yourself–er… thyself,” she said and pushed the book into his lap. He put his hand over it while the reigns tugged between his thumb and forefinger and for just a moment his fingers were on hers.
“You can drop me off here,” she said, and was already starting to stand.
Joshua only had one working hand and he couldn’t let go of the reigns, so he tugged on them hoping the motion would set her back in the seat. She held onto the post holding up the cover and when the rig slowed enough, she jumped out.
“Goodbye, Joshua!” she said as she started to run away from the road. She turned and waved at him when she had gone a few paces. “I will see thee tomorrow!”