In the final part of this series, we look at the implications of breaking the law on the side of compassion. Frankie and Lydia thought they had arranged Caleb’s escape so that no one would notice. But their plan was not fool-proof and resulted in unintended consequences.
Eli arrived at our interview early, saying his stepdaughters would be arriving shortly.
Eli [sniffs the air]: Mm… is that coffee?
Janet: Yes, it is. Would you like some?
Eli: How did you get coffee? It’s as scarce as a hen’s teeth these days.
Janet: Different time stream. [pours cup of coffee]
Eli: What’s that?
Janet: Don’t ask, Mr. Smith.
Eli: Call me Eli. May I call you Janet?
Janet: Of course.
Eli [points]: What’s that thing? The thing you got the coffee from?
Janet: A coffee maker. Would you care for cream or sugar?
Eli: Both, please. And I like my coffee rather sweet, please. [frowns] A coffee maker? Egad! Where's your tin pot? Where's the stove? The wood? The fire?
Janet: Don’t think about it too much.
Eli: Ah. I see. You’re the author, aren’t you?
Janet: I am. I’d like to talk to you about the time Capt, Frost and several soldiers showed up at your house in Middletown.
Eli: I don't know why. You already know what happened, don't you?
Janet: I do. But I’d like you to tell the readers how things looked from your point of view.
Eli [grins]: Oh, so you’re a lazy author.
Janet: Very funny.
Eli: My wife likes my jokes.
Janet: She’s a saint.
Eli: I see what you’re doing. Saint Maggie. Ha. [grins again] Just remember who coined that phrase, my dear author.
Janet: I don't think you'll let me forget.
Lydia and Frankie hurry in.
Lydia: Sorry we’re late.
Frankie: Coffee! May I have some?
Janet: Of course. [pouring coffee for both sisters] I’d like to jump to Middletown. August 4, 1863, if you don't mind. The family living in Gettysburg has paid a visit and has just left, leaving you, Lydia, behind. And you, Frankie, have been living in Middletown with your mother and stepfather, as well as Gideon Opdyke, and Nate and Emily Johnson.
Frankie: Yes. Mama and Papa said I was too young to live on my own. [gives Eli a cool glance] They're wrong, of course.
Eli [sipping coffee]: Mm. No, we're not.
Frankie: My beau, Patrick was there, too.
Eli: And now you know why she needs to be chaperoned.
Frankie [rolls her eyes]: He was recovering from a war wound. He had been shot in the leg.
Lydia: He surprised a very nervous Union sentry.
Frankie: And of course, the children – Bob and Natey – were living in MIddletown, too.
Lydia: We're a rather large group of family and friends when all is said and done.
Eli: Capt. Frost had bullied Matilda into telling him where Lydia went. He came tearing up our drive that morning. Four soldiers on horseback were with him. And one was driving the team pulling a wagon.
Frankie: Little Natey was right in the path of the wagon. Mama raced out and pulled him away just in time, tripped, and fell down as the wagon passed.
Lydia: Our mother is expecting a baby, so we immediately were concerned that she or the baby might have been injured.
Eli: Nate and Emily’s little boy was more scared than hurt. Maggie had twisted her ankle but otherwise was fine. As for the baby – it’s a tough little thing and is doing what it is supposed to do. But it was a close call for all concerned.
Janet: The whole thing must have been frightening.
Eli: We didn’t know what the hell was going on.
Eli: Heck. We didn’t know what the heck was going on.
Janet: Did you have any idea why Capt. Frost was there?
Eli: None at all. Not until he told me.
Janet: Eli, was Gideon telling the truth? Did he truly desert from the Confederate Army?
Eli: Oh, yeah. He was a deserter, all right. He and his brother Lemuel lived in Blaineton, but that cad Lemuel threw his lot in with the Confederate States. Then he forced Gideon to join the C.S.A. army, too. By chance Gideon ended up wounded and in our house during the battle. When I got to the house after the fighting was over, he told me he didn’t want to be part of this bell-fired madness any longer.
Janet: So you helped him desert.
Eli [shrugs]: Why not? He was a nice fella. The straightforward kind. Said he didn’t want to fight with the C.S.A. anymore and I believed him.
Janet: How did you change his identity?
Eli: It was easy. All was in chaos immediately after the battle. We simply got rid of his uniform and dressed him in some old clothes. His unit had left with the Confederate retreat, so they didn’t give a fig where he was. Once things started calming down in Gettysburg and the Union Army took over, we brought Gideon up to Middletown where no one would be the wiser.
Janet: But you didn’t expect him to –
Eli [interrupts]: Confess? No, I didn’t.
Janet: And why did you confess to helping him?
Eli: I didn’t confess. I offered to help explain Gideon's situation. A difference in semantics to be sure, but I had no desire to go to prison or get hanged.
Janet: And yet you still ended up locked in the prison wagon with Gideon.
Eli: Obviously I hadn’t intended for that to happen.
Frankie: When the soldiers left with Papa and Gideon, I felt so guilty.
Janet: Did you regret helping Caleb desert, Frankie?
Frankie: No! It was the right thing to do.
Lydia: What we regretted was not being more careful. The day Capt. Frost came to collect the men, I should have told him that Caleb had died from disease.
Janet: You weren’t very pleased with Capt. Frost, were you?
Lydia [Laughs]: I was furious! Furious with our government for healing men and then sending them off to a prisoner of war camp. Furious with Capt. Frost for not listening to me and for being so stubborn.
Eli: But he had orders. He was a soldier and he had to do his duty.
Frankie: Yes, he did. But the problem was that our mistake could have cost you your life, Papa.
Eli: Frances, any act of compassion, or justice, or mercy can have repercussions. I figured out what you had done while in the county jail. I just hoped I would be able to explain why I had given aid to Gideon. Both our lives were at stake. Finding myself at the end of a rope was not in my plans.
Janet: And were you able to explain?
Eli [chuckles] : Well, I’m here, aren’t I? [more seriously] Actually, I had a little help at the hearing from my wife.
Frankie: And from us.
Eli: You know, I think we drove the District Provost Marshal a bit mad.
Janet: Well, we’re out of time. If our readers are interested, they may find this story – and others – in the third book of the Saint Maggie series, A Time to Heal. Thank you, Frankie, Lydia, and Eli for chatting with me.
Eli: Any time, friend. Anytime. Say, may I have more of that coffee?
Janet: Of course.
Eli: If you ever ask us back, will you promise to bring that contraption with you and boil us up another cup?
Janet: Oh, I promise.
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Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder