Early in Walk by Faith, we learn that Eli and Maggie’s marriage is under some stress. We also are introduced to the beginnings of that stress in The Enlistment. In the novella (set in 1862), Patrick shares with Eli how his decision to enlist in the army is upsetting his girl Frankie. In his response, Eli says, “…allow me to say that my lovely bride is not at all happy that Carson and I plan to cover the war for the Gazette by following your Regiment. Once we get permission from the government, that is. When she heard my news, Mrs. Smith said one word, ‘Fine.’ And then she walked away. Very quickly.”
In Walk by Faith, which occurs in 1863, Eli is now away as a war correspondent and Maggie is caring a somewhat diminished boarding house (Patrick, Edgar, and Carson are also away). But now, Maggie also must do the writing, editing, and printing for the Gazette. She enlists Grandpa O’Reilly’s help with this, but the work load is much more work than writing the occasional article and helping Eli with the editing.
Despite this, her main concern is for Eli’s safety. In the first book, there was an incident that left Eli with a painful and unreliable left leg, and he uses a cane to get around.
Maggie wondered how her husband could possibly manage to walk through a battlefield. How, she asked herself, could Eli stay out of harm’s way when he did not possess his former mobility?
After a fire destroys the boarding house and Eli’s print shop, Maggie sends her husband a telegram. He and Carson hurry back to Blaineton to discover that she and the rest of the boarding house family are living at The Oaks, her brother Samuel’s estate. When Maggie tells Eli that she wants to rebuild the boarding house, his response is vague.
As they drove home, Maggie asked, “When the property is cleared, we shall rebuild, shan’t we? The foundations may be unharmed. If so, it would be easy to put up a new house.”
Eli glanced at her then returned his eyes to the road. “We don’t have a typical marriage, do we, Maggie? By that I mean we talk things through and make decisions together.”
“Then let me be plain with you. I realize you want to rebuild, but we just might have to consider other options.”
“Back when Mr. Madison lived with us you kept saying that things were not right, that they were wrong – and you wouldn’t let it go…. Well, this time, I’m telling you that something isn’t right. My late wife hasn’t appeared to me, like your husband John did for you, but I’ve got a reporter’s instincts and they’re telling me we need to watch our step.”
As it turns out, Eli has made other plans. After a gang of men threaten to burn down The Oaks, Sheriff Miller informs the family that they are in danger and suggests they leave town for a while. It is then point that Eli reveals his intention to move everyone to the old Smith family home in Gettysburg. Maggie writes in her journal:
Apparently, he has known this all along, yet has not seen fit to inform me. Suddenly it made sense why he did not wish to embrace my plan to rebuild on my lot in Blaineton.
What has happened to us, Journal? Eli has always told me everything, even before we were married. Why did he not tell me this? It causes me to wonder how well I know him.
The rift between the couple later widens perceptively. The scene is a rather long one, so I’ve attached it as a file: Maggie & Eli’s Big Fight.
While Maggie eventually makes up with her husband after the blow up, but not until they move to Gettysburg and he reveals information about his family life in that town. While Maggie can forgive Eli for planning the move and for not telling him that had been his home, it is difficult for her to understand why he now would wish to return to the battlefield as a correspondent, especially since the Gazette has been destroyed. Maggie hopefully suggests that he go to work for one of the town’s three newspapers. And Eli says:
“…when I got to Blaineton I wired some friends at The New-York Times. They made me a special correspondent the other day. This all happened over the past few days. I should have told you when I found out. But we weren’t talking and…” He touched her face. “When things started happening in Blaineton, all I could think about was getting you to safety.”
She took a deep breath. He was telling her everything now, even if it was the sort of information she did not want to hear.
“I really am so sorry, Maggie.” He was all but pleading. “Could you find it in your heart to forgive me? Please?”
Maggie’s heart melted. “Oh, you big, silly, complicated newspaperman! Of course, I forgive you.”
So, Maggie sucks it up and tries to be brave when Eli leaves again. While he is away, Maggie is surprised to learn that she is pregnant. Yet, she cannot bring herself to tell her husband. Although the news might bring him back to her, there is a possibility that he would come to resent her and the baby because he would be staying with them.
A few months later, preceded by weeks of alarms, the war comes to Gettysburg: three days of battle, three days of gunfire and artillery explosions, three days of wounded men looking for help, three days of decreasing food supplies. And then Maggie and Emily are attacked – not by Confederate strangers, but by an old foe.
During his time away, Eli has been traumatized, too, by what he has seen and endured. He wants to find comfort in Maggie, but instead returns to a distressed and incensed wife. She demands to know why he has left her and blurts out in a nearly incoherent fashion what has happened to her – and that she is pregnant.
She throws him out of the room. Stunned, Eli seeks silence and center, and then goes to Maggie, confesses, and asks for forgiveness.
Well, obviously, Maggie forgives him – there are two books after Walk by Faith, and another in the works.
But amid the other plot lines in Walk by Faith, we find Maggie and Eli are tested by things beyond their control and by things (in the case of Eli) within their control. Healing does take a while. At least one book, and half of another. However, they eventually move on to what they hope will be a better life together.
Of course, we can’t have a Saint Maggie story without complications. So, good luck with that “no complications thing,” Mr. & Mrs. Smith.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder