In A Time to Heal, Maggie’s family is accused of aiding and abetting a wounded Confederate soldier. Maggie's husband Eli and Gideon Opdyke, a New Jerseyan who joined the Confederate army, are arrested. How and why Gideon's escape comes about is not the subject of this blog. Rather, I am interested in how Maggie handles the situation.
When she is first told about her husband’s arrest, Maggie response is a bit on the humorous side:
Maggie rolled her eyes heavenward in a mix of exasperation and anxiety. “Oh, Elijah!”
Yes, Eli has done things before in the name of peace, non-violence, and the safety of others. And he’s at it again.
At this point in the story Maggie is about six months pregnant with a child, something she and Eli have hoped and prayed for. She also has been injured in a fall during the confusion caused by the arrival of Union troops on their property. Maggie is taken upstairs to a bedroom so her medically-inclined daughter Lydia could check her over. Despite, her injuries, Maggie springs into action she learns what has happened to Eli and Gideon.
Maggie swung her feet over the edge of the bed. “Emily and I will go to Gettysburg. You and Frankie shall stay here and care for the children.” She stood and, as she put weight on her injured foot, winced.
Lydia came to her side. “You need to rest, Mama.”
Maggie turned a pair of determined hazel eyes on her daughter. “The baby is fine. I have a small headache and a sore ankle. I shall live. I want to make sure that your stepfather does the same. We’ll have no further discussion.”
And she does just that by going to Gettysburg and taking Emily, Carson, and Emily’s husband Nate with her. When she finally arrives at the jail, Maggie is ready to take on the world to see Eli and to assure herself that he is well. In her journal, she records how she feels upon arriving at the jail.
Maggie’s Journal, 5 August 1863
I was a piece of iron. My resolve was strong. I would not brook the word “no,” no matter where or from whom it came. My singular focus was to see my husband first and then face Captain Frost and whomever else I had to face in order to be present at the hearing. There was a story the officials did not know yet needed to hear, one which I was sure would sway them in our favor.
As we entered the yard of the Adams County prison, my soul felt as if it had been made of the same stone as the massive wall surrounding the yard. I told Mr. Carson to wait for me and strode confidently, despite my sore ankle, into the prison. The place was dark and imposing, no accident I assure you, Journal. It was designed to put fear into the heart of all who entered its walls. But I was stronger than its visage. Indeed, I felt stronger than the walls themselves.
The man at the reception desk looked up as I approached and asked if he might help me. I said, “Yes. I understand you have a prisoner here by the name of Elijah Smith.”
“I am Mrs. Smith. I wish to see my husband.”
The man looked me up and down. When he saw that I was in the family way, his expression softened. He rose and bade me come with him.
We first went through a heavy door, which he opened with one key among many hanging from a large ring in his hand. He told the guard standing on the other side that I was there to see Elijah Smith.
The guard nodded. The door shut behind me with a solid bang, the key turned menacingly in the lock, and we were secured inside. I refused to be intimidated by any of it. I knew it was all a façade – an outward expression of the power of the law.
As we walked down a corridor, we passed rows of cells, each containing a door with a large barred window. Finally, we stopped at the last cell on the right. The guard called through the window, “Smith! You have a visitor.”
I thanked the man. My smile and the tenor of my voice were pleasant but determined.
Ah, but the second Eli appeared at the window, what was once iron melted away and I felt nothing but raw relief at seeing my husband and fear of what might lay ahead for him, and for us.
Obviously, Maggie is not all iron. But she is determined to make the power that be see that her husband is innocent and have him released – for Eli is looking at imprisonment or, worse yet, a death sentence. Maggie requests to be present at the hearing of the District Provost Marshal, and her request is granted. When she realizes that the hearing is the next day, the import of what she is about to do almost overwhelms her, but she does what Maggie always does: turns to the Bible for clarity. Let me make this clear: she is not one of those “open the Bible and find an answer” people. Maggie knows her holy text well enough to find what will give her strength – and it does.
She found comfort as she thought about the concluding verses. They said she did not have to have a grand speech prepared when she went up before the District Provost Marshal. She needed to tell the truth. She only needed to explain what had happened to her and to Emily and what Gideon had done to help.
And that was precisely the trouble. She needed to tell what happened. She was going to have to talk openly and before a strange man about Lemuel’s attack on her. Could she do that? Could she talk about the thing that had traumatized her? And would the District Provost Marshal believe her?
And then there was Emily. Would she be able to tell a strange white man that she had shot another white man and killed him, regardless of the consequences it might hold for her?
Maggie shut her eyes and prayed for guidance. When she was finished she felt lighter.
Maggie turns to her faith for strength, and it is a good thing, for she is going to need both faith and strength at the hearing. Suffice it to say she finds herself having to speak up and with everything hanging in the balance for Eli. By the third book in the series, Maggie has grown into a strong, determined woman who understands the danger that sometimes comes in response to an act of compassion.
On Friday, we’ll see how Maggie stands up to her own fears when Eli begins to have debilitating nightmares.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder