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Wife of a Union Soldier
As time slowly passed by, Margareta Whythe sighed deeply, waiting. She waited for hope in any form. A letter, the weekly newspaper, news of a soldier in town, or an infantry passing through sent her heart flying.
The mail was painful. Each week, her faith that something would bring word of him was crushed, yet somehow, each day, she truly believed in her heart that the week had finally come. It was the week the letter would arrive from him. Countless nights she awoke from the dream when she received his letter. “I’ll be home soon. Don’t worry about me. Just wait a few days more, I’ll be back this week. I haven’t even had a scratch. I miss you so much. Yours, Truly and Forever.” It always ran along those lines, written in his unscholarly writing style, but with beautiful handwriting. But Margareta would always wake up, and then she would cry, knowing that her dream was just a dream, and never anything more.
The dry slip of the newspaper through the slot in the front door made her leap out of her chair and scurry to the door, but always, there was nothing. A soldier died here, a soldier returned there, the Union won a battle, the South’s evil was rising in power. There were so many different articles on the Civil War, but nothing ever carried news of her loved one.
News of a returned infantry-man, dead or alive, sent her into near shock. It could be him. If not, and the soldier was alive and well, he might carry news of Tom! Even thinking his name nearly killed her. It had been three long years since she had watched him leave with the small band of soldiers, headed off towards Mississippi. Three long years since she had heard him say “I love you.” Too long… the thought that he might never come back was unbearable.
Now she could only see him in her head. She remembered his hazel-green eyes and jet-black hair, accompanied by the smile he so often wore. She pictured his pale skin, clear of any blemish. In her head, he was perfect. She had been a slave before she met Tom. He had bought her freedom for her.
“Thud… thud thud. THUD THUD!” Margareta came back from her reverie. The knock on the door persistently sounded off.
“Comin’! Ya’ll don’ have to be so ‘mpatient with meh!” Margareta donned her long coat over the tattered nightgown she wore. She ambled towards the door, and there, through the window, she saw Mrs. Alyssa Dixon, the finest lady in the county.
The Northerners may have been fighting to free the slaves, but they surely didn’t believe blacks were quite equal to white folk. Mrs. Dixon would never in a million years stoop to Margareta’s level of society unless it was an absolute necessity.
Suddenly, as she opened the door, Margareta felt ashamed of her moth-eaten coat and rundown home. She wanted to hide her dark face and run. She was cursed with the “black plague” as people would whisper when she walked by. The lies they gossiped about had begun to seep into Margareta’s mind, and, frankly, she had started to believe the myths herself. She could hear the voices of the people that despised her, “She doesn’t belong here!” “Send her back to Africa with the other ones.” “Why Thomas Whythe would choose her is beyond my comprehension.” “Young Tom has stooped too low with her.”
“Creeeeeeak.” She opened the door slowly, almost gracefully.
“Mrs. Whythe, how nice to see you.” Mrs. Dixon cooed. “It’s a lovely day, wouldn’t you say?” the phony smile that spread across her face made Margareta wince. The cool, clear voice rang like a bell in Margareta’s ears. Mrs. Dixon was too perfect. Too rich, too classy, too white just to come over for a chat. The grimace must have shown on Margareta’s face, for suddenly Mrs. Dixon grew serious.
“Mrs. Dixon, how good of you to come over.” Margareta tried to hide the dialect beneath her voice.
“May I come in?” Mrs. Dixon inquired, less than politely. Margareta squirmed, but smiled. The mending was sitting open on the couch, and she hadn’t swept the floor in days. The dishes weren’t washed, and the dog roamed freely around the home. Mrs. Dixon took it all in and tried to smile politely, but Margareta knew that it was all a lie.
“May ah help ya?” Margareta’s shame was now too great to even try to hide her voice. “Mah apologies, the house is a bit of a mess right now.” She scurried around, picking up something here, stowing away another item there.
“Come, sit down, Mrs. Whythe. I bring news.” Mrs. Dixon took Margareta’s arm and urged her into a chair.
The shock was obvious in Margareta’s face. “Of…of Tom?” Margareta squirmed again. “Ah really should make ya some tea. Does ya’ll like chamomile?”
“Sit down. You need to hear this.” Mrs. Dixon chided. “Just listen.”
“Ah can’t sit still, Mrs. Dixon. I’ve got tah be movin’ about.” Margareta finally admitted. “Can we walk? The woods out back are nice and coo’ this time of da year.”
“If you insist…” Mrs. Dixon looked puzzled, but slowly stood and turned toward the doorway, her gait long and elegant. Margareta tripped along, leading the way into the overgrown orchard.
“Please, God, let it bay good news.” Margareta’s little prayer slithered through her teeth. Her heart beat like a loud, disruptive drum. She swallowed her tears and, pacing back and forth, turned her face to Mrs. Dixon.
The eyes she found there were brimming with tears, grave and serious. It could not be good news, Margareta knew now. “Mrs. W—” Mrs. Dixon started. She never got the chance to finish, for Margareta had burst into tears. They flowed freely down her cheeks and streamed down to the ground.
Margareta fell to the ground, hearing the dried leaves crunch beneath her knee. She felt the hot tears leaving wet trails on her face, but did not bother to wipe them away. She looked up into Mrs. Dixon’s face as the lady wrapped her up in open arms. “There there, child. Don’t be afraid, it’ll be all right. It’s all right. Shh, shh, it’s all right. It’s all right…”