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To the Lonely Sea and the Sky -- Part 15c

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SoldierNurse22 SoldierNurse22 (Member)

SoldierNurse22 is a L&D Nurse.

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Five pages for you, gentle readers. My appreciation as always for your patience! I hope you enjoy an exceptionally long chunk of this story that's been building up for the past two weeks. Looks like there will be two more parts to Part 15, which isn't showing signs of slowing down just yet...

To the Lonely Sea and the Sky -- Part 15c

The warmth of early autumn soon turned into a chilly fall, and as the temperatures dropped and the number of remaining soldiers began to dwindle, everyone moved inside. Thomas and Ellie were still frequently to be found together, Thomas cooking at the fire and Ellie at his side. As their charges were quietly redistributed, either to their homes or to Army hospitals, the days seemed to get longer. The cards Thomas had found were soon bowed from frequent use.

It was during this time that Ellie noticed the increasing presence of the gray-haired woman. She was frequently to be seen watching from a window or sweeping past her, those wide skirts swishing harshly through narrow corridors. Every encounter was like facing a racing train, but Ellie always managed to clear her before anything ever came of their brief interactions.

"She is angry, dat's why." Thomas explained to Ellie one gray afternoon as they sat at the cooking fire. After processing Thomas's suggestion that the gray-haired woman didn't actually take issue with her, Ellie focused on one lingering question: if that were so, then why did she act as she did?

"Angry? About what?" Ellie asked as she adjusted her skirt and pulled a blanket around her shoulders.

"We, too, came seeking someone. She look for her husband, de master of de house. And in all dis time, she not find him." Thomas explained, stirring the stew. His forehead creased and his eyes seemed to darken as he looked back at the house.

"Her husband was here?"

Thomas shrugged, his eyes distant and dim. "His regiment, from what we heard, was rumored to have fought in de battle. But we cannot know if him fight here or if him die before dey come here. Him in de 7th Tennessee, and from what we hear, dey have many, many men die."

Ellie nodded, immediately understanding the woman's increasing agitation as the Army began to take count of those who had survived and died on that field. "She remains here to determine his fate, then?"

Thomas nodded somberly. "If him is alive, him far from here. She search all de hospitals in de field, talk wit everyone she can, and dere is no sign of him." Thomas said, chewing on a piece of grass. "But if him die, him could be here, or in Chancellorsville, or..." Thomas shook his head. "We just cannot know, Ellie, an' dat is what she cannot bear."

Ellie wasn't sure what to make of Thomas's explanation for the gray-haired woman's behavior. Ellie herself was quite familiar with wondering if someone she dearly loved was dead or alive, but she didn't recall treating people as the gray-haired woman did, even in the throes of grief.

On the other hand, Thomas was not the kind of person to entirely dismiss another, despite a pattern of ugly deeds. He uniquely and intuitively understood that circumstances often govern and alter the normal course of human behavior, and he was not at all adverse to the idea that the gray-haired woman was simply distraught.

It was this idea that perturbed Ellie the most as the gray-haired woman was often to be seen screaming at Thomas, her frustrations seeping out against the only creature she could abuse without serious repercussions. But it didn't seem to bother Thomas in the slightest, for afterward, he was always to be found with a smile on his face, hard at work. To further complicate things for Ellie, it was not a forced smile or an unnatural posturing in response to the gray-haired woman's angry tirades. Indeed, the more Ellie came to know Thomas, the more she realized he simply did not repay anger with anger, and his demeanor was genuine, no matter the situation.

Along with cooler temperatures and fading daylight came a return to some form of normalcy. The Army provided the attendants of the farmhouse with several cauldrons, a washing bat and lye soap. Shortly thereafter, Ellie found herself exclusively occupied with laundering the soldiers' clothing. Ellie was happy to take on what may have been considered an exhaustive task, setting up her laundry supplies in the yard near Thomas's cooking fire. Thomas was undeniably glad for the company, but he was also pleased to see Ellie contentedly occupied.

Three large cauldrons stood in a row, the first two over fires. Once Ellie had fetched sufficient water to start, the cauldrons were filled and the fires fed. The first cauldron contained boiling water and lye soap, the second boiling water, and the third cool water. Once the clothing had been washed, rinsed and cooled, Ellie laid the garments in the grass to dry. She enjoyed the process of making the dirty, blood-stained clothing clean again.

While Ellie tended to the laundry, the nurses and attendants in the house helped the men bathe. They would bring the clothing to Ellie for a wash and provide blankets for the men in the meantime. By the time the clothing was clean and dry, the men were also clean for the first time in months. In addition to washing the men, the attendants vigorously cleaned the home, inch by inch as the laundry call made its rounds. Within a week, both the occupants of the house and the house itself stood in considerably better condition.

These higher standards in cleanliness perpetuated laundry duty indefinitely. With both laundry and food in high demand, Ellie and Thomas were almost constantly to be found together in the backyard, passing the time with conversation and cards. As it often happens, the two of them began to pick up on how to do the other person's job, and in due time, they were interchangeable between the tasks at hand.

One evening, as a dark gray shadow threatened on the horizon, Ellie and Thomas sat in the backyard around the cooking fire. The laundry was done and the night was fast approaching, a storm gathering on its wings.

"What will you do after the war, Thomas?" Ellie asked, glancing up at the man sitting next to her. She couldn't help but marvel at how much the tall, strong, somewhat intimidating-looking slave had so completely changed in her perception over the months. In July, she barely knew how to approach him, tending to shyly skirt potential interactions. Now, he was the only person she sought out in times of trouble or uncertainty.

Thomas exhaled and shrugged. "I do not know, my girl.

I am a first lieutenant at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

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