Thanks for Cheree at Justified Lunacy for hosting the Sidelines blogfest, focusing on secondary characters. Go check out the others!
This is from How to See the Elephant. Background info - September 1862. Delaware. Possibility of Confederate invasion. The students at Thetis' boarding school have been taken on an excursion to the country to escape the heat. On the boat Thetis learns that her father has been wounded in battle. When they reach their destination, Thetis and Ellen, her only friend at the school, sit in a cornfield while Thetis tries to decide what she's going to do now.
We were in a cornfield. It had been harvested and bundled but broken stalks still poked up and ears, husks and leaves were scattered everywhere. Even in the heat, flocks of blackbirds were feeding, hopping around the dead cornstalks, poking at the ears and fighting each other. At any moment some were circling up and others landing, little black dots moving and jumping, all the time going arr-arr-arr and squeaking like a whole field of rusty doors.
“Why, the poor farmer!” Ellen said. “They’re eating everything!”
“Those are just the leftovers. It’s like the husks the prodigal son fed on.”
We sat then for a long time, just watching the birds. In spite of the way they seethed and hopped and pecked I saw something peaceful in it all. It did not feel like summer was gone, but it was, and the birds were feeding for the winter ahead. And before the winter came there would be battles in fields like this. The soldiers massed south of here would lie in cornfields and shoot each other. They might be doing so now.
This thought should have frightened me. Instead, it seemed, like the silence and the river, the only real thing in the world.
“My father’s going to take me to my aunt’s in Brooklyn at Christmas. Maybe you could write your father and he would let you come, too.”
“It’s kind of you to offer. I can’t though – I won’t be here.”
Ellen looked puzzled. “I didn’t know you were leaving.”
“My father’s not pulling me out, if that’s what you mean. He’s been wounded, in Kentucky. Amaryllis told me when we were on the boat. I’m going to run away, as soon as it gets dark, and go to him. I can get to Louisville tomorrow night, on the train. I’m going to start looking for him there.”
I saw her looking at me strangely and for a second I thought she wanted to come along. I nerved myself to say no. I certainly wasn’t going to drag anyone extra along, not with time of the essence.
“I don’t know how badly he’s wounded. Anything could happen, and he needs someone to take care of him. Anyway, I can’t stay at Miss Barclay’s. There’s nothing there for me. I thought I knew – I thought I wanted – ” My thoughts swirled and tumbled like bits of straw in a draft. A whole new person. The girls looking at me, during the storm.
“I’d appreciate if you didn’t tell anyone. Though it won’t matter if you do, because I’m going anyway.”
I had thought nothing in the world could ever make Ellen mad. I was wrong. She stood up, her tiny face concentrated, like a baby’s, into fury, as she pulled her sunbonnet back on.
“What do you think I am? A sneak? Do you think I’m like Jenny or something? Is that what you think of me?”
“Wasn’t I nice to you all these months? Wasn’t I? Do you think that was easy? Don’t you think I would have preferred to let you go your own way? And did you ever think of me as anything? ”
“Wait – Ellen – please wait!” I pulled at her arm, and when she would not sit down again, stood up as well. “I’m sorry. I…”
But I couldn’t explain myself. I couldn’t explain anything.
She looked at me a long time, and then she said:
“Honestly, Thetis, I think you’re crazy. You don’t even know where you’re going and you don’t know how you’re going to find your father. Anyone with any common sense would wait a few days for the situation to clear up. But I guess that’s your business and I guess I understand how you feel. I’m not going to try to talk you out of it, anyway. Or sneak on you.”
“I can’t wait a few days. The invasion might start. Or Pa might die. Besides…”
I knew she was right. But there were things I could not tell her. How I had failed to write to Pa – how Amaryllis had lied, and would keep on lying, thinking she was protecting me – but most of all how everything had turned to ashes in the past twenty-four hours, and how I could not bear to look at or think about it. I was not the cuckoo in the nest I had been in Mansfield and yet I had failed to become anyone new. All I could do was shut it all out of my mind, and run…