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The little family at the Frost farm looked forward with anxious eagerness to the first letter from the absent father.
Ten days had elapsed when Frank was seen hurrying up the road with something in his hand.
Alice saw him first, and ran in, exclaiming, "Mother, I do believe Frank has got a letter from father. He is running up the road."
Mrs. Frost at once dropped her work, no less interested than her daughter, and was at the door just as Frank, flushed with running, reached the gate.
"What'll you give me for a letter?" he asked triumphantly.
"Give it to me quick," said Mrs. Frost. "I am anxious to learn whether your father is well."
"I guess he is, or he wouldn't have written such a long letter."
"How do you know it's long?" asked Alice. "You haven't read it."
"I judge from the weight. There are two stamps on the envelope. I was tempted to open it, but, being directed to mother, I didn't venture."
Mrs. Frost sat down, and the children gathered round her, while she read the following letter:
"CAMP ————, Virginia.
"DEAR MARY: When I look about me, and consider the novelty and strangeness of my surroundings, I can hardly realize that it is only a week since I sat in our quiet sitting-room at the farm, with you and our own dear ones around me. I will try to help your imagination to a picture of my present home.
"But first let me speak of my journey hither.
"It was tedious enough, traveling all day by rail. Of course, little liberty was allowed us. Military discipline is rigid, and must be maintained. Of its necessity we had a convincing proof at a small station between Hartford and New Haven. One of our number, who, I accidentally learned, is a Canadian, and had only been tempted to enlist by the bounty, selected a seat by the door of the car. I had noticed for some time that he looked nervous and restless, as if he had something on his mind.
"At one of our stopping-places—a small, obscure station—he crept out of the door, and, as he thought, unobserved, dodged behind a shed, thinking, no doubt, that the train would go off without him. But an officer had his eye upon him, and a minute afterward he was ignominiously brought back and put under guard. I am glad to say that his case inspired no sympathy. To enlist, obtain a bounty, and then attempt to evade the service for which the bounty was given, is despicable in the extreme. I am glad to know that no others of our company had the least desire to follow this man's example.
"We passed through New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, but I can give you little idea of either of these cities. The time we passed in each was mostly during the hours of darkness, when there was little opportunity of seeing anything.
"In Washington I was fortunate enough to see our worthy President. We were marching down Pennsylvania Avenue at the time. On the opposite side of the street we descried a very tall man, of slender figure, walking thoughtfully along, not appearing to notice what was passing around him.
"The officer in command turned and said: 'Boys, look sharp. That is Abraham Lincoln, across the way.'
"Of course, we all looked eagerly toward the man of whom we had heard so much.
"I could not help thinking how great a responsibility rests upon this man—to how great an extent the welfare and destinies of our beloved country depend upon his patriotic course.
"As I noticed his features, which, plain as they are, bear the unmistakable marks of a shrewd benevolence, and evince also, as I think, acute and original powers of mind, I felt reassured. I could not help saying to myself: 'This man is at least honest, and if he does not carry us in safety through this tremendous crisis, it will not be for the lack of an honest determination to do his duty.'
"And now let me attempt to give you a picture of our present situation, with some account of the way we live.
"Our camp may appropriately be called 'Hut Village.' Imagine several avenues lined with square log huts, surmounted by tent-coverings. The logs are placed transversely, and are clipped at the ends, so as to fit each other more compactly. In this way the interstices are made much narrower than they would otherwise be. These, moreover, are filled in with mud, which, as you have probably heard, is a staple production of Virginia. This is a good protection against the cold, though it does not give our dwellings a very elegant appearance.
"Around most of our huts shallow trenches are dug, to carry off the water, thus diminishing the dampness. Most of the huts are not floored, but mine, fortunately, is an exception to the general rule. My comrades succeeded in obtaining some boards somewhere, and we are a little in advance of our neighbors in this respect.
"Six of us are lodged in a tent. It is pretty close packing, but we don't stand upon ceremony here. My messmates seem to be pleasant fellows. I have been most attracted to Frank Grover; a bright young fellow of eighteen. He tells me that he is an only son, and his mother is a widow.
"'Wasn't your mother unwilling to have you come out here?' I asked him one day.
"'No,' he answered, 'not unwilling. She was only sorry for the necessity. When I told her that I felt it to be my duty, she told me at once to go. She said she would never stand between me and my country.'
"'You must think of her often,' I said.
"'All the time,' he answered seriously, a thoughtful expression stealing over his young face. 'I write to her twice a week regular, and sometimes oftener. For her sake I hope my life may be spared to return.'
"'I hope so, too,' I answered warmly. Then after a minute's silence, I added from some impulse: 'Will you let me call you Frank? I have a boy at home, not many years younger than you. His name is Frank also—it will seem to remind me of him.'
"'I wish you would,' he answered, his face lighting up with evident pleasure. 'Everybody calls me Frank at home, and I am tired of being called Grover.'
"So our compact was made. I shall feel a warm interest in this brave boy, and I fervently hope that the chances of war will leave him unscathed.
"I must give you a description of Hiram Marden, another of our small company, a very different kind of person from Frank Grover. But it takes all sorts of characters to make an army, as well as a world, and Marden is one of the oddities. Imagine a tall young fellow, with a thin face, lantern jaws, and long hair 'slicked' down on either side. Though he may be patriotic, he was led into the army from a different cause. He cherished an attachment for a village beauty, who did not return his love. He makes no concealment of his rebuff, but appears to enjoy discoursing in a sentimental way upon his disappointment. He wears such an air of meek resignation when he speaks of his cruel fair one that the effect is quite irresistible, and I find it difficult to accord him that sympathy which his unhappy fate demands. Fortunately for him, his troubles, deep-seated as they are, appear to have very little effect upon his appetite. He sits down to his rations with a look of subdued sorrow upon his face, and sighs frequently between the mouthfuls. In spite of this, however, he seldom leaves anything upon his tin plate, which speaks well for his appetite, since Uncle Sam is a generous provider, and few of us do full justice to our allowance.
"You may wonder how I enjoy soldier's fare. I certainly do long sometimes for the good pumpkin and apple pies which I used to have at home, and confess that a little apple sauce would make my hardtack a little more savory. I begin to appreciate your good qualities as a housekeeper, Mary, more than ever. Pies can be got of the sutler, but they are such poor things that I would rather do without than eat them, and I am quite sure they would try my digestion sorely.
"There is one very homely esculent which we crave in the camp—I mean the onion. It is an excellent preventive of scurvy, a disease to which our mode of living particularly exposes us. We eat as many as we can get, and should be glad of more. Tell Frank he may plant a whole acre of them. They will require considerable care, but even in a pecuniary way they will pay. The price has considerably advanced since the war began, on account of the large army demand, and will doubtless increase more.
"As to our military exercises, drill, etc., we have enough to occupy our time well. I see the advantage of enlisting in a veteran regiment. I find myself improving very rapidly. Besides my public company drill, I am getting my young comrade, Frank Grover, who has been in the service six months, to give me some private lessons. With the help of these, I hope to pass muster creditably before my first month is out.
"And now, my dear Mary, I must draw my letter to a close. In the army we are obliged to write under difficulties. I am writing this on my knapsack for a desk, and that is not quite so easy as a table. The constrained position in which I am forced to sit has tired me, and I think I will go out and 'limber' myself a little. Frank, who has just finished a letter to his mother, will no doubt join me. Two of my comrades are sitting close by, playing euchre. When I joined them I found they were in the habit of playing for small stakes, but I have succeeded in inducing them to give up a practice which might not unlikely lead to bad results.
"In closing, I need not tell you how much and how often I think of you all. I have never before been separated from you, and there are times when my longing to be with you again is very strong. You must make up for your absence by frequent and long letters. Tell me all that is going on. Even trifles will serve to amuse us here.
"Tell Frank to send me Harper's Weekly regularly. Two or three times a week I should like to have a daily paper forwarded. Every newspaper that finds its way into camp goes the rounds, and its contents are eagerly devoured.
"I will write you again very soon. The letters I write and receive from home will be one of my principal sources of pleasure. God bless you all, is the prayer of your affectionate husband and father,
It is hardly necessary to say that this letter was read with eager interest. That evening all the children, including little Charlie, were busy writing letters to the absent father. I have not room to print them all, but as this was Charlie's first epistolary effort, it may interest some of my youthful readers to see it. The mistakes in spelling will be excused on the score of Charlie's literary inexperience. This is the way it commenced:
"DEER FARTHER: I am sorry you hav to live in a log hous stuck up with mud. I shud think the mud wood cum off on your close. I am wel and so is Maggie. Frank is agoin to make me a sled—a real good one. I shal cal it the egle. I hope we shal soon hav sum sno. It will be my berth day next week. I shal be seven years old. I hope you cum back soon. Good nite.
Charlie was so proud of his letter that he insisted on having it enclosed in a separate envelope and mailed by itself—a request which was complied with by his mother.
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