By Chuck Fager
From the book, “Fire in the Valley; Six Quaker Ghost Stories”
It was the cherry pies that Gulie missed the most. Ruth Janney had brought three of them to Hopewell, for the potluck dinner after the memorial meeting, and Ruth made the best pies in the Shenandoah Valley. Even Mother said so. The thought of those pies made Gulie almost happy to be going to meeting on a Saturday.
But there would be no pie-eating today. Like everyone else, Gulie had heard the horse come clattering up the gravel-covered driveway halfway though meeting. Then she had heard the muffled, anxious voices outside, and seen old Thomas Swet, the usher, hurry in to pass a note down the facing bench on the men’s side to the clerk, Uncle Henry Taylor, as the horseman galloped away.
This was a highly irregular procedure, especially in the middle of a memorial meeting. Just a few minutes earlier, Abigail Hadley, Samuel Hadley’s mother, had been weeping loudly while Samuel’s memorial minute was being solemnly read to the gathered Friends.
Abigail Hadley was still sniffling and wiping her eyes with a dainty white handkerchief as Henry Taylor glanced over the note, then abruptly turned and shook hands with the elders on either side of him.
The gesture startled the group of Quakers gathered around him; it was the signal to end the meeting, although it was clearly far from over.
But the Friends knew, from the commotion outside, that something unusual, and probably bad, had happened. There was, after all, a war going on, and in this autumn of 1864, Hopewell Friends Meeting was right in the middle of it.
The murmur of anxious voices began to rise as soon as the handshaking stopped. But then Henry Taylor was on his feet, and the hubbub died away in expectation of the explanation they were sure he would have for interrupting their mourning.
He did not disappoint them. “Friends”, the clerk began, “I am sorry to say that the fighting which took Samuel Hadley away from us at Newmarket has started again. A neighbor just passed on the news that several companies of General Philip Sheridan’s forces have left Charles Town headed this way. Evidently they think Jubal Early and the Confederate forces are gathering their troops somewhere near Winchester. The neighbor said Sheridan’s men are burning barns and houses as they come.”
At this there were gasps from the group, and a stirring as men picked up their hats and women clutched at their children.
“I think,” Henry Taylor concluded, “that we had better return to our homes at once, and take what precautions we can.” He turned toward Sarah Hadley. “Sarah,” he said, “I am sorry we are not able to properly remember the life and passing of thy Samuel as we should. But if it is the Lord’s will and we are preserved through this coming battle and destruction, we will gather here again tomorrow for our regular First Day worship, and remember him again then.” Looking over the other faces in the room he added quietly, “Friends, Godspeed.”
With that, the meeting broke up, or rather, scattered. Few people paused for the conversations which were the usual pleasant aftermath of the long sessions of silent worship. Everyone hurried toward wagons and buggies, and in moments a line of them were rattling down the driveway to the road, dust rising behind them as they sped away.
Gulie saw the Janneys’ buckboard driving off as Mother pulled her toward their own wagon, and thought again, longingly, of the three cherry pies. They were gone now, along with all the other desserts and salads and meats that had been prepared for the meeting. All we have for our dinner, Gulie thought resentfully, is the pot of baked beans Mother brought. Oh, they were pretty good beans; Mother was a fine cook. But Gulie had been eagerly anticipating much more.
Mother cut in on her thoughts. “It’s a shame to leave Sarah Hadley like this,” she said, “uncomforted. Poor Samuel’s grave has not even been properly finished.”
From her place between her parents on the wagon, Gulie could see what Mother was talking about. Inside the stone fence around the cemetery next to the Hopewell meeting house, a rough pile of brown dirt stuck up starkly out of the green grass carpet around it. It looked unfinished. It was to have been tramped down and smoothed out today, after meeting.
“It is too bad,” Father agreed, snapping the reins to hurry the horses. But he sounded distracted. Gulie guessed he was more worried about the soldiers who were still alive than about Samuel Hadley, a Quaker who had turned soldier and who was now dead.
“That was a lovely memorial minute the Overseers wrote for Samuel” Mother went on. “I was very moved by the way it told of his repentance after he was wounded. Samuel was much favored, to be able to make peace with his mother, and the meeting, and the Lord, before he died. And thank goodness the meeting hadn’t disowned him.”
“We almost did,” Father said. “It was only because Henry asked the Overseers to wait a few months that they hadn’t brought the disownment minute to business meeting. It would have come up by winter, and then the meeting would have disowned him for sure.”
“Just like our Jonah,” Mother said quielty.
Father nodded. “Henry told me Samuel’s last words were that he wished he could help Hopewell Friends somehow, to show us he was sincere.”
Gulie had not been paying much attention to this talk, preferring instead to watch the trees and houses along the Valley Pike go by the wagon, and to take pleasure in the many shades of yellow and red that autumn had brought to the green hills that ran along either side of their Valley. But at the mention of her brother’s name, Gulie began listening closely to her parents again. Then a thought struck her, “Say” she chirped, “do you think Jonah will be with the soldiers today? Will we get to see him?”
“Hush dear,” said her Mother, not angrily, but with pain in her voice. Father said nothing. He pulled down the edge of his broad brimmed hat, set his chin, and looked grimly ahead.
Gulie understood the tone in her Mother’s voice. It was a mixture of sadness over Jonah’s leaving a peaceful Quaker farm to join the army, combined with fear for his safety in the fighting. Both parents worried that someday soon they might have to attend another memorial meeting, like today’s for Samuel Hadley, for their own son.
Gulie remembered the rough pile of dirt in the cemetery. “If Jonah gets killed in the war,” she asked boldly, “will he be buried at Hopewell like Samuel was?”
“No, Gulie,” said Father wearily. “Thee knows thy brother was disowned, so we would have to bury him on our own land. Probably up in the hidden meadow on Fox’s Hill. But I’d rather not think about that.”
“Yes,” Mother agreed. “Let’s have no more talk of killing, Gulie.”
But father wasn’t quite finished. Still looking grimly ahead, he said, “I would rather hope and pray that Jonah might repent of his going to war, the way Samuel did, and come home to beat his sword into a plowshare. Of if not come home, then go to Indiana where he would be safe.”
“Amen” said Mother.
Gulie was still curious, though. She wanted to ask what her parents would do if Jonah didn’t repent of going to war. Would they disown him the way the meeting did?
She knew better than to ask this out loud, though. Instead, she watched a hawk rise from a stand of trees by the old Thompson Farm. The hawk gracefully flapped its long dark wings, and circled above the Thompson farmhouse, which had been standing empty since the Thompsons’ had left for Wisconsin a year ago. They’d had their fill of war, the Thompsons had said. And who could blame them?
The hawk wheeled past the Thompson barn and then glided north, past the wagon. Gulie followed its flight, and as it disappeared in the direction of the meeting house, that was when she saw the soldiers riding toward them from behind.
Gulie pulled at father’s sleeve and pointed. There were dozens of soldiers, maybe hundreds, and they were raising a thick cloud of dust as they came, rapidly overtaking the wagon.
“Should we pull over and let them pass?” Mother asked. “They’re coming awfully fast.”
“Thee’s right, Martha,” Father answered, and reined the horses to a stop at the side of the road.
The soldiers, most mounted on cavalry horses or riding in covered supply wagons, soon began sweeping past them. They wore the dark blue of the Union armies, though their uniforms were faded with sun, and stained with mud and road dust.
Father and Mother looked away from the noisy parade, averting their eyes from the spectacle of war. But Gulie couldn’t help watching it. It was not only that were there amazing things to see, like the cannons rolling and bouncing along, and ragged Confederate prisoners shuffling behind them under guard. She also scanned the faces of the soldiers trotting and riding past, hoping that one of them would be her brother.
On the soldiers came, hundreds of them. And then suddenly there he was.
“Jonah!” Gulie squealed. It had to be him. She jumped up and stood on the seat and waved at him. “Jonah! Jonah! It’s me! Gulie!”
The horseman saw the flailing arms and stopped by the wagon. “Gulie? Mother?” he asked, and then dismounted.
As her parents turned to see, Gulie scrambled over Father’s legs, hopped down from the wagon and leaped into her brother’s arms.
“Hello, little sister,” he said with a chuckle, then reached to shake Father’s hand, and presented a cheek for Mother’s kiss. Gulie looked at the brother she hadn’t seen in over a year. He had a beard, his face was tanned and a even a little weather beaten. He looked much older than his twenty-one years.
Another soldier had pulled up beside him. “Sergeant Gifford,” Jonah boomed proudly, “meet my family.”
Gifford grinned and touched his blue cap.
“We were at meeting,” Gulie started to explain. “Samuel Hadley died after the battle at Newmarket, and it was his memorial. But we had to leave early, because someone said the Union soldiers were coming to burn our houses and barns.”
She suddenly stepped back and regarded her brother incredulously. “Thee isn’t going to burn thy own family’s farm, is thee Jonah?”
“Gulie, hush!” Mother said severely. Jonah didn’t answer. His face fell and he looked down at the road. But Gifford spoke for him.
“I’m afraid we might, young lady,” he said. “We’ve been ordered to destroy all the crops and material we can find, when we’re not actually fighting Jubal Early and his troops, as we’re hoping to do today.”
“But Jonah,” Gulie protested, “thee can tell them that we are Quaker farmers here and all along Taylor’s Lane. We have nothing to do with the rebels and their war. Tell them.”
Jonah still stood silent. “I’m afraid it’s not that simple, Ma’am,” Gifford said. “You Quakers may think you’re out of the war, but you’re not. All these peaceable farms of yours produce tons of wheat and corn, piles of vegetables and thousands of chickens and pigs. And most of it ends up feeding the armies of Jubal Early and Robert E. Lee.
“Our General Grant says these food supplies are as important to the rebel armies as bullets and cannon, and he’s right. So his orders are for us to destroy all of it. And we’re going to do it, too, if it means burning every farm in the Shenandoah Valley. Without that food, the rebel armies will have to surrender or starve, and either way, the war will be over.”
As Gifford talked, Jonah’s expression became more and more grave. Now father spoke angrily to him. “Jonah, is thee taking part in this pillage of the innocent and peaceful inhabitants of thine own home country?”
Jonah replied softly, without looking up. “Yes father,” he murmured. “I do not like it either, but General Grant is right, it is the fastest way to end this war.”
“It is the devil’s way,” Father retorted. “Son, I beg thee to turn from this sin of warmaking and come home before it is too late.”
“If I were you, Mr. Taylor” Gifford put in, “I’d be heading home, to hide my valuables in the woods and look for a place to hide myself. Once these men start burning barns, nothing and no one is safe.
“We’ll be chasing Jubal Early til sundown, but tonight they’ll be sending out scouts and raiding parties back this way. The scouts will signal raiders with torch signals when they find barns and other stores to be burned. If you see a scout or a raiding party headed your way, you’d better stay out of sight.”
He glanced down at Jonah. “Come on, soldier, it’s time we caught up with our company.”
Jonah nodded, and gave Gulie a farewell squeeze. He climbed onto his horse, and spoke once more to his parents. “I’m sorry about this Father,” he said quietly, “but Gifford’s right. Please protect yourselves as best you can, and stay out of the way if a raiding party comes.”
As he turned his horse away, Mother called out to him, “Jonah –if thy soldiers camp near Hopewell tonight, will thee come to meeting tomorrow? There are many Friends who would be glad to see thee, even though thee is in the army. And thee too, Sergeant Gifford,” she added. “We often have soldiers with us on First Day morning. It might comfort thee to share our worship.”
Gifford grinned at her ruefully. “It might at that, ma’am,” he said. “In fact, it probably would. We’ll see what happens between now and then. A day can be a long time in a war.”
He spurred his horse. “Let’s go, Taylor,” he called. Jonah waved and galloped off after him.
“I think we’d better get home,” Mother said quietly to Father. “We have a lot of work to do if we are going to save anything from these raiders.”
Father nodded. With Gulie back on her perch between them, he clucked to the horses and the wagon pulled back into the road, in the dusty wake of the last of the soldier’s wagons.
They soon passed the empty Thompson place, which was set at the foot of a rise called Penn’s Hill. Half a mile further was Fox’s Hill, and winding up the long hollow between them was Taylor’s Lane, which led first to their driveway about a quarter of a mile in, and then to three other Quaker farms further on.
Gulie noted with some relief the thick stand of trees that covered the base of the hill and the near edges of their yard. In winter, when their branches were bare, you could see the house clearly from here. But while the leaves were turning orange and brown, they had not yet begun to fall.
“Isn’t it a good thing they can’t see our house from the road,” she said aloud. “Maybe the raiders won’t find us, Father.”
Father shook his head. “It is easy to miss Taylor’s Lane because the trees and bushes along the corner,” he said. “But we can’t count on that, Gulie. We must hide all our valuable things, and ourselves, tonight. And find a place for Titus to hide the horses too.”
Titus was waiting for them when they came up the drive. A former slave whom father had bought ten years ago and set free, he was.a tall, strong, gray-haired figure. He had already figured out that trouble was on the way. “I seen the folks’ wagons comin’ back early from the meetin’, he said to Father, “and then I climbed up Fox’s Hill and seen the soldiers. They’s smoke risin’ from down toward Winchester and I believe I heard some cannon shots away off too. You reckon they comin’ back this way?”
“I’m afraid so, Titus,” Father said. “We’ve got to hide the horses, and all our valuables, and ourselves tonight.”
“Heve mercy,” Titus said, and began unhitching the wagon. “I know just where the horses can go,” he said. “They’s a clearing halfway up Penn’s Hill where them soldiers won’t never find ’em.”
“Come on Gulie,” Mother said as she climbed down. “Let’s carry the beans in, and we can have a quick bowl of them for lunch. Then we’ve got to get to work.”
The rest of that afternoon was something of a whirl for Gulie. She and Mother made trip after trip from inside the house to the front porch, carrying valuables for Father and Titus to haul off into the woods. Even in a plain Quaker home, there was a lot of it: Mother had no jewelry, of course, but there was the old silver from her grandmother, and the tea service, Father’s money box with the gold pieces in it, his watch with the long silver chain. After that there were boxes full of things which weren’t really valuable to anyone else, but which they would hate to lose in a fire: Father’s account books for the farm, their family Bible and Gulie’s favorite dolls.
It was the sight of her room after the dolls were gone, along with the patchwork quilt from her bed, that finally made Gulie understand that something dangerous might soon happen to her family. Until then, all the packing and hauling had felt about like the preparations for a big picnic which they would be going to somewhere in the woods. After the picnic, as the sun went down and everyone was well-fed and tired out from playing, they would ride home for a cozy night’s rest.
But not tonight, Gulie realized. Outside her window the shadows were already lengthening toward sunset. There would be no picnic in the forest today. And no cozy night’s rest in her bed afterward. In fact, by morning there might not be a house for her to come back to.
Gulie ran out of her empty room and down the stairs.
“Mother!” she cried out. “Mother, I’m scared, I don’t want them to burn our house. I’m afraid.”
Mother straightened up from the box she was filling with folded sheets and comforters, and gathered Gulie into her arms.
“I’m frightened too, Gulie,” she whispered. “But we must bear this trial as best we can, with God’s help,” She kissed her daughter’s forehead and turned back to the box, which was almost full. “Help me carry these linens out to the porch,” she said quietly. “If we keep busy,” she added, “there will be less time to be afraid.”
After a quick, cold supper of more beans, Father said it was time to head into the woods themselves before the light was completely gone.
They were going, he said as they headed up the trail winding along the side of Fox’s Hill, to a clearing they called the hidden meadow.
Gulie knew it well. It was a flat outcropping near the crest of the hill, which was sheltered by a grove of trees and hidden from sight behind a rim of chest high boulders. She had often played there.
But the little meadow looked dark and cold when she got there that night. Father said it was too dangerous to light a fire, so Gulie and Mother huddled under a comforter to keep warm.
Gulie looked around and said, “Well, at least it isn’t raining.” Father did light a small oil lamp, though, setting it on the ground next to the wall of boulders with the flame turned low so it wouldn’t be seen from the road far below. Then he and Titus began taking turns keeping watch down the valley.
Gulie knew she should be enjoying this night as an adventure. The sky beyond the trees was pretty enough, its deep black sprinkled with so many twinkling stars. To pass the time, Mother began telling her stories, first one from the Bible and then another about oldtime Quakers.
Taking a break from his watch, Father listened to her tell of Daniel in the lion’s den, and then about the Quaker missionary Mary Fisher who went to Constantinople to preach the gospel of Christ’s Light to the Grand Turk, and returned home safe and sound.
Mother was about to go on to the Parable of the Good Samaritan when Titus turned from the rocks and whispered urgently, “Here they come! I can see the torches, and they burning barns already!”
The Good Samaritan was instantly forgotten as Father blew out the lamp, then moved with the others toward the rocks and Titus.
Sure enough, there below them, and a mile or so to the south, they saw dozens of flickering pinpoints of flame, the raiders’ torches, which looked to Gulie like the candles on a moving birthday cake. The torches were bunched in front of a much larger fire, a building. Gulie heard Titus and Father whispering about it.
“Is that the mill?” Father asked.
“Dunno,” Titus said. “Could be Crawford’s barn or maybe the house. Hard to tell from here.”
As they watched, a second large yellow flame sputtered into view, and then grew and spread.
“That mus’ be the barn,” Titus said. “Looks like Crawfords won’ have nothin’ left.”
He did not say aloud what all of them knew; that the Crawfords’ farm was on the next side road down the Valley Pike from Taylor’s Lane, and the Four Quaker farms along its course.
As the flames grew and engulfed the barn, the band of smaller torches began to spread and thin out. One detached from the group entirely and started moving slowly away from it, along the edge of the foothills, onto the Valley Pike north.
“Here come the scout,” Titus murmured, with worry in his voice. “He be headin’ our way for sure.”
Gulie watched the single light bobbing along on the dark stream of the night, like a leaf floating on the creek that ran along the far side of the Pike. Maybe it would float right past Taylor’s Lane, and leave them be.
But it didn’t. The torch and its carrier plodded to a halt below them, at the foot of Fox’s Hill. It stopped right where Taylor’s Lane turned off, hard as it might be to see from the Pike because of the trees and undergrowth there at the corner.
Gulie held her breath as she waited for the torch bearer to make some signal to the others, to show them where to gather, now that their work of destruction at Crawford’s was complete. It probably wouldn’t be anything elaborate, just raising it up and down, or moving it from side to side. A few motions to bring the other torches along and turn their house, and their barn, into columns of fire.
And then the scout’s torch was moving, but not from side to side, or sharply up and down. It had started to bob again, like a leaf floating in the creek. It was moving past Taylor’s Lane and up the road.
Gulie took a breath, feeling confused. Where was the scout going? The torch moved on up the road for a few moments, then stopped again, just before it would have been out of sight around the curve of Penn’s Hill.
And then torch did make a signal: waving smartly back and forth, and in a circle above the scout’s head.
She saw Mother reach out and clasp Father’s hand. “It’s the Thompson place,” she breathed. Gulie saw Father nod, apparently unable to speak.
The other raiders, their torches strung out in a long line, had also seen the signal, and were galloping up the road toward it. Their horses’ hooves clattered faintly on the gravel, and war whoops drifted up the hillside. Gulie clutched Mother’s arm as the lights passed just below them. In their light she caught a few fleeting glimpses of the riders, as the torchlight reflected off a brass button or a rifle barrel.
The scout moved ahead of them, up the drive to the Thompson place, and then the torch disappeared behind some trees. Gulie watched the other raiders’ lights reach the curve of the drive, turn up it, and then cluster together. The peak of the farmhouse roof became briefly visible as a vee-shaped shadow blocking some of the torches from view.
Gulie thought she heard shouts rising on the gentle night breeze, though she couldn’t make out the words. The torches started moving again, swirling slowly around in the trees. Then, a glow began to show the outline of trees. A moment later, the roof of the house appeared again, this time drawn not by shadows but by fire.
As Gulie and the others watched, the flames crawled to the peak of the roof, then lit up a window. In another few moments, the whole house was aflame, and the fence along the driveway up to it was lighted up as if it was daytime.
“My God,” Father said quietly, unable to stop looking at the flames.
“That house burnin’ awful fast,” Titus commented. “They must be splashin’ fuel oil around inside it.”
Mother shuddered. “Thank the Lord the Thompsons aren’t here to see this.”
Then a second burst of flame appeared, as the barn was put to the torch.
They watched in silence as the fires grew and brightened, throwing strange wavering shadows up and down the slope of Penn’s Hill. Soon the smaller lights of the raiders’ torches detached themselves from the larger flames and gathered again in a cluster on the Thompsons’ drive. Gulie could see horses and soldiers clearly now, in the glare of the burning buildings.
The horsemen began to move again, in single file, out to the Valley Pike, where the lead rider seemed to pause and hesitate, as if uncertain about which way to turn.
“Go on now,” Titus muttered under his breath, “You all head on north. Git away from here. Ain’t you burned enough for one night?”
As if in reply, the raider at the road turned and headed north, more slowly now. The others followed, and soon they and their torches vanished, one by one, into the night beyond Penn’s Hill.
As the last one disappeared, Gulie heard Father heave a long, shaky sigh. He turned away from the fire below him, and as he did so Mother clutched and grabbed at him, stifling a sob. Father murmured something to her, and they stood there for a long moment, clinging together.
Gulie put her arms around Mother’s waist and joined the embrace. Then Mother’s hand was stroking her hair. She meant for this to soothe her daughter, but Gulie could feel that Mother’s hand was shaking.
“I think they’re gone now,” Mother said to her at length.
“They might be back though,” said Titus. He was still at the rock wall, standing watch. Gulie looked up and could see faint reflections of the fires below on his gray hair and dark smooth features.
“I think we’d better sit down and rest,” Father said. “Titus, let me know when thee wants me to change places with you.” He led them back to where the oil lantern had been lit and they sat down on the cool ground, leaning back into the side of the hill.
Mother spread out the quilt again and Gulie snuggled close to her under it. As she slowly relaxed, vivid images of the night crowded into her mind; The burning of Crawford’s barn, the line of torches moving up the road, the scout who had paused by Taylor’s Lane and then passed it by, and the way the trees around the Thompson place were illuminated by the flaming buildings. Why had their farm and the others on Taylor’s lane been spared?
As she wondered about this, she heard Mother and Father talking, in voices so low she couldn’t make out the words. She was drifting toward sleep, she realized. Then she heard Mother speak the name Jonah; and that brought her back awake for a moment.
Of course. It must have been Jonah who was the scout that passed them by. That made sense; he knew the neighborhood, so the army would want him to ride as a scout. And he would never lead them to burn down his own home. She was sure of it.
She found this thought very comforting. So comforting in fact, that she snuggled closer to Mother and was soon asleep.
Her dreams were troubled, though, by more images of fire. And she also dreamed–or did she actually remember?–being lifted in her father’s arms and carried away from them.
The carrying part was at least partly true, she realized the next morning, because she awoke, not upon Fox’s Hill, but back home, in her own bed.
The room was still bare, her dolls and books gone; but the room was still there, and her bed felt wonderfully soft and cozy after the rough ground of the hillside. She could hear familiar sounds of Mother downstairs in the kitchen, and smell father’s coffee brewing on the big wood stove. These made Gulie feel even better. It meant the raiders had not returned. Their house was safe.
Breakfast was sparse, just oatmeal, since most of the supplies were still hidden out in the woods. But Mother had brought in a clean grey dress and a white bonnet for Gulie, and told her to hurry and get dressed for meeting. “We have much to be thankful for today,” Mother said. “We don’t want to be late.”
As they mounted the wagon again, Gulie’s curiosity got the better of her. “Will we see Jonah today, Father?” she asked. Then, “Was it really him who sent the raiders past Taylor’s Lane last night?”
“I don’t know, either way,” Father answered. “But I think thee’s on to something about last night.”
Gulie’s sense of anticipation rose when they neared Hopewell, because they passed an army encampment in a field not far away. She looked for Jonah among the tents and wagons, and the soldiers huddling in their dark coats around smoldering campfires, but didn’t see him.
But her hopes rose even higher as they walked up to the meetinghouse door. Leaning against the wall next to it were half a dozen rifles, several pistols in leather holsters, and battered canteens. Gulie knew this meant soldiers would be in meeting, for old Thomas Swet the usher always insisted that weapons of carnal warfare be left outside.
And sure enough, there was Jonah, in the back row on the men’s side, with Sergeant Gifford next to him. Gulie couldn’t resist a little wave to him, and was pleased when he nodded a reply.
But as she sat down and looked closer at her brother, Gulie became alarmed. Even from across the room she could see how bleary-eyed and exhausted he looked. His face and beard were filmed with dust, and he looked unhappy and discouraged.
Jonah’s appearance made Gulie worry. And worrying made the long silent meeting seem a lot longer than usual. She saw her brother doze and wake himself twice during the long quiet stretches. But he paid close attention when Father stood to pray. Taking off his hat, Father thanked God for those Quaker farms which were spared, hoped for comfort for those who suffered loss in yesterday’s fighting, and begged for divine help to bring the bloody and evil war to a speedy end. When he finished, and put his hat back on and sat down, Gulie saw Jonah silently mouth a firm “Amen”.
When Henry Taylor shook hands with the elders to close meeting, he rose to announce that the Overseers Committees of both the men’s and women’s meetings would gather in a few moments to take stock of any damage suffered by Hopewell Friends and their neighbors, and make plans to offer whatever help the meeting could.
Mother was on the Women’s Overseers, but before she went in to the committee room, she joined Gulie and Father in a greeting to her son.
As they embraced the tired-looking soldier, Jonah spoke up, “Mother, Father, I have something to tell you,” he said.
“We know, son,” Mother interrupted gratefully, “Thee doesn’t need to say any more. We know.”
“You do?” Jonah said, looking confused. “What do you know?”
Gulie spoke up. “We know thee was a scout last night, and thee took the soldiers past Taylor’s Lane to the Thompson Place, so our houses didn’t get burned down.”
“Yes,” Father nodded. “We’re grateful to thee son.”
“But,” Jonah protested, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I wasn’t with the raiding party last night. We chased Jubal Early around the hills til dark and never found him, and then they had me on guard duty half the night.” He scratched his head with dirt-stained fingers. “No matter,” he said, “I had something different to tell you.”
He swallowed hard. “I wanted to tell you that I’ve decided Father and the Meeting are right: going to war is unchristian and sinful. I don’t know what to do about the rebellion, but I can’t do this anymore. When my enlistment is up next month, I’m leaving the army. I’ll go to Indiana until the war is over. It’s far away from home, but it’s far away from this war too.”
At this, Father took off his hat and reached out with the other hand to shake Jonah’s hand heartily. “God bless thee son,” he said, and Gulie could see tears in his eyes.
Mother embraced him again. “Will thee want to come back here to meeting, son?” she asked, reaching for her handkerchief and dabbing at her eyes. “I’m sure the men’s overseers will lift the disownment if thee asks.”
Jonah nodded, and started to speak, but Gulie interrupted. She thought all this talk about Indiana and rejoining meeting was well and good, maybe, but there was something else she simply had to find out. “Wait a minute, Jonah,” she said. “If it wasn’t thee who was the scout last night, then who was it?”
“That’s a good question, young lady,” replied Sergeant Gifford, who had been standing nearby listening respectfully. “I was with that raiding party, and I’ve been wondering the same thing.”
“What does thee mean?” Father asked, facing him.
“Well, it was like this,” Gifford said. “We were at a farm about three miles down the Pike from here, not far from an old mill–“
“The Crawford place!” Gulie said, but Mother shushed her.
“I guess so,” Gifford agreed. “Then a scout rode off to find the next place up the road. We saw him signal and followed him. All the way, though, I had this strange feeling we were passing farms. I figured they were close by somewhere, back behind the trees, and we should have been raiding them. But I couldn’t see anything in the dark, and the scouts usually know what they’re doing. Then when we got to the next place, it was standing empty and there was nothing to burn but the buildings.”
“That was the Thompson place,” Father said. “So the scout took you there instead of Taylor’s Lane. Who was this scout, sergeant? We owe him our thanks.”
“That’s another strange thing,” Gifford said. “I don’t know who it was. We saw him signalling all the way up there, but then he rode off toward the barn and I lost him. He must have mixed back in with the rest of us somewhere. When we formed up again, all the scouts were there, but they all said they had followed the signal just like we did. Each scout figured it was one of the others.”
Gifford scratched his head, and Gulie saw that his fingers were grimy too. “So it’s a mystery to me, Mr. Taylor,” he concluded. “Somebody led us up there, but we don’t know who. Maybe it was a ghost. A ghost with a torch.” He grinned at them and shrugged.
Then it was time for Mother’s committee meeting. Gulie started to sulk at this, because it meant waiting around with nothing to do. But then Ruth Janney, who was also on the committee, came toward her. “Gulie, would thee like a little lunch?” she asked. “I brought some for those who must stay for committee meetings.”
Gulie nodded vigorously, and soon had her own plate of cole slaw and corn bread. And best of all, Ruth Janney had brought one of her cherry pies. Gulie took a big slice that was light brown and flaky on the outside and juicy-red inside, and savored every bite, thinking that it was delicious even if it was a day old.
After the Overseers meeting, the Taylors returned to their wagon and mounted the seat. Father and Mother were still talking about what had happened. “Does thee think the raiders will be back?” Mother asked.
“Probably not tonight,” Father said. “Sergeant Gifford told me they think Jubal Early has retreated back toward Strasburg, so they’ll be marching out after him today, taking their plague of plunder and destruction with them, and away from us for awhile.”
Father shook his head and sighed. “But none of us in the Valley will really be safe again until this war is over, he said.” He snapped the reins, and the horses began to move.
Just then something in the cemetery caught Gulie’s eye, and she turned excitedly to her parents. “Mother! Father!” she cried. “Look!”
They followed her pointing finger. “What is it, dear?” Mother said.
“The grave,” Gulie cried, “Samuel Hadley’s grave. It’s all smoothed over and finished, like it was supposed to be yesterday.”
Father craned his neck, and said “By gosh, thee’s right,” and reined the horses. “I wonder how that happened.”
Gulie had an idea. “I’ll bet I know,” she said. “It was Samuel Hadley who was the scout last night. His ghost, I mean. Remember, Father? Thee said his last words before he died were that he wished he could help us Friends somehow, to show he was sorry about going off to the war.”
“That’s right,” Father said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “That is what he said.”
“So he did help us last night,” Guli went on, “and then he was able to finish his grave and be at peace in it.”
Father turned for a moment and gazed reflectively at the green hills
“Does thee think–” Mother started to say, then stopped.
Finally Father gently snapped the reins again, and the wagon jolted slowly forward.
“I think,” he began, speaking so quietly that they could barely hear him above the wheels crunching over the driveway gravel, “I think there’s no doubt something strange and wonderful happened last night. And Gulie’s explanation makes as much sense of it as we’re likely to get.”
A little while later, the wagon rolled past the Thompson place, where thin columns of smoke were rising from the still-smoldering, blackened ruins of the house and barn. Watching the smoke, Gulie thought that she would always remember two things about this weekend in the war.
One was this smoke from the ruins of the Thompson Place. The other was the signal of the ghost scout’s torch, leading the raiders to it and away from their house and Taylor’s Lane.
But wait–there was something else. A third thing she would remember, Gulie realized, with a secret smile.
She would never forget Ruth Janney’s cherry pie.
Copyright © by Chuck Fager. All rights reserved.