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Illustration from What is the Full
Moon Full of

Shulamith Levey

Cricket Stories

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"Hurrah for Mr. Davis! Hurrah for Mr. Lincoln!" Part 2

After lunch Jip followed me back to my bedroom.  I bent to give him a hug.  “You are the spoiltest dog in Washington, Jip.”  I kissed his nose.
And he was.  Most all lunches he sat on Pa’s lap smacking down the tenderest pieces of meat and chicken, being petted the whole time.
“These little creatures know more about us than we know ourselves,” Pa told us more than once.  I believe it.  And I’m pretty darn sure Jip was the best comforter Pa could have, with all his troubles.

Nanny and Nanka looked up at me, as if to ask, “What now?”  I’d been thinking just that these last days.  About what to show Katherine, what we can do.  And remembering all the fine times I’d had with Willie and our friends Bud and Holly Taft.  With Willie gone and Bud and Holly sent North to school, there was just me left.  But oh my, the things we did.  Bombarding the Cabinet Room with toy cannons.  “I tell you, Jip, it took the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy to get everyone quiet again.  Did those grown-ups jump!  Oh my!”
Jip made a leap onto the bed and nuzzled in beside the goats.  “And the attic!  Lots of clothes to dress up in, old spectacles, sleds ....”

Sleds!  I looked at Nanny and Nanka.  “I could go up there and get a sled and hitch it to both of you and Jip could ride and we could drive through the house and make a great commotion and ....”
I plopped down on the floor.  Suddenly I was feeling sad.  Really sad.  Nanny and Nanka and Jip were good friends, but....  I felt a tug at my sleeve.  It was Jip, pulling away and wagging his tail like crazy.

“You’re right, fella.  Let’s see if goats are as good as ponies.”  I looked round my room.  “How about my chair?  That’ll make a dandy wagon, good as a sled.  And rope.  Where’s my rope?  I always keep rope, never know when you’ll need rope.  Pa must have told me that.”  Now Jip was yipping and yapping in circles and Nanny and Nanka were off the bed nibbling at the fringe of the bedspread that my grandmother’d given me back in Springfield.
I found two stout pieces of rope under my bed.  Didn’t take but a wink to fasten the goats to the chair, turned over so I could hold onto the legs.  Jip was up on the chair’s back in a flash.  I didn’t even have to tell him, just point.  And we were off!

Oh, I was feeling much better.  The chair made a loud clatter going down the stairs.  I could tell the goats were enjoying themselves as much as I was.  They were bleating and Jip was barking.
We whipped through the hallway past the state diningroom.  As we came along toward the Red Room, Ma’s favorite parlor where she entertained her friends, the door must have been a mite open and the smells of those cakes and sandwiches must have come straight into the goats’ noses, ‘cause they changed course and charged into the room.

“Whoa,” I yelled and dropped the chair legs and leapt forward to catch my trusty steads, but it was too late.
Jip landed onto the lap of a lady with a hat like an eenormous serving tray, all twined with crimped brown ribbon and a yellow rose.  Nanny and Nanka ploughed right across the room into the tea table.  How those cakes and sandwiches flew up into the air and down onto Ma and the ladies and me and Jip and the goats.  What screeches!  And what munching!
“Thomas Lincoln, what is this?”  Ma was picking a bit of crumb cake from the lace on her chest.  Her cheeks were very red.  Mine must have been red, too.
“I’m sorry, Ma.  I was trying out something new, to give Katherine a specially good time.  I’ll bet she loves goats and....”

“And you round up these,” she waved her arms at my animals who were having a grand tea party of their own, “these creatures.  Your Pa will have a word with you later.”  Then she turned to her guests who were in quite a state.  I didn’t hear what she said, I was so busy getting the chair in shape so I could drive the goats back upstairs.

No, I didn’t hear but I hoped Pa would remind her, what he always said, “Let the children have a good time.”
“It was great fun, wasn’t it, Jip?” I whispered to him as he jumped back and sat proud as you please, licking his lips all ‘round with his long pink tongue.

Later that evening Pa and I were alone in the family room.  Pa was curled into his favorite armchair with those long, long legs of his hung over the side.  There were worn spots on the heels of his wool stockings.  Ma had told him about my adventure.
I stood still as I could beside the chair.  Pa stared at me for, maybe, a few seconds.  I had the feeling he was doing his best to look very stern.
“You probably should have stayed upstairs with your – what do you call it, Son?”

“Test, Pa.  I was testing to see whether I could hitch Nanny and Nanka to a cart or something, so as to take Cousin Katherine for a ride when she comes.  To make her laugh.  You know, Pa, goats instead of ponies.”  I tried not to smile myself, remembering those ladies jumping and screaming and holding onto their hats and those little bags all covered with beads on long chains they carried everywhere.  It was a sight!

Then an ever-so-small smile began stealing ‘round the corners of Pa’s mouth and eyes.  He reached out and I tucked myself close against him on the edge of the chair.  I waited.  He’d gone very quiet.  Then he said, ever so softly, “I’m really sorry, Taddy.”  Then quiet again.  I waited.  “I’m really sorry I missed it.  It must have been a sight.  A real Sight!”

Aunt Emilie was dressed all in black, with a shiny pin shaped like a bird at her neck.  She did look sad.  And so thin.  My cousin Katherine held tight to her Ma’s hand.  She wore a wool cape and thick stockings and high button shoes–all black, too.  I don’t know much about ladies’ clothes, but it looked like they both had on the same shape bonnets with veils.

For one second, when they stepped down from the carriage, I thought, well, maybe it was more like I felt, Ma and Pa gave a kind of start.  But only for a second.  Then they were hugging each other and crying and hugging and crying.  Ma took Aunt Emilie straight to her room.  Pa swung Katherine up into his arms and carried her straight to our parlor and by the fire.

Since early morning I’d been repeating to myself, “Lips closed, hearts open.”  I wanted to ask Pa and Ma, were they worried, too, something might slip out about the war and us being Union and them Confederate.  I didn’t, but I’m sure they were real worried.

Ma and Aunt Emilie had lunch together, just the two of them.  Me and Katherine and Jip and Pa ate in the second-best parlor.

“Well, well, little Katherine.”  Pa heaped potatoes and a slice of roast chicken dripping with gravy onto her plate.  What was Pa going to say?  He gave a bit of chicken to Jip who was in his usual place on Pa’s lap.

“Well, well,” he said again, then he looked at me across the table, raising those bushy eyebrows high onto his forehead.  “I do believe Tad has some mighty fine adventures planned for you.  Do you like animals, dear Katherine?”
My cousin hadn’t said two words since she’d come.  Now she was sitting still as a brood hen, staring down at her plate, silent.

“Yes, sir.”  I could barely hear her.  “Ah got a dawg an’ three cats an’ ....”  And then she burst out in tears.  Quick as a wink Pa was out of his seat, throwing Jip to the floor, and he had Katherine on his lap, her head buried in his shoulder.  I had a stone in my belly.  She was a miserable girl!

“It’s all right, little Katherine.”  Pa was stroking her hair.  “Cry all you want.  Cry all you want.”  He straightened the bow at the back of her neck holding her curls.  They were reddish-brown and mighty pretty.

I came round to Pa’s chair.  Just how do I talk to a girl six years old?  And give her a good time?  And not mention the war and her Pa?  I could feel my tongue tying up.  But it was my turn.
“There’s lots to do here, Katherine.  I’ve got two goats called Nanny and Nanka and a pony and a turkey called Jack and two white rabbits.  There’s Jip and goldfish in the waterlily tank in the conservancy.  And Pa gave Jack a reprieve so as he’s not going to be our Christmas dinner.”  I was out of breath.

“Speaking of goats.”  Pa put a finger under Katherine’s chin and turned her head away from his shoulder.  He wiped her cheeks with his napkin.  “What do you think of this goat?”  And would you believe it, his jaw moved side to side and he stuck out his chin and opened his eyes to nearly bulging and gave out the loudest goat noise I’d ever heard.
We all said Pa’s face had to be made of rubber, but he hadn’t done anything much like this since Willie died.  Watching him made me realize how much I’d missed funning with him.  Made me think how we were all pretty sad, too.  And here we were wanting to cheer up Aunt Emilie and Cousin Katherine.  Well!  If Pa could be Commander-in-Chief of this war he hates, then I’d better get busy.

Katherine was staring at Pa.  I’d like to say she was smiling, but I don’t think she was.

Pa didn’t seem to mind.  “Now,” he set her back on her chair, “finish your lunch.  I have to get back to the wa...,”  he gave a deep cough, “back to my office.  I’ll see you children at dinner.”
There it was!  Already!  Even Pa couldn’t help a slip.  So what was a chatterbox like me gonna do?

After Pa left, Jip made a leap onto Katherine’s lap.  He wasn’t big for a foxhound, but most of him hung over the sides of the chair, she being so slight.
“He’s naice.”  And straight away she was stroking his ears.  I liked the way she said “nice.”  Naice.  It was soft, right from the South.

“Pa says animals know more about us than we know ourselves.”  I rubbed Jip under his muzzle.  He sure knew something about my cousin.  I’ll bet he could tell just how sad she was and was wanting to help.
“Pa had a piglet when he was a boy and, when it grew up, he rode it, just like a horse.  Can you see my Pa with those long legs and dangly arms riding a pig?”  This time I know a tiny smile was playing round my cousin’s mouth.
Well, this was a start.  I felt in my pocket for my pocket knife.

“Ever see a pocket knife?”  She shook her head.  I pulled out the blade.  “It’s grand to have.  You never know when you’ll need a knife for cutting string or whittling wood.”  I thought of the war map Willie and I cut into a table when we first got our knives, but I couldn’t show that to Katherine.  Well, right now she seemed to be happy with Jip and he was in heaven, his eyes shut tight, almost purring.

I closed the knife and put it back in my pocket.  Looking down, I saw my Union Jack badge stuck right out on the collar.  I looked at my cousin.  I was lucky.  She had her cheek close to Jip’s nose, and she was humming to him.  I turned and fair tore that badge off, stuffing it into my jacket pocket.  Law!  Wherever I looked there were things to remind us of the war.

Just then Ma and Aunt Emilie came in.  I ran up to Ma, trying to put a Help Me sign on my face and raising my eyebrows like Pa.

“I’m going to show Aunt Emilie parts of the White House and a few of the State Rooms in the East Wing.  She thought Katherine might like to come.  What about you, Tad?”
That’s Ma!  I’ll bet she suggested taking Katherine along.
“Thank you, but I think I’d better see to the goats and ponies.  Then tomorrow I can show them to Katherine and maybe take her for a ride.  There’s lots of wind today, and it’s near dark.”

Katherine looked up.  “Ah thought you-all said you just had one pony.”  And without thinking, I answered, “That’s right, Cousin Katherine.  I do have one pony.  The other one belonged to my brother Willie who di...”  Law!  I could have died right there.  I stuck a fist into my mouth but, of course, they heard me.  Next thing Aunt Emilie put her arms around Ma’s waist and hugged her close.  Ma put her head against Aunt Emilie’s shoulder.

“Come along, Katherine.”  Aunt Emilie stretched out her hand, and then she looked straight at me and gave me the kindest, saddest smile.  I know those smiles.  Pa’s always giving them these days.
When they left, Jip was at Katherine’s heels.  Pa’ll be right proud when I tell him.  My cousin may not say much, but she sure does hear awful good.

The goats had been sent outside to the pen after the fuss yesterday.  “They’ll be company for the ponies,” I told Mr. Watt, the gardener.  I was hoping he’d give them a bit of attention, him being around the grounds most of the day.  But Mr. Watt wasn’t too keen to care for my animals since I’d eaten most of the strawberries he’d been forcing for a state dinner.  How was I to know if he didn’t tell me?  And the goats had a taste for his flowers.

I took off for the animals.  There were lots of soldiers in the street.  Union soldiers.  And prisoners.  Confederate, of course.  And the wounded.  People said Washington was one big hospital now.  What’ll we do?  How can we take Aunt Emilie and Cousin Katherine out riding?  Yes, sir, I’d better speak with Ma tonight.

That night Ma came in and sat down on the side of my bed.  I was half sitting up against the pillows with Jip across my legs.  Thinking.

“Ma, am I sorry ‘bout this afternoon?  It’s hard, Ma.”  She pulled the covers up to my chin and kissed my hands.  Something I like a lot.

“It is very hard, Taddy, but we must try not to remind them of their sorrow,” she took a deep breath, “which is our sorrow also.”  And then she gave me her sad smile, reminding me of Aunt Emilie and what I’d been thinking.
“Ma, I do like Aunt Emilie.  She’s kind, I can tell.  How can she keep slaves, treating people like Pa calls it, pieces of property, worse ‘n animals?  How, Ma?”

She held onto my hands.  “Well, first of all,” Ma was thinking out her words, careful like, “Emilie has never known anything other than having slaves all her life.  She believes they are happy on plantations.  I know it’s very difficult for us to understand, but all the Southerners--plantation owners, cotton growers–believe they must have slaves in order to live as well as they do.”

“You come from Kentucky, Ma, and you don’t believe this.  Neither does Pa.”
“No, son,” Ma shook her head till one of her combs came loose, “we hate slavery.  We hate it.”
Then she patted my arm.  “This is heavy conversation just before sleep.  Tell me, how did you get on with Katherine at lunch?  She seems a well-mannered child.”
“Jip was the one who got on with her, Ma.  He made right up to her and settled on her lap.  I showed her my pocket knife, but I guess girls don’t much care about such things.  That right, Ma?”  I laid back comfy-like.  “What’ll I do with my cousin, Ma?”

She moved up closer to me.  Jip gave a stretch so as his head was just about on her lap.  Then she sighed.  “Our hearts are full of what we can’t say, Taddy.  I told your Pa just before I came up here, ‘Father, we’ve all got bleeding wounds.  And this war has come between us like a barrier of granite.”  But”, she bent over and kissed me,

“I can only repeat.  We must try to give them some little measure of pleasure.  Take her out in the pony cart tomorrow.  Show her a bit of Washington.  I thought I’d take Emilie for a drive in the state carriage.”
“But, Ma,” I sat straight up, “there’s troops and troops of our soldiers in the streets and even Confederate prisoners.  They’ll remind Aunt Emilie and Katherine of Uncle Ben and the war, for sure.”

“Heavens!”  Ma’s hand flew up to her mouth.  “You’re absolutely right, Son.  But,” she stood up, shoulders back like a soldier, “we’ll have to take a chance.  Fresh air, even cold fresh air, can work some good on grief.  I know.  And a ride might be distracting.  Sleep now.  Darkness always makes a worry look bigger and without a solution.”

She tightened my covers, blew out the candle, and left, closing the door softly behind her.
Jip cuddled close.  Ma was dreaming, hoping–she always wanted everyone to be happy, specially in the family.  And specially after Willie died.  Far as I could see, darkness or daylight, there was no solution.  We were Union and they were Confederate and that was that.

on to Part 3...

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