Harper's Weekly 07/23/1864


LULA'S LETTER.

A CHILD'S STORY.

Mamma,” said my little daughter, “may I
write a letter to a soldier? All the girls have.”


“Write a letter to a soldier, my child?”

“Yes, mamma. Maggie and Mary have writ-
ten their and put them in the comfort bags, and
we think the soldiers will be so pleased to find a
letter. We sewed all yesterday afternoon, and
Maggie's mother is going to send them away as
soon as I write. May I?”


Leave granted, Lula brought the wherewithal,
and sat down gravely to the production of an epis-
tle. After an hour's hard work she brought it to
me, nicely copied for the final reading. The com-
position was unassisted, and ran as follows:


Dear Soldier,—We have all been making things for
the soldiers, and I send this comfort bag to you. I hope
it will be very useful. How queer it must look to see a
man sewing; but I suppose it must be done when there
are no women. I think it is very good of you to fight for
the country, and I love you very much for it. It must be
dreadful to get wounded so far away from home. I hope
God will take care of you, and bring you safe home to your
friends. I must stop now. Please answer this letter, for
I want to know who gets the bag. My papa is Mr. George
Nelson, Brooklyn, New York. You must direct to his
care.

Your affectionate little friend,“Lula.”


After the bags had gone Lula became impatient
to hear from her soldier, as she called him. But
many a long week went by, and the child had ceased
to talk of it, when her father came in to dinner with
the long-expected document. I, with the faithless-
ness of middle-age, was surprised that it should come
at all; but Lula was in ecstasies. The impatient
fingers tore open the envelope, and coming to me
we read it together:


My dear little Friend“—thus the letter began—
“I have just finished your sweet note, and as you ask for
a reply you shall have it at length. Accept my thanks
for your gift. Bless the little fingers that made the bag,
bless the warm heart that felt for the soldier and wished
to write him a letter. It was the first one I had received
for sixteen months. My dear little sister Letitia used to
send me a packet every week. She was my only corre-
spondent, and when she died I thought I had lost every
thing. But I had my father. He was captain of the com-
pany in which I was, and am, a private. We were to-
gether a year; and then, little one, in the battle of Cedar
Mountain, I saw him fall. I could not go to him. The
thought of him lying behind me made me fight like a
fiend. After the battle ended, and the noise of the guns,
the trampling of horses, the rattle of artillery had died
away, the night became as still as it is in the country aft-
er the cows are milked and the crickets begin their sad
cry. Then I could look for my father. I found him at
last. Near the place where he fell grew an old pine-tree,
torn by shells, but a few plumy branches yet left. At its
foot I dug a grave with my bayonet. There I left him
sleeping his long sleep, with the sod of Virginia over him.
Forgive me for writing you so dismal a story. I could
not help it; for since that awful night I have not spoken
of what occurred, and I have been longing to tell some-
body. So you see what your note has done to comfort
me. I am now going to mend my stockings with the
help of the `comfort bag.' The holes I have to sew up
would make you open your eyes. I hope your father will
allow you to write to me again. I inclose an envelope
addressed, that you can use when you wish to do another
kind action. I have the honor to be

“Very respectfully yours,“Daniel P. Fleming.”


Lula wrote a longer letter next time, telling of
her papa, and mamma, and brother Johnnie; how
she went to school where there was a funny mas-
ter, who pretended to be cross, and was not; how
she, aiding her playmates, bought for him a fine
ruler as a present, and placed it, with a note, on his
table on April-Fool's Day. Even about her Java
sparrow the little pen discoursed, her dear J. S.,
who wore a white standing-collar like old Mr. Wa-
ters, and who slept in a basket. She spent some
time over the epistle, spilled ink over the table-
cover, and double-dyed her fingers. But she sent
off a cheery letter, and not a word of mine discour-
aged her. In due time Mr. Fleming answered, and
the correspondence went on all winter. I liked his
letters very much; as well as Lula did, which is
saying a great deal for them. He remembered he
was writing to a child, and while he interested her
our feelings were excited by his simple relations.
When Christmas approached Lula wished to send
him a box.


“I think I ought, mamma; he is my soldier, and
has nobody else to think of him.”


I gave her permission, but offered no assistance,
wishing to see how she would manage. She begged
a soap-box of the cook, and Johnnie helped her line
it with paper. Grandma was now besieged with
requests for a pair or two of the blue stockings she
was constantly knitting. They begged me to make
a plum-cake, and papa gave a bottle of wine. The
children bought nuts and candy; and Lula, after
an anxious talk with me, sent, as her own particu-
lar gift, pocket-handkerchiefs marked with his
name—“D. P. Fleming.” Papa having suggested
something to read, Johnnie brought his favorite
books, Arabian Nights and Pilgrim's Progress, and
could with difficulty be persuaded to substitute
Harper's Magazines.


The acknowledgment of the box was a grateful
letter that more than repaid us. Lula was specially
delighted, because Mr. Fleming confessed to a
weakness for candy, and her father had laughed at
her for sending bonbons to a soldier. There was a
note to Mr. Nelson, in which Mr. Fleming said he
was to have a furlough, with the rest of the regi-
ment, before re-enlisting for the war. He begged
permission to see Lula. Mr. Nelson immediately
wrote for him to come. But we did not tell Lula,
to save her the excitement and fretting of expecta-
tion. About two weeks afterward I was reading in
my room when Lula flew in.


“Mamma,” said she, “there is a soldier down
stairs asking for you!” And she hid her face in
my dress and began to tremble.


The servant brought in his card.

“Don't you wish to see Mr. Fleming, Lula?”

“No, no!” she sobbed.

“I am going down, and will send Margaret up
for you. You may be disappointed in him, Lula;
but remember, he is fighting our battles for us; he
is a soldier, and as such deserves comfort and kind-
ness. Expect nothing, but come down quietly
when I send for you.”


I owned to a little trepidation myself: a glance
dispelled it. He was a tall, robust young man—
almost handsome. His voice trembled a little as
he responded to my welcome, and told me he could
never tell all our goodness had done for him. Lula's
letter came when he felt forsaken—desperate—and
saved him. His regard for her seemed a kind of
reverence. While he was talking I saw Lula peep-
ing in at the other end of the drawing-room, and I
called her. At that name he rose, dropped the cap
he held, and went forward to meet her. She was
blushing like a peony—an old-fashioned red one—
but smiling, and looking up at him from under her
long lashes. He offered her his hand without a
word. Lula gave him hers, when he kissed it as
if she had been a princess and he of the blood-royal.
She was a little afraid of him at first; but all shy-
ness wore off when Johnnie came home, and went
into a complete state of admiration. Mr. Nelson
asked him to stay with us during his leave, and I
was afterward very glad he did so, for that week
gave me thorough knowledge of him, and when he
left us I loved him as if he had been one of mine.


For a long time after Mr. Fleming's departure
Johnnie and Lula played army plays exclusively.
They drilled with canes, got up camp suppers, fought
battles, were taken by guerrillas—embodiments of
the stories of their friend. A few letters passed
between us, for I now undertook the bulk of the
correspondence; then the campaign began, and we
heard nothing. I was sure, from the silence that
followed Gettysburg, in which his regiment took a
prominent part, that something had happened to
him. Mr. Nelson vainly inquired. He was thought
to be a prisoner, but it was not positively known.
Lula and Johnnie could not realize our fears. To be
a prisoner was a fine thing in their eyes. What a
story Mr. Fleming would have to tell them!


That fall we went to Baltimore to visit an old
aunt, and in the course of our stay we went to see
the hospitals. As I never lost any chance of hear-
ing of the lost Fleming, I told his story to the pleas-
ant young nurse who walked about with us. She
had been to the front, in the very first rank of
those who went to care for the wounded.


There was a Captain Fleming ill in one of the
wards, dying of the wounds received at Gettysburg.
She did not know his first name, or any thing about
him, except that he had no friends to whom news
of his condition could be sent. I asked her to point
him out, for a misgiving seized me. Surely it was
he, white and changed. I drew back, fearing he
would see me too suddenly. The nurse spoke, and
told him some one had come to see him. A little
color flashed into his face as I came forward, and
the poor fellow turned his face into the pillow and
sobbed. I cried too. “Why didn't you let us
know where you were?” I asked at last.


“I did,” said he; “but my letters had been un-
answered for so long that I thought perhaps you
had done enough for me, so I wrote no more. Isn't
Lula here?”


“You shall see her to-morrow. When you are
a little stronger, and can be moved, you must come
to us. We will nurse you well again.”


“I shall soon be well enough to be moved,” said
he, with a melancholy significance, “but not to
your house, dear lady. Do you think Lula will
know me? I hope she will not be afraid again.
You will bring her to-morrow?”


I promised—and the next day we came. Lula
knew he was very ill, but she was not quite pre-
pared for the white face, the great black eyes,
with their eager, intense glance. He smiled, and
motioned her to come near him.


“Then you didn't forget your soldier after all.”

“Oh, I didn't—I didn't!” And both the soft
arms went round his neck. “Can't you get up,
poor Mr. Fleming?”


“Do you know,” said he, holding her to him
with his little strength, “they have made me a
captain, and given me a sword? Lula, I must give
it to you with my own hands. I know you will
keep it for my sake. If I never disgraced my office,
never hesitated in my duty, never doubted in the
cause at last, it was because I knew Lula loved me
and believed in me. There it is. Will you bring
it to me?”


Lula was greatly afraid of any weapon, I knew.
I saw her pause and turn from him to the sword.


“It will not hurt you, my child,” said I. “It
is in its sheath.”


So the dimpled, inexpert hands brought it to the
bedside. He grasped it by the hilt, and held her
hand with his there. A moment passed in silence.
I thought he prayed.


“Now good-by, dear little one! When I get
well I will come for the sword. Keep it for me.
Will you kiss me, Lula?”


She stooped her pouting mouth to his, and then
looking up to me, one arm hugging the fearful
sword, held out the other hand to be led away.
The soft eyes were full of awe. She did not cry,
but sat very still in the carriage. When her father
came in at night, and Lula tried to tell him every
thing, she could not for her sobs.


The next day Mr. Nelson went with me to the
hospital; but all was over. We told Lula that Mr.
Fleming was well. God had taken him home to
his mother and father.


A few days after my husband went to Washing-
ton and succeeded in seeing Fleming's colonel, who
spoke of our soldier in unqualified praise.


“I gave him a sword,” said he, “for he saved
my life once that day. His bravery won him his
shoulder-straps and—a grave. Proud fellow! he
lay suffering in Baltimore, and would not let me
know. I would have given all I own to have
found him.”


When we were once more at home her father
hung the sword on the wall of Lula's room.


“My little girl must remember,” said he, turn-
ing and seeing the tears running down her cheeks,
“that Captain Fleming never failed in his duty,
died in doing it. She must guard purely what he
won bravely. A child may live the life of a soldier
in its highest sense. Lula, may yours never dis-
honor the sword!”



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