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Lula's Letter:  A Child's Story
Harper's Weekly, July 23, 1864
 
"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 written theirs 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 epistle. After an hour’s hard work she brought it to me, nicely copied for the final reading. The composition 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 faithlessness 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 correspondent, and when she died I thought I had lost every thing. But I had my father. He was captain of the company in which I was, and am, a private. We were together 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 after 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 somebody. 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 you 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 master, 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. Waters, 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 discouraged 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 particular 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 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 regiment, 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 expectation. 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 kindness. 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 peeping 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 shyness 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. The 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 hear 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 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 hearing of the lost Fleming, I told his story to the pleasant 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 where?" I asked at last.

"I did," said he; "but my letters had been unanswered for so long that I thought perhaps you had done enough for me, so I wrote no more. Isn’t Lula here?"

"You shall se 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 prepared 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 stopped 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 here 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 Washington 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, turning 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 dishonor the sword!"

Harper's Weekly, July 23, 1864

 

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