Up in the Air
I raised my binoculars to my eyes and looked across the river. Yes, the Army of Northern Virginia was still there. I wonder if my captain thought they had given up and gone home, and he wanted to be the first to know. He was just benighted enough to think so. In fact, I wondered how he ever became a captain.
I was in my accustomed position in a large wicker basket swaying beneath a huge envelope filled with hydrogen, high above the ground, surveying the troops facing us across the Rappahannock. In short, I was once again up in the balloon. Eleanor had wanted me to learn about this new wrinkle in warfare, and of course, I had no choice in the matter, although I would have thought being part of an artillery brigade or a scouting unit would have served as well. But I didn’t make the decisions. She did, and did what I had been told to do.
The first few times, it was exhilarating to be up with the birds and having an unobstructed view to the horizon in all directions. But it was the same thing day after day after day, and I tired of it. It was useless to complain about it since my captain said I did a good job, and Eleanor wanted me to observe in this way, and I had no say about that.
I spent those empty hours thinking of Laurel and little Caleb and Hiram and and Clinton, and I wondered how they were. I hoped they had been able to put in a garden, and maybe Laurel and Hiram had learned to shoot game, since the money Andrew had found in the coat was no doubt exhausted, unless they had some other source of income I didn’t know about. Still, I knew they had all come through some difficult times, and I knew they would be able to do so again.
“What are you thinking of?” I turned and saw Abner’s smiling face. Surprisingly, he had become a part of the balloon corps shortly after I did. I had no doubt Eleanor was behind that as well. She continued to surprise me, although Abner’s joining the corps was a pleasant surprise.
“My family. I’m wondering how they are. I miss them so much every day.”
He nodded. “I could tell as much from your expression. I’m sorry.”
“Am I that transparent?”
He nodded again. “Yes, you are. I can read you like a book.”
“That can be helpful or embarrassing.”
“I know.” We stood there for a while in silence, looking down at the scene below and in front of us.
“It’s always the same, isn’t it? he asked.
“I was just thinking that. I wonder how many times we’ll have to do this before the captain realizes there are better ways to gather information.”
“Those ways are beyond counting. I think he’ll never stop,” Abner said. “If he did, he would have to do some real soldiering, and he wouldn’t like that.”
I laughed. “No, he wouldn’t. He’s strange fellow for a captain, isn’t he?”
“He is that, isn’t he?” Abner peered over the edge of the basket. “Looks like they’re going to bring us down.”
“I’m glad. I’m so hungry I could eat some dried pork.”
“Throw in some of that awful coffee we’ve been having and I’ll join you.”
“I think we’ll both have your wishes,” he said, and we both laughed.