David – Shenandoah Valley, May 1864
Two days later our lives took another turn. Making my rounds, I walked from my walnut trees to the pine grove at the front end of our lane. From a distance, it appeared that nettles had been piled on rock in a manner different than I remembered. Approaching, I stopped suddenly. Inching closer, a bare foot stuck out. Not a rock, but a rounded back—a body curled. I tapped and dug at the soaked earth with the toe of my boot. A mangled hand. I could not do more alone.
I found Delilah inside and motioned for her to join me on the porch. Abigail saw my spooked eyes and followed. We are past hiding or protecting. “We have a Visitor. Not the best.” I grabbed a burlap bag hanging from a porch nail and retraced slowly, my women following, wordless. We stood, breathless, surrounding the still body.
Delilah took the bag from me and gently brushed off pine needles. “Must have come in search.”
“No sign of scuffle,” I said. “How he got this far . . .” We stood silent. No way to know—only conjecture. A ripped coat, soaked with dried blood, blended into dirt and needles.
“What are we to do?” Abigail asked, looking about, as if an attacker lurked.
“Appears—Union,” Delilah said. “But how can we contact officials?”
“Only bury and leave a marker,” I said. “One of the many. Unknown. Left to die, far from home. This foreign place. Wandered away, probably from fighting. Ours—to care for.”
“Like a son,” Abigail whispered.
“Yes,” I whispered back.
“But . . .” Delilah began, only to swallow her thought.
“Not boards enough to fashion a coffin,” I said.
“The earth will cradle,” Abigail said.
Delilah and I set about to dig a grave in the pine grove. We took turns opening clay ground, sticky from heavy rains.
Abigail used a broken limb to measure the needed length and width. The man had not been tall. I asked Delilah to fetch water and the shovel, my mouth dry; Abigail brought my long-handled knife, found an old piece of muslin from years ago, when we had tried to raise tobacco.
While alone, I poked in vain for identification, the chest too caved to molest.
When my women returned, we rolled the body, face up, onto muslin— enough cloth to grab the ends. We scarce talked. I cut off two buttons from the man’s coat; Delilah pointed to a patch from the jacket arm as well, but I shook my head. I nodded for my women to take the foot end, and I grabbed at muslin beyond the man’s head. Together we lifted the body into the grave, covered the dark eyeballs with last year’s oak leaves. We stood, arms linked along one side, silent in prayers.
“All who die, die in the Lord,” Delilah said.
I was even more startled when Abigail said, “All is well with those who believe.”
I could not stay silent. “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”
Again, Delilah and I took turns, tentative in covering the body with light scoops of packed dirt. Abigail made trips to the closest field and returned with stones we had removed to the edge years ago. In the end, we all carried rock and stone to place atop the mounded dirt. “There may be caving,” I said.
We marked the head end—flat stone piled atop stone—until Delilah said, “Enough.”
“Enough,” I agreed, rubbing caked dirt off my hands, scraping mud from our tools.
Every day since, we go back, together or alone, making certain no critter has molested. We repile the marker, add daily blessing. The two buttons sit on our mantel.
Praise for Passages
“Passages, the third and final novel in Evie Yoder Miller’s sweeping Civil War era trilogy, is a masterful insight into individual lives and consciences struggling to discover where their political, familial, and spiritual allegiances lie. The multiple perspectives of her characters reveal not only the differences inherent in families, churches, and towns, but also the uniqueness and preciousness of each individual life. Set in an era of shocking loss of life, this brings an enormous humanity and poignancy to Miller’s novels. Her characters are our kin; we know them and participate in their lives. There is no better reading experience than this.”
–Suzanne Wolfe, author of The Confessions of X
“This powerful last volume of Evie Yoder Miller’s epic trilogy draws us deeply into the heartbreaks, losses, struggles, and persistence of its characters–Anabaptists caught up in the last bitter year of the Civil War. With evocative prose and skillful use of multiple narrators, Miller creates a vivid, poignant portrait of women, children, and others often left out of conventional war stories. Whether trapped in the path of predatory armies or in the relative safety of the North, the plain people in this taut, compelling novel find their values challenged and their lives disrupted by a war where, as one puts it, “Maybe no one counts as civilians anymore.”
–Jeff Gundy, author of Without a Place and Songs from an Empty Cage
“Evie Yoder Miller explores the moral horizon of the Civil War as it is reflected on the inner spiritual and emotional landscapes of historical figures shaped by the peace-church heritage of Amish, Mennonite, and Old German Baptist communities. In Miller’s complex and convincing narrative, life and joy persist amidst disaster and death, and the ordinary routines of daily obligation and piety supply the momentum to carry both characters and readers through the unfolding national catastrophe.”
–Gerald Mast, Professor of Communication, Bluffton University
“In the third and final installment of Evie Yoder Miller’s Scruples on the Line series, the characters do not flinch from the hard choices faced by Anabaptists who lived through the final years of the Civil War. Set in the thick of unfolding true-life events whose outcomes were not yet known, the Amish, Mennonites, and German Baptists in Passages stay true to their pacifist calling. Drawn from a varied cast–young and aged, loyal and questioning, staunch and humble–these voices have much to offer anyone seeking to discern the way of peace in an increasingly divisive time.”
–Sara Phillips, Editor, Wisconsin Magazine of History
About the Author
Evie Yoder Miller is retired from teaching, most recently at UW-Whitewater in Wisconsin. Her new trilogy carries elements of her previous fiction: historical, Eyes at the Window (2003), and literary, Everyday Mercies (2014).