You have heard it said, dear reader, that time travel is impossible. You file it into a mental compartment with such improbabilities as Bigfoot, alien invasions, and a wide array of conspiracy theories (things which, though believed in by the masses, hold no element of truth for the superior-minded). You laugh at the mere mention of such a childish imagination as time travel. Dear reader – you are wrong.
The tale that I am about to disclose to you cannot be termed other than fantastic. Indeed, at times I myself wonder whether the events of last Monday were nothing more than a dream; yet my memories remain etched far too vividly to attribute to the half-forgotten visions of sleep. And in my pocket I have one material assurance that these events truly did occur.
Dear reader, the groan of the gutter outside my window, the occasional blast of wind that sweeps rain against the glass, the chill that seeps through the unseen crevices in the wall, lend such an air of eeriness to my strange reminiscences that I hesitate to relate them. However, I find myself unable to keep them locked up forever in my heart. Read on then, the piece of history entrusted to me, and tell me that it is folly if you dare!
Last Monday, if you will recall, was just such a dark, storm-torn day as this. I had been out shopping with a friend most of the day. We departed from the mall at 5 ‘o clock in the afternoon, just when the darkness of storm was fast giving way to the darkness of night. We arrived at the station in time to catch the last bus, only to find that it was full beyond capacity. My friend, Maddie, immediately resorted to the usual plan B – that of hailing a taxi. I have always viewed the taxi business with distrust, for by placing yourself within the confines of a cab, you place your very life and well-being in the untrustworthy hands of the cab-driver. The idea of the seven-mile walk home, then, with all of its wet, black misery appealed to me far more than did the idea of climbing helplessly into a mobile yellow prison. But Maddie was not to be dissuaded.
She hired a taxi accordingly, and we threw ourselves on the mercy of the cabman. Dear reader, please recall to mind how much giddiness may proceed from too much coffee, chocolate, and trying-on of cardigans, dresses, belts, and sunglasses. Allow my dear friend some grace, then, when I tell you that when we had been riding in the taxi for two minutes, Maddie began to fidget with the buttons on her door panel. One of these, a glowing red orb of a type which I had never seen before in any cab, inspired in me the greatest awe. With my passionate mistrust of all things taxi, I entreated Maddie to refrain from pressing this one button. My very heartstrings shuddered at the slow throb of its red pulse.
But rendered thoughtless by hunger teased with a Snickers bar, Maddie laughed at my fears, and…horror of horrors!…pressed the fateful knob. Dear reader, believe me when I say that this yellow cab began to levitate. Impossible, you may say – read on, for my tale grows stranger still. My senses stupefied by horror and hampered still further by Maddie’s hysterical outbursts, I did not take note of how or where or how long we flew through the rain. I do recall that the moment those muddy tires touched the earth, I regained the use of my faculties and dragged Maddie from the vehicle.
Imagine my surprise, dear reader, when I stepped out, not onto a rain-draggled city pavement, but a warm, brown dirt street in the middle of a bustling town that looked as it might have a hundred and fifty years ago. For, dear reader – if you will believe me – it was a hundred and fifty years ago. As my eyes adjusted to the sunlight and my mind to the utterly new (or shall I say “old”) world that I was so abruptly transported to, I became suddenly and acutely aware of my breathing. Looking down, I found my brown corduroy skirt and green sweater had been replaced by a veritable sea of blue lawn and white muslin. A constricting corset circled my waist, making it impossible to breathe deeply, and a set of hoops spread the skirt of the dress out in a wide bell. Maddie and I looked at each other in shock. Had we dropped onto the set of “Little Women?”
Recovering my presence of mind quickly, I bethought myself of my purse which I had left in the cab. Surely we would need money on this strange adventure, wherever it might lead. But the taxi was gone, and in its place stood a little black carriage, drawn by one sad-looking brown nag and driven by a grizzled old man in whom I recognized our cabman. He did not seem in the least surprised by our eerie flight through time…on the contrary, he simply sat on the box with a bored expression, a newspaper labeled White Sulfer Springs Gazette and a cigar.
Now thoroughly frightened, I looked helplessly about me and noticed a tall, bearded man walking solemnly down the busy street. Why this man riveted my attention more than any other, I know not. Perhaps his quiet demeanor and kindly brown whiskers marked him as one of those unobtrusive gentlemen to whom a woman in distress can turn for assistance. In any case, I retrieved my reserve of courage from the nook of my heart where it generally reposed and went up to this gentleman.
Not knowing the proper etiquette of the day, I phrased my request as courteously as I could. “Pardon me, sir, but my companion and I are strangers in this town…just lately arrived. Will you kindly inform us as to the whereabouts of a…” I paused, trying to recall what they called them in the movies. “…as to where we might get some dinner and a room for the night?”
He turned to me with solemnly twinkling eyes and a polite, if awkward, bow. “Why, how is it that they did not tell you when you got off the stage? But it does not matter. I am going to the hotel myself, and shall be glad to show you the way.”
I slipped my arm through Maddie’s, for I saw that she was growing quite faint with excitement and hunger, and followed our new friend down the street to a large hotel. When we entered the lobby (I believe they called it a parlor), a pretty little woman approached and greeted our friend with so much tender affection that I knew her at once to be his wife. The first warm welcome over, the gentleman turned to Maddie and me once more.
“Please forgive my earlier rudeness,” he said, “and allow me to introduce myself. I am Thomas Jackson, and this is my esposa, Anna.”
Dear reader, I am not a woman given to fainting, but for a moment I thought that I might be justified in making an exception to my rule. For at that moment I knew that I was in the presence of one of America’s greatest generals.
“Stonewall Jackson, sir?” In my utter astonishment, the words fell unbidden from my lips. Fool! The Civil War has not begun yet…he has never heard the name Stonewall…he is in White Sulfer Springs for his health, of course! I read about these trips he took with his wife before the war in a boo…
It was gentle Mrs. Jackson who broke the awkward silence. “Perhaps you mistake my husband for someone else. I do not recall ever hearing Thomas called Stonewall, though the name certainly would suit him well. His principles are strong and unwavering…but you must be tired and hungry. Will you not share dinner with us this evening?”
To sit down to dinner with Stonewall Jackson! My senses seemed to have deserted me in my time of need, but…of course we could not refuse. Of course, Maddie and I would be delighted to accept. Of course…Out of courtesy, Mr. Jackson offered his arm to me. In a dazed dream, I took it, and we entered the dining room. Despite my hunger, dear reader, I cannot tell what we ate that evening. I only remember that the meal had five courses, during which all of my attention was focused on the fascinating couple opposite me.
I was prepared to hear long dissertations on the proper method of drilling men, or perhaps a monologue on states’ rights – after all, was this not the great, the glorious Stonewall Jackson, of historic renown? Indeed, I wished most heartily that my iPhone had not run out of battery, that I might record some of this great man’s strategizing. Yet what did I hear? Not fearsome speeches, but gentle phrases calculated to focus his companions’ attentions on One higher than himself; endearing names and tender words for his wife’s edification.
Dear reader, out of all the incredible surprises I experienced that night, this was the most amazing. I discovered that behind the hard, unbending history-book soldier, there lay a heart radiant with Christ’s love. I understood that he was not merely a famous general – he was a man in whom God dwelt.
The joy which lit this man’s countenance when he spoke of his Lord, the glory which he constantly and unceasingly ascribed his Maker, the very tenderness that softened his piercing gaze when it fell on his young wife – all these things testified to a very different man than I had once imagined Stonewall Jackson to be. I shall ever remember Jackson, not as a General, but as a Christian. For such he truly was.
Dear reader, the light wanes quickly, the hour grows late, and my word limit I left behind long ago. I will not, therefore, tell you of our strange journey back to the present, nor of the many discussions which I shared with Maddie concerning our fantastic adventure. Disbelieve my tale if you will; disparage it if you like. Logic – that unknown entity – still attempts in vain to convince me that I merely dreamt it. But, dear reader, in defense of the veracity of my story, I have one material memento of my rendezvous with history.
In my pocket reposes a single brass button. It is plain. It is worn. And it came from the coat of Stonewall Jackson.
In this story, I tried to present a little known facet of the great general’s life, namely, his gentleness and love for God and wife. Much of my information came from Bill Potter’s book Beloved Bride: The Letters of Stonewall Jackson to His Wife — a very inspiring and interesting read. If you are at all interested in learning more about Stonewall Jackson, I highly recommend it.
Some interesting tidbits regarding my tale:
–Stonewall Jackson and his wife really, truly did go to mineral springs for their health exactly 150 years ago. In reality, Jackson went to White Sulfur Springs, but because of the trip’s arduousness, his wife visited the Rockbridge Alum nearer their home. I took some literary license for the purposes of my story and wrote as if they had both gone to White Sulfur Springs.
-Stonewall Jackson really, truly did call his wife his esposa.
-Stonewall Jackson really, truly was a gentle, God-fearing man who constantly pointed his companions to Christ.
-The friend’s name, “Maddie,” is a spin-off on my sister’s first name (which is really more like her middle name because she goes by her middle name), “Madeline.” But no, my sister does not incline towards Snickers bars, playing with buttons, or hysterics. I threw that in there just for fun.
-I really, truly do have a phobia of taxis. They’re just…creepy.