Letters From Home

She had, in her eleven-year-old stubbornness, insisted upon writing the first letter to Ben all herself. Surprisingly, it had evoked an argument not with her father—he was quite approving of the idea—but with her mother, who upheld the notion that Felicity's script was too blotchy and uncertain for a letter. Felicity announced the beginnings of the battle for adulthood by throwing a small tantrum; it would have ruined the matter had she not gone back, shame-faced, and presented an apology and her position quietly and reasonably.

The entire family had gathered around her as she sat at the dining-room table, quill and ink and paper laid out with solemn precision before her. When she finally began to write, they were a-clamor with ideas and news and stories they wanted her to put in, and she did her best to accommodate them all, though several times she had to beg a pause and exercise her wrist. Mr. Merriman, after dictating a few well-chosen comments at the bottom, had taken the letter, folded it, and sealed it with red wax, and if there had been a blot or two, or a smudge, then no one was the wiser.

It had not been a good letter. Poorly worded and juvenile, it was quite clearly written by someone who had spent more time outside then practicing her penmanship or phrasing and yet— it managed to get across the spirit of the busy home, and of the writer.

And when Ben's first letter to them arrived, and Felicity's father presented it to her saying that "as she wrote the last one, she should have the honor of opening this one," a tradition was born.

Upon receiving one of Ben's letters Felicity would immediately cut it open and read it aloud to the rest of the family. As the years passed and she spent more time doing chores and duties, she would often receive the letter before the family was together, and so would read it first to herself before gathering the others—her mother, she knew, would not mind, and Mr. Merriman had told his family not to wait for him to get home should he be out at the time.

Then she would rush off to pen her response. She never wrote any part of her letter down beforehand, no scraps or snippets, though she'd often make a mental note to tell Ben about something she had seen. After the first attempt (which even she admitted was disastrous) Felicity applied herself to bettering her writing skills, and grew to be quite proficient. More time practicing with her pen meant more time sitting quietly, and though she often took her ink and book outdoors, the new arrangement allowed her mother and Miss Manderly to more easily teach her, for she was around more often and more used to keeping still. She never did become quite as good as Elizabeth at embroidery; but Elizabeth seemed to have the same divine intuitiveness about needle and thread as Felicity had training Patriot.

In this way she and Ben developed an odd sort of close-far-away relationship. They were both very removed from the other's daily life, but they also both had first-hand access to the thoughts and feelings of the other by way of the letters. Ben could observe Felicity's writing improve, her thinking expand; she could see how he adjusted and re-adjusted his principals as the war continued.

They were a comfort to each other, however indirectly. When Ben mentioned that he had been having "an interesting time of it" and then spent paragraphs describing a leaf he had found in his bedroll, Felicity saw the diversion and wrote him back a funny story of Polly's first riding lesson. When Elias Danner had kissed Felicity behind the milliner's, and three days later she saw him walking with Lydia Henning, Ben recognized the stiff formality of concealed hurt and sent her three pages of thoughtful rumination which were unfortunately never delivered. The letters could not possibly get to the other whenever the crisis was happening; but still, there was a thin comfort in the idea that there would be somebody, somewhere, who would listen to that which was unsaid and sympathize.

Sometimes Felicity would rephrase or cut out entirely a portion of one of Ben's stories when she felt it was too confusing or frightening for her siblings (especially Polly), though of course her parents read the letter after she was finished, and learned all of it.

And again, the wheel turns; through what Felicity omitted from her recitation, not only did she learn more of the world but her parents began to see how much she was maturing. They began to make the shift between treating her as a child and treating her as an adult. In a way, her mother and father were grateful for the times she arrived at home late and with a skinned elbow or knotted hair, for, as parents do, they would sometimes become wistful of their childish Lissie-heap of fire and heart.

She still had the fire, but had learned to tame it somewhat, to release it at her command and not have it go raging out of her unchecked. The heart, no amount of time or training could subdue.