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Aunt Bettie is faced with a difficult decision. A wounded Union soldier is found hiding in a farmhouse near her home. She has to decide whether to help him or let him be captured. What will she choose to do?
The Woman Who Would Not Tell
Janice Keyser Lester
"I never did hate the Yankees. All that hated was the war.……"
That's how my great-aunt Bettie began her story. I heard it many times as a child, whenever my family visited Aunt Bettie in the old house in Berryville, Virginia. Aunt Bettie was almost 80 years old then. But I could picture her as she was in the story she told me —— barely 20, pretty, with bright blue eyes.
Bettie Van Metre had good reason to hate the Civil War. One of her brother was killed at Gettysburg, another taken prisoner. Then her young husband, James, a Confederate officer, was captured and sent to an unknown prison camp somewhere.
One hot day in late September Dick Runner, a former slave, came to Bettie with a strange report. He had been checking a farmhouse half a mile away from the Van Metre home, a farmhouse he thought was empty. But inside, he heard low groans. Following them to the attic, he found a wounded Union soldier, with a rifle at his side.
When Aunt Bettie told me about her first sight of the bearded man in the stained blue uniform, she always used the same words. "It was like walking into a nightmare: those awful bandages, that dreadful smell. That's what war is really like, child: no bugles and banners. Just pain and filth, futility and death."
To Bettie Van Metre this man was not an enemy but rather a suffering human being. She gave him water and tried to clean his terrible wounds. Then she went out into the cool air and leaned against the house, trying not to be sick as she thought of what she had seen —— that smashed right hand, that missing left leg.
The man's papers Bettie found in the attic established his identity: Lt. Henry Bedell, Company D, 11th Vermont Volunteers, 30 year old. She knew that she should report the presence of this Union officer to the Confederate army. But she also knew that she would not do it. This is how she explained it to me: "I kept wondering if he had a wife somewhere, waiting, and hoping, and not knowing —— just as I was. It seemed to me that the only thing that mattered was to get her husband back to her."
Slowly, patiently, skillfully, James Van Metre's wife fanned the spark of life that flickered in Henry Bedell. Of drugs or medicines she had almost none. And she was not willing to take any from the few supplies at the Confederate hospital. But she did the best she could with what she had.
As his strength returned, Bedell told Bettie about his wife and children in Westfield, Vermont. And BedelL listened as she told him about her brothers and about James. "I knew his wife must be praying for him," Aunt Bettie would say to me, "just as I was praying for James. It was strange how close I felt to her."
The October nights in the valley grew cold. The infection in Bedell's wounds flared up. With Dick and his wife, Jennie, helping, she moved the Union officer at night, to a bed in a hidden loft above the warm kitchen of her own home.
But the next day, Bedell had a high fever. Knowing that she must get help or he would die, she went to her long-time friend and family doctor. Graham Osborne.
Dr. Osborne examined Bedell, then shook his head. There was little hope, he said, unless proper medicine could be found.
"All right, then," Bettie said. "I'll get it from the Yankees at Harpers Ferry."
The doctor told her she was mad. The Union headquarters were almost 20 miles away. Even if she reached them, the Yankees would never believe her story.
"I'll take proof," Bettie said. She went to the loft and came back with a blood-stained paper bearing the official War Department seal. "This is a record of his last promotion," she said. "When I show it, they'll have to believe me."
She made the doctor writer out list of the medical items he needed. Early the next morning she set off.
For five hours she drove, stopping only to rest her horse. The sun was almost down when she finally stood before the commanding officer at Harpers Ferry.
Gen. John D. Stevenson listened, but did not believe her. "Madam," he said, "Bedell's death was reported to us."
"He's alive," Bettie insisted. "But he won't be much longer unless he has the medicines on that list."
"Well," the general said finally, "I'm not going to risk the lives of a patrol just to find out." He turned to a junior officer. "See that Mrs. Van Metre gets the supplies." He brushed aside Bettie's thanks. "You're a brave woman," he said, "whether you're telling the truth or not."
With the medicines that Bettie carried to Berryville, Dr. Osborne brought Bedell through the crisis. Ten days later Bedell was hobbling on a pair of crutches that Dick had made for him. "I can't go on putting you in danger," Bedell told Bettie. "I'm strong enough to travel now. I'd lie to go back as soon as possible."
So it was arranged that Mr. Sam, one of Bettie's neighbors and friends, should go and help Bettie deliver Bedeel to Union headquarters at Harpers Ferry in his wagon.
They hitched Bettie's mare alongside Mr. Sam's mule. Bedell lay down in an old box filled with hay, his rifle and crutches beside him.
It was a long, slow journey that almost ended in disaster. Only an hour from the Union lines, two horsemen suddenly appeared. One pointed a pistol, demanding money while the other pulled Mr. Sam from the wagon. Shocked, Bettie sat still. Then a rifle shot cracked out, and the man with the pistol fell to the ground dead. A second shot, and the man went sprawling. It was Bedell shooting! Bettie watched him lower the rifle and brush the hay out of his hair. "Come on, Mr. Sam," he said. "Let's keep moving."
At Harpers Ferry, the soldiers stared in surprise at the old farmer and the girl. They were even more amazed when the Union officer with the missing leg rose from his hay-filled box.
Bedell was sent to Washington. There he told his story to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. Stanton wrote a letter of thanks to Bettie and-signed an order to free James Van Metre from prison. But first James had to be found. It was arranged for Bedell to go with Bettie as she searched for her husband.
Records showed that a James Van Metre had been sent to a prison camp in Ohio. But when the ragged prisoners were paraded before Bettie, James was not there. A second prison was checked, with the same result. Bettie Van Metre fought back a chilling fear that her husband was dead.
Then at Fort Delaware, near the end of the line of prisoners a tall man stepped out and stumbled into Bettie's arms. Bettie held him, tears streaming down her face. And Henry Bedell, standing by on his crutches, wept, too.
v. act as an informer 告发
n. (in the Civil War) a native of any of the northern states; a citizen of the U.S. 北方佬；美国佬
n. an aunt of one's father or mother; sister of one's grandfather or grandmother
a. 国内的； 民间的
a. of or belonging to the Confederacy 南部邦联的
vt. make a prisoner of; seize 俘虏；夺得
a. whose name, nature, or origin is not known
a. of an earlier period 以前的
n. the main house on a farm, where a farmer lives
n. a sound made in a deep voice that expresses suffering, grief or disapproval 呻吟（声）
n. the space just under the roof of a house, esp. that made into a low small room 阁楼
n. those states that supported the Federal government of the U.S. during the Civil War; the U.S.A. （美国南北战争期间的）联邦政府；美国
a. of or having to do with the Union
a. terrible; very bad
n. a narrow long piece of material, esp. cloth, for binding a wound or injury 绷带
a. very unpleasant or shocking; terrible
n. a musical wind instrument usually made of brass, used chiefly for military signals 军号，喇叭
n. disgusting dirt 污秽
vi. support or rest oneself in a bent position 靠，倚
vt. find out or make certain of (a fact, answer, etc.), prove 确立，证实
n. who or what a particular person or thing is 身份
abbr. lieutenant 陆军中尉
n. person who joins the army, navy, or air force of his own free will 志愿兵
n. being present in a place
ad. in a skillful manner 灵巧地，娴熟地
a. having or showing skill
vi. burn unsteadily; shine with an unsteady light
n. a medicine or substance used for medical purposes
n. (pl.) the food, equipment, etc. necessary for an army, expedition or the like 补给品
n. a stretch of land between hills or mountains; the land through which a stated river or great river system flows 山谷；流域
vi. burn with a bright, unsteady flame （火焰）闪耀
n. a room under the roof of a building, attic 阁楼
n. (used with a sing. or pl. v. ) the place from which the chief of a police force or the commanding officer of an army sends out orders 司令部
n. evidence showing that sth. is true 证据
vt. show; have
n. a single thing among a set, esp. included in a list 条；项
a. having command; in charge
abbr. general 将军
n. respectful form of address to a woman (whether married or unmarried)夫人，太太，女士，小姐
vt. endanger; take the chance of
n. a small group of soldiers, vehicles, etc. sent out to search for the enemy, or to protect a place from the enemy 巡逻队
a. younger or lower in rank than another
vi. walk awkwardly; limp 跛行；蹒跚
n. support used under the arm to help a lame person to walk 拐杖
n. four-wheeled vehicle for carrying goods, pulled by horses or oxen 四轮运货马（牛）车
vt. fasten with a hook, ring, rope, etc. 钩住，拴住，套住
n. female horse or donkey
prep. close to; along the side of
n. an animal that has a donkey and a horse as parents 骡
n. a great or sudden misfortune; terrible accident
n. a row of defence works, esp. that nearest the enemy 战线，防线
n. a person who rides a horse, esp. one who is skilled
n. handgun 手枪
v. (cause to) make a sudden explosive sound （使）发出爆裂声
vi. lie or sit with hands and feet spread out, esp. ungracefully
vt. move or let down in height 放下；放低
vt. an official who takes charge of a governmental department; an employee in an office, who is in charge of correspondence, records, making appointments, etc. 部长，大臣；秘书
a. (of a person ) dressed in old torn clothes; (of clothes) old an torn 衣衫褴褛的；破旧的
vt. cause to walk in an informal procession for the purpose of being looked at; cause to march in procession 使列队行进
v. (cause to) have a feeling of cold as from fear; (cause to ) become cold, esp. without freezing （使）感到冷；（使）冷
vi. walk or move in an unsteady way; strike the foot against sth. and almost fall
vi. flow fast and strongly; pour out
PHRASES & EXPRESSIONS
capture and hold as a prisoner, esp. as a prisoner of war 俘虏
break out or intensify suddenly or violently; burst into bright flame or rage 突发；加剧；突然发光；突然发怒
write in full, write (sth. formal)
disregard, ignore 不理；漠视
save (sb.) from (an illness, etc.)
Bettie Van Metre
the Civil War
Graham Osborne 格雷厄姆.奥斯本
Secretary of War(old use)
Edwin M. Stanton