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George P. McCallum

"Those men
didn't understand
a word you said".

It was a chilly evening in early November and Wilhelm Mueller was cold, but he didn't want to go into the house yet. He felt terrible as he thought about everything that had happened to him in the last few months. There was so much the little seven-year-old boy didn't understand, but his mother and his Aunt Frieda weré always too busy to answer his questions. "Why did Papa and Uncle Karl go away?" he thought. "Where did they go? When will they return?"

Wilhelm had spent his early childhood in Germany. Then when he was six, his family had come to the United States and purchased a small farm in northern Missouri. Hans Mueller and his brother Karl worked from early in the morning until late in the evening trying to make a success of their little farm. The women, Ilsa and Frieda Mueller, were also busy all day workíng in the house and preparing meals for the family. But no one minded the hard work. In the evenings, the family would talk about the future and about how glad they were to be able to be together and to have a place of their own.

Life in their new home was hard but happy for the immigrant family. Then in the spring of 1861, everything changed.

Opinion in the United States was divided: the agricultural southern states had slavery and wanted to keep it, but the people in the commercial northern states did not agree. Because they felt that the northern states wanted to change their way of life, the people in the southern part of the country decided to leave the United States and form a nation of their own, the Southern Confederacy.

The northern states wanted to keep the nation together, and a long, terrible civil war began.

In Missouri, most of the people agreed with the opinions of the northern states, but a large number believed that the ideas of the southern people were right.

The Mueller family was divided, too, and now evenings in the little farm house were spent arguing about whether the two brothers should join the northern army.

Ilsa Mueller was angry at her husband. "Why should you have to join any army, northern or southern?" she asked. "This is not our war."
"But Ilsa," Hans argued, "we are Americans now, and the troubles of our new country are our troubles, too."
"We have enough trouble right here on our own farm" Frieda Mueller said. "Why do you have to look for ¡t some place else?"
"Because we believe in the future of this country," Frieda's husband answered. "What kind of future will there be for us or for any other Americans in a country that is divided? Won't you try to understand?".
"I understand that your family needs you here on the farm," Frieda said. "What will we do without you? How can two women and a little boy do all the work on a farm?".
Karl Mueller interrupted his wife. "I know it will be hard for you, but we must all be ready for sacrifice for somethig we believe in, and Hans and I honestly believe that we have no choice in this matter. We've got to go."

The family continued to argue for weeks. Finally, the women agreed to stay on the farm and do the best they could until their husbands returned. Little Wilhelm heard his family arguing. He listened to the words, but a seven-year-old boy could not possibly understand ideas like civil war and sacrifice. Ilsa and Hans Mueller didn't know what to say to their young son, and so they told him very little.

In August, Hans Mueller and his brother Karl went away, leaving young Wilhelm, his mother, and his aunt by themselves on the farm. Wilhelm was miserable during the three months that his father and uncle were gone. His mother and aunt had very little time for him and he was usually by himself.

On this November evening, he was very sad. He wished his father and uncle would come home so that the family could be happy again. Just as he was about to go into the house, Wilhelm heard some horses coming. He turned to look and saw two familiar people coming down the road. It was his father and uncle. The excited young boy met them at the road and the three of them went in the house together.

It was wonderful to have his father and uncle home again, but things were not as they had been before. Something was wrong. Wilhelm felt very happy, but the rest of the family looked so sad. The two men were dressed in strange blue uniforms and were tired and sick. His uncle's arm was swollen and bleeding, and his father had hurt his leg.

The family talked quietly for a few minutes, and then the two brothers took some food and went out to the barn. Frieda took the horses and hid them behind the house.

What was the matter? Why were the horses hidden behind the house when they were supposed to be in the barn? Why did his father and uncle stay in the barn with all that food? It was cold and dark in there. Why couldn't they eat in the house with the rest of the family? Wilhelm tried to talk to his aunt, but she wouldn't listen to him. He asked his mother, but she told him to be quiet. "Don't bother me now — and don't go near the barn," she said in an angry voice.

Wilhelm went out of the house. He was tired and hungry and frightened. He hadn't done anything wrong. Why was his mother angry? Why couldn't he go to the barn to see his father? The young boy wished someone would tell him what was happening.

Wilhelm didn't hear the horses until they were almost at his house. When he finally looked, he saw three strangers in uniforms. "These soldiers must be my father's friends," he thought, "but their uniforms are gray, not blue."

Two of the men came to the house to talk to the young boy. The third man stayed on the road, looking in both directions.

"Are your parents home?" one of the men asked, as he got off his horse.
"Yes," said Wilhelm, and he took the two soldiers into the house to see his mother.

Ilsa was usually very friendly when anyone came to her home, but not this time. She didn't tell the two men to sit down and she didn't ask them if they would like some food. Frieda looked frightened and didn't say a word.

"I'm very sorry to bother you, ladies," one of the men said, "but we're looking for a couple of northern soldiers who were seen in this neighborhood. We think they're hiding around here."
"What did you say?" Ilsa asked. "I don't speak English very well."
"Have you seen any soldiers around here?" the man repeated.
"Soldiers?" asked Ilsa. "No, there hasn't been anyone here all day."

Wilhelm looked quickly at his mother. Why did she say that? Didn't she remember that Papa and Uncle Karl had come home? They must be the soldiers these men were looking for. Did Mama forget that they were out in the barn? What was wrong with everyone?

"I did hear horses on the road about an hour ago," the boy's mother said, "but by the time I got to the door, they were gone."

Wilhelm was very excited and couldn't keep quiet any longer. He didn't know what was the matter with everyone in his house, but he had to tell the men the correct story. His mother had made a mistake.

"Mama," he argued, "don't you remember? They're right over there. Papa and Uncle Karl are out in the barn." He started to go to the window, but his aunt held his hands and wouldn't let him move.

"How many times have I told you not to interrupt?" Frieda said to her nephew. Then she spoke to the men in the gray uniforms. "He's hungry," she told them. "It's late and he hasn't had his dinner yet."
"I'm not hungry," Wilhelm argued. "I only want to tell them where Papa and Uncle Karl are — that's all."
"There's no one here, but us," Ilsa said to the soldiers. "I'm a widow and new in this country. The three of us came from Germany just one year ago. We know nothing about this war."
"We'd better leave," the other soldier said to his companion. "These women don't know anything about those men. They don't know what we're talking about. Let's go before those northern soldiers get too far — they could be miles away by now."
"All right. I just wanted to be sure."

As soon as they were positive the soldiers were gone, the women told Wilhelm to go to the barn and call his uncle and father.

When the two brothers returned to the house, the family sat down together. "We should have told you everything before," Ilsa said, putting her arms around her son, "but we were too busy to see how frightened you were. We're very sorry."
"Uncle Karl and I are northern soldiers," his father said. "Those men in gray are in the southern army. Because the southern people have different ideas from the people in the northern states, the United States is at war."

Wilhelm still didn't understand, but he felt much better as he listened to his parents talking. "But why didn't the soldiers look for Papa and Uncle Karl in the barn when I said they were hidden in there? I told them twice, but they didn't do anything."

"You keep forgetting that we are in the United States now, Wilhelm," his mother reminded the boy. "Those men didn't understand a word you said. You were speaking German — not English!"

Source: Contributed by LuisCarlos Valladares, Spain.

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