Our story today is called,"The Return of a Private."It was written by Hamlin Garland.Here is Harry Monroe with our story.The soldiers cheered as the train crossed the border into the state of Wisconsin.It had been a long trip from the south back to their homes in the north.One of the men had a large red scar across his forehead.Another had an injured leg that made it painful for him to walk.The third had unnaturally large and bright eyes because he had been sick with malaria.The three soldiers spread their blankets on the train seats and tried to sleep.It was a cold evening even though it was summertime.Private Smith,the soldier with the fever,shivered in the night air.His joy in coming home was mixed with fear and worry.He knew he was sick and weak.How could he take care of his family?Where would he find the strength to do the heavy work all farmers have to do?He had given three years of his life to his country.And now he had very little money and strength left for his family.
Morning came slowly with a pale yellow light.The train was slowing down as it came into the town of La Crosse where the three soldiers would get off the train.The station was empty because it was Sunday."I'll get home in time for dinner,"Smith thought."She usually has dinner about one o'clock on Sunday afternoon,"and he smiled.Smith and the other two soldiers jumped off the train together."Well,boys,"Smith began,"here's where we say good-bye.We've marched together for many miles.Now,I suppose,we are done."The three men found it hard to look at each other."We ought to go home with you,"one of the soldiers said to Smith."You'll never be able to walk all those miles with that heavy pack on your back.""Oh,I'm all right,"Smith said,putting on his army cap."Every step takes me closer to home."They all shook hands."Good-bye!""Good luck!""Same to you!""Good-bye!"Smith turned and walked away quickly.After a few minutes,he turned again and waved his cap.His two friends did the same.Then they marched away with their long steady soldier's step.
Smith walked for a while thinking of his friends.He remembered the many days they had been together during the war.He thought of his friend,Billy Tripp,too.Poor Billy!A bullet came out of the sky one day and tore a great hole in Billy's chest.Smith knew he would have to tell the sad story to Billy's mother and young wife.But there was little to tell.The sound of a bullet cutting through the air.Billy crying out,then falling with his face in the dirt.The fighting he had done since then had not made him forget the horror of that moment when Billy died.Soon,the fields and houses became familiar.Smith knew he was close to home.The sun was burning hot as he began climbing the last hill.Finally,he reached the top and looked down at his farm in the beautiful valley.He was almost home.Misses Smith was alone on the farm with her three children.Mary was nine years old.Tommy was six and little Teddy had just turned four.Misses Smith had been dreaming about her husband when the chickens awakened her that Sunday morning.She got out of bed,got dressed,and went out to feed the chickens.Then she saw the broken fence near the chicken house.She had tried to fix it again and again.Misses Smith sat down and cried.