Sorry I haven't updated in so long, so many things got in my way and I just didn't have the time :)
Aunt Helen passed away in the first week of January. Elsie woke me up in the morning with the news that she had died sometime in the night and from the looks of it, she had passed away in her sleep. We buried her next to the graves of her mother and father. That was it, the entire Beverly family finally laid to rest. I looked at the three graves and my thoughts traveled to the lonely grave in far away Boston. To think it would be fourteen years this summer since the day I buried my mother in the humble pauper's grave. How much had changed since then.
The day after the funeral I went in search of Uncle Andrew. He had borne Aunt Helen's death in the same way he bore anything; in complete silence. I sought to comfort him, and in such way, find comfort myself. It was just the two of us now, with Jeff off somewhere on the battlefield.
Uncle Andrew had been very reclusive ever since the war had begun. I didn't know what his sentiments on the war were because he kept them to himself. He didn’t like discussing the war in front of me, and he certainly never discussed it with me. I often wished he would tell me what was going on in his head, but there were corners of my uncle’s mind that he never allowed anyone to enter, not even me.
I found him sitting in his study, staring out the window. At the sound of my opening the door he turned and looked at me.
“How are you, Sarah?” He asked in a soft voice.
“A little confused,” I said, taking a seat in the chair opposite his table. “I still can't make out Aunt Helen's sudden change. Her confession to me the week before her death, though comforting was very perplexing. The next day she was a little colder, I suppose she felt awkward after the speech she gave me, but she was still civil and never spoke a harsh word or gave a cold look. I even played the piano for her when she was awake. And the night before she died she kissed me and said I had been a good girl, and if the circumstances of her life and my birth had been very different we might have gotten along very well. It was...strange and dare I say almost frightening. What happened, Uncle?”
“Well, the idea of looming death can bring about it a change of character. I have heard of several incindents when a person on death's door decided to call and forigve a person he had long hated.”
“But still,” I stubbornly shook my head.
“Perhaps the change in her came about when she read this,” Uncle Andrew lifted his hands and I noticed he had been holding a book on his lap.
“What is that?” I asked, reaching over, hoping he would give it to me. He placed the book in my outstretched palms. The binding was very beautiful, rustic and artistic. Opening the cover I flipped the first page and was greeted by the words Evelyn Rachel Beverly. January 1836
My breathing became irregular as I gently turned the page.
January 1st. Sunday.
The stars are shining brightly, looking down on me as I am looking up at them. It is just me and the stars and no one else. Mother is in bed, as are Helen and Andrew, I believe the whole house is sleeping, except for me and the stars.
I looked up at my uncle. “This is my mother's diary!”
“Yes, it is.”
“Where did you get it?”
“From your grandfather's old room. All your mother's things are kept there, amongst which you will find her diaries. Your mother kept a journal for possibly every year of her life. From the stack of books I'd say she starting journaling from the moment she learned to read and write.”
“How come I didn't know of this before?”
“Because we never talked of your mother. The house was supposed to forget her, the only reason we kept all her things was because Mrs. Beverly had Helen promise we would never rid ourselves of them. When we received the news you were to come live with us and it was decided that you would live in your mother's old room, I had her things transferred to Mr. Beverly's quarters.”
“Why did Aunt Helen decide to read my mother's diaries?”
“I don't know. One day she asked me if I could bring a few of them over, preferably the later ones. Yes,” My uncle paused to reflect for a moment, “I think I can say that reading your mother's journals helped bring about the change in your aunt. I believe that at last Helen was able to see her sister from the inside, see the part that Evy never showed, and this brought about an understanding for her poor sister, with this understanding came sympathy for you, Sarah.”.
I gazed at the book in my hands. Here at last, I had the key to the mystery of my mother. At last I could know about the life she never told me, the life she had put behind her, and I would have it in her own words, from her own heart and mind. My delight was cut short by the subject my uncle brought up next.
“Sarah, I am glad you and your aunt made peace, and I am glad you will be able to find out all you wanted to about your mother, but I am afraid we are going to have to put those matters aside. You must remember we are at war and we have to be practical at all times and focus on the present and not on the past.”
I looked up at him, wondering what he was leading to.
“You do realize, Sarah, that with your aunt gone you are now the mistress of the house and all the housekeeping duties lay on your shoulders?”
I solemnly nodded my head, In truth, I hadn't realized that now I would have to take over the duties Aunt Helen had always performed. A fear sprung up in me that I wouldn't be able to handle it all, especially with war surrounding us on every side.
Uncle Andrew shook his head in despair. “I don’t know what we are going to do, Sarah. I have managed to sell the cotton, but it was for half of what I had hoped to get for it. I don't know how we will get through this winter, how we will get through the entire year. The inflation is something terrible, clothing and food is becoming very hard to find and goodness knows what hell we will be obliged to go through before this war is over!”
Only now the full truth dawn on me on just how bad everything was. Somehow with Aunt Helen being sick and dying had kept me from realizing just how bleak the future was.
“You have heard, haven't you?” Uncle Andrew spoke up again, “What the Union soldiers are doing? How they are robbing and stealing and plundering whatever comes in there path? They are coming here, Sarah, and soon it will be our turn to face them.”
I perched on a stool and bit my lip, deep in thought. How strange that Uncle should share with me such things. As a rule, he never let me in on any of the business or problems that had to do with the house and plantation. I guessed it was the seriousness of it that made him talk to me openly, and also the fact that I now had responsibilities in this house and so I had to know what was going on.
“We won't let them rob us!” I resolutely stated.
“What do you mean?” Uncle Andrew looked over at me.
“Uncle, we need to hide anything of value before the Union soldiers come to our front door.”
“Hide? Where will we....” Uncle Andrew's voice trailed off and I could almost see the idea popping into his head. I waited patiently for him to share it with me
“Your grandfather was involved in a lot of illegal activity, part of which had to do with contraband goods. He would keep these goods in a secret room in his living quarters.”
“If it was a 'secret room' how come you know about it?”
“Because your grandfather thought I would like to be his partner in crime, only I wasn't interested in his risky and dangerous endeavors. But that is off the topic. We can hide valuables in there.”
“That is a perfect idea, Uncle Andrew. I'll get started on it right away.”
“Don't let all the slaves know about where we are hiding them, the less people who know, the better. That way there will be less talking going about."
Uncle Andrew was always big on the slaves not knowing anything, which had annoyed me a little in the past, but this time I could understand. I decided that apart from myself and Uncle Andrew, I would only tell Lulu and Elsie for now.
I was blocked by one unexpected issue.
“There is no way we are opening the secret chamber, Miss Sarah!” Lulu spoke in a firm and almost frightened voice as she blocked space in the wall where Uncle had said was the door to my grandfather's secret room.
“Why not?” I impatiently asked.
“Because it is haunted!”
“Haunted?” I had to try very hard to suppress my laugh.
“Yes, Miss Sarah, it is haunted with Massa Beverly's ghost, and there is no way I am going to open those doors, which have been closed for nearly twenty years and let it wander through our house.”
“Lulu, you cannot be serious,” I couldn't believe the nonsense I was hearing.
“I'm dead serious, Miss Sarah. Perhaps you don't believe in ghosts, but I's lived long enough in this house to know for certain that this room is haunted with that horrible ghost of your evil grandfather and we don't want him spreading mischief to a house he has already brought down and ruined. We will not open that door and we will not bring anything in or out of it. This room is cursed and I don't want the curse spreading to us all.”
“Lulu, we need that secret chamber, so get away from the door and let me unlock it. Why don't you better go downstairs and help Elsie in collecting the valuables in the parlor.
“Mark my words, Miss Sarah, opening that door will bring about terror.”
“Terror is coming to us as it is,” I snapped at her. “The rumors flying about are terrible, if we don't want our house to be stripped of anything that has worth by the Yanks, we must strip it first.”
Lulu grumbled but went away from the door and down the stairs. I took a deep breath and was about to feel for the secret snap that would open the door, but suddenly stopped. I was not a believer in superstition, but Lulu's words brought a shiver to my spine. I stood staring at the wall that was really the secret door to the hidden chamber, wondering what I was to do. Of all the people in this house I was the last person who wanted to come face to face with my grandfather's ghost. After all, I was his bastard granddaughter, the shameful offspring of a child he had disowned.
“Miss Sarah, aren't you gonna open that door?” Elsie's voice made me jump. I turned around to see her standing in the doorway, her hands full of the ornamental silver that decorated our parlor. “What are you all edgy about?” She asked.
“Elsie, are you afraid of ghosts?”
“No.” Her voice was flat and condescending.
“Then, do you think you could open the door?”
Elsie handed me the things in her hand and under my direction was able to open the door. I cautiously looked inside. It was dark, dust and empty.
“So, this is the famed secret chamber where the Massa Beverly handled all his clandestine dealings,” Elsie peaked over my shoulder.
“Do you really think it his haunted?”
Elsie gave a loud snort. “Miss Sarah, I will be hearing no such nonsense from you. Come on, we want to get our most important valuables into here. And mind you don't go telling anyone about this, not even Kristoffs or George and certainly not to Arthur.”
“Why do you want to keep all this a secret from me?” Arthur’s angry and demanding voice sounded behind us.
“You nosy boy,” Elsie whirled around and whacked the boy on the back of his head. “Get your little behind out of here.”
“Why are you hiding things here?” Arthur refused to budge. “Why can't I know.”
“Because your loose tongue will be sure to tell someone,” Elsie snapped at him.
“I don't have a loose tongue,” Arthur snapped back at her. “Sarah, what is going on?”
I sighed. “There is news going about that the Union soldiers are raiding and stealing the homes of the confederates and I just want to stay on the safe side.”
“Sarah, you can't go telling him everything,” Elsie angrily huffed at me. “I thought we had decided that the less people knew about our scheme, the better.”
“I know, but he already discovered half the truth, might as well tell him the rest of it.”
Elsie sniffed loudly at what she thought to be my great lack of discipline, but said no more on the subject and went down the stairs.
“Arthur,” I lowered myself a little to be on his level, “you have to keep this a secret, especially from Evy who will be sure to talk about it. You are a smart boy and I trust you, I hope you won't betray my trust."
Arthur’s eyes shone with excitement. He hated it when the adults kept him out of important matters. He was nearing thirteen years and didn't wanted us to treat him like a child. Elsie was annoyed at his eagerness to help, but I knew what it was like to be left out and sought to include him on matters that were not too far above his head. The war was coming closer and closer to us and we would all be caught up in it, so there was no use hiding things from a boy who was old enough to understand.
“How can I help?” He asked me.
“You can watch to see if any Union soldiers are coming our way. This will at least give us a few minutes warning.”
Arthur nodded his head and scampered out of the room. I smiled, this was a great scheme, it would give Arthur something to do and keep him out of the house and out of Elsie's way.