Becoming mistress of a household is never easy, having to deal with a war at the same time made it all the more difficult. I suddenly found myself with cares and burdens I was hardly prepared to handle. Apart from managing the maitenace of the house, I had to feed and clothe the more than seventy slaves on my uncle’s plantation. The blockade and inflation didn’t exactly help. What was more, the slaves all had a feeling of freedom coming nearer and nearer to them. The still went about their duties, but there was a light in their eyes that made me a little fearful. I had never fully supported slavery, and I could understand the hope they had, but the fear of what they might do to us, their masters, still haunted me and I couldn't shake it off. It was now more than ever I was glad Uncle Andrew had always been fair to the slaves, that sort of gave me some hope. To make matters even more difficult, a draft was issued and soon many of our overseers were sent off to the war. A war that was coming nearer and nearer to us. Hearing gunshots in the night was something I would began to expect, my heart would always start pounding when they would start and I would pray with all my might that they would not come to near the house. Honestly, I don’t believe I prayed that much in my life as I did during those long years of the war.
I can still remember the first visit we had from the Yanks. I was sitting in the parlor, writing out some household duties. Evelyn came running to me in tears, saying Arthur had ripped her favorite doll. Sure enough, there was a four inch tear in the rag doll. I sighed and told her to fetch my sewing kit. Just as she came running with it, Elsie entered the room, leading the guilty party by the ear.
“Here he is, Sarah, do you want me to deal with him?” She asked.
“No, Elsie, I think I can manage him,” I replied. I knew Arthur really wasn’t the sort of boy to go about teasing Evy and I wanted to get to the bottom of it, but that would never happen with Elsie around. She never had much patience with boys. It is a good thing she never got her hands on Jeff when he was young, or I don’t think Jeff would have survived childhood. Elsie snorted loudly, in her opinion I didn’t know how to handle boys and was too soft, but she didn't put up an argument and took the tearful Evy away so I could deal with Arthur.
“Alright, Arthur, what is this about?” I asked, looking him straight in the eyes.
He smiled and pulled out of his pocket a string of pearls.
“Arthur, where did you get that?” I gasped.
“We’s can’t hide all our eggs in one basket, Sarah,” Arthur explained, “so I took the liberty of sneaking this from an armload Lulu was carrying from the Missus room to the secret chamber. What if the house is to burn down? We would lose everything, but Evy keeps the doll with her at all times and the pearls will be safe there. Now you sew them in and I will go keep an eye out for the Yanks.” With a very satisfied grin Arthur ran out of the room. I shook my head in bewilderment and took to stuffing the pearls into the tear Arthur had made. Presently Elsie walked into the room.
“He made the rip so we could hide a string of pearls in Evy’s doll as a back up plan,” I softly explained.
“I wish I could even begin to understand how that boy's brain works,” Elsie spoke in annoyance mixed with disbelief.
“He’s very smart,” I defended Arthur.
“He’s trying to act like a grown up in the hopes that we will let him into all our secrets. Now, Sarah, don’t argue with e, I have my opinion and you have yours and I guess we’ll just each work in our own way and see what comes of it.”
I giggled softly as my fingers swiftly sewed up the rip. Just as I put the last stitch in, Evy came running in wide eyed.
“Arthur says they’s coming,” she spoke to me in a breathless voice, “he says they’s gonna be here any minute.”
Elsie’s eyes met mine and I shoved the doll into Evy’s hands. I had only one thought on my mind. Uncle Andrew. I had heard of what Yanks did to any men living on a plantation. Mr. Thompson had met his death at their hands. It didn’t matter if Uncle Andrew was old and unable to fight, he was a man and that put him at almost greater danger than myself. I rushed out of the sitting room and into the study. Uncle Andrew looked up at me in surprise when I burst through the door. Entering the study without knocking was strictly forbidden.
“Sarah, this had better be something urgent,” he said in a firm voice.
“Trust me, it is,” I panted, grabbing him by the hand and dragging him out of the chair. “Union soldiers are on their way, quick, quick,”
Uncle Andrew face went pale as he understood the urgency. His face grew more and more perplexed however, when he realized just where it was I was leading him too.
“Sarah...” his voice was filled with confusion, but I wasn't listening to him. I shoved him into the hidden chamber. “You wait there," I commanded and shut the door in his face. Running out of the room I closed it behind me and made my way to the opposite end of the house. I didn't know what I was to do or where I was to go, I didn't know what to expect from this visit, so I went to my room and sat there with baited breath, praying that somehow we would all come out of this alive. Soon I heard the heavy stomping of feet and I knew that the soldiers where in the house. There were muffled voices, but I couldn't make out the words. Fear was stronger than curiosity and instead of going closer to the door to try and hear what they were saying, I crawled into my closet and sat in between the folds of the dresses.
“Oh, God, please help them not to come here,” I whispered. I sat in that closet for a long time, and I probably would have kept on sitting there until the end of time if I had not heard a peircing scream resonate across the house. I knew that scream, it was the same as when I had seen that man beating up little Evy. Taking a deep breath I shot out of the closet, out of my room and down the stairs. In the hall, a man in a dark blue uniform was holding Evy while she was struggling to get away from him. In a split second I forgot all my fear.
“Sir, unhand that child at once,” I spoke in a demanding voice. He looked up and his dark brown eyes widened when he saw me. He let go of Evy and straightened himself out. I noticed the insignia with two stripes on his shoulders. “You must be the Miss Rose the butler was talking about,” he said. “You look a lot like the woman in the painting I just saw.”
“Why where you hitting the child?” I demanded of him, “If it were a common soldier doing this I would still understand, but I never expected such behavior from an officer.”
“You little child, ma'am, is a thief. She stole from my pocket, I was merely teaching her a lesson.”
“It ain't stealing it if were already stolen,” Evy retorted, rubbing her cheek. “He took your thimble, Sarah, I's was just taking it back.”
I bit my lip, I had left my sewing kit in the parlor and of course he had found the golden thimble. The captain's face grew stern, but he didn't say anything. I wasn't going to argue moral issues with this officer, not when he probably had a whole regiment of soldiers out there.
“Evy,” I turned to the little girl, “don't you remember what Grandma Harriet taught you? You don't ever put your hands into other people's pockets, not even to take something that was already stolen. Don't stoop to something so low, Evy, it has gotten you into trouble multiple times, and you must put the habit to a stop. Now, apologize to the captain.”
Defiance rose in Evy's eyes, but she knew my tone of voice and mumbled a insincere apology. Her eyes were still fixed at the pocket, where no doubt the thimble was still resting.
“Are you satified, sir?” I looked over at him.
“I suppose I am,” he stated.
“Captain, sir,” a soldier came running over, but stopped short when he saw me and let out a low whistle. “This one here is a beauty, Captain, sir, I haven't seen such a pretty face since...”
“Yes Private Wilkens, get to the point,” The captain interrupted him.
“I was rumaging through the library and I found this,” he pulled out Uncle Andrew's pipe. I thanked my stars that Uncle Andrew hadn't been smoking it, that was an obvious give away.
“You have a man in the house, Miss Rose,” the captain turned toward me, “where is he?”
My heart started beating faster, but I didn't say anything.
“Miss Rose,” his eyes narrowed and he took a step closer to me. I instinctively took a step back and bumped into someone.
“The Massa Jeffrey Greensten is away at the war, sir,” George's voice sounded behind me. It was so unexpected that I jumped and turned around. He walked over and placed himself between me and the two Yanks
“Is he now? Let me guess, in the Confederate Army?”
“And just who is Miss Rose to him exactly?”
“Miss Rose is his cousin, the daughter of Evelyn Beverly, who was the younger daughter to the former Massa of the plantation. Miss Evelyn died long ago and Miss Rose came to live with us. And I am going to have to ask you, sir, not to harm her in any way.”
“Why are you defending her?” The soldier, Private Wilkens, asked. “She is your mistress, is she not? Don't all you slaves hate your masters?”
“I's may not like the fact that I is enslaved, but she is helpless and she is woman,” George calmly replied, “that is enough reason for me to defend. When the captain entered our home, he mentioned that he was a gentleman and an officer and would not harm our women, I want to hold this man to his word. For surely you meant all the women, not just the slaves.”
The captain huffed a little as he looked me up and down. “I don't like you rich plantation owners, who always think the rest of the world beneath you,” he said with something of a growl, “but the butler has a point. Only I advise you to be careful, Miss Rose, some officers are about as desperate as their men.” He turned around and walked out the door, loudly calling, “burn the stables down, men, set them on fire.”
I caught my breath and was about to rush out, when George blocked my way. “Stay inside, Miss Rose, go to your room where it is safe, and take Evy with ya. Was it her that gave that scream?”
“Yes,” I nodded, trying to keep my composure, “the captain took my thimble and she tried to get it back.”
“Evy, I hope this will teach you a lesson. Don't go lookin' for trouble. Now the two of you, get out of here.”
I watched him as he slowly, almost leisurely walked out of the house to see what they were doing to the stables. How could he keep his calm and control? I took Evy's hand and led her up the stairs. We went to my room and pulled out my drawing pencils and I attempted to amuse her and myself. Why did they want to burn down our stables? What of the carriage and the horses? Soon I felt the faint smell of smoke, and I wanted to go down and see just how serious everything was, but I minded George's words and stayed put. After what seemed like forever, but was probably only about two and a half hours, I heard a knock on my room.
“Who is it?” I haltingly called.
“George, Miss Sarah, I must talk to you.”
I rose and leaving Evy with her art, stepped into the hallway.
“Are they gone?”
“They are, Miss Rose. They's took most of the horses, and they robbed the main rooms of all the oil lamps and candles, and well of course any valuables they could find. They also demanded food, so mother gave them the bread she had baked and the cold lamb, I's hope you don't mind.”
“They took the horses?” My heart sank, “all of them?”
“Did they take Rainstorm?” Evy's face peeked out from behind my skirt.
“Yes, they took every horses save Ol' Martin and Brickle Feathers.”
“Why didn't they take Brickle Feathers? Ol' Martin was going to be sent to the shooting galley soon, poor horse is so old, but Brickle Feathers is a fine yearling.”
A smile slowly appeared on George's face. “I wedged a stone into the poor horses shoe, the horse got so mad, I nearly paid for that action with my life. But I's got the desired effect, they thought the horse was lame and didn't take him. We need at least one horse, Miss Rose, I couldn't let them have all of them.” George was very proud of himself, but I was even prouder. He had handled the Yanks just about on his own, he had protected me from the angry officer and had even managed to get the better of them concerning the horses.
“What about the stables?” I suddenly remembered.
“They's burnt it alright, burnt it to a crisp. Arthur risked his life to rescue the two horses they didn't take, and with the help of the rest of the household slaves, we's made sure the fire didn't spread to the house. It is sad, Miss Rose, but we should be glad that they didn't set the mansion on fire.”
On impulse I threw my arms around his neck and burst into tears. My nerves and emotions finally got the better of me, and I clung to him with all my might. He shifted uncomfortably.
“Miss Sarah, calm yourself, be brave, you has to be strong, don't let your emotions take control.”
“Oh, George, George, what would we do without you,” I sobbed on his shoulder, “You deserve some reward for all your work, if it wasn't for you quick thinking we would all be dead, I know we would. You have your freedom, George, you and your mother.”
“Are you really in a place to do that?” He shook me off of himself and looked at me with suspicion.
“Oh, Uncle will understand,” I assured.
“So you are telling me that if I's want, I can leave right now? With my mother?”
Oops, how would I explain that to Uncle Andrew? George and Lulu both leaving us? But I knew I had to set him free, after such loyalty. He had placed himself in front of me and the officer, and if the captain had been less of a man he could have easily killed George and gone for me. Hadn't that captain warned me that some officers were as desperate as their men?
“Freedom is about being able to decide your own destiny, George, and if you want to leave, then you are free to leave. I am giving you your freedom, and don't worry, Uncle Andrew will understand. Oh my, Uncle Andrew!” The realization hit me that poor Uncle was still locked up in the secret chamber. He had been there for over two hours. I brushed past George and ran as fast as my legs could carry me to my grandfather's room. Breathless, I opened the secret chamber and a gasp escaped from my lips. During the space of time that the Yanks had been with us, Uncle Andrew's hair had turned snow white.
“They're gone Uncle,” I softly said, “they took most of the horses and burned down the stables, but nothing worse happened. George handled the situation beautifully...and...I granted him his freedom for that, both him and Lulu. I'm sorry, I should have asked you first but...”
“You did the right thing, Sarah,” Uncle Andrew cut me off, his voice not as steady as I was used too. “Were you hurt? I heard a scream.”
“I am perfectly fine, the scream was Evy, she stuck her hand in a Yank's pocket and he hit her across the face for it.”
Uncle Andrew gave a heavy sigh and trying to look more composed than he was, he left the room and went down the stairs. “Good work, George, Sarah had nothing but praise for you,” I heard him say. I took a deep breath and sank to a chair. How often would we have to go through this process? My eyes fell on a stack of books in the far corner of the room. I went over and picked the first one up. Cracking it open I recognized the neat handwriting.
March 13th, 1835
Father has gone off to business again, but he said he would be back int time for the wedding, which will take place in June. To think that in a few months Helen will be Mrs. Andrew Greensten. Andrew is a nice sort of fellow, though why he isn't married yet is a mystery to me, he is already twenty seven years of age. Helen could do a lot worse though, I never liked the idea of arranged marriages, but this time I am ready to put my dislike aside, because I can see that Andrew will be a good husband to my sister, and take care of her. She will be a lot luckier than poor Mother, that is for sure. Helen seems pretty happy, at least there will be no gossip of a spinster in the Beverly family, though what is the matter with remaining unmarried? It is not like there is a law anywhere, obligating a woman to find a husband before she is twenty five.
I shut the book, and collecting the entire bunch, took to my room. I would read through all these diaries when I had a spare moment.
Besides our first visit by the Union soldiers, there was one other event that shook our entire plantation. It was in the spring, the cotton had been planted and though Uncle had little hope for selling it, he said it was our only chance and we had to give it a shot. Supplies where becoming so hard to find and I was seriously beginning to worry what would happen when winter came upon us.
We had just settled down for our very simple dinner, when George came running in, his eyes wide. “Massa Greensten,” he said in a voice that just wasn't his, “it's the cotton fields.”
I shot out of my chair and ran ahead of Uncle to the windows that faced west, and to my horror I saw the leaping flames rising into the sky, blending in with the red of the setting sun. The whole horizon seemed on fire. I felt Uncle Andrew's sharp breath behind me.
“The wind is coming from the east,” he said in a crisp voice, “the flames will be blown away from the house, we are safe.”
I looked up at him, trying to read what was really going through his mind, but as usual, he didn't let me in. He turned to go, but didn't get very far. Only a few steps and he faltered and stumbled to the floor. He tried to stan up, but wasn't quite able too. I ran up to him and helped support him to his feet. “George,” I loudly called. George came running in. He didn't ask any questions, the scene playing out before him told him everything. He grasped Uncle Andrew by his other arm and together we helped him to his room. Lulu came rushing in and she shooed me out of the room and shut the door. I stayed by the doorway, waiting. Between her and George they helped Uncle Andrew into his bed. “It's his heart,” I heard Lulu say, “it has been troubling him a lot of late. He'll pull through it though, God willing. You take Sarah back to her dinner. Tell her not to worry, he's a strong man.”
Those words were not comforting, and I was very edgy as George led me back to the dining room. He had seen me standing by the door and had guessed I heard everything. “You eat, Miss Sarah,” he said, “I'll call Elsie to keep you's company. Don't worry, trust God.”