Uncle Andrew was sitting in his large chair by the parlor window, staring at the barren landscape. It was the middle of February, 1863. The day was bleak and windy. I sat at the piano, playing Bach to try and cheer up the mood. Uncle had never fully recovered; he remained slow and stiff and could only walk with support. His mind hadn’t suffered any, if only his eyes wouldn’t be so dim and sad, but then, who could blame him? Ever since the Battle at Hartsville we had heard nothing from Jeff. He hadn’t appeared in he lists of the dead or the wounded, but no word came from him and all my letters to him remained unanswered. I was worried and I knew uncle was too, though he never let it show. The Emancipation Act had been passed on the first of January, freeing all the slaves. I think Uncle was relieved. There was no money coming in with the cotton fields burning. Even with spring right around the corner, we had no money to by the cotton seeds. Uncle Andrew could no longer support the nearly one hundred slaves that had been in his possession. Many had run away, the rest continued to live on Uncle Andrew’s land, and we let them be. Most of the household slaves were gone, the only ones who remained with us were Elsie, George, Lulu and Kristoffs. Honestly, I was glad, the less people in the house, the less mouths I had to try and feed. With the Union blockade, food was terribly hard to find, even if you were lucky enough to have the money to buy it. Uncle Andrew had closed down most of the house and we only occupied a few rooms in the first floor. The horses that George had so magically saved were long dead; we had shot them down for food. Thankfully my goal had been achieved, we had just enough to keep us till the planting season came around, then we would plant a garden. Going to the stores was useless, if we wanted food, we would have to grow it all ourselves.
Of course I knew that most of what I grew would probably end up in the stomach of Yankee soldiers. We had had several terrible visits from them, and they just about stripped the house of whatever it was I hadn’t hid. But they weren’t my main fear. Bandits and vagabonds now hounded these parts. Dressed as Union soldiers, they would plunder and steal all they wanted. George and Arthur had set up a watch and would keep vigilance, Elsie and Lulu would also help out. I wanted to too, but Elsie forbid it. Said my job was inside, taking care of my uncle and Evy and keeping track of the household. So that was why I found myself playing the piano to Uncle Andrew.
I finished the tune I was playing and looked up from the notes. Uncle Andrew was looking straight at me and I smiled when my eyes met his.
“You look pale, Sarah,” his voice was distant, almost as though he were in another world.
“I’m alright,” I smiled. “Is something the matter?” He was still gazing at me in a rather strange way.
“I was just wondering,” he said, “everyone always compared you to your mother, but while you do look a lot like her, it is not like you are her spitting image. So I was sitting here and trying to figure out just how much of your father you have in you.”
I stiffened; no one had mentioned my father for several years now. It was a painful topic for me and one Uncle Andrew had always made a point of avoiding, so why was he bringing it up now?
“Why would you do something like that?” My voice had become strained.
He shrugged. “I figured seeing as we resolved the mystery of Harriet and you mother,” He chuckled at this, no doubt thinking about how I had badgered everyone for so long to reveal the whole secret to me, "maybe we could turn to a new one. The true mystery is, was, and always will be just who exactly your father is, or was.”
I gave my head a careless shake. “I don’t want to know anything about my father. Mother kept him a secret and I think of the reason for that was so she could keep me from being hurt by a man who had hurt her beyond repair. She wanted to protect me from him, and she must have had pretty good reason to do it.”
“Maybe she wasn’t protecting you,” Uncle Andrew mused, “maybe she was trying to kill the pain inside of her.”
“Whatever her reasons, I’m sure they were perfectly justified.”
Uncle Andrew gave another chuckle. I really could not understand why he thought this all so funny.
“I’ve been a very selfish man, Sarah,” he spoke up again. My eyes went wide with surprise. In the nearly fifteen years I had lived in the house, I had thought Uncle Andrew to be many things, but selfish was never one of them.
“Uncle Andrew, what is the matter with you today?” I tentatively asked.
“You know, I was always glad that father was never present in your life,” he ignored my question. “I was glad I didn’t have to share your affections with another man. Had there been a father, you would have had a place in your heart, even if it was just a tiny corner, for him. But with the way things were, I could claim you as my own daughter, not having to worry about having another man defy me for that claim. I was the only father you knew and I was very content for it to be this way.”
I had to smile at these words. I got up from the piano and sat down in the chair next to him. He leaned over and stroked my hair in an uncharacteristic show of affection.
“I’m getting old though,” he continued, “and I will soon be gone.”
“Uncle Andrew,” I reproached him.
“I’m serious. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking of late and I believe the time has come, Sarah, for you to try and discover just who exactly your birth father is.”
“Uncle Andrew, this is going too far.” Something was really wrong with him today.
“I know I don’t have that much time left, I can feel it in my bones,” Uncle Andrew gave a sigh. “Naturally, I’m worried about what will happen to you when I’m gone. Jeff is lost somewhere out there, we don’t even know if he is alive. What if this war kills, or has killed him, what will become of you then?”
“Uncle Andrew, whoever my birth father may be, I don’t think he could help me out of this predicament. I don’t need his help, I never did, I managed without him and I will continue to manage without him.”
“I’m not saying he will be able to help you, but it would be nice to know who he is. Maybe there will be something he can do to help you out at least a little.”
I frowned. I did not at all like the direction this conversation was going. “Mother took any clue of who he was to the grave,” I conclude. “So there really is no hope of finding anything out.”
“You have a point there,” Uncle Andrew agreed, “but I have other ways of finding out.”
I was so intrigued, for a moment I forgot my annoyance, “what other ways?”
“Well, I’ve made up my mind that when I do cross the bar and make it to the other side, I will go straight to the feet of God and ask Him to arrange it for you and your birth father to meet.”
“Uncle Andrew, DON’T do that!” I grabbed his hand and pleaded in a horrified voice. “You CAN’T! You WON’T! I forbid you to do ever do such a thing!”
“You forbid?” My uncle laughed, “last I looked, the only person who did any forbidding in this house was me.”
“Uncle Andrew, I’m serious. I don’t want any other father but you. I don’t want some man who ruined my mother, broker her heart and sent her to an early grave to suddenly walk up out of the blue and tell me: Sarah, I am your father. I’d slap him in the face, I would.”
He stroked my hair to calm me down. “Now what are you getting so worked up about,” he soothed. “You must learn to control your emotions, Sarah.”
I frowned at him, causing him to laugh again. “We’ve been the strangest of families, haven’t we?” He changed the subject. “I always hoped that maybe you and Jeff would marry. That way I could ensure that the two of you would be well looked after financially. You could also keep an eye on him and he could take care of you.”
“I will always keep an eye out for Jeff,” I reassured him, “and I believe Jeff will always take care of me.”
“I know, I know, but it’s not the same. I hoped the two of you would learn to care for each other, but you both found someone else to keep you occupied and distracted.”
The two of us were silent for a couple of minutes.
“You really loved that boy, didn’t you?” My uncle suddenly asked. I looked up at him, not fully understanding his question. “The slave boy, what was his name? The son of Ben and Em, Sam, that was it, Sam Climb.”
I looked down, not knowing how to answer. We had never spoken of Sammy since the day he had left.
“I was very hard on the two of you wasn’t I? Well, I still can’t say I approve of the way either of you behaved, but I am sorry that I made it hard for you. I don’t like to think that I caused distress in your life.”
“It wasn’t really you who made it hard,” I comforted him, “society has set about certain rules that cannot be broken.” For a brief moment I allowed my thoughts to drift back to those carefree days, when Sammy would work in the garden and I would sit and read and we would laugh and talk and enjoy each other. Those days seemed so far away. The girl I had been then and the girl I was now were two completely different people. Had I really been so young, so blissful; so full on innocence?
“For all the trouble he caused, he was a good boy,” Uncle kept on, “He was a dedicated gardener, worked in that silly garden from dawn until dusk. And it was a good thing of you to set him free the way you did. He was very independent, too independent I’d say. Slavery never did suit him did it?”
“Slavery never suited a lot of people,” I timidly pointed out.
“Maybe not,” Uncle replied with a shrug. “I guess you can’t help who you fall in love with, I just think you have to know how to handle it correctly. That was why I was disappointed in you, because you should have known better than to act on your love, but then, you were so very young, and lonely. Now that I think about it, I find it hard to blame you for the way you handled it. After all, young love is very beautiful,” he got a faraway look in his eyes.
“Were you ever in love, Uncle?”
He smiled, “not really.”
I looked at him expectantly. I had often wondered if Uncle Andrew had ever had some sort of romance before he married Aunt Helen.
My eager eyes made him laugh. “There was no romance, Sarah. I was never a ‘romantic’ fellow. My brothers were, not me. I was studious and preferred an evening in the library to a night at a ball. My mother became very worried that I might remain a bachelor for my whole life and arranged for me to marry your aunt. She was from a respectable family and thought to be rich. Nobody knew that Mr. Beverly up to his head in debt. I’ll never forget the day when I came to this house for the first time to meet Helen and her family. I’ll never forget when I first saw her. She was very young, but already in full blossom. Her laughing eyes and coquettish smile; the pale purple dress she wore and the flowers in her hand, she really was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen.”
It slowly dawned on me that he was talking of my mother. “You fell in love with Mother?”
He laughed, “I wouldn't say I fell in love with her. She was a child of fifteen while I was already twenty seven years old. I was very taken with her though, and I think perhaps in a few years, when she had fully grown into a young woman, I could have easily fallen in love with her. But I didn't allow myself to entertain such thoughts, I had come to this house with the intention of settling the engagement to marry your aunt, and even lovely Evelyn wasn’t going to distract me. Like I said, I’m not romantic, and though I couldn’t help falling for Evelyn, I could help from hurting Helen’s feelings. Your Aunt was very jealous of her younger sister’s beauty and popularity, and I was not going to feed that jealousy. When I met Helen, I saw in her a good and noble woman, who had been hurt by an uncaring family, and who wanted someone to love her and care for her. Someone to tell her she had worth, someone to tell her she was special and I determined to be that someone. I never regretted my decision. I may not have been head over heels in love with her when I met her, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t grow to love her with time. You see, Sarah, there are two kinds of loves. One is the passionate, romantic sort of love that burns the heart and melts the soul, and there is the gentle, stable love. Love cultivated over time, watered and cared for, until it blooms and grows strong; so strong that no silly fancy or strong storm will ever be able to tear it. That was the love I had for your aunt.”
I remembered the way Uncle Andrew had once gently held mother’s old dress, and I remembered the way he had sat with Aunt Helen during the last days of her life, holding her hand.
“Do you still love my mother?”
“In a way, I guess I do. I can’t say I knew her for very long. She ran away a month after she turned seventeen, about two years after my marriage to Helen. I think my attraction to her soon turnedinto pity; she was still so much of a child, poor girl. I was very sorry to hear how it all turned out for her. ”
“Is that why you took me in, because I was mother’s daughter?”
“I took you in, Sarah, because it was the right thing to do. Just like I took Jeff in when Jacob passed away. There was no difference between the two of you. I don’t love you because you are Evelyn’s daughter any more than I love Jeff for being my brother’s son. You are your own person, Sarah. You may look like your mother, you may behave like her in some ways, but that doesn’t make you Evelyn. You are Sarah, with your own unique personality, with your own character, with your own life. I love you because you are you.”
He place a kiss on my cheek and wiped the tears that were spilling from eyes.
“Enough of this madness,” he laughed, “who would have thought I could turn so sentimental.”
I laughed, wiped the tears that had begun to well up in his own eyes and placed a kiss on his brow. “You started it.”
“Of course, of course, blame me. You started asking all these questions.”
“You started asking all these questions," I back-fired.
“I never asked any questions, I was just musing my thoughts aloud. This is why I keep quiet most of the time.” He smiled, then another shadow passed over his face. “What will happen to you Sarah, when I am gone?”
“You’re not going anywhere yet,” I pointed out. “So for starters you can stop talking about it.”
Uncle Andrew allowed the smile to reappear on his face. “Now why don’t you go and play some more. Only don’t do that slow stuff, with the weather like this your music is putting me to sleep. Play something bouncy, something to keep me awake.
“As you wish, Uncle,” I gave him another kiss and went back to the piano. I fumbled with the notes, and began playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.
“Sarah,” Uncle Andrew chided. I burst out laughing. “Stop playing games, silly child,” he reproached in an amused voice.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I thought for a moment, then began to play Mozart. I didn’t even need any notes, I knew many of his pieces by heart. I played for well over an hour, but at last my fingers began to complain and I put my music to a halt.
I looked over at Uncle Andrew. He was much in the same position, only his head was thrown back and his eyes were closed. My music had put him to sleep after all. I giggled softly as I thought about how he would tease me later. No doubt I would hear about this incident for the rest of my life.
I stood up to tip-toe out of them room then paused. The room was chilly, and Uncle Andrew might get cold while he slept. I resolved to cover him. Reaching down I picked up the quilt that had slipped from his knees to the floor and gently tucked it around his legs. Having done that, I leaned over and placed a kiss on his brow. I recoiled instantly. His skin had been cold. Haltingly, I placed my hand over his; cold, cold as death itself. It took a moment for the full realization to sink in. Uncle Andrew was dead. I sank to my knees and buried my face in his cold, lifeless hand as sobs shook my frame. I had just become an orphan for the second time in my life.
I put a link to the song 'Bring him Home' from the musical Les Miserables. I thought it kind of fit what Andrew must have felt when Jeff left for war and then went missing. It is being performed by my favorite Jean Valjean, John Owen Jones :)