A hand touched my shoulder.
“Sarah.” It was Elsie.
“He’s gone, Elsie,” my voice was a little muffled because my face was still buried in his hand.
She knelt down beside me; prying my head free from my uncle’s hand, she pressed it to her chest. “Be brave, Sarah, you have to be brave. It was his time.”
I shook my head. “I’m all alone again, I don’t want to go through this all again,.I can’t bear it Elsie, I can’t! Once was enough for me.”
“Sure you can bear it; others have borne worse and come out just fine. You have to be strong, Sarah.”
“What’s the matter?” George’s voice now sounded.
“Massa Greensten is dead,” Elsie explained in a soft voice.
I turned my head a little so I could catch a peak of what was going on. George had walked up and placed two fingers on against my uncle’s neck.
“He’s a goner, must have happened in his sleep. You’d never guess he was dead by the look of him, his face looks so serene.”
“It’s too soon, too soon,” I mumbled, “he was only fifty four.”
“Ah, Miss Sarah, you should know it is never too soon. It comes when it comes.”
George spoke the truth, but at that moment I wasn’t willing to accept it.
“What will happen to me now?” I kept on sobbing, “only God knows where Jeff is, Uncle and Aunt are dead, I have no one in the world.”
“Now Sarah,” Elsie’s voice was filled with reproach, “I’s know you are filled with grief, but there is no need for you to get rude.”
I lifted my face to look at her.
“Miss Sarah, we’s here,” George knelt down next to us, “why do you think you are alone? Remember we’s people too, and we’s not going to leave you.”
“I thought you wanted to go away,” I said, looking earnestly at him.
“I’s never said I would go away, I just wanted to know how serious you were when you said you would grant mama and me freedom. We’ll see what I will do when the war finishes, for now, we’ll stick around.”
With those words George got up and called Kristoffs and Lulu. Between the three of them they managed to carry Uncle Andrew to his bed. I rose to follow them, but was stopped by Elsie.
“Now, Sarah, you are not going to lock yourself in that room and sit by your Uncle’s dead body. You are going to come with me and each your lunch like a good girl.”
Her seemingly lack of sympathy was irritating, yet at the same time, I was more than grateful to her for keeping me from drowning in self pity. Now, more than ever, I had to keep my head together.
My tears poured over my simple meal. I still couldn’t believe he was gone. I expected him to walk in any minute, leaning on someone for support. We had just fnished our lunch when we heard a pounding on the front door. I heard George go to answer it and soon he walked in, followed by a man. The stranger looked positively wild. He was dressed in the uniform of a Confederate soldier, but it was so ragged and tattered that he reminded me more of a beggar than a man in the army.
“Please, Miss,” he blurted out as soon as he saw me, “they’re after me. Hide me, for pity’s sake, hide me. Don’t let them catch me.”
I guessed maybe he was being chased by Union soldiers.
“George, place this man in the secret room,” I told George. My eyes met Elsie’s and without a word she took the half loaf of bread and the pitcher with water that stood on the table and shoved it into the man’s hands as George showed him out of the room. I set about clearing the dishes with Evy, waiting for the soldiers to show up on my front door. The wait wasn’t too long. Only about half an hour later, I heard a loud thumping on the door.
“George, wait, I’ll answer with you,” I ran to catch up with my butler. George opened the door and I was greeted by a big surprise. I had expected to see men in the blue uniform of the Union Army the group of men were dressed in grey. Granted, I could hardly call what they wore ‘uniforms’ but still, it was clear that these men were Confederates.
“May I help you, sirs?” I asked.
“We certainly hope so, ma’am,” the captain answered. “Has a deserter stopped by your house recently?”
“A man who has run away from the army, fled his post and took off. Such actions lead to serious consequences, we can’t have men running off like that. This is a war, not a playground where you can come and go as you please.”
“What did the deserter look like?”
“He’s tall, with broad shoulders. His eyes are brown, his hair is blond. He’s in the tattered outfit of a foot soldier. I’d say he was somewhere in his late twenties. Wild looking would be the best way to describe him.”
My eyes met those of the captain. “I’ll keep my eyes open for such a man. How do I contact you if I do see him?”
He held my gaze for a minute. “Our outpost is only about seven miles south of here. Your goal will be to try and detain him while sending someone to fetch us.”
I nodded my head.
“Deserters are a disgrace, ma’am, and helping one could lead to undesired consequences.”
“I understand as much, Captain, which is why I shall do all in my power to cooperate.”
“He may be hiding somewhere on your property, so I am obligated to search it.”
“Search all you want. Does he pose a danger to me?”
“Not that I know of, but you might want to keep your guard up.”
“Thank you, good day.”
He tipped his cap to me, swung on his horse and began ordering his men to search the entire plantation.
“Who was that?” Elsie asked, coming up next to me.
“The Home Guard,” I said in a low voice, “they are chasing a deserter.”
“I’d be careful next time, Miss Sarah,” George warned me, “these men are very loose and follow their own rules. This one seems to be alright, but the next may just jump at you.”
“But they are Confederate soldiers,” I argued.
“That don’t mean nothing,” George shook his head at me. “I’ve heard of the so called Home Guard doing things worse than even the Yanks. They can’t be trusted, Miss Sarah, and we don’t want to go boasting of how we’s got a beautiful, young white girl all alone in this here house. From now on, Miss Sarah, you stay away from the front door unless I tell you it is safe to come, is that clear?”
I wanted to argue with him, but both him and Elsie were staring at me so severely that I just nodded my head. I was still in shock from Uncle Andrew’s unexpected death and didn’t have the energy or strength to put up any fight. I just had to somehow get through this terrible day, and there was still so much of it left.
It was long after sundown when I finally told George to let the man out of his hiding place. He came into the parlor and nervously sat down in a chair. The shades had been drawn and there was only one candle burning on the table. We had to be very sparing with the candles, there weren’t much left and finding new ones wasn’t easy.
“You’re the deserter, aren’t you?” I asked him after a couple moments of silence.
He looked at the floor. “I’m tired of the war. All this fighting, all this killing, blood and mud everywhere. It’s all we ever see. I’m sick of the dead bodies, the missing limbs strewn across the field. Think of it, we’ve been at war for three years and where is it all leading to? Nothing! You’d have run too, Miss, if you were in my place. Call me what you will, but I won’t take one more day in that army, fighting in this war.”
I didn’t know how to answer, so I remained silent.
“And yet,” he suddenly looked up. “You didn’t turn me in.”
“Enough men are dying as it is, I don’t want to be responsible for another one. If you feel you had no other option but to run that is you business. My conscience did not allow me to give you away.”
He eyes were filled with gratitude. “Thank you, Miss?”
“Rose. Miss Sarah Rose. And you are?”
“Kent. William Kent. Is there is any way I can repay your kindness?”
“You could help me bury my uncle.” An extra pair of male hands would always be welcome. At the moment, the only man who had the strength to dig was George. Kristoffs was far too old and far too frail. Other than the two of them, there were only women in the house. Well, there was Arthur, but I couldn’t really think of him as a capable grave digger.
“I’m sorry, Miss Rose. Did he die recently?”
“Not more than twelve hours ago.”
“You have my deepest condolences. Have you any other family?”
“I have a cousin fighting in the war. You wouldn’t happen to know of him? His name is Jeffrey Greensten.”
He thought for a moment and then shook his head. “Sorry, never heard of him.”
I tried to hide my disappointment. “My Uncle needs to be buried tonight, but we will wait till it is completely dark. It will be safer for all of us.”
He nodded his head, obviously glad to wait till the complete cover of darkness. The less he was out in the open, the better for him.
It was not the sort of funeral I would have ever thought we would give Uncle Andrew, but it was done properly. There was of course no time to find a reverend, Mr. Kent read from the Holy Scripture and we committed Uncle Andrew’s soul to God and his body to the ground.
“You need to get far away from here, if you don’t want to end up getting caught,” I pointed out to Mr. Kent the next day.
“I’m well aware of that.” He agreed with me.
“Is there anywhere in particular you want to go?”
“The further away from this hell, the better. I don't really care where I end up, Mexico, California, heck, I’d go to Canada if I have too. I should leave right now; I don’t want to endanger you any longer.”
“This isn’t much, just a day’s worth of provision,” I handed him a small sack, “but I’m afraid it’s all I can spare. Take it and stay safe. I wish you Godspeed.”
“You are a hero of a woman, Miss Rose. I still cannot fully comprehend why you are helping me.”
“Because you need help and I have the ability to provide it,” I shrugged my shoulders. “You must be off.”
He kissed my hand, tipped his hat to George and Elsie and departed out the back door.
“You think he’ll make it all the way to California?” I turned to Elsie and asked.
“If he meets more people like you, he will.”