With the death of my Uncle I moved into the little slave quarters of our house. I had never been much of a supporter of slavery anyway, and even though they were black and I was white, they were the only family I had left in this world. I was terrified of being alone, but in the company of Lulu, Elsie and Kristoffs I felt safe. George was still a little aloof and distant when it came to me, an entire life of slavery is hard to forget, but I knew he was dedicated enough to stay until the war came to an end and for this I was grateful.
Soon the bleak weather began to change and it was with a welcome spirit that we greeted spring. With the sun shining brightly and the flowers beginning to bloom, a ray of hope crept into my heart. Somehow, all the hardships were a little easier to bear when the weather was agreeable.
The terror still hung about us, even spring and sun could not get rid of it. One night, in late April, just as we were preparing for bed, the silence of the night was broken with the sound of gunfire.
“The gunshots are sure loud,” Elsie pointed out. “It seems to me like a skirmish is going on out there somewhere. Maybe some Union soldier came across the Home Guard. Didn’t that captain fellow tell you they had a base seven or so miles from here?”
“That was two months ago, I don’t know if they are still there or if they have moved. You are right about one thing, the gunshots do sound dangerously close.
Evy’s lip quivered and she ran and crawled onto my lap. I put my arms around her.
“Do you think they’ll come here and shoot us all?” She asked.
“What a notion, child,” Elsie scoffed, “course they won’t.”
I wished I could be as sure of that as Elsie was. “We’re safe, Evy, God will take care of us,” I spoke the words to try and reassure myself almost more than Evy.
“From the sound of it, I’d say it was coming from the Thompson’s Plantation,” Arthur spoke up.
“We can always count on you for reliable source of information,” Elsie rolled her eyes. She never did have much patience with active boys. I remembered how annoyed she would get at Sammy. Arthur stuck his tongue out at Elsie in response to her words. He was certainly a lot more arrogant with her than Sammy had been. Elsie replied to his disrespect by reaching over and slapping him on the back of the head with the palm of her hand.
“Mind your manners, youngster, especially to your elders.”
Arthur grumbled and rubbed his head, but said nothing more.
I found it hard to sleep that night. The fighting was a lot closer than it had been before. Was it really at the Thompsons? Where they safe? Poor Mrs. Thompson and Prissy where all on their own out there. Most of the freed slaves had long abandoned them, and Mr. Thompson had been dead for well over a year. I had never liked the Thompsons, but I still prayed that they would be alright. Evy had been frightened and had climbed into bed with me. After she fell asleep, I slipped out of the bed and tiptoed to the window. In the distance I could see a red and angry sky, contrasting with the midnight blue of the night. Something out there was on fire.
“Oh, Lord, keep the flames from coming here. The cotton fields burning was bad enough, if the house burns down, I really won’t know what to do.”
A peace came over me, and for the first time I truly felt God’s presence around me. The grace and assurance that always eminated out of Lulu finally settled on me that night and I climbed back and snuggled next to Evy’s sleeping body. Within moments I was asleep.
The next morning I made up my mind to go over to the Thompsons and see how they fared.
“Absolutely not.” Elsie blocked the front door. “We don’t know what went on there last night and you are not going out! The place might be swarming with Yanks who would only love to take advantage of you.”
“Oh, Elsie,” I rolled my eyes, “it’s not like every Yank out there is a thief and a vagabond. There are plenty of good and honest soldiers, I am sure of it.”
“Funny how they never show up at our front door.”
“I guess they have better things to do than go visiting Confederate Plantations. I must find out how Mrs. Thompson and Prissy are.”
“You are not going out there and that is final.”
“Elsie, I am mistress of this house and I will go out there if I wanted too.” My patience had come to an end. Sometimes I could get really annoyed at the way she just bossed me around.
“If there are no Yanks, I’m sure the Home Guard wouldn’t mind doing the job for them. Or if not the Home Guard, then the local bandits will get their hands on you. You are staying in this house Sarah, and I don’t want to hear another word!” Elsie was deaf and blind to my anger.
I grumbled but knew arguing with Elsie was as pointless as trying to drink the entire ocean.
“I’ll go help Lulu with the kitchen then,” I stated, “since you have put me under house arrest.”
Elsie laughed, but stayed guarding the front door till I was out of sight. I had no intention of helping Lulu; the kitchen simply had a back door and I could use it to get away. The morning air was still a little chilly so I wrapped up in a shawl and headed out. Of course Elsie had been right about it being unsafe to walk out into the open, it was a good twelve miles to the Thompson Estate and there could be soldiers or worse out there, but I had to make sure the Thompsons were safe. I owed it to them as a neighbor. I decided to go across the fields, as it was a lot shorter than taking the main road. The mud from last night stuck to my boots and got the hem of my dress all dirty. I didn’t mind. April showers meant the little garden we had planted would be watered and that meant a better chance at a good harvest.
I had only gone about three miles when I saw a figure running in my direction. Even though it was still quite a distance from me, I could tell it was not a man and I quickened my step to see if I could determined who it was. Closer and closer the figure came to me. Her hair was blowing in the wind, whipping her face. She kept tripping over her dress and more than once she stumbled to the ground. It was only when she was a few feet away from me that I realized who it was.
“Prissy!” I called out. She lifted her head to see who called her, at the same time, she tripped over a rock and tumbled into the mud. This time she didn’t bother to get up. Burying her head in her hands, she wept loudly. I ran up to her.
“What happened?” I asked shaking her by the shoulders. “Where is Mrs. Thompson?”
“All gone, all gone,” Prissy repeated over and over again.
“Prissy, talk to me, I can’t help you unless I understand what happened.”
“The fighting came up real close to the house,” Prissy said in between sobs, “the house caught on fire, Mother perished in the flames, I barely got out alive. I’m alone, all alone. The house is burnt, burnt to a crisp, nothing remains. Have nowhere to go. All alone, all gone!” She sobbed all the louder. Soot and dirt was smudged all over her hands and face.
“Come on, Prissy,” I pulled her to her feet, “you must try and calm down. Crying won’t do you any good. Get up and come with me.” I took off my shawl and wrapped it around her. Poor thing was dressed in her nightgown, with no shoes or stockings on her feet. I rubbed her cold hands in mine to warm them a little, looped my right arm through hers and supported her waist with my left one. The three miles home took ages. Prissy kept falling to the ground, twice she tumbled and said she wouldn’t go on anymore. It was with sheer force that I dragged her back to the house.
“Sarah Maybelle Rose, what did I tell you about...” Elsie’s stern reproach died when she saw I was not alone. “Who is that?”
“This is Prissy.” I explained. “Help me, we’ve got to her washed, dressed and fed.”
Together we heaved her into the house. Elsie ran to heat up some water for a bath while I took Prissy to my room and sat her down on the bed.
“Lulu, fetch something hot to drink,” I loudly called.
“Who is this?” Evy asked, eyeing Prissy with suspicion.
“This is our neighbor Priscilla. Why don’t go and help Lulu, Evy, Sarah is really busy.” I said as I searched for something for Prissy to wear.
Soon Prissy was clean, dressed in one of my dresses, fed a hot meal and tucked into bed. When she had finally sobbed herself to sleep, Elsie called me to the parlor.
“What are we going to do with her?”
“I’m not sure. Both her parents are dead and Albert was killed in action back in ‘62. I think she does have an Aunt living in North Carolina or somewhere like that, but I don’t think it would be safe for her to travel, the roads are covered with all sorts of terrible people. Not to mention there is no way to get here there, for we have no horses.”
“Sooo…” Elsie dragged out her o’s and looked at me with raised eyebrows.
“So I suppose she will have to stay with us,” I concluded.
“Absolutely not!" Elsie shook her head and waved her arms to add emphasis
“Elsie,” I frowned, “who is always lecturing me on true Christian behavior? Like it or not, Prissy is our neighbor and on top of that, she is Jeff’s fiancée. We have to take her in, it is the right thing to do. Except for this house the poor girl has nowhere to go. If our house burnt down wouldn’t you want her to take us in?”
“Now Sarah, even if I was all alone in the world, and had nowhere to go, nothing would induce me to go to Prissy for shelter.”
“But she’s not you, come on, it won’t be that bad.”
Elsie did not look convinced, “that girl will make life miserable for all of us.”
I sighed, “Elsie, the Bible tells us to love our neighbors.”
“Oh fine, you’ve won me, but don’t expect me to help you with convincing the rest of the household.”
Persuading everyone else that Prissy should remain with us proved to be very difficult. Lulu and George were adamantly against the idea. In the end, it was Kristoffs who helped me convince them that keeping Prissy was the right thing to do. Lulu gave in first and then we managed to persuade George, but he made it very clear how unhappy he was with the whole idea.
And so, Prissy remained and was installed as one of the household.