I opened my eyes, wondering where the voice had come from. A little to my right, just out of the corner of my eye I spotted cluster of hooves. I was being attacked by the cavalry as well as the infantry? This was more than I could handle. A pair of dark blue legs jumped down and landed next to the hooves, telling me someone had just dismounted. I watched as the black boots, splattered with mud, came closer and closer to me. They stopped just in front of my face and a gloved hand reached down. It took a moment to realize the hand was meant for me. I grasped it and my little palm found itself in a tight, strong grasp. The second hand supported my elbow and helped me to me feet. The hands then steadied me as I wobbled a little before completely regaining my composure. It was only then that I looked up and found myself looking into the steel grey eyes of my rescuer.
“Sawnders, you’ve drawn blood,” he barked at the captain. It was the same voice that had called out earlier. A voice so deep, I was almost sure it came straight from the depths of the earth. Pulling out a handkerchief, he gave it to me, “here you are, Miss.”
I looked at him, confused.
He pointed to the lower left end of his lip while raising his eyebrows and nodding in my direction. My hand went to my lips and I felt something wet. Looking at my fingers, I saw they were red. Right, hadn’t he said something about blood? I took the hanky and pressed it to the cut, trying to collect my scattered thoughts and think of what to do next.
“To start with, Miss, please allow me to express my condolences,” my rescuer spoke once more.
“What…how…how…how did you know?” I sputtered, thoroughly confused. How could he have ever guessed about Uncle Andrew’s death?
“You are in mourning, are you not?” He gave another nod in my direction. I looked down at my dress. Of course, it was an obvious giveaway, yet he was the first man to ever have noticed.
“And second,” he continued, “I hope you’ll forgive this incident. Some men in this army have managed to weasel their way into becoming officers when their real place is kitchen duty.”
Captain Sawnders straightened up and lifted his head high, fuming over what had just been said, but remained silent.
I cracked a bit of a smile. “Thank you,” I glanced over at the insignias on his shoulders; yellow, with an eagle, “Colonel?”
“White,” he introduced himself, “Colonel Brandon White at your service, ma’am.”
I looked him up and down. He was big, that would probably be the best way to describe him, with broad shoulders, strong build and a commanding presence. He stood tall and straight in his dark blue uniform, making him look smart and full of authority. He had a small, light brown mustache and a thin, neat goatee on his chin. He wore a broad hat on his head, making it impossible to determine his hair color. His facial feature were refined and handsome, but at the same time worn and a little coarse. I could tell he had been in this war for a long time and it was leaving its mark on him. His appearance was so impressing that I found myself with a begrudging admiration for this enemy colonel.
“And may I know who I am addressing?”
He was the nicest colonel I had ever met. Somehow this man didn’t quite belong with the scene playing out in front of me. It was as though he had been ripped out of some high, elegant society and placed in this chaos by mistake.
“My name is Miss Rose,” I answered him, “Miss Sarah Rose,”
“Rose?” He became confused. “I was sure the Greensten Estate belonged to the family of Greensten.”
“It does belong to the family of Greensten. I am niece to the former and cousin to the present. The former is buried yonder; the present is away at the war.”
“In the Confederate Army?”
“In the Confederate Army.”
“I see. Sawnders,” Colonel White turned his attention to Captain Sawnders, “do you have an explanation for your behavior?”
“This woman forgot her manners, sir; I was merely reminding her of them?”
“You were using the absence of manners to try and teach them? Isn’t that something of a contradiction?” Colonel White raised an eyebrow. “Need I remind you that as an officer you are expected to behave as a gentleman and set a good example for your men? And a gentleman does not go about striking defenseless women. That is of course if you are a gentleman, which I am beginning to seriously doubt.”
“Sir, she was rude and impolite and clearly overstepped her boundaries,” Sawnders burst out in an angry tone, “if there is one thing I will not stand for, it is a woman forgetting her place.”
“Forgive me for interfering, Colonel sir,” I coldly broke in, “but the captain here barged up to my front door and demanded I feed his entire regiment. I think it very unfair of him to say I overstepped my boundaries. I merely informed him that I didn’t have enough food to see the household through the winter, much less to feed a hungry pack of thieving wolves!” The last five words came out bitter and angry.
“You see, you see how she…”
Colonel White held up his hand and silenced the furious Sawnders.
“Why do I feel like I am breaking up a school fight?” He angrily demanded, “would you please stop behaving like adolescent children!” He inhaled and exhaled loudly then turned his attention to me. “By thieving wolves I assume you mean Captain Sawnders troops here?” There was no need for me to answer. “Your use of language, Miss Rose, is rather violent, and you metaphors very strong,” he kept his tone calm, but there was a fair deal of reproach in it.
“Colonel White,” I spoke out firmly, looking him square in the face, “I don’t know if you noticed, but I happen live in the middle of a war zone. For the past three years I have had to stand by helplessly and watch my cotton fields burn to a crisp, my house plundered, and prized family possessions carried away. My livestock has been stolen, my garden has been looted, and I find my household at constant threat of danger. There is a blockade on the South, making food and other supplies scarce and hard to find. I constantly find myself fighting at two fronts with Union soldiers on one side and survival on the other. In short, sir, this war has driven me to the point of total desperation, so I’m afraid you will have to forgive me if I have run out of gentle language and mild metaphors.” I knew I was being extremely bold, but at that moment I really didn’t care. I was tired of hiding, tired of being the underdog and having these men walk all over me. Also, the fact that the colonel had a measure of sympathy gave me a measure of boldness.
Colonel White was silent for a moment, staring at me while I held his gaze.
“As it so happens, Miss Rose,” he said at last, “you will not have to feed the men. The army is issued such a thing known as food rations, and the men should be perfectly satisfied to eat them. Sawnders, what are you doing here?” Colonel White’s voice had switched from reassuring to demanding in a mere sentence. “Where are your orders?”
“Why would you be wanting them?” Captain Sawnders growled.
“Captain Sawnders, I will remind you I am a superior officer and you will not ask such questions of me. I asked for your orders and you will hand them over.”
I leaned my head a bit to the side, waiting to see what would happen. Captain Sawnders reluctantly pulled out some folded papers and handed them to Colonel White. Colonel White roughly snatched them out of Captain Sawnder’s hand. I could tell he was really annoyed at the captain. He unfolded the slightly crumpled sheets and began reading them. I took this opportunity to inspect his men, who were sitting on their mounts watching the scene as it unfolded. I counted seven horses and six riders. Suddenly my gaze froze and my eyes widened in shock. Amidst the white faces, I had come across a black one. Sitting on a horse, holding the reigns of the Colonel’s mount, he was looking straight at me. The shock came not from the fact that it was a black man, but because with one glance, I recognized the dark, handsome face.
It was Sammy.
It's the moment we've all be waiting for. Yes, dear readers, he is back :)
Oh, and just in case some of you are wondering, this is how officer rankings go: General, Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel, Major, Captain, 1st Lieutenant and 2nd Lieutenant.
The picture in the media section is the what the shoulder insignia of a cavalry colonel looked like :) If Colonel White had been in the infantry, his colors would have been blue instead of yellow :)