Happy New Year everyone :)
I escaped to the little room I now shared with Elsie and Evy and sat on the bed, thinking hard. It had been a difficult day, but this was the last straw. Colonel White was my father? It couldn’t be true, it couldn’t. There had to be some mistake, some misunderstanding. Come to think of it, I should have guessed right away. The words he had used and way he behaved when he saw my mother’s portrait made it rather obvious. Of course, he had covered it up quite nicely, pointing out how he had been in Europe and all, and I had bought it. Perhaps I had bought it because I couldn’t comprehend the idea of him being my father. Even now I couldn’t bring myself to fully believe it.
The big question was what was I to do? One thing was certain; I wouldn’t give away the fact that I had overheard the conversation. It would be easier for all of us if he didn’t know that I found out I was his daughter. My only fear was Sammy coming in and telling them I had been eavesdropping. Oh well, either way I couldn’t stay in here forever. Standing up, I walked to the little mirror over the dressing table and gazed at my reflection. I had to go and face the colonel and I was determined to behave calm and composed. Uncle Andrew said emotions are a thing that you can learn to control, and now I was going to put myself to the test and see just how well I could control them. I straightened out my shabby dress, patted my hair into place and returned to the parlor.
“What are the orders, sir?” I heard Sammy’s voice as I approached.
“We haven’t quite decided yet,” Sergeant Hosehigh said, “got a little sidetracked with some personal history.”
I grasped the door handle and opening the door, marched into the room with determined strides. All three rose from their seats. My first action was to take a good look at the Sergeant Robert Hosehigh. Now that I knew who he was, it was so easy to recognize him. Of course he was much more grown up now, but there were features about him that had not changed, like his dark brown eyes, the red hair, that funny cleft in his chin, they all pointed towards my old friend from long ago. I stole a quick glance at Sammy, standing tall and straight in his dark blue uniform. I had to admit it made him look smart and impressive. And at last I turned my attention to Colonel White.
“Miss Rose,” he addressed me in much the same way as when he had first come to my door. Any trace of surprise, sorrow, or awkwardness had vanished without a trace.
“I’m sorry to have kept you waiting Colonel,” I spoke in a calm, reserved voice. I even forced myself to look into his steel grey eyes, “you said you wanted to ask me some questions?”
His hat was off and I could see he had a head full of light brown hair with just a slight reddish tint to it. He did have some gray hair thrown about, but they blended in with the rest of the auburn strands and you could hardly notice them.
“We’re tracking a Confederate spy who goes by the name Cleaveland Browne. After a long chase we lost sight of him. Word reached us that he headed in the direction of the Greensten Plantation, which is why we showed up at your doorstep. Have you seen the man?”
“Would you really expect me to tell you if I did, sir?”
“Probably not,” a hint of a smile appeared on his lip, “but it is my duty to ask just the same. Do many people pass through your plantation, Miss Rose?”
“Quite a bit sir, though I have to admit most of the company is unwanted.”
My sentence caused him to clear his throat a little. “Could he be hiding on the plantation without your knowledge?”
“Anything is possible.”
“How big is the plantation?”
“Big enough. I believe it was something like six hundred acers of land.”
Robert gave a low whistle. “What do you do with all that land?”
“Before we used to grow cotton, ever since the fields burned down we don’t do anything.”
“What of the former slaves who lived and worked on this plantation?” Colonel White resumed his interrogation.
“Their quarters are about half a mile away from here,” I felt there was no point in lying to him; if he was going to search the entire plantation he would go there anyway.
“Are there any other plantations or settlements near here?”
“The town is twenty miles away and there are many farms spread out in different directions across the entire area.”
“What about the Thompson Plantation? It is not very far from here, is it?”
“Twelve miles by the main road, sir.”
“It is six miles, sir, if you cut across the fields,” Sammy spoke up.
“Oh?” Colonel White turned his attention towards him, “how do know that?”
“I am a native to these parts, sir.”
“Right,” Colonel White nodded his head as though remembering something, “right, you told me you were born on Greensten.” Colonel White paused and looked from Sammy to me. “So the two of you know each other?”
“Yes sir,” I tried to keep the smile from spreading across my face, “once upon a time Sam Climb was my gardener.”
“Now this is unexpected,” Robert cut in, “do you not find this meeting rather awkward?”
“Not exactly,” Sam replied, “it was Miss Rose here who engineered my escape.”
“Ah, you were involved in the underground railroad?” Robert turned towards me.
“I wasn’t really,” I said, shaking my head, “it’s a long, complicated story.”
“We have strayed from the matter at hand,” Colonel White interrupted in a stern voice. “Sawnders is on his way to the Thomspon plantation right now, though of course he doesn’t have the brains to search the place even though at the moment he has an entire regiment and I have but six men. Sergeant, you will remain here with Private Sands and search the house. I don’t want you to leave one stone unturned. I don’t care if it takes you all day, you will look through every nook and cranny. I’ll send a man to Sawnders, with orders to search Thompson’s. I myself will take the rest of the men and will search through Greensten. He has to be around here somewhere. That man is on foot and tired after an entire night of running, so he couldn’t have gotten far. Private Climb, you'll come with me, seeing as you know the area.”
Colonel White gave me a bow and left the room, Sammy lingered a moment, his eyes never leaving me. It was plain as day that he wanted to talk to me, but duty called and he followed the colonel outside. Robert and myself were left alone in the room.
He turned to me with a smile on his face, “you don’t recognize me, do you?”
His question put me in a rather difficult position. I didn’t want to give away the fact that I knew who he was. I wouldn’t have been able to recognize him if I hadn’t overheard the conversation with Colonel White.
“Am I supposed to?” I said at last.
“Robert, Robert Hosehigh, son of Hezekiah Hosehigh. Surely you remember?”
“Robert!” I allowed all the surprise that had filled me earlier to come rushing out. “What strange fate brings you to my door now?”
“It is ironic, is it not,” he agreed with me. “I should have never recognized you had it not been for Colonel White mentioning you were Miss Evelyn Beverly’s daughter.”
“How are your mother and father?” I was dying to hear about dear Mrs. Hosehigh, who had been so kind to me as a child, and who had been the one true friend in my mother’s lonely life.
“Mother is doing very well, I must write to her and say how I met you. She thinks of you often and will be glad to hear about you. Father died some years ago.”
“I am glad Mrs. Hosehigh is well and please let me express my…my…” I searched for the right word, “sympathy on the death of your father.”
“You don’t have to pretend to feel sorry with his passing. You never liked him, and I can’t blame you.”
The door to the parlor opened and a young soldier walked in.
“Ah, Sands,” Robert acknowledged him, “Well, Miss Rose, duty calls. Allow me to suggest that you get the entire household into one room. It will make everything a lot easier for all of us. We will stay out of your way and you will stay out of ours.”
It was a good idea to get everyone out of the way. Mr. Browne wasn’t here so they could search all they wanted and we could just keep out of their way. But I worried about Kristoffs. “I have a bedridden man, Ro…Sergeant Hosehigh, I can’t quite pull him out it just so you can search.”
“Well, if he is in bed, I don’t think he will bother us.”
“But your snooping around might be too much for him, he is very frail.”
“I’m sorry, Miss Rose, but I must search every room in the house,” Robert’s voice became firm. Once upon a time, Robert had been like an older brother, always there to protect and shelter me, now we had to be enemies, putting duty above friendship.
“You warn him ahead of time and we shall be as gentle as possible,” Robert stated, “after all, we’re soldiers, not bandits.” He gave me a nod and then turned to discussing the search with Sands. I sighed and walked out of the room. In the hallway I bumped into George.
“Where in God’s name have you been?” I burst out at him, “we’ve got Yanks about to do a search in the house and you just disappeared!”
“I’s went to get us a tree, Miss Sarah,” George held up the small fir tree in his hand, “it is Christmas Eve tonight and I’s figured we might have a tree if nothing else.”
We were in the middle of a war, with ever present threat and he, the only man in the house, had gone off in search for a tree? I was about to explode when an idea popped in my head.
“George, you just turned out to be a godsend,” I exclaimed. “Let’s get everyone together and put up the tree. It will keep Evy and Prissy occupied until the search is over. Place the tree in the parlor and get Evy and Prissy to come to down, I’ll find Elsie and Lulu.” I was about to walk past him but he stopped me.
“Mr?” He spoke in a voice that I could barely hear. I gave a slight shake of my head.
“Arthur,” I more breathed the word than spoke it. George understood the rest and nodded his head to assure me that he wouldn’t speak of the boy. “Make sure Evy gets the point,” I whispered. He gave another nod and went into the parlor while I went to find Elsie and Lulu. I expected to find them in the kitchen, but it was completely empty.
“Where could they have gone too?” I wondered. At last I found them, standing by one of the large windows, watching as Colonel White organized his men.
“I tell you, Lulu, fifty five, no less,” Elsie was saying.
Lulu stubbornly shook her head, “fifty, Elsie, fifty.”
“What are the two of you doing?” I asked. They both turned.
“Ah, Sarah,” Elsie smiled, “we’s betting on the colonel’s age. I’s saying it is middle to late fifties, Lulu insists on early fifties.”
I stared at the two of them in bewilderment, “why would you do something like that?”
Lulu chuckled, “it’s not every day we sees such a nice officer. He behaves like a true gentleman, such manners, such deportment. While on his way out he tipped his hat to me as though I were a real lady. Why, he even addressed me as ‘madam’. And then Elsie tells me he rescued you from a mad captain. First time we get such behavior around here.”
“As we were watching him,” Elsie put in, “we’s started guessing how old he was and before we knew it we placed a bet. Whoever wins gets a full day free from housework. I still say fifty five, not less. I mean, the man has got grays in his hair, I's noticed them when he passed by in the hallway, just before he put his hat back on.”
“Impossibe, Elsie," Lulu argued, "the color of his hair don’t say a thing. Look at my George, he’ll be fifty in a year and he’s got an entire head of gray.”
“That’s cause he was a slave, you know we are all born old.”
“No, fifty, fifty two at the most,” Lulu said in a firm voice.
I quickly did some calculating. Colonel White had said he knew my mother long ago, when he had still been young. Young probably meant somewhere in his early twenties. “Late forties,” I spoke up.
“What?” Elsie asked.
“That is my bet, he’s younger than fifty, I’d say forty seven or forty eight. Only how do you plan to find out for sure?”
“Lulu is going to ask him,” Elsie chuckled. “She’s taken a real fancy to the colonel, haven't ya, Lulu.”
They both laughed at this. I giggled at how these two women were behaving like adolescents girls ,and turned my attention out the window. I watched as Sammy mounted his horse with grace and ease. He had certainly become a master at riding. I would never able been able to say that just five years ago he didn’t even know how to properly buckle a saddle. I tried to keep my focus glued to Sammy, but as the men began riding away, almost against my will, my gaze drifted towards the colonel. Of course, his horse had to be white. There were grey patches on the neck and rear, but from far away you could hardly notice them. I grumbled at this terrible irony. The whole idea of it was insulting and ridiculous. He had come, riding in on a white steed, and saved me from Sawnders. At that moment I didn’t know what was worse, the fact that my hero had suddenly become my worst enemy, or that my worst enemy had become my hero.