“Oh Miss Rose, dear Miss Rose,” Colonel White soothed, “he’s gone, he’s not going to hurt you. I promise he’ll never harm you again. Only where did he come from? And how did he find you here?”
“I…I…I don’t know, sir,” I gasped in between sobs.
“Poor soul, I wasn’t asking you,” he exclaimed. “Come, we need to get you out of here. It is cold and you might catch a chill.”
Had circumstances been different, I might have shoved him away, told him I didn’t need him, that I had made it this far without him and I would continue doing so. But in that dark, cold room, I had never felt so weak, so alone and so afraid. At that moment Colonel White was no longer the much hated father, he had suddenly become my guardian angel, my one protection in the constant threat that surrounded me. For the first time in my life, my father was there when I needed him and even though I still had mixed feelings in my heart, I didn’t bother with them. All I knew was he had rescued me, he had come right in time and as long as he was around I would be safe. I clung to him as he lifted me off the floor and carried me out of the room in his arms. I buried my head in the folds of his shirt and sobbed my heart out. “There, there, Miss Rose,” he would whisper from time to time, “calm down, all is well.”
As we got closer to my room, I heard voices. Who could be up at this time of night? I kept my head hidden in Colonel White’s shoulder, and listened as the voices became more and more disctinct. All at once, Colonel White halted and the voices died down. For a split second a stunned silence hung in the air.
“Private Samuel Climb, what is the meaning of this?” Colonel White was the first to speak. My grip on the colonel tightened and I buried my head deeper into his shoulder, I couldn’t bear the idea of Sammy seeing me in this state. I remembered how I had asked Elsie to arrange for Sammy to speak with Kristoffs, and now I really regretted it.
“Is he holding…Sarah?” Kristoffs’ asked
“Lord in heaven,” Elsie gasped, “Sarah!”I heard her rise and come run up to us.
“What happened to her?” Sammy’s voice broke out next.
“Never you mind,” Colonel White barked at him, “you had better just explain why you are sitting in this room. I thought I made it clear that apart from the ballroom, none of you were to go anywhere.”
“I got permission from Sergeant…”
“Just get the hell out of here,” Colonel White cut him off, “and if I catch any of you wandering around this house without my, my permission, I assure you, there will be dire consequences. Now get out!”
I heard Sammy rising and he came so close, I could feel his breath.
“But what happened?” He whispered.
Sammy hurried away before the colonel really got angry at him
“Where is her room?” He turned his attention to Elsie.
“Next door, but you must be quiet, we has a child sleeping there,” Elsie replied. “What happened, sir?”
“Sawnders,” Colonel White explained, “he somehow got in the house.”
“Did he?” Elsie asked in horror.
“No, we came in time, he gave her a fair deal of bruises, but she is unharmed in any other way.”
We? I guessed Robert must have been there with Colonel White. I couldn’t think of anyone else, it wasn’t likely to be any of the soldiers, and it certainly wasn’t Sammy, he had been here with Elsie and Kristoffs.
“Come with me, sir,” Elsie said and Colonel White followed her to our little room. Once inside he gently placed me on the bed. I let go of him and looking up, noticed he was in a white shirt. The warmth around me suddenly lifted as Elsie removed the coat and replaced it with a blanket. I realized the large, warm coat had actually been Colonel White’s blue jacket. No wonder it had been so warm, he must have taken it off the moment before he wrapped it around me. Elsie returned the large, heavy jacket to its owner.
“Don’t worry,” Colonel White whispered, “I’ll make sure that this house will be safe for the night. I give you my word of honor. Goodnight, Miss Climb, goodnight Miss Rose. Please allow me to express my apologies for what happened.” With those words he turned to leave.
“Colonel White,” I softly called after him. He paused and looked back at me.
“Thank you,” my voice broke.
He bowed and left the room. Once he was gone I buried my face in my hands
“Why him, why him?” I whispered.
“Shhh, there, there, Sarah,” Elsie soothed as she began undoing the buttons on my dress, “all is well now.”
“Why couldn’t it have been Robert, or Sam or anyone else?” I didn’t heed her. “Why is it always him?”
“You should be glad it was Colonel White. Any of the other men might have gotten into trouble for harming an officer.”
“But why, why did he have to show up at all? Oh, this is all Uncle Andrew’s fault. I told him not to do it, I told him but he went and did it anyway. It was cruel and unfair of him.”
“Sarah, what are you talking about?” Elsie was thoroughly confused.
I looked over at her, “Oh Elsie, Elsie, Colonel White is…is…my father.”
Elsie blinked at me in disbelief. “Sarah, the stress finally made you snap,” she concluded at last. “Come, I’ll help you undress and then you shall go to bed. Next thing I know you’ll be telling me Lulu is your mother.”
I shook my head, “no Elsie, it isn’t like that.” And word after word I found myself confessing the truth about my parentage and the circumstances surrounding my birth. She heard in quiet surprise.
“Uncle Andrew told me never to tell anyone,” I concluded, “so I kept it a secret from the whole world, the only people in this house who knew were Uncle Andrew, Aunt Helen…and Sammy.”
“How come Sam knew?”
“I told him once, it sort of came out by accident.”
“Just like a lot of things that happened between the two of you,” Elsie mumbled. “But how can you be sure of the colonel?”
“I heard him confess to Robert, but there are other sign, he recognized my mother’s portrait, and I heard him say how he gave this locket to my mother and…oh!” A realization hit me. I reached to unbuckle the chain and with help from Elsie removed it from around my neck. Clumsily opening the locket, I showed it to Elsie, “Elsie, it’s not E.B. for Evelyn Beverly, but E. for Evelyn and B. for Brandon. Mother did leave clues, it is not her fault that his first name happened to start with the same letter as her last name. And you know the song he was singing to Lulu, he wrote that for my mother.”
“You don’t say?” Poor Elsie was so stunned, she didn’t know how to behave.
“But that is not all, Elsie,” I added, “remember how everyone always told me that my eyes were the only inheritance my father left me? Well, who would have thought they would all prove to be true. My eyes are just a copy of his.”
Elsie reached over and taking the candle from the table studied me. “Yous do have his eyes, Sarah, now that you mentioned it, I can see the resemblance.”
“Oh, what am I going to do, Elsie?” I buried my face in my hands.
“You are going to trust God and go to sleep,” Elsie stated in a practical voice. “If He saw fit to bring your father into your life, then He is going to help you deal with it. Right now you need to relax and lay down to sleep. The colonel said we will be safe tonight.”
She did have a very good point and I found myself agreeing with her. Elsie helped me into my nightgown, washed my face and put some kind of something on it. It smelled weird, but she said it would help the swelling go down. Then she tucked me into bed and sat with me till I was asleep.
I rose early the next morning. My face felt a little hot and I noticed bruises on my wrists. Oh well, it could have all ended a lot worse. Elsie and Evy were both still asleep, and I moved about quietly so not to wake them. My first task was to mend my dress. After some thought I decided I would use Aunt Helen’s old black shawl. I was sorry to lose it, but I had another shawl and I didn’t know where else to find black material. I set about to work and with a fair deal of cutting and mending I had patched up the large tear. It looked very shabby, but I figured it would be suffice till the winter ended. Hopefully when spring came I would be able to find material for a new gown. Once the mending was complete I put the dress on and even mastered the buttons without Elsie’s help. Only then did I allow myself to go to the mirror.
I looked in one word: awful. I had two black eyes, though the left was not as bad as the right. Yellow bruises had spread across my cheeks and my lower lip was swollen. There were several cuts on my face, thanks to the ring on Sawnders’ finger.
“It is a good thing Uncle Andrew isn’t here to see you,” I whispered to my reflection. “This would have killed him for sure. Sarah, you have never looked worse in all your life. I wonder what Albert and Henry would think of you now? I’m positive they would reconsider their offers of marriage. There is one comfort though,” I spoke to the hairbrush, “they’re not here to stay. A little time and it will all go away.” I cracked a small smile and began brushing my hair. Something grey caught my attention and laying the hairbrush down, I pulled back the golden locks and studied my hair. Sure enough, I had a little grey patch by the roots. Some careful search revealed a few more grey patches “Sarah, you are getting old,” I forced a giggle, “soon you’ll start looking like George.” With a sigh I put my hair up and went to make my bed. I noticed something white on the floor. I picked it up and discovered it was the handkerchief Colonel White had given my yesterday. I had placed it in my pocket and forgotten all about it, it must have fallen out when I had been mending the dress. My finger slid across the little blood stain and to his embroidered initials on the lower right end. On impulse I folded the hanky and placed it under my pillow. I would try and get the blood spot off later.
“Merry Christmas, Sarah,” I heard Evy’s voice behind me. Right, it was Christmas Day, I had completely forgotten about that.
“Merry Christmas, Evy,” I said, turning to face me. The poor girl gave a gasp and took a step back.
“What happened to you?”
Inwardly I chided myself for not warning her ahead of time. “Nothing really,” I soothed, “I just had a little accident.”
“Did one of the soldiers beat you up?”
“What makes you think that?”
Evy’s dark little eyes looked straight into mine, “I wasn’t born yesterday, Sarah,” she said frankly, “I know what people look like when someone has given them a good beating.”
I sighed. There was no point in trying to keep the truth away from her. She had seen enough in her nine years to understand such things, she had been victim to them herself on many occasions.
“Yes, a nasty soldier got a little violent yesterday.”
“Why do people do this, Sarah?” Evy asked. “Why do they want to hurt people who are weaker than them, different than them? Why do some people hate us because we are black, and others hate us because we happen to live on the wrong side of the war?”
I heaved a sigh, “Evy, I don’t know, I truly don’t.”
“Do you think a day will ever come when we will be loved for who we are and not what we look like?”
I gazed at the dear little girl, whose heritage was one of being oppressed, abused, and mistreated. She had lost her entire family because of the cruelty and greed of men. I didn’t understand anymore than she did why the world was as it was and found I couldn’t quite give her an answer.
“Someday, Evy,” Elsie’s voice spoke up, “we will put aside our hate and anger and there will be true peace on earth.”
We both turned to look at her. She was still in her dressing gown, her black, curly hair in a thick braid and a little cap over her head. Her whole outfit reminded me of an angel, after all, who said that angels were only white? I had no doubt that if God made different colored people; He surely made different colored angels as well. And the angels in heaven all live at peace with each other, giving an example to the mortals here on earth.
“But when will that day come, Elsie?” Evy asked.
Elsie kneeled down next to the little girl. “I don’t know, dear, maybe not in our lifetime. But I know a day will come when children won’t go hungry, men won’t hurt each other and war will be no more. And until that day comes, we must keep living and we must do it with a smile on our face.”
“Like my grandmother Harriet?”
“Yes, just like her. She was brave till the very end and she would want you to be brave too.”
Evy gave us a determined smile, “I’ll be brave then,” she stated, “I won’t complain and be strong for her.”
“Good for you,” I smiled, “now let’s get dressed find something for breakfast.”
Picture in the media section is what I imagine Sarah to look like :)