Of course talking about bravery is a lot easier than actually being brave, and I really didn’t feel brave that day. I was glad for one thing, I didn’t have to do any housework. Elsie took Evy to help her with the laundry and Lulu went to work in the kitchen. Kristoffs was feeling better and was even able to sit up in bed. Prissy stayed glued to her room, stating she would only come out when the Yanks left. Elsie loved this arrangement and informed Colonel White he was welcome to stay for as long as he pleased. I hadn’t seen Colonel White or any of his men since yesterday. Not like I was in a great hurry too. The less people who saw me in the state I was currently in, the better; I did have my pride after all. With the household occupied I wandered into the parlor and sat by the piano. Opening the lid I began playing ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’ hoping to at least get a small feeling of Christmas into the air. Only I wasn’t feeling very joyful or triumphant and at last I gave up and just sat staring at the piano keys.
At one point I felt two hands place a shawl around my shoulders, and then gently stroke my head. What caused me to worry was the hands were not female. I spun around, terrified of whoever was touching me.
“Oh Sammy,” I breathed, “you shouldn’t scare me like that. Not after all I have already been through.”
“What did he do to you?” Sammy’s voice was filled with horror and concern. I remembered what my face looked like and turned away.
“It’s nothing,” I stated, “others have gone through worse and survived. If the sight of me distress you then just leave.”
“Sarah, why are you trying to get rid of me?” He knelt down beside me.
“I’m not trying to get rid of you, Sam,” I argued.
“It’s Sammy, Sarah. Sammy! I don’t let anyone in this world call me that, save you. Look at me for pity’s sake, I haven’t seen you in nearly six years.”
“No offense, but I certainly don’t look much like I did back then.”
“But you are still Sarah. You have no idea how much I thought about you during these long years. I wondered what had become of you, if you had married or not. When I came back for my family and found out you were gone, I can’t even begin to describe how disappointed I was. All these years I’ve wished for a chance to at least get a glimpse of you, and when I realized we were coming to the Greensten Plantation, I was excited and terrified at the same time. I didn’t know what to expect when we got here. And the last thing I thought would be that you would want to avoid me. Please, at least just look at me.
Reason told me to stay as far away from Sammy as possible; I didn’t need for things to get even more complicated. But with a sigh I pushed reason away and turned to face him. His features had hardened a little, and while he was in every way the same Sammy I had fallen in love with, at the same time, he was completely different. Sammy was a man now, a true man and I think that fact scared me a little and attracted me at the same time.
“Are you comfortable kneeling on the floor like that?” I asked.
“Come then,” I stiffly rose from the piano and motioned for him to follow me to the sofa. On my way I threw a log into the fire and stoked it a bit. We both settled on the couch, Sammy looking intently at me, while I was studying every piece of furniture in the parlor.
“Where did the shawl come from?” I asked him at last.
“Oh, Elsie told Evy to give it to you, but she was playing with her dolls and didn’t want too. I waited till Elsie left and then told Evy I would take it to you.”
“She trusted you enough?”
“She knows I’m Elsie’s brother, so yes.”
“Ah,” I nodded my head.
“It’s very chilly in the house.”
“We don’t have much to heat it with. Coal is a thing of the past and we are sparing with wood. We only heat the rooms we must use. Were you cold last night?”
“No, we chopped up some firewood. What annoyed me was that the colonel locked us in that ballroom. He was raving mad because Sawnders.”
“What will happened to Sawnders?”
“He’s been placed under arrest, Colonel White is waiting for orders.”
“I see. What have you been doing all these years?”
“I’ve been working,” he smiled, glad that we had at last got the conversation going, “I found a job as a gardener for a rich family in Philadelphia. In the beginning of ’62 I enlisted and joined the war. It hasn’t been easy, there is a lot of prejudice in the ranks with just about all the white soldiers look down on us. Black soldiers get a smaller pay, not to mention that the Confederacy threatens to hang any black Union soldiers if they get their hands on them.”
“How did you come across Colonel White?”
“I saved his life in battle, though I was wounded in the process. Later he sought me out to thank me and somehow we got to talking. He’s actually very sympathetic to former slaves and was interested in my life story. I told him much of it and also about my time in the army. After that he spoke to the right people and had me transferred to his battalion. I’ve been with him for six months now, and he is fair and honest. Off course I still face insults from other officers and soldiers, but there is nothing I can do about that. I know he thinks highly of me, when he had to choose men for the mission of tracking down Mr. Browne, I was one of the first to be selected. . I’m hoping if I prove honest and worthy the colonel will promote me to sergeant. Then I’ll show those soldiers what it means to constantly insult a black man.”
I smiled at his passion, but felt a twinge of pity for him. Dear idealistic Sammy, no one felt the injustice towards him people more than he did and it struck him to the heart every time he was reminded of it.
“Sammy,” I was struck with a thought, “Sammy, you have been with Colonel White for some time now; do you know anything about him?”
“Like about his past, who he was before he became a colonel, what kind of life he led.”
“It is not like the colonel is my best friend, Sarah, he doesn’t go talking to me about his past. Except for Sergeant Hosehigh I don’t think anyone really knows much about what he did before he joined the army.”
“Oh, but Sammy, surely you know something,” I pleaded.
Sammy eyed me with a hint of suspicion, “there was this one time when he did mention something. It was a very wet day with us stuck out in the middle of nowhere and somehow we got to talking about regrets in life. Colonel White didn’t want to join in, but a little persuading and he admitted that while he did a lot of things in his youth that he was not proud of, his greatest regret was that through carelessness and loose behavior he ruined a life. He didn’t expand on the subject and only warned us that we should watch our actions, as they affect many people around us. From the way he spoke, it was obvious he holds himself entirely to blame for whatever happened. If you were to ask any soldier who he would want to serve under, just about all of them will answer Colonel Brandon White. He is fair, honest and wise. Those three don’t often come in one officer. But that is not all. As a man I have yet to see someone like him. His kindness knows no bounds and he will jump at any moment to help a person in need. I have often speculated what motive drives him, and after that discussion I think I guessed what it. Colonel White is trying to atone for his past.” Sammy stopped talking here, because he had noticed the tears in my eyes. “Sarah,” he haltingly asked, “is something the matter?”
“Not really,” I tried to brush the tears away, but they kept coming out.
Sammy reached over and took my hand, “what is it, Sarah?”
“Oh Sammy,” I sobbed, “remember long ago you found me in the garden, weeping because I have no father?”
“Well, now you find me in much the same state because…because I have one.”
“Sarah?” Poor Sammy probably thought I had lost my mind.
“The life he ruined, Sammy, was my mother’s and the way he ruined it was by fathering a child out of wedlock, and then taking off to Europe, leaving her to suffer the consequences alone.”
Sammy stared at me in stunned silence.
“But that’s not the worst part,” I bitterly stated, “I wasn’t supposed to like him, Sammy, I wasn’t.
“But you do like him?”
“Of course I like him! You try not liking him. All I have is admiration and respect for him. He has got to be one of the kindest men I have ever met. After just one day I already find myself in his debt. I’m afraid to even think what could have happened to me, to all of us, if he hadn’t shown up when he did.”
“Does he know?” Sammy was still trying to make sense of everything.
“He knows I am his daughter, but he doesn’t know I am also aware of this fact. Remember when you found me eavesdropping yesterday? Well, that was when I heard him confess to Robert…Sergeant Hosehigh that is. For now we each pretend like there is nothing between. I’m unsure how to handle it and I think so is he. It could get very awkward, and well, I don’t think either of us wants things to be uneasy.” I paused, fighting to regain control of myself.
“So, you are a White Rose after all,” Sammy softly stated.
“What do you mean?”
“His name is White isn’t it?”
“Oh Sammy, this isn’t time for jokes!”
“You were the one who told me to think of you every time I saw a white rose.”
“Oh dear, I’m sorry I ever said that,” I wiped my tears, glad the subject was changing. “Here’s a question I’ve been meaning to ask, are you married?”
“Do you have anyone in mind?”
“If you mean back in Philadelphia, then no.”
“Sam, you can’t remain a bachelor all your life, you’ll be twenty seven soon, I was sure you would have a wife by now.”
“And I was sure you would have a husband, yet you don’t.”
“Oh me,” I tossed my head a little, “anyone I could possibly marry is either dead or out fighting.”
“The war didn’t start the minute I ran away from the plantation. You had plenty of time to find a husband. That was one of the things that really bothered me, I hated the idea of coming here and finding you married.”
“Aunt Helen was trying to marry me off, but the war started before we could actually get around to it.”
“So you were planning to marry?”
I sniffed loudly, “Samuel Climb, I do not like discussing this subject with you. I knew I had to do something with my life and hanging around here with Priscilla as Mrs. Jeffrey Greensten was not an option. I had actually forced myself to get used to the idea of my marrying another man, but now…” My voice trailed off.
“Now?” Sammy looked at me expectantly.
“Now,” I faltered, “now you appear and I find the idea of marriage repulsive again.” I gave a defeated sigh. “I know this may sound strange, but a part of me feels like…like…like you’ve never gone away.”
Before I knew it he had caught me up in his arms. I could feel the steady rhythm of his heart as he pressed my head to his chest. “I knew you wouldn’t have forgotten me so easily,” he whispered, “I knew I’d come back and find you waiting for me.”
I wanted to stay there, with his arms wrapped around me, protecting me from this horrible world, but I knew better. I was no longer the frightened little girl of the past. This Sarah had learned the hard way that there were some boundaries that couldn’t be crossed and so I pulled away from him.
“Waiting for you? Who said I was waiting for you? I would have thought my actions made it obvious that the last thing I was doing was waiting for you.”
“You know what I mean,” he was a little offended at my reaction. “Sarah, I have loved none but you all these years, I didn’t even try to love another. Maybe I could have, but I stayed away from such thoughts. And I know you love me back, I can see it in your eyes, you so much as told me so a minute ago.”
“Sammy,” I was desperate, “please, please don’t do this. We can’t.”
He grabbed my hands, “don’t use that sob story of us being on opposite sides of the war. We’ve fought odds before we can fight them…”
“The war has nothing to do with it,” I interrupted him. “We can’t go about renewing a romance that ended up in you nearly getting killed. Don’t you remember what happened? I do,’ I shuddered. “I remember very well that horribly night you got flogged. Twenty five lashes, Sammy, twenty five lashes that not only scarred your back, but my heart. Sammy, as beautiful as the love may be, there is no future, no prospect in it. I don’t want to hit another dead end that will only result in you getting hurt. I’m sorry for what I said earlier, I shouldn’t have led you on. It’s my fault entirely, and I'm sorry. Please, please if you truly love me, then you must leave me alone. It is for your own good. Believe me when I tell you I will only bring about your ruin."
He slowly let go of my hands. His face was sad, but I could tell he understood why I had said those words. “I guess the bridge between the gap doesn’t exist anymore,” he softly said.
“Oh Sammy, Sammy, it is there,” I whispered, “only I’m afraid I can’t let either of us cross it.”
He nodded his head and slowly stood up to leave.
“You won’t tell the colonel,” I hastily asked, “about all I have told you.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll let the two of you handle this on your oown, and tell each other when you are ready.” He kissed my hand and walked out of the room. I heard the door close with a sad click.
Very merry Christmas indeed.
Picture in the media section is Prissy :)