Sarah's Roses, Book II: Roses of White

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Chapter XXVI.

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Chapter XXVI.

The next day Colonel White sent his men out again to continue searching the grounds. I think the colonel was still hoping he would be able to track Mr. Browne down. Captain Sawnders had been placed under arrest and I heard rumors of a court marshal. Robert remained in the house to guard him. Our household continued with business as usual. The only time I really remembered I had Yanks living in my house was that evening when they all returned. Colonel White was very strict with them however and literally locked them in the ballroom.

I was putting the dinner dishes away when Evy scampered up to me and tugged at my dress.

“Sarah, Elsie’s brother asked me to give this to you,” she handed me a folded piece of paper. “Only no one is supposed to know, especially Elsie. Look what he gave me for my being able to keep a secret,” she held up a little whistle.

“Thank you, Evy,” I put the note in my pocket and turned back to the dishes. As soon as she left I fished it out and opened it.

Dear Sarah,

In my joy to see you again, I failed to realize what a scar had been left on your soul because of the way it all turned out for me and you and so I didn’t handle the situation as delicately as I should. I understand the reason you hold back is because you are afraid, afraid for me. I appreciate your concern, but please let me assure you it is not necessary. I can handle any pain life sends my way, I always have. What I can’t handle is seeing you across the room and know you are forcing yourself to be indifferent because of fear. Before we used to get upset about how unjust society was, but find how little I care for such things. All I know is that this is a war and with my future in such uncertainty I can’t afford to waste a single second. My dearest Sarah, I don’t know where our life paths are leading, but seeing they have crossed again, I want to make the most of it. If it is my pain you fear, then don’t, let me worry about that. If that is the price I have to pay, I will be glad to pay it. I’ve learned to embrace it, because the pain is what makes it beautiful. When you begin to see it as beautiful, you’ll understand what I am trying to tell you. I refuse to take your answer yesterday as final. That wasn’t you talking, it was your uncle. Don’t let his way of thinking destroy your thoughts and your feelings. He is not here, but you are and I am. If you still find yourself in doubt after reading this letter, then remember these words: I would rather hurt and have you then have nothing at all.

Yours forever,

Samuel Climb.

Goodness me, he was persistent. He had just gone and challenged everything I had told him, what was more, he made it look appealing and romantic. What was I supposed to do now? It was surprising how one little letter can make you doubt on the resolutions you had made just the day before. Was Sammy completely blind to reason, or was I blinded by it? Which one of us was right? Should I take the risk, or stick through with what I had told him yesterday. I didn’t feel capable of coming to a good decision on my own, but who was I to ask for help? I was afraid to bring up the matter with Elsie and Lulu and I would certainly never go to George. Confused I put the note back in my pocket and resolved I would think on this later.

 After Evy had been put to bed, I took the candle and went off to the parlor, only to shrink back when I noticed Colonel White was sitting there at the piano. After a moment’s indecision, I made up my mind to go in anyway. He was playing ‘Depth of Mercy’ and I waited for him to finish before saying, “that was my mother’s favorite hymn.”

He gave a start and turned to face me, “was it?” he asked in a nervous voice.

“Yes, she used to sing it to me every night,” I sat down in a chair by the fire. “I have very beautiful memories with that song, and you played it so beautifully.”

 “I beg pardon for using the piano without permission,” he said, “and for occupying the room. I can leave,” he rose to go.

“There is no need,” I stopped him, “I don’t mind and you are free to continue if you are not bothered my presence.”

“I’m not,” he softly said. “Is there anything you particularly want?”

I knew he was talking about music, but suddenly I wondered if perhaps I might ask him for advice about my dilemma. At forty seven he had lived through enough of life to understand at least some things about love.

“Colonel White, may I ask your advice on a matter?” I blurted out. His eyes registered surprise.

“If you think I can give you any, Miss Rose.”

“Colonel White, what would you do if you loved someone and someone loved you back, but you were afraid to let your feelings show because you didn’t know where this love may take you? What do you do when your feelings are at war within you and you don’t know if you should take the easy way out, or fight for your love, even if you may get wounded in the process?”

Colonel White didn’t answer right away, he sat deep in thought for so long that I began to feel silly for ever having asked him in the first place.

“Never mind, Colonel Sir,” I said, blushing, “it was just the silly question of a foolish girl.”

Colonel White rose from his seat, “if you want my advice, Miss Rose, here it is, treasure love while it lasts, but do not abuse it. Because there may come a day when it will be taken away, and you want to be left with beautiful memories, not bitter regrets.” He kissed my hand and hurried out of the room.

***

That afternoon, a dispatcher arrived with a message for Colonel White and presently the colonel sought me out as I was hanging up a load of laundry.

“Miss Rose,” he addressed me, “I have been told to go to the Thompson Plantation and will remain there with Sawnders troops until more concrete orders. I assume you will be happy get rid of us at last.”

“Quite the contrary, Colonel sir,” I softly said, “I shall be quite sorry to lose you. For the first time in a long time I felt safe. I knew no harm would come to me while you were here.”

“Miss Rose,” he took a step closer to me, his voice filled with earnest concern, “if I could, I would place you under my protection, but you must be a part of the Union for me to do that.”

I looked at him, “I’m afraid I cannot join the Union, sir.”

“Why not? I can see plain as day you do not support slavery, and it would seem you care nothing for this war at all. What difference would it be whose side you are on?”

“Colonel White, you are very kind, but you see, my cousin is out there in the war, and he is fighting for the Confederacy. No matter how much I disagree with the war, to join the Union I would have to go against my cousin., and I could never do that. He is family, the only family I have, and family has to stick together.  I cannot turn traitor just for the sake of my safety.”

“But why side with a cause you do not believe.”

“It is a matter of principle, sir. When my cousin returns home I don’t want him to think of me as the enemy. I offer help to anyone in need who comes knocking at my door, but I will not officially become a part of the Union. I do this for the sake of unity in my family. This war has divided an entire nation; I will not allow it to tear this household apart as well.”

He was very disappointed by my answer; I could tell by the way he turned his head a little.

“I’m sorry, sir,” I added, feeling a little bad for having to turn him down.

“Don’t be, Miss Rose,” he smiled at me, “if there is a quality I admire it is loyalty, and your loyalty to your cousin is commendable.” He was silent for a few seconds; then pulled a colt revolver out of his gun holder. “Miss Rose, do you know how to use this?”

“No.” I took a step back from the horrible weapon. Memories of Uncle Andrew pointing something similar at Sammy flashed through my mind. “I’ve never held a gun in my life.”

“No matter, I will teach you”

I protested, “Colonel Sir, I could never.”

“Miss Rose, you told me you were fighting a war on two fronts, don’t you think it only fair you fight it with a weapon?”

“George has two of my uncle’s rifles, sir, and he knows how to use them.”

“George can shoot out of rifles all he damn…begging pardon Miss, all he wants. I want you to have a weapon on you.”

I watched closely as he demonstrated how to properly aim and fire. When his finger pulled the trigger took a step back in fright, but nothing happened.

Colonel White laughed, “it isn’t loaded, Miss Rose. Here, now you try.”

“I could never do that, sir.”

“Of course you could,” he argued.

I clumsily took the gun and with his help, managed to fire it. He made me do it several times to make sure I got the hang of it.

“There, see, it isn’t very difficult,” he smiled, “just be careful with it when it is loaded.” He removed the laundry tub from the stool, sat down and pulling out a bag took out paper cartridges and slipping them into the six slots.

“But I who says I shall be able to get whatever it is I am firing at? I don’t know how to aim very well.”

“You don’t need to. Miss Rose, for now I am only six miles away. If you are ever in danger, fire two quick shots into the air, and I will send help.”

I knit my eyebrows together, “Colonel White, why are you doing this? It goes against all the rules of war.”

He looked up and our eyes met. I could see him battling with himself and for a minute I was sure he would confess to me, but at the last moment he changed his mind. “Because I do not believe in the new policy of total war,” he said, “if we cannot win this war fighting it as honest soldiers, then we have no business fighting it. I believe in the cause I am fighting for, Miss Rose, I do not want to see this country fall apart and I do not want people to be enslaved just because they are of a different skin color. That being said, I will fight this war with dignity and honor. I am neither robber nor thief, I am an officer with a strict code of conduct. Miss Rose, my actions may confuse you, but this is my way of amending…amending the way the Union Army has treated you. Of course, I would appreciate if you wouldn’t talk about it. Many may think my motives as suspicious and even treacherous.”

“Colonel White, you can have faith in my discretion.”

“Thank you, Miss Rose.” He bowed and walked away.

“Why didn’t you tell me the full truth,” I whispered once he was gone, “are you really so afraid I will turn you away? Should I tell you I know or wait for you to confess to me? And if the truth were to come out, would it get really tense between us? Or awkward perhaps? Can you handle the idea of me knowing the truth? Can I handle it?” With these questions I turned back to the laundry and soon had it all hung up. A headache had been plaguing me for a while now and I decided to go to my room and sleep it off. On my way I was confronted by Sammy.

“Did you get my note?” He asked me.

“I did,” I uneasily replied, searching for a way of escape. Of course there was none.

“Have you thought about what I wrote you?”

“I’m still thinking about it,” I faltered, “I don’t…don’t have an answer for you just yet.”

“Well, you’ve got about thirty seconds to come up with one, because we’re heading right now. Sarah, this is war, what if I die tomorrow? What if this is the last time you are seeing me? Don’t waste the precious moments, use them while they are still here.”

Oh, he really knew how to use the right words. Blast that stupid headache, it was clouding up my already foggy thoughts. I hesitated for a few seconds, my head at war with my heart, and then I gave in. Grabbing his collar, I pulled his face to my level, kissed him.

Sammy was a lot better at handling unexpected kisses then I could ever be. Though his eyes widened from surprise, his hands slipped around my waist and pulled me closer to him. When the kiss came to its end he didn’t let me go, instead he buried his head in my shoulder. I let my arms go around his neck.

“Fine, you win,” I murmured into his ear, “I do love you and I won’t try to hide it anymore.”

“You promise,” he asked, gently releasing me and looking into my eyes.

“I promise,” I gave a weak smile, “and you have to promise me you’ll stay safe and stay alive, because your death would kill me.” With those words I gently released myself from his grasp, ran up the stairs and disappeared into my little room, but not before I heard him say to himself, “who would have thought, the colonel proved to be right.”

What did he mean by that? What did Colonel White have to do with any of this?

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