Sarah's Roses, Book II: Roses of White

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Chapter XXVII.

Sorry that it is taking me so long to get the updates up, my internet is behaving super weird, and it isn't working 90% of the time. I'm hoping to get it fixed, but that might take a while .

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Chapter XXVII

“Are they gone?” Elsie asked as I came in and threw myself on the bed.

“Yes, they just rode away. Oh Elsie, go have George dig me a grave.”

“Sarah,” Elsie shook her head, “you have got to learn to deal with stress better.”

“I deal with stress just fine,” I argued, “I’m having trouble handling other emotions.”

Elsie chuckled and glanced over at me, “what happened to make you so flushed? You are all red in the face.”

“Am I?” I groaned. “Well, I can’t say it is entirely my fault.”

“Sarah Maybelle Rose,” Elsie rose from her chair, hands on her hips, “did Sam kiss you?”

“I told you to have George dig me a grave,” I moaned, hiding my face in the pillow.

“When are the two of you going to learn to behave like mature grownups?” Elsie walked up and turned me over. “I would have thought you had more sense!”

“Please, Elsie, I don’t want to talk about it right now. Comfort yourself that he’s gone, and it was just one kiss.”

“One kiss! One kiss? This whole disaster started with one kiss! I know my brother; he’ll come back for another one, even if he has to walk through hellfire to get it. Sarah, why have history repeat itself? Which of you is going to get hurt this time?”

I sighed, “I don’t know, Elsie, but I’m guessing we’ll soon find out.”

***

Two days after Colonel White and his men left, George and I set out for the town to see if we could find any supplies. As usual, whenever I came to the town, I asked if there was any mail for me, and as usual there was none. I also checked the lists of the fallen, but Jeff wasn’t among them. They say no news is good news, but that is the greatest lie when it comes to a war. Waiting and not knowing is the worst torture of all. Hoping but dreading at the same time, the feelings eat away at your soul and it is all you can do to keep your mind from going to places it shouldn’t.

Happily, fortune looked down on me at the store and I was able to find flour and cornmeal. I also purchased some beans, but didn’t bother with the overpriced pork. I got rabbits and squirrels from Billy, who had animal traps set up all over the plantation.

Once I had paid for my purchase, I went out to George, who was waiting for me on a little bench just outside the store. We arranged the packages between us and headed for home. It was a long and dangerous walk. George kept the rifle by his side, and I had the colt revolver hidden in a special pocket I had made for it on my dress. It wasn’t exactly comfortable carrying it with me all the time, but I learned not to mind. We were only about half a mile from the house, when the sound of beating horse hooves reached our ears. George set the sack of flower down and grasped the rifle.

“Who goes there?” he called as the horse and rider got closer

“I’m a Confederate officer,” the man replied, “don’t shoot.”

George lowered the rifle a little, but kept his guard up.

“Miss, can you tell me where I am?” The rider asked me.

“On the Greensten Plantation,” I replied.

“Greensten…Greensten…Greensten Plantation! Goodness me, I’m off course,” he mumbled to himself, but loud enough for me to hear. He was quite close now, and I could see his face was unshaven and he had large sacks under his pale blue eyes. His right hand was covered in blood.

“Sir, you are wounded,” I gasped.

“Not seriously,” he assured, “but it being my hand limits me. I pulled the bullet out, but I have nothing with which to bandage it, save this little handkerchief, which isn’t really doing the trick.”

“The house is but half a mile from here,” I said, “come with us and let me dress it. If it gets infected, you could lose your hand, your arm, your life even. Only you should ride on ahead, there is a Yankee regiment six miles from here, on the neighboring plantation, and it is unsafe for you to remain out in the open.”

“Allow me to offer you a ride,” he offered, “I could take you and the supplies you are carrying on the horse. That way we will get there faster.”

I shook my head, “I cannot leave George.”

“You go, Miss Sarah,” George said, “take the supplies and ride with the officer. I’ll go see Billy and see if he any meat to offer.”

“But George, what of the Home Guard,” I argued, “you know they have made a habit of shooting any colored folks walking around.”

“With an entire Yank regiment only six miles way, I don’t think the Home Guard is going dare come around these parts. Don’t worry, Miss Sarah, I’ll be alright.”

My feet were aching from all the walking, so I gave in. The lieutenant, for I could now see that was who he was, helped me up on the horse and we arranged the supplies between us. I had never ridden on a horse with a man before, and it would have been an interesting experience, where it not for the packages that I had trouble hanging on too. I kept a wary eye on the road and surrounding area. Should any of the Yanks see us, it would mean serious trouble. And if one of the Yanks would be Sammy, that would only make it worse. Sammy was generally jealous by nature and the sight of me riding with a Confederate soldier who had his arms around me, well, it could lead to unpleasant consequences.

At last we arrived at the large mansion and the lieutenant helped me off the horse then dismounted himself. Elsie had come out from the sound of the hooves and now stared at the two of us in shock.

“Lord love me,” she stated, “Sarah, have you gone and traded our George from him and the horse?” She pointed to the lieutenant.

I giggled, “no, Elsie, George went to visit Billy. This man is wounded and we need to clean out the wound. Please put some water to boil. Come inside sir,” I motioned for him to follow me. He tied the horse to a post and followed me indoors.

“It would be best if we seared the wound,” he told me, “I desperately need my hand to be in working condition.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” I assured and hurried to the kitchen. “He wants the wound to be seared shut instead of stitched,” I informed Elsie. “It is a faster way of closing it and won’t take a long healing process. Do you think you could do it?”

“Me?” Elsie shook her head, “I’ve got dinner to put on the table. You do it Sarah.”

“I could never!” The idea of me pressing a hot iron to someone’s flesh made me shudder. “I’ve never done anything so dreadful in my life.”

“Well, it is ‘bout time you learned,” Elsie retorted, “it is good experience for you, Sarah. You may need it in the long run. The process is not so difficult. Wash the knife in hot water, put it in the fire, and wait till it gets hot, but not white hot, red hot. Take the knife out of the fire and press it to the wounded flesh till the open flesh becomes one. That’s all there is to it. Here’s the hot water, rip up an old sheet to use as a bandage.”

Arguing with Elsie was pointless, so I braced myself to my bad luck, and taking the hot water returned to the parlor. I motioned for the lieutenant to a chair.

“I hope you will not think me rude for asking,” he said as he placed his hand on the table, “but who dared lift his hand against you?”

I felt myself blushing, I had forgotten that the bruises on my face hadn’t disappeared all the way, “it was a Yankee captain,” I hurriedly explained, “and I was very lucky. Except for beating my face, he did nothing else.” I shuddered at the horrible memory. Taking his hand, I began removing the sloppy bandage, only to discover the dried blood made the handkerchief stick to his wound. “You never told me your name, sir,” I said as wet the bandage with water and began prying it loose.

“My name is James Harper,” he introduced himself, his voice filled with pain, “and you are Sarah Rose, are you not?”

I paused and looked up at him, “I don’ recall giving you my name, sir, how is it that you know it?”

“I’ve heard a lot about you, Miss Rose, from a captain I knew once, Jeffrey Greensten was his name. I believe he was a cousin of yours.”

My heart skipped a beat and I nearly clutched the wounded hand, but remembered in time and thus spared Lt. Harper from unnecessary pain. “You knew Jeff? Oh Mr. Harper, do you have any idea what has become of him? The last I had any letter from Jeff was back in ’62.”

“Captain Greensten was shot at the battle of Gettysburg,” Lt. Harper told me, “I don’t know if it was fatal or not. I saw him fall from his horse, and then a couple of men rushed up and then they carried him away. My orders took me elsewhere before I could enquire what became of him.”

“Gettysburg, but that is only half a year ago. To think he was alive half a year ago. Oh surely he cannot be dead, if they carried him away, they could have carried him to a hospital, could they not?”

He shrugged, “anything is possible, Miss Rose.”

To think this man had seen Jeff, to think he had at least some kind of news about him. No, Jeff couldn’t be dead, it took more than a bullet wound to kill Jeff. I was so excited I found it hard to focus on the task at hand. I washed the wound and with a beating heart seared it shut. I think I burned poor Lt. Harper more than necessary, but he never uttered a noise. He closed his eyes and breathed heavily with a horrible grimace on his face. At last the operation was over, and he let out a deep breath.

“There is…a…flask…in my…saddlebag,” he gasped, “do you think…you…could…bring…it.”

I nodded my head and ran off, returning with the spoken flask. He opened it and drank the liquor inside. He then took a couple more deep breaths before facing me. “I am much obliged, Miss Rose,” he forced a smile to his face, “I didn’t know what I was going to do with this hand. I need to get moving soon, I’ve got to get to headquarters.”

“What are you doing out here exactly?”

“I’m a scout, Miss Rose.”

“Goodness me, what is it that bring all you scouts to my door?” I shook my head in bewilderment, “first Mr. Browne and now you. How many more of your kind should I expect?”

“Mr. Browne? He was here?” Lt. Harper leaned forward a little, “do you know where he is now?”

“No. He came to my door a few days ago, but then the Yanks appeared and he was forced to run. They were chasing him, but they haven’t caught him. I know that much because as of two days ago they lived in my house. They lost his track.”

“Thank God for that,” Lt. Harper was very relieved by my words. “He’s got some vital information that they are after. As for me being at your door, I was also being chased, in the process of which I was wounded. I managed to escape them, only I got lost in the process and have been trying to find my way. These parts are foreign to me, and my map got wet and is ruined. I did ride past two farms, but they were abandoned with not a soul in sight. I didn’t know who to ask for directions and was getting a little desperate when I saw you and the colored fellow walking down the road. To say that you are a true miracle, Miss Rose, would be an understatement. You are nothing short of an angel.”

“Lt. Harper, I beg of you,” the heat rose to my face, “this is the least I can do. And you have no idea what a miracle you are. For so long I’ve been waiting and hoping for some news from or about Jeff, and at last I have it. Did you serve under him?”

“I worked mainly as a spy, Miss Rose, so I don’t really serve with any one regiment. My line of work brought me into contact with Captain Greensten and we served together for several months. He spoke so much about you,” Lt. Harper’s voice became gentle, “said you were the bravest soul on American soil. He kept every single one of your letters and would read them to the men.”

“He would read my letters…out loud?” I didn’t know if I should be flattered or insulted.

Lt. Harper’s smile became very sad, “you have no idea what war is, Miss Rose, how it drains you, empties your spirit, hardens your heart, and makes you less of a man and more of an animal. And just when you are sure you can’t take it anymore, a letter arrives, a letter from home, from your loved ones. There are many different types of letters. Some are filled with the horrible news of what is happening on the home front, some letters are filled with grief and despair, some letters beg you to drop everything and come home. And then there are the letters that tell you to keep going, they remind you the darkness will not last forever, that the light will come. They assure you that you are not forgotten, that you are loved, that you are kept in constant prayer, and that you must live and fight because there is someone waiting for us at home. Each of your letters, Miss Rose, just like that. When the times were rough, when the rain and the mud chilled us and lack of sleep drove us to our wits end, the captain would read a letter and it would fill the men with hope and courage,” Lt. Harper paused. “Of course, Captain Greensten could read in between the lines. He knew you were struggling, Miss Rose, and it caused him a fair deal of stress, especially when the letters stopped coming and he didn’t know how you were. Terrible news was reaching our ears, of life back at home, and not a day went by when I didn’t see the captain silently worry for your safety.”

I wiped a tear away from my eye, “Mr. Harper, as cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country. Thank you so much for your words. Perhaps I don’t know if Jeff is alive, but just knowing a little of how he was brings me such comfort.”

The door opened and George walked in, “Billy gave us some rabbits, I told him I’d pay him with flour.”

“That’s good George,” I nodded my head, “you may take half of what we bought.”

“I also watered the officer’s horse,” George nodded towards Mr. Harper.

“Oh George, you are a saint,” Mr. Harper exclaimed, gratitude and relief filling his eyes. George’s eyes widened at these words, and I let out a giggle.

“I don’t think anyone has ever called George that before. Mr. Harper, it is not safe for you to stay here, the Yanks patrol the area, but before you go allow me to give you some supper.”

“I am much obliged, Miss Rose,” he thanked me, “the captain was right about you. You are not only brave, but kind.”

“I just hope her kindness won’t kill her someday,” George mumbled as he left the room. I knew he wasn’t comfortable with Mr. Harper being here with the Yankees so nearby. The sooner Lt. Harper left, the safer it would be for all of us. But I was determined to feed him first, so I went to see what Elsie had prepared for supper. 

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