Arthur's words caught me completely off guard and I didn’t know how to handle them. I shook my head, trying to say something, but found I had quite lost my ability to speak.
Arthur had grown so much in the past year. Granted, he was thinner than when he had left, but his muscles had grown, his legs were sturdier, and something had replaced the boyish look in his eyes, something serious and mature.
“Bless my soul,” Elsie was the first to find her voice, “where in heaven’s name did you come from?”
“Didn’t you hear what I just said?” He asked. “It’s the beginning of the end of the war!”
“And you ran all this way to tell us that?” Elsie lifted an eyebrow.
“Could at least say thank you and offer me a drink of water,” Arthur retorted. His words brought me back to my senses, and I ran over and threw my arms around the boy.
“Dear, dear Arthur, where have you been this past year?” I asked. “Just look at you, you’re no longer that little boy who slipped out the back door. You’re all grown up.” I took him by the shoulders, my eyes glistening with happy tears. “Where did the news come from? And how is it that you have come back here?”
“First get me something to drink,” Arthur demanded.
He plopped down in a chair and I poured him a glass of water. He drank it all in one gulp. Once he had regained his breath, he turned to Elsie and myself, who were eagerly waiting for his story.
“After I slipped out of here I found Mr. Browne and helped him get away from the plantation. He took me with him to Richmond, saying he could use my help and promised to pay me for my service. For the next year I accompanied him on his different scouting missions, more than once we almost got caught, but managed to get away. He was mortally wounded on his last mission and died two days later. Before he died he paid me as promised and told me to go home, thanking me for my service, and saying he would have never made it without me.”
I bit my lip, and a tear stole down my cheek, the last of my former suitors had finally been laid to rest in the ground.
“He had a new will drawn up, you know,” Arthur continued, “he left you the bulk of his farm, and a smaller portion he gave to me.”
“He left me his farm!” I couldn’t believe my ears. “What on earth am I going to do with it? It’s not like I don’t have enough land as it is with this here plantation.” The daunting thought of trying to run both farm and plantation without any capital or resources made my head swim.“Why did he do that?” I softly added.
“He said something to me, I don’t know if I’m supposed to tell you, but I think I should. He said the reason he disappeared back then, before the war, was because he had gotten heavily involved in politics and didn’t have much time to court. When he discovered you were still unmarried he hoped that if he should come through the war alive, he would ask for your hand in marriage. Sadly that didn’t turn out, and he decided to leave you his land, since he didn’t have any close family.”
“Poor Mr. Browne, I hope his soul has found rest,” I whispered.
“Did you come straightway to us after the man died?” Elsie asked.
“Nope, he died on the eve of battle and I stayed around to see what the outcome would be. Watched with my very eyes how General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses Grant. I even saw how Grant allowed Lee to keep his sword and his horse. Then I turned around and ran straight here, and let me tell you, it was a long, dangerous run. But I made it alive and in one piece.”
“Well, I had Mr. Browne’s horse for most of the journey, till some good for nothing white fellow robbed me off him. Nearly killed me too, but I got away. So here I am with the news of the war, now for the love of God, feed me, I’m starving hungry.”
After being so long in male company, Arthur had quite forgotten what sort of behavior to have when in front of Elsie. His words were too much for her, and she burst into a long lecture how even though she was happy Arthur was home an alive, it was wrong of him to let the fact that he had been a servant to an officer get to his head, and how he must be more respectful when talking to his elders. I let the two of them take it from there, remaning in the kitchen long enough to put food and drink in front of Arthur. Then I ran and informed the household that Arthur had returned.
That evening, after the house had finally settled down from the chaos Arthur’s arrival had created, I went to my old room to try and get a grip of all that had happened. Lighting a candle, I pulled out the note Sammy had written me and read it for the hundredth time. I had read it so many times during the past year the creases of the folds were on the verge of tearing. I wondered where Sammy was, hoped he was alive, prayed he was unharmed. I placed the letter on the table, and smoothed out the crinkles in the paper. Next I pulled out the last letter Jeff had sent me, it was in worse shape than Sammy’s letter, being a lot older and thus having been unfolded and refolded a lot more. I still had had no news of Jeff, and I also wondered where he was, hoped he was alive and prayed he was unharmed. Last of all, I pulled out the Colonel White’s handkerchief and put it with the two letters. I then separate the letter from Jeff and placed it a little to the left. Three men I had worried about the most this last year of the war, two were Yanks, one a rebel, two were winners, one was defeated, but at the moment they were all equally lost somewhere out there. I sincerely hoped they weren’t all equally dead, and I also hoped they hadn’t equally killed each other. My one comfort was that soon they would all stop fighting.
Though the war was not officially over, I knew once the news of Lee’s defeat spread, the other generals would surrender as well, and so it was only a matter of time before the war would truly end. Sadly, the end of the war would not mean my troubles were going to disappear. The South and Greensten Plantation were in complete and utter ruin. What would it take for us to pull ourselves back together? How long would the reconstruction process last? The slaves were free, but the white man’s opinion of them down here hadn’t changed much, and I feared for the future, feared that it would take a long, long time before the colored folks were accepted as true equals to white men. I knew it would take more than losing a war for us all to live peacefully together. Men’s hearts had to change before kingdoms did. The only way for a man’s heart to change was for him to turn to God, but as a rule, men preferred to go down the road of destruction instead of the straight and narrow path.
It wasn’t a very positive thought, but I had hope, hope that one day we would all live as brethren and I determined to do my small part to make such a change come about. I would rebuild my life and help others around me rebuild as well, I knew I could do this, because during this war I had proven to myself and others that I was stronger then we all thought.
The civil war hadn’t only been a war between the states; it had been a war inside of me. My past and war with my present, who I was at war with who I could be. Much like England long ago, my own civil war had been a war of the roses.
Once, before the war, I had seen myself as a mystery, something that had to remain hidden, something that could never be discovered. This war had changed all that, details of my past had risen from the ashes of war and secrets I had thought impossible to discover had suddenly come out. The mystery was fading, and with some diligent search and a fair amount of effort, it would be completely gone.
My father had appeared in my life, though of course it was far too late for me to bear his name and I knew I had to remain a Rose, but I could no longer indentify with the blue rose of the past. I had always been half Beverly and half mystery, now I was half Beverly and half White. Perhaps Sammy was right, perhaps I was a white rose after all.
The white rose is a rose bound up in contradiction, being both the rose of the bride and the rose of the deceased, for it adorns funerals with the same consistency as it adorns weddings. White roses symbolize love stronger then death, deep, platonic love, and innocent love. It is the rose of purity and loyalty. It was these very loves that had stuck with me through the war, and I knew that the war inside of me was over, and the white rose had come out the victore
I took the handkerchief and gently pressed the white fabric to my lips. With that kiss I made a promise. I vowed that if Colonel White was alive and if by some miracle he came to my door again, I would tell him everything. Tell him I knew, tell him I forgave, tell him I was ready to accept who he was and give him a chance to be that father he hadn’t been. With this resolution, I put the handkerchief and the letters into my drawer and taking the candle left the room. It was high time for me to go to bed. The future was still uncertain, there was much work to be done, and I needed to regain my strength. I had an entire plantation, plus a farm, and I needed to think of where exactly I was going to get the money and the labor power to get them both up and running. I didn’t know what tomorrow held for me, but I knew that with God’s help, I would be able to face it, just as I had faced each day during this long and difficult war. I promised myself that no matter what the future threw at me, I would never cease to do three things: rebuild, discover and hope. Rebuild my shattered life, discover the missing pieces of my past, and hope that one day, Jeff would finally return home.
This is the end of Book II in the Rose Trilogy. The war is over and the Reconstruction Period is about to begin. There are still many questions to answer and secrets to reveal. I have already begun revising and editing the last book, though there are some plot holes I must work out and it may be a month or more before I begin posting.
Thank you so much for following this story and being so supportive. I love all my readers and I am happy to share this story with you.
Stay in tune for Roses of Red, the last book in the story of Sarah and the Greensten Plantation, I'm really hope to start posting it sometime in the end of March/beginning of April.