Till I Come Marching Home
Summary: Bella and Edward were about to start their lives together after having grown up down the road from one another in the farmland outside of New Bern, North Carolina. But on the fateful day in the Spring of 1861 when North Carolina secedes from the Union, they find themselves separated by a war that is fought in their own backyards as she is left to hold their way of life together on the home front with his letters as her only consolation, until he comes marching home.
A/N: This fic has been a long time coming. I've always loved history, and the Civil War era is one of my favorite times to study, so after a lot of effort, I was finally able to get a piece together that I liked and finish the first chapter. This will be continued later in the year, but may not be right away, so put me on alert so you can catch when this story continues. Huge thanks to Rosalynn, for making this banner for me way back in the day, to Mizzdee for being the awesome beta/wifey that she is, and to my Nan, for instilling a love of Gone with the Wind and several other Civil War era movies and books, they were the seeds that spawned this fic. Lastly, thank you for donating to this charity, this is a happy ending that I'm honored to help be a part of.
The sun began to rise over the stream that gave Swan Creek its name. The house already bustled with activity as Miss Swan helped Mrs. Sue with the morning meal. Mr. Swan was out on the porch, speaking with their overseer, Mr. Black, while Mrs. Swan instructed the house hands.
As a smaller farm in eastern North Carolina, the Swan's weren't able to afford the high price of keeping slaves, so they opened up a small portion of their property to some of the members of the Cherokee Nation, offering them a parcel of their peoples' land in exchange for their work on the farm. Masen Valley, which was larger and able to use slaves, sat down the lane and offered the Swan's something that brought them much joy. A daughter to play with their Isabella, and more important than that, a son both families hoped would marry Miss Swan, joining their families forever.
The early morning activity was due to the visit of not only the Masen's, but also their kin from New Bern. Isabella Swan and Edward Masen had been courting for a year now and the attachment was expected to become official that evening. As the family worked through the morning chores, there was a sense of excitement in the air that only grew when Isabella stopped to get ready for her company. Mrs. Sarah, Mr. Black's wife, was up in the young mistress' room, helping her get everything in order for the arrival.
"Miss Bella, don't you be moving, or your hair will come down halfway through dinner." Mrs. Sarah sat her back down, finishing the pinning of her curls. It was at that moment that the horses could be heard coming down the path that cut through the front of the property and had Miss Bella back out of her seat. Bella's hands were poised to put the final touch on her appearance when Mrs. Sarah interrupted her. "If you pinch those cheeks, you'll look like a field hand the moment he comes into view."
Bella blushed and realized the truth in Mrs. Sarah's words. Gathering her skirts for her descent down the stairs, Bella made her entrance into the foyer just before Mrs. Sue opened the door. The Swan's stood together, ready to receive their guests, but even more anxious for the arrival of the Cullen's, which would surely delay any announcement.
As the old friends were shown to the parlor for tea, Isabella sat with Alice, while the mothers took the settee and the men sat round the table at the front of the room. The occasional glance was stolen between Edward and his Isabella, but as time for supper neared and there was no sign of the rest of their dining party, Alice Masen began to worry.
"I wish my aunt and uncle and the King's would arrive, I'm most excited for you to be named my kin for good and all. I only wish this talk of war would cease, it's most upsetting."
Isabella nodded, not interested in the talk of war that had spread like wildfire as more states seceded from the Union. Just when Miss Bella began to wonder if supper would have to be delayed, the distinct sounds of Dr. Cullen's carriage could be heard coming to a stop out front. Miss Bella was quick to stand, making her way to the door and opening it to admit her guests.
"Good day, Miss Bella. I'm awful sorry for the late arrival, but the streets of New Bern are so full of commotion we started to worry that we'd never clear the crowd." Carlisle Cullen tipped his hat as he walked in, his wife, Esme, on his arm. Behind them were Mr. & Mrs. King, the Cullen's daughter and son-in-law.
"That's quite all right. I'm glad you were able to make it, but if it's as bad as you say, maybe we could offer you someplace to stay tonight." Bella turned to see her mother nod in approval as they all entered the parlor once more so the newly arrived guests could rest before supper.
Mrs. Sue came in with a fresh pot of tea and Bella started to tend to her guests. She poured the tea as Mr. Masen addressed his brother-in-law. "What happened in town to cause such an uproar?"
Carlisle looked darkly at the other men gathered 'round the table. "The only thing that gets people this excited these days, North Carolina joined the Confederacy. News came down this morning, they're calling up volunteers."
At Carlisle's mention of the Confederacy, Bella's hand slipped and she burned herself on the hot liquid. Quickly excusing herself, Bella fled through the house and onto the back porch.
Dreams of fighting had filled her Edward's head since the first mention of war breaking out. She feared the worst when it came to his going to war, but also his feelings on marrying before he would join up. The one mention of the war's effect on their engagement had not been a pleasant conversation and she did not wish to revisit it.
That was not something she could avoid as her quiet moment was interrupted by her love. "Miss Bella, are you okay? Mrs. Sue wanted me to give you this to tend to the burn." He handed her the cool cloth and she wrapped her hand before turning away again. "Sweetheart, what upset you so about my uncle's news?"
"I need you to go back in there and make the announcement. Tell them all that you wish for us to be wed as soon as possible."
"Bella, I won't rush our marriage. This is a small thing, it will be over in a matter of weeks now that we've banded together. The gentlemen of the South will ride out to meet those Yanks and be home in a month, six weeks at the most."
Bella felt the panic rise as her head shook as violently as her hands, her breaths coming out in pants. "It's not that simple, what if you're gone years? I…I don't need a big w…wedding. I just want to be your wife."
Edward stepped closer to Bella, trying to soothe her anxiety. "Bella, you deserve a proper wedding. Our fathers agree that it would be best to wait. We'll leave in the morning with the Cullen's and the Kings to volunteer."
Isabella's head shot up at the news, driven into an even bigger tizzy. "What? No. Oh Lord in heaven. No, please…you…you…"
Miss Bella's ramblings were cut off by her swoon as she fainted, easily caught by her beau. "Miss Bella? Darling?" he spoke quietly to her before he called out to the gathering still taking place inside. "Uncle! Uncle, come quick!"
Carlisle was through the house and on the porch in a moment, looking at the unconscious young woman in his nephew's arms. "Her father might shoot you for kissing his daughter like that."
"I wasn't kissing her, uncle, we were talking about postponing the wedding until I return home and she got upset and fainted."
"Carry her up with Mrs. Sarah." He turned to the woman and nodded to her, following behind Edward after calling to Mrs. Sue for a few things he'd need from the kitchen.
For the first time since they were children, Edward entered Miss Bella's bedroom and took in the changes that had been made to it. Laying her on the bed, Carlisle looked her over until Mrs. Sue and Mrs. Swan came into the room. "I need you to get her out of that dress and corset, I'm sure it isn't doing anything for her breathing. We'll wait outside 'til you have her prepared."
The men waited in the hall until Mrs. Sue came to get them, but Carlisle closed the door in Edward's face as soon as he cleared the doorframe. Seeing her already pinking up, it took another minute and a whiff of some smelling salts to rouse Miss Bella, who was more mortified than hurt. Carlisle eased her worries and suggested that she take supper in her room, an idea that her mother agreed with. When Bella tried to fight it, it being her first time hosting guests, her mother assured her that there would be other gatherings and the war talk had dampened the mood. "Why don't Miss Alice and Mrs. King dine with you, that way you can still entertain your friends?"
With her mother's suggestion, Bella relaxed and she was left to rest until supper. As they exited, Edward made a move to check on her, but Carlisle stopped him. "She's resting; you can speak to her on the morrow."
"Please, Uncle, she's my-"
Carlisle leveled a harsh look at his nephew and interrupted him. "Your what? Have you altered your plans on making that girl wait until after the war? Because if you have not, then you are no more than her beau and I won't have you ruin her reputation by going into her room when she's in a state of undress. Now, I think it best that you go back to your talk of war. I'm going to ease the minds of the rest of the party."
With his dismissal, Edward returned to the conversation with the men, while Carlisle sat alone, reading the Swan's copy of the Bible as the women sat around with their knitting until supper, when Miss Alice and Mrs. King left to eat with Bella. The three chatted happily, and none of them spoke about the conversation that had upset Bella outside, all of them knowing the only thing that could cause it.
The evening passed and soon the guests gathered for prayers before bed. Edward was shown to the room he always stayed in when spending the night at Swan Creek, but his mind couldn't help but travel down to the opposite end of the hall where Bella was still in her room.
The following morning came quicker for some at Swan Creek than others and before her companions were awake, Bella had Mrs. Sarah help her into her clothes so she could get started on breakfast. After most of the meal was prepared, she excused herself to get some fresh air before the others were down to enjoy the meal. Another early riser was cutting through the kitchen, hoping to have a private moment with Bella before the rest of the house was up. Finding only Mrs. Sue and her daughter, Miss Leah, he went out back, seeing the familiar silhouette sitting on the bench beneath the weeping willow. Edward walked out to meet her, cautious of startling her after yesterday. "Good morning, Miss Bella."
"Good morning, Edward."
Unsure of what to say, he began with the obvious. "Are you well, sweetheart?"
"I am. I'm sorry for giving you such a fright. I'm sure it wasn't easy on you." She finally looked up to meet his eyes. "I'm sorry for the way I acted as well. It's no way to treat a future soldier of the Confederacy."
Edward knew well enough to know that wasn't her speaking, but her Pa and it bothered him to see her bend her opinion to the will of anyone. "When did your Pa speak to you?"
"Last night, after prayers. But he's right. I shouldn't send you into battle feeling guilty. I need you to come home to me, so I have to give you a clear conscience to leave-"
Never having the strength to withstand her tears, he pulled her to him, shushing her gently as he spoke. "Bella, I will be coming back. Don't even think on that. And I'll give you my company name so we can write each other till I come marching home. And I will, Miss Bella, because I meant the things I told you. I want to work with your father to make this one of the best farms in the county. I want us to have a house in town and I want our children to be celebrated by the best in society. I just have to do this first. Please, say you understand?"
"Of course, just hurry back to me." Bella's tears had stopped and Edward leaned down to kiss her forehead.
"I will be home as soon as this is over. Now, I think we best go inside before you catch a chill. I was worried sick yesterday when my uncle wouldn't let me see about you."
Miss Bella giggled as they walked back towards the house. "He thinks you're being romantic about the wrong thing. He's promised Pa to look in on Ma and me when he comes to see Alice and Mrs. Masen. Pa's also speaking to Mr. Clearwater about moving his family up to the house, just so we have the other bodies close by."
"Good, I'll sleep easier knowing you're cared for. It was a smart thing your Pa did going to them back when he started this farm, they're loyal because he's given them a bit of their people's land and let them work it. He's a fair man to them; my father's too focused on the bottom line to go for something like that."
The two reentered the house in time for Miss Bella to help with the serving of breakfast. Edward joined the others as Bella brought out the food with Mrs.' Sarah and Sue and Miss Leah. After pouring the tea, Bella sat across from Edward and they began their meal.
Several glances were shared over the meal and when it was time for the parties heading to New Bern to leave, all were surprised to see Mr. King join the carriage going to the volunteer camp instead of the one headed to town.
Once they were left to their own devices. Alice claimed Bella to work on some sewing in the privacy of Bella's room. "What happened between you and Edward this morning? Y'all seemed better during breakfast. Did you make up? Did he kiss you out by your tree?"
"Alice!" Bella hushed her friend and returned to her sewing. "No, he didn't kiss me, but we did work things out. Now I need to finish this if I'm going to have your brother's uniform ready."
"You're making his uniform? Oh Bella, please say I can make him a shirt to go with it, you know I'm slower than you, but I should be able to have it done in the time it takes you to finish those pieces."
"Pa said that most men wear their own shirts, so I hadn't thought of making one, but it'd be nice for him to have a new one. He'll be proud as a peacock to wear a uniform made by his girls." Both laughed at Edward's term of endearment for them. These pieces were meant to have a different purpose, but it was easy to make the grey suit into a uniform with the spare material. A few alterations to the front of the jacket and it would be fit for a general.
Day turned to night without the men's return, so Bella and Alice once again spent the night bunking together, staying up part of the night to get the garments underway. It was midday before they returned to Swan Creek, where they stopped in for a meal before returning home.
While he was still there, Bella stole Edward away to have him try on his new clothing. He exited the guest room and Bella checked the hems and cut of the coat, pleased that it was so close to his size. "Miss Bella, this is wonderful, how did you ever get it done so fast?"
Isabella sighed before straightening up and picking at the jacket. "It was meant to be worn at our wedding, but with a few changes to the front panel it'll do fine. And Alice made the shirt. Be sure to thank her, she worked so hard to make you something to go with the uniform."
"Her sewing's getting better; I know that's thanks to you. Take care of her for me. Ma will be a wreck with Pa and me gone, so keep her close."
Isabella reached out to squeeze his hand. "I will. She's the sister of my heart, so I'll keep her out of mischief. But you don't worry on us, just be careful."
Edward nodded and then led her down to the parlor where everyone was gathered once again. He was quick to show off his love's handiwork and complimented his sister on the handsome shirt she'd made him. Soon the Masen's were off home and in five days they'd be meeting again as the men left for training.
In those days, both farms were working double to prepare for the departure and the Clearwater's were officially moved into the servants' quarters in the main house. Miss Bella worked from sun up until well after twilight, crying herself to sleep most of the nights.
When the day arrived, Dr. Cullen came in to drive them, Mr. King reluctantly at his side. Mr. Swan told Edward to take a few minutes to say good-bye to his daughter, so Edward walked out to the weeping willow to say his farewell.
"Bella, please don't cry. I'll be home to you. Now, your Ma said you had something for me, why don't you give it to me, so I can give you a gift as well."
Bella reached next to the bench to hand him a bundle. "There are a few new shirts and a keepsake."
"Keepsake?" Edward opened the top of the package to see the small travel frame, the left side holding a photograph of her and the right had a lock of her hair. "Bella, these are wonderful. Truly, the best gift you could have given me. Would you like your gift?"
"Please." Her nodding stopped as he held out the envelope for her.
"My company information is in there so you can write to me, although you shouldn't need it too long. I may get home before the first letter ever reaches me. But anyway, it's all there, as is my first letter. Be strong, my love." Edward leaned in and claimed Bella's lips, a shock that was quickly won over by fear. The kiss was passionate and frightened, for neither knew when they'd see each other again. It ended when Edward feared she may faint from his kiss, placing a second kiss on her forehead before righting himself.
"I love you, Edward."
"I love you, Miss Bella."
They rejoined the families, where Edward packed his last items away and all said their farewells. Mr. Masen and Edward Jr. were first in the carriage, but with one last kiss for his girls', Charles Swan was with them, on their way to training before the fighting began.
Bella was feeling melancholy and retired early, opening the letter from Edward.
May 27th 1861
My Dearest Bella,
I know that this good-bye was hard on you, saying good-bye to you is one of the hardest things I will ever do. But know that I will keep that promise, and we will have our future. You mean the world to me, I will do anything to protect you and our way of life, so please be strong, and soon we will be wed. I will be counting the days until you are my wife.
Uncle Carlisle will stop in to see you and I hope to hear from you soon. I know your words will be the thing to get me through this. I must end this letter so I can leave to see you. I needed you to have this short note to keep near while we are apart.
Edward Masen Jr.
As the paper fell to her vanity, Bella climbed into bed, and prayed for Edward and her father's fast return.