Title of Story: Four Days in July
Word Count: 12,000
Type of Edward: Civil Warward
Category: Young Adult
Story Summary: Isabella finds herself alone on her Gettysburg farm when war literally breaks out in her backyard. What will she do when a wounded soldier appears?
Standard Disclaimer: The author does not own any publicly recognizable entities herein. No copyright infringement is intended.
July 2, 1863
I could hear the thundering roar of the battle rising over the ridge. With each explosion, little motes of dirt drifted down from the earthen walls that surrounded me. Gasping, I hunkered down, hiding in the root cellar under my little home, hoping that I would be safe. Earlier, I had seen smoke rising in the east, not of nature's making, but from the unceasing firing of rifles and cannon. In the distance, I could also hear the shouts of men and the screams of horses as a hellish cacophony descended upon my farm.
All I could do was hide, pray, and remember.
It had begun as a small cloud puffing up out on the far horizon during the spring of my seventeenth year. There had been some political talk about State's Rights and the plight of the Negro, but selfishly, I cared little for any of that. Pennsylvania was a free state, populated by small farms, villages, and a few distant cities, so these problems were foreign to me.
But I clearly recalled hearing the snap of the newspaper that cold, winter's evening as my father folded back the page and read with a horrified voice, "South Carolina has seceded! This means war!"
In those days, I was still a giddy girl and my first thought at the news was only how many partners less I'd have at the summer house parties I would be invited to. After Johnny Reb fired upon Fort Sumter, war was eventually declared. That little black cloud of fear suddenly blossomed into a thunderhead, though it was still far off in a distant land. I worried for the gentlemen in my town who chose to answer Mr. Lincoln's call to arms and joined in the fervent prayers for their safety.
For a while, life went on as usual. Father would farm his fields, and grumble over the paper, while Grandmother and I ran our household, attending the same old quilting bees we always had, except now we knitted socks and sewed shirts. True, there were many boys from our town who went to war, but other than their absence, our lives were the same.
At first, the Union lost battle after battle due to the wily tactics of the turncoat, Robert E. Lee, the leader of the Confederate Army. Well into the war's second year, my father became more and more agitated. Once the fall harvest of '62 had passed, he declared to my grandmother and me that he was duty-bound to go and fight. Far from being just a cloud on the horizon, fear had now darkened my whole sky.
That first winter alone, we were in good stead as Father had left us well-placed in food and firewood. We'd receive word from him now and again; sometimes not hearing anything for weeks and then receiving a bundle of letters all at once. We bided in our little home and I became less of a girl and more of a woman. Worry, I think, will do that.
Pa hadn't returned to do the planting in the spring as he had hoped, but after conferring with my grandmother, we decided only to raise what we'd be able to store in our cellar. Planting out cash crops was too big an endeavor for an old woman and an inexperienced girl and there were no men to hire to do it for us.
So, we tottered along doing as well as we could, until fear came directly over our doorstep. One morning in late June, my grandmother, who had been feeling poorly for weeks, couldn't arise from her bed. I summoned the doctor and after his examination, he declared our little farm under quarantine. My grandmother had the Typhoid and it was thought that I would surely get it, too. The doctor nailed a card on our door warning off folks. Fear was no longer a cloud covering the sky, it now shrouded me as a fog covered the world on a grey morning.
For a solid week, I constantly tended Grandma, struggling to ease her pain and praying that she survived-but it was not to be. Though I hadn't yet caught the disease, the doctor said that sometimes the symptoms didn't show until weeks after the contagion had occurred. I was still quarantined. I could not even attend Grandma's hasty funeral.
However, I had no time to grieve. My young cousin, Jacob, would come by to check on me but, of course, he couldn't enter my house. He'd stand on the porch and we'd talk through the door as he gave me news, and more often it was dreadful than not.
June 29, 1863
A few days after my grandmother's funeral, he told me, "Bella, the Rebs are coming!"
"Well, to Pennsylvania, at least. They say General Lee himself is on the way!"
Suddenly, my heart felt as though it was in a vise. "But we have so few Union soldiers here! What shall we do?"
"Word has it that General Meade's bringing our army to confront him."
Wringing my hands, I said, "This is bad news, indeed. What are you going to do, Jacob?"
"Many fools are leaving town, but my father says no one has any idea where the battle will actually be. They could be jumping from the frying pan into the fire. We're staying."
Jacob left leaving me feeling somewhat relieved, but I decided to prepare just the same. I couldn't easily leave the farm. Besides still being quarantined (thus no one would take me up with them), I had a farm to see to. I harvested as many vegetables as I could, and put most of them in the root cellar. I turned the cows and work horses out to pasture and hoped marauding soldiers on either side wouldn't find them. I knew the cows would be taken for slaughter if they were discovered. Our horses would be used to pull cannon and wagons on the battlefield, for certain. I did the best that I could by them and then turned my attention to my own safety.
I set about provisioning the root cellar. I moved an old bed-tick down there, with an oil lamp, a slop bucket and a big cask of water. The last thing I placed there was my father's old musket. It was a front loader and I couldn't shoot it very well, but I knew how. It would be better than just having a kitchen knife to defend myself if needed.
I was fortunate because our cellar was entered from a trap door in the floor of our house, not from the outside. Unless you knew to roll up the rug in the front room, you'd not see it was there. I tacked the rug to the floor, so that it would fall back in place once I pulled the door closed behind me.
July 1, 1863
I'd done as much as I could and just in time. Two days later, I heard a shout and peered out of the window to see rows of the enemy marching down the highway towards town. A few coming up from behind the main group, peeled off and started toward my farmstead.
Fear gave my feet wings and I dashed down the cellar stairs, closing the trap door and sliding the bolt home. Then I huddled on the pallet, fearing even to light my lantern. I jumped when I heard steps climb onto the front porch and knock on the door.
"Is anyone here-about?" I heard shouted.
Of course I didn't answer.
"What does this here card say?"
"I cain't make it out but it looks like a notice."
"Q-U-A-R-E-N-T-I-N-E and some other such. Maybe someone's sick here 'bouts?"
I heard the door open. I hadn't locked it because I knew it'd just be broken down.
"Yoo Hoo! Anybody home?"
I heard boots stomp over my head. By now I was shaking, trying my hardest not to sob.
"Don't look like no one's here."
"Sick or not, they may have runned off when they saw us acomin'."
"The coals are still warm. They was here sometime today."
"P'raps they's in the barn?"
"Go on and look. I'll see what's worth keeping in here. Be careful lest someone has a gun."
I heard one of them leave by the back door and the man left in the house started to rummage around. Drawers were opened and rifled. There was an exclamation of satisfaction when a helpful discovery was made.
Soon, the other returned and said, "Cain't find no one but the yard's full of chickens and there's some cattle out in the pasture. A good sized wagon's in the barn, as well."
"Found two loaves of bread, some corn meal, and some sorghum here but not much else. Did you see a cellar?"
I thought my heart would stop at those words.
"Naw. This house is on pillars. There must be a shed or something where they keep they vittles."
"Well, get a rope on those cattle, harness some to the wagon and I'll see if I can grab a few of them chickens and put them in a sack. Anything ripe for pickin'?"
"Naw. Seems the garden's done been harvested. Cap'n has to be satisfied with what we found."
I waited the rest of the afternoon until I could be sure they were gone. When I emerged, I expected there to be mayhem in the house but it was very much as I left it, less some food that was in the press. It its place, however, were two dollars in silver. I was surprised at that. Two dollars wasn't enough to replace what they took but it certainly was more than I expected. I hadn't heard that Confederates had scruples.
I peeped through the shutters and didn't see anything else moving, but needing to be cautious, I stayed within. I put out the fire, not planning to give more visitors a hint to my existence. I was too fearful to mourn the loss of our livestock. I didn't want to think how I'd get through the winter without them.
The next morning, I heard distant gunfire coming from the north accompanied by the thunder of cannon-fire and I knew that a battle had begun. I jumped with each rattle of musketry and blast of cannons. Hopefully, they wouldn't get closer.
Occasionally, a rider would dash hell-for-leather down the highway but they paid my farm no notice. Later on, I saw another phalanx of men approaching from the south. I retreated into my cellar once more, but this time no scavengers stopped in. They had fighting to do, I supposed.
After they had passed, I ventured out once more. I found that staring into the dark of the cellar fanned my fears to greater heights, so it was best to stay out of it until necessary.
I could hear the battle getting closer as the day wore on. I wanted to see what I could and so I climbed the ladder to the loft, in order to peer out of its small window but I couldn't see much, just smoke in the direction of the fighting.
July 2, 1863
The next morning, I was startled away by a terrific blast. I had slept down in the cellar, to be sure of my safety if something came my way in the night. I looked around in a panic when suddenly another explosion made the very boards my house was built of shake and shudder as though it was in the grip of a tempest.
I curled up then, holding my knees close to my chest as my ears were assaulted by an unearthly roar of death and disaster. I couldn't help the tears that sprang to my eyes and I prayed every prayer I knew. Fear gripped my throat and throttled my breath for now the battle was overtaking my little home. If a cannonade landed here, I would be doomed.
I shook and shuddered for hours, not knowing exactly how much danger I was in. The shouts, screams, explosions, and the rattle of firearms echoed through my soul until, finally, a tremendous explosion seemed to erupt directly in the cellar with me.
I screamed and knew nothing else for a long while.
When my senses found me again, I wasn't quite sure where I was until, after scrabbling in the dark, I remembered. There had been a battle, but it was quiet now. I tested my limbs and was relieved to find no injury and so I decided I needed to get out of this self-imposed tomb.
After locating the tin of Lucifer matches, I lit the lantern and was pleased to see that the cellar was in good order. I listened closely and could hear nothing that would indicate there was anyone else in the house. Sliding the bolt back, I pushed the trap door open a crack and peered out.
It was dark.
I could hear crickets and the faint call of night birds but nothing else. I carefully laid the trap door back and crept out of the cellar. Standing in the middle of my shuttered house, I held up the lantern and could see that a whirlwind must have passed through. Had we been hit by a cannonball? No, the walls and roof seemed sturdy enough.
I made my way through the overturned furniture, broken plates, and books strewn across the floor to the open front door. Men must have come through while I was blessedly unconscious. I quietly shut the door and turned up the lamp. The shutters would keep its light from showing through the windows.
I stooped to pick up a basket of mending that had been kicked across the floor when I heard a groan coming from what had been my grandmother's bedroom. Frightened half out of my wits, I froze in place, my heart beat so hard that my vision faded to black. What was in that room? Rather, who was in the room?
I didn't think to go down and get my father's old gun out of the cellar, so I grabbed a knife that had been knocked to the floor with the other cutlery. Creeping as silently as I could towards the bedroom door, I jumped when I heard a groan again.
I asked, "Wh-who's there?"
There was no response.
Gathering my courage, I held the lantern up so that I could see inside and my heart almost stopped in fear.
There was an injured man lying across Grandma's bed. His leg had a crude bandage on it that showed some blood seeping through. He was only wearing a shirt and light colored trousers with buff colored boots. I drew closer and asked, "Who are you? What are you doing here?"
The man's eyes sprung open and he stared in shock when he saw me. Grappling for some purchase, he tried to sit up but it was beyond him and he only fell back mumbling, "Water."
I took a few steps closer, careful to keep out of his reach and studied him. His wound had been bandaged haphazardly and his pallor was an unhealthy shade. He twisted a little on the bed and groaned once more.
Shrugging, I pondered what I should do. Should I run to get help? No. There were bound to be other soldiers about and I doubt any of my neighbors would be willing to come.
Should I simply lock myself back into the cellar and let him be? Oh, please no. I couldn't bear the thought of climbing back down into that dark pit.
I turned the lantern to its brightest and studied the intruder.
He was tall, barely fitting upon the bed, and clean shaven, though I'd hazard it had been a day or so since his face had seen a razor. The planes of his face were strong; a firm jaw, high cheek bones, thick eyebrows, full lips, and a noble brow. His hair was abundant and his body lean, but fit.
I wondered where he was from. Was he a Yankee? Could he possibly be a Confederate? I couldn't tell from his clothing. He wore no jacket and his shirt hadn't any markings. His nondescript trousers were dirty and bloodstained so a color was hard to fathom.
He moaned again, mumbling something, and started to thrash. I began to fear he'd do himself more damage as well as my grandmother's counterpane that he was lying upon. I couldn't bear to have him destroy something that dear woman had labored so hard to make. He was too big for me to remove from my house but perhaps I could get him off of my grandma's quilt.
I pulled and shoved, and pushed until I got him onto the sheets. He seemed to hover on the brink of consciousness but didn't fight or respond as I struggled. I folded the quilt, then set about to pull the man's boots off his feet. Surely he couldn't rest comfortably wearing those.
I paused in my labors to wonder why I cared if this man was comfortable or not. He was an interloper and had scared me half-witless. He could well be the enemy. It would suit him justly if I left him to suffer and die or live as he could manage.
But then, what if it had been my father who had been wounded and had sought shelter in someone's house? What if the daughter of that house stumbled upon him? Wouldn't I hope she would offer him succor? Surely this man had a family who loved him, too. It would be shameful if I didn't offer comfort to one who was in need of it.
So, I got to work. His wound was angry, red, and swollen. He had been shot straight through the muscle of his thigh but the bone seemed sound. I could detect a hole where the bullet had entered his leg and another where it had passed through. That was all to the good but the wound was seeping a mixture of blood and pus—not a good sign at all.
His trousers were a shambles and truly would interfere with my nursing, so there was nothing for it but to have them off. Emboldened, I took my scissors and went to work. His shirt tails protected his modesty, and my blushes, and soon the encumbrance was gone.
Scrabbling around in my father's old chest of drawers, I found a half-empty bottle of spirits. Pa wasn't a drinking man, but on occasion, he'd imbibe-usually on the anniversary of my mother's passing. He'd drink enough to fall asleep, then Grandma and I would drag him to his bed and put away the whisky that he hadn't finished. Grandma had said men coped with sadness differently than women.
I poured some of the strong smelling liquid into a bowl half-filled with water, then with a moistened cloth, carefully cleaned his leg. I was able to use some needles to fish a scrap of cloth out of his wound. I knew if I didn't, it would cause his injury to fester, leading to an agonizing death.
The man groaned some as I worked but otherwise didn't rouse. I was glad of that, for I'm sure I caused him pain.
I climbed down into the cellar and got a small cask of honey and a jar of powdered golden seal. I mixed the two together and slathered it on his wound. That should take the sickness away. My grandmother was wise in the ways of healing and I had learned from her. I hoped the man would benefit by it.
Finally, I'd done all I could do for him and so set about trying to get my house back in order. Many things had been ruined for no good reason that I could tell and I cried a few bitter tears when I saw that my mother's Daguerreotype had been smashed to pieces. I should have thought to hide it away in the cellar to keep it safe. Before I could sink too far into the doldrums, my patient cried out, prompting me to hurry to his side.
His eyes were wide open and glassy. I leaned over him and said, "There, there sir. You are safe. The danger is past."
"Where's Tanya?" he asked, his voice most desperate.
Tanya must be his wife or sweetheart. Knowing how capricious the sick could be, I placated him as best I could. "She's just fine."
"Good." He laid back and shut his eyes, seeming to nod off again.
I pulled back the covers to check his wound. It hadn't worsened, thank God. I reapplied the salve and prayed the remedy would do the trick, else he'd have to see a surgeon. That would only end one of two ways-he'd have the limb taken from him entirely, or he'd die.
I sat by his bed the entire night, sponging his face to reduce the fever and sometime during the wee hours, I drifted off to sleep in the rocking chair that I had pulled next to his bed.
July 3, 1863
I was awakened at daybreak by the sound of marching men and the squeaks and rattles of wagons passing on the highway that ran down from my house. I jumped up and rushed to push the sideboard so that it would block the front door, in hopes it would deter foragers.
Once I got the door obstructed, I heard gun fire towards the east and I knew the battle was starting again. Though I was shaking with fear, I recognized that I had no time to cower. I had work to do. Under the noise of the waging battle, apparently further afield than yesterday, I heard a soft call. The soldier was stirring.
Returning to his side, I put my hand on his head, to check his fever. It had lessened. Pleased, I started to lift the sheet to cheek his leg when he said, "Water, please'm,"
I looked up to find him gazing at me. He had the clearest green eyes I'd ever seen. I hurried to get him a cup, glad that the cask of water I kept near the fire hadn't been overturned.
When I returned to his side, his eyes were closed again.
"Here's your water, sir." I put my arm behind him to help him sit up and held the cup to his lips. He drank it dry and seemed to want more.
"You'd better rest a bit, then I'll give you more. Too much at one time may disagree with you."
He nodded and fell back on pillow as though he'd no strength left. He was soon asleep and after checking his bandages, I decided to risk a fire so that I could get some healing broth made. He would have need of such when he woke again.
The battle was raging in the distance but my little farm seemed to be out of the line of fire today, thank God. I busied myself at the stove, checking occasionally on my patient and praying for our safety.
Along about noon, the soldier stirred again.
"I'm sorry ma'am…" his weak voice, "but I find I must…" he stopped. Surprisingly, the pallor in his cheeks had reddened some.
"Yes?" I had no idea what he could want.
"Please, ma'am. I'm … I need…" He looked about the room as though it would tell him the words he wanted.
"Are you thirsty?"
"No'm. I…I must make water." The last tailed off to silence. Finally realizing what was troubling him, my cheeks bloomed along with his.
"I see. But you can't arise with that leg. I shall bring you a bottle. Do you think you could manage…?"
"I believe so…"
Soon, I found a jar and if I slipped behind him to prop him up, he was able to deal with what was necessary outside of my view, thanks be to God. I easily disposed of the contents in the slop bucket and put the jar aside in case of future need. That wasn't so hard, I tried to convince myself. I'd done as much and worse for my grandmother, after all. This wasn't much different.
At least that was what I told myself. If I thought more on it, I'd die of mortification.
I needed to see to his wound, so I returned to the bed chamber with the salve and said, "It's time to dress your leg, sir. Just lie easy and I'll see to it."
"Mighty kindly of you, ma'am."
"'Tis mighty Christian of me, I think. I could do no less." I pulled back the cover and checked his leg. It still looked angry but it was apparent his fever had lessened and his wits were returning to him. I smoothed on the salve and replaced the bandages.
As I was turning to leave, I heard him ask, "Ma'am, how did I come to be here?"
"I don't know. I found you in my house last evening. You were alone and feverish."
He shook his head, his forehead lined in concentration. "I remember riding over a ridge when the world exploded and then I recall nothing until I awoke here."
"There were many more men through here yesterday, I think. They turned my house upside down. You were laid out on this bed-left behind."
He let out a great sigh. "I don't understand…"
I patted his hand as it lay across his chest and said, "'Tis hard to make sense out of these mad times, even if you aren't shot through. Rest now. I'll have some broth for you later." I left him to sleep.
I could still hear the fury of the battle in the distance, so I climbed up to the loft to see if I could see anything of the fighting. Peering out the small window, I saw the bright fire of cannons blazing away on a distant hill. The smoke from the guns lay heavy all around and in the sunlight, it cast an eerie glow. There must be such a terrible carnage there.
Looking closer at hand, I moaned. The farm had been torn apart. Fences were ripped down and the garden was in shreds. I gasped when I saw that the barn had a whole side caved in as though cannon had leveled it. I had no notion as to how Pa and I would ever get the money to replace what was now gone. That is, if I ever saw Pa again. I was half surprised he'd not come my way if General Meade was in the area, but perhaps he hadn't come to this battle. Where ever he was, I prayed he was safe. Last I heard he was in Chancellorsville, Virginia.
Climbing down from the loft, I went to the kitchen to make the broth I had promised. Fear and worry twisted my innards to the point I didn't feel like eating a bite. The constant blast of cannon in the distance made my hands shake and I was very close to weeping but, I reminded myself, now was not the time for a conniption.
Later in the day, the gentleman awoke and asked for the jar again. He seemed apologetic but there was nothing for it, 'less he wanted to water the bed.
After I had checked his wound, I said, "I made some broth. It will raise your spirits, I am certain."
I helped him to sit up and plumped the pillow behind him. Then, I gingerly spoon-fed the soup to him, trying not to spill, though my hands were shaking. He said nothing to me but I could feel his gaze. I concentrated on the bowl, the trembling spoon, and his full lips. I dared not to look in his eyes for fear he'd see how unnerved I was.
As I put down the empty bowl, he asked, "Are they still fighting?"
"Yes. To the east today."
"I thought so. I can hear it."
"Yes, but is further off than yesterday."
He nodded. "I wonder how it goes?"
"I've no idea. I haven't stirred from the house and all I can see from the loft window is destruction." I swallowed and looked towards the shuttered window, my nervous fingers pleating the skirt of my dress.
"I have been neglectful, ma'am. My name is Edward Cullen. Thank you for being so good to me."
"You're welcome, Mr. Cullen."
It would do no harm to introduce myself, as well. "My name is Isabella Swan."
"Are you by yourself?"
I was startled a bit by his question but there was no use to prevaricate. "Mr. Swan has gone to war and my…my grandmother died some days ago."
His hand reached out towards me as he said, "I'm sorry."
His gaze caught my eyes and I was surprised to find true sympathy there. "Thank you. She was very dear to me."
"What caused her passing?"
"The Typhoid." I sighed. "In fact, sir, I'm sorry to say that this house is under quarantine until the middle of this month. You may recover from your wound only to die of the disease."
"That doesn't worry me a mite. But are you sick, ma'am?"
"I don't feel sick but they say it could take a while before the illness appears."
"And here I come to burden you. I am purely sorry for it, ma'am."
"It wasn't your choice, was it? Someone brought you here without you being aware of it. And truly, your care has distracted me from worry."
"Do you have a weapon, ma'am?"
"A gun?" Why would he want a gun? I didn't even think to ask him the side he's on. Maybe he thinks to take me prisoner if he's the enemy?
"Yes'm. A gun will keep other interlopers away. I'd feel better if you had some protection."
"I've been safe enough until now."
"Yes'm but war has a habit of turning good men bad. Since Mr. Swan isn't here…"
I hesitated a bit, then said, "He did leave me his old musket."
"Can you fire it?"
"Then you should keep it near at hand."
"Supposing you are right."
He didn't answer, only smiled, and I was struck at how fetching a man he was. In fact, he was quite handsome. My heart beat a little faster and my thoughts started to fly down paths it had no business going. I needed to remind myself of the very real danger this man was to me. There was one way to do that.
"Where are you from, Mr. Cullen?"
A shadow crossed his face and his smile faded. "My home is called Bel Aire. 'Tis been a long time since I've seen it."
"Bel Aire? Is that in Pennsylvania?"
I waited for him to tell me exactly where his home was but he didn't. He only stared warily at me. The longer the silence, the more I realized I knew what his answer would be.
"Supposing you're from the south, then?"
Softly, he answered, "Yes, ma'am. I'm from Virginia."
I scrubbed the bowl once more, hardly noticing it was perfectly clean. My mind was in turmoil.
I had a rebel in my house! And I had nursed him! What would the neighbors think? What would my father think? What would happen if Northern soldiers came through and found him with me? Before, I had worried about my reputation but now not only would I lose my honor, would I also be considered a traitor? They shot those, didn't they?
Oh, my word, what was I going to do? I was trembling as tears started to blur my vision. I was so overset, I didn't realize that Mr. Cullen had somehow managed to get out of bed and hobble into the main room.
"I will not hurt you, ma'am. I give you my word."
I swung around and saw him standing unsteadily in the bedroom door way, his shirt hanging to mid-thigh, his weight on his good leg, and his hand holding him steady against the door frame.
"Mr. Cullen, you'll harm yourself!"
Without thought, I rushed to his side, wrapped my arm about his waist, and pulled his arm about my neck to lead him back towards the bed. "I didn't work so hard to keep you alive to have you turn my work upside down."
"But Mrs. Swan, I am sincere when I say that I'll not harm a hair on your head. I give you my word as a gentleman."
Mrs. Swan? Did he not know I was an unmarried lady? I opened my mouth to correct him but after a moment's thought, shut it again. Maybe it was better this way.
I got him settled back into bed and checked his wound to make sure he'd not harmed it by his acrobatics. All seemed well, thank God.
Tucking the sheet back up to his chest, I said, "I know you shall not hurt me but 'tis others that worry me."
"Other soldiers, my neighbors and friends."
"I understand about marauding soldiers but why your neighbors and friends?"
"Wouldn't they consider the aid I've given you treason? Besides, we've been under the same roof without a chaperone. I've tended your injury and saw to your needs. Even if the soldiers don't discover you, Gettysburg will think poorly of me and I'll have no reputation left."
He was quiet at that. I poured some more water for him then turned to leave but before I could go, he grabbed my hand.
"I will make certain your name is not impugned. I will leave your house before anyone discovers me."
"It may be many days, sir, before you can walk well enough to venture outside of the house, nevertheless half-way across the countryside. Leaving before the fever has completely left is the same as a death sentence and I'll not have that on my conscience."
He didn't respond and so I thought I had put an end to his wild idea. We would simply have to be circumspect. The fact that my house was under quarantine gave us some time.
He had nothing to say to my comments and so he slumped back on the bed and stared at the ceiling. I busied myself around the room, when I realized that I hadn't heard any cannon fire or other sounds of war for some time.
"Mr. Cullen, do you think the battle's ended?"
He lifted his head and listened. "The guns have stopped. Mayhap."
"How would you know for sure?"
"One side would march away and the other would stay or give chase."
"That would probably be hard to discover from inside a house."
He was nodding in agreement when we heard a shout coming from the direction of the highway. I ran to the front room and peeked through a crack in the shutter and saw the highway filled with Confederate soldiers marching quick time away from Gettysburg.
I watched them for a bit and then went back to the bedroom to report what I had seen to Mr. Cullen but found him sound asleep. I guessed that all the earlier activity was a bit too much for him.
I spent the remainder of the evening trying to be as quiet as I could, venturing down into the root cellar to fetch the musket as Mr. Cullen suggested. I must admit, I did feel a little safer with it nearer at hand.
Suddenly feeling hungry for the first time in days, I ate some of the food that I had hoarded in the cellar. As I ate, I pondered. It seemed that the Confederate army was leaving. Had they been defeated? If they left the area, what would happen to Mr. Cullen? Surely, I couldn't hide him for long. I truly had no earthly idea what I was going to do.
Once again, I spent the night in the rocking chair in the sick room. My patient slept peacefully and it appeared that the fever was leaving his body as his wound healed. Perhaps he could leave sooner than I had earlier suspected.
I studied him as he slept. His long, thick eye lashes would be the envy of any girl. His lips were full and now that his pallor had improved, I could see he had a clear, fair complexion. His hands, folded on his chest, had long, artistic fingers and I began to believe he must have been quite the swain in his home town. I was sure he would cut a dashing figure once he left me and returned there.
Curiously, the notion that he would leave left me unsettled. He seemed a good man and he was surely handsome. His manners were kind and gentlemanly. I wondered what would have happened had he been one of the local boys. Would he have been someone I would have danced with and hoped to have court me? But wait. Didn't he call out for a lady named Tanya? She may be his sweetheart, or worse yet, wife.
I drifted off to sleep thinking of these things and it wasn't a wonder that my dreams were painted with the flash of green eyes, firm lips and a soft voice that whispered the name, "Tanya."
July 4, 1863
In the morning, Mr. Cullen was able to take some gruel and milky coffee. I was delighted to see his improvement.
"You have a strong constitution, sir. You're well on the way to mending."
"I'm sure that any improvement has more to do with my excellent nurse than anything God has blessed me, though I'm thankful for both," he said as he handed the empty mug back to me.
I smiled at his compliment and went to put the cup away.
"Mrs. Swan, may I ask where my trousers are? I feel a mite exposed without them."
"I'm afraid they were ruined by your injury and, even then, I had to cut what was left of them off so that I could tend to your wound. I believe there are some garments about that you could have."
I went to my father's dresser and rummaged around until I found his Sunday-g0-to-meeting clothes in the bottom drawer still wrapped in tissue paper.
I placed the parcel on the foot of the bed. "This was Mr. Swan's. He has no need of it now, I reckon. Soldiering doesn't require Sabbath clothing."
"Will he be upset that I took this, ma'am?"
I laughed and answered, "I'd venture he'd rather that you wore his clothes than continue to sashay 'round in front of me in just your shirt."
He spluttered a laugh. "I suppose you're right about that. I do apologize for my indelicacy."
"'Tis not a worry for me. I'm purely pleased that you're well enough to have need for them. Do you believe you shall want my help in putting them on?"
"No, ma'am. I'm fairly certain I can manage."
I left him to it and went into the main room to tend to some chores. I heard some shuffling about but he never called me and when I finally returned to the bedroom, I found he was wearing the trousers and sitting in the old rocker I'd pulled next to the bed.
"You need to prop that leg," I said as I pushed over a footstool and grabbed a pillow to cushion the wood. He smiled his thanks when I was done. I have to admit I was momentarily dazed by the dimple that appeared near his mouth.
Gathering my wits, I asked, "You feeling rightly, sitting up and all?"
"I'm surprised at how weak I am."
"That's to be expected. You were wounded just two days ago but you're doing quite well, truly. Now that your fever has passed, you'll mend quickly."
I was blushing a bit—that dimple had me all aflutter—and so to cover my discomfort, I began to straighten the bed.
He watched me, then asked, "Do you know how the battle is passing?"
"I think it's done. It's been raining all morning and I've not heard any guns since yesterday afternoon. I did see some rebels marching down the road last night."
"Where they traveling north or south?"
He was quiet after that.
It was silent outside except for the rain, which would come in bursts then ease off then again, like water pumping from a well. Good farmer's daughter that I am, I welcomed the weather. The crops needed it.
Then I remembered there were no crops now.
I decided to chance on going out to see exactly what devastation had befallen the farm. The rain had been steady all day and I was hoping my water barrels hadn't been upended, or worse, destroyed.
Gingerly, I lifted the bar on the door that led to the barnyard and eased it open, trying not to gasp at what was revealed. I looked out on complete desolation. The barn was destroyed and my gardens were churned to mud by the hooves and feet that had passed through. The fences were down and I couldn't see a sign of a hen. I was positive our cattle were gone as well. The mist rose, deadening the outlines of things further afield but what I saw near at hand was almost more than I could take.
Pulling my shawl over my head to ward off the rain, I climbed down the porch steps and picked my way across the yard to see if there was anything salvageable. It didn't seem like there was. The barn would have to be torn down and rebuilt. Perhaps its wood could be repurposed but a lot of it wasn't good for anything but kindling.
Sighing, I walked around the back of the barn near my father's old wheat field. As I rounded its wooden carcass, my nose was suddenly tickled by a sweetly sick smell; a cross between a skunk and putrefied honey, but not exactly. I ne'er smelled the like before.
Through the rain, I could see across the field into the distance towards town. There wasn't a tree left standing in the copse and there were curious humps thrown up here and there amidst broken wagons and cannon and dead horses as far as I could see. It looked very strange—unnatural and eerie in the drizzly mist.
I realized that I wasn't alone in my visit to the rainy battle field. Far off, I could see a party of men and a wagon. They looked to be carefully scrutinizing those strange humps. I watched them until I saw one man stoop down and then give a shout. His companions hurried over, then carefully lifted up the "hump" which I now could see was the body of a man and carried him to the wagon.
I gasped and then looked closer at the "humps" nearby and I could tell, without a doubt, these were dead men, and they were everywhere I looked.
That horrible smell was from their rotting corpses.
I screamed and in a mixture of shock and panic, I fell against a remaining barn wall and struggled not to lose my wits. My stomach convulsed and I lost what little breakfast I had eaten. The world seemed to tunnel in on me as I tore off my shawl and wiped my mouth. The rain turned once again into a downpour and I lifted my face to the heavens, trying to wash those awful images away.
No other words would come.
I had to get back to the house, bar the door, and strive to lock out the hellish nightmare that lay at my feet, across my farm, and over everything I'd ever known.
I staggered around the barn and across the yard, a low, keening, cry ripping at my heart, tearing at my chest. I haltingly climbed the porch stairs and stumbled through the door, slamming it shut behind me. I shoved the bar home and slid down to the floor, desperate to clear my senses of the smell, and my brain of the sight of them.
"Missus, is all well?"
I'd forgotten about my wounded soldier.
Oh, dear God.
I was sobbing now in my distress and couldn't seem to get to grips. Part of me understood I must be disturbing Mr. Cullen, but there was another part of me that had no control of my tears and trembling. I rose from the floor and lurched across the room to slump against the kitchen table, tears still streaming down my face, my sobs unabated.
It was a while before I noticed the hand on my shoulder and the gentle voice saying, "Dear Isabella, be at ease. You are safe."
I lifted my head and saw Edward leaning heavily against the table as he tried to console me. Without thought or reasoning, I turned to him and pressed my face into his chest to seek the comfort that I knew he could give. I felt his arms wrap around me and we sank together onto the nearby chair. I was seated on his lap and held in his arms and I cared not except that it was the only place that could answer my distress. I didn't worry about propriety or the fact I was soaked through from the rain. All I knew that comfort was his to give me and I surrendered to it.
I don't know how long we sat together, me crying, him soothing, but eventually I realized my surroundings enough that my conscience pricked me. Mr. Cullen's leg must be throbbing and here I was wailing like a baby. I tried to pull away from him but he still held me tightly, his lips at my brow and soft, comforting words caressing my ears.
"There, Isabella, there. The battle is o'er and their suffering is ended. You are safe with me. I shall see that none will harm you."
My face was nestled in his neck and I could almost hear his heartbeat. But a small, inner voice reminded me that this wouldn't do. 'Twasn't seemly.
"Oh, Mr. Cullen, I saw such terrible sights," I said in a choked voice as I carefully stood from his arms.
"The battlefield is covered with dead. I didn't notice those poor men at first. I thought they were mounds of soil dug up by some hellish contrivance but they were men, horribly twisted and still. The smell of them…" I choked and turned away.
"If I had known your intent to leave the house, I would have warned you—stopped you if I could have. I had thought the rain would keep you inside. No gentlewoman should see such and I am right sorry you did."
"No one should ever see such, Mr. Cullen. Each of those men most likely has someone who will grieve for them when the truth of their death is learned. War isn't fit for man nor woman, sir, and that's the truth of it!"
"There are some causes that are fitting to die for, ma'am."
"I can't think of a one."
We were silent as we took the measure of each other. His grave eyes studying me, as though he was waiting for a sign.
"Do you love this land, Mrs. Swan?"
"Our farm? Gettysburg? Why, yes, I suppose I do. It's all I've known. I was born here."
"What if you were told you could no longer have the choice over your own land, ma'am. That a government in a faraway city would take precedence over any decision you'd make, down to the crops you'd plant and the money you'd be allowed to sell them for?"
"I suppose that wouldn't please me at all."
"What if those constrictions became so great that the state of Pennsylvania decided to break away from that federal tyranny? What would you do? Would you leave your home?"
"Well no, I wouldn't wish to..."
"Then, you'll see my dilemma. As Virginia goes, so must I, even though it has meant I must deliver carnage as much as receive it."
"But this war is mostly about abolition, I thought."
"It is for some, but not I. I have never owned another soul, nor shall I ever."
This surprised me because word was all Confederates were staunch supporters of slavery. It made no sense.
"Isn't Bel Aire a plantation?"
He laughed, suddenly breaking the somber mood. "No ma'am, it's just a house, not much bigger than this one, on some few acres sitting atop a broad hill overlooking the Potomac River. My father is the local doctor and we only farm enough to keep ourselves in vittles. I've been to the University, but as of yet haven't decided on my profession. War puts paid to so many plans."
"Aye, that it does." I was thinking of all the summer cotillions I had been planning to attend the year the war broke out. They seemed a vain pursuit now.
"You have family, sir?"
"Yes, my mother and father and two sisters and two more righteous belles you'd never see. They can out talk a parrot and out dance any lad brave enough to ask them." I could tell by his playful look that he was extremely fond of them.
I was about to ask another question when I shivered, finally reminded of my soaked attire. "I must get out of these, else I will catch cold and you will have to tend to me rather than the other way around."
"Turnabout is fair play. I'd be honored to be of assistance to you in any way."
Feeling a little better, I hurried into my chamber and was soon into fresh clothes, letting my hair down so that it would dry more quickly. When I reappeared, I had another one of my father's old shirts for Mr. Cullen to change into since I'd soaked the one he had been wearing.
"I'm afraid you have on the only pair of britches in the house, sir, but perhaps you'll benefit from a shirt that is less damp?"
He had an arrested look on his face as he studied me but managed to nod his thanks. I turned to start some tea in order to warm us on the inside as well as give him privacy while he changed.
"My sister, Rosalie, has hair like yours, ma'am. Well, not in the color but in the quality, how it catches the light and looks like silk."
I was flustered at his compliment but managed to mumble a "Thank you." His kind words did curious things to my heart.
We spent the rest of the day talking about his family and his home.
"So, you live at Bel Aire with your mother and father and two sisters, Rosalie and Alice? I thought there would be someone else?"
"No, there's no one else."
I just had to ask the next question. "Well, then, who is Tanya?"
He looked mightily surprised. "Tanya? How do you know of her?"
"You called out for her in your delirium that first night. I thought she may be special to you."
"She's very special but only in an equine way. She's my horse. She came to war with me." He looked sad then, probably thinking of her likely fate.
"I hope she's well, sir."
"It's my hope, too, but let's not dwell on what we can't help." And so he was off telling me another story.
His tales did me the double benefit of distracting me from what I had seen and showing me the life Mr. Cullen was so set upon preserving. I could see a shade of homesickness when he told of the beautiful forests and rolling hills that surrounded his home, and also when he spoke of family gatherings and singing together on the veranda at the end of the day.
Before we knew it, many hours had passed and I hadn't once thought of the p0or wretches I'd seen. Early on, I brought the ottoman from the front room, so Mr. Cullen could be more comfortable as he rested his leg. I could almost say we spent a pleasant day together as he talked and I cooked and did my handwork. His words painted lovely pictures of his home and by the end of the day, I was almost as enraptured with Bel Aire as he was.
I helped him into his bedroom that night feeling closer to him than I ever had and regretted that we'd never have the chance to nurture our friendship.
July 5, 1863
I was hopeful his homeland stories would be what I'd dream about but I was certainly wrong about that. The minute I fell asleep, I seemed to hear nothing but marching feet and saw the mangled remains of soldiers staring up at me from the torn earth. I wanted to run away but for some reason was compelled to draw closer to the one lying on the ground closest to me. There was something familiar about him, something that made my heart beat faster the closer I got. When I could finally look into his face, I screamed as I recognized Edward Cullen's dead eyes looking straight at me. The horrible grief that rushed over me was all-consuming.
"Isabella, Isabella awaken, dear heart. You're dreaming."
Edward was sitting on the side of my bed and pushing the hair away from my forehead.
"Oh, you're here! I had a terrible nightmare that you were one of the men in the field today!" I had to put my arms about him and hold him close. "I thought you were dead."
He squeezed me tightly then looked down into my face. "As you can see, I'm hale and hearty, all thanks to you. Now, go back to sleep. It's still the early hours of the morning and you need to rest."
He struggled to stand but I held him back. "No, Edward, don't leave me. I couldn't bear it."
He blinked and then said, "I shall sit in this chair near your bedside, ma'am."
"But your leg needs to be propped. Have no worry about propriety for we've been without it these past days. We can bundle like they did in the olden times. I trust that you'll not take advantage. It's just that when you're near, I forget…" My fear and horror must have been palpable and I could see him relent.
"You can trust me, of course, ma'am. I shall not leave you tonight. Here, slide over and I'll lie upon the coverlet with you under it."
I did as he requested and soon I was snuggled under his arm with my head resting upon his shoulder. It felt completely right and I sighed in relief. "Thank you, sir. You're truly a gentleman."
He chuckled and pulled me close. "I'm proud to say my mother did right by me. Now, goodnight, my beauty, and sleep."
You'd have thought that such a strange and unusual circumstance—having a man in bed with me for the first time—would have done the opposite and kept me awake the night through but it didn't. Within minutes I was asleep and if I dreamed, I didn't remember a bit of it.
I didn't awaken again until I heard someone pounding at my front door the next morning and both Edward and I shot up in bed as though we'd been scalded.
"Isabella! Cousin! Are you in there? Do you live?" I heard Jacob's voice as he pounded on the door.
Hurriedly, I slid out of bed, beckoning Edward to be quiet as I pulled my shawl around my shoulders.
I went to the door, unlocked it, and cracked it open to see Jacob's worried face. "I'm fine, Jacob."
"Oh, I'm so happy to see you! The first chance I got, I ran over here. The Reb's lost the battle, Bella! They're going away."
"So, 'tis safe to venture forth?" I asked.
"Well, I suppose Doc's still got you under quarantine but the rest of us can move about and we shall have to. There's a heap of a mess to clean up with dead soldiers lying everywhere. Folk are starting to gather the bodies and try to find those that still may be living. It's just as well you stay inside, Bella. It's not a good thing for a woman to witness."
"Hmm…" was all I said, not wanting to admit to what I'd witnessed in these past days.
"I'd best get back home. Mother won't be pleased that I came here without her knowing. Do you need anything?"
"No, at the moment I am fine. You go home and tell the folks that my house was spared as well as myself, thanks be to God."
"I will, Bella. I shall see you tomorrow."
"I appreciate that, Jacob. Thank you."
I shut the door, locked it, and turned to find Edward standing in the doorway of my bedroom watching me.
"He said Lee's army is leaving Gettysburg?"
"Yes. They started to leave in the night."
Edward pressed his lips together and nodded his head.
I could see his consternation and so I rushed to say, "Don't worry, Mr. Cullen. You can stay here until all the uproar has died down. My house is under quarantine for at least another week and by that time, your leg should be almost good as new. I may be able to locate a horse for you so you can slip out and head for the southern lines, just as those soldiers have.
A small smile was all he gave me.
Just then, I realized I was standing in front of Mr. Cullen in naught but a shawl and nightgown and so, I quickly excused myself and got dressed, not thinking too much of his response.
Mr. Cullen was quiet most of the day, taking the opportunity to walk around as much as he could. I'd found an old cane for him to use that must have been my grandfather's and after a bit, he was very good at navigating the house.
That night when it was time for bed, he took me aside and said, "If I haven't thanked you before, Mrs. Swan, I'll thank you now. I don't know what I would have done without your tender care. You will always be my angel and I will consider you a blessing in my life until the day I die."
"Oh, Mr. Cullen, you give me too much credit. You took my mind off of a dreadful day and I'd call your presence here every bit of a blessing for me as you say I am for you."
He took my hand and looked intently into my eyes, almost making me bashful.
"I would only ask for one more thing, ma'am."
"Anything, Mr. Cullen, anything."
"I have no right to ask but I'm too weak not to." He cleared his throat then said, "May I embrace you?"
I was shocked, but my surprise soon turned to wondrous amazement. He wanted to kiss me? In my wildest imaginings, I never dreamed this. Shyly, I answered, "Yes, please, sir."
He lifted his hand to my cheek and gently turned my face up to his as he hesitantly leaned down to touch his lips, those lips I had been so mesmerized by, to mine.
I gasped at the sensation. I'd never felt the like. His lips were soft and full. At my gasp, he parted his and suddenly I was jolted by a painless fire. His arms wrapped around me and mine about him as our souls joyously communed-not our minds, nor our bodies, but our hearts. Without words, our kiss was a commitment.
He pulled away long before I wanted and I stood in his arms, sighing, and dreamy-eyed, gazing up at him in wonder.
"Isabella,…" he began.
"Shhhh," I said. "I know." Words would take away from this perfection and I wanted nothing to ruin it.
He stepped away, his eyes filled with unspoken feeling. I nodded and said, "Goodnight, Edward. Sleep well."
That night there were no nightmares, just sweet dreams of Edward, his lips, his arms and that dear look in his eyes when he gazed at me.
When I awoke in the morning, he was gone.
The next few months passed in a daze. I was sure Edward felt he had to leave to protect me, but it was a sincere grief that he was gone. I suppose it was better I hadn't known his plans because I would have put up a fight trying to persuade him to stay. It was better this way, but it was hard to convince my heart of it.
I had not much time to pine, though. Later that week, Jacob brought me a packet of letters, which at first I thought were from my father, but they were mine—the ones I had sent him along with his pocket watch and pipe. My father had died of dysentery in Chancellorsville, weeks before Meade had marched to Pennsylvania to meet with Lee. It was the blow I had been dreading but it just seemed to be more of the same bitter feast I had been experiencing ever since my grandmother died.
My Uncle, Jacob's father, tried to convince me to sell the farm but I remembered Edward's words, "Do you love this land?" I knew I couldn't leave.
I was in bad stead, though. The barn was a shambles and had to be torn down and rebuilt. Some neighbors and friends eventually helped me to do that but not for almost a year after the battle. There had been so much else to see to first.
Clearing up after the battle was gruesome. Great pyres were built where the carcasses of slain horses and mules were burnt, the smell choking the throats of all for miles around and for days at a time. Men were buried where they lay, to be dug up and reburied in months, even years later when more suitable memorials were created for them.
My quarantine passed, with nary a sign of the Typhoid, so the doctor put me to work nursing wounded men in the dozens of tents set up for the purpose outside the town. My grandma's potions and salves were in great demand but there were some that were too far gone for them to take hold and they died just the same.
I was no longer fearful as I had been in the days before the battle, for I had surely lost almost everything I loved. For me, fear had been replaced by overwhelming grief, something I knew I shared with my neighbors.
"Four score and seven years ago today, our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal."
Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address
That November, I stood in the new graveyard with the other people of Gettysburg and listened to our burdened President speak of honor, liberty, and sorrow, as well. He reminded us to persevere so that what had been sacrificed wouldn't have been lost in vain. Amen, we said and life went on.
In the spring, I leased my father's fields and replanted my vegetable garden. The doctor convinced me to sell some of grandma's medicines, and in that way I kept body and soul together. Still, every night before I slept, I prayed for Edward's safety and wondered if he ever thought of me.
Another year passed and the war was over. Now, we could go back to our lives and focus on things other than the havoc man could bring to one another.
But there was still no word from Edward.
Enough time had passed since those four July days that I was able to quash almost all thoughts of Edward Cullen. It wasn't sound of me to dwell, so I grew my vegetables and herbs, made my medicines, and tried to take joy in the old things.
Years went by. Sometimes, a gentleman would attempt to stir my interest but he soon found that there was none to stir, and so he went as quickly as he came.
I was content in my little house, but not joyous. It was enough.
Then, one day as I was looking for something to borrow from the lending library in town, I stumbled upon a set of volumes called The United States Census of 1870. I paused in wonder. Didn't a census list every person in the land? My hands got clammy. Perhaps now I could discover the answers that had plagued me for seven years.
I pulled out the volume that contained the information for Virginia, and then sat down at an out of the way table as I didn't want to draw the attention of my nosy neighbors.
I turned each page until I found one that included Bel Aire. I was surprised at how my finger shook as it ran down the column of names.
I stopped breathing when I finally found his name: Edward Cullen. I gasped and looked away for a moment trying to regain my composure.
But my heart was throbbing with excitement!
Edward had survived the war! He lived!
I went back home in a daze. I wondered again how Edward faired after he left me. Had his wound healed completely? Did he pass the rest of the war safely?
I simply had to know and so that night, after several hours tossing and turning in a fruitless quest for sleep, I arose, lit my lamp and started to write.
May 15th, 1872
Dear Mr. Cullen,
I hope this letter is not an intrusion, but I find I cannot live another day without addressing you now that I know you live.
Censuses are curious things. They are nothing but lists of names and circumstances but they answer many a burning question if one knows where to look-and I did look. I was delighted to find that you had survived the war and were now home at your beloved Bel Aire.
Over the years, I spent many a day thinking and wondering where you were and if you lived and if you were happy.
You would think I should be satisfied with the knowledge that I have gained today-that you lived and are home- but I am not. I want to know how you lived, and how you fared, and how you are?
But, alas, I am too bold or I've been too lonely these last years.
You see, my father did not return home from the war. Yes, my father-for I wasn't Mrs. Swan, as you had assumed, I was Miss Swan. Forgive me for letting you believe otherwise, but at the time I felt it was a better course to follow.
In the years since we last met, I've rebuilt my barn and replanted my gardens. But though I've tried to pick up the reins of living that the war had made me drop, I still can't stop thinking about those four days in July and the time I spent with you.
Again, please forgive me if this letter is unwelcome and I will surely understand if you want those memories, and myself, to remain in the past, but I at least wanted to tell you that I am so very happy you lived.
Very truly yours,
Miss Isabella Swan
I sealed the letter and went back to bed only to arise before the rooster to ride into town to meet the mail. It wasn't until I was returning home did I begin to have misgivings.
What if my letter was too bold?
What if he was married?
What if he didn't remember me?
I tortured myself for days with these questions to the point I was considering taking to drink as my father had when his worry and grief grew too much.
Weeks passed and I didn't hear. I reckoned it would take a while for the letter to reach him and then a while for him to write back and finally, a while for the postal service to deliver it to me. But still, none ever came.
I moped for a month or so, at turns excruciatingly embarrassed I had written in the first place and at others, perturbed he hadn't at least responded. But, on this day, as there was every day, there was work to be done and so I put on my apron, my straw hat, and went out into the garden to hoe.
After working for a bit, I felt an unexpected tap on my shoulder and a soft voice say, "Excuse me, Miss Swan, but no one answered your door."
I stood up straight, staring directly ahead as the hoe dropped from my suddenly nerveless fingers. I swallowed the goose egg that seemed to have lodged in my throat and said in a shaky voice, "Is that you, Mr. Cullen?"
He chuckled and said, "Indeed it is."
I spun around with wide eyes and I once again beheld his dear face. "It's you!"
He held his arms out to me and I flew to them. Clasping me tightly to his chest, we laughed as he spun me around in mad pirouettes.
When he lowered me back to the ground, I said "You're here!"
"But you left me." My voice caught at the remembered heartbreak.
"I did to protect you. It was just a matter of time before someone would discover you had been sheltering me and I couldn't bear the thought of the trouble that would bring you, so I left. It didn't take me long to meet up with General Lee's Army. The rest of the war passed for me as it had started: horror stacked upon horror. I was glad when it was over, to be honest, and I could return home."
"Why didn't you write to me?"
"Well, Miss Swan, I thought you were actually Mrs. Swan. I felt silence would be easier for you and the loyalty you had to your husband. It would be hard enough for you to explain what happened to his trousers."
"It wasn't easy for me! I've missed you every day since you've left."
"I know it was dishonorable of me to ask to kiss you that day, but the memory of it kept me warm many a cold night since."
We had been walking towards the house as we spoke. I climbed the first step and then turned to face him so that we were eye to eye. "The memory of that kiss is what kept me hopeful."
"Indeed, because when we kissed I knew there would never be another for me. That kiss did more than keep me warm, it kept me unwavering."
With a blinding smile, he peeled off his hat and asked, "Well then, Miss Swan, may I have permission to kiss you again?"
I took off my hat and repeated what I had said all those years ago, "Yes, please, sir."
And so we kissed.
And my gentleman soldier never left me again.