Morning came, along with clear blue skies and the songs of birds as they flew over camp. I woke up feeling refreshed and ready to get back to work. Edward Bryers was still on my mind, but I knew my work helping the wounded was more important at the moment.
Jack was already up when I awoke, as usual. He got up every morning at the crack of dawn. He was definitely not one to waste time sleeping.
I yawned and sat up, running my hand through my mop of brown hair. I was beginning to get up when I noticed a bag and a piece of paper on the ground beside me. The paper read:
You’ll need these for your trip.
My mouth fell open. Did I read it right? I reached for the drawstring bag and looked inside. I saw all my warmest clothes, a wad of bills and a revolver. I prayed I wouldn’t have to use the latter.
I changed and hurried out into the brisk morning, not sure how to react to the note. I was excited, for sure. A bit nervous, and a bit sad, too. I knew that if I was able to bring that girl back with me, there was no way I could take her to the camp. Which meant I would have to go home to Indiana, leaving Jack in Virginia…
As I made my way to the medical tent, my eyes searched the sea of blue uniforms. Sure enough, standing with his group of men and waiting for drill to start, was Jack. He was taller than most of them and his sandy-blonde hair stood out against his dark blue uniform. He turned and his eyes met mine. I grinned just to let him know that I saw his note. He winked, then we both returned to our work.
I stared solemnly out the train window. I would be reaching Belmont at any minute, and I was somewhat depressed. I fought back the tears that had gathered in my eyes as I remembered the emotion-filled goodbyes I had said a day earlier. I had no way of knowing whether that would be the last time I would see my husband alive again. What if he were killed in battle? What if something happened and I couldn’t bring the girl home? What if-no, no, I wouldn’t think these awful thoughts. I had to stay positive.
The train pulled slowly into the station and I took a deep breath. The whole trip I had been wondering what I was supposed to do with this girl. Why couldn’t she stay with her great-great aunt and uncle? Why did I have to be involved? You’re not staying positive, I scolded myself.
I stepped off the train and looked around. It was a fairly good-sized town with all your normal things; a grocery, post office and slave auction house. I clenched my bag a little tighter. The building made me angry just looking at it.
“Excuse me, sir,” I said, stopping a man. “Could you tell me where Harriet and Thomas Sorenson live?”
“Head down that road and you can’t miss it. Good day,” he said, tipping his hat.
I wasn’t sure what he meant, but after changing some of my bills into Confederate money, I got in a cabriolet and headed that direction anyway. It was a dirt road, lined with trees. It was very pretty, but it was when the trees disappeared that I gasped in awe. Standing before us was a huge, pillared house that towered over all the surrounding tobacco fields. My jaw was still dropped when the driver pulled in the driveway and up to the front porch. This is the house I had to rescue someone from? Something was wrong.
“Madam?” the driver asked, waiting for me to take his extended hand.
“Oh! Uh, thank you,” I stuttered, climbing out. After I paid him, the man drove off, leaving me standing in front of the huge house alone. I took a deep breath and headed up the many steps.
The double doors opened slowly and a negro butler appeared.
“Yes?” he asked.
“I’d like to speak to Mr. or Mrs. Sorenson, please.”
“May I tell dem who is calling?”
“Tell them it’s Mrs. Charlotte Hamilton, although that won’t mean a thing to them,” I said.
I was lead into a parlor and told to wait. The room was absolutely stunning, and it seemed like everywhere I turned there was a priceless vase or work of art. Even the couch I was sitting on looked expensive. The more I looked around, the more foolish I felt for coming to take the little girl away. Why wouldn’t her father want her in a place like this? It was gorgeous!
The grandfather clock ticked loudly in the corner and I started to grow impatient. I stood up and wondered a bit around the room. I walked over to the large fireplace, admiring the many nice things on the mantle. Suddenly the two double doors leading into the parlor burst open. Startled, I gasped and flew around, only to meet face to face with a thin, white-haired lady.
“I hope what you have to say is important, Mrs. Hamilton. I’m a very busy woman you know,” she said, motioning me to the couch.
She sat down in a chair across from me and placed her wrinkled hands in her lap. Her face was cross and stern, and to me she looked as if she could pass as the commander of the Confederate army.
“Do you know an Edward Bryers?” I asked.
Mrs. Sorenson’s face turned white.
“You’re wasting my time. I’ve never heard of the man.”
“Then why are you wringing your hands like that? You’re lying. Edward Bryers is your great-nephew,” I declared. She looked at me with her piercing eyes.
“What do you want here?”
“I’ve come for the girl. Edward’s daughter.”
“Well then you’ve come to wrong place. She isn’t here,” Mrs. Sorenson said, looking away.
“You lied once, I don’t doubt you’d do it again. Now where is she?” I demanded.
“I told you, she’s gone! She ran away a few days ago. And what business is it to you?” she asked, rising from her chair. I stood up and looked her in the eye.
“I am a nurse for the Union Army. Your great-nephew sent me to get his daughter away from you.”
“Ha! I should have known you weren’t a southerner from the moment I walked in this room,” she scowled. Suddenly her scowl turned to laughter.
“He wants her back now, does he? After leaving her on our doorstep years ago with a note begging us to take her, he wants her back? Go ahead! If you can find her, that is!”
“Edward Bryers is dead.”
She stopped laughing, but her face showed no grief.
“Do you not even care?” I asked, shaking my head in disbelief.
“Edward Bryers was a disgrace to this family,” she snapped. “He knew how respected we are in this town. He knew we have the biggest tobacco plantation and the most slaves around. But what does he do? He goes and marries a negro woman! He marries her! They have a child who is half-white half-negro, and after the mother dies he expects us to take care of her while he’s away fighting against our own south!” she cried, her voice rising in anger with every word.
My mouth dropped open. No wonder he wanted her away from them and out of the south!
“My husband and I couldn’t fathom having a child like that be known as our own relative. We wouldn’t let our reputation be ruined because of her. Out of the kindness of our hearts we let her stay as a domestic slave. I could have sent her into those tobacco fields to be under the overseer, do you hear? She could have been out there working from dawn till dusk. But I let stay in my house as long as she didn’t utter one single word about her father.”
“How cruel can you be?” I exclaimed. My heart ached for this poor child.
“You would only understand if you were in my position. Hadessah is gone and that’s all that matters. I don’t know where she is, and frankly, I don’t care. You may now kindly remove yourself from these premises or I shall have you thrown out!” she huffed.
I walked quickly through the parlor and the hall and out onto the porch. She came to the door and said, “And don’t bring that girl back when you find out what she’s really like!”
The door slammed behind me as I hurried down the front steps. I was extremely frustrated and disappointed. How on earth was I to find her now? There was one good thing… I knew her name. Hadessah.
To be continued!
Kathryn (aka Chatty Kathy)