A/N: I found several "lost" chapters, so I will be updating this story frequently. It's been a while! Thank you for reading, your recent reviews inspired me to update.
Anna Cuthbert-Wellington woke every morning with her face turned toward the window and her back to the mountain of an empty bed. Because of the war, a honey moon out of the country had not been feasible but she had distracted herself with the diversions of Richmond. However, after more than four months of marriage morning's offered a welcome routine that set her new world at ease. Nathaniel's day started much earlier than hers. She tightened her body up and shut her eyes tighter when she felt his body rise from the distance between them. Once she had been brave enough to peek out from a hooded lid and watched, with a sort of mesmerized glare, as he stood there completely naked, his firm backside toward her. Her breath caught in her throat for a minute and remembering her lost virginity grimaced slightly to herself. The sound made him turn and she shut her eyes against the monster that hung between his thick, tan legs.
So much pleasure and so much pain had wrapped the first of their nights together but after one particularly displeasing episode their love making had ceased, at least for the time being. But she couldn't even call it love making. She had lain there as he took her silently, without so much as a moan from his lips while she cried out and thrashed around as if possessed. Then for one ethereal second as he reached his own pinnacle, he breathed the words that sent her own desire to its grave and made her pulsing blood run cold. Sadie. It had been slight, barely audible, it could have been simply the echoing of his thoughts but she had heard it. As sure as she had seen the wide, swollen stomach of the slave girl as she bent to polish the silver or take her tea tray, as sure as she had seen the longing looks her husband let settle on her, looks so full of want that in a small way even she deigned to pity him, that was how confident she was that he had spoken her name at the most intimate time of their marriage. He could see in her eyes that she had heard, he never touched her again. Strangely, the only jealously that rose up came simply because after six months of attempting to impregnate her they had failed in a miserable manor.
There had been several times when she knew she was with child. She had eagerly informed Nathaniel and the excitement and joy in his eyes almost made her believe that even just for that second, he loved her. And then the nights would come, beating on her like a stiff rod and then the constricting pains that ripped through her abdomen and then the blood and worse even, the silence. She had learned to fear the silence, that knowing moment when you realize what was once yours alone now lays dead inside you and there is nothing you can do. So she surrounded herself with movement, noise, balls, anything to escape the compounding quiet of Wellington Manor. After a loss, Nathaniel would barely look at her and she couldn't bare to see the disappointment that crossed his features even when he in vain attempted to hide it. He was not cruel to her, but he did not love her and for that she could not forgive him. She found little comfort in her sister-in-law, who now married and with a husband at war, had hardly anytime for frivolous social gatherings. Her mother-in-law had left with her daughter to help her run the household at Marymount but she missed her very little at all. In the house she felt the presence of only her and that slave girl, the one who held that child that should have been hers.
Sadie knew her time was coming. She felt it in the way something shifted inside ever as she performed even the most menial task. At first the feeling had scared her but as time passed, the shifting comforted her. She still worked as best as she could but Nathaniel made it difficult. She had implored him not to single her out and tried to convince him that she was perfectly capable of working but he had been stubborn. Now she barely did anything more than a small child would on the plantation, it angered her but she knew that it was his way of loving her from a distance. She wished that he wouldn't. Anna could see right through them both and for some reason the fiery red head frightened her. It was in the way that she stared at her belly as if it belonged to her and Sadie would watch the woman raise her own fingers to her flat stomach and finer the fabric there, willing it to expand with her touches. But it never did and only Sadie knew about the bloody sheets and painful cries. She stayed clear of Anna and had started taking walks out early in the morning to ease the pains in her back and keep her body strong. Big Mama had put aside her poisonous hatred of the girl in the better interest of her growing baby and had looked after her like she was her own daughter. In the evenings, the old woman would rub her feet down and skillfully knit things she said "the youngin' would be needin'". Seemingly out of nowhere, little bonnets and gowns would materialize and Sadie would carefully tuck the little homespun items away among the expensive tiny clothes that Nathaniel had sent to her.
In the beginning, after the wedding, they had barely seen or spoken to each other. Nathaniel went on a long trip to the fashionable Virginia, taking his young wife with him. Gifts were delivered secretly by a nameless slave boy almost daily. Little things like dresses and blankets, clothes and knickknacks, toys and even a strong, ebony wood cradle imported from France. Strangely she didn't noticed his absence until the second week, when recognizing her situation took to crying herself to sleep. She missed his touch but most of all she missed his gentle words that assured her everything would turn out fine. Assurance was what she needed. That was when the walks had started and every morning as the Carolina dawn peeked over the mountains far off in the distance, she would gather herself together and set out into the woods. It was there, the morning that Nathaniel returned from his honey moon, that they had unexpectedly met.
He rode through the woods which served as a shortcut through the large plantation and almost hadn't noticed the tiny, black girl walking with her skirts caught up beneath the trees. The sound of her voice carried to him though as she sung a spiritual in a low voice. It sent tremors through his whole body while he watched her cup her pregnant stomach and dip her head low as if she were signing to the life forming inside her. She was such a beautiful sight that he would have contented himself with riding behind her like that forever but she soon noticed the shadow cast by the large horse and its rider.
Her face fell noticeably and his heart with it.
"What are you doing here?"
As drolly as he could he answered, "I own this plantation. I'm allowed to ride where I please."
She didn't respond but turned curtly and continued walking towards nowhere. Her aloofness confused him.
"You shouldn't be out here alone you know."
But she ignores him again until, annoyed, he jumps off his horse. Gently he grabs firmly a hold of her upper arm, forcing her to stop and to turn to him.
"No, Nathaniel." And with that she jerked her arm away, leveled her eyes and continued to walk but once again he stopped her.
"You will not treat me in this manner any longer. You haven't said a word to me since the wedding and I know you got the things I sent you. So don't try to hide behind your foolish pride, Sadie."
She narrowed her brown-gold eyes menacingly at him.
Even before the words tumbled out of her mouth he had seen them forming behind her eyes and the anger that swelled up in him nearly made him raise a hand to her, a thought that had never crossed his mind. Her clenched his fists at his side, nearly drawing blood but then thought better and grabbed her roughly at the shoulders, drawing her unsuspecting lips to his mouth. He did not need to use a hand to compel her to submission, he used his body. She had never called him master again for that day, underneath the cover of trees, she learned that while relinquishing the position as master of her life, he held a greater power over her. He had become the master of her heart.
There a habit was born. She would rise early, stretching the kinks and tightness out of her back and then take to the woods where moments later he would find her, sometimes mounted, other times not. They would walk quietly not speaking hand in hand, or he would recite some poem he had read and they would talk about it in low voices. But they never broached the subject of Anna, once she had made that mistake and the withering glance he'd given her had been enough to stifle the remark. At the end of every walk he would kiss her and then place his hand lovingly over the swollen bundle under her dress and whisper to it, sweet little words made only for the secrecy of a wooded palace. Then without looking back he would turn and walk back towards the house with his shoulders stiff and erect so that she could not decipher the weariness in his eyes.
The line at the enlistment office had stretched from the corner of Main Street until the Kirk's General Store where boys leaned wearily against the stone walls, gazing hungrily at the sweet cakes inside. Nathaniel had risen early that morning, putting him near the head of the giant snake of men that twisted precariously through the streets of the city. When he had finally been called, he went up to the table and wrote down his name in clear and perfect penmanship. The uniform was folded neatly and pressed into the crook of one muscular arm before they gave him a perfunctory salute which dismissed him to his home to then prepare to go to war.
The moment he walked into the house she knew. The folded uniform had not betrayed him more than the somber glint that his normally jovial blue eyes took on. As a mother, she wanted to wail and throw her arms around him, forbidding him to go but she remained eerily still. This war was not about the mothers, but the sons, the men that would go into battle so tight lipped, she let him take her in his arms. It was more a comfort to him than Miss Peggy who had seen three children taken from her in her lifetime. Silently, a prayer was raised to God for her only son.
"I'll be alright, Mother." Was all he managed before leaving her standing at the bottom of the great stair case. Nathaniel walked into the study where he knew she would be waiting with her back turned towards him, looking down into the street. No words passed between them for a few seconds before she turned with tear stained eyes.
"I've enlisted." She nodded and then he opened his arms for her to come to him but like his mother, she stood motionless. Her eyes turned cold on him, sending a shiver through his body.
"You will fight to keep my people bound up like chattel. You will carry a gun on your back to keep the backs of my family riddled with scars. You, Nathaniel Wilmington, will join the great white dragon and use the fire of hatred to consume any idea of freedom that we have ever possessed. You will fight against us."
She spit out the us quickly and he was not sure if he meant fighting against their love or her people but it didn't seem to matter because they were both inexplicably intertwined. He had never experienced this side of her before and it was almost frightening. Then anger that simmered behind her eyes was hot and scorching and burned deep. As if impossible to contain herself, the tears began making trails down her brown skin. She was blocking him out, instinctively he stepped back. Nathaniel appraised her quickly. The ashen look of her usually bright face, lines around her eyes, a great weariness had settled on her in a matter of weeks and had gone unnoticed by him for too long.
She backed into the wall, clutching the fabric of her dress in front of her. The tears did not come silently any more. With every torrent her body convulsed and shook. He didn't wait for her to come to him any longer. Sadie relinquished her fear to him through the thin fabric of his shirt. It left wet stains near his heart. She loved him. She loved him more than her own next breath and until that moment she hadn't understood just how much.
"How can you?"
He attempted to sooth her by rubbing one hand up and down her back, in the way he'd seen mothers do to crying children.
"You shouldn't upset yourself like this…it isn't good for the baby."
It was a weak deferment of her question but he had no other explanation to offer other than the circle of his arms. The same exact thought had weighed on his minds for weeks now. How can you? How could he? After hours of laying awake at night with only his tortured thoughts for comfort he asked the same thing to the empty ceiling but there was no answer. He wasn't not sure if he could do anything but he was sure that he had to do something. The recent escalation between the North and the South was unsettling but it was more than politics that he defended. It was his home. War was coming and not enlisting wouldn't stop that, he wasn't even required to fight because of his being the only male on a large plantation. But something in him stirred when he saw the crestfallen faces of countless Southern men, woman and children when told that their whole livelihoods would be snatched out from underneath them by Northern plunderers. Slavery was evil yes, but a necessary evil in the eyes of a man who could only feed his family with the wealth gleaned from cotton production. The image of Wellington carved up and served around to greedy Northern speculators made his stomach turn. If the slaves had no future in the South, then many would certainly have a very limited future without the plantation system. The lines between right and wrong that had for so long seemed clear to him had become a muddied gray color, some days he swam in this sea of ambiguity other days he nearly drowned in it. Today, it overtook him in the one fresh wave that now stood with her face pressed to his heart.
The pain began in the evening, just before the dinner bell rang and the last of the cotton was brought in from the fields. Sadie felt it, low in her belly, at first only a barely detectable squeezing and then full force it hit her with a blinding intensity. Suddenly a gush of warm clear fluid trickled out from beneath her skirt and then she knew. She cried out to no one in particular as another wave hit her and then crumpled to the floor.
Sometime later, when she could not tell except for the darkness that had settled, she awoke with her head on a feathery soft pillow and the face of Big Mama bent over her.
"You're gonna be alright, chile. Big Mama is here. You just lie there, your body will tell you what to do."
And it did because in the next second she had an overwhelming desire to clamp down and push. It lasted for hours. Pain shot through her like a swift moving arrow, filling every corner of her body, pressing behind her eyes and down into her legs. More voices filled her ears but everything else took on blurred edges. She pushed, again and again for, and felt the hands of Big Mama guiding her some how through the blurriness. And one instant everything exploded in reds and purples and a throbbing pain so unimaginable that took her breath. And then it died. She lied there for a second, waiting as her world came into focus. Somewhere in the quiet, the most beautiful sound she had ever heard penetrated the thin silence and filled her ears. It was a soft, gentle, mewing sound and it was coming from the blanket in Big Mama's arms. The older woman looked at her with a glowing countenance and then silently handed her the bundle.
The sight took her breath away for the second time that night. It's little face was scrunched up and red from screaming but as soon as she placed a light finger on it, the crying stopped. She had no other words for it but at that moment she felt herself fill with a love so overwhelming that it seemed to have no barriers. Carefully, she lifted the blanket to peer underneath.
"It's a boy," She said to herself only but Big Mama heard and nodded.
"A fine healthy, looking boy." If she noticed how light skinned the child was she didn't comment but looked on the pair smiling. Sadie realized that she hadn't yet chosen a name but it came to her as soon as she laid eyes on him.
"Jacob." She held him close to her breast and rocked him but mostly rocked herself for she felt the absence of her mother keenly, for the first time in her life.
It's a strange feeling to be writing to you so far from home, knowing that this letter will be ready by you, touched by you, and makes the longing in my heart deeper and sharper. I will not pretend that this is an easier war, you asked when I left that day for honesty and I promised you. Darling, war is an awful, terrible chaos. Some nights I lay my head down on an patch of grass with the stifling heat of summer bearing down on my chest and wonder if I'll ever quiet those horrific screams of death. These are just boys, barely out of the schoolhouse, some not old enough to grow a beard. One in particular, Henry, is merely thirteen years old. I keep a close eye on him, if he is wise he'll go home to his mother. War is no place for a child. But oh, love, if you could see these men! So brave, even in the face and lap of death, your heart would cry out in joy that there were such men still left in the world! They look to me and I have gained their trust and respect, our bond is greater than that of many brothers for we are bound by death. Those Northern boys are fighters too. Although, they have not the same intensity of feeling that spurs us through the thick of battle. There reasons are broad, unspecific while mine stare in the face as we trek through burned and plundered homes, women, children in rags picking through the debris after a Northern raid. But I am well and grow stronger in spirit by the day. The North moves in on us but we are ready and I believe deeply that we can and will win this war. I know that to you this sounds like a death sentence to your people but after this war is over the South will turn inward and realize that they can no longer build their castles on the backs of the bound. You will be free, your family will be free, I can promise you that. I long each second to see your face and the face of our son. I'm glad to hear he's talking now, teach him to say "daddy" so that I may hear those words first when I return home. Do not trouble yourself with Anna, she is a silly woman but an inherently good one.
All my love,
Sadie watched her son with wary eyes as she had many days and nights before. Jacob slept peacefully without so much as stirring. This was her only respite. During the day he kept her busy. She would hoist him onto her back and clean the Big House before taking him to Big Mama to look after with the rest of the young children. She could not keep herself form looking on the sleeping child uneasily. The older woman had said that his skin would darken with age but it was already several months and the light tint remained. But the most incriminating sign was his eyes, which were the color of sea foam, a bluish-green that she both loved and hated. They reminded her of Nathaniel but simultaneously pointed a finger at her in accusation. Thankfully, no one commented and after giving birth Anna had recoiled from the very mention of the child. For now, she was safe but as each day passed an unsettling feeling would creep up and she would take Jacob into her arms and hold him there until he nearly whimpered from the pressure.
The letters from Nathaniel kept her company when she felt alone. The other slaves had seen the fair-skinned, light eyed child and had reasoned immediately, if they hadn't already guessed, what her situation was. Some looked on with disgust, others with severe envy but she simply held her head a little higher, not in pride but with resolve, she would not be battered. His letters and Big Mama and Turney became her only friends. She smiled at the thought of the old man who had taken Jacob on as a grandson and beamed when the child would gurgle and grab handfuls his snow white beard. She thought of Big Mama, always fussing over him and taking over when her bones grew so tired that she nearly collapsed from fatigue. They had grown closer since Jacob's birth, it seemed as if for now all sins were forgiven but something still unnerved her. Peter. It seemed that every chance she got, Big Mama, would make obtuse remarks about her sinful state and how it would be best if she married and quickly. Usually she would ignore her with a nod and a smile but as time wore on she began to think that maybe the old woman was right.
Peter wasn't an awful choice. He was a hard worker, even apprenticing to be a blacksmith which meant she would have her own house and standing within the slave community. He was an upstanding man, attended church every Sunday to here the passing black preacher, never drank or cursed or chewed tobacco. And he loved her. The feeling of his eyes bearing down on her when she washed or the way he hurried to assist her when she carried the water buckets down used to make her annoyed but now it seemed natural. In his own reserved way he had courted her for months and although it would be impossible to attempt to pass her baby off as theirs, Jacob would still have a father. The more the thoughts took root in her head the more plausible they became. She had to put aside her own feelings now and do what was right for her baby even if that meant sacrificing herself.
With a quivering chin she emerged from her hovel and walked towards the small, wooden building that would serve as the church. And she stood there, staring at the black button on Pete's new suit, wondering if she could stand another moment. It was then that she forgave Nathaniel for marrying Anna. She hadn't even realized that the hurt ran deep until she stood in the same place he had and said "I do" to a man she did not love. A pain, second only to that of childbirth, filled her whole body and she felt herself weave dangerously. Big Mama rose from her seat, the only witness besides the preacher, but sat again when Sadie regained her footing. The ceremony ended quickly and Sadie had requested that there be no reception, no dancing, no singing. She wanted a quiet wedding but by the end of the day it resembled more of a funeral.
She had taken Jacob from Big Mama and then went with Peter to move her things out of her dirt home. Silently the man worked, as if knowing her sorrow and respecting it. She watched as he lifted Jacob's crib- a fine one made of ebony wood from France-as if it was a straw basket. Then her things piled into his arms and finally she walked behind him to his home.
It certainly was larger than her hovel but still cramped and smelled of smoke and metal. Peter set the crib down beside a large bed. It was beat up but had a clean quilt spread neatly over it giving it a softer edge, she flinched when she realized she'd be sharing it with him tonight. But after a small supper of bean stew and apple tarts, she fed Jacob and went to the room to prepare for bed, he stood in the doorway with blankets in his hand.
"The wash basin is in the back. If you been needin' nethin' just call, I think I'll sleep in the barn tonight, the brown mare is about to foal and I sed I'd help those boys out in bringin' it. Have a good night."
And with that he shut the door, leaving her alone in the darkness. She sent a silent prayer of thanks to God for sparing her and then shut her eyes tight against the night. In a few minutes she was fast asleep.
Sadie and Peter,
May I make free to wish you all joy and fulfillment in your marriage. It saddens me that I cannot join you in celebrating this joyful occasion as this war continues to occupy me. However, I am sure that the eternal bonds that bind a man and a woman so attached can only be broken by death and even then, if you will stay true and patient, time and love will heal all things. Keep you're faith and never waiver for love like this comes seldom in a lifetime. The Lord bless you and your son.
Mas. N. Wilmington
Sadie spent several heart-breaking minutes with the tattered letter nestled neatly between the space of her knees. She read it again for good measure but found the task difficult through the tears that weighed heavy on her lashes. She was sure that all the days of her life she would see the smirking face of Anna as she handed the letter to her on her wedding day. For a moment the thought that Nathaniel might implore her to stop her marriage to Peter seized her but deep inside she knew better. He was a gentleman before he was a lover and he would protect his honor and hers until the death. Anna had watched her read the letters and after being duly satisfied on her reaction, drove another stake and gave her congratulations along with one pink rose to carry. Sadie was unsure how such a thing of beauty could cause so much horror to rise inside of her but she knew it was a message, she was not pure, she was stained just as the rose was.
She was settled into the life of a married woman. Cooking, cleaning, caring for baby and husband, required much of her energy so thinking about Nathaniel had been easy to avoid. However, the tone of this letter confused her. She was well aware that the middle of it was meant for her alone but he wrote it in such a way that Peter jumped up and kissed her plain on the face, while thanking God for such a good, kind Master. She had waited to faint dead away but instead smiled in a guarded fashion.
That letter was the last that she received from Nathaniel except for a one every so often to inquire after her health and the health of their son but it was always addressed to Peter and then read-aloud. Her heart ached for him daily now, and she would catch herself stopping during the day to catch his scent or summon the sound of his voice from memory. It seemed as if they were both at a stand off, and the many miles between them kept whatever rush of feelings that waited behind their resolve, from flooding them.
He had told her once that he had fully intended to drown himself at the creek but seeing her had suddenly reminded him to breathe. It seemed to her that she was drowning now but she had no one to remind her to live beside her little Jacob but looking at him brought back memories that were more painful than they were sweet. Sadie felt that she was finally able to understand the passion Shakespeare had tried to convey through Romeo and Juliet. It was as much beautiful and pure as it was ugly and adverse to the society that they lived in but it was there's. They shared the same burden of love together and whether right or wrong they simply could not live with lighter shoulders. Without each other, there was no one to remind them to open up their mouths, and inhale deeply until their lungs were near to bursting and exhale until their stomachs pressed against their ribcages, until it meant something to live.
She was alive in body, but her soul had died the day he had walked out of Wilmington with the starched, gray uniform stretched across his broad back and a shiny, silver sword gallantly hung from his slim waist. And since then she had died a thousand times more but the blue-green eyes of her son willed her to keep walking, she would not leave him alone in the world as her mother had left her.