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Beyond the Willows Historical Romance Novel
Background on Susan Harris the Author
I have had a few published articles but I am still in search of the day when my first book will be published. I decided to include this on hub pages because I am desperate for feedback. Please read the first three chapters and let me know what your true feelings are... even if they're negative. I have been sending my manuscript to a variety of agents so this means a great deal to me. Hopefully you'll enjoy my characters. Enjoy reading!
Quietly I open the back door, hoping that no one will hear me returning. Stepping gently on the hard plank floor, I hear a loud creak echo from the wood below my feet. Pausing in the moonlit darkness, I listen for any movement in the still house. Confident that it’s safe to move, I silently remove my shoes, hoping that my bare feet will make less of a sound on the old wooden floor. Gradually, my eyes adjust to my surroundings, allowing me to recognize bits and pieces of my home. As I continue tiptoeing farther into the darkness, the loud thumping of my heart vibrates in my ears; if anyone is indeed still in the house, my heartbeat alone will be enough to give away my position. Closing my eyes, I breathe a quick prayer, hoping that no one will discover me. Just yesterday my childhood home was full of my family’s enemies. Those enemies are the reason my sister and I have been hiding in the nearby forest for the past two days. We each took a horse and a cow with us, and I managed to cage up eight chickens. We hid ourselves among five large boulders that shielded us from all sides.
My family and I listened to the pounding of the guns and mortars the night before, and we all knew the battle was closing in on our little town of Goldsboro, North Carolina. As the chilly December night wore on, we saw flashes of light through the trees. It wasn’t until the morning after the battle that my father caught a glimpse of hundreds of Union soldiers stumbling across our 750-acre plantation, moving toward our home. Father ordered my sister and me to go into hiding but he refused to join us. Frantically, we tucked the few valuables we had time to save into the wooden panels throughout our plantation home—valuables that held our most precious memories. We could only hope they would remain concealed.
Earlier today, my sister and I noticed a lot of commotion coming from our home. Hoping this meant that the Yankees were finally moving on, we decided I would venture to the house to see if it was safe to return while Mary, my seventeen-year-old sister, would remain hidden among the boulders in the woods.
As I reach the main hall, I am reminded of happier times—nights of merry balls and parties—but this is a much different time. I’m engulfed by a sickening smell—one I have grown accustomed to during the last few month of war. It is the smell of rotting flesh. Strewn across the floor are various blood-stained cloths and articles of clothing, and beside the fireplace is a lumpy heap covered by a blanket. My heart jumps to my throat. Moving slowly toward the heap, I tremble at what I might find. “Please, God—don’t let this be my father!” I whisper pleadingly. I knew it was ridiculous and naïve to leave my father behind, but he refused to leave Moher. He insisted that remaining at our plantation was his only choice. He would not leave his home and voluntarily give it to the Yankees. Kneeling next to the heap, I steady myself and take a deep breath. Slowly, I grip the dark blanket and pull it down to reveal the most horrific sight I have ever seen. A tangled pile of human body parts lies before me. It’s as if some monster from the pits of hell violently tore off each piece and tossed it aside like trash. In the darkness, I can make out several bloody pieces of what used to be arms and possibly a foot cut at the ankle. I also see a large bone protruding from a bigger chunk of flesh. I can only guess that this was once someone’s leg. I’m overcome with revulsion and quickly cover the horrifying sight. I turn and my stomach begins heaving uncontrollably. Sweat beads on my brow as I vomit violently. It’s as if my body is cleansing itself of the gruesome image seared into my mind. I stay on my knees a few moments before wiping my mouth with the back of my already-filthy hand and carefully get to my feet. I place my quivering hand on my father’s gold-flecked ivory wallpaper. Its steadiness balances me until I realize that the walls are no longer the color I remember from my childhood; instead, they’re covered with streaks and splatters of blood. Terrible things have happened here. It’s obvious the Union soldiers have been using our home as a hospital for their sick and wounded. In addition to the mangled limbs, bloodied cloths, and blood-spattered walls, there are remnants of the Yankees’ makeshift cots and various surgical tools they must have forgotten in their haste to leave our home. I look around me and tears sting the back of my eyes as I realize that to the Yankees, Moher wasn’t merely a hospital; it was a vast treasure trove. They have taken everything of value that once graced the room. I hope and pray that they haven’t found the precious items we hid within the walls. Staring around the bloodied, bare room, I picture where the beautiful curtains once hung from the sun-filled windows, and I envision the grand piano that used to be standing in the main hall that my mother played each night. The soldiers have taken everything of worth, and anything they didn’t want, they destroyed. Even my mother’s portrait has been taken from the wall and is now lying half burned in the fireplace. I can just barely make out one of her blue eyes staring back at me from under the ashes as the moonlight shines through the windows. As I force myself to continue through the rest of the house, I find it to be as bloodied and bare as the main hall is. I’m relieved, though, to not find any more discarded body parts.
Now convinced that I’m completely alone, I fall to my knees. I can no longer hold back the tears. I begin to sob, allowing myself this moment to mourn the lost possessions that once made up Moher, to mourn the fall of my family’s legacy, to be weak and broken. I can still remember when I last cried like this—it was two years ago at my mother’s funeral, before the war started. She was so beautiful and perfect, and though I had wished that I had more time with her, now I’m relieved that this war never had the chance to touch or tarnish her memory.
Suddenly, I’m overcome with a rush of fear. Where is my father? Thoughts of his blood and body being a part of the hellish scene in the house race through my mind as I jump to my feet. I run from room to room, calling out for him, but I find and hear nothing. Panic begins to settle in my stomach, but then I remember: “The barn,” I whisper through my dry and thirsty lips. I run out the front door, nearly falling down the veranda steps, and make my way to the old barn. Flinging open the tall wooden doors, I’m greeted by the soft glow of a lantern, and instantly my fears are gone. Beside the lantern sits my father, our house slaves, Samuel and his wife, Sarah, who have been serving our family for years, their daughter Susanah, and Susanah’s young son, Adam. Running over to my father, I embrace him in a desperate hug. Tears flow unchecked down my cheeks. “I’m so relieved you’re all right,” I whimper through my sobs as I cling to him.
My father rubs my back and tries to comfort me. “Everything is fine; hush now, child. Where is your sister?”
“I left her in the forest. I came alone to see if it was okay to return. How did you stay safe?” I ask, letting go and looking up at him.
“Samuel and his family hid me beneath the floor in the slave quarters. No amount of gratitude is enough for what they did for me.”
I look over at Samuel and his family with affection. I can never repay them. As I thank them profusely for keeping my father safe, I realize the six of us are alone. “Where is everyone else?” I ask Samuel.
“The others have gone with the Yankees. We are the only ones who stayed.”
I’m shocked, but then a wave of worry washes over me. How are we going to keep the plantation running without the help of the many slaves my father had procured? Over twenty-five slaves helped run the daily undertakings around the plantation, and now we are down to three—two of which are over the age of sixty-five—plus my father, my sister, me, and a black child of only eight. “Thank you for staying with us, Samuel. I know you could have done otherwise, but you chose to stay, and we will be forever grateful for that,” I say, taking Samuel’s hand. This gesture would be appalling to most white Southerners, but my father always believed that our black slaves were not to be treated like animals but rather the human beings they were. Even though they were considered our possessions, we still acknowledged that they were undeniably human. Unlike many of the slave owners across North Carolina, my father did not punish or beat his slaves. Instead, he treated them with dignity and respect; he built suitable slave quarters that were comfortable and clean, he provided each of the slaves with an acre of land to farm for themselves, and he kept each slave clothed and well fed. In our hearts, we knew it was wrong to own slaves, but in the South, that was the way things were. The farms and plantations needed man power to run, and the Negroes were cheap labor. We saw them more as employees, except instead of paying them with wages, we paid them with shelter, food, and clothing.
“I will go into the woods and gather Miss Mary and the animals,” Samuel states as he stands to his feet.
“Mary is among the boulders we used to play in as children,” I tell Samuel, knowing that he’s familiar with this spot.
Samuel then turns to help his wife, Sarah, to her feet. Sarah is short and stout. The wrinkles around her eyes show her age, and streaks of gray run through her coarse, black hair, which she always covers with a cream-colored bandana. “Yes, we have a lot to do,” Sarah says, giving me a small smile. No matter what life threw at Samuel and his family, they always faced it with grace and pride. My father bought Samuel and Sarah as a pair over thirty years ago. He couldn’t bear tearing a husband and wife apart, even though it happened all the time in the South. Slaves were split up and torn from their families regularly. Even children were often sold separately from their parents, never to see one another again. My heart would break at the slave trades as I watched families torn apart. My father would have to gently remind me that that was the way things were. He always talked about making the best out of terrible situations, and in this case he did so by vowing that after Sarah and Samuel, he would never again buy another slave couple or family, because he didn’t want to bring any suffering to his slaves if things at the plantation forced him to sell or trade them. My father promised Sarah and Samuel that he would not split them up or sell their children if they were to have any, as long as they promised to dedicate themselves to his plantation. They happily agreed, knowing they wouldn’t receive a better offer elsewhere, and since then, they’ve gone above and beyond their promise to my father.
As far as slaves go, Sarah and Samuel are well educated. Many slave owners in the South don‘t bother educating their slaves, believing they are nothing more than animals. However, my father taught both Sarah and Samuel how to read and write; he saw them as a long-term investment and wanted to get the most out of them while benefitting them as well. Also, Sarah and Samuel spent so much time with us in the home that they became very well spoken. It’s sometimes easy to forget that they are black. More often than not, it feels like Samuel and his family are part of ours.
When Samuel returns with Mary and the few animals we were able to hide, we break up into two groups. Mary, Samuel, Sarah, and Adam go with my father to the bedrooms to collect anything that may be salvageable, and Susanah and I tackle the mess the Yankees left behind. Susanah and I are determined that before the new day dawns, Moher will be rid of any sign that the Yankees were ever inside it. Susanah is a beautiful, thin but strong woman. Her skin has the appearance of chocolate silk, and her fine black hair is always tied in a bun. She wears a tattered brown dress and shoes that each have a single hole on the side. She is a hard, fast worker, so I know we’ll meet our goal.
As we resolved, before the sun’s orange and red rays begin to shine down on our beloved Moher Plantation, the inside of our french-white colonial plantation has been purged of all the blood-soaked bandages and clothes left behind by the Yankees. All night we scrubbed their disgusting blood from the floors and walls the best we could. We also disposed of and burned the torn flesh, limbs, and any other filth we found. The stench of decaying flesh isn’t as strong now, but there is still a hint of death in portions of the house. In some places, the blood would not come out of the floor or off of the walls, no matter how hard Susanah or I scrubbed. My home will forever be tarnished by Yankee blood.
Standing on the front veranda of Moher, I find it difficult to keep my body upright. I’m light-headed and dizzy from the night’s work. How could everything change so quickly? As I bring my hand to my forehead, I’m quickly reminded of my knuckles that are now cracked and bleeding from scrubbing all night. Pushing my back against one of the seven giant columns towering in front of my home, my thoughts turn to Mary. She couldn’t stand the smell or sight of the blood, so much so that she vomited off the edge of the veranda last night. She spent the night in the shelter and protection of my father’s arms. Mary never has the stomach for much. She is always quieter and kinder than I am, and is more petite and beautiful, too. She has blue eyes like mine, but hers are a piercing blue that seem to stare right to your very soul. She is thin, and her skin is a creamy white from always being shielded from the hot Southern sun. She has chestnut-brown hair that falls to the middle of her back—just like mine, except she usually keeps her hair in a tight bun whereas I often pull mine back in a loose braid. Mary’s delicate face is complemented by a tiny, pixie-like nose that bends just slightly at the end. She is beautiful—too beautiful to be on her hands and knees scrubbing Yankee blood out of the wood. I, on the other hand, am taller than my sister and curvier. My features aren’t as slight as Mary’s, but we look similar enough that we’re clearly sisters. Mary is a mere seventeen years old now, and though I’m only three years older than she, I feel as though I’ve aged a decade or more since the beginning of this war. Staring at the morning sky once more, I resolve that Mary is too delicate and pure to be touched by this war. I will keep her as clean and unscathed for as long as I possibly can. There is one thing this war will not blemish and that is my innocent, loving sister.
I turn and look into my childhood home that is now an empty shell. It has been raped of what it once was, and I am boiling with anger—but it lasts only a few moments, because fear creeps in and takes its place. How are we going to keep Moher alive? I’m only a twenty-year-old woman. How am I going to run a plantation now that our slaves have been freed? Then I realize that yes—they deserve to be free. They deserve a life outside of Moher, if that’s what they want. But I have no idea how I am going to do this alone. How am I going to keep my family alive through this war? But then I remind myself that I just have to last until the war ends and Nathan, my fiancé, returns. Nathan Buckley is a brilliant man, the son of one of my father’s oldest friends. Nathan asked for my hand in marriage just before signing up for the army. He promised he would come back to me a war hero and that we would be married upon his return to Moher. I often find myself daydreaming about the day Nathan comes back. I can see him coming down the dirt path between the willow trees, the light green Spanish moss hanging down around him. He’s wearing his gray uniform and sitting tall and full of pride on his black horse, and he is perfect and handsome in every way. I envision myself growing old here at Moher and raising Nathan’s children.
“Catherine!” my father yells from inside the house, pulling me from my daydreams and back to reality. “Catherine, we need more water!” The pump at the house quit working over a year ago, so I must journey to the nearby creek.
It all rushes through my mind again and again. I can still see their terror-stricken faces as we came upon them. They were just as surprised as we were. We didn’t plan to stumble upon a group of Confederate soldiers separated from their division. The other three men and I were simply out on a scouting mission. The general who sent us was sure that the area around Goldsboro had been cleared of any Confederate soldiers after we had won the battle for the bridge two days before that, but the four of us soon discovered he was wrong. I remember it in flashes. We were outnumbered—four of us to at least ten of them. One from our small group quickly raised his rifle, aimed, and fired. And then there were gunshots and screams all around me. Moments later, searing pain pierced my left leg. I hobbled behind a nearby tree and ripped a piece of cloth from my sash; I quickly tied it around my leg without thinking—I just knew I had to stop the bleeding. There was so much blood. After I secured my wound, I pulled out my rifle and began shooting, aiming for anything gray.
When it eventually grew silent, I realized that I was alone. The other men from my division had fled or were dead. I was too far from base camp to make it back, but I vaguely remembered the lieutenant speaking of a plantation home in the area that was being used as a hospital. It was less than a mile from my location. I painfully made my way to the plantation, but when I arrived, it was void of any sign of my fellow soldiers. Yet as I approached the front door, I heard voices—thick with Southern accents. As quickly as my leg allowed, I stumbled toward the barn, and that is where I have remained for the last three days, doing what I can to stay alive and stay hidden. I now know that the home is inhabited by three white individuals—two young women and one elderly man who seems to be sick and is often coughing into a handkerchief. He uses a cane to get around. I have also noticed that there seems to be a family of slaves living with them. One of the Negroes is a young boy, and his mother appears to be about thirty. The two older slaves tend to things inside the home with the smaller of the two white women. The individuals I see the most are the taller white woman with a dark brown braid down her back and the younger black woman. The two women come and go throughout the day without stopping. Each morning the white woman with the braid comes out and tends to the few animals that are in the barn below me. She meticulously cleans out each animal’s stall and waters and feeds them. She then moves on to milking the cows and collecting any eggs available from the chickens. Once done with those chores, she grabs her rifle and walks out into the forest. I don’t see her again until the evening. She does this each day like clockwork. But earlier this evening, she returned from the woods covered in blood, looking the happiest I’ve seen her since I climbed into her family’s barn loft. I thought for sure she had been involved in some type of massacre by the amount of blood that was soaked into her clothes. I could hear her frantically talking to the black woman just outside the barn, and soon they went off into the darkened woods together. I don’t know how long they were gone, but when they returned, they were dragging the large, bloodied carcass of a deer behind them. Clearly, it took all the strength they had to move it, so how they managed to drag the carcass all the way from the woods to the barn is a mystery to me. Their weight put together can’t equal that of the animal. Once they managed to get the carcass into the barn below me was when the real show began. Neither woman knew how to gut the deer. I watched them through the cracks in the floorboards, laughing quietly to myself as they butchered the poor animal. By the time they were finished skinning it, they had wasted at least ten pounds of meat. But neither woman seemed to care or even realize their mistake. Each of them was covered head to toe in splatters of blood; judging by the joy on their faces, though, they didn’t mind. At that moment, I realized that the women must be the sole providers for this tiny, strange family. All around the barn are plots of land used for growing crops, though even if it weren’t the dead of winter, I doubt either woman has much skill with planting and harvesting. Hell, I’m surprised that either of them even know how to use a rifle.
After the women leave the barn, I close my eyes and begin thinking about home. I joined this war to keep the United States intact, but as I heard more stories about the freed slaves, it became more than just keeping the nation together. It was inhumane for people to treat other humans like possessions. Drifting off to sleep, I know this may be my last night alive—without ammo, I’m a sitting duck, and I’m getting weaker—but I’m unsure of what to do. I’m a Union soldier in the heart of the South, stuck in the barn of a Confederate family. Surely they will shoot me on sight.
Pushing these unpleasant thoughts aside, I give in to my heavy eyelids. But just as I do, I feel a sharp pain in my side, which I can’t make sense of, since I was shot in the leg. I slowly blink my eyes open but then jolt out of my stupor. Standing over me is the woman with the braid, holding a pitchfork and prodding me with it. Groaning, I grab ahold of the pitchfork and shove it away. “You know that hurts when you do that,” I mumble, trying to sit up.
“Stay where you are or I’ll kill you . . . you . . . you . . . Yankee filth.”
Slowly moving to a sitting position, I raise my hands. “I’m unarmed and injured. You clearly have the upper hand here,” I say, smirking slightly at the woman. She is not amused. Obviously my tactics that work on Northern girls don’t have the same effect on the Southern belles. The woman pokes me again. “Would you please stop doing that? I’m not going to hurt you. I’m alone and unarmed. I was shot and needed shelter and medical attention. I only came here because I thought your plantation was being used as a Union hospital.”
At the mention of the hospital, the woman’s face twists in disgust. “Yes, your Yankee friends were here, and they destroyed my home and took everything that we had.”
This woman genuinely hates me and not just because of the war. I definitely picked the wrong barn to bunk in. Trying to stand up, I stumble back into the barn wall.
“Don’t move!” she shouts at me.
“I was just leaving. Let me pass by, and I’ll be on my way.”
She’s thinking about it—I can see it in her eyes. She doesn’t want to kill an unarmed man, but she is angry and she’s a woman—not a stable combination. Again I place my hands in the air, letting go of the wall. I slowly limp toward the ladder. As I move, the woman steps to the side to allow me to pass. I slowly begin climbing down the ladder, maintaining eye contact with her as I do so she knows that I’m not planning anything. Suddenly, a sharp, intense pain shoots through my wounded leg. I lose my balance and before I can regain it, I fall from the ladder, landing hard on the cold barn floor. Waves of pain course through my body. And then everything goes black—but not before I notice the woman with the braided hair looking down at me from the loft with a hint of amusement in her eyes.
My mind is racing; I have a Union soldier in my barn, and all of Goldsboro is swarming with Confederate soldiers because of the battle that took place days ago. It is my understanding that the Union soldiers have moved farther south toward New Bern, so if he is discovered, he will be thrown into prison. He is the enemy, but he is also unarmed and injured—and not just injured but on the edge of dying. He has lost a lot of blood, a good deal of which is on my barn loft floor. “How long have you been up here?” I whisper to his unconscious form below me. I could allow him to die. He is the enemy. Plus, he would just be another mouth to feed.
I climb down the ladder and kneel beside him to get a closer look. He’s young—not much older than I am. His dark brown, wavy hair frames his tanned, stubbly face. His woolen pant leg is soaked with blood. He looks just like any other young man, and that’s when I make a decision. If a Northern girl were to find my Nathan in this same state, I would hope she’d be able to look past his uniform and take care of him. I get to my feet and rush out of the barn to find Samuel and Susanah. If I’m going to get this man into the house, I won’t be able to do it by myself.
They’re both alarmed at my request, but neither one says a word. We take the wounded soldier to my bedroom. Luckily, there is still a bed and an intact wash dish. Laying the soldier down on the bed, I quickly instruct Samuel to start a fire and bring me some of my father’s old stash of alcohol that he keeps hidden behind the wooden wall panels behind his bed. Father also keeps my mother’s old jewelry hidden behind the same wooden panels, but I know that Samuel can be trusted. I then send Susanah for water, a knife, and any type of needle and thread she can find. I have decided that I am going to save this man’s life—in my mind, it’s like I’m saving my Nathan. I will not let this soldier die.
Suddenly, I hear Mary screaming. When I turn, I see Sarah holding onto her and pushing her out of the bedroom. “Catherine, what are you doing? How could you bring that dirt into our house? Get him out of here right now! I’ll kill him myself if you don’t.”
Sternly, I command Sarah to shut the door and keep everyone out except Samuel and Susanah. Then I get to work. I remove the soldier’s black boots, then quickly peel off the poorly tied blood-soaked bandage from his leg. Carefully, I remove the pants from his body, effortlessly finding the bullet hole in the fleshy part of the man’s thigh. And then I prepare myself for what I’m about to do. “Where is Susanah with the knife? And I need something to grip this bullet with!” I shout in frustration. As if she were just outside the door waiting for me to shout for her, Susanah bursts into the room, the water, knife, and needle and thread in her hands. “Susanah, I need something to grip the bullet with. There’s no exit wound, so that means the bullet is still inside his leg.” The words coming out of my mouth sound confident, but I really have no idea what I am doing. I only know what I saw my mother do as she removed a bullet from the shoulder of a man who was accidently shot during a hunting excursion on our property.
Susanah rushes out of the room. I begin washing the wound so I can see it better. It smells of rotting flesh, and the man’s skin is a strange purple-blue color that I have never seen before. Every time I wipe away the blood, it is replaced by more. I wash the knife in the alcohol that Samuel brought. If Susanah is unable to find something to grip the bullet, I’m going to have to make the wound bigger so I can pull it out with my fingers. Luckily, she soon returns with some old tweezers she found in one of the dressers downstairs. I quickly rinse the tweezers with alcohol and begin digging in the wound. “Susanah, light another lantern and bring it here so I can see into the wound.” Without hesitation, she lights and brings a lantern to the bedside and holds it next to the soldier’s thigh. I am reminded of what it felt like when I was skinning the deer earlier tonight. With each movement of the tweezers, more blood flows from the wound. And then, there it is—I can feel something hard, something that doesn’t feel like the rest of the pink fleshy parts of the man’s thigh. “I think I found it!” I say ecstatically, but then something hits me in my right shoulder and an inhuman guttural scream fills the room. The soldier is awake. “Hold him down!” I shout. Samuel jumps on top of the soldier while I frantically explain to him what’s going on. “I can help you, but only if you let me. I’ve found the bullet in your leg and I have a needle and thread to sew your wound. But if you fight me, you will die.” The man just barely lifts his head from my pillow, looks into my eyes, and gives me a nod. It’s then I realize that he has dark brown eyes similar to Nathan’s. “This is going to hurt, but it has to be done. I have to remove the bullet.” He clamps his eyes shut, and I begin digging once again. I can tell it’s taking everything the soldier has to keep his leg still. With each movement of my tweezers, a low groan escapes his mouth. “I think I have it!” Gripping tightly with my tweezers, I squeeze onto the hard ball inside his leg and pull, and by some sort of miracle, it comes out. I almost can’t believe it. I never thought I would actually find the bullet, let alone get it out. I stare at it for a few seconds, amazed that something so little could cause so much damage.
Laying the tweezers down on the side table, I explain my next move as I pour alcohol into the wound. “I am going to sew you up now. It’s going to hurt, but it’s necessary in order to stop the bleeding.” I again look at the soldier, who is now panting breathlessly. Beads of sweat drip from his forehead, evidence of the pain he has just endured, yet now I must put him through more.
I slip the thread through the eye of the needle and tie a knot like my mother taught me when I was a little girl. When my mother showed me how to sew, it was so I could make beautiful things, not sew up torn flesh. Gingerly, I stick the needle into one side of the open wound and then into the opposite and pull tightly. I continue this movement again and again until the bullet hole is closed.
By the time I finish sewing the man’s leg, he is passed out from the pain. Again I pour more alcohol onto the wound. “We must find some clean linen so we can make bandages for his wound,” I say without looking up. The gruesome task now complete, I stand up and thrust my hands into the dish of water on the nightstand and begin scrubbing the foreign blood from my arms and hands. The water in the dish spirals and quickly turns red. I have to look away because I am becoming ill.
I don’t know how long I sat scrubbing myself, but when I stop, I am alone with the Union soldier. Looking at his uniform, I soon realize I must dispose of it—otherwise, two things could happen: someone might think I’m a Union sympathizer and kill us all or that we attempted to murder a Union soldier. Either way, I must burn the uniform. I unbutton the man’s double-breasted navy blue jacket and, as gently as possible, remove his arms from the sleeves and slide it from under his body. I then unbutton his white shirt, each button I undo revealing more and more of the Union soldier’s chest. I’m very aware that I have never touched a man in this manner before and am suddenly very happy that he is unconscious. As I undo the last button on his shirt and pull his arms from the sleeves, I reveal a tanned muscular torso and chest. My breath catches in my throat; with his uniform, I couldn’t tell how muscular he was. But then I check myself and pull my eyes from his body. I shouldn’t be looking at this filth like this. Disgusted with myself, I slide his shirt out from under him. Walking over to the burning fire, I first place his navy blue jacket into the flames, then his blood-soaked woolen pants, and finally his button-down shirt. I will have to go to the barn to search for any remnants of the soldier’s loyalties. Walking back to his bedside, I allow myself one more look at his tanned chest and then promise myself that I will never look upon this man as anything other than my enemy until the day he leaves my home. I then pick up a blanket that my mother quilted years ago and lay it over his body. It makes me nauseous to see my mother’s quilt warming this treacherous man, but I force myself to leave it there and walk away. Opening the door, I see Sarah in the hallway. “His leg needs to be wrapped,” I say and head down the hallway on my mission to search the barn.