Voices in the Walls 7

Chapter one, continued.

Father led me back into the parlor and motioned me toward a chair. “You know Lincoln was elected. You know war is coming.”

“Yes, I know, but might be a year before it begins. Or President Buchanan may let the South go peaceably, before Lincoln is even inaugurated.”

“Perhaps, but I doubt it. And Lincoln will fight.” 

There were men who would welcome this war. Senator Jacobs was such a man, but my father was not.

“What do you want me to do?” I asked.

“I am sending your sister to stay with your aunt in Pennsylvania. I want you to take her there and stay with her. I want you to protect her.”

“Pennsylvania! In the North! What about Waterside. Why aren’t you sending us back home?”

Father said, “Waterside will be a battleground when war comes. All of Virginia will be. There will be no safety there as long as the fighting continues.”

He looked sharply at me and said, “Matt, you are the only one I can depend on to keep Sarah safe.”

I was hurt by his doubt. I said, “You know that I will keep her safe. I would keep her safe wherever we were, in Waterside as well as in Pennsylvania.”

“How, Boy? If I sent you back to Waterside, how would you keep her safe from Federal troops? How would you explain to our neighbors if you stayed at Waterside while all their sons were going off to war? How could you resist when they came to recruit you? Could you stand by when they called you a coward?”

He was right. I could hardly stand hearing the word here, now, from my father. I could certainly never stand to have it hurled at me in anger by a neighbor. For a minute there was no sound in the room but the ticking of a clock. Then I said, “If I go North with Sarah, won’t that be the act of a coward?”

“No. You will just be taking your sister to safety.”

“And I will be taking myself to safety,” I answered. “I can’t do that. You wouldn’t do it! Father, I have always done what you said, but this time you are asking too much. Tell me why you are sending me away from my home to live with the enemy when war is coming. Convince me that you have good reason and I will go, but I won’t go just because you tell me to. Not this time.”

There was irritation in his face, but some pride, too. He said, “Yes, you may have to fight. But not yet. The war is not here yet. Take your sister to your aunt’s and stay there with her as long as you feel that you can. See to her safety, and then do what you must.”

He had much more to say to me. We sat for hours as he brought me up to date on the details of Waterside. He told me what fields were under what crops, how the shipyard on the James River was doing, and what slaves he had assigned to which jobs. It chilled me to listen. He was telling me the things I would have to know if he died before we met again, and we both knew it.

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