Voices in the Walls 9

Chapter one, continued

Eventually the tour ended and Sarah was brought out. She ran into Father’s arms, then greeted me with a curtsey and a shy smile.

Sarah was six years younger than me, so I had rarely played with her when we were young. The Kemp twins from the plantation just down the river were my age, and we spent our childhoods together, with no time for little sisters.

Sarah was a baby and I was six when mother died. Father was a U. S. Representative by that time and had little time for us, so Sarah went to live with Father’s sister in Richmond and I was sent to a boarding school in Williamsburg. Father would bring us both back to Waterside with him when Congress was not in session. That remained the pattern of our lives for a decade.

Sarah was my sister, but she was a stranger. Except for our few months at Waterside each season, I had not lived in the same house with her for some years.

Now I looked closely at her. Her hair was blonde and done up in ropy curls. Her eyes were more gray than blue. The dress she wore was tight in the bodice and flared at the hip, well tailored and trimmed with lace. Her clothing, her stance, and the look on her face were all designed to make Mrs. Davison feel that she had produced a perfect little girl. I had no idea what was really going on inside her head. I’m sure Mrs. Davison knew even less than I did.

We went out to the carriage with Sarah between us, holding each of our hands. She was chattering gaily, but after the first five minutes I stopped listening. It was all about the life she lead at Mrs. Davison’s and the daily crises and intrigues of her playmates. James took the reins, snapped the horses into motion, and we pulled away. Sarah had both of Father’s hands in hers now, as if she were trying to squeeze the juice out of every second she would be with him.

At the train station, Father left Sarah with James long enough to take me aside. “Son,” he said, “I don’t know what the future holds for any of us, but it does not look pleasant. It will certainly be war. The question is how hard and how long the North will fight. I am hoping that the whole thing will be over by mid-summer. I would prefer that you stay out of the fighting if you can.”

I knew that my father had been no war hawk, but this advice sounded strange to my ears. I said, “Father, that hardly seems honorable.”

Father frowned and asked me, “Do you remember Representative Collins?”

I did. Collins was from Ohio; he and Father had been friends for years and he had visited Waterside several times, although they had drifted apart recently.

“Arthur Collins has a son just your age. I would not care to have you looking down a rifle barrel at his son, nor would I want his son firing at you. We have been members of the same nation, however quickly some men forget.”

“But we will have to fight for our freedom,” I said, “and I could hardly call myself a man if I let others do my fighting for me!”


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