The fight for freedom - Part I

June 29, 2020
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About the book

The peaceful life of the young Kathleen Cooper changed when the American Civil War reached her family’s plantation.

Her way leads her to Minnesota, where she finds herself exposed to an unfamiliar and harsh environment. To save her family’s property, her mother forces her to marry the young Yankee Jonathan.

While Jonathan and his brothers fight for their survival in the battles, Kathleen is on her own and struggles with her marriage, her fate, and social conventions.

Unexpectedly, she finds help, understanding, and support in the socially outlawed Rose.

 

The first part contains chapters 1 and 2

 


 

The real war will never get into books
(Walt Whitman)

 


 

What is the voice of song, when the world lacks the ear of taste?

(Nathaniel Hawthrone)

 

Arkansas, 1854

 

Walker Cooper leaned back on the bench that stood on the porch of his house and let his gaze wander across the landscape. The children played catch not far from him, and their joyful laughter floated through the air. The sun dipped everything into a pleasant light and gave even more life to the land around him. He smiled wistfully and then looked back at his visitor - the friend from childhood whom he had never wholly lost sight of. »Are you sure?« he asked tense. Immediately the anxiety returned.

Clarke Madison, the other man, nodded thoughtfully. »A war will be inevitable. In your South, few will be willing to give up slavery. A change has been taking place here for some time,« he explained calmly. He seemed completely convinced of these words. Walker realized what would happen to him and his family-and everyone else-if his friend was right. »Perhaps they will bow to the majority. There is a possibility, don’t you think?« Walker asked again. »Maybe they will show some understanding. You know yourself, I own slaves, too, and I would immediately be ready to adapt to new regulations.«

»Not everyone treats their slaves as well as you do,« replied Clarke. »Even though there are appropriate laws, the slaves are often at the mercy of their owners. And quite a few take advantage of this. And it’s not just that. Things have been in a mess for a long time. The North is growing stronger and stronger, and many people don’t like that. Especially those who seek to use their position of power to further their interests.«

Walker sighed and then smiled again. »Than it was wishful thinking,« he mused and shook his head. Of course, he was aware how badly slaves were treated in some places. He had bought some of them out of the tyranny of their owners and had enabled them to live a peaceful life here on his land. »When do you think it will be?«

»I cannot tell you that,« Clarke explained. »Five years. Maybe ten. It won’t be much longer. The cries for equality are getting louder and louder, and there are hardly any slaves left in our country. But with you...« He left the sentence unfinished and sighed. For a while, both men watched the children play in silence. »We will fight for our children,« mumbled Clarke. »And their children. Do you want to see them grow up in a world where men are enslaved?«

»Of course not,« Walker replied. »But to start a war? It seems so...«

»Brutal?« Clarke laughed softly as his friend nodded. »War always is. But tell me, my friend, is it less brutal to enslave people just because they are of a different color, or belong to a different culture? What will you give your children when they go out into this world alone? Which path do you choose?« Clarke fixed her eyes firmly on Walker, who had turned pale. »For the right one,« Walker explained, then pressed his lips together. »Do you think it’s only slavery? It seems to me there’s more to it than that.«

»There are many things that work together. You know yourself the state of our governments and the goals they set. No, I don’t think it’s just slavery, but other aspects are a determining factor. But does it matter? More important is the question: Will we be able to count on you when the time comes?« Clarke asked tensely. The two men looked at each other, wordlessly in the eyes for a long time before Walker nodded.

»What will happen to my family?« His voice was soft, little more than a whisper. »If for some reason you cannot take care of them yourself? Then I will take care of them as if they were my own. I promise,« Clarke replied calmly. »In return, I expect the same from you, of course, when it comes to my own.«

»You have my word,« Walker explained seriously. Only the cry of a girl made the men take their eyes off each other and look back at the children.

»Jonathan, take it easy,« Clarke shouted, and a slight smile fell on his lips. But the warning to the son was completely unnecessary. The girl herself took the initiative, kicking the boy against the shin and making him let go of her with this action.

The men laughed as Jonathan walked away from the girl with a sinister expression on his face. »Your daughter really has fire in her,« Clarke remarked and laughed again. »I don’t think my son has ever been spanked by a girl before.«

Now Walker had to laugh, too. »Kathleen has a big brother,« he replied, feeling unbridled pride for his eldest daughter. »She knows how to stand up to boys.«

»I can tell,« said Clarke. »Perhaps this fire will come in handy once the war gets to you.«

»Still, I hope she will never have to rely on it,« Walker muttered in a tense voice, while his eyes still fixed on his children.

 


 

The obstinancy of cleverness and reason is nothing to the obstinancy of folly and inanity.

(Harriet Beecher-Stowe)

 

Arkansas, 1860

 

Kathleen pulled the cape tighter around her to keep the cutting wind from cooling her down. She could see with every breath she took how her breath turned into white clouds in front of her face. The air was biting, even for early November.

She glanced poisonous at her sister, who walked beside her with the same effort and reddened cheeks. To be precise, Harriet was to blame for the need to be outside anyway. Her sister had been harassing Kathleen until she agreed to accompany her to the Johnsons'. Since her parents were not to notice anything, they had not been able to take the horses.

Her mother did not approve of them going to visit the Johnson children and, in this case, punished their disobedience with the belt. Kathleen understood only too well, even if it did not suit her to be punished because of her sister's stubbornness. The Johnsons were loud and rude. Harriet liked them, and for this reason, she kept sneaking back to them. To keep her younger sister from doing something stupid, Kathleen accompanied her.

»Come on!« she called to Harriet. Her sister suddenly walked a few yards behind her. »If mother or father finds out anything, we'll be in big trouble. Hurry up.«

»I am hurrying, you silly goose!« Harriet yelled back. She would never dare speak to Kathleen like that if her parents were with them. »It is cold.«

»All the more reason to hurry,« Kathleen replied. »The sooner we get home, the sooner we'll be in the warm.« She did not see if Harriet's footsteps were quickening, but turned her face towards the path ahead.

»Don't be bossy like that! You are only a year older than me,« Harriet grumbled.

Kathleen feared for a moment that her sister would stop. »Don't you be such a brat! And now hurry up,« she replied without turning around again.

The rest of the way, she heard Harriet shouting at her. Kathleen didn't pay any attention. As long as she could listen to her sister's scolding, she was behind her and continued to follow her. That was all Kathleen wanted.

Their house finally came into view, and Kathleen breathed audibly. In a few minutes, they would be there and out of the cold. She accelerated her steps, much to her sister's displeasure.

»Don't run!« Harriet moaned and gasped breathlessly. Kathleen rolled her eyes. Her sister was and remained a spoiled thing.

»I want to go somewhere warm, Harriet,« Kathleen explained without slowing down. » It's cold, and they're probably looking for us.«

»You didn't have to go,« nagged Harriet and took a few quick steps to get back on the same level with her sister. »Anyway, I do not know why you came along.«

»So you wouldn't do anything stupid,« Kathleen explained bitterly. »What do you think mother would do to me if I found out where you were going and did not stop you? Since I can't stop you, I'd instead go along to keep an eye on you!«

»I don't know why you're all making such a fuss about the Johnsons,« Harriet replied. »They are all very kind to me.«

»Wrong,« replied Kathleen. »You're just as ill-bred as they are. You're also naive enough to let Ira Johnson wrap you around his finger.«

»You're jealous,« shouted Harriet, and stopped. »I have an admirer, and you don't, and you don't begrudge me that.«

Kathleen sighed and wished secretly that this was the reason. Unfortunately, it was different. She envied her sister any admirer with serious and honorable intentions. Ira Johnson, however, did not belong to this kind. Too often at balls, Kathleen had seen him courting one of the girls, including her and her friends, to steal a kiss. She never engaged in such coquetry. She avoided saying anything else to avoid getting into a serious argument with Harriet and walked stubbornly straight ahead towards the house.

She stepped through the front door and listened intently. No one was expecting her, which Kathleen found unusual but reassuring. If her mother had noticed anything, she would be standing in front of them now at the latest to read them the riot act.

Quickly she hurried into her room with Harriet, mumbling furiously to herself, to take off her hat and cape. She took a quick look in the mirror in the corner, right next to the window. Satisfied, she noticed that her cheeks weren't too red from the cold anymore before leaving the room again.

Only now did she notice the unusual silence in the house. A fact that surprised Kathleen because it was so wholly untypical. It was usually more lively. The slaves cleaned the rooms or prepared the food. Their mother gave them instructions and supervised the work, while their father - when he was not out of the house - tried to make them laugh by telling them funny stories.

Tonight it was different. She did not hear the clatter of pots, or the conversations of the slaves. Her mother and father also seemed to have disappeared.

Undecidedly, Kathleen stood in the spacious entrance hall and thought about where to turn. A door opened, and the bang that went through the eerily silent hall when it closed again made Kathleen flinch.

»Kat,« her brother's voice sounded.

She turned in his direction, and her hands pressed to her chest to calm her rapidly throbbing heart. »Rob,« Kathleen gasped and then smiled. »You scared me.« Her brother had recently turned sixteen, making him two years older than her.

»Where were you?« he whispered as soon as he stood beside her. Kathleen flinched again. So her disappearance had not gone unnoticed.

»Later,« she hissed back. »Where are mother and father? It's so quiet in the house.«

Robert looked at her long and hard. »You will find out anyway,« he finally muttered. »A few hours ago, the message arrived. Abraham Lincoln is the new president.«

Kathleen frowned. She didn't care much for politics, so she didn't understand the significance of this news. »Then why is the house so quiet? You could think someone had died?« she asked softly. The calm and depressed mood did not leave her untouched.

»Because that's probably why there'll be a war soon,« Robert whispered back. » Don't tell father what I've told you. He doesn't want you to worry.«

Kathleen turned pale. In the last few weeks, she had overheard the men talking about whether there might be a war. She had never taken them seriously. Now that Robert entrusted her with this message, she passed cold.

»But not much will change for us, will it?« she asked and looked at her big brother pleadingly. She prayed that he would explain to her what a campaign could mean to them all.

»When the flags are called, father and I will go to war. That is expected of us«, Robert replied seriously. However, Kathleen saw something in his face, which caused fear in her. Excitement. Not fear, as one should expect in the face of the news, but the desire to go out into the world and, therefore, into battle.

»Oh, Rob, that's terrifying,« whispered Kathleen, because she just didn't know how to answer it.

»Well, well, Kat, nothing is certain yet,« Robert replied, grinning. He stroked a few strands of the reddish-brown hair from his face and then pulled on one of her hair strands that had come loose from the hairstyle carefully held together with hairpins. Her hair was the same color.

»But war?« Kathleen was seriously shocked. »How terrible.«

»Are you trying to tell me you're afraid of the Yankees?« Robert asked, smiling, and nudged the tip of her nose with his index finger.

Kathleen sparkled at him angrily. »No,« she hissed. »There shall be war. I am afraid of it. Someone we know could get hurt or even killed in it.« Robert laughed, which made his sister even angrier. Why didn't he take this news seriously at all?

»If all women react the way you do, we'll leave a coop of overprotective hens when we go to war.«

»And if you should go to war - and those who are like you - there is only a group of half-breeds between us and our defeat,« Kathleen countered, turned around, and decided to retire to her room until dinner.

The depressed mood continued throughout the house during dinner. Kathleen was still angry with Robert, who smugly grinned at her every time their eyes met by chance. Kathleen tried to ignore him, but in her rage, she couldn't resist giving him a crushing look. While she was angry with Robert, Harriet let her anger at her run free. Harriet, therefore, gave Kathleen angry looks from her side. This was not exactly conducive to the mood.

Her father seemed deeply lost in thought, and her mother also sat pale and appetite-less before the meal. Kathleen did not know what to think of all this. Robert seemed to wish that there would be a war soon, but her father was less enthusiastic about this possibility. He was less optimistic and careless, as the thoughtful look on her face told her. Her mother seemed as shocked as Kathleen herself and looked as if she could burst into tears.

»Mother, you should eat something,« Kathleen finally murmured as she could no longer stand the silence. »It's certainly not good for the baby.« Her mother would be giving birth in a few weeks. Kathleen had once heard Ada - one of her slaves who looked after the house slaves and kept an eye on them when her mother was prevented - explain how important it was to eat enough when one was expecting a child.

Her mother smiled tensely at Kathleen, but then grabbed the fork and started eating. The only one who didn't notice the depressed mood was Margaret, the youngest of the children. She ate, drank, and looked dreamily while the rest of the family was engrossed in their thoughts and visions of horror. Margaret and Harriet knew nothing of the possibility of war, and Kathleen would be careful not to mention any of this.

 

***

 

The depressed mood subsided until Christmas. Kathleen knew she was only hiding to jump at them again at an unspecified time. Her fear, however, disappeared in the stress of the approaching Christmas.

Like every year, the neighbors invited their family to many celebrations. Despite the advanced stage of her pregnancy, her mother seemed determined to attend each of them, possibly attempting to find a distraction. It was not appropriate for her to participate in public events in her condition. The looks of the other ladies at the societies spoke volumes about what they thought. However, there was no talk about it since the impending war seemed to be a topic that was present everywhere. If someone was upset about Mary-Sue's presence, it was done in secret. Neither her mother nor anyone else in the family had heard anything to indicate this.

Kathleen herself also welcomed this distraction. She was aware of how quickly the overall situation could change. No one seemed to want to talk about anything else. Always and everywhere, it was all about this horrible war that was coming at them in giant strides.

She noticed how many people saw it as frivolously as Robert did. While he seemed to get more and more excited with each passing day, her father became thinner and thinner. At all times, the worries that accompanied him became apparent in the deep furrows that ran through his face. Her mother also suffered from this. She never seemed to have any appetite, only ate something when Kathleen talked her into it, or when Ada harassed her and talked into her conscience about the baby.

Her parents still had no idea how much Robert told Kathleen about what the election of Abraham Lincoln meant to them all. Of course, her sisters also knew about Lincoln's presidency, but they had no idea what it meant. Margaret was simply too young, and Harriet was too busy with herself and her admirers.

There was a knock, and before Kathleen said anything, the door opened. Ada entered the room. She couldn't help herself and gave the stout slave an evil look. The slave's broad lips were merely drawn to a smile.

»Little Miss must get dressed now,« Ada explained and laid the dress that Kathleen had chosen for the evening.

»I don't feel like it,« replied Kathleen. »Tell Mother I can't come with you because I'm not feeling well.« She looked back at the book she'd been reading until Ada entered. At least it had been an attempt on her part to lose herself in the book. Since it seemed to be all about war, she barely managed to escape into a reading. It had appeared easier to her before.

»Little Miss will have to go with you,« replied Ada. »No good, always sticking your nose into dusty books.«

»Why not?« Kathleen asked, and now she had to smile after all. They had this discussion every time Ada saw them reading. But the slave girl loved the stories as much as she loved herself.

»Paper makes hands dry, and stories make your head spin.« Ada shook her head and pointed to the dress. »Now come along, little miss. Your corset needs tightening.«

Kathleen sighed resignedly and closed the book, but only after she managed to get a glimpse of the page number. Secretly, she was relieved to have chosen a dress that didn't require tight lacing.

»Sometimes, I wonder who is actually in charge here,« Kathleen murmured sourly as she moved towards the slave.

»Your mother is, Little Miss. And she tells me to help you. So I'm helping,« replied the slave. Kathleen sighed and raised her arms so Ada could put the corset on her. »Take a breath!« Ada instructed her. Kathleen clasped her hands to the bedposts again and pulled her stomach in. She felt the slave pulling on the laces to tie her corset even tighter, although Kathleen already had the feeling that she could no longer breathe.

»If you pull any more, I'll faint at the slightest movement,« Kathleen gasped as the tugging subsided. Again the slave reached for the tape measure and put it around her waist.

»It's not enough yet,« Ada explained. »We must tighten the laces.«

»That wasn't that tight last time,« Kathleen moaned and tried to catch her breath. Ada, who stood behind her, laughed and patted Kathleen's bottom with her hand.

»Little Miss is slowly becoming a lady. Later than Miss Harriet, but the curves are coming now,« replied Ada, and Kathleen moaned again. She had hoped that this vessel might pass her by, and she would be spared the changes she had noticed in her sister for a year.

Again, Ada began to pull on the corset's laces, and Kathleen finally felt the impending powerlessness. She could hardly breathe and already knew that she would not survive the evening with such tight lacing.

»Stop,« she said breathlessly. »This won't work.« She suppressed a grin. This was the reason she needed to stay at home. » You'll have to tell Mother that I can't come with you because I have nothing to wear.«

»No, little miss,« Ada replied sternly. »Miss Sue say, I got to help you get dressed. So I'll dress you.«

»But I have nothing to wear that I haven't already worn to one of the other parties,« Kathleen explained forcefully. »So, I can't go either.«

Ada's eyes wandered nervously between Kathleen, who found it difficult to breathe, and the room door back and forth. It was apparent how much the slave was afraid of her mother.

»If you bring her here, I will gladly tell her myself,« Kathleen explained and gave the slave her most beautiful smile. Ada also seemed to think this was the best solution, for she nodded and then left the room with quick steps.

Kathleen let herself fall onto the bed and remained to lie on her back, concentrating on inhaling and exhaling. The dizziness disappeared little by little, and she closed her eyes.

When her mother entered the room, Kathleen also began to feel the fear. Suddenly, she could well understand Ada's hesitation.

»Why aren't you dressed yet?« Mary-Sue asked immediately in indignation and crossed her arms in front of her chest.

Kathleen sat up carefully and looked at her mother. »Because the dress doesn't fit,« she replied. »None of my evening-dresses will fit me. This one is from last summer and is far too tight.«

Her mother frowned before she looked at the slave and asked. »Little miss, is getting curves,« Ada explained calmly. »Clothes aren't made for women. They're girls' clothes.«

Mary-Sue nodded understandably, and Kathleen and Ada relaxed a little. »Then you will wear one of Harriet's dresses,« she explained.

»Mother, Harriet is much shorter than me. None of her dresses would be long enough to fit me,« Kathleen immediately objected. If she had to wear something from her sister's wardrobe, people would laugh at her. It was too annoying that they hadn't paid attention before. Still, at the last balls, they only stayed until the afternoon. So the evening gown had not been tried on, and now it stood there. Anyway, she would have preferred to be left here.

»I guess you're right,« muttered her mother. She looked down at herself and pinched her lips together. »Then you will wear one of my dresses. I'll pick out one for you and send Ada to you with it.« Kathleen thought feverishly to find a counter-argument, but she could find no response in her head that could dissuade her mother from taking her to the feast.

»All right,« she muttered in a depressed voice. She looked longingly at the book. Maybe she managed to bring the book to the ball. Then she could retire to read on.

 


Although Kathleen had managed to take the book with her secretly, she did not get around to withdrawing in time. Now that her body decided to get the curves that her mother had already bequeathed to Harriet, she attracted more attention than she would have liked.

As soon as she tried to sneak away, someone stood beside her to engage her in chatter. She always tried to be patient and friendly during the conversations. A small part of her even enjoyed this attention. She enjoyed no longer being seen as the young girl climbing trees, despite what her mother and Ada had drilled into her every time they caught her doing so.

Kathleen liked that the other girls her age now included her in their conversations. Still, the bachelors, who suddenly seemed to be courting her, did not please her as much. Every time Robert came to take her away from one of the young men, she smiled gratefully. Her brother had always had the urge to protect her, and Kathleen was more grateful than ever that night. Harriet had once had the same experience, but she had quickly made it clear to him how little she liked this behavior. It was more important to her to be able to boast about the many admirers who courted her.

Kathleen wondered why she and her sister were so different. Harriet was superficial and sometimes merely stupid. At least, Kathleen felt that way. She saw herself differently. She liked to be alone, enjoyed being quiet. Her sister, on the other hand, always wanted to be the center of attention. Kathleen herself was happy to be left alone. Harriet hated to read, and her mother had only managed with great effort to get her to read the Bible. Kathleen, on the other hand, read every book she could get her hands on. They were sisters, but they could not have been more different.

»I want to go home,« she murmured to Robert as he led her away from three bachelors once again. »I never expected it could be so exhausting. Next time, I'll pretend to have eaten something spoiled.«

Robert laughed and took her to a corner, where things were a little quieter. »Shall I tell father you're not feeling well? I could then take you home quickly and come back here,« he suggested.

Kathleen believed that she had never loved her brother more than at that moment. »Would you do that?« she asked and beamed at him.

»If you want to leave so badly, then I would,« Robert replied and tapped the tip of her nose with his index finger. »And then I won't have to keep rescuing you from the advances of the bachelors.«

»I would be really, really grateful,« whispered Kathleen conspiratorially.

Robert smiled. »Just stand here and try to look sick while I look for Father,« he whispered back before turning and walking away.

Kathleen tried to put on a sad and melancholy face. The thought of how incredibly caring her brother was towards her always brought a smile to her face. She became serious when Robert reached her father. She quickly followed her brother's advice and tried hard to look sickly.

Her father's gaze touched her briefly while Kathleen watched as Robert calmly spoke to him. She silently prayed that her brother's plan would succeed.

Her father nodded and breathed a sigh of relief for Kathleen. She watched Robert because he had to return to her at any moment to bring her home. To her horror, it was not her brother who approached her but her father himself. She had not expected this.

»Robert thinks you are not feeling well?« her father asked her as soon as he stood next to her. Kathleen took great pains not to let her features slip away and continued to stare at herself, suffering. She nodded with bated breath. While her father examined her closely, Kathleen knew he didn't believe a word she said. »Come on, I'll take you home,« he finally said and met her completely unprepared. Her lie had been seen through, and she knew that. She had expected to scold, but not to be taken home.

»Yes,« she squeaked, for that was all she could say in her surprise. Then she hurried away quickly to fetch her cape.

 

On the way home, Kathleen was silent. She just didn't know what to say. Her father didn't seem to feel like talking either, because he walked silently beside her for a long time.

»You are not sick,« he suddenly declared. He did not ask any questions. He merely pointed out to her that she knew she was being faked.

»No,« she confessed. Why deny it? He had already seen through her anyway. Instead of blaming her, her father suddenly began to laugh. It was the first time in weeks. Now Kathleen had to grin too. »What gave me away?«

»Kat.« Her father continued to laugh and shake his head in amusement. »You are my daughter. Why do you think you, or your brother, could betray me?« Suddenly his face became serious. »I know more than you suppose. And I know that you know more than you pretend to.«

Kathleen stopped in horror. He knew. He knew. He knew what Robert was telling her in secret about the war ahead. »How do you know?« she asked softly.

Walker had nothing but a smile for his daughter. »As I said, you are my children. You can hardly pretend anything to me,« her father explained in a calm voice. »Do you remember the time when I explored the forest with you?« he suddenly asked. Kathleen frowned, surprised at the abrupt change of subject. »Do you remember the cave I used to take you to?« Kathleen nodded. Her father smiled and seemed strangely calm. »Well, don't forget it. Someday it may be necessary to remind you of this place.«

Kathleen understood even less now, but she nodded again because she understood how important it was for her father. The reason did not matter. The important thing was to remember this little cave near the river.

 


 

Arkansas 1861

Summer was near. Kathleen took a deep breath of fresh air and turned her face towards the warm May sun. She sat on the veranda that led around the entire house and read a book that she had only recently discovered for herself.

Already the whole day, an unbelievable restlessness lay over the house. Ever since her father left early in the morning. Robert grieved over not having accompanied him - her father had forbidden him to do so. Her mother was nervous and tried to deal with little James, who was only a few months old.

Kathleen looked at her father with joy at another son every time his eyes touched the little boy. But he was also able to win her heart quickly with the curious look from the blue eyes.

Since the birth, her mother withdrew more and more. She seemed nervous and tense. She also gave the impression that she wanted to cry at every little opportunity. Even James rarely made her smile. Kathleen didn't know if this was already the shadow of war that touched her mother or if other things were affecting her mood. But it was another thing that Kathleen cared about.

Worry! These were now almost the central part of Kathleen's life. Her brother, as well as her father, had been right. The voices calling for war grew louder and louder. Her father avoided telling her about it, but Robert seemed to have fewer problems with it.

Whenever he received new information from her father, Kathleen heard about it shortly afterward. She didn't know what to make of it. On the one hand, she was thirsty for more facts, but on the other hand, she feared Robert's growing zeal with which he became enthusiastic about this war.

If she believed her brother's words - and she did - his friends were also on fire to finally go into the first battle. Kathleen was forced to think about the war and the reasons for it over and over again in the past months.

She was unsure how she felt about it all. She was only a woman and, therefore, never involved in political events. She had never been particularly interested in it either. But now she was forced to worry about it. And that annoyed her.

Kathleen sighed and closed the book again. She had been staring at one of the pages for some time now without having read a word. The sun was already disappearing behind the horizon. Her mother would not bother to have dinner prepared in time. So it was up to her to take over these things.

Ada tried to relieve her of as many tasks as possible, but the slave was quickly overwhelmed when it came to things she would not otherwise have to deal with. Now that her mother was no longer fulfilling her duties as a landlady, Kathleen realized how much she always organized.

Since Kathleen was the eldest daughter, it was now up to her to make the house's processes run smoothly. She was glad to have Ada's help, and the slave did not spare her any praise. Secretly, Kathleen was proud to do her job in the best possible way.

She left her room and could already hear Ada shouting instructions in the kitchen. Kathleen had to smile. Ada was the kind soul in this house. The slave had always been there. Kathleen could not remember when Ada had not hurried through the house and tried to force the other slaves to work. But she was never unjust. Often, she simply pretended not to notice when Kathleen, Robert, and Harriet sneaked outside, even though her mother forbade them. Much more often than she intercepted them and showed them to their mother so they could feel the belt.

When she entered the kitchen, the slave girl glanced at her and smiled. Through the dark skin, her teeth flashed in a bright white. Ada's daughter was the same age as Kathleen, but she was already married. She had followed her husband to another family. A year had passed since then.

Kathleen shook her head briefly to drive away from the thought of her childhood friend. Priscilla had only been thirteen when she decided on a man. This was something Kathleen still didn't understand. Even less did she know the approval of her father and Ada. Her father had agreed to the trade but had left Ada's final decision since she was the mother.

It was none of her business. But sometimes Priscilla missed her. Although they had been raised completely differently, they were more alike than Harriet and Kathleen. Priscilla had often let her read to her, and then they imagined together what it would be like to visit all those places that were mentioned in the books.

»Do you still need help?« Kathleen asked briefly and was relieved when Ada shook her head. She smiled before saying, »Well, I'll go and see Mother and try to persuade her to leave her room for dinner.«

Kathleen left the kitchen and went straight upstairs to her mother's bedroom. Shortly after James was born, Mary-Sue thought of having a room to herself. Kathleen didn't understand this either, but she didn't dare say anything. It was also incomprehensible to her why she refused to appoint a nurse for James because it didn't seem to Kathleen that her mother was very fond of the baby.

Tentatively she knocked at the bedroom door, and when she didn't get an answer for several seconds, she just stepped in. Her mother sat in an armchair by the only window and stared outside. James lay in his cradle and slept peacefully.

»Mother?« Kathleen asked quietly, but she still received no reaction. Slowly she stepped towards her mother to touch her shoulder. »You should eat something!«

Mary-Sue shook her head with empty eyes. Kathleen sighed and suddenly became angry. Whatever it was that put her mother in this state, it couldn't be right to neglect everything else.

»You will eat,« Kathleen decided and crossed her arms in front of her chest. »If not voluntarily, then I will feed you with it personally. So get dressed now! I expect you at the table for dinner. I will take James with me so you will have time to get ready.«

Mary-Sue frowned and looked at Kathleen longingly from her grey-blue eyes. The same eyes that Harriet and Margaret had. Robert's eyes, like hers, were a little brighter. Kathleen seemed to be seeing them for the first time.

»For dinner, Mother,« Kathleen explained briefly, then went over to the cradle to pick up her little brother. As she left the bedroom, she carried within her the hope that her mother would appear at dinner.

 

She never showed up. When the food was served, there was no sign of her mother. Kathleen thought for a moment whether she should go to her again to talk to her conscience, but instead, she went to the kitchen to have a tray of food prepared for her mother.

While she asked Harriet to look after James and tried to ignore her sister's complaining, she finally wondered what she could do to bring her mother to her senses finally. Her father was still not back, and Robert was still grumpy because he had not been allowed to accompany him. Kathleen felt slightly overwhelmed and already felt a headache coming on.

As she left the kitchen with the tray in her hands, Ada came towards her and looked at her sternly. »No, Miss Kathleen, you're going to eat,« she said. »I'll take the food to Miss Sue and help her.« She didn't object but smiled gratefully and let the tray come out of her hands. Perhaps her mother listened more to Ada.

»Thank you, Ada,« Kathleen muttered and then went back to her brothers and sisters.

The meal went quietly. She was grateful for it, as the pain in her head increased in intensity. As soon as Kathleen entered the room, Harriet rushed towards her to push James into her arms. She felt she had cared for the baby enough.

James, fortunately, was a frugal baby. He was content to sleep in the arms of his sister. Kathleen used this to get something to eat. Margaret seemed disturbed because it was unusual for parents not to attend dinner.

»Eat a little, Mag,« Kathleen asked her. It was enough that her mother refused to eat. »Otherwise, you'll get sick.«

»But I'm not hungry,« said Margaret, looking at her plate with her nose turned up.

Kathleen sighed helplessly. »If you eat something, you may have another piece of the apple pie Ada baked today,« she suggested.

Her little sister thought about the suggestion for a moment. »No, I don't like it either,« Margaret decided. Kathleen shook her head.

»Let the silly goose alone. If she doesn't want to eat, it's her fault if she goes hungry tonight,« explained Harriet and looked poisonously at the youngest sister. Margaret stuck out her tongue.

»Stop it, both of you!« cried Kathleen. She tried to hit the tone her mother always had when she scolded them. She could not.

»What else?« Harriet asked and gleamed at her, amused. Unlike Margaret, she didn't mind her big sister telling her off.

»Otherwise, I will tell father about this,« replied Kathleen. She forced herself inside to remain calm.

»He won't do anything anyway,« Harriet countered. »He is far too busy talking about the war.«

Kathleen sighed heavily and pressed her lips together. »Just be quiet, Harriet. Keep your mouth shut for the rest of the evening,« she asked her more patiently than she felt.

Harriet laughed out loud. »Why? So you can go on imagining that you're in charge now?« she grinned, and Kathleen cost her all her self-control not to throw her sister to the ground to beat her. But perhaps if she was already taking over her mother's duties, she should punish her sister as her mother would for disobedience. When she opened her mouth to reply again, a loud bang sounded, under which the whole table seemed to shake.

Only when she turned around in horror did she notice Robert, who had been the cause of the noise. He had struck the table with his fist and looked unnervingly back and forth between the disputants. »You be quiet now, Harriet, or I'll get the belt and then take it up with father,« Robert explained. His voice sounded as authoritarian as Father's would have done in such a situation. »And you, Kat, don't let her keep getting you involved in such conversations!« He looked at Margaret. Kathleen could see at him how much trouble it took him to speak more calmly. »And you, Mag, are going to eat!«

Kathleen nodded, smiled gratefully at her brother, and then ate in silence. Margaret finally picked up her fork and began to eat.

 

After dinner, Harriet and Margaret immediately retired to their rooms. Kathleen stayed with Robert and wished for nothing more than to be able to get into her bed. But as her mother remained in the bedroom, it was now up to her to wait for her father.

»You look tired, Kat,« Robert remarked, eyeing her closely.

Kathleen forced herself to smile. »It's been a long day,« she replied in a weak voice. »Thanks, by the way, for your help earlier.«

Now a grin appeared on Robert's face. »I just wanted to protect Harriet. You probably would have scratched her eyes out or something. There was a twinkle in your eyes again.«

»What sparkle?« Kathleen asked confusedly. She frowned and did not know what her brother was talking about.

»The same sparkle you had when you pushed me into the river because I was better than you at fishing,« he replied, laughing. »The same sparkle in your eyes before you pulled my hair so tightly that you tore out a whole bunch of it and made me walk around with a hole in my hair until it grew back.« Kathleen opened her mouth to repeat something, but Robert raised his hand. »Don't defend yourself, or do I have to remind you how you punched my nose bloody?« he asked with a smile.

Kathleen had to smile, as well. »The thing with the river was your fault. You were always so loud and chased all the fish away from me,« she explained. Robert stood up, came over to her, and poked her nose with his index finger. Kathleen's face relaxed. He did that often to signal to her, which of them was the big brother.

»I wasn't complaining,« he said. »I just wanted to explain to you the sparkle I mean.«

Kathleen nodded and then looked at the clock that was on the mantelpiece. »When do you think father will return,« she asked quietly? »He's been away since morning. What's so important to stay away all day?«

»Perhaps he has decided to spend the night elsewhere,« Robert surmised. »You know he's done this before, when meetings take too long, or when there's too much alcohol.«

Kathleen nodded but was not entirely convinced by her brother's suspicion. If he was right, she could retire and go to sleep, which would help the pain in her head go away.

Robert seemed to notice it. »Go to sleep Kat,« he murmured. »I'll stay up for a little while longer. If contrary to all expectations, father arrives tonight; I'm sure he won't hold it against you.« Angrily he shook his head. »It is not your job, anyway.«

Kathleen smiled because it was good to see, not to be alone with this view. She gratefully gave her brother a quick kiss on the cheek. »Thank you, Rob,« she whispered. »I'm sure Mother will get better soon.«

»Let us hope so,« Robert replied. »Sleep well, Kat.«

»You too.« She went over to James and picked him up. Then Kathleen left the room.

After she took James to his cradle, quietly, so as not to wake her mother, she too retired to her room. It was late now, and Kathleen shivered when she thought about how early she would be woken the next morning.

 

A scream of cheering made Kathleen rise from her sleep. From outside, no light penetrated her room yet, which meant she could not have slept for long. Her headaches at least showed no improvement. She heard loud voices from the entrance hall.

If she could hear them up to here in her room, no one was careful not to disturb the sleeping house inhabitants. Hopefully, the noise didn't wake James. She quickly slipped into her slippers, jumped out of bed, and put on her dressing gown. Then she ran out of the room and headed straight for the entrance hall.

She stopped in surprise when she saw her father - who had just returned - and her brother staring silently into each other's eyes. At that moment, there was nothing more to be seen of the cheering that had woken her. Her father's face seemed stunned. Roberts, on the other hand, was almost hostile.

»What happened?« she asked excitedly and ran over to them. No one paid any attention to her. »Father? Robert?« Only slowly did father and son take their eyes off each other, and when Robert looked at them now, he grinned relaxed.

»Arkansas has decided today to break away from the Union,« he said with satisfaction. »Soon, we'll fight in the war, and we'll kick some real Yankees butts.« In his exuberant joy, he didn't notice how his sister's face was losing all color. She looked at her father, who nodded his head gravely. Kathleen swallowed, for there was so much more than just confirmation in the look in her eyes.

It was official. Robert and her father would no longer be able to avoid taking part in the battles. Kathleen wanted to cry.


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