Sarah was thinking about Thomas again. He was a gentle but passionate lover. His eyes were always filled kindness and compassion. He was well liked and respected by everyone in town. His kind and gentle nature was what initially drew Sarah to him. She had always been a pretty girl, but not beautiful. She was a hard worker though, clever and loyal. Her father always said that she would make a fine wife to some lucky young man one day. Thomas was that lucky young man, and while Sarah was a little surprised that he chose her out of all the young beauties that constantly hung around him, she was none the less thrilled over the prospect of becoming his bride.
Even though Sarah was just fifteen years old, she and Thomas married quickly, swept up in a whirlwind romance that ended too soon as Thomas was to leave for the war. Sarah’s dreams of a life with her new husband would have to wait until he had returned. She could do that, she thought to herself. She would remain the ever dutiful wife, keeping their small house, tending to the animals and when he returned home to her, they would start their lives together.
Sarah walked over to the window and reflected on her sleepy surroundings. She had always loved the country with its colorful array of leaves in fall and the warm vibrant flowers that sprung up in scores in the spring time. It was a place that encouraged her tendency, in the past, to feel alive. All that she felt now though was heartache and despair. Sarah was about to turn away from the window when she saw something in the distance, or rather someone. The morning mist rose up around the figure as it approached from within the darkness. Sarah clutched her breast and closed her eyes for a moment, when she opened them again she gasped. The man coming towards her house was Thomas!
Sarah started as she realized that the gasp she heard had come from her own mouth. The world around her had stopped. A hush fell over the house and not even the fire burning in the hearth beside her gave her any warmth. She glanced at her own reflection. Sarah had always been a reasonable person. She didn’t fancy make believe nor was she overly emotional like the other young girls in town whom her father always said had their heads in the clouds. But, as Sarah looked towards the window again, she was scarcely able to tell, was this real…or was she imagining it?
The cool breeze outside rocked the tree branches, causing them to creak and moan. Sarah was frightened suddenly. She picked up a crumpled letter that had been strewn nearby, and massaged it gently with her fingers. Slowly, she smoothed out the paper and read the words that were so neatly written on the parchment. Tears began to sting her eyes and she clutched the paper to her heart. As Sarah stepped outside and Thomas came closer, she could see the glint of tears in his eyes.
Thomas stopped and gazed at his wife with love and affection. "I love you.” He said, in hushed tones, “But I can’t stay. I only came to say good-bye."
Sarah stared at him, her fear melting away as a terrible sorrow came over her. She was still fingering the crumpled letter when she cried out to him. "Thomas, I love you with all my heart! Please don’t leave me. Not again, I can’t bare it.”
Thomas looked away, his emotions raw, and his heart ached to touch her soft pale face once more. “I cannot.” He whispered. “I have to go.”
She could actually hear Thomas's heart shatter into pieces. Slowly, the brave soldier turned, and disappeared once more into the mist.
Sarah fell to her knees sobbing as she called his name over and over again, the crumbled paper in her hand slipped from her fingers and fell to the ground. Swept up in a gush of cold air, the note which Sarah had dropped rolled along the forest floor and disappeared into leaves and grass.
Sarah pushed herself up slowly; her face stained with tears, and made her way back into the house. Closing the door behind her, Sarah collapsed on her bed and cried herself to sleep…
“Don’t run so fast!” Emily cried out. “I can’t keep up!” Lizzy stopped, annoyed, and waited for her sister.
“Hurry up slow poke!” Lizzy scolded.
“I’m coming.” Emily smiled as she bobbed along the dirt path the girls had been following through the forest. The warmth of the sun felt good to her, and the excitement of being in the country made her feel giddy. The girls loved the summers that they spent with their grandparents. Exploring the woods was just one of many fun activities they had planned, but Lizzy would have been happy to go off on her own instead of having her kid sister tag along after her.
Tapping her foot, Lizzy waited until Emily caught up to her. The younger girl was laughing and picking wild flowers as she walked. Such a silly girl, Lizzy thought.
“Where are we going?” Emily asked?
“Grandpa said that there’s a lake near here.” Lizzy told her. “I thought we’d go check it out.”
“Okay.” Emily beamed with excitement. “I don’t have my suit though.”
“We can swim later.” Lizzy told her as she began to walk down the path again. “Right now I just want to find out where it is.”
The girls wandered farther down the path until they came to a clearing. In the middle of the clearing, was a small cottage, run down so badly even the shutters hung at an angle, and a porch overgrown with tall grass where the boards had once been.
Lizzy and Emily looked at each other, grinning mischievously, and then with a burst of energy, ran for the old cottage. As they reached the half open front door, Emily stopped and looked around nervously. “You don’t think anyone actually lives here do you, Lizzy?”
Lizzy rolled her eyes, “Of course not. Anyone with half a brain can tell this place is abandoned.”
Lizzy walked past her sister and entered the front room. It was full of dust and cobwebs and old broken furniture. The floor board creaked and moaned as they walked across them and Emily suddenly wrapped her arms around Lizzy in fear. “I don’t like it in here.” She whispered, “Lizzy, I want to go home.”
“Don’t be a baby.” Lizzy scolded. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” Even as Lizzy said the words she wasn’t too sure. She had the distinct impression that she was being watched.
As the girls made their way to a room in the back of the house, curiosity overcame their fears. They found themselves in a bed room. The old bed in the corner was broken and decayed. The quilt that once covered it was rotted and torn. Beside a broken window the girls saw an old rocking chair and on the floor next to it a wooden, hand carved, cradle.
“Look!” Emily exclaimed, pointing to the cradle. “Let’s take it home with us!”
Lizzy frowned. “I think we should leave it right where it is.”
Emily pursed her lips and pouted.
Lizzy dismissed her sister as she began to look around the room. A sense of sadness came over her suddenly and she wrapped her arms around herself as she felt a chill in the room suddenly. She looked to the open window, tattered curtains hung listlessly against the wall. There was no breeze in the room, so why was she so cold? Just then Lizzy noticed a trunk near the window. It was old, covered in dust and slid against the wall, half concealed by an old chest of drawers. Lizzy walked over and opened the trunk, examining the contents inside. She knelt down, reached in, and found a note buried beneath at the bottom. The note was old and wrinkled. It was had written on a piece of parchment in a very old and elegant script.
“What is it?” Emily asked.
“Looks like a letter telling someone that her husband was killed in battle.” Lizzy replaced the letter in the trunk then looked at the rest of items that had been packed so carefully inside. There was a baby blanket, handmade with love and care. A bible, an old photograph, and some ribbons and a hair brush. As Lizzy fingered through the pages of the bible she found another note written on a scrap of paper. She opened it very gently and began to read the words that seemed to have been written hastily and in a very sloppy hand. The ink was smudged in some places as though the note had gotten wet. As Lizzy read the note, she began to cry. Her heart felt like it was breaking and she quickly slipped the letter back into the bible and closed the lid of the trunk.
“What’s wrong?” Emily asked, becoming worried.
“It’s nothing.” Lizzy whispered. “Just, the letter was written by a young girl. It was to her father. She was telling him that she was sorry for what she had done, but she couldn’t live without her husband. She said that she was going to meet him in death so that he and she and their unborn baby could be together as a family. It was just really sad.”
Lizzy stood up and wiped the tears away from her eyes. “Come on, we better get out of here.” Emily nodded and the girls began to walk out of the room when Lizzy stopped suddenly and stiffened. She felt as if something had just brushed past her arm. She turned around and gasped to see the rocking chair in the corner slowly begin to rock back and forth. A young woman’s voice could be heard in the room singing a lullaby, as though she were rocking a baby to sleep.
The girls turned and ran from the house as fast as they could. When they reached the yard Lizzy looked back and saw the figure of a woman standing by the front window, watching them. Slowly a thick mist began to form around the house, covering it completely. Within minutes the house was gone and Lizzy watched as the form of a young woman disappeared with it, into the mist.
As the girls raced home Emily almost fell over a rock sticking out of the ground. Lizzy brushed the weeds and moss away from the stone and saw that it was a grave marker. The words etched into the stone read: “Sarah S. Riley Died May 19th 1865, aged 15 years 3 months and 3 days.” Beneath her name was also written, “And her infant son.”
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