I was a bit surprised. Did a uniform really make such a difference? Wasn't it President Lincoln who had declared, right after the War ended, that we were all Americans? Not Northern or Southern. Not Yankees and Confederates. But Americans. Seems I read that in my history book a few years back.
Maybe textbooks and real life are more different than I thought.
Mr. Sullivan seemed to read my thoughts. “War is a terrible thing, Mrs. Prescott. And no words will change feelings that are rooted deep in the hearts of many people. War . . . It takes you places you never wanted to go. It forces you to make decisions you never wanted to make. And it changes you.”
I cocked my head. “What do you mean?”
His lemonade finished, he set the glass down with a bang then looked up and met my eyes. “I fought on the Confederate side. I was just a kid—no more than sixteen. Edward was on the union side. And . . .”
He took a breath then spoke again. “When you and your big brother end up fighting on opposite sides of the War because you believe in different things, a wedge is driven in your family that will never be removed. And when you see your brother lying there on a field, dying in a pool of his own blood, and you can’t get to him in time . . . “
His voice broke. “Even if I could have gotten there before that bullet took him, I wonder if it would have mattered. Edward had always been my best friend. He taught me to fish and to hunt, but now, on a field of carnage . . . we were enemies.”
His voice lowered to a whisper, and the wind brought the words to me.
“When I saw Edward there, I knew what I wanted more than anything. I wanted to be brothers again, if only for a moment. But it wasn’t to be. He . . . he was gone. And he’d left me behind.”
For a moment, I think he left the porch and was transported back to that field. His eyes no longer focused, but became distant. His gaze wandered across the rolling land around the house.
I didn’t know what to say. What was there so say? My heart pounded thinking what it would be like for Chad to be on one side of a battle and Mitch on the other. Fighting . . . each other.
Tears watered my eyes. I couldn't imagine watching my brother die. Even less could I imagine them being enemies in a war.
Mr. Sullivan turned back to me, shaking his head as if to clear the images that were still vivid and fresh, even after twenty-odd years.
“It wasn’t anyone’s fault. Not his. Not mine. We both agreed that we had to fight on the side we believed in. You can’t fight for a cause that you don’t believe in. We knew when we walked in opposite directions that it would end that way. I just always thought I’d be the one to die. Not him.”
I swallowed and finally found my voice, blinking back the tears that his story had evoked. “I--I’m so sorry.”
A quick nod was the only answer I got. How could war do something like that? How could it tear two brothers so far apart? How terrible it would be as a younger brother to watch your friend—hero, even—die. I’d almost watched two brothers die. Mitch in an isolated cabin, and Chad on the cattle drive. It had nearly torn me apart. But thank God they had lived.
It suddenly hit me that I knew so little about the battles that went on within our country. This was the first time I had ever put a face with a War.
It came like an ocean wave, crashing into my face. Giving me a rude awakening into how life went on for so many people who lived back east. Like Macy Walker.
I wondered how long it would be before the wounds healed. And then I wondered if they ever would. How could something like this heal?
I knew that only the grace of God could heal something that had so torn families apart.
Mr. Sullivan stood and placed his hat back on his head. He had let his mask fall again, hiding the emotion that had been there before. “Well, thank you for the lemonade, and the recommendation for a job. I best be on my way.”
I tried to smile. “When you get to the Circle C, tell Chad that Andi sent you.”
He gave a quick nod. “Will do. Have a wonderful afternoon.” He tipped his hat once more and rode off.
I sat there, trying to comprehend the story he had told me. It was then that I realized the history books had not exaggerated. The Civil War really was a time when brother fought against brother.
Because they believed differently. And they took a stand for those beliefs.
I shuddered and stood up, picking up the laundry basket. I had no idea how a gentleman like Paul Sullivan had gone so far out of his way to stumble across Riley’s and my little ranch. It was almost like . . . well, like God had guided him so I could think beyond my every day, normal, safe life. Mr. Sullivan had shook me up, and then some.
As I grabbed both glasses and made my way inside, I sent a prayer heavenward. A prayer entreating God that we would never again have to be involved in a War like that.