Alex stayed for three entire days. Harris complained non-stop about how short a time it was, but we all knew it was a luxury for an enlisted man to have so may days with his family at a time like this. The armies in the North and South were both busy with "practice drills," their activities becoming more frantic as the Republican convention approached. Nobody was fooled, but nobody said it was War yet, either. Each camp moved steadily towards conflict everyday; recruitment was in full force, strategies were being vetted and young men like Alex were at the heart of it all.
Having Alex here was an interesting experience for me, and a wonderful one for Harris, Willow and Anne. They clearly missed him terribly and Harris and Anne were especially worried about his safety. The first night gave me no exposure to Alex, as he and Harris had immediately slipped away for some private time. It was almost comical the way everyone avoided the upper floors of the Institute that evening. I took a subtle hint from Anne that I wouldn't want to hear what a reunion between Harris and Alex sounded like.
Instead Anne, Willow and I, along with a few of the young girls who hung on our every word, even outside of class, convened in the Library. We talked of Politics and the impending conflict between Northern and Southern interests. There was no middle ground. I had yet to meet a person, here or in the South, that did not vehemently believe their side was the absolute moral majority.
We even heard of families being ripped apart; one brother choosing the Republican's abolitionist argument while the other sided with the Democrats and State land rights. Fathers uncompromisingly disowned their sons if their viewpoints did not match, brothers fought their cousins, and somewhere in between all of these broken bonds, the women watched helplessly as their families were torn apart; unable to fight, speak or act on the topic in a meaningful way.
During lulls in the heated conversation, Willow stoked the roaring fire in the center of the grand Library. The flames leaped high, casting eerie shadows across the walls. After a brief respite, the conversation again turned to politics, Willow eagerly talking of Mr. Abraham Lincoln, 'our future president' as she put it.
"He has to be nominated first Willow," Anne interjected into Willow's rambling.
"Do you doubt that he will be Anne?" I asked. I certainly didn't doubt it. He had the strong support of the Northern industrial economic interests and the Republican Party was certainly a draw for anti-slavery activists; no other party with power was actively pushing for abolishment.
"No Tara, I don't doubt his nomination, but I do doubt he can win the Presidency." Anne leaned back against her chair. "The Southern land holders have a great deal of money. And though it may make me sound like a cynical old crone, money, not youthful ideals, make the world go 'round."
Willow sighed in clear exasperation and flopped down bodily in the vacant armchair next to Anne. "You are such a sourpuss Anne! Money doesn't make the world go 'round, knowledge does!"
Both Anne and I grinned, I with affection and love, Anne with the challenge of the argument.
"Knowledge? Knowledge makes the world go 'round Willow?" Anne's hands gestured wildly as her excitement grew. "Is that so? How long was it before the world accepted the 'knowledge' that the Earth was round, not flat, while royalty hoarded the money of hard working, uneducated laborers, blinded by the fear of the king's divine right and slaughtered in their family wars?"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa..." From the door, the unexpected sound of a male voice interrupted us. It was Alex, now changed into more casual blue pants and a warm gray sweater. He was leaning against the doorway of the Library. His head was cocked to the side and his arms were crossed over his chest.
"Since when is the world round? And what is wrong with being blinded by promises? My mother promised me that George Washington never told a lie and I choose to believe that until the day I die!"
"Oh Alex, you are such a goof. Come sit with us!" Willow patted the empty spot on the small couch I was perched on, adjacent to her own chair. I closed the book I had been reading on the history of horticulture and set it in front of me on the coffee table. I smiled invitingly at Alex and made more room for him on the couch.
"Yes, join us Alex, so you can add some real world experience to the ramblings of Willow's text book exuberance and my jaded expectations." Anne grinned at Willow.
Alex smiled and walked jauntily to the couch, sitting next to me and leaning back, his arms stretching across the back of the couch. I simply sat and observed them all.
"Willow, have you been reading again? I thought we all agreed before I left that it would be better for you to knit and cook, like a good little lady." Alex wagged his finger towards Willow as he mock scolded her.
"God lord, do either of you know how to hold a conversation without sarcasm?" Willow said. "Thank god I have Tara to talk to!" Willow then pointed to an article she was holding. "Listen here, I was just about to read an excerpt from one of Mr. Lincoln's speeches just last year. He said 'Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.' How can anyone with knowledge disagree with that?"
Alex pensively fingered his chin, his brow scrunching up in thought. "But isn't the question really States rights? Surely the South doesn't think they can actually secede? That's all bluster!"
Anne rolled her eyes. "Alex, if you hadn't been upstairs with Harris for the last hour, you would know we covered that already. We're talking about the Slavery issue now. Catch up!"
"Alright Anne," Alex conceded, "But what Harris and I were 'discussing' was much more exciting than States rights." He nodded proudly, then turned back to Willow. "What you fail to acknowledge here Willow, is that your saint Mr. Lincoln, who will surely draw us into a long and bloody war if he is elected, is himself married into the family of one Mr. Todd, a wealthy slave owner in Kentucky." He looked around the room. "Am I not right?"
"And in spite of this" I interjected, turning towards Alex on the couch, "Mr. Lincoln risks everything, for he has no great wealth of his own. I find that to be a compelling reason to believe his sincerity."
"Ah ha! Well put!" Willow practically stamped her foot to emphasis her agreement.
"Oh, I agree with you Tara, I was just pushing Willow's buttons. I do love to get her all riled up!" Alex said. "I hear you yourself are in the fray, so to speak." He leaned towards me attentively. "Harris brought me up to speed on your heroic father, your Republican law practicing brother and well, other talents you apparently have..."
Alex nodded towards Willow with a silly grin on his face. Willow rolled her eyes in exasperation. I didn't even blush as I would have when I first arrived here. I just sat back and took it all in. Anne had gone back to reading a newspaper that had been perched in her lap, but her smirk gave away that she had been following the entire conversation. Willow was chastising Alex now, by proxy, for Harris' bribing ways while he was away.
Willow's interaction with Alex was clearly more complicated then just friendship. They shared a camaraderie that was almost brotherly. For a moment, I could imagine what Willow's brother may have been like and how she may have spoken with him. I wondered if this moment, years ago when he was alive, would have taken place. I glanced over to Anne, and by the far away look in her eyes as she too had taken a moment to watch Willow and Alex bicker, I knew she was thinking much the same as I was.
We enjoyed two more nights in much the same way. Harris rarely joined the discussions. Unless we talked of economics or she had the opportunity to release a sexual innuendo on us, she was content to cloister Alex away in their rooms or lounge against him when he was in the Library. It was actually startling to see a calmer side of Harris. Alex definitely completed her in some mysterious way.
Alex's parting was difficult on all of us. I had quickly grown attached to him. I missed my own brother terribly and I saw much of his youth and energy in Alex. Of course, Willow and Anne were devastated to loose his presence. Harris, as expected, was petulant and angry when he left. We all bore the brunt of it equally, with exasperation and understanding. I could not imagine her position. I could not imagine Willow leaving me or having to leave Willow.
For the next few days, Harris moved through life in a haze. We helped as much as we could, pulling her into conversation and allowing her inconsiderate invasions into our private life with more tolerance than we normally would. She slowly returned to normal, though her ache for Alex seemed greater. Though I worried about the whereabouts of my own brother, I kept as busy as I could. I sat in my room now, pouring over some new Latin texts that Willow had received via Mr. Giles' sources abroad. I was tasked with translating them and it took everything in my arsenal to do so as they were both poorly constructed and maintained.
I was pulled away from my work by the bell in my room ringing. It had never rang before and set my heart to beating quickly. It was the visitor's bell. My work was quickly forgotten. Could it be Donald here finally, after all these months? The Republican convention was only days away and I had dared not hope but my heart soared. I took a few moments to tidy myself and then rushed down the flights of stairs quickly. I passed Willow in the hall as she left the kitchen, an apple in her hand. I paused and smiled at her.
"Where are you off to in such a hurry beautiful?" She smiled back at me.
"The visitor's bell rang for me! It may be Donald!" I hissed.
"Oh Tara, let's go see!" She took my hand and squeezed tightly. I practically dragged her with me as I passed several rooms, then the dining hall. As we passed the dining hall, Harris' omnipresent head peeped around the door frame.
"Is there a thing?" She exclaimed; half in question and half in statement. She scurried after us down the hall.
I turned the corner, and then I saw him, standing there by Anne, talking amicably with her. My handsome brother. Not so much tall as imposing, he seemed to tower over her. He'd grown his beard out and it stood red in contrast to his lighter brown hair. He looked up then and saw me.
I was running then, having let go of Willow's hand. I practically sprinted the last few feet and leapt into his arms. My only family, who I feared dead for these many months, though I had hoped would arrive for the Republican convention, was here. Warm, alive, breathing. I hugged him tightly, burying my neck in his shoulder.
"Donnie, you're alive. I am so happy." I hugged him tightly again.
"I am Tare, I'm alive. Only a bullet wound delayed me." I jerked back sharply in shock to ask about how in the world he had been shot, but he pulled me back to his body reassuringly. "We can talk about that later Tare." He rocked me slightly as I shivered at the thought of not seeing him alive. His full Charleston lilt washed over me. He'd never been able to conceal his though he had tried for a while. It reminded me of our Mother and I sighed.
I pulled back to look at him, still held in his arms. I scanned his face for wounds, for scars. He looked fine, but very tired. Pale. Not a scrape on his face though.
"I have so much to tell you Donnie. So many people for you to meet. I have been so happy here, even while I worried for you." I added that last part demurely, not wanting my happiness to overshadow my concern for him.
He smiled gently, setting me lightly on the floor and stroking my hair once.
"Everyone here does seem of a good sort so far. Anne especially."
He smiled in her direction. He was sweet on her already. I could just tell. Anne smiled tightly back, polite and friendly, but most definitely wary.
"Before any further introductions though Tare, I have a surprise for you."
I looked over to Willow apologetically. I wanted him to meet her right off. I could explain why later. I could tell him how important she was when we had more time. She was smiling so largely, her supportive nod letting me know it was alright to wait for pleasantries.
I turned back to Donnie and smiled up at him. "What is it Donnie?"
"You won't believe who I found at the hospital in Boston. He followed me here like a stray dog."
He was grinning ear to ear through his otherwise rough words. It was a jest. He was gleeful and happy. My smile slipped in confusion. He turned towards the entrance door then and practically bellowed.
"Get in here Danny boy!"
I turned, as if in slow motion towards the door. My arms, which had still been wrapped partially around Donnie, fell to my sides limply. I knew immediately who it was, even as his boots rapped on the floor in a thud much like my heart. He entered the room with a slow confident gait, stopping ten or so feet from the gathered crowd. His short stature was bellied by his dapper appearance, from his smart military boots to the shiny Calvary buckle on his belt. I heard Harris sigh behind me, no doubt imagining Alex home again and similarly attired.
His young, pleasant face was paler than I remembered; thinner perhaps, but there was no mistaking him. It was Daniel Osborne through and through. He gazed curiously at the faces flanking me, clearly wondering who they were when all I could think was 'how was he alive and why now?' He grinned at me broadly, in the sly and playful way I remembered from years ago.
"Hello Tare," he stated simply.
I felt Willow move slightly closer to me from where she had been standing while I hugged Donnie. She was looking at my face, then at Daniel's, perhaps trying to find the link between us.
"Daniel," I sighed. "You're alive." My voice was small, scared.
He nodded slowly, a small reassuring smile on his face. He walked slowly to me, taking my limp hand in his own. He squeezed. Yes, he was really there. I smiled tentatively and squeezed back. Relief and fear roiled within me in equal parts. Daniel reached out and drew me to him then, folding me in a comforting hug, to which I eventually responded in kind.
"Everything is fine Tare, I told you I would be back."
For a moment I relaxed slightly into him, letting the relief that he was alive take a hold of me. It was familiar and comforting. I knew there were questions and that I would have to explain all this to everyone - to Willow! I drew back sharply staring wildly from Daniel to Willow, who had stayed frozen several feet behind me. She was wide eyed. Concern and curiosity were etched into her knit brows. Anne and Harris where looking at Daniel quizzically. Donald was gazing at Daniel and I adoringly.
"Will, I... I never thought..." I tried to begin; looking now only into her eyes though Daniel still held me loosely. Her curiosity now faded, her face becoming slack. She was reading me, she knew something was wrong.
Donald moved toward me now, kissed my forehead and then said in a normal voice, probably not loud enough to leave the room, though it roared ferociously in my head.
"Well then Tare, why don't you introduce your brother and your husband to these lovely ladies behind me."