ROSEDALE IN APRIL
Another drizzling spring rain began just before twilight. And before the predawn morning mists had lifted, the red rooster had crowed, or the morning glories had furled, Rose DeWitt Bukater would know what loving Captain Jack Dalton had given her. Stumbling to the master’s bathing chamber, she barely made it to the enameled pot in time to pitifully retch…compliments of a forbidden touch. And when she thought she couldn’t possibly empty her stomach any longer, she did. Finally, trembling from weakness and as pale as cotton, she somehow managed to crawl back into the rumpled bed without waking the exhausted Captain. Placing a quivering hand to her mouth, she cautiously rolled over onto her side away from him before slowly closing enlightened glassy green eyes. As tears stung the backs of her eyelids, she dug her fingers into a forearm to keep from moaning aloud as the nausea threatened to overwhelm her queasy senses again. Please, don’t let him suspect…not yet, dear God!
Minutes crawled by seemingly like hours to the young woman fighting desperately to lie still and pretend sleep. However, after what seemed like an eternity, the Company bugler at last sounded morning revelry prompting Jack to rise and start another day. Glancing over at Rose currently curled up into a fetal position, he smiled remembering their previous passion-filled night together. Bending over, he lovingly placed the softest of kisses to the brow of the one woman who held such a special place in his heart. Consequently, at the subtlest of movements from the mattress dipping, Rose blanched whiter while shutting her eyes tighter…and prayed. After dressing, he quietly left the room to allow her to rest awhile longer certain that she needed it after the special care she had given him the night before. What a woman!
Towards the end of breakfast, Rose still had not come downstairs despite her usual penchant of being an early riser which had more than one person concerned. Especially since for the last few weeks, she had always made it a point to arrive on the arm of the Captain. Furthermore, without a forthcoming explanation from Jack, there were various silent assumptions as to her whereabouts. Yet, it was Nanny that was the first to voice aloud her charge’s curious absence.
"Lizzie, yo’ sees Miz Rose dis moanin’?" Intentionally not asking the Captain for the immoral relationship between he and Rose still stuck in the black woman’s craw.
"Nawsum. Iz reckon Iz better go checks on her. Miz Rose neva asked me no mo’ to help her git dressed in de moanin’. Ain’t dat right, Cap’un?" As Lizzie cast Jack a teasing knowing smile, Nanny glared at the back of the Captain’s head.
"No sense in bothering you Lizzie when I am only too pleased to lend your mistress a helping hand whenever she desires it. Especially with you being a newlywed, it’s just not necessary when I can see to her needs." Jack charmingly grinned.
"Umpf! Youse and Miz Rose sho’ bees newly married folk, too, Cap’un Yankee. It jest ain’t fittin’ what youse a doin!" An aggravated Nanny dismayingly fussed before popping Jack on the shoulder with her dishtowel causing the entire table to guffaw in laughter.
Moments later as Lizzie lightly knocked then entered the bedroom, the first thing that caught her attention was low whimpering coming from the large bed. Flying to Rose’s side, she worriedly inquired, "Miz Rose! Yo’ sick? Canz I helps…or go git Nanny?" As she placed a hand to Rose’s forehead checking for a possible temperature.
Rose clung to Liz’s hand and squeezed. "NO! Whatever you do, don’t get Nanny! Please help me out of here, Liz. I’m just feeling a bit under the weather. That’s all."
"Miz Rose, now don’t yo’ start fibbin’ to me likes Iz a ninny." Lizzie doubtfully accused when finding her sister’s pale skin remarkably cool to the touch.
"What makes you think otherwise, Lizzie? Can’t a girl have a little morning sickness around here without people jumping to conclusions?" Rose lethargically managed to get out despite the energy it took to speak.
"Don’t gots to. Yo’ jest answered my question." The dark eyes regarded Rose with a steadiness that unnerved the nauseous lady. Of course, Rose shouldn’t have been surprised when her sister had always been so adept at reading her thoughts…and fears. Nonetheless, Lizzie purposefully crossed the room to the basin of water to dampen a cloth. As she gently placed it to her sister’s pale forehead, she intently studied the signs that were all too evident of her delicate condition.
"Cap’un don’t knows yet I s’pect. Sho’ nuff saw dis comin’. Dis fever yo’ and hims has fo’ one another. Neva seen anythin’ likes it, dats fo’ sho’…sometimes seems the twos of yo’ goin’ to go up in a cloud of smoke. Nows deres a baby growin’ in yo’ belly, Miz Rose. What we goin’ to do?"
Clutching her sister’s hand, Rose weakly smiled. "We’re gonna go on and make the best of it, Auntie Liz." As Rose forced the corners of her mouth to curl, her heart turned over at Lizzie’s innate sweetness. For this wasn’t just her problem to deal with, but theirs…together. A true bonding friendship through thick and thin.
Sometimes later, Jack was on his way out the front door when he glanced up at the top of the stairs mentally debating whether to check in on Rose. Damn, she must be really tired after last night! Rose was there, awash in green silk as still as an alabaster statue. For a long moment, she didn’t move. Her celadon green eyes didn’t blink while ever so carefully she took a deep cleansing breath and exhaled it in a rush. Slowly then, she descended, one hand resting lightly on the smooth walnut banister, the other lifting the hem of her skirt just enough so he could glimpse her ankles. As usual, the flash of that dainty foot caused an instant arousal although he had seen and touched a lot more of Rose than her ankles. Perhaps it was that particular intimate mental image that made him harden…yet again. Made him brace his legs apart in an effort to keep from charging up the stairs like a rutting bull and appease the perpetual ache that throbbed in his loins for this astounding woman. At last reaching the floor, hand still resting on the barrister, lips slightly parted, and with apparent difficulty, Rose stood straighter and hesitantly met hypnotizing blue eyes.
"Good morning, Miss Bukater." Jack teasingly smiled, lighting his whole face up like the morning sun as he took her hand and gallantly placed a kiss to her knuckles.
"I prefer, Rose, Captain Dalton." Her voice coming out in barely more than a whisper.
As a lop-sided grin spread across his beaming countenance, Jack slightly nodded. "Yes, I think we’ve seen enough of each other to dispense of formalities." He murmured as his eyes drifted down over the creamy ivory skin above her daring décolletage. "So with that in mind, why not call me Jack for once?" He heard her drawn in an unsteady breath and noticed for the first time the tiny glistening beads of sweat on her forehead and the unnatural pallor of ashen skin.
"You feeling all right, Rose?" Jack’s eyes narrowed intently when at that precise moment Nanny hollered from the dining room.
"Well, honey chile, ‘bout times yo’s gits up. Nanny ‘bout to git worried…not likes yo’ to burns daylight! How’s about so’ fried eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy…"
Before Nanny could finish her sentence, the hand Jack still held abruptly flew to Rose’s mouth as she whirled and mounted the stairs two at a time. Silence like a tomb filled the entryway at her hasty departure.
"Cap’un Yankee, whad yo’ sez to hers dis time? Dat girl done flighty as a newborn colt…umpf…umpf. Guess she don’t want no breakfast no how." And Nanny stomped back in the kitchen mumbling something about fighting and loving.
Jack stood stock still in shock as his face blanched chalk white. Biting his lower lip, he whipped around on a booted heel and stalked out the front doors. Stunned realization spurred him on as his mind did a mental calculation of dates and times. He didn’t stop until he was standing at the edge of the secluded lagoon…breathing heavily like he had just ran a lengthy foot race. His heart was pounding in his head and his teeth were clenched so tight his entire jaw hurt like he had been punched in the mouth. Dragging a slightly trembling hand through his blond hair, Jack closed his eyes and willed back the sudden urge to scream at the top of his lungs. Shaking, his self-control suddenly snapped, "God dammit to hell! What the hell was I thinking?"
"You weren’t…at least not with the right head anyway! Unless of course, you still claim vengeance against the notorious Major Henley as the motive for your little…uh…slip up." Came a familiar snort from behind him where his best friend was leaned up against a large moss-draped cypress tree with his arms crossed over his chest.
For actually, Sergeant Tommy Ryan hadn’t missed a thing. He had been seated at the end of the long dining table with a totally unobstructed view of the whole intriguing scene at the bottom of the staircase from the beginning to its end. Unlike Nanny though, his suspicions hit dead on. And he certainly wasn’t the least bit shocked at the apparent consequences of the repetitive heated couplings of his Captain and the lovely Rebel mistress of Rosedale. Hardly, for every night since they had arrived, Tommy was privy to the amorous goings on in the room next to his!
"I can’t believe this has happened, Tommy! I’m worse than that bastard Cal!" Jack vehemently railed while making a fist and forcefully smacking his other palm with it at the revolting admission of guilt.
Unconcernedly shrugging his shoulders, Tommy jabbed, "Shit happens, Jack. And this was bound to happen…just face it. Surely you’re not stupid enough to have thought that such a thing was impossible."
No answer as a broad back turned away from him to stare at the vapors rising up from the black shiny waters of Caddo Lake.
"Of course, I have to admit that Rose must be a very fertile woman..."
"Shit, Tommy! I need some plausible advice here not some vulgar smart ass remark!" Jack blasted in obvious exasperation.
"Advice? From me? I think it’s a little too late for that now, don’t you? I guess I could blow your family jewels off like you did Major Henley’s if it’d make you feel any better…which I seriously doubt at this point in time…or ever!" Tommy jokingly ridiculed not in the least bit sympathetic to his friend’s dilemma. Because for once, Jack deserved it!
Jack angrily stalked off leaving a grinning Tommy Ryan to shake his head in bemusement. So Captain Jack Dalton was going to be a father whether he wanted it or not. Of course, as the way Tommy looked at the situation, Jack had not counted on revenge backfiring on him when they arrived here six weeks ago. He had been so full of hatred and the dark need to strike back at the man he believed responsible for Mel’s death that nothing or nobody else had mattered. At least of all an innocent young girl that had by some chance twist of fate gotten in his path while unwittingly turning the tables on him. But the genes that child would carry! Holy Mother of Jesus! God help both Jack and Rose in about fifteen years!
"I hope like hell that I’m around to see Jack’s comeuppance, too! That child is going to be hell on wheels! Yep, Jack is gonna pay for his sins all right!" Tommy laughingly mused as he let out a whistle.
Striking a match then puffing a cigarette alight, Jack inwardly berated himself for the unimaginable bastard that he felt he was. Not that he didn’t want his child because there wasn’t a doubt in his mind that Rose was pregnant. Besides nothing could compare to the blessings that the miracle of a baby could bring into two peoples’ lives. Especially when he loved the mother of his future child like he did Rose. But the timing was all wrong. Truthfully, it literally sucked! So much could happen between now and the birth of their baby. Furthermore, it was highly unlikely that he’d even be anywhere near Texas to witness its birth. And the thought that he wouldn’t be here for Rose when she needed him the most sickened the pit of his stomach…and his conscience. But moreover, to not be able to hear his baby’s first cry, to see its first smile, to hold it in his arms the first day of its birth, to kiss the softness from its head to its tiny toes…so much he would miss because of this damnable war! Who would it favor in looks and spirit? And would he ever get the chance to know? Damn…damn…what have I done?
Then suddenly out of the corner of his eye, a spot of copper fire caught his attention. Amongst the dark green leaves in the flower garden was an unusual shimmering spot of bronze color in the shape of a rosebud. So beautifully unique, it outshone all the other blossoms around it. Mesmerized, he reached out to touch it but a sharp thorn pricked his finger causing a speck of scarlet blood to ooze from this finger.
"Be careful, Captain. Although beautiful…it can be quite wounding." Rose softly smiled. Taking his injured hand into hers, she carefully wiped the blood with the hem of her green silk skirt completely oblivious to the stain that might consequently soil the dress. As the blood seeped into the silk, Rose placed her lips to the cut and gently kissed.
"Your dress, Rose. It’ll be ruined…damaged. And I seriously doubt it can be repaired." Jack protested and suddenly caught the underlying meaning of his own words. Had he recklessly and tragically ruined her social elitist life forever?
"I’m not worried about it, Captain, nor should you be. But that rose…it’s called ‘Blazing Fire’. I’ll give you a little history lesson behind it if you care to know." Rose in truth was having a hard time looking directly in Jack’s eyes; therefore, staring at his bleeding finger or the copper rose that had done the injury.
"All right." Came the softest answer she had ever heard from the Captain’s lips.
"It’s an exclusive patented hybrid given to my mother for my first birthday from my Great Aunt Julia who lives in Illinois. She claimed it reminded her of my red hair as a baby. I believe she cross bred a deep golden rose with a vibrant orange and voila! One of a kind!"
"Yes, I can believe that…one of a kind. Although real men usually don’t cotton to feminine things like flowers; however, I must confess…I’ve been captivated by more than one rose since my arrival here." Slanting her a heart rending smile, he suddenly crooked a wondering brow. "But relatives in the North? Well, I’ll be damned. You never cease to amaze me, mia." As he belatedly thumped the cigarette into the nearby grass lawn before responsibly turning his head away to exhale a stream of smoke.
"You’d be surprised at the relatives that I have, Captain Dalton…to put it mildly." Rose mysteriously hinted with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. "But it’s actually a very early bloomer for a rose. Sort of like me, I suppose. I was born dangerously early and Sterling Bukater prayed that I wouldn’t make it to draw my first breath. Of course, as we all know, I fooled him, huh?"
"And I thank God that you did, mia. But seriously, I can’t imagine a man wishing for a child’s death no matter what the circumstances."
"It’s called male pride and greed. Although the Colonel knew my mother was expecting before he married her, he wanted it all. This plantation, wealth, my mother…and his own child. Not some other man’s bastard."
Swallowing a huge lump that was threatening to close off his windpipe, Jack bit out, "Will you marry…after I’m gone?"
"I believe I told you once Captain that the man I marry will have to love and respect me for what I am. Do you think that’s possible now?"
Jack was fighting to present a calm demeanor and the forced smile suddenly faded as Private Fabrizio di Rossi annoyingly invaded their private moment.
"Captain Dalton! An urgent message has just arrived from General Grant himself."
"Thank you, Private." As Jack grabbed the official sealed missive, another lump formed in his throat as he hastily opened then scanned the contents. "Private have Sergeant Ryan meet me in my office posthaste. It appears we’re finally being called back to active duty…we’ll be pulling out at sunrise tomorrow. You’re dismissed."
"Where we going, Captain Dalton?" Fabrizio excitedly inquired before leaving the pair.
"Where is this Vicksburg, Captain?" The ignorant young private worriedly probed.
"Mississippi, Private, north of Natchez. If you recall, we were there just before arriving in Texas…now go get the Sergeant. And tell him to have the best horseman we have accompany him. I need him to run an errand into Jefferson before we depart."
Blue and green eyes collided in dread at the unknown future that tiny piece of paper held. Time had seemingly ran out. The season of war had slithered in and was stealing him away. And they both knew that he must go…there was no alternative...no choice whatsoever…for honor and duty called with no regard for human life or dreams.