Steve was awoken one October night by his dog’s whimpering. The clock said 3:12 am. The dog needed an emergency walk, and Steve had little choice but to take him on one. Steve reluctantly put on the clothes from the day before and followed his dog into the cold autumn air. He thought they would take their usual trip around the block, but when the wind picked up, he could have sworn he heard a woman’s distressed voice.
“Sampson,” she seemed to say, “Sampson.” Over and over the voice repeated. “It can’t be a trick of the wind,” Steve thought, because his dog perked up his ears—he heard it, too.
Steve let his dog lead the way towards the voice. This meant cutting across a neighbor’s yard, and eventually ending up in a pitch-dark field. As Steve’s eyes adjusted, he saw a lone light weaving in and out of view, and he knew someone must be exploring the old Lebeau-Blanc Manor. This was not uncommon.
The whole town grew up hearing tales of how the Lebeau and Blanc families united to establish the largest plantation in all of Mississippi. The manor was “a colonnaded testament to their glory,” and a “remnant of a simpler time.” Since its heyday, the mansion had become a secluded hangout. Steve wasn’t about to bust up a high school party, even if it was extremely late. He was readying to turn around, when he heard the woman’s voice again, singing this time:
A girl alone, in a hollow home.
Her man has gone away.
He had no time to stop, or stay.
When love has turned a rusted red
The ones who owned it, must be dead.
Steve wasn’t about to turn a blind eye to a damsel in distress. He ran to the house, fearing the woman might be suicidal. The dog began to bark as they rounded the side of the house, and headed up to several steps to the colonnaded porch. Steve had to push with all of his might to open the front door.
“Hello!” Steve called out, voice echoing. No one answered. Then, he heard wood creaking to his right. As he turned, he saw a young woman standing on the swirling grand staircase. She wore a white bustled gown that reflected the moonlight shinning through the missing patches of the roof.
“Sampson?” she asked. Her voice still sounded far away.
“No. Are you alright?” Steve asked.
“I will be when Sampson gets here,” said the woman, “He’s terribly late.”
“Were you the one singing before? The song seemed a little sad.” Steve said, trying to gauge her mood.
“Oh, fiddlesticks,” said the woman with a coy smile, “What cause would I have to sing a sad song. It’s my wedding day.”
“I didn’t realize this house still had a piano.”
“How could you know such a thing? You’re a stranger.” She said, turning her head curiously, and descending the rest of the stairs. This allowed Steve to analyze the soft beauty of her pale face. Her lips and cheeks had the slightest blush of pink.
Now, Steve wasn’t an idiot. Pale woman, old house. The idea that she might be a ghost occurred to him, but living or not, she was still a damsel, and she still seemed to need his help.
“You look like him,” she said, gliding towards him, “A cousin perhaps? Not a northerner, I hope? You seem surprised to see me. Aren’t I just like my picture? I’m sure he’s driven you mad with talk of his ‘sweet little Lizzie.’” She took Steve’s hands in her own. Her palms were freezing. The dog shivered, and hid behind his owner.
“Dear Cousin, please tell me you have brought word from my beloved?” Lizzie continued. Her coy smile turned to a desperate frown. Steve had no clue what to say.
“He’s on his way,” was the best Steve could muster. Lizzie pulled him into a hug.
“Oh, bless you,” she said. “Now I’m crying. I must look a mess.” She pulled away, and wiped her eyes. Then turned and shouted to the back of the house, “Cisley! Cisley!”
“Coming, Miss,” said a voice, and immediately a large black woman, in a headscarf and long skirt, hurried out of the shadows. All doubt had gone out of Steve’s mind; he was conversing with ghosts. Cisley tried to comfort Lizzie with a hug, but Lizzie refused.
“Uchh! No.” Lizzie said, disgusted, “You’re so touchy. I meant a handkerchief. I need a handkerchief.”
Steve couldn’t believe the scowling, nasty, look that appeared on Lizzie’s face. In that moment, all of his sympathy and obligation shifted to Cisley. “Has Cisley been kept prisoner all these years to answer the calls of a mad woman?” he thought. The idea was unbearable to him.
“I have to get going!” Steve said, “I have a…wedding present to buy.”
“Of course,” Lizzie said. She escorted him to the door, but Steve made note that she was careful not to cross the threshold to the outside. He heard the door close behind him, and headed off with a new mission in place: to learn as much about “Sampson” as possible. The next day he went down to the city archives, and asked to see all known records of the Lebeau-Blanc family and their Manor. The librarian looked relieved to have him.
“We have almost too much information on the family,” she said, “They even donated blankets, and bed sheets, which we had no use for.”
In a book marked “Family tree”, Steve found the name Elizabeth Lebeau-Blanc (life years). It said she died of heart complications. Also amongst the pages were several early photographs of the family. Flipping through them, he recognized Lizzie’s face immediately, and the young man sat next to must have been “Sampson.” He was dressed in a Confederate enlisters uniform, while her party dress was adorned with flowers. Lizzie seemed to be repressing a smile, while Sampson curiously seemed to be repressing a frown.
Steve studied Sampson’s face. In truth, Lizzie was much mistaken; Steve and he looked nothing a like. It made Steve wonder how well Lizzie really remembered the love of her life. Steve decided he could use this to his advantage.
That night, Steve left the dog at home, and headed back to the manor. This time he wore a “Robert E. Lee” Costume, and a powder-white face. He stood a few steps from the porch, with the moon behind him.
“Lizzie!” he called, “Lizzie!” There was a stir at the left window, and then the door swung open.
“Sampson?!” Lizzie cried, “My darling, is it really you? And they made you a General?”
“What do you think kept me away all these years? I wanted to make you proud. Come here and let me hold you.” In her excitement, Lizzie stepped out on to the porch. Suddenly she looked more transparent.
“You look even lovelier than your picture. Have you read my letters?”
“Letters? What letters?” Lizzie asked, tearfully. She took two steps closer to him, and faded a little more.
“Everyday, I sent you a letter saying how much I love you.” Steve said, “I even wrote you a poem:
A man alone in a uniform hand-sewn.
With his troops, he’s on the hunt.
Away from the girl he left for the front.
For you, and the flag white, blue, and red.
I will love you both long after we’re dead.”
“Oh, Sampson, I thought I’d never see you again.” Lizzie ran from the porch, and to Steve’s open arms, but, before she could reach her goal, a light opened in the sky, and took her up. This brought an brilliant smile to Steve’s face, but his concern remained. He looked to the front door.
“Cisley! Cisley! You’re free.” he said, and Cisley appeared from out of the darkness.
“It was a nice thing you did here.” Cisley said, “but Miss Lizzie wasn’t my reason for staying. I don’t reside in this house. I walk the land a mile off, where my house used to stand. I visited here, merely out of kindness.”
“But she was awful to you,” Steve said.
“She wasn’t always. I practically raised Miss Lizzie, and it wasn’t right what that Mr. Sampson did to her. Whether she was willing to admit it or not–after all these years–she was as much mine as I was hers.”
“So, why are you here?” Steve asked.
“Love,” she said, “It’s the only thing that truly binds one person to another. My family was torn apart by greed and inhumanity. I cannot rest until I know what became of them.”
Steve thought on the difficulty of such a task, but recalled the mountains of paperwork in the town archives. There was more than a little chance he could find some kind of registry, and from there, who knew what else.
So, that night, aglow in moonlight, a man dressed as Robert E. Lee made a promise to free a slave.
Written by Alex Schattner (10/11/12)
Enjoyable story and suspense, good twist!
Thanks for reading and writing, Scott. I appreciate it.