Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

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A Confederate Girl’s Diary

December 7, 2012

A Confederate Girl's Diary by Sarah Morgan Dawson

Sunday, 7th, December.

I have had a shock! While writing alone here (almost all have gone to church), I heard a step ascending the stair. What, I asked, if it should be Will? Then I blamed myself for supposing such a thing possible. Slowly it came nearer and nearer, I raised my head, and was greeted with a ghastly smile. I held out my hand. “Will!” “Sarah!” (Misery discards ceremony.) He stood before me the most woebegone, heartbroken man I ever saw.

With a forced laugh he said, “Where is my bride? Pshaw! I know she has gone to Clinton! I have come to talk to you. Was n’t it a merry wedding?” The hollow laugh rang again. I tried to jest, but failed. “Sit down and let me talk to you,” I said. He was in a wayward humor; cut to the heart, ready to submit to a touch of silk, or to resist a grasp of iron. This was the man I had to deal with, and get from him something he clung to as to — not his life, but — Miriam. And I know so little how to act in such a case, know so little about dealing gently with wild natures!

He alarmed me at first. His forced laugh ceased; he said that he meant to keep that license always. It was a joke on him yesterday, but with that in his possession, the tables would be turned on her. He would show it to her occasionally. It should keep her from marrying any one else. I said that it would be demanded, though; he must deliver it. The very devil shot in his eye as he exclaimed fiercely, “If any one dares demand it, I’ll die before giving it up! If God Almighty came, I’d say no! I’ll die with it first!” O merciful Father, I thought; what misery is to come of this jest. He must relinquish it. Gibbes will force him into it, or die in the attempt; George would come from Virginia. . . . Jimmy would cross the seas. . . . And I was alone in here to deal with such a spirit!

I commenced gently. Would he do Miriam such a wrong? It was no wrong, he said; let him follow his own will. “You profess to love her?” I asked. “Profess? Great God! how can you? I adore her! I tell you that, in spite of all this, I love her not more —that is impossible, — but as much as ever! Look at my face and ask that!” burst from him with the wildest impulse. “Very well. This girl you love, then, you mean to make miserable. You stand forever between her and her happiness, because you love her! Is this love?” He was sullenly silent. I went on: “Not only her happiness, but her honor is concerned. You who love her so, do her this foul injury.” “Would it affect her reputation?” he asked. “Ask yourself! Is it quite right that you should hold in your hands the evidence that she is Mrs. Carter, when you know she is not, and never will be? Is it quite honorable?” “In God’s name, would it injure Miriam? I’d rather die than grieve her.”

My iron was melted, but too hot to handle; I put it on one side, satisfied that I and I only had saved Miriam from injury and three brothers from bloodshed, by using his insane love as a lever. It does not look as hard here as it was in reality; but it was of the hardest struggles I ever had — indeed, it was desperate. I had touched the right key, and satisfied of success, turned the subject to let him believe he was following his own suggestions. When I told him he must free Miriam from all blame, that I had encouraged the jest against her repeated remonstrances, and was alone to blame, he generously took it on himself. “I was so crazy about her,” he said, “that I would have done it anyhow. I would have run any risk for the faintest chance of obtaining her”; and much more to the same purpose that, though very generous in him, did not satisfy my conscience. But he surprised me by saying that he was satisfied that if I had been in my room, and he had walked into the parlor with the license, she would have married him. What infatuation! He says, though, that I only prevented it; that my influence, by my mere presence, is stronger than his words. I don’t say that is so; but if I helped save her, thank Heaven!

It is impossible to say one half that passed, but he showed me his determination to act just as he has heretofore, and take it all as a joke, that no blame might be attached to her. “Besides, I’d rather die than not see her; I laugh, but you don’t know what I suffer!” Poor fellow! I saw it in his swimming eyes.

At last he got up to go before they returned from church. “Beg her to meet me as she always has. I told Mrs. Worley that she must treat her just the same, because I love her so. And — say I go to Clinton to-morrow to have that record effaced, and deliver up the license. I would not grieve her; indeed, I love her too well.” His voice trembled as well as his lips. He took my hand, saying, “You are hard on me. I could make her happy, I know, because I worship her so. I have been crazy about her for three years; you can’t call it a mere fancy. Why are you against me? But God bless you! Good-bye!” And he was gone.

Why? O Will, because I love my sister too much to see her miserable merely to make you happy!

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