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The Long Road Home: The Journey of Alice & Jasper

Summary:
This is the story of Alice and Jasper, before they met one another and after, up until they met the Cullens. It begins with Alice in the asylum. I have taken great pains to keep the story as in-canon as possible and remain true to the characters as they were created by Stephenie Meyer; I also have tried to be as historically accurate as I can. I hope you enjoy the story, and I welcome all feedback. Thank you for stopping by!


Notes:


2. Chapter 2: Lonesome Texas Highway

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I’ve told my story in bits and pieces a dozen dozen times over to many different people; I’ve even had it picked directly from my mind by those possessing such abilities. But I’ve never sat down and recounted the entire thing, from beginning to end, until now. I’ve been told my tale is an interesting one, although “interesting” isn’t exactly the word I’d choose to describe the path my life has taken. So, to make others happy and to help myself remember things that I’ve begun to forget, I’ll tell you about myself.

I was born Jasper Charles Whitlock III in a small town on the outskirts of Houston, Texas in the spring of 1843.

That was a crazy time in Texas. When I came into the world Texas was actually called the Republic of Texas, an island of defiance in the middle of the skirmishes between Mexico and the United States. The Lone Star flew on the flag proudly; Texas needed no one, it said.

The Whitlock family has a long history, going back to England hundreds of years. I won’t bore you with that. They originally settled in the Americas in the East, along the coast from the Carolinas to Alabama, becoming Americans by determination and birth.

Years later, Great-grandfather on my father’s side decided he’d had enough of the drama and strife of the Old South. He made a plan move his clan West, into the great wide-open wilderness, where every man has his opportunity to make himself anew. After all, the government was expanding Union territory west by leaps and bounds, nibbling and gobbling up territories from the Mexicans, French and Spanish, offering those newly-claimed lands to industrious and enterprising settlers for practically nothing.

So Great-Grandpa Whitlock dragged his part of the family, most kicking and screaming in protest, across hundreds and hundreds of miles of rutted roads, muddy trails, forested mountains, and rushing rivers, to settle in what would eventually become Oklahoma. There they settled amongst the rolling hills and determined to make a new life.

When Mexico’s Santa Anna laid claim to the vast tracts of lands to the south of Oklahoma, what would become Texas, as Mexican territory, he offered generous bonuses and excellent opportunities to any Anglos who chose to make Texas their home. And my father, tired of the constant quarrels with Indians and Union soldiers in Oklahoma Territory, decided he’d take the Mexicans up on their offer. Apparently the Whitlock family has itchy, wandering feet.

He’d recently married my mother, a delicate Virginia belle he’d met while attending University; she wasn’t nearly so enthusiastic about the prospect of moving to Mexican territory as Father was. He practically had to tie her to her saddle to get her to go. With everything they owned packed tight in a little wagon, trailing the horses and cattle behind, they struck out south, crossing the Red River, and made their way.

The Mexican government awarded Father a nice little tract of land outside of Houston, although it wasn’t called Houston back then. Father used the grant money they supplied and built himself a house and barn and storage buildings, and a mill to supply water and grind grain. He was able to hire local workers, Mestizos for the most part (Mexican-Indian mixed people), dark-skinned and humble people who work hard without complaining for very little reward.

Before ten years had passed, Father had become a prosperous local figure, well-respected, and Mother had produced myself and my younger sister, Virginia—named after the longed-for rolling green hills of her home state. Mexico had also granted Texas its independence during that time, and for a brief period Texas was the Republic of Texas.

When the territory changed hands and became American soil, nothing much changed for us. Shortly after I was born, in 1845, the Republic of Texas was swallowed whole by the United States of America, becoming its 28th and probably most contentious, independent, and cantankerous member.

Father, being Anglo, was not stripped of his lands as many of the other locals were by the ravaging Union advance. His opinions were sought after and he became even more respected. People came from all around to have Jasper Charles Whitlock II give them his opinion on the value of a horse or the potential profit margin for the sale of cotton or whether that new irrigation technique would work. I grew up in his shadow, admiring his every move, vowing to be just like him when I grew up.

Father grew some cotton and corn, as well as testing out new crops like soybeans and sugar beet, seeing how well they took to the acidic east-Texas soil. His gambles paid off, and we did well, even when locusts came and gobbled everything up one year, and others when a drought would make the fields a crackling, dry forest of dead stalks. We had money put aside, credit with the banks, and a good reputation—all a man ever needs, Father said, besides a good woman and obedient children.

“Be a man of your word, son,” he’d tell me, punching his fist into the palm of his other hand for emphasis. “Say what you mean, mean what you say, and do what you’ve promised. Don’t be false, don’t cut corners, and always keep your honor. That’s what makes a man, Jasper.” Then he’d chuck me under the chin and shoo me out, to curry the horses or bring in the water for the cows.

Between lessons with my tutors and chores for my father, I was kept busy, but I was allowed some time to play. My childhood was, for the most part, a good one; my father wasn’t given to drink or gambling like many men were, and he loved my mother to distraction.

Ah, Mother. Although she was a trial sometimes, with her pining for Southern comforts and delicate manners, Mother was a gentle, sweet soul, who enjoyed laughing and games. We often sat up late in the evenings by the light of the oil lamp or the flickering fire, reading the most recent magazines and newspapers brought for us from Back East, reveling in the months-old news and gossip and goings-on.

She loved to read, and from an early age had pressed that love on me, until I rarely went anywhere without a book tucked into a pocket or pouch somewhere. Father, a much less bookish person, tolerated it, in the name of having an “educated son”. His University days had been much more a social affair, apparently, not something he’d enjoyed for the academic fruits. I got the impression that there’d been a great deal of drinking and carousing involved, but he rarely spoke of it, cutting his eyes toward my mother in alarm whenever I asked him and telling me to hush up. I think he didn’t like Mother to hear about it.

My little sister, Virginia, was the light of my life. Five years younger than me, she was my golden-haired shadow, always at my heels, pestering me with questions and observations and songs and jokes. I didn’t mind, really, except when she played her silly practical jokes on me. From the age of three she was a devil for the ingenuity and inventiveness of her pranks.

She loved to put frogs in my boots, so that in the morning I’d put one foot in and get a slimy surprise; she’s fall to the floor and howl with laughter at the sight of me, hopping around on one leg while trying to pull my boot off without squishing the poor frog. She loved to short-sheet my bed, or put hot pepper in my morning eggs.

One favorite prank of hers that nearly caused my death was when she spread marbles on the floor in the hallway leading out back to the outhouse. That time, I had padded downstairs, still half-asleep, needing to relieve myself…and had ended up flat on my back, staring up into her laughing face. I don’t know how she managed to be right there when it happened; I imagine she’d been hiding in the linen closet just off the hallway, waiting.

I snatched at her with both hands, trying to catch her before she darted away, but she was too quick, fleeing down the hallway toward the back door.

I jumped up as quick as I could, and had taken about three running steps after her when…again, my feet went out from under me, and this time I flipped completely over, landing face-first among the scattered marbles on the cold plank floor.

Her giggled turned into screams of laughter. She was going to wake everyone up!

I managed to get up again and pursued her out into the night, but she was so fast, her white nightgown fluttering in the darkness, her laughter drifting back to me on the wind.

“You’ll never catch me, Jas! I always win!”

And she did. I stopped chasing her and went back to the house, enjoying the coolness and the sweet smell of the mesquite trees in the night. She must have stayed out in the dark somewhere, waiting for me to go inside. Probably lurking behind the huge old live oak behind the outhouse.

And so I locked her out. And put the key in my pajama jacket’s pocket.

I went back to bed with a big smile on my face, and when she started howling outside for someone to open the door I just rolled over, put a pillow over my head, and slept the sleep of the just.

It drove Mother and the slaves and hired help to distraction, our constant warring and quarreling and making up. I’d always scream bloody murder at her, chasing her all over the house or barnyard til Mother would have to separate us with a scold and a rap from a wooden spoon. I’d foam at the mouth, vowing revenge, but within a few minutes her sunny smile and contagious laughter would melt my anger. I couldn’t stay angry at her.

Sometimes we’d take off from chores and go swimming; I’d hide a spare shirt under mine, so she could divest herself of crinolines and underskirts and such, to swim in freedom in one of my roomy old button-downs. We’d swim and splash like ducks, and laugh for hours, eventually climbing out of the water to lay in the dry grass on the riverbank in the sun, drowsing beneath the buzzing hum of dragonflies and cicadas singing in the trees above, letting our clothes dry in the close heat of the afternoon. Then I’d help her re-plait her tangled hair and do up all the buttons and ties of her dress and we’d slip back into the farm compound, hoping we hadn’t been missed. The local workers would smile indulgently and cover for us; they loved us, calling us “los machitos”, the little blonde ones, and they sometimes snuck us candy too.

Although there was a local one-room schoolhouse for the children of the workers and townsfolk nearby, Mother wouldn’t stand for me to have a “common education.” How she’d want to die of shame, if she’d ever had the chance to know how many times I’ve attended and graduated from public schools!

Anyway, she made it her mission in life to obtain the best tutors for me, and also for Virginia, but back then a girl’s education was something not really considered. A steady stream of well-credentialed teachers versed in various subjects trooped through our home for several years.

We took our lessons in the dining room, where we did our assignments at the big polished cherry wood table. We learned grammar and elocution from a big-nosed English import who had a bad allergy to dust and was given to fits of sneezing for ten minutes at a time; we were taught the Classics by a moldering old roly-poly man who had a tendency to doze off while he read from Cicero’s Orations; we learned French and deportment from an older, unmarried woman who wore her dark hair pulled back so tightly it caused her to resemble a chinaman. Despite their particular peculiarities, we learned a great deal from them. Of course, we spent as much time joking about them behind their backs as we did listening to them…

When I reached the ripe old age of ten, Father added what he called “men’s skills” to my curriculum. That consisted of everything having to do with weapons of any sort; dogs; horses; spitting: hunting and fishing and the cleaning and skinning of the spoils of such sports; and tracking.

In a few years, I’d become an accomplished student of Men’s Skills. I learned how to fire a rifle and hit my target effortlessly; use a bowie knife and short sword and bayonet to carve up my chosen targets; train a dog to hunt and heel; ride any horse with four legs; spit like a camel; kill anything I hunted and then prepare it to be cooked for supper; and find things in the forest. It was great fun, and served me very well later in my life.

Virginia always grumbled when I received my lessons from Father. She wanted to be included as well, but Father wouldn’t listen to a word of it. “Get back inside, Ginny, see to your mother. She’ll teach you all you need to know.” And Ginny would trudge back to the house, casting an occasional mournful glance back at me…and sticking out her tongue when Father wasn’t watching.

I imagine that learning how to embroider and can peaches and darn socks is much less fun than learning the things Father taught me. I supposed it was unfair, but that’s the way it was, back then.

Father and I got along well, most of the time. However, the older I got, the more I realized that he and I were, well, just different.

Father was content as a pig in slop out in the fields directing his hired hands and slaves, or holding court with the local tradesmen and farmers, or in the evenings sitting before the fire with his feet propped up on the hassock, pipe clenched between his strong white teeth, reading the weekly paper. He was a simple man, a strong man, one who didn’t have a lot of depth except depth of character. A more loyal, just, and devoted man couldn’t be found. If he was a bit insensitive and intolerant at times, that could be excused beside his generosity and kindness.

I, on the other hand, enjoyed those simple, earthy things that my father loved so much…but it wasn’t enough. As I mentioned before, I loved to read, and too often I got scolded by Father or one of the farm foremen for slacking; to be found in the barn leaning on my pitchfork reading a book wasn’t an unusual occasion. I wasn’t lazy…just easily distracted.

I was also, I realized eventually, very sensitive to those around me. Not in an overly emotional, effeminate kind of way; I was very aware of those around me, and how they were feeling.

When I was a little boy, it was very unconscious. I knew it when Mother was sad, when she was feeling depressed and lonely. Before Ginny was born, when it was just her and I in the house while Father was out, I would often go looking for her. I’d find her curled up in the bed in the big bed in their room, the curtains drawn to keep the light out. I could feel her sadness like it was my own; I’d run to her and snuggle up next to her and put my arms around her as far as I could.

“Please don’t cry, Mama, everything’s all right, please don’t cry!”

Something about a mother’s tears is terrifying to a small child. And I would urge her, with everything inside me, to feel better, to be happier.

After a moment, without fail, she’d silently dry her tears and turn to face me, her wan face warming with a smile. “Ah, my sweet Jasper, you always make me feel better. What would I do without my boy?” she’d murmur. And everything would be better.

And then when Mother was happy, it made my world glow. Although I hadn’t realized why at the time, when she was carrying Virginia she was the happiest I’d ever seen her before then. I’d sit nearby while she rocked herself in the cane rocking chair that Father had made her shortly after I was born, knitting little clothes and humming softly. Sometimes she’d actually break into song.

Oh, Shenandoah, I long to hear you,
Away, you rolling river
Oh, Shenandoah, I long to hear you
Away, I'm bound away, cross the wide Missouri.

Oh, Shenandoah, I love your daughter,
Away, you rolling river
Oh, Shenandoah, I love your daughter
Away, I'm bound away, cross the wide Missouri.

Oh, Shenandoah, I'm bound to leave you,
Away, you rolling river
Oh, Shenandoah, I'm bound to leave you
Away, I'm bound away, cross the wide Missouri.

Oh, Shenandoah, I long to see you,
Away, you rolling river
Oh, Shenandoah, I long to see you
Away, I'm bound away, cross the wide Missouri.

She had a high, sweet voice that caressed every note, every syllable. It was such a sad song, it made me want to cry, but she wasn’t sad while she sang it. I understood eventually that she remembered that song from her childhood, it was about the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, near where she grew up. Apparently, Mother took a lot of personal meaning from the song, for Father had taken her away from her beloved green home, to cross the wide Missouri, indeed even the mighty Mississippi. She longed for her old home, but I knew she loved her new one, too, as long as she had Father and me to help fill it. And eventually, Ginny was born, and she completed our little circle.

After Ginny was born, life changed a bit for me. I went from being the pampered only child, the prince, to being the older brother, something I took with grave seriousness. I watched over her crib like a guard dog, determined not to allow anything to bother the sleeping baby.

She was so pretty, all chubby limbs and pink cheeks and shining gold curls. She was a happy baby, even then, laughing early and often. She brought a lot of joy to our home. After that, I didn’t have to help Mother be happy nearly so often.

As we got older, Ginny and I grew closer. At first it was the protective older brother role that I undertook, but it changed, expanded, deepened, as we grew up. By the time I was fourteen and she was nine, we were inseparable, or as much as possible. She followed me about as I did my chores, chattering at me and telling me jokes to make me laugh—she always said I didn’t laugh enough. We’d do our lessons together, and she always helped me with my grammar and I helped her with her math. I secretly taught her some of the things Father taught me during Man Time: by the time she was ten, Ginny could spit ten feet and hit a tin can, something that would have made Father turn purple with rage and made Mother faint dead away.

Often she’d sneak into my room at night, after everyone else was deep asleep, starling me awake by putting her freezing-cold little feet against the backs of my legs. I’d just roll over, make more room for her, and we’d snuggle together under the patchwork quilt Mother had made during the long trek south from Oklahoma. When morning light touched the windows the next day, she’d be gone, tucked innocently into her own bed. I had no idea how she managed to never get caught.

Ginny hated being alone in the dark; sometimes she had strange nightmares, and would come running in, hair in wild disarray and eyes wide with fear. I’d always somehow know she was coming on those nights, and would be sitting up, waiting, when she burst in through the door, diving headlong into the bed with me.

I could feel her fear the same way I could feel her pounding heart. I’d rub her back and murmur to her under my breath, and I’d urge her, like I’d urged Mother, to feel better, to not be afraid. After a little while she’d calm, her breathing would slow, and she’d let me lay her down and cover her up to sleep.

“You won’t ever leave me, will you, Jas?” she asked me once in a timid little whisper. Her big blue eyes gleamed in the moonlight that streamed through the window, turning her hair all silvery.

Even though I couldn’t promise it with any certainty, I rolled my eyes. “Of course, Ginny. Now hush and go to sleep.” I tucked the quilt up under her chin and lay down beside her. “I’ll stay awake and keep the nightmares away, all right? Go to sleep.”

And she did.

As the years passed I became more conscious of that ability of mine. It was strongest with people I knew, but I could walk into a room and know right away what was going on by the feel I got from those inside. As I matured, I realized I could manipulate those feelings, like I had with Mother and with Ginny.

It became very handy when I eventually left home, for the Army, to be able to assess the emotional states of those around me and then influence it the way I chose, whether it be to calm or to excite. It was amazing to me that often older, more experienced men would stop and listen to what I had to say, would agree with me, would even follow what I suggested. At times the power of it was a bit heady, but I tried to keep it from going to my head, because Father always admonished me against too much pride. He said it caused good men to go bad.

Sometimes I thought my parents knew something about my unusual skill. Especially Mother. I would catch her watching me, a shrewd, knowing look on her pretty face. She never spoke about it, but I knew that she understood something was different about me.

Father would stare at me sometimes, too, but I knew he didn’t want to know about it. He’d make excuses for what I could do, saying what a charismatic and influential man I would become, that I had a natural gift for leadership. He was, as I have said, a very simple, straightforward man, for whom supernatural things are not to be paid attention to.

I have mentioned before that Texas was in a state of near-constant turmoil during my formative years. Texas bounced from being a protectorate of Mexico to being its own Republic, and reluctantly became a State of the Union shortly after my birth. My father, though born and raised in Oklahoma, considered himself a Texan by predestination, and having been brought up by my grandfather to be skeptical of the central government, he was a critic of the way that the country was being managed.

There had been grumblings and rumblings of problems for years. It showed in the way the prices of cotton, indigo, and other Southern cash crops fluctuated. Father’s intelligent policy of testing new crops and not being overly dependent on any one helped him from going bankrupt during the time leading up to the Civil War, when high tariffs and taxes on Southern products caused uproars among the plantation owners. He also had invested a good deal of money into raising cattle, which would prove the means to keep him solvent and prosperous in the years ahead, as Texas shifted from a farming to a ranching state.

The issue of the abolition of slavery was a lightning rod of contention as well. I grew up in a time when it was a common thing for one man to own another, to own many of them, for that matter. Many people didn’t even consider the colored people fully human, much less the equal of us white folks. My Father owned some slaves, but not too many; he preferred hired men, having more of an affinity with the Mestizo freemen than he did with the few Negroes. I know he believed the accepted canon of the day, that the colored races were subject to the white race, but he was never cruel to any of the hired help or slaves, and always cared for them well. However, I have to say in retrospect, he also cared well for our livestock, and had about the same sentimental attachment to them.

Since where we lived slavery wasn’t such a widespread thing, it was often an issue of debate, but not one so bone-deep important as it was to those in the Deep South. It was more an issue of principle, or eminent domain and states’ rights and sovereignty. Texas, although a Southern State, considered itself apart from the rest of the South and the country as a whole. Texans were willing to go along with the prevailing tide so long as it was beneficial to Texas: that was always the point.

When I was sixteen, things began to come to a head. The election of a new president, Abraham Lincoln, was declared a disaster by the farmers and tradesmen of the area, my father included. The feeling was strongly echoed in the state legislature, even our noble Governor Sam Houston declaring Lincoln’s election an “unfortunate event.”

“Nothing good will come of this, son,” Father murmured to me one evening, at a meeting of the local Grange farmer’s association chapter, where they were discussing the recent changes in the government. He fanned himself absently with a propaganda leaflet advocating Texas seceding from the Union. “Nothing good at all. We’re heading for war, Jasper, you mark my words.” He jerked a hard nod to emphasize it, patting my knee.

He was very right. It came sooner than we’d expected.

Outraged by the prospect of the freeing of the slaves and the obvious encroachment of the Union Federal government on the lives and livelihoods of free citizens, state after state in the Deep South seceded from the Union over the next couple of months. They were tired of being discriminated against economically, tired of being looked down upon socially and politically, and sick of the double standards. They didn’t like the idea of the federal government meddling in their lives, telling them that the way they’d lived and done business for over a hundred years as wrong—that they couldn’t own slaves and use their labor to increase their profits. Slavery was the lightning-rod issue.

The states fell like dominoes, and the Confederacy was born. A new capital was declared in Richmond, Virginia. A new President of the Confederacy was elected, Jefferson Davis, a fiery, charismatic man who vowed to bring the Southern States to the heights of glory and power long denied them by Yankee oppression. My mother wept into her handkerchief, thinking about what war would do to her beloved home state. For surely, war was just a heartbeat away. Virginia had been a battleground during the Revolutionary War, and again during the War of 1812…surely, worse would come now, with brother to fight brother on their own soil.

One evening, Father burst into the kitchen, cheeks flushed and eyes sparkling. The cold, February wind blew in behind him, scattering the napkins Ginny had been folding on the kitchen table. We all looked up at him in shock.

“Jasper Charles, shut that door!” Mother scolded from her chair by the kitchen fireplace, where she was supervising the cook in preparing dinner. She’d given up cooking long before; Ginny’s birth had caused her many problems, and she had difficulty standing for long periods of time. She called Father “Jasper Charles” to distinguish him from myself, especially when she was irritated.

Father had a folded piece of paper in his hand, which he slammed down onto the table so hard it shook, knocking over the saltcellar. “Look at this, Margaret. It’s done! Finally done!” His voice was rough with excitement…and fear.

Ginny crept quietly behind him to shut the door, then stole over to where I sat at Mother’s feet. I’d been reading to her from the most recent “Prairie Home Companion” magazine.

Mother looked at him mildly, rocking a bit in her chair. I knew her quiet demeanor was a lie; I felt her fear like jagged electrical jolts spiking out from her. “What is done, Jasper Charles? Come now, don’t keep me in suspense any longer. What have you there?” She reached out toward Father for the paper. “I certainly hope it’s important enough to burst in so impolitely and interrupt my kitchen.”

Father flushed a bit. He hated it when she reprimanded him, but he didn’t ever respond roughly. He was a gentleman.

He gave her the paper, and I watched her expression change as she read it carefully. I felt the fear escalate into raw terror, though she kept her expression as blank as possible.

“What does it say, Mama?” Ginny whispered.

She bit her plump lower lip, darting a quick, terrified glance at me. She was afraid for me?

She began reading in a slightly trembling voice.

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

“That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding States. By the secession of six of the slave-holding States, and the certainty that others will speedily do likewise, Texas has no alternative but to remain in an isolated connection with the North, or unite her destinies with the South.

“For these and other reasons, solemnly asserting that the federal constitution has been violated and virtually abrogated by the several States named, seeing that the federal government is now passing under the control of our enemies to be diverted from the exalted objects of its creation to those of oppression and wrong, and realizing that our own State can no longer look for protection, but to God and her own sons - We the delegates of the people of Texas, in Convention assembled, have passed an ordinance dissolving all political connection with the government of the United States of America and the people thereof and confidently appeal to the intelligence and patriotism of the freeman of Texas to ratify the same at the ballot box, on the 23rd day of the present month.” (Text taken directly from the Texas Ordinance of Secession, February 1, 1861)

Ginny stared up at Mother, mystified. “What does it all mean, Mother?”

Mother met my eyes, and knew I understood. And I suddenly understood why she was afraid.

War was coming, and I was sixteen. I was a young man, a proud Texan, and if my fellow Texans were going to war to defend our sovereignty, I would follow suit. I had to.

And she didn’t want me to go.

Father took back the paper and stuffed it into his breast pocket, settling into his customary chair at the dinner table. He pulled out his pipe, tapped out the old tobacco, and packed it with fresh before lighting it with a coal from the kitchen hearth, leaning back to exhale a long cloud of fragrant smoke. His bright blue eyes twinkled between the narrowed lids; he was thinking hard. He looked over at Mother and they stared into each others’ eyes for a long moment, no words necessary. Then he turned and met my eye. Pulled the pipe from between his teeth and pointed it at me accusingly.

“Don’t let this go to your head, boy. You’re far too young to be thinking of going to war.” His tone was flat and final.

I nodded assent, feeling Ginny’s fingernails dig into my forearm as she suddenly clenched it between her palms. I felt her terror bloom as she realized what they were talking about.

Dinner was a solemn affair, and Ginny and I excused ourselves as quickly as possible, going to my room to supposedly finish up the last of our schoolwork.

As soon as the door closed, she tackled me, knocking me onto the bed. Even though I outweighed her significantly, she was devilish strong, and terribly fast. She pinned me to the covers and stabbed a finger in my face, her voice shaking.

“Jasper Charles Whitlock III, if you run away and join the Army, I SWEAR I’ll never speak to you again!” she whispered, not wanting to speak too loudly and draw attention. She was all of eleven years old, but seemed much older. She was terrified by the thought of my leaving.

I rolled my eyes and laughed at her, sitting up and pulling her little frame into my lap. She nestled her head against my collarbone, sniffling. “Be serious, Gin, it’s still early, it might not even come to that. Maybe it’ll be like Mexico, maybe the Union will give us up without a fight, you never know!” I patted her bright hair reassuringly.

She shook her head. “No, Jas, it’s going to be worse than you think.” She seemed so certain.

Sometimes she startled me when she made those kinds of prophetic remarks. She had done it more than a few times, and much to my surprise whatever she proclaimed often happened.

Perhaps that is one reason I was so drawn to another tiny, funny, prophetic woman…

“Still, Ginny, I’m only 16. It’ll be years before I can join up. Usually you have to be at least 18, and maybe by then it’ll have all blown over.”

I didn’t tell her how I’d already begun devising a plan of escape. She didn’t need to know that.

She sighed against my chest and shook her head again. I think she knew I was lying, but she didn’t want to argue.

Reluctantly we opened up our books and began the laborious declension of Latin verbs. Our classics tutor was due tomorrow, and we had about 25 verbs to memorize. Even though she was five years my junior, she bested me every time in Latin. It kept us busy for several hours, then it was time for bed.

She had another nightmare that night, the first one in years.

Ginny charged into my room, still half-asleep, leaping into bed with me, her trembling shaking the bed. I held her til it stopped, til my patient, silent urging her to calm down worked. Once again, she looked up at me, terror on her little white face.

“Don’t leave me, Jas. Don’t ever leave me.” There it was again.

Again I patted her and urged her to sleep. But I didn’t say I wouldn’t go.

A few days after the Texas Ordinance of Secession was drafted, on February 7, the Texas legislature voted to secede from the Union; on the 23rd of that month, the state voters supported that decision by an astonishing majority. A few days later, on March 4th , the state convention formally declared Texas’ secession and ratified the Confederate Constitution. Texas had officially parted from the United States of America, and joined the Confederate States of America.

The next order of business was to make an actual separation from the United States. Several Texas delegates went to the Federal army bases located in various places throughout the state and negotiated for the surrender of Federal territory. In a strange twist of fate, the US surrendered its holdings to Texas and the Confederacy at the old Alamo Mission, the site of the great battle not too long before.

War was in the air; you could almost smell it, like the smell of blood or burning. It infected everything. It was all the farmers and merchants and tradesmen spoke of. Even the slaves and hired help murmured among themselves, the children and young men all swaggered as they practiced drills and maneuvers with mock weapons.

It was assured that things would come to conflict, soon. There were already rumors of Union ships to be sent to blockade Galveston Harbor, which could potentially cripple the state’s inflow and output of goods. There was talk of a draft. I turned seventeen in the spring, only one short year away from being eligible for service. My mother nearly chewed through her lip in fear, Father was constantly twitching his mustache and glaring at me, his silence almost daring me to sneak off so he could punish me.

They knew it was coming. After all, Father had trained me for it. I could already handle musket and rifle, pistol and bayonet and bowie knife. I was skilled in hand-to-hand combat, taught by a succession of teachers with various leanings of philosophy, whether it be Indian or African or Chinese. I was tall for my age, over six feet, already towering over my father, and strong. People who didn’t know me thought me much older than seventeen.

And the hunger for combat burned in me. Although I wasn’t a bloodthirsty person, I craved the potential for glory and honor earned by my deeds, to be able to champion my homeland against the crass expansionism of the Union. I wanted to be a patriot, a defender of the values my father had raised me to cherish. I was determined.

I had a little money put aside, from my birthdays and Christmases past that I’d never spent; I was never one to buy silly things like other boys. I had almost fifty dollars tucked into a cigar box beneath the mattress of my bed, a small fortune back then. Even though we were no longer members of the Union, the dollars would still serve to get me out of Texas, to Virginia or Tennessee, where I could join up with a company, telling them I was older than my actual age. How would they know? Back then there was no such thing as a birth certificate or social security card, much less a driver’s license. You were whoever you said you were, and if you claimed to be a man grown and could back that up with a man’s actions, who would question you?

I had a vague idea of what to do, and knew where to find support for it.

I was good friends with another boy my age, Henry Berryman. His family lived in Alto, a good ways away from Houston, but his mother had family near my father’s farm, and Henry had spent most of every spring and summer there since he was six years old. Henry was an easygoing boy, given to laughter like my little sister, always with a ready smile and a funny story. He was only a year younger than myself, so we made a good pair.

Henry and I had taken our Man Lessons together sometimes, which delighted my father, who I knew secretly pined for another son. Henry was a good shot, as good as me, though he was a bit afraid of knives. He was more than my match, however, at tracking and hunting, being able to move soundlessly through a forest floor carpeted in crackling dry autumn leaves. That mystified me, how he could do that; it was difficult even for a vampire, I discovered some years later.

When the news of the war broke, Henry was staying with his grandparents, even though it was early spring. His mother had been sick for some time, and his father had sent Henry and his older brother, Newton, away, to give the woman a bit of peace to recover. The day after Texas officially joined the Confederacy, March 5, 1861, I snuck out of the house before dawn, threw a saddle onto my horse, and struck out for the Berryman’s farm, about ten miles away from ours. It was so early that I left Ginny asleep in my bed, her pale little face finally calm in the wan pre-dawn light.

It was a bitterly cold morning, I remember that; I could see the steam of my breath streaming around me as I rode, my horse’s hooves clop-clopping hollowly on the hard-packed, dusty road. After a while their farm hove into view; I wasn’t surprised to see Henry waiting for me, perched on the split-log fence right by the gate.

He grinned and waved, jumping down to unlatch the gate to let me pass. Once he’d closed it after me, I reached a hand down to pull him up behind me in the saddle, and we struck out for our favorite spot, a little grove of aspens beside the creek that formed the boundary between his grandparents’ farm and my family’s. We’d often spent lazy summer afternoons there, sometimes with Ginny, fishing with cane poles, telling jokes, swatting flies.

The familiar little place was welcoming, even in the chilly morning. The sun had just broken over the horizon, I remember, and it glittered savagely across the creek, which was just losing its winter ice. We dismounted and I tied up my horse, covering her with a blanket against the cold, and we settled down on the creekbank to talk.

“So,” he said amiably, flicking a pebble into the creek with a tiny splash. “When do we go?” It was so matter-of-fact, a given, that we were taking off to join up.

I chuckled. How many times had we played soldiers, down here among these trees, or in the shadow of my father’s barn, kicking up the dust with our horseplay? How many times had we replayed the battle of the Alamo, always bickering over who got to play Big Jim Bowie? He’d already talked of joining the army long before any talk of secession and war; his older brother, Newton, was now old enough to enlist, and had been preparing to go to West Point in the fall; now, he’d surely join the Confederate Army or Navy instead.

“Well, Henry, I guess it’s a matter of when we can get it all put together, eh?” I joined him in chucking stones into the water, giving my hands something to do. I could feel the excitement and nervousness vibrating off him in trembling waves, warring with each other inside him. I knew exactly how he felt.

Henry turned and looked at me. “Where would we go? I mean, where’s the closest place we can enlist and not be asked about our ages?” Excellent question. I’d assumed we’d have to leave the state.

I frowned, thinking. “Well, where’s Newton going? I’m sure he’s not going to wait now.”

Henry’s eyes lit up. “Oh, he’s heading back to Alto in three days or so. Grandpa said they’re putting together a conscription board there. ” His freckled face shone with pride; he adored his older brother.

“Do you think we can go with him? Maybe he’d vouch for us?” It was a long shot; Newton was stiff with honor, and disliked lying and deceit. He and Father got along well.

Henry’s gingery eyebrows raised in surprise. “Hadn’t really thought about that…” He trailed off, considering. “Maybe. Newt’s all fire and brimstone since last night. He wants to join up as soon as possible, says it’s his sacred duty and all…He knows I want to join up too, but Mama’s dead-set against either of us going. Probably like yours, huh?”

I shook my head sadly. “Mother and Father both, it seems.” I threw one last stone into the creek as hard as I could in disgust. “After all his talk about honor and service and man’s duty to God and country…you’d think he’d be more understanding.”

My friend laughed. “Oh, come on, Jas, you’re your daddy’s pride and joy, his only son. No man wants to see his boy go be a soldier, maybe come home in a pine box.”

It struck me that he was right. Even as sensitive as I could be, I hadn’t really taken the trouble to think deeply about the reasoning behind Mother and Father’s concrete disapproval. I sensed their fear and anger, but didn’t really understand why—until then. It made sense. I saw that pine box in my head, thought about how it would affect them if I never came home. It twisted my guts into a knot.

“Humph,” was all I could say in reply. It still stung. I wanted to go! I wanted to see the world, earn my way!

Henry laughed again, brushing the dust off his palms on the thighs of his dungarees. “Well, I’m the youngest of a big family, Jas, so if I go off to war and end up as a sad letter to home, it’ll hurt them, but not kill them: after all, Georgiana’s already got kids.” Mark was the oldest in their family. Henry laughed without a hint of bitterness; he was a happy person, content with his lot in life. “It’s always been a given that Newt would end up a career soldier, but I’m sure he’ll settle down someday. Me?” He clapped his hands together for emphasis. “Mama and Papa know I’m a wild card, a rolling stone…Mama doesn’t want me to go join up ‘cause I’m the baby, and Newt ‘cause he’s her favorite.” He made a face. “But it doesn’t matter. Newt’s nineteen, and I think Papa’ll let me go, if I ask him, I’m sure, especially if Newt takes me with him.”

I glanced over at him in surprise. “Really?” My heart sank. Would I get left behind?

He took a deep breath, eyeing me thoughtfully. “Maybe Newt will agree to take both of us, eh?”

My heart skipped a beat in wild hope. “Really? What do I need to do?”

Henry got to his feet, offering me his hand to pull myself up. He was a lot shorter than me, but strong and solid. My long legs sometimes were a hindrance to getting up quickly.

“Well, let’s go talk to Newt first of all, and then we’ll see what happens. You had breakfast?”

I laughed, my stomach rumbling in answer. He joined me in the laughter as we untied my horse and mounted, riding her toward his grandparent’s home.

Three days later, everything was set.

I had my money, a few changes of clothes, some traveling food and supplies, and various other things that I might need stashed in a storage shed near the front gate of our property, one where people seldom went.

When we’d finally found him in the horse barn of their grandfather’s farm, Newton had listened gravely to Henry and I as we told him about our desire to run off and join the army, not interrupting our impassioned pleas for his help. After we’d both run out of breath, after stumbling over each other several times, he’d rubbed his chin thoughtfully, nodding to himself as he thought. At first I’d thought he was mocking us with his serious demeanor and prepared myself for rejection.

But Newt was a very serious, thoughtful kind of young man, old for his nineteen years, and he actually surprised us both when he finally looked up at me and smiled.

“Sure, Jasper, I’ll help you. It’s an honorable thing to want to do, after all, a desire to serve your homeland.” He’d gotten to his feet, setting aside the saddle he had been polishing, and stuck out his hand for me to shake. I took it numbly, surprised into silence. “I congratulate you on your patriotism and chivalry. Even a bit of deception can be overlooked in this case, I think. I guess your Pa will end up being proud of you, after he gets over the first shock!”

We’d all laughed about that one, although I doubted Father would ever forgive me.

Newton had gone to his father that night and had a serious, man-to-man talk with him about Henry and I. Their father had come to his father-in-law’s farm to help with the spring calving, and would have been bringing his sons home back with him in a few weeks, as their mother was recovering nicely. Henry told me about their conversation the next day, while we hid ourselves in the hayloft of my father’s big cow barn. He’d concealed himself out in the hallway while Newton had talked to their father, so he could hear it all.

“At first, Pa didn’t like the idea at all,” Henry whispered breathlessly. We were hiding up there from the workers who were pitching the morning hay to the cattle below. “He said he didn’t want to mettle in another man’s business, especially not a man like your Pa.” He chuckled; I rolled my eyes.

“But eventually Newt wore him down. We just have to make sure your Pa doesn’t find out my Pa knew about this, all right?” I nodded agreement.

Henry and Newton’s father had agreed to provide Henry with a letter declaring that Henry had his father’s blessing to enlist, and I would tag along with him and Newt when they went to Alto to enlist. I would have to say I was over eighteen, which shouldn’t be too hard to do, since I looked older than seventeen anyway; Henry would say I was his cousin from Oklahoma, to avoid any potential connections to my father. The Whitlock name was pretty well known, but if I said I was from the Oklahoma branch of the family chances were good no one would ask too many questions. Texans have a basic dislike of Oklahomans.

The day before our departure, I was very careful to not act nervous, though I was as tense as a long-tailed tomcat in a room full of rocking chairs. I helped Father around the farm all day, enjoying spending my last day with him, praying it would only be my last day for a while, that I’d come back after the war was over, a decorated war hero to make him proud. I did my best to urge him with my peculiar gift to be relaxed and calm, and it seemed to work.

Once night fell and we returned to the house, it was a bit more difficult to keep up the charade. Mother and Ginny both were very observant and sensitive, and they’d both taken to watching me closely since the whole war issue had reared its ugly head, trying to catch some hint of a plan to take off and enlist. I ate until my stomach hurt, even though I wasn’t hungry in the least with excitement and nervousness; I helped Ginny clear and wash the dishes, making sure I did enough complaining that it didn’t seem unnatural.

I stood elbow-to-elbow at the sink with Ginny, enjoying the companionable silence as she washed and I dried. We even got into a little splashing contest, giggling uncontrollably until Mother hollered for us to stop getting her floor wet, the cook was gone for the night! I dutifully fetched a towel and we mopped up the sudsy water, suppressing our laughter, until we could escape upstairs.

Once we reached my room, she sat cross-legged on my bed, looking like a china doll with her porcelain skin and tumbling golden curls, meeting my eyes unblinkingly as I shut the door behind me and went to sit at my old roll-top desk. Trying not to act as skittish as I felt, I rummaged around for my grammar textbook; we had an assignment due the next day, supposedly.

“What’s going on, Jas?” she finally asked me, after I had spent ten minutes studiously avoiding her eyes, concentrating on the textbook in front of me but seeing not a word.

I looked up at her innocently. “What do you mean, Gin?” I struggled to keep my voice steady.

She glared at me, her eyes like sapphires, hard and cold and sparkling blue. “Oh, don’t play me for a fool, Jasper Charles Whitlock III.” She sounded just like Mother. I winced. “You’re planning something.”

I shook my head and sighed. “Ginny, you have got to stop being so suspicious. What on earth could I be planning to do?” I motioned down at the book before me. “I am doing my grammar homework—which, I must point out to you, you have to do as well.”

She snorted derisively. “You know, I may only be twelve, but I’m not stupid, Jasper. I know it when you’re plotting something.”

I felt my stomach sinking with dread. She could ruin everything. One cry to my father or mother and it would all be over; I couldn’t lie outright to them, if they demanded to know what I was up to. It would shame my father, and shame me as well. Lying to her? Well, not so much of a shameful thing; after all, she was a little girl, and I owed her no honor except to be the best big brother I could be. And what better example of manhood could I provide her with, than being willing to go and serve my country in a time of war?

Even though the justification worked logically, it still stuck in my throat like a bitter pill.

So I tried a different tack.

Theatrically, I let my shoulders droop and sighed, as if defeated by her superior logic and skills of divination.

“Fine, you got me,” I mumbled. Her eyes brightened with glee as she realized she’d “caught” me.

“So what is going on? Are you sneaking away?” she whispered conspiratorially, crawling forward on the bed to get closer to me. “You’d better not be!” Her voice was savage with menace.

I shook my head. “No, but Henry is. He and his older brother are heading off tomorrow, and they’re using me as an excuse to get away.” I sighed again. “Henry told his Pa that he’s coming over here to spend a couple of nights, to help us get the first couple of calves branded. But they’re really going to go to Alto and enlist. There’s a conscription board formed there, taking names and getting recruits.” I drew on everything inside me to urge her to believe me, to trust me.

Understanding dawned on her face; she believed my lie. I cringed inside with the guilt of deceiving her. I knew I’d have to make it up to her someday.

“Oh, I see,” she murmured, pursing her lips and nodding. “But Henry’s younger than you are, Jas, isn’t that bad?”

“Nah, his Pa will get over it. And Newt’ll be there to look over him, I’m sure they’ll get assigned to the same regiment or whatever. After all, his Pa’s army too, he might end up re-joining as well. It’s mainly their Ma that’s upset about it, so they’re trying to keep it from her as long as possible. They don’t want to upset her since she’s just now getting better again.”

Ginny nodded again, drawing her knees up to her chest and wrapping her thin little arms around them, resting her little pixie chin on them. She looked so tiny; I hated the idea of leaving her. But she’d be safe there, at home with Mother and Father, and I’d write her as often as possible, and come home again with all kinds of stories and presents for her, I promised myself.

Eventually we finished as much of our schoolwork as we could stomach, and Ginny gave me a little peck on the cheek as she left, heading for her room to dress for bed. I fervently hoped she wouldn’t have another nightmare tonight, because sneaking out with her there wasn’t easy. She had an uncanny sense of when something strange was going to happen, and seemed much older than her years sometimes.

“’Night, brother,” she murmured, lingering in the doorway. The candle she held backlit her hair, turning it into a blazing tumble of gold. I tried to fix that image of her in my mind, to hold it with me in the times to come. “Sleep well.”

“You too, sister.” She smiled and disappeared into the dark hallway; I leaned back on my bed with my arms pillowing my head, and felt horrible.

Over and over again, I repeated to myself: this is the right thing to do. I am doing the right thing.

As much as my head agreed, my heart still quailed at the thought of what would happen in the morning, when it was discovered I was gone.

I waited until the house was silent and dark before lighting a single tiny candle. By the light of its flickering flame, I wrote the letters that I knew I had to leave for my family.

“Dear Mother and Father,

I’m sorry to be leaving this way, against your wishes and all. But I feel like this is what I have to do, as a man and as a Texan. Father, you raised me to believe in myself and act with honor, and I know that this is what I need to become the man you want me to be. Mother, I am so sorry to hurt you, but I promise I will come home to you, and will write to you as often as possible until I am safely home. Please pray for me, that I can comport myself as an honorable gentleman soldier, and carry out my mission with grace and courage.

Your loving son,

Jasper.”

The next one was harder.

“Dear Ginny,

I know I lied to you about leaving you, and about what I was planning, but please believe me when I say it wasn’t to hurt you. It hurt more than you can ever know. I am so sorry for that, but you have to understand that I feel like this is what I have to do, for myself, and to provide you with the kind of example of what a man should be. You are the best thing in my life, and I will come home to you and Mother and Father as soon as I’ve done my duty to God and Country, with my head held high. I promise I’ll write you as often as I can. Please think of me and pray for me, Ginny, that it will be soon when I am able to hear your voice again. I love you very much, little sister.

Jasper.”

I sealed them each up in an envelope and placed them on my desk, where Ginny would likely find them first thing in the morning. I cursed myself when my hand shook.

After that I blew out the candle and lay back down, fully clothed atop the bedclothes. It was impossible to sleep; I kept the time with the steady ticking of the grandfather clock down the hall, waiting for three o’clock.

Finally, the clock sounded out the chimes for the right time, the notes reaching like ghostly hands toward me. I rolled off the bed as carefully as possible, then went to the window and raised the pane with excruciating care not to let it squeal. Icy cold air crept in through the open window and enveloped me; I started shivering with the cold, and with nerves.

A few long minutes later, Henry’s tousled russet head appeared over the edge of the frame, grinning merrily in the dark. He’d hauled himself up to the window by climbing the ivy trellis that ran up that side of the house.

“Ready, cousin?” he whispered carefully, reaching one hand inside to shake mine. I nodded silently, reaching underneath the bed to pull out my rucksack and good overcoat. Then I crept over the edge of the window, dropping down the several feet to the ground below.

We stole around the corner of the house to the horse barn, where I’d left my horse’s saddle and tack concealed beneath a pile of hay. As quietly as possible, we saddled and mounted her, slipping out the back way and circling around through the stubbly spring fields, avoiding the hard-packed dirt of the main drive where the sound of her hooves might have woken someone.

The night was startlingly black, moonless, a million coldly twinkling stars scattered across the sky like diamonds in velvet. I threw my head back and inhaled the air, so chilly it burned my lungs, but it was a good feeling: the feeling of freedom, of adventure, searing down my throat and into my stomach. Urging me forward, to glory and adventure. Suddenly my fear evaporated like my clouds of steamy breath evaporated around me, and I smiled with excitement. Henry must’ve sensed it from behind me, because he started chuckling; we both laughed quietly as we slipped through the gate after picking up my stash of supplies at the storage shed.

The dusty open road beckoned us.

How I wished I’d looked back, at least once, to see my family’s home silhouetted against the backdrop of the night. Now it’s hard for me to remember what it looked like; I never saw it again.

Newt met up with us a few miles down the road, holding the reins to Henry’s little sorrel mare, loaded down with his own supplies. “Well met, gentlemen, let’s get on with it, then!” he called merrily, taking no care to lower his voice: after all, we were miles from anyone who might hear or care.

And so began my journey; my journey to manhood and patriotic glory, I thought. How very wrong I was.