Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight.
Jasper quickly dismounted and tied Bessie to the post before walking up the stairs onto the porch to knock on the door. The door opened and his best friend smiled at him, calling back to her Mother that she was going out for a while. He offered his arm and she took it as they walked away from the house. He knew the only reason they were unchaperoned was because they had grown up together and her parents trusted him to be a gentleman.
"They say the fighting is getting closer," she offered as they walked.
"I know," he gently squeezed her hand where it rested in the crook of his arm. "It won't come to Houston; the army will stop the Union."
"I hope you are right," Isabella smiled shakily. She was worried, not just for her family but for the Whitlock's, for everyone in Houston. At least her Father was too old to be conscripted and Jasper was too young. Surely the war would end before he reached eighteen? "Some of the refugees said that those who disagree with the war and conscription have been executed, I worry for my Father."
"He is a smart man, he knows to keep his opinions quiet outside of family," he assured her, he didn't agree with the man, but he would never tell anyone. They sat beneath their tree, Isabella settling her skirts. "Mother bemoans the dwindling supplies of flour and sugar due to the blockades. I think I miss coffee the most, as does Father."
Bella smiled and shook her head. Robert Whitlock's love of coffee was famous, and it was a love he had passed on to Jasper. The blockades meant that a lot of luxury goods were no longer available as they came from the North. Galveston had yet to fall to the Union Navy but getting ships through was difficult. "Mother misses the fabrics, Anna is growing fast and needs new gowns. Thankfully we saved some of mine so they can be reworked for her. I just wish this war would end."
"Bella," he used her nickname, unable to look at her and she frowned in concern.
"What is it Jasper? Is something wrong?"
"I am going to join the army," he admitted, hearing her gasp. A gloved hand came to rest on his arm, and he knew she was confused, maybe even a little angry.
"Jasper…why? You are too you, they will not take you. Your family needs you," I need you, but she could not say it. He was her best friend, she couldn't risk that with rushed declarations. He would think it a ploy to change his mind.
Jasper shook his head. "David is old enough to help Father now and Mother has Grace. I want to do my part for Texas. I can pass as older easily enough."
"You could die."
"I know but this is something I have to do, please don't be mad," he turned to clasp her gloved hands, finally meeting her eyes. He saw the pain and fear in them and wished he could reassure her, but he would not lie, not to her. He knew the risks, but he truly believed he needed to do this.
"Have you told your parents?"
"No," he shook his head.
"You aren't going to," she whispered. "Jasper…" she took a deep breath, glancing down briefly. "When?"
It was too soon! If they took him, who knew when he would be able to come home again. "What will I do without you to scare of suitors?" she managed a shaking smile and he laughed.
"You can scare them off with threats of a soldier coming for them," he offered. He was worried about that. Joseph Swan didn't approve of him, he knew that. The Swans were wealthier and a step above the Whitlock's on the social scale, despite their properties being next to each other. Jasper was just over a year older than her and they had known each other all their lives. He cared deeply for her, always had, but lately that had deepened further, and he thought she felt the same. If it was only Florence Swan then he knew there would be no trouble should he ask to court Bella, it was Joseph who was the problem. He hoped that if he could move up the ranks then the man would see him as a better match for her. It would be harder for him to turn down an officer, especially if he saw battle and could distinguish himself.
"I will miss you so much," she leant against him briefly, knowing there was no one around to see. "You will write to me, won't you?"
"Of course," Jasper swore, and she smiled before leaning in to kiss his cheek. He smiled and lifted her hand, kissing the back of it through her glove. She looked so lovely today in a dress of striped blue and white, her dark hair gathered up beneath her straw garden hat. He missed the days when they could chase and play in the fields, but she had put away the simple dressed of childhood for the many layers of skirts required for a fashionable young lady, no matter how much he knew she preferred the simpler gowns that went only to her knees rather than her ankles. His Bella was not always the most coordinated and he knew she was dreading the floor-length dressed that would come with her 17th birthday. Frankly, he found woman's fashions very confusing, but she had looked beautiful the previous week at the dance held at the Flint's farm.
She stood and he quickly stood as well to ensure she kept her balance. "I need to get back, Mother has arranged a sewing group to help the troops and I am expected to be there."
"Not sewing I hope?" he teased, and she blushed but shook her head.
"No, I will be knitting socks and gloves," she explained, Jasper was well aware of what had happened the last time she had attempted to sew, it was better that she stay away from needles and scissors.
He escorted her back to the house and waited until she as safely inside before mounting Bessie and riding away, forcing himself not to look back even as he tipped his hat to the passing buggy's occupants, obviously attending the sewing gathering.
Bella listened to the older women as they talked even as she knitted. What Jasper had told her had affected her attitude towards this gathering. His decision to enlist made the War feel real, in a way rationing hadn't. Now every sock she knitted could be his one day and she was determined to do her best. She hated this war, how it was ripping families apart and she was terrified for Jasper. She didn't doubt that he would be accepted, Jasper could charm anyone.
Mrs. Clayton's sons were already soldiers and the stories she was sharing from their letters was not pleasant. While there was little fighting in Texas and most of their men remained in the State, conditions in the camps were not good and there were rumours that their boys would soon be shipped out of state to fight.
Jasper left the letter on the table and then slipped out of the house, moving silently to the barn to saddle Bessie before strapping his bag to her and leading her from the barn. Once away from the house he mounted and rode away. He knew it was cowardly to sneak away but he couldn't face his Mother or Sister. He rode into town and headed for the recruitment office.
An hour later he left, papers clutching in his hands. He'd done it! He was a soldier in the Confederate Army now and they thought he was eighteen. He had to report immediately but he had said his goodbyes to Bella yesterday and left a letter for his family so there was no reason to delay.
Grace ran across the fields, tears in her eyes, if anyone knew it would be Bella. She knocked on the door to find Mrs. Swan. "Is Isabella here ma'am?"
"Good morning Grace," and then her smile faded as she took in her dishevelled state, so she quickly ushered the girl inside. "What has happened?" she settled her on a chair and got her a glass of water.
"It's Jasper, he is gone," she whispered.
"Gone? Whatever do you mean?" but she had the sinking feeling she knew after how melancholy Bella had been when she returned, how determined her knitting for the soldiers had been.
"He left to join the army! He left a letter!" Grace sniffled and Florence hugged her, she was basically another daughter she was here so often. She was thirteen, younger than Bella but older than Anna who had just turned eleven. Despite the odd ages all three girls were close and she had made sure Joseph never made Grace unwelcome. She knew her daughter's heart, knew she would marry Jasper if he ever offered, but Joseph would never give his permission. If Jasper had run away to the Army it could break Bella's heart. Hearing footsteps she looked up to see Bella and Anna in the doorway and yes, Bella had known, she could see it in her eyes. Anna quickly ran to Grace, so Florence drew Bella away. "You knew?"
"He told me yesterday," Bella admitted. "I asked him to reconsider but he wouldn't."
"Oh Bella," she hugged her daughter close and Bella clung to her.
Bella smiled as she found the envelope with her name on it. She crept off to their tree and sat to read his letter, devouring the contents. It had been censored but not too badly and she read of his training and the boredom around camp. It had been three months since he had left but she knew not to expect letters too frequently since he had to pay to send letters from his soldiers pay and writing his family had to come first. She had no one except her Grandmother in South Carolina to write so she could afford to write to him more frequently. It wasn't the same with him gone, she missed their walks and talks together, missed their childhood games. Though he said that once training was complete they would be granted leave to return home for a few days. She couldn't wait.
Bella gathered the basket her Mother had prepared and donned her hat before making sure Anna had her own on. They then left the house and got into the buggy, Bella driving them over to the Whitlock farm. Jasper was finally home, and their Mother had allowed them to go to the farm to see him. Anna chattered excitedly the whole drive and then Bella was stopping outside the house. Before she could do anything a familiar figure was beside her, reaching up to help her down and she couldn't help smiling broadly. "Welcome home Jasper."
"Thank you," he bowed over her hand, kissing the back and she blushed as Anna laughed and jumped down, knowing Jasper would catch her. Jasper spun her, making Anna laugh, before he set her down on the ground. Grace quickly joined them, and Jasper took the basket into the house.
Robert remained overly quiet as the children chattered away while Elizabeth used the baskets contents to prepare a celebratory meal for Jasper's temporary return, with Bella's help. He did not agree with his eldest son's actions but there was nothing he could do about it now. Jasper was a soldier and he prayed he would survive this war and come home. He knew part of the reason and wished that Joseph Swan was a more reasonable man. If he would simply allow Jasper to court Bella then perhaps his son would not have run off to join the Army. He wasn't sure an officer's rank would be enough for that proud man and dreaded the children having their hearts broken.
Bella walked with Jasper through the fields, enjoying the quiet and warm Texas sun. Tomorrow he would be returning to camp and everyone was dreading it. He took her hand cautiously and she didn't pull away, it wasn't proper, but Bella had never truly cared about such things.
"I enjoyed your letters, they were a welcome brightness in the dullness of camp."
"Is it really that bad?" she asked in concern and he nodded.
"Boredom is a real issue, there are only so many drills they can run us through a day. Fighting amongst the troops is a problem," he admitted.
"I hate to think of you there."
"It will get better once I receive my posting."
"I pray you remain in Texas, hopefully close enough to come home on leave," she told him as they sat on a low hill to look at the view.
"I think I will be posted to Galveston. There is concern it will be attacked soon to fully cut us off."
"That is not too far," she smiled, and he nodded. "Tell me more about a soldiers life?"
Jasper had been right, he had been sent to Galveston but there was little there for the men to do for almost a year and then the blockade of the harbour began in July 1861. She was terrified for him, his family was too, but all they could do was write and send supplies to the soldiers. With the blockade Houston was truly cut off from trade. Conscription had been brought in, for those aged eighteen and older.
Illness was rampant in the soldiers camps and those who received leave brought it with them. The male population of Houston was steadily declining, except among the wealthy who paid for another to take their place in the Army. It left the women to step up and do much more, taking on roles that traditionally were for men alone.
The war hit home for the Swan family when Joseph fell ill after doing business for a week in the city itself. Florence immediately shipped her children off to the Whitlock farm for their safety, not wanting to risk them becoming ill. Two weeks later Joseph Swan died in his bed with his wife of twenty years at his side. Five days later Florence took to her bed with the same disease, Typhoid fever. Bella wanted to return home to nurse her, but no one would allow it, not wanting to risk her to the disease as well. Florence was buried beside her husband in the family plot, five days after Bella's seventeenth birthday.
The only good news was from Jasper as he quickly rose through the ranks, making his family proud of him, even as they wished he was at home. The blockade of Galveston seemed to drag on forever.
Bella looked up as she heard a horse approaching, eyeing it warily. Life on the farms was becoming more dangerous the longer the blockade went on as people became desperate and soldiers deserted or 'requisitioned' supplied. Then she was running for the road as she recognised the rider and he drew his horse up on seeing her, dismounting quickly. "Jasper!"
He caught her and hugged her tightly, relieved to see her. She had written of her parents and he had feared for her since. "Bella, I am so glad to see you," he whispered.
"How can you be here?" she asked as they parted, and he smiled. She looked him over, taking in his uniform and it looked very good on him.
"I've been escorting the women and children from Galveston to Houston. I delivered the last today and am not expected back for another two days," he told her as they began walking.
"Have you seen your parents yet?"
"Not yet. Are you still at the farm?"
"No, we returned home, it wasn't fare to your parents for us to stay."
"I need to see them; may I call on you later?"
"Of course," she promised, and he kissed her hand before heading for home. Bella watched him ride away before going back to the house to help Anna with her lessons before beginning dinner.
With all of the conscription most of the workers were gone, those who remained were young or female, but they had all done their best. Bella had stepped up to take over the house, freeing everyone else to work outside. She had raised their wages to make up for it, she could afford to do so thanks to her Father's business sense. She cooked the best meal she could with what she had, wanting to celebrate and within a few hours Jasper was knocking on the door and Anna quickly let him in. Bella let Anna question Jasper during the meal but then sent her off and they moved to the porch swing.
"I am glad you're home, even if only for such a short time," she whispered as they sat together in the warm evening.
"I didn't think I'd get the chance so soon," he admitted.
"Soon?" it had been over a year and a half since they had seen him. He just smiled and fidgeted slightly. "Jasper."
"I have something to ask you," he told her, and she looked at him.
"What is it?"
"Usually I would ask permission but since you have no male family members left…" he took a deep breath. "Isabella Swan, would you marry me?"