Epilogue Part Two

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When he found her, she had fallen haphazardly onto the grass some ways from the house, the hem of her dress torn and muddied by the rosebush she had carelessly tripped over. Instead of lifting herself up, however, Grace sat there with her knees gathered to her chest sobbing.

Getting down onto his knees beside her, Tarleton allowed Grace to cling to him as she beat his chest in her muddled state of sorrow and anger. Surprised at how readily she clung to him as if to life itself, Tarleton dared to stroke her soft brown hair in comfort, every moment expecting to be roughly rejected. Such rejection, however, never came.

Allowing her to let out all of her emotion, Tarleton held Grace close to him and let her cry until her sobs became gasps and she could no longer find the tears to spill.

"Papa..." she choked into his arm, "Ben..."

At the mention of her former fiancé, Tarleton's heart sunk. He scolded himself for being so selfish. Of course, it might be years before anyone could get over the death of someone so beloved, he was a fool to believe her so cool in her affections.

Disentangling herself from him, she went on after composing herself a bit,

"You see Mr. Tarelton, it isn't because of you that I humiliate myself now with this display of emotion, no indeed, it is the memory of the past that you bring back. You remind me of how totally alone I am in the world. For me, whose circle of family and friends has never extended very far, to lose two such people in the span of a year is like losing half my world."

"I understand precisely how you feel."

Seeming to recall that Tarleton had also lost a father and a dear friend, Grace smiled a little as she blew her nose into the handkerchief he promptly handed her.

"I'm sorry for the way I acted earlier." She apologized.

"There's no need. I know I deserved much worse from the woman I so deeply wronged."

"Nonsense. As I've said, I'm not angry at you, merely the pain of the time you remind me of. I've long since forgiven you. After all, aren't we all just the culmination of our circumstances, even the ones we cannot control?"

"Really?" Tarleton was incredulous.

"Of course. After all, though you might have been cruel at times, you were simply doing your duty to your country, as my mother said. Besides, holding silly grudges when I have such profound pain of my own is idiotic."

Tarleton's heart leaped in his chest. She actually forgave him, truly and genuinely forgave him.

"I know grief very well and understand its pain, but you needn't suffer forever. At least you are free of guilt, unlike I was all those years ago."

"That's just the thing, though, I'm not free from guilt."

"Whatever do you mean?"

She paused a moment, crumpling the hem of her dress as she braced herself for the hot, angry tears that threatened to spill onto her cheeks. It appeared a noticeable struggle for her to keep her voice from trembling as she spoke,

"If it hadn't been for my pathetic attempt to grab your dagger in a romantic endeavor at saving the patriot cause, Benedict Whitefield might still be alive." She sneered, all of her self-loathing of the past two years bubbling to the surface in the tremor of her voice.

"It's my fault he's dead, I killed my husband-to-be." She could keep the floodgates back no longer. Hot tears began streaming uncontrollably down Grace's face and she crumpled again like a flower trodden carelessly underfoot.

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