"The (Civil ) War was hard on women. They gave their brothers and husbands and children. Gave their jewelry, money, heirlooms. Gave their homes. It was more than some could bear." This is the true heart of the story. The Civil War had taken almost everything away from Della Ward, she lost her husband and with him went her innocence, her security and her reason for living a whole life. She had been living with her in-laws, she was only seventeen, she was expecting their child, and she was at the end of her emotional rope. In the last letter she ever wrote her husband, she told him he needed to come home, quit the war and help his family. She ended her letter by telling him she hated him. The words were written in desperation, those final words, words that couldn't be taken back, were words she was going to have to live with. He couldn't forgive her because he was killed before she could ask for his forgiveness. She was going to have to find a way to forgive herself.
James Cameron was the man that had shot her husband. He thought he could manage being a soldier, killing the unknown enemy. When he shot Clarence Ward he saw his face, realized he was a ordinary person, with a family, dreams, a life ahead of him. The enemy was no longer unknown. He had taken a packet out of Clarence Ward's pocket, inside were two letters, one he had recently received from his wife and another Clarence had begun but hadn't finished, also there was a wedding picture. James Cameron left the war right then and there and vowed to return the packet to Clarence Ward's wife and he would spend the next ten years of his life making up for killing an innocent man. He became a famous bounty hunter and occasional sheriff, making sure only men that deserved to die, did so.
James rides up to Della's run down farm ten years after Clarence Ward had been killed. It seemed like an awful long time to wait to explain about how Clarence had died, but as soon as he rode in the yard Della knew why he was there. He handed over the packet, but never got around to explaining the rest. He stayed and helped her around her farm for awhile. He offers her a chance to go back to Atlanta and retrieve a daughter she had left behind. This was more a journey of renewal and forgiveness. They both had to get by their pasts if they were going to have any chance at a future. This is a good book, one that makes you pause and think. Sometimes you have to move ahead, you have to forgive and forget. Don't let what you can't control, control you. Della had to grab hold of life because there was a wonderful world waiting for her to rejoin it.
Debbie Olson, November 2002
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