Dela Shaw had lived a harsh life. Many of her formative years had been spent watching her father swat her mother around as if she were a fly that would not stop buzzing in his ear. Dela had been spared his cruel hand thanks to the intervention of her elder brother William. He had served as her protector and confidant, turning to William alone when she was in need of counsel. Things changed however when word of war with the South had begun to spread. William had said it was his duty, and Dela understood, knowing that the North needed strong able men. When he left however, there was nothing standing between Dela and their father. She wrote to her brother as often as possible, never mentioning the bruises that now lay hidden beneath her clothing.
It would be nearly a year before Dela would see her brother again, and she was thrilled with the idea of his visit no matter how short it was to be. William however did not return alone, bringing along with him a gentleman by the name of Nathaniel Roberts. While Dela cherished the time she was able to spend with her bother there was something about Nathaniel that drew her to him, whether it was his conversation, his dazzling green eyes, or perhaps the rippling muscles Dela had seen while spying on him in the river, she could not be sure. But she knew one thing, Nathaniel had cast a spell on her, and she him. When the two men left she began writing to Nathaniel just as much if not more than she wrote William. Each time they returned Dela and Nathaniel would hide away for a quick and breathless reunion. On one such occasion while lying in a bed of hay, a blanket thrown across the two of them, Nathaniel told her "I have spoken with William." he reached over and swept a lock of her long dark hair out of her eyes, "And now I have a question for you. The next time I return will you do me the honor of becoming my bride and running away with me?" a smile broke out across her face.
"Yes." she said as she kissed him deeply, nothing thrilled her more than the thought of being Mrs. Nathaniel Roberts.
Dela knew her father could not be told this news, however she found it impossible to keep it from her mother. A mother knows after all, and she could tell something was going on with her daughter, she poked and prodded so much that eventually Dela spilled the beans. At first her mother was upset that she would keep such a joyous occasion from her, but in the end it didn't matter, her baby girl was going to be married. Dela swore her mother to secrecy, "You cannot tell anyone, especially not father. Promise me please."
She took her daughter's hands firmly in her grasp and said "I swear to you, I will not tell a soul." The two spoke in hushed whispers whenever the subject of the wedding to be came up, and never while Dela's father was home, she knew he would not approve.
For months Dela saved so she could afford the material she needed to sew her wedding gown, working in the barn at night while her father slept, and hiding her work under the hay wrapped in burlap. Her mother helped whenever she could while Dela's father went into town for supplies giving them limited windows of time, but they eventually were able to make the dress fit Dela just right. Everyday she waited for a letter telling her that Nathaniel was making his way back to her, months had come and gone since his proposal, and nearly half a year later she finally received word. "In two months time I will return to you my darling, and I will take you far away and make you my wife. No longer will you have to be a servant to that man who calls himself your father, no longer will you feel the cruel sting of his hand. I love you now and always, never forget that." she clutched the letter to her chest, tears falling, blotting the ink that was scratched in her beloveds handwriting. Soon she would be free.
Two weeks after Nathaniel's letter came, one from William arrived, in the letter he explained that he would not be accompanying Nathaniel when he came home, but that he wished to give her his blessing "I wish you all the love in the world my dearest sister, I will find you after this war is over. Be happy." Those words meant the world to her, she may never have the support of her father, but her mother and brother gave theirs and that would be enough. While her father was cruel it still pained her to keep such a happy occasion from him, she loved her father, but he did not deserve it. Dela knew he would never change, and if she told him he would find a way to poison the happiness she had found. She would not give him the chance.
Time dragged on for the bride to be, she had began making preparations for her departure three days before Nathaniel was due to return. She knew she could not take much because her father would surely grow suspicious if too many of her things went missing. Two small bags, and the burlap wrapped wedding gown were all she would bring with her. Tucking her things away in the hay where the dress was hidden, she sent up a prayer that all would go as planned, and hoped it did not fall on deaf ears.
The night Nathaniel was to return Dela said goodbye to her mother, upon whose face there was a fresh deep purple bruise, and waited for her father to fall asleep. Once the sound of his snoring began to echo from her parents room, Dela crept down the stairs, and snuck out of the back door. She stepped inside the barn and lit the lantern that hung by the door, the light dancing eerily on the walls. From behind her there was a creaking noise, and she spun around quickly. Nathaniel stood in the doorway, she ran up to him and jumped into his arms kissing him. "I have missed you so much." he told Dela.
"And I you. " she said in a hushed tone.
Nathaniel placed her back on the ground "We need to hurry."
Dela nodded "Just let me grab my things." spinning around she climbed the ladder to the hay loft, and swept aside the large mound in the corner. There was nothing there, she threw the golden strands into the air, digging ferociously.
Suddenly an icy cold chill ran down her spine as a voice called up to her from the ground "Looking for these dear?" Dela stepped over to the edge, and saw her father, his scythe wrapped around Nathaniel's neck "Join us down here Dela." her bags and wedding gown sat beside the feet of the two men.
She did as told and approached her father "Please, don't hurt him." her hands were grasped together, begging him "Father I love him, please let him go. I will stay, I will stay here with you and mother, just let Nathaniel go." tears welled in Dela's eyes, and hate glinted in her father's.
"You love him?" he spat on the ground "You think tumbling in the hay with a deserter equates to love?" her father shook his head "I thought you had more respect for yourself than that."
Nathaniel thrust his hands upward grabbing the arm that held the scythe "Dela run!" he yelled, but it was too late, her father fought his grasp and pulled the blade up and around, carving a deep gash into Nathaniel's throat. Blood poured out as Nathaniel collapsed to his knees, a gurgling sound choking out from his mouth as he fell forward into the dirt.
Dela dove beside him, pulling him into her lap "No." she said "No, no, no." she pressed the fabric of her dress against the wound, but it was futile. A dark puddle of blood formed between them, and his eyes fluttered closed "I love you." she whispered to him one last time, tears poured from her face and dripped down mingling with the blood and dirt.
Her father slammed the back of his hand across her cheek, and yanked her from the ground, his hand clutching her wrist "Take your things inside and get to bed." he barked out "You can take care of this mess in the morning." he threw her towards the door, she looked back at Nathaniel, laying on the ground, surrounded by blood "Keep moving!" her father shouted, and she choked out a sob as he shoved her sharply. There was nothing she could do now, no one she could turn to. As she stepped through the front door she noticed her mother standing just outside, looking down at the ground in shame, refusing to make eye contact with her daughter. It was then that Dela knew, her mother had betrayed her. The man she loved was dead, and she had never felt more alone. A white hot rage came over her, they took him, her mother and her father, and they would pay for what they had done.
The next day Dela buried Nathaniel, and fashioned a cross out of branches to mark the grave. She wept for her lost love, and for herself, but knew there was not much time for mourning. Mother called her in for dinner as the sun was beginning to fade on the horizon. The floor boards creaked under her feet has she headed into her fate. There would be pain, but there would also be vengeance, and it made the pain worth it. Dela stepped into the dining room, now changed into the beautiful white gown she had sewn herself for she and Nathaniel's wedding day, her eyes trained on her father sitting at the head of the table. She and her mother sat opposite each other. Her eyes watched the glow of the lantern that sat in the middle of the table until her father spoke "What in the hell are you wearing?" her father asked then shook his head "Never mind that," he told her dismissively "Dela, your mother and I believe you should say the blessing tonight, seeing you have so much to ask God to forgive."
Dela's eyes shot to her father piercing him like daggers. She stood in a flash "God is not here tonight father, only the Reaper," she snatched up the lantern "and the cleansing flames of your reckoning." a smile spread across Dela's face as she threw the lantern into her father's lap, glass bursting, sending oil and flames spreading across his torso and quickly engulfing his face. He screamed, the sound like a lullaby to Dela's ears, and she turned to her mother who stood in shock. Dela swept around the table, grabbed her mother's rose patterned vase, and slammed it over her head sending her crashing to the ground.
Her eyes glistened in the light as she watched the flames engulf her parents bodies, and once they had been consumed she bowed her head, and swept her train through, the red and orange blaze snaking up her gown. She turned heading out of the room, and through the front door. Skin cracking and peeling, Dela made her way to Nathaniel's grave site and the noose she had hung from a branch that reached out just above it. She stepped up on the stool, pulled the rope tight around her neck, and kicked. Her death was instant. That morning as Dela began to put her plan into action she sent a letter to William in the morning post.
He would know the whole story, he would find Dela and bury her. However Dela would never again rest, forever searching for her lost love and watching over his grave site. Many have seen her since, The White Lady, her dress smoldering as she stands beneath a large sycamore tree, crying his name, and dragging any who come too close into the very flames that consumed her parents.