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Authors: Gilbert L. Morris

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BOOK: Secret of Richmond Manor
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“No, don't do that!” he said in alarm. “I'll be all right. Just give me a little time.”

Leah made up her mind, however, though she did not pursue the matter. The stream flowed by over to their left. The moon made a huge silver reflection that was broken as a fish broke the surface with a loud splash.

“I'd like to come here and catch you,” Leah said to the fish.

“I never went fishing. Is it fun?”

“You never went
I think that's awful!”

“Well, I was mostly working, and they didn't fish much where I came from.” He hesitated, then said, “I've been reading the Bible you left.”

“Have you, Ezra? Do you like it?”

He hesitated. “Well, I'm not sure as I understand much of it, but what I do get is that God seems to love us. I never knew that. The sermons I heard was
mostly about hell and how that God was gonna put us there if we didn't do good.”

“Have you been reading in the book of John, like I said?”

“Yeah, sure have. That's a good one. You know, I never thought about Jesus being a man. I mean, He got tired, He went to sleep, He got hungry, just like me. I never thought about that,” he said in a wondering tone.

“Yes, that's what He was—a man.” Leah nodded. “While He was here on earth anyhow.”

“But He was God too, wasn't He? How could He be God and still be like us?”

“I don't think I can explain it very well,” Leah said, “but the preachers all say—and my father told me—that God wanted to save people and the only way He could do it was for Him to send His Son to die.”

“I read that part—about where they nailed Him to a cross.” Ezra shifted on the log and turned to face her. “That made me cry. I don't remember ever crying, not in a long time, but that did.”

“It makes me cry too sometimes,” Leah said, “to think that God's own Son would die for us.”

The silence ran on, and finally Leah said, “Ezra, have you ever asked God to forgive your sins?”

“No, I never have.”

“Would you like to do that right now?”

“You mean, right out here? You don't have to be in a church?”

“No, there weren't any churches like we have when Jesus was on earth. He often preached to people out on the road or on a hill or in a boat. It doesn't matter where you are. Anytime you call on God, He'll save you.”

“Well, I sure need saving, I guess. Don't know why He'd want to do a thing like that for me.”

“He does want to. He loves every one of us.” Leah turned to Ezra and said, “Let's just pray. I'll pray out loud, and you just talk to God any way you can—in your own heart, if you want. You don't have to say a word out loud if you don't want to. Will you do that?”

After a long silence, he nodded. “Yes, Miss Leah, I sure will.”

Leah prayed a short prayer, asking God to bless the young soldier. She asked Him to help Ezra see his need of trusting Christ, and, when she had finished the prayer, she asked, “Did you ask God?”

“Yes, I did.” He looked at her and said, “Is that all there is to it?”

“No, there's lots more, but if you've asked Jesus into your heart, you've taken the first step. Now wherever you go, He'll go with you.”

Ezra Payne sat on the log. He was sick and weak, had never known a home, and was far from the place of his birth, among enemies. He looked at the young girl, the kindest person he'd ever known, and then he said, “Well, Leah, I sure need somebody to be with me, because I've been alone all my life.”

He Can Stay

eff went about his duties for the next two days, moody and sullen.

Tom threatened to stick his head under the pump if he didn't straighten up. “You're acting like a bear with a sore tail,” he told him sternly. “We've got a war to fight here, and you're not helping any acting like a spoiled brat.”

Jeff glared at him but made no answer, for he knew Tom was right. He was aware that there were stirrings in the camp. A battle might be in the offing, and he asked his father about it.

“There's a Federal general called Pope, who's taking charge of one of the Yankee armies. He's already made General Lee mad.”

“General Lee got mad? What did Pope do?” Jeff demanded, amazed.

“Why, he said he was going to deal harshly with any Confederate sympathizers in the Shenandoah Valley. He's going to treat civilians like spies, maybe even have them shot.”

“Why, he can't do that! Not civilians!”

Tom shook his head. “Not much telling what a general will do. General Lee said Pope must be stopped. They said he was about as mad as he ever gets.” He looked over at the troops that were drilling out in the field. “We're sure whittled down thin, Jeff. We lost so many men at Seven Days that we're just not ready to fight a battle.”

“Why, we can whip 'em, can't we, Tom?”

Tom ran his hand through his hair. There was a doubtful look in his eye. “We're outnumbered. Always will be,” he murmured. “No matter how many men they lose, they've always got another man to put in his place. But every time we lose a man, it just leaves a gap. It's gonna be a tough thing, Jeff.”

Jeff had never for one moment considered that the South might lose, and it troubled him.

Later that afternoon he was assigned with Charlie Bowers, a drummer-boy friend, to take a wagon into Richmond for supplies. Charlie was a cheerful, undersized young fellow of fourteen. He had tow-colored hair and bright blue eyes. Curly Henson, a big red-haired corporal, drove the wagon. He had been hard on Jeff at first but then had saved Jeff's life in a battle, and he had become fond of both boys.

They drove into the city, and the streets were filled with buggies and horses and men and women walking along busily. Richmond was the busiest town in the Confederacy. It was not only the heart of the government but the heart of a great deal of its industry.

When Curly pulled up in front of the warehouse, he said, “I can load this wagon. You fellows go to the store and try to find me some chewing tobacco.” He gave them a dollar bill, adding, “Get yourself some candy, if you can find any.”

The two of them grinned at the big man and left. As they were about to enter a store, Jeff stopped dead still, for Leah was coming out, a basket under her arm.

* * *

“Hello, Jeff.”

“Why … hello, Leah.” There was an awkward silence, and Jeff said, “Everything … all right?”

Leah knew immediately what he meant. “Oh, yes, everything's fine, Jeff.” She looked at Charlie Bowers and knew she could not say much. “The problem we were talking about—it's going to be all right.”

It appeared Jeff hardly knew what to say to her and felt awkward. Finally he said abruptly, “Well, we've got to go. Good-bye, Leah.”

She was disappointed. She had hoped that Jeff would be more ready to listen. Back at Richmond Manor she was met by her uncle. He held out an envelope and said, “Another invitation.”

“Invitation to what?” Leah asked.

“It's Lucy Driscoll's birthday. She sent a note especially for you.”

Instantly Leah knew what had happened. “She didn't do it because she wanted to. I bet her parents made her send it.”

“Oh, don't talk like that,” Uncle Silas said, his face showing surprise. “I think you ought to go. Not much fun for a young girl like you around here.”

“I don't want to, Uncle Silas.”

“Is it because you don't have anything to wear? I know that you felt bad last time, but you could make a new dress, if that's what you want to do.”

Leah felt tired and discouraged. The strain of the past days had worn on her. She hadn't slept well and was constantly expecting someone to stumble upon Ezra. “I'm just tired,” she said. “And she doesn't really want me to come.”

“Well, it's as you say.” Silas nodded. “Write her a note then. That no-account Rufus Prather's been hanging around a lot. I expect he's sweet on you.”

“I don't like him, Uncle Silas.”

“He's a lazy, shiftless boy. I don't want him hanging around. I'll tell him so the next time, but he's handy for carrying letters. Write a note—we'll send it to the Driscolls.”

“All right. I'll do that.”

Leah found paper and pen and wrote a brief letter thanking the Driscolls for the invitation and using the excuse that her uncle still wasn't feeling well and she wouldn't feel comfortable leaving him.

Later that afternoon she saw Rufus Prather about to drive past in a wagon. She ran out to the road, and he pulled up at once.

“Why, howdy, Leah,” he said. “Come on, we'll go for a ride.”

“No, I can't do that. Would you give this note to Mr. or Mrs. Driscoll, Rufus?”

“Shore, I'll do that.” Rufus stuck it carelessly into his pocket. “You coming to that birthday party, aren't you?”

“I don't think so.”

Rufus nodded. “I don't blame you. They're too highfalutin, all those Driscolls. Now, me and you —we're alike.”

Leah gave him a half-angry, half-amused look. He was such a stupid boy that it would be hard to explain how exactly they were
alike. She handed him the dollar that Uncle Silas had given her and said, “There! That's for delivering the note.”

Later in the afternoon, Uncle Silas lay down to take a nap. After he had been asleep for some time, Leah thought it would be safe to go out and talk to
Ezra. She closed the screen door very quietly. She had bought a half dozen apples and carried one with her.

When she got to the barn, she found him waiting for her.

“I was watching through the door and saw you coming,” he said.

She held out the apple. “Here. I got a few of these in town. I ate one—they're real good.”

Ezra took the apple, polished it on his sleeve, and nodded. “Thank you. Nothing I like better than a good apple. You eat half of it.”

“No, I've already had one. You go ahead, Ezra.”

They sat down in the hay, and Ezra ate the apple very slowly, enjoying it.

“You look better,” she said. “Your face has got a little color in it.”

“All that good food I've been getting.” Ezra took another bite and chewed thoughtfully. “I figure it won't be long before I'll be off your hands.”

Leah asked, “Have you been reading the Bible more?”

“Sure have. Still don't understand lots of it. But you know what? I feel good, Leah. Ever since we prayed, I feel like God's just doing something for me.” A smile lighted his face.

He'd be really a nice-looking boy
, Leah thought,
if he were well-fed
. He had clean features and unusually good teeth, bright and even. His eyes were alert now, and there was a restfulness about him that she had not seen before.

“I just feel like I've settled it all with God,” he said. “You know, I saw some fellows do that when I first went in the army. Had a service there, and some of them went. They came back and said they'd
gotten converted. I didn't even know what they were talking about.” He looked down at his feet. “Two of them got killed at Bull Run. Sure hope they're all right.”

“If they trusted in Jesus, they're all right,” Leah said stoutly.

They sat talking, mostly about God. Then Ezra got the Bible and began to point out Scriptures and ask her what they meant. They were so deeply engrossed in what they were doing that both of them leaped to their feet when a voice said, “Leah! What's this?”

“Uncle Silas!”

Her uncle stood at the barn door. He had not been out-of-doors very much, and he was leaning heavily on a cane. His eyes were fixed on the young man with her.

“Uncle Silas, this is Ezra Payne,” Leah said.

Silas Carter studied the boy and asked quietly, “Escaped prisoner, are you, boy?”

“Yes, sir. I was in Belle Isle ever since Bull Run.” He said quickly, “Don't get mad at Miss Leah. I was about dead when she found me. If they'd taken me back, I'd have died for sure. I'm going back—I'm going to give myself up right away.”

“He was so sick, Uncle Silas,” Leah said, “but he's better now. Please, you won't give him away. I know you won't!”

“Well, I don't know. It's a serious thing to harbor an escaped prisoner,” Silas said. “We could all be in terrible trouble.”

“That's what I've told her, Mr. Carter,” Ezra said.

“Yes, and he left once—he was trying to save us trouble—but he was so weak he couldn't do it.”

Leah went over and stood beside her uncle. She was almost as tall as he was. “I think the Lord is in it.”

“The Lord? How do you mean that?”

“Ezra got saved. He didn't know anything about the Lord. We prayed together, and now he knows Jesus.”

Uncle Silas looked at the boy and asked, “Is that right, son?”

“Yes, sir,” Ezra said simply. “I never heard no preaching before, and I don't know much, but I know ever since I asked God to forgive me that things have been … well …

Silas Carter was silent, perhaps thinking about the possible difficulties that could arise. He asked suddenly, “Does Jeff know about this?”

“Yes.” Leah nodded.

“And he agreed not to tell, I suppose. That's hard on him.”

“I know it is, but he won't tell, and it's just for a few more days, Uncle Silas.”

Silas thought hard. Then he said, “Well, if a man's hurt and sick, I don't guess it matters if he wears the blue or the gray.”

“You'll let him stay?” Leah asked, her eyes bright with hope.

“Until he gets well, he can stay.”

Ezra dropped his head. He said nothing for a moment, and when he lifted his eyes they were brimming with tears. “I never met people like you before, but I'm sure glad I have. No matter what happens, things are gonna be different with me from now on.”

BOOK: Secret of Richmond Manor
2.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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