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Authors: Gilbert L. Morris

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BOOK: Secret of Richmond Manor
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The four men came in, and Lt. Majors's eyes opened wide as he looked at the table. “Why, this is like eating at a fancy hotel in Richmond, only better.”

Tom said almost reverently as he sniffed the air, “That doesn't smell like anything we get to eat in camp. Come on, let's lay our ears back and pitch into it!”

Jeff laughed. “You've got the manners of a wild hog, Tom.”

Tom hit his younger brother on the shoulder. “My manners are as good as yours, I reckon, Brother.”

The men sat down and spoke of how pretty the table was set.

When Leah had brought the heaping platter of fried chicken and set it down, she seated herself. “There! We can get started.”

Silas bowed his head, and the others followed his example. “Father,” he prayed, “we thank You for this food. We thank You for these guests, and we pray for our folks at home. We acknowledge that every good gift comes from You. We pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.”

“Amen!” Lt. Majors said and looked around the loaded table. “Well, we're not going to be hungry if we get on the outside of this food.” He looked at the golden fried chicken, the pork chops, the heaping bowl of mashed potatoes, a bowl of poke sallet, and other vegetables. Then he picked up a piece of fresh-baked bread and took a bite. “Oh, my!” He sighed. “I feel like I'm going to commit gluttony.”

They all fell to, and Leah was pleased at the way everyone ate. She kept their glasses filled with sweet milk, except for Jeff, who liked buttermilk better. A constant stream of compliments came her way, and she was happy that she'd been able to satisfy them.

When they had slowed down and began shoving their plates back, Leah rose, saying, “You're not through yet.”

“Not dessert! I didn't save any room,” Jeff protested.

Leah smiled at him sweetly. “That's all right, Jeff. Your father and brother can eat your share.”

She left and came back with the cake she had made earlier. When Jeff saw it, he cried out, “Not chocolate-iced cake!”

Leah put down the cake and said innocently, “Too bad you're so full you can't eat any.”

“Oh, yeah? Well, you just watch!” He waited as patiently as he could while Leah sliced a piece for each of them.

Jeff started shoveling the dessert into his mouth, and his father said, “Son, you sound like a pig snorting and grunting. I'm ashamed of you.”

“I'm sorry, Pa,” Jeff said with his mouth stuffed full. “You know how I can resist anything except temptation and dessert.”

While the men ate, Leah filled their cups with coffee. “This is about the last of the real coffee,” she said. “You'd better enjoy it.”

The room became relatively quiet as they ate their dessert. But finally Uncle Silas groaned and said, “Girl, you've done us all in!”

Leah laughed at him, and a dimple popped into her cheek. “It's not my fault you all eat like pigs. You didn't have to.”

“Yes, we did, Leah,” Tom disagreed. “Any man who wouldn't fill himself up on food like this, why, he's no man at all.”

They sat around the table then, enjoying one another's company. Soon they began to talk about the war.

Silas asked, “Nelson, what's the talk around headquarters about this army McClelland's got?”

The lieutenant grew serious. He tapped on the white tablecloth with one forefinger and shook his
head. “We've got word that he's got over one hundred thousand men.”

“How many do we have, Pa?” Jeff asked.

“Well, not that many—maybe seventy thousand in all.”

“Well, one rebel could whip five Yankees,” Tom said at once.

His father shook his head. “I've heard that said before. But from what I've seen, it's just not so. Those Union soldiers at Bull Run—they fought just about as hard as men could fight.”

“But they ran away—we whipped them,” Jeff said, chewing on another piece of cake.

Lt. Majors looked at his younger son. “You know, Jeff, in one way I'm sorry we won that battle.”

“Sorry we
won!”
Jeff exclaimed. “How can you say that?”

“It's made us overconfident, I'm afraid. All you hear is how we put the run on the Yankees, but one battle's not the war.”

Silas nodded. “I think you're right, Nelson. From what I hear, the Yankees went back, put their heads down, and started building a big army and lots of war factories. About all we've done around here is brag about how we whipped them in one battle.”

Jeff seemed astounded. “Why, I don't see how you can talk like that! We've been training and drilling every day. We'll be ready for them.”

“I don't doubt we'll do the best we can,” his father said, “and after all, we're fighting for our homes, and they're intruders.”

They talked for a while longer about the war, then changed the subject. With a battle coming up, they were all a little apprehensive and somewhat depressed. They talked about Esther, Nelson
Major's baby daughter. His wife had died giving birth to Esther, and it had been the Carters, back in Kentucky, who volunteered to take the girl until the Majorses could do better.

“I got a letter from your mother,” Lt. Majors said to Leah. He took it out of his pocket. “You might want to read it.” He smiled saying, “She claims that Esther's even prettier than you were when you were a baby.”

Leah smiled too and took the letter. “Well, she is. She's the prettiest baby I ever saw.” As she read, she thought of what a tie Esther had made between the two families. They were divided by the war, but they were together in the task of raising Esther Majors. Handing the letter on to Uncle Silas to read, she said, “I wish I could see her. I miss her so much.”

“So do I,” the lieutenant said, a frown darkening his face. “A man wants to see his children, and this war won't permit that.”

Leah rose and said, “I'll do the dishes.”

“Well, I'll help,” Tom said. “And you too, Jeff.”

“I'm too full,” Jeff protested.

But Tom reached down, grabbed him by the hair, and jerked him squealing to his feet.

“You'll help, or I'll strap you.” But he laughed.

The young people cleaned up the supper dishes while Silas and Nelson Majors sat on the front porch. The three made a game out of it, laughing and having a good time. Finally they finished and walked out onto the porch too, where they sat until it grew dark.

“Guess we need to go inside. The skeeters are gonna be getting bad,” Silas said.

But Jeff said suddenly, “Have you been listening to that big old frog croaking down at the creek?”

“Sounds like a bull, don't he?” Silas nodded. “He's a big one!”

“I'd like to go get me a mess of frogs,” Jeff said.

Silas said, “Well, there's a frog gig in the shed over there. It's kind of rusty, but I reckon it'll do. If you want to go, take you a lantern and have at it.”

Jeff brightened.

Leah knew he liked any kind of hunting and fishing.

“Come on, Tom,” he said. “Let's go.”

“Not me. I'm going to go inside and sit down and not do a thing. I've got a feeling we're going to be pretty busy after we go back.”

Jeff looked at Leah. “Leah, you come. You can hold the lantern while I do the gigging.”

Leah made a face, wrinkling up her nose. “Who'd eat an old frog?”

“I would,” Jeff said. He cocked his head to one side and begged, “Come on, Leah. It'll be fun.”

“Don't do it, Leah,” Tom advised. “He'll have you doing all the work. That's the way Jeff is.”

Leah let Jeff coax for a little while, then said, “All right, but I'm going to put on my old clothes.” She went to her room and put on a pair of frayed overalls and old shoes.

When she went outside, Jeff was waiting, holding a lantern and a long pole and a sack. “Look! This ought to get 'em.” He showed her the gig, which looked like a small pitchfork with four prongs, each having a barb.

Then they walked down to the road, turned, and went on to the creek. The moon had begun to rise—a full moon, like a huge silver dish. By the light of it, Leah could see a small, flat-bottomed wooden boat.

“You get in front,” Jeff said. “I'll do the paddling.”

Leah scrambled into the boat, holding the lantern carefully.

Jeff got in after her, picked up the paddle, and began to row slowly downstream.

“It's sure quiet,” Leah said.

At that moment a huge bull frog said,
“Harumph!”
and she nearly jumped out of the boat.

“Hold it! Hold that lantern up!” Jeff cried.

Leah held the light high, and Jeff brought the boat to a stop. “Let's sit still,” he said quietly. He picked up the frog gig and laid down the paddle. “There,” he said, “see there—there he is—look at the size of that frog!”

Leah peered into the night, but the lantern light almost blinded her. Finally she did manage to see two gleaming eyes and made out the shape of a large frog perched on the bank.

“Careful now—don't move,” Jeff whispered. He picked up the paddle again, maneuvered the boat close to the bank, and grasped the frog gig. Then with a sudden lunge he speared the frog. “Got him!” he exclaimed. He pulled the frog in and removed him from the barbed prongs. As he dropped him into the sack, he said with satisfaction, “Kick all you want to, frog, but you'll be breakfast tomorrow!”

The frog thumped in the sack on the bottom of the boat, and Leah said again, “I don't want to eat any old frog!”

“Did you ever eat frog legs?”

“No, I never did. There's lots of things I haven't eaten.”

“Why, you'd like them. They're better than chicken.” Jeff nodded. “Come on, let's move on down.”

For the next two hours, they paddled slowly down the small stream. Although Leah did not like gigging frogs, she did enjoy being out in the quiet of the night. The mosquitoes, for some reason, were not as bad as usual. They just sang a high, whining song around her ears occasionally. She took a few bites from them, but she was used to that.

Finally Jeff said, “Well, we've got enough for all of us.” He turned the boat around, and they made their way back upstream.

“Be careful. Don't fall in the creek,” he warned, when Leah got out. He followed her, tied up the boat, and picked up his sack of frogs. “Never got so many big frogs in my whole life.” He picked up the gig too. “Let's get back.”

They walked up the road by lantern light and moonlight, and when they got back to the house, he said, “Let's go in the backyard—I'll clean these tonight.”

Leah went with him, and when they got there she held the lantern for him.

“This won't take long.” Jeff pulled a knife from his pocket and opened it.

Leah watched as he cleaned the frogs and admired how efficiently he did it. “I wish I could clean chickens as easy as you do frogs,” she said finally.

“Well, frogs don't have feathers.” The amber light of the lantern picked up his bright eyes, and he laughed. “That'd be something, wouldn't it—a frog with feathers!”

Soon the frogs were cleaned, and Jeff washed off their catch under the pump. “Pretty good night's work!” he said.

They went inside to find that Tom had gone to bed, but Jeff's father and Uncle Silas were still talking.

Looking up, Silas asked, “Did you get any?”

“Did I get any?” Jeff said. “You never saw such frogs!

“And look how dirty I am!” said Leah. “I'm going to wash up and go to bed. Good night, Jeff.”

“Good night, Leah. We'll go again.”

As soon as she was gone, the lieutenant grinned at his son. “She's not only pretty, she's a good helper, isn't she? Not every young woman would go frogging with a fellow. You'd better hang onto her.”

Jeff said, “Pa, I wish this war was over and we were back in Kentucky.”

Nelson Majors's face grew sober. “I wish it too. But you can never go back and be what you were.” He looked over at his son, rose, and slapped him on the shoulder. “We just have to take what we are, where we are, and trust God,” he said quietly. “Let's go to bed, Jeff.”

2
The Battle Begins

B
reakfast the next morning was rather strange. Leah got up expecting to fix her usual fare of bacon, eggs, and biscuits. Instead she found, to her surprise, Jeff standing in front of the stove.

“What are you doing, Jeff?”

“Fixing breakfast.” He was wearing a white cotton shirt and a pair of worn trousers in place of his uniform. “This time I'll be the cook,” he announced. “You can make the coffee if you want to.”

Leah looked at the bowl of frog legs sitting on the counter next to the stove. “I'm not going to eat any of those ole things!” she proclaimed.

“It's that or nothing,” he said with a grin. “You'll like them. Sit down and watch an expert.”

So Leah sat and watched as Jeff began cooking the frog legs. It was really like frying chicken, she thought.

Uncle Silas came in, followed by Tom and Jeff's father.

Tom said, “Well, this looks good. I'll just help you set the table, Jeff, and make the coffee.” He busied himself.

And soon the meal was ready.

Jeff put the huge platter of frog legs on the table, along with a large tray of biscuits that he had warmed in the oven. He glanced at Leah with a mischievous look as he sat down. “Why don't you ask the blessing, Leah?” he asked innocently. “And be
sure you give a special thanks to the Lord for these frog legs.”

Leah flushed and shook her head stubbornly. “I won't do it! I'm thankful for almost anything but not those old frog legs!”

“I'll do it,” Tom said cheerfully. He asked a simple blessing—paying special heed to the frog legs—and when he said, “Amen,” he reached out and speared one of the succulent legs from the platter. Grabbing a biscuit in his left hand, he began to take alternate bites. “Boy, this is good! Nothing like good, fresh frog legs for breakfast!”

BOOK: Secret of Richmond Manor
12.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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