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Authors: Gilbert L. Morris

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BOOK: Secret of Richmond Manor
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“I see it! I see it!” Leah suddenly turned, and her eyes were beaming with pleasure. “First time I could ever pick it out. Oh, Jeff, that's exciting!”

Jeff grinned at her and leaned back. “You're not hard to entertain. I've been seeing the Big Dipper all my life. I thought everybody did.”

They both fell quiet for awhile, and finally Leah said, “I think a lot about those days when we were growing up back home.”

“So do I.” Jeff hesitated. “Pa says we can never have that time again.”

“We can go back there after the war's over.”

“I don't know about that.” Jeff shrugged. “Even if we did, we'll be old.”

“Old?” Leah stared at him with shock. “What do you mean, old?”

“Well, just look at it. If the war lasts another two or three years, we'll be nearly eighteen, nineteen years old. That's old.”

“That's not old. Sarah's eighteen, and Tom's nineteen, and they're not old.”

Jeff picked up a stick and began to dig in the dirt with it. “Maybe not. But when you're fifteen, nineteen seems old. Why, when you're that old, you have to get married, have a family, and work all the time!”

“Well, that's the way it is,” Leah protested. “What else would you do?”

Jeff grinned at her. “I'd like to be rich and have people wait on me all the time, get everything I want, and go where I want to go.”

Leah laughed aloud at him. “That's silly! You wouldn't like that.”

“Wouldn't mind trying it for awhile.” Jeff shrugged. “Might beat working.”

“I think about Tom and Sarah a lot. I wish they would get married, but of course they can't while the war's on.”

“Tom's really sad. He doesn't show it much, but he thinks about Sarah all the time.”

“Does he ever talk to you about her?”

“One time he did. It was just before the battle at Bull Run—the night before, as a matter of fact. We were sitting around talking and thinking about it, and all of a sudden Tom said, ‘If I get killed, I'll miss it all.' I asked him what that meant, and he said, ‘Never get married, never have children, never watch them grow up—miss it all.'”

He turned to Leah. “It really made me sad. That was the first time I saw how grieved Tom was to not be able to marry your sister.”

“I think Sarah feels the same. She writes about Tom, and I can tell she's hurting on the inside.”

“Well, we don't have to worry about that since you're fourteen and I'm fifteen,” Jeff said. “I don't
want to get married till I'm real old, maybe twenty-five.”

Leah said, “Why, I know girls that get married when they're only fifteen. Just a year older than I am.”

“That what's on your mind—getting married next year?” Jeff teased.

Rafe suddenly erupted with an enormous burst of sound, and she glanced over at him.

“Maybe you ought to marry Rafe there.” Jeff grinned. “You wouldn't have to worry about sleeping much. I swear, he'd keep the regiment awake!”

They kept on talking, and for Leah it was a time of peace and relaxation. They had been so caught up with the war and the hardships that she treasured moments like these.

Rafe snorted, then sat up abruptly. He rubbed his eyes and looked around. “Well, were you going to let me sleep all night?” he demanded. He got to his feet, stretched hugely, and said, “Let's go get them coons.”

They did get a coon later that night. Stonewall treed it, and Rafe shot it out of the tree.

As it fell to the ground and lay still, the dog yapped around it excitedly.

“Get away from there, Stonewall!” Rafe commanded. He carefully poked the raccoon with the muzzle of his rifle. “A big, fat one!” he said with satisfaction. “Probably been eating on somebody's corn.”

“It's too early for corn.” Carefully Jeff reached out and picked the animal up by its tail. His eyes widened, and he said, “Why, this coon must weigh thirty pounds!”

“He's a good'un,” Rafe said. “You want to try for another one?”

“Not me. I've got to get back. I've got to leave for camp this morning.”

“All right. Come on, Stonewall.”

The two boys took turns carrying the heavy coon, and Leah carried the gun. When they got back to Rafe's house, she watched as he expertly cleaned the animal and divided it.

“Take this and cook it up for your Uncle Silas. He's partial to some fresh coon. Be sure and cook some sweet potatoes with it. That goes down pretty good.”

Jeff came over and put out his hand. “Thanks a lot for letting us go with you, Rafe. That's a fine dog you got there. I hope I have one as good one of these days.”

“I hope you will.” Rafe hesitated, then said, “You be careful, Jeff, when that battle starts. Don't want nothing to happen to you.”

Jeff and Leah walked away from the Tolliver place, and on the way back Jeff said, “I like Rafe.”

“So do I.”

“I reckon he'll be in the army soon. He's sixteen now. We've got fellas younger than that. I expect he'll join up.”

The thought depressed Leah. “It seems like everybody has to suffer in this war—all the young men, and then the mothers and sisters have to stay home and worry.”

There was nothing to say to that.

Suddenly Jeff stopped. “What was that?”

Leah halted too. They stood there in the bright moonlight and listened. “Thunder, I think.”

But Jeff shook his head. “That's not thunder—that's artillery. Way off over there.” He strained his eyes, then shook his head. “Too far away to see the powder flashes, but I've heard it enough to know that's what it is.”

They went into the house and found that Silas was already up and stirring around. He liked to get up early, and when Leah produced the coon, he was pleased. “That'll go down all right,” he said.

Jeff said, “I've got to get back.” He paused, then told Uncle Silas, “The battle's starting. I hear the guns.”

His leaving was a sad time for all three of them.

Leah had prepared a huge box of cookies for Jeff to take back to share with the rest of his company. After he said good-bye to Silas, she walked out with him and handed him the box, saying, “Be sure Tom and your father get some of these. And the rest of the company too—your friends.”

“I'll see to that.” Jeff hesitated longer and finally burst out, “I sure hate to go, Leah! I surely do!”

They stood facing each other, torn by the grief that came at times like this, and finally he said awkwardly, “Well, I guess I've got to go.” He put out his hand, and she took it. Trying to grin, he said, “We had us a good time, didn't we? Your first frog legs and that fine coon hunt!”

“Yes, we did.” Leah's voice was so quiet, she knew he could hardly hear it.

He pulled his hand back, turned, and started walking toward the road. “I'll get me a ride,” he called back. “Somebody's bound to be going toward Richmond. Good-bye, Leah.”

“Good-bye, Jeff. Be careful.” She watched until he was out of sight, then walked back into the house.

She was quiet all morning, and finally, as the sound of artillery grew louder, her uncle said, “Lee's gone up against the Yankees. I think it'll be a bad one.”

“The South won before—at Bull Run.”

Uncle Silas looked in the direction of Richmond, then turned to her, and his face was drawn and serious. “I don't think they'll be whipped that easy this time.”

Leah came and put her arms around him. She was crying.

He put his arms around her, and she clung to him. He finally murmured, “God be with them all!”

3
After the Battle

O
rdinarily in Richmond, Independence Day would have been gaily celebrated. There would have been flags flying, fireworks, a dance in the city square, and every home would have celebrated the birth of America. However on July 4, 1862, there was little evidence of festivity.

Leah Carter left Uncle Silas's house and made her way to the heart of the city early in the morning. She was somewhat worried about her uncle. He had been ill but had done better until very recently. Now he had taken a cold, and it had settled in his chest so that he was coughing a great deal.

Leah thought, I wish Sarah hadn't had to go back to Kentucky. I miss her, and so does Uncle Silas
.

The two girls had come to Richmond to take care of their uncle, but Sarah had incurred the anger and suspicion of some of the authorities. Since they were from Kentucky, a border state, they had not been warmly welcomed into the Confederacy in any case.

“Hello, Mrs. Lake,” Leah said as she stepped into the store and approached the counter. “I need some coffee and sugar, please.”

Mrs. Lake, a tall angular woman, shook her head. “Laws, child! We haven't had any
real
coffee in a week now, nor are we likely to get any.”

Leah's face fell. “Uncle Silas has to have his coffee!” she protested. “I'll go try down the street.”

“You can go, but I doubt if you'll find any. The blockade's got us cut off so tightly now that coffee's just one of the things we're going to have to learn how to do without.” Mrs. Lake shook her head sadly. “Maybe you can roast acorns and grind them up. That's what some are doing.”

Leah made a face. “That doesn't sound very good. I think I'll try a few more stores. Thank you, Mrs. Lake.”

She visited four other groceries, finally finding the items she sought. But when she heard the price of a pound of coffee, she blinked. “I never heard of such for coffee!”

Nevertheless, it was all she could find, so she bought it.

As she returned through the streets of Richmond, she noticed a great deal of activity. Men and women were talking, some of the men rather loudly, and soldiers were everywhere.

Since McClellan's Northern army had landed and made its way almost to the outskirts of Richmond, the far-off sound of cannon and even musket fire could be heard. The Confederates had lost their foremost general, Joseph Johnston, and General Robert E. Lee had been placed in command.

Leah was at the end of the main road and had started to turn toward her uncle's house when she saw two soldiers approaching, carrying a stretcher.

They stopped as they came close to her, put down the stretcher, and just sat down in the road, gasping for breath.

“It's a good thing we got this far,” the older of the two panted, “but I don't know what we're going to do with him.”

The other, no more than eighteen, was trembling with fatigue. “I don't either,” he said. “If something doesn't turn up, we'll just have to find a tent.”

Leah paused. She looked down at the wounded man on the stretcher and then swallowed hard. Some dreadful blow had torn his arm off, and the stump was bound with a bloody cloth. His mouth was open, and he was breathing shallowly. His skin was pale gray.

“The hospital in Chimborazo. Can't you take him there?” she asked timidly.

“No, missy.” The older man shook his head wearily. “We just come from there. Every room's full, and they got wounded men all over the grass outside.” He looked down at the wounded boy. “We got to do something, but for the life of me I don't know what.”

Leah felt slightly sick at the sight of the terrible wound. She watched as the two men got to their feet, heaved the stretcher up, and staggered away.

On her way home she met wagon after wagon full of groaning men. One of them was crying out, “Let me die! It's killing me, this jolting! Put me out and let me die!”

By the time she reached home, she was totally bewildered.

Walking into the house, Leah found Uncle Silas sitting in his rocking chair, reading his Bible. Silas Carter was the brother of Leah's father, Dan. He had been near death when his two nieces came to nurse him, and he had grown very fond of both of them.

“Uncle Silas,” she said, “the wounded are coming back from the battle, and there's no place to put them. The hospital's full.” Then she related what she had heard from the two soldiers.

“I just don't know what we could do,” he said sadly. He shook his head and stroked his gray beard. “I've heard that thousands of them have died. Mrs. Rayburn came by for a while. She says she'd never seen anything like it. They're busy digging graves and burying them, Yank and Confederate alike. I just don't know, Leah. It's terrible!”

For two more days the wounded continued to stream into Richmond.

Then late one afternoon a knock came at the door, and Leah went to open it.

“Jeff!” she said, smiling. She took the arm of the tall young man in gray uniform who stood there and pulled him into the house. “Come on in. I just made an apple pie.”

“An apple pie! Well, I reckon I could arm wrestle a piece of that down my throat.”

Jeff Majors was fifteen. His hair was as black as a crow, and his eyes were black also. He was called “The Black Majors” by some of the family because of this. He allowed himself to be pulled into the kitchen and sat down in a cane-bottom chair. When Leah put a piece of steaming pie before him, he threw himself into it.

“Don't eat so fast, Jeff! You'll burn your tongue!” she warned. She moved to the stove, picked up the coffeepot, poured a half cup, then set it before him. “I wish I could give you more, but the coffee's almost gone. And it's about impossible to find.”

Jeff swallowed an enormous bite, then nodded. “Yep, so I heard. How is your Uncle Silas?”

“He's better now. He had a cold, but he's about over it.”

Leah sat down across from him. She was fourteen years old. She had green eyes and blonde hair and was very tall for a girl. She saw herself as being gawky and awkward, and once, when she had developed a stoop to try to appear smaller, her mother had scolded her. “Straighten up, Leah. You look like a worm, all bent over. God gave you a good, strong, tall body. Don't be ashamed of it.”

BOOK: Secret of Richmond Manor
11.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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