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Authors: Gilbert L. Morris

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BOOK: Secret of Richmond Manor
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She was wearing a light blue dress today, and a green ribbon tied her hair back.

Jeff didn't say so, but he thought she looked very pretty.

“Jeff, it's terrible!” she exclaimed. “All these wounded men—what's going to happen to them?”

He frowned, and a sober look touched his dark eyes. “I guess some of them are going to die. A lot of them already have.”

“The hospital's full, they say, and there's not enough medicine or bandages or anything.”

“Well, nine men in our company alone are lying out under a tree,” Jeff murmured. He sipped his coffee slowly, then frowned again. “We took some canvas and made a tent so it won't rain on them. But they're just lying there with no doctor. I don't know what'll happen.”

He sat with his long legs stuck out in front of him, and the two talked for a long time.

Both had lived in the little town of Pineville, Kentucky, until the war came. Jeff's parents decided they could not fight against their native state, Virginia, so Nelson Majors and his wife and their two boys, Tom and Jeff, left for Richmond. Then Mrs. Majors died giving birth to a baby girl, Esther. Since the Majors men had no one to care for her, they were relieved when Leah's parents volunteered
to keep the baby until her father could find other arrangements.

After Jeff went back to camp that afternoon, Leah kept thinking about the poor wounded and dying men in Richmond.

That night after supper, Silas got out his Bible as usual. He began to read in the book of James, while Leah sat knitting a sock, listening carefully. She had learned to treasure her uncle, who was as fervent a Christian as her own father.

Silas finally reached the fourteenth verse of the second chapter. He read very slowly. “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” He hesitated, his lips moved as he silently re-read the question, and then he continued, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”

The clock from the hall was making a rhythmical ticking,
tick-tock, tick-tock
. Leah looked up from her knitting to see that her uncle's eyes were troubled. “What is it, Uncle Silas?”

“That verse, it seems to speak to my heart, Leah,” he said. “Let's pray for all the wounded men. Pray that God would show us how to help them.”

They had a time of prayer in which they prayed for the wounded of both armies. Leah prayed fervently for her brother, Royal, who was with the North. They prayed also for Jeff, and for Tom, Jeff's brother, and for their father, who were serving in the Southern army.

They finally went to bed.

The next morning, Silas seemed preoccupied. He ate the corn mush and biscuits that Leah set out for him and sipped his coffee slowly. Looking up, he said finally, “I've got a place out in the country, Leah, about three miles out of town. Richmond Manor, we used to call it. Not much of a house, on a couple of acres. I used to keep milk cows out there and goats. The place is run down, but it's livable.”

“I never knew that, Uncle Silas.”

“Well, the Lord spoke to me right smartly. We're going to let the army use this place here. It's close to the hospital, and we'll live out at Richmond Manor.”

Leah's face brightened, “Oh, Uncle Silas! That's wonderful! The soldiers will have beds here, and they'll be out of the weather! But are you sure it'll be all right for you?”

“Oh, I feel fine.” Silas smiled. “I'll feel even better if we can do this for those poor boys. It'll take some moving, but we'll make it. You better start getting packed, and we'll have to get Lem to hitch the team and haul out the stuff we'll need in the wagon. We'll have to take some mattresses probably. And food. There's nothing there.”

“Oh, it'll be fun—a little like camping out!” Leah exclaimed.

It took a day for them to make their preparations, but the next morning they left Richmond, headed for the country. The sun was shining. The robins were digging industriously for worms along the wayside. And Leah was happy to be doing something for the soldiers.

As they pulled up over a ridge, Silas nodded. “There it is, back off the road. There's Richmond Manor. Needs a little paint, but that's not important.”

He hesitated, then said, “There's one thing I didn't tell you about the house.”

“What's that, Uncle Silas?”

Silas shrugged his thin shoulders. “Well, some people in the neighborhood say it's haunted.”

“Haunted! You don't believe that, do you?”

“No, of course I don't, child. But a man killed his wife there thirty years ago—long before I bought the place. People passing along the road claim they can still hear the woman crying. Nonsense, of course.” He looked around. “We could get a cow, and we don't mind a few ghosts, do we, Leah?”

4
A Haunted House

S
ettling into the house in the country was much simpler than Leah had thought. When she and Silas first stepped inside Richmond Manor, she had been appalled by the condition of the old place. Dust was everywhere. The windows were so filthy it was almost impossible to see out, and the furniture was in poor condition.

They made the best of it on the first night, but at ten o'clock the next morning Tom and Jeff Majors came riding up.

Leah saw them through the window. “Look, Uncle Silas—it's Tom and Jeff!”

They stepped out onto the porch, and the two soldiers dismounted and tied their horses. Both boys were grinning widely. “Our dad got a promotion,” Jeff said proudly. “He's been made a captain.”

Tom took off his hat and knocked the dust from it. He was tall and dark like Jeff and wore the uniform of a sergeant. “The first order he gave was, ‘Go help Miss Leah and her uncle make that place fit to live in.'”

“Well, that was right nice of your pa.” Uncle Silas beamed. He looked around and said, “Quite a bit of work to do around here.”

Jeff nodded to Leah. “Make us another one of them apple pies,” he said, “and just watch our smoke.”

Later he told her, “Pa was really pleased that you and your uncle have made your house available to our men. I think it's fine too.”

“Oh, it's what we should do,” Leah said quickly. She smiled and touched the locket that hung from a gold chain around her neck. “And I love my locket. That's the best birthday present I ever got.”

Jeff shrugged. “Well, a girl ought to have something pretty like that. I'm glad you like it.”

Later on she prepared a fine dinner—including apple pie.

As they were eating, Tom said, “Did you hear what happened in the North—what Lincoln's done?”

“No, what's that, Sergeant?” Silas asked.

“Well, Lincoln's called for three hundred thousand men to serve for three years.” He took a bite of pork chop and chewed on it thoughtfully. “Three hundred thousand men! I expect that's more than we've got in the whole South. And to serve for
three years
…. ”

“I guess most of our fellows will serve as long as the war will last. But that can't be three years!” Jeff said.

The two soldiers worked hard all day, and at dusk Tom said, “Well, we've got to get back to camp. Come along, Jeff.”

Jeff lingered long enough to say, “I'll be coming back from time to time, Leah. It looks like the fighting's over for a while. McClellan's retreated, gone back to Washington, so maybe we'll get to see each other. Maybe there's a creek around here or a pond we can go fishing in.”

“Oh, that would be nice, Jeff. You be sure and come every chance you get.”

The next day Leah said, “Uncle Silas, I've got to have some more groceries. I saw a little store down the road. I'm going to walk down and get some things.”

It was a good day for walking. The sky was blue, and white clouds drifted across it. The grass was so green it almost hurt her eyes. Once she crossed a bridge that arched over a small creek. She stopped and leaned out over it and looked down into the depths, hoping to see fish, but all she saw was shiny minnows schooling over the shallow water.

Finally she walked on and came to the one-room store with a little house sitting behind it.

“My name's Leah Carter,” she said. “My Uncle Silas and I are living down the road. We'll be needing groceries from time to time.”

The couple behind the counter looked at her strangely, she thought.

“Well,” the man said, “my name's Henry Wiggins. My wife, Pearl. Glad to have you in the community.”

Mrs. Wiggins asked,
“Which
house did you say you lived in?”

“The one just on the other side of the rise, sitting out in the field under the cottonwood trees.”

“Oh,” Mrs. Wiggins said shortly. She gave Leah a peculiar look but said no more.

“What can I help you with, miss?” Mr. Wiggins said. He moved about, picking up the few items she asked for. “We don't have any coffee.” He shook his head. “Don't know where you'll get that.” He added up the items and said, “That'll come to two dollars and sixteen cents.”

Leah paid for the groceries and picked them up. “It's nice out here. I like it out in the country, and it's
really a nice house now that we're getting it fixed up.”

Mrs. Wiggins was a large woman and had a round face. Her mouth grew tight. “Well, I hope you'll be all right there.”

Leah noted the strange expression on her face. “Well, of course we'll be all right there. Why wouldn't we?”

Mrs. Wiggins sniffed. She picked up a can of snuff and filled her lower lip, then said tartly, “Well,
I
wouldn't spend one night in that place!”

“Now, Emmy,” Mr. Wiggins said quickly, “don't be saying things like that.”

“Henry, you know that place's haunted. I tell you, I wouldn't stay there for ten minutes.”

But Mr. Wiggins shushed her up. “You come back, Miss Leah, and tell your uncle to drop by too. We're glad to have you in the neighborhood.”

When Leah returned to the house, she told Uncle Silas about the conversation.

But he merely smiled. “Folks are real superstitious. You're not afraid, are you, Leah?”

“No, I don't believe in ghosts.”

Two days went by, and by that time they were comfortably settled. Leah had worked hard on the house so that it was clean as a pin. They bought five hens from Mr. Wiggins, who also had a farm, and they hoped to get a milk cow soon.

“This is real nice out here, isn't it, Uncle? So much quieter than it is in town.”

She was sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch, across from Uncle Silas. He was reading a newspaper, and he looked up to say, “Yes, I like this country air.” Then he studied the paper carefully. “Listen to this, Leah. It says, ‘General Nathan Bedford Forrest has captured
Murfreesboro. General Forrest captured 880 Federal prisoners, including an entire Michigan regiment.'” He looked up. “Now, that's something, isn't it! That Forrest must be
some
general.”

And they talked about the war.

That night after they had had their Bible reading, Leah went to bed. She slept poorly for some reason, tossing and turning on the cotton mattress. Finally, she dozed off—or almost so.

As she lay there, not quite awake yet not asleep either, she thought she heard something. At first she thought it was something outside, but then it seemed that footsteps, very faint, were coming from somewhere in the house.

She lay still, listening, and she thought, I've been hearing too many stories about haunted houses. There's no such thing
.

She went to sleep finally, and the next morning at breakfast she told her uncle.

“I guess I'm getting nervous,” she said. “I thought I heard footsteps in the house last night, but I know that couldn't be.”

Silas glanced up. “Well, whoever it was, you can shoot him with my pistol. If it's a ghost, it won't hurt him, will it?”

Leah thought no more about it and that day took some time to go for a walk. She did find a creek close by that looked as if it might be full of plump fish, and she resolved to come back and see if she could catch any.

She went home and began to prepare supper, but when she reached into the potato bin, she stopped suddenly, staring at the potatoes. “Why, I
know
there were four potatoes here. I put them in
yesterday. Now there are only three.” Slowly she closed the lid and cooked supper, deciding she had made a mistake.

Later though, when going to bed, Leah was still thinking about the missing potato. “I know I can count to four,” she said to herself as she put on her gown and got in between the thick blankets. She lay listening to the wind rising. A summer storm was coming. “Maybe Uncle Silas ate it, although I can't imagine him eating a raw potato.”

In the middle of the night, Leah awoke, filled with terror.

Something was touching her back!

Without thinking she let out a wild scream and jumped out of bed. She ran down the hall into the living room, her heart pounding, and soon Uncle Silas came stomping out of his room, carrying a candle and trying to pull his robe about him.

“What's the matter?” he demanded.

“Something—something was in my room! It touched my back!”

Silas cocked an eyebrow at her, then walked over to a desk and opened the drawer. He set down the candle, pulled out a huge pistol, and cocked it. Then picking up the candle, he said, “We'll see.”

Leah followed closely behind her uncle as they went down the hall. She had slammed the bedroom door behind her, and he opened it and stepped inside. Leah was right behind him. She looked around wildly, and then Uncle Silas laughed.

“Well, there's your ghost, or your burglar, whatever you thought it was,” he said.

BOOK: Secret of Richmond Manor
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