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Authors: Gilbert L. Morris

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BOOK: Secret of Richmond Manor
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Leah saw the old calico cat, Peanuts, sitting on her bed. He yawned, showing enormous teeth, as cats do, then curled down and went to sleep.

Uncle Silas took the pistol off cock and patted Leah on the shoulder. “It's all right. A thing like that would have scared me too, getting touched in the back in the dark. You want me to put Peanuts out?”

“No, it's all right, now that I know he's here. You go on back to bed, Uncle Silas. I'm sorry I woke you up. Good night!”

“Good night!”

Leah walked to the window and looked out. The trees were tossing, but she saw nothing else. Then she got back into bed, and Peanuts came and touched her hair tentatively with one paw.

“Leave me alone,” she said crossly. But she picked him up and held him close, finding comfort in the warm, furry body.

She closed her eyes and tried to go to sleep. The wind blew, making a high-pitched sound, and the apple tree outside her window seemed to lean over and scratch on the glass with skeleton fingers.

5
Midnight Visitor

L
eah and Silas enjoyed their stay in Richmond Manor. When the neighbors came by to visit, though, both of them sensed they were apprehensive.

“Some of them really do believe in ghosts, don't they?” Leah asked.

“Oh, yes, some people are like that,” Uncle Silas agreed.

She said suddenly, “Uncle Silas, did you take two of the fried pies that I made yesterday?”

“Why, I had some for supper.”

“No, I mean did you get up last night and eat any?” She had a puzzled look on her face. “I know I left ten of them in the pie safe, and when I looked a while ago there were only eight.”

Silas stared at her. “Well, not guilty. They were good enough to eat, though. You probably didn't count right.”

“I suppose so. Or I may have gotten hungry and eaten them in my sleep.”

What Leah did not tell her uncle was that she had missed several other items of food also. She had not kept up with them exactly, but somehow she felt that someone was taking things.

“It's not a ghost,” she said to herself. “But if somebody's stealing from us, I'm going to do something about it!”

That night after Uncle Silas went to bed, Leah tiptoed into the living room, opened the drawer of
the desk, and pulled out the big pistol. It was so heavy she had to hold it with both hands.

Going back into her room, she put it on the table beside her bed and blew out the light. The windows were open, for it was a warm night, and she sat down in a chair and waited. Outside the crickets were making their tiny cries, and far off in the pond she heard a huge bullfrog booming.

Time passed slowly, and twice she nodded off. She came awake abruptly both times, saying to herself,
Here, you've got to do better than that!
She entertained herself then by thinking of the times she and Jeff had gone hunting for birds' eggs back in Kentucky, and she tried to name as many of the varieties they had found as she could. The night was still, and she was saying, “Redheaded woodpecker, barn sparrow, bluebird—” when suddenly she
knew
she heard something!

Was somebody on the porch? Was that the door opening? Fright came over her, but she held her lips tightly together. If somebody was getting into the house, she had to find out about it.

Carefully she rose, moved to the table, and picked up the pistol. She had watched her uncle cock the weapon, and now, holding it with both hands, she pulled the hammer back.

Click!

The sound was so loud that Leah almost dropped the gun.
If it's a burglar, he probably heard that
, she thought grimly. She stood in the silence, waiting, and then again she heard a noise coming from somewhere down the hall.

She swallowed hard, then said to herself, Come on, Leah, do something!

She moved barefoot across the room and carefully pulled the door open. It was very dark, but she knew there was no furniture in the hallway. She tiptoed past her uncle's room and then stopped at the kitchen door. She listened hard but could not hear anything.

There was no candle lit, but the full moon flooded the kitchen with silver light. Hands trembling on the gun, she stepped inside.

Nobody! The kitchen was empty.

I must have been dreaming. Still, she had been so sure!

She was turning to go when she heard a faint click. She stood stock still, and suddenly her eye caught a motion. The outside door was starting to open!

With both hands on the butt of the pistol, Leah raised it slowly. The door swung back, and there, outlined against the brightness of the night outside, was a man!

“Stop!” she said loudly. “You stop right there, or I'll—I'll shoot!”

The man immediately stopped. She could not see his face, for he wore a hat pulled down low over his eyes.

“Don't you move,” she said. “I've got a gun, and I'll use it.”

“All right. I'm not moving,” the man replied quietly.

Leah moved over to the kitchen table, took a match from the shelf of the kitchen stove, struck it, and lit the candle. It caught at once, and the light cast its feeble gleam on the man before her.

Why, he's only a boy
, she thought. But then she saw he was wearing a uniform, a ragged Union uniform.

“You're a Union soldier,” she whispered.

He pulled off his hat, and she saw that he was indeed very young, not much older than herself. His face was thin, and he had curly brown hair, which had not been cut recently. She saw, even by the light of the candle, that he appeared flushed.

“Where'd you come from?” she demanded.

“Got away from Belle Isle Prison a while back,” he said.

Leah had heard of Belle Isle. It was a terrible place, according to all the stories. Even the Confederates said it was shameful. Men were made to live outside and practically starve. The guards were overly zealous and shot anyone who even looked as if he might escape.

She stood there for a moment, not knowing what to do. “What's your name?” she said kindly.

“Ezra—Ezra Payne.”

“You don't look old enough to be a soldier.”

He made no reply.

“You've been taking food from our kitchen, haven't you?”

“Yes, ma'am, I have.” He made no apology but just stood there.

Leah saw that his hands were shaking. No, his whole body was shaking.

“Why,” she took a step closer, “you've got fever!” she exclaimed.

His eyes were sunk back in his head, and he wore only a light shirt, ripped in several places and a pair of tattered trousers.

“I got captured at Bull Run,” he murmured, his voice very thin and shaky. “I've been in Belle Isle for nigh onto a year now. Couldn't stand it anymore, so I ran away.”

Leah saw that he was swaying, about to fall. “Here!” she said. “Sit down.” She shoved a chair at him.

He stared at her for a moment, then sat. “Thank you,” he said. “I'm not strong as a kitten. Never felt this bad before.”

And Leah had never been so puzzled before. What to do with him? She thought of calling her uncle but instead asked, “You say you've been in prison for a whole year?”

“Yes, ma'am, a whole year, nearly. Lots of times I wished I'd been killed. It'd been a sight easier, I think, than living in that place.”

He began to tremble violently and pulled his shirt up closer. His teeth were chattering.

Leah said, “You need to be in bed. Where have you been sleeping?”

“Out in the loft of the barn.” He tried to grin. “It's better than what I had at Belle Isle.” He began shaking even more violently and said, “Well, you can go get your menfolks. I know what you got to do.”

Leah stared at him, hugging her robe closely around her. “It won't be too good for you to go back to that place, will it?”

“Don't matter.”

Leah was appalled at the hopelessness in his voice. She said sharply, “Yes! It does matter! Are you hungry?”

“No, ma'am, not much. Just got a chill like—real cold.”

She stared at the boy. He can't be over sixteen or seventeen, she thought, and he's so sick
.

Leah was an impulsive girl. She had been rebuked by her parents more than once for making
snap decisions. She also knew she made wrong decisions quite often. But now, staring at the poor miserable boy trembling in the chair, she thought, I
can't let him go back to Belle Isle Prison. He'll die
.

“Look, I'm going to help you. You don't need to go back to prison until you get well. Let me get some blankets and some clothes. You've got to get warm. You go on back to the barn. I'll be out in a minute.”

The boy stared at her in disbelief. “You mean, you're not gonna turn me in?”

“Not until you get better. Now go on.”

Leah turned and left the kitchen. She went to her bedroom, where she picked up two blankets, and then stopped off at a chest on the porch. Some of her uncle's old clothes were there. She found a coat and a pair of pants and some socks. Putting these under her arm, she took the candle and made her way around the house, careful to be very quiet.

When she got to the barn, the boy was standing in front of it.

“Let's see where you're sleeping,” she said.

She followed him inside before remembering she'd put the gun down by the chest. If he had noticed, he made no remark. She trailed him up a rickety flight of stairs to the dim loft, and he motioned to a pile of straw. “Been sleeping on that.”

Leah said, “There's a cot in the attic of the house. Tomorrow I'll get it down and bring it to you after dark. Early in the morning I'll fix you something to eat and bring it to you.”

“I'm not—not very hungry, but I sure am cold.”

Leah handed him the clothes. “Put these on and wrap these blankets around you. I've got to go now.”

Ezra Payne stared at her. He was still trembling like a blade of grass in the wind, and his teeth chattered, but there was gratitude in his voice. “I sure do thank you, ma'am.”

As she made her way back into the house, Leah was thinking,
I guess I'm some kind of a traitor
.

Carefully she closed the back door. She thought once of telling Uncle Silas about the fugitive she was harboring, but, as good as her uncle was, she wasn't sure. He might decide they had to turn him in.

Going back into her bedroom, she took off her robe and got into bed. She lay there a long time thinking about Ezra Payne.
I'll have to get up early and fix him something to eat. Maybe I can find some medicine. I wish I were a better nurse!

Peanuts came and snuggled against her as usual. She held onto him, smoothing his fur, and she whispered, “I'm not really a traitor, Peanuts. He's so sick, he couldn't do anybody any harm.”

6
Why Are You So Nervous, Leah?

J
eff found his duties at camp very light. He had become an expert drummer boy and had done good service at the Battle of Seven Days. His commanding officer, General Stonewall Jackson, commended the entire regiment, and he stopped by to meet with Jeff's father briefly.

“I remember this young man,” he said with a smile. “Are you coming to any of our revival meetings that we'll be having this summer?”

“Oh, yes, sir, General Jackson, I sure will,” Jeff replied eagerly. He was convinced that Stonewall Jackson was the best general in the world. He knew also that if General Jackson was better at anything than soldiering, it was at praying and getting his men converted. “I'll be there, right up in front, sir.”

“You got a fine son here, Captain Majors,” Stonewall said.

The general wore his cap in a peculiar fashion, pulled down almost over his eyes, and the eyes themselves were strange. He was called “Old Blue Light” by most of his troopers. Jeff himself had seen him once during a battle, and indeed his eyes did glow almost as if there were fire behind them. Now, however, they were mild, and he nodded at the two and left.

“He's a fine soldier, isn't he, Pa? Best general in the whole world, I bet.”

“Wouldn't be surprised,” Jeff's father replied. He glanced at the boy and said, “What have you heard from Leah and her uncle?”

“Well, not much really.”

“Not much doing around camp. Why don't you go see her? Maybe bring me back one of those apple pies she makes so well.”

“You mean it, sir?” Jeff cried, his eyes alight. “Can I really go?”

“Yes, Private, and don't forget that pie!” he called loudly as Jeff dashed away.

Leah was washing the dishes, and Jeff was drying them. They had eaten a tasty lunch, and Jeff reminded her, “Don't forget, you've got to let me have a pie to take back to Pa.” He wiped a plate carefully, held it up, and examined it. “He likes your pies almost as much as I do.” He put the plate on the shelf. “My ma could make good pies. Her best was raisin. She made raisin pies like nobody I ever heard of.”

Leah saw the expression on Jeff's face. “You miss her a great deal, don't you, Jeff?”

“Sure do. Won't ever forget her.”

“I got a letter from my ma yesterday,” Leah said. She was scrubbing a skillet, and a lock of blonde hair fell over her eyes. She pushed it back with a wrist, then said, “You know what she said?”

“No, what?”

“She said that Esther looks exactly like your mother did.”

Jeff took a glass and dried it slowly. He was very thoughtful for a while. “You know, I guess one way
to look at it is, as long as we've got Esther we've still got Ma, in a way.”

“I guess that's right.” Leah looked at him, surprised by the thought. “I never thought of it like that, but that's right, isn't it? Some of my ma and pa is in me, and when I grow up and get married and have babies, some of me will be in them. What a nice thing to say, Jeff!”

BOOK: Secret of Richmond Manor
4.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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