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Authors: Gilbert L. Morris

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BOOK: Secret of Richmond Manor
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Jeff flushed as he always did when she paid him a compliment. He hastily dried the last dish. “Well, that's all of these. Why don't we go down and fish for a while?”

They told Silas their plans, and he agreed to them. So they went out toward the creek and, in doing so, had to pass by the barn.

Jeff said carelessly, “Not much need for a barn until you get your cow.” He looked at the barn. “What's in there now?”

“Oh, nothing!” Leah said quickly. “Come on, Jeff.” She took his arm and pulled him along.

“Hey! What's the hurry?” he protested. “Those fish'll wait until we get there.”

Leah had suddenly thought what a horrible thing it would have been had Jeff stepped inside and come face-to-face with an enemy soldier. “Oh, I'm just anxious to fish,” she said.

“Me too, but not as anxious as you.” Jeff looked at her as she tugged him rapidly along. “Well, if we're gonna run, let's run. I'll race you.”

“Good.” Leah at once started running. Jeff, of course, caught up and easily passed her. He was waiting for her at the small creek when she got there, her cheeks red from the exercise.

“Well, I beat you at a footrace. Now I'm gonna beat you at catching fish,” he said. “Let me have some of those worms.”

The fish were small, but they bit at almost anything. Though Leah and Jeff released more than they kept, finally they had enough so that she said, “This will be fine, Jeff. You can stay for supper, can't you?”

“Oh, I sure can. If you can put me in a bunk somewhere, I'll stay the night.”

Leah was suddenly apprehensive. She'd thought Jeff was going back to camp.
I've got to get out to take some food to Ezra
, she said to herself. But there was nothing to be done about it, so aloud she said, “Well, let's get the fish cleaned.”

The rest of the afternoon they cleaned fish, and then Jeff sat on the porch and talked to Silas. Once he said, “You know, Mr. Carter, Leah seems a little bit nervous, don't you think?”

Silas bit his lip thoughtfully and raked his fingers through his beard. “Well, she has been kind of tetchy lately. Doesn't seem to be sleeping good. You don't think she's sick, do you?”

“She doesn't
look
sick,” Jeff said. “Matter of fact, she looks better than I've ever seen her.”

Silas Carter smiled at the boy. “She's a right pretty young woman—and that sister of hers, she is too.” He peered at Jeff. “Your brother—Tom—he still hear from her?”

“Oh, yes, sir, real often.”

“I guess they were pretty serious, weren't they?”

“Well, Tom wanted to marry her, but then the war came along, and we came South. The Carters—well, they're not sympathetic to the Confederacy. Of course, you know Sarah and Leah have got a
brother in the Union army. I guess she was worried that he might kill Tom or Tom might kill him.”

“I know. It's a brother's war, ain't it, boy? People that you'd be a good friend to, now you have to shoot at 'em. A shame.”

The two talked quietly for a while longer, and then Leah came out. “I've fixed a place for you in the living room, Jeff,” she said. “You can sleep on the couch.”

“Be better than that broken-down cot I've got at camp.” Jeff grinned. “How about some checkers?”

“All right.”

Leah was an excellent checker player. Ordinarily she beat Jeff quite easily, but somehow her mind was elsewhere tonight.

“Why, I beat you three games out of four! What's wrong with you, Leah?” he finally asked. “Are you feeling bad? You look kind of flustered.”

“Oh, I don't know. I'm all right,” Leah said.

She lifted a hand and pushed a strand of hair back off her forehead so nervously that Jeff said, “Why are you so nervous, Leah?”

“I'm not!” she protested. “I'm not nervous at all.”

Jeff leaned over and put his elbows on the table and stared at her. “Well, you're sure giving a good imitation of somebody who's nervous.”

Leah forced herself to smile at him. “Let's play another game.” She managed to beat him thoroughly this time and then said, “I expect we'd better get to bed. I have to get up early in the morning and make that pie for your father.”

She waited until almost midnight. Then she got up, pulled on her robe and shoes, and carefully opened her door. In the kitchen she took out the pot of beans that was in the warmer of the oven, then
gathered up several slices of bread and a big slice of the pie that she had made for Jeff.

She made her way out of the kitchen, across the moonlit yard, and noticed that Peanuts was coming with her, purring and pushing against her ankles. She pushed him away with her foot, then made for the barn.

Opening the door, she whispered, “Ezra!”

“Yes, I'm right here.”

She stepped inside, leaving the door open. She saw that he had come down the stairs and was standing in the shadows. She handed him the food, saying, “How do you feel?”

“Feel some better. Fever broke sometime this afternoon. I got all sweaty, but I feel a lot better now.”

“Are you hungry?”

“I sure am. I could eat anything.”

“Well, come on and sit down. I can't stay long.”

Ezra sat down near the open door and took the cover off the food. “Can't see too well, but, my, that smells good.” He began to eat ravenously, cramming the food into his mouth and swallowing it as if he were starving. He looked up once and said, “My manners aren't very good, but I sure am hungry!”

“That's a good sign.” Leah smiled at him. “That means you're getting better.”

He finished the beans and the bread, licked his fingers, then picked up the piece of pie.

“I didn't have time to get a plate or a fork,” she apologized.

“Pies are made to be et by hand,” Ezra said. He took a bite. “That's the best pie I ever had in my whole life. You sure are a good cook, Leah.”

“What part of the country do you come from? You haven't told me much about yourself, Ezra.”

“Well—” he chewed thoughtfully on a bite of pie “—never had any folks,” he said simply.

“Never had any folks! What do you mean?”

“Well—” he looked embarrassed “—I never knew who my father was—and my ma, she died when I was born.”

“Oh, that's too bad,” Leah said. “I'm so sorry. Who raised you?”

“I grew up in an orphanage until I was ten, then I got farmed out to a family. They lived on a farm. This was in Michigan, and I stayed there for about a year.”

“Were they nice to you?”

“Well, not too nice,” he said. He took another bite of pie. “I guess they mostly needed a boy to help, so they worked me pretty hard.”

“But you only stayed a year?”

“Yeah, I run off,” he said. “They caught me, of course, and brought me back. But they were so mad they took me back to the orphanage.”

“What did you do then?”

“Oh, the next few years I kinda swapped around from one place to another, mostly on farms. Then when the war started, I'd had about all I could take of the last place. Old man Hiller, he was too handy with his strap, so I took off and I enlisted.”

Leah stared at him. He didn't look a day over fifteen. He was not large, and his face was very thin. “How old are you, Ezra?”

“Sixteen now.”

“You mean, the North took fifteen-year-old boys?”

“Oh, no. I had to fib about that a little.” He smiled at her and ate the last bit of pie. Then he licked his fingers and wiped his hands on his shirt. “You know what we did to keep from lying when we went in the army when we were too young?”

“What did you do?”

“Well, you had to be eighteen to get in, so I took a sheet of paper and made two pieces of it. On each piece I wrote the figure eighteen, then I put them in my shoes.”

Leah eyed him. “Why did you do that?”

Ezra smiled. He had nice brown eyes and was not a bad-looking boy. “When the recruiting sergeant asked me how old I was, I said, “Oh, I'm over eighteen.”

Leah stared, then giggled, holding her hand over her mouth. “I never heard of anything like that.”

Ezra nodded. “Lots of us did that. There was some men no more than fourteen, I'd guess. Big for their age, you know.” He sat back and studied her. The moonlight flooded over her hair and gleamed in her eyes. “I liked the army,” he said simply. “Course I wasn't in long before I got captured, but up until then it was the best I ever had.”

“I'm sorry you got caught,” she said, “but maybe the Lord did it that way on purpose.”

Ezra blinked in surprise. “What does that mean?”

“I mean, if you hadn't gotten captured, maybe you'd have gotten killed. This last battle, there were thousands of men killed on both sides. Maybe God got you captured so you wouldn't get killed.”

“I don't know anything about that—about God,” Ezra said quietly. “They never told me nothing at
any of the places where I was, except at the orphanage, and that was a long time ago.”

Leah said, “I'm sorry about that. Everybody ought to get to hear about Jesus.” A thought came to her then, and she said, “Would you mind if I would bring you a Bible? You could read it for yourself.”

Ezra made a small face. “Well, I don't read too good, but I'll try if you want me to.” He looked at her, and his face suddenly grew sober. “You've been awfully nice to me, Leah. Most Confederates would have had me hauled off right away.”

Leah said quickly, “Well, I guess I'm not a real Confederate. I mean, we live in Kentucky, and that's kind of a border state. It's not on either side.”

“But your pa, he works for the Union army, don't he?”

“Not exactly,” Leah said. “He's a sutler. He follows the army and sells things to the soldiers: shaving soap, letter paper and pens and things like that. And he gives lots of Bibles away and tracts.”

“Tracts? What's a tract?”

Leah thought,
He doesn't know anything!
Aloud she said, “It's just a little writing telling something about God and about the Christian life. I think Uncle Silas has some. I'll bring you one when I bring the Bible.” Then she stood up. “I've got to go now. I'm glad you're better.”

Young Ezra Payne stood up with her. “I sure am grateful for your help,” he said. He reached out his hand suddenly and said, “I'd like to shake your hand.”

Leah put her hand out slowly, and he grasped it.

His hand felt no larger than her own, he was so thin. But he pressed hers warmly.

“Good night, Ezra. I'll see you tomorrow. Be sure you stay out of sight. There's a young Confederate soldier staying with us tonight. I wouldn't want him to see you.”

“A friend of yours?”

“Yes, I've known him a long time. His name's Jeff Majors. We grew up together. He comes by sometimes to check on me and my uncle.”

“He's a lucky fellow.”

“What do you mean?”

“Why, I mean getting to grow up in a nice place, around a nice girl like you.” A longing came into the young man's eyes, and he shook his head. “I guess that must be pretty nice.”

“Good night, Ezra. I'll see you tomorrow.”

Leah slipped out of the barn and headed for the house. I'll have to get a Bible, she thought, and some tracts. And he sure doesn't need to see Jeff!

7
A Southern Belle

A
knock at the door startled Leah.

“Who can that be, I wonder?” she asked Uncle Silas. When she passed into the front room, she saw a rather fat young man standing on the porch. “Yes? What is it?” she asked.

“Your name Carter?”

“Yes, I'm Leah Carter. I live here with my uncle Mr. Silas Carter.”

The boy had a loose mouth, and he gave her a lazy grin. “I reckon this is for you then.”

Leah opened the screen door and took the envelope the young man handed her. He was around sixteen. He had a moon face with dirty brown hair that fell over his ears and a pair of muddy brown eyes.

“I see the haints ain't got you yet.”

Leah was accustomed to people referring to the so-called haunted house she and her uncle lived in. “Thank you for the note,” she said stiffly.

“Oh, I better wait. You might want to send an answer.”

“Very well.” She closed the screen and went back to where Uncle Silas was waiting in the living room. “It's a note addressed to you.” She stood watching while he opened it and saw his eyebrows go up.

“Well, I guess I'm going up in the world. This is a note from the Driscolls. They're wealthy planters who live about three miles down the road at
Briarwood Plantation. They're having a party, and they want us to come.”

“A
party!”
Leah said raising her eyebrows. “With a war going on!”

Uncle Silas shook his head and smiled faintly. “I guess they'd have a party if the world was coming to an end tomorrow. The Driscolls are pretty fancy folks. We can't go, of course.” Then, “Wait a minute, I've got an idea. Why don't you and Jeff go to that party? She says here in the note she's especially interested in young people coming. She's heard about you, I take it.”

“Oh, I couldn't go, Uncle Silas. I wouldn't know a soul. And anyway I'm not sure Jeff would be able to go.”

“Well, we'll find out. Let me write a note to him. Is that boy outside the one who works for the Driscolls?”

“He didn't say.”

“I expect it is. His name is Rufus Prather.” He shook his head, adding, “He's the laziest human being I ever saw in my life. I guess he can take a note out to the camp for a dollar, though. Get the paper, will you, and pen and ink, and I'll write to Jeff.”

A few minutes later Leah walked back to the door. “Is your name Rufus Prather?”

BOOK: Secret of Richmond Manor
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