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Authors: Gilbert L. Morris

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BOOK: Secret of Richmond Manor
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“Shore is. You can just call me Rufus, though.” He grinned and rolled his eyes. “Always glad to have another pretty girl to come to settle around here.”

Ignoring this, Leah gave him an envelope and a dollar. “My uncle wants to know if you'll take this to the camp and see that it gets to Private Jeff Majors.”

“For a dollar? Well, I guess I will.” The boy took the dollar and the letter and stuck them into his
shirt pocket. “I'll be seeing you around, missy. We got to get better acquainted.”

Leah peered at her choice of dresses, which amounted to two, her everyday dress and the “Sunday” dress she had brought with her. It was a high-waisted checkered gingham with a ruffle at the hem. It wasn't much of a party dress, but it was all that she had. She put it on, then sat down before the mirror and brushed her hair.

Leah never considered herself pretty. She was too tall and gawky, to her thinking. She had always admired petite girls, small ones who had to look up at men.

I don't look up at many
. Then she smiled and said aloud, “Except for Jeff. I hope he keeps on growing. It's nice for a man to be tall like that.” She ran the tortoise comb through her hair, which fell in honey-colored waves almost down to her waist. Finally she braided it and put it in a coil on the back of her head.

When she heard a horse and buggy pulling up on the road, she reached into a drawer and drew out her only piece of jewelry. Carefully she removed the gold locket and held it for a moment. She opened it and smiled at the image of Jeff peering straight at her, unsmiling.
He has such a nice smile
, she thought.
I don't know why he's scowling like he's got to pick cotton
. She snapped the chain to fasten it behind her neck, then walked to the door.

Jeff was just mounting the steps. “Oh! Well, you're all ready. That's a shock!”

Leah saw that he was wearing his dress uniform with two rows of small buttons down the front. It was ash gray, and he had a campaign hat pulled
down over his eyes. He'd gotten that trick, she knew, from Stonewall Jackson.

“I'm never late,” she said. “I'm ready if you are. Let me say good night to Uncle Silas.”

Soon the two were on their way, and Jeff said, “I wish we had a fancy buggy, but this wagon's all I could commandeer. And these mules may be fit for plowing, but they're not very stylish.”

“As long as they get us there, Jeff, that's all right. Tell me what you've been doing.” She sat jolting along on the rough road and listening as he rambled on about what had been happening in the camp.

Then she said, “I don't know any of these people, the Driscolls. I wish Uncle Silas could have gone with us.”

“Well, we're even. They don't know us either.” Jeff grinned. He had pulled his cap off, and his black hair was slightly curly from having just been washed.

A thought came to her. “Jeff, I hope you never grow whiskers.”

“Whiskers!
What made you think of a thing like that?”

“Oh, I don't know. Uncle Silas looks nice with his. Old men with white beards sort of look like Santa Claus, but I think most beards are just foolish. Don't raise any whiskers, please.”

He laughed at her. “Won't promise that. Stonewall's got whiskers, and so has General Lee. That's good enough for me!”

The two of them continued to enjoy each other's company, and at last they arrived at a very large two-story house set back off the road. Eight huge pillars in front formed a portico, and the windows
on the first floor blazed with light. They could hear the sound of music—fiddles and what sounded like a banjo.

“Guess they've already started,” Jeff said.

He pulled up the mules in front of the house, and a servant came to say, “Take these mules, suh?”

“Yes, thanks.” Jeff looked at the fancy carriages and thoroughbred horses that were tied to a rail farther down, and he grinned at the man. “I guess these would do better to plow than to come to a place like this.”

“Fine-looking animals, Captain.” The man grinned back, his teeth white in his black face. “I'll take good care of 'em for you.”

“That was a quick promotion,” Jeff murmured. “Captain in one moment. Well, let's get inside.”

They mounted the steps and were met at the door by a tall, distinguished-looking man. He had a full beard, brown and well tended, and he smiled, saying, “We haven't met. I'm John Driscoll, and this is my wife, Edith.”

“You must know my Uncle Silas,” Leah said. “I'm Leah Carter, and this is Jeff Majors.”

“Oh, yes.” Mr. Driscoll nodded. “I've heard about you. Good to have you with us, Miss Carter, and you too, Private. What's your unit?”

“Stonewall Brigade,” Jeff said proudly.

“Well now, that makes you doubly welcome. Any member of that brigade is a hero in our eyes. Come along. I'll take you to where the young people are.”

They passed out of the large foyer and turned to the right into what was one of the largest rooms Leah had ever seen in a private house. Candles and chandeliers threw brilliant light over the floor, and
tables along the walls were set with crystal glasses and shiny china plates loaded with food.

The two followed Mr. Driscoll to the end of the room where a group of young people was chattering. “I hate to interrupt, but you have two new guests. This is my daughter, Lucy,” Mr. Driscoll said. “Lucy, this is Miss Leah Carter, Silas Carter's niece, and this is her escort, Private Jeff Majors.” He smiled broadly and said, “Of the Stonewall Brigade. I'm sure you will welcome them.”

Lucy Driscoll looked at Leah. “So good to have you, Leah.” But then she turned to Jeff and smiled brilliantly. “Private Majors, how
nice
to have you!”

Lucy was a small girl, well-shaped and possessing that prettiness that Leah always envied. She had curly blonde hair, light blue eyes, and a rosebud mouth. She was approximately Leah's age but somehow behaved as if she were much older.

“You must tell us about your campaigns with General Jackson,” Lucy said. “First, let me make introductions.” She introduced them to the group, some seven or eight young people, and then said, “Now, come. We'll have some refreshments. Cecil, why don't you escort Miss Leah? I want to hear what this young soldier has to say.”

A thin young man with chestnut hair and a pair of bright blue eyes said, “Come along, if you will, Miss Carter. You won't be seeing much of your escort anymore.”

Leah glanced at him with surprise. “Why, whatever do you mean?”

“Didn't you see how Lucy took him right off? She's that way, our Lucy is. Pretty as a picture, but sometimes she does show unseemly interest in new young men.”

Cecil was correct. For the next two hours, Lucy did not let Jeff out of her sight. She smiled at him and touched his arm as she leaned forward to give a tinkling laugh from time to time.

As for Jeff, Leah saw that he was enjoying himself immensely. She had always thought him a rather shy boy, but he seemed to blossom under Lucy's constant attention.
He's making a fool out of himself
, she thought shortly.
You'd think he'd never seen a girl before in his whole life!

She herself was not having a good time. All the other girls were wearing dresses of silk and satin and fine cloth. They were bedecked with bows. Most wore jewelry and had had their hair dressed, it seemed, by experts. Leah felt like a clod, wearing her old checkered dress.
I wish I could get out of here
, she thought grimly.
I feel like an old donkey in with all these other girls
.

Cecil was a good host, however, and saw to it she had plenty of refreshments. When Lucy dragged Jeff to the dance floor and he was not
too
reluctant, Cecil said, “May I have this dance, Miss Leah?”

“Well, I don't dance very well.”

“Well, I dance superbly,” he said with a grin.

He was not tall, so she looked him right in the eye as they went out on the floor. She found he had not misled her; he was a beautiful dancer.

“I haven't had much practice,” she said.

“You're doing splendidly.” Cecil nodded. “What do you think of this house? Fine, isn't it?”

“Beautiful. I've never been in a mansion like this.”

Her honesty caused Cecil to blink in surprise. “Most young ladies would not have admitted such a thing.”

He studied Leah as they moved about the floor, and he must have noticed that she kept looking around for Jeff.

The evening wore on, and Leah grew more comfortable. The young people drew away into a large parlor and played games for a while. They talked of the war, and Jeff spoke somewhat boastfully of what the Stonewall Brigade was going to do in the future.

Suddenly Lucy turned and fixed her eyes on Leah. “You're not from around here, are you, Leah?”

“No, I'm from Kentucky.”

Lucy's eyebrows went up. “Kentucky? That's one of the border states, isn't it?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Which side are your people for, the North or the Confederacy?”

A silence fell over the room, and Leah felt her cheeks redden. She understood clearly that the question was not accidental. Lucy Driscoll was, she had found out, an ardent supporter of the South. Cecil had told her that much. Now she knew that she was being put on some sort of trial.

It would have been simple to have lied, but she said quietly, “I have a brother in the Federal army, and my father serves as a sutler for that same army.”

Lucy blinked at Leah's bluntness. She glanced at Jeff, who seemed embarrassed, then shook her head. “I wouldn't think you would be very comfortable here in the Confederacy with attachments like that,” she said smoothly.

Cecil spoke up instantly. “Oh, come on, Lucy. Let's don't talk politics. This is a
party.”

Leah gave him a grateful glance. But the evening was spoiled for her, and she was glad when finally nine o'clock came and she was able to say, “Jeff, I think I'd better get home.”

Jeff was talking, as usual, with Lucy, and he turned to her reluctantly. “Why, it's early yet!”

Lucy said, “We can have one of the servants take Leah home if you'd like to stay longer, Jeff.”

For one moment Leah thought that Jeff meant to take advantage of Lucy Driscoll's offer. It must have shown in her face, for he said hurriedly, “Oh, no, I couldn't do that, Miss Lucy. We sure have had a fine time, haven't we, Leah?”

“It's been very nice,” Leah said.

“Oh, we must do this again.” Lucy gave her hand to Jeff, who shook it. Then she turned and examined Leah carefully. “I hope you haven't been embarrassed being around so many who are dedicated to the Confederate cause.”

Leah did not know how to answer and merely said, “Thank you. It was kind of your parents to ask us.”

They left in the wagon, and Jeff talked excitedly for the first mile. Then he must have noticed that Leah was saying almost nothing. “What's the matter?”

“Nothing,” she said quickly.

He turned to look at her in the moonlight. “You didn't get your feelings hurt, did you? Lucy didn't mean anything by what she said.”

“I'm all right.”

But later, when Jeff told Tom about the evening, explaining how Lucy had mentioned that Leah was not a Confederate, his brother stared at him. “No wonder she was depressed. Who wouldn't be?” he said in exasperation.

“What do you mean?” Jeff asked, bewildered. Tom gave his younger brother a look and shook his head. “If you don't know, I can't tell you.”

8
Jeff Gets a Shock

F
or two days Jeff mooned around camp until finally his father demanded, “What's the matter with you, son? You act like you're sick. Don't you feel well?”

“Oh, I feel all right. I just—well, I don't think I was too nice to Leah when I took her to the party.”

Captain Majors stared at him. He had sharp hazel eyes and a black mustache and the same jet black hair he'd passed on to his sons. “You want to tell me about it? We haven't had a father-and-son talk in quite a while.”

Jeff looked embarrassed. He examined his boots silently for a while, then nodded. He began to relate the events that had taken place, and when he got to the part that embarrassed him most, his cheeks reddened. He ended by saying, “I know Leah felt pretty bad. She was ashamed of her dress, but that didn't bother me. What bothers me is I left her alone so much.”

“This girl—the daughter of the house, Lucy—was she pretty?”

Jeff swallowed, then nodded. “Yes, sir, she was.” He cracked his knuckles nervously. “I just made a mess out of it, Pa. After all the Carters have done for me, you'd think I had better sense.”

Nelson Majors put a hand on his son's shoulder. “When I was your age,” he said gently, “I was in something like this all the time. My pa used to tell
me I was studying for the gallows. You know what I think you better do?”

“What's that?”

“I think you better have another quick leave and go tell that girl how sorry you are. Take her something nice—a present of some kind. I know what—take her some coffee. I managed to get a couple of pounds. Take some of it to her for her uncle. He likes it so much.”

“Yes, sir!” Jeff exclaimed. “I'll be back as soon as I can. And thanks a lot, sir.”

Jeff managed to catch a ride from the camp out to Richmond Manor. He knew he would probably have to walk back, so he wouldn't have long to stay.

He walked up onto the porch, knocked loudly, and heard a voice say, “Come in!”

He stepped inside, looking for Leah. He didn't see her, but then Silas Carter called, “Come on in the living room.”

Jeff proceeded into the front room and saw that the old man was sitting in his rocking chair reading his Bible.

BOOK: Secret of Richmond Manor
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