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Authors: Gilbert L. Morris

Secret of Richmond Manor (9 page)

BOOK: Secret of Richmond Manor
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“Why, hello, Jeff! Didn't expect to see you today.”

Jeff was embarrassed. “Well, I just had a chance to come for a minute. Is Leah around?”

“She's outside, hunting eggs. You know how it is with guineas, don't you? We got half a dozen of them from a neighbor. They make good eating, and their eggs are good too, but they hide those things like nothing you ever saw. Keeps Leah busy hunting for them. But you'll find her out there somewhere.”

“Yes, sir. I'll go look for her.”

Jeff stood on the porch and scanned the terrain, but he didn't see her. He circled the house, looking out into the field and finally muttering to himself,
“She's got to be here somewhere. Those guineas wouldn't stray over into the woods—too many critters there to eat them up.” He began to walk in a circle, expecting to see her any minute.

Then Jeff came to the area where the small barn sat back from the house.
Maybe she's behind the barn
. As he passed the barn door, which was standing ajar, he heard a voice.

“That's probably her, calling those guineas,” he said. He stepped up to the door, and the voice grew louder.

That's not Leah
, he thought, puzzled.
Must be one of the neighbors with her
. He pulled the door open and stepped inside. “Leah! I came out to—”

Jeff halted abruptly, for there to Leah's right was a young man in a tattered Federal uniform. He stood dumbfounded, staring at the pair, not believing his eyes. Then his mind worked quickly. “Who are you, and what are you doing here?” he demanded.

Leah gave him a frightened look and took two steps toward him. “Jeff, I can explain.”

“You can't explain an enemy soldier in your barn,” Jeff said. He wished he'd brought a musket with him. He examined the soldier carefully but saw no sign of a weapon. “You must be an escaped prisoner.”

“He is, Jeff. This is Ezra Payne.”

Jeff took a cautious step forward, his hands doubling up into fists. The soldier was not large. His eyes were sunk in his head, and he looked almost fragile.
I can take him back
, Jeff thought confidently.
He doesn't look like he'd put up much of a struggle
. “Leah, don't you worry,” Jeff said confidently. “I'll see to it that he gets returned.”

“No, Jeff, you can't do that!” Leah turned to the young soldier and put her hand on his arm. “Don't you see—he's sick!”

Jeff stared at the boy. He did look sick and very young. “How long have you been here?”

Ezra Payne shook his head. “Not too long. This young lady—it's not her fault.” Apparently he could see trouble ahead and didn't want Leah to get involved with his problem.

But Leah's lips closed firmly, and she turned to face Jeff. “Yes, it
is
my fault. He's been here for several days, Jeff. When I found him, he was almost dead. He's still sick.”

Jeff stared at her. “Well, I'm sorry about that, but he's got to go back to prison, Leah. Maybe the doctors at the hospital—”

“You know they don't even have time to take care of the Confederate wounded. The hospitals are filled. They're not going to pay any attention to one Union boy with fever.”

Jeff was disturbed by the determined look on Leah's face. He knew she was stubborn and could see she had made up her mind to help this Yankee.

“Leah,” he said, “do you know you could be put in prison for doing a thing like this? It's against the law to hide escaped enemy soldiers.”

“I know that!”

“Well, you'll just have to let me take him back then. Come on, Payne. You'll have to go back.”

The Northern soldier shrugged and stepped forward, but Leah grabbed his arm. Then she fixed her eyes on Jeff. “Jeff! He's going to go back, but he nearly died in Belle Isle. He was there for almost a year. If he'd gone back as sick as he was, he wouldn't
have lasted a week. He's still too sick. As soon as he's well, he'll go back.”

“How do you know that?” Jeff demanded. “As soon as he's well, he'll run away, and in the mean-time—if anybody saw him here—you know what would happen.”

“I don't care!” Leah exclaimed. “He's too sick to go back yet.”

“Just imagine what would happen if Captain Lyons found out about this. He's still sore about what happened with Sarah and you. He still thinks you're both spies.” He hesitated and then said angrily, “And it's almost true. After all, he
is
an enemy soldier.”

Leah did not give ground. “He's just a sick boy right now. When he gets well, then he can go back.”

Jeff glared at her angrily. Then he said something he should not have said. “Maybe Lucy's right about you being a Yankee.”

“Jeff! You know that's not so!”

“All I know is, here's a Yankee soldier, and you're keeping him from being taken.” He shook his head and added, “You're always taking everything that's sick, every kind of critter that ever came to your place—but this isn't an animal that you're taking in. This is an enemy soldier, a member of the Yankee army. I just can't let you do it, Leah!”

Leah said slowly, “Jeff, I'm going to take care of him for now, and then he'll go back to prison. He's promised me that, and I believe he'll keep his word. If you want to turn us in, you'll just have to do it, but I'm going to do exactly what I said.”

Jeff Majors stared at the girl. She was standing straight and tall, her blonde hair tied back and her blue-green eyes looking at him boldly. He knew that
she meant exactly what she said. Finally he shrugged. “You know I won't turn you in—but somebody else probably will. Have you thought then what'll happen to your uncle? He's sick too, and he'll go to jail along with you.”

Leah had no answer for that, and indeed she hadn't thought of it. Now she saw that Jeff himself was in a terrible position. Her voice softened, and she said, “I'm sorry, Jeff. I know you're a soldier in the Confederate Army—and ordinarily if he was strong and well I wouldn't say a word, but I just can't do it, Jeff. I can't!”

Jeff Majors stood silent, knowing there was nothing he could do. Then he remembered the small package of coffee in his hand. He looked down at it and said, “I brought you some coffee.” He held it out.

She took it and started to speak, but he interrupted.

“I've got to go back to camp. Good-bye.” He turned and left abruptly without saying another word.

Leah watched him go and had seldom felt as bad in her whole life.

Ezra was watching her. “You should have let him take me,” he said quietly. “I ought to have gone anyhow. I don't want you to get in any trouble on account of me, Leah.”

“No, you've got to stay here. Jeff was telling the truth—he won't tell. Pretty soon you'll be strong enough. Then maybe he'll understand.”

Ezra looked around the barn, glancing up the steps to where he had made a little room for himself. He had a bed—at least a cot—and blankets and a wash pan. He turned to face her and said, “You
know what, Leah?” When she looked at him, he smiled. “This is the best home I ever had—and you're the best friend I ever had.”

“Oh, Ezra—”

“It's true. Whatever happens from now on, I'll never forget you, Leah, and not ever!”

9
A Noble Deed

F
rom the time she rose early in the morning, Leah found herself tense and unable to concentrate. She fixed breakfast, but after she had sat at the table for a while, Silas asked, “What's the matter? You're not eating anything, Leah.”

“Oh,” she said, looking down at her plate. She realized she had been staring at her food, thinking about Ezra out in the barn—and about Jeff and what he was doing. “I guess I'm not very hungry.”

“As hard as you hunted for those guinea eggs, you'd better eat them,” Uncle Silas said. He looked at her carefully. “You've got circles under your eyes,” he commented. “Didn't you sleep good last night?”

“Not very well,” she admitted.

“You're not still thinking this is a haunted house, are you? I think you've got more judgment than that.”

“Oh, no, it's nothing like that, Uncle Silas.” Leah took a huge mouthful of scrambled eggs so that she wouldn't have to answer for a while. She forced herself to eat, then afterward washed the dishes and began cleaning the little house.

As she worked, she thought about Jeff. He's my best friend. The best friend I've ever had. I know he wouldn't turn me in. But it's bound to be hard on him, just knowing what's going on
.

Later that day she found an excuse to go to the barn. She'd almost reached it when a voice said, “Well, hello there, Leah.”

Startled, she turned around to see Rufus Prather, who evidently had been walking by on the road.

He came now to where she stood, grinning. “I heard you went to the big party over at our place. Wish I could have gone, but I guess they're not about to ask their hired help to their play parties.” He was wearing a pair of old overalls, stiff with dirt, and had a straw hat shoved back on his head. “How about I come over and sit on the porch with you a little bit?”

“Oh, no, I don't think so,” Leah said quickly. “Uncle Silas doesn't need any visitors right now. He's not well, you know.”

Rufus reached out and squeezed her arm. “You're a right pretty gal,” he said. “Maybe you and me could take a walk sometime. Maybe even go to Richmond.”

Leah was half frightened of the boy. He was large and, though fat, seemed extremely strong. She'd heard how lazy he was, but there was also something she didn't like about his muddy brown eyes. “I don't go to town much,” she said.

She turned and walked back to the house, ignoring his promise to come to see her anyway. She found herself trembling, for if he had seen her go into the barn, he might have followed her.

All day long she kept well away from the barn. Uncle Silas slept, as usual, most of the afternoon, and she contented herself with reading a book called
The Last of the Mohicans
, by a man named Cooper.

Ordinarily she liked adventures, but she could hardly keep her mind on what she was reading.

Finally suppertime came, and Uncle Silas seemed to feel so much better that he stayed up very late. He talked a great deal about his youthful days when he had been a salesman on the road. She was glad to see him feeling better, but she was anxious to get out and see how Ezra was.

At last her uncle yawned and said, “Well, Leah, this is the latest I've stayed up in a spell. I think I'll get to bed now.”

“Good night, Uncle Silas.”

“Good night. You sleep well tonight now. If you feel you're coming down with some kind of the flu, you better get you a toddy or some kind of medicine.”

“Oh, no, I'm all right! You go to bed.” She went over and kissed him on the cheek, and he smiled and patted her shoulder.

“You're a fine girl, Leah, you and that sister of yours both.”

Leah waited for more than an hour until she was absolutely certain that he was asleep. She even stood in front of his door, listening to his deep, regular breathing. Then she gathered up some food and a candle and left for the barn.

Stepping inside, she called out, “Ezra?”

But there was no answer.

At once Leah knew something was wrong. “Ezra!” she called out more loudly. She lifted the candle, walked up the stairs to where his cot was, and saw a note on the bed. It was by the Bible she had given him to read.

Quickly she seized it and saw printed in large crudely made letters, “Leah, I thank you for all your goodness. I have never known anyone like you. It's
not good for me to stay here anymore. I might get you and your uncle in trouble. I will never forget you. Good-bye.” It was signed, “Ezra Payne.”

Leah put the food on the cot and went down the steps. He can't make it! He'll be caught before morning, she thought. I'll have to find him
.

She blew out the candle and stood at the barn door trying to decide which way to look. Then she recalled telling Ezra that there was a path alongside the creek that followed the road. She had told him furthermore that you could walk along that path a long way toward the North-South border and never be seen.

Still, he might have gone any number of ways. She continued to stand there uncertainly, the darkness closing about her. She suddenly said out loud, “Lord, help me to find him, if that's what You want.”

Then she ran toward the stream.

The moonlight was bright enough to enable her to see her way. She moved quickly along the path, and not more than ten minutes later she saw a form ahead outlined like a shadow. She stopped abruptly. “Ezra? Is that you?”

“Yes, it's me.”

Leah hurried to where he stood. He had left behind the clothes that belonged to Uncle Silas, and she knew immediately he had done that in case he got caught. He was again wearing only the thin shirt and pants he had worn when she first saw him, not even a hat on his head.

“You shouldn't have run away, Ezra,” she said. “You're not strong enough yet.”

Somewhere far off a dog barked furiously. They listened until the sound died away.

Then Ezra shook his head. “I couldn't let you take any more chances on my account,” he said simply. “I couldn't bear it if anything happened to you, Leah.”

She took a deep breath and sighed. “Come on, Ezra. Nothing's going to happen. Another week and you'll be strong enough.” She took his arm and pulled at him, and he surrendered.

They'd gone halfway back to the barn when he said, “I'm afraid I've got to rest a little bit. Guess I'm not as strong as I thought.”

“Look—sit on that log over there.”

They both sat down on a fallen tree trunk, and she heard his breath coming in a raspy wheeze. “You've got some kind of sickness, Ezra. You're still not well. I'm going to town tomorrow and find a doctor and get some medicine.”

BOOK: Secret of Richmond Manor
11.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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