Who is this man?
It took a few seconds for those who had been petrified at what had happened, to regain their senses and their mobility, still too afraid to say anything and still not sure what had happened, though it would soon begin to register in their minds.
The older children and women put aside their fear and rush out to hold the horses and calm them, as others helped Elizabeth, blood-covered from the man that had held her, but relatively uninjured herself apart from a possibly bloody nose. Everyone was nervous, not sure that it really was over. War, even after it ended, had at last come to the plantation with a vengeance, and they could not understand how this had suddenly erupted in their midst.
They untied Elizabeth’s feet and arms. She had been shielded from the shooting by the man who had used the homemade blade with such horrendous effect. She seemed uninjured despite all the blood, though was not sure what had just happened to change everything so much.
She had heard the shots and had seen two of the men fall from their horses, before the man holding her over his saddle was aware of what was happening, and then had seen the two remaining men ride off in panic to be brought down before they had ridden any distance. They were certainly dead. It had all transpired so quickly that she was still not sure what had happened. It was still unfolding in her mind.
She noticed that she was being supported by Betty, who seemed afraid that she might faint at the shock of it all, and the sight of so many bodies and so much blood, but she was not about to do that. The terror that they had all felt was beginning to fade as they became aware of things that they needed to do. There might be others. The urgency had not entirely faded, but it had changed.
Something had removed the immediate danger that they had faced. No, not something. Someone. It began to become clear to her. She could hear the concerned voices of those returning from the fields. Her heart was beating so loud and fast in her head that she was surprised she might be able to hear anything, especially after the noise of those guns going off so close to her. She was shocked, confused, and unsure of what had happened. There was blood everywhere, even all over her, and she could see men lying prone around her in the yard: five men, with two others further out and another somewhere out of sight behind a cabin. Four of those men in the yard had been on horseback, but there was another who had not been. That fifth man was lying separate from the others. The dog growled and tugged angrily at the clothing of the fallen man closest to her, one with a heavy blade buried in his skull, the one who had lifted her onto his horse and had interfered with her, touching her between her legs far too familiarly.
Elizabeth shivered and turned away as she looked around, still not entirely sure what had happened. She was still alive and in the midst of friends. At least those on their feet were friends, though the others lying around in blood and with their limbs disordered were not. Except for one of them. That other man, lying apart from those others; he was different. She closed her eyes after seeing one of those dead men staring at her from eyes that had little of any head left behind his face. They were all men she did not know. The shooting had stopped, yes, but it still seemed to ring in her ears. There was no one left standing that she did not know, or sitting on a horse.
The horses milled around for some moments until brought under control and calmed as others recovered enough of their senses to reach out for them and to help others. But it was a tense and uneasy calm after such shocking violence, with anxious glances directed everywhere, wondering if it might be over, or was just the beginning.
Someone had brought a dress out from the nearest cabin for the naked, blood-covered Dorothea, screaming in horror at what had happened. She might be screaming, yet she was uttering no sound from her open mouth. She held her trembling hands up to her face, frozen in terror, and then slumped to sit in the grass. Others helped the man who had objected to his woman being treated like that and who had been shot in the side for his trouble. Others went cautiously around the side of the cabin from which Dorothea had appeared, to see what might have happened to that other man, and ready for trouble.
Dorothea and her husband, Joshua, seemed to be their only casualties. “Josh” was helped to his feet and taken into one of the cabins, still concerned for Dorothea but leaving others to calm her and to wash the blood off her and to assess her injuries, of which there would be none found. None physical, that is. They were all still nervous, confused, and in shock, but they were aware that the immediate danger had gone, somehow, and they needed to recover quickly. No one said anything at first.
Elizabeth saw Betty, who now supported her, nod toward another man apart from the others. He was unlike the others, lying where he had fallen with his rifle lying across him. He was not one of the others, she knew that. She had been conscious of enough. He had appeared from nowhere and had shot the others—all of them, one by one. She put her own confused feelings aside and tried to understand what had happened, and his role in all of this. She would think about it later as she tried to piece it all together.
“He did all of this? One man?” She spoke with disbelief and obvious emotion at the shock of it all and did not recognize her own voice.
“Yes’m. All of ’em. The good lord must ’a sent him to smite them down and to save us. He must have kilt that other man too, who took Dorothea, before he might . . . and then he set upon these others. I can’t remember the half of it yet, even though I saw it all happen with my own eyes, but it’ll come to me when I get chance to sit and think about it. The devil tried to do his worst here today, and was stopped by one man doing the work of….” She rethought what she was about to say. “I doubt that God would ever pardon that kind of violence, ’ceptin in the Old Testament, even to men like that, but then he does work in ways I never understood. And he did see all those Egyptians drowned when they thought to stop Moses.” She remembered other examples too that had been drilled into her frightened, childlike mind before she had gone to sleep. God could be vengeful too when folk angered him. She remembered those two communities of Sodom and Gomorrah and with Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back, against God’s instructions. It was wise to fear him.
“Thank God for that.” Elizabeth put that strange contradiction aside from her thoughts. Might god have been responsible for seeing this stopped? What kind of man might kill others so easily? She would not judge him. She had killed her own father when the need had been there and had intended to kill her brother soon after that to protect her sister. She had done nothing for selfish reasons but to protect others, just as this man appeared to have done, except he can’t have known who he was protecting. She didn’t know him, from what she could see of him.
Though maybe he was not thinking of protecting them or anyone else so much as just to kill them. Surely there was a place in hell reserved for those who did that, no matter the reason. If he went to hell for what he had done, then she might be in good company. She needed to know more about this man.
She looked around, seeing no others close by that she did not know, and then at the man lying there. She walked over to him and knelt beside him as she briefly examined him. He’d been shot at least twice, and he seemed to be losing a lot of blood with it soaking his trousers and shirt, yet none of his wounds that she could see when she tore open his shirt seemed to be bleeding so much, or might be life-threatening in an immediate sense. However, all wounds were serious, and even a scratch, if it got infected, could kill a man. All of the others were certainly dead.
Those other men had been taken by surprise and must have been in such a state, shooting wildly, that they could not have been sure what they might hit, and striving not to hit each other or the horses. She had heard some of it and seen it too. They were lucky no one else had been shot in that melee. The others had calmed the horses as much as they could now, and seemed to be waiting for her, or someone, to make a decision. She saw what was needed, and everything was her responsibility. She sorted out the priorities in her mind. They would need to get him inside and get his clothes off to find out what damage had been done and to try to see to his wounds before he might die. He would know none of it and could not object. Anything that needed to be done would be done before ever he might know of it, and the sooner the better.