We need to hide what happened here.
“Help me get him into your cabin, Betty, and onto the cot, and then bring me hot water and bandages. You can tear up that old sheet we washed.”
There were many women, girls, and boys even to help, though most of the men were still further out working in the farthest fields. Or had been, until they heard the shots. The stronger women took his arms and legs, while the more sturdy children stood on either side and lifted at his belt and clothing. Six of them would easily manage him. Betty directed them now.
“Gently. He’s heavy, but he ain’t as heavy as he should be. I never saw so much blood on a man before.” That was the truth.
Elizabeth looked back around the yard. “Get all of the horses calmed and into the barn, unsaddled and checked over. We’ll need to do that before we can do anything else here. Get that blood washed off them too, over near the midden, before they get put away.” Her voice took on a different urgency and a note of authority now that she was over the initial shock.
She raised her voice, which unusual for her. “We don’t have time to gawk. There may be others like them.” The obvious sense of urgency in her voice got them moving. She looked at two of the older boys. “Pick up their guns and hide them away too, but be careful of them, and then we’ll see to these men and get them out of sight and ready for burial. We’ll need to see them buried out of the way as soon as we can before others like them might come. Strip them completely. Then cover up that blood in the yard. I want there to be no sign that anything happened here, though I doubt we can too easily hide a grave or conceal those horses for long,” Betty added her own thoughts.
“You’d better change, yourself, Missy. You’s all bloodied up from that man that held you, and it needs to be washed out.” The man who had been holding her had shed much of his life’s blood all over her from his cleaved skull before he had been pushed off her, and off his horse.
“I will change later, Betty.” And wash too, where that man had touched her so familiarly. “My last good dress too. There is too much to see to first. We need to clean all of what happened, out of sight, and there are bodies to bury. We don’t have time for anything else.” Men who had come rushing from the more distant fields, had heard her instructions and the urgency behind them, and were even then moving off to hitch up a wagon to get those bodies out of the yard and to get them buried.
Elizabeth went back into the yard as others saw to getting the man onto the cot and undressed so that his wounds could be seen to. She picked up the repeating rifle, and the pistols that belonged to the man who had intervened for them, before those other boys might, and carried them along with her back into the cabin. She put all three weapons carefully under the edge of the bed. She would look at them later.
“Strip them, Missy?” Her instructions were being questioned. Surely she hadn’t meant that.
She spoke out to those still standing around outside, and likely still uncertain about what she intended. “Yes. Get them out of the way under that oak tree over near the barn, and then strip them, totally. Totally. And get their clothes into the wash as soon as you can. Empty their pockets and put their other belongings to one side. We’ll deal with those, later. Dead men do not need clothes that others, living, might wear, and I want all evidence of this cleared away before others come. Our need is greater than theirs. It will be dark before long, and then that clothing can be hung out overnight to dry and brought in first thing before any others might see them and wonder why so much clothing is hanging there.”
They stirred themselves to do her grisly bidding even as she continued her thoughts. “What is of no use can be washed and used in some way. Save the boots if they are in good condition. What can’t be fixed, can be cut down or cut up and used for something, or we can bury them too. I’ll find this man some other clothing, later.”
She looked about, wondering what she was missing. She’d think of more later when her mind settled down, but things were at least moving along. She thought of something else as she turned to another who had appeared in the doorway.
“Send Henry up to the roof of the house to keep an eye open for any others who might come. Those shots will have been heard for miles.” She was speaking about a smaller boy of undoubted athletic ability who, hearing what was required of him, ran toward the house before anyone might have to explain what was needed or could change their minds about him.
“And get that blood covered up. Sawdust will do it, once the horses and bodies are moved.”
Henry had been terrified at what had happened at first, with all of that noise, seeing people terrified, as he was, and hurt by those men. Despite that, he could not have avoided watching what happened. It had been strangely exciting to see all those men shot down and to fall like that, shot one after the other as they deserved by just one man. Had God sent him as Miss Betty had said?
Up there, on the roof, he would be king for a day of all he could survey, sitting in a place he was never normally allowed to be, as he kept a lookout and could see it all laid out for him in the yard below. He could go over it in his mind again as he watched others collect up the horses and guns and move the bodies over to lie under the broad oak tree as they took the clothing off them. When asked, he called down that he could see no one moving anywhere distant, and nothing happening.
There was nothing nearly as interesting as what was happening in the yard below him as he watched bodies being moved under the old tree and out of the way. They were followed by the dog—they only had the one—ready to light into them again, ’cept he’d already killed them in his own mind. The cart was being put to, to move the dead men even further out, with shovels and mattocks being loaded with them. They would waste no time digging individual graves but just the one big hole to provide them all with their final, unmarked resting place before others might come, but there were no others that he could see.
Betty decided that she would need to recover one of the pistols and keep it close by her, just in case this man turned out to be more like those other men than they might like. He had killed, and then had gone on killing until none of them were left on a horse. It had been terrifying to see it happen and with them caught up in the middle of it. She had felt like those hens must feel when a fox had got into the barn and was chasing them down one by one until all of the cackling had stopped. She had been terrified at that moment, seeing men shot off their horses, and had only begun to feel relief when he had dropped himself and could do no more killing. Now she began to feel differently. She would pray for him and do whatever she could for him. She could even shed a few tears for him and what he had done for them, perhaps without even knowing what he had done. However . . . She would keep that gun close by her.
“I hope we are doing the right thing. He’s lying out now, Missy, and bleeding everywhere, though most of it don’t seem to be his, wherever it came from. But how do we know that he’s any better than those others? Maybe he’s one of them, and had a falling out.” What Betty said and her caution about him was understandable, but Elizabeth came to his defense.
“We don’t know that. What we do know, is that he killed them. At least I think he did”—she was still confused about what had happened—“there was no one else except for Josh who tried to stop them before he got shot, and then Patch, with his knife.” She went over what she could remember. “Yes. He killed them, and all by himself. He can’t go anywhere the way he is, not for a while, and I’ll not let him die after what he did for us, no matter what kind of a man he might be; even if he didn’t know what he was doing.” She saw others getting water back on the boil and recovering a clean sheet for bandages. They began to tear it into strips as Betty undid his clothing.
This man would not be allowed to die. He was here for a reason, and she began to feel excited, hoping that she knew what that reason was.
He was here for her! Not for anything else. Just for her.
From ‘In Love and War’ on inkitt. A much warmer variation of this story is, ‘Baptism by Fire’. Also on inkitt.
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