Mr. Browne was asleep in the bed, fully clothed and with his boots still on. I guessed he was used to having to wake at a moment’s notice and be ready to move. I lightly touched his shoulder and he instantly sat up, fully awake and alert.
“Mr. Browne, I hate to wake you, but there is a Union troop coming our way.”
“How far are they?”
“Nearby, Arthur noticed them and said they would be here in a matter of minutes.”
“I’ve got to get out of here,” he said, jumping out of the bed.
“We could hide you, Mr. Browne. There is a secret room in this house where you would be safe till they leave. They don’t usually remain here very long.”
“No, you don’t understand, they are after me, they might search the house. Goodness knows how long they could stay. I might suffocate in you tiny room before they left.”
“Maybe they aren’t after you,” I argued, “maybe they are just passing through on their way to somewhere. I’ve had that plenty of times before.”
“I don’t want to endanger you, Miss Rose.”
“Mr. Browne, they will be here any moment, that is not enough time for you to find a place of shelter.”
“Do you have a back door?”
“There is one in the kitchen.”
“I’ll leave by it and make my way to the old Thompson mansion. It’s burnt and deserted and I could hide there.”
“What if they decide to try and search for you there?”
“I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. I’m not going to remain here and risk being discovered.” He reached for his cap, “where is the kitchen door?”
“Follow me,” I led him down the stairs and to the kitchen. “Here it is.”
“Thank you, Miss Rose,” he turned to me and I noticed tenderness in his eyes, “it was good to see you again. I’m sorry for what the war has done to you and your family. I wish I could remain her and protect you; unfortunately, my presence would only bring you more harm. God be with you and thank you for sheltering me.” He kissed my hand and ran off. I closed the door behind him and locked it.
“Wasn’t he one of your suitors once upon a time?” Elsie asked.
I nodded my head, “the only noble one among them.” The two of us were silent as we pondered the days of long ago. The sound of heavy footsteps made us look up.
“It gets to me every time they just barge into here as if they own the place,” I fumed as I peeked out the window and saw the regiment of soldiers coming our way. Their dark blue uniforms told me they were Yanks. I took a deep breath and began walking towards the door.
“Sarah, where are you going?” Elsie called after me.
“I’m going to throw them off my land.”
I stopped and looked back at her, “Of course not. What I’m really doing is giving Mr. Browne a little bit of time. The longer I keep them here, the more chances he has of getting to the Thompsons.”
“Sarah, you will do no such thing!” Elsie commanded. “You stay in this house and out of sight. I’ve got to find George and tell him we are having another visit. You let the two of us handle it. I order you to go to your room and make sure Evy stays out of trouble.” She waved her finger at me and ran off to find George.
“You order me,” I retorted once she had gone, “well, the only person who does any ordering in this house is Uncle Andrew, and he's not here.” I took a deep breath and went to the front door. I knew someone had to try and stall, but George had mysteriously disappeared earlier this morning and except for him and Elsie, who was now looking for him, no one was brave enough to confront the Yanks.
I put on a brave face, but I won’t say my heart wasn’t thumping as I marched to the front door and opened it. I didn’t know what I was going to do, only that I had to keep them here for as long as possible. I had to ensure Mr. Browne's safety, even if it would be at the price of my own.
The sight of the approaching soldiers made me realize just what a ridiculous thing I was doing, but there was no backing out now. Stepping outside, I placed my hands on my hips and eye the regiment warily. It wasn’t a very big regiment, but compared to little me, standing by my front door, it was like an entire army.
The troops halted and the captain walked up to me.
“Miss, pull out the food,” he demanded.
“Excuse me?” I lifted an eyebrow.
“The food, Miss, the food, my men is hungry.”
“Pardon me, sir, but last I looked this was not a tavern. Since when am I supposed to feed every Tom, Dick and Harry who come to my door?” I tried to be respectful, but the tone of his voice irritated me. How dare he come here and demand that I feed his whole regiment, with stomachs like bottomless pits.
“Mind your manners, lady,” he growled, “bring out the food if you don’t want serious consequences.”
“My manners are in perfect order, sir. I’m not the one barging onto privet property and demanding to be fed. I have no food to feed you, so there.”
“Of course you do. You plantation owners are rich, bring out the food or we’ll come in and take it.”
“Sir, there is no food for you to take. The blockade the Union has inflicted on the Confederacy is making provisions scarce.”
“Yet somehow you manage to feed yourself.”
“What little food we have must pull us through the winter, there is none to spare.”
“Miss, you are trying my patience. For the last time, bring out the food and feed my men.”
“I repeat, Captain, there is not enough food to feed your band of thieves even if I wanted to, which by the way, I don’t.”
“How dare you speak to me in such a manner?” He thundered. “Have you never been taught how to behave in front of a Captain in the Union Army? Well, allow me to give you your first lesson.” With those words he swung his hand and hit me across the face with all his might.
The blow knocked the wind out of me and for a moment I couldn’t breathe as I tumbled over to the ground in a crumpled heap. My whole face stung from the force with which he had struck me. I felt a bit dizzy and not quite able to rise. I almost expected him to continue to assault me and I closed my eyes and braced myself. Instead, all I heard was a heavy rumble. I had heard it in the distance earlier, but hadn’t paid any attention, being too preoccupied with fighting the captain. Now as I listened, I thought it sounded like the beating of horse hooves. The clatter got nearer and nearer and suddenly a deep voice boomed out across the entire estate:
“Captain Sawnders, since when have we declared war on women?”
Don't we all just love cliff hangers? ;)
Merry Christmas to you all :D