“The Red Devil, they’re calling him,” said their tired and bedraggled guest with a grin. “No idea who’s riding him. If they knew it was you, miss, they’d certainly be surprised.”
The man sat at a small table in the hidden room. He was eating a chunk of bread, and drinking a tankard of ale. Now he reached for some cheese.
The man was a medic in the Continental army, and he had a task for them. He had made a stop nearby at the home of a doctor friend, and had picked up some supplies. Would they, he wondered, take the things back to a place he had visited a few nights before?
A little past midnight, Sadie was out in the barn mounting Red Wind for the night’s mission. Papa joined her.
“You’ve got heavy bundles this time,” he told her. “You need to pace yourself.”
Sadie’s escape was virtually noiseless. She walked her horse out to the road. As she looked back, she saw no lights in the inn. Hopefully all the occupants were asleep. Mother tried her best to keep the British soldiers in the far rooms, and other guests on the side that looked out upon the barn. But of course they could not know for sure who were Tories and who weren’t. Sadie’s escapades were getting more and more dangerous.
Finally, Sadie urged Red Wind into a faster gait, which he gleefully obeyed. The bags and bundles of medicine were securely strapped behind her, but she checked them periodically. More supplies were packed in her saddlebags. She was heading for a home which had been turned into a makeshift hospital.
Sadie was thankful that it was a foggy night. Though even the townspeople didn’t know if the “Red Devil” was real, she had to be careful. As she rode, she thought back on the events of the day. And they had nothing to do with the war effort.
From the kitchen, Sadie had been able to see Mother sitting out in her rocking chair on the side porch. She looked a bit sad. Perhaps she was just tired, although when there were few customers to keep her busy, she always seemed to settle into such a mood.
“What’s wrong with her?” Sadie had asked Billy once.
“A baby comin’ would perk her up,” her cousin told her.
That wasn’t at all what she had thought the problem might be. It hadn’t even occurred to her.
Today while they were doing the milking, she’d asked, “Papa, why can’t I have a baby brother or sister?”
For upon watching closely, it did seem that sometimes Mother sat on that side porch, rocking, almost as if she were dreaming of holding a baby. Though mostly, she kept her hands busy with snapping beans, or shelling peas, or darning socks, or knitting mittens for winter. And it wasn’t often she had time to sit at all.
But Papa had stopped milking, and was gazing at her.
“It’s just that Billy said Mother wants a baby.”
“Mother can’t have any more children.”
Sadie was surprised at that. “Why not?”
She was glad that Papa never minded answering her questions. In some families, children weren’t allowed to ask questions. But now all he said was, “after you were born—well, she just can’t have more babies.”
Sadie thought about that for a while. “Then it’s my fault?”
“Oh no. It’s just the way of things sometimes.” He sighed. “But it does make her feel sad.”
He had smiled at Sadie then. “But you’re our special girl. If we didn’t have you, I don’t know what we’d do. And Billy.”
Sadie knew that her cousin had come to them when he was only five years old. That was when Uncle Clarence had died of influenza.
Now, she shook her head to stop her wandering thoughts. Maybe Mother just missed Billy like they all did.
The trip wasn’t as far as Sadie had traveled in the past, but it was urgent that she get there as soon as possible for wounded soldiers were dying from their injuries.
About halfway to her destination, steady rain started with thunder and lightning in the distance. She hoped to get to the house before the storm became worse, and was relieved when she finally passed her landmark, a small pond some distance past a crossroads.
She suddenly heard a voice. “You there, you coming to help us?”
“Yes,” she said, startled.
It was an old man, standing under the shadow of a tree. “I best be taking your horse.”
“I don’t know about that,” Sadie gripped the reins tighter.
“Why you’re just a girl. And I don’t blame you for not trusting me. But we need to go quickly. There’s Redcoats about.”
“Is this Miss Penelope Carlson’s house?”
“Yes. She’s my daughter.”
“All right. Pardon, sir….”
“Not necessary. Got to be right careful these days, and I suppose I frightened you out here in the middle of the night. We were told to expect help within the next few nights, so I’ve been keeping watch. Now take this trail ’round the pond, and come up in back of the barn. We’ll meet you there. Redcoats camped in the field yonder.”
Sadie followed his directions as rain continued to pour down. It looked like the Redcoats were still awake—some of them, at least. One or two tents were lit up, even though it had to be two in the morning.
She had just reached the barn when the heavens seemed to let loose. Red Wind shied at a bright flash of lightening. A long roll of thunder followed.
“Let me get him in—before they see him in the light,” It was the man’s voice again.
“Come, child,” said a woman. “You’re so young to be on a mission like this.”
“The medicine—it’s in these bags. And some medical books.” Sadie dismounted, and they unstrapped the bags. Sadie and the woman lugged them some distance to the back door of a large farmhouse.
Drenched, Sadie and the woman finally stepped up on a porch and they let the heavy burlap bags down. The door opened from inside, but only a small candle showed the way, as a girl with gold curly hair greeted them.
“I should leave right away,” said Sadie. “I need to get back by daybreak.”
“I don’t think so,” said the woman, for right then the storm seemed to worsen if that were possible. Lightning flashed time after time. Thunder rolled continually, and the rain pounded down harder than ever.
“Not in this storm,” said another girl, this one with thick black braid down her back.
“She’s right,” said the woman. “Your horse would never stand it—he’d be too frightened. You must stay here until it ends. Besides, this will waken all the soldiers, and you’ll never get away without being seen.”
“Do come in and get dry,” said yet another girl.
“We’ll get this medicine upstairs,” said the lady. “Light a lamp, and two of you help carry these bags up, please. You sit and rest, dear, and we’ll get you a hot drink and dry clothes soon. Oh, there’s the baby. She’s frightened. Charlotte, go take care of her, would you?”
Yet another figure! How many were there, anyway, wondered Sadie. But she removed her cloak, and sat on a bench in her wet clothes while they carried on around her. The dim light showed only shadows and hurried movement. The old man appeared carrying the saddlebags.
“I’m going back out,” he said, depositing them on the table. “I’ll take care of your horse.”
Two girls were carrying the things up the stairs as the lady said, “take those up, and then try to quiet the other children.”
It was some time before anyone reappeared. The girl with the curly blond hair came with dry clothes and stirred up the fire, putting the kettle on. She looked to be about Sadie’s age. The black haired girl joined them.
Suddenly a pounding on the front door startled them all. The dark haired girl went to open the door.
“Let us in, girl!”
Soldiers, a dozen of them, piled in. “We’re sleeping in here tonight. And don’t argue. We’re not staying out in that rain.”
“Quick!” The blond pushed Sadie out into the pantry. “Get on those clothes so they’ll think you’re one of us.”
Sadie had no idea what she was talking about, but she was eager to get out of her wet things. She quickly changed into the shabby blue dress she had been given.
The blond girl reappeared shortly. “Quick, upstairs. They’re in the dining room drinking ale, but they won’t stay there for long. They’ll be storming about trying to get someone to cook for them.”
Sadie slipped out of the pantry and through the kitchen. Across the dark hall, the soldiers were sitting in the dining room around a table drinking from tankards, and laughing and talking.
She quietly ascended the stairs but they apparently sensed movement for one called out, “you there, out there…bring us bread and jam—and some of that apple butter— until you can cook something. Where’s the lady of the house? We want meat and potatoes!”
The golden haired girl went to the door. “Right away, sir. But we have no apple butter or jam left. Just bread. We’ll get it as soon as we can.”
“Well, make it now, girl!”
Sadie reached the top of the stairs. She peeped into the first doorway, and was met with a surprise. There were more than a dozen beds in the large room–all with little girls sitting up, looking very frightened as the thunder rolled and lightening flashed. One of the girls she’d met earlier was feeding a baby with a bottle.
“What is this place?” Sadie asked. “I thought it was a hospital.”
“It’s an orphanage,” said the girl. “The wounded men are in the attic…oh, there go the Redcoats, shouting again. Quick, take the baby–I must go start cooking for them before they search the house for Miss Penelope. We don’t want them to discover our secret!”
The girl thrust the baby into Sadie’s arms. She hurried out of the room, leaving Sadie with a dozen frightened little girls staring at her….
To be continued….
By Carol Bennett