As Sadie looked down at the baby in her arms, she suddenly couldn’t think of anything else for the moment. The wounded men, the Redcoats, the storm, all seemed to disappear. The child had curly blond hair and big blue eyes.
She didn’t seem to care that someone new was holding her. All she wanted was food so even though Sadie knew nothing about babies, she tipped the bottle and stuck it into the child’s mouth.
The other little girls were not so easily calmed.
“Who are you?” asked a five year old. “Your hair is all wet.”
“My name’s Sadie. I’ve been out in the rain.”
“Are you an orphan?” asked the girl in the next bed. “Are you going to stay here, too?”
“No. I just came with—some supplies.” She wasn’t sure how much these little ones knew about the secret in the attic.
The little girl bounced on her bed. “Food for breakfast?”
“Uh, no,” Sadie said.
They shivered and cowered under their covers as another round of thunder rolled overhead. Then one of the little girls jumped out of bed, and plopped down beside Sadie, snuggling up. Several others followed.
“Don’t you have food for breakfast?” asked Sadie, wondering if she could somehow go out on Red Wind to get some. But she had very little money with her, enough for an emergency but certainly not enough to buy for all these children.
There was a movement at the door. Sadie looked up, relieved. It was one of the older girls, the blond one.
“Of course we have food for breakfast,” the girl said briskly. “God always provides.”
She took up the baby, who was falling asleep. “Thank you, Sadie.” She rubbed the baby’s back, then placed her in her crib.
“Rose Anne, isn’t it?” asked Sadie. “What’s happened here? Why isn’t there any food? ”
The girl sat down, putting an arm around a little one. “The British took over the property. They wanted the house for a headquarters but when they saw how full it was with just us, they at least decided to stay outside. But they’ve eaten up all our food and confiscated our livestock.”
“I’ve heard of that,” said Sadie. “So far they’ve left our inn alone.”
“The townspeople bring us meat and vegetables sometimes.” She turned to the little girls, some of whom were still whimpering. “The storm won’t hurt you. We’re safe. Go back to sleep now.”
“All right.” One little girl lay down calmly–until another roll of thunder made her bounce back up and hug her feather pillow.
“Will we really have something to eat in the morning?” asked another.
“Of course. Miss Penelope has oatmeal soaking for breakfast.”
“But what about dinner?”
“You mustn’t worry about dinner.”
“I wish God wouldn’t wait ‘til just ‘fore it’s time to eat to give us food. I like having it in the cupboard and knowing it’s there,” sighed a six year old.
“God has always provided enough for us,” Rose Anne told Sadie.
“Except for Gracie,” said the little girl.
“Yes, well. We still believe He’ll give us milk for her.”
“We don’t have a cow anymore. And she’s too little to eat bread or oatmeal.” Another little girl supplied this information.
“When will Gracie get more teeth so she can eat like us?” another little one persisted.
“Not for a while.” Rose Anne smiled, and smoothed her hair like a little mother.
Sadie was taking it all in, getting the idea of what it was like for these orphans. Ooooh—these British—why couldn’t they all just go back to England!
“Do you have enough milk?”
Sadie, startled that the question was directed at herself, answered the five year old. “Why yes, we do. They haven’t taken our cows or chickens or grain yet. You see, we run an inn. Most of the guests are Tories and British soldiers, and they like Mother’s cooking. They know she needs eggs and milk and things.”
Rose Anne suddenly stared at her, and Sadie felt a bit guilty that they still had a cow and all. Then Rose Anne smiled. “Come on and get something to eat.”
“I ate supper,” Sadie told her, even though she was quite hungry by now.
“It’s all right. We can spare a bit of bread and some hot cider. You’re still shivering with cold. Let’s sneak down. The men are busy eating. They won’t notice.”
The rain pounded on, and Miss Penelope gave Sadie a pallet on the floor in the older girl’s room. The soldiers bunked in the dining room and kitchen.
Sadie finally drifted off. She woke several hours later to find the older girls dressing in the chilly fall morning. Dim light was coming through the window. Sadie rose up and smoothed the dress she had been given the night before.
Sadie couldn’t help glance at the clothes that Rose Anne and Charlotte and Rebecca were putting on. Their dresses, as well as the smaller ones hanging on hooks beside each bed, were all the same style, the same drab colors.
Charlotte seemed to understand her curiosity. “A tailor gave us all this extra cloth.”
“Except he kept all the pretty colors for his customers and just gave us these,” murmured a ten year old from a nearby bed.
“Now, Susanna. He gave plenty and it was new—at least then.”
“Someday I’m going to have a beautiful dress,” insisted Susanna. “Two of them.”
Papa would say that sin caused poverty and war. It was certainly sin that these British soldiers took all these orphans’ food. And that tailor, though somewhat generous, could have added a few pretty colors for the littlest girls.
“I’m sorry,” said Sadie to the girls, as they headed out of the room.
Why was she sorry? For them? Or because she had more than them? She shrugged.
But the girls seemed to understand. “Don’t be. We’re all right. Things are just a little hard right now what with the war and all.”
A little? Sadie reflected that things must have been hard for all of them for a long time. After all, they were orphans. She suddenly wanted to know all their stories, find out what had happened to their parents, and why they were here.
They descended the stairs and entered the kitchen. The three orphan girls didn’t bother being quiet as they skirted the British soldiers. They lit several lamps, and built up the fire. They even chattered among themselves.
“Oy—what are you doing—we’re trying to sleep!”
“It’s time to be up,” said Charlotte, briskly. “A kitchen is no place to sleep when you have tents. We have work to do.”
“Why you little—” Someone grabbed for her, but another said, “Oh, leave her be. I’m hungry. Cook our breakfast, girl.”
Meanwhile, Rose Anne had opened the back door. She quietly motioned to the others. Sadie looked in amazement.
“Potatoes…and vegetables,” Rose Anne said. “Didn’t I tell you? Oh, God is good! And look, coffee! We’ll hide that and give it to the men upstairs. And Grandfather loves coffee.”
She quietly moved the provisions into the pantry, and the coffee went into a secret place that she revealed when she moved a board aside. “Oh, and look, a little flour.” She said, holding up a small sack.
“But no milk,” said Charlotte, disappointed.
“But—but where’d it come from?” questioned Sadie.
“The Almighty provided it,” Rebecca told her.
“Of course, but who—”
Just then Miss Penelope entered the room. “Sirs, if you please, do go to the dining room so we can cook.”
Her voice had a no nonsense tone, and the soldiers actually did as they were told, though they were rather grumpy about it. “And don’t expect much for breakfast. You ate a good deal of it last night.”
More grumbling at this news, but they couldn’t say much about it.
The girls quickly got the porridge cooking, and carried out bowls and spoons to set the tables in the dining room.
“Look, Miss Penelope!” This as the woman entered the pantry, and tied on an apron.
“Oh, I wonder who brought it this time. God’s dear servants helping us out. Oh, Papa…how did you fare in the barn last night. Were the horses that frightened?”
The old man came into the house from the back porch.
“Grandfather! Grandfather!” whispered Charlotte, “we have a secret. A surprise for you.”
Rose Anne was unable to keep it to herself. “It’s coffee, Grandfather!”
Sadie wondered if they all called him Grandfather. The relationship between them all was much different than any orphanage she’d ever heard of.
The old man turned to Sadie. “I’ve hidden your horse in the woods. If you can sneak out after breakfast, you’ll be able to be on your way. It’s quite a fair morning! The sun’s sparkling everywhere on the wet grass and leaves and cobwebs. The girls must come out and see before it all disappears.”
“Yes, Papa. They’ll be up soon. I let them sleep since they all woke up in the night, and were so frightened. Come and eat.”
“Let me write some messages first for Sadie to deliver.”
“Well, then you come, Sadie. Have your porridge.”
“I don’t have to eat. I can eat breakfast when I get home.”
“We can spare some,” said Miss Penelope. “Look at all the provisions God gave us.”
She scooped some porridge out of the kettle into a bowl.
“But you’ll need it for the girls, perhaps.”
“We won’t let you go on an empty stomach,” she said, as firmly as she’d spoken to the British soldiers. “Sit.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Sadie sat down and took up her spoon, pouring a tiny bit of syrup on her porridge, and remembering that there was no milk. What were they going to do about the baby?
Rose Anne, she would discover, was wondering the same thing.
“Miss Penelope, may I speak with you?”
“Now, dear? We must feed the soldiers and get them out of the house, so the children and our men upstairs can eat.”
“Just for a moment, Miss Penelope.” And they adjourned out to the back porch while the other girls carried on.
The morning passed. After all had eaten and the seven, eight, and nine year olds were washing the dishes and sweeping the kitchen floor, an older girl of about fourteen took the little ones into the parlor, where they worked on their letters and numbers.
Miss Penelope pored over the medical books,
and Charlotte and Rose Anne and Rebecca disappeared now and then up the stairs. Sadie knew they were helping with the men above. Then they urged Sadie to come up, and she climbed the attic steps with some trepidation, not knowing what she would find.
“They want to see you. We told them how you came with supplies and books and things.”
As the door opened, she saw over twenty men laid out on the floor. The men all raised up if they could, or at least tried to smile at her.
“Thank ye, miss. I’m gonna be all right now.”
“We thank you for bringing the medicine.”
Sadie went around and spoke to each one, seeing some so weak they could hardly reach for her hand, and others only had broken limbs or superficial wounds. She stayed for a long while, giving out water and holding their bowls of porridge. She would never forget the sight, nor their gratitude, though she knew that not all could be helped by the medicine she had brought.
It was nearly noon, but Sadie still found it impossible to leave. The British soldiers were still milling about, relaxing in the dining room, not wishing to go out in the mud and high winds.
Suddenly the door burst open. At the same time a bugle blared outside. The soldiers jumped up, buttoning coat, and straightening collars.
Sadie looked on as an officer appeared at the door. They all saluted smartly as he sternly ordered them out.
“It’s their captain. He’s back. Good.” said Miss Penelope, softly. “He’ll have them marching over in the field on the other side of the house for a while. Quick, go change into your own things while my father gets your horse saddled. And then—I must speak with you.”
Sadie wondered at her sudden sober tone. The woman spoke a low word to Rose Anne as Sadie went upstairs to change her dress.
When she returned, she was ushered into the parlor, where Miss Penelope sat and Rose Anne held the baby.
“Sit down, Sadie. We want to ask you something.”
Sadie noticed that Rose Anne was biting her lip in—excitement—or sorrow—she didn’t know exactly which.
“We—that is—Rose Anne—would like you to take Gracie.”
Sadie shook her head in confusion. “Take Gracie? Where? Rose Anne wants me to?”
“She’s my sister,” Rose Anne said.
Suddenly Sadie understood. She saw the resemblance, and the infant’s fair curly hair would probably be as golden as Rose Anne’s someday.
“Please, Sadie. You have a cow. You have milk. We’ve been praying for food for her. I believe God provides. But He hasn’t provided much—I mean, I just wonder if this is God’s provision. I just think that she’s to be with your family.”
Sadie sat in shock. Then she remembered that Mother was “pining away” for a baby.
“We know it’s a big responsibility for you to make this decision,” said Miss. Penelope. “But there’s just no milk here. Only two people have cows left, and they’re sharing with the entire village.”
“Are you sure?” she asked Rose Anne.
Rose Anne just pressed her lips together, then nodded.
Sadie hoped she wouldn’t regret this. What would Papa say? He was a kind man but this…. .Surely he wouldn’t turn the child away…. “All right then.”
Rose Anne let out her breath in relief. Gracie was fussing as usual, and just then Grandfather stumped in with a small jug in his hands.
“This is all I could get,” he said.
Miss Penelope took the jug. “It will do. Maybe it’s enough to put her to sleep, and she’ll be all right for the trip. I’ll go heat it up, and then we must get you off as quickly as possible—”
A shadow at the door. A movement. They all turned.
It was the captain.
And it was clear that he had heard those last words.
To be continued….
By Carol Bennett