The British officer took it all in—the guilt and shock on their faces. Sadie, in her traveling clothes, her cloak and bag over her arm…the fussing baby.
“And who is this?” he gazed at Sadie calmly. “I don’t recognize you. You’re not one of the girls here, are you?”
Just then a burly officer burst in, and interrupted.
“A horse hidden in the woods, sir—a nice one!” He faced Grandfather, “Where’d he come from, huh?”
The captain, still pleasant, turned his eyes to Miss Penelope, and she pulled herself together. “Sir,” she took a deep breath. “This girl is taking the baby to a new home. We have no food for her. Please don’t take the horse. She needs to get home, and get this baby to a family who can feed and care for her.”
”That’s a likely story!” snorted the officer, but the captain held up a hand and he fell silent.
He continued to look about at them all. “And why doesn’t she have food?”
“She’s too young for solid food, and we have no milk.”
“You seem to have enough,” put in the other soldier. “She’s been here as long as we have, and you’ve managed to feed her.”
The captain turned on the officer with a look, and he fell silent again.
“Why don’t you have any milk?”
“You should know, sir,” said Miss Penelope, coolly. “Your soldiers came through, and took our cow and all the chickens.
They eat every day here—all that we have, practically. The villagers bring us some food for the children, as much as they can spare, and a little milk for the baby. God has provided through their kindness. I suppose you are Christian people to a point, and at least understand how God provides for the needy. We manage but barely….” Here her eyes flickered angrily, and turned to the impolite officer whom everyone could see ate a great deal more than was necessary.
Grandfather spoke up. “There’s only two cows left in the entire town. Their milk is not near enough for all the children.”
The captain’s expression hardened, and he turned to the soldier. “Bring their cow back.”
“Sir, it’s gone! That was weeks ago.”
“You come into a town, and take the last provisions these people have?”
“Sir, they’re the enemy! Our soldiers….we needed the livestock….we left…some….”
Just at that moment there was a slight commotion in the hall as the fourteen year old led the little ones past the dining room door, and out to play.
The captain pursed his lips as he observed them. Then he said to his officer, “from now on the men will eat army rations, not this household’s food.”
“Yes, sir,” said the man sullenly, and left the room.
“Thank you, sir,” said Miss Penelope.
“I do know the Scriptures, ma’am, and will not have the men under me taking food from orphans.” His eyes went to the baby, and he nodded to Sadie. “Take her.”
He turned, and followed his officer out.
Rose Anne was trying to keep the tears back, in spite of her relief. “Our mother died to keep us safe,” she said. “I want Gracie to be where she can be safe, and happy, and have enough.”
“We’ll take care of her,” Sadie promised.
Miss Penelope let Rose Anne feed the baby this last time. Gracie was content and sleepy when they changed her diaper and wrapped her in a blanket. Grandfather had made up a kind of harness so that Sadie could hold the baby in front of her.
“We could have done it Indian style, I suppose. If you want to wait, I’ll fix up a cradle board,” said Grandfather.
But Sadie wanted to get on her way before the captain changed his mind, or something more happened. The other girls gathered around to say their goodbyes, then Rose Anne carried her baby sister out to the barn.
Grandfather fitted the harness around Sadie, and she mounted. The old man placed the infant in the canvas cloth, and tied her in.
With a last sympathetic wave at Rose Anne, she turned Red Wind, and headed out at a trot. When she looked back, Grandfather had his arm around the girl, and her face was hidden in his coat.
It was a long ride back for Sadie.
She couldn’t allow Red Wind to go as fast as usual. The baby didn’t seem to mind the jostling. She fell asleep presently, and seemed content when she woke. Sadie knew it would be time to feed her soon though, and she was glad when they finally came into sight of the wooded area that led to the back pasture.
They arrived at the meadow and she carefully dismounted.
Sadie took the baby out of her harness and laid her on the soft grass. Then she removed Red Wind’s saddle. “Good boy. I’ll be back to take care of you.”
The horse instantly went to the stream for a drink, then started to graze.
Sadie picked up Gracie, and made her way through the woods. The baby was starting to squirm.
“Shhh… you’re all right. A little farther….and then we’ll be home….” But how was she going to sneak Gracie into the house? She didn’t want the the enemy soldiers to ask questions. Besides, she had secret messages from Grandfather for Papa to deliver. Some were to go to the families of the wounded.
At the edge of the woods, she watched as Papa changed the horses. The stage must have just arrived.
People were milling about, waiting. Others were entering the inn. A couple of British soldiers were talking to the driver. Any of them could look her way at any moment.
After waiting for some time, Sadie finally started walking from the woods to the barn.
She couldn’t hurry what with holding the baby, and the bag of supplies that had been sent along with her.
But they reached the barn safely and shrank into the shadows. Finally, edging to the front, she peeked around. No one was looking. She slipped in the big door, and with relief, leaned against the wall in the dark corner.
“We’re safe,” she told Gracie. “Soon we’ll get you up to the house, and everything will be all right. I’m just going to lay you right here for a minute.”
She laid the baby on a hay bale and on second thought, loosened the blanket and opened it. The child wiggled, and kicked, and gurgled. Sadie laughed. “That feels better doesn’t it. Oh!”
She jumped, and whirled around. But it was only Papa, leading a horse in. He was startled as well.
“Sadie! You’re home! What are you doing in here? I think it’s safe to go to the house. All the soldiers have gone into town except those two who are getting back on the stage.”
Sadie just stared at him, at a loss as to what to say.
“Daughter, are you well? You must be weary.”
“I—I slept at the orphanage, but not until two in the morning—”
“Ah, well, you do have a voice. Go in, and get something to eat. Why do you look at me so strangely?”
Suddenly there was a gurgle–or more like a squeal –from behind her.
Papa looked about. “Was that the cat? Your mother’s been looking for her all day. She got into a squabble with the Johnson’s puppy, and ended up getting the worst of it. She met her match, I think–”
Sadie took a deep breath. “Papa, I have something to tell you. I did something—I don’t know if you’ll like it….”
She moved aside and in the dim light, he took in the form of the baby–and his mouth dropped open. Now he was the one who couldn’t speak.
Gracie was in fine form, happy at being able to kick. She gurgled, and grinned up at him.
Sadie sat down on the hay bale, and took Gracie onto her lap, explaining it all to her father.
“Well….” was all he could say. Then he shook his head, and grinned as Gracie grabbed his finger.
Mother entered the kitchen with a platter of dishes, just as Sadie appeared at the back door.
“Oh, Sadie, dear—you’re back. I’m so glad you’re safe. Are you hungry?” She stopped short as the bundle in Sadie’s arms moved.
“I brought you something, Mother.”
Papa, coming in after Sadie, moved quickly to rescue the platter of dishes. Mother came forward, breathless..
Sadie relinquished the baby into her mother’s arms. Mother gazed at her husband. “John…we can keep her?”
He smiled, and nodded. Mother sank down on a bench, and cuddled the infant.
Finally, dinner was over, and the noontime dishes washed, and Red Wind groomed and comfortable. Sadie headed to her room for some sleep. The last thing she saw before disappearing up the stairs was Mother sitting in the old rocking chair on the porch, crooning to the baby.
It was then that she really knew she had made the right decision. God had given Mother her heart’s desire, and no one had realized until Gracie came, that it was their heart’s desire, too.
It was several months later.
Her parents were up to something. Sadie could just tell. So when she came in with the eggs one morning, and Papa said, “Sadie, want to go on a little trip with me?” she nodded, eagerly.
“Then go get Red Wind and we’ll be off.”
“Never you mind. Just go on.”
Her mother wouldn’t give her any hints either, just a secret smile as Gracie kicked happily. Mother had just given her a bath. The baby loved baths. She looked about in wonder as Sadie waved to her, and hurried
out the door into a bright, beautiful morning. Sadie had a feeling it was going to be a wonderful day. But she sobered then, for in these days of war, one never knew….
To be continued….