The spy network continued on. The tasks of running the inn never ended. But everyone had time for the baby. Sadie liked feeding her and rocking the cradle, and on this particular morning, Papa sat in the kitchen doing nothing at all but jostling Gracie on his knee.
Sadie stooped to pick up the baby’s cap. Gracie was always pulling it off, and throwing it on the floor. The baby laughed, and grasped Sadie’s long braid.
Finally Papa rose and handed the child over to Mother. “We really do need to be on our way. Sadie, go on and get Red Wind.”
Her parent’s secret mission. Sadie wondered yet again what it was. It didn’t seem to have anything to do with the war.
“You’ll meet me at the road?” she asked. “I’m to go out through the woods, as usual?”
“No. Bring him here,” said Papa. “All the guests left on the morning stage. It’s safe. And don’t saddle him.”
Quite perplexed, she ran out to the hidden meadow, disregarded the saddle that she always had ready, and walked Red Wind to the inn.”
“I don’t know what they’re up to,” she told her horse. “They’re acting mighty strange.”
But as she brought Red Wind around the corner of the barn, Sadie stopped short, staring, for there was their wagon—and it was loaded! Baskets of apples from their own orchard,
barrels of potatoes, a crate of bread. Canning jars of vegetables. A jug of molasses. Another of their own maple syrup.
And Brown Betty was all hitched up and ready to go.
“Bring Red Wind. He’ll help pull the wagon this time,” said Papa.
“What is all this?” asked Sadie, as she led Red Wind to the wagon, and Papa starting harnessing him.
“Can’t you guess?”
She looked over to where mother had come to the open door, holding the baby.
Suddenly she knew. “The orphanage! These are things for the orphanage? But where did it all come from?”
“The townspeople. They all gave something. And look at this.” He pulled up a burlap sack to reveal….
“A whole side of beef?”
“That was the butcher’s gift. And Sadie,” he looked down at her, and put a hand on her shoulder. “How would you like to have another sister?”
Her eyes widened. “Rose Anne? We’re going to get Rose Anne?”
“Mother and I think Gracie should have her big sister with her. What do you think?”
Sadie couldn’t stop grinning. She ran to her mother, who was beaming at the surprise. Then she kissed Gracie good bye. “You be good. We’re going to bring Rose Anne back!”
She hurried to the wagon, and climbed up happily. Food for the children! And how excited Rose Anne would be!
The miles passed quickly. Brown Betty seemed to step lively with the energetic young colt beside her.
“The only thing is,” mused Papa, “we can’t bring a whole wagonload of food in without someone noticing—not even by night. I’m wondering if we should load it on the horses, and bring it in a little at a time. Even then we may be seen. We mustn’t let it be confiscated.”
“The captain was nice, Papa. It will be all right, I think. Remember, he ordered his men not to eat the children’s food.”
Sadie was beaming as they approached the orphanage. It was wonderful to be back, and to have surprises to share. Better yet, there didn’t seem to be many soldiers around. The ones that were over by their tents didn’t seem to care whether they were here or not. Papa passed the pond and drove on, right up to the porch.
They found the seven, eight, and nine year olds having a science lesson in the dining room with Miss Penelope. Grandfather was teaching the older girls history and geography in the parlor. After greeting their surprise guests, Miss Penelope allowed the girls to go running out to see the gifts that had been brought.
Sadie introduced Papa, then Miss Penelope told them, “what a perfect time to come. Most of the soldiers are gone right now. They went off on a raid, or to a meet up with a battalion, or something. They’ll be back though. Probably today.”
They trooped outside to find the little girls jumping up and down in excitement, or petting Red Wind, whom they all remembered. Grandfather soon got them organized.
“Look at the Lord God’s provision! And just in time, too, as always. Get in line, children, and we can have this unloaded and hidden in just a few minutes!”
Even the youngest ones proudly helped by carrying in a bag of vegetables or a jar of preserves.
“And look,” exclaimed Sadie. “From the shopkeeper. Just for you.” She presented Grandfather with a small bag of coffee.’
“Come in, and have dinner, and visit!” Miss Penelope said, excitedly.
Just then Grandfather gave her a look but she imperceptibly shook her head, with a tiny frown. And hovering nearby, Sadie heard Miss Penelope whisper, “no—we can’t impose on them…it could take hours…what if they’re caught….”
Sadie didn’t think much more about it, for she was just about bursting with the rest of the news, but she minded her manners and waited for Papa to tell it. They all gathered around the table, with the older girls serving the noon meal. Rose Anne was busy asking Sadie about her baby sister—and almost missed the conversation between the adults.
But she heard enough. “Me? You want me to stay with you, too? And be with Gracie?” The girl turned to Sadie with rapture on her face. “And be your sister? I’m sorry Miss Penelope. I love it here—but to be with Gracie!”
“It’s right that you be with your sister, dear.”
Papa grinned at Miss Penelope. “That’s quite a statement of what your home is like. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of someone wanting to stay in an orphanage.”
The woman smiled, “I know—especially with the way we work them.” She looked fondly at her oldest girls.
“But it’s like a family—except it’s a really, really big one,” said Charlotte, as she went by with a tray of stew for the men upstairs.
The adults sat about the table enjoying some of the precious coffee, while the younger girls washed up the dishes, and went about their duties, or out to play.
Finally Papa rose. “We should be going, I suppose, while we safely can. We’ve probably lingered too long already.”
That look between Grandfather and his daughter again. Finally Miss Penelope turned to Papa.
“Sir,” she said, “I know we’re always asking things of you and your daughter, however….”
Papa smiled. “If there’s anything I can do to help before we leave, of course I’d be happy to.”
Grandfather drummed his fingers on the table. “You may be sorry you said that.”
Miss Penelope took a deep breath. “One of the men upstairs—he’s very ill. He told us that…well, not far from here is an old abandoned mine. He and a friend hid there for some time before he made his way here, looking for help.” She paused again. “I don’t know if you’re going to believe this but—he says they brought gold with them.”
“For our cause. The troops need it badly. He tells me that General Washington has such a hard time getting Congress to give him the supplies he needs.”
“And you want me to bring this gold out? Is his friend still there?”
“They were both badly wounded, and he was quite sure that his friend had died. The man had been unconscious, and didn’t seem to be breathing when he left.” said Grandfather.
“He wanted us to go for the gold,” said Miss Penelope, “but I have several very sick men right now. I haven’t dared leave them. My father, as much as he’d like to, really can’t tramp around in a mine. I don’t know if he’d be able to climb back up once he got down there—never mind carry gold.”
“Where did it come from?”
“Actually, that’s been disputed. It came from a British schooner, who took it from an American ship, who originally captured it from pirates—Spaniards, I think.
Both the British and American ships sank in battle, and these two survivors dived for the gold and were able to salvage some of it. These men decided our troops needed it more than the British.”
“All right. Anything to help the war effort.”
“Thank you. I promised him—though I had no idea how I’d do it. I supposed I’d have to take the older girls, and we’d try to carry it up ourselves, and get it on to General Washington. The man thought he and the troops have moved on to Baltimore.”
“That’s a long ways from here. You’re all very brave,” Papa told her.
“No more than you folks, I’m sure.”
A sudden voice from the door broke through, startling them all. “More visitors, Miss Penelope?”
They all whirled and stared. The captain stood there!
They were too late once again.
“Sir…I….” Miss Penelope looked quite guilty.
The captain glanced down at Sadie, recognizing her.
Grandfather came to the rescue, trying to salvage the situation. “They have come for Rose Anne. You remember the infant? She is the baby’s sister.”
“Hmm.” He suddenly changed the subject, and addressed Miss Penelope again. “Show me your hospital!”
Miss Penelope mouth hung open. The man almost smiled. “Ma’am, if you’re going to carry on unlawful activities, you should learn to control yourself better when you’re caught.” He sobered. “Now, if you please.”
They knew it was over. The woman glanced at her father and around at the girls. She took a deep breath, and led the captain up the stairs.
They returned to the first floor sometime later.
“I knew something was going on right under my men’s noses. As a British officer, I must put these men under arrest to be transferred to prison when they’re well.” He paused, deliberately. “I will leave it to you, ma’am, with your expertise, to decide when each is able to be moved. Probably not before the end of the war, I should think.”
Miss Penelope pursed her lips in surprise. “Sir, I believe you could be relieved of your duty for this—or worse.”
“As we discussed before, ma’am, my Christian faith determines that the sick and needy come before my so-called duty. Though you are right. I could be. However, I have a condition. If you would pledge to me that you will not let these go back to the fighting, I will not speak of these “members of your household” to anyone. It looked like many of them aren’t long for this world anyway. They would never survive prison, that much is certain.”
“I give you my word. I’ll meet your condition. ”
He looked around at them all. “Oh—this war—” He closed his eyes and sighed heavily. “Why couldn’t you people just be loyal subjects of the crown, and save us all from this– horror.”
“Sir,” Papa ventured. “The taxes—the treatment—it was unbearable—we are free men.”
“I know all the talk and arguments,” the captain interrupted gloomily. “But all kings can be stubborn, and all parliaments make foolish decisions sometimes.”
He turned to Sadie and Rose Anne. “The infant? She’s doing well?”
Sadie brightened. “She’s wonderful.”
“She is happy and healthy,” said Papa, “but we believe she should have her sister with her.”
“Yes. Families should be together.” And he sighed again, and finally nodded to them all and left.
“He seems so distressed,” said Rose Anne.
“Yes, he does.”
“I hope he doesn’t get into trouble for this.”
Papa agreed, then said briskly, “let’s be on our way before he changes his mind. One of us will be back after dark, Miss Penelope, to let you know what we’ve found and if we can get it out.”
Soon they were off. Sadie wondered if there really was any gold, and how they would ever get it to General Washington.
And what was wrong with the British captain? Why was he so troubled?
To be continued….
By Carol Bennett