Doctor Harding’s stern warning had stopped the drunken men for the moment, but it wasn’t long before they boldly moved into the hospital tent again. A nurse near the door was unable to stop them as they asked loud questions, and stared at patients.
Tom couldn’t believe this was happening. They’d been so relieved to make their escape through the swamp safely. But now this….
“Quick,” said Nurse Evans, as she hustled the fugitives into hiding places. They stashed their rifles under a cot, then Ethan and his father lay down on two of the empty ones. The nurse pulled blankets up to their chins, and they faced the tent wall.
Doctor Harding was unwrapping the bandage on Nate’s leg. Tom, whom the intruders didn’t know, of course, sat next to his brother. He was worried. Nate had not come through the trip well.
The nurses, in their long billowing skirts, blocked the drunken men’s view.
One of them turned and faced the men. “Sirs, please leave,” she said in a no-nonsense tone. “You’re upsetting the patients!” But they just shoved her aside.
At that moment, the doctor turned and bellowed, “didn’t I tell you men to get out. I’m examining a very sick man, and may need to do surgery! Now go!”
He motioned to some orderlies. They each grabbed one of the men, and escorted them out of the tent so quickly that they could hardly get their balance.
“And stay out!” This time the orderlies stood guard at the entrance to make sure the men did as they were told.
It wasn’t long before both doctors were hovering over Nate and examining his wound.
“Well,” Doctor Hardy winked at Tom. “I guess we won’t have to do surgery—but it’ll surely get infected if we don’t get it cleaned up.” He scowled at Doctor Haskins. “Getting swamp water and mud in the wound certainly hasn’t helped.”
They gave Nate something to put him out for a while, gestured at Ethan and Tom to leave them, and got to work.
Tom stopped to see Caleb and reassure him that Nate would be fine, then they wandered to the door.
“Are they gone?” Ethan asked the orderlies, who had resumed their work.
“I think so. We saw them going for their horses. Doc suggested someone unsaddle your horses so it would look like they belonged here. I gave them water and they’re in the paddock, grazing. Your gear’s in the shed.
“Thank you,” said Ethan. “That was good of you.”
“Not everyone thinks you’re Tories,” said the orderly. “A lot of us know better. And your father’s done good work around here for a lot of years. He’s a well-respected doctor. We don’t like what’s happened to you all since the war started.”
Just then there was a shout. They turned to look, and saw Sam hurrying toward them, swinging on his crutches over the rough ground. As usual, Tom was pretty sure he was going to end up falling, but he made it just fine.
“They’re coming back! You’d better get hidden!” urged Sam.
They ducked under a canopy which shielded a small kitchen area. A man had a fire going, and several skillets and a large kettle were steaming . He was apparently cooking supper. The boys hid behind some cases of supplies and sacks of bread.
The drunken men, now on horseback were approaching. They brought their galloping horses to a skidding stop. They seemed emboldened—perhaps they’d been drinking some more from the flasks that were sticking out of their jacket pockets.
“We’ve got more men coming,” they boasted. “We’re going to search this place from top to bottom, and that doctor can’t stop us!”
Sam lurched forward, angrily. “How do you know these people you’re looking for even came here? Did you see them come out of the swamp?”
“It’s the only way they could have come. They escaped and it had to be through the swamp!”
“We’re going to go back and get help!” said the other.
“I thought you said they were already coming!” smirked the orderly.
“Uh, well….” The man’s looked angry at himself, and confused. He pulled out his flask and took another drink.
“We don’t have to go anywhere. We’re setting up camp right here. I think they’re in there and they’re not going to get out! We’ll wait all night if we have to,” shouted the first man, defensively.
Tom had had enough of this. His friends had to leave. They needed to get to Uncle Josiah’s in order to really be safe. They had to have help to get all these people arrested after what they’d done–destroying property! Besides, with these drunken men around, the patients were in danger. He’d heard them moaning and stirring restlessly, wondering what the commotion was all about. That couldn’t be good for them.
His face grim, Tom suddenly remembered that he had a weapon—and reached into his pocket.
He pulled out his sling shot. And he usually had a few stones in his pocket, as well. He wiggled out from his corner and rose up in the shadows. Thankfully it was dusk by now; the sun was setting over the swamp.
“What are you doing, boy?” asked the cook, grinning.
“Yes, what are you doing?” Ethan looked to see what he had in his hand.
Tom fitted a stone in his slingshot, and pulled back, aiming carefully. He let it go!
The stone hit the flask with a loud clang. The man dropped it on the ground as his horse shied, frightened at the noise. The man was busy trying to control the mare, as another stone hit his companion on the arm.
They finally got their horses under control, and one pointed down at Sam. “Did you do that? You throwing stones at us, old man?”
The man grinned and leaned down, picking up a large rock and throwing it as hard as he could. He missed but he picked up another one. The cook gleefully got into it.
“You’re not wanted here! You were told to leave. We don’t cater to people burning down other people’s houses! Now get out!” The cook tossed a pot at them, then another.
“Wait, wait!” urged Ethan.
“Don’t hit the horses,” said Tom. “It’s not their fault.”
But apparently the two had had enough. They turned their horses and bolted.
“Thank you,” said Ethan, “But our family doesn’t believe in repaying evil for evil. We’ll fight to protect my sisters and our servants but….”
“Oh, it’s all right, boy. They’re a couple of cowards. They just wanted to show off and capture you and your father if they could. We wouldn’t have hurt them.”
“Do you think they’ll come back with the rest?” put in Tom, suddenly realizing that he might have confirmed their suspicions.
“I don’t think so. They think it was me,” said Sam. “They’re scared of us now. ”
Ethan finally laughed. “That was a good shot, Tom.” He picked up the flask which had a large dent in it now.
Tom tucked his sling shot back in his pocket, and picked up some more ammunition to replace what he’d used. The nurses appeared at the door, wondering what all the noise was about.
“They’re gone,” Sam told them. “I don’t think they’ll be back.”
“Well, they’d better not be!” said Miss Evans, scowling.
It was fully dark by now—and suppertime. The cook insisted that the boys have some soup. They noticed that other fires around the camp had been started. The nurses and orderlies carried in trays holding plates and bowls of food for the men, though there didn’t seem to be much. There was soup and bread, that’s all. But at this tent, there was a little beef and chicken, as well as a supply of small frosted cakes. Nurse Evans had bought the cakes in town with her own money, not out of the supply that Ethan had given her earlier.
She insisted the boys have one.
“But there’s not enough for all these men, are there?” Tom surprised himself again. Wouldn’t Aunt Abigail be amazed that he wasn’t only thinking of himself, these days.
“Oh, most of those men aren’t able to eat them. But the ones who can will be surprised.” She smiled happily, as she took the sack into the tent, after they had taken out two, and one for Sam, as well.
It was nearly midnight before they decided to head out. Robert had gone on ahead and missed the whole episode with the drunken men. He should have gotten the council members up and the constable and judge appraised of the situation by now. Maybe the vandals and even been arrested.
Nate was awake and feeling better, though he would stay at the hospital as Doctor Hardy watched for infection or fever.
“But you go,” Nate told him. “Take them to Uncle Josiah’s and get them safely into the house. There’s a back way. Take a left from the main road before you get to town. There’s a trail that leads around to Uncle’s place.”
But they hadn’t counted on the determination of some of the townspeople, nor of how they’d humiliated the two drunken men. The two were determined to get revenge. Most of the mob had gone home to their suppers and some had already been visited by the constable. But a dozen men on horseback decided that it wasn’t over yet. They were hiding along the road to town…ready to ambush any of Doctor Haskins’ family or friends who ventured by.
And meanwhile, back at the hospital, under Nate’s cot, were the weapons, forgotten in the excitement.
To be continued
By Carol Bennett
Verse–Romans 12:17 NKJV