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An Urgent Plea
Be still, Daisy! I'm sick and tired of fooling with you!"
Leah Carter, seated on a three-legged stool, slapped the glossy hide of the surprised Daisy, who turned to look at her and utter a long, low moo.
Leah endured the gaze of the enormous brown eyes of her favorite cow, then sighed heavily. Patting Daisy's heaving side, she said, "I'm sorry, Daisy—it's not your fault. I'm just not fit to live with today."
A rebellious expression on her face, she leaned her head against Daisy's flank and began milking again. Streams of white liquid drummed into the tin bucket, and soon frothy milk half filled the pail.
"That's enough for now. You'll need the rest of your milk for Suky." Daisy nodded her head as if in agreement, and Leah stroked the animal fondly between the horns.
"I'll bet if it were your birthday," Leah muttered, "Suky wouldn't forget it." Again Daisy mooed sympathetically—or so Leah took it. Her lips pursed, and she touched the curving horns for a moment, then whispered, "It's pretty bad, Daisy, to have your fifteenth birthday and not a single soul even notices it!"
She opened the gate, and Daisy ambled out of the stall, where she was greeted enthusiastically by her calf. Suky at once began having his evening meal. Leah watched for a moment, then picked up the bucket and started for the house.
Leah was a tall girl—too tall, she thought, calling herself "tall and gawky." Actually she was not gawky, though she was taller than most girls her age. She wore a pair of faded blue overalls that had once belonged to her brother, Royal, and noted that she was beginning to fill them out more than she had the previous year.
Her eyes were an odd color, sometimes seeming to be light green but at other times light blue. A relative who had been to sea once remarked, "Your eyes are just the blue-green color of the ocean at certain times of the year, Leah." Her braids, a rich blonde, came down almost to her waist. Leah was an attractive young woman—and on her fifteenth birthday she had hoped someone might even tell her so.
Reaching the fence that surrounded the barn, she slipped through the gate muttering, "At least somebody could say, 'Happy birthday,' you'd think!" Leah kicked at Max, the black-and-white shepherd dog that came loping up to greet her with his red tongue lolling. Her foot merely grazed him, but he let out a yelp and backed away, eyeing her cautiously.
"Get away from me, Max!" she said and then at once felt terrible. The two were very close, and she at once bent over saying, "I'm sorry, Max. Here. You can kick me if you want to—or bite me."
Max clearly had no desire to do either of those things. Being reassured by the note in her voice, he came forward again, tail wagging furiously. He licked her face, and, in an effort to get away, Leah stepped into a slight hole in the ground.
"Noooo!" she cried, finding herself falling. She tried to balance the milk, but as she went down full length, it sloshed down the front of her overalls. "That does it!" she muttered and threw the bucket blindly as far as she could.
"Whoa! What's going on, Leah?"
Leah looked up to see Ezra Payne, who had approached without her noticing and now came running. He put a hand out, saying, "Here, let me help you up."
"I can get up by myself!"
Leah scrambled to her feet and felt her face flush with embarrassment. She stared at the boy defiantly. "Well, go on and laugh. I can see you want to."
Ezra Payne was seventeen with warm brown eyes and mahogany colored hair. Since he had come to live with the Carters, the two had grown to be very good friends. Ezra could never forget that she had practically saved his life.
Ezra had escaped from a Confederate prison camp close to Richmond, and it was Leah who found him almost dead with fever. She hid him on her uncle's farm and, along with Jeff Majors, arranged his escape. Ezra was an orphan with no family at all and had been glad to stay on and work for Leah's parents as a hired hand.
Leah was usually good-tempered, but now her brows were pulled down in a frown, her lips in a thin white line. She seemed to be daring him to laugh.
Ezra hesitated, then protested, "Why, I wasn't laughing." He brought back the bucket, saying mildly, "Everybody falls down once in a while."
Leah wanted to snap at him. She had already lashed out at Daisy and at Max—but that had not been very satisfactory. She had carefully hinted to Ezra more than two weeks earlier that her birthday was on June 15. Yet he had not said one word. But then, neither had anyone else! She said almost bitterly, "The older I get, the clumsier I get."
She started toward the house.
Ezra walked along by her side. He acted almost afraid to speak. He was a mild-mannered young Northerner, and living in Kentucky had been a trial for him. Leah knew that. He had learned that Southerners had a great deal of pride, and now Leah, angry and with the front of her overalls soaked with milk, must have looked rather formidable.
"Well," he said cheerfully at last, "your pa'll be back pretty soon, and maybe you and me can go with him on another trip to take stuff to the soldiers."
Leah's father was a sutler. He sold supplies and Bibles to the soldiers of the Union army. Leah had gone with him on earlier trips and so had Ezra. Ordinarily the thought of such a trip would have pleased her, but she said stiffly, "I don't want to go out on any old wagon."
Actually she would love to do that very thing, for following the army had been adventurous and a great deal of excitement. Her father believed that God had called him to distribute Bibles and tracts to the troops, and Leah had thrown herself into this work with a great deal of pleasure. Now, however, she was upset and simply shook the braids that hung down her back in an angry gesture and walked up the front steps.
Ezra followed close behind her. "I think we're gonna have fresh pork chops for supper."
"I don't want any old pork chops!"
She marched into the house and started for her room, but her mother called, "Leah, come into the dining room, please."
Rebelliously Leah shot a glance at Ezra, who was standing watching her. Then she flounced down the hall and into the large dining room, expecting to see her mother.
"Happy birthday! Surprise! Surprise!"
Leah stopped as abruptly as if she had run into a wall. The dining room was packed with people. With a startled gaze, she saw a huge cake sitting in the middle of the table, while on each side were piled colorfully wrapped gifts. Her mother stood behind the table along with her nineteen-year-old sister, Sarah. Sarah's arm was around ten-year-old Morena. Several neighbors were there, including the sons and daughters of the families that lived close, and Leah felt absolutely awful.
Ezra came in to stand beside her. He grinned broadly, catching her eye. "Well, you're all dressed up for your birthday party, Leah."
Leah looked down at her faded, ragged blue overalls soaked with milk, and she blushed. "This is awful!" she said.
She turned to go, but Ezra caught her by the arm and held on. "What's wrong?" he asked. "You look all right to me."
Mary Carter, Leah's mother, stepped out from behind the table. "This was mean," she said, but there was a smile on her lips. "But we wanted to surprise you."
"Well, you surprised me all right," Leah said ruefully. She felt ashamed of the way she had been acting and managed a smile. "Let me go change clothes, and I'll be right back."
She ran back to her room, but when she opened the door and stepped inside she stopped abruptly. There on the bed was the most beautiful dress she had ever seen. It was light green with small white flowers, and it was made of silk. Leah knew her mother had made it, laboring over it secretly, and she squealed with delight. Stripping off her old overalls, she quickly washed her face at the washstand, then slipped into the dress.
Now she saw at the bedside a pair of brand-new shoes, the ones she had longed for for a long time, high-topped, light tan shoes with high heels. She pulled on stockings, then put on the shoes and quickly arranged her hair in front of the mirror. She was shocked at how mature she looked in the new dress. And it fit perfectly!
The party was a complete success. Besides the new dress from her mother and the shoes from Sarah, there were smaller gifts from the others. One that took her breath away was handed to her by Ezra. It felt heavy, and with excitement she pulled the paper off. When it was peeled away, she took a deep breath and said, "Ezra, it's beautiful!"
It was a wooden box made of walnut, exquisitely carved and finished with a high sheen. She lifted the lid and saw that the inside was lined with green felt. When she looked up, Leah's eyes were glowing. "It's beautiful!" she repeated.
"You can keep all your jewelry in there," Ezra said, rather embarrassed.
One of the boys from the next farm grinned. "Or all those love letters you get from Jeff."
A laugh went around the room, and Leah flushed. She stroked the lid of the box and said, "We always had our birthdays together—Jeff and me—before the Majorses left for Virginia."
Sarah came over and put her arm around her younger sister. Sarah was a beautiful girl. She had dark hair, dark blue eyes, and a creamy complexion. She said, "You'll have your birthdays together again when this war's over."
The mention of the war threatened to dampen everyone's spirits, and Mrs. Carter quickly said, "Now, let's have some more ice cream. Ezra, you can turn the crank."
When the party was over and everyone was gone, Leah sat on the front porch with Ezra. The two had been quiet for some time, and finally Ezra said, "Have you heard from Jeff lately?"
"I got a letter two weeks ago."
"What did he say?"
"He said he thought there'd be more fighting soon." She turned to face him and shook her head. "I worry so much about him—and about Royal."
Ezra had given his parole not to return to the Union army, but Leah knew he remembered some of the terrors and hardships of the war.
He said, "Well, I guess all we can do is pray for them."
Leah reached over and patted his hand. "Yes," she whispered, "I guess that's all we can do."
Sarah was standing at the window when a tall, rangy man on a tall, rangy mule pulled up in front of the gate. A smile touched her lips. She had always thought that Pete Mangus and his mule resembled each other a great deal. Pete carried the mail in the mountains close to Pineville, Kentucky.
Sarah hurried out to meet him. The sun was high in the sky, and this spring of 1863 had been the mildest that people in Pineville could remember. "Hello, Pete," she said. "You have some mail for us?"
"Shore do." Pete fumbled in the leather bag slung over the mule's shoulders and came up with a small packet of letters. He shuffled through them and nodded. "Got two. One's from your pa, looks like. And the other is the one you been looking for, I reckon." Pete grinned down at her and handed her the letters. "That young Rebel you're so sweet on shore keeps the mail hot, don't he? But you was sweet on him before him and his family left to go South."
Sarah sometimes got upset with Pete, who felt that his status as mailman enabled him to know all the private business that went on between those who exchanged letters. However, everyone in the valley knew that she and Tom Majors had been, as Pete put it, "sweet on each other" before the war. Now, however, Tom was in the Confederate army, and her own brother was in the Union army. A great problem, but that's the way it was.
She longed to open the letter from Tom at once but knew that Pete would demand to know exactly what it said, so she said, "Stop on your way back, and I'll give you some of the gingerbread I'm making."
Sarah hurried into the house and opened Tom's letter, which was brief. Sitting at the kitchen table, she read it slowly, savoring every word. As she read, she could see Tom's face. He was tall and dark and handsome like his father, Nelson Majors, a Confederate captain, and like his brother, Jeff, who was a drummer boy in the same army.
Sarah's lips grew tight, for Tom wrote of the hardships that the people of the South were enduring. She knew he did not do this to arouse pity but simply to relate the facts. He did not mention the fighting that was to come, but her heart contracted as she realized that a young man in the Confederate army—or the Union army for that matter—had little chance of escaping without at least being wounded.
The last paragraph said,
I love you more than I ever did, Sarah. I'd give anything if we could get married and raise a family. I know that can't be, the way things are, but I can keep hoping anyway. Don't forget me.
Sarah put the letter down and sat for a long time staring at it. There was a sadness in her that she could not contain. Finally, with a sigh, she folded the letter and picked up the other one. It was not from her father.
She did not recognize the handwriting at first, and when she opened the letter she looked at once at the signature at the bottom of the page. "Abigail!" she whispered and smiled. But when she began to read, the smile left her face almost instantly.
Abigail Smith had been her best friend since early childhood. She had married a young man from the North named Albert Munson. It had been one of the saddest moments of Sarah's life when her friend moved away to Pennsylvania. Now as she read Abigail's letter, lines appeared around her eyes as she frowned at the fine script:
You'll be glad to hear that I am going to have a baby. You remember how much we always talked about how nice it would be to have a baby to take care of—well, Al and I are very happy to announce that we're going to be a mother and a father.
But I must also tell you something else, Sarah. I've tried not complain since I've been here, but I've been so lonely. I was spoiled when I was home, and here I've had rather a hard time. Albert has been gone with his regiment, and he has almost no family. I have met several people and have tried to make friends, but the Northern people here are suspicious because I come from the South.
What I'm trying to say, Sarah, is that I'm going to have this baby—and I'm terribly afraid because I don't have a single close friend to be with me. I know it is awful to ask this, but is there any way that you could come and stay with me at least until the baby comes? I have the money to send you for your fare, and it would mean so much to have my best friend here during this hard time. Please try to come. I'm depending on you.
Sarah put down the letter and frowned. She had been apprehensive about her friend's marriage, for Abigail had indeed been spoiled. Sarah had liked Albert at once, but he was very young and apparently had very little money.
She got up and walked through the house aimlessly. She sat for a while beside Morena, smoothing her sister's blonde hair and helping with the game she was playing. Morena was ten physically, but would never be more than two or three years old mentally. She was a sweet, very beautiful girl and won the hearts of all who saw her.
As Sarah guided the youngster's hands in a simple game that involved a stick and a ball, she tried to imagine what it would be like to be in a strange place with none of your own family and be expecting a first baby. And even as she sat there, she made up her mind.
I'll have to go to be with Abigail. Somehow I just have to!
Sarah said nothing to anyone until late that night. Just when her mother was getting ready to go to bed, Sarah stopped her. "I want to talk to you, Ma."
"What is it, Sarah?"
Sarah took Abigail's letter from her pocket and handed it to her mother.
Mrs. Carter read it quickly and looked up. "You want to go to her, don't you?"
"I have to, Ma. She's the best friend I've ever had—and she's so alone and so frightened. Will it be all right?"
"It will be all right with me." Then a thought seemed to come to her, and she said, "One thing troubles me. They say that the Confederate army might be planning to invade the North again. Doyou suppose they would get as far as Pennsylvania?"
"Oh, I don't think so," Sarah answered quickly. "But in any case, I'll have to go."
Mrs. Carter had the same blonde hair and green eyes as Leah. She was a warmhearted, strong woman, and now she made an instant decision. "Your father may worry about you, as I will—but I think it's the right thing for you to do."
Two weeks after that conversation, Sarah settled into her seat and looked out the open window of the wood-burning train. Her father was on the platform, and her mother, and Leah, who was holding Morena's hand. They all waved furiously, and as the train picked up speed, she called out, "Don't worry about me! I'll be all right!"
She could not hear their answer as the train left the small town station, but she waved until they disappeared from sight. Then she listened for a while to the clicking of the steel wheels over the tracks and felt a touch of fear. It was a long way to Pennsylvania, and she had never gone anywhere by herself—not this far at least. But then she thought, I'm nineteen years old, and God will take care of me!
These two facts reassured her, and Sarah Carter leaned back and watched the trees rush by as the train moved steadily north.
Excerpted from Bonnets and Bugles Series Books 6-10 by Gilbert L. Morris. Copyright © 1996 Gilbert L. Morris. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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