They came up the rough packed earth drive at the crack of an autumn dawn, four of them looking redeyed and mean, fat and exhausted in the saddle, and the sound of their harnesses, spurs, and Colts slapping and clinking in the faint sunrising light sent shivers of fear into the heart of Patience Locke, a woman who had so far done no crime except to think a new and bold thought. She through the borrowed blanket around her and ran tothe window sash, opening it quietly to peer out at the horsemen pulling up in the farmyard. She raised a silent prayer of thanks that the midwife from Montgomery's plantation had hastened back to her hiding place once the new, now sleeping, Jacob had begun his time on earth.
She tucked loose ends of hair under her cap, raised herself and tightened and trimmed her dress. Elizabeth would not be up to this conversation, and there was noone else to do it. She quietly grabbed the candle in its holder from the bedside and as quietly as she could lit it with a still-red ember from the footwarming pan. She turned and went downstairs to raise Samuel from his sleep by the kitchen fireplace.
She heard their boots assembling in the yard as she reached the front door and determined it was best to face it cleanly. She opened the front door and slipped out, raising her candle in the shadowy predawn, fixing a look of haughty offended superiority on her tired face.
"Good morning, gentlemen, if that is what you are. What is the meaning of this visit from strangers? State your business!"
Montgomery was a veteran of twent-five years of marriage, and knew better than to cross the sign.
"Good morning, ma'a'm. We're on an all night ride up from Batelle where my plantation is; my name is Montgomery. These men work for me. A group of my nigrahs has taken off or been stole, and I am in pursuit of my property under the law. We would be grateful if we could impose on you for some refreshment and perhaps some information concerning these nigrahs."
"I sympathize with your situation, Mister Montgomery. I would offer you refreshment and rest if I could, but this place will not suit your needs today. I suggest you ride on to the Locke plantation, another six miles north-east from here, where I am sure you will find breakfast. This house is preoccupied with the needs of a woman giving birth at presenty and cannot support any additional demands. A woman's life may be at stake. And I ams ure there is no information here of the sort you are seeking."
Montgomery stared into Patience's blue eyes, his low anger at his loss and his pain and his inconveniencing simmering. She met his stare with complete frankness, and something else -- he had seen the look before. She was a thin-boned woman, but she pinned him in his dirty saddle with a look of unflinching will that told him he would not make any headway discussing the issue. They stared for a good twenty seconds, weighing each other like a pair of fighting cocks although neither moved a muscle.
Montgomery reached up slowly, and tipped his broad hatbrim briefly.
"I understand ma'am. We would not wish to intrude on so important an event. Locke's place, ye say? Heard of him. Thanks for your kindly advice."
He wheeled his mud-spattered mount and trotted down the winding driveway, his fat and dirty goons in close formation, and the squeak of saddle girths and the clink of pistols and bits faded into the dawn mist.
"Looks like you'll do to go down the road a piece with, Miss Patience!", Samuel said softly.
To the surprise of both of them, Elizabeth's voice joined the conversation.
"Yes, my dear. Thanks and well done. You have saved us an ugly situation ths morning!"
Patience turned, blushing sligtly, and smiled up at her new friend, and then stared in a moment of shock as she saw her drawing the long and deadly squirrel gun back in through the window casement and putting it back in the tall armoire by the window.
"Dear Jesus," she thought to herself. "What have I done?"