Elizabeth walked the floor of her parlour, balancing Jacob on one hip and stopping frequently to peer from the windows out into the coming night. Samuel had returned from Sawyer's Mill with the assurance that Adam Thoroughgood would pay a visit this evening, and it was a visit that Elizabeth was awaiting quite anxiously. Jacob squirmed and fussed in her arms, the transference of irritation from mother to son, and his cries increased the pace of her steps.
It was nearly dark when Thunderbolt brought his master to the Miller farm. She saw Samuel greet Adam in the yard, both men solemnly shaking hands and walking towards the house. She put Jacob on his blanket and steeled herself for the discussion to come.
"Missus Miller.." said the somber Adam, taking his hat off and sitting at the table. Samuel soon joined him, as did Elizabeth. The perfunctories out of the way, Elizabeth took a deep breath and related the story that Bessie had told her, keeping her confidences and telling the gentlemen the news as it was, strictly word-of-mouth from a trusted source. She was mildly surprised to not be questioned, each of the men nodded in turn.
"Yes ma'am. I can believe it." said Samuel. "When I was in town jus' yesterday, I seen too many new folk for it not to be true. The White Mule was crawlin' with some fearful lookin' men, Miz Dolly. A body don't see that many guns around without somethin' brewin'."
Adam chimed in agreement: "I have been known to frequent the Mule on occasion myself..." he leaned back in his seat, "and talk around lately has grown to include a tale of the capture of a runaway slave from over at Keller's Landing, I believe he was from the Potter Plantation? Nevermind that, but he was beaten to broke. Now, he didn't mention Joe by name, but he did tell of some places he was told he could find shelter. That doesn't speak well for any of us..." he trailed off. "He also gave some credit to the story that Skeet Jackson had been spreading around about that militia that's been giving the bounty hunters so much trouble."
At the mention of the word 'militia', Elizabeth shifted a bit in her chair. She thought nothing of it, but the two men across from her knew her movements better than that. When her gaze rose from the table before her, it fell on two sets of eyes peering intently at her. She relented. Time to confess.
"I'd hardly call it an army.." she shrugged as she briefly recounted the visitors and events of Christmas Eve to the men. Both looked incredulously, first to her, and then to each other.
"Miz Dolly..." said Samuel, "You never said?"
"It hardly seemed important at the time. What is one fool bunch of men to another? But it was bothering me, they were traveling all wrong. No one in these parts will travel like that with their negroes, you know that, and one of them had stayed in the barn before, I recognized him. There wasn't enough time for him to go north and come back, and the other man, the one that was hurt? The white fellas hauled him out of here right quick." She brushed aside the thought of the irritating man and their argument in the stall, but there was a new blush to her cheeks as she continued. "They were in a hurry to get him out of here, but that was wrong too, in a way. They cared about him, but they were running from something. It was all wrong, and it plagued me something fierce, I can tell you that, but when Joe was here talking about Jackson's ghosts, I knew. There wasn't any thirty men hiding in the woods. If that negro lived through the night, my guess was there was about four of them..."
At that moment, they were startled by a series of sharp knocks at the door. Elizabeth nodded to Bessie to take Jacob upstairs, Adam drew his pistol into his lap, and Elizabeth rose to open the door.
"Joshua!" she exclaimed. "Tonight?"
The wrinkled little man simply nodded at her and withdrew from the light pouring from the door. "There was horses on the road, Miz Elizabeth. Too many men out for it to be safe, that's for sure.."
"Mister Thoroughgood? Would you mind?" Adam quickly stood, grabbed a lantern and went out into the night. She saw him open the barn door, and turned again as the little man still lingered on the porch. "What is it?"
"There's a man, Miz Elizabeth, he took it pretty bad before he left. We been having to half carry him, and I'll bet the devvil he was knocked blind as well..."
"Sure enough." she answered. "Samuel, would you see to him? There is a box behind that chair in the parlour, iodine, and bichloride of mercury if he can stand it."
"Yeah, Miz Dolly, I can see to it."
As the men went to settle the travelers in the barn, Elizabeth went to the cabinet and took out Will's rifle.
In a few minutes, Adam returned to the house. His offers to stay the night at the Miller farm were flatly refused.
"Missus Miller, if there is going to be trouble tonight, I'd rather you let me stay. There aren't enough.."
"I won't hear of it, Mister Thoroughgood." she interrupted. "Suppose that group of Montgomery's went on tonight? Suppose they found out about Sawyer's Mill and take it upon themselves to burn it flat to the ground? We can't risk that. A little protection here and there is enough for tonight... Those people in the barn tonight are going to need some assurance of a place to go tomorrow, and if anyone does come here tonight, it will seem mighty suspicious, them finding you here." She paused as Samuel entered the house, nodding to them that the barn was secure for the time being, and left again. Elizabeth took the opportunity to busy herself putting Jacob to bed and leaving Bessie to watch over him.
"Missus Miller," said Adam, a note of masculine finality edging his voice, "I can't in good conscience leave you folks here tonight."
Elizabeth grabbed Adam's hat from the hook by the door and tossed it towards him. "And I can't in good conscience let you stay." Half jokingly she continued, "Will thought a good deal of you, you know, and you and I have become such friends...it would be a shame to have to shoot you now..."
Adam studied her a moment, hardly trusting the coy voicings issued from her grim, set face, but ever being a man to trust fate to do right by the world, he left Miller's Farm.
The remainder of the night was quiet. Samuel had come in late, bid his goodnight, and left Bessie in the house at his mistress' bidding. Elizabeth saw the young girl to bed, and with the breath of sleeping children filling the house, she began herself to relax a bit. She finally went up to her room, unpinning her hair and letting the length of it roll down her back as she climbed the stairs. She put on her long gown, crawled into bed and blew out the lamp, but sleep refused to come. She lay there for the better part of an hour, staring at the ceiling and imagining every noise to be intruders despite the sleeping dog at her feet, before she gave up and lit the lamp again. She wrapped the bedquilt around herself, took the rifle with her, and went downstairs. She went out on the porch, cautiously peering into the night, and sat on a chair. Half asleep and half watching the road, she listened as the sky let loose with a gentle spring rain, it's lulling patter on the roof making her mind drift. She caught herself, balanced the rifle across her knees and nervously drummed her feet on the floor in an effort to wake herself, but sleep stole across the porch on a breeze. Her eyelids grew increasingly heavy, and each blink lasted longer than the one before, until her chin fell to the quilt and she drifted into a restless slumber.