LIKE I SAID, my secret hiding place saved me and Maxine that day, just as I used to fancy it would. I’d stocked it well with sugar cookies, slices of smoked ham, even tins of food like Seth used in his guerrilla unit when he fought with Quantrill and his Raiders. Maxine, our house nigra, cook, and all-around friend to Seth and me, had given me a stone jar of water, pillows, and blankets to make it comfortable.
And, of course, I had my box of treasures: marbles I’d won from Seth at our last game; a blue feather from a peacock; one of Pa’s cigars, unsmoked, that I’d stolen from his desktop; some quills for a pen; a set of teeth from an animal that I like to think was a baby dragon found by the creek in back of the house; and my mother’s good pearl necklace that she gave me when I turned twelve. Right before she died.
Maxine was having some difficulty climbing the ladder to the tree house. I had to help her up. We spent the rest of the afternoon there. We ate the cookies and ham. We could see the house from where we were, disappearing in the smoke, belching flames from its windows.
And Pa, standing there alone one minute, alone in the barnyard, like he was cleaning his rifle, but waiting for the Yankees to return from the wheat fields. And in the next minute lying at the feet of the Yankees. Shot.
I didn’t love Pa. I never had. Not like I loved Mama and Seth. Pa was gruff and had a quick, hard hand to slap and no patience with a little girl. Seth knew how to handle him; I didn’t. Seth even bad-mouthed him, jokingly, calling him an old codger or some other term that Pa never seemed to mind. If I did that, I’d be put in a closet in the cellar and made to wait there until Seth talked him into pardoning me. Then Seth would come down and get me. "Don’t you know any better?" he’d say as I clung to him. "You can’t talk to him like that."
"You do," I’d sob.
Though they had their fights, Pa gave Seth freedom to "sow his wild oats" and would lecture him at the table the next morning. Seth yes sir’d and no sir’d him to death.
"He’d be disappointed in Seth if he didn’t sow his wild oats," Maxine told me.
Once, when Seth didn’t get home by four in the morning, Pa sealed up the house. Locked him right out. Seth came rapping softly at my window and I let him in. I got time in the cellar closet the next day, and Seth had to talk him out of my punishment.
I know Pa didn’t like girls. I know he’d wanted another son, instead of me. And he never let me forget it. For fatherly affection I went to Seth. Pa didn’t care at all.
Still, Pa shot! It was outside the realm of all family pettiness. He was still my father. Shot for what? For not giving out the whereabouts of his son’s guerrilla army unit? For not telling where their cache of ammunition was stored?
I shivered. Maxine put a blanket around me. "Pa’s dead," I told her.
"I know, chile."
"I’m an orphan. Will the authorities put me in an orphanage in Kansas City?"
"Ain’t no orphanage in Missouri will take you."
"Am I that bad?"
"No, ’cause you ain’t an orphan. You gots your brother, Seth."
"But he goes away to war."
"Seth ain’t gonna let anybody take you away. Not while he lives and breathes. Now you’re just a little girl. You just twelve. Seth is all of twenty-four. He old enough to care for you, even though he go to war. He gots me to see to you while he’s gone."
I hugged her. "We got to bury Pa."
"We wait for Master Seth," she said.
I looked up at her. "You call him ‘Master Seth’ now."
"Thas’ right. Thas’ respect."
"Do I have to respect him, too?"
"Wouldn’t hurt none if’n you did."
I giggled. "He’ll still swing me around, won’t he?"
She sighed. "Chile, it’s a different world out there now. I wouldn’t count much on anybody swingin’ you ’round."
I sobered. "I wager he would if I asked. Wouldn’t he?" All hope was gone from my voice.
Maxine sighed. "I wouldn’t ask, honey. I jus’ wouldn’t ask."
We were quiet for a while. The hours passed. I decided I didn’t like this world anymore. What kind of world was it if I couldn’t ask Seth to swing me around? The fire was down to smoldering and the afternoon blue turned to gray and my eyes stung from the smoke. My house was gone, my room gone. I wondered how the flowered bedspread had burned, if the dolls had stopped smiling, if my dresses and shoes had taken it well. I wished I had a newspaper so I could read about Sue Mundy. They had stories about her every day and I followed her doings avidly.
She was the only woman who rode with William Clarke Quantrill, the notorious leader of Quantrill’s Raiders. You couldn’t pick up a newspaper but there she was, in her women’s attire, sometimes in her men’s attire.
She fought as a man. Seth fought with her. But he would never talk about her.
I wondered what made her do what she did. If she ever had anyone to swing her around when she was a child.
We waited for Seth to meet us at the gates.
Copyright © 2008 by Ann Rinaldi
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.