Much thanks to Emily for hosting this fun event!
“Mama!” Cecily Andrews spun into the sitting room, sweat darkening her sky blue Sunday best. “Union cavalry – they took the fork.” Mrs. Andrews looked up from sewing, gray thread pausing above a gold shielded button.
“Oh Cece! And in your best dress too,” she uttered mournfully, her eyes roving over the muddy silk.
“Mama! Would you rather the Yanks catch us unaware?”
“I would rather,” her mother replied, gently shifting the stained wool to a side table, “that you had sent Mr. Jeffries.” Cecily’s mind flashed back to the horseless surrey, Mr. Jeffries protesting beside it as she dashed away on the roan horse.
“You know I’m a faster rider,” she replied. Mrs. Andrews smiled as she rose; Cecily had inherited not only her father’s copper locks, but his blunt honesty as well.
“Never mind then.” Mrs. Andrews smoothed the layered folds of her dress, a faint blush blooming against her cheeks; it was Mr. Andrews’ favorite. Breathing a soft resigned sigh, she faced Cecily.
“Now, you saw them at the fork, and as I see, took the shortcut through the creek. How much time, then, do we have?”
“No more than thirty minutes.”
“There can be no doubt of their intentions?”
Cecily grimaced. “They had hounds and two prisoners – and their leader was talking with Doctor Mills.”
Mrs. Andrews began to pace, feeling herself ill-equipped for the challenge ahead.
“It’s no use hiding him, Mama. Not from hounds.” Cecily’s tone was frank and practical. “We’ll have to take a stand.”
“Oh Cece,” she stated again, despair wavering her voice. “If only you had sent Mr. Jeffries instead. Neither of us knows anything of guns.”
“Nonsense Mama,” Cecily gaily answered, her hem dragging against the parquet floor to the gun cabinet. “All you have to know is how to point them.” She grasped the nearest one and paused, her quick blue eyes catching sight of a faded calico cloth atop a twig. Warm summer days of childhood play, tri-corner paper hats, and stirring speeches roused her memory – ‘Cecily’s Brigade’ her father had laughingly christened it, amid her mother’s genteel protests. The thought rushed through her mind into action; she whipped around.
“Make a stand we will, Mama,” she said, her eyes snapping merrily. “The quilting club – it’s meeting at Elizabeth Coburn’s today, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” murmured Mrs. Andrews. “You were supposed to have been there.”
With no time for the usual apologies, Cecily raised her fingers to her mouth, releasing a harsh whistle. She waited, a smile curling her lips as a tumbling thunder echoed from the stairs. Presently three boys, her younger siblings by seven and more years, stood before her. Feeling more the general of an army than Lee himself, she dispatched them quickly; the eldest to gather the great crimson flag that hung from the balcony, the middle – and fastest – was sent to Coburn Manor with a hastily scribbled note, and the last, a mere lad of four, was left close to tears at having no errand of greatness. At a sudden thought, she knelt beside him.
“Do you still have the drum that Papa gave you last Christmas?” When the curly head nodded, she flashed a bright smile, and sent him scurrying for it. Alone once more, she clutched at her bright tresses and shot a comforting glance to her mother.
“As Papa says, there is no sight more truly terrifying to man than a group of determined women. Hopefully that holds true for Yankee men as well.”
The quilting club traversed the mile from Coburn Manor with a not a minute to spare, and the hunting rifles were as quickly dispersed. To Cecily’s surprise, it was easier to convince them of her plan than she had thought. Quiet Mrs. Coburn, still in mourning from her husband’s death six months earlier, raised support among the murmuring women; where she led the others would follow. With dreamlike orchestration they fell together; the women rallied round, Cecily standing front and center, with Mrs. Andrews taking the left flank. With manly courage, her brother squirmed under the heavy flag; at a nod from Cecily, the youngest beat a simple and unnecessary call to arms, while the middle, acting as scout, ran to them kicking up puffs of dust, a hound yapping excitedly at his heels. Cecily’s heart shuddered as the main body of blue-coated troops appeared – their horses, sensing journey’s end, stepped high. Closer they came, till Cecily could see the lead rider’s epaulets, each sporting a shiny gold bar.
“Halt,” he ordered sharply, his voice cracking. He leaned forward in his saddle, staring with equal parts humor and concern at a sight that appeared to justify their long ride.
“This is the residence of Captain John Andrews?” he questioned into the crowd. ‘Oh the burdens of authority,’ he added to himself, shifting uneasily under the hot sun and the rifles directed at him. He wondered if the Southern women were as practiced at shooting as their husbands were. A girl by the rebel flag shifted her stance and stepped forward slightly.
“It is. Who are you?”
This was a step in the right direction. At least they had some civility – it followed then that they might also have sense.
“Lieutenant Wilbur Young.” Barking from the hounds stirred his attention. “Our dogs, as you see, have reason to believe that you are harboring a fugitive. Release him to us, and no harm will be done.”
“No,” was the simple and unwavering reply.
Stares from his men added to the sweat already hanging off his forehead. With good reason too… where in the West Point manual did they discuss defeating a gaggle of women and children, bristling with ancient firearms? His thick riding gloves fumbled for his handkerchief – reason enough for the girl’s rifle to lift sharply.
“Easy there,” he said quickly, as much to Cecily as to his stirring men. “Just a handkerchief, see?” he answered, swiping it between the broad navy hat and his brow.
“I see,” said Cecily, her lips twitching with nervous audacity, “that you must be surrendering.”
Mrs. Andrews murmured something to herself, then with closed eyes took a step forward.
“Sir; we don’t intend to raise trouble. We just mean to ensure that you don’t. My husband is wounded and will not be leaving this house.” Then, in a softer, quivering tone she added, “There is nothing you can do that will sway us, save shooting us all.”
“And that,” added Cecily, “would cost you your life.” He noted astutely that her rifle was trained on him alone. He touched his mustache thoughtfully, a compromise forming in his mind.
“Mrs. Andrews,” he finally stated, though his eyes never left Cecily’s rifle. “I can understand your commitment and concern for your husband – out of respect for these qualities I will leave him in your care a few weeks more, at which point I will return to collect him.” His shoulders relaxed; he could see that the wife was willing to let his deal stand. He doubted very much that Captain Andrews would be there when he came back, but better to lose one prisoner and his pride, than two prisoners and his life. The hounds were quickly retrieved and the main column headed back down the dusty road; he lingered, a grin on his face. The girl had yet to order arms. Following a sudden impulse, he turned back around. “Should Mrs. Andrews not be at home when I return, whom should I call on?” As he suspected, the girl in blue stepped forward.
“Miss Cecily Andrews,” she answered clearly.
He smiled; her blue eyes were staring at him with curiosity now instead of accuracy. Touching the brim of his hat in a casual salute, his spurs hovered for a moment.
“I look forward to it, Miss Cecily.”