29 April 1810, Forbe’s Road west of Greensburg, Pennsylvania
The ornate carriage clattered down the forest road, pulled by four black horses, driven by a gray-haired fat man whistling in the cool morning air. Trailing the coach by thirty feet were three mounted soldiers, one of them an officer.
Bert stood in the shadows. Expensive carriage, expensive horses, expensive escort: all signs of a rich haul of loot. Whiskey and women for a month, even after splitting it four ways.
His partner, Tom, nervously scratched the back of his hand in anticipation. Somewhere down the road, behind the carriage, hid Sam and Jeb. Old Jeb was in charge and had taught them that rich people wouldn’t resist if they thought you just wanted the gold. Bluff ’em, tie ’em, kill ’em. Easy as picking apples.
Bert grinned at the sweet voices of women, chatting and laughing. Women were part of the loot, to be enjoyed elsewhere, at leisure.
The musket shot echoed through the forest and the officer cried out in pain, clutching his leg; his horse reared in terror, tumbling him to the ground.
Bert slapped Tom’s arm. “Let’s go!”
The driver was gawking over his shoulder when Tom grabbed the reins of the lead horse, halting its progress. The driver’s head snapped forward and his eyes widened when he saw Bert’s blunderbuss pointed at his belly.
“Hands in the air, old man!” Bert shouted.
The driver scowled, then raised his hands. The two soldiers sat on their horses, hands up and muskets in the dirt. The officer struggled to his feet, and Sam clobbered him on the head, knocking the man to his belly. One of the soldiers reached for a saddle pistol.
“Hands off the gun, boy! You move, you die!”
Jeb’s gruff voice to their rear startled the soldier, and he quickly raised his hands.
“Do what we say and nobody gets hurt!” Jeb hollered. “We just want your money so we can feed our starving families. Give us that and we’ll be on our way, and you can go unharmed. You have my solemn word of honor.”
Bert grinned. All according to plan.
He opened the carriage door and peered inside. Rich white woman on the right, Negro servant girl on the left. Both gorgeous. Both terrified.
“Nuthin’ to be ‘fraid of.” Bert climbed inside the carriage. The women drew back at the sight of his blunderbuss. He chuckled and smiled. “How ’bout a kiss for Bert?”
To his surprise, the lady smiled and nodded, and as he leaned forward her eyes closed and lips puckered up, awaiting his kiss. Their faces were inches apart when something walloped the side of his head and a dazzling shower of sparkles filled his vision. The carriage floor hit him in the face. Furious, his world spinning and flashing, he pushed away from the floor. Something sharp punched into the side of his neck, then cut its way out the front of his throat. He inhaled to get enough air to call for help, but sucked in only warm fluid; his arms and legs lost their strength and the carriage floor pushed against his face with a warm, sticky wetness.
Tom held the reins as Bert shoved his way into the carriage. There was a hollow thump, then a woman’s voice screamed. Jeb had ordered them to be nice until after everyone was tied up, and as the woman began to beg for mercy the soldiers became anxious and started to panic.
“Steady, boys, or I will gut shoot you and leave you for the birds!” Jeb roared.
The woman began begging Bert to please not cut her dress all the way off, then began to wail piteously about damage to her favorite petticoat.
Tom grinned; Jeb was furious, and if he shot Bert for breaking the rules they’d split the loot three ways instead of four.
Jeb glared at Tom. “Get him out of there before he hurts that lady.”
Tom nodded, anxious to please Jeb, but more anxious to see Bert’s handiwork. He moved to the left side of the carriage, brandishing his musket at the driver. “You’re getting killt won’t help anyone. Keep them hands up!”
The woman was blubbering about her ruined silken shift when Tom opened the carriage door and peered into the gloom. Bert lay on the floor, eyes open, body twitching slightly, blood pumping from a gash in his throat as a fully dressed lady continued screaming and—
A scrawny Negro girl crashed into his chest, toppling him backwards, holding on to his shirt and riding him to the ground while his arms flailed for support. He hit hard and she scrambled over him, all knees and elbows, and disappeared into the bushes at the side of the road.
Stunned and gasping for breath, Tom rolled his eyes toward the coach in time to see a pair of lady’s boots directly overhead, connected to a pair of plump legs, moving downward at a frightening speed. The momentary view up the skirt was breathtaking, and then those boots and their owner landed on his chest, crunching bones and expelling air. He tried to move, to get her off so he could breathe, but she was too heavy. She stood there, staring into his face, indifferent to his suffering, and her eyes, oh, dear Lord, her eyes!
Jeb watched in fury as the two jackasses did their best to ruin his brilliant plan. Worthless hicks! Bert’s in there ravishing some girl while Tom let the pretty servant escape and got himself squashed by the fat lady. Now she’s just standing there on his chest, probably all shocked and sorry. Serves him right.
“Looky here, missy,” Jeb bellowed in his most intimidating voice. “Get off him or we’ll give you something to scream about!”
The lady straightened and regarded Jeb as if aware of him for the first time. She stepped off Tom and walked toward him, coquettishly, hands behind her back, breasts thrust forward, her voluptuous cleavage well displayed by an expensive dress shimmering of green and gold. Her hair, loosened in the jump, tumbled all curly and black around the pale skin of her shoulders, and somewhere above those magnificent breasts was a pretty face and well-rouged lips, he was sure of it.
Jeb exchanged grins with Sam and handed him the musket. The two pistols in his belt would suffice. He’d bind her first, then the men. She’d cooperate after a few slaps and punches, they always did. “If the soldiers move, kill ‘em”.
He stepped toward the lady, and froze.
She stood twenty feet away, ramrod straight, motionless except for her slow, deep breathing, her right side toward him, her head turned sharply over her right shoulder. Her hands were no longer behind her back, and each held a pistol, hammer cocked, ready to fire.
Startled, he glanced at her face—
Flashing blue eyes locked onto his, eyes fearless and merciless, eyes reflecting the blue-hot lightning of God’s judgment upon the wicked. He was the prey, and she acknowledged his horrifying insight with a faint, cold smile.
Long before Jeb could move or cry out—long, long before he had time to reach for a pistol or run for the trees—her pistol flashed upward, and when the sights touched the bottom edge of her eye, the massive black bore beneath those sights vomited fire and brimstone. Jeb’s world went black, and Jeb’s soul shrieked into eternity.
Dolley Madison waited, the empty pistol now jammed under her left arm, the loaded pistol in her right hand. She continued to breathe slowly, deeply, and soon the remaining thief began to appear through the thinning smoke. He stood with a musket in each hand, his foot on Major Brown’s neck, his eyes wide, stunned amazement having replaced lust; her eyes locked onto his, and his amazement dissolved into fear, and the fear became, ever so slowly, desperation.
It was time.
His right eye came into focus as if it was the only thing in the entire world, wide and bloodshot, iris brown, pupil tiny; in a moment the pistol sights would touch it and then it, too, would vanish behind the white smoke.
The eye jerked toward her, and her pistol sights followed it downward until the man crashed to his belly with a grunt of expelled air and the clatter of dropped muskets. Sukey, her servant girl, released the man’s legs and scurried over his back, entangling her small hand in his hair, then yanking back his head to expose his throat. The man grimaced in pain, eyes rolling in fear as he groped for the girl.
“Freeze!” The loud voice, guttural and commanding, came from Sukey! She pressed the tip of her knife into the side of his neck, between Adam’s apple and spine, breaking the skin.
The man froze. Blood oozed from the small wound in his neck and dripped onto the road.
Sukey screamed to the sky, a whoop of sheer joy, and when she lowered her head Dolley recognized the fearless gaze of a predator, improbably etched on the face of a shy fourteen-year-old girl who feared the world and its inhabitants.
Sukey grinned, and Dolley, though shocked at the transformation, lowered her pistol and returned the grin.
“Sergeant!” Major Brown pushed himself into a sitting position. “Secure the perimeter!”
Hands raised and eyes agog, the two militiamen broke out of their trance and dismounted. Retrieved muskets in hand, they jogged to the carriage, scanning the forest for additional threats. Brown staggered to his feet, wincing with pain.
Sukey giggled and moved the knife from the thief’s throat to his forehead, the edge cutting into the hairline, then cackled at his terrified groan and made a face. “Phew! He just messed his pants, Mizz Dolley. Can I have his scalp? I bet the fort pays for ’em!”
Blood oozed from the cut on the thief’s forehead, flowing into desperate, weeping eyes as he babbled faintly for mercy.
What’s gotten into Sukey? Little Miss Wallflower never raises her voice, seldom speaks more than necessary, and—will she really scalp that man? Does she know how? “Not today. Please give him to the Corporal.”
Sukey nodded, managed to drive the man’s face into the ground with her foot as she stood, then watched as the Corporal tied his hands and led him away. She dropped the knife and wiped her hands on her dress, then stood quietly. Whatever overcame her had passed, and now she looked as bad as Dolley felt.
Dolley laid the pistols on the road and embraced the girl. She stroked the girl’s hair, her own hands quivering. “It’s all over, Sukey. All over.”
“All clear, Major,” Sergeant Jones said. “Just those four.”
“Thank you, Sergeant. Dispose of the bodies and let’s get moving.”
Four of them? I guess there were. She released Sukey and turned in the direction of the Major’s voice. “Steven, how long until . . . .”
At her feet a dead man sprawled in a puddle of blood, his face frozen in terror, a black hole where his right eye should be, the left eye seemingly staring right at her. Is this how poor Alex looked after Aaron killed him? Unbidden, the face of Alexander Hamilton flashed into her mind with an expression matching that of the man at her feet. She backed away, her entire body trembling, and ran for the carriage. A man lay in the dirt, blood gurgling from nose and mouth as he fought to breathe.
She cried in anguish and reached into the carriage for her shawl. The carriage floor was a pool of blood, dripping onto the road. In the middle of the pool lay a man with two mouths, one below his nose and another across his throat, gaping raggedly at her.
She backed away, shaking violently, vision blurred by tears. I killed them. I murdered them. God forgive me, I murdered these men!
She began to retch and ran into the forest, ignoring the frantic voices calling after her.
Dolley didn’t know how long she knelt in the moss. She’d vomited until there was nothing left to vomit, cried until she ran out of tears, and then just knelt there shivering on a hot day without being cold, praying for forgiveness but not knowing what to ask forgiveness for. She felt sick and miserable and alone in a way she’d never felt before.
Still nauseated, she stood to return to the carriage, then realized she didn’t know in which direction to find it. She whirled around, looking for a clue, and seeing none, whirled around again. She started to call out to the others, then remembered the thieves and realized that there might be more within earshot. She recalled the evil in the eyes of the man as he climbed into the carriage, and she shivered in fear. The sun darted behind a cloud somewhere overhead, and the forest seemed suddenly a dangerous, lonely place. What have I done? I’ve run off like a little girl and lost myself! How will I find them? How will they ever find me?
A man cleared his throat, nearby; she jumped, startled by the noise, terrified of who it might be.
“Mrs. Madison, it’s Sergeant Jones. I can take you back whenever you’re ready.”
They emerged from the woods together, she on his arm. Sukey stood at the carriage door, also miserable and sick, eyes red from crying. They embraced. The thief Sukey had captured was leashed by the neck to the rear of the coach. The thief she’d squashed lay beside the carriage, unconscious and cocooned in ropes. Dried blood covered his face and matted his beard, and his every breath was a gurgle.
Major Brown hobbled over. “Madam, the coach has been washed out, and we’re ready to resume travel.”
“How is he, Steven?” she asked quietly. “Wind knocked out of him?”
“Sternum crushed, several broken ribs, one of which lanced a lung. He’ll live until we get to the fort, but after that . . . .” he shrugged. “We were about to lash him to the cargo platform.”
“Please untie him and place him in the coach. Sukey and I will tend him. What was done with the bodies of the dead thieves?”
Brown pointed. “We dragged ’em into the woods. The forest critters will dispose of them.”
“That is not acceptable. They must have a Christian burial. Please see to it.”
“Madam, that will take an hour or more. We must get to Lafayette.”
“Major, please see to the graves. When ready, we’ll have a short service.”
“Since you didn’t slay them, Major Brown, you have no say in the matter. Do it! I will say a few words over the graves.”
Brown nodded and motioned to the two soldiers, who retrieved pick and shovel from the coach and followed him into the forest.
An hour later they stood beside the freshly filled graves. The carriage driver and the prisoner had carried the injured thief to the grave site on an improvised litter. When all were present, Dolley recited from memory the verses she’d heard all too often at family funerals:
“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain. Amen.”
Without another word, she turned and retraced her steps to the coach, her arm around Sukey, sobbing without knowing why.
They resumed their journey to Fort Lafayette, and the injured thief lay on his back on the forward coach seat, wincing in pain at each jolt and occasionally expelling blood in gurgling fits of coughing. Dolley and Sukey frantically did their best to make him comfortable. As the hours passed, the only relief were the rare smooth parts of the road, when the coughing would stop and the man actually seemed to rest. During one of those, he beckoned to Dolley.
“Ma’ am, thank you for what you done for Bert and Jeb.”
Dolley again wiped sweat from his forehead. “Please rest, don’t try to talk.”
“And thank you for taking care of me.” Tears welled up. “I don’t deserve it.”
“I am just doing my duty before God. ”
“When I die, will you say those things about me like you did for them?”
Dolley was horrified. “You are not going to die. The surgeon at Lafayette can heal you.”
“Will you, please?”
“Yes of course! But once we arrive at the fort—”
The man smiled his gratitude, then died.
Dolley didn’t realize she’d been screaming for help until Major Brown tore open the carriage door, saber in hand, looking for someone to kill.
“Madam, are you all right?”
“He died. We were just talking and he died.”
He sheathed the saber. “It’s going to be all right. We’ll give him a Christian burial like the others.”
She accepted his help in dismounting, then clutched his hand. “The other thieves were Bert and Jeb. I don’t know this man’s name.” Horror washed over her, and she buried her head against his shoulder. “I murdered him and I don’t even know his name.”
She wept without knowing why, and he led her away from the carriage, saying soothing things that didn’t help, holding her gently, which did. She felt Sukey’s small hand in hers and she pulled the girl into their embrace, her thin body shaking.
In time they gathered around the grave, and she recited the same verses as before.
Leaning on Sukey for support, she returned to the carriage and they huddled together, weeping. Minutes later Major Brown climbed into the coach, sat facing the two women, and signaled the driver to resume travel. He shifted his position and winced.
He’s wounded! “Steven, I apologize.” She gestured toward his leg. “How bad . . . ?”
“I’ll live.” He shrugged. “Driver cleansed it with cheap rum and we stopped the bleeding. Musket ball’s still inside, but the Fort Lafayette surgeon will get it out.”
Guilt sickened her. No wonder he was anxious to resume traveling, he must be in terrible pain, and every minute that thing remains in his leg increases the chance of infection. I may have killed him by insisting—
He touched her cheek, slid his fingers under her chin and lifted her face from her hands until she could see his smile.
“Madam Dolley, I was so focused on getting to the safety of Fort Lafayette I forgot to tend to your wounds. And they are far more serious than mine.”
“Wounds? I am unharmed.” Sukey! But the girl shook her head, puzzled. “I don’t understand.”
“Taking human life, even when justified, is horribly traumatic. A soldier spends hundreds, perhaps thousands of hours drilling with his weapon, visualizing his first kill. If he must take life in combat, he does so surrounded by his fellows. After the battle, they sit around the campfire and talk about the day’s work.”
“They brag and tell tall tales?”
“No, that comes later, when they are home with friends and family. The campfire talk is where they rehash all that happened. The good, the bad, the unexplainable. Joyful things, such as saving the life of a friend, raise the spirits of all on retelling. The despair that accompanies tragedy is divided among the group, and lessened. In this way soldiers learn from each fight, and mentally survive to fight again.”
“I have never heard of such a thing”
“Soldiers seldom talk about it. In your case, I failed in my duty to help you talk your way through the day’s events. Let’s do so now.”
Dolley clenched her hands to take her mind off her nausea. “This is a really bad time.”
He took her hand, gently, and held it. “Madam, please trust me on this. Talking will help. You don’t have to justify anything, just tell what happened.”
Sukey sat with her head cocked, watching him with a wide-eyed curious expression.
“Have you heard about this before?” he asked.
Sukey nodded, and began to recite from memory:
“A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to defend, and a time to attack;
A time to spread joy, and a time to share sadness;
A time to kill, and a time to capture;
A time to scalp, and a time to question;
A time to burn flesh, and a time to slice off their—”
“Stop!” Sukey’s voice had progressed from a quiet sing-song to an enthusiastic chant with ever more violent hand motions. What’s gotten into her? Dolley studied the girl’s face, now sheepish. “Where did you learn that?”
“Quakers taught me,” she said, quietly.
The Quakers? Major Brown glanced at Dolley, puzzled, and she shrugged.
“Did you kill one of those men?” he asked Sukey.
“Yes, sir. Don’t know if I could do it again.”
“You must be able to do it again if the need arises, to protect your mistress. Tell the story, take your time and leave nothing out.”
“Mizz Dolley and I were discussing venison recipes when we heard the shots and shouting. Her eyes got all funny and she began breathing the way women do when they give birth. She removed those two pistols from a wooden box I’ve never seen before, placed them on the seat and covered them with her dress. She handed me that silver knife and told me to hide it until it was time to use it. She kept breathing funny so I did the same.
“Then that evil man climbed into the carriage. I’ve never been so scared in all my life, but Mizz Dolley smiled at him, like he was a Federalist congressmen at one of our parties. She coaxed him all the way in and bashed him with her pistol and he fell to the floor, face down, right at our feet. He tried to get up, so I pulled his head back by the hair, stuck my knife through his throat in front of the spine, and cut outward.”
She told the story with building enthusiasm, pantomiming the slashing motion, then froze, as if she just realized what she had said. She sat back, face stricken and hands trembling. “I killed him.” Her voice quavered, no longer certain. “Did I do right?”
Major Brown nodded. “That’s how Rangers silence enemy sentries. Where did you learn that method of killing?”
“That’s how you butcher a pig. Any other way and they get all excited and the meat tastes funny.”
“Oh. What then?”
“Mizz Dolley told me she was going to distract the enemy by screaming, and I was to run into the woods as fast as I could, and stay there until it was safe. She started pretending the dead thief was cutting off her clothing, and got cross when I started to giggle.”
“I was afraid you would get me giggling as well.”
“Then that other man, the one we just buried, opened the door, so I ran over him and went straight for the woods like I was told. When I saw that Mizz Dolley wasn’t behind me, I circled back to see if she needed any help. She had her pistol pointed at one man, so I tackled the other one.”
Major Brown furrowed his brow, as if he wanted to ask the girl more questions. Dolley certainly did, particularly about Sukey’s threat to scalp the man, and whether she even knew how to do such a thing. She bit her lip: one problem at a time.
“Thank you very much, Sukey,” he said, smiling. “That second thief could have easily killed Mrs. Madison or me, and I’m very grateful.”
Sukey grinned and nodded, and Major Brown turned toward her with a smile. “Madam?”
Oh, why not. Dolley talked through the events, mechanically, even those already covered by Sukey.
He nodded. “Your screaming gave us a terrible fright.”
“My father once told me wolves come to feed at the sound of a screaming rabbit, but come to fight at the sound of a screaming wolf. I didn’t want them to know we killed that thief and start shooting into the carriage. So I, well, started screaming about the kinds of things men like to do to women.” Sukey was grinning, Major Brown was biting his lip, and she felt her face getting warm. “Things that I’d heard about, from others.”
Brown nodded. “Where did you learn to duel? That was magnificent!”
“A tenant at my mother’s boarding house taught me, a long time ago. Later, he introduced me to Jemmy, and gave us those pistols as a wedding present. We both enjoyed shooting rabbits from the saddle, and whenever I needed to relax, I’d lock myself in the bedroom and duel myself in the mirror.”
“No. Never more than a dozen times a day. Usually.” Both were staring at her, and she continued, softly. “Six years ago, my friend killed Alex Hamilton in a duel. I’d forgotten that my relaxation ritual was designed to murder, and it made me sick to think about it. I never dueled again and locked those pistols away. A hundred times I meant to destroy them, but was never strong enough.
“Last week James insisted that I bring them for protection.” She pulled a hanky from her sleeve, wiped her eyes and blew her nose. “They are cursed. When we get to Lafayette I’m going to have them destroyed.”
Major Brown was studying her. “Your friend is Aaron Burr.”
“Yes.” She put her head in her hands, then raised it when he chuckled.
“I know Colonel Burr, and have the greatest respect for the man. Those pistols are not cursed, but tools you wielded with supreme skill to save our lives.”
“Thank you,” Dolley said. “Today was very different from dueling myself. As I walked toward the man time began to slow. We seemed to regard one another for minutes before I decided to . . . end it. My arm crept upward, and when I caressed the trigger smoke obscured the man, but I didn’t hear the shot or feel the recoil. It was very strange.”
“What you experienced happens on rare occasions in battle. Time slows, perception is altered, some senses are sharpened, others dulled. We can’t control it, it just happens.” He smiled. “You see, from my perspective, you stared at each other for a few short seconds. And I wouldn’t describe your hand as having ‘crept upward’. It moved with the speed of a striking rattlesnake.”
“Rattlesnake?” Is he joking? Sukey was grinning at her and nodding.
“One other thing. After Sukey screamed the Cherokee war cry, you responded with a malevolent chuckle and the two of you exchanged the most ferocious grins I’ve ever seen on two ladies.” He chuckled. “Forgive me, but I thought I was witnessing a lioness praising her cub’s first kill.”
That was a Cherokee war cry? Malevolent chuckle? Lioness? Sukey covered her mouth with both hands and blushed.
The carriage rattled to a stop, and the driver poked his head inside. “I’m sorry Major, but we need to halt here for the night and make camp. The fog has moved in and I don’t want to risk getting lost or tumbling down a ravine.”
“We’ll talk about this again tomorrow,” Brown said. “Remember, you didn’t murder those men. That’s what they were trying to do to us. You killed them in self-defense, and by doing so you saved the lives of the rest of us. What you did was brave and noble. I will be forever grateful to you both.”
They dismounted, and were still stretching when a soldier shouted for Major Brown. “Horses on the road ahead. About a dozen, riding hard”
“Ladies, into the trees and lie low. Soldiers, to arms! Do not fire until I give the word.” Brown swung into the saddle, checked his pistols, drew his saber and held the tip an inch from the thief’s nose. “One word from you and I’ll take your head.”
Dolley and Sukey stood together in the trees, peering into the night, listening to the distant beat of hooves. She’d left her pistols in the carriage, and was considering dashing to get them when the horses seemed suddenly closer and Brown called out, “Who goes there?”
The horses reined in.
“Lieutenant Samuels from Fort Lafayette. We’re looking for the Madison party.”
Light from the carriage lamps glistened off sabers and carbines and pistols: they were armed as Dragoons, but their uniforms were the fringed buckskins of U.S. Army Rangers. Dolley said a quick prayer of thanksgiving and left the trees. Sukey stayed close beside her. She glanced down, expecting to see the girl cowering and in need of reassurance; Sukey cradled a blunderbuss, studying the new arrivals. The girl nodded to herself, then carefully lowered the hammer into the half-cock position.
Dolley laughed for the first time in hours and hugged the girl. That’s my cub!
Lieutenant Samuels knew the way in the dark and he guided the carriage around many pitfalls as they jolted over the amazingly rough road. The moon had set before the sun and towering oaks blocked the starlight. Dolley could hear, rather than see, the Rangers riding about the carriage.
The road circled about some hills and smoothed considerably, and one of the men shouted in the window that the distant lights were from the village of Pittsburgh. Soon the log walls of the fort loomed ahead, lit by enough torches for her to read the large “Welcome Dolley Madison” banner over the log gate.
The carriage clattered into an acre-sized parade ground bound by two-story buildings. Lanterns and torches revealed several hundred soldiers in formation, standing at attention. Major Brown had galloped ahead and was speaking to a medium-built man with white hair, presumably the Regimental Commander. Brown began swaying and collapsed just as the carriage squeaked to a halt, and Dolley clambered out to help him. No need. The Colonel was shouting orders and soldiers were moving. In seconds, a man knelt beside Brown examining the wound with the air of a surgeon, and a stretcher arrived to whisk him away. There was a loud thud! and screams, then a huge Sergeant Major emerged from behind the carriage effortlessly dragging the bound thief by a rope tied to the man’s ankles, making no effort to avoid rocks and tree roots. He soon disappeared into the darkness between two buildings.
A woman rushed up, introduced herself as Gladys Scott, wife of the Colonel. She led Dolley and Sukey to her quarters.
“Our guest room is quite small, as you can see, so I’ve made arrangements to billet Sukey in the servants’ quarters across the road.”
Sukey’s eyes reflected the queasiness in Dolley’s gut. “After what we’ve been through today we simply cannot be separated. I’d much rather be crowded than alone tonight.”
Gladys nodded. “Certainly, Madam, I’ll have—”
“Just Dolley.” She smiled. “Please.”
Gladys nodded and returned the smile. “I’ll have soldiers bring a cot. Would you like to eat while your baggage is brought in?”
Gladys led them to the well lit dining room dominated by a finely crafted oak table which held platters of sandwiches, bowls of steaming soup, and a kettle of tea. She motioned for them to sit, then gasped. “Your dresses are covered in dried blood! Are you hurt? Is your servant hurt? Let me get the surgeon!”
“We’re fine. This is the blood of the other thieves, not ours.”
“Other thieves?” Gladys bit her lip. “Tell me tomorrow. Let’s eat, and then get you into bed.”
Dolley noticed Gladys studying her and Sukey, asking and answering questions at a pace driven by her guests rather than her own curiosity. She avoided topics related to the day’s incident though she was obviously curious about the details, and watched for the subtle clues indicating that her guests wished to retire. Dolley decided she liked the woman, and determined to tell her every detail of the attack, no matter how painful, at the earliest opportunity. She stood, thanked Gladys, and shepherded the yawning Sukey into their room. Per Gladys’ insistence, she left their bloodstained dresses on the floor outside their room.
Dolley startled awake, breathing hard, images of groping attackers and helpless defenders fresh in her nightmare-addled consciousness, the last grabbing her by the hair as she lay helpless—and was still grabbing at her hair! She scrambled backwards and banged her head on the wall before realizing the sinister apparition at the side of the bed was Sukey, watching her with wide, white eyes.
“Justa nightmare, Mizz Dolley,” she whispered. “I thought stroking your hair would help.”
Sukey had horrible nightmares the first couple years after Jemmy bought her, and Dolley used to stroke her hair to calm her. Dolley shivered and hugged her knees. “How did you know?”
“The way you were thrashing and moaning and calling for help.”
“Did you have any nightmares?” Sukey nodded. “Would you like to snuggle up together in my bed?” Sukey nodded again.
Dolley held open the covers and the girl crawled in.
Some time later, as Dolley lay sleepless, Sukey began muttering in her sleep. The words were indistinct, but just before quieting down she could have sworn the girl chuckled.