“What is it, boy?” she wondered.
Sam took off in the direction of the woods. As they approached the thicket, Sam lunged ahead, forcing Abigail to lift her skirts and break into an unladylike run. Still, Sam reached the site of his concern before her.
Abigail arrived panting, her chest heaving as she stepped around a dense shrub to see the source of the dog’s distress. Her hand flew to her mouth as a gasp escaped her lips. A man lay face-forward in the leaves, his head resting on his forearm. A stain of crimson colored the right side of his gray uniform.
Staring at the wounded man, a million thoughts raced through Abigail’s mind. Why was he here? How had he been shot? And who was he? But all these were quickly erased by one more pressing question.
“Is he still alive?” she wondered, taking a tentative step toward him.
Leaning cautiously over him, she noted the shallow rise and fall of his chest. Peering over his shoulder, she could see the contours of his left cheek. “Barely,” she whispered, horrified. Gaunt, his skin as gray as his uniform, he appeared to be clinging to life by only a fragile thread.
“Oh dear God,” Abigail whispered. “Sam, you stay with him,” she ordered the dog, who seemed to understand as he lay down next to the injured soldier and licked his hand.
Turning on her heel, Abigail hurried back to the house, rushing into the kitchen in a hurricane of whirling skirts and rushing words.
Lizzie huffed, wiping her dark hands on her apron as she stepped away from the stove to command, “Calm down, child!” Taking in Abigail’s wide eyes, she queried, “What on earth’s the matter?”
“A man!” Abigail tried to explain, “in the woods—“ she pointed in the general direction where he had been found. “He’s been shot, and he’s barely breathing!”
“Lawd have mercy!” Lizzie exclaimed. Turning to the young black girl sweeping the kitchen floor, she snapped, “Ruthie, you take those biscuits out when they gets gold brown on top and stir that pot, you here?”
Ruthie nodded obediently, the broom held immobile in her hands.
“We gonna need some help bringin’ him in,” Lizzie thought out loud. “Better see who’s in the stable.”
Abigail followed Lizzie breathlessly to the barn, standing back as the cook explained to the stable master and groom, “We gots a ‘mergency what needs your help. Follow me!”
Washington and Abel immediately dropped their tasks and made to follow her. Lizzie turned to Abigail, who quickly led them to where Sam waited with the invalid. They found him exactly as Abigail had left him, head resting on his arm, unconscious.
“Good boy, Sam,” Abigail patted the dog’s head as he left his vigil to stand beside her.
Washington lowered his bulk to the ground beside the young man, shaking his head. “He ain’t too good off, Missy. I think he half-dead already.”
Lizzie knelt down beside Washington, her nimble fingers pulling back the layers of clothes which covered the wound to examine the bullet’s point of entry. “I bets I could get that shot out,” she mused. “Ain’t infected yet… I’s thinkin’ he just plumb worn out from runnin’ and never havin’ no good food.”
The stable master stared at the cook incredulously, his dark eyes round and his second chin wobbling beneath his first. “This here ain’t no kitten, Lizzie. That’s a Rebel soldier!”
“You think I don’t know that?” the little woman retorted, unperturbed by the large frame towering over her. “Bring him to the house. I hide him in the cellar.”
Abigail released the breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding.
“You can’t hide no Rebel at Bloomin’dale!” Washington sputtered. “You out of your ever-lovin’ mind!”
“What you gonna do?” Lizzie came to her feet, just barely taller than the big man when he was kneeling. Hands on her narrow hips, she lifted her black eyebrows in challenge. “Shoot ‘im? He ain’t one of your horses.”
The stable master’s black skin flushed red as he growled in reply. “You gots to promise to tell Mastah Sterret. I ain’t risking my hide for no damn Johnny Reb.”
Abigail stepped forward. “I’ll tell Papa. I know he’d want us to help.” Her mother, on the other hand, was an entirely different story.