A Place of Peace

A Place of Peace by Iris Penn

Book: A Place of Peace by Iris Penn Read Free Book Online
Authors: Iris Penn
speak, a knife glittered suddenly and her hands were free.  They tingled as the blood poured through her wrists, and she rubbed them gingerly.
    “Run,” whispered Sims.  “Go on, get out of here.”
    Sims half-pushed her off his horse, and she slid down to the ground to land in the waist-high grass of the pasture.  She looked up, but Sims had his pistol drawn and his horse was pawing the ground, eager to be away.
    “Go on!” he whispered again.  “Run!  Get away from here!”
    He fired the pistol over her head.  Startled, she took off, plunging blindly through the field and half-hoping she wasn’t going to twist her ankle in a hole.  When she dared to look back, Sims was gone, his horse already off to join the others.  She kept running, reaching the trees and ignoring the scratches of the branches as they raked across her face.
    She knew these woods and the entire countryside around her farm.  Melinda needed no daylight to show her the way.  She went instinctively, as if she had an internal compass.  From a distance, she could still hear the bursts of rifle fire, and the distinct sound of several shotguns roaring in response. 
    The edge of the Johnsons’ tobacco patch was beneath her, and she collided with the plants, tearing some of them out of the ground in her panic.  The soft dust of the field was a welcome change to her feet, and she ran through the patch, heading for the distant lights of the farmhouse.
    Voices drifted through the night.  Melinda slowed her pace, breathing hard and trying to calm down.  More sounds, louder.  The column of Union soldiers had decided to stop at the Johnson’s farm.  She crept to the edge of the field, crouching behind the plants.  Joan was standing on the porch holding a lamp.  Three soldiers were looking up at her, one of them had his rifle pointed at her.
    “We don’t have anything,” Joan was saying, and Melinda could hear her voice, loud and strong even from the distance she was at. 
    A hand came down on her shoulder, and Melinda felt her heart stop.  The grip was hard, but not tight, as if to steady her instead of hold her.  They had found her.  They had followed her through the woods and caught her. 
    But a voice was close to her ear, and it was a familiar one.  “Relax, girl.”
    Melinda remembered to breathe as she turned to see Frank Johnson standing beside her.  His hunting rifle was in his hand, and she could tell it was ready to fire.
    “Shhh!”  Frank clamped his hand over her mouth.  “I was out with the others, but we saw those Yanks coming this way.  Be quiet for a minute.  Joan’s a capable woman, and she’ll buy us some time.”
    “What are you going to do?” she whispered.   Frank brought his rifle up to his shoulder and aimed.
    “Get down,” he said. “If something happens, then you run.  Make your way up to Gallatin if you have to.  Don’t look back and don’t come back down here.  It will be too dangerous for you.”
    Melinda nodded.  She noticed the pistol Frank had tucked in his belt as she crouched down further into the dirt. 
    “There are three next to the porch.  Five more behind the house,” Frank was muttering.  “The rest have moved on.  Some went back when they heard the gunshots down the road.  Eight.”
    He looked down at her as she waited with wide eyes.  He lowered his rifle and handed it to her.  It felt heavy in her hands, like a dead thing.
    “I know your father taught you to shoot,” Frank said as he pulled out his pistol.  “I’m going to have to get closer to hit them with this,” he waved his pistol.  “You will cover for me.”
    Melinda felt the rifle in her hands, the smoothness of the wood stock and the oiliness of the barrel.  It was warm to the touch, having recently been fired.
    “I don’t know,” she started to say.
    “Hush up,” said Frank.  “You’ve got no choice.  We’re going to have to move fast so quit

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