Thursday, November 13, 2014
Genevieve hid in her grandmother’s armoire. She wasn’t supposed to, but it was one of her favorite places in the house. Being the only child in the household meant that Genevieve was often lonely. Her mother grieved for her dead husband, and her grandmother, although terribly saddened by the loss of her son, ruled her home with a stiff back and strict rules. The only time anyone paid much attention to the child was when she was doing something she oughtn't. Thankfully, the armoire was in a seldom used guest room so the girl was rarely found there.
The year was 1780 and Genevieve’s life was in turmoil. This upset didn’t stem from the political upheaval of the times, but more from the fact that her life had been turned upside down. Her father had died during the war; not because he was a brave soldier, in fact he wasn’t a soldier at all, but because he’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Genevieve and her mother were forced to move into her grandmother’s house where they were tolerated, at best.
Genevieve’s grandmother came from France with her husband and son. She never liked the New World and resented having to live out her life in “this backwater”. Her home was filled with fine furniture and art, brought with her from her home in France. The armoire that Genevieve liked to hide in was an example of the high quality of the furnishings. Hand crafted and carved out of walnut, the piece was styled in the manner of Louis XIV. It featured a bold cornice with a lavishly carved baroque piece centered in the doors. Genevieve thought it was rather imposing but it made a wonderful place to be alone and let her imagination run away with her.
It was summer in Newport and Genevieve wasn’t allowed to leave the house. Specifically not alone but rarely with her mother or grandmother. The city was crawling with French soldiers who had arrived to assist in the fight against the British. Genevieve was weary of hearing about “the war” and wished it would just go away. It was a pretty afternoon, filled with sunshine, so Genevieve decided to spend a little time in the garden reading a book. It was difficult to read in the armoire unless she left the door ajar and that increased her chances of being caught. The garden was lovely, filled with fragrant flowers and soft, green grass. She sat on a quilt under a pear tree, enjoying the dappled sunlight while she read.
The nearby bushes rattled. “That’s odd,” she thought. “It must be a bunny or a cat.”
“Bunnies and cats don’t moan!”
Genevieve was nervous but her curiosity overcame any fear. She slowly crept up to the bush and peeked inside. There, lying among the gnarled branches, was a man. A weak, injured man.
Startled, Genevieve darted back to her quilt and stared at the bush. “Who is that man and why is he moaning in our bush?” She walked back to the bush and peeked again. The man’s eyes met hers and she wasn’t afraid. She knew instinctively that she needn’t be afraid of him; that he needed her help. Without a word, she went to the kitchen and got a pitcher of water and a glass. “I’m thirsty” she told the cook. She felt that she needed to keep this man a secret so she found a way around the back of the bush so she wouldn’t be seen from the house.
“Here, have some water.” He could barely sit up so she cradled his head and helped him sip. As he lay back down on the dirt, she realized that his coat was red, but not from blood. “He’s a Redcoat,” she thought! Leaving the pitcher and glass, she retreated to her quilt. What should she do? He obviously needed help. If she told her grandmother, she would contact some official and they would cart the man away, probably to prison. He might die! Perhaps if she left him there with the water, he’d feel better and go away.
At breakfast the next morning, Genevieve’s grandmother was talking about her list of activities for the day.
“First, I must attend a meeting of the women of the church. We are planning a dinner for the officers of the French troops. Next, a visit to the hospital to pray for the injured and then off to tea at Madam Bellamy’s home. Charlotte, will you be joining me today?”
Genevieve’s mother roused herself from her daydreams and looked blankly at her mother-in-law.
“Oh never mind. I can see that you weren’t even listening to me. Stay here and watch after your daughter.”
“Miss Genevieve, I’m unable to find the pitcher you borrowed. Have you returned it?” The question from Mrs. Leatherby stopped Genevieve in her tracks. Before she could answer, her grandmother said,
“What’s this? Genevieve you must be more responsible with things, especially when they don’t belong to you. Make certain you return the pitcher today!”
The fact that her grandmother would be out of the house all day, and her mother’s inattention, gave Genevieve hope that she could do something about this soldier without being seen. She actually hoped that he would be gone and she could retrieve the pitcher without having to deal with him. If only.
The girl hurried out to the garden as soon as her grandmother left the house and her mother retired to her room. At first glance, she thought he was gone and a huge wave of relief engulfed her. The pitcher and glass were there but no soldier. As she bent to retrieve the glassware a hand reached out and tugged at the hem of her dress! Genevieve shrieked and then quickly ducked down into the bush when she realized it was the soldier.
“Help me, please.”
He was ever so weak. Genevieve could barely make out his words.
“Why are you here? Go away!”
“I tried to leave but am too weak to go. Please help me.” And he fainted.
“Lord help me,” she thought. What was she going to do? He obviously needed help. Food. She’d bring him some food and then he’d leave! Heading to the kitchen with the pitcher and glass she approached the housekeeper.
“I’m sorry Mrs. Leatherby for failing to return the pitcher. It won’t happen again.”
“Not to worry luv. I knew you’d just forgotten” Mrs. Leatherby was rather fond of the girl.
“It’s such a lovely day, I was thinking of having a picnic in the garden this afternoon. Would you mind making me some sandwiches?”
“Not at all. With your grandmother out for the day I’m certain your mother would prefer to eat in her room. I’ll have the cook make you something extra nice.”
Once she was ensconced on her quilt with her lunch spread before her, Genevieve couldn’t wait for the housekeeper to go inside and ignore her. Wrapping the sandwiches in her napkin, she grabbed the pitcher of lemonade and made for the bush. The soldier was sleeping but roused easily when Genevieve shook his shoulder.
“I’ve brought you some sandwiches. Eat.”
He was so weak that she had to feed him bits of bread. Eventually he raised himself to one elbow and managed to eat the sandwich by himself.
“I have to go now. I’ll leave the food and drink for you.”
“Thank you. You are kind.”
Lunch for the girl consisted of cookies, having given the soldier her food. She didn’t care as long as he would just leave!
Next day, the soldier was still there. Genevieve begged Mrs. Leatherby for another picnic which she gladly agreed to.
“You’ve forgotten the pitcher again, young lady!”
“Oh my, please don’t tell my grandmother! I’ll return it promptly.”
“Not to worry luv, there are others.”
Bless Mrs. Leatherby!
Genevieve liked the young soldier. As he gained strength he was able to tell her a bit about himself. Injured and separated from his brigade, he had spent many weeks hiding from soldiers. His condition had deteriorated to a point where he just couldn’t go on.
“You remind me of my little sister,” he said.
“Do you like your little sister,” she asked nervously?
He laughed, briefly, before he began to cough.
“Yes, I like her very much.”
“What am I to do with you?” Genevieve was in a quandary. She wanted to help him but what could one small girl do?
“Please don’t turn me in. If you could get me some clothes I could possibly sneak away without being noticed.”
“My grandfather’s clothes wouldn’t begin to fit you! He is rather…healthy. Stay here and rest and I’ll give it some thought.”
As she began to leave, he said, “What is your name?”
“Genevieve. What may I call you?”
A summer storm was brewing which added a new concern for the soldier. Genevieve decided that she should sneak the soldier into the house until she could figure out where to find him some clothes. He could hide in her armoire! It would have to be during the night.
Armed only with her determination, she snuck out to the garden after the house was quiet for the night. Stephen was right where she’d left him, sleeping.
“Quick, come with me!”
“Where are we going?”
“Into the house. I have a place for you to hide until we can figure out how to get you away.”
“This doesn’t seem to be a good idea, but I can’t think of a better one. I’ll need help.”
It began to rain. By the time the small girl was able to help the injured man into the house, they were both soaked to the skin. Moving as quietly as they could, they made their way to the guest room and the armoire. Genevieve had gathered some blankets and made a nest for her new friend.
“Stay here and be quiet!”
“I’ll do my best. Thank you for your help. You are my angel.”
Genevieve couldn’t sleep that night for fear the Stephen would be found. She was certain she heard him cough once or twice but, other than that, the night was calm and peaceful. What was she going to do?
The next day was uneventful. Genevieve visited Stephen whenever she could, bringing him bits of food and drink. She was amazed at how well he was doing considering his condition when she first brought him inside. That evening, her grandmother was complaining about the events scheduled for the next day.
“We will be storing some items in our house meant for the less fortunate. Only for one night, but I hate the idea of what filth might come with the mess. I think we’ll store them in the downstairs guest room.”
On no! Stephen will certainly be found! There was nothing to be done about it but Genevieve was worried. Sure enough, the next day brought a line of men carrying boxes of household items, food and clothing. Mrs. Leatherby was standing right in front of the armoire, directing the men! Genevieve hovered nearby just waiting for the alarm to be sounded. A shout or screech was surely coming at any moment. The girl was on pins and needles, but nothing happened! To make matters worse, Genevieve found it impossible to visit Stephen without raising suspicion.
Another sleepless night.
The next day, the men returned to retrieve the boxes. Genevieve waited in the hallway, near the front door. She had half a mind to bolt out the door at the first indication that Stephen had been found.
Nothing happened. Was he still there? How could he not be found? As the men filed out past the girl, one of them stopped, cleared his throat and spoke softly.
“Thank you, my angel. Every time I awoke I found you had left me such lovely food and drink! You have saved me and I will never forget.”
Genevieve stood transfixed, her mouth agape. It was Stephen, dressed in some non-descript clothes, carrying out a box of goods. He was free! She had done it! Genevieve continued to stare out the door with a confused but happy look on her face. What food? She had never left food while he slept!
“I’d better get busy. Lots to do today. The floors need attention. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out how all that water got inside. Oh, and there’s those extra blankets that’ll need washing.”
Genevieve turned and watched Mrs. Leatherby walk toward the guest room, a smile on her face and a wink for the girl.