“I’m sure something bad has happened,” the old woman said, fluttering her ever-present fan. “She was regular as clockwork and we’ve had no messages for a fortnight. Here’s a small map and her name; go find out.”
I grabbed my forelock and she swatted at me. So off I went again, on a mission with almost no information. The farm I found was well-tended and looked prosperous, but a troop of British cavalry or grenadiers had camped in a pasture. That was surely a problem. I found a place to leave my mare, put my musket up in a tree and crept to the barn. The place was full of horses with the King’s mark on them and several dragoons.
Back in a corner workroom I found an white-haired man at work on a damaged saddle.
After some of the usual pleasantries and my offering him a twist of tobacco, he told me the Redcoats had arrived two weeks before and simply taken over the place, workmen, servants and home owners. “The mister, he’s away, up north with Schuyler I think, a good man, he is”
I nodded. “And the women folk?”
“Only two a’them, mother and daughter, step-mother really. Girl’s at her chores, saw her a few minutes ago.”
“They all right?” I asked.
He made a face and spat. “Don’ think so. There she is.”
I looked where he pointed and saw a slight girl in a plain dress with a wooden yoke on her shoulders. A bucket dangled from each end. She wore rough boots, pull-ups, and her hair was a tangled mess.
“Chessie,” the man called, and she turned and came toward us, her face blank. The yoke had been fitted with a leather strap which was wound about her neck and buckled just under her chin. I had never seen the like.
“This here man’s come to see your ma. She holding up?”
The girl gawked up at me and then nodded.
“They ain’ hurt you, has they?”
She shook her head, licked her lips and hurried away. I guessed she might have been twelve or thirteen, nubile but barely. I hitched up my britches and followed her,
“She’s down in the cellar,” the girl said pointing as she went in the kitchen door with her eggs and milk.
There in the dim light stood her step-mother, her wrists bound together behind a square timber that supported the floor above. I drew my big knife and cut her free before she could say, “Don’t,” which was what she said as she collapsed into my arms. All she was wearing was a tattered shift, and I quickly got to know a lot about her fine, firm body.
I petted her and told her that Madam Von R-- had sent me. At her insistence, we huddled together in a corner of the dirt-floored, stone-walled space. “I’m not sure what they’ve done to the girl,” she said. “I haven’t seen her for several days.”
“I just saw her,” I said quietly, my arm about her slim shoulders. “She seems all right; she was working, gathering eggs.”
“They want me, want us, to serve them, to whore for them, do their will, the officers I mean.”
“Both of us,” she said biting her lip. “I refused so they are trying to starve me into submission and threatening to use her. She’s been up there with them for two days.”
“How many of them?” I asked.
“You saw, I’m sure, a company out in the field. A half-dozen officers in the house, eating our food, abusing our servants.”
The girl came down the short flight of stone steps, turned sideways and entered the cellar, the awkward yoke still on her shoulders.
“Chessie, oh Chessie,” the woman cried, rising to meet her, “what have they done to you?”
The child stood, head bowed, while the woman tried to open the strap around her neck. She turned to me. “It’s bent closed.”
I pried the buckle open with the tip of my blade and the woman took the yoke from the girl and set it aside. “Have they hurt you?” she asked.
The girl shook her head, and I noticed clumps of hair stuck together about her face.
“Did you have to suck them?” I asked her, lifting her chin so she had to look up at me.
She sobbed loudly and fell into the woman’s arms, bawling.
“Beasts,” she said, “poor thing.”
“They’re leaving,” the small girl sobbed, “and they’re taking us with them.”
“When?” I asked, wondering what I could do.
“In the morning,” Chessie said, wiping her eyes, “early tomorrow. They sent me down to tell you.”
I heard a shuffling from the entrance and scurried back to a dark corner. Two big officers bent to enter the cellar and then approached the two women, smiles on their faces.
“I see you untied her, the little bitch,” one said.
“You ready to serve the King’s men?” asked the other, tossing the girl aside and pulling the woman to her feet. “Answer me,” he demanded, backhanding her, snapping her head back.
.... There is more of this story ...