“Brother Kemper, how nice to see a familiar face from home. Won’t you come inside?”
“Oh, no, Sister Stone. I must hurry back to the mill. I came about Mary, my brother’s wife. She’s been feeling poorly, and I wonder, can you please come set with her for a while?”
“Of course. Do you know what ails her?”
“It’s the pox. I ain’t been in to see her for fear of coming down with it myself. Widow Jenkins has been seeing to her care, but after you tended my little ones when they had the grippe last winter, well, I’d take it kindly if you’d look in on her.”
“I’ll come right away.” If I’d been at home where I belonged instead of here at Uncle’s, no one would have summoned the Widow Jenkins to treat my sick friend. “I’ll bring Manso to help with the chores. I’m sorry I didn’t realize she was ill.”
“Yes, ma’am. Thank you, ma’am.” He put on his hat as he clomped down the wide porch steps, and I called to King as I shut the door.
“Will you please ask Manso to get ready to accompany me?” As he departed for the stables, I hurried up to my chamber to change into the old quilted stays and petticoat I reserved for work. With my wooden medicine chest under my arm, I gathered apples from the open barrel in the larder and plucked my hooded cloak off its peg on my way out to the stable. Nelly, my pet chestnut mare, greeted me with a whicker, and I scratched under her forelock as Manso led out Charley. Tossing him apples for Charley and himself, I held out another on my palm for Nelly. The mare’s lips closed around the fruit, and she crunched as I fetched her tack.
“Miss Anna, I’ll saddle her for you.”
“It’s no trouble. I like to do it myself.”
Rhoda joined us, wrapped in a shawl so long it trailed through the hay on the floor. She watched me settle the gleaming saddle on Nelly’s back.
“Mother, before you go, may I see Nelly do her trick? Please?”
“We can try, but I’ve already given her an apple, so she may not be willing.” I buckled my medicine chest into the saddlebag, tightened the girth on the saddle, and caught a whiff of apple on the mare’s breath as I stood before her. Winking at Rhoda, I dropped a court curtsey. “Your Majesty!”
The mare pawed the ground and knelt.
Left foot in the stirrup, I sang out, “Charmed, I’m sure!” Rhoda clapped her hands as Nelly rose and I swung into the saddle.
“Back to the house or you’ll catch a chill. Nancy or Grandmother will hear your lessons and check your copybook if I’m not home by midafternoon. I love you.”
“I love you too!”
Nibbling apples, Manso and I headed south on the Winchester Road toward the village of Fauquier Court House, but my thoughts remained with my daughter.
Benjamin and I agreed long ago we would instruct all our children—girls and boys alike—in religious and classical studies and encourage them to undertake any additional subjects that interested them. Though I was likely biased, Rhoda was at least as bright as any child her age. She knew her multiplication table, had a fine hand for needlework, and filled her first copybook with Psalms. She wouldn’t have to sneak around and listen at doors to learn about things that interested her, as I did when I was a girl.
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