It wasn't the spiders that helped me make my decision. It wasn't even the cave. It was something deeper, something inside me that rebelled at the thought of cowering in this burrow, while my brothers fought for our home, for our beliefs. Even though I'm a girl, I am a Stamford. I shall do the same.
The sound of musket fire, a baby's cry, a temporary lull broken by the wind's song echoed in my ears, mingled with my thoughts. I dared not tell Nat my plans. He'd think I was abandoning him and try to talk me out of it. Best to wait until everyone had retired and then slip away. I'd leave Mama a note, so she wouldn't fret. I sighed, knowing she would anyhow.
It seemed hours before Nat settled down. At last, when nobody was stirring, I rose and crept to the entrance. The servants--Aunt Lois, thin as a silk thread, and Uncle Morris, tall and white-headed--slept alongside Nat, their satiny black skin blending with the shadows. They aren't really my aunt and uncle, but my brothers and I have always called them this, out of respect. They're family. They've cared for me since the day I was born. Aunt Lois nurses me when I am ill. Uncle Morris teaches me to work in the garden and grow delicious vegetables. They praise me when I play the guitar or piano or do something good. They reprimand me when I leave my clothes on the bed or floor, instead of putting them away in the armoire, or when I behave unladylike, which is most of the time, according to them.
"Good-bye, Aunt Lois, Uncle Morris," I whispered. "Pray for me."
Quickly, before they awoke, I stepped over Nat, flat on his back, snoring lightly, and into the fresh air. I paused a moment to breathe in the sweet scent of crepe myrtle, passionflower, and magnolia, a welcome reprieve from the musty cave. My mistake.
"Where you going, Lizzie?" Nat asked, behind me.
I had forgotten how lightly he slept. "Um ... for a walk," I said, for that was all I could think of.
He moved in front of me. "A young lady does not wander the streets in the middle of the night without a chaperone," he said.
Normally shy around others, Nat spoke his mind with me, unfortunately. I gritted my teeth at his stubbornness, a trait that ran in our family. Grasping his hand I yanked him away from the cave, to keep from disturbing the servants. "A young gentleman does not tell his older sister what she can and cannot do."
"When his sister puts herself in danger he does." Nat inclined his head toward the crack of gunfire coming from the rifle pits. Even though we could not see them, Papa had told us some of the ditches where the fighting took place were less than two miles from town. "Yankees are out there, Lizzie," Nat said.
"The roof of the cave might collapse on me, too, the way the Ridgley's roof did." My voice rose an octave. "The men had to dig them out, remember?"
Nat remained calm. "Girls do not fight in wars."
He suspected what I was about to do, or else he was guessing. Either way, I'd have to wait until another night. Without admitting a thing and speaking as softly as he, with some difficulty, I asked, "Why not?"
"Because ... because they're girls."
A truly male observation.
Disappointed by my failure to escape and wondering if another opportunity would present itself, or if I was trapped in this dreadful cave for the rest of my life, I tossed this way and that on my mattress. I received some satisfaction from the fact that Nat was restless as well. I know, for I heard his footsteps, pacing. In the hills, a voice wailed. In pain? The staccato pop of rifle shots sent a tremor through me. I burrowed my face in my pillow and thought of Joseph and Willie, on a battlefield somewhere in Virginia.
"Stay safe," I prayed. "Come home soon."