The Return (Part Six)

January 16, 1897
Sarah Waters

Edith reach me first, breathless from running. The pistol lay smoldering the snow in front of me. The man I had shot groaned on his back clearly in pain, but also clearly alive. In the moment I had wanted him dead. It was with hate in my heart I pulled the trigger and in the wake of it I trembled, afraid of myself and what I have become.

“Are you alright?” Edith asked.

“Yes.” I replied.

It was truth and lie wrapped together in the fiction of confidence I still portrayed to the others. Somewhere there were tears to be cried for what I had done, but they were not with me. The rest of the girls emerged for the woods and encircled Elizabeth and I. The faces were mixed with emotions from horror and fear to relief and jubilation. I felt hollow and alone.

I looked to Edith for guidance and found her looking back at me for the same. I looked away, unable to face the burden of leading. Margaret knelt near the man I shot and examined his wound. It would have been simpler if he were dead, but fate is not known for kindness.

“The bullet is lodged in him. He’s lost a lot of blood but with surgery he might survive.” Margaret said.

“Who cares?” Anna asked.

The coldness of her words echoed in harmony with the darkness in my heart.

“He might well deserve to die, but if he does it will be trouble for all of us.” Margaret said.

“Can you do the surgery?” I asked.

“With the proper tools and a more friendly environment, perhaps. But not here.” Margaret replied.

I waited for someone else to take charge. They all remained in silence and even blind I would have known they were all looking to me. I pushed aside my doubts and accepted the role given to me.

“Help me get him on his horse.” I said.

Edith and Anna both looked at me like I had lost my mind. It was fortunate Elizabeth, Penelope, and Margaret sprang into motion, following my orders.

Elizabeth and Penelope each got themselves under the limp man’s arms. Margaret and I grabbed the feet. I think it was the urgency of the situation that kept us synchronized. We had never practiced such a complicated choreography but with little trouble we soon had him on the saddle and balanced.

I picked up his discarded pistol from the snow for a second time. It was still warm to the touch and the weight of the small things still astounded me. The muscles in my arm were sore from the recoil of it when I pulled the trigger. There had been a time when I would never have picked it up, but that time had come and gone. That innocence was lost long before this night.

I pushed the thoughts of what had happened here from my mind. The pistol slipped gently from my hand to rest in my saddle bag. I mounted Jasper in a single attempt for the first time ever. It was unquestioned confidence that allowed it and I didn’t allow my pride or surprise to show on my face. Elizabeth looked at me in a way that reminded me of how we all looked at Mrs. Carrington. In the back of my mind I wondered if that was good or bad. For the moment it mattered not.

“Stay on the trail to Primrose, follow the train tracks when you can and head east when you can‘t. Don’t wait for me, I will head to Providence directly and meet you at Carrington Manor in two days.”

“Be careful, Sarah.” Elizabeth said almost as a plea.

I smiled at her and nodded. I looked at the other girls. There was concern in their eyes. I nodded again and then I grabbed the reigns and prodded both horses into a gallop. The man groaned at first and started to straighten. He fell limply forward after a moment and then there was only the sound of hoof on dirt.

I cannot say how many hours I rode. The sun was not yet up when I started off and it was setting again when I arrived in town. I had not spent much time in town before but I recalled the location of the sheriff’s office with clarity. As I rode up to the front door the Sheriff came out to meet me.

He took the reigns of the horse with the man on it and tied them to a post. I dismounted and did the same with Jaspers‘. The sheriff called his deputy out to help him with the man and soon a doctor arrived. The deputy and doctor carried the man away at a hurry down the street. It was not until they were gone that he spoke to me.

“Are you all right Miss?”

“I will be.”

“Do you care to tell me what happened?”

“He rode up on us in the dark. Frightened us and I shot him by accident.”

He was looking at my horse while I spoke. He opened my saddle bag and pulled out the pistol while I was speaking of it. The look on his face was impossible to read but for some reason I trusted him.

“Snuck up on you in the dark eh?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Shot him accidentally?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“With his own gun no less.”

I stood silent.

He nodded and offered a sympathetic smile.

“You are one of the Carrington girls are you not?”

“My name is Waters, sir. I am a student at Primrose. I am proud to be associated with either of those names but I only reside at Carrington Manor while I am here. I am not one of her girls nor will I ever be.”

He chuckled deep in his throat.

“I stand corrected, Miss.” He paused for a moment looking toward his office and then turned back to me. “She is right about you I reckon. Only one thing she got wrong.”

“I am glad I failed to make a liar out of her on most counts. I must admit I am curious to know what she was wrong about?”

“She seemed to think you might be somebody someday.”

I bit my lip and held back as much anger as I could.

“If you will excuse me I have some distance still to ride tonight.”

“Seems you already are somebody, Miss Waters. The wife and I have an extra room if you want to stay the night. Your horse could use the rest and so could you.”

I did not trust myself to speak just then so I nodded and followed him home.

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