The man in the black suit passed by the cage several times before stooping and peering into it, his eyes widening in surprise when he saw her. He studied her for a long moment, then stood and walked away. Minutes later they pulled her from the cage, removed her rag, doused her with a bucket of cold water and dried her with a scratchy cloth. Rough hands pulled a clean, tattered dress over her head then dragged her by the wrist down the passageway, swiftly, her bare feet stumbling over the uneven brick floor. She kept up as best as she could, making no sound of complaint, for she did not want to be beaten yet again.
They entered a bright room of polished wood and honeyed voices. The man in the black suit was there, and he examined her carefully, his expression kind but sad, then he stood and money changed hands. The man took her by the hand and gently led her from the room and down a long, carpeted hallway, then into the brilliant sunlight. He lifted her into the carriage and they sat together. The journey was long, and she fell asleep with him stroking her hair.
It was sunset when the carriage stopped before the largest, whitest house she'd ever seen. He lifted her to the ground and together, hand in hand, they walked up the long path, passed through the enormous stone archway and entered the building.
"Jemmy! Have you heard the news?"
It was a woman's voice, on the verge of tears. The girl cowered behind the man as footsteps ran across the shiny wood floor and a woman threw herself into the man's arms.
"Alex Hamilton is dead." The woman was sobbing, barely able to speak. "Aaron Burr killed him in a duel two days ago."
"I know, dearest, I know." They held each other for several minutes, the woman sobbing, the man saying gentle things to calm her.
"I thought you might need something to cheer you up," he said at last. "You've been busy lately, so I bought you a personal servant."
The woman stepped back from the man. "Please, Jemmy, that's the last thing I need right now. You know I don't like owning slaves. After what happened today I don't feel up to training a new--"
The man stepped to the side and she now faced the woman, a tall woman, even taller than the man, with curly black hair bundled atop her head and sky blue eyes. The woman glanced at her briefly, then stared at the man, speechless, obviously not at all pleased with what she saw.
The man kissed the woman on the cheek. "I'll leave the two of you alone to get acquainted."
She watched him leave, afraid to be left alone with this unfriendly woman, terrified to run after him and incur the the beating that would follow.
The woman towered over her, frowning. "How old are you?" she asked.
"Seven," she said. In her mind a switch struck her back, repeatedly, and a harsh voice screamed in her ear that from now on all answers must be followed by 'massah' or--
"Seven missus!" she cried out. Her eyes blurred with tears and she stood, head down, awaiting the switch.
The woman knelt before her and took her hand into her own. The woman's hand was calloused and warm.
"Don't be afraid, I won't hurt you." The woman's voice was now soft. "Where are your parents?"
"What is your name?"
Only one answer would save her from the switch. "Sukey, missus."
"I am Dolley Madison. Please call me Mizz Dolley."
She looked up. The woman had tears in her eyes, and her expression was no longer angry, but reflected something else, something she hadn't seen in a long time.
The woman embraced her. "Welcome to our home, Sukey. Welcome!"
The embrace became tighter, tighter, choking off Sukey's breath, and then she snapped awake and fought to retain her balance before the rope chafing her neck strangled her.
Do not doze off again! Sleep means death, and I must not die. Not yet. Even though I deserve to die for being so stupid.
Fear blossomed in her gut and she fought its accompanying nausea, for vomiting while gagged would certainly drown her in a most horrible way. She tried wriggling her fingers, but they were numb and swollen, the circulation cut off by the tight rope binding her wrists behind her back.
They'd arrived at Moore's Tavern hours before, and while the others were unloading the carriage she'd scampered to the outhouse, more anxious to relieve herself than in paying attention to her surroundings. Something clobbered her from behind as she exited, and she awoke staring up into Otis Greysan's scarred face, a fist-size chunk of vile-tasting rag filling her mouth and tied in place, wrists and ankles bound painfully tight. He'd pummeled her with fists and feet, then left her tied standing, neck roped to an overhead beam in the center of the room, while he conducted his traitorous business elsewhere in the tavern.
Her underclothes were ripped, her concealed weapons belt gone, but he hadn't raped her. Not yet. He'd promised her that, and other torments, upon his return. His last blow was to the sternum, spinning her by the neck rope like a poorly struck heavy-bag, leaving her gasping for breath and fighting for balance as he laughed, blew her a kiss, and left the room, locking her within.
That was hours ago.
Everything hurt. She feared losing the use of her hands.
She tensed and relaxed her leg muscles, flexed her knees, and prayed yet again she wouldn't pass out like so many soldiers did when left standing at attention for too long.
"Sukey's not in her room," called Bobby from the hallway. "Guess we'll start the card game without her."
Her friend's footsteps passed in the hallway, but the heavy oaken door and gag absorbed her screams and they continued by without pause.
Please, Lord, deliver me from this and I'll never again lower my guard. And please --please!!-- don't let him capture Mizz Dolley!