Christmas at Harmony Hill
footsteps made no noise on the wooden floors, as though she were walking in stocking feet instead of the black shoes that peeked out below her gray dress. Gray like the Rebels. The Rebels who might be shooting at Gideon. Heather pulled in a breath and pushed that thought away as the woman opened a door and motioned her to enter ahead of her.
    Heather stepped into the small room and let the warmth from the odd-looking black iron stove wrap around her. A narrow stovepipe shot up from the stove to the tall ceiling. A writing desk was against one of the walls, but strangely enough no chair sat in front of it. Instead three chairs were hung upside down on pegs on a blue railing that ran around the room. The pegs also held a candle sconce and a broom. A rag rug gave the room its only color other than the blue railing. Sister Muriel lifted one of the chairs down from the pegs and set it near the stove.
    “Rest here.” She motioned Heather toward the chair. “I will return with Eldress Corinne and some refreshment.”
    Before Heather could lower herself into the chair, the woman was out the door without a sound. Heather sat very still and wondered if her ears had ever been assaulted with such silence. The night before in her father’s barn had been dark and lonely, but there was noise. The pigs snuffling in their pen. The hens shifting on their roosts up in the hayloft. Mice scurrying along the timbers of the barn. The screech of an owl from the woods.
    Here the silence was so profound she had to push away the thought of being entombed in this small room. She pulled in a steadying breath to stop her head from spinning again. A tomb would have no window, and this room had a tall window to let in plenty of light. Besides, she was not alone in this huge building. Sister Muriel had gone to fetch someone to talk to her. She had simply forgotten how to listen for the quiet sounds of life after becoming accustomed to the crashing sounds of an army.
    Heather held her breath and listened intently. Was that the whisper of a step on the floor above her head? A door opened and shut somewhere in the building. She peered out the window again but heard no sound from outside. The window sat back in a pocket that indicated the walls of the building were of double thickness. To hold in warmth.
    The warmth was good. So very good. She scooted around in the chair so her feet would be closer to the stove. What did it matter what else was happening in the building? She had a fire to chase away the chill of her ride to the village. She would not worry about what the next hour might bring. She would simply sit in the ladder-back chair that was more comfortable than it looked and be glad of a warm place to wait. Even if Sister Muriel did forget about her there, someone would eventually come to feed the stove more wood.
    If she’d learned nothing else while with the army, she’d learned there were many things she couldn’t speed up or slow down. The water in her wash pots took a long while to heat even when she had plentiful wood to feed the fire. Night came to the battlefields at its own pace no matter how desperately she prayed for darkness to hurry to end the fighting at least until daylight returned. The night before as an outcast in her father’s barn she had wanted the sun to hurry over the horizon. But she could make none of that happen.
    Nor could she make anything happen here. She could only wait to see what these strange people would decide to do with her. If they didn’t allow it, she might not even see this aunt her mother had hoped would be God’s plan for Heather.
    Aunt Sophrena. She tried to imagine what she would look like. She had to be getting old. But then her mother had talked of playing with her as a child, that Sophrena had been much younger than Heather’s grandfather. Her mother was twenty-one when Heather was born. That meant she was forty-two when she died. This aunt Sophrena might not be so very much older than that. Many

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