Beth was very still and her breath came in small jerking gasps .
The thin legs twitched convulsively once , then Kate felt the little body stiffening in her arms and heard one strangled sound .
The scant flesh grew cool beneath her frantic hands .
The child was gone .
When Juanita awoke , Kate was still rocking the dead child , still crooning in disbelief , `` No , no , oh , no ! !
They put Kate to bed and wired Jonathan and sent for the young Presbyterian minister .
He sat beside Kate's bed with the others throughout the morning , talking , talking of God's will , while Kate lay staring angrily at him .
When he told her God had called the child to Him , she rejected his words rebelliously .
Few of the neighbors came , but Mrs. Tussle came , called by tragedy .
`` It always comes in threes '' , she sighed heavily .
`` Trouble never comes but in threes '' .
They held the funeral the next morning from the crossroads church and buried the little box in the quiet family plot .
Kate moved through all the preparations and services in a state of bewilderment .
She would not accept the death of such a little child .
`` God called her to Him '' , the minister had said .
God would not do that , Kate thought stubbornly .
Jonathan's letter came , as she knew it would , and he had accepted their child's death as another judgment from God against both Kate and himself .
In blind panic of grief she accepted Jonathan's dictum , and believed in her desperation that she had been cursed by God .
She held Jonathan's letter , his words burning like a brand , and knew suddenly that the bonds between them were severed .
She had nothing left but her duty to his land and his son .
Joel came and sat mutely with her , sharing her pain and anguish , averting his eyes from the ice packs on her bosom .
Juanita and Mrs. Tussle kept Kate in bed a week until her milk dried .
When she returned to life in the big house she felt shriveled of all emotion save dedication to duty .
She disciplined herself daily to do what must be done .
She had even steeled herself to keep Juanita upstairs in the nurse's room off the empty nursery , although the girl tried to insist on moving back to the quarters to spare Kate remembrance of the baby's death .
Juanita drooped about the place , wearing a haunted , brooding look , which Kate attributed to the baby's death , until the day a letter came for her addressed to `` Miss Juanita Fitzroy '' , bearing a Grafton postmark .
Seeing the slanting hand , Kate knew uneasily that it was from the Yankee colonel .
The Federal forces had taken Parkersburg and Grafton from the Rebels and were moving to take all the mountains .
Kate tried to contain her curiosity and foreboding at what the letter portended , at what involvement existed for Juanita .
Uncle Randolph and Joel had replanted the bottom lands with difficulty , for more of the slaves , including Annie , had sneaked off when the soldiers broke camp .
Joel worked like a field hand in the afternoons after school .
He had been at lessons in the schoolhouse since they returned from Harpers Ferry .
Kate felt she had deserted the boy in her own loss .
She loved him and missed his company .
Uncle Randolph had been riding out every evening on some secret business of his own .
What it was Kate could not fathom .
He claimed to be visiting the waterfront saloon at the crossroads to play cards and drink with his cronies , but Kate had not smelled brandy on him since Mrs. Lattimer's funeral .
Joel knew what he was about , however .
`` You're gonna get caught '' , she heard Joel say to Uncle Randolph by the pump one morning .
`` Not this old fox '' , chuckled Uncle Randolph .
`` Everybody knows I'm just a harmless , deaf old man who takes to drink .
I aim to keep a little whisky still back in the ridge for my pleasure '' .
`` Whiskey still , my foot '' , said Joel .
`` You're back there riding with the guerrillas , the Moccasin Rangers '' .
`` Hush '' , said Uncle Randolph , smiling , `` or I'll give you another black eye '' .
He patted the eye Joel had had blackened in a fight over being Rebel at the crossroads some days back .
Kate had no idea what they were talking of , although she had seen the blue lights and strange fires burning and winking on the ridges at night , had heard horsemen on the River Road and hill trails through the nights till dawn .
Stranger , Uncle Randolph began riding home nights with a jug strapped to his saddle , drunkenly singing `` Old Dan Tucker '' at the top of his voice .
Hearing his voice ring raucously up from the road , Kate would await him anxiously and watch perplexed as he walked into the house , cold sober .
What he was about became clear to her with the circulation of another broadside proclamation by General McClellan , threatening reprisals against Rebel guerrillas .
She was taken up in worry for the reckless old man .
Kate drew more and more on her affection for Joel through the hot days of summer work .
She had taken him out of the schoolhouse and closed the school for the summer , after she saw Miss Snow crack Joel across the face with a ruler for letting a snake loose in the schoolroom .
Kate had walked past the school on her morning chores and had seen the whole incident , had seen Joel's burning humiliation before Miss Snow's cold , bespectacled wrath .
He had the hardest pains of growing before him now , as he approached twelve .
These would be his hardest years , she knew , and he missed his father desperately .
She tried to find some way to draw him out , to help him .
Whenever she found time , she went blackberry picking with him , and they would come home together , mouths purple , arms and faces scratched , tired enough to forget grief for another day .
He tended the new colts Beau had sired .
He helped Kate and Juanita enlarge the flower garden in the side yard , where they sometimes sat in the still evenings watching the last fat bees working against the summer's purple dusk .
No one went much to the crossroads now except Uncle Randolph .
They stayed in their own world on the bluff , waiting for letters and the peddler , bringing the news .
Jonathan wrote grimly of the destruction of Harpers Ferry before they abandoned it ; ;
of their first engagement at Falling Waters after Old Jack's First Brigade had destroyed all the rolling stock of the B & O Railroad .
The men were restive , he wrote , ready to take the battle to the enemy as Jackson wished .
The peddler came bawling his wares and told them of the convention in Wheeling , Which had formed a new state government by declaring the government at Richmond in the east illegal because they were traitors .
Dangling his gaudy trinkets before them , he told of the Rebel losses in the mountains , at Cheat and Rich mountains both , and the Federal march on Beverly .
`` Cleaned all them Rebs out'n the hills , they did ! !
They won't never git over inter loyal western Virginia , them traitors ! !
The Federals is making everybody take the oath of loyalty around these parts too '' , he crowed .
After he had gone , Kate asked Uncle Randolph proudly , `` Would you take their oath '' ? ?
And the old man had given a sly and wicked laugh and said , `` Hell , yes ! !
I think I've taken it about fifty times already '' ! !
Winking at Joel's look of shock .
Her mother wrote Kate of her grief at the death of Kate's baby and at Jonathan's decision to go with the South `` And , dear Kate '' , she wrote , `` poor Dr. Breckenridge's son Robert is now organizing a militia company to go South , to his good father's sorrow .
Maj. Anderson of Fort Sumter is home and recruiting volunteers for the U.S. Army .
In spite of the fact that the state legislature voted us neutral , John Hunt Morgan is openly flying the Confederate flag over his woolen factory '' ! !
Rumor of a big battle spread like a grassfire up the valley .
Accounts were garbled at the telegraph office when they sent old George down to Parkersburg for the news .
`` All dey know down dere is it were at Manassas Junction and it were a big fight '' , the old man told them .
In the next few days they had cause to rejoice .
It had been a big battle , and the Confederate forces had won .
Jonathan and Ben were not on the lists of the dead or on that of the missing .
Kate and Mrs. Tussle waited for letters anxiously .
Joel went to the crest of a hill behind the house and lit an enormous victory bonfire to celebrate .
When Kate hurried in alarm to tell him to put it out , she saw other dots of flames among the western Virginia hills from the few scattered fires of the faithful .
They all prayed now that the North would realize that peace must come , for Virginia had defended her land victoriously .
The week after Manassas the sound of horses in the yard brought Kate up in shock from an afternoon's rest when she saw the Federal soldiers from her upstairs window .
They had already lost most of their corn , she thought .
Were they to be insulted again because of the South's great victory ? ?
She remembered McClellan's last proclamation as she hurried fearfully down the stairs .
At the landing she saw Juanita , her face flushed pink with excitement , run down the hall from the kitchen to the front door .
Juanita stopped just inside the open door , her hand to her mouth .
As Kate came swiftly down the stairs to the hall she saw Colonel Marsh framed in the doorway , his face set in the same vulnerable look Juanita wore .
Kate greeted him gravely , uneasy with misgivings at his visit .
`` What brings you here again , Colonel Marsh '' ? ?
She asked , taking him and Juanita into the parlor where the shutters were closed against the afternoon sun .
`` I stopped to say goodbye , Mrs. Lattimer , and to tell you how sorry I was to hear about your baby .
I wish our doctor could have saved her '' .
`` It was a terrible loss to me '' , said Kate quietly , feeling the pain twist again at the mention , knowing now that Juanita must have written to him at Grafton .
`` Where will you go now that you're leaving Parkersburg '' ? ?
She asked him , seeing Juanita's eyes grow bleak .
`` As you know , General McClellan has been occupying Beverly .
He has notified me that he has orders to go to Washington to take over the Army of the Potomac .
I am to go to Washington to serve with him '' .
`` When are you to leave '' ? ?
Kate asked , watching them both now anxiously .
Their eyes betrayed too much of their emotions , she thought sadly .
`` Tomorrow .
Would you permit Juanita to walk about the grounds with me for a short spell , Mrs. Lattimer '' ? ?
`` Stay here in the parlor where it's cool '' , she said , trying to be calm .
It would be better for Joel and Uncle Randolph and Mrs. Tussle not to see them .
Kate went back and reminded the kitchen women of the supper preparations .
Then she took iced lemonade to Marsh's young aide where he sat in the cool of the big trees around the flower garden .
When Marsh called to his aide and the pair rode off down the River Road where the gentians burned blue , Juanita was shaken and trying not to cry .
She sought Kate out upstairs , her lips trembling .
`` He wants me to go with him tomorrow '' , she told Kate .
`` What do you want to do '' ? ?
Kate asked , uneasy at the gravity of the girl's dilemma .
`` I could go with him .
He knows me as your niece , which , of course , I am .
But I am a slave ! !
You own me .
It's your decision '' , said Juanita , holding her face very still , trying to contain the bitterness of her voice as she enunciated her words too distinctly .
`` No , the decision is yours .
I have held your papers of manumission since I married Mr. Lattimer '' .