Chapter Twenty Three

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She had never felt anything like it before: a predatory animal watchfulness.  Her whole being crouched still in the dark frame of the cabin doorway, eyes fixed with eagle intensity on the approaching figure sauntering unsuspecting toward them. Trying to suffuse even the too heavy beating of her  heart as she watched--prayed--willed for those feet to step that one fateful footfall.  She was unbearably conscious of the leaves, deceptively still and calm, blandly obscuring the vicious snatch of cold metal that lurked beneath.  

One step.  Two.  Mesmerized, unable to move, eyes glued to his feet.  Three, four.  

The swing and set of his rounded shoulders was something she would never forget, hoving into sight.  How his domed, capped head hunched into the collar of his drab coat.  How his body hid in the shapeless mass of his unfitted clothes, his shortlegged gait determined and inevitable.  She could hear Benjamin unclenching a sigh as he approached and at first was unable to believe what it had to be telling her.  Until Samuel's wild eyes pierced over her head to meet his.

For the first time she saw fear written plainly, sketched into the suddenly old outlines of her husband's face.  In the grey cast of the porch's reflected light his clear eyes were almost like glass, shallow and lost.  A sag of panic in his stubbled, haggard jaw.

"No.  He didn't--"  

"What did I tell you!"  Samuel's scathing whisper was no reassurance as the drill sergeant drew closer, form gathering color and definition as he approached the cabin.  Camille crushed her hands together, unable to believe that for whatever reason he had stepped over the trap she had so carefully placed.  How?  How was it possible?  Was fate just completely against them?  She screwed her eyes shut in an attempt to squeeze away the scream of disappointed rage that threatened to break out of her.

"You'll have to make him step into it on the way back.  There's still another chance!"  Benjamin whispered hoarsely, eyes frantically locking with Samuel's as the drill sergeant stepped toward the cabin stair, craggy face visible under the shadow of his cap through the flapping rags of screen in the porch windows.  "Camille, Camille--" he commanded her attention, grabbing her shoulder and shaking roughly.  "You know where you put the trap!  You have to make him step in it.  Listen!"

The stair outside creaked, weight shuddering through the shoddy structure of the cabin.  The drill sergeant's stocky figure filled the doorway, outlined against the dim morning light that streamed around him.  

The three stared, ashen faced, toward him.

"Get up!"  The harsh command jolted them into action.  Camille stood, wiping her hands dizzily in her coat.  Samuel, behind her, pushed up to his feet, bruised eyes locked on the drill sergeant's figure in the doorway.  

Benjamin was less lucky, attempting to lurch to his feet and failing, crumpling with a cry before finding balance on his good foot. 

The drill sergeant's eyes, grim as gimlets, stabbed through the darkness of the cabin's interior.  His hands, as per usual, were pushed deep into his capacious front pockets, hidden in their depths.  Mockingly, they rested on Benjamin, who had sagged into the doorway, holding his hand up to maintain his balance.

"You were saying?"  He prompted.  Camille felt that she would forever hate deep voices after this--his low, clipped tones descending into an expressionless vibration that violated her ears.  

"Take me.  I'm what you want.  You've won.  You got me."  Benjamin's tall figure, hunched barechested against the cold, swayed in the doorway. 

"Don't you worry.  I will.  But first you get a taste of what it is like to have the innocent suffer beforehand."  The drill sergeant's solid frame shook with silent laughter.  The floor beneath him creaked as his gaze probed to the back of the cabin.  Samuel had pushed forward, elbowing roughly past Camille to stand in front of her.  She could smell the rank stench of fear and sweat wafting off his body, feel the turgid lines of fear and fight crackling off him like a dangerous undercurrent of electricity.  Despite herself she had to step back from his bristling body in order to keep her balance.

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