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Tuesday, October 7, 1777
THE MEMORY OF OUR ESCAPE STILL tormented me nine months later.
It did not matter that I'd found us shelter and work in Jersey or that I'd kept us safe. Isabel was ungrateful, peevish, and vexatious. We argued about going after Ruth, then we fought about it, and finally, in May, she ran away from me, taking all of our money.
I twisted my ear so hard, it was near torn from my head.
No thoughts of Isabel, I reminded myself. Find that blasted road.
I'd been looking for the back road to Albany since dawn on account of my former boss, Trumbull, was a cabbagehead and a cheat. The Patriot army had hired him and his two wagons (one of them driven by myself) to help move supplies up to the mountains near Saratoga. Thousands of British soldiers waited there, preparing to swoop down the Hudson, cut off New England from the other states, and end the rebellion.
Trumbull cared not for beating the British or freeing the country from the King. He cared only for the sound of coins clinking together. With my own eyes, I saw him steal gunpowder and rum and salt from the barrels we hauled. He'd filch anything he could sell for his own profit.
'Twas not his thieving from the army that bothered me. 'Twas his thieving from me. I'd been working for him for three months and had no coin to show for it. He charged me for the loan of a ragged blanket and for anything else he could think of so he never had to hand over my wages.
The night before, I'd finally stood up to him and demanded my money. He fired me.
Of course, I robbed him. You would have done the very same.
I stole an assortment of spoons and four shoe buckles from his trunk after he fell asleep muddy in drink and snoring loud as a blasting bellows. I put my treasures in the leather bag that held Isabel's collection of seeds and her blue ribbon (both left behind in her haste to flee from my noxious self). The leather bag went into my empty haversack, which I slipped over my shoulder as I crawled out of Trumbull's tent.
I had walked for hours in the dark, quite certain that I'd stumble upon the road within moments. The rising sun burned through the fog but did not illuminate any road for me, not even a path well worn by deer or porcupines.
I climbed up a long hill, stopping at the top to retie the twine that held my shoes together. (Should have stolen Trumbull's boots, too.) I turned in a full circle. Most of the forest had leafed yellow, with a few trees bold-cloaked in scarlet or orange. No road. Had I been in my natural environment—the cobbled streets of Boston or New York—I could have easily found my way by asking a cartman or an oyster seller.
Not so in this forest.
I headed down into a deep ravine, swatting at the hornets that buzzed round my hat. The ravine might lead to the river, and a river was as good as a road, only wetter. Because I was the master of my own mind, I did not allow myself to believe that I might be lost. Nor did I worry about prowling redcoats or rebel soldiers eager to shoot. But the wolves haunted me. They'd dug up the graves of the fellows killed in last month's battle at Freeman's Farm and eaten the bodies. They'd eat a living man, too. A skinny lad like myself wouldn't last a minute if they attacked.
I picked my way through the brush at the bottom of the ravine, keeping my eyes on the ground for any sight of paw prints.
Not possible. I was almost certain that I was well south of the dangerous bit of ground that lay between the two armies.
Heavy boots crashed through the forest. Voices shouted.
An angry hornet hissed past my ear and smacked into the tree trunk behind me with a low thuuump.
I froze. That was no hornet. 'Twas a musketball that near tore off my head.
The voices grew louder. There was no time to run. I dropped to the ground and hid myself behind a log.
A British redcoat appeared out of a tangle of underbrush a dozen paces ahead of me and scrambled up the far side of the ravine. Three more British soldiers followed close on his heels, hands on their tall hats to keep them from flying off, canteens and cartridge boxes bouncing hard against their backsides.
There was a flash and another Crrr-ack BOOM.
A dozen rebel soldiers appeared, half in hunting shirts, the rest looking like they just stepped away from their plows. Smoke still poured from the barrel of the gun held by a red-haired fellow with an officer's black ribbon pinned to his hat.
There was a loud shuffling above. A line of redcoats took their position at the edge of the ravine and aimed down at the rebels.
"Present!" the British officer screamed to his men.
"Present!" yelled the American officer. His men brought the butts of their muskets up to their shoulders and sighted down the long barrels, ready to shoot and kill.
I pressed my face into the earth, unable to plan a course of escape. My mind would not be mastered and thought only of the wretched, lying, foul, silly girl who was the cause of everything.
I thought of Isabel and I missed her.
© 2010 Laurie Halse Anderson