Sixteen year old Jenny Dolf hates being a girl. She resents the restrictions on her life, and she just feels wrong, and trapped, in her female’s body. When the Revolution breaks out, she takes her father’s musket and poses as a boy named Jack, to join George Washington’s army on the heights of Long Island. From the first terrible losses, to the great victory at Trenton, in savage battles and long hard marches, Jack learns the value, and the cost, of freedom.



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“Cecelia Holland knows history. More impressive is the way she understands human motivations. A wonderful writer.” —David Drake

“Holland’s grasp of both character and action is superb, and her ability to make the people of the past both fully human and intensely of their—deeply alien—settings is matchless.”—S. M. Stirling

Chapter One

Jenny Dolf leaned on the bollard at the end of the pier, looking out at the ships in the harbor. There were dozens of them, maybe hundreds; more ships than she had ever seen in her life, filling the narrows between Staten Island and Gravesend and all the lower bay beyond. On the bare masts men scampered up and down. One did a handstand on a yardarm, forty feet in the air.

She wanted to do that. Get on a ship like that and go someplace far away—

“Whoa, girl.” Her father’s hand gripped her arm. “Don’t want to fall in, do you?” He drew her back from the edge of the pier. Under his breath, he said, “The whole damned British navy, looks like.”

His face twitched. He looked around toward the street. “Where’s your mother?” He pulled at her arm. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

“Already?” Jenny gave a final, longing look at the British fleet and turned to go across the wharf to the street. People were crowding onto the pier, staring out at the vast array of masts, and she had to weave her way through. Her father came after her, pushing her along. Somebody called out to him, and he stopped to talk. Jenny went on toward the street, where their cart was drawn up in front of the dry goods store.

It was hot, muggy, a deep summer day. Not sunny. The sky was full of lowering gray clouds and she thought there would be a thunderstorm later. She waited at the edge of the street while a dray lumbered by, loaded high with potatoes. The earthy smell of the potatoes reached her nose. Her father caught up with her, frowning.

“Let’s go. I don’t like the look of this.” He pushed her on across the street to the cart.

Their old horse dozed hipshot between the shafts. The two barrels of rum her father had come down here to buy already sat in the back. Now her mother Lucinda came out of the dry goods store, tying her bonnet strings. Behind her Jenny’s twin brother Jem carried a basket. Jenny leaned on the side of the cart, looking around.

The road went along the marshy shore, thick with cattails; the few wooden buildings stood on the inland side. Besides the dry goods store, there was the livery stable, the vegetable market, a ship chandler, the old church. Inland, the steep wooded hills of the Brooklyn Heights rose like a wall, the grass brown in the August sun. A pall of smoke hung over the top.

Up there, she knew, the Continental army was gathering. At her father’s tavern they talked about nothing else. Cannons and guns and forts. Why they were fighting King George wasn’t entirely clear to her. In the public room the arguments went loud and long about this, some supporting Congress, many more the King.  Something to do with taxes. An army of colonials had already shot up Boston, in the north. Driven out the British navy, which had now come down to New York.

Jem dropped the basket over the side of the cart. Jenny wheeled on him.

“Did Papa get the paper?” Back on the boardwalk, her mother was talking to another woman; Lucinda looked around at the crowd, and turned to take Jenny’s little brother Tom by the hand.

Jem said, “I think so.” He lowered his voice to a murmur. “He couldn’t get any powder, there’s no powder, the man said, it’s all been bought up.”

“Oh.” she said, disappointed. “Is he still going to let us shoot?”

“I don’t know.”

Lucinda came busily up to the cart. Reaching in, she took out the stool and set it down on the street beside the cart and gave Jenny a deep look. “Let’s see you behave like a lady, now.” Tom scrambled up over the side, rolling in headfirst, his butt in the air; nobody yelled at him.

Their father Ben came up, nodded to Jem, and went back into the store. Jenny put one foot on the stool. Her mother turned away a moment, looking down the street. “Heavens above. Look at all these people.”

Jenny took this chance to vault up over the side of the cart, her skirts flapping. Lucinda wheeled around, her face darkening into a scowl, but Jenny was already settling herself down on the side bench. She beamed at her mother.

“Jenny,” Lucinda said. “I’ll whip you.”

Her father came back out of the store, Jem at his heels. “This place is a mob. Load up, everybody, I want to get going.”

“But I want to go to the fish market,” her mother said.

“Later,” Ben said. “When it’s not so crowded.”

Lucinda set herself, her chin thrust out, looking as if she might insist, but she cast a look at Jenny and her expression smoothed, bland. She said, ““Ben, can you get this stool? It’s heavy.” She gave Jenny a meaningful look.

Her father bent and hoisted the stool effortlessly into the bed of the cart. Jem climbed over the tail of the cart, and their mother and father went up to the front. Lucinda gave Jenny another meaning look and turned to Ben, holding out her hand. Ben helped her climb demurely up into the seat and stepped in beside her. Jenny cast another look back toward the bay and the crowded forest of masts. Somewhere over the Heights, there was a grumble of thunder.

“Well,” her father said, “everybody ready?” He shook the reins, and the horse started forward.

Later that day, the word came that the British were bringing in thousands of soldiers to take over Gravesend, so they had done their shopping just in time.


Jenny used her fingertip to spread tallow onto the paper; she looked over at her twin brother, who had stopped working and was instead flicking lead musket balls across the table at Tom. She laid the paper down flat. There were only four pieces of the thick pale yellow paper and Ben himself had cut each piece carefully into fifths before they started. She smoothed this fifth down before she set a ball at the lower righthand corner.

Tom squealed; one of Jem’s shots had hit him in the mouth.

“Jem!” her father yelled, from the other side of the room, where he and their mother were sitting over the remnants of their tea. “Get to work!”

Jem grunted; he slid a glance at his father and picked up the balls he had been playing with. Tom slid off the bench and ran to their mother. Jenny set the wooden dowel on the paper and rolled it quickly up into a tube, the ball filling one end. Pinching the paper closed, she picked up a bit of the string and tied the end of the rolled paper tight to keep the ball from falling out, and then tied the tube again on the other side to hold the ball in place.

She slid the dowel out, and stood up, so she could hold the tube over the dish of gunpowder, not to waste a grain of it; this little glittery mound was all they had left. With the scoop she filled the empty end of the tube with the black powder, and then tied that off. She eased the finished cartridge into one of the holes in the beech wood block on the table.

She had made four so far. Six more, and she could demand the reward. But she liked doing it even without the reward. She was good at this.

Jem said, “Papa’s girl. What a little goose, Jenny.” She sat down again and kicked him under the table. If he dallied, maybe she would make his cartridges too. She reached for another piece of the paper. Jem, sulky, was dipping his finger into the tallow.


“Did you promise them they could shoot the guns?” Lucinda said. Ben had two long guns, which was what the cartridges were for.

“If they make me ten cartridges each.”

“You shouldn’t let Jenny handle weapons. You’re trying to turn her into a boy,” Lucinda said. She took a last sip of her tea, which was cooling to the point of being undrinkable. Tom leaned against her shoulder, his cheek against her hair.

Ben smiled; he was watching his older children. “She reminds me of my mother. My mother could shoot out a squirrel’s eye at fifty feet.”

“Your mother.”

Ben’s mother had been halfway a man. Brawny and loud, she had raised fourteen children on her own, after their father died of the pox; she had hunted their meat, planted their corn and beans, kept order in the tavern with her fists and her thunderous voice and the spoke from a wagon wheel. She had also drunk whiskey by the pint jar and sworn like a muleteer. Lucinda had no interest in raising a daughter like that. She turned her gaze again to Jenny. At least she wasn’t stout, like her grandmother; at fifteen she was tall and lithe as a birch tree, still just barely budding in the chest and with no hips at all.

Too smart for her own good, she was.

Both she and Jem had gotten smallpox as children. Jem’s face was pitted with scars, but Jenny had only a few little dents on her chin; she would be a pretty woman, if Lucinda could convince her to fix her hair properly and wear her clothes with more care. She could marry somebody who would lift them all up in the world.

“There were a lot of ships in the bay. There’s going to be trouble, isn’t there.”

“The whole fleet, looks like.” Ben shrugged. “They lost Charleston and Boston, they pretty much have to control New York. But they will. Nobody supports any of this except those crazy men in Boston. New York is solid royalist. Everybody who matters.  It will all be over by the fall.” He gave her a sideways look. “You know, though, maybe I should send you and the flock out to Winter Harbor, until then.” Winter Harbor, out on the island, was where the rest of his family lived.

Lucinda turned toward him, sharp. “And what would you do?”

“Oh, I’m staying here, no matter what happens. If I leave, somebody will loot the place.”

Lucinda gave a harrumph. She sat back, planting herself where she was. “Then I’m staying too.”

He laughed, reached out, took her hand. “My woman.” He put her fingers to his cheek.

A screech rose from the far end of the room. “Shut up! Just shut up!” Jem was bolting up out off the bench, yelling. Jenny sprang on him like a cat and there they were, tumbling together, thrashing at each other with their fists. Ben crossed the room in two strides and pulled them apart.

“All right, now.  Fun’s over. You—” He shook Jenny by the arm.” Go sweep the public room. Jem, get out there and chop wood.”

Jem snarled at him and stalked off. Jenny stood right up to Ben. “You said we could shoot.”

“That was before you started taking swings at your brother,” Ben said. “Maybe later. Although now it feels as if it’s going to rain so likely not. Go sweep the room, the crowds will be here in a little while.”

Her face flushed. For a moment, Lucinda saw, she intended to argue. Ben said, “Maybe later, Jenny. If you’re good. And it doesn’t rain.” He stroked her hair affectionately. Her shoulders slumped. She minded Ben a lot more than she did her mother. Lucinda got up and took the dishes to the basin to wash.


The thunderstorm burst over them at night fall, and rain hammered down; in the morning it was still pouring. In spite of the weather a steady flow of families came stamping into the tavern, ate, shared news and rumors and laments, picked up food for their journey, and went on; they were leaving for the eastern end of the island, getting out of the way of the war. Thousands of British soldiers had taken over Gravesend and pitched their tents up and down the beach, including a pack of Germans. The King’s men were chasing the girls and drinking the place dry and nobody was safe there.

All morning Jenny helped her mother bake bread, slice cheese, make up baskets of food, serve beer, wash up. Whenever she could, she loitered in the public room, soaking in the gossip, the talk of the splendid uniforms, the stirring bands of drum and fife and horn. Everybody thought there would be a fight soon.

Her mother sent her to the storeroom to fetch corn to grind for journey cakes. The narrow windowless room was dark even when the sun was out, and Jenny took a candle. Jem had stacked firewood against one long wall and the room smelled of wax and new split logs. The corn was in a sack near the back of the storeroom. She took a crock down from the shelf, but before she filled it with kernels, she went around the corner, where in among tools and harness Ben’s muskets hung on the wall.

There were two of these. One was a regular Army pattern he had taken in part payment of a debt. The stock had been broken and he had carved a new one from walnut. Rough indentations covered the metal lockplate—an arrow, some numbers, a big crown over the letters GR.

The other gun was the musket his father, her grandfather, had made himself. The barrel had come from France but Jack Dolf had forged the lock fittings at the smithy in Flatbush, carved the stock, put it all together at his own workbench. Longer than the other musket, it made the Army gun look clunky. The trigger guard was deeper and the hammer had an elegant curl. The lockplate formed a graceful swooping curve along the stock.

The surface of the lockplate was clean, except for his initials, JD. Because of that, they all called this gun the JD.

Ben said it was the truest musket he had ever shot, and Jenny longed to try it. So far, he had only let her shoot the Army gun. She put out her hand toward it. The rain pattered on the wall. Her mother called. She took the crock to the sack of corn, filled it, and went back to the kitchen.

Chapter Two

The boom of the thunder rattled the tavern. The lanterns fluttered in the long narrow front room. All the neighboring farmers were packed in around the tables and the benches, and their voices boiled up loud as the storm, all gossip about the war.

Jenny leaned over the table, excited. Her mother had told her not to linger, but the burly man before her was full of talk, all about Charleston and driving the Britishers out of the south.

“The ship ran aground on the shoal and we just pounded it to pieces. And they ran. Pulled up all their anchors and ran!”

All around her, a roar went up. Jem nudged her in the ribs with his elbow. The big man flung his hands over his head.

“And they took their damned governors with them. The whole of the Carolinas—not a Britisher left!”

The roar doubled into a cheer. Jenny slapped her hands on the table top. Her father said all New York was royalist but it wasn’t so. The big man had said he came from the militia encampment up on the Heights, and he probably did, since she had never seen him before, and she knew everybody around here.

Beside her, Jem said, “Were you there, sir? Did you fight?”

The big man lolled on the bench. “The whole time. And got my share of lobster meat, I can tell you that.” He slurped down the last of the rum in his tankard. “Was at Boston, too, last year, when we run them out of there.”

Somebody else called, “That was General Washington, wasn’t it. General Washington who freed Boston.”

This story was well worn. Everybody knew how the British had marched out to seize the armories of the colonial militias, how the militias had met them at a bridge in Massachusetts, forced them to retreat, harried them relentlessly along the road back to Boston, and then laid siege to Boston and driven the British out entirely.

Of course, now that fleet had turned up here, that army was ashore now only a few miles away.

“Nah,” said the big man, lifting his tankard. “Was Knox. Fat old Knox. He drug them big guns down from Fort Ti and put them up on the hill over Boston, and the British ran like dogs, their tails between their legs.” His tankard was empty, and he looked into it and lifted his hopeful gaze, and from all around men pushed forward to pour him more rum.

Down the table from the burly man, a local man raised his head—Durham, the farmer from up the road.

“You people are all batty. This is pipe smoke. The King will make them pay. There’s a thousand ships here now. The King will win in the end and then they’ll hang them all. Georgie Washington the highest, and that fool Sam Adams right next to him.”

The room erupted in boos and hisses. Somebody shouted, “There’s twenty thousand men up on the Heights! It’ll be just like Boston!”

Somebody else called out, “Bosh bully. That army down there at Gravesend is the best army in the world. They just beat the French and the Spanish. You think a bunch of farmboys can stand up to them?  In a few months’ time, you’ll all be shouting ‘God save the King!’ and falling all over yourselves to toast old George.”

Overhead the thunder rolled again. From behind her a hand fell on Jenny’s shoulder.

“Your mother says come out of here.”

“Oh, Papa—”

“Do what I say, girl.”


“Jem isn’t you, girl. Come along.”

She stood. She loved it here. The public room boomed with boos and cheers; somebody yelled, “God save the King!” and somebody else yelled, “Give me Liberty!” and the clamor doubled. She hated to leave.

Jem leered at her and she glared back at him. Heavy footed, she went back through the crowd, still cheering, to the back room, where her mother got her by the ear and pulled her to the basin, full of dirty tankards.

“I told you not to stay in there. Lord, Jenny, if you behave like a hoyden, people will take you for one. Sit there and think about that a while. Men don’t marry sluts. Now. Wash.”

Jenny rinsed out the tankards. The water was almost too hot to bear and she kept her hands moving. She felt her life closing in around her like a little room.

Lucinda said, “Pretty soon you’ll have a man who’ll put you in your place, girl.”

Her mother was always trying to get her to sew, to weave, to wash and carry. She did not want to get married. Her body was a trap, something she wore like a dress, not her real self. Jem was only a few minutes older, but just by being a boy he got all the good things—he was still out there, listening to stories; he got to shoot the musket first, although she was a better shot. Being a girl just meant being somebody’s wife.

For a moment, thinking that, she could not breathe. What her real self was she could not guess.

A jubilant shout went up from the public room. Lucinda clucked.

“We shouldn’t let this go on. We’re supposed to be loyal to the King.”

Jenny plunged her hands into the hot water. Her mother made her angry. Lucinda was always on the safe side. Something big was happening here and Jenny was washing dishes. She wasn’t sure what was going on, but she knew it was something great, what had begun in Boston, kindled up higher in Charleston, something wonderful, a hero story, like David, or Lancelot.

She imagined herself in the middle of that. With her hands in the dirty water, she saw herself shooting down a lobster coat. Leading a charge. On horseback, maybe, although she had never ridden any horse but old Sam, who pulled their cart. She saw the British running terrified from her. She saw herself riding home in triumph, on that horse again. Her mother awestruck. Her father admiring.

She stacked the tankards upside down on the tray and dried her hands, and her mother swooped in again. “Now. Help me fold the blankets.”


Dolf’s Tavern was shaped like a T, two stories in front, the public room below and a hall above where people stayed overnight. Years ago Ben had built a new kitchen onto the back, the stem of the T, adding a bedroom for himself and Lucinda. Little Tom still slept in the room with them, but Jenny and Jem had the loft above, under the peak of the roof, a canvas wall separating between them.

In the dark, she lay up close to the canvas and whispered, “What else did they say?”

“The Continentals have made a fort on top of the hill. More men coming all the time, he says. There’s thousands of them now. More than the King’s men. General Washington is here. Old Put. General Greene.”

She gave a shiver of excitement. “There’s going to be another battle.”

“For certain,” he said. “Listen, don’t make a sound. I got the JD up here.”

“What! How’d you do that?”

“Pop left the storeroom open when he went out to lock up and Mama was busy putting Tom to bed.” He pushed against the canvas. The little window set into the wall behind her let in no light, with the rain coming down, but she put her hand on the stiff cloth, and felt through it the butt of the long gun.

“Oh, Jem,” she said. “He’ll kill you.”

“Has to catch me first,” Jem said. “I’m going up on the Heights. Once they’re asleep.”

She bounced upright on her knees. “I’m going with you.”

“No. You can’t. You’re just a girl. Besides. I need your help.” He was pulling up the bottom of the canvas wall, enough to push through a wad of cloth. “They’ve for sure got the front door locked up; there’s people in the sleeping hall. I’m going out the window here.”

“I’ll get the other musket.”

“He’s locked the storeroom. You can’t. Help me. Take my blanket, tie it to yours to make a rope.”

He went to the front of the loft, where the door opened to the back room below, and peeked out. She tugged his blanket through the gap below the canvas and mostly by feel straightened it lengthwise. Not fair, she thought. This isn’t fair. But he was right, although she gritted her teeth to think it. They would’t let her fight. They’d only send her home again. And she had no weapon.

She knotted the blankets together and carried them to the little window. In a moment he was there beside her, the musket on his shoulder and the cartridge box in one hand. He had on his Sunday coat of brown broadcloth with shell buttons.

“Papa will be—”

“Sssh!” He laid the long gun down on the floor and opened the window. The cool damp air rushed in over them. The dark outside was noisy with the rain, a vast damp rustling of leaves. “Here. You hold one end.” He coiled up the rope of blankets.

She said, “Let me do that.” She dragged over her little stool, and wrapped the end of the blanket around it so she could brace it against the wall. She took a good hold of it in both fists. “Now be careful.”

He threw the coil of the blanket out the window and eeled after it, head first. On the sloping eave he twisted around on his stomach, facing her. “Hand me the musket when I’m down there,” he said, and gripping the blanket rope in his fists he slid off the eave. The blanket rope jerked taut in her hands and the stool smacked up hard against the sloping wall. She leaned back, all her weight braced.  She could feel him going down, the way the blanket twitched and pulled in her grip. Then it slackened. She stuck her head out the window; the rain was coming down harder.

Standing on the ground, he was just a shadow. He waved at her, and she took the musket by the muzzle. Leaning out through the window, she lowered down past the eave. It did not reach as far as his upstretched hands, and she dropped it into his grip. Her father was going to be in a rage when he found out the gun was gone. She dropped the cartridge box down to him and watched him cut across the road and disappear into the woods.

She realized he was following the old deer trail that went up along the bank of the creek, the quickest way to the top of the hill. She pulled the blanket rope back up and latched the window. Her heart was pounding fast. Uncoiling the blanket rope from the stool, she unknotted it, shoved his part back onto his side of the canvas wall, and lay down on her tick.

She couldn’t sleep. The blanket was wet and cold and she lay rigid under it, waiting until dawn, and never even closed her eyes.


By sunrise the rain had stopped. The last of the sleepovers left. Jenny came in to the kitchen from the public room, carrying the dirty dishes from their breakfast. Lucinda was at the wash basin, and Ben and little Tom sat at the long table, eating porridge.

Her father said, “Where’s Jem?”

Jenny shrugged, not meeting his eyes. Her father grunted, and he lurched up off the bench and went to the ladder to the loft. Jenny put the tray of dirty dishes at her mother’s elbow.

At the top of the ladder Ben opened the door to the loft and let out a wordless bellow.

“What’s going on?” Lucinda asked.

Ben leapt down the ladder, now red faced. “Where is he?” To Lucinda, he said, “He’s not in his bed.”  Lucinda gave Jenny a quizzical look, dried her hands, and went out the back door. Ben glared at Jenny a moment; Tom was looking from one to the other, his mouth open.

Ben’s face went redder still; his suspicions bloomed on his face, and he wheeled and went to the storeroom.

In a moment he was rushing back out, roaring. “The JD! He’s got my musket!” He grabbed Jenny by the shoulders. “Where did he go?”

She shrugged. She wouldn’t lie. He shook her, hard. “Tell me!”

Lucinda came in again, her face taut. “He must have gone out the loft window. There’s footprints in the mud there.” She gave Jenny a hard look. “Tell us. Right now. Where did he go?”

Jenny said, “He went to join the army.”

Ben shook her again. “Damn fool. He’s up on the Heights, sure as red apples.” His hot breath blasted her in the face. “I’m surprised you didn’t go with him!”

She lifted her head; she looked him in the eyes. “I wanted to. I wish I had.”

He blinked at her, his face settling. He gave her another bone rattling shake. “I’m going up and fetch him home.” He glared at Jenny. “Lu, keep her here and locked up. You hear me?”

Lucinda said, “Ben, be careful.” But she took Jenny by the arm. “Don’t you go anywhere. You hear me? You stay right where I can see you, every moment.”

Jenny said nothing; she gathered up the plates on the table. Beside the cutting board where they had sliced the bread was the thin bladed butter knife. She slid that up her sleeve, and took the rest of the dishes to the basin.


Ben saddled his horse and headed west along the foot of the Heights, until he came to the road to Brooklyn. He didn’t much like to ride but the way up to the Heights was steep. As he rode along he thought of how he would knock Jem on his backside when he found him and make him walk the whole way home. He went over in his mind all the things he would say. He hoped the fool hadn’t lost the musket. He knew most of the people in Brooklyn, which was only a little village anyway, two streets, and he thought he would have no trouble finding him.

The sun grew hot. After the storm the air was fresh and the woods around him glittered. Drops of rain fell glistening through the sunlit trees. The road led him along the edge of the Gowanus River and its swamps, past the mill race and the dam, and turned uphill.

As he rode up toward the top of the hill his belly tightened. The woods here were full of people. Before he had gone a hundred feet on, a line of men in blue jackets, all carrying long guns, stepped out in front of him and stopped him.

“Going to Brooklyn,” he said, to the man who looked in charge. “What’s going on?”

“What’s the pass word?” that man barked. He had on a three-cornered hat with a white cockade.

“I don’t know,” Ben said, angry. “I’m just going up to Brooklyn. I live here.” That heartened him. He glared at all these strangers who gathered around him; one even poked at his saddle, which made the horse snort and sidestep. Finding nothing, they drew back and one nodded to the leader, who stepped back and waved Ben past.

Then as he went around a bend, and the hill got steeper, another set of men came out of the woods and stopped him again.

“Going to Brooklyn,” he said, again, through his teeth. He looked around at them, thinking Jem might be one of them. He knew none of them. They crowded around him again, looking him over, and finally let him go on.

When he came out of the trees he reined old Sam to a stop and let the horse blow, and looked over what lay before him.

He could see the roofs of Brooklyn now, off across the top of the hill, on the bluff there above the upper bay. The spire of the church stood up over everything. But between him and the village, stretching across the broad treeless hilltop, was a wall of muddy earth piled up as high as his head. Off to his left a building stood, made of raw logs, boxy and tall, and on the right, farther away, was another.

They were still building this; all along the foot of it, men were digging, tossing dirt. Other men walked on top of the wall with long guns in their hands, and every ten or fifteen yards along it, the maw of a cannon poked through. He turned the horse toward the only gap he could see, and here again, a crowd of men with guns stopped him. Some wore jackets, some wore hunting shirts and some were dressed much like him, in broadcloth and breeches.

“Pass word?”

“I don’t know any pass word,” he said, desperately. He was sweating, not from the muggy summer heat. “I’m looking for my son.” Again he scanned the area around them, hoping he would lay eyes on Jem.

“You can’t go through without the pass word.”

“I don’t know it,” he said, loud. “I’ve lived here all my life. You’re the strangers here. Get out of my way.”

“You can’t get through without the pass word.” The soldier took a step forward, getting right in front of Sam, who snorted. The other men gathered around him.

“Listen,” he said. “I’m just looking for my son.”

From the top of the wall another man said, “Let him through, boys.” He wore a white shirt under a deerskin vest, a broad-brimmed hat. The soldiers barring Ben’s way backed off to either side, and he kicked the horse into a trot through the gap in the earth wall, into the encampment.

This covered the whole broad brow of the hill. The rutted road led past fires, tents, stacks of cut wood, and clumps of men sitting on the ground, who stared at him. Somewhere a drum was beating. He searched every group of faces for Jem’s. There were hundreds of them. Thousands. The road was sloppy from the rain. He rode by a stinking ditch. A stray cow wandered past him. The drum kept up its distant, monotonous rhythm.

He drew rein again, in the middle of it all, watching the men dig, march, sit by the fires with their weapons. He looked over toward little Brooklyn again and wondered if anybody he knew was even there any more.

He remembered what he had seen down at Gravesend, the thousand sails of the King’s fleet, and his gut rolled. He should have realized then what this was becoming. He nudged Sam with his heels and the horse started forward, and then from his left hand a blare of horns went up, and a great roar of yelling voices.

The horse shied violently, and Ben ducked down over its withers. All around him the men were leaping up and running toward the earthworks, and down there, a boom sounded, a great hollow thunder that rolled away off the hill.

The cannon. He stood up in his stirrups to see. The soldiers were lining up along the earthworks, their muskets aimed downhill, and the cannon crashed again, and Sam started off on his own so suddenly that Ben almost fell off.

He reined the horse down. He could not find Jem here, and no time even to look, now. He thought with a stab of fear of Lucinda and his other children, defenseless back at the tavern, and he almost turned the horse around. But they were fighting, back there, all along the road he had just passed. He knew another way off this hill. He put the horse into a trot, following the road toward the village. Running men streamed by him. Their yells raised his hackles. In a long booming peal several cannon fired off again behind him. He came to the crossroads and turned north. Sam broke into a canter and Ben did not rein the horse down. He passed the second log fort. The earthworks ranged along on his right hand; the fighting was back behind him now, and to his relief he saw that, up ahead, the mud wall ended. He slowed the horse and turned where the road turned, skirting the end of the earthworks, going back down the slope, toward the little rutted trail that led toward the Jamaica Pass.

Twisting, he looked back. The fighting was well behind him now. Puffs of black smoke drifted in the air. The long guns crackled in the distance like twigs snapping. The road led down and the woods enclosed him. He turned forward again and kept the horse at a steady trot.

He had to get his family out of the way of this. He had been a fool, thinking they were safe here. His chest ached. Back there somewhere was Jem. He was leaving Jem behind, caught in the middle.

He was not a praying man. He thought God had better things to do than listen to the little gripes and hopes of ordinary people. But now he began to pray. He thought, Please, God. Let me have my son back. Give me back my son, and I will praise your name. I’ll go to church. I’ll tithe. I’ll be a better man. Just give me back my son.

The path went down into the thick brushy woods and turned steep. Narrow and overgrowth, its course twisted through rocks and thickets, and he dismounted and led the horse along, picking his way over fallen branches. The sounds of the fighting grew dim behind him. Birds chattered and trilled overhead and the rising wind stirred the tops of the trees; it was going to rain again. At the foot of the hill, at last, he came out onto the road, where it bent to go east, and turned the other way, back toward his home. He began to think what he would say to Lucinda. He began to plot how he would pack up his family to get away. It was too late today to get that done but tomorrow, if he hurried, by noon at the latest they could all be on the road to the eastern end of the island.

Chapter Three

Jack woke before dawn with rain pattering on his face. The crease on his arm hurt. He tried crawling back into the shelter of the bush fence but that didn’t help. His clothes were still soaking wet and he was shivering. He did not remember ever being afraid the day before, during all the fighting and running, but now suddenly he wanted his mother; he wished he were home in his own bed; his whole body ached.

He had to piss. He had tucked his coat around the musket, to keep it dry, and he stuck the bundle back deep under the fence, pushed the canvas sack in with it, and went down the way, past sleeping men. The latrine was easy to find; he just followed the stink to a ditch, slick with shit, with standing puddles along the floor.

Here he looked quickly around, saw no one, and squatted to relieve himself. Down the way another man appeared, and Jack started up, but the other man squatted too, looking away. Jack got up and pulled up his breeches and went back to his camp.

Dawn was breaking. The others were stirring awake. Two of them had pulled his coat and sack out from under the fence and had the JD in their hands, and he bounded past the fire to them and snatched it away.

Davey Hutton recoiled, looking guilty, but the other man, the blond man with the big nose, just grinned at him. “Fine weapon,” he said.

Jack sat down, the musket across his knees. “My grandfather made it.” He stroked the musket.

“They thought you’d run for it,” Davey Hutton said. He turned to the Dutchman Rudy and grinned. “Told you, Rudy.”

Rudy snorted at him. To Jack, he said, “There’s coffee. You got a cup in there?” He nodded at the canvas bag.

Jack opened the bag; in fact there was a tin cup, also a spoon and a dish, a folded shirt. He took out the cup and Rudy poured it full.

“Here you go, laddy.”

This was coffee, or supposed to be coffee, horrible, bitter, thick as mud. Jack sipped at it, keeping his stomach down with long breaths between. Davy put more wood on the fire, which hissed in the rain.

“This is fucked,” he said. “I’m goin’ to town, there’s got to be better places to fort up.”

A lanky man with a pitted face said, “You’re on.”

Jack sipped more of the stinking coffee. That word jarred him; he had heard it before, vaguely knew what it meant; Jem had used it once, and their mother had washed his mouth out with soap. Then he almost laughed, triumphant. He could say that now. He could say anything now. But he only drank the coffee.

The lanky man turned to Rudy. “Keep an eye out. If the Captain comes by, cover for us.”

Rudy said, “You betcha.” He turned to Jack and winked.

Hutton and the other man went off. Rudy poured himself the last of the coffee; the bottom of the pot was an inch deep in grounds. He said, “Thought you might have taken off home.” He had a canvas bag much like Jack’s beside him, and he reached into it and took out what looked like a rock. “Here.”

Jack said, “The Britishers are in the way. I’d have to get through them.” He inspected the rock, curious. It was light brown, hard and square and dusty.

Rudy shrugged. “Still. If I were this near home, I’d run myself. That’s a biscuit, laddy. Eat it.”

Jack’s coat was soaked again, but he pulled it on. He tucked the musket under the skirt. The rain seemed to be slackening.  He bit tentatively on the biscuit, which resisted his teeth. A horn blew, down the line, and a drum began to beat, a rattle of strokes, a pause, another rattle.

Rudy said, “Soak it in the coffee.”

Jack dunked the rock in the coffee a while; that did soften it somewhat, and he managed to bite off a piece, chewed it, and swallowed. It had no taste except the bitter grease from the coffee. Rudy stood up, looking around.

“Here comes Captain Webb.”

Jack rose to his feet. The man with the scraggly black beard was striding toward them. He wore a clean blue coat with light brown lapels, and his breeches were powdery white, but Jack remembered how he had led them through the swamp; suddenly he was very glad for Captain Webb. Jack wondered what he was supposed to be doing, and when Rudy straightened himself up, shoulders squared, and raised one hand to the side of his face, Jack imitated him.

Webb stopped in front of them and did the same thing with his hand, and Rudy lowered his arm and so did Jack.

“Well,” Webb said. “Some fewer, are we, now?”

Rudy said, “They’s just gone off to the shitter, sir.”

Another word Jack’s mother would have grabbed the soap for.

Webb grunted. “I want everybody out to drill in an hour. I’ll sound the horn. Meanwhile, you two are on picket duty.”

“Yes, sir.”

Webb’s eyes remained on Jack. “What’s your name, son?”

“Jack Dolf, sir. Thank you, sir.”

“Thank me for what, son?”

“You saved our lives, sir.”

The Captain’s face altered slightly; Rudy elbowed Jack in the side.

“Well. You’re welcome. I’ll write you onto the roll.” In his sparse black beard the Captain’s lips twisted. “God knows there’s room.” He went on to the next fire.

“What’s picket duty?” Jack asked. He bit off another piece of the biscuit.

Rudy gestured toward the fence. “Watching out for the lobsters.” He turned and looked across the fence. “I don’t know why they ain’t coming now. Jeez, we are so fucked. Goddamn generals fucked us over.” He poked Jack again. His eyes were pale blue. “What a kiss-face. Rule number one: never sweeten up to an officer like that. But you’re right, Webb’s a good ‘un. Come on, we gotta stand guard.”


“To the right, face!’

Jack was watching Rudy, who was next to him, through the corner of his eye; Rudy jerked his body to the right, and Jack followed, trying to stand straight. Webb, who was watching them from horseback a little way off, put his hand to his face. Jabez White, older, with a heavy yellow beard, was giving the orders, for a reason Jack could not discern.


Tramp tramp tramp. They walked forward ten steps along the road.


Jack stopped, and the man behind him walked up on his heels. Jack turned and gave him a black look. White was yelling again, mostly insults. They marched up and down a few more times, ten paces up, ten paces back. Jack thought this was witless. Nonetheless he liked it, the sudden feeling of belonging, being part of something. Bolton, behind him, was stepping on his heels every time they stopped; Jack thought this was on purpose.

They wheeled around, and marched back the way they had just come. He glared at Bolton’s back. “Halt! To the right—face!”

They all tromped around to the right.

“Don’t stamp, damn you. Keep this small. Forward—march!”

This took them straight up to the ditch, where Bolton, with a great show of milling his arms, wobbled on the edge, and everybody laughed. White howled.

“To the right—about–face!”

This meant a full half-turn, back into the middle of the road. It was like dancing.

“Left—face! Forward—march! Quick time”

That was a kind of jog. Bolton stepped on his heel again, and Jack spun around toward him.

White shouted, “Dolf! Face forward! Bolton, keep your space. Poise—musket!”

Bolton was smirking. Jack straightened, clenching his teeth. Watching Rudy, he held the musket up in front of him, straight up and down, but his hand slipped, and he dropped it. All along the rank the other men whooped and hooted. White bore down on him like a charging bull. Jack grabbed the musket up off the ground and held it the way Rudy held it, pretended White wasn’t yelling, stared straight ahead under a barrage of curses.

After some more of this, they went back to their camp by the brushworks, and sat around the fire. The rain started up again, not hard.

Jabez White sat down with them, and Jack asked, “Why do you get to give us orders?”

White looked down his nose at him. “I’m elected the sergeant. I know the drills. Do you?”

Jack said, reluctantly, “No.”

“Then shut up and learn.” White handed him a cup. “Eat. And tomorrow go down to the sutler’s wagon and get yourself outfitted.” His face tightened. “If we’re still here tomorrow.”

Jack swallowed. Rudy turned to him and said, “Well, ready to go home yet?”

“No,” Jack said, again, remembering to talk deep in his throat. He looked into the cup, which smelled sour; a green slime of grease covered the watery stew. “Maybe,” he said.

Around him they all laughed. White drummed him on the back. “You’ll learn, kid. Hold your nose, if you have to.”

He felt, suddenly, a lift of the spirit. He took a sip of the lukewarm salty mess in the cup. He thought, Maybe I have always been a boy.


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