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The Best of 2013

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Independence

(or An Orphan's Progress)
A Novella by Robert Buckley

 

erotic fictionIt is said that History is written by those who prevail. I say all History ought to be written by orphans. For, no matter how much one strives to preserve objectivity, most people are influenced by the prejudice and preconceptions they inherit from their first and greatest teachers: parents and family.

Orphans are free of such encumbrances, having survived, whether victorious or vanquished, without benefit of family, and as such are left to interpret life and the world as it is, without flavor or taint or shading. And so I, an orphan, hereby offer this poor and limited account of the dawning of American Independence. Whether the birth of the United States turns out for good or ill, I must leave to the reckoning of another orphan, far, far into the future.

As I have thus stated, I am an orphan. I have no memory of my mother and have thus had to rely on varying accounts of her situation that led her to give me up to the world. All caregivers and benefactors are but vague and shaded in my memory until Powchaughapot – my uncle. Or so he told me he was, though I doubt we shared any true blood relation. He had agreed to take charge of me for five Spanish dollars and a crate of rum. This was considered the best solution for all concerned as my true relations believed my father was an Indian. This I also doubt and I would invite any disinterested person to observe my features, my fair brown hair and green-hazel eyes, for I am confident such examination would also excite in him skepticism of my alleged aboriginal heritage.

Uncle Pow was a member of Dr. Eliot’s flock of praying Indians of Stockbridge. He could read and write and quote from Scripture. He had fought for the British as a scout in the late French War, guiding rangers. He was a good man, gentle, if stingy with his affection, but very wise in his own way, and practical in his instruction. His best advice was for me to learn to read and write and always be wary of the White Man, but if you had to live among them, try to stay as drunk as you could because only then would they make sense.

When I was about ten – an estimation, as I had no precise idea how old I was, though a paper kept by Uncle Pow stated I was born in the year 1756 – my guardian announced that Massachusetts Bay was “no good place for an Indian to be,” and so took ship to Europe. I have not laid eyes on him since. My only regret at the time was that he had not gotten around to teaching me my letters. That task, however, fell to another benefactor, a paunchy, morose but generally kind British officer who took me into his care and employment and thus plucked me from a life on the streets.

Major Broadley was a minor sprout of a landed family in England. Much too far along the birthing line amongst his siblings, and therefore unlikely to acquire any inheritance, his family otherwise provided for him by purchasing a minor commission. He admitted to me that he had no talent for the military arts or leadership, and so was put in charge of warehouses in Boston. And such was his command: goods and the buildings they occupied, and the random soldier assigned to carry stocks in or out who was bound by military convention to show him deference.

His acute awareness of his personal limitations made him melancholy, but otherwise he was a good soul. He had a few books in his possession and taught me my letters in return for my labors in the warehouses. Once I had learned to read I devoured any book I could get my hands on. His paltry collection of tomes included some works of Shakespeare and some lurid romances. They were all equally entertaining.

In the evening he would sip wine from the officers’ stores and lament that he would likely die in America alone, forgotten by family, and never achieving any great estimation by his fellow officers. He rued not having married, nor even a chance at romance until the notion had become quite impossible since his age and dissipation had thus rendered him quite impotent.

“I’d as likely push a pudding into a long-necked bottle,” he would say, and then he would become sad, but not sour, and my heart would go out to the man.

“Come along, Zach,” he would entreaty, and a melancholy smile would bend his lips, and his eyes would brim, “for old Portunes’ sake, knead me legs a while. It helps me to sleep.”

It was little enough of a favor to provide a decent gentleman who kept me fed and sheltered, and taught me my letters. I would gently manipulate his shriveled limbs and he would sigh and fall into slumber as I tugged the blanket to his shoulders.

It was put about by some of the other officers that I was his bugger boy, but I think that was mostly envy, especially as one or two sought to requisition my services. But Major Broadley would not allow it, and was a veritable pit dog in defending me from abuse. The rankers meanwhile cast no judgments, no aspersions my way.

And though I eventually threw in my lot and fortune with the Patriot cause, the truth of it is, I found most of the Britishers I’d encountered to be decent sorts. Oh, there were a few who were full of themselves, chafing under their unfounded arrogance to correct a Yankee bumpkin. But I found the better part of them to be fair fellows. Of course, as I was an orphan with no property, I was not one of those forced to board them in my premises, bedding them near wives and daughters. That certainly stoked some tension in the olde towne.

One chilly March evening I spent tossing the bones with some friends, a pair of foot soldiers who shared sentry duties at the warehouses. A clamoring outside grew more noisome; the boys hurried with their muskets to investigate. A crowd had gathered; objects were thrown, and then a terrible roar.

They said it was a massacre; that the troops, including a pair of my mates had wantonly fired into a crowd of townspeople. They stood trial, defended by Mr. John Adams, with whom I became acquainted as I earned some extra coin running messages for him to and from the Committee of Safety. Mr. Adams was one of the most petulant men I ever met, but he succeeded in exonerating my friends as well as several others.

Shortly thereafter, Major Broadley died of a fever. They buried him without any ceremony in the yard behind the King’s Chapel. I wept for him alone.

But my fortunes improved soon. I had caught the eye of Mr. Adam’s cousin, Samuel, and Mr. Hancock, who employed me upon one of his ships, and I learned the smuggler’s trade. I could afford a purse then, and needed one to keep all my specie.

I was also inducted into the society of Patriots, or so they called themselves. At the time, as I have said, I had no quarrel with British authority, and certainly not with Britishers as individuals, but one does get swept up in the prevailing wind. I was taught to spy and report my observations concisely.

One evening in front of the whole Committee of Safety, however, I was called out by a lad of about twelve or thirteen; he was a tall stocky boy and seemed to be closer to my own age. Later I was told he was Mr. Revere’s son.

“He can’t be trusted; he was a British officer’s sally,” the boy sneered.

Before any in the room had time to react to the slander, I knocked the boy on his arse. No one ever called me a sally again.

I served as spy and courier. For instance, I was charged with sailing a packet from Boston to Salem in mid winter, just ahead of a body of troops led by Major Leslie. He had been ordered to confiscate canon, but I alerted the local Committee and his mission was thwarted. Several such expeditions were dispatched by General Gage, the commander in chief, from time to time. One such in April became the one too many.

I had been sent to Menotomy to relay a message to Mssrs. Hancock and Adams if they could be found, and after rowing across the Charles met up with a contingent of militiamen from Danvers in a hurry to join some fight that had broken out somewhere; they were vague in their own minds as to exactly where. Those fellows ran headlong into some Royal Marines who were in a terrible nasty humor. It was a horrible skirmish.

I had no weapon of my own, so chose not to join in, but instead followed the main road toward Concord. I had traveled a short distance when I came upon a poor fellow, a lieutenant of light infantry, his body crumpled beside a stone wall, bruised, bloodied. It was evident he had broken several bones. A magnificent, coal black horse stood by him.

As I approached his eyes went wide, and then, as he scanned my face, and perhaps seeing I was not armed, he relaxed.

“There,” he said, and coughed a spray of blood. “You look like a fine lad. Please, look after my horse, won’t you? It was no fault of his; always the rider, eh? Be a good fellow and see to him, won’t you?”

I knelt and offered him a swig of watered-down rum from a skin bladder.

He sipped some and smiled. “My, you are a good fellow indeed. Damned poor luck. Not a single wound, but the last fusillade frightened Trevor. He cleared this blasted wall; I didn’t.”

“Trevor, sir?”

“My horse.”

“Ah, I see.” I wanted to tell him I had no experience with horses, but before I could, the light of life faded from his eyes and his soul fled to the realm of spirits.

I closed his eyes for him, then stood and took hold of the stallion’s bridle. Gingerly I climbed into the saddle. For a long time Trevor trotted in circles until I puzzled out how to guide him with the reins. Still, it was a harrowing experience while I managed to steer him toward Boston.

I was diverted to Cambridge by hordes of militia. They had fought a daylong running battle with the King’s troops and the whole British army in North America was now corked up tight in Boston.

I wanted to divest myself of the horse as soon as I could, hoping I could make a few shillings by selling him to a gentleman. Instead, I instantly acquired a notorious reputation as an expert rider who had captured a horse from a redcoat officer. No matter how I tried to bend their tales to the truth, the men in camp were determined to believe I was a bold, stallion-riding hussar.

I might as well have married the horse. Although I had become a passably adept rider, through trial, but mostly error, I longed to be rid of him. But the officers would have none of that. I was employed as a courier, since there were so few horsemen and rideable horses available.

The spring became an early and humid summer. One evening General Ward charged me to ride through Somerville and along to where a slim neck of land reached out to Charlestown. I was to convey orders to General Putnam upon Bunkers Hill, but when I arrived I was told our entire body of troops had repaired to hold the height a mile distant called Breeds. It made as much sense as anything else to me; I’m no tactician, so I rode Trevor across the neck to the lower height overlooking the harbor and a pair of His Majesty’s frigates. The sky was just beginning to pale with nascent morning and a cannon ball whooshed by like a blur before my eyes.

I dismounted instantly and made for the earthen redoubt. Colonel Prescott signaled me to join him.

“You, there. Stand by me and be prepared to take dispatches to the rear,” he said.

The bombardment began in earnest soon thereafter and it was futile to calm Trevor. I made one run across the neck with messages to bring up ammunition and reinforcements. When I returned to the redoubt for the last time I could barely make it out in all the dust and smoke. I peered into the haze where men fought each other like demons. Then from that awful cloud emerged a line of grenadiers. Giant men with peaked caps, but their size was not nearly as intimidating as that what caught the glint of the late afternoon sun, their bayonets.

Trevor reared and I slid out of the saddle. I watched him gallop away from the fray just a moment before I felt a fiery sting in my right buttock. I didn’t look back; I ran as fast as I could, and soon I was running in the company of many men. We were midway along the neck when our ranks were raked by ships moored in the Mystic. Many of our number fell away. I flattened myself on the ground in high grass and began to crawl.

I thought I’d crawled for miles before the din of cannon faded and ceased. The darkening sky was streaked pink and orange. I cautiously stood and reached to touch my arse which felt like it had been branded. Blood stained my palm. I was on the seaward side and just before the foot of Bunker Hill. Behind me, Breeds remained swathed in smoke and dust.

I saw a small house with a few fowl in its yard and made for it. My arse burned like it had been stung by a hundred hornets.

I leaned on the door and feebly rapped my knuckles upon its rough wooden frame.

“Hello! Anyone inside?”

No answer came. I thought perhaps the occupants had fled the sounds of battle. I leaned my shoulder into the door and tried to force it, but then it swung inward and I nearly trampled the girl who had opened it.

She let out a holler.

“Please, Miss, I mean you no harm. I’m wounded.”

She was the most perfectly plain girl I’d ever seen ... no, she was homely. She had no chin that I could discern, and her eyes were like saucers ... unnaturally wide. Her mouth was small and pinched, but two prominent front teeth protruded beneath her upper lip. Her hair was tied tightly about her skull beneath her linen cap.

“Wounded?” she said. “You ... you’re one of them! Traitor! Scoundrel!”

“Eh?”

“Patriots indeed. Sons of Liberty, all scoundrels.”

“Please, Miss, could you just put politics aside for now. I’m light-headed from blood loss.”

“Serves you right! I’m Polly Maxwell; daughter of Deacon Eben Maxwell, and a loyal subject of the King.”

“Good for you. Please, for the love of God, can you help me?”

She looked me up and down. “Well, as I’m a Christian, I suppose I am duty-bound to succor even an enemy.”

“Bless you, girl.”

“Where are you wounded ... exactly?”

“Exactly in my ... ah ... behind.” I turned and she gasped.

“I ... well ... you’ll have to strike your britches.”

“Very well, Miss.”

I undid the buttons and lowered my breeches.

“Oh, my,” Polly said in a long exhalation.

“I don’t think it is deep,” I said.

“It is bleeding a lot. The wound ... it’s ...”

“I know ... three sided. It’ll be difficult to close.”

“Perhaps I can do it with a poultice.”

She had me lie on the floor and hold a piece of cloth to my wound. I listened as she mixed ingredients with hot water from a kettle. After a while she knelt beside me and pressed the mixture against the wound. It stung for a moment and then the pain subsided. She bade me to press a clean patch of fabric to it and she went outside.

I thought she had fled, or perhaps sought out a redcoat to whom she could hand me over. But she returned and the smell of hot pitch filled the room.

“This will hurt, but I have no other way of sealing the poultice to the wound.”

The pitch burned for a moment, but I was at long last patched. I began to relax. Then I felt the flutter of fingertips on my balls as if a squadron of moths had landed there.

“Eh?”

Polly instantly withdrew her hand. “I ... I was just seeing if you were wounded ... elsewhere.”

“Uh-huh.”

She let me rest, but I thought it best not to wear out my welcome, such as it was in a Loyalist household. I stood and thanked her.

“I’ll leave you in peace, now,” I said and made for the door.

But she barred my way. “Do you expect me to believe you will leave me unmolested?”

“Yes ... of course, I’ve just said it.”

“Truly, my father has said you are all worse than heathens, no better than highway thieves, murderers, pillagers ... rapists.”

“What? That’s nonsense. Where is your father anyway?”

“He is in Charlestown. I pray he is safe. If he only knew I’m sure he would not have left his only daughter to the predations of the likes of you and your kind.”

“Miss ... Polly, please, I mean you no harm.”

“Feh! You will ravish me, I know that! I ... a defenseless female.”

“I certainly will not!”

“Oh, yes you will ...”

“I won’t!”

“You will ... I know it ... I know you will ... won’t you?”

That last sounded like a plea and in that moment I remembered when Major Broadley defined epiphany, because just then I had one.

“Well, since you’ve accommodated yourself to your fate ... yes, I am going to ravish you.”

“Oh, Lord’s mercy!”

“Let’s see what you look like under your frock, my pretty Tory tart.”

“Uhh ... what ... did ... you ... call me?”

“Huh? What? Tart?”

She shook her head.

“Tory?”

She shook her head again. Her lower lip trembled.

“Pretty?”

“Ohhh ... truly?” Her eyes attained a sort of gloss and she tugged at a stray fall of hair from under her cap.

“We only rape the pretty ones,” I said, struggling not to laugh out loud at myself.

Polly swooned, melting into a pile on the floor. I lifted her and reached beneath her garments. My hands and forearms encountered the softest, warmest, silken girl skin I had ever touched. The sensations saturated me to my core. I began to kiss her neck as she whimpered and sighed. I lifted her frock and shift over her head at the same time. She wore no stay and so stood naked in my arms. Her hair had come loose as her cap fell away.

“Ohh, no ... I am shamed! Will you take my maidenhead? Black-hearted villain!”

“What? You’ve never ...?”

It wasn’t as if I were a legendary lothario. But, I’d had some practical experiences paid for by Major Broadley with women of the street. He said it was as important to a young man’s education as book learning. But none of those bawds felt as sweet as Polly.

“You’re ... a virgin?”

“You’ve shamed me ... I’m naked in your sight. You’re so cruel.”

She squeaked as I snaked my hand between her thighs. She was as moist as the Mystic fog.

I lifted her onto a table and laid her on her back.

“It will hurt?”

“Um, we’ll see.”

My cock was aching then, and pointing at Polly’s slick quim. I pushed myself into her until I felt a resistant ridge. I pushed again, gently, but with determination and her gate gave in. She cried out.

“This is what it’s like?” she sighed.

I fell into a rhythm and after a moment she began to meet my thrusts and clasped her legs around me. I kissed her face and shoulders, cuddled her small breasts and sucked on her nipples as she made the most enchanting sounds.

Without warning she moaned huskily and her eyes rolled back. At the same time I felt my cock in her channel being clenched, released and clenched again, milking an eruption of fluid that roiled right out of my balls ... or so it seemed. After several spasms all tension fled my body.

We were covered with sweat. I buried my nose into the hair beneath her arms. She smelled of molasses and vanilla. I wondered if her father was a distiller.

I lifted myself off her and pulled up my breeches. My wound throbbed dully.

Polly sat up and closed her arms over her breasts.

“Are you proud of yourself, scoundrel? You’ve ruined me.”

“Serves you right. Perhaps I should take you back to camp and put you to carnal service.”

“You wouldn’t! Could you be that cruel?”

“Hmm, maybe I’ll return, my little loyalist strumpet.”

She gasped, “My father will shoot you on sight.”

I laughed and turned to leave.

I stood a moment in the doorway then dashed back into the kitchen. I kissed Polly, a long lingering kiss on her lips.

“Goodbye, pretty girl.”

She forgot herself momentarily, but then remembered she was outraged, and turned her nascent smile into a snarl.

The militias still held Bunkers Hill. I was given transport from there by cart into Cambridge where I was greeted by many friends who survived the fight. So many others did not.

I was told that Trevor had been recaptured and was led off by a trio of Redcoats to a British officer who assumed his custody.

I pretended to be disappointed, but in truth was glad to be rid of him. I was glad for Trevor, though, that he had been reunited with his own side with a commissioned gentleman who could appreciate him and ride him correctly.

Unfortunately, my reputation as a rider did not diminish. The commanders found me another horse, but this one was a mild mare named Peggy who seemed more suited to farm duty than military. We suited each other well enough though, and thus began my career as a long-distance courier carrying messages from Cambridge to Hartford, New York, Philadelphia and beyond.

I was away when the British Army quit Boston for Halifax. When I returned I inquired after Polly, certain that I had protected her and her family from abuse by spreading my account of the aid and sustenance she’d given me. Of course, I did not tell the entire truth.

I was told by a spy who observed the evacuation that one Deacon Maxwell had taken ship with his homely daughter Polly, who was very large with child, and her husband, believed to be a blacksmith from Braintree. I did not see nor hear of her again, but I hope she has lived a happy life.

And as the war shifted to New York I continued my duties as a courier, which found me approaching the city of Philadelphia one hot and sticky July with dispatches for Congress.

*    *    *

You smell a city before you see it, often from a long way off. Even a city such as Philadelphia where Dr. Franklin had organized something called municipal sanitation. There was just so much shit and swill.

I customarily passed a small farmstead some miles outside the great city, catching sight of an older, wiry man, and a young woman almost too lovely for this earth. I surmised they were father and daughter. She did not wear her hair under a cap as was the custom, but long and unfettered. It was chestnut-hued, lustrous and draped from her shoulders to her hips.

On one occasion I happened upon her bathing naked in a place where a small creek pooled. I drew my mount into some high foliage and watched. She stood out of the water exposing her pear-shaped backside. Her skin was a pale brown, like hazelnut, and evenly shaded, so I gathered she customarily exposed her body to the sun, and why not? She was angelic.

I entertained fantasies of approaching her, even courting her. But on this day as I passed the farmstead from the road I halted to watch her embracing a young man. He wore the accoutrements of a ranger, and they appeared to be bidding each other farewell.

“Married?” The word emerged from my mouth as a sigh. I had never felt such heartache. And this for a girl I had never even spoken to. I chastised myself for that.

On into the city I rode and thence toward the river. I halted outside the rooms of Mr. Adams.

“Well ... well? What have you? Give it here!”

“Very good to see you again too, Mr. Adams.”

“Bah! Never mind your impudence, you must return to New York right away, and thence to Boston.”

“I’ll need another horse.”

“You’ll have to make do.”

“She’s spent, and so am I.”

“I have no more animals to give you.”

“Then I can’t go. What’s the hurry anyway?”

“We’re a nation, young man! A republic. We took the vote yesterday ... by God, generations will celebrate July the second with cannon and fireworks!”

“Independence?”

A hearty voice boomed behind me. “The thing is not signed yet, John. We still must put our names to it, and our heads in the noose.”

Dr. Franklin was a huge bear of a man who could fill a room by himself. One could imagine him fitting Mr. Adams inside his pocket.

“Franklin, Pennsylvania must lend Massachusetts a horse.”

“Again?”

“We’re all one nation now, Franklin, share and share alike. We’re all in it together, horses too.”

Dr. Franklin clapped me on the back. It felt like I’d been hit with a ham.

“Well, then, Zachariah. A knight in need of a steed; I’ll find you a likely mount. But you need not be off today. We’ll give you a copy of the document to carry north tomorrow. Tonight, rest and revive.”

“Why do you wear out so many horses?” Mr. Adams demanded.

“Too many side trips to Braintree. Oh, I almost forgot, some letters from Mrs. Adams.”

He snatched them from my hands and said not another word, but repaired silently to a small desk where he eagerly broke the wax seals and began to read. I’d never seen anyone so tenderly caress a piece of paper.

Dr. Franklin chuckled. “Let’s leave Adams alone ... with Mrs. Adams.”

“Yes, sir.”

I strolled with Dr. Franklin along the city’s byways. Beside him I felt like a boy, as the top of my head only reached his shoulder.

“So, how have you been, Zach?”

“Employed.”

He laughed. “A young man such as you has to consider his needs too.”

“But I am, sir. A penny saved ...”

“Oh, please ...” he pleaded and held his hands in mock horror to his ears. “I’m not talking about saving pennies.”

“Oh?”

“I want you to meet some friends of mine. I think you could do them a great service.”

“Who and how so?”

“We’ll see,” he said and unleashed a great booming laugh. “Have you been bathing regularly?”

“Not in the sense of climbing into a tub of hot water, sir. There are plenty of creeks I have to cross; I suppose I wash my clothes the same way.”

“Hmm, I suppose it’s something.”

He guided me inside a tavern where a paunchy man in expensive clothing stood and greeted us.

“Samuel,” Dr. Franklin replied. “You’re looking well, and over fed as usual. Let me introduce Zachariah Roberts, a soldier and courier extraordinaire. Zack, Mr. Samuel Bunning.”

Mr. Bunning took my hand and shook it as if I were the most important man in the world. Yet, Mr. Bunning was himself one of the richest merchants in America.

“Very glad to meet you, sir,” he said. I wasn’t used to being called “sir.”

“And how is Mrs. Bunning?” Dr. Franklin inquired.

“Lovely, Franklin, just lovely. How could such a beauty be mine, eh, Franklin?”

“Well, you’re a handsome fellow, Samuel; surely she swooned at first sight of you.”

Mr. Bunning laughed explosively. “You’re too kind.”

“I thought Zach could serve in that matter we discussed,” Dr. Franklin continued, his voice low, one would even think, conspiratorial.

Mr. Bunning assessed me again. “Yes ... yes indeed ... he’s a strapping, strong lad ... and a patriot, eh?”

“That I can vouch for,” Dr. Franklin said and patted my arm.

He turned to me then. “Zach, Mr. Bunning has contributed a considerable part of his fortune to the American cause. Our new nation could not have a stauncher citizen than Samuel and his lovely wife. Patriots and free thinkers, philosophers, the both of them. Extraordinary people who will give this new country a firm foundation.”

“That’s wonderful,” I said, but feared my voice gave away my wariness. What was Dr. Franklin playing at? I had become used to expecting another shoe to drop whenever Dr. Franklin was involved.

“Well, Samuel,” Dr. Franklin said. “I must be at the printers seeing to the document. Young Zachariah is in need of a bath.”

“Ah, yes, Madame Bunning and I, of course, follow your recommended regimen and bathe daily.”

“Excellent ... you’ll both live longer for it. Now, please discuss your proposition with Zach. He’s a good soldier; and he’ll do whatever it takes to advance the cause.”

Dr. Franklin and Mr. Bunning raised their glasses. “To the cause!” They drank.

I, a bit tardily, also raised my glass and muttered, “To the cause.”

Mr. Bunning sat for a moment and smiled. He was perhaps the most pleasant man I ever encountered, and so unaffected by his station and wealth.

“Well, young Mr. Roberts, may I call you Zach?”

“That’s fine with me, sir.”

“These are exciting times, Zach. A new nation, and a chance to create an entirely new society; to chuck off the benighted dogmas of the old world, its fears, superstitions and prejudices. A nation of free thinkers; every citizen an open mind.”

“Yes, sir. That would be ... something indeed.”

“Let me tell you a bit about myself,” he said. “I’m not a young man, as you can see. I’ve grown great in years and girth and have outlived two saintly women, who each gave me children who, alas, did not survive childhood.”

“I am sorry, sir.”

He waved his fingers as if to gently brush away my condolences.

“Other men have suffered such wounds to their hearts. I comfort myself in the expectation that some day knowledge will overcome our frailty. Perhaps in a free country where knowledge, learning, and yes, science is cherished.”

“We hope so, sir.”

“Indeed, but for now we must cope with our reality. As you are now aware, I have recently taken another wife. She is a much, much younger woman, and a rare beauty. Oh, she had many, many, suitors, Zach. But, bless her pretty heart, she chose me. She blesses every one of my days and I love her with such fervor.”

I nodded. “That’s wonderful, sir.”

“I regret ... I can’t be a proper husband to her.”

“Sir?”

“I cannot ... well, that thing that makes us men ... I’m afraid mine has withered with age. Oh, certainly I can still make it drool, but the rigidity that young men take for granted ... is but a memory. Why, I just might as well just try to push pudding into at long-necked bottle.”

“I’m ... so sorry, sir.”

He dismissed my sympathy again with a wave of his hand. “I’ve had my days in the saddle, young man. My life is nearing its twilight phase. I can accept that. But my dear wife, Lorelei, she deserves ... how shall I put it ... satisfaction, perhaps ... no, she needs to experience the splendor of fervent copulation.”

“Truly?” I gulped.

“Young sir, she wants a child and I want an heir; so she will not be alone after I’m gone. My wife is a ripe, luscious, wondrous fruit that can’t be allowed to spoil on the vine.”

“I ... well ... no, of course not.”

“Will you do me ... us a service, young sir?”

“I ... sir, are you asking ...?”

“Come along, Zach. My wife is waiting to give you a bath.”

“Huh?”

“Come along, it’s Dr. Franklin’s request; he is my dearest friend and I always strive to comply.”

“But ...”

“Come along. She awaits in our apartments.”

He stood, still smiling broadly and bade me to follow.

He led me to a substantial house of red brick, three floors and a slate roof crowded with an array of ornate chimneys, a hodgepodge of architectural influences that made the edifice seem to still be a work in progress. It was surrounded by a high wall and one approached it through a gate of wrought iron. Within the wall several retainers of all shades tended gardens featuring an effusion of colorful blooms.

I followed Mr. Bunning to the area where the house shaded the fragrant Eden and where a lady sat with her colored maid. The lady wore a straw hat with a brim that drooped at the sides hiding most of her face except for her chin and a pair of impossibly red lips.

“Dear,” Mr. Bunning greeted her, “I have returned with a guest.”

Lorelei Bunning at once looked up and drew away the drooping brim of her hat. She had the most exquisite face of any woman I had known, sculpted cheekbones, and those cherry-red lips that separated into a dazzling smile, for none of her teeth was decayed, nor even stained. And as much as I could tell, she possessed all of them.

“Lorelei, my darling, I have the pleasure to introduce Zach Roberts, a soldier of the republic, and a fine young fellow indeed.”

Mrs. Bunning began to rise.

“No, Ma’am, that’s not ...”

But before I could finish she strode with deliberate, yet girlish grace to me and held out her hand. It took me a second to realize I was expected to kiss it.

I brushed my lips to her knuckles and it was enough to excite such a hunger to taste more.

Her eyes were dark blue with flecks of gray. I guessed she was a decade older than me, but time had not yet cut any ravines into her flawless face, which was lightly powdered. But the color in her cheeks was in no way counterfeit.

“It is my honor to meet you ... may I call you Zach?”

“Yes ... of course.”

She wrinkled her nose. “You are just recently arrived; I can tell.”

“A long ride from New York, ma’am.”

“Mr. Bunning and I ascribe to Dr. Franklin’s regimen of a daily bath, if not more frequently, but certainly as often as possible.”

“Oh, yes ... as do I, ma’am. As frequently as ... uh, possible.”

“Excellent, come then, and join me.”

“Ma’am?”

“Shy?”

“Uh, well ...” I looked to Mr. Bunning who still afforded me a benign smile.

“Mr. Bunning did apprise you of our ... need?”

“Well, yes, ma’am, but ... it’s a bit overwhelming.”

“Of course, it is. So, let us relax in the reviving waters and then we may talk ... of many things.”

“This is ... um ... agreeable to you, Mr. Bunning?” I asked.

His smile broadened. “New times, new ideas, let us be at the vanguard, young Zachariah.”

Mrs. Bunning nodded to her maid. “Penny, please see to the tub.”

“Yes’m. The boys oughts to have it near full. We’ll keep it warm ‘nuff for y’all.”

“Oh, Penny, it’s so hot and sticky today. Just tepid will do.”

“Yes’m.”

The maid then eyed me with what seemed an over-eager look, such as a fox contemplating a duckling, her face bright with an expansive grin.

We followed Mrs. Bunning through a small side door of the mansion as she pushed a curtain aside. We then stood in a large room, at least three times the size of the one where Congress debated the course of America.

Its walls were expensively papered, but otherwise it was sparsely furnished except for a large, polished table about as high as an average man’s waist.

Penny, the maid, reappeared. Her eagerness unsettled me.

“Zach,” Mrs. Bunning said. Her voice was sweet, musical. “I know Samuel has explained our desires. I am so grateful that you have agreed to aid us. Dr. Franklin has told us much about you, and that you are not as benighted and encumbered in your philosophies as others in our current society.”

“I had never considered myself having any ... philosophies as such.”

“But you are a Patriot; a child of the New World. Your mind is free, unfettered ... you are living a great adventure.”

“Yes, I suppose.”

“But still, you are a youth, and young men, even the most decent, can become saucy.”

“Saucy, ma’am?”

“Zach, I am going to surrender myself to you, my body, my womb. I know you are a fine, decent young man, but this cannot not affect your vanity ... and vanity is something that is part of all of us, and something we must always rein. And so, before we proceed, I must impose upon you some ... well, humility.”

“Impose? I ... I’m not sure.”

“Trust me, Zach.”

“All right.”

Step over to the table, please.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I complied, but a tremor nevertheless traveled up my spine.

“You don’t have to witness this, Samuel.”

“But, dear ...”

“I’m sure Zack will be more comfortable about what we have to do if you would absent yourself, darling. Wait for us in the adjoining room.”

“Very well, dear,” Mr. Bunning said, and reluctantly shuffled off through a door.

I looked over my shoulder at Mrs. Bunning.

“Eyes straight, Zach.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Penny, please take Zach’s breeches down.”

Before I could even gasp a protest, nimble fingers worked the buttons off my breeches, and in an instant my buttocks bathed in open air.

“Stockings, also,” Mrs. Bunning said. “Step out of your shoes, Zach.”

I complied, but looked down to see Penny’s maniacal grin not even an inch from where my cock had sprung.

“Bend over the table, Zach.”

“What?”

“Now!”

I bent.

“Have you ever been flogged?”

“Flogged!”

She did not wait for an answer; I felt something like a leather sap slap my arse.

“Christ!”

“Brace yourself, Zach!”

“What? Ouch!”

“There, you’re showing some healthy color.”

“Ma’am, for the love of God. Ouch!”

That one stung. It even stung my eyes which began to tear.

“My, my!” Penny exclaimed with much exaggeration, I thought. “His eyes is making water already.”

“Truly?”

I heard the rustle of Mrs. Bunning’s skirts and then two fingertips tenderly wiped my cheek.

“So they have,” she said.

“Ma’am, please. Haven’t you administered enough humility? Please?”

Then I felt those same two fingertips touch my arse.

“And what is this ... star-shaped scar?”

“A bayonet wound, ma’am.”

“Oh ... you ought to have told me. I would have avoided it. Oh, you poor lamb, my precious soldier.”

“Um ... are we through, ma’am?”

“Well, usually a boy’s pride fights the pain; they hate to show tears. You are a very unusual young man. Dr. Franklin is an uncanny judge of character.”

“Eh?”

“Did you ... even a little, enjoy your flogging?”

“I don’t wish to offend, ma’am, but no, it’s not what I would regard as a pleasurable interlude.”

“Does he speak the truth, Penny?”

Penny grabbed hold of my cock that was now fortified with iron and knocking up against the bottom of the table.

“Not if this here bone be witness.”

“Ah,” Mrs. Bunning said. “Your body betrays you, young man.”

“Likely because I’m half stripped in the presence of two ladies.”

Penny giggled.

“Perhaps,” Mrs. Bunning said coyly, but the music had returned to her voice. “Now, shed the rest of your clothing and follow me.”

I winced as my arse recalled the stings, but I followed Mrs. Bunning through the door her husband had used to exit.

This room was also bereft of furnishings, but a huge brass tub, the likes of which looked to be the cross-sectioned piece of a brewery vat, dominated the center. I supposed it could have accommodated ten adults. It was full, but servants poured even more steaming water into the vessel from oaken buckets.

Mrs. Bunning stood by the tub, her back to me. Penny helped her undo her blouse, but then Mrs. Bunning proceeded unaided to cast it off. She stood naked from the waist, her back pale, unblemished except for one dark mole below her left shoulder blade.

She began to shed her skirts, and there were several layers of them, until they all puddled around her feet, and I could assess her perfect apple arse supported by the wide alabaster pillars that were her thighs, which tapered to slender calves and pretty ankles. At last, she lifted her droopy-brimmed hat and her hair cascaded like a red-brown curtain over her creamy shoulders.

She lifted a foot and daintily tested the waters with her toes.

“Exquisite,” she said, and bade me to follow her.

The tub, while generally rectangular, was scalloped along its sides enough for two bodies to snuggle together within one of its coves. She settled her back against one of these and beckoned me with her fingers to join her.

As I turned to sit she kissed my scar. My buttock tingled again, but this time pleasantly.

I settled beside her and immediately all tension drained from my body. I dozed off.

A silken hand stroking my thigh brought me back to wakefulness. I turned to look into the eyes of Mrs. Bunning, who cast them downward as if inviting mine to follow.

“I’ve been told I have a mother’s bosom; do you think so?”

Indeed her breasts appeared swollen as they bobbed in the water exposing just a hint of her pale pink rings.

“Lovely,” was all I could mumble.

“Come, rest your head on them,” she said, raising her arms and drawing my head to her chest. She held me in that tender embrace a moment, and then said, “Dr. Franklin told us you are an orphan.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Do you recall your mother at all?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I have vague, misty ideas, but I could not swear they are memories. My uncle Pow told me she was very young, and very fair.”

“Pow?”

“A Stockbridge Indian.”

“You’re spawned of savage stock?”

“Not very likely.”

“But ... your uncle.”

“In name only ... and truth is, he was as good an uncle as any male child ever had.”

“I must confess I am perplexed.”

“My mother was redeemed.”

“You mean she accepted Christ as her savior?”

“No, ma’am, I mean she was redeemed from captivity. She had been taken in a raid by the Abenakis, traded to Christian Mohawks, who in turn held her for ransom. A party was sent into Quebec to retrieve her. But, when she was reunited with her family she was carrying me. It was then assumed she had been ravished by one of her captors. But all one had to do was apply some simple arithmetic and consider the time it took her to journey home and ... well, it would be plain to anyone that my father had to be one of her redeemers. The leader of the company was a married man, much respected, as were his companions. It was, therefore, most convenient that she had been ravished by an Indian. And so, I was given to my Uncle Pow to raise.”

“She just gave you away? How could any mother give up her child?”

“She was just a girl; she had no say in the matter. I cannot hold it against her. It hasn’t been a terrible life.”

“But, you’re so alone; bereft of family, a tender touch ... a home.”

“Not entirely ... I’ve known good men.”

“That can’t compensate for a mother’s breast. Poor Zach, suckle at mine.”

“Ma’am?”

“There now, please ... suckle.”

She guided my lips to her nipples as she heaved her breasts out of the water. My mouth molded to her as my tongue lapped, and then began to suck as Mrs. Bunning moaned. I experienced an ease I had never known and slipped once again into a slumber.

The water grew chilled and Mrs. Bunning gently jostled my head.

“Now, young man, it’s time to adjourn to my chamber.”

We stood and stepped from the tub. Penny appeared out of the shadows, still grinning as if she were fondly recalling some atrocity.

“Well, lad, let’s be about the business.” It was Mr. Bunning; something told me he had been in the room the entire time I’d bathed with his wife.

Penny wiped Mrs. Bunning dry with soft cloths, and handed me a pile.

As I wiped myself dry, Mrs. Bunning instructed Penny, “Bring me an old thing; it’ll be a rag soon enough.”

Penny lifted a slight muslin shift and helped Mrs. Bunning put it on. She appraised herself in a mirror then took my hand and led me through another door and into a corridor. From their footfalls I could tell Mr. Bunning and Penny were following.

She opened a door and we entered a small bedchamber. Mr. Bunning took a seat in a corner facing the bed; his face bright, eager.

His wife turned to him. “Darling, why don’t you let Penny stimulate you; that way you won’t wear yourself out.”

“Splendid,” he said. “Will you do me the favor, Penny?”

Penny just grinned and nodded. I watched her undo his breeches and draw his limp pasty cock into the open. She began to knead it gently, encouraging him, “That’s it, child, there’s plenty of life left in this little poppet.”

Mrs. Bunning smiled at me. “So my husband won’t feel left out, he’ll also participate by watching. And, Zach, I do so love my husband; let us show him such a performance as he ... and we ... will never forget and always cherish.”

“Um ... yes, ma’am.”

“I want you to treat me roughly ... I want it. Do you understand?”

“Um ... roughly? How roughly?”

“Shred my night shirt, ravish me, call me vile things. Take possession of me.”

Behind me I heard Mr. Bunning groan. “Skewer the filthy trollop.”

“Well?” Mrs. Bunning demanded.

“All right then. Get on your knees!”

“What?”

I didn’t bother to explain, but took hold of her night gown at the neck and tore it away from her shoulders.

“Mercy!” she cried, but stumbled to her knees.

“Suckle on this!” I held my cock out to her, hoping I would not discharge before her lips closed around it.

“Please ... not that!”

I grabbed a handful of her hair and tugged her toward me. Her mouth opened wide; a moment later, my cock knocked at the back of her throat.

“Christ!” her husband cried, “Look at her suck! Oh, shame ... shame on you!”

She began to cough. I withdrew my cock, but she lunged for it again, this time cupping my balls.

After nearly swooning from the sweet suction she applied to my cock, I lifted her by her hair and turned her around flinging her toward the bed, all the while hearing the encouragement of her husband and a reedy cackle from the maid.

She bent over the bed at her waist. I shred the remainder of her night garment, exposing her grand round arse. I raised my hand, ready to inflict vengeance for the beating she’d given me, but I hesitated, for I was enthralled at the perfect beauty of it.

Her globes were so pale, milky in the gloom of the room. They struck me as ethereal. Who was I to strike a goddess?

“Bastard! Lout! Rascal!” she screamed.

“Oh, what the hell?” I muttered and brought my hand down across her perfect right cheek. The slap resounded off the walls and she screamed.

“Brute! Cruel, filthy brute.” She was sobbing then.

“Cheap tart!”

I slid my arms beneath her thighs and lifted her higher onto the bed. Separating her globes with my hands I felt for the slick, viscous trail to her sex. I positioned my cock at her gate.

“Oh, husband! Will you let him do this; will you allow him to ravish me?”

“I can’t help you, darling. I’m sorry; he’s so strong, and virile.”

“I feel his cock, husband. Oh, am I to be so cruelly violated?”

I felt like a character in a very loud comedic play. I pushed my cock into her squishy channel.

“Oh, no! My husband, you are cuckolded!”

“Oh, oh, oh ...” Mr. Bunning cried. I glanced over my shoulder, afraid he’d gone apoplectic. His puny cock drooled thin fluid over Penny’s hand.

“Oh, Mistah, sir, that’s a fine squirt. Look, it’s still coming.”

“Oh, God!” Mrs. Bunning cried. “It’s filling me, I am breached; my womb is taken. Oh ... I am become a whore!”

My thrusts were furious now. I was fresh out of dialog, but Mrs. Bunning spewed lines enough for both of us.

“I’m a slave ... a slave for his cock! Oh, woe ... woe!”

Mr. Bunning had revived enough to shout, “Ride her hard!”

Her cunt clenched me in a series of spasms, milking my own eruption.

“Oh, Darling, he’s filling me with his seed. He’s taken me ... oh, degradation, shame ... what a slattern I am.”

I squeezed my last measure into her quim, then staggered back.

“Quick, Penny,” Mrs. Bunning gasped. “The plugs.”

I stood, panting, astounded as Penny rushed to her mistress with what appeared to be a polished wooden knob, then, astounded and aghast as she pushed the knob into Mrs. Bunning’s quim.

“Well done, lad.” Mr. Bunning nodded toward me with his customary beatific smile. He wiped his shriveling cock with a handkerchief.

Mrs. Bunning sat up facing me. Her ponderous breasts glistened with perspiration.

“Zach ... that was ... so much fun. Never have I felt so ... penetrated. Oh, la ... la ... oh, la.”

She reached down to adjust the knob in her cunt.

“Mustn’t let even a drop of your precious essence leak out.”

Suddenly, a sense of unwholesomeness came over me – but it passed.

Mrs. Bunning said, “you will stay, won’t you?”

“Well ...”

“Sleep with me tonight? I want to cuddle you. Mr. Bunning won’t mind.”

“Of course not, darling,” he said. “There, young man, have yourself a good night’s sleep in my dear wife’s loving arms. You’ve earned it. Thank you, so much.”

“All right, sir.” Even as I said it I wondered if I were in fact sleeping in the woods in the thrall of some fantastic dream.

Mrs. Bunning slid naked beneath the covers, then held the bedclothes away in invitation. I joined her and melted into her embrace, savoring the aroma of her sweat and its taste off her skin. I nuzzled my nose beneath her arm. It was hairless, as bare as a little girl’s. I wondered if she had lost it due to some illness in her youth.

She chuckled softly, “It is plucked.”

“But why?”

She shrugged. “To be ... different ... and daring.”

Her naked underarm was just another wonder for me to ponder. She kissed me and we both dozed.

Many times during the night we awoke, kissed and caressed. She removed her knob once, and I deposited more of my essence into her. She carefully refitted the device and we slept until late morning.

We awoke in cooler air and sunlight muted by ivory curtains.

“Oh, Zach,” she sighed sleepily. “Such an enchanted night.”

The weight of her ample bosom rested on my chest.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I think you can call me Lorelei now.”

“Yes ... Lorelei.”

“Do you have someone, Zach? Is there someone special for you?”

I hesitated to answer. She lifted her head and looked into my eyes. “Oh, dear, you’ve been hurt, haven’t you? Did you love her?”

“Ma’am ... Lorelei, I didn’t even know her.”

“Oh, t’was unrequited? Poor soldier.”

Penny burst into the room with my clothes that had been cleaned and gave me three extra shirts.

The Bunnings saw me off at their gate. A horse had been brought for me during the night. I met Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams at a publick house and was given three copies of the Declaration. Other couriers had been dispatched by sea and land to all the colonies ... now states. I was to journey on to New York and thence to New England, including, of course, a side trip to Braintree at the behest of Mr. Adams.

It would have been more expedient for me to take the ferry, but instead I followed the road out past the farmstead hoping I might catch sight of that forbidden girl with the sun-kissed skin and ponder what might have been.

Part II

I was one of a platoon of couriers sent from Philadelphia carrying the declaration that would serve notice to the world that America had taken her place among the nations. But I tarried just outside the great city in a forlorn hope that I would catch sight of the girl who had entranced me since the first of many times I had passed by her home off the Post Road.

From the road I could see a mounted man and two others afoot standing back from the porch, and upon that porch the girl, struggling to support a rifle that was longer than she was. I spurred my horse and trotted toward the house.

The sound of my horse’s hooves drew their attention away from the girl. The mounted man wheeled and said, “What’s your business here?”

“My business is my business. What’s going on here?”

“Reinforcements?” The girl called from the porch; her voice dripped contempt.

The mounted man again demanded, “I’ll know your business here!”

“And I’ll know the meaning of you accosting this lady. And I’ll know it in the name of the Continental Congress.”

The mounted man briefly tugged his chin. “Uh ... Congress?”

“I’m special adjutant to Dr. Franklin; now what is your business here?”

“I am an agent of the Committee of Vigilance for this county investigating whether this household has provided aid and comfort to the enemy. This girl’s brother has been reported to have joined a Loyalist regiment; that makes this property subject to seizure and its occupants subject to ...”

“This property is under the aegis of Dr. Franklin, as are the people who live here.”

“Dr. Franklin ... Benjamin Franklin?”

“Do you know any other Dr. Franklins, buttonhead?”

“But ... why ... I was not informed ...”

“Who the hell are you to expect to be informed of anything by Dr. Franklin? Does he invite you to take breakfast with him?”

“I ... of course not ... I ...”

“Well I had breakfast with him this morning, and he sent me here to look in on these people ... and he will be mightily vexed that they are being molested by a group of pignuts such as you.”

The mounted man became quite agitated.

“Well ... I ...”

“Vacate the property.”

He called after his companions. “Let’s go.”

Sullenly they trooped back toward the road.

“Very slick, lad. Planning to be a lawyer?”

The man appeared out of nowhere with a lethal-looking hatchet in his hand. He was wiry and moved with catlike grace, even though he could have been as old as sixty.

“Laura,” he said to the girl, “put my rifle away.”

“Poppa ... he’s one of them too.”

“I don’t think so; not like those squirrel heads.”

The girl scowled.

“Who are you, son?”

“Zach Roberts.”

“Hmm, and all that horseshit about Dr. Franklin?”

“It’s not horseshit, sir. That is, not entirely horseshit.”

The man laughed. “Well, Zach Roberts, I’m Elisha Cameron, and this is my daughter, Laura.”

I doffed my tricorn and attempted to bow toward Laura, but she spun on one heel and stomped into the house dragging her father’s rifle.

“My daughter is in opposition to your politics, young man.”

“And your son ... Laura’s brother?” I asked, then repeated ... “her brother?”

“Yes, her brother.”

“A ranger, sir, perhaps ... like yourself?”

“Do you know him? Do you know Ethan?”

“No sir. I ... I’ve had many occasions to pass your home while about my duties. I saw Laura ... um, your daughter ... well, she appeared to be ... I assumed she was saying goodbye to ... a young man. He was dressed as a ranger.”

Mr. Cameron’s eyes narrowed and he looked back at the house.

“Hmm, I see.”

“I’m sorry to have troubled you, sir. I’ll be on my way.”

“No trouble. The afternoon is waning. Why don’t you come inside and take a meal with us?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t impose, sir, besides I’m on official business.”

“What are you carrying? That is, if you’re at liberty to tell.”

“America’s Declaration of Independence.”

“You don’t say; I’d heard they’d done it.” He shook his head. “I’d like to read it myself. If you leave now you’ll be on the road at night. Stay with us. Will a day matter that much?”

“No ... I don’t suppose. I’m not the only one carrying the news.”

“Well, then join us, please.”

“Sir ... may I ask ... what are your allegiances? I surmise you are not for independence.”

“Son, I don’t much care either way; I just want to be left alone.”

“Very well, then, thank you for your invitation.”

“Take your horse to the shed. You can see to her later.”

“Thank you.”

For the most part our evening meal was cordial and political matters were put aside as if by some unstated agreement. Still, Laura spent most of the time eyeing me like a mockingbird regards a crow ... sooner or later, she must have figured, I’d make trouble.

“Where do you hail from, young Roberts?” Mr. Cameron asked after swishing a swig from a tankard of brew in his mouth.

“Spent most of my life in Massachusetts, sir. In an around Boston.”

“Ahh, that hotbed of sedition.” He chuckled.

“City of rogues and bounders,” Laura snarled. It was the first words she’d spoken since serving our meal.

“Oh, worse than that,” I nodded.

Mr. Cameron’s grin spread at his daughter’s consternation.

“Your family still there?”

“I have no family, sir.”

“Eh? None? Well, you’re well spoken, who brought you up?”

“At first, my Uncle Pow.”

“Pow?”

“Easier to pronounce than Powchaughapot.”

“What? Not Sergeant Powchaughapot? A Stockbridge Indian?”

“Yes, sir. You know him?”

“Back when I was with Rogers. We called him Rumpot, then. A damned good scout, as were they all. Took us right up to St. Francis.”

“You were at the St. Francis raid?”

His grin vanished instantly. “Aye,” was all he said.

I noticed Laura’s expression change to one of concern. “Poppa, you don’t ...”

“It’s all right. I’m all right.” He took another swig from his tankard. “Your Indian uncle guided us back to Crown Point, while the main body made for Lake Memphremagog. French and Indians passed us up. We didn’t have it so bad.”

He became silent again for a moment. Then his grin returned.

“How is it you come to have an Indian uncle, and old Sgt. Rumpot of all men?”

I related the story of my beginnings in the world, and how I came to be with Uncle Pow, how Major Broadley had taken me under his protection and how I’d fallen in with the Patriots after he passed away.

“Well, then, you’ve travelled both sides of the road,” Mr. Cameron said. “How is it you’ve chosen to hang your fortune with these radicals?”

“Thieves and layabouts,” Laura scolded. “And you, having been shown such kindness by an English officer. Can’t you see that we are better positioned in this world under the King’s protection? Did he not fling the French and Savage from our frontiers? Isn’t he due the paltry taxes he asks us to pay?”

“Well, Miss, some would say that now that the frontier is rendered safe, that he oughtn’t to be holding his subjects back like leashed dogs and letting yon land go to waste.”

“Oh, so that’s what all this foolishness is about? Land speculation?”

Mr. Cameron chuckled. “She’s a formidable debater; aye, that she is.”

Laura had thrust her lip out as if to challenge me to retort. I’d never seen anything as endearing.

“I’ve nothing against the King, Miss. Or his officers, or his soldiers. The ones I’ve known have been as good or bad a lot as any other men.”

“Then why ...?”

“Because ... they don’t belong here anymore.”

She cocked her head, eyeing me curiously.

“They seem so ... foreign. I think ... I think we’ve become a new people, a new country. I think King George is probably as good a king as any, and perhaps better. But I don’t feel like he is my king ... not anymore. Like a child, we’ve grown up and the time has come to leave our parent. The king represents everything old and tried. I want to see where we can go from here; I want to take that journey. We can’t so long as we’re shackled to the old world and its ways.”

“You ... you are wrong-headed,” Laura said.

Mr. Cameron had taken to smoking a pipe and had said nothing.

“I’ll have a look at this declaration, if that’s all right.”

“Of course, sir.” I stood to retrieve one of the copies from its pack. I unrolled it and laid it upon the rough-hewn table.

Mr. Cameron held a candle above it and read.

“All men are created equal? Is that so? Even the African slaves, the Indians?”

“No mention of women, Poppa?”

“Not so far, Laura, but I’ve just started. Hmm, let’s see ... inalienable rights ... the ‘pursuit of happiness’?”

Laura sniffed derisively. “No, no one ever considers women’s desires or opinions.”

“That sounds like something Mrs. John Adams said to me,” I said. “I think you would like her ... Miss Cameron.”

Mr. Cameron continued, squinting as he read, “most likely to effect their safety and happiness ... why, there’s that word again: happiness. Well, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of any government that would guarantee a person’s happiness.”

Laura rolled her eyes.

“Pardon, sir, but I don’t think it actually guarantees happiness, but merely says a person ought to be free to pursue it ... unhindered, as it were.”

“Why, I stand corrected. And how do you intend to pursue your own happiness, Mr. Roberts?”

I wanted to tell him I intended to pursue his daughter, but instead I shrugged.

“This is quite an indictment of the King. Did he really do all these terrible things?”

“You ought to know, sir. There’ve been grievances.”

“Son, there will always be grievances. I think men would rather argue than chase happiness. Maybe they aren’t happy unless they’re to arguing. Nicely written, though. But, I think, it’s as likely as a drunkard’s dream to come true.”

He furled it and handed it back to me.

“I’m abed,” he declared. “Laura, young Zach will sleep in Ethan’s cot. Try not to wake us when you traipse off for your morning soak.”

“Eh?” I said.

“My daughter ascribes to Dr. Franklin’s regimen. She bathes every day, can you believe it? And in the summer too.”

“Father, Dr. Franklin says it opens your pores and leaves out the poisons that accumulate.”

“Let’s in the poisons, you mean. That’s why God made us sweat, child.”

He scratched his belly and went off to a chamber behind the kitchen.

Laura stood and her Dutch style blouse slid off her shoulder. I longed to place my lips where her shoulder curved to her neck.

“Well ... good night. There’s the cot. A better man than you has slept there.” She turned her back and disappeared into shadow.

 I slept fitfully, listening to the night sounds until that moment just before dawn when all falls silent. I heard Laura make her way to the door and open it carefully, yet hardly silently. Then it closed.

I rose and dressed and made to follow her.

I could barely make out the path in the pre-dawn gloom but followed it, occasionally stumbling over clumps of moist grass while swatting away mosquitoes.

After several minutes, and not catching sight of her, I feared I had taken a wrong path. Then, some distance ahead I heard a splash. I was certain then that the path led to the small pool in the creek from which I had spied on her weeks before.

As the pool came into my view I made out a silvery ripple in the water but could not see Laura. The false dawn now began to illuminate the surroundings in a fantasmical lead-gray light. I saw her naked shoulders break the surface; she stood until I could trace the curve of her hips.

I undressed and just as she slung her wet hair over her right shoulder, I entered the pool with a great splash.

She yelped, turning while crossing her arms across her breasts.

I allowed only my head to break the surface. I smiled.

“What? ... How dare you? My father will cleave your head with a hatchet!”

“But, Miss Cameron, I too am an adherent of Dr. Franklin’s bathing regimen. I’ll not have another opportunity on the road.”

“You vile cur! Is there no vice that does not reside in you? Leave me at once!”

“Very well ... ah ... my clothes are on the bank. Perhaps you wish to avert your eyes.”

“I will make sure you leave so that I will not be vexed with apprehension that I will be ambushed ... and ... and ...”

“Well, if you think you can stand the sight of my unadorned backside.”

“I live with two grown men.”

“So you do. My apologies, Miss, I truly meant no harm.”

I began to step up onto the bank. The sky had lightened with streaks of pink.

“What is that ... on your behind?”

“Huh ... what?”

“That ... scar.”

“Oh, nothing ... a battle wound.”

“In your backside?”

“A British bayonet.”

Behind me I heard her laughter, clear and musical.

“You would laugh at a soldier’s wound, honorably suffered?”

“Ha! You were running away!”

“Well, of course, I certainly wasn’t running backwards.”

She laughed again. “It served you right.”

“Actually, Miss, it served me to run even faster.”

“You are no hero, sir.”

“No, ma’am, and no gentleman either. I must confess that this is not the first time I spied you at your ... bath.”

“What? What did you say?” The fire returned to her voice.

“I ... I know it was dishonorable. But ... like Hylas ... I couldn’t resist.”

“Hylas indeed. Of course, just like a man, refuse to acknowledge your own perversity by pleading you were helplessly in thrall; place all responsibility on the woman. Well, I am no water nymph, sir. I do not lure men, nor invite them to watch me bathe naked.”

“You have no idea.”

“Oh, don’t I?”

I took another step onto the bank, and stopped. “Have you ever ... have you ever seen such beauty that it made your heart ache? And filled you with a sadness the like of which you can’t compare, because you know ... you know anything ... anyone so wondrous could never ... will never be yours?”

I reached to pick up my shirt and breeches.

“Wait,” she said. “You may bathe ... but remain on that side of the pool.”

“Thank you, Miss.” I backed into the water and immersed myself.

“I am not affected at all by your pretty words. I’ll have you know that.”

“I can see that. I had not meant to persuade, but to explain.”

I turned and faced her. Nascent sunlight was glinting off her shoulders now.

“You are such an odd young man,” she said.

“Am I?”

“Especially one who is ... that is, are you truly an orphan?”

“I am.”

“I suppose I am too ... somewhat.”

“Oh? Your mother is passed?”

“No ... well, I don’t know. She left us ... my father and brother and me when we were very young. She was a lady from Quebec. I suppose she missed her city life, and so she returned to her family. My father was very deeply hurt; he still is.”

“I’m sorry.”

“And, as she was a Papist, her family had her marriage to my father annulled. So, according to the Church of Rome, my brother and I are bastards. I have no regard at all for the Church of Rome.”

The sun had risen and light danced over the surface of the pool.

Laura looked up at a deep blue sky.

“You had better be off. If my father were to find us ...”

“Say no more.” I stood up on the bank and dressed, my back turned to Laura, if only to hide my cock made rigid by the realization that she was gazing at me.

“Goodbye, Laura,” I said and made to leave.

“You might encounter my brother some day.”

“Perhaps.”

“If anything were to happen to him ...”

“Let’s hope we both survive.”

By the time I returned Mr. Cameron had already saddled my mount and was holding her for me.

I looked back over my shoulder at the path. I hoped he wouldn’t notice my ears burning.

“God speed, son,” he said.

“Uh ... thank you, sir ... for your hospitality.”

I mounted, wheeled and started for the Post Road and New York.

*    *    *

In New York the Declaration was read aloud to cheers, but just weeks later the city was in turmoil as word spread that General Howe, eager to avenge his humiliation at being driven from Boston, was bringing a great fleet and thousands of regulars to lay siege to the city. By mid-September the British Army occupied New York.

As one of a dozen relay riders I brought the news to Boston. Catastrophes and triumphs followed. An attempt to isolate New England from the rest of the colonies was thwarted by General Arnold with an eclectic outgunned fleet on the upper Champlain Lake and in the midst of a dark, dreary winter General Washington effected surprise victories over the British and Hessians in New Jersey.

April found me traversing Connecticut again where I participated in my first battle. I became part of a force hastily cobbled together by General Arnold of local militia and anyone else who happened by. And so I was pressed into service in a counterattack against a British raid on Ridgefield.

Arnold was charisma incarnate, one of those rare commanders who could order men to fling themselves at certain death and have them be glad to do it, perhaps because Arnold led his men from the front. The general was seriously wounded in the action, curiously in his left leg, which had also sustained a wound during his attempt to capture Quebec a year before.

Immediately after the fight my brain was a blur; I could no more tell you what I did or what happened than I could describe the back of the moon.

So when the general summoned me to his headquarters and praised my coolness under fire, I was astounded and feared I had been mistaken for another, braver soldier. But as my coat was perforated with bullets I had to accept that I was there and had done such valorous acts for which I was commended by the general.

“We’ll have need of you, Sergeant Roberts,” the general said.

Sergeant? When had I become a sergeant?

“Colonel Franksen has a task for you,” the general said, and motioned toward a dark-haired officer who turned and left the room. I supposed I was to follow.

“Colonel?”

“Sergeant Roberts, have you heard of The Raven?”

Who hadn’t heard of The Raven? Some supposed she was a demon conjured by a sect of Jewish mystics in return for a chest of gold secreted to them by a cabal of Masons in Congress. Some said she was an otherworldly beauty; others a hag-faced wraith.

“I’ve only heard ...”

“Yes, Sergeant?”

“That she leads a group of mounted irregulars. That they are, essentially, highwaymen, road agents, bandits. And that they are all Jews.”

Colonel Franksen stopped and offered a curious smile. “She is my cousin,” he said. “I’ll have you meet her.”

I accompanied the colonel to a tavern. Along the way he told me how his cousin, the mysterious Raven, and her corps of irregulars, regularly harried the British and performed reconnaissance such as any cavalry unit, but that they also specialized in intercepting British money shipments as well as guarding our own. They were land-bound privateers who deducted a portion of everything they stole for the American cause.

I followed the colonel inside where several heavily bearded men sat around a table. They stood at once as the colonel approached leaving a lone woman, dressed entirely in black, her face hidden by a rakish hat with a tall black plume. Her ink-black hair fell over one shoulder to her breasts, which filled a blouse that appeared to be satin – what used to be called a Spanish shirt.

She raised her eyes and they met mine. She was no hag; indeed, she most definitely fell into the category of otherworldly beauty. Her eyes were so dark, nearly black; her face and neck were pale as moonlight.

“Esther,” the colonel said, “This is Sergeant Roberts. General Arnold wants him attached to your troop.”

“Oh, does he?” She raised her leg and rested a boot on the edge of the table. She wore a hussar’s breeches.

“Let’s say he requests.”

“A spy?”

“An observer. There have been disturbing rumors put about concerning the disposition of prisoners.”

“Prisoners? I thought we were supposed to be feasting on the hearts of Christian babies.”

“Nonsense!”

She shrugged. “Very well ... for General Arnold, I’ll agree to this thing.”

“Can you ride?” she asked me.

By that time I could confidently answer, “Yes.”

“Well enough to keep up, I hope. We won’t wait for you.”

“Then I’ll ride home alone.”

“Suits me. Three nights hence, meet us here.” She ordered a tankard of flip.

Colonel Franksen nodded for me to follow him. Outside the tavern his curious smile returned.

“Lovely girl, isn’t she?” he said.

“Uh ... beautiful, sir.”

“A constant worry to her father.”

“I’m not surprised.”

“She’s a good girl.”

“Of course, sir.”

“And a killer.”

I gulped.

“Loyalist partisans have slaughtered without mercy; but General Arnold believes we should subdue our passions for vengeance. Your task will be to effect some ... restraint on my young cousin.”

“How? She doesn’t appear to be a woman readily restrained.”

“That’s entirely up to you.”

“I see. And for how long will I be attached to Miss ... uh ... Esther?”

“Until further notice, sergeant.”

“Ah ... I see.”

“Carry on, Sergeant.”

“Colonel?”

“Yes?”

“I’m curious. Are all Jewish women like ... like your cousin?”

The colonel laughed out loud and waved me away.

During the next few days militiamen approached me in groups or as individuals, all burning with curiosity about The Raven and her corps.

“Hear tell,” one confided, “they carved the heart out of a living infant and ate it in front of the family. The rest of that body of Tories was more than glad to surrender to the militias after they gave up all their treasure to her.”

“You don’t believe that, do you?”

The man shrugged. “Well ... as it was a Christian baby ... I suppose it weren’t no nevermind to them. They’re a secretive lot, they are. Watch ‘em, they wear all sorts of talismans. Glad they’re on our side, but I don’t know as I would ride with ‘em.”

Another related as to how she had cast a spell over a Continental officer.

“Turned him into a fool she did; renounced his wife and children for her and then hanged himself after she spurned him. Laughed at him right in front of his men, she did.”

At least this was something I might believe.

On the appointed evening I rendezvoused with The Raven and her corps outside the tavern where we had met. I gazed at her where she stood. I had never seen a woman dressed in men’s clothing, and now perhaps I understood why. The satiny Spanish shirt enhanced her bosom, and the hussar’s breeches contoured to her every curve. The cavalryman’s boots made her appear taller than she was, but complemented her taut thighs

“We’ve gotten word that a wealthy Loyalist family will try to escape to New York this evening, and they are carting all their money with them. Very prominent, this man; he’ll likely be carrying a trove of specie.”

“His whole family is traveling with him?”

“Yes, the foolish bastard. The road between here and New York is crawling with ambushers and road agents. After they relieve him of his money and run him through, they’ll pay their respects to his wife and daughters.”

“Oh ... and we’re not going to do that?”

“We’ll take his money, for certain,” she grinned. “But I won’t stand for a woman to be molested.”

“I see, well ...”

“We’ll save them from that ordeal ... with a lead ball in each of their heads.”

“What?”

She laughed, climbed into her saddle. She wheeled her horse and she and her troop of eight men, as weird and alien a crew as ever witnessed, cantered onto the dark Post Road. I spurred my mount and fell in behind them.

She was a cat ... at least she could see in the dark as well as one. Meanwhile, I strained to follow the glints of moonlight off their sword hilts.

Without a word they left the road where it bent, dividing into flankers. I reined my horse into the dark woods, following Raven.

It was all silent except for the buzzing of insects, and after a while I began to wonder if they had left me alone in the trees. Then a subtle sound issued from the darkness and the light of a lantern came into view. The shade of a wagon appeared, and behind it a carriage and after that a pair of armed riders. The wheels of the vehicles were muffled with cloth, as were the hooves of the riders’ mounts.

Though no verbal order was given, Raven’s men fell in behind the riders at the back of the train, two others reared onto the road blocking the wagon’s progress.

A clear, feminine voice, coaxing, even calming, called out. “You’ll please halt and ground your arms.”

A man driving the wagon reined the horses to a halt and stood up. “God’s mercy ... please, this is my family.”

“And you wouldn’t want anything to happen to them ... would you?”

A woman cried, “Oh, mercy ... it’s her! We’re slaughtered!”

“Quiet, Martha!”

The man on the wagon looked about him and saw there was no escape possible without a fight.

“Ezra, for the love of God, don’t let them ...”

“I told you to be silent, woman. I’m sure ... that is ... we can agree to an arrangement.”

He held up his lantern, squinting into the darkness at the black-clad woman who leveled two pistols at him.

“Our arrangement requires you to surrender all money you possess,” she said.

“I ... well ... the truth is ... we have already been accosted this night. Robbed! We are bereft.”

I could see, even in the weak light, Raven’s pout.

“Is that so?”

She spurred her horse along the side of the road past the wagon. The man followed her progress, all the while clasping and unclasping his hands.

Raven came abreast of the carriage. A woman held the reins as a young girl, blonde curls falling in ringlets from beneath her cap, cowered against her.

Raven slid one pistol into her sash and reached out to the girl, who recoiled. Nonetheless, Raven took hold of the girl’s shift and molded her hand over her small breast. The girl cried out.

“You devil! Unnatural fiend ... you ...”

Raven put a period to the woman’s litany by raising a pistol to her nose, all the while still gently cupping the young girl’s breast.

“You expect me to believe that road agents took your money and left this sweet little thing unmolested? Why, a little girl this pretty and fresh is likely worth more than all the money you claim you surrendered.”

“Uh, but ... well, they were eager to be off.”

“They must have been eunuchs.”

“It ... it’s true. Please, let us go.”

“Very well. You may go; we’ll take this sweet child as compensation.”

“What?”

The woman screeched, “Ezra! Ezra, for God’s sake!”

“Not to fret, mother,” Raven said, coiling her fingers in the girl’s curls, “we’ll get a pretty penny for her. I know a bawd who will be delighted to apprentice her as a provider of lewd services to travelers.”

“Ezra!” the woman screeched again. It made my ears rattle.

“I ... but ...”

“A pity you have nothing to trade for your daughter’s innocence,” Raven said, her voice both coy and cruel.

The girl trembled as Raven suddenly grabbed her thigh. “You are still innocent, little girl, aren’t you?”

The girl began to sob piteously.

“There, there, sweet thing.” Raven grabbed the back of the girl’s head with her free hand and pulled her close. She kissed the girl’s mouth, holding their lips sealed even as the girl’s arms flailed.

Raven broke the kiss. “Yum, you are a sweet little girl. My yes, you’ll make a fortune. Hmm, let’s have a look at your cooch.”

“Ezra!”

“All right ... all right! For the love of Jesus!”

Raven chuckled and let go of the girl who collapsed sobbing into her mother’s embrace.

Behind them two of Raven’s men knocked the riders to the ground.

Raven turned to the father. “Her brothers?”

“Yes,” the man said.

“Tell them to hand over the money ... all the money.”

The father nodded toward the young men who lifted themselves off the road and then walked sullenly toward the wagon. The father jumped down and revealed a compartment beneath the wagon board. He drew out one iron box and then two others from the hidden space.

One of Raven’s men knocked the locks off each with his sword. They were filled with coin. The specie was transferred to four leather sacks that the men slung over their mounts’ necks.

Raven turned to the patriarch of the woeful clan.

“You fool! What were you thinking? Risking your family’s lives, or worse.”

“Should we have waited to be robbed, imprisoned by the militias? Better to risk this journey than surrender all we worked for to rebel swine.”

“If we leave you here you will most certainly be set upon by road agents. They won’t waste their time on you and your sons. But your women will be used. Your choice, take your chances or we can send you on your way into the next world as painlessly as possible.”

“What ...? But ... you can’t ... that’s murder. That’s heinous murder!”

Raven shook her head. “An act of mercy ... that’s what you asked for, didn’t you?

“But ... but ...”

“Poppa!” The girl and her mother cried hysterically.

“Please!” The man fell to his knees.

Raven trained her pistol on his forehead.

I had to do something to prevent the impending massacre and made to spur my horse into hers.

“There is a path, a quarter mile along,” Raven said. “Take it and do not deviate. It will lead you to an encampment of militia. Surrender yourself and your sons. Your women will be well treated.”

Raven jerked her head and she and her men dissolved into the darkness. I hurried past the man still kneeling in the road and tried to follow.

*    *    *

Late the following afternoon at the tavern I sat across a table from Raven. Her men declined to sit with me or any other gentile.

She lifted a tankard of flip and sipped, then licked the froth from her lips. She grinned like a cat who found a cache of cream.

“I thought you were going to kill them all,” I said.

“That’s what they thought too.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“They were already terrified; it was enough.”

“The girl ... why ... why did you kiss her?”

“Surprised?”

“Shocked. The child was mad with fear. Was that necessary?”

“Which? Kissing her, or terrifying her.”

“I just wasn’t expecting ...”

“I like to do shocking things; it wouldn’t have had the same effect if I had kissed, say ... one of her brothers. That kiss will be seared into their memories; that pretty little girl will take it to her grave.”

“That’s important?”

“It’s important to me.”

“Hmm, look, Miss Franksen ...”

“Franks.”

“Eh?”

“We’re cousins, David and I, but we don’t precisely share the same name.”

“Oh, well then, Miss Franks ...”

“Esther.”

“All right, you prefer me to call you Esther?”

“No ... I really don’t like my name. My mother, when last I saw her, said I should have been named Lilith.”

“Oh? Well ... that’s a pretty name ...”

“You’ve not heard of Lilith, have you?”

“Um, no, I don’t suppose I have.”

She shrugged. “Not many Christians have.”

“You’re assuming I’m Christian?”

“You’re no Jew; that’s for certain.”

I smiled and nodded. “I don’t truly know how I fit with the Creator.”

“Fair enough. Well, as I was saying, Lilith ... I’d love to be named Lilith.”

“Was she a queen, or perhaps, a warrior?”

“No ... more like ... a demon.”

“Oh. Was she beautiful?”

“Whenever she needed to be ... yes, she was ... is. And she ... is ... a very, very wicked girl.”

“Like you.”

“I’m trying.”

“I ... never expected a woman to lead ... men. Much less a Jewish woman.”

“What do you know about Jews, Roberts?”

“Aside from Shylock? Just what I’ve heard ... the most of which I surmise is foolish superstition.”

She slowly sipped from her cup as her eyes bored into mine. “Maybe,” she said, and chuckled.

For the rest of that summer and into fall I accompanied Raven and her men on countless raids and reconnaissance tasks close to British lines around New York. After a time I learned the art of the ambush by blending into the background. Rarely was a shot fired or a sword brought down in anger during our operations. Most of our traps were laid at night.

Once, however, we encountered a British supply train of about three wagons and guarded by about a dozen foot soldiers. It was early morning and we did not have time to set up a proper ambush as the road ran between spacious fields. Instead we mingled in a small grove of pines as the procession came into view. It would be only a matter of seconds before the soldiers would spot us.

Raven spurred her horse and bolted onto the road, surprising both the redcoats and us.

We watched, astounded, as she halted her mount in front of them and shrugged her blouse off her shoulders. The soldiers stared at her bare chest as if thunderstruck.

So did we, until her second in command, Shem, came to his senses. “Let’s go!”

We surrounded the party. The soldiers’ gaze ricocheted from Raven to us and back to Raven. She sat grinning and unfazed, in no particular hurry to cover her breasts.

I allowed myself a good long stare. So pale they were in the morning sunlight, her nipples dark, stiff from the chill.

“Ground your arms,” Shem told them.

The soldiers dropped their muskets and were herded into a group as we searched the wagons. At that moment a man in civilian clothing bolted toward the field. One of our men clouted him and he tumbled onto the grass.

A search of his person uncovered a packet of papers. Shem handed them to Raven.

“My, oh my,” she said.

“What is it?” I reached for the papers, but she wheeled away.

“Wait ... if these are authentic, then ...”

“What, for God’s sake?”

“This is from Sir Henry Clinton. He regrets to inform General Burgoyne that he will not be able to effect a link with his army at Albany.”

“All the militia in New England have gone to join Gates. If he has Burgoyne blocked between Albany and Ticonderoga ... and Clinton isn’t even going to make an effort to reach him ...”

“Then Gentleman Johnny is trussed up like a fat turkey for the taking, and his army too.” Raven tossed me the packet.

“Roberts, you have to make your way north along the Hudson and find Gates. He has to know this. We’ll dispose of these supplies and then follow you. Go on, move!”

“Yes, ma’am.”

*    *    *

I followed the eastern bank of the Hudson. If I rode all day and into the evening I might make Albany. The American army was somewhere north of the old Dutch town, between it and Burgoyne.

It was late afternoon. My horse was tiring. I slid out of the saddle and walked her a bit. Something startled her and I fought to hang on to the reins.

Three men surrounded me with muskets leveled at my chest. They were a slovenly lot. Their clothing was threadbare, showing evidence of many past meals. Unshaven, their sweat-saturated hair plastered to their brows, each peered beneath the floppy brim of a dirty, moth-ravaged hat.

One of them effected a gummy grin as he only had one tooth.

“Money?” he said, and lowered his firearm level with my belly.

“I have dispatches.”

“Fer who?”

“General Gates.”

“We’ll take ‘em.”

“I’ll need to deliver them myself; thanks anyway, boys.”

“Too bad, cuz. We’re inviting you to supper.”

“Sorry, gents, I’m in a hurry.”

“That ain’t polite ... not polite at all. It could get you shot.”

Before I could answer another of their number bound my hands.

“You best come along with us.”

I was led along a path through the woods, my progress encouraged by an occasional shove with a musket across my shoulders.

Finally we came to a clearing. A shack set upon a small rise dominated a scene that included a hog wallow and a smattering of fowl. A series of boards set in the earth served as a stairway to the porch of the shack. Below and in front of the shack was a pen of palisades. A group of men milled within its confines. They wore uniforms that may have been blue once, but they were soiled and the color muted.

One of the cretins called out, “Hittie, we found sumupin’ for ya.”

“What in hell you braying about!”

An immense woman appeared on the porch of the shack; I could only wonder at how much weight she carried beneath her filthy shirt and skirt, the hem of which dragged upon the ground accumulating a crust of soil. She had numerous chins and her hair hung in coiled strands like greasy cables. Her breasts strained their confines and reached nearly to her waist, appearing as if she had two dead pigs slung over her shoulders.

She wiped her arm across her mouth and bellowed. “Bring him here!”

The cretin grabbed my arm and directed me to climb the stairs. Looking up at the woman made her seem even more gargantuan.

Her belly was a veritable buffer that kept me a distance away, so much so I thought I might have to shout to make myself heard.

“Well,” she said, her tongue lolling to one side of her mouth. “ain’t you a pretty lad.”

“Says he got dispatches,” the cretin said.

“What about?”

“Damn, Hittie, you know I cain’t read.”

“Give ‘em here!”

She grabbed the packet from his hand and unfolded the papers.

“Well, now, this here ought to be worth something to someone. We’ll see who antes the best price.”

At once I understood who these people were: Opportunistic thieves and ambushers. They stole from travelers, and waylaid military couriers serving either side and sold intelligence to the highest bidder.

“Put him away till supper time. Send Eph south and Shad north. Whoever bids first and best we’ll sell this bit of paper, and maybe sweet cakes, too. We heard yet if anyone wants those fellers?”

The cretin glanced back toward the men in the pen. “Tom ain’t got back yet.”

“I’m tired of feeding them. Sides ... they ain’t as pretty as they was afore.”

The cretin clamped his scrawny hand on my shoulder and turned me around. He led me to the pen as another held open the gate.

There were eight men, similarly dressed. Now that I stood among them I recognized them as Hessians. A young boy, perhaps eleven or twelve years old, also wearing a faded blue uniform cowered in a corner hugging a puppy to his chest.

All the Hessians were haggard, their eyes sunk deep under their brows effecting a constant, empty stare. I’d seen the same look on soldiers who had experienced fierce combat or some other horror.

One of them spoke, but I did not understand his words, nor did he understand me.

The cretin grinned, then his jaw went slack as if he remembered he was supposed to tell me something. He stood a moment, I assumed trying to puzzle it out, but then turned away without another word.

As afternoon turned to twilight we swatted away mosquitoes and made attempts to communicate. I sensed the Hessians trying to warn me of something, but they could not put their meaning across.

A pair of cretins opened the gate and left a bucket on the ground. They tossed crude wooden bowls beside it and a ladle. One of the Hessians approached and lifted a bowl. He ladled out a dollop of gray-brown slop, swirled a finger in it and tasted. He winced.

The others joined him, including the boy who shared what he had with the pup. I declined to dine.

Darkness settled in and the woman emerged from her shack. Two cretins escorted her to the pen. She stood outside gazing in and licking her lips.

Her eyes traveled from me to the boy, who tried to make himself and his puppy inconspicuous. The other Hessians formed a protective ring about him.

“Who gets to share a comfy bed with Hittie tonight?” she said, and laughed.

Disgust roiled in me, but I said nothing.

She looked directly at me. “How bout you, sweet cakes? Or maybe ...”

She glowered at the boy.

“Yes, maybe it’s time I tasted me some of that sweet little morsel. There’s a fresh tender cock.” She leered at the child who sat trembling on the ground hugging the pup to his chest.

“Step aside!” she ordered the other Hessians.

All of them looked to me, their gaze desperate.

Bitte, bitte” they pleaded.

“Yeah, I’d be bitter too if I were in your shoes.”

One stepped right up to me and put his hand on my chest. “Bitte ... den jungen ... nicht.” He shook his head.

“Well, sweet cakes?” the bitch taunted. “You gonna step in for the little boy; let him stay a little boy for maybe ... one more night?”

I understood then. Tears trickled off the boy’s cheeks.

“Bitter” I sighed. “I’ll say it’s bitter.”

I turned toward the gate.

“Very well, ... madam. I am at your service.”

“Why, hear how polite he talks. Bring him.”

I was escorted by the two sniggering cretins behind the woman and subjected to the sight of her arse, like two boulders teetering on a seesaw, roll with every step.

She entered the shack. I hesitated, but one of the cretins gave me a shove.

The interior was illuminated by a pair of candles. Nothing else occupied the room other than a bed. A sour aroma of mold and rot pervaded the place.

All at once the woman shed her garments revealing a body without nuance; legs, arms belly all coalesced into a great bulk, fold after fold of lard-laden flesh undulating with her every motion.

She grinned. “Strip!”

I wanted to bolt, but began to undress, my movements glacial.

“Hurry up!”

After some moments I stood naked before the leviathan.

She scowled and with an alacrity that astonished sprung upon me, her belly folds backing me up to the threshold. She took hold of my cock and began to manipulate it.

“I’ll have this standing to attention, sweet cakes.”

She worked my cock rigid as she cupped my balls.

“Yes, you’re well cocked, you are; still not enough to fill my cunt. So many cocks, stretched it so now it’s too big, ya know?”

I said nothing, but a tremor up my back shook me.

She began to rub her coarse hands over my chest. “Yesss, smooth and hard. I like the feel of a young man. Them Hessy-anns, they was pretty when they first come; got cocks like porcelain dolls, and pretty yellow hair. I had every one. They was so pretty at first, made me want to dress ‘em like girls. You like to get dressed like a girl?”

She squeezed my balls and I gasped.

“Yes, you’re a pretty one too. C’mon, play with my bangers, bet you want to put your face right between ‘em, don’t you ... hey?”

She pulled me against her, bending me in the middle to mold me over her girth. My face pressed against her chest. She smelled of strong cheese.

“That’s right ... you’re liking it, ain’t ya? That cock is ready to do its work.”

She stepped away from me and reached down. My gaze followed her motion as I watched her scoop something from a pail on the floor. She slathered my cock with some manner of grease; perhaps it was rendered lard.

She backed up, sat down hard on the bed and violently released her wind. The blast could have muted the roar of cannon. The foul air staggered me.

“Ha! That’ll do for any vermin in this bed.”

I was glad I had nothing to eat, but still struggled to keep my stomach down.

“My cunt’s too big. Cocks just flop about. I’m still tight in another place though, and you’re going to do some divining with that fine rod of yours.”

With that she turned and on all fours raised her stupendous arse. “Get about it! C’mon.”

Did she really ... did she expect me to insert myself into the depths of her arsehole?

“What are you waiting for? I’m waiting, damn ya!”

I took a step forward. The cleft between her half-globes was a canyon, and her hole a dark spot from where coarse hairs grew in tangles like briars.

“Oh, God,” I rasped.

“Do it! Do it or so help me I’ll shove that little bastard’s whole head up inside my cunt and smother him.”

“All right. God!”

I knelt behind her and aimed my cockhead at the hairy hole, took a breath and pressed.

“Yarrrgh! Yes, press that pork home ... deeper!”

I intruded about half the length of my cock into her backside. Then with one more heave I buried myself in her up to my balls.

“That’s it ... now roger me ... roger me!”

I withdrew and pushed into her again, then repeated the process.

“Faster ... bastard ... faster ... I’ll cut off your balls!”

I thrust again, then again, faster, ever faster and harder. I wished I was running her through with a bayonet instead.

“Yah! That’s it. Yes, I’m feeling the burn ... gah! I think ... c’mon, you shit-fucker ... boy-whore!”

I tried to make my mind go to another place, anywhere but where I was, and anything other than what I was doing in that moment. Faces of people flashed in my mind: Major Broadley, Franklin, Adams. Each one in turn injected my soul with a dose of shame. Then Laura’s face coalesced behind my eyelids.

“No, no, no!” I cried.

“Give it to me!” the bitch bellowed as she compressed my cock in her bowels. “Yah, you’re close ... give it up, give up your man scum ... I want it!”

I couldn’t help myself. The friction, the way she clenched my captive cock, she was about to milk me of my fluids. Anger, shame, and all the rage in me tried to hold off, but I erupted inside her.

“Ha! I feel it ... you shit-fucking whore! Ha!”

My shrinking cock slipped from her hairy nest trailing tendrils of fluid. I had never felt such disgust for myself.

She rolled her mass onto her back and gestured to me.

“Come and cuddle with Hittie, my pretty boy.”

Before I could recoil she reached out and gripped my hair, pulling me down beside her. She held me in a hammy embrace with one flabby arm.

“You go to sleep now,” she cooed. “Was many who paid plenty to spend a night with Hittie, back in a time ... long time ago ... when I was young ... and pretty. Yes ... pap said I would make lots of money for him ... long ... time ... ago ...”

Her snore reverberated as I lay awake, wallowing in my own self-disgust.

I dozed off before dark but awoke abruptly when I was shoved onto the floor.

“Get up and get out! Get yerself back to your cage. Maybe I’ll play with you again.”

I dressed, but yearned to wash myself. A cretin banged on the door before I could step onto the porch.

“Hittie, riders comin’!”

She shoved me out of her way and stomped past me. I followed her onto the porch.

Raven and her troop occupied the yard, their mounts pawing the ground. Her eyes met mine, but I turned my face, burning with shame.

“C’mon,” Hittie ordered. I followed her and the cretin down the steps.

Raven slid out of her saddle and held a purse full of coins.

“What’s this?” Hittie demanded.

“Twenty Spanish dollars for this man, and the papers he was carrying.”

“I don’t know, maybe we ain’t heard all bids yet.”

“There won’t be any.”

“Fine. Deal.”

Hittie snatched the purse from Raven’s hand.

Raven looked at me; her eyes narrowed.

“Your horse?”

“They have it.” I was about to say I hoped they hadn’t abused the poor animal but thought better of it.

“Horse is over there in yon shed,” Hittie said, absently pointing in the distance.

I leaned close to Raven and whispered, “Kill her.”

“Huh?”

“Kill them all.”

She shook her head. “We can’t.”

Hittie went with one of her cretins to retrieve my horse.

“Dammit!” I said.

“Forget it. They are a valuable conduit for intelligence.”

“Shit, Esther, they sell to both sides.”

“I know ... but ... since we also benefit from their ... trade ... they’re not to be molested.”

“But ...” I couldn’t even express the anger that raged in my breast. Then I pointed to the men and the boy in the pen.

“We’re taking them too.”

“They’re Hessians. We can’t be taking on prisoners.”

“I won’t have those men and that boy left with this miscreant cunt! Buy them if you have to, or watch me kill these bastards.”

“All right,” let me talk to the Hessians.

The cretin led my horse to me as Raven spoke to the Hessians.

“We’ll take these prisoners too,” Raven announced.

“For fifty dollars a head,” Hittie argued.

“Twelve dollars for the lot. You won’t get a better price. Even the British don’t want these poor bastards back.”

Hittie’s face contorted. “All right, but I’m letting them go out of mercy.”

Raven handed her the extra coins. She called Shem over and had words with him. Then she mounted her horse and joined me.

“The men will escort the prisoners to Albany, you and I will ride ahead to find Gates.”

I nodded and we wheeled away from that little patch of hell.

*    *    *

We followed the banks of the Hudson driving our mounts hard until they began to misstep and stagger.

“We’ll need to spell them,” Raven said and slid out of her saddle. I also dismounted, my gaze wandering toward the dark stream slicing a gash between New England and New York. I felt dirty, like I’d been slathered with grease.

All at once I bolted toward the river.

“Roberts! What are you doing?” Her voice sounded miles away.

I stumbled into water and tore at my britches, hauling them down off my haunches and kneeling on a patch of coarse sand, sensing the current between my thighs. I scooped a handful of sand and began to scrape my cock that I imagined was encased in scum.

“Roberts! God, what’s the matter with you?”

I had made myself bloody. The next thing I realized was Raven fighting me to return to the bank, where I fell to my knees on the grass.

“Are you crazy? This river hides an abyss; these banks fall away suddenly, and the current can haul you down into immeasurable depths. People disappear in this river – forever!”

I looked up at her. “I feel like I’m covered in shit and maggots.”

She knelt before me and clapped her hands against my cheeks. She held my head in a tight grip and gazed into my eyes.

“I know what happened.”

“What? But ... how ...?”

“The Hessians told me. They were grateful. They told me what you did ... taking that boy’s place, saving him from that ordeal. I know what she made you do.”

I tried to avert my eyes but she held me steady. “You did a good thing ... a noble thing.”

“I feel ...”

“I know how you feel. Listen to me. What you’re feeling now ... disgust, shame ... women endure over and over. Every young girl whose family has handed her over in marriage to some sour old bastard as if she were a piece of property, and for their sake, or perhaps for her own survival she’s parted her thighs and given herself to some stinking pig of a man. Yes, you are not alone.”

At last she let my face slip from the vice of her hands.

“You want to know why I’m fighting this war? Because it’s a chance to begin anew, from a new first day, and fashion a country and a government that abides by the rule that all people are created equal, and erase the iniquities of all our past centuries, then maybe we can make it right, for men, for women, for everybody. Now get on your mount; we’ve a fair distance to travel yet.”

We mounted and pushed our horses on to Albany.

We ferried to the western bank at the old Dutch town and made our way north passing wagons carrying wounded men.

The American army was said to be holding fortified ground at Saratoga.

We arrived at the American camps near to twilight and sought out Colonel Franksen. We were directed to a house used as a field hospital. He greeted us as he came outside.

“Esther, Roberts ... I was afraid you’d miss the ceremony.”

“Eh, ceremony?” I asked.

“First, David,” Esther said, “we have intercepted dispatches. Should we give them to General Arnold?” She held out the packet. The Colonel took them and read.

“I’m afraid you’re too late,” he said and smiled.

“What?”

“Clinton sent out a dozen couriers; we intercepted them all. And all carried this same message. Gates is already apprised that there will be no reinforcements coming to aid Burgoyne. He sent the dispatches to Gentleman Johnny yesterday; tomorrow the whole of Burgoyne’s army will surrender to Gates.”

“All we did ... for nothing,” I said.

“Not for nothing, Roberts. We all did our part.”

“Where’s General Arnold?”

“I regret to say that General Arnold was wounded in battle some days ago. That damned Granny Gates had relieved him of his command; can you believe it? Jealousy and fear that Arnold would show him up. Well, you know Arnold; he wasn’t going to stay out of this fight. He charged headlong into a British redoubt and broke their lines.”

“How badly was he hurt?” Esther asked.

“Had his horse shot out from under him; the animal fell and crushed his leg ... the same leg. He’ll be crippled for the rest of his life, that’s for sure, while Gates gets all the glory.”

“Can we see him?” I asked.

The colonel nodded and led us into the hospital. Men stood in bunches, some praying for the general.

I could tell he was in tremendous pain, but he managed a smile for me and Esther.

“Captain Franks ... and Lieutenant Roberts, good to see you.”

Lieutenant? When had I become a lieutenant?

“Forgive me if I don’t get up.”

“We’re glad to see you alive, sir. Glad to know you’ll rejoin the fight.”

“I don’t know about that,” he said, glancing down at his shattered leg. “But we have more for you to do. Although, as of now, Roberts, you are detached from Captain Franks’ corps.”

“Sir?”

“General Washington will have need of your services.”

“But ...”

“We’ll see you again, God willing.”

He waved us off and we left him.

I was doubly dejected now, and then my thoughts drifted to Laura Cameron. How foolish was I to have harbored any hopes that she would have me at all, much less that we could have a future together. I could never, not now.

“Roberts!”

Esther startled out of my morose revelry.

“What?”

“You will get over this.”

“Perhaps, but I couldn’t ... that is ... I would never ... will never ... pollute a woman’s body ...”

“What? Pollute? What are you going on about? You mean ...?” She rolled her eyes. “What do you intend to do; become a hermit?”

“If that’s what it takes.”

“You foolish man.” She rolled her eyes again. “All right, I risk condemnation by my own people for doing this.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“Roberts, amongst my people, we guard ancient secrets, and among these are ceremonies of purification.”

“What?”

“You will need to be ritually bathed and the stain that vexes your spirit now can be washed away.”

“What? What kind of nonsense ...?”

She gave me a hard tap on my cheek and pushed her finger between my eyes.

“Don’t you dare mock the God of Israel.”

“Uh ... what?”

“Go get yourself something to eat. I’ll send for you.”

“Um ... sure.”

*    *    *

A corporal sought me out after darkness fell.

“Lieutenant Roberts?”

“Yes.”

“The Raven ... uh, I mean Captain Franks requires that you meet her at the old Dutch farmhouse.”

“She requires?”

“Uh, yes sir. The house ... well it’s just a quarter of a mile down the Albany road. You can see it clear. I could escort you ...”

“No thanks, I think I can find it.”

“All right, sir.”

I saddled a horse and started along the road that hugged the bank of the Hudson. The house came into view soon, its homely lines indeed marked it as a Dutch house.

I rode up to the porch and dismounted. My knock at the door was unanswered, so I opened it and stepped in. A myriad of candles illuminated the interior that was orderly and clean, as one might expect of a Dutch home. I was wondering who it belonged to when Esther appeared wearing a gauzy white garment that revealed the silhouette of her form in the candlelight. Her long black hair draped over her shoulders like a shawl.

“The family who lived here fled to Albany when they heard the sounds of battle. I thought they wouldn’t mind us using it for a night,” she said, then gestured toward a large wooden tub, like a giant’s bucket, in a corner surrounded by candles.

“Take your clothes off and get in ... don’t hesitate and don’t ask for explanations.”

I nodded, and though much perplexed proceeded to undress.

Her eyes traveled down my body and focused on my cock.

“God, you made yourself raw with that sand.”

“I’m fine.”

“Hmm. Get in the tub, lean back, and close your eyes.”

I had wanted to bathe myself since being liberated from Hittie’s hell hole, and when I immersed myself my body instantly relaxed.

Esther knelt beside the tub and began to wash my shoulders with a soft cloth. She poured some sort of scented unguent over my chest and worked it into a lather. Her soft hands coaxed any residual tension out of me.

I breathed deeply and settled into the warm water.

Words that made no sense to me cascaded from her lips.

“Huh? What ...”

“Shhh, it’s a Hebrew prayer.”

“Hebrew? I thought you were trying to clear your throat.”

She tapped me – hard – on the head. She resumed her incantations.

Her hands worked their way down my belly until I felt her fingertips comb the patch above my cock. All at once she had me in hand and gently stroked me, her fingers gingerly retracting the hood off my cock.

“Yes, it’s certain you are no Jew.”

“And this is no Jewish purification ritual.”

She smacked me harder on the head. “Do not doubt me again.”

I sighed.

“You’re a good man, Zachariah Roberts, and you have no business denying yourself ... or denying any woman ... um ... this,” she said, and squeezed my cock so that I almost came out of the water.

“There, there now, rest. I’ll do the work that needs to be done here.”

She continued to stroke me as well as alternately press her fingers along my length until I began to sense the nascent roiling of fluids in my balls. I was breathing raggedly, my heart beating a tattoo. Then she released me, stood and walked away.

“What?”

“That’s all,” she said, carelessly.

“What ... what do you mean?”

“We’ve completed the purification ritual. Now you are fit to enter the temple again.”

“Temple? What temple?”

“Any temple.”

She turned back to me, grinned, and bit her lip. Then bending slightly she lifted her garment up and over her head revealing her snow-pale body, all curves and hefty breasts.

“Pure enough to enter my temple.”

She backed away from me, all the while maintaining her teasing grin, until her legs knocked up against a bed and she fell backward upon it.

I stood out of the tub and nearly fell over the rim. A cloth hung over the back of a chair; I used it to wipe myself dry.

I stood over her savoring every curve from her thighs to her hips, the snowy mounds of her breasts topped with olive-hued nipples. My cock stood straight out. I made to climb on top of her.

“Uh-uh,” she said, wagging a finger at me. “Before you enter the temple, you must worship me.”

“That is blasphemous; I don’t care whose Bible you adhere to.”

She giggled. “I am Lilith and I will be worshipped before you breach my holy place.”

I knelt down and took her feet in my hands. I kissed them both, then her ankles and calves.

“Yes, yes ... that’s right. Now my thighs ... worship my thighs.”

I complied with kisses and nibbles.

“Now my belly, worship my belly.”

I brushed my chin over her quim and she gasped.

“Now my breasts ... worship my breasts.”

I laved my tongue over each taut nipple, then I raised myself and kissed her on her lips as her hands wandered over my back and arse.

Finally, my cock hard and aching, I asked, “May I?”

She nodded furiously and I entered her. In a moment she clasped her legs around me and I nearly lifted her off the bed in my zeal to penetrate her to her soul.

She keened like a wraith as we locked into a rhythm that was both tender and violent. And after a while there were only sounds of passion and desperation in that room.

A mighty spasm forced me to fill her womb as she dug her nails into my back. Slowly I returned to my senses, and in that moment I was filled with such powerful affection I continued to clasp her body to mine. She reciprocated by kissing me with angelic tenderness.

After a while we dozed.

As pre dawn lightened the sky I felt her trace a finger over my chest. I opened one eye and regarded her, smiling at me as she twirled a tuft of hair with her finger.

“Who is she?” she asked.

“What?”

“I’m a thief; I’ve stolen your affection for another woman, and while it is not a trifle to Lilith, who regularly steals the affection meant for others without as much as a by-your-leave, I, Esther, am naturally curious, if not entirely remorseful. For I loved the way you held me this night. So, who is she?”

“A girl.”

“Really ... you don’t say.”

“She’s a loyalist.”

“Well ... you just can’t make anything easy for yourself, can you?”

“I’ve learned to take what comes ... sometimes with the help of a good friend.”

I kissed her cheek. “Thank you.”

As clear October sunlight illuminated the world, the sound of riders approaching was all the urging we required to rise and dress.

Outside, the Raven’s men remained mounted, waiting patiently for their commander.

We stepped into the morning sunshine together.

Shem cantered over to us. “The Hessians have been delivered into custody; they’ll likely join the lot that are surrendering today.”

Raven nodded.

“The boy?” I asked.

“Oh ... the boy. Yes, he was ... adopted.”

“What?”

“Hmm, an old Dutch couple, well ... they’d lost all their children. They took pity on him, said they would give him a home.”

Shem shrugged. “I thought, why not? Who am I that I should keep a family apart ... even one that isn’t a family ... yet.”

“A mitzvah,” Raven said. “Good for you, Shem.”

He was about to wheel and rejoin the others.

“Shem,” I said. “His dog?”

“Oh, yes, they took him and his dog too.”

“Thank you, Shem.”

And Shem, who had barely exchanged a handful of words with me in all the time I had known him, shrugged, smiled and saluted.

Just then my commander touched my shoulder. “See, Roberts, out of something foul, yet goodness thrives.”

I kissed her then, full on the lips, as her men tugged their beards and grunted mild disapproval.

“Goodbye Raven ... Captain Franks ... Esther ... Lilith.”

“Goodbye ... Zach. Shalom.”

They wheeled and rode back toward Saratoga. After a while, and after my tears had abated, I headed back south to Albany.

The American cause had achieved a great victory at Saratoga. Dr. Franklin would use it to persuade the French king to come to our aid.

But while Burgoyne was abandoned, Howe marched to capture Philadelphia, thinking that taking the new nation’s de facto capital would break our spirit and end the war.

Washington tried to stop him at Brandywine Creek, but his army was flanked and routed, due to no small effort of the Queen’s Rangers, Laura’s brother’s regiment.

I, and all of America were about to plunge into the depths of a killing winter.

Part III

Howe and his army occupied Philadelphia from autumn through winter of 1778 and made only one foray against Washington’s forces during that whole time. The handsome Howe enjoyed warmth and comfort and the favors of certain ladies during those frigid months while the American army passed winter daily staving off starvation.

Perhaps Howe’s indolence was due to his realization that, while he occupied our capital, in a larger sense he would have to conquer a map to quell the rebellion. The general, who had been sympathetic to the colonies when he stood in Parliament, was likely worn down by stalemate and a sense of futility; he went home to England. The British army vacated Philadelphia before summer set in.

I had wondered about the Camerons’ fate during the occupation. Might they have moved into the city under the protection of His Majesty’s forces? Somehow I couldn’t imagine Mr. Cameron abandoning his farm. His daughter certainly wouldn’t; but, perhaps for her safety he may have insisted they move into the city.

I had become leader of a platoon of couriers who regularly carried messages from Washington’s headquarters to Congress and to General Arnold, who had been appointed the city’s military governor. At the first opportunity I rode to the Cameron farm. My heart sank when I found it vacant.

I continued on into the city where I delivered my dispatches to Arnold. The general was visibly hobbled after multiple wounds in the service of the new country, but seemed otherwise content in his position.

“Roberts, get yourself cleaned up. Tonight I entertain some of the most prominent families in this city. I want you to be there. Who knows, you might catch the eye of ... Dame Opportunity.”

I had acquired by that time a splendid Continental uniform in blue buff. Never being one to preen in a mirror, I nonetheless had to grant to myself that it made me look rakishly handsome. I wore it to the evening event.

General Arnold’s soiree was attended by at least a hundred people. Gentlemen and ladies in finery that to me looked alien after living amongst troops and camp followers who shivered in threadbare homespun garments.

I scanned the room where couples danced, laughed and chatted. A lady sat at the periphery, her back toward me. But I would recognize her graceful neck anywhere under any circumstances. I made my way toward her.

“Lorelei? I mean, Mrs. Bunning?”

She looked up at me.

“Zach? Oh, my heavens.” Her smile was as warm and gracious as I remembered, but her face was no longer ageless after just two years. But I supposed they had been hard years for her as they had for many.

“Mr. Bunning?” I inquired, and instantly I read the sadness in her eyes.

“Gone, Zach. A sudden apoplexy took him. I miss him so much.”

“Well, of course, ... he was a fine gentleman.”

Lorelei’s gaze turned toward General Arnold who held court with several gentlemen across the dance floor.

“I have been trying to catch his eye,” Lorelei said. “Alas, my sun has been eclipsed by much younger stars, such as Miss Shippen over there.”

I followed her gaze to a young girl who looked to be indifferently chatting with a coterie of other girls her age, but whom I could tell counted every pair of eyes in the room and ensured they would all fall on her.

“She’s a child,” I said.

“Perhaps, just eighteen I believe, but much adept at coquetry. Yes, that girl is far ahead of her years as regards to the flirtatious arts. She has captivated our brave General Arnold. I and all the other ladies in this room might just as well be draperies.”

“You will always be the belle of Philadelphia ... Lorelei.”

Her chin trembled a moment, but she smiled at me.

“Would you see me home, Zach? It’s rather ... dispiriting for me here.”

I held out my hand and she rose from her seat. As we walked toward the mansion’s foyer, she remarked, “No one is noticing me leave.”

A plain carriage was brought around. Lorelei dismissed her hired driver and I took the reins.

“You have to guide me to your home,” I said, “I don’t think I remember the way.”

“I don’t live there now.”

“Oh?”

“Zach, the war ... the war cost much more to Mr. Bunning and me than we could have ever imagined. He never, and I would never regret supporting this cause, but it has exacted an awful toll. Our wealth is sapped; I think it led to Mr. Bunning’s ... well, it weighed on him ... mortally.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said, “But, he must have made provisions for you.”

“He did, the dear. But, that too had been drained of much of its value by the time it came into my hands. Zach, I am not bereft, but still I am in a precarious position.”

She directed me toward the river and south to the outskirts of the city. We came to a modest cottage.

“You live here?”

“Yes,” she said, and I helped her from the carriage.

It was a tiny house of perhaps four rooms. A negro woman greeted us at the door with a welcoming smile.

“Evening, ma’am, sir. We weren’t expecting you for a while yet.”

At that moment a child tottered to Lorelei and clasped his arms around her legs. She lifted him into her arms and kissed him.

“There’s my brave boy.”

“Effie, this is Lieutenant Roberts, an old friend of mine and my late husband.”

The maid bowed and gestured toward a small sitting room.

I watched Lorelei play with the child a moment before she asked Effie to prepare him for bed. The maid took the boy up a narrow set of stairs.

I couldn’t hold back once they were out of sight.

“Lorelei ... the child ... is he ...?”

“The truth is, Zach, I don’t know.”

She had to have read my puzzlement. She placed one hand on my knee and bent toward me.

“You see, Zach, we couldn’t just hope, that is ... just rely on one time, with one young man.”

“There were others?”

“Yes, of course. But, they were all fine young men, vetted by Dr. Franklin, before he left for France.”

“I see.” I was not prepared for the sudden onset of a hollow pain in my chest.

“I mean,” she said. “He could be ... but ...”

“I ... understand.”

Lorelei got up to retrieve a decanter and glasses set on a small table. She poured a reddish amber liquid into the glasses and handed me one.

“Some odd brandy. It’s very good.”

I took the glass and sipped.

“How are you getting on, Lorelei?”

“I have a patron ... a married patron.”

“You are his mistress?”

“A woman has few options. He is a good man, but it is understood I am for his diversion and pleasure only. It was he who provided this cottage for us.”

“But, what if he should ...?”

“He is a good man, Zach. He has already made arrangements for me and my child ... in any event.”

“Ah, well, that’s good. I wish I ...”

“Shhh,” she said, and pressed two fingers to my lips. Then her hand slipped behind my neck and she pulled my head toward her.

Her lips sealed to mine; she held our kiss for some moments.

“I just wanted you to know how much ... how much our interlude meant to me.”

I understood. The kiss was a token, and it would have to do.

“Now, may I do something for you, Zach? I still hold some sway in this city.”

I held her hands a moment, then I told her about the Camerons and asked if she could help me learn their fate.

“Hmm, loyalists. You haven’t made it easy for yourself, have you young man?”

“A friend not long ago said the same thing.”

“I’ll make some inquiries for you.”

“Thank you.”

I stayed until morning. Lorelei and I returned to the city in her carriage.

I tarried in the city four days awaiting an assignment. Colonel Franksen at last charged me to carry secret dispatches to General Washington. Before he saw me off, he confided his unease about being in Philadelphia.

“The city is rife with profiteers. Some are obvious, some not so much. My fear is they will co-opt the general. He has so many enemies ready to pounce on any perceived misstep. I wish he were given a field command. He’s a soldier, not a politician.”

Before I made my way to Washington’s army I rode to Lorelei’s cottage. She welcomed me inside and confided, “Elisha Cameron and his daughter, Laura, accompanied the British army to New York. It has been assumed they made it to the city safely. Other than that, I can tell you nothing else.”

“It’s enough.”

I kissed the lady one last time and said my farewells.

*    *    *

I was in Rhode Island when the French fleet and troops arrived. Our new allies rubbed me the wrong way from the outset. Perhaps it was because they looked too pretty in their spotless white uniforms with pale blue trim. Maybe I, and many others, resented them because it seemed money just fell out of their arseholes, and that made them popular with the local girls.

A sergeant and veteran of many campaigns summed up the feelings of many American soldiers. “Getting so a Patriot can’t get a poke, lessn’ some French cock’s gotten in there ahead of him. And driving up the price, to boot.”

The French soldiers conveyed a restrained contempt for us amateur soldiers. Others of our officers who spoke French ascribed our troops’ resentment to the barrier in language and assured me the Frenchies were decent enough fellows.

As for me, I just couldn’t warm to them. I was glad to be sent into the south where the war had shifted. As New England was secure, and the middle colonies were in a military stalemate, the British commander Clinton dispatched Lord Cornwallis to ravage the South and rally the sizable populace of loyalists they presumed to live there. They only succeeded in igniting a vicious civil war whence old scores were settled, and no quarter given.

I was in the South when word came down of General Arnold’s defection to the British. Today they’ll tell you our troops loudly cursed him and burned his effigy. But I can tell you any who knew him or fought under him were broken-hearted rather than angered. Angered more at his enemies who we felt had driven the best commander in either army into the embrace of the enemy.

As more details filtered along the ranks, it was revealed that General Arnold’s in-laws, known loyalists, had arranged his treachery. My thoughts returned to the pretty Miss Shippen, who had indeed captured the general’s heart and accepted his hand.

For me it was the lowest point in the war. Just a month earlier, Arnold’s commander at Saratoga, granny Gates, fled the field of battle abandoning his men to the mercy of Cornwallis.

Elsewhere the South was a charnel house, with massacres perpetrated by both sides among the divided inhabitants. But I think the worst of serving there was witnessing the despair of the slaves, many of whom tried to flee to British lines after being promised freedom. So many of those poor souls were caught in the crossfire.

Lord Cornwallis’s pursuit of the American army was checked decisively by General Dan Morgan, who then retired from the fight, worn down and enfeebled by his service. Washington then put his faith and all our trust in a Rhode Island Quaker, Nathaniel Greene.

He was a mild man, as you might expect of a Quaker, but with a quick mind and steely fortitude. He had determined to sap Cornwallis’s strength and will by leading him on a grueling chase north into Virginia from the Carolinas.

I was present when he explained his strategy to his subordinates.

“Lieutenant Roberts,” he said after dismissing them. “You’ll tarry a moment?”

“Certainly, sir.”

When he was sure no one was in earshot he confided in a low voice, “Lieutenant, I have a rather unpleasant assignment for you.”

“Oh? Well ... of course I’ll ...”

“I know you’ll do your duty, Lieutenant. But I wanted to explain the nature of your assignment. First, let me assure you, I abhor slavery. It is anathema to everything I believe. It is a horrible blight on our country.”

“I must say we have witnessed heartbreaking sights in this region, sir.”

He nodded. “Lieutenant, despite our feelings, we must honor the arrangements, and peculiarities of our southern brethren. A Colonel Belvidere who commands a militia battalion is expected at our headquarters tomorrow. We are holding about forty slaves who have fled his plantation. They were intercepted while trying to attach themselves to Cornwallis’s army. They are being held in a tobacco barn. I would like you to handpick some men, relieve the men guarding them and keep them secure until Colonel Belvidere arrives to collect them.”

He must have read the expression on my face.

“I understand your revulsion, Roberts. You’re a New Englander like me. But, I know you’ll see your duty through.”

“Of course, sir.”

“For the nonce, we need to hold our country together. It requires some compromises with our own consciences.”

“Yes, sir.”

I chose a half-dozen men who I had come to trust.

We relieved the guards and took up positions. Sergeant Collins and I entered the long shed to tally our charges.

Such a despairing lot of men and women, some with children. They gathered in one end of the structure, pressed together, several embracing. As we walked past them many flinched, most trembled, and all cast their eyes down. It was evident they expected some terrific punishment to be levied against them.

A motion caught my eye. A tall, well-muscled man stood up in a stall a small distance from the others. Immediately I sensed in him defiance and a barely contained rage. He gazed unwaveringly into my eyes. I surmised he was their Moses, and that he had led them on their desperate bid for freedom.

A woman stood up beside him. While he was as black a man as I had ever seen, the woman’s complexion was as light as butter.

Collins nudged me. “A pretty one; what do you think, a quadroon?”

I didn’t answer, but instead stepped over to the man. The woman clung to him.

“Your name?” I asked.

He glared at me a moment. “They call me Cooper.”

“Hmm. What do you call yourself?”

“I’ll choose my own name when I’m free.”

“Well, Colonel Belvidere is coming here to claim you and the rest of these people,” I said, gesturing to the group.

“Not me. I’ll die first. And he won’t have her either.” He curved a protective arm around the woman’s shoulders.

“We’ll see about that.”

I stepped toward the cowering slaves. Behind me I heard the woman weep quietly, but I didn’t turn back to look.

An older man and woman sat on the floor. They looked like any old married pair.

“You folks,” I said, and they stood.

“The man over there ... and his woman.”

“That be Cooper, sir.”

“And Miss Rosie,” the woman added.

“Miss Rosie?”

“She be the master’s house wench, sir.”

I turned to Collins, but he only shrugged.

“What’s a house wench?”

The woman looked down at her feet. “Well, sir, she keeps Master’s bed warm when Missus Belvidere ain’t home.”

“Oh ... I see. Cooper ... he led you people to run away from the plantation?”

I could tell they didn’t want to answer, even though they told me everything I wanted to know through their reticence.

I returned to the man called Cooper.

“The colonel will be here in the morning. I hope you won’t give us any trouble.”

“Mistah, I won’t let him take me; I won’t let him have her neither.”

“I don’t see where you, or I ... or your lady has much choice.”

“We all got a choice.”

I nodded and gestured to Collins to follow me outside.

“Did you see them scars on that man’s arms and back?” Collins asked.

“Yes.”

“I heard from some Carolina militia that if a slave breaks for freedom enough times, they geld him.”

“God.”

“Yup ... or sometimes they just kill him as an example to the others. Maybe cut him in pieces.”

“That’s out of our hands, Collins.”

My sentries were posted all around the barn. I spent the night pacing around our fire. It must have been well past midnight when I re-entered the barn with a lantern.

Most of the people were sleeping in the straw. The stall the man and woman had occupied was vacant. I shone my lamp into the next stall and the next.

Had they gotten away, gotten past our sentries?

I heard the low rumble of the man’s voice and pushed forward into the darkness.

Once again I heard the low rumble; it was answered by the woman’s sigh, and then a moan of such sweet contentment.

By the time I came upon them and shined my lamp upon them, they were heedless of my intrusion. He stood, his back against a support beam. The woman clasped her legs around his hips. Both were naked, golden in my lantern’s light. She rode his cock in a slow, deliberate rhythm as if free of the bounds of earth. He gently let her down and she turned her back to him and dropped to her knees.

He took his position behind her. I could tell the moment he entered her from the expressions on their faces.

Fascinated at their intimate congress, I could not look away, even after he exhaled a great groan and emptied himself inside her. He reared back on his haunches and she leaned back into his embrace as he closed his heavy arms around her breasts. And in that embrace there was such intense affection that I envied them and felt terribly alone.

He held her in that perfect embrace a moment longer. Then he closed his hands over her face, pinching her nose with his fingers, his other hand he clasped over her mouth. She tried to gasp, but he held her tightly. It took a moment for me to realize what he was doing.

I ran toward them and brought the butt of my pistol across his cheek. It was enough for him to loosen his handholds. I grabbed a handful of her hair and yanked her head out of his grasp. She fell to the ground gasping and sobbing.

“Damn you! I thought you loved her.”

“She cain’t go back to that man. I won’t let her endure a life with that man.”

“What about you?”

“Belvidere gonna kill me anyway.”

I took the woman’s hand and helped her stand.

“Colonel Belvidere ... he makes you ... I mean ...”

“He uses me for his pleasure, sir. He gives me to other gentlemen from time to time. He calls me his prize Yellow Rose.”

I pointed to Cooper. “This man just tried to kill you.”

“I know, sir. I asked him to.”

“You know what’s in store for him?”

Rosie wept at my question. “Would you kill us both, sir. Shoot us with your pistol? Please, sir.”

“Would you do that, mistah?” the man asked. “Tell the colonel it happened when we tried to escape.”

I already knew what I was going to do. I even imagined my court-martial. I wondered if I would be shot or hanged.

“Collins!”

In his haste, the sergeant slipped and stumbled into the dark barn. The other slaves came awake.

“Lieutenant Roberts?”

“Here in the back.”

Collins walked toward my lantern light.

“Sergeant, I’m taking these people to the British lines. How far away are they?”

“Sir? You’re what?”

“I’m doing this myself. Neither you nor the other men need be involved.”

“Sweet Jesus! Sir, you’re sure?”

“I am. Now which way do I go?”

“Wait, the boys and me are coming with ya.”

“I just said ...”

“Yeah, but we’re coming. The boys ain’t gonna let you go alone. We’ll need a big white cloth for a show of truce.”

“Better make it a bright one. We don’t even know if they’ll honor a truce, what with all the treachery done on both sides.”

“Yes, sir. Well, should we get going?”

“How far?”

“Outliers will be some five or six miles hence.”

“Let’s get these people up and moving.”

Cooper and his woman dressed and then helped rouse the others. When all were ready, I and my half-dozen volunteers began our trek toward the nearest British lines.

The sky had lightened by the time we’d covered some five miles, but that only made the woods seem darker.

A challenge rang out in the darkness. “Who goes there?”

“A Continental officer. I wish to communicate with your commanding officer.”

There was stone silence. I expected a fusillade to rake us any moment.

Another voice called out, not the sentry’s. This one was clipped, cultured.

“Identify yourself.”

“Lieutenant Roberts.”

“Then we’ll find a lieutenant to parlay with you.”

“No time, sir. I have some people I would ask that you allow into your lines.”

“Do you think me a fool, lieutenant?”

“Well, I don’t really know you well enough.”

“Impudent fellow, aren’t you? You are addressing a superior officer.”

“How am I to know that.”

“Major Michael Ogilvie, 17th Regiment of foot.”

“Ah, well, Major Ogilvie. We have some people whom you invited into your lines.”

“Show yourself.”

Collins and I walked toward the voice. Several torches were illuminated. A British major and several infantrymen stood with their muskets leveled at us.

“What people?” the major asked.

“Former property of a Mr. Belvidere.”

“Slaves?”

“Free men and women, according to Lord Cornwallis’s general order, and affirmed by His Majesty.”

“You are allowing these people into our lines without condition?”

“Only that you let it happen and let us withdraw safely.”

The major stepped out of his protective circle of infantry. I saluted him.

“Lieutenant ... Roberts was it?

“Yes, sir.”

“Where are these people?”

I signaled to my men to let the slaves advance. They continued past us and the British soldiers separated to let than pass between their ranks.

“My family is very keen to erase slavery wherever it exists,” the major said.

“Well, sir, here’s a good start.”

“But ... why ...?”

“I can’t explain, sir. I’m grateful to you for taking them off our hands.”

“Very well, then. Goodnight Lieutenant.”

“Goodnight, sir.”

I turned to return to my men. Cooper and Rosie approached with the older couple.

Rosie fell to her knees before me weeping, but Cooper lifted her to her feet.

“We thank you,” he said. “But ...”

“I understand,” I said. “Good luck.”

They walked toward the British lines, but Rosie looked back and smiled.

“What do you make of that?” Collins asked.

“Do you think our kindness tonight can make up for what they have endured all their lives until now?”

“No, I don’t suppose. I guess we’re up to our eyes in shit now, eh, Lieutenant?”

“I’d guess you guess right. Let me see what I can do, so it doesn’t go bad for you and the men.

It was daylight when we returned to camp. I went right to General Greene’s tent. The army was making ready to move again.

“Lieutenant Roberts, this is Colonel Belvidere.”

I hadn’t noticed the rotund officer seated in one corner of the tent. He didn’t rise.

“The colonel is anxious to collect his property.”

“Ah, well ...”

“Yes, Lieutenant?”

“I’m afraid ... well, sir, my men and I have just returned from a pursuit ...”

“Pursuit!” Belvidere shot out of his seat. “Did they escape?”

“I believe it was Tarleton, sir.”

“Tarleton? Banastre Tarleton?”

“He’s the only Tarleton of consequence that I’m aware of.”

“Lieutenant,” Greene said. “Are you saying your men were attacked by Tarleton?”

“Well, perhaps not Tarleton himself, but certainly his horsemen. They roused the slaves to escape.”

“And you didn’t try to retrieve them?” Belvidere demanded.

“I thought it more important to capture Tarleton’s men, if we could.”

“Did you?” asked General Greene.

“Sir, we did our best. They were mounted; we were afoot.”

“The slaves?” Belvidere said.

“Vanished.”

The Colonel’s curses collided in his mouth so he mostly spit his consternation.

“Tarleton,” Greene said thoughtfully. “Our best intelligence says he is many miles from here.”

“One can’t ever tell where he’ll turn up.”

“Indeed.”

“But my slaves!” Belvidere whined.

“They will slow down Cornwallis if they made his lines. The best we can do to recover your property, Colonel, is to defeat the British.”

General Greene nodded to me. “You’re dismissed, Lieutenant.”

I turned smartly and exited the tent. Behind me I heard Belvidere explode with rage and frustration. I congratulated myself on being a good liar, but knew in my heart that General Greene had colluded in his.

*    *    *

The rest of the summer was a series of grueling marches, fights, and more marches to stay ahead of Cornwallis. We were steadily sapping his supplies and stamina until the British commander was forced to turn onto the York peninsula in Virginia to await evacuation by sea. The evacuation never came. A French fleet routed the British on the Chesapeake and blocked Cornwallis’s escape from Yorktown. Our armies, combined with our French allies, laid siege to the town. By October, Lord Cornwallis had had enough since Clinton had abandoned him as he had Burgoyne four years before.

The surrender ceremony was to be conducted in Yorktown, where the main body of British forces were, and across the river at Gloucester, where a smaller force would surrender its arms and colors. I was sent with a contingent of officers the evening before to Gloucester. Among the regiments there was the Queen’s Rangers, and possibly Ethan Cameron.

I was escorted to the rangers’ encampment. The men there were dejected, but defiant, and, I surmised, ready to take up arms again in an instant. But they were bound by Cornwallis’s order and agreement.

I approached an officer.

“Sir, I wonder if a man named Ethan Cameron is among your number.”

“What is that to you?” he snarled, not even acknowledging a fellow officer.

“His family paid me a kindness some years ago; I’d like to repay it in some way if I could.”

He regarded me a moment, then signaled to a ranger. “Take this man to Major Cameron.”

“Major?”

“Yes ... he outranks you, but then, all our men outrank you.”

I nodded and gave no argument.

I was led to a tall, wiry officer. The moment I saw him I could tell he was Elisha Cameron’s son.

I saluted him.

“Major, my name is Roberts.”

“Zachariah Roberts?”

“Uh, yes. How ...?”

He nodded thoughtfully. “My father has mentioned you in his letters.”

“Oh?”

“He has high regard for you.”

“Truly? And, how is your father ... and sister?”

He shrugged. “Their letters have been infrequent. They are in Halifax, I can tell you that.”

“Ah, well ... you’ll be reunited soon. All officers are to be paroled and allowed to sail to Halifax.”

“I’d heard.”

“Well, when last you communicated with them, they were well, I trust.”

“They were, inasmuch as they had been driven from their home and country.”

“Yes, well. I’m truly sorry for that. So your father ... and your sister ...”

“Well, very well ... last I heard.”

“I would think, after all this time ... your sister ... married, I suppose?”

He held me in a steady gaze. Sweat ran down my neck.

“She has thus far devoted herself solely to my father.”

“Ah, I see.”

“Lieutenant, my father mentioned you by name in his letters. My sister ... she has also written to me, and without fail in all her letters she has mentioned a young rebel, but never by name. She described him as tragically wrong-headed about the war, but nevertheless she could not help feeling some ... fondness for him.”

“She ... she did?”

“She only referred to him as ‘my rebel’. She said she prayed we would never confront each other ... in battle.”

“Oh?” My heart was beating so hard I feared he would hear its tattoo.

“I can only surmise that she was writing of you, Lieutenant Roberts.”

I shrugged. “Well, I met them so long ago.”

I wondered if he could tell that my heart was about to burst with joy.

“Major Cameron, is there anything I can do for you?”

He regarded me a moment. “Perhaps, Lieutenant. Please wait here.”

He left me to consult with a body of officers, many of whom flashed suspicious glances in my direction.

Ethan returned with a simple blanket.

“Could you see that this is delivered to Mr. Parkington? He lives here in Gloucester Point. He is a loyal subject of the King and he and his family will be taking ship to Halifax also, rather than risk reprisals.”

I took the blanket from him, but sensed it disguised something else, something made of fabric.

“Shall I ask ...?”

“Best you don’t, Lieutenant. But I, and my comrades, will be obliged if you would do this thing.”

“Very well, Major. Please, when you again see your family, please give them my regards.”

“I will.”

I saluted and left with the blanket. Later that evening I sought out and found the Parkington family and handed custody of the blanket to its patriarch.

Surrender ceremonies occurred simultaneously on either side of the river the next day. All regiments were obliged to ground their arms and surrender their regimental colors. Every regiment complied except one, the Queen’s Rangers. They pleaded that their colors had been shredded in battle, lost, or just vanished.

Their regimental colors would reappear, however, in Halifax. The only regimental flag not surrendered at Yorktown.

*    *    *

After that glorious victory in the autumn of 1781, the British conducted no more major actions. And while King George adamantly wished to pursue the war, power changed hands in Parliament, which had become weary of the American war. By that time Britain was fighting France and Spain around the globe. It was decided to amputate the American colonies from the British Empire. America won its independence two years later.

I watched the last British forces in New York take to their ships and depart for Canada. Despite protestations by many in Congress, and General Washington, they kept their promise to the former slaves who fled to their protection and took them to Canada also as free persons of color.

I was twenty-eight years old, but so much older in spirit. I was but twenty when the war began.

I was brevetted a captain, and upon my discharge I was invited to visit with Mr. and Mrs. Adams in Braintree, where Mr. Adams, unbeknownst to me, had interceded as my attorney and secured an inheritance for me. It was in truth an amount of money that Major Broadley had bequeathed to me. It was a modest fortune, but with it I purchased a row of warehouses abandoned by a Loyalist merchant.

The warehouses were laden with various goods, but as victory was followed close by depression, they would be difficult to sell.

A few of the men who served with me remained in my service, seeking employment even though I could pay them little. Then word came that the large colony of Loyalist refugees in Nova Scotia had strained the resources of that province. They were desperate for essential commodities with which to make homes on lands granted to them in partial compensation by the Crown.

We loaded a ship with blankets, stoves, tools, pots and other cookery and set sail for Halifax.

After some days we approached the harbor.

“Shall we show the colors, sir,” Collins, then my first mate, asked. “They might take it into their heads to fire on us.”

“Collins, that would be an act of war. The damned war’s over. Show our colors.”

We raised the American ensign and entered the harbor of Halifax. A crowd turned out at the wharf. They were quiet, sullen, curious, and there were so many of them.

But after I announced what our ship carried and that the items could be purchased for cash or notes of credit, the crowd came alive. A local warehouse owner offered to transfer our goods where they could also be displayed. After one day we held money or notes and promised to return with more goods.

The warehouseman had been born in Connecticut but fled to Canada with his family during the war. He was well acquainted with many in the Loyalist community. I inquired if a Cameron family still lived in or near the city.

That evening found me gently wrapping my knuckles upon the door of a modest cabin.

When Laura opened the door my heart held a beat.

“Oh, my dear Jesus!” she said, more as a gasp. She raised her hand touching her fingers to her lips.

“Who’s there, Laura?” I heard her father ask.

But she couldn’t speak.

“Miss Cameron,” I said, and scanned her face, a girlish face still, but no longer a girl’s. Her dark, chestnut hair draped her shoulders.

Elisha Cameron stepped around her.

“Young Roberts?”

“Not quite as young, sir.”

“Come inside.”

“First sir, I have a stove, blankets and some other sundries for you.”

“What?”

I signaled for Collins to pull up the wagon we had stocked with goods.

Laura and her father came out and inspected the contents.

“For us?” Laura asked.

“A paltry recompense,” I replied.

“We’ll never fit all this in our small place,” Mr. Cameron said. “But I am building a larger house, for me and my bride.”

“Eh? Sir, you’re remarried?”

“Not yet, in a fortnight. A very lovely widow, a bit younger than me.”

“Congratulations.”

“Thank you, Zach. I’m very fond of Sally, but I had to marry for my daughter’s sake.”

I chuckled. “You think she needs a mother?”

“No. She needs to make her own life. By God, sir, she’s twenty-seven years old. Practically unmarriageable.”

“Poppa!”

“I don’t know about that,” I said.

Mr. Cameron invited me and Collins inside the tiny cabin.

It was cramped, but cozy. Laura lit a pipe for her father, who took a puff and said, “Ethan is married.”

“Oh, well good for him.”

“Aye, a fine girl she is too. He told us what you did for him at Yorktown. I thank you for that.”

“It was nothing.”

“Court-martial offense? Nothing?”

“I have no idea what you mean, sir.”

He chuckled and nodded.

“Laura, light another pipe for Mr. Collins here. Then you and Zach inventory the goods in that wagon once more for me. Take your time.”

Laura rolled her eyes, but stood and took my arm. “C’mon,” she said.

Once outside she led me beyond the wagon beneath a star-strung sky. She turned and faced me, her face dimly illuminated by the candle she held.

“I should hate you,” she said.

“Do you?”

“No ... but I should. People like you drove us from our home, took everything we cared about away from us.”

“I know ...”

“Shhh ... you have no right to say anything. A hundred wagons full of goods or treasure will never give you that right.”

“I’m sorry ...”

“I told you to be quiet!”

“Yes ... ma’am.”

“I’m glad you came through the war unhurt.”

“Mostly.”

“I’m ... I am glad to see you again.”

“Truly?”

“But for the life of me I know not why. I feared for you as much as a feared for my brother.”

“Truly?”

“Yes ... and I hate that I feared for you as I did. I hate that I am glad to see you. I hate that the moment we shared in that pond ...”

“Yes?”

“That was so long ago, but ... I think about it.”

“I feared for you too ...”

“I ... I told you not to speak.”

“The vision of you ... in that pond, your naked shoulders glistening in the sun ...”

“Stop ... stop ...”

“It’s all I had to help me through terrible ... sorrowful times.”

She sobbed. “Your fault ... you ...”

“Please, can we end our war, Laura? Can we agree to a truce ... and seal it with a kiss?”

Tears trickled over her cheeks. I could restrain myself no longer. And in an instant, at long last, Laura Cameron was in my arms and my lips were pressed to hers. Her bosom swelled against my chest. I held her tightly, drawing her heat.

I broke our kiss and followed the curve of her neck with my lips.

“Do you still bathe daily,” I whispered.

“Too chilly to bathe. Autumn comes so early in Canada.”

“I would make a warm place for you ... and me.”

“I don’t know ... I don’t know.”

She pushed me away gently, but my heart grieved at the separation.

“I have to think,” she said, and turned back toward the cabin.

Mr. Cameron loaned a mule to Collins and me. We rode her back to the wharf where we turned her over to a liveryman who would hold her for her owner.

I retired to the vessel, but all night I burned with need and anxiety.

*    *    *

We tarried in Halifax another day but needed to make ready to return to Boston. Mr. Cameron and Laura came to see us off at the docks. Ethan joined them with his pretty wife, a woman I guessed some years younger than his sister.

“Roberts,” he said. “My wife, Catherine.”

I bowed, “My pleasure, Mrs. Cameron.”

“Katie,” she said, smiling through a cascade of blonde curls that framed her face. Her voice was girlish and full of joy as she clung to her husband’s arm.

“Katie,” I nodded and smiled.

“The Loyalists of Halifax are beholden to you,” Ethan said.

“Only if they don’t pay their notes,” I replied.

“On such generous terms, I assure you there is no chance of default; it’s a matter of honor. But a slim margin of profit for you.”

“It’s more than enough to make the voyage worth our while. We ought to be back within the fortnight.”

“You’ll come to the wedding,” said Mr. Cameron, a tall woman with enchanting blue eyes holding his arm. She was also younger than the Cameron patriarch, perhaps by ten years. “Sally and I will look forward to your presence.”

“I won’t hear of you not attending, Mr. Roberts,” Sally said. Her voice was mild and warm.

“No matter the weather,” I said.

Laura stepped away from them. “Perhaps ... I’ll have made a decision when you return.”

“Fair enough.”

We said our goodbyes and left on a late morning tide.

*    *    *

Upon our return crowds again greeted us at the dock, but instead of the silent sullen mob, there was an air of excitement and gaiety about them. The Connecticut warehouseman, who had agreed to serve as my agent in Halifax, arranged to have the ship unloaded.

I hired a carriage and set out for the Cameron’s cabin at mid afternoon. Laura greeted me, but said her father and Ethan were completing the house her father and bride would occupy after exchanging their vows.

“Well, then, you’ll come with me,” I told her.

“Oh, will I? Just like that?”

“I’ve arranged a surprise in the port.”

“What have you arranged?”

“I can’t tell you or it won’t be a surprise. But you do try to bathe daily still?”

“I ... what ... oh, very well, you’ve aroused my curiosity.”

We rode into town past several warehouses. I halted the carriage at one of them. A ramp led to a door. It was a nondescript building, looking no different than the others.

“Do you intend to woo me with more dry goods?” she asked.

I walked past her on the ramp and held open the door. It took a moment to for our eyes to adjust to the dimmer light.

“Oh, my ... what’s this?” she said.

Even as she spoke an Indian woman shawled in a blanket entered the all but vacant space and poured a bucketful of steaming water into the wooden tub that could easily accommodate six persons. The woman strode away stoically.

“A brewer in Halifax ordered four of these. I thought he wouldn’t care if I borrowed one for a day prior to delivery. Our privacy has been assured by my agent. Well, except for the woman I’ve paid to see that the water is comfortably heated.”

She turned away from the tub, her hands on her hips.

“You expect me to get into that?”

“Of course.”

“You expect me to take my clothes off?”

I shrugged. “I would not recommend you enter the water clothed ... no. Please ... will you?”

“I ... turn your back.”

“Laura ... I’ve seen you naked before.”

“Eight years ago, and no, you truly did not see me naked ... I was already in the pond when you entered.”

“All right. I’ll wait until you disrobe and settle in. You will ... won’t you ... please?”

“As you have gone to so much trouble ... I will. I should be scandalized should we be discovered.”

“The woman will bar anyone’s entry. She has a hatchet and scalping knife at her disposal.”

“Oh ... heaven’s sake. Don’t be foolish ... she does not ... does she?”

“She is a wonderful old grandmother ... only she doesn’t smile much.”

I heard the rustling of fabric then a soft exhale. I risked a peek and turned just as Laura stepped into the tub. I nearly blurted some exclamation or other as my eyes surveyed the lines of her naked body, the hillocks of her spine, the twin dimples above and aside her tailbone, the momentary tilt of her hips, and especially the expanse of cream-smooth skin.

I instantly turned away lest she discover my dastardly stolen glimpse.

She moaned as she settled into the water. “Oh ... paradise is this.”

“May I join you now?”

“Yes ... take your clothes off.”

“You’ll avert your eyes?”

“Why? I’ve seen you naked before. Do you still have that odd scar on your rump?”

“Scars don’t go away ... they may fade ... but they are always there to remind you.”

I began to strip until I stood naked, my back still to Laura.

“Zach ... I’m sorry I laughed at your wound ... all those years ago.”

I turned toward her.

“Oh  ... my heavens. You ... you are aroused.”

“Yes, Miss Cameron. It’s very difficult for a naked man to hide the fact that he ... well, that is, how he feels about a woman.”

Her mouth had fallen open and she gazed at me ... or rather a part of me, until she shook herself out of her reverie. She was trembling.

“Are you chilled?”

“It isn’t the chill that makes me tremble so, but, for the love of God ... please, before you catch your own death.”

Before I could take a step, the stoic old Indian grandmother stepped past me in her unhurried pace and poured another bucketful of hot water into the tub. She paid neither Laura nor me any regard at all.

I lowered myself into the water as Laura giggled.

“She is like a ghost,” Laura said.

“Highly recommended, she is, for being discreet. She was to have left ... ah yes, here they are.”

I reached for some bottles set upon a low crate and poured their contents into the water. Immediately the steam that rose from the water was redolent with lovely scents. From another I poured a lotion into my palms. With some coaxing Laura let me spread the lotion over her bare shoulders.

“Ahh, that is ... wonderful. What is it?”

“The entire kit was left behind by a French officer. It either belonged to his wife or his mistress. You could never tell which was which.”

“His mistress,” Laura sighed. “A courtesan?”

“Perhaps ... but I will wager these unguents never kissed more perfectly beautiful shoulders.”

“I ... I will not be seduced by your pretty words,” Laura said, then moaned.

“Stand,” I said.

“Stand? But ... you will ...”

“Yes, I will ... see you in all your feminine majesty ... all the better to worship you. My Tory goddess ...”

“Stop,” she said, more as a breath. But she stood out of the water, and I spread the lotions over her thighs and belly and breasts.

“Ummm, oh my ... your hands feel so ... so ...” But she began to shiver and I had her sit down, even as the old Indian grandmother startled her by appearing and pouring another bucket into the tub beside us.

“Heaven’s sake! She just manifests out of the aether.”

I laughed and took her into my arms. We kissed and embraced, mutually savoring our nakedness. She tentatively, timidly touched her fingers to my cock, then fortified her resolve and closed her hand around it.

“My heavens ... you are so rigid.”

“You are making me that way.”

“This is scandalous.”

“Yes.”

“I ... I ... I am a strumpet ... only a strumpet or a married wife should ...”

“Who says so? You truly feel like a strumpet? You truly feel shame?”

“Worse ... such exciting, intoxicating, wonderfully wicked shame. I love this shame.”

“You are a strumpet, Laura. And you are ... magical. A siren.”

“My head ... I’m so giddy. My stomach is alight with butterflies.”

I kissed her again. She held my head as if she would never let our lips separate.

I stood and lifted her out of the water. I carried her through the chill to an adjacent room where I set her upon a cot and lay beside her. A moment later a blanket covered us, courtesy of our silent witness, the Indian grandmother.

“You arranged this ... this bed.”

“I hoped, that is, I had wished ...”

“You thought to seduce me; you expected me to surrender myself.”

“I ... well ...”

She pulled me into her embrace as her hands roamed over my back and my behind, where her fingers traced my scar. My tongue laved her nipples as she wiggled beneath me and tugged my cock toward her quim. But I would not surrender my sword just yet.

I knelt beneath the blanket and licked the rim of her navel as she squealed and bent one leg at her knee.

I brushed my nose through her silken patch of hairs.

“What ... what are you doing? What are you ... oh!”

My tongue slipped between her folds.

“This ... this is so ... oh my God, this must be an abomination.”

I stopped a moment. “No ... it is French.”

I resumed my tongue’s attention to her quim as she squirmed, alternating bending her legs and raising her knees.

“Please, please, please,” she cried.

My cock invaded her syrupy sex and all at once I realized amid a myriad of divine sensations that I was at long last inside Laura Cameron, a loyal subject of the King, a girl who had bewitched and vexed me from the first moment I saw her.

She clasped her legs around me. “You’ve made me a trollop,” she breathed in my ear.

I lost all sense of time as I measured my existence against the rhythm of our lovemaking.

Laura squealed and raked her nails across my shoulders. It triggered my own release, and in a series of spasms I emptied myself into her.

We slumbered in each other’s arms, but in the growing darkness we reemerged into wakefulness to find the old Indian grandmother standing over us, silently, stoically, watchful.

We rose and dressed.

Laura tried to arrange her hair. “I am ... that is, anyone who sees me will know ...”

“And what of it?”

I kissed her and guided her outside to our carriage.

Elisha Cameron and the widow Sally Hobbs were wed days later in a modest yet festive ceremony attended by all the Loyalists in Halifax. By evening Collins and my other men were anxious to return to the vessel. The tide would rise just after midnight.

I paid my respects to the Camerons, both elder and younger, and in the presence of her father took Laura’s hand and said, “Come with me.”

Laura looked at her father who smiled, but said nothing.

“But ... go back there? I don’t think ...”

“Everything is new; everything is beginning again, a new start.”

“But ...”

“We are taking two families home.”

“Loyalists?”

“They’re homesick.”

Laura looked to her father again. “Poppa? But, I will scandalize you.”

She turned to me again, “We are not wed.”

“A few words mean nothing compared to what’s in your heart,” Elisha Cameron told his daughter “Scandalize? Me?” He chuckled.

“My country will need women like you, Laura,” I pleaded. “Your country too, if you’ll have her. She’s an orphan; a willful orphan to be sure, but she’ll require a guiding hand.”

“Poppa,” she said one more time and ran into her father’s embrace.

She stood beside me as we steered our ship out of the harbor and on to Boston.

*    *    *

Laura and I never wed in the conventional sense. All who met us just assumed we were husband and wife.

I, that is, we prospered in the coastwise trade, and while we never had a child of our own, several found their ways into our home. All orphans, they all apprenticed to us and were educated by Laura who enjoyed teaching them their letters. And so, I suppose you could say we, over time, became the parents to twenty boys and seven girls.

It was a good prosperous life, well, until Mr. Jefferson embargoed our trade and forbid commerce with Britain. He had his reasons, but it was such a wrong-headed thing to do and nearly bankrupt the nation.

More difficulties with Britain ensued. Our accumulated wealth insulated Laura and me from the difficult times. And I had become enthralled with the idea of travelling to the western territories. It was a yen that had affected many in the country.

But Laura and I only got as far west as the Champlain Lake. We were enchanted by the countryside and I purchased a ferrying business from a man who wanted to go further west.

Laura and I were content. Not that we didn’t have a difference of opinion from time to time. But we customarily settled our disagreements together in a tub of water, or a warm pond in the summer.

Laura’s hair had become streaked with silver in time, while mine had all but disappeared.

One late mid-summer afternoon in 1812 our idyll together in the pond near our home was interrupted by the sounds of tramping feet and a horse’s hooves.

“Captain Roberts,” a young voice called out. The youth slid off his horse and nearly tumbled into the pond. He wore a handsome uniform of various colors and resembled a peacock. He stood, saluted me as I remained seated in the water, then nearly slipped into the pond again when he realized Laura sat naked on the other bank.

His face flushed. “Beg your pardon, ma’am. I meant no intrusion.”

“Didn’t you, son?” I said.

“Well, the thing of it is, sir. Congress has declared war on Great Britain.”

“Hmm, Congress has gone mad, has it?”

The boy’s face conveyed his consternation.

“Sir, I’m leading these militia north to join an American army; we’re gonna take Canada.”

“That so?”

“We could sure use you, Captain, seeing as you’re a known military man. We’d be proud to have you.”

I shook my head and smiled. “My soldiering days are long past, son. But you boys go ahead. Best of luck to you. Going to take Canada, eh? Just like that?”

“Sir, we beat the British afore ... you helped do that.”

“Hmm, well ... I could tell you some things, son, but you’re full of pride and cider. You wouldn’t listen. Best of luck to you, but ... should you run onto an outfit called the Queen’s Rangers, I’d give them a wide berth.”

The boy saluted, slipped again, then climbed into his saddle. He and the others marched away.

Laura swam to me; the globes of her behind broke the surface and glistened in the summer sunshine. They had widened over time, become more substantial ... even more beautiful.

“Oh, dear ... another war?”

“A very short one, I hope.”

She settled into my arms.

“Let’s not dress,” she said. Let’s walk back to the house naked.”

“Why, you shameless strumpet.”

“You always say such sweet things to me.”

_______
© 2012 Robert Buckley. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Bio: Who is Robert Buckley? Read his bio on the Erotica Readers & Writers Association website.

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