30 April 1810, Fort Lafayette, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The ceiling slowly became visible in the faint gray light seeping through the curtain, and Sukey continued to snore softly, as she had minutes after joining Dolley in the bed.
How can she sleep after what happened yesterday? Dolley eased from the bed, careful not to awaken Sukey, dressed and slipped out the back door, avoiding whomever might be in the kitchen. The air was cold and moist, her breath visible against the pre-dawn sky. She shivered, considered going back for her shawl, but instead walked toward the fort’s open gate. Hundreds of men were up and about, and she prayed none of them would recognize her as she strode head down, arms folded, unable to avoid hearing bits of passing conversations:
“Presidentress arrived late last night.”
“. . . killed the attackers . . .”
“Sergeant Major threw that bastard into the cell.”
“. . . killed them all.”
She walked faster, willing the men to silence. Her breath came in ragged gulps, her skin clammy, her hands shaking as they did yesterday, after she—
“Shot ’em dead,” said a man joyfully. “Ka-Boom!”
“Dead, dead, dead!” said another, who guffawed loudly.
“Stop it!” Dolley screamed. She was fifty yards outside the gate. Soldiers were staring at her. “It’s not funny. Men died. Dear God, forgive me!”
She fled down the road, sobbing. She tripped and sprawled into the dirt, scrambled up and ran farther, then stopped and began to heave into the scrub growth beside the road.
“Madam, may I help?”
It was the voice of a boy, and she shook her head without looking up, fell to her knees, sobbing, and continued heaving.
Dolley stood and wiped her mouth with her sleeve. The sun was minutes from rising, and through the trees and scrub appeared a rustic church, the painted sign over the door declaring it the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh. She stumbled through the door, staggered down the aisle, collapsed at the rail separating the front pew from the pulpit, and bawled.
The images kept replaying in her mind: the thief stood in the road, leering at her, and as her shot splattered his eye he became Alexander Hamilton, expression reproachful as he collapsed, the murderous still-smoking pistol stuck to her palm declaring her guilt. Under her feet lay a broken bag of bones who wheezed and gurgled his last breath while staring into her eyes.
What have I done? I saved lives by taking lives. Two wrongs don’t make it right. Everyone says it was the correct thing to do, but why is God punishing me with such grief? Acting according to His will has never before caused such pain.
She shuddered, and the thief, once more, stood in the road—
A hand touched hers, gently, and she startled.
“My apologies, Madam, but my son saw your distress.”
A woman knelt beside her, tears in her eyes and concern on her face. She was younger than Dolley but aged beyond her years, jet-black hair streaked with gray, a wiry build with skin nearly the color of her hair. She spoke precise English with an unfamiliar accent.
“Thank you, but I need time alone. You wouldn’t understand.”
“Perhaps not, but I am a good listener. And . . . I’ve also struggled with the grief of killing.”
She nodded and looked down. “Defending my family. I failed, and they died, and though it was long ago I often come here to pray.”
“Yes. Had I been better prepared they would have lived.”
Dolley perceived the woman’s heartache and sincerity. She blames herself for their death. How horrible. “Would you pray with me?”
The woman nodded and, holding hands, they prayed. The silence of the church was broken only by the sound of their weeping.
“Mizz Dolley! We’ve been looking all over for you!”
How long have we been here? Dolley stood. Light streamed through the church’s windows and open door, and in that door was the unmistakable silhouette of Sukey. The woman rose to her feet as Sukey ran down the aisle and threw herself into Dolley’s arms, weeping.
“I awoke all alone and was so scared when nobody knew where you were.”
“Everything is just fine, Sukey. Let me introduce you to—”
The woman was staring at Sukey, eyes wide, hand covering her mouth. She backed away and then bolted from the church.
“Who was that?”
“I don’t know. I forgot to ask her name.”
Dolley sat at the oaken table in the Scott’s dining room, quietly picking at her breakfast, aware of the concern emanating from Sukey and Gladys.
The return walk had been an ordeal. She was recognized by nearly everyone, cheered and applauded by many, approached by a few who thanked her profusely for making the long journey. The vast majority, however, were soldiers who had misinterpreted her actions yesterday as heroic and courageous, worthy of emulation. Their shouts of Huzzah! and their pantomiming of pistol dueling slashed deep into her soul. She smiled and waved to them, sensing their honest admiration, but their exuberant praise of her murderous acts left her weak and shaking.
Dolley lay her knife and fork beside her plate and sat, hands in her lap, head bowed, staring at the barely touched food. “I’m sorry, Gladys. This breakfast is excellent, but . . . .”
She shook her head to clear it of the image of the thief’s horrified expression the instant before she killed him. I’m a terrible guest. These people have gone out of their way to be nice and here I sit, upset because evil men died.
She forced herself to bite into a piece of thick, toasted bread. The crunch recalled to her mind the sound of crushing the thief’s chest, the awful squishiness afterwards, his final gurgled breath through blood-flecked lips. Shuddering, she returned the toast to her plate and clenched her hands in her lap.
“You saved the lives of your entire party, and in doing so you suffered the gravest wound of all.” Gladys smiled with pride at Dolley. “Sergeant Jones told me the details this morning. You sacrificed your mental well-being to save your friends. Admirable, but the wound in your soul will fester if not treated, and you’ll be scarred for life.”
“How does one bandage a soul wound?”
“The Regimental Chaplain. He’s helped several of us through this problem.”
Dolley regarded the woman. “You?”
“Yes. Years ago, while the Regiment was deployed, a drunken blacksmith broke into my bedroom looking for love.”
“What did you do?”
“Blew his head back out the window with my trusty blunderbuss.” She took a sip of coffee. “The rest of him stayed in the bedroom and made an awful mess of the carpet.”
Sukey squealed in delight, then clamped her hands over her mouth, watching Dolley.
Gladys continued. “Afterwards I felt much as you do now, and if it hadn’t been for our newly arrived Chaplain I would have been a terrible wreck. That was years ago, and he’s still our Chaplain. With your permission I’ll invite him for lunch.”
Dolley sat on her bed, staring out the window at the late afternoon sky, her mind awhirl as she tried to digest what had occurred during their hours-long meeting with the Regimental Chaplain. Sukey lay on her cot, staring at the ceiling, eyes wide, lips moving the way they always did when she was trying to solve a difficult problem. She looked as dazed as Dolley felt.
She’d expected the Chaplain to be the typical ascetically-thin, gray-haired preacher-in-uniform, who would greet them with a hug, shower them with good cheer and homilies, then pray with them for God’s healing before sending them on their way with a cheery ‘Godspeed’ and a reminder of Sunday’s chapel service.
That wasn’t what they encountered.
The Chaplain was a decade older than Dolley, tall and athletic, broad shouldered and bald, a warrior of both spiritual and temporal combat. He’d served as a Cavalry officer during the War for Independence, was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel while still in his twenties, and then gave up a promising Army career to become an ordained minister. Later, when the Army had a hard time filling Chaplain positions at dangerous frontier forts, he volunteered and had been with the Regiment since Colonel Scott was a Lieutenant and Sergeant Major Mosey was a Corporal.
He’d welcomed them into his small office and made them comfortable. Then he began asking questions, first about their religious background, then about the attack, and finally about what bothered them the most. Then he began providing answers, real answers, and as his answers raised questions he answered those as well.
Madness and insanity! Years of Quaker indoctrination blown to splinters, bit by bit, by a Bible-wielding Chaplain who showed them line by line, verse by verse, what the Bible actually said about war, and warriors, and fighting for freedom, and killing.
She’d been just seven years old, visiting her cousin Patrick Henry at his nearby Scotchtown plantation, when she overheard him practicing a speech he was about to make before the Virginia House of Burgesses. He’d nearly completed the speech before he noticed her peering through the crack of the open door. Instead of shooing her away, he smiled and delivered the last part with all the passion and thunder of a trained orator: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, Give me Liberty, or give me Death!”
The words resonated in her young soul, and she never forgot them.
But while Virginia fought for independence, its Quakers, for the most part, did not, declaring all war an abomination to God. She suspected some things were worth fighting for, but her youthful questions to Sunday school teachers had been met with righteous indignation and scolding, and she soon learned to not ask such questions.
Today was different. The Chaplain not only answered her questions, he showed her from which scriptures those answers came, occasionally translating from the Hebrew and Greek to explain nuances not obvious in the English translation.
She was amazed at what she had not been taught, astounded by what lay between the passages drummed into her as a child attending a Quaker church. The word kill in Thou shalt not kill was actually the Hebrew word for murder, not killing in general; the blood on David’s hands that prevented him from building the temple in Jerusalem wasn’t from his killing the enemy in battle, but his murder of Uriah the Hittite; turning the other cheek did not apply when one’s life was threatened; all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword was Jesus reminding Peter that murderers shall receive capital punishment, not a prohibition against warfare. In fact, “Sweet baby Jesus, meek and mild” existed nowhere in the Bible; instead there was Jesus Christ, Lord of Armies, Captain of the Lord’s Host, the Angel of the Lord who personally slew an entire Assyrian Army in one night, and who, in the future, would slaughter Satanic armies until their blood ran as high as a horse’s bridle.
The rigor and clarity of his approach was absolutely refreshing, but the sheer volume of information made her dizzy.
Sukey sighed and sat up. “All Ranger Chaplains like that?”
“Never met one before. He’s very different from Reverend Matthews.”
“Bet there’s no chattering in the pews during his services.”
“Did you think it strange when he said being devout Christians would make it easier for us to recover from killing those men?”
“Yes, until he explained devout.”
Dolley chuckled. Devout Christians had always been those somber black- or gray-clad individuals who never missed a church service or the opportunity to correct the conduct of the less pious, who would orate exhaustive public prayers and caveat every commitment with a pious “God Willing”. The Chaplain explained the Christian way of life started with attaining eternal life by deciding to believe in Jesus Christ, followed by a lifetime of spiritual growth through consistent study of the Bible. Study to show thyself approved unto God versus a lifetime of pious living and good works to hopefully achieve a state of grace before death. “I liked the way he used his loaded pistol to explain salvation.”
“I liked his shooting it through the ceiling.”
“Notice nobody came running in alarm? Must be something he does often.”
“Explains why his office is on the top floor.”
“And explains the stack of new shingles he keeps in the corner.”
1 May 1810 – 0400 Hours, Fort Lafayette
“Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword.” Mary Catherine adjusted her severe hair bun as she scanned the children within her Sunday School class at the Cedar Creek Quaker Meeting House. “Thou hast something to say, Dolley Payne?”
“Yes Miss Mary.” Dolley stood, respectfully. “Why was it wrong for General Washington to cross the Delaware River and kill the Hessians last week? They were murdering innocent farmers.”
Miss Mary glared over her tiny spectacles and sniffed. “The Good Book says Thou shalt not kill. It was sinful for Mister Washington to kill those men, especially because he did it on the birthday of Jesus.”
“But didn’t God tell Moses and Joshua to kill the—”
“Hush!” Miss Mary stood, hands on hips, towering over Dolley. “Washington would have been better off praying for their souls. Let the Lord deal with them in His own time. Thou shalt not kill!”
“But don’t we kill chickens and cattle for food?”
“Don’t sass me, young lady.” Miss Mary grabbed Dolley by the arm and dragged her, stumbling, to the front of the small room. “Now I want thee to—”
Miss Mary screamed. Her pointing finger thrust to within an inch of Dolley’s nose. “Rouge! Thou art wearing rouge upon thy cheeks!”
Oh no! How could I have forgotten! She slapped her hands to her cheeks, her face heating with embarrassment.
The children leaped to their feet and stood silently, each of them pointing at Dolley.
Dolley’s younger sister, Lucy, began crying. “It’s not rouge, Miss Mary. It’s . . . .” Her young face contorted in horror and she clasped the hand of their youngest sister, Anna. “It’s blood!”
Dolley uncovered her face. Blood poured from her hands, staining her dress and pooling on the floor around her feet. All of the children began screaming and moving away from Dolley as they continued to point.
Lucy and Anna held each other. “Our sister has blood on her hands!”
“Thou hast shed blood!” Miss Mary pronounced in a voice that echoed from the walls. “Thou art a murderess, Dolley Payne. A murderess!”
“No!” Dolley backed away, toward the door. “It was self-defense!”
“Our sister is a murderess!” Lucy and Anna wailed together.
“Murderess!” shouted the children.
“What shall we do with this murderess?” Miss Mary shouted. “This child of Satan?”
“Crucify her!” shouted a familiar voice from the back.
“Mother?” Dolley backed away from the advancing crowd. “Please! You don’t understand!”
“Crucify her!” everyone shouted together. “Crucify the murderess!”
“Wait!” Dolley shouted. “Quakers don’t execute people!”
“We’re not Quakers,” snarled a man’s voice from behind Dolley.
She spun about. The four thieves who’d attacked the carriage stood behind her, blocking the door. She darted for the open window, but her stocking feet slipped on the polished floor and the men easily caught her. As the children chanted “Crucify the murderess!” they pinned her to the floor.
She screamed for help, but the thief named Bert wagged his finger, held up a silver-handled knife and then used it to slash her throat, turning her screams into quiet gurgles.
“Who wants to crucify the murderess?” Miss Mary called out, cheerfully.
“We do! We do!” shouted Lucy and Anna, together. They started pushing each other.
Dolley’s mother pulled them apart. “Play nice or neither of you gets to crucify your sister.”
“You hold the nail,” Lucy said to Anna, “and I’ll swing the hammer.”
“All right.” Anna pressed the tip of an enormous spike into Dolley’s right palm. “But I get to hammer the next one.”
“Of course.” Lucy hefted the sledge hammer onto her shoulder. “Now hold it still . . . .”
“Don’t hit my fingers!”
“I’ll be careful.” Lucy swung the sledge hammer over her head, paused long enough to mouth the word ‘murderess’, then swung the hammer down—
Dolley jerked awake and sat up. With trembling fingers she massaged her throat, then her right palm. The room was black, and not a trace of dawn was visible through the window. She recalled the glint in Lucy’s eyes and shuddered.
“Another nightmare, Mizz Dolley?” Sukey’s voice, from the direction of her cot.
Loud sigh. “Yes.”
“Chaplain warned it would take time for our souls to digest the new information, and that Ranger training would help.”
Another sigh. “Hope so. What is Ranger training?”
“Guess we’ll find out in a few hours.”
1 May 1810 – 0700 Hours, Fort Lafayette
Dolley ran, arms and legs pumping, lungs afire, gasping for air and trying to ignore the sharp pain in her side.
“Run Mizz Dolley,” shouted Sukey, running effortlessly at her side. “You can do it!”
“Almost there, Madam. Just a bit farther,” said Ranger Sam Johnson, running by her other side, speaking normally as if he were conversing from an easy chair instead of at a dead run.
Dolley’s momentary hatred of the man vanished with his dazzling grin and playful blue eyes. He stood slightly taller than Dolley, with a thin, wiry build that could apparently run forever without fatigue. A bit farther? How far is that?
She stumbled over a rock and fell forward. Her fall was arrested by a large hand grasping her upper arm.
“Careful, Madam. The finish line is just ahead at the big tree.” Ranger Joseph Killian, not yet twenty but enormous in stature and strength, released her.
Big tree? There! Thirty feet. I can do this! She gulped air, pumped her arms and legs harder, and with the disgustingly cheerful voices of Sukey, Sam and Joe encouraging her, she passed the tree, staggered to a walk, fell to her hands and knees and began heaving.
“Don’t stop, Madam. The best way to prepare for an exercise is to do it slowly to stretch the muscles,” Sam said in a voice totally devoid of fatigue. “That’s also the best way to recover.”
Sam and Joe hoisted her to her feet by her upper arms and steadied her as they walked through the dewy grass.
“You all right, Mizz Dolley?”
Dolley tried to speak, decided to breathe, and nodded. As Sukey skipped around her and the two men supporting her, Dolley gulped air, rubbed her side, and eventually the nausea subsided. The morning air was brisk and steam rose from her Ranger buckskins. “How far did we run? Two miles? Three?”
“Three hundred yards,” Sam said, making it sound like a true accomplishment.
“An excellent start,” Joe added. “That was endurance training. Ready for strength training, Madam Dolley?”
“Just Dolley, please,” she said reflexively. “What is strength training?”
Dolley lay on her bed, too tired to move, taking pride in having completed the torture of strength training without confessing any state secrets. They’d stretched, contorting and reaching as she had not done since she was a girl. Joe taught them an exercise he called the ‘push away’ in which you lay on your stomach and use your arms to push the earth away until your arms are straight. Dolley lost count of how many of those she did, at least three! Sukey did one hundred and four, effortlessly, chatting up a storm the entire time. Sam taught them the ‘pull away’, and she had gamely jumped up, grabbed onto a tree branch, and attempted to pull herself away from the earth. She couldn’t do it, and after a few seconds of kicking her legs she dropped to the ground. That effort, they said, counted as one repetition, and she somehow did six more. Sukey jumped up, grabbed the branch, and did a depressingly high number. There were many other exercises, and then, mercifully, they stopped for breakfast.
Sukey burst into the room, fresh and scrubbed, carrying a basin of water.
“Time to get you cleaned up, Mizz Dolley.” Sukey pulled her to a sitting position, then to her feet, and began removing Dolley’s buckskins. She was entirely too joyful for Dolley’s liking, chattering away as she used the moist rag to towel Dolley as she might have done to a prize horse after a race. “After breakfast Joe and Sam are taking us to the stables to teach us how Dragoons fight from horseback.”
Dolley groaned. “You must be joking. More torment at the hands of those two sadists? Why?”
Sukey laughed. “Because the nation’s Presidentress asked the Chaplain”—Sukey lowered her voice an octave—”How do I keep my mind focused and under control? and the Chaplain responded by saying—”
Dolley recited his words with Sukey: “Ranger training strengthens the body and clarifies the mind. Yes, I remember, but I didn’t think it would hurt.”
“Chaplain also said that pain is just weakness leaving the body. Remember?”
“I thought he was speaking figuratively.”
Colonel Scott was saying grace and Dolley, wearing a dress for the first time all day, focused all her concentration on holding still, despite every muscle screaming in pain, despite the bruises to her posterior from riding Dragoon-style for hours, despite Sukey’s glowing face and apparent lack of any pain whatsoever.
Sam and Joe had taught them Army Dragoon horse tack and techniques in the morning: riding saddles (very different from what Dolley was used to), pack saddles, combat gear and where it was placed, and hand-and-arm signals used to control formations of Dragoons in combat.
In the afternoon they gave each of the ladies a map, compass, and telescope before departing the fort’s stables. At the fort’s gate Joe oriented them to the region. The village of Pittsburgh (population 4,500) lay snuggled into a west-pointing arrowhead of land where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers joined to form the Ohio River. At the tip lay the ruins of Fort Pitt, a massive earth and stone fortress long abandoned by the Army. Nearly a mile east of the ruins of Fort Pitt, on a broad ridge near the bank of the Allegheny, sat Fort Lafayette. They took turns navigating as the group rode down the Allegheny River to Fort Pitt, then east, up the Monongahela to Lord knows where, north, through the forest to the Allegheny, and back to Lafayette. They took turns giving commands that changed their speed and formation, and Joe or Sam would frequently ask one of them to indicate their current location on the map. Joe and Sam talked continuously about the effects the terrain and vegetation might have on combat operations, good ambush sites, the best places from which to defend and the best routes to approach an enemy’s defense. It was grand fun, fascinating classes by two proven experts.
The return trip gave Dolley her first good look at Fort Lafayette, a wooden stockade, constructed of large pointed stakes sixteen feet high, one hundred twenty yards square. At each corner the logs formed an arrowhead shaped bastion jutting out from the center an additional thirty yards, and within three of these bastions were twenty-foot tall, five-sided blockhouses armed with six-pounder cannons; the fourth bastion held a bomb-proof stone and brick powder magazine. Four brick buildings, each seventy yards long and two stories tall, stood twenty feet from each wall. The buildings along the north and south walls could house two hundred soldiers each, the building to the west provided officer and guest quarters, and the building to the east housed the kitchen, hospital, and storage rooms. The main gate faced west, toward Pittsburgh. Expansive horse stables, a corral for farm animals, and the fort’s vegetable garden were outside the walls to the east.
Lafayette was constructed nine years earlier to counter an Indian threat that never materialized, and the fort was retained as a valuable supply outpost for units traveling west; it was here that Lewis and Clark began their journey of discovery seven years before. Married officers and sergeants lived in houses outside the gates of the fort. As regimental commander, Colonel Scott and his wife, Gladys, occupied the tiny commander’s quarters within the walls.
“How do you defend against an enemy with artillery?” Dolley had asked. Joe’s answer had earned a squeal of delight from Sukey: “Infiltrate their position at night, slit their throats, and steal their artillery.”
Dolley’s request for Sukey’s presence at the table surprised the Scotts. They were Virginia natives who owned two slaves and were accustomed to having slaves eat and sleep elsewhere. However, in Pennsylvania it wasn’t unusual for families to purchase slaves as infants for the purpose of freeing and adopting them into the family; they assumed Sukey was purchased for that purpose and treated her as Dolley’s daughter. Jemmy had certainly not purchased Sukey for this reason, but Dolley had always treated the girl more like a daughter than a slave, and realized for the first time she thought of her that way.
“Amen!” Colonel Scott said, and smiled at Dolley. “Busy day, Madam? I saw you and Sukey riding with Sergeants Johnson and Killian earlier.”
“Delightful day, sir.” She winced while accepting a bowl of potatoes from Gladys. “Though I haven’t been on a horse for that many hours in years.”
The Colonel became serious. “The Chaplain told me of your talk. Everyone here would fully understand if you desired to depart immediately for home.”
“I cannot leave with so many things unsettled.” Dolley ticked them off on her fingers. “Major Brown is my assigned escort, it’s only right he accompany us back. Also, we’re bound by duty to testify at that man’s trial and I intend to do so. Finally, we know what we did was right, but we both feel terrible, as if our souls were stained. What we did today was a good start, but not the cure. We need time to work it out, and there is no better place than here.”
The Colonel nodded. “Those two men are excellent instructors, and I’ll see that they are available throughout your visit. Besides, it’s good that someone from Washington learns what we do out here. I think you’ll enjoy it.”
“The entire Regiment is anxious to meet you,” Gladys said. “Are you up for it?”
“Right now, I must feel as Jemmy does at the prospect of meeting all those people. Can we wait a bit?”
After dinner Dolley and Sukey visited Major Brown, the only occupant of the tiny Regimental hospital. The surgeon had removed the musket ball the night they arrived, but the wound was infected, and the infection had to run its course. The Major was in good spirits, more so when Dolley told him about the Chaplain and the day’s training.
After leaving the Major she and Sukey sat under a tree just outside the fort’s gate, reading the Bible verses the Chaplain had given them.
Most profound to Dolley was God’s consistent use of prepared people. She’d been taught the key to every crisis was the Twenty-Third Psalm’s “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” . . . the words of a sheep, facing an overwhelming threat, totally dependent upon the protection of the Shepherd. There existed, however, a Psalm she had never been allowed to hear, Psalm 144, which began: Blessed be the Lord my strength which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight. Apparently the Shepherd had provided other Psalms, equal in importance to the Twenty-Third, written to soldiers, the sheepdogs whom He called into service to defend His flock. There was a time to be helpless, and a time to be prepared!
After it grew too dark to read, they watched the spectacular sunset.
“Mizz Dolley, I don’t remember ever seeing you duel in front of a mirror. Would you teach me?”
“I can’t.” She shuddered. “Ever since the day Colonel Burr killed Mr. Hamilton those pistols conjure up the image of poor Alex’s dying face.”
“That must have been a sad day.”
“It started sad,” Dolley said, “but that evening Mr. Madison brought you home to take my mind off the tragedy, and that made it one of my best days.”
Sukey didn’t know what to make of that. “Did it work?”
“Oh, yes! I was so busy caring for you I didn’t have time to worry about anything else.”
“Was I that bad?”
Dolley thought back to the day Jemmy surprised her with Sukey. “You were the most terrified and bedraggled waif I had ever seen. Skin bruised from beatings, hair chopped short, dirty rags for clothes. And the nightmares! You’d wake up screaming, and it would sometimes take hours to calm you. Don’t you remember?”
Sukey shook her head. “I only remember being scared.”
Dolley studied the girl. “You were certainly a little chatterbox today. I bet you said more than you have in the past six months.”
Sukey glanced at her with a shocked expression, tinged with fear, and looked down. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
Dolley interrupted her with a touch on the arm, and smiled. “It was nice. For once you didn’t seem afraid to talk.”
“For the first time I seemed to fit in.”
“You rode well. Very well, like you’d ridden before.”
“Quakers must have taught me.”
“Do you remember the Quakers?”
Sukey shook her head, and shuddered.
2 May 1810 – 0300 Hours, Fort Lafayette
Dolley’s horse thundered through the lush meadow, the sun warm upon her back, brilliantly colored flowers of red, blue and yellow scenting the humid air delightfully as it wafted past her face and blew through her hair. Ahead, a road cut into the green, leafy forest, and beside the road sat a young boy, crying.
She knelt before him and lifted his chin with her finger. “Why so sad on such a glorious day?”
“My father went into the woods to get food for our family and never came out.” He grabbed her hand. “Would you help me find him?”
“Of course I will.”
Hand in hand they followed the road, and just before entering the trees they passed Mr. Oak, the long dead tree she and Aaron dueled so many years before. The road led them between other massive oaks that blocked the sun with leafy branches impossibly far above her head; their enormous trunks muffled distant sound and their musket-ball eyes followed her and the boy as they strolled past.
“Father!” shouted the boy. He pulled away from her and ran ahead, toward a body sprawled in the road. “Someone shot father!”
The boy wept over the fly-covered corpse that lay in a pool of blood.
“I’m murdered, son,” said the corpse. “You and your Ma and your brothers and sisters are on your own now.”
The boy hugged the corpse and sobbed in despair.
“Why’d you kill me, lady?” the corpse asked Dolley. “All we needed was a little food for our families. Now they’ll starve.”
“You killed him!” The boy leaped to his feet and pointed at her. “You murdered my Pa!”
“She murdered Uncle Bert and Grandpa, too.” The corpse pointed toward a black carriage, oozing blood. A gurgling corpse lay beside it. “She killed all of us because we needed food to feed our babies.”
“Murderer!” shouted the boy, pointing at her. “Murderer!”
Dozens and dozens of children came out of the woods, each running to one of the corpses, screaming and crying in grief.
She tried to explain that the men were killed in self defense, but the boy just kept pointing at her and shouting “Murderer!”, and soon all the children stood facing her, pointing and chanting “Murderer! Murderer!”
Dolley backed away and they surged around her, grabbing her with dozens of small hands, their sweet young voices calling for vengeance. She tried to push through them but there were too many; she fought them and they tripped her, swarming over her, small hands holding her to the ground. Small feet jumped up and down on her chest until her ribs cracked and collapsed with a crunch like that of over-crisped toasted bread; a pig-tailed girl of six with blonde hair and glowing red eyes cackled and jammed a knife into the side of Dolley’s throat. Dolley gurgled and gasped for air as the children laughed at her and chanted “Kill the murderer!” The boy she first met straddled her, raised a pistol until the sights met the line extending from his eye to hers, and—
Dolley startled awake, gulping air, her entire body trembling and clammy with sweat. Third nightmare tonight and still no sign of dawn. Sukey snored contentedly from the other side of the room. She sat on the edge of the bed, wondering what to do, her every muscle in agony. Dolley was exhausted but terrified of sleep and its nightmares. She was tempted to make a cup of tea, but didn’t want to fumble in a strange kitchen and awaken the household, so she sat on the edge of the bed, wrapped in a blanket, reciting scriptures to stay awake.
Sukey groaned; Dolley came fully awake, still sitting on the side of her bed, the first traces of gray light filtering through the window.
“Mizz Dolley, I can’t move.” Sukey groaned again. “Everything hurts.”
Well, well, well. Did someone let her enthusiasm overrule her common sense during yesterday’s physical training? She chuckled to herself and stood, then collapsed to the floor in agony, her calf muscles cramped into knots.
“One more time, Mizz Dolley.” Sukey winced, hobbling beside Dolley, swinging and flexing her arms. “I can’t let Joseph see me like this.”
It had taken Dolley ten minutes to work out her leg cramps, half an hour to dress the near-paralyzed Sukey, carry her outside and through the gate to the side of the fort away from the field they were to meet in for physical training. For an entire hour the two of them hobbled back and forth, working out cramps, stretching agonized muscles, massaging sore tendons.
“You seem anxious to impress Ranger Killian.”
“Oh yes, Mizz Dolley! He is the most handsome man here!”
“Just remember to act like a lady. One of the fastest ways to scare off a man you care about is show too much excitement on meeting him.”
Sukey nodded thoughtfully, then spoke with quiet intensity:
Watching them closely, but never lock eyes.”
“Uh, well, sure. I suppose. Eye contact is fine if—”
Sukey continued as if she hadn’t heard, chanting in an urgent whisper:
Closer and closer . . .
Breathe . . . Coil . . .
aaaaaaaaand . . .
Dolley jumped, startled at the squealed ‘pounce’. She looked at Sukey, flabbergasted. “Where did you learn that?”
Sukey shrugged. “It’s how you hunt deer. You always call Mr Madison deer, so I assumed—”
“Good morning, ladies.” Sam tossed a coin to the grinning Joe. “I mistakenly thought you would be too sore for today’s physical training.”
“Payne is my middle name, gentlemen.” Dolley forced a smile. “What’s on the agenda for today?”
“Sam wanted to ease off today, but I knew you were ready for the next level,” Joe said. Sukey jumped and clapped her hands. “So I’d like you lovely ladies to meet a couple dear friends of ours, Mr. Rucksack and Mr. Sandbag.”
Dolley lay on the floor of the guest room, next to Sukey, both unwilling to dirty their beds with muddy buckskins, both too exhausted to remove them.
“I hate him,” muttered Sukey. “Over-sized Ranger sadist.”
“His confidence in us was quite touching. And he seems quite taken with you.”
Rucksacks, they learned, were canvas bags with shoulder straps used for carrying equipment on one’s back; sandbags were burlap sacks into which one shoveled sand; Joe’s “Next Level” consisted of placing a partially filled sandbag into a rucksack and wearing it while hiking miles through the forest.
“The rope bridge over the stream was quite clever,” Dolley said, hoping to cheer up Sukey.
“That was a river, Mizz Dolley. And real bridges go over rivers, not through them.”
The stream they encountered one mile into the march had been twenty feet wide. Joe had dropped his rucksack, removed a rope, swam across carrying one end and tied it to a tree. Sam, with the help of Dolley and Sukey, stretched it tight, one foot above the water. Dolley and Sukey were each given an eight-foot rope which they tied about their waist with a knot Sam called a ‘bowline’, then tied the other end to the bridging rope with another bowline, loose enough to slide. Then each pulled themselves and their rucksack along the bridging rope, through the swirling water, to the far side. Once Dolley and Sukey were across, Sam untied his end, and the three of them pulled him and his rucksack across. On the return trip, Sam went first, and Joe trailed last. The water was frigid, the bank muddy, and the sandbagged rucksack excruciatingly heavy.
“It did keep us from washing downstream.”
“I really do think Joe likes you.”
“Because he’s letting us erect the bridges next time? Bah!”
“Did you notice what that stream is named?”
“The map calls it ‘Sukey’s Run’.” Dolley chuckled. “That was so sweet of him!”
“That tree?” Dolley asked. “You expect me to chop down that tree with this axe?”
Sam nodded and grinned. So did Joe and Sukey. It was enormous, as big around as her leg, and so tall its top was lost in the leaves of the neighboring oaks. She’d split tons of firewood in her youth, but had never chopped down a tree.
“You can do it, Mizz Dolley!” Sukey giggled. “I’ll help.”
“And while you’re chopping down this tree, Sukey gets to chop down a tree of her very own,” Joe said, walking away and pointing at a distant tree marked with white cloth.
Sukey stopped giggling and stared, then scowled: it was at least as large as Dolley’s. Joe stood beside it, grinning, holding up an axe. Sukey muttered something under her breath and stomped toward it.
“Just remember the demonstration,” Sam said. “Cut a low notch in the direction of fall, then cut a higher notch away from the direction of fall. Take your time, let the axe do the work. Feel free to ask questions at any time.”
In the demonstration, Joe had wielded an enormous, two-headed axe and whacked a foot-thick tree while Sam explained the technique. Each axe stroke knocked out a huge chunk of wood, felling the tree in seconds. She stared up at the tree again, then back at Sam. He didn’t seem all that anxious for her to begin. Why would that be, unless . . . .
“You bet Joe that Sukey would win, didn’t you?”
“Me?” he asked, astonished. “Bet against our lovely Presidentress? May it never be so!”
Dolley harrumphed, pulled on the leather gloves, mirrored the stance Joe used earlier, and swung the axe straight into the tree with all her might; the blade hit exactly where she aimed, sinking half an inch, vibrating the handle uncomfortably. She wormed the blade out and swung it again, hitting the same spot, vibrating the handle even more. No wood chips! Joe had knocked out huge wood chips.
She swung again, putting her entire weight into the blow; the axe head again hit square, just above the first cut, and a tiny wood chip half the size of her little finger fell to the ground. She wormed out the blade, panting with exertion, and swung the axe directly into the tree; the head hit where it had hit before, vibrating the handle painfully.
Angry, she wrenched the blade free, swung the axe back for a terrific blow, then turned toward Sam. “What am I doing wrong?”
“Wondering when you’d ask,” he said. “Your cuts should be at an angle to the tree, not directly into it.”
She glanced at Sukey—the girl had a hand-sized chunk cut already! I’ll teach Sam not to bet against me! She hefted and swung the axe down, hitting the tree at a forty-five degree angle, the head bit deep into the wood; she swung the axe up, again hitting the tree at a forty-five degree angle inches below the previous cut, and knocked a hand-sized chunk of wood away from the tree.
She laughed to herself. Sukey has the endurance of youth, but I have the wisdom and guile that comes with age. Pace yourself—whack!—regular strokes—whack!—breathe deeply—whack!—angle up—whack!—angle down—whack!—breathe and pace—whack!—Sam must lose—whack!—Sam must lose!
She sweat freely under the buckskin, sweat ran into her eyes, but she kept swinging until the lower notch was half-way through the tree. She switched sides, stuck her tongue out at Sam and started in on the high cut, away from the direction of fall. Whack!—whack!—whack!—angle up!—angle down!—breathe and pace!
Dolley was exhausted, hot and drenched in sweat. She considered stopping for a quick swallow of water when she heard Sam whispering, urging Sukey to make those last few strokes so he could, for once, win a bet. Dolley grunted and increased the pace of her chopping, swinging just a bit harder, breathing a bit deeper, fearful that any second she’d hear Sukey’s tree—somewhere behind her—crash onto the forest floor. Wood chips flying, arms aching, Dolley chopped and chopped and chopped and—CRACK!
“Timber!” shouted Sam. He pulled her away from the tree, and they watched together as it fell in slow motion, tearing through the branches of other trees to thump! onto the forest floor precisely where she’d aimed it.
“We won!” He picked her up by the waist and spun her around. “We beat ’em!”
“We beat them? You bet against me!”
“Absolutely not,” Sam said. “Besides, Joe would never bet against Sukey.”
Sukey, to Dolley’s amazement, was only just starting the high cut! She stared at Sam. “You tricked me.”
“Me?” he asked, as if astonished. “Trick our lovely Presidentress? May it never be so!” He handed her his canteen. “Have some water, you look exhausted.”
The tower stood twenty feet tall and consisted of innumerable poles lashed together; at the top a platform of lashed sticks, at the side a ladder consisting of sticks lashed to poles. Dolley was quite certain it was sturdy, because she and Sukey had built it.
Once Sukey had toppled her tree, Sam led them—after smugly collecting a coin from Joe—to a clearing beside the stream named Sukey’s Run. The clearing had a large pile of cut trees of all sizes, and Sam and Joe taught them knots (most of which they already knew) and how to lash sticks and poles into useful things. After building a dozen or so small items, Sam proposed they build a twenty foot tower, and after waiting for the ladies to stop laughing, they began. Dolley found it rather easy: lash together poles to make two sides, then find a couple of strong men to hold one side above the other and lash poles cross-wise to hold the sides apart. Add a platform at the top, a ladder on the side, and it’s done.
“How do we raise it?” Sukey asked.
“Friends,” replied Joe. He fired a pistol into the air, and a minute later a half-dozen grinning Rangers jogged from the forest and used ropes to pull it upright. Then they jogged back into the forest and vanished.
Sukey squealed with delight at their handiwork.
“Ladies, are you confident the tower is sturdy?” asked Sam.
“Of course.” Dolley said. Sukey nodded.
“Excellent!” He handed Dolley the end of a rope. “Please climb up and tie this to the top.”
Oh dear. Dolley swallowed, nodded, grasped the end of the rope and climbed the ladder to the platform. Joe had insisted they build a railing, and though it was made of three-inch-thick poles it didn’t look very substantial; she stayed on the ladder. “Where should I tie it?”
“Shoulder-high on that extra long pole,” Sam shouted. “You’ll have to climb onto the platform to reach it.”
Dolley glanced down at Sam, then straight ahead: the tower had grown, somehow, and was now at least a mile high. One of the four main support poles was an extra ten feet long by design, although Joe hadn’t explained why. She began to breathe, slowly and deeply, and slithered onto the platform. Many of the platform’s branches still had leaves and smaller branches attached, and these dragged across the front of her buckskins, poking and prodding uncomfortably, taking her mind off the terrifying view straight down between the branches.
“Good, Dolley! Very good!” Sam hollered. “Now stand up and tie the rope to the long pole.”
Her entire body shaking with fear, Dolley rose to her hands and knees, crept to the longer pole, used it to pull herself up to her knees, straightened her body, and reached up the pole.
“Not high enough,” Sam shouted. “You’ll have to stand.”
She closed her eyes, grasped the longer pole, inched her way to her feet, and dropped the end of the rope, which slithered across her foot, across the platform, and fell to the ground.
“Not to worry,” shouted Sam. “Come on down and try it again.”
Cursing Sam, cursing Rangers in general, cursing the cussed thieves that led to this ordeal, she crept, slithered, and clutched her way to the ground and retrieved the rope. After she received pep-talks from everyone, she started back up the ladder. The second time was easier, and before long she was back on the ground, the rope tied securely as directed.
“Looks okay,” Sam said.
“Okay?” Dolley asked. “What does that mean?”
“Sorry. Choctaw word in common use along the frontier. It means ‘All is well’, or ‘I like that’, or ‘That is acceptable’.”
“Ah, well then. Okay!” she said. “Now what?”
Joe grinned and handed Sukey a second rope. Sukey clambered up the tower, every bit as hesitant as Dolley had been, and tied a second rope below Dolley’s. Sam checked both their knots, proclaimed them ‘okay’, and directed the free end of Dolley’s rope be tied to a tree thirty feet behind the tower, and the free end of Sukey’s rope be tied one hundred feet in the opposite direction, on the far side of the stream. Both ropes were cinched tight, and everyone met at the base of the tower.
“Now for the fun part,” Sam said, and pulled an object from his rucksack. “This is a type of pulley that can be latched onto a fixed rope. It’s often used in transferring cargo between ships. This is a ten-foot rope. Once you tie yourself to this pulley, you can latch it onto that long rope and sail right over that stream in style!”
Dolley’s hands shook. Sukey was pale.
“Who wants to go first?” asked Joe, grinning.
Dolley stood on the platform, twenty feet off the ground, secured to a pulley by a knot called ‘bowline on a bight’ that she’d tied. The pulley was attached to the hundred foot rope that cut through the forest and traversed the frigid water of Sukey’s Run.
“Go!” Sam said.
Dolley leaped into space, falling a few feet before the bowline’s two loops jerked about her waist and hips, sending her careening down the rope at a calamitous speed. She whooped and screamed with delight as she spun in circles, whooshed through the trees, over the stream, and into Joe’s arms at the far end. The first time had been the hardest, taking more courage than facing the attack of the thieves. After the fourth time it started to be fun.
“Is there time for another run?” she asked.
“One more, I think, then we better return.” Joe unhooked her and peered into the gloom, toward the tower. He chuckled. “That will make it an even thirty.
In the distance Sukey whooped and giggled, and Joe prepared to catch her as the screech of the pulley drew nearer.
3 May 1810 – 0630 hours, Fort Lafayette
Dolley stood in a forest of grays and browns, choked with tall reeds that limited visibility to a few yards, listening for her pursuers: axe wielding children in traditional Quaker attire seeking vengeance for the murder of their fathers. To the left—the slow, rhythmic crunch of feet on leaves! She dashed away from the sound, moaning in fear when it turned toward her, running after her, and then there were others. Dozens! Little hard soled shoes crunching through dry leaves, high-pitch voices calling out her location. She sprinted through the forest, running past trees with faces of dead thieves, pursuers hidden from view but heard on both sides and behind, very close. Something ahead—a sheer rock wall, extending from the leaves to the sky and from side to side as far as she could see! She leaped, trying to climb it but could attain no handhold. The pursuers were upon her, their voices screaming for justice, their little hands grasping for her arms, shaking her, shaking the world—
Dolley startled awake.
“Mizz Dolley!” Sukey stood beside her bed, shaking her arm. “We’re going to be late!”
Dolley rolled out of bed with a groan, hands and arms sore from winning Sam’s wager, feet and legs sore from the rucksack march. She pulled on her buckskins and boots, yawning as she staggered after Sukey. The fever accompanying Major Brown’s infection had grown worse, and last night she’d tended him for hours, mopping his forehead, reading to him from the Bible while praying for his recovery. The rest of the night was one horrid dream after another.
Endurance training first. They walked in single file, Sam, Dolley, Sukey, then Joe, following the worn path circling the fort’s stockade.
“We’ll do a lap at this pace, then increase to a faster walk on the second, a very slow jog on the third, then alternate walk with jog as we turn each corner.”
Dolley looked longingly at the outhouse they passed near the fort’s east gate, having forgotten to relieve herself in her haste to begin on time. I can wait, it’s just a matter of willpower.
They bantered playfully as they walked, but when Sam increased the pace to a brisk walk she found it necessary to focus her concentration on bladder control, especially as they again passed the newly built east gate outhouse used by those working the gardens around it, likely empty until well after dawn. They turned a corner, then another, and Sam began to jog.
Dolley was in agony, deeply regretting her forgetfulness but too embarrassed to ask Sam to stop. The pain associated with the jog vanished, replaced by extreme distress, the only relief being the east gate outhouse which would come into view the moment they rounded the southeast corner—
There! She sprinted past Sam, ignoring his exclamation of surprise, ignoring Sukey’s gleeful ‘Run Mizz Dolley, Run!’, ignoring Joe’s shouted ‘Not that one!’ as she reached for the outhouse door.
She flung open the door and came face to face with the captured thief, buttoning his trousers, leg chained to a ring in the floor.
The man grinned and grabbed her about the waist, pinning her arms to her side. “Not so tough without your—”
Dolley screamed, loud and from the gut, and bashed her head into the man’s face. His grip loosened and she drove her hands up, striking the bottom of his chin with her palms, hard, blasting his head back as her fingers curled into his eyes. She continued to push his chin, leaning forward at the waist, until she’d fully extended her arms and shoved him off balance.
He fell backwards, crashed into the corner of the two-hole seat, knocking it off the refuse pit beneath the outhouse; fingernails clawing wood, eyes rolling in terror, the thief slid head-first into the pit, a muffled sploosh! geysering brownish liquid into the air: all that remained visible was his kicking right leg, the ankle still manacled to the ring in the outhouse floor.
Dolley was still staring at the thief’s frantic fight to keep his head above sewage when Sam and Joe arrived, followed a few seconds later by Sukey, and a few seconds after that by a soldier.
“Private Jennings!” Sam shouted. “Why was this criminal left unguarded and allowed to attack the Presidentress?”
“Sorry, Sergeant! I thought the manacle—”
“You thought?” Sam growled. He stood an inch away from Private Jennings, glaring into the man’s eyes. “You thought? When I believe you capable of thought I will promote you to Corporal. Until then you’ll follow orders. Understand?”
Jennings stood at attention, staring straight ahead. “Yes, Sergeant!”
The thief continued to flounder and gurgle, his free leg occasionally visible, kicking into the air.
“Fifty push-aways, Jennings!” Sam shouted. “And if that bastard drowns before you complete them I’ll have you charged with murder.”
Jennings paled, dropped to his belly, and began to push away the earth.
“I cannot hear you count, Jennings. Start over!”
“ONE, Sergeant! TWO, Sergeant! THREE, Sergeant . . .”
Joe was observing the thief thrash about in the pit, grinning, shaking his head, not at all concerned; Sukey’s expression was one of wide-eyed wonder, glancing from person to person and person to pit. Dolley began to feel jittery, hands shaking the way they did after the attack.
“FIFTY, Sergeant! May I recover?”
“You may, Jennings.” Sam waited until Jennings stood, and spoke to him in a normal, almost friendly voice. “Now pull that bastard out of there, clean him up, and don’t do it again.”
“This way,” Sam said, pointing north. “We’ll finish physical training in the river.”
The short jog helped burn off Dolley’s jitters, and it wasn’t until Sam led them into waist-deep water that she realized she no longer needed an outhouse: her bladder had emptied, of its own accord, during the short fight with the thief. She smiled at Sam in gratitude and he winked at her.
“Did you see his eyes?” Sukey squealed. She bulged out her cheeks, bugged out her eyes, and flailed madly at the water and began giggling. They all laughed for several minutes before Sam called them together.
“Will Private Jennings get into trouble for that?” Dolley asked.
“Not unless an officer was watching and decided to make an issue of it,” Sam replied. “Then he might be shot.”
“Most officers here, however, let the Sergeants take care of such things,” Joe added.
“Quick thinking,” Sam said. “Where did you learn that?”
“My brother used to hide in our outhouse and scare me and my sisters in pretty much the same way. A boy in Sunday school taught me that, and when I started using it on my brother he stopped,” she said. “I was never able to hit him that hard, though.”
“You’ve grown into a tall, strong woman,” Sam said. “Able to inflict real damage.”
Sam led them in several exercises that involved running in waist-deep water, followed by half an hour of strength training. Then he released them for three hours so he and Joe could brief the Sergeant Major on the Outhouse Incident before setting up the shooting range. They returned to the fort as a group. Sergeant Major Mosey stood near the east gate, surrounded by a dozen soldiers, towering over the prostrate thief being tended to by the surgeon.
“Johnson! Killian!” Mosey bellowed. “Get over here!”
Sam and Joe ran toward the Sergeant Major, and Dolley followed, concerned the two men might get into trouble on her account.
“These the men who broke your jaw?” Mosey boomed at the thief. Sam and Joe stood at attention beside him.
The man replied in whiney voice, lisping oddly. “Yeshir! Punshed and punshed and punshed me. Shwear ta gawd!”
“Liar!” Dolley shouted. She knew better than to interfere with military matters, but she was determined not to let Sam and Joe get into trouble. Everyone turned at the sound of her voice, and watched intently as she jogged toward the group. Instead of trying to squeeze between soldiers standing near the Sergeant Major, she ran toward the thief, studying his face as she approached, watching his eyes turn fearful. The man scooted away from her until his ankle chain grew taut and halted his progress. Just a bully and a coward. Not half as scary as that twenty-foot tower!
She ran right up to him and stood, legs spread, hands on hips, straddling his ankles, glaring down at him as she spoke. “Sergeants Johnson and Killian never laid a hand on him. He grabbed me and I punched him.” She leaned over the man, furious, and growled at him as if he were a boy in Sunday school caught in a lie. “Isn’t that so?”
It was dead quiet. The thief’s eyes reflected terror, and he nodded, slightly.
She stepped forward, straddling his knees, bending over him, growling, projecting her voice from the gut, the way the choir director taught them when singing. “I cannot hear you!”
“Louder! Or I will scalp you right here!”
“Yesh Ma’am!” He looked up toward the Sergeant Major. “Pleash shir, don’t let her hurt me again!”
Dolley straightened, backed away and faced Mosey. “Any questions I might be able to answer, Sergeant Major?” she asked, sweetly.
“No indeed, Madam Presidentress.” Mosey’s grin seemed to split his face. “Where did you learn to put the fear of God into scumbags?”
“The Quakers taught me, Sergeant Major.”
He stared at her for a full second, guffawed loudly and smacked his thighs, then bowed.
Dolley smiled, curtsied, and walked toward the guest quarters, followed closely by Sukey. The soldiers were laughing and cheering, and the last thing she heard before rounding the corner of the stockade was the thief cry in pain and the Sergeant Major’s booming voice: “Don’t you ever call me sir again. I work for a living!”
Rested and well fed, terribly sore and determined not to show it, Dolley and Sukey laughed and joked as they walked to the fort’s shooting range, located several hundred yards to the east against a large hill. Sukey cradled her brass-barreled blunderbuss, its ammunition pouch and powder horn slung over her shoulder; Dolley carried a carpet bag containing her boxed dueling pistols and a few other goodies. Joe and Sam were waiting for them, standing behind a rustic wooden table that supported a large number of different weapons. Sam grinned, shook his head and tossed Joe a coin.
“Betting against us again?” Dolley asked.
“Joe bet me Sukey would come armed, and I bet we’d have to convince you arming Sukey was a good idea.” Sam studied Sukey a moment. “Wait . . . is she armed? Or just serving as your gun bearer?”
Dolley laughed. “Gun bearer? That’s her blunderbuss, since she killed the thief that owned it.”
“Jumpin’ George Washington.” Sam dug out another coin and tossed it to Joe, who exchanged a delighted grin with Sukey. “He bet me she killed one of those thieves, and I didn’t believe it.”
“Ladies,” said Joe. “For the rest of the day we’re going to teach you how to shoot a variety of weapons, then let you select your favorites. Have either of you shot before?”
“Father taught me when I was a child,” Dolley said. “And I’ve hunted rabbits with musket and pistol.”
“Sukey?” he asked.
Sukey’s head was cocked, like a dog listening to a strange sound, and she was staring into the woods beyond. Joe glanced to his rear, then looked at Dolley, puzzled. Dolley shrugged.
“Lock,” Sukey whispered, then continued in a louder voice. “Lock, stock and barrel?”
“Those are the three parts of a musket,” Joe said, watching the girl, closely.
Sukey then began reciting in a quiet, sing-song voice:
“Clean lock, stock and barrel
Don’t flash in the pan
Do not go out half-cocked
And don’t lose your ram.”
“Uh . . . .” Joe said. “Very good. Anything else?”
Sukey laughed and squealed “Musketry!”, then began to chant:
“Square em up and
Focus front and
Move as one and
Aim at mote and
Breathe and pause and
Like a lover . . .
Move! Move! Move!
Dolley, mouth open, stared at the girl. Sukey had accompanied the chant with vigorous hand and body motions that were quite suggestive and vaguely obscene. Joe, like Dolley, stood in shock, blushing.
Sam grinned and applauded. “You do have experience! Excellent!”
Sukey grinned at Sam and performed an elaborate theatrical bow, glanced at Joe, then Dolley, and stopped grinning. “What?” she asked, innocently. “Was it something I said?”
“I suppose the Quakers taught you that?” asked Dolley.
Sukey shrugged, puzzled. “I reckon.”
“I want to meet those Quakers of yours some day,” Sam said, grinning. “Your first poem covers the basics:
“The Lock consists of the trigger, the hammer holding the flint, the frizzen, and the small pan under the frizzen. The Stock is the wooden part, and the Barrel is the long, steel tube that holds the main powder charge and musket ball.
“Flash in the pan is when the hammer falls and strikes the frizzen, producing a spark that ignites the powder charge in the pan, but not the main powder charge in the barrel, because the tiny hole leading into the barrel is fouled by powder residue.
“Half-cocked is a hammer that’s been pulled back a single click, half way, and can’t be released by the trigger. Great for reloading, but to shoot the weapon you must pull it back a second click, fully cocked.
“Mr. Ramrod is always returned to its slot below the barrel after reloading. Always! Lose it, and you cannot reload.”
“Huzzah for Sukey!” Dolley cheered, applauding.
Joe and Sam also applauded, and the girl blushed.
“Bravo!” Sam said. “I believe the second poem describes good marksmanship in a nutshell. Let’s go over it in detail.”
Sam had Sukey repeat each verse, then explained what it meant:
Square em up: center the front sight post in the notch of the rear sight so that the top edges are aligned.
Focus front: focus your eye on the front sight, not the rear sight or the target.
Move as one: it’s impossible to hold the weapon still, so when it moves keep the front and rear sights aligned and centered. If the front sight is out of alignment with the rear by just a hair, the musket ball will miss the target by yards.
Aim at mote: Aim small, miss small. Don’t aim at the target’s chest, aim at a button on his coat.
Breathe and pause: Breathe normally, then pause just before pulling the trigger.
Like a lover, Stroke: Caress the trigger as if the face of a lover, let the shot surprise you.
Hold: Don’t move the weapon until smoke bellows out the end and it kicks your shoulder.
Move! Move! Move!: All that smoke alerted the enemy of your location. Change position before the smoke clears.
Reload: Reload, preferably while moving or from your new firing location.
“Excellent, Sukey!” Joe said. “I’m betting Sergeant Major will include it in our marksmanship program.”
“I’m not taking that bet,” Sam said. “What weapon would you like to start with? Pistols?”
“Uh . . . no, not yet. How about a rifled musket for me, and I think she wants—”
“Blunderbuss!” Sukey said. “Wanna blow the enemy’s head out the window.”
Sam chuckled. “Somebody’s been talking to Mrs. Scott.”
“Good idea!” Joe said. “They are easier to load than rifles and devastating out to about thirty yards. General Washington even recommended they be used to replace the carbine for Dragoons.”
Sam rubbed his chin. “What if I teach Dolley the fine art of rifle marksmanship, and Joe teaches sweet little Sukey the brutal butchery of the ‘buss?”
Dolley expected Sukey to squeal and jump and clap, but instead she looked Joe up and down, her expression serious. “You sure he’s qualified? He appears too young and sensitive to understand true brutality.”
“I assure you, Miss Sukey, he is,” Sam said, mimicking her expression. “He earned his Sergeant’s stripes by chopping the head clean off a man with one swing of his tomahawk.”
“Then, sir,” Sukey said to Joe, sniffing imperiously—imitating, Dolley was certain, Abigail Adams!—”I shall expect you to also teach me the fine art of the tomahawk.”
“With pleasure, Madam,” Joe said, bowing.
Joe and Sukey moved a few dozen yards away, and Sam showed Dolley which of the muskets were rifled.
“Most armies use smooth bore muskets,” Sam explained. “A trained infantryman can fire four shots per minute, and the musket ball is between half and three-quarters inch in diameter. The accuracy is dreadful, less than fifty yards, and they have no sights, so infantrymen stand shoulder-to-shoulder and fire in volleys. After the second volley, the smoke is so thick sights would be useless anyway.”
“So there is no marksmanship,” she said. “Just fast reloading.”
“Yes, plus absolute iron discipline to stand there, reloading and firing, as men die around you in the most hideous manner imaginable.” Sam shuddered. “And bayonet training, used when the enemy suddenly emerges from the smoke five yards to your front.”
The blunderbuss’s blast startled Dolley. Joe held it, Sukey standing well to his rear, and then they stood together, examining the weapon for defects.
Sam grinned and shook his head. “Rifle barrels have spiraling grooves that dig into the patch surrounding the musket ball, giving it a spin that keeps it on target. It’s harder to ram down a patch-wrapped ball, so they are smaller caliber and much slower firing than smoothbore muskets. Also, very few rifles are equipped with a bayonet. But they are accurate.”
Sam laughed and waved his hand over the rifles. “Find one you like and we’ll see.”
Dolley considered most of them too large, and hefted the three smallest. The first was a child’s gun and she rejected it. Father always insisted on function before style. Of the two remaining, one was definitely prettier, so she held it to her shoulder, aimed at a target, closed her eyes and counted to five: when she opened her eyes the sights pointed well away from her point of aim. She hefted the remaining rifle and aimed it at the target. It felt better, and when she opened her eyes the sights were close to where she left them.
“Excellent choice. Nice trigger, and the sights are set to two hundred yards.” Sam smiled. “That one belonged to the thieves you encountered so it’s yours, the spoils of war.”
He grabbed the rifle’s ammunition bag, led her away from the table, and talked her through the loading process. After adding the precise amount of gunpowder, the .36 caliber ball was wrapped in a greased patch and jammed into the tip of the barrel with one tool, shoved a few inches down with a second tool, then the ramrod was used to force it all the way down until it was tight against the powder charge. It was not easy.
Primed, hammer cocked, she aimed at a target. After a few seconds she sighed in disgust. “The sights are moving all over the target.”
“Instead of trying to hold it still, try moving it in a controlled fashion. I trace the letter ‘G’ and caress the trigger at the end.”
Good Lord! Can’t keep it on the center dot. Oh well, do the best I can . . .
She inhaled, exhaled half, paused, and squeezed . . . the rifle cracked and smoke obscured the target.
“I missed,” she said. “It hit way to the right.”
Sam lowered his telescope and gave her the funniest look. “Try it again.”
Dolley shrugged, muscled her way through reloading, struggled again with keeping the sight on target, and squeezed off another shot.
“Way to the left,” she said. “This rifle does have a very nice trigger.”
“Um, please try again.”
She loaded again, aligned the sights, breathed, paused, squeeeeezed . . .
“Got it!” she squealed.
“I don’t see any holes in the target at all. You sure you saw it hit?”
“Don’t be silly, my eyes aren’t that good. I called them based on where the sights were when the rifle fired.” He’s giving me that look. She glassed the target with his telescope. “Right there, Sam. First shot in the seven ring at three o’clock. Second shot in eight ring at ten o’clock. Third just into the center.”
Sam stared at her. “Which target were you shooting?”
“That one,” Dolley said, pointing. She handed Sam the telescope.
“I wanted you to use the twenty yard target, not the hundred fifty yard—Holy Hannah, Dolley!” He lowered the telescope, utterly flabbergasted. “Who taught you . . . what’s your father’s name?”
“Sergeant John Payne? Of the 6th Infantry Regiment?”
“You know him?”
He was staring at her again, then began walking toward Joe, shaking his head and muttering, “That’s the ‘Payne’ of ‘pain is my middle name’? Jumpin’ George Washington, of all the . . . .”
Oh, dear. What did I do now? What did Father do to—
“Joe! Joe-Seph!” Sam called out. Joe and Sukey looked at him, and Dolley felt her face flush as Sam began shouting to Joe. “Guess who’s daughter I’ve been teaching marksmanship to? Go on, guess!” Joe shrugged and shook his head. Sam laughed, somewhat hysterically from Dolley’s perspective. “Sergeant John ‘Pitiless Payne’ himself! She’s his daughter, Joe. His daughter!”
Sam was pointing at her, Joe was staring at her with his mouth open, and Sukey was doing a gleeful sort of dance that involved whooping and raising her hands to the clouds. The men ran toward her, followed by Sukey.
“The knife, Dolley,” Sam asked. “Do you have The Knife?”
What has gotten into these men? “I have a knife in my bag that Father—”
They ran over to her bag, and moments later she heard the kind of sounds usually made by women holding a newborn. She answered their unspoken request with “Yes, you may remove it from the sheath.”
The men cleared a spot on the table and, with great reverence, lay the unsheathed knife on the wood.
Dolley regarded the familiar old knife, wondering what they found to be so special. The pommel was silver with a satin finish, and the handle consisted of layer after layer of metal and compressed leather. It had a sturdy brass guard, and an eight-inch blade that seldom needed sharpening.
“Look! It still has traces of British blood!” Joe whispered.
“He wasn’t content with just shooting them,” Sam whispered. “He scalped ’em too!”
The men chuckled together.
“Father did no such thing! That’s thief blood. Sukey used this knife to kill one of them, and would have scalped another had I let her.” The men regarded Sukey with awe. “What’s so special about Father’s knife? And what did he do to earn such horrible names?”
“He was a legend,” Joe said. “A marksman who killed so many British officers with his rifle they put a bounty on his head and complained to General Washington about violations of the law of war.”
No wonder President Washington was always so nice to me, and why Martha was so eager for me to marry the quiet, studious Mr. Madison.
“They say the handle is made from the silver buttons of slain British Colonels, cast in sand of the York River during the siege of Yorktown, hence the 1781 engraved into the hilt,” Sam said. “The blade is from the sword of”—both men whispered the name together—”General Sir Percival Corwin.”
“Father never told me any of this. Mother gave me the knife after he died. She said he was very proud of it when he returned from the war, but shortly after that he hid it away in shame.”
“How did she do?” Joe asked of Sam.
“Three shots, one hundred fifty yards, score of”—Sam giggled—”twenty-five.”
Joe smiled at her. “Your father would be proud.”
“Stop! Quit trying to make me feel good about this!” Dolley felt tears coming and didn’t know why. “Father would be mortified that his little girl is a killer and perfecting her ability to kill again.”
Joe placed his hands on her shoulders and looked right through her eyes into her soul. “Let me restate that. Your father, who now resides in Heaven and has learned the error of his ways regarding pacifism, is nudging the Lord of Armies and telling him That’s my Dolley!”
She tried to visualize the scene Joe described, and it made her want to laugh and cry at the same time. Disturbed, she turned away, staring into the distance, gathering her thoughts.
Father was a war hero who belonged to a church that despised war and its heroes; he freed his slaves in obedience to the elders of that church, nearly going broke paying the state-mandated manumission fees and was left with a farm he could no longer operate. So he sold it and moved to Philadelphia—the Quaker city of Brotherly Love—to start a business making a product he knew nothing about. When that business failed the Society of Friends expelled him for the sin of bankruptcy. That afternoon father lay in his bed, turned his face to the wall, and died of a broken heart. Only then, in the presence of the Lord of Armies, surrounded by fallen comrades, would he have found the peace denied him by the religious cowards whose continued existence depended on the heroes they despised.
The Quakers I know are good people, nice people, honest and hard working pillars of the community who are right about so many things, yet so very wrong about this one thing. Those self-righteous hypocrites accomplished with their pious condemnation what the British failed to accomplish with their bounty and bullets. I refuse to let them murder me with guilt!
“You’re right, Joe. Thanks.” Dolley hugged the big Ranger. “What’s next?”
“Lunch?” asked Sukey.
Sam laughed. “They’re delivering a picnic lunch today, in about an hour. I want to see what else Dolley has in this bag of hers. What’s this? A toy sword?”
“A friend bought it in France. She said it was a ‘Tunisian Saber’, but when I asked the Tunis Ambassador he said it wasn’t from his country.”
Sam pulled the blade from the scabbard, producing a delightful ring, clear and sweet.
“I don’t think this sword was meant for battle. The guard is too small, and this thin blade will break the first time it hits something.”
“The ambassador was very impressed, said the blade was Damascus steel.”
“Damascus? The tiny Ohio village west of here? No sword makers there.” Sam winked at Joe. “Just friendly Quaker lasses.”
Joe chuckled with Sam, then noticed Sukey’s expression and cleared his throat. “Do you mind if we test the blade, even though it might break?”
“Please do. It’s a wall decoration anyway, so the scabbard will cover any damage.”
Sam handed the saber to Joe, who immediately cut his finger checking the blade’s edge. Sam fetched a cavalry saber from the table, stood before and exchanged grins with Joe. “Ladies, for your protection please stand well behind Joseph’s ungainly bulk. Joe, edge to edge test. Ready? On three. One, two . . . .”
Dolley winced as the men swung the swords together as hard as they could, the clash producing a sound like the drawing of her sword but incredibly louder; a ringing note so clear and sweet she found herself humming along with it; sunlight flickered off a large piece of metal as it flew fifty yards.
Sukey squealed in absolute delight. “Joe cut your sword in half, Sam!” She ran after the broken piece.
Sam stared at his severed saber, then at Dolley’s sword, whose blade still hummed its sweet note. He and Joe examined the blade, shaking their heads. “It’s not even scratched. It may not be from Tunis, and it sure isn’t a saber, but that blade must have been forged by the angels of Heaven. I’d carry it into battle any day.”
Joe handed Dolley the saber, and she examined it with renewed respect. The blade was about thirty inches long, straight and double edged. Parallel black wavy lines seemed etched along its length from hilt to point. The blade was about an inch in width and half the thickness of Sam’s saber, slightly flexible, but not so much as to preclude thrusting. The sword’s grip and the scabbard were black wood, the pommel and hand-guard silver. Its only decoration was a tiny gold circle bisected by a wavy line, with a dot on each side of the line. It weighed a bit more than a pound and felt good in her hand. She sheathed it, then drew it with vigor to hear it ring again, laughing in tune with its clear note.
“Any other surprises?” Joe asked.
Dolley reluctantly sheathed the blade. “Just these.”
She opened the oaken box and showed them the dueling pistols, and then found herself explaining them in detail to two men and a girl who listened in rapt fascination. At their urging she withdrew one and loaded it. The pistol felt strange to her, like it hadn’t felt in years: friendly and comforting, an old and dear friend encountered after a long separation.
“Shoot it Mizz Dolley! Show us how it’s done.”
She felt detached, as if in a dream, and stood ramrod straight, right shoulder toward the target, arms at her side, right hand holding the pistol, primed and cocked, its hair trigger extended. She breathed slowly and deeply, and purged her mind of stray emotions. She focused on the target, wondering if her father truly would be proud of his little girl training to kill. She decided it didn’t matter what her father thought, that she would live her life as unto the Lord of Armies, who had trained her hands for war and her fingers for battle. He provided that training years ago, He motivated her to practice over the years, and when the situation arose, He recalled it to her mind so that she might do His will.
She felt the weight of the pistol on her arm, the smooth maple grip in her hand; the world faded around her until all was a gray blur except for the target, clear and brilliant in the morning sun; the pistol rose until the sights met the line extending from her eye to the center of the target, and her finger, of its own accord, caressed the trigger.
She held the position for three seconds, wreathed in smoke, before lowering the pistol to the cheer of her friends. The face of Alexander Hamilton had appeared briefly, then drifted apart and vanished with the smoke.
She knew it would never return.
That night after dinner and Bible study, Dolley and Sukey again watched the setting sun. They had been on the range until an hour before dinner and fired a large number of weapons, including a three-pounder cannon and hand-thrown grenades. They each returned with an armload of their chosen weapons, weapons they would carry through the rest of their training and on their journey home. In addition to Dolley’s carbine and Sukey’s blunderbuss, each of them received two pistols and a Dragoon-style double-holster to hold them to the saddle. Because Sukey was too short for a cavalry saber, she would carry a tomahawk and Joe’s Ranger knife, since she’d demonstrated a knack for throwing both.
Dolley rubbed her right wrist and forearm, sore and stiff from ramming dozens of musket balls into her carbine. “Sukey, that musketry chant, where did you learn it?”
“I don’t know, Mizz Dolley. Joe started talking about shooting muskets and it just came to me.” She stared off into space and smiled. “Reciting it made me feel good, the way I felt when I found you in that church the other morning.”
“Did you know what it meant?”
“Not until Sam explained it.”
“Let’s go to the room.” Dolley stood. “If you’re still interested, I’ll teach you to duel.”
4 May 1810, Fort Lafayette
Dolley lay ten feet from the trail, scarcely breathing as she waited for the approaching enemy, determined they would not see her before she killed their general. It was her third attempt to avoid detection by the point man who preceded the general by fifty feet. Point girl, actually: Sukey, who had a sixth sense for finding her and protecting General Joe from assassination.
Dolley reviewed her mistakes. The first time she’d failed to cover her right foot with leaves and Sukey spotted it from a good distance away. The second time she had a tickle in her throat and Sukey heard her cough. Each time Sukey had discharged her blunderbuss into the air and pointed to Dolley’s position, earning her the win.
Dolley chuckled in anticipation. This time would be different; she was laying within a thick briar patch, covered with leaves. She’d washed away the tickle with plenty of water and had blackened her face with burnt cork. Sam was fifty feet farther along the trail, observing through a spyglass, and would decide the winner.
She wondered if it would rain again. Instead of physical training, they’d marched three miles east of the fort carrying their weapons, ammunition, and a rucksack weighted with sand and food. Sam and Joe lectured while they munched a cold breakfast. Rangers could do anything, but were best used for going deep behind enemy lines to gather information and kill important enemy personnel. The first Ranger organization within the United States Army was Knowlton’s Rangers, created at the start of the Revolutionary War and named for its commander, Colonel Thomas Knowlton. Nathan Hale, hung by the British for spying, had been one of Knowlton’s captains. Other Ranger units formed during that war had contributed greatly to the American victory over the British. Daniel Morgan’s Rangers terrified General Burgoyne in the north with their superb marksmanship, and Francis Marion’s Rangers bedeviled General Cornwallis is the south with their hit-and-run tactics. Samuel Brady’s Rangers operated out of Pittsburgh to counter the British-instigated Indian threat in the Ohio Territory; Colonel Scott had served with Brady, and considered his Rangers the inheritors of Brady’s legacy. This was why, Sam explained, their field uniform consisted of buckskin blouses and trousers, boots or knee-high moccasins, and a black head kerchief tied in the back: it was what Samuel Brady wore.
After the history lesson, Sam and Joe began teaching them the basics of observation and ambush.
They’d spent the morning learning how to camouflage themselves, how to avoid being detected, and how to detect an enemy who didn’t want to be found. Sam had them play observation and memory games, games they would continue to play to fully develop their skills. In one game, Joe gave them ten minutes to study a tarp covered with dozens of odd items, from musket balls to sewing needles, then had them turn away and sketch what they had seen. They did this several times. Then Sam rearranged the items, and from branches of a distant tree Dolley observed the table through her telescope and described it to Sukey, who produced the sketch. Sam critiqued the sketch, they switched roles, and did it again.
Dolley consciously relaxed each of her muscles, willing herself to become as one with the bush. Sukey stalked down the trail, crouched and ready, eyes scanning from side to side. As she passed by, Dolley felt the exhilarating thrill of invisibility. General Joe will die this day by the hand of the daughter of Sergeant John Payne, the deadliest marksman that ever walked the face of—
What’s that on my leg? A branch? Please let it be a branch! There it is again. Feels like . . . oh no! . . . a snake! I hate snakes! Hold still and it will go away. That’s what Father said. Hold still and even the big, lethal diamondback rattlesnakes will ignore you and—
It’s crawling into my buckskins! Up my leg!
“Yaaaaaagh!” Dolley leaped to her feet, tearing her way through the briars until she stood in the trail, shaking her right leg and dancing about, desperate to get the clammy reptile coiling about her leg—most certainly a diamondback rattlesnake!—out of her trousers before it bit her. She barely noticed Sukey’s startled leap and wide-eyed expression as the girl whirled about to face a threat she had somehow passed. The blunderbuss fired, and to her horror Dolley felt the snake’s massive fangs sink into her derriere.
Dolley fell to the ground. “I’ve been bit! I’ve been bit by a diamondback!” She thrashed about, clawing at her trousers.
“I shot Mizz Dolley!” Sukey ran toward Joe, screaming for help.
Sam ran up. “Are you shot?”
“No!” Dolley grasped the snake’s head through her trousers, its cold body writhing about her leg. “Snake! Diamondback! Bit me!”
“Diamondback? Hold still!”
Sam ran his fingers down Dolley’s trousers, following the outline of the snake, squirming and coiling about her leg. Joe arrived, eyes wide, followed by Sukey.
“Got the tail. It’s a diamondback, all right, black as midnight, cold as death!” Sam pulled the snake out by the tail, and held it up.
The serpent was yards long, as big around as her wrist, its undulating body armored by glossy scales, black as Satan’s soul with yellow chain-like markings. It coiled around Sam’s wrist, then it’s jaws latched onto his arm.
“It bit me!” Sam cried. He tossed the snake toward Joe then fell to his knees, holding his wrist. “I’m too young to die!”
Joe held the snake by the neck, eyes wide. “It’s attacking me!” He fought to pull the snake’s head away from his throat, its body coiling around his arm, fell to his knees, then flopped to his back and lay still.
Dolley leaped to her feet, breathing hard, trying to order her thoughts as she surveyed the two Rangers, motionless in the dirt. Something wasn’t right. Sam’s agonizing death throes left him in a rather comfortable position, and Joe’s corpse still clutched the squirming snake. Sukey stood frozen, hands to her face, eyes wide in horror, speechless.
“We’ve seen real corpses,” Dolley said, “and you clowns don’t qualify . . . yet.”
Sam’s corpse started to chuckle, then Joe’s, and both men climbed to their feet.
“You tricked me!” Sukey shouted at Joe. “I thought you were dead!”
“And I thought you had enough sense to not walk point with your finger on the trigger.” Joe wagged his finger at her, and Sukey blushed and looked down.
“What about my bite?” Dolley asked, holding her hand over a tender spot on her right buttock. “It hurts, and I don’t feel well. Am I going to die?”
“You’ll both feel jittery for a bit until the excitement wears off.” Sam grinned. “The only death you risk is from embarrassment should Joe or I examine the wound. Sukey, would you mind . . .?”
Joe and Sam turned away, and Dolley lowered her trousers for Sukey.
“It looks like a one-inch bruise,” Sukey called out. “No puncture or teeth marks.”
“Good news.” Sam said. “Let me know when you’re decent and I’ll show you what a bite looks like.”
Sam showed them a V-shaped red mark on his forearm. “Nonpoisonous snakes leave a mark like this. No poison, but you can get an infection if the wound isn’t cleaned.” He showed them his whiskey flask, then poured some of it over the bite.
“A poisonous snake has two fangs to inject venom, and had this been the diamondback you thought it was, there would be two very large holes about an inch apart, and the bite would have felt like red-hot needles, growing more painful with time.”
“Then what bit me?”
Sam chuckled. “The wadding from Sukey’s blunderbuss. That’s why I insisted on no bullets.”
The news seemed to devastate Sukey, and Dolley put her arm around the girl. “We all make mistakes.”
“Indeed,” Sam continued. “You both made serious mistakes. Let’s review them. First, this is not a diamondback rattlesnake, but a king snake of average size, about five feet long. Nonpoisonous, not very aggressive, and they eat other snakes, including rattlesnakes. Here, take it.”
The serpent was coiled about Sam’s arm, head weaving about in her direction, tongue flickering, eyes boring into hers, evil eyes, full of malice. Dolley stepped back, shook her head.
“Don’t like snakes?” Joe asked, then grinned at Dolley’s expression. “We can cure that.”
Cure? Dolley couldn’t take her eyes from the monstrosity.
“Second mistake was that you allowed an outside distraction to disrupt your mission,” Sam said. “During the Revolutionary War, one marksman placed the sights on the enemy commander, and just before pulling the trigger felt the cold scales of a large snake. Though terrified, he maintained focus on his target, squeezed off the shot, then felt the fangs of the snake as the enemy crumpled to the—you’ve heard this before, haven’t you?”
“Yes.” Dolley felt herself shaking. “It was at the battle of King’s Mountain. The air was cold, the man was warm, and the snake crawled up his trouser leg and bit him when he pulled the trigger. It was a diamondback, and he died that night in great pain. Father was with him, and told me that story when I was a little girl.”
Sam laughed. “Well, that explains your reaction. Have you ever seen a diamondback, besides the drawing on the Gadsen ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ Flag? No? We’ll visit the surgeon when we return. He has specimen jars containing many snakes.”
Dolley shivered. “Oh joy. Thank you.”
“My pleasure,” Sam said, grinning. “Third mistake. Sukey, what caused you to shoot Mizz Dolley?”
“I was stupid.” Sukey sighed and looked down.
“No you’re not. What were you thinking when you pulled the trigger?”
“I wasn’t thinking. Her scream startled me, I spun about, and the ‘buss fired before I could think.”
Sam nodded and held up his rifle, trigger guard at eye-level, his trigger finger extended across the guard rather than curled into it. “Carry your ‘buss like this. A loud noise won’t startle you into shooting, and it’s easy to find the trigger once you decide the target needs to be shot.”
Sukey nodded. “Got it.”
Sam glanced at the sky. “Time for three more runs, this time Sukey hides and Dolley seeks.”
Dolley sat on her bed hours later, holding a large glass jar, staring into the cute red eyes of a foot-long rat snake she’d named Randolph. Part of her brain was delighted with the beautiful little fellow, no bigger around than her little finger, whose glossy scales were white with a slight violet tint; the other part of her brain—largely ignored—was babbling incoherently about incarnations of Satan and the flesh-dissolving venom of pit vipers.
Step One of Joe’s cure for fear of snakes was to build a fire, roast the king snake on a spit, then eat it. The headless, skinned body of the poor snake had writhed and squirmed over the flames, and to Dolley’s surprise the meat—once she actually got it into her mouth—tasted like chicken. Chicken spare ribs, hundreds of tiny ribs covered with very little meat.
Step Two was a visit to the Regimental Surgeon, an amateur naturalist with a special fondness for snakes. Preserved in glass jars of alcohol were all of the poisonous and non-poisonous snakes they’d likely ever encounter, each carefully labeled, including the diamondback rattlesnake. The surgeon took each from its jar and lovingly pressed it into Dolley’s trembling hands so he could explain its distinguishing features and, if poisonous, describe the horrors of its bite. By the sixth snake she’d lost her jitters, and by the twelfth she’d begun to grow interested.
Step Three was staring at her from the jar, its cute little tongue darting in and out, Randolph’s way of “tasting” the air. “Rat snakes make wonderful pets,” the surgeon assured them. “Raise them from babies and they become tame.” He then introduced them to his seven-foot rat snake, Esmerelda, and allowed them to select a pet from several dozen month-old babies. Dolley chose Randolph, and Sukey chose a jet-black snake which she named “Galegi”: Cherokee for blacksnake, according to the surgeon.
Sukey now sat on her bunk, cuddling her jar, baby-talking to her snake, enraptured.
“How did you know Galegi meant blacksnake?” Dolley asked.
“I didn’t. It just seemed like the right thing to call it.”
Dolley set Randolph’s jar on the bed stand, stood and stretched. “You hungry?”
Sukey nodded. “That king snake didn’t have much meat on its many, many bones.”
“Walk over to the mess hall? The cook is preparing a late supper of beef stew for Company B.”
Sukey nodded, stood, and set her pet beside Dolley’s. “What I really crave right now is an apple.”
Dolley laughed and pulled on her shawl. “So do I.”
5 May 1810, Fort Lafayette
Dolley stood on the forest road, a loaded pistol in each hand, facing the thief. She breathed slowly and deeply, her eyes locked onto his eyes. The cold barrel of the pistol touched against her leg, a reminder that she’d forgotten to dress before leaving the carriage. She wore only a cotton shift, undoubtedly the reason several hundred people in the visitor’s gallery were pointing at her and laughing. Oh dear. Hope Jemmy doesn’t hear about this.
The thief’s eyes were wide with fear, and his hand crept toward the pistol in his belt. As she raised her pistol, the cold body of a snake wrapped around her left ankle and began to climb her leg.
Ignore the snake, focus on the mission, on the enemy.
Her sights aligned with the thief’s left eye and she caressed the trigger, but her caress wasn’t enough to fire the pistol. She squeezed harder and harder, until the pistol shook from the effort, but the trigger remained stuck fast.
The snake was now coiled about her waist, its cold, white scales pressing against her skin, its head extending toward the pistol, tongue flickering, then its red eyes looked into hers. “Did you remember to fully cock it?” it asked in the squeaky voice of its namesake, Congressman John Randolph of Virginia. “You always go out half-cocked.”
She cried in frustration, pistol now held in both hands, all of her fingers squeezing the trigger, unable to get it to budge. The thief raised his pistol and her world flashed, then exploded in a loud ka-boom!
Dolley awoke to rain beating against the window; seconds later a flash of lightning illuminated the room, showing Randolph in his jar. Thunder rattled the window. She smiled and snuggled into the covers. I cannot imagine anyone training in this weather. Nice to have a day off for a change.
Dolley blew vapor into the gray torrent falling from the sky. Sam was a dark gray shape jogging ahead of her, barely visible though only a few feet away. Rangers, she learned, prefer to fight in cold rain, since such weather encourages lesser soldiers to huddle in their tents and beds for warmth, awaiting the killing stroke of the Ranger knife. Dolley shivered with every muscle in her body. The thunder and lightning had stopped but a steady deluge of cold water continued to fall.
Sukey screamed her Cherokee war cry, the grin in her voice obvious, and Dolley responded in kind. She held the carbine before her and carried a rucksack containing her pistols, ammunition, and a burlap bag Sam had given her. Wonder how many times Sam will make us run around the fort before we begin strength training? My arms are beginning to hurt. At least we’ll get a hot breakfast afterwards.
Before they completed even one lap, Sam veered onto the trail leading east into the forest, jogged for another hundred yards and slowed to a walk, then alternated jogging with walking until they’d traveled several miles. The rain never let up, and as dawn broke it roared against the leaf canopy far above their heads, cascading onto the leafy forest floor around them.
“Who’s ready for a hot breakfast?” Sam shouted.
“We are!” shouted Sukey. “Race to the mess hall?”
Sam laughed. “We’re at the mess hall. Just as soon as you build a fire, we can start preparing our hot breakfast.”
Dolley exchanged looks with Sukey, wondering if her own expression was as hopeless, aware of the men’s laughter over the roar of the rainfall.
Two hours later they sat before a roaring fire, huddled in oilcloth ponchos, nibbling on a meaty substance Joe called pemmican. While waiting for the rice and salt pork to finish cooking, Joe gathered firewood and Sam droned on about wilderness survival.
“Survival is what you do when things go wrong. You prepare for it, but you never plan to do it. You have to stay alive, keep moving, and prevent discovery by the enemy. Easy once you know how.”
Dolley shivered so hard the pemmican crumbled, falling into the puddle of water on her lap; she wadded the soggy bits together and scooped them into her mouth.
“In March of 1697, Indians attacked Haverhill, Massachusetts. Hannah Duston told her husband to flee and save their nine children. He did, but Hannah, her six-day-old child, and her nurse were taken captive. The Indians smashed her baby’s skull against a tree, and led them out into the wilderness, marching toward Canada with thirteen others captured from that town. They traveled more than a dozen miles a day through the snow and ice. The Indians killed and scalped anyone who couldn’t keep up, tortured and abused the rest. After traveling over one hundred miles, fourteen of the Indians left the main body, taking Hannah, her nurse, and a boy Sukey’s age to an island campsite in the midst of a large river.
“Hannah decided she’d had enough. She waited until the Indians were asleep, stole their tomahawks, armed the others, and led them in attacking their captors. They killed twelve of the fourteen Indians, men, women, children, then scalped ’em. Only a young squaw and her child escaped their wrath.”
“Huzzah!” Sukey squealed, leaping to her feet, startling Dolley.
Sam grinned. “Hannah loaded a canoe with supplies and they fled, traveling downstream by night, hiding by day. She knew the surviving Indians would return with others, eager to capture and torture her and the others to death. After days of travel they arrived home. What lessons can we take away from this?”
“Don’t mess with Hannah Duston!” Sukey said.
Sam nodded. “What else?”
“Never give up hope,” Dolley said.
“Yes. The first rule of survival in any situation. No matter how well trained you are, the minute you give up you start to die.”
“Have lots of children so you can afford to lose one,” Sukey blurted out.
“Uh, well . . . .” Sam rolled his eyes.
“She kept track of her location so they could find their way home,” Dolley said.
Sam nodded. “Had they traveled in the wrong direction they might have blundered into a hostile Indian village, or become lost in the wilderness.”
“Stay strong enough to kill and run,” Sukey said.
“Take from the enemy and use it against him,” Dolley said.
“Don’t leave any survivors,” Sukey added.
“Excellent points. Great work! After breakfast, we’ll spend the morning learning wilderness survival.”
“What happened to Hannah after she returned home?” Sukey asked.
“She lived for another forty years, had more children, and her children had children, and one of those children was my mother. Let’s eat.”
The rain slackened during breakfast, settling into a bone-chilling drizzle. They paid close attention to and eagerly participated in the classes on shelter construction and fire building, lacked enthusiasm for Joe’s undoubtedly excellent class on finding water, and shivered their way through direction finding.
“What about finding food?” Sukey asked.
“Another day,” Sam said. “When you’re not so well fed.”
“How can we tell which way is north from here?” Dolley asked. “The sky’s cloudy and blocked by trees.”
“That’s why God gave us the compass,” Sam said. “Buy several of them. A nice one for navigation, a second nice one for when you lose the first, a small one to hide inside the stock of your carbine.”
“Inside?” Dolley asked.
“Yes. Unscrew the butt-plate and carve out a small compartment. Stick that spare compass in there along with a few survival items, such as fish hooks, fishing line, a small piece of razor blade, and an extra flint.”
“You can also sew that into your clothing,” Joe added. “Instead of a compass, use a magnetized nail or sewing needle. Make it comfortable and wear it all the time.”
“What if you’re lost on a cloudy day and haven’t got anything to use as a compass?” Sukey asked.
“Then stay put until you know where to go. Better to sit an entire day than spend it walking in the wrong direction,” Sam said. “Remember that humans don’t have a built-in sense of direction, moss doesn’t always grow on the north side of trees, and birds fly wherever they want to fly.”
The forest brightened, and a few rays of sunlight filtered through the leaves.
“Excellent!” Sam said. “Time to put your lessons to use.”
Dolley exchanged a concerned glance with Sukey. “Which ones?”
“We’ll start with the navigation class. Ladies, take us back to Fort Lafayette.”
“That’s it?” Sukey asked.
“Yes. We’ll have a hot lunch in the dining facility.” Sam grinned. “Unless, of course, you take us in the wrong direction, then we’ll need all those other classes.”
“All?” Dolley asked.
“Why do you think we had you each carry so much rice?” Joe said. “Last group took three days.”
“Can we use your compass?” Dolley asked.
“We didn’t bring one.” Sam chuckled and sat on the ground, back against a tree, and Joe did the same.
“We’re gonna rest up a bit,” Sam said. “Wake me when you’re ready to move out.”
Dolley nudged Sukey. “Let’s get where we can see the sun before it goes away.”
Sukey nodded, and they trotted toward a nearby clearing.
Gladys met them at the door with a smile and steaming mugs of tea. “Good morning, ladies. How was the survival class?”
“They tricked us,” Sukey said. She accepted the mug, thanked Gladys profusely, and just held it between her trembling hands, inhaling the vapors.
Dolley did likewise. “They led us to believe we were miles to the east of here, and if we erred in navigating home we’d stay out there until we got it right.”
Gladys laughed. “Did you err?”
Dolley sipped the tea, shook her head. “No. We wasted nearly an hour determining which direction was west, walked two hundred yards and came upon a road.”
“With a sign,” Sukey added. “‘Fort Lafayette, Half Mile.’ Bah. Ranger sadists.”
Gladys laughed so hard she had to sit down.
“Done for the day?”
“No,” Dolley said. “An hour for lunch, then close combat training.”
“I have a pot of stew simmering and bread fresh from the oven. Interested?”
Sam and Joe were waiting for them in the field south of the fort, both grinning, and as they drew near Sam tossed Joe a coin.
“Bring the items we requested?” Sam asked.
Dolley nodded. “What was the bet this time?”
“I bet Joe that asking you to change from buckskins to dresses would take more than the allotted hour.”
Sukey snorted. “I see that you changed into dry clothing in less than an hour.”
“We’re Sergeants,” Joe said. “We must look our best at all times.”
Sukey rolled her eyes and snickered.
“For the rest of the afternoon we’re going to split up and conduct customized training based on what we’ve observed. Joe will work with Sukey, I’ll work with Dolley, and we’ll meet up here in three hours.”
“What did you want me to teach the big lunk?” Sukey asked. “How to fight in a dress?”
“Be nice,” Joe replied, “and I’ll teach you how to scalp captured thieves.”
Sukey stared at him, eyes wide. “You will? Honest?”
Joe chuckled and jogged away. Sukey followed, bounding about him like a puppy on a walk.
“Don’t worry,” Sam said. “He’s going to teach her how to look mean in combat. We call it a ‘war face’.”
“Do I get that class?”
“From what Major Brown told me you don’t need it. Instead, I’m going to start teaching you the saber.”
“Won’t that be dangerous?”
“Not at all. I brought fencing sabers and masks for us to use.” He held up two wire-mesh masks and blunt swords. “I wanted you to bring your saber so I could borrow it for a couple days to work out a way for you to carry it.”
“And the dress?”
“Besides looking far more becoming on you than buckskins, it’s important that you learn saber footwork in the type of attire you’re likely to be wearing when you fight.”
“You seriously believe I’ll need this for self defense?”
“Never. I cannot imagine any circumstance in which evil men might threaten your life.”
“I mean, well, I have my dueling pistols.” Two dueling pistols. There had been four brigands on the road to Lafayette, stupid brigands. Next time they might not be so stupid. She smiled at Sam, who was patiently waiting for her to work it out. “Touché. Teach me to fence.”
Sam showed her how to don the protective helmet, hold the training sword, stand, and attack using both thrusts and slashes.
“Your saber is straight and designed for thrusting. That’s good. A thrust is fast, hard to block, and you can select a target on your opponent that will either cripple or kill.” He chuckled. “A slash with your saber will likely kill your opponent, either immediately or whenever he bleeds to death through his severed hand or foot.”
He taught her the five fundamental parries used to block an enemy’s attack, and stressed the importance of following up a parry with an attack, called a riposte. It was a lot to remember, but after explaining a move they’d practice it, and then practice everything else they’d learned. The time flew by, and Dolley found herself laughing for joy when she parried Sam’s lunge, then struck him with her riposte.
Sam clutched his chest. “Alas! You killed me!” He fell to the ground, and from behind Dolley came the sound of cheers and applause.
“Huzzah, Mizz Dolley!”
Dolley spun about, removed her mask, and responded with a sword salute: she swept the blade to vertical, held the hilt to her face for a moment and then lowered it again.
Joe smiled. “Sukey, show Dolley what you learned this afternoon.”
Sukey produced a small jar of lip rouge, liberated from Dolley’s collection, and smeared a broad horizontal line from right cheek, over her nose, to left cheek. Dolley winced: it was her #12 red semi-gloss lip rouge, purchased from a cosmetic shop along the Rue Saint-Dominique in Paris. It wasn’t that expensive, but the import tariff was outrageous. Sukey wiped a small fortune in excess on the grass and unbound her hair. Instead of falling around her head like a mop, the long black hair was parted neatly in the middle and separated into two long pigtails, each secured with a buckskin lacing.
Joe handed her his huge Ranger knife, and Sukey’s demeanor changed from a mischievous grin to a look of angry disgust. She crouched facing Dolley, with knees bent and feet shoulder width apart. She unsheathed the knife with a hideous cackle and shuffled toward Dolley, rasping the words of a horrifying language. “O gi do da. Ga lew la di. He high.”
“Sukey, that is amazing . . . .” Dolley stepped backwards, alarmed at the transformation.
Sukey continued to shuffle toward Dolley, chanting louder, waving the knife. “Ga Lew kwo di yu. Ge Seee Esss Di!”
“Sukey?” Dolley backed away, looking frantically at Joe. “What did you do to her? Is she sick?”
Sukey’s voice raised in volume and pitch as she waved the huge knife back and forth before her. “DEE Tsa DO VEE EYE!!”
Before Dolley could scream, Sukey stopped, stood erect, and asked in her normal Sukey voice with her normal Sukey grin, “What do you think Mizz Dolley?”
Dolley stared at her in disbelief. “Sukey, you almost scared me to death! Where did you learn to look so ugly? What were you saying in that demonic language? It was horrible!”
“It’s my ‘war face’ to scare the enemy. Joe told me to think of the most disgusting thing I knew of, and so I thought of—”
Dolley knew exactly what Sukey thought of, and felt queasy. “Ugh, that dead cow we saw that was all smelly and bloated from laying in the sun for a week?”
“Worse.” Sukey shivered. “Your sauerkraut.”
Sam and Joe started snickering.
My goodness, everyone’s a food critic. “What were you saying?”
“Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Joe taught me, says it’s Cherokee.”
Sam laughed. “Excellent! But what if your target speaks Cherokee? Won’t that sound silly?”
“I’ll tell him I’m a Christian savage, saying grace before killing supper.”
6 May 1810, Fort Lafayette
Sunday dawned bright and clear. Dolley and Sukey stood on a slight ridge overlooking the Allegheny River, breathing deeply of the flower-scented air, luxuriating in their Sunday finery and the prospect of a training-free day of rest. Before them lay Fort Lafayette’s chapel, a rustic outdoor amphitheater with enough rows of peeled-log pews to seat three hundred, a massive pulpit carved from a still-rooted tree stump, and a thirty-foot cross constructed from notched and lashed rough-hewn logs. A mysterious, tarp-covered object sat to the right of the pulpit. Towering pines and hemlocks, white oaks and chestnut trees columned upward for dozens of feet before merging into a leafy green roof through which lanced beams of sunlight. A dozen or so people were scattered about the chapel, sitting or talking in small groups. Many more were walking toward it through the meadow, civilians in their Sunday best, Rangers wearing their colorful U.S. Army Infantry uniforms.
Gladys joined them.
“This is lovely,” Dolley said. “Where do you conduct services when it rains?”
Gladys chuckled. “Right here, of course.”
“Outside? Doesn’t wet weather discourage attendance?”
“Just the opposite. Rangers might skip Sunday chapel services for any number of reasons, but nobody wants fellow soldiers to think he missed because he wasn’t tough enough for the weather.”
“That’s . . . crazy.”
Gladys winked at Sukey’s joyful Huzzah! and continued. “We had the largest attendance last January during a cold spell that dropped a foot of snow and froze the Allegheny from bank to bank. Half the men made a show of not wearing their coats, and two of the sergeants fanned themselves with dainty little pew-fans borrowed from the Presbyterian church.”
“Then the Sergeant Major caught them,” Colonel Scott said, joining them. Instead of buckskins he wore his elegant dress uniform, complete with pistol and saber. “Their punishment for disrespect was to build that cross. Took ’em an entire week. Ladies, shall we find our seats?”
Dolley took Colonel Scott’s proffered arm, and with Gladys on his other arm they marched into the chapel. Instead of stopping at the last row where Dolley usually sat, he continued down the center aisle, stopping at the first row centered on the pulpit.
The Chaplain saluted and then shook hands with Colonel Scott, greeted Dolley and Gladys, then pointed at Dolley, fingers shaped like a pistol. “Where’s your Ranger Buddy, young lady?”
Ranger Buddy? She followed the Chaplain’s gaze: Sukey, per the custom of Jemmy’s seldom-attended Episcopal Church, stood at the back, looking about for the pew set aside for servants. “May she . . . ?”
The Chaplain replied with a sharp whistle, and when he beckoned Sukey forward, the girl grinned and jogged down the aisle.
“Madam Dolley, I’d like to introduce my wife, Sherri, and my son, Jacob.”
Sergeant Major Mosey’s voice! Dolley turned and curtsied to the Sergeant Major in one motion, then found herself facing the woman who’d prayed with her in the church that first morning. She hugged Sherri and shook hands with Jacob, noting that the boy mirrored his mother’s somber demeanor but possessed his father’s laughing eyes.
Dozens of people were now entering the chapel, including a number of well-dressed civilian men surveying the crowd expectantly. “There seems to be quite a few here today, despite the good weather.”
Gladys followed her gaze. “They hope to snag you after the service and whisk you away.”
Dolley shuddered involuntarily, dreading the endless array of questions she’d receive from friendly people and conniving politicians alike.
“Don’t worry,” Colonel Scott interjected before she could respond. “We have a contingency plan to shield you.” He signaled to nobody in particular, and some fifty smartly dressed Rangers moved forward and filled every pew within twenty feet, with Sam and Joe taking the seats immediately behind hers.
Before sitting beside Dolley, Sukey turned to the grinning men, pointed at the cross, and said in a not-so-quiet voice, “I thought I recognized your handiwork.” Sam and Joe blushed furiously, prompting an amused shake of the head from Colonel Scott and loud guffaws from everyone else, loudest among them the Chaplain and Sergeant Major.
The service followed the familiar structure of an Episcopalian service, except that instead of an innocuous little homily, the Chaplain taught from the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. He described the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem: everyone, including families, mobilized to defend the city, and their capability and willingness to fight discouraged neighboring countries from attacking. He emphasized that national freedom required a strong military to discourage enemies from attacking, and to defeat them when they did.
“Soldiers fight as representatives of their nation. The most effective soldiers kill the enemy as unto the Lord, not out of anger or revenge. They know God determined the time and manner of their death before the creation of the Earth, and will shield them until that moment. They also know the moment they die they’ll be in His presence and receive a promotion, for to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Therefore, I’m going to dedicate the closing to anyone who isn’t certain their death will take them into the presence of the Lord.”
The Chaplain pulled the tarp from the curious object to the right of the pulpit, revealing an enormous artillery cannon of gleaming brass.
Sukey chuckled and whispered to Dolley, “Guess a loaded pistol wasn’t big enough for this crowd.”
The Chaplain held a three-inch lead soldier in one hand, and a five-inch black sphere in the other. “This tiny toy soldier represents you. This cannon represents your soul, and jammed way down inside is a twelve-pound iron shot, like this one, that represents your sins.”
He pointed to a red six-by-six-foot log square fifty yards in front of the cannon. “A perfect God must reject sin, so there is a barrier separating us from God. Die with these sins still in your soul and the Bible says you’ll spend eternity in the lake of fire. There’s no way this little guy can ever hope to remove the cannonball or destroy that barrier. He’s helpless and hopeless. That’s why God gave His Son the mission to infiltrate the devil’s world and die on the cross as a substitute for every sin committed by every human that would ever live. He succeeded, and that noble act placed a large gunpowder charge behind the cannonball. Then God the Holy Spirit primed the charge and laid the powder trail.”
He set the toy soldier atop the cannon, and then trickled a foot-long trail of gunpowder from the toy soldier to the vent, the vertical hole leading to the cannon’s main charge. He draped a half-inch matchcord about his neck, holding its smoldering end between thumb and forefinger.
“Your eternal salvation is paid for, the cannon is loaded and primed, and all you need to provide is the smallest spark of positive volition.” He blew on the matchcord until its end glowed orange. “Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, where you are sitting right now . . . believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou – shalt – be – saved.”
He touched the match cord to the powder trail, igniting it in a brilliant orange flash that blazed smokily along the top of the cannon, then flame spurted from the vent and—
Fire and smoke Boomed! from the cannon, rolling it backwards as the concussion from the blast gusted past Dolley and took her hat. The log barrier splintered into a hundred pieces, and an expanding ring of white smoke roiled past where it had been, dissipating into the air over the Allegheny.
The crowd stood and roared its approval. Dolley’s ears quit ringing about the time the Chaplain restored order.
“One last thing. This little fellow did nothing to fire the cannon, and he can do nothing to un-fire it. He can’t retrieve the cannon ball and jam it back into his soul. He can’t rebuild that barrier. He can’t collect the noise and smoke and convert it back into gunpowder. Once you decide to believe in Jesus Christ, there is no power in heaven or on earth that can separate you from the love of God.”
He gestured toward the front row. “Colonel Scott will now lead us in the closing prayer.”
The next five weeks flew by incredibly fast.
The Scotts began inviting guests to dinner, beginning with the Mosey family. The table discussions covered a wide range of topics that included almost everything except politics: Gladys explained soldiers swear allegiance to the Constitution, not individuals, and that political discussions among soldiers tended to muddy the waters and divide loyalties. Afterwards, Dolley and Sukey would often accompany the dinner guests back to their quarters to meet with other families assigned to the guest’s unit.
The infection in Major Brown’s leg grew worse, and the surgeon mentioned he might lose it. Dolley brought in a recent graduate from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine who had a practice in Greensburg, forty miles to the east. He saved Brown’s leg, stayed an extra week to treat others within the Regiment and Pittsburgh, and spent countless hours with the Regimental Surgeon, updating him on the latest medical discoveries.
Physical training sessions intensified and broadened: longer runs, heavier rucksacks, increased repetitions of push-aways, pull-aways, and a host of other diabolic exercises. There were incredibly challenging and interesting classes on topics ranging from long range patrolling to demolitions, each class requiring more doing than listening, each leaving them more confident and capable. Sam and Joe emphasized the importance of the women training as a team, “Ranger Buddies”, a concept Dolley found delightful. Dolley still had nightmares, but they were fewer and less devastating, largely consisting of explaining to corpses why she had killed them. Sukey’s nightmares had more to do with not being lethal enough to protect those she loved, and she used them to drive herself to train harder.
Dolley began to look for ways to repay the tremendous debt she owed the Regiment for helping her and Sukey. When Sam and Joe complained about the food quality in the mess hall, she began spending time with the cook, a talented but untrained peg-legged Ranger sergeant, and quality improved almost overnight. She began teaching the soldiers and ladies the waltz, and gave the wives classes on the latest Paris fashions, cooking, and hosting formal functions. Colonel Scott and Sergeant Major Mosey were hesitant to tell her of material shortfalls, but Sam and Joe had no such qualms, and she wrote a long letter to Jemmy, describing the Regiment in glowing terms. She also enumerated their shortages, and begged him to please, please see what he could do to help.
On the evening of 10 June, Colonel Scott announced the trial for the captured thief would begin the following day, and that both Dolley and Sukey would be called as witnesses.
11 June 1810, Fort Lafayette
Dolley sat in the guest room with Sukey, waiting to be summoned to the thief’s trial as a witness. There were two notable attendees: the sheriff of Greensburg, the village where they stayed the night before the attack, and a lawyer from Paxtang, a village near Harrisburg, to represent the thief. As witnesses, they could not observe the trial until after their testimony, so they sat in their room and relaxed, their first day of idleness since their arrival.
It was nearly noon, and the trial had been in session for hours. Both of them were working on their weapon belts, Sukey trying to figure out how to carry all the weapons she wanted to carry on her tiny waist, and Dolley punching additional holes in the leather belt so she could cinch it tighter around her shrinking waist.
Someone knocked on the door.
“Mrs. Madison, you’re next. If you would follow me, please.”
Colonel Scott had jurisdiction for reasons Dolley didn’t understand, and ran the proceedings as a military tribunal. The Enlisted Mess had been converted into a courtroom, and Dolley felt nervous as she walked to the witness chair; with her hand on the Bible, she swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth and sat. Sam had described the interior layout as if he were describing an enemy stronghold, and she was able to identify the judge (Colonel Scott), the jury (a panel of eight soldiers, a mix of officers, sergeants, and enlisted soldiers), the defense attorney (a pompous civilian who wore an impeccably tailored suit of expensive material and sat beside the thief), and the Ranger Captain serving as the prosecution (Sam called him the ‘attack attorney’). The thief wore a new suit, a stylish haircut, and heavy bandages about his jaw; he refused to look in her direction.
She was a “witness for the prosecution” so the prosecution began the questioning, asking her an enormous number of simple questions, such as ‘What time of day was it’, ‘Could you see people clearly’, and so on. Bit by painful bit he talked her through the entire attack, and, to her great surprise, she was able to answer each question directly, in a flat, unemotional voice.
“Is the man your servant captured in this room?”
“Would you point him out?”
The thief avoided her gaze as she pointed to him. “The man with the bandaged face.”
“Let the court note the witness pointed to the defendant. The prosecution rests.”
The defense attorney stood.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Madison.” The defense attorney smiled at her. “My name is Phineas Strom. How are you this fine day?”
“I am fine, thank you,” she said. We’ve never met, he knows me only by reputation, and he despises Jemmy—I can feel it. He doesn’t care about the man on trial, he’s here for another reason. Let’s see if that technique Henry Clay taught me really works. She smiled sweetly, and waited until a moment before he was about to speak. “And how are you, sir?” she asked in her sweetest voice.
“I’ll ask the—” He clamped his jaws shut. He’d snapped at her instinctively. Henry said lawyers used this technique to rattle witnesses; she had, instead, thrown him off tempo. Huzzah! Extra dessert for the congressman from Kentucky!
Strom smiled insincerely and cleared his throat. “I am fine, Madam.”
Without dropping her smile or removing her eyes from Strom, she noted the jury scowling at Strom.
“Please tell us, Mrs. Madison,” Strom shuffled his papers a bit, then regarded her, “what it felt like to murder those poor men.”
“Objection!” shouted the prosecutor.
“Sustained,” growled Colonel Scott. “You know better, Mr. Strom.”
Dolley dropped her smile and set a neutral expression on her face. The jury and spectators were livid. The thief’s expression, although partially masked by the bandages, began amused, then became horrified when he observed the jury glaring at him and Strom.
“Your honor,” said Dolley. “May I answer his question?”
Colonel Scott’s expression reflected surprise, Strom’s astonishment.
“Only if you wish to answer it, Madam,” Scott said.
“Thank you. Killing in self defense is not murder.” Strom opened his mouth to say something, and she continued in her loud from-the-gut voice, before Strom could interject. “Sacrificing his life”—she pointed to the thief—”to score political points is.” She glared at Strom, as if he were the criminal.
Courtroom spectators erupted in cheers and Colonel Scott shouted and hammered his gavel to quiet them. The thief stared at her, then at Strom, his eyes wide with panic and then anger. Strom glared at her, face flushing, fists balled, and actually took a step toward her, as if about to attack. Dolley matched him, glare for glare, eager, leaning forward, legs coiled beneath the chair, hoping he would attack so she could show off the boxing skills the Chaplain had been teaching them. Strom, surprised, stepped back.
“Order! Order! No more cheering from the spectators.” The room quieted. Scott, fighting not to smile, addressed Dolley. “Please, Madam, no more speeches.”
Dolley nodded and smiled, then regarded Strom and the thief, engaged in a heated, whispered discussion. She heard Strom call the man a ‘stupid fool’ and a few other names. Finally Strom stood.
“Your honor, my client no longer wishes to be defended by a competent, trained attorney.”
The thief stood, mumbled awkwardly into the bandages, then tore them off in frustration. “Bandages a dumb-fool idea, Strom. ‘Gain their sympathy’ he told me. Bah!”
“Did you have something to say, Mr. Murdoch?”
“Yes, your honor. I want a different lawyer, that captain you gave me before Strom showed up. Or her.” He pointed to Dolley! “I trust her more than this pompous jackass.”
The courtroom exploded with laughter and cheers, and as Scott pounded and called for order, Strom punched Murdoch, knocking him to the floor. The two men scuffled until uniformed soldiers pulled them apart. Strom struggled in the grip of the two soldiers, left eye swollen, face flushed with rage, glaring daggers at Dolley.
“I don’t get to testify? Why not?” Sukey cackled and thrust her knife into the air, then twisted it. “I was all ready to skewer him! Slice off his”—she glanced at Dolley—”uh, nose.”
Thank you, Lord, for sparing us from that ordeal! “Sam Murdoch, that’s the name of the thief, decided he wanted a different lawyer, so Colonel Scott re-appointed Captain Brennan, and recessed the court for two hours to let the two of them talk. They returned in just over an hour and Murdoch changed his plea from innocent to guilty. They hang him tomorrow morning.”
Sukey stared at her in wonder. “‘Cause of what you told them?”
“No. The sheriff of Greensburg testified first this morning, and presented an enormous amount of evidence against the man. Murdoch initially wanted to plead guilty, but Strom talked him into pleading innocent, probably so he could embarrass me on the witness stand.”
Dolley wondered if Sukey could handle the rest of it. She noted the girl’s expression and decided she could.
“Sukey, we weren’t the first people those men attacked. They’d taken six previous carriages over the past year. Men and boys were taken into the woods, tied, murdered, and often mutilated. Women and girls were taken to their camp and raped and tortured over days and weeks before being murdered. We were lucky.”
Sukey growled. “No, Mizz Dolley. We were trained!” Sukey threw her knife across the room, hard; Joe had hung a two-by-two foot wood target on the back wall, and the knife thunked! into it a hand’s breadth from the center. “Though I don’t know who trained me.”
Dolley laughed. “Not the Quakers?”
Sukey shook her head and sat on the bunk. “Remember the day we learned survival hunting, then sat around a council fire until after dark and told ghost stories?”
“I remember,” Dolley said. Sam and Joe taught them dozens of ways to catch fish and small game. They ate snared rabbit for dinner, sat around a council fire until the moon set, then learned night navigation using a compass and the stars.
“I’d done it before, Mizz Dolley.” Sukey shivered and Dolley sat next to her, hugged and held her close. “Don’t remember nothing else, just watching that kind of fire, listening to others tell stories.”
Dolley studied Sukey’s face, a blend of Negro and something else . . . perhaps Indian, given her straight black hair and high cheekbones. She’d tried over the years to probe the girl’s background without success, as each attempt seemed to drive Sukey more into her shell.
“What kind of feeling did that memory give you?”
“Same as I had here, this time. Warm and pleasant, like I was with friends. Or . . .”
“Or?” Dolley asked.
14 June 1810, Fort Lafayette
“On my shot. Ready . . . .” Sergeant Major Mosey fired the pistol into the air and two horses thundered across the start line, away from the crowd of spectators, into the first leg of the mounted combat course, ten feet apart, pistols drawn. They were the finalists, and the winner would be declared overall winner. Dolley cheered politely for Sergeant Sam Johnson, while Sukey did her best to deafen Dolley, screaming for Sergeant Joseph Killian in eardrum-piercing screeches of incredible volume.
Each rode a square course, two hundred yards on a side (the initial outbound leg together, then one split left, the other right), then engaged pistol and saber targets on both their left and right, several while the horse was in mid-jump over an obstacle. The final leg brought them together again, galloping within yards of the spectators from either end to converge in the middle, and while mounted engaged four two-hundred yard targets with their rifled carbines. Overall score was based on time of completion and accuracy with weapons; for the benefit of the spectators, saber targets fell when hit and gun targets consisted of iron plates that rang when hit.
Organization Day was an annual festival to celebrate the birth of the United States Army on 14 June 1775, the date Congress authorized ten companies of expert riflemen. The Regiment had assembled early that morning on a large field east of the fort to begin the competition. The area behind the spectators was sprinkled with tents of all sizes: Army tents holding weapon displays and regimental memorabilia, civilian tents selling food, liquor, and souvenirs. In addition to regimental soldiers and family members, hundreds of people from Pittsburgh were in attendance to watch the Rangers and, whenever possible, to either thank Dolley for being here or to give her messages of recommendation for her to carry back to Washington City.
“Joe finished first, Mizz Dolley! Joe finished first! Huzzah!!”
The Sergeant Major consulted the timekeepers and the four sergeants who had been spotting targets, then met with Colonel Scott, on the other side of Gladys.
“Killian’s faster time was trumped by Johnson’s accuracy.” Sergeant Major said. “Beat him by two points.” Sergeant Major glanced at Sukey. “Know what that means?”
“Yes, Sergeant Major!” Sukey said, scowling. “Fifty push-aways for letting an old man beat him, and the big lunk needs to spend more time with you on the range!”
Sukey hadn’t been very quiet in her reply, and Sam punched a blushing Joe in the arm before stopping a dozen yards away to stand at attention.
Sergeant Major grinned and gave Sukey a thumbs-up. The day after the trial, Sam and Joe began training together afternoons to prepare for the Organization Day competitions. They left Dolley and Sukey’s training in the hands of others; on two of those days, Sergeant Major, accompanied by Sherri and Jacob, taught them marksmanship. They had been incredibly effective classes: the man was spooky accurate with pistol and rifle and an excellent teacher. Sherri and Jacob helped tailor the instruction to accommodate their unique physical challenges, such as a right breast that always seemed to be in the way of Dolley’s carbine’s stock. (Jacob, trying to be helpful, had mentioned that the Amazonian warriors of Greek mythology burned off their right breast so they could fully draw a bow. Sherri, aghast, scolded him and sent him home to an early bedtime with no supper. Much later, Dolley discovered Sukey had sneaked out that night and delivered the lad an ammunition pouch stuffed with food.)
Dolley accompanied Colonel Scott and Sergeant Major Mosey as they marched forward, stopping in front of Sam.
“Madam Presidentress Dolley Madison will present the awards for the Mounted Combat Competition.” Sergeant Major bellowed. “In first place, with a total score of four hundred eighty one, Sergeant Samuel Johnson of Company A!”
The crowd cheered politely, Company A insanely, and Dolley presented Sam the first place award: a Ranger knife with a thick, foot-long blade, two inches wide, engraved with “1st Place Mounted Combat” and the Ranger motto of “Be Prepared”. It was no mere wall decoration, but a functional battle knife.
“Second place, with a total score of four hundred seventy-nine, Sergeant Joseph Killian of Company B.”
Sukey and Company B drowned out the more polite applause, and Dolley presented Joe a tomahawk, not one of the commemorative peace-pipe tomahawks seen in Washington, but a lethal battle-hawk whose head featured a five-inch main blade on one side and a nasty, stubby spike that tapered to a vicious chisel tip on the other. The blade’s engraving was identical to that on the knife, except that it proclaimed “2nd Place”.
“Dismounted competition is next!” boomed Mosey. “First Sergeants, set up the course!”
Sukey scampered out and gave Joe and Sam each a hug and kiss, chattering non-stop praise of their performance. She returned with Sam’s knife in one hand and Joe’s tomahawk in the other, grinning with delight. “The men asked me to hold these while Joe wins the next contest.”
Gladys laughed. “Sam actually said that?”
“Sam bet Joe a nickel, Mizz Gladys. That guarantees Joe will win.”
The Mounted Combat course was exacting, and Dolley hoped to run through it before leaving Fort Lafayette; in contrast, the Dismounted Combat course was brutal, and as Gladys and Sherri described it she prayed she’d never to have to run it. Ever!
The course stretched three hundred yards across the front of the spectator area. Starting at the extreme right, the men would encounter a firing position every thirty yards, and from that position shoot an iron plate painted white and hung from two ropes, at distances varying between ten and one hundred yards. After shooting the left-most target they’d sprint back to the center, climb atop a square tower by means of a dangling rope, and shoot an iron plate two hundred yards distant, then run for the finish line. The man with the fastest time won.
Of course, being Rangers, each year they made it a bit more difficult than the year before. Every man would wear a fifty pound rucksack, and could not advance past a firing position until he hit the target. Each man carried one more cartridge than there were targets on the course, so arriving at a target without a cartridge meant elimination, but arriving at the finish line with an extra cartridge meant a ten-second reduction in his overall time. Soldiers were eliminated if passed by another, or if another stepped into a firing position before they departed. Dolley examined the course through her telescope and winced at the nefarious obstacles between firing positions designed to tax strength and agility.
“This is horrific, Sherri! How many signed up? A dozen?”
“Everyone who wasn’t tasked with running the event.” She pointed to the crowd near the start line. “They drew lots earlier to determine starting order. Once they start, a man will begin the course every twenty seconds.”
“Mizz Sherri, do you know when Joe starts?”
“Joe came in second last year, so he starts next to last. Sam came in first, so he follows him, then Colonel Scott and Jack.”
“Angus and Jack run this?” Dolley asked, incredulous.
“Colonel Scott runs it to show the young folks he still can.” Sherri giggled. “Jack just likes to show off.”
A pistol shot announced the start of the event.
It was the craziest thing Dolley had ever seen. The first soldier did extremely well, hitting every target, negotiating every obstacle, a strong sprint to the center tower well ahead of the next man . . . but twice missed the two-hundred yard target and plopped onto the ground behind the tower in disgust. Soldiers laughed as they passed other soldiers, eliminating them, then were themselves passed and eliminated. The single-log bridge over the mud pit eliminated a dozen: the log rolled side to side, tumbling men into the mud, and before many could clamber out and retry they were overtaken by the man behind them. Men made it to the final dash to the finish, gasping raggedly for breath as they tottered toward the finish line, only to be passed by another, tottering just a bit faster, a dozen feet from the end. Every twenty seconds a new man entered the course, every second some calamitous drama played out somewhere, eliminating more and more participants. But to Dolley’s amazement the vast majority actually completed the course. It was exhilarating to watch and time passed swiftly until, finally, most lay exhausted at the end. A dozen were actively running the course, some fifty eliminated men sat in clumps about the course shouting encouragement, and there were just four men left at the starting line. Dolley was chatting with Sherri Mosey when Sukey’s Cherokee war cry indicated Joe’s start.
Joe carried both a musket and a rifle, permissible as long as the total number of cartridges didn’t exceed ten. He eyeballed approaching targets, loaded the smoothbore on the run for close targets, and used the slower-loading rifle only when absolutely necessary. He ran smooth and fast, loping effortlessly as if the rucksack didn’t exist, passing soldier after soldier as Sukey’s screams curdled Dolley’s brain.
Sam, somehow, didn’t fall far behind. He carried a rifled carbine similar to Dolley’s and was somehow able to load it on the run, a trick she envied since she still struggled to load it with the buttstock firmly on the ground. Sam’s technique for clearing obstacles was better, as was his marksmanship, and where Joe frequently had to jump around those he passed and eliminated, Sam had only Joe ahead of him. At the three-hundred yard point Joe missed the target, switched to an already loaded rifle and hit the target. Colonel Scott was now churning through the course far behind Sam.
Joe sprinted toward the center platform, rifle in hand, musket slung on his back. He had one cartridge left for the last target and none to spare, he not only had to stay ahead of Sam, he had to beat him by the twenty second difference in their start times, plus the time deduction should Sam finish with an unfired cartridge. Joe ignored the rope and muscled his way to the tower’s top, hit the two hundred yard target and leaped from the platform, staggered a few paces and then ran faster than Dolley thought a human could run until he crossed the finish line. Sam arrived at the center, climbed the platform, shot and hit the target, then sprinted across the finish line and collapsed next to Joe. Seconds later Colonel Scott began the sprint toward the center, and Sergeant Major . . . ?
Sherri giggled and pointed to the start line: Sergeant Major Mosey was doing exaggerated calisthenics: toe touching, knee bends, silly turn and bounce and touch and kick exercises that had the spectators guffawing loudly.
Colonel Scott crossed the finish line to thunderous applause, and Sergeant Major did an exaggerated double take.
“When can I start?” he bellowed at a soldier. “Five minutes ago? Why didn’t you tell me!”
Sherri unleashed a scream identical to Sukey’s—and just as loud—as Jack ran to the first position, the target one hundred yards distant, and shot one of the ropes holding it, reloaded and shot the other rope; the target plopped to the ground and the crowd cheered. He next encountered the one-log bridge: bellowing in anger, he hefted the log and used it as a battering ram to demolish the nearby target. He continued down the course, demolishing each obstacle in a creative, hilarious manner, physically destroying close targets and shooting the ropes off far targets. The spectators were on their feet, screaming wildly as he ran to the center platform. Instead of climbing it, he rolled it upside down and stepped daintily onto the platform, raised his rifle and shot first one rope, then the other, from the two-hundred yard target. Hundreds screamed with Sukey-like volume as he crossed the finish line, arms in the air, welcomed by Sam and Joe, on their knees, arms raised, bowing repeatedly to him in homage.
Sukey and Sherri screamed the Cherokee war cry together and exchanged grins.
“He does that every year,” Gladys shouted to Dolley over the crowd. “If he hadn’t joined the Army I’m sure he’d be in the circus. I think the town folk attend just to watch him perform. ”
A few minutes later the Sergeant Major and the Colonel had returned, drenched in sweat but otherwise showing no sign of the ordeal they had just been through.
Colonel Scott raised his hands for silence. “First Place in the Dismounted Combat competition goes to . . . Sergeant Major Mosey!”
The Sergeant Major clasped his hands over his head as the crowd thundered their approval. On cue, Major Tully ran up the Colonel and pretended to whisper in his ear.
“Wait. My Adjutant reminded me that the Sergeant Major violated the rules when he demolished the course, and is therefore disqualified.”
“Sergeants Killian and Johnson, front and center!” The two men ran over and stood at attention. “The winner of the Dismounted Combat competition, with a total score of 253 points, is Sergeant Joseph Killian of Company B. In second place, with a total score of 251, is Sergeant Samuel Johnson, Company A.”
Dolley presented the awards, grateful to be away from Sukey, praying her ears would stop ringing.
14 June 1810 Evening, Fort Lafayette
Dolley walked in the dark alone, following the road between Pittsburgh’s tavern district and Fort Lafayette, sorting through a confused jumble of thoughts.
She’d been involved with politics since the day her mother accepted boarders into her Philadelphia home, all of them politicians in the process of building a new nation. This intensified with her friendship to Aaron Burr, her sister Lucy’s marriage to George Washington’s nephew, and then her own marriage to Jemmy. For more than sixteen years she’d experienced the ebb and flow of political victories and defeats, parties and gatherings, and yet she’d never experienced anything like the riotous celebration at the Silken Lanyard, a large tavern, owned by a former colonel in the Continental Army.
Joe and Sam wanted to celebrate their victories, so she offered to buy drinks for the entire leadership of Companies A and B, captains to corporals, and these men proceeded to make merry like politicians celebrating a victory at the polls. When officers and sergeants from Companies C and D burst through the door, Dolley tensed for the inevitable fight; she had seen such happen when Federalists once intruded into a tavern full of boisterous Democratic-Republicans. The men from Companies A and B leaped to their feet, and—to Dolley’s absolute amazement—welcomed them as comrades in arms. She tossed the owner a few more gold coins and spent two hours chatting and dancing with the men. They were all fierce competitors, each convinced their company was the best, every one of them understanding the purpose of the competition was to hone their combat skills so that they might, together, destroy the enemy. This revelation inspired her, but at the same time sickened her when she considered the never-ending bickering among political opponents. She needed some time to sort things out, so she entrusted Sukey to Joe, turned down a dozen offers of escort, and headed back to the fort alone.
The night was dark, the moon faint, and the road passed by several noisy taverns, then into a neighborhood of rustic wooden houses. The houses thinned out as she approached the fort, the space between houses filled with thick trees and shadowed underbrush, and the last quarter mile, she knew, had no houses at all until nearly at the fort’s gate.
She spied movement to her front, four shapes, on the road, walking toward her in the gloom.
She continued to walk, planning an evasion route to the right should they attack. She wished she at least had her father’s knife, but knew it wouldn’t do much good against four large men. They were twenty feet away before she recognized the buckskin tunics of Rangers and felt a sensation of giddy relief.
“Be prepared, gentlemen!” she called out, and laughed when they responded in kind.
“Out by yourself, Mrs. Madison?” one of them asked. “Can we escort you back to the fort?”
“No thanks, gentlemen. I can find it on my own.”
“I can’t,” said a large, deep-voiced man on the end. “You mind walkin’ me back? The dark scares me.”
“Me, too,” said another, and the rest began describing the terrors of the darkness that frightened them most.
Dolley laughed and thanked them profusely, then the five of them walked to Fort Lafayette, a Ranger on each of her arms, all chatting merrily until they arrived at the Scott’s quarters. She bade them a good night and watched as they returned to Pittsburgh, laughing and joking in the manner of soldiers. Just before disappearing into the gloom, they were joined by several others, emerging from the trees.
They followed me! Did they think I’d get lost? She entered the house. Colonel Scott and Sergeant Major Mosey were sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and reviewing a stack of papers. Both arose when she entered, and she shooed them back to their seats, poured herself a cup of coffee and sat at the table.
“Scores from today’s competition,” explained Colonel Scott. He handed her a tally of the scores for each event.
Joe and Sam were the clear winners, but not by much. At least a dozen Rangers came within ten points of their score, and three-quarters of the participants scored within thirty points. “Impressive! How do you do it?”
“I ask Colonel Scott what he wants the men to be able to do, then design training to get us there,” Mosey said.
“I ask Jack what he needs to execute his training,” Scott added, “then give it to him and get out of the way.”
So simple. “Sam and Joe are always telling us we’ll fight the way we train, so we must train the way we intend to fight.”
“Good lads,” Mosey said, then grinned. “For a couple meat-heads.”
Colonel Scott handed Dolley a letter. “By the way, the supplies I’ve been requesting for almost a year are being assembled as we speak. It seems somebody lit a fire under the War Department. I don’t suppose you had anything to do with it?”
She smiled and batted her eyes. “I would never interfere with the War Department’s efficient logistical support of our brave men serving in far-flung outposts.”
The men guffawed, and Scott continued. “When you decide to return home, we’ll send two platoons as escort. They’ll guard you on the journey out, then escort those supply wagons back.”
“Thank you, gentlemen! Tonight has been full of surprises.” She told them of the peaceful meeting in the tavern and the secretive escort home. “Frankly, I’m not sure what to make of it.”
“What you observed in the tavern is esprit de corps,” Scott said. “The bond between men who share a common objective and set of beliefs.”
“Many people think we choose to be soldiers because we enjoy killing, or because we can’t find other work,” Mosey said. “It’s the camaraderie that keeps us going. In combat we fight for each other, our Ranger Buddies and our Regiment. We don’t want to let them down.”
“I thought you fought to defend the Constitution?” she asked.
Mosey grinned. “Well, were you thinking about the Constitution when you fought off those brigands?”
“No.” Dolley surprised herself by laughing. “Point taken.”
“What you observed on the walk home,” Scott said, “were Rangers obeying our directive to protect you at all times.”
Mosey nodded. “Madam, you are more valuable to this nation than you realize.”
“I’m just the President’s wife. There have been other wives in the past, will be more in the future.”
“Both Martha Washington and Abigail Adams stayed in the background,” Scott said. “You stepped up to help the widower Jefferson coordinate his social activities, then proceeded to mend the rifts caused by his, uh . . . .”
“Studied indifference to protocol and manners?” Dolley smiled and rolled her eyes. “You don’t know the half of it.”
The men laughed, and Scott continued. “You heal rifts between political factions, serve as the ambassador of good will to foreign representatives, and take time to visit God-forsaken backwater outposts like this for no other reason than to help.”
“The people adore you,” Mosey added, “and that will scare the Hell out of those who favor discarding the Constitution in favor of a tyrannical government controlled by themselves.”
“Are you referring to Colonel Burr’s trial for treason?”
“Not at all. We’re referring to those who falsely accused him of doing what they, themselves, desire to do. These men are powerful and dangerous and will not hesitate to eliminate a meddlesome Presidentress.”
Dolley felt a cold chill. “What should I do?”
“You must understand the threat and be prepared,” Scott said. “As will we.”
The two men exchanged looks and seemed to come to a consensus.
“Please keep what I’m about to tell you in strictest confidence,” Scott said. “It is two hundred miles from here to Washington City, but should you require our protection we can be there with two hundred Rangers in under three days. We’ve already drawn up the plans, known only to a few of us. My adjutant, Major Tully, will accompany you to Washington and perform a detailed reconnaissance of the route. Call, and we’ll come running.”
“Thank you. I’ll keep it to myself, but I don’t understand the need for secrecy.”
Scott sighed. “If certain parties knew of our ability and intention to thwart an overthrow of the government, they’d destroy us.”
“Destroy you? From what I’ve seen your regiment can whip anything sent against it.”
“Do you remember how King David murdered Uriah the Hittite so he could steal his wife, Bathsheba?” asked Mosey.
Dolley recalled the story. Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, was an officer within David’s ‘mighty men of valor’, an elite group of warriors, his Rangers. David commanded his general to place the man in the front lines. When the enemy attacked, the general withdrew the rest of the army, leaving Uriah to face the enemy alone and die. She nodded.
“During the Revolutionary War,” Mosey said, “Colonel Thomas Knowlton uncovered conclusive evidence of treason about one of our senior officers, but the British attacked at Harlem Heights before he could present it to Washington. In the heat of battle, that senior officer ordered Knowlton’s Rangers to attack, then withdrew the units on their flanks. Knowlton and most of his men were murdered, right under Washington’s nose, and the evidence lost. That could happen to us.”
4 July 1810, Fort Lafayette
Dolley ran, arms and legs pumping, lungs afire, trying to ignore the sharp pain in her side. “Run Sukey,” she shouted to the girl beside her. “You can do it!”
Sukey was gasping for air, struggling to keep up, her short legs pumping out three steps for every one of Joe’s loping strides.
“Almost there, ladies. Just a bit farther,” Sam said, running at her side.
“Finish line just a quarter-mile ahead, the big elm,” Joe said from Sukey’s far side. “Shall I slow the—”
“No!” Sukey grunted, eliciting chuckles from those nearby, including Colonel Scott, Sergeant Major Mosey, and the Chaplain.
Although they departed tomorrow for Washington, Dolley had insisted on a full morning of training, and Colonel Scott agreed if the Regiment could accompany her. She’d been embarrassed at first, knowing her abilities paled next to those of the men, but Gladys and Sherri talked her into it by assuring her the soldiers would love it.
They ran in silence, passed the big elm, and slowed to a walk. Four miles! I actually ran four miles at their pace! Dolley raised her arms to the rising sun and screamed the Cherokee war cry, joined by Sukey and the Rangers in formation behind them.
Colonel Scott halted the Regiment and led them in fifty push-aways, fifty sit-ups, fifty squatting exercises, and finally fifty flutter kicks, each performed to his bellowed cadence. It was grueling, exhausting, but she and Sukey had done it before and both managed to keep up, delighting the Rangers. Colonel Scott turned the formation over to Sergeant Major Mosey, who announced the next formation would be in two hours, and dismissed the Rangers to breakfast.
Two hours later Dolley rode with Company A as they trotted down the forest path toward Braddock’s Field, eight miles east of Fort Lafayette, the location where the French and their Indian allies ambushed General Braddock’s expedition in 1755. The Regiment was moving by infiltration, each company trotting along a separate trail, and would assemble on Braddock’s Field before attacking a nearby enemy encampment. For security, each company had pushed forward a one-platoon advanced guard, each platoon advanced guard had pushed forward a one-squad advanced guard, and that squad had pushed forward two brave Rangers.
Or, in the case of Company A, one Ranger and one Presidentress. Dolley glanced at Sam, riding beside her. “The squad is out of sight. How do we warn them if we’re attacked?”
“Easy! The volley that kills us provides the warning.”
“What if we survive?”
“Then try not to kill them all before the platoon leader arrives. He needs the exercise.”
“What if we see them and they don’t see us?”
“Then try not to kill them all before the platoon leader arrives, because—”
“He needs the exercise. Got it.” Pesky Rangers.
“Keep a sharp eye out, though. Colonel Scott usually tasks men to pretend they are enemy to ambush unwary platoons, and their muskets shoot red clay wadding that stings.”
Dolley nodded, and as her horse trotted down the trail, she peered into the forest studying the shapes and shadows, determined to spot the enemy before Sam. It was exhausting work, and the flickering shadows were beginning to give her a headache when, an hour later, the forest to their front brightened and they emerged into a large field.
Dolley squinted in the brilliant sunlight and rubbed her forehead. “No ambush?”
“No. Colonel ordered his ambushers, Joe and me, to accompany the Regiment.”
“Gotta secure the far side. Follow me.”
Sam kicked his horse into a gallop and they rode across the meadow, stopping just after entering the trees on the far side. Their squad followed them and plunged deeper into the forest, fanning out, as if searching for the enemy. The platoon behind it fragmented into squads, each securing a different part of the clearing’s edge.
Minutes later two horses shot into the clearing, far to the north.
“Joe and Sukey.” Sam handed her his telescope.
She’d never seen Sukey happier, hair in braids, war paint across her face, blunderbuss slung across her shoulder, her expression one of pure ecstasy.
Sam pointed. “There’s the Regimental command group. Won’t be long now.”
It wasn’t. The Regiment formed into a column within minutes and moved to the northeast at a fast walk, following the clearing. At a command from Colonel Scott each company formed itself into a long line, stretching from one side of the clearing to another. Company A was leading, and she and Sam were in the center. Twenty yards behind them rode Company B, Joe and the ecstatic Sukey also in the center.
They turned to the east; a half-mile ahead were dozens of white tents, the smoke from dozens of cooking fires rising into the air, and, dozens and dozens of men, each wearing the red of British Infantry!
Another command, and the company increased its speed to a trot, riding toward the encampment. Flashes and puffs of smoke came from the camp, and moments later the thump of musket fire.
“Oh, no.” Sam appeared grim, worried about something. “Oh, no!”
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“This was why Colonel Scott told me not to bring you along. I’m done for now.”
The company increased to a canter, the enemy encampment three hundred yards away.
“I’m not supposed to be here? Why? What’s wrong?”
“Canadian raiding force! Those are real enemy, with real guns.” He mopped sweat from his forehead. “Stay close to me, fight the way we trained and we should all survive.”
Real enemy? They certainly look real. They have a cannon!
The cannon blew a column of smoke toward her, and moments later an ear-splitting Boom! rattled her teeth. Another command from the company commander: Sam and the other Rangers drew sabers and the company accelerated to a gallop, the Rangers about her shouting in glee as they charged toward the enemy camp. Dolley galloped beside Sam, screaming the Cherokee war cry, saber clutched in her fist though she didn’t remember drawing it. The camp drew closer, the enemy larger, their uniforms ragged, their bodies emaciated, thin and willowy, and then they were among them, her saber taking the head from a tall, stick-like sergeant then slicing through the side of a tent, collapsing it. Just like training! Company A thundered beyond the camp, looking for more enemy and getting out of the way of Company B’s charge.
I survived! Sam survived!
The company slowed to a trot, and she heard the shouting of Company B as it charged through the camp, the clear, high voice of Sukey prominent among them. She sheathed her saber, puzzled by the lack of blood, recalling the enemy she’d decapitated, separating his tall, red hat from his body, and blade slicing cleanly through his scrawny neck, no bigger around than a . . . a . . . stick?
The Rangers about her weren’t acting as if they’d just won a battle, but more like they’d just finished a training exercise, grinning and flashing her the thumbs-up sign of approval. Company C screamed as they charged through the enemy camp.
Sam was watching her, fighting a grin.
“Canadians my foot. You tricked me!”
“You were starting to look bored.”
That evening the Regiment held a Retreat Ceremony in Dolley’s honor. The Rangers stood in formation wearing dress uniforms, the drummer pounded out a complicated cadence, a cannon fired, and all saluted as the flag was lowered.
Gladys and Sherri led the Regiment’s forty or so wives forward and they returned Dolley’s green satin dress, the one she’d worn the day of the attack, the one she’d given up on after seeing the damage. The ladies replaced the ruined trim at cuffs and hem with soft, colorfully beaded doeskin, adding additional embroidery and bead work about the bodice, swirling, intricate designs of forest creatures, a woodland lake, trees, and amongst the shadows the subtle shapes of buckskin-clad Rangers. The skirt had been split so that it resembled a pair of baggy trousers, practically undetectable when standing, but perfect when astride a horse; it was gorgeous.
Colonel Scott asked Sukey to stand next to Dolley. “As you all know, on the trip to Fort Lafayette Mrs. Madison’s party was ambushed by a notorious band of outlaws.” He explained what happened in detail, embarrassing Dolley and eliciting screams and cheers from the Regiment. “Had any of you done this, I would have recommended a medal for gallantry.”
Oh no! Medals must go through the War Department, which means Jemmy will hear of it, which means he’ll never let me out of Washington again!
“However,” continued Scott, “after consulting with my higher headquarters”—he gestured to Gladys, and everyone laughed—”I was persuaded that such an honor might result in Mrs. Madison’s confinement to Washington City. Therefore it is my distinct honor to present each of these brave ladies with a pocket pistol engraved with our motto, Be Prepared!, and to proclaim Presidentress Dolley Payne Madison an Honorary Ranger. Adjutant, post the orders!”
Major Tully read the citation and Dolley wondered if he had the wrong orders. I punched a guy, I squashed a guy, I shot a guy, I puked my guts out and bawled hysterically—what part of that was ‘conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity worthy of emulation’?
Dinner was served outside under the stars, followed by a dance with music provided by a dozen soldiers on a variety of instruments. Though tired from a long day of training, Dolley drew energy from the crowd, and made it a point to dance and chat with as many different people as possible.
Footsore, exhausted, and at peace with the world, she eased open the door to their room well after midnight, expecting to find the lights out and Sukey snoring.
The lamps were lit.
Sukey stood with her right shoulder turned toward the mirror, ramrod straight, breathing slowly and deeply . . . her hand raised, holding a pocket pistol, and when it pointed at the mirror its hammer sparked against the frizzen. She stood for three seconds then lowered the pistol, and sighed.
“Not bad,” Dolley said.
“Jerked the trigger. Hit the ear.” Sukey sounded disappointed.
“Would Joe make a good husband?”
“From what I’ve seen, yes.”
“I think so, too.” She sighed and sat on her cot. “I’m just not sure I’d make him a good wife.”
“The wife of a Ranger like Joe Killian should be an expert at the Ranger skills we learned here. Otherwise she wouldn’t be able to keep up with him and he’d leave her at home to fight the enemy by himself.”
“Uh . . . .”
“Mr. Madison couldn’t fight the Federalists without your help. Remember the time you fell ill and let him host your party?”
“How could I forget? Took an entire week to answer all those Get Well Soon letters.”
“Can we continue training when we get home? Please? I want to become the perfect Ranger wife, for Joe.”
“Of course. And don’t forget to write him letters. I can help you there, too.”
Sukey brightened immediately. “A few letters like the ones you write and he’ll visit us before Christmas!”
Which letters? My letters to Jemmy? The ones I send by the post office are bland. But the sealed “For The President’s Eyes Only” letters I send by military courier are very personal, unsuitable for anyone beside Jemmy. Certainly not for a love-smitten fourteen year old girl to read or, heaven forbid, send to a young man! Were they locked away? Could Sukey have found them? Read them?
Dolley studied Sukey’s innocent, sweet smile. That’s almost the same smile I use on Jemmy when I’ve let slip something . . . .
“I especially liked the tactful note you sent to Mizz Lucy,” Sukey said, bubbling with enthusiasm, “thanking her for that dress fabric you hated so much. My favorite was the note to Mr. Monroe, begging him to attend the Christmas Eve social and say nice things about that Connecticut Federalist. I hung around all evening just to see if he would. And he did!”
Dolley smiled. Ah, yes, the Monroe letter. A masterpiece. Dolley chuckled in remembrance and in relief, and Sukey joined in with a giggle that hardly sounded forced at all.