As Midnight moved quietly along the dark road, Tom wondered what was going on in town.
He wondered if Uncle Josiah was home, for it was very late. He also wished he hadn’t had to leave his brother. Even though Nate was doing better, Tom was worried that their enemies would return and that Nate would be hurt.
Ethan, riding in front of him on the chocolate brown horse, seemed to know what he was thinking about. “They don’t even know Nate. He’ll be safe even if they come back. Besides, those nurses and that doctor will protect him— you can be sure of that.”
Tom nodded. “I know. I hope all those men are home in bed by now—or better yet, arrested!”
“Shhh!” this from Ethan’s father. “I don’t think we can count on either one. Let me listen….” Then suddenly he exclaimed, “they’re out there! Go!”
The man urged his horse into action and Ginger bolted. Midnight followed as Ethan and Tom suddenly saw a huge shadow.
“Come on! Don’t let ‘em get away this time!” came a shout, and suddenly a half dozen men on horseback were after them!
“Follow me!” said the doctor.
“Father knows a shortcut. If we can just get around this bend!”
They urged their horses on even faster, and their pursuers lagged behind—for just a moment. The three fugitives rounded the bend, and the doctor slowed his horse suddenly.
Ethan pulled Midnight up as well, and they quickly followed Ginger into the forest.
“Quiet now! Don’t move!” whispered the father, urgently.
The group pounded past and Tom saw that there were more than he’d thought at first.
“Now, quick.” Doctor Haskins turned his horse and led them down a narrow trail and through some brush. A few minutes later, the way opened and they had more room to move about.
“Let’s stay here for a minute. They’ll be back and looking for us—get out your weapons, both of you—”
If it hadn’t been so dark, they would have seen his mouth open in horror. And it was Ethan who gasped, “they’re still back under that cot!”
His father groaned, “Am I daft? But I was so concerned about Nate that I completely forgot! Quiet everyone! They’re back already!”
Unfortunately, the moon started to move out from behind a cloud. A sliver of light filtered through the trees into the small clearing. Quietly, Tom’s hand went to his pocket. He pulled out his slingshot. In his other pocket were several large stones. He fitted one into place as their pursuers entered the woods on both sides of the road, calling to each other and moving through the brush. They didn’t care how much noise they were making; they were systematically searching the area. Someone was coming closer, maybe two. Tom watched carefully. He wasn’t aiming to just scare this time, he needed to disable them.
Moonlight streamed through just then as the moon came out fully. The shadowy figure that appeared was not a surprise, what with all the noise he was making.
Zi-i-ip! The stone zoomed at him! It hit with a thud and the man cried out, and slipped from his horse. The horse thrashed a bit, then turned, trying to run in the thick forest. The next stone met its mark, as well.
“Hey! Ow!” The horse shied, throwing his rider. Both animals disappeared back along the narrow trail, neighing in fear.
The doctor quickly checked the men. “They’ll be fine. Let’s go!”
He led the way through the small clearing. The moonlight helped him find his way as the trail narrowed again.
“I lived over here when I was a boy,” the doctor explained to Tom. “I know these woods. But so do they. We’ve got to move fast before they find those two.”
Tom didn’t know how the doctor managed as the moon passed in and out behind clouds. At some points the trees closed over them, making the way as black as pitch.
Finally the doctor said, “we’re almost there. We’re coming to the road again. We need to cross it to find the back trail to your uncle’s. But I think we’re all right.”
They cautiously approached the road. All was quiet.
“We just made a big half circle, really. If we’d gone further, we would have come to the old water hole where we used to swim. They must be still back there searching.”
They crossed the road, passed by a field and a barn, and turned down a trail. Soon they came into a wooded area again, though not as dense. The moon shone brightly, so they were careful. There might be more men watching for them.
It was quite some time before they came out onto the slopes and hills behind Uncle Josiah’s property. Finally they crossed the small field that Simon had plowed that very day. The barn came into sight.
“A light! What’s someone doing out here in the middle of the night?” asked Tom.
“It’s not really the middle of the night. It’s close to dawn. Or maybe your uncle just got back.”
They quietly dismounted and Tom drew open the barn door.
It was Simon, shoeing a horse—Uncle Josiah’s horse.
“Tom! You’re safe. And the doctor and Ethan! Go in quick, I’ll take care of your horses. Mister Josiah is meeting with the council inside. What a to-do when Mister Robert came riding in with his story. You reap what you sow, the Good Book says and that drunken mob will be paying for this night’s frivolity, that’s sure! Go get some food and drink.”
“Thank you, Simon,” said Doctor Haskins.
As Tom opened the back door, Molly met them. “Oh, Master Tom! You’re safe! Go on in, all of you. I’ll bring you something to eat.”
There seemed to be a commotion going on in the parlor. Everyone was talking at once. But when the three appeared at the door, the councilmen all stopped in stunned silence.
Suddenly there was all kinds of welcoming and chattering, and then Molly came in with ale for the doctor and hot drinks for the boys.
“But what are you doing here? I thought you were going to the inn in Bridgeton. Though I’m afraid Robert’s story was rather garbled, he was so excited. He was trying to find the constable and the judge. And what about Nathanial?”
They told the men everything and Uncle Josiah said, “well, I’m not sure it’s safe here yet, especially after what you’ve told us about those men you encountered.”
“Isn’t the constable going to arrest everyone? And punish them for the fire!” exclaimed Tom, angrily. “Aren’t they going to be made to pay for the loss or rebuild their house—or something!”
Doctor Haskins touched his arm to quiet him. “What else? I can see there’s more going on than just my problems.”
“There is. I’m still concerned for your safety. We would try to work it all out and figure out who was to blame and all but….”
“But what!” asked Tom, indignantly.
The men all looked at him sternly but his uncle continued, “I’m afraid the army didn’t get very far. The British attacked again, and they’ve circled around and are heading here. We need to evacuate the town. Now. This is going to be a battle ground very soon. I’m afraid it may be a long time before your property—”
The doctor interrupted with a dismissive wave. “What we have to do is gather supplies and be ready to get another hospital set up! I’m sure the one at the church already has all that it can handle. Get horses and wagons! Get all the food and supplies and medicine the town has!”
Another man jumped up. “The constable’s already going around town, but I’ll go help. People won’t want to evacuate but they must! We don’t know which the direction the battle will end up taking and we must be ready!”
“I’ll get all the able bodied men!” said another. “There’s not many—they’re mostly all in our army already. But we’ll gather all the weapons we can!”
They and several others hurried out of the room.
“We were just trying to get organized when you came,” Uncle Josiah told the doctor. “There’s much to do. Lets see, Steven, you said that you sent messengers to find out the army’s whereabouts now and how we’re doing in the battle. And Clayton…”
“Let me work on the west side of town!” the man said. “There’s several widows over there. Plus Miss Abrams, the school teacher. She can take care of the orphanage. Perhaps we’d best take them all back the way you came, Aaron.”
“You’ll meet up with those men!” said Ethan.
“We’ll take care of them! We’ll get the people on the road to Bridgeton. It’s a ways but it’s a big town with several inns.”
Tom had been looking forward to a good breakfast and then bed, but he was too excited to feel sleepy.
“What can we do?” Ethan took the words out of his mouth.
“Don’t worry, they’ll be plenty. For now, help Doctor Haskins. Aaron—go get Simon! He doesn’t even know what’s going on. I was in such a hurry and he was so busy telling me about you all that he wasn’t listening about the army. Get my wagon and buggy and fill them with supplies for the hospital. Get them somewhere safe where they’ll be ready to use.”
The doctor and the boys ran out into the street, toward the General store. Ethan was sent to the local doctor’s office. Though the man was probably at the hospital, a nurse would be there.
“There won’t be much medicine but get what you can.”
The town was in an uproar by now, people running here and there, hitching horses and wagons and getting out of town. Others were dragging things out of their houses to take along, and many were crying in fear. Many of the people who had been in on the raid could have been running right by them, and they wouldn’t even know or care right now.
In the midst of it all, a messenger came galloping in. “They’re not far and they’re coming this way. And we aren’t doing well. The British have us! Our side is in full retreat!”
“With their cannon and all, there may be no town left by the time they get done!” shouted somebody.
“The hospital at the church is going to be right in the line of fire,” shouted Dr. Haskins. “We’ve got to evacuate them, too. If anyone has extra wagons, bring them!”
But few were paying attention. They were saving themselves, getting their wives and families out as fast as possible.
Suddenly Tom could hear the sound of gunfire. They were coming already! American soldiers were fleeing into town. Others were regrouping and shooting back. Commanders were shouting out orders. And in the distance, Tom could see the red coats of their enemies.
A grubby, wounded man nearby fell from exhaustion. Doctor Haskins went to his knees to see to the man, but suddenly Ethan grabbed up the soldier’s rifle.
“I’m going to help!” he cried.
“Ethan!” the doctor shouted, but the boy was already running toward the battle.
What can I do to help, wondered Tom….
To be continued….