The Path to Free­dom

The Denver Post - - COLORADO KIDS -

Chap­ter Two: The Mili­tia Called Out

(Luke Van Gelder was gath­er­ing fire­wood with his horses when his sis­ter Sylvie told him the Bri­tish have be­gun their in­va­sion and the mili­tia has been called out.)

Adozen men were talk­ing to Luke and Sylvie’s fa­ther in the door­yard as they came out of the woods. Their mother and grand­fa­ther were stand­ing at the door; the two younger chil­dren look­ing out around their mother’s skirts.

“They want the horses,” Sylvie warned him qui­etly, be­fore they were close enough to be heard.

“They can’t have the horses,” Luke replied, putting his hand on David’s smooth, brown cheek as they walked along.

Sylvie smiled over at him. “They’re go­ing to take the horses, lit­tle brother. I’m just telling you. They’re tak­ing all the horses and carts, all over. And the oxen.”

As the cart and two horses ap­proached the lit­tle house, John Van Gelder looked away from the uni­formed men he’d been talk­ing to.

“Go ahead and un­load the wood,” he called out to Luke.

Sylvie went to stand with their mother; Luke led David and Jonathan around to the back of the house to the wood­pile and be­gan to take the fire­wood from the cart and stack it on the pile.

Four of the men in front of the house were neigh­bors, with packs on their backs and their hunt­ing ri­fles in their hands. The oth­ers were in uni­form, mili­tia from Al­bany.

Al­bany mili­tia had come by be­fore to re­mind the men of Fort Ed­ward to be ready to march away when the time came. Now that time had come, and John Van Gelder would be leav­ing with the other men in the neigh­bor­hood, to join Gen­eral Schuyler’s army and face Bur­goyne.

They had warned the lo­cal mili­tia to be ready, but they hadn’t said any­thing about horses. When the cart was empty, Luke was tempted to take David and Jonathan to the barn, un­hitch them and take off their har­ness, but he knew bet­ter. He led them back around to the front of the house.

And he de­cided to lie.

“If the horses are go­ing along, I’ll vol­un­teer to go, too, as a wagoner,” he said to the of­fi­cer of the Al­bany mili­tia.

The lieu­tenant looked him up and down for a mo­ment. “Are you six­teen years old, son?” he asked.

It was only a lit­tle bit of a lie, only two years. A year and a half, re­ally. And Luke was tall for his age, with strong arms and shoul­ders from swing­ing the ax and help­ing at the sawmill. “Just turned,” he said, and tried not to look at his fa­ther.

Be­hind him, his mother stepped for­ward from the door­way and started to speak, but Opa, her fa­ther, put a gen­tle hand on her shoul­der, and Luke’s fa­ther kept the se­cret as well.

“We can’t leave un­til morn­ing,” John Van Gelder said. “The horses have been out work­ing all day and they’ll need a feed, and we’ll have things to gather to­gether for them and for the boy. But I can load the cart with oats for feed, and that will help with them and with the oth­ers you’re gath­er­ing up.”

“Good,” the lieu­tenant said. “We can use an­other wagoner and, if he knows the horses, so much the bet­ter.”

“More than that,” he went on, “we can use some­one who knows how to use an ax. Our job right now is to block Bur­goyne by de­stroy­ing the road from Ske­nes­bor­ough. Tear up the bridges, drop trees across it, any­thing to slow his army.”

“That shouldn’t be hard,” John Van Gelder said. “With the rain we’ve had this sum­mer, that road is al­ready a mud­hole. I haven’t been up to­wards Fort Ann, but I’ve heard from some who have, and they didn’t have an easy time.”

“That’s good,” the lieu­tenant said. “And bring those oats; we can use them for the horses and oxen and we might need them for the men, once we meet up with Schuyler. We’re look­ing for rations for the troops.”

Luke spoke up. “I just saw the sow,” he said. “Her pigs are big enough to butcher, and not a mile back in the woods.”

“I can find her,” Opa said. “I can have two or three fresh pigs skinned out and ready for you in­side a week.”

The lieu­tenant shook his head. “No, you stay around the cabin,” he said. “Bur­goyne’s got Huron scouts spread out all around, and we had par­ties of wood­cut­ters and hun­ters killed around Ti­con­deroga be­fore it fell. No­body goes out into the woods now with­out an es­cort. If you go to get those pigs, you’ll take six men with you.”

Opa looked dis­ap­pointed; he wanted to help but was too old to go off to war him­self. “I’m not sure I’d be able to sneak up on that old sow with six men fol­low­ing along,” he said, and the men from the lo­cal mili­tia laughed.

“We’re more worried about what might sneak up on you,” the lieu­tenant re­sponded, also laugh­ing. “But it’s good to know they’re around. We need to know what we can count on, be­cause the Con­gress isn’t be­ing very gen­er­ous with sup­plies. I may send those six men back in a few days, if you’ll agree to guide them.”

He looked around the door­yard at the other men. “We’ll be mov­ing on, but we’ll ex­pect to see you two men and the horses to­mor­row. Just fol­low the road; you’ll find us. Bring axes, saws, shov­els, pry bars, any­thing you’ve got. What we can’t tear up, we’re go­ing to cut down.”

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