The Path to Freedom
Chapter Three: To Follow the Gun
(Luke Van Gelder has volunteered to come along as a wagoner with the New York militia as they prepare to face the British army under General Burgoyne.)
“Start filling tote sacks with oats and put them in the wagon,” Father said, as the militiamen left the clearing and headed for the next cabin. “Start with half a dozen. That’ll leave plenty for the cow. You’ll need to gather up some leather straps and the harness tools, too.”
“I’ll get your kit together inside,” Luke’s mother said. “An extra pair of clothes so you’ll have something dry to change into.” She looked at what he had on. “I wish I had time to wash those.” “My Sunday clothes?” Luke asked, and his father laughed. “We’ll still be out there Sunday, and a few Sundays after,” he said. “How many pigs did you see?”
“Three. I don’t know what happened to the fourth,” Luke said. “He wasn’t just lagging behind.”
“The way things are, we’ll be lucky to get any of them for ourselves,” he said. “I just hope the sow is smart enough to live through it all. What the Tories don’t steal, our own side will.” “I’m coming, too,” Sylvie said suddenly.
Her father started to protest, but she added. “If Luke is 16, that makes me 18. I’m old enough to cook and mend and wash for you.”
Then, to Sylvie’s surprise, her mother spoke up to agree with her: “The girl is right, John. She’s old enough even at an honest 16. Goodness knows, there are girls her age married with their own homes, and you’ll need someone to do for you out there.”
John looked at his daughter for a moment.
“All right,” he agreed, finally, “but not now, not this trip. Later, when we march off with the army. This will just be a work detail.”
“And you want to sit in wet clothes and eat cold food?” his wife asked, to which he laughed.
“All right, Sylvie,” he said. “Gather up what you need, but don’t bring the whole kitchen. You’ll have to make do with what travels fast and what your mother can spare.”
He turned back to Luke. “Better bring that tarpaulin that’s up in the hayloft,” he said. “We’ll need to make a lean-to for Her Ladyship.”
“I should think so,” his wife said. “One of you at least should have the sense to come in out of the rain.”
“You young folks get to work, then,” John said. “Your grandfather and I are going to go rob a few gears out of the sawmill and tuck them away up in the woods. The Tories may come steal our pigs, but they’ll saw no lumber at our mill.”
It was barely dawn the next morning when John, Luke and Sylvie prepared to lead the horses and wagon off down the Fort Ann road.
Their mother, Opa and the two little ones, Gabriel and Beatrix, stood in the dooryard as they loaded their personal gear into the cart. John reached up and stretched the tarpaulin over the oats, the freshly sharpened axes and his gun, to protect them from the light, misty rain that drifted down.
“We’ll try to come back before we march off for the long haul,” he promised, “but, if we can’t, you’ll get word from the other families.”
He turned to his father-in-law, “And if things become dangerous, don’t you wait around, either. If you need to go down to your brother’s in Schenecdaty, just go. Leave a note if you can, but we’ll know where you’ve gone if we find an empty house.”
Luke clicked with his tongue and David and Jonathan leaned into their harness and started the wagon forward.
John turned back for one more word.
“And remember what the lieutenant said about going into the woods alone,” he warned. “Stay close. Burgoyne’s Hurons won’t likely bother you around the house, but a lone person in the woods might be too much of a temptation.”
They walked along beside the wagon until the house was out of sight, and then Sylvie spoke up.
“They’re in more danger than we are, aren’t they?” she asked. “We’ll be surrounded by militia. They’re back there all alone.”
“Your grandfather is very wise,” her father assured her. “He kept that little house safe through the last war, and it was no more pleasant than this one. If he needs to take everyone away, he’ll do that. If not, we’ll see them all back there when it’s over.”
The way dipped down, and Luke started to guide the horses to the right, but, even without an order, David edged over onto the corduroy, the long line of narrow logs that made a wooden road across the mud, just wide enough for the horses and the cart’s two wheels.
John and Sylvie dropped back to walk behind the wagon, but Luke had to walk alongside the horses, the mud sucking at his feet with every step.
“We’ll be taking this up on the way back,” he called to his father.
“Every stick of it,” John agreed. “Let Burgoyne drag his cannons through the muck and see how much they weigh then!”
Luke pointed at a little rill of water that ran down the hillside toward them. “I’ll bet there are beaver dams up these streams,” he said. “We can cut into them and let their water flow down here, too.”
His father laughed. “I don’t think war is supposed to be as much fun as you’re planning to have,” he answered back.