Maiden America

By Jeannette DiLouie

Historical fiction

Paperback, eBook

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208
5 mins

 

Chapter 1 – Bloody Lobsters – Dec. 7, 1776

“Stay back, Abigail. I swear those bloody lobsters are everywhere,” Garrett snarls, looking out the sitting room window through the heavy, floral draperies at what I have to imagine are dozens upon dozens of British soldiers tramping past in their bright red coats.
Hence the reason behind the nickname, “lobsterbacks” or “lobsters.”
It isn’t the most polite language to use in front of a lady, but I don’t correct him for a whole host of reasons. Numbers one and two are that I’m not really a lady in his eyes. I’m his younger sister and therefore a completely different category of femininity altogether. Moreover, I’m a sister who has kept him from serving under General Washington for the last several months.
Never mind that our soldiers under that command are ill-equipped and downtrodden after being run out of New York and pushed through much of New Jersey. They should be in Trenton by now, about thirteen miles away. But everyone knows they’ll likely have to leave even that town soon enough if William Howe – general and commander in chief of Britain’s army here in America – keeps pressing his troops forward. Which everyone knows he will, thereby lending even more pain and misery to what our Continental Army has already endured.
It’s no wonder that so many of our men refused to re-sign their military contracts at the beginning of the month.14 I don’t condone their decision, but I do understand the reasons behind it. I can’t even completely condemn those soldiers who don’t have the luxury of leaving legally, so simply desert every day. They’re disheartened after losing so many times over so many months. Anyone would be.
Anyone but Garrett, that is. Still burning with patriotic fervor, he is desperate to be down there with our father and three older brothers, taking a stand to free New Jersey and our newly minted country, the United States of America.
A large part of me sympathizes with him here, since I wish I could be with them too.
All of that factors into my final decision not to chastise him for his word choice. The fact that it won’t do a lick of good, I’ll admit, crosses my mind as well. But the main reason I hold my tongue is because he’s right: There are redcoats everywhere. They’ve been encroaching on the Jersey countryside almost since they first arrived in this state on November nineteenth, when they captured Fort Lee. And they’re still going strong today, certainly much stronger than our ever-retreating forces can claim.
After taking over Hackensack, Newark and Brunswick, they’re now here in Princeton. Like the Biblical plague of locusts, they’re marching through our streets, devouring everything they can and then surging forward to claim the next location, wherever that might be. Worse yet, they’re sure to be with scores of those horrible Hessians, who I’m told dye their mustaches pitch black with the same concoction they use on their shoes.15
Just thinking about the German mercenaries makes me shudder. I’ve heard the stories.16 Everyone in New Jersey has after so much of our lands have been plundered by their scouting parties and the troop deployments dispatched to collect supplies, starting with the very first day they stepped foot onto this state’s soil.17
As if the British soldiers by themselves aren’t bad enough. They were too often insufferable before minutemen fired on them at Concord and Lexington in Massachusetts last year, thereby declaring war on the sovereign crown of England. But since then, they’ve gotten so much worse. Those “bloody lobsters” as my brother so disrespectfully deems them, have been wrapping their claws around everything they take a fancy to, from food to horses to ammunition to women.
In their eyes, we appear to be just as much a commodity as everything else.
That’s a despicable attitude to take toward any person, but it somehow seems worse when both sides considered the other to be countrymen barely five months ago. Today is December seventh, 1776, and it was only July fourth that the Second Continental Congress announced our secession from Great Britain. Before that, we were proud to be British citizens. All we wanted was our due rights as such: proper representation in Parliament, a fair tax system, and some acknowledgement of how very good we are at governing ourselves overall thanks to the great distance between us and the motherland.18 Give us that, and we would settle down as nice as you please, singing “God Save the King” and “Rule Britannia” all the way home.
At least I know I would have. There are a few people, Garrett included, who were itching to sever ties well before our colonial leaders banded together to declare independence. I guess that’s what happens when you live in a town filled with idealistic students who are, in turn, filled with revolutionary ideas.
The College of New Jersey is only three blocks away from us, which is very well for my father’s groceries and goods shop, but maybe not so much for my brother’s temperament. He’s always been the hotheaded member of our family of six.
At twenty-five, Richard is the strong, silent one. Jacob is the mathematics-savvy businessman who can manage the books like nobody else I know. Andrew is the wit; he can talk himself out of any scrape, and he very rarely fails to make me laugh no matter how bad of a mood I might be in. (I’m ashamed to say that I do have my bad moods more often than I’d like.)
And then there’s Garrett, who’s a mere fifteen months older than my seventeen years. He has the mind of a scholar and the temper of a rabid wolf. I love him, but it’s true. And right now, that disposition is scaring me almost as much as the thought of Hessians showing up on our doorstep.
Which is saying a lot. Because I am terrified of Hessians. They’re offensive on every single level.
I don’t know why it alarms me so much to know that King George III thinks it necessary to hire such despicable outsiders. He’s already made it very clear how little he thinks of us otherwise, so I suppose it makes sense for him to utilize such wicked measures. But I do find the decision particularly offensive nonetheless. They’re utter beasts by all accounts, running their bayonets through unarmed men who have already surrendered, chopping off heads and sticking them on pikes, and yes, treating women with the utmost contempt as well.19
Complete savages, every one of them.
I smooth down my brown, woolen skirt with quaking hands. It’s not very cold out at all as of late. In fact, it’s unseasonably warm, and so we only have a small fire going in the sitting-room hearth. The physical temperature inside our home is quite comfortable, yet I feel I’m liable to start sweating underneath my petticoats and simple, brown bodice. My corset feels far too tight as well; and the hair along my exposed arms, from just below my elbows to my wrists, is standing on end.
Hot or cold, however, I hike up my neckline a little further. I’d rather be hot than showing too much skin when the enemy soldiers come storming through our door.
We know they will. There’s no question about it when they’re here to stay for as long as they like, and we have such a spacious house. My family has always been proud of our home, and what it says about us and our work ethic. But right now, I think I would much prefer far less roomy accommodations, if only because they would make for a far less attractive boarding option for presumptuous redcoats.
I wish so badly that we could have just left with my dearest friend, Ailish O’Doole, who took off yesterday when we first got word that the British were on the move yet again. She and her parents were some of the last patriotic citizens to leave since The College of New Jersey was shut down in sad anticipation of the inevitable. Most of the other two hundred families in town cleared off days or even weeks ago, heading wherever they could.
Ailish’s mother’s family lives outside Philadelphia, about a day and a half’s travel away. They should be arriving there right about now, even as their home here is being looted four blocks down on the Post Road, as I have to presume.
There is the very distinct sound of boots tromping outside our home, and then Garrett announces “they’re here” despite how unnecessary the comment is. His fists are clenched at his side, and his lanky self is rigid from head to toe.
Someone pounds on the front door.
I expect it, yet I still jump.
Beside me, Richard’s wife Elizabeth lets out a small squeak of alarm, then clamps both hands against her mouth like we can still somehow escape notice.
I brush my arm against hers in what is supposed to be a comforting gesture, though it does not a single bit of good. At least, I don’t feel comforted. And I’m quite sure neither is she.
Letting the curtain fall from his fingers, Garrett strides out of the sitting room. We women trail him nervously, stopping just shy of the hallway while he crosses to the door, throwing it open in challenge, not in greeting. As a result, a white-wigged officer in full, flashy kit stumbles inside, his arm still raised to knock a second time.
A pompous looking thing already, perhaps about twenty-two, it’s clear he doesn’t appreciate Garrett’s deliberate provocation. My eyes, already huge with apprehension, somehow manage to widen further. I want to say something calming to my brother, but I’ve already done so about forty times since we heard the news that the British were coming. It didn’t do any good then, and I have no doubt it will do any more good now.
The officer brushes past Garrett, purposely knocking shoulders with him so that Garrett has to take a step back. I trap a moan in the back of my throat, knowing that this isn’t going to end well when it’s already beginning so dreadfully.




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