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Chapter One

Two hundred and sixteen years before Florence Springer was born, an army was on the run.

Montcrief’s Ferry, New York: October 1776

The Hudson River was icy cold, its frothy waves glinting in the first rays of the morning sun. Captain Ian McShane stood next to his horse, staring glumly at the water. His troops – what was left of them – had gathered behind him. He shuddered thinking of the men he had lost. They were good boys. They might have even become good soldiers. McShane could still see the steely faces of Hessians firing volleys into his troops, could still hear the shouts of his men trying to flee, trying to surrender, trying to do anything that would have them live to see their farms again. The captain shook his head. He wanted to dislodge the memory, to think of New Haven, the girls on the docks –anything – their sweet lips, bright eyes.

Just then he was drawn back to the muddy exodus by a sharp groan, a man clutching his side, falling to the ground. The soldier was flailing in the mud, the slush. He was pawing at the ragged wound of a musket ball. And then he went limp, relaxed as if the soldier had somehow stanched the wound and healed himself. McShane nudged him with his boot. The man didn’t move.

At first, the double line of retreating soldiers parted to go around the man on the ground, but then the men just stepped over him. It was quicker that way. McShane muttered a prayer, and then scanned the field for General Washington. In the hazy gloom, the uneven landscape shrouded in snow, he couldn’t find the general. McShane squinted at the ghostly shapes lurching ahead, a rabble. He thought about the pursuing British, their orderly columns. He wondered if Washington knew it was a lost cause. Did he care? McShane glanced at the man on the ground. Where were the women? The camp-following bandagers? McShane felt numb. Who would tend to this man? He looked away, remembering that it didn’t matter, that it was too late for this one, that the man had died a soldier. McShane remounted and joined the others, moving forward. There were no more bandages. No help. The women must have slipped away in the night, run off with the deserters. He closed his eyes, imagining the runaways finding solace with well-fed British troops. McShane shuddered and shook his head to clear it. He hoped he wouldn’t meet up with any of those runaways or he might be tempted to forget they were women.

Wethersfield, Connecticut: August 2012

The girl was named Florence. Her mother said she was named at the behest of a woman who had appeared to her in a dream. But from the day she was born, it seemed that everyone insisted on calling the child Faith. Momma would hold little Florence in her arms and whisper gentle words about how things were so much different now. “It’s just a name, dear child,” she’d say, “you’ll be free. You’re a woman and you must never forget that.”

According to family tradition, the first female child, in each generation, was to be named Faith. It was a tradition that went on for time immemorial. No one knew when it started, or why, but there were girls named Faith sprinkled throughout ascending branches of the family tree. Old records said a Faith disembarked at colonial New Haven, another came ashore at Jamestown. And almost two hundred and fifty years before little Florence came into the world, her great grandmother, many times removed, was christened Faith, in Worcester.

As the girl grew from a toddler to a little girl to a teen, it used to bother her that she had a perfectly serviceable name, Florence, but no one called her by it. It was only when she began to feel the burden of history, tradition – a mantel that smothered her at times – that she finally came to embrace Faith as her true name. She’d spend hours signing it with a flourish, ignoring her peers – the Annes, the Susans, the Brittanys – progressive women who teased her, questioning the antiquated tradition of naming girls after moral values:  Grace, Mercy, Patience, Charity. And Faith.

On the afternoon of her twenty-second birthday, Florence sat alone with her mother, on the porch, sharing a slice of cake. She looked at the older woman, gazing at her mother’s deep blue eyes, and she said, “What was the real reason you named me Florence?” And then she giggled, nervously. “You taught me to be inquisitive, to seek the truth, and I gotta tell you I never believed my name came out of a dream. I don’t know exactly what I believe, but there’s a feeling… a feeling…” She looked away before continuing, “Mama, you’ve always been stubborn – everybody says so – and well, I can’t believe you threw away our heritage on account of some dumb dream.”

Her mother held up her hand. She smiled, tight lipped, and then spoke slowly, “A feeling you say. I know it well.” Her eyes were moist, glistening. “Tradition is a powerful thing, you know. Oh my daughter, we go way back, we surely do.” She paused, put a piece of cake in her mouth, and chewed slowly. “Listen carefully. My name is Faith – you know that – my mother’s name was Faith. And well, it seems our little habit – these names – went all the way back to a time when things were simple, our values you know, and our forefathers, in their wisdom, decided the women of this family needed some help. It was a wild country, a strange new world, and so… they thought we’d need to… we’d need to keep on the path if we were to make our way. So it was decided,” The older woman paused, looked out at the flowers in bloom. “They decided to give us a mark, a sign that this one,” she tapped the table, “this girl, well, she’d stay on the right path, she knows what to do. And our mark… was a simple name: Faith. And that’s who we are, dear girl. It worked for a time – hell, more’n two hundred years – but well, I don’t know, things are so complicated now-a-days, I thought maybe it was time for a change, that maybe we should start a fresh tradition.”

Florence nodded and picked at her cake. She looked at her mother, the older woman’s taut lips, her furrowed brow. It was enough to make Florence feel her mother’s sadness, the tension. It was the kind of sadness that seemed to seep into her bones. “But mother,” she said, “Forgive me if I don’t get it. Why would a given name help us get by? Didn’t you, yourself, say ‘It’s just a name.’?”

“A name, yes. But daughter, it was more than a simple word, a name. It was a—” She closed her eyes and shook her head. “Oh… we’ll have to continue this another day. I’m weary, and well… we mustn’t take on too much at once.”

As Florence looked at the older woman, her eyes, her mother’s luster dulled with age, she could see that a lineage steeped in tradition, mysteries, was going to have to uncoil slowly, or someone could get hurt. Was that it? Was her mother trying to protect her daughter by breaking the tradition? But from what? She sighed and the sadness receded. There was a feeling of peace. That was the day, her twenty-second birthday, that she accepted what she always had known. She accepted that her name was Faith. A piece of paper in the hall of records might say elsewise, but she had always been Faith – no matter what that had meant – and she was always going to be Faith. Some day she would file papers, she’d tell her story to a judge, a man who would rechristen her in the eyes of the law, but she wouldn’t wait for that day. Faith reclaimed the old name and wore it proudly, as her mother had done.

Tarrytown, New York: November 1776

It was a mad dash. The army had broken into a run. Howe was advancing. Relentless Hessians were on the flank. Rain was coming down now. Frantic messengers showed up, riding hard. They didn’t want to stop, shouting from their horses. “Fort Washington abandoned. Fort Lee under attack, being overrun.” The couriers reported from their steeds without dismounting, galloping ahead. McShane grimaced. He was sitting astride his horse, facing what was left of the Continental Army, a swarming mass of men on the run. He looked back over the muddy land they had covered, squinting as if he could see the chaos in the lost forts, the twin ramparts that were supposed to protect the lower Hudson from the invading British, that were supposed to buy the army time. But the luxury of time was far away now, just the idle chatter of brave men in alehouses.

Washington and his staff were up ahead. He could see the general now – tall and broad-shouldered – a dark silhouette against the gray sky, the snow. He was flanked by two riders, Major General Nathanael Green and a portly man, Greene’s aide-de-camp, the writer Thomas Paine. The three men were unbowed, riding at a quick but unhurried pace, the troops flowing behind them like a ragged wave on an uneven shoreline, some running ahead. McShane thought of the once bright vision of liberty, of freedom, of the noble fight. It was over – all over – and with it went the colonial confederacy, the new nation.

Even Paine, with his pretty words, couldn’t save the fading dream. How had he put it? The Sun never shined on a cause of greater worth. Paine had written about the fight with so much eloquence that Washington often had the pamphlets read to his men. What would the writer say now? What could he say? McShane shook his head, looking around at the mass of men running toward the mist-shrouded hills up ahead. Words couldn’t help them now. The indifferent sun was indeed setting.

Some of the men had dropped their weapons so they could run faster. Every so often, a man would break from the mass and bolt to the woods. Deserters. If the British hadn’t decimated the ragged troops enough, more than a hundred men had run off in the night, and as the day wore on, more men broke for the woods, ran for distant farmhouses without caring if they were inhabited by Torys or rebels. They only knew there’d be fires in the hearth, food, and perhaps the touch of a woman to tend them. They’d run there and hide. They’d eat and drink and get warm, as if there wasn’t a war, as if there wasn’t one army chasing them as enemy rebels, and another army who’d hang them as traitors. Many of the men who stayed behind, resisted the urge to turn tail and run, but instead, were counting the days, scant hours even, until their three month enlistments were up. If they could only hold on, make it to winter quarters, they could leave the war and go home to an uneasy peace.

McShane turned his horse and rejoined the unruly retreat. He watched the men in front of him, their terrified loping gait, and he thought of the deserters who had run off, his mind swimming. The problem, he thought, was how do you make ordinary men want to fight for a principle? He studied the soldiers’ faces, the weariness. The fight wasn’t just about tax and tyranny. He looked around at the green hills ahead of them, shrouded in mist. There’d be safety up there. It was beautiful country and that’s what this fight was really about. It was about love. Love of a scrap of ground to live and grow on, love of home and hearth. He looked back in the direction they had come, thinking of the British troops. Even love for a king. He felt a pang in his heart. The men must somehow be an army, a horde with a single purpose, because a country cannot be forged if the people don’t take a stand, and a future cannot be won without some kind of discipline, control.

Clear Lake, Wethersfield, Connecticut: August 2012

Faith ran. She hadn’t meant to, didn’t plan it that way. It just came up all of a sudden, like she was being yanked by something beyond her power to control. First, she was talking to her mother, and the next thing Faith knew, she was running, skirts swishing, legs churning, through the tall grass beyond the lawn. Mama had said she was worried, said Faith couldn’t live in the darkness forever, that she’d have to make her mark, she’d have to start her life as a woman.

It was a sunny afternoon. There was a shimmering haze drifting over the marshlands behind the house. Faith had been eating a bowl of iced cherries, in the parlor, when her mother, elegant in a silk dress, sat down beside her. She sighed, “We – your father and I – well, we think it’s time for you to get out.”

“I know, Mama. Don’t you be worrying yourself. I promise I will.” She nodded her head vigorously and ate another cherry, saying airily, “I’ll find my way.”

“Oh girl, that’s what’s got us worried so. You aren’t finding anything. You sit in the house, you read your books, you… you lay out on the lawn, read more books, and life just flies by. We just—”

“There’s time, Mama.” Faith clamped a cherry in her teeth, and chewed it slowly. “Don’t you worry.”

“Oh yes, dear... time... I know all about time... but… but… well, your father and I thought maybe if you saw somebody.” She stroked her daughter’s arm, looking down. “You know the Spurlings. They’re fine people, and well… they have a son, Corbin. He’s a fine young man, just back from Princeton. And we asked, well, we asked if he’d favor us – you – with a visit.”

“Mama, you didn’t.”

“I’m afraid we did, your father and I. We had to. He’s coming this afternoon. Just talk with the young man. You could at least do that.”

Faith knew Corbin, at least from a distance. He was wild-eyed Corbin, always on-the-go Corbin. He wasn’t her type. No man was her type. She remembered the night she was at one of her parent’s functions, a gathering of their friends, and Corbin was there. So was a horde of other men, boisterous fellows. They all came sniffing around her, some using fancy words, and one guy even tried a come-on in French. There was a man who postured for her, sitting all evening on the piano bench, gawking at Faith from over the top of a book he was pretending to read. The game ended when Faith sat down to play the piano, and the boy turned red as a beet before he slinked away.

But not Corbin. He wasn’t like the others. Corbin was the most insufferably indifferent man in the house. It was like he was the only man who wasn’t interested in her in the least, and this was just after Faith had first become acquainted with this curious species, men, and their strange ways and habits. Faith had come to expect their attentions, their ministrations, their slavish ways. So she found it frustratingly odd – almost infuriating – that when all she wanted was to be left alone, the one man who did exactly that, the one man who didn’t fawn over her, became the one man she couldn’t stop thinking about.

But that night passed by, passed into a blur of social functions, boring parties. Faith regained her footing. She was not one to fall victim to the foolish games of girls. No, Faith would bide her time. She’d avoid this man, stay true to herself, if only her meddling parents hadn’t put Corbin in her path.

She blinked at her mother, the incorrigible old fool. “Mama,” she said, “when is this man coming? I’m not dressed. I’m not… Oh, I’m not ready.”

“Dear, I know. You’re never quite ready for... your life. That’s the problem. Just see the man, dear, talk with him. It’s just a man. You don’t have to make out like you’re at war, in a battle.” Her mother was begging, pleading.

It was when Faith retired to dress, prepare for her visitor, that panic took over and she ran, made a headlong escape. She ran through the great hall, past the painting, a family heirloom. It was supposed to be a faithful reproduction of the original, but Faith only saw the gloomy scene as something very old. The mural-like picture – painted the same size as the original – took up the entire hall, and she hated passing through the great hall in the dark because she was sure the painted figures were watching her. She pushed through the double doors and went down the steps, running headlong across the grass, going past the loungers, clicking across the cobblestones, mounting the path. She didn’t want to treat her mother that way, but there was no time to think about proper etiquette, duty, she was only obeying the fervor that was welling up in her flesh, making her tingle and quiver. She ran down the path, her low-heels clicking on the stones. She took the first fork and went along the creek to the old bridge. She crossed it in two bounds. And then she headed for the water’s edge, found a rocky cove, her spot on the lake.

In simpler times, Faith had spent hours there, peering in the glassy, smooth water and trying to envision a future. But her reflection was always a perfect mirror, a pretty girl shimmering in the glittering ripples, under blue skies. She gathered up her skirt and waited. It was her place, a crook in the lake. She felt safe, felt like Corbin – no one – could find her there.

Yorkshire Highlands, New York: November 1776

Captain McShane, now accompanied by Lieutenant Davis, was astride his horse, picking through the stragglers of an army on the run. His gaze was fixed on the hazy foothills ahead, where Washington’s vague plan was to make a stand, preserve the revolution for another day, another season. The muddy road ascended up a rise above the river, winding by rocky crags. Men were streaming in and out of the rocks, scrambling over the tops of them.

Down the slope, between two of the hills, there was a clearing, and there were two big houses, manors, surrounded by small farms. McShane eyed the houses as he rode by. Smoke was curling from the fireplaces. He could almost smell the cooking, feel the warmth. He shook his head, grimacing. He had to gather his coat around him, in order to keep moving forward, to keep slogging through the mud. Two soldiers in the column to his right, and two more behind him, suddenly bolted. The serene clearing must have been too much. The men could take no more of the march, no more of being hunted by the relentless British army. The four men scrambled over a nearby berm, slid down the slope, splashed through an icy ditch, went over a stone wall, and then ran for the clearing, for the safety of the manor house that called to them as surely as a lighthouse beacon guides a weary ship’s captain home through a dangerous crossing on rough seas.

McShane dismounted and stood by his horse, watching them run. He pulled his long gun from his saddle, cocked it, aimed it in the direction of the men, and yelled, “Come back ya bloody deserters.” The men didn’t stop, didn’t answer. But McShane didn’t pull the trigger. He just held his gun and watched the men run across a snowy field. The army was falling apart. So was the war, the noble cause. He turned to Lieutenant Davis, “Dang it. It’s no use. Lost maybe a couple hundred good men at Long Island, and then we lost ‘bout a regiment of ‘em on the retreat. Bunch o’ scared rabbits just giving up.”

Lieutenant Davis stood glumly watching the men, tiny figures now. They ran to one of the houses, disappearing inside. He kicked a stone and looked over at his captain. “You wanna go after ‘em? Heck, we know where they are. And if we could haul ‘em back, maybe some of the others… maybe they’d stay. I mean we might be the first army to lose a war on account of all the soldiers going home. Ol’ King George’ll win this thing ‘cause there’s nobody left to fight the ol’ boy.”

McShane got back on his horse. “Well that’s just it, ain’t it? The Brits are on our tail and the men’re thinking they’d rather be alive and live in tyranny, then have a new country and be dead. It’s not that they’re not brave – lord knows they gotta be to pick up arms against the king’s men. It’s just most of ‘em are thinking that the Continentals are finished, that they’d might as well go on home, tend to their women, their farms.”

Davis was silent for a long moment, shifting in his saddle. “Can’t really blame the lads. I mean them bastards – Brits and their Hessians – slaughtered us at Brooklyn Heights, took our forts, ran us off of Long Island. Who’s to say it’d be any different up ahead, or anywhere?”

“Well, Washington for one. He believes in this thing, whatever it is, he thinks a bunch o’ country bumpkins can beat the redcoats. Some say he’s crazy but freedom’s a mighty powerful thing, and I guess the general’s got a whiff of the stuff.”

Suddenly, Davis wheeled on his captain. “Hey I know. Let’s go after ‘em.”

McShane chuckled. “Now there’s some fighting spirit. But I don’t think we can lick the redcoats by ourselves.”

“No. I mean them deserters. You said it yourself; somebody’s got to make a stand, somebody’s got to believe in this thing. Let’s go after ‘em boys.”

“But then what’ll we do? Hang ‘em? Don’t know if I’ve got the stomach to kill a couple scared soldiers in the name of liberty.”

Davis had already nosed his horse off the path. He was that eager. “We’ll just show those men what this thing’s about, make ‘em come back and serve out their time. And if they don’t, I guess maybe we gotta hang a couple and then maybe the rest of ‘em will stay and fight. Or… blast it… we’ll figure it out. Come on.”

McShane patted his horse and headed off in the direction the men had gone. Davis followed him. They sped down the hill and into the clearing. When McShane pulled his horse up, he said quietly, “For all we know, that place is full of Brits and we’re riding right into something.”

“Yeah, but that’s what war’s like. No one knew what was going to happen at Long Island. No one knew the forts wouldn’t hold, but we came anyway. And truth is… no one – not even Washington himself – knows if freedom’s gonna win the day. But for some blessed reason, we came anyway, took on the whole bleedin’ British Empire.” Davis nodded at the house. They were close enough to see the lamps in the windows, to smell the smoke from the chimneys. “Who knows what’s behind them doors, what’ll happen? But there’s men in there, maybe women too, and if we could somehow fill ‘em up with what I feel – the anger, the hate, yeah I said hate – and the love of country, our country, then maybe they’d stay and fight. Either way, we just gotta go in there, gotta make a stand.”

 


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