The wind comes up before dawn, whining against the roof and clapboards, waking Mary from a troubling dream in which Joseph has lost his way in the wilderness. She sees him caught fast in a tangle of undergrowth beneath great trees while savage beasts and Indians circle him in ever tightening rings. She can do nothing to save him, but stands watching while he cries out for mercy.
She sits up, praying that God has not sent the dream as a prophesy. Marie lies sprawled on the far side of the bed. Sarah whimpers in her sleep. Mary pushes the curtains aside, ignoring the familiar catch in her back and knees as she stands. She relieves herself in the chamber pot and quickly puts on her bodice and skirts over her shift. She takes her apron and pocket from the hook by the bed and straps them on before making her way to the hearth, where the dogs reluctantly rise and make room for her. The fire has burned down to embers and it takes a long time to coax it back to life, time spent kneeling on frozen stone and carefully rearranging the coals, blowing and feeding strips of bark to the embers to rekindle the flame.
She is still crouched on the hearth when she hears the first shriek. She tells herself it is but the wind against the flankers and adds another handful of sticks to the small fire. Then she hears it again and knows it is not the wind, for the shriek is followed by musket fire.
The dogs lift their heads, ears pricked. Mary gets to her feet, praying it is merely a hunter from another garrison, tracking deer in the fresh snow. But there comes another shot, and another, like the sound of dry twigs snapping under a heavy foot. She moves to the window, stepping carefully over her sleeping neighbors, and uses her fingernail to scrape frost from one of the small diamond panes. Her view is distorted by a ripple in the glass, but the black smoke rising beyond the snow-topped stockade is clear enough. It comes from the Kettle’s house. Mary takes a step back, pressing her hand over her mouth, looking around the dark room. Everyone is still asleep.
The sound of muskets grows louder and closer. She tries to remember what Joseph said must be done if the Indians attack, but her mind is as blank as the snow in the yard. At her feet, a pile of blankets stirs and Hannah’s husband, John Divoll, emerges. She can make out his features only dimly in the half-light, but she sees him rub his forehead and cock his head toward the sound.
“They have come,” she says, whispering because she cannot seem to make her voice work properly. “The Indians are upon us.”
He scrambles to his feet. “Awake!” he bellows, already pulling on his breeches and coat. “The enemy has come!” He heads for the cabinet where the guns are stacked.
People tumble out of their blankets and rise from their pallets. Row sets up an alarmed chirping. Mary sees Ann Joslin on her feet, clutching a struggling Beatrice in her arms. From the parlor come the sounds of an infant’s wail and a man barking orders.
Hannah appears at her side, sweeping a tangle of dark hair from her face, pulling a blanket around her. “Mary?” she says, her voice catching at the back of her throat. Mary can think of nothing to say, no sisterly word of comfort or solace.
Joseph should be here, she thinks, and a dart of anger jabs her throat. She scans the room for Joss as she hurries to the bedstead, finds Sarah still asleep, Marie awake and huddled in a nest of blankets. “Come,” Mary says, throwing back the covers. “Put on your clothes, girls. Hurry.”
“Are we going out?” Sarah frowns up at her. “Nay, not yet,” Mary says. “But we must be ready in case we are required to make an escape.”
“Escape to where?” Marie asks. “Why?”
“The Lord will guide and protect us,” Mary says, knowing it does not answer her questions, yet it is all she has to offer. “Hurry now. Make ready.”
Musket balls rattle like hail against the house and men are shouting and slamming closed the shutters. What little light was inside is gone now, the rooms plunged into blackness. She searches her heart for hope, snatches at the fact that the Indians have not yet broken into the house. Perhaps Joseph, at this very moment, is close to Lancaster with the troops that will drive off the enemy.
Elizabeth is suddenly at her elbow. “We must pray!” she whispers. Mary nods but she cannot bend her heart toward God before locating Joss.
She pushes through the crowded room to the narrow stairs and climbs to the chamber where her son sleeps. She stares at his empty pallet and tossed blanket, and her heart thumps hard. She glances at the ladder that leads to the attic, and sees a shadow drifting between the rafters. For an instant she frowns, puzzled, then she smells smoke and hears the hiss of flame on wood.
She nearly tumbles down the stairs. “The Indians have fired the house!” she shouts. “The roof is burning!” She runs to the bedstead and yanks Sarah to her feet, ignoring the girl’s bewildered protests. Marie is suddenly next to her, moving like a shadow. Mary drops her free arm over her daughter’s shoulder and hugs her tightly, briefly. Then—finally—she sees Joss carrying a water bucket, weaving purposefully between people. He disappears up the stairs and for one instant she admires his valor. In the next, she fears for his life.
Ann Joslin, crouched now on the floor against the wall, begins a wild weeping. Mary kneels to calm her. “Fear not,” she says. “I am assured my husband will soon come with the soldiers. Even now, I warrant he’s but a few miles from Lancaster.” She wants to believe this—must believe it—for she sees how plainly her own fear is reflected in the other woman’s face. Ann lapses into whimpers, and then there is only the clout of close-fired Indian muskets and the thud of balls tunneling into the front door. It sounds to Mary like the Devil’s own knuckles, endlessly rapping. She knows she is doomed. They are all doomed.
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