"The calamities were at our door. The rod of oppression was raised over us. We were roused from our slumbers, and may we never sink into repose until we can convey a clear and undisputed inheritance to our posterity. Immortal spirits of Hampden, Locke, and Sidney!"
- Samuel Adams, American Independence Speech, August 1, 1776
Rosanna paced in her room and couldn't refrain from often darting her eyes to the clock. It was the twenty fifth of October. Reports had been near flooding in from jubilant Tories since the day before that Washington was preparing to retreat further away from the city. Her heart had lurched and her ears had burned when she had first heard the gossip. The tingling sensation of dread had subsided some hours prior, but Rosanna's throat was so tight she had to stop every once in a while to even her breathing and placate her nerves.
So when, at last, Peebel informed her that he was leaving for his regular afternoon appointment, Rosanna kept her bursting glee down as much as possible. She only acknowledged his departure with her accustomed peck to his lips.
When he had chuckled, gazed upon her fine figure, and thus bowed and shoved himself noisily into his carriage, and only when she could no longer hear the clopping of the horses' hooves, did Rosanna descend the stairs and enter his study. She promptly commenced checking his desk, until she found a flintlock pistol laying in one of the drawers. It was fully loaded, pristine, suitable for any officer of medium-rank.
No one had missed her yet, but she nevertheless hurried. Rosanna placed her foot upon Peebel's desk and lifted her dress. There was a leather belt tightly strapped around her thigh. She shoved the pistol, barrel-down, against her skin, ensuring that it was wedged too tightly to wiggle free.
Dropping her gown rather unladylike, she checked Peebel's books next and found some paper bills in-between the pages, issued by the Continental Congress.
"Why would he keep this rubbish?" Rosanna was perplexed. A Tory would naturally have no use of such already-reduced, tax-backed currency. Perhaps he kept some for sentiment, for posterity. Shrugging, she counted the dollars with a huff, adding up to sixty, "Not worth a Continental, when all is said and done."
Yet, she took the currency anyway—who knew? The bills might become useful at some point, for a fire perhaps.
This was all Rosanna found to be of use. She promptly removed herself from that odious man's most private dwelling, with head held high. Her next errand involved the kitchen.
"Molly," she addressed the black cook, who was stirring some sort of very inviting soup in a large pot. "I am most desiring to show Mr. Peebel's generosity to Colonel Chillon this evening when he and I take a stroll. Would it be possible for you to prepare a basket of delights for me to take to him?"
The maid was a Tory, like most in the direct neighborhood. She delighted at such a plan and proceeded to gather a selection of cheese, bread, meat, fruits, and a large bottle of wine, with a pair of fine twist glasses. Folding all the contents and placing them in the basket, she handed the heavy gift to Rosanna.
"Thank you so much!" Rosanna took the consumables upstairs with her. Placing the basket on her dresser, she pulled out a large leather sack with a hooked cross belt from one of her lower drawers. She had already organized sewing materials within this bag, but there was a large amount of space yet available.
She carefully placed the food items, atop the sewing materials, into the bag, minus the glasses and the wine. Those two items were of no necessity to her goal. They would remain in the room. Grunting slightly, she removed the pistol from the strap on her thigh and placed it beside the bag. Finally, she wrapped the bag and pistol within the picnic cloth Molly had used for the food, so that the basket gave off an innocent enough appearance to fool anyone of its actual intention.
She placed the cloth with everything else in the basket. With these things accomplished, Rosanna again resumed her impatient waiting.
Peebel returned within the hour and more or less demanded her presence until Rosanna's outing time. It was terrible for her to sit and waste such slow minutes with the man, entertaining him with feigned interest and round after round of, oh, so many card games. However, the forced frivolity kept him from his study, from therefore discovering his missing pistol, and perhaps noticing things had suffered mysterious shifts during his absence.
Almost jumping with anticipation was she when the clock struck the hour of her appointment! A minute after, there was a knock at the door. A manservant escorted Colonel Chillon to the dining room, whence Rosanna and Peebel had not bothered to abandon.
When the colonel entered, Rosanna was extremely inwardly delighted to note his shadow companion was not present.
"Do not steal my Rosanna for too long a time, dear colonel!" Peebel chuckled, his hand once again slipped inside his coat.
"Never worry, my dear sir! I will treat her as if she were my queen."
Rosanna swept her eyes up and down the man. As usual, he was wearing his excessively pressed British uniform. The red of the coat was magnanimously popping from his person. There was no desire of conservatism to the ruffles of lace fluttering over his knuckles or to the cravat near spilling down the front of his chest. Every button was shimmering, every movement of his seemingly timed and of a grace to emphasize to the residents his position—and how it ought to be admired. He'd even taken special pains to wash and brush his wig anew, tying the pigtail with a lovely ribbon of black silk, edged with silver.
Having never lost a serene expression, though inwardly ridiculing the colonel's pompous toiletry, Rosanna waved both men off as silly children, "Really, gentlemen!"
The three laughed merrily.
"Shall we go, Ms. Rosanna?" Colonel Chillon bowed to her and extended his arm.
Smiling, Rosanna slid around the table and approached him, holding a little of her dress up so it wouldn't drag across the floor. She and the colonel exited the sitting room and were approaching the door, her fingers resting atop his bare hand, when Molly came rustling through the foyer with Rosanna's carefully prepared basket.
"Thank you, Molly. I must have forgotten and accidentally left the basket upstairs!" Exclaimed she with an airy admiration in her tone, taking the burden from the maid. She smiled again at Colonel Chillon, "I am hoping, perhaps a bit childishly, to present you with some edible delights after we have retrieved that poor rebel's uniform."
His lips spread with anticipation, "Oh, allow me, pray, to carry this burden for you then. I cannot allow a lady to bear such weight!"
Rosanna's heart pressed hotly against her chest. She could not speak for a second or two. Her instinct was not just to withhold the basket from him, but to distance the colonel from such a precious cargo. If the contents were betrayed! Yet, with great forbearance, Rosanna passed the basket to him, even managing to keep her tone steady, "I thank you, colonel."
Arm-in-arm, they almost skipped down the steps and boarded his carriage. On the road, they made small talk, and like a cheap woman, Rosanna not only allowed the man to flirt with her, but she reciprocated his affections. After all, neither he nor Peebel would matter after this night!
The more she touched him, as if by accident, and leaned against him and ran her hands down his arms, the further was Colonel Chillon undone. Their ride was not scheduled to stop until it came to Mr. Reginald's mansion, in which the late ball had taken place, allowing Rosanna ample time for her to work on the colonel's weakened emotional state.
Colonel Chillon wasn't aware they had arrived, until the carriage halted, so wrapped up was he within Rosanna's soft voice and her hands finding their way just slightly up his sleeves, where she stroked his flesh.
"Shall we disembark?" She nudged his leg playfully with her delicate slipper.
Annoyed at the interruption, he nevertheless followed Rosanna, at a leisurely pace, directly for the broad field at the back of the imitation Greco structure. She grasped his arm and giggled in anticipation, and he in turn smiled stupidly at how adorable she looked and sounded.
"I must confess something," Rosanna faced the colonel, backing up slowly for some steps, countenance playful. "The night of the ball, I did come out here. I took the rebel's clothing off and I hid it yonder in those bushes!" She turned around and pointed out across the darkened landscape to the brush running along the far end.
"My, you are quite an industrious woman! To have done that in such an efficient amount of time."
"Oh, not so!" She touched his arm slightly.
Aroused, Colonel Chillon marched straight for the end of the field, and with little trouble of rummaging down in the brush, found and retrieved the very damp and foul-smelling ripped uniform for her.
"You are too good to me, colonel!" Rosanna kissed him on the cheek. "Would it be selfish of me to ask you to carry the uniform back to the carriage for me?"
"Not at all!"
Surely, the colonel was getting the idea that his rosy outing with Rosanna would end with a grand present on his behalf. From all the attention she kept showering on him, he felt justified in his hopes.
Rosanna let herself up into the carriage without his assistance. She did not offer to aid Colonel Chillon by taking the uniform so that he could more easily pull himself over the threshold to join her. His balancing the clothing in one arm so he could hoist himself aboard gave Rosanna a couple seconds to launch her plan. She pulled the pistol from the basket and abruptly turned on him.
"Put the uniform on the bench," she stated evenly.
The colonel was taken aback with shock, but being halfway into the carriage, he could not stop himself properly and entered fully. He immediately dropped the dirty garments on the seat before her.
"Sit there," she motioned to the seat across from the basket.
Without a word, he obeyed, still too shocked for some seconds to capture his senses aright.
"Dismiss the driver," she slightly nodded to the door.
For a few more seconds, Colonel Chillon did not react. Upon Rosanna thrusting the pistol forward towards him, he jerked to the side. Peering out from the window, he called, "Mr. Clutch, I need a few minutes to have a private word with Ms. Rosanna. Do not wait so inconveniently for us. Please, go enjoy yourself at the tavern down the block. I have established credit there. You may apply my name for your drink."
"Truly?" The driver was already hopping to the ground. "That is quite decent of you, colonel!"
Amicably, the driver pocketed his hands in his coat and strolled on down the sidewalk, whistling a happy tune.
Rosanna waited until the whistling faded. She and Colonel Chillon sat staring at the other in a tense silence. Then, feeling that no one suspected them, she pulled the leather bag out from within the blanket wrapped in the basket. She keenly watched the colonel, keeping the pistol steady with a trained hand.
She opened the mouth of the bag and turned to him, "Put the uniform inside."
He scoffed, "What are you intending to do, madam: join Washington's band of terrorists?"
She made no response. He sputtered with shock and bemusement, "Why—why that is insane, my dear girl! You, who have been born and bred in sense and comfort, to join such a gaggle of men—and in such horrible, inhumane circumstances? It is no secret that most of Washington's men are little more than underage vagabonds, without even the hopes of basic necessities to survive! Their muskets are ruined, their clothing is rotting from their flesh, which is in no better condition, I dare say, and they are altogether incompetent! To be frank, madam, to desire the company of that party is to desire death." Almost as an afterthought, he added, "Besides, what do you think those men would do to you if they discovered your sex?"
"Put the uniform in the bag now, and also your canteen and your two pistols."
Colonel Chillon was obstinate to lose his precious pistols and sat very straight.
"You have five seconds, and believe me, sir, I will shoot you dead on even terms if you have not obliged me in that time. That is more than can be said for your conduct of that boy whom you killed so cowardly."
The colonel's face flushed impressively. Muttering, he removed his flintlock pistols and his canteen and dropped them in her bag. He then picked up the uniform and stuffed it into the bag, per Rosanna's motioning of him to do so.
"I thank you," Rosanna smiled slightly. "Now, please unhitch one of the horses."
"There is no saddle available," he attempted to reason again. Rosanna pressed the pistol to his back, encouraging the colonel to disembark the carriage and attend to the closest horse. She watched him without a blink, to ensure he would not try to sabotage the animal.
Turning to her, he attempted to reason one last time, "Please, madam! If you stop this madness now, I promise never to mention it to a soul. The death of that rebel must have impressed upon you deeply and I do not hold that against you, and—"
"Please! I beg, do not open your mouth again in my presence," Rosanna grimaced. Without his assistance, she stepped up on the side of the carriage and then onto the back of the horse, not even bothering to ride side-saddle in her fine dress.
"Hand me the bag," Rosanna ordered, the pistol still pointed at his chest.
Mechanically, Colonel Chillon raised the heavy luggage to her. Rosanna slung the cross belt around her shoulder in an undignified manner, and then kicking the horse in the ribs, embarked away at a gallop. She ducked low for a few seconds, lest the colonel had some hidden weapon, but no shots reported the possibility.
She rode the horse hard for some minutes without slowing, near panting herself when she at last did so. With no seconds to lose, Rosanna disembarked before a solitary pond, tied the horse to a low branch of the nearest tree, and then proceeded to shuffle through the items in her bag. Pressing sensible thought away, she set about her actions with the singular haste of one goal, one idea, one determination. She stripped free from her fine dress, corset, and feminine accessories. Inhaling sharp, now naked, she plunged her head into the lake to flatten her hair. The locks she brushed with a comb until the long tresses were completely straight. Without curls, her hair hung nearly down to her buttocks.
Biting her lower lip, Rosanna produced sewing scissors from the bag and cut her hair straight across so that it fell just past her shoulders. She clubbed her now much lighter-weight hair back into a low ponytail, with a black ribbon, in the fashion of the young men.
Shivering and swallowing, not at all certain of the sanity or wisdom of her plan, Rosanna shuffled through the bag and pulled out a long, thin strip of cloth. She inhaled and stood tall, wrapping the cloth around and around her breasts, a bit over her upper stomach as well. It felt rather tight, but not as uncomfortable as she thought binding would feel. Corsets pushed her breasts up, causing them to appear larger than they actually were; in this manner, pressed down and a bit to the sides, Rosanna checked her reflection and noted with satisfaction that her chest appeared convincingly flat. An added bonus was that the binding didn't run down the full length of her stomach, therefore actually invigorating Rosanna with a refreshing release in which she could more freely breathe.
In further haste, she donned the full uniform that the young boy had been killed in. It smelled very bad and his blood was splattered across the front. She wore a clean undershirt for some layer of protection against the lingering smell of the rot. She'd acquired it from Peebel's wardrobe and had modified it extensively to cut it down to a reasonable size. The rest of the uniform, being quite loose and fitted for a male's body, understated most of her curves, which would further aid her deception.
The soldier's boots fit Rosanna surprisingly well, as did the breeches.
She ensured there was no makeup left on her face. Standing, Rosanna threw the dress, and all the other things that identified her as female, into the pond. The dress floated for near a minute and then it sank into obscurity. She wandered if she would die and sink in like manner.
Shaking her head from such thoughts, Rosanna pressed the colonel's canteen and two of the three pistols in the bag anew. The third one, the one she'd taken from Peebel's study and had previously fastened to her thigh, she stuffed down the left front of her breeches, the grip sticking upward.
How odd she felt! She couldn't understand the feeling, if it was simply unease to be so physically altered, or if it was a deeper premonition pressing upon her soul. Be either, or something else, Rosanna sighed, resting her cheek against the side of the horse. She could not give into such tumults at this time!
Gritting her teeth, Rosanna slung the bag over her shoulder, ensuring the cross belt was securely buckled. In this manner, smelling of nature's mold, hair wet and flat, tied behind her, chest bound and masquerading as a young man, did Rosanna spring upon the bare back of the horse and again burst in a gallop, away from New York and the luxuries of a life she was used to.
The morning of October twenty seven rose with sprinkles and more dismay of morale in Washington's camp. The general had ordered a retreat towards the village at White Plains, as word from messengers had reached the entrenchment that General Howe had left Pell's Point, had resumed marching hotly their way. Already, the men were forming their lines, their scant provisions tucked on their persons and muskets saluting the skies.
Seth was within the ranks of disheveled, weary men of the First New York regiment. He felt little better than they, but was hoping to soon reunite with his brother—though, honestly, he did not know where or when he would.
The men started to march. He swallowed, watching one officer after another trot before the sides of the column to encourage them. Washington was among them, though he often refrained himself near the back of the whole column, much to his staff's dismay.
They had marched for a couple of hours, when Seth observed, with curiosity, the arrival of a young man of unusual slender frame, trotting up on a beautiful brown horse. It was the boy's slashed, bloody, and dirty uniform that startled him. To see such a thing was common among the men, but from a boy so young, as lovely in face, and of such a figure as his?
"Hello there!" One of the officers rang out in greeting to the boy. "Who are you? Where do you come from?"
"From Valcour—General Arnold!" The young soldier, sounding quite effeminate, but unpretentious in voice, responded without hesitation.
"But, I had thought no New York boys had partook of that affair? And—and how then do you take so long to find your way here? What are the particulars?"
"To summarize, by a mishap of circumstances, I joined the wrong band, fell in with them, and when we exchanged powder with the enemy, I escaped, but not without difficulty, as the state you see me in testifies. But with provisions to spare, I have survived and at last made it here. I request to join your men!"
The first lieutenant, for that was his rank, considered the youth for some seconds. Seth, having marched out of hearing range of the encounter at this point, was disappointed, for he was curious to know if the man would be allowed to join their regiment. Most likely he would, regardless if he was under-aged, as his uniform proclaimed that he had not only been in his fair share of battle, but had come out worthy and was eagerly wroth to see a campaign again.
He marched on, in hopes of meeting the youth later for a proper introduction.
Rosanna turned her horse and ran her eye over the long snake of marching men. The officer questioning her did little to still her effervescing nerves. What was she doing here? She kept asking herself that over and over. She felt out of place, a supposed regular, astride a grand beast like an officer. It felt, to her, nearly like a sin.
The lieutenant was cordial enough to her. There was no supposition in his tone or gaze to hint that he suspected her true sex; nor did he ask why she had no saddle for her horse. She was keeping as cool a demeanor as possible, having nearly messed up as to her history already in the false explanation of her circumstances at Valcour.
The officer politely questioned, "May I inquire as to your provisions and weapons?"
"Yes, sir," Rosanna turned smartly to him. "I am well with food for a few days, and I have pistol enough for three men, but no musket to speak of."
"That is well. I will see if I can find a musket for you, but if not, God will guide your pistols well enough. How of your clothing there?"
"It is nothing to worry about, sir. I am excellent with the needle and have managed to locate sewing materials to mend my uniform with. At the first stretch of time allotted, I will set about the task, you may be assured."
The officer raised a brow, "That is quite interesting. Such sewing business is usually left to the women and wives of the soldiers. But, if you know the craft, and wish to string a thread yourself, I cannot see any objection to it.
"Thank you," Rosanna automatically responded.
"Alright then. After the march, I shall find you a proper placement. For now, go to the back of the column. Ride on that horse, if you please, for the time being."
"Sorry sir. Should I sell the animal?"
The officer smiled a wit from that remark, "I would say no! We may need a new messenger. Since you have a horse already, you might just find yourself in that post."
Rosanna felt her heart pounding. A messenger! The thought terrified her, but then again, what was she expecting? To march in Washington's army meant death by starvation or in battle. A messenger carried the possibility of being shot from the saddle; yet, either duty meant the end just the same and therefore should not concern her at all. She had run away from her life, for better or for worse, and so had to "own it", as she'd heard men proclaim before.
At the back of the column, and enduring several inquisitive glances from officers they passed, Rosanna turned her horse and slid from his back. There was no need to tire the beast with unnecessary riding. If she were to grow fatigued, she could jump up for a short rest.
The officer peered down at her, "I forgot to ask, boy; what is your name?"
His face seemed to zoom in and out before her. Rosanna had planned everything so carefully, except her name. She felt so stupid! He was waiting and so, without thought at all, she blurted, "Robin Hall."
"Very good. Greetings, Robin Hall. I am Lieutenant James Anderson." He nodded curtly, "We shall talk this evening."
With that, he trotted up the column. Rosanna could see him for a minute or so. A stately man with light brown hair, wearing a long, medium-blue cloak, joined the officer. They passed some words and then split.
She exhaled. The ground was muddy, nearly up over her ankles, from the wet weather and marching. Being left alone, grimacing at the horrid condition of the road, Rosanna could at least focus on clearing her mind and thinking through just what she'd done and how she'd be able to cope with it.