October 11, 1781. Dear Journal, I see examples of bravery everywhere. Benjamin Franklin is rallying up the colonists, hoping to unite them as a nation. Our brave soldiers are fighting England’s troops and winning, and basically, everyone is helping the war effort. What can I do? I just sit at home and play with my little brother, Johnny. I can never be a hero like those men. Well, I won’t bore you with a list of complaints. I only wished to find solace in writing. I shall write in you again tomorrow. Oh, and may I call you Mary? I fear I cannot think of you as a friend if you do not have a name, even though you are naught but paper and leather. Mother is telling me to go to bed. Until tomorrow.
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I close my journal. It was sent from Father as a gift from Yorktown, where he is fighting. I still miss him, but this way, I can almost feel his smile through the pages of the journal that was his way of telling me he still thinks fondly of his beloved daughter.
I blow out my candle, filling the small room with gray smoke. Too tired to undress, I sink into soft goose-feather pillows and fall asleep.
I jolt awake. Thunder crashes, and ashes of light are up in the sky. Wind gusts and rain strike our small house. Among the rest of the noise, a high keening wail hits my ears. It’s coming from the nursery. I tiptoe gently down the corridor and peek inside. Mother is standing by Johnny’s cradle. Her soft, wavy chestnut hair falls down to her slim waist, and her deep-set emerald eyes are framed by long lashes. Her skin is tan, the color of soft clay. I wish I looked like her. My hair is gingery-gold and straight. Cool gray eyes are paired with a snub nose, giving me a rather serious expression. Mother’s eyes give her a happy expression, like she has smiles tucked into the corners of her face. Right now, she is not smiling. Suddenly I notice that her lashes are sparkling with tears. Instinctively I move forward to comfort her. “Mother, what’s wrong?” In response, she pulls me next to her and angles the cradle towards me. Instantly I see that Johnny is sickly. His normally healthy skin is damp and flushed. I reach out a shaking hand and touch him. His hands are cold and clammy, while the rest of his body is burning up. I gasp as he lets out another wail.
Mother whispers in a hoarse voice, “Lucia, the doctor is so far away and it’s dark and stormy. I cannot leave Johnny for so long. I do not know what to do.” She breaks down sobbing. The sound pulls at my heart. I suddenly have an idea.
“I will go, Mother!”
Her head snaps up, and she gets a steely look in her eyes. “Absolutely not! I could never lose both of you. Go back to bed. Johnny is not in our hands anymore.” She hugs me and pushes me back to my bedchamber.
“But, Mother, I...”
As I walk back to my bed, I fume at Mother. Why shouldn’t I fetch the doctor? I am old enough! A thought comes, unbidden, to my head. If I maybe went to the doctor without Mother knowing, could I... No, Lucia, it is wicked to disobey one’s parents. Johnny is so sick though... If I go fast enough, Mother would never know until she sees the doctor. By then she will be so happy about Johnny, she won’t scold me! Having made up my mind, I slip to the stables.
As my numb hands saddle Birdsong, I grow more and more worried. It is all very well to make such a bold plan, but to carry it out is something else. The journey to the doctor’s is long and dangerous. Hard enough to make in broad daylight, to try to make it at night during a storm is like running into a group of Redcoats. Something no person could possibly survive! However, I have to try, for Johnny.
The rain pours and pours. The wind heaves gusty breaths of air I travel on. Every pothole might mean injury. Every sharp turn, death. I stop by Potter’s Way. If I travel down this way, I might reach the doctor faster, but it overlooks a murky river. If I fall in, I will surely perish. Should I go? I struggle with myself for a minute. I don’t know why I am hesitating. I scold myself Lucia, think of poor, sick Johnny. He is your brother, do you want him to die because of your cowardice? I make as if to go to Potter’s Way, but a small voice in the back of my head stops me. Lucia, of course you care about your brother, but think of yourself too. What use are you if you die? Hating myself, I urge Birdsong past Potter’s Way, down the main path. Biting my lip, I ride on, trying to justify my behavior to myself.
After some time, I hear horse steps following me. Somewhere, a muffled neigh is followed by a whinny of pain. Instantly, I am alert. Is it? Could it be? Horse thieves! Mother had told me many a tale about them. Mean grizzled men. If they caught you, they would take your horse and valuables, if you were lucky. If you weren’t, they also took your life. I could keep ahead of them for some time, Birdsong was a young horse, fast and sprite. However, horse thieves are very experienced. No doubt, I wasn’t the only victim who had a good horse. They would catch up to me sooner or later.
I think fast I have an idea, a dangerous one, but an idea all the same. If I can make Birdsong go fast enough, I could lose the men temporarily and hide in Silverbirch Forest. When they caught up, I could jump out of my hiding spot and surprise them, before racing back the way I came from and going through Potter’s Way. They would be startled for a few crucial moments and give me time to escape. When they regained their senses, they would chase me for a while but then turn back when they saw that I was going through Potter’s Way. A girl and her horse would not be important enough to risk their lives. Inwardly, I feel a flash of joy at being able to take the harder way and prove that I would do anything for my brother. Having worked all the details out, it is time to put my plan into action.
Suddenly, I jerk the reins and Birdsong furiously gallops down the path to the forest. The furious shouts of the men follow me as I pull her behind a patch of trees. Gradually, the men’s voices grow closer. Closer, and closer, until I can smell the dank stench of their clothes. Now! I jump out from behind the trees, ignoring their startled yelps, and canter down, heading to the treacherous cliff path. The thieves’ voices fade away after they see me turn onto Potter’s Way. I hear one of them say that Birdsong and I would surely perish, and my horse would be of no use. Ignoring the sharp flare of fear at hearing those words, I gallop carefully down the steep road, avoiding the cliff. I would reach the doctor’s house soon.
Miss Nadia, the good doctor’s maid, cries out as she sees Birdsong and me, muddy and disheveled. I start sobbing and speak between heaving breaths. “Johnny is sick, and I was attacked by horse thieves, and-and we’re running out of time!”
Miss Nadia calls the doctor. “Daniel, Lucia’s here to see you.” Wrapping a comforting arm around me she soothes, “Dear, tell me everything.”
After Mr. Dunevon hears about Johnny’s condition, he wastes no time gathering up his medical supplies and getting his carriage ready. The deep winding road to my cottage doesn’t seem so scary with Miss Nadia and Mr. Dunevon. When we get to the house and Mother sees me, she runs over and gives me a hug. Then she shakes me. “Lucia, what were you thinking! Do you understand how I felt when I found out that you were gone?”
Mr. Dunevon intervenes. “Mrs Washington, I know you are feeling overwhelmed, however, time is of the essence.”
Mother looks up and notices the doctor for the first time. “Oh! My baby is saved! Right this way please!” As she leads him away, she looks back at me with an expression of jubilant relief, with only a hint of disapproval. In that moment, I know I am forgiven.
I am pacing outside the nursery, waiting as Mr. Dunevon sees to Johnny. For some time, all I can hear are muffled voices. Then, “Lucia,” Mother calls, “you can see Johnny now.” I rush into the room, and as I see nothing but happy faces, I know Johnny will be all right.
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Later that night, I am huddled in my small window niche, writing in my journal October 12, 1781, just past midnight. Dear Mary, today I was a hero.