Chapter One

May, 1780- Amostowne, Virgina

I was in the kitchen with Mother when I heard it first. The terrible boom rang through the field, echoing within the trees and throughout the warm house. War had been ravaging our poor country for several years now, but none of us was accustom to the sound of a cannon. Mother looked at me, her blue eyes watering.

"Elisabeth, Get your brothers and sisters," she said firmly. "They should be near the river."

I nodded. "Yes, Mother," I said, walking to the door.

Outside it was warm and sunny, just like a regular day in May should have been. I walked briskly from the porch down to the lawn, and set off to the river, which was tucked just behind woods' beginning. I could hear it running already. Another boom rang through the land as I entered the woods. I quickened my pace until I reached the river.

When I got there, I was happy to see that the three siblings, who were swimming that day, were already rushing to get dressed. They must have heard the cannons. Who couldn't have?

"Ben, Catherine, Helen," I called. "Mother wants you in the house. Now."

Ben, the youngest of the three, ran to me and clung to my legs. "Libby!" he cried as I picked him up. "I'm so frightened!"

I gave him a happy smile. "Ben, you've no need to be scared!" I replied.

Eight-year-old Catherine ran to me and took my hand. "Libby, is it the British?" she asked. "Are they coming to take Williamsburg?"

"Of course not," Helen replied soothingly as we started back to the house. Helen, at eleven, was the leader of the younger children in our family. She was the self-appointed caregiver to those who couldn't care for themselves.

When we reached the house, Father was waiting on the porch. "Hurry, you four," he said, ushering us through the door. We already knew where we were headed, and trekked down into the cramped cellar, where there wasn't much room as is. Mother was down there already, with the nine-month-old twins, Samuel and Anna, my other brothers, fifteen-year-old Gregory and twenty-one-year-old Thomas, and Thomas's pregnant wife, Judith. Thomas's friend, Henry, and his wife and my best friend, Susannah, added to the chaos.

"William, what's going on?" my mother asked, handing Samuel to me as I put Ben down.

"I don't know," he replied. "A battle, most likely."

I moved myself closer to Susannah and squeezed her hand anxiously. All the war drama terrified me. My father, who was the patriarch of the little community here on our tiny farm, was determined to keep our family as far from the revolution as possible. He hated war. And although he claimed to be a patriot, he always said that the British "did him no wrong," so he refused to join the continental army. Thomas was reluctant to join the war because of Judith and the baby.

My had never been full of grandesque or glamour. On the contrary, it had been quite serene. I was born and raised in the same house I was standing in that moment. My father was the son of Irish immigrants, but my mother was a wealthy English heiress. What a pair they made! They'd bought the land with my mother's dowry and built the house from the ground up. Afterwards, they named it Knock Grena House, which means "sunny hill" in Gaelic. They created a small farm to feed themselves and their growing family, only about ten miles from Williamsburg. My mother taught all of us how to read and write, as well as proper manners and how to be "social," even though we weren't around company all that often, unless you counted our enormous family. Last winter, my mother had twins, bringing the number of Emerson's to eleven, counting Judith.

The sound of shotguns and cannons didn't grow closer, but it didn't seem to fade off either. It lasted a good three hours or so as well. When it finally got quiet, my father, Thomas, and Henry took their guns and wandered up the stairs cautiously. A few anxious, fearful minutes passed before they came back down.

"All right," Father said. "It's safe."

We all trudged back up the stairs. Surprisingly, it was still light out, but only just. The sun was setting. Catherine, Helen, and Ben ran back outside, but Mother told them to stay away from the river. Gregory settled himself on the porch with his fiddle while Father, Thomas, and Henry walked about the field. Susannah, Judith, Mother, and I remained in the house with the twins.

"All right, you three," Mother said. "We've got supper to make. Susannah, Judith, you'll be eating with us tonight."

They nodded submissively. Mother was the matriarch of the females in the house, and we all followed her command. "What are we making, Mother?" I asked.

"Shepard's pie," she replied. "And apple tansy for dessert."

The four of us got to work. It had been this way for a long time, Judith, Mother, Susannah, and I, working in the kitchen. It'd known Susannah for most of my life. Her father owned the next farm over. It was really more of a plantation, with it's huge house and fifty slaves. Susannah was a pretty girl, with flaming red hair and soft brown eyes. She was shy and soft spoken, and her lady-likeness made her attractive to men. Specifically, Henry. Henry was strapping son of a British blacksmith in Williamsburg. He'd courted Susannah for almost a year before they finally got married. He'd moved out to Amostowne in hopes of making some money and buying his own business. Judith was a different story. She'd lived in London for most of her life, and moved over to Williamsburg three years ago, as the daughter of the new church minister. Her and Thomas were married last spring, and now she was eight months pregnant.

A few hours later, we'd finished making supper and set the table. The thirteen of us sat down and said grace, and then started eating. It was always an enjoyable experience, supper. We told of the days adventures and talked of our plans for tomorrow. After everyone had finished, Mother, Susannah, and I began the dishes, allowing Judith to sit down and rest. When we'd finished, Father called everyone out onto the porch.

"I've got to go to Williamsburg tomorrow," he replied. "I'll be taking Henry with me, as well as Gregory. Would anyone else like to come?"

I looked around, hoping I wouldn't have to go. "Oh! I would, Father!" Catherine called.

"Me too!" cried Ben, desperate to be everything Catherine was.

Father laughed and picked Ben up. "Libby, I think you should come too," he said, looking at my mother.

She nodded. "Yes," she replied. "A wonderful idea."

I shook my head. "I don't wish to go to Williamsburg," I said.

"You'll be coming with us," Father replied sternly. "I don't want to hear you complain, Elisabeth."

I folded my arms angrily and sulked. I liked Williamsburg well enough, but lately Mother and Father had been pressuring me to go more frequently than every Sunday for church. I knew why, too. They were hoping that some boy there would take a liking to me, court me, and that I'd marry him. It was a ridiculous wish, for I'd certainly not let it happen. I was seventeen, much to young to marry.

~*~

"No, wear this one," Mother said to me, handing me a gown. "It's simple. It'll look nice."

I had to agree with her. The gown was ecru, and patterned mauve flowers. The sleeves and neckline had elegant lace along the their edges, and the stomacher was simple ecru lace. Mother laced my stays remarkably tight, and made sure my hoops were on tightly. Judith flew in, all smiles and giggles, and loaned me her wide brimmed straw hat with the cream ribbon.

"This will look lovely with your hair!" she cried, pulling off my bonnet. "It's much to pretty to keep wrapped in a bun, Libby."

She untied my ribbon and let my wavy, brown-black hair fall down my shoulders. She placed my bonnet back on and tied the hat on top of it. "But it might be so hot!" I cried. "What if I get hot?"

"You leave that hat on, Elisabeth," Mother warned.

I nodded, and snatched my fan from her. "I wish I didn't have to go," I whined as we walked down the stairs.

"Well, well, look who looks like a lady," Thomas said, clutching Judith's hand.

I ignored him and walked outside, where Father was attaching the horses to the carriage. I gave him a pleading look, and he laughed. "No, Libby," he replied. "You've got to come."

I climbed into the back of the carriage and sat with Susannah. She'd agreed to come, only because I'd been sour to her the night before. Besides, Henry was going. "Cheer up, Libby," she said. "It's not as though you're going to be getting married today anyway."

"Easy for you to say," I replied. "You've already gone through this."

She laughed. "Exactly," she explained. "So I'm here to help you through it."

She squeezed my hand and called for Henry. He came bursting out of the house, Helen and Gregory at his heels, laughing. The clambered into the carriage with Ben, Susannah, and I. With a final wave to Mother, Thomas, and Judith, we were on our way.