Town of New Castle,
in present-day Delaware,
Christina and Brandywine River Valley, 1756
"Chelcy!" Fifteen-year-old Elanna Hanssen waved at her best friend and crossed the cobblestone street toward the town green, lifting her petticoats to avoid the mud from the recent rains.
"Oh, Elanna, I am so happy to see you!" Chelcy Greyson embraced Elanna in a warm hug, then stepped back. Her eyes gleamed, and she looked ready to burst with whatever news she had to share.
"Tell me the latest before your stays snap."
Chelcy covered her mouth with her gloved hand and giggled. "Is it that obvious?"
Elanna gave Chelcy's arm a tug and led her toward the stone bench at the edge of the green. "When I saw you, I thought you had somehow managed to capture the sunlight and shine it through your eyes."
"How romantic!" Chelcy pressed her hands to her heart. "Is that from one of your poems or journals?"
"No, it is original and new as of today." Perhaps someday all of her writing would amount to more than ink blots on parchment paper. For now, however, her friend took center stage. Elanna pointed a finger at Chelcy. "No more delays. Tell me your news."
Chelcy clasped Elanna's hands in her own and bounced on the stone bench. Elanna grinned at the enthusiastic display.
"I could hardly believe it when Mother and Father showed me the letter. It took so long to get here, and we only had three days to prepare for his arrival. We had not seen or heard from him in four years, and now he is here. It is so exciting. I do not know how I managed to remain calm this long. Mother had to remind me at least five times every day to relax and focus. Somehow, I completed my daily tasks and—"
"One moment," Elanna interrupted. "Slow down. You spoke so fast I only caught half of what you said. Now, what letter did you receive? And who sent it? Who is here?"
Chelcy touched two fingers to her lips and offered a sheepish grin. "Do forgive me. I told you how excited I was."
"Yes, that much I gathered. Will I ever get to hear who is visiting, or is that going to remain a surprise until I meet him?"
"My cousin," Chelcy announced in a rush. "His name is Madison Scott, and he is visiting from Massachusetts. There are reports that the war is spreading, and he wanted to spend some time with us before things get too bad."
A cousin? From the north? Elanna didn't know why that would be cause for such excitement, but Chelcy had enough exuberance for them both. This Madison must be held in high esteem with the Greysons since it appeared they had gone out of their way to prepare for his arrival. She had to know more.
"So, your cousin is visiting. Is he somehow connected to the Boston Assembly or to some influential person?"
"He is not a councilman, no, but he does wield a certain amount of influence among the soldiers in his regiment."
A soldier. That explained some, at least. "He managed to get enough time away from his regiment to travel this far south? He must be more than a common soldier."
Chelcy nodded. "He is the eldest son of my uncle. After spending several years serving in England in His Majesty's Royal Army and risking his life for his commanding officer during an attack by the French, he returned to Boston and has recently attained the appointment of major." She grinned. "You are going to love him."
"Are you singing my praises again, Chelcy? I must confess, the stories you tell make my accomplishments sound larger than life."
Chelcy jumped up from the bench and threw her arms around a rather dashing gentleman. Elanna couldn't see quite enough of him to get a clear view of his face, but he did make a stylish figure in his uniform. He returned Chelcy's hug with equal fervor, then unwound her arms from his neck and stepped back to get a better look at her. When Chelcy turned again to face her, Elanna caught a full vision of her cousin. Dashing only dusted the surface of an accurate description.
"And who might this charming young lady be?"
Madison took a step toward her, removed his hat with a flourish, and bowed. Gallant and handsome. What a winning combination. A dangerous one, too. He was already leagues ahead of most gentlemen Elanna knew.
"Madison Scott, milady. Might I have the pleasure of an introduction?"
"Oh, Madison, cease with your frivolous social graces. This is Elanna Hanssen, my best friend."
The glint in his eyes accompanied a beguiling grin. "On the contrary, my dear cousin." His attention never wavered from Elanna's face. "One must always adhere to the social customs in order to guarantee a good first impression." He reached for one of Elanna's hands and raised it to his lips. "Would you not agree, Miss Hanssen?"
Elanna could barely remember her name, let alone come up with an appropriate response to his query. By the gleam in his eyes, he certainly knew the effect he had on her. That only made a reply much more difficult. But she'd never backed down from a challenge before, and she didn't intend to start now. With all the grace she could muster, she withdrew her hand from his grasp. Snapping her fan in front of her with several brisk strokes, she took the needed moment to compose herself.
"I would say, Major Scott, that your observation is correct. Regardless of the circumstances, when in mixed company, one must always adhere to the social rules that govern polite society."
Chelcy released a dramatic groan. "Oh, Elanna! Not you, too."
Madison regarded Elanna with undisguised admiration. It was evident that his boldness wasn't met with indifference often; rather, he no doubt enjoyed great success with the ladies. Just how many ladies graced the soldier's life? The fleeting thought came unbidden, and she quickly dismissed it.
"And I gather that your family has raised you according to those same customs."
"Indeed. After all, Papa is a member of the assembly, and Mama is quite influential with the wives of the assembly members."
Elanna could count at least four times in the past month when the assembly wives had been invited to their home for tea. Something big loomed just beyond the horizon. She could feel it.
"It appears New Castle benefits greatly from the contributions of your family. From what my dear cousin tells me, it will not be long before these counties break off to become a colony in their own right."
Chelcy swatted Madison with her fan. "So you did read my letters."
Madison feigned insult and slapped his hat to his chest. "But of course. Do you doubt my interest in local politics? You reside in a town that is situated close enough to Philadelphia to be a significant source of information."
Finally! A topic of interest to Elanna. Despite her mother's objections, Papa kept her informed about significant news from his meetings. Although not privy to everything, she learned enough to stay up to date. She tried hard to contain her excitement. "From what Papa has told us at home, many members of the assembly wish to separate these counties from Pennsylvania so we can fully govern ourselves without their interference."
"And where is home, Miss Hanssen?"
"My family owns a farm a few miles southwest of town along the Christina River."
"Perhaps I shall be able to call upon you there someday."
Elanna dipped her head and brought her fan once more to shield her face. "Perhaps, Major Scott." The sooner, the better, for she was developing a great desire to enjoy his captivating presence and quick wit for more than these few moments.
It had been several months since a gentleman had turned her head. Her twin brother, Edric, teased her often about spending all of her time with pen and paper. But that was how she best expressed herself. God had gifted her with the ability to communicate using the written word, and she refused to waste that talent by ignoring it. Wouldn't Edric be surprised that she had met someone despite that solitary activity?
"Very well," Chelcy announced and stepped between them, "if you two insist upon this formal address, I believe I will return home and leave you both here to determine who will win the social skirmish."
Her friend's declaration dissipated the cloud that had fogged Elanna's mind since Madison had joined their conversation. Had she just been openly coy? Mama would lapse into vapors if she had witnessed such brazen behavior. She'd do well to rein in her actions and her tongue or else risk consequences far worse than her private guilt.
Chelcy touched Elanna's elbow and drew her out of her musings. "Will you be attending the town meeting with your father next week?"
Oh, the meeting! She'd almost forgotten. "Yes, of course. With Edric learning what's necessary to take his position come his eighteenth birthday, I would sooner miss my own birthday celebration than the opening of the assembly."
Her dramatic expression elicited a giggle from Chelcy and a chuckle from Madison.
"As always, delivered with flair and pomp." Chelcy smiled. "Is it any wonder why I find you a pure delight?"
Elanna placed a hand on her chest and raised her chin just a bit. "Just think how utterly dull your life would be without me in it."
"Perish the thought. I refuse to even think of such misery."
Madison raised one eyebrow. "And you accuse both Miss Hanssen and me of frivolous speech?"
A tinge of pink spotted Chelcy's cheeks. She snapped open her fan and hid behind the folds. "I do believe that is my cue to withdraw from this fine company." She motioned for Elanna to step aside with her. "Guard yourself, my friend," she cautioned, dipping her head close. "My dear cousin has a reputation with the ladies. I fear from your expression that you have already succumbed to his charm. Promise me you will keep your wits about you."
Elanna placed a hand on Chelcy's upper arm. "I assure you that my wits will remain firmly intact. Your cousin has done nothing more than behave as any gentleman would."
"I might consider him more of a rogue," Chelcy countered, a twinkle lighting her eyes.
"Be that as it may, you have no need to be bothered about me. I vow to remain in clear view of passersby. Edric and Papa and my three uncles would lock me in my room and teach your cousin a lesson with their fists should I do anything to cause tongues to wag."
A sigh escaped Chelcy's lips. Relief filled her expression. "Very well. I shall leave you alone together...as long as you promise to tell me all that transpired when you come to town again for the meeting next week."
Laughing, Elanna brushed cheeks with her friend. "I promise."
With that, Chelcy was gone. Flutters started in Elanna's stomach, and she placed a hand atop the affected area. Forcing herself to calm, she gave Madison her full attention, but he was the first to speak.
"Shall we?" He extended a hand toward the bench. She sat and tucked her skirts beneath her, laying her fan across her lap. A part of her knew she should probably start for home, but another part wanted to hear the news from this soldier. The latter part won.
* * * * *
Madison regarded Elanna before he spoke. Something about the fair maiden captivated him. Perhaps it was her guileless nature or her winsome smile. Or it could be her engaging personality. Whatever it was, he wanted to enjoy her company for a little while longer.
"So, tell me more—"
"What is it like, living—"
They both laughed as their words tumbled over each other's.
Madison gestured, palm up, encouraging her to continue. "Please."
Elanna dipped her head, then returned her gaze to his. "I would like to know more about your life as a soldier. I have overheard bits of conversation between Papa and several assembly members that have piqued my interest, but they tell me their affairs are not for a young lady's ears." A pout drew Madison's eyes to her lips. "I do not wish to pry, but I am fascinated by what little I do hear and long to know more."
He had best tread carefully, both in his errant thought and on this subject. Too much and he would face severe consequences when he returned to his regiment. Not enough and he would risk disappointing this very attractive young woman. Neither outcome held much appeal. Madison shifted his attention back to her eyes and away from the more-engaging area of her lips.
"Tell me, first, how much you already know about the recent events in the north."
Elanna chewed on her bottom lip and gazed past his left shoulder. He took advantage of that moment to observe her unnoticed. Waves of wheat-colored hair were gathered with combs and fastened under a lappet cap. Eyes the deep gray of the wet sand along the cape near Boston hinted at wisdom beyond her years, yet her manner bespoke a youthful innocence that increasingly intrigued him. Knowledgeable about the facts but ignorant to the ways of the world, she couldn't possess more than ten and five years. If more, then the men of this town should be brought to question for not seeing the beauty before them.
The object of his scrutiny shifted her focus and caught him staring. A becoming blush stained her cheeks, and she tucked her chin to avert her gaze. Innocent indeed. A characteristic he found both refreshing and appealing. Unable to resist, Madison gave a feather-light touch to her cheek. The embarrassment changed to something warmer, but the doe-like innocence remained.
"Do forgive me. I must apologize for causing you discomfort. Please share with me what you know, and I will endeavor to supply the necessary facts to satisfy your curiosity."
His young companion brightened, and her enthusiasm once again took hold. "Over the past two years, Papa has often shared details of reports made to the assembly of the developments in the Ohio Valley and as far north as the St. Lawrence Valley. I understand the dispute over who owns the land beyond the mountains that has led to the war with the French, but I am unclear about how all of these recent events interconnect."
A sweet face paired with an intelligent mind. Madison didn't often encounter Such a combination in the women he knew.
"Basically, both the French and the English claim all the lands from the Alleghenies west to the Mississippi River. While the area along the St. Lawrence River has also been under dispute, the Ohio Valley has recently become the main focus of this conflict."
"Papa says the Ohio Territory is beautiful. From his description, I can almost see it—majestic rolling hills and valleys with glimmering crystal streams, how the rising and setting sun casts color and shadow across the landscape, and all of it stretching as far as the eye can see."
Not only intelligent, but a poet as well. He must learn more about this charming lady.
"Such a vivid imagination you possess." He offered a quick smile then sobered. "The problem is that the French claim they discovered this land, while we English claim it is ours by charter and by our alliance with the Iroquois."
Elanna pursed her lips. "If this land is as valuable as it is beautiful, any man would be foolish not to want it for his own." She tracked the progress of a butterfly alighting on a bed of flowers nearby. "This land here, west of the Delaware River and east of the Chesapeake, has a beauty all its own. I would gladly fight for it if someone challenged me to its ownership."
Madison straightened, frowning, astonished that he had found such a kindred spirit. She had no idea how much he had longed to find someone in whom he could confide; someone who wasn't a part of the regiment in which he served. Because he only associated with fellow soldiers and pompous assembly-men who found dalliances more agreeable than politics, Madison hadn't encountered anyone else who could hold a passable conversation with him. Never in his wildest imagination would he have expected to find such compatibility here in New Castle with a young lady. Thankfully, Elanna's attention remained with the elusive butterfly.
"That is the exact source of the dispute," he murmured. "If the French have their way, we English will be confined to this narrow space between the Atlantic and the crest of the Alleghenies. On the other hand, if the English have theirs, the French will be hemmed within a small portion north of the St. Lawrence."
The sudden flight of two blue jays overhead caught their attention. When the birds flew into a nearby tree, a squirrel chittered in protest. The birds flapped their wings, chirped a few times, and remained where they landed. Accepting defeat, the squirrel scampered down the trunk. Bounding over to another tree, he raced up to resume his previous activities. Elanna shared a smile with Madison at the little animal's antics before bringing their conversation back to the matter at hand.
"Why cannot England and France simply come to an accord on this issue?"
Madison sighed and shook his head. "In my opinion, greed is the driving force that blinds them to any compromise."
Impulsively, Madison covered Elanna's hand with his, then quickly withdrew it, conscious of passersby. She didn't seem to notice, or at least showed no signs that she did. No need to cause her undue distress by making advances that would be misinterpreted by townsfolk who happened by the green. Better yet, they should move from this somewhat secluded spot.
"Will you walk with me?" He rose and extended his elbow in her direction.
She stood and placed her hand in the crook of his arm. The warmth of her touch sent his mind wandering in another direction, but he quickly reined in his thoughts. It was enough to know he would be escorting such a lovely young lady around town.
Once they had stepped off the green and crossed the street to the sidewalk in front of the shops, he continued. "Our current situation is tenuous at best," he said. "Hostilities have risen to an alarming level. The colonies are continuing to wage war against the French, but they are suffering more loss than gain."
Elanna turned her attention to the storefronts they passed, as if attempting to piece together everything she knew and had learned. "Other than knowing of the disputes, we had no inclination here of how critical the situation had become." She pointed out several new hats in the window of the haberdashery. "Not even our trade has been affected as of yet." She inclined her chin to look at him. "Colonel Washington's journal published in the Maryland Gazette, where he shared the details of his encounter with the French near the Great Meadows, was our first indication."
Madison nodded. "The French commander and nine of his men were killed, which led to the colonies rallying in fear of the French threat. Hopefully, we will receive support soon from England." He made a general sweep with his arm to encompass the town. "None of the bloodshed has trickled this far south, which is why I wanted to pay a visit to my family here while I still had the opportunity."
"How soon must you return?"
"I am not sure. I—"
"Special edition! Just arrived! Get the latest Pennsylvania Gazette."
The loud voice of a young lad hawking copies of the Gazette prevented Madison from answering Elanna's query. If a special edition had been printed, the news must be of great import. He signaled for the boy and offered a coin for the paper. As soon as the lad continued down the cobblestone street, Madison held the single page in front of him.
Large, black letters shouted, ENGLAND DECLARES WAR ON FRANCE! Dread settled in the pit of his stomach.
Elanna touched the edge of the paper. "They have made it official." Sorrow tinged her words.
He forced himself to look up from the fateful proclamation. Concern was etched in every facet of her delicate face. How could he tell her he had to leave? But he had no choice.
Without thinking, he pulled his arm away and released his hold on the paper. The page fluttered to the ground at their feet.
"Miss Hanssen, I must go."
"Go? But must it be so quickly?"
Biting her lip, she bent to stop the paper from blowing across the street in the breeze. He hastily dropped to one knee to help. As they reached for the page, they bumped heads.
Brilliant. He was as couth as a drunken sailor. He smiled, hoping it would soften the abruptness of his announcement, then got to his feet, rubbing his head ruefully. He bent to take her hand, and she rose to stand before him, regarding him gravely.
"Forgive me, Miss Hanssen. Now that England has formally declared war on France, I must return to my post in Boston."
She clutched the paper she had gathered to her bosom. "What will happen?"
Madison wished he knew. "Only time will tell." She started to respond, but he stayed her words with his hand. "I have enjoyed every moment of our conversation, and I do not wish for things to end here." He took a breath and prayed for courage. "May I write to you?"
"Yes, of course," she answered without hesitation.
In spite of the gravity of the military and political situation they faced, a thrill lifted his spirits. He reached into his pouch for paper, but before he could find it, she retrieved a small leather-bound booklet tied with twine, along with a pencil. He raised one eyebrow in question.
She colored prettily. "I keep one of my journals with me at all times."
Yet another facet of this intriguing young lady. Madison knew the significance of what she was about to do, but at the thought of the long, solitary journey back to Boston he had before him, he already felt the absence of her company. To do this properly, he should seek out her father and obtain permission to correspond with Elanna. There just wasn't time. She quickly scrawled an address onto one of the blank pages, and he prayed his letters would reach her.
With great care, Elanna tore the page from the journal and handed it to him, their hands barely brushing. She clutched the journal to her chest. "I pray you write at the earliest opportunity."
Madison lifted her hand to his lips and brushed a kiss across her knuckles. "And I shall eagerly await the return of your letter in response."
He forced himself to turn and stride in the direction of his cousin's home. Unable to avoid a final look, he glanced back over his shoulder to find Elanna watching him. Sadness softened her features. He gave a cheerful wave and tore his gaze from her as he put more distance between them. Although hesitant to admit it, he left part of his heart behind.