The British Occupation of New York
I sat before the fire, staring into the flickering flames. I could hear Father's quill pen scratching behind me on the rough paper. I got up and glanced over his shoulder. The fake message that I'd written in my own hand, addressed to an Aunt Mary, was there on the paper. In between the lines Father wrote swiftly with ink that slowly disappeared as he wrote it.
"When I'm done with this," Father started in the quietest of whispers, "you'll need to take it to the woman at the edge of town. If the dresses are out on the clothes line, then all's well. If there are men's work shirts out on the line, then that means that you've been followed. If there are trousers on the line, then that means that the soldiers are nearby. And if there are sheets..."
"Yes, Father?" I prodded in a whisper.
He hesitated and then glanced up at me. "Then, Abigail," he whispered, "you must run for your life and destroy the letter, for the British are at her house and know that somebody's coming. If they know that she's part of the ring, they'll suspect anybody coming near the house to also be part of the ring."
I nodded solemnly. "You can count on me, Father."
He smiled. "I know I can."
He finished the letter and then handed it to me. I stuck it in my skirt's hidden pocket and then walked out of the back room and back through the stable. Nathan was still pounding away on the blacksmith's anvil.
He stopped hammering as I walked past. "Abigail," he whispered.
I paused. "Yes?"
Nathan's brown eyes met mine. "Be careful, alright?"
"Aye," I nodded. "I will."
He smiled a wan smile, one which I shared. Both of us knew that if I was caught with the message, despite the fact that I was a young woman I would be hung for my deeds. For being a spy for the Patriots.
I started out along the street. I passed a troop of soldiers with my head down, but they didn't even pay attention to me. The thing about the British is that they would never think a woman smart enough to be a spy. That's why there were so many of us in the ring.
The Culper Ring.
I finally reached the border of New York. I spotted the house, just on the outskirts. I started towards it, looking for the line. My green eyes peered around the house, and that's when I saw something that made me gasp.
There wasn't white sheets hanging on the clothes line.
There wasn't anything.
I paused. What should I do? It couldn't be good if there were no sheets. But what if the woman had just been struck sick, or was too busy and had forgotten? I paused, my hand straying to the secret pocket.
"I've got to do it," I whispered.
I strode boldly forward towards the house.
But what would I find?