It has been eleven years since Daniel McQueen fled his father’s blacksmith shop to find his way in the North American wilderness. A strapping young adventurer, as quick to duel as he is to sweep a barmaid off her feet, McQueen thrives in the untamed new continent. But on a trip through Montreal, he learns his father has been arrested, consigned to a Boston prison ship for selling guns to the American revolutionaries. A British major offers to spare McQueen’s father in exchange for a simple request: kill George Washington, leader of the rebel troops.
For the sake of his father, this lone wolf is forced to choose sides. The love of a stunning patriot turns his heart toward rebellion. No matter what, Daniel McQueen will be a traitor. But to which side?
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Guns of Liberty
The Medal, Book One
By Kerry Newcomb
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1991 Kerry Newcomb
All rights reserved.
May 10, 1775
"Stand and deliver, or die in your tracks!" the tallest of the three highwaymen exclaimed. The black hood he wore muffled his voice; the black cloak concealed his long-limbed frame. Two more hooded figures, one to either side, held their saddle pistols at the ready.
"It would be a shame to splatter that pretty face and yellow hair o'yours all over the hickories," a small, thickset thief added.
The third highwayman, a slim, red-eyed ruffian, sat silent, allowing his two companions to speak while his unwavering gaze swept the young woman's pretty form from her slender white ankles at the hem of her cotton dress to her rounded hips and bosom. Curls the color of autumn meadows, yellow-gold in the waning of the year, poked out from beneath the tricorn hat she wore. Kate Bufkin was as fetching as moonlight on the Delaware River.
Young Kate endured the rascal's lascivious appraisal and refused to be frightened into submission, though she was alone, twenty-two miles out from Philadelphia along the Trenton Road. Five miles ahead lay home and hearth, the safety of the inn she ran with her brother. It was noon and she'd been traveling since sunup, driving her four-wheeled wagon along the heavily rutted road. She was tired and thirsty. Her back ached; her homespun cotton dress was no longer blue but gritty with dust. And the eight large crates of Irish Brown Reds in the wagon had kept up a continuous complaint, squawking and flapping their wings every time the wagon jolted.
In short, Miss Kate Bufkin was in no mood to be trifled with—especially by the likes of these highwaymen.
"You'll be stepping off that chicken wagon, there's a good miss." The small, thickset man brought himself around to the side of the wagon.
The third man broke his silence. He did not intend to share the favors of such a comely tavern wench with anyone. "Back off, Chaney," he warned, closing in on the other side, leaving only their leader to obstruct her passage.
Kate gathered the lines in her left hand, caught up the whip in her right. With a flick of her wrist she laid open Chaney's shoulder, then lashed out at the hooded man to her right and caught him along the neck.
He yelped and fired his gun. The sudden explosion startled the team. The mares bolted forward as the leader of the three highwaymen, his black cloak flapping, made a mad dash out of harm's way. He raised his pistol and fired. Kate flinched, sucked in a lungful of powder smoke, and wondered how the man could have missed.
She did not intend to give him another chance. She cracked her whip across the rumps of her mares and urged them to even greater effort. In a matter of seconds she had raced past the thieves. The wagon lurched to one side, clipped a tree trunk someone had only partly dragged out of the road. The chickens renewed their protests at such ill treatment.
The highwaymen brought their horses under control and gave chase. Another pistol shot sounded as Kate glanced over her shoulder and saw the highwaymen a couple of hundred feet back. They'd easily catch her; she was pulling too great a load. She gave a momentary thought to lightening the wagon. But there was no time. Besides, she was loath to part with any of her property without a fight.
Kate reached under the bench seat and brought the blunderbuss secreted there up beside her on the bench seat.
The Trenton Road followed the Delaware River as it wound through the hills. Kate could just glimpse the sun-dappled water. The land was heavily forested, garbed in the green foliage of spring. She sped past maple and hickory, white oak and ash, whose leafy limbs stretched above the road to form a ceiling of intersecting branches. The wagon careened through a patchwork of sunlight and shadow as it approached the covered bridge across Half Mile Creek. It was downhill here, and the wagon made good speed. But it was small comfort to Kate. The incline beyond the bridge might prove her undoing; it would surely dissipate her lead. Still, Kate vowed that blood would flow before such brigands laid a hand on her.
Several white-tailed deer dashed from the forest's edge and cleared the road as the wagon rushed by. Two boys near the covered bridge paused to lean upon their fishing poles and watch the oncoming wagon as it sped downhill toward them. Kate could not risk the lives of innocents in making her stand at the creek. Her next choice became Indian Head Rock at the top of the next hill. Here the road was bordered by cherry trees to one side and on the other a boulder twice as large as the wagon. The massive gray stone resembled the profile of an Indian, silently guarding the road.
At the rock, then, she would make her stand. Such a course was well clear of the youngsters at the bridge. Even now the lads began to wave until the guns of the highwaymen barked their warning of death in the afternoon. The youths dropped their rods and pails and dove for the creek bed at the sound of the guns. In their haste they left a line of freshly caught perch to die along the road.
The wagon rumbled onto the bridge; the iron-rimmed wheels made a tremendous clatter as they rolled over the weathered planks. The interior of the covered bridge offered a momentary respite from the sun. It might have been nice to pause awhile and enjoy the moment had there not been a trio of armed men trying to kill her.
The horses started to slacken their pace, but Kate cracked her whip and stung the rumps of her frightened team.
As the wagon cleared the bridge Kate spied movement out of the corner of her eye. She glanced up and gasped to see a shadow shape detach from the edge of the roof. A rawboned, red-haired man in black trousers and boots, a linsey-woolsey shirt, and buckskin jacket came crashing down on the wagon bed.
Daniel McQueen missed the bench seat and toppled onto the chicken cages. He crushed one cage and nearly ruined two others. Kate switched the lines to one hand and grabbed for the blunderbuss beside her on the seat. Daniel saw her swing the barrel toward him and kicked out as she squeezed the trigger. The weapon peppered the air with its load of round shot and nails.
"By my oath!" Daniel shouted through a flurry of red feathers. "I'm here to help you, lass."
Kate, already off balance, dropped the gun and lost her hold on the lines as the wheels struck another rut and jolted her off the seat. She landed atop her unexpected passenger. Cages cracked beneath them. Chickens scratched and pecked their way to freedom and beat their wings against the air. They rose in an ungainly semblance of flight and landed in the bed of the careening freight wagon.
Daniel rolled off the crates and landed against a keg of ale and another of rum. He had to brush Kate's skirt from his face and in the process caught a momentary peek at her creamy white ankles and shapely calves before she righted herself into a more dignified position.
Daniel gallantly excused himself and scrambled over the remaining chickens in an effort to catch the lines. He missed by inches. One of the roosters stabbed its beak through the bars of the cage and nipped his belly as Daniel clambered toward the bench seat. He yelped and dove out of one harm's way into another. The mares were racing full out and making good progress up the hill despite the wagon's heavy load. But the lines were dragging along the ground beneath the singletree.
A man would have to be crazy to try for them.
Daniel scrambled over the siding, managed to balance on the crossbar, and with one hand on the wagon seat lowered himself to within reach of the lines. He'd have to take care to avoid the hooves of the mare closest to him. For a moment he thought he might lose his purchase.
Chips of rock and muddy debris spattered his arms and stung his cheeks like a swarm of hornets. He timed his effort and tried for the lines, missed, and almost lost his forearm to a flashing hoof. He tried again and caught the lines on the fly and leaped back up onto the seat, kicked the brake, and hauled back with all his might just as the wagon reached the top of the rise near Indian Head Rock. The wheels skidded in the dirt and the wagon shuddered and angled sideways.
Kate had only just regained her balance when the horses dug in their heels. She flew forward, and only by the grace of God and the strength of Daniel's outstretched arm did she avoid a nasty tumble onto the skittish mares.
"What are you trying to do?" she exclaimed, straightening upright and trying to salvage a scrap of her dignity.
"To save your life," Daniel replied.
"You could have fooled me, sir!"
The Scotsman ignored her insult and hopped down to the road, drawing his pistols from his waistband. He walked alongside the wagon.
"Hold the team," he said.
"They might bolt again. You've raised them tenderhearted."
Kate, speechless at such effrontery, simply stared. Before she could think of a suitable reply, the man was past her and standing at the rear of the wagon. Down below, the highwaymen emerged from the shadowy interior of the covered bridge and climbed the rise.
Daniel leveled the pistol in his right hand and fired. Kate shielded her eyes and watched with amazement as two of the brigands pitched from horseback—two with one shot!
The redheaded stranger turned toward her, smiled wanly, and shrugged. "I use a heavy load," he explained. The last of the highwaymen, the tall, thin one who had ordered her to stand, waited by his fallen companions. It was obvious he wanted no part of a solitary attack. Nor was the man on the hill willing to come under the highwayman's gun. It was a standoff.
Daniel ambled back to the wagon and climbed up alongside the young woman. He tucked the "Quakers" away and gestured toward the road ahead.
"He'll not be bothering us again," he said. Kate continued to stare at him. "Well, surely you'll not refuse hospitality to such an orphan soul as myself, especially after all I have done."
"Hospitality, is it? After you cost me two crates of chickens with your clumsiness?" She drew herself up as if to continue her caustic response. Then, with mercurial swiftness, her anger dissipated. The icy hardness in her blue eyes melted, and she flicked the lines and started the mares forward. She liked boldness in a man, and this one seemed as bold as they came.
"Well, my 'homeless' pup, do you have a name? For I am Kate Bufkin, and I'll not be riding with a stranger."
Daniel told her his name—the truth—and gave a shallow account of how he came to be along the Trenton Road—a lie. But there was music in his voice and laughter in his eyes, and though Kate believed little of his self-account, oddly, she didn't care. The recent danger was quickly left behind and as quickly forgotten as the miles rolled effortlessly past.
"You impossibly stupid oafs," Major Josiah Meeks exclaimed from astride his gray stallion. He removed his hood and shrugged the cape back off his shoulders as his single eye bore into the men sprawled in the dust of the Trenton Road.
"I was supposed to die first," portly William Chaney said with his face in the dirt. Blood caked where the whip bit his shoulder.
"Black liar," the slender one said, groaning and knuckling the grit from his bloodshot eyes. His neck burned like fire. Kate's whip had left a scarlet welt below his jaw, a gift of pain for him to remember her by—and Black Tolbert most certainly would. He was a thin-skinned, vengeful young man, capable of bearing a grudge for a lifetime if that was how long it took to see things righted to his satisfaction.
"You've got no call to say that," Chaney protested. "We agreed. I was to die first. You were supposed to wait until McQueen's second shot. Wasn't that so, Major Meeks?"
"Get out of the dirt!" Meeks said, his gaunt features livid with anger. "They're gone." He couldn't remember who was supposed to "die" first, nor did he care.
For a tuppence he would have ridden off and left both of his associates where they lay. But Will Chaney, though dumb as a plow, was ruthless in a fight, and Black Tolbert, the whoremonger, was a keen and deadly marksman with rifle or pistol.
Meeks shaded his eye and studied the settling dust up by Indian Head Rock. Well—no matter, he decided. Despite its clumsy beginnings, his plan had achieved a successful outcome. Daniel McQueen was on his way to the Hound and Hare Inn.CHAPTER 2
The Hound and Hare Inn was set back about fifty feet off the Trenton Road and in the middle of a semicircular cobblestone drive that allowed a carriage or horseman easy passage back onto the tree-lined thoroughfare.
The inn itself was built of white oak planks and held together with nails forged from melted-down horseshoes. It stood two stories, with eight large windows across the front and back and four to either end. The structure ran ninety-five feet by twenty and offered four comfortable rooms upstairs for guests. Kate Bufkin and her brother, Loyal, each had a small bedroom off the tavern and winter kitchen that dominated the ground floor.
Daniel McQueen noted that part of the second story and the gable roof showed fire damage; the timbers were broken and some of the upstairs windows were blackened by fire. Kate noticed how he studied the place.
"By rights it should have burnt to the ground," she said. "But a winter storm came up. It was a veritable deluge. I've never seen the like. Loyal, my brother, said it was a miracle. It put out the fire, though not until Mama collapsed with a lungful of smoke. She never recovered. Pneumonia took her, the last week in February."
"I'm sorry," Daniel said, and meant it. He had lost a parent and was on the verge of losing another if he couldn't figure some way out of his predicament.
The building needed work; so much the better. He turned his attention to the courtyard in front of the inn. It was surrounded by a low wall built of native stone, and several tables had been set out in the sunlight. A massive keg was turned on its side and balanced on the wall. He caught the faint but distinct aroma of hard cider. A number of apple trees shaded the courtyard and dotted the grounds surrounding the inn, which faced in an easterly direction.
A couple of horses were tied to one of the rings set in the courtyard wall, and two men were seated at one of the tables. A pewter pitcher and two mugs stood upon the tabletop between them. Kate tensed on seeing the pair.
A third man, who bore some resemblance to Kate, waved as she drove the freight wagon into the drive and swung past the courtyard and around the north side of the inn, where a barn had been erected back in the trees.
"We can unload through the back door," Kate said.
"We?" Daniel's eyebrows arched.
"If you're going to stay awhile, you'll have to earn your keep."
"Now, lass, I never said I was staying."
"You will," Kate replied, eyes twinkling. "You told me on the way here you were in hopes of finding employment. Maybe we can use you. Besides, you've yet to taste one of my apple pies."
This is turning out to be easier than I had hoped, Daniel thought as he rounded the wagon to help Kate. She climbed down without his assistance. She was a headstrong lass. But why was she in a hurry to secure the services of a man she hardly knew? Daniel began to have misgivings about all this. He had a feeling he had stepped into trouble. A few moments later, and he knew it for a fact.
A big, strapping, corn-fed young man of nineteen rounded the corner of the inn. He stood a head taller than Daniel and looked to carry an extra thirty pounds, much of it on his heavily muscled chest and shoulders. His brown hair was already thinning from his broad expanse of forehead, where the skin was sunburned and peeling. His arms swung loosely at his side. He wore nut brown pants tucked into his black boots and a coarsely woven cotton shirt and brown coat. His tricorn hat was faded and worn from sunlight and rain.
"Afternoon, Miss Kate, I've been waiting for you."
"And draining my stock of hard cider or I miss my guess, Henk Schraner. So what brings you from farm and field?"
"Father's out front with poor Loyal," Henk said. "My brothers are back. They came in last night from their yondering. Now they can help with the farm and I can help you, like I said ..." As Henk spoke he eyed the rough-looking newcomer who had accompanied Kate Bufkin on the wagon. Henk made no attempt to hide his jealousy.
Excerpted from Guns of Liberty by Kerry Newcomb. Copyright © 1991 Kerry Newcomb. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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