The soldiers remained at Fordsburgh for three more days, as more retreating soldiers, walking south from Ogdensburgh along the river, found their encampment. Major Forsyth had gone directly towards Sackets Harbor along the rough road north of Black Lake, and Sgt. Adams sent a messenger to let him know where and how many they were.
They hoped the messenger would return with orders to join Forsyth to drive the British back across the St. Lawrence River, but they prepared, instead, for the long trek through the snowy forests to the military base at Sackets Harbor.
When the Floodwoods began to arrive, it was time to go. The Floodwood company had been raised nearby in Madrid and had no uniforms, which made them the perfect volunteers to leave behind in Ogdensburgh to tend the wounded and to hide or destroy whatever supplies they could. The British might hold a Floodwood overnight but would have to release him when they couldn’t prove he was a soldier.
The Floodwoods brought news that General Jacob Brown had met Forsyth on the road and ordered him on to Sackets Harbor, then went to Ogdensburgh himself to gather whatever military supplies the British had not captured. Ogdensburgh would no longer be defended.
Life at the trading post had been quiet. Some of the men went out with their rifles and brought back venison to help feed their fellows and to barter with McKenzie for coffee and tobacco. The ones who had money bought a few things at the store and paid Caleb’s mother to cook for them and do their laundry.
The quiet woman became popular with the men, who gave her too much money for what she did, and praised her cornbread until she laughed.
“That’s nothing but plain old Johnny cake you could make yourself just as good,” she’d protest, but, whether they were from down in North Carolina or up in New England, they’d each insist hers was just like their own mothers’ recipes.
And they chuckled over McKenzie’s cheapness, until the morning of the third day, when one of the wounded men who had been brought down on the sledge died.
Caleb’s mother said she’d be proud to have him buried in the clearing back among the birches, next to Caleb’s father, but all McKenzie did was mumble that they’d best be careful, digging in that frozen ground with his shovel and pick.
“So, let me get this, now,” Corporal Daley said to Caleb, as a group of soldiers were gathered in the barn after the little funeral. “Your ma and pa used to own this store? And then he died, and McKenzie married your ma? And that’s how he got the store?”
“Yeah.” Caleb was sitting cross-legged, his sketchbook in his lap, copying the insignia of Forsyth’s Rifles from the front of the tall soldier’s hat, which sat on the dirt floor in front of him.
Daley looked around at the other soldiers. “What did he do before?”
Caleb spoke without looking away from the hat. “Ran the stables at the public house.”
Daley shook his head. “From stable boy to storeowner! If I didn’t like your ma so much, I’d laugh.”
The door opened and McKenzie walked in. “Caleb, you need to be working,” he said. “There’s wood to be cut and water to be hauled for the horses.”
“We tended your horses when we did our own,” Daley said. “As for wood, Private Clark was just about to cut and split some for our fires. He’ll do yours as well.” He half turned and a dark-haired soldier stood and walked to the door, glaring at McKenzie as he passed by him.
“Well, the boy still has to be working,” McKenzie insisted.
“He’s working, as you can see,” Daley said. “He’s practicing our insignia so he can scratch it into my powder horn proper-like. I always wanted some scrimshaw, and I’m paying him to do it for me.”
“Me, too,” another soldier said, and another said, “Me, too.”
Caleb kept his head down. This was the first he’d heard of doing any scrimshaw.
“The boy is my responsibility …” McKenzie began, but stopped as Daley stood, a head taller than the storekeeper.
McKenzie bent down and took the journal from Caleb’s lap, but the two men continued to stare at each other as he did so.
“You see our insignia in that book?” Daley asked, in a calm, steady voice. “That book is part of our regiment now, and we’d take it bad if anything happened to our insignia or the book it’s drawed in.”
McKenzie paused and the corporal spoke again. “Or the boy that drew it there.”
The other soldiers began to stand up.
“You’d best go tend to your wife’s store,” Daley said.
McKenzie dropped the journal back into Caleb’s lap and stormed out of the barn.
Daley sat back down and the other soldiers also settled back as they’d been.
“Now, here’s a problem,” he said to Caleb. “We’re leaving in the morning and I don’t think you’ll have time to scratch that insignia into our horns by then. But I think, once we’re gone, your stepdad will find time to scratch a few new stripes into your back.”
He looked around at his fellow soldiers. “I reckon we’d better let you tag along like you wanted, after all,” he said, “and if you forget to ask McKenzie for permission, we’ll forget to ask Sarge.”
Text copyright 2012, Mike Peterson – Illustrations copyright 2012 Christopher Baldwin