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This is the seventh chapter of a nine-chapter serial story to be published weekly in NeXt. The story is about life in America leading up to and during the War of 1812. Place names in this story are given and spelled as they were in 1813.

Our story so far: Gen. Brown has given Caleb the task of drawing the various points at Sackets Harbor where the British might try to land their troops, so that his officers will know the ground they must defend.

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Chapter Seven -- The British are Coming!

Caleb was learning as he worked.

He'd only drawn with a quill a few times, but it didn't take long to figure out how to keep the ink from dripping and how hard to press so the line stayed the same width. But he ruined several sheets of paper before he realized that the best plan was to copy his sketches in pencil first, and then go over the lines in ink.

Best of all, there was a real piece of rubber on the desk where Gen. Brown had him work, so he didn't have to use bread to erase any mistakes he made in pencil.

He'd finished the landscapes weeks ago. Now Gen. Brown wanted him to make copies of the map of Sackets Harbor for each of the commanders.

At first, it seemed boring, copying someone else's artwork. But he found he enjoyed it, because it made him really look at how real mapmakers worked. He saw how they put an arrow to show which direction was north, how they marked areas that had forest, how they used a different type of line to show a path than they did to show a road.

He'd known all those things from reading maps before, but now copying them exactly forced him to concentrate better on just how they were put together.

And being distracted was good. Most of the soldiers and sailors had gone to the other end of the lake a month ago. They won a great victory, capturing the Canadian town of York, and the ship that brought that news also brought a lot of valuable military supplies they'd taken. But it also brought the body of Gen. Pike, who had died in the battle, and the news that Pvt. Clark, who had been so kind in helping him avoid a beating at home and in letting him follow the soldiers to Sackets Harbor, had also been killed.

Until then, the war was just something in the newspapers, something people talked about, but it wasn't something that happened to people he knew. Now, with the army moving to attack the Canadians again, he worried about Corp. Daley and even grumpy old Sgt. Adams.

It also made him take the work he was doing for Gen. Brown very seriously, and to think about what might happen if the British did come from Kingston to attack the harbor. Even Alex had stopped clowning around so much, since the solemn ceremony where Gen. Pike's body was buried on the slopes above the lake, and the big 28-gun frigate being built in the shipyard was renamed in his honor.

He finished another map and blew on it lightly to dry the ink before he moved it over to the table with the rest. It was getting toward supper time and Caleb was wondering if he should start a new map or wait until morning, when he heard a cannon shot. He went to the front hall and found several other people coming out of rooms to stand in the open front door.

The Lady of the Lake, a small, fast messenger boat, was rounding the point and approaching the harbor. She had fired a gun to draw attention to the flags flying from one of her yardarms. A lieutenant in the doorway put a small telescope to his eye.

"Enemy preparing to sail," he said, decoding the flags.

Col. Backus had come from his office and was standing behind the small group. "Send a messenger to Brown," he said.

"I'll go, sir," Caleb said, and the colonel looked at him for a moment.

"Can you ride, boy?" he asked, and, when Caleb nodded, Backus turned to the lieutenant. "Get him a horse," he said.

Then he turned back to Caleb. "Ride down to the harbor and find out when they expect the British to arrive. Do you know where Brownville is?"

Caleb pointed in the direction that the Brownville Road took out of the village. Backus nodded.

Caleb followed the lieutenant to the stables, watched while a horse was saddled, then swung into the saddle and cantered down to the docks.

"When will they be here?" he shouted to the officer of the deck on the Lady of the Lake as she came dockside.

"Not before tomorrow. They're still loading and the wind is light," he shouted back.

Caleb turned the horse and spurred with his heels, cantering through the village and onto the Brownville Road. They went on like that for three miles, and then he reined the horse in to a walk. It was 12 miles to the general's house and he'd get there sooner if he didn't tire out his mount completely.

The first person he met on the road in Brownville told him how to find the general's farm and he galloped the last mile and a half, then ran up on the porch and banged on the door so loudly that the general himself came to see what the noise was about.

"Calm down, son," he said, as Caleb blurted out the news. "We've got time."

He turned to the butler who had also come to answer the door. "John, we need to rally the militia. You know who to alert."

John went out the door and Gen. Brown turned to Caleb.

"Let's have some supper, MacCrimmons," he said. "I hate to fight on an empty stomach!"

Next week: A fight and a fire.

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Made available through the support of the New York Newspapers Foundation and funding from New York State United Teachers. Text copyright 2012, Mike Peterson. Illustrations copyright 2012, Christopher Baldwin.

The author has created a companion blog for readers to offer comments or ask questions. It can be found at http://www.weeklystorybook.com/freehand.