This is the final chapter of a nine-chapter serial story being 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's militia panicked and ran away, and the British forces are advancing against the remaining American defenders. Now someone has set fire to the shipyard, which was only supposed to happen if the Americans lost the battle.
>Chapter Nine -- To Build a Nation
"Who gave that order?" Gen. Brown shouted, then shouted at Caleb. "You go tell them, by thunder, that we're not beaten yet!"
Caleb raced up the slope, then past Fort Tompkins and down to the shipyard. "Put it out! Put it out!" he shouted, but the flames were already racing through the barrels of tar and the crates of muskets.
"No order was given!" he shouted at the first officer he met, and then his eyes fell on Alex, standing a few feet from the burning building where the new ship, the General Pike, was being built. They looked at each other for a moment, and Caleb turned back to the officer.
"The volunteers and regulars are holding at the drainage ditch," he said. The man stared at the flaming shipyard for a moment, then began to give orders to start fighting the fire.
Caleb ran back down to the long ditch, where he found Gen. Brown kneeling next to Col. Backus, who was badly wounded. "It's all right, sir," he said. "They're putting it out."
"There, you hear, Backus?" Brown said. "Everything will be fine!"
He stood and ran, ducking, back up the slope toward the fort.
Caleb stayed near the colonel, whose face looked gray as he lay on the ground, waiting for the men with the stretcher to finish binding his wound and lift him onto it.
"It was just a mistake," Caleb said. "Someone made a mistake. They're putting the fire out." Col. Backus moved his lips, but no words came out, and he just nodded his head slightly.
Six mounted dragoons charged past from the fort down to the woods at the edge of the field, with Gen. Brown running behind them. Caleb joined him, and, as the mounted men reached the forest, they began to shout, "Hurrah! Hurrah! They're retreating!"
Caleb looked back. The Americans had left the ditch and were ducking into the log barracks as the British began to move forward again. Now that they were in range, the smaller cannons of Fort Tompkins joined Big Sow in firing at the British, but most of the fighting was being done with bullets and bayonets.
Still, the dragoons shouted joyfully about victory, and, as they celebrated, militia men began coming out of the woods. Most still had their guns and, before they realized the battle had not ended, Gen. Brown formed them up into a line, informed them that they would be shot if they deserted again, and led them back into the fighting.
And now the Americans got lucky: When the British commander saw those 300 men coming toward the battlefield, he mistook them for fresh troops and decided their arrival would tip the balance against him. Retreat was suddenly sounded and the redcoats ran down to the shore, piled into their boats and made for their ships.
By evening, the British were gone and cleanup had begun. There were wounded to be treated, dead to be buried, and the remainder of the fire to be extinguished. The blaze had destroyed a half million dollars worth of supplies, but the General Pike, its wood still green, was only slightly scorched.
Caleb and Alex joined one of the burial parties. It was grim work, but the men all thought about their own families, and it wasn't hard to feel they were doing something important.
Alex paused in his work. "I'm going home tomorrow," he said to Caleb. "I don't belong here."
"We were all scared," Caleb said. "You're not the only one who ran."
Alex shook his head. "What I did was different. I didn't give the order. The fire was already started. But I would have."
Caleb didn't say anything, and Alex went on. "You've covered for me since we were kids, Caleb," he said. "You've found a home here. I don't want to mess that up for you."
Caleb wiped his brow and looked around at the other men, and the torn-up grounds that had been the battlefield. He wanted to argue, but he knew Alex was right.
"I've got a letter you can take to Ma," he said.
Three days later, the fleet returned and Gen. Brown went home to Brownville, taking Col. Backus with him, but the colonel died within a week.
Winter had again wrapped McKenzie's store in snow a year and a half later, when a tall young man rode into the yard on horseback, dismounted and strode through the front door.
Alex was behind the counter and looked up with excitement, but Caleb put a finger to his lips, and Alex pointed toward the back of the store.
"Hello, Ma," Caleb said, and his mother turned from the bolts of cloth she'd been rearranging and rushed to embrace him, kissing him and then pulling back to look into his face.
Dan McKenzie came from the backroom and held out a hand. "You're back," he said.
"Only 'til spring," Caleb confessed. He shook his stepfather's hand, and was surprised to find that he didn't dislike him anymore. He didn't like him, either. Other things just seemed more important.
His mother was waiting for him to say more. "I'm going to Albany in the spring, to be apprenticed to a mapmaker," he explained. "Gen. Brown arranged it for me," he added.
"I wish you could stay," his mother said.
"I'll be around," he promised. "We'll be surveying all over the state. With the war over, there are canals to be built, and highways. We've proved that we're a country. Now it's time to start building one!"
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.