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This is the sixth 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: A man who takes a friendly interest in Caleb's artwork turns out to be Gen. Jacob Brown. Corp. Daley says Brown and other important people are in town for an important meeting, and that something major is being planned.

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>Chapter Six -- On Assignment

Caleb was mucking out stalls while Alex lay on a pile of straw, staring up at the ceiling.

"Do you suppose the war will last long enough for us to enlist?" Alex asked.

Caleb turned a pitchforkful of straw and manure into the wheelbarrow. "It's only two more years until we're old enough," he said. "I'd like to say it'll be over by then, but who knows? It just seems to go back and forth."

"I'd like to see some action," Alex declared, rising up on his elbows. "There's nothing to do here."

"You could grab the other pitchfork," Caleb suggested, but Alex had already lain back and stuck a piece of straw in his mouth.

Pvt. Clark appeared in the open barn door. "MacCrimmons! General wants you, up at the main house!"

Caleb put another forkful into the barrow and then stuck the pitchfork into it. "You want to take over?" he asked, and Alex raised his head and looked at him, and at the wheelbarrow, as if the notion had never occurred to him.

Spring had come and, though there was still ice on the lake and piles of snow in the shade near trees and buildings, the ground outside the barn was muddy and wet. "Has he always let you do all the work?" Clark asked, as they walked up the path.

Caleb grunted in reply but said nothing. It was true: Alex's father had rarely punished him, and Caleb's mother felt it wasn't her place to give her stepson orders. Alex had generally done just enough work to get by and let Caleb do the rest.

"For all his talk about wanting to be a real soldier, he should be glad he isn't," Clark said. "Sgt. Adams would take care of him fast enough!"

They came to the harbor and parted, Clark walking toward the barracks while Caleb took the path to the main house. The guard at the door glanced at him but said nothing, and he found himself standing in the front hallway alone until Maj. Forsyth stepped from a room and beckoned him in.

He recognized Gen. Brown at the large table, as well as Col. Backus, the commander of the post. Commodore Chauncey, who commanded the naval forces, was also there, and another general who he thought was probably Zebulon Pike. He'd never seen him, but he'd heard that Pike had arrived and was going to be part of whatever they were planning.

Brown stood up and took some blank papers from the table. "Caleb, I want you to go draw some landscapes," he said. "I have maps, but I want you to draw the ford that connects Horse Island, the cliffs along the shore from there to the harbor and then beyond, and the slope up to the log barracks that are being built. The ice won't hold you, but get a look at things from down on the shore. I want views of every place a boat can land and every place a man can come ashore."

He handed Caleb the papers. "Sketch it on these, then come up here and do it over with ink, four copies of everything."

He turned back to the other men. "If they come at all, they'll land their main force on Horse Island. I'm sure of that. But if there's a second landing point, I want to be ready."

He put a hand on Caleb's shoulder. "Any place you see trees down or ground that's shifted over the winter, mark it carefully. I set up defenses here last summer, but things change. I don't want any surprises."

He looked over at Col. Backus. "With most of the men who know the area gone, I want the officers who are here to have a good idea of what is out there. We'll have them walk the grounds, but I want these pictures to be included with their orders so there are no mistakes."

Backus nodded in agreement and Gen. Brown walked Caleb to the door of the room. "There's time to work today, and then tomorrow. By noon the next day, I want you up here doing the finished pictures. Understand?"

"Yes, sir," Caleb said, and then the door closed behind him and he was, once more, standing alone in the front hall.

He decided to start at the harbor and work his way toward Horse Island until the light failed. He could do the slopes by the barracks at dusk, because there wasn't as much detail to draw. Then he could finish the shoreline and Horse Island the next day and do the far side of the harbor where there weren't as many cliffs and bluffs.

As he walked down to the harbor, he pondered what Gen. Brown had said. Most of the experienced officers would be gone, but where? They must be taking most of the regular army, or else Brown, a militia officer, wouldn't have such a big role in the defense of the base.

And, if the general expected an attack by water, it would surely come from the British base at Kingston. That must mean that Chauncey and his ships would also be gone, or else they'd be planning to fight it out on the open water.

Caleb felt in his pocket for his pencil. He might be too young for the army, but he was in the battle anyway.

Next week: The British are coming!

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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.