New York City
November 10th, 1780
It was a few minutes past midnight. Annie knew she should be sleeping; unfortunately sleep was not forthcoming. She would be leaving for New Windsor in a few hours, ostensibly to assassinate General Washington. Cameron had gone out on a run two days ago to deliver information about Annie’s mission. Hopefully the information would have reached General Washington by the time she arrived. It would make her life much easier and this task move much faster. As of now, all of their affairs were in order. Their trunks were packed and ready to go. Annie and Cameron had explained to Mary and Amos that they would disappear once Annie completed this mission. The search for American spies had become more intense over the past few days. Their disappearance, as they explained, was both to protect Mary and Amos as well as themselves. Needless to say Mary had been upset, but understood.
Annie felt a pang of sadness at leaving Mary. They had become good friends over the past few months. The thought of leaving her behind without telling her the truth broke her heart. She comforted herself with the fact that eventually Mary would forget her, especially with all that was to come over the next couple of years. Annie glanced longingly back at the bed. Cameron was fast asleep. This past week had been especially difficult for him, she knew it, despite how hard he had tried to hide it. He had been a godsend, holding her while she cried, reassuring her when she was afraid, and finally, giving her his strength when she felt weak.
Quietly she pulled the final note from her drawer. She was about to place the cipher over it when she realized it was not needed. Eagerly, she read the letter and prayed that it would give her the answers she sought. Fortunately, just this once, her prayers had been answered.
My dearest Annie,
Finally you have entered the last phase of your journey, at least in this time period. I know that much has happened to you. You have experienced things that I would not wish on my worst enemy. As I am sure you know, your life has been irrevocably changed. It is my hope that you will be able to confront these trials and grow stronger because of them. Remember that you have people who love and care for you. Trust in Cameron, he will be your guide through this healing process. This trial is almost over.
Now, for the last bit of advice I can give you for this final leg of your trip: thanks to Cameron your appearance among the ranks of the soldiers will be effortless. You will easily ferret out the traitors and save one of the most important forefathers of our nation. In fact, by the end of the day tomorrow your mission will be complete.
I want to tell you just how proud I am of you my dear Annie. Your strength, kindness, and intelligence have been a comfort to me over these last few years of my life. I have reveled in your successes and shared your pain when you have been hurt, even when you tried to make that pain private. I wish that I could have been there to protect you on this journey you had to take. Unfortunately fate had other plans for me. I hope it will give you comfort to know that I will not rest in peace until you are safely home. I love you so. I always have and I always will. You’re almost done, be strong just a little bit longer. I know that you have it in you.
Love you so,
A small sob escaped her mouth when she finished the letter. All this time it had been her grandfather that had been guiding her way. How he had known what had happened to her, what was being asked of her, was a mystery, at least to her. She looked up at the ceiling, seeing through it to the heavens. “Oh grandpa, please don’t wait for me. It’s time you rested in peace,” she whispered. She held the note close to her. It was the last tangible thing she had that connected her to her grandfather. Hot tears continued to fall down her cheeks. All of a sudden the burden she carried with her felt lighter. He had said she could do this, that she would get home, that there was only one more obstacle for her to overcome.
She felt a pair of strong hands grab her shoulders. Without words she leaned into Cameron’s strength.
“What’s wrong,” he whispered.
Annie handed him the note, “read,” was all she said. Cameron took the note from her and began to read. He was silent as he read. Finally he returned it to her. “See, it was him all along,” she whispered.
“I see,” he whispered. His emotions were mixed over what he had just read. How could anyone who proclaimed to care about someone so much send her to a place where he knew horrible things would happen to her. Cameron had no doubt that Annie’s grandfather had known about her being shot, hunted down by her murderous sister, and finally her being raped. He had alluded to that much in the letter. At the same time he was grateful that the man had at least attempted to give her some sort of guidance, and that he had placed so much faith in him. Cameron knew without doubt that he would be there to help Annie heal in whatever way he could.
“What’s wrong Cameron,” Annie asked.
“What makes you think something is wrong?”
“Oh,” he replied. Should he tell her what he was thinking? It was obvious that Annie was comforted by the words that she had just read. Who was he to take away that comfort? Besides, he didn’t know her grandfather, so there was no way he could make a judgment based on a single letter.
“Cameron, please tell me.”
“It’s nothing,” he said. “I’m just worried about you. You’re going to be leaving in a few hours. You should get some sleep.”
Annie nodded. She was not at all convinced by his quick recovery. Still, he did have a point. “Okay.” She blew out the candle, walked over to the bed, and climbed in. Cameron followed behind her. She curled into his arms and finally felt herself begin to relax. Before she fell asleep she looked up at Cameron, “Please, don’t be too hard on him. You don’t know him like I do,” she whispered.
“Don’t be too hard on whom?”
“My grandfather. I know what you’re thinking. Please, don’t view him in that way. I understand your feelings, really, I do, but he did his best to protect me. I just wasn’t wise enough to see the meaning behind his words.”
“He should have made it more obvious,” Cameron whispered.
“No, I should’ve been more observant,” she declared. “Please, don’t judge him harshly. Do it for me.”
The pleading look in her eyes did it for him, “Okay. If it’ll make you happy, I’ll try to see him in a kinder light.”
“Thank you,” she whispered then fell into a deep sleep.
Annie climbed out of bed at six in the morning. She dressed in a plain but practical dress. Once she had gathered her things, she and Cameron walked down to the kitchen together. Mary was at the stove cooking. Annie could see tears in her eyes.
“I made you breakfast,” Mary said as she placed some eggs, potatoes, and fruit on a plate for Annie.
“Thank you Mary,” Annie replied then sat down at the table. She took her time eating. She was in no hurry to leave her friend behind. Twenty minutes later her plate was clean. “Cameron, would you go saddle my horse for me,” Annie asked.
He nodded, “Of course. I’ll be back in a few minutes,” he said then left the house.
Annie walked up to Mary and gave her a fierce hug. “I wish I didn’t have to go,” she said while tears fell down her face.
“Me too,” Mary sobbed. “You’re the best friend I’ve ever had. Life will not be the same without you.”
“We’ll see each other again one day, I promise,” Annie whispered. “Until then, stay strong and know that you’ll always be in my thoughts.”
“As will you.”
“I’ll send word to you once we’re safe and settled,” Annie promised then pulled out a folded letter and handed it to Mary.
“What is this for?”
“I wrote it, just in case something happens to me,” Annie stated, willing herself to hold back her tears. It was impossible to do.
Mary nodded then took it from her. She dabbed the tears from her eyes. “You’d best be going if you’re going to make it to camp before nightfall,” she said.
“I know,” Annie replied. Annie pulled on her heavy winter cloak, grabbed her bag then they walked out together. Cameron had saddled a dark brown Arabian that he had procured for her to make the long journey to New Windsor. She gave Cameron a soft kiss then hugged Mary once more, knowing that it would be the last time. Finally, and with great reluctance, Annie climbed into the saddle and rode away.
The ride was long and tedious. She had had to stop several times to rest both herself and the horse. As a result she did not arrive at Washington’s winter camp until well after dinnertime. By the time she arrived she was exhausted. Unfortunately she had a lot of work to do. After reading the letter, she and Cameron had decided that they would meet at the house by midnight on the 12th of November. That gave her a day to accomplish her mission and leave.
The camp was largely quiet, with most of the soldiers being in their tents asleep. There were, however, a few soldiers who were guarding the camp. One of the soldiers stopped her and ordered her to dismount from her horse. “Please state your name and your purpose here ma’am.” The soldier was young, no older than twenty, and that was being generous.
Annie smiled at him and replied, “My name is Annie Johnson and I am here in response to a missive my dear friend, Oliver Hughes, sent to me. He said the camp was in great need of nurses. As it so happens I am skilled in nursing and have come to volunteer my services for however long they are needed.”
“Oh, Miss Johnson, we have been expecting you. Oliver is around here someplace. If you’d like I’ll get you settled into the nurses quarters then send him to you.”
“I would greatly appreciate that officer...”
“Oh, I do apologize miss. My name is Private Matthew Robinson.”
“Thank Private Robinson.”
“It is my pleasure miss. Now, if you’ll just follow me,” he smiled.
Annie followed Private Robinson first to the makeshift stables where the horses were being housed. She collected the meager belongings she brought with her then left her horse in the capable hands of the groom. Finally, Private Robinson showed her to a large complex of tents. “Those over there are the soldiers’ tents. You’ll have no need to visit those. That large tent there is the hospital and the one next to it is where the nurses sleep. At least those nurses that are not married,” he explained. “That’s where you’ll be staying.”
Annie nodded her understanding. “Thank you.”
“It’s my pleasure. Now, why don’t you go inside and claim yourself a cot while I get Captain Hughes for you.” Private Robinson did not wait for a response.
Annie watched as he dashed across the camp in search of Captain Hughes. When she entered the tent she noticed several empty cots. She picked one in the back of the tent, making sure that there were no personal belongings by it before she set hers down. The content of the fake missive she had mentioned had not been a lie. These people really were in need of nurses. She felt a pang of guilt at having to leave them so soon. She was in the middle of unpacking her things when Private Robinson poked his head into the tent.
“Miss Johnson, Captain Hughes is here to see you.”
“Thank you. I’ll be right out.” Annie stuffed her bag under her cot then went back out into the cold night.
“Annie, it’s so good to see you again! I’m so glad you could come and help in our cause,” Oliver said. He looked completely different from what Annie had pictured him as. He was a few inches shorter than her. His black hair, which was thinning, was tied back with a leather thong. His brown eyes betrayed his nervousness. All in all he reminded her faintly of a troll.
“Oliver, I’m just glad I can be of help,” she replied and gave him a small hug in greeting. It was important that she keep up her cover on both sides.
“Oh your help is greatly needed here,” he replied. “Have you gotten settled in yet? I know it’s late.”
“Oh yes, I’ve already unpacked most of my belongings. I was just waiting to speak with you then I planned on going to bed. That is unless I’m needed elsewhere.”
“I assure you, you will not be needed tonight. There are only a few patients in the hospital tent and a couple of the nurses are already sitting with them. You should get some rest then you can assist them tomorrow. I’m afraid the day starts far earlier here than you are used to, but I’m sure you will adjust brilliantly,” his beady eyes stared into hers.
“I’m sure I will. If there is nothing else you need I’d like to go to bed.”
“Of course. I’ll speak to you before you start your first shift tomorrow,” he declared. “Goodnight Annie. Get some sleep.”
“Goodnight Oliver, goodnight Private Robinson,” she acknowledged both men then went into the tent. She considered changing into her nightgown but dismissed the idea. She wanted to be ready to go just in case she was needed in a moment’s notice. Besides, the dress she was wearing was plain, practical, and much warmer than her nightclothes. She pulled out the blanket and pillow she had brought with her then snuggled into a ball and closed her eyes.