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The beetle was big, black, and very ugly. Thomas Bowden took a stick and rolled it over on its back, then picked it up by one leg. The beetle wiggled frantically, and the large pincers snapped at the air. Carefully Thomas carried it to the barn and peeked around the corner. His sister, Emma, was sitting in the shade having a tea party with her doll. The tiny set of china dishes Aunt Rachel had sent all the way from Philadelphia was spread in front of her.
Emma's bonnet had fallen off and was lying in the dust, even though Mama insisted she wear it when she was outside. It was only the end of June, but the air was as hot and sticky as it was in late summer. Emma's brown curls were damp with sweat in spite of the shade from the barn. With his free hand Thomas ran his fingers through his own curly brown hair. People always remarked on how much he looked like Emma, even though she was only nine, a whole year younger-and a girl. They were not much alike in other ways, though. Thomas watched her pretending to sip a cup of tea. Mama hardly ever had to scold Emma, but he, on the other hand, was often into mischief. It wasn't that he meant to be bad. It was j ust that he was so curious about everything. Like the time he'd taken apart Mama's prized clock-he had just wanted to see how it worked. But then he had not been able to put it together again.
"I declare," Mama often teased. "I should have named you 'Why' Bowden instead of Thomas."
The beetle wiggled again, reminding Thomas of his plan. His bare feet made no sound as he crept up behind his sister. He dangled the beetle in front of her nose,grinning wickedly as she jumped up with an outraged squeal.
Thomas' dropped the insect and tried to look innocent.
"He had a horrible creature, Mama," Emma whined. "He was going to put it down my dress."
"Was not," Thomas said. "I just thought you might be interested."
'He's lying, Emma said furiously. She brushed her unruly hair away from her face and made a fist at Thomas when she thought their mother wasn't watching.
Mrs. Bowden, however, had seen. "I wish you two would save your squabbling for a day when it isn't so warm," she scolded. "Don't I have enough to worry about?"
Thomas watched the beetle scurry away. "I'm sorry, Mama," he said. Thomas understood why she was worried. Twice in the last month travelers had stopped with disturbing news. Settlers in the north were being burned out of their homes, it was said, and even killed.
Thomas tried to push the reports from his mind. Four years before, the Bowdens had made their way to northeastern Pennsylvania and settled in the Wyoming Valley, named from a Delaware Indian word meaning "beautiful valley. The Indians weren't happy that so many white people were -crowding onto their land. The settlers built forts up and down the Susquehanna River, a constant reminder that they were living on the frontier. Still, as more and more settlers poured into the valley and prospered, most people were too busy clearing land and planting crops to worry about Indian attacks.
Then came the war for independence against the British. it had been several months since Mr. Bowden left to join General Washington's army. News was slow getting to the valley, but Thomas knew that his father was fighting on the other side of the mountains, near Philadelphia. It didn't seem fair to have to worry about the war and Indian attacks, too. Especially when rumors said that it was other white Americans, still loyal to the British king, who were encouraging the attacks against their own countrymen.
Mrs. Bowden finished milking Ginny and gave her a pat. "Since you two have so much energy for arguing, you can do some more chores," she said as she stood up. "Emma, put your bonnet back on. Do you want to get freckled and brown? You can take Ginny to the barn. And bring Honey in from the pasture for the night. Thomas, you can carry the milk to the house."
Thomas opened his mouth to protest. After all, hadn't he been working for hours, chopping wood, carrying water, and tending the fire for his mother's monthly washing day-even hoeing the garden? His hands were blistered and his back sore. Then he looked at his mother's weary face and nodded.
Emma pouted. "Honey never wants to come to me," she complained.
"You just have to be firm with horses," Mrs. Bowden said. "Honey is lonesome since your father rode off on Black to join the army. That makes her cranky."
Emma put her arms around Ginny. "Good old thing," she crooned, patting her. "I like you much better than Honey."
Thomas could not resist another taunt. "Why don't you kiss her? You do look a lot alike."
Instead of answering back, Emma kissed the old cow's cheek with a loud smack. "You are just jealous because she doesn't like you."
"Eew," Thomas said. "Mama, she's kissing that old cow."
Mrs. Bowden placed a hand on her hip. Their usually gentle mother looked so stern that Thomas knew he had better not say any more. He picked...