Midnight Riderby Joan Hiatt Harlow
Fourteen-year-old Hannah is an orphan living with her cruel aunt Phoebe in Salem, Massachusetts. Hannah recently lost her mother, and now her only comfort is her horse, Promise. But when her money-hungry aunt sells the horse and then indentures Hannah to the Boston family of a British general, Hannah vows to retrieve Promise at all costs, and join the fight for… See more details below
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Fourteen-year-old Hannah is an orphan living with her cruel aunt Phoebe in Salem, Massachusetts. Hannah recently lost her mother, and now her only comfort is her horse, Promise. But when her money-hungry aunt sells the horse and then indentures Hannah to the Boston family of a British general, Hannah vows to retrieve Promise at all costs, and join the fight for freedom.
In Boston, as disagreements between the Whigs and the Tories run high and Americans prepare for revolution, not only does Hannah begin secret meetings with the Sons of Liberty disguised as a boy, but she is also reunited with Promise. Together with her beloved horse, Hannah takes a bold step to join the fight for freedom and sets off on a dangerous mission. Will she and Promise succeed?
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Chapter One: Secret Meetings
After she recovered, Hannah visited her mother's grave nearly every day. It had been almost two months now since that dreadful day in May when her mother died. The morning fog was lifting as Hannah brushed her hands across the granite headstone with its ugly skull. Once again she read the engraved words:
Born 1740 Died 1774
Here lieth Luvena Andrews, wife and mother, who awaiteth the resurrection trumpet
Born 1740 Died 1774
Hannah knew about the resurrection, for Mama, who came from a Puritan background, had diligently read the Scriptures with her. The minister, Thomas Barnard, reminded Hannah that Elijah, Elisha, and Jesus raised people from the dead and brought them back to their families. Mr. Barnard said that God would raise her mother, too, but not until the resurrection trumpet sounded on the "last day" spoken of in the Bible. It seemed like a long time to wait.
A rooster crowed in the distance and a horse neighed. Hannah saw a boy galloping across the meadow. Until recently the meadow had been a muddy marshland due to the heavy spring rains. But the hot July sun had dried the soil, and today, as the sun broke through, the damp marsh was transformed into an emerald sea of grass where sparkling wildflowers became rubies and topaz. On a day as beautiful as this, Hannah longed to race across the fields with Promise. But Promise was gone.
Now Hannah rejoiced at the sight of the boy riding bareback through the meadow, his sun-streaked brown hair blowing in the breeze. That horse he was riding looked so much like Promise! She scurried to the stone wall that marked the common pasture and the town graveyard, then ran alongside it, her attention on the ebony horse.
Hannah scrambled over the wall and onto the field, waving her hands and calling, "Promise! Promise!"
The horse stopped suddenly, then turned, his ears twitching. Startled, the boy almost slipped off, and he yanked the reins angrily. The horse reared and headed in Hannah's direction. "Stop! Stop, Midnight!" the boy yelled, trying to turn the horse back. But the animal continued to make his way to Hannah.
"How dare you frighten my horse!" the boy yelled as he came closer. "Don't you have a brain? I could have been killed!"
"Promise is my horse," Hannah retorted as she ran and threw her arms around Promise's neck. "Nothing could keep him away from me." Hannah stroked the horse's shining mane. "I have missed you, my darling boy."
"He's not yours," the rider said. "My father bought him for me."
Hannah drew herself up tall to look up at the stranger. "My father gave me this horse, and his name is Promise. He knows my voice. That's why he stopped when I called him."
"Ah, perhaps that's why the horse has been so skittish. He misses you. He hasn't been eating much either." The boy slid off the horse. "We bought this gelding from that Andrews lady. She said the horse was hers."
"That Andrews lady is my aunt Phoebe," said Hannah. "My name is Hannah Andrews."
"I'm Will Samson. We moved into the farm over near the willows."
So this was why Aunt Phoebe had explicitly told her not to speak with the new family that moved into that farm, Hannah realized angrily. Aunt Phoebe didn't want her to know that Promise was somewhere in Salem.
"We paid good and true money for this horse. So he's mine now."
"How much did you pay?" Hannah was curious.
"Eighty pounds sterling." Will cocked his head. "Didn't your aunt tell you?"
"No." Hannah stroked Promise, who nuzzled her arm.
"If this horse is yours, then the money is yours."
"Aunt Phoebe will keep the money, I'm sure."
"Where did you ever get a name like Promise?"
"Papa brought him to me when I was ten. Papa said, 'I promised you a horse of your own.' Right then and there, I named him Promise." Tears welled in Hannah's eyes, and she turned away.
"Where's your papa now?"
"He died two years ago." Hannah paused, recalling mornings riding behind her father along an Indian trace by the Merrimack River in Chelmsford. They'd stop to pick daisies for Mama while Promise grazed in the meadow. "We came to live in Salem after he died. Now my mother is dead too."
"My pa said that lots of families around here were struck with the pox. Is that what happened to you and your ma?" His gaze fixed on her cheek.
Hannah flushed and pulled a strand of hair over the pockmark. "Yes. Mama was the first to fall ill. Then I got it and almost died too. Sometimes I wish I had." She nodded toward the burial ground. "Mama's grave is over there."
"I'm right sad to hear that," he said. "You must be greatly sorrowed."
Hannah nodded, but then smiled. "To see Promise again is a joyful thing."
Will stroked the neck of the horse. "He's a beauty."
The horse seemed to sense that they were talking about him and tossed his head. Hannah stroked his black neck again. "Aunt Phoebe told me not to speak with your family nor trespass on your land."
"She probably doesn't want you to know where the horse is, or how much we paid for him. She's a fox when it comes to money." Will shook his head. "And she's not a pleasant woman in fact, if she'd been living here in Salem a hundred years ago, she'd have burned as a witch." His lips twitched into a grin.
Hannah stifled a laugh, then said solemnly, "Aunt Phoebe was good to us when we were sick. She tells me often how" Hannah wrinkled up her nose and mimicked her aunt's self-righteous speech "'I've given up everything to help you and your mother! My whole life has changed. And not for the better, I might add.'"
"You sound just like her!" Will said with a laugh. "But why are you here talking to me and disobeying your aunt's wishes? If she finds out, she'll give you a whipping."
"When she sold Promise, she hurt me more than any whipping." Hannah put her arms around the horse's neck. "Will, perhaps you should keep his name Promise. He's not used to Midnight."
"I'll do some thinking on it," Will agreed.
"I hope you're good to him." Promise nuzzled his soft nose into Hannah's face and nickered softly.
"Of course I'm good to him." Will smiled. "Would you like a ride?"
"Oh, indeed I would!" Hannah exclaimed.
Will held his hands together for Hannah to mount, which she did in a flash, pulling her skirt above her knees.
Will handed her the reins and was about to climb on the horse behind her, but Hannah clicked her heels into the horse's flank and yelled, "Giddap, Promise!"
As the horse bounded away, Hannah waved at Will, who was left behind, his hands on his hips. She and Promise galloped across the meadow, around a stand of white birches, and to the top of a small hill from where she could see the sapphire Atlantic Ocean sparkling in the distance. Down the hill they flew, into the north fields, where they came across a rapid brook. Promise slowed momentarily to keep his footing, then splashed through the water. Hannah laughed as the cold water splattered on her bare legs. They darted back across the meadow to the stone wall where Will was waiting.
Before Will could speak, Hannah pulled the reins and slid off the horse. "Thank you for letting me ride my horse again."
Will's mouth opened and shut in astonishment. "You ride like a wild thing!" he finally said. Promise nudged Hannah with his nose, as if inviting her to ride again. "He likes you," Will said.
Hannah stroked the horse's neck. "He loves me."
"Would you like to ride another day?"
"Oh, yes!" Hannah nodded eagerly. "I visit my mother's grave every morning."
Hannah's gloom diminished over the next few weeks, and sometimes she even sang as she helped Aunt Phoebe in the gardens and around the house. Hannah could sense her aunt watching her closely.
Almost every day she secretly met Will at the graveyard wall and rode Promise.
One late July morning they sat on the stone wall and talked. "I'm going to ride into Boston one day soon," Will told Hannah.
"I want to help the cause of freedom in Boston Town. Haven't you heard about all that's happening there? England has been unfairly sticking taxes and laws on Americans."
"Everyone's heard how Bostonians masqueraded as Mohawk Indians and dumped all the tea into the harbor rather than be taxed on it," Hannah broke in.
"It's not that Americans won't pay taxes," Will explained. "It's that we don't get representation. Parliament over there in London doesn't give an owl's hoot about us. They've left us alone all these years, and they've suddenly realized that we're thriving and they're in debt. Now they want our money and we don't get a say about anything!" Will's voice rose. "They're even forcing Bostonians to quarter redcoat soldiers in their homes to feed them and give them beds."
"It sounds dreadful in Boston," Hannah said.
"I want to help the Whigs work toward freedom from England."
"We have Whigs here in Salem, don't we?"
"Indeed we do. My father's a Whig. Whigs are trying to work peacefully with England for our rights," Will told her. "But lately most want freedom from England."
Hannah had heard Aunt Phoebe speak with loathing of Whigs and Patriots. She spoke of herself as a Loyalist. "What do Loyalists want?" Hannah asked.
"Loyalists want America to stay loyal to King George and England," Will explained. "They're also called Tories."
"Aunt Phoebe is a Loyalist a Tory," Hannah said.
"I heard tell that General Gage is heading back to Boston." Will went on. "He's the one who closed off Boston Harbor so no ships or supplies can get into that town. That's why Salem's the main port for shipping now. But people say he's in danger living around these parts, so he's moving back to Boston to keep order there. He's not well liked, no matter where he goes."
"I would think he'd be in more danger in Boston," Hannah said. "Especially after the Boston Massacre."
"Right. Can you believe British soldiers killed five Bostonians in that riot? One of them, Christopher Seider, was just a boy. Bostonians have never forgotten it."
"I wouldn't want to go to Boston if I were you, Will. Besides," Hannah added hesitantly, "I'd miss you."
Will's face flushed, and he looked down. "Oh, you'd miss the horse, not me."
Aunt Phoebe suddenly came up behind them. "So this is what you've been up to, you ungrateful child! I saw you astride that horse with your skirt up and bare legs showing!" She pointed a long finger at Hannah. "I'm not putting up with this!"
Copyright © 2005 by Joan Hiatt Harlow
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