Fourteen-year-old Samantha Byrd is an excellent shot—she’s even better than her brother at providing food for her family. Although the winds of war are blowing in Virginia, she knows that she could only ever use her skill for hunting—not for hurting another person.
When the Revolutionary War finally begins, her brother is captured, and Samantha sets off to rescue him. But when she comes face to face with the enemy, will she still stand by her principles, or will she pull the trigger?
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|Age Range:||9 - 12 Years|
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An Eye for an Eye
A Story of the Revolutionary War
By Peter Roop, Connie Roop
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2000 Peter and Connie Roop
All rights reserved.
Samantha raised her musket. Closing her left eye, she sighted down the long barrel. Her enemy stood statue still, his red coat a perfect target.
She aimed for his heart.
She drew a breath and held it as her finger gently squeezed the trigger.
Sensing danger, the fox turned his head. His black eyes bored into Samantha's. Neither blinked.
Hounds bayed near College Creek. The fox's scent was fresh. The hunt was on.
Samantha relaxed her finger and lowered her gun. The fox, a red flash, disappeared into the Virginia forest.
"Sam, why in tarnation didn't you shoot?" cried James. "That fox raids Mama's henhouse. 'Tis your duty to shoot it."
Samantha looked at her twin. They both had the same color green eyes, which flashed when they angered. So alike, she thought, yet so different. She flicked a runaway strand of red hair back from her face.
"Why didn't you shoot?" she asked.
They both knew the answer. Samantha could outshoot James whether they hunted raccoon, turkey, fox, or deer. James couldn't hit the side of a tobacco shed from 50 feet.
Samantha gazed at the spot where the fox had stood. In the early morning light she imagined it still standing there, daring her to shoot. Why hadn't she pulled the trigger, sending the musket ball into its red fur? Because the fox was free and she wanted it to have a chance. Besides, gunpowder was too precious to waste on an unnecessary shot. Yes, she hunted to put food on the table and to provide game to sell in Williamsburg. And to stop varmints from raiding the henhouse. That was one thing. But to hunt for the sake of having something to do was another thing altogether.
Samantha disliked Thomas Wormley and his Tory friends who hunted for sport. Their wealth, built on the backs of slaves and indentured servants like her great-great-grandfather Richard Ayre, galled her.
And now Tories and Patriots threatened to shoot each other. How could people kill each other? She could never shoot someone. Throughout the colonies, people spoke of war against England. Spoke like it was going to be a pleasant outing.
Samantha felt her life was good. She had family and food. Of course, she had chores to do: weeding the garden, washing, cooking meals, collecting eggs, milking the cow, mending clothes, spinning thread. But when these chores were finished, Papa allowed her the freedom to roam the woods and sail the creeks.
Why go to war over a few pennies a pound for tea?
Samantha tucked the wayward strand of hair under her cap again. "Come on, James. Let's see if we can scare up a turkey to replace the hen Mama lost last night."
"But, Sam," James protested.
Samantha didn't answer. Instead, she bent under a dogwood tree branch.
"Wait, Sam. I want to take some snakeroot to Mama. Her medicines are running low," James called.
"You stay there until I come back," Samantha ordered patiently.
She stopped in a shadow as her older brother Henry had taught her. She paused, listening to the awakening forest. Cardinals chirped. Their companions answered. Squirrels rattled leaves looking for hidden nuts. A bobwhite called cheerily, "Bob white. Bob white." Samantha whistled an answering call, mimicking the bird perfectly.
As still as a tree trunk, Samantha listened and looked. Then she disappeared—like the fox—into the shadows, her hair a red flash.
The hunting hounds, still on the fox's trail, bayed.
She hoped to shoot a tasty turkey before James got too helplessly lost. Samantha smiled at the thought. Henry, 18 years old and aching to cross the Proclamation Line into the frontier, had tried and tried to teach James the ways of the woods. James, instead, insisted on stopping constantly to pick and name every plant species he could find. Some he gave to Mama to make into powders and poultices for healing. Others he would dry and add to his collection of Virginia plants.
If only they had the money, Papa would send him to the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, where he could study to his heart's delight. Maybe even become a doctor.
Samantha's life was run by if onlys. If only she would wear a dress. If only she could keep her temper. If only, if only, if only.
Papa was saving every penny to buy more land. There was not a penny to spare for college, especially with the threat of war shading every decision Papa made. He had an eye on a parcel of Thomas Wormley's land, if Wormley should sell it and leave for England. Samantha wondered why Wormley still stayed in Virginia when he favored the British so much and was against loyal Virginians like Papa and Henry. Maybe he would leave next year in 1776.
Samantha absorbed Henry's knowledge like a sun-parched field drinks rain. She could never have enough. Henry could foretell the weather by the smell of the wind. He could tell directions by watching the sun and stars. He tracked animals as if he were one of their kin. His burning desire was to go west across the mountains into the wilds of Kentucky. Samantha hoped to go with him, but Mama would not allow such talk.
"Samantha Byrd," Mama would say, "when will you stop skylarking, put on a skirt, and behave like a lady?"
"Someday," Samantha would answer out loud. Never, she would say in her head. Mama meant well, but Samantha enjoyed the freedom of dressing in breeches, like a man, rather than in skirts. Yet she was 14 going on 15. She could not hope to roam the woods and water forever.
When Samantha complained to Henry that she would never be as good in the woods as he was, he would reply, "But, Sam, you know the wind, waves, and water better than I'll ever know the woods. In a boat, I am like James." They both had laughed, picturing the clumsy James bumbling in a boat. He could give the Latin name of every fish Samantha caught, but he could not catch one, even if it was served to him steaming on a plate.
In her skiff, Samantha was an otter, gliding along the winding College Creek. She knew every bend, every inlet, every place where deer drank or fish leapt or ducks nested. She knew where the plumpest oysters lay. She could catch crabs where no one else could. Samantha was one with the water.
Samantha stopped suddenly. The hounds bayed. But in the underbrush ahead a bush stirred.
Grasping her gun in her left hand, she raised her right hand to her mouth.
"Gobble, gobble, gobble," she called.
She called again. "Gobble, gobble, gobble."
All at once a hand closed over her mouth.
"Don't make a sound," her assailant whispered.CHAPTER 2
Samantha sunk her teeth into the hand. The grip immediately loosened.
"Samantha, you knucklehead. It's me, Henry. There are two turkeys just beyond that bush."
Samantha did not turn around. She stared at the bush, just able to make out the rounded shapes of the turkeys.
"Gobble, goooooble," Henry called. His turkey call sounded so real it was as if another turkey hid behind them.
The bush quivered. Two turkeys waddled out, feeding on the remnants of last year's bumper crop of acorns.
"I'll take the tom. You take the hen," Henry whispered.
Samantha raised her musket. It had to be a clean shot or the musket ball would ruin the meat. And she would waste a shot. With gunpowder as precious as silver, she could not afford to miss.
She breathed in, held her breath, and squeezed the trigger.
Fire flared as the spark from the flint exploded the gunpowder. The musket kicked back against her shoulder. A cloud of smoke blocked her view. Henry's gun went off a split second after hers.
Samantha ducked under the smoke to see one turkey lying on the ground. It was the tom.
"I missed," she hissed.
"Not by much," Henry consoled her, holding the bird by its feet. "We will have turkey for dinner. Take it home to Mama."
"But, Henry," Samantha asked. "Aren't you coming home now?"
"Later," he said, drawing a paper cartridge from the leather pouch hanging from his belt. "I have some business to attend to." He sucked on his finger where she had bitten him.
Samantha didn't even ask what business it was, although she knew it had something to do with the militia. Or the Sons of Liberty. She had overheard him talking with Papa about carrying messages to Patrick Henry.
Like her brother, Samantha reloaded her musket.
"Never be caught with your musket unloaded," he had warned her time and again. "You never know when you might need to shoot."
Sometimes, she forgot and missed some excellent game.
Samantha tore off the end paper with her teeth and spit it on the ground. Holding the musket barrel upright, she carefully poured powder and ball down the long neck. She tapped it down with the ramrod before pouring a capful of powder into the firing pan. She closed the cover to keep the powder from spilling.
"Tell Mama I'll be home for roast turkey," Henry said. He flashed a smile at Samantha, tousled her hat so her hair fell loose, and slipped into the woods.
Samantha watched him disappear before she turned back toward the dogwood where she had left James.
She walked through the forest, not even trying to be quiet. Burdened with the turkey and her musket, she couldn't carry any more game even it lay down dead at her feet.
When she reached the dogwood tree, she only half-expected James to be there. His musket leaned against a loblolly pine tree. His black hat was on the ground. The hunting hounds bayed, their cries louder.
"Where is he?" she exclaimed to the forest. She set the turkey down and looked around for James's tracks. She saw where he had broken a branch. She spied a trail of leaves leading west instead of east towards home.
He was heading straight toward the approaching foxhunt. Mr. Wormley would be furious if James ruined his hunt.
The hounds bayed as if picking up fresh scent. Samantha, dodging trees, raced along James's trail. Ahead she saw an opening where the woods ended and Wormley's tobacco fields began. The sound of the hounds was louder.
Samantha stopped, looked, and listened. Her eyes flitted from tree to tree. She hoped to see the fox again, but it had fled in the opposite direction. Unless it was playing a trick on the hunters, laying a scent one way and doubling back to throw the hounds off the trail.
Overhead the wind ran through the trees. Straight from the southeast, she thought. With this wind behind me on an incoming tide, I could be in Williamsburg before noon if I was in my skiff. Tomorrow, I'll take my crabs and oysters ...
Samantha remembered that tomorrow was fair day. Market Square would be crowded with folks buying and selling everything from slaves to horses. "I'll earn a pretty penny," she whispered.
The cries of the hounds brought her back to the task at hand: finding wayward James. Gripping her musket, Samantha hurried to the forest's border. She hoped to pick up his tracks along the edge of the tobacco field. She squinted as she left the forest shadows. She surveyed half the field before riveting her eyes on the galloping hunters, who were veering toward her right.
There stood James, collecting rose hips.
Samantha melted back into the forest. The hounds bayed frantically as they headed straight for him.
Thomas Wormley raised his gun.CHAPTER 3
Samantha saw the puff of smoke before she heard the crack of Wormley's gun. James swatted the air as if an angry bee was buzzing near him. Then he saw the horses heading his way. He dropped his plants and hightailed it toward the woods.
Samantha ran too, pushing branches out of her way and leaping over logs. She paused at the top of a ravine, the steep green slope sliding down to a stream at the bottom. The ravine was too deep to cross. It would take her too long to go around. She veered out of the forest, not caring now if Wormley saw her or not.
"James!" she yelled. Wormley and his friends couldn't hear her over the thunder of their horses' hooves. They still galloped toward James.
James ran into the woods.
Samantha stood still and listened. Something crashed through the forest, now on her right. She caught a glimpse of red. Not the fox, she hoped, for the dogs would soon catch its scent and come her way.
James ran weaving between the trees.
"Over here," Samantha cried, dodging into the forest. The hunters turned her way.
James, breathless, leaned against a tree. Samantha grabbed his arm and pulled him in.
"I can't," he whined.
"You must," she snarled. "If you don't keep running, Wormley will sic his hounds on you."
He resisted for a second longer and then gave in.
"We'll head for the dogwood. Follow me and don't fall behind."
The cries of the hounds gave James the energy he needed to keep pace with her.
As they struggled through the undergrowth, Samantha wondered what they would do if Wormley followed them into the woods. She hoped he would be satisfied with just scaring James, and that he would continue his hunt.
She smiled to herself realizing that Wormley would have to. He couldn't ride into the forest. The trees were too thick for a man to remain in the saddle. He would have to turn back, let his hounds flush the fox, and hunt in the open fields.
When they reached the dogwood tree, they stopped. Silence fell over the forest. The dogs yelped, heading north on the fox's trail.
"He ... he ... he shot at me," James choked out as his breath returned. "Why?" "Maybe he thought you were the fox?" she joked, tugging on his red hair.
James lifted his head and looked at his sister. Her unruly hair spread from beneath her hat. She stuffed it back, picked up his hat, and rammed it on his head.
"If you kept your hat on, maybe you wouldn't have this trouble." It was a silly thing to say, but what else could she say to ease his fear?
Wormley was as mean as a water moccasin. They both knew to stay clear of him. Samantha hoped he wouldn't cause Papa trouble over this.
She was wrong.
As they came around the corner of their tobacco shed, Samantha saw Papa facing Wormley and his hunting friends. Each wore a red cloth badge on his sleeve. Wormley's tight face belied his anger. Samantha thrust the turkey at James.
"You keep your young ones off my land, Byrd," Wormley ordered, "or I might mistake one of yer redheaded litter for fox."
"You raise one hand against any of my children and you'll answer to me for it," Papa said sternly.
Wormley sniffed the air like he smelled pig manure. "Just because you folks have been in Virginia since the first days of Jamestown doesn't give you any special rights," Wormley snarled. "You can't just trample a man's tobacco field and ruin his hunt."
"Papa," Samantha cut in. Papa hadn't seen her approach; his eyes had been fastened on Wormley's. "He's lying, Papa."
Wormley swung in his saddle, glaring at the intrusion.
"There's one of them now," he growled.
"Samantha, you keep out of this," Papa said.
"No," replied Samantha.
Papa turned his full attention on her. She melted under his gaze.
"You and James go into the house. You've caused enough trouble."
Papa's steely eyes cut off her protest.
Reluctantly Samantha went to the house. Mama stood on the porch.
Wormley continued his tirade. "Byrd, your daughter runs wild. You ought to put a skirt on her like any other female."
Papa's fists clenched and unclenched. He struggled to keep his temper under control. Samantha gripped the musket so hard it hurt. She knew how he felt. Folks round about said the Byrds' tempers were as fiery as their red hair. It was true, except for James. He was her twin in looks only. In everything else they were as different as tobacco and corn.
Papa let Wormley spout off until he ran down. The other hunters listened, nodding. The hounds lay in the dust, panting. Samantha thought about fetching water for them.
"... And if I ever catch a Byrd so much as looking at my land, I'll, I'll ..."
Before Wormley could finish, Papa unclenched one hand, flattening it out so it was as wide as a skillet.
"I'll thank you to get off my property, Thomas Wormley," Papa said. "And your Tory friends as well."
Wormley locked his snake eyes with Papa's eyes for a long moment. Papa held his gaze. Finally, Wormley looked away. Snatching the reins, he turned his horse.
Faster than lightning, Papa smacked the horse's rump. Wormley, his musket waving, struggled to hold on as his horse galloped out of the yard. His companions wheeled and followed, grins creeping onto their faces. The hounds trailed behind.
Excerpted from An Eye for an Eye by Peter Roop, Connie Roop. Copyright © 2000 Peter and Connie Roop. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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