They were enemies, brought together by need. Would their differences overshadow the yearnings of their hearts? Or would the bitterness of war keep them apart?
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About the Author
Midwest, Elaine Marie Cooper spent much of her childhood in Massachusetts. She has long been interested in family history as well as Early American history. She is an award-winning freelance writer and currently works as a registered nurse with special needs children.
Read an Excerpt
The Road to Deer Run
By Elaine Marie Cooper
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Elaine Marie Cooper
All right reserved.
The road never ended.
Nor did the thoughts that haunted the young British lieutenant night and day.
How did I ever get to this place? he wondered. Only twenty-two years of age, he felt as ancient as the granite stones lining the dirt highway.
This war had long ceased being an adventure. He had seen enough bloodshed, starvation, and disease to last his entire lifetime. Only last night, he held one of the regimental soldiers as he gasped his last breath, one more victim of the food shortage. The lad was only seventeen, the same age as the lieutenant's brother had been. He would never forget the young man's bones poking through his clothing.
"Lieutenant, sir." Another soldier's greeting interrupted his thoughts.
"Yes, Smythe." The lieutenant glanced sideways at the thin-faced recruit with terror in his eyes.
"How much longer, sir ... 'til we get to Boston, that is?" Smythe asked anxiously.
Lieutenant Lowe tried to appear encouraging, but he didn't know what to say. After all, they were prisoners of war. Although the Continental Army had stated that the prisoners would be put on ships to return to England (as long as they never took up arms against the colonies again), the British lieutenant knew better. There was no way the colonial rebels would allow them so easy an escape. The "Lobsters," as the King's soldiers were called by the colonial rabble, would be confined to a putrid camp where disease would rage and death would soon follow.
But this poor soldier looked for any hope he could hang onto, no matter how slim. Without hope, Lieutenant Lowe knew the young man would not survive.
"I do not know the distance, Smythe," said the officer. "It is a long way to the boats ... and it is a long way home. But you are still strong, and you will make it."
"Thank you, sir." The younger man fell behind his lieutenant once again in the ragged line of prisoners.
Daniel Lowe breathed in a shallow breath of frigid air and tried desperately to ignore the mounting pain in his left leg. He held little hope for his own survival. While attempting to save his regiment, he gave away enough of his allotted food to seriously jeopardize his own health. Not that the weevil-infested sea biscuits were sufficient for even one man. His muscular frame shrank from weeks of deprivation and miles of forced marching. His filthy and tattered uniform hung loosely on him. And then there was that wound.
That last battle near Saratoga brought his first encounter with rebel lead. The ball found its home, shearing a large hole in his thigh muscle. He treated the injury as best he could without clean water and bandages.
As Daniel glanced down at his leg now, he sickened at the sight of green pus draining through the old bandage. As each step became more excruciating, he knew his limb was in serious trouble.
"Move along you wretches," yelled a colonial guard to the slow- moving prisoners. They were being marched to Boston, still a patriot stronghold. The Continentals had no time to pamper these wounded and exhausted troops, remnants of the army of British General John Burgoyne. It was late October after all, and the chill in the air promised an early winter.
Snow flurries dusted a thin layer on the bare oak and hickory trees along the dirt road. The stark outlines of gnarled branches and the dead leaves surrounding every tree trunk only added to the grim and lifeless scene as hundreds of men dragged their legs forward one step at a time. The freezing wind whistled through the creaking tree limbs, eliciting painful groans from the poorly-clad soldiers.
Daniel's long hair was coming undone from the ties that usually held it neatly in place. Each gust of wintry air whipped the strands into his eyes, stinging sharply each time. Despite the discomfort, the weary officer had neither the strength nor inclination to retie his hair back in place.
Why bother? he thought.
The enticing smell from nearby hearths beckoned at the prisoners' nostrils. The intense hunger of the men played vividly on each face as the scents of unobtainable bread and roast venison only heightened their sense of hopelessness. Daniel glanced at the eyes of his fellow soldiers. Most of them were filled with tears from the cold wind as well as from despair. He waged the same battle of disheartenment.
This is a death march to be sure, thought the young lieutenant.
The excruciating pain in his limb was overwhelming. Nausea welled up in Daniel's stomach as he forced himself to put one foot in front of the other. But he knew he couldn't keep up much longer. He devised a plan. At some point, he would slip away into the thick woods along the highway.
Better to crawl under a tree to die than fall on the road and be shot by some impatient guard.
The famished army of prisoners were trudging through a local town when the lieutenant saw a chance for escape. Several youngsters from the village threw rocks at the British soldiers while shouting, "Dirty Lobsters!"
As the bellowing voices of the angry colonists distracted the guards, Daniel sprang for the woods, the pain in his leg temporarily overshadowed by the fear of being caught. His heart raced. His lungs sucked in deep pockets of cold air that fairly choked him. In his frantic escape, he lost all sense of time.
"Prisoner escaping!" shouted the guards, but he kept running. He threw off his red uniform-it would only be a target for a Continental marksman. Without his coat, the cold air gripped his torso. But he didn't stop. The sound of musket fire and the whistling of lead forced his legs to move faster than he thought possible. But he wasn't thinking about his actions. He responded to a visceral desire to survive.
His race ended in an abrupt and anguished halt as his leg gave way. Falling on the ground, he dragged himself behind some thick berry bushes that were long since void of fruit. The thorns dug into his chapped hands, but he hardly noticed the pain because his leg screamed for attention.
Then suddenly and for a brief moment, he sensed something had changed. He forced himself to lie still. All was quiet.
The musket fire has ceased, he thought. They've stopped their pursuit.
Despite Daniel's relief, the throbbing pain in his limb reached a crescendo. Nausea thrust him into spasms of heaving, but there was nothing in his stomach to expel.
As the retching ceased he laid on his back in complete surrender. He stared at the cold gray sky through the trees overhead and hoped for one last glimpse of life, but even the forest birds had hidden themselves from his sight.
It doesn't matter, he reasoned. After all, he deserved all of this. And nothing could change all that had occurred in these last months of war. Nothing could erase his many transgressions.
Now, all he had to do was close his eyes and let the inevitable shadow of death completely darken his already blackened soul. All was lost anyway. His war, his troops, his health, and, worst of all, those he loved.
As he believed his life was slowly ebbing away, Daniel Lowe held little hope of reaching heaven. But he couldn't take this hell on earth. He closed his eyes and waited for the reckoning of his Maker.
She stared into the fire for what seemed like hours. In fact, it had only been a few moments.
That's how time had become for Mary Thomsen. Barely nineteen, the young farmwoman should have been contemplating a hope-filled future. Instead, she struggled with a sense of despair following recent events. Standing in front of the long fireplace did little to comfort her body or spirit.
Ever since her brother Asa was killed in battle, Mary had faced the reality of war in a sickening and personal way. She wrestled with thoughts of what her younger brother probably endured in those last moments of his life. Had his death come in an instant so that he did not suffer? Or had he lain there for minutes or even hours in pain, knowing the end was near?
Tears filled her eyes.
Dear, sweet Asa, she thought. Only sixteen, he loved music as much as he loved life. It was his gift on the fife that awakened his patriotic fervor and drew him to join the cause of liberty. He wanted to lead Continental soldiers to victory through his melodies.
"No one will aim their musket at a fifer," said Asa the day he signed on. "They have better targets to attend to."
He was always the optimist, Mary thought.
But in the midst of an explosive battlefield, no amount of hope could keep the barrage of lead balls from finding their mark on Asa's body. Even his fife, which their older brother James returned home after that last battle, was scarred from musket fire. It was a bittersweet reminder of his short life. It now rested on a brick above the fireplace. Mary touched the instrument lovingly with her fingers, imagining the sweet sounds Asa's lips could bring from the whittled wood.
"Mary." Her mother's voice caught her attention away from the hearth.
"Yes, Mother," she said flatly. Her voice had taken on a monotone timber in these last few weeks.
"Why don't you and Sarah go aleafing while there's still enough light of day? We want to have a good supply for the bread-making this winter."
Widow Thomsen wanted desperately to rally the spirits of her older daughter. Mary and Asa had been best of friends, sharing a love of music that seemed to stir from within them both. It seemed now as if the melodies had left Mary's heart forever, much as Asa's breath had left his body. The widow hoped that any diversion would brighten the spirits of her despondent daughter.
Sarah's childish voice spoke up in protest to Widow Thomsen's request.
"Please, Mother. I do not wish to go out in the cold. I am so tired of winter already," said six-year-old Sarah as she huddled by the fire.
Widow Thomsen looked at her youngest child with tenderness. Born just eight months after her father's sudden death, the blond-haired girl was a gift from heaven. She brought life and laughter to nearly every situation and spread her loving smile to friend and stranger alike.
Mary wished that she could capture into her soul some of the warmth emanating from Sarah. But the older sister was empty, alone, and as cold as the winter ice on their pond.
The older daughter stared at her only living parent in wonderment. Despite so much heartache in her life, Widow Thomsen was as steadfast in her faith as the stalwart cliffs not far from their farm-never changing through any raging storm.
Mary often heard her mother quote the verse, "The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." She knew that her mother grieved greatly over this most recent loss. Although her parent cried easily at the mention of Asa, Mary also saw that the widow's belief in a loving God never wavered.
She was far less sure of God's concern for their welfare than her mother was. The older daughter's faith in a caring Creator was shaken to the core. How could a God who truly loved them have allowed so unfair a death?
Why did he take Asa away?
She forced her thoughts back to the moment at hand, and her sibling's concern.
"Let Sarah stay indoors near the fire, Mother," Mary said. "I can gather enough oak leaves and sticks myself. There is no sense in both of us facing the wind and cold."
Sarah raced to her big sister and hugged her heartily.
"Thank you, Mary. I am the most blessed of sisters."
A small smile spread across Mary's lips.
"It is I who am the blessed one, to have a beam of sunlight living right inside our home on this cold wintry day," she replied. Although her words were forced, the sentiment was true enough. Mary hugged her sister tightly as she fought back the tears that flooded her emotions so frequently these days. Her head often ached from crying.
The outdoor air might be refreshing, she told herself as she put on her gray cape.
"Here is a blanket to gather the leaves in, Mary," her mother said, tucking the woolen piece under her daughter's arms. "Do not be gone too long. The storm may become severe."
"I shall hurry."
The frozen air hit her bare face as she left the farmhouse. She gathered her hooded cape closer around her neck. Although the painful cold numbed her skin, Mary knew that the real dullness she sensed was in her wounded soul.
She forced her legs to plow through the frenzied wind. The swirling movement of the wintry air reflected the agitation in her mind.
As she headed deeply into the woods on their farmland, Mary's thoughts wandered from Asa and then to her father, now long gone from a drowning accident. Just as quickly, her mind turned to her older brother James, still fighting in the War of Revolution. They hadn't heard from James since he had returned Asa's body home some three months ago. What if he, too, was dead? It could be months or years before they knew. Or would they ever hear word of him again?
The only thing that Mary Thomsen was certain of was that she hated this war and she hated death. Would she ever know joy again? Would she ever feel safe? Would she ever feel alive?
As she walked farther amongst the thick trees, Mary searched for the dry oak leaves that would cushion the bread dough in the Thomsens' oven.
She was so engrossed in her task that the sudden sound of musket fire in the distance made her heart skip a beat. Instinctively, the young woman dropped to the ground to take cover.
Unhurt but frightened, she huddled close to the earth. Mary clung to the blanket and tried not to give way to panic.
I must keep my senses about me, she thought.
Her whole body shook with fear. Soon the woods were quiet once again and the only sound that filled her ears was her own breathing, which came in rapid spurts.
Mary waited until her breath slowed before she dared look up. Standing gingerly, she hugged the blanket tightly. Her whole body stiffened from the cold and from sheer terror.
Should I run home? Should I keep going?
As the frightened farmwoman tried to decide her next move, she sensed something different in the woods.
There was a presence.
She smelled him before she saw him.
Mary knew that someone was nearby but she could not see a soul. The wind carried the scent to her person, as if beckoning her to follow her senses. The odor was unmistakably that of infection. Perhaps even death.
Frightened but curious, Mary pursued the source. She went several yards before the smell became stronger, leading her to a thick grove of berry patch. As she carefully parted the twisted branches, what she saw made her gasp in fear. There lay the body of a man.
He wasn't moving. His clothing, face, and hands were smeared with dirt and old leaves. A week's growth of scraggly beard and his unkempt long hair added to the unsettling sight. His breeches were torn over his left thigh, exposing a large bandage soaked with brown and green stains.
Was he dead? She could not tell if the man's chest was rising. Dare she run away and leave the poor soul? What if there was any breath left in his body? What if someone had found her brother Asa like that, and did not at least sit with him 'til he died? Even a stranger can bring some comfort to a dying human.
Can I abandon this poor wretched person?
She knew she could not.
Using the blanket to protect her hands, she spread the prickly branches aside and drew closer to the body. The stench of illness filled the small clearing where the man lay and Mary fought the nausea that gripped her.
Then an alarming realization hit her as she surveyed the man's attire more carefully. He was a King's soldier. Even without his scarlet uniform, his finely woven breeches and waistcoat gave away who he was. And to Mary, he was the enemy. He had probably fallen out of the line of prisoners that she had heard were coming through town.
He is one of Burgoyne's troops, she thought with a shiver.
"Dear Lord," she whispered. "What shall I do?"
Her mind went to the story of the Good Samaritan. In that tale, the only person who would help a beaten stranger was a Samaritan, the victim's sworn enemy. She had never imagined that she would be faced with a similar scenario. And she had never understood before now how difficult a choice the rescuer had made. But although the Samaritan may have wrestled with the decision, he had chosen the right course.
Can I make the same choice? she wondered with fear.
She knew that she must, for her heart would not let her abandon this man.
Excerpted from The Road to Deer Run by Elaine Marie Cooper Copyright © 2010 by Elaine Marie Cooper. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Thursday, September 12, 2013 The Road to Deer Run, Book 1 in the Deer Run Saga by Elaine Marie Cooper The story begins near the village of Deer Run in the colony of Massachusetts ~ 1777. Young British Lieutenant Daniel Lowe kept up the moral of his men as they walked the road before them. Hope, to keep them alive. Through lack of food and marching day in and day out, they were beyond fatigue. A distraction leads Daniel off the trail, fleeing for his life. He is rescued by a young miss and hauled from the brambles to safety. With a badly infected wound, Mary Thomsen takes him to a childhood "playhouse" in the woods and begins the care he never hoped to receive. Her mother is a midwife and she has grown up with care for others. Winter is setting in and the blowing winds hamper any hope of surviving a fever and fending off the cold. A decision must be made. Going beyond all she knows, she confides in her mother to give aid. There is a twist here. Her brother has been killed by the enemy. Daniel Lowe was not fighting on the same side. Widow Thomsen has lost so much of her family. A love story inspired by true events. Historical fiction brings specific events and happenings to life, as we learn what it may have been like in that time beyond a history book we may have studied in school. In Book 1, the author builds a story around the love and strength of her ancestors. The Road to Deer Run is a story of hope and what truth brings when applied in our lives. ***Thank you to author Elaine Cooper for sending me The Road to Deer Run. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***
This is one of the most moving love stories I have ever read. In fact I took my time reading the novel because I didn't want it to end. This story is inspired by Elaine Cooper's ancestors who met in 1777 in Massachusetts during the colonial war. They were on opposite sides of the war, and hence by all accounts enemies. It is fate that brings young Mary and Daniel together, but most importantly it the power of forgiveness, faith and love that bind them against all odds. I found myself rooting for them all the way. The story is so well researched and written that I felt caught up in that time period. Without giving anything away, I recommend this book and I can't wait to read the sequel.
1777. Massachusetts Colony. Red Coats. Continental Army. Well, we know who didn't win, but now we have another story behind the scenes. And the best part is that The Road to Deer run is based on family history. The Thomsen family has already lost husband and father, a young brother to the ravages of hostile environment and the Revolution; another brother is currently serving in the war effort. Widow Ruth Thomsen is left to run her farm with the help of her eldest and youngest daughters. Deer Run settlers are a close-knit community, and the widow is also a healer and midwife. When Mary Thomsen makes a disturbing discovery on the family property, she must decide whether or not to keep the secret. Daniel Lowe is a young Lieutenant in his majesty's forces, wounded and taken prisoner after the loss at the Battle of Saratoga. Daniel's physical wound is secondary to the loss of his young brother, who had died in his arms. Daniel accepted his fate when a Continental saber threatened to end his life, but Daniel's life was spared. As a prisoner, the lieutenant attempted to keep his fellow soldiers' spirits up on the terrible march to Boston, even knowing his festering gunshot wound would end his life sooner than later. Hoping for a lonely place to crawl off and die, Daniel takes advantage of a distraction and escapes.or so he thinks. He may not only lose his leg, but also his heart to a lovely American woman. It doesn't take long for Daniel to appreciate the cause of the Americans and for Mary to give him her heart. Told in a dynamic flowing omniscient voice, Cooper's story unfolds with the coziness of a family hearthside story. The fact that she based this lovely little story on her own family history makes it that much more precious. Well-done research and interesting farming and government details make The Road to Deer Run a very sweet historical love story.