• “The smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting 'Scrooge McDuck' comics.”—Salon.com
  • A time-hopping, continent-spanning salmagundi of genres.”
  • “These books have to be word-of-mouth books because they're too weird to describe to anybody.”
    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor

“Coloring Book”

If it weren’t for the coloring book, I might not have noticed immediately. In third or fourth grade, Brianna had had a coloring book featuring scenes from the American Revolution. Sanitized, suitably romantic scenes—Paul Revere flying through the night on a galloping horse, Washington crossing the Delaware while exhibiting (as Frank pointed out) a lamentable lack of seamanship…and a double-paged spread featuring Molly Pitcher, that gallant woman who had carried water to the heat-stricken troops (left-hand page), and then taken her wounded husband’s place to serve his cannon (right-hand page)—at the battle of Monmouth.

Which, it had dawned on me, was very likely what the battle we were engaged in was going to be called, once anyone got round to naming it. Monmouth Courthouse was no more than half a mile from my present location.

I wiped my face once more—this gesture did nothing for the perspiration, which was instantly renewed, but judging from the state of my three soggy handkerchiefs, was removing a fair amount of dirt from my countenance—and glanced toward the east, where I had been hearing distant cannon-fire most of the day. Was she there?

"Well, George Washington certainly is," I murmured to myself, pouring out a fresh cup of water and returning to my work rinsing out bloody cloths in a bucket of salt water. "Why not Molly Pitcher?"

It had been a complicated picture to color, and as Bree had just got to the phase where she insisted that things be colored "real," the cannon could not be pink or orange, and Frank had obligingly drawn several crude cannon on a sheet of paper and tried out everything from Gray (with shadings of Black, Blue, Blue-Violet, and even Cornflower) to Brown, with tints of Burnt Sienna and Gold, before they finally settled—Frank’s opinion as to actual historicity of cannon being diffidently advanced—on Black with Dark Green shadings.

Lacking credentials, I had been relegated to coloring in the grass, though I also got to help with the dramatic shading of Mrs. Pitcher’s raggedly streaming clothes, once Brianna got tired of it. I looked up, the smell of crayons strong in my memory, and saw a small group coming down the road.

There were two Continental regulars—and a man in what I recognized as the light green uniform of the British Provincials [ck. name]; a Loyalist regiment. He was stumbling badly, though supported on both sides by the Continentals. The shorter of these also seemed to be wounded; he had a blood-stained scarf wrapped around one arm. The other was looking from side to side as though on guard, but didn’t seem to be wounded.

At first, I’d looked at the Provincial, who must be a prisoner. But then I looked more closely at the wounded Continental supporting him. And with Molly Pitcher so clearly and recently in mind, realized with a small shock that the Continental was a woman. The Continental’s coat covered her hips, but I could plainly see the way in which her legs slanted in toward the knee; a man’s thigh-bones run straight up and down, but a woman’s width of pelvic basin compels a slightly knock-kneed stance.

It also became clear, by the time they reached me, that the wounded soldiers were related: both were short and thin, with squared-off chins and sloping shoulders. The Provincial was definitely male, though—his face was thickly stubbled, while his…sister? They seemed close in age…was clear-skinned as an egg, and nearly as white.

The Provincial was not. He was red as a blast-furnace and nearly as hot to the touch. His eyes were white slits and his head wobbled on his spindly neck.

"Is he wounded?" I asked sharply, putting a hand under his shoulder to ease him down onto a stool. He went limp the moment his buttocks touched it, and would have fallen to the ground had I not tightened my grip. The girl gave a frightened gasp and put out a hand toward him, but she also staggered and would have fallen, had the other man not seized her by the shoulders.

"He took a blow to the head," the male Continental said. "I—hit him with the hilt of my sword." This admission was made with some embarrassment.

"Help me lay him down." I ran my hand over the Provincial’s head, detecting an ugly, contused wound under his hair, but found no crepitation, no sense of a skull fracture. Concussion, likely, but maybe no worse. He began to twitch under my hand, though, and the tip of his tongue protruded from his mouth.

"Oh, dear," I said, under my breath, but not far enough under, for the girl gave a small, despairing cry.

"It’s heatstroke," I told her at once, hoping this might sound reassuring. The reality was far from it; once they collapsed and fell into seizures, they usually died. Their core temperature was far above what the systems of the body could tolerate and seizing like that was often an indication that brain damage had started to occur. Still—

"Dottie!" I bellowed, and made urgent gestures at her, then turned to the sound—but very frightened-looking—Continental soldier. "See that young woman in gray? Drag him over into the shade where she is; she’ll know what to do.—" It was simple. Pour water over him and—if possible—into him. That was the sum total of what could be done. Meanwhile…

I got hold of the girl by the non-wounded arm and sat her down on the stool, hastily pouring most of what remained in my brandy bottle into a cup. She didn’t look as though she had much blood left.

She didn’t. When I got the scarf off, I discovered that her hand was missing, and the forearm badly mangled. She hadn’t bled to death only because someone had twined a belt round her upper arm and fastened the tourniquet tight with a stick thrust through it. It had been a long time since I’d fainted at sight of anything, and I didn’t now, but did have one brief moment when the world shifted under my feet.

"How did you do that, sweetheart?" I asked, as calmly as possible. "Here, drink this."

"I—grenade," she whispered. Her head was turned away, not to see the arm, but I guided the cup to her lips and she drank, gulping the mix of brandy and water.

"She—he picked it up," said a low, choked voice at my elbow. One of the other Continentals was back. "It rolled by my foot and he—she picked it up."

The girl turned her head at his voice, and I saw his anguished look.

"She came into the army because of you, I suppose?" Clearly the arm would have to be amputated; there was nothing below the elbow that could be saved, and to leave it in this state was to doom her to death by infection or gangrene.

"No, I didn’t!" The girl said, huffing for breath. "Phil—" She gulped air and twisted her head to look toward the trees. "He tried to make me go with him. Loyalist c-camp…follower. Wouldn’t." With so little blood remaining in her body, she was having trouble getting enough oxygen. I refilled the cup and made her drink again; she emerged from it spluttering and swaying, but more alert. "I’m a patriot!"

"I—I tried to make her go home, ma’am," the young man blurted. "But wasn’t anyone left to look out for her.” His hand hovered an inch from her back, wanting to touch her, waiting to catch her if she fell over.

"I see. Him—" I nodded toward Dottie’s station under the trees. "Your brother?"

She hadn’t the strength to nod, but closed her eyes briefly in acquiescence.

"Her father died just after Saratoga," the young man looked completely wretched. Christ, he couldn’t be more than seventeen, and she looked about fourteen, though she must be older. "Phillip was already gone, he’d broke with his father when he joined the Provincials. I—" His voice broke and he shut his mouth hard, and touched her hair.

"What’s your name, dear?" I said. I’d loosened the tourniquet to check that there was still blood flow to the elbow; there was. Possibly the joint could be saved.

"Sally," she whispered. Her lips were white, but her eyes were open. "Sarah." All my amputation saws were in the church with Denzell—I couldn’t send her in there. I’d stuck my head in once, and nearly been knocked over by the thick smell of blood and excrement—even more, by the atmosphere of pain and terror and the sounds of butchery.

There were more wounded coming along the road; someone would have to tend them. I hesitated for no more than a minute.

Both Rachel and Dottie had the necessary resolve to deal with things, and the physical presence to command distraught people. Rachel’s manner came from months of experience at Valley Forge, Dottie’s more from a habit of autocratic expectation that people would of course do what she wanted them to. Both of them inspired confidence, and I was proud of them. Between them, they were managing as well as could be expected, and—I thought—much better than the surgeons and their assistants in the church, though these were commendably quick about their bloody business.

"Dottie!" I called again, and beckoned. She rose and came at the trot, wiping her face on her apron. I saw her look at the girl—at Sarah—and blanch at sight of her arm, then turn with a brief look at the bodies on the grass, and turn back with a look in which curiosity, horror, and a desperate compassion were blended. So the brother was dead already, or dying.

"Go and get Denzell, Dottie," I said, moving just a little so that she could see the mangled arm. She turned white and swallowed. "Tell him to bring my bow-frame saw, and a small tenaculum."

Sarah and the young man made small gasps of horror at the word "saw," and then he moved swiftly, touching her at last, gripping her by her sound shoulder.

"You’ll be all right, Sally," he said fiercely. "I’ll marry you! Won’t make a blind bit of difference to me. I mean—your—your arm." He swallowed, hard, and I realized that he needed water, too, and passed over the canteen.

"Like…hell," Sally said. Her eyes were dark and bright as unfired coal in her white face. "I won’t—be married for pity. Damn…you. Nor guilt. Don’t…need you!"

The young man’s face was blank with surprise—and, I thought, affront.

"Well, what are you going to live on?" he demanded, indignant. "You don’t own a thing in this world but that damn uniform! You—you—" He slapped his leg in frustration. "You can’t even whore, with one arm!"

She glared at him, breathing slow and hard. After a moment, a thought crossed her face and she nodded a little and turned to me.

"You reckon the army might…pay me…a pension?" she asked.

I could see Denzell now, blood-splattered but collected, hurrying across the gravel with the box of surgical instruments. I would have sold my soul for ether or laudanum, but had neither. I took a deep breath of my own.

"I expect they will. They’ll give Molly Pitcher one; why not you?"

[end section]

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Diana posted this excerpt on her Facebook page on July 5, 2015.

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