The year is 1758, and though the locale is workaday New York, the landscape is wildly exotic. Our fresh-faced hero is Thomas Dordrecht, raised on a remote farm-now in the heart of modern Brooklyn-speaking both Dutch and English. Though he thinks himself unusually worldly, he has no idea what he'll face when he agrees to defend the claims of King George II in the brutal French and Indian War. In six exciting months, he gains a lifetime's education not only in honor, courage, and tenacity, but in rashness, cowardice, falsehood . and murder!
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The Thomas Dordrecht Historical Mystery Series
An Act of War! Ten months after the humiliating defeat and terrifying massacre at Fort William Henry-famously recounted in Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans-the fierce, blood-soaked conflict still rages throughout North America. Seven soldiers of DeLancey's New York regiment went foraging, but only six returned. The missing man was found with an arrow in his belly, scalped! Everyone had dismissed the warning that enemy Indians were prowling the vicinity-even the victim's best friend..
Much later that afternoon—the ship having been completely idle and the sailors apparently enjoying a holiday—we were engaged in a dice game when the bristly-beard stopped by, broke into an unexpected grin, and said, “Any soldier boy care to see the crow’s nest?” He pointed straight up to the top of the mast, as high up as the tallest of trees.
“You must be jesting!” Ferris exclaimed.
“Is that even allowed?” Hannamore asked.
“You think we’re lunatics?” Skelden said.
Robins and Brewster simply gaped in disbelief.
“Sure!” I said, brashly jumping up.
“Thomas!” Hannamore protested. He pulled me aside. “They might be playing a practical joke, Thomas!”
“Nah!” I walked over to join Jack by the rail—and suddenly did feel a tremor of fear. “So … how do you do this again?” I demanded, rallying myself. While the others shook their heads as if I’d lost all reason, Jack showed where to place hands and feet on the rope ladders—the ratlines. He had me climb one link, then told me to wait while he crossed to the port side to climb opposite me.
“I’m betting you won’t even make it to the first basket!” Skelden taunted—in Dutch.
“Bet you’re wrong!” I retorted.
“Motion by motion, do what I do,” Jack called, “and don’t look down!” Aha! As he made a move—right hand up one level, left foot up one level—I simply mirrored him, one effort at a time. By the time we were halfway, I heard the commotion of an audience below, turned to wave, swayed slightly outward, and grabbed the ratline back in a spasm of dread—all to growing cheers and catcalls from the deck. “I told you not to look down!” Jack admonished.
“All right, all right!” I conceded.
We stopped as we approached the first basket. Jack somehow climbed upside down around and over it, and then dropped down inside it. He beckoned me up through a very tight opening in its flooring, to a spot where, holding onto the mast itself, one could stand and catch one’s breath. “Ready? There’s only one more on this little boat!” I looked up—another twenty-five perilous feet—and gulped at the thought that there might ever be larger ships with even greater heights.
But with grim perseverance on my part—and nonchalant ease on Jack’s—we achieved the lookout’s post five minutes later. Exhilarated, I stood up on the little floor, holding the very top of the mast, but when I heard cheers from below, I put both hands on the basket’s rim and looked over at the men—mere specks!—below. I made to wave and the boat took a lurch. I fear I squawked like a hen as I felt myself about to careen over the edge, but Jack quickly hauled me back inside. “Always hold onto this!” he growled over the roars of dismay—and laughter—from below, handing me a knotted rope fastened around the mast.
Chastened, I took a firm hold, and drank in the amazing vista of the great harbor and its expansive green environs. “Why, there are mountains over there in New Jersey!” I exclaimed.
The sailor looked up from the rope-work in which he was engaged, and smirked. “Barely hills, lad. Not special at all.”
“You must really love coming up here!” I gushed.
He chuckled sarcastically. “Oh yes. It’s a beautiful, calm afternoon in May, and we’re anchored! Try it on a night in February, dirt-pusher, in a gale, in the middle of the ocean!” He showed me how the crow’s nest would rock with ten times the motion of the deck and how the lookout would sit with both arms and legs wrapped about the mast for dear life.
“Gosh! How long do you have to stay here, doing that, then?”
“For a watch, of course. ’Less you’re being punished!”
Four hours of that didn’t sound inviting at all. Jack asked me to assist as he completed his intricate rope-work, then he relaxed with a pipe while I repeatedly surveyed the panorama.
“You must be terrifically brave!” Ferris remarked, after I’d climbed down and regained what now seemed, absurdly enough, to be “ground.” The thought hadn’t occurred to me—and didn’t seem at all right. I had a hunch our bravery would be far more severely tested before the summer was out.