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Authors: Dianne K. Salerni

The Caged Graves

BOOK: The Caged Graves
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Table of Contents

Title Page

Table of Contents






































Author's Note

About the Author

Clarion Books

215 Park Avenue South

New York, New York 10003


Copyright © 2013 by Dianne K. Salerni


All rights reserved. For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.


Clarion Books is an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.


The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:

Salerni, Dianne K.

The caged graves / by Dianne K. Salerni.

p. cm.

Summary: Returning to her hometown of Catawissa, Pennsylvania, in 1867 to marry a man she has never met, seventeen-year-old Verity Boone gets caught up in a mystery surrounding the graves of her mother and aunt and a dangerous hunt for Revolutionary-era gold.

ISBN 978-0-547-86853-0 (hardcover)

[1. Arranged marriage—Fiction. 2. Love—Fiction. 3. Buried treasure—Fiction. 4. Murder—Fiction. 5. Community life—Pennsylvania—Fiction. 6. Pennsylvania—History—1865—Fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.S152114Cag 2013

[Fic]—dc23 2012021008


eISBN 978-0-547-86854-7





To my parents, Fred and Rosemarie, and my mother-in-law, Madeline, for all their support, encouragement, and occasional shameless promotion

JULY 1778

Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania





EVEN FACING probable death, Private Silas Clayton couldn't stop thinking about that leather satchel.

Screams and gunfire echoed off the mountain walls in the distance. Light from burning homesteads flickered through the trees, and smoke hung over the valley, obscuring the stars. Silas knelt in the dirt, his hands bound behind his back and all his thoughts bent toward that bag, which fellow captive Sergeant Anders wore slung across his chest.

Across the clearing, British officers consulted, occasionally passing cold eyes over their prisoners as they considered what to do with two dozen stray Continentals.

Silas hadn't known much luck in his eighteen years. The sixth child of nine on a failing farm never had much to look forward to growing up, except hunger and the sure fact that there wasn't enough of anything to go around. Joining the militia hadn't improved his lot in life, only reinforced his conviction that luck was something he'd have to make for himself.

Tonight, his luck—and his life—hung in the balance. If his regiment had waited for reinforcements inside Forty Fort as originally planned, he'd have been sleeping safe inside the stronghold tonight, but then he would never have come within reach of that satchel. As it was, goaded by Captain Stewart's brashness, Colonel Butler had led them out against the enemy, and the whole damn militia was routed in less than an hour.

Stewart was dead now, and God knew where the colonel was. Silas had fled the battlefield during the confusion, doggedly following Sergeant Anders through the mountain forest. With his usual luck, he'd run right into the hands of the blasted Indians.

Mohawks, he'd been told, with some French blood thrown in. They had hidden in the shadows between trees and rocks, rising up out of the ground like ghosts to corner him just when he had freedom in sight. Now they stood patiently behind the British soldiers, waiting for orders.

Somewhere out in the darkness a woman screamed—a harrowing cry cut unnaturally short—and the British officers lifted their heads only briefly before returning to their conversation, unmoved. Judging by the ominous glow over the treetops, it seemed the Redcoats and their Indian allies were burning every homestead in the valley.

Meanwhile, this small regiment of British soldiers had just been saddled with a score of prisoners they didn't want. They
march Silas and the others back to their encampment and from there to imprisonment, or they might do something a lot less honorable. Silas had seen their treatment of his fellow soldiers on the battlefield, even ones who'd surrendered, and had no intention of waiting around for the inevitable decision.

For the last several minutes, he'd been sawing at his bonds with the knife that had been concealed in his boot. It was slow work, holding the knife upside down in sweat-slicked hands to reach the rope around his own wrists, and every time one of the soldiers looked his way, he had to stop, lest he draw their attention. Anders knew what Silas was doing; the big blond sergeant glanced sideways at him every now and then, and Silas could swear Captain Striker—also bound and kneeling across the clearing—was watching him too.

Captain Striker. How he hated that puffed-up old rooster! In the last fifteen months the captain had whipped Silas more than his father ever had—for insubordination, for disobedience, for gambling, and for everything else he could think of. “You'll never amount to anything, Clayton!” Striker had shouted just two days ago, after he'd caught Silas carving dice out of musket balls. “You'll end up in a pauper's grave, boy, mark my words!”

Silas didn't plan on going to the grave anytime soon, and he wasn't going to be a pauper when he did.

The ropes around his wrists gave way suddenly, and he lurched forward as his arms swung free. Regaining his balance, he jerked himself back to his previous position and looked around to see if anyone had noticed.

Anders had. His blue eyes were wide and worried. “C'mere,” Silas whispered, and the sergeant scuttled nearer on his knees. Reaching behind Anders's back, Silas pressed the blade of his knife against the rope and sawed as hard as he could. This was harder to conceal, two prisoners leaning together like a pair of fainting women. He'd have to be fast.

“You there!” an officer called. “Move apart!” Silas didn't even look up, redoubling his efforts. The British captain strode across the clearing, his hand reaching for his sword as his eyes raked over the two of them. “What do you have there, Sergeant?” Now he'd spotted the leather bag Anders wore, and the officer looked back at his own men in disgust. “Didn't anyone search these prisoners? Someone get that satchel off him.”

No time for subtlety left. Silas wrenched his blade up through the rope, hoping it would be enough, and surged to his feet with a roar. He took the officer by surprise, grabbing the man's sword hand before the weapon had cleared the scabbard and thrusting forward with the knife. The captain howled as the knife grazed his ribs but caught Silas's wrist before he could strike again. For a moment they grappled like a pair of wrestlers, while the British enlisted men shouted and brought their muskets to their shoulders. Silas raised himself up on the balls of his feet and smashed the taller man in the nose with his forehead.

Blood spurted; the officer roared, and Silas shoved him backwards toward his men and bolted for the woods.

Anders had thrown off his bonds and was already yards ahead of Silas, his long limbs churning up the dirt. Not a coward normally, nor one to spurn a fight, he didn't stop to help Silas or look back to see if he was following. He had his orders regarding that satchel, and Silas knew the sergeant would follow them, loyal to the cause until the last.

Musket fire erupted just as Silas reached the line of trees, chewing up bark on either side of him. The Indians who'd been standing behind the British melted away from the clearing as though they'd never been there. Silas plunged headlong into the forest, hunkering low and straining to spot the sergeant's blond head dodging between the trees.

There was hardly a point to escaping if he didn't keep up with Anders.

The Redcoats gave pursuit, cursing and crashing through the underbrush. Between their noise and their bright uniforms, Silas had no fear they'd catch him unawares. The Indians would be the far deadlier foe. Somehow, he'd retained a grip on his knife. It wouldn't make much of a defense against a musket ball or a tomahawk, but he clenched his fingers around it anyway. Leaping over fallen trees and dodging low branches, he sprinted through the thick forest growth and came upon Anders sooner than he'd expected.

The big sergeant had stopped, lost and disoriented. He flinched when Silas appeared but didn't argue when the younger man grabbed him by the sleeve and pulled him onward, hissing, “This way!” The ground sloped steadily downward, into the valley of the Susquehanna River. The sound of pursuit diminished to shouts in the distance, but Silas pushed onward without stopping. The more dangerous enemy would come upon them silently, and he was certain they were still on the hunt.

Soon their feet sank into moist earth, and water welled up around their ankles. They staggered to a halt, up to their knees in water. This wasn't the river. This was the foul bog that filled up the lowland in the valley along the river's edge.

Silas tried to glide through the marsh without splashing, and Anders followed. The stink of decaying plants and animals filled the air. Silas kept to the edge, avoiding the open areas where moonlight illuminated masses of floating weeds. Sounds echoed on the water, and he heard distant splashing . . . voices . . . sobs.

They weren't alone in the swamp. There were others fleeing through the water: burned-out settlers, maybe even fellow soldiers who'd escaped the battlefield that day. In fact, as Silas stood still to listen and watch, he realized the swamp was filled with refugees—and slinking behind them, shadows.

The sobbing grew louder. In the middle of the water, which lay like a putrid lake beneath the stars, a woman was crossing with two children slung across her shoulders. Silas saw her struggle to drag her sodden skirts through the mire, but with both arms burdened, she was making little headway. He didn't know why she was trying to cross the open water, except that she must have feared what she couldn't see more than what could see her.

The sergeant had been resting, crouched over with his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. Strong as he was, the day had taken its toll: the battle; their first flight, which had ended in capture; and now this dash for freedom—all while carrying that heavy satchel. Nevertheless, at the sight of the woman and her children, he straightened with a sigh. “We have to help them.”

Silas shook his head. “Carrying that bag?” He glanced up at the trees. “'Twould be better to hide it and come back when the Redcoats are gone. Why don't you hang it on one of those limbs?”

A flicker of suspicion crossed the young sergeant's eyes. “You know I can't do that. Captain Stewart charged me with its safety. With his
dying breath,
Clayton! I got to get this bag to Colonel Dennison. But first, these people need our help. It's our duty.” Anders turned away, toward the black waters of the bog, the woman and her children . . . and the waiting Indians.

Silas nodded grimly. It was time for him and Anders to part company. “Wait, Sergeant. I'll come with you.” He caught hold of the other man's arm and moved quickly to his side.

Anders grunted and groaned—then swayed like a tree that didn't know which way to fall. He stared at Silas in confusion, one hand shaking as he felt his way down his own chest and encountered the hilt of a knife. His knees gave out, and the big man folded, sinking into the filthy water. “Why?” he gasped.

“You know why.” Silas grabbed hold of the leather straps with both hands and shook the satchel free of the other man. Slipping it over his own head, he felt its weight with satisfaction.

“Oh please, dear Lord, help me,” the sergeant moaned as he collapsed into the water.

Silas turned away. Without so much as a glance back at his fallen comrade, he pushed aside the marsh grass and disappeared into the dark.


Catawissa, Pennsylvania

BOOK: The Caged Graves
13.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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