Ouch!” Caroline cried when she pricked her finger with a needle for the third time. Holding the quilt block to the light, she examined her progress. The rose she had been sewing with such tiny stitches bloomed bravely. She had one more block to sew, then she could begin sewing the quilt blocks together.
“Carrie,” her brother called excitedly from outside. The fresh salt breeze stirred her curls as she leaned out the window. The gray blue of Barnegat Bay was a beautiful sight with the wind ruffling the water and swishing the grass.
“Carrie,” Tom shouted again. “Father needs a message about supplies sent to Trenton.”
For three months Tom and Father had been passing information about King George’s soldiers up the coast to the patriots in Trenton, and she thought that Tom was sometimes carried away with the Revolution and their part in it.
Carrie and her family lived some distance from the center of their town with its white clapboard houses and tree-lined streets. As he mended nets or worked on his fishing boat her father was able to see things that others might miss. After he gathered information about ships or troops or supplies, he drove to Trenton in the wagon or sent Tom with a message. Tom thought it was a great adventure to saddle his horse Powder and deliver the latest installment of information.
Carrie worried that someone might discover the real reason for Tom and Father’s frequent trips, even though their messages were always hidden in barrels of salted fish, rolls of netting, or under Powder’s saddle blanket. Turning from the window, she crossed the room and picked up her sewing. She was busily unpicking a row of crooked stitches when Tom and her father came into the room.
“Carrie,” her father spoke quietly and quickly. “I’m afraid that the enemy suspects that Tom and I have been acting as couriers, so I’m asking you to take the message this time. We have a message that must be delivered. It’s a good thing that your mother is visiting Aunt Liza in Trenton so you’ll have a reason for going there.”
Carrie nodded her head in agreement while she repinned the applique pattern onto her sewing.
“Tom, hurry and saddle Powder while Carrie and I think of a place to hide the message,” Father urged.
Carrie listened eagerly as Father continued, “We can’t hide it on the horse or saddle. We’ve done that too many times before. Nor can we hide it in your boots or in the food or—”
Carrie, who was still working with the pattern for the quilt block, interrupted him as an idea came to her. “Father, I’ll finish unpicking the stitches around this rose, then we can slip the message between the rose and the quilt block. I’ll sew it up, pin the applique pattern on the top so the block will have a feel of paper, and it will be as safe as can be.”
Carrie showed her father where there could be a secret pocket between the rose and the quilt block. He took a folded paper from his pocket and slipped it into the hiding place she had made. Then Carrie quickly stitched the rose into place. Smoothing it, she put the block into her sewing basket and fastened the clasp.
“Quick, Carrie, there’s little time,” Father said as he took her dark blue cloak from the hook by the door and settled it on her shoulders.
“You are to ride straight to the Delaware Printing Shop on Front Street. John Grant will be watching for Powder. Give him the message and then ride to Aunt Eliza’s.” He looked into his young daughter’s eyes. “Tom and I will pray for your safe trip, my dear,” he said and gave her a quick hug.
Carrie picked up her sewing basket, gathered the cloak around her, and ran outside where Tom helped her onto the sturdy little horse that would carry her to Trenton. Tom squeezed her hand as he handed her the reins and then safely tucked the sewing basket and a packet of bread and cheese into the saddlebags.
Carrie pulled the hood of her cloak over her head and waved good-bye as Powder settled into a steady gait. Most of the journey would be along the lonely coast road. Powder knew this road so well that Carrie let him find his way while gulls wheeled above the boggy track. Just before Powder took the turn where the sandy path merged into the well-traveled main road, Carrie reined the horse in and offered a silent prayer for the success of the ride.
Powder’s hooves made an even beat on the hard surface of the road as they picked up speed and raced toward Trenton. Carrie was so concerned about her errand that she barely heard the shout of a soldier from somewhere in the gloom.
“Halt, young lady,” he repeated. The soldier was an older man who had a pleasant smile on his face as he stepped out of the shadows and greeted, “Hello, miss. What are you doing alone on this road so late?”
“I’m on my way to my Aunt Eliza’s in Trenton. My mother’s there and I’m to join her,” Carrie explained, shivering with cold and fear.
The soldier’s lantern made curious shadows when he held it up to look into Carrie’s face, then he said, “Well, miss, I’m sorry but I must search your saddlebags. Would you please dismount?”
The frightened girl scrambled down off the horse and stood beside Powder as his saddle was removed and his saddle blanket shaken. Then the soldier took the saddlebags and carefully unpacked them. He grinned when he found the bread and cheese, and handed them to Carrie whose mouth was so dry she knew she could never choke down the food Tom had packed for her. When the man lifted out the sewing basket, his eyes were eager. But his face fell when he opened it and saw only thread, needles, scissors, linen, and the quilt block. “What do you call that,” he asked, “knitting?”
Carrie held her voice steady as she shook her head and answered, “That’s a quilt block, and after I get the pattern right, I’ll sew some other blocks to it and then quilt them.”
“It’s pretty,” he said. “Back home we have a bush with roses as red as this one. I’m sorry that I had to stop you,” he added, putting the handwork back into the basket and repacking her saddlebags. Then he saddled Powder and helped Carrie onto her horse again.
Carrie breathed a prayer of thanks as Powder seemed almost to fly toward Trenton, carrying her and her father’s message safely inside the red rose of the Revolution.