"Don't love a spy," warns fifteen year old Pinkerton agent Maddie Bradford, a lonely, rebellious outsider with a mind on fire and a photographic memory.
It is 1861, the Civil War has just started and this motherless teen must move with her soldier-father from New Hampshire to Washington, DC; a city at war, packed cheek by jowl with soldiers, Rebel spies, slave catchers, and traitors of all stripes bent on waging a war of destruction against the Union, and President Lincoln himself.
Maddie's journal, written in secret, of course, begins with her arrival at her aunt's DC boardinghouse through the first year of the Civil War, a time as Maddie puts it, "full of dips and dangers," when she becomes a fearless Union spy. And then there is the mysterious, maddening Jake Whitestone, a young man who awakens something equally dangerous in Maddie: Love in a time of terror.
Civil War historian, author, and lecturer Jane Singer brings her unique voice to Alias Dragonfly. Visit her at www.JaneSinger.com
"The language was as rich as the historical setting and the plot was full of adventure. For a book filled with excitement and romance, all in a historical setting, read Alias Dragonfly." -- Alice Lugtu, Alice in Readerland Blog
"a delightful character… I found myself urging her on in all her endeavors and tests." -- Brandy Huffman, Good Reads
"…a beautiful adventure filled with intenseness, romance and riskiness. This book is a must read for the historical fiction lovers." -- Aleksandar Petkovski, Good Reads
"Quite delightfully authored. Recommended not only for youthful readers but also for young-minded adults." -- HE, Amazon Reviewer
"This is an exhilarating young adult Civil War thriller starring a wonderful intrepid teenager. The fast-paced story line grips the audience as Jane Singer provides her readers with a strong sense of time and place due to the diverse viewpoints…" -- Harriet Klausner, The Midwest Book Review
"…an exciting, fast-paced telling of what was a real experience for children and teens who acted as spies for both the Union and Confederacy during the war." -- Kerry, BSC Kids
"An incredibly involving novel, Alias Dragonfly is the beginning of a series and one that deals well with the opening of the Civil War. No unpleasantness is papered over, yet they're dealt with taste and sensitivity." -- Alan Bishop, Gaslight Review
"Maddie's story kept me riveted. [I] did not put the book down." -- Rhonda1111, Read A Lot
The nightmare came again, spreading like an ink stain over my brain . .
I am alone in the alley. Stealthy as a cellar rat, the girl creeps up behind me. I’m too busy fishing her dispatch out of a slops bucket to sense her. It is too late to pull my revolver from my boot. I feel hers in my back.
"Turn around, Yankee.” She whispers. I face her full on. I gasp. We are so alike: wide-set blue eyes—starburst eyes flecked with green, rambling brown curls, and we are both tall, close in age, and young, we are so young. We are wearing wrinkled black frocks that hang loose on our thin frames. Are we in mourning, or in disguise? We might pass for sisters. But I don’t have a sister, not a living one.
She cocks her revolver...
I duck low and dart past her down the long, narrow alleyway. A bullet whizzes past my cheek and smashes into the wall as I run toward the street.
She does not take her kill shot.
She wants to capture me if she can, parade me before her handlers—her prize. I hear her panting behind me like a slave-tracking hound after its quarry. She catches me by the ankle. I fly forward and hit the ground. She is leaning over me, trying to pull me up. I rake my fingers down her face. She bleeds.
Kick, like they taught you, fight, I tell myself. I slam the heel of my boot into her kneecap.
Before she buckles, she punches me in the mouth. I am bleeding, too. She is down. Her weapon clatters to the cobblestones. In that instant, I pull my pistol out of my boot.
Behind me, I hear a man, his voice slurred by drink, ask, "Anything broke, sweetheart?”
I hear her snarling, like a wild thing.
"Little witch. Bit me, did you?” He yelps.
I can hear him cursing as he totters away. She is clutching her leg, crawling toward her weapon. I grab it up, and yank her to her feet. I jam my gun into her side.
"Walk,” I tell her. She sways, her teeth clenched, in pain.
"Yankee devil.” She hisses.
I am near my boss’s headquarters. Even in the darkness, with the moon smudged by clouds, I see it. I pull her along, past two Union soldiers who eye us, leering.
"Don’t ever let me catch you out drinking again, Nancy.” I say loudly, holding her against me, supporting her. "If papa saw you like this, he’d beat you blue.”
The soldiers laugh as I drag her along.
Three men guarding Mr. Pinkerton’s door, step aside at the sight of me.
Inside, the girl collapses in a chair, her head down. I tie her hands together, avoiding the blazing hatred in her eyes.
Mr. P. hands me his handkerchief. I wipe at my bloody lip.
He walks to the girl. "This time, lassie, we win.”
She throws back her head. She is laughing.
The room explodes in a flash of blinding white light. I am no longer flesh. I am in pieces—bone, bits of skin and glass.
I am screaming. I cover my mouth to muffle the sound, and fumble for the revolver I keep by my pillow. The smooth wooden stock, the cold metal barrel warms in my hand.
Breathe. Slow, easy. Breathe.
Something tugs me toward wakefulness. It is the easy light of dawn, soft and gray, slowing the thudding of my heart.
I am angry at this nightmare, like it is a living being. Much of it, not all, but much of it is wrong.
Write it down, then, the truth, the way it really happened, how it all began, I tell myself. Take up pen and paper. Write.
You’ve probably guessed by now that I am a spy.
We are slippery sorts, like the eels that slither out of my father’s fishnets back in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. That’s where I was born and lived until we came to Washington City.
You might pass me on the street and not even know it. I could be the one-armed beggar with a half-moon scar on her forehead, the orphan under the gas lamp selling wilted violets, or the young woman in crimson velvet awaiting her escort to one of President Lincoln’s White House balls.
Or maybe I am the lanky serving maid with a mass of springy, light brown curls. I might be the muleskinner’s brat, with blue eyes in a dirty face, my hands stained from tanning animal hides.
Sometimes I am known as "Fiona,” or "Dragonfly.” These are aliases, fake names given to me by Mr. Allan Pinkerton, so my true identity and movements can remain secret.
Between missions, I stay in Washington City, in my aunt’s boardinghouse that is my sometime stopping place, not really my home.
My father is a private with the Second New Hampshire Infantry Regiment. Brave men like him aim to win the fight against the Confederates. If that happens, the Negro slaves might well go free. I’d never seen human beings dragged like cattle to auction until I came to Washington City. Their freedom, and putting our broken country back together, my father says, is worth dying for. I agree with my whole heart. Even about the dying part.
Some call this conflict between the North and the South the Civil War. That’s a bunch of bosh! There is nothing civil about it. After more than a year it still rages, destroying everything in its path.
And here I am smack in the middle of it, a girl of fifteen who never believed she’d fit in anywhere, let alone contribute to a great cause. In spite of the danger, I am bursting proud to do my part. Bursting proud and changed forever.
Here, then, is the story of the lonely kid I was; roaming in the forest at all hours of the night—and after an accident, how I became a homebound misfit with a fired-up brain that rattled and sped like a runaway engine, and why I am, I think, becoming a woman.
I write in secret, of course.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
The day Papa and I went to Washington City, I felt like a cook pot that was about to boil over: A bone-cracking heat was rising in me. Angry, I was. Scared.
"You’ve enlisted for three years, Papa? No!”
He was all I had, and I loved him mightily.
"I thought it was only going to be for three months?” And how dare you wait until the day we leave to tell me. Did you think I’d run away again? Well I just might.
"Mr. Lincoln has called us up for much longer, Maddie. I’m in until we win this war,” he said, closing the door of the snug little cabin he’d crafted with his own hands for Mama and me. It was perched high and isolated, up a rutted, rock-strewn path that ended on the banks of the twisty, whirling Piscataqua River.
My father’s clear-cut, thin face, even thinner since Mama died, looked really scary-gaunt. He tried to stroke my hair, but his fingers caught in my mess of pop-out frizzy curls as I turned away. I didn’t labor to brush my hair that often. I didn’t give a tinker’s damn how I looked. Especially since Mama had died six months and three days before. I was dressed in a black, bombazine, mourning gown that was left in a paper wrapper at our doorby two townswomen who scurried away when I appeared at the window.The ‘village peculiar,’ I was to them. Odd as a five-legged goose.
A ruffle of cold wind sweeping up from the river made me shiver. I put on my traveling cape with the tattered blue silk lining. I pulled the oversized hood over my head, just to my eyes, making me look like a gypsy-spirit.
As I turned away from the cabin, a shimmer of sunlight on the front window made me think I saw a bright-cheeked, glowing face, a tumble of red hair, and the greenest of green eyes; the way Mama was before the wasting sickness took her. But when a feathery cloud drifted over the sun, she was gone. Gone to shadow.
Papa hefted our travel trunk on his back and handed me his haversack. "Don’t look back,” he said, rubbing his eyes.
I ran ahead of him down the rocky walk to the end of the road to wait for the wagons that would carry my father’s regiment to the train depot: the grocers, doctors, fishermen like my dad, the plowmen, and their sons—not much older than I was.
I’m just as strong as any of them. Why in Hades do I have to stay in Washington City with an aunt I’ve never met?
"I’m keeping with you, Papa. I’ll fight too.”
"You’ll do nothing of the kind. It’s a man’s war, Maddie.”
"Bosh! I’m tall as a man already,” I said, straightening my sharp-edged, bony knees and jamming a black derby hat down on my head. Fact is, over that year I’d grown so much I figured if I kept going, my head would shoot straight through the roof of the cabin and I’d be fit for a zoo.
My father’s uniform, a red fox tail jacket and blue trousers looked new and stiff. He looked stiff too. At that moment, I truly hated everything about the Second New Hampshire Regiment right down to the buttons on my father’s coat that glittered like fool’s gold.
"Well, Private Summoner Bradford,” I said, with a whole lot of sass, "You think you can shoot some Rebels in your fine, starched uniform? You look like a statue.”
My father stood straight as a larch tree and tried to look down at me, even though we were nearly eye-to-eye.
"Madeline Eve Bradford, do not ever speak to me that way again. Mind me, and mind my sister, do you understand?”
No. I don’t understand.
"I’m all tangled up, Papa.” Like knotted seaweed battered by a thousand ocean waves. I turned away and picked up a smooth river rock. I held its coolness to my burning cheek.
"Is it the leaving? We’ll come back here, someday, I promise.”
"No! I don’t care if we ever do, and neither do you, Papa, and that is the truth, isn’t it?”
"Just to visit their graves, now and again, that’s all.” He said softly. "Now and again.”
"I don’t need to look at a patch of rocky ground with headstones jutting up to think of Mama and Nancy.”
Hurt, like a shadow crossed my father’s face. They’d lost a daughter when she was about three and I was two. Just before my accident I’d found a death record in Mama’s trunk with a name on it I didn’t recognize.
"Who was Nancy?” I asked. "What did she look like?”
And because I was a little kid and Mama looked like she was about to wash away in a flood of tears, like they’d been stored in a full-up rain barrel, I figured her upset was my fault.
"Like you,” she finally said. "She looked just like you. Beautiful, she was.”
Beautiful? I’m plain, like an unpainted fence.
"Papa? What happened to Nancy?” He bit down on his knuckles and closed his eyes.
"She came out right at first, then when she was around two she stopped crying and her body froze up. Doctors couldn’t do anything. When she was three, she died.”
And that’s why after the accident you wouldn’t let me out of your sight? Or was it always that way?
"Did she play with me? With anyone?”
Maybe I remembered her. Eyes like starbursts, rosy skin, a freckle or two.
But she was a big fat secret, this sister of mine. How could they have kept her from me? They wouldn’t, I decided. I made up a life for her, as if she’d not died at all. It was though I’d woven her on Mama’s loom, spun and shaped her into a reckless, free-roaming, saucy girl.
Nancy, Nancy, tickling Nancy, you’d face down she-wolves in the forest, sashay around the village in a red frock with all the boys following you, asking you to kiss them. Sometimes you would.
Puffs of imaginings like pollen clusters swirled in my head as Papa and I waited for the wagons.
It seemed like they were taking forever to come. The road was empty. A strong wind from the river, marsh-musky and chilled, rattled through the birches.
"Where in Hadesare the wagons, Papa?”
"Mind your mouth, Madeline.”
"I’ll cook for you in camp, clean your rifle, shine your boots, anything!”
"No! That would be too dangerous. You are all I have, do you understand?”
"What if something happens to you?” I was shouting. "I won’t be there. You need me!”
"Enough. You will stay with my sister, in her boardinghouse. There’s an end on it.”
My father’s mouth was set tight like a freshly caught clam. There was no sense arguing with him anymore.
"Fine. Great. Right.” I kicked at a rock until my toe was throbbing, sending flashes of pain straight to my heart.
Finally, out of a spray of pebbles and dust came the wagons pulled by lumbering dray horses; teeming with new soldiers bright as penny whistles, readying for Mr. Lincoln’s War. They were waving flags, whistling and cheering. Hands, white gloved, ready hands; eager hands pulled us up onto a flat board seat. I clutched Papa’s haversack to my chest, the way I wanted to clutch him, hard, never letting go. The wagon pitched and rolled like it was borne by an ocean wave carrying us away, and nothing could stop it until we washed up, a pile of bleached bones on the shore.