Time Enough for Drums

Why put off until tomorrow, etc., so let’s get started with the oeuvre of one of the Greats, the Big Names of 80s-90s-era historical fiction, the woman who was on every library shelf and in every school classroom at some point, one of the big kahunas herself: Ann Rinaldi.

Book: Time Enough for Drums, Ann Rinaldi, 1986.


This may not be one of Rinaldis’ absolute most popular books, but it was one of my favourites. This may or may not have been because Jemima, the protagonist, was wearing a gorgeous dress on the cover. Jemima is fifteen years old and living in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1778. She clashes almost immediately with her strict tutor, since rather than go to her lesson, she was running around in the woods getting her older brother to teach her how to fire a musket. Her older brother Dan is in charge of the local militia, and seems to spend most of his time in the first half of the book looking to recruit men while looking very dashing in his officer’s uniform. John Reid, Jemima’s tutor, is twenty-four and a staunch Loyalist, as well as the local schoolmaster. Jemima’s parents were good friends with the Reids, which is why I suppose they continue to engage him as a tutor for their daughter while holding vastly different ideological views.

Jemima is a standard-issue Not Like Other Girls girl who is terrible at academic pursuits and domestic duties, and would much rather be out riding her horse, Bleu, or hanging around with her brothers. She has another brother, David, and an older sister, Becky, who’s married to a British officer and living with their wealthy grandfather. They have two slaves (who are, of course, slated to be freed at some indeterminate point in the future) and seem to be fairly well-off. In the afternoon Jemima runs into a neighbourhood, Raymond Moore, who tells her that he plans on enlisting in Dan’s regiment even though the Moores are Quakers and therefore not really supposed to involve themselves in war. You get the distinct impression that Raymond is more than a little keen on Jemima, and he seems to be a fairly nice guy, so I’m pretty sure he’ll die.

Jemima’s mother sends her off to visit her grandfather and sister, so Jemima and Dan set off to visit and end up arguing with their grandfather for the entire visit. He and Dan go off in another room and Jemima, listening at the keyhole, learns that her mother has been writing letters to the newspaper asking for support of the rebel troops and urging families to donate everything they can. On the way home, Dan asks for the hand of Betsy, Raymond’s sister, in marriage. It’s very weird how this is sort of shoehorned in.

Over the winter, Ray asks if he can write to Jemima, and she promises to write back. John Reid, the Evil Tutor, says that he is going to look over any correspondence they have, and Jemima, predictably, freaks out at this. Her parents back him up, and Jemima stomps off, probably declaring how parents just don’t understand. The day the troops march out, Ray kisses Jemima, and she kisses him back, so I’m pretty sure again that he’s going to die. Poor guy. Jemima is confused by her feelings (she likes him! But she’s worried! What if they’re killed? Etc.) so she goes to spend the day visiting her other grandfather, her father’s father, on his enormous estate, and on the way there her horse throws her and she sprains her wrist. She spends the day with him and his aboriginal….uh…it’s not quite clear whether he’s an illegitimate son, or a ward, or some kind of business partner, or gay lover, or what, but his name is Broken Canoe and he takes Jemima home that evening.

Jemima’s parents are livid with her for just taking off without telling anyone, and they threaten to send her to her other grandfather’s to live with him and Becky, the very thought of which is intolerable to Jemima. John Reid, of all people, offers to stick up for her—but only if she agrees to stop the nonsense and pay attention in her lessons and just generally buck up a bit. She agrees, even though she loathes him, because apparently she loathes her sister that much more. It doesn’t go well at first, though, since Jemima is very bitter about being taught things like table manners, and at this point I frankly don’t blame John Reid, because a fifteen-year-old girl really should be capable of eating in a semi-decent manner rather than shoving meat into her mouth with her hands. He then switches to penmanship training and lets slip that he’s going to go away on a little trip, something to do with his father’s estate, and she gets the impression he’s not being 100% truthful. We shall see.

While he’s gone, Jemima slacks off again, writing to Ray and Daniel without her tutor’s eyeballing them first. When John Reid returns, he’s dressed like a backwoodsman, but has brought her a gift of some beautiful ribbons. He takes away her horse for a couple of weeks after finding out she’s been reading Tom Jones instead of Shakespeare. (Incidentally, I have never read Tom Jones and had to do a quick brush-up on Wikipedia, and holy crow, John Reid is right, that’s some racy business! Prostitution! Incest! Promiscuity! My goodness.) She comes down with a fever, and John comes to visit her sickbed and gifts her a copy of Shakespeare’s love sonnets. These two have a bit of the “I hate you! No, wait, you’re wonderful!” going on, which may be why I really enjoyed this book at 13.

When Jemima turns sixteen, her parents give her a beautiful hope chest (again with the hope chests!) and a gown of English fabric. She teases John a bit about treating her like a young lady, and when he steps out for a minute she sees that he has been writing a secret message! It’s disguised as a letter about profiteering, but it’s really about where Howe has been moving his troops and his summer attack plans. John comes back and wrestles the letters out of her hand and shakes her, saying that if the truth comes out his life is at stake.  He then snots a little bit about how deceitful it is to be a sneak, and he doesn’t really have the high ground here, being a spy. Sorry, John, you lose this round. They argue over whether Jemima can be trusted, and if she breathes a word to anyone he’ll pack her off to Philadelphia to live with her grandfather and won’t think twice about it.

She doesn’t, though, and John gripes at her for being rude to Lucy, their slave, and there’s a brief interlude about how evil slavery is. Then he talks about his conversion to the Patriot cause thanks to the pomposity of the British officer he met in Boston, and asks why she hasn’t been responding to Ray Moore lately. Jemima is a little put off and has to confess that Ray wants to court her when he gets home, and she blathers a bit about how they’ve grown apart and have nothing in common anymore. Oh, Jemima, he’s only been away a couple of months! You’re cruel. John forces her to write back to him and tells her it was cruel to “give her kisses so freely” and give Ray false hope. WAIT, NO. Ray kissed her! Blame him for this, you douche! Okay, that is me interjecting my modern biases into what is probably a period-appropriate exchange. But still.

After about a week or two, John Reid calls Jemima into the schoolroom to talk, and asks how much older he is than her (eight years and seven months), and says that he is going away to do a terrible job. He tells her how stern he has had to be, and how he has loved her for so long, and kisses her. Jemima thinks she may die of joy, and there is some really excessive language—“And in that moment I possessed and lost the whole world and everything in it and was left with the feeling and the knowledge, which is love, that no matter how we give ourselves we always end up losing.” 1. That’s why Ann Rinaldi was so popular with the preteen set, and 2. That’s a pretty poorly-constructed sentence.

Also John gives her a gold and mother-of-pearl locket with a sketch of himself inside it and leaves to do the whole spy thing.

Later that summer, Jemima gets into trouble for ripping down a Tory broadside in the town, and her father threatens to send her into the countryside with her mother, and she flat-out refuses to go. But just a few days later the American army retreats through Trenton, followed shortly by the British. Cornelius, their family’s male slave, asks to go with the American troops along with David (the younger brother). Jemima’s father frees both Cornelius and Lucy, his wife, and they all help to pack the valuables in the house and send them to Otter Hall in the country.

When Jemima and her family see Dan with the other retreating soldiers, they’re horrified to see how thin and ragged he looks, and he passes along the message that Raymond is seriously ill south of there. (I knew he was not long for this world.) John turns up in the town as well, briefly, and promises to continue printing secret messages in the local newspaper disguised as want ads for a runaway slave, so Jemima will know he’s all right.

Jemima comes down with a fever just afterwards, and her father goes out in the night to deliver foodstuffs to a local Patriot militia after receiving a note requesting supplies. But instead he is killed and his body left in his own shop for Jemima’s mother to find the next day. It was a set-up on the part of a British spy, to play on his kindness, and he’s beaten to death instead. Jemima’s mother loses her senses, in a way, and forgets who Jemima is. The Moores offer to let her stay with them for a while, so Jemima goes home alone with only Lucy to be with her in the house. Bad things get worse when the British come to quarter at their home.

Several officers come to stay there, and Jemima slips out to go and visit their horses in the barn when one of the officers comes to talk with her for a minute. He straight-up admits that he has been drinking, but not to worry, as he won’t ravish her, and if he had wanted to ravish her he wouldn’t have waited. Um. Thanks for being so upfront?

There’s a battle in the streets of the town, which the Patriots win, and Daniel comes to the house to see them all and Jemima has to break the hard news to them about their parents. But he manages to pass her a note from John, and says that he was able to meet with him as well and he asked for Jemima’s hand, and they are now officially engaged. But John dumps his spy gig and goes off to join the American army instead with the forces now leaving.

After the troops leave, Becky comes to visit with her new infant son, and bitches and moans a bit about how terrible it is trying to get along without her maid. Jemima does not have a whole lot of sympathy, understandably, but Becky is there to stay in the relative safety. John Reid is taken prisoner—but thanks to his status they let him roam around New York fairly freely and befriend the British officers there.

Canoe comes to see them while he’s passing through, and Jemima practically falls all over herself in gratitude of seeing someone who’s not a British officer and/or starving and draggled, but Becky is less excited to see him and loudly talks about all the diseases he’s probably carrying. Canoe leaves (obviously), and Jemima is heartbroken. They hear no real news for months, and then John turns up again in September. I am not the biggest fan of John in this book, because every time he sees Jemima he snarks on her about how she should curtsey better and she’s his most frustrating pupil, and I know it’s supposed to be a little bit of “ever the schoolmaster” banter but it comes across as being a bit gross instead. In a sort of “girl dates her professor because she’s overcome by his charm and his maturity, but he’s unable to relate to her as a peer and instead is stuck on being her worldly professor all the time anyway.”

But I digress. John is ill with a fever of some kind, and Becky keeps harassing him about how the Americans are bound to lose, and their aunt had to sail to Halifax because she was a Loyalist, and blah blah blah. Becky sounds like a very tiresome person. After John leaves Becky tells Jemima to stop being such a child, and tells her that their mother went insane from guilt because the letters she was writing to the newspaper were traced back to their house and their father was killed in retaliation. Heavy stuff.

The next day Jemima goes to see her mother and see if this is true, although I don’t know what she’s expecting. What she gets, though, is her mother tells her very very very quietly that she’s been entirely sane the entire time, she just can’t get past the horrible guilt she feels and is convinced her heart is broken. This is…I had more sympathy for her when we thought she had lost her memory. Her guilt must be tremendous, but also, she left her sixteen-year-old daughter and house slave alone to face a house full of enemy soldiers and to run the shop that is their family’s livelihood all alone. And straight-up ignoring her daughter to her face! Man! That is cold.

Becky leaves, because she’s a harridan, and Jemima feels lost and alone and tries to get John to move in with her and Lucy. John, understandably, keeps asking her if she wants to be shunned by everyone by shacking up before they’re married, and Jemima throws a temper tantrum and storms out. Yes, that definitely says “ready to be married.” Canoe offers to give him a place at Jemima’s grandfather’s estate to teach some of the local kids and let someone take care of him a bit, and reveals that he really is Jemima’s blood uncle.

The end.

Then there is an epilogue that’s basically another chapter, where John and Jemima get married that fall, David is killed at Yorktown, Becky and their Tory grandfather are forced to flee to Canada, and her mother is never really the same. The real end.

Rating: C+. This is kind of a strange one. The writing is perfectly acceptable (with one or two exceptions), but I truly don’t see what captured me so desperately when I was reading this as a kid. It’s on the dull side, and the relationship between John and Jemima is a trifle unbelievable. It’s only all right, but the history is pretty accurate, which is great, and the attitudes expressed are pretty believable for the period as well. Probably good for a kid who’s going through a big Revolutionary War phase, but otherwise…maybe give this one a pass.


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