Eleven-year-old Luke breaks into his master’s gun case, steals a rifle, and sets out to meet up with four slaves running to join the Union cause. No one said Luke could come, but he figures they won’t turn him away when he shows up at the meeting place. Something goes wrong, and instead of meeting up with them, he finds two younger children wandering in the woods: nine-year-old Daylily, another slave; and seven-year-old Caswell, a white boy. The two become Luke’s responsibility, much as he resents it at first. It is up to him to organize their survival, hunting for food, cooking, keeping them away from fighting on both sides of the war, and making clear to Caswell that he no can longer throw any privileges around.
Ultimately Daylily becomes very ill, and the three are taken in by Betty, a half-Seminole, half-black spy who has been toasting her bread on both sides, so to speak, and has also been stealing supplies from both armies. Luke is appalled to discover this and when Betty gets caught, and then rescued by the children, she sees the error of her ways–and she also has to send them on Northward now that she’s become known.
As the War is winding up, the three children, who have come to feel like brothers and sisters, vow to meet up again at Betty’s cabin in the woods in ten years. As each of them sets forth into a post-war life, none of them know what their future will bring, but their reunion ten years later shows that each in their own way stayed true to the others.