Friday, September 15, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Douglass and Lincoln
 
… The deep lines on Lincoln’s face impressed Douglass immediately, but he also noticed that the President’s eyes brightened with interest when the name of Frederick Douglass was called.  Lincoln rose, shock hands cordially.
 
“I know who you are, Mr. Douglass,” he smiled, restraining Douglass’s modest attempt to introduce himself.  “Sit down.  I am glad to see you.”
 
Douglass expanded.  Here was a man he could love, honor and trust without reservation, an honest man.  “I was assisting to raise colored troops,” he began quietly.
 
Abraham Lincoln nodded.
 
Douglass continued.  In Massachusetts he had been very successful in getting men to enlist.  Now, working in Pennsylvania, he was finding it harder.  The men felt that the government was not dealing fairly.
 
Lincoln interrupted.  Could Douglass be more specific?
 
He could.  Three particulars might be mentioned. 
 
Lincoln listened silently with troubled eyes.  When Douglass had stated his case as fully as he could, the President replied slowly.  Douglass should not forget, he said, that the use of colored troops at all was a great gain, so great in fact that it could not have happened at the beginning of the war.  The differential in pay was frankly a concession  to popular prejudice and should not be allowed to obscure the fact that Negroes had much to gain from this war.
 
As to retaliation, that was an even harder problem.  If he could get his hands on a Confederate soldier who had been guilty of mistreating a Negro prisoner, the matter would be simple, but the idea of retaliating against innocent Confederate prisoners was revolting.  However, he thought the rebels would themselves drop such barbarous warfare.  In fact, he had already received word that colored soldiers were already being treated as prisoners of war.
 
On the third point Lincoln’s comment was short and emphatic.  He would sign any commission to a colored soldier his Secretary of War would present (Bontemps 235-236).
 
Douglass saw “one remark” of Lincoln’s “of much significance.”  He said he had frequently been charged with tardiness, hesitation and the like, especially in regard to the retaliatory proclamation, but had he sooner issued that proclamation such was the state of public popular prejudice that an outcry would have been raised against the measure.  “It would,” Lincoln told Douglass, “be said, ‘Ah!  We thought it would come to this: White men are to be killed for negroes.’”  Lincoln went on to deny that he was guilty of “vacillation” and implied that what Douglass was seeing was steady, if perhaps slow, progress, rather than any indecision on his part.  Douglass came away convinced that once Lincoln had taken a position favorable to the black cause, he could be counted on to hold to it.
 
And he came away elated.  Abraham Lincoln … had charmed his black visitor totally.  Douglass felt at ease in his presence, with no sense of inferiority.  This call on the president of the United States, in the Executive Mansion itself, was a crowning achievement for the boy who had once sneaked into Wye House (McFeely 229-230).
 
Douglass returned to Rochester to close his newspaper.  In its final issue, August 1863, he declared his reasons.  Financial backing was not one of them, even though the circulation of the newspaper had never been large, and funding it had always been difficult.  With the rise of other periodicals that supported the aspirations of black people, his Monthly was no longer a necessity.  At the end of his article, he announced, “I am going South to assist Adjutant General Thomas in the organization of colored troops” (Bontemps 240).
 
He received instructions, dated August 13, to report to General Thomas at Vicksburg, Mississippi.  Missing was any mention that he had been given a commission by the War Department.  In his responding letter, Douglass pointed out that fact.  He received, eventually, a letter that discussed his pay, his subsistence, and his means of transportation to Vicksburg.  Again, a commission, which Douglass believed he had been promised, was not mentioned.  Embarrassed and angry, Douglass set about booking lectures for the forthcoming winter months.  If they thought they had him, especially after he had announced in print he would work for them, they were mistaken!  He blamed Secretary Stanton for the betrayal, not the President.  More likely it had been the President, deciding again to go slowly against the grain of popular opinion.  Not until the war was almost won did Lincoln commission a black man; Martin Delany was made a major in February 1865.
 
Because politics did not intrude.  Abraham Lincoln did, as a friend, help Douglass with a personal matter.  The illness, a “long complaint,”of Douglass’s son Charles had persisted.  Through the intercession of the governor of Massachusetts, Charles had been transferred to another Massachusetts regiment, and, because of his condition, he had not been with his company during the bloody Wilderness Campaign and Battle of Cold Harbor.  He was seriously ill, stationed at Point Lookout, when Douglass, in August 1864, wrote the President that “I have a very great favor to ask.  It is … that you will cause my son Charles R. Douglass … to be discharged.”  Upon the letter, Lincoln wrote, “Let this boy be discharged.  A. Lincoln.”  Two weeks later Charles was a civilian, at a time when General Grant’s offensive against Robert E. Lee had cost a tremendous loss of life and Lincoln’s reelection in November was doubtful at best (McFeely 2300.
 
 
Works cited:
 
Bontempts, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Recruiting Black Soldiers
 
Frederick Douglass began to campaign for the use of black soldiers in what was now to be a war of liberation.  In a speech in New York City in February 1863 he criticized those who opposed the use of Negro soldiers because they believed that black men would not fight or that they would be dangerous if armed.  He said nothing about Northern racists who favored their use.  “Every black man who joins the army enables a white man to stay home” was one slogan that was commonly uttered, now that the war was recognized for what it did to those who fought it.  A popular jingle of the day announced that
 
            In battle’s wild commotion
                        I shouldn’t at all object
            If Sambo’s body should stop a ball
                        That was coming for me direct (Bontemps 230).
 
On July 17, 1863, President Lincoln had signed into law a bill that authorized the use of black soldiers at “garrison forts, positions, stations and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.”  Governor John A. Andrews of Massachusetts petitioned the Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, to permit him to raise two regiments of Negro soldiers; and, after some delay, the petition was granted.  Frederick Douglass was asked to help recruit volunteers.  Enthusiastically, he set about doing so.  Two of his sons, Charles and Lewis, were signed up.  Eventually, he raised enough volunteers to comprise two companies.  Commanding the black regiment, the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts, to which their two companies belonged, was Robert Gould Shaw, a young Harvard graduate and member of an influential Massachusetts family.  General David Hunter, commander of the Department of the South, requested that the regiment be sent to South Carolina.  Douglass was on the dock in Boston May 28, 1863, to watch his companies, and his two sons, embark.
 
Back in Rochester, Douglass began to urge other states to follow Massachusetts’s example.  Almost immediately the citizens of Philadelphia authorized the raising of Negro troops.  To their surprise, few blacks volunteered.  Douglass was asked to come to Philadelphia to help.
 
The problem was discrimination within the service.  The solicitor of the War Department had taken the position that blacks should be paid as laborers, not as soldiers.  Later, Douglass learned that only white soldiers were given enlistment bounties.  And, once enlisted, only they could advance in rank.  Additionally, the Confederacy had formally declared that black soldiers captured in battle would be treated as insurrectionary slaves rather than prisoners of war, a death sentence in actuality.  Yet Douglass continued to try to enter black citizens, insisted that despite the unequal treatment, being a soldier gave the black man the best opportunity to better himself.
 
Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters, U.S..; let him get an eagle on his button and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on the earth … which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United States (Bontemps 233).
 
In mid-July the Fifty-Fourth Regiment fought bravely in their unsuccessful frontal assault upon Fort Wagner.  Casualties were heavy.  1,515 Union soldiers fell; the Confederate force had only 174 casualties.  Douglass’s two sons were spared, however.  Illness had prevented Charles’s participation.  Lewis wrote,
 
… Men fell all around me.  A shell would explode and clear a space of twenty feet, our men would close up again, but it was no use we had to retreat, which was a very hazardous undertaking.  How I got out of that fight alive I cannot tell, but I am here (McFeely 226).
 
Afterwards, the Confederates buried the Union dead, with the black soldiers and their white commander, Robert Gould Shaw, all in a common grave.
 
The Regiment had proved false the argument that black soldiers would not fight.  Encouraged, Douglass crossed and re-crossed the Northern states to recruit more black companies.  However, contempt for and palpable hatred of the black soldier made his work even more difficult.  Douglass was in Philadelphia in July when ugly race riots broke out in New York City and other Northern cities.
 
… Poor white men and women, furious about the federal government’s new conscription of troops, from which rich men could exempt themselves by paying a substitute, took out their anger not on the rich but on scapegoats: the niggers had caused the war; they could suffer for it.  As not-so-poor haters of blacks joined in, houses were burned and scores of people killed.  Brains were dashed out against lampposts; a crippled black man was tortured and hanged; a colored orphanage was burned (McFeely 227).
 
Later in the summer, accompanied by Senator Samuel C. Pomeroy of Kansas, Douglass visited the War Department and talked to Secretary Stanton about the inequity of pay received by black soldiers.  Stanton replied that he had always advocated equal pay, and a bill establishing it had passed the House only to be defeated in the Senate.  Stanton pledged that equal pay would become an eventuality as would the promotion of black soldiers into officer ranks.  He urged Douglass to place himself under the authority of General Lorenzo Thomas, who was actively organizing colored troops along the Mississippi River.  Black enlistment was needed more in the South than it was in the North, Stanton declared.  Douglass took the invitation to mean that if he accepted the offer, Stanton would have him commissioned an officer in the army.
 
Then Douglass was directed to the White House.  The President had asked to speak to him.
 
 
Works cited:
 
Bontempts, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Writing "Alsoomse and Wanchese" -- Almost Finished
 
I am maybe a month and a half away from publication.
 
I began serious research for this project in early 2013 and began the writing of chapters maybe two years later.  I am two chapters away from finishing my eighth editing read through of the novel’s 40 chapters.  I will do a ninth read through and declare the long process concluded. 
 
My wife, a voracious reader of fiction, recommends it.  I like it, too.
 
I believe that the writing is tight, the characters are real, the conflict is realistic, and the themes are valid.  I believe that I have conveyed the North Carolina 1580s coastal area Algonquian culture accurately.
 
“Alsoomse and Wanchese” is a story of what could have been more than it is what did happen.  In previous posts I have explained why historians know so little about Algonquians of the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds areas during the late Sixteenth Century.  (If only Native Americans then had been advanced enough culturally to have devised an alphabet and the spelling of words to record their tribal histories and beliefs)  Historians have had to rely on what a handful of Englishmen wrote, not objectively, about their encounters with these “New World savages” to attempt to depict them responsibly.  
 
I did not want to write a novel that plowed the same material that other authors have utilized to tell a Roanoke-related story.  I did not want to feature an English character stranded – whatever the reason – and forced to cope and, perhaps, triumph in a strange land.  I did not want to write a novel the bounded me to the events that English explorers/colonizers reported to Walter Raleigh for publication.  Why repeat with subjective narration and dialogue what historians relate effectively in their works of non-fiction?  I wanted to write about the Algonquian people.  I wanted to portray their universal human frailties and strengths of character in context with what historians do know about their culture.  Imagine the millions of stories that for centuries Native Americans could have told about their loved ones, their enemies, and themselves had they had the facility to write.
 
Anchored by four perceived historical facts, my novel makes you the observer of ten months of the lives of a Roanoke sister and brother, seventeen and twenty, driven by force of character to stretch the boundaries limiting individual inquiry, experiment, and accomplishment that the Algonquian belief system and political/religious governance inflexibly defended.  Additionally, the reader is kept aware throughout most of the novel of the intention of Englishmen to intrude on the lives of these very human, subsistence-level functioning people.  Alsoomse, Wanchese, and their friends and enemies have no awareness of the imminent arrival of these outer-world strangers.  Their appearance would be comparable today, I suspect, to the sudden appearance in America – let’s say in Connecticut, for no special reason -- of outer space aliens of an advanced culture.  The last several chapters of my novel relate how the English explorers and the Algonquian inhabitants interact, each seeking accommodation with the other to advance their own interests.
 
When my novel is published, I will post several scenes on this blog site to stimulate, hopefully, your and other readers’ interest.  Below is an excerpt of my version of the first encounter between the English principals and Algonquian natives.
 
***
They stood before him, six of them. Wanchese’s eyes could not take in at once their individual differences. Altogether, they were strange-appearing. Not of his world. Not anything that he could have imagined. They gave no indication that they intended to harm him.
They were armed. They had swords, inside something covering them, hung from something about their waists. They were long swords, not the length or shape of the wooden swords he and his village’s warriors sometimes used in battle. They had something [petronels] about the length of their forearms, something narrow that pointed. These they had slung across their chests. One of them had a long spear, longer than what he and his friends used to fish. It [the bill] was not made of wood but of something he had also never seen. At the end of it was a point but also two curved cutting pieces and something else that chopped. To defeat a man with this killing spear, a warrior would have to get himself past the cutting and piercing places, grab the center of the spear, and twist it away.
These Tassantassuk carried these weapons, he believed, not for self-protection – he one against six – but to demonstrate their superior montaoc. 
As instructed, Wanchese began his formal speech of welcome. Because he knew they would not understand his language, he used slow, large hand and arm gestures. He pointed toward Roanoke. He pantomimed paddling from that direction. He pointed at his canoe. He pointed at the Great Waters, made waving motions with his opened hands, then pointed at their huge canoes. Using his right hand’s index and middle fingers, he represented himself walking from his canoe to where he stood. With the fingers of his left hand he pantomimed the six Tassantassuk coming to meet him. He touched his heart, figuratively removed it, with his opened hand offered it. With a broad sweep of his opposite hand he indicated the land and water about them.
It was now their turn. The one in the center of the group, the shortest one – too young to be their leader, Wanchese thought – spoke. His eyes flashed. He was not content. Wanchese saw emotion close to anger. Anger because I do not understood his words. The Tassantassuk had a strange protection [a corselet] over his arms, chest, and stomach. It was gray in color. Its surface looked hard. Wanchese imagined the point of an arrow bouncing off it. On his head he wore a strange object [a morion], tall and ugly and hard-looking like what protected his chest.
The others were not so protected. They covered their bodies not with animal skins but other things, things very strange. Even their arms, legs, and feet were covered. One of them, the oldest of them, wore something [a jack] over his chest that did not have the hard surface that the shorter man wore.  The surface looked soft. He could see that sewing had been done. Not like the shorter man, all the others wore something tight and soft [Monmouth cap] over their hair. Coarse hair extended from cheek bones and chins. They and what they wore stank!
The Tassantassuk next to the irritated one, the oldest one, spoke. His facial expressions suggested patience. His gestures communicated. He pointed; his right index finger made a circle about his group. He used his fingers to pantomime all of them, including Wanchese, crossing over the water to one of their canoes.
Wanchese’s face involuntarily tightened.
He thought, If they want to kill him, they would have done it. Do they want me their prisoner, to take me far across the Great Waters to their village?  He had been sent to learn about them! He would have to go with them. He nodded. The Tassantassuk pointed to the smaller of the two canoes. Wanchese nodded a second time.    
 
#
 
They were standing on the quarter deck. Harriot studied the savage. His earlier observations were confirmed.
The savage’s eyes searched, inquired. His face revealed astonishment. This man was a warrior – his scars and broken nose attested that – but he was demonstrably intelligent. How far behind us are these people! Harriot tried to imagine himself trapped in their cultural stagnation.
The man had stared at the oars of the long boat that had transported them to Barlowe’s ship. He had placed an inquisitive hand against the side of the ship before ascending the rope ladder. He had felt the gunwale, looked long at the bitts and cordage. Standing beside it, head tilted backward, he had allowed his eyes to ascend the main mast.
“Doesn’t know much, does he?” Little Amadas sneered.
“None of them do. Depend on it,” Fernandez answered.
“He wants to learn,” Harriot said.
Their looks scorned him, effectively silenced him.
“Bloody hell fire! Not quite exactly, I’d say,” Fernandez said, pretending to be English.
“We are here to make friends.” Barlowe’s eyes stayed on the pilot. “Your expressions say otherwise.”
“I’ll have the bugger know something first!” Amadas approached the savage, who, cat-like, turned to face him. Amadas pointed at the hilt of his sword. “I saw you looking at it. You may see it.” Amadas’s eyebrows lifted.
The savage stared at the hilt, looked briefly at Amadas, nodded.
“He needs to know how the land lies!” Amadas declared.  He drew his blade.
Head lowered, the savage stared. The fingers of his right hand touched the steel. He felt its edges with his thumb and forefinger. He then straightened, looked at Amadas, nodded.
“He takes your meaning,” Barlowe said.
The savage pointed at Amadas’s petronel, slung from the belt that crossed the little man’s chest.
“Rot me!” Amadas exclaimed. “Inquisitive bugger!”
“Give him a demonstration!” Fernandez grinned.
“I wonder at this,” Barlowe said.
“God’s breath, old man! I don’t give a fart in hell! I command here! White! Get a hand to bring up spare fardage! I’ll put a hole in it!”
They waited.
Amadas produced a petronel ball. He held it two feet in front of the savage’s face. He pantomimed inserting the ball in the petronel’s barrel. He took aim at a distant sailor, made an explosive sound, walked the ball the length of the quarterdeck, and thumped the ball against the sailor’s chest.
White reappeared holding the slat of wood.
“Have that man prop it against the capstan! Tell him to stand afar!”
The petronel already primed, the match lit, Amadas aimed, its butt against his chest close to his right shoulder. “Not very accurate but meant to kill charging cavalry,” he said. Harriot was amused that Amadas felt the need to explain, using words the recipient could not understand.
The savage leaned toward the petronel. The explosion and profuse smoke sent him staggering backward. Nearly squatting, he arrested his fall. Instantly, he sprung upright, muscles strained, eyes enlarged, face taut.
“Come with me!” Amadas ordered. He motioned toward the section of fardage. They walked to it, examined the hole made by the ball.
“No farting about, that Amadas!”
Your soul to the devil, Fernandez, Harriot thought. If we are to win these savages’ trust, we must be their friends, not conquerors!  God’s breath he was happy he had not been assigned to Amadas’s ship!
After they had gone below to inspect the cannon and had returned to the quarter deck, Barlowe’s servant brought forth the savage’s gifts: a seaman’s cap and shirt. The savage handled warily the woolen Monmouth cap. Harriot could see he had no understanding of woven fabric.
“Put in on, flat!” Fernandez grinned. He reached for the cap.
The savage jerked it away.
“Bloody lobcock!”
“That was not necessary.” Barlowe frowned. “Mind our instructions, Fernandez. Here.” He handed the savage a folded white shirt. He pointed at the garment worn by his servant.  It was collarless and billowy in the sleeves.
The savage received it, did not unfold it.
“Do you have with you the wine and salted beef?” Barlowe asked the servant.
The servant returned from the capstan with a wine bottle and two wine glasses. He held the glasses while Barlowe poured.
“I know you do not understand my words, but I will say this. Friends share this liquid.  It is called wine.”
The savage took the glass, held it with two hands, stared at the red color.
Two more items he has to wonder about, Harriot thought.
Barlowe cleared his throat. The savage looked at him. Barlowe raised his glass. The savage followed his example.
“To friendship” Barlowe took in a mouthful, swallowed, licked his lips, issued a contented sigh. He smiled. He made an arching, open-handed, encouraging gesture.
The savage tilted the glass, allowed the wine to enter his mouth.  He swallowed. Standing entirely still, he experienced the liquid’s taste and feel. He smiled, broadly.
Several observing seamen laughed.
The savage swallowed the remainder. Barlowe emptied his glass.
“We carry with us meat. Salted meat. I cannot say it is savory, but it helps sustain us.” The servant handed Barlowe a strip of beef wrapped in a cloth napkin. Barlowe tore off a piece, placed it in his mouth, chewed.
Receiving his piece, the savage bit into the meat and chewed. His face expressed tentativeness.  A strange taste, surely. He continued to chew. His face gradually indicated approval.


Monday, August 21, 2017

Crossing the River
Chapter 2
Pages 25-27
 
     From his upstairs window Ensign De Berniere had watched the Framingham militia drill on the town common. For thirty minutes the provincials had marched to commands beat on a drum. These were the farmers, shopkeepers, would be soldiers that every British officer derided.
     They were lean men. Young men and older men but healthy, vigorous men. Muscular. Accustomed to hard work, De Berniere judged.
     They appeared very different from British enlisted men, taken mostly off the streets and out of taverns and jails, uneducated, unmotivated failures one step above animal proclivity. You controlled them with stern discipline. You indulged them with beer and access to women and in foreign locations you allowed them -- though not in Boston -- to pillage.
     The militia captain called his company to attention. De Berniere listened to the officer’s oration.
     New England militia had helped defeat the French and their allies, the savages, in the late war. England would not have prevailed in America without their skill and courage. “Americans are equal to the best troops of any nation.”
     Rubbish!
     Scornful of the character of the individual British soldier, De Berniere knew what excellent training and harsh discipline accomplished. No soldier anywhere was the equal of the aroused, resolute grenadier! The militia captain had spoken pretty words.
     His advice, however, was accurate! Be cool under fire, be patient, control your fear. Always wait for the command to fire; afterward, as a disciplined unit, charge. De Berniere could not have instructed better.
     The dismissed men cheered their captain! In a mass they converged on the tavern’s front entrance. For more than an hour De Berniere, Browne, and Howe heard them tramp and jest, reveling in their “pot-valor,” delaying their return to wives, children, and parents.
     Witnessing in drill these merchants, mechanics, and soil tillers had been instructive. British trained and directed, they would make a formidable opponent. Because they were not so trained, despite all their drilling and speech making, they would remain cross-minded, boisterous peasants!
 
 
     They walked the nine miles to Weston the next day without incident. Having consumed a sumptuous dinner at the Golden Ball Tavern, they returned to their room satiated. Standing beside the door jam, watching the officers remove their boots, Howe sighed.
     This last day, maybe because he had wanted to savor it, had been the best of the lot. It had begun with a hearty breakfast, served to him affably by the Framingham tavern owner, Joseph Buckminster. He had enjoyed the sun’s warmth during their short walk, but a stroll, it had seemed, down a country lane.
     A warm bath at the day’s end had removed the last vestiges of discontent. His having been the last of the baths, he had stood in a large wash basin in the middle of the floor, Browne and De Berniere pouring water over him from two pitchers, one hot and one cold. He had lathered himself with strong lye soap. Afterward, they had cleansed him with additional rinse water. Using large, coarse towels, he had dried himself.
     Invigorated, he had accompanied the officers downstairs to satisfy a great hunger. Roast beef, steak-kidney-oyster pie, and a colonial dish they called Indian pie -- yellow cornmeal which, according to the proprietor, the cook had baked eighteen hours in a brick oven -- washed down by pewter tankards of ale!
     Would he ever enjoy such a fine meal again? 
He stepped into the room. De Berniere was staring at him.
What had he done?!
 Instantly, he knew. Their mission was ending; his freedom was ending. Wanting him to know it, they were going to dress him down.
     “Captain Browne and I have decided to return to Worcester. By ourselves. You will return to Boston with my sketches.”
     Howe’s face colored. About to speak, he turned his head.
     Arms akimbo, Browne scrutinized.
     “We shall return to Worcester by way of Sudbury and Marlborough. Logic persuades us to believe that, sufficient time having elapsed, the ambuscade that we had anticipated has been disbanded.”
     “Why don’t y’want me with you?” he blurted. Embarrassed, he looked sideways.
     De Berniere raised his eyebrows. “You are not content with this, I see.”
     No need to justify our decision, De Berniere.” Aiming his nose, Browne scowled.
     “Forgive me, Captain, but I must disagree.” De Berniere made a deprecating gesture. “I presume that we both agree, do we not, that the corporal has exercised craft in assisting us?” He waited for Browne’s acknowledgment, a curt nod. “The explanation for our decision,” De Berniere stated, addressing Howe, “is two-fold. I must map this other road to Worcester. Our duty necessitates it. Should we be apprehended -- our experiences having strengthened in our minds that potentiality -- we would not want what we have previously written and mapped taken from us, would we?”
     Howe recalled Browne's statement that the Army would not use this road. How he wanted to wipe Brown’s eyes with it!
     “Better that the General have in his possession what we have thus far accomplished than not one scrap of information should the three of us be arrested.”
     Howe nodded. He turned away. He walked to the dingy window, pretended to look through the glass.
     There was nothing that he could say to change their decision.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Crossing the River
Chapter Two
Pages 20-25
 
     John Howe fantasized.
     Who could say what a resourceful young knave might discover prowling about in the dark? He imagined himself, holding his shoes, stealing out the door while the two officers snored. Thirty minutes later he would be looking at a weather-worn outbuilding, inside which the town’s powder was kept. The next morning, when they were all downstairs, he would mention the building to Innkeeper Jones to see how the grouch-faced proprietor reacted. The secret out -- Jones admitting to it -- De Berniere, flaming amazed, would declare, “I’ll be damned!”
     “Howe. Pack our effects.”
     He started.
     De Berniere gestured at the table and the floor. “We are finished here. We leave for Boston tomorrow morning, by way of Shrewsbury, Marlborough, and Sudbury. Leave my sketching material separate. I will be mapping the way.”
     “Yes sir.”
     They had given up!
     He wondered just how useful De Berniere’s sketches of this or any road would be without the General knowing the whereabouts of the town’s powder. It would be like readying the squire's horse for the hunt, he wanted to say, without knowing the day of it. So it was too bad for the Yellow Sashes back at the Province House, and too bad for them. To be defeated, despite all their work, by one sour-faced innkeeper!
Not if he had been in charge.
 
 
     The next morning Howe had changed his anger to disappointment. Better to have their mission end poorly, he had reasoned, than not to have had it. He had relished the physical activity, the food, and the lodging. He had enjoyed the locals, very much like him, commoners he had sometimes chatted while Browne and De Berniere had kept their mouths shut, trying to be like him! Entertainment! The fun of watching De Berniere get his way without Browne knowing it! Never had he been entertained so much beginning with the day the black tavern maid, flirting with him, had identified Browne.
     Captain Browne! Maybe the man knew something about soldiering, but he was not his better!
     Walking these roads had given him lengthy stretches of time to think!
     Foremost of his thoughts was how much his life had changed since that day he had signed up! A stable boy at Audley, his father a personal servant to the Squire, he had chosen to put on the red coat and white stock and here he was tramping about Massachusetts Colony the servant of a simpleton captain turned spy! Not in his wildest imaginings!
     His decision to leave Audley had been plain eighteen-year-old stupid! How quickly he had come to hate soldiering! During the rare occasions when he had been permitted the chance to think, he had analyzed his mistake.
     He had come to see himself a beast of burden, each day suffering the same food -- salt beef and beer -- the same work, the same abuse. Several months ago he had had the mind to change that. His father, by example, had taught him how to serve the high and mighty. The company captain's servant having died of the malignant spotted fever, Howe had pressed his case. Here he was on this gray, wet winter morning walking this road because that very captain, wanting to advance his career, had volunteered to try his hand at spying!
     Serving Browne had not been that much of an improvement. His food and lodging were better; his work was not. The plow was gone; the bit in his mouth had remained. Walking these country roads, served at the same tavern table with Browne and De Berniere, given a pinch of freedom to exercise his lights, he had enjoyed the bit’s temporary removal. He would be back in Boston very soon, back to the same drudgery, to Browne’s daily abuse. Twice this morning he had thought about the lad in the teamster’s wagon. Doing that would be the ultimate right turn in any young knave’s life, wouldn’t it? The hard part about making that big a change, he thought, was not the doing so much but not knowing whether the doing was smart or stupid. What was so special about the lives of these country people, he wondered, that made them so rebellious?
     He heard behind him the clopping sound of an approaching horse. They had been passed twice by disinterested travelers. This one, too, would probably not want to talk. Walking ten feet behind his officers, his head down, he trudged.
 Seconds later, he saw that the rider, ahead of them now, had stopped. He was staring at them! Blood and bones! The day’s first excitement! What should he say? “We be intendin’ t’visit a friend,” a friend that had better be living in some distant town, he thought, the rider more than naught a local! And there was Browne, and De Berniere, musket-barrel straight -- he had to laugh -- taking measured strides toward this provincial like soldiers on parade!
     The rider turned his horse, moved it forward. The man looked twice over his right shoulder. Seconds later he kicked his horse’s ribs. They disappeared over a hill.
     A bit of excitement that! Howe thought. Whoever the man was, he’d gotten his eyeballs’ full! What would his two Jack-Puddings be deciding to do now?  
     They formed a triangle in the middle of the road.
     “That, I suspicion, was a militiaman,” Browne began.
     “He takes with him a detailed account of us, make no doubt!” De Berniere answered. “Expect his return, with, at a minimum, ten militiamen!”
     Browne rubbed his chin.
     The rasp of a crow reached Howe from tree limbs beyond a damp field.
     “Since it is some distance to Marlborough, the nearest settlement,” De Berniere offered, “we are safe, for awhile. We need not be alarmed.”
     Howe disagreed.
     “An hour would you say?”
     “Perhaps.”
     “Then we should carry on, locate a copse of trees, a barn, remain there until after they pass,” Browne said.
     What would be the sense of that? Howe thought.
     De Berniere touched, then scratched his left ear. “Let us not forget, sir, that to carry on we must pass through Marlborough.”
     Wanting to grin, Howe stared at his shoes.
     “Corporal Howe!”
     He almost jumped.
     “What, corporal, is your take on this thorny situation?” His hands gripping his elbows, De Berniere waited.
      Hell fire!
     Howe fought the urge to swallow. He swallowed. There stood Browne, eyebrows raised like a magistrate’s, expecting something stupid. “I’ve … I’ve a mind we d’go back t’ Worcester,” he said, facing De Berniere.
     “Back to Worcester?!” Browne exclaimed. “What in God’s name for?!”
     “By yer leave, Captain,” Howe answered, hiding his resentment. “There's naught but difficulty ahead an' the only other road t’Boston be the old one we d’take.”
     Browne stared down his bony nose.
“So I figure we should go back through Worcester, not stoppin', get on t’Grafton, an’ spend the night at Framingham, where we was before.”
     “Humph.”
     Browne scowled at distant treetops. Staring at the crest of the hill where the militiaman had disappeared, De Berniere slapped his right thigh.
     Why did you bother to ask?
     “Damme, to turn tail and run! I do not countenance it!”
     “But the alternative, Captain?”
     “Yes, the alternative!” Brown pressed his right thumb against the side of his jaw. He spat on the dirt. “I allow there is more danger ahead of us than behind. Damme, I allow that!”
     Howe realized De Berniere’s purpose.
     “Clearly the rider intends to intercept us,” the ensign responded.
     He waits, giving Browne time to own his thinking. Howe scraped the soles of his shoes on the road’s gritty surface.
 They would be returning to the inn at Framingham after all, which was what De Berniere had expected him to say. Back to the same room, maybe, he the servant, arranging the basin of hot water, the towels, the sponge, wringing the sponge over the basin after the two had bathed, emptying the murky water in the mound of pine needles outside the inn’s rear door. He was taken suddenly by De Berniere's use of him. It suggested the ensign had some regard for him. Had he been De Berniere’s servant, his situation might have been acceptable. But he was Browne’s servant!
     “All right! Damme! Discretion having primacy, I agree!” Browne grimaced. “We will walk through Worcester without stopping, allowing us to reach Buckminster Tavern before dark!” He frowned at the roadway. “The General's troops would not take this road anyway!” he declared. “No need, therefore, to waste our bloody breath mapping it!”


Sunday, August 6, 2017

Crossing the River
Chapter Two
Pages 17-20
 
They arrived at Buckminster Tavern in Framingham in the late afternoon. Speaking confidently to the proprietor, then to three servants separately, Howe performed his assigned task, De Berniere closely attending.
 
 
     Entering Worcester the following day, February 25, De Berniere had become cautiously optimistic.
     Not one provincial had exhibited suspicion while they had waited that morning for the Buckminster cook to prepare their lunch -- boiled tongue and cherry brandy -- which they were to take on the road. Thereafter, Browne, following De Berniere’s suggestion, had announced that they would not stop at any tavern during their thirty mile trek. Having covered the distance without incident, De Berniere was hopeful he would obtain the Worcester innkeeper’s complete assistance.
     A sour-mouthed, balding man, the landlord was a relative of the Weston tavern owner. Both had the same name, Isaac Jones. Accepting De Berniere’s invitation, Jones accompanied the three soldiers to their room. Two weeks earlier, he immediately told them, Worcester’s militia had ordered all townspeople to shun his establishment. Thenceforth, he had been treated with contempt. “As certain as November rain” he was being watched. Listening to the man’s whining discourse, De Berniere again felt thwarted. Only after they had established their credibility, aided in no small measure by their demonstrations of empathy, might this peevish man be willing to impart what they wanted. The next day being Sunday -- Jones having told them that Massachusetts law forbade anybody on the streets during the hours of church service -- they would have sufficient time to sway him.
 Sunday dawned through dark storm clouds. Speaking to Jones while taking his breakfast, De Berniere was pointedly cordial. Browne, following De Berniere’s unspoken prompt, behaved amiably. Between breakfast and the mid-day meal, adding details to his topographical sketches, De Berniere questioned whether inviting the proprietor to inspect his work might work to his advantage.
 Shortly before the noon hour -- the ensign yet speculating -- Jones appeared at their door. Two gentlemen wished to speak to them.
     “Who are they?” Browne asked.
     “Friends, let me say.”
     “But do we know that?”
     “I know it as fact!”
     “My companion is apprehensive because your establishment is watched,” De Berniere interpreted. “It follows that these ‘friends’ are also watched. If we should receive them,” he said gently, “it could be to our detriment.”
     “I will not have our purpose compromised,” Browne declared.
     “As you wish.” His face devoid of expression, Jones left the room.
     “May God save us from inquiring friends!” Browne exclaimed after the landlord had descended the stairs.
     Half-turned, De Berniere glimpsed on Corporal Howe’s face a chary smile.
     A half hour later the sour-faced proprietor returned.
     “The gentlemen have left,” he announced. “I bear their message.”
     Raising his chin, Browne managed to look down his nose. “And?”
     “They know you to be British officers.”
     “Indeed! I think not!”
     “Be advised that but a few friends to government know you’re in town.”
     “What then was their purpose in coming?” Browne said sarcastically.
     “That all the Loyalists of Petersham have been disarmed. The same is about to happen here.”
     Browne grunted, angled his head, uttered an expletive. “Then I suppose we shall have to conclude our business tonight!”
     De Berniere agreed. He had anticipated generalized hostility; he had not expected preemptive militancy. Jones’s establishment was watched. Three strangers had spent the night. Prominent Tories had subsequently visited. He and Browne could not risk further delay. Nor could he allow Browne to commandeer -- conviviality already shot to pieces -- this conversation!  
“You are to direct us this evening to where the town’s military stores are safe kept,” Brown said.
     Jones stiffened. “Not tonight! Not any night!” Eyes flashing, he fixated on the officers’ personal effects, arranged neatly on a narrow table beside their bed.
     Five seconds elapsed.
     De Berniere spoke. “Let us talk gently about this …”
     Damn your bleeding tongue!” Browne bellowed. “By God, I shall rip it out! Do not tell me what I do not want to hear!” His face choleric, Browne advanced. “Your loyalty, man! Your loyalty to the King! You will assist us! ”
     “So I have, as far as keeping myself safe. And I'm not so certain of that!”     Appalled, De Berniere watched Browne rise on the balls of his feet, lift aggressively his hands.
“You need not endanger yourself. If you think that, I have misspoke.” -- Too late, De Berniere thought, too late, Captain, for that! -- “We are not behindhand in our regard. We are sensible of your difficulty!”
     “Entirely,” De Berniere responded. “Let us talk about this.”
     Looking between them, not at them, Jones glared.
     “We ask only that you stroll with us about the town, in the direction of the stores. You need not point out the stores’ location! Your word of it upon our return will answer.”
     Isaac Jones shook his head. Browne’s neck muscles tightened.
     “You must accompany us to the site! We must inspect it!”
     “I am a watched man. You want me to walk the street with strangers who walk as soldiers, with no purpose apparently but to socialize, when my business is here in this tavern, where I would do that and no place else. I will not!”
     Browne’s large body expanded. “You blackguard! You … offspring of a rancid whore!” Storming past the proprietor, he pulled the door open. “Out! Get out!”