Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Book Review
Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West
by Stephen Ambrose
 
This non-fiction work is superb.  Reading it many years ago motivated me to read informative historical novels like A.B. Guthrie’s excellent narratives set in the Yellowstone, Montana, Idaho areas.  Having reread a large section of “Undaunted Courage” this past year, I offer this book review, which cannot do justice to the work’s many qualities.
 
I was enthralled with the book’s six maps.  I referred to all of them frequently to make clear to me the time-progression, geographical location sequence of events that are such an important component of the telling of the Lewis and Clark Expedition accomplishment.  If I were younger and had the financial resources to indulge myself, I might be tempted to follow the route the Corps of Discovery took from St. Louis, Missouri, to Fort Clatsop, Oregon, and back, taking numerous pictures and maintaining a daily diary.
 
“Undaunted courage” describes best the greatest attributes of the two captains and their exceedingly well-disciplined, resolute men.  Delving into the unknown stirs some element of fear in any person.  Imagine yourself signing onto an expedition that intends to take you more than a year into diverse land not previously explored, boats to be poled up the Missouri River, portages to be undertaken because there had to be – if not falls – rapids too violent to ride, mountains to cross over passes not yet known, overland transport between the end of the Missouri River and some unknown tributary of the Columbia River the difficulty and duration of which you would learn only when you had to deal with it.  And what of the lack of food, the prospect of starvation, especially in the mountains, after you have left the bison-filled plains east of the Continental Divide?  And what of the Indians?  Your expedition – though heavily armed -- will be vastly outnumbered by any tribe it encounters.  If any tribe wishes to exterminate you, it can.  You must pray that you captains have the skill to prevent this.  Pray that each tribe’s human universal avarice is satiated sufficiently to receive from it tolerance of your temporary presence.   Finally, will you be able to stand the rigors of your daily labor, which will require you to consume 6,000 calories of food.  Will you succumb to dysentery, influenza, sexually transmitted diseases caught from intercourse with native?  Lewis or Clark would be your doctor.  The remedies to be used would be whatever they are able to concoct.
 
There are particular scenes in this book that rival in excitement and wonder the best scenes written by a skilled novelist.  Here is one example. 
 
Lewis and Clark needed to find the Shoshones just east of the Continental Divide.  The Shoshones, they had been told, had many horses -- horses the expedition needed to cross the Rocky Mountains to find the Columbia River, horses Lewis and Clark hoped to obtain through barter.  They had reached the three forks that become in western Montana the Missouri River.  They had chosen to follow the most westerly fork – the Jefferson River – hoping to encounter friendly Shoshones.  They had been unsuccessful.  Game had become scarce.  Lewis divided the expedition into two groups, both of which headed west overland.  Eventually, Lewis sighted an adolescent brave on a horse from a distance of several miles.  Lewis hailed him, but the brave fled.  I will allow Stephen Ambrose to narrate the rest.
 
On Tuesday morning, August 13, 1805, Lewis set out early, headed west on a plain, heavily and recently used Indian trail that fell down a long, descending valley. …
 
At nine miles, Lewis saw two Indian women, a man, and some dogs. When he  had arrived within half a mile of them, he ordered Drouillard and the two privates to halt, unslung his pack and rifle and put them on the ground, unfurled a flag, and advanced alone at a steady pace toward the Indians.  He hailed them, using a word he believed meant “white man,” but actually meant “stranger” or “enemy.”  The man hurried away.
Lewis’s men rejoined him.
 
After less than a mile, topping a rise, they came on three Indian women, one a twelve-year-old, one a teen, and the third elderly, only thirty yards away.  At first sight, Lewis laid down his rifle and advanced on the group.  The teen ran off, but the old woman and the child remained.  Seeing no chance of escape, they sat on the ground and held their heads down; to Lewis it looked as though they had reconciled themselves to die.
 
He approached and took the elderly woman by the hand, raised her up, said,“tab-ba-bone,” and rolled up his shirtsleeve to show her his white skin.  … Drouillard and the privates joined him.  From their packs he gave the woman some beads, a few moccasin awls, a few mirrors, and some paint.  His skin and the gifts, and his friendly attitude were enough to calm her down.
 
Through Drouillard’s sign language, he asked her to call the teen back, fearing that otherwise the girl might alarm the main body of Shoshones.  The old woman did as asked, and the teen reappeared.  Lewis gave her some trinkets and painted the “tawny cheeks” of the women with some vermillion.  When the Indians were composed, Lewis told them, through Drouillard, that he “wished them to conduct us to their camp that we were anxious to become acquainted with the chiefs and warriors of their nation.”  They did as requested, and the group set off, the Indians leading.
 
After two miles, the long-anticipated and eagerly sought contact took place.  Sixty warriors, mounted on excellent horses and armed for war with bows and arrows plus three inferior rifles, came on at full speed.  When they saw Lewis’s party, they halted.
 
… The Indians were overwhelmingly superior.  It would have been the work of only a moment for them to overwhelm Lewis’s party. 
 
But rather than assuming a defensive position, Lewis laid down his rifle, picked up his flag, told his party to stay in place, and, following the old woman who was guiding, advanced slowly toward he knew not what.
 
A man Lewis assumed was the chief rode in the lead.  He halted to speak to the old woman.  She told him that these were white men “and exultingly showed the presents which had been given.”  This broke the tension. 
 
The chief advanced.  Saying “ah-hi-e, ah-hi-e,” which Lewis later learned meant, “I am pleased, I am much rejoiced,” the chief put his left arm over Lewis’s right shoulder and applied his left cheek to Lewis’s right cheek,  continuing “to frequently vociferate the word ah-hi-e.”
 
This first meeting between Shoshones and Americans went better than Lewis could have dared to hope.  He had been exceedingly lucky.  The war party had ridden out in response to the alarm given by the man who had fled earlier that day.  The Shoshones expected to find Blackfeet and might have attacked without pause save for the old woman.  Had Lewis not met her, and had she not responded so positively to his appeals and gifts, there might well have been a firefight.
 
There is great irony in this incident.  Ambrose criticizes Lewis for not having Sacagawea accompany the party.  She was one of two young Shoshone girls that had been captured by a Hidatsa raiding party four years earlier at the Three Forks.  A French Canadian trapper, Toussaint Charbonneau, won the two girls from their captors in a bet.  Both girls became Charbonneau’s wives.  Lewis had signed Charbonneau on as a member of the expedition because of the girls’ knowledge of the Shoshone language.  Sacagawea, turned fifteen, was the wife chosen to accompany him.  Why had Lewis decided not to include Sacagawea in his scouting party?  Ambrose wrote:
 
The captains shared a hubris, that they could handle Indians.  They believed they needed Sacagawea’s interpreting ability only to trade for horses, not to establish contact.   it would seem that the captains allowed their self-confidence, and perhaps their male chauvinism, to override their common sense.
 
The great irony is that the chief who in friendship placed his cheek against Lewis’s cheek happened to be Sacagawea’s brother.
 
If you enjoy American history and have not read it, “Undaunted Courage” should be at the top of you “To Read” list.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Crossing the River
Chapter 3, Pages 43-45
 
“The town of Concord lies between two hills,” Daniel Bliss said, pointing at his drawn map. “The Concord River, which is little more than a stream, runs between them. The town has two bridges, one to the north, here, the other to the south, here.” De Berniere and Browne examined his markings. “At various places, in houses and in the woods, they’ve hidden four brass field pieces and ten iron cannon. I’ve marked their locations with X's.”
     It was precisely what the General had instructed them to obtain. De Berniere would duplicate the map. His would be the only map the General would see.
     “They have collected a wide assortment of arms and equipment,” Bliss stated. “I have made a list.” He handed De Berniere the paper.
     The ensign read the column of words: cartridge boxes, harnesses, spades, pickaxes, billhooks, iron pots, wooden mess bowls, cartridge paper, powder, musket balls, flints, flour, dried fish, salt, and rice. He would copy this as well.
     “Also, Colonel Barrett has a magazine of powder and cartridges hidden at his farm.”
     “Where?” Captain Browne asked.
     “Here on the map. I have written his name and circled it. His farm is about two miles beyond the North Bridge.”
     Leaning over the table, De Berniere found the name, and the road that led to it.
 
 
     At dawn Daniel Bliss, exhibiting a stoic countenance, readied himself for departure. As promised, the two officers would accompany him, the enlisted man having volunteered to leave ahead of them to scout the way.
     “Twould be fittin' not t'be seen with you. I’d be movin' 'bout with naught someone suspectin'. Might see somethin' needin' t'be known.”
     “Wait for us, a mile east of the town,” the dark officer had answered, the fleshy, sour-faced officer-in-charge having deigned not to respond.
     Frost lay upon the road. Footprints and hoof indentations marked the predawn passing. Sunlight had begun to streak. Roof tops steamed.
     Two townspeople, pausing at the door of Ephraim Jones’s Tavern, marked them. Amos Johnson and Elisha Carter were out for an early morning toddy. Raucous laughter. Upon seeing them, hateful faces. Too early for them to do him any damage, Bliss decided. They would be well toward Lexington before Jones and Carter could alert Major Buttrick, should they be so uncharacteristically motivated.
     Having taken the road east of the mill pond, they passed the burial ground on the hill. Near Reuben Brown's house Charity Fuller was carrying water, her breath visible in the crisp air. The young maid turned her head once.
     They passed the road to Waltham, the tightness inside his chest caused, he believed, by his fear but also because of what he was leaving.
     “The ground is open here,” the younger officer, De Berniere, said to him, as they approached Meriam's Corner.
     “From here to Lexington it isn't,” Bliss said. “The road in places is very narrow. It surmounts two major hills and passes stands of hardwood and pine.”
     Later, “Stone walls. Too many stone walls.”
     “We like to mark our property lines,” he explained.
     They stopped, repeatedly. Each time Ensign De Berniere had sketched. “These delays increase the likelihood of my capture,” Bliss had complained after the third stop.
     “A well aimed pistol shot will remedy that!” Captain Browne had boasted. The young officer’s eyes had flitted toward his superior and had lingered, briefly. The enlisted man, ten feet behind the Captain, out of the dark officer’s vision, had smirked.
     Three pistol shots against how many, ten muskets? What sort of fool had General Gage sent? The other one, De Berniere, excessively pleased with himself, had seemed competent.
     “Bad ground here,” Bliss heard the officer say to Browne at the top of Brooks Hill. The Captain nodded, flicked a speck of bark off the front of his coat.
     When the King's Foot marched this way -- Bliss could not phrase the event as a question -- who would lead them? The best, he would have assumed two days earlier, had he had special reason then to consider.


Monday, October 30, 2017

Crossing the River
Chapter 3, Pages 39-43
 
     Howe was ecstatic.
     The cage had been unlocked, the door opened; once more, like the trained bear on a short chain, he was walking “the grounds of the fair.”
     They had crossed the River, he and his “keepers” assigned again to spy! Splendid “grounds” they were, made more so by the mid-morning, late-winter sun, the sound of hungry gulls, the sweep of ocean air!
     God Almighty, how much he hated what he had left: during Browne’s absence the half-witted mutter of barrack mates; the preying nastiness of the Sergeant, his brass-tipped, jabbing cane; the foul, grubby scrubbings of latrine benches and mess hall floors; the interminable inspections during which he had stood resentfully alert, obedient, expecting indiscriminate abuse. Then, after the Captain had returned, the purchasing of his fancy food, the polishing of his boots and brass, the washing and ironing of his precious garments, the exercising and grooming of his bay colt. His special duties completed, right-wheels on the Common, drill after drill and standing and waiting, waiting and standing, more marching and more standing and waiting. How he hated this life! How he rejoiced in his reprieve!
     During their meeting with General Gage, Browne and De Berniere had requested his service. According to De Berniere the General had taken an interest in him. Who in the King’s army would have suspicioned that?!
     They had a different destination. Concord. They would be seeing different people. He would be speaking to them.     Each man recognized the rebel’s attentiveness, his sudden decisiveness. Each man would be carrying a pistol. Benefiting from experience, appreciating De Berniere’s abilities, confident of his own, Howe was excited and expectant.
 
 
     He was tested outside Concord.
     They had been instructed to spend the night at the house of a prominent Tory, Daniel Bliss. Their most difficult moment, De Berniere had warned, would be their inquiry of where the Tory resided. They were strangers. Their manner of intercourse with the citizenry, Howe notwithstanding, would attract attention. Requesting directions to the house of a known Loyalist was, of itself, sufficient cause for arrest. Whom they asked, therefore, and where they asked were singularly important. Their having come upon a young maiden, a servant girl in Howe’s opinion, harvesting mushrooms by the road, the first building of the town some fifty rods away, De Berniere ordered Howe to proceed.
     Exhibiting not a shard of suspicion, the girl identified Daniel Bliss’s house. Fifteen minutes later, enjoying a glass of port in their host’s drawing room, tracing the grooves of his chair’s intricately carved arm rests, Howe was enjoying De Berniere’s description of the two officers’ Marlborough escape.
     Yes, Daniel Bliss responded, he did know Henry Barnes. He did appreciate the Tory gentleman’s valor and his allegiance to Crown and country. He hoped that they would not suffer here a similar experience; but, he confessed, he, too, was watched, although he had not been threatened. Their stay (Did they not agree?) should be brief. As soon as they had enjoyed a second glass, he would show them his map.
     A noisy commotion at the front door interrupted their conversation. The girl to whom Howe had spoken, eyes large, face flushed, hurried into the room.
     The four men stared. Abruptly, De Berniere stood. Bliss's servant, having followed the girl into the room, reached to grasp her right forearm, hesitated, removed his hand. Lips quivering, she attempted to speak. Cradling her face, she sobbed.
     “Mary, dear, what has happened that disturbs you so?” Bliss gathered her against his chest.
     Seeing her kneeling by the roadway, Howe had judged her to be no more than fifteen, the same age as his sister Milliscent the week he had enlisted. A poor farmer’s employable daughter. “Oh yes,” the girl had said to him. “Mr. Bliss lives in the two-story house t’the left o' the road. You'll see bricks by his chimney, which's t’be repaired, I believe.” A simple, trusting child. Having smiled at him, she had returned wholeheartedly to her task. “We have been fortunate,” De Berniere had said after they had traveled a hundred yards.
     Leaning forward, Howe listened.
     Her mistress had wanted … men had scolded her! Two men from a house across from where she ... “If I don’t leave town, they said they'd tar an' feather me!” she exclaimed, amid sobs. “They said I did direct Tories in their road!”
     Bliss comforted her. Her “mistake” was but a trifle. “They would never do such a thing. Not for you to worry, my dear.” Their anger was directed at him! With fatherly assurance he escorted her to his front door. “Go to your mistress but say nothing of this,” Howe heard Bliss say. “Let us hope today she’ll be less unpleasant.”
     Having returned, Bliss identified the two men. His old enemy, the mechanic, Joseph Hosmer, was one of them. It had been Hosmer’s house that the girl had spoken of. Months ago Hosmer had denounced him, had belittled him, after Bliss had spoken his mind at the Meeting House. Likely, Hosmer and his companion were alerting one of the militia captains, if not Major Buttrick himself. However, Bliss would challenge them, bluff them. The British soldiers were business associates, he would say, English traders who had journeyed to Concord to speak to him for the very first time. How could Hosmer, or anyone he might bring to the house, know otherwise?
     They heard a resounding knock on the front door.
     Bliss directed Howe and the two officers into a large kitchen. Leaving them, he walked into the vestibule. Staring at a meandering crack in the plastered ceiling, Howe heard the opening and the closing of the large front door. Bliss swiftly returned.
     “I have been handed a message.” With squinting eyes he read it. Looking up, he said, “If I attempt to leave, I am to die.” His expression indicated quiet disbelief. “I find this difficult to countenance.” His lips moved across the tops of his teeth.
     “You must leave with us!” Captain Brown revealed his pistol.
     “Be assured that we will protect you,” De Berniere answered.
     Turning away, Daniel Bliss stared across the kitchen, at cooking utensils dangling from iron hooks.
     No. Stay, where you have the right, Howe thought. Defeat them! Stay and fight!
     Their message made no sense. Why would they not want him to leave? Because of what he knew? He could pass everything he knew on to them! Without stepping outside his house! Their message, their nastiness, what they had done to the servant girl, all of it angered him. He hated bullying. Whatever you thought about somebody, by right you ought to leave him alone! You didn't just … threaten his life!
     “In truth, I’m in greater danger if I stay. This moment has been long in coming.” Eyes tearing, Daniel Bliss sought their advice.
     “Go with us,” Browne insisted.
     “The Committee of Safety knows I have misused them.”
     “I regret that our presence has forced this,” De Berniere declared.
     Stay, Howe had wanted to say. But the man now standing before him was not the defiant Tory that moments ago had thought to play-act. His leaving seemed suddenly the right choice.
     “There are so few of us.” Bliss expelled a lengthy breath. “I may not see this house again.” His voice quavered. “Alas, we give up everything.
     This man, holding fast to his beliefs, was called a traitor. Because of what he had bravely chosen, because of what his enemies believed, he would lose everything he had the right to own!
     Howe wanted to say something. Because of his station -- and because instinct was telling him that something about his thinking was wrong -- he didn’t.
     He wondered. What of the rebel? Was he bullied? So he said. Wasn’t his rebelness a standing up to the bully also? In so doing wasn't he choosing a future, too, and wouldn't he also suffer? Howe thought about his musing of the day before, of being “released” from the bear cage at the country fair. Forced to return to his own cage, the rebel farmer had balked! Better to fight and suffer and hope to prosper than to give up and definitely suffer. Here he was, John Howe, a stable boy from England, servant to an officer with a limited brain, doing exciting work for the King. He had seen what these rebels were about and he had seen what this prosperous Tory countryman was about and he knew everything he needed to know about the King's men!
     Who were the bullies?
     Howe hadn’t chosen this work, but he loved it.
     Wrongnesses. Actions. Outcomes.
     His misfortune had been that he had chosen to be a redcoat soldier. If he wanted to change that, what in fact would he gain and how might he suffer if he tried? The thought agitated him. The “poltroon” provincial was Howe's opponent, true, but not without exception his mortal enemy, so he had the mind to believe.


Monday, October 23, 2017

Crossing the River
Chapter 3, Pages 37-39
 
     It had been the cruelest day of Henry De Berniere’s young life.
     He and Browne had walked sixteen miles in the teeth of a blizzard. They had had but the preamble of sanctuary before they had been forced back into the storm. Having no other recourse to evade arrest, they had traveled half the distance back to Weston not daring, except for one brief detour, to stop.
     Not one rider had passed them.
 They had run from Henry Barnes’s house, found the Sudbury Road, and hurried on until, thoroughly spent, they had turned into a wood near a causeway to devour the apple-jack merchant’s bread rolls. Back on the road, not having gone twenty rods, they had been challenged by an elderly man who had rushed out at them from a white-shrouded house.
     “What do you think will become of you now?!” he had shouted.
     They had deigned not to answer. Or inquire.
     De Berniere knew all he needed to know. While they had been eating in the wood, Marlborough militiamen had ridden past. Having gone this far, would they not ride to the Sudbury causeway to lie in wait? The image of a crouching cat -- eyes iridescent, chin on paws, haunches tensed -- appended his thoughts.
     A prayer? However dire their circumstance he would not, like the Sunday psalm singer, implore divine intercession. He had seen in the hovels and the taverns of his father’s parish enough of the meanness of life not to countenance a benevolent Father. Man made his own way, cunningly, stupidly, reaping apposite consequences. He, De Berniere, had acted rashly. Nothing else but happenstance, utter coincidence -- their stopping in the wood to eat -- could rescue them.
     Kinetic indefatigability brought them finally to the stretch of road that De Berniere feared most. Approaching the dreaded causeway, he saw appearing out of the darkness four tightly grouped horsemen. First would come pistol shots, immediately thereafter, searing pain.
     The distance between De Berniere and Browne and the horsemen shortened. Thirty feet … twenty … ten …
     Moving to De Berniere and Browne’s left and right, the riders passed.
 
 
     Very late that evening the two soldiers entered Isaac Jones's Golden Ball Tavern.
     “All the way back!” His arms folded across his chest, Jones wagged his head. “Nit ‘n’grit! I say. Amazing luck!” The two men were pulling off each other’s clothing. “You must tell me all, once you’ve rested!”
     De Berniere’s friend disappeared behind the closing door. Friend he was, as was this room, the very room in which he had agonized about the pitfalls that he had predicted had been awaiting them.
     Anxieties verified. Safety achieved. He could now be charitable. Browne seemed even the most valued of companions. In this room all that was animate and all that was not merited his approval. Soon he would lie upon the left side of their bed, wrap himself in many blankets, and sleep, hours later to awake analytical and confident.
     They had been valiant! He would detail their intrepid endeavors. If his service were not immediately rewarded, it would be remembered. The door to promotion would remain open. Worthy officer that he was, he would analyze his mistakes, most of which, given their circumstances, had been unavoidable. (He sensed that he had already begun) He would examine them all tomorrow, allow his sharp mind to draw conclusions. Tomorrow, he would begin anew.
     “To walk thirty-two miles in a snow storm, in one day!” the innkeeper had marveled.
     Just so.
     Using pitchers provided by Jones, they bathed. Attired in borrowed robes, they savored hot mulled Madeira wine. Ensconced in woolen blankets, they drifted into a lengthy sleep.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Announcement
 
I have nominated "Crossing the River" to be Goodreads.com's Historical Fictionistas's December group novel.  If you are a Goodreads member and feel that my writing and story merit the nomination, would you second the nomination?  The novel will not be one of several novels voted on if its nomination is not seconded.  Thank you.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Crossing the River
Chapter 3, Pages 32-37
 
“You needn't explain who you are,” Barnes interrupted as they began their apology. “Every person in this town knows who you are. Monday night a party of liberty men had planned a welcome for you. Captain Bigelow did see you previously on the road.”
     The silent horseman that had stared at them three days ago, De Berniere concluded.
     “Is there a safe tavern for us here?” Captain Browne asked.
     “No.”
     “Any place?” De Berniere asked.
     “Not one!”
     Browne's harried look matched De Berniere’s.
     “This town is violent, gentlemen. Consider my house but a temporary sanctuary.” Again De Berniere nodded. “Did you speak to anyone within the town?”
     “A burly man wearing an apron. He stopped us,” Brown answered. “He directed us to your house.”
     The merchant's ruddy face paled.
     “A man of importance, I conjecture,” De Berniere responded.
     “A leading militiaman of this town.” Henry Barnes tightened his face, pressed together opposite fingertips. “He hates anything British. So much so that he harbors a deserter. A drummer boy named Swain.”
     “God’s wounds!”
     De Berniere looked at Browne's astonished expression.
     “Did you … say 'Swain'?!”
     “I did.” The Tory merchant frowned. “Of what matter is it to you?”
     Browne pivoted. Lips issuing silent words, he glared. Wide-legged, he rocked.
     De Berniere looked for someplace to sit. Limb-enervating, thought-destroying fatigue had vanquished him. “Temporary sanctuary,” he had heard Barnes say. God’s love, he wanted everything -- hot food, good liquor, a snapping fire!
     “What is it?” the Loyalist asked. Browne had faced about. De Berniere observed the Captain’s twisted mouth.
     “Until less than a month ago, this ‘Swain,’ Private Swain, was my drummer boy!”
     Barnes inhaled, then grimaced.
     De Berniere’s mindfulness returned.
Had the drummer boy accompanied his protector out into the cold?! While the aproned man had spoken to them, had Swain recognized Browne?
     Barnes opened the front door, just as quickly closed it. “You can’t be seen again,” he declared. “You must leave before dawn even if the storm continues! Let us hope Swain remained indoors. Let us hope your enemies hold greater import to their physical comfort!”
     De Berniere removed his coat. Happenstance. Coincidence. His machinations had availed him nothing. Holding the dripping garment in his right hand, he shook his head.
     Barnes walked to the doorway of the adjacent room. Beckoning them to follow, he said, “You’ll find a good fire in my study. Take off your clothing. I will bring you robes.”
     A heavy knock on the front door stopped them.
     “I saw nothing just now,” Barnes whispered.
     De Berniere followed Browne out of the foyer. Barnes pointed to the wall that separated the entryway from his drawing room. Behind it, listening for voices, they heard initially the raw wind.
     “Hello, Barnes,” a voice insulted. “I've come to pay you a friendly visit.”
     “Doctor Curtis, how kind of you. We haven't spoken in two years.” A pause. “But I beg that you excuse me. I have guests to entertain.”
     Another pause. “Who are your father's guests, my dear?” the first voice said, this time without malice.
     De Berniere was startled by a child's voice. “Papa said it's not my business to know.” Polite but emphatic. Notwithstanding his alarm, De Berniere smiled.
     The sound of the storm silenced, Barnes entered the drawing room. “He is off to the Meeting House.”
     “Who is he?” Browne rubbed his left eye vigorously.
     “Doctor Samuel Curtis. A leader of the local Committee of Correspondence.”
     Barnes directed them into his study, where he advised them to spread their clothing on the hearth’s bricks.
     “You realize now you must leave much sooner,” he said, returning, the robes folded over his right forearm. “I think it best that we change our plans. You will not have time to wear these.”
     “The militiamen will be arriving,” De Berniere responded.
     “I’m certain of it.” He looked at their clothing, steam starting to rise from the fabric. “You’d better clothe yourselves, now, however wet they may be. Then come into the next room. You have arrived just after dinner. You may have time yet for a steaming meal. Let us hope.”
     His soaked clothing adhering to his skin, De Berniere eased his body down upon one of the dining table’s cushioned chairs. Smelling the roasted venison, he felt conjointly the release of tension and absence of volition. So this is resignation. This is capitulation, he thought. There is nothing, nothing whatsoever that I can achieve, save appease my appetite.
     He was ravenously hungry. Making eye contact with his host, he smiled. A sumptuous, final meal, he thought. Intending to enjoy every morsel, he reached for a bread roll.
     “Sir! Sir!”
     The animated servant commanded the passageway between the foyer and dining room. Barnes rose instantly from his chair.
     “Sir, many men! From the Meeting House! They carry muskets!” Snow was embedded in the man’s hair, layered on the shoulders of his coat.
     “How many?!” Barnes asked.
     “Maybe, … twenty!”
     “Be gone!” Barnes ordered. They rose from the table. “Hurry!”
     “I’ll attempt to delay them,” he said as they pulled on their coats.
     Having snatched four bread rolls off the table setting, De Berniere and Browne followed Barnes’s servant out a back door into a yard. The servant pointed at what appeared to be stables, were stables. The two officers hurried past them, hurried across a snow-laden field, scrambled over a whitened rail fence.
     Discovering a country lane a half mile away, the wind at their backs, the cold seeping through their coats, fearfully, miserably, they fled.
 
 
“Stand aside, Barnes,” the aproned militiaman demanded. “We aim t’have ‘em!”
     “Whom?!”
     “The British officers, damn you!” Thrusting a thick forearm against Barnes’s chest, the blacksmith shoved the merchant aside. The file of townsmen, the first two snickering, tramped into the house.
     “They are my wife's relatives, from Penobscot! They’re traveling to Lancaster,” Barnes told Doctor Curtis, the last to soil his entry hall carpet. “They’ve already left!”
     Half turning, Curtis sneered.
     The militiamen began their “search.” They overturned chairs, lifted and dropped beds, yanked off their rods drapes, scattered books, and emptied desk drawers. Two men hurled to the floor every garment hung in the bedroom closet. They tracked across his clothing, drapes, books, papers, the oak plank floor, and every imported carpet liquid filth. So angry did he become that, returning to the foyer, Barnes withdrew from his ornate floor vase his mahogany walking stick.
     The aproned militiaman, carrying a gilt-edged serving plate, approached him. His belligerent eyes moved from Barnes's grip on the walking stick to the Loyalist's compressed lips. A grin cleaved the man’s heavy face. Away from his belly, gift-like, he advanced the plate. Barnes reached for it; the militiaman watched it drop. With the sole of his right shoe he pulverized the largest piece of broken china. “Barnes!” he snarled, pressing his belly against the merchant’s abdomen. “You hide and feed the enemy! You're a damned traitor! If we don’t catch them, we're going t’burn this house down!”
     They went through his rooms a second time. Two of them scoffed at him, walking stick held impotently across his thighs. Briefly unattended, shame-faced, he placed it back inside the vase.
     Staring at its handle, he listened to the mob’s utterances. His disdain had become full-bore hatred. Like a potion heated in a cast-iron pot it would bubble, until His Majesty's fist expunged every trespassing criminal! Save physical confrontation he would do anything to assist his government. He would celebrate the red-coated army’s arrival; he would direct joyously their plunder. They, his Majesty's foot, would be his redeemer, their destructiveness his rejuvenation!
     He would prepare for the event with disciplined restraint. He would exercise forbearance, as he had not wielding his cane. The deadliest enemy is he who by appearance is judged the milksop. How vengefully he would assist all to rent them asunder!
     As they were preparing to leave, one of them said, “If we catch ‘em in your house again, we'll pull it all the way down about your ears!” The villain’s right hand struck Barnes’s stomach. “Mind my words!”
     He would. He was heeding their threats, their insults, their wanton destruction, safe-keeping every injury this day and the many days antecedent!


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Crossing the River
Chapter 3, Pages 28-32
 
            Citing the consequences of abandoning their mission, De Berniere had swayed again Browne’s thinking. The thought of being passed over for promotion; of being branded by junior and senior officers as shy, irresolute, insufficient; of being forced, conceivably, to leave the Army had convinced De Berniere that they had to risk a second attempt. Making the decision to return to Worcester had not reduced, however, the ensign’s angst. He had new uncertainties that were distressing him.
     They were probably damned, regardless! That he had not told Browne! The less he gave the depleted captain reason to question, to make decisions unilaterally, the better for both.
     There stood Browne, De Berniere’s imperious, fifteen stone anchor weight, obtuseness’s brother, gazing out the window, witnessing the harbingers of a great storm: massing clouds, the rumble of thunder, blasts of wind bowing their windowpane.
     Rain, snow, sleet were not the greatest of De Berniere’s concerns. Two situational difficulties weighed far heavier.
     Except for the recalcitrant innkeeper, Isaac Jones, De Berniere knew of no one in Worcester who supported the Crown. It was incumbent, therefore, that he and Browne make the cowardly innkeeper serve! Loyalty. Sacrifice. “Your safety is secondary, sir. We must call upon your courage, your devotion, your fidelity to King and Country.” Or, because that loyalty had caused him grievous injury, “Punish them, Mr. Jones. What better way to punish them for what they have done to you, sir, than to apprise General Gage of what they attempt to protect!”
     Beneath their window a mongrel dog, its fur rippling and flattening, stepped gingerly over icy wagon ruts. Its ears lifted. Something cast from a downstairs window had landed four feet in front of the dog's front paws. The dog munched on it.
 De Berniere turned away.
     He could, decidedly would cajole Jones; but more than likely he would have to bully the man. De Berniere frowned at the road, frowned at the gray-nosed mongrel. The problem was that forced information could easily be false information. Providing General Gage bad intelligence would destroy his career!
     Persuading Jones presupposed the surmounting of their second difficulty, their safe arrival! They would have to pass through Marlborough, where, he was convinced, militiamen had awaited the arrival of three British spies. Despite what he had told Browne’s servant, could they realistically assume that, three days having elapsed, the Marlborough town leaders had ended their vigil?
     Experiencing mild abdominal discomfort, De Berniere accompanied Captain Browne downstairs for an early lunch. When the snowfall, which had begun before noon, relented at 2 p.m., like criminals escorted to the gibbet, De Berniere and Browne stepped onto the Weston/Sudbury road. Twenty minutes later they were in trouble.
     What had begun as a light snowfall was now a full-blown snowstorm. Gusts of wind staggered them. Icy particles pelted their faces, leggings, and coats. Their heavy, buckled shoes soon carried balls of frozen mud, which they scraped off every so often on road-side fence rails. Sixteen miles to walk, De Berniere calculated. Each foot up, each down, circulate the blood, don’t stop. He began to count. One left finger down every ten steps. Two thousand steps, one mile.
     It occurred to him that the storm might work to their benefit. Whomever they might pass would not see British officers in questionable disguise but two snow-covered travelers. Who would take singular notice?
     They passed through Sudbury, then over a causeway across a great swamp. Only when they were within three miles of Marlborough did they see their first traveler. They did not hear his approach. Not until he had ridden past did they notice him, and then, only briefly, their heads lowered against the wind.
     Seconds later, feeling Brown's pushing hand, De Berniere saw that the traveler had stopped. His horse, blasted from behind, side-stepped and bridled. The traveler signaled for them to halt.
     “What is your destination?” he commanded. Not receiving an answer, he repeated the question.
     Marlborough!” Captain Browne shouted. “To see a friend!”
     The man stared at Browne, then De Berniere.
     “Bad weather for it!”
     “The storm caught us!” De Berniere said. He kicked the debris-laden sole of his right shoe against his other shoe.
     “A local man knows when a 'northeaster' is comin'! From where do you travel?!”
     Boston!”
     The traveler smirked. “They in Boston also know a 'northeaster'!”
     Neither De Berniere nor Browne answered. De Berniere feigned indifference. “I didn’t think the weather would be this bad,” he said truthfully, ending the awkward silence.
     Another pause. The surly rider continued to stare.
     “We shall see our friend soon enough!” De Berniere added. “In about three miles, I conceive.”
     The man frowned, deeply. The horse bridled; he pulled its reins toward his chest. Stooping, he asked, “Is it true … that you are British officers?”
     De Berniere's chest pounded. His cheekbones tingled. Yet he kept his eyes fastened.
     “No!” Captain Browne shouted, more loudly than what the wind required. “We live in Boston, I said!”
     “We promised our friend in Marlborough that we would see him, today!” De Berniere glared at the provincial. “It doesn’t matter what you think!” His angry response surprised him. He determined the reason. Not having accepted his explanation, the man had dishonored him.
     Another silence. The horseman maintained his scrutiny. They, powerless to control his questioning, waited.
     How would he answer if the man asked for the name of their “friend”? De Berniere recognized. He had forgotten who it was in Marlborough that the Weston innkeeper had recommended. The Loyalist’s name was written on a torn piece of paper deep inside his right coat pocket.
     Pulling his reins sideways, the provincial turned his horse around. Putting boot heels to flesh, he rode off into the gusting snow.
     De Berniere and Browne resumed their tussle with the storm.
     “We are in grave danger!” Browne declared.
     “I realize that, sir!”
     “Our speech is not in character with our appearance!”
     “I do not believe Howe could have helped us!”
     “Howe be damned! That rider will spread an alarm against us, and we walk into it!”
     “Where else are we to walk except back to Weston?! Can we do that now?!”
     “Do you see a farmhouse?! This snow blinds me!”
     “I have seen nothing! We will see nothing until we reach Marlborough!”
     “You realize what they will do to us! Once this storm is over, they’ll display us on their bloody common! Exhibit us, De Berniere! Sweat us!”
     “Or tar and feather us, Captain! Force us thus the entire way to Boston!”
     Thereafter chagrined, striving to appear resolute, they did not speak.
     About to remove his right glove to retrieve the piece of paper, De Berniere recalled the Loyalist’s name. Henry Barnes. The Weston innkeeper, Isaac Jones, had told them that the Tory was a wealthy applejack distiller and merchant, a man of commercial importance. De Berniere and Browne had intended to pass through Marlborough separately fifteen minutes apart. Due to the storm and the near certainty that they would soon be arrested, they would now have to seek refuge at the merchant’s residence. If they were lucky, the storm having abated, they would strike off separately for Worcester early the following morning. All was predicated on the fanciful notion that they could ask a bystander, out in the storm, to direct them to Barnes’s residence without suffering immediate, harmful consequence! Who would be so bold as to station themselves by the road in such a fierce storm? Forewarned of their proximity, militiamen!
     Madness.
     Reaching the outskirts of the town, they passed two buildings and saw directly ahead a large white empty space surrounded by skeletal trees. Here is the village common, De Berniere concluded. Eight or nine onlookers were watching in front of what had to be the town’s meeting house. De Berniere saw no firearms. Where were the militiamen? Out of sight? Waiting? Why were these particular townsmen attending? To witness his and Browne’s arrest!
     A squat, burly man wearing an apron stepped in front of them. Browne, two steps ahead of De Berniere, commenced to stare the provincial down.
     “Where d'you be going in this storm, master?!” the man questioned. Flakes of snow eddied past him.
                                                                 “Pray direct us to the house of Mr. Henry Barnes,” Captain Browne responded haughtily. De Berniere winced.
     Raising his broad chin, the man pointed toward bare-limbed trees and a barely discernible house. Shielding his eyes with a gloved hand, Browne stepped off. De Berniere followed. Ten seconds later De Berniere looked back. His thick legs spread wide, his stout arms folded across his chest, the aproned man returned De Berniere’s stare.
     Approaching the house, De Berniere saw two figures scurry away.
     Henry Barnes immediately opened his door.