Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Curious Movement of Hats, Pages 142-145

             The sound of the bell had brought most of Lexington’s militiamen to the Meeting House. Told by their captain, John Parker, that the redcoats were marching, malcontents had started a contentious argument.

     “We don't even know they're marching!” one militiaman shouted, addressing Parker. “It's been what, an hour, since you sent out your last scout? We should have heard something by now!”

     “Maybe he was arrested! Think, why don’t you?!”

     “We don’t know nothing!”

     “I'll send out another scout, right now, if any of you be willing!” Parker answered.

     He watched them turn their heads, a curious movement of hats, quick to criticize, not quick to volunteer!

     “I will,” a voice sounded. Parker located the young man, Asahel Porter, leaning against the back wall. Porter was from Woburn. He motioned Porter to come forward. As they conferred, the arguers continued.

     “We can stay here, and wait. Or we can go over t'the Tavern. It's warm there. It's just one night!”

     “Some of us, Jonas, live too far away. Our families are goin’ t’need us, close by.”

     “One night! What’s one night?!”

     “Say that again, Johnson! These ears don’t believe they heard what you said!”

     “I said my wife and children need me, close by.”

     “Horse crap! You want t’be gone, before they get here!”

     “If you lived where I live, Harrington, you'd do the same! Don’t be so quick to judge!”

     “Talk all you want, Johnson. Once you leave here you’re not comin’ back! I’ll wager anyone a crown!”

     “Judas, those of you leavin’, you'll all get back! We'll be firin' a musket, beatin' a drum!”

     “That’s if'n our scouts do what they’re supposed to do!”

     “We'll know soon enough!” Captain Parker bellowed. “Stop all this bickering!”

     He witnessed again their redirection of heads. Damn them! He would make them listen! “No more talk about whether they’re coming! They are! When they do, I expect every last one of you to be here waiting!” He dared them to object.

     “What I have t'decide,” he said, having daunted them, “is what we do once they get here!” Again, the hats. “Do we form up lines and stand against 'em?” It was the key point the Reverend had told him to advance.

     “I say we stay out o' the way and watch 'em! What can we do against five, six hundred?”

     “Get ourselves killed! That's your answer!”

     “If they molest us, insult us, then we fight! Otherwise, …”

     “We should stay over at Buckman's. Then go follow ‘em up the road.”

     “That’s right, Eaton. Follow ‘em wagging our tails!”

     “Listen! If there’s trouble at Concord, we'll be able t'help! Damn little we can do here!”

     “Enough!” Parker’s fierce demeanor silenced them. “Having fought the French,” he roared, “I know better'n most of you what it’s like standing against superior numbers!” He hooked his thumbs over the front of his belt. “When the time comes, we'll see what we have t'do. It seems t'me, though, that we should let them know what we think o' them, what they're doing!”

     “You mean fire on them?!”

     “No! Stand our ground! Show them we've got principle! We’ll stand aside in good order if they move at us.”

     He watched them twist about.

     “I'm not for hidin' here or hidin’ at Buckman’s like some cornered weasel!”

     “If we just stand there, in plain sight, showin' them we aim not t'shoot …”

     “They'll fire on us! Count on it!”

     “Ah, go home t'yer wife, Samuel.”

     “Go hide under your bed! Like Johnson here!”

     Three proponents continued to speak. It was clear to Parker that most, because they were silent, favored watching the redcoats pass leaving open the option to follow at a safe distance. It was what he would have decided, had he …

     “As I said,” he shouted, “when the time comes! When our scouts let us know the British are near! Then we'll decide!”

     “What good'll that do?!”

     “I’m for decidin' now! The hell with all this jabber!”

     “All right!” Parker raised his right hand. “All right! Then here it is!” Several standing men sat down. “If we don't change our minds, we'll not meddle with 'em! Sounds t'me that's what most of you want. We'll let them pass, if they don't abuse us.” He looked across the room at their attentive faces. “Those that want t'leave do so now. But listen for a drumbeat! Get back here then as fast as you can! Meeting over!”

     He heard the sound of their weight on the plank floor. Sharp words were exchanged as they crowded toward the exit. He had not convinced them, but he still had time. Questions. So many questions. What had happened to Patterson, Loring, and Browner? What would they say, when they returned, that would muddy the water?

     Musket shots outside the Meeting House startled him. For an instant the room was deathly quiet. What the hell! he thought. Outside, he found several young men, inside a growing circle, grinning.

     “We'll put 'em all on the ground, Captain!” one of them, brash John Winsett, shouted.

     “Just a little practice, Captain. Sorry about that,” the boy next to Winsett shamefacedly said.