Friday, March 14, 2014

"Mean Circumstances"
Pages 293-294; 295
     East of Tanner’s Brook, one mile west of where a secondary road intersected the Lexington/Concord highway, the Bedford militia waited. Close to a dozen men were positioned behind a red barn. Three times as many sat and stood behind a stretch of trees off both sides of the road.
     Captain Jonathan Willson had admonished his men to hold their fire until the road was entirely occupied. He had bestowed upon himself the honor of firing the first ball. His knees in straw, partially dried mud, indefinable filth at one corner of the barn, he celebrated the column’s approach. What he had independently devised and about which he had publicly boasted was, praise be to God, about to transpire!
     Fatigued soldiers, showing a gamut of emotion, passed.
     Marveling at what he saw, he identified his own extraordinary emotions: razor-edged acuity, manifest expectancy, brash exhilaration!
    Prematurely, Willson pulled his musket’s trigger. A watch tick after, a thunderclap of detonated gunpowder resounded.
     Five soldiers fell.
     Willson shouted.
     With frenzied hands he reloaded.
     More soldiers screamed, grasped, clutched, dropped. The unscathed, rigid as barn yard posts, returned fire. “Waste your shot against tree bark, against this barn!” Willson exalted.
     Replenishing his supply of cartridges from the company ammunition wagon behind the barn, ebullient, animated, he flattered himself. Outweighing by far the disadvantage of not having campaigned a decade ago against the French were his considerable talents: his comprehensive knowledge of fire arms, his unerring instinct, his swift decisiveness, his charismatic leadership! Hours ago at Fitch Tavern he had roused his men to the apex of militancy, boasting, “We’ll have every dog of them before night!” Because he was their leader, because he was not a doddering fool crowing about Louisbourg, Ticonderoga, or Quebec, his company would just about lay every redcoat mongrel low! Recognizing intuitively the common sense advantage of these separated woods, where the road made its abrupt right turn, he hadn’t dithered! Certain that this day’s battle meant war, he believed wholeheartedly that the Committee of Safety, learning of his triumph, would bestow on him, within a month, prestigious rank.
     Noisy footfalls startled him. A hard, heavy object struck his back.
     Prostrate, clutching space, Willson gasped for air.
     A red-coated figure loamed over him.
     Willson screamed.
             When they had deemed it safe, when the last militiaman had disappeared in the sheltering trees, the woman, her eldest daughters trailing, stepped hesitantly across the yard. It seemed to Catherine Smith, the Lincoln militia captain's wife, that enough vengeance had been exacted.
     Heeding the moaning soldier, seeing his blood emptying onto the roadway, she saw not a righteous defender nor hated invader but a young man, almost a boy, too long in future years to die.
     She supposed that he personally had not chosen to walk this road, deprive them their commerce, deny them their right to determine their future. Mean circumstance, nothing else, had brought him here. Cruel coincidence had felled him.
     “He’s been abandoned t’die,” she said to her daughters. “Help me carry him inside.”
     In starting and stopping stages they brought him back to their front door, the two daughters, the mother, and two small sons, whereupon, inside, they laid him upon a bed. For three days they dressed his wounds and gave him the taste of water and bread.