Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"An Inexorable Rage"
Pages 317-319
 
 
 
            An inexorable rage had propelled him.
     Hurrying across broken fields, thrusting his way through branches of pine, lurking behind boulders, tree trunks, and weathered barns, he had committed terrible acts. He had killed his first soldier near Meriam’s Corner east of the little bridge, having fired off three balls in two minutes. He had dropped another where Mill Brook passed beneath a second bridge. He had participated in five minutes of shooting between each of three evenly spaced houses near the by-road to Lincoln. The first of these buildings had been a tavern. Outside a second tavern he had fired at a looter devouring a hunk of bread.
     Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord. It was not! It was his! His alone!
     God had killed his dearest friend!
     For twenty-five years James Hayworth had been Isaac Davis’s neighbor. James and his brothers and sisters had been raised some twenty rods down Farr’s To Meeting Road from the house of Ezekial Davis, Isaac’s father. James and his brothers, Samuel Jr. and Paul, had played with Isaac. They had labored together. They had taken their school lessons together, where James was now the school master. Every Sunday they had worshipped at the Meeting House. Weeks had passed during which he and Isaac had communicated daily.
     So worthy a leader, so beloved a mentor, so magnificent a friend, husband, and father!
     A week ago God had delivered to Isaac an enigmatic message. Perplexed, Isaac had permitted James -- who had come to the house to ask about Davis’s feverish daughter Mary -- to bear witness.
     “I want you to see something quite strange,” Isaac had said. “Come into the sitting room.”
     Isaac had gestured at his musket, positioned across two wall brackets. Perched on the musket barrel, its feathers ruffled, its dark eyes piercing, had been a barred owl.
     “How did it get in?!” had been James’s first question.
     “I have no idea.”
     “You’d think it would leave!”
     “It’s been here since yesterday. Hannah and I found it here when we came home from Jonas Hosmer’s.”
     Noticing that Isaac had placed rags on the floor to catch the bird’s droppings, James had said, “I’d drive it off.” He had wondered why Isaac hadn’t.
     “I’ve left the front door open. It refuses to leave.” For perhaps a half minute, showing the strangest of expressions, Isaac had stared at the owl. Its reciprocal scrutiny had been unrelenting. Turning to James, Isaac had said, “Ask your father about this.”
     “Ask him what, Isaac?”
     “Ask him if this owl’s visitation is an omen.”
     Later that afternoon James had related the incident. After frowning the Deacon had resumed his repair of the kitchen chair, James presuming that he would eventually comment. The following day the owl had flown out of Isaac’s house. That same day Isaac’s younger daughter, Hannah, had become ill.
     “Malignant sore throat,” Isaac had informed James that afternoon.
     That night James had beseeched God to be merciful. The All-Mighty Father had already taken to His house two of Isaac and Hannah’s children. The second child born to them, Baby Hannah, had died eight years ago after living one month. Two winters ago the infant Paul had survived but one week. Both of Isaac’s living daughters had contracted a disease that had killed at least three dozen children during James’s lifetime.
     If he could have foreseen what the owl’s visitation had
portended …
     But he hadn’t.
     Nor had Isaac.
     Eyes tearing, James seated himself in the shade of a tall maple, at the base of Fiske Hill. A corn shed belonging to a two-story, red-roofed house hid him from the back half of the redcoat column, which was laboring past. Feeling simultaneously God’s betrayal and Man’s innate cruelty, despising himself, he wept.
     Like the Biblical rider upon the pale horse he had administered horrific death!
     For what purpose?! Isaac was gone!
     The back of his head pressed fiercely against the maple’s rough bark, James heeded the cacophony of battle.
     We risk our lives to defeat tyranny! Why, Lord, do You punish us?!
     You have slain Isaac, to serve Your selfish purpose! You are cruel, Lord, heartless! Now take Your vengeance upon me!
     Minutes passed. His thinking shifted. A part of him asked, Who was he to pass judgment? His father had once said that a man was but a mote of dust amidst God’s great creation. He could no more fathom God’s design than he could the apostle John’s account of the opening of the seven seals. Was God speaking to him now? Answering him. Could he believe that God’s purpose had not been punitive or selfish? That His action had been -- so difficult for him to embrace -- necessary! Could he fire his musket again without believing he was being tricked?!
     Inspired by conviction, other men were fighting, whatever their inner turmoil. Should he not also, if not for pure justice then for something approximate? Maybe. But he would not. He had neither the strength nor the will. Nor the opportunity, the fighting having traveled to Lexington itself.