April 19, 1775. Simon Winsett and his two brothers, Samuel and John, all of them Lexington militiamen, have marched to their cousin’s house by Spy Pond near Menotomy,
Colony. Their intention is to fight the British column that is
retreating under heavy fire through Menotomy (present day Massachusetts Arlington)
toward Cambridge and . Stopping by the cousin’s house
to eat something before continuing on to Menotomy, they find that Mary, their
cousin’s wife, is bedridden and that her disobedient daughter Prudence has
wandered off. Fearing that Prudence might fall accidentally into the pond
(her grandfather had drowned there), they go searching for her: Samuel and John
traveling the path along one side of the water and Simon the path along the
other side of the pond. It has been established earlier in the novel that
Simon is disrespected by his family and is an outcast in the community.
His fighting the redcoats this day has been a concerted attempt to win favor. Boston
Samuel and John had sent him off to search this side of the pond while they walked the path paralleling the other side, reasoning probably that if Prudence had taken the path Simon’s way they would have seen her. Leave him waste his time investigating on the slim chance that she had crawled into some little nook of vegetation. Maybe that had been their thinking, more than their wanting to get rid of him. Whichever was true, he didn’t care. His day’s accomplishments had pretty much quashed his need to be resentful.
The qualities that he had demonstrated no enemy of his could successfully deny. Any man that called him a scheming no-account would be seen for what he was, a peaching liar! Why, therefore, should he be angry about this assignment? Why not take advantage of it? Enjoy the sun’s warmth, Simon. Listen to the waterfowl. Look at the reflecting water. He would continue to push away low-hanging branches where burrows of earth and thickening moss might lay hidden. He would do that, knowing he wouldn’t find anything. Not a raccoon or any other wild animal certainly, which would be instantly gone upon hearing his approach. It didn’t matter. Samuel and John were right in their thinking. Let them find her. Let them receive Mary’s gratitude.
He came upon where he and his brothers had forced their way onto the path. What lay ahead was new. Conceding the slim possibility that Prudence could have strayed this far and beyond, he would search more carefully, yet continue to enjoy his surroundings.
Hearing the noise of nearby waterfowl, he stepped off the path and stood at the top of a steeply inclined bank, the terminus of a narrow inlet. Black-billed ducks, searching for food, were paddling through tall reeds. Perhaps old Jason Winsett had fallen in here. What made brother John such an authority about this, or anything else he claimed he had an answer for? John’s bluster and bantering ways, and the gullibility of fools! Why was it that he alone saw John for what he was?
Simon, you’re bitter, he chided.
What of it?
He expected to hear at any moment a shout of discovery, a “Simon, we found her!” but, then, maybe not. More likely they would be thinking, Let old Simon wander about while we bask in Mary’s joy. John’s thinking anyway.
Rather than voices he heard the distant pop of musketry. From Menotomy. A bit west of the town, he judged. So, the regulars had finished their rest at Will Munroe’s tavern and were about to catch hell. And he and his brothers had missed their chance to be a part of it. He thought it funny that they had walked five miles and might not have a thing to say for it tomorrow but that they had searched for a disobedient child.
Simon came to where creek water emptied into another cove. Evergreen branches hid much of the little gully. Heeding his responsibility, he stepped off the path. Planting his left foot on a twisted root, he raised the lowest pine branch.
Almost immediately he saw white leggings. A heartbeat after he beheld the grim face of a British soldier.
Shock waves radiated beneath his flesh. God Almighty, was his first thought.
“Stand easy! I be yer prisoner!” the large figure exclaimed.
“What the hell!” Simon responded.
“I naught be ‘avin’ me musket, see? I naught be wantin’ t’fight!”
“All right, then,” Simon answered. God in heaven!
“‘Ere. ‘Ave a look.” The soldier raised his hands above his shoulders. Simon noticed that he was big, and young, close to John’s age. A grenadier, he thought. Strong, and because he had gotten here so soon, damned swift!
“I’m comin’ in,” Simon said, drawing back a second branch to see where he could place his left foot. “Don’t be tryin’ nothin’.”
“Don’t be afeared o’ that. I’ll be stayin’ right ‘ere.” The soldier was seated on what looked like a flat-surfaced rock.
Simon jumped; the branches recoiled. Straining to see, Simon remained stooped. Should have ordered him out! he thought. Stupid!
“There be a little bank ye can sit on.” The soldier pointed. “Ye’ll see better in a bit.”
Reaching with his right hand, Simon found the mossy surface.
“Just be knowin’. I naught be intendin’ no ‘arm.”
Simon sat on the bank.
Simon was able to see the man’s features.
“I coulda charged ye just now.”
“But I didn’t, see. I naught want t’fight.”
Simon nodded. Had he sensed that?
“That’s why I ran.”
Like the wind! Simon had to ask. “How … how did y’get here so fast?”
The soldier stared. Turning his head a bit, he listened to the far away sounds. Of a sudden he laughed.
Sensitive to mockery, Simon flushed.
“That? I be in this ‘ole ‘ours now.”
“When we be marchin’ past ‘ere in the dark, I be tellin’ me sarge I be havin’ t’drop a loaf, see? He didn’t like hearin’ it so I said in me best toad-eatin’ voice, ‘I’d not be wantin’ ye havin’ t’be smellin’ me backsides all the way t’Concord. Be back in a blink, I be.’ Got into some bushes, kept goin’, never looked back.” Watching Simon, the soldier grinned. “Not too comfortable ‘ere. Bloody stiff I be. Bloody ‘ungry, too. But I did drop me loaf!” The grin stayed.
Simon wanted to smile.
“You’re tellin’ me you deserted, early this morning? And you’ve been here ever since?”
“I be mindin’ now maybe tis a mistake.” He sighed. He stared down his left leg.
Seeing as how he had been discovered, yes, it had been a mistake. A big mistake!
The young man touched his left knee.
Simon had a second question. “Why did y’desert?”
“Because … I don’t be wantin’ t’ …” He looked off. “I hate me life!” The grenadier’s eyes bored.
“Why?” Simon asked after a reasonable silence. “Why do you hate your life?”
The soldier glared. “I be a miner, not a bloody soldier!” He grimaced. “Least, I was a miner, ‘til the cough d’got me. Then what t’do? Work’n the fields? No ‘irin’. So I put on me stock, see. Floured me ‘air. Sold me soul t’the Sarge ‘n’ Lieuten’nt Hull!”
“And now you’ve deserted.”
The soldier scowled. “You against that?”
“No. I want t’know why you chose today. Why not before? How long y’been in
“A lot a questions, rebel.”
“I’m … curious.” Simon hesitated. “I don’t mean no offense.”
The grenadier stared at him for several seconds. “Suspect not.” He flexed his left knee, grunted, extended the leg.
“We come down from
the 4th Regiment, last December. Too cold there. Bloody cold in the tents ‘ere.
Then we moved into the new barracks. Like bein’ in a bloody gaol. ‘Ow t’get
out? Some did; some from the 10th got caught! Not me! Figured I’d better wait.” Canada
Simon was taken by the soldier’s courage. Not too long ago he had considered leaving the family farm to start a new life in
. This was
different. To have struck out blindly in a foreign land! Connecticut
“But … you must’ve had a plan!” Simon exclaimed.
“Right. Like I said. ‘Please, sarge, I gotta go,’ hide in the bushes, run. That was me plan.” He winked.
The soldier said, “The trouble ‘ere be I don’t be knowin’ what t’do.”
“I’m . . . afeared.” He looked away. “Ye be ‘earin’ that?”
Simon listened to what was now fierce combat.
“I’m affrighted t’be showin’ meself.”
“I would be, too.”
The soldier nodded.
“What is it you want?” Simon asked, anticipating the answer.
“I want t’be goin’ someplace, away from ‘ere. Go where I can work, be me own master!” He looked at his rolled up coat, wedged beneath his bent right knee. “Far away from that!”
“Travelin’ about, lookin’ like y’are, talkin’ the way y’ do, that would be difficult.”
Slivers of light were streaking through the branches.
“All this while, I be sittin’ ‘ere thinkin’ and thinkin’. Comin’ up with nothin’. Maybe I should just give meself over.”
Startled, the grenadier looked at Simon strangely.
Surprised also, Simon knew his outburst required an explanation. He recognized as well that the soldier had stopped talking like a prisoner. “If you do,” Simon said, disturbed by the second thought, “the first angry militiaman that sees you will shoot you. Or you’ll get swapped for one of ours.”
The young man grinned. “Don’t be wantin’ that.”
“So, … what are you plannin’ t’do?”
“Aye, there’s the rub.”
Simon knew how the soldier might accomplish it. Provided he, Simon, helped! Because of what his life had been he was tempted. Tempted and threatened. Rendered mute, beside this humorous, pathetic redcoat, whose name he didn’t know, who wanted him to speak.