Sunday, June 18, 2017

Crossing the River
Chapter One, Pages 11-14
 
     If he had learned anything the past half-hour, maybe it was that staring at a dirty windowpane changed nothing.
     Well before they had been rowed across the river he had accepted the fact that their mission entailed risk. He had not expected immediate difficulties.
     The third son of a privileged family, Henry De Berniere, meticulous, resourceful, was not habituated to defeat. From his boyhood to his present situation, proceeding logically, methodically, he had achieved his ambitious goals with admirable constancy. Commissioned an ensign at nineteen, at twenty-one bored, disaffected, he had a month ago employed his particular talents to attempt to achieve that most difficult of martial accomplishments, career promotion.
     Before responding to General Gage's request for volunteer officers to map the roads to provincial military depositories, De Berniere had analyzed the risks. Paramount would be the difficulty of being what he was not, a colonial commoner. After he had submitted his request to serve, he had spent four days in the streets and taverns of Boston listening to the syntax and vocabulary of the populace. He had written down each night much of what he had heard. To demonstrate initiative during his interview with the Commanding General he had raised the speech difficulty and what he had done to try to surmount it. He had also presented a precisely drawn, detailed sketch of the roads and bridges of his parents’ parish, in Warwickshire. Analysis, preparation, performance. What he had not anticipated about his mission were, one, the limitations imposed upon him by his superiors and, two, capricious coincidence.
     He had been upset about the clothing that he, Captain Browne, and Browne’s man had been obliged to wear. They had begun this first day in virtually identical dress. Who in the commanding general’s service had made that decision? A quartermaster sergeant, he surmised.
     Then there was Captain Browne, De Berniere’s immediate superior. The man was dense, obtuse, fence post stupid! His performance this day had been appalling! Why had he been selected?!
     Several reasons, De Berniere supposed. One, a senior officer had to lead; two, Browne also wanted promotion; three, Browne, having spent several years garrisoned in Boston, “knew” the populace; and, four, very few senior officers, perhaps only he, had volunteered.
     De Berniere had not yet concluded his evaluation of Browne's servant, John Howe. Watching Howe arranging towels across the back of a chair preparatory to procuring hot water for their baths, De Berniere suspicioned that the servant was more percipient than his master.
     Howe spoke and behaved much like the Boston commoners that De Berniere had observed. He had not this day embarrassed himself. He had exhibited an alert mind and a readiness to act. Outside the Waltham tavern Howe had explained the behavior of the serving woman. With a rush of advice for which he had immediately, ingratiatingly apologized, Howe, stating the obvious, had recommended immediate haste.
     A teamster had overtaken them a mile or so down the road. De Berniere had persuaded the man to carry them. Almost immediately, he, and Howe, but not Browne, had recognized his blunder.
     The teamster's companion had instantly aroused De Berniere’s suspicion. The tense young man would not look at them. His body resisted the wagon’s jostle. His hair had been cropped, unnaturally, at the back. A deserter, De Berniere had concluded, a guileless simpleton spirited from the city by Sons of Liberty, driven westward by a teamster militiaman.
     Howe’s eyes had revealed the same conclusion.  Twice Howe had glanced at the “deserter,” then at the teamster, then at De Berniere, before De Berniere had nodded acknowledgment. Browne, jostled by the wagon's movement, had stared vacantly at wet fields.
     The teamster’s silence the first fifteen minutes of their journey had added weight to De Berniere’s supposition. A taciturn man voices a word or two in passing, De Berniere had reasoned. This man, maintaining his hard look at the road, schemes our arrest!
     “’Spect I could take you the entire way t’Worcester,” the driver had thereupon declared, confirming De Berniere’s judgment. “I do have business there. Might as well get it done t’day.”
     “Thank you, no,” De Berniere had declared, before Browne had been able to speak. They had reached the crest of a low hill. Seeing several distant buildings in the hollow beyond, concluding that they were approaching Weston, he had said, “We aim to be let out at the next tavern.”
     Thereafter, the wagon driver had watched the road. Answering Browne’s perplexed expression, De Berniere had nodded at the deserter. Browne’s subsequent furrowed brow had vexed him. Belatedly, Browne had answered, “Yes, the next tavern, please.”
     “Stop here, please,” De Berniere had said, sharply, when the wagon had closed to within twenty yards of the tavern.
     Offering no acknowledgment, the teamster had kept his horses moving. De Berniere had imagined the three of them having to jump from the wagon a mile or two down the road to hide in thicket and pine. But, no. The man had pulled his horses suddenly -- angrily, De Berniere had judged -- to a stop directly in front of the building.
     Captain Browne had displayed his stupidity again when they had seated themselves for refreshment.
     “May we have coffee?” Browne had asked the landlord, having been warned in Boston not to request tea.
     Straightening, the landlord had answered, “You may have what you please, either tea or coffee.” Staring at the man’s inquiring eyes, De Berniere had divined his message, that he was a Loyalist, that he recognized them to be soldiers, and that he wanted his presumption corroborated by their selection of tea.
     “Coffee. I said coffee!” Browne had answered.
     “Tea, actually,” De Berniere had corrected, witnessing immediately Browne's confusion, then resentment.
     De Berniere stepped away from the window. His window-staring had, in fact, benefited him. Analyzing the day’s events, he had drawn conclusions.
 He had isolated three difficulties. Foremost of these was Browne's impercipience. Somehow, subtly, De Berniere had to lead, without Browne knowing it.
     Another difficulty had been the landlord’s lack of cooperation. Two hours ago, having accompanied them to their room, the man had given Browne the names of safe taverns in Framingham and Worcester but nothing else. He either did not known where the Worcester military stores were hidden or he had chosen not to tell them. Being obtuse, Browne had not asked. Because the man had not wanted to talk, De Berniere, not wanting to prolong the landlord’s unprofitable stay, had chosen not to question him.
     Other than downstairs where he conducted business the landlord did not want to be seen with them. This had caused De Berniere to draw two inferences. The locals were vindictive toward anybody that harbored British spies. And any local with two eyes to see knew -- the third difficulty that he had isolated -- that they were indeed spies!
     He recalled the time before his eighteenth birthday when he had waded into the ocean to impress two female cousins. A strong undertow had carried him one hundred yards off shore. Thrashing against the current, he had feared that the shore was unreachable. It had taken him an hour to fight his way back.