Sunday, June 11, 2017

Crossing the River
Chapter One -- Pages 8-11
 
 
The primary source for this scene is Neil R. Stout's article, "The Spies Who Went Out in the Cold," printed in the American Heritage Magazine, February 1972.  An additional source is Henry De Berniere's journal, "Narrative of Occurrences, 1775," parts of which were quoted in secondary  sources that I read.
 
     The black woman who labored amongst the tables took little notice of the three men standing near the front doorway until one of them, a blonde-haired, lean-bodied youth, separating himself, walked toward the kitchen. Widowed, gregarious, passionate, she appraised his physical attributes. Afterward, she regarded, less lasciviously, his traveling companions, who were taking chairs at a nearby table.
     One of them was two or three years older than the boy now in the kitchen. He was, perhaps, twenty-two, twenty-three, dark-featured, slightly built, angular-faced. She watched his eyes, his inquisitive eyes -- face devoid of expression -- study each customer while his companion, fifteen or twenty years his senior, spoke. When his eyes fastened upon her, feigning indifference, she looked away. Having collected empty tankards and dishes from a vacated table, she walked into the kitchen.
     When she returned, the dark one was speaking to the older one. She studied the man who now listened. Broad forehead, round eyes in close to a thin nose, large lips -- a face his mother had probably regretted -- his was a countenance quite different from the many that demanded each day her service. Using a wet cloth, snorting derision, she brushed pastry crumbs off the top of an empty table.
     When they spoke to her, telling her what they wanted, she knew they were British officers. The way they spoke, the way they moved their heads as they spoke, their gestures: all was too familiar. For six years she had worked in a Boston tavern off King Street, an establishment frequently attended by the scarlet-coated officers of His Majesty's foot.
     She had quit her job there and had left Boston during the first week of December. One of her current employers, Jonathan Brewer, had hired her the week before Christmas. Normally thick-skinned, she had had more than her fill of the arrogant, besotted British gentleman. One could not smile, banter, or laugh indefinitely when the jibes she parried revealed a bigoted nastiness. With their first words the two officers at the table had exposed themselves. The one with the broad forehead and thin nose she had previously seen.
     Angrily, she returned to the kitchen.
     Who was he? His name! She believed she knew his name. She glanced at the not pretty but rather handsome youth eating kidney pie at a little table pushed against the far wall. He was not an officer. More probably he was a servant of the man whose name escaped her. Enlisted men never ate in the same room with officers, one fact of many that she had involuntarily gleaned from her Boston patrons.
     “More ale for you, sir?” she asked.
     He glanced up at her, grinned, started again to chew.
     “So you like eating here in the kitchen t’eating with your friends? What's wrong with them now?” She laughed with good humor.
     “Oh, they be weary o' me. They want t'talk, I think, ‘bout me, private like. They be strangers here 'bout, surveyors, y' know. They hired me t'show ‘em about. Now I think they might be wantin’ t’give me the boot.” He shrugged, offered her a silly grin.
     “How do you weary them, boy? Do they not take t’funnin'? You have that look about you, seems to me.”
     A mischievous grin. “Tis true, ma'am. Tis true. They're a stiff bunch, all serious like. They'll have their maps out in front o' them in a minute, you'll see. You watch.”
     Well, she didn't resent him, despite his being a soldier -- he might have passed as a young apprentice had she not connected him. In truth, she fancied him, despite being four or five years his senior. But when had age mattered, she reminded herself, when the look of a light-hearted, well-featured man had stirred her?
     The one in the other room, the one she had recognized, his name was Browne. Such a common name. It had come to her, effortlessly, while she had been thinking of the boy. She had seen Browne five years ago. Browne had come to the Boston tavern often, right up until the time of the Massacre. His regiment had then left the city. During the past three months -- during her absence -- the regiment had evidently returned. From Canada. What was he doing here, dressed in his silly costume, the same costume this boy and the dark officer wore? Pretending to be surveyors, wearing brown clothing with red handkerchiefs tied around their necks, country people they were pretending to be!
     Standing in the passageway to the taproom, she saw that they had spread a map across the table. The dark officer was pointing a stiff forefinger at the center of it. Browne nodded. Oh yes, they were surveying. They were taking a lay of the land. They were spies, insulting her intelligence!
     Well, she would play with them a bit. She would let them fancy their success. When they left the tavern, she would tell her employer. He would send their description to the local militia, and that would be the end of Officer Browne! Good riddance. But not of the boy in the kitchen.
     Having served the two officers their food, she watched the blonde-haired servant finish his tankard of ale. Smiling across the kitchen at her, he placed the vessel noisily on the table. Straightening his legs, leaning backward, he sighed. She walked over to him.
     “The bigger one in the other room. The one with the thin nose. I know him.”
     His eyes flashed. “Oh, I don't think so. They be strangers to the county, like I said. They've not been here before.” He looked at her guilelessly.
     Oh, he was good, likable, convincing.
     “I know your Captain Browne from a Boston tavern where I worked, maybe five years ago. I know your errand. You mean to take a plan of the country for your General Gage, I think.”
     He moved his legs, then his upper body. He started to rise. Placing a hand on his left shoulder, she said, “I'll not betray you, not yet; rest easy. Let your friends enjoy their pie and ale. Once on the road, …”
     The young man stared at the pie crumbs on his dish. He shrugged, then grinned. Sitting, then lifting his tankard, he said, “I'll be havin’ some more ale. Bein’ that Captain Browne does pay for it.”

     “The young lad in the kitchen says you are surveyors,” she said as they stood to leave. Wanting him to recognize her, she stared at the older man.
     “Just so. A very fine country hereabouts,” Browne replied, as though he were answering a voice.
     She slammed his empty tankard upon the table. He stared at her, his startled eyes crowding the bridge of his nose.
     “It is a very fine country!” she exclaimed. “And we have very fine and brave men to fight for it!”
     He blinked, twice, several times more.
     “If you travel much farther you will find out that is true!”