Monday, August 21, 2017

Crossing the River
Chapter 2
Pages 25-27
 
     From his upstairs window Ensign De Berniere had watched the Framingham militia drill on the town common. For thirty minutes the provincials had marched to commands beat on a drum. These were the farmers, shopkeepers, would be soldiers that every British officer derided.
     They were lean men. Young men and older men but healthy, vigorous men. Muscular. Accustomed to hard work, De Berniere judged.
     They appeared very different from British enlisted men, taken mostly off the streets and out of taverns and jails, uneducated, unmotivated failures one step above animal proclivity. You controlled them with stern discipline. You indulged them with beer and access to women and in foreign locations you allowed them -- though not in Boston -- to pillage.
     The militia captain called his company to attention. De Berniere listened to the officer’s oration.
     New England militia had helped defeat the French and their allies, the savages, in the late war. England would not have prevailed in America without their skill and courage. “Americans are equal to the best troops of any nation.”
     Rubbish!
     Scornful of the character of the individual British soldier, De Berniere knew what excellent training and harsh discipline accomplished. No soldier anywhere was the equal of the aroused, resolute grenadier! The militia captain had spoken pretty words.
     His advice, however, was accurate! Be cool under fire, be patient, control your fear. Always wait for the command to fire; afterward, as a disciplined unit, charge. De Berniere could not have instructed better.
     The dismissed men cheered their captain! In a mass they converged on the tavern’s front entrance. For more than an hour De Berniere, Browne, and Howe heard them tramp and jest, reveling in their “pot-valor,” delaying their return to wives, children, and parents.
     Witnessing in drill these merchants, mechanics, and soil tillers had been instructive. British trained and directed, they would make a formidable opponent. Because they were not so trained, despite all their drilling and speech making, they would remain cross-minded, boisterous peasants!
 
 
     They walked the nine miles to Weston the next day without incident. Having consumed a sumptuous dinner at the Golden Ball Tavern, they returned to their room satiated. Standing beside the door jam, watching the officers remove their boots, Howe sighed.
     This last day, maybe because he had wanted to savor it, had been the best of the lot. It had begun with a hearty breakfast, served to him affably by the Framingham tavern owner, Joseph Buckminster. He had enjoyed the sun’s warmth during their short walk, but a stroll, it had seemed, down a country lane.
     A warm bath at the day’s end had removed the last vestiges of discontent. His having been the last of the baths, he had stood in a large wash basin in the middle of the floor, Browne and De Berniere pouring water over him from two pitchers, one hot and one cold. He had lathered himself with strong lye soap. Afterward, they had cleansed him with additional rinse water. Using large, coarse towels, he had dried himself.
     Invigorated, he had accompanied the officers downstairs to satisfy a great hunger. Roast beef, steak-kidney-oyster pie, and a colonial dish they called Indian pie -- yellow cornmeal which, according to the proprietor, the cook had baked eighteen hours in a brick oven -- washed down by pewter tankards of ale!
     Would he ever enjoy such a fine meal again? 
He stepped into the room. De Berniere was staring at him.
What had he done?!
 Instantly, he knew. Their mission was ending; his freedom was ending. Wanting him to know it, they were going to dress him down.
     “Captain Browne and I have decided to return to Worcester. By ourselves. You will return to Boston with my sketches.”
     Howe’s face colored. About to speak, he turned his head.
     Arms akimbo, Browne scrutinized.
     “We shall return to Worcester by way of Sudbury and Marlborough. Logic persuades us to believe that, sufficient time having elapsed, the ambuscade that we had anticipated has been disbanded.”
     “Why don’t y’want me with you?” he blurted. Embarrassed, he looked sideways.
     De Berniere raised his eyebrows. “You are not content with this, I see.”
     No need to justify our decision, De Berniere.” Aiming his nose, Browne scowled.
     “Forgive me, Captain, but I must disagree.” De Berniere made a deprecating gesture. “I presume that we both agree, do we not, that the corporal has exercised craft in assisting us?” He waited for Browne’s acknowledgment, a curt nod. “The explanation for our decision,” De Berniere stated, addressing Howe, “is two-fold. I must map this other road to Worcester. Our duty necessitates it. Should we be apprehended -- our experiences having strengthened in our minds that potentiality -- we would not want what we have previously written and mapped taken from us, would we?”
     Howe recalled Browne's statement that the Army would not use this road. How he wanted to wipe Brown’s eyes with it!
     “Better that the General have in his possession what we have thus far accomplished than not one scrap of information should the three of us be arrested.”
     Howe nodded. He turned away. He walked to the dingy window, pretended to look through the glass.
     There was nothing that he could say to change their decision.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Crossing the River
Chapter Two
Pages 20-25
 
     John Howe fantasized.
     Who could say what a resourceful young knave might discover prowling about in the dark? He imagined himself, holding his shoes, stealing out the door while the two officers snored. Thirty minutes later he would be looking at a weather-worn outbuilding, inside which the town’s powder was kept. The next morning, when they were all downstairs, he would mention the building to Innkeeper Jones to see how the grouch-faced proprietor reacted. The secret out -- Jones admitting to it -- De Berniere, flaming amazed, would declare, “I’ll be damned!”
     “Howe. Pack our effects.”
     He started.
     De Berniere gestured at the table and the floor. “We are finished here. We leave for Boston tomorrow morning, by way of Shrewsbury, Marlborough, and Sudbury. Leave my sketching material separate. I will be mapping the way.”
     “Yes sir.”
     They had given up!
     He wondered just how useful De Berniere’s sketches of this or any road would be without the General knowing the whereabouts of the town’s powder. It would be like readying the squire's horse for the hunt, he wanted to say, without knowing the day of it. So it was too bad for the Yellow Sashes back at the Province House, and too bad for them. To be defeated, despite all their work, by one sour-faced innkeeper!
Not if he had been in charge.
 
 
     The next morning Howe had changed his anger to disappointment. Better to have their mission end poorly, he had reasoned, than not to have had it. He had relished the physical activity, the food, and the lodging. He had enjoyed the locals, very much like him, commoners he had sometimes chatted while Browne and De Berniere had kept their mouths shut, trying to be like him! Entertainment! The fun of watching De Berniere get his way without Browne knowing it! Never had he been entertained so much beginning with the day the black tavern maid, flirting with him, had identified Browne.
     Captain Browne! Maybe the man knew something about soldiering, but he was not his better!
     Walking these roads had given him lengthy stretches of time to think!
     Foremost of his thoughts was how much his life had changed since that day he had signed up! A stable boy at Audley, his father a personal servant to the Squire, he had chosen to put on the red coat and white stock and here he was tramping about Massachusetts Colony the servant of a simpleton captain turned spy! Not in his wildest imaginings!
     His decision to leave Audley had been plain eighteen-year-old stupid! How quickly he had come to hate soldiering! During the rare occasions when he had been permitted the chance to think, he had analyzed his mistake.
     He had come to see himself a beast of burden, each day suffering the same food -- salt beef and beer -- the same work, the same abuse. Several months ago he had had the mind to change that. His father, by example, had taught him how to serve the high and mighty. The company captain's servant having died of the malignant spotted fever, Howe had pressed his case. Here he was on this gray, wet winter morning walking this road because that very captain, wanting to advance his career, had volunteered to try his hand at spying!
     Serving Browne had not been that much of an improvement. His food and lodging were better; his work was not. The plow was gone; the bit in his mouth had remained. Walking these country roads, served at the same tavern table with Browne and De Berniere, given a pinch of freedom to exercise his lights, he had enjoyed the bit’s temporary removal. He would be back in Boston very soon, back to the same drudgery, to Browne’s daily abuse. Twice this morning he had thought about the lad in the teamster’s wagon. Doing that would be the ultimate right turn in any young knave’s life, wouldn’t it? The hard part about making that big a change, he thought, was not the doing so much but not knowing whether the doing was smart or stupid. What was so special about the lives of these country people, he wondered, that made them so rebellious?
     He heard behind him the clopping sound of an approaching horse. They had been passed twice by disinterested travelers. This one, too, would probably not want to talk. Walking ten feet behind his officers, his head down, he trudged.
 Seconds later, he saw that the rider, ahead of them now, had stopped. He was staring at them! Blood and bones! The day’s first excitement! What should he say? “We be intendin’ t’visit a friend,” a friend that had better be living in some distant town, he thought, the rider more than naught a local! And there was Browne, and De Berniere, musket-barrel straight -- he had to laugh -- taking measured strides toward this provincial like soldiers on parade!
     The rider turned his horse, moved it forward. The man looked twice over his right shoulder. Seconds later he kicked his horse’s ribs. They disappeared over a hill.
     A bit of excitement that! Howe thought. Whoever the man was, he’d gotten his eyeballs’ full! What would his two Jack-Puddings be deciding to do now?  
     They formed a triangle in the middle of the road.
     “That, I suspicion, was a militiaman,” Browne began.
     “He takes with him a detailed account of us, make no doubt!” De Berniere answered. “Expect his return, with, at a minimum, ten militiamen!”
     Browne rubbed his chin.
     The rasp of a crow reached Howe from tree limbs beyond a damp field.
     “Since it is some distance to Marlborough, the nearest settlement,” De Berniere offered, “we are safe, for awhile. We need not be alarmed.”
     Howe disagreed.
     “An hour would you say?”
     “Perhaps.”
     “Then we should carry on, locate a copse of trees, a barn, remain there until after they pass,” Browne said.
     What would be the sense of that? Howe thought.
     De Berniere touched, then scratched his left ear. “Let us not forget, sir, that to carry on we must pass through Marlborough.”
     Wanting to grin, Howe stared at his shoes.
     “Corporal Howe!”
     He almost jumped.
     “What, corporal, is your take on this thorny situation?” His hands gripping his elbows, De Berniere waited.
      Hell fire!
     Howe fought the urge to swallow. He swallowed. There stood Browne, eyebrows raised like a magistrate’s, expecting something stupid. “I’ve … I’ve a mind we d’go back t’ Worcester,” he said, facing De Berniere.
     “Back to Worcester?!” Browne exclaimed. “What in God’s name for?!”
     “By yer leave, Captain,” Howe answered, hiding his resentment. “There's naught but difficulty ahead an' the only other road t’Boston be the old one we d’take.”
     Browne stared down his bony nose.
“So I figure we should go back through Worcester, not stoppin', get on t’Grafton, an’ spend the night at Framingham, where we was before.”
     “Humph.”
     Browne scowled at distant treetops. Staring at the crest of the hill where the militiaman had disappeared, De Berniere slapped his right thigh.
     Why did you bother to ask?
     “Damme, to turn tail and run! I do not countenance it!”
     “But the alternative, Captain?”
     “Yes, the alternative!” Brown pressed his right thumb against the side of his jaw. He spat on the dirt. “I allow there is more danger ahead of us than behind. Damme, I allow that!”
     Howe realized De Berniere’s purpose.
     “Clearly the rider intends to intercept us,” the ensign responded.
     He waits, giving Browne time to own his thinking. Howe scraped the soles of his shoes on the road’s gritty surface.
 They would be returning to the inn at Framingham after all, which was what De Berniere had expected him to say. Back to the same room, maybe, he the servant, arranging the basin of hot water, the towels, the sponge, wringing the sponge over the basin after the two had bathed, emptying the murky water in the mound of pine needles outside the inn’s rear door. He was taken suddenly by De Berniere's use of him. It suggested the ensign had some regard for him. Had he been De Berniere’s servant, his situation might have been acceptable. But he was Browne’s servant!
     “All right! Damme! Discretion having primacy, I agree!” Browne grimaced. “We will walk through Worcester without stopping, allowing us to reach Buckminster Tavern before dark!” He frowned at the roadway. “The General's troops would not take this road anyway!” he declared. “No need, therefore, to waste our bloody breath mapping it!”


Sunday, August 6, 2017

Crossing the River
Chapter Two
Pages 17-20
 
They arrived at Buckminster Tavern in Framingham in the late afternoon. Speaking confidently to the proprietor, then to three servants separately, Howe performed his assigned task, De Berniere closely attending.
 
 
     Entering Worcester the following day, February 25, De Berniere had become cautiously optimistic.
     Not one provincial had exhibited suspicion while they had waited that morning for the Buckminster cook to prepare their lunch -- boiled tongue and cherry brandy -- which they were to take on the road. Thereafter, Browne, following De Berniere’s suggestion, had announced that they would not stop at any tavern during their thirty mile trek. Having covered the distance without incident, De Berniere was hopeful he would obtain the Worcester innkeeper’s complete assistance.
     A sour-mouthed, balding man, the landlord was a relative of the Weston tavern owner. Both had the same name, Isaac Jones. Accepting De Berniere’s invitation, Jones accompanied the three soldiers to their room. Two weeks earlier, he immediately told them, Worcester’s militia had ordered all townspeople to shun his establishment. Thenceforth, he had been treated with contempt. “As certain as November rain” he was being watched. Listening to the man’s whining discourse, De Berniere again felt thwarted. Only after they had established their credibility, aided in no small measure by their demonstrations of empathy, might this peevish man be willing to impart what they wanted. The next day being Sunday -- Jones having told them that Massachusetts law forbade anybody on the streets during the hours of church service -- they would have sufficient time to sway him.
 Sunday dawned through dark storm clouds. Speaking to Jones while taking his breakfast, De Berniere was pointedly cordial. Browne, following De Berniere’s unspoken prompt, behaved amiably. Between breakfast and the mid-day meal, adding details to his topographical sketches, De Berniere questioned whether inviting the proprietor to inspect his work might work to his advantage.
 Shortly before the noon hour -- the ensign yet speculating -- Jones appeared at their door. Two gentlemen wished to speak to them.
     “Who are they?” Browne asked.
     “Friends, let me say.”
     “But do we know that?”
     “I know it as fact!”
     “My companion is apprehensive because your establishment is watched,” De Berniere interpreted. “It follows that these ‘friends’ are also watched. If we should receive them,” he said gently, “it could be to our detriment.”
     “I will not have our purpose compromised,” Browne declared.
     “As you wish.” His face devoid of expression, Jones left the room.
     “May God save us from inquiring friends!” Browne exclaimed after the landlord had descended the stairs.
     Half-turned, De Berniere glimpsed on Corporal Howe’s face a chary smile.
     A half hour later the sour-faced proprietor returned.
     “The gentlemen have left,” he announced. “I bear their message.”
     Raising his chin, Browne managed to look down his nose. “And?”
     “They know you to be British officers.”
     “Indeed! I think not!”
     “Be advised that but a few friends to government know you’re in town.”
     “What then was their purpose in coming?” Browne said sarcastically.
     “That all the Loyalists of Petersham have been disarmed. The same is about to happen here.”
     Browne grunted, angled his head, uttered an expletive. “Then I suppose we shall have to conclude our business tonight!”
     De Berniere agreed. He had anticipated generalized hostility; he had not expected preemptive militancy. Jones’s establishment was watched. Three strangers had spent the night. Prominent Tories had subsequently visited. He and Browne could not risk further delay. Nor could he allow Browne to commandeer -- conviviality already shot to pieces -- this conversation!  
“You are to direct us this evening to where the town’s military stores are safe kept,” Brown said.
     Jones stiffened. “Not tonight! Not any night!” Eyes flashing, he fixated on the officers’ personal effects, arranged neatly on a narrow table beside their bed.
     Five seconds elapsed.
     De Berniere spoke. “Let us talk gently about this …”
     Damn your bleeding tongue!” Browne bellowed. “By God, I shall rip it out! Do not tell me what I do not want to hear!” His face choleric, Browne advanced. “Your loyalty, man! Your loyalty to the King! You will assist us! ”
     “So I have, as far as keeping myself safe. And I'm not so certain of that!”     Appalled, De Berniere watched Browne rise on the balls of his feet, lift aggressively his hands.
“You need not endanger yourself. If you think that, I have misspoke.” -- Too late, De Berniere thought, too late, Captain, for that! -- “We are not behindhand in our regard. We are sensible of your difficulty!”
     “Entirely,” De Berniere responded. “Let us talk about this.”
     Looking between them, not at them, Jones glared.
     “We ask only that you stroll with us about the town, in the direction of the stores. You need not point out the stores’ location! Your word of it upon our return will answer.”
     Isaac Jones shook his head. Browne’s neck muscles tightened.
     “You must accompany us to the site! We must inspect it!”
     “I am a watched man. You want me to walk the street with strangers who walk as soldiers, with no purpose apparently but to socialize, when my business is here in this tavern, where I would do that and no place else. I will not!”
     Browne’s large body expanded. “You blackguard! You … offspring of a rancid whore!” Storming past the proprietor, he pulled the door open. “Out! Get out!”