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.