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!”