Crossing the River
Chapter 3, Pages 32-37
“You needn't explain who you are,” Barnes interrupted as they began their apology. “Every person in this town knows who you are. Monday night a party of liberty men had planned a welcome for you. Captain Bigelow did see you previously on the road.”
The silent horseman that had stared at them three days ago, De Berniere concluded.
“Is there a safe tavern for us here?” Captain Browne asked.
“Any place?” De Berniere asked.
Browne's harried look matched De Berniere’s.
“This town is violent, gentlemen. Consider my house but a temporary sanctuary.” Again De Berniere nodded. “Did you speak to anyone within the town?”
“A burly man wearing an apron. He stopped us,” Brown answered. “He directed us to your house.”
The merchant's ruddy face paled.
“A man of importance, I conjecture,” De Berniere responded.
“A leading militiaman of this town.” Henry Barnes tightened his face, pressed together opposite fingertips. “He hates anything British. So much so that he harbors a deserter. A drummer boy named Swain.”
De Berniere looked at Browne's astonished expression.
“Did you … say 'Swain'?!”
“I did.” The Tory merchant frowned. “Of what matter is it to you?”
Browne pivoted. Lips issuing silent words, he glared. Wide-legged, he rocked.
De Berniere looked for someplace to sit. Limb-enervating, thought-destroying fatigue had vanquished him. “Temporary sanctuary,” he had heard Barnes say. God’s love, he wanted everything -- hot food, good liquor, a snapping fire!
“What is it?” the Loyalist asked. Browne had faced about. De Berniere observed the Captain’s twisted mouth.
“Until less than a month ago, this ‘Swain,’ Private Swain, was my drummer boy!”
Barnes inhaled, then grimaced.
De Berniere’s mindfulness returned.
Had the drummer boy accompanied his protector out into the cold?! While the aproned man had spoken to them, had Swain recognized Browne?
Barnes opened the front door, just as quickly closed it. “You can’t be seen again,” he declared. “You must leave before dawn even if the storm continues! Let us hope Swain remained indoors. Let us hope your enemies hold greater import to their physical comfort!”
De Berniere removed his coat. Happenstance. Coincidence. His machinations had availed him nothing. Holding the dripping garment in his right hand, he shook his head.
Barnes walked to the doorway of the adjacent room. Beckoning them to follow, he said, “You’ll find a good fire in my study. Take off your clothing. I will bring you robes.”
A heavy knock on the front door stopped them.
“I saw nothing just now,” Barnes whispered.
De Berniere followed Browne out of the foyer. Barnes pointed to the wall that separated the entryway from his drawing room. Behind it, listening for voices, they heard initially the raw wind.
“Hello, Barnes,” a voice insulted. “I've come to pay you a friendly visit.”
“Doctor Curtis, how kind of you. We haven't spoken in two years.” A pause. “But I beg that you excuse me. I have guests to entertain.”
Another pause. “Who are your father's guests, my dear?” the first voice said, this time without malice.
De Berniere was startled by a child's voice. “Papa said it's not my business to know.” Polite but emphatic. Notwithstanding his alarm, De Berniere smiled.
The sound of the storm silenced, Barnes entered the drawing room. “He is off to the Meeting House.”
“Who is he?” Browne rubbed his left eye vigorously.
“Doctor Samuel Curtis. A leader of the local Committee of Correspondence.”
Barnes directed them into his study, where he advised them to spread their clothing on the hearth’s bricks.
“You realize now you must leave much sooner,” he said, returning, the robes folded over his right forearm. “I think it best that we change our plans. You will not have time to wear these.”
“The militiamen will be arriving,” De Berniere responded.
“I’m certain of it.” He looked at their clothing, steam starting to rise from the fabric. “You’d better clothe yourselves, now, however wet they may be. Then come into the next room. You have arrived just after dinner. You may have time yet for a steaming meal. Let us hope.”
His soaked clothing adhering to his skin, De Berniere eased his body down upon one of the dining table’s cushioned chairs. Smelling the roasted venison, he felt conjointly the release of tension and absence of volition. So this is resignation. This is capitulation, he thought. There is nothing, nothing whatsoever that I can achieve, save appease my appetite.
He was ravenously hungry. Making eye contact with his host, he smiled. A sumptuous, final meal, he thought. Intending to enjoy every morsel, he reached for a bread roll.
The animated servant commanded the passageway between the foyer and dining room. Barnes rose instantly from his chair.
“Sir, many men! From the Meeting House! They carry muskets!” Snow was embedded in the man’s hair, layered on the shoulders of his coat.
“How many?!” Barnes asked.
“Maybe, … twenty!”
“Be gone!” Barnes ordered. They rose from the table. “Hurry!”
“I’ll attempt to delay them,” he said as they pulled on their coats.
Having snatched four bread rolls off the table setting, De Berniere and Browne followed Barnes’s servant out a back door into a yard. The servant pointed at what appeared to be stables, were stables. The two officers hurried past them, hurried across a snow-laden field, scrambled over a whitened rail fence.
Discovering a country lane a half mile away, the wind at their backs, the cold seeping through their coats, fearfully, miserably, they fled.
“Stand aside, Barnes,” the aproned militiaman demanded. “We aim t’have ‘em!”
“The British officers, damn you!” Thrusting a thick forearm against Barnes’s chest, the blacksmith shoved the merchant aside. The file of townsmen, the first two snickering, tramped into the house.
“They are my wife's relatives, from Penobscot! They’re traveling to
,” Barnes told Doctor Curtis, the
last to soil his entry hall carpet. “They’ve already left!” Lancaster
Half turning, Curtis sneered.
The militiamen began their “search.” They overturned chairs, lifted and dropped beds, yanked off their rods drapes, scattered books, and emptied desk drawers. Two men hurled to the floor every garment hung in the bedroom closet. They tracked across his clothing, drapes, books, papers, the oak plank floor, and every imported carpet liquid filth. So angry did he become that, returning to the foyer, Barnes withdrew from his ornate floor vase his mahogany walking stick.
The aproned militiaman, carrying a gilt-edged serving plate, approached him. His belligerent eyes moved from Barnes's grip on the walking stick to the Loyalist's compressed lips. A grin cleaved the man’s heavy face. Away from his belly, gift-like, he advanced the plate. Barnes reached for it; the militiaman watched it drop. With the sole of his right shoe he pulverized the largest piece of broken china. “Barnes!” he snarled, pressing his belly against the merchant’s abdomen. “You hide and feed the enemy! You're a damned traitor! If we don’t catch them, we're going t’burn this house down!”
They went through his rooms a second time. Two of them scoffed at him, walking stick held impotently across his thighs. Briefly unattended, shame-faced, he placed it back inside the vase.
Staring at its handle, he listened to the mob’s utterances. His disdain had become full-bore hatred. Like a potion heated in a cast-iron pot it would bubble, until His Majesty's fist expunged every trespassing criminal! Save physical confrontation he would do anything to assist his government. He would celebrate the red-coated army’s arrival; he would direct joyously their plunder. They, his Majesty's foot, would be his redeemer, their destructiveness his rejuvenation!
He would prepare for the event with disciplined restraint. He would exercise forbearance, as he had not wielding his cane. The deadliest enemy is he who by appearance is judged the milksop. How vengefully he would assist all to rent them asunder!
As they were preparing to leave, one of them said, “If we catch ‘em in your house again, we'll pull it all the way down about your ears!” The villain’s right hand struck Barnes’s stomach. “Mind my words!”
He would. He was heeding their threats, their insults, their wanton destruction, safe-keeping every injury this day and the many days antecedent!