The Fiery Cross

Author: P Hana

Page 146

   

Tuesday, the 14th of May

Halted, the Men ordered to keep in Camp.

The Army lay on their Arms all Night, as in the preceeding. No alarm.

Wednesday, the 15th of May

About 6 O’Clock in the Evening, the Governor received a Letter from the Insurgents which he laid before the Council of War, wherein it was determined that the Army should march against the Rebels early the next Morning, that the Governor should send them a Letter offering them Terms, and in Case of Refusal, should attack them.

The Men remained all Night under Arms. No alarm, tho’ the Rebels lay within five Miles of the Camp.

From the Dreambook:

Hillsborough, May 15

“Last night I fell asleep early, and woke up before dawn inside a gray cloud. All day, I’ve felt like I was walking inside a mist; people talk to me and I don’t hear them; I can see their mouths move, and I nod and smile, and then go away. The air is hot and muggy and everything smells like hot metal. My head aches, and the cook is clanging pans.

I’ve tried all day to remember what I dreamed of, and I can’t. There’s only gray, and a feeling of fear. I’ve never been near a battle, but I have the feeling that what I’m dreaming of is cannon smoke.”

60

COUNCIL OF WAR

JAMIE CAME BACK from the Council of War, well after suppertime, and informed the men briefly of Tryon’s intent. The general response was approval, if not outright enthusiasm.

“Ist gut we move now,” said Ewald Mueller, stretching out his long arms and cracking all his knuckles simultaneously. “Longer we stay, we are growing moss!”

This sentiment was greeted by laughter and nods of agreement. The mood of the company brightened noticeably at the prospect of action in the morning; men settled down to talk around the fires, the rays of the setting sun glinting off tin cups and the polished barrels of the muskets laid carefully by their feet.

Jamie made a quick round of inspection, answering questions and administering reassurances, then came to join me at our smaller fire. I looked at him narrowly; in spite of the stress of the immediate situation, there was a sense of suppressed satisfaction about him that at once excited my suspicions.

“What have you done?” I asked, handing him a large chunk of bread and a bowl of stew.

He didn’t bother denying that he’d been doing something.

“Got Cornell alone long enough after the Council, to ask him about Stephen Bonnet.” He ripped off a chunk of bread with his teeth and swallowed it with the minimum of chewing. “Christ, I’m starved. I’ve not eaten all day, what wi’ creepin’ through the brambles on my belly like a snake.”

“Surely Samuel Cornell wasn’t hanging about in the brambles.” Cornell was one of the Governor’s Royal Council, a stout and wealthy merchant from Edenton, and grossly unsuited by position, build, and temperament for snaking through brambles.

“No, that was later.” He swabbed the bread through the stew, took another enormous bite, then waved a hand, momentarily speechless. I handed him a cup of cider, which he used to wash down the mess.

“We were searchin’ out the Rebel lines,” he explained, the obstruction cleared. “They’re no far off, ken. Though ‘lines’ is giving them the benefit of considerable doubt,” he added, scooping up more stew. “I’ve not seen such a rabble since I fought in France, and we took a village where a gang o’ wine-smugglers were. Half of them whoring and all of them drunk; we had to pick them up off the ground to arrest them. This lot’s little better, from what I could see. Not so many whores, though,” he added, to be fair, and shoved the rest of his bread into his mouth.

At least half the Governor’s army was slightly the worse for drink at the moment, but that was so usual a condition as not to call for comment. I gave him another piece of bread, concentrating on the important aspect of the conversation.

“So you’ve found out something about Bonnet, then?”

He nodded, chewed, and gulped.

“Cornell’s not met him, but he’s heard talk. It seems he works his way up and down the Outer Banks for a bit, and then disappears for three or four months. Then suddenly, one day he’ll be there again, drinking in the taverns in Edenton or Roanoke, gold pieces spilling from his pockets.”

“So he’s bringing in goods from Europe and selling them.” Three or four months was the time it would take to sail a ship to England and back. “Contraband, I suppose?”

Jamie nodded.

“Cornell thinks so. And d’ye ken where he brings the stuff ashore?” He wiped the back of a hand across his mouth, seeming grimly amused. “Wylie’s Landing. Or so rumor says.”

“What—you don’t mean Phillip Wylie is in cahoots with him?” I was shocked—and rather distressed—to hear this, but Jamie shook his head.

“As to that, I couldna say. But the Landing adjoins Phillip Wylie’s plantation, to be sure. And the wee shite was wi’ Bonnet the night he came to River Run, no matter what he may have said about it, later,” he added. He flapped a hand, dismissing Phillip Wylie for the moment.

“But Cornell says that Bonnet’s disappeared again; he’s been gone, this past month. So my aunt and Duncan are likely safe enough, for the moment. That’s one thing off my mind—and a good thing; there’s enough to worry about without that.”

He spoke without irony, glancing round at the encampment that sprawled around us. As the light failed, the fires began to glow through the dimness of twilight, like hundreds of fireflies along the banks of Great Alamance.

“Hermon Husband is here,” he said.

I looked up from the fresh bowl of stew I was dishing out.

“Did you speak to him?”

He shook his head.

“I couldna go near. He’s with the Regulators, aye? I was on a wee hill, lookin’ down across the stream, and saw him in the distance; he was in a great mass of men, but I couldna mistake his dress.”

“What will he do?” I handed him the full bowl. “Surely he won’t fight—or allow them to fight.” I was inclined to view Husband’s presence as a hopeful sign. Hermon Husband was the closest thing the Regulators had to a real leader; they would listen to him, I was sure.

Jamie shook his head, looking troubled.

“I dinna ken, Sassenach. He willna take up arms himself, no—but as for the rest . . .” He trailed off, thinking. Then his face set in sudden decision. He handed me back the bowl, and turning on his heel, made his way across the camp.

I saw him touch Roger on the shoulder, and draw him aside a little. They spoke together for a few moments, then Jamie reached into his coat, drew out something white, and handed it to Roger. Roger looked at whatever it was for a moment, then nodded, and tucked it away in his own coat.

Jamie clapped him on the shoulder, left him, and came back across the camp, pausing to laugh and exchange rude remarks with the Lindsay brothers.

He came back smiling, and took the bowl from me, seeming relieved.

“I’ve told Roger Mac to go first thing in the morning, to find Husband,” he said, setting about the stew with renewed appetite. “If he can, I’ve told him to bring Husband here—to speak face to face wi’ Tryon. If he canna convince Tryon—which he can’t—perhaps Tryon will convince Husband that he’s in earnest. If Hermon sees that it will mean bloodshed, then perhaps he will prevail upon his men to stand down.”

“Do you really think so?” It had rained lightly in the afternoon, and banks of cloud still covered the eastern sky. The edges of those clouds glowed faintly red—not from the slanting rays of sunset, but from the fires of the Regulators, camped invisibly on the opposite bank of the Alamance.

Jamie wiped his bowl and took a last bite of bread, shaking his head.

“I dinna ken,” he said simply. “But there’s nothing else to try, is there?”

I nodded, and stooped to put more wood on the fire. No one would sleep early tonight.

The campfires had burned all day, smoking and sputtering in a light rain. Now, though, the drizzle had ceased and the clouds had parted, shredding into long, wispy mare’s-tails that glowed like fire across the whole arc of the western sky, eclipsing the puny efforts of the earthbound flames. Seeing it, I put a hand on Jamie’s arm.

“Look,” I said. He turned, wary lest someone had appeared at his heels with a fresh problem, but his face relaxed as I gestured upward.

Frank, urged to look at some wonder of nature whilst preoccupied with a problem, would have paused just long enough not to seem discourteous, said, “Oh, yes, lovely, isn’t it?” and returned at once to the maze of his thoughts. Jamie lifted his face to the glowing glory of the heavens and stood still.

What is the matter with you? I thought to myself. Can’t you let Frank Randall rest in peace?

Jamie put an arm about my shoulders, and sighed.

“In Scotland,” he said, “the sky would be like lead all day, and even at the twilight, ye’d see no more than the sun sinking into the sea like a red-hot cannonball. Never a sky like this one is.”

“What makes you think of Scotland?” I asked, intrigued that his mind should run as mine did, on things of the past.

“Dawn and twilight, and the season of the year,” he said, and his wide mouth curled slightly upward in reminiscence. “Whenever there is a change in the air around me, it makes me think of what has been, and what is now. I dinna always do it in a house, but when I’m living rough, I’ll often wake dreaming of folk I once knew, and then sit quiet in the twilight, thinking of other times and places.” He shrugged a little. “So now the sun is going down, and it is Scotland in my mind.”

“Oh,” I said, comforted at having such an explanation. “That must be it.”

“Must be what?” The setting sun bathed his face in gold, softening the lines of strain as he looked down at me.

“I was thinking of other times and places, too,” I said, and leaned my head against his shoulder. “Just now, though . . . I can’t think of anything but this.”

“Oh?” He hesitated for a moment, but then said, carefully, “I dinna much mention it, Sassenach, for if the answer’s ‘yes,’ there’s nay so much I can do to mend it—but do ye often long for . . . the other times?”

I waited for the space of three heartbeats to answer; I heard them, Jamie’s heart beating slow under my ear, and I curled my left hand closed, feeling the smooth metal of the gold ring on my finger.

“No,” I said, “but I remember them.”

61

ULTIMATUMS

Great Alamance Camp

May 16th 1771

To the People now Assembled

in Arms, who Style themselves

Regulators

In Answer to your Petition, I am to acquaint you that I have ever been attentive to the true Interest of this Country, and to that of every Individual residing within it. I lament the fatal Necessity to which you have now reduced me, by withdrawing yourselves from the Mercy of the Crown, and the Laws of your Country, to require you are assembled as Regulators, to lay down your Arms, Surrender up the outlawed Ringleaders, and Submit yourselves to the Laws of your Country, and then rest on the lenity and Mercy of Government. By accepting these Terms in one Hour from the delivery of this Dispatch, you will prevent an effusion of Blood, as you are at this time in a state of War and Rebellion against your King, your Country, and your Laws.

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