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Authors: Siri Mitchell

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BOOK: The Messenger
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I used my good arm to push myself to sitting.

Behind me, someone cursed. Boots scuffed against the ground. I heard them venture around me. A face peered down. “We got another here, boys!” Strong hands beneath my armpits lifted me to standing. The world turned gray for a moment as I gained my feet. Those same hands supported me while I lurched toward the tent.

“Another for the surgery!” The soldier who had helped me pushed me down onto a stool.

The surgeon came over, wiping his hands on his blood-smeared apron. He peered at my arm, poked at my elbow.

I swore as the world faded to white.

He pulled a knife from his belt and slit the sleeve of my coat, releasing a sudden and alarmingly putrid stench. “Take him to the table.”

I knocked away the soldier’s hands and walked over to the table myself. As I sat there trying to recover my wits, they poured me a mug of rum. I couldn’t seem to get my hand to take it up. And even when I used my other hand to bring it to my mouth, most of it dribbled down my chin onto my chest. As they pushed me down and tied me to the board, I saw the surgeon take up a crescent-shaped saw.

The next time I woke, I was in my tent. I could tell by the stains on the ceiling and by the way straw prickled at the back of my neck. I tried to swallow, but my mouth was too dry. I tried to lick my lips, but my tongue felt ten sizes too big.

John Lindley’s face loomed above me.

I blinked.

He smiled. “Want some water?”

I nodded.

He lifted a canteen to my lips. Most of it ran down the back of my neck. But with subsequent drinks my tongue seemed to shrink, and increasing amounts of water made it down my throat.

John lifted an arm that had been wrapped in gauze. “They patched me up as well.” He leaned closer. “I have to admit, I probably kept the surgeon longer than I should have . . . it hurts like the devil to have an arrow plow a furrow in your arm. Hurts more than one might think.”

Arm.

There was something about an arm. Something it seemed like I ought to remember.

“But look at it now!” He flexed his arm through the gauze. “And nothing to show for it but a scar.”

A memory tickled at the edges of my mind. “Were you the first one into surgery?”

“What’s that?”

“Were you the first one?”

He attempted to shrug. Winced. “I was there before you, in any case. One of those beetle-headed privates dumped you over by the refuse pile. They didn’t realize you were even alive for a day or two. You’d passed out like a drunkard. That’s why they couldn’t save your arm. It was too far gone.”

Couldn’t . . . ? I turned my head and lifted my wounded arm, but . . . it was no longer there. I blinked. I could feel it. I could have sworn I could feel my fingers flex. And I knew I wasn’t imagining the pain shooting from my elbow, but there was nothing there.

It took three days and two bottles of whiskey for me to understand what had happened. Eighty-one men had been caught up in the ambushes by the Indians. Indians who had been shooting
arrows
. Only eight men had survived. But even then I didn’t accept it. I couldn’t. I couldn’t believe I had been shot by my own army. And I wouldn’t accept that a man who had been grazed by an arrow had been rushed into surgery before a man with a bullet-shattered arm. For the sole reason that he was a British regular and the other man a colonial.

Never before had I so desperately wanted to murder someone.

 

“Jeremiah Jones! It is you, isn’t it?”

When I turned at the greeting, I half expected to find myself back at the fort. But I was still at the King’s Arms and my arm was still gone, though my forehead had gone slick with sudden sweat.

I nodded to return his greeting. “John Lindley.”

“Jonesy!” He smiled as if he was delighted to have found me. “If I’d known you were in the city, I might have looked you up before now.” He extended his own hand and moved to clasp my arm, but his grip only closed on an empty sleeve. To his credit, a flush colored his cheeks. “Well. How about this! Can’t hardly believe it took a rebellion to bring us back together.”

How about this. How about a man’s sworn enemy walking into his tavern and greeting him like a long-lost friend.

John clapped a hand on the shoulder of the man he was with. “This is that colonial I was telling you about the other day. The one that survived Devil’s Hole with me.”

“Ah! The one that might have been worth a commission.” He glanced pointedly at my useless arm. “Some bad luck there, eh?”

Some prejudice disguised as bad luck. “Can I get you something to drink?”

“You buying?” John lifted a brow as if he couldn’t believe his luck.

“I’m selling. I own this tavern.” Only its size and its spirited crowd distinguished it from the other hundreds of King’s Arms that kept the colonies supplied with spirits. It was drawing Tories and soldiers like flies. And that was my goal. To make them pay for everything they’d taken from me.

“Then you fell out of the army and onto a golden egg. I’m glad for you!” He slapped me on the back as if we could pick right up where we’d left off.

As if he wasn’t my enemy.

3

Hannah

 

It was as awkward a tea as I had ever been party to. The mahogany furniture in the front parlor had been bought from the city’s finest craftsmen, but the simple lines of the tea table and glass-paned secretary, even the dark blue upholstered French chairs, seemed to quail at the colonel’s bright finery. His gleaming boots, glimmering gilded gorget, and scarlet-colored coat did not belong here in our quiet, dignified, simple world. The colonel, Father, Mother, and I sat, speaking not a word to each other. Indeed, my knees were shaking beneath my skirts, and I had long before abandoned my cup to its saucer due to the trembling of my fingers. It was unthinkable that a Friend like my father who had denounced both sides in this rebellion, who had firmly chosen not to support either cause, would be forced to quarter a soldier. It was an outrage!

An outrage we had no choice but to endure.

We Sunderlands knew the price exacted for our peculiar convictions. In a time of war, there was very little tolerance for peace. My grandfather had paid for his Quaker beliefs with his very life, protesting the treatment of the colony’s Indians to those who now called themselves patriots. He’d been clubbed to death while British soldiers stood by and watched. And just this past September my own father had been dragged from the house by rebel soldiers while crowds looked on. Friends would be forever watched and never safe. It did not matter who helmed the government or who controlled the land. I feared the rebels just as much as the Loyalists.

As we sat there in discomfited silence, I heard the front door open and saw a flash of blue in the front hall as someone offered a cloak up to the maid. My friend, Betsy Evans, appeared in the doorway. She started forward, but as her gaze came to rest upon the colonel, she stopped.

Mother rose and drew her into the room with a hand to her elbow. “Thee must take tea with us.”

She had already slipped from Mother’s grip and was backing toward the hall. “No. I cannot stay. I had only come to pass a message.”

“A message!” Father came to his feet, urging Betsy to come in and sit. “Do tell. Has there been word from our Friends exiled to Virginia?” The plight of those Friends seemed to weigh heavy on his heart. I suspected it had to do with his originally being numbered among them back in September. Since our paper manufactory had closed for want of materials, he spent his days advocating on their behalf to anyone who would listen.

Betsy shook her head. “Perhaps . . .” She closed her mouth with a frown and then opened it to speak again. “I’m to see John James and Isaac Jackson this afternoon. Perhaps they will have had some word from Virginia.” Be that as it may, I knew my friend. I knew there was more to her visit than she was saying. But she declined both a cup of tea and a chair. “I’ll stop by later. After I’ve been to see the others.”

Mother caught her by the hand. “If thee have something to say, please, say it.”

She eyed the colonel once more. Then she enclosed Mother’s hand with her other. “It’s Robert. He was taken in a skirmish and—”

“He wasn’t—?”

“No! Thee are not to fear. He’s alive. That’s what I’ve come to say. He’s been put into jail. The new one on Walnut Street.”

“Jail?” Mother was swaying now. Betsy moved to take one of her arms while I took the other; we helped her back to her chair.

“And who is Robert?” The colonel was looking with a keen eye at me and at Betsy.

“My son.” Father’s voice made it clear that he rather wished it weren’t so.

“Your
son
? There are more of you?”

Father’s frown and a dismissive wave of his hand told all that need be known of Robert Sunderland, father’s firstborn son and my twin. Robert had been born and raised a Friend, and then he’d turned his back on his faith and joined in the rebellion.

“So. This Robert is both your son and a rebel. My. That
is
interesting. I thought you people were supposed to be above that sort of thing.”

The tops of Father’s cheeks had gone red. “Each man must make his own choice.”

“Could his choice be your choice too? Do you wish to see His Majesty’s rule abolished?”

“We wish nothing more or less than a peaceable end to this conflict.”

“Don’t we all!” The colonel laughed and raised his teacup in Father’s direction. “Well said: a peaceable end. That’s exactly what we’ll have, even if I have to shoot every rebel in the colonies myself.”

 

When Betsy slipped from the room, I followed her. I stood beside her, silent, while the maid placed the cloak about her shoulders and opened the door. As Betsy stepped out onto the front stoop, I went with her.

“Oh, Hannah!” Betsy buried her head in my shoulder and wept. Robert’s own Betsy—the girl he had meant to marry until this conflict had taken him from his faith and from his home. “He’s lost to us. General Howe isn’t allowing visitors to the jail. And even if he were . . .”

Even if he were, no Friend would go. It was forbidden. To aid a soldier in any way was to support his cause and that we could not do. Our sole purpose was peace and the capacity of man to maintain it. Yet what if Robert had been wounded? Surely an exception could be made in that case, couldn’t it? To be so set on peace in a time of strife was a terrible trial to the soul.

“They say the prisoners are starving . . .” Sobs overcame her words.

“Surely they’re not starving. General Howe could not refuse them food.” Could he?

“I don’t know what to hope for. Not now.”

Hope. A good Friend would hope that through this tribulation Robert would come to his senses, renounce his actions, and return to the faith. But a sister, or a true friend, would hope—pray, even—that Providence would allow him some sort of comfort or some kind of mercy. That he might receive no penalty, no punishment for his sins. But what sort of sister or friend could pray for mercy when the soul was in danger of eternal damnation? “It will turn out. All will be well.” I took Betsy’s face between my hands and kissed her on both cheeks.

She held up a trembling hand to mine. “All will be well?”

“Aye. Thee will see.”

“I just . . . I don’t know what to think.” She seized my hand and squeezed it before giving me a tremulous smile as she turned to leave.

 

“What can he be thinking?” Father had roared the words across the table last autumn after reading the letter Robert had left behind when he’d joined the rebels. Once he had flung it from his hand, Mother hastily pulled it from the table. It had disappeared into her lap. “Of all the foolish—” He pushed to his feet and stalked from the room, leaving his chair upturned in his wake.

I knew what Robert had been thinking. I knew exactly why it was that he had gone.

It had to do with Fanny Pruitt.

We had fled the city for the summer house the spring past because Father had thought it safer. And it had been for us. But not for Fanny, the hired kitchen girl. One morning when he’d gone out to saddle his horse, Robert had found her, bloodied and beaten, hiding in the stables. He’d coaxed her into the house and enlisted me to tend to her.

She would not speak—and never did speak so far as I knew—about what had befallen her. But as her belly had swelled with child toward summer’s end, it became quite clear what had happened. And the fits she went into whenever she saw a British soldier pass by on the road told us who had done it. We couldn’t keep her in service, of course, though Robert had protested strenuously against Father’s dismissal of her. When we had moved back to the city in August, someone else had been found to replace her.

It was Fanny Pruitt who had made Robert take up the rebels’ cause as his own.

I knew what he was thinking; I’d always known what he was thinking. At nineteen years, his decision wasn’t a rebellion of youth and it wasn’t a fascination with arms or some misguided search for adventure. It wasn’t any of the things that the Friends in Meeting had later decided upon in explanation.

I knew the reason was Fanny, because he had told me so.

“I heard it, Hannah. That night I heard her. There was a terrible mewling outside as if some poor kitten had gotten lost and couldn’t find its way back to its mother. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t do anything about it. I’m a Friend; I’m not supposed to. I pulled my pillow over my head and willed myself back to sleep.” He spoke the words with a regret sharpened by guilt.

I laid a hand on his arm. “It’s not thy fault, Robert. It wasn’t thee that—”

“Did it?” He looked at me with eyes just as gray as my own. “No. But what am I to do now? How am I to look at her? How can I walk by Fanny Pruitt every day of my life knowing what I allowed to happen?” He beseeched me as if I might have some answer. “It isn’t right what those soldiers are doing.”

Of course, I argued with him. “The rebels do the same. The very same things, Robert. They steal and rape and plunder under protection of the name of General Washington. Thee know that they do.”

“Aye. But to my way of thinking the British ought to hold themselves to higher standards. They’re here to keep the peace, Hannah. They’re here to enforce the king’s law. If the king doesn’t care that his soldiers molest innocent country girls, if he allows such crimes to go unanswered, then he’s no king for me.”

“The king doesn’t even know Fanny Pruitt!”

“But there are ten thousand in these colonies just like her. And if he cannot protect the meek and the poor, then why should I obey him?”

“Thee cannot just choose whom to serve, Robert! ’Tis treason. And worse, ’tis rebellion!”

“And what of the king? He’s a tyrant. What of that?”

I could feel his fury, his outrage, his anger. I had always felt what Robert did. And so I understood that to him, the conflict had become personal. But then he always took everything so personally, as if it were he himself the king had somehow misused. It wasn’t two days later that he slipped out of the house at night. He hadn’t a musket to take with him, but he’d packed what he had: his plain, unadorned coat and his uncocked, wide-brimmed hat. He hadn’t been thinking of kings or war or anything else. He’d been thinking of Fanny Pruitt.

 

As I stood there watching Betsy go, I took in a shaky breath of winter air and then gave it back with a swirl of frost. I walked back into the parlor and found the colonel had finally put those long legs of his to use and left us. In his absence, Father had gathered the family together. I sat in a chair, took up little Jonah, and put him on my lap.

BOOK: The Messenger
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