Just a short way outside Annapolis, Stephen Monroe had spent the last three weeks sleeping in the stables of his father’s country estate. His brother William was due to return from sea to visit the family at any time, and it had been decided that Stephen should finally accompany William back to sea. Until that time, it was very important for him to stay out of sight.
How Stephen came to be living there with the draft horses was a small adventure, or joke, depending on how you looked at it, but the consequences were serious enough. Stephen was wanted by the British redcoat colonel for tying ribbons in the tails of their horses while all the colonel’s staff was taking luncheon at the house of Lady Westmore. The nearby militia was a far greater threat to the redcoats, but the colonel was a peacock and he intended to make an example of Stephen. Besides, it provided an excuse to not take to the field. From the day of that small lark, Stephen had to stay out of sight during the day, and spend each night in the stables.
Stephen had been desperate to join the war for liberty for several years, but both his parents had been resistant for reasons that had not been entirely clear to him. His oldest brother William was in the Continental Navy, and the next brother Robert was a lieutenant in the Maryland Line. Why couldn’t he go? But the reason Stephen didn’t know the reason he couldn’t enlist-that was the reason. He had been given the reason many times, but for various causes he did not understand them at all. Stephen was something of a hothead, at least for the Monroe clan, and his parents were afraid that he would get a case of liberty fever, worse than he already had it. They were patriots, but they were afraid of some of the patriots they had heard.
But Stephen was hot to fight, and it was a trial to him to obey his parents. However, despite being a hothead, he was obedient and he tried to be cheerful. Most of the time, he was. When William finally came home, he agreed to take Stephen with him, but he was reluctant for the same reason his parents were. But unfortunately, the zeal of the British colonel was making their choice for them. Jenny Monroe, William and Stephen’s mother, had talked to William privately about it before William agreed to take Stephen. “He needs to go somewhere now,” she said. “And we would much prefer it be with someone who cares for him, and who knows our concerns and would honor them.”
Late that night, Stephen was summoned in from the stables by a servant, and met in the sitting room with his parents, John and Jenny Monroe, and his brother William. Despite their concerns, which they went over one more time with him, Stephen was hot with excitement. He was going to sea. He was going to see action against the tyrant. He did not understand how his parents could be willing to fight for liberty and yet not be excited about liberty in the same way he was. He tried to understand them, but he didn’t. They tried to understand him, but they didn’t.
At one point near the end of their farewells, he tried to explain a last time. “Just yesterday I was reading Mr. Paine’s book Common Sense . . .”
William snorted, and interrupted. “Mr. Paine is a prodigious fool.”
His mother looked with alarm at William, as though to say that she wanted him to restrain Stephen-but not to give him a drubbing. John Monroe looked at the floor, nodding for a moment. Then, looking up, he said, “Perhaps a future conversation will be more fruitful than this one has been. Stephen, go upstairs for your trunk-it is already packed for you. I want you to take your Bible, and leave behind Mr. Paine. That gentleman is all sail and no ballast. When you come back down, we will pray, and you may go.”
Three days later, William Monroe sat with his back against the wall of the Jamestown tavern, and next to him sat his young brother Stephen. Stephen was taller than his brother when he was sitting down, and when they were standing he was almost taller. But he was also thirteen years the younger, and this meant that although they were not close as brothers, Stephen had always looked up to William as one might an especially important uncle. William had been away at sea for many years-he had left for the first time when Stephen was only three, but he had been faithful to return at regular intervals and he always kept Stephen’s imagination fired with his stories. Of course, it did not take much to keep Stephen’s imagination fired, and William always seemed a little stiff and distant. Stephen always wanted to hear more than William was willing to tell.
They had come down to Jamestown from Annapolis because it would be here that Stephen would finally become a midshipman with his brother in the Continental Navy. The two brothers had arrived in Jamestown that afternoon by coach, and when they unfolded themselves from it and stretched in the street, they sought out a place to eat. They were hungry enough that they were not too scrupulous about the tavern they chose and were just now finishing their stew.
William Monroe had been a lieutenant just the previous year, serving under John Paul Jones. He had acquitted himself so well in the battle between the Serapis and the Bon Homme Richard that when they returned to America, he had been given a commission-a ship of his own, the Susquehanna. It was now the spring of 1780, and it was almost time to sail.
“Tell me again what happened after Captain Jones defied Pearson.”
“Well, Pearson called upon our captain to strike his colors, and Captain Jones just stood there, saber in hand, musket balls flying past him, and shouted that he had not yet begun to fight. That stirred every man of us, I don’t mind telling you. Their guns had taken out much of our starboard battery, and we didn’t have many gunners left either. We sent the marines up into the rigging, and bless them if they didn’t shoot like a pack of wizards. They raked the decks of the Serapis-I have never seen shooting like that, never.”
“What happened next?” Stephen was done with his stew, and his brother was nowhere close. William was not nearly as stiff as he seemed to his brother, and he could tell a sea story as well as any of his mates-but in talking like this to his brother he always felt like he was stoking a fire that was already too hot and high.
“The Bon Homme Richard was taking on water, and settling into the sea, sluggish like. We couldn’t maneuver, and so Captain Jones tied our bow off to the side of the Serapis, and we just went at it, hammer and tongs. They were preparing a sortie to board us, and so Captain Jones just nodded at me to do something. So I took about seven lads who were with me, and we attacked them, right up the middle. God showed favor to us that day-there was no reason for us to win that battle. And after we won, our ship sank, and we had to sail off in theirs.”
“That’s it? You just told me that there was some fighting, and then it was over.”
William laughed in spite of himself. “Well, because of how the ships were lashed together, we had to run single file, and jump from our bowsprit, and not spread out shoulder to shoulder until we were on their forward deck. I was first, and three of us got there before they saw our plan. It was all sabers, and for some moments there all I saw was sabers. A man named Huggins saved my life-twice I think, maybe three times. I had my saber knocked out of my hand by some ruffian, who seemed extremely interested in the color of my insides. Huggins split him like he was chopping wood on a Saturday evening . . . I got my saber back, and by that time, all seven of us were there. We gave them what for, and that’s the truth of it.”
Stephen was about to ask yet another question, but he suddenly yelled, jumping in his seat instead. From across the tavern, a pewter mug sailed right past his head and struck the wall behind him, spattering ale everywhere.
William was on his feet instantly, and Stephen quickly stood up beside him. Stephen had no weapons with him, but William had both a saber and a pistol. From across the tavern, a large figure began to weave toward them. Behind him were several others.
The two brothers waited until their visitor was a few steps away, with only a table between them. “And did ye not know,” the man began, “that this is not a Whig establishment? We offer victuals and drink for Tories, and for any honest souls who are loyal to their king.”
William bent slightly at the waist. “I did not know,” he said. “We are strangers in your town. We would be happy, under the present circumstances, to pay our bill, and take our leave.” With that he reached toward his pouch to bring out his payment.
The innkeeper (for it was the innkeeper) held up his hand. He stopped for a moment, still weaving, and then lowered his hand again. The men behind him looked slightly apologetic. “Keep your continentals.” he said. “Worthless.”
William started to say that he would pay with silver, but the innkeeper held up his hand again. His dark hair was greasy, tucked behind his right ear. He was in his cups, and when he was in his cups, he was the kind of drunk who wanted to talk politics.
“Here’s how ye may pay the bill,” he said. “Answer me three questions.”
“I see,” said Captain Monroe, sucking on his teeth. “And must we answer the questions to your satisfaction? Or just answer the questions?”
“Aye. I take your point.” The innkeeper stood there pretending to be puzzled for a moment, and Stephen thought briefly that he was the kind of man that he might like. If he was sober. And if there were no war going.
The innkeeper turned around and looked at the fellows who stood behind him, who had been hanging back somewhat uncertainly. “You,” he said, pointing to one of them. “You are the judge. You were a Whig before you got paroled. You’ve been on both sides. You’re the judge. Sit here.” With that the innkeeper pulled a chair behind a nearby table, and pushed the young man down into it.
“Now,” he said, turning around. “King George is my lawful sovereign. Why is he not yours?”
Stephen stepped forward as though he was going to blurt out an answer, but a glance from his brother stopped him. The Monroes had been over this countless times at the dinner table-their father had actually had to decide what he was going to do when the war broke out. They had friends and family on both sides, and the issues had not been a simple one for them, except for Stephen.
William rested his hands on his belt, and looked straight into the innkeeper’s eyes, which was hard because the innkeeper kept looking at the floor. Captain Monroe was an imposing figure when he was standing, and not eating stew, and when he was this close.
“The king was my sovereign. And as such, he had a responsibility as my liege lord to protect me and my family from those who had no such sovereignty, but who sought to exercise it anyway. When Parliament took up the pretence that they were the legislative body for Maryland, when we already had our representatives, the king had a duty to intervene and stay their grasping hand. With Parliament I had nothing to do, and under the ancient rights of Englishmen, I had every right to expect the king to defend us. This duty he refused. And when a liege lord refuses the duty of protection, the vassal is released from the obligations of allegiance.”
It was clear to Stephen that the innkeeper had not followed any of this, and it was not surprising to him because he had trouble following it. He thought William ought to have simply said that the king was trampling on the rights of man. And had he said this, it would have been on the innkeeper’s level, because when he usually talked politics, the debate usually amounted to a lusty shout of long life to King George, followed by a fist fight with those who would not drink to his health. Stephen glanced at young man who had been impressed into the duties of the judge (whose name was Tom) who was following the answer, and who was looking increasingly nervous.
The innkeeper cleared his throat when it became obvious that Captain Monroe had finished, and continued, “Does not the good book say that we are to obey the existing authorities?”
Stephen smiled to himself. The good book also had things to say about getting drunk and heaving pewter mugs at the guests. But Captain Monroe just shook his head.
“King Charles claimed that passage as part of his divine right before he lost his head. But the apostle plainly says in that place that the magistrates are God’s servants, and are not absolute. They are appointed to their servant’s station to reward the righteous and punish the evil doer. The apostle does not contemplate the circumstance when the magistrate rewards the evil doer and punishes the righteous. And if my handling of the sacred text be wrong, it is at least the handling of it that was approved by the rulers of England in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. We have maintained nothing in this war for independence except what was established by our rulers as part of common law, before you or I were born.”
Stephen looked sideways at Tom again. He was staring at his judge’s bench, and was drawing pictures with the spilt ale that was there. He seemed absorbed in something else, although he wasn’t. Stephen looked up at his brother with exasperation. Why not just say that friends of tyrants are enemies of God? Why give an answer full of words?
The innkeeper’s face was redder than it had been. He was intent on his fight, but he needed something he could understand. He finally decided to dispense with the finer points of politics. “Have you raised arms against our king?”
“I have. I fought with Captain John Paul Jones when we took the Serapis . . .”
With that the innkeeper roared, lowered his head, and ran straight at William. William stepped aside easily, and clapped a hand to the innkeeper’s back, which sent him sprawling into a cluster of chairs. “Come on, Stephen,” William said, and stepped toward the door. They both blinked coming out into the sunlight, and were two streets down the way before anyone spoke. William suddenly stopped.
“What is it?”
“We forgot to pay.” William was rummaging in his pouch for the coins.”Don’t you think he forfeited it? You answered that old loblolly’s questions, and to spare.”
But William ignored the taunt, turned back, and they made their way back to the inn. When they got there, they found judge Tom learning against the doorpost, looking up toward the afternoon sun. William touched him on the shoulder, which made him jump, and then offered him the coins. Tom smiled, nodded, and took them.
“You were paroled?” Stephen asked Tom, hoping for a story with some action in it.
“Yes. I fought with the Whig militia when the war broke out. I was captured a year ago in a skirmish near Colcock Creek. I was released on parole, and haven’t seen action since. My mother is happy about it, fair enough. I sometimes think of breaking my word-especially when I hear things like that in there.”
Stephen started to say that every friend of liberty should take the field, but Captain Monroe interrupted, shaking his head. “No-keep your word. We are fighting because the king wouldn’t.”
With that they began to go, but stopped when Tom called them back. “One more thing?” William nodded, so he went on. “Don’t be hard in your thoughts on my master, old Nob. He lost two boys in the first month of the war. He didn’t used to drink. He is a simple man, and I don’t think he can make it here if we win. He’ll have to go to Halifax.”
William nodded, and Stephen didn’t know what to do, so they turned toward the harbor. They walked several furlongs when William suddenly said, “Stephen, that’s one more thing to remember about my story. Every man we killed on the Serapis was a mother’s son, and back in some English shire it may be there is a poor innkeeper who drinks too much.”
Stephen was silent, but after a moment, he asked-“But wouldn’t you do it again?”
“Of course,” William said, “but always remember that war is a splendid and terrible duty. It is not a diversion.”
For those who don’t know, I have written a couple of children’s stories for Veritas Press, Blackthorn Winter and Susan Creek respectively. It appears that it is time to write another one, which is entitled Two Williams, and which I have decided to serialize here. That is one of the reasons I had a continue reading feature added — so that the diversity cops who comb through my blog posts looking for yet one more example of my perfidy (a word that should be used more often) need not tie up their valuable time scrolling down through my fiction for kids, however edifying it might be to them. They are already sacrificing a lot of good day-time television to go through my stuff, and I don’t want to be rude or thoughtless.
Because this book (when complete) will be published by Veritas, I need to reserve the right to pull all the posts once it is in print, or not post the last chapter if it is a cliff-hanger. Anyhow, here it is, such as it is, and I hope your kids enjoy it. The intended audience is twelve-year-old boys, and the sisters who admire them, give or take twenty years. This little explanation will be tagged on to the end of each chapter as it is written and posted.