Tired Nations of Christendom

It was a week later and the Susquehanna had been tied up in Jamestown for almost the entire time. A crew had spent the first several days repairing damage to the ship, which was slight. The prize merchant had made it safely back to port before them, and Capt. Monroe was now the toast of the town. Messengers had ridden off excitedly to the north to have reports of this victory at sea published in newspapers.

Several plantation owners in the area who were Whigs held a ball to celebrate the victory, and were excited enough about it to invite the governor, who had decided to come. Capt. Monroe, Lt. Morris, and two other officers from adjoining ships attended the ball, and there was no little confusion and discussion beforehand about what to do with Lady Huntington. Finally, Capt. Monroe approached her to invite her to attend, and did so with obvious discomposure.

“I do not want to insult a lady, and I confess that my manners are not equal to this occasion. To neglect to offer an invitation to a lady of your stature would, as it seems to me, be a breech of manners to be spoken of for years. At the same time, to invite you to a ball where you will be surrounded by Whigs and rebels would also offer insult to your sensibilities. I defer to your sentiments; as to mine, they do not signify.”

Lady Huntington smiled, a little grimly he thought, and nodded her head that she would come. As he thanked her and turned to go, she thanked him as well, and said she understood the position he was in. But the day after they returned from the ball, Lady Huntington was silent, Capt. Monroe was morose, and Lt. Morris appeared to be quietly furious. Stephen was very curious, and he made some faces, but could get no one to say anything.

Stephen had spent three days in bed, during the last of which he was entirely miserable, wanting desperately to get up. Finally he had gotten permission from Lady Huntington and the surgeon, and though he was weak and sore, he felt well enough remain out of his bunk for the entire day. By the end of the week, he felt well enough to return to his work, which he was eager to do.

On Sunday, he attended divine services with his brother in town, where the parson was signally uninspired. On the way back to the ship, Capt. Monroe snorted. “I never heard such learned murmuring in my life.” The next day Stephen was assigned to be in the party that escorted Lady Huntington to the camp of Lord Cornwallis, under a flag of truce. Lt. Morris was given charge of the party, which consisted of Stephen and two sailors picked out by Lt. Morris.

The British army was a long way south, and the party expected the round trip to take several weeks. A carriage and horse was borrowed from a sympathetic Whig landowner, and they finally set out mid-morning. Lady Huntington sat by herself in the carriage, one of the sailors drove, one rode on ahead, while Stephen and Lt. Morris rode behind, quietly talking. Lady Huntington could occasionally hear wisps of the conversation, not enough to understand what they were talking about, but enough to make her worry for Stephen. All the men were armed as though they were prepared to scale the walls of a fort filled with courageous men.

They treated her courteously and well, Stephen particularly. They only had to stay in one inn along the way; the other evenings they were lodged by hospitable Whig planters. When they were two days away from Cornwallis, in his conversations with Stephen, Lt. Morris raised the questions of the new world after the war. As far as Stephen was concerned, they were simply talking politics, which he had always loved to do. But for Lt. Morris the issues ran far deeper. He was a man with no religion, and the cause of liberty had fully taken that place. Stephen was simply young, and loved the excitement of all fervency and zeal. He enjoyed reading Mr. Paine because it made his blood hot, while Lt. Morris enjoyed reading Mr. Paine because he understood him.

“After the war . . . if we win it,” Lt. Morris said, “we will have the opportunity to throw off the shackles of centuries. The war started over just a few of those shackles, but even our representatives in Congress have always intended to keep most of them firmly in place. And that will happen unless the heat of the war rises to prevent them from establishing just another nation like all the others we have left behind.”

“My brother says that is what he wants-to return to the ancient rights of Englishmen. He says he is not fighting for a new order-the rule of Parliament over the colonies is the new order, far too new for him. He wants to throw that off and go back.”

“Aye. And I believe him. But laddie . . .” Lt. Morris stopped.

Stephen looked at him curiously. “Go on,” he said.

“I have no desire to speak ill of your brother. He is a very great man, a master seaman. The way he won that battle the other day was a wondrous sight. I have nothing but admiration for his abilities. But . . .”

“But . . .” Stephen waited.

“But by showing quarter to those prisoners, he threw the fruit of that victory away. He does not know the nature of the war we are in. He thinks it a battle between two tired nations of Christendom, after which everything returns to normal. But that ‘normal’ means the suffocating weight of centuries of tradition, the mumbled superstitions of these damned clergymen-I even heard your brother note one such clergyman the other day-the shackles that we now have the opportunity to strike off. But it will not happen unless we see the need to fight as though a new world is being born-because it is. And that means we must make the sacrifice of throwing away the false sentiment of . . . of chivalry. This is a hard mercy, and only a few men see it now. But future generations will see the fruit of it.”

Throughout the day, Stephen continued to argue half-heartedly with Lt. Morris, wondering why he used the word shackles so much. He was affected by it more than he knew. Lt. Morris continued. “Your brother and I are both warriors, and he is a great one. I touch my cap to him. But we are warriors of differing traditions. I believe that his tradition is coming to an ignominious close-the irony is that we are fighting that tradition in its British form, and many of those on our side represent exactly what we really ought to be fighting against everywhere. Those Presbyterian parsons up north, for example.”

“My family is Presbyterian,” Stephen remarked mildly, but for some reason he did not say that he was.

“And they are great fighters. For sheer cussedness, there is no one better. But we also need great thinkers-men like Mr. Paine who see that the new order of the ages really is coming.”

Stephen was not at all sure how to answer the questions that Lt. Morris was bringing up, and was silent for a time. After a few moments, he thought to bring up the question Lady Huntington had raised the week before. “What would you say to this?” Stephen asked. “Before our battle with the Splendor, I prayed that we would win. But Lady Huntington asked me what I would say if she told me that she had prayed that we would lose. I am not sure she did pray. But she could have.”

At this, Lt. Morris laughed out loud. Stephen had known that he was a freethinker, rejecting all religion, but he was still shocked to hear it so openly expressed. “That is precisely the question that caused me to open my eyes wide as a small boy. In the course of a few days, I heard two pious gentlemen who went to our church express great confidence that God would answer their prayers. One was a merchant who wanted fair weather so his ships could put out to sea. The other was a farmer who was confident that God would send foul weather so that his crops would get their needed rain. I thought about it for ten minutes and settled my mind on the subject. But I had to wait until I was grown to say what I thought.”

Stephen grew silent. He knew his brother, and his father, would answer the question quite differently, but he was not sure how. The simplicity of Lt. Morris’ approach was unsettling. But the intensity behind it was unsettling in another way. Stephen changed the subject.

Two days later, they were within a few miles of the British encampment. Stephen was given the flag of truce, and rode out ahead of their party to encounter the first English pickets that were bound to be stationed along the road soon. Stephen came on two pickets within a mile or so, and when the message was delivered, one of them went galloping off to the camp to receive instructions. The remaining guard was not talkative at all, and simply motioned for Stephen to graze his horse under a spreading elm tree on the opposite side of the road from him. This Stephen was happy to do, and sat with his back against the tree watching his horse for an hour or more. He wondered vaguely what was taking so long, but was happy for the rest.

When two hours had passed, he heard the clop of hooves along the road, and stood up, realizing he had fallen asleep. Looking down the road, he saw a group of three coming toward them-the original messenger, and two officers. Both were in redcoats, but one of them had a blue plume on his helmet that rose straight up. He sat in the saddle like a straight poker, and had a regal and imperious air about him. Stephen looked down at himself and all of a sudden felt grubby and unkempt.

The party rode up, and Stephen walked out into the road, holding the reins of his horse, his flag in his left hand. “Are you the rebel messenger?” the imperious one asked.

“I am,” said Stephen.

“And so your forces have no gentlemen to escort the Lady Huntington?”

Stephen flushed with anger and embarrassment, and swallowed several retorts that occurred to him. “Will you grant us passage?”

The officer sat still on his horse for a moment. Then Major Smythe-for that was his name-nodded curtly.

Stephen mounted his horse easily, and touched his tri-corner hat. “Our assignment is to bring the lady all the way to your camp. But we should do that regardless, for she is riding in a carriage that we must return.”

Major Smythe nodded again, contemptuously, and Stephen wheeled his horse to go. All the way back to their small party, he seethed quietly. As he rode up to them, Lt. Morris rode out to meet him. “Have they given safe passage?”

“Aye. In as churlish a manner as I have ever seen.”

Lt. Morris chuckled bitterly. “Let us ride into the bastion of civilization then.”

Within about twenty minutes, they began to approach the waiting British contingent. When they were just a few yards away, Major Smythe rode up to Lady Huntington’s carriage, ignoring Lt. Morris completely. Leaning slightly on his horse, he touched his helmet with impeccable manners. “Lady Huntington, are you well?”

“I am quite well,” she replied.

“Have these ruffians kept their distance?”

“They have. But . . .”

This was too much for Lt. Morris, who suddenly intruded himself into the conversation. “The Lady Huntington is being returned to your forces as a courtesy from Capt. Monroe of the Susquehanna. With your permission, we will accompany her to your camp to ensure her safety.”

In reply, Major Smythe just stared, and Lt. Morris stared back. Even when they all turned their horses toward the camp, the tension remained in the air, and Lt. Morris looked like he would start fighting if someone gave him a shilling for the trouble. He was already an angry man, and Major Smythe represented everything he thought detestable about the world. And whatever Stephen thought about their previous conversation, he agreed with that. They all rode in silence, and when they came into English camp, Stephen saw that nothing about the size of their forces was really visible from the road they were on-which explained why they had not been blindfolded. They all rode in silence up to a commandeered white plantation house. The drive up to the house was fenced on both sides with a row of enormous trees, and Spanish moss hanging down made the approach almost into a romantic adventure.

Standing on the front porch was Lord Cornwallis and Lady Huntington’s father, the Lord Huntington, and a few other assorted officers. When the carriage rolled to a stop, Lady Huntington waited quite properly for Major Smythe to dismount and offer her his hand. When he did so, he then escorted her toward the house. She curtsied, quite formally, both to Lord Cornwallis and her father, which Stephen thought was odd.

At the top of the stair, Major Smythe turned and gave a command to his soldiers. “Escort the rabble back,” he said.

“Thank you, gentlemen,” Lady Huntington said pointedly. Stephen smiled, and they all wheeled their horses and trotted down the drive.

Lt. Morris fumed for miles, and Stephen was quiet and thoughtful. One of the sailors tied his horse to the back of the carriage, and sat behind his mate in the shade of the carriage, pretending to be a great lady. They rode slowly into mid-afternoon, and Stephen grew, as he put it to himself, a “powerful thirst.” A distant noise up the road made Stephen look up and squint against the sunlight, and he saw a man galloping down towards them. He pulled up violently when he came within earshot, and his horse cantered in place, foaming from a very hard ride.

“No king . . .”

“But Jesus,” Stephen answered. “No king but Jesus.” Lt. Morris grimaced, but at least they now knew this fellow was not riding for King George.

“I am a scout for Capt. Dunstan of the militia, coming up to this road behind you, several miles back. The Tory militia is on the move, and has taken Carston just up the road ahead. They are astraddle the highway now, as pleased with themselves as can be. If you are heading back to Jamestown, you’ll need to take another way.”

Lt. Morris swore in disgust, and sat on his horse, scratching the back of his head. After a moment, he told the scout who they were and what they had been doing. “Can we go back and join up with you all for a night, and then head north to go around?”

The scout nodded cheerfully. “Capt. Dunstan takes all comers. Come with me.”

With that, they turned around and began to move back down the road.

“Capt. Dunstan?”

“Oh, everybody knows Capt. Dunstan,” the scout said. “but I forget you are navy boys. We just came up from the south, burning out Tory farms, and gathering supplies for the main army. General Gates didn’t order us to do that, but at the same time, he don’t ask too many questions. And he likes getting the food.”

“Burning out Tory farms?” Stephen started to speak, but then thought better of it. About an hour later, they rode up to a make-shift camp that had not been there when they passed through earlier in the day. The scout escorted them to the tent at the center of the camp, introduced them to the captain, gave his report, and left them. The captain was a grim, smoke-dried man, and accepted their account of themselves at face value. Lt. Morris was invited to the officer’s mess, and the others were shown the way to a tent on the edge of the camp, and to the pot hanging over the central fire in the camp.

As they were leaving, Lt. Morris turned and said to them, “Be ready to set out first thing in the morning. If we have to detour around the Tory camp, that’ll be several extra days . . .”

But Capt. Dunstan interrupted. “No need to do that. We intend to head up the road in the morning and poke a hole in their militia. You look like you can fight, even if you’re not on a rolling deck. Come with us, join in the action, and then be on your way when we are done chasing them into the woods.”

Lt. Morris looked at him, and then at Stephen. Stephen nodded, eager to accept. Lt. Morris looked back at the captain, and agreed. As Stephen and the sailors went off, Stephen laughed out loud, and said to the sailors, “We will have figure out what to do with this carriage though. And you will have to stop being quite so genteel a lady.”

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.

Theology That Bites Back



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