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Historical Novels -Bobi Andrews

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Backwoods Princess

Catawba River, North Carolina, May, 1776.

Bonnie Kate’s eyes narrowed, a grimace of indignation firmly etched on her wide, determined mouth. “I don’t want anything to do with this.” She’d hoped this day would never come—a day of dread and abomination. Nothing could be more wrong. The cabin, her life, her soul—empty.

With her back rigid and wishing for her china cup, she cupped her hands around a gourd of tea abhorring its murky taste. She ignored the chaos and disarray of everything they owned heaped in piles throughout the yard and scattered outside the barn. The one place not consumed with madness was the cabin, barren but for the planks of the kitchen table, two three-legged stools, four make-shift gourd cups, and a box of smuggled tea with its lid slid open. She fingered the box and glared at an unattended kettle of creek water bubbling slowly on a fire of dying embers.

Boots sounded on the kitchen stoop. Stomping through the door, Papa fumed, “Bonnie Kate, I could use your help out here. Now’s not the time to dawdle inside.”

Nothing new. She expected a bristling diatribe. Papa wore the family breeches so tight no one dared challenge him.

“Ain’t listening this time,” she muttered to herself, not lifting her head nor moving her fingers from the tea box. “Nothing he can say will change my mind.”

“Bonnie Kate . . .”

Refusing to budge, she firmed her chin and protested. “Moving is a waste. Don’t know why you’re making us go. Not my idea. I’m not loading no wagons.” She stirred her tea slowly to dissipate the steam from the hollowed gourd, but not from her mind. “Did my part yesterday in the cabin.”

He jerked her chair and grabbed her arm, pressing his fingers into her flesh. Tea as hot as his temper splashed onto the worn table planks anchored by squared posts to the smooth puncheon floor. “Look at me when I talk to you. When I say move, you move.”

“You’re hurting me. I’m no youngster you can whip.” She hated when he treated her like a child. Although she lived under his roof, at nineteen, she felt entitled to disagree whenever she thought him wrong.

Papa’s stubborn jaw protruded menacingly, eyes fiery black. “Wipe that sass off your face. Nobody slacks today.”

He squeezed her arm tighter and raised the back of his hand as if to strike, but was thwarted when Mama struggled through the door with a thrashing, screaming little boy.
Scowling at Papa and Bonnie Kate, she yelled, “Stop it. Both of you.” She turned to Bonnie Kate. “Here take Quillar, he’s under my feet and in the way. If you won’t help outside, the least you can do is keep him quiet.”

Papa loosened his grip, backed away, and yelled, “Girl, I ain’t through with you.”

“Come here baby,” Bonnie Kate cooed tossing a defiant head giving Papa a triumphant dismissal. “Let’s you and I go outside and play.” She’d tended her younger brothers and sisters since old enough to carry them on her hip, and with Quillar, she mothered him more than Mama.

Quillar eagerly stretched his arms squealing, “Take me, Bonnie Kate.”

She took his hand and led him to a small pasture behind the emptied cabin normally protected from the weather by cane breaks and scores of cattails near the Catawba River’s lapping edge. Not so, today. The cattails swayed sideways, their bent stalks nearly touching the ground. Fierce wind gusts whipped her hair across her face, her eyes smarted.

“When will PawPaw be done? I’m hungry.”

“You scamp. You can’t be hungry. Granny Kett gave you sugar bread.” Bonnie Kate pinched his cheek and wondered. What was a boy like Quillar thinking during all of this? Three years old. What would he remember? She smiled. He’s blessed—only has to understand eating, playing with puppies, and shooting his sling shot.

“Why can’t I eat?” His big eyes begged.

Squeezing him close to her, she whispered in his ear, “We’re going on a long trip, and you’ll get to ride with your cousins in a wagon all your own. Won’t that be exciting?”

Clouds swirled. Thunder rumbled. Gusts of cold, blustery winds scared her. She wanted to hurry back into the kitchen with Quillar and forget the whole thing. With nothing more she could do to stop Papa, she tightened her arm around Quillar and watched frenzied men and women, in their race against time, prepare a wagon train that could bear no more wind and rain before moving forward.

Bonnie Kate dug her toe into the grass and wondered again why they were going. Papa talked about moving months ago, but she hadn’t let herself take him seriously. She was tired of his argument that the possibility of expanding his holdings in Catawba was like a full bucket of milk that would hold no more. If he said it once, he said it ten times, “It’s those hair-brain, Tory bugtits crowding in here—ain’t room for decent folks. ’Tis like I say, if you can hear a dog bark, they’re too close.”
Grandpa Adam’s death two weeks ago removed the last barrier to Papa’s plans to move the one hundred and thirty miles north and west into the squabble land with the Cherokee—the raw edge of no-man’s land beyond the 1763 proclamation line.

The provisions for new Tomahawk stakes near Fort Watauga convinced Papa and her brothers that now was the time. Papa’s edict was final. “We’ve wasted enough time, we’re going.”

After yesterday’s frustrations, forgive Papa? Never. With her world turned sideways, she had resented sorting through her clothes and possessions and packing only what fitted into a small space in a wagon. She knew the belongings that could not be packed would be left for her cousins. Her heart spoke. She loved her blue velvet dress, the dreamy blue softness, the bodice edged with white lace and cut low revealing the valley between her breasts, and the wide skirt that swished teasingly when she walked. The dress she dreamed to be married in was now an orphan, hung on the last peg behind the curtain of her bedroom door.

With Mama helping her close her trunk, Bonnie Kate heaved a final sob. She thought of everything left behind that she didn’t want others to touch, but the more that came to mind, the more she cried.

Mama chided, “Don’t understand, Bonnie Kate, why you’re fussing so much over a dress. You won’t have an occasion to wear it. Need the space for blankets.”

“That’s exactly the point, Mama. I’ll have no civilized place to go.” Bonnie Kate scowled. Mama missed the obvious—she wanted to stay where she could wear her dress, live in decency, and birth her children. Her thoughts turned bitter. To wear a velvet dress and dance around a campfire in the wilderness woods—not likely. She was headed to no-man’s land.

Bonnie Kate’s thoughts pummeled through her mind much like the swirling wind. If only I was married, I could stay, she argued with herself for the umpteenth time. Everyone knew any girl over the age of fifteen was married or would be married soon. She was humiliated when people gave her that certain look, the one that silently reminded her she was unmarried. Then there were the questions, never ending questions.

With Papa one of eight brothers, she didn’t lack for aunties. They teased that at nineteen she was an old maid. She countered to the busybodies that not marrying was not for lack of suitors, but because no eligible young man captured her respect after she beat each in races and shooting contests. How could I love a man who can’t ride a horse better than me?

What was love? She didn’t know. The deep desires and breathless throbs her sister Susan whispered to her never surfaced. Infantile mouths, wet kisses, and awkward bodies left nothing to swoon over.

She yearned to be seduced by dancing eyes, fondled by magical hands, and led into an ecstasy that left her panting for more.

She pushed her thoughts to the far recesses of her mind and corralled a squirming Quillar in her arms.

Bonnie Kate wondered how much longer the loading would take. They started hours ago. Squaring her jaw, she settled her mind. Never would she ride cramped in a wagon. Ride Skye? If I have to go. . . well then, only if I ride Skye.

Suddenly sharp voices pierced the air and her time for memories vanished like smoke sucked through an open draft of a chimney. Papa and her brothers called their final directions. Mama and her sister shouted at their children to stay close at hand. Sharper lightning flashed behind clouds, and deep thunder roared from black northwestern skies, the direction their wagons were heading.

Papa shouted, “Weather’s breaking. Move out.”

Nobody, least of all, Bonnie Kate, believed him. Deathly afraid of storms, she feared something big and nasty was upon them. One thing certain, Papa never tolerated delays, this storm no exception. Papa’s command, echoing against determined gusts, pounded in her mind like an omen of pending destruction—an ominous warning from God they shouldn’t go.

Four heavily loaded wagons and three ox carts laden with this and that and everything else, including tiny tied parcels of slave belongings, obeyed Papa’s command. Wheels creaked and rolled forward. Her brothers, tall in their saddles, looped ropes and whipped horses and cattle to move to the front.

“Sam, I’m riding next to the youngun’s. Granny Kett needs my help,” Bonnie Kate called as she accepted the inevitable and assigned herself to ride aside the children’s wagon, the last, preceding the slave carts. “They’re wild Injuns.”

The procession lumbered on, the storm advancing faster than they could move away from it. Bonnie Kate pulled her horse next to Sam and yelled against the whining, high-pitched wind. “Stop. This isn’t an ordinary storm. Ain’t safe.” Their eyes met and held. She guessed something worth dreading was about to happen.

“Papa says the storm is breaking to the east and we should be out of it soon. If you ride on the lea side of the wagons, you’ll be protected.”

She heard uncertainty in Sam’s voice, but guided Skye to the far side of the wagon. Inside the black progeny of their slaves, her niece and nephew, and her younger brothers and sisters sang and played games together. They were family, if only in different ways.

Dear Mama, Love Sarah

That Awful Piece of Paper

West of the Catawba River, North Carolina—1779

So it’s come to this, Sarah thought angrily. Her shoulders sagged in despair, eyes hollow from worry. The worst happened—a fight that reduced her family to a drunken brawl. For weeks, menacing shadows crowded the horizon. Cornwallis burned through South Carolina. Red Coats laid siege to Charlotte. Rebel militias marched across empty pastures in a fury of preparation. Neighbor accused neighbor, brother fought brother. Liberty in the hearts of frontiersmen exploded like a creek eddying and flooding beyond its banks. War was at the door of North Carolina; and after last night, her door.

Papa’s passion for rebellion and his hatred of Tories left no room for anyone, especially his family, to disagree. Papa and Reuben’s brother, William, talked of nothing but Liberty, but Sarah saw no liberty, no love, no tolerance for her husband. Family ceased to mean anything to either of them. Reuben was a Tory.

Papa’s curse that he’d tolerate no Tory in his family could not be put aside. She knew he meant what he said, an edict she feared would split her Sherrill family beyond reconciliation. Her only chance to stop him was to get to Mama before Papa carried out his threat.

Before dawn, she rose, wearied, numb, and cross, but took care not to disturb Reuben who lay beside her, dead to the world, his chest rising and falling the way of a heavy sleeper. Light from a three-quarter moon beamed through the window and guided her to the kitchen where she roused her house maid asleep on a feather-filled tick near the banked coals in the fireplace.

“Ma’am?” A groggy voice responded.

“Sh-h-h. Ain’t light yet. Not time for you to fix breakfast. I’m going to Mama’s.”

At the sun’s first burst, she hurried to the barn, hitched her gig, and entered the road to Sherrills Ford—her childhood home, her Mama.

With dogged determination, Sarah strained her body forward and brushed away tears that filled her eyes. Anxious and impatient, she fidgeted in her seat, her old, tender-spirited dun mare laboring down the narrow, rutted road at a pace far too slow to satisfy her fever to reach Mama. Nothing around her rushed. Black and white shadows from sun-lit trees shrouded the road. A soft breeze rippled through yellowed leaves of gnarled sycamores. Her rustic, once proud gig moved on.

Irritated, she cropped her horse. “Faster, faster!”

A sharp-shinned hawk with an alarming trill swooped. Startled, her horse misplaced a hoof making its next step tentative on the dirt-packed road. Sarah yanked the reins, the gig stopped. She raised the hem of her skirt, dropped to the ground, and checked the leg of her mare. Nothing more than a slight bruise, no swelling, a bit tender.

I have to go on, she thought. Must get to Mama in time to tell Reuben’s side. She felt caught in a spider’s web with Papa embracing rebellion and her husband tenaciously holding on to the security of the Crown. She cringed at Reuben’s stubbornness. To him, the outcome was certain: the Loyalists would absolutely win.

Her old mare pulled the gig with each step more cautious. Anxiety throbbed viciously in her head. What if Reuben was wrong? What if he was killed? Echoing too close to her heart, thoughts more dreadful than she’d ever imagined pounded like a sledge splitting a stump. Sarah, once again, took the crop from the cracked leather canister and placed a compelling stroke on her mare’s flank, moving her faster to Mama’s house.

Sarah pounded the door and called, “It’s me. Let me in. I have to see Mama.”

Old Moonie opened the heavy door only wide enough for a narrow shaft of light to enter beyond her ample ebony body and large bulging arms. She wrung her gnarled hands on her stiff white apron and squinted into the glaring sun. “Oh, it’s you, Miss Sarah. Missus says if you come knocking at our door this afternoon, I can’t let you in.”

Astounded, Sarah asked, “What do you mean?”

“She says you ain’t one of us no more,” Old Mooney responded, her voice curt, almost as if she was angry to see her. From Mooney’s glaring eyes, Sarah sensed she wanted no part of Mama’s edict and resented being asked to turn her away.

“Can’t be so. I belong here. You know Mama doesn’t mean that. Don’t pretend I’m nobody. You’ve known me since I was a baby. Stop this nonsense and let me in.” She jammed her foot inside, determined to push her way through the door into the parlor.

Old Moonie heaved her shoulders in despair and with a sideways shift, blocked her advance. “Now you know, Miss Sarah, I can’t do what your mama says I can’t.”

“Moonie,” Sarah begged, her heart pulsing, “please ask Mama one more time.” Her head swooned, leaving her dizzy, a stranger in some other place, in some other time. Couldn’t be her house. Couldn’t be her Mama. Couldn’t be her old Nanny.

“Child, won’t do no good.” The catch in her voice told Sarah she was doing only what Mama demanded.

“Please. . .”

“I’ll ask, but you’ll have to stay right here. I can’t let you in.” Old Moonie grimaced and closed the door firmly, moving the bolt across the lock. Within minutes she returned shaking her head, her voice a raspy whisper.

“Your mama says to go away, got nothing to talk to you about.”

With the door closed its final time, Sarah’s heart sank, every
part of her body in despair. She wanted to rip the door from its hinges; but her stomach ached something terrible. Daylight would be gone long before she could get back to Reuben. Her desperation escalated to panic.

She went back to the door, pounded hard—then harder. “Let me in. Please.”

No one came. After long minutes, she staggered back to her gig. She looked over her shoulder and stared at the house. Her eyes didn’t focus on the stark lines of the two-story structure, the white painted porch, or the shuttered windows with their shining glass eyes; her childhood home was where candles flickered their welcome, joys and sorrows echoed from the walls, and the kitchen smelled like browned crusts of bread, spicy raisin cakes, and herb roasted duck. Best of all, home at the Ford was where she again could be Mama’s child.

A woman’s shadow moved in the upstairs window, a hand pushing the half open shutter to full view. In the glow of a bright afternoon sun, the image peered to the bent figure standing on the ground below. Their eyes met.

Sarah’s heart surged and skipped a beat. Gone were Mama’s cheery eyes which made her entire face smile. Now all she saw was Mama’s hateful stare, nearly covered by her lace dust cap, her sunken cheeks and down-turned mouth reflecting a forbidding sternness.

“Mama!” she screamed. The woman in the window, with a second shadow looming behind her, abruptly banged the shutter.

Last night’s madness returned with a vengeance. Fear burned through her heart as if bolts of jagged lightening struck the ground beneath her feet. She started her gig, then stopped. She could go no further. But there was no choice. When night caught her, she would be alone and that was another matter for a woman on this road.

She turned her old mare from the gate to retrace her journey, her mind too stunned to think clearly. If the reins slipped through her fingers, her horse would meander untethered and uncontrolled. She tried to put last night from her mind but the scene—her family arguing in a drunken brawl—played over and over in her head

Sarah feared nightfall with Reuben’s stories of outlaws, runaway slaves, and looters who would kill, but try as she might with all her strength, she could not stop the nauseating pain in her stomach nor its sharpness in her chest. She struggled to breathe and finally drew in a large gulp of fresh air.

Abandoned by Mama? Her family sideways in turmoil? What lay ahead?

Papa, the Captain of the large Catawba militia, until now, battled Indians. An energetic man, he was short, well-built, usually affable, and one who teased his grandchildren with games as to which hand held the arrowhead. His well-trimmed, graying beard accented his tanned face and he was most comfortable with his briarwood pipe penetrating the air with woody, sultry smoke. Now, he was a zealot committed to lead the fight. William was the first to volunteer for Papa’s new militia. They made wild accusations the British ravaged land, burned fields, confiscated horses and cattle, and killed any Rebel who resisted.

“Some of it’s true,” Reuben told Sarah. “Happening on both sides.”

The Sherrill and Simpson families were English and lived near each other. Over the years they were good friends with sons and daughters marrying into each other’s family. None was prepared for the passion and hatred that now split their families as to the side each was on. They no longer visited without violent arguments.

That’s what happened last night at Sarah’s table. As usual, Papa reeled off names of neighbors. “John Perkins pretends he isn’t, but I know for a fact he’s a Tory. Ralph Bledsoe and Dave Caldwell are true to our cause. Don’t know yet about Pete Dellinger. Someone said he leaned Tory.”

“You sure Bledsoe’s a Patriot?” William countered as he picked up an unopened jug of Reuben’s whiskey. “Heard he refused to sign the Allegiance.”

“No, it was Ralph’s brother, Thomas, who refused to sign. Ralph’s ridden with me for years—a true Patriot,” Papa reaffirmed.

“Thomas is a goddamn fool.” William swore as he removed the rag plug from the stone jug, took a large gulp, and belched loudly making it evident the stout brew took a path straight to his belly. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and handed the jug to the Papa.

William was taller than his brother and much more muscular. He possessed a chest like an ale keg, chewed and spit tobacco as he talked, and was gregarious with whomever he met, which many found crude or even vulgar. His bull neck, with his loud, foul mouth, was where Reuben once told Sarah his brother’s brains were lodged. His temper ran wild, whether drunk or not, and he passionately hated his enemies. Reuben often said, in everyone’s presence, that the Good Lord, tending his Pearly Gates, would have a hard time finding anything good about him.

Sarah could see William came for a fight. Reuben was quiet and William seized the opportunity to press the issue. “Heard the Allegiance was passed around in Tryon County and everyone signed. It’s goddamn time you signed since you ain’t seen fit to make your commitment known. Have you seen it?”

“Ain’t seen it. Don’t know what’s in it.”

“Well, since you’re the only one with any learning, and to you, I’m a whiskey-drunk asshole, I’ll read it to you.”

To Sarah’s dismay, Papa didn’t stop him, but advised, “Reuben, you need to listen to this, it’s a damn fine declaration.”

William belched his last gulp of whiskey as he pulled a tobacco-stained sheet from his pocket and began to read:

We therefore, the subscribers, freeholders and inhabitants of Lincoln County, do hereby faithfully unite ourselves under the most solemn ties of religion, honor and love to our country, firmly to resist force by force and hold sacred till a reconciliation shall take place between Great Britain and America on constitutional principals, and do firmly agree to hold all such persons as inimical to the liberties of America who shall refuse to sign this Association.

After a long pause, Reuben shook his head and asked quietly, “And this, Brother William, gives both sides reason to murder each other?”

William ignored Reuben’s comment and demanded, “You damn well better sign. The Captain and I are giving you one last chance.”

“Plain to me you ain’t interested in anything I’ve said. I can’t sign this. Ain’t losing to rebels everything I’ve got.”

William’s face turned violent with anger as blood rushed to his face like sleeping embers catching fire on a windy day. He drew his fist and lurched forward, the weight of his body crashing his chair to the floor. William’s threat missed Reuben’s face only by inches. Unable to recover his footing, William stumbled, fell hard, and screamed, “You’re a goddamn, son of a bitch fool, Reuben. I ain’t having you as my brother! I’ll go to hell first.”

Sarah felt Papa’s fiery eyes penetrate hers as he helped William to his feet. He pounded the table, and swore, “Make no mistake about it, Sary, there won’t be no goddamn Tory in my family. Not now, never! That’s all I have to say.”

The Sotweed Smuggler

I saw behind me those who had gone, and ere me those who are to come. I
looked back and saw my father and his father and all our fathers. And their
eyes were my eyes. Then I was not afraid, for I was in a long line that had no
beginning and no end. And the hand of his father grasped my father’s hand
and his hand was in mine, and my unborn son took my right hand and all, up
and down the line that stretched from Time That Was to Time That Is and Is
Not Yet, raised their hands to show the link. And we found that we were one.

How Green Was My Valley
Richard Llewellyn

My Papa, a wealthy sea captain, allowed himself three mistresses. He loved Mama, the mistress of his house; his ship, his mistress at sea; and if one were to believe the impolite rumors of which I could claim no direct knowledge, any mistress found in the bawdy houses that lined the coast from England to Scotland. Although his namesake and oldest son, I found little opportunity for us to share our lives.

I do not lay him blame—a man of the sea, he sailed from Devon Province to Scottish ports of call and left to Mama the care of myself and four other brothers and sisters. At seventeen, I yearned to be like him—a dashing Englishman, full of good humor, generous, a teller of irreverent stories.

On a rare hot afternoon a month ago, he, Mama, and I sat in the parlor sipping tea when a story pricked his fancy.

“Billy Boy, did you hear about the fool who swived the rector’s mistress?”

“Nay, Papa, tell me.”

“He started a holy war of—”

“Captain, dear.” Mama clicked her teeth and raised her hands in dismay. “Blasphemy, it is! Those stories aren’t for William’s ears. I thank you t’keep them to yourself.”

Contrary to my upbringing, which was strongly laced with Mama’s pious views, I thought myself a young man ready for the world. I begged to differ with Mama, but her stern glare made no allowance for views not her own.

Not so Papa. He knew I was a Chaucer aficionado, wise to the pursuits of men, and not beyond reading any dirty book I could find that told about babies, boys and girls playing with each other, and of late, adult pleasures. Of the latter, I mined a lode from Papa’s library of classical plays and tragic comedies.

To Mama’s chagrin, he laughed, “Aye” to her and then whispered to me. “Can’t take life too seriously, Billy Boy. Got more stories for you later. Good ones.”

I cringed. He hadn’t been home frequently enough to get in the habit of calling me by my grown name, but he said Billy Boy with such affection that I didn’t mind.
Mama took offense at many things, but particularly the sundry rumors of Captain William Sherewell voiced by the Rector and wags of questionable merit. He was a Sherewell—perhaps accurately described by his detractors as a renegade—from the elitist merchant Sherewells of Plymouth.

When rumors circulated in certain circles that Papa had contracted a social disease which often besets frequenters to residents of the oldest established profession, I was devastated. He wrote Mama that he thought his troubles were from the lack of proper food on the ship, and perhaps consumption had been the outcome. Within months he perished, presumably, Mama was told, at sea where he’d requested burial.

What I didn’t know was that my life would begin on the third day after Papa’s memorial service at St. Georges Church when Solicitor Durrand, assigned by the court, arrived wearing a black, crumpled frock coat, carrying a case full of papers, and spectacles dangling from his upper coat pocket.

My brothers and I were in Papa’s study next to the parlor when we heard Mama beg the solicitor to seat himself. She asked, “Would you care for tea?”

We hovered outside the door to listen, and seeing us, Mama invited us in.

“Solicitor Durrand, may I present my sons, William, Adam, and Dewance. Boys, the solicitor is about to read your Papa’s will. God rest his soul.” She wiped a tear from the corner of her eye, her thin lips trembling.

Solicitor Durrand spoke with a high-pitched voice, his dull white cravat wobbling up and down in concert with his shrill vocal chords.

“Madam Sherewell,” he squeaked, “my condolences at the demise of your late husband. Pleases me t’say he left you well endowed. Indeed, you are fortunate. A wealthy man he was. You and your children shall have no worries.”

The solicitor balanced his spectacles precisely on his bony nose which dripped evidence of an early summer cold or perhaps an allergy to sea air. He fetched a handkerchief, blew his nose loudly, and refolded it before placing it back in his pocket. He straightened his thin shoulders, which emphasized protruding bones not unlike the silhouette of his nose. He turned his attention to his carrying case where he dug hopelessly among its papers. After an embarrassing pause, he finally produced a blue-backed document.

He announced triumphantly, “Aha. I have his will from which I shall read his wishes.”

Mama rang a silver bell to remind the butler to serve tea and settled herself in a brocaded satin settee, fanned her porcelain-smooth face with a white lace handkerchief, and dabbed the perspiration coming from under her tightly curled periwig. Her heavy black moiré dress, with matching buttons and black knitted shawl, fitted the occasion for a grieving widow receiving such a distinguished caller.

I, assuming the role of oldest son, stood behind Mama, steadying her with my hand on her shoulder. The solicitor proceeded with the usual provisions and enumerated Papa’s holdings from an attached inventory. Upon reaching eighteen, my brothers and I would receive certain sums and share equally Papa’s land. He bequeathed Mama her dower, and my brothers and I were charged with the care of my two sisters until they married.

After retrieving from the floor a page he dropped, the solicitor paused and shifted through several pages before deciding on the one he had missed. He cleared his throat and finished the provisions distributing Papa’s artifacts, books, and possessions.

All was as expected until Durrand read, “And to my oldest son, William Adam Sherewell, I leave my ship, the Emperor’s Dictum.”

A ship? Papa’s ship? What would I do with a ship? I expected it and his business to be sold to his brothers in Plymouth, not given to me. I had found no fault with my share of his fortune—horses, land, and particularly his library.

In my memory, papa never mentioned in my presence his ship’s name or much about his travels. When I asked, he’d change the subject and tell another story. But I did remember when I was twelve, there occurred a period of time when I intensely wanted to be a seaman like Papa. Each night found me obsessed with dreams of mastering a full-sail, majestic vessel, flying the Kings colors. I saw myself in captain’s splendor peering at the high seas through my eyeglass and issuing sharp commands to scrambling seamen on the yardarms. I reveled when they responded, Aye, Captain.

When Mama caught me playing sailor games with Adam, she scolded harshly. “Stop! I forbid you to give Adam such ideas. I demand you stop immediately. You’ll see my whip if I catch you again.”

She made it plain she’d tolerate no part of any of her sons becoming seamen. As I grew older, I was increasingly trapped within Mama’s plans and had long since dismissed the idea of becoming a seaman. To please her, I’d mastered literature and letters, graduated cum laude from the Ermington school, and was on my way to bringing her wishes to fruition teaching at a parish elementary school.

I heard again the Solicitor’s unbelievable pronouncement. William Adam Sherewell . . . the Emperor’s Dictum. I didn’t know what to say. Mama eyes turned bitter, her words exploded.

“William, not in my lifetime will you be a sea captain. You can put that notion right out of your head. Bad enough your Papa left us alone for months at a time, but look what happened to him? He’s dead, gone forever, and the sea took him from us. No, William, never.”

As soon as the Solicitor departed on his way, I retreated to my room. Mama’s demands rubbed me raw. She didn’t ask what I wanted. She didn’t even consider if Papa’s decision had merit. Laying on my bed staring at the ceiling, I tried to wrestle in my mind the new implications a ship would bring. Clearly Papa wanted me to have his ship even though he never taught me seamanship nor given me hope that I might follow in his footsteps.

I pushed my pillow away and sat at the edge of my bed. New thoughts raced through my mind. A ship of my own where I could go wherever I wanted, when I wanted? A wave of freedom flooded me as if Papa knew my future better than I and provided me an escape to a new life. Mama’s orders not withstanding, I reasoned it wouldn’t hurt to at least see the Emperor’s Dictum. I vowed to go to the docks the next morning to find my ship.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Voices

"Admit it, you old coot!  You are afraid."  The tell-tale voice resounds in my head like a sharp clap of thunder.  Everywhere I look, I find nothing to silence the voice.  The wind is blowing out of the north freezing the air billowing between my skin and buckskin leggins.  I started the day with yesterday's fatigue unabated.  As I look out to the vastness of trees and snow, there is no  trail to follow, just an inner sense that exists between man and his prey.  And food so scant that a rabbit crossing my path will provide a feast.  Night will  close in fast and blur the distinction between who is hunter and who is prey.  I am alone on my quest.

Any day in the life for a trapper is measured in the distance traveled, the withstanding of the ravages of the weather and the physical stamina needed to see the sun set each day.  "Why do I do this?" I ask myself for the hundredth time.

"Why would I, an Englishman, seek out this god forsaken wild, unsettled place to put my first mark on the land?"

Then I remember my father's prophecy, "It is the land, it is our destiny."

And I admit from my freezing head to the bottom of my icy feet, that like him, land is the attraction so ferociously strong that nothing else matters.  It is the simple fact that it is here and can be obtained if one can endure.  Hardship comes in many forms and each will be experienced with failure succeeding only if fear becomes the forebearer of despair.  

The Voice of Fear and the master of all evil, the Black Shroud of Death, are my tormenters.  I am determined, yes, destined, to conquer as each day's challenge is but a battle in the war for my existence.

So I respond, shouting lustily into the wind to that voice, "SILENCE, there is no one here to hear you.

     --Da "Inglitchmon" and the Pioneer.  A Sherrill Family Saga.