|The Land of Three Houses|
Two crewmen poled, pushing in unison along the walking boards running the length of the shallow hulled, sixty-foot craft, but most of the work was done by the current. They had loaded nineteen tons of iron ore at Durham Furnace, leaving at dawn in a flotilla of fifteen Durham boats bound for Trenton and Philadelphia, but had fallen behind due to excessive draft from overloading.
The crewmen were seasoned boatmen and had made the trip many times before. The man poling the bow had, over the years, turned into a hardened mass of sinew from the grueling labor.
The boatman amidships was eighteen, corded with muscle, and tall. His shaved head was bare except for a long braid in back from which hung a comb and feather. The clothing seemed oddly mismatched: English breeches with a leather pouch swinging from the belt, a worn linen shirt, and moccasins.
â€œSir,â€ he said, â€œweâ€™re drifting close in. There are rocks below on this stretch.â€
The captain stood at the edge of the stern, lowered his britches and urinated. When he finished buttoning up, he staggered back and resumed his grip on both tiller and jug.
â€œYou feckinâ€™ heathen, nobody knows this river like I do.â€
â€œCaptain, thereâ€™s an eddy coming up,â€ said the boatman in the bow. He thrust his pole out into the eddy and leaned with his full strength, but was forced off the walking board, landing in the pile of ore.
The Lenape leapt to the stern and snatched the jug from the captainâ€™s hand, throwing it into the river. Pushing him aside, he grasped the seventeen-foot tiller to guide them into deeper water. The captain pummeled him with his fists in a drunken fury as the current pulled them on.
The inertia of nineteen tons of ore and the bulk of the boat was too much to overcome. Several planks ripped away from the hull as it passed over the hidden rocks below. Within seconds the top of the mast remained as the only reminder the boat had ever been that way before. The men washed up onshore fifty yards down river from the wreck. The captain assessed the situation: the cargo was lost, company property destroyed, his livelihood gone. The Lenape, who couldnâ€™t swim, lay face down a few yards away, half conscious.
â€œGod damn your ass,â€ said the captain. He pulled the half-drowned manâ€™s shirt up over his shoulders, yanked out the belt from his own britches, and began flaying with an animal fury, the belt buckle cutting into the manâ€™s flesh deeply.
â€œDonâ€™t you ever, ever take the tiller from my hand again!â€ He continued beating and cursing until thick sinewy arms enfolded him from behind in a choke hold.
â€œStop it. Come to your senses,â€ said the burly man.
The Lenape staggered to his feet and disappeared into the brush along the riverbank. The boatman relinquished his hold.
The captain gasped in lungfuls of air. â€œLook what heâ€™s done, heâ€™s ruined us, and after all I did for him. Come on, weâ€™re going after him.â€
â€œLet him go.â€
Miles away in Rockhill, William Sterner, the millerâ€™s son, was raking out hot flour on the attic floor of the mill to cool. It was a chore he liked less than any other. As the day progressed to late morning, the temperature rose and the dust in the air caked to his bare torso. The sound of water running down the race and the turning of the wheel pervaded the air as the millstones rumbled in the basement. The entire mill vibrated with the slow, powerful energy of cogs moving and belts humming.
When done, he threw down the rake and backed down the ladder two rungs at a time until he was in the basement where it was cool and dark. John Sterner, a portly man dressed in a sack cloth coat and white brimless cap, fed the grain pouring from a chute to the eye of the grindstone by intuition and feel, using his thumbs to guide and test.
John Sterner had worked for a miller in Germany and had learned the milling trade there. He sailed from Rotterdam with Williamâ€™s mother, Elizabeth Hoenig, to escape with others of the Palatinate immigration of reformed Protestants on a ship called the Judith. They landed in Philadelphia and made their way to Quakertown, then Rockhill, where they settled. The land was cheap but cost them all their savings. After two years of backbreaking work, they had built a two-story log house with a separate log kitchen, a barn and outbuildings, sustaining themselves by farming the rich soil.
William was born by the end of the third year, and had grown to be well above average in stature and strength. He attended school for the customary two years at the Rockhill one room schoolhouse. His teacher, who thought him bright, recommended further education to put him on the path to college. Despite the grueling labor, their lives in the holy experiment seemed to be bearing fruit, and they were content to survive and grow a family, although William turned out to be their only child.
â€œIâ€™m poached,â€ said William. â€œIâ€™m taking a swim.â€
â€œWell deserved, too.â€ His fatherâ€™s eyes remained riveted to the stone.
William blinked in the bright sun as a breeze rustled the trees, pulling the musty coolness of the basement outside. It was like the creek and the mill and the air talking all at once; a physical presence reminding him of something in a language that didnâ€™t have words. He yanked off his boots and dove into the millpond.
Pennsylvania was new, but the land was old. His father had bought 200 acres on the Tohickon Creek in Rockhill Township, Bucks County, from Peter Sheppard in 1773, who had purchased the land from William Pennâ€™s sons, Thomas and Richard, in 1757. They had been sent to Pennâ€™s Holy Experiment to straighten out things for their father who had been embroiled in battles to retain his charter on the colony. Although William Penn was the victim of treachery back in England, Thomas Penn was not averse to creating his own, and concocted the Walking Purchase to wrest over twelve hundred square miles from the Lenni Lenape by trickery. Known as The Grandfathers by other tribes, they had inhabited the land for over 10,000 years, but had to leave according to the treaty.
The land came to have two dreams: one of the first people who had lived there in equilibrium with it, understanding the interconnection between living things, and one of the newcomers, who had come to subdue it and subordinate it to their needs.
The Tohickon, which powered their mill, should have been declared a river, not a creek. It ran swiftly over rocks and boulders through most of the Sternersâ€™ 200 acres, but slowed and deepened before the dam John Sterner had built at the base of his property to feed the millrace, then spread into wide shallows that flowed over Rockhill Road to the Fulmersâ€™ farm.
Rockhill lived up to its name and provided the stones needed to build the foundations of the Sternersâ€™ house and mill. The two-wheel overshot mill was built with local help and materials: cypress and white oak cured in the mud along the banks of the creek for the waterwheels; river quartz for the millstones. The second waterwheel powered a reciprocating saw.
Farmers came from miles around to have their grains ground at John Sternerâ€™s mill. He had an honest thumb, they said. The truth was that John liked to build and improvise and was more an engineer than a businessman.
Sometimes the miller had to hire more hands. The summer of 1793 was a hot one with record large crop yields. They had fallen behind and there were wagonloads of grain to be ground. His son begged him to hire someone soon. On a blistering hot day, Williamâ€™s prayers were answered. Elizabeth leaned out of a side window:
â€œJohn, thereâ€™s an Indian coming!â€
John stood in the doorway, nodding as he drew near. He was about Williamâ€™s age with the same height and build. A cast iron frying pan rang against the sled he pulled behind him when it hit a bump.
â€œI am Tamakwaweekit,â€ he said solemnly.
The miller eyed him suspiciously. â€œJohn Sterner.â€
â€œMy white name is Charles Durham. Everyone calls me Charles,â€ he added, smiling and extending his hand.
The miller brushed the flour from his hands and shook. â€œHow may I help you?â€
â€œIâ€™m looking for work. Iâ€™m a hard worker and learn fast.â€
â€œWhat kind of work you been doing?â€
Charles pointed to the frying pan, made from pig iron at Durham Furnace. â€œShipping ore and iron goods down to Philadelphia.â€
â€œWhy do you want to change trades?â€
Charles grinned. â€œI canâ€™t swim.â€
William shook with laughter. â€œWe could use someone with a sense of humor.â€
Charles grimaced and tugged at the back of his shirt.
â€œWhatâ€™s the matter?â€ William asked.
Charlesâ€™ eyes darted from William to John. â€œThere was a little incident. We were poling near the rocks above Trenton. The captain was so drunk the boat got sucked into a whorl. A boulder ripped through the bottom and we lost the load. He said it was my fault and beat me. If he wasnâ€™t so drunk, he could have steered us away.â€
Charles pulled his shirt up and turned, exposing a series of deep cuts beginning to fester.
John shook his head. â€œThat isnâ€™t right. But what if they come looking for you?â€
â€œPapa, give him a chance. They wonâ€™t come after him. You know weâ€™re shorthanded,â€ said William.
â€œThey donâ€™t care about an Indian, Mr. Sterner.â€
â€œLet me think on it. Come inside the house and Iâ€™ll ask my wife to dress those wounds. Have supper with us. You can sleep in the extra room tonight.â€
â€œThank you, Mr. Sterner.â€
Charles followed them into the house and sat on the bench in front of the seven-foot fireplace. The last few rays of the setting sun streamed through the rippled glass windows onto the whitewashed walls. William brought over a lamp.
â€œElizabeth, come down to meet our visitor and bring some healing salve with you,â€ said John.
â€œWho do we have here?â€ asked Elizabeth, appearing at the bottom of the stairs.
â€œThis is Charles Durham. He ran into some trouble on the river and has some nasty cuts on his back. They need tending to.â€
â€œIâ€™m pleased to meet you, Mrs. Sterner,â€ Charles said.
â€œIâ€™m pleased to meet you, too. Youâ€™ll need to take off your shirt so I can take a look.â€
Charles did as instructed.
â€œNothing I canâ€™t handle,â€ she said, grimacing. â€œIâ€™ll wash it off first â€“ itâ€™s going to hurt. Weâ€™ll get you a clean shirt, too.â€
She disappeared briefly, returning with a basin of water and some cloths. As she cleaned the wounds, Charles stared into the fire without flinching. â€œIâ€™m sorry for the trouble.â€
â€œItâ€™s no trouble. Iâ€™m putting on lambâ€™s ear â€“ itâ€™ll feel better and prevent festering. Youâ€™re so polite. Where are you from? Who are your folks?â€
â€œPechoquelon. Iâ€™m Lenape.â€
â€œI thought the Lenape went to New York.â€
â€œMy family got the pox. The church at Durham Furnace took me in. They named me Charles Durham; nobody could say Tamakwaweekit.â€
After dressing Charlesâ€™s wounds, Elizabeth walked to the kitchen, a long log building in back of the main house with a separate guest room intended for customers having their grain ground at the mill. Sometimes they had to stay for several days.
She hooked an iron kettle of stew on the arm of the fireplace crane and swung it over the fire to heat. When it was hot, she carried the kettle to the dining room in the house. After grace was said, they broke bread made with flour ground at their mill. The bread was a coarse, nourishing, brown bread made from the middlins. The meal was eaten quickly by lamplight.
â€œTomorrow is Sunday,â€ said John, â€œmake the most of it, the winter wheat will start coming soon. We may get a couple more loads next week.â€
â€œSo, we can start Charles Monday,â€ William said.
â€œSo, Charles and I can have a talk about it first.â€
â€œIt canâ€™t be all work,â€ said Elizabeth. â€œWilliam needs some time to get out and meet people his own age.â€
John turned to Charles. â€œSome of the millers around here do well, but weâ€™re just breaking even. What I can offer, providing you are as good a worker as you say you are, is a chance to learn a trade, a place to sleep and all your meals in exchange for your labor.â€
â€œFirst, let me say, Mrs. Sterner, how delicious the meal is.â€ Charles smiled charmingly, displaying a full set of white teeth.
â€œAt least someone here has manners,â€ she replied.
â€œIt is delicious,â€ echoed William.
â€œYes, it is,â€ said John. â€œCharles, there are a few things we need to discuss.â€
â€œMr. Sterner, isnâ€™t it usually the way to pay some wages, too?â€
â€œI pay what I can afford to. Everybody thinks millers are rich, but Iâ€™m not.â€
â€œCould you pay three dollars a month, sir? I can do the work of two men. You would be saving money.â€
â€œDo not press me. Two dollars a month and no more.â€
â€œYou wonâ€™t be disappointed, Mr. Sterner.â€
William frowned. â€œYou pay me nothing at all.â€
â€œYouâ€™re my son. Someday this will all be yours.â€
â€œYouâ€™ll probably outlive me. What am I to do until someday comes?â€
â€œTwo dollars a month for you, too. Show Charles to the spare room by the kitchen before I change my mind.â€
William leapt from his seat. â€œThank you, Papa. Come on Charles.â€
Farmers who brought a large amount of grain to be milled might stay as many as three days in the spare room until the milling could be completed. Small but comfortable, it contained two beds and a table. William helped Charles stow his few possessions.
â€œTake which ever bed you want.â€
â€œThank you.â€ Charles eased himself onto the closest bed, stomach first.
â€œIâ€™m the one who should be doing the thanking. He only agreed to pay me wages because of you. I should be living on my own by now anyway.â€
The Lenape raised his head wearily. â€œIâ€™ll trade places with you.â€
â€œI suppose I am lucky. How long you been walking?â€
â€œSince noon yesterday. From Trenton.â€
â€œYou were in a hurry. What made you stop here?â€
â€œI thought this looked like a friendly place. I was pretty tired, too.â€
William squatted on his haunches and looked Charles in the eye. â€œMy father wondered if they were coming after you. Are they?â€
â€œI went as fast as I could, but I never looked back once.â€
â€œSleep as late as you like.â€
William walked back to the house listening to the drone of the cicadas. The hay moon had risen large and orange. Tomorrow would be hot.
Farmer Krebs showed up with a wagon of rye just after dawn. John shook his son to wake him. â€œKrebs showed up early. Time to get up.â€
William dressed and walked to the kitchen where his mother knelt on the hearth.
She removed the brass curfew covering the embers of last nightâ€™s fire and fanned them with a turkey wing.
â€œIâ€™ll get Charles,â€ William said.
Elizabeth added some kindling. â€œLet him sleep. Itâ€™s going to be too hot and dusty for good healing. Weâ€™ll give him another day to rest and keep the dressing clean. Better get on over.â€
It was the same routine every day. John disengaged the runner stone and opened the sluice to the water wheel. The main drive shaft, which ran all the way to the attic, started turning. It provided power to the sack hoist used to load and unload the wagons in the yard.
Krebs had positioned his wagon directly below the third floor hoist arm. William hooked a sack and went down to the basement. Instead of stairs, ladders were used to make it more difficult for rats and mice to get to the meals and grains above. He lifted the ladder to the main floor trap door and slid the door aside. Three cats, shut in for the night to hunt rodents, peered down at him from the edge. When he got to the attic, he opened the hoist door on the front of the building, then raised the sack from Krebâ€™s wagon by engaging belts from the main drive shaft.
He had finished hoisting half the load when George Knaus arrived in the yard to pick up his order of lumber and shingles. William had to stop what he was doing and go down to the yard to help him load. By the time Knaus was loaded and on his way, it was noon.
â€œWhen do you think youâ€™ll have my grain ready to pick up, John?â€ asked Krebs.
â€œWeâ€™re shorthanded. Probably tomorrow afternoon. I have an extra bed if you need to spend the night.â€
â€œThereâ€™re some things I need in town. Iâ€™ll come back tomorrow. You should get yourself some more help.â€
â€œI have someone starting tomorrow.â€
Krebs flicked the reins. â€œGood for you,â€ he replied.
The afternoon never seemed to end for William. He ran up and down the ladders until his feet ached. As he descended the rungs to check the middlings late in the day, Charles appeared through the trap door in the floor.
â€œFeeling better now?â€ asked William.
â€œGood. Iâ€™ll take you through and show how it works.â€ William patted a hand hewn square beam supporting the floor above. â€œThe mill is one big machine and weâ€™re moving around inside it, so watch where you go. If you get caught in the cogs or the belts, or fall through the floor, youâ€™re going to be hurt.â€
â€œItâ€™s like the ironworks, you have to keep your eyes and ears open all the time,â€ replied Charles.
â€œThatâ€™s right. Do you see those sacks?â€ He pointed to four large sacks, each beneath its own chute in the middle of the floor. â€œAbove us upstairs is the bolter. As the flour gets ground it runs through the bolter and separates into bran, shorts, middlins, and fine flour. They come down the chutes from up there in the bolter down into these sacks. We take the middlins and run them through the hopper again so we can get all the flour out of it.â€ William grabbed a bag and poured the contents into the hopper.
â€œWhere does the hopper chute go?â€ asked Charles.
â€œDown to the mill stones in the basement. Then the ground meal coming off the millstones goes into a bin. Itâ€™s hot from the grinding. The elevator takes it from the bin all the way back up to the attic where itâ€™s raked and cooled. When we say â€˜hop toâ€™ that means rake it out. If it isnâ€™t raked, it could catch fire.â€
Charles eyes widened. â€œFlour burns?â€
â€œOr explodes if thereâ€™s flour dust in the air.â€
At that moment, the sound of hooves came from the yard below. They looked out the door.
â€œItâ€™s Sheriff Thomas,â€ said William.
â€œHe must be here for me!â€ cried Charles.
William raised the lid to a large carpenterâ€™s chest. â€œQuiet, get in,â€ he commanded.
Charles folded himself inside.
â€œSee who that is. Iâ€™m busy,â€ said John from below.
William shut the lid. â€œIâ€™ll be down right away.â€
He took the rungs two at a time. â€œHello, sheriff.â€
Sheriff Daniel Thomas was a well-known visitor who stopped periodically at the mill.
â€œIâ€™m looking for someone â€“ an Indian whoâ€™s got himself in some trouble. He calls himself Charles. Heâ€™s about your height and age.â€
â€œAn Indian? No, I havenâ€™t seen him. What did he do?â€
â€œHeâ€™s wanted for assault and the destruction of private property. Iâ€™ve got a warrant for his arrest. Whereâ€™s your father?â€
â€œHeâ€™ll have his nose to the grindstone for a while. You donâ€™t mind waiting, do you?â€
â€œIâ€™ve got to get going. Tell him to keep a look out for him. All of you keep your eyes open and let me know if you see him.â€
â€œWe will sheriff, we sure will.â€ When the sheriff had gone, William returned upstairs and opened the lid. â€œItâ€™s safe.â€
â€œThat drunk is trying to save himself by blaming me,â€ said Charles, unfolding himself from the chest. â€œI canâ€™t stay here. Heâ€™ll be back.â€
â€œWho was that?â€ asked John, poking his head through the trap door.
â€œIt was just someone asking for directions,â€ William replied.
â€œThis isnâ€™t good,â€ said William when they were alone. He bit his lip thoughtfully, looking Charles up and down. â€œYou never know when heâ€™s going to stop by. But there is something we can do.â€
â€œYou have an idea?â€
â€œYes. Theyâ€™re looking for an Indian. I think youâ€™d make a great looking white man.â€
â€œYou are joking.â€
â€œNo. Cut your hair and put on a wig. Iâ€™ll give you some boots and clothes. Youâ€™ll have to get rid of that pouch.â€
Charles shook his head. â€œIâ€™m Lenape. Thatâ€™s my dream bag.â€
â€œThatâ€™s what they think; that you couldnâ€™t. Thatâ€™s why if you hide in plain sight, theyâ€™ll never have a clue. You can grow your hair back later.â€
Charles broke into a laugh. â€œYou are crazy and so am I. Iâ€™ll do it. Except for my dream bag.â€
â€œCome on over to the kitchen, crazy brother.â€
When they got there, Elizabeth was putting bread into the baking oven in the fireplace.
â€œMama, where are the scissors?â€ asked William.
â€œWhat do you need them for?â€
â€œI would like to cut my hair,â€ said Charles.
â€œAre you sure, Charles?â€
â€œHeâ€™d be safer in the mill, Mama, and Iâ€™ll lend him my old boots so he can climb the ladders better.â€
She nodded her head approvingly and pulled a pair of scissors out of a box on the shelf. â€œWell, thatâ€™s a smart idea, but Iâ€™ll do the cutting. We donâ€™t want Charles to lose an ear. Bring that chair over here.â€
Elizabeth removed Charlesâ€™s feather and handed it to him. She untied his single braid and removed the small bone spreader that had held it in place. Hesitating as she held the scissors over his head, she asked again, â€œYouâ€™re really sure?â€
â€œYes,â€ he said quietly.
She lifted his braid, cutting it off at the scalp. Charles shuddered as it landed silently on the floor.
â€œBring your short wig and my mirror from the house, William.â€ She continued to trim Charlesâ€™s roach, the crests of hair that had surrounded the braid in Lenape fashion.
â€œYes, maâ€™am.â€ William reappeared shortly with a polished metal mirror and the wig.
Elizabeth placed it on his head, then held the mirror in front of his face for him to see.
â€œYou are a handsome young man,â€ she said with a smile.
Charles ran out the door and disappeared into the woods.
â€œItâ€™ll grow back,â€ William yelled after him.
He didnâ€™t come to dinner.
When Charles sat down to breakfast the next morning, no one said a word about his new look. William handed him a spare pair of work boots.
â€œWe better get started,â€ said John, grabbing a biscuit from the table.
They continued on Krebsâ€™s grain from where they had left off the day before. Charles proved to be as hard working and as fast a learner as he had said, but by mid-morning his feet were blistering. He sat down on the side of the millrace, dangling his feet in the water.
â€œYour boots are killing my feet,â€ he told William. â€œThereâ€™re blisters on my heels. Iâ€™m going barefoot.â€
â€œThereâ€™s a shoemaker in Quakertown. You can have a pair made that fit right. You have to get used to them.â€
â€œIâ€™ll never get used to these things,â€ Charles insisted.
â€œYou will. They break in.â€
â€œIâ€™ll have to start saving my wages. In the meantime, do you have some sweet oil I can use to soften the leather with?â€
They found some by the carpenterâ€™s chest where Charles had hidden the day before.
He rubbed it over the worn leather. â€œIâ€™ll let it soak in until tomorrow. Until then, Iâ€™m barefoot.â€
They worked on Krebsâ€™s order into the heat of early afternoon, finishing early. When the farmer arrived, he was pleased to find his order filled and ready to load on the wagon. John counted out his ten percent take of the flour, which was his fee. William and Charles used the hoist to lower the rest of the sacks into the wagon.
Several more loads of grain came in that day, plus timber to be cut into boards. It kept coming in heavily for the rest of the week. Sternerâ€™s Mill was running at full capacity without turning anyone away, but it was an exhausting dawn to dusk marathon of intensive labor. The air inside the mill grew hotter and dustier each day, depositing a thick coating on the floor planks and machinery.
Deliveries reached their height as summer began. June was mostly rye and barley â€“ July mostly a white wheat known as Pennsylvania Red, a soft kernelled variety that produced the highly sought after Pennsylvania superfine flour.
â€œIâ€™m glad youâ€™re here,â€ William told Charles as they raked out the flour together one afternoon. â€œYou came along at the right time; thereâ€™s no way I could keep on top of things otherwise. Usually no one works very hard and they donâ€™t stay long, but youâ€™re different. If we keep working together you and I can turn this place into something.â€
â€œWhat do you mean? Things seem pretty good to me like they are. Youâ€™re lucky, you have a nice family and home.â€
â€œWhat I mean is, some of the other millers own several mills like Henry Bartholomew or expand into textiles like Benjamin Parry and William Maris in New Hope. We could expand like them and be rich.â€
â€œWhy do your people want so much? They never stop wanting.â€
â€œThey want the good life. The Stovers and Shulls own lots of horses and have fine houses in Philadelphia. They bettered themselves. Back in Europe, everything is owned by the few and only they have it good. Here, anyone can find the good life if they try.â€
â€œIt sounds to me some people want to be like the people they are running away from. My people arenâ€™t like that.â€
William leaned against his rake. â€œI never thought of it like that. You told me the church took you in. How old were you?â€
â€œI was a boy, nine years old. My sister and father got the pox, then my mother. I never got sick. I donâ€™t know why. Before she died, she said, â€˜Go down to Durham, to the church. You will be provided for, but donâ€™t forget who you are.â€™â€
Charles leaned over and raked the flour deepening at Williamâ€™s feet.
â€œYou donâ€™t have to talk about it,â€ said William.
â€œI donâ€™t mind. So, I went to the church and the reverend and his wife took me in for a while, then they found people to adopt me â€“ Katherine and George Keply. They didnâ€™t have any children of their own. She was like a real mother.â€
â€œThey must be worried. Will you go back to see them and let them know youâ€™re all right?â€
â€œWhen I got older, things changed. He started drinking, and we didnâ€™t get along. So, I left â€“ grew my braid so I wouldnâ€™t forget who I am. I did fine on my own for the last couple years, until the day the company put me on his boat. I wonâ€™t go back. That captain was my father.â€
Charles had a faraway look in his eyes. William patted his shoulder. â€œYou can always stay here if you want.â€
As the day wore on the dust thickened. The sound of cicadas came through the attic roof along with the July sunâ€™s heat.
Finally, William broke the silence: â€œDid you have a girl back in Durham?â€
Charles smiled. â€œAre you going to ask me if I have been under the blanket?â€
â€œI thought thatâ€™s where you were going.â€
â€œWhat was it like?â€
Charles grinned. â€œSomeday you will meet her and it will be like a great wind upon your chest, picking you up and taking you far away.â€
Williamâ€™s brow knitted. â€œWhat does that mean?â€
Charles laughed. â€œYouâ€™ll find out.â€
As the flour cooled they fed it down the chute to the bolter.
â€œWhat do you like to do in your spare time?â€ asked William.
Charles shook his head. â€œSpare time?â€
â€œWhen youâ€™re not working.â€
William nodded approvingly. â€œMe too. Do you use a bow?â€
â€œAnd a rifle.â€
â€œThis Saturday is the 4th of July. We can hike up the creek and camp overnight â€“ do some hunting.â€
â€œI would like that,â€ said Charles. â€œIâ€™ll show you how itâ€™s done.â€
That evening at dinner they told their plans. John scowled from across the table. â€œBut what about the celebration in Quakertown?â€
They exchanged glances, worried about the sheriff or a deputy showing up in town. William played it deadpan.
â€œWeâ€™re dead set on hunting. Itâ€™s cooler in the woods along the creek.â€
â€œI remember when you were born and we were building the mill. Colonel Polk and his troops brought the Liberty Bell up Allentown Road to Quakertown from Independence Hall. They hid it in the Thomasâ€™ house across from the Red Lion Inn when the damned British were on their way to attack Philadelphia. Youâ€™ve never missed the fireworks before. Are you sure?â€
â€œCharles thinks heâ€™s going to show me how to hunt. Iâ€™m going to do the showing.â€
John nodded. â€œIf thatâ€™s what you want, but only if youâ€™re caught up on your work.â€
By July the Tohickon Creek had begun to recede. If it wasnâ€™t for the dam, there would not have been enough force to power the mill, but despite the heat and lack of rain, the mill pond was still full and the race could carry enough water to turn the waterwheels.
The creek continued to spill over the top of the twelve-foot high dam, reforming again in a wide flow through the rocks below, then turning sharply to the right where it continued over Rockhill Road.
The two young men had refined their work routine and built up their momentum to get everything done. As they labored, Henry Bartholomew and his daughter, Mary, were returning to their home in Churchill by carriage. The Bartholomews lived in one of the finest fieldstone homes in Bucks County, popularly known as Churchill Manor, built in 1739. Situated just above Rockhill on the Tohickon Creek on 300 acres, it contained eight bedrooms, a formal parlor and living room, a great hall and foyer, and a library and study. They were attended by a butler, cook, and a maid.
Henryâ€™s wife, Martha, was an intense woman who demanded much from her staff. Her family was from Philadelphia and she wanted to maintain the same high standards she had known growing up there. The house was well appointed in the latest fashion with fine furniture and paintings. She kept an extensive inventory list of their possessions locked in her desk in the parlor.
Henry was immensely proud of his stable of six horses and groom, who doubled as groundsman. The groom, Mick Doan, son of the head of the infamous Doan Gang, Isaac Doan, lived in a small cabin near the entrance gates of the estate. Henry Bartholomew knew the value of money and did not want to hire an extra man when one could serve the purpose of two.
It wasnâ€™t by accident that he had come to be the owner of six gristmills and a fulling mill in New Hope. He was the largest commercial miller in the county and fourth largest in Pennsylvania.
The Bartholomews were especially proud of Mary, and like William, was the only child. By seventeen she had grown to be a striking beauty, but beneath lay an untapped business mind and a passionate spirit. She had been privately tutored in England; could read and write fluently and played the harpsichord with great skill. Her parents doted on her and interceded when eligible bachelors came along. They were convinced no man in the colonies was worthy of the hand of their most prized trophy and maintained close ties with the Moires of Herringswell House, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, England. They intended to marry her to Harold Moire, Esq., a tepid and uninteresting member of the landed gentry. Mary resolved in her heart for this never to happen.
Her skill at the keyboard was frequently sought. The Mayor of Perkasie, James Chapmen, was holding a social gathering in his home in the afternoon and had requested Henry Bartholomew to bring Mary to play and sing. After she finished her piece, the mayorâ€™s son, George, asked Henry if he could be introduced. Henry walked him across the floor to the harpsichord and stepped on Georgeâ€™s foot, causing him to stumble and spill wine down his waistcoat. The unsuspecting fellow fled from the room in embarrassment.
Henry took her arm and said hurried goodbyes as he guided her toward the door.
â€œCanâ€™t you stay and play some more, Mary?â€ asked George, returning in a fresh waistcoat.
â€œIâ€™m sorry, we have to go,â€ she answered. â€œMy father is the clumsy one. I hope you can forgive him.â€
â€œFor you I can. Please come again.â€
After the doorman had shut the door behind them, Mary turned to her father. â€œFather, why?â€
â€œWhy what? Itâ€™s not my fault if heâ€™s clumsy.â€
â€œI saw what you did.â€
â€œI did nothing. At least you see what a macaroni he is. You donâ€™t want anything to do with such a fop.â€
Doan brought their carriage to the door and helped them in to the back seat.
â€œThat was not an accident Father!â€ Mary said sharply as the carriage started back to Churchill.
â€œOf course it was.â€
â€œI know you donâ€™t want me to meet any men.â€
â€œIâ€™m only looking out for your own good. Youâ€™re not old enough to understand now, but one day youâ€™ll thank me.â€
â€œBut youâ€™ve shut me up in an ivory tower. Iâ€™m not allowed to have a life of my own. Iâ€™m a prisoner.â€
They drove on in silence for several miles until the sound of the creek spilling over the dam and rushing over rocks greeted them. The township had discussed plans to construct a bridge, but no agreement had been reached on what kind or who should build it. Doan slowed the horses and relaxed the reins to let them feel their way through the shallows.
Mary pointed upstream. â€œThatâ€™s a snake!â€
Doan cracked the whip. â€œGid up, gid up.â€
A copperhead swam from the far bank, unconcerned where its trajectory was taking it. The horses, eyes protruding and nostrils flared, backed up while lunging and flailing.
â€œHold tight,â€ cried Henry.
Doan stood and whipped the horses, but they didnâ€™t respond. The carriage continued slowly backward. The rear wheels wedged in the rocks of the creek bed and the front of the carriage began rising up. The passengers were forced to grab the sides while the horses kicked plumes of water over them. It tilted dangerously, threatening to roll over. The snake, caught in the current, was unable to alter its course.
â€œI heard a scream,â€ said Charles.
They flew down the ladders several rungs at a time and ran to the road. William grabbed the horsesâ€™ halters to calm them, but was flung up and down and into the braces. He pulled the reins and managed to halt them.
Charles walked cautiously behind the snake in a crouch, grabbed the tail and started spinning in a circle, keeping the snakeâ€™s head at bay. After one full turn he let the snake go, sending it back through the air to the bank where it quickly disappeared into the woods. The frightened animals ceased lurching.
â€œYou should have killed that snake; itâ€™s a copperhead,â€ Henry told Charles.
â€œHe was just being a snake,â€ Charles replied.
He noticed his daughter smiling at William, whose bare chest was still heaving from the exertion. Williamâ€™s eyes seemed to be unusually wide. He looked at his daughter closely â€“ she was soaked to the skin, her linen caraco and low stomacher nearly translucent.
â€œWe have to get home and get out of these clothes,â€ he said.
â€œYou can get cleaned up at our place and rest your horses,â€ offered William.
â€œWe live just up the road, thank you. Drive, Doan.â€
Mary twisted in her seat as the carriage climbed out of the creek onto the road. â€œWhatâ€™s your name?â€
â€œIâ€™m William. This is my friend, Charles.â€
She smiled sweetly. â€œIâ€™m Mary. Thank you.â€
The carriage disappeared over the hill.
â€œWho was that?â€ Charles asked.
â€œHenry Bartholomew, the richest man in the county.â€
â€œI saw you look at Mary,â€ Charles teased. â€œHer dress was all wet.â€
â€œSo were you. Tell me she isnâ€™t the most beautiful woman you ever saw.â€
â€œShe was looking back, too. The Earthmover is coming, and heâ€™s going to blow you far away.â€
William and Charles started across the field at daybreak the next morning, veering around the saplings that had sprung up. Cleared of its timber years ago to build the Sternersâ€™ house and outbuildings, only an acre was used to grow food for the family now. Heavy clouds blocked the sunrise, threatening to release a downpour.
William liked it here best in the wintertime when snow blanketed the thick grass and the creek was skimmed over with ice. There was no sound except for the wind in the bare trees and the tinkling noise of the creek beneath. Now that it was July, the dry grass made a rustling sound underfoot and insects droned at full volume.
A larch towered above the other trees in a thick copse at the end of the field. Near the top was a nest of giant ravens. One launched into the air, beating its four foot wings to gain altitude, then proceeded on a course up the Tohickon. Despite the distance, it looked huge.
William pointed to the larch. â€œLetâ€™s go in there.â€
â€œThis is good hunting land,â€ said Charles.
â€œThatâ€™s what all the poachers say.â€
They increased their pace as the clouds drew closer, reaching the copse when the first drops of rain fell. As they walked deeper into the woods it thundered and the storm came upon them in full. The roof of leaves overhead lessened the effect of the downpour, but soon it began to penetrate the thick cover. They followed the land downward until coming to a boulder cave formed by a large slab of rock with a depression beneath. It was dry inside, so they decided to stay there to wait the storm out. They laid down their rifles and sat cross-legged beneath the granite slab.
Charles held his bow in his lap. He wore moccasins, and now that his hair had grown back, had ceased wearing his wig. The leather pouch hung from his belt.
â€œI hope the sheriff isnâ€™t poaching today,â€ said William.
â€œI hunt better this way.â€
â€œI guess it wonâ€™t hurt â€“ no one comes back here very often. Whatâ€™s in your pouch?â€
â€œMy spirit helpers.â€
â€œWhat are those?â€
Charles sighed. â€œIt will take some time to explain.â€
â€œIâ€™d like to understand.â€
â€œInside are things from my vision quest: a ravenâ€™s feather; a muskratâ€™s tooth; some bones. Itâ€™s a dream bag. When it was time to become a man and join the tribe, I had to find a vision. There is a ritual to prepare. For days I was ignored by the other members and fed scraps of food and leftovers. Then I journeyed alone to a quiet place where the moss grew on a flat rock by a creek. I fasted from sunrise to sunset for three days until the dream came.â€
He paused, trying to recollect. â€œGo on,â€ said William.
â€œRaven and muskrat found me in the dream and talked to me. They told me about a cave that went down into the earth and that I should go down there. They said not to be afraid because it was the way home. I told Thunder Voice, the dreamsinger, about it and he made the dream bag for me. He told me Gishelamukaong the Creator sent the raven and the muskrat to be my Manitowo; helper spirits â€“ and to call on them if I need help or when Iâ€™m in trouble.â€
â€œBut why donâ€™t you just call on the creator yourself?â€
â€œGishelamukaong made the helpers for us. Donâ€™t your people have helpers called the saints?â€
â€œWe do. Thatâ€™s true,â€ said William.
â€œI told you my dream. What is yours?â€
William sat silently for a moment. â€œI never had one like that. Someday Iâ€™ll get married and have my own family. Iâ€™m going to find the better life â€“ own a fine house and have lots of money. Thatâ€™s my dream.â€
â€œYou must have your own dream of who you are, not what you want to become. You can never find peace until you know who you are. What do you feel inside?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know what I feel. Maybe like there must be something better than carrying sacks of grain up and down ladders all day. There has to be more than that.â€
â€œThere is. First, you need to go on a journey to find who you are.â€
â€œLike a vision quest?â€
Charles smiled, nodding.
â€œSo, did Thunder Voice tell you the meaning? He made the bag for you, right?â€
Water continued to drip from the overhang after the shower had passed, splashing in the puddle by their feet. William watched Charlesâ€™s face intently. â€œDidnâ€™t he figure it out?â€
â€œHe said I would walk the earth as a ghost - in a wounded space, voiceless. I would meet a woman who will show the way home. That the raven will help me find justice.â€
â€œJesus, Charles. You donâ€™t look like a ghost to me.â€
Charles slid from beneath the overhang on his haunches and stood abruptly. â€œIt cleared up. Letâ€™s go.â€
â€œI know a place a few miles up the creek where we can camp for the night. Thereâ€™s a clearing on the bank by a pool where the fishingâ€™s good. Plenty of deer, too.â€
â€œMaybe we can get ourselves a whitetail tomorrow.â€
The sun found its way to the forest floor. They picked up their packs and weapons and resumed their trek. The Tohickon had receded from its banks during the hot summer weather, leaving a few feet of rocky bed to walk on along the sides. They carefully picked their way over stones and boulders. At one point the creek widened and flowed around a small island accessible by a fallen tree that spanned from the bank. They walked the tree holding out their arms for balance, then explored the island which contained only a few trees and boulders. The creek on the far side was shallower and narrower. William crouched and put his finger to his lips. Charles peered down, his face lighting up.
A sturgeon, five feet long, was idly coasting upstream, unaware of them. Dropping their packs and arms, they jumped in, grabbing the great fish around its girth. The sturgeon thrashed and twisted to escape, but after struggling several minutes, tired enough for them to drag it onto the bank, gills gaping and heaving.
â€œThis is a fish!â€ cried William.
â€œItâ€™s very old and tough and wonâ€™t taste very good. We should put it back,â€ said Charles.
William nodded. â€œItâ€™s too much for us to eat.â€
They slid it back into the water and turned it into the current where it recovered, thrashing its way up the creek with a big wake.
Continuing upstream, they came to a sharp bend where the Tohickon rushed down steeply from a deep pool above. A blue heron, standing off the bank, had pierced a small perch and held it in its beak until it expired. William and Charles watched as the bird flicked its head back, swallowing the fish head first, then dipping its sharp bill into the water to wash it down.
â€œThis is the place,â€ said William as they reached the pool. The sound of the creek cascading down the rocks below played a gentle music. The heron seemed unconcerned and watched them from the far bank, continuing to allow its meal to slide down. A mossy clearing on a thickly wooded slope provided a made-to-order campsite.
Charles looked about slowly. â€œThis is a great place. We can fish today and hunt on the way back tomorrow. Did you camp here before?â€
â€œMy father and I used to. Itâ€™s been a long while, though.â€
A large flat stone near the waterâ€™s edge showed charcoal stains from earlier expeditions. Charles studied the stone. â€œSomeone made a fire here not long ago.â€
William knelt to take a closer look. â€œIf a poacher or two comes through it doesnâ€™t matter, thereâ€™s plenty for everybody. Sometimes they ask if they can hunt, and sometimes they donâ€™t.â€
William spread his things out on the slope near a sapling in the middle of the clearing. He pulled bone hooks and string out of his pack. It had been three years since he and his father had hiked up the creek to this spot. He had relished the time they had together then and asked an unending stream of questions about the wildlife, but his father would change the subject, preferring to talk instead about how to make things and what kind of wood to use for a certain purpose. He went on for half an hour about making the axles for cog wheels out of oak and soaking the wood in the mud for six months.
Finally, he told William about when he was a boy working in a mill in Germany and how his shirt got caught in a gear cog and it started pulling his arm in. He tried to break free, ripping his shirt sleeve from the shoulder. The fabric continued ripping down the sleeve, pulling his arm closer to the cogs.
â€œThe miller threw the brake, but the side of my arm ran through before it stopped.â€ He pulled up his sleeve, exposing an ugly scar running down the back of his arm. â€œYouâ€™ve got to think about what youâ€™re doing all the time, William.â€
The sound of the creek drowned out his reverie.
â€œLetâ€™s get some poles and bait,â€ said Charles.
They foraged through the woods for grubs and worms and cut poles from maple branches. The pool was full of rock bass, perch, and trout. As the sun dropped lower it was easier to see the fish in the clear water, but they still werenâ€™t biting. William changed from live bait to a handmade lure he had made himself. He whipped the line back and forth and let the lure touch down. Before long he had half a dozen trout.
â€œSo, Charles, where are your fish?â€
â€œIâ€™m waiting for the big ones.â€
â€œBut youâ€™re supposed to be the expert and I donâ€™t see any of yours,â€ he chided.
Charles pulled in his line and changed to a bigger hook and a grub. Stepping on the rocks across the cascade, he worked his way to the far side and dropped his line out from where the heron had stood.
William called out to Charles: â€œDonâ€™t fall in, you canâ€™t swim, remember?â€
Charles laughed. â€œWe taught the white man how to fish. Just ask if you want to know.â€
â€œYou evidently have forgotten how,â€ he retorted.
Charles pulled in a trout twice the length of Williamâ€™s biggest and held it up with a grin. Then several bass and perch, all larger than Williamâ€™s trout. â€œThere is plenty enough for dinner now.â€
â€œYou wait till we go hunting tomorrow,â€ said William sullenly.
â€œSince I caught the biggest fish you should get the firewood.â€
William headed into the woods muttering. By the time he got back with an armful of wood, Charles had started a fire from tinder he had brought with him. They stoked it into a blaze, then stripped and jumped into the pool to cool off. When they returned, they threw potatoes on the coals, then gutted the fish and cooked them.
â€œIâ€™m spent.â€ William licked his fingers with satisfaction.
â€œThat was good,â€ Charles agreed. He arranged his blanket near a sapling on the slope.
As twilight descended, William gathered one more armful of firewood for the night. He threw a log on the fire, then unfolded his blanket next to the sapling a little below Charles on the sloping ground.
Charles hung his dream bag a few feet off the ground on a notch. They watched fireworks explode in the distance above the tree tops, then fell asleep in the darkness after the grand finale.
As the fire died out, the clearing became illuminated by moonlight streaming over the tree tops. A rustling in the trees nearby startled William, waking him from a deep sleep. He rolled over and stared into the darkness of the woods, but could see nothing. Charles lay on his side, sound asleep. An owl hooted nearby. Thinking that to be the source of the noise, he sank back into oblivion.
The first thing he noticed was that he didnâ€™t have any hands. He thought he was holding them up to his face, but nothing was there. Looking down, there was no body. It seemed that he must be dreaming or somehow was awake within his dream.
He hovered, suspended in air, watching himself and his companion sleeping below. The dream bag had fallen off the notch and had rolled down the slope to rest against his head.
The lack of a mortal covering released an exhilarating sense of freedom. There was conscious control of the dream, yet at the same time he was an observer watching it unfold. Feeling drawn by the moonlight, he glided over the water in his disembodied essence, listening to the creekâ€™s flowing melody sing in the night.
As he travelled he realized he was neither on the Tohickon nor in Pennsylvania, but in a distant land with steep mountains and rolling plains that spread endlessly over the earth.
He came upon a rushing mountain tributary, in which to his astonishment, starfish and sea urchins clung to the stones of the freshwater streambed. The closer he looked, the more details he saw: small crabs were crawling on the bottom as seahorses swam about in strands of seaweed clinging to the rocks. He willed his limbs to reappear and waded through the displaced creatures.
William came upon an old man in a breechclout standing in the stream, playing a melody on a stringed instrument he had never seen or heard before. The man directed the dreamer with his bow to a cliff on the side of a mountain.
William fought his way to the top, realizing he was tired and may not be able to hold on to the stony precipice. Determined not to let go, he pulled himself over the ledge with his last remaining strength.
On the mountaintop, a great oak grew from the rocks. A woman, young and smiling, stood by the trunk which began to split at the level of his chest. It slowly spread with claps of thunder, emanating a golden light that pulsed like a beating heart, brightening and coruscating outward from the center of the tree.
Waves of pleasure throbbed in him with each pulse, increasing in intensity until he could bear it no longer. A hooting owl, perched upon a thickening branch of the oak, flew into the golden light above and over the edge of the precipice. Following the creature, he leapt from the mountain and into the air, flying through the serene valley beneath.
A shot rang out, blasting into the dream, and he was falling, spinning out of control. The owl struck him on his chest and William sat bolt upright. He gasped stertorously as he fought to find his way back from the dream. Charles stood over him in the moonlight, still pointing his rifle in the air.
â€œKukâ€™hos, nuchihÃ«we,â€ Charles whispered, wide-eyed.
â€œWhat happened? Shit, you scared me to death.â€
â€œI shot a witch. I hope it was before she cursed you.â€
â€œItâ€™s an owl.â€ William picked up the owl in his lap and laid it aside. â€œWhy did you shoot it?â€
â€œA witch can only be killed when she is in the form of an owl.â€ Charles snatched up his dream bag. â€œThis is mine, only for me. It is not good for you to dream with it.â€
â€œIt must have fallen off the tree. I did have an amazing dream.â€ William massaged his ears. â€œMy ears are still ringing.â€
â€œIâ€™m sorry, my friend. Tell me your dream.â€
William recounted the dream which was still vivid in his mind.
â€œHo! Manitâ€™to. There are unseen powers.â€
â€œWhat does it mean?â€
â€œIt is a strong dream, but Iâ€™m not sure of the meaning, or if itâ€™s my dream or yours. The old man is a manitou â€“ a spirit. One of us is going on a journey. We both know who the woman is.â€
â€œIt was Mary.â€
â€œYes. I wish Thunder Voice was here.â€
(The Red Lion)
The sun was high when they awakened. William made Johnny cakes which they ate with maple syrup. After packing up and burying the remnants of the fire, Charles picked up the owl and they started for the woods.
â€œWhat are you going to do with it, Charles?â€
â€œFind a place to put it.â€
â€œIâ€™ll know when I see it.â€
They came upon a tree with a hollow about ten feet off the ground. Charles shimmied up and placed the owl inside. He put a pinch of tobacco in the hole and held his bag in one hand while speaking in Lenape, then slid back down.
William looked at him quizzically.
â€œIt needed a proper burial.â€
â€œYouâ€™re having some fun with me, arenâ€™t you?â€ asked William.
â€œWhat do you mean?â€
â€œYouâ€™re carrying it a little far. Youâ€™re teasing, arenâ€™t you?â€
â€œWe mustnâ€™t offend the manitou. I told you, itâ€™s a witch,â€ insisted Charles.
â€œDamn, you believe it.â€
â€œDoesnâ€™t the white man burn witches?â€
â€œThatâ€™s a good point.â€
â€œSo you believe in witches, too. The reason the witch came was because you slept with my dream bag. Thatâ€™s bad medicine. I tried to help you. You should thank me instead of thinking Iâ€™m an idiot.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think that. I owe you an apology.â€
Charles folded his arms. â€œAccepted.â€
â€œWill you stop going on about it now?â€
â€œSomeday you will believe.â€
Before midday they found a well-travelled deer trail with several old scrapes and rubs. They loaded their rifles, then followed the trail to a clearing where two large bucks grazed upwind sixty yards away. William saw them first and signaled his companion. He dropped the largest on the first shot. The second buck escaped into the woods.
â€œGood shot,â€ said Charles. â€œHe must be six years. Iâ€™ll cut a pole.â€
They bled and gutted the animal, then carried it back to the house, returning in the late afternoon.
As Charles and the Sterners sat down to dinner, he said a blessing. â€œThank you, Creator, for this deer that gave his life for us.â€
â€œAmen,â€ said John.
â€œBlackberry sauce?â€ asked Elizabeth.
â€œPlease. Where did you fellows get your deer?â€
â€œNot far from the clearing where we used to camp up the creek, almost to Sheardâ€™s Mill,â€ said William.
â€œI remember that place. Itâ€™s been a few years now.â€
â€œSomebody was there a week ago,â€ said Charles. â€œIt hasnâ€™t rained and the charcoal was still powdery.â€
Johnâ€™s eyes darted from face to face. â€œMaybe someone was looking for the Doansâ€™ treasure.â€
â€œOnly fools believe that,â€ said Elizabeth.
â€œThere are a lot more fools in this world than you know.â€
Elizabeth laughed. â€œI do know.â€
â€œI mean, a lot of people think itâ€™s true. They say the Doans buried a fortune somewhere along the creek. Probably the money from when they robbed the Newtown Bank. People are digging down in that cave near Stoverâ€™s Mill all the time.â€
â€œWe didnâ€™t find a treasure, but the fishingâ€™s still good, Poppa. Charles hooked some big ones.â€
Charles smiled. â€œYou should have seen the sturgeon we caught off the island on the way up. It took the two of us to haul it out, it was so big.â€
John laughed. â€œOne time a friend and I were fishing on the Delaware when a fish jumped out of the water onto our boat and sank it.â€
â€œRight,â€ said William. â€œBut we saw a six-foot copperhead the other day.â€
â€œSix feet, you say?â€
â€œWell, five â€“ almost. Mary Bartholomew and her father were crossing the creek in a carriage. The horses went berserk when they saw it swimming below the dam.â€
John scowled. â€œSounds like you finally met Henry and his daughter.â€
â€œWhat happened?â€ asked Elizabeth.
â€œThe wheels got caught on the rocks and the carriage started to turn over, but Charles and I got them calmed down. Charles grabbed the snake by the tail and threw it back into the woods.â€
â€œCharles, what if he bit you?â€ said Elizabeth.
Charles grinned. â€œSnakes canâ€™t get you if you spin them fast.â€
â€œJust how many snakes have you spun?â€
â€œJust a couple, every now and then. I was afraid I was getting out of practice.â€
Elizabeth squinted at her husband, who was holding his breath and shaking.
â€œDid something go down the wrong way, John?â€
William and Charles burst out laughing.
â€œMama, heâ€™s playing with you,â€ said William.
â€œI guess you got me, Charles. I hate snakes.â€
John drained his cider. â€œThe snakes keep down the rats. We have too many snakes because we have too many rats.â€
â€œHenry Bartholomew said we should have killed it,â€ said William.
â€œCharles did the right thing, although I wouldnâ€™t have picked it up with my hands.â€
After dinner, Elizabeth served them apple pie. â€œYou got the deer, so you get the first piece, William.â€
He smiled happily, taking the plate. â€œMary Bartholomew looks like sheâ€™s my age. How come I never saw her before until now?â€
â€œShe went to school in England, I think.â€
â€œShe seemed pretty nice, but her father was in a hurry to go. I think Iâ€™m going to call on her.â€
His father snorted contemptuously. â€œHold on, thereâ€™s a lot you donâ€™t know about those people.â€
â€œWhy shouldnâ€™t I call on her? She seems like a nice girl to me.â€
â€œDonâ€™t waste your time. They think theyâ€™re too good for everyone.â€
â€œThat was delicious, Mrs. Sterner,â€ Charles said, excusing himself hastily.
â€œIâ€™m glad you enjoyed it,â€ said Elizabeth. â€œJohn, my sister goes to the same church as the Bartholomews. Perhaps she could say something to Maryâ€™s mother. Our son is good enough for anyone, especially the Bartholomews.â€
â€œStay out of this, Elizabeth. Bartholomew is a damned turncoat. He sold to the British when they held Philadelphia.â€
â€œDonâ€™t cut me short. No one knows that for sure.â€
â€œEveryone knows he is a Tory. He sold to General Howe â€“ thatâ€™s how he got so rich because no one else would. They paid him top prices. I saw him talking to Isaac Doan on more than one occasion. Thatâ€™s how he made his deliveries â€“ through the Doans.â€
William pushed his half-eaten pie away in bewilderment. â€œWho is Isaac Doan?â€
â€œA smuggler and a British spy â€“ the rest of his family too. He and his brother, Abraham, hung in Philadelphia for murder and robbery. They robbed the bank in Newtown â€“ Â£1,300, thatâ€™s where the treasure comes from. Weâ€™d be better off if theyâ€™d hung all the Doans.â€
â€œBut Bartholomew is one of the most respected men in the county. Heâ€™s a good businessman; thatâ€™s why heâ€™s rich. Even if thatâ€™s true, it doesnâ€™t mean sheâ€™s like her father.â€
A large vein popped out on his fatherâ€™s forehead. â€œThatâ€™s enough. Get out of my sight.â€ John slammed his fist on the table.
William ran to the barn and saddled his horse. His father caught up with him as he mounted.
â€œWhere are you going?â€ John demanded.
William dug in his heels without answering. He hit the main road at a gallop, reaching Churchill without breaking pace. As he passed the entrance gates of Churchill Manor he slowed to a walk. He thought of his brief encounter with Mary. She had looked at him with such a sweet smile. In that momentary encounter when their eyes met, she had forgotten the role she had been trained for and breached protocol to make contact. William sensed she was like him, tired of enduring a life of loneliness, wanting something more. It seemed a daunting task, but somehow he could be her champion, coming to her rescue. Realizing this was not the time to pay a visit, he continued on in the direction of Quakertown.
It was dark when he arrived at the Red Lion Inn, ablaze with light and still open to entertain the more restless spirits who werenâ€™t ready to settle down. The last coach had stopped there an hour before. Laughter came through the open windows as he tied up to the porch. â€œGood boy, Gypsy,â€ he said.
William located the source of laughter in the dining room where four men sat playing cards. The innkeeper greeted him and sat him near the players at an empty table.
â€œWhatâ€™s your pleasure tonight?â€ he said affably. â€œItâ€™s not too late for dinner.â€
â€œA rum will be fine.â€
â€œItâ€™ll be right out, sir.â€
William sat nursing his drink, wondering if the time had come for him to leave home and live a life of his own. The problem was, he had little experience outside the sheltered hamlet of Rockhill, and if he did leave, how would he ever meet Mary? He worried that his father might be right; the social barriers were too great.
He turned his attention to the card players, looking for a chance to join in. A moment later they finished their game and left. A well-dressed woman in a long riding coat and broad brimmed beaver hat peered in through the parlor doorway. She walked slowly to his table, passing in front of him so he would notice her. He looked up, smiling.
â€œThe roads are bad these days and the company even worse. Would you mind if I sat with you? Iâ€™m in need of some good conversation,â€ she said, returning his smile. She took off her coat and hat, revealing an attractive figure in a fashionable high-waisted dress. Her hair was cut short and spiked in the latest French style, Ã la victim, popular in Philadelphia. She sat down opposite him at the table.
Still dressed in his hunting clothes and feeling awkward, he was startled by her confident bearing and forwardness.
â€œPlease do. Iâ€™ll try my best.â€ William motioned to the innkeeper.
â€œA glass of wine, thank you. Iâ€™m sore all over. We broke a wheel coming up the pike and it took forever to get here. Those fellows that just left were on the coach. They were quite rude.â€
â€œHow is that, maâ€™am?â€
She shrugged nervously. â€œA widow traveling alone is easy prey for the rogues of the road. I didnâ€™t trust them.â€
â€œTheyâ€™re gone now. Thereâ€™s nothing to worry about.â€
She reached under the table and patted his thigh. â€œI can see you are no roughneck. I am safe in your good company.â€
The heat from her touch spread upward and he blushed. She noticed him reddening and withdrew her hand. â€œWhatâ€™s your name?â€
â€œIâ€™m Charlotte Jacobs, but you may call me Charlotte. I was on my way to visit with my family, but the coach is so late I had to take a room. May I ask what you do for a living? You look like an outdoorsman.â€
â€œI work at my familyâ€™s mill â€“ Sternerâ€™s Mill.â€
â€œYou arenâ€™t married, are you?â€
Williamâ€™s eyebrows raised. â€œIâ€™m not.â€
â€œA handsome young buck like you should have no trouble finding a wife. What brings you here tonight?â€
William swallowed a large drought of rum. â€œI needed to do some thinking.â€
â€œWhat did you come here to think about?â€
He set down his glass and smiled wistfully. â€œAbout someone so lovely she takes my breath away. It seems impossible Iâ€™ll find a way to meet with her. Iâ€™m apparently not of good enough standing, so Iâ€™m told.â€
â€œOh dear, then I havenâ€™t a chance â€“ but it canâ€™t really be that impossible, can it?â€ She looked at him closely and began to feel sorry for him by the unease she was inflicting. â€œDo I still have any hope at all?â€ she teased, placing her hand back on his thigh. â€œTell me her name.â€
â€œHer name is Mary.â€
Charlotte withdrew her hand. â€œIâ€™m dreadfully sorry. Iâ€™ve behaved very badly. I donâ€™t throw myself at young men. But we still can be friends.â€
â€œIâ€™m sure we can,â€ said William. â€œBut tell me, you seem to know Mary. How do you know her?â€
â€œSheâ€™s my niece. My brother is Henry Bartholomew.â€
â€œOh God, thank you,â€ cried William.
â€œDid I say something right?â€
â€œSuch an important man would never allow me to call on her. Perhaps you could influence him.â€
Charlotte tasted her wine and grimaced. â€œMy brother is not easy to persuade. I have to warn you he and my sister-in-law are very protective of Mary.â€
â€œIâ€™m sure your resourcefulness will save me.â€
â€œThat remains to be seen. Why are you attracted to her?â€
He tried to find the right words. â€œI know she is schooled in England and well-travelled â€“ everything Iâ€™m not, but I am hard working and resourceful.â€
The image of the horses thrashing water everywhere flashed through his mind and he smiled, then decided not to mention the rescue. â€œWhen she was crossing the creek, she smiled sweetly at me and asked my name. I must sayâ€¦,â€ he paused thoughtfully, â€œâ€¦Iâ€™d like to meet her and learn more about her.â€
â€œI like your honesty, William. Iâ€™m disposed in favor of helping you, but I will have to put some thought into how to go about it. First Iâ€™ll talk to Mary to determine her feelings.â€
â€œThatâ€™s only fair, but could I ask you one more favor?â€
She swirled the wine in her glass and drained it in one toss. â€œThat depends on what it is.â€
â€œWould you take a letter to her?â€
â€œOf course. Iâ€™d be glad to.â€
William rummaged through the innkeeperâ€™s desk and brought back a pen and paper. He wrote a short letter to Mary which he blotted and folded, then handed to Charlotte. â€œI canâ€™t thank you enough.â€
â€œIâ€™ll give it to her directly, when I see her tomorrow.â€ She rose and turned theatrically. â€œThis is becoming very intriguing. Goodnight, William.â€
A lamp still burned when he returned home. After bedding his horse, he entered through the unlocked back door. His father sat hunched over his desk making entries in a ledger. William made his way quietly to the stairs.
â€œSon, come here for a moment.â€
William turned, walking into the light.
â€œI always regret losing my temper. You were only a child during the war and were spared some of the things that bring back bad memories.â€
â€œIt was deserved. Iâ€™m sorry for the way I spoke. Thereâ€™s probably a lot I donâ€™t know.â€
John put his quill in its holder. â€œBartholomew kept his ties to Britain when we were fighting for independence. We found other ways to make a living, but he never let go. He and those Doans are what most of us around here call traitors.
â€œAfter you left I did some thinking. I donâ€™t really know Mary, so Iâ€™m giving her the benefit of the doubt. Iâ€™ve heard some nice things about her, maybe sheâ€™s not like him. I wonâ€™t stand in your way, but you have to realize the Bartholomew family will be a tough row to hoe. Their money exerts a lot of influence over what happens around here.â€
â€œI understand what youâ€™re saying, Papa. Iâ€™ll be careful.â€
(The Good Life)
Charlotte slept late the next morning. It was nearly ten thirty when she arrived at Churchill Manor. The cabby brought her luggage into the foyer where she was greeted by Martha and Henry. She was ushered into the parlor where they began catching up on events.
â€œI must tell you, Charlotte,â€ said Martha, â€œHenry is planning the biggest gala Bucks County has ever seen. Weâ€™re starting it off with a horse race in town, then dinner and a dance at the Red Lion Inn. Everyone worth knowing will be there.â€
â€œWhen is this great affair?â€ asked Charlotte.
â€œIâ€™m racing my new Thoroughbred, Thunderclap,â€ beamed Henry.
â€œArenâ€™t you a little old to be racing?â€ Charlotte remarked.
â€œMy groundsman, Doan, is riding him. Heâ€™s quite an excellent horseman. Winning will be a great pleasure.â€
â€œBoasting brings bad luck,â€ Martha warned.
â€œLuck has nothing to do with it; itâ€™s the planning. Letâ€™s take a stroll out to the stable, Charlotte. Iâ€™ll show you my new stock.â€
As they rose to go, Mary strutted in to the parlor wearing a pair of riding breeches, still flushed from a run out in the field. â€œAunt Charlotte, how wonderful to see you.â€
â€œMary, arenâ€™t you quite the young lady now? I wish I were your age again.â€
â€œWhy did you have to wear those dreadful breeches? They are unladylike,â€ said Martha.
â€œI gave Thunderclap a little exercise. Itâ€™s the best way to ride. Why do you have to be so critical?â€
â€œGood God,â€ cried Henry. â€œHeâ€™s a lot of horse. Whatâ€™s wrong with your own?â€
â€œYouâ€™ll break your neck on that horse. Heâ€™s too high strung,â€ said Martha.
â€œNot if I wear breeches.â€
â€œI know I shouldnâ€™t take sides, but anything goes these days,â€ Charlotte said, â€œdo the sensible thing, I always say. Iâ€™d like to get settled in â€“ will you have my things taken up to my room?â€
Martha rang for the butler.
â€œMary, when you have a moment, come upstairs and fill me in on what youâ€™ve been doing. Iâ€™m dying to know.â€
â€œGladly, Aunt. Iâ€™ll help you unpack.â€
Charlotte had opened the second of two leather traveling chests when Mary, having changed into a skirt, entered the bedroom.
â€œThank you for sticking up for me, Aunt Charlotte.â€
â€œI wear breeches, too.â€
Mary laughed. â€œIt seems weâ€™re the only ones with any sense around here.â€
â€œItâ€™s up to us to educate them.â€
â€œI try my best, but itâ€™s not easy. They ignore me as much as they can. Iâ€™m more a stick of furniture to them than a daughter. They just want to show me off and amuse their friends.â€
â€œSoon youâ€™ll be married and have a life of your own.â€
Mary sat on the edge of the bed, crossing her arms and ankles. â€œI never get a chance to meet the men I want. Theyâ€™re taking me to Suffolk soon to marry me off to a spoiled gentleman theyâ€™ve been saving me for. They may want to join the aristocracy, but I donâ€™t. Itâ€™s my life and Iâ€™m not going. Iâ€™m staying here.â€
â€œWaiting for your soul mate could take a long time. What would you do in the meantime, other than grow old?â€ asked Charlotte.
â€œIâ€™m going to read the books downstairs in the library.â€
â€œDidnâ€™t they teach you enough at school in England?â€
â€œLike how to be an English patriot and how to walk across the room? They looked down on me. Iâ€™m not the right bloodline, I suppose. I never felt comfortable there.â€
â€œYou surprise me. You shouldnâ€™t feel that way. What kind of man do you hope to meet?â€
â€œSomeone strong and energetic. Someone sensitive and caring, but enterprising and intelligent. I donâ€™t care about his family - thatâ€™s not important to me.â€
Charlotte pulled Williamâ€™s letter from her trunk. â€œDo you know someone named William Sterner?â€
Maryâ€™s face brightened. â€œHe saved Father and me from overturning in the buggy in the creek. And should I mention handsome?â€
â€œHe never mentioned saving you. I met him at the Red Lion yesterday. He asked me to give you this.â€ Charlotte handed her the letter. â€œHeâ€™s quite taken with you.â€
Mary unfolded the letter with excitement and read aloud:
Dear Miss Mary Bartholomew,
You may think it improper for me to write to you like this, but I can think of no other way to tell you what is on my mind.
Since our brief encounter in the creek I have not been able to stop thinking of you. The few short words you spoke are still ringing in my ears. I know your family would not approve of me visiting and I canâ€™t think of a way we could meet and talk. With your permission, I will take that chance anyway, unless you know of a better way.
â€œHe has a good hand,â€ Charlotte remarked.
â€œWe must invite him to the gala. There are over a hundred invitations. Theyâ€™ll never notice one extra.â€
â€œWhy donâ€™t you write the invitation? Weâ€™ll find a way to get it to him.â€
â€œThere isnâ€™t much time,â€ said Mary.
â€œThereâ€™s time enough. Where does he live?â€
â€œJust a few miles down the road.â€
â€œI think you and I need some new clothes for this event. Weâ€™ll have the driver deliver the invitation in person while weâ€™re in town doing a little shopping.â€
â€œThis is all too marvelous. I canâ€™t thank you enough,â€ said Mary.
She ran downstairs, returning with an extra invitation and paper. Sitting at the desk, she sprinkled powder from the pounce pot, then took up the quill and wrote a letter to William to be included with the invitation:
My Dear Mr. William Sterner,
Since the time you and your friend Charles came to our rescue I have regretted not being able to thank you properly. It is under times of duress that a personâ€™s true character comes to the fore and it was plainly evident that you are not lacking in bravery and compassion. Please also thank your friend, Charles, for me, too.
My father and I are both in your debt. Please accept this invitation to my familyâ€™s celebration next Wednesday, July 22. There will be a horse race at the Quakertown Commons at 5pm, followed by dinner and a cotillion at the Red Lion Inn.
I would be sorely disappointed if you could not attend.
Charles had started early and hoisted half the first wagon load by the time William got to the mill. William jumped on the bed and hooked two sacks together, motioning to Charles, who was watching from above, to pull them up. When the first load had been raised, he climbed to the attic and emptied the sacks with Charles.
â€œA late night?â€
â€œI met Maryâ€™s aunt at the Red Lion last night. Sheâ€™s going to help me meet her,â€ said William.
â€œYouâ€™re taken with Mary, arenâ€™t you?â€
William shrugged. â€œI want to know more about her. I think she likes me. She smiled at me.â€
Charles shook his head. â€œShe was smiling at me.â€
â€œNot a chance.â€
Charles picked up a pile of empty sacks. â€œIs her aunt going to play matchmaker?â€
â€œI should know soon.â€
â€œWaiting can seem like forever.â€
Several more loads came in that day. John helped them with the sacks in order to keep up. â€œIâ€™m hiring another man, lads,â€ he told them. â€œThis year is the best crop Iâ€™ve ever seen. One more man and weâ€™re at full capacity. Soon weâ€™ll have to turn away business.â€
â€œWe could add two more stones to the other wheel,â€ said William. â€œOr maybe start another mill.â€
â€œI havenâ€™t finished paying off what weâ€™ve got, son, and that all takes money.â€
â€œCouldnâ€™t we borrow some?â€
â€œIâ€™ve borrowed too much already. I havenâ€™t paid that off yet.â€
â€œPerhaps you could rent your land out or grow your own grain for a higher profit,â€ said Charles.
John shook his head. â€œThereâ€™s too much land around here as it is. The problem is there isnâ€™t enough capacity at the mill.â€
â€œThatâ€™s actually a good idea, Charles,â€ said William.
â€œI have to worry about how to keep up with what we have now.â€ John kicked the empty sacks on the floor into a pile. â€œLetâ€™s get going â€“ the morningâ€™s half gone.â€
When William sat down to dinner that night, Elizabeth handed him Maryâ€™s invitation. He hastily pulled the wax seal from the flaps. â€œMary invited me to the Bartholomewâ€™s dinner party at the Red Lion, and a horse race.â€
â€œThat makes things easier. Weâ€™re going to have to make sure your good waistcoat still fits,â€ said Elizabeth.
â€œIt will be too hot. I wonâ€™t need a coat.â€
â€œOf course you will. There are going to be a lot of notables there. You have to be properly dressed for an event like this.â€
William looked at his father apprehensively.
â€œYou have to look like a gentleman for Mary.â€ John smiled. â€œYou can use my boot polish. Iâ€™ll lend you one of my cravats, too.â€
He left in a new waistcoat early Wednesday afternoon with Gypsy at his side, walking his horse to the commons to avoid tiring him for the race. Most of the guests were already tipsy when he arrived. Mary, Charlotte, Henry and Martha stood by the starting platform at the far side of the freshly staked oval course of the townâ€™s public field.
Besides Thunderclap, two other horses had been entered in the race and paced nervously in the center of the field. They were ridden by their owners; Knaus on Blaze and Clymer on Yancy.
William entered the commons leading Gypsy toward the platform. As he approached, Mary spotted him and waved.
â€œLook Aunt Charlotte, itâ€™s William. He got the letter.â€
Charlotte turned in Williamâ€™s direction, twirling her parasol.
â€œGlad you made it, William,â€ she called out to him.
â€œThat canâ€™t be the Sterner boy,â€ said Henry.
Martha frowned disapprovingly. â€œWhatâ€™s he doing here?â€
â€œI invited him,â€ said Mary. â€œItâ€™s the least we can do for him after he came to our rescue in the creek.â€
â€œBut heâ€™s just a mill hand â€“ a hop boy,â€ sneered Henry.
â€œMind your tongue, Henry,â€ scolded Charlotte. â€œDo you have to be so rude?â€
Mary offered her hand. â€œWilliam, Iâ€™m so delighted you could make it.â€
William took her hand and kissed it, then bowed to the others.
â€œI canâ€™t thank you enough for inviting me. Mary, you look beautiful.â€
â€œYouâ€™re very forward.â€
William glanced at Henry and faltered. â€œForgive me for speaking my mind, I surely donâ€™t mean to offend you.â€
â€œAnd forgive me for interrupting, William, but what sort of horse do you have there?â€ asked Henry.
* * *