The Land of Three Houses By J. Thomas Brown

J. Thomas Brown lives in Richmond, Virginia, USA with his wife, Deborah, two cats and a dog. They have raised three children and have four grandchildren. He has coproduced local TV writing shows and coordinated poetry readings at the Richmond Public Library, Richmond, Virginia. His short stories have appeared in The Zoo Fence and the Scarlet Leaf Review. J Thomas’s poems are due for publication in the River City Poets Anthology (2018) and his short story, “Breaking Them It was a perfect day, the kind when nothing could go wrong. The shade withdrew into the bank as the sun climbed higher, dissipating the illusion of depth by turning the Delaware a lighter shade along its edges. A pleasant breeze blew against the current, the sails were furled as the captain guided the boat with one hand on the tiller, the other holding a jug of rum to his lips.
The Land of Three Houses
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.

“Sir,” he said, “we’re drifting close in. There are rocks below on this stretch.”

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.

“You feckin’ heathen, nobody knows this river like I do.”

“Captain, there’s an eddy coming up,” 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 captain’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 couldn’t swim, lay face down a few yards away, half conscious.

“God damn your ass,” said the captain. He pulled the half-drowned man’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 man’s flesh deeply.

“Don’t you ever, ever take the tiller from my hand again!” He continued beating and cursing until thick sinewy arms enfolded him from behind in a choke hold.

“Stop it. Come to your senses,” 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. “Look what he’s done, he’s ruined us, and after all I did for him. Come on, we’re going after him.”

“Let him go.”

Miles away in Rockhill, William Sterner, the miller’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 William’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.

“I’m poached,” said William. “I’m taking a swim.”

“Well deserved, too.” His father’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 didn’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 Penn’s sons, Thomas and Richard, in 1757. They had been sent to Penn’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 Sterners’ 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 Fulmers’ farm.

Rockhill lived up to its name and provided the stones needed to build the foundations of the Sterners’ 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 Sterner’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, William’s prayers were answered. Elizabeth leaned out of a side window:

“John, there’s an Indian coming!”

John stood in the doorway, nodding as he drew near. He was about William’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.

“I am Tamakwaweekit,” he said solemnly.

The miller eyed him suspiciously. “John Sterner.”

“My white name is Charles Durham. Everyone calls me Charles,” he added, smiling and extending his hand.

The miller brushed the flour from his hands and shook. “How may I help you?”

“I’m looking for work. I’m a hard worker and learn fast.”

“What kind of work you been doing?”

Charles pointed to the frying pan, made from pig iron at Durham Furnace. “Shipping ore and iron goods down to Philadelphia.”

“Why do you want to change trades?”

Charles grinned. “I can’t swim.”

William shook with laughter. “We could use someone with a sense of humor.”

Charles grimaced and tugged at the back of his shirt.

“What’s the matter?” William asked.

Charles’ eyes darted from William to John. “There 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 wasn’t so drunk, he could have steered us away.”

Charles pulled his shirt up and turned, exposing a series of deep cuts beginning to fester.

John shook his head. “That isn’t right. But what if they come looking for you?”

“Papa, give him a chance. They won’t come after him. You know we’re shorthanded,” said William.

“They don’t care about an Indian, Mr. Sterner.”

“Let me think on it. Come inside the house and I’ll ask my wife to dress those wounds. Have supper with us. You can sleep in the extra room tonight.”

“Thank you, Mr. Sterner.”

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.

“Elizabeth, come down to meet our visitor and bring some healing salve with you,” said John.

“Who do we have here?” asked Elizabeth, appearing at the bottom of the stairs.

“This is Charles Durham. He ran into some trouble on the river and has some nasty cuts on his back. They need tending to.”

“I’m pleased to meet you, Mrs. Sterner,” Charles said.

“I’m pleased to meet you, too. You’ll need to take off your shirt so I can take a look.”

Charles did as instructed.

“Nothing I can’t handle,” she said, grimacing. “I’ll wash it off first – it’s going to hurt. We’ll get you a clean shirt, too.”

She disappeared briefly, returning with a basin of water and some cloths. As she cleaned the wounds, Charles stared into the fire without flinching. “I’m sorry for the trouble.”

“It’s no trouble. I’m putting on lamb’s ear – it’ll feel better and prevent festering. You’re so polite. Where are you from? Who are your folks?”

“Pechoquelon. I’m Lenape.”

“I thought the Lenape went to New York.”

“My family got the pox. The church at Durham Furnace took me in. They named me Charles Durham; nobody could say Tamakwaweekit.”

After dressing Charles’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.

“Tomorrow is Sunday,” said John, “make the most of it, the winter wheat will start coming soon. We may get a couple more loads next week.”

“So, we can start Charles Monday,” William said.

“So, Charles and I can have a talk about it first.”

“It can’t be all work,” said Elizabeth. “William needs some time to get out and meet people his own age.”

John turned to Charles. “Some of the millers around here do well, but we’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.”

“First, let me say, Mrs. Sterner, how delicious the meal is.” Charles smiled charmingly, displaying a full set of white teeth.

“At least someone here has manners,” she replied.

“It is delicious,” echoed William.

“Yes, it is,” said John. “Charles, there are a few things we need to discuss.”

“Mr. Sterner, isn’t it usually the way to pay some wages, too?”

“I pay what I can afford to. Everybody thinks millers are rich, but I’m not.”

“Could you pay three dollars a month, sir? I can do the work of two men. You would be saving money.”

“Do not press me. Two dollars a month and no more.”

“You won’t be disappointed, Mr. Sterner.”

William frowned. “You pay me nothing at all.”

“You’re my son. Someday this will all be yours.”

“You’ll probably outlive me. What am I to do until someday comes?”

“Two dollars a month for you, too. Show Charles to the spare room by the kitchen before I change my mind.”

William leapt from his seat. “Thank you, Papa. Come on Charles.”

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.

“Take which ever bed you want.”

“Thank you.” Charles eased himself onto the closest bed, stomach first.

“I’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.”

The Lenape raised his head wearily. “I’ll trade places with you.”

“I suppose I am lucky. How long you been walking?”

“Since noon yesterday. From Trenton.”

“You were in a hurry. What made you stop here?”

“I thought this looked like a friendly place. I was pretty tired, too.”

William squatted on his haunches and looked Charles in the eye. “My father wondered if they were coming after you. Are they?”

“I went as fast as I could, but I never looked back once.”

“Sleep as late as you like.”

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.

Chapter 2


Farmer Krebs showed up with a wagon of rye just after dawn. John shook his son to wake him. “Krebs showed up early. Time to get up.”

William dressed and walked to the kitchen where his mother knelt on the hearth.

She removed the brass curfew covering the embers of last night’s fire and fanned them with a turkey wing.

“I’ll get Charles,” William said.

Elizabeth added some kindling. “Let him sleep. It’s going to be too hot and dusty for good healing. We’ll give him another day to rest and keep the dressing clean. Better get on over.”

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 Kreb’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.

“When do you think you’ll have my grain ready to pick up, John?” asked Krebs.

“We’re shorthanded. Probably tomorrow afternoon. I have an extra bed if you need to spend the night.”

“There’re some things I need in town. I’ll come back tomorrow. You should get yourself some more help.”

“I have someone starting tomorrow.”

Krebs flicked the reins. “Good for you,” 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.

“Feeling better now?” asked William.


“Good. I’ll take you through and show how it works.” William patted a hand hewn square beam supporting the floor above. “The mill is one big machine and we’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, you’re going to be hurt.”

“It’s like the ironworks, you have to keep your eyes and ears open all the time,” replied Charles.

“That’s right. Do you see those sacks?” He pointed to four large sacks, each beneath its own chute in the middle of the floor. “Above 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.” William grabbed a bag and poured the contents into the hopper.

“Where does the hopper chute go?” asked Charles.

“Down to the mill stones in the basement. Then the ground meal coming off the millstones goes into a bin. It’s hot from the grinding. The elevator takes it from the bin all the way back up to the attic where it’s raked and cooled. When we say ‘hop to’ that means rake it out. If it isn’t raked, it could catch fire.”

Charles eyes widened. “Flour burns?”

“Or explodes if there’s flour dust in the air.”

At that moment, the sound of hooves came from the yard below. They looked out the door.

“It’s Sheriff Thomas,” said William.

“He must be here for me!” cried Charles.

William raised the lid to a large carpenter’s chest. “Quiet, get in,” he commanded.

Charles folded himself inside.

“See who that is. I’m busy,” said John from below.

William shut the lid. “I’ll be down right away.”

He took the rungs two at a time. “Hello, sheriff.”

Sheriff Daniel Thomas was a well-known visitor who stopped periodically at the mill.

“I’m looking for someone – an Indian who’s got himself in some trouble. He calls himself Charles. He’s about your height and age.”

“An Indian? No, I haven’t seen him. What did he do?”

“He’s wanted for assault and the destruction of private property. I’ve got a warrant for his arrest. Where’s your father?”

“He’ll have his nose to the grindstone for a while. You don’t mind waiting, do you?”

“I’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.”

“We will sheriff, we sure will.” When the sheriff had gone, William returned upstairs and opened the lid. “It’s safe.”

“That drunk is trying to save himself by blaming me,” said Charles, unfolding himself from the chest. “I can’t stay here. He’ll be back.”

“Who was that?” asked John, poking his head through the trap door.

“It was just someone asking for directions,” William replied.

“This isn’t good,” said William when they were alone. He bit his lip thoughtfully, looking Charles up and down. “You never know when he’s going to stop by. But there is something we can do.”

“You have an idea?”

“Yes. They’re looking for an Indian. I think you’d make a great looking white man.”

“You are joking.”

“No. Cut your hair and put on a wig. I’ll give you some boots and clothes. You’ll have to get rid of that pouch.”

Charles shook his head. “I’m Lenape. That’s my dream bag.”

“That’s what they think; that you couldn’t. That’s why if you hide in plain sight, they’ll never have a clue. You can grow your hair back later.”

Charles broke into a laugh. “You are crazy and so am I. I’ll do it. Except for my dream bag.”

“Come on over to the kitchen, crazy brother.”

When they got there, Elizabeth was putting bread into the baking oven in the fireplace.

“Mama, where are the scissors?” asked William.

“What do you need them for?”

“I would like to cut my hair,” said Charles.

“Are you sure, Charles?”

“He’d be safer in the mill, Mama, and I’ll lend him my old boots so he can climb the ladders better.”

She nodded her head approvingly and pulled a pair of scissors out of a box on the shelf. “Well, that’s a smart idea, but I’ll do the cutting. We don’t want Charles to lose an ear. Bring that chair over here.”

Elizabeth removed Charles’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, “You’re really sure?”

“Yes,” he said quietly.

She lifted his braid, cutting it off at the scalp. Charles shuddered as it landed silently on the floor.

“Bring your short wig and my mirror from the house, William.” She continued to trim Charles’s roach, the crests of hair that had surrounded the braid in Lenape fashion.

“Yes, ma’am.” 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.

“You are a handsome young man,” she said with a smile.

Charles ran out the door and disappeared into the woods.

“It’ll grow back,” William yelled after him.

He didn’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.

“We better get started,” said John, grabbing a biscuit from the table.

They continued on Krebs’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.

“Your boots are killing my feet,” he told William. “There’re blisters on my heels. I’m going barefoot.”

“There’s a shoemaker in Quakertown. You can have a pair made that fit right. You have to get used to them.”

“I’ll never get used to these things,” Charles insisted.

“You will. They break in.”

“I’ll have to start saving my wages. In the meantime, do you have some sweet oil I can use to soften the leather with?”

They found some by the carpenter’s chest where Charles had hidden the day before.

He rubbed it over the worn leather. “I’ll let it soak in until tomorrow. Until then, I’m barefoot.”

They worked on Krebs’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. Sterner’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 – July mostly a white wheat known as Pennsylvania Red, a soft kernelled variety that produced the highly sought after Pennsylvania superfine flour.

“I’m glad you’re here,” William told Charles as they raked out the flour together one afternoon. “You came along at the right time; there’s no way I could keep on top of things otherwise. Usually no one works very hard and they don’t stay long, but you’re different. If we keep working together you and I can turn this place into something.”

“What do you mean? Things seem pretty good to me like they are. You’re lucky, you have a nice family and home.”

“What 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.”

“Why do your people want so much? They never stop wanting.”

“They 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.”

“It sounds to me some people want to be like the people they are running away from. My people aren’t like that.”

William leaned against his rake. “I never thought of it like that. You told me the church took you in. How old were you?”

“I was a boy, nine years old. My sister and father got the pox, then my mother. I never got sick. I don’t know why. Before she died, she said, ‘Go down to Durham, to the church. You will be provided for, but don’t forget who you are.’”

Charles leaned over and raked the flour deepening at William’s feet.

“You don’t have to talk about it,” said William.

“I don’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 – Katherine and George Keply. They didn’t have any children of their own. She was like a real mother.”

“They must be worried. Will you go back to see them and let them know you’re all right?”

“When I got older, things changed. He started drinking, and we didn’t get along. So, I left – grew my braid so I wouldn’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 won’t go back. That captain was my father.”

Charles had a faraway look in his eyes. William patted his shoulder. “You can always stay here if you want.”


As the day wore on the dust thickened. The sound of cicadas came through the attic roof along with the July sun’s heat.

Finally, William broke the silence: “Did you have a girl back in Durham?”

Charles smiled. “Are you going to ask me if I have been under the blanket?”

“Well, yes.”

“I thought that’s where you were going.”

“What was it like?”

Charles grinned. “Someday you will meet her and it will be like a great wind upon your chest, picking you up and taking you far away.”

William’s brow knitted. “What does that mean?”

Charles laughed. “You’ll find out.”

As the flour cooled they fed it down the chute to the bolter.

“What do you like to do in your spare time?” asked William.

Charles shook his head. “Spare time?”

“When you’re not working.”


William nodded approvingly. “Me too. Do you use a bow?”

“And a rifle.”

“This Saturday is the 4th of July. We can hike up the creek and camp overnight – do some hunting.”

“I would like that,” said Charles. “I’ll show you how it’s done.”

That evening at dinner they told their plans. John scowled from across the table. “But what about the celebration in Quakertown?”

They exchanged glances, worried about the sheriff or a deputy showing up in town. William played it deadpan.

“We’re dead set on hunting. It’s cooler in the woods along the creek.”

“I 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 Thomas’ house across from the Red Lion Inn when the damned British were on their way to attack Philadelphia. You’ve never missed the fireworks before. Are you sure?”

“Charles thinks he’s going to show me how to hunt. I’m going to do the showing.”

John nodded. “If that’s what you want, but only if you’re caught up on your work.”


By July the Tohickon Creek had begun to recede. If it wasn’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.

Henry’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 wasn’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 mayor’s son, George, asked Henry if he could be introduced. Henry walked him across the floor to the harpsichord and stepped on George’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.

“Can’t you stay and play some more, Mary?” asked George, returning in a fresh waistcoat.

“I’m sorry, we have to go,” she answered. “My father is the clumsy one. I hope you can forgive him.”

“For you I can. Please come again.”

After the doorman had shut the door behind them, Mary turned to her father. “Father, why?”

“Why what? It’s not my fault if he’s clumsy.”

“I saw what you did.”

“I did nothing. At least you see what a macaroni he is. You don’t want anything to do with such a fop.”

Doan brought their carriage to the door and helped them in to the back seat.

“That was not an accident Father!” Mary said sharply as the carriage started back to Churchill.

“Of course it was.”

“I know you don’t want me to meet any men.”

“I’m only looking out for your own good. You’re not old enough to understand now, but one day you’ll thank me.”

“But you’ve shut me up in an ivory tower. I’m not allowed to have a life of my own. I’m a prisoner.”

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. “That’s a snake!”

Doan cracked the whip. “Gid up, gid up.”

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.

“Hold tight,” cried Henry.

Doan stood and whipped the horses, but they didn’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.

“I heard a scream,” said Charles.

They flew down the ladders several rungs at a time and ran to the road. William grabbed the horses’ 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 snake’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.

“You should have killed that snake; it’s a copperhead,” Henry told Charles.

“He was just being a snake,” Charles replied.

He noticed his daughter smiling at William, whose bare chest was still heaving from the exertion. William’s eyes seemed to be unusually wide. He looked at his daughter closely – she was soaked to the skin, her linen caraco and low stomacher nearly translucent.

“We have to get home and get out of these clothes,” he said.

“You can get cleaned up at our place and rest your horses,” offered William.

“We live just up the road, thank you. Drive, Doan.”

Mary twisted in her seat as the carriage climbed out of the creek onto the road. “What’s your name?”

“I’m William. This is my friend, Charles.”

She smiled sweetly. “I’m Mary. Thank you.”

The carriage disappeared over the hill.

“Who was that?” Charles asked.

“Henry Bartholomew, the richest man in the county.”

“I saw you look at Mary,” Charles teased. “Her dress was all wet.”

“So were you. Tell me she isn’t the most beautiful woman you ever saw.”

“She was looking back, too. The Earthmover is coming, and he’s going to blow you far away.”

Chapter 3

(Dream Bag)

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 Sterners’ 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. “Let’s go in there.”

“This is good hunting land,” said Charles.

“That’s what all the poachers say.”

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.

“I hope the sheriff isn’t poaching today,” said William.

“I hunt better this way.”

“I guess it won’t hurt – no one comes back here very often. What’s in your pouch?”

“My spirit helpers.”

“What are those?”

Charles sighed. “It will take some time to explain.”

“I’d like to understand.”

“Inside are things from my vision quest: a raven’s feather; a muskrat’s tooth; some bones. It’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.”

He paused, trying to recollect. “Go on,” said William.

“Raven 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 – and to call on them if I need help or when I’m in trouble.”

“But why don’t you just call on the creator yourself?”

“Gishelamukaong made the helpers for us. Don’t your people have helpers called the saints?”

“We do. That’s true,” said William.

“I told you my dream. What is yours?”

William sat silently for a moment. “I never had one like that. Someday I’ll get married and have my own family. I’m going to find the better life – own a fine house and have lots of money. That’s my dream.”

“You 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?”

“I don’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.”

“There is. First, you need to go on a journey to find who you are.”

“Like a vision quest?”

Charles smiled, nodding.

“So, did Thunder Voice tell you the meaning? He made the bag for you, right?”

Water continued to drip from the overhang after the shower had passed, splashing in the puddle by their feet. William watched Charles’s face intently. “Didn’t he figure it out?”

“He 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.”

“Jesus, Charles. You don’t look like a ghost to me.”

Charles slid from beneath the overhang on his haunches and stood abruptly. “It cleared up. Let’s go.”

“I know a place a few miles up the creek where we can camp for the night. There’s a clearing on the bank by a pool where the fishing’s good. Plenty of deer, too.”

“Maybe we can get ourselves a whitetail tomorrow.”

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.

“This is a fish!” cried William.

“It’s very old and tough and won’t taste very good. We should put it back,” said Charles.

William nodded. “It’s too much for us to eat.”

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.

“This is the place,” 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. “This is a great place. We can fish today and hunt on the way back tomorrow. Did you camp here before?”

“My father and I used to. It’s been a long while, though.”

A large flat stone near the water’s edge showed charcoal stains from earlier expeditions. Charles studied the stone. “Someone made a fire here not long ago.”

William knelt to take a closer look. “If a poacher or two comes through it doesn’t matter, there’s plenty for everybody. Sometimes they ask if they can hunt, and sometimes they don’t.”

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.

“The miller threw the brake, but the side of my arm ran through before it stopped.” He pulled up his sleeve, exposing an ugly scar running down the back of his arm. “You’ve got to think about what you’re doing all the time, William.”

The sound of the creek drowned out his reverie.

“Let’s get some poles and bait,” said Charles.

“Good idea.”

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 weren’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.

“So, Charles, where are your fish?”

“I’m waiting for the big ones.”

“But you’re supposed to be the expert and I don’t see any of yours,” 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: “Don’t fall in, you can’t swim, remember?”

Charles laughed. “We taught the white man how to fish. Just ask if you want to know.”

“You evidently have forgotten how,” he retorted.

Charles pulled in a trout twice the length of William’s biggest and held it up with a grin. Then several bass and perch, all larger than William’s trout. “There is plenty enough for dinner now.”

“You wait till we go hunting tomorrow,” said William sullenly.

“Since I caught the biggest fish you should get the firewood.”

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.

“I’m spent.” William licked his fingers with satisfaction.

“That was good,” 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 didn’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 creek’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.

“Kuk’hos, nuchihëwe,” Charles whispered, wide-eyed.

“What happened? Shit, you scared me to death.”

“I shot a witch. I hope it was before she cursed you.”

“It’s an owl.” William picked up the owl in his lap and laid it aside. “Why did you shoot it?”

“A witch can only be killed when she is in the form of an owl.” Charles snatched up his dream bag. “This is mine, only for me. It is not good for you to dream with it.”

“It must have fallen off the tree. I did have an amazing dream.” William massaged his ears. “My ears are still ringing.”

“I’m sorry, my friend. Tell me your dream.”

William recounted the dream which was still vivid in his mind.

“Ho! Manit’to. There are unseen powers.”

“What does it mean?”

“It is a strong dream, but I’m not sure of the meaning, or if it’s my dream or yours. The old man is a manitou – a spirit. One of us is going on a journey. We both know who the woman is.”

“It was Mary.”

“Yes. I wish Thunder Voice was here.”

Chapter 4

(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.

“What are you going to do with it, Charles?”

“Find a place to put it.”

“Such as?”

“I’ll know when I see it.”

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.

“It needed a proper burial.”

“You’re having some fun with me, aren’t you?” asked William.

“What do you mean?”

“You’re carrying it a little far. You’re teasing, aren’t you?”

“We mustn’t offend the manitou. I told you, it’s a witch,” insisted Charles.

“Damn, you believe it.”

“Doesn’t the white man burn witches?”

“That’s a good point.”

“So you believe in witches, too. The reason the witch came was because you slept with my dream bag. That’s bad medicine. I tried to help you. You should thank me instead of thinking I’m an idiot.”

“I don’t think that. I owe you an apology.”

Charles folded his arms. “Accepted.”

“Will you stop going on about it now?”

“Someday you will believe.”

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.

“Good shot,” said Charles. “He must be six years. I’ll cut a pole.”

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. “Thank you, Creator, for this deer that gave his life for us.”

“Amen,” said John.

“Blackberry sauce?” asked Elizabeth.

“Please. Where did you fellows get your deer?”

“Not far from the clearing where we used to camp up the creek, almost to Sheard’s Mill,” said William.

“I remember that place. It’s been a few years now.”

“Somebody was there a week ago,” said Charles. “It hasn’t rained and the charcoal was still powdery.”

John’s eyes darted from face to face. “Maybe someone was looking for the Doans’ treasure.”

“Only fools believe that,” said Elizabeth.

“There are a lot more fools in this world than you know.”

Elizabeth laughed. “I do know.”

“I mean, a lot of people think it’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 Stover’s Mill all the time.”

“We didn’t find a treasure, but the fishing’s still good, Poppa. Charles hooked some big ones.”

Charles smiled. “You 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.”

John laughed. “One time a friend and I were fishing on the Delaware when a fish jumped out of the water onto our boat and sank it.”

“Right,” said William. “But we saw a six-foot copperhead the other day.”

“Six feet, you say?”

“Well, five – 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.”

John scowled. “Sounds like you finally met Henry and his daughter.”

“What happened?” asked Elizabeth.

“The 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.”

“Charles, what if he bit you?” said Elizabeth.

Charles grinned. “Snakes can’t get you if you spin them fast.”

“Just how many snakes have you spun?”

“Just a couple, every now and then. I was afraid I was getting out of practice.”

Elizabeth squinted at her husband, who was holding his breath and shaking.

“Did something go down the wrong way, John?”

William and Charles burst out laughing.

“Mama, he’s playing with you,” said William.

“I guess you got me, Charles. I hate snakes.”

John drained his cider. “The snakes keep down the rats. We have too many snakes because we have too many rats.”

“Henry Bartholomew said we should have killed it,” said William.

“Charles did the right thing, although I wouldn’t have picked it up with my hands.”

After dinner, Elizabeth served them apple pie. “You got the deer, so you get the first piece, William.”

He smiled happily, taking the plate. “Mary Bartholomew looks like she’s my age. How come I never saw her before until now?”

“She went to school in England, I think.”

“She seemed pretty nice, but her father was in a hurry to go. I think I’m going to call on her.”

His father snorted contemptuously. “Hold on, there’s a lot you don’t know about those people.”

“Why shouldn’t I call on her? She seems like a nice girl to me.”

“Don’t waste your time. They think they’re too good for everyone.”

“That was delicious, Mrs. Sterner,” Charles said, excusing himself hastily.

“I’m glad you enjoyed it,” said Elizabeth. “John, my sister goes to the same church as the Bartholomews. Perhaps she could say something to Mary’s mother. Our son is good enough for anyone, especially the Bartholomews.”

“Stay out of this, Elizabeth. Bartholomew is a damned turncoat. He sold to the British when they held Philadelphia.”

“Don’t cut me short. No one knows that for sure.”

“Everyone knows he is a Tory. He sold to General Howe – that’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. That’s how he made his deliveries – through the Doans.”

William pushed his half-eaten pie away in bewilderment. “Who is Isaac Doan?”

“A smuggler and a British spy – the rest of his family too. He and his brother, Abraham, hung in Philadelphia for murder and robbery. They robbed the bank in Newtown – £1,300, that’s where the treasure comes from. We’d be better off if they’d hung all the Doans.”

“But Bartholomew is one of the most respected men in the county. He’s a good businessman; that’s why he’s rich. Even if that’s true, it doesn’t mean she’s like her father.”

A large vein popped out on his father’s forehead. “That’s enough. Get out of my sight.” 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.

“Where are you going?” 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 weren’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. “Good boy, Gypsy,” 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.

“What’s your pleasure tonight?” he said affably. “It’s not too late for dinner.”

“A rum will be fine.”

“It’ll be right out, sir.”

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.

“The roads are bad these days and the company even worse. Would you mind if I sat with you? I’m in need of some good conversation,” 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, à 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.

“Please do. I’ll try my best.” William motioned to the innkeeper.

“A glass of wine, thank you. I’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.”

“How is that, ma’am?”

She shrugged nervously. “A widow traveling alone is easy prey for the rogues of the road. I didn’t trust them.”

“They’re gone now. There’s nothing to worry about.”

She reached under the table and patted his thigh. “I can see you are no roughneck. I am safe in your good company.”

The heat from her touch spread upward and he blushed. She noticed him reddening and withdrew her hand. “What’s your name?”

“William Sterner.”

“I’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.”

“I work at my family’s mill – Sterner’s Mill.”

“You aren’t married, are you?”

William’s eyebrows raised. “I’m not.”

“A handsome young buck like you should have no trouble finding a wife. What brings you here tonight?”

William swallowed a large drought of rum. “I needed to do some thinking.”

“What did you come here to think about?”

He set down his glass and smiled wistfully. “About someone so lovely she takes my breath away. It seems impossible I’ll find a way to meet with her. I’m apparently not of good enough standing, so I’m told.”

“Oh dear, then I haven’t a chance – but it can’t really be that impossible, can it?” She looked at him closely and began to feel sorry for him by the unease she was inflicting. “Do I still have any hope at all?” she teased, placing her hand back on his thigh. “Tell me her name.”

“Her name is Mary.”

“Mary who?”


Charlotte withdrew her hand. “I’m dreadfully sorry. I’ve behaved very badly. I don’t throw myself at young men. But we still can be friends.”

“I’m sure we can,” said William. “But tell me, you seem to know Mary. How do you know her?”

“She’s my niece. My brother is Henry Bartholomew.”

“Oh God, thank you,” cried William.

“Did I say something right?”

“Such an important man would never allow me to call on her. Perhaps you could influence him.”

Charlotte tasted her wine and grimaced. “My brother is not easy to persuade. I have to warn you he and my sister-in-law are very protective of Mary.”

“I’m sure your resourcefulness will save me.”

“That remains to be seen. Why are you attracted to her?”

He tried to find the right words. “I know she is schooled in England and well-travelled – everything I’m not, but I am hard working and resourceful.”

The image of the horses thrashing water everywhere flashed through his mind and he smiled, then decided not to mention the rescue. “When she was crossing the creek, she smiled sweetly at me and asked my name. I must say…,” he paused thoughtfully, “…I’d like to meet her and learn more about her.”

“I like your honesty, William. I’m disposed in favor of helping you, but I will have to put some thought into how to go about it. First I’ll talk to Mary to determine her feelings.”

“That’s only fair, but could I ask you one more favor?”

She swirled the wine in her glass and drained it in one toss. “That depends on what it is.”

“Would you take a letter to her?”

“Of course. I’d be glad to.”

William rummaged through the innkeeper’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. “I can’t thank you enough.”

“I’ll give it to her directly, when I see her tomorrow.” She rose and turned theatrically. “This is becoming very intriguing. Goodnight, William.”

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.

“Son, come here for a moment.”

William turned, walking into the light.

“I 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.”

“It was deserved. I’m sorry for the way I spoke. There’s probably a lot I don’t know.”

John put his quill in its holder. “Bartholomew 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.

“After you left I did some thinking. I don’t really know Mary, so I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt. I’ve heard some nice things about her, maybe she’s not like him. I won’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.”

“I understand what you’re saying, Papa. I’ll be careful.”

Chapter 5

(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.

“I must tell you, Charlotte,” said Martha, “Henry is planning the biggest gala Bucks County has ever seen. We’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.”

“When is this great affair?” asked Charlotte.

“Next Wednesday.”

“I’m racing my new Thoroughbred, Thunderclap,” beamed Henry.

“Aren’t you a little old to be racing?” Charlotte remarked.

“My groundsman, Doan, is riding him. He’s quite an excellent horseman. Winning will be a great pleasure.”

“Boasting brings bad luck,” Martha warned.

“Luck has nothing to do with it; it’s the planning. Let’s take a stroll out to the stable, Charlotte. I’ll show you my new stock.”

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. “Aunt Charlotte, how wonderful to see you.”

“Mary, aren’t you quite the young lady now? I wish I were your age again.”

“Why did you have to wear those dreadful breeches? They are unladylike,” said Martha.

“I gave Thunderclap a little exercise. It’s the best way to ride. Why do you have to be so critical?”

“Good God,” cried Henry. “He’s a lot of horse. What’s wrong with your own?”

“You’ll break your neck on that horse. He’s too high strung,” said Martha.

“Not if I wear breeches.”

“I know I shouldn’t take sides, but anything goes these days,” Charlotte said, “do the sensible thing, I always say. I’d like to get settled in – will you have my things taken up to my room?”

Martha rang for the butler.

“Mary, when you have a moment, come upstairs and fill me in on what you’ve been doing. I’m dying to know.”

“Gladly, Aunt. I’ll help you unpack.”

Charlotte had opened the second of two leather traveling chests when Mary, having changed into a skirt, entered the bedroom.

“Thank you for sticking up for me, Aunt Charlotte.”

“I wear breeches, too.”

Mary laughed. “It seems we’re the only ones with any sense around here.”

“It’s up to us to educate them.”

“I try my best, but it’s not easy. They ignore me as much as they can. I’m more a stick of furniture to them than a daughter. They just want to show me off and amuse their friends.”

“Soon you’ll be married and have a life of your own.”

Mary sat on the edge of the bed, crossing her arms and ankles. “I never get a chance to meet the men I want. They’re taking me to Suffolk soon to marry me off to a spoiled gentleman they’ve been saving me for. They may want to join the aristocracy, but I don’t. It’s my life and I’m not going. I’m staying here.”

“Waiting for your soul mate could take a long time. What would you do in the meantime, other than grow old?” asked Charlotte.

“I’m going to read the books downstairs in the library.”

“Didn’t they teach you enough at school in England?”

“Like how to be an English patriot and how to walk across the room? They looked down on me. I’m not the right bloodline, I suppose. I never felt comfortable there.”

“You surprise me. You shouldn’t feel that way. What kind of man do you hope to meet?”

“Someone strong and energetic. Someone sensitive and caring, but enterprising and intelligent. I don’t care about his family - that’s not important to me.”

Charlotte pulled William’s letter from her trunk. “Do you know someone named William Sterner?”

Mary’s face brightened. “He saved Father and me from overturning in the buggy in the creek. And should I mention handsome?”

“He never mentioned saving you. I met him at the Red Lion yesterday. He asked me to give you this.” Charlotte handed her the letter. “He’s quite taken with you.”

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 can’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.


William Sterner

“He has a good hand,” Charlotte remarked.

“We must invite him to the gala. There are over a hundred invitations. They’ll never notice one extra.”

“Why don’t you write the invitation? We’ll find a way to get it to him.”

“There isn’t much time,” said Mary.

“There’s time enough. Where does he live?”

“Just a few miles down the road.”

“I think you and I need some new clothes for this event. We’ll have the driver deliver the invitation in person while we’re in town doing a little shopping.”

“This is all too marvelous. I can’t thank you enough,” 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 person’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 family’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.


Mary Bartholomew


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.

“A late night?”

“I met Mary’s aunt at the Red Lion last night. She’s going to help me meet her,” said William.

“You’re taken with Mary, aren’t you?”

William shrugged. “I want to know more about her. I think she likes me. She smiled at me.”

Charles shook his head. “She was smiling at me.”

“Not a chance.”

Charles picked up a pile of empty sacks. “Is her aunt going to play matchmaker?”

“I should know soon.”

“Waiting can seem like forever.”

Several more loads came in that day. John helped them with the sacks in order to keep up. “I’m hiring another man, lads,” he told them. “This year is the best crop I’ve ever seen. One more man and we’re at full capacity. Soon we’ll have to turn away business.”

“We could add two more stones to the other wheel,” said William. “Or maybe start another mill.”

“I haven’t finished paying off what we’ve got, son, and that all takes money.”

“Couldn’t we borrow some?”

“I’ve borrowed too much already. I haven’t paid that off yet.”

“Perhaps you could rent your land out or grow your own grain for a higher profit,” said Charles.

John shook his head. “There’s too much land around here as it is. The problem is there isn’t enough capacity at the mill.”

“That’s actually a good idea, Charles,” said William.

“I have to worry about how to keep up with what we have now.” John kicked the empty sacks on the floor into a pile. “Let’s get going – the morning’s half gone.”

When William sat down to dinner that night, Elizabeth handed him Mary’s invitation. He hastily pulled the wax seal from the flaps. “Mary invited me to the Bartholomew’s dinner party at the Red Lion, and a horse race.”

“That makes things easier. We’re going to have to make sure your good waistcoat still fits,” said Elizabeth.

“It will be too hot. I won’t need a coat.”

“Of course you will. There are going to be a lot of notables there. You have to be properly dressed for an event like this.”

William looked at his father apprehensively.

“You have to look like a gentleman for Mary.” John smiled. “You can use my boot polish. I’ll lend you one of my cravats, too.”


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 town’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.

“Look Aunt Charlotte, it’s William. He got the letter.”

Charlotte turned in William’s direction, twirling her parasol.

“Glad you made it, William,” she called out to him.

“That can’t be the Sterner boy,” said Henry.

Martha frowned disapprovingly. “What’s he doing here?”

“I invited him,” said Mary. “It’s the least we can do for him after he came to our rescue in the creek.”

“But he’s just a mill hand – a hop boy,” sneered Henry.

“Mind your tongue, Henry,” scolded Charlotte. “Do you have to be so rude?”

Mary offered her hand. “William, I’m so delighted you could make it.”

William took her hand and kissed it, then bowed to the others.

“I can’t thank you enough for inviting me. Mary, you look beautiful.”

“You’re very forward.”

William glanced at Henry and faltered. “Forgive me for speaking my mind, I surely don’t mean to offend you.”

“And forgive me for interrupting, William, but what sort of horse do you have there?” asked Henry.

* * *


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