Updated: Oct 6
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Chapter 2: As expected, the rest of the night is miserable. I manage to pull myself together enough to help Elizabeth with the dishes, but I’m still a sniveling mess until bedtime.
My amazing sister-in-law has already assured me that we’ll go visit Garrett with food and blankets just as soon as we’ve prepared our tyrannical guests their breakfast in the morning. Going alone doesn’t seem all that intelligent. For that matter, neither does staying behind without the other. Not when the British officers among us are so intent on exercising their supremacy. And not when there are Hessians who can apparently walk into houses whenever they so wish.
We’re accosted one more time by such wretched people that evening. This time it’s by two Hessian women, who come barging inside and immediately start tearing things off the wall before Captain Sneeder can come roaring into the picture. These creatures aren’t beastly looking. The one is even quite pretty, I dare say, or at least she would be if she wasn’t behaving in such a dreadful fashion. Elizabeth attempts to stop them right away, but has to dart back when the more attractive of the two reaches out to slap her face.
The captain is furious when he comes on this scene, swearing at the intruders and telling them to be gone before he knocks them senseless. They obey immediately, having stopped their destructive efforts as soon as he came into view.
It’s clear whom they respect and whom they don’t.
Despite this, huddled in bed with Elizabeth and the babies that night, I realize that I’ve been foolish to consider the Hessians so much worse than their masters. It’s the British, my former countrymen, who hired these people in the first place and encourage them to run around without real fear of reprisal.
People with that mentality can kick back with their civilized cigars and glasses of brandy in my sitting room until kingdom come, basking in their supposed superiority. But the men who hold to that line of thinking are just as guilty as their minions, if not more so.
That’s quite the frightening thought. So too was the way Captain Sneeder barely blinked before condemning my brother, despite what should have been fairly obvious facts and regardless of our justice system. Which, I must note, we learned from them!
That justice system saved their sorry necks before too, no matter how little they think of it now. It was a mere six years ago that the Boston Massacre happened, where a group of British soldiers fired on an angry mob of townspeople. Despite their unpopularity in the area, John Adams, one of our predominant voices for freedom, signed onto their defense. Moreover, he performed his job so well that he got six out of eight of the soldiers acquitted, and the two who were convicted of manslaughter received reduced sentences.
It seems clear how the British wouldn’t give Adams, who is part of the Second Continental Congress, the same consideration if positions were reversed today. King George is a hypocrite, expecting the right to behave one way, yet demanding that we subject ourselves to completely different standards.
These thoughts roil through my head and chest and stomach until I feel like I’m boiling. My throat is horribly dry, and all I want is to go outside to our private well for a drink of water. Yet I can’t. I might not be locked up like my brother is now, but I might as well be for all the safety my own home can provide me.
Since I can’t sleep, I pray, asking God to protect Garrett. The same plea applies to my other brothers and my father down in Trenton, so close and so far away. I pray that he will keep me and Elizabeth and the babies safe. And then I ask the Creator above to make the five soldiers sleeping here rue the day they ever crossed foot over my threshold.
There are five soldiers now, not four, since Garrett won’t be using his room anymore. They added a Sergeant Jules Girth, a tall, thin, blond thing with a consistently pursed mouth like he disagrees with everything around him. I’d like to tell him that there’s a plenty fine inn down the street if he’s so disgusted with his current accommodations. But that would require speaking to him, which isn’t something I intend on doing if at all possible.
When I get dressed hours later, the looking glass at Elizabeth’s writing desk shows significant dark circles under my golden-brown eyes. Normally, I might try to cover that up with the little jars of powder and paint that I keep in my room, unbeknownst to my father. But I don’t this time. Not when I forgot to grab the items in question out of my closet in the first place, and not when I don’t care to look presentable to a bunch of lawless bullies anyway.
Getting dressed in as simple and modest an outfit as I can put together, some part of me hopes they all feel guilty at my haggard appearance.
The rest of me knows full well that they won’t.
I’m mostly correct in that bitter assumption, though one officer proves me not completely right. This irritates me further, since it’s not the one who can undo last night’s unfair verdict.
As if he hasn’t learned his lesson once already, Sergeant James Slasen approaches me in the kitchen again. Though he makes sure Elizabeth is there this time as a suitable chaperone for his honorable but nevertheless undesirable attentions. It’s early enough in the morning that he hasn’t bothered to put on his full uniform, but he’s as solemn as if he’s standing before a commanding officer when he peeks his bruised face inside the doorway.
I see him but pretend to ignore his presence, unwilling to give him the time of day when he played such a crucial part in landing Garrett in jail. My reasonable side (and I do have one, believe it or not) tells me that Slasen didn’t intend any harm. And I do know that he wasn’t actually trying to accost me. Quite the opposite, regardless of what mistaken notion my brother stumbled onto. But I also know that he could have spoken up a little more forcibly in order to prevent Captain Sneeder from dragging poor Garrett away like a common criminal.
I reach up to adjust the head cap covering my mess of brown curls. I don’t wear the thing most days, since I know my hair is one of my finer assets. Richard Token from down the street used to write sonnets about its chocolate hue before he went off to war and died of pneumonia last month.
As a sound patriot and a good man, I never rebuked him for his forward comments. But I’m not going to present my locks for any of the town’s current residents to enjoy. At this point, the majority of them are redcoats. And of those few legal occupants that stayed, almost all of them are Quakers who refuse to fight on either side, or blasted Tories and therefore loyalists to the despicable crown.
I do realize that my mental language is sounding far too much like Garrett’s, and I wonder whether that will cancel out my earnest prayers to God from before. Spoken or not, my thoughts are hardly ladylike, and I’m rather sure the Almighty does not approve.
Elizabeth sees Slasen when she turns away from the pot of oatmeal she’s making, complete with fresh apples and cinnamon and ginger, all at Sneeder’s pretentious request. It’s apparently become a favorite combination of his since arriving here in America.
Unlike me, my sister-in-law is far too mature to leave the officer standing so awkwardly for too long. “Yes, Sergeant?” She asks, all business. “What can I do for you?”
He reaches upward to take off his hat, then remembers he’s not wearing any such thing. Between that and the black and purple bruise along his bottom cheek, he looks very young. I’m nonetheless certain he has to be in his mid-twenties and therefore a good seven years older than me.
“Missus Carpenter. Miss Carpenter,” he begins. “I wanted to apologize again for last night. I never meant for any of that to happen.”
“Yes, well, it did anyway,” Elizabeth replies with as little emotion as she started out.
I remember how she behaved right before and even right after the officers came tramping into our home, and wonder at her impressive about-face. Maybe she’s just resigned herself to being the only adult in the family. I don’t know, though I am very grateful for her newfound attitude. Without it, I’m not entirely sure whether I would fly at Slasen, raving like a madwoman; or fall right back into hysterics thinking about everything they’re demanding of us and will continue to demand until one side wins and the other loses this dreadful, convoluted civil war of sorts.
“There’s nothing we can do about it now, is there,” Elizabeth adds.
I can tell she’s speaking for the sole purpose of ending the conversation. Her tone leaves no real room for the officer in the doorway to continue.
Yet he does regardless. “I can bring Miss Carpenter’s brother food, if you’d like. The main bulk of the army is to move out this morning, but it appears that a few companies will be staying behind here in Prince Town, my own included, and I have no real orders for the day.”
Elizabeth sends him a sharp look, and I’m sure that my thoughts are mirroring hers. She wants to tell him that we can take care of ourselves, thank him ever so kindly. We might not look like much in this disputed sovereign state of New Jersey, but we’re a lot more sturdy and resourceful than his king gives us credit for.
He ignores our expressions, continuing with, “I’m sure you’ll have your hands full with my fellows out there and your children you mentioned the other night. My sister has four of her own back home in Cheltenham, and I know how busy they keep her. Besides, prison is never a place for little ones.”
Slasen sees us hesitating and tries again, growing a little more bold in his real message, even if that real message makes him uncomfortable to a visible degree.
“Prison, I’m sure, isn’t the best place for women of good standing either. Especially prisons in a place as traitorous –” at both of our mutinous looks, he scrambles to find different wording “– erm… dissentious as Prince Town. That is to say… erm… you might want to be careful about going out in general. There are some soldiers and officers – not all, mind you, but some – who are of the mind that behaving badly – very badly, mind you – is not to be dissuaded. Quite the opposite, really.”
He’s all but stuttering by the time he gets to the end of his disturbing little speech. Which, incidentally, we didn’t need to hear. We know quite well that Princeton isn’t His Majesty’s favorite location in America. Yes, we rank better than Boston, where the citizens are known for being very outspoken. Up there, they made a regular habit of public displays of protest. Those were both planned and otherwise, and well before we ever declared war, much less independence.
I also know we’re not as high a prize as Philadelphia. That’s where the Continental Congress is. And what a feather in the British’s caps it would be to take that hallowed place.
Then there’s New York City, which is quite the big to-do. They already have that though, the blackguards.
However, small though it is, Princeton is nonetheless a hotbed of what Slasen calls “treason” and we call “liberty.” And with most of our men gone off to fight and the like, it rather makes a wretched kind of sense that those left behind should take the brunt of the contempt our oppressors have for our fair town.
Elizabeth protests anyway, I’m sure for the sole reason of making him feel even more ashamed at what he’s just admitted. His mild mannerisms and sincere apologies are emboldening her, while also setting himself up as an outlet for her opinion of the entire British encampment.
“So you’re saying we’re not safe on our own public streets in broad daylight? Isn’t that just rich. And you call us Americans uncivilized.”
I can’t believe those last words came out of her mouth. Personally, I don’t believe she would have said any such thing if it was any of the other officers standing in front of us. But since Slasen is proving to be such a tenderhearted little sap, it’s easier to vent at him.
The non-bruised portions of Slasen’s cheeks have already turned red, but that blossom of color extends further across his face, flushing a deeper shade of crimson.
“My apologies for upsetting you, Missus Carpenter. However, I wanted to forewarn you. I wouldn’t want to see either of you harmed in any way.”
The way he says it so solemnly, as if it’s his express duty to safeguard the fairer sex housing him, manages to make a dent in Elizabeth’s ire. She sighs and then squares her shoulders, and I know she’s going to apologize before she opens her mouth.
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