20. May 2011 · Comments Off on A Taste of the New Book – Deep in the Heart · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Uncategorized

(Deep in the Heart will continue the story begun in Daughter of Texas. During the tumultious years of the Repiblic of Texas, the widowed Margaret Becker Vining is trying to raise her four sons by keeping a boarding house in frontier Austin, the now-and-again capitol of the Republic.  Deep in the Heart will be available by December 2011, from Watercress Press. )

Chapter 9 – Forted Up

         The events of which Dr. Williamson had written were confirmed within days by accounts in the newspapers which arrived from across Texas. Morag wept a little when Margaret told them of what Dr. Wiliamson’s letter conveyed. So did Hetty, but then she dried her eyes and said, “Our old Mam would have said he was born to trouble as sparks fly upwards. But he made a brave end of it, did he? And in a state of grace, as well. A blessing, I’d say – there’s many dies worse that deserves better, and many deserving worse who die well.” She dabbed at her eyes again and blew her nose. “An’ he did well by his kinfolk an’ those he called friends. Ever so grateful I am that he brought us here.”

            “I wish he had drawn life from that dreadful jar,” Margaret replied, and she felt a little teary in the face of Hetty’s stoicism. “I had hoped to expand the house again, someday – and I had trusted in him to be the one to build it! Now, I am sure I can find another carpenter  . . .  but where do you find another cousin?”

            “Oh, aye – we had cousins a’plenty in Wexford!” Hetty answered robustly, and then her eyes moistened again. “No’ many like Seamus though! We shall miss him too, Marm, miss him something awful. Now – Morag, darlin’ – if the baby is a boy, you should name him after Seamus, no matter what your man says. Aye, that’s what you should do!”

            “But what if the baby is a girl?” Morag asked, laughing a little through her tears, “What then, Marm?”

            “Jemima,” Margaret suggested. “Close enough to James, I think.”  They talked a little over a name for Morag’s babe if it should be a girl, Margaret all the time thinking how much she would have loved to have a daughter. Not that she loved her sons any the less, or would have wished them to be anything more or less than they were – bumptious and growing boys in all their glory  . . .  but a daughter, to be able to share those womanly mysteries with, to talk and laugh with, as she had done with her mother, and with Oma Katerina! Boys became men – just as her dear little baby Brother Carl had grown first into a boy  . . .  and then departed into the world of men. Doubtless her sons would do the same and very soon, too – depart on their own errands –  and if not into the Llano like Carl and his Ranger comrades, then into a world of which she would ever only know a portion.

             In the end, Morag and Daniel’s baby arrived quite swiftly, several weeks after Margaret had received Dr. Williamson’s letter. Morag had shuffled into the kitchen at mid-morning, heavy and off-balance with the weight of the child, taking up a dish-towel to dry the breakfast dishes that her sister was washing. Morag had been sleeping badly at night in these last few weeks, and resting frequently with her feet up – such were the discomforts of imminent child-bearing. Standing close to the warmth of the stove, Margaret was carefully stirring a kettle of milk-curds, watching the heavy masses of curds separate from the clear whey. Her sons were out with Papa, working in the garden-plot under Papa’s eyes, and although they were close enough to the house, Papa still had a loaded rifle leaning against the nearest tree.

            “Och, Morag dear, you should be stayin’ off your feet!” Hetty exclaimed, and Margaret turned around, echoing the sentiments as soon as she saw Morag’s face, pale with strain and particularly bruised-looking around her eyes.

            “No – there’s an ache in my legs and in my back – truly it feels better to be walking around – oh!” she gasped, half-doubling over. “Mother Mary an’ Joseph!”

            “What is the matter!” Both Mary and Hetty exclaimed. Margaret dropped the long spoon into the curds and Hetty abandoned the dish-pan, to come to her side.

            “It  . . .  hurts . . .” Morag answered, between clenched teeth. “A sudden pain . . . as if  . . . oh!” She held on to Hetty with both hands, her own face crimson with embarrassment. “Hetty  . . .  I’ve gone an’ pissed meself  . . . Marm, I’m terrible sorry…”

            “Not to mind,” Margaret answered calmly, as the floor at Morag’s feet became suddenly dark with liquid, which soaked into the planks or swiftly drained between. “The pain was that of the waters breaking. The baby is coming.”

            “Is that what ‘tis?” Morag gasped again, and her face screwed up as another pain took hold. “Och, another one – not so bad…”

            “How close together?” Margaret demanded, “And how long have you been feeling them?”

            “Since last night – and a no more than a minute or two between,” Morag answered, while Hetty replied comfortably, “Just like our Mam, then.” She looked across Morag’s bowed head to Margaret. “Mam always had hers fast. Two shakes of a lamb’s tail, Mam always said. Wi’ our youngest brother, she was brought to bed after the morning milking, birthed him by the time the church clock struck ten of the hour, and was bringing supper to the reapers in the field at noon.”

            “How  . . . energetic of her,” Margaret said, thinking that Hetty was most likely saying so to cheer and encourage Morag, who was clinging onto Margaret’s hand with such a grip that Margaret’s fingers were practically numb.

            “Well, Mam was married when she was only a bit of a girl,” Hetty answered, “And she bore twenty-three babes, an’ all but four born alive and well – with th’ youngest of us, all the midwife need do was sit at the bottom of the bed an’ hold out her hands to catch – if there was time to go an’ find her. Morag, me darlin’ it may take a little longer for your first, but I swear to you, for Mam it always went easy.”

            “I want to lie down now,” Morag demanded, her face suddenly sheened with perspiration. They had arranged a bed in the old parlor for a lying in and Margaret shook her head,

            “In a little while, Morag dear – if you walk now, it will bring it on easily.” She looked across at Hetty, who seemed quite calm. “Do you want me to send one of the boys for a doctor?” she asked, and Hetty shook her head.

            “No need, no need, Marm.” She answered. None the less, she slipped out to the garden while Hetty helped Morag remove her dress and petticoats, and quietly asked Papa to keep the boys in the garden, or set them to work in the stable for as long as possible. Papa looked grimly pleased at that, while the boys looked disappointed at having to work all the day, instead of lessons in the afternoon.

            Miraculously to Margaret, there was no need to send for the doctor or any of the women in town known to be skilled as a mid-wife – at least more skilled than Hetty –for Morag’s baby came as easily as a kitten to a mother cat, a crumpled pink shape – a comical crown of dark hair on it’s elongated little head – slipping easily from between Morag’s pale thighs. Morag cried out, almost involuntarily, a cry that was half a moan of relief and triumph mixed together. Hetty, behind Morag’s shoulders and bracing her into a sitting position on the bed, commanded,

            “Now, push one more time  . . .  och, you’ve a grand wee daughter for Danny. He’ll want a son the next time, I’ll be bound. Is the little one all there, Marm – all of her lovely little fingers and toes?”

            “She is,” Margaret answered, around a lump in her throat. Morag groaned again, as the red spongy mass of the afterbirth came away. While Hetty dealt capably with it, Margaret swathed the little form in a towel that had been warming by the hearth, gently rubbing the birth-matter from it’s tiny limbs and from the fluff of dark hair – how small was a new-born, how compact from being sheltered in the safe refuge of a mother’s womb. The baby’s flesh was pale pink with health, it drew in an astonished breath, and Margaret hastily wrapped it in the towel and put Morag’s daughter into her arms, while Hetty beamed with happiness and satisfaction upon them all.

            “Father Odin, he is away, but he left me wi’ a vial of holy water so that I could baptize the wee mite myself. What name d’ye wish to call her by? Jemima for Seamus, o’course, and perhaps Marm can gi’ her another name, for luck.”

            “Mary,” Margaret answered, so moved that she could barely speak. “Mary for my own mother: I’d wished to name a daughter of mine for her.”

            “And for the Blessed Mother,” Hetty cooed, “That will do very well, Marm – Jemima Mary Fritchie it is, then. Look you – she smiled – I think she likes her names.”

            “She has a little pain in her middle,” Margaret answered. “It only looks like she is smiling.”

            “No, she is truly smiling, Marm.” Morag insisted, and her own face was split by a yawn. “Oh – begging your pardon – I did no’ think to be so tired…”

            “Try and nurse the little one at little, before you go to sleep,” Margaret suggested, “So that she may become accustomed to suck, and your milk will come the sooner.” Impulsively, she bent down and kissed Morag’s forehead, and kissed the baby’s downy little head. “Rest now – this will be the last good rest you will see for years.”

            Jemima-Mary was a good baby, placid and not particularly colicky. The boys – especially Peter and Jamie were entranced – and deeply disappointed that she would not be a ready playmate for a good few years. The baby took no interest at all in the boy-treasures that they brought for her from the woods and creek-banks – flowers and water-tumbled stones, and flint arrowheads, although Morag smilingly promised to keep them safe for her, until she was a little older. A week after her birth, Morag and her sister and Margaret were invited by Mary Bullock to bring Jemima-Mary to a gathering of the town’s women for afternoon tea.

            “To welcome our newest little settler,” explained Mrs. Eberly, who bore the message, stumping fearlessly up the hill. “And she is quite the picture of an angel, isn’t she?” Mrs. Eberly cooed at baby, who was awake and examining the world immediately over her head and shaking her tiny boneless fists at it, laying in the cradle that Papa had made. “A love, she is – and will her eyes stay so blue? Just the color of buffalo clover – and the very image of her mama, I am sure.”

            “I hope so, Marm Eberly.” Morag was pink with embarrassment and pride, at being with her baby the center of so much attention. “I hope so indade.”

            “And Mr. Fritchie,” Mrs. Eberly continued, “locked up in that wretched Perote place, never laying eyes on the little mite. Well, never you fear, Mrs. Fritchie – we’ll see that you’ll be looked after, just as one of our own.”

            “Thank you, Marm,” and Morag blushed even deeper, as Mrs. Eberly straightened her bonnet and prepared to take her leave.

            “We will see you the day after tomorrow, then – in the china parlor at Bullocks.”

            “A party,” Hetty exclaimed. “Och, and isna that what we need for a cheering-up? To see the other ladies for a bit, and to show off Jemima-Mary  . . .  what shall we bring, then – some ginger-cakes? Although,” and she looked as if she was having a second thought. “No, the good white flour is all but gone.”

            “Apple-butter,” Margaret said. “We have plenty to share.”

               There were about thirty women and older girls still living inAustin; Margaret tallied them up thoughtfully – most of them married – and on good terms with each other as much as they had to be. Mrs. Eberly was about the oldest, the grand dame of such little society as they had. Margaret reckoned herself as the only young widow who had maintained that state for more than a year, for there were ever more men in Austin – young and daring men – than there were women to court them. It took a strong-minded and resolute woman to maintain a single state for very long. Of families, there were enough with children that Race Vining might have opened a school; it distressed Margaret to know that one of the reasons – besides having no schoolmaster – for not having such was that the older boys and girls were taken up with the work that needed to be done, and the danger of Indians kept the smaller ones close to their mothers. But for the sake of the community of women, it was a rare week when there was not a gathering of women at one house or another, for a round of quilting, or to talk together as they sewed or knitted, while their children played outside in the afternoon. Today, Margaret resolved to take the older boys, Horace and Johnny with her. Otherwise, Papa would have put them to work, and today would be a bit of a holiday.

            “This is Jemima-Mary’s debut into society,” She told her sons, as they walked down the rise from Papa’s house, towards the scatterings of shanties and log-houses clustered around Constitution and Pecan. Morag and Hetty laughed, as Jamie asked,

            “What’s a day-boo, Mama?”

            “Back in the East,” she answered, “It’s when a young lady puts up her hair and her Mama and Papa have a party for all of their friends and her friends, to let everyone know she is of an age to be courted in marriage.”

            “It sounds silly,” Horace said gravely, “Can’t they all just tell by looking?”

            The three women laughed together, their voices mingling pleasantly in the glade of oak trees that the path towards town meandered through, while Jamie and Peter squabbled pleasantly over which one of them would court Jemima-Mary when she was a young lady. Morag drew Jemima-Mary closer to her with one arm, and picked up the trailing hem of her skirt with the other. Hetty answered, still laughing,

            “I’ll tell ye how ye can tell when you’re of an age to begin courting, laddie – it’s when you finally get your growth and ye are taller than the one ye like!” Horace blushed – he had just turned twelve, and to his horror, the two girls nearest his age inAustinboth towered over him by at least half a head. Margaret saw this discomfiture and put her arm around his shoulders, whispering,

            “It’s only a matter of time, dear one.” She nearly slipped and called him ‘little one.’ “Girls always get their growth first, and then the boys catch up. You’ll not be as tall as Uncle Carl, but you will be as tall as your Papa, and I liked him very much as he was.”

            Within the far-scattering of houses on the outskirts of town, but still short of the Bullocks’, they were startled by the swift urgent rattle of the alarm-drum sounding. Margaret’s heart chilled like a lump of ice within her breast – what was this? A man shouted, then another – Comanche! She turned and looked over her shoulder towards the steep ridge thrust up into the blue summer sky to the north of town, a height which offered a superb view of all ofAustin and the outlaying houses, all the way down to the riverbank. Horror rooted her feet to the ground; the green and oak-wooded height was not green any more, but patched with seething color, of men on horseback, brilliantly painted horses and men accoutered in bright red blankets that the Comanche favored, carrying long bows and javelins adorned with ribbons and feather. Queerly, her first impulse was to turn and run back the refuge of Papa’s house, but just as sense prevailed, a man on horseback pounded past them, and reined in his horse in an uprush of dust and dancing hooves.

            “To the Bullock’s fort – now!” He shouted, and she recognized Captain Coleman, of the local Ranger Company. He lived a little farther away, up the valley and farmed near Shoal Creek. Now, he held his horses’ reins in one fist, a long repeating revolver in the other, the barrel pointed upwards. Margaret gathered up the four-year old Peter in her arms, and commanded, breathlessly,

            “Morag, Hetty – run! Don’t stop to look behind. Horace, take Jamie’s hand! Do it – Jamie, run now!” for Jamie clamored to be allowed to go back to the house and load for Opa so he could fight the Indians.” Hetty already had Johnny by one hand, and her other on Morag’s shoulder. Margaret looked back again, and at once wished that she hadn’t and was glad that she had, for the Indians on their gaily caparisoned horses were already spilling down through the trees – but Captain Coleman was between them and the Indians, his horse dancing impatiently to and fro –  as he kept the reins tightly gathered. He turned his horse every few moments – himself always between the Indians pouring through the trees, and Margaret and Hetty, the children and Morag with the baby as they ran. Margaret’s heart pounded painfully under the bodice of her best black dress, and the corsets that she had laced so tightly. Morag ran strongly, but she was already gasping, easily tired after the work of recent childbed and the weight of that precious child in her arms. Hetty ran as like a man; her skirts pulled with indecent efficiency  past her knobby knees and tucked into the waistband of her apron, her face set and her grip on Johnny and her sister like that of iron and rawhide. She was pulling them after her, an undaunted force. Margaret redoubled her efforts, spurred by the memory of every horror she had ever heard of the fate of women, of babies and children – save those of a particular age – in the brutal hands of the Comanche. There were other women with their children, running from their own houses, in town and in the outlaying ones, from the Harrell’s old compound, near the river and the confluence with Shoal Creek. They were close, close and closer still to the Bullock’s – the tall house on pilings, where the lower part had been walled in to make the dining room at ground-level for their inn, the stout log building ramble which had become a block-house and refuge. Now that so many had leftAustin, Bullock’s place could shelter all that remained in an emergency, at least for hours, possibly even days.

            Gasping for breath, Margaret and her sons, and Hetty with her sister and the baby gained the front door of Bullock’s, almost blinded in the sudden dimness after the bright sunlight outside. The shutters had all been hastily drawn and bolted shut; those interconnecting rooms now as dark as a cave and filled with the murmurs of frightened men and women, save when the door opened to admit another person seeking shelter at Bullock’s. Before her eyes adjusted, Margaret blundered into something hard, something solid and more oddly-shaped than a table. Already, much of the heavier furniture in the taproom and public parlor were being moved and propped up against the walls to strengthen the shutters. She put out her hand to steady herself, squinting in the dimness; it seemed that someone had now thought to bring a single cannon from the armory. How the men had ever managed to roll it inside – and when they had done this – she couldn’t think. Morag and the boys had already gone ahead, through the dark hallways to the Mary Bullock’s china parlor, which sat in the very heart of Bullocks’ establishment, the safest and most secure, and where the women and children were accustomed to take refuge upon hearing any alarm.

            “Mrs. Vining?” in the confusion, someone caught at her arm – Captain Coleman, his expression urgent, as much as she could see in the darkness. “Is everyone from your household here?”

            “All but my father,” she answered, and Captain Coleman’s lips made a thin line across his face. “Damn stubborn Dutchman,” he muttered, “I guess he has decided to hole up at his place. Just when we need every man-jack who can handle a weapon here!”

            “What is the matter?” Margaret demanded, and stayed him by the arm as he would have turned away. She could see better now or perhaps someone had lit a few more lanterns. “Are we so few that we are in danger, even all gathered at Bullock’s?”

            Captain Coleman looked as if he would rather not have answered; he was a wiry, weathered man, somewhere in his thirties; one of the many unmarried men inAustin. He still limped from a wound taken a month or two ago, which had made him unfit to ride out with his company. Margaret knew of him only that her brother spoke of him as a good Ranger and reputed to be the best poker player between Austin and Hornsby’s Bend – maybe even as far as Mina.

            “Yes, damn the luck – sorry, Miz Vining. There are twenty good men out on a long scout with the Ranging Company, five more that I know – including Ed Waller – went toHoustonon the stage last week for business, and another three or four are away with a wagon-load of timber yesterday to the saw-mill at Beeson’s Landing. There must be at least another dozen like your father caught by surprise and holed up in their places. I’m only here, ‘cause I’m still healing.”

            “How many are here?” Margaret drew in her breath, and Captain Coleman didn’t bother to lower his voice.

            “I count mebbe a few more than twenty men and some boys who are fitten’ to carry weapons.” Margaret was appalled – this few men of fit age inAustinand the district around? She had seen many times that number of Indians, in that fleeting glance over her shoulder. Was it the Penateka Comanche, who came down like a wolf on the fold, out of the Llano with a thousand warriors? Two years ago, they had terrorized the valley of the Guadalupe, pillaging their way down to Linnville, while all the folk who lived there took refuge on boats in the harbor. The Comanche were defeated in open battle only when all the Ranger companies had time to gather and ambush them at Plum Creek, upon their return journey to their customary hunting grounds in the untamed and un-peopled Llano country. But that victory was weeks in coming. It had taken no little time to assemble the volunteers, the mounted militia of all the settlements inTexas– and in the meantime, Linnville had burned, and the Penateka had taken, tortured and murdered many white captives. There were no boats, no sea refuge here, only the stout walls of Bullock’sInn  . . .  and only if there were enough men to defend it.

            “But don’t ye go discounting the women, if it would serve,” Hetty spoke up, at Margaret’s side. Mrs. Eberly – barely seen as a blur of pale face, in her widow-black – echoed, “I’ll take up a musket, if you’ll need  . . .  and some of the boys, too. If they are not old enough to aim a weapon, they are old enough to re-load.”

            “So will I.” Margaret averred. She thought of her sons, of Morag and the baby, huddled in the parlor, and those other mothers and children – no, the brutal Comanche must not be allowed exercise their cruel whims upon them. Margaret would do whatever was needed, to keep them safe and alive. “Give us each a musket, Captain Coleman – or a pistol – a knife even, if that is all there is at hand.”

            “Do you know how to use a musket?” he asked, skeptically. “Aim and cock – and are you sure you can kill a man with it? It’ud be no use if you, having a weapon if they can just take it away from you. ”

            “A Comanche threatening my child – I’d kill with my bare hands.” Margaret answered, firmly. “I can load, and aim – I’ve watched my father, my husband – even my brothers do so, since the day we came toTexas.”

            “What about you, ladies?” Captain Coleman turned to Mrs. Eberly and Hetty. “Can you load and aim, shoot to kill?”

            “It’s not like there is a choice in the matter,” Mrs. Eberly answered with frank honesty, and Hetty said, “Aye well – its’ the narrow end pointed at them as you want to do the damage upon, isn’t it?” Captain Coleman chuckled, in sour amusement, but his face sobered at once. “A good thing we’re not in need of sharp-shooters, Miss Moran – but that’s the general notion. When we parcel out the town arsenal, I’ll see that you’re supplied – I reckon that now that I’m in charge, with Bullock my second. Now – go on into the parlor, so’s I’ll know where you are.”

            He turned away, as the main door opened and shut. Margaret saw in the brief light which came in with the person admitted, that two men had already taken up a sentry-position on either side of it – and that Mr. Ware the Land Commissioner, who walked on a peg-leg and had his right coat-sleeve pinned up – was directing some of the older boys in adjusting the barrel of the cannon so that it pointed directly at the front door.

            “Aye, there’s always a warm welcome for guests at Bullocks Inn,” Hetty observed, and Mrs. Eberly laughed in genuine amusement. Margaret thought; Angelina Eberly must have seen nearly everything in her time – I truly think there must be nothing on earth capable of shocking her.  The china parlor was down a short corridor, past the door to the Bullock’s own private quarters, and a stairway which gave access to the upper floors. The parlor, as dark now as the rest of theInn, was crammed with women and children. With no fresh air from the opened windows and the crush within, it was stiflingly warm inside; the odor of human bodies and dirty diapers was overlaid with the stink of fear. Margaret didn’t think she could endure very much time within. She was certain the war-band of Comanche she had glimpsed over her shoulder was by far the largest body of them that she had ever seen in her life. She could think of no good reason why so many would come to the valley of theColorado all at once, unless it was to attack and overwhelm the folk ofAustin, or Hornsby’s Bend, or even Mina. Most Comanche raids, they were on outlaying houses, an ambush of a few travelers, or a sudden attack upon men working in the fields. Sometimes the raiders were after horses: Papa had always kept his stable padlocked at night for that reason. In the early days, he and her brothers had ploughed the cornfield with a rifle over their shoulders; of late he had taken to doing so again. And what about Papa, now? He must have heard the alarm, and taken refuge in his own house, as he always stubbornly insisted that he would, rather than risk being caught out in the open and making a run for Bullock’s . . .  surely he must be safe, if he had time to bar the doors  . . .  Margaret could hardly bear thinking about this.

            Perhaps the Indians had been watching them all this time, observing how few men were around, noting with calculating eyes how many families were left living like ghosts among the decaying frame buildings, their horses, food stores and valuables – their scalps and their human flesh too – all ready for the taking by any raiding party able to reach out and just pluck them, like a ripe apple from one of Papa’s trees.

            Morag sat in a corner of the parlor, with Jemima-Mary in her arms, and Margaret’s sons clustered with her, like chicks under a hen’s wings. She had been telling them a story of oldErin; of Cuchulain and his magical shield and sword. As always when she told them one of these tales, the Irish in her voice came out – musical and lilting, much more so than in every-day speech. Even some of the other women and children setting near her were quiet, hanging on every word as if she wove a gold-brocade spell – a spell which could magically take them away to another world.

            “For it was at the place that was called Emain-Macha, Macha-of-the-Spears they called it – so they did – that Conchubar the High King held the Assembly House of the lords of Ulster, and it was there was the chief of his palaces. Oh, and a fine place it was, having the three parts to it – the House of the Royals, the Speckled House  . . .  and finally, the House of the Red Branch. Och, and it was truly a marvel; in the House of the Royals which had three-times-fifty rooms, the walls were of red cedar-wood with copper nails. The High King Conchubar’s own chamber was on the first level, the walls paneled with bronze below and silver above, adorned with golden birds, their eyes were set with shining jewels – there were nine divisions of it from the fireplace to the wall at the end, and each one of them being thirty feet tall!  There was a silver scepter always before Conchubar, a silver scepter with three golden apples mounted upon it, as of bells – and when he took up that rod and made the golden apples ring, all the folk in the house would be silent, wherever they were upon hearing it  . . . ”

            “Well, we were intending to have a party,” Mrs. Eberly remarked, “Here, laddie-buck, let me have that chair. I’m too old to go charging around like this in the heat  . . .  when young Morag there is finished with her story we’ll have a sing-along, won’t we? And Mary can play the pianner.” She sounded so normal – as if the party which had been planned was going on exactly as expected – that Margaret thought at least some of the younger women and the children were reassured. “We’ll be out from underfoot, while Captain Coleman decides what’s best. Go on with the story, girl – silver on the walls and golden birds with jewels for their eyes  . . .  seems quite a place, I must say.”

            Morag shifted Jemima-Mary in her arms, and resumed the tale, “Now, in the House of the Red Branch, they kept the weapons of the enemies which they had defeated – and their heads, as well – and the Speckled House was for the swords and shields and spears of the heroes ofUlster. It was called so for the colors of the hilts of their swords, and the brightness of the spears, for they were trimmed and bound around with rings and bands of gold and silver; so were the bosses of the shields and the rims of them. The drinking cups and were likewise trimmed with silver and gold. And it was the custom of the Men of the Red Branch, upon one of them being insulted; he would demand satisfaction at that very moment, even in the middle of the feasting hall  . . .”

            “Sounds a familiar sort,” Margaret whispered to Mrs. Eberly, who chuckled and answered, “Oh, the times I’ve had to speak up and tell them to settle it – afore they commenced to break up the furniture!”

            “And Cuchulain’s sword hung with his shield – and the name of it was called Cruaidin Cailidcheann. The sword had a hilt of gold, ornamented with silver, and if the point of it was bent back, even as far as the hilt, it would spring back straight at once. Indeed, it was so sharp that it could cut a hair floating in the water, a hair from the head of a man without touching the skin – and if it cut a man in two, each half would not miss the other for some considerable time  . . .”

            Margaret leaned her back against the doorway – there were no more chairs, and she did not want to sit on the floor with the children, as the minutes and hours trickled away. It would be sundown, soon – very likely they would be spending the night here. She turned at a step in the corridor, to note Richard Bullock coming down the stairs, with his arms full of muskets and rifles. He also had a grey jacket, trimmed with martial braid over one arm and a peaked cap askew upon his head, a hat that looked as if it belonged to a smaller man. His son Frank followed him, similarly burdened with powder-flasks and several small haversacks over his shoulder.

            “Marm Eberly, Miz Vining?” He said in a low voice, “Capn’ Coleman said you wished to be armed, since there were too few men. Are there any other ladies who can handle a rifle, or load one? Boys, too – we have enough weapons that everyone may have two at hand. Here  . . .” he dealt out two each to Margaret, Hetty and Mrs. Eberly, as well as to several other ladies who stepped quietly out of the press in the china parlor. Horace and Johnny came forward as well, Horace saying gravely,

            “Me an’ Johnny can load for you and Miss Hetty, Mama.”

            “Good boys,” Margaret answered, her heart swelling with pride and fear for her sons as Horace and Johnny took two powder-flasks and a single haversack from Bullock’s son. “Where should we take our place, Mr. Bullock?”

            “I reckon you should stay downstairs,” Mr. Bullock answered, “For I don’t believe the upstairs will stop a bullet. There’s some shooting holes in the outside walls here, Frank here will show you where. If’n you stand on benches, you should ought to be able to cover the back. An’ ma’am – don’t fire wild. We got plenty of lead, but not if you go wasting it.”

            His arms empty of weapons, he was shrugging into the grey coat. It also did not seem to be his, for it did not fit him well. Someone called his name from the front of theInn– a man’s voice, urgent but not alarmed. Margaret wondered briefly why he was bothering with such an ill-fitting coat, but then Frank Bullock hopped down from a bench, halfway along the corridor from the door that led into the china parlor. He had a small block of wood in his hand; a square of light pierced the roughly plastered log wall, light which had the golden tint of late afternoon. Outside, the tree-shadows lay long, stretching across.

            “See, ma’am – each one of the shooting holes is blocked with one o’these, three or four at the same height; all the way along . . .  I guess Pa thinks you each take one.”

            “I think that a good idea,” Margaret answered sedately, and Mrs. Eberly snorted.

            “May as well teach your grandmother to knit, laddie-buck. Load for me then, and help me up onto the bench, I’m not as nimble as I used to be.”

            Silently, Frank and the other boys began loading rifles and muskets. Margaret gingerly accepted one, and stepped up onto the bench. She set her face to the shooting hole – about four inches wide, and half as tall – a space between logs deliberately left un-chinked. Papa had done the same with his house. This one looked out at the back of Bullock’s – she could see a little ofCongress Avenue, but mostly the sides of other buildings, and various trees all robed in green leaves. The little wedge of sky that she could see was blue and cloudless, tinged with the golden-red of a sunset – but she could hear no bird-song. That very silence seemed heavy with menace.

            “What’s happening, Mama?” Horace asked; he was loading a musket, with careful attention, as if it were a penmanship exercise. “What do you see?”

            “Nothing,” she answered, and then her eye caught a movement: three men, one in advance flanked by two others – they were dark shapes and at a distance, against the dazzle of sunshine. They moved alongCongress Avenue, pacing slowly. “Oh, my.”

            “What did you see?” Horace asked again, echoed by Hetty and Mrs. Eberly.

            “I saw Captain Coleman,” Margaret answered, “And he was carrying a white flag.”

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