WarningsI stoke the flames with one hand and push some loose strands of my hair back up into my cap. The jolly sound of camaraderie and a fiddle fills the inn’s main room and makes me smile. The smell of stew and stale alcohol mixes in the air along with the earthy smell of mud from the sweet rain outside. I stand up and see Captain Crawford sitting with his men at one table speaking in quiet tones. Lieutenant Gray seems disinterested in whatever bawdy joke Lieutenant Martin is making. Captain Crawford slaps the young man on the back and laughs deeply which produces a shy smile from Gray. It has just occurred to me that I had yet to see him smile. Upon looking at his lovely smile, my ears yearn to hear his laugh. First Lieutenant Martin turns his gaze upon me I feel a shiver go through my spine. I turn my face back to the ash and flames.
“Miss Woodard!” I hear him call. I turn to look at him wave me over with his thin skeletal hand. “Would you come here for a moment?” I look to Gray who nods slightly, encouraging me to come near. I shuffle over there, looking back at the bar, making sure my father is near. He always makes me feel safe.
“Yes, Lieutenant?” I say, giving a small curtsy upon approaching the table.
“Another round for me and my men, ma’am,” says Martin, his beady eyes never leaving me.
“Right away, sir,” I say, reaching forward and taking their tankards from them. As I reach across the table, Martin puts a cold hand on my arm.
“And our condolences that the governor could not give your father any more to cover expenses,” he says. I step away from the table quickly.
“You did what you could, sir. We appreciate what you managed to get us.” The amount came to about enough to cover their food expenses for a week, but that was all. Hardly enough to make up for their boarding and loss of business suffered from people not wanting to stay under the same roof as their occupiers. Business was still good, but losses were still felt and lamented by both parents with each passing day. “More ale. Is there anything else you will be needing?”
“Well… no,” Martin says with a smirk that turns my stomach.
“Only your confidence,” Gray says.
“My confidence? In what?” I ask.
“We were discussing some important military orders as you approached the table. I do hope you are kind enough not to breathe a word of it,” the young lieutenant says, scratching his light brown hair that is neatly plaited and powdered and tied back with ribbon. His tone is grave, but his face says otherwise.
“Perhaps I shan’t. Perhaps I shall tell the town crier of our king’s plans,” I chuckle. Even Captain Crawford cracks a smile. “Come now, Lieutenant what good would I have with soldier’s talk?”
“I don’t know, Miss Woodard. I believe you are of the sort to bring a country its knees if you so asked,” says Gray. Crawford looks at him in amusement.
“But hopefully not our country. Think of all Britain has done for you colonists,” Martin says suddenly. My smile disappears.
“No, sir! I mean, yes, sir. I mean, I mean-”
“It was only a compliment to the young lady, Lieutenant,” the captain says.
“Compliment or not, it’s no joking matter. There are people who feel-”
“Lieutenant,” Gray says. He turns to me and gives me an apologetic look “Those pints, please, Miss Woodard.”
“Of course,” I say turning on my heels. I can feel the other patrons watching me out the corners of their eyes as the conversation becomes quieter. Only the old fiddler in the corner and the roaring rain outside keeps everyone else from hearing the pounding of my heart. I go to my father at the bar and hand him the tankards.
“Elinor,” he says. His tone is serious.
“Will you accompany me into the ale cellar for a moment?”
“Yes.” He grabs a lantern as I follow him into the storeroom and watch him open the latch into the cellar where he keeps the large kegs of ale and wine. He and I carefully go down the ladder and land softly in the sawdust. The cellar is musty, but the barrels smell of rich oak and barley. “What did you need down here?”
“Privacy to speak my mind, Elinor,” my father growls. His usually soft features are sharp and defined in the glow of the lamp. “Are you trying to ruin me?”
“What are you talking about, Father?”
“You making merry with those-”
“Soldiers?” I suggest.
“They’re our guests, Father. I’m good to all of our guests. Is that not what you and Mother ask of me? Is that not what’s best for the inn?”
“Guests who do not pay their way, scare the honest customers away, and poison my daughters with bright coats, shiny brass buttons, and sweet words,” says my father. His words hit me hard enough they make me stumble back.
“Father? If Second Lieutenant Gray wishes to bring Abigail and Cornelia sweets then is it not within his rights to do so?”
“That is not what I am talking about Elinor.”
“What then?” I ask. My father sets the lamp down on the ladder and walks towards me.
“I may be a simple innkeeper and a rugged man, but I am no fool, Elinor. I see the way the young Lieutenant looks at you…” My blood runs cold and my face warm with a mix of embarrassment and indignation. “And you him.”
“Father, I would never defile myself with-”
“Elinor, I know, but I do not trust him. No soldier is that genteel.” Hearing my father speak poorly of Lieutenant Gray angers me.
“And because you do not trust him, I should not?” I regret speaking when I see the contempt in my father’s eyes.
“Tell me, you do not fancy him, Elinor.”
“Elinor, please. Be careful, my daughter. Be wary of a gentle man who carries a musket. Do not be so stupid, girl.”
“Father, I am not so foolish as that. It hurts me that would even think such a thing.”
“Forgive me, daughter, but you are young and he is not. It is only that it would break my heart if anything should happen to you,” my father says, putting his strong hands on my shoulders. I frown and push away from him.
“Nothing is going to happen because I don’t fancy him,” I manage to say. My father searches my face before moving back towards the ladder.
“Whatever you claim, Elinor, mind the men in uniform,” my father says. Still angry, I swallow.
“So still you do not believe me?” I ask, fighting the urge to strike one of the barrels.
“I believe what my eyes see… and so will the lieutenant if you carry on with your girlish coquetry.”
“Father-!” I begin, but he does not hear my words and climbs up the ladder.
When alone I search in the dim light for something to throw. My hand finds a near empty whisky bottle and I hurl it against the wall, watching it shatter into dozens of satisfying pieces. I will clean it later in the evening when humor returns. I grab the lantern and make my way back up to the main room of the inn. My mother gives me a questioning look as she wipes down the bar, but says nothing. My father is pour three pints as soon as he finishes pouring the last one, I run over and grab the tankards and take them to the soldiers’ table. My father has put me in a spiteful mood though I know I’m being foolish.
“Evening again,” Captain Crawford says. “If you will pardon me, I will return shortly.” I nod respectfully at him as he rises from the table and makes his way outside, most likely on his way to the privy.
“Sorry for making you wait, gentlemen.” I look back to my father who shakes his head at me and returns to the store room. My mother follows him.
“Some things are worth waiting for, Miss Woodard,” Lieutenant Martin says. “Eh, Gray?”
“Yes, sir,” he replies, taking a tentative sip of his ale. I look back at the two soldiers.
“You’ve been most kind to us, ma’am,” Martin says, swirling the ale in his tankard.
“So I hope, Lieutenant,” I reply. Before I know what has happened, Martin’s long spindly arms juts out and takes me by the waist, drawing me to him. My inner fire from earlier is quickly subsiding.
“Indeed. We are not fools. We see how your parents begrudgingly serve us, but you…” he says, his thumb stroking my torso slightly, “have been most gracious to us.” I try to move away, but the soldier’s strong grip holds me fast.
“Lieutenant,” Gray says.
“Do I offend the lady by extending my gratitude?” Martin asks, staring at me. Every fiber of me wants to scream yes, but the lieutenant’s gaze makes me swallow my fear.
“See, boy? I’m only extending friendly thanks,” Martin says.
“A bit too friendly, if I may be so bold as to say,” I laugh nervously, once more failing to unclasp myself from his grip.
“Is the lady nervous in our company?”
“A bit, sir,” I reply shyly, hoping he’ll let me go. I’m mistaken and instead he draws me close to sit on his lap.
“Come now, Miss Woodard, we may be soldiers, but beneath our red coats we are only men. We mean you no harm. I merely wish to enjoy your lovely company,” Lieutenant Martin says grinning up at me.
“Well, sir, I cannot stay. It is not the hostess’ place to tarry so. I have other people to take care of,” I insist, once again trying to get up. Martin will not relent.
“Is it not the hostess’ place to make her guests welcome?”
“You want to command me, boy? What business is it of yours to command your superior? I have yet to hear the young lady object to me,” Martin says sharply. Gray seems to back down a bit and only looks perturbed.
“Please, sir, let me go. I have other duties to attend to.”
“Nay, I pray you stay and humor me,” Martin says, never relenting in my grip.
“Lieutenant, sir, it is indecent of me to have stayed like this. Really, I must-”
“Come now, Miss Woodard, would you not stay for a moment more?”
“Lieutenant Martin, sir,” Gray interjects once more. I notice some patrons take notice.
“Shut up, Gray! Do not to me speak again.” Martin snaps. I become a bit more frantic in trying to remove myself from his grip.
“Please, let me go, Lieutenant!” I say. I reach down and try to wrench his arms from my torso, but he holds fast. We continue to struggle. I open my mouth to call to my father when suddenly someone grabs me from his clutches and tosses me aside.
“The young lady asked to be let go!” a familiar voice exclaims. I recover and turn to see Gideon Price as my rescuer. He’s drenched from the rain and breathing heavily, his eyes aflame. He turns back and looks at me. “Are you alright, Elinor?”
“Yes, Gideon. Thank you.”
“Who are you?” Lieutenant Martin says, standing. I lock eyes with Lieutenant Gray and see he’s nervous.
“Gideon Price, and you?” Gideon says, his fists clenching.
“I am First Lieutenant Laurence Martin in his Royal Majesty’s Army. You dare speak to a British officer this way?”
“I will as he was disrespecting the virtuous Miss Woodard,” Gideon replies. I look around and see all eyes on me and the two men facing off in the inn. The fiddler holds his instrument, mid chord and looks on with wide eyes.
“I was only bidding her enjoy our company,” says the officer.
“Well, she does not enjoy your company. And she is not the only one,” the blacksmith’s son says.
“Gideon!” I exclaim. Lieutenant Martin looks at him murderously.
“Watch your mouth, young man. Is it wise to say such things? Remember who you are in this town,” he hisses.
“And remember who you are. Soldiers in a foreign land,” Gideon says, taking a step towards the lieutenant.
“Is it foreign? You and your dear little colonies are still under the supreme control of His Majesty King George III, ruler of all of Great Britain. You are under our mercy, protection, and watch, young man. If I were you, I would not be so bold. I would be very, very careful.” Gideon lunges forward and grabs on to the Lieutenant’s coat. Second Lieutenant Gray rises quickly and grabs, Gideon, making an effort to separate the two men. I rush forward and pull on the blacksmith’s son.
“Please, Gideon. Do not do this!” I cry. The door opens and a booming voice fills the room.
“What in God’s name?!” thunders Captain Crawford. The commotion brings my parents running back into the main room. They stop when they see Gideon and the Lieutenant clutching each other still. “Lieutenant Martin! Explain yourself.”
“Captain Crawford, sir, this man affronted me and His Majesty. I meant only to try and put down his disrespect,” Martin says, releasing Gideon and brushing of his blood red sleeves.
“My disrespect, Lieutenant?” says the blacksmith’s son bitterly. “Captain, your man was making untoward advances towards Miss Woodard here.”
“Lieutenant Gray, do you give testimony to what happened?” The captain enters the room and slowly makes his way over. My heart is pounding in my chest and I feel faint, clutching Gideon to regain my balance.
“I admit that both men were at fault, Captain,” says the young lieutenant. I look at him in surprise and relief. Lieutenant Martin snaps his head and stares at his inferior with a look of hatred. “Lieutenant Martin was being forward and the boy here was only trying to relieve Miss Woodard then things got out of hand.” Lord bless Lieutenant Gray. The Captain turns to my father angrily.
“Woodard! What sort of establishment do you run here?” he asks.
“I do not control who my patrons are, sir,” is all my father manages to say. The edge in his voice is unmistakable and bitter.
“Please, Captain,” I say, “it is my fault. Do not blame my father for the trouble I cause.” The Captain looks at me and his face softens a little.
“For your sake, Miss Woodard, shall we put the issue to rest?” he asks. “Just this once. From now on I hope we have no more trouble, for the young lady’s sake?” The captain’s eyes question Gideon.
“Yes, sir. I’ll give this inn some peace for tonight,” Gideon says before moving towards the door.
“There’s a lad,” says the captain before looking around the room at the dozen wide-eyed faces. “As you were, everyone!” The fiddler startles before placing the instrument back under his chin and drawing the bow over the strings once again. Chatter returns tentatively as I look at my parents. The look my father gives me makes me turn away in shame. I decide to go after Gideon. As I walk away, I hear Martin speaking sharply to Gray.
“Do you betray a fellow Englishman, boy?” Lieutenant Martin says.
“As a soldier you are better than that. If you do not have the honor to confess your actions then you do not have the right to wear this uniform,” Gray replies.
“I’ll make you pay for that, boy.”
“Then I’ll accept the consequences for doing the right thing.” I shake my head and rush out the door after Gideon. The rain has finally stopped and leaves the air cold and misty.
“Gideon, wait!” I call after him as he crosses the yard. He turns and stops. I lift my skirts a bit and run over to him. “I need to thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Elinor, but if you will, I’d rather not speak of it any more,” he says.
“Of course,” I say.
“Those men are beasts. Stay away from them. You look tired, Elinor. Do they make you weary?”
“No more than any other guests at the inn.”
“Elinor,” Gideon says, placing his hand under my chin. “Do not be afraid to speak freely with me. Do you not think I have the same feelings as you?”
“Feelings?” I say suddenly nervous. Gideon brings his hands to my arms then looks around, staring at the inn.
“Feelings of change. The need to end their stifling rule? The need to be rid of the red coated vermin?” He stares at my face in the dim moonlight cast by the half moon in the sky.
“They are not all so horrible, Gideon. Why, Second Lieutenant Gray defended you,” I say, suddenly unsure about how I feel about Gideon’s strong words.
“One man’s good deed does not make up for the evils of a whole, Elinor. Besides, your Lieutenant Gray is still one of them working for a crown that is destroying the colonies. That is why there must be change. As one constantly under their feet, in their midst, exploited by their greed, do you not wish for things to be different?”
“Gideon, you’re frightening me,” I say. I look around to make sure no one is nearby to hear him. He lets go of me.
“Forgive me for getting impassioned. You’ve had enough excitement for one evening.”
“Gideon…” I begin, unsure of what to say.
“Is Thaddeus about?” he asks suddenly.
“What? I believe so. He should be in his cabin,” I say in confusion.
“I must speak with him.”
“My father needed to ask him about some horseshoes and other business.”
“At this hour?”
“He will not refuse me.”
“Have you always been on good terms with our stableman?”
“We respect each other. He shares many of my ideas and he’s good company to share a drink with,” says Gideon. “Only a minute to ask him for my father’s forge, Elinor.” Part of me does not believe him, but so much of my mind is exhausted that I do not question further.
“He is in, Gideon,” I say at last.
“Thank you, Elinor. The night is cold. Go inside, now,” Gideon says softly.
“I will. Good night, Gideon,” I say.
“Good night,” he replies before watching me head back towards the inn and jog off towards the stables and Thaddeus’ small cabin on our land. When I return my mother greets me at the door.
“Elinor, it’s late. Off to bed with you,” she says. Her voice is calm, but there’s a hint of forcefulness that tells me that I am not to disagree.
“Yes, Mother,” I say.
She doesn’t give me her usual kiss good night and walks away to wait on our other guests. I look one last time and see the British soldiers are once again engrossed in conversation. Lieutenant Gray turns his head and gives an apologetic look and a gentle nod before rejoining the conversation. I turn on my heels and go straight to my room and slam the door shut. I undress myself and slide into a nightgown. Just as I pull back the quilt on my bed I go over to my vanity and grab the key to my room. And for the first time in a long time, I lock my door.