Chloe Helton | Historical Fiction

The Red Pearl: Chapter 17

Chapter 17


A shudder of relief rippled over me as I pressed shut the door of The Pig’s Head, closing out the darkness behind me. I had brandished my knife for the entirety of the walk here, hoping it would ease my terror. It didn’t.

I sheathed the blade back into my pocket pouch and searched for Sam. It was still strange to meet him here, at least without Betty and Henry, and I was even more uneasy after the strange terror I’d felt a few nights ago, the one that now reminded me, everywhere I went, that I was not safe.

“Lucy,” Sam said, briefly waving a hand. He was in the corner, at his usual table.

As I sat down, he pushed a cup toward me. It wasn’t whiskey.

“I ordered you cider,” he said.

“You know I don’t have a problem with whiskey -”

He shrugged. “It’s nothing for a lady to do. You should have something milder.”

“Well, that’s fine, I suppose.” It wasn’t as if I was ever want for something to drink, with the barrels of it back at The Red Pearl. But I wasn’t sure why he’d suddenly decided it wasn’t appropriate for me. “I do like cider.”

I took a long sip. It was hard still, but much milder than what I would’ve ordered for myself.

“I don’t know if my report will be helpful this time,” I said, “as they haven’t spoken of anything specific. But they mentioned that they’re sending ships down to New York, and some of the men want to cut Boston out of the route entirely because it’s riskier here.”

Sam nodded, a small grin tugging at his face. “Well, it’s true. Can’t get anything through this harbor if you’re a Tory.”

Well, they did get a few through before. I didn’t mention that.

“They might be outfitting ships here with local supplies.”

Local supplies? Everything came from Britain or the Caribbean; it was only after the harbor closed that we started making things domestically, and then only goods like tea and stamps. We weren’t manufacturing bullets, that was for sure. “What could we give them?”

“Provisions. The British make munitions, sure, but you can’t send game across an ocean. It’s possible some of the local Tories - and even men further north - are sneaking food onto the ships.”

“I suppose that’s possible.” States such as Virginia and the Carolinas, where it was warm and green, grew more plentifully than we, but the distance was much further, and perhaps there weren’t so many men down south willing to offer their meat and grain to the British. “Hopefully there will be plenty more ships to take.”

He nodded. “I’m certain of it.” He was always certain of things, and somehow he was always right. God had his ears open for Sam, perhaps.

The noisy rabble of the pub swirled around us, filling my ears so loud that, for a moment, I couldn’t think.

“I miss when we used to come here,” Sam said, once it was quiet enough for me to hear. “The four of us, and we would rave about those blasted new laws and promise never to buy a British import again, not as long as we lived.”

“Betty started taking me to meetings. The Daughters of Liberty, they’re called.”

He nodded in familiarity. “There’s a group of the same name in Philadelphia; I used to hear about them earlier in the war. Is your group connected?”

“I don’t know.” Nobody had ever mentioned a Philadelphia branch. “Perhaps not, but we have the same motivations.”

“Of course.” He grinned. “I read a story about those women that, whenever they saw a woman wearing imported fashions, they would throw red paint on her.”

I grimaced. “To look like pig’s blood, probably.”

He shrugged. “Imagine that! These prissy little rich women, who don’t care a wit who wins the war, or else they’re Tories, can’t even wear their favorite dresses in the streets for fear of being doused in paint.”

I wasn’t sure I agreed with the paint, but I smiled evenly. “I’m sure it’s very convincing.” Perhaps I would ask at the next meeting if the women had heard this story.

“What do you talk about at these meetings?”

I tapped my foot nervously. My meetings with Sam weren’t to make friends; it was business, strictly. “Lots of things,” I said, feeling myself inevitably open up, the way I always did with him, because he was eager and he listened and he understood. “Once I brought in something I wrote about having another king, and one of the women offered to publish it in her husband’s pamphlet.”

His eyes sparked. “Really? Congratulations!” His hands had inched across the table toward me, and when he saw me looking at them he pulled them back. “What about having another king?”

My mind blanked. “What?”

With his hands in his lap, he answered, “You said it was about having another king -”

“Oh. Well, I wrote that I was afraid of us escaping the tyranny of one king in order to fall right into the hands of another.”

“If we were to appoint our own king when we become a new country,” he finished.

“Exactly. Don’t you think so? We must have discussed this sometime. How can we trust that a king on our own soil will be any better than the one across the Atlantic?”

“Well, if he’s on our own soil we can drag him into the streets if necessary.” I had a flash image: when we were young, Sam’s father had been part of a mob that dragged the taxman into the streets and tarred and feathered him. Sam once told me that he had screamed when the dried tar was finally peeled off his skin, and that some of his skin had been ripped off and never grew back.

“If the best solution is more of the same violence,” I replied, “we’ll never progress.”

Sam snorted as he took another swig of his drink. “Who says we need to progress? Once we’ve got that king off our back, we’ll be just fine, as we were before he started tightening his grip on us.”

I looked down into my cup. Neither Sam nor I were around before he started tightening his grip; our whole lives, we had been embroiled in this war, or the decades-long conflict leading up to it. Who could say that our fathers had lived in tranquility before the war with the Indians and the heavy taxation that followed? My father had always preferred not to talk about any of it, and Sam’s father, who had been as rebellious as his son, would always claim that the British had ruined everything after the Indian war even if that weren’t quite true.

“Why shouldn’t we progress? Shouldn’t we forge a better government for our children, just as our fathers have tried to do for us?”

Sam grinned. I thought he was laughing at me, but he said nothing.

“What’s so funny?”

He shrugged. “I just remembered how it used to be. You were always so idealistic.”

“Oh, you’re one to speak about that. Of us two, I’m not the one actually fighting.”

Sam’s shoulders tugged up. “I just want old George’s claws off our neck. I don’t mean to aspire to some wild new form of government.”

“The Romans did it,” I said. “It’s not new.”

Sam’s eyes widened. “It’s been over a thousand years since the Romans. And they became an empire in the end anyhow.”

He took a final sip of his drink before clanking the empty cup down on the table.

“Well, I should get back to camp,” he said, rising from his seat. “If you have news, you know where to find me.” I would find him here, every night at sunset, waiting for me.

I rose, too, realizing with a dark chill that I would have to face the night alone. The Red Pearl was only a street away; I could do it.

However, I didn’t move. I simply stared at the door, petrified, as if there were monstrous things behind it.

Sam looked back at me. “Are you all right?”

“Yes,” I said meekly, although my head was shaking no.

He didn’t move. “What’s the matter?”

I looked at him and said frankly, “Last time I walked alone in the dark I was terrified.”

He didn’t laugh at me, as he well could have. “Well, come on then. I’ll walk you home.”

My heart stopped. “You don’t have to, really - I should be able to walk by myself, it’s ridiculous to be afraid--”

He was steadfast. “No, I’ll take you.” Sam reached out an arm, and it was such a familiar gesture and for a moment I was sixteen again and he was the only one in my thoughts. “Come on.”

“All right,” I said, knowing it was a terrible thing, and he led me bravely into the night.