From August of 1775 until October of 1784
"We are at war!" cried Mr. James Thiftlethwaite.
Every head save Richard Morgan's lifted and turned toward the door, where a bulky figure stood brandishing a sheet of flimsy. For a moment a pin might have been heard dropping, then a confused babble of exclamations erupted at every table in the tavern except for Richard Morgan's. Richard had paid the stirring announcement scant heed: what did war with the thirteen American colonies matter, compared to the fate of the child he held on his lap? Cousin James-the-druggist had inoculated the little fellow against the smallpox four days ago, and now Richard Morgan waited, agonized, to see if the inoculation would take.
"Come in, Jem, read it to us," said Dick Morgan, Mine Host and Richard's father, from behind his counter.
Though the noonday sun shone outside and light did diffuse through the bullioned panes of Crown glass in the windows of the Cooper's Arms, the large room was dim. So Mr. James Thistlethwaite strolled over to the counter and the rays of an oil lamp, the butt of a horse pistol protruding from each greatcoat pocket. Spectacles perched upon the end of his nose, he started to read aloud, voice rising and falling in dramatic cadences.
Some of what he said did penetrate the fog of Richard Morgan's worry -- snatches, phrases only: "'in open and avowed rebellion...the utmost endeavors to suppress such rebellion, and bring the traitors to justice...'"
Feeling the contempt in his father's gaze, Richard genuinely tried to concentrate. But surely the fever was beginning? Was it? If so, then the inoculation was definitely taking. And if it did take, would William Henry be one of those who suffered the full disease anyway? Died anyway? Dear God, no!
Mr. James Thistlethwaite was arriving at his peroration. "'The die is now cast! The colonies must either submit or triumph!'" he thundered.
"What an odd way for the King to put it," said Mine Host.
"It sounds as if the King deems a colonial triumph possible."
"Oh, I doubt that very much, Dick. His speech writer -- some scurvy undersecretary to his bum boy Lord Bute, I hazard a guess -- is fascinated with the balances of rhetoric -- ah?" This last word was accompanied by a gesture, forefinger pointing to mouth.
Mine Host grinned and ran a measure of rum into a small pewter mug, then turned to chalk a slash on the slate fixed to his wall.
"Dick, Dick! My news merits one on the house!"
"No it does not. We would have heard sooner or later." Mine Host leaned his elbows on his counter in the place where they had worn two slight depressions and stared at the armed and greatcoated Mr. Thistlethwaite -- mad as a March hare! The summer's day was sweltering. "Seriously, Jem, it is not exactly a bolt from the blue, but these are shocking tidings all the same."
No other voice attempted to participate in their conversation; Dick Morgan stood well with his patrons, and Jem Thistlethwaite had long enjoyed a reputation as one of Bristol's more eccentric intellectuals. The patrons were quite content to listen as they imbibed the tipple of their choice -- rum, gin, beer, Bristol milk.
The two Morgan wives were there to move about, pick up the empties and return them to Dick for refilling -- and more slashes on the slate. It was nearly dinner time; the smell of new bread Peg Morgan had just brought in from Jenkins the baker was stealing through the other odors natural to a tavern adjacent to the Bristol quays at low tide. Most of the mixture of men, women and children present would remain to avail themselves of that same new bread, a pat of butter, a hunk of Somerset cheese, a steaming pewter platter of beef and potatoes swimming in rich gravy.
Excerpted from Morgan's Run, copyright (c)2000 Colleen McCullough. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
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