His father was glaring at him. Miserably aware that Dick despised him for a milksop, Richard searched for something to say. "I suppose we hoped," he said vaguely, "that none of the other colonies would stand by Massachusetts, having warned it that it was going too far. And did they truly think that the King would stoop to read their letter? Or, even if he had, yield to their demands? They are Englishmen! The King is their king too."
"Nonsense, Richard!" said Mr. Thistlethwaite sharply. "This obsessive concern for your child is fast addling your thinking apparatus! The King and his sycophantic ministers are bent on plunging our sceptered isle into disaster! Eight thousand tons of Bristol shipping sent back unloaded from the thirteen colonies in less than a year! That serge manufactory in Redcliff gone out of business and the four hundred souls it employed thrown upon the parish! Not to mention that place near the Port Wall which makes painted canvas carpets for Carolina and Georgia! The pipe makers, the soap makers, the bottle makers, the sugar and rum makers -- for God's sake, man! Most of our trade is across the Western Ocean, and no mean part of that with the thirteen colonies! To go to war against the thirteen colonies is commercial suicide!"
"I see," said Mine Host, picking up the sheet of flimsy to squint at it, "that Lord North has issued a -- a 'Proclamation for Suppressing Armed Rebellion.'"
"It is a war we cannot win," said Mr. Thistlethwaite, holding out his empty mug to Mag Morgan, hovering.
Richard tried again. "Come now, Jem! We have beaten France after seven years of war -- we are the greatest and bravest country in the world! The King of England does not lose his wars."
"Because he fights them in close proximity to England, or against heathens, or against ignorant savages whose own rulers sell them. But the men of the thirteen colonies are, as ye rightly said, Englishmen. They are civilized and conversant with our ways. They are of our blood." Mr. Thistlethwaite leaned back, sighed, wrinkled the nobly grog-blossomed contours of his bulbous nose. "They deem themselves held light, Richard. Put upon, spat upon, looked down upon. Englishmen, yes, yet never quite the bona fide article. And they are a very long way away, which is a nettle the King and his ministers have grasped in utter ignorance. You might say that our navy wins our wars -- how long is it since we stood or fell by a land army outside our own isles? Yet how can we win a sea war against a foe who has no ships? We will have to fight on land. Thirteen different bits of land, scarcely interconnected. And against a foe not organized to conduct himself in proper military mode."
"Ye've just shot down your own argument, Jem," said Mine Host, smiling but not reaching for his chalk as he handed a fresh mug of rum to Mag. "Our armies are first rate. The colonists will not be able to stand against them."
"I agree, I agree!" cried Jem, lifting his gratis rum in a toast to the landlord, who was rarely generous. "The colonists probably will never win a battle. But they do not need to win battles, Dick. All they need to do is to endure. For it is their land we will be fighting in, and it is not England." His hand went to the left pocket of his greatcoat; out came the massive pistol, down it went on the table with a crash, while the tavern's other occupants squealed and shrieked in terror -- and Richard, his infant son on his lap, pushed its muzzle sideways so quickly that no one saw him move. The pistol, as everybody knew, was loaded. Oblivious to the consternation he had caused, Mr. Thistlethwaite burrowed into the depths of the pocket and produced some folded pieces of flimsy paper. These he examined one by one, his spectacles enlarging his pale blue and bloodshot eyes, his dark and curling hair escaping from the ribbon with which he had carelessly tied it back -- no wigs or queues for Mr. James Thistlethwaite.
Excerpted from Morgan's Run, copyright (c)2000 Colleen McCullough. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
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