This scene was to appear in Chapter 7 – Blue Lightning just after the voyage with Commodore Barney in the Blacksnake, illustrating how Dolley and Sukey came up with the idea for discouraging American farmers from trading produce for British gold, since shooting the American traitor would be vigilante-style murder. I brainstormed this scene in detail with my wife, then story-boarded it with twelve separate sketches* capturing the action. I could visualize this as a stunning scene in a movie, brilliant and concise, but it flops in writing. Totally flops, because there are too many things that are no longer a part of everyday life that must be described in order for the scene to work. Specifically, longboats and piers and ox carts and the ox-to-cart interface. Egad.
So, after a week I gave it up. Too much space and too many words to yield little more than the concept of “Hey…we can just shoot a Redcoat!”
*Lesson Learned: If a picture is worth a thousand words, than a dozen sketches are worth at least 12,000 words. A LOT more if they are ten megapixel pictures. Doh.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Warning! ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The following is a deleted scene, mercilessly cut from the heart of the novel and tossed screaming into the outer darkness of this web site for your sadistic amusement. It’s raw stuff, unrefined, un-wordsmithed, probably not even spell-checked. Read at your own risk!
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By midnight all returned to their homes (or to a cot in the tavern’s guest room) except for two of Laloni’s oldest friends: Michaela, a rather quiet woman with braided silver-blonde hair who towered over Dolley, and Faith, a shorter, talkative woman with dark hair and spectacles. They sipped wine, and the talk soon turned to the war, then to British activities in nearby Chesapeake Bay, then to otherwise respectable Americans who traded with British warships. Michaela told how her neighbor bragged of the gold he’d earn meeting a frigate this very night, and soon Dolley found herself galloping over strange roads, shivering in the chill air, following Michaela’s horse.
“Ship’s boats approaching,” Sukey whispered.
Each boat carried a small lantern at bow and stern, illuminating the oarsmen and some dozen Royal Marines, crouched, muskets at the ready. The distant creak of oar-locks heralded their approach.
“Filthy lobster-backs,” Faith snarled.
“Quiet!” Laloni whispered. “They’ll hear!”
Michaela whispered something inaudible to Faith, who responded with a whispered apology.
Dolley shook her head to clear the cobwebs, wondering yet again how much wine it had taken to make this seem like a good idea. They knelt in thick undergrowth, twenty yards from a long wooden pier whose right end vanished into bushes and whose left end thrust a hundred feet into Chesapeake Bay. The overcast sky hid the moon, but the pier basked in the eerie blue glow of four lanterns, lanterns similar to those used by the Loyalist spies to signal to the British near Williamsburg. Armed men stood on the pier, speaking softly among themselves, and from further inland drifted the creaking of heavily laden carts and the occasional bellow of oxen. A British frigate sat two hundred yards offshore, it’s masts black against the dark gray horizon, its stern lanterns brazenly lit.
“We’re too close,” Sukey muttered.
Sukey crouched to Dolley’s left, studying the pier through her spyglass. To Dolley’s right knelt Laloni, then Michaela, then Faith. At Sukey’s insistence all the women were armed—Faith with a bow and quiver of arrows!—and all had blackened their faces with soot from the tavern’s fireplace. Sukey had also insisted they tether the horses two hundred yards away and approach on foot, and then had led them to this excellent vantage point: a small spit of land, parallel to the pier, covered in non-thorny vegetation.
Sukey had also, Dolley recalled, sipped slowly at a single goblet of wine, making it last for hours while sitting in a shadowed corner, ‘busses at hand, watching the door. Dolley shook her head yet again, failing to recall how many goblets she’d quaffed. Next time . . . one goblet. One!
A man walked to the end of the pier, a blue-lens lantern held beside his face.
“Seth Johnson.” Michaela spit on the ground.
“Shhh!” Laloni and Michaela hissed together in Faith’s direction.
“Much too close,” Sukey muttered again, her spyglass fixed on the man.
Johnson exchanged a few unintelligible words with the lead boat, and then that boat veered directly toward their hiding place.
Fear knotted Dolley’s gut. They know we’re here! We’ll be captured! We’ll be–
“Freeze,” Sukey hissed. “Freeze like a rabbit and you’re invisible.”
Dolley froze, as did the others. The longboat continued toward them, then veered away and glided alongside the pier’s nearest side, mooring in full view of the women. The pier loomed a full five feet over the boat, so the dozen Royal Marines clambered up the wooden ladder and jogged toward shore. The second boat moored across the end of the pier, and a British officer climbed up, followed by another dozen Royal Marines who jogged after the first group.
“They coming after us?”
“No, Mizz Laloni,” Sukey whispered. “Just securing the dock.”
A Marine jogged to the officer, saluted, and exchanged a few words. The officer nodded to Johnson, and as the Marine jogged back a dozen torches were lit along the edges of the pier, illuminating the entire area, including their hiding place.
“We’re too close.” Faith’s voice. “They’ll see us.”
“Can’t see us now, Mizz Faith. Those torches stole their night vision.”
An ox bellowed, cart wheels creaked, and an ox, pulling a heavily laden cart, clumped its way toward the pier’s end. Casks containing either tobacco or whiskey were lashed to the cart’s floor, and atop them were cages holding chickens and straw-filled crates of eggs. The drover halted the ox, and as the officer and Johnson inspected the contents, another ox, pulling another cart laden with bulging burlap bags, came into view and tramped down the pier, halting just behind the first. Both drovers dismounted, and appeared to be assisting the officer inspect the contents of the second cart. Then the officer grinned and handed Johnson a heavy bag, undoubtedly gold from the grin on Johnson’s face. The men shook hands.
“Traitor,” Faith muttered.
“Filthy, stinking traitor,” Michaela whispered.
“We should do something,” Laloni hissed. “We must!”
Dolley pushed down the muzzle of Laloni’s longrifle. “Can’t kill him. Without a trial it’s murder.”
“You’re right. Sorry.”
“Can’t we tell the sheriff?” Sukey asked.
Michaela snorted. “He is the sheriff.”
“I’ll fix him.” Faith had her bow in hand, a hunting arrow nocked and fully drawn, it’s wicked, barbed point touching the hand grip.
“No!” Michaela hissed, then leaped, tackling Faith a moment before she released the arrow.
Dolley tried to follow the arrow’s path but it had vanished into the night. She watched the pier, horrified, waiting for the arrow to strike down Seth Johnson, alerting the British to their presence, prompting an assault by two dozen Royal Marines and perhaps a ferocious broadsides from the frigate. She recalled the devastation such a broadsides wreaked on the Green Coats on Hampton’s beach. Then she recalled what Sergeant Major said about British Regulars ignoring their own casualties in their eagerness to close with and bayonet the enemy. Then she recalled the fate of the women of Hampton.
Johnson still stood.
Relief flooded Dolley’s soul. It missed altogether! We’re safe!
The ox pulling the lead cart bellowed in pain and strained against his yoke, frantic, pulling the lead cart forward, toward the end of the pier. The cart picked up speed, and was halfway to the end of the pier before those on the pier broke from their stunned amazement and ran after it. The officer reached it first, grabbed onto the rear of the wagon and was pulled from his feet and dragged for a dozen feet before letting go. Another man stumbled over the prostrate officer, squashing the man’s hat, then tumbled over the side of the pier and slammed headlong into the longboat.
“She hit the ox,” Sukey said, and handed Dolley the spyglass.
Men now hung from the back of the cart, trying to slow it as the ox sped toward the end of the pier and the frantic sailors, standing within the boat tied there, who were shouting and waving their hats. The six inches of feathered arrow protruding from the ox’s ample hindquarters was difficult to see given the flickering light and the excitement, not to mention the difficulty Dolley was having focusing the spyglass.
The ox finally noticed the end of the pier and tried to stop, but it’s yoke was attached to the cart’s front axle by two long, wooden poles, and the cart’s momentum continued to push it toward the end of the pier, its hooves skidding and slipping on the smooth wood as desperate men fought to slow the cart and prevent it from falling off the pier and into the longboat.
The ox halted at the very edge, and was looking down into the faces of terrified British sailors when one of those sailors discharged a musket into the air, the smoke and flame from the muzzle inches from the face of the ox.
The ox shook his head in the yoke, violently, bawled in terror and began backing away from the boat. The men behind the cart were caught unaware and fell to the deck, then scrambled to avoid being crushed by the cart’s iron-shod rear wheels as the cart rolled backwards. A man leaped into the drover’s position of the cart, but before he could pull the brake lever the cart jackknifed and turned turned ninety degrees, rolling toward the boat moored beside the pier; a moment later both rear wheels rolled off the edge of the pier and the cart’s bottom slammed onto the pier, teetered on the edge for a long second, then began sliding off the pier in a tremendous cacophony of sound combining the screeching of wood and the screaming of the ox. Men leaped forward, grabbing onto both cart and ox. The ox bellowed yet again and a man staggered away, gored in the belly, and then others leaped back to avoid the ox’s horns.
The cart slid over the edge and fell five feet, slamming into the bow of the longboat, the impact catapulting the sailor at the tiller into the water and tumbling the others forward, off balance. Cages of chickens and crates of eggs splashed into the water, but the barrels remained tied to the bed of the cart and the cart sat squarely in the bow of the longboat, kept balanced in an upright position by the two stout poles connecting it to the ox standing at the very edge of the pier, held in place by a dozen men, some of them Royal Marines who had dashed over to help. The ox was trying without success to move forward, bawling piteously whenever its hind legs stepped off the pier into the air, and the men fought to hold it still and calm it.
Dolley exhaled. All five women stood in a row, clutching hands, scarcely breathing, eyes white and wide in their blackened faces as they watched men fight to keep the ox from falling from the pier.
One of the Royal Marines noticed the arrow and yanked it out, perhaps to show his officer.
The ox bellowed and threw himself against the yoke, shaking his head, knocking men away. Free to move, he began throwing himself side to side, trying to escape, rocking the cart.
A horrendous groan of strained wood came from the boat, then a loud crack! The bow of the boat broke off and the cart plunged beneath the water, pulling the ox–and the men holding it–from the pier. The men fell away from the ox, into the water, but the ox seemed suspended over the just-visible front of the cart for the briefest instant, and then, bellowing and kicking, it fell sideways, into the boat. The impact shattered the poles attaching it to the cart and broke the yoke from its neck. The ox clambered to its feet, found itself standing in a foot of water and scrambled toward the dry end of the boat and the dozen terrified men huddled there, straining against the stout leather traces tangled about its horns that still secured it to the cart.
The stern of the boat drifted away from the pier, and the ox’s frantic struggle to reach the dry end of the boat was pulling it, and the terrified men who’d loudly shouted they could not swim, toward him. Men lined the pier, shouting conflicting advice, but under the officer’s direction the second boat maneuvered behind the first, and the men trapped with the ox leaped aboard.
Up to his belly in water, the ox bellowed and threw himself against the traces, and when they finally snapped he galloped the length of the sinking boat and leaped into the midst of the terrified occupants of the second boat. Men scattered, and moments later the ox was the sole occupant of the boat, bellowing his displeasure to the world as the boat drifted into the darkness of Chesapeake Bay.
“Redcoat officer dies,” snarled a voice. Faith had another arrow nocked, and was slowly drawing it back for another shot!
“No!” Dolley shrieked.
Michaela knocked the bow from Faith’s hands and Laloni flung it into the water. Men on the pier were squinting and pointing in their direction, trying to see past the glare of the torches.
Without a word they sprinted for the horses, galloped back to the tavern, and, when they realized there had been no pursuit of any kind, fell to the ground, laughing hysterically . . . while Sukey stood in nearby shadows, blunderbusses ready, scowling.
Two weeks later Dolley received a letter from Michaela. It had taken the British hours to retrieve the floundering sailors and the castaway ox, and then nobody could find Seth Johnson or the gold he’d taken in payment for supplies that, from the British perspective, were never delivered. At dawn, Royal Marines raided the Johnson farmstead, took countless tons of supplies, then burned the house, barn and pier as a lesson to other “Yankee Doodles” who might consider cheating the Royal Navy. Days later, the body of Sheriff Seth Johnson was discovered when neighbors salvaged the oxcart from beside the shattered remains of his farmstead pier. He’d somehow fallen beneath the cart, and was squashed into the mud of Chesapeake Bay.
Dolley waited until Sukey finished the letter. “See? And you said nothing good would come of this.”
“You mean besides our new rule about drinking before missions?”
Will she ever let me forget that? “Perhaps this is the indirect approach Colonel Scott told us about in tactics class.”
Sukey’s scanned the letter again, her eyes widened, and then her scowl broadened into a smile.