Read a sample of the “Wessex Turncoat”

From Chapter 16

The Serjeant led the men, who were forced to go in single file, through a skilfully disguised entrance into the enclosure. They stood staring with amazement at the building in front of them. “The likeness is to a giant woodlouse,” he said as he slapped the shell of the large building.

It was indeed the shape of a woodlouse, though in height it was almost up to the level of the spikes on the fortifications and in length almost forty paces. The shell appeared to be covered with the bark of a tree, giving it a smooth appearance.

“Inside, you will find that a fire has been started for you to warm the place. We enter over there at the end of the building, though there is an entrance at each end. Come on.”

He led them through a hanging curtain of birch bark strips which functioned as a door, into the cavernous longhouse. Inside, the atmosphere was very smoky, although there was a hole in the roof above the blazing fire. Beside the fire an Indian was standing facing the arrivals.

“This is George, or that’s what we call him. He is one of our Haudenosaunee scouts, or Iroquois as they are better known. The Iroquois are the enemies of the Huron and they have turned out the families of the latter who previously resided here so that we can use it.  He has picked up some of our tongue. He will look after you here.”

The Indian was standing behind the fire cradling a firelock. He was wearing a decorated long leather waistcoat over a grey shirt. The waistcoat was gathered in above his hips by a red sash, from which on the left side hung a large knife, and across his chest was the strap of a cloth bag which was worn on the opposite side. On his legs he wore leather leggings, the bottoms of which covered the top of his soft shoes. From the angle he was standing it appeared that he was bald. He nodded unsmilingly at the newcomers as they all looked at him before surveying what they could see of the house by the firelight.

“As you see, on each side of the centre there is a structure at two levels. The benches on the lower level are where savages sit to eat and work and also sleep. And it is so that on the next level they store things. So choose a part of the bench to sleep on and put your things on the shelf above.”

The men spread out to choose a sleeping space and claimed one by placing their knapsacks on the timber shelf above it. Though many tried to get near the fire in the centre of the house, most had to be satisfied with a place some distance away. Aaron found himself positioned with Jamie on one side and a bench, which to judge from the point blanket spread on it, the Iroquois warrior had claimed on the other. The soldiers had already learnt that point blankets were one of the Indians’ most treasured possessions. They were produced by the Hudson Bay Company and the Indians obtained them by trading. The number of woven coloured threads in a corner of the white blanket indicated its size and quality.

That the warrior was indeed Aaron’s neighbour was confirmed when the former put his firelock on the blanket, before returning to the fireplace.

 


From Chapter 18

Eventually, at the end of April, Rev managed to cross the river to rejoin the regiment. As his friends gathered around to welcome him he picked Aaron out from the crowd and rushed over to him. He gave him an embrace and with his arm around Aaron’s shoulder, turned round to the assembly and shouted, “This man, my friends, testified against me!”

There was silence in the crowd. “But he did so with integrity, and I want all to know that I bear no grudge. Beware, however, that if you intend to commit any felony, do not let honest Mewie witness you or you may hang.”

There was a roar of laughter as Rev continued, “Gentlemen, I bear tidings of great import regarding our crusade against the perfidious rebels.”

“Please explain it simply, Rev,” said Bell.

“Well, the simple fact is, my friend, that we have a new commander. General Burgoyne will have sole command of the army and as you can guess, General Carleton, whose frugal hospitality I have recently enjoyed, is not best pleased.”

“Why is this?” asked Corporal Cutler.

“Only His Majesty the King will know, but there are rumours that our blessed monarch was not impressed that we fought our way to the gates of Ticonderoga, but did not open them.”

“So what is now intended for us?”

“That, dear Jamie, is what I am about to impart, and it is no secret, for every vagabond in Quebec City seems to have heard. General Burgoyne proposes to split the rebellious New England colony from the less fractious southern colonies by having all the forts from Canada to New York occupied by our forces.”

“But why?” asked Bell.

“Ting, the simple fact is that the General has decided that if the rebels from different colonies are denied the possibility to unite, the troublesome New Englander rebels will be more easily crushed and the whole rebellion will wither on the vine.”

“Are we to fight all the way to New York?”

“Such a plan would be too ambitious, Mewie. What the General has proposed is that we should repeat our progress of last year, crossing Lake Champlain to Crown Point and then take Ticonderoga before continuing to the town of Albany. However, a small part of our force, mainly Germans and savages, will go a different route down the St Lawrence to the Mohawk River, subduing the resistance of the rebels in that region, and meet up with us in Albany.”

“And after Albany?” asked Bell.

“There we will link up with General Howe’s army, currently occupying New York, which will have progressed up the Hudson River occupying all the forts on the way.”

“And then the war will be over and we return home?”

“If only we could be sure of that, dear Mewie, but perhaps so.”

On 8th May, the Apollo arrived at Quebec and shortly after the General gave the order for the whole army to be mobilised and to leave their various quarters for the campaign to begin. The General had 7300 men of which 3700 were British. The remainder were mainly German mercenaries from Brunswick, with a small corps of French Canadian militia. In addition there were two thousand women and several hundred children.

As they began their march, Aaron found himself looking round several times at the old farmhouse to see if he could catch a glimpse of Sarah. The weeks that had passed since that fateful evening had served to dampen his ardour, but time had not yet extinguished it. The infectious enthusiasm of his comrades about the campaign ahead of them served to subdue any sadness he felt.

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