Love Marches at Midnight
by Howard M. Fast
Katy Sawyer didn't care who ruled America King or Continental Congress. All she wanted was her man and whether he wore a red coat or homespun could make his kisses taste no sweeter. Or so she thought till the night of the Governor's ball.
HARRY, when he kissed me, said that we would marry in two months. That made it close, but he wanted it so. "Early in June," he said.
Then I smiled at him, and asked him. "Are you afraid you'll lose me?" When I smiled that way, he knew he could no more lose me than a part of himself.
"No," he said. "But I'm afraid."
I knew what he meant these threats of blood, and war, and revolution. Already it had come too close to me, through my father. Secret night meetings to which he had crept like a thief, and like a thief crept back. Long, gruelling horseback trips from which he returned always exhausted, and the last from which he hadn't returned at all....
But I didn't want to think of that now. I forced myself to make light of Harry's fears, and of my own. "Afraid?" I mocked him. "I want a man," I told him laughing. He took me in his arms, and all the while I was laughing, laughing.
I said finally: "Leave me now and come for me at nine. Just at nine."
"You're set on the ball?
"British officers are beautiful," I teased. "At least their uniforms are. I love you Harry. And will you love me more if I wear the green gown . . . ?"
WHEN he went, I took the green gown, folded it around me, and then sat down and cried a little. If being happy makes a fool of you, why not? And if we went to England after we married, there would be Bath and London, and maybe a little house in Kent. Would we ever see Boston again, with our lives and all the world in front of us?
"Marie, Marie!" I called. "Come and help me dress!"
The knocker was hitting the door outside, and I thought to myself, he's back. I ran into the hall to scold, kiss him after that, but demand time to dress. And George, our Negro, was opening the door.
"Harry" I began. But it wasn't Harry. The man who came in, all wrapped in a cloak, just stood there, and I could see that George was wondering whether or not to thrust him back out into the street. "Close the door, George," I said.
The man came on another step. George stood behind him, raising his brows at me doubtfully, but I nodded to him that it was all right. The stranger had dropped the cloak from his face, and now he stood nervously, glancing up and down the hall. Once he took a pinch of snuff.
"What do you want?" I asked him "Are you looking for me, or for my aunt?" I lived with my aunt then. It was just a year after Father had died.
"You're Katy Sawyer?"
"I knew your father. I want to talk to you. Not here. Can't we go inside?"
I nodded and took him to the coffee-room, and then I told George to go and bring us some tea and things to eat. I could see how the stranger kept looking about him. I said: "If anyone asks, George, I'm alone. And not to be disturbed."
When George had gone I explained; "You'll forgive me if I seem in a hurry. I was dressing for the ball."
He smiled and nodded. "And you must forgive me if I seem nervous. I want to keep my head on my shoulders." He kept staring at me. "Mark Sawyer used to tell me how lovely, how beautiful you are. You are lovelier even than he said. I'm old enough to tell you that no?"
I gave him my hand. Any friend of my father's was my friend too, I told him.
"My name is Sam Adams," he said, "so you can see why a lot of people in Boston would want me. What would Mark Sawyer say now, if he knew I wanted to use his daughter?"
"If you were right . . ." I said slowly And again I thought of the business my father had been mixed up in, night rides and secret meetings and once, back in '73, a gathering of grim-faced men in our house. And I remember too the expression on Harry's face. Was it merely the reflection of my own? Eagerness to leave America because it was a boiling kettle, ready to explode?
"You're going to the ball," Adams went on meaningly, "and you're beautiful"
George came back with the tea things, and I poured a cup for the man who sat opposite, but he didn't drink. He just kept looking at me. And all the time I was thinking to myself with a cold certainty, I know what he wants. But my father was dead, so what did I know of my father's doings? What did it all mean to me?
I wanted only to be happy. I wanted Harry.
Adams was speaking rapidly, as if he as short for time. "We're lighting a blaze, a big one, and it may set the world on fire. Right now, it means this. There are stores of war at Concord, and men ready to defend them. You know what's coming, don't you? Why British troops have been stationed in Boston?"
"What do you want me to do?" I asked him shortly.
"It's the difference between life and death to a good many people to know when the British march out of Boston, for Concord. If some woman were clever enough, one of their generals.... There's a man waiting to take the news Revere, the silversmith and there are men waiting to get it. A clever woman"
"I see," I said.
"Will you do it? I can't tell you what it means, and I won't talk to Mark Sawyer's daughter about liberty. There will be, not liberty, but hell for years probably. But your father believed. If you don't want to do it"
When he had gone, I sat for a long time, just looking in front of me, and then I put my head in my hands and cried a little. I think old George noticed when he came in, because he glanced at me strangely.
"What did you know about my father?" I asked him. "Are you in it too?"
He just stared, without answering.
"Yes." I nodded. "Do you ever have dreams, George? I had one now. Go to Mr. Harry, and tell him not to come for me tonight. I'm going to the ball alone."
He looked bewildered.
"Go ahead now."
I dressed quickly and left early, because I had a feeling that Harry might come anyway. And if I saw him at the ball, what could I tell him then?
I DANCED with a young subaltern first. I remember his smiling, and then the quick, ready love he attempted to make to me, and his pleading for me to take off my mask. I didn't blame him for what he was thinking. What else did I want him to think?
"If your eyes are as beautiful as your hair," he whispered, "you only injure all things by covering them."
"I should like a general to tell me that."
"They're fat and old. Come into the garden with me."
"Who is that one?"
"Burgoyne. The other's Gage. Don't let them see you."
"But I want them to see me," I laughed.
He looked at me, and I could see he was thinking that all my kind are the same.
I danced with a captain of dragoons, and I was with him when I saw Harry across the room. Then I was glad that the room was so big, so full of people that they eddied like colored water. I crouched close to the captain, hiding my face.
"You're trembling," he said, hinting that perhaps it was passion.
Then he suggested the garden, They all suggested the garden, and right then I felt so sick and weak that I would have welcomed it. If Harry had come to my house, what did my aunt think? Harry would never believe me. Why hadn't that occurred to me before? Was the whole world falling to pieces? Harry didn't hate the British....
Adams had said: "A man called Warren." I had to remember.
I had to remember, too, that the world would go on. April would pass and I would still be young. I was only twenty-one then, in '75. But if Harry found me
I could leave now. Go home and make up a story for Harry, and then in the end everything would be all right, and we would go away together as we had planned. What did I owe to Adams, and what did I have in common with shopkeepers and farmers and laborers?
I broke away from my captain and lost myself in the crowd, watching all the time for Harry, wondering what I would do. Everyone was laughing, laughing, and the dancers were forming for the minuet. Could it be as Adams said, Boston outside, seething and burning?
My subaltern was back, bowing to me, and very proud of what he had brought for his courtesan a man in white satin uniform, long lace and a dress sword. "Now?" I wondered. "Is this the one I have been looking for?"
"Lord Percy," the subaltern was saying, "the most beautiful woman in the New World that part of her which is unmasked."
Lord Percy bowed as low as his stomach would permit, and all the time he was eating me with his eyes. I clung to his hand, praying that Harry would not see me.
"He is truthful, that boy," my lord smiled, after the subaltern had left.
I smiled back, waving a hand at the crowded ballroom. I said: "I had not known that beautiful women are so important a part of war and warriors."
"Ah. They are the most important part."
"I see. You come to America to subdue a rebellion. But instead you dance." "Rebellion? That's nonsense, my dear young lady. There will be no rebellion. All talk, and there is no one of their revolutionary rabble that could not be bought for a shilling a day. For us, it means simply a trip abroad, a kind city with beautiful women, then home again."
"No," he said gallantly. "To remember.... Will you dance?"
"We could go into the garden," I smiled. "I hear that it is very lovely in the garden. At least, all your subalterns have been telling me so."
HE LED me outside and I clung to his arm, trying to clear my whirling head by drinking deeply of the scent of fresh, budding flowers. Off in the distance I could see lights blinking from the mastheads of ships in the harbor. Music came fainter from the hall. A couple passed before us, laughing, red uniform and white gown. I threw back my head and watched clouds passing before the face of the moon.
"Will you unmask?" my lord begged, leading me to a white bench under a drooping willow. "And then I'll remember the eighteenth of April, always."
I took off my mask, slowly, lifting my eyes to his. He took my hand and kissed it, and I watched his full, soft lips pressed to it. Then I closed my eyes, tried to think of nothing at all.
"You're beautiful," he whispered. "God how beautiful!"
I laughed at him, because he expected it, and then he took me in his arms, I closed my eyes again. If you willed it hard enough, you could stop thinking, be almost suspended in air, in nothing. Kent, Bath, London. Harry and I on the deck of a ship
Were men waiting now at Concord? Why do men make wars? And why did Sam Adams have to come to me?
I could still hear the music. Was there somewhere an undercurrent that that music was drowning, an angry murmur of men's voices rising? Red uniforms and white gowns. And what did the farmers care who ruled them?
Abruptly I was torn from my lord. A hand on my shoulder that gripped like iron and tore me out of those arms. And without looking I knew that it was Harry. I bent over, my face in my hands.
When I looked, finally, my lord was standing there, his face red where Harry had struck him, and Harry was glaring at him, terrible hate and rage in his eyes. I knew what Harry would do. I saw Harry watching him, staring at his neck, and I imagined Harry's fingers closing around those fat folds of flesh. Harry would kill him.
My lord knew it too. He stepped away, and then as Harry rushed at him my lord's thin dress sword lashed out. And Harry stopped, surprised, dazed, his sleeve turning crimson.
I knew what I had to do.
I went to my lord, pressed close to him, and put my arm about his waist. At first Harry didn't say anything. He couldn't. He only stared and shook his head. He seemed to have forgotten that his arm was bleeding.
Lord Percy started, but I held him back. "Please," I whispered. "It would create a disturbance.
Harry said: "You filthy little slut."
What could I say ? I looked at him, mocking, calm, while inside something screamed with pain, screamed and died....
"Get out of here," my lord said. And Harry went. A moment before he would have thrown himself on Percy and on the naked sword. Now he scorned even to glance at me, let alone fight for me.
My lord was trembling. He sheathed his sword and sat down on the bench finally, drawing me close to him. Inside I was whimpering like a baby, yet I managed to smile at him.
"That fool" my lord began.
"I knew him once," I said.
"I'll stand for no trifling."
I nodded, put my hand in his. I leaned toward him, and smiled to let him know that I was his. All that mattered to me now was what I was doing. Harry was gone.
"If you had killed the boor," I said, "it would hardly have done you credit."
He nodded, but he was preoccupied, and I could see that he was thinking about something else. He turned to me. "You'll come to my house tonight?"
I nodded agreement.
He was going to say something else when he noticed a subaltern walking into the garden, a girl on his arm.
"Hastings!" he called.
AS THE subaltern walked toward us, my lord leaned over and pinched my cheek. "You're a lovely girl," he said. "Stay with me and you'll go a long way. Perhaps I'll even take you to England when this nasty little mess of a beggars' rebellion is settled. And it won't be long now. Perhaps tonight, even."
The subaltern was walking slowly, talking to the girl at his side. He saw that Lord Percy was occupied with me, and he was in no haste. But to me it seemed he was running. I spoke quickly.
"England!" I whispered. "Do you mean that? When?"
"Soon enough," my lord said shortly. But under the folds of my dress, out of sight of the subaltern he was squeezing my hand, stroking it.
"You're not playing with me?" I begged. "I can go to your house tonight."
"Black hair and blue eyes," Percy said. "Youth and beauty. Yes. Come to me tonight. I'll arrange it. There's some little business that will wind up this rebellion, but it can go along without me. It's a trifling affair."
"Yes?" I tried not to be too eager, but I wanted him to go on.
But the subaltern had reached us, and was standing respectfully, the girl on his arm. She was a little blushing thing, giggling and hiding her face from my lord. They made a pretty picture there, red uniform and white dress, with the lilac bushes behind them. Was my lord right when he said there was to be no war or rebellion? If that smart red uniform were torn, like Harry's sleeve....
"Hastings," my lord said to the subaltern, "I want you to find Pitcairn and tell him I won't be along tonight. That will make no difference in our plans If you can, bring him here to me. But if he's busy, then give him my instructions. He'll understand."
The boy's grave expression didn't change, but I felt he was grinning slyly. "I'm sure he will, my lord," he said.
"He'll march about midnight, with Smith and eight hundred men. Proceed to Concord and destroy or capture whatever stores, muskets and cannon are there. If the farmers try to oppose him, tell him to use forceful measures. But I don't think it will be necessary. This will come as a complete surprise to them."
"Yes, my lord."
The girl was still giggling on the subaltern's arm. He turned away with her, and they were hurrying, but at the edge of the garden they stopped a minute and we saw them kiss.
My lord was smiling indulgently. "I'm afraid I can't completely trust that young ass. I'll have to see one or two persons myself. I'm sorry, my dear, to bother you with this dull business. But you'll wait here for me, only a few minutes?"
I nodded, and he kissed me and left. The reaction of his going made me weak as a baby. I was afraid I would be sick there. I was afraid I would faint and I didn't want to faint. I bit into my lips fiercely, hoping that the pain would clear my head. The skin broke, and blood trickled down, dripped on to my gown, but I didn't feel anything.
"Harry," I whispered, "only believe me when I tell you."
Just beyond the yew hedge I heard my lord talking to someone. They were laughing. Their voices grew fainter and I knew they were moving away.
I stumbled toward the garden gate. The cool wind blowing in from the bay made me feel a bit better. For a minute I stood there helplessly, wondering if I had strength enough to do what I had to. Then I thought I heard my lord's voice, returning. I began to run.
IT WAS only a few squares to the address Adams had given me, but the distance appeared to be endless. Once I sank panting into a doorway, while the watch pounded by me. He didn't see me. I waited until he was well past and until I could control my shaking knees, then I came out and started to run again.
I came to the place at last, a small inn called the Old Cow, but it appeared to be dark and deserted. Leaning against the door I let the knocker fall three times, and in the night the sound was like thunder. Then footsteps, and the light of a candle behind the windows.
I had done it. Weakly I sank against the jamb, sighing, and wondering. Why? Harry was gone. And could I even come back to Boston? To anything? If Lord Percy found out who I was perhaps he knew even now, because people at the ball knew me what would happen? Why had I done it? I wasn't one of them. I didn't want blood and war and revolution. And I hadn't done it for Adams. Then why?
The door opened a space. "Who's there?" a voice said cautiously.
I repeated the phrase Adams had given me. "He rides tonight."
The door opened. I slipped in and it closed after me. A man in a nightshirt stood there, holding a flickering candle. And behind him, vaguely, I could see the tables and counter of the inn, a few coals in the hearth. He was a big man, his red-bearded face grotesque in the candlelight. And he was staring in amazement at my brocaded gown.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
I tried to speak, and couldn't. I almost fell, and he caught my arm, helped me to a chair and set the candle on the table.
"My God, lass. Your lips!"
Rubbing them I looked curiously at the blood that stained the back of my hand. I wiped it on my dress. The inn keeper turned to the counter and came back with a bottle. He poured me a small glass of rum. It burned my throat, but it warmed me. I felt better.
"That's good." He nodded. "You're all right." But I was still shivering a little. He stirred up the coals in the fire, then he turned to me. "Who are you?"
It seemed that I was reciting something I'd learned by heart. "Pitcairn starts for Concord at midnight. Eight hundred men. They'll fight their way through if they have to."
He almost leaped at me, slammed down his hands on the table, and bent over me. "Girl, what are you saying?"
"Adams sent me. You have to get to Paul Revere. Warren. I don't know" I was crying suddenly.
His voice boomed out: "Arnold! Arnold, you lazy lout! Get up and come down here!" He slipped behind the counter, came back pulling on a pair of breeches. As he buckled them a boy came down from above. From behind the counter, the innkeeper took a musket and a pair of pistols. The pistols he gave to the boy. "Now, listen, dunderhead," he said. "Get to Warren, and tell him that they march tonight, eight hundred strong, for Concord. Do you understand?"
The boy nodded, his eyes gleaming.
"And don't come back here," redhead went on. "The only way, I guess. Unless a colonial army enters the city"
His voice died away. The boy slipped through the door and the innkeeper picked up the musket. I was still hearing his words. "The only way." He was looking at me.
"I can't go back either," I said.
He continued to look at me, puzzled. "What can I do with you?" he said.
"I can't go back," I repeated. "I can't. Don't you see that I can't?"
"All right," he nodded. "I don't know who you are. I'm not asking. That's our way. They say we can be bought for a shilling. I don't think so. Come along."
He stopped for powder and bullets, and then we went out through the back. He gave me a long cloak. "Wrap it tight," he said. "It's cold." We walked down the alley, into the street
Somewhere men were marching. Eight hundred men. What was I going into?
I THINK we walked for a long time. Now and again, he would stop, tap on a door, and when it opened whisper: "They march tonight."
Almost outside the city we stopped at a little barn, got a horse and cart.
We drove on, for a long time it seemed, along country roads. Now and then he would stop, bang his musket against a door, and yell a few words. Then on again. Once we heard a cannon boom, far away.
"They're waking," he said.
We stopped at a farm where a little crowd of men were gathered, all with muskets, grim, silent, like ghosts in the night.
"Who's the girl?" someone asked.
I was too tired to stand, terribly tired. I remember that someone caught me, and then someone was calling: "Mother! Come out here, Mother."
Then I was sitting at a table inside, drinking warm milk. A woman sat on the other side, watching me curiously, smiling reassuringly.
"You know, Harry's gone," I said. "I don't mind the rest so much. My lord was fat, and it was rather dreadful. But Harry's gone. You see, he won't know I love him. I've been wondering why I did all this. I think it was for him. Is that so strange?"
"Drink up, lass."
There was a little bed in the kitchen, and after I finished the milk I lay down on it. I began to cry and that was good. I must have fallen asleep after that.
Something woke me just at dawn.
I rose and went to the window.
"Gunfire," I said to myself. It didn't surprise me. "If Harry were here," I said, "I wouldn't be afraid."
Then I went outside, and it was all like a picture, the wet fields stretching away, gleaming with dew, and just lit by the first slant of the sun, and far out, coming toward me, rank upon rank of red soldiers.
It wasn't until a few moments later that I noticed the long line of men crouching behind the low stone wall that ran in front of the house.
Once when I was very small I saw a show. And I remember watching what happened now with the same rapt attention. I was walking toward them, hardly frightened, only watching how the red soldiers broke, ran, reformed. It seemed that all the world would soon dissolve into that cloud of gunsmoke. And I kept on walking toward them.
At the wall, I stopped. Men and women, twisting, turning, plunging ramrods into muskets. The awful crackle of sound deadened on my ears.
DO YOU know how a dream breaks suddenly into reality? A man stepped back and then dropped to the ground at my feet.
When I saw that it was Harry I just looked at him, and then I said to myself that it couldn't be so. I remember looking out beyond him, at the wet, sun-lit field, at the broken, retreating ranks of British regulars, and at the small, crumpled heaps of red scattered about.
"The same way," I thought to myself. I knelt down next to him, touched the ragged gash on his temple, and then my head was on his breast. I don't think I was crying then.
I know that the stone wall was suddenly deserted, except for one woman crouched over a man, the way I was. The farmers were slipping over the field, after the retreating red-coats.
"You and me together," I thought. All the time, Harry too. And I hadn't known. Kneeling there, I lifted my face to the sun and the tears on my cheeks were like warm rain.
I was kneeling so when he opened his eyes. I couldn't move. He rose to an elbow, slowly, and he shook his head as if to drive the pain away. And then he struggled up, put a hand to my face. And I stood too.
I didn't have to tell him. There are moments when a man and a woman can rise above the world, and that's how it was then. Harry touching my face in that gentle, wondering way, and me there beside him, laughing and crying at once, knowing that I wasn't afraid of what was, or of what would be.