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Trade Paperback
280 pages
Jul 2005
Journey Forth

Regina Silsby's Phantom Militia

by Thomas J. Brodeur

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An April Morn


Rachel Winslow bolted upright. Was that a musket shot?

She scanned the dark bedchamber. Embers warmed the hearth on the far wall, and aroma of cedar scented the room. Frost etched the window beside the bed. A shaft of moonlight cast luminous squares across her quilt, and rhythmic buzzing sounded from the mound at her side. Cousin Sarah was fast asleep.

“What’s the hour?” she wondered. Grandfather kept a timepiece in his waistcoat pocket. Should she cross the chilly floorboards to the corner, where he lay snoring in his bedroll? She shivered and reached for the mug of sassafras tea on the nightstand. Long ago the drink had gone cold, but still she drained it to the dregs.

Another shot shattered the stillness. Across the street a church bell clanged.

“Sarah, wake up,” she said, prodding her cousin. “I heard gunshots, and now the belfry is tolling.”

“ ’Tis the dead of night,” Sarah said.

Grandfather tugged on his boots.

“You two stay abed,” he said. “We’re strangers in this town, and I’ll not have you roaming about.”

“Perhaps there is a fire,” Rachel said. Drums beat a call to arms.

“I think not, lass.”

After throwing on his cloak, he slipped through the door and latched it shut. Rachel sprang from the bed. She lit a candle and laced on her petticoats.

“Did you not hear?” Sarah said. “We’re to stay put.”

“I wish to learn what’s the fuss.”

“And you’ll be wanting company, I suppose.”

“Are you not curious?”

Sarah cast off the quilt and swung her feet to the floor. Blonde hair fell in tangles about her cheeks. She yawned, stretched, and pulled her green paisley gown over her camisole and bloomers.

“You’ll want to wear your flannels,” Rachel said while gathering her dark tresses into a bun.

“We shan’t be more than a minute.”

Into the corridor they wandered and down the stairs to the front hall.

“Mind your step, lasses,” said the innkeeper. He stood at the rear entry holding aloft a candelabrum. Servants and stable hands trundled casks through the open doorway.

“Everything into the barn,” he said. “Rum, hard cider, everything. And touch not a drop, or I’ll have your hides off of you. Mrs. Wright, hurry on.”

The fat woman emerged from the larder tugging sacks stuffed to bursting. Her face was flushed and sweaty.

“Lasses,” she said, “take these to the hayloft, quick now.”

“What’s happened?” Rachel said.

“Don’t waste time chattering, dear. Off with you.”

“Aye, madame.”

Across the stable yard the girls dragged the duffels.

“How are we going to lift these to the loft?” Sarah said. “They’re so heavy.”

“You, boy,” Rachel said to a stable hand, “could you lend a hand, please? The missus wants these in the loft.”

“Right away, miss.”

He hauled away the sacks, and the girls pushed through a picket gate to the road. Torches brightened a tumult of townsmen, wagons, and horses. Through the din of shouted orders and bellowing animals clattered the church bell, and from the village green came a steady thump of drums. Horses crowded the tavern’s hitching rails, their booted riders adjusting saddlestraps. Cellar doors flung open. On every step appeared rifles and cartridge pouches. Citizens scooped them up as quickly as they were laid out.

At the meetinghouse a line of farmers and journeymen lugged kegs to a hay wagon.

“Careful with those,” said the wagon master. “You’ll blow us all to bits.”

“That’s the last of it,” said a tailored gentleman in a white wig. “You know where to take them?”

“Aye, into the forests beyond the north bridge. Ho, lads, spread that hay over them well.”

Women shoveled their gardens and pitched canvas satchels into the holes. A lady clad in a linen nightshirt, her gray hair billowing down her back and her bare feet caked with mud, dumped a silver tea service into a soap barrel.

“Good sir,” Rachel said to a passing horseman, “what’s the news?”

“The regulars are out,” he said, “a thousand strong. They’re coming by way of the Boston road.”

“For what purpose?”

“To arrest Hancock and Adams at Lexington, I’m told, and to take the munitions and stores here at Concord. Fret not, lass, they shall miss their aim. But if you’ve anything of value, you must hide it straightaway.”

“How thrilling,” Sarah said. “The Boston redcoats come this way, Rachel. Is it not grand?”

“Are you mad? Why should that please you?”

“Don’t you see? We expected to reach Boston on the morrow, and tonight it seems that Boston is coming to us. Do you suppose the ghost will follow after them?”

“What ghost?”

“Regina Silsby, of course.”

“Good heavens, Sarah. You mustn’t speak of her.”

“Why not? Every circuit rider out of New England talked endlessly about her. You heard their stories of Regina Silsby dashing all about, terrifying the king’s soldiers and running ships aground, then vanishing away before anyone could catch her. They said she haunts the King’s Chapel, where she’s buried. Oh, it makes me shudder. Are our Boston lodgings near her grave?”

“Do you hope to see her?”

“Of course.”

“Perhaps we should make camp in the cemetery and watch for her there. Really, Sarah, you must stop this nonsense. Very few people saw her, and those who did wished they hadn’t.”

“ ’Tisn’t fair, Rachel, you dwelling in Boston with Regina Silsby’s ghost, while I suffered an endless string of tutors in Philadelphia. There wasn’t a handsome one among them.”

“Boston was hardly exciting.”

“How can you say that, with the Massacre and the Tea Party and Regina Silsby haunting the streets? Why do you think I wished to journey along with you?”

“To help bring my brother out of Boston, or so I supposed.”