Jonas and Olivia: A Christmas Tale, pt 2.
It was growing dark by the time Olivia climbed up the steps to Thornwall Hall's front porch. She paused, her eyes going to the front parlour windows one one side and then the closed up dining room on the other. Only neither room was closed up now-- the shutters were open and little candle was burning brightly in each window. Olivia's throat choked up. Jonas would be crushed to hear that his plans were ruined. Absolutely crushed, she knew it. And she hated to have him hurt again, so soon after he finally started behaving like a normal human being again.
She couldn't go inside, not yet, so she sat down on the top porch step, her back to the shining windows. The choking feeling in her throat grew more prominent and she focused on the snow flakes lazily spinning to the ground. They were large and soft, and the ground was growing white as they fell.
The door behind her opened and shut, and the boards creaked as someone walked over to her. Olivia knew it was Ishmael. "It is horrible." she whispered, not looking at him as he sat down next to her. "I don't know how I shall ever tell him. They can't come--the Duncans can't come, not one of them! Anthony ran off for the army, and they are all looking for him, and--" Olivia wrapped her arms around herself and ducked her head down.
It was silent for a few minutes, and then Ishmael handed her a small handkerchief. Olivia's eyes filled up with tears and she rubbed at them with the handkerchief, almost angrily. The handkerchief smelled good though-- of mint and pine-- and before long she was taking deeper, calm breaths again. "I don't want to tell Jonas--please tell him for me."
Ishmael chuckled, and Olivia frowned. "Oh-- oh yes. Never mind that, then." Her shoulders slumped. She was just about to speak again when she heard the front door scrape open.
"Olivia, what is this? Back so soon? And where are the others?" Jonas's voice sounded almost merry.
Olivia turned slowly. "They can not come, Jonas."
The shadows instantly darkened his face. "But--why?"
"Anthony ran off, and they are all looking for him. It's a matter of life or death, I believe, and Francis is very sorry, but--"
Jonas ducked back inside and returned with his cloak. "Get your coat on, boy," he growled at Ishmael, "And help me hitch up the wagon."
Ishmael leaped to his feet, hesitated a second, and then spun into the house. Olivia rose and grabbed Jonas's arm. "What are you doing?" she cried.
Jonas shook her off and started trudging quickly to the barn. "Going to help find that scalawag," he shouted over his shoulder. "Hurry up, child, or are you wanting to spend the night alone here?"
"No--!" Olivia felt relief wash over her and she bounded down the steps.
Within a half hour they were at Francis's home again. She came scurrying out of the cabin with a look of half dismay, half hope. When she recognized Jonas her mouth fell open. "Jonas!" she dashed forward and jumped onto the side of the wagon as it rolled to a stop. "What are you doing here?"
"Come to help find that son of yours." Jonas grumbled, dropping the reigns and facing her. "I'm not surprised, frankly. Of all the stupid things--!" He lowered himself out of the wagon and grabbed his rifle out of the back of the wagon. "Just like you, Francis."
"Now listen here, Jonas." Francis cut him off with a sharp tone. "If you're here to help then that's fine, but if you are here to grumble I shall have to ask you to return at once to home."
Jonas stared at her. "Come, now, Francis, don't be so high-and-mighty. Running away seems to be passed down in your blood apparently, and that's that."
"It was in yours too, you know it." Francis's chin wobbled but she kept her gaze level with her brother's. "What was that--that whole nonsense about surveying. You know it was just an excuse to get away."
Jonas bit his lip as his shoulders stiffened. "Francis."
His sister continued, her cheeks beginning to glow pink. "Don't try to pretend it away. The facts remain. I ran away and you ran away and now Anthony has run away. Mistakes, yes they were indeed, but I believe the Lord sees through that and gives us grace. And if you can't, and must still hold a grudge, Jonas, I-- I-- well, I can't bear it, that's all!"
Jonas sighed. "I am sorry, Francis." He grabbed his cane out of the wagon and handed it to her. "Hold that, it will just get in my way." Craning his neck he waved at Ishmael and Olivia. "Come down, now, and stop sitting around like confused ducks."
He marched into the house, Francis following him swiftly, but stopped when he saw the little children crowding around the fire. Their eyes were wide, almost frightened. He blinked. "I'm your uncle, of all things," he roared, "Not a horrid beast, so look more jolly, will you?"
Francis wrapped her arm around his. "It is not you, Jonas," she whispered, "It is only, they might have thought you were British at first."
"I'm less British than your own husband--don't be ridiculous." Jonas scowled. He strapped his rifle on and then glanced around. "Where is Elijah, anyways?"
"Following the road to the north," Francis shivered. "He thought that Anthony would try meeting up with the troops in--" she broke off, clapping a hand to her mouth.
"In Maryland, don't be silly. Of course I know." Jonas scratched the back of his head. "Well then, I think he's rather off in a different direction-- east, if you ask me. I shall try that way."
Francis nodded, just as the door burst open and her daughter Lydia came tearing in. "Mama! Seth has spotted a group of about six redcoats off the road a bit!"
Olivia and Ishmael slipped in behind Lydia. "It's true," Olivia said softly. "Six or seven. I counted."
Francis lifted her skirts and dashed to the door. "But why is Seth--?"
"Keeping watch, Mama," Lydia's eyes widened. "Being the man of the place since Papa and Anthony are gone."
"Yes," Francis bit her lip as she peered out the door. Galloping hooves pounded against the snowy ground and twelve year old Seth came into view atop a thin pony.
"Mama! Mama!" he shouted. "Hurry!" He drew up with a shaking gasp at the front door and pulled at his horse's reigns. "They're coming to burn us out, I heard them. "Burn them out, the horrid rebels,"--I heard them say that."
Jonas stepped in, his brow furrowed. "But why?"
Seth eyed him with suspicion, but his mother placed her hand over her mouth and then nodded. "It's alright, Seth boy."
"The only thing I can think is they got the papers. It had a map in it with our house, that little group of separated soldiers trying to get back to their regiment, the town, the camps of soldiers--" Seth choked. "They must know everything!"
Jonas rubbed his chin and shook his head. "No, they don't know everywhere. Quick, Francis--" He grabbed her hands. "Gather up anything of value or important while I load the children into my wagon. The horse is still harnessed-- and then you must take the back roads to Thornwall Hall. You know them, we've been over them hundreds of times when we were younger."
"Yes." Francis immediately ducked inside and yanked the tablecloth off the table. Lydia glanced at Jonas, and then flew in to help her mother. Within a minute they had tumbled dozens of items into the tablecloth and Francis tied the corners together. Ishmael held out his hands and she cast him a grateful look. With swift feet Ishmael disappeared outside with his burden and Francis grabbed blankets off the beds and wrapped them around her little children. "Now go." She shoved the children towards the door and Jonas lifted up one--a very tiny girl who despite the gravity of the situation gave a giggle when she looked Jonas in the eye.
Olivia bent down to see a few of the little children and flashed them a smile. "Let's race to the wagon. See who beats." The three little Duncans, ages ten to six, needed no other invitation. They were gone before Olivia could say anything else.
Francis snatched the baby to her and tipped her head at Lydia. She did not need to say any words, but instead moved swiftly out, like a silent shadow, to the wagon. The children were already in the back, and Francis leaped up onto the front bench with an agility that surprised Jonas. He raised his hand to her as she slapped the reigns against the horse's back. "Stay safe!" His voice almost broke and he dropped his hand limply.
"Mister--" Seth's voice broke his thoughts.
Jonas turned on him with a start. "What are you doing here? You're supposed to go with your mother."
Seth frowned. "I want to help."
The sound of horse's hooves down the lane stopped them all. Jonas snapped his fingers. "Then come to the woods and we'll hide there till it's safe to come out."
"But Jonas, what about Anthony?" Olivia's voice sounded small next to him.
Jonas's heart leaped into his throat. "You here, too?" He grabbed Olivia's shoulder and jerked her after him. Ishmael bounded ahead of them and disappeared into the woods. Jonas and Olivia had reached the edge of the clearing when Jonas glanced back and saw the torches of the redcoat's shimmering just beyond the trees, about to break forth into the clearing. Seth wheeled his horse around with uncertainty and then galloped towards the others.
They waited in the woods for a few minutes as the redcoats came up to the cabin. Jonas rubbed his chin. "Seth," he hissed to the boy on his stomach next to him. "Let me have the pony."
"What?" Seth cried softly. "What are you off to?"
Jonas took a deep breath. "I know the woods well. Let me take the pony--I'm going to ride over east-way and find your brother."
Seth slipped the reigns to the older man. "You promise?"
"Of course." Jonas rose silently and then mounted the pony. With a flick of the reigns, the pony went into action and they both soon were out of sight.
Olivia was on the ground, squeezed in between Ishmael on one side and Seth on the other. Her heart pounded as she watched the redcoats circling the house.
"Nobody here!" a redcoat called. "But the paper said--"
Another redcoat lowered his torch to the ground near the house's foundation. "What matters it? We have the map, at least, and this place is going down into ashes."
Flames licked along the bottom of the house, spreading up with a quickness that startled Olivia. Seth next to her gave a muffled cry, and Ishmael reached over her to clamp his hand over the younger boy's mouth. The three of them watched in horror as the fire grew to such heights that the cabin was soon swallowed up in the flames.
A redcoat laughed, and several went to round up the livestock. Olivia felt something stinging in her eyes, but she wasn't sure if it was tears or the smoke.
Ishmael, his hand still tight over Seth's mouth, got to his feet. He nudged Olivia with his shoe and made a soft grunting noise, but Olivia felt as if she were frozen. "No." her voice was hoarse as she watched. The light of the fire cast grotesque shadows across the redcoat's faces and for a moment she could almost see her father standing next to the fire, his face lined with the worry of a new country. She leaped up. "NO!"
Ishmael jerked her scarf up around her face and put his arm around her as he guided them all deeper into the woods. Olivia's cheeks turned numb as the wetness turned cold in the frosty air. "I thought--My father--" she could not explain how fast her heart was beating.
Seth glanced her way, suddenly seeming older than his years. His eyes were large and luminous in the moonlight. "It is because--" he whispered, "When they attack one family, they attack us all, for we are family. We are Americans, together--" he stopped with a strangling sound and they continued in silence.
But Olivia knew he was right.
The snow pelted down against Jonas's face-- the kind of snow that is sloppy and wet and only serves to make all your clothes damp and cold. He grumbled inside at the misfortune befalling Francis and her family, at the stupidity of Anthony Duncan, at the weather, and at the fact that his perfectly planned Christmas was now in ruins. And it wasn't only for himself that he was sorry the Christmas was ruined. It was for Olivia-- her first time being without her father, and it was for Ishmael--his first chance to celebrate Christmas at all. And it was for the soldiers he had been so eager to spread a little joy to.
"Anthony Duncan, of all things!" He kicked his heels into the pony's sides and urged her on faster. He really was rather big for the pony, but what must be done must be done. The country road to the east was barren as the moon continued to rise. "Lord, guide me now," he breathed. He rode hard, scanning the country side with eyes sharp from thirty years of paranoia. And that's when he saw it. A subtle movement in the bushes off to one side. He slowed to a walk and studied it. It didn't move again, but he was sure that in that brief second he had seen the glint of metal. The more he stared at the motionless bushes the more he was sure that someone was hiding within them. Swinging himself off the pony he winced as his feet hit the ground. With a slight limp he edged closer to the bushes and then brushed a few branches out of the way.
"Hands in the air, or I'll shoot." He heard the voice of a young man right as he registered the narrowed eyes below him.
Jonas put his hands up, taking a step back. "Show yourself then,"
There was a little scuffling, and then breathlessly, "I can't...take a look yourself if you must."
Jonas bent down to peer in. "Anthony Duncan? You're hurt."
"How'd you know my name?" The younger gasped, trying to sit up. He grasped at a branch and it snapped under his weight, dumping powdery snow all over his head.
Jonas leaned forward and hooked his hands around Anthony's armpits, dragging the boy out of the bush and stretching him out in the snow by the road. "What happened?" he asked as he inspected his nephew's arm. Near the shoulder blood stained through the brown coat he wore, and the arm was bent at a weird angle.
"Who are you?" Anthony demanded, sending clouds of sparkling grey into the air with each ragged breath.
"Your uncle, naturally." Jonas brought his knife out and Anthony flinched. "I'm not going to stab you, boy. Uncles don't do that, so I've heard. I'm just cutting off your coat here so I can get to your wound. Double affliction it seems to me-- shot and broke it at the same time, did you?"
Anthony closed his eyes, his other hand moving up to his shoulder with a hint of uncertainty. "I was being chased down this road by Redcoats. When they shot me I fell off my horse and fell on my arm. I pretended to be dead so when they came up they just searched me and then left me alone--and then I dragged myself into the bushes."
"I'd say good use of your head, but it seems too late to say that now." Jonas grunted as he wrapped the cloth he had cut from the coat around the wound. "What were you thinking, running off like that? Everyone is worried like nothing you've seen before, and your father is off traveling the north road looking for you. You let the enemy get their hands on a most important map and your home is burned. Well done, Anthony Duncan, I say to you." The sarcasm was evident in Jonas's voice.
Anthony swallowed hard. "Are you friend or foe, then?"
"I'm Jonas, and I'm American, if that is what you are asking." Jonas took off his cloak and then his waistcoat, tearing the latter into strips. "A patriot. And you, I know who you are, though you seem to have forgotten me. I have seen you three times now in the past two months. Once at your home, when I visited Francis. I left as you were coming in and instantly recognized you as Francis's eldest. Another time was when I visited the soldiers and I saw you slinking about in the woods nearby. And lastly it was in town, marching with the militia when I went to purchase some more coffee, only last week."
"You know my face well then." Anthony tilted his head and spat out onto the ground. "How is it I do not know you? I am aware of the goings on for the Patriot movement in this area, and--"
Jonas snorted. "So you think. They do not tell seventeen year old boys everything, though, I find. I am new to the Revolution, but I am determined." He wrapped his arm under the boy, who was taller than Jonas's six feet and a good deal lankier. "Now listen-- what all were in those papers you lost, and what possessed you to run off this way? You should have at least thought of your mother." He helped Anthony onto the saddle of the pony and then grabbed the reigns, trudging before the horse as he made his way back from where he had come.
"I did not lose the important papers," Anthony whispered. "I had heard word that information about Papa had been leaked to the British. I was afraid that he would continue on like he always does and--" He paused. "I made fake maps and documents and then concealed the real ones inside a hollow log next to our spring. I thought that if I could draw the Redcoats off of Papa--"
Jonas's face softened. "I see." They continued on in silence for a while, till Jonas took a deep breath. "I understand your motive, but from your parent's point of view--"
Anthony shifted in the saddle, wincing. "Yes, of course--but at the time, it seemed like the only thing to do was to just go ahead and do it. Maybe it was wrong, but I didn't want Papa to put himself in any more danger."
"I understand." And Jonas truly did.
By the time they got back to Thornwall Hall, pain was shooting up and down Jonas's legs and he was limping worse than ever. Anthony had slumped forward in the saddle and was gripping the pony's mane with both fists as he bobbed up and down. "We're home, boy," Jonas called to Anthony softly as they came in view of the house.
As soon as Jonas saw his home a lump sprang into his throat. A candle was burning in every window, and as they came nearer the door burst open. Light streamed from the hallway turning the figures at the door into silhouettes, but Jonas knew who it was. "Hello, the house!" He called out, his voice hoarse. "I have Anthony, and all is well."
"All is well!" Francis shouted back into the house, and a collective cheer rose.
"All is well!" It was the dancing English lilt of Elijah Duncan that he heard next. "God is good."
"All is well." Olivia spoke it quietly, but Jonas heard and suddenly, he felt as if he was lit up inside with a thousand lamps. They were right. All was well, for they were together, and they were safe-- and it was Christmas, soon. Things were as they ought to be. They were all family once again. There was love in the air despite the hate, and goodwill in times of oppression--because Christmas was not merely traditions and joy, but a time to hold dear to you what was truly important.
That's all for today! Let me know in the comments below what you thought about this story! :)
Have a lovely day!