The Rebel's Return

Two young patriots during the American Revolution struggle with issues of independence and rebellion toward God and their families. As a result of their relationship, the young woman develops more confidence in her ability to make wise decisions. The rebellious young man learns that God will love and accept him even if his own father never does. 

Chapter One

     It truly wasn’t a lie, Phoebe told herself for the fifth time as she scurried along the cobbled streets of the city. The smoldering July sun beat through the blanket of clouds that attempted to suffocate it and radiated back up from the pavement in waves; the air was heavy and breezeless. It truly wasn’t a lie, for she had just delivered the little vial of medicine to Mrs. Audley, just as she had told Martha that she intended to do before leaving home. And if she returned home by way of the State House, and happened to meet her friend Rhoda on the way, and then lingered just for a moment to see what was happening there, was that truly so dreadful? Not the whole truth, perhaps, but certainly not a lie, and she would certainly confess exactly where she had been when she returned home, no matter how provoked they were.
     The rationalization soothed, but did not entirely silence the little niggling of her conscience. She knew why she had told the servant about her intended errand instead of asking her mother’s permission; she knew full well what her mother’s response would have been. Old Mrs. Audley wasn't about to die, Sarah Fuller would have said. The poor woman had been suffering from the gout for years, as everyone knew, but she would live awhile longer, and she could manage to wait one more day for her medicine. No hurry in that. Today was washday, and they needed all available hands, and once the wash was laid out to dry there were those strawberries that needed to be made into preserves before they spoiled. Not a day to be running off with Rhoda Kirby, meddling in nonsense that she had no business worrying her head over. A woman’s place was in the home, after all, and speeches, war, and politics were men's concerns.
     Phoebe rounded the corner of Chestnut Street and slowed her frantic trot to a walk. Several blocks ahead she could see a crowd beginning to gather in front of the State House, a milling, swaying mass of movement and color. A gentleman in a curled wig and knee breeches cantered past Phoebe, his horse kicking up a cloud of dust that made her pause, cough, and rub her eyes. The door of a shop ahead of her flew open and a trio of boys ran out, apprentices by the appearance of them, she guessed. She wondered if she would be the only woman in the crowd. Nay, at least Rhoda would be there.
     Suddenly aware of her dusty, sweaty hands and face, she paused and groped in her pocket for her handkerchief. No handkerchief. How could she have forgotten? And she was still wearing the faded, patched linsey-woolsey petticoat that she always wore on washday, and the waistcoat with the hole in one elbow and the grease spot on the bodice. Well, perhaps she would not see anyone she knew, anyone besides Rhoda, that was. But her mother was sure to notice and comment on her bedraggled, unladylike appearance.
     Another sin for my Naughty Book, she reflected with a wry grimace. When Phoebe was a little girl, her mother had made her keep a record of her daily faults in a book, and ask forgiveness for them all each evening before bed. The same offenses appeared each day with monotonous, discouraging regularity. Daydreaming. Forgetting her chores. Playing when she should have been working. Reading frivolous books instead of instructional ones. Giggling during solemn moments, like in church or when being introduced to important people. Her older sister Alice also had a Naughty Book, but somehow its pages were always wonderfully white and clean. And even though ten years had passed and the two sisters were now grown, that aspect of their natures had not changed     Just yesterday she had been engrossed in Richardson's novel Pamela, the story of a brave young servant girl resisting the wicked advances of her handsome young master. Phoebe had reached the most suspenseful moment of the book, when Mr. B carries Pamela off to his country estate where she is secluded from the world, and even her shoes are stolen by the nasty housekeeper to prevent her running away. Would Pamela finally succumb to Mr. B’s seduction, or would she perhaps be rescued by the local clergyman who finds her charming? Phoebe had to find out, she simply couldn’t put the book down, and was lost to the world when her mother came upon her in the storage room.
     “Are you reading that foolish book again, Phoebe?” Sarah had exclaimed, while Phoebe hastily hid the volume in her pocket under her petticoat. “Gracious, if you must waste time reading, at least choose something useful and instructional, like Alice does. Alice, dear, where is that book you were reading last week, about Elizabeth in holy retirement?”
     “I read that already,” Phoebe said. And it was gloomy, she added silently, so her mother would not hear her. Elizabeth, preparing for the birth of her baby and meditating upon the likelihood of her own demise, was enough to frighten any young woman out of matrimony, unlike the amorous, seductive Mr. B.
     “Did you indeed? Well, we’re too busy today to waste time with books anyway. The garden needs weeding, and then you can cut out some new shirts for Jonathan. Your brothers grow so quickly I can’t keep clothes on them.”
     Phoebe meekly retreated and headed for the garden to weed, but as soon as she was positioned on the ground, with her back to the house, she retrieved the book from her pocket and propped it open with her knee, so that she could read and weed at the same time. Of course the task took much longer that way, and her mother finally called out to scold her impatiently.
     You know I don't mean to be wicked, Lord, she prayed silently. You know that I want to do right, but all my inclinations seem to lie in the opposite direction.
     Her reflections on her past sins were swallowed up in anticipation and excitement as she approached the swelling crowd in front of the State House. The most important building in Philadelphia, and therefore in the whole thirteen colonies, for Philadelphia was the biggest and most important city in America. The building where the Congress had been meeting for weeks now, all the great men of the colonies: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, and of course their own Benjamin Franklin. Phoebe had occasionally lingered outside on the street when she happened to pass by, watching as these leading citizens emerged from their solemn assembly, wondering what it would be like to be so splendid and important, changing history with her own hands. She sometimes liked to imagine that she was the wife or daughter of such a man, hearing in intimate detail all the debate and contention that occurred within. But when she had confided such a daydream to her sister, Alice had responded with a wrinkle of her pretty nose, “How tedious! And I don’t doubt those men’s wives think so, too.”
     Now she paused on the edge of the milling crowd, searching left and right for Rhoda or someone in the Kirby family. She saw working men in checked shirts and woolen caps and aprons, kerchiefs round their necks, apprentices with laughing servant girls hanging on their arms, occasionally a young man in soldier’s uniform, although most of those were far away, in New York with the army. A holiday spirit pervaded the crowd, with a sense of anticipation and expectancy. Then she heard Rhoda's voice behind her, calling her name, and she turned.
     “I feared you would miss everything!” Rhoda exclaimed, seizing her arm and drawing her away from the press of bodies. “I heard Mr. Jones tell my father that John Nixon, the commander of the Philadelphia city guard, will be coming out in just a few moments to speak to everyone. And I couldn't find you anywhere.”
     “I had difficulty getting away,” Phoebe explained. “I nearly didn’t come at all.”
     “Did no one in your family come with you?” Rhoda wondered, glancing behind them. She was a pretty sort of girl, almost as short as Phoebe but plumper, with glossy dark hair, bright eyes, and pink cheeks.
     “They didn’t know where I was going, and I’m sure they would have been too busy to come if I’d told them. Today is washday, you see.”
     “They don’t realize how important this is,” Rhoda declared, and Phoebe, torn between loyalty to her family and agreement with her friend, was once again struck by the difference between her family and Rhoda's. Rhoda’s father was a member of the Associators, marching companies composed of Philadelphia merchants, clerks, printers, and other city folk. Rhoda’s two older brothers were with the army in New York, and even her two younger ones, eleven and thirteen years old, drilled as drummer boys for the Associators. Phoebe’s family in contrast cared little for politics. Her quiet, withdrawn father, after a bad bout with pneumonia several years before, now devoted himself only to his apothecary shop and his Bible reading, even maintaining few social contacts among his former acquaintances. Her mother was the one who really ran the family, and her concerns were physical ones, food and drink, health and cleanliness, running the family business and finding husbands for her two marriageable daughters. Or they were moral concerns, truth and honesty and virtue and hard work. The political concerns of the day interested her not at all, except peripherally, as they affected her own family. And Alice, as diligent as her mother and as devout as her father, found nothing so tiresome as politics.
     “If George were at home, he would have come with me,” Phoebe said. But George was also far away with Washington's army in New York. Just six months ago he had come home and announced his intention to turn soldier, much to the distress of his mother. Why should he waste his time and risk his life for some silly cause that was lost before it was even fought, when his father needed him in the apothecary shop? Surely he knew that his family was depending on him. But uncharacteristically George’s father had intervened.
     “Let him go, Sarah,” he'd said quietly. “’Tis where his heart is. You can’t keep him tied to you forever.” So George had marched off, although his mother remained convinced that he would be blown to bits by the next cannon ball.
     “I thought surely Alice would come, when I saw David Ingram here,” Rhoda said.
     “David is here?” Phoebe exclaimed, glancing around the crowded yard. “I’m sure Alice didn't know that he was coming; at least, she didn’t mention it. Where is he?”
     Rhoda shrugged. “I don’t know; perhaps he has left by now.”
     Phoebe did not reply, but twisted left and right, scanning the crowd for David, her sister’s beau. They had been courting for several months now, and in Phoebe’s opinion David embodied all the qualities of an ideal young man, a view largely shared by the rest of her family. Tall and slender, graceful of movement and erect of carriage, with dark hair, fine eyes and good teeth. Rather quiet and reserved, but intelligent. His family, although not wealthy, had scraped together enough to send him to the College of New Jersey, so he could become a lawyer—a comfortable step up the social ladder. He would be a good catch for Alice, and Alice was nearly perfect enough to match him.     She was distracted from her search by a movement near the door of the State House. She tried to peer over the heads of the men in front of her to see what was happening, but she was too short. Rhoda nudged her. “John Nixon,” she whispered.     A hush spread over the crowd, beginning at the front and spreading backwards like the ripples of a stone in a pond. Phoebe, still standing on tiptoe, missed his first remarks, but then the silence deepened, and the words rang out over the people like the solemn sounding of a bell. He was reading from the text in his hand.
     “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.—We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
     Phoebe felt a chill go through her at the words. She suddenly squeezed Rhoda's arm, and her friend flashed her a smile.     “—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
     Throughout the course of her life, Phoebe would hear the Declaration of Independence read many times, and each time it would carry her back to this day, the hot summer haze, the still air, the smell of grime and sweat on the hushed and breathless crowd, each standing on tiptoe lest the words be swallowed up by those in front of them. She listened solemnly to the long list of the crimes of the King, and then the ringing conclusion.
     “—We, THEREFORE, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved;...And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
     For a lingering instant after the reading had concluded the silence hovered over the crowd, as if each individual expelled his long-held breath in unison. Then all at once a great cheer broke out among the throng. Men threw their caps in the air, women hugged one another, and here and there pistol shots rang out from the uniformed soldiers.
     There! Phoebe thought triumphantly. There! We made history, and I was part of it, in however small a way. But for how long? Can we really survive apart from Great Britain? She thought of the rag-tag army in New York, her own brother and Rhoda’s brothers, facing the might of a world power. It was a fearful picture.
     Suddenly the bells of the city began to ring. The huge bell above the State House clanged so loudly above them that the cheers around Phoebe were almost drowned.
     “Can you tarry?” Rhoda asked, raising her voice slightly to be heard over the din. “My father said that Mr. Jones brought a whole keg of cider to share, and there will be games this afternoon.”
     Phoebe was sorely tempted, but the image of her mother's ire returned her sense of the responsibility. “I cannot,” she said regretfully. “I've been gone too long already.”
     Rhoda frowned but did not argue. Phoebe waved farewell to her friend and began to weave her way to the entrance of the yard. She had to elbow past clusters of young men in high spirits, one of them slightly tipsy, too preoccupied to move aside for the shabbily dressed young woman. Unwilling to call attention to herself, Phoebe tried to squeeze between two noisy groups, and as she ducked under their elbows ran smack into an officer's uniform coming the other way.
     “Excuse me, sir,” Phoebe mumbled, trying to slip past him without looking up.
     “Phoebe?” the male voice said. “Phoebe Fuller?”
     Startled, Phoebe raised her eyes from the row of coat buttons to the man's face. She saw a young man of about twenty-five, a tanned, rather square face, wavy brown hair sun-streaked with blond, pulled back and tied at the nape with a blue ribbon. His eyes were a sparkling hazel, laughing eyes. Not tall, she judged, no more than average height or a bit less, but still a good eight inches taller than Phoebe, who was small for a woman.
     “Nicholas!” she exclaimed. She recognized him now. His family had once lived on the same street as the Fuller family, until his father accumulated enough from his trade to purchase a country estate, lifting his family to the level of gentry. His sister Lavinia had been Phoebe's best friend when they were both children.
     “How many years has it been?” Nicholas asked. “I remember you as a tiny girl, I barely recognized you.”
     “I don't know; these six years at least.” Phoebe rubbed her palms against her petticoat, suddenly conscious of her grimy appearance.
     She was suddenly jostled from behind, and Nicholas grasped her arm and pulled her aside to a quieter corner of the yard.
     “This is a rough crowd for you, Phoebe. Did your family let you come alone?”
     “Nay, I—I sneaked out.”
     She regretted the words as soon as they were out of her mouth, but he laughed heartily, his eyes narrowing and crinkling at the corners.
     “So how old are you now? Fifteen?”
     Phoebe swallowed hard and looked away. She knew, of course, that she was barely the same height as her ten-year-old brother Kit, with a figure only slightly more developed. She knew that her movements were quick as a bird's, not graceful as a young lady's should be, that her voice was often too high-pitched, and that her countenance displayed her every emotion like the changes of a kaleidoscope. She knew all these undignified facts about herself, yet she was still mortified every time a stranger thought her much younger than she actually was.
     She said in a voice that she hoped sounded normal, “I’m eighteen.” 
     “Indeed!” His face reddened just for a moment with chagrin before he recovered.  “Aye, indeed you are, I should have remembered. You were friends with Lavinia, and she will be eighteen in November.”
     Phoebe smiled up at him, hoping to dispel his embarrassment. “Everyone thinks I am young.”
     “You will be pleased by that some day,” he assured her with a grin. “Do you still hear from Lavinia?”
     She shook her head with an expression of regret. “Not these two or three years. We used to write, even to visit, then we lost touch. Are your family all well?”
     “They were well the last time I saw them,” he replied in a light tone. “And yours? I believe I saw George once with the army in New York.”
     She smiled with pride. “Aye, he is with Washington's army. As you are as well, I see. Are you an officer?”
     “I am a lieutenant under Lord Stirling, but I ride courier for whoever needs me. Which is why I find myself in Philadelphia now, actually. How lucky, to be here today of all days! Although I’m sure the Declaration will be read to the army as well.”
     “Aye, it is so exciting,” Phoebe agreed with a glowing countenance, but was suddenly distracted by a familiar figure in the corner of her vision. “Why, there’s David, after all!”
     “Who?” Nicholas twisted around to follow the direction of her gaze. “You know him?”
     “Aye, David Ingram, Alice’s beau. They have been keeping company several months now.”
     “I see.” Nicholas studied the figure thoughtfully, then turned back to Phoebe. “Would I be imposing if I escorted you home? I should like to renew my acquaintance with your family.”
     Phoebe forgot to conceal her eagerness. “I’m sure they would all be very happy to see you again, sir.”     He grinned at that, then took her arm in a commanding way and led her out of the State House yard and into the street toward her home. As they walked she told him about her ploy to escape the house that day, and her fear of her mother's reproach.
     “Perhaps with a guest present she won't scold you so much,” he suggested.     “Aye, I hope not,” she sighed.
     A carriage dashed by, and as it passed drove through a mud puddle, splattering them both with mud. Phoebe exclaimed in disgust and jumped backwards.
     “How rude,” Nicholas frowned. He turned and followed the carriage a few steps, then suddenly pulled his pistol from his pocket and fired it into the air. The carriage horses began to neigh and rear, and as heads turned on the street Nicholas calmly replaced his pistol and strolled back to join Phoebe.
     “Nicholas!” Phoebe exclaimed, torn between laughter and horror. “Why did you do that?”
     “Next time he’ll watch his manners,” Nicholas replied with a grin, and in spite of herself she had to giggle.
      They reached the Fuller house after a fifteen minute walk. Phoebe paused with her hand on the latch, wondering if she could sneak back to her chores without her mother noticing. But with Nicholas that would be impossible. She took a breath and lifted the latch.
      The cloying smell of strawberries and sugar met her nose, and she sniffed. The kitchen door opened and her mother’s head appeared.
     “Phoebe! So you’re finally back! Whatever possessed you to deliver that medicine today when you know we’re so busy—” She broke off as her gaze fell on Nicholas, and recognition dawned. She opened the door wider and stepped into the parlor. “My goodness! Is that Nicholas Teasdale? What a surprise!”
      Nicholas removed his cap and bowed. “I met your daughter on her errand in town and she was kind enough to invite me to call on the family.”
      “How lovely! It is so good to see you again. It has been so long since I’ve heard from your good mother! How is your family? I hope you left them in health?”
      “I believe so. It has been awhile since I have heard from them myself. I am with the army in New York, at the disposal of my superiors. I haven’t been home since last summer.”
     “Of course. What a fine uniform you have. I’m sure George is not wearing anything half so grand. Alice,” she turned back to call through the kitchen door, “we have a guest. You’ll never imagine. Come and see if you recognize him.”
     Alice appeared in the parlor, missing the large apron she wore on workdays, her petticoat fresh and clean. Phoebe knew that she had discarded the apron quickly at the voice of a guest in the parlor. She wished she could run upstairs and change her own clothes, but it was too late for that.
     She glanced swiftly up at Nicholas and saw his eyes light up at the sight of her pretty sister.     “Of course I remember,” Alice smiled. “All the trouble you created as a little boy! How could I forget the time you stole the gingerbread I had baked for company and ate it all? I found the empty pan full of crumbs in the kitchen window.”
     Nicholas bowed again. “I hope you have forgiven me for that. I would be grieved to think that my childhood sins are making me unwelcome today. As I recall, it was very good gingerbread.” His tone was serious, but, stealing a glance at him, Phoebe saw that his eyes were dancing.
     They all laughed. Sarah Fuller asked, “How long can you stay? If you could join us for supper, my husband would have a chance to visit with you too. I know he would enjoy that.”
     “I fear I can’t tarry today. My duties call me elsewhere. But please give your husband my greetings. Perhaps I will see him another time.”
     “You must be sure to call on us whenever you are in Philadelphia.”
     “Indeed, I would be very pleased to,” he assured her. “I have to pass through Philadelphia often in my duties, and it would be pleasant to have friends to return to.”
     “I hope you will consider our home your second home,” Sarah said. And Phoebe found herself unaccountably happy at the thought of Nicholas frequently                                     dropping by.

* * *

     That night the events of the day were still replaying in Phoebe's mind even after she had undressed down to her shift and snuggled under the sheet of the bed she shared with Alice. Two adventures in one day! Hearing independence declared, and then meeting Nicholas! She did not often enjoy so much excitement at once.
     She watched now as Alice unhooked her petticoats and slipped out of them, then unpinned her hair and began to brush it out. Alice had a perfect figure, neither tall nor short, straight and graceful. She wore her corsets to bed, while Phoebe often tried to escape without hers even in the daytime. Alice’s hair, unpinned, fell to her waist, and shone in the candlelight, pure gold. Phoebe’s own hair was almost brown, with streaks of silver-gold that showed up only in the sunlight.
     She rolled onto her back, staring up at the rafters moodily. Nicholas had seemed quite struck by Alice’s beauty that afternoon. Could it be that he planned to visit again with her in mind?
     Aloud, she said, “I wonder if Nicholas will return soon.”
     “I don’t know,” Alice replied, not looking around. “He said he planned to.”
     “He’s very good-looking, don't you think?” Phoebe asked wistfully.
     “Not exactly.” Alice shrugged. “He’s too short. His brother Philip was the handsome one, if I remember rightly.”
     Phoebe turned to stare at her. “He’s not short! He’s taller than you are.”
     Alice shrugged again. “To my mind a man is not really tall if I can look him in the eye.”
     Phoebe digested this in silence. To be sure, Nicholas was not as tall as David, and his features were not so perfect and regular. But he was still attractive. Alice was so beautiful that she could afford to be very choosy. And yet, even as she spurned them, the men kept coming back to her. What would it be like to be Alice, to never anger her mother, to never neglect her duties, to attract men without even trying? Phoebe sighed. She would never know, for she would surely never be Alice.

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