TITLE: Her People's Child
By Ruth Neilson
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“Mary, get into the trees!” Patrick ordered her, over the roar of the cannon.
“Patrick, you...” Mary looked up from the empty bucket that she was replacing. She had to protest this, she had to stay here...to help.
“Mary! Please go!” His voice sounded strained. Patrick was tired, they had marched all night, struggling through the mire caused by the rain and melting snow. The cannon’s had to get through, no matter what the cost.
She sighed and nodded once and obeyed. Mary felt at home here, working side by side her husband—at least as much as Patrick’s commander would let her. For now, she had to be content with keeping the cannon’s water bucket full. It seemed to be an unimportant job, but it was critical to keep any spontaneous firings during the reloading process.
Mary smiled faintly to herself as she lifted her skirts and ran towards the tree line. She had done this often, as a child in play with her other siblings. Running was easy, fun even. Her grandmother used to say that she was built for running, a true message-runner of the old days.
She had been born to sprint across the fields—her mother’s daughter, a half-breed child, between a colonial blacksmith and an Iroquois woman—strong, proud, and wild. But, according to society, she was still malleable. Her mother had once been the same way—strong, proud, and wild. But she became molded into the white man’s way of life and Gods. Yes, she was a good Protestant daughter, but Mary was curious about her mother’s ancestors.
Anyone could tell that Mary was Iroquois, the darker skin and eyes with the raven blue-black hair that, if allowed to hang free, would glimmer in the firelight. But, of course, society frowned upon that.
There was a small gathering of women; others like her who chose to follow their husbands because they had nowhere else to go. Except Mary was different in that aspect. She went because she wanted to. They went, because they had no other choice. Most women gave even trying to support their families it was nearly impossible in this society as it was.
Patrick was a carpenter, a good one, Mary would have been able to stay in the safety of their town through the war on his savings alone, who was tired of the taxations that the Redcoats had placed upon the colonies. He believed that if Britain would reduce some of the taxes, this war would not have happened. And she agreed with him. Patrick was different from other men as well. He made sure she knew exactly why the rebellion had begun. He never treated her like she could not think for herself. Instead, he wanted her to understand as much of the world’s politics as possible—at least as much as he could understand that is.
Mary was among the last to arrive in the tree line. The other women had fled at the first site of the redcoats. She did not blame them. Not for a moment. They had children to think of and protect, where as she did not. It was just her and Patrick. They were still newly married when the rebellion begun. The other women were chattering away, in their small preformed groups. A place that Mary would never belong her heart wasn’t in the meaningless conversations that were floating around her. Instead, it was on the field with her husband, she would be unable to focus on her sewing projects. The same ones that she had tucked into her pocket that was underneath her petticoat when she left with Patrick several months ago.
The women noticed the difference at about the same time.
A collective gasp rose from the group of women. And Mary edged her way closer to the edge of the line, desperate to see what was occurring. The redcoats were gone. The bodies of soldiers were littered across the ground. She bit her lip, in a brief moment of indecision. Her husband was out there, somewhere, and she needed to go to him, but the other women would be left defenseless if she left. The groans of the wounded and dying spurred her on. Once again, lifting her petticoats, Mary ran. This time to her husband’s side.
This was her destiny—she was a warrior in her own right.
After searching in vain for several moments, Mary knelt next to Patrick, who was sprawled on his back with his left leg twisted grotesquely, and began to wipe the grime from his face with the rag that she had in her hand. It wasn’t enough, so she hastily tore at the hem of her undress. There was no place for her to worry about being proper here. She sat drawing the cannon’s water bucket next to her and placed her husband’s head in her lap and began to tend to him. Around her, other women, were doing the same—tearing at their clothing. Unlike them, however, she openly tore her garments because they were replaceable. Her husband was not.
Using the cannon swabs, she began to make a splint for Patrick’s leg. It was best to do this while he was unaware of her. That way she could at least spare him some pain of his leg being reset. She hated doing this, but with practiced ease of having to reset legs before, she pulled it back into its rightful position. Patrick moaned, but did not awaken as she bound the leg to the pole.
With gentle hands, she continued to clean his face, until another woman, Patience called for her. “Mary, we need you, my husband...” Mary nodded faintly, swallowing the urge to tell the other woman ‘no’ that her Patrick was wounded and she needed to tend to him. She was a midwife—at least a younger one, but most importantly, she knew how to tend to wounds.
“Patrick...” She began, and Patience smiled faintly. “I’ll stay with him while you tend to Eli.”
Patience was always like that. She knew how much Patrick meant to Mary. And how Mary felt about leaving a wounded untended to. She would often shuffle mothers around to different children and husbands. As long as it meant that everyone had someone there with them. “Just...just call me when he awakens.” She said. Patience just smiled and nodded as she began to tend to Patrick, slowly wiping his face clear of the black powder and grime.
Mary gathered her skirts and began to run to each wounded, ignoring the mud that was covering her already ruined stockings and shoes. That did not matter in this moment. She could care less of her middling class image being ruined by appearing to be disheveled in appearance. But she had proven that several months ago. She had become un-lady like in every possible away.
Charles, Patience’s six-year-old son was running towards her. His blond hair was wind mused and his cheeks were ruddy from running.
“Mistress…” He panted and Mary smiled softly, knelling to his level as he continued, “Mama said...”
“Come on Charles, we need to go back to Master O’Connell.” She said, firmly, taking the lad’s hand in her own and briskly walking back towards where Patrick lay. She knelt next to him, taking the cloth from Patience and smiling her thanks as the older woman and her son backed away to give her and Patrick privacy.
“Mary.” He whispered, touching her cheek. She smiled faintly and simply hushed him. He needed to preserve his strength. The wagons should arrive soon, but her love pursued his need to speak.
“I love you, my beautiful wife.” She smiled and ducked her head once, realizing then, that her hair had once again escaped her careful attempts of confining it in her cap. She grit her teeth and tugged it off, allowing the long braid to complete its fall down her back.
“And I love you, Patrick.” She said, kissing his hand that he had placed on her cheek. She realized that he was not going to survive. The wagons were delayed. He was leaving her. With a shuddery last breath, he was gone and Mary lowered her eyes, fighting tears. This was not the place, nor the time to mourn her Patrick.
She was too exposed here, in the open...and there were still others in need of tending. The field had go silent, as if honoring Patrick in the same moment. She looked around and realized that the women were once again fleeing the field. But why?
A burst of raucous laughter startled her off her knees and Mary turned onto her back, desperate to see what was going on. A Hessian was looting those men who were not only dead, but were wounded, pausing often to deliver another blow.
She could not allow this. But how could she stop it. The one thing that the command had drilled into every woman’s mind about the Hessians was to flee when they were around. They were notorious to make inappropriate advances against women. Mary swallowed faintly and tried to rise, but her legs were tangled in her long skirts and he saw her.
Fear flooded her body for the first time since she followed Patrick to war. The Hessian smirked as he approached her. The look on his face said it all. He was going to try to disgrace her. But the Hessian was the one who was about to be disgraced. Deciding that actually acting like a lady was supposed to be was the best way to put the solider off guard.
Rolling to her left, and taking a hold of Patrick’s rifle, a fine rifle, clumsily and struggled to her feet. The Hessian merely laughing as she held the musket as if she unfamiliar with the weapon and approached the man. His laughter at her apparent ignorance and foolhardy plans was enough to encourage her in this plan. If it failed, she would be with her Patrick, and if it succeeded, she would be considered a hero in her own rights. Mary carefully moved towards the Hessian, her steps—silent, but her spirit was true. The Hessian looked at her, and laughed.
“Where you goin’ vith that musket, Frau?” He asked, his German accent thick. She did not answer him so he continued to mock her. “Is tha’ all ve are goin’ be fightin’ now? Tha’ all tha’ Vashington going to send to us?”
Mary continued her silent walk to him, allowing the anger of his mockery to fuel her passion. She was going to use that passion and grief to its fullest, to prove that she truly was a child of her people, an Iroquois warrior. Once she was within a musket length of the Redcoat, she thrust the weapon with its bayonet into his body, and then withdrew it just as rapidly.
She was fulfilled, her husband’s life was avenged and she was now standing guard over those men who had died. She had no one now. Mary considered her options. Most widows would return home to their families, but Mary did not want to do that. She needed to help the soldiers they needed her. She nodded once to herself as she continued to hold her husband’s musket; yes she would stay here with the men, until she followed her husband to heaven.
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