His hand gently smoothed the coarse tablecloth before him, and without thinking, he brushed some crumbs onto the hard-packed mud-dirt floor from the crusty loaf shared at their early breakfast. Edward’s eyes scanned the dimly lit room with deliberation, lingering on each familiar item, adding it to the album of images in his mind. The sparse wooden furnishings, the blackened cooking pots and chipped pottery, the homemade candles in their simple carved holders--all were pieces in the mosaic of memories he was quietly cobbling together. His father sat staring into the flickering flames of the massive open fireplace, his rough, knotted hands twisting together absently while smoke curled from the pipe clenched between his lips.
The wooden bench Edward sat on tipped a bit as he stood when a brisk knock sounded at the farmhouse entrance and an eager boyish voice cried out as the door was pushed open, “Edward, are you prepared to depart?”
Was it that time already? He hadn’t finished storing all the mental pictures yet. For a moment he panicked, but then released it. Yes, it was time.
“Aye, William.” He regarded the dark-haired youth with eyes and smile so like his own. Uncle Bertie’s boy, his best friend. He knew William was looking forward to this adventure, but he wasn’t so sure about it himself. At least they’d be together. It was a consoling thought.
Edward’s slight, graying mother moved toward William, greeting him with an uncustomary embrace, while his father rose to shake his nephew’s hand. Their faces were solemn; their somber eyes reflecting heavy hearts.
As Edward grasped the cloth sack containing a change of clothes and a few other belongings, his mother thrust a warm meat pie and a loaf of bread into his hands. “For the journey,” she said with a faint tremble. “I don’t want you to go hungry, my boy.”
His usually taciturn father patted Edward’s shoulder several times, as he admonished, “You take care now, Son.”
He slung the pack over his shoulder and stood still a moment longer, affixing his parents’ faces as the frontispiece in his mind’s remembrance book. Leaning over, he kissed his mother on her cheek, shook his father’s hand, and spoke his final good-bye.
The two young men, both barely eighteen, strode out into the cool, misty morning and headed down the rutted dirt road that meandered through their small seaside village in Dorset.
Old Mr. Taylor hailed them from his front step. “Ho, Boys! You’re off, I see! Godspeed to you!”
They waved at him and then nodded at several others along the way, including the pretty Miss Sayre hanging out the wash for her mother. At the edge of town, they hitched a ride on a wagon lumbering toward the market in a neighboring, larger village, and William settled back on his sack to doze a bit.
Edward’s mind slipped back and forth between thoughts of the home and family he just left and the adventure that beckoned ahead. He gazed steadily at the buildings of his village until they were indefinable specks on the horizon—until even the tall spire of the ancient stone church was no longer visible.
He nudged William. “Willie, do you think we’ll ever see Lesser Swarton again—the river where we played as children, our fathers’ fields, the cemetery where our ancestors lie?” A lump was forming in his throat, but he forcefully swallowed it down.
“I’m certain we will, Eddie! And what stories of the Colonies we’ll have to tell them then! You’ve listened to the letters Father Wilton has received from his brother who lives in Philadelphia. Tales of heathen savages and noisy cities, huge forests and treasures waiting to be discovered!” William grinned in eager anticipation. He’d always been the more fearless of the two, with a hunger for exploration and new experiences.
Edward grinned back. “You’re right, of course! I’m going to keep a journal, Cousin, to help me remember all our exploits!”
“Not me! I’m going to be too busy to have any time for writing! You keep record for both of us!” William leaned back again, yawning, and shut his eyes. “I’m snatching a bit of a nap, because once we get to town we’ll be kept working hard for the next month or so until it’s time to board ship.”
Taking out a pencil and a small leathern book, Edward inscribed on the first pristine page, Journal of Edward Darby, Soldier in the British Army—May, 1775
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