Blackness surrounded me. Much the same as my master had become besieged by the darkness that had settled over our land. Not that he reveled in the shadows and uncertainty, but rather he was striking his way through it with his wit and his quill.
Sitting on the edge of my bed, I reached for the oil lamp on my night table. It was my only friend in the early morning hours as I routinely moved about my work building fires in the kitchen and the study, cooking breakfast, and preparing my master’s clothes.
It was two years hence that I had come to live with this man at the insistence of Master Franklin whom I had served previously. My new employer, Master Paine, was a frugal man with limited interests—writing and politics. He spent most of his days locked away in his study, intent on one purpose—his writing.
As I shuffled out of my bed chamber and down the hall to my master’s study, I heard the familiar scratching sound of his quill upon the parchments. Did he rise early to finish his latest article? Or, more likely, did he labor through the night to perfect the pamphlet?
I reached the study just behind the waves of smoky flames casting eerie shadows upon the walls.
“Master, are you still up?”
The scratching continued. His rumpled bed clothes betrayed a late night excursion with his muse.
One more dip into the ink well, then a shadowy head rose through the gloom. “Yes, Samuel. I am working.”
His features floated like an apparition against the hazy outline of the oil lamp. His hunched shoulders opened up and he stretched backwards against the chair. Gray crescents hung below his eyes and rivulets of brown hair tumbled from his forehead.
“I am nearly done though. Fix us some breakfast and I will finish. Then I can read it to you.”
“Yes, Master Paine.”
Anxious to welcome the dawn, I drew the curtains aside, then filled the fireplace to stave off the December chill.
Moments later when I returned with his tray, Master Paine sat leaning back in his chair. His face turned heavenward as if in prayer. Or perhaps a short nap was his due. Whichever, he required rest. That much was certain, yet he also needed nourishment.
“Master Paine? Master Paine? Your breakfast.”
“Ah, yes. Samuel. Thank you.”
“If you will permit me, Sir, I will serve you now.”
“Dear Samuel. Even after all this time together, you still maintain your distance. Master and the servant.” He shook his head and his grey eyes sparkled with merriment. He was indeed a kind man.
Eating his breakfast, he told me of his new work—The American Crisis, his talks with General Washington and his dear friend Benjamin Franklin.
“May I read you from my newest work, Samuel?”
“Yes, Sir, by all means.”
In a crisp voice, filled with authority, I listened with wonderment as my learned Master recited his work. I will never forget those first words:
“THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but "to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER," and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.”
His recitation continued; I was spellbound. Would that many in America could hear these words and embrace its call. Freedom. Could it belong to all?
In less than a fortnight, the pamphlet would be published and read to the troops under General George Washington’s command.
Note: Thomas Paine, considered a founding father of America, published “The American Crisis,” Part I on December 19, 1776 just a few days before George Washington’s infamous crossing of the Delaware.
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