Merry Christmas and welcome back! I'm so excited to share today's story part with you today! I'm writing this in advance but I know that today is very busy and filled with Christmas spirit! We have a lot going on today, so prayers are appreciated!
Part 4: A Friend Among Enemies
For days, the Hawk bobbed in the rough waters just off the New York shore. James could keep nothing down as his illness raged in form of a fiery fever. Precious pounds melted away as his conditioned worsened. Delirious most of the time, James would moan and cry out for his mother and people he knew from back home. His former comforter was no longer there to ease his fits; he had succumbed to pneumonia and consumption.
The guards cared little that he was deathly ill, only that he was disturbing the “peace” of the deck above and did all within their power to silence him. James continued to toss and turn in his sleep until his body was completely exhausted.
One day, when the water was calmer, the prisoner could hear footsteps overhead. Several people were boarding the ship. More prisoners perhaps? But nearly half an hour went by and no one came down the rickety old ladder.
Suddenly, the old trap door groaned and squeaked in protest as it was heaved open. For a full minute, nothing happened. Then, light, almost silent steps descended the rungs. Something bumped the wall with a clank, like the sound a bottle of liquid makes when bumped. No one dared to move, or scarcely to breathe… except James, oblivious to his surroundings or to the covert intruder of their misery and humiliation.
Keeping to the shadows wouldn’t have been hard; that was all the prisoners knew. Their ears pricked at the sound of a match being struck and their eyes burned as a lantern was lit, illuminating their dungeon for the first time in days.
“James Tanner?” a thick London accent called in a hoarse whisper.
“What do you want with him?” someone snapped. “He’s not hurt a soul! Leave the lad to die in God’s time!”
“Nay,” the Londoner said briskly. “I only want to ease his suffering,” he motioned to a bag he carried. “If ye shan’t help me, I’ll find him one way or another. I know what he looks like.”
“Far corner there. But please, don’t hurt him. He’s in enough pain as it is.”
The London speaker made his way through the wretched hold of the ship to James’ corner. He knelt and gently examined the young man by the light of his lantern. A fellow prisoner watched as the redcoat carefully cleansed the wounds, stitched cuts and applied salve to bruises. Carefully, he measured out a dose of medicine and poured it into James’ mouth.
James stirred, and his eyes fluttered open. He stared up at the British soldier, his vision blurry. The soldier smiled and gently squeezed James’ shoulder. “Might I pray with thee, friend?”
James stared at him blankly, then closed his eyes and let his head drop to the side. The redcoat bowed his head and placed a hand on James’ head. “Lord God, we bow heart and head before Thee to ask for healing of this brave young fighter. Father, Thou knowest that he and I do not see eye to eye on the situation with the rebellion. But Father, he showed up for what he believed in, and I cannot fault him for the stand he has taken. It takes courage to endure what he has endured. Lord God, I implore Thee, bless him, strengthen him and heal his body. But let it not be in vain, my Lord and Savior. Let him come unto Thee if he has yet to do so. And if he is already Thine, I pray Thee make a difference in this darkened world through his life. Help him to be still and know that Thou alone art God and that since Your eye is on the sparrow, that he is worth far more to Thee than a paltry bird. Let not his life be in vain. I humbly ask these petitions in the Name of Thy Holy Son, Jesus the Christ, Messiah and Lord. Amen.”
James opened his eyes, water gathered in the corners. Through the moisture, he saw the insignia the soldier bore, that of a corporal. Recognition washed over James. The commander’s aide.
“Percy, hurry! There’s a guard coming!” a voice called from upstairs. Quickly and quietly, “Percy” made his way back the way he had come. The light disappeared, and the trap door swung closed. Once more they were engulfed in darkness.
James let his eyes fall shut and for the first time in weeks, he slept peacefully, the words of Percy’s prayer trailing though his mind.
The next morning, watered down corn mush was served and for the first time in weeks, James was able to finish his portion and keep it down. The guard scowled at him and scrutinized his appearance. His eye narrowed to slits but he said nothing.
The head guard leaned against a beam, his arms crossed. “We’ll, you rebels will be glad to know, we are leaving the harbor. We’re heading back south. But don’t get your hopes up. You’ll never get off this ship… unless you decide to join us. If not, this ship will be your death bed and the sea will be your grave!”
James pulled himself up, what little life that was still in him lighting his dark eyes. If only he could just see the land again! Maryland, Virginia… either one would be a sight for his sore eyes.
A week passed and the news soon arrived that they were anchored off the coast of Virginia. The knowledge was enough to drive James mad. He could almost smell his home colony, yet it was hidden from his sight. He begged the guard to have him up on deck for only five minutes, but he was flatly refused and got his ear boxed for his trouble.
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
I know, God, James thought. I know Your thoughts are higher than mine and that You are going to give me an expected end. But why can’t I at least see my homeland before I die?
Be still and know that I am God.
James sighed. That verse brought a calm over him. Every time he complained or asked God why, that verse played through his mind as if audibly spoken. What was the reason behind it? Why did God want to teach him to be still right before he died? What good would that do him?
A washer woman arrived at the Hawk to gather laundry. She picked up the basket, then glanced casually around the room. Seeing James, she hurried over to him. “What’s you’re unit?”
“15th Virginia. Why?”
“Never mind, that’s all I needed to know.”
He watched as she disappeared.
“Guard, what day is it, please?” someone asked, and James lifted his head.
“And why would ye be wanting to know, Yank?”
“Just wanting to add up how long I’ve been here.”
You and me both, James thought.
“December 11th,” the guard snapped.
The questioner dropped his head. “Two years in this place,” he whispered.
James swallowed hard. Two years? Oh, dear Lord, please no. Please, get us all out of here!
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” James froze. Had he actually just said that out loud?
Apparently so, because everyone in the guards’ dim lantern light were staring at him.
“You have an expected end,” the guard growled, back handing him. “You’re end will be a splash in the water and eternity in—”
“Humphreys, come on!” a second guard shouted. “Something’s going on upstairs!”
Humphreys hurried over to the ladder and soon darkness swallowed the room again. All was silent until the two-year veteran said, “Thank you, Tanner. I needed to hear that verse again.”
James shrugged nervously. “Sometimes I speak out of turn. I should have waited for the guard to leave. I didn’t mean to upset him.”
“It convicted him,” the man answered solemnly. “As it should. And you didn’t talk out of turn.”
James fell silent. Feet ran back and forth along the deck. “Pepper, what do you hear?” someone whispered to the fellow nearest the ladder.
Pepper strained his ears and his eyes widened, even in the dark. “Benedict Arnold is aboard fellows!”
“They’ve captured the general?” someone cried in alarm.
“Where have you been? He deserted to the enemy over a year ago.”
“I’ve been here for a year. No one ever told me… why would Gen. Arnold do such a thing?”
“He’s a sorry traitor, that’s why,” another responded.
“Maybe, but an underappreciated hero while we had him,” another pointed out. “He was the best General we had!”
James decided to stay out of this conversation. He needed to focus on a new thought. Perhaps he should share the scriptures that had been playing on his mind. Maybe the others could help him make sense of it all.
What do you think of Percy? Do you think James will get to see Virginia before he dies? What is going on? Swing by tomorrow for part 5!
As Always, swing by Stories by Firefly for more Christmas fun!
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Christian. American. Southern. Author.
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