Proctor Brown stopped in the middle of bustling King Street, close enough to Boston’s long wharf to smell the fishing boats, and wished he hadn’t worn his best linen jacket. He rolled his shoulders to loosen the fit, but it still felt too tight. His mother had given him the linen jacket two years ago for his eigh teenth birthday, and he’d already outgrown it. Taking over all the work on the farm hadn’t made his shoulders any smaller.
The elegantly lettered sign of the British Coffee- House swayed over him, above the door of a narrow bay- windowed building squeezed between aged storefronts. Emily Rucke waited inside. He would be excited to see Emily again except her father was going to be there too. It figured–the first time he was to meet Emily’s father, and he would show up in a jacket that was two years too small. A fine impression that was going to make.
He tugged the sleeves down one last time and stepped resolutely toward the door. A rattling cart loaded with barrels of molasses careened toward him, and Proctor jumped out of the way to keep his feet from being crushed by the wheels.
His elbows bumped into someone behind him.
“I beg your pardon–” Proctor began to say as he turned.
A bright flash cut off Proctor’s sentence and made him avert his eyes. When he blinked them clear, four men in the red coats of the British marines blocked his way, two bullies and two officers. The se nior officer glared at Proctor; the flash had come from something at his throat, but the light faded and Proctor no longer saw it. The marines snickered, mistaking Proctor’s averted eyes for fear. The largest one loomed over Proctor, shoved him.
“Watch where yee’re goin’, and watch yeer manners,” he said in a thick Scots accent.
Proctor’s urge to strike back surprised him by its violence, but he mastered the feeling in an instant, not wanting to ruin his best jacket before meeting Emily’s father. He lifted his head and met the big Scot’s eyes.
“Come, be good fellows now,” the se nior officer said, his accent similar but not as strong. “There was no harm done.” The marines brushed past Proctor as if he were nothing. Proctor stared at the se nior officer’s back. The light at the man’s throat had faded as suddenly as it had flashed. Proctor couldn’t even say what he’d seen, as there was nothing unusual about the officer’s uniform or its embellishments. As they entered the coffee house, he saw Emily wave to him through the panes of the window. She shimmered like a mirage through the uneven glass. A similar ripple rolled through his stomach when he returned the greeting. He tugged at his collar, which felt as tight as his jacket. Meeting Emily’s father couldn’t be any worse than dealing with his own mother, could it? He stepped up to the entrance and pulled on the handle.
The door opened onto laughter and clattering crockery and the scent of pipe tobacco. Dozens of chairs and benches crowded the long, narrow building, with brass candlesticks on every table, though only a few of them were lit. The walls were bare, not that you could see much of them with all the people gathered–a variety of British officers, periwigged officials, and ambitious merchants, all talking over one another. Two black slaves, one laden with cups, the other with platters, ran from table to table. The British marines Proctor had bumped into moved to the back of the room.
Emily sat at a table up front. She had arranged her cap so
that her black curls spilled out of it; the yellow silk ribbon in the back matched the piece she had given Proctor as a keepsake. He reached into his pocket and brushed it with his thumb. Although she sat with her hands folded delicately in her lap, her large eyes were bright and mischievous. Proctor couldn’t help himself and grinned back at her.
The man sitting at the table rose and cleared his throat.
Thomas Rucke, sugar merchant. Emily’s father. The resemblance was remarkable for the way it transmuted her own features: her black hair matched his in color, but her curls were his unruly tangle, her round face became jowls and a second chin, and her pink cheeks reddened into his veins and sunburn. Emily’s butter- colored silk dress was even outmatched by her father’s sumptuously tailored jacket and ornate lace cuffs.
Rucke’s thick eyebrows curved down in a disapproval that mimicked the shape of his mouth. “Emily,” he said. “You didn’t tell me that you planned to introduce me to a mute.”
Emily’s cheeks flushed. Proctor tore off his hat and stepped forward, offering his hand. “I’m sorry, sir. My name is–”
“Proctor Brown. Yes, I know. I’ve heard entirely too much about you already.” Rucke ignored the offer of a hand and sat down impatiently, waving his plump fingers at Proctor to take the third seat. “Let’s get this over with.” Proctor bumped the chair against the table, shaking the candelabra as he sat.
“It’s good to see you again, Mister Brown,” Emily said, more formally than Proctor had ever heard her speak.
“And you also, Miss Rucke,” he replied, in the same tone but with just a hint of mockery. He could see her suppress a grin.
“I’ll be blunt with you, Brown,” Rucke said. His hands were spread flat on the table and he stared at them as if he had a point of argument for every finger. “One of the reasons I sent my beloved Emily away from Boston to the more rural climate and estate in Lexington was that I wanted to remove her not only from the tumult and mobs of the city, from the precipitous actions of those pernicious Sons of Liberty, but also, with so many officers and other gentlemen about, from the temptation of liaisons that would be ill advised because of her relative youth. But for three months now, she’s done nothing but talk about you until I finally agreed to arrange this dinner.”
Not exactly the cheerful welcome Proctor had hoped for. He spread his own hands on the table. “I’m flattered that she thinks so well of me, sir.”
“Daddy, I think once you get to know Proctor–” Rucke’s stern look made Emily wilt under her bonnet and fall silent. Turning back to Proctor, he said, “You understand that it will be best if we get this all out in the open and put an immediate end to this unsuitable courtship.” Proctor leaned forward and matched Rucke’s expression. “Sir, I came down to Boston to visit my aunt and for the honor of meeting you. But for Emily’s sake, I would have walked all the way to Georgia. I’m willing to undertake what ever is necessary to convince you of the seriousness of my intentions.”
Emily blushed again. Proctor would have given her a wink, but Rucke watched him directly, so he held the older man’s gaze.
After a moment, Rucke looked away, raised his hand, and shouted across the room. “Hannah!”
An older woman made her way to their table, wiping her hands on her greasy apron. “Good afternoon, Mister Rucke, and the young gentleman, and the young lady,” she said.
“What may I bring you?”
“What would you like to drink, dear?” Rucke asked his daughter.
“Since this is the Coffee- House, I would dearly love to
have a cup of coffee,” Emily said brightly.
“The young lady will have tea,” Rucke grumbled. “Some Madeira for myself. What do you want, Brown?”
“Beer. Pale ale if they have it.”
Hannah ducked her head. “As you wish, sir.”
“Beer?” Rucke sneered when she had gone. “That’s a farmer’s drink.”
“That might be because I’m a farmer,” Proctor answered. Rucke glanced at Emily and then leaned forward. “Which is exactly my problem with this youthful fancy.”
“No–I did not raise my daughter to become a farmer’s wife.” Turning to Proctor, he said, “Do you think a farmer could keep her in the manner to which she has been raised?” Proctor leaned forward in response. “Sir, she knows how I live and it doesn’t seem to frighten her exactly.” “Which is what I’ve already told him,” Emily said.
Rucke waved this off. “That’s the foolishness and inexperience of youth. Your farm would start to look very small to her–like a cage, Emily–with the passage of time.”
“Oh, it won’t always be such a small farm, sir,” Proctor said.
Rucke leaned back and studied Proctor again, as if there might be more to him than a too- small jacket. “What exactly do you mean by that?”
“We’ve got more than sixty acres. With only the three of us there–my father, my mother, and myself–there’s room to grow. Next year, I’ll buy two heifers for the pastures. And with the fields fallow much of these past ten years, they’ll yield a better harvest of corn to take them through the winter. The stand of trees at the back of the farm has been untouched for a long time too. They’re big enough now that I can cut them down and mill them for a new barn first, and then, in a few more years, a new house.”
“You can only get so far with sixty acres, boy, no matter how you use it,” Rucke said. But he was interested. Proctor stole a glance at Emily, and she gave him a small, encouraging nod.
“I plan to sell the beef here in Boston and save the money,” Proctor said. “Old man Leary lives just over the hill, and his daughters moved off to Connecticut. Once I’ve saved enough, he’ll sell his farm to me and go live with them. Then I can rent out his house and expand my herd into his fields. I’ll be the richest farmer in Lincoln inside five years.”
“Ten years at the least, with that plan,” Rucke said. He leaned out of the way as Hannah returned with their drinks. Rucke told her to bring them plates of chicken and what ever else was fresh in the kitchen.
Emily poured her tea, saying, “I’d much rather have a cup of coffee.”
“It’s a foul liquid. The colonials would never drink it if there wasn’t this nonsense over the tea stamps,” Rucke said. He patted her hand. “Coffee is beneath you,” Proctor sipped his beer and found it dark and bitter. Voices rose in argument behind them, chased by the scuff of feet and furniture. Proctor twisted in his seat to look, just in time to see a golden light flash so bright it made his head ache and his hand knot into a fist. The light faded the instant the scuffle broke up, and Proctor saw that it came from the same British officer he had encountered outside.
“Do you know who that man is?” Proctor asked.
“That’s Major Pitcairn, John Pitcairn,” Rucke said.
“One of the best officers we have in the colonies. Completely and utterly fearless, would charge a line of bayonets with no more than a butter knife. His men love him. Why do you ask?”
“We bumped into each other once,” Proctor said absently. He could have sworn he’d seen a gold medallion flash at Pitcairn’s neck, but when he peered close, there was
nothing. The big marine caught him staring, and Proctor glanced away.
Rucke refilled his glass of wine. “You’re thinking too small, Brown.”
Proctor was shaken out of his thoughts. “What do you mean?”
“With the cattle,” Rucke said. “Think bigger. Do you think Boston’s a big city, Brown?”
“Biggest I’ve ever seen, though I hear Philadelphia’s twice the size.”
Rucke laughed heartily. “Boston has fifteen, maybe twenty thousand people, and that includes every jack- tar who jumps off a boat to get drunk in the taverns. Now, London, London she’s a city–seven hundred thousand people living there, Brown. You could drop Boston down whole in the London docks and not find it again for three days.”
Emily caught Proctor’s attention and rolled her eyes. The greatness of London was one of her father’s favorite topics.
“You don’t say, sir?” Proctor replied.
“I do say. That’s why these Sons of Liberty are spouting nonsense when they talk about breaking free from En gland. The world’s a big place, but the empire makes it small. We’re all part of one big En glish family, and we’ll all profit more if we stand together.” He swallowed his wine and thumped the glass on the table. “You’re on to something with the cattle. Massachusetts already ships beef to Virginia and the Carolinas, even to Barbados and some of the other islands. They’re too busy growing tobacco or sugar to raise beef, so they pay top pound for it. That trade’s going to grow, and a young man poised to take advantage could make himself a fortune.”
“And end up richer than the richest farmer in Lincoln?” Proctor asked.
Rucke laughed heartily. “Perhaps.” With that, he started in on everything he knew about the business end of beef, from butchering to salting to shipping to markets. Emily seemed pleased. She sneaked smiles at Proctor, which he returned as surreptitiously and enthusiastically as possible.
His beer turned out not to be so bitter after all, and before he realized it the pint was gone and he excused himself to visit the necessary house, not just to relieve himself but to relax and collect his wits. If Rucke meant to help him trade beef, Proctor could advance his plan by years, and he and Emily could get married that much sooner. That was even better than making a fortune.
He pushed his way between sharp- elbowed men smoking long- stemmed pipes and ju nior officers quaffing rum or sipping bowls of chocolate. He smelled the privy as he passed through the back door.
“Look ’ere, it’s the runaway apprentice,” said a thick Scots voice behind him. Proctor spun. The four marines had followed him out the door.
“The one too big for his wee jacket,” mocked the huge Scot.
They all laughed, except for Pitcairn, who said, “Bring him to me.”
The huge Scot and another man with bushy red sideburns seized his arms. Proctor was strong–you didn’t plow and cut wood and harvest grain without being able to take care of yourself–but he didn’t react. The last thing he wanted was to return to Emily and her father after a dunk in the privy.
Pitcairn stepped in close. “Why were you staring at me inside?”
Proctor glanced at the spot on Pitcairn’s chest where he thought he’d seen the medallion. “I wondered who you were.”
“He’s one of His Majesty’s officers,” the big man grunted in his ear. “That’s all ye need to ken.”
“You have the general appearance,” Pitcairn said, “and,
dare I say, the par tic u lar arrogance of many of these socalled Sons of Liberty I’ve seen around Boston since my arrival.”
“Sons of something is right,” the huge Scot said.
“I’m the son of Prudence Brown, and no one else,” Proctor replied.
“See, he’s not shaking or trying to bargain for his freedom,” Pitcairn told the others, almost respectfully. He pulled off his gloves. To Proctor, he said, “I want to show you something. A friendly demonstration.”
Proctor tried to pull his arm free, on the chance he could escape inside, but the big man tightened his hold. The other grabbed his right arm with a grip like iron.
“William,” Pitcairn said to the fourth marine, the pinkcheeked officer in the brand- new coat, who had so far avoided Proctor. He bore a striking resemblance to the older man, with a similar widow’s peak and aquiline nose–very likely they were father and son. “Be so good as to lend me your knife.”
“Sir?” William seemed surprised.
“Your knife, damn
He reached inside his jacket and unsheathed six inches of steel. Proctor struggled to get away, but the huge Scot behind him clamped one hand over his mouth and squeezed him in a one- armed bear hug that pinned his left arm at his waist.
With a ner vous glance at Proctor, William flipped the knife in his hand and passed it hilt- first to his father. Pitcairn pressed the tip into his thumb until it drew blood, then held up his bloody thumb for Proctor to see.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “The knife is for you to use.” Fear knotted Proctor’s stomach. He struggled to get away without striking the huge Scot or doing anything more to provoke the marines. He looked at William, who dropped his gaze and stepped away.
A cold smile crossed Pitcairn’s lips. He pried Proctor’s hand open and pressed the hilt into his palm, then squeezed Proctor’s fingers closed around it. The marine with the red whis kers chuckled as he clamped his rough fist over Proctor’s hand. The knife edge gleamed in the sunlight.
Pitcairn licked the blood off his thumb and held his arms open nonchalantly, stepping closer.
Twisting his head from side to side, Proctor tried to talk through the big Scot’s suffocating paw. He tried to push himself away, but his toes barely touched the ground. No jury would convict him for attacking a British officer, not under these circumstances–but he doubted any jury would believe his version of events.
Pitcairn nodded to his men. The big Scot held him tight as Red- whis kers pulled Proctor’s arm back and thrust the blade at Pitcairn’s stomach. Proctor struggled to divert it, but the knife was already moving toward the officer’s white waistcoat.
Proctor’s forearm felt as if it had slammed into stone. The tip of the blade snapped off, flying away to nick the sleeve of Proctor’s jacket.
Pitcairn stood there with his arms still open, one eyebrow curled up like a question mark.
Proctor panted through the big hand clamped over his mouth. What had just happened?
The circle of light glowed at Pitcairn’s throat again. Proctor detected the outline of a chain at his neck and a medallion of some sort under his shirt.
Pitcairn pried the knife out of Proctor’s hand and returned it to William. “I’ll replace it with a better one,” he promised. “There’s no need, sir,” William mumbled.
The big Scot released Proctor from his bear hug and shoved him aside.
The door opened behind them, and Hannah stuck her head out into the alley. Seeing the expression on Proctor’s face, she glanced quickly up at the marines and said, “Has
there been some trouble here?”
“No, ma’am,” Proctor said. He tugged his coat back into place. “These gentlemen were just giving me a demonstration in the superiority of London knives.”
She looked puzzled. Major Pitcairn said, “We were trading opinions. We both learned a few things.”
“As long as all the gentlemen are satisfied and none of the other customers are disturbed,” she said, and then she tossed a plate of bones and garbage over the side of a small fence, where a pig roused itself from muddy slumber and starting rooting through it.
The door closed behind her. Pitcairn studied Proctor judiciously. “It’s essential for you colonials to realize that you can’t hurt us.”
“I had no desire to hurt you,” Proctor snapped. He would have added before,
but he was still shaky.
“You’re full of spirit, but that spirit ought to be aimed against the French and Spaniards and other godless papists, not against your fellow En glishmen.”
“My father fought against the French in the last war,” Proctor said. “We’re not afraid of a fight.”
“Don’t be so eager for one either,” Pitcairn replied. “You are fools to think that you’re better off without the empire. Spread that word among your fellows.”
The big marine shoved Proctor aside, and the four of them peeled away to exit through the gate. Proctor turned away to go inside when a hand gripped his arm. It was William, the young officer, and he held his other hand open in a gesture of peace.
“The knife was just tinfoil,” he whispered.
Proctor snorted in disbelief. “Tinfoil?”
“Yes, that’s all,” he said. “A joke, no harm done.” Proctor shrugged his arm free from William’s grip. “No, no harm done.”
“We’re all one people, En glishmen, no matter which side of the ocean saw our birth. There’s no need for us to start fights with one another.”
For people who didn’t want a fight, they did an awful lot of provocation. “I don’t recall starting anything,” Proctor said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
His blood was still racing as he returned to the coffee - house, squeezing up against the wall to let another man pass on his way to the privy. He threaded his way through the crowd and returned to the table where Emily sat alone.
“Where were you so long?” she asked. “And what’s the matter? You look upset.”
He slid into his seat. “I’m fine.”
She reached under the table, her fingers finding his hand. He was looking over his shoulder at the back door when he felt her give his hand a little squeeze. “I think Daddy likes you,” she said.
“Of course he likes me.”
He had answered more than half distracted, still trying to understand what he had just witnessed. He realized he’d made a mistake the instant Emily’s hand yanked free of his. She pushed her chair back and sat up straight.
“It’s nice to see that you’re not too
full of yourself,” she said. “Humility is such a rare trait in young men.”
“I’m sorry, Emily, it’s just . . . just . . .”
“Just what, Mister Brown? Spit it out.”
“It’s just that it wasn’t a tinfoil knife.” There. He’d spit it out.
“What are you talking about?”
“The knife that British marine had, it wasn’t tinfoil.” It had nothing to do with the knife, Proctor realized. Major Pitcairn had been wearing a protective charm about his throat. That’s what Proctor had seen. It shone actively anytime the major was threatened, even by so little as a bump in the street. “It was magic.”
“Magic?” Emily’s face was puzzled, as though she were
trying to figure out if he was joking.
Proctor opened his mouth, but no explanation formed on his lips. He’d said too much.
“Hannah said she saw you talking to Major Pitcairn,” Rucke interrupted, returning to the table with a plate of roasted chicken, which he thumped down on the table.
“Dig in. She thought there might have been a problem, but I see that you’re fine.”
“I bumped into the major again,” Proctor said. “We talked about London and steel.”
“Good.” Rucke squeezed his large body into his seat.
“That’s a smart lad. Always make use of all your connections. If you can sell beef to the beefeaters, you’re well on your way to making your fortune.” He cleared his throat.
“Emily tells me you serve in the colonial militia.”
“Not just the militia, Daddy, but the minutemen,” Emily said. Though her voice was cooler than it had been before.
“I don’t understand the difference,” Rucke said.
“The minutemen are required to do additional training,” Proctor explained. “We have to be able to scout trails, run longer distances, reload and fire faster. And we have to be ready to fight at a moment’s alarm.”
“It sounds like the sort of foolishness that takes time away from honest work,” Rucke said. “And it’s the kind of thing that the rabble- rousers in this colony–Otis, Adams, Hancock, their sort–are using to raise up the folks against the royal governor. I’m concerned that you would be part of that, Brown.”
Though she sat perfectly primly, Emily pressed her toe against Proctor’s foot to let him know this was an important question to her father.
Proctor pulled a drumstick off the chicken, tearing off a piece of the meat. “My father served in the militia, during the last war with the French and their Indian allies. They didn’t have the minutemen then, but he was a ranger, which is similar. If I’m going to do anything, I want to do it to the best of my abilities, just like he did. And he’d be disappointed in me if I didn’t do my duty to the colony as he had done. So that’s one reason.”
“And the other?” Rucke asked, following Proctor’s example and tearing off the other drumstick.
Proctor put the meat in his mouth and chewed it a moment to give himself time to think. He swallowed, saying, “All the men in my community belong to the militia. Not just in Lincoln, but in Concord and Lexington, and all the towns around. So it’s a great means to reinforce connections. That’s how I came to find out that old man Leary was interested in selling his farm.”
Rucke chewed on his own food before he finally nodded, if not in approval then at least in understanding. Emily relaxed, taking her foot off Proctor’s.
“When you get ready to move your cattle toward Boston market,” Rucke said, “you might want to begin by contacting a man named Elihu Danvers. Danvers has a house near the mouth of the river, across from Cambridge. Though he’s no great sailor anymore, he moves goods around the bay–”
As he continued with his advice, Proctor grinned at Emily around his mouthful of chicken. Of course her father liked him.
She smiled back, but with tighter lips; beneath that smile lingered worry over his unexplained comment about magic.
Eventually, Proctor would have to figure out a way to explain the magic. He wouldn’t be able to keep it secret from her, not if they were going to be together. He reached under the table, wiped his fingers on his breeches, and then stretched his arm to try to touch her hand. A huge ripping sound stopped Rucke in the middle of his description of the
harbor shipping lanes.
“What was that?” he said.
Proctor looked over his shoulder at the torn seam in his linen jacket and sighed. “That is what happens when you grow more than you expected.”
Excerpted from Traitor to the Crown: The Patriot Witch by C. C. Finlay. Copyright © 2009 by C. C. Finlay. Excerpted by permission of Del Rey, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.