Excerpt from Captain Hale's Covenant
Captain Adam Hale of Barnstable buried his hands into the pockets of his woolen great coat as he bent against the wind. He walked a purposeful line to the top of the hill. The wind off the harbor scudded the last of October's leaves along the rain-sodden Old King's Highway which ran like a spine up the narrow Cape. Captain Hale knew that in Old England this night was known as All Hallows Eve: a time for bonfires and superstition. In the cradle of democracy it was autumn's first night of dirty weather. It was a night when, as Captain Hale also well knew, no sensible man ventured out.
But the Captain was in a celebratory mood.
Despite the foulness of the night, the lights gleamed in Roger Bodfish's tavern that stood hard by the highway west of Barnstable. As Captain Hale grew near, the tavern's signboard creaked against its hinges in the nor' east gale. Its fine portrait of Cincinnatus at the plow strained skyward and waved toward the harbor and out to sea before a gust slammed the board back against the tavern's wall with a crack.
Adam Hale reminded himself that the “Cincinnatus,” as the public house was now known, had not five years previously been the “Royal George.” The name had been a point of indifferent neglect in the view of most patriots who habituated the tavern, until a visiting parson from Boston with the benefit of a classical education had pointed out that the “Royal George” would no longer serve. The “Cincinnatus”' clientele was solidly patriotic, a reflection of the sentiment on this part of the Cape. Long gone were the few Loyalists who had lived in Barnstable.
Captain Hale eased open the door-- just enough to allow entry-- and slipped in. He stood in the vestibule of the tavern for an instant, taking the weather gauge of the room. A few eyes glanced up from the hubbub of the drinking tables and just as quickly moved on.
Calculation was second nature for the Captain, a professional habit developed through his early years in the coastal trade that secured his reputation as a young Captain worthy of the Cape Cod sea-faring tradition. His exactitude, born of a professional eye, was habit only now. Captain Adam Hale had long since folded away into his sea chest his blue and buff and gold buttons. Attired in a subfusc gray coat, nankeen britches and cotton stockings, almost the proper Puritan, he stood, merely stood, at the entrance to the local tavern, no longer vested with the privilege of pacing the quarterdeck in solitary grandeur. No powdered wig for Adam Hale. He wore his thinning sandy hair clubbed with a plain black silk ribbon.
The Captain still looked the seadog, however. At thirty-four, he maintained a generous frame with a barrel chest and the strong rope-worn hands of a working Captain. Some might have taken him to be one of those rare able-bodied seamen who had risen from the ranks-- were it not for the overwhelming intelligence of his aspect, his sharp blue eyes and Roman nose. His face, though flushed and weather-beaten from his early years at sea, bespoke the authority of born command. However, command, like the blue and the buff, was a memory for Captain Adam Hale.
Captain Hale once again scanned the room, hoping to find a friendly face.
“Evening, Cap’n,” Eaneas Loring, who stood across the room, piped up. A half-dozen nods from about the room followed his lead and confirmed the greeting. But Adam Hale, ever quick to judge the weather, knew in an instant that he was not to be the center of attention this evening, for greater things were afoot. News of the Treaty of Paris had just reached American shores. Captain Hale silently slipped his great frame toward the mooring of a free corner at the far end of the room and ordered a tankard of ale.
On this wretched night the patriots had tarried long by the roaring fire in the taproom's double fireplace. They were in a celebratory mood, and by this late hour on a Friday night the room was a clutter of broken pipe stems, ale-soaked cheer and bright red faces.
"To the Republic!" proclaimed the crook-nosed barber-surgeon Caleb Nye for what must have been the tenth time as he hoisted his tankard. A chorus of agreement greeted his toast led by the farmer Asahel Hinckley and his table of West Barnstable neighbors, rough-hewn, large fisted and still wearing smocks and leather aprons from the afternoon's chores.
"Goodman Bodfish!" farmer Hinckley shouted. Barnstable, though a shire town, was a quiet place of small farmers and fishermen, where wealth was still measured in oxen and the old forms of address lingered. "Goodman Bodfish, I pray thee set up another round for the barber and the Selectmen."
One of the Selectmen, splendid in a yellow waistcoat and mane of white hair, rose ponderously to his feet.
"Thankee, good neighbor!" the Selectman acknowledged as he assumed the gravity appropriate to his estimation of the occasion. With an obligatory clearing of his throat the Selectman commanded the attention of the room. Adam Hale, ensconced in the corner with his tankard of ale in hand, snorted and thought irreverently to himself “Which of those present would not want to hear, nay, marvel at the prodigious remarks that the Selectman has reserved for us….?”
The Selectman began his oration.
"Today is a day we shall long remember in Barnstable." He paused to survey the room to confirm that all were listening. Reassured, he continued, "For today word reached us by swift packet of the treaty of peace signed in Paris of late. Our struggle, the cause of democracy, has triumphed over tyranny. And now, as a free and sovereign people, we are born anew. Born anew to--"
A sudden gust of cold seaborne air assaulted and chilled the room as the heavy wooden door swung open. The Selectman looked up, abruptly aware that all eyes had deserted him for the entrance to the tavern.
"Pity the poor wayfaring stranger!"
The statement coming from the door was not a plea but a demand, delivered with an urgent, peremptory edge like the rasp of a hard file.
Before the assembled citizens of Barnstable stood a specter enveloped in a blue woolen cloak, its folds still billowing in the wind that howled through the door.
"Pity the poor wayfaring stranger!" the intruder demanded again as the citizenry studied the visitor.
The accent was not right to gain admittance, Captain Hale thought. British certainly, but outlying, more of a brogue. And the aspect!-- from the rain-soaked cocked hat to the full, if bedraggled, black wig, to the tattered jabot that peeked through the collar of the great cape. The Captain made him out to be not more than thirty. And prepossessing he was not, his stature short and his visage marked by a long equine quality that would have been his dominant feature were it not arrested by the wart that blemished his right nostril. The intruder did not encourage admittance.
The stranger's alert, cunning gray-green eyes-- eyes from another realm, thought Captain Hale-- danced to gauge the reaction of the assembled Americans. Concluding that he met no physical challenge, with a barely perceptible click of self-assurance his mien changed to one of casual elegance as with a swift sweep of his right hand, executed almost out of habit, he unhooked and let fall his cloak in a swirl of folds at his feet.
Before the Americans stood the unexpected sight of a dark blue dress uniform of an officer of the Royal Navy.