Pugna Pro Patria
1771 – Scotchtown Plantation, Virginia.
My mentor sat. My chair was pulled up beside him. The mahogany, circular table, in which was less than a few inches from his stomach, reflected the expression upon my mentor's face. His palms were clasped, as if he was praying to the Lord again. While my dedication should remain to my studies, my curiosity reined over my position, an apprentice to His Most Esteemed and Esquire and one of Virginia's most respected individuals.
Raising his head and turning to the right in my direction, the solemn expression upon my mentor's face stared back at me. He pointed to the pages scattered in front of my chest. My pupils followed the change of course of his right index finger, and it pointed to two additional objects – a brown, leather book. Its binding, good and strong, this was my Bible, and the other object, was another book that was supposedly my study guide.
I lowered my head sheepishly with effort to soothe myself for shaming my mentor. I slipped a finger under the fabric of my breeches and stroked the top of my right kneecap.
"Forgive me, I have let distractions grip my responsibilities," I mumbled to the wooden floor.
"It cannot be emphasized too strongly that your explicit diversion will not earn a seat alongside me in a courthouse," he said sharply, which only persuaded me further to divert my attention from directly exchanging eye contact. "Hand me the Bible, Matthew. I shall engage with the Lord's words, while you tidy, and straighten the papers upon my desk."
The Bible was less than three inches from my stomach, and its spine faced my study guide, the blue book used strictly in teaching lawyers. I raised my head, frowning, and immediately gripped the Bible without questioning. In my fore and middle finger, I leaned forward. He snatched the object from me.
I watched him open the brown book. He flipped through the pages and continued tarnishing my spirit this evening. I listened obediently, and although some of the barefaced phrases he spoke of his apprentice, I sensed I was the scapegoat for a reason I could not fathom.
"Honestly!" he declared to the Bible instead of offering the common curiosity of speaking directly to me. "Regardless the service spent under my watchful eye, the time involved has been less than satisfactory. I assumed a lad born into an affluent family, and one whose father manages their own counting house, his son would have the mannerisms of a Saint. But, oh no! His heir has the manners of a curious child who in my humble opinion has barely learnt the feat of walking!"
I moaned. In a silent solution from his attacks, I grabbed all the scattered pieces of paper, and shoved them under my open book. I hoped if my mentor saw I listened to his instructions, the insults would cease.
"Sir, what –"
"Oh," he interrupted by waving his hand without removing his fixed gaze upon the Bible. "Cease on the formalities, and you might as well call me by my name. You have been an apprentice in my home… how long now?" he asked. Finally, he showed eye contact.
"Little over a year, Sa – I mean, about a year and a half, Mister Henry," I frowned.
In response, I watched Mister Henry reach up and grip his spectacles resting on top of his head. He dropped them abruptly on the table. With the Bible in his lap, Mister Henry rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands. When he had finished, he retrieved the book, and dropped that as well onto the table.
"Well, go on, and proceed," he remarked, waving the back of his hand. I must say, tufts of hair on any man's knuckles are not appealing, especially four rows of black bushes that ought to be trimmed.
On the rare moments, I disobeyed a person I hold with admiration, and questioned my mentor instead of adhering to his request, who over the short span spent together, I considered Mister Henry a reliable friend.
I fiddled with the cravat around my neck, readjusting it, and then I tugged my silver waistcoat, in an effort to appear more presentable – a gentleman. "Before I continue, I do have a question, and please forgive my disobedience. I will read soon afterwards. You have my vow," I remarked firmly.
"And what in the Almighty's name is the question, Matthew Cuthbert?"
I swallowed nervously, for Mister Henry's demeanor this evening was unusual. Normally, he is firm and strict, but he has always been diligent with his teaching practices, either by willingly following along with an index finger while I read aloud in my book or patiently explaining certain passages thoroughly in such a way I understood - mostly anyway. My conscious mind comprehends I am not the tidiest man, (and to be reminded by my mentor was uncalled for), to ever have graced God's Green Earth, but Mister Henry's attacks were a bit hurtful. Although I have kept my composure by not physically displaying emotions, I had to know the reasoning of blatant disregard in respect for another, especially a punctual and hardworking apprentice.
"Mister Cuthbert?" I felt a hand jerk my shoulder blade.
I shook my head quickly and blinked. "Huh?" I asked confusedly.
I blinked again, and then I watched Mister Henry fold his hands neatly in his lap, crossing his left leg over the other, and gazed in my direction, tightlipped.
"The toll has chimed seven, and you have yet to keep to your vow. What is troubling you?"
My jaw dropped and my eyelids instantly widened. How did he know I was feeling perturbed?
"Mister Henry, how is it you knew I am troubled?"
"That frown of yours has never exhausted itself, not since you graced your presence in my humble house several hours before. Now, is there an answer or not?"
"Yes, of course," I said hastily, trying to secure precious time. "My apologies, Mister Henry, Esquire, but I am in a rather dispirited position. May I be so blunt as to ask a personal question?"
"And I am not to receive an answer first?" Mister Henry remarked.
"The answer will come forth with my question," I retorted.
I listened to him sigh deeply. He muttered words under his breath, which to me, was perfectly acceptable. Whatever was mumbled by his lips probably was not too constructive.
"Well? What is the delay, Matthew? You may ask, and I trust that the question will not be intimate."
"Intimate? Certainly not, I assure you, Mister Patrick Henry," I started, and waited for the response.
Several seconds passed, and I boldly held eye contact.
I knew my behavior was becoming less than acceptable and for a merchant's son, I should not be so presumptuous with my opinions but his strange conduct has distracted me from my studies. In a way, now that I ponder about it, my own demeanor has changed drastically serving under the wing of Mister Henry's arm. I used to be shy and awkward, and certainly not as outgoing. Instead, if I knew I was at fault, I cowered.
Mister Henry's missus has been nothing but supportive and encouraging in my favor. The Henry children, their vibrant youth shows when they frolic, hoot and holler. The children's energy and enthusiasm for life, always put a smile on my face. In fact, once while the six of us, (including myself, which made it seven), were sitting at a long and rectangle table exchanging morning prayers with the Mighty Lord, the elder, Miss Martha, had tugged the sleeve of my shirt, forcing me to halt with my prayers. I glanced up. She smiled, like the pretty young thing that Martha was, with her youthful rosy cheeks; Martha had received her Mother's looks, which was certain. The master and my teacher never looked up but continued muttering Psalms. Mister Henry’s missus, Miss Sarah, never acknowledged one of their children had stopped an hour too soon but regardless, I sat back in my seat and returned Martha's enormous smile. I put a finger to my lips to caution her not to laugh and mouthed the words, do not move, so sounds would not disturb the others. Instead, Martha ignored my gesture completely by reaching across the table. She slipped her tiny hand in mine. A crumbled ball of parchment was left in my palm.
I closed my fist with concern. I glanced first at Mister Henry. His head was still hung low, muttering amongst himself. I remember exhaling with relief and then I observed Miss Sarah. Her head also hung low with folded fists like her husband. John and William mimicked their parents.
I remember smiling again and opened the paper. There was an awful crinkling, and so it was enough of a sound to trigger distraction. Mister Henry instantly looked up and frowned. I coughed and fidgeted uncomfortably in the chair. Through the corner of my right eye, Miss Sarah glared at me too. The Henry children giggled, which only made the humiliation worsen. I reacted by staring at the table blankly.
"Give it here, Matthew," Mister Henry said sharply.
I responded by grabbing the piece of paper and passed it to Miss Sarah.
"Thank you, Matthew," she said politely. "Children!" and a crack of hands echoed throughout the room. The boys shut their jaws. I was grateful for the silence and voluntarily basked in it.
I watched Miss Sarah pass the paper over to her husband. I momentarily glanced at Martha. She was still smiling and it appeared it had broadened upon her face.
"Read it Papa!" Martha giggled.
"Shh, M' dear," he cooed to his daughter. "I am having a time deciphering a child's handwriting."
"I will tell you what it says!" Martha roared enthusiastically.
Mister Henry placed the paper in front of him and then folded his hands again upon the table in front of his chest.
"Enlighten us, M' dear. Explain the message," Mister Henry said without a trace of an expression.
Miss Martha boldly stood up on her chair and pointed directly at me, giggling. "Matthew came to live with us. I am glad about it."
"Oh? And that is what you wrote?" he asked.
Martha nodded and then sat.
I remember Mister Henry reached across, cupped his hand on top of his missus's knuckles – one hidden under the other - and he graced me with a thoughtful smile. At once, my anxiety disappeared. I smiled awkwardly towards Mister Henry.
"We are delighted to have you in our home, Matthew, even if it is temporary," Miss Sarah commented cheerfully.
"Yes, Matthew, at best, you have proved to be an apprentice which any decent gentleman would willingly accept. And, I appreciate assisting my wife with the children when I am elsewhere."
"In a short while, we will retire, Matthew. The hands are pointing to seven-thirty of the Clock. There will be no time for you to continue but lad, speak up! I am growing wearing, and thin of patience."
His voice snapped me out of the memory. I nodded solemnly. "Yes, sir… I mean Mister Henry, I realize we are to retire at eight o' clock but the question is, what is troubling you?"
I watched his eyes widen, and then he blinked as well. "You assume I am troubled?"
I nodded in response.
"What precisely had brought you to that conclusion?"
"You have done nothing but blatantly insult me, and I am not accustomed to it. Have I dishonored you? Have I done something which has not lived up to your expectations?"
A deep sigh escaped his lips. I watched my mentor turn around and glanced upwards at the clock. Another sigh came, and then he turned back around.
"Matthew, I apologize. Your parents entrusted me to care for you. In truth your tactless conduct is one such trait I have grown to admire. When this eighteen-year-old lad entered my home, I admit, I had my doubts. Here was a well-dressed gentleman and his tentative son whom barely spoke two words in the entire introductions. Yet now here you remain, and by all accounts, Matthew, heir to Ezra Cuthbert, you are intelligent for nineteen. That is why I remain rigorous with your studies, I honestly sense potential."
The compliment only caused me to flush. "I promise I will finish this chapter tomorrow, Mister Henry. I will not disappoint my mentor," I remarked firmly. "But you have not answered my question. What exactly has bothered you? Maybe I can be of assistance."
"If you were just an apprentice, I would never reveal but you have proved to be much more. Martha is rather attached to you. So is the rest of my family, including myself," he coughed.
Whether the coughing was intentional in hiding Mister Henry's feelings or he really had to clear his throat, I was unsure, but I assumed he had to clear his wind pipe. He usually speaks his mind which is one characteristic I have admired about him. Mister Henry seems to be never afraid to express himself.
"The public degradation has caused me much grief. This confounded King has forced me to reproach George the Third, and contemplate about his beliefs."
"Sir! That be treason! Careful or you will be sent to the pillory."
"And would you betray me, Matthew?" he asked seriously.
"No, but… You are my teacher and I consider you as a friend but my parents, they taught me to respect His Majesty."
"Yes, but what is your personal belief?"
"I am unsure. I suppose I am neutral."
"Pugna pro Patria!" Mister Henry bellowed. I jumped back in my seat in surprise.
"Neutral is not acceptable, Matthew! Either you are a God forsaken Tory or a Whig!"
"I… I…," I stuttered, unable to organize my thoughts. "What… what is the meaning?" I managed to say.
"It is Latin. The translation is fight for your fatherland!" he boomed and then slammed a fist against the table.
"You will, will, wake the missus and the others, sir," I stuttered.
"Never mind them," he growled. "If I have not taught you anything, remember this," he said, narrowing his left eye and shaking an index finger angrily at me, "Guard the public liberty, and protect it. Protect it Almighty God!"
"Yes, sir, I will," I agreed, in an effort to avoid further friction amongst each other.
"Good," he yawned, stretching his hands high above his head. "It is time for sleep. Do you require anything before you head to your quarters, Matthew?"
"No," I mumbled. I was relieved his tone lowered. "I apologize for upsetting you. It was how I was raised."
"And while your parent's intentions were less than worthy, you are not bound to their morals."
I had not thought of that. I was raised to be obedient and respectful of my elders, especially with the royal family, and so under my parent's roof I never had much of an opinionated mind. At least, not until my Father dropped me off at the Henry estate.
At the thought, I produced a grin and turned my head to the left in his direction. "Like Mister Patrick Henry, Esquire, my decision is this: I want to be a Whig," I said firmly and then puffed out my chest, pleased by my choice.
A quiet chuckle escaped Mister Henry's lips. He reached forward, clutching my left shoulder. "This is the intelligence of Matthew Cuthbert I admire. II foresee a lawyer within you yet. Keep to your studies and your work ethics will reward you eventually."
"Thank you," I said simply.
"You are quite welcome. Now," he yawned again, "it is time."
He removed his hand from my shoulder and pointed to the Bible. "I have copy in my quarters. Take this with you, and may He visit you in your dreams."
"Thank you, Mister Henry. I will read some before I shut my eyelids."
Mister Henry responded by standing, leaving behind his spectacles and trudged wearily away from me.
I stood, grabbed both books, my study guide and the Bible and I shoved them under my right armpit. Before I left, I pushed the two chairs neatly in front of the table so Mister Henry would not have another chore to attend too.
"Matthew, it is past the hour of eight o' clock," he called. "We will continue tomorrow at precisely six in the afternoon."
I whirled around. I noticed Mister Henry stared at me over his left shoulder. I obeyed and walked quickly to catch up with him. We walked side by side, and then made a right-hand turn which led to stairs. Mister Henry walked up first, yawning loudly, and I followed his slow pace all the way up.
In the hallway on the second floor, my friend rubbed the back of my shoulder and produced a wee grin. "May the Almighty protect and watch over a member of my family."
Again, I flushed. I lowered my head sheepishly. Vibrations of footsteps erupted. I glanced upwards. To the left of me, Mister Henry walked slowly away in the direction of his bedroom where he, sadly, shared a space by his lonesome.
His remark caused me to smile from ear to ear. I turned to my right, heading for my own room, and one that I had all to myself. I hope Miss Sarah’s mind comes back and angry outbursts become singular. Less prominent. Mister Henry knows quite well about disability so I shan’t worry too much in future gatherings, studying for the Bar, I said to myself. I pulled the wool blankets high to my shoulder blades. My last thoughts turned to him. Mister Henry respects me. Miss Sarah, I wonder. I do hope she is not too terribly chilled in the basement. Perhaps I should spare a few of my blankets. Yes, she has been kind until she fell ill. I swung my legs out of bed. I lit a candle resting on a bedside table and tiptoed into the hallway. I heard snoring from Mister Henry’s room which gave me a sigh of relief. Now that he is already asleep, I can sneak downstairs.
I found Miss Sarah who mumbled incoherently to an invisible figure, I presume she saw only to herself. The coals in the Dutch oven still burned well. She did have a few wool blankets wrapped around like a cocoon of sorts. It made me unhappy to see Miss Sarah in confinement by restraints. A strait-dress cannot be at all delightfully comfortable. Still, she was not shivering. I decided after a few moments to sleep in the basement with Mister Henry’s wife. He’ll likely be agitated in the morning, but he said I was akin to a surrogate family member. With a decision in mind, I created a place to sleep by folding my couple of blankets in half underneath. I did not have a third for a top layer but fortunately, the oven provided ample warmth. My bed, I made sure, was three or four feet safely away from her feet if she should decide to strike if a violent fit engulfed her.
I shall keep his secret. No colleague of his will discover his missus is in concealment, restrained, but in the most comfort Mister Henry and Miss Sarah’s loved ones try to provide. It would be a blot to my mentor’s good name. I imagine he would be especially mortified. I watched her muttering on about a message she deemed important. Finally, my eye lids were too heavy to keep open. I slept right through the night until I woke in a start in the early morning. Mister Henry nudged my arm again.
“Matthew. Matthew, why in the Almighty’s splendid name, are you in the cellar?”
I yawned and then sat up. He held a chamber stick near my face. It was difficult determining Mister Henry’s mood but by the glow of the candle, although he frowned, I sensed not a trace of anger.
Yawning deeply again, I rubbed the sleepiness out of my eyes. “I wanted to make sure she had enough heat, sir.”
“It is, Patrick, not sir,” he said sharply. “You may call me Patrick in my home but in the public eye, it is Mister Henry, but never a sir.”
“Let us get upstairs and fix breakfast before the children wake.”
“You are not angry?”
“No, Matthew.” I watched Mister – Patrick – stretch his arms high over his head and yawned himself. “Sarah will need to be bathed today. I will do it, not you.”
“Understood.” I thought for a moment. “Patrick? Why are you not showing annoyance or exasperation? It cannot be suitable to be down here with your wife. Sleeping nearby too.”
Patrick’s fingers were under his shirt. He scratched the left side of his ribcage. “Because.”
“Yes, because. Now get up, put some clean clothes on and for God’s sake lad, would it kill you to comb your hair before leaving? You seem to have a habit of not doing so.”
“But your own shirt is untucked,” I pointed out. “And you are not wearing a pair of breeches. And your side curls are sticking out in bunches.”
“Never you mind about how I dress, or appear. And take note, my shirt falls long enough to hide the important parts. I am covered. Now, go.”
Upstairs, Patrick blew out the candle and set it aside. I felt a strong feeling bubbling to the surface. Without thinking, I rushed and hugged him. I felt staggering and Patrick made an, “Oomph,” sound.
He gently pushed me away after a bit of time. I grinned.
“Well, yes, I am quite fond of you too. By the way.”
My grin disappeared. “What?”
His palm ruffled my unkempt hair. “It pleases me to see another person show facilitated tenderness; unconditional love and affection towards a human whom is not related but he is compelled enough to show acute concern towards my bride’s situation. It is in good faith I am indebted. I entrust my student keeps my requested secret private regarding my wife?”
“Yes, of course I have.”
“Superb. Eggs and sausage or leftover pork and beans, Matthew?”