Lessons learned have value for the future, provided we acknowledge them. Alas, they do us little good in the immediate circumstance. I’d been done in by my own greed and persistent need of coin. That was my situation, but recognizing it did me no service the next morning.
Hands bound behind us, sad-eyed Jonas and I were loaded like so many sacks of grain into the back of a wagon drawn by two tired horses. Bohner drove while Moser sat at the front of the dray facing us, pistol laid across his drawn up knees, and smiling his insidious smile. The two men who had captured Jonas rode alongside on horseback.
Thusly, constrained and chagrined, I began the second leg of the journey fate had prepared me.
As we learned, Moser was the sheriff who had tracked us from Berks County. Bohner and the others were his deputies. Bohner and Souder were cousins and the miller had been a party to the scheme to take us from the start.
“But, if you knew who I was and where to find me, why did you put us to all this bother?” I asked Moser as we bounced along.
“Ah, but it would not have been nearly so much fun,” he answered with that putrid smile. “Actually, it was Bohner’s idea. He seldom has much humor and it was such a good idea I could not deprive him the opportunity of following through.”
“How did you know where we had gone?”
“We had the help of your friend.”
“Flip betrayed us?” Jonas asked.
“Of course. It was the choice of his neck or yours. You didn’t really think he’d gone off with a girl last night, did you?”
Jonas and I exchanged a glance. “I never saw the girl,” he said. “Flip only told me about her.”
“It doesn’t matter,” I consoled the lad. I was in no mood to dwell on the issue, nor did I entertain desire for further conversation.
Stretching my legs before me, I wiggled my hips seeking as much comfort as was possible on the hard wagon-bed.
We rode under a sky of flawless blue, the air stirred by our passage crisp but not unbearable with the warmth of the sun that fell on our backs. The countryside between Lebanon and Reading is comprised of wide fertile valleys squeezed between rolling blue hills. The atmosphere made the hills and valleys misty, softening the line of the ridges which seemed to melt into one another. Up the hillsides, the sumacs and maples were showing red, the birches and aspens gold, leading the charge of trees turning their colors. Crows spoke loudly from the ochre fields, scattering flocks of migrating flickers. It was all quite lovely and meaningless to me in my despair.
I did not take lightly the consequences of our fate. Thanks to the Quaker influence, punishment of crime in Pennsylvania was less severe than in some neighboring states. The criminal code punished with death only two offenses—murder and treason—neither of which we were guilty. Still, there was a good
chance we would be dealt with harshly. I desired silence in which to brood but Jonas and Moser would not allow it.
“What’s to become of us now?” my associate asked.
“Had my way you’d hang,” Moser said, “or at least get a good flogging. You might lose your ears. But, it’s not up to me. I’d say you can look forward to a good long time in gaol. The way things are going, though, who knows, you may be offered opportunity to serve your time in the army.”
“In the army!” Jonas cried out, shuddering.
Moser shrugged his big shoulders. “General Washington’s always in need of cannon fodder. Desertions have been heavy, not to mention the usual losses. You might not get paid or fed very well, but it’s an option.”
“I’d rather take my chances in gaol,” Jonas said. “At least there’s no one shooting at you there or trying to stick a bayonet in your gut.”
I’d lost my wig, which vanity had cost me dearly, and the sun shone hot upon my shaven pate.
Moser guffawed. “How ‘bout you, Dan?”
“I’ve already had the experience, thank you.”
“Yeah,” he said with another chuckle, “and of desertion as well.”
I gave him a cold glance. “You seem to know much of my history.”
“Oh, yeah. You’re a famous man, doncha know? Lots of lawmen have studied you and sought you out.” Beaming and with a swell of his chest, he added, “But I’m the one kotched you.”
The horses clopped along, the wagon bouncing and swaying in the rutted road, and we were jostled and swayed and bruised to their rhythm. My thin flesh afforded little protection for my poor bones. Moser’s words were as salt to my wounds.
“Your mother will be proud of you,” I told him.
“Here now, watch what you say of my mother.”
“I’d never speak ill of a woman—even if her son be a bastard.”
Screwing up his face, Moser bent forward and swatted at me with his big hand. I twisted to the side, but his blow caught my ear a stinging glance. “You’re gonna pay,” he snarled, “oh, how you’re gonna pay.”
As we traveled, I’d noticed Moser and his men passing back and forth a jug of rum. My lips were dry and my tongue thick and dust-coated but I had reason not to resent their stinginess. I saw it as a gift of another kind for later. The manner in which Moser now slurred his words convinced me that time was drawing nigh.
Soon the road bent down an incline, swung round the base of a hill and entered a tunnel of tall trees. On one side, the forest rose steeply up hill. On the other, a brushy bank fell into a hollow where a creek could be heard tumbling and singing over rocks. The wagon slowed.
Bohner slumped in his seat, the reins held loosely in his hands and the tired horses setting their own pace. The two riders swayed on their saddles, heads bent forward, chins digging into their chests. Moser, too, was nodding, eyes going shut then popping open as he rocked from side to side.
Now was the time.
“My bladder’s bursting,” I shouted. “Might we stop?”
Jolted awake, Moser shook his head, looked around him. “What? Huh? Oh, yeah.” He scratched at his chin. “Yeah. Might be a good idea.”
He tapped Bohner on the shoulder, ordered a halt.
Standing erect, Moser stretched, scratched some more. Then he leveled the pistol at me. “No funny business, you understand?”
“All I want is relief,” I assured him.
Jonas and I slid off the tailboard. We leaned against the wagon a moment, stamping our feet to relieve the numbness before attempting to walk. On my first steps I staggered as much as those who had imbibed the rum.
Moser jumped down beside us, thrusting the pistol into the top of his trousers. The riders dismounted and tended to their own business.
“You’ll have to unloose us,” I told Moser as I ambled to the side facing the hollow.
“Uh-uh,” he said.
“Then how are we to piss?”
Scratching his head, he glanced from one to the other of us. “I’ll loose your friend,” he said after a little thought. “Maybe he loves you enough to undo your fly for you.”
I’d been working my knots since we’d boarded the wagon and now I knew a good shake would free my hands.
As Moser bent to untie Jonas I threw my weight against them, sending both tumbling down the bank. Then I dove headlong into the brush.
I regretted leaving Jonas in the lurch; he was a good lad. But, in such circumstances, it was every man for himself.