Title: Scarlet and White
Rating: K (Suitable for all ages)
Original pen-date: 23 December 2009
Summary: Soldiers of the Twenty-third Regiment of Foot celebrate Christmas. Boston, 1774.
Author's Note: A Christmas one-shot brought to you by Snow.
"It's snowin', lads!"
Men abandoned their card games and conversations and hurried to the thin windows of the storehouse that was their billet, peering out through the grimy glass to see the faint glisten of white drifting down from above. Corporal Gibbons pulled off his bearskin to give the cap a halfhearted dusting off, before mashing it back on. He had seen snow only rarely in his life and it fascinated him. The other grenadiers, most of them lacking their coats despite the chill that hung immovably over the storehouse, hastened to get outside. It was indeed snowing.
Gibbons lingered at the open door, watching his men chase each other about in the street. A few were scooping up handfuls of snow off the cobblestones to fling at each other. All the while, the steady fall of white, feather-light flakes carried on. In the hazy light from flickering candles in the street-lamps, the air seemed almost to glow. One grenadier cheered when his snowball knocked the cap off his mate's head and suddenly there was a torrent of snow flying in the street.
With a bemused laugh, Gibbons stepped out into the street, taking care to avoid getting too near to the flying balls of snow. Even with Boston-town as unhappy with the soldiers' presence as it was, he felt oddly comfortable to be out without his musket. There were few citizens about in this part of town anyway, owing to the thickly-falling snow. The grenadiers of the Twenty-third were free to frolic as they pleased, at least for the moment.
But, of course, it could not last. A young soldier picked himself up off the street and suddenly cried, "Officer comin'!"
Gibbons stifled a groan as the snow-splattered, coat-less grenadiers sprang instantly to attention. A black horse trotted out of the curtain of snow, bearing a grumpy-looking lieutenant toward them. It would have to be Mackenzie, the regiment's adjutant. What the devil did he want, other than to spoil the grenadiers' fun?
"It is Christmas, Corporal," the adjutant said, pointedly not looking at the under-dressed soldiers. "You may issue double the wine ration. Carry on."
Then he was gone, his horse trotting easily away. Gibbons stared. Christmas? A cheer rose from the men as they relaxed from their rigid postures. It was Christmas, and they were to receive a double wine ration. That in itself was cause enough for celebration to them. The snow fight resumed, this time in earnest. Corporal Gibbons made his way down the street, content for the moment that his men would not damage anything other than themselves. Even if they did, Corporal Macgregor was close enough by that he could stop them.
As he moved away from the storehouse toward the broader avenue of Milk Street, he heard the muted ringing of church bells. Drawn by the gentle peals, Gibbons changed direction. A few minutes' brisk walk found him gazing on a milling crowd outside a brightly-lit church. Trinity Church. He had heard of the place, in passing, from overhearing conversations between citizens. It was reputed to be a gathering place of revolutionaries. Gibbons stopped several paces from the street corner, not trusting in the mood of the crowd. He had no wish to be assaulted or harangued on Christmas.
Gibbons shuddered, his turn to retreat summarily halted. He turned back around to see an older man waving at him. With no option to depart without seeming rude, he made his way cautiously forward. To his surprise, however, the man thrust a hand out toward him as he approached.
"Come, young man," he said, after Gibbons had returned the handshake with some surprise. "You must join us. You and your companions."
Companions? Gibbons looked over his shoulder to see two private grenadiers peering warily at the crowd, which had by now begun to move into the meeting house. Where had they come from? He waved them over, though he was not sure why he was taking such a risk.
The older man took him by the arm. "Come. I insist."
"C'mon, lads," Gibbons said, allowing himself to be led toward the meeting house. The man must be a Loyalist, but there was no accounting for his insistence on the three redcoats in joining him. Suddenly self-conscious, Gibbons brushed clinging flakes of snow off his blue coat facings. He felt obvious and out-of-place amidst the finery of the citizens around him.
A hand tugged at his coat tail. "Sir? Holly, sir?"
Gibbons looked down at the girl, who clutched several sprigs of holly in a mittened hand. He noticed that she had a bit of holly pinned to her cape and, in fact, that there were many people in the crowd with sprigs of holly adorning their coats or hats. "I'd love a sprig," he said.
"I can't reach," the girl said, peering up at him with something like laughter lightening her voice.
Of course. He was taller than most men and it was impossible for a child to even reach the middle of his waistcoat. Gibbons knelt down on the snow-covered street to let the girl place the holly wherever she deemed best.
"There," she told him a moment later. Gibbons reached up carefully and smiled. She had tucked the holly behind the copper plate on his bearskin cap. It was a good choice.
"Thank you," he said, as the other two grenadiers knelt to receive their own sprigs of holly. The girl beamed. The rest of the crowd had since filed into the meeting house, leaving only them and the old man outside.
"Come," the girl bade him, holding out her hand. Gibbons rose to his feet, smiling when his large hand dwarfed the girl's. His objections to being so close to a rebels' gathering place were entirely forgotten as he went up the meeting house steps. Inside, barely a second glance was given to the tall soldiers in their snow-dusted red coats, with cheerful bits of green standing out against their black bearskins. The girl stayed with Gibbons, looking irrepressibly pleased to have such an oversized companion. Across the well-filled room, a man in black walked slowly toward the pulpit, a leather-bound book in hand. It was a Christmas church service. Gibbons was suddenly glad that he ventured away from the storehouse.
Outside, the snow fell unabated, layering streets and houses with a soft blanket of white. On the meeting house steps, a fallen bit of holly lay amid the gathering feathery flakes. It was a splash of cheerful colour against the gentle glistening white of snow. The hum of voices in the meeting house were muted by the falling curtain of snow, while several streets away, the grenadiers' snowball fight had gradually ended, as the men were drawn into their billet by the unexpected arrival of a butcher's cart laden with food. Across town, the officers of the Twenty-third raised their glasses in a toast in honour of the day, sharing their table with several citizens, uncaring of loyalties. It was Christmas in Boston.