Matty’s mother got them what she called “some appropriate attire,” (which meant a linen shirt, cloth vest, and brown breeches for Eric and a homespun dress and bonnet for Kate.) and put them right to work. Eric was sent to chop wood to feed the fires in the kitchen and the taproom while Kate served drinks and meals to guests. After he was through chopping, Eric was sent to help Matty pour drinks. The taproom had filled up as the afternoon went on and soon it was filled with the buzz of conversation.
As they worked, both Kate and Eric kept their ears open for any information regarding the movements of the British but heard none. Most of the talk was about the harvest and the weather. Prospects for the upcoming winter appeared bleak.
“Aye, geese have headed south early this year,” one farmer muttered into his beer. “They don’t hang about when cold weather’s nigh. We’ll be gettin’ frost soon enough, I shouldn’t wonder.”
“You’re right enough about that, I’ll warrant Sam,” another said. “But I’ll take the cold over what I heard’s on its way.”
“Now don’t tell me you haven’t heard the rumors from down Norfield Parish way,” Nathaniel replied.
“Well, I heard some talk about King George’s regulars makin’ raids and such down county, but I didn’t put much stock in it—especially after I heard some other rot.”
Here Eric, who had been sweeping nearby, pricked up his ears.
“And what rot would that be Sam?” Nathaniel asked.
“Well that good King George has enlisted spirits to fight for him or some such,” Sam scoffed. “Talk is they come screechin’ outta Devil’s Den. That can’t be right. The only spirits I’ve ever heard tell of were behind the church on Cemetary Hill, but I ain’t ever seen ‘em. It’s just stuff our mams used to frighten us when we were lads.”
“Aye, that may be true enough Sam, but the other day I had a visit from my brother who lives down on the coast in Norwalk. He said that the British had attacked Fairfield and burned the town, or part of it anyway.”
“They never,” Sam said. “Why would the King’s troops attack Connecticut? We haven’t made any trouble, not like those rabble rousers in Massachusetts or Pennsylvania. Why would King George want to bother with us?”
“And there’s some that would call that kind of talk treason, Nathaniel Goodbody,” Sam snarled back.
“All right, all right, calm yourself,” Nathaniel replied. “I’m not tryin’ to pick a quarrel with you Sam Wainwright. I’m only tellin’ you what my brother told me, but you haven’t let me tell you the strangest part.”
“And what might that be, pray?”
“These lobsterbacks, oh all right have it your way,” he spluttered, catching Sam’s look. “These British regulars are being led by a blue man.”
“Blue man? What kind of rubbish is that?” Sam cried, smacking his pewter mug down on the table.
“My brother says it ain’t rubbish,” Nathaniel countered. “They’ve hit a good many towns. The blue man is all sparkly and leads a troop of spirit soldiers—the Ghost Brigade folk’re callin’ them.”
At the mention of the sparkling blue man, Eric’s stomach churned, and his knees shook. This was definitely not normal. He kept sweeping, fighting the urge to run and tell Kate.
“The ghost what?” Sam asked incredulously.
“The Ghost Brigade,” Nathaniel repeated. “The spirits are all sparkly, too—walk around in a mist that glimmers like fireflies. Folk say they’re the spirits of the dead what deserted from the French an’ Indian wars an’ were hung for it. They pop up in the night or the early morning, scare the dickens out of everyone an’ then the regular troops rush in, secure the town, burn part of it if there’s any resistance, an’ then pop up in another town a few days later and do the same thing all over again. Word is they’re headed this way fast.”
Sam stared at him as if he had sprouted wings. “Nat Goodbody, have you taken leave of your senses? You’d best get back to mending the roof of your house. You’ve had a drop too much to drink, I’m thinking. We’d both best be getting on home, any road. Hey lad, what do we owe you?”
“Uh, one and six,” Eric stammered.
“Here y’are,” Sam said handing him some coins as he and Nathaniel rose unsteadily from their chairs. “Keep the change, but you’d best hide it under your mattress. Don’t want any Ghost Brigade to get their hands on it, haw, haw!”
The two men lurched out the front door as Eric rushed to find Kate.