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Chapter 22

Welcome Hospitality; Lingering Fear.

The storm raged throughout the night, waves tossing the boat this way and that, as we waited in abject fear for our imminent collision with the rocky shore. Then with a sudden thud, all movement stopped. Our own momentum threw us to the floor, but the boat was no longer floating free. The deck was now leaning at such an angle that standing upright was impossible. Jack and I leaned against the wall and hoped for no further changes.

It was not until dawn, with the rain stopped and the clouds dissipating, that we saw what happened.  In the height of the storm, waves had heaved our boat onto a sandbar with such force that it became stuck in the sand, the hull angled but above the level where waves could further move it. As the storm subsided the boat remained in relative safety, but any further travel on this boat would be impossible. We would wait to be rescued.

Jack and I, concerned with our own safety, had barely been aware of the chaos and confusion which had overtaken the rest of the passengers. Many had not been as lucky as we were when the boat ran aground and had fallen into furniture or into each other in piles of human bodies from which it became virtually impossible to escape. The screaming and wailing of fear and agony that had been drowned out by the wind and rain did not subside when the storm did. The sights and sounds that morning were so horrible that I thought perhaps I had died and gone to hell.

The captain and the crew did what they could to treat the injured and pacify the frightened.  The injuries were minor and most of their effort went to getting the passengers upright and organized, preparing for the rescue vessels the captain assured us would be arriving soon.

But rescue has slow in coming. Though it was surely known in Rochester that we were in trouble, the same storm that had disabled us had prevented any attempt at rescue until the morning. The first boats to arrive were rowboats which took away the injured. Soon a small steam ferry came as close as possible to the Northerner, and we were able to cross over to it on a wooden gangplank. It had taken two trips to transport all the passengers to Rochester; Jack and I were in the second. 

It was nearly evening when our feet finally touched dry land. Newspapermen were waiting on the pier; taking everyone’s name and listening to their stories. Normally this was the kind of situation where Jack would take the lead, educating anyone who would listen, informing the world what really happened. But that day she was remarkably quiet, and it had me concerned. I had never seen Jack as frightened as she had been on board that distressed steamboat—and we had been through some frightening times. This time had scared her deeply, and she was not over it yet. 

We did not know our way around Rochester, but Jack had gotten a name from the Master Hunters at the Patriot Hunters’ Lodge. Mr. Bennet had been a Master himself, in the old days, but they could not vouch for him now except to say that he was not the kind of man to turn a stranger from his door. We asked directions from the men on the pier and they told us it was the best of neighborhoods and we would have no trouble walking there.

It was a fine, two-storied stone house with Greek columns in front. Mr. Bennet, an older man with gray side-whiskers, came to the door himself when we called. He looked bemused to see two such bedraggled ruffians as we had become. Jack gave the cross-armed salute of a Patriot Hunter Snowshoe. I did likewise then, fearing that if I didn’t, I might be left outside. He gave us a quizzical look, as if seeing something that he vaguely recognized but could not place then, at once, a smile came to his face.

“Are you a Hunter?” he said.

“On Thursday,” Jack said, the day being Wednesday.

“Do come in,” he said, barely suppressing a chuckle.

He led us to his study, a dark and serious room with much mahogany and walls lined with books. We sat in comfortably upholstered chairs.

“I did not know that the Patriot Hunters were still extant.” He said when we were all seated. “What Lodge are you from?”

We explained that we had come from Oswego and had recently been rescued from a steamboat that had run aground during the storm.

“My goodness, what an ordeal.” He said. “You’ll want some brandy then.”

He poured us each a glass of brandy from a crystal decanter; it was quite fortifying, exactly what was needed. He requested that we tell him all about our voyage. Here, again, I would have expected Jack to take the lead, telling a story filled with adventure, exaggerating when necessary to enhance the drama. But she left it to me and only spoke when I called upon her to verify something I had said.

Mr. Bennet was duly impressed and poured us each another glass of brandy. Then he asked more about the Patriot Hunters.  Were they still planning to invade Canada? I told him that they were well armed and made threatening statements, but that invasion was not likely.

“That is well,” he said, “The first one was a terrible mistake. There were so many of us then, and it seemed inevitable. If we just lit the fuse, our government would follow, and Upper Canada would become part of the United States. But our government had its hands full in Mexico and did not want to fight another war. After the failed invasion we disbanded in Rochester—came to our senses, really. It had seemed like such a lark until men lost their lives.

“I sense that you boys have more stories to tell,” Mr. Bennet said to me, then pointed to Jack who had just nodded off, “but I see that your comrade is quite fatigued. Not surprising considering what you have been through. There will be time for stories in the morning. You are more than welcome to stay here; let me show you to your rooms.”

Mr. Bennet showed Jack and me to separate bedrooms on the second floor. The featherbed was clean and soft; I fell into deep slumber immediately upon pulling up the covers.

Some time in the middle of the night I was awakened by the creak of the bedroom door opening. In came Jack, wearing only her shirt. Without a word she climbed into my bed and held me as tightly as she had aboard the floundering steamboat. We made love then—gently, but without hesitation. 

“I was so frightened on that boat, Pratt,” she said afterward, as we lay side by side, “I have never felt so helpless.