Friday, July 15, 2011

Chapter 32

     The boy grew to school age.  His one devoted companion was his grandfather. The decision was made to send him away to an academy in Charleston.  At the time of his graduation Roderick and some of his friends vied to attend the University of Oxford in England. it was a bold choice, but Roderick had high marks and like his father, longed for the adventure of the unknown.  He would pit his academic achievements with the best students.  Angus consulted Mr. Biggers,  his London factor, to establish as bursary account. Ashley Loche was in its glory.  Angus expanded his planting making visible from the porch a spectacular view of a new crop of hardy rice plants.  Tours of local planters came to seek his advice and admire his operation.  Its tedium required his full attention to the stacks of ledgers and inventories in the evenings.  Duncan assisted, but could not fully comprehend the management of such a vast plantation.  No one could.
     "I am persuaded to grow cotton," Angus said, taking out a plat and pencilling in a square, wrote 'cotton'.  Catherine likes the idea of seeing the plants sprout white balls of cotton and so do I."
     "Aye, not a bad idea to add a wee crop, but do you 'ave time for it?"
     Angus grinned.  "The success of this plantation helps me to sleep at night, knowing that all is well for Roderick."
     "Aye, but will he know how to run the place?"
     "He is an intelligent, boy.  He will know."
     During his junior year at Oxford, America was once again at war with England and Angus was appointed a Colonel in the local militia to protect the Carolina coast and was frequently on duty at the port of Charleston. The time that he spent on the plantation must be sacrificed for the greater good.  How well he remembered being on the british prison ship and the miseries of occupation.  He would do anything to prevent that from happening again. 
     The following year during August and September of 1813, successive hurricanes rocked the naval stations in Charleston and St. Mary's.  It commenced with a thrashing gale from 9 p.m. one evening and increased to a hurricane by midnight. 
     About 10 p.m., Angus struggled under a cloud of heavy downpour along his cutt road to reach Charleston by horseback.  A furious wind bent tree trunks and blew hard against the mare causing her buck him in the saddle.  He dismounted and taking the reins in hand led her into the rutted road.
When finally he reached the wharf, the only vessels which appeared to be safe were the Nonsuch, the Carolina and the hospital ship. But his horse reared again under the tonnage of a howling wind which was ripping off the mast of the hospital ship. Then, barges, which were secured to pier were being washed ashore carried into the streets.  Lucas spotted Angus as he struggled in a losing battle to rein in his horse.
     "Angus! Angus!" Lucas cried. "Let the horse free!"
     Angus came to his senses and threw off the reins and when he did horse bolted and ran away.  Angus stood waist-deep in water and turned around to meet head-on one of the barges floating in the street towards him. He tried to run, but his legs stumbled against the driving force of the wind and the barge walloped into him and delivered a blow to the head.  He fell into the water, but the excrutiating pain and blood gushing from his head drove him to stand and run towards battery row.  Lucas grabbed him as he half-ran and half-floated towards him and pulled him onto high ground.
     "Where is the unit?"
     "Some were lost but most of them scattered."
     "What is the news?"
     "The prison ship is washed ashore on James Island and is wrecked on fort reef."
      The night continued its damage, the tide rising so high that ships under anchor washed onto the dock.  Then came the sound of the bridge crashing into the Ashley river and Angus and Lucas were separated.
     Angus ran towards Colonel Drayton's old warehouse and looked to see if the second floor were still above water.  The staircase was torn away, but the frame allowed him to climb up to the night room. The door was secured.  He shoved against it with his shoulder and when he did, a spasm of pain throbbed inside his head. All sense of time was lost to him.  It seemed like it was the wee hours of the morning.  The horrors of that night were passed inside the Night Room where he had once felt safe.
The loose pans and pitchers inside the room rattled and his bed creaked but finally he fell fast asleep to the sound of pouring rain and galing winds. .  His dreams relived in detail the old war and his daunting escape from the prison ship.
     The next morning the wound on his head ached and he wiped away clogged blood, then climbed down to the street and waded in water up to his waist.  He arrived at the wharf in time to witness Capt. Jones of the Navy raising the main mask attempting to sail to Port Royal and convoy with the troops at Beaufort, but at the moment of departure was prevented by another dose of raging wind.
     "Aye, captain!" Angus shouted, "what is the damage?"
     "We lost a gunboat and only God knows what else!"
     "Can you clear the barges for the ship to pass?"
     Angus glanced about for members of his unit and seeing none, answered: "Nay, mate."  The war would have to wait.

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