A thunderous boom rippled the water under Ryan’s birchbark canoe. The raven perched on the bow leapt into the air.
Ryan jerked his gaze up at Fort Henry. The dun-colored edifice straddled the promontory above Kingston like a basking beast of prey in the hazy autumn sun. One of its massive cannon exhaled smoke into the cold air. After that single flexing of muscle, the fort seemed to slumber.
“I wonder what that was about, eh Zak?” he said to the bird, as it returned to roost.
He continued paddling down the Cataraqui River towards the causeway and bridge that marked the harbor’s start. Three pairs of black draught horses towing field cannon and a troop of blue-uniformed men hustled across. Ryan knew Kingston was Upper Canada’s army and navy stronghold, and shrugged off the artillery movement as the ordinary state of affairs.
As he passed under the bridge, fishermen and pedestrians interrupted their business to scrutinize his passage. His buckskin garb, belted tomahawk, and the raven perched totem-like on the canoe symbolized the frontier. By then, November 1837, settlement had gentrified the area. Few town inhabitants knew the wilderness as Ryan had lived it. Not yet an anachronism, he was a curiosity.
His slim craft rose and fell on the wake of steamships plying the wide harbor. From the water, Ryan studied the bustling town. Boxy stores and warehouses of quarried limestone crowded the harbor and made canyons of the streets. In the slips and quays, longshoremen moved goods on and off schooners and steamers. Carriages and wagons clattered over the cobbled streets, their horses exhaling steam. Wood smoke rose from chimneys and steamboat boilers. The sharp aromas of horse dung, ashes, and unwashed humanity permeated the air. After six months away from white men’s towns, Ryan had forgotten about the drone and stink of civilization.
Approaching the western edge of Kingston, he spotted what he came to find—a shipbuilder. The Marine Railway Company’s boat works dominated a wide pier jutting two hundred feet into Lake Ontario. A brick workshop hugged the water’s edge. Black smoke poured from its four-storey chimney and blew sideways over the lake. The metallic racket of a forge and the rasp of saws spewed from open doors and windows. A partially reconstructed sidewheeler rested on iron rails in a dry dock.
“Can I help you, boy?” A slim, dark-haired man in his forties with a slight limp approached. “This is private property.”
Ryan sized up the older man. At about five-foot-eight, he was Ryan’s height but thinner. Sawdust clung to his boots and wood shavings poked from his pant cuffs. “Good day to ye. I’m searching for the proprietor.”
“I’m Luke Sheay, the chief shipbuilder. You talk to me.”
“Well sir, I just arrived in town and I’d be grateful for some work.”
Ryan watched Sheay look him over. He was suddenly conscious of his dangling red curls and beard shadow on his chin. After so long away from mirrors, Ryan had simply forgotten his appearance. He tugged wrinkles from his buckskin coat. Sheay’s gaze came to rest on Zak perched on his shoulder. The big raven cocked his head and returned the stare with one dark eye.
“If you’re wanting to join the circus, you’ve come to the wrong place.”
“Pardon my appearance, sir. I’ve been living rough for many months. But I assure ye, I’m no clown when it comes to boat building.”
Sheay smiled. “You have experience, then?”
“Since I was big enough to hold a plane and mallet, I helped my father and grandfather build dories and other small craft.”
“We ain’t building dories, lad. We refit the biggest steamboats sailing the lake.”
“Yes, sir. I see ye have a most modern enterprise.” He swept his hand towards the dry dock. “But I also see ye fix ship’s tenders, and repair cabins and decks. I’m experienced in all manner of carpentry, and also a fair quick learner. And I need the job, sir.”
“Are you educated?”
“Oh, yes, sir. I can read and write, and I’m handy with my numbers.”
Sheay furrowed his brow. “Where’d you get your schooling?”
“I attended a church-run school back in Ireland and my parents made me take extra lessons from hedgerow teachers.”
“How old are you?”
“Almost nineteen, sir.”
Sheay paused and slipped his hands into his pockets. “I have a spot for an apprentice. It don’t pay much—”
“I’ll take it, sir. I nary mind starting at the bottom.”
“What’s your name?”
“Ryan Lone Pine.” In response to Sheay’s raised eyebrows, he added, “I lived with an Algonquin family. They gave me a new name.”
“What does your family think of your Indian name?”
Sheay waited for further explanation. Ryan stayed mute.
Sheay shrugged his shoulders. “Come see me tomorrow at dawn. What of that bird of yours?”
“Zak’ll be no trouble, Mr. Sheay.”
Sheay pursed his lips in doubt but didn’t push the point. “Do you need a place to stay?”
“I do, sir.”
“A farmer near here has a cabin for rent.” He pointed west. “Look for a dock with a whitewashed boathouse. That’s the place.”
Both men turned at the sound of heavy boots clomping down Ontario Street. A troop of twenty redcoats, led by a tall corporal, marched two abreast past the shipyard.
“All these soldiers and such marching about,” Ryan began, “is it normal here?”
“No. There’s more since the rebellion.”
“What rebellion, sir?”
“I guess news don’t travel fast in the bush. Four days ago some fools in Lower Canada attacked a British force near Montreal. The British eventually drove the traitors into the United States. Upper Canada has its own set of fools and our fort commandant worries trouble might break out here too.”
“What set them off, sir?”
“Many believe our colonial governments are corrupt and ignore people’s rights. I agree our affairs could be better run, but I won’t countenance armed conflict.”
“Tis none of my business.”
“It may be. If the government calls up the militia, you’d have to report for training.”
“I hope it ne’er comes to that.”
That afternoon, Ryan moved into a shore-side log cabin. From his canoe, he unloaded farming and woodworking tools, a musket, kitchen goods, clothing, and two well-worn books—all the worldly goods of a former family of six.
He arrived at work the next day with the southeastern sky painted in stripes of red. To fit in, he’d shed his buckskins and moccasins for linen work pants, a long-sleeved cotton shirt, a woolen great coat, and worn leather boots.
Sheay met him by the workshop’s main door. “Are you up for a day of hard labor?”
“Yes, sir. I toiled on our farm since I was a boy. Work is no stranger.”
“Good. I’m assigning you to that steamboat in the dry dock. Your job is to do whatever the master carpenters ask. Mostly you’ll be toting planks and shaping wood with a plane or draw knife.” He pointed to Zak on Ryan’s shoulder. “Some men think black birds are bad luck. Better not take him close to that ship.”
“Yes, sir.” Ryan pushed Zak gently off his shoulder and swept his hand in a wide arc, a signal the bird knew well. He flew to the workshop roof.
Sheay nodded his satisfaction. “Come. I’ll introduce you.”
Ryan spent the morning ripping up a section of worn oak decking with a crowbar. Through the strain and sweat, he whistled old folk tunes. His memories drifted to past years working in the fields with his father and brothers, and the joy of a physical job done well.
When Sheay called the lunch break, Ryan headed to the pier end. Zak followed him fifty feet above. From his lunch sack, Ryan pulled a bread crust and flung it out over the water. Zak folded his wings into a steep dive, dropped, and caught the crust before it hit the water. The raven gobbled it down. Ryan heaved another crust in a different direction. Again Zak caught it and ate it.
Among the lunching men, all eyes were on the bird. Zak enjoyed an audience.
Ryan threw a third crust. The raven caught it with ease, but this time he carried it a hundred feet up, hovered, and dropped it. Zak then rolled over and spiraled headfirst towards the lake. Two yards above the surface, he caught the crust and swept upwards on outstretched wings, powered by his own momentum. Several men clapped.
Sitting, Ryan dangled his legs over the pier to eat his cheese and bread. Zak settled beside him.
Sheay sidled over. “Will he catch for other people?”
“Yes, sir. Catch-food is his favorite game.”
Sheay tossed a chunk of leftover bun. Zak leapt from his perch, skimmed over the water, and grabbed the food inches from the lake.
Sheay smiled. “You know. I think that bird’s going to fit in just fine.”
As the days passed, the carpenters gradually assigned Ryan work that required greater skill. He repaired small boats, railings, and cabin interiors. At day’s end, it was still his job to sweep up the accumulated sawdust and wood shavings.
His fourth day on the job, Sheay invited Ryan to join him at a local tavern after work.
“I’d like that, sir.” Back in Ireland, no adults had ever invited him to socialize.
That night, while Zak snoozed in the rented cabin’s porch rafters Ryan joined Sheay and other work mates at a local tavern. Hoots of laughter and snide comments about being too young to drink greeted Ryan when he announced he abstained from alcohol and tobacco, and drank tea sweetened with maple syrup. He accepted the good-natured jests as the price of company and conversation.
Sheay’s prediction about rebellious fools in Upper Canada soon proved true. In early December, Ryan sat in an inn after work as his boss read from a newspaper to a rapt bar audience about rebels attacking Toronto, lead by its former mayor, William Lyon Mackenzie. Men cheered when Sheay relayed how the militia routed the ill-prepared renegades.
Mackenzie escaped to America and promised a renewed fight. Kingston roiled in the wake of this second rebellion. Ryan daily stepped aside as marching troops of militia or gun carriages drawn by teams of sweating draught horses forced residents off streets and onto sidewalks.
What Ryan feared the most happened—the local militia commandant called a general muster. By law, he had to report for militia training.
On an unseasonably warm December morning, Ryan planed the keel of a dory outside on the pier, enjoying the fresh air and the blade’s rhythmic rasp as he shaved wood.
An unkempt and overweight hunter ambled along the waterfront. His jowls shook as his teeth mangled a plug of chewing tobacco. Men with his rough deportment always used to set Ryan’s mother exclaiming, “There goes some poor soul on an errand for the devil.” Ryan kept one eye on his work and one on the hunter’s progress.
The stranger entered the shipyard, spotted Zak on the shop roof, and raised his gun.
“No!” Ryan screamed. He grabbed on oar, hurled it spear-like, and struck the big man on the leg. The hunter lurched sideways, yelping in pain. His gun discharged into the air, its blast reverberating along the pier.
The factory’s cacophony of sawing and hammering ceased.
The sneering hunter, his narrow eyes pits of hatred, pulled a knife from a belt sheath and limped towards Ryan. Curious men gathered by the shop’s windows and doorways.
“Leave him alone, Tiny,” Sheay called. “He’s half your size.”
In Ireland, Ryan had often battled gangs of Irish-baiting, English schoolboys. He’d never backed down, whatever the odds. True to form, he stepped forward to meet the armed giant. Unconsciously, Ryan rose on the balls of his feet, stretching his frame to meet the taller man.
Unbeknownst to Tiny, Ryan had an ally. Zak leapt from the shop roof and swept silently in from behind. “Zrok!”
The raven knocked Tiny’s wide-brimmed hat over his face.
In that moment of Tiny’s temporary blindness, Ryan charged, head down and eyes closed. He rammed his assailant’s torso below his rib cage. Tiny’s two hundred and fifty pounds smacked the stone pier. Ryan’s workmates winced at the thud and painful expulsion of air.
Ryan pounced like a terrier on a mastiff. He knocked the blade aside and pinned Tiny’s arms at the biceps with his knees. He pummeled the prostrate hunter’s gin-blossom nose, ignoring Sheay’s calls to stop. Blood spattered Ryan’s hands and shirt cuffs.
Sheay hauled Ryan off before self-defense became manslaughter. Tiny rolled onto his knees and labored to his feet. Blood dripped from his battered nose, mingled with tobacco juice leaking from his mouth, and dribbled through his grizzled chin whiskers to add new stains on his filthy coat.
Sheay handed Tiny his empty musket. “Leave this place.”
He yanked the weapon from Sheay’s hands. “Hey, hothead,” Tiny snarled at Ryan. “I’ll get ya for this.”
“What ye will get is more of the same.”
Tiny spat at Ryan’s feet. A viscous gob of snot, blood, and chewing tobacco ran in multi-colored tendrils off his right boot. Ryan tensed to pounce on Tiny again, but a shout from behind changed his mind.
“Luke! Ryan! In my office, now,” yelled John Counter, the shipyard owner.
In his late thirties, Counter had dark hair, thick sideburns and eyebrows, a pointy nose, thin lips, and unblinking dark eyes. “Is this how you repay me?” Counter sputtered. “I gave you a job without references and you descend to fisticuffs within the first month.”
“I couldn’t let him shoot my bird…sir.” Ryan struggled to remember his manners. His blood still pulsed with adrenaline.
“That is what hunters do, boy. They shoot things.”
“How’d ye feel if he shot yer dog? My bird’s the same to me…sir.”
Counter folded his arms and tapped on toe, assessing Ryan. “Luke, give me one reason I should continue to employ this young tough.”
“Be fair, Mr. Counter. Tiny is a troublemaker, as you know. The fight was self-defense. Besides, Ryan’s a hard worker.”
Counter examined Ryan with one eyebrow cocked. Unflinching, Ryan held the shorter man’s gaze.
“You have a nasty temper, boy. You hit him long after you had a need to. Now, go back to work.”
Stepping outside, Sheay grabbed Ryan’s arm and yanked him to a halt. “That was bloody reckless. Tiny probably has eighty pounds on you and he’s a lot tougher than he looked today.”
“I’m nary one to stand down to a bully, sir, nor am I afraid of poor odds in a fight. I was raised in disadvantage and taught to face adversity.”
Sheay grimaced. “That’s a fool’s philosophy. Smart men sidestep trouble, not meet it head on.”
Zak settled onto his human’s shoulder and folded his wings. With a finger, Ryan rubbed the side of the raven’s beak. The bird tilted his head and clucked softly.
“That bird’s your guardian angel, lad. Without him, you’d be dead. Tiny’s wicked in a knife fight.”
“Ye seem to know that lout well.”
“He’s the reason I’ve had my limp these twenty years. He shot me during militia training. He convinced our colonel it was a mistake. I know it was spite because I married the woman he thought was his. Be careful. He’s a vengeful man with a long memory.”
Midday on New Years Eve, with the sky blue and the temperature unseasonably above freezing, Ryan strolled into town to buy vegetables and a chicken for supper. At regular intervals, cannon blasts ripped the air as artillery squadrons exercised Fort Henry’s big guns. He spotted armed steamers in the harbor loaded with troops preparing to depart, probably to Montreal and Toronto. The St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, normally frozen in December, remained ice free.
In Kingston’s market, he maneuvered around waiting carriages and wandered past stalls crammed with farm produce, clothing, and hand-made goods. The scents of tobacco, horses, and cooking thickened the air. He examined the wares and jostled past other shoppers. On Ryan’s shoulder, Zak’s head rose above his human’s. When haggling, vendors addressed the raven, not the man.
While Ryan picked through piles of potatoes, Tiny and two men stepped from the throng of shoppers and surrounded him. Each wore a white cloth tied around his hat—the citizen militia’s simple insignia.
“Look lads,” began Tiny. “There’s the little Irish hothead.”
Ryan held his ground, his eyes on Tiny.
“He’s a Patriot sympathizer if ever I saw one.”
“The government need not concern itself with me,” Ryan replied calmly. On his shoulder, Zak kept one black eye fixed on Tiny.
“Our young Victoria, not yet six months on the throne,” Tiny ranted to the onlookers, “shouldn’t have ta suffer disloyalty from Irish scum of his ilk.”
Ryan’s face flushed. His right hand crept to the carving knife he now wore on his belt. Shoppers cleared a space around the four men. A young army corporal and private on patrol joined their front ranks.
Zak launched into the air and circled overhead. “Zaak!”
Tiny unsheathed his knife. He flicked his gaze from Ryan to Zak and back.
Ryan’s eyes narrowed. He bent his knees in preparation for a frontal assault.
The two redcoats stepped forward. “You three!” The corporal motioned to Tiny’s gang. “On your way.”
“But Andrew, we were just making conversation.”
“Private Campbell, when you wear militia colors, you will address me by rank. Understand?” Shorter than Tiny, Andrew carried enough muscle and authority to have his way.
“Yes…corporal!” Tiny scowled at Ryan and departed.
“Thank ye for yer assistance,” Ryan said, as he gathered his purchases to leave.
“Hold on there.” He stepped in front of Ryan. About thirty, he had pale skin and piercing blue eyes under a mop of dark hair. “You must come with us. My colonel might have questions.”
“You nary questioned those three louts. Friends of yers are they?”
“I know Tiny. I do not know you.”
Ryan stared the man in the eye. “Why do ye care what that fat drunk says?”
“No one attends militia training more than he. If he says you are disloyal, you must come with me.”
“Tis not fair, damn ye.” He threw his hands up in frustration. “I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“Quite right. It is unjust.” The voice, with a trace of Scotland in the accent, came from a lanky young man, several inches taller than Ryan. Attired as a gentleman, he had unruly reddish-brown hair, a high forehead, and large nose.
“This is none of your business, Mr. Macdonald,” Andrew said impatiently.
“Corporal, justice is the business of every free man. Just because this town has gone mad, does not relieve this man of his rights. What grounds have you for his arrest? Surely not the ravings of those three departed drunkards.”
“He might be a Patriot sympathizer, sir.”
“Nonsense!” he barked at the corporal. Speaking to Ryan, he said, “John Alexander Macdonald at your service. Have you engaged the services of an attorney in Kingston?”
The concept awed Ryan. In Ireland, only rich men had lawyers. “I have not, sir.”
“I would be honored to be your legal counsel, if you agree to it.”
Ryan bit his lip and fidgeted.
“Do not concern yourself with fees. Unless I defend you in court or conduct some legal business, I charge nothing. What do you say?”
“I say yes, sir.”
“Corporal, this man is my client. Will you force me to take legal suit on his behalf, which I am sure will annoy your superiors, or will you now release him?”
“My superiors will surely be annoyed if I am slack in my duties. I must take him in.”
“No need for that.” A new voice came to Ryan’s defense—a female one. The shoppers stepped aside for the speaker. The tallest woman Ryan had ever seen, she stood a head above people in the market. Her auburn hair flowed from under a fur hat to the shoulders of a fashionable winter jacket that flattered her large but perfectly proportioned figure. Ryan guessed her age at thirty-five. She had at least eight inches on him. He rose on the balls of his feet as she approached.
“How nice of you to remember me, corporal. I believe you attended our carriage last night when my husband and I arrived to dine with Lieutenant-Colonel Bonnycastle—your commanding officer.”
Andrew nodded, which is difficult with one’s head tilted upwards.
“We had a splendid evening. Do you know, John, “she said to Macdonald, “the colonel wants to start an art society and an institution of higher learning here?”
“I was not aware, Mrs. Burleigh, but it comes as no surprise.”
She shifted her downward gaze back to Andrew. “Your colonel is a fair man. I am certain your abuse of this man’s rights would find ill favor.”
The corporal’s shoulders sagged. “I need his name and place of employment. That much I have a right to.”
“My name is Ryan Lone Pine. I’m a carpenter at the Marine Railway Company.” At their quizzical looks, he added, “Ryan is the name my father gave me. My Algonquin family named me Lone Pine.”
“Do you have a proper Irish surname?” Andrew asked.
“Not any more.”
Andrew sighed, motioned to the private, and continued on patrol. The wall of spectators dissolved as people continued shopping. Zak landed on Ryan’s shoulder and cocked a nervous eye at the giant woman.
“John, kindly introduce us.”
“By all means. Ryan, this is Ada Burleigh. Her husband Cyrus is a client and friend.”
“Pleased to meet ye, Mrs. Burleigh. Thank ye for speaking in my defense.”
“You are welcome. Please call me Ada. Both of you.”
Her green eyes darted from Ryan to Macdonald and back. “You two boys have such handsome curls.”
Ryan noticed Macdonald’s Adam’s apple slide up and down as he gulped.
“Thank ye…Ada. Tis grand to be complimented by such a lady.”
She examined Ryan from toe to head. When her eyes reached his face, he held her gaze, noticing flecks of gold in her irises. Her ample lips parted in a half smile. Zak shuffled on Ryan’s shoulder.
“I believe I make your bird nervous,” Ada said.
“I expect ye have that effect on most males.”
She laughed huskily. “I don’t seem to make you nervous.”
“Not in a crowded market, ye don’t.”
She laughed again. “You have a fast wit for one so young.” She waved to a young companion. “Come here, Kate, and meet these two fine young men.”
Ryan forgot the alluring giantess as Kate approached. A foot shorter than Ada, her cat-like gait spoke of strength and confidence. About eighteen, she had tawny hair, warm brown eyes, and high cheekbones. She wore a fashionable but not expensive woolen coat and hat.
“Gentlemen, this is my cousin Kate Randolph. Kate, this is John Macdonald, our attorney and friend. And this glib charmer is Ryan Lone Pine.”
“Pleased to meet you both.” To Macdonald Kate added, “It was kind of you to intercede against those soldiers.”
“Only seeing to my civic duty, Miss Randolph.”
Ryan’s heartbeat quickened as Kate’s focus shifted from Macdonald to him.
“My cousin is correct, you do have lovely curls.” Kate raised her hand, as if to reach for Ryan’s hair, but tucked it inside her muff instead.
“I rather like his blue eyes and freckles too,” Ada whispered in her ear.
Kate blushed and changed the subject. “You seem blessed to have two eminent people come to your defense.”
“Lady Fortune smiled on me thrice this day; once for each defender and a third time for introducing me to you.”
Kate laughed, a musical cascade that sent goose bumps up Ryan’s spine.
“So, do ye live in Kingston?” Ryan asked nonchalantly.
Kate raised her eyebrows and shrugged. “I am visiting from New York State. Alas, I return tomorrow.”
Ryan and Kate smiled awkwardly, at a loss for words, until Ada broke the silence. “Well, we must be going. I enjoyed our meeting.”
“Thank ye. I did too,” Ryan replied to Ada with an added smile to Kate.
“My best to Cyrus,” Macdonald called.
The young men’s eyes followed the women’s progress across the market square. Kate quickly disappeared among the shoppers. Ada’s head bobbed above the sea of hats.
Macdonald broke their reverie. “What was that wistful tune?”
“When Ada first approached, you hummed a tune.”
“Did I? I can’t recall that.”
“No matter. My favorite tavern is near. May I buy you ale?”
“I avoid spirits, but I wouldn’t say nay to a cup of tea, if ’tis all the same to ye, sir.”
“Certainly. Please, call me John. Being called sir makes me feel old.”
“Ye do seem a mite young for a lawyer.” Ryan replied as they nudged past shoppers.
“I am nearly twenty-three. Young, yes, but I trained with the best, I assure you.”
“That soldier knew yer name and backed off. Tis all I expect in a jet.”
“A jet?” Macdonald asked, holding the inn door for Ryan.
“Yes. A jet. A son of prattlement. A split cause. Back home, ’tis all cant for lawyer.”
They relaxed near the hearth in the Steamboat Hotel, a two-story stone inn and public house facing the market. Layers of tobacco and wood smoke hung motionless in the half-filled common room. The ceiling showed hand-hewn oak beams. A liberal layer of sawdust covered the pine floor to absorb mud, spilt ale, and spit.
Macdonald badgered the proprietor, Thomas Bamford, into letting Zak stay. “Come now Thomas, you let men enter accompanied by dogs, do you not?”
“Yes, but that’s no dog.”
“He is as fine a companion as any dog and deserves the same consideration.”
“Well, seeing you’re a good customer, I’ll consent to it. But if the bird messes on the furniture, have the lad clean it up.”
Macdonald ordered tea sweetened with maple syrup for his guest and a whiskey for himself. They nibbled biscuits spread with strawberry preserve. Ryan fed crusts to Zak.
Macdonald tossed back a third of his whiskey. “I assume, apropos the way you were short with the corporal in the matter of your family name, that some tragedy befell you?”
Ryan placed his tea cup in its saucer, his back ridged in the stuffed chair. “Yes, John.”
“And I conclude by your current stiff demeanor that you do not wish to discuss details?”
“Enough on that subject then.”
After an uncomfortable pause, Ryan quipped, “What of yer family, then?”
“Oh, not much to tell,” Macdonald began modestly. He went on to recall misty memories of his early years in Glasgow and the uneventful crossing to Canada as a child. He described moving from one pioneer town to the next while his father failed repeatedly to succeed in business. Lastly, he spoke of his six years studying law and of his growing practice.
Perched on a chair back, Zak regally perused each new patron with his jet eyes. Few had seen this majestic species up close. Two feet long from his thick beak to his wide-spreading tail, his glossy black feathers flashed hints of metallic blue. Several customers timidly fed the raven bits of bread or tiny slices of mutton.
“John, what do you know about that pretty lass, Kate?”
“I gather you want to make her acquaintance again.”
“She dwells in Clayton on the south shore of the St. Lawrence. That is all I know.”
Ryan leaned to pour more tea. His shirt collar opened, exposing a leather thong and the curved edge of an ornament.
“That’s an Indian artifact on your neck! May I see it, please?”
Ryan pulled the talisman over his head and handed it to Macdonald. On the thong hung a disk of tanned moose hide on a willow frame, with porcupine quills sewn in the shape of a windblown pine.
“My Algonquin grandmother gave me this as a parting gift.”
“The workmanship is superb. Is the pine symbol connected to your odd name?”
“Will you see them again?” Macdonald asked.
“I doubt I can find them. Farmers and loggers are driving the whole tribe from their lands.”
“It is a terrible shame that we did not provide for the original inhabitants in our haste to colonize this land.”
“English justice doesn’t fall evenly on all subjects.”
“True. England is the mother of democracy but she can be terribly neglectful. The rebellion would not have started if our leaders governed fairly.”
Macdonald placed his elbows on the chair’s arms, clasped his hands, and focused on a point above Ryan’s head. “Someday soon, this country will run its own affairs in a democratic manner and all men shall be free to reach their highest potential. We can achieve freedom without taking up arms. Mackenzie is a great reformer and true populist, but too impatient.”
“Tis a grand vision. Maybe ye should run for political office.”
“I may someday,” Macdonald replied. He signaled for the bill.
Outside in the winter sun’s miserly warmth, Macdonald said, “Be careful what you say. The rebellion has warped common sense.”
“So I’ve witnessed.”
“You do not want Bonnycastle to take an interest in you.”
“Is he trouble?”
“He can be.” Macdonald buttoned his coat. “Richard Bonnycastle is a brevet major in the Royal Engineers, a lieutenant-colonel in the militia, and the current fort commandant. He has great qualities—a visionary in many respects—but he will throw you in jail as soon as look at you if he thinks you are disloyal.”
“I’d best avoid the man.”
“Should you need my help, please ask. My law office is at 169 Wellington Street, two blocks from here. I live on Rideau Street. Ask anyone for directions.”
“Thank ye, John.”
Next morning at the shipyard, Sheay intercepted him on the pier.
“Ryan, I have bad news.”
He read his boss’ grim expression. “I’m sacked, am I?”
“Yes. Tiny told Counter you avoid militia training. To the boss, that’s a sin.”
“I’m sure another shipyard will have me if bloody Counter won’t.”
“I’m afraid not. He put the word out. I’m truly sorry.”
Ryan kicked a stray board into the dry dock and strode away. All day, he hiked the bits of remaining forest and along bleak country roads. Zak rode on his shoulder, cooing occasionally. By night fall, he had a new plan.
The next day, he petitioned the Steamboat Hotel’s proprietor for a job.
“You’re Macdonald’s friend, aren’t you?” In his forties and inch shorter than Ryan, Thomas Bamford was bald, bearded, and going to fat.
“Yes, sir. More importantly, I work hard and don’t drink.”
Bamford grasped the advantage of a bar employee who wouldn’t guzzle his profits. “You can start today, but the bird stays outside.”
“Zak’ll stay outside, if ’tis what ye want. But keeping him inside may be good for yer business. He received much attention when we were here with Mr. Macdonald.”
Bamford chewed his lower lip and examined the floor in thought. “I believe it is worth a try. I’ll fix him a perch near the door where everyone can see him.”
“Thank ye. Zak’ll enjoy that.”
Six days a week, Ryan served customers and cleaned the bar and tavern. Most nights he came home after midnight with a sleepy raven on his shoulder. Ryan’s nose, formerly accustomed to the acrid scents of sawdust and forged iron, welcomed the savory aromas of tobacco and ale. He ate well. Chatter filled the air and men left newspapers behind. He eavesdropped on conversations and read all the latest rebellion news.
With the military on full alert and the headlines warning of doom, Ryan believed Kingston’s anxiety level had reached its peak. Yet, one name, Bill Johnston, seemed to double it. In early January, newspapers reported he joined Mackenzie’s raiders.
To anyone who grew up on the St. Lawrence River’s shores and islands, Johnston—smuggler and War of 1812 privateer—was a living legend. It was said that no man knew the Thousand Islands better than he. For a generation, local parents had raised children on apocryphal tales of Pirate Bill, a pistol-packing bogeyman who stalked into people’s rooms while they slept. Mothers warned naughty boys he would come for them unless they behaved.
Now Pirate Bill had joined the Patriots.
Alone in the hotel’s common room in mid-January, Ryan whistled an Irish folk melody while he wiped the bar in preparation for lunch. After three weeks on the job, he had put on weight and kept a growing money stash in a sock at the cabin.
The tavern door banged shut. “Croc! Rrok!” Zak warned.
Tiny and his two thug companions sauntered to the bar, leaving trails in Ryan’s newly raked sawdust. Sober and smiling, Tiny ordered ale.
Ryan’s eyes narrowed. An adrenaline rush tingled his fingertips. He rose on the balls of his feet. “I’ll see yer money afore ye see any drink.”
Tiny drew a blade from his belt. “I want that ale now.”
Two feet of wooden bar top separated the three burly men from Ryan. His eyes flicked down to a bread knife lying on a shelf below the bar. Judging by Tiny’s tobacco-stained, I-dare-you grin, the thug guessed Ryan had a weapon at hand. Ryan knew if he grabbed it, Tiny could claim self-defense in a fight.
“If I don’t see my ale soon, I’ll come and help myself.”
“The hell ye will,” Ryan hissed.
All four men flinched at the metallic click of a pistol hammer being cocked. Framed by the kitchen door, Bamford aimed a flintlock at Tiny’s ample chest. “There’s no service for you. Out!”
Tiny sheathed his knife. “I know lots of places a man can drink in this town without having to wait on some Patriot hothead.”
“I’m not a Patriot!”
“Then, why do ya never report to the militia?” Tiny doffed his hat to Bamford in mock respect and exited with his two friends.
“Is that true?” Bamford asked. “You haven’t done your militia duty?”
“I am going out this Sunday afternoon. Come with me. The training is not rigorous.”
“I am sorry, but I cannot.”
“I’ll ne’er bear arms for England. I can’t salute British officers and call them sir.” Ryan slapped the bar with his hand.
Bamford cocked his head. “Why are you so angry with the British?”
“Under the British, we Irish suffered hundreds of years of being servants in our own house.” Ryan’s voice rose as he spoke. “They kept us poor and ignorant so the English might rule and prosper. My grandfather couldn’t attend school because the Penal laws forbade it. My father had to pay a huge tithe to the Anglican Church each year, though it was nary our religion. I could talk for hours on the subject.”
Bamford chewed his lower lip, composing his words. “This is a new land with new opportunities. You must leave the old troubles in the Old World.”
“You have a future in Kingston and good prospects at this establishment, but those blessings have a price. You must help defend the colony.”
“Then I can’t employ you any longer. I’m sorry.”
Outside the inn, fat flakes of falling snow announced winter’s late arrival. With Zak on his shoulder, Ryan hurried to Macdonald’s law office.
Inside, he found the young lawyer reading documents at an oak desk. Light pine boards covered the floor and ceiling. Maroon wallpaper gave a somber feel to the room. Several stuffed chairs filled the corners. The air held the sharp scent of lamp oil.
“Ryan, what is wrong?”
“Bamford sacked me because I won’t attend militia training. Tis the second time that fat snitch Tiny has done me in.”
“No one in this town will hire you if you maintain your recalcitrant attitude to militia duty. Every able male must serve. I do. I was in Toronto fighting against Mackenzie’s rebels in December. Tiny may inform Bonnycastle. He could jail you.”
Ryan’s jaw tightened. His right foot tapped a staccato beat on the pine floor. Zak shuffled nervously on his shoulder and cooed softly.
Elbows on the desk, Macdonald clasped his hands together. “The future is more important than the present, Ryan, because it lasts longer. I always wanted to be a lawyer, marry a good woman, and have children. What do you want?”
“To become a shipbuilder or a farmer, maybe both. A wife and wee ones, too.”
“Then, as your attorney and friend, I urge you to swallow your pride and attend militia training.”
“I will not!” Ryan shouted.
Macdonald gaped, nonplussed at Ryan’s intransigence.
“I want to be left alone. If not here, then Kingston be damned.”
“Where will you go?”
“If this country won’t let me live in peace, I’ll canoe to America.”
“It is too late to cross. I saw ice forming along the shore this morning.”
“I’ll go as far as I can and winter in the islands, if I must. The Algonquins taught me how to live off the land.”
Macdonald rose, his fingertips touching the desk. “That is utter folly. You have not experienced a Canadian winter. The coldest day in Ireland is balmy by comparison.”
“If I freeze, ’twill be as a free man. Good-bye to ye, John.”