Authors: Alex Haley
it, not as stealing, but as a contribution to his young master's need.
Under cover of night, Washington and Sara stole to the bam to greet their
brother and wish him Godspeed.
There was no moon to guide them south, but they knew the way, for they
knew all the byways of their county, which was their own, their native
land. Maureen and Jugs waved them on their journey, and took comfort from
each other, and wept, for that was the way of it.
And their country was bleeding. On the morning of the second day, they
saw the bayoneted corpses hanging from trees, and then more dead,
peasants shot in a field. They came upon a father, wounded himself,
carrying his dead son.
"Bastards wiped 'em out," he gasped to no one, or to anyone who might
hear his piteous rage. "Just boys, armed with sticks, all gone, gone."
He staggered on with his awful burden, to take his dead son home to his
mother, who would weep for her lost boy, her only son.
A little farther down the road they saw the bodies of the boys, similar
in age to themselves, white-hooded heads almost severed from their
shoulders, and left for carrion.
They aged, not in years, on their short journey south, but with
experience of the world, and a new kind of passion engulfed them, the
need for revenge.
As they rode into the county of Wexford, they stopped in taverns in all
the villages they passed through, listening for rumors of rebellion, but
the fight they were looking for, the war that they needed, eluded them,
until they came to Boulavogue. They rode toward the town and saw a
platoon of redcoated soldiers marching in that same direction. They
looked at each other and thrilled, and spurred their horses.
In Boulavogue, the people were gathered in the town square, listening to
two priests, brothers, who held carved wooden crosses and a paper.
Father John Murphy and Father Michael Murphy might have been twins, but
were not. Dedicated to the welfare of their parishioners, they had spent
their lives as priests in search of peace, practiced their religion
covertly, and bridged, when they could, the awful gap between the rulers
and the ruled. The local British Commissioner knew of their existence,
but the brothers were useful to him, as mediators between himself and the
people, and on many occasions the priests had been able to calm angry
crowds, and bring order and reason to a disordered world. The riots and
the subsequent bloodshed in the county had shocked the Commissioner, and
he believed that the actions of the military were fomenting rebellion
rather than suppressing it. He had suggested to the brother priests that
if all the citizens signed a petition of loyalty to the Crown, Boulavogue
would be left in peace.
Father John and Father Michael stood before their flock now, and urged
them to sign the petition, for they had seen the disastrous aftermath of
earlier riots, and could not believe that any good could come from the
use of force, if only because the soldiers, although fewer in number,
were~ superbly trained and an-ned. The priests were peaceful men, who be-
lieved that there was nothing that a fight could achieve that a smile
could not, except blood and death and anguish.
Jamie and Sean resisted the powerful simple urgings of the priests. This
was no place for them, and it disgusted them to see that several of the
peasants had already stepped forward and made their mark on the petition.
As they were about to leave, they saw a messenger come gasping into the
town. He shouted out his news. The Commissioner had been replaced;
martial law prevailed. At nearby Dunvin, twenty Catholic peasants had
been mercilessly shot for refusing to denounce their religion. At Camew,
twice that number had died.
Father Michael stared at the man, dumbstruck with pity and horror, and
crossed himself, and murmured prayers for the souls of the dead. His
brother, Father John, lifted the parchment that was the petition high in
the air, and tore it to shreds, to the silent appreciation and
deep-rooted fear of the people.
Then they saw the flames, and the redcoats.
The church at Boulavogue had been boarded up for years, unused by the
clergy since the religion was proscribed. Father
26 ALEX HALEY'S QUEEN
John and Father Michael held their services in barns, or milking sheds,
or ditches, believing that the Holy Spirit was with them wherever any
number, no matter how few, were gathered together. But the church
building, abandoned and rotting, had been a powerful symbol for the
community, and they lived in the hope that one day the edict against their
religion would be repealed, and they could take down the boards, and open
the church, and let the sweet light of day come flooding in.
Now it was burning, torched by the soldiers, who were marching toward
them. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that a fate similar to that of
their cousins in Dunvin and Carnew awaited them unless they renounced
their religion, and this they would not do, They would fight and die if
necessary, and preferred this to abandoning their God.
To everyone's surprise, it was Father John who led the charge. The sight
of his beloved church in flames, the news of the death of so many
innocents who had done nothing more than worship God in their own way,
and defended that right to worship to the death, enraged the gentle
priest. With a cry that came from the very pit of his soul, he grabbed
a stout staff from a man standing near, and ran screaming at the
Where Father John went, Father Michael went, and where the priests went,
the flock followed. All the men in the square grabbed whatever weapons
came to hand, pitchforks and sticks, spades and cart whips, and followed
the priests into the fray.
Sean looked at Jamie in triumph, and both cried out in exhilaration, Sean
in Gaelic and Jamie in English.
"Erin go bragh!"
They leaped from their horses and ran to the thick of the fight,
punching, kicking, wresting guns from soldiers. The women of the town
stood and cheered their men to battle.
The soldiers were surprised by the speed and ferocity of the attack, and
its very unlikeliness, and for the first few minutes, the peasants had
the advantage. But, better trained and better armed, the troops recovered
their wits, and fought back. In hand-to-hand combat, the peasant band
slowly retreated toward the square.
A man fell to the ground, his head cracked open by the butt of a musket.
His wife, who had been praying for him, ran to him, and saw that he could
not live, or perhaps was already dead. Years of repression and anger,
years of hardship, years of brutality by the soldiers now welled up in
her. A banshee cry came from her, and she threw herself at the soldier
who she thought had killed her man, kicking and screaming, tearing out
his hair, gouging at his eyes.
It was a clarion call to the other women. The primal scream that they
heard from the now widowed woman woke the animal in all of them. Like
their men before them, they grabbed anything they could find to use as
weapons-pots and pans, sticks and stones, or just their bare hands-and
they descended on the soldiers like lions in defense of their lair.
The soldiers were astounded. They were trained to fight men, other
soldiers, in fon-nal ranks of order. They were trained to kick and
crucify docile peasants. They were trained to whip and mutilate untrained
youths. But they were not trained to face a screaming, caterwauling mob
Of rampant women out for blood.
It was a rout, and the soldiers fled, to the cheers and jeers of the
people. They fled to regroup, and nurse their wounds, and be harangued
by their officers for letting a pack of women get the better of them.
Most of them lived to fight another day, and would never underestimate
the ferocity of females again.
Not all of them lived. One soldier's neck was broken. Another had a
pitchfork through his heart. Five peasants were dead.
When the soldiers where gone, the cheering died to nothing. The women,
as if appalled by the forces that had been unleashed from inside them,
became docile, and wept for the dead, and for themselves. Their husbands
and sons came to comfort them, and stood with them, thrilled but
apprehensive, for they feared what the soldiers would do in retaliation.
The brother priests stared at one another, and then each looked at his
bloody hands. They whispered together, and began to make plans, for they
had entered, or been dragged into, a strange and frightening new world,
but they knew there was no going back.
Jamie sat on the ground and tended his bloody nose and a
28 ALEX HALEY'S QUEEN
gash on his arrn, while Sean sat beside him, and put a wet cloth to his
blackening eye, and looked at the scratches on his arms and legs. It had
been a good fight, but they felt no sense of jubilation. It was only a
skirmish, and the real battle was yet to come.
The messenger ran. He had seen the fight and bashed a few British heads
with his long, thick pole, and felt a swingeing surge of excitement, for
this was something that was worth the telling, and it was his alone to
He raced from the town, and pole-vaulted ditches and hedges with
breathless, careless speed, to the villages nearby and gasped his news.
Other messengers took up the cry, and soon the county rang with the glad
tidings, that a small group of unarmed peasants, led by two priests, had
defeated the might of Britain.
They left their homes, taking with them what weapons they had, and came in
a trickle at first, and then a flood, to Gorey Hill, not far from
Boulavogue, where the fathers, Michael and John, had made their camp.
Within two days their number was a thousand, and within a week, three times
But on that first night they were only a dozen, the priests and Jamie and
Sean, and eight more, young men eager for battle. The soldiers could have
struck them down with ease, if they had found them, but they did not bother.
They contented themselves with setting fire to a score of peasant cottages,
as vengeance for their defeat. Several of the women who had fought, and a
few who had not, were raped.
Jamie and Sean had cast their lot with the priests because there seemed no
better place to be. The fathers had thanked them, and accepted,
unwillingly, their congratulations. Father John looked at his hands again.
"With my own hands I choked a man almost to death," Father John said. "I am
in fear for my mortal soul."
"But he didn't die," Jamie said, puzzled by the priest's grief.
"No." Father John nodded, but mournfully. "But others will, and I believe
that I will do some of that killing."
He looked at his hands again, as if continually astounded by what they had
done. "I have devoted my life to the healing
grace of God, but it seems He has other plans for me."
Sean took charge, for the priests were not practical men of war.
"They will come again," he said. "We had best find a hiding place."
"Yes," Father Michael agreed. "Are you with us?"
He was only offering shelter, but he had the first two recruits of his
army. The priests led Jamie and Sean to Gorey Hill, avoiding the
soldiers' camps, and to a small shack that they used when the town was
unsafe for them. As the four men wended through the dew-soft evening,
other young men joined them, and made camp on the hill, and, safe in the
night, celebrated, at last, their victory. Some had beer, which they had
stolen and shared, and food given them by their families, for all
understood that it was only the beginning. But it was something. After
years of servility, it was a start on a long road to freedom.
The little group of unarmed, unlikely soldiers who had priests as their
generals sat around the campfire, as soldiers do, after battle, and
recounted the stories of their day and their fight. They relived every
moment of the small battle, and exaggerated their roles in it, and their
own valor, and laughed with love at the reckless women who had probably
saved their lives, although none would admit that.
Jamie had never known such a sense of companionship and, sitting in
Sean's company, felt that he had proved his bravery to the world, and,