Bumbling Ben's Burnt and Bitter Tavern

November 20, 2011
The young boy scampered across the field in front of the schoolhouse, excited to learn. His brilliant red hair bounced behind him as he filed in with the other students. “Benjamin Daisy Harrison! Don’t touch that!” hollered the shrill voice of the schoolteacher as she caught him playing with the bell outside the door. A few boys snickered at the sound of his name, feeling lucky to be called something that wouldn’t make people poke fun at them. Throughout the day, Ben stared off into space, out the window, towards the trees lining the field. He longed to be studying those trees instead of the literature of the homeland. There was not enough new literature in the New World to study yet, so there sat Ben, bored out of his mind. As school let out, he scurried home to his father, a man with the same red hair under his dark wig, and a sense of humor he shared with his beloved son. They said a prayer for Ben’s mother before they ate dinner, wishing her well up in heaven. As Ben’s father tucked him into bed, Ben whispered a loving “g-good night.” He took one last look out at the trees in the yard and went to sleep, hoping some things, such as his height or stutter, would change for the better as he got older.

Now, at age forty-three, Benjamin stands at approximately the same height he did at age thirteen. A short man, he adjusts his red knee breeches and matching waistcoat; tying back his flaming hair under the three corners of his hat and looking down the Duke of Gloucester Street. The vibrant reds and oranges of autumn scatter about the street as the crisp morning wind picks them up like tiny tumbleweeds. Ben makes his way down the street to Bumbling Ben’s Burnt and Bitter Tavern to open up shop for the day.

On the way, he encounters a friend of his: Henry Salem, the tobacco plantation owner from just a few miles north of the humble, new town of Williamsburg. “G-good morning, Henry,” stutters Ben, blushing as he walks. “Lovely day we’re having.” Henry agrees, and they continue to make small talk as they make their way to the tavern.

Bumbling Ben’s stands in between a clothing shop and a blacksmith’s; its sharp, angular features setting it apart from the buildings around it. The trade sign advertising the tavern simply pictured a red haired man holding a glass of beer; an attempt at humor while the colony was struggling. The wooden paneling feebly holds up the meek structure of the building. Every time Ben takes a gander at his precious building, he fears for its life, and with it, his. Without the tavern, Ben would have nothing.

Stepping inside, Ben finds no need to light the oil lamps hanging from the walls; the sun streaming in provides nearly sufficient light for the whole tavern. He steps behind the counter and carefully lifts a glass and begins to wash it with an old rag. There is no clean water for washing purposes; his customers will have to deal with having semi-clean dishes.

Having been a few paces behind Ben, Henry steps in. “Fetch me a light beer, will you? I hear the water is getting worse here,” he remarks, glancing around the dimly lit room at the mahogany tables. Ben nods his head in agreement and pours his friend his drink. As he pours, he sees a man walk into the tavern. He has a white powdered wig perched upon his head, royal blue breeches, waistcoat, and coat, and carries a lovely dark chestnut cane. Ben’s eyes widen as he recognizes this man as the Governor of Williamsburg. “G-Governor!” he gasps, “Such a pleasure to see you t-this fine m-morning!”

“Ahh, yes; the weather really is starting to change. I fear this winter will be worse than the last,” the Governor says as he leans against the counter and decides to have a seat. “Would you mind pouring me what this gentleman is having?”

“Why, of c-course!” Ben poured the high ranking man a drink of his own. Next to Ben, Henry pulled out a cigar made from his own tobacco fields. As he lit the monstrous thing, he made conversation with the Governor. “Any news on the Sons of Liberty? I hear they’re planning something drastic.” He took a drag and watched his superior shake his head. “I wouldn’t go around speaking of such things in a time like this.”

“Ahh, Henry; always t-talking about things he shouldn’t.” As Ben joins the conversation, he pats Henry lightly on the arm that happens to be holding his cigar. Pure panic sets in as the three of them watch it fall, all madly grasping for it and failing. As it hits the ground, flames immediately spring up out of the ground; the reds, yellows, and oranges roaring their way across the tavern. Henry immediately takes off for the door, without thinking of his friend and the Governor. Ben begins to sweat; the smoke filling his lungs and choking him as he finds his way out from behind the counter. The Governor sits yelling and reaching for his cane, frantically trying to pull himself out of the chair and finding himself unable to do so. Ben, his heart racing and adrenaline pumping, runs over to the ailing Governor and lifts him up out of the chair. He grabs the cane for him and they limp together out of the burning establishment, all the while yelling and coughing. A crowd stands in the street with Henry at the front, all of them clapping and cheering for Ben and the Governor. Henry stands there in bewilderment, just watching the flames take the building as their own. Ben’s coughing subsides and tears come instead, wracking his shoulders in violent sobs. “T-this is all I have,” he chokes out, “and now it’s gone.”

Henry leaves the Governor’s side and strolls up to his friend with a determined look on his face. Trying to console him, and knowing it was mostly his fault that the tavern is now in ruins, he places an arm lightly around him. “You know,” he started, “my plantation is always open for as long as you need it. My servants will take care of you there, and so will I.” Ben’s desperate weeping comes to a halt and he looks at Henry. He knows what lies on that plantation. There are fields and fields of grass, plants, and trees. The knot in his belly unravels and pools into a puddle of relief and excitement. The Governor stands in awe, obviously thinking about how he just barely escaped death only moments ago. As the crowd slowly starts to go about their own business, Ben and Henry still stand in the street. With Henry’s protective arm around him, Ben looks down the road at his new home, a smile slowly appearing on his tear –streaked face.





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