The Topher

by Graham Cotter

Chapter Five

Restless Night

Illustration by Audrey Caryi

Illustration by Audrey Caryi

“Now, young woman,” the Sergeant said, “We’ll just keep you quiet for a bit and see what that boy has to say when he sees yer!”

Martha was gagged only, not bound; there was hardly any need, so large were her captors, she could hardly escape or do them harm. She looked up at them, then reached over to the table and picked up some cloth she had been sewing when found.

“That’s right,” said the other redcoat, in a voice much like the Sergeant, heavy with Scots accent and breathing. “Be like a gentle person, and you’ll be treated like a gentle person. Be like a rebel and you’ll be treated like one.”

And he grinned at the Sergeant.

“Sewing’s a good occupation for the ladies. Keeps them out of mischief.”

The Sergeant sat down on a bench and looked carefully at his musket. Linda, who had witnessed this scene, decided that for the moment, at least, no harm was coming to Martha. She noted what a cool person Martha was to take up sewing when gagged and threatened by redcoats. Then she left the window, and pushed beyond the yard fence. There she buzzed the signal for Debbie.


At that moment the telephone rang at Scace’s. Thelma came in from her gardening to answer it.

“It’s Mrs. MacAndrew here.”

“Good morning.”

“Yes, well, I suppose it is. I thought you should know your young people have been around here.”

“The girls? Well that’s where I knew they’d be.”

“Well, yes, the girls were here, but are not in sight just now. It’s the young man.”

“Young man? Oh, you mean the Topher.”

“Is that what you call him? Well, yes, I’d call him ‘toper’ if there was any smell on his breath. He’s dead asleep on my couch.”

“Asleep on your couch? What happened?”

“After the girls left, I saw’m standing still a long time, and when I went to him, he fell down.”

“Oh, did he fall off the bicycle?”

“No. As I’m telling you, he fell down. Then I roused him up and brought him in for a cup of tea. Good strong cup I made, and he told me he was camping by Bantytown and that he went with the girls to see the houses around here. Said they were having some kind of game with their — what did you call them — radios again?”

“Walkie-talkies, Mrs. MacAndrew.”

“Well, yes, and when he’d had the tea, without a word, he drooped down on the couch and fell asleep. Sleeping like a baby.”

“I expect he’s tired. From all the heat. The girls keep him going all the time. Do you mind his being there?”

“Not at all.” Mrs. MacAndrew laughed. “It’s a pleasure to help. He’s handsome to look at. But how long do you suppose he’ll be?”

“Oh, he’ll wake when the girls come back. I can call them on the radio if you want.”

“No bother. They’ll see the bicycle outside. Funny though, it’s a girl’s bike.”

“Woman’s, Mrs. McAndrew. It’s mine. I lent it to him.”

“Does he fall asleep at your place too?”

“Not yet,” laughed Thelma. “But there’s always hoping!”

“Well. Mrs. Scace, so long as it’s all right with you, then it’s all right with me.”

“Thank you. Bye.”


Mrs. MacAndrew replaced the receiver jubilantly.

“That Thelma Scace,” she thought. “She’s the one who’s interested in the young man. Wonder if Albert knows. Wait till I tell the bridge club.”

She looked into the living room at the sleeping figure, made a move and then

“No need to put a cover on him on a day like this.” And she went about her business as the Topher slept.


Debbie had been having a good time. It was all she could wish for. She could make naughty faces and rude gestures, and even play with people’s buttons, and be seen by none except by John. And she made sure that when seen by him she was very cool and very important and ready to tell him what to do. She wouldn’t mind if this game went on forever.

John, on the other hand, was suddenly more serious than before. No, not more serious, thought Debbie, he was always serious enough to be silly. It was, well, he was less silly — bolder, not expecting the worst, but taking responsibility. He had done an important thing: he had found out the enemy’s plans and told them to Martha’s uncle and his rebel followers. It didn’t matter much now that he found out through the Little People; he was beginning to be convinced that they were there for his benefit (which they were). So he began to take his place as a man among men.

The company, having reached the end of the lane, were now back on the concession road and gathered together in the yard of a man named Murphy. The various couriers had long since gone to summon supporters to an early mustering to forestall the Major and the redcoats. At the centre of the crowd was Comfort Curtis, his thin face working in excitement as he planned what he could do to the houses and farms of Tory supporters once the militia was defeated.

John stood nearby, his own mind filled with dreams of glory more closely associated with Comfort’s niece. He was so hedged about by Curtis’ admiring audience that Debbie had difficulty getting near him and getting his attention. She had left her bicycle at the back of the house. Her walkie-talkie she carried with her, just in case she needed it. But the crowd was close packed, having been joined by some women and children from this side of Norham. The children made things difficult, because they took up some of the space near the ground where Debbie would naturally crawl. She made her way carefully, not worrying much about touching people, since everyone was touching everyone else in that crowd.

Finally she was as close to John as she could get; a fat man and several children were in her way, wedged together. John’s eyes looked right across her path towards Comfort. Everyone was looking at Comfort. What the thin leader was saying made little difference to Debbie, she was so intent on attracting John’s notice; but there was no way she could do so silently.

Illustration by Audrey Caryi

Illustration by Audrey Caryi


John heard a voice, but thought it was Martha’s, speaking to him in his dreams.

“John!” she was louder now, but quite unheard by any but John. Still he did not look her way. So Debbie took a risk. She extended the telescopic aerial of her radio as far as it would go, and poked past the heads of the children and the belly of the fat man. Up, up it went, till it touched John’s ear. Still no reaction.

It was at this point that Thelma Scace, hanging up from talking on the phone with Mrs. MacAndrew, buzzed the special button which would alert the girls that she wanted to talk to them. Debbie and Thelma’s buzzes were one on top of each other, and the buzzes came just as John, feeling what seemed to be an insect in his ear, reached up and caught the end of the aerial.

He alone of all the crowd, except Debbie, (who was in the crowd but not ‘of’ it) heard the terrible electronic squawk, which had frightened him so much previously. Now it seemed to last twice as long in duration, and the thing his hand grasped tingled with electric power. Debbie, hearing the last buzz, made to pull back the aerial from his reach, but John was no longer the frightened boy she had first met on a damp morning outside his home. John gripped the thin metal firmly, even as it tingled in his hand and his eyes blazed. At that moment, Linda’s voice came over the receiver.

“Debbie! Tell John that Martha’s being held captive by two red-coats, but that she’ll be all right and doesn’t seem frightened. I’m going to find out where the Major and the other redcoats are.”

“Okay Linda! Not so loud!”

At this point John interrupted. He had heard Linda’s voice, and his new personality responded directly to the situation. He bawled out

“Hold! Master Comfort! Don’t send that man to your house alone. For I see with my eye, with my very eye I see, that redcoats are there and have taken Miss Martha,” his voice nearly trembled here, “and wait to hold her hostage. Take other means, Master Comfort, but do not put yer niece in great danger!”

For a moment there was a gasp of silence, then people began to turn on John.

“What you mean you ‘see’ – how can you see?”

“The boy’s mind is turned”

“It never was too strong,” and so forth.

Comfort looked at John’s blazing eyes. He seemed a new person, taller, compelled by some force beyond himself. Comfort saw at once that the boy was
transformed with some power, power such as his own, the power of rebellion on the side of right and justice.

“Hark to that boy! He speaks as he knows. Let no man here scoff. We will continue a plan, but in the meantime, set a careful watch on Sugar Grove of at least five good men.”

Thelma heard the beginning of the interchange– she heard Linda and then Debbie, and she heard John. At that point, Debbie was jostled in the crowd, much to the surprise of the two people who jostled her, for they could not see who they were touching, and the switch went off. But Thelma was still on the line with Linda.

“Girls! Sorry to butt into your game. That wasn’t the Topher’s voice. Whose was it?”

“Oh, Mummy. we’ll explain it all later. We’re Okay.”

“But Mrs. MacAndrew rang up to tell me that the Topher had some kind of fall and is sleeping in her living room.”

“Oh well, he’s not with us. But we’re all right. Please Mummy, I have to hurry now.”

“To find the Major and his redcoats?”

“Yes, how did you know?”

“I heard you tell Debbie. Well, good luck.”

“Thanks Mum, bye. Nancy and Out.”

The radio clicked.

Thelma laughed to herself. What a game it must be! She supposed the girls had worn out the Topher and he had gone to sleep in the heat. Anyway, it would give Mrs. MacAndrew something to gossip about.

But whose voice was the young man’s on the radio? She thought the Topher had apparently been putting one on when she heard the game before. But it couldn’t be the Topher! Well anyway, it sounded like a good game. She wished she were playing something like that, full of imagination and childish excitement. She switched off, making a mental note to listen in once or twice before she summoned the girls home, just to see if they had been able to keep it up.

Linda gasped. She sent her message from just beyond the yard at Sugar Grove, but her mother’s buzz had sounded loud over her receiver as well She knew no one at the house could hear it, but she was nervous of the whole situation. John’s response sounded encouraging, and her mother overhearing it would complicate life later on, she was sure, but at the moment it didn’t matter. She began to be annoyed that the price of having two-way communication with Debbie was that at any time they could be overheard by Mummy.

And what was really the matter with the Topher, sleeping in old Mrs.
MacAndrew’s house? She remembered his signal to her to go away when he was with the gossip in the lane. She shrugged. He must know what he is doing. He wasn’t much use, anyway, unless he could get inside John’s head as he claimed. She would go down the road to Percy Mills, and find the militia.

Back at Murphy’s, Comfort started to send more messengers and post more guards. Five men, Amasa Bronson, and his two sons, and Tom and Sam Tuttie, he sent to watch his own home from a safe distance. John, he insisted, must stay near him. With the fanatical leader’s instinct for power, he sensed power in John. Better to keep him close and use his power.

He turned to the group around him, Emmanuel Ellerbeck, Barnabas Brunson, Robert Graham, and his tall stern brother, John Curtis.

“Friends, if we do battle tonight or early tomorrow we must have
weapons and we must have a flag to rally our folk!”

“Only heads of families would have weapons, Master Comfort, and they are expensive and short of powder and shot. They’ll want to save their ammunition for hunting against wolves.”

“You’ve no worry from wolves in the summer,” snapped Comfort, “unless it’s the wolves from York or Montreal, two legged ones, clothed in red.” “Still, there won’t be more than a dozen firearms among us even if we all come who’ve been sent for!”

“That will be enough! For there’s scarce more than that number of red-coats. And we’ll have all the numbers of the younger men and farm helpers. We should have seventy five, at least, to bear them all down.”

“With their hands and feet?”

“Man, we’re people of the land; we have our spades, our mattocks, hammers, crows and forks. We could stand against them with no shot to fire and win!”

“You’re right brother,” said John Curtis, ” and we’ve told the men we sent about to gather in our friends they were to bring any weapon which would crack a gut or split a belly!”

John Curtis looked around the assembly. While his brother was the acknowledged leader of the rebels, and provided the fiery personality needed to rally folk against the supporters of the Family Compact, it was John who owned the farm at Sugar Grove, John whose daughter was held captive, and John who was concerned for not only freedom, but for order and good citizenship when the rebellion succeeded.

“Brother Comfort, and friends,” he began,” our means of fighting may be poor but our cause is just. We are not a rabble of peasants and roughnecks because we do not all wear a uniform or carry muskets. We must be clear that we fight for the right and that right is on our side, for it was the great Lord Durham himself who has said that we should govern ourselves in this land.”

“Radical Jack! Radical Jack. Hurrah for Radical Jack!” shouted his hearers.

They were not referring to John Curtis, but to John George Lampton, Earl of Durham, British Cabinet Minister and present Governor General of Upper and Lower Canada.

“Thank you. We pray that he will be heard when he returns to Britain. He will be better heard if it’s known that we, not these oligarchs of York” (he pronounced it ‘oily-gawks’ and Debbie had a confused picture of big-eyed, big-nosed redcoats, covered in grease) “who are the true Loyalists. Moreover, many of us and our fathers came from the Thirteen Colonies for our Loyalty to the King. Let’s stand for Lord Durham and Reform, not anarchy and rebellion.”

There were murmurs of “Yes” , “the man’s right” and also some words
such as ‘independence’, ‘rights of the people’. Then Comfort spoke up

“Well said, brother John. We’ll find some of the wives here of Norham
who will sew us a banner. ‘Lord Durham and Reform’ it is!”

It would be stretching the truth to say that the Topher saw and heard all these things through the mind of John. Yet, as he lay on Mrs. MacAndrew’s couch in the hot August weather, he seemed to be asleep and tossing in a restless night through which the images of the events came to him like a jumbled dream. John was always at the centre of his dreams, a new fierce John, a John sometimes confused with the tall dour John Curtis and even, when the farmers shouted it, bearing the name of Radical Jack for a few fleeting moments.

Mrs. MacAndrew, looking at him from time to time, saw no sign of the turmoil in his mind. He lay absolutely still, and, if the girls had been present, they would have recognized something of the serenity of his face when they had first seen him, saying “Om – om – om” to himself in a sleepy drone. But inside him, some great drama was being worked out. John seemed to take from him all his resources and all his concentration. It was not that the Topher could do anything about John. He had done all he could by coming to Warkworth and interfering with John’s passive life and useless picture of himself.

Now that John was taking the initiative in this strange little war of another century, the Topher was some still small point, some passive self-emptying point, of a turning world of events in which he could take no direct hand. The stillness and inactivity was forced upon him bodily, as he slept, but inside his mind there was no stillness. He saw the night pass in Norham, figures scurrying to and fro, but mostly ending up in Stone’s Tavern, that great long house at the intersection of the road to Sugar Grove and the forced road which led over to the place where the girls and John had first watched the redcoats training.

Inside the tavern, in the upstairs room, some women gathered and worked busily with a long banner of red flannel, to which they stitched in white cotton the words of rebellion or “reform” as John Curtis preferred it to be known. In the kitchen, extra supplies were brought out to mix a great porridge, and messengers arrived from time to time with the eggs and cheese to be ready to feed the great crowd expected. Outside, the Topher had fleeting glimpses of some of the messengers and of the arriving rebels, armed with firearms or farm implements as they were able.

For a while there was a closeness and thunder in the air, then both clouds and shadows seemed to run before a fresh western breeze that came over the ridge up by Scaces’, and there was a hint of light in the starry sky as John’s eyes looked up. But the lasting picture, as the Topher sank into a deeper sleep, was of not what John’s eyes saw, but what his mind saw, the imprisoned Martha, waiting to be released, waiting for John.

Fervently, with his last remaining dream consciousness, the Topher willed her salvation.

Illustration by Audrey Caryi

Illustration by Audrey Caryi