Episode 5. College!
What a horrendous shock! What a hideous fright! How could they do that to us just three days after we have entered College?
"Take a sheet of paper, your ink bottle and your pen," announces a teacher whose name I did not catch, "and write down all you know about the Boston Massacre." The instructor continues, "I want to know the massacre's date, who did the shooting, who the victims were, and what the consequences were. I shall collect your answers in half an hour."
Half an hour! I don't know enough to fill three seconds, I have never heard about this massacre. He cannot possibly mean the Battle of Bunker Hill last July, he must be talking about something in the past, some hideous slaughter connected with the Boston Tea Party, maybe, but I can't remember anything of the kind.
Oh dear, I shall be summoned by Provost Smith, he will stare at me with his cold blue eyes, his sarcastic smile, and before expelling me he'll say something like, "Well, young Franklin, don't you really know anything? Are you pretending to be a scholar?" All this with the emphasis on 'Franklin,' of course. Settling old debts with Grandfather.
And when Grandfather returns from Cambridge in a couple of weeks and finds me expelled, he'll be so disappointed. He may have to send me to King's College in New York, that hotbed of Tories, as he calls it. Come to think of it, it might not be so bad. I'd like to see New York. I could become a Tory. My grandfather would not like it, of course, but it would bring me closer to my father. In New York, I'd be much nearer to Perth Amboy, my dog, my horse...
A slight pressure on my foot makes me turn toward George, busily writing. A bit of paper bearing a large "70" is aimed in my direction. Seventy what? Seventy victims? Eyes wide, shoulders helplessly raised in the manner of all schoolboys in distress, I point at the 70 and slide a finger across my throat.
"No, no, no," signals George's slightly shaking head. He takes back the paper and writes a 17 before the 70. 1770! That must be the date of the massacre. And the victims? In answer to my repeated gesture of throat slashing, George spreads out his left hand on his desk.
Seeing what must be a dumb look on my face, he raises those fingers one by one. All right George, you've got five fingers. Can he possibly mean five victims? Does that qualify as a proper massacre? He nods "yes" in the tiniest way.
Finding out about the circumstances and consequences is, of course, hopeless. George, I think, is ready to share the rest of his knowledge but the risk is too great and I start writing as slowly as possible, while the others are scribbling furiously:
"I'm afraid that my knowledge of this Massacre is very limited because I was only ten when it happened — around l770, I believe, and I was in Mr. Elphinston's boarding school at that time, in faraway London. If I remember correctly, there were about half a dozen victims. That is all I know at present but I shall be glad to learn more about it."
There! How could they expel me after that pathetic little piece?
George is upset when we meet outside. If I had been ready to pay attention, he would have conveyed more information, he says. He was just trying to figure out the best way to do it. But I didn't want to get him in trouble, I say. He shrugs.
We walk in silence for a bit and then he asks me to come over to his house the following day. I'll meet his family that way and between his father and his grandfather they'll tell me more than I want to know about the Boston Massacre.
— "Do you have a large family, George?"
— "Two older sisters and one older brother, one younger brother and one younger sister. My parents had seven more children but they died as babies. Four baby girls called Elizabeth already died, but now we have a fifth Elizabeth who is turning four this month and we hope she will live, she seems quite healthy. So, you see, I am in the middle of this rather small family."
Small family! How can he say that? Thirteen children born in that family, but only six of them alive. Seven times already they have known the anguish we are now feeling for little Hannah, and they have gone through the final heartbreak seven times. Does one get accustomed to that? Is that Aunt Sally's future?