The building was small and modest. Innocuous. Built hardly a year before, it's timbers still smelt of pine; John suspected that some of the mortar trapped between the bricks had yet to cure. Made for carpenters, nothing more, nothing less.
John sighed, and wiped the rain from his eyes, peering out over the balcony rail. It was impossible to see anything in this storm. There was the Hall behind him, the rail before him, and beyond that only gray. The torrent from above was, in its roar, somehow silent, and its silence managed to blot out the arguments that surely continued inside.
It was Thomas, of course, who started it. He always did, playing the fool and clinging to his impossible beliefs.
Of course we want to strive for ideals, Jefferson, but what happens when something goes wrong? We need to be realistic.
There was only one man of whom John knew who could make the radical see sense. A man who had worked with their oppressors, and knew exactly what self-governance would cost the colonies. The most anticipated member of the Congress, and he was nowhere to be seen.
John raised his hand to the storm lantern that hung above him, and flipped its shutter three times. After a short pause, two answering flashes shown from somewhere in the tempest.
A faint smile. At least Philadelphia remains untouched.
(But for how long?)
He sighed, and turned to return to the hall. As he passed through the doors, Galloway passed by him. The two men exchanged a brief nod of the head, and Galloway whispered in passing, "If there ever comes a point where reason is again welcome in these walls, have me alerted."
Before he could even begin to wonder what sort of situation could have prompted such a solid man as Joseph Galloway to take his leave of the Congress, John passed into the main room. Without a pause in his ranting, Thomas pointed a finger at John while raging at his cousin. "And you side with him, Samuel? With a man who would defend the Redcoats for the cost of a pair of shoes?"
Instantly, the chamber erupted into a roar of accusation and counterpoint. No semblance of organized debate remained. The few men who crowded around Samuel Adams could hardly speak with the weight of the rhetoric that Jefferson's disciples had almost certainly learned by rote. Others of the man's mob had broken away to abuse John similarly. Samuel himself gave him an accusatory look.
You know I didn't get you into this, dear cousin.
Above it all, though, was Jefferson, standing on a chair with his smug grin boring into John. He knew exactly what he was doing. For a man of such weak character, Jefferson had a remarkable way with words. He had given his followers - supposedly learned delegates - their instructions, and they obeyed them unfailingly. Alone, he was nothing, and he knew it. But now, with forty heads to repeat his views, eighty hands to do his work, he was strong. Your turn, his grin said.
My turn indeed. I may not have your popularity, but I do have one thing.
"The truth," John said. His words were surely lost in the crowd, but someone saw his mouth move. He fell silent. John met the eyes of the man next to the first, and soon he did as well. Soon, a slow ripple of silence resonated out. When there was no sound, John took a breath. Samuel and Jefferson were both watching him, waiting. Neither pair of eyes was friendly.
"The truth," he said again. ""Facts are stubborn things. They persist whatever our wishes. They endure despite your eloquence, Jefferson. And the fact remains that not a single soldier fired on a colonist that day."
An outraged mutter from someone in the crowd.
"The fact remains that while their acts may be intolerable, Britain remains sovereign over us. We have but to remind her of exactly how far that sovereignty extends."
A murmur now rose in the crowd, building like a wave.
"And the fact remains that you all see only what you want to. May I remind you that politics are not our concern. May I remind you, that Britain is not our enemy. May I remind you that we convene in Philadelphia not for convenience or secrecy, but for safety? May I have the audacity to suggest that our Congress could potentially save or destroy the lives of every man, woman, and child in these colonies?"
His last note hung in the air for a moment. Then Jefferson smiled.
"So you propose we fall to our knees and crawl back to our Mother King?"
John opened his mouth to protest, but the crowd was already warming up again. Jefferson remained smiling, but his eyes burned with resentment even at John's very temporary success in stealing away the attentions of his supplicants. Samuel didn't even look at him.
I know all the facts. I say all the right words. But they never listen. They prattle on with their politics while hell itself rises to devour us. We need another Jesus. We need a leader of hearts, another prophet, another pillar to support us.
Where are you, Washington?