A New Species of Tyranny
Elizabeth Coates stirred in her bed. She had been dreaming. In her dream it was a warm spring day. The sun’s rays were streaming down. A comforting breeze lifted the trailing ends of her brown hair and blew it in her face. She reached up to strike it away and it was then she saw him – Jeremy. He was walking toward her, his lean tall form whole and erect. A smile broke across his face and he held out his arms.
“The war is over, Elizabeth,” he told her as she slipped into his embrace. “We have won. Our sons and daughters will walk now in freedom’s light. There is nothing more to fear.”
Her hand found his cheek and then she drew him down into a kiss. His warm lips caressed hers, not bothering to mask the hunger that lingered just behind them. His strong hands crushed her waist, drawing her close.
And then a shot rang out and he was dead.
“Jeremy, no!” Elizabeth screamed, rearing up in the bed.
“Hush, hush,” a familiar voice spoke. “I’m here. I am safe, as are you.”
She gasped and then she saw him, sitting in a chair close by her bed. Jeremy’s golden hair was awash with the light streaming in through her window. His face was ineffably sad.
It had not taken long for news of the massacre to reach Chester. Goodwife Camden had been so overcome she had gone to her bed. Two days had passed since then and still she had not left it.
Elizabeth reached out and gripped Jeremy’s hand even as she leaned back on the pillows. The night before he had come into her room near six in the morning. For the longest time he stood, simply looking at her. Then he had done a strange thing. Without a word, he had slipped onto the bed beside her and wrapped her in his arms.
That too seemed like a dream.
“Jeremy, all those men…” she began as tears entered her eyes.
“They will be avenged,” he said with uncharacteristic savagery.
He scared her sometimes. They all did. “General Wayne?” she asked. Last night they had not known if he survived.
“He lives, though he is deeply grieved. He takes the blame upon himself.”
She smiled sadly. “That seems to be a constant with great men.”
In a burst of anger, he pulled his hand free. “Surely you would not put me in that category. I did nothing but follow in the wake of others who blazed the trail.”
“General Lafayette lives because of you.”
“After I had put him in danger!”
“Jeremy Larkin!” Elizabeth snapped, truly angry with him. “The British will be more than happy to beat you to within an inch of your life. You need not do it for them!”
He froze. After a moment, he shook his head. “It is so hard, Elizabeth, to go on after all that has happened.”
She patted the bed beside her. “Sit down.”
His look was wary. They had been here before. Not too many days back. “Why?” he asked.
“I like the feel of you beside me?” she offered, and then laughed as he blushed red.
“You were awake?”
She nodded. “Now, come here. Put your arms around me like you did yesterday night.”
With a glance at the door, he surrendered and did as she asked. There was no need to worry. The only one in the house – other than Goodwife Camden – was Henry, and he would not question her chastity.
As Jeremy slipped in behind her, she asked, “General Lafayette is safe, yes?”
“If being held prisoner by a very irate George Washington counts as safety,” Jeremy admitted with a laugh.
“The men who meant to harm him, and you, are dead or gone?”
“Aye. Tome is dead. Israel Spencer will hang. Their men are held in irons.”
“And Nysell Hawksworth?”
That had been the one bright moment since Paoli. Sergeant Boggs’ soldiers had over taken the Hawkstrike just as it weighed anchor. After subduing the Redcoats who guarded the shore, they had boarded the packet ship and taken Nysell Hawksworth and his remaining men into custody. Hawksworth would be tried for treason along with his lieutenant and most likely executed. His secret identity as Yankee Doodle was safe.
“Hawksworth will pay for his sins, and his crimes. I am not sad for it, except for my father and Miranda. I have gained my father’s life. She will lose hers.”
Elizabeth knew that Jeremy had not yet visited his father, though he had sent word that he was safe. Henry had told her when he checked on her that morning that Jeremy had explained he was being detained by Washington’s army in order to give testimony against the men who had taken him.
“So that threat is ended.”
“Aye,” he said quietly.
“Henry says Isak mourns his friend.” She felt his form stiffen. “Jeremy?”
“Nazarus Tome would have killed you. And my father. He almost killed General Lafayette. And in a way, was responsible for the wounding of both Scipio and Joshua Reynolds. His death was just.”
She had heard the tale of Joshua Reynolds and Miranda from Jeremy’s father when he had visited her. The older man had been beside himself since he had let General Lafayette escape. Samuel Larkin had explained how Miranda had chosen to forsake her blood for the man she loved. Something she could understand.
“How are they? Scipio and Joshua?”
“Mending. Joshua will be longer at it. At least his sacrifice has given him peace when it comes to the mistake he made.”
“And what mistake was that?” she asked.
“It is not important now.”
She let that stand. She’d ask Henry later. “Miranda is with him?”
“Aye,” he answered again. “They will marry as soon as he is well.”
Elizabeth was silent a moment. “It seems there are men who see the purpose in that in such times as these.”
She squeezed his fingers. “Hush. I am only jesting. So you see, it is not so dark. Providence has not forgotten us, or the Cause. God’s hand is best seen in the smallest things. Once the night has fallen, the dawn will surely come.”
He was silent a moment. “Sergeant Boggs thinks Philadelphia will fall within the week. The British will winter there in luxury. Our men will be consigned to huts at the Forge where there is little food. They have no shirts. No shoes.”
“Perhaps something good will come of it.”
Jeremy shifted. He laid his hand on her head. “You simply refuse to despair.”
“Someone has to. Without hope, we are lost.”
At that moment the door to her room opened and Henry poked his head in. His cheeks turned beet red when he saw them. “Pardon me, I didn’t…. I couldn’t… I’ll be downstairs,” he finished as he pulled the door to.
Elizabeth laughed. “What do you suppose he thinks we are up to?”
Jeremy turned her head and kissed her on the lips.
Lafayette shifted and sat up straight, drawing himself as much to attention as he could in his invalided state. The tall white-haired man who had entered his tent held his hand up and shook his head, setting him at ease.
And then George Washington sank into the chair opposite him.
They had spoken briefly the day before when he had been brought to the camp. That had been the day that the news of the massacre had reached them. Since that time the commander-in-chief had been occupied with other far more important matters than the health of his youngest major-general. In one swift, decisive blow the British had changed the focus of the current campaign from that of hopeful offense to deliberate defense. The last two weeks had aged the tall Virginian. The last vestiges of color had fled his hair, leaving it pure as the snow that was soon to fly. His blue eyes were haunted and defeat was etched in every line of his aging face.
Lafayette remained silent, allowing his mentor a moment of peace.
At last Washington stirred. “How are you, Gilbert?”
“Fit as Messier Jefferson’s fiddle,” he boasted.
commander knew it immediately as a lie. “I
have had my fill of being told what I want to hear.
In truth, how are you?”
“Pardonnez moi. I did not wish to add to the burdens you bear.”
“I said I wanted the truth, Gilbert.” At his look, he added with a weary smile, “Is it not more that you do not wish to end up with the brothers in Bethlehem, out of the action.”
Lafayette shrugged. “That too,” he admitted sheepishly.
“It is where you belong.”
“Non. I belong here. At your side.”
That was almost more honesty than the older man could bear. Washington rose and walked to where the tent’s rear flap had been drawn back and tied to allow the air to move through. He stood there, staring out at the rising day for nearly a full minute before speaking. “I want you here with me, my dear Marquis. But whole.” He pivoted then and pinned him with those ice blue eyes. “You are no good to me fevered and in pain. The doctors tell me the Brandywine wound is as yet unhealed. And now there is this new one.” Washington paused and then added, his tone that of a father remonstrating a favored child. “Gilbert, you must learn to take more care. I do not want to send you back to that charming wife of yours in a box.”
To that, Lafayette had no reply.
Into the uneasy silence that descended, a soft sound came. A voice called from just without the tent, seeking permission to enter. Lafayette recognized it. He answered in the affirmative and waited as Scipio stepped in. When the mulatto saw – and recognized – the tall white-haired man with him, he nearly fainted.
“Forgive me, sir. I…I just came to see if you needed anything,” he stuttered.
George Washington turned and leveled those same blue eyes on the terrified young man. “Scipio, isn’t it?”
Scipio seemed surprised that the Virginian remembered his name. “Aye. Sir.”
“How has the Marquis been treating you?”
Again, Lafayette sensed the young man’s bewilderment. Scipio’s eyes darted to him and back. “As a friend.”
“Ah.” The commander-in-chief nodded. “As it should be. I hear you distinguished yourself in the matter of Captain Tome. Sergeant Boggs has recommended you for commendation.”
The mulatto actually blushed. “I don’t deserve anything special.”
“Nonsense. You were willing to give your life to protect your master. That goes above and beyond.”
Lafayette winced at the word, even though Scipio seemed to accept it now – almost as if it was something to be proud of.
“Thank you, sir,” he replied. Then, as Washington turned back to the scene outside the tent, Scipio repeated his earlier question. “Is there anything I can do for you, General Lafayette, before I turn in?”
“Non. You have done more than enough. Sleep well, my friend.”
Scipio was once again attired in his crisp continental blues. The regulation boots he wore were an old pair of his. The mulatto clicked the heels together smartly and saluted before exiting.
“He’s a good boy,” George Washington remarked a moment later, almost to himself.
“He is not a boy. He is a man,” Lafayette protested quietly.
His general frowned at him. “I meant no disrespect. I admire his courage and his devotion to you. Every master should have such a slave.”
“General, I mean no disrespect – ”
The older man raised his hand again. “I know you do not approve.”
“Non. I do not understand. How can one man own another?”
“Gilbert, we are all owned by something – power, money, or by those who wield them. There is a natural…order to life. There are those who have much and others who have little, and it is the solemn duty of those who are blessed to care for others who are not. If we did not feed these men they would starve.”
“They are starving, mon general, for freedom. They do not want to be cared for. They want to be free to take care of themselves.”
not your own Virginia declaration proclaim that ‘all men are
by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights…
including the enjoyment of life and liberty…and pursuing and obtaining
happiness and safety.” He had
read it. The document was masterful.
“Why does this not pertain to Scipio?”
“He is not – ”
He watched a slow crimson creep into his mentor’s cheeks.
Washington was, he knew, struggling to master the rising tide of his
anger. A moment later, when the
Virginian opened his mouth, Lafayette expected to feel the sting of it.
Instead he found the color rose not from rage, but from shame.
“You humble me, Gilbert. You
are right. There is nothing I can
do about it. Nothing any of
us can do. But you are right.”
Washington returned to the chair he had occupied, dropping heavily into
it. For several heartbeats, he said
nothing. Then he turned his cool
blue eyes on him. “I have watched
the black men, slave and freed, fight with the ferocity of tigers against the
British. The battles for Long
Island and New York, White Plains, none of these could have been fought
without them. I have seen them act
as spies and teamsters, guides and militiamen, and I cannot honestly say I have
found them deficient in anything.”
“And yet you banned them from fighting in the beginning.”
He nodded. “I was wrong.
And I think that will be proven over and over again before this war is
ended. Other men fight for their
own rights and freedom. The black
man, he fights because he loves liberty – even knowing it will be denied
“You do not think this war will bring liberty for all men?”
“In time. You are young,
Gilbert. Able to adjust to new
ideas quickly. Willing to
take them in and make them your own. We
old men do not change so easily.”
“You are not old.”
Washington flashed his closed-mouth smile.
“Oh yes, I am. It will not
be long before the earth is drawn over me.
The men in my line are notoriously short-lived.”
“Merci Dieu! Do not
say such a thing. God would not be
“I have been given much, my young French friend.
Much is expected of me. I do
not think Providence will call me before this war is ended.
After that, we shall see.”
They fell into another silence, occasioned by the sober thoughts of each.
In the end it was Lafayette who broke it.
“I have decided to give Scipio his freedom.”
Washington glanced out the door and then back at him. “You can’t.”
“Pourquois? You do
not mean to prevent it?”
“No.” Washington rose to
his feet and crossed to his side. He
placed a hand on his shoulder. “It
is already done.”
Jeremy left Elizabeth sleeping and went to look for Isak. He found him standing at the foot of a rude grave which had been dug on the outskirts of John Coates’ farm. Nothing marked it. In a few months no one would even know it was there. Elizabeth had explained that Isak had asked for Nazarus Tome’s body, and she had given him permission to bury him there. She didn’t think her uncle would mind.
Nazarus, after all, had been a Tory.
Jeremy had said he understood, but he didn’t. Tome’s body should have been left for the carrion birds to devour as had been done with so many at Brandywine, at Paoli; his soul consigned for eternity to mining the same patch of sulfurous brimstone as Major-general Charles ‘no flint’ Grey.
For the longest time Isak didn’t know he was there. The blacksmith stood with his head down as if deep in prayer. It was a bitter day. The wind carried the promise of a harsh winter to come. When Isak turned toward him, there were tears in his eyes. Jeremy told himself it was the breeze.
But he knew it was a lie.
“Jeremy,” Isak said, acknowledging his presence. “You want something?”
“To see if you are all right.”
“Yeah. Yeah,” he replied with a nod, “I’m all right.”
“I’m sorry about your friend.”
Isak’s deep brown eyes narrowed. “Don’t lie, Jeremy. No, you’re not.”
“Yes, I am. Sorry for your loss. Though I am not sorry he is dead,” he added with brutal honesty.
“You didn’t know him before. And you can’t understand what made him what he was. No white man can.”
“Isak, we are all men – ”
“But we are not all equal. You didn’t lie about Naz. Don’t lie about that.”
Jeremy was silent a moment. “Has this come between us?” he asked, fearful that it had. “I thought we were friends.”
“We are, and there’s a reason for that. When I look in your eyes, Jeremy, I find nothing there that tells me I am any less a man than you. Nothing tells me I don’t belong. I’m not good enough. But that’s a rare thing, Jeremy. Rare even here in Chester. A freed black may not be a slave, but he’s not a man either.”
“This is not the south, Isak.”
“No, but if we win this war, it is the south that will be in control, and the north won’t care enough to fight them. Don’t deny it! Look who has run everything so far. Lee. Jefferson. George Washington. How many slaves do you think they have between them? Four hundred? Five? Black men and women are the grease that keeps the wheels of the plantation system rolling. They’ll never let us go.” Isak turned back to the freshly dug grave. “Naz knew that. He just couldn’t accept it.”
“He meant to kill Elizabeth and my father.”
Isak nodded. “I know. And wrongs don’t make right. Just try to understand, Jeremy. Naz thought of himself as a man, fighting for his brothers. For the future of his wife and children. For his people, so they could be free.” The blacksmith turned back to face him. “Was he so different from you and me?”
Jeremy thought about it a moment. Then he shook his head. “This is one I think you and I will have to agree to disagree on.”
Isak stared at him a minute, then he crossed to his side. “That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Choices. You and me, able to make our own.”
“It is why I fight. How I go on,” Jeremy answered honestly.
Isak placed a hand on his shoulder. “Me too. Now, come on, friend, let’s go home.”
- end -