A New Species of Tyranny

 

        Chapter Five

 

            Lafayette sighed.  He had been sitting in his chair for hours.  He leaned back and tossed the letter he held onto the growing pile.  Information and counter-information.  Truths and half-truths.  Lies.  How was one to know what to believe?   He had been chided by General Washington for his reliance on spies, and he was beginning to think the older man was correct in his opinion.  In the beginning it had seemed a game, something like his escape from France, but now, after Brandywine and his first taste of blood – both his and his men’s – the game had become a deadly one.

            Why could nothing be simple?

            He groaned and ran a hand along his leg.  The wound was pulsing with his heart, driving pain along both nerve and bone.  The surgeons insisted he go to the hospital and lay there until it healed sufficiently.  The inaction would have driven him mad.  And so he refused and had returned to his camp, and then made the judgement call that had gotten Jeremy Larkin’s brother killed. 

            He missed Robert.  He had been a good man.

            “General?  Is it all right if I turn down your bed?” a voice called softly from the doorway.

            He nodded but made no answer as Scipio entered the tent and went about his duties.  Several minutes passed while the mulatto tightened the sheets on his army issued bed and then turned them down perfectly.  He checked all the candles and put a fresh one in the lantern on his desk.  He made certain the pewter pitcher was filled with water, and that there was a fresh cloth by the bowel for his morning ablutions.  Then he came to his side.

            “Is there anything else I can do for you, General?”

            Lafayette looked up at the him.  Scipio was young.  He would have placed him at seventeen at most.  He was not handsome, but had what his grandmother would have called ‘noble’ features – a high brow, deep wide eyes, and an expressive mouth.  When he had first come to him, he had been dressed in rags.  Now he wore a plain suit, cut to his figure, of a cloth akin to the blue of their Continental uniforms with a pair of dun colored breeches.  Scipio was a puzzlement to him.  He had not known what to do when the city fathers had presented the light-skinned black man to him as a gift.  General Washington had been there, looking on with approval; his own slave and man-servant, Will Lee, by his side.  The members of Congress for the most part had applauded the gift as a magnanimous gesture.   Many of them, he knew, had dozens of slaves.  It just hadn’t seemed right to say ‘no’.

            Besides, if there was something wrong with the institution, how could these men support it at the same time they fought so ferociously to be free?

            “Are you happy here, Scipio?” he asked suddenly.

            The young man looked confused – and a little frightened.  “Yes, sir.”

            “You are well treated by those in the camp?  No one has given you trouble?”

            “No, sir.”

            Lafayette frowned.  His men called him ‘sir’, so was there anything wrong with that?  Sergeant Boggs put out his clothes and prepared his bed.  His French aides performed other menial duties.  He had not been tended to hand and foot in France as were the more moneyed nobles, but he had been taught by his grandmother that servitude made one closer to God than being the master.  A rich man, after all, had more trouble getting into Heaven than his slaves –

            Did he not?

            He realized Scipio was staring at him, looking as confused as he was.

            “Forgive me.”

            “There isn’t anything to forgive.  You treat me well.  Better than most.”  The mulatto winced, as if he had said something out of turn.  “Sir.”

            “Do not fear to speak your mind, Scipio.  You are a man, with feelings and thoughts.  I value them.”

            “You do?”

            If the look the mulatto gave him had not been so pathetic, he might have been inclined to laugh.  As it was, he felt like weeping.  Oui, I do.”

            Scipio studied his feet for a moment and then asked, “Can I go now, sir?”

            “Oui.  Oh, Scipio?” he called as he reached the door.

            “Yes, sir?” he asked, turning back.

            “Is there anything you need?  Anything I can get for you?”

            Words formed on his lips, but reticence – or fear silenced them.  “No, sir.  Goodnight, sir.”

            “Bonne nuít, Scipio.” 

            Ten minutes later he was still sitting in his chair. 

            The lantern on his writing desk burned brightly, providing a false sense of remaining day.  Outside the camp was settling into night.  He could hear music and low voices.  The scent of coffee roasting on a fire drifted through the tent’s opening making his mouth water.  Restive, Lafayette rose from his chair and began to pace, troubled by the contradictions he found in his adopted country –

            And in himself.

            Until someone called out, “Sir?”

            Lafayette halted where he was.  He looked and found one of Nazarus Tome’s men had stepped into the tent.  When the black captain had departed hours before with Isak and Jeremy, he had left a small contingent of soldiers behind in the camp, saying he would return for them once the Hawkstrike came into harbor.  What was this one’s name? 

            “Corporal Ellis,” he said at last.  “Judas Ellis, is it not?”

            “Yes, sir.”

            “What can I do for you?”

            “It’s Captain Nazarus.  He’s been wounded.”

            Lafayette was instantly alert.  “Wounded?  When?  Where?”

            “He was looking for the ship, down near the channel at Chester.  Someone shot him from a distance.  He managed to sit his horse and made it nearly to camp.  We can’t move him.  He says he has information that he must impart to you and you alone.  You’ll have to go to him, sir. 

            Lafayette frowned as he reached for his coat.  “And why is that?”

            “The captain only said we have a double agent in the camp.”

            Spies and counter-spies, he thought as he slipped into his uniform  “Does this have to do with who shot Jeremy Larkin’s father?” he asked.

            “I wouldn’t know, sir.”

            “Very well.  Have one of your men summon the surgeon.”

            “Already done.”

            He stopped and looked at the man.  “I will need an attendant.”

            “Scipio’s here, sir, talking with one of my men.  Will he do?”

            The Frenchman started to say, ‘No, he will not’, but then thought better of it.  The young mulatto had guarded him admirably during the Brandywine debacle, aiding in his removal from the field after he had been shot. 

            “Oui.  Tell him to take up a rifle and we will go.  Is it far?”

            “No, sir.  Maybe fifteen minutes walk.”

            As he slid his gold and ivory French pistol behind his belt, Lafayette felt a pang of conscience for not informing Sergeant Boggs of what he was doing.  But there was really little choice.  He had put the frontiersman in charge of Jeremy’s father for a reason – Daniel was one of the few men he trusted implicitly.  And if he did inform his aide of where he was going – out into the wilderness, at night, to speak to Captain Nazarus who had just been shot by some sort of a sniper – well, he wouldn’t be going.  Boggs would stop him.

            Non.  It was better to let it alone.  He would be back shortly anyway.

            “The surgeon’s ready, sir,” the black soldier announced. 

            Lafayette could see the older man through the tent’s opening, standing with his medical kit in hand.  He nodded and then followed Corporal Ellis out, and together they entered the trees.  Four more of Ellis’s men fell in with them as they marched, making their party eight.  The corporal told him that, besides the wounded Nazarus, there were at least a half dozen more from his company who had gone ahead to guard the fallen spy and keep watch.  So they were well-equipped to deal with any mischief the British might have laying in wait. 

            Some twenty minutes later Corporal Ellis held up his hand and announced, “We’re here.”

            Lafayette stopped with Scipio by his side.  The camp surgeon lingered a few steps behind them.  The Frenchman looked around puzzled.  There was nothing there. 

            “Where is Captain Nazarus?” he asked.

            “On the deck of the Hawkstrike, I would imagine,” Ellis answered.  “It anchored in Chester harbor earlier tonight.”

             “What?  He is on the ship?  But you said he was here, and wounded.”

            “That’s right, I did. Didn’t I?”  Corporal Ellis’ upper lip quirked unpleasantly as he drew his own weapon.  “I lied.”

             Lafayette’s hand moved toward his.

            “I wouldn’t do that, general.  Not unless you’d like a dozen holes in that fancy French hide of yours.”  As Ellis spoke, an army of black men emerged from the shadows of the trees and formed a loose circle about them; their weapons pointed at him.  “Now, put the pistol down and kick it toward me.”  The black man waited until he had complied and then turned to the surgeon.  “And as for you, doctor, I’m afraid we no longer have need of your services….”

            Another of the soldiers came up close behind the doctor and placed a hand over the older man’s mouth.  As the surgeon struggled to escape, there was a glint of steel, and then he jerked.  The man holding him waited until he had stopped thrashing, and then stepped back to let his body fall to the ground.

            “Pryam, dispose of that!” Ellis commanded.  “And you,” he told another, “bind the frog.”

            “You will not get away with this,” Lafayette warned him even as his arms were caught and fastened with ropes tightly behind his back.  “The camp will wake to the fact that I am missing soon.”

            “Oh, we don’t care if they know your are missing.  In fact, we want them to.  We just don’t want them to find you.  At least, not too soon.”  Corporal Ellis stepped over the pistol where it lay in the grass.  Lafayette held very still, but showed no fear as the black man drew closer.  Unfortunately, he could not say the same for Scipio.  The mulatto fell back at Ellis’s approach, as if uncertain of what to do.  When Ellis halted, he turned and addressed Scipio.  “You need to decide who you’re with, slave.  Your French master here, or us.”

            “Jude, we got the wagon ready,” one of his men called.

            “Wagon?  Where are you taking us?” Lafayette demanded.

            “You’ll find out,” Ellis answered.  “Well, Scipio, what’s it to be?  Do I bind your hands and put you in the back of the wagon with the one who owns you, or do you join us, as a free man?”

            Lafayette glanced at the young man.  Scipio’s hands shook where they gripped his rifle.  He looked at him and then at Ellis, and then stepped back and merged into the circle of soldiers.

            Ellis sneered.  “Gag the frog, and toss him in the back.”

            Lafayette considered his options.  There were nearly a dozen weapons trained on him.  Behind each was an angry black face.  He glanced at the surgeon’s body, growing cold on the wet grass, and reminded himself that they were killers.  Still, it seemed Ellis needed him for something.  Somehow he didn’t think it would suit the villain’s purposes if he was dead.

            With a prayer to his dear Adrienne’s beloved virgin mother, he struck out, kicking the corporal in the stomach and knocking him back several feet.  Then he pivoted and ran.  He might have made it if his leg had been mended, or if he had not hesitated to make certain that Scipio was out of the line of fire.  Or if he had been right.

            But he wasn’t.

            As a musket ball tore into his shoulder Lafayette gasped and spun.

            And the world went dark.

 ###

             Sergeant Daniel Boggs stepped out of the surgeon’s tent.  He hadn’t seen the medical man for some time and was thinking about looking for him.  Jeremy’s father was restless, though it seemed he had passed through the crisis of fire and come out alive.  But that wasn’t what had roused Boggs from his seat.

            No.  That would have been the sound of gunfire.

            “Private!” Boggs called, catching the attention of the closest soldier.  “What was that?  A shot?”

            “Yes, sir.  Must have been one of the sentries.  Private Blake is on his way now to see.”

            “I suppose so.  But what’s he shooting at – rabbits or men?” Daniel asked with a grin.

            “The pot’s pretty empty, Sarge.  I vote for the rabbit.”     

            Boggs laughed.  “Wouldn’t we all.” 

            He glanced toward his general’s tent where it lay across an open field on the other side of the camp.  A light burned brightly within.  Since Brandywine sleep had come hard to all of them, but even more so to the young Frenchman who felt responsible for the loss of those who had been in his command – especially Robert Larkin. 

            “Private Rennie, isn’t it?” he asked the young man. 

            “Aye, sir.”

            “Keep guard here, son.  Come and get me if the man within wakes.  But otherwise, don’t leave this post until I return.”

            “Sir!” Rennie answered with a smart salute.

            Sergeant Boggs stifled a sigh.  Earlier he had groused that he hadn’t signed up in Washington’s army to play nursemaid.  It irked him to be ordered to inaction.  Still, he understood why Lafayette had given him the assignment.  He trusted him, and right now the Frenchman was not sure just who else he could trust.  The general had a suspicion which he had not shared that the attack on Mayor Larkin was actually aimed at Jeremy, and that someone – perhaps in the camp itself – might have betrayed his secret identity to the British.

            As he approached the general’s tent with its steadily glowing light, Daniel Boggs laughed.  Who was he to complain about being a nursemaid?  After all, wasn’t that why General Washington had sent him here?

            Stopping just outside the tent’s opening, he called, “General?  Sir, may I come in?”

            Silence greeted him.

            Maybe the young man was asleep.  “Sir?” he tried again, calling louder.  “Sir?”

            Still no reply.

            Boggs hesitated, unsure.  He’d done it many times before – entered without permission.  It wasn’t like Lafayette was going to take his stripes.  Still, he tried to give the Frenchman as much privacy as he could – Heaven knew he got precious little!  Coming to a decision, Daniel pushed the hide flap aside and ducked, entering the tent.      It was empty.

            The frontiersman stood, puzzled, scratching his head for a moment.  And then he remembered the gunfire.

            “Good Lord!” he exclaimed. 

            The next three-quarters of an hour nearly killed him.  Daniel wanted to fly off into the woods himself, but his duty commanded him to remain in camp where he could coordinate the search and keep watch over Samuel Larkin.  So he sent Rennie running after Blake, and about a half dozen more after him, and then waited for the inevitable. 

It came at half-past eleven as Private Rennie burst through the foliage shouting, “There’s a body in the woods, Sergeant Boggs!  One of the men nearly stumbled over it!”

            He drew a breath and held it.  “Who is it?” he asked, through gritted teeth.

            “I couldn’t tell.  It looked like an older man.  They’re bringing him in now.”

            “Older?”

            The private nodded as Boggs let out the breath.  “Any sign that anyone else was there?”  He thought it wise not to let the men know Lafayette was missing until there was no other choice. 

            “Plenty of tracks, but not much else.  We’ll have to wait for daylight.”

            “Good work, son.  Bring me word when there’s something more.  Dismissed.”

            “Aye, sir.  Oh, sir, I almost forgot.  One of the men found this.”

            The youth pulled a pistol out from behind his belt and handed it to him.  Then he turned and plunged back into the trees.   Sergeant Boggs ran his hand along it, noting the elegant workmanship, the heavily engraved gold barrel and all too familiar ivory butt-plate wedded to a handle of highly polished wood.  It was of French make, just like it’s owner.

            He looked up, searching the endless wilderness with his eyes.

            What was he going to tell General Washington? 

###

             The scent of blood mixed with brine.  The taste of fetid straw on cracked lips.  Something cold biting into his wrists and ankles. 

            With a start, Lafayette returned to consciousness, uncertain of where he was.  Above his head a single lantern hung, poorly illuminating the fetid world he found himself in.  It swung slowly from side to side as if buffeted by a strong wind.  But there was no wind.  There was barely any air.  He coughed and then gagged as he drew in a breath.  The room was small.  Hot.  Stuffy.  And filled with all manner of crates and kegs.  He tried to sit up but regretted it very quickly.  As he moved, a sharp pain in his shoulder reminded him that he had been shot.

            And betrayed.

            Mon Dieu,” he moaned as he rested his head on the filthy floor.

            “I am afraid God has very little to do with the situation you find yourself in, my dear Marquis.” 

            The man who spoke was English.  Lafayette turned his head seeking him, but saw no one.  “Are you a coward?” he called.  “Show yourself.”

            “All in good time, Marquis.  All in good time.  For now, you will make yourself at home.  I am sorry our accommodations are not up to your usual standards.  Still, I would suggest you get used to them.”

            “Who are you?  Why am I here?”  He could see a door now on the far side of the room, faintly illuminated by the light beyond it.  A small window was open in it.  “You are Anglais.  Why have you not taken me to General Howe?”

            “My men and I, we operate somewhat outside normal channels.  When we are done with you, I might give you to Billy.  Then again, I might just kill you.  You see, I can do that.  No diplomatic ties, you know?”

            “So, you are keeping me a prisoner?  For what purpose?”

            “Wouldn’t you like to know?  Just sit back, Marquis, and enjoy the ride.  If you’re lucky – it might take you all the way to England.”

            Lafayette listened to the sound of the man’s laughter as it diminished with his passage down the corridor.  Then, with an effort of will, he managed to sit up.  Fortunately his stomach was empty, or he would have lost everything it contained.  After a moment he tried his chains, hauling against them with all his might.  Even if he had not been weakened by his wound and loss of blood, the effort would have proven futile.  The shackles were heavy and bolted to the floor.  He had seen a set of irons something like them not long ago, binding the hands and feet of a black man in the Carolinas.  The slave had run off to join the British, but been captured and returned to his master.  Major Huger had assured him the master’s claim was just.  Still, it bothered him that the slave had been beaten until his flesh was raw, and that the iron cuffs he wore had eaten into his flesh.  They were heavy on his wrists now, and damned uncomfortable.  

            “Idiot,” he told himself.  “Imbécile!”  He deserved every word the older officers whispered behind his back.  He was green.  Naïve. 

            A fool.

            The sound of a key entering a lock turned his head toward the door.  To his surprise a woman opened it.  She ducked as she entered the cramped space he occupied.  He could not see her clearly but her hair was dark, and she was dressed in what he thought was a gown of deep crimson silk that rustled as she moved.  In one hand the woman held a plate, and in the other a tin cup.  She crossed to him and knelt, placing them just within his grasp. 

            “You’re to eat,” she said as she rose to her feet.

            “Is that an order, Mademoiselle?”

            “Do as you like.  It’s nothing to me,” she answered.  And with that headed for the door.

            “What is your name?” he called after her.

            She had her hand on the latch.  Glancing over her shoulder, she asked, “Why would you want to know?”

            Her accent was unusual, but he had heard it before.  It placed her as coming from the West Indies, though whether British or French, he couldn’t tell.  Still, his father-in-law had holdings in the French Islands, and the sound was similar to the men who worked for him there. 

            “A man does not often have so lovely a jailer,” he answered with a smile.

            “Frenchmen flatter so easily,” she snorted.  “And so rarely mean what they say.  Papa warned me about you.  He said not to listen to a word.”

            “Your father is a wise man,” he remarked quietly.

            The young woman let go of the latch and turned back to look at him.  “Are you really who the men say you are?  That rich Frenchman who’s in all the papers?”

            He could see her more clearly now.  She was young.  Maybe as young as he.  And lovely.  Her hair was a deep burnished brown that shone coppery in the lantern’s light.  Her eyes were pale, as was her complexion; a golden sheen seemed to suggest time spent in the sun.  Her dress was elegant, if a little worn, and was of a deep red similar to a ruby.  About her throat she wore several golden chains and a large cameo held her paisley shawl in place.

            Her boldness when she caught him looking disarmed him, and it was he who blushed.

            “Guilty as charged,” he admitted. 

            “A French Marquis.  I haven’t ever met royalty before.”

            He didn’t correct her – and hid his smile.  “And you would be?”

            She glanced toward the door.  Probably to see if papa had noticed she was disobeying.  “Miranda,” she said as she turned back.  “Miranda Hawksworth.”

            So papa was the owner of the Hawkstrike, the ship due in Chester harbor with its crates of guns and kegs of….

            Lafayette glanced around.  He was on the ship.

            Drawing a breath to steady himself against that reality, he shifted and then let it out.  “Miranda,” he repeated, smiling at her and lifting his hands.  “I don’t suppose you know where the keys are kept?”

            She came close and then knelt beside him, pressing a finger to the iron cuff.  “They hurt, don’t they?” she asked.  Before he could reply, her light hazel eyes widened in alarm as she noticed his shoulder.  “You’re bleeding!”

            “A gift from my captors,” he growled.

            “Papa wouldn’t – ”  Just then there was a sound in the corridor.  Miranda jumped to her feet.  “I have to go!”  At the door she turned back, a frown on her face.  “I’ll bring something for that wound, ” she said

            And then was gone.

            The Hawkstrike, Lafayette thought as he rested his head against one of the barrels, he was on the Hawkstrike.  And that meant he was actually in Chester Harbor.  Jeremy’s home was not far away.  Nor Henry’s shop.  Or Isak’s.  Though for all the good it did him, shackled like a criminal and locked in the hold of the packet ship, the three men – and the hope they represented – might as well have been on the moon.