A New Species of Tyranny

        Chapter Four

 

            Jeremy was still chewing on that one as he opened the door to his house. 

            He had just bid goodbye to Isak and his friend and watched them ride off toward the blacksmith’s shop.  Watching the two dark-skinned men go, his heart grew heavy.  The fact that General Lafayette owned a slave flew in the face of everything he had come to believe about the young Frenchman.  Lafayette had risked life and limb – and reputation – to come to America because he could not stop himself, he said.  Because he had been swept away by the idea of liberté, by an ardent zeal to help their young country become free.

            And he owned a slave?

            And yet, Jeremy thought as he pushed the door to and headed for the hearth where they kept tinder and steel, intent on lighting a fire, why should he be surprised?  How many of the men whose names were affixed to the declaration of their independence from Great Britain were slave holders?  Why, the very man who penned it had dozens – if not hundreds – of slaves.  It was said that Thomas Jefferson had originally included a passage in the document damning what in England they called ‘the accursed thing’, but it had been shouted down and voted out by his fellow landholders from the southern states.  It pained Jeremy to admit it, but even in Pennsylvania there were plenty of men who held with slavery.  Otherwise the ships bearing their wretched human cargo would not have been captained by New Englanders, nor docked in their ports.  There were many freed black men, like Isak, living in Chester and the surrounding areas.  And yet, if he was honest with himself, just how accepted was Isak?  He had his custom, but that was mostly due to the fact that he was the best smithy in town.

            No, America – if she was to be born in this rebellion – would emerge from the womb a divided country.  Those in the North, for the most part, could not comprehend their brothers in the south.  Nor southerners their northern brethren.  Different forces had formed them.  Different institutions had arisen to keep them alive.  In the north a man labored and gained by the sweat of his brow.  In the south they did not labor, and made their gains by the sweat rolling off another man’s back.

            Including General Washington.

            So why should he be surprised that the young major-general – a nobleman by birth and used to, he would imagine, having his every whim fulfilled, a friend of General Washington and part of his own country’s landed gentry – gave no second thought to owning another human being?  Perhaps he even owned slaves in other places.  The French were thick in the trade, carting more slaves per year than the British did from their homes in Africa.  General Lafayette might even have a plantation or two in the French West Indies.

            Jeremy sighed as he reached for the fire-striker.  That ray of light that had beamed so brightly on Brandywine’s field had diminished in the face of this new knowledge.  Its loss added to the sense of hopelessness that had been rising in him ever since he had found out that his father had been shot.  There were times when he wondered if the struggle was worth it….

            As he struck a spark from the flint, Jeremy gasped.  Someone was seated in his father’s chair.

            He almost dropped the flint, but managed to catch it.  Backing away a few steps Jeremy narrowed his eyes, seeking to pierce the darkness.  It was a man.  He had not stirred, but slept soundly.  He could hear his even breathing now, and was surprised he had missed it before.  It must have been his preoccupation with his thoughts.  Jeremy scowled.  Considering what had happened to his father, being distracted was not the wisest course.  Backing away further still, he used the flint and steel to catch a bit of tinder on fire and then lit a candle.  Raising it, he returned to the hearth and was startled as the golden light struck the man’s supine form to discover that he knew his unexpected guest. 

            It was Henry.

            He must have returned sometime during the day from the hospital at Ephrata.  Considering how exhausted he himself had been, it was not surprising Henry had slept through him opening the door and missed his light footsteps.  Now Jeremy hesitated, uncertain if he should rouse him. 

            Then he noticed the blood.

            Henry’s clothes were caked in it, of course.  After all, he had been treating wounded soldiers.  But that was not what troubled him.  The blood on his friend’s brown suit was old and dried.  But on his face and hands there were fresh wounds, and bright red blood painted a pattern on his linen shirt.  Leaning down, he gently touched his arm.

            “Henry?  Henry, it’s Jeremy.”

            The apothecary jerked as if shot.  For a moment his eyes were wild – uncertain of where he was – then Henry seemed to see him and recognize him, and fell back in the chair with a sigh.

            “Jeremy.  Thank God, you’re alive!”

            “Me?  Alive?  What of you?”  He indicated his shirt and face.  “What happened to you?”

            “Never mind me.  Have you seen Isak?”

            “He was with me until a moment ago.  He is headed for his shop.”

            “Alone?  We must – ”    

            Jeremy placed his hand on his friend, restraining him.  “No.  Not alone.  He is with a friend.”

            “Good.  Good,” the portly man said as he maneuvered himself out of the chair and headed for the door.  Once there he locked it and then shifted to the side to lift the curtain on the window and peer out.    

            “Henry.  What is this all about?”

            When his friend turned back, his face was sober.  As were the words he spoke.  “Elizabeth has been shot.  And someone just tried to kill me.”

            If it had been a blow to the stomach, Jeremy could not have been hit harder.  “Elizabeth….”

            “It was fortunate for her that I was riding by when it happened.  She was outside, about to enter the barn, when someone shot her from a distance.  The wound is clean.  I believe she will be fine.  Goodwife Camden is with her now.”  Henry approached him.  “I returned to Chester, seeking you.  When I didn’t find you at home, I tried Isak with the same result.”

            “He was with me at Lafayette’s camp.”

            Henry nodded, understanding.  “I went to the shop then, to gather what I needed for my return to Ephrata.  I was reaching for one of the remedies when the jar burst apart in my hands.”  He fished in his coat pocket and produced a small pewter-colored projectile smashed flat.  “I found this among the herbs.  Another hit the shelf just above my head.”

            Jeremy knew it for what it was – a musket ball.  He stared at it, dismayed, and then looked at his friend.  “What is happening?  First my father….”

            “Then Elizabeth.  Then me.”  Henry hesitated, then he said quietly, “Jeremy, someone knows.”

            “Knows?”

            “Who you are.  Captain Yankee Doodle.  Don’t you see?  The only thing your father, I, and Elizabeth have in common – is you.”

 ###

            Isak watched his old friend Nazarus as he moved about the blacksmith shop, fingering his tools, leaning on the bellows – taking in everything.  It had been at least 15 years and probably more since they had seen one another.  They had both been boys then, on the path to being men.  Since neither of them had a date to pin their birth on, he wasn’t sure if they had been ten or eleven, or a bit less or more.  Nazarus looked good, but then from what he had told him, this man Hawksworth took good care of all his property.  His friend had no complaints other than to say being owned wasn’t being free.

            Isak knew that all too well.

            Though they both had brothers and sisters and cousins, and just about everything in-between, he and Nazarus had connected in a way like no other.  Some of the slave women, born in the islands, told him it had to do with old souls.  They told him he and Naz had known each other in another life – maybe been real kin then.  While Isak wasn’t sure how much he held with the old religion, he knew what they said was true.  There had been real love between them – stronger than any he felt with his blood brothers.

            When Naz had been sold it near tore his heart in two.

            Looking at him now, Isak thought, maybe in the end it had been for the best.  Naz was an educated man, experienced and well traveled.  He was able to move among the high-born and the low since he’d known both worlds.  And in spite of the way his American master had treated him, he believed in this country – believed like him in fighting for a cause that included the phrase ‘all men’ in its creed.  Even if it might take a few years to get all those rich white men who wrote that declaration to understand exactly what they wrote.

             “You’ve done well for yourself, Isak,” Naz said as he returned to his side.

            Isak’s grin was wide.  “Look who’s talking.”

            Naz stepped back.  He placed his thumbs behind the lapels of his expensive blue suit coat and pulled it back, puffing out his chest and the ruffles that adorned his shirt.  Then he shifted a leg forward so his silver shoe-buckles glinted in the newly kindled fire’s light.  “Master Hawksworth’s taste is impeccable.”

            “You don’t choose your own clothes?” Isak asked, surprised.

            “I don’t choose anything.”  Naz’s voice dropped and its cultured edge vanished.  “Don’t ya know, brother?  I doos what I is told.”

            “Is that why you’re helping us?  To get back at him?”

            Naz stared at him for a moment.  Then he sighed.  “I suppose there is something of that in it.  Though Hawksworth is English, he doesn’t hold with the decision in the Somerset case.  He says a slave is a slave, is a slave.”

            “Why don’t you run away then?  Leave him like you did the one before?”

            The other man shrugged.  “I am more useful this way.”

            Isak’s smile returned.  “Well, you sure are useful to us.  We wouldn’t have known about that ship coming into Chester without you.”

            “I don’t want to see Hawksworth hurt.  But neither do I want those weapons to fall into the wrong hands.”  Naz turned away, walking to a chair and taking a seat in it.  “A whole lot of good can be done with those guns.”

            “You can say that again, brother!” Isak agreed.  “So, do you have a plan for getting them?”

            “I’ll meet the ship when it arrives.  Since Hawksworth’s bound for Jeremy’s home, that means I’ll be going there too.  By then I’ll know the strength of the force he has with him – it could be ten or fifty men.  There’s no telling.  We’ll have to check for weak links, see if anyone can be…bought.”

            The blacksmith nodded.  “It won’t be easy.  The wharf’s always bustling with folks, night and day.  We’ll have to create some sort of a distraction to draw them off..”

            “We could have your French Marquis make an appearance in his noble foppery.  That would be certain to catch the attention of all within the town,” Naz muttered, almost under his breath.

            “You got something against the general?” Isak asked, surprised.

            His friend’s stare was dark.  “Only that he is a hypocrite.”

            “Lafayette?”

            “Yes, the Marquis de Lafayette.  Pampered, powdered and perfumed from birth, all noblemen – all rich men – are alike.  He doesn’t understand what it is to be one of the People.  He never will.”

            “Naz.  What’s eating at you?  This doesn’t sound like you.”

            The other man shrugged.  “It’s been 15 years, Isak.  I doubt you know what I sound like.”  Nazarus rose then and came to stand by him.  “I loathe hypocrisy more than anything else, and the white men in this cause stink with it.  America should be free, but free for all men.  For you.  For me!  Lafayette doesn’t believe that – nor does his precious General Washington.  Look how many slaves the man owns.”

            “That doesn’t mean General Lafayette – ”

            “Isak!  Use your eyes!  You’ve seen Scipio.  Who do you think he is?”

            “Scipio?”  Isak thought a moment.  “Oh, you mean Lafayette’s black aide….”

            “Lafayette’s black slave, you mean.  Or didn’t you know?”  Naz paused and his smile turned into a sneer.  “No, I see you didn’t.”

            Isak could see Scipio now, polishing the major-general’s brass buttons, blacking his boots, serving his tea and carrying out the piss pot.  If a man did that because he loved and respected another man, that was one thing.

            But if he had to….

            Naz’s hand came down on his shoulder.  “It doesn’t matter.  It’s just a quarrel of mine.  Lafayette has done much for the Cause in the short time he has been here.  I am sure, in spite of what I feel, that whatever concerns him will influence its outcome…for the better.  Now, if you will excuse me, my friend, I need to check the harbor and see if the Hawkstrike has been spotted.”

            “You want me to come with you?”

            Nazarus shook his head.  “No.  I feel the need to stretch my legs.   It will give me an opportunity to get to know your little town better.  Don’t lock the door.  I might be late.”

            Isak nodded.  He watched Naz go and then turned back into his shop to start to work.  As he picked up the hammer and began to pound, forming the rim of a wheel, he thought about the day at Brandywine when they had rescued the Frenchman and his aide from the field.  Lafayette had treated him no different from Jeremy or Henry.  He seemed to accept him as an equal.  But if what Naz said was true, then how could that be?  Then again, they had been in the midst of a crisis.  In fact, he hadn’t ever really talked to the Frenchman about anything other than business – and even then, Lafayette hadn’t really directly addressed him.  Even today, when he sat in on the meeting, there had been nothing personal.  For all he knew Lafayette might think he was Jeremy or Henry’s slave!

            Revolution permitting, he and that French nobleman were going to have to have a long talk.

 ### 

            Jeremy didn’t want to believe it.  But Henry was right, it was the only thing that made sense.  Someone who knew who he was, was trying to kill the people closest to him.

            “But why not me?  Why not just kill me if they know?  If I pose the threat….”

            “Jeremy, whoever is doing this is unbalanced.  They – ”

            “They want to break me first.”  Jeremy walked away from him and sat heavily in the chair before the cold hearth.  Only the single candle lit his home which, considering what Henry had just revealed, was probably for the best.  Still the darkness was disheartening.  He leaned back in the chair and thought of his father, lying in Lafayette’s camp, perhaps dying.  Then a sudden thought made him sit up.  “Robert!  You don’t think….”

            “A British sergeant shot him, Jeremy.  You know that,” Henry said quietly as he came to his side.

            “I know.  It is just…of all who died that day, why Robert?  He had survived the battle, and more.  It almost seemed he was targeted.”

            Henry’s hand came down on his shoulder.  “He was.  Because they believed he was Captain Yankee Doodle.”

            Jeremy leapt to his feet, unable to remain still.  “Good Lord, Henry!  What have I created?  Robert dead.  My father and Elizabeth…shot.  You.”

            “All good things come at a price, Jeremy,” his friend said following him, “and great things at a price that is dear.  Ask the men whose blasted and bleeding limbs I tended this day.  Or their fellows who sleep in the ground.”  Henry’s voice was utterly weary.  “As Dr. Franklin said, ‘There is no good war, or a bad peace.’”

            For a moment, he was at a loss.  He knew Henry was right, but he didn’t want to hear it. 

            “Come with me to see Elizabeth,” Henry suggested.  “I need to make certain she is well.  As to returning to the hospital now, well, we shall see.  You can stay with her for a while.  It will do you good.  The Cause can muddle through without Captain Yankee Doodle for a few days – ”

            He shook his head.  “Alas, it cannot.  The general has need of Yankee Doodle.”

            “What?  So soon?”

            “Aye.”  Jeremy remained still for a moment, then he moved toward the door and reached for his cloak.  “But I will come with you to Elizabeth’s.  I must see for myself that she is safe.  Then I needs must return to the general’s camp.  He should be made aware of what is happening.”  

            “Jeremy….”

            Turning back, he saw his friend had gone white as the linen binding a corpse.  “What is it, Henry?”

            “If whoever this is knows about Captain Yankee Doodle, do you suppose they know that Lafayette commissioned him?  That would put the general at risk as well."

            Jeremy halted with his hand on the latch.

            He hadn’t thought of that.