A New Species of Tyranny

          Chapter Fourteen

 

Jeremy Larkin drew a deep breath and held it.  This was it.  Sergeant Boggs had appeared in the tent door and told them that General Washington would see them.

They were in.

Israel Spencer – coward that he was – lingered near the back of their party, ready to make good his escape should anything go wrong.  Of the near dozen men who had accompanied them, only six had proceeded into camp.  Of those six, four were to be permitted to see the Commander-in-chief.  Him.  Israel Spencer.  And Jude and Pryam.  Jeremy had seen, and knew that both of Spencer’s henchmen had pistols primed and loaded, carried beneath their coats.  He wracked his brain as they started to move, trying to figure out a way to assure the safety of those around him.  If he called out, Spencer would order his men to fire, most likely killing General Washington and perhaps Sergeant Boggs as well.  If he made a pretense of clumsiness, hoping to disarm one of the gunmen, the consequences would be the same.  In the end, Jeremy decided he must place himself between Washington and the assassins and, if it came to it, sacrifice himself to save the Virginian.

It was the least he could do after escorting the Devil himself into his camp.

As they approached the tent, Jeremy noticed Sergeant Boggs watching him.  There was nothing unusual about that.  They had only met a few times before.  But it was the way Boggs watched him, as if the frontiersman sought to read the very matter of his soul. 

Once in the tent, Jeremy halted.  He was surprised to find it nearly pitch black.  On the general’s desk there was a single lantern, but it was partially shuttered.  He frowned and turned to find Sergeant Boggs.  For a second it seemed the older man had disappeared.  Then he realized he had moved to the desk.  “Precautions,” Boggs said as his hand glowed a rich coral red and he lifted the shutter to reveal….

Eight fully armed Continental soldiers set at even paces about the room.

At his back Israel Spencer cursed.  Jeremy felt a rush of wind as the mulatto pivoted and dove for the tent’s opening.  By the time he turned to look, Spencer had been corralled – none too gently – by two of the soldiers and he lay on the tent floor, his powdered face pressed into the dust. 

Pryam had drawn his weapon and been just as roughly handled.  A sharp strike of a rifle’s butt to the back of his head put an end to any thought he might have had of firing.  Upon seeing his cohorts captured, Jude turned the butt of his pistol outward and surrendered without a fight.

And through it all, General Washington was nowhere to be seen.  Thank Providence!  Somehow Sergeant Boggs must have gotten wind of what was happening and spirited the Virginian away to a place of safety.

After he had made certain Spencer and the others were secured Daniel Boggs turned to him.  “Jeremy Larkin,” he said.

There was something in the sergeant’s tone that made him look up sharply.  He was surprised to find the older man’s eyes clouded with tears.

“Is something wrong, Sergeant?” Jeremy asked.  And then he knew.

It was him. 

He was wrong.

            Boggs squared his shoulders and then pronounced his doom.  “Captain Jeremy Larkin, you are charged with treason, and hereby placed under arrest for the attempted assassination of His Excellency, George Washington, your commander-in-chief.  The penalty for such a crime, if found guilty, is death.” 

###

 Lafayette stared out of the upstairs window in Mayor Larkin’s home at the town of Chester, Pennsylvania which was just on the verge of waking.  The lamplighters had returned to extinguish the fires they had lit the night before, and to trim their wicks in anticipation of the night to come.  Even though it was weakness that confined him, he felt like a little boy sent to bed after the commission of a shameful crime.  His grandmother had had a gentle hand.  Rarely had he been beaten.  Most often, when she was disappointed with him, he had been sent to his room to think.

Just as he was doing now.

Though General Washington had chided him – more than once – for his reliance on spies, the intelligence which they gathered often gave warning of things to come.  He had known, had felt in his young bones that this was a week which they would long remember.  And he had been right.  It had started with the disastrous battle at Brandywine, with the loss of so many good men, and had progressed through the seemingly random shootings of Elizabeth Coates and Mayor Larkin, as well as the attempt on Henry Abington’s life, to this plot of Nysell Hawksworth’s to capture both Yankee Doodle and him and sail back to London a hero – and, no doubt, a very rich man.  Lafayette stirred and ran a hand through his near shoulder-length brown hair.  And then there was the matter of Joshua Spencer, whose foolhardiness might have cost Jeremy Larkin his cover, if not his life.  Added to that was the problem of Nazarus Tome.  He was convinced now that Tome was one of the leaders of the cow-boys who, following Captain Tye’s example in New Jersey, were intent on setting up ‘shop’ in the Chester area, most likely using the guns stolen from Tome’s master, the same Nysell Hawksworth.

The question was, was Hawksworth in on it with Tome, or was the older man simply a dupe?

Would he ever know?

With a sigh Lafayette sank into the chair in front of the window.  He despaired at inaction.  It pained him more than the fire in his shoulder and the dull unending throb in his thigh.  He had to do something!  Sitting here, waiting for others to take action, was truly a fate worse than death.

            A knock on the door startled him.  “Oui?” he called out.

A brown head peaked in the door’s opening.  “Is there anything I can get for you, General?” Scipio asked.

“My horse?” he asked hopefully.

Scipio shook his head.  “No, sir.  Sergeant Boggs would skin me for that.”

Lafayette nodded.  “And me as well.  It was a thought.”

The mulatto hesitated in the doorway as if uncertain of what to say.  Which was not a surprise.  Your ‘general’ was not supposed to reveal that he was human.  He straightened up and met the young man’s gaze.  “Come in, Scipio.  Sit down.”

“Sir?”

He nodded toward a chair across from him.  “Shall I make it an order?” he asked with a smile.

“What would you want to talk to me about?  Sir.”

“It has nothing to do with what happened before.”  He knew Scipio was nervous.  He had, after all, thrown in with the villains for a time.  “Well, that is not entirely true.  It does in a way.  Did I ever tell you about my life as a child?”

The mulatto shook his head as he sat down.

            “I grew up in the forests of Auvergne, and was regarded by those who mattered as a savage.  As something almost less than human.  My speech, the way I moved, the clothes I wore – all were the source of the ridicule.  I was not a slave.  I would never claim to have known the kind of cruelty and intolerance you have, but I did not belong and was not wanted.  When I tried to better myself, I was ridiculed even more and, in a way, hated, for if I – a savage – could make a pretense of being the same as my betters, then what did that make them?”

Scipio was silent for a moment.  “Why are you telling me this?”

Lafayette pursed his lips.  Then he gave a little snort.  “To ease my conscience?  Perhaps.  To help you understand me?  That is a part of it.  When I came to America I wanted so to fit in, to find a family, to be a part of something.  When the city fathers made a – present – of you to me, I think I wanted in a way to accept so I would be accepted.”  A chagrined smile curled the edge of his lips and deepened his dimples.  “It is a great temptation to be the same as General Washington, non?”

            “I can’t ever be the same as him.”

Lafayette nodded.  “And now I know, neither can I.  And when I see him, I will tell him.  I will tell him to let his slaves go.”

Scipio’s eyes were round as the plates Mayor Larkin’s wife Anne had hung on the wall behind him.  Tell General Washington?”

            “Oui.  All men have a blind spot.  This is his.  I will be his eyes and see for him.”

“He won’t do it.  He can’t.  It’d ruin him.”

“My father-in-law has spoken the same way of his slaves in the West Indies.  It is interesting, is it not, that men who proclaim their faith in Providence’s hand are so frightened to test it.”  He fell silent for a moment and then added.  “I must remember to mention that to His Excellency as well.”

For a moment neither of them said anything.  Then Scipio rose to his feet.  He walked over to him and held out his hand.

“May I shake you hand, sir?”

Lafayette’s eyes moistened.  He shook his head.  It must have been the fatigue.  Then he reached out and took the mulatto’s hand.

“Scipio, may I shake yours?” 

###

 It was a nightmare of his own devising and one that might well cost his life.  Jeremy sat on a plain cot with a threadbare straw ticking and a flea-ridden blanket, considering the consequences of his actions.  Outside the tent he had been placed in were a half-dozen guards.  The army did not take well the thought that someone had tried to assassinate its leader.  The guards were there not to make certain he did not escape, but to make certain someone did not attempt to kill him before he could be hanged.

            It was bad enough for Israel Spencer and the others.  They stood accused of attempted murder.  He was accused of treason – of betraying everything he held dear – and there was nothing whatsoever he could do to prove otherwise.  It was his word against Spencer’s, and since he had come into camp of his own free will and had never been seen to be under duress, there was no reason one of them should be believed over the other.  He hadn’t counted on the fact that to Sergeant Boggs, to General Washington, to the Continental Army itself, he was a virtual stranger.

And the only one who would have vouched for him, General Lafayette, was dead by now.  His fault again.

Maybe he deserved to be hanged.

Frustrated, Jeremy laid back on the bed, ignoring as best he could the constant traffic of vermin on his skin.  Since the moment he had told Robert that he was Captain Yankee Doodle everything had gone wrong.  Robert was dead.  His father shot.  Elizabeth’s life nearly forfeit.  The army and the Cause were in disarray.  He and Isak and Henry had been separated and, for all he knew, would never reunite.  It was all over.  Everything.

Dead and gone.

Unable to remain still, Jeremy rose to his feet and began to pace.  He had reached the back of the small space he occupied when he heard a commanding voice outside.  A moment later Sergeant Boggs stepped into the prison tent.

“Captain Larkin,” he said formally.

“Sergeant,” Jeremy replied.  “What can I do to help you?”

“I’ve just returned from an interview with Israel Spencer.”

In spite of himself, he rolled his eyes.  That must have been interesting.”

“Do you know what he told me?”

“That I engineered the assassination attempt?  That, secretly, I despise the rebel cause and am working for the British?”  He fell heavily onto the bunk.  “Or perhaps he merely said that I am the Devil incarnate.  It amounts to about the same thing.”

Boggs didn’t crack a smile.  “That’s about it,” he agreed.  “And what do you have to say?”

“First answer this for me, why would I do these things?  You know what we did after Brandywine.”

            “Spencer said you had a change of heart after your brother’s death.”

It was his own lie come back to haunt him.

Jeremy drew a breath.  “I admit, I have been disheartened by his loss.  Even for a time, made angry.  Robert’s death was senseless.”  When Boggs bristled, he held up his hand, “But only as all premature deaths are senseless.  It was not pointless or without worth.  Robert died for what he believed in.”

Boggs had listened carefully.  He chewed his lip for a moment and then began, “Corporal Jones overheard you say what you wanted was…General Washington’s head on a platter.”

“I said that for Spencer’s benefit.  I had to convince him I was with them.”

“So you could bring them into camp?  To the general?”

It sounded mad, he knew it.  “Yes.  I had to.  I hoped to be able to stop them.”

“Why didn’t you stop them before?  And why come willingly?  There was no gun to your head.”

Jeremy swallowed hard.  There was a reason, and it was time to tell Lafayette’s aide just what it was.  Yes, there was,” he admitted quietly.

“Jeremy, make me understand.  I could see if your father was still in danger, or Mistress Coates or your friends.  But they are all secured.  There is no one else to….”  Boggs voice trailed off into hushed fear.  “The general….”

            “I found him.  On Nysell Hawksworth’s ship in chains.  Sergeant Boggs, Nazarus Tome was there.  I think he was the one who arranged the general’s capture.”

“The double agent!” Boggs growled.  “I had my suspicions, but alas, did not act on them.  Where is Tome now?”

“He went with the weapons.  Isak is with him and, I pray, all right.”

“And General Lafayette?”

There was no easy way to put it.  No way to soften the blow.  Jeremy steeled himself and then spoke the words he dreaded, “Most likely, Sergeant Boggs, he is dead.” 

###

 He wasn’t dead yet.

If he had felt like a little boy before, he did so even more now.  Lafayette stood, breathing heavily, on the grass beneath the window in Mayor Larkin’s house looking up at the room from which he had just fled.  After Scipio departed he had remained in the chair, thinking, for some time.  As the first fingers of dawn crawled across the sky, the surgeon from General Washington’s camp had come and looked at his wounds.  The older man pronounced them grave but not life-threatening, and then left with a remark that an honor guard from the General’s camp would arrive on the morrow to escort him to the hospital at Ephrata.  Washington’s orders.

            The young Frenchman glanced at the sky just as a rooster crowed.  He had at least eighteen hours until the ‘morrow’.  Eighteen hours in which to find Jeremy Larkin and bring him home.

After that he would be a good boy and go to hospital.

            As a carriage rattled by, carrying early morning passengers, Lafayette ducked into the shadows.  He pulled his coat close about his neck and shivered.  He had taken time to dress, but had no cloak or blanket.  He could only hope the rising light would warm him as he traveled.  He would begin near the ship.  Jeremy had been there with the men who took the rifles.  If he followed their trail, it should lead him to the young man from Chester.  He had made a vow to Samuel Larkin that he would give his life to save his remaining son and he would.  Lafayette sneezed and then shook with another chill.

            He had not thought to do it by dying of the cold.

            Unexpectedly a warm wrap settled on his shoulders, staving off the chill.  He jumped and pivoted sharply, only to find Scipio standing behind him, fully kitted out with supplies and a broad smile.

            “What are you doing?” he demanded.

            “Well, Master….” Scipio answered, drawling in a slow stupid way, “those there men in Philadelphia, they says I was to look after you.  And that’s for sure what I’m goin’ to do.”

            Lafayette was dumbfounded.  His mouth gaped open.  “How?” he asked, “How did you know that I would run?”

            Scipio reached up and fastened the cloak around his throat.  His touch was possessive, loving even. 

            “It’s what I would have done.” 

###

             Daniel Boggs had gone pale as the hide tent he stood within.  “Dead?” he repeated.  “What do you mean ‘dead’?

            Jeremy met his horrified gaze.  “I left General Lafayette on the ship, a prisoner, under the threat that he would be killed if I did not cooperate in every way with Spencer’s plans.  I was being watched constantly and told that if I deviated at all, word would fly back and the general would die.  Horribly.”  Jeremy swallowed hard.  “The same held if word did not go back of the success of our mission.  Sergeant Boggs – Daniel – it was a choice between Lafayette and General Washington.  No matter what I did.  No matter what choice I made.  One of them would die.”

            “And you hoped by playing along to find some way to save them both.”

            “Aye,” Jeremy answered quietly. 

            “Dear Lord….”  It was Boggs turn to sink into a chair.  He was silent for some time as he came to grips with the reality of what might have happened.  Jeremy said nothing, knowing that kind of grief all too well.  Boggs placed his head in his hands.  He shuddered and then, after a moment, raised dry eyes that burned with all the fury of Heaven wronged.

            “I can’t just release you.  You know that.  There is the matter of the charge.  It is a grave one.  And the matter of your safety.  Some of the men have grown ugly.  They are crying for blood.”

            “Does General Washington know?”

            Boggs shook his head.  “I told him only that there was suspicion an attempt might be made and that it would be wise to relocate.  He awaits word from Anthony Wayne and bends his heart and mind toward keeping his army safe.”

            Jeremy stifled a sigh of relief.  It was a heavy weight to think Washington might consider him a traitor.  “What will you do?”

            Boggs rose.  “I was headed back to camp to search for Lafayette.”  He drew a breath.  “I will search still.  If nothing else, we must find him and stop any desecration or humiliation from happening.”

            To his corpse, he meant.   “Sergeant Boggs, I – ”

Daniel Boggs approached him and placed a hand on his shoulder.  “You did the best you could in trying circumstances.  General Lafayette would have agreed with you.  If it came to a choice between General Washington and himself, he would have gladly forfeited his life.”

“I pray that is not the case.”

Boggs nodded as he lifted his hand.  “If Providence wants him preserved, then it will be so.  If not, then we will honor his memory as he deserves.”  With that, the older man turned and headed for the tent door.  Once there, he paused.  “Jeremy.”

“Aye?” he asked, rising.

“The watch is set for three hours.  The guard will change at eight o’clock, about thirty minutes from now.  It just so happens that I find I will need additional aid at that time to begin to break down the General’s tent.  A pity it will leave such a valuable prisoner so poorly guarded.”

Jeremy was silent for a moment.  “Thank you, sir.  For your faith in me.”

Sergeant Boggs nodded.  “Be careful, son,” he said softly, and then was gone. 

### 

Scipio did indeed take care of him.  Lafayette found two horses waiting in the shadows, saddled and ready to mount.  With a frown he asked the mulatto, “When did you prepare this?”

Scipio smiled.  “When Mayor Larkin put you to bed.”

“You know me so well in so short a time?” Lafayette laughed. 

“I saw you at Brandywine,” the mulatto said, growing suddenly sober.  “I watched you standing there, a single man against a tide of panicked soldiers driven by fear for their lives.  You were like a rock which the water had to part and run around.  You made me proud to be a man.” 

Non, I…”

“I saw the ball hit you, and watched you bleed.  You never stopped.  Never faltered.  You didn’t think about your life, but about what was bigger than you.  I knew you couldn’t sit still while other men fought your battles.”

Lafayette grinned.  “Tomorrow, when the hell is to pay for my having done this, will you give that same speech to General Washington in my defense?”

Scipio smiled.  “Oh, I’ll tell him that – and a lot more.” 

###

             The hour had come and Jeremy had used Sergeant Boggs’ diversion to slip out of the prison tent and into the woods.  He paused once he was safely under cover and listened to the sounds of the camp.  There was some sort of a commotion.  At first he thought it was a part of Boggs’ scheme, but quickly realized there was more to it than that.  A general alarm had been raised.  The hair stood up on the back of his neck as a blue-coated sergeant ran by shouting at the top of his voice.

            “Escape!  Escape!  The prisoner is free!”

            How could they have known so soon?

            Then he realized it wasn’t him they were talking about.  The guard outside his tent remained in place.  Other soldiers ran to and fro as if frantic.  One of them paused just in front of his hiding place, calling out wildly for Sergeant Boggs.  In the soldier’s hand was an elegant lilac frock coat with silver buttons and braid, abandoned by its owner. 

            Israel Spencer had escaped.