A New Species of Tyranny

Chapter Nine

 

It was the wee hours of the morning and Sergeant Daniel Boggs was more than just a little tired.  He was exhausted.  Daniel swayed on his feet as he waited outside General Washington’s tent, watching the new day of September the 19th dawn.  All about him Washington’s soldiers were on the move.  One of the general’s current aides had told him that word had just gone out that they were to re-cross the Schuylkill River that day at Parker’s Ford and head down the east bank to Swede’s Ford.  The British were everywhere.  The night before Redcoats had been spotted on the west bank and at the Ford, and General Washington feared they were probing for weaknesses and planned a secret attack on the Continental Army’s flank.  Such a move by Howe, if it was a success, would devastate their already beleaguered and badly battered force.  The colors before the general’s tent had not yet been struck.  Washington had resisted, but had finally been persuaded by his junior officers to take a few hours rest before they started on the march.  His generals had argued convincingly that tired men make mistakes, and that they could not afford even one.  General Washington had agreed and ordered that he be awakened in three hours time.

The three hours were up and Boggs had been given the duty of rousing him.

It was almost more than Daniel could bear to think of, to lay more grief on the great man’s shoulders, but he knew all too well what the consequences would be if he kept such a thing from him.  He had served with Washington before, during the last war, and been one of his aides throughout the nearly two years of this one.  The older man would not countenance deception, or accept a half truth because it brought him comfort.  And he did not take well to being protected, though protecting him was all that was on the minds of any who knew and loved him.

It was truth, carved in stone: without Washington, there would be no war, no matter how much the gentleman farmer from Virginia begged to differ.

Daniel Boggs’ glanced at the gilded sky of morning.  The sun was nearly risen.  He couldn’t put it off any longer.  He steeled himself and then ducked into the tent only to let out a startled ‘Sir!’ when he found George Washington seated on his meager camp bed, gazing up at him.

“At ease, Daniel,” Washington said, his voice weighted with care and utterly weary.  “For a few moments, let us be men and not soldiers.”

“Could you not sleep, sir?”

The older man’s smile was meager too.  A carefully practiced one that hid the fact that his teeth were not his own.  “If one could call it sleep, I knew a little.”  Washington rose and stretched his arms above his head, his fingers nearly brushing the tent’s ceiling.  “I do not court sleep, my friend, for when it comes it is filled with portents of disaster.”

“I hear General Wayne has hope – ”

“You know Anthony, always sure and certain – some would say recklessly so.  He assures me he knows this land like the back of his hand.”

“His home is near here, sir.”

“But to hide 1500 Continental soldiers under Howe’s arrogant and up-turned nose?”  Washington shook his head as he reached for the pitcher of water on his wash-stand.  “It is a dangerous gambit.”

Boggs started toward him.  “Here, sir, let me….”

A raised hand stopped him.  Then it pointed toward the wooden table thrust up against the tent’s hide wall.  “There is some bread and cheese left.  Sit, Daniel.  Eat and rest.  You look as if you have not slept in days yourself.”

As the general tossed water on his face and then dried it with a linen towel, Boggs swallowed over the lump in his throat.  He had only slept in snatches since Lafayette disappeared.  All of his time had been spent hunting the young Frenchman – to no avail.

“Sir….”

George Washington turned and looked at him.  “I have another name,” he offered.

“Aye, sir,” Daniel answered honestly, “but my tongue would turn to stone should I try to use it.”

The older man stared at him a moment and then, accepting it as fact, turned and walked toward the tent’s opening.  Once there he raised the flap and looked out.  “Two years.  How many more will we know?  Already it seems a long and weary war.”  For a moment the tall man was silent, then he turned back and favored him with a rare grin.  “So tell me, Daniel, how is your young charge?  Healing well, I pray?”

 Now they came to it.

Daniel Boggs cleared his throat.  He had known Washington long enough to anticipate the tempest to come.  “I wouldn’t know, sir.  It seems…I have lost him.”

For several seconds the light of that grin lingered on his general’s face, then it fell into shadow.  Lost him?”

He straightened his chin and spine.  “Aye, sir.  General Lafayette is missing.”

“Missing!” Washington snapped.  “You make him sound like an errant boy gone astray.  What do you mean ‘missing’?”

“He left camp late last night with Captain Nazarus’ men and failed to return, as did several of Nazarus’ troops.”

“And where were you when this happened?” the older man demanded, his voice taking on an icy edge.

“Guarding an old man, sir, in the surgeon’s tent.”

“Playing nursemaid?  What idiot assigned you to that duty?”

In spite of the situation, Boggs had to repress a smile.  “That would have been General Lafayette.  Sir.”

“I thought it was our understanding that you were not to leave the Marquis’ side.  Or did I not make myself clear?  Daniel, what were you thinking?”  Washington was pacing now, fending off his rising fury with action.  “You know that boy!” he shouted as he pivoted back.  “He is blinded by his passion and zeal.  Look at what happened at the Brandywine.  He could have died!  Did I not order you to disobey his orders if you felt it was called for so that you might protect him?”

“Yes, sir, you did.  But I felt this was important.”

More important than Gilbert’s life?”

Boggs winced.  If, somehow, General Howe could only be made the recipient of that wrath, the war would be ended in a minute.

He held his ground.  “It was Captain Larkin’s father.  Someone has made a target of the people closest to Jeremy in order to get at, or control Yankee Doodle and his society.  General Lafayette feared there would be another attempt.  We have suspicions there is a spy in our midst – ”

“A spy!”

“Yes.”  Daniel swallowed again.  “I was the only one the general trusted.  But in keeping his trust, I have failed to keep yours.  I regret that very much, sir.”  He winced.  “Especially with how things turned out….”

George Washington continued to stare at him several heartbeats longer.  Then he moved to his desk and dropped into the chair behind it.  In the two minutes it had taken Boggs to explain, it seemed the older man had aged ten years.  “Dear God, Daniel.  Taken…” he breathed.  “And you have no idea by whom, or to where?”

He shook his head.

“Do you think the Marquis is…dead?”

“No, sir.”  He was quick to answer, as much to reassure himself as the other man.  “What good would Lafayette be to them dead?  I think he was taken as a bargaining chip.  Though in what game, I am not certain.”

“By Howe, you mean?”

“Or Cornwallis.  Someone who can use him to their advantage.”

“Have there been any demands?”

“Not as of when I left.  Though I have been on the road for some time.”

As Washington opened his mouth to speak a sound attracted their attention to the tent opening.  A young black man whom Boggs recognized as one of the Virginian’s slaves poked his head inside.  “General, sir, the men are ready to be inspected.”

The older man nodded.  “I’ll be there in a minute.”

“Yes, sir.”

As the black man disappeared George Washington rose slowly to his feet.  He reached for his uniform coat and then turned to face him.  “This must be kept between us, Daniel, until there is no choice but to reveal it.  The repercussions, not only for our army, but in France….”

“I know, sir.”

“Return to the Marquis’ camp, see what you can find, and then follow me to Swede’s Ford.  I will expect a report by dawn tomorrow at the latest.  Tonight we will make camp and then wait to see what Anthony can accomplish.  It is his intent to rest near Paoli’s tavern on the 20th or 21st, and then to mount an attack.”

“Providence will give us a victory, sir.”

Washington eyed him strangely.  “Providence has done its best to teach us what we lack these last few weeks.  Experience is gained only by making mistakes, and we have learned much.  It is an ill wind that blows in the winter of 1777.  In my heart, Daniel, I fear what is to come.  And this news of Gilbert…it eclipses the sun of my hope.”

Daniel Boggs drew a deep breath and held it against the pain of seeing his general utterly defeated.  Better to bear the great man’s wrath.

“I will find him.”

“Yes, you will.”  Beneath the gray clouds of fatigue, the storm of anger crackled, waiting only for a reason to thunder anew.  Quickly, his general damped it by necessity.  As Washington placed his tricorn hat on his whitening hair and ducked through the door, he said,  “I will see you by sunrise, Daniel.  With news.

“Do not fail me.”

Sergeant Daniel Boggs watched him go and then sank into the chair himself.

How could he?  If he failed Washington, he failed himself –

And Lafayette.

 ###

 At that moment, in the camp of the missing Frenchman, a white-haired New England gentleman of sixty-odd years was stirring.  Weak, unsure on his feet, his wounded side feeling as if it was on fire, Mayor Samuel Larkin of Chester, Pennsylvania, rose from his sick bed and walked slowly to the opening of the surgeon’s tent.  As he brushed the flap aside and stepped out into the dawning day, a young sentry keeping watch turned and, with a worried look on his face, hurried to his side.

“Mayor Larkin, you shouldn’t be up,” he said.

Samuel glanced at the markings on the boy’s coat.  “Private…”

“Rennie, sir.  Mark Rennie.  And I really must insist that you return to your bed.”

The older man glanced around the camp.  It was mostly deserted.  Lafayette’s soldiers were away somewhere fighting – and most likely dying like his Robert.  “My son, the one who was with me here, where is he?”

“Your son, sir?”

“Jeremy Larkin.  My boy was here in the tent last night, where he was protected.  Where is he now?”

“The captain, you mean?” the young man asked, puzzled.

“No, no, my dear boy isn’t a captain.”  Samuel shook his head sadly.  Jeremy is  Robert’s brother.  Robert Larkin was your captain.”

“Oh, that’s right,” Private Rennie said, chagrinned.  “Sorry, sir.  Your son, Jeremy, he…er…left camp yesterday.”

The older man paled.  “He…left the camp?  But Jeremy promised me he would stay here where he was safe.”

“I think he had some business in the town.  His friends were with him – Henry Abington and Isak Poole.  They came to…fetch him.  You sound like you fear for his life,” Private Rennie added after a pause.

For a moment he was silent, remembering.  Then Samuel roused himself and asked, “May I speak with your general, son?”

“Sorry, sir.  General Lafayette’s on a…reconnaissance mission.  There’s no word when he or Sergeant Boggs will be back.”

The young man’s voice had broken on his general’s name.  Samuel’s ice blue eyes narrowed.  Private Rennie was hiding something. 

But then, of course, so was he.

“Is there a young man in your company named Spencer?”

Rennie thought a moment.  “Joshua, you mean?”

“Yes.  Yes, Joshua.  That’s right.  Could I speak to him?”

The private shrugged.  “I’ll see to it, but you may have to wait until he comes off duty.”

Samuel, who was feeling more tired than he cared to admit, nodded his head.  “Maybe I’ll just do as you asked, and head back to my bed to wait for him.”

“I’d say that was a good idea.  Do you need me to help – ”

“Young man, I am not an invalid!” he snapped, sounding more irritated than he intended.

“Sir!”  Rennie saluted smartly.  “I’ll just go then.”

Samuel Larkin watched the private walk away and then, staggering, retraced his steps to his bed.  Instead of sitting, he fell into it and leaned back against the pillows breathing hard.  He was an old man.  Being shot had taken a lot out of him.  But it didn’t matter – nothing mattered but Jeremy’s safety. 

He had already lost one of his sons, he had no intention of losing the other.

Joshua Spencer was the key.  The young woman he had met with in the cemetery told him that Joshua Spencer knew who threatened his boy and why – though that information she had refused to give.  He needed to talk to the young man and find out everything.  Then, he would find Jeremy.  And he would protect him.

Even if it meant his death.

 ###

 Daniel Boggs gripped the reins of his horse and spurred it on, mercilessly applying the hard heels of his boots to its heaving sides.  The horse was as tired as he was.  They had ridden through the night together and now, after only a few hours respite where part of their journey lay on the water, were on the road again and headed back toward Lafayette’s camp.  Once there he would be able to determine if any progress had been made in following Lafayette’s trail.  He wished he knew where the members of the Yankee Doodle Society were.  He could only hope the three men were putting their considerable talents to the task of finding some way to obtain the arms on the privateer ship, the Hawkstrike, for the continental army.  From what he had seen in Washington’s camp the men were woefully under-armed.  Some even marched with sticks propped against their shoulders in an attempt to fool the British into thinking they had muskets.  If he did not have to return to Washington’s side in such a hurry, he would have gone to the town and sought Jeremy, Isak and Henry out first.  News of any kind of a victory would do much to lift the older man’s spirits.  As it was, riding at full tilt, he would barely have time to make Lafayette’s camp and then return to Swede’s Ford by sunrise tomorrow. 

The wind was sharp as it struck his face.  The rising sun glinted off the iced branches of the trees.  A heavy dew had fallen during the night and left the waking world painted in a white hoarfrost.  It was God’s handiwork and truly beautiful, but it also made for a bitter morning.  The uneven road was paved with danger.  His horse had hit a slick spot and stumbled a few minutes before and he had barely managed to right it in time.  They would be forced to stop soon, if only to let the animal rest.

As they continued on at a trot, the horse’s hooves struck a steady staccato on the frozen earth.  Above his head glittering branches clattered one against the other.  Somewhere close by a lark sang, heralding the morning.  In spite of himself Boggs yawned.  He fought it, but for just a second his eyes closed.  Shaking himself awake, he straightened and shifted in the saddle, just in time to see that a large branch had broken under the weight of the icy hoarfrost and fallen directly in their path, dusting the cold gray earth with a scattering of white flakes.  Boggs hauled back on the reins, calling his horse to a sudden stop.  Too suddenly.      

Losing its footing on a patch of ice concealed by the white stuff, the animal fell to its knees and then rolled, throwing him to the ground where he struck his head on a rock and fell into darkness

 ###

 Samuel Larkin roused at a tenuous touch on his shoulder.  He blinked and opened his eyes and waited as a slender young man with flaxen hair, gray eyes, and a pallid freckled face came into focus.  He was dressed in the uniform Samuel knew so well from his late son, Robert, but had only the rank of private.  The young man’s smile was weak, barely rousing the dimple in his left cheek.  He looked a little confused.

“You wanted to see me, sir?” he asked as he took a seat on the opposite cot.  Joshua looked weary – but then all the soldiers in Lafayette’s camp looked weary.

Samuel shifted and tossed his legs over the edge of the cot so he was sitting up.  He placed one hand on his wounded side, as if to hold it together.  “Joshua Spencer, I presume?”

“Aye, sir.  Do I know you?”

“It seems you know my boy.”

“Your boy?”

“Jeremy.  Jeremy Larkin.”

Joshua Spencer paled.  He glanced around as if only now realizing he was in the surgeon’s tent.  “You’re Mayor Larkin?”

“Yes.  What is it you know about my boy and the men who mean him harm?”

The young man stared at him a moment and then rose to his feet.  “I need to get back to my post.”

“You need to tell me what you know.  Or would you rather I go tell your commanding officer what I know.”

Joshua stared at him, seeming to size up the threat he presented.  Convinced of it, he sat back down.  “And that would be?”

“That you are involved with the Englishmen coming to Chester.  The ones who have a ship loaded with weapons.”

“No, sir!  No, I am not. Whatever would give you that idea?”

“A certain lovely young mulatto woman.”

Joshua frowned.  Then he seemed startled.  “Miranda?  What has she got to do with this?”

Samuel Larkin watched the young man carefully.  He seemed genuinely distressed.  The woman had not given her name, but he assumed now it was Miranda.  A note had been sent to his house asking him to come to the cemetery alone, and telling him that his son’s life was in danger.  He had gone without hesitation, arriving in the early afternoon.  Miranda had been cloaked, but by her arms and neck which were revealed, he could tell she was of mixed race.  She had spoken quickly, telling him she was one of a party who had come ashore only hours before, and that their arrival spelled danger for his remaining son.  He must get him out of town.  Trick him, take him away.  She would not say why, or how she knew what she knew, but she had made mention of Joshua Spencer as someone he could trust if he needed help in accomplishing this mission.  After Miranda left, he had lingered in the cemetery, mourning at his elder son’s grave.  There, some time later, he had been shot.

Samuel did not think Miranda’s summons and his attack were related, though their timing came close enough together to beg that they were.  He could only trust to Providence that his actions now would take Jeremy away from danger, and not draw him closer to it.

In as few words as he could, he explained to the astounded young man how he and Miranda had met.

Joshua Spencer shook his head.  “Miranda is the daughter of a privateer.  They came into Philadelphia a few days back on the Hawkstrike.  There my cousin, Israel, who is the ship’s lieutenant, took a coach and came on to Chester ahead of the Hawkstrike which anchored in town just today.  I met him at the Boar Head Inn and we had a few rounds….”  The young man hung his head ashamed.  Too many.  I spoke out of turn revealing….”  He hesitated, glancing up at him before going on, “…revealing more than I should have.  I am afraid, sir, since your son Robert confessed that he was Captain Yankee Doodle, there are those who – ”

“Who suppose his brother is the same?”  It was Samuel’s turn to pale.  “They think Jeremy is a rebel leader?  That he may take his brother’s place?”  He rose to his feet and began to pace.  “My precious Lord!  If they only knew….  That boy hasn’t a thought in his head beyond the next pretty face, or where his next glass of ale will come from!” 

“Sir, I cannot say how much I regret my actions.  And as to Miranda’s…I had no idea.”  Joshua Spencer looked thoughtful.  “She is in a bad place, caught between her love of her father and….”

Samuel looked at him.  “Her love of you?”

“Yes, sir.  It surprises me she was so bold.  Nysell Hawksworth is not a man to be crossed if one wishes to remain safe, and – ”

“Nysell Hawksworth?”  It was Samuel’s turn to be surprised.  “You mean that lovely mulatto girl is old Nys’s child?”

Joshua looked confused.  “You sound as if you know him, sir.”

“I should,” he replied.  “We were boys together.  Why, before I was shot I was headed home to prepare to entertain him.  He was to stay in my home during his time in Chester.  You mean to say Nys is involved in this….”  Samuel gasped.  “Jeremy!  What if he went home.”

“I am sure your son can take care of himself,” the private commented quietly.  “You should rest, sir, you look ill.”

“I cannot rest.  I must go!  I must see that my son is safe.”

“Sir!  You are barely well enough to sit a horse.”

“Do you have any children, Private Spencer?” the old man demanded, his tone curt.

Joshua shook his head.  “No, sir.  Not yet.”

“Well, I had two, and I buried one beside his mother but a few days back.  An appearance by the Old Nick himself would do nothing to deter me from following and saving the only thing I have left!”  As he spoke Samuel took up his hat and placed it on his head.  “Now, go out there and see about getting me a horse.  I’m a civilian.  No one can keep me in this camp if I’ve made up my mind to leave it!”

Private Spencer chewed his lip for a moment.  “I’ll do it, sir, on one condition.”

“And that would be?”

“I’d like to come with you, sir.  You see, I owe…Captain Larkin.  Seeing you home safely and seeing that his…brother is all right, will go a long way toward repaying the debt.”