A New Species of Tyranny

         Chapter Six

                

            Elizabeth opened her eyes to find Jeremy sitting beside her bed.  He was leaning forward, holding her hand.  His eyes were closed and his expression utterly weary.  She lay still for some time watching him, knowing he would mask his pain if he realized she was awake.  Outside the window the dawn was breaking on a new day.  The sunlight streamed in, crossing the pine floor like a welcome intruder to brush his thick hair, turning it to spun gold.

            Smiling, she reached out to touch it.

            Jeremy started when she did, almost as if from sleep.  He pressed her hand between his own.  “Elizabeth, I am so sorry.”

            “For what?” she murmured.

            “For this!”  He indicated the bed where she lay.  “It is all my fault….”

            “How?  How is this your fault?”

            He stared at her hard.  Pressing his lips to her hand briefly, he released it and then rose and began to pace.  A dozen heartbeats later, he turned to face her.  “Someone is trying to kill everyone I love.”

            “Everyone?” she asked.  “You mean there have others….”

            “My father.  The same as you.  Shot from a distance.  He lays in Lafayette’s camp.  And Henry….”  Jeremy began to move again, as if his conscience would not let him rest.  “Henry escaped unscathed, but it was not for want of someone trying.”

            “Isak?” she asked in a small voice.

            Jeremy paled.  “So far, no.”

            “Who do you think it is?”

            He shook his head.  “I cannot say.  Someone who knows who…I am.”

            She heard the pain, the guilt in his tone.  “Yankee Doodle, you mean.”

            “Yes, that damned name!  Nothing but misery has come of it.  First, Robert…. Now this.”

            “Jeremy Larkin, you come here and you sit down,” she commanded softly.

            “What?”

            “Come,” she said, tapping the bed-clothes with her fingers.  “Sit.”

            He stared at her a moment.  Then he sighed.  And then, like a little boy obeying his mother, returned to her side and did as she said. 

            “Do not think you can change my mind – ” he began.

            “Hush,” she said.  “I want to tell you a story.”

            “Once upon a time…I suppose,” he sighed.

            “Yes.  Once upon a time.”  Elizabeth shifted, seeking to ease the pain in her shoulder.  “Once upon a time there was a young girl.  She had everything anyone could want – a fine home, beautiful clothes, and plenty to eat.  Every day she did her chores, worked her embroidery, and sewed her samplers.  Every week she went to town, met with her friends and bought what she needed.”  She squeezed his fingers and smiled at him.  “And she had a young man whom she loved.  She thought there was nothing that she lacked.  But she was wrong.”

            “It sounds a good life to me,” Jeremy muttered.

             “A good life, yes, but not a great one.  Though she was happy, she was not content.  Within her there was a secret longing.”

            “For what?” he asked.

            “A purpose,” Elizabeth answered.  “That is what you have given me, Jeremy Larkin, and the others – a purpose.  There is more to life than just living it.”

            He was silent a moment.  Then he said, “That purpose may get you killed.”

            “I know.  And I know it may kill you as well.”  She drew a deep breath though it pained her, and shifted again.  “This war, Jeremy, it is bigger than you and me.  Bigger than all of us.  What was it Mr. Jefferson said?  There are two kinds of men – those who think of the needs of the few, and those who think of the needs of the many.   You can’t give up.  You can’t let these men, whoever they are, stop you.  Do you hear me?”

            He must have sensed that she was weakening, for he leaned over and gently kissed her on the forehead.  “You should rest,” he said.  “I should go.”

            “Jeremy,” she caught his hand.  For all her high-minded words, she was scared to death – for him.  “Where will you go?”

            “To the general’s camp,” he answered, brushing a lock of hair from her forehead.  “He may be in danger as well.”

            She frowned, and then she understood.  “Someone has betrayed you?”

            He shook his head.  “We do not know.  But it seems it must be.  What else links you and my father and Henry, but me?”

            “So you think these men might try to kill General Lafayette?”  She had only met the Frenchman briefly in the barn that night when Jeremy and the others had rescued him, but she knew what his presence meant to the Cause.

            “I fear it may be so.”  He squeezed her hand and rose to his feet.  “Henry warned me not to remain too long.  You need your rest.”

            Elizabeth started to protest, but before she could she was seized by a mighty yawn.  Blinking back the fatigue that threatened to claim her, she clutched his fingers and held him back.  Jeremy touched her face with his hand.  Then her lips.  Her fingers.  Then he freed his hand and walked to the door.

            “Get some sleep,” he said.  “After I have seen the general and know he is all right, I will come back to you.”

            “Promise?” she asked, even as her eyes closed.

            “Promise,” he said

 

###

 

            Jeremy was lost in a world of his own thoughts by the time he reached the bottom of the stairs.  Someone cleared their throat and he looked up, and was startled to find Lafayette’s aide, Sergeant Daniel Boggs, standing in the Coates’ common room.  The frontiersman looked exhausted.  He was covered with the dirt of the road, and sweat plastered his sandy hair to his forehead in a muddy copper wave.  Boggs had been speaking with Henry.  He turned when he heard him and walked forward.

            “Jeremy,” Boggs said.

            “Sergeant?”  Jeremy glanced at Henry who leaned on the fireplace mantle.  His friend looked worse than Boggs.  “What brings you here?”

            “It’s the general, Jeremy,” Henry answered, his voice trembling.

            Fear punched him in the stomach.  Hard.  “He’s not – ”

            “Dead?  No.”   Boggs paused.  “Well, at least I don’t think he is.  What good would it do to take him and then kill him?”

            “Take him?”

            “Lafayette has gone missing, “ Henry explained.  “Sergeant Boggs rode through the night looking for us.  When he found we were not in Chester, he thought to try here.”

            “Isak?” Jeremy asked.

            “He and Nazarus returned to the camp early this morning,” the sergeant replied.  “Some of Captain Tome’s soldiers have disappeared.  Scipio as well.  We can only think they accompanied the general out of the camp for some reason and were taken with him.”  The frontiersman paused as if not entirely comfortable with that explanation.  Then he added, “I understand Mistress Coates has been shot as well?”.

            “As Henry would have been, if the assassin had taken better aim.”

            Boggs was quiet a moment.  Then he said, “It seems their aim is all too clear.”

             Jeremy crossed to a chair and sat heavily in it.  “Aye.  Anyone associated with me is in harm’s way.”

            “Anyone associated with Captain Yankee Doodle, you mean.  Otherwise the general would not be involved.”

            “Unless that is only a coincidence,” Henry offered.  Then, as both men glared at him, he raised his hands in surrender.  “Just a suggestion….”

            “What sign was there?” Jeremy asked.  “Or did you not find the place Lafayette went?”

            “We did.  A spot in the woods.  We found little there – men’s boot-prints, horses, the tracks of a wagon.  All, for the most part erased.  Isak and Nazarus are doing their best to follow them now.”  Boggs paused.  “There was one thing more.”

            He sensed the older man’s fear.  “And what was that?”

            “Blood.  Someone was shot and lay on the ground.”

            “We can hope it was one of the general’s attackers,” Henry offered.

            Sergeant Boggs reached beneath his woodsman’s jacket and drew out a flintlock pistol.  Its fine gold barrel shone in the firelight.  Even before he spoke, Jeremy knew it.  He had seen the Frenchman carry it often enough.

            “He had no weapon.  It was not Lafayette who fired the shot.”

            Jeremy sat for a moment at a loss.  Then he rose to his feet.  “Henry, you stay here with Elizabeth and Goodwife Camden.  Sergeant Boggs I will go with you to camp – ”

            “No.  Jeremy, you must go home.”

            “What?”

            “That’s part of the reason I am here.  In spite of what has happened – and maybe because of it – we must keep that shipment of arms out of the hands of the enemy.  We are in desperate need of them ourselves after what happened near the White Horse Tavern on the 16th.  Captain Tome told me the Hawkstrike anchored in Chester harbor last night.  The privateer, Nysell Hawksworth, will most likely seek out your father today.  We need Hawksworth safely harbored in your house so we can keep watch over him and his doings.  Intelligence seems to indicate he, or someone on his ship, is in this for profit and will not turn the rifles and ammunition over to Howe or Cornwallis.”

            “I cannot sit by and entertain the man while the people I love are dying,” Jeremy protested.  “I must do something….”

            Sergeant Boggs approached and laid a hand on his shoulder.  “Jeremy, I have been thinking about this.  No one has died.  The shots have all been clean, leaving no damage to internal organs.  I don’t believe the sniper meant to kill anyone, just to – ”

            Suddenly it made sense.  “To send me a message.”

            “Yes.”

            “But to what end?  So I will give up, and cease being Yankee Doodle?”

            Boggs released him and walked to the door.  Once there, he put his hat on and closed his coat against the brutal day outside.  “At this point Jeremy, it is a game of watch and wait.  The enemy has the upper hand and we are left in the dark.  With everything happening around us, we have no way of knowing if any of this is connected or not.  If it is, I am sure in time the enemy will let us know what their demands are – of Yankee Doodle, and concerning the general.”

            “Where are you headed?” Jeremy asked.  “Back to camp?”

            The older man was chagrinned.  “To camp all right, but not to Lafayette’s.  I have to inform General Washington of the Marquis’ disappearance.  He is at council with General Wayne at Reading Furnace.”  Boggs shook his head.  “He does not need another worry.  Not one such as this.”

            In the midst of his own troubles, Jeremy had nearly forgotten about the war which raged all around them.  “How goes it?” he asked.

            “Not well.  The General settled at Germantown for a time.  Now he headquarters at Reading.  The troops are spread along the Lancaster Road in an attempt to deny the British access to Swede’s Ford and a crossing over the Schuylkill.  We had a rider in camp last night.  General Wayne, it seems, has a plan.  The courier did not elaborate, but Anthony knows the surrounding land as well as the back of his hand.  Any scheme he has promises hope.  And hope is something we need desperately.”  Boggs reached out and took him by the arm.  “I must warn you, Jeremy,  Howe is on the move.  There are thousands of British soldiers even now marching through Chester under Cornwallis who go to join him.  The journey home will not be an easy one.”

            “As mayor’s son, I should be safe enough.  It is known my father has not supported the Cause.  And that we have only just lost my brother because of it.”  Jeremy drew a deep breath.  “If I must, I can disparage General Washington with the best of the Tories and His Majesty’s soldiers.”

            “You will need some explanation as to why you are on the road,” Boggs said as he turned to the door.

            Jeremy’s answering grin was determined.  “I was found in the Coates’ barn but a week ago with Elizabeth.  A return visit should not take any man among them by surprise – especially with Elizabeth’s uncle away.”

 

###

 

            Just as the sun was setting in the west, Jeremy stumbled into his house, exhausted.  Though the distance from the Coates’ farm to Chester was but a few miles, it had taken him near half the day to arrive.  As he approached the town he had been forced to halt with the few other citizens who were trying to get in, and made to wait while the might of the British Empire paraded past.  Soldiers, marching in file, row upon row like an unstoppable crimson wave, stepped in time to the beat of the drum and fife, while martial music filled the air, accompanied by shouts of ‘hurrah!’ sent up by the town’s Loyalist citizens. 

            All in all, it was a most disheartening sight.

            The Recoats, he knew, were headed for Philadelphia.  They intended to capture the capital city and winter in comfort there.  In-between them and their goal lay General Washington’s army.  He had lost count today, but had been told by one of the Redcoats who was standing by keeping watch for trouble that Lord Cornwallis had 3000 soldiers with him.  The British army in the Philadelphia campaign was said to number at least 18,000.  The last he had heard, General Washington commanded no more than eight.

            Their only hope, it seemed, lie in the coming winter which would give them time to regroup and reform.

            Jeremy crossed to the hearth and kindled a fire.  Two days had passed since his return from the hospital at Ephrata.  So far there had been no time to bathe or see to his morning ablutions.  A firm growth of fine golden hair covered his cheeks.  He ran a hand along it, considering what Elizabeth would think of a beard for one brief absurd moment, and then he laughed.  The human spirit was indomitable.  No matter how dark the night, it would always seek the morn and life.  Washington would win.  They would win.   

            In spite of everything this black week had contained.

            After placing a kettle over the fire to heat some water, Jeremy moved toward the stair.  He would change into some clean clothes and then return with his razor.  The bowl in the kitchen would do today to wash and shine.  After he was presentable, he needed to find some plausible excuse to make his way to the wharf to see if he could make contact with the man who captained the Hawkstrike.  Then he needed to locate Isak and his friend.  Captain Nazarus Tomes knew the ship and could, perhaps, help him formulate some plan for taking her.  There was a creek nearby big enough to hide a ship in.  With the recent rains and swollen waters, they might just be able to navigate the small packet ship into her – if she would fit through the Third Street bridge abutments.  If not, then they would be forced to commandeer her and take her away from the city to a place where someone from Washington’s army could come and claim the prize she held.

            Jeremy had just placed his foot on the bottom step when there was a forceful knock at the door.  Puzzled, he turned around and headed for it.  Since Major Tarleton had been killed in the collapse of the tunnel the day Robert died, the soldiers quartered in their home had moved on.  Apparently they believed his brother’s profession that he and his father were innocent.

            Or maybe they didn’t.  Maybe one of the men who was with Tarleton, who had heard Robert’s confession, had discerned the truth – that his elder brother had been covering for him. 

            Jeremy drew a steadying breath, then he shook himself into his usual callow slump and nonchalantly opened the door. 

            Outside the door was quite a sight.  Two men and a woman awaited him.  The man to the front was obviously the one in charge.  He was older – fifty or perhaps sixty years of age – and had a youthful face, though it was lined by both sun and concern.  He wore a top coat and breeches of a deep blue silk velvet with a lighter blue satin figure in it; abundantly decorated with embroidery worked in a fanciful marine motif.  The stranger’s stockings were silk and gartered at the knee by straps decorated with chaised silver buckles.  Settled comfortably on his salt and pepper hair was a cocked riding hat with ermine trim.

            The man who accompanied him was younger by 30 years or more, and by contrast was simply, if elegantly dressed.  His coat was plain with the single exception of a velvet collar, and sewn of a lilac cloth with silver buttons and braid.  He wore no hat.  His kinked hair was a pale whitish blond and bound in a matching ribbon.  Pale tendrils of the flighty stuff decorated his deeply tanned forehead and cheeks.

            Like the woman beside him, the younger man was obviously of mixed blood.

            As Jeremy stared, the older of the two doffed his hat and asked, “Master Larkin, I presume?”

            “Jeremy, sir,” he replied, coming out of his reverie.  “How may I help you?”

            “Jeremy.  Jeremy…”  The older man repeated his name thoughtfully.  “Ah!  Anne’s youngest.  How is your fair mother.  Is she at home?”

               “My…my mother?” he stuttered.  Then, thinking better of his manners, he added, “Come in, sirs.  Madame.  Pray forgive me for leaving you in the cold.”

            “In these times prudence must often outweigh propriety,” the man in blue said as he made a short bow.  “Allow me to introduce myself and my companions.  I am Nysell Hawksworth.  This is my lieutenant, Israel Spencer.  And this,” he held his gloved hand out and waited as the young woman came forward to take it, “is my daughter, Miranda.”

            Miranda wore a cloak to keep off the chill.  But where it fell open he could see her closed gown.  It was elegant and cut of a deep-crimson watered and damasked silk.  Her hair was dark as her father’s must once have been, but bronze instead of black.  Miranda’s eyes were a lovely light hazel, and they sparkled when she looked up at him.

            “Master Larkin,” she said.  “You are younger than I would have thought.”

            Before he had time to react to that, Miranda’s father led her to the fire and bid her sit.  As she obeyed, the older man turned back.  “Now, where were we, Jeremy?  I had asked about your mother.  Where is the charming creature?  And that old rascal, Samuel.  I suppose he told you I was coming?”  When Jeremy said nothing, Hawksworth continued, “He made no mention of family in his letter answering mine.  I think I remember an elder boy, do I not?  Richard, was it?”

            “Robert,” Jeremy said.

            “Yes, Robert.  And where is he now?”

            Nysell Hawksworth’s grey eyes were trained on him.  He waited for an answer.  Jeremy stared back, not knowing what to say.  From all appearances the man was simply an old friend of his father’s come to call.  But something about the privateer made the hackles rise on the back of his neck, and it wasn’t only the fact that he knew the man was running guns.  

            “Robert is dead, sir,” he said at last.  “As is my mother.  There is only my father and me now.”

            The man seemed taken aback.  “Forgive me, I did not know.  Your father and I lost touch some ten or fifteen years back.  No one was more astounded than I to find he was the mayor of this small hamlet.  When I learned I was to come here, I wrote him, hoping we might renew our acquaintance.  How did it happen?”

            “My mother died long ago of a fever.  My brother, only recently.”  He didn’t elaborate. 

            “He wasn’t one of these rebels routed by the King’s men near a week ago, was he?” Israel Spencer sniffed as he moved past them toward the stair.  “I hear their graves line the road from here to the capital.”

            Jeremy fought hard to remain calm.  He started to answer, but before he could Nysell Hawksworth did it for him.  “Nonsense, Israel, if Robert died fighting it was on the King’s side.  Isn’t that right, young man?  Your father told me in his letter that he did not agree with the colonies breaking with their rightful king.”

            “My father took no side, sir, believing all men must go where their conscience leads them.”

            “And where does your conscience take you, young man?”

            Hawksworth’s voice had an edge – one Jeremy didn’t like.

            “Where, for its own sake, it may find rest, sir,” he answered with a manufactured grin.  “To the tavern, to the country, into a young lady’s arms.  This conflict is irksome at best.”

            “Irksome?  Yes, it can be,” the older man said.  Nysell Hawksworth studied him for a moment and then seemed to come to a decision.  Turning to Israel Spencer he ordered, “Check the second floor.”  As Jeremy began to protest, the older man pulled a silver pistol from beneath his coat and pointed it directly at his heart.  “Why don’t you take a seat before the fire, Master Jeremy Larkin.  Miranda,” he called over his shoulder, “be a good girl and bolt the door.”

            As the young woman scurried to carry out his order, Jeremy did as he was told.  “What is this all about?” he asked as he sat in his father’s chair.

            Hawksworth started to reply, but paused as Israel Spencer reappeared on the stair.  The man in the lilac coat shook his head.  “There’s no one.”

            “Good, then we can proceed.”

            “Proceed with what, sir?” Jeremy demanded.  “What is this all about?”

            “Tell me, Master Larkin, where is your father?”

            “Away, sir.  Visiting a sick friend,” he replied, employing the concocted story he and the others had agreed on.

            Nysell Hawksworth perched on the edge of the chair opposite him and rested the pistol on his knee.  “That wouldn’t happen to be Mistress Coates, would it?  Or Henry Abington?”

            Jeremy went cold.   “What do you want?” he asked, giving up any pretense that he didn’t know what the man was talking about.

            Hawksworth pursed his lips.  “What do I want?  Let me see.  Israel, what do we want?”

            “Washington dead,” the young man answered matter-of-factly.

            “Yes, yes, there is that,” the older man sneered.  “You see, it is difficult to say precisely what I want, because you and your tiresome rebels have forced me to alter my plans.  I was sent here from London with a dual purpose.  Number one, to deliver weapons to a band of Loyalists set to begin their reign of terror in this area.  And, number two, to aid those Loyalists in destroying the rebel leader Yankee Doodle.”  At Jeremy’s surprised expression, he laughed.  “Oh yes, Captain Doodle’s adventures have been the talk of London’s fashionable parlors ever since he and his band interfered with that spy’s execution a year ago.  The War Department decided something must be done about him and, since I too operate outside normal channels, I was chosen to do it.”  Hawksworth shook his head.  “Imagine my surprise when a small vessel pulled alongside the Hawkstrike as it neared the coast two days back and a courier came aboard to tell us that he had already been captured – and killed.  How distressing.”

            Jeremy frowned.  “So you knew my brother’s name was Robert.  And that my mother was dead.”

            “No, I didn’t know about Anne,” the older man admitted, his voice softening with her name.  “But Captain Robert Larkin?  Late of Chester and Washington’s vagabond army?  Oh yes, I knew about him.  I listened to the courier’s report, but it didn’t set right with me.  Yankee Doodle is not regular army.  His thinking is too…creative.”

            “It was a good thing I came ashore early,” Israel said, walking to the window and looking out.  “And that my cousin cannot hold his liquor.”

            Hawksworth laughed at Jeremy’s puzzled look.  “Israel’s cousin serves under Lafayette.  Private Joshua Spencer was in the honor guard at your brother’s funeral.  He overheard your comments to the French general and – I am sorry to say for you – after a few pints told my lieutenant the truth.”  The older man leaned forward.  “Then…it all made sense.  Not the elder, but the younger brother.  Not the soldier, but the wastrel.  A family of traitors.” 

            “Patriots, sir!” Jeremy countered, growing hot.

            Hawksworth rose to his feet.  He lifted a hand to his brow and drew it sharply away. 

            “I salute you, Captain Yankee Doodle, for what you have accomplished at a young age and in a very short amount of time.”

            Jeremy looked from the older man to the younger who stood watch by the door pistol in hand, to the young woman who sat by the fire looking as if she would rather have been anywhere else on the earth, and finally back to Hawksworth. 

            “What is it you want of me?” he asked.

             “As to what I want, Captain, I think you already know.  You will aid me in getting the supplies off the Hawkstrike and into the hands of the Loyalist brigade, and then you will use your influence to get my men through the lines into General Washington’s camp.”

            “Never!” Jeremy shouted, leaping to his feet.

            “Never?”  Hawksworth repeated as he too rose.  “Well, it is your choice.  But then, there are consequences to our choices, aren’t there?”  Coming closer, the older man continued to speak, his voice low and carrying a very real threat.  “You have already seen that I can, at any moment, destroy everything you love.  But more than that, there is a certain young Frenchman whose life, I believe, you hold dear.  He is mine now, and if – Captain Yankee Doodle – you do not do everything I demand.

            “Lafayette is a dead man.”