A New Species of Tyranny

 

          Chapter Sixteen

           

            Jeremy halted to listen.  Far in the distance it seemed he heard the sound of gunfire.  He wondered if it was General Wayne making whatever move he had planned.  Since Brandywine the countryside surrounding Chester had been quiet, with the exception of occasional sporadic gunfire and a few minor skirmishes.  It had been ten days since the battle and the threat of further violence hung in the air like portending rain.  He could only hope that – whatever it was – this time all would go well for the Cause.

            Israel Spencer’s escape had altered his plans.  He had intended to fly straight as the bee back to Chester, sustained by the slim hope that the foppish mulatto had lied and General Lafayette still lived.  It seemed to him a wasteful thing to kill such a valuable hostage.  Wasteful and dangerous.  Though it was war, still General Lafayette was the scion of a wealthy family, a nobleman with title, rank and lands.  He was also French.  And though King George might have smiled at the boy’s death in battle, to kill Lafayette outright risked bringing the wrath of France down on his head and most likely prompting her entry into the current conflict – on America’s side.

            Still, Spencer was a rogue element and might not care.  It seemed he had come with Nysell Hawksworth to the Colonies, but after arriving worked to advance his own agenda.  Jeremy did not think the privateer was involved with the cow-boys.  Hawksworth’s interest was monetary and his intended target, Captain Yankee Doodle.  It seemed Spencer was playing a separate game.  Perhaps Hawksworth knew nothing of this new deception.  By selling the weapons twice over, Israel Spencer not only gained gold for himself, but filled a coffer to finance the cow-boys’ agenda.

            Jeremy sniffed the air, but caught no scent of gunpowder. Whatever was happening was fairly far away.  Turning his attention again to his current pursuit, he crouched and began to search the ground for prints.  Not too far outside Washington’s camp he had found the impression of Israel Spencer’s high-heeled shoes.  The mulatto had met with some men and then struck out on his own.  Jeremy had been following his trail ever since, with the exception of the times when he suddenly found himself in Spencer’s shoes – meaning he was being pursued.  At those times he had been forced to leave the trail and hide until the soldiers passed by.

            Washington’s men were out in force and for blood.  To them, he was a fellow soldier who had betrayed them and attempted to assassinate their beloved leader.  There could be nothing worse.  If he survived this current crisis, he would have to return to Washington’s camp to clear his name. 

            And he needed Israel Spencer to do it.

            Rising to his feet Jeremy hesitated, listening.  When he heard nothing more – no explosions or tramp of boots or martial shouts – he started out again, bending his footsteps after Spencer’s which were headed, as he had expected, toward the river.  There, no doubt, he hoped to meet up with Nazarus Tome and the flatboats which would bear him, along with the stolen weapons, toward the waiting Loyalists who would welcome him as a hero. 

### 

            If Jeremy’s ears had been trained on the sounds of the woods closest to him instead of those far away, he might have heard one that was out of place.  A creamy brown finger, which had been trained on a trigger, released it with a small soft click.  The man whose finger it was shifted almost imperceptibly and gazed out of the leafy frame that was his hiding place.  A shaft of cold sunlight struck his lambskin hair as he did, turning it snow. 

            Israel Spencer stared at his quarry’s retreating back.  Though Washington was lost, Jeremy Larkin lived and was on the loose.  Spencer glanced at the regulation boots he wore.  One of his men had donned his custom-made shoes and was even now leading Larkin on a merry chase.  The rebel leader couldn’t know that his prey had doubled-back and become the hunter.  Of course by the time he did realize it, it wouldn’t matter.  Jeremy Larkin would be his captive.

            Or dead.

            Slipping out of Washington’s camp had not been hard.  He had, after all, planned for all contingencies.  Larkin had only been aware of the party who traveled with them.  Not the secondary one that trailed a few hours behind.  As ordered, they had camped a few miles away and waited.  After his escape Spencer had sought them out and been refitted with a new weapon and supplies.  They were within earshot now.  They knew the signal.  Two short shots followed by a silence.  And then a third.

            That meant the quarry was his.

            His schemes had not gone exactly as planned, but there was time to salvage them yet.  Hawksworth had proven the dupe he hoped, providing him with transport to the Colonies and adopting his idea that they allow the weapons which the British government had funded to be stolen, and then sell them for a second time to the Loyalists.  What his master did not know was that he was had long been in league with the cow-boys and that they planned a triple-cross.  He would report back to Hawksworth that rebels had hijacked the flatboats and there would be no payment, thereby obtaining the weapons and supplies for nothing.

            It would have been nice if he could have added Washington’s head to that coup, but c’est la vie, as the Frenchman would put it.

            Captain Tye had promised him a commission in his organization if he pulled the weapons snatch off.  Tye had offered to send him to New Jersey where he was not known.  Once the war was over, he would be given a high position in the new government.  Spencer’s lips twisted with a arrogant smirk.  By the time he had to make amends with Hawksworth, he would be powerful enough to make the privateer beg for his forgiveness.

            He liked the sound of that.

            Jeremy Larkin had moved out of sight.  Israel Spencer slipped like a snake from his place of concealment to follow.  If, on top of the weapons, he handed Captain Tye the rebel leader, Yankee Doodle, well – who knew what would come of it?

            Maybe Tye would have to answer to him. 

###

             General Lafayette gritted his teeth and waited as patiently as he could while Scipio changed the bandage on his shoulder.  One thing he had found since coming to America – he was not, by nature, a patient man.  The mulatto frowned at him and made a ‘tsk’ sound with his tongue as he fidgeted.

            Pardonnez moi,” he muttered. 

            “It doesn’t look good, General.  The wound is angry.”

            It was no doubt, out of humor, like him.  Lafayette closed his eyes as his future loomed before him – filled with physicians, heroic medicine, and endless days of bleeding and purging.  When it was inevitable that a soldier would be wounded, it seemed somehow unfair that the reward for such heroism was to be put at the mercy of learned men whose chief weapons were leeches and laxatives.

            In truth, all he wanted to do was sleep.

            “Sir?”

            Rousing himself, he returned Scipio’s concerned stare.  “Are you done?”

            The mulatto nodded.

            Bon.”  Pushing off the tree, he climbed wearily to his feet.  “We should be going.”

            “There’s no need for concern, General.  You’re not going anywhere,” a deep and somewhat exhausted voice proclaimed from out of nowhere, startling them both.  Then it added with menace.  “Scipio, no.”

            Lafayette glanced at the mulatto.  He had been reaching for his rifle which was perched against the tree.  As Scipio straightened up and backed away, his hands in the air, Lafayette turned to confront the speaker who was, at that moment, stepping out of his place of concealment in the trees.

            The man was covered with blood, both dried and seeping from wounds quickly staunched and bound with strips of linen.  His uniform coat was singed and covered with ash.  A bandage circled his head.  Beneath the bloody linen an angry oozing wound was visible on his cheek.  It looked as if a piece of shrapnel had taken him there, barely missing his eye.  Behind him trailed a weary horse, battered and bruised as well, that looked as if it had been pressed almost past endurance. 

            Whatever Nazarus Tome had been up to since they had parted on the Hawkstrike, it was obvious it had not gone his way.

            “How did you escape?” the black man demanded as he came to a stop before them.

            “I helped him,” Scipio answered quickly.  “What I did before was wrong.”

            “What you did before was wrong for him, not for you!”

  Nazarus glared at him.  Lafayette did not flinch.  At least not until Tome unexpectedly struck out and hit him, savagely, on the side of the head with the barrel of the pistol.  Reeling, he lost his footing and would have fallen if not for Scipio.

“There’s no need for that!” the young man shouted.

“Next time it will be you if you insist on remaining on his side,” Nazarus growled.

“I see defeat has done little to improve your disposition,” Lafayette remarked quietly.

The pistol was aimed at his head.  “Go ahead, white man.  Push me far enough that I pull the trigger.”

Before he could say anything, Scipio reached inside his coat and produced a small – and most likely loaded – pistol which he pointed at Captain Tome.  Then he stepped in front of him.

“No,” Scipio said firmly, “I won’t let you do that.”

“Scipio, no!” Lafayette insisted.

“Sorry, sir,” the mulatto answered with a pale smile, “I’m disobeying orders on this one.”

Nazarus Tome regarded him with disgust.  “You just lost your right to be considered a black man, boy.”

“I’m not a black man.  Or a white one, Captain Tome.  I’m just a man.  Like him.  Like you.”

Nazarus shook his head even as he raised his hand and brought it down in a sharp gesture.  As he did, a half dozen bloody and battered men stepped from the foliage behind him. 

“You’re wrong.  If you don’t move out of the way, what you are is a dead man.” 

###             

 Jeremy halted, slightly out of breath, and looked to the sky.  Near half the day was gone.  He had escaped just as dawn colored the sky and now it looked to be going on  noon.   Though he had been traveling at a quick pace, fatigue had slowed him down.  Between that and the erratic path he had to keep, hiding every half hour or so from patrols, he had – in his estimation – covered no more than five miles.  He should be close now to the place where he and Spencer had parted from Nazarus Tome’s company.  Thankfully Tome should be long gone – though not so thankfully as the stolen weapons went along with him.  They were most likely, even now, falling into the enemy’s hands.

            But that was a problem for another day.

            Jeremy bent again to examine Spencer’s prints which had stopped and then turned sharply west.  There was something about them that troubled him.  The marks were the same, the English-made heel unmistakable in the way it cut into the ground, but now it cut in deeper – as if the man had suddenly gained weight.  Perhaps, he told himself, Spencer was carrying something.  Or perhaps….

            Perhaps it wasn’t Spencer at all.

            Suddenly wary he rose to his feet and took a step back until the trailing branches of a willow concealed him.  Then he listened.  For a moment there was nothing.  Then, surprisingly, the sound of raised voices drifted to him, carried by a breeze. 

###

           “Scipio, you will put that weapon down and stand aside!” Lafayette commanded as his eyes flicked from Nazarus Tome to the men backing him.  More than half of them were armed.  “That is an order!”

The mulatto’s lip quirked.  “Your current physician has removed you from command.  Sir.”

“Do as he says Scipio,” Nazarus growled.  “If needs be, the ball will pass through you to get to him.”

“And you will die for nothing,” Lafayette whispered.  “You must choose to live, and fight again another day.”

The mulatto shook his head.  “No.  Sir.”

“Listen to me.  The Cause needs every man it can get, especially good men like you.  I do not believe Captain Tome will kill me, no matter how much he desires to.  I am too valuable.  But you, Scipio, he will kill you.”

 “Listen to the white man, Scipio.  Hear how he pretends to care.  You save him, here and now, and tomorrow you will be emptying his piss pot again.”  Nazarus Tome shuddered and faltered for just a moment, the weapon wavering briefly before being pointed firmly at them again.  “I don’t want to kill you, boy,” the black man added, his voice breaking.  “Move aside.”

Scipio glanced from Tome to Lafayette and back again.  “Only if you promise me you won’t kill him.”

That seemed to take Nazarus by surprise.  “You’d believe me?”

“If you lied, what would that make you?” the mulatto snapped.

Tome was silent a moment.  Then he lowered the pistol.

Scipio nodded toward the circle of soldiers.  “Them too.”

Nazarus hesitated only a moment, and then turned and nodded to his lieutenant. 

Lafayette watched the men grudgingly lower their weapons.  He was just about to recommend caution to Scipio when the young man glanced back at him and whispered one word.

“Run!”

Then Scipio spun and shot Nazarus Tome between the eyes.

Lafayette was so stunned he was unable to move.  In what seemed like slow motion he watched as the black man’s body crumpled like one of his childhood marionettes deprived of its strings.  He heard Scipio’s voice, calling him again, this time from behind, and felt a brush of someone’s fingers on his shoulder. 

Then several of the soldiers stationed behind Nazarus Tome pointed their weapons at him. 

### 

Who was this fool and what was he going to do with him?

Jeremy had first waited to see if the man he was trailing would reappear.  When he didn’t he crawled forward, moving close enough to hear the end of the conversation.  Within seconds a single shot had rung out, startling him, and a young man had rushed past.  Just as he noted the youth’s approximate size and shape, and the fact that he was not white, Jeremy caught the sound of several triggers being cocked.  Turning back he saw there was a second man who, for some reason, remained in place.  Realizing he had only seconds he reached out to catch hold of him, but his fingers just managed to brush the man’s shoulder.

Desperate, he went for his feet instead.

As the man’s long form struck the ground with an oomph of air, the rifles fired.  One ball struck the tree where he had been standing.  Several others whizzed over their heads.  Jeremy lost no time in gripping him about the waist and half-leading, half-dragging him into the cover of the trees.

The young mulatto who had startled him was nowhere to be seen.

Several minutes later Jeremy came to a low hill.  He scaled it with his unexpected charge in hand and then dropped with him into the natural ditch behind it.  With a quick prayer to Providence that no unexpected wash of water drown them, he pushed the man into the mulch of leaves and bracken and laid on top of him.  Within seconds several booted forms arrived.  Cursing, the men halted just above their hiding place.   There was shout as if someone had seen something, and then another shot.  A second curse told him they had missed, and then the men ran in the opposite direction, their voices fading away as they entered the trees.

As Jeremy sat up, the man beneath him sputtered as if he was finding it hard to breath.  He pulled him up and dusted him off with a hurried apology.

“Pray forgive me, sir.  I knew of no other way – ”

Jeremy stopped, stunned.

It was true.  The dead could come back to life.

“Sir!  You’re alive!”  Without warning, he threw his arms about General Lafayette and crushed him in a bear hug.  The Frenchman was pale and obviously in pain.  He winced as he pulled back, and it was only then that Jeremy noticed the bloody bandage on his shoulder.  “General Lafayette!  Pray forgive me, sir.”

“For what?” he laughed weakly.  “Saving my life for the second time?”

Jeremy rose and glanced about.  “The soldiers seem to have moved on.”

“And Scipio?  Where is he?”

“Scipio?”  Jeremy realized only then that the young man he had seen was Lafayette’s personal attendant – and slave.  “He fled, sir.  There was a shot after I dove into the ditch….”

“We must find him,” the general commanded as he rose to his feet.

“Perhaps you should wait here,” Jeremy suggested.

Non.  I am done waiting.  It is time for action.  This must end.”  The Frenchman lifted his head and put on the appearance of health, but Jeremy could see if was only that – an appearance.  “Captain Tome is dead.”

Relief coursed through him.  There would be no more hidden killers in Chester.  “How?” he asked.

“Scipio.”  The dimples appeared, even though Lafayette’s smile was dampened by worry.  “It appears you are not the only one devoted to saving your commander’s life. And Israel Spencer?  Where is he?”

Jeremy hesitated.  Explaining to Lafayette that he and Spencer had just escaped after leading an assassination attempt on General Washington’s life was going to have to wait.  “He was…found out and captured, but escaped.  I was trailing him – at least, I think I was, when I heard voices.”

“Then he – or they – are close by here?”

“Yes, I am, my dear Marquis,” Israel Spencer announced as his lean, polished form stepped out of the trees.  He held a pistol in his hand and was backed by what remained of Nazarus Tome’s men.  Jeremy noted one of them was wearing Spencer’s expensive shoes.  “It seems as if I take the prize after all.  Not General Washington, but Cornwallis’ boy and Captain Yankee Doodle all in one fell swoop.  Perhaps I will return to England with old Nysell.  Just imagine the laurels King George will place upon my head!”

Jeremy turned to look at his commander.  Lafayette shrugged.  They had both been in and out of the fire so many times in so few days they were beginning to become numb.  ‘Fortunes of war, little brother,’ Robert had told him as he died.  Since Brandywine he had learned the truth of that.  It seemed, in the end, that might and right would not win the war but luck – either the possession or lack of it.

With a sigh, Jeremy raised his hands above his head.

At that moment a shot rang out and a bullet whizzed past him striking Israel Spencer in the arm.  The pistol flew from his grip even as blood stained his elegant lilac sleeve.  As the men behind him reacted and raised their rifles, a strong voice called out.

“We have you surrounded.  Put down your weapons and surrender.  Or face the consequences!”

Jeremy had never been so happy to see a dozen blue and buff uniforms in his life.  As he continued to stare, a group of Continental soldiers stepped out of the trees, their weapons raised.  A man dressed in a hunter’s frock came striding quickly after them.  He paused at the edge of the small clearing as if thunderstruck and then continued on, obviously shaken.

As he drew close, Jeremy understood.

It was Sergeant Boggs.

The older man’s eyes went to Lafayette.  He took in his charge’s condition with a practiced eye, noting the wounds and blood, but also the fact that the Frenchman was moving under his own power.  Boggs stepped up smartly and saluted.

“Sir,” he began, his voice breaking, “it is good to see you.”

Jeremy watched as the raw intensity of the officer’s emotions struck his commander.  Lafayette paled even more.  “It seems after all, Daniel,” he admitted with a sigh, “that I do need a nursemaid.  Please forgive me for acting the willful child.”

“Sir, I….  Sir!” And with that Sergeant Boggs stepped forward and caught the Frenchman in an embrace.  A moment later, embarrassed, he pulled back.

Lafayette’s dark eyes shot to Jeremy.  The Frenchman’s lips twisted with wry amusement.  Then he reciprocated by planting two kisses – one on each of his aide’s reddened cheeks.

“Well done, Sergeant Boggs.”

Daniel Boggs nodded.  He continued to stare at his commander for a moment, and then excused himself and went to attend to business.  Boggs’ soldiers had taken Israel Spencer and the men who accompanied him prisoner.  It seemed they had found others as well lurking in the woods, for they held at least a dozen men captive.  Jeremy and Lafayette were both greatly relieved to find Scipio among them – alive, if wounded.  Boggs had gone to see that the young man was attended to properly.  Scipio was to be placed in a wagon to await transport to General Washington’s camp.  There, as a reward for his faithfulness, he would be attended by the commander-in-chief’s own surgeon. 

Jeremy could only hope that his own reception would prove as friendly.  If it was up to Washington’s soldiers, it was more likely he would be ridden in on a rail. 

Once Scipio had been secured, Sergeant Boggs returned to their side.  He frowned and then cleared his throat as if uncomfortable.  “Jeremy,” he began.

 Jeremy held out his wrists.  “I surrender, and will come peacefully.”

“Surrender?” Lafayette asked, astonished. “What is this?”

“It seems, sir,” Jeremy answered, “that the British are not the only ones who wish to put Captain Yankee Doodle’s neck in a noose.  There is a…small matter that needs to be cleared up before I will be able to render you assistance again.”

Lafayette scowled at his aide.  “You truly mean to arrest him?”

“Unless you command otherwise…sir.”

“What is the offense?” 

Jeremy took pity on the older man.  “The attempted assassination of His Excellency, George Washington.” 

### 

            The court martial was convened immediately upon their return to General Washington’s camp, just after midnight as September 21st dawned.  Jeremy was, of course, exonerated, though it took a great deal of talking to convince a few of the witnesses – Corporal Jones among them – that he had been acting.  As they walked away from the tent where the board remained, expunging any mention of his treason from the official record, Sergeant Boggs told him with a wry grin that he had missed his calling.  He should have taken to the boards.

            ‘No, thank you’, Jeremy thought. After the war he never wanted to have to make a pretense at anything ever again.

             The trial of Israel Spencer and his men would have to wait.  The camp was on tenterhooks awaiting word of General Wayne.  Every man was prepared to move on a second’s notice, either to battle or to flight.  Conflicting communications had been received.  Wayne was on the move.  He had decided to remain where he was.  The enemy was well prepared and on the march.  The enemy was unaware, passing their time washing and cooking.  The courier General Washington had sent out with a word of caution – it seemed there was some possibility that Wayne and his troops had been spotted – had not reported back.  Rumors were rife that he had been taken or killed.  Due to this, those involved in the taking of the weapons and the plot against the Commander-in-chief’s life had been clapped in irons and transported to a more secure location.  What men could be spared – an elite group used to covert operations – was sent to Chester in hopes that Nysell Hawksworth could be taken before the Hawkstrike sailed.

            During the proceedings Jeremy had looked for Lafayette, expecting him to give testimony, but the Frenchman had never shown.  His words had been read by Sergeant Boggs.  Now as he and the general’s aide walked and talked he found out why.  Lafayette had been moved as well – to General Washington’s quarters, where he was to remain until escorted to his long-neglected bed in Bethlehem hospital.

            During the brief interrogation the conspirators had undergone before being transported, a few of Nazarus Tome’s men had spoken of an attack on their company, the details of  which had already grown to near mythic proportions.  They spoke of strange flying craft propelled by white dust, dropping out of a clear blue sky, raining fire and death.  Two of the flatboats hired to bear the purloined weapons to the cow-boys had been utterly destroyed.  And what was left on the third posed little threat.  Jeremy had smiled at the report.  Even though he had not heard from either Henry or Isak, he knew they were safe.  There was no mistaking the apothecary’s hand in this. 

            So in one day, even though they were parted, the Yankee Doodle Society had played a part in putting an end two different schemes meant to break the spirit of the rebellion.

            Would that they had been able to stop the third.

            It must have been near four in the morning.  Jeremy had parted from Sergeant Boggs about three and had fallen onto a rough cot in a small tent and into a deep incoherent sleep.  A rough hand roused him, though it took him some time to make sense of what they said.  When he finally blinked the drugged stupor from his eyes, he heard the words he would never forget.

            ‘Captain Larkin, there’s been a massacre at Paoli.’             

            The reports had come in first as a trickle of blood with one drop here, another there.  Then they gushed forth as from a wound that would never heal.  The annals of the age cannot produce such another scene of butchery.  ‘I with my own eyes, see them, cut and hack our poor men to pieces.’  ‘Every one of them in sport had indulged their brutal ferocity.’  The enemy last night at twelve o'clock attacked ... Our men just raised from sleep, moved disorderly – confusion followed.  The carnage was very great.

           ‘This is a bloody month….’

            General Wayne had been found out and General Howe had dispatched Major-general Charles Grey to remove the threat.  With seemingly unbelievable savagery Grey had done so, ordering his men to first remove the flints from their weapons so no spark would give them away, and then to attack – with bayonets only.  For some reason General Wayne had not posted an adequate guard and the surprise was near total.  Nearly half the number killed at Brandywine had been lost in an hour’s time.  Four hundred Continental soldiers.  Butchered.  Brutalized.  Murdered. 

            The British suffered only twenty casualties.

            What followed after that was accomplished with the hush of a funeral procession.  On General Washington’s orders the camp was struck.  What forces were left must be protected at all costs.  The retreat of the Continental Army would leave the river vulnerable and, most likely, mean the loss of the capital city, but there was nothing else to be done.

            For the moment, King George had won.