A New Species of Tyranny

 

           Chapter Ten

 

             A kick to his wounded leg brought Lafayette abruptly into consciousness.  A steady stream of sunlight poured in through the ship’s porthole, indicating the new day had dawned.  He blinked and looked up to find his tormentor, seaman Marlowe, towering over him.  Ever since he had mopped the deck with the English seaman the night he had attempted to escape, Marlowe had delighted in paying him back.  Half of the time the food that found its way to him was inedible, and both his wounds had suffered their fair share of jabs and jolts.  As renewed pain resounded through his weary body, he felt the seaman’s rough hand on his arm and heard the click of the key in his shackles’ lock.

             “It’s out of here for you, frog,” Marlowe growled as one iron cuff fell off his wrist and clattered to the floor.  The seaman used the chain to drag him to his feet and then spun him around and refastened the manacle before he had time to even think of attempting anything.  Taking hold of the chain again, Marlowe drew his hands up to the middle of his back, making his shoulder wound scream.  “This way, your majesty,” he sneered.          

            “Why…are you…moving me?” he gasped.

            “If it was up to me, I’d leave you here for the British to find.  But orders is orders.”

            “The British?”

             “If you must know, some of Lord Howe’s men are comin’ to pay us a call.  They’re wantin’ to see what’s left of their missin’ cargo.  I tried to persuade old Hawksworth to let me give you to them, but he said ‘no’.  ‘Bury him deep and bury him good for now’, he said.”  Marlowe’s sneer lifted the scar above his lip which puckered his scarred cheek unpleasantly.  “There’s about a foot and a half of water in the hold.  You think that’s deep enough?”

            “You do not frighten me,” Lafayette declared between clenched teeth.

            “Well, ain’t that too bad?”  The seaman took hold of his shoulder and dug his fingers into the wound.  As tears flowed down the Frenchman’s cheeks, he whispered close to his ear.  “I promise I’ll try harder in the future – it’s a long way to London.”

            “Marlowe!”

            The brutish seaman snarled as he pivoted toward the door and the corridor from which his commander’s voice had come.  “Aye, Captain Hawksworth?”

            “What’s taking you so long?  Time is of the essence.  Get a move on!”

            “Seems you ain’t the only one who thinks of himself as royalty around here, Frenchie.”  Marlowe placed a hand  in the middle of his back and shoved.  “You heard the captain – get a move on it!”

            Lafayette had considered feigning weakness and then attempting to make a break for the main deck.  The problem was, once on his feet, he found he didn’t have to pretend – as he took a step forward his wounded leg gave out and he fell to the floor.

            Which earned him another swift kick from Marlowe.

            “Get up, you milksop!”

            “Sailor! What is the delay?”  Hawksworth’s tone darkened with his disappointment.  “I told you to – ”  The Englishman’s voice stopped abruptly.  There was silence and then, “Damn!”  A moment later Nysell Hawksworth, dressed like a dandy in a heavily embroidered deep purple suit cut of sprigged velvet, appeared in the doorway.  “The British officers are here.  They will board any minute.”  The older man scowled, thinking.  “Gag the Marquis and place him in Miranda’s cabin.  Her maiden’s modesty should prevent inspection there.  Give her a weapon if she lacks one, and tell her to watch him closly until the soldiers have gone.”  Hawksworth turned away, but pivoted back with a sharp reminder.  “And, mind your manners, oaf, when you address my daughter!”

            Marlowe sucked in his anger and nodded once.  But as the Hawkstrike’s captain walked away, he spit it out.  “You’ll get yours one day, you old fop.  And I’ll be there to see it.”  Lafayette felt the seaman’s rough hand grip his wounded shoulder for leverage.  “You gonna move, your majesty, or would you like me to ‘assist’ you?”

            The chains that bound him were heavy and unwieldy.  They weighed his spirit down as well as his flesh.  But he knew if he did not rise on his own he would be subjected to the indignity of this brute tossing him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and bearing him through the corridors to Hawksworth’s daughter’s cabin.  Gathering all his strength, he focused it into his legs and rose shakily to his feet.

            “Bloody Hell, it’s alive!” Marlowe scoffed as he took hold of the collar of his now soiled uniform.  “You know, frog, you ain’t in any condition to meet a lady.”  The seaman made a pretense of dusting off his coat and straightening his lapels.  When he came to his shoulder he shoved it hard again, renewing his tears.  Marlowe laughed as they wetted his cheeks and then gagged him as Nysell Hawksworth had demanded, so tightly the filthy cloth cut into his cheeks.  “Bleedin’ john-n-john!  No wonder old Nys is willing to put you in with his daughter.  He ain’t got nothin’ to worry about, now does he?”

            With that insult Lafayette surrendered and allowed the seaman to lead him limping from the cook’s room toward Miranda’s cabin, since there was nothing else he could do.

 ###

             Lafayette was alive!  And Jeremy knew where he was.  The thought of those two truths sent shivers of hope shooting through his exhausted frame.  He was almost one hundred percent certain the prisoner on the Hawkstrike was the missing Frenchman.  And that meant – if he could get the information into the right hands and enable someone to free the general – then he would be free to do whatever was necessary to obstruct Nysell Hawksworth and thwart his plans.  But how?  At the moment, seated on a horse by Israel Spencer’s side, guarded and watched every moment, there seemed little he could do.

Along with Spencer, Jeremy had boarded one of the boats laden with weapons and ammunition and floated along the Delaware, heading for a landing somewhere near Marcus Hook.  Once there he had hoped to locate Isak, who was with the wagons, and speak to him alone.  But before they reached the spot where the others waited, his English watchdog had ordered their boat to shore and the two of them debarked.  There, they found horses waiting.  After traveling for about an hour, they halted and took up a position on a tree-covered ridge.  Now, from their place of concealment, they watched as Nazarus Tome’s men loaded the stolen weapons into the wagon’s holds.  Isak was there.  After helping to fill one of the wagons, the blacksmith had taken the driver’s seat.  Along with Tome he was headed now down the beaten dirt path.  Henry was not with them.  The apothecary had made his excuses on Chester’s wharf and remained behind to help tend the Redcoats who had been wounded in their attack.  Word was he meant then to return to Elizabeth, or perhaps to the hospital at Ephrata.

            Jeremy glanced at Spencer who sat his horse with a spyglass to his eye.  He wondered what excuse the mulatto had offered Isak to explain their absence.  Perhaps Spencer had employed a portion of the truth, saying they had other matters to attend to.  The Hawkstrike’s lieutenant had filled him in on the next part of the plan as they rode toward the wagons.  Once the weapons were delivered into the Loyalist’s hands, the two of them would implement the second phase – they would travel to General Washington’s camp and Jeremy would use his credentials to get them behind the lines.  Spencer was wise.  He had deliberately separated their Society so they could be of no use to each other.  With Henry in Chester and Isak traveling with the supplies, they couldn’t possibly coordinate any kind of counter-attack.

            Henry, at least, was safe.  He could only assume Spencer had sensed the apothecary posed little threat and made a deliberate choice to let him go.  It was Isak he was worried about.  Jeremy was nearly certain that the blacksmith’s old friend, Nazarus Tome, was the double-agent Sergeant Boggs suspected.  And that it was Nazarus who had engineered Lafayette’s capture.  If that was the case, it was also likely that Captain Tome’s company was behind the shootings of his father and Elizabeth.  In fact, it was entirely possible that Nazarus Tome himself was the head of the insurgent Loyalist force which was about to be set loose upon the Chester countryside.  The terror such unprincipled men would inflict upon the unsuspecting populace was horrific enough to contemplate, but there was even more at stake than individual lives.  Washington’s army laid low, seeking to survive the debacle that was Brandywine.  If a regiment of well-armed Loyalists banded together with thousands of General Howe’s disciplined troops –

            Could the Cause survive?

            “I would give all the guineas in my purse for your thoughts, Larkin,” a smug voice remarked from beside him.

            Jeremy turned to look at Israel Spencer.  The mulatto’s lambskin hair shone nearly white in the noonday sun.  “They are without price,” he snarled.

            Spencer lowered the spyglass and anchored it at his waist.  “Oh, I think you are wrong there.  I think there is a price – and it’s name is Lafayette.”

            The Englishman was right.  The information he had concerning the general’s location was useless unless he could pass it on.  “You think I would sacrifice the entire Cause for one man’s life?  It is there that you are mistaken, sir.”

            “Am I?”  Israel Spencer sneered.  “And is he ‘one’ man?  Rumor says Lafayette may hold the key to France’s entry into the war.  Therefore, the good marquis is not one man, but thousands.”

            Jeremy’s jaw grew tight.  “I will not lead you to General Washington.  I would rather die.”

            “You’ll die anyway, Captain Yankee Doodle.  But, you will do as I say or your Frenchman will die first, and in agony.  He has not been on his best behavior while on board the Hawkstrike,” the mulatto added with a snort.  “I am afraid he has made some enemies who would be more than happy to kill him - slowly.”

            Jeremy frowned.  Did Spencer realize he had just given up the general’s location? 

            Israel laughed at his puzzled expression.  “Do not look so distressed.  Did you think I didn’t know?  I saw you watching Tome, and peering in the locked cabin.  By sundown tonight your precious Marquis will no longer be on board the vessel.  There is no hope for him, Captain Larkin, unless you play my game.”

            His hopes dashed, Jeremy sighed.  “What is it you want me to do?”

            “Very little.  Just introduce me to General Washington.”  Israel Spencer pulled a silver pistol from beneath his lilac coat.  His lightly-tanned face split with wicked anticipation as he lifted it and the noonday sun glinted off its polished barrel.  “And then turn your back and walk away.”

 ###

            Miranda gasped as her cabin door was thrust open and the seaman, Asa Marlowe, stepped in.  Marlowe had attempted to accost her before in the Hawkstrike’s narrow corridors, even going so far as to fondle her once with his rough hands.  She had thought about telling her father, but hesitated for a number of reasons.  One, she could take care of herself.  And two, even for the likes of Marlowe, Nysell Hawksworth’s particular brand of justice seemed harsh.  She had seen her father order a man’s ears nailed to the pillory for stealing a crust of bread from the larder, and another stripped and whipped with a cat o’ nine tails for leaving a puddle of water behind after swabbing the decks in which his dog had slipped.  Her father was a cruel man, and one who took pleasure from that cruelty.  She did not know what had formed him, but had been told her mother’s death had done much to make him the man he was.

            Her father never spoke of it.  But she knew he blamed the Americans.

            Her mother had been mulatto, like her, and a slave in the West Indies.  Her name was Maua, which roughly meant ‘flower’.  Her father had bought her in the islands and she had traveled with him until her death, some fifteen years before.  Miranda had been a babe in arms when Maua died.  Though no one would confirm her suspicions, she believed her mother had been taken by American privateers as spoils of war.  Her disgraceful death at the hands of the colonials, coupled with his loss of fortune and face, had sealed her father’s hatred of them.

            Miranda gathered her bright yellow bed jacket close about her throat and shivered as Marlowe’s eyes found the bodice of her chemise and sought to unlace it.  “What do you want?” she demanded.

            “Seems there’s no time to throw this garbage where it belongs.  Your father says to give it to you.”  Marlowe pivoted and drew a man through the door.  Roughly, he thrust him forward so he fell, gasping, to the floor.  “You got a pistol on you?” he asked.

            “I….  Who?”  Then she recognized him.  The deep brown hair.  The pale skin and long, lanky form.  It was the marquis, the nineteen year old runaway from France who had been commissioned a major-general by her father’s enemies.  The Marquis de Lafayette.  Her eyes flicked to Marlowe who was obviously enjoying his captive’s distress.  “What is this?”

            “Old Willie Howe’s men are about to board.  Your father says you’re to keep the frog here ‘til they’re gone.  English officers are always gentlemen, eh?  He figures they won’t come knockin’ here.”

            “You want me to keep him captive?”

            “Captain’s – or papa’s orders, Miss Miranda.”  Marlowe reached behind his belt and withdrew an impressive-looking knife.  “You need this then?”

            Miranda’s eyes went wide.  “No.”

            “You’ll need somethin’.”

            She stared at him a moment and then went to her jewelry box from which she drew a small smart pistol.  “I have this.”

            Marlowe’s sneer was smug and laced with lust.  “I’d like to have kept company with that on occasion, I’m sure,” he leered.  The seaman reached down and struck the marquis who sat in a crumpled heap on the floor.  “Beware, frog!  The lady’ll shoot you if you try anythin’.”

            The Frenchman remained still for a moment, as if gathering his energy, and then he turned his gaze on her.  His pallid skin, the sheen of sweat and the fever that lit his intense dark eyes, all went straight to her heart and made her feel ashamed. 

“You have…nothing to fear…from me, Mademoiselle,” he breathed.

             “In other words, the john-n-john ain’t interested.”  Marlowe grasped the Frenchman’s chain and dragged him to the far side of the room where he fastened the shackles around the leg of a table that was bolted to the floor.  “You just keep him neat and tidy for a time, Miss.  I’ll be back in two shakes of a lamb’s tail to fetch him.”

            Miranda said nothing, but nodded.  She breathed a sigh of relief as the seaman disappeared into the corridor, closing the door behind him.  Then she turned to look at her prisoner.  The last time she had seen the marquis had been the day when she had taken him food.  He had lost weight since then and grown weaker.  For a moment she remained where she was, staring at him, and then she went to his side and knelt.

            “If I take the gag out, do you promise not to shout?” she asked him.  At his nod she did so, and then added, “Is there anything I can get you?”

            “Water, s’il vous plait,” he said, his voice a ragged whisper.

            Quickly she did as he asked, filling a cup and holding it for him to drink.  Then she dipped her handkerchief in the remaining liquid and ran it over his face, removing several layers of grime and blood.  He was handsome, with his dark eyes and hair, just like the British papers said. 

            Handsome and feverish.

            When he had finished drinking, the Frenchman leaned his head against her cabin wall and gazed at her.  She looked at him as well, seeking the man that Joshua Spencer had told her about – the incredibly wealthy and unbelievably young major-general who inspired both hope and loyalty in men who had no food or shoes and so much to lose.  And suddenly she found him, as the fatigue and feebleness fell away and a determined light entered his eyes.

            “Will you help me, Miranda?” he asked softly, his voice brushing her skin like velvet.

            “I can’t,” she said.  “I can’t go against my father.  You don’t know my father.”

            “Oh, but I think I do.  And I know what he will do with those weapons now that he has them – sell them to the highest bidder.  He will not care who buys them, or who they kill.  It will not only be soldiers, but women.  And children.”

            “There won’t be any bidding,” she told him as she rose to her feet.  “The supplies are already bought.  The bidding happened long before we landed.”

            “So this has been some time in the making?” he asked.

            She nodded.  “Captain Yankee Doodle is quite the thorn in the war department’s side.  My father was sent to find him and destroy him, and to make him the enemy of those who support him.”

            Mon Dieu!  All of this then, it is about – ” 

            She saw him hesitate.  “Jeremy Larkin.  Yes.”

            “You know?”

            “We were sent here to seek Yankee Doodle, only to find out that the rebel leader was dead, and that his name was Robert Larkin.  Then, one of your men….”

            Lafayette nodded.  She could see it in his eyes.  He knew about Joshua.  “Word leaked out that it was not Robert….”

            “…but Jeremy.”  Miranda sat on the edge of her bed.  “By coincidence my father and I were to be staying with the Larkins.  And so the plot was hatched, kept amongst us for the moment so his destruction will have all the more impact.  They meant to throw Jeremy off balance by attacking those closest to him, to show him how strong they are and he weak he is.  But it was also a screen, to hide the fact that they meant to take – ”

            “Me.”

            “Yes.”  Miranda frowned.  “I knew nothing of all of this at first.  I was so looking forward to coming to the colonies and meeting papa’s old friend, Samuel.  But he was not there when we reached the town.”

            The Frenchman frowned.  “Then you do not know?”

            “Know what?”

            “Samuel Larkin was one of the first victims of your father’s agenda.  He was shot by a sniper several days ago.”

            Miranda’s creamy complexion paled considerably.  “Where?” she squeaked.

            “At the cemetery, near his son Robert’s grave.  Why?”

            “Someone followed me?”  She whimpered as she jumped to her feet and began to pace.  “Dear Lord….”

            The Frenchman’s scowl had deepened.  “It was you who called Samuel Larkin there?”

            “He was not to be harmed,” she answered, distracted.  Her father had given strict instructions.  And that meant someone – Nazarus or Israel – was playing their own game.  Miranda stopped and looked at the battered man, chained to the table leg in her cabin.  For all of them – her father, Israel, Nazarus Tome, even for Joshua – Lafayette was the fulcrum, the center about which everything turned.  In spite of her misgivings, she had hoped to be able to remain out of it,  not to openly defy her father, but also not to aid in the destruction of everything the man she loved held dear.  It was no longer possible.  Miranda shivered as she grasped the truth.

            Lafayette had to be freed.

              ###

           The Loyalist machine at work in the Chester area was truly impressive.  Jeremy sat on his horse watching as Israel Spencer received information from a spy planted deeply within General Washington’s ranks.  He recognized the man.  He had seen him at headquarters before, attending one of the general’s aides.  The man spoke animatedly, delighted at the news he brought – Washington’s forces were weak and in disarray, ill-equipped for the wintry weather, and far too weary for the march they would be forced to make along the Schuylkill River toward Swede’s Ford.  General Howe’s men, who were in excellent condition and spirits, were in place and set to attack the moment opportunity knocked.  The spy started to mention something about Anthony Wayne, but Spencer cut him off with a glance in Jeremy’s direction.  With a nod, the man changed his tact and finished by reporting that General Washington and his men would camp on the east bank of the river, partway to the ford this very night.  The timing was perfect.

          Their plan had every chance of success.

          From his captive position between them, Jeremy watched as the sun sank behind the tree-line to the west.  He shivered with the waning of the day.  It was nearly nightfall and the temperature had plummeted.  Their breath showed on the air.  The horses were stamping their feet, seeking to warm themselves and chafing at their continued inaction.  They needn’t complain.  It would end all too soon.  As soon as the spy departed, it would be a hard fast ride back to the water for them.  Once there they would board a boat and travel north along the river until they came close to Swede’s Ford.  Then he would be forced to lead Israel Spencer to General Washington’s camp and into the presence of the great man himself.

          To betray the general and serve as the catalyst of his death.

          Jeremy straightened in the saddle and put his heels to his mare’s side as Spencer indicated it was time to move on.  As he listened to his horse’s hooves strike the iron hard earth, he knew the time for hard decisions had come as well.  He had little choice but to take the mulatto to General Washington’s camp.  Once there, when it was just the two of them – amidst the general’s men – he would put an end to the assassination plot and expose the Loyalist’s plans.  He could, perhaps, even save himself in the bargain and his reputation.  The day could be won – but at a heavy cost.

          For all of it to happen General Lafayette had to die.