A New Species of Tyranny

          Chapter Thirteen

           

The sentinel who had been left on the south side of the river told Jeremy that General Washington was already removed behind the Schuylkill.  He had done so on the 19th in order to protect both the capital city and his supplies from Lord Howe’s army which was camped nearby.  General Wayne had remained behind with some 2200 men to harass the enemy’s rear.  Wayne was soon to be joined by other militia, and together they would attack the British baggage train as the British advanced against the Continental Army.  Word was that General Wayne had abandoned his camp near Paoli tavern the afternoon before and moved to the ridge south of Warren Tavern in preparation.  If successful, they could do great harm to the enemy.

If he was successful…. 

With his eyes closed Jeremy whispered a furtive prayer that Anthony Wayne might be granted more success than he.  So far he had found no way of extricating himself from Israel Spencer’s side short of provoking the mulatto to kill him.  And while death held no fear for him he knew, if he died, his voice would be stilled and General Washington’s life would be forfeit.  He had already talked their small party through several check-points.  Washington’s men knew him and thought Spencer was with him.  If he gave way to reckless abandonment now – say, by attempting to strangle to mulatto as he very much wanted to – Spencer would use his subsequent death to his advantage, rightly counting on his Excellency’s need to know and understand what had happened to Captain Yankee Doodle to merit him a one-on-one interview.

And that was something he had to prevent.

“And so we take to the road again,” Israel Spencer remarked as he rode back to his side.  “Only a little further now.  Washington’s army is at rest, awaiting word of Howe’s movements and Wayne’s success or failure.  General Washington will be unoccupied this night.  The time is right.”

“Aye,” Jeremy said, trying to put his heart into it.  “The time is right.”

“Do not harbor any hope of escape,” the mulatto snapped.  “My men are watching you closely.”

Jeremy was well aware of the shadowy figures that dogged his every step.  Their presence had precluded any attempt at escape.  “I told you, I am with you in this.  Why do you not believe me?”

Spencer snorted.  “Captain Yankee Doodle is famous for his deceits.  Nothing you have done convinces me this is not simply another ploy.”

“What will it take to convince you?” Jeremy asked with a sigh.

            Spencer picked up the reins and kicked his horse’s sides.  “Your words, Larkin, not mine.  George Washington’s head on a plate.  Now come, it is time to move on.”

Their path took them back past the sentry who had greeted them.  Jeremy did not know him well, but he had met the man in the aftermath of Brandywine.  Though he had not seen General Washington, the Virginian’s men had been all about Chester – mostly seeking the lost and wounded Marquis.  The sentry’s name was Jones.  He was a first-generation American born to English parents who had given him their blessing to fight for their new land.  Earlier, when he had spoken to Jones, Jeremy had sensed a slight reticence in the soldier’s manner.  It puzzled him still.  Nothing in his own actions or words should have aroused suspicion.  To Jones he was Captain Yankee Doodle and, as such, implicitly to be trusted.

            Corporal Jones nodded as they rode past now.  Jeremy offered him a salute.  The sentry returned it half-heartedly, and then turned his back and walked away. 

If he had been alone, he would have gone back and questioned him.  But he wasn’t alone, and Israel Spencer seemed not to have noticed anything suspicious.  If there was one thing Jeremy had learned in the brief space of time that he walked the earth it was that life – like a river – had undercurrents a man could not know until he ran into them.

He would simply have to hope that this was not the kind that would pull him under. 

### 

The sentry turned back and watched the small party of a dozen or so men ride away.  He counted to twenty after they had disappeared from sight and then turned toward the nearby trees and gave a prearranged signal.  A bedraggled looking man with a scruff of beard, and leaves and bracken tangled in his sandy brown hair appeared instantly and walked toward him.  They shared the same first name, but unlike Daniel Boggs, no one had ever heard of Corporal Daniel Jones – and that was all right with him.  Corporal Jones was content to do his part which, at this moment, meant delivering to the sergeant news the older man did not want to hear.

It was true.  Captain Yankee Doodle meant to betray them.

“Well?” Boggs asked as he arrived.

“I fear it is as you said, Sergeant Boggs.  Captain Larkin rode at the side of the mulatto.  He was under no duress.  They questioned me about the location of the General’s camp, and His Excellency himself, and then rode off to the ferry.”

“It is running?”

“Covertly, sir.  There are men and munitions arriving still, and others moving to join General Wayne.”

Boggs turned his collar up against the cold.  “I must be on it as well.  Jeremy can’t  know that I suspect.”  The sergeant paused as if the words he spoke left him ill.  “I must stop him.  No matter what it takes.  Tell me again, what were Captain Larkin’s exact words?”

Jones had listened as ordered, remaining close enough to the two men that the wind could carry their conversation to him.  “The captain said, ‘I am with you in this’, and when he asked the other man what it would take to convince him, Spencer replied, ‘Your words.  General Washington’s head on a platter.’”

As Sergeant Boggs placed a hand to his forehead, Corporal Jones heard what he thought was a moan escape the older man’s tightly clenched lips.  When he met them, Daniel Boggs’ eyes were clouded with pain.

“Sir?  What is it?” he asked.

Boggs shuddered as he raised his face to the sky.  “September 20th will prove a dark day for the rebellion, Corporal.  No matter what happens, it will be the death of at least one good man.” 

###

 Isak Poole knew what he had to do.  He had to make certain the rifles and ammunition taken from the Hawkstrike did not fall into the enemy’s hands.  The problem was, he wasn’t quite sure how he was going to do it.  An army of one could be mighty, but it was going to take more than one man – determined though he might be – to stop the flotilla that was even now preparing to leave their makeshift camp.  He had puzzled over it for the hour or so since he and Naz had talked.  The only thing he could think to do was to sink the boats somehow, thereby robbing the British of the guns and ammunition.

A victory?  No.  But neither would it be a defeat.

Isak shifted his position.  He was leaning against a tree at the edge of the clearing watching Naz put his men through their drills.  It was painful to admit, but Naz had changed – he was not the man he had known before.  Isak had first begun to suspect something was wrong the night they had planned the raid on the Hawkstrike.  He didn’t like Israel Spencer.  Didn’t like the mulatto’s peacock dress or his fancy airs, or the way Spencer had taken over everything.  Naz, on the other hand, was in thick with him.  He’d hoped to have time to talk to Jeremy or Henry about it, but the three of them had been separated before he had a chance – which he recognized now as a part of the plan. 

Something had happened over the years to change Nazarus and turn him against his native land.  From what he said during their earlier conversation it was clear that Naz saw England as the savior of their people, and America as its Judas.  It was hard to a argue with.  A black man could step on English soil now and be free.  Lord Dunsmore offered freedom in return for serving His Majesty King George.  And what did the Continental Army and the Congress of the Confederated states offer?  Nothing.  Nothing but a return to slavery.  ‘All men’ Mr. Jefferson’s document said, ‘all men’ are created equal.  The problem was Mr. Jefferson  – and other southerners like George Washington – didn’t consider him and Naz ‘men’.

A chill snaked down Isak’s back.  Naz served under General Washington.   In fact, after they finished here, he was supposed to return to Valley Forge to do so again.  In light of what he had learned, that seemed odd.  Was his old friend’s loyalty nothing more than a pretense?  Did Naz hate George Washington as much as he did the young Frenchman the tall Virginian had taken under his wing? 

Did Nazarus Tome’s betrayal of the Cause run far deeper than he suspected?

Isak scowled. 

He was beginning to think it might.

“Isak?”

Naz’s voice startled him.  Isak had been so lost in thought he hadn’t heard him approach.  Drawing a deep breath, he turned to face his friend.  No, his brother. 

“Naz….”

Nazarus Tome reached out and caught him by the arm.  “What’s wrong, Isak?  You look as if someone has died.”

The blacksmith swallowed hard.  He didn’t want to admit it, but in a way someone had. 

###

 Daniel Boggs had never felt so weary in his life.  He had known hard times and difficult situations before – for the sake of Heaven, the whole war had been difficult!  But when he thought back to the moment when he had first seen Jeremy Larkin and his band of intrepid rebels entering their camp with General Lafayette and Sergeant Evans in tow, the pain of this particular betrayal rocked him to the core.  Like the unexpected arrival of the young Frenchman, the appearance of the three young men from Chester with their willingness to risk their lives and – in Jeremy’s case – their reputation, had been a breath of fresh air blown across a battlefield reeking of spent powder and decay.  Boggs still found it hard to believe that Jeremy Larkin had turned coat, and held out the slim hope that he was wrong.  But just in case, he had to prepare.  Had to take action.

Had to have a plan.

His own presence on the line would not be suspicious.  Jeremy knew he had gone to speak with General Washington.  Business could have kept him there long enough for him to just be on his way to Lafayette’s camp.  When he met up with Jeremy’s party he would offer to guide them back through the lines.  That would allow him to keep them under close watch, and to observe their interaction.  If Jeremy was under duress, or effecting a false character in order to gain Spencer’s trust, he would see it.

Dear God, please let him see it…

“Easy, girl, easy,” Boggs spoke softly to his horse as she shied and stamped her feet on the cold ground.  He waited, concealed by the night’s shadows, for the ferry to dock.  As the ferryman leapt onto the landing and tied off the boat, two men came to the fore.  One was Israel Spencer.  He recognized the mulatto by his pale white, tightly kinked hair that resembled a sheep’s skin.  The other was Jeremy Larkin.

Boggs drew a deep breath and stepped into the light.  He saw Jeremy start as he recognized him.  Leading his mount, he walked forward to greet them. 

“Sergeant Boggs, I thought you would have returned to camp before now,” Jeremy remarked as he stepped off the ferry. 

“I was detained,” Boggs answered.

“Any word of General Lafayette’s whereabouts?”

Boggs shook his head as Israel Spencer joined them.  “None.  As you can imagine, General Washington was not pleased by my report.”

“Is Washington in camp?” Israel asked.  “We were hoping for an audience with the great man.”

It was all Boggs could do not to wipe the self-satisfied smirk off of the mulatto’s face.  “Aye.  Have you something to tell him?”

Spencer nodded.  “We come to report the success of our endeavor.  The weapons have been taken from the Hawkstrike and are even now on their way to those who need them most.”

Boggs turned to Jeremy.  “Is this true?”

The young man from Chester nodded.  “Ayes.  Isak has gone with them to see that they do not fall into the wrong hands.”

Daniel Boggs did not miss the look Israel Spencer gave Jeremy.  It was one of annoyance, or perhaps irritation.  It was the first hopeful sign he had had.

“Then this is good news indeed!” he replied, forcing himself to sound as if he meant it.  “It will bring joy to the general, and that is a thing he had not known for many days.  You must go on.  No.  We must go on.  I will return with you to the general’s camp.  With tonight’s doings, it is not likely you will be given an audience unless I personally recommend it.”

“And why is that?” Israel Spencer questioned.

In the position he was in, there was nothing Spencer could do about it, so Boggs’ replied with the truth.  “There will be a battle joined tonight.  General Wayne will see to it.  Besides, the enemy is afoot.  We must always be on our guard.  Who knows but that someone might chose this moment of quiet before the storm to advance some nefarious scheme.”

“With so many soldiers about, I doubt it.”  Israel Spencer’s voice dripped with insincerity.  “Who would be so foolish?”

Boggs eyes flicked to Jeremy Larkin who met his troubled gaze with an unwavering stare. 

“No one I know,” he added softly. 

###

 “Naz.”

Isak watched as his old friend responded to his call.  Nazarus had just seen the last of the guns transferred to the men who had arrived.  He turned, a puzzled look on his face.  “Isak, can it wait?  I need to finish this.”

He shook his head.  “No.  We need to talk.”

Nazarus handed the checklist he held to one of this lieutenants.  When he turned back, he said, “I thought this was coming.  Let’s walk.”

They did.  For some time, and in silence.  Together they passed into the trees and away from the noise of the temporary camp.  After about five minutes, Nazarus turned to face him.  He held out his hand and spoke.

“Isak.  Join me.”

“So you don’t deny that this has all been a charade?  That these weapons are not meant for rebels?”

“No.  I don’t deny it.  We had to get them off the ship and to my men safely.”

Your men?  What do you mean….”  Then he had it.  Days before, in General Lafayette’s tent, Nazarus himself had told them about a group of Loyalist soldiers called the cow-boys.  Soldiers whose tactics differed little from whoever it was had attacked Jeremy’s father and Elizabeth.  “You’re one of the cow-boys?” he asked.

“Isak, listen to me.  The only way to get this country to free our brothers and sisters is to have it remain a part of England.  Bring the verdict in the Somerset case here!  We must end this rebellion.  If men like Washington, like Jefferson and other southern aristocrats take power once this is over, there will never be any kind of freedom for you or me, or any of our people.”  Nazarus stepped forward to take him by the arm.  “Isak.  Brother!  Listen to me.  Join me!”

Isak disengaged his arm.  “Never.”

“Why not?  Washington wouldn’t even let free black men like you fight.  Not until he was so desperate that anyone, a dog with a rifle would have done.  Do you think if he’d had thousands of lily-white men to march that he would have lowered himself to take men like you – or me – in the ranks.”

            “Then we just have to prove ourselves.”

“Whatever for?  England will give us our freedom now.”

“You believe that?  You really believe that when this fighting is over, you’re gonna be treated just like those lily-white English soldiers?  I don’t think so Naz.  Look at what happened to the Ethiopian Regiment.  Lord Dunsmore forgot them sure enough when he sailed away from Williamsburg to save his own skin.  The only way for black men to be truly free is here – in this new country – where new things can happen.”

“You’re a fool if you think that Isak,” Naz remarked sadly.

“And you’re a fool if you think I would join a band of men who would shoot an old man and a woman.  Did you do that, Naz?  Give the orders for Mayor Larkin and Elizabeth to die?”

“The shots were clean.  They weren’t meant to kill.”

“So it was your idea?” Isak was growing hot.

“No.  It was Spencer’s.  He wanted to warn Jeremy Larkin what would happen if he crossed him.”

“Crossed him in what?”  Isak thought again of that night when Jeremy had acted so out of character.  “Naz, what else have you gotten yourself involved in?”

His old friend eyed him, then shook his head.  “If it succeeds, you will know soon enough.  So, you’re mind is made up?  You won’t join us?”

Isak shook his head.  “So what now?”

“Well, obviously, I can’t let you go.”

“You gonna kill me?”

“Isak!  Never.”  Naz paled.  “Never.  I hope when this is ended that we can be friends again.”

The blacksmith held his old friend’s gaze.  “That will depend on what you do from this point forward.”

Nazarus Tome remained silent for a moment.  Then he made a gesture with his hand.  At that sign two men stepped out of the underbrush.  They had never really been alone.

“Tie him up,” he ordered. 

###

 Jeremy glanced at Sergeant Boggs who rode beside him.  The older man’s demeanor was changed.  He was not his usual open, welcoming self.  But then, between Lafayette’s disappearance and the dire place Washington’s army found itself in – cornered and cut off, watched and bated by General Howe’s army with its superior training and numbers, and anxious about Anthony Wayne’s movements – it was understandable.  Things had not gone well so far in the war.  Any sane man would have given up.  Jeremy grinned grimly.

No one had accused him lately of being sane.

Troubles, as Shakespeare put it, seemed to come not in spies but in battalions.  The disaster at Brandywine.  His beloved brother’s death.  The triumphant march of the British army past the mounds of America’s recently buried dead.  The appearance of a band of Loyalists willing to kill the innocent for their cause.  His father – Elizabeth’s – shooting.  Lafayette’s disappearance.

And now this – him marching forward with British spies to assassinate General Washington.

Of course, he would not let it happen.  He would, instead, turn these men over the moment he felt it was safe and they had no hope of escape.  Jeremy’s fingers gripped the reins of his mount tightly.  He glanced at Sergeant Boggs where he rode beside him, unaware of the choice he had made earlier.  If Boggs had been forced to choose, what would his choice have been – Washington’s death, or Lafayette’s?

At that moment Sergeant Boggs called a halt as they came to yet another checkpoint.  This time Jeremy was examined, but – as expected – his credentials as leader of the Yankee Doodle Society admitted not only him, but Spencer and his men.  He had yet to figure out just how he would thwart their plot.  He could, of course, simply call out that they were traitors, but that might mean Sergeant Boggs, or even the General’s death.  No, he would have to think of something.  Unfortunately, it would have to be on his feet and they – like he – were dead tired.

After receiving permission to proceed, Boggs dismounted and led them forward until they halted before a large tent displaying General Washington’s colors. 

“Let me go ahead.  I will tell the general your meeting with him is vital,” Boggs said as he moved away.

Jeremy nodded, his jaws clenched.  Beside him Israel Spencer was smirking.  The hands of the men who accompanied him, one named Jude and another, Pryam, hovered near their belts.  In order to undertake this mission, they had to be know escape would be nearly impossible.  They were ready and willing to die.

And that made them dangerous.  

###

Isak looked up as Nazarus Tome stepped back.  Naz had bent to check the ropes his men had tied, binding Isak to a tree.  “I’ll send someone back for you after the weapons are safely delivered.  Think about what I said my friend.  There is still time to join me.”

Isak shook his head.  He couldn’t say anything.  They had gagged him to keep him silent.

Naz stared at him a moment and then knelt again.  “Do you remember that time when we were boys?  When I talked you into taking those apples from the master’s table?  You thought I was wrong.  But those were the sweetest apples we ever ate.  The old master wouldn’t give them to us, so we took them!”  He made a fist.  “Just like we have to take our freedom now.  The old master ain’t gonna give it to us.”

With that Nazarus rose to his feet.  He turned to one of his men and nodded, and the young man took up a guard position close beside him. 

“Take care, my friend,” Naz tossed back over his shoulder as he disappeared into the trees.  “We’ll meet again.”

Isak sighed and sunk back against the tree’s rough bark.  The wagons were empty.  The flatboats.  Nazarus would join them, and soon they would float upstream to the waiting cow-boys who would use them to begin their campaign of terror; waging war against innocent men and women.

And there was nothing he could do about it.  No one knew where he was.

The guard glanced at him as he shifted his feet.  Then the man grew instantly alert.  Gripping his rifle in his fingers, he advanced into the trees as if he had seen or heard something.  Isak waited.  For several heartbeats there was nothing.  Then he heard the unexpected sound of breaking china.

Puzzled, Isak strained at his bonds, trying to see what was happening.

A moment later a slightly rotund figure emerged from the trees, dusting its hands on its nut-brown breeches.

“The brothers at Ephrata are simply not going to believe what happened to that remedy I was finally on my way to deliver,” Henry Abington remarked with a self-satisfied grin.