A New Species of Tyranny

 

        Chapter Three

 

Jeremy stood by his father’s side in the surgeon’s tent, uncertain of what to do.  It seemed absurd to worry about the older man’s safety, surrounded as he was by dozens of men in arms, and yet he hesitated to leave him.  There was nothing to suggest that the attack had been anything other than random, but by a pricking of his thumbs he knew otherwise.  It had been personal.  Perhaps someone in the town who sided with the Loyalists, someone who would have found Robert’s allegiance to the rebel cause repugnant, had perpetrated it.  Maybe someone truly believed Robert had been Yankee Doodle.  He thought back to the moment when they had buried his brother, remembering the words his father had spoken openly.   

  I’ve been given safe conduct through the lines here thanks to the kindness of a British commander who is greatly relieved that the man called Yankee Doodle will plague him no more.  But in that he is vastly mistaken for Yankee Doodle still lives, stands here at this grave.  He is in all of you brave men.   If Robert could hear me now, I believe he would say to me ‘Father, you understand at last.’   Yes, Robert, at last.  That passion which I called your youth, that fancy which I called treason; it is to my ever-lasting shame that, while you lived, I never understood that to which you stood so ready to give your life for.  Goodbye, my son.  Long live the freedom for which you died.

            In his mind’s eye Jeremy scanned the grief-stricken faces in attendance.  Most were familiar – either his own men or Lafayette’s.  But on the periphery there were other faces; some soldiers, some civilians.  And then there were the British.  After all, the commanding officer had granted them safe passage to the cemetery.  Could one of them have done this?  Perhaps they thought it wise to wipe out Yankee Doodle’s entire family.  If that was the case, then that meant his life was in danger as well.

            Jeremy grinned.  Not that it wasn’t every day anyhow.

“Jeremy?  You there?” a rich voice called from just without the tent. 

Recognizing it, he went to the opening and lifted the flap.  “Isak, what is it?”

The smithy was there, and so was Nazarus Tome.  The two seemed inseparable these days.  Nazarus tipped his tricorn hat in a greeting as Isak replied, “The general sent Naz here to find me.  He wants to see us in his tent.”  The blacksmith’s eyes flicked to the still figure lying on the military bed.  “How’s your father?”

The surgeon had been blunt.  The fever was a sign of infection.  His father was an old man.  It did not look good.

“Holding his own,” was all he said.

Isak seemed to sense there was more but didn’t press him. 

“He’s in good hands,” Nazarus offered, the words rolling off his tongue musically, with just a hint of an accent Jeremy could not place.  “The surgeon here is excellent.  General Washington would have nothing but the best, don’t you know? 

Nazarus was well-educated.  There was an ease with which he spoke and held himself that suggested a person of wealth and station.  And yet, Isak said they had known each other as boys and labored together on the same plantation.  Jeremy forced a smile in reply.  He would have to remember to ask Isak later what the man’s story was.  Right now, there were more pressing matters demanding his attention.

Like who shot his father.

            “Once we have seen the general, I need to return to Chester.  There is something here, more than a chance shooting.”

Isak frowned.  “You think he was deliberately targeted?”

“By whom?” Nazarus asked.

Jeremy shook his head.  “I do not know.  I have no proof, not even a suspicion – just a feeling in my bones that something is out of joint.”

The blacksmith placed a hand on his shoulder.  “You know I am with you.”

            “I know,” he replied, covering it with his own briefly.  Jeremy glanced at Nazarus and then back at his friend.  “Are you biding here in camp a while, Isak?”

“That depends on what you need.  Nazarus and I, well, we got a lot of catching up to do.  But it can wait.”

“Actually, your remaining in camp would help me immensely,” Jeremy answered.  He lowered his voice and leaned in.  “I fear for my father’s life.”

“Here?” Isak asked, surprised.

Jeremy met his startled gaze.  Everywhere.”

 ###

           When they arrived at Lafayette’s tent, they found the major-general seated at his desk composing a letter.  One of his aides – a young French officer dressed for the road – stood at attention to his right, apparently waiting to receive it.  The young mulatto Jeremy had seen with the general when he came to the surgeon’s tent earlier was on his left, busily employed in polishing the buttons on the general’s uniform coat.  When he heard them, the Frenchman glanced up and motioned them in. 

“Gentlemen, pardonnez a moi.  A moment…” he said, and then went back to writing.

            Though the letter was probably of great import, Jeremy found himself chafing at the inaction.  He needed to get back to Chester.  If he retraced his father’s steps of the night before, he might be able to figure something out.  Standing here, doing nothing, was only going to aid whoever it was had shot the older man.  He watched the general’s quill as it scratched across the piece of parchment which was only about half full.  Suppressing a sigh, Jeremy glanced at Isak.  The black man had moved away and was speaking with Sergeant Daniel Boggs, so instead he shifted his gaze and made eye contact with Nazarus Tome.

For one brief unguarded moment the black man’s eyes were filled with hatred.  Startled, Jeremy turned to see what the object of that hatred was.  At that moment Lafayette stirred and rose from his seat, distracting him. 

“Scipio, my coat, please,” the Frenchman ordered.  As the mulatto came forward and held it out, Lafayette added with a smile, “Thank you, Scipio.  You may go now.  I will have no further need of you.  Get some rest.”

Scipio bowed once and then exited the tent.

“Gentlemen, forgive me for making you wait.  The letter was to General Washington.”  Lafayette rounded his desk and came to rest before them.  “I see Henry is not with you.  I pray all is well?”

“He is at the hospital in Ephrata,” Jeremy answered.  “Doing what he can.”

Bon.  With what casualties we suffered, every hand is necessary.”  The general’s gaze rested on him.  It was troubled.  “And how is your father, Jeremy?”

“There has been little change.  You have no news, sir?”

The Frenchman turned to his aide.  Non.  Unless you have something to add, Sergeant Boggs?”

Jeremy looked at Lafayette’s sandy-haired aide who was dressed in his usual frontiersman’s garb.  “Nothing, sir,” Boggs grudgingly admitted.

“I put the sergeant in charge of the investigation into the attack on your father,” Lafayette explained   “Not only is he one of my most trusted aides, but with Daniel’s experience in the wilderness, he has the understanding of men who use, shall we say, unorthodox techniques.”

Such as laying in wait for a man and shooting him from the brush, Jeremy thought.  “Thank you, sir.  I would like to go and see what I can find out for myself.”

 “And there is nothing I would like more than to let you, but I am afraid, mon ami, that duty calls Captain Yankee Doodle and his Society.”

“How is that?”

            The Frenchman turned to the elegantly-attired black man standing beside Isak.  “Captain Tome?”

Captain?

Nazarus grinned at his surprised expression, but sobered quickly as he launched into his tale.  “By week’s end a packet ship will arrive in Chester harbor.  It is owned by a privateer; an immensely wealthy Englishman by the name of Nysell Hawksworth.  Master Hawksworth is also an immensely important Englishman, and will expect to be treated very well.  He is fond of comfort and fine wine,” the black man winked, “and fine women.  It is said his preferences run to those of the dusky variety.”

Jeremy waited.  “And?  What has this to do with me?”

Lafayette turned and searched through the letters piled on his desk.  Finding one, he handed it to him.  “This was intercepted.”

            He skimmed through it – and then went back and read it more slowly.  “If I read between the lines, this indicates Hawksworth’s ship holds more than just mail.”

Oui.  We believe it is loaded with military supplies intended for Lord Howe’s army.  Though there is another rumor which says the weapons are not for the British, but bound for a secret band of Loyalists whose intent it is to set up operations in this area.  You have heard the term ‘cow-boy’ before?”

            Men coming from the battle in Trenton had mentioned it.  The cow-boys were ruthless Loyalist renegades acting just within what was considered proper for such men – looting and pillaging houses, stealing stock, and carrying away whatever they could including clothing, furniture, horses and cattle.  Even a town’s inhabitants.  So far he had not heard that they indulged in murder. 

            “Are they not confined to New Jersey?  What makes you think they are coming here?”

            “We think they are already here,” Lafayette answered, his tone serious.  “And that is why it is vitally important these men do not get their hands on what that ship carries.”

            “More than supplies then?” he asked.

            “There are a number of wooden boxes in the hold,” Nazarus interjected.  “Long and lean.  Just right for muskets.  And there are many fat round kegs.  I do not believe they hold fish.”

            Jeremy frowned.  “You said the ship was not yet in the harbor.  How would you know what it holds?”

            Nazarus Tome met his puzzled stare.  “I was there in London when the Hawkstrike was loaded.  Master Nysell Hawksworth is the man who owns me.”

            “Owns you?  You are a slave?”

            Isak had remained quiet.  Now he stepped up and spoke.  “Nazarus was a slave when he was a boy, along with me.  We worked in the fields together.  But he was a dower slave, belonging to my master’s wife.  When the master’s eldest daughter married, he was given to her and her husband – as a present.”

            “Part of her inheritance,” Lafayette mused quietly.

            “Yes, sir.”  Isak continued.  “They took Nazarus with them to the south, to the Carolinas.  The woman’s husband was a brute.  He near beat his slaves to death just for doing what they were supposed to.”

            “One day, I had had enough,” the other man said quietly.  “I ran away.  I stowed aboard a ship in Charlestown harbor and sailed for England.  Once there, I knew I could be free.”

            Jeremy was aware of it –  what Lord Mansfield had declared in court concerning the Somerset case.  No slave who set foot in England could be reclaimed by a foreign master.  “But you said you are a slave now.”

            “Nazarus got to England all right, but his master followed him,” Isak said.  “Due to what’s happened there, he couldn’t claim him outright, so he had men kidnap him.  They beat him until he was senseless and took him to a ship.”

            “One that set sail for the French West Indies,” Nazarus added.  “For five years I worked on one of the plantations on French Guiana.  It was there Master Hawksworth bought me.  I have been his manservant ever since.”

            “I thought you said Hawksworth was English.  Does he hold with slavery then?”

            Nazarus’ eyes flicked to Lafayette where he leaned against the desk, perusing another letter.  “Master Hawksworth is a nobleman, used to being taken care of.  He decided a privateer’s life would be full of adventure and he was right – until the day a French ship caught him.”

            “A privateer?  Then what is he doing hauling supplies?”

            “Nazarus said he was a nobleman,” Lafayette sighed.  “Noble birth has its privileges.”

            “In other words someone paid his bills and saved his neck,” Isak snorted.

            “Master Hawksworth was a young man then.  He learned his lesson well.  Now he works for the British government, running weapons and pillaging American ships,” Nazarus concluded.

            “So the weapons on the Hawkstrike are sanctioned by the British government?”

            “So it seems,” the Frenchman said as he pushed off the desk.  “Or perhaps it is a private enterprise.  And a lucrative one.  We do not know for certain.  We only know we cannot allow the weapons and supplies to fall into the hands of our enemies, be they the British army or these Loyalists who operate without conscience.”

            Jeremy thought about all he had heard.  “I understand that, sir.  But what has all of this to do with me?  Surely you have other men who can take the ship once it is in the harbor.  I need to see about my father.”

            Lafayette approached him.  “In a way that is exactly what you will be doing, mon ami.”  He handed him the letter he was holding.  “It seems, Jeremy, that Master Hawksworth has been invited to stay with one of Chester’s best known citizens.  This was found on your father.”

            He glanced at the letter.  The writing was his father’s.  Jeremy read the note and then looked up in surprise.  “Hawksworth is staying with us?”

            “With you now, it appears.  You will have to make some excuse for your père.  Perhaps a visit to a sick friend in another town?”

            His head was awhirl.  Could this have anything to do with the attack?  Surely not.  Nysell Hawksworth had been at sea for at least five weeks, perhaps more.  He could not possibly know of Robert’s confession.  Still, their father had come from England as a young man.  Perhaps it was nothing more than one old friend paying a visit on another.

“Well, Captain Larkin, what is your answer?”

            “What can I say, sir, but ‘yes’?” Jeremy replied.  “I am at your service as is our society – though at the moment that means only Isak and me.”

            “The two of you are worth more than a legion of common men.  If there is anything you need, you will let me know.”

            “And you will requisition it, General, from what vast store?” Sergeant Boggs asked with a touch of a wry smile.

            The Frenchman grinned in return.  “Well, I know a certain Englishman who is soon to open shop in Chester’s harbor.”

 ###

           Outside the tent Isak left Jeremy behind to bid farewell to Nazarus.  Though the black captain was to join them on the road to Chester, he had to first reconnoiter with his men.  The majority of them, Tome said, were set to make their way to the army’s winter camp at Valley Forge.  Nazarus and about a dozen hand-picked lieutenants were to remain behind and aid them in the taking of the ship. 

Jeremy stood to one side, watching the pair, wondering what their bond was.  It seemed deeper than simple boyhood friendship.  Sergeant Daniel Boggs, who had left the tent at the same time he did, saw him waiting and crossed to speak with him. 

“Sergeant Boggs, is something wrong?” Jeremy asked, noting the frontiersman’s worried expression.

Boggs shook his head.  His eyes never left the black man who stood at Isak’s side.  “Nothing I can put my finger on.”

“Is it Captain Tome?”

“Tome?  No.  He’s a good man.  Highly recommended.  General Washington cited him for bravery at Brandywine.”

The sergeant didn’t sound convinced.

“But something about him bothers you.”

Sergeant Boggs nodded reluctantly.  “It’s the way he looks at the general.”

“What do you mean?” Jeremy asked.  Then he remembered.  The flash of hatred he had seen.  So, it had not been imagined.

“You know the general.  The men idolize him.  They want to be with him, to touch him, to connect somehow.  Nazarus….  When he’s around Lafayette, he’s cold.”

“Do you think it is something personal?”

“How could it be?” Boggs shrugged.  “When I mentioned it to Lafayette, he told me in so many words that I was daft.  I don’t know.  Maybe it has to do with Scipio.  I usually notice it when he’s in the room with us.”

Jeremy frowned.  “Scipio?  Oh, the young mulatto who tends the general?  I remember him from Brandywine, don’t I?  He was with you and the general on the field?”

“Scipio’s a good lad.  Very attentive and attached to Lafayette.”  Sergeant Boggs fell silent for a moment.  “He’s got a good heart that one.  He would have to have in his situation.”

“His situation?  What?  Caring for General Lafayette?”

Serving him, you mean.”  Daniel Boggs looked at him.  “You don’t know, do you?  What the general’s done?”

Jeremy hadn’t known Sergeant Boggs all that long.  He had met him shortly after making the Frenchman’s acquaintance on the Brandywine battlefield.  The one thing he did know was that Daniel Boggs was fiercely loyal to the young major-general George Washington had set him to keep watch over.  But there was something in his voice, something that surprised him.

A hint of disapproval.

Jeremy waited.  When Boggs said nothing more, he prompted him,  “What? What has the general ‘done’?”

The older man scowled.  “After he received his commission, some of the city fathers in Philadelphia wanted to give Lafayette a gift.  God alone knows why he accepted it.  I keep telling myself he didn’t want to offend them.  The trouble is, I’m not certain that’s the only reason.”

“What is so wrong with accepting a gift?  They were grateful he had come.  And what has this to do with Scipio?  Did he deliver it?”

Sergeant Boggs met his puzzled stare.  “Jeremy, Scipio is the gift.  Lafayette owns a slave.”