A New Species of Tyranny

          Chapter Twelve

 

            Daniel Boggs moaned softly as he stirred in his leafy bed.  The night was black with brilliant stars.  Cold and crisp.  He lay where he had fallen, just off the road in a shallow ditch.  He touched his head gingerly.  Quite a good-size  knot was rising under his sandy bang.  Just payment, he thought, for his stupidity.   He shifted and started to rise, but halted when he heard men’s voices.  Realizing his position was precarious – the starlight lit the road almost as if it were day – he burrowed into the ditch, covering himself with bracken and leaves.  Then he held very still.  Moments later a pair of horses appeared. 

            As they drew abreast the place where he lay, they halted.  The animals’ breath blasted steamy white clouds into the air.  One of the horses stamped its feet impatiently and nudged ahead.  It’s rider hauled it in.

            “Patience, girl,” he said.  “We will be there soon.”

            “Why have we stopped?” the other rider asked.  He sounded weary, almost to death.

            “We have outpaced the others.  We must give them time to catch up.”

            “I would rather we go on.  That we get this over with.”

            “Are you so eager?” the first man asked. “It was not so long ago that you were bent against the plan.”

            “I was…misguided.”  After a pause the speaker continued, his voice broken with grief.  “The senseless death of my brother has made me see the light.”

            His companion snorted.  “Now why do I find I have a hard time believing that?”

            “Believe what you will.  It matters little.  My actions speak the loudest of all.”

            “So you have decided?  You will show me the way to Washington’s camp, and provide me with safe passage in?”

            Daniel Boggs stiffened.  What was this? 

            Who were these men?

            Throwing caution to the wind, Boggs shifted some of the leaves away from his face so he could see.  One man was slender and elegantly attired, with hair gone white in the starlight.  The other sat tall in the saddle.  He had a thick head of blond hair that glistened like gold and seemed younger than his companion.

            The blond nodded.  “The only way to end this conflict is to see the Virginian taken – or killed.”

            All things happen for a purpose, even blows to the head, Boggs thought.  Providence must have placed that tree in his path!  If he had not fallen, he would have been halfway to Chester by now.  Instead he was here to discover this treachery.  But who were these men?  Would Providence provide a means to identify them as well?

            “Is one man so important?” the elegantly attired man asked, playing the Devil’s advocate.

            “You know that this one is.”  The blond’s horse snorted and struck the ground with its hoof, sensing his impatience.  “Now, must we wait?  Can we not go on?”

            The other man remained unmoved.  “If your brother was so beloved to you, how can you abandon the cause for which he died and embrace so willingly that of his enemies?  Does that not make a mockery of his death?  Convince me.  Make me understand this sudden change.  Give me proof.”

            The blond pressed his knees into his horse’s sides and walked it forward, until the starlight struck him full in the face.  To Daniel Boggs’ eternal sorrow, he saw that it was Jeremy Larkin, the young rebel leader from Chester.

            “I will give you proof, Israel Spencer,” Jeremy vowed traitorously.  “I will give you the head of General George Washington on a platter!” 

###           

            Before setting off in pursuit of his wayward boy, Samuel Larkin had thought it prudent to return home.  Joshua Spencer insisted on accompanying him.  The young soldier was a good boy, like his Robert.  Joshua had protested, but finally agreed when he sent him off to the town with a list of supplies, to go and fetch what they would need for their journey.  Samuel didn’t know where to look for Jeremy, but he had a sinking feeling that his path would lead him to Nysell Hawksworth.  When Joshua admitted that the lovely mulatto, Miranda, was Nys’s daughter, it had all begun to fall into place.  Nysell was the man sent by the British to capture or kill Captain Yankee Doodle.  His old friend had come to the Colonies to destroy Robert.  And now he meant to kill Jeremy!

            Nysell might even be the man behind the local shootings.

            Samuel placed his hand on the latch and lifted it, but hesitated before entering his home.  He had held out the slim hope that Jeremy would be inside, but knew now it was not the case.  There was a sense a man had when his home was occupied by those he loved.  This house held no such joy. 

            It was empty as his heart.

            As he closed the door behind him, something stirred within the shadows near the fire.  Praying he had been wrong, Samuel pivoted to find a man rising to his feet. 

            “Jeremy?” he cried, daring to hope.  “Is that you, boy?.”

            “No.  It is I, old friend,” a cultured English voice answered as a tall older man stepped forward.  “It is good to see you, Samuel, though I might honestly say I had hoped to see you looking better.”

              The sight of the privateer resounded through Samuel Larkin like a second shot.  “Nysell.  So you have arrived at last.”

            Nysell Hawksworth clung to the shadows, as if testing the waters of his welcome.  “I have been in town sometime.  It is you who have been missing.”

            “I have been unwell,” Samuel replied honestly as he headed for the fire.  It would not do to let Nysell know he suspected anything.  “It has grown chill in here,” he said as he reached for the flint.  “Jeremy has been remiss and allowed the fire to go out.”

            “Where is the young Master Larkin?  I had hoped to meet him.”  Nysell’s face took on the appropriate grief.  “I hear you have only recently lost your elder boy.”

            “Robert died for his country,” he replied smartly.

            “Oh?  I understood he fought for the rebel cause.”

            “For America,” Samuel answered, straightening.

            “Are you no longer a subject of His Majesty then, my old friend?”

            “His majesty killed my son.  What do you think my answer is?”

            Nysell Hawksworth was dressed all in black.  In the brilliant moonlight that streamed through the window his pale face hovered like a ghost’s.  Only the polished handle of his pistol and his silver buttons revealed he had a form.  “I am sorry to hear that, Samuel.  I had hoped to renew our acquaintance of old.  But I see it is not possible.”

            Samuel drew a deep breath.  Keeping his enemy close was no doubt a smarter gambit than sending him out into the night to work whatever mischief he would.  “Nysell, forgive me.  Robert’s death, as you may well understand, is still an open wound.  If you are willing, so am I.  Shall we set aside our differences and seek to discover what we still have in common?  Certainly two old friends can pass at least an hour together without a quarrel.  You asked after my children.  Do you have any?”

            Nysell’s face softened.  “A daughter.  Miranda.”

            Ah, yes, Miranda, Samuel thought.  He wondered if Nysell knew of his child’s rebellion.   “And her mother?”

            “Dead.  As I hear your Anne is.”

            “Aye.”  Samuel returned his attention to kindling the fire.  “So you see, my old friend, we do have at least one thing in common.” 

###

            Dear God!  Could it be true?

Daniel Boggs had gone cold, not with the chill that came from lying in a bed of frosty leaves or from the icy autumn night, but with horror.  He had known men whose character could not sustain a loss such as Jeremy Larkin had suffered the week before – that of a beloved elder  brother – but he had not thought him one of them.  Young Larkin had seemed so sure of himself and of his belief in the Cause.

Could he truly mean to betray General Washington?

Boggs held his breath as the two men put spur to horse flesh and rode away.  Then he staggered to his feet and into the road to stare after them.  He was one man, on foot; hungry, weary, and nearly undone.  He had no hope of overtaking them.  No way to warn General Washington. 

What could he do?

            Daniel Boggs’ grin was grim.  Nothing but put one foot in front of the other and hope the two men found reason to pause again along the way.

            Recalling the elegantly attired man’s words – Jeremy had named him Israel Spencer – that there were others to come, Boggs slipped off the road and into the trees that lined it, seeking cover for his journey.  Then he began to walk.

Determined to do whatever it would take to save the life of the man he loved. 

###

 Samuel had amazed himself.  After starting the fire, he calmly made Nysell some tea and then, taking a cup himself, sat down to chat with his old friend.  Nysell Hawksworth had been uneasy at first, but then had settled in and grown comfortable enough to reminisce.  For some time they had talked about their boyhoods, and where their adult lives had led them.  In the end that had brought them around once again to the topic of the time – rebellion – but they discussed it more calmly this time, as if it did not affect them personally.

            Which was a lie.

            As they spoke Samuel watched his friend, wondering if Nysell suspected that he knew.  It seemed he did not, for the privateer’s statements regarding his reasons for being in the colonies were unguarded.  He openly admitted that he had been sent by His Majesty on a secret purpose, though he would not say what that purpose was.  He spoke too of a shipment he had brought for the King’s army, despairing that rebels had plundered it the night before.  Just as their conversation turned once again to their children – Nysell’s mention of rebels inevitably invoked the ghost of Robert – the door opened and Joshua Spencer appeared unannounced.

            The young man did a double-take as he stepped into the room, stiffening as if he recognized the captain of the Hawkstrike.

            “Sir… excuse me.  You said to…to come right in,” Joshua stuttered.

            Samuel glanced at Nysell.  He appeared not to know the young soldier who, at the moment, was dressed as a civilian and stood holding a large crate of goods. 

            “Come in, Joshua.  This is an old friend of mine newly arrived from England. Captain Hawksworth.”  As he rose to his feet, he added, “Nysell, this is young Joshua.  He comes from the mercantile to deliver goods I ordered yesterday.  Take them into the pantry, son.”  He inclined his head toward the room to the left.

            The soldier nodded, his eyes still on the Englishman.  “As you will, sir.”

            Nysell Hawksworth stirred and rose to his feet.  “I should be going.”

            “I thought you meant to bide here during your visit,” Samuel said.   “A room is prepared.”

            “I am afraid the plunder of my ship has forced me to undertake a change of plans.  There are...things aboard that need my attention.  I shall be forced to set sail earlier than planned as well.  There will be a reckoning in England.”

            Things?  The way Nysell pronounced the word sent shivers up Samuel’s back.  As did the use of the term ‘reckoning’.  What remaining cargo did Nysell’s ship hold?  Could it be a human one?

            Was it his son?

“I am sorry to hear that,” Samuel said quickly.  “You will leave soon?”

            “Aye.  We sail tomorrow night.  North first to other ports, and then home.”

            His mind was working furiously.  North?  For what purpose?  And why so soon?  “So it is fare well we must say, so soon after saying hello?”

            Nysell Hawksworth stared at him for several heartbeats.  Then he approached and took him by the hand.  “I am sorry, my old friend, for the inconvenience my brief visit has brought you.  It was never my intention.  I am glad to see you well, in spite of your not having been well.  Now, I regret, I must go.”

            As Nysell spoke, Joshua Spencer reentered the room.  His frown indicated he had been eavesdropping.  “Is there anything else, sir?” he asked; his hand lingering near his hip where, Samuel knew, he wore a concealed pistol.

            He shook his head.  “If you will bide a moment, Joshua, I will see my old friend out and then pay you.”

            Joshua nodded, accepting his decision to let the privateer go, but remained at alert.  Samuel saw Nysell to the door and watched with regret as his old friend walked away.  He closed it and then, as an afterthought, moved to the window to look once again.  Nysell had paused just beyond the yard, near the lamp-post.  Several lean, mean-looking men joined him there and together, they walked back toward his ship. 

Joshua Spencer must have noted how distressed he looked.

            “Sir….  Mayor Larkin, what is it?” he asked.

            Samuel turned back to face him, fear etched into every line of his aged face.

            “Joshua, I think my son Jeremy is on that ship.” 

###

           Clouds had moved in and darkness overtaken the land, dropping the temperature a full ten degrees.  The slope of the hill before him was covered with ice-crusted dew.  His hands and feet were numb with the cold and he had begun to tremble almost uncontrollably.

With an uncharacteristic curse, Daniel Boggs admitted defeat.

            The cares of the day were proving too much for even his formidable will to overcome.  He was exhausted and hadn’t eaten since God only knew when.  He had failed General Washington.  General Lafayette was still missing.  And then, there was Jeremy….

            Dear God in Heaven, what else could go wrong?

            For some hours now he had followed the two men – a task made easier by the appearance of some half-dozen horsemen who trailed in their wake.  All were headed for the landing on the river he had only recently used himself – the one that would take them to a safe port near Swede’s ferry and from there, to General Washington’s camp.

While he walked, Daniel Boggs had argued with himself seeking to find a loophole – something that would explain young Larkin’s actions.  He had racked his brain seeking a second meaning to his words – but he could come up with none.  Jeremy had not been under duress.  There was no gun to his back.  No henchman surrounded him,  forcing him on.  It seemed the young man known as Captain Yankee Doodle had truly turned coat from blue to scarlet – broken by the cruel blow of his brother, Robert’s, death.

The reality of that was what had finally stopped him.  In the back of his mind there had always been a possibility that his charge, the youthful Marquis, might die in battle.  Or, Providence deny, General Washington.  But to have the light of their hope put out by one to whom they had given their trust?

It was a burden too great for him to bare.

Daniel Boggs dropped to the ground where he stood and rested his head in his hands.  The horses with their ominous riders had passed him a half hour before, scaling the icy wall with ease.  They were miles ahead by now.  He knew ways through this land that would bring him to Washington’s camp far ahead of them – if he had had his horse.  But there was no hope of catching up on foot, not even if he had been in fine fettle. 

Lifting his face to the sky, Daniel Boggs’ eyes settled on one of the bright stars that iced the sky.  His faith was solid as the earth, but like the earth it was a thing he often took for granted.  He seldom called directly on his Maker, considering it improvident and ungrateful to do so. 

But he did so now. 

“Father God,” Boggs’ weary lips intoned, giving voice to a forlorn hope, “if you could see fit to find a path for me – to find a way for me to reach General Washington before it is too late.  I pray you would, Sir.  For without Your Divine intervention the Cause is surely lost….”

            Daniel fell silent, waiting for he knew not what – an answer, or a lightning strike of retribution.  What he received instead was confirmation.  There was a snort.  A small puff of white mist blew past him and he heard the welcome stamp of four hooves on hard, packed earth.  Then a warm muzzle pressed itself against his cheek.  Looking up, he found his errant mount had returned, complete with its saddlebags laden with provisions.

            With a whispered word of thanks on his lips, Daniel Boggs swung up into the saddle and put his heel to his horse’s flesh, turning her nose toward the north and General Washington’s camp.

            God grant a second miracle this night, he would arrive in time. 

### 

            Samuel Larkin started guiltily – even though he had done nothing wrong – as a knock sounded at his door.  He turned to Joshua Spencer who was loading his flintlock pistol in anticipation of leaving the house and their subsequent journey to the Hawkstrike.  Joshua nodded toward the door, indicating he should answer it, and then melted back into the shadows.  Samuel steadied himself.  This was not what he had intended for his old age.  He had thought by now to find himself seated at the fire with his goodwife Anne, with several golden-haired grandchildren at their feet – not preparing to take on the might of the British Crown in order to save the life of his only remaining son.  The older man’s fingers brushed the wooden handle of his own weapon which was anchored behind the leather belt at his waist and hidden by his dark blue coat.  Still, he would not falter.  He would save Jeremy no matter what it took.

            The knock came again.  More insistent.  And this time a voice.  “Sir, if you are within, pray let us in!”

            It was a woman.

            With a glance at Joshua, who remained hidden, Samuel Larkin approached the door.  “Madame, name yourself if you would gain entrance.” 

There was a moment’s hesitation.  “Miranda, sir.  Miranda Hawksworth.”

Samuel heard Joshua Spencer’s intake of breath.  He held his hand up, forbidding the young man to show himself until they knew who accompanied her. 

“Us?” he asked.

“I am not alone.  A certain young man, newly rescued from a ship at sea and sorely in need of aid, is with me.  Sir, if you value the cause dear to your son’s heart, let us in!”

Could it be Jeremy?  Samuel’s heart leapt with reckless hope.  He fumbled with, and then lifted the latch and threw the door open.  There were two men with Miranda.  One was a young mulatto in a green velvet suit.  The other, who leaned on her arm, was cloaked and either wounded or ill.  He was tall like Jeremy, but the lock of hair that fell free of the hood raised to mask his features was brown as tilled earth.  Not blond.

It was not his son.

            “I didn’t know where else to go,” Miranda apologized as she entered, still supporting the man.  “Or who else to turn to.  Forgive me for bringing this trouble to your door.”

Samuel glanced to the corner of the room where Joshua Spencer waited.  “And what trouble would that be?”

“One we hope is not fast-flying on our heels,” the young mulatto said quietly as he took a watch position at the window.

Miranda had crossed the room with her charge.  She eased the tall young man into a chair and then backed away.  With a sigh he leaned his head back against its padded comfort, dislodging the hood that masked his face. 

“General Lafayette!” Joshua Spencer exclaimed before Samuel could, abandoning his place of concealment.  “Thank God, sir, you are all right!”

The young Frenchman was far from ‘all right’.  Sweat plastered his dark hair to a face drawn with pain.  He met Spencer’s astonished stare with a weak smile, and then turned to look at the young woman at his side. 

Oui.  But you must thank Miranda, and Scipio as well.  If not for them, I would be captive still.”

Samuel watched as Joshua’s gaze shifted to the beautiful mulatto girl.  Miranda met his eyes and then looked away, her cheeks flushing crimson as her gown.  After an awkward moment of silence, Joshua cleared his throat.  “Captive, sir?” he asked.  “Where?”

“On the Hawkstrike,” Lafayette replied. 

“The Hawkstrike?  Hope rose in Samuel’s heart once again.  “General, is my boy held captive there as well?  My Jeremy?”

The Frenchman shook his head.  Non.  He is not a captive.  Why would you think he might be?”

In answer to that question Samuel’s every fear poured out – he told the young marquis of Nysell Hawksworth’s secret mission, of his intention to kill or capture Robert, of his suspicion that his old friend was behind the recent run of shootings, and the fact that now he feared Nysell’s attention had shifted from Robert to Jeremy.

“My son, sir.  My foolish boy whose head turns to women and wine, these men now believe that he is Captain Yankee Doodle!” he concluded.

            If the French nobleman had been pale before, whatever color he had bled away leaving him the color of paste.  As Samuel watched, General Lafayette gripped the arms of the chair and struggled to his feet.  He licked his lips and drew a breath before speaking.  “You have sacrificed one son already, sir, to this noble cause.  I will do everything in my power to make certain you do not sacrifice another.  If it means my death, I will find Jeremy and restore him to you.” 

Joshua Spencer had remained silent.  Now he stepped forward in protest.  “Sir, you are not well enough.  The Brandywine wound, whatever these men have done to you….”

“He’s right.”  It was Miranda who spoke this time.  “I know what Marlowe is capable of.  You need to rest and gather strength.”

“I need to find Jeremy Larkin.  Honor requires no less of me.”

            For just a moment Samuel Larkin was puzzled.  He sensed something – a deeper current of care about his feckless boy than he would have expected from one of General Washington’s officers.  But any suspicions he had were quickly forgotten as the young Frenchman took a halting step, blinked as if surprised, and then fell to his knees. 

Samuel knelt by his side.  “General Lafayette,” he began, waiting until the young man raised his head and met his eyes, “you must leave this to others.  You are not well enough to go.”

Non!  I cannot stay here,” he gasped.  “The danger to you….”

            A rueful smile twisted the old man’s lips.  “And what do you think my Robert would have said to that?”

The Frenchman hesitated.  Then, with a nod, he admitted quietly, “I miss you son.  He was a good man.”

Samuel Larkin laid his hand on the young man’s shoulder.  “As are you,” he said, his voice choking.  Then he looked at Joshua Spencer.  “Take his other arm, Joshua.  Help me get him upstairs.”

            A half hour later Lafayette was settled in Robert’s bed and Miranda Hawksworth sat keeping watch over him.

            Joshua Spencer stood as Samuel finished descending the stair.  The young man had returned to the drawing room to wait for him.  Joshua had been sitting on the edge of a chair.  He shot to his feet when he saw him.  “Sir…  Mayor Larkin, I would like to go look for your son.”

            General Lafayette, before falling into a much needed sleep, admitted he had been right in a way.  Though Jeremy was no longer on the ship, he had been on the Hawkstrike, and left in the company of Joshua’s cousin, Israel.  From what he understood, the supplies and rifles that had been taken from the ship were bound for not for the Continental Army as had been reported, but for British hands.  The Frenchman did not know why Jeremy had been taken hostage, unless it was to force his hand as mayor of Chester in case some hitch arose.  Lafayette assured him he had heard no mention of Jeremy being the suspected leader of the rebel forces in Chester.  That was a rumor that he must ignore.

            Samuel was not so sure.

            “Mayor Larkin,” Joshua repeated, “have I your permission to go?”

            The older man nodded even as he reached for his hat.  “I will go with you.”

            Joshua planted his feet and shook his head.  “Sir, no offense, but that would not be wise.  Time is of the essence and I can travel faster alone.”

            Samuel hesitated.  There was truth to what he said.  “Yes, but….”

            “And I would not leave General Lafayette – or Miranda here alone.  They need a protector.”

            “Yes….”

            “I will get word to camp somehow.  Someone will come to fetch them.  And you must go as well, sir, when they are taken there.  It is not only your son’s life that is in danger.  Remember what happened before.”

            Samuel swallowed a sigh.  How could he forget?  Even now his side was on fire, the wound pounding with pain.  He had denied it throughout the long day and longer night, but the fact that he had only recently escaped death himself was catching up to him. 

            “I must go,” he protested weakly.

            “You must remain.”  Joshua’s tone brooked no disobedience.  “That is my general upstairs.  And the woman I love.  I place them in your hands, and charge you with keeping them safe – as I will keep your son safe when I find him.”  The young man’s light grey eyes were the spark on steel.  “Even if it means my life.”

            For a moment Samuel could say nothing.  Then he reached out and took Joshua’s arm and squeezed his flesh between his fingers.  “God grant you speed and success,” he whispered.

            “Sir!” Joshua said with a sharp snap of his heels and a salute.  Then he pivoted and walked to the door.

            Samuel Larkin watched him go, as grieved as he had been the last time he had seen his Robert do the same thing.  Then he turned and, with the steps of an old man, ascended the stair again to return to the invalid’s side.