A New Species of Tyranny

           

         Chapter Two

 

            Elizabeth smiled as she tiptoed past the sleeping Goodwife Camden.  The older woman’s basket, full of brightly colored yarn and half-completed hand-knitted items, sat close by her feet.  Peeking out from under a pair of worsted woolen mittens was the top of a little silver flask.  The goodwife thought she hid her secret sin well, but it had only taken one whiff the first night to discern it.  If questioned, Elizabeth was sure the older woman would insist the liquor was her ‘medicine’.  And maybe it was.  Goodwife Camden’s grandson, James, was one of the 40 men who had died earlier that year at the battle at Princeton. 

            Let her take her consolation where she could.

            The sun was up and it was time for Elizabeth to start her daily chores, though today she didn’t have the heart for it.  She was still shaken by what she had seen yesterday evening when Jeremy visited.  Blood-stained and grieved, weary beyond endurance, the man she knew as strength itself had cried.  Throughout the last five harrowing days – even at his brother’s funeral – there had been no tears.  But last night, in her arms, Jeremy had cried.

            She had been at a loss as to what to do, and so she had simply held him. 

            Afterwards he had risen and gone to change his clothes.  Upon his return, he acted as if it had never happened.  She did not speak of it even as they parted and Jeremy turned toward town and home.  But she held the image in her heart.  He was her friend – her dear friend – and had been for so long.  But after last night, well, she realized she wanted him to be something more.

            She was in love.

            Though he had kissed her before and told her how much he cared, she didn’t really know what feelings Jeremy had for her.  She had enough experience of young men to know they often told a girl just what she wanted to hear.  Still, when she thought it through she knew he was different, otherwise he would not be doing what he was – making war, in secret, on the British forces who occupied their land and denied them even their most fundamental rights.  And doing so at the cost of his own blood.

            But did he love her?

            Ah, there was the rub.

            “Elizabeth Coates, what a ninny you are,” she scolded herself.  “Thousands of soldiers dead, the Cause itself in peril and Jeremy’s brother but one day buried, and here you are, thinking of no one but yourself!”  What learned men said of women must be true.  They were all heart and no head, and prone to high emotion and sentiment. 

            It was just that Jeremy was so handsome.

            Stepping out of the house, Elizabeth pulled the door to behind her.  Even though she felt like skipping her chores this morning, she would not.  Her uncle was due home any time and she didn’t want to face his disappointment or wrath when he returned.  And so, she would feed the chickens and milk the cows and throw hay for the horses and slop the pigs and do all of those ordinary everyday things that kept the farm running, the two of them well-off, and her busy and bored.  How she longed to be off with Jeremy and Isak and Henry doing something important! 

            Though, I suppose, Elizabeth thought with a shy grin, eating is important too.

            As she approached the barn a chill wind rifled her hair, blowing the brown wave back from her shoulders.  It carried with it the legacy of the battle fought a few days before, which was the scent of death.  You couldn’t get away from it.  Where the soldiers had fallen mounds of earth had been raised – beside the road, in the fields, and by the churches.  Some graves had markers, but most were left unadorned and unattended.  So much death.  So many brave young men – just like Jeremy.  It was hard to think of them already moldering in their graves.

            At the door to the barn Elizabeth stopped.  She shook herself and pulled her shawl close.  As she did, she unwittingly knocked loose the brooch that held it in place.  The golden clasp had been her mother’s and was dear to her.  Spying it lodged beneath a piece of rotting wood near the bottom of the door, she bent to pick it up.

            Because of that the musket ball aimed at her shoulder struck her side, passing cleanly through.  Its impact spun her in a circle and toppled her to the ground.

            When Goodwife Camden woke an hour later and went looking for her charge, she failed to find her in the house and decided to look outside.  Upon finding Elizabeth in front of the barn, laying on the cold earth in a growing pool of her own blood, the older woman screamed loud enough to wake Brandywine’s three thousand dead.

###

 Henry Abington was saddle sore.  He had left the Amish settlement of Ephrata, Pennsylvania and ridden hard through the night and on into the early hours of morning, in an attempt to reach home.  Even though almost a week had passed since the battle, the roads to and from Chester were still lined with soldiers making their slow way to the various makeshift hospitals.  Jagged tears in flesh, limbs shattered by lead balls, mortification, infection, gangrene, typhus and a multitude of other disorders made up a second silent army whose advance was even more deadly than the first.  He had ended an exhausting day by pulling tattered sheets over several faces younger than his own gone slack and pale as paste.  And even as he did, still more wounded poured in.  He had worked non-stop for nearly 24 hours.  Now he was headed for his Apothecary and the herbs and potions he kept there.  The hospital was desperately short of supplies.  He didn’t have much he could spare and keep his practice alive, but what he could he intended to pack on the horse and then fly fast as the wind back to Ephrata.    

            Sleep would have been nice, but as this point it was simply not an option.

            Removing his glasses, Henry rubbed his eyes and then set the gold frames back on his nose.  Near Chadd’s Ford he had run into a British patrol and been forced to make a detour.  In the end it had placed him on the same side of Chester as the Coates’ farm.  The homely buildings lay before him now, banked against a row of trees, looking for all the world to a weary traveler like Heaven.  It was near six in the morning and, even though the day was dismal and cold, and a wet mist clung to him like sweat, the small spiral of smoke rising from John Coates’ chimney was enough to dispel his gloom. 

Smoke meant a fire and that meant breakfast!

            Henry had tried to do something to repair his appearance before departing Ephrata, but there was simply no way to get out all of the blood.  His cloak, thankfully, had survived the last few days relatively unscathed, and so he had tossed that about the shoulders of his nut-brown suit to mask the true nature of what he had been doing.  His cream colored vest, cut of an expensive sprigged cloth, was a casualty of war .  He had tossed it on the fire before leaving the Amish settlement.  Jeremy had told him when they crossed paths that Goodwife Camden was minding Elizabeth until her uncle’s return.  Before he knocked on the door he would have to be certain to fasten the cloak and pull it tight.  He didn’t want to frighten the older woman into an apoplectic state.

            Henry smiled as he walked his horse forward at a slow pace.  Perhaps he would find Elizabeth outside the barn tending to her uncle’s animals.  If so, she could sneak into the house and bring him food in the barn.  That way, he could avoid seeing the older woman at all –

            A scream, not of terror, but of horrified dismay split the still air of the morning.  Henry’s horse shied and stamped its feet, nearly unseating him.  “Easy, girl,” he coaxed, leaning down and patting its sable coat.  “Easy.”  Then, in spite of the animal’s reservation and fatigue, he spurred it on toward the sleeping farm.  Something was wrong. 

Elizabeth was in danger.

            Pushing the animal past its limits, Henry flew as the hawk, covering the remaining distance in less than five minutes.  As he raced into the yard, he spotted a woman kneeling before the barn door.  At first he thought it was Elizabeth, but as she turned her stricken face toward him, he realized he was wrong.  It was Goodwife Camden.  Elizabeth lay on the ground. 

She was not moving.

            Jumping from his horse, Henry ran to her side.  What he found when he arrived, astounded him.  Elizabeth’s left side was a bath of blood.  Even more blood pooled on the ground beneath her.  From her position, it looked like she had been reaching for the door when something happened.  But what?  The barn door was closed.  There was nothing amiss in the yard. 

What could possibly…?

“Goodwife Camden, I am Henry – ”

“The apothecary, I know,” the older woman breathed.  “Can you help her?”

“I shall endeavor to do my best,” he answered.  With that – and a gentlemanly apology – Henry unlaced the bodice of Elizabeth’s gown, shoved it back, and began to probe the bloody area.  All too quickly he found the source.

            She had been shot.

            “Good God!” he gasped, glancing at the older woman.  “Who did this?”

            For a moment Goodwife Camden could not speak.  When she found her voice, it was no more than a whisper.  “I…don’t know.   I found the child here…like this, but a few minutes ago.”

            Thank Providence for that!  Elizabeth had not lost too much blood.  The wound looked clean – the ball had entered the fleshy part of her side in the back and exited through the front.  The main thing now was to staunch the flow of blood. 

            “In the house,” he commanded, hoping the woman would not question how he knew, “in a drawer in the pantry there are bandages and ointments.  Go and bring me what you find.”

            “Shouldn’t we get the child inside?” the woman asked timorously.  “It’s so cold….”

            “We will.  But I do not want to move her until the bleeding is stopped.  Now go!  Quickly as you can!”

             As the older woman gained her feet and hurried toward the Coates’ farmhouse, Henry gently lifted Elizabeth from the ground and cradled her in his arms.  Goodwife Camden was right.  They must get her out of the weather as quickly as possible.  As he shifted her for a better hold Elizabeth’s eyes opened, but without recognition. 

            “Jeremy…” she moaned.

            “No, Elizabeth.  It is Henry.  You’re going to be all right.  Don’t try to speak.”

            “Henry?”

            “Yes.  Now lay still.  Do not try to move.”  Henry was aching to ask her what had happened, but he knew she must conserve her strength.  Though the wound was clean, there was always a chance of mortification.  “Goodwife Camden will be back soon with the bandages, and then we can get you inside.”

            Her fingers caught the collar of his cloak.  They closed on it, pulling him closer.  “Henry.  Henry!  Someone…shot me….”

            “I know.  You’ll be fine.  I’m here now.”

            “Who would…do that?” she asked and then, suddenly her fingers fell free. 

            Elizabeth had lost consciousness.

            Henry looked up to find the Goodwife had returned.  She was an efficient woman and had brought a bowl of steaming water and some clean cloths, as well as the other things he had asked for.  He quickly cleaned and bound Elizabeth’s side.  Then – in spite of his own fatigue – Henry lifted her from the ground and bore her with great haste into the house, up the stairs, and to her room.

            An hour later, after he had thoroughly checked the wound and redressed it properly, Henry sank exhausted into a chair in the corner.  He was shaking from lack of sleep and nourishment.  Goodwife Camden had assisted him and gone now to prepare something for him to eat. 

            He hoped he could keep it down.

            From his seat Henry stared at Elizabeth where she lay nestled in her bed, replaying in his mind the last words she had spoken to him. 

            ‘Someone shot me’, she had said.  ‘Who would do that?’

            Who indeed?

 ###

             Not far from the Coates’ farm, in a natural pocket of rock shaded by tall willow, birch and oak trees, a trio of men had concealed themselves.  Above, perched on a boulder thrust from the hill a fourth crouched, spyglass in his hand, watching.

            “Jude, what can you see?” one of the men on the ground asked.

            “Nothing just now, Pryam,” he answered, lowering the glass.  “The man took the girl inside.”

            “Was she alive?”

He shrugged.  “No way to tell.  But I had a clean shot.”

Pryam nodded.   “The message will be clear no matter what.”

            “Aye.”  Jude folded the spyglass and hooked it on his belt.  Then he picked up his rifle, readying to jump.  “The man who went in.  Is that Henry Abington?  He seems to fit the description.”

            “It’s hard to say,” Pryam scoffed.  “Many would.  Portly, with auburn hair and glasses.  Finely dressed.  A learned tongue.  It’ll be safer to wait until we arrive in Chester and can be sure.  Then we will see if it is him.”

            “And if it is?” Jude asked as he landed.

            His companion grinned; white teeth splitting a face black as the night.  “Henry Abington had better duck.”

 ###

             Henry stirred sometime later and sat up and yawned.  Then he groaned and placed

a hand in the middle of his back.  If there was one thing he detested about being a rebel, it was so many nights spent sleeping on the ground and in uncomfortable chairs!  He glanced at the splendid repast of buttered scones and cold meat Goodwife Camden had prepared and placed on a small table beside him hours before. 

Well, that and so much wasted food.

Rising, Henry crossed to the window and glanced out.  It surprised him to find the night was nearly upon them.  He had slept longer than he thought.  Thinking of those awaiting his return with the medicines back in Ephrata, he realized it was time to go.  He glanced at Elizabeth where she lay on the bed.  Even so, he couldn’t leave her or the goodwife alone for more than the few hours necessary to find someone to guard them.  And he needed to find Jeremy and let him know what had happened.  Hopefully he would be at home.  Perhaps Jeremy could return with him and care for her.  Or if not, if he was involved as Captain Yankee Doodle, then Jeremy might be able to recommend someone trustworthy who could.  Whoever it was needed at least a working knowledge of how to treat gunshot wounds, as well as the ability to use a weapon in their own defense.

            Crossing to the bed, Henry checked Elizabeth’s vital signs.  Her heartbeat was strong and she was sleeping peacefully now.  Some of the color had returned to her cheeks.  Looking at her, he thought how very small and vulnerable she was.  He really hated to leave the two women alone – even for an hour –  but there was simply no choice.  There were others wounded, and their lives were just as important.  He was not needed to stand guard.  Many men could perform that duty.  There were very few who could prepare potions and attend the wounded and dying.

            Henry returned to his cold supper.  Thinking it a feast for a king, he finished it off quickly and washed it all down with a cup of half-frozen tea.  Then he hurried down the stairs to bid goodbye to the older woman.  Goodwife Camden was frightened, though she understood his mission.  She told him not to mind them, that they would be all right.  As she barred the door behind him, Henry heard the sound of John Coates’ rifle being cocked.  Like a hen gathering her chick beneath her wing, the goodwife would make certain Elizabeth remained safe until his return.

            His horse was waiting for him, looking better for a few hours’ rest.  The ebon animal snorted when it saw him, sending clouds of white mist rising like signal smoke into the crisp air of the early afternoon.  Henry patted her neck and fed the mare a lump of sugar before climbing onto her back and spurring her into action.  Chester was not far away, but far enough still that he felt he dare not tarry.  As he rounded a bend, passing a tall gathering of rock and trees, he pointed the horse’s nose toward home and, pressing his heels into her sides, urged her on even faster.

 ###

           An hour later Henry slid off the back of his mount, tied it to the rail, and headed wearily for the steps leading into his shop.  Whatever energy he had gained from the food and rest at the Coates’ farm had been completely depleted by anxiety and frustration.  He had gone straight to Jeremy’s, hoping to find him there, but the fine clapboard house had been deserted.  And even more discouraging was the reason why he knew it was deserted.

            The front door had been standing wide open.

            Worried, he had ridden from the Larkin home to Isak Poole’s blacksmith shop only to find it empty as well.  The fire in the furnace was nearly cold, indicating the smithy had been away for some time.  None of the secret places they left messages for one another held anything.

            It was as if all of the Yankee Doodle Society, save him, had vanished into thin air!

            Henry was trembling so hard he had to brace one hand with the other in order to insert the key into the lock of his shop.  With a disgusted shake of his head, he stepped into its darkened interior.  Night had fallen.  When he was at the Larkins he had heard the town crier announcing eight o’clock.  It must be nearer nine now.  He had promised to return to Ephrata by first light, but now that seemed an impossibility.  It would be later than that by the time he ransacked his place and packed up what he needed.  And – if he followed the prescription he would have given anyone else – he had to get a few hours’ sleep. 

            Everything was fuzzy as it was.

            Walking to his counter, Henry lit the lamp he kept there and then turned to examine his stores.  The herbal mixture he needed was stored up high and out of the way.  It just wouldn’t do for a respectable apothecary to look like he had too much need of a remedy for gunshot wounds.  Reaching for the short wooden ladder he used to gain access to the upper shelves, he hauled it into place and then climbed the three or four steps until he was in position.  Grasping the blue and white jar with his fingertips, he turned toward the window and let out a sudden yelp as the china vessel exploded in his hands.  Startled, he lost his footing and fell to the shop floor just as something crashed into the shelf above his head, splintering the wood. 

            Henry lay on the floor, panting hard.  He was bleeding from where the broken shards of pottery had cut his face and hands.  Pulling a handkerchief out, he wiped blood from his eyes and then stared at the shattered remnants of pottery scattered amidst the herbal remedy.  In the middle of the mess lay a flattened musket ball.

            If whoever fired it had aimed six inches more to the right, he would have had need of the remedy himself.