THE ELEVEN THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED

Chapter Eleven

  

            Isak Poole lowered the spyglass he held and looked at his companion.  He had never seen Henry so angry in his life.  Oh, the apothecary felt things deeply, there was no denying that, and the smithy had seen him infuriated, even enraged – but this was something different.

   Something deeper.

   “Henry,” Isak said, touching his shoulder, “angry men end up dead.”

   “I’m sorry,” he replied.  Henry’s fists were clenched so tightly they were shaking.  “I don’t know what it is.  That man.  The British.  This damned war!”

   “Try all of it together.”  Isak paused.  “Henry, I know how hard it had to be for you to see all that suffering in the bay.  It’s enough to shake a man’s belief in humanity.”

   “Humanity!  What is there that is humane about humanity?  I ask you?  If man were humane, someone would be trying to help Jeremy, not kill him!  If it were a Redcoat in that barn and I had the means to save his life, I would.  I would not let another human being die of the cold and neglect!”

   “You right, Henry.  You wouldn’t.  But I just might under the right circumstances.”  Isak held his ground as the apothecary turned on him.  “It’s war, Henry.  It’s not pretty, but it’s war.”

   “So you excuse them?”

   The blacksmith shook his head.  “I understand them.”

   Henry shook his head.  “Well, I do not.” 

   “Besides, we’re not even sure it is Jeremy and Lafayette in that barn.”

   The apothecary scowled.  He glanced at the brown horse they had found tethered down the road.  “And that is not the general’s horse.”

   Isak had to admit it looked damn like it was.  And then there was the presence of Redcoats in the immediate area.  If it wasn’t their friends, then there must be some mighty important cow in the tumbledown barn before them.

   Henry gestured for the spyglass and Isak gave it to him.  Narrowing one eye, the apothecary scanned the area ahead of them.  “I count three Redcoats guarding the barn.  Three of them, two of us…the odds aren’t bad.”

   “Three that we can see,” Isak responded.  “I imagine there are more on the other side.  We’ll have to distract them.  Draw them off somehow.”

   “Split up, you mean?”

   “Aye.”  The smithy nodded soberly.  “We’re stronger together, but there’s no choice.  There’s only two of us – ”

   “Make that six,” a determined voice declared.  When they pivoted, they found a rather irate Sergeant Boggs and three of the men from Bennett’s Point standing behind them.  “Thanks for giving us the slip, gentlemen,” the frontiersman said.

     “Well, er….”  Henry pulled at his collar.  “You had your orders and we – ”

   “Had the right to disobey yours even though you are soldiers under  Lafayette’s command.”  Boggs approached them; a stern unforgiving frown planted firmly on his unshaven face.  When he was within a yard he stopped.  Then the sergeant shrugged and added with a wry smile, “Considering how the general has flouted just about every order he’s been given and broken all the rules, I don’t think you need fear too harsh a punishment.”  Nodding toward the spyglass, Boggs asked, “I take it you have found them?”

   “About a quarter mile up the road, Sergeant,” Isak said.  “The Redcoats have Jeremy and Lafayette trapped in a barn.”

   The fear that registered on the older man’s face belonged to them all.  “Good God!  They could set it ablaze!”
   “I think they would have already if they intended to.”  The blacksmith nodded toward his companion.  “Henry thinks he spotted Major Cripps.  It’s Jeremiah Kent alive that he’s after.”

   “Along with the added prize of General Howe’s most wanted boy,” Henry added.

   Boggs took the spyglass and studied the area in silence for a half-minute.  When he lowered it, he asked, “So what’s your plan?”

   Isak watched as Henry’s anger was channeled into action.

   “We thought you’d never ask,” the apothecary grinned.

 

   Major Christopher Litchfield Cripps had just bitten into a raisin scone when he heard a clamor.  He was seated in the command tent they had hastily erected about a quarter mile from the barn the rebels occupied, attempting to eat his breakfast.  The interruption did little to improve his mood, which soured even more when he saw the flustered creature Sergeant Nash escorted into his presence.

   Wiping off his lips and placing his scone in the napkin for safety, Major Cripps rose to his feet.  “Well, well, look what – or should I say ‘who’ – the scarlet-coated cat dragged in.  Doctor Abington, what a surprise to see you in these parts,” he sneered.

   “I…I assure you I…I can explain, sir,” the doctor stuttered.

   “I am sure you can.”  Major Cripps marched over to him and lifted the man’s chin with the handle of his whip.  “But I doubt very much it would be the truth.  What are you doing here, Doctor?  Or no, let me tell you.”  Cripps let the doctor’s chin drop with a jarring thud.  “You were part of the insurgents who freed Jeremiah Kent and brought about the destruction and loss of thousands of dollars of His Majesty’s property at Wallabout Bay.”  The major paused to purse his lips.  “I wonder what the punishment for such a crime as that might be….”

   “Sir, no.  I assure you I know nothing of that.  As I was traveling to Albany, I remembered something Jeremiah had mentioned to me and thought it might be of great import.”  Henry Abington paused to draw a breath.

   “And, that was?”

   “That the money he was raising was meant for the rebels in Pennsylvania.  It is, sir, intended for the use of General Lafayette in the upcoming spring campaign.”

   “Lafayette.  You mean the deaf-mute boy you met with in your room at the inn the night I questioned you?”

   The doctor flushed crimson.  “Not I, sir.”

   “The boy we have surrounded and trapped in a barn not a half-mile from here, along with Master Jeremiah Kent.”  Cripps’ keen gray eyes sought Abington’s gaze and held it.  “I don’t suppose that would have anything to do with your presence in the area?”

   “Sir, no, I….”  The doctor drew a deep breath and fell to his knees, pleading, “Sir, please, I’ll do anything.  Please, don’t kill me or send me to one of those dreaded ships!  Give me a chance to prove my loyalty to the Crown.  What can I do?  How can I….”  The man’s eyes lit with hope.  “The money. What if I can get Jeremiah to tell me where the money is?  Surely that would prove where my fealty lies.”

   Major Cripps glanced at Sergeant Nash.  The sergeant’s muddy-green eyes reflected his own feelings of disgust.  Still, fifteen or twenty thousand pounds was nothing to be sniffed at.  If Kent were to be killed when they took Lafayette, or happened to die while being transported, the location of the cache could be lost.  And if, by finding it, Cripps proved his worth, then King George just might allow him to put the coin to good use in his own little endeavor….

   After all, what harm could it pose to allow the man to talk to Kent?  The barn was surrounded.  There was no way the rebels could escape.

   Cripps pursed his lips.  “You feel you could convince him – ”

   “I know I could, sir.”  The doctor groveled, clutching at his boots.  “Please, let me try!”

   “Get up, sir, and be the man you pretend to be!” Cripps snarled.

   Doctor Abington slowly climbed to his feet and stood with his head down.

   “Where is this cretin’s man servant?” the major asked Nash.

   “Nowhere to be found, sir!”

   “Isak ran away from me,” the doctor interjected.  “I believe he only agreed to come to New York with me so he could make his way to Pennsylvania and hide among his freed relatives there.”

   The major raised an eyebrow.  “Your veracity, Doctor, is a commodity with very little worth.”

   Henry Abington spread his hands wide.  “Sir, what can I give you but my word?”

   Major Cripps turned away.  He locked his hands behind his back and paced.     “Very well,” he said at last.  “Sergeant Nash, you will see Doctor Abington to the barn.  And you, Doctor, will secure the knowledge we seek.  You have fifteen minutes.  After that, you will both report back to me.”

   “And if Jeremiah does not tell me where the money is?” the doctor asked.

   Major Cripps drew very close to him.  A cruel sneer lit his gray eyes.

  “Well, then, you will be of no more use to me.”

 

   Lafayette had forced himself to eat, though he had no appetite.  He had taken a sip or two of wine, but denied himself more, knowing that all too soon he would need a clear head.  The Frenchman paced the limited confines of the barn now, bread in hand, considering his options.

   Which were few indeed.

    He could surrender.  He doubted King George would sanction his death.  After all, most of the nobility of Europe were family.  And if they were not blood, they might as well have been.  He would be placed in shackles and sent in disgrace to England where there would be some sort of a mock trial, and then he would be packed off to France and placed under house arrest – most likely for the remainder of his life. 

   Lafayette sighed.  At least Adrienne would be happy.

   After a moment, he turned to look at his friend who had fallen unconscious again.  Jeremy’s freedom and care would be a part of the bargain.  He would insist that Jeremy be allowed to return home to heal.  Then Captain Yankee Doodle could rejoin the Cause – blaming himself, of course, not only for his brother’s death but also for his general’s ruin.

   Non,” he growled.

     Another option was to sneak out of the barn.  The wooden walls were dry as old parchment.  It would not prove that hard to break through them.  Even though there was little hope of success, he might make it.  But there was Jeremy to consider and he would not leave his friend behind.  Third, he could fight his way out, but again there was Jeremy, which put him squarely back to option one. 

   Merde,” Lafayette breathed.  There was no way out.

    Crossing to the basket, Lafayette replaced the bread and threw the linen covering over it.  Then he moved to where Jeremy lay.  He was just about to rouse him when he heard a noise outside the barn that did not belong.

   It was the sound of voices.

   Minutes later one of them spoke in a hushed whisper from just without the door.  “Sir, it’s me.  Let me in.”

   Lafayette pulled the pistol from his belt.  “Who?  Who is it?”

   “It’s me, sir.  Doctor Abington.”

    Doctor?

   The Frenchman peered through the crack in the door.  It was Henry.  What was the apothecary doing walking about in the broad daylight when there was a regiment of Redcoats watching the barn?  And why was he calling himself ‘doctor’?

   “Are you alone?” Lafayette asked.

   “Aye, sir.  When you failed to make an appearance at the rendezvous point, I was sent back to find you.  Now, let me in before one of the Redcoats patrolling the area spots me – and you as well!”

   “Très bien.”  Lafayette lifted the bar and then stepped back.  A moment later Henry – harried and exhausted, and with high color in his cheeks, stepped into the barn.  The apothecary closed the door and then fell against it. 

   “Sir, thank Providence you are safe!” he declared, and in the same breath asked, “Where is Jeremy?”

   Lafayette inclined his head toward the hay.  As they walked that way he inquired, “Henry, what is this all about?”

   “I believe, sir, that I have convinced Major Cripps that I am the only rebel – other than you two – in the area, and that I am cowardly enough to come to what might well be a dying man to pump him for information about his hidden cache of – “ Henry stopped and fell silent.  After a moment, he whispered, “Jeremy….”

   “He lives, thanks in part of Becky McAllister.  Do you know what happened to her?”

   “There was a young woman in Major Cripps’ camp.  One with dark brown hair.”

   “That would be her.  Becky warned me earlier that we had been discovered.  I have been trying ever since to come up with a plan.”  Lafayette was chagrinned.  “And failing miserably.”

   “That is why I am here, sir.”  Henry knelt by Jeremy and rolled up the sick man’s sleeve to reach for his wrist.  The apothecary halted when he saw that the Jeremy’s arm was bruised.  “He has been bled.  Who would make the effort to bleed a prisoner condemned to a sure and certain death?”

   Lafayette shrugged.  Then he said softly, “When Jeremy is well, he will have many tales to regale us with.  How is he?”

   “The pulse of life is strong for all he has been through, but his fever rages.  We need to get him somewhere clean and warm.”

   “If you have any ideas, doctor….”

   Henry looked up at him.  Then he rose.  “The good major’s staunch belief in the King’s welfare is not so pure as he pretends.  If you remember we convinced him that Jeremy had hidden a fortune on the dock?”

   Oui.”

   “Major Cripps has sent me here to wheedle the information out of Master Kent.”

   “You think Cripps means to keep it for himself?” Lafayette asked.

   “I don’t know.  But he allowed me to come in here to see about it.”  Henry opened his watch and looked at it.  “I only have a few minutes remaining.  Listen closely.  You will hear a whistle and two shots fired.  At that, you will need to exit the barn as quickly as you can.  Through the rear, if possible.  Do you think you can get both yourself and Jeremy out that way?”

   Oui.  The boards are rotted enough.”  Lafayette paused.  “But there are Redcoats in the woods behind the barn, are there not?”

   “There won’t be by then,” Henry beamed.  “There are only six or eight here, though more are on the way –  Isak and Sergeant Boggs, along with three other stout fellows, are taking care of them even as we speak.”

   C’est magnifique!  And Major Cripps?”

   “Sergeant Nash is waiting for me just within the trees.  We are to report to Major Cripps with whatever I have learned from Jeremiah Kent.”

   “Cripps does not suspect you are in here talking to me as you are now?  Plotting an escape?”

   “That is a chance we must take, sir.”  Henry paused.  The apothecary’s look was more of a smile than a frown, but it was guarded.  “Unless you can think of yet another option.”

 

   Major Cripps watched as his sergeant, Bulstrode Nash, and Doctor Abington approached.  It had been a calculated risk to let the doctor go.  The Marquis de Lafayette – he refused to label such a pup a ‘general’ – and Jeremiah Kent were now aware of their predicament.  A sneer curled his lip.  So much the better.  How dare that whelp of a French frog come to the King’s colonies and parade himself as a hero?  How many of Cripps’ English brothers-in-arms had died fighting the French brat’s fathers?  And now here Lafayette was, without his King’s permission, seeking to add to the score.  If Cripps had had his way he would have taken the frog and strung him up from the nearest tree for his unbridled insolence.

   The major sighed.  Such were the politics of war.

   “Sir!”  Bulstrode saluted as the pair came to his side.

   “Well?” Cripps asked the quaking doctor.  “Did you accomplish your mission?

   “Jeremy…Jeremiah is exceedingly fragile in health.  I fear for his life.”

   “Fear for your own, doctor,” the major snarled.  “What did he say?”

   “Jeremiah made me promise,” the doctor paused to lick his lips, “that if he died – and if Lafayette were taken – that I was to get the money and make certain it ended in General Washington’s hand.”

   Cripps patience was wearing thin.  He stepped forward and caught the doctor’s collar in his fingers and pulled sharply, choking him.  “Where is it?”

    “It is in a satchel b…b…beneath the dock, sir.  Bound with rope and chain to one of the p…pilings near the Fleeting Filly tavern,” he stuttered.

   Beneath the dock?”  Cripps released him.  As the doctor gasped for air, he nodded.  “That would explain why we did not find it.”

   “May I go now, sir?”

   Cripps turned a disdainful eye on him.  “I think not.  Your services, doctor, may prove to be of use in the near future.  Sergeant!”

   Nash stepped up smartly. “Sir?”

   “Put the good doctor with Mistress McAllister.  Send Jenkins to me here and then, after the prisoners are secured, go find the other men and see what is detaining them.”

“Aye, sir.

As the pair moved away Cripps opened his watch again and checked

the time.  The men on patrol were due.  In fact, they were a minute or two late.  He must remember to do something about restoring order after he’d finished with this French nuisance.  Gesturing to Jenkins, Cripps called the man to his side.

               “Sir?” Jenkins asked.

   “Have you seen the others of the regiment?  Hall and Porter are past check-in.”

   “No, sir.”

   Cripps scowled.  “No sign of Duke and St. Charles either?”

   Jenkins shook his head.  “They are patrolling behind the barn, sir.  I saw them earlier at the last exchange.”

   The major’s frown deepened.  “You talked with Nash.  He was sure the doctor was alone?”

   “Aye, sir.  Hall and Porter were with him then.  They searched the perimeter and found no one.”

   “Still, these rebels are deucedly slippery and elusive.”  Cripps closed his watch and replaced it in his pocket.  “I think it is time we warm up the frozen frog and our fugitive.  Secure one of the torches.”

   Jenkins was frowning again.  Major Cripps believed the man entirely too thoughtful for a soldier.  “What is it?”

   “I thought we were under orders not to harm the Marquis – or any of the other noble youth of France – should they be taken.”

     “Rest assured, Lieutenant Jenkins, I don’t intend to harm the young man.  Just smoke him out.”

   “Sir!”  Jenkins snapped his heels and then went on to his task.

   “Besides,” Cripps ruminated out loud, “barns accidentally burn down all the time.”

 

    Henry watched with mounting horror as Lieutenant Jenkins crossed to where he and Becky McAllister were being held and drew a torch out of the wagon behind them.  Bulstrode Nash had brought them here and then bound their hands to the wagon’s wheel before heading out in search of Cripps’ missing men.  The place the wagon occupied was at the edge of the Redcoat’s makeshift camp.  Behind it was a slow, low hill that was covered with snowy trees and iced gorse that sloped down to the river’s edge.  The hillside terrain looked treacherous, which was probably why the British soldiers had chosen the spot.

   Becky was weeping quietly beside him.  She was worried that her fellow, Jim, had been taken or imprisoned along with his entire family.  Henry wished that he could have assured her that it was not true; that if she only waited a little while they would all be free and he was certain the general would not leave until the Wickfields were safe.     But he couldn’t.  He didn’t know what was going to happen.

   Henry’s eyes flicked to Lieutenant Jenkins as the torch ignited with a ‘whoosh’.

   In fact, he was afraid of what was going to happen.

   “They aren’t going to burn them alive, are they?” the young woman gasped.

   Though British protocol would prohibit the deliberate burning of captives, and Henry was sure there was some sort of a prohibition against killing the marquis, now that Major Cripps had the information he wanted from Jeremiah Kent, well….

   Accidents happened.

   Henry swallowed over his fear.  “I am certain the major does not intend outright murder.”

   Becky hesitated, and then gave a little squeak.  Henry’s eyes darted to the two Redcoats.  Neither had noticed.

   “What is it?” he asked.

   She had gone pale.  “Someone cut the ropes on my hands.”

   As she said it, Henry felt the touch of the blade on the ropes that bound him as well.  It was followed by a voice.  “Are you whole, Henry?” Sergeant Boggs asked, his voice hushed.

   “Aye,” the apothecary answered as his bonds fell away. 

   Boggs pressed his hands and then Henry felt a pistol shoved into one of them.  “It is primed and loaded.  Take care,” the frontiersman said, and then he was gone.

   Becky was staring at him.  “Who was that?”

   Henry looked at Major Cripps where he stood talking to Jenkins.  The Redcoat’s entire attention was on the barn.  “A friend,” he grinned as he brought the pistol forward.  Then Henry turned to her.  “Becky, take cover in the wagon.  Balls will soon be flying and we wouldn’t want you to be hit.”

   Though terrified, the young woman nodded and began to move toward the wagon’s bed.

   Henry rose to his feet as the major took the torch from his aide and headed for the barn.  The old abandoned structure was no doubt dry and, in spite of the frigid weather, would go up in a matter of minutes if set alight.  The apothecary drew a deep breath as he moved forward and called out.  “Major Cripps!  I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

   The major whirled, torch in hand.  Cripps’ jaw tightened when he saw the pistol pointed at him.  “There are two of us.  You cannot possibly hit us both with one shot,” the Englishman proclaimed

   “He won’t need to,” Sergeant Boggs said as he appeared from out of the nearby trees.  “And he’s not alone.  Isak!”

   To the right of the barn the blacksmith appeared; to the left of it, the other men who traveled with them.  As one, they gathered and formed a solid line to back up Boggs’ assertion.  

   Lafayette’s aide stepped forward.  “You, however, Major, are alone.  All of your men are taken.  Surrender now and we will leave you here and send word to one of His majesty’s outposts where you are.”

   Cripps’ arrogant stare flicked from Boggs to Henry and back again.  “Never!” he declared.

   “We don’t want to kill you, Major.  This is not a battle.  You let our people go and we will do the same for you.  We just want our men.”
   “This is war!  There is never a moment when it is not war!” Cripps snapped.  “A British officer will never surrender his sword to common Yankee rebels!”

   Daniel Boggs’ grip on the trigger had grown as tight as his jaw.  “Have it your way, major,” he growled.  “Isak, come and take the – ”

    Henry saw it coming.  He saw it in the major’s eyes.  Before Boggs could react Cripps pivoted on his heel and flung the torch against the dry tinder that was the barn.  Boggs’ pistol spit out a ball, taking Cripps in the arm, but it was too late.  Not only was there was enough dry straw and matter surrounding the barn’s perimeter to ignite almost instantaneously; their moment of stunned silence allowed Lieutenant Jenkins to draw his weapon and shoot.  One of the Bennett’s hill men spun and fell.  Cripps’ aide caught his commanding officer’s arm as Isak let loose a return shot that cut through Jenkins’ coat-tail.  A second later the young Redcoat hauled his commander around the side of the barn.  From that place of relative safety the two Redcoats began to shoot.

   Henry dove for cover as Boggs dashed behind a tree to reload and the men with Isak returned the soldier’s fire.

   Fire.

   The apothecary’s eyes went to the structure within whose belly his two friends lay.  Smoke and steam were rising about it like a mantle as flames licked the frozen air.  And still the Redcoats’ weapons spit balls, preventing them from getting close.

   Good God, Jeremy and Lafayette were going to be burned alive!

 

   Lafayette choked as he backed away from the door.  The rescue attempt was not going as he or anyone else might have wished.  There was nothing to do but to remove the bar from the door, and then take up Jeremy’s unconscious form and dash through it into the open.  Shot was flying all around.  The Frenchman could hear the give and take of both American and English weapons.  He would do his best to shield Jeremy with his own body as he ran.  He had been hit before and had lived to tell the tale.  Jeremy, with his prior injuries and mistreatment, most likely would not prove so fortunate.

   Before moving to his friend’s side, Lafayette caught up one of the linens from the basket Becky had brought and tied it over his mouth and nose.  Then he took the bar from the door and opened it just a crack.  Returning to Jeremy, he braced himself and then lifted his friend’s long form.  Shocked by how light the burden was, the Frenchman took a moment to find his balance and then moved to the front of the barn.  With one hand he opened the door and then, casting caution to the wind, dashed outside.

 

   “Sergeant Boggs!  They’re coming out!  Lafayette and Jeremy are coming out!” Henry shouted.  He had just reloaded and pointed his pistol in the direction of the British soldiers.  “They need cover!  Cover them!”

   Henry heard an acknowledgement from Sergeant Boggs, but he couldn’t find him.  The apothecary looked around frantically, and then he saw him.  The older man had moved.  Boggs was near the occupied side of the barn.  The frontiersman did a roll and came out firing.  Once.  Twice.

   There was an answering shot.

   And then silence.

   Lafayette had continued to move.  He made it to where Henry was and then the Frenchman fell to his knees.  Jeremy tumbled from his arms like a dead weight to strike the ground with a thud.  Henry knelt quickly and checked his friend’s pulse.  Jeremy was alive.  Barely.  The general was coughing and gasping in air.

   “Jeremy?” Lafayette asked as he pulled the soot-covered cloth from his mouth.

   “Alive.”

   The Frenchman’s dark eyes went to the barn, which was now ablaze.  All about it an icy steam rose into the crisp cold night.  “And Major Cripps?”

   Henry saw Sergeant Boggs walking toward them.  The older man knelt at his general’s side and placed a hand on the young man’s shoulder.  “And how are you, sir?” he asked.

   Bon,” Lafayette grinned wearily.  “I am all right, Daniel.  The Redcoats?”

   Boggs was weary too.  He answered with a sigh.  “I got the young one, sir.  But Major Cripps….  He’s disappeared.”