THE ELEVEN THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED

Chapter Five

 

 

     Talking to General Lafayette had not turned out to be as easy as Henry thought.  As the icy wind rushed past him and he shivered, he pulled the woolen blanket covering his chest and legs up to his chin.  Three days ago he had been suffering from the catarrh.  At that time the dearest desire of his heart had been to sit in his wingback chair and enjoy a steaming-hot cup of tea.  Now, here he was, seated beside Isak in a fast-flying sleigh headed instead for upper state New York.     

     He had to be out of his mind.

     The day before, he and Isak had made the trip through Redcoat infested territory to Valley Forge, intent on questioning the Frenchman about any connection he had with Jeremy’s disappearance.  Once there they had been informed that the general was absent and had been for nearly three weeks!  When Isak asked why they had not been informed, the orderly who was attending them had politely asked, ‘And who are you?’ 

Sometimes the clandestine nature of their Society was nearly more than he could bear.

Upon being assured that they had clearance to receive the information, the orderly informed them that on the 3rd of February General Lafayette had set out with Sergeant Boggs for Albany, New York by way of York, Pennsylvania.  The trip had to do with what, in Henry’s most humble opinion, was a ludicrous scheme to invade Canada.  The Continental Army had enough trouble dealing with the Redcoats in New England.  Why in the world would anyone want to go looking for them elsewhere!  According to a message, arrived within the hour, the French Marquis had reached Albany on the 13th and was to be head-quartered there until he set out with General Schuyler some time early in March.  Then, Lafayette would be even farther out of their reach as he was going to John’s Town in the north to negotiate with the natives of the region. 

     He and Isak had left Valley Forge feeling very discouraged.  It wasn’t as if they could inquire of anyone else what might have happened to Jeremy.  Lafayette was their liaison with the army, and Lafayette was the only one who might know.  So they had two choices – put Jeremy’s fate in the hands of Providence, or head for Albany, New York.

     Upon leaving the camp they had gone to an inn located in a small village to the northeast to seek sustenance and debate their next step.  While he had been skeptical to begin with, Isak was the one who now pressed for action.  It wasn’t like Jeremy, the blacksmith declared.  Whatever their leader was doing, the surreptitious manner in which he had gone about it suggested only one thing – there was a good chance Jeremy did not expect to survive.  Why else would he leave them out in the cold?

     Henry had nodded.  These thoughts were close to his own.  While he respected Jeremy and trusted in his judgement, deep waters ran in the Larkin family.  If this thing Jeremy had undertaken were personally motivated, then he would choose to do it along.  He certainly would not chance putting either of them at risk – nor was he likely to give them a chance to choose to do so themselves.

     But what was it?  Did it have to do with Robert?  Or was it something else entirely, something neither one of them could begin to fathom?  Henry racked his brain, but came up with nothing.  There wasn’t anything in particular he could think of that had burdened Jeremy in the last few months.  Still, since Robert’s death – for which Jeremy partially blamed himself – their leader had grown more sober and, at times, melancholy.  It had been a great blow.  Robert Larkin had burned as brightly as the brightest star.  Now that his light had been snuffed it seemed, at times, as if Jeremy felt that he needed to finish what his brother had left undone.  One would have thought that his activities as Captain Yankee Doodle would be enough.  But with such a grievous wound, a deeper, more healing balm was needed.  Perhaps whatever Jeremy was doing was meant to end that pain.  Or maybe, Henry thought as his teeth began to chatter so hard it rattled his skull, maybe he had just felt the need to get away from it all; from Chester, from the Cause, from them….

     But, no.  If there was one thing Jeremy Larkin was, it was responsible.  He would not have lied to his father, to Elizabeth, to them, unless there was something of great import that required it.

     And that was what frightened him most of all.

     In fact, it had frightened them both enough that they had hired a sleigh and driver that very night and set out without sleep for Albany to confer with General Lafayette.  Though not a praying man, Henry did believe in Providence.  He believed there was a Divine spirit directing the universe and that, on occasion, that spirit chose to interfere and intervene.  He could only hope that this was one of those times for he feared, without it, they might never see Jeremy Larkin again.

 

      Lafayette stirred in his bed.  He sat up and swung his long legs over the side and then glanced at the cot Daniel Boggs occupied.  His aide was sleeping soundly.  It had been a hard day.  Negotiations had broken down and it looked like now, more than ever, the dream of taking Canada was gone.  There were still more committees to confer with.  More palms to shake and, perhaps, grease.  It did not help that his heart was not in it.  Being careful not to rouse the older man, he rose from his bed and walked in his stocking-feet across the white pine floor to the chest where Daniel had placed his belongings upon their arrival.  Bending one knee, Lafayette lifted the lid and removed his satchel and then walked with it to the window where the light of the moon fell in an eight-paned panel to the floor.  It had been over a week since Jeremy had undertaken his mission.  He was to have traveled to New York City and met with Marcus Priestley on or about the 17th.  It was now the 22nd and there had been no word.  Casting an eye over his shoulder to make certain his aide was still asleep, Lafayette opened his satchel and drew out his things and then reached for the flap at the bottom.  Beneath it lay a hidden compartment containing a packet of papers related to Jeremy’s undertaking.  He filed through them and then selected one written in Priestley’s hand.  Stepping up to the window, he held it to the light and scanned the three dozen or so lines written there. 

     “Merde,” he breathed as he finished.  It was as he thought.  Priestley was to have contacted him after meeting with Jeremy to inform him how things had gone.  If they had met on the 17th or 18th, he should have heard something by now.  A fast flying courier could have had a letter to him by the 20th at the latest.  The absence of such a communication only added to the heaviness in his heart.  There were so many variables.  Though the mission had been well planned and backed by experienced operatives at every step, one misstep was all it would take to bring everything down like a house of cards. 

     Dropping the letter on the table behind him, Lafayette returned to the window and looked out on the cold crisp night.  He lifted a hand and pressed his fingertips against the bubbled glass beyond which a thick snow was falling.  The time he had spent at Valley Forge had been minimal compared to what Washington’s men had to endure.  And even then, though he had walked with them and shared a meager repast in their barracks, he had always had a warm room with a fire to return to and enough to eat.  If even half of what was reported about the prisons in New York City were true, Jeremy would be suffering greatly.  Even in the best of them the food was scarce, the conditions deplorable, and there would be no shutting out the cold in a four-walled cell with a bare floor and no heat.  Though the plan was that Jeremy would not have to endure it for long, still he feared for him.  Prisons anywhere were rife with contagion, and even a healthy man could be laid low by some unseen agent in a matter of days.

     If not for the soldier who had escaped the Sugar House and been carried into his camp, he would never have given his permission for Jeremy to go.  But the dying man had touched his heart.  The things the soldier had seen….the things he let him see through the halting words he spoke as he lay dying on the army cot in the surgeon’s tent….  They were images that would remain forever burned into his mind’s eye.  Once proud men, battered and broken, forced to live like animals and driven by need in the end to feed off of one another to the amusement of their tormentors.  Bodies stacked like kindling and then tossed in shallow, common graves without unction.  Fathers, brothers, sons lost forever, never to be known and always to be mourned.   

     Lafayette shuddered and turned away from the window only to find that Daniel Boggs had risen and was watching him.  His aide crossed the room to stand at his side.  For a moment, he said nothing.  Then he asked, his tone pleading, “Sir, can you not tell me what this is about?”

     Lafayette started to reply, but choked.  He cleared his throat and said, “I feel guilty, Daniel.”

     “Guilty, sir?”

     The Frenchman knew that, at times, it was difficult for the older man to understand him.  Sergeant Daniel Boggs was a wonderfully simple man.  He rose in the morning, performed whatever task he had been assigned to the best of his abilities, and then went to bed at night sure and certain that he done his duty to himself and to his God.  He did not see the shadows cast by the sun and moon.  He did not wonder what he might have done.   He did not close his eyes and see an endless parade of possibilities before him and find himself frozen in place for fear of choosing the wrong one.

     For fear of having chosen the wrong one.

     “Here we are, warm and well-tended, safe and certain of tomorrow,” Lafayette continued.  “We have more than enough to eat.  We have water and wine.  A bed, free of vermin with warming covers.  There are so many of those who have taken up arms who have none of these.”

     “The men at Valley Forge are better off now than ever before – “ Daniel began.

     “I do not speak of Valley Forge.  I am thinking of those in prison to the south of us, in this very colony.  Nearly 1200 men taken at Brooklyn.  And how many more since?  Are they not our forgotten patriots?”

     “They are not forgotten, sir.  General Washington is in constant negotiations with the British army to free them.”

     Lafayette shook his head.  “To free their officers, to free the important men.  You know the business of war, Daniel.  No one negotiates for the release of the man in the field.”

     “What has brought on this melancholy state, sir?  What makes you think of these men at this time?”  Daniel’s eyes dropped to the letter laying open on the table.  “Sir, what is this all about?”

     Lafayette opened his mouth to answer, but was startled into silence by a knock on his door.  He glanced at the clock on the mantle.  It was three o’clock in the morning.

“This is not good,” Sergeant Boggs muttered as he headed for it.

Once there Daniel opened the door and stepped outside, as ever watching out for him.  Lafayette waited, his heart pounding.  Several minutes later the door opened again to admit a post rider.  The man’s tricorn hat was filled with snow.  His boots and coat were splashed with more snow and mud.  He looked exhausted and, when questioned, admitted that he was.  He had been on the road for two days straight, moving through enemy territory.  He apologized for coming at such an ungodly hour, but had felt no time should be lost in delivering the packet he had been given.  As he drew it out of his bag, he told them that the man who had given it to him had made him pledge to ride like the wind and to stop for nothing. 

Lafayette accepted the packet and told Daniel to see to the man’s needs.  His aide eyed him strangely and then did as he was told.  As the pair exited, the Frenchman opened the packet.  Finding two letters in it, he lit a lamp to see them better and then sat at the table to read them.  The first was a report relating to his upcoming journey to John’s Town, New York.  The second was a notification that Jeremy’s contact, Marcus Priestley, had been hanged outside the Provost –

And that Jeremy Larkin was nowhere to be found.

 

The story they had concocted was a plausible one, and for two days it got them past most of the British checkpoints without question.  Henry was a doctor; Isak, his servant.  They were traveling to Albany to attend one of his clients who had moved there from New York City due to the recent fire that had destroyed his home.  When questioned further, Henry had been compelled to invent more detail.  Wasn’t he young to be a doctor?  Yes, but he had been something of a wunderkind and advanced through the college at Harvard with almost preternatural speed.  How could he afford such luxuries as a sleigh and driver?  And what of this serving man?  His client was wealthy and a patron as well.  How long was their stay to be?  The man was a personal friend, so they would be in the area for a few weeks. 

And what was the man’s name? 

Henry had come by the name in a curious fashion.  Though he had studied the brain, he was more than mystified by its workings.  He had been thinking about Lafayette as the soldier questioned him, and what the general and Sergeant Boggs had must have faced in their passage through the same area.  From there his thoughts flew to John’s Town, New York, the Frenchman’s ultimate destination.  Would he and Isak be compelled to travel that far to contact the general?  Then he remembered he had been to John’s Town, Pennsylvania one time and had thought it quite a charming little burg.  A moment later Henry recalled that outside of John’s Town there was a still smaller village called Kent.  And, of course, Jeremy was on his mind.

“Jeremy Kent,” was his reply.

Which had been a mistake.

 Henry sat now, staring at a British sergeant named Mullins who was glowering back at him over a piece of paper.  The local compliment of Redcoats had taken over an inn called The Riverbend in a town near Tappan, New York, and made it their headquarters.  Isak had been retained as well and waited outside.  The blacksmith had employed his dramatic skills to appear to be nothing more than what the soldiers expected of him – a loping, uneducated slave – and so they had, for the most part, ignored him.

Henry reached up and pushed his spectacles back on his nose.  Their constant course down it did much to reveal his feelings that were, at this moment, a mixture of apprehension and dread.  His heart was pounding and a sheen of sweat had broken out on his brow.  All he could think of to explain his nervousness, was to act as if he was so in awe of the British army that being questioned by one of His Majesty’s soldiers was tantamount to obtaining an audience with God.

Unfortunately his fawning had not gone down well with the hard-baked sergeant before him.

 Sergeant-in-charge Mullins looked away from him to the paper again, and then laid it on the desk before him.  Then he raised his eyes and asked the question he had already asked at least five times.

       “How do you know Jeremiah Kent?”

“Sir,” Henry answered, employing his soaked handkerchief to wipe his brow.  “I have told you all I can tell.  Master Kent and I became friends when I attended Harvard.  When I lived in New York, I was his personal physician.  Afterwards, I moved to Pennsylvania and lost contact until he – ”

“And when did you live in New York?”

He had answered this as well.  He had been wise enough to place the date before the start of the rebellion.  “Five years ago.”

Which, of course, brought them back to how young he was.  Of course, he had lied about that too.

“How old are you?”

“Thirty,” he said without wincing.

What year were you born?”

“1747.”

“And why are you traveling through New York now?

That seemed to be the sticking point. 

 “Master Kent and I have friends in Upper State New York.  After his home was burned in the fire, he went there to stay with them.  I am traveling – ”

“And what are their names?”

 And on and on it had gone, time after time, lie upon lie until he was dizzy.  This was not his forte.  Jeremy or Isak would have had no trouble keeping their stories straight.  Sergeant Mullins, of course, was trying to trip him up; to catch him on some minor detail that would expose the whole tale as a sham.  

 Henry wiped his brow again.  “Sir,” he said, boldly breaking in, “I have answered your questions a half dozen times in all honesty.  Time is flying and my patient is waiting.  May I not continue on my journey?”

Mullins leaned back in his chair.  “You have not said what business your client is in.”

“Because that is the one thing you have not asked!” Henry snapped with more heat than intended.  And as it was the quickest thing he could think of, he replied, “He is a merchant.”

“A merchant.”  Mullins brown eyes lit with interest.  “The type who would be involved in the import and export business?”

Something in the soldier’s tone told him that was not the correct answer.  But his earlier assertion that Kent was immensely wealthy mandated his reply. 

“Yes…sir.”

Sergeant Mullins rose from his seat and came to the front of the desk.  Once there, he leaned his hip on its wooden top.  “Doctor Abington, I am certain you can tell by this inquisition that I have some doubts regarding your tale.”

Henry swallowed.  “Yes, though I have no idea why….”

“There is a criminal His Majesty’s Army is seeking in this area.  The paper on my desk gives the pertinent details.  His name is Jeremiah Kent.”

Good Lord! Henry thought.  What were the odds?

“For your own sake, Doctor, since you are connected to a man with the same name, I would request that you remain in town until my superior is able to speak with you.  He can issue a pass that will allow you to continue on your journey unmolested.  That is, if he is convinced of your veracity.”
     “I am really in quite a hurry and willing to take my chances….”

“I would not advise doing that.  He is on his way.  It will mean a further delay of, perhaps, three hours more.  During that time – to make some slight amends for the way in which we have been forced to handle a man of your station – you are invited to be the major’s guest at his table.”

“There is really no need….”

“He insists.”  Sergeant Mullins pushed off the desk and walked to the door.  Once there he called to the guard outside.  Then, as the man entered, he turned back into the room.

“Jenkins will see you and your man to Major Cripps’ rooms.”

 

Daniel Boggs was not happy.  Not only was he saddle-sore from riding at a quick clip for two days and wet through and through, but he was staring at one of the most important properties the Continental Army of the United States of America had and it was, at the moment, in danger of falling into the enemy’s hands.

It was late and they were a half day’s ride north of Tappan, New York.  The path they had chosen should have kept them well out of the way of the British, but here they were, and it was obvious by their questions that there was a specific purpose to their presence.

The officer in charge was young and inexperienced.  He had already told them far more than he had learned.  The regiment, with a major at its head, was in the area seeking information concerning a man who was wanted by King George for aiding and abetting the rebel cause.  The Redcoats were canvassing the local towns and questioning their inhabitants, looking for anyone who had a connection to him.  Boggs had, of course, assured him that they did not.  The second lieutenant was most curious about the Frenchman he had caught in his net.  Lafayette had managed to convince him that he was nothing more than a wigmaker and hairdresser headed to New York City to seek work among the Loyalists there.  Daniel remembered breathing a sigh of relief when the soldier had told them they could go.

And then Lafayette had begun to ask the young man his own questions.

Sergeant Boggs ran a hand over his stubbled cheek as he stared at the pair.  He had his pistol, but it would do little good against the half-dozen Redcoats ranged about them if it came to fight.  He tried his best not to look impatient, or anxious, or terrified as the minutes ticked by.  Finally Lafayette turned and began to walk his way.  The general was dressed in a plain brown suit as befitted his impersonation of a civilian, but Boggs could see it in his walk: the certainty of status, the quiet confidence of nobility; the inborn ability to command.

How could the British officer not see it?

When his general arrived at his side, Boggs handed him the reins of his brown horse and, together, they began to walk south on the road that led to the great city.  Lafayette said little as they did.  Once they were out of sight of the soldiers, they ducked into the trees.  Several minutes later, still mute, the young Frenchman put his hand to his saddle and began to mount.  Before he could, Boggs reached out and stopped him. 

“Sir?”

Lafayette’s brown eyes were deeply troubled.  “Yes, Daniel, what is it?”

“Well, begging your pardon, sir.  What the Hell do you think you were doing back there?”

For a moment the Frenchman seemed stunned.  Then he laughed.  “I suppose I did seem L’Enfant terrible.”  Lafayette’s hand came down on his shoulder.  “Forgive me for giving you such a fright.  There were answers I needed and, fortunately, the young lieutenant was more than willing to give them.”

“Answers to what, sir?”

His general turned to face him.  He drew a deep breath and let it out in a sigh.  “The whereabouts of Jeremy Larkin.”

“Sir?”

And then it all came tumbling out: everything about Jeremy’s request, about the permission he had given, about the scheme and the operatives and the mission and the man, Marcus Priestley, who was to have met with Jeremy and had been, instead, found hanged outside the Provost Prison several days before.

About Jeremy’s disappearance.

At the end of it all Lafayette hung his head and fell silent.

“So this is what has been troubling you.”

He nodded but did not look up.

“You think Jeremy is dead?”

When the Frenchman raised his head, Boggs could see it in his eyes.  He didn’t think it, but he feared it was so.  “Or worse,” Lafayette answered at last.  “It had been arranged that Jeremy was to be taken to the Provost prison and to remain there until he was paroled.  In that way he would gain firsthand knowledge of its operations and conditions and, hopefully, learn something of the plans of the British army in the city as well.”  Lafayette straightened up, as if facing the consequences of the choice he had made.  “He was traveling under the cover of Jeremiah Kent, a wealthy young man who escaped the Provost earlier this year and is now in hiding.  Kent is well known in this area for his support for the Cause.  It was hoped….  I believed that this cover would protect Jeremy.  That none would dare harm the son of such a powerful and influential man.  It appears I was wrong.  It appears Jeremy’s cover may have been his undoing.”

“What do you mean?”

“The letter I received last night spoke of a British major by the name of Cripps.  For reasons unknown, he has targeted this Jeremiah Kent.  It appears when Kent escaped, it was on his watch and so professional pride may be the answer.  According to the operative who discovered Priestley had been hanged, Jeremy was taken to the Provost, but he has now disappeared.  Cripps story is that he escaped again.”

“But the contact doesn’t believe it?”

Lafayette shook his head.  “The man knows one of the wardens at Bridewell.  He asked about Jeremiah Kent the next day and was told no one by that name had ever been incarcerated there.”

“Good Lord.  So, where does that leave us?”

       “As lost as Jeremy,” his general answered as he turned back to his horse and mounted.  “Therefore I am going into the city to find out myself.”

Boggs took hold of his horse’s reins.  “Sir, you can’t!”

The Frenchman graced him with one of his looks – the one where one brown eyebrow cocked high enough to brush the soft hair covering his forehead and his lips quirked with a dangerous smile.  “But I am nothing more than a wigmaker and dresser of hair for kings and queens.   Who would bother with me?”

“Someone who knows you.  Someone who recognizes you.  New York is teeming with foreign nationals and Loyalists.”

“Daniel,” he said, sobering, “I owe it to Jeremy.”

“You owe it to Jeremy to not end up in some dungeon in chains beside him!  Sir, I cannot let you do this.” 

Both eyebrows peaked on that one.  “Cannot?”

Bogg’s tone said he meant business.  “You can hang me for doing so, General, but I promise I will disobey your order and do everything I can to stop you.  It is too dangerous.  It’s been bad enough traveling through unsecured territory, dodging cowboys as well as skinners and bands of self-righteous Loyalists.  I will not let you walk into an occupied city though it costs me my position as your aide!” 

The young Frenchman was not used to being thwarted in his desires.  Like all of his noble race, he was used to being obeyed without question. And though Lafayette was far from the spoiled child that Congress had expected, Boggs had seen him – at times – come close to tossing a tantrum.  He expected one now.

He didn’t get it.

With a sigh Lafayette admitted, “You are right, Daniel.  I had to try.”  We are both tired.  Why do we not stop at an inn near Tappan for the night?  There we can rest and reconnoiter.”

Boggs was not convinced.  “You’re giving in?”

“I am bowing to your superior wisdom.”

“You’re bowing….”  He thought a moment and then a weary but affectionate smile lifted the corners of Daniel Boggs’s chaffed lips. “The lieutenant told you something else.”

The grin returned.  Oui.  It seems we are not the first to arrive this day who have made the acquaintance of Master Jeremiah Kent.”

“No?”

Non.”  Lafayette walked his mount over to his side and picked up the reins of Daniel’s horse.  Holding them out to him, he said, “A doctor of some renown by the name of Henry Abington is being retained in the village.  I thought, perhaps, as we had something in common….”