THE ELEVEN THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED

Chapter Seven

 

 

    Henry Abington glanced at the clock on the mantel in the elegantly appointed set of rooms at the Riverbend Inn he and Isak currently occupied.  The suite belonged to a Major Christopher Litchfield Cripps of His Majesty’s Royal Army.  A short time ago the attendant who had brought wine and poured it had informed him that Major Cripps was in the building and would soon join them.

    That had been nearly a half hour before.

    Henry realized, of course, that the major was setting the stage for their interview.  The Society had done the same thing before.  Let them sit.  Make them sweat.  Then pounce like a cat with pointed questions and make them talk.

    It was, however, rather difficult being on the receiving end.

    Henry frowned and turned to look at Isak.  He was right.  He thought he had heard a soft snoring.  The blacksmith was sitting in the corner, as was a servant’s wont, soundly sleeping.  Somewhat nonplused, Henry contemplated dropping his fork or maybe a glass to rouse him, but decided against it as it might bring other unwanted company.

    Turning back, Henry had just begun to unfold and fold his napkin for the tenth time when the door opened and the attendant ushered in a tall well-formed man in a scarlet and white uniform.  If this was Major Cripps, he was not what Henry had expected.  The man was not all spit and polish.  His boots were mud-stained and he wore a sodden cloak that he flung to a nearby chair as Henry watched.  Major Cripps wore no wig as was the custom for British officers, but had his salt and pepper hair pulled back tightly and clubbed.  He took a moment to run a linen handkerchief over his long face to wipe the sweat and snow from it, and then walked to the fire and rather compulsively hung the linen on the crane so it could dry.  Henry noticed that the crane was spit and polish, and that the moment the major moved away the attendant came in and removed the cloak and hastened out the door with it so that – other than the major himself – the room was once again immaculate.

    Curious.

     Major Cripps took a moment to gather himself and then he turned to greet him.  “I beg your pardon for the delay.  Doctor Abington, I presume?”

     Henry rose.  “At your service, sir.  And you would be….”

     “Major Cripps,” the soldier said as he stepped forward to take his hand.  “I am sorry you were made to wait.  Something rather… unexpected came up that I was forced to attend to.”

     “I trust the problem is solved?” Henry asked as he retook his seat.

     Something – anger, distaste, or maybe disbelief – flickered across the major’s face.  “No, but I trust it will be by the time we have finished our repast.  Is the wine to your satisfaction?”

     Henry had not tasted it.  “But of course.”

     Major Cripps tossed the tails of his long scarlet coat back and sat down at the table.  His gaze darted to the corner where Isak was sitting.  He seemed to appraise the blacksmith and dismiss him all in one sweep.  

     “Has your man been seen to?”

     “Yes, thank you.  Your attendant brought him a plate earlier.”

     Isak had eaten heartily.  Henry was not sure he could.

     “Excellent.”  Major Cripps leaned back.  “I told Jenkins to instruct the cook to bring supper in when it is ready.  I imagine it will be a cold one as it is so late.  My apologies again.”

     None necessary.”  Henry felt the sweat beading under his stock collar.  He ordered himself not to fidget.  “I find I am not particularly hungry.”

     “Well, I am famished!”  Cripps smiled.  He took a drink of wine and then, he said, “So, as we have a few minutes, why don’t you tell me how you came to know Jeremiah Kent.”

     Henry knew Sergeant Mullins would have filled Cripps in on the last interrogation and so the major already knew.  But he dutifully recounted the tale he had told – yet again – being careful not to leave anything out or add any unnecessary embellishments.

     “And that is about it.  I am concerned for my friend.”  Henry took a sip of wine at last, but only to wet his dry lips.  “I would appreciate it if my man and I could be on our way.”

     “But it is so late.  The night is bitter and cold.  There is a fresh fall of snow and a strong wind has arisen.  A man cannot see his nose to spite his face.”  Major Cripps was staring at him, watching for his reaction.  “I have arranged a room for you for the night.  You can set out in the morning.”

     Henry’s disappointment at the delay was overcome by his joy that it appeared the major meant to let them go.  “We are not to be held then?”

     Cripps took another sip of wine.  “Oh, good heaven’s, no!  Was that the impression Mullins left you with?  I do apologize.  The lower classes, you know….”  He replaced the glass on the linen cloth that covered the table.  “It is my job to question any who use the road.  We are but a few hours from New York City, and there is the river to consider.”  Cripps smiled and the sight was not a pleasant one.  “Rebels and other disorderly persons have been known to use this town as a rendezvous point.”

     “Oh, my,” Henry exclaimed, rather lamely.

     “Which brings us back to your friend.  Were you aware of Master Kent’s involvement in the rebel cause?  That he has worked to finance the armies that even now murder the King’s soldiers?”

     “I…I can assure you, Major, I was not!  I am not “  Now they came to it.  After softening him up, Cripps was going in for the kill.  “Jeremy and I are old friends, that is all.”

     “And your own loyalties are with the King?”

     “Of course.”

     “So it would not distress you to know that tonight this King’s man has made quite a coup?  That a notorious rebel leader has just been taken?”

     Behind him, Henry heard Isak stir.  So the blacksmith was not asleep, but carefully monitoring all that occurred.  He forced a weak smile.  “God be praised!  Might I ask…who?”

     The major regarded him coolly for a moment and then, just as the food arrived, answered with a savage sneer.

     “Lafayette.”

 

     A quarter of an hour later two furtive shadows crossed the lawn of the Riverbend Inn and ducked below one of its windows.  A moment later one of them raised up to peer in.  As he returned to the shadows Lafayette glanced at Sergeant Boggs who crouched beside him.  All about them the snow swirled and the wind was cutting. The Frenchman pulled his collar close as he said, “Henry is there.  I did not see Isak.”  Lafayette frowned.  “Henry appears to be ill.  He is white as a sheet.”

     “At least we’ve found them.”

     Oui.  Merci Dieu!  I only wish we could hear what they are saying.”

     “What are they doing?”

     Lafayette shrugged.  “Sitting at table together.”

     “Sir,” Boggs said after a short pause.  “You don’t think Henry has thrown us over?”

     The Frenchman pivoted toward his sergeant whose face was completely sober.  At his frown, the frontiersman’s eyes lit with barely suppressed mirth. 

     “Daniel,” Lafayette chastised him, “I think you have attended me too long.  You are beginning to be….  What is the word?  Exasperating?”

     Boggs laughed.  “So what do we do now?”

     Lafayette rose up to peer in the window again.  Henry was on his feet and was shaking hands with the major.  He glanced at Boggs and flashed his most mischievous smile.

     “Obtain a room?”

 

     Henry was still reeling as he walked into the common room of the inn.  What in the world was General Lafayette doing here of all places?  The Frenchman was to have been in Albany long before this, safely north in territory friendly to the Cause.  He should have been busy planning his absurd campaign into Canada, not running around lower New York.  Could Lafayette’s appearance here have anything to do with Jeremy’s disappearance?  Had they somehow stumbled upon a part of the plot?  And how had the Frenchman been taken?  When?  Where?  It was obvious Major Cripps had been riding hard.  Had the British major been informed of their presence and ridden to Tappan from New York?  Was Lafayette in Tappan?  Or was he instead being held in New York City, that bastion of Loyalist and Tory support now occupied by the British?

     Henry shuddered, and it wasn’t with the cold.

     The blow to the Cause would be immense.  Men were curious creatures.  Often a symbol meant more to them than anything else.  They might be lost, frightened, without a hope in the world, freezing, starving or dying, but show them a ray of light and they would rise above all to give their best.  All that they had, in fact.  Lafayette’s arrival a little more than a year before had been just such a ray of light.  Even the Brandywine debacle had been made glorious by his presence; by the willingness of a foreigner to shed his blood on their land for a cause that was not his own.  And now Lafayette was….

     Standing in front of him at the counter of the Riverbend Inn.

     Isak caught him before he could hit the ground.  “Looks like the major was fibbing, Henry,” the blacksmith grinned.

     Sergeant Boggs was staring straight at them.  The general had lowered his hood for a moment so they could see him, but quickly replaced it as Major Cripps followed them into the room.  Boggs looked like Henry felt – exhausted, exasperated and more than a little confused. 

     “I have asked the proprietor to secure a room for you and your man for the night,” Major Cripps told Henry as he passed him.  “You are, of course, free to leave in the morning.  Innkeeper?”          

     The keep’s head turned from Sergeant Boggs toward him.  “Major?”

     “Give the key to Doctor Abington.”  In calling the innkeeper, the British soldier’s attention had been drawn to the newcomers.  “Gentlemen, you have blown in with an ill wind.”

     “We are on our way to Albany,” Sergeant Boggs answered, honestly in part. 

     “May I inquire of your names?”

     Henry saw Boggs’ jaw flinch.  “Daniel Boggs,” he answered, having no need to alter it.

     “And your friend?”

     “My wife’s boy.  Joseph.”

     “And why does he not answer for himself?  Face me, sir!” Cripps demanded. 

     Boggs reached out and touched Lafayette’s arm.  In response the general turned toward him.  He blinked as if he were a little lost and then his brown eyes settled on the major.  They were wide and blank in expression.

     “He can’t.  Joe’s a deaf-mute.”

     Well! Henry thought.  That was one way to get around the French accent.  Then the apothecary smiled for the first time that evening.  Knowing Sergeant Boggs, the older man probably thought it was better if the young general couldn’t say anything anyway.

     “One blessed by fortune, eh?” the major replied, his tone suspicious.

     Boggs shook his head.  “His mother’s a good Christian women.  She doesn’t truck with that nonsense about fortune telling.”  Then he seemed to think better of what he said.  “Begging your pardon, sir, if you do.”

     Henry was aware of the British belief that those who could not speak or hear could see the future.  He doubted very much that Major Cripps believed in such a thing. 

     “Oh?  I was thinking he could, perhaps, give us a reading on the outcome of this damned war,” Cripps went on.

      “Why, we don’t need a soothsayer for that.  We already know the outcome, sir,” Boggs replied, straight-faced.  “His Majesty will rout the rebels in no time and triumph.”

     “Hear, hear!” Henry seconded.

     “You have the look of men who have trotted at a pace,” the major said, turning the subject back to them.  “Does haste compel you?”

     “Prudence, sir.  I want to get the boy home where he is safe.”

     “And why did you come to the area to begin with?”

     “To visit relations.”

     Cripps frowned.  “I see.”

Sergeant Boggs was experienced.  The simpler the story, the less you had to lie.  Henry pulled at his collar that was soaked through.  It was a lesson this journey had taught him well.

     “Well, perhaps I will see you at table in the morning.  Good night then, sir.”  Major Cripps inclined his head.  His eyes lingered on Lafayette’s long lean figure.  “Joseph.”

       The general looked slightly confused.  Then he smiled and nodded in return.

     Isak, who had been taking everything in, placed a hand on Henry’s shoulder and said, loud enough for all to hear, “Massah, I think the time’s come to go to our rooms.  You want I should fetch the bags?”

     The blacksmith’s timely reminder was welcome.  Henry had been about to say something to Boggs, forgetting they were strangers.  “Yes, Isak.  Take them to room….  Ah, what is the room number, innkeeper?”

     “Three, sir,” the man said as he handed Isak the key.

     Henry saw Sergeant Boggs nod imperceptibly. 

     He had gotten the message.

 

     Lafayette nodded and Sergeant Boggs lifted a hand to rap on Henry’s door.  They had waited until the inn fell quiet and then made their way down the corridor.  It was nearly three in the morning.  For a while footsteps had sounded outside their room.  They suspected it was one of Cripps’ men.  They had counted his paces and the minutes in-between rounds, and then made their escape during one of the open windows of time.  

     The Frenchman nodded again and his aide called out, his voice a terse whisper, “Henry, open up!”

     For a moment there was nothing.  Then the sound of someone tripping and a hushed, “Is that you, sir?”

     “Just open the door,” Sergeant Boggs answered with a shake of his head.  Then as the key was turned in the lock, the frontiersman added, “You go on in, sir.  I’ll keep watch.”

     Non, Daniel.  Come in as well.  What will the major think if he finds Joseph’s father lingering in the hall outside of number three?”

     “That there’s a girl in there?” Daniel suggested with a smile.

     Lafayette returned it.  “He knows it is Henry’s room.”

     “Oh.  Right….”

     When the door opened, the Frenchman waved his aide in and then followed.  As Daniel turned to close and lock it, Lafayette lowered his hood and stepped into the room only to be quite unexpectedly attacked by Henry Abington.

     “General!” Henry exclaimed as he caught him in a bear hug.  “By all that is holy, it is good to see you alive and free!”  The apothecary stared at him a minute and then seemed to remember just who it was he held, and released him.  “Sir.”

     Lafayette looked to Isak for an explanation.  “What is this all about?” he asked, keeping his voice pitched low. 

     Isak drew close.  “We were told you had been captured.”

     “When?  By whom?”

     “By Major Cripps,” Henry answered.  “Just now.  Today.”

     Sergeant Boggs joined them, but before speaking urged them all to the other side of the room away from the door.  “This is not good, sir.  I would say he suspects.”

     “But he told you this earlier, before he saw us?” the Frenchman asked.

     Henry nodded.

     “Then why….”  Boggs snapped his fingers without sound.  “That young lieutenant; the one you spoke to, sir.  If he guessed….”

     “He might have told Major Cripps his suspicions, and since Isak and Henry had just arrived Cripps was looking to see what their reaction would be if it seemed their impending rendezvous with the French marquis had been discovered.”  Lafayette cast a sympathetic eye at Henry.  “I trust it was not too…dramatique?

     “Oh no.  I assure you that I most heartily told the major that damned French boy deserved whatever he got,” Henry replied.  “Sir.”

     Isak was nodding his head.  “The major seemed satisfied, General.”

     “By the way, sir,” Henry asked innocently.  “Why are you here?  Does this have to do with Jeremy’s disappearance?”

     “You know about that?” Boggs asked, surprised.

     “Certainly.  Why do you think we are here?”

     “What is it you think you know, Henry?” Lafayette asked quietly.  “Tell me.”

     The apothecary must have heard something in his tone.  “Why that Jeremy is gone from Chester without explanation.  And that he has come to New York on some secret purpose – we thought for you.”  The color drained from the apothecary’s face.  “Is there more?”

     Lafayette fell silent for a moment.  Then he pulled a chair up to the window and sat down with his back to it.  It was cold, but he felt it the safest place to speak.  Sergeant Boggs was checking periodically to make certain no one was sniffing at the keyhole.  One whiff of his French accent would doom them for sure.

     Mes amis,” he started, “it is time I told you everything.  It began with Robert Larkin’s death and one young soldier imprisoned, far from home….”

 

     A half-hour later the four of them sat in silence, each consumed with his own thoughts.  Sergeant Boggs was the first to stir.  “Sir, we really should be going.  If that lieutenant recognized you….”

     Oui.  You are right, Daniel.”  Lafayette turned back to the pair before him.  Henry looked ill.  Isak, not unjustifiably, was angry.  “Do you have any questions?”

     “So what now?” the blacksmith demanded.  “We leave Jeremy to rot in some Loyalist prison somewhere?”

     Non.  That is why I am here.  I am going to find him.”

     “But sir, you can’t.”  It was Henry who spoke.  “Think.  If this green lieutenant you dealt with had his suspicions, how can you go into Redcoat infested territory and hope to come out alive?”

     “Henry sounds like a smart man, general,” Sergeant Boggs said softly.

     “I walked through the streets of Chester without being recognized,” he protested.

     “Chester is a puddle to New York’s ocean, sir.  You know that.  It is nearly the size of London, with some 25,000 souls.  Someone will recognize you.  Let us go.”  The apothecary’s jaw was set and his mouth drawn into a line.  “We will find Jeremy.”

     “How?”

     Henry spluttered.  “H-how?  Well….  We know he was at the docks on the 17th.”

     “That is over a week ago.  His contact is dead.  There is no record of where he was taken.”  Lafayette raised his hands in a hopeless gesture.  “No one knows where to look.  Even with the four of us we can barely begin – ”

     “Sir,” Isak broke in, “I think I might know someone who knows where Jeremy is.”

     Lafayette turned toward the blacksmith.  “And who would that be?”

     “Major Cripps.”

     “Why would you think that?  There must be 10,000 British soldiers in New York.”

     “Not like this one, sir.  Cripps, well, he doesn’t like to be out of control.  Henry, you remember, he told us his job was to patrol the roads?”  As Henry nodded, he went on.  “Cripps told us this Jeremiah Kent – the real one – had escaped him before.  I’m betting Cripps was exiled here because he failed, and that he is the one who has a personal vendetta against him.”

     Boggs drew nearer.  “It makes sense, sir.”

     “Let’s say Cripps let Kent slip through his fingers and then, when Jeremy came into town impersonating the man, somehow the major found out about it and took him.”  Isak frowned.  “What I don’t understand is why, if that’s the case, Cripps didn’t just lock Jeremy up in the Provost.”

     “Because Kent had escaped from there before,” Lafayette answered, warming to the idea.  “Part of Jeremy’s mission was to seek intelligence about the movements of the British army in the city.  One of these we became aware of when we arrived at Albany.  Due to overcrowding and a substantial amount of successful escapes, they are moving the more troublesome prisoners, along with the sick and dying, to the prison ships anchored in Wallabout Bay.”

     “Good God, sir!” Henry breathed.  “You don’t mean to tell me you think Jeremy is on one of those contagion ships?”

     His words were soft.  “I can think of no other explanation for his disappearance, unless he is dead.  In the Provost or the Sugar House books are kept.  The treatment of the prisoners, abhorrent as it may be, is regulated and recorded.  It would be difficult to make a man such as Jeremiah Kent vanish there.  If Jeremy was taken to one of the prison ships, from what I have been told, all it would take would be a bribe to erase his name and existence forever.”

     “Then how do we find him?”

     “Major Cripps is our key.  We must somehow trick him into taking us to Jeremy.”

     “Trick him?  How?” Isak asked.

     “I am not certain,” Lafayette said, leaning back.  “I could expose myself, but I do not see how that would help Jeremy.”

     “No you could not,” Boggs countered quickly.

     “What if we make him think Jeremy has something he needs?  Some piece of information?  Or what about money?” the blacksmith suggested.  “You said Kent was wealthy.”

     “Perhaps.”  Lafayette turned to Henry.  “If Cripps heard, say, that Jeremiah Kent had a large sum of money on him before he was taken, and had hidden it somewhere, do you think Cripps would be interested?”

     “Who wouldn’t be?” the apothecary replied.

     Oui.  Money meant for the rebels that could now supply their enemies.  An exquisite irony that would not be lost upon the good major, I avow.”

     Leaning forward Henry asked, “Sir, what are you thinking?”

     “It will require another meeting with the major.  Henry, are you willing?” the Frenchman asked.

     “If it is for Jeremy, I would walk into the very mouth of Hell and take the Devil by the throat.”

     Bon.  For that is precisely what I would have you do….”

 

     Henry had knocked on Major Cripps’ door and been admitted without question into the lion’s den.  He stood now with his fingers moving nervously about the rim of his tricorn hat – mostly because that was the way he needed to play it, and in part because he was terrified he would make a mistake and condemn Jeremy to death.

     Major Cripps was finishing with some correspondence.  Henry waited as the soldier shook sawdust onto the ink, blotted what remained, and then carefully and meticulously sealed each letter.  Cripps picked up a bell and rang it and then leaned back as his aide, Jenkins, entered and then departed with the packet. 

     Then, finally, he turned to Henry.

     “It is very early in the morning, Doctor.  Is there something you need before you depart?”

     Henry indicated the empty chair before the desk.  “May I?”

     The major nodded.

“I need…well…there is something….  I feel I should….”  His

fingers bent the brim of the hat.  “I was not entirely honest with you before.”
     Major Cripps’ grizzled brows peaked.  “No?”

     “No.  While I was not aware of Jeremiah’s intentions concerning the sums he collected, I was aware that he was involved in something somewhat…clandestine and secretive.  He would not speak of what it was, but I guessed it had to do with the war.”  Henry met the major’s stern gaze.  “What do you do when it is a friend – a good friend – and you feel they are headed in the wrong direction?  If I turned him away, then I would have no influence.  I….”  He paused and fell back in the chair.  “Just hang me and get it over with.”

     The British officer’s lips quirked with amusement as he leaned his elbow on the arm of his chair and raised a finger to his lips.  “I can assure you, Doctor Abington, that I have no intention of hanging you.  Please, continue.”

     “The last time I saw him – which was more recently than I admitted – he was carrying a large sum of money.  Jeremy told me he was headed into the city to meet with a man…Priestley, I think his name was.”  Henry noted with satisfaction how the major stiffened and sat up.  “He was to give the money to this man for whatever nefarious purposes it was intended.”

     “How…much money?” Cripps asked.

     “Fifteen, maybe twenty thousand.”

     The major blinked.  “In coin?

     “I believe so.”

     Major Cripps frowned.  He shook his head and muttered, “Where could he have hidden it?  It was not on him when – ”

     “I beg your pardon, sir?” Henry asked, acting as if he had not heard.

     The British officer  started.  Then he rose to his feet.  “It is very good of you to have told me this, Doctor Abington.”

     “It is my hope, sir, that the funds may be recovered and used in His Majesty’s service.  And, sir….”

     “Yes?”

     “I do hope you will not be too hard on Jeremiah.  He is a good man, just misguided as so many are in these trying times.”

     “When I find him, I will let him know what a good friend he has in you,” Cripps said as he extended a hand.

     Henry took it.  “Thank you, sir.  That is all I could ask.”

 

     Two hours later Henry, Isak, Lafayette and Boggs were all hidden behind a clump of pines about a half-mile from the Riverbend Inn.  The general and his aide had left the night before, even though they feared it would further arouse the major’s suspicions.  He and Isak had taken their leave in plain sight, traveling down the north road and then circling back as soon as they were certain they had not been followed.  Now, they all watched the inn with keen anticipation, waiting for Major Cripps to make a move.

     It did not take long.

     The major appeared shortly, barking orders and sending his attendants and junior officers flying.  A few minutes later one of them returned with his horse.  Major Cripps mounted with a flourish of his long dark cloak and then spurred his horse and took off down the road toward New York.

     They meant to follow him, though it had not yet been determined exactly who ‘they’ were.  Henry glanced at Isak and asked the black man, “And who do you think will win?”

     Daniel Boggs and Lafayette were arguing.  The older man’s hands were in the air, probably in exasperation, but it looked more like surrender.

     The blacksmith grinned as he turned and put his foot to the stirrup.

“Do you even have to ask?”

     Ten minutes later, with Lafayette in the lead, the quartet spurred their horses and took off for the occupied city.