THE ELEVEN THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED

Chapter Ten

  

Lafayette rode until the break of dawn, but was afraid to push any farther during daylight hours.  Ten miles or so short of Bennett’s Point he halted and tethered the horse in a leafy glade, and then dragged Jeremy through the snow and ice to a barn he had spotted in passing.  The structure looked abandoned.  He was pleasantly surprised to find upon entering that, though it appeared as if it was not in daily use, there was a good supply of hay in it and a few rough blankets.  Lafayette quickly removed his own coat and wrapped it about his friend’s shoulders, and then buried Jeremy in the hay and threw the woolen coverings over his still form.

Then he really looked at him for the first time since the rescue.

“Merci Dieu!” the Frenchman breathed.  It had only been two weeks, and yet Jeremy Larkin looked as if he had been imprisoned for two years.  He had lost over a stone of weight.  His skin was sallow with sickness.  The clothing Jeremy wore was nothing but rags, and those were drenched in days’ old sweat, vomit and filth.  From the look of him, it appeared he had been beaten as well.  Lafayette reached out to touch his friend’s forehead.  Fever had set in.  If he did not find help for him soon, it would be followed by mortification and death.

What was he going to do?”

“I cannot leave you, mon ami,” Lafayette said as he reared back on his heels.  “But I must.  We need heat and food and, if by Providence’s grace I can find it, medicine.”  He wished Henry were with them.  The apothecary might know the precise thing needed.  From the little experience he had gained in the last six months, he did not think it was the typhus or any other bilious fever.  But that left a thousand other possibilities. 

He had just started to pull away when Jeremy moaned.  Mon ami?  Jeremy?” he asked.

Jeremy’s cracked and bleeding lips parted.  “Up…ton?”

Non.  It is me.  Lafayette.”

“Where’s…Upton?”

“I do not know.   You are here with me.  You are no longer on the

Terrence.  Jeremy, you are free.”

   “Free….”  His friend spoke the word as if it were a dream denied a child; something long desired but patently unobtainable.  “How… free?”

    “The Terrence is burned to the waterline.  Never again will another be imprisoned in its baneful hold.”

   Jeremy fell silent and then, unexpectedly, he began to cry.  As the tears flowed, he turned his face into the hay and muttered once again the name that seemed to mean so much to him.

   “Upton….”

   Tears clouded Lafayette’s eyes as well at the sight of such a strong man driven to such a state, and within him a renewed hatred for the British arose.  “Jeremy, I must leave you for a time.  I must seek food and the means to start a fire.  Without them….”  He hesitated.  Without them he feared his friend would not last the night.  “Jeremy, do you hear me?”

   An unexpected noise caused Lafayette to fall silent.  As the door to the barn began to open, the Frenchman hastily covered Jeremy Larkin’s supine form with a fresh layer of hay.  Then he rose and looked about, desperately seeking cover for himself.  In the end he dove behind an abandoned wagon.

   But not quickly enough.

   The pale moonlight filtered through the opened door, outlining the forms of two people – a man and a woman.  They occupied the door’s frame for a moment and then stepped inside.  The man was holding something that looked as if it might be a heavy branch.  He wielded it like a bat as he called out.

“Who is it?  Who’s there?
 Lafayette said nothing.

The woman pointed.  “There, by the wagon.  Jim, who is it?”

   “Get behind me, Becky,” the man ordered.  By his voice Lafayette could tell he was young and frightened, and maybe fourteen or fifteen at most.  More than a youth, but not yet a man. 

   Drawing a deep breath the weary Frenchman rose to his feet and stepped out of the shadows with his hands raised.  Pardonnez moi,” he said, “I promise you, I mean you no harm.”

   “Throw your weapon down then,” Jim ordered, noting the pistol behind his belt.

   With reluctance Lafayette complied.

   “Kick it over here.”

   Again, he did as he was told.  As the young man picked it up and placed it behind his own belt, he asked, “And who are you?”

   “My name is Gilbert,” he replied.

   “What are you doing here?”

   “Seeking shelter for the night.”  Then with a grin, which he hoped might put them at ease, Lafayette added, “I was thinking of asking you the same thing.”

   Jim hesitated as Becky blushed.  Then she raised up on tiptoe and whispered in his ear.  “You’re French,” the young man announced with a frown.

   There was no denying it.  Oui.”

   “Are you a rebel?”

That one was just about as hard to deny, considering where they were.

“Would it be a good thing if I was?” Lafayette asked.

   “There’s skinners and cow-boys all around here.  You look like you had a run-in with someone.  Now, who was it – ”  The youth froze.

   Jeremy had moaned.

   “Who else is in here?” Jim demanded as the hand holding the branch shook.

   “Only my friend,” the Frenchman replied.  “We are on the run as you have deduced.  If you will only let us rest here for a few hours, I promise you we will be on our way.”

   “Is your friend hurt?” Becky asked.

   Oui.  He is gravely ill.”

   Becky was a pretty girl.  She was no great beauty such as the women the Queen of France surrounded herself with, but had a simple country charm.  Her hair was chestnut brown and the countenance it framed, fair, with apple red cheeks.  She looked to be about the same age as Jim.  Lafayette sighed and suddenly felt incredibly weary.

   She was about the age Adrienne de Noailles had been when he had taken her for a wife.

   “Jim,” Becky said. “We have to help them.”

   The young man wavered.  “I don’t know.”  Jim was a strong lad.  He looked like he was used to labor.  His hair was yellow as the hay that filled the barn and just as tousled.  Still, he paled at the thought.  “Pa’s not too partial to rebels.”

   “He’s not too partial to those Redcoats who took over his warehouse without asking either,” she countered quickly.  “And you know your ma’s got two brothers fighting for General Washington.”

   “Ma’s from Massachusetts,” Jim said, as if that explained it all.

   Lafayette hid his amusement as he looked from one to the other.  “We do not need much.  If you would just make a pretense that you did not find us here, I promise we will be gone by sunset.”

   Becky had moved from Jim’s side and, following Jeremy’s soft moans, found him and then began to free him from the hay that had been  hastily tossed over him.  When she succeeded her intake of breath was audible.

   “My dear Lord,” she whispered.  “What happened to him?”

   Lafayette’s jaw tightened.  “Wallabout Bay.”

   Jim’s eyes widened.  “He was on one of the ships?  We heard about the escape.”  The young man’s eyes narrowed as he assessed Lafayette’s condition.  “Were you?”

   Non.  We….  I came to rescue him, only to find the prisoners had done it for me.”

   “Over two hundred men died, did you know that?” Jim asked, his voice hushed.

   Involuntarily the Frenchman’s fingers touched his forehead, chest, and then both shoulders in the sign of the cross.  Dieu Merci,” he breathed. 

   Jim’s young face had grown sober and his jaw tight.  “It was the mercy of God,” he growled.  “Better dead than on one of those ships.”

   “He’s very sick,” Becky said.

   Oui.  I was about to leave and seek some form of sustenance for us both.  Perhaps, try to find some medicine.”

   The young woman looked at her beau.  “Jim, your ma….”

   “Becky, hush.  I don’t want to get her involved.”

   “What?  What is it?” Lafayette asked.

    Becky rose to her feet and came to his side.  “Jim’s ma’s a midwife.  She’d know what to do.”

   “If someone found out, they’d hang us or burn our house down,” Jim protested.  “I can’t go and – ”

   “Don’t you think you should let Abigail decide for herself?”  Becky’s hands went to her hips.  “That could be her brother lying there!”

   Jim winced and shuffled his feet.  “Becky….”

   “Here,” she said, handing Lafayette her cloak.  “You need to keep him warm until we get back.  I’ll bring some food for you and maybe we can get some broth in him.  What’s his name?”

   Lafayette glanced at his friend.  “Jeremy.  And thank you.”

   Becky glanced at Jim who had already moved to the barn door.  “Don’t think too poorly of him.  He’s scared.”

   “Mademoiselle,” he answered, touching her arm, “he has every right to be.  You should be scared as well.  If you aid us and the British find out, they will arrest you.”

   She gazed up at him a moment and then said, “I saw him, you know?  Riding on his white horse.”

   Lafayette frowned.  “Saw who?”

   “General Washington.  He and his men came by our farm and he asked me for a drink of water.  I was proud just looking at him.  The British, what have they done for us?  They come here and take everything we have and give us nothing in return.  General Washington, he’s a gentleman.  He’s wealthy.  He doesn’t need to do what he’s doing.  In fact, he may lose everything he has just for doing it.  Even his life.”  Becky drew a breath and then smiled a little sheepishly.  “Forgive me.  I’m a woman.  Sometimes I get carried away – ”

    Non.  Thank you, Becky.”  Lafayette took her hand and pressed it to his lips.  “For all the evil I have seen this day, your words give me hope that there is enough good to overcome it.”

   The young woman blushed again as he released her hand.  “You better go take care of your friend.  Jim’s farm is about a mile away and we’ll have to rouse his mother.  Then Abby’ll have to gather supplies.  We’ll probably be near an hour.”

   Becky hesitated, and then rose up to kiss him on the cheek.  Then she dashed out of the barn after Jim.

   Lafayette stared at the door for a moment and then walked over to close and bar it.  Then he returned to Jeremy’s side.  Gathering his friend’s unconscious form in his arms, the Frenchman pulled him close so he could share his body-warmth, and then gave himself permission to fall into a restive sleep.

 

   Dawn found Isak, Henry and Sergeant Boggs back at Bennett’s point.  Unfortunately, neither Lafayette nor Jeremy was there. 

   The man who had housed them before most willingly did so again.  He fed them a hearty breakfast, which Henry found he had no stomach for.  The apothecary stood outside the house now with the icy wind   whipping his hair, staring back the way they had come, wondering if they had somehow missed a sign left by their fleeing friends.

   Were Jeremy and Lafayette ahead of them, or behind?

   They had spent the night playing an anxious game of hide and seek with a very determined Redcoat.  He was one of those grizzled sergeants of many campaigns and, for a time, it seemed there was no way to elude him.  But Henry had not counted on Sergeant Boggs who proved more than the man’s equal.  Boggs had given the sergeant precisely what he expected, leading him on a merry chase through the hills just south of the East River below the point.  Then, when it seemed they were within the man’s grasp, Lafayette’s aide had doubled back and, coming up behind the Redcoat, taken him and his aides prisoner.  They left the men securely trussed at the bottom of an abandoned well.  Boggs wanted to leave them there for good, but Henry had wrung a slow promise out of him that, before they left the Point, Boggs would send word to the closest British outpost of their location.

   Henry had seen more than enough death and destruction to last a lifetime over the last few days.  He was still haunted by the condition of the men fleeing the Terrence, and by how emaciated and debilitated Jeremy was.

   “So now what?” Isak asked as he came up beside him. 

   Henry shook the image from his mind, and turned to his friend.  “I only wish the general had left us some sign,” he sighed. 

   “Like one that British sergeant could have found?”

   “I know.  I know.  Henry shoved his glasses up his nose and then wiped the end of it.  Running through the countryside in the middle of winter was not the remedy for the catarrh he would have normally prescribed.  “It is just, if they are not ahead of us….  Abandoning Jeremy and Lafayette is tantamount to pronouncing a death sentence for both.”

   “What does Boggs say?” Isak asked. 

   Henry shrugged.  It had been more than an hour since he had talked with Lafayette’s aide.  The sergeant was at the main house gathering supplies for their journey north.  “You know Daniel.  He has not said much.  His general ordered him to check here and if he found nothing, to go on to Tappan.  So that is what he intends to do.  I suppose it only makes sense.  This is dangerous territory.  Lafayette and Jeremy probably rode through the night and on into the morning to escape it.”

   Isak pursed his lips.  “Do you really think so?”

   “I don’t know what I think!” Henry said as he threw his hands in the air.  “What do you think?”

   The blacksmith shook his head.  “I think sometimes it takes a mind outside the military to think.  No matter how expert a rider Lafayette is, Jeremy was hurt powerful bad.  I don’t see them making it farther than this in only part of one night.  And I doubt they made it this far.”

   Henry nodded.  “I agree.  So what do we do about it?  Disobey orders?”

   “Ain’t no orders to disobey, Henry,” the blacksmith grinned.  “You and me, we’re civilians.   I don’t remember receiving a commission, do you?”

   “No.”  The apothecary smiled as well.  “I believe that was only Jeremy.”

   “Well, then, what’s say you and me go for a drink, friend?  I hear there are plenty of fine taverns in the south….”

  

      Lafayette shifted and opened his eyes.  Immediately his gaze went to the barn door.  He relaxed when he saw it remained barred.  He was still lying close by Jeremy and could feel the intense heat radiating from his friend’s broken body.  The Frenchman shifted and laid him down, and then made certain before rising that the blankets and Becky’s woolen cloak were pulled up tightly around him.  Walking to the door, Lafayette peered out of one of the cracks between the boards.  From the position of the sun more than an hour had passed.  It was no cause for alarm, but still, the fact that it was taking Becky and Jim longer to return than they had anticipated made him nervous.  Perhaps he should gather Jeremy up, find his horse, and head north, he thought.  But turning and looking at his friend’s unconscious form told him that was not a real possibility.  The journey would probably kill him.     

   No, whatever fate awaited them in Jim’s father’s barn, he had to trust to Providence’s continued grace that it was meant to be.

   Lafayette stretched and shook himself, and then executed a series of mock lunges in order to warm his muscles up.  If it came to a fight, an hour of sleep in the cold would do nothing to prepare him.  He had no sword, but Jim had left the pistol he had taken from him behind and it was once more firmly tucked behind his belt.  The Frenchman had just started another series of moves when a soft voice called from without the barn.

   “Gilbert?  Are you there?”

   He recognized it as Becky.  Oui,” he answered as he crossed to the door.

   “I have the food and medicine,” she said.  “Let me in.”

   There was something in her voice; a tone he was not entirely comfortable with.  “Are you alone, mademoiselle?”

   “Jim’s brother is with me.  Please, let me in.”

    Lafayette hesitated.  Jim’s brother?  Still, if he opened the door to find the young woman was accompanied by one, or a regiment of Redcoats, it would make little difference.  If the British army had found his hiding place, there would be no escaping them.  If he did not come out, they would simply burn the barn down around him.

   Un moment,” he replied.  Lafayette took a moment to prime and load his pistol and then returned it to its position on his hip beneath his coat.  Then he crossed to the barn door and opened it.

   Becky stood outside.  She had a basket on her arm.  Beside her was a blond man of medium build and height who did indeed look as if he could have been Jim’s brother.  He was carrying a chest that Lafayette assumed contained Abigail’s midwife remedies.

   “Jim had to help his pa,” Becky explained as she stepped inside.  “And we couldn’t exactly explain why he needed to come with me.”  She crossed to Jeremy’s side and knelt by him.  “Joe, bring the chest here.”

   As the man complied, the young woman held the basket out to him.  “There’s some cold chicken in there and a half a bottle of wine, was well as some fresh bread.  You eat while I see what I can do for Jeremy.  Abby told me which remedies to use.”

   Merci, Becky,” Lafayette breathed as he took the basket and went to sit down on a bale of hay.  Joe was paying little attention to him.  He seemed mostly interested in staying by Becky’s side.  Perhaps a little sibling rivalry?  The Frenchman smiled.  Men and women were the same the world over.

   A few minutes later Becky looked up at Joe.  “I need to see if I can get him to take a little wine.  I’m going to get the bottle.”

   Joe shifted and glanced at Lafayette where he sat on the hay and then nodded.     “Make it quick.  This one needs you.”

   As Becky rose and headed over, Lafayette lifted the bottle from its warm nest of bread and linens and held it out to her.  She took it with a smile and pulled out the cork.  Then she dropped it.

   “Oh!”  Becky knelt quickly, seeking to keep the precious liquid from escaping.  A bit splashed on his mud-stained boots before she could.  Catching one of the linens from the basket she started to mop it up, saying, “I’m so sorry.”

   Lafayette leaned down to stop her.  “You needn’t do – ”

   Becky’s big brown eyes met his.  Her words were barely more than a breath.  “They know you are here,” she whispered and then rose quickly, leaving him with the stained linen in his hand, fighting for all he was worth not to show any reaction.  

   As Becky arrived at Jeremy’s side, Jim’s brother – if that was who he was – looked down.  “So, will he live?” he asked rather coldly.

   “If he is tended to.  If he’s kept warm and allowed to rest.”  Becky planted her hands on her hips and squared off against the man.  “It wouldn’t be a good thing to move him.”

   Joe stared at her for several heartbeats and then said, “We should let Ma know.”

   Lafayette rose at that and went to join them.  “Where is your mother, Joseph?  Why did she not come?” he asked.

   The man turned toward him.  Joe was older than the Frenchman had thought.  He was in his late twenties, or maybe even thirty.  The look Jim’s brother gave him, if not one of hate, was certainly laced with disgust.  “Ma was out when Becky arrived.  One of her women’s time had come.”  Joe reached out and caught the young woman by her arm.  “Come on, Becky.  We had best get back.”

   Lafayette turned to her.  “Will you not stay?  I am concerned about my friend.” 

   “I’ll be back later,” she said softly.  “Maybe Abby can come with me next time.”

   “Thank you for the food.”

   Joe looked directly at him.  “You just make sure Jeremiah there is taken care of until we return.  We wouldn’t want him to die, would we?” 

     Becky squeaked as the man compelled her toward the door.  Lafayette watched them leave and then followed to bar it behind them.  The Frenchman remained there, staring out of the crack, until they disappeared into a stand of trees.  As they did, he thought he caught a flash of scarlet cloth.  But it might have been his imagination.

   Still, probably not.

   Lafayette turned and leaned against the rough wood, and placed a hand to his head.  They had been followed from the Bay.  He had no reason for suspecting so, but he was sure it was Major Cripps.  The British major had been three times shamed: once when Jeremiah Kent escaped from the Provost, twice when the merchant seemed to return, and then three times when Jeremy posing as Kent was rescued from the Bay and the Terrence burned to her waterline.  Pride was a powerful motivator.  That and the fact that Cripps had been informed that there was a French rebel in their midst.     The officer might not be certain that he had Lafayette in his quickly closing net, but he had to suspect.           

   A slow smile crept across the Frenchman’s full lips.  “Ah, Daniel.  How you will wish to have been proven wrong….”

   A sound drew his attention back to Jeremy.  Quickly crossing the barn Lafayette knelt at his friend’s side.  “Are you awake, mon ami?

   Jeremy shifted, coughed, and then gasped for breath before answering.  “Sir?  I…thought…that was you.”

   Oui,” he answered with a sigh.

   “Where are…we?”  Jeremy’s words were slow and came almost as if he spoke them from a dream.  As his eyes roved around the barn, he asked, “Elizabeth’s farm?”

   Lafayette placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder.  Non.  We are far from home, my friend.  And, I am afraid, in imminent peril.”

   “Peril?” 

   “I believe the Redcoats know we are here.”

   “You must…fly, sir.  They…cannot take you!” 

   Jeremy tried to rise, but the Frenchman held him down.  “Flight will not avail us.  I believe the barn is already surrounded.”

   Lafayette watched the truth dawn in Jeremy’s eyes and was stricken by the horror that entered them as the other man realized they might soon be taken – and imprisoned. 

   “Then…we are…done,” Jeremy sighed.

   The Frenchman patted his friend’s shoulder with his hand.  “Not yet, Jeremy.  Not yet.”  He stood and tossed his coat back to reveal the pistol hanging there.     “Where there is life, there is hope.”

 

   Major Christopher Litchfield Cripps tapped his riding whip against the thigh of his white regulation-issued breeches.  He had left a very chagrinned Sergeant Nash in charge at the Wickfield household after finding and freeing the man and his fellows from a rat-infested hole in the ground.  Except for their son Joseph, who had fought in the Seven Years War, the whole Wickfield household was a nest of vipers breast-fed on the milk of treason.  The elder James, young Jim’s father, had once been loyal to the Crown, but of late there had been rumors that he and several others in the area were actually aiding and abetting Washington’s men in secret.  The mother, Abigail, was a known sympathizer with several close relatives allied with the Continentals, and was suspected of having harbored refugees after the Battle of Long Island.  Young Jim was a wastrel.  He had been taking the fair young Becky McAllister to the family’s barn to indulge his youthful lust when the pair stumbled upon the rebels hiding there.

    How fortunate for him the young lovers had come bursting into the house with the news, never realizing he and his men had commandeered the house and were awaiting a freshly cooked meal ordered of the polite but decidedly unwelcoming Mistress Abigail. 

            Cripps had sent the girl back to the barn with her food and potions in the company of the only loyal Wickfield.  Joe had been acting as eyes and ears for His Majesty in the neighborhood for some time.  His payoff was the promise that his disloyal family would not be taken and imprisoned.

   Major Cripps straightened his coat and reached into his pocket and drew out his watch.  He checked the time and then, with a snap, replaced it.

   Joseph Wickfield was five minutes late.  If the young man didn’t appear within the next five, he just might have to rethink that.

   A minute later Cripps’ aide, Captain Jenkins, stepped up to him with a smart salute.  “Lieutenant Wickfield has arrived.  Sir!  Shall I send him to you?”

   “Yes.  And have him bring the girl.”

   “Sir!”

   The major watched Joseph Wickfield approach, half-dragging Becky McAllister.  The girl’s brown hair was loose and covered a portion of her face.  The cheek beneath it was crimson with a man’s handprint.  When they came to a halt before him, Cripps asked, “Trouble, Captain?”

   “I’m not sure, sir.  I kept the girl on a tight leash, but there was one moment – artfully arranged – where she might have been able to communicate information to the rebels.”

   Cripps gray eyes flicked to Becky McAllister’s face.  It was unreadable – except for the intense hatred she held for him.  “It really doesn’t matter.  There is no way they can escape.  I have six men placed around the barn and more are on their way as we speak.  If the rebels have a sense that something is wrong, why, they will sweat all the more.  What was Kent’s condition?”

   Joseph shook his head.  “He’s bad off, sir, but alive.”

   “And the other man?”

   “You were right, Major Cripps.  He is definitely one of those French frogs.  He accords himself as if he has come from wealth and privilege.”

   “Well, well, well.  If it is not the boy, then it is one of his precious friends who accompanied him on his wayward journey.  No matter what, he will be quite a catch.”

   Becky was frowning.  Then, suddenly, her eyes lit with recognition.  “Gilbert…’ she gasped.  Then she paled when she realized she had voiced her thoughts out loud.

   “What was that?” Cripps demanded.  “What did you say, child?”

   “Nothing,” she insisted with a shake of her head.

   He caught her chin and pressed the bone between his fingers until tears entered her eyes.  “You said ‘Gilbert’.  Is that the name of the French rebel in the barn?”

   “No,” Becky wailed.

   “Yes.  Yes, it is.”  Major Cripps released her as a triumphant sneer curled the ends of his lips.

   “We have him!”