THE ELEVEN THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED

Chapter Three

        

      Elizabeth Coates stood staring out the kitchen window of the farmhouse she shared with her Uncle John.  The older man was out in the barn.  One of their sheep was lambing early and he feared both the mother and babe would die.  She shifted her shawl up about her shoulders as she shivered with a chill.  A cry had awakened her.  At first she had thought it was the ewe.

     Now she feared it had not been a cry of the flesh, but the soul.

     Shifting so her back rested against the cold wood of the windowpane, Elizabeth thought back to her parting with Jeremy.  He had brought her to the house and, since her uncle was away at the time, had remained to share a cup of hot cider with her.  After a day of frolic and fun he had seemed curiously sober and she guessed it had to do with the packet Lafayette’s aide had delivered.  She had questioned him about it and he had dismissed her misgivings, saying that Lieutenant Gimat’s appearance was routine but that it had reminded him of the misfortunes of the soldiers at Valley Forge, and that he felt guilty for idling the day away.  She believed him –

     In part.  But there was something else.  Something he would not say.  Something having to do with whatever it was that had ‘begun’. 

     After an hour Jeremy rose with the word that he needed to get home.  He said there was something he had to discuss with his father.  Then, like a bolt out of a blue sky, he warned her that there was a possibility that he might have to go away for a few weeks.  She had asked if it had to do with Gimat’s appearance and he said ‘no’, assuring her again that it did not.  It was family business and nothing that should cause her to worry.

     She was worried anyway. 

     Though his very existence depended on his ability to lie – keeping up the pretense of being a wastrel all the while he was leading a secret insurrection against the British Army – Jeremy Larkin was not very good at it.  At least not with her.  And whether he would admit it or not, he had been lying.  He was about to undertake something dangerous and he had been at pains to keep her from knowing about it.

     Of course, that didn’t mean he hadn’t told anyone else.

     Elizabeth started as her uncle opened the door and stomped into the attached kitchen.  He fell into a chair and demanded, “Bring me a mug of warmed ale, girl!”

     As she complied, she asked him, “How is the ewe?”

     “Laboring.”  He took the mug from her and swallowed some of the hot liquid, allowing it to warm him.  “I’ve half a mind to fetch the farrier.” 

     “I’ll do it for you,” she offered, almost too quickly.  “You have gone the night without sleep and it is a long trip.”

     Her Uncle John eyed her suspiciously.  “You wouldn’t be wanting to see that young scallywag, Larkin, would you?”

     “No, Uncle,” she answered truthfully.  “Jeremy told me last time I saw him that he was going away for a few weeks.”

     “Last time you saw him, eh?  And when was that?”

     “Market Day,” she lied.  “You cannot blame me for the fact that we give custom to the same merchants.”

     “There’s no need to do so at the same time,” he growled as he rose.  “You remember that the next time.”

     She ducked her head. “Yes, sir.”

      “Very well, then, you can go.  I am devilishly weary and there is much work to do.”  He started for the stairs and then pivoted back to face her.  “But take care that you do not dawdle!  I know how long it takes to ride to town and back.”

     “As always, I will obey and heed your words, Uncle.”

     The older man glared at her for a moment as if he didn’t believe a single word, then he made a dismissive gesture with his hand and began to climb the stairs.  “Women,” she heard him mutter as he reached the landing.  “Who knows what the good Lord was thinking when he made them!”

     Elizabeth hurried over to the fire and pulled the kettle.  Then she banked the morning’s coals against the blackened wall of the hearth and replaced the fender.  Catching up her deep blue cloak, the same one she had worn that glorious day before, she hastened out the door to the barn.  After checking in on the ewe, she mounted her uncle’s ebon horse and spurred it toward the town.

 

     Henry Abington pulled back the inner shutters of the window that looked out onto one of the main streets of Chester and then pushed open the window itself.  It was cold as stone outside, but he felt the need of fresh air.  His chimney needed cleaning and the smoke and soot blowing back into the main room of his apothecary was irritating his already irritated sinuses.  He should have seen to it earlier in the year, but other things had been on his mind.

     Simple things like devising incendiary devices to blow the Redcoats back to Britain.

     Henry shivered as the morning air rushed in through the open window.  It sent him scrambling for his coat.  He had no desire to catch his death, but did not hold with the current thinking that late night and early morning air were bad.  Benjamin Franklin, one of the age’s brightest lights, took an air bath each and every day and here the great man was, a ripe old septuagenarian! 

      Henry donned his coat and then retreated to the smoking chimney to put a kettle on.  He had prepared a mix of herbs the night before and meant to brew a healing tea.  His catarrh had subsided rather than worsening, and it was his hope that he would recover completely within the next two or three days.  He was anxious that it occur.  With the lull in the war, he now had time to catch up on all the things he had neglected, like his reading.

     As he nestled into the high-back chair he had pulled close to the fire, Henry reached for the Paris newspaper a friend had sent him.  It was several months old, but any news was welcome.  In it there was an article about Benjamin Franklin, speculating that the elder statesman was close to finalizing an agreement with King Louis XVI of France that would bring Britain’s long-time enemy into the current war.  There was another as well citing General William Howe’s depravity.  A Frenchman recently returned from the colonies reported that Howe was encouraging Tories in New York and Connecticut to take up arms in order to raid the homes of those loyal to the American Cause.  Another report, nearly beyond belief, told of an area in New York where the British Army was docking dozens of ships that had been stripped bare and turned into floating prisons for the purpose of incarcerating American prisoners of war.  The most heinous of these, it seems, was the Whitby, a large transport moored near Remsen’s Mill in 1776 after the Battle of Brooklyn Heights, which was reported to have as many as a thousand men crammed at one time into her darkened hold.

     Henry folded the paper and rested it in his lap.  Such inhumane treatment was impossible for one devoted to relieving man’s suffering to understand.

     Laying the paper down, Henry rose.  Taking up a small cloth he kept just for the purpose, he reached for the steaming kettle only to pause as someone knocked at his door.  His eyes flew to the clock sitting on his mantle.  It was six-thirty in the morning, not too early, but a rare time for someone to come seeking his services.

     Putting down the cloth, Henry headed for the door.  With his hand on the latch, he called out, “Who is it?”

     “It’s me, Elizabeth.”

     Henry’s auburn brows peaked so they brushed the hair that lay across his forehead.  “Elizabeth.  Just a moment….”

     When he opened the door the young dark-haired woman blew in with the chill breeze.  She stopped in the middle of the room and turned toward him, her brow furrowed with concern.

     “Henry, you must tell me.  Where is Jeremy?”

     “You mean to say he didn’t inform you?” he asked as he gestured for her cloak.  When she shook her head and refused, he finished, “He has gone away on business for his father.  I am surprised he did not tell you.”

     “He did.  But I don’t believe it.”

     “You mean to say you think he lied?”

     “I mean to say he did lie.  Henry, I have been to see Jeremy’s father.  Mayor Larkin was not truthful either.”

     Henry hid his smile.  He could only imagine what the elder Larkin had thought upon opening his door this early in the morning to find Elizabeth Coates asking about his wayward son.

     “How do you know he was not telling you the truth?”

     “Henry, I just know!”  Elizabeth sat down in the chair.  “Has he gone away to do something dangerous?  What is it you are all hiding from me?  I need to know.  What has begun?”

     Henry crossed to where she was and sat on the ottoman beside the chair.  He reached out and took her hand in his.  “Elizabeth, I swear to you, there is nothing.  What did Mayor Larkin tell you?”

     “That Jeremy is away on some family business.”

     “Well, there you have it!”  He released her hand.  “That is what he told Isak and me as well.”

     A frown marred the perfection of her forehead.  “You know nothing more?”

     “Only what you have said.  Jeremy told us that he was going away to see to some property in New York, and that he might not return for six weeks.  Elizabeth, Jeremy does have a life of his own independent of the Cause.”

     “I know that,” she snapped. Then, what Henry had feared might happen, happened.  She began to cry.  “I am sorry.  I must seem like a lovesick child.  It isn’t that.  Jeremy and I are just friends.  It is my friend I am worried about.”

       Whether or not he believed her didn’t matter, what did was comforting her.  “I can tell you no more than you know.  But I can promise that if I hear anything, I will send word to you.  Does that give you some peace?”

     She sniffed and then used her cloak to wipe her nose.  “I suppose I am being foolish.”

      “As the Bard said, ‘the fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man – or woman – knows himself to be a fool,” he quoted with a gentle smile.

     That made her laugh.  She reached out and touched his shoulder.  “Thank you, Henry.  Thank you for being a good friend.”

     He rose then and turned back to his now boiling pot.  “Would you care to have a cup of tea?  The water is more than ready.”

     Elizabeth stood and, after straightening her cloak and wiping her nose again, said, “No thank you.  I am off to the farrier’s.  One of Uncle John’s ewe’s is lambing early and he sent me to obtain help.” 

     Following her to the door, he asked, “Is there anything I can do to help?  I am no farrier, but I can supply you with a remedy that may help to ease the animal’s pain.”

     She smiled.  “That would be kind.  I’ll stop in on my way home.”

     “I will have it ready.”

     Henry closed the door behind her and turned back to the hearth.  He crossed the room to it, but stopped before taking up the kettle.  Elizabeth was not mistaken.  There was something that did not set right about Jeremy’s story. 

     Maybe he should find an excuse to pay Mayor Larkin a visit himself. 

 

     Samuel Larkin sat in his son’s empty room.  The silence in the house was profound since Jeremy left.  He had climbed the stairs to sit on his son’s bed after Elizabeth Coates’ visit.  The young woman’s words had disturbed him, though he had been careful not to let her know.  He too was suspicious of his son’s actions.  Though Jeremy’s story rang true – and the anonymous letter still in his possession backed it up – he felt there was something his son had not told him. 

     He feared for him.

     Samuel rose and walked to the window and looked out on the dawning day.  So much had happened in the last five months since his eldest had been taken.  This war Robert believed in did not go well.  Brandywine had been a terrible defeat, and though General Burgoyne’s surrender had boosted the Continentals morale, it had fallen again after Paoli and Germantown.  And now there was this dreadful winter to weather.  He thought of all the young boys, like his own son, who had pledged their lives to General Washington, and of the ones who had been called to give the ultimate sacrifice.  Was it all worth it?  Would living under British rule have proven so hateful?  Was independence worth even one life?

     “That I would live to see such a day,” Samuel sighed as he turned back into his son’s room. 

     His only consolation was that his surviving boy had no interest in such things.  He would never lose Jeremy on a battlefield as he had his brother.  He would never stand by his grave to receive a flag from Jeremy’s general as he had with Robert.  Samuel Larkin shook his head sadly.  Now, there was another young man bound to die before the war was out.  It was said that General Howe had personally vowed to dine with Lafayette the night before he put iron ruffles on the French marquis’ wrists and sent him off to London in chains.

     “What a waste,” he sighed.

     Samuel crossed the room and was about to exit, but turned back when he remembered he had left the letter from the man Jeremy had wronged lying on his son’s bed.  As he pivoted, his eye noted a splash of white on the floor just beside the bedstead.  As he bent to retrieve it, Samuel realized it was a note, hastily written in a man’s hand.  Part of the note was missing, as if his son had torn it up and taken the remainder to toss elsewhere.  On it were half a dozen words.  The docks, lower Manhattan.  Midnight.  The 17t..   Samuel stiffened as he read it.  Jeremy had said the man he went to work for was a farmer. 

What was this about the docks?

 

Sergeant Daniel Boggs sat in his general’s room in Albany, New York, attending to the Frenchman’s official correspondence.  They had been in town nearly a week and things were not going well.  Lafayette’s high hopes that the planned invasion of Canada would happen as scheduled had been dashed pretty quickly.  The planners had failed to account for just about everything – money, food, men – and it seemed the British and Canadians already knew as much about the envisioned attack as they did.  Added to this was the wisdom of the residents of upstate New York who loudly proclaimed that, at this time of year, the entire thing was ill advised.  There was still a possibility that it would happen, but it was looking more and more like the mission would be postponed, and that postponing it was just a gentle way to let the French marquis down without hurting his feelings – or ruffling his generous and immensely wealthy feathers.   

Daniel lowered the letter he was reading to look at Lafayette who was slumped in his chair with one long leg tossed over the wooden arm and his chin on his fist.  He had known the young man long enough to recognize when something troubled him and he didn’t think it was the invasion.  Lafayette had ranted and raved and then pouted for a time, but had seemed to take it well enough.  When he was like this it was something personal.  Sometimes it was a petty concern; a worry that his reputation would not be what he hoped, or that he would not get his own command by the ripe old age of twenty-one.  Tonight it was different.  This was the way he had been when he first realized that Thomas Conway’s cabal had bamboozled him.  Whatever troubled him was of great import – and apparently something he felt he had to keep to himself.

Thirty minutes later Boggs finished.  There were one or two documents that needed the general’s signature before they could be sent.  He gathered them up and rose from his seat and approached the brooding Frenchman.  Standing at his general’s side, he waited a full minute before clearing his throat.

Lafayette started and looked up at him.  “Forgive me, Daniel.  Is there something?”

“Your signature, sir.  It’s needed before these can go by messenger.”

“Leave them on the desk.  I will attend to them in the morning.”

“Sir.  General Washington expressly requested that this one be signed tonight.”  The letter was a confirmation about the trip to John’s Town, New York.  “It is already February 19th.  You leave in two weeks.  General Schuyler needs to know that you are coming.”

Lafayette sighed.  Oui.  Oui.  Give it here.”

As Boggs handed it over, the lanky Frenchman rose and walked to his desk.  He took up his favorite pen and dipped it into the ink and signed the letter.  Then, looking up, he waved his hand.  “I may as well attend to the others while I am here.”

Boggs crossed and handed them to him, and then stood at his side as the general read and signed each one.  When he was done Lafayette leaned back in the chair and his eyes took on their faraway look again.  The sergeant remained quiet for a moment and then asked, “Is something wrong, sir?  Other than what we dealt with today, I mean.”

“Wrong?” Lafayette asked, looking up.  “What would make you think that?”

“You seem…preoccupied.”

 “No more so than usual.  We are at war.  Everything is uncertain.”

“I beg your pardon, but we aren’t right now.  And even though things have not gone as hoped here, everywhere else things are as certain as they have been in a long time.  General Howe is bedded down with his Philadelphia doxies.  Conditions at Valley Forge have improved.  General Greene and Jeremiah Wadsworth have seen that.  Thomas Conway has been shown for the scoundrel he is, and His Excellency’s position as commander-in-chief is secure.”  Boggs drew a breath. His recitation of blessings seemed to have little impact.  “And it looks as though the French army may soon be joining us.”  When that failed to illicit a response, Boggs grew exasperated.  “Damn it to Hell, sir!  I wish you would tell me what is troubling you.”

The young Frenchman smiled.  “Daniel, such language….”

It wasn’t his usual, and he would have to confess it to his Yankee reverend if and when he ever made it back home.  “I’m sorry, sir.  It is just that, as your aide, my job is to make things go smoothly for you.  I can’t do that if you keep things back from me.”

“I would tell you if I could, Daniel.  Believe me.”  Lafayette rose and came to his side.  His general placed a hand on his shoulder and met his troubled stare.  “A good man’s life may depend on my silence.  When and if I am at liberty to speak of it, you will be the first one I tell.  That I promise you.”

“Then there is nothing I can do to help?”

Non.  Unless it is to petition Providence to keep this man in His care.”

“It’s hard to pray for someone if you don’t know their name.”

“Use the name that belongs to all of us,” the Frenchman said as he crossed to his bed.  “Beg of God to keep Yankee Doodle safe.”

 

Henry hesitated outside Mayor Larkin’s home.  What was he going to say to the older man?  After giving Elizabeth the remedy he had promised and bidding her good day, he had gathered up some others and headed this way.  The story he concocted was that he was making a delivery that Jeremy had ordered.  He had chosen herbs that a man might want if he had indulged his passion for ale a little too much.  But once he had made the delivery, then what?  Ask the mayor if he could come in for a cup of tea and pump him for information about his missing son?  Closing his eyes, Henry thought of that benevolent force that guided the universe and asked it if it could not grant him one tiny favor.

Then, feeling foolish, he turned to leave.

At that moment the door of the house opened and Mayor Larkin stepped out.

“Uh…sir!  Good day to you,” Henry said.  “I was in town making a delivery and – ”

“Henry!  Oh, my boy, I am glad to find you here,” Samuel Larkin said as he clapped him on the shoulder.  “Come in.  Come in.  I was just on my way to your shop.  I wanted to ask you about Jeremy.”

As the Mayor’s tall form disappeared into the house, Henry looked up to the sky.  It wasn’t often Providence moved so quickly.  It made him wonder even more what this was all about.  As he entered the Larkin’s home, Henry said, “Thank you, sir.  Though I don’t know what I can tell you about Jeremy that you do not already know.”

 “Sit down, Henry.  Would you like some tea?”

“That would be lovely, sir.”  It seemed he had spent the entire morning trying to get a cup.  “I am just recovering from the catarrh and it would be most welcome.  My throat is – ”

“Do you know where Jeremy went?” the mayor asked as he reached for the pot on the table and began to fill one of his late wife’s china cups.

“To New York, or so he said.  On family business?”  Samuel handed him the cup and he took a deep breath of the intoxicating brew.  As a man-in-the-middle, Mayor Larkin had not sworn off British tea.  With just a twinge of guilt, Henry took a sip.  “Heaven, sir!” he declared.

“Yes, yes, family business.”  Mayor Larkin sat heavily in the chair across from him.  “Henry, you are Jeremy’s friend.  I am right in that?”

“Sir, you know I am!”

“Then, as his friend, I am going to tell you something that he told me in confidence.  I fear for my boy and keeping his secret is all too much for me.”

“Secret?”  Henry put the cup down on the table beside him.  “What secret?”  It couldn’t be anything to do with the war as Mayor Larkin was not privy to the Society’s activities.

“Jeremy has not gone to New York on family business.”  The older man rose and began to pace.  “My son has gotten himself into trouble; some woman he became infatuated with when drunk.  The woman’s father has demanded he make recompense for his actions, which resulted in a fire on their farm.  Jeremy has been indentured for six weeks.”  The older man reached into his pocket and produced a letter.  “Here.  Read this.”

With growing apprehension Henry took it.  He knew full well the story the mayor had just related was concocted.  Though Jeremy liked his ale as well as the next man, there was no woman for him but Elizabeth, and there had certainly been no drunken rage or fire.

The letter was vague, with no names mentioned.  It gave no location or any other information of import save for the fact that Jeremy would be gone for approximately six weeks.  Henry forced his hands to remain steady as he returned it to his friend’s father.  “Sir, I don’t know what to say.”

“Do you think it true?” the mayor asked as he returned to his seat.

Henry shrugged.  “Why would he lie about such a thing?”

“So he could go off for a month and a half, for God alone knows what purpose!”  Samuel Larkin’s eyes were pained.  It was not often Henry saw what Jeremy’s charade cost the older man.  He was seeing it now.

“Sir, surely you are mistaken.”

The mayor hesitated, and then drew out another scrap of paper.  He held it out to him.  “I do not know how else to explain this.”

 Henry took it with trepidation.  When he read the words written on the paper, he drew an audible breath.  It was obviously a reference to a rendezvous.  If the story Jeremy had told them was false, as he now knew it was, then who was the meeting with?  And why in New York?

“Sir, I don’t know what to say.  Could this not be the same man?”

“A farmer, at the dockyards in Manhattan?”

“Perhaps he has produce being loaded on a ship.”

Samuel Larkin’s ice-blue eyes pinned him.  “In the dead of winter?”

“Grain, sir.  Or seed.  It is often sold at this time of year in preparation for the coming season.”

The older man sank back in his chair.  “I suppose it is possible….”

“Sir, may I say something?”

Mayor Larkin looked at him.  “Go ahead.”

“Your son, sir, though he may at times seem feckless and desultory, is a good man.  I have seen him sacrifice his own needs for others.  I have heard him speak with great admiration of you and of his late brother, and voice his wishes that he could be more than he is.  One day, sir, you will be proud of him.”  Henry handed back the letter, but not the scrap of paper.  While the older man was not watching, he slipped it into his sleeve and then waited to see what happened.  “I would not be concerned.  I am certain Jeremy is doing just what he told you.”

For a moment Jeremy’s father remained as he was.  Then he nodded his head.  “Thank you, Henry.  I am grateful that my son has such a friend as you.”

“I could not ask for a better one than him.  Now, sir, if you will excuse me.  I have that delivery to make.”

Henry said goodbye to Mayor Larkin and stepped outside the house into the brisk morning air.  He stood there a moment, contemplating his next move.  Jeremy had deliberately given them the slip.  He was up to something that he either did not want them to know about – or that they could not know about.  Henry withdrew the scrap of paper from his sleeve and read it again.  Jeremy was in New York, but it had nothing to do with family business and that left only one possibility.

It had to do with the war.

 

Isak Poole read the scrap of paper and handed it back to Henry.

“Well,” the portly apothecary asked, “what do you think we should do?” 

 “Jeremy’s a grown man.  I don’t know as we have any right to go sniffing about his business,” Isak answered as he reached for the next rod of iron.  He was making nails today for one of the local landowners.  “If we do, he won’t appreciate it.”

“I know,” Henry huffed as he sat down on a stool.  “It is just….”

“Just what?”

“It doesn’t feel right, if you know what I mean.  Why would Jeremy undertake a mission without telling us, unless he considered it too dangerous?”

“Might be he’s doing something else.”  Isak brought the hammer down and raised it again.  “Might be, as his father suggests, that there is a woman.”

     “Isak!  You know that not to be true.  Of us all, Jeremy is wholly given to the Cause.  Why, he will not even press his case with Elizabeth due to his convictions.”

    Isak put the hammer down.  He wiped his face with a cloth he kept for that purpose and then sat down on another stool.  “I know.  I know.  But just because we can’t figure out what he’s doing, doesn’t mean we should interfere.  Maybe we should just wait for him to come back.”

    “You may think me hysterical as a woman,” Henry insisted, “but I have the strongest presentiment that something is wrong and that, if we do not interfere, the result may be that Jeremy will never return.”

    “He did seem preoccupied the day he left,” Isak admitted. 

    After that the pair fell into silence.  Isak, for one, didn’t know what to say.  Even if they determined that something was indeed wrong and that they needed to seek their friend, all they had was one vague reference to the docks of lower Manhattan.  Jeremy could be anywhere in the occupied city.  Anywhere at all.

    “Isak,” Henry said, sitting up in his chair.  “Didn’t Jeremy meet with General Lafayette alone a few weeks ago?”

    “Aye.  He said he went to talk about Robert.”

    “What if that was a ploy?  What if it is Lafayette who has sent him on this mission?”

    “Without us?”

    “Perhaps the general needed only one man or, perhaps….  You know Jeremy.  Maybe this is something he felt he had to do, but felt he could not ask us to risk.”

    “Something to do with Robert’s death?” Isak suggested.

    Henry shrugged.  “Maybe.  Or maybe not.  There is only one way we are going to find out. 

    “We need to talk to Lafayette.”