Z is for Zanker - Chapter Nine

 

 

He should have taken the gun.  But then, that would have been a cowardly thing to do – to leave a woman undefended in order to preserve one’s own life.  And that was something he could and would not do.

 

Lafayette had begun limping as fast as he could through the trees with no clear goal in mind.  He vaguely knew the area he found himself being hunted in, but this was not his natural habitat.  As a man he had walked a man-made jungle, prowling with impatience and disgust the courts of France, the elegant mansions, the lofty castles of the nobility.  Still, as a boy he had spent his days walking in the woods, chasing phantom armies, exploring and hunting.  Zanker was a man of wealth, from a once powerful family in Germany.  Privileged.  Most likely pampered as a child.  He probably thought the Marquis de Lafayette the same.

 

Little did Zanker suspect that his quarry had more in common with the deer and the rabbit sprinting through the trees, than with aristocrats.

 

He had learned as a child how to follow trails, and how to hide his own.  He had learned to think as the animals thought, understanding that the deer sought wisely to escape, the rabbit and snake to hide deep in the shadows, and the wolf to attack when the time was right.  He knew the only way to survive was to keep one step ahead of the predator that hunted you.  Zanker was schooled in British warfare.  Even on the edge, such ingrained training – such breeding – would hold true.  Major Joachim Zanker would march blindly forward, expecting his prey to cower in the face of his superior position and power.  He did, after all, have the gun.  And so he, Gilbert du Motier of Auvergne, would have to do as the animals did – as General Washington’s soldiers did – feint, retreat back the way he had come, attack from what seemed to be a position of weakness, and then retreat to do it again.  Lafayette’s grin was grim, but it was there.  He had no qualms about running.  It was not a coward’s, but a wise man’s strategy to live – and to fight another day.

 

Now, if only running had not been so hard.

 

He had removed his boot to examine his ankle.  Less than an hour’s limping had rendered it painful to the touch.  And lack of sleep and sustenance made the pain nauseating.  Hesitant to take the time, but forced by necessity, he had paused behind a boulder to tear strips from his linen shirt and bind it tightly and then press the swollen limb back into his boot.

 

“Mère d'un Dieu!” he cursed lightly as his foot made the final plunge, twisting sharply at the end.  And then the curse turned it into a prayer.  “Give me strength,” he said and then rose to his feet.

 

A musket ball winged over his head, barely missing him.

 

“You must do better than this, Marquis.  You know my prowess with firearms.  If I wanted, you would be dead,” Zanker’s voice, strained to the point of breaking was carried by the wind to his ears.  He didn’t know about the boast.  True, Zanker had been the best shot in Europe, but it was obvious his insanity and not his skill was now in control.  Still, the shot had been close.

 

Very close.

 

He was tempted to taunt him, to cry out that only a coward hunted a wounded man, but somehow he sensed Zanker had moved beyond that.  In the collapsing tunnel of the major’s madness, his death was now the only thing that Zanker could see.

 

“A wounded animal is to be put down, Marquis.  It is the only…kind thing to do.  If you remain where you are, I will make it quick.”

 

Lafayette had, perhaps, five or six minutes while Zanker worked his way down the hill and through the trees.  The river lay behind him.  Before him, a broad stretch of trees.  It would mean limping from one to the other and hoping to find a place of shelter.  A vantage point from which he could stage an attack.

 

And then what?

 

Could he take Zanker on with a wounded leg and only his bare hands?  Madmen had the strength of ten.  He had to get the pistol from him.  Somehow….

 

Weary beyond expressing, Lafayette leaned his head back on the boulder and looked up.

 

The trees.

 


~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

“I tell you, Samuel Larkin, this is a fool’s errand at best!”  John Coates growled in his usual fashion, waving his pistol under the mayor’s nose.

 

“A ‘fool’s errand’ to find your niece, and my son?”  The mayor of Chester was a gentle man.  Seldom was he roused to anger, but when he was, his remaining son had said it reminded him of the wrath of God come to earth.

 

John Coates was coming perilously close to releasing that anger.

 

Samuel drew a deep breath to calm himself and glanced at the party of men behind him.  Adams and Biggs were seasoned and comfortable in the wood, as well as with a rifle.  Jason Crim was a gentle man, a cobbler considerably outside of his element.  “Jason, are you all right?” he asked.

 

Crim nodded.  His knuckles were white on the rifle’s stock.  “F-fine,” he replied.

 

“Are we near the place yet, John?” Samuel said turning back to Coates.

 

John Coates had stopped at the bottom of the hill.  He was shaking from head to toe.  He lifted one hand and pointed to the top.  “Up there.  He’s up there.”

 

“Men, from here on out, stealth is the word,” Samuel said, lowering his voice.  He moved past the quaking Tory and then turned back to look at him. “Well, are you coming, John?”

 

Coates shook his head. “I’ll not go a step farther.  Zanker’s mad.  He’ll shoot us all, or have that other madman do it for him!”

 

“He can only shoot one at a time,” Richard Adams remarked.  “Why not send Coates here in first?”

 

As John Coates began to protest, Samuel Larkin had to admit that the idea was tempting – very tempting.

 

But the Good Book told him otherwise.

 

“John can remain here and keep…watch.”  His look told the others that they were better off without the terrified and unpredictable man.  “Now, let us approach with stealth and – ”

 

A shot, ringing through the rising dawn, cut off what he had been about to say.

 

“See!  I told you!”  John Coates panicked and began to run back the way they had come.  “He’s coming for us!  He knows we are here!  Run!!

 

“John!  John, come back – ”  Samuel Larkin decided to save his breath.  It would do no good.  The man was gone.  “Forget him.  Adams, Crim, Biggs, with me.  To the top!”

 

A few minutes later they emerged from the trees to find a strange tableau.  A sandy-haired man he recognized from his son, Robert’s, funeral, was kneeling, binding another man who was unconscious to a tree.  Nearby Isak Poole, Jeremy’s friend, stood with dozens of gold and silver ingots ringed round his feet.  Henry Abington, the town apothecary and also his son’s friend, knelt to one side of him.  And on the ground was Elizabeth Coates.  She was crying.

 

Wrapped in her arms, was his son, Jeremy.

 

With fear and trepidation, Samuel Larkin and the small party of men he had brought with him approached the four.  The man from Robert’s funeral spun and pointed his weapon at them, but then relaxed when he saw who they were.  Henry and Isak greeted him.  Henry came forward at once.

 

“It is not so bad as it looks,” he said immediately, “though, it is bad.  We must get Jeremy home.  Sergeant Boggs and Isak can see to this other man.”

 

Boggs spoke softly from behind him.  “Sir.  Mayor Larkin.  There is a physician in the general’s camp.   Please, take your son there.”

 

“So they have taken your general too,” Samuel replied.

 

The sergeant nodded.  “He is missing.  As is Zanker.  I will leave Isak to watch over Merz,” he indicated the unconscious man tied to the tree, “and I must seek Lafayette.”

 

“I will go with you.  The others can see Jeremy to safety.”

 

Boggs shook his head.  “Sir….”

 

“No. No arguing.”  Samuel crossed to where Jeremy lay and looked down at Elizabeth and his son.  “Jeremy’s fate is in the good Lord’s hands.  And no man should travel alone.  What if Zanker should take you and hold you hostage against your general?”

 

Boggs started to protest, but then nodded.

 

Samuel Larkin knelt and touched Elizabeth’s hand.  Then he took hold of his son’s.  Jeremy was feverish and his skin had the pallor of a man about to breathe his last.  He brushed his hair back, thinking of the little tow-haired boy sitting in his wife’s arms so long ago, and then leaned down and kissed his forehead.  “God be with you, my child,” Samuel whispered and then he rose.  Brandishing his pistol, he nodded to Boggs who returned the gesture, and then the two men disappeared into the brush.

 

Henry watched them go.  “Let us do the same,” he said to those remaining.  “We will have to carry him to where the horses are.”

 


~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

John Coates stumbled through the trees.  He had been so distressed that he had lost his way.   The river lay before him, a boundary he could not cross, and behind him – well – the forest was a green asylum for lunatics!  Zanker and Merz, Larkin and those other men…all lunatics who understood nothing about the fact that God took care of those who looked after themselves first!

 

He was just beginning to follow the tall grasses by the river, hoping they would lead him to road and town, when a shot rang out fairly close to hand.  Every impulse in him told him to run in the opposite direction, but instinct told him otherwise.  He might never get out of this green Hell-hole without help.  The weather could turn in an instant.  It was cold, but could grow colder and then he would freeze to death.

 

A sudden snowstorm and that would be the end of John Coates!

 

Almost recklessly, he plowed through the field of green leaves and tall grasses, heading for the origin of the sound.  At the base of a tall tree he paused, his weapon drawn, panting, turning in a circle, seeking, searching desperately.

 

Above his head he heard a sound and then a softly spoken ‘Mon Dieu!’  The words were French, but he knew their meaning.  He looked up and saw a dark form perched on a branch in the tree.

 

“Mr. Coates, run!” the man called out.

 

Coates froze.  He looked toward the tall grasses where a figure in a crimson coat was emerging, holding a pistol pointed straight at him.

 

The ‘snowstorm’ had come.

 


~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

Lafayette drew a deep breath and held it.  Fate, or Providence had forced his hand.  No matter who or what John Coates was – even if he had not been the uncle of the woman Jeremy loved – he was a human being.  His life, a life.  He could not sacrifice John Coates for his own safety.

 

Not, and remain a man.

 

“Zanker!” he shouted as he released the branch he held and dropped painfully to the ground.  “Do not shoot!  I surrender.”

 

As he raised his hands, Zanker walked calmly into the light cast by the risen moon and halted several feet short of the tree.  The pistol in his hand was still pointed at John Coates.  “I would advise, Mr. Coates, if you desire to continue living, that you drop your weapon.  And kick it away.”  After Coates had complied, he added, speaking to Lafayette.  “And you, get to your feet.”

 

Lafayette did as he was instructed.  He drew a breath and, putting his weight on his good leg, stood.  It was all he could do not to cry out, but he wouldn’t give Zanker the satisfaction.

 

Beside him, John Coates was wide-eyed.  “You are really Major-general Lafayette?” he asked.

 

Lafayette nodded.  “Oui.”

 

“My God….”

 

“Yes,” Zanker affirmed, “this is the great, the noble Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, who deserted his own country and countrymen to serve in the American army as a volunteer.  Now a Rebel soldier, and soon to be food for the worms.”  The major’s lip curled up in a self-satisfied sneer.  “How ironic that your life, my dear Marquis, will be given up for a Tory spy whose only concern is for the welfare of his own neck.”

 

John Coates was looking up in the tree.  Then he looked at Lafayette.  “You would do that?  You did that, for me?”

 

The Frenchman shrugged, but his eyes were firmly fixed on Zanker’s.  “We fight for liberty, but we fight for each man – each American as well.  No life is worth more than another.  Each life is sacred in the eyes of God, and of the ‘Rebel’ Cause.”

 

“You sicken me,” Zanker growled.  “Life is sacred only if it serves your purpose!  How many deaths have you been responsible for, general, in the few short months you have been here?  How many?  A hundred?  A thousand?”

 

“And how many have you killed Zanker?” he spat back.  “What of Dublin and Auvignon?  Lexington….”

 

Zanker laughed.  A little too hard.  “But I make no excuses.  War is war.  It is only men such as you, pampered, powdered, and paid for, who pretend it is otherwise.”

 

“And what of your father?” Lafayette said quietly.

 

“You will leave him out of this.”

 

“I cannot.  Your father, Major Zanker, was a good soldier until he let a lust for power and the disease that was killing him drive him over the edge.  Until he let fighting, and the death that comes from honest warfare turn into butchery and murder.  As you have.”

 

Major Zanker was silent for a moment.  Sweat poured down his face and the pistol he held shook with a growing palsy.  As he reached inside his pocket and felt for his father’s snuffbox, he said to John Coates, “If you do not wish to be harmed, Mr. Coates, I would move from the Marquis’ side.  I mean to shoot him.”

 

Lafayette saw for just a moment that John Coates was actually torn.  Then, with his head down, he moved away.

 

“Not toward your gun, Mr. Coates,” Zanker waved him toward the tree’s trunk. “That way.”

 

Coates nodded and did as he was told.

 

“So, Zanker, you will continue the code of cowardice that is now the motto of the Zanker name?” Lafayette jeered.  “You will shoot an unarmed man?”

 

Zanker drew the snuffbox out of his pocket and moved it in his fingers, caressing the cold metal like a nun touching the Jacob’s tears on her rosary and saying her prayers.  “Shut up!”

 

“I will not.  If I am to die, it will be after having my say.”

 

“Not if I…pull the trigger now and silence you,” Zanker threatened.

 

Lafayette did not think his madness would allow him to do that.  Or at least, he hoped it would not. “Do it then.”

 

Major Joachim Zanker seemed to shiver from within, as if something deep and dark within him sought to break free.  He almost convulsed but caught himself and gritted his teeth instead.  From between the clenched teeth came the words, “We have some unfinished business first.”

 

“Unfinished?”

 

Zanker walked to the spot where John Coates’ pistol lay.  He picked it up and turned to the Marquis.  Then, unexpectedly, he tossed it to him.

 

Lafayette caught it in his hand.   He looked at Zanker, puzzled.

 

“Ten paces, my dear Marquis?”

 


~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

Sergeant Daniel Boggs paused and turned back to wait for his companion.  It had been a gracious and bold gesture on Mayor Larkin’s part to accompany him, but the older man was slowing him down when every second might prove precious.  He tried to keep his irritation from showing, but apparently was not doing a very good job.

 

“I am sorry, Daniel.  It has been more years than I can remember since I went on a chase.”  Samuel stopped and drew a breath.  “Why don’t you go on without me?”

 

Boggs considered it – for about two seconds.  “No.  Sir, I can’t leave you here alone.  If something happened to you, the general would never forgive me.”

 

Mayor Larkin’s grin was a little grim.  “This old man?  What could I mean to a man like Lafayette?”

 

Of course, Daniel couldn’t mention Jeremy and the Society.  He could, however, speak of his other son.  “Your son, Robert, was not only a useful and honorable soldier, sir, but General Lafayette considered him a friend.”  Boggs smiled sadly.  “And the nut does not fall that far from the tree.  Sir.”

 

Samuel Larkin was silent for a moment.  Then he nodded.  “I like your general.  I am only sorry now that I did not let Robert know how I felt.  The yearning for liberty has always been within this breast,” he touched his chest, “but the fear of an old man kept it silent – for too long.”

 

Daniel Boggs crossed to the older man and placed his hand on his shoulder.  “I knew Robert.  He was a brave man, selfless and true.  He learned those things from you.  He knew what was in your heart.  As I am sure your younger son does.”

 

“Jeremy?”  Samuel shook his head.  “That boy knows nothing but how to get out of work, how to slip out of a house, and how to find the prettiest girls this side of the Atlantic.”

 

Boggs couldn’t hide his smile. “Talents the American Army could well use if he ever decides to follow in his brother’s boot-steps.”

 

The older man shuddered.  “Pray God, he does not.  An indolent boy he may be, my Jeremy, but at least he is alive.”  A shadow of  fear overcame Samuel Larkin’s face. “At least, I pray he is.”

 

Boggs released him.  “The general’s physician is good, sir, and will do his best.  Come now, we must go.  I fear we have already taken too much time.”

 

Samuel Larkin nodded. “I have caught my wind.  Lead on.”

 


~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

John Coates stood beneath the tree, shivering with both the cold and fear.  Zanker and the young brown-haired American general were speaking – words he didn’t understand.  Something about Zanker’s father.  He had apparently been a soldier as well and had gone mad.

 

Was Zanker mad?  He had never contemplated it.  That would explain the man’s aberrant behavior – promising to release him one moment, and then threatening him and Elizabeth with death the next.

 

Looking at the man they called the ‘Marquis’ he wondered if he was mad as well.  If this was the man people said the traitor George Washington had taken to his bosom, thinking of him as a ‘son’, then he was a most important person, and most important persons didn’t sacrifice themselves for others – even good honest hardworking men like him.

 

And if it was Lafayette and he truly was the man from the square at Chester the day Zanker had been going to hang them, then he knew that John Coates was a Tory, and that he had agreed to be an ally and ‘observer’ for Major Zanker.  That meant they were enemies!  Enemies!  And yet the French Marquis – this most important person – was willing to lay down his life for him.

 

It shamed him.

 

John Coates’ life had been one disappointment after another.  At times it seemed the Divine Providence was against him – that it was out to get him.  He had taken to protecting himself at an early age when his father had died and he had become responsible for his mother and their family.  Then his wife had passed young – and his brother – leaving him in charge of Elizabeth.  He only wanted what was best for the girl, what would keep her safe, what would protect her from living the kind of life he had led.

 

Which was, no life at all.

 

The two men standing before him, Lafayette and the Hessian Zanker, were squaring off, back to back.  Zanker shook like a tree in the midst of a storm.  The Frenchman could barely put his weight on his foot and winced with each movement.  Both were handicapped.

 

Who would win?

 


~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

“Are you ready?” Zanker asked.

 

Lafayette nodded.  “Oui.”

 

“Ten paces then.”  Joachim Zanker’s lips curled in a sneer.  “And may the best man win.”  Then, he raised his voice and shouted. “Mr. Coates?”

 

Lafayette watched the older man start.  “Y-yes?” Coates asked.

 

“You will count for us.  To make certain it is ‘fair’.”

 

“M-me”?

 

Zanker lowered the pistol at him.  “Unless you would like me to shoot you first.”

 

Coates shook his head.  “No.  No, I will count. When?”

 

“Now!”

 

And so it came to this, perhaps ten seconds of life left.  There was, as there had been when he was a young boy in the military schools of France, a thrill – a rush of adrenaline – almost to the point of giddiness at the prospect.  But life – and death – on the battlefield had taught him that this was not the truth.  Life was precious and not to be wasted over some argument about the way one spelled a word, a name someone had called you, or the color and breed of the Queen’s lapdog.  He had a wife at home waiting for him.  A child he had never seen.

 

He wanted to live.

 

“One!” John Coates voice shook.  “Two!”

 

Two. Two children he had been given, gifts from God.  One was dead and buried.  Would he see her soon?  Little Henriette?

 

“Three!  Four!”

 

Four.  They were four.  Companions.  The Yankee Doodle Society and him.  He thought of Jeremy and wondered if he still lived.  He had looked very bad last time he had seen him, as Elizabeth dragged him away.  And Henry and Isak?  It was certain they were looking for the two of them.  Did they live?  Or had Zanker’s madness claimed them as it was soon to claim him?  Whether or not Joachim Zanker was the finest shot in Europe, and even with the downward spiral of madness taking its toll, it was unlikely he would miss at this distance.

 

“Five!  Six!”

 

Six months.  He had barely been in the country six months.  On the day when he arrived at South Carolina, his hopes had been high.  He had to admit that, as a young man, hope for glory had fueled his desire to see this new world as well as his love of liberty.  Glory.  Well, he had seen glory in the sacrifice of young men who fought with no food, no shoes, no pay and almost no hope.  He had seen glory in the personage of His Excellency, George Washington, who had deigned  to call him ‘friend’ and ‘son’.  He had seen glory in battle as young men gave their lives for a Cause greater than any single man.  But he also seen death and loss, and grief and unending pain.  Most generals in France saw little battle.  They attended conferences.  Here, within three months he had seen his own blood and the blood of too many others spilled.

 

No wonder after decades of warfare, Zanker’s father had gone mad.

 

“Seven! …eight!”

 

He readied his pistol, cocking the hammer back and placing his finger on the trigger.  Two more seconds.  “Mère d'un Dieu,” he whispered, “Mother of God, protect me.  Into your hands, mon Père, I commend….my spirit.”

 

“Nine.  Marquis!

 

Lafayette spun.  He should have known.  Already Zanker’s pistol had discharged.  Turning sideways on his twisted ankle he cried out and fell panting to the ground.  The ball grazed his chest and cut through his shirt, but missed him.  Zanker was already reloading.  He scrambled for his weapon which he had dropped as he fell.  The charge had not gone off.  If God was with him he had a chance.

 

Then he heard Zanker cock the hammer on his weapon.  He looked up. It was pointed at his head.

 

Lafayette closed his eyes and tensed as the pistol fired.

 

Seconds later, he opened his eyes and saw Major Zanker stagger and fall as blood spread slowly across the white shirt beneath his waistcoat.  Lafayette regained his feet and looked toward the trees just in time to see Daniel Boggs emerge, a smoking rifle in his hands.

 

He stumbled over to Zanker’s body and fell beside it, even as Boggs began to run.  Lafayette knelt and turned the major over and removed the silver snuff-box that was clutched tightly in his hand.

 

“Sir?”  Daniel Boggs was looking at him – at his blood-covered shirt, at his broken and beaten form.  “Did the ball strike you?”

 

Lafayette shook his head.  “No.”

 

“What happened, general?”  Boggs eyes found John Coates who was huddling, miserable, beneath the tree.

 

“He had a chance to redeem himself, Daniel, but he could not even take that.  Major Zanker died, as he lived.  A coward.”

 

 

Epilogue

 

Jeremy slowly opened his eyes.  He blinked and grinned when he saw Elizabeth sitting beside him.  He tried to speak, but found his lips were not only too dry, but slightly swollen.  She saw him trying and rose to fetch some water.  As she did, Henry’s concerned face appeared, hovering over him.  Elizabeth returned and gave him a little water, and then moved out of the way.

 

“How are you, Jeremy?” Henry asked, sitting beside him.

 

Where…am I?” he managed.

 

“The general’s camp.  We had not wanted to move you until we were certain there was no threat to your life.”

 

“How…long?”

 

“Two days.”

 

Jeremy stiffened.  “The general….”

 

Henry’s hands held him down.  “He’s fine.  He was here, with you, until just about an hour ago.  His injuries were not so severe, but stress, fatigue, and lack of food have laid him on his back for nearly the whole time.”

 

Elizabeth came to his side again and took his hand.  He smiled at her.  “Henry, what of Zanker?”

 

“Dead.  Killed by Sergeant Boggs.”

 

“He almost killed General Lafayette,” Elizabeth said softly, “but Sergeant Boggs and your father got there in time.”

 

“My father!”

 

“Peace, my friend,” Henry said.  “Your father knows nothing more than that the men who kidnapped you were after the general as well, and that the general’s aide kindly offered to have the camp physician care for you.  Our secret is safe.”

 

Jeremy relaxed – a little.  “And the other man, Merz?”

 

Henry scowled.  “Outside, now.  That is where the general is.  Merz is to be sentenced for stealing the gold and silver meant for the Continental Army.  And for his attempt on the general’s life, and the life of Captain Yankee Doodle – though that, of course, will go unstated since your father is still in camp.”

 

“Zanker was mad, wasn’t he?  And Merz as well….”

 

Henry rose and began to prepare a tincture to give him.  Elizabeth took his seat.  “Yes, the major suffered from the same illness which afflicts his cousin, King George.  He was in the final stages.  That’s why he shook and was catatonic at times.  Merz, now, Merz was an odd one.  Other than an obsession with his hand not belonging to him, and giving him orders, some would say he was quite sane – just a maniacal killer who delighted in his victim’s pain.”

 

“Some might say he was possessed,” Elizabeth added quietly.

 

“Yes,” Henry turned back with some tea for Jeremy, “but we know better.”

 

“Why did he hate the general so?  Merz, I mean.  I know about Zanker.”

 

“I can answer that,” Isak said as he ducked into the tent.  “Jeremy, it is good to see you talking.”

 

Jeremy nodded.

 

“I spoke to Merz while keeping watch over him.  He was the youngest of five brothers.  One died in infancy.  The other four – including him – were all members of the same crack Hessian regiment.  Along with their father, who was a general.”

 

“Hessian regiment?”  Jeremy thought a moment and the pieces fell into place.  “Not the one General Lafayette defeated at Gloucester?”

 

Isak nodded.  “They all died.  All but Merz.”

 

“And so Merz, who knew Zanker from boyhood, and had heard of the major’s defeat and plight, decided to free him,” Henry added, taking the cup back.  “He recruited Zanker, at the instigation of his ‘demon’ hand, or so he said, to take his revenge on General Lafayette.  Zanker was only too eager, and to easy a pawn.”

 

“How did he die?  Zanker, I mean,” Jeremy asked quietly.

 

“Shot in the back by Sergeant Boggs as he tried to shoot the general,” Isak answered.

 

“They were finishing the duel,” Henry explained.  “Before the final count Zanker fired, nearly killing the general.  Fortunately Boggs was there in time to save him.”

 

“So Zanker was a coward.”  It was a sad truth, but one he had expected.

 

“To the end,” Isak said.

 

“Jeremy!” General Lafayette remarked as he entered the tent with his aide close behind him.  “You are awake.  Un dieu soit félicité!”

 

“God be praised indeed,” Henry readily agreed.  Then he looked at the general with an experienced eye.  “And you, sir, have a bed awaiting you.”

 

“I am fine, Henry.”

 

“No.  You’re not.  And I, at this moment, carry a higher rank than even you.  Is that not right, Sergeant Boggs?”

 

Boggs had come in quietly behind his general.  “The ‘doctor’s’ always right,” he grinned in agreement.

 

Lafayette looked from one to the other.  Then he shrugged.  “I am out-gunned and out-manned.  The only option is surrender.”  He sat on the edge of his cot that was placed not far from Jeremy’s.  “A good thing they are on our side?  Is this not true?”

 

It was another two days before Jeremy returned to his home with his father by his side.  He was borne on a litter carried by soldiers in disguise, and then carted up the stairs and placed in his own bed.  It was not long before he was asleep.

 

The next morning he woke to find his father sitting by him.  “How are you, my boy?” Samuel Larkin asked, placing a hand on his cheek.

 

“I am fine, father.  I am sorry for any grief I might have caused you.”  And he was.  “I should have listened.  But I feared for Elizabeth….”

 

“Hush.  Hush.  Let it go.  The events in which we were caught were greater than us.  Let it go.”

 

Jeremy nodded and for a moment they were silent.  Then his father lifted his hand.  There was a book in it.

 

“Shakespeare?” Jeremy grinned.

 

His father nodded and opened the pages.  “How about a comedy?”

 


~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

Lafayette had decided to return to New York.  The letter he had written to General Washington, he suspected had never arrived.  At least he had received no letter in return – which might be his Excellency’s way of telling him to go back and wait.  He didn’t mind.

 

On the way, he had a few things to do.

 

Early the next morning, his uniform covered with a heavy cloak, Lafayette waited astride his dappled grey outside the ‘Born on Newcomb’ tavern.  Behind, hidden in the trees, were a dozen Continental soldiers led by Sergeant Boggs.  Inside, also incognito, were another half dozen men.  Two of his soldiers would allow themselves to be taken.  Then, when the signal was raised, and they knew it was time, they would descend on the tavern en masse, catching them in the act, and put an end to the impressing trade.

 

Queen Mags would simply have to find another place to ply her ‘wares’.

 

After the operation, he and Boggs returned to Albany.  It was late in the evening when they arrived.  The first thing he did was go to the place where the young soldier he had ordered shot had been buried.  He went alone, though Boggs objected.

 

Kneeling beside the unmarked grave, Lafayette told the young man that his sacrifice had not been in vain, that because of him – and his untimely death – a series of events had been set in motion that had brought to the soldiers of Washington’s army enough gold and silver for shoes, and for something to eat.

 

And then he promised that he would seek out his wife and his two young children, and make certain they never wanted for anything.

 

Tears in his eyes, the young general rose, placed his hat on his head, and returned to the war.

 

 

 The End