Rose of the Revolution

 

 

USA 2000-01

 

Cannon wheel with a fallen leaf of sugar maple (Acer saccharum), Fort Quebec, Canada,
September 2001. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Rose of the Revolution

 

Novel by John A. Burke

 

 

Foreword
Sadly, my good friend John Andrew Burke, scientist, inventor, philosopher, historian, writer, and traveller, passed away in 2010. He had a great interest in the American Revolution, especially the role of Robert Townsend, George Washington’s chief spy, and of a mysterious female spy, whose identity has never been revealed, as well as the reasons for Benedict Arnold’s treason. He wrote this novel, Rose of the Revolution, about these subjects, based on solid historical evidence.

In September 2001, John and I traveled together to Lake Champlain, Fort Ticonderoga, Fort Crown Point, and other localities in up-state New York, and on to Quebec, to experience some of the sites, where Benedict Arnold and his men fought crucial battles against the British during the Revolution. We also visited localities in the Maine wilderness, where ‘The Scarecrow Army’ endured hardships beyond belief during their trek towards Quebec.

Unfortunately, John’s novel was never published, but now it is presented, unabridged, on this website, and it is my hope that you will enjoy it as much as I did. I have added a few relevant pictures here and there. I have also made minor corrections, e.g. the word ‘leftenant’ has been corrected to ‘lieutenant’, as that is the correct spelling, even though the British pronounce it as ‘leftenant’. Likewise, ‘O.K.’ has been corrected to ‘all right’, as the former was unknown in those days.

During the process of writing this novel, John was contacted by a young student, Andrea Meyer, who also had a great interest in the Culper Spy Ring. Together, they wrote an article, Spies of the Revolution, published in the magazine New York Archives, Vol. 9, No 2, 2009.

Please bear in mind that this material is copyrighted. After John’s death, his siblings and I have the entire copyright of the novel. If you would like to use parts of it for any purpose, please write to me at the following address: respectnature108@gmail.com.

 

Kaj Halberg, December 2017

 

 

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On September 8, 2001, John and I – by pure chance – attended an outdoor play at Fort Ticonderoga, in which scenes from The Revolutionary War were re-enacted. These pictures show scenes from this performance. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Author’s introduction
A few decades ago, not a single living person knew of the two-hundred-twenty-year-old true story contained in this novel. It was only in 1935 that historian Morton Pennypacker found himself going through the personal papers of Robert Townsend of Oyster Bay, Long Island, when he thought he recognized Townsend’s distinctive handwriting as that of someone he and other historians had been searching for, ever since the American Revolution had ended – George Washington’s chief spy. Further investigation by handwriting experts confirmed this beyond a shadow of a doubt. Yet Robert Townsend had taken the secret of his identity to the grave – never receiving credit for being the man, who had stopped Benedict Arnold. One, of course, wonders why.

Historian Pennypacker’s work was concluded on Patriot’s Day, 1964, as an historical marker was unveiled at Robert Townsend’s grave, rifles fired a long overdue salute, and the American flag fluttered in the breeze. I was the twelve-year-old Boy Scout, holding the flag on that day, and for me it began a never-ending fascination with this long-dead man and the great events, which unfolded in both my small home town of Oyster Bay and my birthplace of Manhattan. Only as an adult, however, would this interest lead me to stumble on the mystery woman at the eye of the storm, and the even more secret side to this long-secret story.

Most of the events described here took place in Manhattan, Long Island, and in the Hudson Valley. During the American Revolution, the City of New York endured the longest occupation by a wartime enemy army of any city in modern history. During these years, the average resident suffered hardships beyond our comprehension. They were forced to find ways to improvise and make do in a frightening situation, over which they had no control. Worst of all, however, was the lot of anyone labeled a traitor by the British authorities. The treatments reserved for them would result in war crimes trials today. Yet, through all of this, a few patriots chose to remain in New York, engaged in the most perilous pursuit of all – espionage. Their role was that of mice in the lion’s cage, and at times their chances of victory must have seemed just about as likely. History, of course, has been the final judge.

Getting all the facts straight hasn’t been easy. There seems to have been an invisible, sometimes cloak-and-dagger resistance against bringing this long-suppressed story to the public. Just before Pennypacker’s book went to press, several chapters of the manuscript were stolen from the safe in his publisher’s office. Taken as well were the original Revolutionary War letters from Robert Townsend’s sister Sally – a key figure in the hot debate about what really happened, when Benedict Arnold committed treason.

I ran into similar problems. During the lengthy research necessary for this book, I sometimes began to feel like a detective, re-opening an old case only to find that important pieces of the original evidence had somehow vanished, before I got there. Many of historian Pennypacker’s original documents have mysteriously disappeared from the East Hampton Library archives. Pennypacker himself came back and removed some not long before his death, at a time (in his mid-nineties) when he badly needed money. Their fate remains a mystery. Other documents have simply been stolen from the archives by persons unknown.

This intrigued me even more. Oyster Bay in the twentieth century was, after all, not unlike Oyster Bay in the Colonial Era. It is a staid town of old money families and values, in which scandal has always been un-welcome, but present. When I was a child, we played in the abandoned ruins of the Woodward estate, gaping at the shotgun blast still visible in the wall, where (it was said) a gold-digger’s wife blew the head off her wealthy, high-society husband before he could divorce her. According to two books and a TV mini-series about it, his family – incredibly – protected their son’s killer rather than allow a scandal to develop. It seems they may even have gotten the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to lie to the police about it, all in a desperate effort to stave off sensational headlines. That is how badly old families here fear scandals.

Finally, even during the American Revolution, cover stories were invented for the events contained in this book. In espionage this is frequently necessary. As a result, what has faced any truth-seeker has been the proverbial riddle wrapped inside an enigma. It comes complete with fall guys, red herrings, double agents, and invisible ink. Yet modern archives offer sufficient clues that as one orders the events chronologically and examines all the evidence, one begins identifying with the participants, and a clear picture begins to emerge. From the fog of contradictions, false statements, and cover-ups, we find – among other things – that women (on both sides) played a far more crucial role in the struggle for American Independence, than the images of Betsy Ross and Molly Pitcher would have us believe.

In researching this material, I also came to appreciate another ‘secret’ of the American Revolution. Our War of Independence probably could not have succeeded were it not for the limitless bravery and personal genius of the most effective battlefield commander in North America – Benedict Arnold. Inspiring the fledgling nation, while George Washington floundered in defeats, he was considered the second greatest hero of the American Revolution – until, that is, he married a beautiful and wealthy woman half his age. Though no one knew it at the time, that moment launched the flamboyant Arnolds on a collision course with another couple – one of infinitely lower profile. At this crucial juncture, when the American cause was experiencing its darkest hour, the question of which couple won would determine, whether or not America gained her independence.

While the final effect of their struggle is well known, the personal fates of these flesh-and­blood participants have remained too long in the shadows. I have tried to let these very real individuals speak for themselves. Since some specific conversations and personal incidents are unknown, I have added a little of my own imagination in those instances, but only to flesh out the known developments. Historians always have and always will argue among themselves about what really happened at any point in the past. What can be said here is that all significant historical incidents herein seem to have happened as described and are documented directly or indirectly by information in historical archives. The picture which emerges is the only one offered to date that is consistent with all the evidence. Such cannot be said of the other versions – even the ones in the history books.

Today, as privileged citizens of one of the great democracies, we should know the true stories of a handful of real people who stepped forward when needed, prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, and who wrestled unseen over the fragile balance of power at a time, when the lifeline of our infant republic dangled precariously. It is their daring, their shrewdness, their dedication – but most of all their passionate love for one another – that burns them into the memory and fires the imagination.

 

John A. Burke
Oyster Bay, Long Island, 2001

 

 

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Author John Burke, standing on the ramparts of Fort Quebec, Canada, September 2001. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Kings Point, New York, 1775

 

The sound of gulls was the first thing that came to her. Next, the lapping of small waves. Only then did she open her eyes. Sky blue stretched out and over everything. No sun, no white of clouds, just a pale, endless blueness. And more gulls, laughing. It somehow seemed a bitter laugh, derisive. Only then did she feel the cold – penetrating cold, all-consuming cold, and she realized she was shivering. That other sound, overlaying both the water and the gulls, that staccato rattle, was the chattering of her teeth.

For warmth, she tried to wrap herself up in her own arms, but she could not make them move. They seemed paralyzed, as did her legs. She was lying on her back, at an angle, as though pinned. In one mighty effort she willed her arms and legs to move, and, belatedly, recognized that other feeling. Her wrists and ankles were shackled! Pain radiated from them, reminding her of previous attempts to move, which had left the skin there torn and terribly sensitive. Iron cuffs bound her to a rock! They had chafed through the skin, and salt water stung raw flesh. Now she was also conscious of the rough rock, pressing into her back. But what rock?

It was then that the first wave rolled over her mouth. Gagging, choking, she was alternately coughing and gasping for air. Another wave slapped her full in the face, but this time her mouth was closed. Water trickled down her nostrils and burned the back of her throat, but this only served to focus her. How could she have forgotten? She had to keep her mouth closed! She had to breathe sparingly, and only through her nose.

Now she remembered. The tide was rising, and she had been shackled to this rock at low tide, left there to drown, ever so slowly, under a rising tide. She clamped her mouth firmly shut. A calm resignation flooded her bloodstream, diffusing throughout the body. Strange, she thought, that one could feel calm at a moment like this. But she did. Until, that is, that the next wave forced jets of water down her nostrils. She was drowning! Calm was replaced by panic. She was drowning, one wave at a time, and there was no way she could stop it. She shut her eyes and felt the cold and the fetters, and the rock at her back. Odd, though, she thought, the rock also felt like straw, like ticking, like a cheap mattress. On her arms, she felt hands now, and a scratching, like coarse wool. And there was a new sound – shouting! The hands were pulling her up, while they continued to shout at her.

“Get up, you traitorous bitch, get up!”

And her eyes opened, not to blue, but black. Her eyes were met by darkness, broken slightly by something that seemed like candle light. Yes, she could smell the candle, it was a lamp. And she was in her bed, not the water! She opened her mouth and was able to breathe through it. She was alive! It had only been a dream! But all the while, the hands pulled at her, and the shouting continued. They wanted her out of bed and fast, that much was obvious. Fine! What did she care? She was alive! And she was awake. It had only been a dream.

She struggled to her feet, feeling the flagstones through her stockings, but the hands now gripped both her arms so tightly that it hurt. They pulled her forward and she stumbled, so they dragged her by the arms now, cursing her.

“That won’t help you none, Missy, you’re going, whether you walk or we drag you!”

Then she saw it. In the dim light of the lamp, which one of them held aloft, she saw the color of their jackets, and it was red – scarlet red. It all came back to her now. She remembered why they wanted her, and where they were taking her. She knew, and her knees now failed her completely. They cursed her while dragging her down the flagstone hallway, pulling her forcibly into the light of the overhead lamp at the first door, manned by the sick one. The old redcoat in charge of the door smiled his toothless grin.

“Going for a little sunrise swim, are we, Missy?” And he coughed out that gurgling, phlegm-filled laugh that she had come to despise during the past weeks. In response, she spat in his face. He slapped her hard across the cheek, and she tasted blood. The other guards pulled her on.

“Now, leave her alone, Silas! She’ll get what’s coming to her shortly!” With that, they dragged her through the doorway and into the courtyard, but then stopped. She breathed deep, gulping the fresh, clean air of morning. She had always loved the feel of the air at this, her favorite time of day. But she knew now that, after this morning, she would never breathe it again. This realization seared the very texture of this moment into her memory to accompany her on the journey to come.

In the dim gray of pre-dawn, a door on the opposite side of the courtyard squeaked open, and two more red-coated jailers emerged. They were gripping a heavily-manacled young man who moved woodenly, staring straight ahead.

The woman screamed, “No! Not you, Tommy! Not you, too! Oh, surely they can’t blame you!”

The male prisoner blinked several times before slowly turning his shoulders to recognize the woman who had so suddenly and violently come to life. “It’s all right, sister. It’s all right,” he murmured in a poor attempt at a soothing voice. “Don’t fear for me, I…” But tears rushed to his eyes and he fell silent. Before his mouth could again form words, the jailers themselves flinched in startled unison, as her lone female voice let out a long, shrill scream of utter agony, which was cut short as suddenly as it had begun. An officer had stepped up and punched the woman in the solar plexus, knocking the wind out of her, leaving her a gasping, writhing wretch, held up only by her flanking guards. He bent down, placing his face inches from hers, allowing one corner of his lip to curl in amusement.

“Next stop, my dear, is Execution Rock! And we will make the trip in silence, by God!” Then, addressing her escort, he commanded, “Let go of her!” Her jailers stepped away, letting her fall gasping in a heap to the cobblestones of the courtyard. While she fought for air, a quick picture of the trip to come flashed through her mind.

Execution Rock was where the British army executed prisoners, of whom they wished to make a public example. A mere pile of rocks at the western edge of Long Island Sound, it stood a mile offshore from any land, but just a quick row by longboat from the military garrison at King’s Point. Shackles were affixed to the sloping rocks between the high and low tide levels. The condemned were fettered hand and foot in a spread-eagled position at low tide and then left to contemplate their fate during the ensuing hours, knowing that, ultimately, they were doomed to a slow death by incremental drowning. Today was the day set by the judge for her to be taken there. Her dream had been only a dream, yes, but it was about to come true.

At this moment, a window opened out into the dim mist, from the second floor, overlooking the courtyard. From this window, a voice boomed, “Lieutenant! Bring her to me!”

Still gasping for air, knees bent, lying on her side in the fetal position, she was hoisted by her guards and dragged up the wooden stairway, through a door and before their commanding officer. At a nod of his head, she was dumped on the rough planking of his floor. He stood over her, saying “Release her bonds, and leave us.”

Captain Alexander Hendry stood silently, a grim smile on his lips, staring down at her limp form. When her breathing began to stabilize, she spoke.

“Oh, sir, why, sir? Why has my brother been condemned to the same fate as myself?”

Her question was met with silence.

“He is only a boy, of sixteen, surely he cannot be held responsible!”

The silence continued.

“It was I who brought him into the fort with meunder false pretenses. He had no idea that I was mapping your armaments! He merely came with me, as he did every week, when we sold our milk and vegetables to the soldiers. That is all! On my mother’s grave, sir, that is all! With God as my witness, that is all!”

Still, silence prevailed. Now her voice rose nearly to a scream, “It was me! Me! Only me!”

Finally, Captain Hendry broke his silence, “Then you will have only yourself to blame for his death, my dear. Let his blood be on your head.”

“But, sir, is there no decency, does the Crown not know mercy for…”

“Unless,” he continued, as if he had never been interrupted, “hmmm, I wonder?”

She merely stared as he continued, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

“Perhaps there is a way.”

“What, sir, oh, pray tell me, what?”

“Perhaps a gesture of good faith on your part might induce me to find some way to ‘lose his paperwork’. Something might be arranged. It would not be unprecedented.”

“What?” The glare she threw his way demanded that he identify the gesture.

“Excuse me?”

“What would be a gesture of good faith?”

“Well, let me see. Oh, perhaps not. It is, after all, a foolish idea.”

“Tell me!” Then more desperately, “Please.”

“Ah, perhaps I spoke too hastily”

“Captain!” The officer of the guard was calling up from the courtyard.

Captain Hendry, annoyance clearly seizing him, strolled to the open window. “Yes, Lieutenant?”

“Sir, we need to be off shortly, if we are to carry out the sentence as directed.”

“Yes, yes, Lieutenant, just a moment.”

Swiveling on his heel, he addressed the woman, “As I said, perhaps I spoke too…”

“Anything! Please! Tell me! Kill me, but spare my brother! I’ll do anything you want.”

“Anything? How intriguing.”

Captain Alexander Hendry did not consider himself an evil man. He was, after all, a loving husband and a devoted father. But he had been stationed in what he considered a barbaric slum of a colonial city for three years now, and a man could only stand so much isolation and deprivation without a little amusement.

“You are a virgin?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Hmmm.” He rocked backward and forward on his heels, hands clasped behind his back, head raised as if in contemplation of the ceiling. He had to admit to himself that he would not have considered these games he so enjoyed with his prisoners, if the prison had been Newgate, or any other back home. But here, with these uncivilized brutes, and no one to share his bed for these long years, it was different. Now at least he had this – this little diversion.

“Please, sir, just tell me what to do to save my brother. He’s my father’s only son. He needs him to run the farm.”

“Oh, shut up!” These lying fools, always thought they could play on your sympathies, when in truth you could hardly believe a word they said. And they were stupid in the bargain. Truly, this was a dismal post. An exile. Still, it had its moments.

“Stand up.” It was days such as this that made his lot bearable. “Remove your coat.”

He approached, as she obeyed his order, looking at the floor, letting her cloak fall. He reached out his hand and pulled at the corner of her blouse, exposing a shoulder. Then he repeated the motion on the other side. She never flinched.

“I will give you a day and a night.”

“Sir?”

“I will give you a day and a night, in which to demonstrate to me your gratitude for my reconsideration.”

He reached out and placed his first two fingers under her chin, raising it, until her eyes met his. “If at the end of that period I am convinced of your gratitude, I shall set you both free. It will be put down to a bureaucratic mix-up. It certainly will not be the first.”

She stared silently, barely breathing, never moving. She feared that even the movement of her lungs might be enough to break the mood of the moment, in which he had thrown her this barest of lifelines. Blood pounding in her temples to a rhythm, driven by her heartbeat, seemed to shut out all other sound. He waited for some response. And as his adrenaline coursed through his body, he congratulated himself on crafting such an effective relief of the crushing boredom that filled his colonial tour of duty in New York. No matter what happened now, today would not be merely another day of tedium.

“Well, my dear? You heard the Lieutenant. It is time.”

Her eyes never left his, but they did change. The slightest film of moisture spread across them, and they narrowed, almost imperceptibly. Yet they did not blink, and they did not look away. Without diverting her gaze from her captor’s, she silently reached her right hand to her left shoulder and began to pull her blouse further down her body. He crooked his index finger, gently rubbing the underside of her chin in a light caress. Then his hand fell, and he returned to the window.

“Lieutenant! I must see you! A slight change of plan.”

Captain Alexander Hendry, His Majesty’s Warden of the military prison at King’s Point, New York, stepped out onto the crude wooden stairway, closing the door behind him. From where the woman stood, a slight hum of voices could be heard, and then the Captain returned.

“Very well! Please, my dear, don’t let me stop you.”

Hendry leaned back on his desk, as the pile of clothing at the woman’s feet grew. At length, he smiled broadly and began to circle her with the same authoritative air that seemed integral to his nature. Hands behind his back, he murmured approval as he considered his prize, inspecting her with a mounting excitement. Finally, in one practiced motion, he picked up the naked woman, threw her over his shoulder and walked into the adjoining bedroom, kicking the door closed behind him.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

Springfield, Massachusetts, April 30, 1775

 

Rivulets of water cascaded onto the pine plank flooring of Nichol’s’ Tavern, when Benedict Arnold removed his riding cloak. As this squat, but imperious figure passed though the doorway, the liquid that he shed, gathered in ruts on the plank floor. These rippling pools glistened in reflected candlelight, then settled and grew dim in the passing figure’s wake. It was not unlike the effect that thirty-four-year old Benedict Arnold had on the people he encountered.

“May I take your cloak, Mr. Arnold, we’ve been expecting you,” offered Thomas Clark, secretary to the Massachusetts Committee of Safety. “The committee is in closed session just now, Mr. Arnold, but…”

“Squire Arnold, if you please,” reprimanded the visitor.

“Ah, yes, Squire Arnold, of course.” A short silence ensued. “If you will step inside, perhaps Mr. Nichols can offer you something to take the chill from your bones. It is truly a frightful night to be making such a long ride.”

Arnold gazed levelly at the secretary, and in a calm measured fashion that was his personal style, replied, “I do not need spirits to cloud my mind before I have a chance to speak it, sir.”

Coloring slightly, but deferring to the well-known, older man, Clark retorted, “Perhaps a hot cider to warm you, sir.”

Benedict Arnold turned slowly on his heel and snapped, “Just let me know, when the committee is ready to see me.” And with hands clasped firmly behind his back, he began to pace.

The uneven floorboards of Nichol’s Tavern usually produced some unsteadiness of gait in those, who were new to them. The thick planks of local, soft white pine had worn down under decades of boot traffic – everywhere but at the knots. The knots stood well above the rest of each board, and their appearance here and there at random intervals produced the overall appearance of a choppy sea. Unconsciously, Benedict Arnold slipped into the slightly bowlegged, rolling gait, with which he strode the decks of his ships. Others may have moved unsteadily on this floor, but Arnold never even noticed it.

As he was famous for doing on the forecastle of his trading sloop, Arnold paced back and forth impatiently. It was clear that this was a man who was used to action, resenting any constraints on his time. These characteristics had made Arnold a huge financial success, but had brought him few friends. Early in life, a yellow fever epidemic in his hometown of New London had carried away his mother and four siblings, leaving only Benedict, his sister Hannah, and a disabled, alcoholic father.

The town fathers saw that the boy was apprenticed to and adopted by an apothecary in the modest port of New Haven, where he grew up in a near-frontier environment, showing an early distaste for learning. While the other town boys were packed into the schoolhouse, studying their lessons, young Benedict was more likely to be found doing perfect swan dives off the yardarms of docked ships with the Indian boys, who still lived with their families at the edge of town and were his best friends. They looked at his aquiline nose and swarthy skin and gave him a name, which would one day seem so appropriate to his fate: Dark Eagle. He learned many of their ways and developed a reputation throughout the town as a wild boy – a boy, with whom mothers forbade their sons to play.

When business faltered for Benedict’s adoptive father, the grateful younger man felt it his obligation to throw himself into the family commerce. He shrewdly expanded the types of merchandise sold at the apothecary shop and gradually – through years of hard work – returned the family to a comfortable income and a position of respect. His five feet seven inches of powerful build and erect carriage looked taller, as he strode purposefully through the streets of a town that he felt had once looked down upon him as a poor orphan. Black hair and a sun-darkened complexion accentuated light blue eyes that fairly sparkled with intelligence.

Soon being the best merchant in New Haven was not enough. For kindled within the soul of this most unusual young man there burned a new fire – that of pride. The poor orphan child had grown into a man, bent on proving that it was he, not they, who was the superior human being. For years, the young merchant Arnold had complained bitterly about what he said were exorbitant prices of the goods he purchased for resale. He came to despise the wholesalers who seemed to do nothing but take the goods and mark them up.

In a style, which was to become associated with him for life, Benedict Arnold decided to do something about this. Using his savings and a small loan from the local bank, he bought his first merchant ship, a small coastal sloop, with which he began to make regular runs to the Caribbean. Carrying timber south, and rum, molasses, and other sundries back north, Arnold used the weeks at sea to train his men. By the time they reached San Juan or other ports, most captains and crew were ready for some rest and relaxation, even celebration. Not Benedict. He was in a hurry.

The greatest profits in trading went to the first captain to sail into port with goods, which had become scarce. Subsequent arrivals might only command half the price of the first ship. In the 1750’s, so many ships were lost at sea that the merchants of a port never knew whether the first Captain to sail in with this year’s crop might also be the last. The merchants were eager to pay top dollar, and an aggressive captain could literally sell his goods at the dock before they had even been unloaded.

Sea-going custom, however, demanded that when American ships dropped anchor in Caribbean harbors, captains would hail the new arrival and invite their commander to dine. The captains of other ships which lay in port would also attend. Much drinking and story-telling would continue far into the night. Meanwhile, the sailors of their vessels met in the port taverns, joining in celebration of surviving yet another dangerous passage. This was the ancient brotherhood of the sea.

The hangover the day after the festivities, however, invariably carried the price tag for such revelry – a lost day’s work. Still, no one had ever thought of tinkering with this tradition, until Arnold. He tried denying his crews port liberty, but quickly changed his mind, when he discovered that continuing such a policy would make it impossible for him to get crews at all. Instead, Arnold himself stayed aboard the ship to supervise and assist with the dock men’s loading and unloading. He did not entertain his fellow captains. He did not accept invitations to be entertained. Benedict Arnold was a businessman, driven to attain a station in life better than that, to which he had been born. He was glad that he didn’t live in class-conscious England, which made such upward mobility well-nigh impossible. Other captains, however, understood none of this, and took his aloofness for arrogance. One even challenged him to a duel over his refusal of an invitation. When the challenger’s first shot missed, but Arnold’s creased his arm, the steady blue eyes of Benedict looked straight at his opponent, who was reloading, informing him, “If you miss again, I shall shoot you dead.” At that point, the challenger announced that satisfaction had been obtained.

There was much talk and much resentment, but all of it was tinged with a touch of envy, because month after month, year after year, Arnold carried more cargo and obtained higher prices than any other captain on the Caribbean run. He quickly went from being the most prosperous shopkeeper in New Haven to its most profitable sea captain as well.

Now, on this wet and bracing spring evening in 1775, Arnold had come to Nichols’ tavern with a plan. He turned on his host and snapped, “How long are they going to be in there?”

“Excuse me, Squire?”

“How long are these damn intellectuals going to keep wagging their tongues?”

“I really wouldn’t know, Squire.”

“Well, I was told to report here this evening and, by God, I am here, and I am here for a reason. Would you please tell them I would like to get on with it.”

He went back to pacing, hands still clasped behind him. Finally, approaching midnight, the Committee door opened. Clark entered, closing the door behind him. Then, a few moments later, he emerged – summoning Arnold with a beckoning hand. “If you will, sir, the Committee shall see you now.”

Benedict Arnold strode across the threshold, and all eyes looked up. This was a man who made an entrance. It was rarely a conscious attempt; it was simply the physics of personality. Even here in the dim candlelight, under a low, beamed ceiling, there was an indefinable aura about him.

“Won’t you please be seated, Squire Arnold.?”

Arnold looked around the long table appraisingly. From Silas Deane of Connecticut, he got a familiar nod. The others simply returned his gaze levelly. There was no hostility. Neither was there friendliness at this table. There was simply a circle of hard-working and dedicated patriots who were deep into a long night of business.

Tentatively, Arnold ran his tongue over his lips and began to speak. “Gentlemen, I come here tonight as a friend of independence. Silas Deane will confirm that.” Deane nodded. “For some years now, myself and other traders in New England have risked life and limb to eke out a livelihood with backbreaking labor and the high risks of the sea. Now Old John Bull seems to have decided that any profits we make belong to him. His taxes, his duties, his regulations on import and export have crippled us. We have a right to reward ourselves for our hard work and our risks. We are not slaves, and neither are we indentured servants, nor children. Yet the Crown insists on treating us as such. And I for one, Gentlemen, have suffered insult enough.”

No one interrupted, so Arnold continued. “There has been much talk, notably in the fine pamphlets of Thomas Paine. Stirring speeches by Patrick Henry and others. But, Gentlemen, the time for speeches has passed! Let us take the ideal and turn it into reality!”

“And how do you propose to do this, Squire?” drawled John Adams in a clearly skeptical tone.

Arnold turned his gaze on Adams, coloring visibly. His jaw set, he responded in a less than level tone. “By the same means that kings are always stopped, sir. Muskets and cannon fire!”

“All very good, Squire. But of muskets we have few, and of cannon, next to none.”

“Precisely!” Arnold retorted, and at this the room grew still. Arnold was clearly a man with a temper. The Committee was tired. And while they were not intimidated, no one wanted a fight. Arnold sensed this, and allowed the silence to continue for several moments – producing just the kind of tension-filled moment he desired. Finally, he spoke, “That, gentlemen, is why I am here.”

“Go on, Squire,” said Samuel Adams.

“Gentlemen, we have thirteen colonies, filled with farmers — barely one in twelve owns a musket, and virtually none has ever faced hostile cannon fire. Revolt against the English army without cannon of our own is sure suicide.” Around the table, heads nodded curtly in recognition of this bitter truth. A candle on the table begin to sputter, casting a pulsing shadow of Arnold on the plaster wall behind him, as he continued. “What I propose, Gentlemen, is to obtain a complement of cannon.”

Heads now stopped moving, and hands stopped writing. He clearly had their attention. “Once they realize that Lexington and Concord were not an aberration, the English army will go on full alert. It will guard its arms and ammunition with a vigilance, which will make any attempt at gaining them well-nigh impossible. Therefore, we must strike before making a full declaration of our intentions.”

No response came from the eleven men.

“We must strike first and declare our independence later. We must raise our arms from British stores.”

“And just where, Squire, do you intend to walk in and ‘raise’ a complement of cannon?” Dr. Joseph Warren was doing the interrogating now, looking skeptical.

Arnold, now hitting his stride, stood close by John Adams, towering over the diminutive man, and uttered a single word, “Ticonderoga.”

“Gentlemen,” interrupted Samuel Adams, “Let us have some refreshments before we continue in our discussion. Mr. Clark, drinks for everyone, if you please.”

Arnold was puzzled. Clearly, they had sat up and paid attention to him. But now, surely, they were choosing to stop him with an utterly trivial diversion. When Clark asked Arnold what he could get him, “Water” was the response. As Clark continued around the table taking orders, Arnold began to notice sideways glances and conspiratorial nods being subtly exchanged between the Committee members. Slight jerks of the head were obviously freighted with meaning. There was an entire silent conversation taking place here that Arnold could not follow. There was a level to these men’s discussions that he had not expected.

When Clark had returned with refreshments and everyone had been served, Samuel Adams spoke up, “Excuse the interruption. Pray continue, Squire.”

Slightly unsure of himself for the first time this night, Arnold cleared his throat and resumed. “Fort Ticonderoga, in the Hudson Valley, below Lake Champlain, has two types of strategic value for our cause. In the first place, it controls the key waterway connecting the Hudson Valley to the St. Lawrence and Canada. These bodies of water allow the English to use their overwhelming superiority in naval power to reinforce and re-supply their troops. If they control the Hudson Valley, they split the colonies in two. They can then attack New England and the South one at a time, in any fashion they please. You all know, that even as a united front, the odds of our success are not high. Divided, we most certainly shall fail.”

Arnold now paused again for effect, and noticed that this time the silence seemed to be tinged with an excitement, which was not there when he had first entered.

“Currently, Fort Ticonderoga is occupied by a mere skeleton garrison. My scouts have informed me that they are not on alert and, in fact, they apparently feel so secure that no one has paid attention to the wooden gates. They have warped over the years and would probably prove impossible to close and lock. They are left open all the time. A waterborne assault on the fortress is impossible. Large stone walls and most of the cannon face the lake.”

John Hancock interrupted, “And the last land assault, in 1758, cost the attackers 2,000 dead, before they gave up and withdrew.”

“I believe that a small force, moving quietly through the forest on foot, could reach the fort by stealth and rush the gate. If such a force were composed of a few good men, they could quickly overwhelm the garrison.”

“Go on, Squire.”

“At this point, we could hold the fort as our own defensive jewel, breaking the British control over the Hudson Valley. But more importantly, I fully believe that the fort can be held with a third of the cannon there now. The rest could be mounted on wheels and hauled to Boston where they could be turned on the redcoats with some effect.”

“And where, Squire, did you ever come up with such a wild plan?” prodded John Adams.

Arnold colored yet again, fought vigorously to control himself, and through gritted teeth muttered, “It’s obvious, isn’t it?”

“If it is obvious, Squire, why has no one done it?”

“That, gentlemen, is for you to answer.”

“Or perhaps the Continental Congress. They have forbidden such attacks.”

John Adams looked across to Silas Deane. These two had been exchanging significant looks ever since the break. Deane nodded once to Adams, then gestured toward the door with his head. Adams returned the nod and spoke, “Thank you, Squire, and what is it you request of us?”

“Merely permission to lead such a force.”

“And do you expect us to supply this force?”

“No, I have men well-armed and loyal to me. Several of them are at the fort now. They have been scouting the defenses for a month.”

“All right. If you will step outside and leave us for a moment, Squire, we will discuss your proposal and let you know our answer.”

Clark coughed diplomatically to draw Arnold’s attention to the door, which he had opened for him. As Arnold left, Adams’ glare gradually evolved into a broad grin – which John Hancock returned. Then, still smiling, John Adams spoke. “Well, I guess it truly is obvious.”

“And what do you mean by that, John.?”

“Simply that Arnold is right. We must attack Ticonderoga without warning to gain cannon. And to gain a strategic position in the Hudson Valley. Congress be damned! And how could Arnold know that Ethan Allen was here with the exact same plan a month ago?”

Chuckles all around the table.

“Silas, you know Arnold. What kind of man is he?”

Silas Deane settled uneasily back in his chair. He thought for a few moments, then began cautiously, “He is a man not easily summed up in words, gentlemen. He’s a successful merchant, with an exceptionally beautiful wife who is devoted to him, three young sons, and a mansion that dominates the New Haven waterfront. He is a natural leader, a man who is used to command and eager for action. He has a reputation for being hard-driving and not very likable.”

“Well,” Sam Adams sighed, “We have had a surplus of ‘likable’ men for some time now. We could stand to redress the balance, by adding some unlikable men of action.”

A single “Hear, hear,” and several approving grunts made it clear that Benedict Arnold had achieved his goal.

“But Ethan Allen is already on the march. His Green Mountain boys will be at Ticonderoga any day now.”

“Yes, that’s true. But it was a good plan when Allen presented it, and it is a good plan now. That, as you recall, is the only reason we gave the commission to Allen.”

“That’s true,” interjected John Hancock. “I don’t trust that Allen. He’s only interested in building empires for himself. He wants to declare Vermont a separate kingdom with himself as king. That is all that interests Ethan Allen – not our cause.”

“Yes, yes. We discussed all this a month ago. But we do need cannon, and we need Ticonderoga. Furthermore, we need someone with the means, the fortitude, and the brains to take it.”

“Brains? Ethan Allen?”

“All right. All right. Your point is well taken. I think Arnold might just be the man with the brains.”

“Well, we can’t just call it off with Allen and give the commission to Arnold. Allen will do it anyway and just keep the cannon! Don’t forget, he is the one with men on the scene now.”

“I know, I know. Isn’t there some way we can use Arnold to keep Allen in check?”

Secretary Thomas Clark cleared his throat. “Yes, Mr. Clark?”

“Excuse me, sir, but perhaps a joint command might be the answer.”

Sam Adams laughed heartily. “Why, Thomas, you devil!” He laughed again. “You have learned from your time with us, haven’t you? Please, elaborate.”

“Well, sir, from what I have heard here tonight, both these men have dangerous egos and may go their own way, following their own, quite independent plans. Forcing them to share the command, on an equal basis, assures us that each will keep the other in line.”

“What say you, gentlemen?” Adams prompted.

Nods of assent all around.

“We shall put it to a vote then. All in favor?”

“Aye.”

“Opposed?”

“Nay!” Silas Deane, the only person at the table who knew Arnold, was the only person at the table to vote against him.

“Silas,” flustered John Adams, “You puzzle me sometimes. First you speak well of Arnold as a man of action, then you vote against him!”

“It is not his ability to act or to lead that concerns me, sir. It is his ability to belong as a member of a group, striving toward the greater good – a common goal. Arnold cares too much about Arnold. I worry over his ability to obey orders, to sacrifice his own good for the good of the whole.”

Adams fumed, “Let us worry about that later, sir, shall we! For the time being we need cannon!”

“Thomas, bring in Mr. Arnold.”

 

 

USA 2000-01
“Currently, Fort Ticonderoga is occupied by a mere skeleton garrison. My scouts have informed me that they are not on alert and, in fact, they apparently feel so secure that no one has paid attention to the wooden gates.” – Fort Ticonderoga, Lake Champlain, September 2001. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

USA 2000-01
Staff quarters, Fort Ticonderoga, September 2001. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Chapter 3

 

Harner’s Notch, Virginia, June 1, 1775

 

The calm ripple of the brook was shattered by the screech of a blue jay. To Jemima Warner, that was the only thing this morning to have cracked a blissful reverie. On the homestead she occupied with her husband Henry, ‘Jemmy’, as friends called her, had worked herself to the bone, achieving a security which now and then provided for a little relaxed appreciation of the sheer beauty here on their one-hundred-eighty acres of western Virginia mountain valley. It might not seem like much to some people. To her it was heaven.

To Jemmy, Harner’s Notch represented everything to which she and her husband had dedicated their lives. When the two had first eloped – a full generation before, she reminded herself – they knew that they would have to head for the frontier to escape the wrath of her father. ‘Landed gentry’ was what they called his sort: a wealthy tobacco farmer with a 2,000-acre plantation and the slaves to work it. Those slaves who had tried escaping had always been hunted down and brought back to horrifying punishment. Certainly, his agents would range far and wide to bring back his only daughter from the clutches of the penniless farm boy, with whom she had fallen hopelessly in love. So, to the wilderness they went.

The eighteen-year-old ax-swinger and his sixteen-year-old bride had reached the settlement of Madison in their headlong flight at about the time, when their money ran out. The ‘downtown’ part of Madison consisted of six log cabins and a mill. Its other forty inhabitants were spread over several mountains. Henry and Jemmy had found a hillside and valley that was unclaimed, inside which you could not even see your neighbor’s chimney smoke.

It was Henry’s abilities with an ax that had provided their first home – just in time for winter. It was his skills with the long rifle that had kept them fed that first year. Henry may have grown up on a farm near the coast, but he was as good as any mountain woodsman with the ‘Pennsylvania rifle’. These six-foot-long flintlock muskets added something new to the industry of firearms. They possessed rifling. This meant that inside the barrel there were grooves which curved in a lazy kind of spiral. Any musket ball that passed through such a barrel was given a spin by these grooves, or ‘rifling’. This spin kept the projectile on target, and made certain muskets, crafted in Pennsylvania, some of the first true rifles, and the envy of the military world (or so Henry said). Normal muskets had a fifty percent chance of hitting a deer at fifty yards. Henry could put a ball in its head at 100 yards – every time. At 200 yards, he could hit a man on the run.

It was no surprise then, that when western Virginia Indian tribes went on the war path, it was Henry to whom the neighbors turned. Of course, every man had taken up arms and had done his part. But Henry had used all his hunting skills to locate the war party, shimmy up a tree, and put a ball in the head of the chief, before the braves had even geared up for the attack. This apparently convinced the war party to try another community.

It also brought him to the attention of a living legend: Dan Morgan. Henry’s hand-picked group of long rifles had done something never before accomplished in the mountains of Virginia Colony. They had taken the offensive against their Native American neighbors. Penetrating deep into the heart of unsettled wilderness, the ragtag bunch in buckskins had brought their hunting skills and marksmanship together in a group, which soon distinguished itself for bravery and effectiveness. War parties never bothered their valleys again.

This had made Henry Warner something of a local hero. It provided a commodity, which no amount of money seemed to do here on the frontier: It had provided respect. Since then, his sons had helped him clear a large and prosperous farm. They had grown, married, and gone off to homestead land of their own. Jemima and he had everything they needed.

When Henry had left their cabin to go with Dan Morgan, he was a driven, but insecure young man. He returned four months later with a relaxed, confident air of authority that, at first, unsettled Jemmy. She told herself that this was not the personality of the boy she had fallen in love with. With time, though, she realized that this impressive ‘new man’, who had come back from the wilderness after defending his loved ones, actually prized her above all else in life. Henry directed all of his new-found skills into protecting Jemmy and their world. And as he did so, Jemmy grew to revel in the new Henry. He made her feel warm and safe, loved and protected. He made her feel like a woman. One of the luckiest women alive. Now that their children were grown and had moved on, they were growing even closer, and the valley seemed quieter than ever.

Husband and wife both still sported the black hair they had begun with, but time had put new lines on their faces. Henry was as lean and muscular as the day they had met, though with a bushy beard that had come along later. Jemmy had plumped up with each of her pregnancies, but her ceaseless motion had always slimmed her right back down, and she blushed with pride whenever a quick turn caught Henry leering at her backside. They were considered a handsome couple, just now learning to enjoy an occasional day of relaxation like this.

It was, therefore, all the more jarring when she heard a knock on the front door. She startled. Normally, she heard someone approaching, long before they got close enough to knock. Only Indians moved this quietly, and stealthy visits from them were not something to be relished. Without pausing to look, she hurried out the back door to the barn for Henry. He was bent over the milk cow that had of late produced more in the way of lowing complaints than of milk. He turned at the sound of her footsteps on the straw.

“Henry! There’s someone at the door!”

He laughed. “Who?”

“I don’t know. I never heard their approach. That scared me enough so as I came straight out here.”

At first, Henry Warner smiled. Then he paused, cocking his head, froze for several seconds, then swiveling fast to pick up his rifle. He cocked the flintlock and was rising from his milking stool, weapon in hand, when a human shout shattered the mountain calm.

“Henry, you old bastard, where are you?”

Henry froze, holding his breath. The speaker seemed to be on the far side of the house. It took a few seconds to place the voice.

“Dan?” he yelled back.

“No, it’s the sheriff, come to tell you you’s never were legally married after all, and I have a warrant for the arrest of you, Jemmy, and your children!”

Henry and Jemima looked at one another, laughing.

“And what makes you think you are man enough to take me?” Henry bellowed back.

Only silence followed.

“Dan?”

“Dan?” he repeated.

“Because,” a voice suddenly very close whispered, startling the couple, “I’ll be right on top of you before you know what hit you. Like always.” And with that, a giant of a man stepped into the barn behind them, grinning from ear to ear.

Four hours later, sitting at the Warners’ table, Morgan’s grin was gone. He and Henry had been laughing and drinking, recalling old times. War stories with war comrades were a tradition best left undisturbed, Jemmy had learned. So, in the past, she had largely left them alone. She had fed them and refilled their glasses, even laughing with them on occasion. But today she was not smiling.

“I need you, Henry,” Dan Morgan continued. “The men respect you. They know you are the best at what you do, but that you don’t volunteer for no suicide missions. They’ll figure, that if you’re coming, then this must be all right. And that’s what I’m counting on. I’m counting on you, Henry.”

“Go count on someone else!” she snapped.

“Now, Jemmy…” Henry began.

“Dan, you’ll kill him!” She was practically screaming.

“But, Jemmy…” Morgan began to defend himself.

“Henry is not what he used to be, Dan! He’s had the consumption and is in no condition to go back to chasing Indians.”

“But I ain’t aiming to chase Indians,” the amiable giant replied with a smile.

The Warners stared at him, puzzled. Dan Morgan was a living legend. In an era, when the average man stood five feet six inches, Morgan was closer to six feet four or five inches. An unruly shock of dark hair always seemed to be hanging over his high forehead. His rugged good looks were only marred by a splash-shaped scar on his left cheek, where an Indian musket ball had exited after entering the back of his neck, taking out all the teeth on that side. Barrel-chested, a champion arm wrestler, expert hunter, and superb marksman, Morgan carried what people called ‘a presence’. Everyone on the frontier knew that he had once taken 500 lashes from an arrogant English lieutenant, without uttering a sound. His skill at tall tales, that most respected of American backwoods pastimes, was as legendary as his ability to lead men into battle. Morgan had proved himself time and again in the French and Indian War.

“When a man like that stands up with a rifle in one hand and a tomahawk in the other and gives a war cry, followed by a smirk,” Henry once told Jemima, “and then plunges toward the enemy without so much as a glance back, you actually want to follow himeven when you know he’s heading toward a force that outnumbers you. It’s like you just know he is going to win somehow, and you’re afraid to be left out.” But in Henry’s case, Jemima knew, the tie ran even deeper.

At the battle of Edward’s Fort, Henry had been kneeling, struggling to reload and, while his ramrod was still in his rifle, three braves burst out of a ravine just a few steps from him, tomahawks raised. Henry was sure he was dead. But instantly, seemingly out of nowhere, Morgan had leapt between the braves and the kneeling Warner. “He had a tomahawk in one hand and a scalp in the other,” Henry told her, “and he held them out, and the braves actually stopped. Dan had this grin on his face that I think they just couldn’t understand. Then he waved the scalp at them, and that kind of got them going. It was fresh, still dripping blood. Those fellers got plenty mad and lunged at Dan. I’m still not sure exactly what happened, it all went by so fast. But best as I can recollect, Dan sidestepped the one on the right and hit the middle one an uppercut with his tomahawk. Then he threw himself in the face of the third one, and they wrassled to the ground. By now, the first one had stopped and turned and was coming at Dan from his blind side. My ramrod was still in my rifle, but it was loaded, so I just aimed and pulled the trigger. The ramrod went halfway through that injun’s neck and then just stopped, half of it sticking out one side of his neck, half out the other. He turned and looked at me kind of funny, raised his tomahawk, and then just crumpled to the ground. By the time I was able to turn and locate Dan, he was getting up from the ground with another scalp in his hand, and he was smiling away like he was at a party or something. Other than the scalping, there wasn’t a mark on that corpse, but his neck was bent at a funny angle. If Dan hadn’t been there that day, Jemmy, I wouldn’t be here today.”

So, when Dan Morgan spoke, the Warners listened.

“No, this time, Henry, I won’t be chasing Indians. No Indians what hide on you and are hard to see. This time I’m chasing a bunch what is polite enough to wear red, so as you can see them real good through the trees. They stand real straight so you can get off a fine shot. And just in case your aim is a little off, they are considerate enough to stand in lines. If you miss one, you get the man next to him. It’s like shooting into a small pond with a large flock of ducks. Interested, Henry?”

“What in the world are you taking about, Dan?”

“I’m talking about freedom, Henry.”

 

 

Chapter 4

 

Oyster Bay, Long Island, May 30, 1775

 

As Robert Townsend swung down from his horse and handed the reins to a family slave, he paused and inhaled deeply. The summer wind, blowing off Oyster Bay, carried the scent of the sea. Normally, Townsend never noticed it. But when returning from a day spent south on the Hempstead Plain, if the wind was onshore, he could smell the salt water a mile away.

Though Robert reveled in the scent of the sea today, at other times it made him so sick to his stomach that he wished he would die. This was when he would wake from a deep sleep on one of his father’s six trading sloops and rediscover that the force of nature behind that smell wreaked havoc with his insides. Born the third son in a family of sea captains, importers, and coastal traders, he soon found out that he simply couldn’t stomach the sea. His father had insisted that he go out again and again, once as far as the Caribbean, but he had never developed sea legs. As a result, he remained something of an embarrassment to the elder Townsend.

Yet Robert never minded days like these, when the sea breeze served merely as another sensual pleasure in ‘his’ garden nook behind the dark green hedges surrounding the Townsend residence. Called Old Homestead, it was a stately house, by rural colonial standards. The sounds of seagulls and songbirds dominated. Only occasional hoof beats intruded from the dirt street of this hamlet of several dozen wood frame houses along the southern shoreline of Long Island Sound. Here in the garden is where he tried to spend the bulk of his time in warm weather, and today was no exception.

Within an hour of his arrival, an onlooker would have found Robert Townsend seemingly dozing in a hammock (the one shipboard custom he had enthusiastically embraced). An open volume of Pope covered his face, and one arm dangled idly. When the volume was lifted for as long as it took to read another poem, the face that emerged was that of a handsome twenty-two-year-old with a thick mane of long black hair, worn tied back, emphasizing the piercing pair of light blue eyes below. Combined with an aquiline nose and strong cheekbones and jaw, the total effect was distinctive: His was a face that stood out in a crowd. Only medium height, his trim physique made him look taller than he was.

When the poem was finished and the book replaced over his face, he would again seem to all the world to be asleep. In reality, he was engaging in his favorite pastime. While his mind still reverberated to the verse of the greatest poet in the English Empire (in his own humble but educated opinion), his ears took in every rustle of leaf, hum of fir, birdcall, and bee, as well as the occasional cries of his seven-year-old sister Phebe. His nose delighted in the pungent perfume of his father’s English boxwood, imported from the mother country and nurtured along by the gardener into a precarious coexistence with the American climate. His hands, languidly dangling off the hammock, served as secret detectors of the deliciously cooling gusts of wind.

His senses were bathed in a sort of luxurious stupor, but this was a familiar game he played with himself. After the pleasure of Pope, he engaged in a form of sensory overload. Only when his senses of smell, touch, and hearing were full to overflowing would he reach up and slowly remove the book of poetry that was blocking his vision. Keeping his eyes open while he did this always reminded him of watching the curtain go up on a play. All at once, his already stimulated senses would be driven over the top, as darkness yielded to brilliance, and perhaps the occasional cumulous cloud drifted lazily overhead, its brilliant white contrasting with the dazzling depth of blue, overlaying all. For Robert Townsend, this was as good as life got.

“Robert!” An authoritative male voice shattered the castle of carefully constructed sensual bliss.

“Robert! Where are you?” Townsend let out a long sigh. By the edge of excitement in his father’s voice, he knew that the reverie was over, probably about to be replaced by a long, boring monologue on something he would rather ignore.

“Robert!” Oh, well, the son thought, it seems inevitable.

“Here, Father,” he finally muttered in an annoyed tone, barely audible over the rustling trees.

“Well, why the devil didn’t you answer at once? Oh, I see, Pope again, is it? Robert, my God, the world is on fire, and you seem content to just lie here in a hammock, reading Pope!”

“Someone has to do it, Father. Colonies without culture would hardly be worth saving, now, would they?”

“Well, come along, son, it’s time for supper. Mr. Woodhull is dining with us tonight.”

Robert sighed, took one long last gaze at the incomparable sky and headed inside. “Good day, Mr. Woodhull, so good to have you here again.”

The tall, painfully thin man extended a hand. “Thank you, Robert. And what are you up to these days?”

“Well, I…”

“The usual!” his father Samuel interrupted. “Reading poetry!”

“How pleasant,” Woodhull responded, with a tone of careful neutrality in his voice. He knew the family well enough to realize what was coming.

“My God, Woodhull, brave men are fighting and dying at Lexington and Concord, while my son sits in a garden, reading poetry, and all you can say is ‘How pleasant’?”

Woodhull, wisely, chose silence.

Robert’s mother Sarah tried to restore peace, or at least provide a diversion. “Please, everyone, eat up before the food gets cold. We have some of those new-style beans in molasses from Boston here, boiled beef, some of the last of the potatoes, oh, and Robert, will you help Phebe with her bread?”

Everyone knew, though, that once Samuel Townsend had the fire aroused within, there was no stopping him. “All I’m saying is that it is time for all good men to choose sides. Do they stand for pride or submission, freedom or slavery? That’s the choice, and it doesn’t seem a very hard one to me.”

Robert hesitated but could not contain himself. “You’re wrong, Father. There is also the choice of what to do about it. You go on about the nobility of the men at Lexington and Concord. I don’t dispute that, Father, no one does. But nobility is measured for a gentleman in how it affects the lives of others, and whether a man’s actions do more harm than good.”

“What are you talking about, boy?”

“I am talking about the ramifications of such actions. After all, what did they really accomplish at Lexington and Concord?”

“What did they accomplish?” Mr. Townsend repeated in amazement. “Well, let’s see, they put us at war with Old John Bull! I guess that doesn’t compare with Mr. Pope’s latest volume of poems, in your estimation.”

“Father, I have said this to you before. Is it right to begin a war that cannot possibly be won? If this ‘rebellion’, as you call it, gets any further out of hand, there will be slaughter. And very few of those slaughtered will be British soldiers.”

Woodhull cocked his head, leaning across the table towards the young man, “You sound like a pessimist, Robert.”

“I prefer to consider myself a realist, Mr. Woodhull. No group anywhere in the world has ever beaten the army of the British Empire without cannon on its side.”

“You may have a point there,” Woodhull admitted.

“And exactly how many cannon factories do we have in America, Mr. Woodhull?”

Woodhull remained silent because he knew the answer – none.

Robert knew he had embarrassed their guest, but his normal gracious manners were swept aside under pent-up emotion. “St. Augustine said…”

“Oh, my God, now it is St. Augustine, is it?” his father cut in derisively.

Robert turned, glared at his father, and continued. “St. Augustine said that God condones a just war. But he states that one of the conditions of a just war is that it must be winnable. Otherwise everyone who dies, dies for nothing but pride. The prosecution of such a war is no better than murder, on both sides.”

He now swiveled back to Woodhull. “To revolt now is to create slaughter! How can you condone that?”

His mother cut in, “Robert, your manners!”

As he calmed himself and began to fumble an apology, his father burst out, “You, Robert, are beginning to sound more like a parson than my son!”

“A good point, Father. We are members of the Society of Friends. At meeting last Sunday, did not Reverend Silas remind us how our faith prohibits us from killing our fellow man?”

“William Penn was a Quaker, and that never stopped him from defending his land from the Pennsylvania tribes!”

“That does not make it right, Father. Penn was famous, certainly. But no one ever said he was holy. George Fox tells us that all that matters, is finding the Divine Light within each of us.”

“Oh, for God’s sake, boy!”

“Father! Now you are blaspheming on the Sabbath?”

“I left you with your mother too much, that’s what I did.”

This remark stung so deeply that Robert Townsend had to call up all his formidable powers of deception in order not to let his father see how emotionally injured he was by this belittling of his manhood. Nothing had ever meant more to him than his father’s approval and companionship, but his father had spent most of Robert’s childhood away at business at his store in the city, or on the decks of his trading schooners with his two older brothers. Robert had grown up with his mother as guide and his younger sister Sally for companionship. He finally decided that if his father didn’t have time for him, he would go his own way in life. And that way had involved books. What thrilled Robert was learning, culture, art, the play of the senses.

This bright, well-schooled young man of twenty-two had acquired a mastery of art and literature that he could share with no one in this sleepy port village. He had, accordingly, gone inwards. The life of the mind was what Robert valued. He yearned for companionship and a role in the outside world, but none presented themselves in Oyster Bay, or anywhere else he traveled on Long Island. He kept himself apart, quickly learning that it was better to hide his thoughts than to be called a sissy, an effete. When he spoke about the things he cared for, people seemed to think that he considered himself above them.

Robert’s mother Sarah had been right about one thing: He was sensitive. Since he was a child, he could tell what people thought – not by any magical power – but by picking up the nuances of how people held themselves, their tone of voice and choice of words when they spoke – even how their eyes, fingers, and feet moved. He discovered early that it was better not to talk about this. Voicing it only produced anger and denial in those he was observing. Most people did not enjoy admitting to what they really thought. So, Robert had gone through life acting. Only his sister Sally, seven years younger, really understood him.

Robert probably felt as warmly towards his father as any son. However, something in the father’s character kept him from expressing his own warmth to Robert in turn. The son could sense that it was there, but that his father had never known quite how to let it out. He met with his father, where the elder Townsend considered it safe – on the playing fields of intellect. No one in Oyster Bay had ever belittled the intelligence of either. These two thoroughly enjoyed the stimulation of one another’s conversation. Their arguments at the family dinner table were famous. Visiting Quaker parsons, ship’s captains, doctors, and schoolteachers all welcomed an invitation to the Townsend table.

Today, though, it was a table of distress for Robert, and his urge was to flee. “Will you excuse me, Mother? I believe I left a book outside, and it looks as if it might rain.”

An hour later, they were all sitting indolently in the garden, sipping lemonade and listening to a mockingbird. Only eight-year-old Phebe, rolling her hoop around the yard, displayed any energy. It was all the more alarming, therefore, when a rumble of hooves could be heard galloping up the street and clattering to a halt in front of their house. Samuel rushed inside and emerged a minute later beaming, practically pulling a young man after him, whom he continually clapped on the back.

“Go ahead, Thomas,” he laughed, “Tell them, tell them, what you told me!”

“We’ve taken Ticonderoga!”

Blank looks all around the garden prompted Samuel Townsend to explode, “Don’t tell me my own family doesn’t know what this means!! It means we won’t be colonies for long! Look at this dispatch from Albany. Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold have taken Fort Ticonderoga!”

“Ti what?”

“Benedict who?”

“Well, of all the – oh, what’s the point?” the elder Townsend’s voice trailed off, its decibel level dropping, as its tone of depression rose with his shoulders. “Do you really not know who they are? Robert, how about you?”

“Well…” Robert trailed out the word with an obvious air of disdain. “Isn’t Allen some wild frontier fellow, marauding about in the mountains up north somewhere with a band of hooligans?”

“They call themselves the Green Mountain Boys!”

“Yes, precisely. You see, Father, I do know something about him, but who was that other fellow?”

“Arnold, Benedict Arnold. Of New Haven.”

“No. Can’t say I’ve heard of him.”

“Well, while you have been lying here reading books, these two men have been risking their lives to give us our freedom!”

“What did they do?”

“They showed up in the middle of the night and stormed the gate of the great British fort above Albany. Took the sentries by surprise and captured it without firing a shot!”

Robert’s sole response was to blink as a patch of sunlight broke through the trees.

“Son, do you not realize the importance of this?”

“Well, Father, I guess you’re going to tell me it’s like Concord and Lexington. A great victory over the British armies.”

“Well, it is! Robert, this means we have cannon. Don’t you understand?”

Robert sat up, slowly swinging his tensed legs over the side of the hammock, squinting at his father through the afternoon sun.

His father continued. “Sam Adams and the others didn’t send Arnold and Allen after Fort Ticonderoga, because they thought it would be a great lark, or even a symbolic gesture. They did it, because Ticonderoga has masses of the one thing the American army does not have – cannon!”

“How many?”

“I’m not sure, hundreds, I think. Besides the powder and shot, not to mention muskets, bayonets.”

“It’s the cannon that count though, isn’t it, Father?”

“Yes, you know it is! Why, Robert, have you ever heard of anyone beating an English army without cannon?” and he winked.

Robert was wide awake now. “You say hundreds of cannon?”

“And the powder, and the shot. And the greatest strong point of the Hudson Valley, which is crucial, because…”

“The colonies cannot unite, while His Majesty’s armies control New York.”

“Ah, so you do understand something…”

“I may have been disinterested, Father, but I’m not deaf. I have heard everything you and your friends have spoken about. And I had decided your cause was doomed from the start.”

“And so, Robert, what do you think now of ‘our cause’?”

“I think, a few more victories such as this, and you may, perhaps, have a chance!”

 

 

Chapter 5

 

Camp of the Continental Army, Springfield, Massachusetts, July 1, 1775

 

The sound of rain on the canvas tent, mixed with the crackle of the fire, blended into a murmur that would normally have lulled Jemmy Warner to sleep – but not tonight. The smell of wet wool clothing encased her body in a dark cloud that it seemed she’d never shake. They had marched from the mountains of Virginia to Springfield, Massachusetts so fast that there had not even been a chance to wash clothing for weeks now.

The camp buzzed with talk of what they had done. Morgan’s hand-picked band of ninety-six volunteers, afraid that the action might be over before they got here, and eager to help out their Boston ‘neighbors’ in need, had covered an incredible 650 miles in three weeks. This meant walking over thirty miles a day for twenty-one straight days, on trails and bad roads. She knew that Henry had assumed she would crack, plead to go home, and relieve his embarrassment over having a ‘nursemaid’ along. It was obvious that most of the men had felt the same way. But day after day, as Jemmy fell in at roll call shortly before dawn, and then was still there at night, she noticed a gradual, but pronounced change in attitudes toward her.

In the beginning, some of the men had simply ignored her, clearly angered by the presence of a woman. Others had been overly solicitous – always trying to help her, doing small favors without being asked. All of them watched their language around her.

However, as Jemmy showed that she could hold up as well as any man under this blistering pace, a funny thing happened. They began not to notice her. Those who had liked her, actually stopped trying to help her out. Those who had hated her, forgot to ignore her when she said hello. She began to hear much saltier language from those, marching around her. All this she took for what it was – one of the greatest compliments ever paid to her. This extraordinary band of America’s best frontiersmen had begun to accept her as one of their own.

When they had arrived here at George Washington’s assembly center, it had taken less than an hour to run into the famous Green Mountain Boys of Vermont. Like Dan and Henry’s group, they were woodsmen in buckskin and moccasins, who were nearly as much Indian as white in their ways. “Men!” she said to herself. “Can’t they ever get along together?”

Here were two groups, who had more in common than anyone else in these colonial militias, and instead of celebrating their common bonds, it had taken all of five minutes to start a near brawl. First, the Vermonters started bragging about their conquest of Fort Ticonderoga. Then the Virginians shot back that it didn’t take much gumption or skill to sneak up on a sleeping Englishman, and how they’d done far better than that back in the French and Indian War, when they’d stolen into the camp of an Indian war party…

On and on it went, until they were set to start scrapping.

The friction with Allen’s men paled, however, to the boisterous, buckskin-clad riflemen’s effect on the tight-lipped Yankees of John Glover’s Marblehead mariners. These modest Gloucester sailors resented the loud boasting of the strangely dressed ‘foreigners’, and within a week, the exchanged insults led to blows. Half a dozen men on either side were swinging fists, but when Glover saw Morgan storm toward the group, hollering, he assumed that order was about to be restored. He had no way of knowing that a good bare-knuckled fistfight was Dan Morgan’s favorite form of recreation. Morgan waded in, swinging, and within seconds, two hundred men were locked in a furious brawl.

Much of the rest of the army came to watch and cheer on one side or the other. Most of the participants felt they were just getting warmed up, when George Washington galloped in, leaped off his horse, and battled his way to Morgan and Glover – beating them with the hilt of his sword to get their attention – demanding that they order their men to cease. Jemmy, disgusted by it all, turned away to wander the camp alone.

Passing one kettle after another, hung from iron tripods over cooking fires, she began to see that cookware was probably the only piece of equipment that most groups here had in common. The weapons were the widest array of muskets and fowling pieces she had seen in her entire life. The clothes were just as varied. Washington had a few regular army types in tight white breeches, blue coats of heavy wool, and black tri-cornered hats. They sweltered in the heat. But most of the men here, boys really, many of them, looked like they had started out to the post office one day to mail a letter and had just kept on walking. Since it was summer, most had simple linen shirts, white and blousey over-pants, which were already so torn and dirty that it was hard to tell what style they had once been. Some wore boots, some had silver buckled shoes, which had begun to disintegrate on the walk here. A few gentlemen had fancy uniforms tailor-made with braids, gold buttons, and cockeyed hats, sporting feathers, finished off with polished riding boots. Still others were farm boys in bare feet who had not yet begun to shave.

At the road junction, she spotted the largest group of black men she had ever seen in one place, forming in lines before marching out of the camp. Despite the fact that dozens of black soldiers had been among the best fighters at Lexington and Bunker Hill, despite the fact that hundreds had poured into Springfield to volunteer, when Congress had appointed the southern planter Washington as commander of the Continental Army, the new general had announced that there was no place for non-whites in this army. On the morning the announcement was made, Jemmy heard Dan and Henry mutter that this was a general, whose initial contributions to warfare had been to start the French and Indian War by slaughtering a party of French civilians in the wilderness, then getting surrounded and surrendering two months later. Morgan’s Virginians normally lived in a world, where everyone was valued, based solely on their ability to contribute. Henry and Dan both vowed that when hundreds of gutless white braggarts began deserting, they would do their best to change the mind of this bull-headed commander.

As she was walking, Jemmy thought about that appraisal of some of these white men here. A few sat with serious faces, melting lead to pour into bullet molds, but nearly everyone else was in high spirits now. A few had brought fiddles and were playing popular tunes of the day. Jemmy could pick out both Barbara Allen and Amazing Grace, drifting into the night air. There was much laughing, shouting, boasting.

Later on, as Jemmy passed the sentry at the command tent, she saw General Washington emerge with a figure she didn’t recognize, and she slowed her pace to eavesdrop.

“Of course, Colonel Arnold,” he was saying to a stooped figure, “take a week, if you need it. I don’t know what has gotten into Dr. Church and his committee. Demanding you to produce receipts for feeding your men in the Ticonderoga wilderness, before they will reimburse you, is absurd. Everyone knows there are precious few receipts on the frontier, and good book-keeping does not thrive under combat conditions. Why, Church makes you sound like a common criminal, defrauding the public! You would think that the man was on the other side. And, of course you must get home and see your family. My deepest sympathies again on the death of your wife. I understand that she passed, while you were taking Ticonderoga. Do they know what she died from?”

The stooped figure merely shook his head without so much as looking up.

Feeling like an eavesdropper, Jemmy’s sense of propriety overcame her naked curiosity, and she hurried off. Reaching her tent, she removed her shoes and worsted stockings, crawling into her bedding, exhausted. She pulled the ragged fringe of the blanket tight around her throat, more for emotional comfort than for warmth. She couldn’t stop thinking, though. How many of these carefree boys, she wondered, had ever faced a well-armed enemy? How many had ever survived a winter outdoors? Could they stand up to either?

Later, Henry crept in, thinking her asleep. He lay down silently in his buckskins, and she could tell from the familiar cadence of his breathing that he would soon be sleeping. The smell of his sweaty clothing encompassed her. Henry’s body odor had become almost overpowering of late. He was a man who had always perspired a lot, but had also bathed frequently. She had enough experience with the smell of her husband curled beside her to be able to sleep without noticing it. But something in that smell had changed these past few days. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but it seemed fouler than normal. It was as if some poison had gotten into Henry, and his pores were trying to push it out.

Jemima lay in the dark, contemplating it all, when another sound shattered her reverie. Henry coughed. Not once, not twice, but four or five times. Mixed into the sound was the painfully familiar gurgle of fluid in the lungs – the sound of consumption. So it had returned! He never woke, just rolled over, coughing again, unaware that she had begun to sob.

While she squinted wistfully into the smoke-wreathed night, Jemmy asked herself how it could ever have come to this. She had been through a great deal of suffering with Henry, but never gave leaving him a passing thought. When she became pregnant with her first child, she had stopped thinking about herself and began focusing on how to carve a better life for her child. She lost her second-born during a hard winter, which followed on the heels of a failed harvest. They had all been on reduced rations, and when fever swept through their cabin, little Becky had burned with fever, until one morning Jemmy had found her lying still, blue, and cold. She swore to herself then and there that no child of hers would ever again be weak from hunger. Henry had seemed to take the child’s death as a failure of his ability to support his family, and the episode had rekindled his efforts as well.

The following year, and really every year afterwards in their mountain valley at Harner’s Notch, the Warners had worked like a couple possessed. Neighbors began to comment on it. Going off to fight Indians had been the only time Henry had slackened his pace on the homestead. When he returned, he pitched into the place even more furiously than before. Year after year, they had expanded their fields and livestock, and the rest of their children had grown to maturity in good health. Life on the Warner farm had developed something of a comfortable air about it. Fear of starvation was long gone by the time Henry Jr. had come home with a fiancée. Certainly, they were nowhere near as prosperous as her father, and never would be, but what they owned was coveted by many a family – and all of it had come from the sweat and agony of their own labor. This, of course, made it all the sweeter. Together they had built a good life.

By the time the last of their boys left home at the age of twenty, Jemima and Henry were concentrating on reaping some of the rewards of their labors. Every glass of buttermilk, every bowl of cornmeal, every party they hosted, all were full of the immense satisfaction of having brought something meaningful into the world. With little beyond labor, love, and determination, they had wrought much, and they were proud of it. They looked forward to their “golden years of twilight”, as Reverend Silas put it. They would never, even for a second, feel guilty about what small degree of prosperity and security they had achieved.

Now everything had changed. Their hard-won security was gone, and what lay ahead of them was nothing but unknown threats. It suddenly all seemed terribly unfair, but it couldn’t be helped. Henry had agreed to sign on with Dan Morgan, as she knew he would from the moment Dan asked. She had fought with him over it. She had threatened to leave him, if he went off on this fool’s quest at the advanced age of forty-four. She reminded him that consumption had nearly killed him twice during his adult life, and that it was something he was rarely completely free of for long. She told him that he was more fit for a rocking chair than a young man’s war, but it didn’t matter. He felt that he owed Dan Morgan his life, and even if he hadn’t, he would probably have gone anyway. If he left, she felt sure she would never see him again, because if a British bullet didn’t get him, his infected lungs surely would. So, she had decided to take the only course of action she could live with – she went with him.

Henry had been livid. “This ain’t no business for a woman!” he had declared. “This is man’s work, and it’s dangerous and difficult. You have no idea of what it’s like, believe me. No woman could take it!”

“I spent twenty-four years, helping you build up this farm from nothing!” she retorted. “I gave birth to five children. Like to see you try that. I spent twenty winters, rubbing my hands raw and feeding you and the children, sewing your clothes, and never complaining. What makes you think I can’t take a little sojourn in the woods, and a little shooting, too, if it comes to that?”

“We don’t have women soldiers, that’s why.”

“Well, there are plenty of women camp followers in damn near every army. If no one will give me a gun, I can still cook and sew just like I did with you. And I’m sure I can bandage a wounded man, too, so just try me.”

“Why are you doing this, Jemmy?”

“I’ve got my reasons.”

“Oh, no, I’m sorry, that’s not good enough. You want to embarrass me by tagging along after me like I’m some snot-nosed kid needs a nursemaid? I got to have a better reason than that.”

She looked at him from under partly lowered lids. Nothing was said by either for some time, but finally she spoke. “Henry, damn it, you are one sick old man, who has no business going out into the thick of things with men half your age. Your lungs are no damn good, and you’ve been sick half the winter both the last two years. On cold mornings, you spend the first half hour coughing your guts out. What do you think is going to happen to you out there?”

He refused to answer. He colored, gritted his crooked teeth and turned to stare out the window. She knew what that look meant. It meant that his mind was made up, and there was no changing it. Finally, it was she who broke the silence. “I’m coming with you to take care of you, you… beautiful old man! I’m coming with you, because I can’t imagine life without you. I don’t want to imagine life without you, Henry. I’m coming to nurse you when you’re sick and feed you when you’re weak. I’ll sew your wounds if you’re shot. And if I have to, I’ll be there to bury you when you die.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Jemima.” But when he spoke, she saw that he had turned back to look at her, and that he was smiling.

Now here they were, nearly two months later, and it seemed as if they were about to be put to the test of a lifetime. Washington knew Dan Morgan from the French and Indian War, and the day he arrived, Washington had called him into a private conference. When he returned, Dan took Henry into his confidence only after swearing him to secrecy. “I need your help, Henry, old boy,” he began. “The General has just asked us, if we would volunteer for the craziest mission I ever heard of. It’s just crazy enough to appeal to me, but that’s not necessarily a good sign. You’re the level-headed one, Henry. I need you to tell me what you think we should do. And if you think we should volunteer, then I’m going to need your help, selling this to the men.”

“Let’s hear it,” was all Henry said.

“Well, it seems this feller, Benedict Arnold – you’ve heard of him. Old, big-mouth Ethan Allen forgot to mention it, but he was co-commander with Allen, when they took Ticonderoga. Well, he seems to have gotten an idea to sort of repeat the thing on a bigger scale.” He gave Henry a quizzical look, but got no response and went on.

“The gist of it is that we got to find some way to keep John Bull and his army from dividing the colonies in two by capturing the Hudson Valley. The General quoted old Perfessor Franklin on the subject. Let’s see, how did it go?”

Jemmy chimed in, “It goes something like ‘We must all hang together, or we most certainly shall all hang separately’.”

“Yeah, that’s it,” Dan continued. “Now we’ve got Fort Ti in the middle of the Valley, but it’s pretty isolated and not in such good shape, from what I hear. There’s at least two ways the lobsterbacks can try to take the Hudson Valley – from the south through New York, with their fleet taking them most of the way up the Hudson. Or they can come on down from Canada in the north.”

“Could I have something to drink, Jemmy?” he interrupted himself. “I definitely ain’t used to so much talking. Thank you. Now, the General says that the Canadians up north of the Hudson are all Frenchies. The whole province of Quebec apparently still thinks of themselves as French, even speak the language and go to Papist churches. They don’t much care for their English masters any more than we do. Remember, Canada used to be their country, until, well, I forget the year, but basically until…”

Finally, Henry spoke, “Until the English snuck a surprise force of elite foot soldiers up the ‘un-scalable’ cliffs and wound up right in their backyard next morning. The French garrison fell, and the fort surrendered. Since that fort controls the St. Lawrence, and since the St. Lawrence is the only way into and out of Canada and the Great Lakes, Canada fell to the British. Because whoever controls Quebec, controls Canada. And all that was only sixteen years ago.”

“And what worked then,” Morgan continued, “could work again.”

“What? Sail an elite force up the St. Lawrence? You’re out of your mind, Dan! The British navy controls that river, and the part of the Atlantic we’d have to cross to get there, and every other body of water it chooses to sail on, for that matter!”

“Not the Kennebec River, Henry.”

“The…” Henry shook his head in disbelief. “The Kennebec is a river in the Maine woods, Dan. It doesn’t go anywhere, except into the Maine woods.”

“It goes an awful long way into those woods.”

“So what. It doesn’t go to Quebec.”

“Comes close, though.”

“Does it? Does it really? How close?”

“Well, it goes on up to within just a day’s portage of the Dead River, what runs from a string of ponds, what leads to the Chaudiere River, what leads to Quebec, or right close.”

“And who told you all this?”

“Why, General Washington told me himself.”

“And who told General Washington?”

“Why, Mr. Arnold, err…, Colonel Arnold did.”

“And who told him?”

“Apparently, he found an officer in General Washington’s corps. When this fellow was a surveyor in the British army, he made a trip up the Kennebec, clear to Quebec. Told Colonel Arnold he could draw him a map, a real detailed map.”

“So, what do they want with a band of Virginia riflemen in the Maine woods?”

“They want us to go with Arnold clear to Quebec and take it!” Morgan burst out with his most infectious grin.

“They want you and me and the boys to go capture Canada?”

“Not just us, Henry. The feeling is that we can get a couple of thousand of the best crack troops we got up the Kennebec and the Dead before winter. Those redcoats didn’t learn nothin’ from Ticonderoga, Henry. Word is they only got a skeleton force of less than five hundred men there. They’re looking at the river for an enemy. Most of their cannon face the river. No one has ever come at Quebec from the land.”

“For good reason, Dan.”

“General Washington said that a well-armed force, emerging from an impassable wilderness behind them, would be such a shock that the Frenchies would join us. The feeling is, if we can hit ’em in a surprise attack, we could roll ’em right up, like Arnold and Allen did at Ticonderoga. Washington is sending another, bigger force to take Montreal and then march north down the St. Lawrence to Quebec. The garrison’ll be watching them all the way while we sneak up behind ’em. They need woodsmen, Henry. And they need experienced Indian fighters, in case the Abenakis up-there object to us passing through their territory.”

“Whose side are the Abenakis on?”

“Well, they hate the British, if that’s what you mean. Bunch of them walked here from Maine to volunteer, but the General won’t take them. Arnold is going to try to buy off the chief as insurance, but you never know.”

“What you’re telling me, Dan, is that Washington told you he needs a group of real scrappers to take Arnold into Canada by canoe, with no one even knowing they’re coming. Then, when they get there, to scale the walls of the biggest fort in North America. To make Canada the fourteenth colony and get a bunch of Frenchies to join us. Is that right?”

“That’s about the size of it, Henry. What do you think?”

“Let me see the map, and I’ll let you know.”

“I don’t have it yet. That ex-British officer is still drawing it. When he gets it to Arnold, Arnold will bring it to us, and we can get a better idea. What do you say?”

“I say it just might work. But if it’s going to work, it will only be if they have a bunch like us along. What about Allen and his boys?”

“Them Vermonters are going to attack Montreal with General Montgomery.”

“Any other outfits around fit the bill?”

“Nope, just us.”

Jemima winced.

 

 

Chapter 6

 

Oyster Bay, July 14, 1775

 

The heat and humidity were palpable. They lay like a horsehair blanket over everything, stiffling the will. No one moved, unless they had to, not even the children. The streets were silent. For days now, tempers had been frayed and evening’s relief short-lived. Sarah Townsend would never have considered entertaining on such a day, except for the fact that the invitation had been issued weeks before, and just yesterday, on leaving their Quaker Meeting House, Reverend Elias, their Elder, had told her how much he was looking forward to today’s visit. At length, a slow ‘clop-clop’ cadence echoed through the vacant streets, coming to a stop in front of their house.

“Come in, Reverend, come in. So honored you could join us for luncheon,” boomed Samuel Townsend.

“Thy hospitality honors me, Friend Samuel,” replied the Elder, in the formal etiquette characteristic of their society.

“You know my son Robert, I believe.”

“Indeed, I do, indeed. Thee never miss a Sunday, Robert.”

“Well, Reverend, you can’t say the same for this son. What? Solomon! Where did you get to?”

“Here, Father.”

“You remember Reverend Elias, don’t you, son?”

“How good to see you, Reverend. My father, as always, exaggerates.”

“Yes, he does, Solomon, almost always.” And with this he gave a smile in the elder Townsend’s direction. “So how is life on the high seas, Solomon?”

“It’s getting harder all the time, sir. Between competition and government regulation.”

“That’s right!” chimed in the father. “Old John Bull seems to want to make it impossible to make a living, unless you first line his pockets with the very best and are satisfied with the leftovers.”

“You know that’s not what I meant, Father,” Solomon countered. “It’s just that…”

“Reverend Elias!” called out Sarah Townsend, matriarch, as she wiped her hands on her apron and strode toward him, smiling broadly.

“Sister Sarah! As charming as ever!”

Their mother blushed, as she energetically pumped his hand. “Pardon me, I’ve just been helping make sure the servants have everything ready. Samuel! Where are your manners? You are debating politics while keeping Reverend Elias standing in the foyer. Come in, come in, let me offer you some cider.”

“Or something a little stronger, perhaps?” asked Samuel with a wink. He paused, a smile on his face.

“Samuel,” the Elder smiled, “Thee know perfectly well that drink is against our religion.”

“That never troubled your predecessor much.”

The smile vanished. “I will not judge those who came before me here. But I will politely decline. Don’t let me stop thee, however.”

The Townsends nearly fell over one another, rushing to profess their abhorrence of spirits, in the best Quaker fashion.

Sarah took the arm of the man of the cloth and smilingly escorted him into the dining room. “Dinner is ready!” she announced. “Come, sir, sit by me. Robert, go get Sally and Phebe.”

As Solomon, Samuel, and Elias took their seats, Sarah glided back into the kitchen, leaving the men alone. After a moment of silence, the minister turned to the elder son.

“Solomon, when thy mother came in, thee was in the process of saying something about how much harder life on the seas has become. What didst thee mean?”

Solomon looked down into his lap, picking at his napkin, unsure of how to begin. “I guess I meant a number of things,” he began falteringly, then looked up and stared straight at his questioner. “The recent regulations from London have made it hard to stay profitable, for one thing. They now require us to import finished goods only from England. Yet, we can obtain much higher prices for some of our exports in the Caribbean. That’s one reason why we have traded there. Likewise, the Caribbean has things like molasses…”

“And rum,” his father added.

Solomon fidgeted in his seat, blushing slightly. “Yes, and rum. That is why we must trade with them. But you often cannot fill a ship with molasses and rum, and if you return half empty, you lose money on the voyage. So, it is better to fill the rest of your hold with European finished goods, purchased at Caribbean ports.”

Sarah returned through the kitchen door, followed by two slaves bearing dishes. “Business, business. Honestly, Samuel, Solomon. Not everyone is as interested in commerce as you are. Ah, and here are Phebe and Sally, I know they’re not. Thank you, Robert, sit down.”

Seven-year-old Phebe and fifteen-year-old Sally stood shoulder to shoulder, curtseying to their guest simultaneously, with a precision that evoked general laughter from the table.

“Well, ladies, I am honored!” Reverend Elias retorted in mock breathlessness, bowing from the waist. The two girls giggled and rushed to their seats.

“It’s not just a matter of commerce, Mother,” Solomon persisted, “If we must buy all our manufactured goods from England and pay whatever they demand…”

“And they’ll demand plenty, when they know they have us exclusively,” added Samuel.

Solomon went on, “If we must buy all this from England, we must sell our own exports directly to England to pay for it. Otherwise, the English merchants will only take specie, and there is not enough real English currency here in the colonies. That’s another advantage of the Caribbean trade, Mr. Elias. We bring them lumber and corn, and barter for molasses and rum.”

“I thought you just said it is not a matter of commerce.”

“No, Mother, it is not. The shortage of currency means that to buy English manufactured goods affordably, we have to sail to England with our ships and pay them with our exports. And many of our ships are not made for transatlantic sailing. They are coasters, like our own. It is dangerous enough sailing the Coast in a schooner. Take one across the Atlantic in anything but mid-summer, and you are courting disaster.”

“But the English ships are rigged and keeled for the ocean run,” Samuel interjected. “And they know that. Which gives them even more of a monopoly. It turns us into economic vassals!”

Reverend Elias seemed to turn this over in his head, while the others helped themselves to food. The family had heard all of this countless times before.

Finally, their Elder spoke. “So, Solomon, what does thee advise should be done about this state of affairs?”

“I think it should be changed!”

“But how?”

“I do not know, sir. I have no representative with whom to correspond and plead for him to talk some sense into Parliament.”

“Patrick Henry is right!” Samuel burst out. “Taxation without representation is tyranny!”

“And so, Solomon, can I assume thee advise rebellion, like thy father?”

“Not for a moment, sir!” Solomon protested. “We are being treated terribly unfairly for the moment, that is true.”

“And do you think that will change, boy?” his father inquired with a sneer.

“What I think, gentlemen,” Solomon fairly exploded, “is that we are Englishmen! I may have been born here in Oyster Bay, but I am a subject of King George III. I owe my allegiance to him and the mother country. Loyalty is a sacred trust and not one to shirk whenever it’s convenient!”

In response, Samuel merely sighed.

Reverend Elias helped himself to another piece of corn bread. “That’s very interesting, Solomon. Samuel, I know how thee feels. Robert, thee has been strangely quiet through all this. How dost thee feel about allegiance to the Crown?”

Robert hesitated over his Indian pudding, then put his spoon down, resting his lace cuffs on the table edge before opening, then closing his hands. The entire family waited, as puzzled as their guest was, as to what response might issue forth. Finally, he looked at his spiritual leader and spoke deliberately.

“What I think is not very important. And I do not mean any disrespect, sir. My point is simply this, that one’s words here will make no difference in London. We can talk all we want, and it simply will not matter in the least. Only actions change governments. And what actions are open to us? My brother Solomon would do nothing. That in itself is an action, and ensures the continuation of the status quo. He is right, we have no representative in Parliament, through whom our words might get translated into action, so words – whatever they may be – do not constitute action.

“Furthermore,” he continued, head bowed now, “what actions are open to us?” He looked up at Samuel, “Father favors revolt. But we of the Society of Friends cannot take violent action against our fellow man.”

At this, the preacher nodded approvingly.

“Well, others certainly can!” Samuel burst out, “And we can support them in non-violent ways!”

“To what end, Father?” retorted Robert. “Encouraging slaughter is little better than participating in it.”

“Self-defense is not slaughter, son.”

“It is, if it fails to effectively defend the attacked and simply assures the deaths of more of them.”

“Oh, not St. Augustine again, boy!”

“No, Father. Not St. Augustine. Simple logic. Our fellow Colonists cannot beat the greatest army in the history of the world!”

“But how can anyone know that before they even try?”

“Because war, Father, is not a glorious romance story, it is a deadly business.”

“And I suppose the man who has never held a musket just learned that out of books, is that right?”

“Yes, it is. I have read enough to know that the miracle of a few courageous souls putting an overwhelming enemy force to flight has not happened since the development of the cannon. War is no longer a mass of face-to-face sword duels, Father. It is more and more mechanized. Implements of long-range, explosive destruction can now destroy an army, even a brave one, before it gets close enough to fire a musket, never mind wield a sword or a bayonet. Personal courage and righteousness are all very admirable, Father, but they cannot make a difference, when the men who hold them are dead before they have a chance to use them.”

“But, Robert,” Samuel countered, “we are Americans. We have a new way of fighting that the red men have taught us the hard way. It worked at Lexington and Concord. It worked against Braddock at Fort Duquesne.”

“Hiding and shooting from behind trees works when your enemy is retreating and far from his base, but not when he sits ensconced where he prefers to be. Everyone knows the secret to controlling the colonies is easy: just control the waterways. Our roads are so bad as to be useless. All important commerce moves by water. The English army is encamped in the ports, and the British Navy controls the seas. What does anyone propose to do about that?”

But Samuel was up the challenge. “Launch our own Navy! We have smaller, faster ships, like our own family’s vessels. We can dodge the Royal warships and pick them apart – the way they did to the Spanish Armada!”

“Father, their superior sailing helped them choose their fights with those galleons. It was superior cannon fire by the Royal Navy that actually put those ships to flight.”

“That, and a convenient storm,” added Solomon the sea captain. “Robert is right, Father. It is cannon which ultimately win sea battles. Seamanship just helps you bring the cannon to bear.”

“Then we’ll take the ports and force them to return to England!”

“How?”

“With our own cannon! Now that Arnold and Allen have gotten them for us.”

“’Gotten them’ is not quite an accurate way to put it, Father. Arnold and Allen may have them, but the cannon are still in the middle of the wilderness at Ticonderoga, with no apparent way to get them to Washington’s army.”

“Then we’ll take the cities by the musket and by determination. You say that these are not enough, but look at Bunker Hill. We taught them something there.”

“Samuel!” Reverend Elias interjected. “Thee sounds like a warrior. Remember, our Society struggles to turn swords into plowshares.”

Solomon intervened. “Father, you forget one thing. At the end of that day, who controlled Bunker Hill? And who still controls the city of Boston? The King’s army.”

Samuel looked around the table, as if appealing for help. “Robert! Do you mean to tell me that you submit to this blind loyalty of your brother Solomon?”

Everyone stopped eating, waiting for the reply, unsure just what it might be. “No, Father, I don’t. But neither can I condone mass suicide, which is what your rebellion would be!”

Sarah leaped in before things got ugly. “Gentlemen, gentlemen, out of respect for our guest, let us control our passions! I think it is time for some lemonade in the garden. Robert, Solomon, would you please see that the table out back is ready. Phebe, Sally, come with me.” And with that, she vanished into the kitchen.

The two older men were left alone to their pipes. After a period of silence, it was the preacher who spoke. “Those are some boys thee has raised, Samuel. They both have thy passion and steel, but what a difference between the two!”

“Oh, you don’t have to tell me. Solomon is a man cut of the same cloth as myself. He is a born trader and a natural captain. I think he feels more at home on the deck of a sloop than here at Old Homestead. He has the gift of command. But where his political views come from, I’ll be damned if I know! Oh, excuse my language.

“Robert is another matter,” the father continued. “I don’t know if I’ll ever understand him.” He leaned back, crossed his legs and puffed his pipe in silence for a time. “I’ll tell you a story though. I remember a night off Cape Hatteras in a storm. That was before I had given up on making a seaman of Robert. He couldn’t have been more than sixteen. Poor lad was hanging over the side with the seasickness.” He paused here and let out a short laugh. Then his face grew serious, and he puffed thoughtfully a few moments. “But after the waves began breaking over the rail and we all grew afraid we might go down, that boy had the coolest head on board. He actually took the wheel for a while and did a pretty fair job, for a novice. He yelled out commands about clearing debris off the deck and trimming sails. His voice had an authority that I didn’t know he had in him. The boy seemed fearless.” Samuel again grew pensive and went back to his pipe.

Finally, he continued. “The next morning, I found him sleeping in his hammock. I tried to wake him. I shook him hard, but I couldn’t rouse him. He was dead to the world. When I met him on deck later in the day I asked him why he hadn’t been afraid. He just cocked his head, smiled, and looked at me like he didn’t understand the question.” Here he paused again. “Never said a word.” And he shook his head, another short laugh bursting from him.

 

 

Chapter 7

 

 

USA 2000-01
Kennebec River, near Gardinerstown (today’s Gardiner), Maine, September 2001. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

In the Maine wilderness, September 1775

 

“You call these boats, Dan?” Henry Warner fairly screamed at the gray Maine skies and the silent, brooding forest.

“Now, I know they ain’t the canoes we was expecting, Henry,” Dan Morgan replied, faint­heartedly attempting a soothing tone of voice.

“Canoes? Jehovah! They don’t even hold water! Look!”

And with that, Henry waded out waist-deep into the Kennebec River, pulling behind him a most ungainly-looking craft. It was little more than a shell, made of tapering four-inch-square timbers that ran fifteen feet in a constant curve from pointed raised bow to pointed raised stern, not unlike a crude gondola.

“Some of the boys are saying they’re like a slice out of the side of a giant barrel. I don’t care what they’re shaped like, Dan. I don’t care what they look like. I don’t care what they call ’em.”

“Bateaux, Henry, they call them bateaux.”

“I don’t care! Just look!”

Henry rolled into the small craft and stood up, one foot precariously balanced on either of the curved sides. “Look!” He pointed down to the area between his feet. Jemmy, Dan, and the other men gathered around could all see what he was talking about, and no one made a sound. In stunned silence, they watched the boat begin to fill with water, which ran into it from between the timbers that made up its hull. There did not seem to be a particular hole causing the leak. Rather, the water appeared to come uniformly from half of the seams in the bateaux. It leaked like a sieve.

It was Henry who broke the silence. “They’re made from green wood, Dan. They looked great, ‘till we put them in the water. Then the timbers warp, and the joints separate. The builder knew about this! He slapped a little tar on some of the seams, but it doesn’t seem to help none. You know what this means, Dan. We really are up that proverbial creek now, and we’re not just without a paddle. We are going to miss the whole God-damned boat!”

Dan Morgan began to turn red in the face, and those who knew him recognized this as a dangerous sign. No one said a word.

Finally, Morgan said, “We’ll see about this! By God, we will just see about this! Where is that boat builder?”

As Morgan approached, he could see that Benedict Arnold had arrived first, on what appeared to be the same errand. Beside Reuben Colburn’s log cabin, smoke curling from the chimney into a tall stand of pine beside the river, Colburn and Arnold were gesticulating wildly. Incoherent shouts reached Morgan’s ears. As he drew nearer, he began to make out the civilian’s words, coming sarcastically in a liquor-slurred voice.

“You don’t like it, Colonel, go take your boat business to my competitor’s shipyard.”

“Don’t trifle with me, sir!” Arnold yelled back.

“Really, Col. Arnold, I can recommend a very experienced, reputable builder, he’s a mere hundred miles back the way you came. I’ll write you a note of introduction.”

Before Arnold could say a word, Morgan strode up to the diminutive Colburn, wrapped one hand around his throat below the chin, and in a single smooth motion lifted him off his feet and pinned him to the wall of his cabin. “Why, I ought to kill you, you son of a bitch!”

“Morgan, Morgan, let him down,” Arnold said quietly, but with a hint of urgency.

“We come all the way up here, dodging the Royal Navy up the coast, sailing up this river to be left at the edge of wilderness with the likes of you!” Morgan shouted at the boat-builder. “You got paid good money for this, and this is what you give us in return? My men’s lives depend on these boats!”

By way of reply, the panicked Colburn could only utter a series of desperate gurgling noises. His face had begun to turn blue.

“Captain Morgan, put him down at once, that is an order!”

The giant opened his hand, and the gasping figure slid down the wall of his cabin to the ground, bumping the back of his head on each protruding log along the way.

“I know how you feel, Dan, but we can’t give in to our emotions here. We have to keep our heads.” Arnold spoke in the intimate tone of a brother. Though he’d never met Dan Morgan before the day Washington had matched these men with this mission, he felt a deep kinship with the backwoods legend.

“The wood is green, did you know that, Colonel?”

“Yes, I have seen for myself. Look, Morgan, I requested a crew of shipwrights be sent here with all the necessary tools and stores to build boats that could carry two thousand men and supplies. I was led to believe that had been done. Apparently, some imbecile quartermaster was satisfied with four house carpenters. When they got here, they found no dried wood and had to begin cutting fresh timber. It has not had a chance to age. What’s even worse is, that when I asked for bateaux, I meant what sailors on Long Island Sound mean by that – light whaleboats, which can be rowed speedily and portaged easily. Up here, apparently, ‘bateaux’ are these strange things, which they use to herd logs down river.”

“I thought we were getting canoes, Colonel.”

“We have a few, for select use only. Canoes can’t carry the weight of the supplies we need, Dan. And these…, these incompetents can’t build them in quantity anyway.”

“My men know how, Colonel.”

“There’s no time now, Dan.” Arnold began to speak again, checked himself, looked down in disgust at the struggling wretch on the grass, and took Morgan’s arm. Guiding him out of earshot of others, he lowered his voice and resumed. “I don’t have to tell you what further delay would mean, Dan. First, we had to wait for supplies in Massachusetts. Then we lost a whole month, because Colonel Enos and his Connecticut regiment refused to leave without getting two months’ pay in advance. So, while Congress dithered about getting them their pay, the last of the summer slipped through our hands. It’s late September already, and this is Maine. I can see my breath in the morning. Soon the frosts will come. If we don’t get up the river and across those ponds to Quebec before the freeze, we could find ourselves trapped in the Great North Woods for the winter. I don’t have to tell you what that would mean.”

Morgan grunted, looking at his beaded moccasins.

 

Three days later, all two hundred bateaux were loaded with four or five men each, plus assorted sacks of flour, barrels of gunpowder, and all other necessities for a five-week journey. The men had patched the boats as best they could. Morgan’s experienced woodsmen would take the lead. They had been joined by a company of backwoods long-rifles from Pennsylvania, lead by twenty-two-year-old Henry Dearborn. Captain Learned’s New Hampshire militia followed. Another eight hundred men would be kept behind as a reserve with the bulk of the supplies, to be brought up, when they had forced the portage to the Dead River. There weren’t enough paddles to go around, so the men held an ungainly assortment of poles and boards with which to push and row their ‘cockleshell fleet’, as some were calling it.

Morgan’s men stood out from all the others. In addition to their fringed buckskin pants and long, leather hunting shirts, their short-haired heads were covered with coonskin caps, while Indian moccasins were the preferred footwear. On each of their belts hung a tomahawk and scalping knife and, over their shoulders, powder horn and shot bag. Gone, though, were the sashes they had worn on their march from Virginia, which had held just three words, writ large: “Victory or Death!” Most of this hand-picked, hardened band were tall, and many had the close-cropped, blond hair of the Scottish Virginia mountaineers. All were good shots and experienced Indian fighters. The confidence, which they and their leader emanated, had made Dan Morgan the universal choice to lead the column upriver.

The sky was a glorious, deep blue. On the smooth dark waters of the Kennebec River, the large pines, lining the banks, whispered in the wind. As the sun rose, it illuminated the occasional deciduous tree, which had already begun to turn brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and red. Even Jemmy’s spirits soared. The entire mixed force sat afloat, awaiting the signal to shove off on the greatest adventure of their lives – even for many of Morgan’s men, whose lives were already packed with adventures. Their countrymen were counting on them, and everyone was determined to not let them down.

 

 

USA 1998-99
USA 1998-99
USA 1998-99
“As the sun rose, it illuminated the occasional deciduous tree, which had already begun to turn brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and red.” – These pictures show New England autumn: Mixed forest of conifers and sugar maple (Acer saccharum), New Hampshire (top). – Mixed forest of red maple (Acer rubrum), sugar maple, and conifers, Adirondacks, New York. – Autumn leaves of sugar maple, New Hampshire. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

An Indian cry broke the stillness, high-pitched, shrill, and piercing. Then there was a ripple among the bodies, still standing on the riverbank. They parted like waves for a figure passing among them. Benedict Arnold, naked but for a breechcloth and a splash of war paint, walked determinedly down the bank, swinging a tomahawk from one hand. With the grace of a well-practiced brave, he swung into his place – standing – in the center of a birch bark canoe, raised the tomahawk, screaming another war cry. His paddlers pushed off, and as their commander streaked upriver through the assembled bateaux, two thousand voices erupted in a wave of cheers that followed him as he went. In acknowledgement, Arnold stood in the canoe – tomahawk raised skyward – staring into the eyes of his men, as he passed, calling many by name. This was one officer, they thought, whom they would follow anywhere.

 

September 25, 1775

 

Dear General Washington,

 

I wish you could see these brave boys now. They have been saddled with boats which leak, and a river that is too low, due to a drought this summer. Too often, the boats must be lightened and then dragged over shoals and gravel bars. The men spend nearly as much time out of the boats as in them. Struggling up to their chests in cold water, they look like some kind of great amphibious beasts. Much of the food is not fit to eat and must be discarded. But no one complains. They are as determined a lot as I have ever seen. Morgan’s men in particular are superb.

To augment our food, I have sent squads of the Virginian’s best hunters out to sweep through the woods on either side of us. You should watch them move. They wear cloaks, which stretch to the ground and are the color of dead leaves. By the time they have gone a few yards, they are invisible. They are having good success in procuring meat and should continue to do so, if the Abenakis do not turn against us. I have sent Morgan and a picked few on ahead to their chief’s cabin to treat with him. I have as yet no word. Progress is difficult, but constant, and I am optimistic about reaching our objective on schedule. The map shows that we are approaching the portage to the Dead River. I will report again when we have forced it.

 

Your humble servant,
Col. Benedict Arnold

 

The realities were far different from those portrayed in the letter. Washington couldn’t know that many of the men were getting sick, too sick to go on. Nor could he know that Arnold had decided on his own that paying off Natanis, the Abenaki chief, was not a safe enough bet. He had actually given Morgan and his men orders to find the leader and kill him.

Of these things, Washington knew nothing, but Arnold, too, was in the dark and didn’t know it. The success of the Virginian hunters was due to the Abenakis – who had been spurned by Washington – driving game toward the river as their own way of helping the war effort. But Arnold never found out that Chief Natanis had learned long before not to trust white men’s offers of peace parleys, so when Morgan’s men arrived, he sat hidden in a tree, watching seven Virginians creep up and surround his cabin. After waiting hours for him to come out, the soldiers charged the cabin with cocked rifles, drawn tomahawks, and scalping knives.

The following day, Natanis sent orders for his braves to start driving all game away from the river, out of reach of the white hunters. Clearly, this group of white men was no better than the rest. Of course, they were too strong to attack, but Natanis knew he didn’t have to. The woods would swallow them up, as if they were gnats. He knew where the white soldiers were going, and he knew what their real chances were of getting there. All he had to do was sit back and let the endless wilderness and the approaching winter do his job for him. Then no treacherous whites would ever bother him again.

Natanis’ confidence came from knowledge that Arnold didn’t even know he lacked. No one would ever have proposed they make this journey but for the map, which showed a route that all agreed should be manageable within four to five weeks. At that point, no one had any idea that this map, on which all their lives depended, had actually been drawn by a Tory, an ardent Loyalist. He really had once gone up the Kennebec as a surveyor for the English Army, just as he had said. He knew the route well. When Washington and Arnold had turned to him for help, he had taken much time and diligence to assure that the map he drew from memory would seem reliable – until Arnold’s men had gotten too far into the Great North Woods to turn back. Only then would they discover that they had been lured into a death trap, from which there was no escape. Samuel Goodwin had smiled warmly to himself the night he had handed over the sketches. He knew that with a few strokes of the pen, he had eliminated more rebel troops than all His Majesty’s forces combined had thus far been able to kill. He laughed to himself that the fools did not even have the presence of mind to require that he go along on the journey, in which case he might not have had the courage to go through with the deception. This, he told himself, was a rebellion of dimwits, ready to trust anyone. This was a rebellion, which would not last.

Benedict Arnold was the first to reach the place, where a day’s portage was supposed to carry them over to the Dead River. He walked into the woods, accompanied by the single Abenaki who had been with them from the beginning. She was gliding up the Kennebec in the canoe of a handsome nineteen-year-old, named Aaron Burr, and was herself a fiery, passionate beauty, whose congeniality with the men – before Burr’s arrival – had earned her the nickname ‘Golden Thighs’. Once Burr had come on the scene, however, she had fallen hopelessly in love, and was now never seen far from his side. Burr was but a youth, yet he seemed able to shrug off the jealousy of a thousand pairs of hungry eyes every day.

Arnold, Burr, the girl, and three others clambered up the steep, slippery slopes on the west bank of the Kennebec. Half pulling themselves up by gripping the underbrush, they made halting progress. Arnold wondered what ludicrous kind of place this was to portage boats. They pressed through the woods on foot at the double quick, following a compass bearing. An hour later, they were still surrounded by an eerily silent forest, with no sign of water of any kind.

“We should have been there by now,” Arnold puzzled out loud. He handed out three compasses, sending them off on slightly different compass bearings with instructions for each pair to walk fast for two hours on that bearing, then reverse course and meet back at the starting point. “That way, one of us has got to find it.”

As the six explorers straggled back to their meeting point near dusk, they were greeted by a concerned Dan Morgan, who had tracked them thus far, and then waited with a frown. He knew the fact that they had split up was a bad sign.

“Captain Morgan,” Arnold began quite formally, “There seems to be a problem with the map here. We have been unable to locate the Dead River. I want you to send out scouts first thing in the morning to find the river and a passable route to haul boats.”

 

Three nights later, a sitting Henry Warner coughed, whereupon he spat into the fire, disgust written all over his face.

“Passable route, hell. This ain’t no place to haul boats. Canoes maybe, but not them things!”

Jemima knelt behind him on the ground, kneading his shoulders as best she could. The past two days had been the hardest of their entire lives.

“Why, by God,” Henry continued, “green wood is heavy enough, but them boats just soak up the water. They must weigh four hundred pounds each, maybe five hundred. And the edges of them timbers just cut right into your shoulders like they was made for that! They could have at least put handles on ’em or something!”

“How long we gonna be carrying these things, Henry,” Joe Samuels asked.

“‘Till we get there, Joe, ’till we get there.”

“The way things are moving, we ain’t never gonna get there!”

“I know it seems that way, Joe. But we will. You’ll see. You just got to face one day at a time. Don’t try to think of the end right now. Just think about tomorrow.”

“We’re afraid to think about tomorrow, Henry. Tomorrow we move another bateaux up that hill. God, the things just cut right into you. Even with four men carrying, that’s over a hundred pounds apiece. Now I ain’t no baby, you know that. But uphill, on steep, slippery ground with three other fellers. It’s damn near impossible.”

“For anybody but a Virginian,” Henry added with a sly smile. Joe scowled, looking away, into the fire. But as Henry continued to stare at him, his shoulders seemed to relax, and his features gradually softened into a grin.

“Sure seems impossible for them Massachusetts boys,” he chuckled, and the other three companions around the fire laughed with them. “Did you see them today, cussin’ and a slidin’?”

Henry broke into an easy smile, “Why, I watched two of ’em in front drop their bateaux on the slope, and it rolled right back on the boys carrying the rear. One of ’em fell in and rode the boat right on back down the hill and into the river, lookin’ like he’d soil his pants any minute!”

Even Jemima’s teeth now flashed in the firelight, and guffaws issued all around.

“Boat rolled right over the ‘other feller and busted both legs. He lay there thrashin’ and a hollerin’ like a baby.” At this the men smiled, but Jemmy’s mouth closed tight.

“I saw a whole bunch of ’em being sent downriver in boats later on,” Joe Samuels added. They was bandaged and lying in the bottom of those boats, trying to stay out of the water.”

“Forgot to send along a bandaged bailer, I guess,” Henry added, and they all laughed. The boats were becoming so leaky that one person of each crew had to be kept employed continuously bailing. Even Jemima had taken her turn.

“Well, boys,” Henry said, “what do you say we turn in and get a good night’s sleep, and tomorrow we show these city slickers what real men can do?”

There were murmurs of assent, smiles all around, and each went off to his respective bedroll. Jemmy told herself, with no small measure of pride, that this was why Dan Morgan needed Henry.

 

Benedict Arnold, however, was seriously concerned. It looked like it was going to take closer to a week or ten days to make the countless trips back and forth between the Kennebec and the Dead, ferrying boats and supplies. They had to carry everything up a 2,000-foot-tall, thirty-degree mountainside, and then twelve miles through the woods on improvised paths cut out by Morgan’s rangers.

Arnold had sent downriver for the reserve to come up and help, but they were days in arriving. The portage had turned out to be considerably more difficult and longer than the map or the British surveyor had indicated. That puzzled him. How could anyone, who had been over the ground himself, forget such a hellish trip? Of course, the surveyor had said they made the trip in canoes paddled by Indian guides. Apparently walking over this ground empty-handed, while others did the work, had failed to fully register in his memory the difficulty of the ground. He sat down to report as promised:

 

October 10, 1775

 

Dear General Washington,

 

We have portaged successfully to the Dead River, though at considerable hardship to the men. Our information regarding this stage of the journey was less than accurate, and it has cost us a week’s precious time. Nevertheless, we are cheered that, from here on, we move north on the Dead, cross a few still ponds, and then downstream again on the Chaudiere. Now that we no longer fight the woods, we will quicken our pace and hope to make up the lost time.

 

I remain your humble servant,
Col. B. Arnold

 

Meanwhile, Arnold was covering three times the distance of anyone else, constantly moving up and down the line, issuing orders, words of encouragement, even a slap on the back. He never stopped moving and was the first up each morning and the last to bed at night.

On the Dead River, Jemmy dragged her heavy, sodden skirt through knee-deep water, pulling one corner of a bateaux. The Dead was so shallow at this time of year that they spent most of their time walking in shallows, and the boats became little more than rafts on which to float the supplies. As she slogged along, mile after mile, she thought with bitterness about the pleasant paddle they had all looked forward to. That thought was all that had kept them going during those hellish portage days. Now the men’s shirts, even many of the buckskins, were chafed to ribbons at the shoulders from days supporting the leaden boats. Many were still bleeding from where the rough timbers had cut through the skin. Now and then she came on a patch of pink water were a man ahead of her had fallen. “How appropriate for a waterway, named Dead”, she thought.

Just when it seemed as if things couldn’t get worse, the gray skies opened up, and rain poured down upon their already soaked bodies. Suddenly, the bottom fell out of the river, and Jemmy found herself swimming alongside the bateaux, pulling it after her with one hand through black water that sparkled with the silver impact of raindrops. Henry immediately plunged in after her, coming to her support. She waved him away though, saying she was all right and that he should go back to his work.

She and Henry were strong swimmers and could take such unexpected plunges into holes in the river bottom casually. But many men couldn’t swim, and some who fell into these holes, disappeared beneath the black waters and were never seen again. Their companions, too exhausted to even consider diving for them, said a quiet prayer and pressed on.

Overhead, the view was the same day after day. Mountains hemmed them in on both sides. For three weeks, they had not seen anything manmade. And the deep green of pine boughs hung over the waterway in a funereal pall. The occasional stands of deciduous trees were even more depressing. Gone now were the bright leaves of autumn, under which they had first launched their boats on a day that now seemed like years ago. Only a few brown leaves still clung tenaciously to the trees.

“Those leaves are us, Henry,” Jemmy whispered into his ear one morning before rising, “They may look dead, here on the Dead, but they are hangin’ on! Nothing is going to push them off.”

Soon the river shallowed, and she was back in shin-deep water, wringing out her heavy skirts for the tenth time that day. They had all begun to realize, in this past week, that it was getting questionable, whether or not their pace could get them to Quebec before winter. And it was getting more questionable with each passing day, whether or not they could make it back the way they had come. To herself she laughed a bitter little laugh and thought, “Swimming past the Point of No Return on the River of the Dead.”

That night they could not keep fires lit. The rain had drenched everything, soaking all the dead wood they could reach. The few fires, which Morgan’s men managed to nurse into life, sputtered under the torrents of water from the sky. Henry’s cough was worsening with each day, and at night Jemima pressed her body to his, trying to infuse some warmth – as if she had any to give. She had never realized that a person could sleep, while their entire body was shivering violently, but of course she had never thought it was possible to be this tired.

The following morning, they woke to find that the rain had mercifully ceased, but trying to move, they felt stiffer than normal. Temperatures had plunged during the night, and their sodden clothes had frozen into ice as thick as a pane of glass. Henry, unbelieving at first, then with a frightened look only she could recognize, had begun cracking the ice that was now Jemmy’s clothes, pounding with his fists. He began to curse, then he began to cough, and finally he started to cry. As soon as she could move her arms, she had reached up and wiped his eyes.

“Don’t let them see you!” she hissed. “You can’t let the young ones see you like this, Henry!”

Henry quickly pulled himself together and, now that he knew Jemmy was safe, began stomping around their campsite. With each angry footfall, the ground ice cover shattered and cracked loudly. He began calling the men’s names, one at a time. As they came to, many of them screamed in fright. Henry called out orders between spasms of coughing.

“It’s all right, boys. Just a little ice. Break it off. Get up! Stomp around some! Get the blood flowing. Reynolds, you and Johnson get a fire going!”

“But, Henry, we tried last night, and…”

“God damn it, I said get a fire going! Do it!”

He continued circling the area, calling names, pounding men with his now bleeding fists, shouting over and over, “Get up! Get up!” until his cough would consume him, and he doubled over. And as he continued to scream at men and even pull some to their feet, they all began to notice that a few bodies were not stirring. They never would.

Finally, when a fire had been started, and men were thawing themselves around it, Henry walked grimly towards Jemmy, then right past her and into the bush. She hesitated, then went after him. He wasn’t hard to find; she just followed the sound of the coughing. She found him on his knees, bent double, wracked with convulsive spasms.

What she saw next, stopped her in her tracks. On the ground between his knees she saw that the ice was spattered with red. With each cough the scarlet sheen grew. She rushed to him impulsively, throwing her arms around his shoulders, as she fell to her knees beside him.

He sputtered, enraged, “I never should have brought you here, Jemmy! I never should have let you come! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”

“What are you talking about, Henry? Darling, you didn’t take me here, you didn’t ‘let’ me come. You forbid me to come, but I came anyway, remember? And furthermore, you…” But here she stopped, checked herself momentarily, unwilling to cry now, “you wonderful, amazing man. I want to be here. This is where I belong, Henry. With you. You protected me and took care of me for twenty-five years. I love you more than I love life itself.”

“Don’t talk like that!” he snapped. “Not all of us are going to get out of this alive. And I don’t want you to…, to….”

“Don’t worry about me, Henry. I am stronger than you know. And no matter what happens to you, so long as I am alive, I am standing by you.”

He turned and faced her, “But when I’m not alive, I don’t want you…”

“If, Henry, you mean if you’re not alive one day. Then I will go on, don’t worry. I won’t leave you for the wolves, but I won’t just sit down and die.”

She framed his face in both of her hands, looking deep into his blue eyes. In a choking voice, she asked, “All right?”

In response, he hung his head, simply nodding.

 

Benedict Arnold, Dan Morgan, Dearborn of the Pennsylvania rangers, and three of the Massachusetts officers sat on a carpet of pine needles around a campfire on the banks of the Dead River. Arnold had convened a Council of War.

“Gentlemen,” he began, “I don’t need to tell you that our situation is growing desperate. We are now several weeks behind schedule, and our men are beginning to die. I want to tell you my intentions, and then we will put it to a vote. We do nothing, unless a majority agrees. Captain Morgan, I want you to pick six of your strongest men and send them back to the Kennebec. The reserve force will be there with the extra supplies. I will send a written order to send half the supplies back with you, plus as many men as it takes to move them. Capt. Dearborn, you and Morgan will stay with the main force and keep them moving up the Dead to the ponds, and then down the Chaudiere River. I will go on ahead with a small group. I’m taking Jacatacqua – ‘Golden Thighs’ as you all know her. She went through here as a child and still has some memory of the route, though less precise than we would like. If we can find any Abenakis, she can translate. I will press on to make contact with the French villages and purchase food to send back to the main body. That way we will have supplies moving up from both ends of the column. But Captain Morgan, it is imperative that you push the men hard. I know they are exhausted, but if the ponds freeze before we get there…”

“Then we’ll walk over them,” Morgan interrupted. “But don’t worry, Colonel, we’ll get them there as fast as we can.”

Arnold smiled, “I knew I could count on you.”

The vote was unanimous, and they went their separate ways.

 

When she woke one morning the following week, Jemmy couldn’t help noticing that very few leaves were left on any trees. Those tenacious, seemingly dead leaves that she had been admiring and identifying with for their stubborn refusal to give in to their fate, had mostly expired and fallen. The rangers had been put on half rations, and they were finding increasing stores of flour so soaked as to have grown moldy and useless. Some of the men had shoved the flour into pockets, from which they ate handfuls raw during the day. But most of them soon began vomiting the clay-like mixture back up. Others were attacked by diarrhea so violent and persistent that they had taken to cutting out the seat of their pants, so that they could merely lift up the tail of their buckskin shirt, squat, and relieve themselves in mid-river without losing time pushing the boats.

The river grew shallower as they went, and when they dragged the boats across shallow stretches, the Virginians would grumble that this ‘river’ wouldn’t even pass for a creek back home. Men, too weak to walk, were being laid in the boats, which made them even heavier. They all lived on the hope, that food from the north or south would reach them in time. With each passing day, they grew thinner and weaker. Finally, near dusk one day, they heard a single musket shot from behind the column.

It was answered, and everyone stopped in eager anticipation. Through the gathering dusk, they could barely see two of the familiar tan capes of their company moving briskly on foot. It was the advance of the relief column! They were saved! A shout went up from the group, and everyone moved to the bank, pulling out to await the arrival of food.

Henry limped into the command tent with a smile on his face, but the second he stepped in, he took one look at Morgan and the others, and his smile vanished. Something was wrong here. Morgan was sitting on the ground, holding his head in his hands. He looked up when Henry entered.

“Tell him, Jacob,” was all he said.

“Tell me what?”

“I’m sorry, Henry,” the messenger began. “When we got back to the Kennebec, there was no one there.”

At this news, Henry sank to the ground. “We thought we must have got the spot wrong at first, so two of us went upriver and two down. But they was gone.”

Morgan broke in at this point, “Colonel Arnold ordered the reserve to wait there, and they deserted us. Two men kept on down river to try to locate them, but we haven’t heard back from them yet. Looks like Arnold is our best hope now.”

 

No one there could know that, at that very moment, Benedict Arnold and his companions were getting the ride of their lives. Using all the sea oaths he had ever heard, Arnold swore at the mapmaker, who had told them that they could enjoy a gentle float down the Chaudiere. This part of the river had a ferocious current, which swept them up, and at that moment, their bateaux were careening through gorges faster than a man could sprint, ricocheting off rocks and flying out of control. All that the men aboard could do, was to grip the gunwales in fear and try to hold on through the fearful pounding.

At least, Arnold told himself, they were heading speedily in the right direction for once, but at that moment a crash echoed through the gorge, and when they rounded a bend they found their lead boat shattered against a rock in midstream. Two other boats managed to pick up the survivors and continue. But minutes later, the new lead boat capsized, and Arnold shouted at the men to pull for shore for all they were worth. He wanted to get to the men, who were swimming for their lives. Miraculously, everyone made it. Now they decided to halt for the night, and he sent men out to gather firewood.

Half an hour later, one of them came back, saying “Major, there’s something I think you all better see,” whereupon he turned and walked back the way he came. Arnold and the others scrambled after him in the dark, their way illuminated only by a half moon. There was enough light, though, for their eyes, which were adapted to dark. In fact, they could hear it before they came around a bend, and then they saw, glowing softly in the moonlight, a massive tangle of white water. Over enormous rocks, a frightening cataract tumbled twenty-five feet to rocks below. Had they gone any further that day, they would have been swept in the dark over the Tory surveyor’s coup de grace, the Grand Falls of the Chaudiere.

With enough men to portage and man the two remaining boats, Arnold sent a messenger back with directions and pushed ahead at dawn. That day they made forty miles. The following morning, they rounded a bend in the now peaceful Chaudiere to see smoke curling skyward from a settlement. Benedict Arnold stepped from the boat, striding up the bank, waving cash with one hand, and pointing at cattle with the other. They had made it to Canada. Within the hour, forty Native Americans had volunteered to herd the cattle and other supplies back to Arnold’s men.

 

Back on the Dead River, though, no one knew about this. What they did know was that it had been raining for a day and a half and was getting worse. The wind continued to pick up, and when the word ‘hurricane’ began passing from the men’s lips, Morgan ordered a halt to seek shelter. Whether he had ordered it or not, no one could have gone any further that day anyway.

Some managed to light fires, while others sought any rock or hollow of ground, which offered shelter from the wind, which was now raising the gentle murmur of the pines to a howl. Tree limbs began to crack, raining down. Tents were ripped up and carried away. The rain grew as heavy, as any of the men had seen in their entire lives. The only human sounds Jemmy heard that night, were Henry’s ceaseless coughing, and one lone, anguished male voice, which rose in an hysterical fervor to such a pitch as to be heard throughout the camp, crying, “What kind of God could do this?”

The roar of the wind gave the answer.

Somehow, she managed to fall asleep, her face against the smoky buckskin of Henry’s ripped hunting shirt. Instead of the normal padding of muscles, there was mostly bone, and she could feel every rib. Something woke them in the dark of the night, but at first she didn’t notice what it was. Then she realized it was water, a lot of it. Her clouded mind told her that they had somehow managed to end up back in the river. Then she realized that, in fact, the pitiless, angry Dead River was no longer satisfied to suck them under, as they walked in its bed. No, now it had become greedy, rising over its bank and coming for them. For the first time in many years, Jemmy let out a blood-curdling scream, which roused everyone in their group. As men stumbled to their feet, they realized what the incessant rains had caused.

People now splashed around in fear, calling out in chaos and confusion in the dark. Incredibly, thunder now roared, and lightning illuminated everything in a brilliant pink light for a split second before plunging them back into a pitch-black world of fear. But as the lightning grew more frequent, most of them could see that the river was rising before their eyes. Those who had been knee-deep minutes before, were now waist-deep. All they could do was wade, or swim, to higher ground. It was every man for himself. When they crested a rise, arm in arm, Henry and Jemmy sat down, looking back. Lightning showed a nightmare beyond their wildest imagination. No tall tale of Dan Morgan’s ever held out a spectacle half as ghastly as what lay spread before them.

As the river began a ten-foot vertical rise, the remaining tents flapped wildly, white in a black underbelly of forest. The men thrashed desperately against the swift current. Some fell and were swept away, and they watched, as their blankets, their barrels of food and gunpowder, their boats, nearly everything they had, bit by bit, were carried off in a furious maelstrom, joining tree limbs, logs, and the occasional terrified, floundering swimmer, on an exodus into the night.

Only at the first light of dawn, the men began to regroup, to go back cautiously and feel around with their feet for their rifles, which had been too heavy to float. The rifles and their iron cookware were about all that was left. Few people spoke; mostly they sat, motionless and stunned. Dr. Isaac Sentner, their twenty-two-year-old surgeon, was making a one-line entry into his journal, “A direful, howling wilderness, not describable.”

By mid-morning, Jemmy noticed two things. Many of the men were cooking cartridge belts for soup. And there was not a single leaf left anywhere on the banks of the Dead River.

 

Farther behind them than they could have imagined, the two Virginian point men found the reserve force – back at their embarkation point of the boat-builder’s cabin. After hearing Colonel Enos’s self-serving protestations of why he had deemed it prudent to disobey Arnold’s orders and withdraw downriver, the two men handed him Arnold’s written directive to hurry up the Dead with food and supplies. Enos held it in his left hand, while placing a pinch of snuff in his nose with the right. On finishing the letter, he looked up, sniffed once, and pronounced, “I have no food to spare.”

The Virginians were stunned. “Sir, perhaps you don’t understand. There are men starving up there.”

“As my men will starve here, if I let you take their possessions. Your men have Quebec to look forward to. Mine may have to spend the winter here in the Maine wilderness, and for that they will need all we have and more.”

“You call this wilderness, sir? If you would just get off your backside and come with us, we’ll show you wilderness.”

“Corporal, one more word out of you, and I will place you both under arrest. Now my answer is final. Go back the way you came and inform Colonel Arnold that I have no supplies to spare.

“What about men, sir? You can send your men on with their own food to reinforce us.”

“That is out of the question. I have seen your injured and sick, straggling back down the river to us. I have a responsibility to the welfare of my men, and I will not send any of them into such a situation.”

“Then why did you volunteer for this mission in the first place, sir?”

“Corporal, I have warned you for the last time. If you wish to carry word back to Colonel Arnold, you had best leave now, or you will not be able to leave at all. See my quartermaster, and he will provide you with ample supplies for your journey.”

“How kind of you, sir.”

 

The Virginians and Pennsylvanians were on foot now. They were strung out in a line, nine miles long, each struggling at his own pace through an endless tangle of mud, swamp, stream, and beaver dams, so old and formidable that they had mature trees growing out of them. It seemed that every possible disaster had been thrown at them.

”Can’t get any worse, boys,” Henry told them with a forced smile. “So it has to get better.” No one answered him. “You’ll see,” he said, “things’ll get better.”

And then it snowed. Henry and Jemmy clung to one another’s shivering bodies that night, flakes filtering through the few pine-bows that covered them.

The following morning, Dan Morgan rallied everyone within earshot. Henry and Jemmy had to help one another up. They wrapped their arms around each other’s waists just to be able to stand.

“Pay attention, everyone! I don’t know what happened to the supplies from the reserve. Hell, I don’t know what happened to the reserve troops, period. But up ahead somewhere, Colonel Arnold is getting food from the Frenchies, and he’s sending it back to us. You know him! You know you can count on him! You know he’ll come through for us!”

Silence was the group’s only response. Morgan continued, “So we have to keep pushing ahead! I want you to pick four other people to travel with, people who are moving at your own pace. Stay with your group! Each of you is responsible for the others. But keep pushing, and don’t let anything stop you. Not anything! If someone falls out, leave him where he can be found, and he will be taken care of later. But keep moving! Any questions?” The silence remained unbroken. “All right then! May God protect you! Go!”

The Dead River had now become nothing but an endless expanse of shallow marshes. The cold that had come with the snow – real winter-cold – had frozen the marshes. But they weren’t frozen solid enough to walk on, as Morgan had boasted to Arnold back in the relative safety of those first days on the Dead. There was just a thin sheet of ice, covering the ankle-deep water, which they had to punch through with each step. It was the worst possible combination for people in moccasins. The foot took the full impact of the force, the jagged edge of the ice cut through the buckskin and often through the flesh. And then the foot frequently came crashing down on a sharp stone or gnarled root. But they all knew that to avoid the pain, to stop now, meant certain death.

The near-frozen water numbed their feet, so at least they got relief from the agony. Some watched in amazement, as their feet began to bleed and kept on bleeding. The smear of bright blood on the ice actually helped those in the rear by making it easier to follow. This was important, because malnutrition had begun to cost some their eyesight. Fourteen-year-old drummer boy, Johnny Oram, was one of the worst cases. Jemmy had finally tied a string around both their waists to keep the boy from wandering. No one spoke anymore, unless it was to curse an injury. For most of the day, the only sound was that of feet, breaking through ice.

That night they gathered around a small fire, and Jemima had to warn the men not to put their feet too close. In their numbness they were liable not to feel pain, when their flesh would begin to burn. This was the sort of thing that Henry normally did, but he was silent tonight. She rubbed his feet and tried talking to him, but grunts were the only response she could get. Finally, he told her he was all right, that she should tend to Johnny, which she did.

The following morning, they rose and plodded on. Jemmy didn’t see how they could go any further. Frequently she found herself beginning to sit down, right in the ice-crusted water, but then Johnny would ask her why they were stopping, and she would push on. All she could see now, all she could think of was the next spot in the ice, where the next foot had to go. Mile after mile, she plodded along in this tunnel vision. Occasionally, their group stopped for rest at an island of high ground. But all she could do then was stare stupidly at her feet, until someone told her it was time to move again.

Late in the afternoon, judging by the sun, they stopped at another tiny island. They straggled in, one at a time, to take their small piece of precious dry ground. She didn’t know how long they had been sitting there, before someone asked, “Where’s Henry?” With that her heart came alive, pounding within her chest. “Anyone seen Henry?”

“I don’t know, I haven’t seen him since the last rest stop,” Amos answered. “Johnny, you seen… No, what I am askin’ you fer, you can’t see nothin’, can you? Jemmy?”

But she was standing now, on tip toes at the crest of their miniature island, craning her neck in all directions. She didn’t answer. “Jemmy!” Now she snapped around to stare at the questioner. “Can you see Henry?” She shook her head violently from side to side for some time, but never spoke. Neither did anyone else. They sank to the ground, gazing dully at the ground. No one wanted to talk anymore. No one wanted to go back for him. They knew that to go back for anyone now probably meant death. Even to lose contact with your group now probably meant death. But they didn’t want to think about that either.

Finally, Joe spoke. “Well, I guess we better get moving, dark’ll be here before long. Jemmy, come on.”

But she didn’t move from the spot. She was still looking wildly all around, as if Henry might materialize out of the bushes in front or to the sides of them at any moment.

“Come on, Jemmy,” Joe murmured softly, putting an arm around her.

“No!” she screamed, violently twisting out of his reach.

“Jemmy, he’ll probably be along shortly, but we got to…”

“No!” she yelled again at the top of her voice.

“Now, be reasonable, don’t think that…” But again, Joe was cut short.

“Joe,” she said, looking straight at him, speaking in a calm voice, but seemingly struggling to catch her breath. He waited, watching her. He was looking into the face of an old woman. Eight weeks ago, she had been pretty and full of life. Now, all he saw was a gaunt face, framed by wild, mud-smeared hair, and deep purple sacks below eyes over gaunt, sallow cheeks. She looked like a dead woman, but there was a gleam in her eye that reminded him of Old Lady Parker back home, who had snapped one night over a child’s death and gone stark raving mad.

“Joe,” she said, more deliberately now. “Amos.” She merely looked at Johnny but didn’t speak to him. “You…”, but her voice cracked and she couldn’t continue. Finally, she burst out, “I can’t just go off and leave Henry. He’s my whole life!”

“Henry’s been real sick, Jemmy, and you have to prepare yourself…”

“Oh, don’t you think I know that!” she snapped. “Maybe he’s dead. But maybe he’s not. If he’s alive, I’ve got to find him. If he’s dead, well…”

Here she paused, but there were no tears. “I swore to Henry that I was coming on this trip to nurse him if he got sick, and that I’d bury him if he died. I promised him I wouldn’t just leave him for the wolves.”

She looked at the two men. Neither spoke.

“Three hours,” she then said.

“What?”

“Just give me three hours. That’s enough time to get back to our last rest spot and see. Maybe he never got up, and we just walked off and left him there. I can’t live with that thought. I couldn’t bear it. Could you, Joe? Amos?”

They looked at the ground.

“Please, I beg of you. I don’t want to die! Don’t leave me here, please. Three hours. If I’m not back by then, then I’m not coming. Go on without me. Will you do that for me? Will you do that for Henry?”

Neither man looked up. Both of them bored their eyes into the earth, but each of them in turn nodded his assent. She turned, plunging back into the marsh, the frayed remnants of her filthy skirts dragging across the ice behind her.

Jemmy didn’t think. She couldn’t think. All she could do was to put one foot in front of the other, retracing their trail of broken ice. Yet part of her had to fight a rising panic that seemed to rob her of breath. She was trembling again, but she knew it wasn’t from the cold. Her eyes scanned the terrain around her, but it showed little beyond the constant black ice, the brown and gray bark of the bushes, which somehow survived in this God-forsaken place, and over it all reigned a brooding, ever-darkening, gray sky.

It wasn’t long before she came to an island big enough to support a few pine trees. There, in the dim gloom beneath, she could just make out a figure in buckskins, his back slumped against a tree trunk. She quickened her pace, calling out, “Henry!” The figure didn’t respond. She got closer and tried again, “Henry!” He never stirred.

As she mounted the tiny bank of the island and crossed the dry carpet of needles and leaves, she thought she recognized his clothing. But the man’s hair had fallen forward so as to cover the face. She slowed now, tiptoeing up to the figure, squatting beside it. With her right hand she brushed the hair from his forehead, and her heart leapt. It was him! “Oh, Henry!” she cried, and moved to embrace him about the shoulders. But in the clumsiness of her fatigue, she merely succeeded in bumping into his left shoulder, whereon the figure toppled to the ground.

Completely panicked now, she scrambled down to roll her husband onto his back and clear his face. There was no sign of life. She put her ear to his chest. But she couldn’t tell if there was a heartbeat, because her teeth were chattering again, too loudly to hear anything fainter. She grubbed at his eyes to pull the lids open. There they were – the most beautiful blue eyes she had ever encountered in her life! But when she let go of the lids, they fell back into place. She couldn’t decide. She screamed at him. She called his name as loudly as she could, directly into the limp figure’s ear. There was no reaction.

Finally, Jemmy slumped on top of Henry. Her ear fell over his mouth, and she stayed totally still. After making love, he had often fallen asleep with his mouth by her ear, and she had frequently lain awake long into the night, reveling in the sound of his breathing. She knew that sound by heart. Now she held her own breath and willed her teeth to clamp shut so hard that they couldn’t move. She waited. She waited some more. And then she realized that he was gone.

Over the darkening, frozen marshes, a lone female voice rose above the trees in a wail that carried with it the mourning of the ages. Only now did Jemmy allow herself to cry. Her body spasmed with sobs, as she clung to the corpse of her lifeless husband. After a time, she sat up with her back against the tree, pulling at his buckskin shirt, until his head rested face up in her lap. She smoothed the hair from his features and stroked his forehead the way she had on long picnics at home, when they had talked to one another about everything that was dearest to them. They had shared everything. On days like that, she had opened up to this incredible man and spoken from the bottom of her heart about her hopes for the future, her fears, their plans. Now she sat, remembering warm spring meadows, full of wildflowers and songbirds. But, as she stroked his forehead, all she could say was, “Ah, Henry,” softly, over and over.

“Well, Mrs. Henry Warner,” she told herself at last. “You still have promises to keep.” She stood up, looking down at him, and again she began to sob. Digging a grave was not possible in the frozen ground. Tears running down her cheeks, she scrambled about on her hands and knees, raking dead leaves and pine needles together with her fingers. Covering Henry’s body with a few inches of this wispy mass, she picked up his musket and powder horn, turned her back on the island and plunged into the swamp.

When she rejoined the others, they didn’t have to ask what she had found. The musket she was gripping, and the look on her face, told it all. In silence, they turned and resumed their trek, soon reaching dry land where they rounded a hillside. In a grassy ravine, in the last glimmer of daylight, they saw the first of the cattle, which Benedict Arnold had sent back, walking straight at them, led by a young brave about Johnny’s age. They stopped in silence.

“What’s wrong?” Johnny asked.

After a moment’s hesitation, Joe’s breaking voice answered him, “Nothing’s wrong, son. We’re saved.”

Joe and Amos stood, watching the cow, tears streaming down their faces. Now even Johnny was crying. Everyone but Jemmy. No one ever saw her cry again.

 

 

Chapter 8

 

Long Island & New York, October 1775

 

Robert and Sally started early that morning, riding their horses at a walk through the narrow, winding road up Pine Hollow, the southern outlet from Oyster Bay. It was sunrise, Robert’s favorite time of day. The stillness of the dark pine forest was broken only by the honking of an enormous V of Canada geese, flying south, barely visible through the trees overhead. The weather had remained warm on Long Island this fall, and even Mother thought it safe for him to invite fifteen-year-old Sally along on his trip to New York. She had been so excited, and it tickled him to see how much it mattered to her.

They rode west in silence for a while on the puddled, badly rutted dirt road that constituted the highway here. Sally turned away to watch the wind, sweeping waves through the occasional fields of uncut hay. Chickens, feeding in the road mud, were startled at their approach and scurried along the grass between the wagon tracks and the fence’s edge. The wind carried a slight chill, the faint promise of coming fall, and she pulled her navy-colored, woolen riding cloak tighter about her. But between gusts the sun warmed her. As she watched, the farms grew smaller and the houses more frequent, and she knew that this meant they were making progress through Queens County and were getting closer to the East River ferries to Manhattan Island.

After leaving their horses at Josephson’s Stable, they made the short walk to the ferry landing. There, the graying, weather-worn sloop sported a well-patched, gaff-rigged mainsail and a large set of oars. Once on board, Sally took her brother by the hand, enthusiastically pulling him to the bow. Leaning on the rail, she stared across the East River at the wharves, white and gray clapboard homes, church steeples, and red brick warehouses, tucked behind a forest of ships’ masts that made this town of twenty thousand people as mesmerizing to her as any fabled kingdom in the Arabian Nights. She turned to look at her brother, who was also leaning on the rail, staring straight ahead, but the look on his face was one of brooding, and she resolved not to let him spoil her pleasure.

As they cast off the dock, the captain spun the wheel hard over, giving the shout to hoist sail. The warm south wind caught the odd-shaped sail, and they heeled slightly to starboard, beginning to bounce with the waves. No one on board seemed to pay this low-level river turbulence any mind, but to Townsend’s sensitive stomach it brought immediate alarm. He hated being afraid of even short sails on minor rivers. He hated even more having to hide his fear from Sally, his one true friend in the world. But he had learned early in life that hiding his distress was usually the wiser course.

Robert thought about the story he knew his father liked to tell visitors when he thought his son was out of earshot. The one about the night storm off Cape Hatteras, when they all feared they were lost. He knew, that the reason his father loved to tell it, was that it showed other men how, though his son might not be fit for the sea, he was secretly braver than them all. “Fearless, absolutely fearless, he was!” Samuel would go on, “When I asked the boy why he wasn’t afraid, he just looked at me like he didn’t understand the question.” And at this, Samuel Townsend would roar with laughter – intensely pleased with himself and, more importantly, with his son.

As Robert rested his forearms on the bowrail, the white hull, cream-colored sail and Union Jack of a postal cutter drew his eye in the direction of Trinity Church, whose spire bobbed sickeningly up and down. “Fearless, Father?” he murmured to himself, “I was terrified. Stark, raving terrified. I was much too scared to simply freeze up and watch us all go down. And when everyone else did, I started to think we really would drown. I was too frightened to do anything else but everything I could, to try and save us. At that moment I became so pre-occupied with trying to save our lives that I didn’t look afraid. I looked determined, fanatically determined, and when you asked me about it later, Father, what could I say? That I had actually soiled my trousers that night and thanked God for the waves, which washed away the evidence of my shame? No, I knew better than to tell you the truth. And yet, I couldn’t bring myself to lie to you. So I smiled enigmatically – ­a gesture I knew you’d appreciate. And then I went on silently deceiving you about my true emotions – just the way I have been doing for most of my life, ever since I found out that my true emotions were not something you found seemly in a son. So I learned to keep my own counsel and play the game. For you, it has brought a lessening of your disappointment in me. For me, it has brought a kind of bitter, gray-colored satisfaction that I could deceive you so easily.”

When the ferry thumped into the Manhattan wharf, Sally finally turned to look at her brother, asking what was wrong, but he simply walked up the gangplank in silence. Taking her hand, he led her along Water Street, through its exotic fragrances of spices, piled in burlap sacks – all the while ducking ships’ bowsprits where they jutted over the street, and dodging longshoremen bent double beneath huge bags of grain, or rolling barrels toward the jungle of lines and spars that was the New York waterfront. One grizzled veteran of the docks hit Sally a glancing blow as he rushed by. Sally yelled at him, but he growled something indecipherable and never slowed. Unexpectedly, she chirped cheerfully, “Robert, everyone here is in such a hurry! I love it!”

Robert laughed, pulling his sister out of the way of an ox-cart which had emerged from an alley. “Father says he has heard Sam Adams complain that New Yorkers are the fastest-talking, fastest-walking, rudest people in the colonies. He said that in other places people show that they are interested in what you are saying by listening, but New Yorkers show they are interested by interrupting you with questions and then, when you answer, just talking away.”

“Well, I like it! At least I’m not bored here.”

They turned, arm in arm, onto Wall Street. Stately stone and brick townhouses lined each block of this affluent neighborhood. Most rose to three stories, sporting large numbers of the latest fashion in lead-paned windows under gothic arches. Tall elms arching over the street threw shade on the cobblestones, which rang with the sound of dozens of carriage wheels. Businessmen, in pairs and alone, hurried along on foot.

“Why is everyone in such a big rush?” Sally demanded.

As they skirted the statue of William Pitt, Robert smiled. “The Stock Exchange is about to open. These people are businessmen who don’t want to get there late.”

“How much difference will it really make if they’re a few minutes late?”

“Maybe none, Sally. Or maybe they will lose a fortune. No one knows, that’s the point, the uncertainty. And business here is not as forgiving as at Father’s store. Fortunes are made here, and fortunes disappear, often in shockingly short periods of time.”

“Well, the only place I’d be hurrying is to the theater. Can we go there?”

“No, it’s just a few blocks away on John Street, but it’s closed. Those who favor independence have decided that the theater is bad for morals and represents a frivolous vice that only distracts people from the important matters of the day.”

“Shakespeare is a frivolous vice?”

He laughed again. “I didn’t say I agree with them.”

Weaving a path through a jumble of carriages, phaetons, pony carts, and farm wagons, they crossed the hundred feet of cobblestone, which was Broad Way here, and continued on dirt streets, crossing the ridge of the island and heading downhill, but uptown, towards Templeton and Stewart on Greenwich Street, where Robert worked as a clerk and kept a room. Their route took them in and out of the shade of trees and overhanging porticoes, weaving their way around piles of manure in narrow streets, lined mostly with neat, two-story, white and gray clapboard houses, standing shoulder to shoulder, interspersed with the occasional red brick. By now they had begun filtering out the gusting background noise of teamsters, hurling oaths at their horses or threats at their fellow drivers. Smoke was curling out of most chimneys, spreading the pungent smell of cedar smoke, which Solomon told them you could sometimes smell fifty miles out to sea.

As they dodged a trio of wandering pigs, the shoreline of the North, or Hudson, River came into view, stone- and brick-walled dock warehouses jostling for space all along its shore. Looking back to the top of the hill, towering above the endless expanse of shingled roofs and fall foliage, rose the graceful spire of Trinity Church – a proud symbol to most residents of just how fast this town was growing. Even non-Anglicans loved it, because growth was a good word in this town. In fact, New Yorkers wanted as much of it as they could get and were willing to work extremely hard for it.

Ever since the first wave of Dutch merchants, this had been a town with money on its mind. In addition, theirs was the only American city whose population had nearly doubled in the past twenty years. New York was a town with its eye on the future.

Sally looked up at Robert, raising her voice over the din of the late season frogs which themselves seemed to be in a hurry – as if sensing winter closing in.

“I’ll bet you are going to get married to a New York woman, settle down here and have children and a huge business empire!”

In reply, Robert smiled, guiding Sally through a tangle of parked wagons while shaking his head. “It’s not that your prediction is far-fetched, Sally, it’s just that I don’t want it. Of course, New York will one day become the gateway to this continent. We have the largest deep-water harbor in the English Empire. And the North River, or the Hudson, as some people call it, can carry shipping clear to Albany. From there, the Mohawk Valley runs right to the Great Lakes, and one thing the world has learned from the French voyageurs is that those lakes are the highway into the heart of North America. Traders like Solomon and Father will get rich. I can see Solomon being an upright citizen and sober father of eleven children.”

“So why not you?” his sister pressed.

Rather than answer, Robert turned right, walking up the few steps into the offices of Templeton and Stewart. Everyone stopped what they were doing to fuss over Sally.

“My girl,” Mr. Templeton boomed. “All your brother needs is a good woman to prod him, and he can go far in this business, make a name for himself.”

Robert actually blushed, and later, over dinner, Sally returned to her question.

“Sally, you just don’t understand.” Robert sighed, putting down the oyster shell he had just sucked clean. “Commerce, making money, that’s what drives most people in this town, but not me.”

Pressed to define what did drive him, he picked up his pewter tankard of ale, then set it down again, choosing his words slowly. “The play of the mind, things of beauty. A butterfly alighting on a flower. The thrill of a thought-provoking play, two adults locked in adult conversation that stimulates – oh, I’m sorry, I don’t mean anything by that, Sally.”

“I know, I know. Go on.”

“Well, to me it is absolutely thrilling when I find someone my age, with whom I can turn all this over – a kindred spirit, so to speak. Someone, with whom to share Pope, and Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Shakespeare. Someone to argue philosophy with. Someone who shares the joy in all these things.”

He turned in his chair now to look at her. “In fact, you, dear sister, are the only one I can talk to at all about what I really want! God knows what I would do if you weren’t around.”

At this she blushed, sat quietly for a time, and then broke the silence. “But you would like a woman of your own age to share all this, wouldn’t you?”

“Of course I would. I’ve thought a lot about it. But I am also enough of a realist to know that will never happen.”

“Don’t be ridiculous! You’re handsome, Robert, all the girls at school think so. And you’re polished and charming, not like most of those oafs in the country.”

“Thank you, dear one. But I can’t marry you. Even if the Townsends love to marry their first cousins, I think the line is drawn at brother and sister, or am I wrong?”

With this he looked at her quickly, raising one eyebrow, and they both burst into laughter.

“But I’m serious, Robert! You don’t want to remain a bachelor, do you? Come on – I know you better. You can’t hide anything from me. You always tell me that.”

If only that were true, he thought to himself. “Of course, I don’t want to live my whole life alone, Sally, any more than you do. But meeting that kind of woman – an intellectual peer, so to speak – is well-nigh impossible. You know very well that most women in the colonies don’t get any kind of real education and we’re not royalty, Sally, we don’t get to mix with the kind of women who do.”

 

 

Chapter 9

 

New York, December 1, 1775

 

It was near dusk, as Captain Alexander Hendry, Warden of the jail at King’s Point, removed his tri-corner hat to enter the stone church of St. Paul’s. After shaking the snow off the hat and stamping his boots, he turned and walked stiffly halfway down the aisle before turning to take in the windows, finally genuflecting and selecting a pew. A burly figure, lurking in the shadows of the vestibule, stared intently at the back of the officer’s bowed head. After only a few moments, the head came back up, Hendry stepped out of the pew and began returning up the aisle in a strange gait, not dissimilar to that of a pall-bearer.

As the scarlet-clad figure cleared the door, his black hat went back on, and the solemn expression melted into a tight-lipped, self-satisfied smile. Remaining a good distance behind, the burly figure also descended the three stone steps, but his facial expression could hardly be characterized as a smile.

Hendry turned left out of the gate, then left again before crossing the ever-darkening street. Now his pace slowed, assuming the stride of a window shopper in a familiar district. The dark figure slowed as well. They were now entering the Holy Ground – the neighborhood that took its name from its proximity to St. Paul’s, but, in fact, was the center for prostitution in New York. The houses here wrapped themselves in a warm, welcoming glow, with candles burning in most windows. The falling snow lent a wholesome, domestic air to the scene. Now and then, Hendry would stop to glance in a doorway or chat with an acquaintance. Numerous women, and a few boys, approached him to say something that the dark-cloaked individual was too far away to hear. Sometimes the officer waved these individuals off imperiously, sometimes he just smiled. When these same hawkers would approach the dark pursuer, they would usually stop after only a phrase or two, put off by something in the demeanor which emanated from beneath the hood.

When Hendry entered one doorway, the silent figure stopped outside, finding a dark corner in which to wait. Women with thick layers of makeup, but thin layers of clothing, and some slight figures – clearly adolescent boys – came and went. Some were quite sullen, while others seemed infested with cheer. After a few minutes, Hendry emerged, turning down an alley where he was stopped by a woman, whose cascading, auburn tresses hung part way across her face, protruding from beneath her hood. Following a short exchange, the officer nodded and smiled, wrapping his right arm around her. She leaned into his body, face downcast, and together they walked off into the falling flakes.

After turning left, then right down connecting alleys, the woman led him into a low-ceilinged structure, which could only be called a hovel. Through the window, an outside observer could have seen her stoop to light a candle, drawing a heavy shade. An observer would have had to be inside, however, to see Hendry’s expression, when the woman dropped her cloak to the floor, letting her long auburn hair fall away from her face.

“You?” exclaimed Hendry. At that moment, a powerful arm wrapped around his throat from behind. He was just able to utter one more word, “But…” – the last word he ever spoke.

 

 

Chapter 10

 

Quebec, Canada, December 1775

 

Winter had come to Quebec. From her hiding place in the woods, Jemmy Warner gazed down on the mile-wide St. Lawrence River, crowded with ice floes. It was the last natural barrier between them and the citadel, and it was the most formidable one yet. She was unable to see Dan Morgan and Benedict Arnold who had gone ahead together to scout the shoreline. She wrapped her blanket higher up her throat in the teeth of a bitterly cold wind, sitting in silence with the rest of the ‘Scarecrow Army’, as they had taken to calling themselves.

The name was one given them by the French-speaking inhabitants. As Arnold and Washington had predicted, word had spread like wildfire that an American army had emerged from what was considered impassable wilderness. Even more electrifying was the news, that they had come to kick the Protestant British out of Canada and restore the Catholic French speakers to full liberty. It was only sixteen years ago that the French had lost it, and the fires of resentment were still burning bright. Arnold had counted on this reaction and expected French Catholics to join his army, swelling its ranks. What actually happened was a bit different.

Once they had eaten and rested for a week, Morgan’s men and the rest of the force were ordered to fall in line, parading through each village they passed. Arnold addressed them formally as a group.

“Men!” he began, causing a few smiles in Jemmy’s direction – smiles, however, that went unreturned. “You have performed a feat of heroic valor, unequaled in the annals of history! Long after you are dead, people – not just in America – but people throughout the entire world will talk in awe of your accomplishment, and rank it beside the likes of Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps!”

“Hannah? Who in the world is Hannah, what’s her last name?” whispered Moses Collins. Another man nearby shot back, “Never heard of her, musta been a Yankee.”

Johnny Oram shushed them all forcefully, “The Colonel’s talking!” he reprimanded them.

Arnold continued, unaware of this, “You penetrated six hundred miles of wilderness in eight weeks. You carried those damn boats over forty miles of portages! Let the people of Canada see you and marvel! Let them see that we are men who can conquer any obstacle in the name of liberty! Let them see that we are their friends. We will take no food, confiscate no equipment, unless I am there to personally pay for it on the spot in cash. We will hold our heads high and parade in strength through their homeland, declaring our solidarity as comrades-in-arms against a common oppressor. Then, together, we will take the citadel and expel the English Army from Canada once and for all!”

Here his voice was drowned out in a chorus of raucous cheers.

In this spirit they had begun their march to the St. Lawrence, but Colonel Arnold’s vision and the reality of the event were a bit different. In village after village, the same thing happened. People lined the main street, cheering for their liberators, cheering anyone for the sheer admiration of their incredible march through the wilderness. When Jemmy had been in the front of the column it had been an exercise in elation, but further back in the column it had been a very different experience.

As the cheering villagers watched the first troops pass, they couldn’t help but notice the completely tattered clothing and gaunt, skeletal appearance of most of the marchers – even after a week of food and rest. First the cheering throats would fall silent. Then they would begin whispering to their families and neighbors. Not a few women dissolved in tears. Some simply looked away or covered their children’s eyes. Others had gone rushing into their homes to emerge with a loaf of bread, trying to force it into the hands of the marchers, who of course were under orders not to take it. By the time the rear of the column entered the village, the spectators would be silent as the grave, and the look on the French faces would no longer be one of admiration, but of pity.

This was how the French had dubbed them L’ Armie de Epouvantail (‘The Scarecrow Army’). When he heard some of the men complaining about it one night, Dan Morgan bellowed, “A scarecrow, boys, when you think about it, is just a simple country fella whose job is to protect the land from the ravages of pirates, who come to eat the crop they had no hand in growing. Name sounds ’bout right to me!” That response had made the rounds of the camp in hours, and they had been calling themselves scarecrows ever since.

For his part, Benedict Arnold had become the first Yankee many of the Virginians had ever trusted. He had saved them in the swamps by getting food back to them. Then he had shepherded them through a frozen province, buying supplies and medicines liberally. And these items had not been cheap. The Quebecois, as the people called themselves, had apparently decided that L’ Armie de Epouvantail was a force which they hoped would win, but not one on whose victory they were willing to stake their lives – or even their property. Food and supplies had been easy enough to come by, as farmers brought cows in from miles around to offer them to Colonel Arnold. But the prices had been rising steadily since their arrival, to levels the Americans knew that no Canadian was paying. The natives knew a captive market when they saw one.

This profiteering had exhausted the money from General Washington much faster than anyone had expected. Yet that never seemed to give Benedict Arnold pause. He simply pulled out his personal chest of gold and began using that. “I will never let these brave boys starve,” he told Morgan.

One day on the road, the Colonel rode right up to Jemmy to offer condolences on Henry’s death, and to inquire how she was holding up. “I’m all right, Colonel,” was all she said. She braced herself for a speech about how Henry had died for ‘the cause’, and she didn’t know if she could contain her fury through the course of yet another of those empty, pompous monologues. Yet Arnold surprised her by not saying any such thing. “Let me know if you need anything. I mean it!” was his only remark.

As he began to turn his horse away, he belatedly recognized Johnny, still tied to his string behind her. Jemmy would never forget the range of expression on Arnold’s face over the next few moments. First, there was joy at recognizing that Johnny had come through alive. Then there was puzzlement at the string connecting them. When Jemmy explained that it was necessary, because the fourteen-year-old still hadn’t recovered his eyesight, and that in fact his blindness had deepened, she could see that Benedict Arnold was shaken. He leaped off his mount and walked over, taking the drummer boy by both shoulders.

“Johnny, my boy! Our youngest hero!” he exclaimed, then bit his lip. “How are you, son?” The youngster answered, “Ready to go kill some English, sir,” snapping a salute. Arnold embraced the boy, holding him closely for a long time. “That’s the kind of men I need, son,” he finally murmured.

Arnold then explained to Johnny that he needed his eyesight to be able to shoot straight, so he had to rest for a while, and Arnold was going to find him a place to stay to get strong. The boy pushed Arnold away, protesting that he hadn’t come all this way just to be left behind now. When Arnold tried to respond, Jemmy heard his voice choke. Then he simply turned on his heel, walked to the nearest house, where he knocked on the door. Jemmy saw him speaking quietly with the woman who answered. Then he pointed in their direction, pulling something from his pocket. She could hear the clink of coins being placed in the woman’s hand.

The Colonel came back, cut the string around Johnny’s waist, and told him that he had to rest here a while, that it was a direct order. The man of the house ultimately had to come out and physically restrain the boy, as Jemmy and Arnold left. He kept screaming, “How can you do this to me, Colonel?” until he began to cough uncontrollably, finally collapsing into the arms of the man, who quickly carried him inside his house. Jemmy saw Arnold wipe his eye several times. Not her though; she was through with all that. Neither of them spoke, but privately, neither Jemmy nor Arnold expected to ever again see Johnny alive.

Now here she was, freezing on the banks of a new river. This one, though, seemed like it could hold all the others she had ever seen, put together. And they had to cross it – ice floes and all. Up here on the bluff, they sat under bare trees which covered the steep banks on both sides, except for where the opposite bank became sheer rock cliff, hundreds of feet high. Atop that cliff sat the towering stone walls of the fort. Before they could even get there, they had to contend with the elements and the boat-crushing floes in the river. She hoped with all her might that Nature had nothing left to throw at them. ‘Mother Nature’ was a term she had thought much about in the past weeks. She decided that it must have been invented by comfortable English farmers. She knew that no ‘mother’ could ever be this cruel to her children. After the past several weeks, Jemmy had even stopped praying. She had come to the conclusion that no one was listening.

Just then Morgan, Arnold and several others came slowly back up the slippery white slope. They all looked glum. Morgan came over to their group, telling the officers to report to the field behind the bluff in one hour for a Council of War. Two dozen men stood shivering in the clearing, as dusk fell around them. All about them, gray woods lay under a gray sky. The scattered buildings here all had walls of a uniform gray fieldstone. The only other colors they had seen in days were the black of night and the endless white of the snow, which covered everything. Several officers were stomping their feet, and many hugged themselves for warmth against the wind. Clouds of steam flowed from each mouth into the bitter air.

Arnold began solemnly, “It pains me to say this, but we have clearly lost the one thing we had depended on so heavily, the element of surprise. My letter to our contact here was intercepted, and the British were warned weeks ago about our approach. They have cleared the south bank of any boats we could possibly use to cross over to the fort. We are stranded here, but not for long. Captain Morgan’s men will build birch bark canoes, and we will shuttle across in them under cover of darkness, scale the cliffs and launch a surprise attack. The Catholics and our own scouts confirm that no reinforcements have arrived at the citadel. The English-speaking people of the city have fled in terror behind its walls. I believe it will not take much to get them to surrender. Any comments?” No one spoke. “Any questions then?” Captain Learned spoke up, “Birchbark canoes against a mile of Canadian ice floes?”

Arnold looked around the circle of grim-faced men. “Look, let me be frank. I can’t believe that after everything we have come through, we find ourselves stopped because of a want of boats! But we have been in that situation before and overcome it. I, for one, am not willing to simply give up and tell our boys that everything they have just suffered was for naught! Are any of you prepared to tell them that?” Still, no one spoke. Arnold looked disappointed, but all he said was, “All right then, Captain Morgan will give you your orders.”

 

 

USA 2000-01
“This was how the French had dubbed them L’ Armie de Epouvantail (‘The Scarecrow Army’).” (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Two weeks later, the American force were on the citadel side, all right. After building forty canoes and waiting for a cresting river to calm, they had finally been able to sneak across one night, using the boats in shifts to ferry everyone across. Morgan’s regiment had managed to find the same steep route to the top of the cliffs that the British army had used in conquering the city in 1759.

Like the British, they overwhelmed the sentries set to guard the route and had shown up next morning on the Plains of Abraham, running right up to the west wall of Quebec. Thus far, everything had followed the same scenario, which had taken the city sixteen years ago.

The sight that greeted Jemmy at dawn, may have been the grandest of her life. Through the last few flakes of falling snow, she could see the entire region spread out below her. Sweeping her eyes a full 270 degrees revealed the Plains of Abraham, where they walked now in the footsteps of Wolfe and Montcalm, trying to recreate that history-making battle. It was flat and featureless. But beyond it lay the awesome spectacle of the river: black in its anger, but glittering with ice floes, ­some nearly the size of her farm back home. Over the city walls towered the first four and five story buildings she had ever seen, sturdy stone walls with sharply pitched roofs, littered with gables. The few falling snow flakes gave the entire scene a sense of slow-motion undulation.

Otherwise, nothing was moving. In all this expanse, not a single person, wagon, or horse was stirring. Thin ribbons of roads, part snow and part mud, ran from the barred city gates, but not a soul was on them. The fact that only the flakes and the floes moved through this grand spectacle of countryside, made her think that this must be what it had looked like to the first European to stand here. It wouldn’t take long to occur to anyone that this was the place to plant your fort. And it was from here that those famous French voyageurs set out in their canoes to penetrate the Great Lakes and bring an entire nation of tribes into a grand trading alliance. All that trade ultimately flowed back here, down the St. Lawrence, and further on to Europe.

In Massachusetts, Jemmy had been skeptical of the ability of one fort to control a country. Now she understood. It seemed like she was looking over half the province, and the province was looking back, back and up, she thought wistfully. Whoever controlled this height and this bastion would naturally be recognized as the sole power, the one who had to be obeyed – to command this city certainly must be to command this country. Could they take it?

The gray stone walls, which surrounded the city, stood twenty feet high. Their scaling ladders could reach the top of those. But if they took the city and penetrated as far as the citadel at the center, they were faced with walls that were just as high and every bit as thick. Throughout them, slit windows allowed the defenders to fire down on attackers in safety.

A barked order jerked Jemmy out of her reverie. “Non-combatants to the rear!” She hurried, hefting her knapsack of bandages, wondering how many men would be wounded and die in the next few minutes.

While the garrison peered over the walls, the American officers spread their men out on the Plain in a long thin line, facing the city. Arnold strode out before them, turned to face his men, and raised both arms to the sky. Jemmy herself was startled at the roar, which erupted from hundreds of throats. Arnold repeated the gesture twice, and the men did their best to sound like an angry army, confident of victory. Then, silence. They stared at the walls, waiting for the defenders to emerge and attack. But nothing happened. Finally, a cannon boomed from atop the parapets, then another and another. The solid black cannonballs fell far short of American soldiers, rolling harmlessly across the snow toward their line. More silence followed.

“Why don’t they come out and fight like men!” Arnold muttered between clenched teeth. But they didn’t. They certainly knew their own history as well, as Arnold did, and they had no intention of repeating it. The French residents had told Arnold that there were barely a hundred armed men inside. But that was enough right now. After the disasters of their voyage, they were down to five shots per man, and many of his soldiers didn’t even possess working muskets.

Arnold had staked everything on a bold stroke, a face-to-face battle out on the Plain. He knew now, that despite everything they had been through, it wasn’t going to happen. This was not Ticonderoga. This was not Wolfe and Montcalm. This looked every bit like stalemate. The only way to break it would be with reinforcements, ammunition, and cannon from Montgomery, but he had no idea what had happened to the American expedition against Montreal. He had heard nothing, since they left Massachusetts, and without help he and his men were facing a retreat back the way they had come, but this time in the full depth of the Maine winter. Surely that meant starvation or freezing to death. The only other alternative was surrender.

Arnold, as usual, never hesitated. He convened a Council of War the same night to decide what to do now. Just as he was calling it to order, his captain of the guard rushed in breathlessly. “Colonel, we’ve got an American lieutenant out here says he’s from General Montgomery at Montreal!” The room went silent. Arnold had the lieutenant ushered in. Morgan tried to read the man’s face, but failed. Everyone in the room knew that their fate now hinged on whatever they were about to hear.

“Well, man, let’s hear what you have to say!” Arnold snapped impatiently.

“Here, sir, in front of everyone?”

“I have no secrets from my officers, Lieutenant. Out with it!”

“Well, Colonel, General Montgomery sends his compliments and hopes that you are in the best of health….”

“Oh, get on with it, man!”

“Well, sir, the General wishes to inform you that he has taken Montreal.”

A moment of stunned silence followed this sentence, then pandemonium broke out. Men yelled, whooped, embraced one another, pounding the messenger on the back, until he retreated behind Arnold for protection. Not a few shed tears. Arnold knew enough not to rob the men of this moment, and he did nothing to bring the room back to order. Instead, he ordered wine poured all around. What had begun as a Council of War had become a party.

Arnold hoped that no one would notice that he wobbled before sitting down. For the first time in his life he felt weak in the knees. Relief washed through him like laudanum. Later that night, he slept soundly for the first time in three months, secure in the knowledge that help from Montgomery was on the way.

 

Five hundred men accompanied Montgomery from Montreal, doubling their effective force. The General apologized for taking so long. “That bloody Ethan Allen!” he fairly shouted in his first conversation with Arnold. “The man simply can’t obey orders. He thinks he can use his own head instead! And it’s not a very good head, you know.” Arnold smiled back, knowingly. “Couldn’t wait for the main force to come up, just had his Green Mountain boys charge across the river ford, as soon as they arrived. It took a few hundred Iroquois braves about thirty minutes to round them up and convince them to surrender.” The red-faced general banged his fist on the table for emphasis. “I lost a quarter of my main strike force in one fell blow, before I even arrived on the scene! I had to send back to St. John’s for reinforcements, and that took a week.”

Neither of the American leaders could realize at the time, how crucial that week was to become. During that period, two hundred British regulars were able to slip out of Montreal, sail undetected downriver under cover of darkness, right around Arnold’s men and into Quebec. It tripled the number of defenders and, worst of all, provided the besieged garrison with professional leadership.

Sir Guy Carleton was not only the Royal Governor, he was a career soldier who immediately quelled the panic, which Arnold had counted on to induce surrender. He put every able-bodied man within the walls on rotating watches, drilled them remorselessly in the use of their weapons, issuing orders that anyone overheard even talking about surrender privately would be summarily shot.

Arnold had gotten his reinforcements and supplies, but Quebec had become infinitely more formidable in the meantime. The American commanders had been hoping to starve the garrison out, before reinforcements could come up the St. Lawrence River from England after the spring thaw. But several deserters and French inhabitants had informed them that the citadel sat atop a spring and held a seven-year supply of food. Only an attack could carry the city. Arnold and Montgomery agreed that a head-on assault was suicide. They would need some element of surprise and the cover of darkness. They came to agree that what was required was a night snowstorm. They would simply wait for one.

 

In the ensuing weeks, the besieging army settled into a routine. Morgan’s best riflemen were set up in sniper’s lairs on the upper floor of the buildings nearest the walls, beginning to turn into a deadly science the technique of killing enemy officers by sniper fire. Morgan’s motto became their own: “Look for the epaulets!” Under a flag of truce, the British sent out a formal complaint at this ‘un-gentlemanly’ way to fight a war. Dan Morgan, standing next to Arnold at the time, replied for them, “Please give Mr. Carleton our apologies and tell him I guess we ain’t no gentlemen.”

Two weeks later, Morgan found himself in an upper-story window, surveying his men’s positions and chewing on a crust of bread with a smile, remembering the exchange. The British were doing what they had been doing ever since, firing a few cannonballs at them each hour, more to express their frustration than to cause any harm. Their ammunition was solid shot, designed to punch holes in ships on the river below. Up here it tended to fall short of their lines. Only a few Americans had been killed by the hundreds of balls sent out. Most had come to ignore the cannon.

Morgan was daydreaming about a hot July day at home as he looked out on the field, where Jemima Warner was engaged in her afternoon routine, carrying two buckets of water from the pump towards the cannon at Battery B. Yet another cannon barked. Morgan froze in disbelief, as the head of Jemmy instantly evaporated in a shower of bloody tissue, torn away by a freak British cannonball. For a second, her headless body stood upright, still clutching the buckets. Then it fell into the snow, staining it in a series of brilliant crimson pulses from the neck.

At first, no one moved. Then everyone scrambled. But, of course, there was nothing they could do.

At just about the same time, drummer boy Johnny Oram was ushered into Arnold’s tent. “Why, Johnny!” the colonel exclaimed, “You’re back! I… I…, err…”

“You didn’t think you’d see me again, did you, sir?”

“No, no, it’s just that I…, I… Oh, hell. Son, you’re a man after what you’ve come through, and you deserve the truth just as much as any of my men. No, I didn’t think I’d ever see you again. How are the eyes?”

“Ready to go kill some British, sir!” The boy snapped his signature salute. “With your permission, I’ll return to my mates.”

“Very good, Mr. Oram, permission granted. Carry on.”

Johnny strolled excitedly through the camp, thrilled to be back as a member of this extraordinary band. He knew there was only one ‘mate’ he wanted to see right now. He asked the way to the field hospital, arriving as two men carried past him a stretcher on which a body was covered in a blood-soaked blanket. He poked his head through the doorway, smiling. “Hey, everybody, I’m back! Where’s Jemmy?”

 

After Jemmy’s funeral, Arnold and Montgomery agreed that it was best to ban all such future gatherings. It was terrible for morale, and morale was already about as bad as it could get. Few of the soldiers any longer believed in the feasibility of what, back in sunny Massachusetts, had seemed a foregone conclusion – that their courage and determination would sweep the British from Canada. Frostbite was common, disease was rampant. Many of the soldiers were little more than farm boys who were away from home for the first time, and Christmas was approaching. That was depressing enough.

For the two leaders, what spelled disaster was, that half the men’s enlistments expired at the end of the year. As of January 1, 1776, half of their force was free to go home, and no one expected them to do anything else. If they were going to attack, it had to be before then. But the night snow they needed to cover their attack simply refused to come.

Perversely, it seemed, in this land of endless cold, snow, and ice, there was little in the way of snowfall that December. A few daytime squalls failed to last. Arnold grew nervous again, more nervous with every day that passed without a snowstorm. But he and Montgomery agreed that it would be butchery to send the men against those walls in clear weather.

On the afternoon of December 23, however, snow began falling, and this time it didn’t stop. By five, it was dark and still snowing thickly. The order was given. Each company assembled at its pre-arranged rendezvous point. All were to wait there, until all had reported that they were ready. The two leaders had decided upon a two-pronged attack, and coordination and timing were essential.

Dan Morgan puffed on his pipe, passing a jug around to every man in the company. It wasn’t just to keep warm. Morgan was well aware that since the days of Alexander the Great, men had used alcohol to overcome fear before battle. The British Navy had turned it into a science with a standard grog ration. They waited in the darkness, swigging, telling the occasional nervous joke, and stamping their feet on the snow.

“Check your powder!” Morgan ordered, mostly to give his men something to do. Anything that took their mind off the anticipation was better than endless waiting. Many of his men were veterans of Indian wars, but some had never been in a pitched battle before. He knew what they were thinking, “Will I run?” That was all that had run through his own mind the entire night before his first fight. He hadn’t slept a wink but, of course, had been careful not to let anyone see that.

Morgan noticed that the snow was no longer falling quite so thickly. He muttered under his breath, “If they don’t start this thing now, we’re gonna lose the snow.” But they didn’t start. The snow became lighter still, finally stopping altogether. At eight o’clock, word finally came. The assault was postponed.

Christmas, two days later, was a subdued affair. Morgan’s hunters had been scouring the woods for wild turkey. Arnold had been using the extra currency, brought by Montgomery, to procure sufficient meat for every soldier to eat his fill. Wine, however, was strictly limited to one cup each. Arnold knew that if he were Carleton, he might find it irresistible to launch a sneak attack on a group of drunken Christmas revelers. Besides, if it started to snow, the men had to be ready to go.

It didn’t snow Christmas night, though. Nor the next day, nor the day after that. Nearly every evening now, the canvas walls of the command tent silhouetted the figures of Morgan, Montgomery, and Arnold, hunched over a map table and engaged in intense discussion far into the night. They were running out of time, and no one knew what to do about it.

On December 30, 1775, it finally began snowing, continuing all day and growing thicker after dark. Messengers went out to all units. Report to pre-assigned assembly points. Assault begins at 2:00 A.M. – twenty-two hours before their enlistments would expire. There was a great deal of grumbling, but every single soldier reported for duty. Their custom-made scaling ladders were toted by specially trained crews. One of the Pennsylvania riflemen seemed to sum up the mood best. “This is what we come here to do, damn it! Now let’s get it done!”

They would attack in two columns, from opposite sides of the city. It was hoped that this would sow confusion in the garrison. Both columns would converge on the one weak point they had been able to find. Outside the city walls, and below the cliff, sat Lower Town. Its warehouses and commercial buildings sprawled right up to the edge of the wall, at a gate where a street moved uphill, into the main part of the city atop the cliff. Arnold’s men would hit Lower Town from the far side. Montgomery and his group would push through the narrowest of corridors. A ribbon of shoreline ran along the base of the cliff all the way around the city. They would enter it on the opposite side of town from Arnold’s group and, hopefully, draw defenders to that side. Then they would skirt right below the cliff-top walls to emerge on the other side, at the gate where they would link with the Virginians and swarm into the fortress. On orders from Arnold and Montgomery, every man pinned to his clothing a piece of paper, containing the words, ‘LIBERTY OR DEATH.”

Morgan’s stealthiest hunters led the way, finding the streets empty. They sent back word and hurried on, gliding like shadows through the snowy blackness of the first real city many of them had ever seen. Not everyone who followed was as stealthy. When one group passed in front of a large, lighted window, shots rang out from above, and the battle was on.

“Come on boys!” Arnold shouted. “To the gate!” They surged through the streets of Lower Town, occasionally losing their way and having to backtrack, but always moving at a run. Sparks barked out of the darkness above, and men began to fall. “Don’t stop for the wounded!” Arnold commanded. “Don’t stop to shoot! Press on! Get the gate!”

No one faltered. Fire bombs sailed over them and burned, sizzling in the snow, backlighting the attackers and making them easy targets. Enemy troops sat behind stone walls well above them, raining down a deadly musket fire, but the riflemen simply hunched over and kept running, occasionally hurdling the body of a fallen comrade. Above them in the snow-filled night, every church bell in the city was now ringing the alarm. Arnold paused to urge forward a group behind him. Waving his sword over his head, he shouted “Come on, brave boys! Come on!”

His next utterance died in his throat, as a hammer blow slammed into his right leg. One glance down took in a splash of scarlet snow, and he knew he had been shot. He could feel nothing but an agony of pain in the leg. He began to topple, but jammed his sword into the icy ground, leaning on it to steady himself. A young officer saw what had happened and rushed to support him. He brusquely shrugged off the man’s assistance. “I’m fine, Lieutenant. See to your men.” The man stared, dumbfounded. “I said get back to your men! That’s an order.” He knew he couldn’t let his troops see him like this. Standing exposed to the continuing British fire, he waved his free arm at the line of approaching men. “Come on, my brave boys! Go on! To the gate!”

Only when the last unit had passed, did Arnold send a messenger to Morgan, informing him that command of the attack had now passed to him, whereupon he leaned on the shoulder of Chaplain Springer to begin the mile-and-a-half walk back to the field hospital. When he got there, the doctor had trouble believing him, since so much of the shin had been shot away that there didn’t seem to be enough left to support a man’s weight.

Back in Lower Town, when Dan Morgan caught sight of the gate, he knew they had a chance. British troops were still withdrawing through it, and they hadn’t yet closed one half of it. He looked around him. Only six of his men had made it this far.

Kneeling beside a low stone wall, he smiled at them, “Well, boys, it looks like it’s up to us. Personally, I think there may be too many of us. Like as not we’ll get in each other’s way. But I just can’t decide, which ones of you should share the glory with me, so I guess we’ll just all have to go grab this gate together. Ready?” And with that, Dan Morgan did what he usually did in battle, smiled and headed straight at the enemy without so much as a glance back.

As soon as the redcoats saw them coming through the falling snow, they began firing. Two of the Virginians were shot in the head and fell, limp. The British captain began barking orders and was rewarded by a ball from Morgan’s rifle, which struck right between the eyes. Other men in red grabbed the huge gate, beginning to swing it closed. Morgan threw his body into the narrowing space, just before the two halves of the gate met. The edge hit his burly chest and stopped. He pushed, while his three companions wrapped their hands around the edge of the gate, pushing for their lives.

They were beginning to make headway against the defenders on the other side, as the opening widened by inches. Morgan looked up to see a squad of lobsterbacks, running down the steep street toward the gate, but then his eye was caught by something much closer. Fifteen feet above him, two soldiers in a guard tower were aiming their Brown Bess muskets square at his face. One squeezed the trigger, but nothing happened. The snow had wet many men’s powder that night. The second squared his shoulders, sighting down the barrel, as Morgan kept pushing. However, the British soldier abruptly pitched sideways and fell out of the tower, blood gushing from his neck. This was followed by a shout behind Morgan, and suddenly there were Virginians everywhere, grabbing the gate and pushing it back into the faces of the defenders.

They swung the gate wide open, just as the British squad drew near. The English regulars did their best to stop, but most of them just kept sliding on the icy cobblestones, stumbling into the swelling crowd of riflemen, where they were impaled on tomahawks and long knives. Their screams mingled with cries of panic from others behind the gate, who fled as best they could back up the treacherous slope. They were sitting ducks for Morgan’s sharpshooters, but only three shots rang out.

“Damn powder’s wet, Dan!”

“Then change it! Edsall, you get your men up to that first cross street and hold it.”

“With wet powder, Dan?”

“Grab some of these Brown Besses. But hold it with the tomahawk if you have to! Go!” He turned around for the first time to look back on his men. There were a couple of dozen now. “All of you, strip these corpses of their muskets and powder and prepare to follow me!”

Sam Tyler slipped to his side, speaking softly into his ear. “Follow where, Dan? You think twenty or thirty of us can take this whole city? We’ll be surrounded and cut to ribbons in those streets.”

“What do you propose we do, turn tail?” Morgan demanded.

“No! Just wait ’til the main force comes up. And when Montgomery hits the other side of town, they’ll have to send reinforcements that way. That’s the time to attack. We’re here to win, and we can’t win the whole battle with just a few of us.”

Morgan seethed with frustration. He knew this was true, but he also knew that, in battle, once you get the advantage, you never hesitate. He gripped his long rifle, until his knuckles turned white, rocking back and forth, muttering to himself. This was the most agonizing decision he’d ever had to make in his entire life.

“All right, then!” he burst out. “Well hold here, ‘till the others come up. But we’re going to move all our riflemen through this gate and secure the first few blocks of streets, you hear? We’ve got to hold this area, until the main force arrives.” No one argued. No one hesitated. But every man was thinking the same thing: for how long?

 

Meanwhile, Montgomery’s column of New Yorkers was inching along the shoreline, which was one giant tumble of beached ice floes. Slipping and sliding in the darkness, the men cursed their way along in single file. They were spread out over a mile of shore. Montgomery personally led the way, along with his most seasoned officers and one particularly young one. Lieutenant Aaron Burr had flattered his way into Montgomery’s staff, when he realized that here was a general who had just won a major victory in Montreal, and this offered a far better career ladder than a Colonel, who had simply led a disastrous march through the woods. Burr’s unctuous ways had never sat well with Arnold and had made him despised by the Virginians, so no one was sorry to see him go. Now, though, Burr was beginning to wonder, just what he had gotten himself into.

After two hours of clawing their way along the ice floes, Montgomery and the lead group came within sight of what they knew to be their only serious obstacle, a timber wall, behind which lay a single wooden blockhouse. Inside that blockhouse at that moment, fifteen terrified Loyalist militiamen caught sight of the Americans and were now trying to get out the back door to safety.

A single British officer, Captain John Coffin, roared at them to stand to, but they ignored him, until he pulled his pistol and sword, swearing that he would shoot the first man to run. He now began beating them on the back with the flat of his sword, cursing their manhood at the same time. “We have one cannon, and we’re not leaving here without firing it!” The others finally agreed to fire the cannon and a musket volley, then run.

 

 

USA 2000-01
”A British officer, Captain John Coffin, roared, “We have one cannon, and we’re not leaving here without firing it!” – Cannon on the ramparts of Fort Quebec, September 2001. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Montgomery surveyed the scene. “It’s a tight space and a solid blockhouse, just slit windows to fire through. But we can’t wait for more men. We have to keep the column moving.” He hesitated only momentarily. “So, here’s what we are going to do. We’ll pull enough planks out of that wall that men can squeeze through. Then we go through and rush the blockhouse immediately.”

“Us?” Burr was incredulous.

“Do you have someone else in mind, Lieutenant Burr?”

“I mean surely this is not a job for officers. Why look back, the men are coming on now…”

“And where we lead, they will follow,” growled the General. “Now, let’s go!”

Minutes later, twelve of them had squeezed through the fence. Montgomery raised his sword, yelling, “Charge!” Barely a second later the cannon erupted. Coffin knew his business. A double round of cannister shot exploded in the faces of the Americans, knocking all of them down. Burr’s head was ringing loudly, but he was able to push himself to his feet. Looking around, he realized that he was the only one standing. Montgomery’s face was a bloody pulp. Blood covered the others as well, and none of them were moving.

At that moment, the first group of enlisted men arrived. From the other side of the fence, Burr barely heard, “What happened, sir?”

Burr looked around once again, too stunned to speak. Someone behind him yelled, “General Montgomery is dead! They’re all dead! Go back. Artillery! It’s a trap. Everyone go back!” Though nothing more than a young lieutenant, Aaron Burr was the only officer on the scene still alive. The men obeyed. They went back the way they had come. Inside the blockhouse, Captain Coffin breathed an enormous sigh of relief.

Back at the gate, Dan Morgan now knew that Colonel Arnold would not be coming himself, and not many of his men had arrived either. His Virginians and a few Pennsylvanian riflemen were doing a valiant job of holding off the British garrison, all of which seemed to be closing in on them. He never heard a sound from Montgomery’s attack and so he assumed that neither had the British. The redcoats were all coming his way. His men were falling, and the screams of wounded all around him were making it harder to think. As he tried, he remembered that hot night in Massachusetts in Henry Warner’s tent, when Henry had listened to this plan, then turning his face towards Dan, saying softly, “So, let me see if I understand this right. They want you, me, and the boys to go capture Canada?” Absurd as that had sounded at the time, it seemed now to have come to just that. It was the Virginians inside the gate of the city, and few others anywhere to be found.

The British musket fire grew unbearable, and more redcoats were arriving every minute. Waiting may not have been the right choice. It was a choice Morgan would question for the rest of his life. But right now, his men were dying. Two dozen dead and the same number wounded, he was told. Half of his company was gone, and he needed to make another choice. He simply couldn’t bear the thought of coming through all that they had faced, just to surrender.

Morgan’s thoughts were broken by a great shout from above. He peered into the falling snow, trying to make out its source. It quickly became clear: a massed charge of redcoats was descending down the sloping street on them. His men were surrendering or being bayoneted. Morgan and a few others stood with their backs to walls, turning their rifles around and holding them by the muzzle, swinging them like six-foot clubs, trying to ward off the swarming attackers. But it was no use. Morgan found himself surrounded by a dozen soldiers with bayonets. An officer with drawn sword demanded he surrender his weapon. “Never!” Morgan howled – ­despair, rage, and frustration all audible in that one word. “Not to the likes of you!”

“Then to me, sir,” a quiet voice spoke up. Morgan turned to the sound to see, alone among the sea of red uniforms, a single man in a black robe.

“You are a priest?” Morgan asked incredulously.

“A member of the Society of Jesus, sir.” And with that he held up his cross. “To die now serves no purpose. You and your men have shown bravery; now it is time for mercy.” And with that he held out his hand.

Morgan hesitated, looked around him again, and then back at the priest. “All right. To you, and you only, I surrender my weapon.”

The battle was over.

 

 

USA 2000-01
“More redcoats were arriving every minute.” (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Benedict Arnold was finally being coaxed into a bed at the field hospital, when an unwounded soldier came running in, completely winded. “We’ve lost! We’ve lost!” was all he got out between breaths. As he recovered, he began to tell Arnold of Morgan’s surrender. Arnold said nothing. Using his sword as a crutch, he hobbled to the corner, where the men’s weapons had been placed. He slung a powder horn over his left shoulder, stuck his sword in his belt, and picked up a pair of pistols. Then he turned to the rows of cots.

“Men, they’ll be coming out from behind their walls now. They’ll be coming here soon. Here’s our chance to kill some of these cowards in red. I’m not going like a baby. I’m taking a few of them with me. Who will join me?” Some men rose unsteadily to their feet. Others, unable to get up, simply raised their hands from where they lay. Arnold and two others went among them, distributing weapons. “Let them come, boys! We’ll show them what Americans can do, even wounded Americans. We’ll send them to hell!”

Arnold’s leg began to quiver, forcing him to sit on a cot. He propped himself into a sitting posture. Then, carefully, he lay his sword beside him on the bed, along with the powder horn. Holding a pistol in each hand, he crossed his arms over his chest. Whereupon the surviving commander of the American forces in Canada promptly fell into a coma.

 

 

Chapter 11

 

New York, September 20, 1776

 

Robert laid his quill on the desk blotter and began to roll up his sleeves. He’d removed his wig and waistcoat hours ago, but still the sweat-drenched linen shirt clung to his back on this hundred-degree day. He stood to stretch, carefully in this tiny booth of an office, but stopped in mid-motion.

“Toby!” he yelled to his twelve-year-old helper. “Are you cooking something?”

“No, sir, Mr. Townsend!”

“Do you have a fire going?”

“Why would I do that on a day like today, sir?”

“So why, then,” Robert demanded, “do I smell smoke?”

The boy now stood in the doorway, looked outside to Greenwich St. and shrugged. “I don’t smell none, sir. Don’t see none neither.”

Robert looked at the mucous, hanging from the boy’s nose, and wondered how much that observation was worth. Still it could be the lingering smell of gunpowder and, as a Quaker, Robert didn’t feel confident about his ability to identify that. He shook his head and went back to work. He told himself that it was probably his imagination. It would certainly be understandable after this insane day that had capped off this whole insane summer.

 

No one who lived through 1776, would ever forget it. America had come alive. The old way of life was rapidly passing, and no one yet knew what would replace it. To start the year, a rotund bookseller named Henry Knox had led a detachment of teamsters and engineers in cutting a road through 300 miles of wilderness, to haul back 89 cannon from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston in the dead of winter. When the British army, trapped in the city proper by Washington’s infantry, had woken one morning to see cannon staring down from the heights at them, they realized they had no alternative but to pack up and sail away. Boston was freed, and America became delirious with the taste of victory.

For Benedict Arnold, the year had begun when he came out of his coma several days after the New Year’s Eve assault on Quebec. When the American attack had sputtered to a halt in the night blizzard, the British refused to emerge from behind the city walls for the kill, and both sides had settled into stalemate.

While desertions and smallpox thinned the ranks, Arnold vowed to be the last American to leave Canada. Only when the May thaw brought 15,000 British reinforcements up the St. Lawrence, had he agreed to a retreat. Of course, he assumed the most difficult and dangerous position, directing the rear guard, which slowed the enemy’s pursuit by burning every useful thing in sight. Bridges, wagons, warehouses, all were put to the torch. Merchants’ goods were confiscated (with a receipt), later to be returned. Though he had begged Congress for a secretary to keep track of this avalanche of record-keeping, he had been forced to try to balance all this on the run. Naturally, mistakes were made. No one, however, could realize then the grotesque importance that those mistakes would one day assume, and the threat to the revolution that they would become.

After pulling all the way back through Montreal, Arnold waited on the north bank of the St. Lawrence, until he could see swarms of red uniforms through the trees. Only then did he shoot his horse (to deny the enemy its use), throw his saddle into a canoe and paddle off – true to his word to be the last American out. They returned the way General Montgomery had come, all the way to the strategic jewel of Ticonderoga. Arnold knew the English would follow because they had to. Splitting the colonies in two by seizing control of the Hudson Valley from both ends was still their best strategic option.

He knew that the Royal Navy would use its superior naval power to come down Lake Champlain and attack American-held Ticonderoga by water. The Americans possessed only one ship to stop them, the sloop Royal Savage that he had spirited away from under the enemy’s nose last spring. The fact that he had just one vessel failed to discourage him. He sent to General Washington for carpenters and shipwrights. If he lacked a fleet with which to defend this pivotal lake, well then, he would simply have to build one.

In the wilderness, he became one of the last Americans to learn what everyone else had been celebrating for weeks by then. They were no longer colonies. On July 4, assembled representatives had declared themselves United States, independent of Mother England. The die had been cast. There could be no going back now.

 

Robert again put down his quill and stared out the window at the North River – the Hudson, some called it. He thought back on the jubilance that had followed. On hearing of the Declaration, the citizens of New York spontaneously flooded the streets, some brandishing weapons. A truce of sorts was struck. English troops would be left alone, if they swore not to attack the populace and leave on the first available transport ships.

As he remembered what had come next, Robert’s stomach sickened all over again. Several days of post-Declaration euphoria soon began to dissolve into another sort of celebration. Known Loyalist civilians who were not protected by the truce, were attacked by mobs. Some were tarred and feathered, while others were ridden out of town on that uniquely American conveyance – the rail.

The Loyalist majority fled in droves, and soon America’s third largest city had dwindled from a population of 20,000 to a mere 5,000. What had been a bustling metropolis, now took on the feel of a ghost town – a defeated and tinder-dry ghost town. Still grateful that the mercantile firm of Templeton and Stewart had defied their fears and remained in the city, Robert had been putting in a great deal of overtime quite cheerfully of late, but had been dreading this day since that afternoon little more than a month ago, when word had swept the waterfront of giant sails coming through The Narrows. Of course, ships came through the harbor entrance every day, but not like these. These had been the largest ships any native New Yorker had ever seen, and their enormous Union Jacks made their purpose clear.

He had followed the crowds down to The Battery, how he had been surrounded by friendly, chattering strangers, and how the chatter had turned to a profound silence as ship after ship appeared. Rows of cannon protruded from the hulls, often on three different levels. The top of the mast of a postal cutter passing among them, failed to even reach the deck level of the ships of the line. There was clearly enough firepower just in these lead ships to ring the city and blow it into oblivion. Yet, the ships had kept on coming, all day long and into the next. By the end, 180 vessels, bearing 32,000 hardened combat troops, had entered the harbor, anchoring off Staten Island. Most New Yorkers had no idea that any army or navy in the world could muster such an armada, but here it was. And it had come for them.

Now Robert’s gaze wandered to the rounded shoulders of The Palisades across and up the river. Their worn and ancient demeanor matched his feelings about the futility that today had brought. Just last month, George Washington had informed Congress, and anyone else who would listen, that New York, the lower gateway to the North River and its crucial valley, must be held at all costs. He had rushed all 12,000 of his troops there, but then faced the agonizing choice of where to put them. The Royal Navy’s mobility meant that his enemy could strike any part of the coastline, and so he had spread his troops out – exactly as General Sir William Howe had hoped he would. Howe then landed at night in the rugged terrain, which had earned the region, surrounding a subsidiary town of 5,000, the name Brooklyn (‘Broken Land’ in Dutch). For the Americans, it spelled disaster.

Isolated hilltop blockhouses were cut off and their garrisons cut up, unless they had been allowed to surrender. Several Hessian regiments were able to march right up the inexplicably unguarded Flatbush Road overnight, swinging hard into the American rear at sunrise, sowing panic. Their glinting bayonets slew more than a thousand – hundreds of them after they had surrendered. On the voyage here, their British paymasters had told these German mercenaries that Americans were savages, beasts who killed and tortured Loyalist children for the fun of it, animals who never took prisoners themselves. The Hessians felt they were acting in self-defense, but no one on this continent would ever forget.

Howe’s forces were on the verge of surrounding Washington’s army in Brooklyn, and if they succeeded, it would mean the end of the rebellion. However, from late afternoon into twilight, a narrow corridor to the East River was held open by the bloody and heroic stand of the Maryland militia, at Gowanus Swamp. Using Pennsylvania long rifles to decimate gun crews, they charged the British artillery six times, receiving canister shot at short range and taking casualties so ferocious as to reduce George Washington to tears as he was watching. This kept the enemy pursuers off balance, just sufficient to let most American soldiers reach the shore of the river, where Howe thought to finish them off, come morning.

No one had expected a providential pea soup fog to rise that night, allowing John Glover’s Marblehead Mariners to row the survivors across in an all-night shuttle, conducted in whispers and using muffled oars. Dawn showed that, contrary to all expectations, the Patriots had lived to fight another day. That day had been today, however, and Robert wondered what good it had done.

This morning, English infantry had come ashore on Manhattan at Kips’ Bay, below Murray Hill, where the untested American militia, defending those earthworks, broke and ran for their lives. Hot pursuit could have annihilated the American army, but as George Washington stood in the heat and dust of upper Broad Way, beating officers and men on the back with the flat of his sword in a futile attempt to get them to turn and face the enemy, Lord General Howe had decided that he simply couldn’t pass up Mary Murray’s smiling invitation to tea. By the time tea was over, Washington had been able to rally his troops into a defensive position atop Haarlem Heights. The rest of the city, however, now belonged to the English.

Robert decided he might as well stay at his desk this afternoon. In the hours between the Americans’ flight and a British investiture, an odd calm was prevailing. New Yorkers had gone into hiding, afraid to emerge into a potential crossfire. Streets were eerily vacant, and the mood of defeat was exacerbated by the overwhelming heat and humidity.

Robert’s mood surprised even himself. He felt calm, if saddened, by the outcome. He was more aware of heat and thirst. This entire summer, the city had been sweltering under record temperatures with severe drought, and by this week only one well in lower Manhattan still had water. This was why Robert was so bothered by his possibly imaginary whiff of smoke. As the eerily quiet afternoon wore on, a few daring individuals were seen to emerge, heading for the well. The more observant of them noticed something odd.

Witnesses later reported seeing men, in pairs and alone, skulking about in alleys and then hurrying away. They carried pails of pitch and long splinters of wood. On Whitehall Street, one woman walked alone, kerchief drawn about her face, auburn hair streaming down her back. She too carried a pail, she too plunged bits of wood into it, ducked down alleys, then scurried away. As she worked her way up Broad Way, the great street began to come alive. Men hurried from the cellars where they had been hiding, sniffing the air, just like Robert had done. She stood for a moment watching, as these questioning faces and their nostrils separated the odor of gun smoke from the now dominant presence of wood smoke, then showing alarm.

Soon, men were running past her, buckets in hand, headed back the way she had come. A team of horses, pulling a side-pumper fire engine and its leather-helmeted crew, nearly knocked her down as it rushed past. The horses were foaming at the mouth in the heat, their eyes swelled with fear, their drivers not looking much better. Her gaze followed the milling crowds. All along the west side of Broad Way, smoke was rising. People of all ages streamed out of side streets onto the wide expanse of cobblestone. Mothers, clutching their babies, ran into the avenue, took one look at the crowds, and froze in an agony of indecision – consumed by one all important question: Which way lies safety?

George Washington had asked the Continental Congress for permission, if the city were lost, to put New York to the torch. He argued that it would otherwise make a valuable base of operations for the enemy, and that it was better in the long run to burn the city to the ground. Outraged Congressional representatives told him he had better forget that plan. Washington seethed, but, as far as anyone knew, he obeyed. The Sons of Liberty, however, answered to no one.

All this time, the woman had not seen a single red uniform. The people of New York were being left alone to try to fight a fire unlike any other that had ever struck their city. The entire West Side now seemed to be blazing. When fire companies arrived at the scene, most found their pumpers inexplicably disabled. Bucket brigades discovered that their collapsible leather pails were split, failing to hold water. When they rushed to ring church bells to summon the citizenry, they found the bells missing.

 

Now Robert got up, certain this time that he was smelling wood smoke. He walked to the door and opened it, and what he saw forced from him a sound, which brought Toby running. From the top of the wooden stoop, man and boy could now see a pall of smoke, smothering everything inland. The sound of exploding sparks came to them, and flames were towering over a nearby roof. The bone-dry city was erupting.

Robert ran back into the office to salvage what he could, but was stopped by the look of terror on the boy’s face. “Now, Toby, there’s nothing to worry about here. There’s just a fire somewhere, and we’ll leave now and that will be that. All right, Toby? Come on now, there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

“B-b-but, wh-wh-what are we going to do, Mr. Townsend?”

Robert looked deeply into the boy’s face, realizing that the ‘doing’ was the key to averting panic. “Well, Toby, we are going to start piling all the customer account books on Mr. Templeton’s desk. Help me. That’s it. You know, Toby, these are the most important things in the life of a trading company. We have to know who owes us money now, don’t we?”

He failed to get an answer and hadn’t really expected one. “Now, Toby, it looks as though there are more books than we can carry on one trip, so we are going to take some now and then come back. You take that pile, come on!”

They walked down the front steps, heading south down Greenwich, but the smoke quickly grew so intense that they turned back to the office, where they dipped the handkerchief he tore in two into the river, tying the halves tightly over their nose and mouth.

“We are going to try again Toby, but you don’t have to come back for a second load, just this one. I’ll come back for the others.”

They started out again, this time trying north. After three blocks, the smoke had thinned, but flames were now streaming out of windows on both sides of the street. The heat grew intense. They put their piles of ledgers on the ground, pulled their shirts over their heads and tried again, but it was no good. After less than a block, the youngster was whimpering, and Robert feared they might pass out from the heat.

“Toby!” he yelled, “We’re going back to the office. I’ll race you. Ready? Go!”

Two minutes later, doubled over his desk, panting, Robert asked, “Can you swim, Toby?”

In response, the boy looked at the floor and began to cry, shaking his head. Robert decided that he had to get the boy to safety somehow and that as long they kept to the river, they had a way out.

“Don’t worry, son, you can hold onto me.”

Water, however, was the one substance that could also turn the figures in these books into incomprehensible gobbledygook. Mr. Templeton would be ruined without these ledgers, and there was no way he would allow the destruction of the old man, who had been like a second father to him. There simply had to be a way. Yet, even if he could find that way, it was clear that he couldn’t possibly get all these ledgers out, and the boy, too. There was not going to be any second trip; that much was clear.

The back of his throat felt raw, and his lungs were already burning. The fire had now acquired sound. It was an audible maelstrom of hissing, crackling, human shouts, babies screaming, and the occasional terrified squeal of a pig. Now came the boom of some building collapsing. All of this blended into one malevolent roar, which told that the conflagration was coming their way. A cloud of smoke ballooned into the office, and Toby slammed the door, leaning against it as if his frail body could somehow hold out the tempest. They were out of time.

Robert did what he always did at moments of crisis, he stopped all motion, even all thought, stepped back and, hands on hips, surveyed the two piles of books. Finally, he decided that many New York merchants would be in the same position after today: missing ledgers and receipt books. They would all be relying on one another to be honest enough for them to put the system, that was mercantile New York, back together again. Good men would honor their debts, and bad men would shirk them. He had been with the firm long enough to know, which accounts were which, so he began pulling from the piles records for those firms he knew to be owned by upright men. All he would be able to save for the firm would be proof of debts, owed by potential deadbeats. He prayed that Mr. Templeton would agree that he had done the right thing. An explosion of sparks outside the window told him they had to go – now.

Doors were no longer safe exits, they let in too much smoke. Instead, Robert opened a window in the back wall, loading the books onto the edge of a waterside loading dock of sorts. Just last week, the company boat had been here, but then some Gloucester fisherman had commandeered it for the Brooklyn evacuation. Stepping into the water and sliding the thirty pounds of books atop his head, he wrapped one arm firmly around them, while the other pulled gently, but firmly on the boy, until the adolescent edged himself into the river, gasping when he saw the water rise to his chest.

“Now, Toby, come on, just hold onto the tail of my coat. You’ll be fine, and you might even learn to swim!”

Ever so slowly, he began walking. Shoes, coat, breeches, Toby, and all, Robert simply walked north, uptown, holding the books atop his head as he went. The hard part was not to slip, which would plunge the ledgers into the river. He began cautiously feeling his way with the lead foot before committing his full weight to it. Toby half walked, half floated behind him, and progress was slow but reliable.

The wind picked up, now blowing not only smoke and sparks, but also flames into the river. They edged out, until Robert was chest deep, with Toby thrashing behind him, hanging onto his coattails for dear life. At Queen and Crown Streets, they had to duck beneath piers, extending into the water, while Robert murmured a silent prayer of thanks that it was low tide, and the current was running in their direction.

Ahead and behind them, men were running into the water to fill buckets, handing them to unseen assistants in the smoke. Women in long cotton dresses splashed their way into the water, clutching crying children to their chests, and a block ahead, a terrified horse plunged in, beginning to swim toward New Jersey.

When they reached the Paulus Hook Ferry slip at the foot of Cortlandt Street, Robert’s heart sank. The slip had been dredged for the ferry, and the water there was over his head. If all he had was the books, he thought, he could backstroke across and hold them above water. If he only had the boy, he could cradle him and swim him across. Perhaps he could make two trips across the slip to where the shallower water resumed. But just then, a groaning and creaking sound behind them made him look back in time to see a flaming, three-story, gray wooden house on the block, which they had just passed, twist on it foundations and snap, as it pitched sideways into the river, erupting into a geyser of whitewater. This was followed by a slow, steaming hiss, which persisted, as the flaming wood slowly drowned.

Robert had to shout now for Toby to hear him. Once again, it seemed that there would be no time for two trips. He screamed at the boy to follow him, turning beneath a dock to follow the edge of the dredged water shoreward.

Toby shouted at him, “But you’re walking toward the fire now, Mr. Townsend!”

“I have to, Toby, just to get around this section of deep water, then we will go out again, over there, see?”

He didn’t pause to give the boy a choice. He felt the heat over their heads grow. The section of dock they were walking beneath must be on fire. Yes, sparks were falling into the water. Once they finally reached the shore’s edge, he was able to turn north again and begin to cross the slip, but fear gripped the core of his being, when he saw what lay in wait for them. Flames were licking their way out onto the dock at the slip’s north side, crates on top of it were blazing, and the wind was blowing flames toward the square structure on the end. As of last year, Robert knew, that was where the British army stored artillery rounds. Toby asked, why they had stopped, and by way of reply Robert could only resume his pace and shake his head. Words failed him.

When the American army arrived last month, had they moved the ammunition out of there? He couldn’t think of anything he would not gladly trade at this moment for the answer to that question. A quick look south made it clear that retreat was not an option. Several piers behind them protruded like tongues of flame into the dark waters of the river. Soon they would begin collapsing. As Robert edged them directly below the artillery storehouse he told himself that if the worst happened, neither of them would ever know it. There would be no suffering.

 

Back on the streets, the auburn-haired woman continued her own hike north. A sound like thunder made her spin to look behind. Dozens of horses were racing uptown, a few pulling empty wagons, but most unbridled and spurred by panic. Someone must have opened a large stable to release them. She ran to safety in a side alley, watching them approach. The very ground seemed to shake. Now, across the avenue, she spotted a woman carrying an infant and pulling a toddler along behind her. She was desperately trying to outrun the horses, but it was clear that they were not going to make it. She screamed at them, and then the street was a blur of dust, flying manes and galloping hooves. When the earth stopped shaking and the dust had settled, she saw their crumpled, bleeding bodies, lying still in the dirt.

The woman turned back into the alley and vomited. When her heaving stopped, she looked down at her hands, seemingly amazed that she still held the pitch bucket and shingles. She dropped them into the dirt and walked out into the carnage, which the horses had left behind. The woman and her children were not the only ones who had been run down. Through tears she gaped at her palms, inspecting them as if they were some foreign objects.

In the river, Robert told himself to be grateful that the water was warm, if filthy. Still his neck and arms ached in way he hadn’t known was possible, and he wondered silently how long he could keep this up. The wind had stiffened, blowing the fire toward the river. More people were rushing into the water now, and he had to concentrate on avoiding them so as not to be knocked down. Those who could swim simply stroked away, those who could not ran out up to their waists and crouched there.

One individual in particular caught his eye. A woman with auburn hair, streaming down her back, stood thigh-deep beside the Vesey Street Pier, washing her hands repeatedly, scrubbing them so furiously with river water that he wondered if she’d been burned.

Then the windows in a three-story warehouse gave way under an escaping cloud of smoke and heat that billowed out over the waves. Toby screamed, and Robert started to run as best he could. Looking back again, he saw that smoke now covered the spot where the woman had been washing.

When he began thinking that he couldn’t go on any longer, they finally emerged onto dry ground at the foot of Barclay Street, with the ledgers intact. Collapsing on the riverbank, he rested for some time with the boy who had been quiet for so long, but whose shoulders were now beginning to shake. Robert handed him half the books, put an arm around him and rubbed his head, “Let’s get out of here,” was all he said.

 

The woman was back on Broad Way, walking north, seemingly in a daze. At the artillery park, she came upon her first soldiers. They were dragging a man toward a tree. A sergeant raised a pail to an officer astride a horse who leaned over to sniff the pail, whereupon he straightened abruptly. Raising his voice to be heard above the screaming of horses from a nearby stable, he shouted, “Pitch! We’ll show this rabble what we do with arsonists. Hang him!” Not even waiting to see sentence carried out, he spun his horse around, lightly kicking his spurs, and cantered off in a clatter of hooves on the hard-packed earth.

At the far side of the park, the woman came upon a large oak with two civilian males hanging from one branch, ropes tied about their necks, hands bound behind them – lifeless. One of them looked little more than sixteen. Only then did she stop. Only then did her daze seem to clear. A steady stream of tears coursed down her cheeks, while she stared long and hard into the face of the boy, oblivious that behind her lay a firestorm. Impromptu bucket brigades that had struggled mightily now broke and ran. Even the firemen were pulling out.

As the wind continued to strengthen, the various fires joined, raging now as a single, uncontrollable beast. Flames followed the wind from east to west, and only this factor kept the fire on the west side of Broad Way, where it moved uptown long into the night.

Near midnight, the woman’s attention was turned to a crowd of soot-covered pedestrians, pointing upwards and looking downtown. She walked over to them, following their extended arms. Far away, high above the rest of the smoldering city, the spire of Trinity Church was ablaze. Tongues of flame leaped from the steeple into the blackness of night. A frail, white-haired woman beside her, face darkened from smoke, was clutching a Bible to her chest, muttering, “God help us. Heaven and Hell have finally met.”

 

By dawn the following day, the fire had sputtered to a halt before a large brick warehouse on Barclay Street, but only after it had consumed five hundred buildings. A third of the city was gone.

At some point around mid-morning, the woman found herself in front of the Dove Tavern in the Artillery Park, drawn by a drum roll to a crowd of spectators. They were quiet, curious, solemn, watching a double line of redcoats, muskets on their shoulders and bayonets fixed, escort a lone man in civilian clothes whose hands were shackled on his back. As the prisoner mounted a scaffold, the drums abruptly ceased. Someone began to read a formal charge against the condemned man, and when she made out the word ‘espionage’, the woman pulled her kerchief tighter about her face and began shouldering her way toward the front of the crowd. The reading concluded with the words, “And so, General Sir William Howe, commander of His Majesty’s forces in New York, does hereby sentence you, Nathan Hale, to hang by the neck, until you are dead. Do you have anything to say?” In the moment of silence that followed she heard the chirping of birds.

The prisoner stood still – tall, thin, erect, and seemingly shy. Nervous, yet somehow unbroken. He began to speak, but in a tone so low she could only hear snatches. As best she could make it out, he said something about how “if a man’s country calls for any service, no matter how peculiar that service, he should feel honored to carry it out.” Then his voice grew louder and she distinctively heard, “If I have any regret it is that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

Moments later, the noose was placed around his neck, and he was hoisted off his feet. The bound legs jerked and writhed, and his tongue protruded grotesquely from his face, which slowly began to turn purple. It seemed an eternity to her, before those legs stopped twitching. Only then did she raise her kerchief to wipe her eyes and, while ­briefly caressing her own throat, she silently turned away.

 

 

Chapter 12

 

Lake Champlain, New York, October 11, 1776, at sunrise

 

Benedict Arnold stood at attention on the quarterdeck of his flagship, Congress, snapping a salute to the new flag, which rose over the stern. The banner rose slowly, fluttering in a stiff northerly breeze – the first cold wind of fall. From beneath the brim of his tri-cornered blue admiral’s hat, Arnold held his salute in place, smiling. The new flag of the new United States of America carried just the kind of message he hoped to deliver today to the Royal Navy. It showed an angry rattlesnake, coiled and ready to strike. As the serpent’s body undulated in the wind, the words beneath were clearly visible to every man assembled on deck: Don’t tread on me!

 

 

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The flag of the newly established United States of America depicted an angry rattlesnake, coiled and ready to strike, and the words ‘Don’t tread on me’. – Today, this banner is still displayed here and there, as this one outside a private home in Charleston, South Carolina, December 2001. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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150-mile-long Lake Champlain, where an important battle between the revolutionaries and the Royal British Navy took place in the Bay of Valcour, October 11, 1776. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Memorial at Lake Champlain, commemorating the Battle of Valcour. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

In a few hours, Arnold thought, these decks will be awash in blood, and many of the arms held in salute all around him will be missing. Still he smiled. He was ready. He felt the deck roll slightly beneath his feet and thought how good it was to be back aboard a ship. He thought back on the past few months, of how he had come to this rather surprising state of affairs. After his return from Canada, at Washington’s recommendation, the Continental Congress had promoted Arnold to the rank of Brigadier General.

Though the Connecticut Yankee had failed to capture his objective at Quebec, he had succeeded in capturing the imagination of the American people. His march up the Kennebec had already achieved the status of folklore over much of the continent. He was being called America’s Hannibal, and the fact that he had kept the vaunted English army cowering behind Quebec’s walls all winter, gave courage and hope to the rebellion when it was needed most.

It was George Washington alone who occupied the pedestal, labeled First Hero of the Revolution; and yet he had suffered nothing but a string of humiliating defeats. Now, with General Montgomery, the hero of Montreal, dead at Quebec, the new nation needed someone who could make them feel like they were capable of winning. All across the thirteen former colonies – now self-professed ‘states’ – men and women alike desperately needed to know that they were not throwing away their life’s work and, quite possibly, their very lives, for nothing more than a Quixotic, but misguided ideal. The Loyalist press never ceased sneering at what it called the pathetic pretensions of farm boy militias who crumbled at their first encounter with professional British troops.

Brigadier General Benedict Arnold had taken upon himself, as his first Army combat command, a squadron that in any other nation would have been considered part of the navy. But he and the army had built this squadron, so army they were. Nevertheless, the new uniform of the American navy had proven irresistibly dashing. From the moment he had looked in the tailor’s mirror, Benedict knew that this was the uniform for him. So what, if it was not technically correct? Everything else about this affair was ad hoc, why not the uniform?

When the flag reached its apex, Arnold lowered his arm. The crew did likewise, but continued to stand silently at attention. To say that the air reverberated with expectation would be an understatement. Every eye on board was focused on the same object, their silent leader. Every mind on board was focused on the same question, “Will I be alive at the end of this day?”

Arnold turned away from the flag, locked his hands behind his back and pivoted slowly on his heel. He knew the men were waiting for him to show any hint of fear or doubt, and that nothing in the world was more important right now than keeping these emotions out of his face, his voice, his demeanor. As he turned, his gaze swept over his men, gathered on the lower deck in their motley array of blue-striped shirts, homespun white, green wool, buckskin leather, and virtually every other type of shirt he had ever seen anywhere, including the ruffled lace fronts of his officers, rustling in the breeze where it peeked out of their black or blue waistcoats.

Benedict looked out beyond the men, over the reinforced rails of the ship, over the white-caps on the black water to the shore beyond. The trees had turned every color of the rainbow, marching right up the mountain slopes on the eastern, New York shore, crowning the cliffs of Valcour Island at the western edge of these two square miles of sheltered water. It was a glorious sight – under normal circumstances. Today, however, what he noticed most was the gray overcast and the gloom it shed over all this beauty.

Royal Governor Guy Carleton had not been content with stiffening resistance at Quebec and driving Arnold’s army out of Canada. Now he was using the 15,000 reinforcements London had sent him to drive down the Hudson Valley and slice the newly declared nation in two. Camp rumor had it that there was a more personal element about it, that he wanted revenge on Benedict Arnold for humiliating him last winter.

Of course, Carleton had emerged the victor in Quebec, but when General ‘Gentleman Johnnie’ Burgoyne had arrived with the thaw, he made it clear that London found it incredulous that Carleton had hidden behind the walls of the continent’s greatest fortress, because he was surrounded by a ragtag bunch of wildmen, led by a former apothecary. Carleton vowed that he would not be humiliated again. His spring intelligence reports had informed him that Arnold had fled to the forts at Ticonderoga and Crown Point, which he had captured with Ethan Allen.

On the other side, Arnold knew that Carleton’s invasion would have to come over the lake waters. From Canada, Lake Champlain sliced a hundred and fifty miles south through mountains to Fort Ticonderoga and the headwaters of the Hudson Valley, and water was one arena where the British always won. Surely, Carleton reasoned, the Americans would realize this and flee. But once again that damn Arnold had given him a surprise. He had gathered a force to resist Carleton on the lake. When he could not get enough vessels, Arnold began building more out of the local lumber he confiscated from every sawmill in the region, and even forest timber, equipping the ships with cannon from Ticonderoga. When Congress and Washington failed to send him sailors to man these improvised vessels, Arnold had trained army troops to do the job.

Arnold’s 13 small craft and a few hundred men were all that stood between Burgoyne’s armada and Ticonderoga, but there was no way Carleton would risk another humiliation at the hands of ‘The Apothecary’. When he heard of Arnold’s activities, he refused to proceed until he had gained complete naval superiority. Since Arnold had spirited away their largest lake vessel, Royal Savage, in a lightning raid, immediately after he and Allen had taken Ticonderoga, something bigger was called for. Carleton insisted that an entire seagoing frigate be taken apart, transported in pieces to the lake, and reassembled there, timber by timber. Of all the ships available on the St. Lawrence for this unique fate, he had selected one, partly because of its name – Inflexible. It was a name, he told himself, that conveyed the right message. Along with building other craft for the troops, this task had consumed the entire summer. General Burgoyne had grumbled that they were frittering away the campaign season, but Carleton had been, well, inflexible.

Thus, Arnold’s force had cause to be anxious. They all knew that at this moment Inflexible and her sisters were sailing south, straight down the lake after them, acres of sail billowing in the strong north wind behind them. The Royal Navy was famous for triumphs against superior enemies, and today Inflexible alone was carrying enough firepower to blow the entire American squadron into tiny, waterlogged splinters. Everyone was waiting to see what Benedict Arnold would do next.

He merely nodded benignly towards the men, barking, “Dismissed!”, whereupon he turned back to his chief aide to issue instructions. “Lieutenant Goldsmith, as soon as Captain Hawley gets here, bring him to my cabin. As the other commanders arrive, hold them here until they are all on aboard, then bring them in together.”

And with that, General Benedict Arnold, in his new admiral’s clothing, answered the unspoken question in the eyes of his crew by silently going below. At 8:00 A.M. sharp, there was a knock at his door. One by one, the Captains of his vessels removed their hats, ducking through the doorway onto the dark, polished floorboards of the cabin. As they crowded in, he watched them intently, sizing them up. With the exception of the already seated Hawley, there was not a sea captain among them. Despite months of urgent pleas, Congress had not sent him any. Instead, those surrounding him were men he had selected for their courage under fire, their intelligence, and their ability to lead. “You just have to do the best you can with what you have,” he told himself for the millionth time.

When the chairs were filled, the rest took their places, standing around the dim room. The faces were not bright. Like everything else about this day, they seemed to brood. He knew that, like himself, many of them had been up all night, making last minute preparations. He knew he had his work cut out for him today. He took a deep breath, rising.

“Gentlemen! I hereby call to order this Council of War. As you know, the rules of rank are suspended on these occasions. I expect everyone here to speak his mind frankly, with no reservations, regardless of rank.” He paused a moment to let this sink in. “At the end of this meeting, we will only do what the group has decided upon as a whole, understood?”

Slowly, the faces, looming out of the darkened room, nodded. “However, as you know, the British are closing on us as we speak, so we will have to make this quick.

“Before we begin, I want to make a statement. Unlike Captain Hawley, most of you have been with me for some time. In these past few months you have all performed heroically. You took a few small lake boats and augmented them with new craft, which you built in a wilderness with almost no shipwrights. I am not aware of anyone in history who has ever before done such a thing. You have made our enemies sit up and take note. If it hadn’t been for your efforts, their army would have swept through here early this summer on light infantry barges. You know that. They would have taken the Hudson Valley with minimal effort, but, you gentlemen, you have raised the stakes. You have made it necessary for the enemy to assemble a serious naval force, long before they could even begin a campaign. It is now October. We have already cost them the summer. And now we can cost them more than that.

“The Hessians show how thinly stretched London finds itself. The number of troops it has had to send here already exceeds the number it can draw from its own army. And we helped make that possible at Quebec. Sending 30,000 troops after Washington at New York and 15,000 troops after us has stretched their resources to the breaking point. We should congratulate ourselves on that.”

“And now, sir,” General Waterbury retorted, “Now we have those 15,000 troops coming after us. Should we congratulate ourselves on that?”

Arnold looked around the Captain’s cabin for a long moment before answering. “I am not going to make light of what we are up against today, gentlemen, and as you are all laying your lives on the line with me, I will not besmirch your honor by lying to you either. But what I have to say now remains in this cabin and goes no further. Understood?”

Again, he looked around the crowded, dimly lit room. Faces nodded back silently.

“Gentlemen, few times in history has any military force chosen to meet in the open an enemy, which is so overwhelmingly superior in every way. I know that must fill you with doubt, because it fills me with doubt. But in the final analysis, I ask you, Gentlemen, do we really have a choice?”

“We certainly do!” Waterbury retorted. “As commander of the ground forces here may I remind you that the primary responsibility of the navy is to support the army. And the best way to do that is to get out of this…, this trap where we are anchored and sail ahead of the enemy to Crown Point and Ticonderoga, where we can have our own army on the shoreline behind us, not thousands of savages ready to scalp us, or worse!”

“We’ll never make it.” Arnold’s voice barely rose above a whisper. All motion in the room stopped. The only sound came from the pendulum of the clock.

When General Waterbury recovered from his shock, he asked, “What did you say?”

“I said we will never make it there alive. The enemy’s ships are bigger and faster, especially with the wind behind them. They would catch us on the open water.”

“Then we will fight them there! We can continue to move toward the fort while fighting them off.”

It was Captain Hawley who answered him from his chair beside Arnold. His voice was quiet, his demeanor grave. “I am the only man in this room who is qualified to speak to that point, General Waterbury, and I can tell you with absolute confidence that the British men-of-war would maneuver until their sails blocked the wind from ours, and then they would cut us to pieces. If I were Guy Carleton, having us make a run for the fort is exactly what I would be hoping for.”

Waterbury colored. “You mean to tell me that we are over sixty miles from our army, anchored in a cul-de-sac bay, and that we have allowed ourselves no way to escape an overwhelming force?”

No one offered a response. In the silence that followed, the ticking clock seemed to remorselessly remind them of how little time was left.

Arnold waited before speaking. “What General Waterbury says is true. By now the Iroquois have probably swept down the shore on either side of us, so there is no escape overland either. The choice is to fight or surrender without firing a shot.” Again, he paused.

A young officer burst out, “Surrender to those bloodthirsty savages? I don’t want to end this day roasting slowly over a fire!”

Arnold calmly resumed. “Let me be frank. General Washington led every man he could gather in the defense of New York. You all know the result. The English now control that city and, with it, the lower gateway to the Hudson Valley. We sit astride the upper gate. If they get past us, our rebellion, gentlemen, is as good as over. You will never tell your men this, do you understand? But if we lose control of this valley, we lose the war. That is what is at stake here today.”

“Do you really think we have a chance to stop them, General?”

“In battle, anything can happen. The English are an army that makes methodical plans and then carries out those plans methodically. Today we are going to break a few spokes on the wheel of their precious apple cart. If all goes well this morning, we are going to give them the surprise of their lives.”

Arnold tried his best to grin as he looked around the cabin, but no one was smiling back.

“We are not here in Valcour Bay by chance, gentlemen. We are not anchored bow-to­-stern in a crescent formation by chance. We did not build row galleys and store the sails below today by chance. Here, gentlemen, is what we are going to do.

“To begin with, most of us are not going to sail anywhere today. We are going to sit here at anchor and let the Royal Navy come to us. They’ll have to come in the mouth of the bay to our south and beat upwind to get at us. Their square sails are not built for that. Valcour Bay is a narrow and shallow harbor, and we will be using the land and its shoals against them today. Their larger vessels are deep. Tacking back and forth across the bay to come upwind at us will mean only one ship can come at a time. They will have to keep to the channel in the center of the bay, and that is why we are anchored in a wide curve. As their ships come at us, every one of you here will be firing broadsides into them, while they will only be able to return fire with their bow cannon. We will cut them up one ship at a time.

“The spring cables, connecting each of our ships, will turn your vessels ninety degrees when the capstans aboard are cranked. Those of you commanding smaller crafts can emerge to fire a broadside, then return to the line and swivel so that the enemy has only your bow to fire at. Those of you commanding row galleys will keep your sails below today. A hallmark of the Royal Navy is firing chains into the rigging to cripple a ship’s ability to move, so they can pounce on her at will. You will present minimal rigging to shoot at, and if you must move, you will do so by oar.”

Waterbury fumed, “And what makes you think that they are going to just walk right into your little trap?”

“Because Guy Carleton cannot pass us by and leave us behind him. If he did, we could go after Burgoyne’s army north of us, which would be unprotected.”

 “But they can seal us off in here and wait for us to have to sail into them. Then they can do to us what you want to do to them.”

 “Yes, that’s a calculated risk we will be taking. Sober reflection by the enemy would suggest just such a course. But I don’t plan to allow them any time for sober reflection. Captain Hawley here will see to that.”

Hawley smiled, nodding once.

 “You are forgetting about their ground troops in the light barges!”

 “General Waterbury, I am forgetting nothing, believe me. That is why our smallest galleys are armed with swivel guns and grape shot.”

 “But their troops will surround us on the shoreline and fire on us at will.”

 “They will only be able to reach the outermost ships in our line. Philadelphia and Lee, I am sorry, but that will be you. Lash your own sharpshooters to the masts and return fire as effectively as you can. Keep the rest of the crew low, behind the spruce shields on the railings. That’s why we put them there.”

 “You expect a few boards to stop the massed fire of British infantry, sir?”

 “General, if you had been here this summer while we built these vessels you would know what every man in this room knows. No bullet on this continent can penetrate four inches of solid spruce. I doubt the enemy knows that. They will find out about it the hard way today.”

With that, Arnold allowed himself a sly smile. As he had hoped, it spread infectiously around the cabin.

 “Look, gentlemen, we cannot simply hand Ticonderoga back to them on a silver platter. And if we don’t engage them today, that is exactly what we are doing. The fort, as you know, was so decrepit when we took it, that they have yet to be able to properly repair it. In addition, half the working guns are in the field with our troops. You know we are struggling feverishly to repair Ticonderoga – to restore it to the jewel fortress it used to be. But more time is needed to finish the job. More important, the Continental Army is in a shambles after the defeat at New York. The states need to recruit and equip more men. These men have to be trained. All this takes time.”

Pausing for emphasis, Arnold punctuated each word of his next sentence by pounding his desk with his fist. “We have got to try to buy that time today.” He looked around one last time at the faces of men that he well knew he might never see alive again. “Our entire nation is looking to us right now. All I ask is that we give them our very best. That we give them our lives, if necessary. That we not kneel to John Bull and beg for mercy. Our people have placed their trust in us. We owe them our best in return. Let us not let them down.

 “Unless someone else has something to say, I guess we are agreed then. Good luck and God speed. Dismissed.”

Back on deck, Benedict felt the chill wind against his face and found that it took him back to his boyhood, playing hockey with his Indian friends in the woods outside New London.

“Sail ho!” a cry came from aloft. “Forest lookouts report sail sighted outside the bay, heading due south!”

“Here they come, general.”

“Hoist the signal flag for Captain Hawley to shove off!”

“Aye-aye, sir.”

All across Valcour Bay, on thirteen ships, whistles piped, signal flags rose and fell. “Put out cook fires. All men on deck. Make ready for battle.”

Arnold began pacing his quarterdeck, running through mental checklists over and over again. He had the nagging feeling that he had forgotten something, something important. As he stared steadfastly south, out the mouth of Valcour Bay, the first British sail popped into sight. It looked glorious, running before the wind, all its sails billowing over a the freshly painted orange hull.

Benedict held his breath, as the lead ship continued sailing south, followed by another, and then another. “The cocky bastards!” he muttered under his breath. “They’re so eager to wipe us out that they’re not even looking around for threats, not even using an advance scout ship. That’s it, Carleton, that’s it. Keep it up, stay arrogant.”

 

When Captain John Hawley cleared the mouth of Valcour Bay, emerging into the middle of the British armada, he raised his telescope to his eye, then inhaled sharply. Spread out for probably ten miles up the lake was the largest assemblage of sail he had ever seen. The two biggest warships led the way, flanked and followed by countless small gunboats. Behind them came the light infantry barges, their small sails nearly indistinguishable from the whitecaps at this distance.

All around on both sides of this fleet, Hawley saw something else, something he had never even imagined – hundreds of large Iroquois war canoes with thousands of braves, their oddly-shaved heads and painted faces barely visible above the swells. They bent to their paddles with a unison and fierce determination, which frightened Hawley even more than the vast sails. These Native American allies of the English held a well-earned reputation for courage and ferocity in battle among the frontier farmers who manned the American squadron. Hawley quickly put away his glass and issued orders.

On the other side, what the British saw were the two largest American vessels, Hawley’s Royal Savage and the tall-mast Enterprise, cutting east across their line of travel. Aboard the British flagship, H.M.S. Maria, Commodore Pringle, with Governor Guy Carleton and his brother Thomas Carleton beside him, ordered up the signal flag, “Engage!”

But as Maria and the giant Inflexible turned to pursue him, Hawley suddenly reversed course, beginning to pilot his vessel straight back into Valcour Bay. The enemy ships, having over-sailed him, now had to tack back upwind in an attempt to cut off his retreat. As Hawley’s crew gained their first view of Inflexible bow-on, it filled them with dread. None of them had ever seen so imposing a warship.

Hawley remained steady, continuing his dangerous cat-and-mouse game, holding back just a bit in order to egg Inflexible on. From the thousands of soundings, ordered by Arnold that summer, he knew something vital that his enemy did not. Just inside this part of the harbor lay a submerged ledge of rock only three feet deep. On this course, Inflexible would run hard aground on it and be out of the action.

However, size does matter in sail-driven vessels, and Inflexible, even tacking upwind, was closing faster than Hawley had anticipated. Her bow guns roared, their shells ripping the air overhead. Now Inflexible tacked again, presenting her starboard side to Royal Savage. Her first broadside cut through Hawley’s rigging, destroying ropes and tackle. Another tack, and Inflexible‘s port side spoke, smashing railings and shattering the mainmast of Royal Savage. Still, Hawley doggedly held to his course, determined to lure his enemy onto the ledge.

As Royal Savage, under Hawley’s calm hand, cleared the mouth of Valcour Bay, the wind shifted. Redirected around the headland, it swung Royal Savage’s boom hard over, leaving her sails flapping impotently. At this precise moment, Inflexible fired another broadside, sweeping the deck with solid shot and canister, carrying arms and legs before it. The screams of Hawley’s dying men were instantly replaced by the screeching of the ship’s bottom, as Royal Savage herself now came hard aground on the submerged ledge. Her masts pitching forward, she teetered for a moment, then settled onto one side. Half her guns pointed skywards, while the rest pointed into the bay – useless. The battle had barely begun, and the Americans had lost their largest ship.

Royal Savage‘s companion, Enterprise, was running her own deadly race with Carleton’s flagship Maria. As the British warship ran into the bay after Enterprise, the American flotilla opened up. In an instant, Commodore Pringle and Governor Carleton learned that this was not the typical panicked flight of rebel soldiers. Too late, they realized that they had been lured into a trap. Yet, in the heat of the moment and full of Royal Navy confidence, Maria pressed on, firing back with her few bow cannon, and closely followed by a swarm of smaller English gunboats.

Aboard his own flagship, Congress, Benedict Arnold ran up and down the deck, personally aiming each gun before the match was put to it. This was another of those necessary improvisations. No one else aboard had ever fired a ship’s cannon. The miserly flow of supplies sent them by Congress that summer had not allowed enough ammunition to give the men gun training. So Arnold personally supplied the gunnery skills for his entire ship. The smaller American row galleys emerged briefly from the crescent formation, fired a broadside, then retreated back into formation to reload. Still, Maria and the enemy gunboats pressed on.

In an after-action report to the Admiralty, Captain Starke aboard Maria stated that, through his telescope, he personally watched Benedict Arnold in his distinctive, tri-cornered, gold-braided hat, aim and fire a cannon straight at the bow of the oncoming Maria. It passed over the deck the length of the ship, drawing a sigh of relief from Starke. Moments later, however, shouts from the stern alerted him to something far different. While the shell had failed to actually hit the ship or anyone on it, it had passed between the heads of two officers standing on the quarterdeck, Governor Guy Carleton and his brother. Neither man was touched, but the concussion from the near miss felled Thomas Carleton and left him unconscious on the deck, bleeding from both ears. The governor was left standing, but stunned, temporarily unable to speak.

What happened next, amazed the Americans. They watched in disbelief, as the British flagship suddenly fell off the wind, sailed away from their line, and dropped anchor two miles away – well out of range. A cheer went up all down the American line. Captains of every type of vessel found themselves thinking, “Maybe Arnold is right. Maybe we can do this.”

Next to come were the Hessian artillery gunboats, struggling to maneuver into the tricky headwinds. An American cannonball struck the powder magazine aboard one of them, and it went up in a roar. Arnold’s face, black with powder by now, popped up everywhere, aiming, firing, rowing to other American ships to give instructions. By one o’clock, two more of the struggling gunboats had been sunk, and the rest turned about, dropping back out of range. Another cheer went up from the American fleet. Arnold danced a little jig. White teeth beamed out of a coal-black face. “Now we’ve got them where we want them!” he cried.

“General Arnold, I…”

“They’ve pulled off the small stuff, and their big ships can only come at us one at a time.”

“General Arnold, I…”

He turned to his aide who was standing next to him, holding a spyglass to his right eye.

“Oh, what is it, Mr. Goldsmith?”

“Sir, I thought you might be interested to know the name of the vessel approaching us now.”

“The name! Surely, Lieutenant, the importance… Oh, very well, what is it?”

Goldsmith handed the glass over to his commander. “It’s Carleton, sir! And she seems to be headed right for us.”

Arnold looked through the telescope, collapsed it crisply, and turned to his gun deck.

“I want every gun swabbed, loaded, and ready. We’re going to let this one get a little closer, before we speak to her!” Then he turned back to his aide. “Carleton himself may have run away. But I am going to sink his namesake.”

While Arnold had worked frantically before, for the next two hours he moved like a man possessed. After carefully aiming each cannon aboard Congress he raised his arm, and when Carleton had gotten within a few hundred yards, he brought the arm down. The broadside exploded aboard Carleton, knocking her captain and first mate to the deck. The Captain failed to get up. The first mate did so haltingly, minus his right arm.

Command of the ship now fell upon a nineteen-year-old midshipman, named Edward Pellew, who was struggling to bring Carleton around so as to be able to fire his own broadsides. Arnold received a report from a different quarter. “General, Philadelphia has raised a signal flag, asking for instructions.”

Arnold turned his telescope in the direction of the row galley. He could see no damage. So he swiveled his glass to the right, looking for signs of trouble. He soon saw it. A squadron of Iroquois war canoes and English infantry barges were working their way up the shoreline behind the row galley. If they succeeded in getting around him, the Americans would have a thousand-enemy infantry scaling their ships.

“Goldsmith, raise signal flags for ‘spring cable’ and ‘swivel guns’.”

For long moments, nothing happened. “Come on, man! Come on!” Arnold muttered, “What are you waiting for?” The war canoes were closing fast on the bow of the American galley, where she carried the fewest guns. Finally, she sprung to life. Her bow remained stationary, while the rest of the ship, cranked on Arnold’s spring cable, swung ninety degrees. Now she thundered a broadside, and suddenly there were only half as many canoes. Then the newly-invented, rapid-loading swivel guns talked, firing a steady hail of man-killing grapeshot from where Arnold had had them mounted for this occasion – just four feet above the waterline. Once he saw that, Arnold turned his attention back to Congress, safe in the knowledge that every human being within six hundred yards of Philadelphia was now being sliced to pieces.

Once Arnold went back to aiming the cannon aboard Congress, they began to score hit after hit on the now listing Carleton. Still, young Pellew refused to run. Throughout the fleet, the American gunners now began to feel safe behind their spruce screening, falling into a steady rhythm of fire and reload. Every ship in the line poured shot into Carleton, until half her rigging was gone. Far in the rear, Governor Carleton’s flagship Maria sent up signal flags, ordering Carleton to retreat. Her hot-blooded new commander, however, refused. Arnold ordered his ship to up anchor and sail closer to Carleton.

“We’ve got her now!” Arnold yelled, clenching his right fist. “She lost the wind out of her sails on that last tack, and the jib is stuck on the bowsprit. She’s dead in the water! Raise anchor again and let’s close in for the kill.”

“Aye-aye, sir.”

“What the devil?”

“General?”

“I can’t believe it!”

“Believe what, sir?”

“That young daredevil on Carleton is going out on the bowsprit himself after that snarled jibsail. Fire swivel guns, give her everything you have!”

Arnold continued to watch, as this one Englishman who refused to quit, inched along the protruding pole of the bowsprit on his knees, exposed to the combined fire of the American fleet. With this blizzard of deadly metal whizzing past him, the young Pellew kicked at the snarled sail until it came loose. The he returned the way he had come.

“Whoever that bastard is, I like his style! Raise anchor again. This time we’re not stopping, until we’re within a hundred yards of him. I want that ship! Do you underst…”

His words were cut short by the falling body of one of his sharpshooters in the rigging, whose lifeline snapped his falling corpse a bare five feet above the deck, and six feet from Benedict’s eyes.

After a few moments, he resumed speaking. “Mr. Goldsmith, cut this man down. If he’s alive take him to my cabin with the other wounded.”

“And if he’s dead sir?”

“Throw him over the side.”

“Excuse me, sir?”

“You heard me! Dead bodies piling up is bad for the men’s fighting spirit. Today we cannot afford anything, which may impinge on that spirit. All corpses go over the side. We have no time for funerals here”.

As Goldsmith turned to go, an enormous explosion rocked Congress. When the smoke cleared, Arnold could see a large hole in the gun deck. He didn’t understand at first. It hadn’t come through the railing, it seemed to have descended from the heavens.

“Mr. Goldsmith, go below and see if it pierced the hull. Then report back ….” His words were cut short by another shattering blast which rocked the ship back on her heels. “What was that?

“Hole in the starboard hull, sir, thankfully it’s above the waterline.”

“Who the devil is…?” Arnold’s skin was stung by grit and splinters from a third blast, which struck the deck amidships. A fourth blast hit within seconds, piercing the hull again. “Has that young daredevil aboard Carleton finally found the range? Is he using mortars on us?”

“General!” a voice yelled from above. It was the lookout. “Sir, I think the firing is coming from those artillery barges out there!” The lookout started to raise his arm to point and then pitched forward, dangling from his lifeline by his heel, not moving.

Arnold pointed his telescope south, cursing himself. All this time, when he had been concentrating on Carleton and moving closer to it, barges with the highly professional Hessian Artillery Corps had been moving into position behind Carleton. He saw it clearly now. Their huge guns were bigger than anything in the American fleet, and they were aimed skywards. By firing up at a forty-five-degree angle, they sent their shells on an arching trajectory, which gave them maximum range, and brought them down upon the Americans at a forty-five-degree angle. That was how these shells could hit their decks without having to first penetrate either hull or spruce screening. Worse than that, these big guns, using maximum-range trajectories, enabled the Hessians to anchor safely out of range of the American guns and rain down their enormous projectiles at will.

Benedict now turned ninety degrees, bringing his telescope to bear on his own line. What he saw physically sickened him. In a curving line stretching all the way across the bay, was a sight which must have been glorious to the uninterested spectator – or to his enemy. The clouds had cleared, and the sun brilliantly illuminated the fall foliage and the spray driven waves. Occasionally the whitecaps would be superseded by an eruption of spray from a Hessian miss. At other times explosions of smoke and flame leapt from his ships, followed long seconds later by the muffled roar of a direct hit. The waters about those ships were peppered white by wood debris raining down. Each blast echoed off the shoreline cliffs, creating an effect, which survivors would later liken to fighting inside a giant kettle drum. Arnold thought for a time that he was going to vomit over the side, watching the growing frequency of splashes on the back sides of his ships, as corpses hit the water.

“General, she’s pulling away.”

“Who is?”

“Carleton. It looks like the Governor sent longboats to tow her off.”

Arnold uttered a bitter little laugh. “Sir Guy couldn’t get that young man to run, so he is taking the decision out of his hands.”

“There may be more to it than that, sir.”

“What do you mean?”

“Look.”

Taking care now to remain low behind the spruce screening, the General-turned-Admiral followed his aide’s outstretched arm and raised his scope. As Carleton turned away, in the tow of the Governor’s rowers, emerging from behind her – from where Carleton’s nearness to Arnold had shielded it from the General’s sight – was the first image today that twisted Benedict’s stomach into a knot of raw, unalloyed fear. It was the towering spread of canvas that could only be one ship – ­Inflexible. She was tacking up the bay, headed to the center of the American line.

Arnold again surveyed his ships. In the lengthening shadows of late afternoon, the rattlesnake flags were all flying, but some were missing large pieces. Philadelphia was listing to port. Washington was dumping bodies overboard at an alarming rate. Royal Savage had been set afire where she lay, keeled over on the rock ledge. As Arnold watched, flames on that grounded ship grew, until they were temporarily snuffed out in one enormous mushroom cloud of smoke and flying debris. The fire had reached her powder magazine. During the long wait for the sound of the blast to arrive, Arnold’s eye was drawn back to Inflexible. It was within firing range for its big guns now, but still it came on. American cannon scored hits now and then, but the huge ship never slowed.

Inflexible continued, until she was within close range, then swung hard to port, dropped anchor, and began an endless salvo of broadsides that ripped into the American line. Her gunners had waited impotently all afternoon, while Carleton was blocking the channel. Now they seemed intent on revenge. For more than an hour, Inflexible pumped a shattering barrage of iron into the far smaller Patriot vessels. Masts were shattered, yardarms carried away altogether. Arnold’s own ship took twenty balls through the hull. Luckily, most of them were above waterline, but Benedict was finding it harder and harder to concentrate, while the screams of mangled men were rising around him, He knew there was no escaping this murderous hail. In fact, he himself had made sure of that.

Only the close of darkness brought an end to the ravaging, caused by Inflexible. With barely enough light to see, the British gunners fired a final broadside, then sailed downwind, away from what was left of the rebel fleet. After seven hours of combat, the battle was over – for today.

 

Aboard Maria, which had remained out of the battle after its hasty retreat, a now recovered Governor Carleton sat taking reports in his cabin.

“Governor, Iroquois braves captured some of the crew of Royal Savage, as they were trying to tow the boat off the ledge. Before they set fire to her, I accompanied a boarding party, which searched the ship, and I found these documents in the Captain’s cabin.” He held forth a leather pouch. With a nod, Carleton indicated he should place the pouch on his desk.

“They seem to be General Arnold’s personal records, sir. A lot of them look like receipts he obtained from merchants, when he bought supplies for his army in Canada last winter. I thought you’d want to have them, sir.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” was all Guy Carleton said. When the young officer had left, he lifted the bag with evident distaste, as if it might carry a contagious disease, leaving it on the floor beside him. Turning to his aide, he sneered, “I can’t possibly imagine what use I might have for such rubbish.”

Perhaps this was true. Benedict Arnold, however, had great use for these documents, which he would never see again. No one at that stage of the war could possibly have guessed, that the loss of those documents was probably the gravest blow delivered to the cause of American Independence that day.

 

“General Arnold, they’re all here, sir.”

“Send them in.”

As the thirteen ship’s’ commanders edged through the doorway, many of them stopped at the door, clearly in doubt as to whether to proceed.

“Come in, come in, gentlemen. But step carefully. Find a place to stand wherever you can.”

The commanders, who were arriving for a second Council of War, noted a grisly contrast in the surroundings, compared to the morning’s meeting. In the dim candlelight, thirty gravely wounded men lay everywhere about the cabin, on nearly every bit of floor. The polished, dark floorboards were now stained with puddles of bright red blood, flickering firelight from the distant Royal Savage occasionally reflected in the puddles. The map table top was a rainbow of colors, having served that afternoon as a surgeon’s table, where more than one limb had been removed, more than one abdomen sewn back together. Planks stretched between chairs, holding prostrate, heavily-bandaged men. On Arnold’s desk, a one-legged man, bandages covering his entire face, groaned incessantly. Prior to the meeting, Arnold had others removed, who were still screaming from having had hot tar applied to cauterize the stump of a freshly amputated arm or leg. Tar was the only antiseptic available, and a surprisingly effective one at that – if the individual survived the initial shock. Rum, their only anesthetic, had run out hours ago.

“My apologies for the inconvenience, gentlemen. But these men are too badly injured to be moved, and it is essential that we have privacy for our discussion. I request that you speak loudly, so as to be heard above the wounded. Close the door, Mr. Goldsmith.

“Now, damage reports!” Arnold barked. “Who here represents the Lee?”

“I do, sir.”

“You? A seaman?”

“Yes, sir. All the officers are dead.”

“Very well then, report.”

“It was mostly Injun sniper fire from the trees up top the cliffs, sir. If the men stayed behind the spruce shields they was all right. But every time an officer tried to move around, he’d get shot at somethin’ fierce. Ten men dead, six officers dead. Eleven men wounded.”

“Officers wounded?”

“None, sir. When one went down, those Injuns would jest keep pourin’ musket balls into him. Before we could get to a downed officer, he’d be riddled with holes.”

“How’s your ship?”

“Intact, sir. No holes below the waterline.”

“Powder and ammunition?”

“Almost gone, sir.”

“Who’s reporting for Philadelpia?”

“I am, sir.”

“Well?”

“She sank an hour ago, General. I’ve transferred all my men to New Jersey. Only about half the crew is left, sir. I haven’t been able to get an exact count yet, with everything that’s been going on.”

“New Jersey?”

“Here, sir, err…, we’re kinda in a bad way, General. Listing heavily to starboard. I’ve got every able-bodied man workin’ the pumps, but I don’t know if we can stay afloat.”

Goldsmith, Arnold’s aide, stood beside him, holding a sheet of paper on a book with an inkwell in his left hand, scribbling the information down with the other.

“We’ve used about three quarters of our powder magazine.”

“Who’s reporting for the Washington?”

“Here, sir. Seaman Robert Hawkins reporting. All our officers are either dead or wounded. We’ve got eleven total dead, about as many wounded, though many of them insisted on going back to their posts. Our foremast got cut in two by one of those Hessian shells. Hull’s leaking badly sir, but so far the pumps are keeping up. I’m not sure about our ammunition. Everyone who handled it, is dead. I’d guess we have about 20% left.”

“Thank you, seaman. Very good report. Seth Warner, I see you came through in one piece. Good to see you, old friend. How are things aboard Trumbull?”

“Not much better, sir.”

And so it went on, one after another. As the tales of devastation were recited, the heads of those standing about, were drooping lower and lower. Their situation seemed worse than desperate. Most eyes were glued to the floor.

Finally, Arnold raised a pistol, banging its handle against the wall. “With the damage reports out of the way, I hereby declare this Council of War convened! But let me begin by offering each and every man in this room my deepest gratitude and sincere admiration for the way you handled your men and your vessels today!”

A few heads came up, to stare at their commander in bewilderment.

“Today you handed the Royal Navy a pounding it is not likely to soon forget. Congratulations!”

More heads came up. Some stared at Arnold, cocked to one side.

“You and your men were wonderful today! Splendid is too weak a word to describe your actions.”

“But General, if it hadn’t got dark when it did, that damned Inflexible would’ve blowed us all to pieces!”

“Ah, but it did get dark. And here we are.”

“Yes!” another voice chimed in. “Here we are trapped! They’re laying off us tonight, making repairs, and tomorrow they’ll come back to finish the job. It’s time to sue for surrender terms General. I’m sorry to say it, but I think every man in this cabin will agree we’re whooped.”

“Hear, hear!”

“He’s right!”

“Speak for yourself!”

“Turning yellow, are you?”

“Gentlemen, gentlemen!” Arnold broke in. “Order, please! I think General Waterbury has something to say.”

All eyes turned to the ranking ‘land general’, who was leaning heavily on a cane. He cleared his throat once. “I’ll say the same thing I said this morning. Our only hope was to get out of here before the enemy arrived. General Arnold shrewdly scheduled this morning’s Council of War, when he knew that it would be too late to get out of this God-forsaken bay, didn’t you, General?”

Arnold stared straight back at him, but never uttered a word.

“I thought so”, Waterbury continued. “We have tried to fight, and we have been beaten. Tomorrow, we are going to start throwing bodies overboard again, until there is no one left to throw the last man over. What other choice is there but to surrender? There is no longer any hope at all of escaping to Ticonderoga and safety.”

“I wouldn’t say that.”

Arnold was speaking quietly, but every eye in the room now turned on him. They had all learned that he did not jest and did not make idle boasts.

Waterbury’s jaw dropped. “Carleton has drawn up his ships and boats, dozens of them, in a line, stretching right across the mouth of the harbor. They’d cut us to ribbons, before we got there. Unless you’re talking about rowing out that shoal-littered entrance at the north end of the bay. Even if we made it, that would put us between the English navy and army! Have you taken leave of your senses, Arnold?”

“Hardly, General, hardly. So, if you or anyone else is thinking of replacing me as unfit for command, you can forget that idea right now. Look, today we all showed the world something very important. So important that I would say it is priceless to our new nation. We have shown the world that we are men, fighting men! We are not ‘farm boys who run’. We are”, and he pointed to the ceiling, “rattlesnakes! Come near me, and I coil. Step on me, and I may die, but I will probably take you with me!”

He looked around the room, trying to peer into each man’s eyes as much as the dim light would allow. “Today you all showed John Bull that you will not kneel before him and beg for mercy! That you will strike! After today, Carleton, Burgoyne, why even London knows that if they want to conquer us, they are going to have to pay for it in blood!”

“And tomorrow it will be we, who pay in blood!”

“Why, General Waterbury, how can they kill us if we’re nowhere in sight?”

“All right, Arnold, what are you talking about?”

Benedict smiled from one side of his mouth. “Why, General, I thought you’d never ask. Gentlemen, please give me all your attention.” This request was superfluous. “You have fought brilliantly today, and it is vital that you survive to fight again. America needs men like you! It is true that this morning there was no way out of here. We had to stand and fight. But this is the night, when other things become possible. Mr. Goldsmith, bring in a lamp.”

Moments later, the lieutenant edged through the door sideways, carrying something that resembled an oil lamp, with a large, curved horn protruding from the top. The top tip of the horn had been cut off, leaving a tiny opening.

“Hold it up, so everyone can see, please. Gentlemen, outside, as we speak, it is not only dark. It is a moonless night with a fog rolling in – usual for this time of year. By midnight, visibility will be minimal. Now, it is true that many ships are out there, but Governor Carleton has done us the kindness of pulling them back a full half mile or more from us. At last light, the canoes and infantry barges were observed putting into shore for the night. There is a space of two hundred yards or more between the Iroquois camp on the New York shore and Carleton’s flagship Maria.” He paused. “I suspect that the Governor is delicate about the company, in which he sleeps.”

In the dim light, Benedict could see the flash of teeth from many of the powder-blackened faces at his last remark, and he now knew that he had them. An old maxim of his was that a man on the verge of panic doesn’t smile.

“These lamps are our way out of here. As you leave this cabin, each of you will receive a lamp and a piece of chalk. Rub the chalk on a three-foot section of your stern rail. Hang the lamp off the rail, so that the tiny beam of light, shining out the tip of the horn, will shine right on the chalk. It is visible, even in a night fog, but only from directly behind and at no more than fifty yards.”

“How do you know?”

“We tested it some days ago.” He paused to let this sink in. “At midnight, you will have every man lie silently on the deck, absolutely still. Take the wounded below and keep them quiet any way you can. Keep sails furled. Oil every oarlock. Wrap every oar blade in shirts to muffle their entry into the water. Test it first. I have already. It will answer our need. If every vessel stays within fifty yards of the vessel ahead, we can get out of here without incident. Is there any man present who is so intent on surrender that he refuses to try?”

“General, it’s not that I doubt your…”

“Seaman Hawking, is it?

“Hawkins, sir.”

“You are relieved of command, Seaman Hawkins. You will remain on this vessel, here in this cabin, until dawn, understood? Captain Hawley, your escape from Royal Savage seems particularly providential now. It seems we have need for a mariner who possesses not only skill, but strong nerve as well. I want you to take over Washington and lead the way out of here. Does anyone else have anything to say?”

He gave a long last look at the faces about him, flickering in the light of the burning Royal Savage. None of the faces were now looking at the floor.

“Very well, then, Gentlemen, it is now and will always be the greatest honor of my life to say that I served with you at the battle of Valcour Bay. Let us leave now only to fight another day. Look to your ships. Dismissed.”

 

Five hours later, Arnold was crouching at the rail of Congress. A hundred yards away, the shoreline was lit with the bonfires of Iroquois braves. They were whooping, engaged in some kind of dance around these fires, a dance whose intentions he felt confident he could guess. If even one of them walked to the water’s edge to wash, the Congress might be seen.

Without leaving his spot on the quarterdeck, Arnold carefully pivoted to look the other way, and he could see the lighted stern of Carleton’s flagship Maria. He thanked God for the bright lights all over the ship, lights which would rob those on board of the night-vision necessary to see him. He swiveled back again and had to strain to make out the tiny mark of white through the fog that marked the way to salvation.

Suddenly, a roar of voices erupted from aboard Maria. He turned abruptly, knocking his telescope from his pocket as he did so, and catching it just before it hit the deck. When he recovered from the fright, he realized that the voices were merely carpenters, issuing orders. Then a gale of laughter erupted from the open windows of the Captain’s cabin. From the volume of it, Benedict Arnold knew that Guy Carleton had probably just made some lewd remark about what he would do, when he got his hands on ‘The Apothecary’ the following day.

 

 

Chapter 13

 

Long Island, October 11, 1776

 

At the very moment, when Benedict Arnold was saluting the rattlesnake flag on board his ship in Valcour Bay, Robert Townsend was pulling the wool collar of his riding cloak further up his neck, to fend off the cold northerly breeze. He had started his trip home from New York before dawn and was now sitting on his horse on the Hempstead Plain, engaged in a favorite ritual of his. Whenever he was outdoors at dawn, Robert always tried to stop for sunrise and take in what he described to everyone as this miracle, which daily transforms life.

Bird calls heralded the first piece of glowing orange ball to peek over the edge of the Plain. Its rust-tinted light deepened the red of scattered barns, turning fields of grass on several abandoned farms into a spectacle, with gusts of wind that made the grass rustle and undulate in waves, looking remarkably like the white caps, which were at this moment sweeping Valcour Bay.

“I could never kill myself,” Robert said silently. “No matter how much agony I might be in, as long as I can see the sun rise and hear birds, I will try to continue to draw breath.”

Now the orange ball floated free of the horizon, producing the special light which this frustrated artist so loved. It was flat light, painter’s light. It set three-dimensional objects aglow in a way that made them look two-dimensional. The light just before sunset was similar, he realized, but the morning light was still his favorite. It was clean and innocent, speaking of rebirth of color and form to a world, which had lain shapeless and dark too long. Across the Plain, scattered birch, maple, and beech stood at the peak of their fall foliage, spiking up above the rolling beige sea beneath. Along fence lines, the occasional juniper stood dark green, in contrast to it all.

Smoke was rising from chimneys on most farms, and he knew what this meant: cows had already been milked, chickens fed, and eggs harvested, and now families were gathering at tables, their appetites sharpened for food and for the company of one another. Robert gently kicked his boot heels into his horse’s flanks and continued his journey. He pulled from his saddlebag a biscuit he’d picked up from an early bakery near the stable and, as he bit into it, the warming smell of fresh-baked bread flooded his nostrils, bringing him back to his Mother’s kitchen. It was moments like this, which always accentuated how alone in the world he felt.

Washing down the bread with a swig from the water bottle, he thought about his schedule for the week, the business matters he had to tend to for Father and Mr. Templeton – the man who had become like a second father to him. Templeton had promoted Robert to senior clerk after the fire, praising him to his partners as “the man, whose cool head and daring saved our business.”

So now Robert had even more responsibilities and, as a result, he was making this trip to inform his father that he had to reduce the amount of assistance he could give him, procuring goods in New York. Robert dreaded the conversation, but it was unavoidable. He hoped the family wouldn’t think him a disloyal son, but he had to get on with his own life. It was time for a new beginning. Returning to his rumination on his increasingly crowded schedule, he realized today’s date, which made him smile. October 12 was the day that Columbus reached America. A good day for new beginnings, he thought.

Leaving the Plain, he entered an area of shrubby trees with brilliant fall foliage, where the light was dimmer. A few miles later, in the pines, the colors vanished, and a gloom seemed to settle overhead, as his horse’s swaying gait altered slightly to begin the long descent through Pine Hollow. The stiff onshore breeze murmured in the needles above and brought a new scent, one which always spoke of home, the smell of salt in the wind off Oyster Bay. Two farm wagons without load passed slowly on their way out of town, having already sold their produce at the wharf.

The steady cadence of his mount’s hooves clipped lazily around the corner of West Main, and then Old Homestead came into view. As always, a churning mix of emotions roiled inside him, and while he was still sorting through them, his sister Sally came flying out the door, ran to his horse and grabbed his dusty boot, holding it tight.

“Oh, Robert, thank God you’re here!”

“What’s the matter, Sally?”

“Come inside quick. They’ve taken Father.”

“Who’s taken Father? Where?”

“The British! They came earlier this morning and said they had an order for his arrest.”

“What’s the charge?”

“Treason!”

At that moment, the rest of the family came tumbling out the door. His mother was in tears, and since he had never once in his entire life seen her cry, this hit him like a blow to the head. Sarah Townsend had always been the matriarch to calmly steer her family through any crisis, but it seemed that the likelihood of imminent execution for her husband had unhinged her. She suddenly looked old and helpless. Solomon was at sea. William was nowhere to be found, probably lying drunk in some tavern. Now they seemed to be looking to him for some solution. Robert fought to clear his head.

“We need help,” he finally said. “We need someone with money and influence with the British. You say their warrant listed Father’s crime as being the local representative to the New York Congress. That’s at least treason at a formal level. We can expect they will treat him like a gentleman, until we can get him out. But we can’t do it ourselves.”

“What about Mr. Buchanan, Robert?” Audrey called out. “Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan stayed with us last night. They left about an hour before the soldiers arrived!”

Robert thought this over and saw she was right. Thomas Buchanan, their mother’s first cousin, was a wealthy Tory, an avid Loyalist, but one who put family first. And besides, he was very fond of Samuel, even though their political arguments were legendary.

“Where were they headed to, Audrey?”

“They didn’t say. But they asked about the condition of the road to Cold Spring.”

Robert was on his feet. “Sally, tell Isaiah to saddle a fresh horse for me. Tell him I want the fastest one he can lay his hands on right away. Now! No delays! Sally, go with Mother and gather all the money we have in the house. Put it in the saddlebags. David, run down to the store and get me two bottles of rum. Run! Audrey, I need a description of the Buchanan’s carriage. You didn’t notice? Then ask a stable hand. Move!”

Twelve minutes later, Robert’s new mount was kicking up a trail of dust, galloping east. The others waited anxiously, doing their best to soothe their mother. They listened to her complaints of how their father refused to flee to Connecticut after the fall of New York, like so many of their Whig neighbors. “He just kept saying they would not make him run,” she sobbed.

Four hours later, Robert was back home, where Buchanan had sent him to retrieve the deeds to his father’s house, land, and ships. “They may be needed to post bond,” he had said. “Meanwhile, I’ll go straight to Judge Hicks in Jericho, which is where they’ve probably taken him. It’s imperative, Robert, that we get him out somehow before he is transferred. If they don’t execute him, they’ll ship him to the Provost in New York. Their makeshift jails and prison ships are packed solid with captives from last month’s battle, and they seem to be deliberately trying to kill as many prisoners as possible by starvation and neglect. We have to act fast! Keep the cash you brought. It’s not enough anyway, and I can give them a check. But get those deeds! I’ll meet you in Jericho.”

Now, papers tucked inside his shirt, Robert was moving at a fast trot up the Pine Hollow road, when Buchanan’s carriage swung into view, coming toward him. Beside it rode the tall, overweight Thomas Buchanan – on Samuel Townsend’s horse. Robert’s chest tightened. Buchanan recognized him, grimaced, and ordered his driver to halt. Robert spurred his horse and drew up to his Tory relative. “I’m sorry, my boy,” Buchanan muttered, “I got there as fast as I could.” Tears sprang to Robert’s eyes, but before they could fall he heard what sounded like his father’s voice from inside the carriage. “Robert, is that you?”

Leaping from his horse, he flung open the door and froze. Joy, bewilderment, pain, anger, and shame all coursed through him in a matter of seconds, as his eyes took in the spectacle, and the smell hit him. It was his father all right, curled in a near fetal position on the seat, hugging his knees, shaking uncontrollably. On the seat, on Samuel’s boots and pants was a foul-smelling, brown ooze. “I’m sorry, son,” a weak voice quavered. “I’m sorry. I just… They…” The old man took a deep, shaky breath and began to cry.

Buchanan spoke next. “Before I even got there, Hicks took him and six others, gave them a sham of a trial and sentenced them to a firing squad. They took them out and tied them to posts, and I walked in just as they gave the commands to aim and fire.” Here he paused and seemed to fight for control. “They shot at them with blanks, Robert. It was some sort of sick joke. Everyone laughed themselves silly afterwards. All but seven, of course. I’m sorry, Robert. Your father was staring defiantly at them right up until the moment the guns went off. Then his nerves seemed to just snap.” The Tory looked at the ground. “He soiled himself. So did two of the others.”

Robert turned away and walked, stooping, across the road, repeatedly clenching and unclenching his fists. Finally, he straightened up, inhaled deeply and returned to the group. Buchanan watched him intently, trying to gauge his mood.

“I’m so sorry, Robert. On behalf of our addlebrained government, I apologize to you. I did what I could. The conviction stands, but I have posted bond for a temporary release to my custody. Judge Hicks let me know he can be amenable to financial encouragement. I believe I can get them to settle for indefinite house arrest for Samuel, but only if you and your father will come in next week and sign loyalty oaths before him.”

“Before that pig – who did this? Never!”

“Robert, they have your name on their list too. Samuel was an official representative, but you are listed as quartermaster to the New York Congress.”

“That was purely a business move. It guaranteed us a lot of trade. You know how I feel about this idiotic revolution of theirs.”

“Well, they may or may not believe that, but the conditions of your father’s release include yourself signing an oath of loyalty to the Crown. Now look, Robert, I don’t care what your politics are. I don’t care if you really mean it when you take the oath. Now don’t get me wrong, I know you’re a religious man and you consider an oath sacred. But the bottom line, my merchant cousin, is that if you don’t take the oath, Samuel goes to a prison ship that will kill him in a matter of months.”

Robert hung his head for a long moment, then raised it and stared straight through the open carriage door. “I’ll do it,” was all he said. With that he remounted and accompanied the carriage into Oyster Bay. He had them stop around the corner, out of sight of the house, and rode into the yard, calling for his mother, and his mother only, to come out. As the rest of the family watched from windows, they saw Robert lean over from the saddle and speak quietly to Sarah, who then bolted, running out of the yard and up the street. Robert never looked at the faces in the windows. He stared straight ahead as he rode to the stable, stopping outside, motionless.

Isaiah came out of the stable, taking hold of the horse’s bridle. “I got her, Marster Robert.” But the rider failed to move. His gaze continued level, as if focused at some fixed point on the horizon. “I got her now, Marster Robert” Isaiah repeated more quietly. Finally, the stableman’s right hand reached out and shook Robert’s leg gently. In response, the rider climbed woodenly out of the saddle and strode silently past. He didn’t look at his siblings, and he didn’t speak. In fact, he would never speak about this incident. The children in the window merely saw their brother disappear into the stable, and seconds later they heard the crash, as the side of a grain bin was shattered by Robert’s fist.

 

 

Chapter 14

 

Lake Champlain, October 12, 1776

 

At last, Arnold was able to make out his ships through the fog. He was reassured to see that they were all there. Once they were out of earshot of Valcour Bay, repairs began, and much of the damaged rigging was replaced. Arnold could also see the land clearly now, and that was another matter. He had assumed they would make it to Split Rock by sunrise where they could form a line of battle across the narrows. But they were nowhere near it. Their flotilla could only move as fast as the slowest ship, which was why he had put the heavily damaged Washington in the lead. To have left any stragglers would have been a death sentence for those aboard. Now, though, he saw that they had made poor progress, and the wind was light.

As the sun began to rise, Goldsmith rushed to his side. “General, I just came down from the crow’s nest, and through the telescope it looks like a northerly wind is picking up behind us.”

“How far behind us?”

“A good eight miles, sir.”

“That means Carleton will get the wind before we do.” He stood silent for a moment, lost in thought. “He would have missed us some time after first light. How long depends on how fast the fog clears out. The sun and wind will burn it all off, though, and he’ll hoist sail and come after us.”

“What can we do, sir?”

“Pray for a stubborn fog, Lieutenant.”

 

 

USA 2000-01
“Pray for a stubborn fog, Lieutenant.” – This picture shows morning fog on Natanis Pond, Maine, September 2001. This pond is named after Natanis, an Abenaki chief, who did his best to prevent Arnold’s men from reaching Canada. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

“Sail ho!”

Benedict’s head drooped for the first time in days. “Belay that prayer.”

“General?”

“Hoist signal flags. ‘Enemy sighted’ – ‘Maximum speed’.”

“Aye, sir. But the men have been rowing all night. I don’t know how much longer they can keep it up.”

“You would be amazed at what raw fear can do to the energy level of a tired man, Mr. Goldsmith. Hoist those flags.”

Arnold himself climbed into the rigging and took out his glass. The view through it seemed incomprehensible. Emerging from Valcour Bay was a parade of billowing British sail. Here he and his men were rowing through a dead calm, and the enemy appeared to have a stiff breeze at their backs.

“Whose side is God on?” he muttered darkly, scrambling back down to the deck.

“Are all the wounded aboard Liberty now?”

“Aye, sir.”

“Very well. I want you to take down this dispatch for General Gates at Ticonderoga, give it to Liberty‘s Captain and tell him to hurry straight to the fort at Crown Point with the wounded. Ready?

“‘My Dear General, Inflicted moderate damage on enemy at Valcour Bay. The battle was very warm. We suffered much from want of seamen and gunners. Enemy is very superior to us in ships and men. Sank several small vessels and heavily damaged one man-of-war. Royal Savage lost by bad management. Am scuttling Providence, New York, and New Jersey’.”

He realized that the scribbling noise of his aide’s quill had ceased and turned on him. “You heard correctly, Mr. Goldsmith, we are scuttling them. This is not the time to stand on sentiment. Are you ready to continue, sir?”

Receiving no answer, he resumed. ‘They are too heavily damaged to keep up. Am moving with utmost dispatch to Crown Point and Ticonderoga with enemy in close pursuit. Have sent five fastest vessels ahead. I remain behind with Congress to accompany the slower, more heavily damaged boats. Am in bad need of ammunition and a dozen large skiffs to tow my ships south. Your humble and obedient servant etc., Benedict Arnold.’

“Did you get all that? Good. Now one last thing. Before Liberty sails, scour her for any man with a leg wound who can still pull an oar and get them off to spell the rowers on the slower ships. Ready? Move!”

By mid-morning, Inflexible was gaining on the badly damaged Washington. In fact, it was almost within firing range. A skiff from the latter ship pulled up to Congress, and a lieutenant clambered aboard. Arnold waved him over. “How goes it on Washington, young man?”

“Sir, General Waterbury requests permission to surrender!”

For a long moment, Arnold failed to speak. Even through a stubble of beard and powder smoke, his features visibly colored. “What does Captain Hawley say?”

“Sir, he is arguing with the General, telling him we can still sail and shoot, but the General is pulling rank, sir.”

“Lieutenant, you get back and tell that… that… General Waterbury… that his request is denied! Am I clear?”

“Yes, sir!”

“No one is surrendering today!”

Arnold raised his telescope, watching the lieutenant return. Within five minutes of his re-boarding Washington, Inflexible opened fire on her, but before Inflexible had time to reload, Arnold saw the rattlesnake flag come down. Washington had struck her colors.

“I… I…, of all the…” Arnold turned and walked the length of his ship, repeatedly clenching and unclenching his fists.

“General, Inflexible is headed for us now!”

It was the Congress and four small row galleys now against the massed firepower of Inflexible, Maria, and even the repaired Carleton. As they passed through the narrows, all three ships began a steady fire from their bow guns. Arnold’s reaction was to go below to his cabin.

As Captain Starke aboard Maria stared at Congress through his glass in bewilderment, he saw the windows of the captain’s cabin crank open. Moments later, two puffs of smoke spat from the windows. And moments after that an eighteen-pound ball made a direct hit on his ship.

It was – who else but Arnold? Last week’s captain’s cabin, yesterday’s hospital, last night’s council chamber, was now an impromptu battery. Starke ordered a course correction for Maria, before Arnold could reload. Arnold kept up a steady fire from his cabin, alternating rounds with orders for course corrections – dodging and weaving, trying to give his pursuers reason to do the same. This worked, until they emerged from the narrows and the British ships had room to maneuver.

A sound like thunder and a shudder like an earthquake threw Arnold to the floor. Overhead, he heard men screaming. As he picked himself up off the floor, Goldsmith stumbled through the cabin door. “It’s Inflexible, General! That was her first broadside. We had better get ready for another.”

“Very well. You take over here, Oliver. Keep these guns firing. Do your best to give them hell.” And with that Arnold disappeared from Goldsmith’s sight up the gangway, only to come clattering back down headfirst a second later, as the shock of Inflexible’ second broadside hit. Goldsmith ran to him, but he was already scrambling to his feet. “I’m all right, damn it! You get at those guns!”

For the next four hours, Congress sailed, surrounded by three, five, and finally seven British ships. Arnold was everywhere – manning the wheel, trimming sails, firing cannon, bandaging wounded, dumping bodies overboard. His hat had disappeared hours ago. His hearing was also nearly gone, deafened by the incessant explosions. By the time the shadows began to lengthen, he stooped, reacting to rigging crashing down around him. His voice was hoarse, but he was still able to shout loud enough to be heard between broadsides. “Seaman, go below to my cabin and find Goldsmith! Tell him I need a complete damage report, fast!”

Arnold was single-handedly dumping another lifeless body over the side, when he heard the aide calling him. Turning around, he saw Goldsmith crouched, running across the deck in his direction. Then everything exploded in a blur of wood, rope, blood, and human tissue. Arnold thought he had been blinded at first, but he kept wiping at the stinging sensation in his eyes and began to see color. It was red. He looked down and saw that he was covered in blood. And there was Goldsmith, lying in a pool of it, holding his right thigh and grimacing, his face gray. Arnold rushed to his side and knelt, placing his aide’s head in his lap and cradling it in his arms.

“How bad is it, Oliver?”

“I…, I…, bad, sir. I made the inspection.”

“Oh, that can wait, let’s get you below.”

Through clenched teeth, Goldsmith muttered, “I don’t think you should wait, General. Hear me out while I can still talk.”

Arnold looked around frantically for a cloth to wrap around the wounded thigh. Every bit of fabric he could see was already soaked in blood.

“It’s bad, sir. About half the officers and men are either dead or damn close. Wounded filling the cockpit. Doctor dead. Mainmast has taken two direct hits. Don’t know how it’s still standing. You know about the rigging.”

Arnold nodded, then bit his lower lip, trying for the first time today to hold back tears. Goldsmith’s eyes rolled back into his head, but then came back, struggling to focus. “General?”

“I’m right here, Oliver!” Benedict squeezed his hand tightly.

“Oh, where was I? Oh, twelve – I think it’s twelve – holes through the hull. We’re flooding faster than the pumps can… Oh, yes.” He turned to look up, paused, and actually smiled. Arnold winced, because blood was oozing through the teeth and dribbling down his chin. “Now would you like the bad news, General?”

“The bad news, what are you talking about, Oliver?”

“We’re out of ammunition. And oh, yes, we’re still ten miles from Crown Point.”

Goldsmith smiled again briefly, then began to cough uncontrollably.

“Seaman, get him to my cabin!”

Arnold rose unsteadily to his feet and vomited. “I won’t surrender!” he yelled to no one. “I won’t let them have my ship!” If only he could blot out the noise, the stench, the taste of blood and vomit. He looked up and off to the coast, off the port bow.

“Helmsman! Hard to starboard! Take us there, into Buttonmould Bay. It’s too shallow for their big ships. They can’t follow us in there!”

“All cannon over the side! Helmsman, beach her! And signal the others to follow. You there, seaman! Get over in a skiff to the other vessels. Here’s what you tell them.”

An hour later, night had fallen, and Benedict Arnold stood in a log cabin on the shoreline bluffs, watching the remains of his fleet burn to the waterline in Buttonmould Bay. Following instructions, they had all set fire to their rattlesnake flags while still flying, and the burning serpent bodies undulated against the black sky. Arnold’s marines crouched behind trees and kept up a deadly musket fire on British infantry barges that were trying to salvage Congress.

Unbeknownst to Arnold, the gunner’s mate, whom he had sent back to the grounded row galley to rescue the crippled Goldsmith, was starting to panic. The lieutenant begged the gunner to throw his body over the side and not leave him to die in the flames. “You’ll be dead before the fire gets to you,” was his reply, as he disappeared over the side. Arnold only found out about this, when the fire reached the galley’s powder magazine. In the explosion that followed, the lieutenant’s body was thrown skyward, the gold braid on his epaulets glinting in the firelight. Arnold turned on the man.

“You cowardly bastard! You’re not worthy of wiping his boots!” He pulled his sword and held it at the ready. “Get ready to die, you…. I’m going to put my sword through your guts and twist! I’m going to watch you die slowly, like he did!”

At that moment, Arnold was knocked to the floor by the concussion of a naval salvo. The ships may not have been able to enter this bay, but the Hessian artillery barges could, and they had found the range on the cabin. Everyone inside threw themselves out windows and doors, as the cabin began to explode one piece at a time.

“What do we do now, General? The Iroquois have got to be out in those woods. I hear they can smell blood, and there ain’t a man here isn’t covered with it!”

“I don’t want to get scalped, General. Maybe we should surrender to those Hessians.”

Just then, a small voice at Arnold’s side said something he couldn’t quite hear. It spoke up again. “Excuse me, sir, but even the Indians use the Skenesboro Road. I can show you another path no Canadian Iroquois know about.”

“Who are you?”

“Peter Ferris, sir, I live here, err…, I mean, I used to live here.”

“How old are you, Ferris?”

“Fourteen, sir.”

“You remind me of another fourteen-year-old I used to know. Carry on. We’ll follow you.”

The wounded were slung in impromptu stretchers – sails wrapped over oars. There were about 150 men altogether, and they walked all night, twenty miles, to Crown Point. When they arrived, Arnold wasted no time.

“I want this entire place set to the torch! Their ships will be here at any moment. We are not going to leave them comfortable winter quarters here. No man leaves, until every single building is in flames – fort, warehouses, docks, sheds, barracks, blockhouses, everything! Understood?”

They left Crown Point two hours before the Royal Navy arrived. They walked all day and most of the following night, arriving at Ticonderoga at four in the morning. Most of them hadn’t slept for three days. For Arnold it had been four.

 

 

USA 2000-01
“No man leaves, until every single building is in flames – fort, warehouses, docks, sheds, barracks, blockhouses, everything! Understood?” – Ruins of Fort Crown Point, Lake Champlain, September 2001. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Quebec’s Royal Governor Guy Carleton didn’t arrive at Crown Point until October 20. Three inches of snow lay on his soldiers’ tents, and more was coming down. Carleton stumbled ashore, walking through the charred wreckage in shocked disbelief. He had never expected anything like this from ‘The Apothecary’ and his men. They hadn’t just resisted, they had put up a dogged, determined, brilliantly conceived campaign of fight, delay, and withdraw. Fifteen thousand British and Hessian soldiers, the Six Nations of the Iroquois, the entire year, and what did he have to show for it all? He was deep in the wilderness of a wily enemy, with the winter putting an end to any thoughts of offensive in this unforgiving country. And on top of that, he now had no winter quarters for his army.

On November 1, Carleton stood in a gentle snow shower beside what used to be the dock at Crown Point. He handed a messenger a dispatch for General Burgoyne, ordering his troops back to Canada. Then, for a long moment, he stared up at the sky. Those watching disagreed, whether it was tears or melted snow that streamed down his cheeks, but those closest to him all agreed that they could hear him murmur to himself, “Whose side is God on anyway?”

 

 

Chapter 15

 

St. John’s Theater, New York, January 1777

 

The director strode to the center of the stage, yelling, “Gentlemen, gentlemen, the authorities may have allowed me to re-open this theatre to raise money for charity. That does not mean that I intend to allow shoddy performances to be presented. This is New York, and we produce the best theater in the Colonies!”

“Well, when I volunteered to be an actor, I didn’t picture myself giving a convincing performance of a lovesick young girl in a swoon,” boomed a deep male voice.

“Lieutenant Andre! You of all people I expected to show some sympathy here. You at least have thespian experience, and you know that army tradition prohibits the use of women in theatricals.”

“Is this an army theater, then, Colonel Beaumont?”

“Oh, for God’s sake, you know it’s not. But it is a theater in a city under martial law! So we are governed by military rules. I know it’s idiotic. If you can do something about it, please do!”

Offstage, two older officers whispered to one another, “I would think if anyone could do something about it, it would be the world’s champion arse-kisser.”

“John Andre?”

“Precisely. He’s browned his nose on General Howe’s bottom long enough that the General owes him a small favor, don’t you think?”

Andre, oblivious to this exchange, stood at the center stage, answering his director, “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Well, see about it quickly, will you?” Col. Beaumont fairly shouted. “Look around you. I have to pack the house every night to pay for all this! And you, don’t roll your eyes at me, Mister, or you’re out of here! Look around, you people. You may be unsalaried, but I give you first class transportation to get here, the best food and drink in New York while you are here, and other things you just take for granted! Look around you. I’ve got door-keepers, scene-shifters, stage attendants, printing, advertising. Do you have any idea how many candles it takes to light this place? And don’t even ask about the costumes. With the shortage of good fabric and quality seamstresses you would not believe what I end up paying; it makes me nauseous just to think about it. And while I know you may not approve, Lieutenant Andre, of the stylistic niceties of these 14 Hessian musicians, I’ve got to pay them, too. If I don’t clear 300 Pounds a performance, this theater will be closed back up after the first week, do you understand? That means that we must charge top dollar for tickets, and people expect to see top performances. So, please, be nice people and do your best to give them what they’ve paid for, will you?” He paused to look them over. “Take five!”

As Beaumont stalked off stage he shook his head, muttering under his breath, “Actors!”

In the dimly-lighted back row of the balcony, a woman’s laugh rang out from a figure seated alone. John Andre looked up, and a flash of auburn hair caught his eye. Moments later, he was standing beside her, introducing himself and becoming increasingly fascinated by a pair of dancing green eyes. “Are you a fan of the theater?” he asked. She smiled coyly, but had so far not spoken, and he found himself eager to find out what type of voice accompanied such astounding beauty.

“I’m not sure, if ‘fan’ would be the proper characterization, Lieutenant, unless that is how you describe yourself. I am an actress, an amateur one, likely with less training than you got in England and less exposure to real theater, but I consider myself an actress just the same.”

“Surely, it is talent which makes the actress, not experience and training.”

She laughed. “You are very kind, sir.”

“But you are interested in the theater, then?”

She didn’t answer at first. Those eyes, penetrating now, seemed to be evaluating him. “Why do you ask?”

“I thought that perhaps I might show you around during our break. I would be honored if you will allow me.”

She smiled, noting that it mattered to him. “Very well, then.”

Less than a minute later, Andre was leading her by the hand through the labyrinth of dressing rooms beneath the stage. She lifted a vial of greasepaint.

“And so, Lieutenant, is this what you wear when you are swooning with lovesickness? Eye shadow, too? I must come back for the performance, I’m sure you’re quite lovely.”

He placed one hand over his heart, raised his head and murmured, “Love darts wound.”

“Oh, it’s love already, is it, Lieutenant?”

“Now, now, you must have heard my opinion on the subject just now. We should have women playing women, and I intend to do everything I can to make that happen.”

“And just how much can a low-ranking officer do about it?”

He clasped his chest, “Twice pierced! Actually, it does so happen that I have had my transfer request approved by General Howe and am about to become a chief aide to Sir Henry Clinton, who, if you’d like to know a secret, is himself destined to become the new commandant of the army in America, with headquarters in New York. So, you see, my lovely archer, there may be a great deal that even a lowly lieutenant can do about it. Besides, I’ve been promised a Captaincy soon.”

“One so young?” she arched one eyebrow.

“A great man once said that it is not training or experience that matters so much as raw talent.”

She laughed, lightly touching her chest with one hand. Andre was surprised himself to see, just how strong an effect it had on him.

Four hours later, he was pouring the woman with the dancing green eyes a third glass of claret in the best tavern in New York, while holding forth on Sir Joshua Reynolds. He smiled while he poured, and found herself captivated by that smile. It was devoid of malice and gave the impression not of a pompous individual in love with his own voice, but of a brilliant young man, without affectation, at play in the realm of ideas.

“Reynolds is right”, he said while proffering the crystal goblet to her. “The artist’s goal is not to merely reflect Nature. Any competent craftsman can do that. Only the true artist can improve on Nature, can create forms more perfect than the original. It’s what the artist calls ideal beauty, my dear, and it is the guiding principle, by which works of genius are created. Surely, you would agree that Shakespeare did it, too.”

“You’re quite the esthetic theoretician, John,” she cooed. He couldn’t decide, if it was a tone of admiration or friendly mockery. He did know, though, that it thrilled him that he couldn’t be sure. This was indeed a woman with multiple levels. A bright and fascinating woman. But he decided to play straight man to her.

“It’s not me, not at all. This is all Reynolds talking. I’m only repeating what I read. But Reynolds puts his beliefs into action every time he picks up a brush.”

The woman was thinking that she wished dearly she had met John Andre before the war – in London perhaps – so nothing of the last few years would have occurred. She found that for the first time in a long time she felt wonderfully, viscerally alive in the company of a man. He was brilliance, gentleness, artistry, character, and power, all rolled into one startlingly young individual. (He can’t be more than twenty-five, she thought.) He had boyish good looks and charm and, it was said, came from what was called a ‘good’ family. No wonder every woman in New York wanted him, and every mother schemed to make introductions for their daughters. He was enough to thrill any female. Why, she asked herself, couldn’t she forget the war for just one day and simply sit here, basking in his company for the raw pleasure of it? Then, of course, it happened.

“Reynold’s point, my dear, is pertinent here in America as well. We, the army that is, are molders of the British Empire, and our vocation is to take the raw ‘Nature’ that we find here, and to make it more ideal. Do you know Banastre Tarleton? He has, I believe, found exactly the tool to do it. Not the paintbrush, but the bayonet. It’s the one thing these Yankee farmers just can’t stand up to. You should see Tarleton in action! I travelled with him in the field just last week. After reading the reports I had to see it for myself. He actually forbids his infantrymen to load their muskets! Can you believe it?”

“What’s the point of that?” she asked, the music now gone from her voice.

Andre, too enthusiastic now to have noticed the shift in her mood, went on. “He steals up on the American camps before dawn, has his men fall in line with bayonets fixed and simply walk into the camp. Half the time their lookouts are asleep, and there are no shots to warn anyone. The day I was with him, they bayoneted nine men, before they could even get out of their blankets. The rest fell all over themselves in their hurry to surrender!

“Oh, I’m sorry, I see now that I have spoken indelicately and offended your sensibilities. I merely wanted to assure you that you need not worry about the safety of yourself or your family. We have the means to gather these rebels up and quash this rebellion before Christmas! These people are essentially rabble. Meet them with discipline and cold steel, and they flee, or beg to surrender. Still, such a mob can become emboldened with time. That is why it is important to take prompt action and end this insurrection now!”

He looked inquisitively at her, but, despite serious effort on her part, she could form no reply. Whatever John Andre must have taken this to mean, he smiled silently, took her hand in his own, bowed formally from the waist and kissed her knuckles.

“I thank you for a most enjoyable evening, and I apologize for my lack of sensitivity. If I may be so bold, might I ask for the pleasure of your company on another occasion, where I promise not to talk shop?”

Now she forced a small smile, “On the contrary, John. I find you to be one of the most sensitive men I have met. I would be delighted to see you again. And despite what you think, I actually love to listen to a capable man ‘talk shop’, as you say. So don’t stop on my account.”

 

 

Chapter 16

 

Near New Hope, Pennsylvania, December 20, 1776

 

Benedict Arnold’s horse limped to a halt on ice-damaged hooves. He couldn’t blame the animal. This was the coldest winter in living memory, and he’d been riding frozen roads for five days now. When General Washington had summoned him, he had come as quickly as possible. He had no idea what this was all about, but he was quite happy to be out from under General Gates’ at Ticonderoga.

Benedict’s attention was drawn to a field beside the river road, where drumrolls were summoning the remnants of the Continental Army. He edged his exhausted mount closer. Slowly, from the edges of this large clearing, shapes began appearing in clumps. Most were brown or black, with splashes of white, particularly around the legs. Long rods extended from their sides – muskets. The six-man log cabins, which housed the last of America’s standing army, were disgorging their contents, and it was not a pretty sight. In fact, it took Benedict back to Quebec and his ‘Scarecrow Army’.

Nearly everyone held a blanket around himself like a cloak. Black tricorner hats sat atop this, but they were tied down tightly over the head and ears with a motley array of clothing, cord, thongs. Some still wore the uniform white breeches. It was hard to say how many had boots. Those who did had wrapped them up in rope to hold them together, or rags to try to add some warmth. On many, no boot was visible, and one had to assume that beneath the clump of rags on each foot lay nothing but bare flesh. That flesh, Arnold knew, had to begin freezing the moment it left the warmth of the cabins. The shapes came on slowly through the loose, blowing snow, hunched against the wind and fluttering in it like so many shaggy beasts. But they came. As they drew nearer, the former commander of the Kennebec march saw in the tightly drawn faces, pinched mouths and sallow eyes, the familiar look of starvation.

When they had eventually assembled, the drums stopped, the officers called the men to attention, and, Arnold noted, the men went ramrod straight, as rigid and still as the best parade ground soldiers. An officer with the wind at his back stepped up, unrolling a bundle of paper. His booming voice informed the assembly that the great writer Thomas Paine, lately known as Private Paine of the Continental Army, had last night completed by firelight an essay, addressed specifically to them, and that General Washington had ordered it read to everyone here. “In other words, men,” the officer told them, “this is written to you.” For a few seconds, the hissing noise of ice particles, being blown across the snow-covered ground, was the only sound. Then the officer held the paper out at arm’s length and began reading.

 

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it NOW, deserves the thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”

 

An hour later, Benedict had his hands wrapped tightly around a mug of hot cider in General Washington’s private office.

“I called you here today, General Arnold,” Washington began, “because I need your advice. As you have seen, the situation here has grown desperate. I have fewer than 4,000 effectives left in the ranks. Smallpox is ravaging us. Starvation and cold are doing just as well, and finally there is desertion. It gets worse every week, and with Christmas coming up I fear my meager force could be cut in half. The men are starving, so I suppose it is to be expected, but they have pillaged every farm and village for four miles in every direction. The citizenry here is outraged, they are turning against us, and without the support of the populace an insurrection such as ours cannot possibly succeed.”

Benedict merely nodded.

“I called you here, because you are the only one I can turn to for competent advice. You faced similar circumstances in Quebec. I need your help.”

For the rest of that day and night, Arnold and Washington sat hunched over maps and supply lists, intelligence reports, scouting reports. At the Commander’s insistence, they were to be disturbed only for meals. By midnight, George Washington sat before his fireplace, leaning on his knees, his chin in one hand.

“Then you think my plan is a sound one?” he asked, eyes never leaving the fire.

“Yes”, Arnold answered, “within the limits we discussed. You are completely correct, sir, you must strike a victorious blow before the New Year, or the rest of these troops are likely to melt away. Then Philadelphia will fall and, along with our capital, we will lose hope. We both agree that it is only hope which sustains us now. It is a fire which needs feeding. This approach would have worked at Quebec, if it were not such a formidable fortress. At Trenton, you have no such problem. I find it hard to believe, but you say that you are confident your scouts are correct when they report the enemy has not even dug in.”

“No, General Arnold, that is correct. It is not the Hessians which concern me. After a Christmas party so far from home, their men will be drunk and hard to rouse. My fear is the river. It is choked with ice floes.”

“I wouldn’t worry about that, sir. The Delaware is a much smaller river than the St. Lawrence. We found out something useful up there. Ice floes look frightening from shore, because they are moving along at a speed which would smash any stationery object – ­like a wagon, attempting to ford. But once you are out on the river in a boat, your vessel is moving at the same speed downriver as the floes. You just bump them in your progress across the stream. Those bumps are nothing to fear, I can tell you that from experience. In fact…”

Arnold laughed and stopped speaking, but at Washington’s urging, he resumed. “It’s just that I was thinking about the start of our Canada trip, and the end. I began by standing in a canoe as we set off up the Kennebec; it seemed to have quite an effect on the men. Then I thought about those ice floes on the St. Lawrence. Why, General, I’ll bet you could stand up all the way across the Delaware, ice floes and all. And I’ll tell you one thing. People would remember it.”

 

 

Chapter 17

 

Fort Ticonderoga, February 14, 1777

 

His brow wrinkled, Benedict Arnold dipped the quill back into the ink bottle and continued scribbling. His writing was animated in the dark room, where only a gun-slit window in the dank stone wall let in any of the noonday brilliance, which was blinding on the snow outside. Here, hunched over his desk below a low brick arch, the second in command needed the aid of a candle to write.

A knock on the door was followed by the entry of his new aide. “Mail, sir. There’s a letter from your sister, and…”

“Let me see that one first. You can leave the rest and go. Thank you.”

Placing his quill down, he leaned back in his chair, opened her letter and began reading with a softened expression.

 

Dear Brother,

 

I hope that I may prove myself able to discharge the trust you have placed in me. As a woman, I am new to the business world and frankly unsure of myself but am doing my best to handle your affairs in your absence.

The outlook here is not good. The British blockade of New Haven has put a stop to all trade. I am selling off the warehoused rum and sugar for cash, as I fear the goods will depreciate. Have sold one of your ships – the brigantine. Your friends told me the odds of it getting through the blockade were one in ten. I invested the 530 Pounds from the sale in annuities and lent another 1,318 Pounds at interest after getting real security for it. The paper money is at danger of depreciating, and I thought it best to gain some interest. I hope you approve.

I have paid upwards of 1,000 Pounds of bills for you in your absence, and if you ever return you will find yourself a broken merchant, as I have sold everything on hand. Am also trying to get someone here to repair the roof. It is leaking worse than ever, but all the roofers are afraid to come to this part of Connecticut. Have sent you 4 waistcoats and 3 pairs of stockings.

‘Tis said, that in the bloody battle for New York thousands have lost their lives. Good God! What havoc does ambition make amongst His noblest works – brother slain by the cruel hand of brother, mothers weeping for their darling sons, sisters for affectionate and perhaps only brothers.

Your dear little boys remain blessed in ignorance. Oh, that their future life may be unclouded. Benedict was visited at his boarding school by Major Meigs, your comrade from Quebec. Benedict and Richard will write soon. Little Hal sends a kiss to Pa and says, “Auntie, tell my Papa he must come home, I want to kiss him.”

 

Benedict folded the letter, rubbed his eyes, and placed the paper in his vest pocket. After staring at the stone wall for some time he picked up the quill and began to write.

 

Dearest Sister,

 

I send this to you by military courier in hopes that it will not take the months, which your missive needed to reach me. Enclosed is my last will and testament. I trust to you to see that my wishes are carried out. I should have sent this to you a year ago, but I fear my life may be in greater danger now than ever before. The wolves are circling. Also enclosed are receipts from Elezer Oswald who has been released on parole after being captured at Quebec. These are receipts from money of ours which I had given him to distribute among the other prisoners at Quebec. Keep them safe, I do not trust to their security here.

I am to face a court martial, which I have demanded to clear my name. Enos, the snake who deserted us on the Kennebec, has conspired with his friend Hazen to bring charges that I stole from Canadian merchants during our retreat from Quebec. Apparently, there are discrepancies between the receipts and the inventories of goods we confiscated in order to slow the British. During that hectic time, proper record keeping would have been impossible for anyone. Nevertheless, they have conspired with Gates to hold me to the letter of the law. General Gates is well connected in Congress. John Adams in particular seems to believe anything he says. And my aides have informed me that General Gates is furious that I gained so much fame last fall for stopping the British with a few hundred men, while he sat on his hands with 12,000 soldiers here in the security of our greatest fortress.

I am told that the word around Congress today is that Arnold endangered the fleet and the fort merely to obtain personal glory at the cost of many dead. I have asked for reimbursement of our personal gold which I spent to feed my brave boys in Quebec. I am told that Congress will make no reimbursement without proper receipts. Since those receipts, which I was able to obtain, were burned in Royal Savage at Valcour Bay, I am afraid we have a difficult road ahead of us.

Last fall, General Gates refused to send me winter uniforms for my men, until they had spent weeks shivering under frost-covered blankets on open decks. When my men had gone three weeks with nothing to eat save potatoes and bread, and I requested meat and supplies from him, I was told we should forage for them on the lakeshore, when any fool north of the Albany knew the lakeshore was by then crawling with Iroquois braves. While he hailed my men and I as heroes the day that Carleton turned Burgoyne back to Canada, the tide now seems to have changed. I am reminded of the old Roman ritual of triumph for a victorious general, in which he rode through the streets in a chariot, acclaimed as the conquering hero, but all the while a slave stood beside him to whisper in his ear, “Remember all glory is fleeting.”

I hope I do not give you unnecessary cause for alarm. You are the only one to whom I can unburden myself. Pray do not worry yourself over business. You are doing fine. You are brighter and more capable than you realize. Remember me to the boys. Kiss Hal for me. I hope to come home on leave soon.

 

Your affectionate brother,
Benedict

 

 

Chapter 18

 

New York, April 15, 1777

 

Robert leaned earnestly across the counter.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Woodhull, we don’t have any of those items in stock right now. Frankly, everything not grown on Long Island is becoming hard to find. But a large supply convoy is expected from England and Ireland in the next few weeks. If you’d come back then, I might be able to accommodate you. I’m very sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it, Robert. I can wait. And stop calling me Mr. Woodhull. I’ve known your father and visited your house for most of my life, it seems. And now you’re a man. Hell, I’m only ten years older. Call me Abraham.”

He left Robert, smiling. Abraham was what people sometimes called ‘his own man’, and thus often made a lasting impression. Today, though, making a memorable impression, was the last thing he wanted to do. Today, he simply wanted to blend in. Outside Robert’s store, he turned right, walking up Princess Street, turning right again at the armory on the corner of Broad, continuing up Nassau. He had chosen this route deliberately to give himself strength for the task ahead. While he pretended not to take particular interest, he allowed his peripheral vision to sweep the gaunt and hopeless faces of American prisoners of war, crowding the windows of the old Livingston Sugar House, the French Church, and New Moravian Meeting House. All of them had been converted to makeshift prisons.

These faces fortified him for what he needed to do today. Like everyone in the New York area, he knew that these men were being slowly exterminated by the authorities through a policy of aggressive neglect. They were left in unheated rooms with only bars on the windows through bitter winter months while being fed starvation rations. The Crown was billed for full rations for each man, but Prison Commissioner Joshua Loring simply kept two thirds of that money for himself, while his deputy, Provost Cunningham, kept much of the rest. Neither worried, because everyone in New York knew that Loring received the post in return for not complaining about his wife being General Howe’s mistress. In fact, ‘the luscious Mrs. Loring’ was credited by the Patriot presses for explaining why General Howe so rarely took the field.

The American prisoners were jammed in their makeshift prisons so tightly, that they often had to sleep in shifts, because there was not enough room for all of them to lie down at once. Even then, an entire sleeping group often had to roll over simultaneously. While this provided some warmth, it also made the prisons fertile breeding grounds for the diseases, which continually ravaged them. Corpses were removed each morning, and in winter the British jailers simply stacked the frozen bodies like firewood, waiting until spring rather than digging graves in the hard ground.

Abraham turned left on John Street for the contrast, which he knew would only fuel his fire. As he approached the gaily decorated theatre, his anger began to rise. A well-dressed couple emerged from the stage entrance. A smiling British officer was making whispered remarks to a beautiful and well-dressed woman with long, flowing, auburn hair. She was laughing, clutching his arm. Then the woman glanced sideways and their eyes met. He knew her!

“Come, Elizabeth,” the officer said, “let me give you a lift in my carriage.”

The woman was glaring fiercely at Abraham by now, and he felt confused. He knew this woman, but her name was not Elizabeth, and the last place he would expect to find her was on the arm of an English officer.

“Coming, Elizabeth?” the officer queried, holding the door open while bowing dramatically at the waist. While he remained frozen thus, eyes downward, she looked back at Abraham and raised one finger to her lips, whereupon she climbed into the carriage. As they pulled away from the curb, their eyes met again, and he let his face show the depth of the disgust he felt at this turn of events. The rumble of hooves prevented him from hearing the officer ask, “Are you well, my dear?” The back of the vehicle, which Abraham watched fade into the distance, prevented him from seeing the woman’s weak nod and the lowering of her eyes to the floor, where they remained.

Finally, Woodhull shook his head and walked off, visibly bowed. His anger swelled, and the familiar nervous twitch of his left shoulder started up in earnest. He welcomed this anger for the work ahead today. The familiar fear was gone, at least for now, and that was important.

Espionage has often been called the world’s second-oldest profession, and in its long and checkered history it is likely, that no spy was ever less suited to the role than Abraham Woodhull of Setauket, Long Island. Even during peacetime, he was known as a nervous man. Tall and painfully thin, he stood out in a crowd like a sore thumb.

But when his cousin, Benjamin Tallmadge, told him that General Washington badly needed intelligence on New York, he had not hesitated to volunteer. After the Nathan Hale debacle, it was clear to everyone that better spycraft was needed, and a series of codes and couriers had been worked out. He was even issued a code name, Samuel Culper. The Culper Spy Ring became the eyes and ears of the Patriot army within the enemy’s headquarters city.

Woodhull turned right on Broad Way, passing St. Paul’s and paralleling the devastation of the Great Fire across the street. Every time he came in here, he marveled that the English Army had done nothing to rebuild the area. Their own supporters had fled here from the surrounding countryside for protection, since the army showed no interest in taking and holding that same countryside. Rather, it seemed content to remain ensconced in comfort here, venturing out occasionally but quickly returning. Therefore, those loyal to the Crown had to get to New York to enjoy the Crown’s protection, and when they finally made it, they soon found there was no housing for them, nor any interest in helping them rebuild some of the destroyed housing. The intact buildings were already bursting with more affluent gentry and officers.

“All this has to make it difficult to remain a supporter of the King,” Abraham thought, but just then he realized that a disturbance was taking place a few blocks ahead of him, and the old familiar fear rose up.

People were scurrying to get out of the wide dirt street. He could hear the thunder now of horse hooves. A mother a short distance in front of him, ran screaming into the street to scoop up a toddler and carry him to the safety of the sidewalk, just as the throng of horses came into view, galloping hard, heading downtown. As they entered his block, Abraham could hear them laughing and shouting to one another. They sounded drunk.

In the dust of their aftermath, he asked a man next to him, if the authorities permitted such behavior. “Surely, even officers, and they did look like officers, are reprimanded for such behavior, aren’t they?”

By way of reply, the man snorted bitterly, “What hay wagon did you just fall off of, country boy? That was the great General Howe himself!” He spat into the street as he said it. “And his staff! Every morning they ride their merry chase up town to their favorite taverns. Then, after a hard day of gambling and drinking, they come storming back in the afternoon. People have actually been trampled by their horses. You think the likes of them give a damn about the likes of us!” He spat again and walked away.

Abraham continued up Broad Way, past the stout brick of Bridewell Prison and the weathered clapboard of the Poor House. An array of two story houses now lined both sides of the street, with balconies extending out over the sidewalk, which provided breaks of shade here and there. Turning left onto Chambers, he watched the quality of homes decay. Here, rains gathered into pools of stagnant water, which rotted the very posts holding the raised balconies. As a result, some of the overhead structures were gone, others tilted precariously, and over the entire block rose a smell like that of a dank basement, in which clothing had lain too long. Before the war, many of these dwellings would have been rebuilt or at the very least knocked down, but now each seemed to be the center of life for several families, who were doing their washing, their hair-cutting, and their child-rearing right in the narrow, manure-filled street.

In this area, black faces had become more common – former slaves who had bought or been granted their freedom. He knew they provided New York’s cheapest paid labor and as such had been valuable members of the city economy before 1776. Now there were too many people in this city, not enough jobs to go around, and most of the whites hated them for digging ditches or performing other menial labor at wages so low, that it seemed unlikely anyone could feed a family on it. Abraham knew that these angry, underemployed sorts were merely getting their first taste of what life here had always been like for the free, non-white community.

Now, just past the Negro Burying Ground, the gardens began. Raneleagh, Vauxhall, and the others, whose names used to be associated with pleasure outings – a Sunday stroll after Church or a place for men and children alike to play games. Now they were being dug up and completely turned over to the growing of precious vegetables.

Here, at the water’s edge, Woodhull picked up Greenwich Street, turning north. His real work was about to begin. As he walked toward the fort, he couldn’t help but smile. The arrogant English army was so proud of its famous regiments and their vaunted histories, that they allowed many of them to wear their own variant of the uniform and sometimes regimental patches on their shoulders. This was a spy’s delight. You could spot the arrival of a new regiment by seeing a single soldier from across the street. Memorizing them was the hard part. He encountered so many in a normal day’s work, and today looked like it was going to be no exception. In front of him walked a sergeant of the light infantry, puffing a curled clay pipe. His wide-brimmed black hat, folded up and pinned on one side, was one of the most distinctive bits of headgear in the army. Since the light infantry were often the shock troops of British offensives, tracking their whereabouts could give indications of planned moves.

The lieutenant overseeing a work detail ahead was kind enough to wear a black leather cap, whose flat front read ‘G69R’ for 69th Guards Royal. The enlisted men, in their knee-length red coats, white breeches and vests, and knee-high black boots, were the quintessential English soldier in the mind of the civilian populace. The inverted crescent-shape of their black hats was often worn at a jaunty angle, with a feather inserted. They were the elite and they knew it and they showed that they knew it. Now it looked like they were the ones manning the new shoreline redoubt, rising here in the village of Greenwich before Abraham’s very eyes.

Trying to be as inconspicuous as his tall, gangly frame allowed, he circulated through the general confusion of building – mentally counting cannon, examining wall construction, and continuing to note indications of which other regiments were present. So many civilian workmen were ambling over the site, he told himself that one more would not be noticed. Still, he tried to avoid officers. He never remained long in one place, and never walked quickly. ‘Look like you belong’ was his motto. It had always worked well for him. Still, his earlier anger was now melting into his usual fear.

Twenty-five yards in front of him, one angry-looking Captain glared at him, hands on hips. Abraham halted in what he hoped was a casual manner. Bending down to adjust a shoe, he rose, stretched, and began to go back the way he had come. He could hear loud footsteps closing quickly from behind.

“You there, what do you think you’re doing?”

Abraham stiffened. He would explain that he was lost and just trying to find his brother, whose wife was giving birth to their child and needed him to come right away.

“Here there, look at me!” the voice boomed. Abraham turned to watch the angry captain stride up to him and right past him to a work gang whom he began to berate for their incompetence.

Woodhull tried not to laugh. Breathing again now, he pulled a handkerchief from his coat pocket and was wiping the sweat from his forehead as he walked, when a hand clapped him hard on the shoulder and a voice in his ear bellowed, “Halt!”

This officer, a lieutenant, told him that he knew a spy when he saw one and, refusing to listen to Woodhull’s cover story, had a squad of soldiers throw him into a locked cell. Left to contemplate his fate, Abraham thought of Nathan Hale and felt a sudden need to urinate.

“Can I get out a speech that brave,” he asked himself, “while they place the noose around my neck?” He thought of how he had no wife or children to mourn him. “I’ll just vanish from the face of the earth,” he thought. “I haven’t had a chance to be much help to General Washington, and it is going to make absolutely no difference to anyone, if I exist or I’m gone.”

Dusk was approaching, and the light within the cell slowly shrank away, until he found himself enveloped in complete and utter darkness. A lifetime later, it seemed, as dawn began to return visibility to his cell, Abraham heard boots in the hallway. Then came the rattle of keys, the yellow glow of a lamp, and powerful arms were upon him. Two soldiers held him in a tight grip, while a third one beat him. Then they dragged him down the hallway and out into the gray light.

Abraham felt tears well in his eyes, as he saw that they were dragging him to a dock. There stood the lieutenant, who had captured him, and the angry captain from yesterday. It was the captain who spoke. “Mr. Woodhull, is it?”

Abraham began to answer him, but realized his mouth was full of blood from the beating. “Mr. Woodhull, I know a spy when I see one, and If I ever see your face anywhere around here again I am going to see you hanged. Is that clear?”

Moments later, Abraham was stumbling back down Greenwich Street, clutching a bloody rag to his face.

 

Robert Townsend woke to an incessant pounding on the door of his store below. He descended the steps as fast as his groggy feet could move, angrily flung open the door, and barely managed to catch Abraham Woodhull, as he pitched into his arms.

An hour later, he was washing the last of the blood from the prostrate, older man, having heard his tale of terror, as it spilled out of him in one uncontrollable monologue.

Speaking softly, Robert told him, “I think the teeth are all still there. Your nose is probably broken, but that will heal. If you say you can breathe without much pain, then there are no fractured ribs. You’re a very lucky man. But why, Abraham?” He fairly yelled at him now. “You, too, are a Friend, a Quaker. Spying for an army is no better than fighting for one! This goes against everything our faith teaches us! How can you do that?”

“Because,” he began, paused, spat some blood into the rag and started again, “because I have to.”

Robert fumed that this was no answer at all and that a man needed a better reason than that to betray his faith. He began to ask if it was because of Abraham’s Uncle Nathaniel. He knew that General Nathaniel Woodhull had commanded the left wing of the American army at the Battle of Brooklyn, had watched his decimated command dwindle to fewer than a hundred men, before he too was personally surrounded and convinced to surrender. Then a British officer had demanded he repeat “God save the King!”, and when General Woodhull instead replied, “God save us all,” he was run through with a sword for his trouble.

But no sooner had Robert uttered the general’s name than the glare on his friend’s face silenced him. Abraham rose unsteadily to his feet, straightened his coat, and ran a hand through his hair. He turned slowly to the shorter, younger man and began to speak just as slowly.

“You think logic has to explain everything, don’t you? Well, maybe you’ll change as you get older, Robert. Let me explain just one thing for you though. I am a Quaker, yes. But first and foremost, I am a man. I believe that men are God’s sacred creations, that is why we consider it sacrilege to harm any person. Men count.”

He fixed his eyes on Robert’s before resuming in a quiet voice. “I don’t see, however, that they count to your king. To him they are subjects, property. If they don’t own land they cannot vote. Then they are no different from pigs and cows. Well, Robert,” and here he poked his chest with his right forefinger, “I am not a pig or a cow. I am a man. I count. If my religion tells me that I have to try to somehow become a pig or a cow, then it is that religion which has something to learn, not me. I count, Robert. In fact, I insist on counting.”

Now his finger turned to point at Robert.

“And you could count, too, if you insisted on it. But I can see that you don’t. So thank you for your help. I’ll be on my way now.”

 

 

Chapter 19

 

New York, May 15, 1777

 

“Colonel Beaumont,” Captain John Andre beamed, “may I introduce our new Kate. She’s no shrew, but being a woman of good family who does not wish to bring disrepute to it by engaging in so lowly an occupation as acting, she prefers we use only her stage name, Maria Turner.”

“Delighted, Miss Turner. John has been an eloquent and, might I say, ardent spokesman on your behalf, but now that I’ve finally met you I must agree with the Bard that:

 

Beauty itself doth of itself persuade
The eyes of men without an orator.”

 

“You’re too kind, Colonel, and might I remind you that, ‘All the beauty in the world is but skin deep’.”

“Somehow, my dear, in your case, I doubt that. John, why don’t you show Miss Turner to her dressing room?”

That night they ate in one of the private dining rooms of the Water Street Coffee House. Her hair done up in the French style exposed her delicate neck, while the gown plunged aggressively to show the full top of her ample bosom. Below, the lace-embroidered bodice tapered to a girlish waist, emphasized all the more by the dramatic flare of her skirts. Andre, for his part, wore his formal uniform with the long coat and its embroidered edges set off by the full ruffled shirt, that itself contrasted sharply with his dark hair, which he wore long and tied back. He knew his companion appreciated the iconoclast in him, and he was an ardent supporter of the move against wigs.

At the end of the meal, after the waiter had left, he took her hand in his and laid his lips on the back of it. His lips softened and the kiss changed character, unlike anything she had felt from him before. Now she could feel hot breath run down the back of her arm. He didn’t seem to want to stop.

An hour later, it was the side of her neck he was kissing in the candlelight of his apartment. And when the clock began chiming midnight, the actress woke – alone and naked in his bed. She fought an overpowering impulse to go bathe and vigorously scrub her entire body. Where, she wondered, had Andre gone?

The bedroom was dark, but light filtered in through an open door. She rose and crept over to it. In the stillness, she could hear the clicking sound of the clock pendulum and the faint scratching of a quill on parchment. Returning to the bed, she wrapped a sheet around her, whereupon she stole up behind the young Major. He sat in his nightshirt, intently bent over his desk, filling pages with tiny script. There were large headings at the top of many pages; they looked official. So he brought work home with him and did it at this desk! This was better than she had hoped for. There could be important secrets kept in this very house, at least while he was working on them. Could she find a way to get at them?

He shifted slightly in his chair, twisting his body to open a side drawer. Abruptly he leapt to his feet and turned to her, crying out, “My God woman, you startled me! Don’t creep up behind a man like that!”

In response she made her eyes go wide, then silently lowered them to the floor and kept them there. She carefully let the sheet slip just enough to reveal her bare shoulders. Standing there, meek and vulnerable, she produced the desired effect.

“Now, now, I know it’s not your fault.”

As he spoke, he closed the distance between them and put one hand on each of her shoulders. Against all her intentions, she was shivering.

“Why, my dear, what’s wrong?”

Raising her eyes to his, she answered in her best attempt at sounding like a little girl, “Just cold I guess.”

He let go of her shoulders, instead taking both her hands in one of his, pulling them up towards his chest, thus forcing her to relinquish her grip on the sheet. It dropped to the floor, leaving her standing naked and exposed to the fully covered English officer. She shuddered again.

Andre drank her in with his eyes and smiled, “Come back to bed with me and I’ll get you warm.”

And with that he swept her off her feet, holding her in front of him, as he re-entered the darkness of the bedroom, kicking the door closed behind them as he went.

Later that night she woke again, but this time it was John shaking her, telling her that she had been dreaming – a nightmare.

“You kept gurgling and shouting something about the waves. What was that all about? Oh, and who is Tommy?”

She professed total ignorance and begged off to sleep, although it was far from restful. She now had a problem. She hoped to be spending many nights in John Andre’s bed, and she knew now that she couldn’t trust herself asleep.

 

 

Chapter 20

 

Army Headquarters, New York, May 18, 1777

 

Major Samuel Daring was bored with being head of British Counterintelligence in New York. He knew he had the job, only because his brother-in-law, General Howe, wanted to see his sister with a good income and some degree of respect. For himself, Daring found the work to be tedious, boring, and unworthy of a gentleman. Nevertheless, he had to pretend not to ignore his more enthusiastic underlings, and this morning presented him with just such a challenge.

“Major, we have several reports of this man – Abraham Woodhull – acting suspiciously. He was detained while prowling around a fort in the village of Greenwich without an excuse.”

“So what have you done about it?” inquired the director while stifling a yawn.

“Well, sir, we stopped him at the ferry across the East River last month and strip-searched him, but he was without incriminating evidence. He was carrying a ream of paper, so we examined every page, but they were all blank. Then just last week, we sent out a few agents to intercept him along the Northern Boulevard which, as you know,” and here he paused with an uncertain look, “runs along the north shore of Long Island to this Woodhull’s home in Setauket. They pretended to be bandits, seeking to rob him.”

“And?”

“We came up empty-handed again, sir.”

“Did he have anything on him?”

“No, sir. Just his clothes and a little money.”

“So this is a man who on occasion makes a hundred-mile round trip just to procure a ream of writing paper and on another occasion does it for nothing at all?”

The two junior, career intelligence officers looked at one another hopefully.

“I don’t like it!” their boss boomed. They breathed a sigh of relief. “Bring him in!” They smiled. Sometimes manipulating idiots wasn’t all that difficult.

“Yes, sir. If you say so.”

 

 

Chapter 21

 

Morristown, New Jersey, July 30, 1777

 

Early in the summer campaign season, ‘Gentleman Johnny’ Burgoyne and his army set off down Lake Champlain once again. This time he did not have Guy Carleton to slow him down or foul things up. London had made sure of that. Professionals only from now on. Nothing to be left to chance.

Burgoyne was to have 10,000 redcoats, several thousand Iroquois braves, and all the fast transport vessels he desired to sweep down the Hudson Valley from the North. At the same time, according to what Lord North thought his orders stipulated, General Howe would drive north up the river from the city of New York. Barry St. Leger had already crossed Lake Ontario and come ashore at Oswego with 200 English regulars and 2,000 Iroquois braves who proceeded to terrify the white farm families of the Mohawk Valley, while threatening to become the third prong in a pincer movement converging on Albany. A total of 35,000 well-supplied troops would swallow up the Hudson Valley and permanently split New England from the other colonies, guarantying British victory in the Americas.

As if the sheer numbers were not enough, the campaign was designed to discourage Patriot militias from coming to the aid of the few thousand Continental soldiers left at Fort Ticonderoga. Iroquois war parties, ranging all over Northern New York, would frighten any husband or father from leaving his family defenseless by going off to join the Patriot military. In addition, the pincer’s convergence at Albany was designed to occur at harvest time, when a poor farmer, deserting his fields, could cause slow starvation for his children the following winter. The Continentals would be left alone, hopelessly outnumbered. That was the plan.

One tiny little detail, which would not emerge until long after the war, was that the king’s principal architect of the war, Lord North, had not actually written the General Orders himself. The prior February he had been on his way to his country estate for the weekend. Leaving his wife in the carriage and dashing up the stairs to his office, he had breathlessly informed his secretary that he didn’t want to leave his perspiring horses standing in the cold long enough to get sick. So he rattled off a verbal summary and left it to the younger man to actually put pen to paper in time to make the mail packet to America. However, instead of writing the word ‘shall’, when telling Howe to attack Albany from the south, the secretary had used the word ‘should’.

General Burgoyne never dreamed that such semantic differences could matter in affairs of state. With all the anger of his humiliation by ‘The Apothecary’ the previous year, and with the methodical planning of a winter spent seething about it, he was coming to punish the upstarts once and for all. The only thing standing between him and glory were the American generals Schuyler and Gates. The first would soon fall prey to the political machinations of the second and that would leave Gates – a general who had never seen combat in this war – solely responsible for saving the Revolution.

 

Of course, George Washington knew what all this meant. Accordingly, he had sent an urgent request for Benedict Arnold to call on him at his quarters in Morristown.

“Thank you for coming so promptly, General,” Washington began. “Please sit down. I will come straight to the point. Your country needs your help.”

After spending ten minutes, summarizing the situation in New York he shifted uneasily in his chair.

“Now, I know that Congress has served you badly, sir. They have allowed the most scurrilous charges to be made against you and then denied you a forum for defending yourself.”

Here, Arnold interrupted, “And I know, Your Excellency, that you have done everything in your power to try to help me. For that I will be forever grateful. After tomorrow, when I look back on my brief military career, my greatest comfort will come in knowing that you valued my few achievements enough to do your best for me.”

“What do you mean, ‘after tomorrow’, General Arnold?” Washington broke in.

Benedict looked at him incredulously. “Why, hasn’t anyone told you?”

“Told me what?”

“Well, that…, that… How can I say this to you of all people? Six days ago, I submitted to Congress my resignation from the army – effective tomorrow.”

Washington simply gaped at him, so he continued. “I, of course, assumed they would tell you.”

“They probably feared I might intervene,” Washington muttered darkly.

Arnold continued, “I thought you called me here today to say goodbye. Excellency, as you know, Congress announces it is investigating serious charges about me and airs every detail of the most outrageous fictions, concocted by my enemies.”

“I know, I know, General Arnold. Colonel Enos, who turned his back on you on the Kennebec, leaving your brave men to starve, has actually gained the ear of numerous Congressmen, friends of Gates, and repeats things I know not to be true. Yet, they will not listen to me.”

Here he paused and looked troubled. “You know, General Arnold, that I had Enos arrested for desertion in the face of the enemy, as soon as he and his men returned from Maine. But he used the same political connections to get off at his court martial. Ever since then he, and Gates too, I might add, have had it in for both of us.”

“General Washington, if they would simply conduct a hearing, I could confront my accusers, call my own witnesses, and clear myself of these charges. Congress simply continues to postpone this, but they do not postpone talking to newspapermen and repeating these lies! That is why I demanded a court martial, which the army would at least conduct some time this year. But Congress insisted it had priority and denied me even that venue!”

Here he stopped, looked out the window and, from one side of his mouth, issued a short, bitter laugh. “Sometimes I think they are afraid of me.”

Washington smiled, “I understand that at Ticonderoga last winter, when Gates allowed Enos and Hazen to try you without allowing you to call witnesses, while impugning you at all turns, you actually challenged Enos to a duel. Is that true?”

Arnold smiled and nodded, while Washington continued. “I have made sure that Enos will never be given a command in this army again, so he seems to have turned to hunting you instead of the enemy.”

This time Arnold failed to even nod; he simply looked his commander in the eye. “I can’t tolerate this anymore, Your Excellency.”

“General Arnold, permit me to say something in an attempt to dissuade you, and please hear me out. You have been treated shabbily, and I apologize, that as your personal commander I have been unable to stop it. You have spent your time fighting the enemy, while some of your do-nothing rivals have spent it lobbying to advance their own standing. When Congress passed you over for promotion to General, I insisted that they correct their error, and they did. But I could not get them to restore your seniority retro-actively, so you find yourself junior to the others, and that is not right. But it is so. Few of the others have your leadership. Frankly, none of them have your daring. And that brings me to why I actually called you here.”

Arnold began to protest, “If you are asking me to retract my resignation…”

“I am not asking you to retract it, but I did ask you to hear me out. General Schuyler is ensconced at Ticonderoga with a few thousand Continentals. He is a good commander, but they can probably be defeated in a full siege by a well-equipped professional army. Gates commands the rest of the region with several thousand troops – none of whom trust him. I don’t blame them. The people sense what kind of man he is. Twelve thousand militia flocked to Ticonderoga last year, only to sit and do nothing, while you turned back the enemy with a few hundred men and a homemade navy. Now the militias refuse to come, and without them we are hopelessly outnumbered.”

“And what can you do about that?”

“The questions is, what can you do about it, General Arnold? The people know you. Ever since your march on Quebec they call you America’s Hannibal. If they knew you were on the scene now, even as second in command, I am sure they would come.”

“You want me to submit to Gates? He wouldn’t have me even if I did!”

“He would if I ordered him to. Please, Benedict, do this for me. I’m not asking you to retract your resignation. Just don’t follow up on it right now, postpone it. Ride north and size up the situation. Let me know what’s needed. I’ll do everything I can to support you. Otherwise, I fear we are finished.”

 

Ten days later, Arnold dismounted outside Gates’s command tent near Albany, where he was instantly surrounded by a mob, and his back was repeatedly pounded. In the bright morning sun, flasks were passed to him. One unshaven man in buckskins sidled up meekly, doffing his coonskin cap.

“Beggin’ the General’s pardon, sir, but Colonel Morgan sends his regrets.”

“Dan Morgan?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I heard that he and his men were released in a prisoner exchange. Where is he?”

“Well, err…, beggin’ the General’s pardon. He, err…, sends his regrets, sir. He, err…, well…”

“Spit it out, man!”

“Well, sir, Colonel Morgan and the boys got the news yesterday that you was acomin’ to take charge.”

Arnold raised one eyebrow as if to ask, so?

“Well, sir, there was a kind of a celebration, and, err…, the celebration ran a little long.”

Arnold was now beginning to understand and, chuckling at the man’s discomfort, maintained his silence.

“Well, sir, Colonel Morgan is presently indisposed.”

Arnold smiled, “You mean he’s hung over?”

“Still drunk, sir, would be more like it.”

“You tell Colonel Morgan that I’ll call on him later with a large pot of coffee.”

“General Arnold!”

It was Gates, standing in his tent, red in the face. “I believe military protocol requires you to report to your new commander!”

Arnold’s smile vanished, as he walked into the headquarters tent. Gates sat, leaving Arnold frozen in a standing salute, while he helped himself to pinch of snuff, and belatedly returned the salute. He did not ask Arnold to sit.

“General Arnold, I expect that your first action upon arriving at army headquarters would be to present yourself to your commander along with your written orders.”

“Well, here I am, sir, and General Washington gave me no written orders. Didn’t he write you?”

“He simply said that I should make the best possible use of you.”

“Well?”

“Well, Arnold, there is no possible use for you here that I can see. There is a well-established chain of command here which I do not desire to disrupt!”

“Shall I return to General Washington then?”

“I do have one job for you to do, or at least try to do. Our troops to the west of us are besieged in Fort Stanwix by an overwhelmingly superior force of mixed British regulars and Mohawks. If that fort should fall we will be left trying to stop Burgoyne with our left flank under attack. We would have to pull back to Albany, perhaps further.”

Benedict thought to himself, “Keep pulling back the way you would like, and you’ll wind up hitting the sea.”

Gates went on, “I am assigning you the task of lifting the siege of Fort Stanwix. I can spare 400 men. This may not seem like much against a force of over 2,000, but it is all I can spare. The last relief column I sent was ambushed and annihilated by the Mohawks at Oriskany. I can’t send a large part of our army into such a situation. Still we must try to do something.”

 

The following day, in response to this challenge to lead what seemed like a suicide mission, Arnold did what he always did. He dug in with both hands. As the one in charge of Western New York, he now found himself in charge of all prisoners, and there was one prisoner jailed for being Tory, who caught his attention. He bore the unlikely name of Han Yost – a local lad who might be called eccentric at best. ‘Crazy’ was more accurate, if you asked his neighbors. But he possessed one unique attribute. Like the young Benedict, he had spent much of his youth with his Indian neighbors. Like many Native Americans, they regarded some of the mentally ill as prophets and held Han Yost in some esteem.

Yost had been condemned to death by a Patriot court martial for Tory activities, but had asked to see General Arnold, whereupon he offered a unique proposition. Arnold listened. Then he insisted on holding Yost’s mother and brother as hostage, before freeing Yost to perform a mission, which – if he could pull it off – Arnold assured him would earn him a full pardon. It was a long shot, but Benedict had decided it was their only chance.

Two nights later, this overweight, round-headed eccentric staggered unsteadily into the circle of fire light in the camp of the Mohawk army, which was laying siege to Fort Stanwix. Before Yost could be killed, he was recognized by some old neighbors and brought before their famous war chief, Joseph Brant.

“I’ve just escaped their jail and come to warn you,” he blathered through the foam on his lips. “See, they couldn’t stop me!” and he twirled, letting his coat fly about him, revealing several bullet holes. “Their bullets cannot harm me.”

Asked what he wanted to warn them about, Yost let his eyes briefly roll up into his head. “They are coming for you!” When asked exactly who was coming, he let his eyes settle back down and bore into those of the chief. “The white man! The rebels! Dark Eagle and his army!” Brant did not seem alarmed, after all, they had handled the last ‘army’ to come their way. When he asked how many were coming, Han Yost looked up at the sky. “Like the stars!” Then he lowered his gaze a little. Waving one palm before his eyes and slightly over his head he gestured, as dramatically as he knew how, at the forest, “Like the leaves on the trees!” he shouted, twirled more, collapsed, and began to spasm.

The following morning, when Barry St. Ledger and his 300 redcoats woke up, the Mohawk camp was empty. Now it was the British who were outnumbered, and, before sundown, they had fled. It was Lexington and Concord all over again. Farmers came out to snipe at them, as they fell back to their ships at Oswego. The citizenry so whittled away their numbers that Arnold didn’t even need to pursue.

In three days, he was back at headquarters, announcing to Gates that it was mission accomplished, and, furthermore, that the garrison of Fort Stanwix would be arriving soon as reinforcements. After that, militia units and even individual farmers began pouring in to swell the rebel ranks. The most common question they asked when they first got there was, “Is it true Arnold is here?”

 

 

Chapter 22

 

New York, August 3, 1777

 

Robert had been listening to newspaper publisher James Rivington pitch his deal for 30 minutes, without once pausing for breath, and he knew that this was just the beginning. Only the sound of the noon cannon, fired from the Battery, made him pause. It was important for Robert, though, to befriend the biggest newspaper publisher in New York. He thought it just might present unique opportunities for his future work.

“I tell you, Townsend, this city may not look like it, but it’s brimming with money that is just itching to be spent. The army seems to care nothing for its own subjects, and a lot of the citizens are penniless, but there are 15,000 paychecks that pour in here every week, and do you know where half of it gets spent? Coffee houses! Taverns! I’m telling you, you’re in the wrong business, dry goods. And I don’t have to tell you that those damned rebel privateers have scared off all but a trickle of private shipping – the docks are dead, except when a convoy arrives. It’s the service industry in this town, where people fritter away real money.”

They had been walking south down prosperous Bowery Lane with its cobblestone streets and graceful elms, past the Depeyster and De Lancey estates and Rutger’s Windmill. Now they stood outside the well-known Bull’s Head Tavern, near Bayard St.

“Come inside with me and see what I mean.”

Inside was not the dark, slovenly atmosphere that the abstemious Quaker had expected. Polished tables filled a room, lined on one side with an immaculate, dark wooden bar. Despite the fact that it was mid-afternoon, it was packed with uniformed officers, drinking ale.

The two of them ordered passenger pigeon, plover, and Brooklyn oysters, and while they waited for their food, Rivington went off to chat with an acquaintance. Robert took in the talk around him. A lot of it was grousing about assignments, lack of supplies, and general disorganization.

An obviously drunken, side-whiskered Scottish captain in kilt, knee socks and black beret was reading advertisements from the paper – Rivington’s Gazette.

“Ah, Angus, here’s just what you need, ‘Circassian Bloom Water, guaranteed to put color on any check no matter how pale’! And Andrew, look, the people in this city have gotten so poor that they will pull their teeth out for you and sell them to you on order. While they’ll be fresh! Nothing worse than stale teeth, you know. No, I’ll not pipe down! And Frederick, here’s one for you.”

A less than amused Hessian officer turned to face him. “Brandt’s German Lice Powder. Now what do you suppose that’s for?” At that, all conversation at nearby tables stopped.

“Why”, the Hessian coldly responded, “we need this, and sadly we use it often. It is to clean English lice off of poor German officers who got too close.”

At this, the drunkard dropped his paper and pulled his pistol, firing from a half-standing position and missing his target, but exploding an array of crockery on an unoffending table. Rivington was at Robert’s side in a flash. “Perhaps this is not a good example, Townsend. Let’s get out of here.”

Outside, Robert told him that he thought taverns were perhaps a bit lively for a Friend of Peace. Rivington never missed a beat.

“A coffee house, that’s for you, come on, I’ll show you.”

As they turned right onto Chatham Street, a newsboy was hawking today’s issue of Rivington’s Gazette, “Bloody news! Bloody news! Rebels flee! Washington captured!”

Robert turned and looked at the publisher, head cocked.

“What?” Rivington started defensively, “You want to know if it’s actually true? Well, it might be. Hasn’t been confirmed yet, but we in the news business can’t just sit on a good story.”

Robert smiled, shaking his head.

“Now, don’t get holier than thou on me, Townsend. I’m trying to show you how to make money in this city, and I must tell you people buy newspapers for a hot headline today. You’d be amazed at the outrageous stories people will buy newspapers to read. By the time it is obvious that the article wasn’t, shall we say, completely accurate, they’ve forgotten all about it. They’re too busy giving that newsboy two pennies for the next hot headline. People are sheep, Townsend, and as a businessman I have found that it’s hard to go wrong by simply telling people what they want to hear.”

Robert stopped at Rosenvelt St. by the tannery, staring through its decaying buildings down to Collect Pond beyond.

“Why don’t you write about this, Jemmy? You have tanners, dumping their waste here, and right now we can see, it must be 200 women, washing clothes there. And there’s probably another 200 persons sneaking around in the cattails, defecating or dumping their night buckets. And this is the primary source of drinking water for this city! That’s why your officers are pouring their money into ale. That’s why we have epidemics here every summer. We had 20,000 people living in New York before 1776. Then Washington’s cowards burned a third of the houses down, and the English army couldn’t be bothered to rebuild them. But they put 15,000 troops on Staten Island who are over here every chance they get, and the Loyalist refugee influx must have swollen the civilian population to 30,000 now. And we’re all trying to live in housing, designed to hold 12,000 people. Rooming houses, that’s what I should be investing in!”

“I believe you have the makings of a newspaperman, Townsend. If you could curb your temper and learn to talk a little more politically, why I believe you could work for me. Walk with me.”

They passed Debtor’s Jail, Bridewell Prison, and the brick Presbyterian Church which, along with every other place of worship that wasn’t Church of England, had been converted to a prison to hold rebels. As he passed with Rivington, he tried unsuccessfully to avoid the blank stares of emaciated faces which filled every window.

Crossing the Commons, they skirted the trenches dug by Washington’s troops a year ago. These had become convenient receptacles for night soil, breeding mosquitoes every summer and filling the air with a stench that many people walked blocks out of their way to avoid. They continued down Nassau and Broad Streets, but Robert knew Rivington forgot to turn on Wall Street, as he must have intended, because a block later they came to the edges of the devastation his paper referred to as ‘Canvastown’, as if it was some quaint village. It stretched over most of the West Side, block after block of blackened ruins, which had once been buildings before the Great Fire.

Loyalists from Connecticut and New Jersey, taunted and threatened by their Patriot neighbors, had poured into New York seeking protection, but what they found was more in the way of blind neglect. All of them without jobs, many destitute or soon to be, they needed shelter, and there was simply not enough to go around. Unknown thousands had taken abandoned rebel tents and, out of desperation, draped them over blackened timbers in the ruins and moved into the abandoned basements. These basements gathered water in every heavy rain. Most of the poverty-stricken inhabitants could not afford the spiraling costs of food and firewood in the winter, and unknown numbers died here during every cold spell. Disease swept through by summer. All year round, this region reminded many New Yorkers of the potential price for bad manners.

If any person of any means took a strong enough disliking to you, they could always hire someone here to kill you for, it was said, just two Pounds. In fact, Robert had recently heard that the going rate had dropped to one Pound, because in the flood of robberies and murders, which began soon after dark in New York each night, the odds of any one case being solved was extremely low.

As they drew abreast of Canvastown, it started. Children, sent out begging by their mothers, with their fathers sitting in the muddy street, attempting to peddle some pathetic bits of metal, glass, or crockery, pulled from the ruins. And then came the streetwalkers, worse even than those who continued to ply their trade in the blackened basements of the Holy Ground. They were the bottom of their trade. These painfully thin wretches would sell their bodies for a meal. Even boys had been set out by desperate families, covered in crude rouge, thick face powder, and lip gloss. One nearby began his plaintive recitation of sex acts he was willing to perform.

Robert and Rivington quickly turned down Princess Street to escape, and within a block everything had changed. A large, cream-colored carriage with flower pots gaily ensconced at its corners, pulled to a stop just in front of them, its occupants alighting in formal evening dress. Bewigged officers with swords, sashes, tassels, and polished riding boots handed around a box of snuff. The women wore silk and satin gowns with hip bustles and elaborate flower-motif embroidery. Deep décolletage was highlighted by necklaces of pearl and gems. They were laughing as they entered the house, the door closing behind them.

When Townsend and Rivington pulled abreast and looked into the house, they saw a servant lighting candelabra and drawing the shades, even though it was only four o’clock in the afternoon. They called it continental dining, and it was all the rage.

A block later, they found themselves at Robert’s store. They went inside, whereupon Robert poured them each a glass of rum.

“Didn’t know you drank, Townsend.”

“I don’t, usually.”

“Oh, Robert, don’t let it all get you down. It’s life, no one can change it.”

Rivington checked himself, when he saw the angry glare on his listener’s face. “Look, let me take you to the Merchant’s Coffee House, it’s right down the block, I’m sure you know it. Let me buy you a good dinner.”

Robert held up his hand, telling him to stop, then drained the rest of his glass and sat down.

“Tell you what, Jemmy, my boy. You want a backer, I’ll make you an offer. I’ll finance a coffee house, equal partners, with a few conditions. First, no one knows I’m your partner. I could get expelled from my faith for selling spirits, and let’s face it, we all know the real profits are not in the coffee. Second, you run it. Third, we cater to British officers; they’re the ones with the most disposable income. And finally, I want to take you up on your offer and go to work for you in your newspaper.”

“What? Are you mad?”

“That’s the deal, Jemmy. I want to write a weekly column in your paper. I’ll make it a gossip column, fill it full of who’s doing what. Tell people what they want to hear. That’s my offer. Take it or leave it.”

Rivington slowly extended his arm, and they shook hands.

 

 

Chapter 23

 

Skenesboro, New York, August 7, 1777

 

Eighteen-year-old Jonathan Andrews marched briskly through the cloud of dust, kicked up by his unit, marching north from Ticonderoga on the dusty Skenesboro Road. Sweat had soaked through his white woolen pants and blue wool jacket – the uniform of the Continental Army in any season. He was wet, thirsty, and tired, but most of all he was scared.

He had been in the army for six months now, but about all he had done was march and pull guard duty in places where everyone knew there was no enemy for a hundred miles. Today was different. His group was on its way to relieve an advanced check point on the east side of Lake Champlain. Everyone knew Burgoyne’s army was out there somewhere, and if they arrived within the next forty-eight hours, Jonathan and his comrades might be the first to encounter them. He was frightened – not so much of death really, but of the thought that he might flee and thus humiliate himself in front of his friends. They had all been soldiers far longer than he, and they certainly didn’t seem scared as they talked and joked away the hours on this forced march.

Through the cloud of dust, he could dimly see the front of their group round a bend in the road, hesitate, and then halt. When Jonathan and the rest of the rear caught up with them they realized what their companions were staring at. Thirty yards ahead, men lay scattered across the road, frozen in various contortions of death agony. Their blue jackets and white trousers were splashed with the blackening red of blood. From where he stood, Jonathan could make out a dozen or so corpses. Every one of them displayed the same sickening, moist, raw tangle atop their heads. Every single one of them had been scalped, and now flies were swarming over their heads and faces. His sergeant, who was examining the bodies, called back, “Most of them didn’t even fire their muskets. Poor bastards. They never knew what hit them.”

Jonathan and his companions turned left and right, looking edgily into the woods around them, lowering their muskets to waist level. The stillness of the forest was punctuated by the soft metallic click of men, fixing bayonets.

“I need a runner!” his lieutenant yelled. “Andrews, front and center!”

Why me, Jonathan silently swore.

“Andrews, leave your pack, leave your musket. Here, take my knife and pistol. Strip off your coat. You’re the fastest man here. Get back to Fort Ti as quickly as you can. Find General Schuyler.”

“And what do I tell him, sir?”

“Tell him what you’ve seen. Tell him Burgoyne’s forward elements have arrived.”

Back at Ticonderoga, Jonathan had to wait his turn in the stone hallway outside the commander’s office. Similar messages were trickling in from all over the area. The Iroquois were probing, and they were making their point most effectively, “You may die at any moment, in any place, maybe even in your sleep.”

After being debriefed, Jonathan was sent back to his unit to deliver orders that they pull back half the distance to Patriot lines. He hated the long, lonely run, wondering if each bird call from the trees lining the road might be the signal to spring an ambush. Long before he reached the Skenesboro Road, though, he met his comrades, hurrying toward him. When he tried to breathlessly deliver his message, his lieutenant barked at him, “Halfway to the lines!! Halfway? Andrews, we’re going all the way. We’re not stopping, ‘till we’re safely inside the walls of old Fort Ti!”

Jonathan was shocked, and he began to protest that their orders were clear and that he couldn’t consider why they shouldn’t follow them. In response, the lieutenant grabbed him by one shoulder and dragged him into the woods.

“You want to know why, Andrews? You want to know why?” He kept on pulling Jonathan, until they emerged from the woods and stood on the shore of Lake Champlain. There, the lieutenant pointed north, shouting, “That’s why!”

Jonathan’s jaw dropped. As far as his eyes could see on this crystal-clear day, the surface of the lake was sprinkled by boats of more types than he knew existed. No more than a mile off, huge war canoes were coming their way, dappled black and white of birch bark, above which jutted the reds and yellows of war-painted faces, topped by feathers, which tilted rhythmically, as they bent to their paddles.

Behind this advance screen came gray wood barges with rows of regular British infantry, standing tall, erect, and all alike in their scarlet coats and white breeches. Scattered among them were scalloped wood craft, full of seated light infantry, all black leather caps and red waistcoats, and the grenadiers, whose tall bearskin head gear stood out, even at this distance. The blades of their oars rose, flashed reflected sunlight, and dropped again in unison.

Next were the artillery barges, squat and flat-nosed, with their gunners in uniform blue. The Hessians could be identified, still further behind, by their officers’ plumed caps and the enlisted men’s tall hats with shiny metal plates, glistening like bundled beds of sparks in the sunlight.

Further astern, but infinitely more imposing, came the same warships that had faced Arnold and his armada at Valcour Bay the year before. The dark-hulled Maria and Carleton were imposing enough. Yet, behind them, Royal George and their old nemesis, the unmistakable, huge, orange-painted hull of Inflexible, moved slowly through the water, because between them they towed large booms that floated on the surface and prevented any rebel ships from slipping past them.

When Jonathan turned to see, what rebel ships might be opposing them, he found that the southern part of this region of Lake Champlain was occupied by a lone watch boat, a cutter whose crew of four was now hoisting sail and preparing to race to Ticonderoga with the news. Jonathan ran back through the woods the way he had come, hurrying to catch up to his lieutenant.

 

 

USA 2000-01
“Every single one of them had been scalped, and now flies were swarming over their heads and faces.” – At an outdoor play at Fort Ticonderoga, September 2001, during which scenes from The Revolutionary War were re-enacted, this man performed as an Iroquois brave. When I asked permission to take his photograph, he held out his hand, saying, “Five Dollars!” – whereupon he gave a big smile, saying, “I’m just joking!” (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Chapter 24

 

New York, August 15, 1777

 

“I can’t, Abraham,” Robert insisted for the third time. “Strangely enough, I have come to feel much like you. These English soldiers are a plague on our land, and if they continue to treat us all as mortal enemies, then we might as well return the favor.”

“Then work with me, Robert,” Abraham Woodhull implored, leaning forward over the table in Townsend’s modest city apartment. “General Washington needs to know what is going on here. I am now what people in this business call ‘hot’, they are onto me, and I only dare come in here on occasion. You, though, have the perfect cover. You have a business here, you are a newspaperman, for God’s sake! You can talk to anyone about anything and no one will find it suspicious.”

His listener merely stared at the floor.

“You know you can trust me, Robert, and this is not Nathan Hale all over again. We are professionals. You would send your messages out of the city in invisible ink.”

Robert looked up, with an expression of disbelief. Abraham smiled and elaborated, “Yes, you heard me right. John Jay’s brother got it in Paris, apparently. I have a cousin, Austin Roe, who owns a tavern in Setauket, so it gives him an excuse to ride in from Long Island periodically to buy supplies right here in your store. Since you decided to go into business with Henry Oakman, you have the perfect cover here, too.”

“What happens then?”

“Well, I have sworn not to mention the others involved, but suffice it to say that we have a signal system, which gets the message to a whaleboat, crossing from Connecticut under cover of darkness. From Connecticut, it goes to General Washington’s Chief of Intelligence.”

“Sounds rather round about, Abraham.”

“It is, but do you have a better way?”

“Look, I would like to help you, I really would – but it goes against everything my faith teaches.”

“Robert, you know I am a member of the Society, too. I myself believe in George Fox’s teachings. What matters is following the Divine Light within, not what men with degrees from divinity school stand up and preach on Sundays. My conscience is clear, Robert. In fact, when I walk past those prison windows and see these bastards starving my neighbors to death, I find my conscience would hound me, if I wasn’t doing everything I possibly could to put an end to it.”

“You are facing excommunication for this, Abraham. Why, the National Council decided last year that even paying taxes to the Continental Congress is supporting a war and therefore not permitted. You will be expelled from the Society if this ever gets out.”

“If this ever gets out, Robert, being expelled from the Society of Friends will be the least of my problems. And at any rate, I don’t care. I’ll do what I think is right.”

“I’m sorry, Abraham. The bottom line here is that I swore an oath of loyalty to the king.”

“Only in order to get your father released, and anyway it was before Judge Hicks!”

“Yes, but before God, too. That binds me, don’t you see. How can I break my solemn oath to God?’

Abraham sat long before he said anything more. Then, picking up his coat and hat, he got up. “If you don’t know the answer to that question, Robert, I certainly cannot explain it to you. But will you promise me to think about it? Give it a week.”

When the younger man nodded, Woodhull sighed deeply, heading down the stairs.

 

Five days later, in fading twilight, Robert Townsend rode absentmindedly into Oyster Bay. He had done nothing but think about Abraham’s proposal, day and night. His mind was clear; he had no options. Yet, something pulled at him, something deep down, which he couldn’t put his finger on, that made him feel almost ashamed. He’d had trouble eating and even more trouble sleeping. This week had brought him nothing but misery, and he knew the answer had to be no.

Rounding the corner to Old Homestead, he came on a scene of complete confusion. There was a small crowd of soldiers and his own family, intermingled in the street in front of their house. Some of the soldiers held torches, and everyone seemed to be shouting, pulling, pushing. As he reined his mount to a halt, one uniformed veteran grabbed the bridle and snarled, “And just where do you think you’re going?”

Told that he lived there, the man began to look sheepish, finally pulling gently at Townsend’s arm. “You’d better come with me.”

He led Robert through the crowd to where the men stood with the torches, then stopped abruptly. “I’m sorry,” the man whispered in his ear and walked away.

Standing between the torchbearers was an English sergeant, hat off, coat unbuttoned, shouting at someone. He had to walk closer to see that it was Colonel Simcoe, at whom he was screaming.

“You don’t want to do this, sir!” he was yelling over and over. Simcoe shouted back, but the words were uttered in such a drunken slur that Robert couldn’t make them out. Clearly, Simcoe was refusing to follow the sergeant’s advice. Instead, the colonel turned, lashing out with a horsewhip, which Robert hadn’t noticed until now. He was whipping the back of someone, tied to one of the great linden trees in front of the house. When the lash connected and the victim screamed, he realized that it was his father! Robert lunged forward, seizing Simcoe’s raised arm before he could strike again, whereupon three soldiers grabbed Robert from behind.

Now Simcoe approached Robert, whip raised, snarling, then stopped just in front of him. He seemed to recognize Robert and hesitated. Then, as if waking from a bad dream, ­he looked at the whip, down at himself, and finally at the street. Letting the whip fall, he turned on his heel and walked off, placing both hands to his head.

“I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Townsend,” a lieutenant told him while ordering the soldiers on either side to release him. “Colonel Simcoe received word this morning that his best friend has died in a rebel prison camp. He has been drinking heavily all day, and over dinner it seems he had words with your father, something about prisoners and parole, and he simply snapped. We tried to stop him. I’m sorry. I will have our surgeon tend to your father immediately. My humble apologies, sir.”

Enlisted men released Samuel Townsend and carried him inside the house. Three hours later, he had drifted off to a laudanum-induced sleep after having his wounds dressed by the doctor, who pronounced them non-life-threatening. Robert sat up in bed, staring out the window, as the torches drifted away from the house, and the room grew dark. Looking fixedly outside and to the west, he whispered into the blackness, “The answer, Abraham, is yes.”

 

 

Chapter 25

 

Saratoga, New York, August 27, 1777

 

Benedict Arnold sat on an upended cask of Madeira in one corner of General Gates’s headquarters tent. He was listening to the patter of a steady rain on the canvas and the hum of Gates and his staff, talking hour after hour about what seemed to him the most inconsequential minutiae of the positions of units, or how this colonel was a better patriot than that colonel.

His eyes were beginning to close, when a clatter of hooves approached and a well-soaked courier hurried in. The new arrival rushed to Gates’s Aide de Camp, thrusting forward a leather pouch. The voices continued to hum while the aide removed an envelope, broke the red wax seal, and held paper to candle to read. His face went white.

“Ticonderoga has fallen.” The hum stopped, as did all motion. He continued, “General St. Clair writes that the British somehow got artillery up Sugar Loaf Hill, overlooking the fort.”

Arnold let out a long, low whistle. He was impressed; he wouldn’t have thought that possible.

“General St. Clair writes that it meant the British could lob shells inside the fort at will, and our own cannon would be unable to return effective fire. He says that he evacuated his force of 2,200 under cover of darkness, just before the enemy surrounded the fort. St. Clair’s force has broken up into small units, trying to make their way through the forest to our lines, but the enemy’s light infantry is in hot pursuit, and St Clair is taking heavy casualties.”

He lowered the page, offered it to Gates.

“I knew that bloody St. Clair was no damn good!” Gates growled. “I told John Adams that.”

“He did the right thing,” Arnold said quietly. All eyes swiveled to the man who had been silently sitting in the corner. “Once the British got cannon on that hill, his position was indefensible. They would have had to surrender, and soon. He is doing his best to save his force to fight another day.”

“That’s not the way Congress is going to see it,” Gates snorted.

“I don’t give a damn what Congress thinks,” Arnold blurted out. “What I care about is, what are we going to do about it?”

“Why, what can we do?” Gates threw up his arms. “St. Clair has given up our defensive jewel without a fight! The entire enemy army is rushing our way! I will have to pull back to Albany. What other choice is there?”

No sooner had the question escaped his mouth than Gates cursed himself for uttering it.

“Well,” Arnold drawled, rising slowly and ambling toward the map table. “Quite a number of choices I should say.” He stood, staring down at the large map, rubbing his chin. “To begin with, we can send a fast-moving force to link up with St. Clair’s men, stop the enemy’s light infantry from pursuing them, and help get our boys back here alive. Then we can begin slowing Burgoyne down.”

“And how do we do that?” Again, Gates winced, wondering why he kept blundering this way.

Arnold stabbed the map with his right index finger. “This is where Burgoyne is now, and this is where his problems begin.”

Gates’s staff stared at him incredulously. Arnold turned to scan the group, disgusted that they could all be so dense.

“Look!” and he stabbed the map again. “His supply line pinches down to a trickle here. The wide lake is behind him. There’s nothing but virgin forest in front of him with a single wagon road through it. Look, gentlemen, he’s probably got 10,000 regulars with him and a few thousand braves. Every sack of flour they consume, every tin of beef, every cup of tea – everything that passes their mouths, every single day, has to come all the way across the Atlantic, up the St. Lawrence and down Lake Champlain, and now through the Great North Woods. And this 3,000-mile supply route has to keep moving at full capacity, every single day, or his men starve. 15,000 men can’t live off the land up here – not in the forest!”

“So what do we do?” This time it was Gates’s adjutant asking the question, and Gates glared at him.

“We strangle Burgoyne,” Arnold answered. “With us right now we have some of the best ax men in North America. We send them out to cut down the thickest trees across that road. We play for time and we send out word to the surrounding regions to rush their militias here for the kill. Meanwhile, we pick the ground on which we want to fight him, and we fortify it.”

Gates began to object, but Arnold cut him off.

“If we pull back to Albany, we play into their hands! Albany is open farmland. It’s exactly the kind of ground the English army is used to fighting on. It lets them deploy, maneuver, and outflank any position we try to fortify. We’ve got to keep Burgoyne penned up – north of Albany, in forested terrain.”

Horatio Gates said nothing. He looked like he was gritting his teeth.

 

 

Chapter 26

 

Bemis Heights, Saratoga, New York, September 18, 1777

 

Benedict Arnold and Dan Morgan walked side by side through the maze of ditches and parapets, which surrounded the headquarters tent of Horatio Gates. Atop the heights here – the site that Arnold and Thaddeus Kosciuszko had selected for their defense – the major American artillery force peered 300 feet down to the river road below. Attacking this spot was obvious suicide to anyone who gave it even a preliminary look. The Indian Summer weather was stifling. “It feels like a hundred degrees today,” Benedict thought, “the men are dropping from heat exhaustion, and still Gates has them digging.”

As if reading his mind, Morgan spoke out of the side of his mouth, “If this war could be won with shovels instead of guns, I’d vote for Gates to replace Washington tomorrow. It’s no wonder his soldiers call him ‘Granny Gates’. And now we finally got the men and the guns to stop Gentleman Johnnie, thanks to you.”

“Don’t thank me,” Arnold protested, “thank Jane McCrea.”

Twenty-five-year-old Jane McCrea had been the beautiful American fiancée of a young English officer, Lieutenant David Jones. She had a long, red hair which she wore in a unique style of braid. Lieutenant Jones had been talking with friends in camp one day when, without warning, he threw himself upon a passing Iroquois warrior. When they pulled the two apart, Jones seemed unable to speak coherently, but he was pointing at the brave’s belt. On it hung several scalps, but one stood out from the rest – a long, red braid of unusual style. It was, in fact, Jane’s scalp.

That story had been trumpeted by every Patriot newspaper for weeks now, and it had acted as a wake-up call to the vast majority of the civilian population, which had been sitting this war out on the sidelines. If the fiancée of an English officer isn’t safe, they reasoned, then none of them would be safe, until this English invasion was sent packing. Ever since Jane McCrea’s death, more militia units had been arriving each day. The rebel army now outnumbered Burgoyne’s two-to-one.

When Morgan and Arnold entered the tent, taking seats in the back, they found that Gates had begun the meeting without them. Uncharacteristically, the commander stopped in mid-sentence to welcome them. “Gentlemen, we find ourselves in General Arnold’s debt. His strategy of disrupting the enemy’s supply lines forced them to send a large-scale foraging expedition into Vermont where, as you know, our militia annihilated them. As a result, Burgoyne now finds himself in a trap of his own making. It is too late in the season to get his army back to Canada. He is low on food. General Howe, whom he expected to come north from New York to relieve him, went and did us the favor of taking Philadelphia instead. Now, please understand me. I, too, mourn the loss of our capital, after the completely ineffective defense offered by General Washington at Brandywine Creek. But I thank Providence that Congress has repaired safely to Lancaster and is functioning effectively from there. Burgoyne, however, no has no alternative but to attack us. His main force is upon us now, a few miles up the road. We will remain in our defenses and destroy them as they come at us.”

“That would be a mistake,” a quiet voice uttered from the back – Arnold’s, who else? “If we stay put, we allow Burgoyne to leisurely conduct the kind of set-piece battle, at which he excels. Gentlemen, a static defense is a weak defense. In fact, the best defense is a good offense. The British will try to concentrate their forces at the weakest spot in our lines, and they will outnumber us there. You will have the best trained, battle-hardened militia in the world, hitting green militia troops who have never stood up to enemy fire, yet alone a bayonet charge. All the enemy needs, is a single breakthrough at one place. He will fan out in our rear, and our troops will break and run.”

“Mr. Arnold,” Gates stopped him. “Your ideas are irrelevant, because I command here. Now, as I was saying…”

“General Gates, please,” Arnold implored. “I beg of you. Permit me to use Morgan’s men as skirmishers to keep the enemy off balance.”

“Permission denied.” Gates stood now with hands locked on his hips.

“A patrol, then. Morgan’s men are veteran woodsmen, and they know me. Let me make them our eyes and ears, and allow them to scout for us.”

Gates hesitated for some time before squinting hard and spitting out his words. “Very well, Mr. Arnold. Patrols only. But if you try to exceed your orders in any way, I will have you arrested and court-martialed. Do you understand?”

Arnold nodded, elbowed Morgan in the ribs and whispered in his ear, “Colonel Morgan, I want you to go immediately and ready 600 of your riflemen for a patrol.”

Morgan whispered back, “Six hundred?”

Benedict nodded. Morgan looked to Arnold, seated at his left, saluted and whispered back, “Yes, sir. I’ll ready the ‘patrol’ immediately”, and the eye facing away from Horatio Gates winked.

 

 

Chapter 27

 

Bemis Heights, Saratoga, New York, October 7, 1777

 

“Major!” Horatio Gates bellowed from inside his tent. “What is that firing I hear out in front of our left flank?”

“I don’t know, sir, but that’s where Arnold took Morgan’s men.”

“You go get him back here! I have had about all the insubordination I intend to take. Bring him to me!”

One hour later, Arnold stood before his red-faced, raging commander, pleading with him to listen to reason.

“Look, General Gates, we have the enemy buttoned up on this end of the line where we stand. He can’t get past us. He can’t get around us here, because the river prevents that. Therefore, he will have no choice but to try and attack a weak point or get around us to our left.”

“Then why has he been digging in and fortifying his own positions opposite our line?”

“I don’t know! Maybe Burgoyne is just cautious. Maybe he wants to be sure that we can’t flank him when he makes his move. But the Hessian deserters tell us that they have been on half rations for a week now. Logic and necessity will prevail, and he will at least try to flank our left. It’s obvious.”

“Not to me!” Gates insisted. For once in his life, Benedict Arnold bit his tongue.

“General Gates, I respectfully request permission to take Morgan’s men on a spoiling attack to the left.”

“Mr. Arnold, you are not going anywhere. I am placing you under arrest for insubordination in the face of the enemy. I will take your sword now. You are to confine yourself to your tent, until I send for you. Dismissed!”

Benedict did try. He returned to his tent. He paced. He listened. The firing from the left flank intensified, and he grew more agitated with each passing minute. At length, those outside heard him shout through the canvas, “I don’t care!” Barging past the two stunned guards outside, he leaped atop his horse. The two privates, unsure of what to do, shouted at him, beginning to raise their weapons, but Arnold’s massive, black charger, Warren, rose up on his hind hooves, whinnying, which caused the two to take cower. As they did so, they heard Benedict Arnold scream to the skies, “Victory or death!”

The moment Warren’s forehooves touched the ground, Benedict dug two heels into his flanks and sped off, pulling in on the reins to leap over a barricade, heading straight for the firing. Gates ordered Major Armstrong to pursue him immediately and bring him back. The major set off after him, but somehow seemed lacking in enthusiasm for the pursuit.

As Benedict galloped into view of Morgan’s men, he realized with horror that they were falling back across a wheat field under pressure from a modest-sized British bayonet attack. Charging into their midst, Arnold removed his hat, waving it at the riflemen as he circled among them.

“Come on, my brave boys! Come on! Remember Quebec! This is your revenge!”

As Arnold circulated, and the men began to recognize him, a cheer went up. They raised some kind of chant, which Arnold couldn’t quite make out. Morgan’s frontiersmen stopped backing up and began firing with purpose. Red jackets started falling out of the approaching British line, and the pace of their attack slowed. Then, with a roar from hundreds of voices, Morgan’s men began moving forward. Hand-to-hand struggles and bayonet fights took place between the most advanced individuals on both sides. Tomahawks flashed overhead. Then the red line broke and ran.

In the heat of the moment, Morgan’s men gave chase. But before Arnold could stop them, he saw that they had over-pursued and were now under intense fire from two sides. The American threw themselves to the ground in the tallest and thickest patches of wheat, returning fire. Through the acrid haze of smoke, Arnold could just make out a red movement toward the American left. He had accidentally collided with the British flanking attempt!

He and his men were outnumbered here, and someone on the other side was doing a superb job of using part of his force to pin them down here while moving the rest of his men off through the woods to cut around the American flank. A break in the gunpowder haze showed Benedict who it was. Some English officer on a gray horse was sending couriers to units all over the battlefield.

“Colonel Morgan!” Arnold roared above the musket fire, “Get your best sharpshooters up in that copse of trees. Five gold Guineas to the man who can take down that officer astride the gray!”

“And then what?” Morgan yelled back, ducking below the whiz of bullets, flying at head height.

“Then we charge!”

Minutes later, marksman Tim Murphy found his range, and the officer on the gray toppled from his saddle. Sir Simon Frasier, hero of a dozen battles, knighted by the king for his courageous leadership in combat, lay dying in the arms of his aides, and for the first time today his men seemed unsure of themselves. Some began to fall back. Almost instinctively, Benedict sensed the waver in their lines and called Morgan’s men to gather around him.

Arnold squinted hard, as sweat was washing accumulated dust from his forehead into his eyes. Prodding his mount further into the blind gloom, which hung over the battlefield, he spotted what he’d been looking for. The walls of the enemy’s chief redoubt lay dead ahead. Benedict rode round in a small circle, waving his sword, shouting over the musket fire that everyone should follow him. He raised his sword straight up, held it there a moment, then sliced hard through the air while shouting a single word, “Attack!” Men on foot were mobbed about him, some behind, some surging ahead. A rattle of British muskets dropped several of those closest to him, but his ‘brave boys’ pressed on.

As they reached the first rows of abatis, the charge faltered in the face of the deadly obstacles. Then a sound like several thunderstorms combined erupted from the redoubt, and the air around the attackers exploded in debris. Wood splinters the size of fingers shot into Benedict’s saddle and stayed there. Flying dirt obscured all vision, and when the air had settled slightly, he began picking red blobs out of his horse’s mane. As his fingers registered the texture, he realized he was holding pieces of what, moments before, had been his companions.

Craning his neck, he saw that the men around him were standing still – stunned into silence and immobility by the deadly accurate volley of close range grapeshot. The ground was littered with hats, cartridge cases, weapons, hands, shoes with the feet still in them. Two of the men were on their hands and knees, struggling to rise. One accomplished that feat successfully just as a second eruption cut him down again. When the air cleared this time, Benedict realized that half his men were prone, and pools of blood lay all around them. He waved his sword again and screamed at the survivors to fall back, to retreat. He didn’t need to give the order twice.

Arnold was furious. This was a day that he would not be stopped, and yet he had been. Other generals would have been quite happy to have driven an attacker from the field and back into his defenses. But Benedict’s killer instinct was roused. He was fed up with strategic victories and symbolic gestures on the battlefield. It was time to start hunting down English armies and killing them. They were never going to win this war any other way. Today was their golden opportunity, and it simply had to work. He looked around desperately. Morgan’s regiment had taken ferocious casualties and, though still game, were hopelessly outnumbered.

Through a brief break in the battle haze, he spotted another regiment’s flag 250 yards to the left of their position. Reinforcements! But they were not headed his way. He had to change that, so he rode to Morgan, shouting, “Dan, hold your men in the middle of this field, out of sight of that battery. I’m going for help!”

As he spoke, he circled in the acrid cloud, gesticulating wildly with his sword, too driven even to notice when he accidentally sliced open the scalp of one of Morgan’s lieutenants. Men who stood beside him on that day would later write in their diaries that Arnold had blood on his face and his eyes were wide. “He was a madman that afternoon,” was a common entry, “he fought like a man possessed.”

Arnold wheeled his horse hard to the left, kicking in his spurs. Any other officer at the front would have sent a messenger back to his own lines, then left and forward to the group he needed to contact. But to Benedict there was no time for messengers, and as the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, he took it. For an eighth of a mile, he rode parallel to the main British line at a distance of less than a hundred yards. There were no cavalry present on the field, so every single shooter realized that this blue-coated officer with the oversized gold epaulets of a general was a worthy target, and they did their best to bring him down. Morgan’s men watched, dumbfounded.

Benedict must have heard that distinctive, insect-like buzz which signifies a musket ball, passing within six inches of your ear. In the first fifty yards of his ride, two balls clipped his horse’s tail. One veteran English sergeant then realized that his men were firing low and had them correct accordingly. Now a ball clipped Warren’s mane. Another punctured Arnold’s hat. The buzzes grew more frequent, so Benedict lay low, hugging his horse. One ball pierced the tail of his coat, then another. He had yet to acknowledge those firing at him by dignifying them with so much as a glance. His gaze was obsessively fixed on his goal. Mercifully, at this point, he disappeared into a smoke cloud, and the buzzing sounds eased.

Through a hole in the cloud he spotted regimental colors and rode for them. Reining in hard at the flags, he yelled, “Who’s in command here? Dearborn, is that you? Ah, my old friend from the Kennebec. Your fellow famine veterans, Morgan’s men, are in dire need of your help! We have a chance to break the enemy’s line. Are you with me?”

Their roar of approval was all he needed. “Very well then, follow me!”

This time, a mass of men emerged from the dust cloud, heading right, and the Hessian units, closing in on Morgan from his left side, didn’t see them until it was too late. Dearborn’s veterans hit them like a ton of bricks, staving in the right side of their attack, just before it enveloped Morgan’s units. The Hessians turned and fled, back the way they had come.

Benedict, however, wasn’t about to let them get away. He waved his sword in the direction they had fled, and Dearborn’s men wheeled. All this movement left those British, who had come out to attack Morgan head on, dreadfully exposed on three sides. Without the leadership of Sir Simon Fraser, their line faltered and began to give. As Arnold and the reinforcements flowed along their right, Morgan’s regiment took them from the front, high on bloodlust and revenge for the slaughter of the previous hour. Some of Fraser’s veteran companies stood in their squares, fighting to the last man. The rest high-tailed it back to their formidable fort.

Seeing this, Arnold called Morgan’s men off of another attempt to puncture that particular field of slaughter, directing them to join Dearborn in charging Breyman’s redoubt, the Hessian fortification which was not quite as imposing. The Hessians, thank God, lacked cannon. Though men fell all around Benedict, whole units did not evaporate before his eyes.

Nevertheless, they were approaching a field of seemingly solid abatis. To charge blindly into such a field would mean impaling the men on these sharpened obstacles, but Benedict didn’t slow. Rather, he spurred his horse to the very front of the attack. He knew that there had to be a foot path here somewhere, used by Hessian patrols to emerge from the redoubt. He simply kept pressing forward, squinting through the smoke, until he spotted it. Then, turning, whirling his sword about his head, he screamed, “Follow me, my brave boys, follow me!” They did. Afterwards many of them confided that this was a leader they were happy to follow into hell itself.

Assuming the point, Benedict picked his way down the path, as it zigzagged through the obstacles. The route was only wide enough for three or four men to follow abreast, and the long, thin line began snaking its way slowly toward the redoubt, taking murderous fire the entire way. Men fell in numbers, but those behind stepped over their bodies and pressed on, until the fort loomed close ahead.

The path turned, running directly below its walls all the way around the fort. Here, the attackers would be exposed to point blank fire from directly overhead. Benedict never hesitated. Neither did his men. Instead, Arnold hugged the neck of his horse, looking up, just in time to see a redcoat lean out over the lip of the fort, firing down at him. The muzzle blast was so close that it scorched his face with powder burns, but miraculously, as far as he could tell, he had not been punctured by a ball.

Arnold and the advance group swung around now to the rear of the fort, finding an open sally port, right where he had been praying it would be. He actually reined in his horse for a moment, simply unable to believe their good luck. His men surged past him into the redoubt, and a maelstrom of musket fire, slashing bayonets, and even flashing tomahawks made short work of the defenders.

By the time, Benedict had recovered from his surprise and rode into the fort, the fight was pretty much over. As Morgan and Dearborn’s Kennebec veterans caught sight of him, a roar erupted from dozens of throats. It was the battlefield cry of hot-blooded victory. During this celebration, no one noticed the bloodied young face of a redcoat rise from its prone position on the ground, firing once at the man on the horse. Arnold felt scalding hot lead rip through his left leg. It went right through him and into his mount Warren, who reared up, then pitched left and fell on top of the same leg, pinning Arnold to the ground.

Six bayonets and two tomahawks pressed on the wounded Hessian, about to execute him on the spot for what they considered treachery of the basest sort.

“Leave him alone!” Arnold croaked. “The lad was only doing his duty!”

The men instead set to lifting the dying horse, dragging Arnold’s leg out from underneath. At that point Morgan entered, cradling Benedict’s head in his arms, quietly demanding to know how he was.

“I’ll live,” he spat out between gritted teeth, “But, ah, Dan, why did it have to be the same leg? I’d sooner it had been my heart.”

Just then Horatio Gates’s messenger, Colonel Armstrong, finally caught up with his target. “General Arnold,” he burst out, “General Gates commands you to return…”

That was as far as he got. He then noticed the dark look on the faces of the men, closing in on him from all sides.

 

 

Chapter 28

 

British Army Headquarters, New York, April 1, 1778

 

“Damn it!” Major Daring burst out, “We seem to be leaking secrets like a worm-eaten rain barrel, and you mean to tell me we have no idea how it is happening? We have to do something – now!”

The junior lieutenants thought to themselves simultaneously, “His brother-in-law has talked to him.” Nothing like a trip to the woodshed from a General to provide sudden motivation.

“Now look, we had one iron-clad operation in Connecticut, counterfeiting Continental currency. They were using original paper, captured at the mint in Philadelphia last year, plates produced in London, and they were churning out so much of it that the Continental Dollar has devalued to the point where it is a joke among its own people. ‘Not worth a Continental’ is a big expression now, I hear. The money wasn’t distributed anywhere near Shelton, where they were printing it. But last week it was raided, and it’s clear that the rebels knew what they were looking for. Now that was a very closely held secret. So who are we looking for?”

Both men knew better than to answer that one.

“What ever happened to that Long Island fellow I told you to bring in for questioning?”

“Abraham Woodhull?”

“Yes, yes, you know who I mean!”

The lieutenants looked at one another. Neither wanted to be the bearer of bad news. Finally, Daring forced it out of the older one.

“Well, sir, we sent out Col. John Graves Simcoe from Oyster Bay to arrest him at his house in Setauket.”

“And?”

The lieutenant shifted uneasily. “Woodhull wasn’t home.”

“This is what His Majesty’s Counterintelligence is made of? Our suspect isn’t home, so we allow him to roam inside our lines at will?”

“I’m afraid it’s a little more complicated than that, sir. You see, a higher authority intervened.” He could see he had better get it over with quickly. “This Woodhull seems to have friends in high places.”

Major Daring raised one eyebrow.

“It appears that one of his friends is quite close to Capt. John Andre.”

“General Clinton’s aide de camp?” They nodded. “What did Capt. Andre have to say about this?”

“He said, sir, that Mr. Woodhull was well known to one of his closest friends, and that he understood Mr. Woodhull to be a loyal subject of the king, and that until we had hard evidence we would be better off leaving Woodhull alone.”

“And who might that friend be?”

“He didn’t say, sir. What do you want us to do?”

The major drummed his fingers on his desk. “Get some evidence. Follow him.”

 

 

Chapter 29

 

Philadelphia, June 29, 1778

 

Major General Benedict Arnold sat erect in his open carriage, as his personal coachman swung the team smartly onto the crescent of brick, which constituted the Shippen front drive. When Sir William Howe had pulled the English army out of Philadelphia just two weeks ago, he had departed so abruptly that he had left his carriage. Now Arnold traveled everywhere in it. It was so much the sweeter a pleasure, because Howe’s forces had left precious little of value behind when they returned to New York.

One young lieutenant on his staff, John Andre, had been billeted in Benjamin Franklin’s house. Before leaving, he had packed up all the instruments, with which the internationally famous scientist had performed his great experiments, and shipped them back to his family in the English countryside as war booty. The famous kite, the glassware, none of it would ever be seen by Franklin again.

But, Benedict Arnold smiled to himself, I have Howe’s carriage. He needed it, too. His days of riding horseback were over, possibly forever, according to the doctor.

The coach pulled to a stop at the front walk, and his footman helped him out. It was an agonizing operation, and Benedict leaned heavily on him. Once on the brick walk, he shrugged off the attendant, proud to be able to make the walk on his own with only a cane. But it was slow going and an exercise in agony.

After six months in bed, his left leg seemed to have stubbornly decided not to heal. First, the wound from Saratoga had become gangrenous, and the doctors had wanted to cut off the leg. He had informed them gruffly that they had better start considering other options. But the infection wound up in the bone. After a series of painful operations and seemingly endless recoveries, the bad leg had drawn itself up a full two and a half inches shorter than the good one. He’d have accepted that gladly if it would have functioned normally, or been pain-free, but neither was the case.

The doctors had wondered aloud about the leg’s persistent refusal to heal, clicking their tongues over Benedict’s poor spirits. What did they expect, when he spent all that time and agony listening to Gates being hailed as the hero of Saratoga? Gates, the commander who had never left his tent during the entire battle. John Adams and the other Gates supporters in Congress had authorized the casting of a special medal in honor of the General, whom, they said, had single-handedly defeated Burgoyne and achieved all on his own what was by far the biggest American victory of the Revolution. Gates had sent an emissary, informing Arnold that out of a generosity of spirit and pity for the disabled general, he was dropping the court martial charges against Arnold and wishing him a speedy convalescence. Arnold had just had six months in bed to contemplate all that. Now he found himself a physically broken man, proud to be able to walk up a path by himself.

Still, Benedict told himself, there were consolations. As he finally struggled through the doorway, doffing his hat and wiping the perspiration from his brow, a servant’s voice boomed out to the gathered guests, “Ladies and Gentlemen: The Commander of the City of Philadelphia, Major General Benedict Arnold.”

The response was silence. Surprised at first, Arnold halted, surveying the crowd, then he smiled. What did he expect, he reminded himself, from the friends of the richest Tory in the nation’s capital? A servant took his coat and hat, but Benedict retained the cane. Edward Shippen himself strode up to him beaming, “General Arnold, how gracious of you to come! Please allow me to introduce you to some of my distinguished guests. Certainly not as distinguished as the real hero of Saratoga. Oh yes, we all know what really happened, but in our humble social circles I am afraid the word distinguished usually refers to some achievement in the arena of business or banking.”

Benedict smiled inwardly. He had always admired the manners of the rich. They could hate your guts, but as your host they would act as if you were their best friend. They were so good at it, that it could be hard to tell the truth at times. He knew that. He just didn’t know how much that confusion was about to cost him.

“May I present Mr. __ [name missing in John’s manuscript], the king of shipping in Philadelphia.”

“I am honored to meet you, General, I’ve heard so much about your exploits. But tell me, just when can we expect that the rest of the Delaware will be fully open to shipping?”

And this was the way it went. He understood now why he had been invited tonight. It wasn’t to become friends with the new power in town so much as to try to pick up financially useful tips. He didn’t care, though, he was here because he was the most powerful man in the capital, and that was enough for him. Then another introduction was made, one that would have an impact no one could possibly have divined at that moment.

“And now, General Arnold, may I introduce my youngest daughter, Margaret.”

Benedict was stunned. Before him stood the most beautiful woman he had met, since his late wife had died. She was young and smiling, looking him dead in the eyes.

“Call me Peggy,” she chirped, holding out her hand. Benedict shook it dully, and by the disappointment, which was telegraphed across her face, he realized too late that she had meant for him to kiss it. He cursed himself, reminded that he was out of his league here.

“Papa, let me show General Arnold around. I’d love to introduce him to my cousins!”

With a nod from Shippen, she slid both her arms around Arnold’s free arm, pulling him after her. He stumbled, and she stopped short.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, General. Silly me! I forgot that you carry a cane for a reason. Does it hurt terribly, your hero’s wound?”

Arnold told her that it didn’t hurt now, and away they went, albeit at a reduced pace.

Benedict felt happier than he had been, since his wife had died. He reminded himself that this was a much younger woman, probably half of his 37 years. But she didn’t seem to care. She bubbled about, showing him off as if he was a new prize beau. It had been a very long time since he had flirted, but he got the distinct impression that’s what she was doing. It thrilled him beyond reason.

The rest of the evening was a whirl of fine food, fine wine, superb music, and countless introductions to the elite of Philadelphia society. At some point in the evening, it hit him that this was the fulfillment of a lifelong ambition. Since he had been a poor orphan and a struggling merchant he had had but one goal – to one day be accepted into high society, to go to parties such as this, to have people like these treat him as an equal. And here he was, no less with the prettiest and probably the richest girl in Philadelphia, clutching his arm in a proprietary manner, laughing at his every joke. For the first time in months, Arnold went for hours without feeling pain in his leg.

Near the end of the evening’s festivities, he had to sit down to take the load off the leg. Peggy left him on some errand or other, and he became more of a passive observer. Only now did he become aware of what had probably been going on all around him all night. Some people, gathered in twos, threes, and occasionally fours, were talking quietly, but frequently turning his way, only to then look away quickly when he spotted them. It gradually dawned on him that they were not looking at his face, but somewhere lower on his person. At first, he thought it was the leg they were gawking at and whispering about, but then he noticed a woman illustrating their comments to their companions by running thumb and forefinger along the edge of their gowns. He looked down involuntarily and realized to his horror that his coat was frayed at several places along the hem. He then realized that the plain wool fabric was worn smooth and shiny in places as well. Only then did he begin to truly pay attention to what the other guests were wearing.

He seemed to be the only man in the room not wearing a shirt with a ruffled front. Unlike his own, most of the men’s coats were of silk or satin, usually trimmed with gold braid, several sported monocles, and if there was a pair of shoes here without silver buckles, he couldn’t find it. And this was just the men. Visually, the women were hard hitting in their wasp-waisted, bussel-hipped gowns of heavily embroidered silk and satin. Cameos, silk scarves, and glittering brooches were present in abundance. The nature of their shoes remained a mystery under the floor-length gowns, but if there was a head not covered by a white wig, it would be covered by a gray one.

Shippen had a home to match. Much of it reminded Benedict of his own mansion in New Haven, before Hannah had been forced to sell most of the furnishings to pay his war debts. Still, the paintings and Persian carpets here were a luxury not even he had been able to afford, and house slaves as well as indentured servants seemed to be everywhere.

Suddenly he felt like an impersonator, and had an impulse to bolt for the door. But just then Peggy returned, and he immediately forgot all about that. She sat with him while the others danced. He thought that dancing was something he would never do again.

Just then Peggy said to him, “My father is very kind to me. I’m the youngest daughter, you know, and he’ll give me anything I want.”

He asked her if she really meant anything.

“Well, almost anything. Some things he refuses, but then all I have to do is pout and look sad for a few days. He always gives in eventually.”

Benedict asked her if she thought that he could use that approach with Congress, and they laughed together.

At the end of the evening, Arnold self-consciously put on his plain republican coat and self-consciously struggled back down the walk, while a smiling Peggy waved to him from the doorway. Dismounting the carriage at his quarters, he went inside, where he lit a lamp, surveying the crude table and chairs, the rough plank floor and the near complete lack of decoration. In the dressing room, he walked over to a full-length mirror, held out the arms of his coat and frowned. First thing tomorrow morning, he told himself, he was headed for the best tailor in Philadelphia.

Peggy Shippen stood slightly bent, hugging the corner post of her bed, while a slave removed her corset. Her older sister, Catherine, cried out in mock horror, “I don’t know, how you did it all night. He’s not very good looking to begin with, and that leg! Besides he’s so old! And did you see the clothing? I see why they call him a brave man, courage to come here tonight, dressed like that!”

Peggy whirled on her angrily, but then smiled.

“Why, Catie, I do believe you’re jealous. Of course, he’s old, but that leg is something to be proud of. Why, when the king’s army was here, how many officers did Papa have as guests who were minus an arm or an eye and proud of it? People seemed to admire them for it. Besides, General Arnold is a lot of fun.”

“For an old man.”

Peggy threw a pillow at her. “I won’t have you talk that way! He has his own kind of charm. And he is the most powerful man in Philadelphia.” Slowly, a complete smile spread across her face. “And besides, Papa hates him.”

Catherine laughed. “Now I understand.”

 

 

Chapter 30

 

Philadelphia, July 1778

 

Benedict Arnold stood, arms spread straight out, while the tailor ran the measuring tape across his back. He bit his tongue to prevent himself giving in to the pain from his leg, as it took his unsupported weight. He wasn’t about to let Peggy Shippen think that he was such an old cripple who couldn’t even stand straight.

“What about this one, General?”

Peggy was running her deliciously smooth palm across a bolt of navy-colored material. Thinking back to his admiral’s uniform on Lake Champlain, Benedict told her that he looked good in blue. She smiled, cooing, “I’m sure you do.”

An hour later, they were leaving the shop, arm in arm. She promised to come back a week later for his fitting on the pretense that he needed her feminine advice for such non-masculine concerns as clothing. The truth was that Benedict cared only what she thought about his appearance. The others didn’t matter.

His smile, as they made their way down the sidewalk, however, was forced. He had little idea how much the clothes were going to cost, and had been afraid to ask. He was confident that neither Peggy nor her father had to ask, and he did not want to appear in her eyes as one who had to worry about money. He was sure that no one in her world did. As Commandant of the city he was sure his credit was good. But he would have to pay the bill eventually, and that was cause for concern. He had yet to receive a single paycheck from the Congress, which he was now assigned to protect. He would have to think of something.

“Look at that, General!” Peggy was pointing at a shop window.

“Miss Shippen, when we are alone I would be honored if you would simply call me by my Christian name.”

Her smile ran from ear to ear. “Very well then, Benedict, in that case I insist you call me Peggy!”

They spent the rest of the morning window shopping. Even with the cane, his leg throbbed. Still, he had borne worse in his time and was simply determined not to let a little pain ruin what he thought might be the best chance for happiness he had had in years.

When he returned Peggy to her home by carriage, she insisted he stay for lunch. He breathed a sigh of relief to find that the rest of the family was out. While she busied herself with instructions to the kitchen help, Benedict sank gratefully into an arm chair in the drawing room. Looking around, he let his eye lovingly caress some of the finer furnishings.

When she returned and offered a penny for his thoughts, he told her, “I was just thinking that the mahogany desk there is very much like the one I use at home in New Haven.” (He forbore to tell her that he had received a letter from Hannah last month, informing him she’d had to sell it). “And that sideboard in the corner could be a twin to one I had once lusted after in New York.”

She asked him what had happened with it, and he told her that he had gone off to capture Ticonderoga first and hadn’t been home since. She gasped, clearly impressed. He told himself that it was partly true. There was no need to add that he had realized he would need much of the profit from another coastal run before he could afford it, and going off to war had put an end to his coastal runs.

Basically, everything in Peggy’s world was everything, to which Benedict had aspired and, in fact, worked himself to the bone for. If he had remained on the sidelines for this war, like most of his countrymen, he would still have his hard-won prosperity, not Shippen prosperity, but a definite degree of comfort. Now he had been in the field for nearly three years. Even his one visit home had wound up involving him in the battle at Danbury. In all that time he had made no money. Furthermore, he had taken all his hard currency and gold to Canada with him, knowing that it might be needed, and he had spent every dollar of it feeding and supplying his troops, when the Congressional funds were exhausted. Yet, Congress had refused to fully reimburse him because he didn’t have proper receipts. As far as he knew they had gone up in flames with Royal Savage at the battle of Valcour Bay. That was too bad, he was told by the Congressmen.

So here Benedict sat, surrounded by everything he ever wanted, and he would be viewed as a pauper or, worse still, a gold-digger by the Shippen circle. Yet, if he could simply have had his own money back, he wouldn’t be. If Congress, for once in its miserable existence, simply did the right thing, he could stand here proudly, looking like an equal. But when had they ever done the right thing for him? Not when they had passed him over for promotion, not when they believed Gates and, worse, Enos about Valcour being the irresponsible blustering of a fame-hungry demagogue. Not when they gave all credit for Saratoga to Gates, the one American leader who had nearly managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

No, clearly Arnold would have to look after Arnold, because most certainly no one else was interested in him – unless it was to take something away that rightfully belonged to him. Well, Peggy Shippen was making it perfectly clear that she was interested in him, and no one was going to take her away.

A week later, they were back at the tailor, where Arnold needed all his formidable powers of self-control not to react, when he was handed the bill. Even allowing for war-time shortages and the most exorbitant labor costs in the city, plus a doubling of all that for management, he had never imagined the total might come to this. He signed for it as if it all meant little to him. Peggy loved the way he looked in the new suit, and that was what was important. Watching her look at him that way, he felt vigorous and admired, even successful, which was all he had ever wanted out of life. Since losing his wife he had never even aspired to a woman as young and beautiful as this.

The following Saturday afternoon, Benedict called at the Shippen home, as pre-arranged by letter, to take Peggy for a carriage ride. When the butler let him in, he crossed the threshold with an inner pride in how he looked in his splendid new suit. Shippen was there with his hand extended, but his handshake lacked the warmth Arnold had felt at the party. He waited for the banker to comment on his fine clothes, but all he said was that Peggy would be down shortly. Something was amiss, and Benedict racked his brain for what it might be.

He felt so comfortable with the man, even if he was the leading Tory in America’s largest city. People would no doubt talk about General Arnold, socializing with the enemy so to speak, but what did he care? He was the one in the position of authority now. There was no Gates to order him about, no Enos to snipe at him. And he felt for his part that he was sitting with a peer, a successful business man about his own age.

That was it! How could he have been so stupid? He may have been thrilled to be involved with a beautiful 18-year-old woman, young enough to be his own daughter, but how would he feel if a man his own age had wanted his daughter? Add to that that the man was a member of the enemy side?

Just then Peggy rustled her way down the stairs, looking magnificent in a cotton print dress, and sun hat tied beneath her chin. Edward Shippen rose to take her hands and kiss her, “Here, my dear, your General awaits you in his new suit of clothes,” and with what might have been a sneer he turned his back on Arnold and walked into the library.

 

 

Chapter 31

 

Washington’s Headquarters, Tappan, New York, August 1778

 

Alexander Hamilton took the letter from Benjamin Tallmadge and began reading.

“Dear Sir, I have recruited a 355 of my acquaintance who I think shall outwit them all.”

He turned to Colonel Tallmadge. “Well, Mr. Spymaster, what is a 355?”

“It’s our number code for woman or lady.”

Hamilton exploded. “You mean you’re now recruiting a woman for this ring? I know we have had fishwives and the like report back to us after trips into New York about what they saw on the streets, but you are proposing that we bring a female into the most sensitive spy ring we have? This is a business for steady nerves, Col. Tallmadge!”

“My dear Hamilton,” Tallmadge began, in the voice he used to reserve for slow pupils before the war, “How do you think Paul Revere and Billy Dawes got to warn people that the British were coming? How did they know the British were headed to Lexington and Concord? Well, I tell you.”

He saw that Hamilton, who had never been a slow student in his life, recognized the tone and was annoyed by it, and that filled him with pleasure.

“This never goes outside this room, you understand? The redcoats’ commanding general, Gage, has an American-born wife, Margaret Kemble Gage. Apparently, she loves her husband, but her allegiance is to her native country. Gage was hard working, used to bring papers home. She was feeding the Boston Sons of Liberty first rate intelligence the entire time Gage commanded Boston. By the time Lexington and Concord rolled around, he seemed to be onto her. He had a safe installed in his own home and used to lock everything in there, even when he went to the toilet. We still don’t know how she got the information out, but she did. Revere and Dawes were messenger boys. She was the real hero.”

“What happened to her?”

“As best we can determine, we think that British intelligence also found her out, but that Gage refused to denounce her and in fact defended her. We think that’s why Gage was recalled to London and made Quartermaster General, to keep him out of field operations. She was neutralized, so they let her go. No arrest. But you see, my dear Hamilton, we have depended on females for some of the most important intelligence coups of this war.”

“But Clinton commands in New York now, and he’s not married. Even his aide de camp, Andre, is single.”

“Hamilton, that doesn’t mean they aren’t men. They have urges like everyone else, and being men of power far from the eyes of English high society, they indulge those urges.”

“I don’t think I want to know anything more about this.” Hamilton actually seemed to blush.

“No, my young friend, you don’t.”

 

 

Chapter 32

 

Townsend & Oakman Grocery Store, New York, August 1778

 

The bell rang, indicating that a customer had entered. Robert came out of the back room to the polished oak counter. The customer was a well-dressed woman, whose back was to him while she closed the door behind her. From beneath her straw summer hat hung long wavy, auburn hair with an exquisite sheen to it. As she began to turn, he noticed the small string of pearls and flower print cotton dress of high quality, whose bodice fit her torso like a glove. It was a handsome torso, even from the side.

When she turned around, Robert started. The woman was stunning, with a pair of green eyes that seemed to sparkle even from across the room in this dim light. Her cheekbones, slightly pronounced, protruded from smooth cheeks, which sat atop a distinctive though delicate jaw line, which itself tapered in sharply toward a long, narrow neck. When she noticed him and smiled, he was drawn to her eyes. There was just a hint of crow’s feet in their corners and the beginnings of lines beneath, which didn’t fit in such a young woman. They seemed to be the mark of experience, serious experience, burned into her face.

Something skipped in his chest, and he suddenly became nervous. This was not his normal clientele. Hiding (he hoped successfully) all these reactions, he merely said, “Good day. What can I do for you?”

“Well, I’m not sure, Mr. ??”

“Townsend,” he replied, “Robert Townsend, at your service.”

“Well, Mr. Townsend, I am in no particular hurry, and I have a long list of goods which seem to be rather hard to find in the other shops. So if you have anyone else here, go ahead and finish waiting on them, I’ll just look around.”

She clutched her purse and began to walk along the counter.

“But there is no one else here, Ma’am.”

“Not even your partner or an assistant?”

“No, it’s just me today, well, almost every day, really.”

“How pleasant,” she cooed, “My good friend Abraham Woodhull told me that I simply must come in and see you. In fact, he said that he would speak to you about it first.”

She held up a red rose, sniffed it and held it out to Robert. “He asked me to give you this.”

Robert’s lower jaw dropped. “You mean, you…?”

She smiled and nodded. Temporarily at a loss for words, he woodenly held out his hand and took the flower which, he had been told, would act as password between him and the new agent Abraham had recruited.

“You look surprised, Mr. Townsend, were you not expecting me?”

“No, no, it’s just that… that…”

“That what?”

“Well, I imagined maybe a cleaning woman or a maid or something, but you!”

She laughed, said that she would take that as a compliment, but that it might be best if they got down to business before someone came in.

“Look, Miss, err…”

“Elizabeth Franklin,” she said and held out her hand. Townsend shook it mechanically, stammered and began again.

“Look, Miss Franklin, Abraham tells me that I have to work with you. I told him that I don’t want to. A woman has no place in this kind of business.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes, what Abraham and I do is a shameful activity. It’s not fit behavior for a gentleman.”

She cocked her head, raising one eyebrow as if to say, “And you?”

He laughed. “Oh, I, Miss, am no gentleman.”

“Really?”

“Oh, I used to consider myself one, but then something happened, something that changed all that.”

“What happened?”

“I’d rather not say. But the point is that you are a lady, and…”

He was cut off by her explosive and clearly derisive laughter. He persisted, “Why just look in the mirror, Miss Franklin. You’re every inch a lady.”

“Appearances can be deceiving, Mr. Townsend. And I might tell you to look in that same mirror, sir.”

“This,” and he waved his arm, “all this, the wig and the lace shirt, the fancy waistcoat, is all a disguise for what I have to do. I’m a Quaker.”

“Engaged in war?”

“Look! I told you that things have happened, which changed all that, which changed everything!”

“For me, too,” she added, so quietly that he almost failed to hear her. She stared at her hands, now folded before her on the counter. In a more subdued fashion now he asked her what had happened, but she merely shook her head from side to side, then looked up.

“Look, Mr. Townsend, you and I may be more alike than you think. Yes, I am a woman, yes. A lady? No. Besides we are involved in events, which will determine the lives of millions of people. Weighed on that scale, these niceties which you mention are too petty to waste breath on.”

She inhaled deeply, pausing. “So I will be working with you, Mr. Townsend, whether you like it or not. I will share with you any information which I uncover, and I hope that some of it may be important. I may be in a position to gather intelligence that you could never get anywhere near.”

Now those green eyes seemed to bore into his. “So you need me. And since I cannot do much alone in this city, and you have an established network with a regular communications channel, I need you. More importantly, though, sir, the country needs us both. So let us put aside our petty differences and make the best of it, shall we?”

She picked up her bag from the counter. “Good day, sir.”

 

 

Chapter 33

 

Philadelphia, January 7, 1779

 

No one in Philadelphia argued that Richard Varick was anything but a fop, they just didn’t say it to his face. The term was worse than dandy; it implied ostentatious dress, affected manners, and no redeeming graces. Only Benedict Arnold seemed to take issue with this characterization of the man he had made his new chief aide. To him, Varick was the penultimate scrounger. When no one else would ship him what he needed to build a fleet in the wilderness of Lake Champlain – not Congress, not the army, not Washington himself – Varick somehow managed to run down every item he ever asked him for, even if it meant closing the Albany docks and stripping what he wanted off ships, ignoring a roar of protest. He was a man who got things done.

For these reasons, as well as a strong personal affection, Arnold didn’t mind it, if Varick occasionally sat casually in the general’s office, ruffling a lace-encircled wrist over the spots where powder had fallen from his wig, while simultaneously holding forth on the state of the state.

“Pennsylvania! Honestly, General, where did these people come from? They think they can re-invent the Revolution and defy Congress in the bargain. If this Joseph Reed and his cohorts keep this up, there will be no Federal government. A Congressional committee clears you of his slanderous charges, and he practically threatens to have Pennsylvania secede if they don’t reinstate them! He’s after your scalp, General. And he won’t rest until he gets it.”

From his chair, Arnold nodded somberly, but without looking up from the stick he sat whittling, leg propped on a stool.

“General Washington understands, that’s all that counts.”

Varick sat for several moments, watching the pile of wood shavings grow before he could contain himself no longer. Waving a handkerchief at his now powder-dusted face, the aide proclaimed, “Sometimes I think he just resents our sense of style. I mean, honestly, just look at how those radicals dress, plain coats, no wigs, short hair! Can you imagine short hair ever becoming respectable in polite society? And they want you to hang every Tory in town for them so they can grab their property! They just can’t stand it that you refuse to oblige!”

“Orders,” Arnold said with a serene smile, shrugging. “General Washington’s written orders, when he made me commandant of the city, were to respect and protect every citizen, regardless of political orientation.”

As Varick continued to complain that Reed and the radicals were just jealous of the two officers enjoying good society and some well-earned parties, Arnold looked up at him and stopped whittling. “Why, you know I personally hate these parties and balls. I’m just following orders, Richard,” and the two enjoyed a hearty laugh.

“’I personally’. General, most of the anti-Arnold talk in this town all seems to wind up with tongues clucking over you courting the richest Tory woman in the city. Don’t listen to them, General, I’ve never seen you this happy before. Young Miss Shippen is good for you, sir, and I hope you marry her.”

“It seems I won’t if her father has anything to say about it,” Arnold answered wryly and went back to his stick. “I’ve told him I want no dowry, and that I plan to buy her the biggest house available as a wedding present, but he remains less than enthusiastic. As it is, I don’t know how I’m going keep hosting official dinners, if Congress doesn’t part with some funds. The French delegation needs a place to stay, until they find their own quarters, so I tell them to remain in my home as long as they like. What was I supposed to do, tell the first representatives of our ally that they’re on their own?”

At this, he reached over to the sidetable, pouring each of them a glass of madeira.

“That’s what I’m talking about, General! Congress has never paid you your salary, not in the three years that you’ve been waging the most aggressive campaigns on the continent. Then they expect you to rent an imposing residence and host official receptions at your own expense. But you have no money to pay for it, because you spent all of yours in Canada, feeding and clothing your men, and that damn pack of loose tongues down the street refuses to pay you back. I know the Caesars learned the hard way the folly of underpaying the Praetorian Guard!”

Arnold informed him sharply that he’d not listen to any of that.

“But General, they leave you on your own to raise these funds, and it seems like every time you try your hand at a business venture, Reed and his vultures begin jumping up and down, crying abuse of power.”

In response, Arnold simply stared into his sherry, while a slow smile spread across his face.

“My God, excuse me for speaking freely, sir, but you truly are in love, aren’t you?”

“It shows, then? Ah, it’s true, Richard. It’s not just Peggy’s beauty. She has an informed intelligence about her that is as sharp as a bayonet. You should hear her argue politics or business with her father! When she listens, she has this way of pursing her lips together in total concentration. My God, she is intense.”

He downed the rest of his glass. “I tell you, Varick, I feel like I can tell her anything, and she’ll not only understand, but have something worthwhile to say about it as well. I’ve never felt so safe or appreciated.”

Cocking his head to one side, he looked up. “I have never experienced that with a woman before – not with my sister Hannah, not even with my poor departed wife, God rest her soul. I didn’t know it could be like this.

“You know, we were at the theater tonight, and she began telling me about hobnobbing with the British officer who re-opened it, John Andre. She told me he had come by the house, and they had talked about acting for hours. She surprises me, Varick. It’s been a long time since anyone surprised me. Oh, don’t get insulted on me now. I like you because you’re predictable. Remember that! Here, have another glass of sherry.

“I’ll tell you a secret, Varick. The entire time I was in Canada, I was jealous of the other officers who had wives or sweethearts to write, to unburden themselves to. I know I had my sister Hannah, but ever since my wife died I have missed that sense of connectedness. Do you know what I mean?”

His aide nodded slowly.

“I mean, I know I have you to talk to, but it’s just not the same.”

“I’m glad to hear that, General.”

“I know I am in desperate straits financially, and it doesn’t seem fair. I worked like a dog all my life to avoid just this situation. The only reason I’m in it now is Congress. John Adams and that pack of Gates-worshipping hyenas. But I know, that in the end General Washington will see that I am treated properly. He knows what it’s like to try to feed an army in winter without help from these idiots. He understands.”

“But, General, until that day comes, how are you going to maintain your house and feed your guests, diplomatic and otherwise.”

Benedict Arnold looked out the window, drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair. Finally, he answered, “I’m a businessman. I’ll think of something.”

 

 

Chapter 34

 

Philadelphia, May 12, 1779

 

As he sat slumped in a chair in George Washington’s office, Benedict Arnold’s posture told it all.

“I’m sorry, Benedict,” his Commander in Chief cautioned. “I will make sure they cannot touch your commission, but too much has gone on now for me to take the floor of Congress on your behalf.”

Arnold now looked up. “You do realize, General, that Reed, Gates, Enos, and their whole gang have spent years, trying to find anything they could use to go after me.”

“Of course, I realize that. And I have stood by you.”

“But the acts of which I am accused now are so petty and yet the charges so grave that it seems like some kind of terrible joke.”

“It is no joke, Benedict. Whether or not you had any financial interest in a ship to which you gave preferential treatment, does not interest me. And frankly, I could understand you becoming attached to a few of your wife’s people, even if they are Tories. I certainly couldn’t care less if your aide is a dandy who sends his orderly out to fetch his wig from the shop, even if that orderly is the son of a Congressman. You are right, the acts are petty, and the charges gross.”

“Then why are you abandoning me?”

“I am not abandoning you. Congress has commanded me to censure you, and the reason I called you in today is to tell you that it means nothing. Why can’t you believe that? I have told you that if you wish to leave Philadelphia, to get out of this den of vipers, you are welcome to any post you choose. You ask for West Point, and I consent. In fact, here are the written orders, though I still insist your talents will be wasted there, and I can’t understand your desire to go.”

Arnold remained silent, so Washington continued. “Frankly, you have become bound up in a morass of politics, and for me to get involved now will raise concerns throughout the nation – that the one man who holds near-dictatorial powers over the military, is now putting his nose into Congressional matters, too.”

“But all these years, General, I could stand the sniping, the frame-ups and false accusations, because I knew you valued me enough to defend me. Now you are the only one to whom I can turn to salvage my honor. I deserve that chance. Don’t abandon me now, General.”

“I can protect you inside the army, but otherwise I am powerless.”

“Not as powerless as you claim.”

Washington stood up, “I have made my position clear, General Arnold. I cannot help it if that does not answer to your needs. May I suggest you take your leave, before either of us say anything we may regret.”

Benedict Arnold got up, took from the desk his appointment as commander of West Point and snapped a formal salute, as he informed his commander, “It’s too late for that, General.”

 

 

Chapter 35

 

Philadelphia, May 24, 1779

 

Peggy Shippen Arnold locked the door of her study in the mansion Benedict had provided as a wedding present. Picking up one of her father’s new pens, she began to write.

 

To: Capt. John Andre
One, Broad Way
New York

 

My Dear John,

 

How long has it been? How strange the winds of war which blow us together, then apart. So much has happened. You must have heard by now of my marriage. Forgive me, but I did not know how to tell you personally.

Lest you judge me harshly for my actions, I wish to inform you that I may be in a position to do you a great deal of good. Not every famous rebel remains loyal to the cause. This Congress of theirs is unsurpassed at back-stabbing heroic men. It is only natural that, sooner or later, some of those men will decide to stab back. That some of those who have been robbed of their own funds may seek compensation elsewhere.

If a continuation of this discussion would be of interest, you need only do as I have done and choose a trusted intermediary who has means or permission to travel between New York and Philadelphia. I look forward to hearing from you soon and will dream of the day this insipid rebellion collapses, and I may see you again.

 

Affectionately,
Peggy

 

 

Chapter 36

 

New York, July 8, 1779

 

Shortly after noon, Robert slid into his usual corner seat at Rivington’s Coffee House and surveyed the crowd. This venture with Rivington had been a smashing success from his point of view. Plenty of British and Hessian officers hobnobbed here, and military gossip abounded. Even some of the black officers from the newly formed Negro Corps were here today – something that certainly would never have happened in the old days.

Sir Henry Clinton, newly appointed Commander of His Majesty’s Forces in North America, had been running his ad on the front page of Rivington’s Gazette for months now. It declared that any slave in rebel-held territory who could escape to British lines would be considered free, could engage in any occupation and live however they chose. Now the already over-inhabited city had a new class of laborers who would work for next to nothing – which was exactly what they were usually paid for digging ditches, street repair, and the other brute labor which generally employed them.

Some, however, had done precisely what General Clinton had hoped they would, when he issued his proclamation – they had enlisted in the English army. The militias, made up of American Loyalists, wouldn’t take them, but the regular army did. Englishmen, coming from a slave-free society, seemed to have no big problem in accepting them as colleagues. The Rebel press had raged about the scandal of black officers, attending the normal military dances, which Patriot publishers now scornfully referred to as ‘African balls’. While the American army also used hundreds of African-American soldiers, in some states these veterans would – after the war – revert to their pre-war status, be it slave or freeman.

Only the British army was offering freedom to all who came through their lines, and that was whether they enlisted or not.

Robert smiled to himself. Strange bedfellows indeed, he thought. To avoid angering Loyalists, Sir Henry carefully chose not to free slaves inside British-held areas. Only rebel slaves were offered freedom, and only if they came over to the English side. On the other hand, the Patriots (who considered themselves freedom fighters) were outraged at their black servants’ flight to freedom, and the English treating them as equals. Secretly, Robert was grateful that any decision of freeing Townsend family slaves was out of his hands, since he personally owned none. It was all a royal tangle.

“Townsend!” Capt. Andrew McCoy of the Royal Hussars hailed him, “Come join us for a pint!”

When Robert settled at the adjoining table, the captain patted him on the back. “I was just telling these fellows what a splendid little newspaper you help Rivington put out.”

Robert told himself, “Here it comes, he’s angling for a mention in my column.” Odd, how starved for publicity these men seemed. Perhaps it was because they had a hard time distinguishing themselves for promotion by valor in combat in an army, which so rarely took the field.

“Your column is my favorite part, Townsend. Of course, you use the traditional, classical pseudonyms, but everyone knows, that when it’s erudite it’s you!”

By way of reply, Robert merely smiled.

“Some newspaper!” a young naval lieutenant called over from the next table, raising his voice over the general din. “There are more advertisements than news.”

At this point Rivington joined in, pointing out how vital it was for Headquarters to have a forum, in which to print its important proclamations.

The lieutenant snorted, “Oh, yes, most important. Why, just look at this proclamation.” Holding up an opened newspaper, he began to read. ‘STRAYED: On Monday night from the General Post Office in Broad St., a small BROWN COW, has a high back, and is very gentle. REWARD.’

“Why, here’s another one, equally vital to the war effort: ‘New York Fire Bucket Brigade Lottery to raise money for new fire buckets.’ The next one reads: ‘AUCTION: This day, at half past XI o’clock at the coffee house WILL BE SOLD an Excellent Good House Wench’.”

The Captain beside Robert nudged him, whispering, “I could use one of them to celebrate when we whip the French.”

Then, to the naval officer reading aloud, “You just worry about getting us through Hell Gate, Lieutenant, if you really think you can do it at this time of year.”

“My dear, Captain, I think all we need worry about is this: Are you capable of defeating seasick troops in battle?”

“Gentlemen!” A major intervened, standing over them both, glowering. “A Public House is no place for such discussions! Get back to your units, both of you.”

Half an hour later, Robert slipped out the back door, hurrying to his room. Sitting down at the table, he pulled Jay’s invisible ink from the drawer, sharpened a quill, and began writing.

Within moments there was a sharp knock on the door. Robert started, until the cadence of knocks identified the visitor as Elizabeth. Then he felt… what exactly? Relief, yes, but something more than that, too.

She burst in breathlessly, her face shrouded in a kerchief. She had never before dared come in daylight.

“I’ve just come from Hercules Mulligan!”

“Elizabeth, who in the world is Hercules Mulligan, and how did he come by such a ridiculous name?”

She smiled, “Ridiculous, I know, I know. You have to meet him, then you’ll realize the name fits him. You will never meet a more startling fellow – or a funnier one for that matter.”

Here she grew serious and dropped her voice to a whisper.

“He’s an Irish informant of mine – a friend of Alexander Hamilton. Best tailor in New York, or so the British officers say. Anyway, he contacted me to come at once. One of his regulars, a colonel in the infantry, came in today to order a new uniform jacket. He says he needs a proper jacket on which to pin the medal he’ll win for spearheading the attack that throws the French out of North America. Hercules told him to come back day after tomorrow for a fitting, and he answered that he couldn’t because day after tomorrow he is off to win the medal!”

“That matches what I’ve got,” Robert confided.

“And that’s not all, Robert. You know how everyone’s been talking about the big push into the South? Hercules says a major and a captain came by in the past two days to cancel their orders for summer clothes. They told him they won’t be needing them now.”

“The French fleet must be disembarking troops. It’s about time they got here! The only suitable harbor in that direction is Newport. It has to be. There is no other reason for the Royal Navy to tackle Hell Gate. It will take days, maybe weeks, for the French to unload the men, ammunition, supplies. And the troops will be weak and seasick from the long voyage. If Clinton attacks them while they are that vulnerable, the French effort here will be over before it’s begun. I’d like to know where Clinton got his information, though.”

“Robert, we can’t get word out fast enough through the usual channels. Austin isn’t due for three more days. I’ll take word out myself. I have a pass to cross the Haarlem River and I’ll head to Westchester – straight for our lines.”

“And get arrested on the way, or attacked by outlaws in no-man’s land up there! No, Elizabeth, forget it. I’ll get the word out.”

“And how do you plan to do that?”

“General Washington’s bay is stabled across the East River for emergencies like this. On a horse like that I can be at Abraham’s in a few hours.”

“But it’s out of character for you. You have no explanation for your trip. You could be arrested! Even if you get through, the route is too slow.”

“And your way is even riskier! Look, I am in charge of this ring, and I refuse to let you take that kind of chance. So that’s the end of the discussion.”

She began protesting, but Robert cut her off. “I will not put you at risk like that. You’re too important to me! I mean, to the operation.”

With that, he picked up his hat and coat and bolted down the stairs. Elizabeth sat, slightly stunned, staring at the closed door. Ever so slowly, her face eased into a broad smile.

 

 

Chapter 37

 

Washington’s Headquarters, August 16, 1779

 

Alexander Hamilton and George Washington sat across the table from Benjamin Tallmadge, listening to the last part of his report.

“If you say these Culpers are reliable,” Washington began.

“They haven’t been wrong yet, sir.”

“Then we have a crisis on our hands, gentlemen. If the British plan succeeds, the French army and their fleet will be annihilated. If that happens, they shall never send another one.”

“I, for one, would like to know how the enemy found out about this,” Tallmadge grumbled.

“That’s for your people to find out, sir. But right now we have more pressing problems.”

Here Hamilton intervened. “If the enemy fleet gets through Hell Gate promptly and have good winds, we are already too late to reinforce the French, General.”

“And are the winds favorable, Alex?”

It was Tallmadge who answered. “I’ve traveled these waters all my life, sir, and the answer to your question is no. Hell Gate gets its name from the currents and whirlpools, formed by Long Island Sound meeting the flow from New York Harbor, coming up the East River. It creates a nightmare for ships’ captains, and it takes a strong west wind during a slack tide to get through with anything heavier than a light sloop.”

“Still,” Hamilton volleyed, “It’s only a matter of a day or two before that congruence occurs, and then what? We would have to do something to draw them back to the city. And the only thing I can think of which would make them return, would be a full-scale assault on New York by our army. Clinton was born here. He has sworn to hold the city. He knows if he lost it, London would sack him.”

“Attack, Alex? With less than 10,000 effectives? Forget it! Even with their main force away, they outnumber us. And they are dug into fortified positions. Besides we haven’t got the boats. An actual attack is out of the question.”

Now Tallmadge spoke up. “You said an ‘actual’ attack, sir?

The Commander in Chief smiled. “It’s been done before. Since Antiquity, in fact.”

 

 

Chapter 38

 

Long Island Sound, August 19, 1779

 

Sir Henry Clinton stood at the rail of his flagship, H.M.S. Thunderer, feeling the wind at his back, staring at the billowing canvas above him, and beaming in anticipation. After an almost unprecedented three-day period of easterly winds, they were off. If this wind held, they could expect to hit the unsuspecting French at dawn tomorrow.

“If Benedict Arnold’s information is correct,” he thought, “and if they really are still disembarking, it will be a massacre. And I will be a hero.”

Just then, his train of thought was broken by a signalman, rushing to his side.

“General, we have just received a flash from the fire tower at Huntington. A messenger skiff is coming out to meet us. A skiff, sir, usually means…”

“Yes, ensign, I know what it means!” His smile vanished. It meant a message which was too secret to be broadcast in a manner that other ships could read. It meant a message of the utmost importance, and right now that could only mean trouble.

Thirty minutes later he sat in his cabin, broke the red wax seal and scanned the parchment, then set it down and stared into space. It couldn’t be! He read it again:

 

General Sir Henry Clinton,
Commander of His Majesty’s Forces

 

General,

 

Last night, thousands of bonfires were seen atop the palisades, across the river from the city. Intelligence at Fort Lee brought in a rebel courier who had stumbled into our lines. He carried orders for an attack on the city. Since daylight this morning, endless columns of troops have been parading along the length of the palisades, streaming toward our garrison at Fort Lee. Their number exceeds anything we have estimated. Similar sightings have been reported by our patrols north of the city. The citizens of New York are in a panic. Civic leaders have filed formal complaints that you have left them undefended and vulnerable. Everyone here expects a massive attack from the west and north imminently. Please send immediate instructions.

 

Your humble and obedient servant,
Capt. John Andre
Aide de Camp

 

Sir Clinton crumpled the paper with both hands. He actually began shaking, and his face reddened. The shaking only stopped when his fist came crashing down upon the writing desk. “Ensign!” he bellowed. “Signal all ships to return to New York!”

 

At the same moment, a colonel of the Continental Army hurried up to Alexander Hamilton in the woods above and beyond the top of the Palisades. Requesting instructions, he was dressed down by the much younger man.

“Colonel, you already have your instructions from General Washington. I don’t care how many times your men may have made the circuit. Just keep your troops marching north along the edge of the cliffs. I don’t want to see any regimental colors, only the stars and stripes. Then, two miles below Fort Lee, cut inland and return south through the woods. Keep it up until dusk and then repeat the same procedure as last night. Two bonfires for every man, and keep them burning. I don’t care if you get no sleep. Keep them burning. And for now,” Hamilton raised his right arm in the air and, with index finger pointed skyward, made a swirling motion, “round and round we go.”

With that, Hamilton clasped his hands behind him, rocked back and forth from his toes to his heels, and smiled. He was beginning to enjoy this.

 

 

Chapter 39

 

New York, December 1779

 

It began snowing on October 3 and had snowed pretty much every day since. The temperature had not been above freezing since October 15, causing the snow to accumulate. By early November, ice floes cut off all traffic to and from Manhattan Island, and the army hadn’t bothered to lay in a sufficient supply of firewood. It was the coldest winter in the history of the city, and only the rich and the well-connected had been able to afford decent heat. This left more than 20,000 desperate poor people, and the results should have been predictable to anyone save Sir Henry Clinton and his cronies.

Every tree on Manhattan Island had been cut down and burned, even the rich forests on the northern end, even the centuries-old elms on the green and the hallowed chestnut, under which the Stock Exchange had begun. Every fence and shed had been dismantled and burned.

By mid-December, snow lay three feet deep in open spaces, and towards the end of the month, the entire harbor froze solid for the only time in history. On the Hudson north of here, the ice was eighteen feet thick. Finally, soldiers began chopping down the forests on Staten Island, even those belonging to well-connected Loyalists. Horses hauled the woods across the ice to Manhattan, and hoarding or profiteering in firewood was a declared a capital offense. Still, it wasn’t enough.

 

Robert felt worse than he ever had in his entire life. Worse even than during that week of storm-tossed seasickness off the Carolinas. The fever had completely taken possession of his body. More than that, though, it had conquered his will. The one thing on which he prided himself. The one thing he could rely upon. Now it was gone, too. And he lay alone, shivering, in a city he hated, yearning for Oyster Bay.

His right eye felt exactly, as if someone was holding the rear of it between thumb and forefinger and squeezing relentlessly. They had been squeezing for two days now. When would they stop? He felt unable to move. He had no desire to. Moving made the pain far worse, made it radiate from his eye across his forehead and down the right side of his neck, until he wanted to scream. Yet he couldn’t give in entirely. He resolved not to lose control of his bowels. This meant that once or twice a day he had to manage to rise from the bed to a sitting position, an unforgivably cruel exercise in itself. Then he had to somehow make himself stand and walk to where he could safely void his waste. On the return trip he would try to drink a little water, or even nibble at some of the stale bread on his night table. It only made him want to throw up again.

The vomiting had come on that morning, and he wretched until nothing more came up, then continued to wretch more. He must have torn a muscle in the right side of his ribs doing it, because now it hurt there every time he took a deep breath. He just wanted to lie still and sleep, and he did a great deal of that. But sometimes he would wake up to find his night shirt drenched in sweat. Other times he would wake up shivering uncontrollably. “Does this mean that it is hot or cold in the room,” he wondered.

Amos Underhill had done his best to care for him, but his wife – Robert’s cousin Mary Townsend – and two children were down with ‘the fever’, as it had come to be called. Even though Robert was now living in Amos and Mary’s boarding house, he was on his own. The fever with no name had arrived mysteriously that summer in the city and spread like the unstoppable fire which had taken away the West Side. Since then it had ebbed and flowed, but never quite disappeared. By the middle of this winter from hell it seemed that most of the residents of New York had the fever. And it was killing many of them. He thought, with an almost academic detachment, about whether or not it would kill him. And if so, how.

Robert knew he was infinitely better off than many of the poor Loyalist wretches, shivering their lives away in Canvastown. Nevertheless, he yearned with every fiber of his being to be back in his bedroom in Oyster Bay, with his mother nursing him. He remembered the cool compresses applied to the forehead with soothing, whispered words. More wonderful still was the smooth hand stroking his hair and his cheek, with loving eyes glistening in the light of that fireplace that seemed at such times to always manage to keep the room toasty.

Even if it were possible to get to Oyster Bay now, he wasn’t capable of making the trip. He wasn’t even capable of getting down the stairs and out of the boarding house. He felt utterly alone. And yet not quite alone enough. Amos had burst in the other night, waking him forcefully, telling him that he had been talking in his sleep. Robert had roused slowly, squinting in the light of the lamp his brother-in-law held to his face, but able to make out the anxious faces of several fellow residents in the rooming house, bunched together just outside the doorway, peering in with odd looks on their faces.

“I’m sorry,” Robert answered softly. “Obviously, I was talking rather loudly as well, judging by the crowd here. So sorry, I’ll try to keep my delirium to a more civilized volume in the future.”

However, the expressions on the faces at the doorway didn’t waver at this weak attempt at humor. Amos grasped his arm, repeating, “You were yelling in your sleep, Robert,” squeezing his arm so tight that it hurt. “You wouldn’t stop,” and again he squeezed. Robert froze. Looking back and forth from the faces at the door to Amos’ look of alarm, he began to worry more now about the contents of what he had said. He had no way of knowing, but it looked as if it might be bad. Amos was still squeezing him hard enough to cut off circulation. Robert could think of only one way to attempt to salvage the situation. And that was to remove all credence from any secrets he might have uttered.

“Papa!” he blurted out, looking straight at Amos. “Papa! I was so frightened! The thunder Papa, and the lightning. I want Mama!” Over Abraham’s shoulder he could see the crown at the doorway stir. “I want my Mama!” he wailed and began to cry, loudly, as a child might. Now the crowd began to look embarrassed, shuffling off.

Amos got up, walked over and closed the door. Returning to the bed, he raised the lamp to Townsend’s face and put the back of his hand to his forehead. He pulled it away, looking dour and whispering. “That was quick thinking, Robert. Even when you’re sick, you are good. But you’re burning up, and you could get worse.”

“What was I saying, Amos?”

“I don’t want to worry you now. It sounded bad, that’s all you need to know.”

“My God, I’m sorry. I can’t endanger you and your family. I’ll have to go.”

“Go where, Robert? You can’t even walk. And there’s three feet of snow outside. You’re not going anywhere.”

“What can I do?”

Amos sighed, thought for a moment. “We’ll have to move you to the attic room. I’m sorry. It will not be much good for your health, but hopefully no one can hear you there. I would stay with you, but I have Mary and the children.”

“I know, I know. Thank you for all you’ve done for me. The attic will be fine.”

The attic, however, was like ice. Even with a small wood stove to provide some heat, the roof boards slanting overhead were coated with ice, and the stove never warmed the room enough to make the ice melt – not even an occasional drip. Amos had brought him their best down comforter. He’d even brought up a vase of dried flowers that Sally had picked in Oyster Bay, “to brighten the room a little” he said. Robert wondered if they were more in the line of funeral flowers.

He really couldn’t tell how we was doing. He had never felt this bad before in his life, and he didn’t know what it felt like to die, so he had no idea where this course might intersect that one. The odd thing was that he simply didn’t care. He wasn’t afraid. He just wished that somebody would stop those two fingers from squeezing his eyeball. And above all else, he wished there were someone to comfort him in some way, to care for him, if only to talk to him.

“Well, General Washington,” he thought, “not much I can do for you this week.”

Sometimes he woke to moonlight, streaming through the one window. At other times, he woke to what seemed like dim daylight, but often he couldn’t be sure which was which. One night, General Washington himself appeared right at his bedside, thanking him profusely for all his help in ‘the cause’. “And what cause would that be, General?” he had asked in return.

He thought Abraham Woodhull and Austin Roe may actually have visited him together. That seemed rather unlikely, though. “Seemed real to me,” he thought. Other nights he heard Momma singing lullabies.

So he didn’t react, when Elizabeth calmly walked in one evening (or was it morning), standing silently at the foot of his bed. She never spoke, but eventually began to cry. Then she dipped a towel in water and began wiping his forehead, just the way Momma used to. Then she combed his hair and began stroking it. Just the way Momma used to. “I’m combining my hallucinations,” Robert thought, ever the analyst.

“Robert, you’re burning up,” she whispered in a half-choked voice. “What can we do?”

“I’m not burning up, Elizabeth!” he protested. “I just feel like it. I’m actually freezing.” With that he began to shiver, being unable to stop. His teeth chattered, his knees buckled, and an alarming feeling like a lightning storm arose in his brain. He feared he was about to have an epileptic seizure and fought it with all his might.

“Robert,” she whispered forcefully. “Robert, stop it!”

“I ca-ca-can’t,” he managed to choke out. She grabbed him to prevent his thrashing. “For a hallucination”, he thought, “she has quite a grip.” But, like any hallucination, she failed to have much impact. He just kept on shivering, so far, though, without a true convulsion.

“It’s too cold here!” she burst out through clenched teeth. “Too goddamn cold!” She pulled the quilt up to his chin and tried to get him to drink, but his chattering prevented it. Then the fingers tightened their grip on his eyeball again, and he lost track of everything. When the fingers tired of their game and began to relent a little, he remembered where he was again. But the kindest hallucination of all was now gone. The room was empty. “Ah, Elizabeth,” he sighed. If he was to keep on having such visions, he hoped she’d be back. Later though, he swore he felt hands pulling off his sweat-soaked night shirt. Then hands wrapping around his shoulders trying to stop his shivers.

A gap occurred in Robert’s reality. It was the unmistakable feeling of a naked body, pressing against his. It was warm and soft. As he paid attention to it, he realized that it had a woman’s fully-developed breasts. This was not Amos!

“Who?” was all he could murmur before a hand covered his mouth.

“It’s me, Robert. It’s Elizabeth. Stay quiet now. We’ve got to warm you. Just try to relax and absorb my heat.”

“Elizabeth?”

“Sssh, sssh, don’t talk. Just lie there and be quiet. Relax. I’ll take care of you now. Just think of a warm beach in Oyster Bay, in July. That’s where you are right now.”

“Are you there?”

“I’m holding your hand, and you’re walking me along the shoreline, showing me the shells and telling me what each one is.”

And within moments, Robert was there, on that beach, holding Elizabeth’s hand, and feeling happier than he’d ever felt in his life. He could feel the warmth of the sun on his face, and the peace of the waves wash through his body. And that was all he knew.

When he awoke, he started in true alarm. He was sure he was awake now, the light through the window was too real. He still felt fairly terrible, but the fingers had stopped squeezing his eyeball momentarily.

And next to him in the bed, jutting just above the quilt, was a tousled head of auburn hair, a woman’s hair. Elizabeth’s hair! When he started, she moved slowly, as in the dulled response of sleep, rolling over to keep the length of her torso against his body. Only now did he realize it. She was really here! She had come. That was startling enough, but what was she doing in his bed, naked?

He shook her awake to inquire. She was slow to respond, grimacing, wincing against the light, then brightening when she saw the look on his face. “Robert, you’re awake!”

“Yes, and you’re in my bed. Without a stitch of clothing, I might add!”

“Do you object?”

“Do I…” and he laughed. It was an odd sound to his ear. He knew that it had probably been weeks since he’d heard his own laughter.

“And what, pray tell, Mr. Townsend, is so funny!?” she purred in mock crossness.

“What is so…, so…, Oh, Elizabeth,” and he fell back on the mattress, laughing uncontrollably now. She rose on one elbow, placing the fist of her other hand on her hip, the image of dramatic exasperation.

“I see you find this all most amusing, sir!”

“Amusing,” he gasped, “a-a-amus… Well, yes. I do find that I am not used to awakening to discover my comrade in arms naked with her bosom pressed against me.”

Only now did he take in the fall of her voluptuous breasts and how the top half of her torso protruding above the quilt presented a spectacle far more glorious than he’d ever imagined lay beneath even the most coquettish of her gowns.

“Oh, Robert, honestly,” she burst out with a toss of those cascading tresses. “I’m far more than just a ‘comrade in arms’. I’m your friend.” She continued with infinite gentleness, “I care about you.” And with that she lay back down and wrapped her arms around his again, pressing her breasts and stomach to his side, swinging one hip over his belly.

Mouth to ear now, she continued in a whisper, “Last night I was afraid you were dying. I was terrified that you were going to leave this world without me being able to tell you how I feel about you. My uncle, who is a fisherman, had told me about men pulled from an April sea, frozen through and shivering like you. How they lose their ability to think, then speak, and they shiver and hallucinate – while they slowly die. The only way to save them is to press your naked body against theirs and give them your warmth.”

Now she laid her forehead against his ear and remained motionless, her breath falling down his neck.

Robert was more stunned than if General Washington had made an encore appearance. He lay there, luxuriating in her warmth, her softness, her closeness, her gentleness, her touch. He lay there with his still addled brain now trying to make sense of her words. So she was lying against him because she cared deeply for him? Or she was there because that’s how you save a freezing fisherman? All that really mattered was that she was there. She was there, and he felt saved. Somehow it seemed that death could not come for him now. Elizabeth wouldn’t permit it.

Robert had never lain naked with a woman before. It was more wonderful than he had imagined. Yet he failed to respond in the normal male way. He must truly be weak, he thought. If this couldn’t get him aroused he still had a long way to go toward recovery. But it was hard to mind the time now.

Eventually, Elizabeth rose and dressed, reinforcing what he had been thinking. She told him he had a long way to go, but that he would never be alone to face it now. She would be there with him every step of the way.

“But you can’t, Elizabeth!” he protested (to his own private astonishment). “Andre will miss you, and it will ruin everything.” (“Am I really saying this,” he asked himself astonished. “am I really pushing her back into the arms of the enemy?”)

“He can’t miss me, Robert.”

“Why not?”

“He’s gone. They’ve sailed south for a winter campaign. Left Staten Island just before the ice closed it off. He won’t be back for months.”

“South, where?”

“Charles Town. They think they can take the city.”

“Does the General know?” he cried, rising halfway in alarm.

She sat down beside him, raised her palm to his brow and brushed his hair back. “It’s all right,” she cooed. “I got word out through Hercules.” She smiled. “Good information, too, their entire order of battle – names of ships, names of regiments, even their tactics once they get there. Not that it will do much good, though. The ships will be there faster than any rider can make it.”

“Charles Town, my God! Sir Henry finally got off his arse.”

“There’s many who say it took this charming winter to do it. You know, New York for society, Charles Town for the climate.”

 

 

USA 2000-01
Colonial mansion, Charles Town (today Charleston), South Carolina, December 2001. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Robert smiled. “You have made me very happy Elizabeth.”

She kissed him once chastely on the forehead and then began to work in earnest. She stripped the bedclothes, taking them with his foul-smelling nightshirt downstairs to wash. She brought him wood regularly to keep the stove going, warming the room noticeably. She washed him. Sponging his entire, naked body in as clinical a fashion as any nurse. It amazed him to see and feel her wiping his loins and feeling no response down there. Now he knew just how weakened he was. But he thought it highly edifying to see that the heart could take flight, even when the sexual organs lay dormant. He was emotionally swept away by this miracle of her. And he let her know it. In return she usually just smiled, continuing with her work.

“We’re going to get you fit again, Robert, if it kills me.”

“It could kill you, Elizabeth. Living shut in with a fever victim could be suicide. You really shouldn’t be doing this. You’re taking a terrible chance.”

She smiled her little smile and paused briefly to make a comment he would never forget. “Robert, when there is a war on, you can’t say you’re in it, because you are wearing a uniform and hiding in a trench. Yes, I may catch the fever from you. I may catch it from anyone else in this city, which God had turned his back on. Do you know what my Grandfather used to say, Robert? He said that life is a high-risk enterprise with only one guaranteed outcome. I’m going to take care of you, Robert. And I’m not going to stop, until you can get about on your own again. You’re too important.”

“To the cause?” he had asked. This had stopped her in her tracks, made her turn to face him, looking him straight in the eye with a deadly serious demeanor.

“To the cause, yes. And to me.”

And so she fed him what Amos could get for him from the store. Oakman said he understood and would take care of everything, until Robert was better. Amos wrote the family in Oyster Bay, explaining the situation. Elizabeth remained out of sight and in the attic as much as possible. And so they spent a great deal of time together with little to do but talk. For the first time, they began to really get to know one another.

At first, they limited themselves to safe, third-party subjects like the incessantly cruel weather, the crumbling economy, and of course the war. Though that was a subject they both seemed to like to move on from. They spoke of poetry and literature. Robert was delighted to discover that she was the best-educated woman he had ever met. And she had her own ideas about the world as well. She didn’t simply absorb knowledge from books. This was clearly a woman of exceptional intellect who took in everything, noted it and then evaluated it to judge its worth. He realized she must have done the same with him and was thrilled to realize that he must have passed muster in this superior mind.

At times he couldn’t help but think darkly, “No wonder Andre is charmed by her. He is touted as the wittiest man in the colonies, and she can clearly hold her own with any man.” He never knew that such women were out there. “But what,” Robert wondered, “did she think of him?”

During his long, slow recuperation, they continued to share the bed, albeit chastely. She was friendly, almost like a sister sometimes, it seemed. “Sally would like her,” he thought. And he would be proud to present her to Mother and Father. But he would never get the chance to, unless they could somehow manage to chase the British army out for good.

In the meanwhile, they would be a couple, sneaking about in the shadows. She wanted to know all about his childhood. No matter how much Robert told her, she always wanted to hear more. Then one sunny afternoon he turned to her and said, “Now it’s your turn. Tell me about your childhood.”

Robert was dumbstruck when she refused, and when he prodded her, she grew angry.

“It’s not good for me to talk about the past, Robert.”

“But you wanted me to talk about mine. Now this isn’t fair.”

“It wouldn’t be fair for me to tell you about my life, dear friend. My story can be dangerous to innocent people. I have hurt enough innocent people in my time, Robert. I swear that I will not hurt any more. So, please, do not ask me about my past. Promise me that you will not ask me about my past.”

“But, Elizabeth, you can trust me, I am…”

“Promise me, Robert!”

And so he had given her his word not to ask any more about her life before their first meeting. The only thing she ever let slip was when they had discussed Nathan Hale. “I was there,” she blurted out. “I watched them put the noose around his neck. I listened to those brave words. And I thought that of all the people watching, only I knew how he felt.”

Adhering to his promise, Robert didn’t ask the question that burned in his mind.

“He was a noble man, Robert. A brave man. But he wasn’t a very good spy. We can’t win a war just by having brave spies. We’ve got to have effective ones.”

Townsend’s response was to simply stare at her in an enforced silence and wonder.

 

 

 

Chapter 40

 

New York, January 18, 1780

 

Robert loved to lay in bed and simply watch Elizabeth move. During these weeks, in which she had nursed him back to health, he had noticed something curious. When she first came through the door, he noticed, her movements were precise, careful, and small. Her back remained perfectly straight, even as she picked up dishes and set them down again. It was a dignified, even formal bearing she carried in with her. This was the Elizabeth he had admired and worked with, his fellow accomplice in treason, as the court order might read one day.

Now, however, Robert was surprised to see a new layer of character begin to surface. His logic told him that he was foolish not to have expected this. He looked at the beams of the attic and let his mind roam through all the ways in which he led a double life. Why hadn’t it occurred to him that a fellow spy might be the same?

Certainly, the things Elizabeth’s role required her to do, made his own little coffee house playacting look insignificant when you thought about it. However, thinking about that was something to push out of his mind, violently. Instead he went back to watching her.

Today’s transition was already taking place. Now her hips undulated slightly as she walked. Her shoulders were ever so slightly slouched. Stooping to take glasses and cutlery from the drawers of the pine bureau, she almost swayed – swooping into position with a kind of sideways dip of the hips. And when she stood over the bread to cut it, her feet were planted solidly apart, her elbows out, completely absorbed in workmanlike concentration. As she loaded the bed tray for him, her arms seemed fluid.

Finally, as she turned to catch him watching her, she smiled. “A wholehearted smile,” Robert thought, “immediate and broad.” He had come to revel in this daily transformation of character in his presence. The realization, that he might actually be the source of it, moved him beyond all reason.

Elizabeth carried the tray to the bed, set it on Robert’s thighs and joined him – sitting sideways on the edge with one leg dangling to the floor and the other crooked on its side. It’s the way a man sits, he thought. She then reached out and placed a smooth palm to his forehead with a gentleness that was all woman.

“I’d say that you’re finally normal, Mr. Townsend.”

“Normal? Am I really?”

She laughed. “Allow me to rephrase the sentence.”

Looking him straight in the eyes, she gave a soft smile which made something move inside his chest. “Robert, I think that your famous stubbornness has finally beaten the fever. I think you’re cured.”

“Thank you, Dr. Franklin.” His face grew serious. “And now, about your fee.”

“Oh, I always collect. You had better plan on it.”

She placed her palm back on his forehead, looked deep into his eyes and let her fingers move slowly down one side of his face, over the smooth temple and across the sandpaper cheek, turning her fingertips up to caress the line of his jaw from beneath – finally stopping at his chin, which she held lightly.

“However, nothing else about you, Robert Townsend, is normal. You are the most… enigmatic, fascinating, good-hearted person I have…”

She failed to finish because Robert had leaned across the bed tray and covered her mouth with his. Gently their lips met and moved over one another. His right hand now reached out and touched the back of her head, holding her to him. It clearly wasn’t necessary.

She placed her hands on his shoulders, then his chest. Robert tilted his head slightly and opened his lips wider. She followed his lead and soon found herself surrendering to his probing tongue. Little by little she was going limp while her palms felt Robert’s muscles contract and grow rigid.

They were both breathing heavily now. She heard him utter a sound, which sometimes escaped him while he was dreaming. A different sound issued from Elizabeth, one which was completely new to Robert, coming from a grown woman. It was almost a whimper.

As their breath quickened, her hands moved to his neck, then down inside the collar of his nightshirt. The effect of her cool, smooth hands caressing his chest was like lightning inside. Abruptly, he jerked back from her, putting both hands on her shoulders and holding her at arm’s length. He looked hard into her eyes with a wrinkled brow that seemed to express disbelief. She stared back – tilting her head and squinting as if to ask what, why? A second later she leapt back in alarm, as Robert’s right arms sprang from her shoulder and swept the food tray from the bed, sending in crashing to the floor.

Her eyes instinctively followed the tray, but were instantly drawn back by a plaintive whisper, “Elizabeth!” Then he enfolded her in his arms and tucked her head below his chin. His grip had a desperation about it. The strength of it surprised her, and she thought she couldn’t escape from these arms if her life depended on it. In fact, deep down, she felt that her whole life depended on not escaping from these arms. Not now. Not ever. With her head nestled on his chest, she felt utterly secure. She couldn’t remember the last time she had felt that way. She ran her left index finger in lazy circles around his right nipple. He muttered something into her hair and began caressing her spine, exploring her lower back and the curve of her hip. Her mouth uttered some kind of high-pitched noise into the side of his neck.

Her trance-like state was broken by Robert, gently, yet firmly, rolling her over onto her back. “I love you, Elizabeth.” And with that he ever so slowly lowered his body atop hers, kissing her delicately on the lips, then the cheek. He closed her eyes with the lightest, most delicate kisses she had ever received. The touch of his lips on her closed lids seemed almost reverential.

Robert lips now moved below her jaw, down the line of her neck to the dip in her collarbone, where he lingered. The weight atop her was so welcome that she concentrated on softening every muscle within her, the better to feel him – the better to yield to him. “I love you, Robert,” she whispered into his hair. In response, his lips paused, his tongue stilled. “I want you, Robert.” He raised himself above her and began to unbutton her dress. His breaths grew short and quick as he watched her breasts fall into view. He kept undoing buttons until he could see her navel, rising and falling with unsteady breaths.

In one swift motion he pulled his nightshirt over his head. Her eyes widened. His body was thin, wasted from the illness, but the curl of dark hair on his strong chest quickened her pulse. He pulled the dress from her shoulders and continued pulling until the neckline was at her waist. She raised her hips from the bed slightly to allow him to finish removing the dress. To Robert, there was something about this particular motion, this simple gesture of active surrender which delivered a jolt to the heart he knew he would cherish until the day he died.

He lowered himself to her, and they became one. Before long, all borders blurred, and she lost track of who was on top, doing what to whom. She dissolved, as did he. Before this night each of them may have been whole – as individuals. After tonight, each of them would be simultaneously blessed and cursed by the knowledge that another whole existed – one infinitely more preferable. Everything, all life now, would be changed. They had eaten of the apple from the Garden of Paradise. There would be no going back.

 

 

Chapter 41

 

No. 1, Broad Way, New York, January 20, 1780

 

“Major Daring! Major Daring!”

The object of Lieutenant Harkins’ inquiry emerged from the water closet, buttoning his pants. The expression on his face said that this had better be good.

“Sir, we have a breakthrough on the Woodhull case!”

“Yes?”

“A rebel post was overrun north of the city and we captured documents from the papers of a major.”

“Tallmadge,” his colleague chimed in. “From a Major Tallmadge, sir. There were letters in a number code, but we also captured the key to the number code. It refers to the use of invisible ink by a spy ring on Long Island!”

“So?”

“Sir, if you remember, some months ago we waylaid Woodhull, and all he had on him was a ream of blank paper.”

“Yes?”

The two lieutenants looked at one another with concern, then the original speaker began again, more slowly this time. “Sir, we thought it suspicious at the time that this man should come to New York only for a ream of blank paper.”

“Yes?”

They looked at one another again, the second officer rolling his eyes slightly and shrugging his shoulders. The first tried again. “Sir, those blank pages probably had messages written in invisible ink on them! Why, when you compare it to what Woodhull does on reaching home, it is the only logical inference. And that wasn’t all, sir. The papers listed code names. It looks like Woodhull is Culper Sr. and the confederate he meets in the city is called Culper, Jr. We have searched every list and find no real Culpers living anywhere in the New York area.”

“Good work, Lieutenant!”

“So what are your orders, sir?”

“Why, investigate! Find this Culper, Jr.”

 

 

Chapter 42

 

New York, February 14, 1780

 

Robert placed another armload of wood in the Franklin stove and turned to look at Elizabeth, who was waiting for him, propped against the headboard, knees pulled up to her chest.

“We shouldn’t waste the wood, you know,” she prompted him.

“Oh, yes we should, sometimes. All I want to do today is block out this Godforsaken winter, pretend that it never happened. I want to sit here toasty warm with you, without a worry in the world.”

He began walking back to bed.

“It reminds me of my mother’s kitchen,” she purred.

Robert stopped dead. Elizabeth had never before spoken a word about her past.

“There was a small space in the corner, between the bread oven and the wall, just big enough to squeeze a chair in. It was cozy, even on the coldest nights. The one candle would barely light the room. I used to love to go back to that spot in the darkness on cold evenings and just – sit. I’d tilt that chair back on its hind legs and lean against the wall. Momma called it my cozy corner. ‘You back there again in your cozy corner again, child,’ she’d say. Sometimes my cat would curl up in my lap. Shadows. That was her name. She was coal black, and when she would walk off into a dark corner of the room she’d just disappear from sight.”

Elizabeth stared at the stove and smiled. “Momma and Aunt Martha used to stay at the table sometimes, gossiping after the dishes were finished. I’d lean back and close my eyes and just listen to the sound of their voices. I wouldn’t even pay any attention to what they were saying. It was just the hum of their voices that lulled me. I’d sit back there and kind of halfway doze.”

Robert remained stock-still.

At length, her eyes began to water, then tears ran down her cheeks. “Oh, God, Robert,” she sobbed. “I can never go back there!” She bent her head to the bed, and her shoulders began to shake.

“Elizabeth, what are you talking about? Why can’t you go home?”

She simply shook her head and continued to grieve. Robert moved next to her, wrapped both arms around her and squeezed. At first, he said nothing, but at length he blurted out, “Elizabeth, tell me. You have to tell someone, tell me. This is me, Robert. I love you. I can’t stand to see you like this. Tell me!”

She looked up and in a nasal voice said, “I can’t. It’s too dangerous. I’ve hurt too many people already.” Now she took both his hands and looked intently into his eyes. “People are dead because of me, Robert. I don’t want to kill anyone else.”

He waited, trying to think of something to say. Finally, he told her, “You and I are one person. And both of us walk around every day with our heads in a noose. Elizabeth, it hurts me now to see you like this and not even know why. Please don’t shut me out. The only way you can hurt me is by shutting me out.”

She threw both her arms around him, hugged him fiercely and cried, “Oh, Robert, he was only sixteen. Sixteen! And I killed him.”

He demanded who she had killed and how. So she told him. In one long agonized monologue the story came pouring out of her. She explained about her earlier spying, about the trial, and the death sentence for herself and her younger brother.

“He didn’t even know what I was doing, Robert. He was slow, from birth. There was something not right with him, he had the mind of a child. But I used him. For cover! How cold-blooded is that?”

She looked away from Robert and, in a listless monotone, explained about the warden and his offer – her body for their freedom.

“When they released me the next evening, I found myself alone on a dark road. Eventually I made my way home, and,” here her voice cracked and for a while she fought for control. “As I came up the drive, my father came out with a lamp to see what the geese were honking at. As long as I live, Robert, I will never forget the look on his face when he saw me. He came running out, wrapped one arm around me and brought me into the kitchen. He left me there while he went to get my mother out of bed. And when she saw me she got hysterical in a funny kind of way. She just kept repeating over and over again, ‘Back from the dead! She’s back from the dead!’ Father managed to get a glass of rum into her, took her back upstairs and put her to bed.

“All the time, I kept asking my father where Tommy was. He wouldn’t answer me. Finally, when he got back from the bedroom, he managed to get a glass of rum into me, too, and started to explain. My father had gone to the shoreline that morning to watch the execution of his only children, you see. His mind wasn’t very stable. So he couldn’t understand at first, when they brought out some woman he had never seen before and put her in the boat. Then they brought out my brother Tommy and seated him. As the boat rowed away from the shore, my father said the strange woman kept screaming ‘It’s not me. You’ve got the wrong woman. I’m just a poor lady of the night. I didn’t do anything!’ He said she just kept screaming this stuff over and over, until they gagged her.

“My brother had his hands bound behind his back and was seated facing the shore, looking at my father, as the boat pulled away. He never said a word, but my father said he kept gesturing with his head to the woman and then back to my father. He wasn’t very smart, but he was able to figure out that if he spoke up it might save this innocent woman’s life, and then they would have to search for me. He was telling my father… My poor, sweet, innocent brother was telling my father, ‘See, your daughter is alive somewhere! She’s alive! Go find her!’

“My father was the one who figured it out and had to explain it to me. That Captain had a sentence to carry out. He had to execute a woman and a boy. He couldn’t just cancel it. So he found some poor prostitute to take my place and lied to me… I guess he didn’t want me around afterwards. If I was alive, how would he explain who I was? And if he killed me, he had a body to dispose of. But if I was set free, I would vanish quietly. After all, what authorities was I going to run to? I couldn’t do anything.”

For some time, she cried in his arms. After several minutes, she finally spoke again, this time in a voice, lacking all emotion.

“So you see, my dear, I have the blood of two innocent people on my hands. And if my true identity were found out, they could come for my father, too. He helped me escape.”

“But how? How did you…”

“The Franklin family are friends of ours and were prevailed upon to take me in. Mrs. Franklin thinks that I got into some kind of trouble out in Pennsylvania and that I returned home in disgrace and needed a new start. She has been representing me as her niece. That’s how I have gained entrance into ‘good’ society.”

“But, Elizabeth, this is too dangerous! You’re an actress, you appear before hundreds of people some nights. If anyone recognizes you…”

“They won’t.”

“What do you mean? What about the judge?”

“He took a walk one day in the Bronck’s to see a farmer about a cow. He never came back.”

Robert stared in surprise, but when he had recovered he asked, “And the lieutenant who took you out of jail?”

“Transferred back to England,” she said.

“The Captain, the warden? The monster who…?”

“Dead. Throat cut in a bordello over in the Holy Ground. As my father says, we live in dangerous times.”

Robert sat stunned. He suddenly felt that perhaps he didn’t know this woman at all. Eventually he asked, “What about the Sergeant who took you out?”

“Died of fever.”

“And the enlisted men?”

“Oh, Robert!” she burst out, “Don’t you see that English officers pay no attention to enlisted men! To officers, non-officers are just cattle, not worth listening to! I also don’t bear a great resemblance to that innocent girl of so many years ago. And besides, which one of them is going to go to General Clinton’s Chief of Staff and call his lover a traitor and a whore without ironclad proof? So, no, Robert, no one is going to recognize me.”

 

 

Chapter 43

 

British Headquarters, Charles Town, South Carolina, May 5, 1780

 

Dear Gustavus,

 

I am pleased to inform you that Sir H. C. is impressed with your sincerity. The information you provided was correct. No reinforcements were sent to the city when we landed, apparently G. W. considered it indefensible. The South’s largest city has surrendered to us, complete with its 4,000 troops. Our victory is total.

Now that we have seen proof of your seriousness, I think there should be no problem coming to terms on the business matter we have been discussing by post these past months. While the price you ask is high, the rewards can justify it. We would seek the surrender of a major post and its garrison. The price would depend on the size and importance of both.

We sail for New York soon, so please wait until I return, and I will renew our previous channel of communication. Please give my warmest regards to your wife.

 

I remain,
Your humble and obedient servant,
John Anderson

 

 

Chapter 44

 

New York & Long Island, May 20, 1780

 

Elizabeth was awakened by wisps of Robert’s long, black hair, sliding across her cheek, blown there by a warm breeze entering their garret window. She opened her right eye only, leaving her left flat against the mattress, watching as sunbeams penetrated the undulating curtains. Inhaling the moist morning air, her spirit leapt. Spring! It was finally and truly here – the season of lovers. Here, still sleeping beside her, lay the great passion of her life. It seemed ironic that such a love had come to her during the bitterest winter ever to try the soul of any New Yorker. For months, her muscles had tightened against the cold while her heart luxuriated in the warmth of Robert’s all-encompassing affection.

He had told her that he had been able to see in her the physical difference their love had made – that when they first knew one another, no matter how light-hearted she had appeared, there had always been a trouble in her eyes. “No longer, though,” he said. Now he saw only light there, “luminous, dancing green,” he called it.

This was what she had been waiting for her entire life, what she had day-dreamed about as a girl. For over four months now she’d been all his. Part of her knew that Andre would probably come back some day, but she would deal with that if and when it happened. For one entire, brutal winter, and now the stirrings of one still-uncertain spring, she’d been Elizabeth Franklin, human being. She had helped Robert a few times – getting news to Austin Roe for the whaleboat route and passing along occasional tidbits from Hercules Mulligan, but other than that, for the past few months, she’d been more woman than spy.

Wind on her bare skin, the manly smell of her lover beside her, and the light caress of his hair upon her cheek – these were the things that filled her world now. Several times, when she had spoken about these feelings, Robert had proposed marriage. It had hurt to see the crestfallen look on his face when she had put him off, not with a no, but with an urgent plea to let things wait until after the war.

They both knew what she meant by that, but neither wanted to voice it – that if Andre returned to New York, she’d probably start sleeping with him again. And as sophisticated as New York’s most eligible bachelor might be, John Andre was not about to take a married woman into his bed, when he had so many single one’s throwing themselves at him every week. Least of all would he be foolish enough to cuckold New York’s premier gossip columnist. Thus, Elizabeth and Robert were faced with a limbo of sorts. And today was to be the day Robert had talked about all winter, when they would stretch the boundaries of their exile and take their love outdoors.

Tonight, under a full moon, Robert would bring Elizabeth to his beloved Oyster Bay. He’d planned it as meticulously as any intelligence operation in order to provide a cloak of invisibility for them, while ensuring just enough illumination to let her experience the world of his childhood, the one of which he never tired of speaking. She’d always wanted to know everything about him and was looking forward to this outing as much as he was.

Later that night, the wind whirred through the pine needles above them, as they walked hand-in-hand through the Townsend family cemetery above the Cove of Oyster Bay. In one hand, he carried a small blanket and a picnic basket. Neither of them spoke much. They had laughed quietly about the macabre aspects of two spies on a date – the covered carriage, driven by Amos Underhill, the route on foot through the one plot of land here that he was sure would be devoid of people at night. The trees thinned as they continued downhill on the grass, weaving their way among the gray slate tombstones and stepping over the tiny rough-hewn field stones, which marked the plots of family slaves.

Elizabeth stopped abruptly and gasped. Spread out below them, a light chop on the surface of the harbor kicked back packets of brilliant white light at them.

“Robert, it’s beautiful!” she gushed, smiling. He turned and drank her in with his eyes before telling her that it reminded him of how light moved in her eyes. She wrapped both arms around him and their open mouths met. As his tongue probed hers, she began to detect the faint beginnings of a new sound in the distance – small waves breaking on the shoreline. He led her on.

Stopping briefly between bushes alongside Cove Road, he whispered, “That large house across the road is the Youngs. They’re Tories, like almost everyone else in town, but they’re away this week. As long as we don’t make enough noise to wake their slaves, we’ll be fine. Anyway, it’s unlikely that any of them would dare disturb a white couple on the beach at night. Are you ready? Come on then!”

This is what both of them had talked and dreamed about all winter – sitting wrapped in one another’s arms in the open air. The wind in their hair, the smell of the sea, soft sand beneath them, and the sound of waves, lulling them with their slow, delicious cadence. She curled languidly into him and murmured, “Robert, this may be the happiest moment of my life.” In return, he said that it was the happiest moment of his. He pulled her down to the blanket so that they lay facing one another, then raised his right hand to caress the left side of her face. Somewhere, back up the hill, an owl hooted.

“Elizabeth,” he cooed, “I don’t know how you do it. You remain a puzzle to me, mesmerizing, but a never-ending puzzle.”

“What do you mean?” She rose up on one elbow.

“It’s just that you’re almost a contradiction. You’re so soft, so feminine, gentle. And with everything that has happened to you and the work you’ve chosen to do, you’re probably the toughest person I know. You’re like, like, well like this flower here,” and he gestured to a bush, jutting out onto the beach behind them.

“What’s that?”

“Have you ever seen a beach rose?” She shook her head. “It’s everywhere out here in the coastal communities. And now that I think about it, it’s a lot like you.”

She reached out to pick one, then cried out and jerked her hand back.

“You have to be careful,” he laughed. “It’s covered with small, but nasty thorns on its branches. But when you know how to get around them,” and here he reached, twisted, and plucked a twig with a flower and a few buds from the bush, “there’s a soft flower at the heart of all that. And its fragrance is finer than any French perfume.”

She smiled up at him, as he began lacing the plucked stem into her hair.

“You can’t tell in this light, I suppose, but it’s a delicate mix of violet and red.”

“It’s lovely.”

“But most people hate it. It sprouts up everywhere. If you want a garden on the shoreline, beach rose is you worst enemy. When you try to get rid of it, you find that it grows right back the next year. Anyone, who has ever tried to rip it out by the roots, usually gives up. Once it settles into a spot, it takes an absolutely tenacious hold of the ground and simply refuses to let go.”

He laughed, shaking his head, and she laughed with him.

An hour later, the flowers in her hair was the only thing Elizabeth had on. The bush by now was throwing a moon shadow over half of their blanket. Their rolling, restless bodies flashed in and out of it – white flesh in soft moonlight. All the while, the waves kept up their detached, unhurried rhythm. They passed the night with muffled cries. About three hours before dawn, they left the beach a different couple.

 

 

Bornholm 2008
“You can’t tell in this light, I suppose, but it’s a delicate mix of violet and red.” – The beach rose, John is talking about, is Rosa rugosa, also called rugose rose, wrinkled rose, or Japanese rose, which is native to south-eastern Siberia, north-eastern China, Korea, and Japan. It was first introduced into the United States in 1845, which means that it wasn’t present on Long Island during the days of the American Revolution. To me, however, that fact is only of academic interest, and let us ascribe its presence in the novel to ‘the liberty of a writer’. Today, this rose is abundant on most New England beaches, where it is considered a serious pest, expelling natural vegetation – which is also the case in many North European countries, including Denmark, where this picture was taken. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Chapter 45

 

New York, June 8, 1780

 

As Sergeant Kent was helping Elizabeth into the carriage, he asked if she was feeling well.

“She’s fine, Sergeant,” Andre intervened. “Just caught a bit of a chill. See her safely home, will you?”

As the gray-haired soldier drove past the saddlery on Water Street, he began speaking to her in a fatherly tone of voice.

“My Janie at home is just about your age. I hope she is being as well looked after, as you are by the Major.”

“You must miss her very much. Does she have anyone special, Sergeant?”

“Oh no, Miss,” he said, “No, nothing like that. Not her, I’m afraid.”

His brow furrowed, and he stared down at the street. Under prodding from Elizabeth, though, he slowly opened up.

“It’s the consumption, Miss. She’s sick, she is. Doctor said she needs to get out of London, to clean air. I send back almost all my pay, but it’s not enough, even with my wife scrubbing floors. So I just hope that maybe one day she can meet a man like the Major.”

“You must miss her very much. Hopefully, this war will be over soon and let you return to your family. Unless you end up here on garrison duty, I suppose.”

“Well, I don’t want to burden you with my life, Miss. I just want to tell you how happy I am to see you and the Major together. He’s a good man, Miss. But he’s terribly run down these days. To see the effect you have on him, is… Well, it gives me hope for the Major. Sometimes I think this job is going to break him. But you lift him up.”

“Thank you, Sergeant. It is so kind of you to…”

“All I’m trying to say, Miss Elizabeth, is that if I can ever do anything to help you, anything at all, please just let me know.”

“Thank you again, my dear Sergeant. I will remember that.”

 

“Why, Robert!” Elizabeth cried, sweeping into the room. “You’re still in bed! Is something wrong? Are you feeling ill?”

But in response, he simply stared back at her silently. She persisted. “What’s wrong?” sitting down on the bed and taking his hands in hers. She smiled into his face, which was propped up against the headboard, but he failed to smile back. Now she squeezed his hands hard and pressed, “What is it?”

“It’s fear,” he said quietly.

“What?”

“You heard me. Fear. I’m like this every morning that I know you’re going to him.”

“Oh, Robert, now don’t start…”

“Listen to me, Elizabeth!” he hissed with a ferocity that silenced her. “It’s something new. Something I’ve only felt for short periods before, but now it’s with me all the time. Oh, I’ve been afraid ever since I said yes to Abraham and started this new life. But this is another kind of fear. This is like those ocean waves that knock you on your face. I can’t stand up to it.”

“Robert,” was all she said, placing her hand to his cheek.

“I have finally discovered bliss, Elizabeth. The kind the poets talk about. I like to think that you have, too.”

She nodded.

“I thought I was too odd to ever find someone with whom I could live like this. I thought only poets lived like this. I didn’t think it was for us regular mortals. And then you came into my life.” He squeezed her hands hard. “Now, every time you meet with Andre, I think of you being found out, and I see that bliss about to be snatched away and replaced with agony instead. I see you, the woman I would gladly give my life for, being executed while I stand by and watch like some helpless imbecile.”

She began telling him that he was no such thing, but he silenced her, “And now there is our child. That, my dear one, has simply driven all these emotions in me to a higher pitch. Now, in addition to you walking around, carrying all my hope and dreams, you’re even carrying my own flesh and blood inside you. And I think that’s the essence of the dilemma for me, Elizabeth. I’m sorry if I shock you, but I can’t stop thinking of Andre inside you also. How he is bumping against the head of my own son or daughter.”

“Robert, that’s not…” but he cut her off.

“I didn’t say it was rational, Elizabeth, it’s just how I feel. Not only do I have to share the woman I love with my chief enemy, but I also have to let my own child go off to be physically abused by him! It’s too much. Too much! No man should be asked to accept such a fate.

“All I want, Elizabeth, is for the woman I love and for our growing child to be safe! But you insist on continuing to take them further into harm’s way with each passing month. On days, when I think you’re going to be snooping about his apartments, I get this way. When I do manage to get out of bed I’m not myself. I was just lying here this morning thinking that the fear resonates through me like sound in a church bell. Sometimes I feel as if it will just rattle me apart.

“But when you’re lying here with me, though, it’s not nearly as bad. It’s like I find shelter from the storm. When we,” he smiled for the first time, “when we are lying on our sides, and that lovely backside of yours is tucked into my abdomen and I have my arms wrapped around you, those vibrations just fade away to a whisper. Last night I had a picture in my mind of large rocks dropping into my inner well. They make waves that crash back and forth from one wall of me to another. But when I am physically connected with you it’s like my well opens onto a large bay. The waves just go out and fail to come back. They leave still water behind.

“Marry me, Elizabeth! I want to live like this. I will take care of you, you know that. I can make a modest, but safe living as a merchant. We can raise our children together. We can grow old and happy and spend our golden years, basking in the glow of a life well lived. It’s normal to want this, Elizabeth! Other people get to do it. Why can’t we?”

“You know why.” She looked away.

“Don’t give me ‘the cause’ again. I’m sick of the damned cause!”

Now she looked back at him, but her face held no trace of friendliness.

He fairly hissed, “What good is the pursuit of a higher ‘good’, when it turns the people pursuing it into animals and causes them to act like savages! Is that really a cause worth fighting for, one that eats its young? Wasn’t Moloch the Biblical god who devoured children? I’m sorry, Elizabeth, but in my heart General Washington is becoming Moloch. And I don’t want to serve such a god.”

They sat silently for some time, until she quietly asked, “Is that all?”

“No, I guess it’s not. Look, day after day I do my best to move gaily about the coffee houses, hobnobbing with the very men who would like to kill you and our child. But I am doing an increasingly poor job of it. People are beginning to ask me if I’m feeling ill. And I am honestly able to answer yes, because this new fear makes me nauseous and weak. It makes me distracted, too, which, as you know, can be fatal in our occupation. With every day, I realize I’m becoming a poorer spy, but I don’t care. I don’t want to serve Moloch any longer. I just want you to be safe, warm, and happy. I just want my child to be free of physical battery from his enemy. I just want to be a family man.”

Here he paused. “The contrast between what could be and what is has become too extreme. I can’t take it any longer.

“Elizabeth, my darling, you are the most important thing in the world. You have already done more than anyone could ask of any woman. You have performed invaluable services for Moloch, and what has he given you in return? It’s come time for us to take our leave. Come with me, Elizabeth. Come live the life, to which we are entitled.”

“You know I can’t. So what’s the alternative?”

“There is no alternative. I want to help save you, not get you killed.”

She got up. “So be it then,” she said, heading for the door.

He rose halfway, crying out a single anguished word, “Why?”

“You know why,” she responded without turning around, then walked out and closed the door behind her.

 

Bent over a table in the fog of candle-lit tobacco smoke that passed for air inside Rivington’s coffee house, Robert poured himself another glass of rum. There were an annoyingly large number of puzzled stares at this queer behavior from a man, who seldom touched hard spirits, and his response to all of them was, “For the toothache,” which seemed to satisfy them. It was a common enough reason here for drinking oneself into a stupor. It had always been so, and with the disruption of the war, good dentists had become hard to find in New York.

Robert briefly contemplated possible reasons, why dentists might be predominantly Patriot and therefore prone to avoid the occupied city. Not that dentists were of much use anyway. About all they could be counted on to do was to pull the offending tooth. Some skill, he thought. A decent apothecary could do it just as well. From time immemorial colonial taverns had always seemed, more often than not, to have some wretched man hunched over a mug doing his best to drink the toothache away. What did the women do, he wondered? But his brain was not up to that, not now. Thank God, he had been blessed with the best teeth in the family. But what he wouldn’t give right now, he thought, to really have a toothache, in place of this empty pit in his soul.

He had started the ‘toothache cure’ at about three o’clock, and what time was it now? He squinted in the gloom. Eleven. He took a long swallow. Eight hours, and still not enough! For the thousandth time that day, he pictured her in his mind. He saw the incredibly delicate shoulder, protruding naked above a bedsheet. He saw where that shoulder scalloped first inward and then out again, to merge with the collarbone. Closing his eyes, he remembered what it was like to plunge his tongue into that spot. Ever since he was thirteen or so, he had daydreamed about doing that to any number of women he had met. He had only actually performed that act with one woman, and he had no desire to ever do it to another. She was all he needed. He opened his eyes, looked up from his glass. “But she will not have me!” he yelled silently.

In fact, she was more than he had ever wanted. In her presence he felt elevated, in the way that some saints talked about. St. Teresa of Avila wrote about ecstatic union with God, had described joyfully surrendering her body to her heavenly groom, until the two were one. It scandalized many. It had often puzzled him. But now he understood, he knew exactly what she meant. He had experienced it! But it was not with some semi-incarnate God, no, it was with an extremely real and physical woman. It was the fulfillment of the dream he had never dared to have. He hadn’t known such bliss was possible. And now, he reminded himself, it wasn’t.

Elizabeth had turned away from him. She had refused to have anything to do with him. And not because he had hurt her or abused her trust, not because he had shown eyes for another, nor because she thought them ill-suited. She had made it clear that she loved him as absolutely as he loved her. She had turned away from him, because he wouldn’t spy! He snorted a bitter laugh into the mug and took another swallow. “I bet that’s a first!” he thought. “Lady madly in love rejects gentleman, because he refuses to indulge in ungentlemanly behavior!”

When Elizabeth had returned to his room, and he had explained his ultimatum, he had been shocked to see how little impact it had made. She began to cry, but she hadn’t wavered for an instant. She told him that what they were involved in now, was bigger than themselves.

“Robert, how often do two people find themselves in a position to help determine the lives of millions of their countrymen?” she had pressed. “We are the only ones who can stop this treason. Think of the psychological impact of an American general, defecting now! The French might lose faith in us and pull out. Don’t think it won’t become harder than it already is for General Washington to recruit soldiers. No matter which general it is, we can’t calculate the impact it might have. And who knows what else we might find. We are in a unique position here.”

He answered that it was she, not he, who was in a unique position with Andre (and winced as he realized the double entendre). But Elizabeth had insisted that her intelligence was worthless without a way to get it out, and that Hercules Mulligan was good for only a limited number of communications without being noticed.

Robert was her lifeline, she had insisted, personally and professionally; she needed him. But Robert had put his foot down. He had offered to keep spying, if she would stop, but he refused to help her continue to put herself and their unborn child at risk.

“If that’s the way you feel,” she said coolly, “then I don’t want anything to do with you.”

 

“Robert, are you all right?” someone asked. He stirred slowly and turned in his chair, peering up at the voice. Funny, he thought, not many days ago he would have been secretly startled by such a question. He would have fought to keep everything external in slow motion and then, in an artificially nonchalant voice, would ask, “Why?” After all, turning a question back on the questioner was always so much safer than giving a straightforward answer. It gave you a chance to get more information, gauge their attitude, evaluate the context, before committing oneself to a clear statement. Robert had become a master of this technique.

This time, however, his response was simply, “I’m drunk! I’m simply splendid! And I’ll thank you to leave me alone!”

That seemed to do it. There was no reply beyond a pious, “Well!”

Perhaps he could provoke a fight, he thought. Anyone on the premises would suit his purpose. He was sure there was no one here to whom he could actually do serious harm, and it would be nice to simply do something for a change, to act. But, no, he reminded himself, that’s not in my character. ‘Robert, the Quaker’ wouldn’t do such a thing.

“Must stay in character, old chap,” whispered his mind’s voice. “Very important! You’re the actor after all.”

“A rather underpaid one, don’t you think?” he responded.

But the voice was ready for that. “Nonsense! You found love through your work.”

“And lost it, too. I probably never really had it at all.”

But the voice had one parting salvo to fire. “If you had remained in character, you’d still have her.”

“Touche!” he thought, then finished the glass and poured another.

 

 

Chapter 46

 

New York, June 9, 1780

 

Elizabeth stopped outside the milliner’s shop on Whitehall St. and Broad Way, looking across the street at Andre’s quarters. She had to stop shaking! Standing at the window, she pretended to admire a new hat. Looking in the reflection of the window, she stared for some time at the guard across Broad Way, the one outside Andre’s door. At last, she took a deep breath and stepped into the street. She forced herself to step slowly, but lightly, grateful for the puddles and piles of manure which required her to keep her eyes downcast. She concentrated on putting a spring in her step, which spoke one emotion – gay. She and Robert had spent days, analyzing every move, every word of what was about to happen, weeks ago. But it had to all seem completely spontaneous.

The smiling sentinel called out his greeting loudly, “Why, Miss Elizabeth, it’s so good to see you!”

“So fine to see you on this glorious morning, Sergeant Kent!” And with that she planted a kiss on his right cheek. He colored visibly.

“Now, now. I’m a married man, you know. But don’t let that stop you”, he winked.

“Well, I won’t then!”

“Seriously, Miss, I’m sorry to say that the Major’s away right now.”

“Oh, don’t be sorry. I was praying you’d say that!”

“You were?”

“You see, Sergeant Kent, I’ve been thinking about your offer of help.”

“You have, Miss?” From beneath the edge of his cap, he blinked into the morning sun, confusion evident in his expression.

“Yes, and I’ve decided to take you up on it.”

“You have? On…?”

“You see, I need to get into the Major’s quarters when he’s not here.”

“Oh, Miss Elizabeth, I’m afraid that’s out of the…”

“You see, he was away for his birthday last month, and I would so like to try to make it up to him. I want to surprise him! I’ve been telling him how much his apartments need a woman’s touch, and he agrees. In fact,” she boasted, puffing out her chest, “John says that I’m just the woman to do it! Only I want it to be a surprise.”

A Hessian captain walked by, and Kent snapped to attention, saluting.

“You want what to be a surprise, Miss?”

“I’m making him curtains for the windows, and a coverlet for the bed.”

Here she stopped, trying to read the face of this grizzled veteran. Finally, she told herself that there was nothing left to do but take the plunge. “I need to take measurements for the windows, the bed and so forth. But I can’t very well do that with him watching, can I? It would spoil the surprise!” she laughed, looking down and away in a show of coquettishness. Inside, she was holding her breath.

“Well, I guess it might spoil it, Miss, but, ah, you see…”

The moment of truth had come. She abruptly jerked open her purse and removed something. Raising his left hand with hers, she dropped something gold into Kent’s palm with her right hand and closed his fingers over it. Then she stood on tiptoe and whispered in his ear, “It would mean so much to me.”

There, the play was made. Now the next move had to be his. Kent looked down woodenly at his closed hand, unclasped the fingers just enough to see the small stack of coins and then snapped his fist closed around it and dropped it to his side. While his hand did this, his head rotated in all directions, eyes scanning the street. When he spoke, he seemed short of breath.

“Now, Miss Elizabeth, I simply cannot accept this. Why, I could be court-martialed. I could be…”

He was raising the closed hand toward her as he spoke, but she intercepted it, placing both of her small hands over his massive fist.

“Dear Sergeant, you have been so kind to me. And for me such an amount is a trifle! I have been thinking about your daughter back home. Perhaps this could go a small way toward helping her escape London to cleaner air.”

Kent’s lower jaw slowly sagged while he took all this in. When she finished, he stared down again at their joined hands. Then he clenched his fist tighter and swallowed once – hard.

“Oh, Sergeant, it’s for me! It’s for joy for myself and John and, well, for your Janie. May we all live long and joyous lives!”

An awkward silence followed. Finally, he lowered his hand, raised his eyes to hers and nodded once. She prayed that he could not see her relief.

Once she was inside, she knew she had to move fast. Go straight to the locked desk, Robert had told her. She pulled from her bodice the key they had made from an earlier impression. She put the key in the lock and turned, but it wouldn’t go. She tried again. Nothing. The copy’s no good, she thought. Her hand began to shake as she tried again and again. It didn’t budge. Panic began to rise. She tried what Robert had told her. Standing still, arms at her sides, Elizabeth closed her eyes and breathed as deeply as possible three times. Now, slowly, she placed the key in the lock one more time and carefully felt for what seemed the right groove. She turned her wrist again and this time the key went. She heard the blessed sound of the click as the lock snapped open. Next, she raised the desk cover, but what she saw made the panic return.

The desk was full of papers! Piles of papers, of all sizes, were stacked and tossed about at random. John’s record keeping seemed to be no better than his housekeeping. Elizabeth knew she couldn’t stay long, Kent would grow suspicious. The room was still, and the light through the drawn curtains dim. Faint sounds of hooves on stone and an occasional shout drifted up from the street. Louder than these, however, was the ticking of Andre’s pendulum clock – pressing home the urgency, the need to act.

She had to start somewhere, so she looked through the top pile. It seemed to be primarily reports of supplies, arriving in port. Another was full of unit names, officers’ names, and moves to certain stations. She didn’t think that was it. Lower down on the desk, the piles had markers and were separated into files with names. Now she could eliminate more quickly. There were groups of papers, marked Promotions, Transfer requests, Salary Disputes, Forage, Rebel Strength, Rebel Strongholds. She pulled the last one and began flipping pages, until she found West Point. There were sketches of the defenses, page after page of them, and maps of the river marked the placement of the great chains. Could these have come from the turncoat general? But on the final page was signed a name – Smith. Not Gustavus, not Anderson, nor any of the others she had seen before. What she was looking for wasn’t here.

She went back to the stacks, working her way through them, until she reached the surface of the desk. A sound, a single metallic ping, startled her from behind. She whirled, only to realize it was the clock, marking the quarter hour. She had been here almost thirty minutes. Remaining longer guaranteed suspicion. But she could not stand to leave empty-handed!

She made a quick circuit of the office. No other cabinet or desk was locked, so she returned to where she had started. It had to be here! She stepped back, planting her legs splayed apart, with her hands on her hips, just looking at the desk, head tilting one way and the other. She had to be missing something! Just breathe slow and deep, and think.

The desk reminded her of the French writing desk that was her mother’s prized possession. Momma never let her or Tommy near it when they were growing up. Naturally, the result of that was that they headed straight to it when they were left alone in the house, exploring all its nooks and crannies. It was full of useful pigeon holes, shelves, and side drawers – just like this one.

“So what?” she screamed silently at herself. “Stop wasting time!” But the picture of her mother’s cherished desk wouldn’t leave her mind. She looked at the clock again.

When they had first planned this, she had promised Robert she’d stay no longer than fifteen or twenty minutes. He was supposed to act as backup and either distract Kent or make a specific noise, which would warn her if he saw Kent start to go upstairs. But now there was now Robert and no time. She looked at the clock again. Suddenly she hated it and everything it stood for. Clocks have never brought anything but misery, she thought. And then it clicked.

When her brother Tommy was a toddler, he had pulled himself up onto a stool one day in an attempt to reach the clock, which sat atop Momma’s French desk. Elizabeth had come into the room just as he began to lose his balance. She had rushed to catch him, but too late. On his way down, he had grabbed at the desk and pulled it over, toppling it right on top of the two of them, pinning them to the floor. Momma had come home at just that moment and came running in at the sound of the crash. She pulled them from the wreckage and gave them both the spanking of their lives. Elizabeth had never forgotten how the pain and sense of outrage she felt at the unjust spanking was mitigated by the wonder of her upside-down view of a secret drawer that was now protruding from the bottom of the desk.

She snapped back to the present. It had been underneath the rest of the desk, its edge disguised as decorative trim. She knelt and felt the bottom, trying to slide it out with her hands, but nothing gave. She couldn’t see any sign of such a drawer.

“Miss Elizabeth!” Kent called up the stairs. “Are you finished?” She stopped. “Time to go!”

Frantically, she began rearranging the piles of paper on the desk, putting them back in what she hoped was the right order. In her haste she knocked ajar the cover of a compartment for pencils. Her shaking hand tried to put it back, but it wouldn’t snap back into place properly. She realized she was making a noisy clatter, moving the cover back and forth. In frustration she tilted the cover all the way to vertical and beyond. There was a small popping sound. Looking down she could see the desk trim protruding at the bottom. She pulled. It was the drawer!

“Miss Elizabeth!”

She opened the drawer, and it was full of files, thinner ones than on top of the desk. Plus, there were cutouts for selective reading of coded messages, what looked like small bottles of special inks, and cipher sheets.

But now she heard Kent’s heavy tread on the stairs – he was coming up. She removed the first file. It was marked Gustavus! She opened it and thumbed through the pages. Out on the stairs, the footsteps were drawing closer. Every page was in a number code – useless! There was no time now to try to use the cipher sheets. About half way down in the thin pile though, one page was different. It, too, was covered with the unintelligible jumble of letters and digits, but in the top left corner it looked like something had been written in plain English and then repeatedly crossed out. Just what it was she couldn’t tell in this dim light.

Snatching the page from the open file, she rushed to the window, pulled back the curtain, and held it to the daylight. It was made up of all small letters, no capitals. It was short, but had punctuation marks. In a flash, her mind assembled the pattern, and it was suddenly as clear as the afternoon sky. At the top of the page, Andre had written:

 

arn.gen

 

Then, as if realizing his mistake, the Major had crossed it out in an attempt to make it illegible, finally giving up and assigning this copy of the letter to his own personal files.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

It was sergeant Kent, his brows lowered, standing in the open doorway, looking straight at her across the two intervening rooms. Her left hand jerked up in a spasm of fright. Quickly, she continued moving it till it covered her heart. He was coming toward her now.

“Why, Sergeant! You startled me. I was just finishing my measurements, of course!”

And with that she raised the page of numbers, nearly waving it in his face, before she whirled and pulled the curtain closed again. He had looked straight at the page from a few feet away. Now he stood staring at her, and his face was far from happy.

“But, Sergeant, if you insist it’s time to go, then I guess I’m finished!”

She saw he was in the room now, but his back was to the open desk, its secret drawer protruding from the bottom, the desk cover and the Gustavus file wide open. So she walked toward the door, passing him on the far side, causing him to pivot, as he eyed her and thus keeping his back to the desk. She walked briskly toward the door, page waving casually in her hand. Standing on the landing, she waited, until he was through the door and turning to close it.

“Oh, my goodness!” she squealed, darting back into the room. Calling back over her shoulder, in a voice she feared had a nervous edge to it, “I almost forgot the other measurements!”

By now she was at the desk. Kent stood in the door, and she knew that the open study door allowed him to see her back, but not the desk. Keeping her left leg stiff and bending her right at the knee, she bent at the waist, leaning over the desk while flashing a coquettish bit of ankle, which she prayed his eyes would follow. Balancing thus precariously, she slipped the page back into the file and closed it, then slid the secret drawer silently back into place – all in nearly one smooth motion.

While almost shouting “Oh, here it is! What is wrong with me?” she was able to snatch two pages of similar-sized paper off the top pile, note that the pencil cover had closed properly with the drawer, and close the desk cover quietly. With one more covering utterance of “Here we go!” she turned the key on the first try. She had left it in the correct position, but was still profoundly grateful it worked at once. She slipped the key into the pages, folding them around it while walking toward Kent, smiling, while continuing to fold the papers, until the whole packet was the size of a Guinea.

Then, with a flutter of her eyelids and a quiet, sly smile she shoved the packet down her bodice and noted that his eyes followed.

“Thank you so much for your patience, Sergeant, John is going to be so surprised!”

“You can’t tell him that I let you in here, Miss!”

The moment she heard this, she knew she was safe.

“Don’t worry. I’ll tell him I just sized them up by eye during a visit.”

She leaned forward, lightly kissed the grizzled cheek, and whispered in his ear, “This will be our little secret.”

As she walked off toward Hercules Mulligan’s shop, her mind filled with a piercing, but unuttered cry, “Oh, Robert, where are you when I need you?”

 

 

Chapter 47

 

Washington’s Headquarters, June 10, 1780

 

“Major Tallmadge, this just arrived from Hercules Mulligan. As you know, that means it’s urgent.”

The former schoolmaster accepted the paper as if collecting assignments at the end of the day. He began to read, but then stiffened noticeably. Calling his aide back in, he told him to schedule an emergency meeting.

One hour later, Tallmadge and Hamilton stood before General Washington, who sat at his desk, holding the paper.

“You can’t be serious, Tallmadge!” he burst out. Assured that he was serious, the Commander in Chief turned to his aide de camp. “Capt. Hamilton, what do you make of this?”

Hamilton cleared his throat, pausing. “Well, sir, I was opposed to even using this woman right from the beginning, and I let Major Tallmadge know it. But, I’m sure you’ll agree, the chain of events here is highly coincidental.”

“Coincidental!” Washington boomed and stood up. He clasped his hands behind his back and began to pace. At 6 feet 2 inches, he towered over the others in the room. Even without his powdered wig and long, blue coat he cut a striking figure, and his presence both awed and intimidated those around him, especially on the rare occasions, when he expressed his notorious wrath.

“General Gates, I could believe, even Ethan Allen, but this? You expect me to believe that Benedict Arnold, a man I consider a brother, the one man on this continent I know I can count on, a man who has given his wealth and his physical health, fighting for liberty, you expect me to believe that he has become a traitor to our cause because of some coincidence?”

In response, he got silence, then turned on Tallmadge, glowering. Tallmadge felt he had no idea how to approach this, but, knowing that he had to try, shrugged and began to speak. “General, sir, let me lay it out. We find out that an American general is exchanging coded letters with the enemy’s chief of intelligence. But we don’t know who he is, because he always signs his letters Gustavus, and there is no such person. Then our best agent finds a British Headquarters file, marked Gustavus, full of his coded letters, and on top of one page the writer has marked it ‘arn.gen’. If this was a meaningless inscription, the writer wouldn’t have worked so hard to cross it out until it was illegible. It must have important meaning. And what else could that meaning be?”

“I’m sorry, Major, I can’t believe it. I would suspect my own wife before I would suspect Benedict. It doesn’t make sense.”

“He’s pretty unhappy, sir. He’s been court-martialed, threatened to resign.”

“Major, I’ll not listen to you disparage an American hero. Why, if it wasn’t for General Arnold, none of us would be here having this conversation, the revolution would have failed a long time ago. You all realize that, don’t you? If he hadn’t forced Gates to win at Saratoga, the French never would have come in our side. And we would have run out of money, cannon, and confidence a long time ago. We owe him everything!”

And with that, George Washington put his first on the desk so forcefully that the ink bottle jumped and spilled. Hamilton rushed to right it.

“I won’t listen to this, get out of here!”

Outside the house, Hamilton and Tallmadge stood in stunned silence. Hamilton broke it. “Look, Major, I’m with you. Hopefully, this is all some terrible mistake, but we can’t afford to ignore it. General Washington has just given Arnold command of West Point. If he betrays that to the British, they can sail up the Hudson at will and return to their strategy of splitting the confederation in two. We can no longer muster the numbers of troops that stopped them at Saratoga. And with harvest season approaching, the militias will all start melting away home. I don’t even want to think, how we’re going to get through next winter. A major blow now could induce the French to back out, and then we’re doomed.”

“So what do we do, Hamilton?”

“I know the General. He can be reasoned with, once he’s calmed down. But it would be nice if we could get even more damning evidence. You’ve got to understand, he truly loves Arnold.”

Tallmadge exhaled deeply, letting his exasperation show. At length he spoke, “He needs ironclad proof? Maybe there’s a way. I have an idea. If we’re wrong about Arnold, no harm will be done, he’ll never even know we suspected him. If we are right, then General Washington will have his proof. But you have to get our bull-headed commander to help us out.”

 

 

Chapter 48

 

West Point, June 16, 1780, 10:00 A.M.

 

Arnold took the paper from the messenger, opened it and read:

 

My Dear General Arnold,

 

I pray that I find you in good health. I will be leaving for Hartford tomorrow to confer with the French commander Rochambeau. I will be crossing the Hudson with only a light guard and will overnight at Peekskil. Please have forage for 40 horses ready. Do not tell anyone of my plans.

 

Your admiring commander,
General George Washington

 

Arnold read the dispatch again, this time more slowly. When he finished he folded it up, smiled and stuffed it in his pocket. Picking up a pen he began to write. There was no time to put this in code, he thought. But if I can get this out right away, and if they have a crack unit standing by aboard a fast ship, they could bag West Point and Washington on the same day. Surely that would finish this rebellion for good, and everyone would know that it was he who had saved the Colonies for the Crown. If West Point was worth 20,000 Pounds, he wondered, what would a captured George Washington be worth? What would the end of the rebellion be worth? Even Peggy would gasp.

 

 

Chapter 49

 

Underhill Boarding House, New York, June 16, 1780, 3:00 P.M.

 

There was a knock on the door, and Elizabeth walked in. Townsend was too stunned to speak.

“Hello, Robert.” He stared, not knowing whether to smile or frown. “I need your help, darling.”

Five minutes later, she had explained the situation, and he was struggling to keep his voice to a whisper. “This is insane, Elizabeth! It will get you killed!”

“It’s urgent. The message came to Hercules through the emergency Staten Island route. That method is only to be used for messages of extreme importance, you know that.”

“This guard doesn’t know you. Wait for Sergeant Kent to come back from his leave. Wait for Andre to come back from wherever he is, and maybe we can figure out a way to drug him while you’re in there.”

“I can’t, that’s two weeks away, and they have to know now. If Arnold did relay this message he probably didn’t have time to encode it, but it should be in the Gustavus file. They need this to get General Washington to move on Arnold. We just have to work with the new man, that’s why I need your help.”

“Don’t do this, Elizabeth.”

“I’m doing it whether you help me or not!” Then she softened, “But I hope you will help me.”

For some time, they looked into one another’s eyes until they both began to tear up. Abruptly he said, “You’re going to need more money! The normal amounts won’t do. We have to make sure it’s irresistible. He’s young, maybe he’ll be stupid as well and think that such sums are nothing for women like you. Maybe he’ll suspect but won’t care.” He hesitated. “And if he turns out to be a loyal British subject, you take the normal escape route, the one we planned. I’ll cover you.”

Elizabeth asked how he planned to do that, but Robert refused to tell her. “But I’m going on record right now, Elizabeth, and telling you this is begging for a noose.”

 

 

Chapter 50

 

New York, June 16, 1780, 6:00 P.M.

 

Robert and Elizabeth watched, as Amos Underhill walked into the locksmith shop. There was nowhere to hide, no shop windows to pretend to be inspecting, and they could not just stand gawking. They used the only other alternative, the one they had religiously avoided all the while they had known one another.

Standing on the sidewalk beside a pile of barrels, Robert grabbed Elizabeth and kissed her passionately. Long, slow kisses guaranteed the kind of anonymity that was perhaps only available on the streets of this, the most hedonistic city in America. People saw you, glanced away, and left you alone. No one inquired what those two people were doing, just standing there in the middle of the block, and even if someone did notice they couldn’t see their faces.

Kissing Elizabeth out here in the open was something he had dreamed of, and now there was little enjoyment in it. Robert was too scared – for all of them. Elizabeth, for her part, simply gave herself up to her passion and clung to Robert, to his strength, to his hunger, even to his fear.

A soon as they saw Amos leave with the old man, stopping briefly to light his pipe, Robert whispered in her ear, “Let’s go.” They walked straight to the shop. The pipe meant that the old man was on his way to Amos’ boarding house, and the boy was alone inside. They had had their eye on him for two years.

“Don’t ask for the old man, it’s the boy you want,” they had been told. “That kid can open any lock in New York.”

The problem was that the old man was known to be a rabid Tory, and so they had decided this was a method only to be tried in a moment of desperation. Since that moment was now here, they walked in, and Elizabeth began to unfold her tale to the adolescent. Robert stared in awe, as she actually managed to shed tears during her tale of love, followed by anger at her fiancée, of how this had led her in a moment of passion to write him and break off their engagement. She sobbed, as she told of her reconsideration, of her deep love for this man who, when he got home, would read her letter and never want to see her again. Her brother, and she indicated Robert, had suggested they go to a good locksmith.

Elizabeth, for her part, silently wondered how Robert could have come up with a plan like this on the spot. The boy vacillated, citing professional rules of conduct and so forth, urging them to wait for his father. Elizabeth had to fight to keep from laughing, when she saw the look on his face the moment Robert poured ten gold Guineas on his counter.

“I want to see my sister happy. Money is no object. But discretion is. If you feel you must report this to your father, to your profession, then forget it, we’ll take our business elsewhere. On the other hand, if you can help us out and remain discreet about it, I’ll double what you see here. But no one can know, so you’ll have to keep all the money yourself.”

Robert finally relaxed when the boy stammered, shaking slightly while gathering up the coins, and telling them that he considered theirs a special case and could make an exception.

The next part was the hard part. Timing was everything. They knew that at 6:00 each night, Andre’s sentry went inside the building, and at 6:15 he came out and locked the door behind him. However, he did not lock it while he was inside. They knew they had to make the sidewalk look filled, but they had to fill it with people that would not ask questions. Elizabeth began to breathe easier, when she saw Amos’ wife, Hercules Mulligan, even Austin Roe and a few other familiar faces, began to fall in around them in the last few blocks.

They rounded the final corner, and there was the sentry, emerging right on schedule from Andre’s door. “Well, old girl”, she told herself, “this is it.”

While they were still a good 15 yards from the guard, and before he could turn to lock the door, a boy ran past them, followed by a man, yelling, “Stop! Thief!” At this moment, she turned and squeezed the arm of the young locksmith, giving her most coquettish smile, and, sure enough, ensured that his eyes would remain riveted on hers for as long as she looked at him. Using peripheral vision, she slowed their walk, then casually speeded it up, as the boy ran just out of reach, past the sentry who – thank God – gave chase and nabbed the boy a few yards away. Amos pursued, grabbing the ‘thief’ from the far side, verbosely thanking the guard, while keeping his attention focused away from the door.

Elizabeth and her new friend simply strolled up to the doorway, twisted the knob and walked in, as if she did this every day. Once inside, she hastened him up the stair. On the landing outside the apartment, he broke out his ring of skeleton keys and went to work. She need only tell him once to be quiet, lest neighbors hear.

Once in, she told him to take a seat at the door, that she’d find the letter and be right back. Then she went straight to the desk, used her key, opened the secret drawer, and there, on top of the Gustavus file, was the message: “Washington crossing river at Peekskill June 18 where he will spend night with a guard of only 40. If you can move on this now and continue to West Point, I will take action as soon as I hear your attack. This will be your coup de main. Gustavus.”

She locked up, returning to the young locksmith. “Ah, Richard, I am so grateful. Here I got the letter. But there’s just one thing.”

She apologized for not having told him before that there is sometimes a guard at the door, who they must avoid. She felt terrible about putting him in this position, but they must sneak out together. Here was double the amount her brother had paid at the shop. While she held her breath and waited, the wheels in his young head seemed to be turning.

“Maybe I should call the sentry and just tell him what’s been going on here?”

“Oh, but before you could get out two words, I’d be screaming, and then I’d have to tell him how you forced me hear at knife point.”

“What knife?” he scoffed.

“This one,” and she pulled a lethal-looking stiletto from her bag. “And, of course the guard knows me as the fiancée, while he doesn’t know you from Adam. So then you would be arrested for either burglary, espionage, or attempted rape. I’m not sure which. Of course, it makes a difference because one they hang you for, after an aggressive physical interrogation. So it would probably be easier to just sneak out of here together, don’t you think? First, though, we have to just sit here and wait until dark.”

They made their way softly down the stairway in spurts, timed to coincide with noisy wagons passing outside. They knew that by now there was a different guard on duty. At the bottom, they found the key in the inside lock which she knew was always there.

“Now what do we do?” he whispered. With her hand she motioned for him to wait. After what seemed a very long time, she heard Robert’s voice outside.

“Oh, my God, help me, I think… It’s my heart.”

Her hand had been on the key. As she heard the guard move she turned the key in the lock and opened the door.

Not ten yards away, there was Robert down on one knee, clutching his chest, the sentry bending over him. In nearly one smooth motion, she pulled the boy out behind her, and they walked away. Holding tight to the young locksmith’s arm, she pivoted him fully about face when they were half way to the corner. So when the sentry turned their way he saw them coming toward him.

As she passed Robert she smiled. When they had rounded the corner, the locksmith spoke, “I think that perhaps I should tell my father about this when I get home.”

“Well, that would be a shame,” she replied.

“Why?”

“Because then,” and she paused long enough to pull the top of the stiletto from her bag, “we would have to kill you,” and she smiled. “Doesn’t it sound better to just enjoy your money? No one will ever know.”

“Listen to her, boy,” a gruff male voice said at her elbow. “If you know what’s good for you.”

Meanwhile, back at No 3, Broad Way, Robert was profusely thanking the sentry, professing his complete recovery. Walking away, he rounded the corner without challenge. Breathing a sigh of relief, he reached into his waistcoat pocket and un-cocked his pistol.

 

 

Chapter 51

 

Washington’s Headquarters, June 19, 1780

 

“All right, gentlemen, we have our proof. What do we do now?”

“The general insists that we catch him red-handed somehow. He says that if he arrests Arnold without proof, people will think he did it to eliminate a rival. No one, short of John Adams and Joseph Reed, will want to believe that America’s Hannibal turned on us, unless we leave them no choice.”

“But we can’t just trot the evidence we have into a court! This agent is still in place. She has risked her life for us. I will not put her further in jeopardy than she already is.”

“Then we need a cover story. We need to find a way to catch Arnold red-handed with evidence that the British will not trace back to her, once it becomes public. Because there must be a public trial.”

“I think that’s a job for the professionals.”

“You get no argument from me there.”

 

 

Chapter 52

 

Rockland County, New York, June 30, 1780

 

The Hudson Highlands sometimes seem as if they were designed for intrigue. Sleepy Hollow and its neighboring ravines hold tightly winding roads that were built on Indian trails, following the contours of this broken land, where visibility is rarely more than a few dozen yards. Bare rock is more prominent than soil and flatlands, and settlements are scattered. The North, or Hudson, River simultaneously unites and divides it all. It is the river which is the primary highway, and at the same time a formidable obstacle to those who would cross.

Most traffic is therefore north-south, but for generations farmers from the Rockland area took their wagons due east on the ferry across the Dutch-named Tappan Zee (‘Tappan Lake’), in order to sell their produce in Westchester. At the end of the day, money in their pockets, a drink in their hands, they huddled in conversation with their peers at darkening riverside bars, postponing the return trip until the day’s last ferry, thus allowing their complaining wives to provide the name for this largest of the area’s villages – Tarrytown.

For the Royal Navy to transport an army up this strategic valley, its ships at one point would be forced by the cliff-faced banks to perform an agonizing maneuver. From a due north course, these sailing ships had to turn abruptly due west and then quickly due north again right below a spot that had long been known as West Point. Performing such a maneuver under sail, with mountains on all sides blocking wind, was difficult enough, but the physics of eighteenth century sail guaranteed that it would be performed at excruciatingly slow speed.

Any proficient enemy cannoneers atop the bluffs would be shooting fish in a barrel. Washington had recognized this after Saratoga and fortified the site. For good measure, the Patriots had also strung a massive chain across the river here, built by Robert Townsend’s cousin Peter, with assistance from Robert’s brother Solomon, who was back from the high seas after taking a loyalty oath to the new American government from Benjamin Franklin himself, in Paris.

The fortifications were still in the developmental stage and more resembled a neighborhood of scattered banks, ditches, and redoubts than they did a fort. The normal brooding quality of the place was mollified today in a sea of intense light. The sun and oppressive heat stuck to Benjamin Tallmadge, as he rode north along the West River Road, asking directions to an estate named Belmont. Six troopers followed him in sweaty, dust-covered silence.

When the group reached its destination, the officer dismounted, striding up the sloping lawn to the verandah, where a puzzled frown spread on the face of a middle-aged man who had been sitting smoking in a chair, enjoying his view of the water far below. The frown changed to a smile of recognition, as his visitor woodenly ascended the steps and proffered an open hand.

“Cousin Benjamin! How good to see you! Have you been posted to our modest county?”

Tallmadge failed to reply at first, but stood towering over the medium-sized man, glowering. Finally, he suggested, rather firmly, that they go inside to talk in private. Once seated in the parlor, his wife dismissed after a polite smatter of small talk, Joshua Hett Smith began to protest.

“Honestly, Benjamin, you are welcome in my home, and I am trying to be hospitable, but you act, I don’t know, out of sorts. What is this all about?”

“I think you know, Joshua.”

After being told that his host had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, he elaborated in, if possible, an even graver demeanor than before.

“It’s about treason, Joshua. It’s about espionage.”

Seeing that he was not getting through, he added a final word.

“Yours.”

Fear, panic, wariness, analysis, and protest all transited Smith’s face in the seconds which followed. The next emotion was in the nature of an aggressive defense.

“Why, yes, since you are a major officer in our army and a second cousin as well, I guess it is safe to tell you that I have been engaged in spying on the British in New York – for our commander at West Point. But treason, my word, you talk like an Englishman, Benjamin!”

“You can drop the act, Joshua, this is me you’re talking to, I knew you before the war, remember? Everyone in the family knows where your real loyalties lie. Yes, I know that you have given low level, ‘fishwife’ intelligence to our side, but you have provided the king’s army with far more important information, such as the plans of the fortifications at West Point, such as a list of other Patriot agents you run in your little local network here, such as – but why do I go on? There is only one thing that matters now, Joshua. You have been observed in your treason, and you have been convicted in absentia in a secret trial.”

Hett actually stood up and began to wheeze in some odd mix of fright and anger. He appeared to be trying to take all this in and process it on the spot, but it was beyond his limited abilities. Tallmadge literally did not allow him to catch his breath.

“There is only one thing that matters now. You have been condemned to death, and I am here to carry out sentence.”

Smith looked around as if the army might be coming in the windows at this very moment. Then he walked to a pine desk and began to open a drawer, before the towering Tallmadge clamped a viselike grip on his wrist.

“I have a squad of men outside, and your house is surrounded. If you will kindly look out your window, right there, you will see them preparing the noose now.”

As the lanky major removed the dueling pistol from the drawer, Smith turned to follow his pointing finger, then gulped hard, wheezed even louder and then yelled for his wife. Informed that she was being detained by a corporal outside, Smith began to lose the color from his face.

“You can’t do this! I have a right to a trial! I have a right to a lawyer! You can’t do this!”

“Watch me!” the taller man hissed between clenched teeth. “Alice has been a good wife to you, Joshua, better than you have a right to. I like her, I feel sorry for her. So I have obtained permission to spare her the ignominy of being the widow of a traitor. We’ll hang you and bury you, and she can tell people you fell off your horse drunk. Your neighbors will believe that.”

Not a single word of any of this was true, of course, but Joshua Hett Smith had no way of knowing that.

Now Tallmadge leaned out the open window, barking, “Lieutenant, are you prepared to carry out the sentence?”

From behind him, a high-pitched voice began pleading for mercy, pleading for a favor, pleading for an arrangement, anything, any way to halt this nightmare. The spymaster took his time turning back from the window. By the time he had, the lieutenant was knocking at the door, announcing that all was ready.

Smith’s begging rose to fever pitch. At no time was there a protestation of innocence; his actions were those of a guilty man. But Tallmadge, erect in his schoolmaster mode, abruptly held up a palm for silence.

“There may be a way,” was all he said. After urgent pleading that he explain the way, after oaths affirming that he would do anything his cousin asked of him, Tallmadge grudgingly allowed that there might be one way, in which Smith could redeem himself and prove that his real allegiance was to the cause of liberty. After sitting Smith down and getting a stiff drink into him, Tallmadge waited for the shaking to lessen, but not long enough for it to stop.

“Joshua, there is a new commander coming to West Point soon, General Arnold. He wants the names of some of our spies that he can work with here, and I only intend to give him one name. If it is your name I give him, Joshua, you can earn a full pardon, but only if you do everything exactly as I say. If you foul things up, you have a date with the hangman’s noose. Now, Sam, the black man outside on the porch, is a colleague of mine. He is now your new shadow, do you understand? He goes everywhere you go. If I so much as get a report from him that he has lost sight of you, I will return and carry out the sentence. Do you understand? Good, then listen closely.”

That was all it took. As the shadows lengthened into a brooding Hudson Valley dusk, and the crickets began to chirp, Joshua Hett Smith, onetime aspiring actor, began memorizing the part of a lifetime.

 

 

Chapter 53

 

No. 1, Broad Way, New York, July 4, 1780

 

John Andre sat at his desk, addressing the two lieutenants.

“As of today, I have replaced Major Daring as head of Counterintelligence in this theatre of operations. I remain in command of normal intelligence gathering as well. From now on you will report to me. I will need a complete update on Monday, but is there anything pressing that I should know about now?”

“Well, sir.”

“Speak up!”

The speaker looked at his partner who shrugged his shoulders, then nodded.

“Sir, we have just discovered the final piece of a Long Island spy ring.” He could see that he had Andre’s full attention. “There is a man named Brewster who crosses the Sound at night from Connecticut in a whaleboat, manned by eight rowers. In fact, we now have our own man in their crew.”

“Very impressive!”

“In all honesty, sir, it wasn’t that difficult. The people in the taverns over there talk about him like he is some kind of local hero. Here is the full report.”

“Now tell me about this ring.”

The lieutenant shifted on his feet and cleared his throat. “Well, it all started with a man named Abraham Woodhull of Setauket.” He outlined the history of their investigation and what they knew so far.

“Why haven’t you brought this man in for questioning?”

“You don’t remember the name, sir? Abraham Woodhull?”

“Why? Should I?”

“The reason we didn’t pick him up was that you told us not to.”

“I did?”

“You said a friend of yours vouched for him and we should therefore lay off until we had proof.”

“Oh, yes, I remember now.” A long, uncomfortable silence followed. “My friend was most convincing, gentlemen. And as a character witness, she, err…, my friend is irreproachable.”

“So what do we do, sir?”

“Put a watch on Woodhull and concentrate on trying to find this Culper, Jr. fellow in New York.”

 

 

Chapter 54

 

New York & Long Island, September 2, 1780

 

“Robert, wake up!” Elizabeth whispered, shaking him by the shoulders. “It’s important.”

He blinked three times, rubbed his eyes, and smiled up at her.

“Why I know you,” he responded, placing his arms around her neck, pulling her down to the bed. But she shook him off and stood up.

“I can’t, darling, I have to go. Andre is waiting for me.”

Robert raised himself on one elbow, asking her to explain.

“I had to warn you”, she said. “He’s taking me to Oyster Bay.”

“What?” Now Robert was sitting erect on the edge of the bed, naked, and thoroughly puzzled. “Where in Oyster Bay?”

“You’re not going to like this. He’s taking me to your house.”

Robert’s head swam. Then he stood up, alarmed. “Is it Father? Are they going to arrest…”

“No! Stop! Let me explain. He’s going on a social visit to his friend, Colonel Simcoe, who, as you know, is still boarding there. The strain of the whole Arnold affair has gotten to John, and he’s ready to crack. Sir Henry sees it, and he has ordered John to get out of the city for a week’s rest, I guess while they try to arrange another meeting with Arnold. John has asked me to go with him. I couldn’t refuse. I’m sorry, darling. I only have a few minutes, but I had to warn you. I wanted you to know where I disappeared to, and in case you might have planned to go out and visit your family, find me there, and blow both our covers.”

“Elizabeth, slow down, please. This is all a bit much to take in right now.” He sat back down.

“I know, I’m sorry. But I have to go now. I’ll be back in a week, and you’ve just got to avoid Oyster Bay until then.”

She turned toward the door when he asked her why, and the question stopped her in her tracks. She whirled, “Oh, for God’s sake, Robert! What do you mean, why? You couldn’t seriously consider the three of us all sitting around making polite chatter, surrounded by your family?”

“But I know the Major. We get along swimmingly.”

“What has gotten into you? I don’t care about you and the Major. You can’t put me in this position!”

“I can’t?”

“Not if you love me.”

“Ha! That’s rich. If you love me, Elizabeth, you will not sleep under my parents’ roof with the enemy and leave me in the position of trying to introduce them one day to my new wife – the slut who slept with the Adjutant General in their own house.”

“I’ll not be sleeping in their home. I’ll not be sleeping with John at all. He’s to share Simcoe’s room, and I’m to board in the Wright house across the street with Simcoe’s junior officers. I’ll have my own room. So there will be no scandal. John wouldn’t disgrace me that way in a conservative, small village.”

Robert winced inwardly at her repeated use of Andre’s first name. He walked to her, wrapping his hands tightly around her upper arms.

“Please, my love, for my sake. Don’t do it. How can we face my family after the war?”

“How can I leave his side now? If I’m not with him, John could hear back from Arnold at any moment and rush up to meet him before we can warn Tallmadge. Look, for all I know, he has just fed me a story, and this trip is really for him to link up with Simcoe’s Rangers so they can lead the assault on West Point. This could be the first step in the actual attack. We might never know what’s going on, until it’s too late – unless I am with him! He has to meet Arnold first. I’m the only one who can give warning that he has started for the meeting. Tallmadge said that advance notice is crucial to the plan.”

“But, Elizabeth…”

“I’m sorry, Robert, I have to go now.”

 

Forty-five minutes later, John Andre reached across the carriage seat and squeezed Elizabeth’s hand.

“You don’t mind that we took the open coach, do you my dear? It’s such a pleasant day.”

She smiled weakly and shook her head, then went back to her brooding, oblivious to the bumps and shocks from the rutted road. Elizabeth felt terrible, about everything. She had spent months, asking Robert about his family, imagining them in her mind’s eye. She had wondered what it would be like to finally meet them one day. How would they match her image? Most important, what would they say about their son marrying a woman who’d had a child out of wedlock? The whole idea had worried her. But today’s events were about to take that worry to insane new heights.

After stopping to water the horses, and lunch in a tavern along the heavily-traveled Northern Boulevard, they entered Oyster Bay, six long and dusty hours after she had left Robert’s room. She tensed and drew herself a little further away from Andre as they rounded a corner, and Old Homestead came into view. Despite her tension, she smiled. The house was so much the way Robert had described it – only smaller. After life at the Franklin’s and with Andre, she realized that only a small-town perspective would call this unpretentious two-story salt box ‘impressive’. The trees out front were in fact tall, but clearly young, compared to the thick-trunked elms which had dominated Bowery and Bowling Green until last winter.

Still, the whole place possessed charm, from the slow and easy grace of the stable hand who took the reins of their team, to the boxwoods, lining the brick walkway. A woman appeared at the door, gray-haired and erect, raising her hand to shade her eyes and squinting in their direction, while all the time retaining a magnificently dignified aura. She walked briskly to the them, addressing John.

“Major Andre, I presume?” He nodded and kissed her hand. “I am Sarah Townsend. My husband is away at the shipyard, and Col. Simcoe has been unavoidably detained but will return for supper. I’m sure you would like to freshen up after so many miles on dusty roads. And your companion?”

“Oh, excuse my manners, Mrs. Townsend. May I introduce Miss Elizabeth Franklin of New York. She is a most literate friend, of whom I have spoken so often to Col. Simcoe that I am afraid he simply insisted that I bring her along on my visit.”

Robert’s mother smiled and said, “Splendid,” but her face said something less than splendid. The women exchanged perfunctory greetings, and Elizabeth groaned inwardly. Separate quarters or no, it was clear that Sarah Townsend did not approve of single women, traveling through the countryside with single men, unchaperoned. “Why have I done this?” she asked herself.

Of course, being a lady of breeding, Mrs. Townsend spoke up brightly, “Now, Mrs. Wright asked me to bring you over as soon as you arrived, and she will see that you are settled. Then I hope you’ll come back and join us for a glass of new cider.” With that she took the younger woman in arm and led her away, calling over her shoulder, “Major, my son David will show you to your quarters.”

Twenty minutes later, John Andre stepped out of the Townsend front door, stretched and yawned. Elizabeth was just emerging from the Wrights’. He beckoned her, and she crossed the street quickly, then promptly accepted his invitation to take a stroll in the garden. Moving arm in arm through air scented with boxwood, they passed the length of the red brick walk and continued onto the deep green of the lawn, turning right around the corner of the house. They walked slowly, Andre pointing out with a gesture or a murmur of appreciation the way slanting, golden sunlight was painting texture on the rippled bark of the oaks’ trunks, or the perfume of the late season roses.

They rounded the next corner to the backyard, where they spotted the shape of a man asleep in a hammock with a book over his face. The two visitors looked at one another and John raised his finger to his lips, smiled, and took her hand – tiptoeing across the grass toward the figure. She resisted, feeling uneasy, but he tugged her firmly behind him.

As they sneaked closer, she strained to read the title of the book, but before she could, John uttered it aloud, Collected Works of Pope. He had intended to startle the sleeping figure when he spoke, but a left arm rose up smoothly from the hammock, pulling the book up past his forehead and across his face. It was Robert!

Elizabeth’s right knee buckled, and Andre had to catch her. “Now my dear, be careful of the sod.”

He then spoke to Robert, “Well, Townsend, a delight finding you here! May I introduce Miss Elizabeth Franklin.”

Robert stared up at her, or glared would be a better description. After a few moments, without rising, he simply murmured, “Charmed,” in a voice that made it clear he was anything but. All Elizabeth could do was nod curtly.

“Pope, Robert? I didn’t know you were an aficionado. Still no one better on the subject of solitude. How does it go?

 

Happy the man whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound
Content to breathe his native air,
       In his own ground.”

 

“But don’t forget the end of the ode, Major,” Robert scolded him, then looked at Elizabeth while intoning,

 

“Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
       Tell where I lie.”

 

“Well done, Townsend!” Andre laughed. “I didn’t know you were such an ardent fan.”

“I have many hidden talents, Major.”

At that moment, Sarah Townsend called them all in to refreshments. As Andre turned his back, Elizabeth shot Robert a glance as if to say, “Are you completely out of your mind?”

He just smiled and went in to have cider. For Elizabeth, this was all surreal. Inside, more introductions were made. To encounter one Townsend family member after another in this particular way was, to put it mildly, unsettling. Especially with Sally. As everyone talked, she found she genuinely liked her. She could sense why Sally had always been Robert’s confidant.

What she yearned to do was to grab her and say, “Please, sister, sit with me and let us get to know one another.” Of course, she couldn’t. But then she thought, “Why not?”

“Sally!” she called out. “Would you sit with me?”

The young woman shrugged, ambled over and sat down on the outdoor bench, close beside her.

“I just feel that we have so much in common,” Elizabeth began. “After all, the men we love are good friends.”

Sally nodded and told her how Simcoe thought the world of Andre. Then, before Elizabeth could say any more, this favorite sister of her real lover was pouring her heart out, telling her that she thought the slightly older woman was the one person who could understand how she felt.

“My family, I’m afraid, does not understand how I can love John Simcoe. They think of him as the enemy. Unfortunately, he once treated Father quite harshly. But they don’t realize what a truly noble and gentle soul he is. He has been distraught over what he did to Father. He had just been informed that his best friend had died in an American prison camp after being captured at Saratoga. He feels these things so deeply that he got terribly drunk and lost all control. Father rebuked him and said something about his foreign manners, and John just snapped. It was terrible!”

Sally sat silent for a time. Then she took Elizabeth’s hand in both of hers, “Oh, Elizabeth, you must feel the same way about your John. From what my John has told me about him and from what I have heard today, why I think he is one of the most sensitive, brave, and cultured souls I have ever met.”

Elizabeth was able to nod in silent and honest agreement, adding to herself that there was one exception who far outshone him. Sally asked her to wait while she would fetch something from her room. Elizabeth looked around anxiously for Robert, but he was nowhere in sight. When Sally resumed her place, Elizabeth was handed a folded piece of paper.

“Go ahead, read it!” the girl urged. It was a long poem from Simcoe to Sally. “He gave it to me on Valentine’s Day!”

As Elizabeth read, she decided that the attempt was amateurish compared to Andre’s verse, but that it rang with a sweet, earnest affection. Within the conventions of the day, it was striking. She turned to the girl, “Sally, if I received this on Valentine’s Day I would be overwhelmed. Your John is clearly quite a man. No wonder he and my John are such good friends.”

To herself, Elizabeth wondered how she would unravel this statement one day when she was standing next to Sally with Robert at her side? And she asked herself yet again, “Why did I come here?”

Over dinner that night, the family and the two officer friends discussed the events of the year. As had been his custom for a long time now, Robert’s father Samuel ate in silence. The children chattered about the impending opening of the school year. Simcoe was holding forth.

“Saratoga was three years ago, and what has happened since? We continue to control most of the cities and all the waterways. The people of this country are realizing that Saratoga was a fluke. Why, just this summer, when the rebels thought they could fortify the lower Hudson, Sir Henry swept over them at Stony Point, like brushing so many flies away. The problem is that people, all people, mind you, must learn to know their place. What did I read right here in one of your beloved books of Pope, Robert?

 

Men would be angels, angels would be gods;
Aspiring to be gods, if angels fell,
Aspiring to be angels, men rebel:
And who but wished to invert the laws
Of order, sins against the Eternal Cause.”

 

“Well said, John, well said,” Andre intoned. Sally, Robert noticed, was looking at Simcoe with a worshipful gaze. He decided he had to speak up.

“Ah, gentlemen,” and here Elizabeth cringed inwardly, “While we are quoting great poets, let us not forget Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,

 

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave
Awaits alike the inevitable hour
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”

 

For some moments, silence prevailed around the table. Then Sarah Townsend began to admonish Robert for his manners, but Andre intervened.

“It’s quite all right, Mrs. Townsend. Robert is right. And he certainly knows his verse.” Here he smiled what Elizabeth knew was his condescending smile. “But, Robert, you see, we are soldiers. We dream of glory, but also know the truth of what you say. Nevertheless, I think every soldier has the heart of a romantic,” and he smiled across the table at Elizabeth. “When we reflect on the truth of what you have just said, I think it somehow actually appeals to the romantic in us. In some perverse way, glory and tragedy seem so often linked. So allow me to quote a verse you left out of Mr. Gray’s elegy.

 

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire
Hands that the rod of empire might have swayed,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre.

 

You see, Townsend, that’s the sort of stuff an English officer is made of.”

Here Simcoe chimed in, “And culture too. Why look at John’s wonderful satiric poem he just gave to you and Rivington, Robert, it’s a comic masterpiece.

“Quite right, Colonel, quite right,” Robert nodded. “And yet if you will permit me what I promise you will be my final verse of Pope.”

Andre nodded politely, and Robert stared straight into his eyes while reciting.

 

“So peaceful rests, without a stone, a name
What once had beauty, titles, wealth, and fame
How loved, how honored once avails thee not,
To whom related, or by whom begot;
A heap of dust alone remains of thee,
‘Tis all thou art, and all that proud shall be
Poets themselves must fall, like those they sung,
Deaf the praised ear, and mute the tuneful tongue.”

 

He rose from his chair. “I’m sorry, I think it’s indigestion. If you’ll excuse me, Mother, I’ll take my leave.” He bowed to Elizabeth who glared back icily. “Colonel, Major, Father, good night.” With that, he strode out the back door, grateful to be in the damp cool air, gulping down huge quantities of it.

Inside, Sarah Townsend apologized to her guests for her son’s behavior. Elizabeth stared at her lap, fidgeting with her napkin. Soon it was time for the ladies to retire, and David Townsend chivalrously offered to escort Elizabeth across the street to the Wright’s house.

As they reached the Townsend gate, Robert appeared out of the darkness. “I’ll take it from here, David, you can go back in.” She thought he sounded drunk. The younger brother protested, but Elizabeth intervened before Robert could start a row and draw attention. She took his arm, and they crossed the street without speaking. As they passed the Wright’s front door and continued on around to the back of the house, she demanded, “Where are you going?”

“Here,” he answered and stopped. She looked down and saw a spring at her feet, reflecting a brooding moon overhead. Surrounding them were walls of trellised grapes. Robert wrapped his arms tightly about her and kissed her as if he was losing her. He bent Elizabeth backward and covered her mouth with hard, pressing kisses, which then moved down to her throat. Squeezing her against him he felt the spongy texture of her corseted breasts flattening against his chest.

“Robert!” she protested breathlessly, but in vain. While his left arm enveloped her shoulders, holding her hard against him, his right hand squeezed her left buttock, while his tongue ravished her mouth. She pushed against him briefly, but then her own lust overwhelmed her and she gave herself over to his passion. When he began to unbutton her dress, however, she rebelled.

“Stop!” she whispered harshly. “Robert, we could be discovered!”

“I don’t care,” was all he said.

“Stop. You can’t do this.”

“Elizabeth, I have to do this.” He was breathing heavily. She fought him with all of her strength, insisting that this was not the time nor place. Only when she pushed hard against the underside of his chin, did he pull his mouth off her – without, however, loosening his overpowering clasp.

“Then later, in private,” he hissed.

“What are you talking about? I am sharing a house with Simcoe’s lieutenants. How can we have privacy?”

“There is a tunnel.”

“A what?”

“There is a tunnel, connecting the two houses.” Even in the moonlight he could see she didn’t believe him, so he explained. “At the time our family and the Wrights moved in here, people were still occasionally burning Quakers out of their homes. We built the tunnel so that either family could escape to the other’s home, if a mob came with torches. In the Wright sitting room on the first floor, there is a closet. At midnight, go into the closet and unlock the door you will find there. I’ll be on the other side. There’s a stairway there, which just looks like an extra flight of steps to the basement.”

“You’re mad. It’s too risky!” He squeezed her body even tighter against his. His power was irresistible. His voice contained a note of ferocity. “I must have you – tonight! I will not let you go, until you swear you will meet me there.”

For what seemed like a very long while neither of them spoke or moved. Finally, he broke, “Very well, Elizabeth. I tell you what. I will be there in the tunnel on the other side of that door at midnight. The door is locked from your side. I will try the door, and if it is still locked, I will go away silently and never bother you again.”

She couldn’t believe he was serious, but he assured her he was. “I’m not saying this is the act of a rational man. But it is up to you, my dear. Be there tonight. Otherwise I will go quietly, but you will never see me again.”

He released her abruptly and vanished into the darkness.

Three hours later, he was tiptoeing his way to the attic – heavy socks over his boots to muffle footsteps. The Quaker escape theory had been to let the mob pursue you to the attic. Then while they were breaking through the door, the family would be climbing down the hidden ladder to the basement. By the time the mob had scoured the attic, or alternatively, had the house blazing, the Townsends would be through the Wright house and running into the darkness of the orchard.

Robert walked as slowly as possible. He knew he was treading on the ceiling of Simcoe’s room and could hear the murmur of his voice mixed with Andre’s. As he slid open the secret panel and started gingerly down the ladder, the voices grew louder. The ladder squeezed through a false wall of Simcoe’s room, and bits of light, leaking through cracks between the wallboards, provided a dim illumination. He could now make out most words of the conversation. “Don’t worry,” Andre was reassuring his friend Simcoe, “You are the vanguard.”

Robert realized there might be important intelligence to be gleaned here, but he didn’t care. He continued down the ladder, gingerly testing each rung before trusting his full weight to it. If he were discovered in this position, it would most certainly not look good. As Robert’s feet moved below the level of the first floor, they entered a zone where fungus had covered the long-disused rungs with a slippery fuzz, which he couldn’t see in this light. As he committed his full weight to that rung his foot slipped, hurtling him straight down until his left hand seized a rung and arrested his fall. The wood groaned loudly under the sudden impact of his weight.

“What was that?” Andre interrupted himself.

“The rats must be moving early this fall”, Simcoe reassured him.

When Robert reached the earth of basement floor, he struck a match. He inched his way across to a set of shelves on the far side of the room, where he pulled on the shelves with meticulous caution. While one side stayed hinged to the wall, the other side slowly swung out – luckily not squeaking. He lit another match, stepping through the opening behind the shelves.

Meanwhile above and behind him, on the opposite side of the house and well out of earshot now, Andre continued, “I’m sorry, I can’t give you all the details now, but I wanted to tell you that your orders to embark for Charles Town are a ruse, just in case anyone out here is eavesdropping on your unit. The coup I have been telling you about is nearly upon us, and your Rangers shall be the point. You and I will lead them jointly. John, our fame and glory will be secured forever. While I am making final arrangements, you must keep on standby alert here enough fast-moving, shallow boats to transport your troops at a moment’s notice. Don’t worry about the horses. They will not be needed.”

One floor below them, Robert removed a glass lamp from a shelf just inside the tunnel door and lit the candle inside. The lamp’s cover directed all the light straight ahead into a sandy-floored tunnel, just big enough for a man to walk through. Tree roots hung down through the ceiling, giving the tunnel an air of unreality.

Robert took a step forward, then hesitated. “What if she doesn’t come?” he asked himself for the hundredth time. “I meant it when I told her that would be it. There are some things that transcend logic, that supersede duty. There are things which our responsibilities try to deny us but which life is not worth living without.” Holding his breath, he began to walk. His tread was steady, but the dancing light told him that his hand was shaking.

At the far end of the tunnel, he had to struggle to pry open another door. This one squeaked. Then he tiptoed his way up the stairway, which lead to the Wright’s sitting room closet on the first floor. He was all too aware that the house was crowded with enemy officers, and that one mistake could prove fatal. Once on the top step, he tried the door. It was locked from the other side. He stood there waiting, swearing that the heart pounding in his chest must be audible clear through the door.

At length he heard the Wrights clock begin to strike the hour. He counted the bells. At nine he uttered a fervent, silent prayer, “Please, Elizabeth, please.” At 12, he took a deep breath and held it, waiting. He thought he heard a creak in the distance. Then nothing, only silence. Then a click, and the door began to swing open.

Robert seized Elizabeth in the dark and, after first attempting to resist him, she gave in to her own emotions and began to kiss his open mouth with abandon. He dragged her onto the secret stairway and closed the door behind them. Surely, their gasps and occasional moans were audible to anyone close by; they simply prayed that none of the sleepers came downstairs. They clawed at one another, as though their lives were about to end. Quickly, half-standing, half-reclining on the steps, she opened her legs, raising the thin nightgown. He opened his trousers, but did not pause to pull them down before thrusting himself inside her. All the while he was kissing and biting her neck, ears, lips. He burrowed his face into her shoulder. She bit down on his coat in order to stifle the cries, which tried to escape her throat with each delirious thrust of her lover. Above and about them, the world was silent and still. Their passion was a subterranean life force, existing here in their own world, the world where they belonged.

 

 

Chapter 55

 

Near Nyack, New York, September 29, 1780

 

The massed sound of shoreline cicadas, chirping their late season call, carried all the way through the night to the center of the Hudson River, where John Andre was anchored. H.M.S. Vulture had sailed under cover of darkness, bringing the Adjutant General and his field agent, Col. Beverly Robinson, deep into rebel territory. Now they were waiting at the pre-arranged meeting point – all eyes and ears strained for any sign of approach.

The plan, which called for Benedict Arnold to send a representative with passes and instructions for Col. Robinson and himself, provided perfect cover. Robinson’s former home was now Arnold’s headquarters, and if things went badly wrong, an argument could always be made that this was simply a homeowner landing under a flag of truce to seek compensation. Best of all, Robinson was an experienced field man for British intelligence. John Andre, brilliant as he might be, was completely out of his depth here, and General Clinton knew it, which was why he had insisted upon this arrangement.

Andre was not about to let on just how much it irked him to have to share the glory of this moment with another officer, no less one senior to him in rank. The two of them stood shoulder to shoulder, glaring into the featureless gloom. Well after midnight, they began to hear the familiar dip and splash of oars. After some bumping and muttered exchanges with Vulture‘s captain, the one non-rower came up the ladder. Joshua Hett Smith – sometime actor, lawyer, British spy, and cousin of Benjamin Tallmadge – had spent the past weeks dutifully becoming indispensable to Benedict Arnold, as he had been instructed to do by his cousin under penalty of death.

Stepping on board, Smith handed over a soft leather courier pouch whose contents Robinson and Andre took below to read. There was a problem. The operation had barely begun, and here they had a major glitch on their hands. Andre was here, because Benedict Arnold had insisted upon meeting an important officer to prove he had actually been exchanging letters with the British high command these many months. He wanted someone who had the power to grant him the negotiated price for selling out West Point – 10,000 Pounds Sterling. They had bargained for more, but Peggy had told him that this was enough to buy an estate in England and enter the best society.

General Clinton had granted Benedict as well as his young sons lifelong commissions in the British army and the income attached to that. Anyway, his debts in this country equaled almost as much, and Congress clearly had no intent of reimbursing him money he’d spent on his troops so that he could repay the loans. The way things stood now, in the increasingly unlikely event that the Americans won this rebellion, Benedict Arnold would be immediately clapped in a debtors’ prison, probably for life. If the rebellion failed, he’d be hanged. This was the choice of fates which his perseverance, sacrifice, and pain had brought him. He was determined to do better for his new wife, and she had shown him how he could.

At this moment, however, his confederates sat, scratching their heads. Andre was thinking that it seemed impossible for an undertaking of such import to begin this way. This was supposed to be his moment to join history. The mood of the rebels was dark. They hadn’t won a significant victory since Arnold had given them Saratoga three years ago and, after tonight, they wouldn’t have Arnold to give them victories anymore. The states were not sending their share of troops, provisions, and money to the Continental Army, and the French Army had yet to take the field. With the support of John Adams, Gates – Arnold’s old nemesis – had taken the field in South Carolina, only to see his entire army destroyed, himself fleeing the scene in panic, while 4,000 of his men were slaughtered, trying to rally.

Afterwards, Rivington had put a mock ad in his Gazette: “Reward: Four Million Dollars. For the safe return of a lost army. Last seen in Camden, South Carolina. Contact General Horatio Gates.”

In one of Arnold’s recent letters, he had told Andre that the American people would lose what little faith they had left in their leaders, if they provided one more botched defeat. London concurred, and Clinton and he had taken to referring to the operation as the definite British victory, which would break the back of the rebellion. So how could it be that the very first step in this pivotal operation was being fouled up?

“This pass is only for one man!” Andre spat incredulously. Smith assured him he knew nothing about such matters, but that it was important to get started right away as the hour was late, and they needed to be back aboard before daybreak.

“Beverly, I don’t know how this happened. Arnold knew very well that two of us were coming. But it seems there is nothing for it but I must go alone. I know you’re the field man, but I am the man he must meet. I’ll be back by dawn, my friend.”

They shook hands solemnly, and moments later John Andre’s eyes were fixed on the looming, yet featureless shoreline. He felt the boat strike the bank, and a voice from the blackness intoned, “Welcome to Westchester.”

A hand reached out to help him ashore from the boat, then shook his hand and clapped him on the back.

“I thought you’d never get here,” Benedict Arnold told him.

“Why was the pass for only one man?” Andre demanded.

“It wasn’t,” Arnold retorted. “It clearly stated one man and his servant. Smith here suggested it would look less suspicious, and I agreed. What’s the problem?”

“Surely you cannot expect a British officer in uniform to masquerade as a bloody manservant!”

“To be honest, I don’t see the harm in that, but never mind. We are here, we have many matters to discuss. Let’s get started.”

They went off into a small hollow where they could hunker down over a lamp. Arnold had brought documents. Smith had convinced him of the importance of providing Andre with hard proof that the British had been dealing with the genuine article and not some impostor, pretending by post to be Arnold in order to swindle the British out of a small fortune. The two examined the papers under the light, continuing to talk.

Gray was beginning to fringe the eastern horizon, when Smith returned to tell them that daylight was imminent. They needed to wrap things up.

“I’ll get the rowers,” he told them. Striding back to the riverbank, he approached the Colqoun brothers, whose boat and services had gotten them this far, a military boat being out of the question.

“Well, gentlemen, how do you feel?”

When told they felt tired, hungry, and fed-up, he replied, “Well, if you don’t want to row back out to that ship, you don’t have to. It’s up to you.”

“Well, if it’s up to us, we ain’t goin’.”

Smith shrugged, bid them shove off for home, and returned to where Arnold and Andre still crouched. “We have a problem,” he whispered. “The Colqouns refuse to return our visitor to the ship. They have left with their boat.”

“What the hell do you mean?” Arnold exploded. “What do we do now?”

The very fact that the man of action would ask this, showed just how indispensable Joshua Hett Smith had made himself.

“No problem, General,” Smith reassured him. “My house is just a short walk from here.”

The entire way, Andre was fuming, but he went. At the house, they discussed strategic matters a while longer, whereupon Arnold announced that he had to be back before he was missed. He assured Andre that he would be in good hands with Smith and walked out. Smith accompanied Arnold to his horse, where he assured him that he’d get Andre on board the following night.

Re-entering the house, Smith walked straight to a chest, extracting a blue coat, which he held out at arm’s length to Andre.

“What is this?” the officer demanded. Told that it was the replacement for his red uniform jacket, Andre exploded. “That, sir, would make me a damned spy! You must be deluded to think that I would do such a thing!”

Smith replied that it was not his idea, but Arnold’s. Andre brusquely informed him that he was under strict orders to remain in uniform at all times. Their argument was interrupted by the sound of distant cannon fire. Rushing to the windows of Smith’s hilltop home, they watched a ball from a shore battery score a direct hit on Vulture. The ship fired back, but ineffectively. Then another ball pierced her hull, then another. The vessel now hoisted both anchor and sail. As she began to drop down river, Andre felt something rise up in his throat, and when she rounded the first curve, disappearing from sight, he felt a loneliness unlike any other which had ever touched him.

“It seems there will be no escape by water, Major,” Smith drawled. “We shall have to go by horse, and I’m afraid that a change of coats is now an absolute necessity.”

Smith thought that the British officer’s arms shook slightly as he helped him on with the plain blue coat of a country gentleman. Hours later, Smith kissed his wife goodbye – lingering a little overlong at it, Andre thought. Then they rode off into the gathering gloom, trailed by Smith’s ‘slave’, Sam.

Barely had they entered the river road, when Andre angrily demanded why they were riding north, when the British lines lay to the south.

“Because we have to cross the river to the East Bank to get you to your lines, and that means taking the ferry at Verplanck’s Point.”

Andre slumped in his saddle. Verplanck’s was just below West Point. He was riding into the heart of the enemy army, clothed as a spy. Silently, he fell in behind Smith, reached a finger under his collar and ran it around his neck. Further behind him, a set of white teeth flashed in a black face.

The ferry ride was a nightmare for poor Andre. He wondered to himself, why Smith could not simply just shut up! The man chattered away to fellow passengers of how he was taking this gentleman south through Westchester on official passes from General Arnold. And it didn’t stop, when they resumed the road on the opposite bank. Now Smith was stopping to chat up the sentries at every checkpoint where they had to show their passes. And not just sentries, he paused to gab with fellow travelers, innkeepers, even a boy herding sheep. You would think he was trying to make everyone remember us, Andre fumed silently. The only person, acting the way he thought a spy should, was Black Sam. That man never said a word.

 

 

Chapter 56

 

Pine Bridge & North Salem, Westchester, October 2, 1780

 

Three days it had taken them! Three agonizing, endless days of low-key terror for John Andre (and two virtually sleepless nights), but now it was about to end. Smith and Sam had left him at King’s Bridge, instructing him on the road to the British lines.

It was treacherous country, what with the warring of the ‘Cowboys’ and ‘Skinners’, as they called themselves. This no-man’s-land between the lines of the opposing armies was regularly swept by irregulars who claimed to be operating under the aegis of one side or the other, but who more often than not were simply bandits, confiscating cattle and harvests for themselves. Every Westchester farm family lived in fear of these uncontrolled marauders.

Pine Bridge was universally considered the operating limit of the American Skinners. Below this, one generally found only the British Cowboys, and so the hollow thumping of his horse’s hooves on the bridge planks made John Andre begin contemplating drum rolls at his award ceremony. Surely, he would receive a medal for this, and his fame would be assured. What a tale to tell at home, at military dinners. He would be the toast of New York. And after he led the attack on West Point, shoulder to shoulder with his friend John Simcoe, his place in history would be assured. True glory! Everything he had joined the army for.

“Halt!” a voice rang out, while a hand grabbed the right side of the bridle of the daydreamer’s horse. From the left, two muskets came level with Andre’s head. A moment of abject fear turned to the near hilarity of relief, when Andre noticed the red soldier’s coat of the speaker.

“Well, gentlemen,” he smiled, “I’m glad you are members of the lower party,” tilting his head south toward New York. “I am an officer on his Majesty’s business.”

“And you just made a royal mistake, friend,” the grizzled, red-coated man told him. “Down off the horse.”

Now his eyes took better note of the coat, and he saw that it was small for its wearer, wouldn’t even button. He showed them his pass, signed by General Arnold, allowing him to proceed to New York.

“You read, Jonathan?” the redcoated man asked, only to be greeted by a shake of the head. The man shrugged. “Over there!” he barked.

Moments later, the Adjutant General of the British Army stood in a thicket, wearing only his socks and underwear, praying that these bandits would simply rob him and not kill him. He offered them his father’s watch in exchange for his freedom.

“We’re keeping it anyway, friend,” he was told. Offering them a reward for his safe return to British lines, he was told to shut up, “We take you back, you have us arrested, and you keep the money. We ain’t stupid, Mister!”

They found so little money on him that they finally decided he must be hiding the rest, and the only places they hadn’t looked were against the skin. Now Andre was profoundly frightened. As he removed his left stocking, out fell a series of papers – some clearly maps, some very official-looking.

“Why look here, Jonathan! Something tells me that Americans may be more interested in our boy than his ‘lower party’. We’ll bring him in. Might be a reward in it.”

Andre protested, blustered, bluffed, but for once in his brief, yet brilliant career, his intellect simply could not fashion an escape from this ludicrous trap, into which he had fallen.

 

One mile further down the road, Benjamin Tallmadge was growing tired of crouching in the brush beside the road. His right shoulder was one huge ache. His lieutenant and two sergeants, dressed convincingly as Skinners, squatted patiently beside him, but were beginning to fidget.

Tallmadge couldn’t understand the delay. Andre should have been here an hour ago. Moses had been riding hard by the other road to alert him. He was all set to finally spring the climax of his elaborate plan, and he couldn’t escape the nagging feeling that something terrible had happened. His handpicked trio were unshaven, scrubby-looking, and capable of convincing even Andre that they were mere bandits out to rob a lone rider, strip-search him as they so often did around here, and ‘accidentally’ discover military documents in his sock, where Moses said he had stashed them. So where was John Andre and his damned boot?

Tallmadge knew he had to make this plan finish properly. Through endless councils with Hamilton and Washington he had convinced them that this was the only way to accomplish their goals. They would take down Benedict Arnold with enough evidence to convince the whole country and, hopefully, produce a rallying cry against the treason of one of the revolution’s favorite sons. God knows that the fledgling states needed all the uniting they could get right now. To him personally, however, the most important aspect of this elaborate cover plan was to protect a woman, who had shown more fortitude, shrewdness, and daring than all his other agents combined and, not least, had been successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. She had repeatedly laid her life on the line, and he owed her this much.

He was beginning to regret the extra documents he had had Smith slip into Andre’s stack. They accomplished extra goals which were valuable, but now, if Arnold or Andre escaped, they would know that these documents were planted. If either Andre or Arnold made it back to New York, it would not take them long to identify the only individual, who could possibly have tipped off Washington to the West Point plot and initiated this set up. She would hang. He couldn’t tell her to cut and run, because there had already been one aborted attempt at rendezvous by Arnold and Andre, and he had no way of knowing if this second attempt would be successful, until Sam had brought him word that Andre had taken the bait and was still carrying the documents.

Now, providing they were going to nab Andre in the next few moments, it would take days for Tallmadge to get word to her. That was why he had insisted on this complicated cover story. If they could catch Andre as a spy and make it look like a piece of nearly absurd bad luck, she should be safe. But that meant that both Andre and Arnold must hang before they could pick apart the loose ends of the plot and get word out that there was an American spy at the core of the British High Command.

By noon, the ache in his shoulder had spread to his neck, and he decided that he was fed up with waiting. He rode toward Pine Bridge, and when he reached it without encountering Andre, he knew that the plot had blown up in his face. Without Andre there was no evidence of treason. Without evidence there could be no trial and conviction of Arnold, and that was unthinkable.

He dug in his spurs, galloping to North Salem, where American patrols were headquartered. Dismounting, he rushed to his deputy and breathlessly inquired. The answer was not what he was expecting. “Yes, Major, three Skinners brought in a prisoner with military documents about an hour ago. But he had a pass, in good order from General Arnold, so we sent him on to General Arnold, sir.”

When Tallmadge exploded, the junior officer protested, “But we sent him under guard!”

“Get him back, Lieutenant! Now! Get on your horse and don’t even think of coming back here without him!”

As the terrified subordinate thundered off, Benjamin Tallmadge felt the day’s familiar ache turn to a vise squeezing his entire neck. Just when it seemed that things couldn’t get any worse, a new obstacle emerged from a nearby cabin in the person of Colonel William Jameson, recently arrived from Virginia. He was so new that he had not been brought into the know on Tallmadge’s plot. Worse still, he outranked Tallmadge. And he was fuming.

“Major Tallmadge, did I just hear you countermand one of my orders without my approval?”

The vise grip now entered the brain of Benjamin Tallmadge. For the next two hours, as the two men argued furiously, everything he had worked so hard for hung in the balance. Col. Jameson was a gentleman who considered the chain of command to lie somewhere on a par with Holy Scripture.

Tallmadge concluded he had no choice but to violate security and tell him everything. Incredibly, it didn’t seem to matter. He pleaded to be allowed to take a patrol and place Arnold under arrest, taking full responsibility on himself. At that point, the much-relieved lieutenant returned with Andre and his six guards.

“All right, Colonel,” Tallmadge leveled, “I’ve told you what is at stake here today. Now what do you plan to do about it?”

“Exactly what my code of honor as an officer requires me to do, Major. I am again sending the prisoner on to my commander, General Arnold.”

Tallmadge lost most of his normally formidable self-control and felt like a small bomb had gone off deep inside his agonized head.

“You will destroy your country, because you don’t have the courage to buck the chain of command?”

“I will preserve my honor as a gentleman, sir, by following my oath of obedience to superior officers. And I suggest that you would benefit from a similar attitude.”

“Col. Jameson, if General Washington were here, he would agree with me.”

“But he is not here.”

“Allow me to send him a message by express courier, informing him of these events. Then he can decide the matter.”

“That will take too long. I am bound to carry out my orders promptly.”

“Colonel!” Tallmadge nearly screamed. “General Washington and the commander of French forces in America, General Rochambeau, are at this moment on their way from Hartford, riding to West Point. They are headed into a trap of General Arnold’s making! Where is your responsibility to guard the safety of your Commander in Chief?”

The night wore on, and still they argued. At times, Tallmadge was grateful for the agony which was ripping his head apart, because it gave fuel to his anger at this blockhead, Jameson.

Finally, a compromise was reached. Andre would be kept there under guard, while Jameson sent a formal note to both Arnold and Washington. Tallmadge stalked off into the darkness. No one knows what he did that night, but the courier sent to intercept General Washington and warn him he was riding into a trap, took the wrong road and never reached him.

 

 

Chapter 57

 

Robinson House, near West Point, October 3, 1780

 

Peggy Arnold had asked her guests to sit for breakfast and gone upstairs to fetch the baby. She had been afraid of the others noticing her nervousness, but she needn’t have been. Everyone here seemed nervous. General Washington would be joining them shortly for breakfast, a rare honor, after which they would spend several days inspecting West Point.

Arnold’s staff was all too aware that, on their watch, he had disbursed the garrison all over the county, failed to use his normally formidable resolve to lay in adequate supplies of food, water, or powder, and had even ordered the anti-ship chain across the river withdrawn for repairs. As if all that were not enough, the walls of America’s most important fortress were still not completed.

All in all, West Point was highly vulnerable, and Arnold’s aides feared Washington’s wrath when he would realize it. So Varick was more puzzled than ever at Arnold’s continuing good humor as he smiled, actually rubbing his hands, and taking a seat at one end of the long table, announcing that since General Washington was late, they should all begin their meal.

He was chewing a large helping of potatoes, when Jameson’s messenger hurried in. Varick watched Arnold’s face lose its composure, then go white while he read.

“What is it, General?”

Arnold stared down the length of the table, blinking twice without moving. Then he spat his potatoes into his napkin while shoving the note into his waist pocket.

“Just a few details at the Point need attending to,” he informed them. “Please tell General Washington that I will meet him there this afternoon.”

He rose abruptly, and before his aides could object, hurried up the stairs. They could hear first his voice, then Peggy’s, and within a minute he was back down the steps and into the yard. There he scrambled on his horse, galloping off in the direction of the river.

One hour later, George Washington arrived, asking first for Arnold, then for Peggy. When he entered the upstairs bedroom, he found her clutching her infant son to her chest, a wild and terrified look about her.

“Don’t come near me!” she screamed at him. “You want to kill my baby! Benedict warned me. He had to leave because you want to kill my baby!”

When Washington stepped toward her, she let out such an agonized howl that he leapt back. As far as the Commander in Chief could tell, something had just driven her stark raving mad.

Just then, Tallmadge rushed up the stairs, shouting that he needed to speak to him privately. After getting a quick summary of the previous day’s misadventures, Washington colored. He was visibly struggling to control his anger. When the struggle subsided, he gave Tallmadge the news that, as far as the Major was concerned, was the coup de grace.

“That explains it, Benjamin. They tell me that an hour ago, Jameson’s courier reached him, and he bolted for the river. We’ll give chase, but he’s left his wife and child behind, and we both know he is a man who knows how to travel fast. I fear we’ve lost him.”

 

 

Chapter 58

 

Setauket, Long Island, October 1780

 

When he received Tallmadge’s code word by secret messenger, Robert knew one thing: They had to get out of New York. That word, Armageddon, had only a single meaning – disaster. Something involving Andre’s arrest had gone terribly wrong. He had no way of knowing exactly what it was, but Benedict Arnold was in New York, and that could certainly not have been part of the plan. He also knew that Arnold would go looking for whomever had sold him out. There was only one logical suspect.

After alerting every ring member in the city, Robert practically dragged Elizabeth into a carriage that night. She actually wanted to stay, play the lover in mourning, and hope that it might lead to a sympathetic alliance with someone else in power, if only a General’s wife.

It didn’t take her long, though, to see that there would be no denying Robert. He was a man possessed, consumed by a role that had consumed so many others before him – fleeing your city with your family, one step ahead of your enemy, and rushing into a darkened countryside with only one thought: Find refuge!

At the end of that frantic carriage ride, however, Robert was humiliated to realize that he had no safe haven. They had wound up at Abraham Woodhull’s house, for, in the final analysis, where else could they go?

Of course, Robert knew that Abraham would become a likely suspect, once British intelligence deepened their investigation. After all, he had been under suspicion twice before, and the thought filled him with apprehension. The feeling would have been closer to terror, had Robert known that British counterintelligence had long ago moved from suspicion to knowledge. They had followed the thread from Caleb Bewster and his whaleboat to the man that the whaleboat connected with. They considered Woodhull the loose thread of a spy ring, which they had not quite had time to unravel.

The first night at Abraham’s, they sat up through dawn and well into the next afternoon, analyzing their chances. Robert believed that he could return to New York without risk, as nothing connected him with Andre or West Point. But Elizabeth was a very different matter. It wouldn’t take long, he argued, for Arnold to realize that the actions of his supposed accomplice, Joshua Hett Smith, were incomprehensible, unless he had been part of a set-up. A trap like that required foreknowledge, and the list of those who had it was an extremely short one. One aggressive interrogation of Sergeant Kent could identify Elizabeth as highly suspicious. Even if Kent didn’t crack, it was a simple question of how many people had access to Andre’s secret files, the ones he kept at home under guard.

Despite all this, Elizabeth refused to agree with Robert’s analysis, adamantly continuing to argue that if she returned to New York, she’d receive sympathy and support from any number of high-ranking friends of Andre. Robert reminded her that her advancing pregnancy hardly made her a good candidate to seduce another officer.

“But if they think I’m carrying John’s baby,” she argued, “his friends might take me in until the birth at least, give me a roof over my head, especially if I tell them that my family has rejected me in disgrace. And who knows what opportunities that could lead to? I’m connected to the inner circle there. We can’t just throw that away!”

Abraham and Robert remained silent at this, but the second night in Setauket, Robert made up his mind to take the decision out of Elizabeth’s hands. He would have her ordered out. In a matter like this, Robert was afraid to put trust in Tallmadge’s humanitarian instincts. He wasn’t really sure that the spymaster had any. Instead he wrote to Tallmadge, insisting upon another meeting, in person, on the beach, wherever Caleb Brewster’s whaleboat landed him. It wouldn’t be an easy crossing. Tory whaleboats were swarming over the Sound ever since Andre’s capture.

Nevertheless, Robert knew that if at this moment of crisis he insisted, Tallmadge would have to come. No one but Townsend knew the true purpose of this meeting. Once he and their intelligence chief were face to face, he would simply tell Tallmadge that he had to order Elizabeth to return to New Haven in Caleb’s boat. It would be a risky crossing, but once she made it, she and their unborn child would be safe and out of harm’s way for the rest of the war. Tallmadge might not like it, but Robert was prepared to tell him that the alternative was him dismantling the entire ring. He would quit, ordering the others to go underground and stay there. Tallmadge had to get Elizabeth to safety, or there would be no more intelligence from New York. Robert didn’t tell her any of this, of course, nor Abraham. This was the most important decision in his life, and he wasn’t about to leave it up to anyone else.

They had been holed up in Abraham’s for a week, before Caleb Brewster landed and they could get the message out to Tallmadge. Robert had told Elizabeth and Woodhull that they needed to meet with him in person and explain how Arnold’s escape had changed everything.

“I’ll make him understand,” he told them, “you’ll see.”

They waited in fear. Abraham’s brown, shingled house was set at the bottom of a hollow. The sunlight arrived late in the morning, and dusk came early. Combined with the lateness of the season, the light (or lack of it) seemed to dictate the mood of the group. They were afraid for Robert and Elizabeth to be seen outside, lest a suspicious Tory neighbor report new arrivals in the neighborhood.

So they sat in the gloom, trying, each in their own way, to deal with the tension, which reached a new level, when Abraham’s sister Mary came in one evening from milking the cow. They were gathered where they spent most of each night, around the fireplace in the main room. Mary rushed in with such a clatter, that it made her normally nervous brother leap to his feet, kicking over the butter churn in the process, spreading a seeping yellow ooze over the dark wood floor.

“There’s someone out there!” she hissed, in a poor attempt at a whisper. “A man. I noticed him on the road this morning, too, and I’ve never seen him before.”

“What is he doing?” they asked, almost in unison.

“Sitting on a log across the road and down about forty yards. He’s pretending to whittle a stick.”

“How is he dressed?” Robert asked.

“Like any yokel, nothing special, but there’s something odd about him.”

Robert asked about his shoes, which made Mary whirl on him.

“That’s it! Now that you mention it! Those boots are way too shiny to be on anyone in Setauket. You could see that even in the dim light. Silver buckles, too!”

“It’s amazing how people will go to great lengths to disguise themselves, but then forget about their shoes,” Robert smiled. “You’re sure you saw him this morning?”

“Yes, he was walking by on the road, but so slowly that I remember wondering where he thought he was going at that pace.”

At this piece of news, the room grew still. With only the crackling of the fire and its dim orange glow to illuminate their faces, each of them slowly turned to look at the others. No one spoke. A log shifted in the fire, and smoke began to smother the airspace between the low beamed ceiling and their nostrils. No one seemed to notice. To everyone’s surprise, it was Abraham who took charge and suddenly became the cool head in a crisis.

“Robert, Elizabeth, I’m sorry, but it’s far too dangerous for you to stay in any rooms with windows. I’m clearing our two house slaves out of the loft, and you’ll have to stay in there, until Caleb comes. We’ll find some way to sneak you to the beach.”

Elizabeth hated the waiting, and she could see that Abraham was driven to distraction by it. Life was full of waiting, and there was no getting around that fact. So she tried to simply do it. She thought how different it would be, though, if what they were waiting on didn’t involve the possibility of imminent death. Night after night, she lay awake in the slaves’ sleeping nook, listening to Robert’s breathing and envisioning her life. Random vignettes of memory seemed to well up like paintings. The hay loft in the barn at home on lazy July afternoons. Morning steam rising from the manure pile behind their stable. Swimming with her brother in choppy waters. Tommy in handcuffs in a prison courtyard. Dawn in the warden’s bed with a painful burning, growing between her thighs. The hair on Robert’s chest. Bouquet-laden curtain calls in the spotlight at John Street Theatre. How in the world, she asked herself, had it come to this? She was supposed to marry, raise children, whom she would school herself, and finish out her life, rocking beside her husband on a sunset-bathed verandah. Her stomach knotted, but she wasn’t sure why. Regret? Anger? Remorse? Simple fear? All of these?

Four agonizing days later, the petticoats went up on Anna Strong’s clothesline, and the game was on. Abraham had decided that it was probably him, that British counterintelligence was watching. If he stayed prominently at home, they might not suspect anything important was afoot. So, just before dusk, while Abraham herded the loudly protesting geese to the front of the house, Mary opened the back door and beckoned to Robert and Elizabeth. They bent low, scurrying across the farmyard behind her and through the open door of the barn. When they had burrowed far enough into the center of the loose pile of hay, Mary swung herself up into the driver’s seat of the wagon, slapped the reins, and the vehicle ever so slowly rocked its way onto the road.

“Good evening!” the buried couple heard her call out, and they tensed. That was the signal that she was passing the watchful stranger and that they should lie very still. Elizabeth squeezed Robert’s hand hard, her only connection to him in this dusty, choking enclave of invisibility. She felt a cough begin to well up and fought it with all her might. After a terrific struggle, she heard Mary begin to whistle – the signal that they were clear of danger for now. Robert lay flat on his back with his eyes closed, clinging to Elizabeth’s delicate hand.

As the wagon ambled along in its leisurely rhythm, the strange thought came to him that he might never see the green of Elizabeth’s eyes again. They’d been huddled in the gloom of the loft for days now and, while he felt closer to her than ever, he ached to see her in daylight, even the narrow shaft of sun in their attic room at Amos’s boarding house. He wanted to put his arms around her and squeeze her one last time, but that was impossible now. If he was caught when he returned to New York, then this would be their final moments together.

Eventually, Mary coughed twice, they counted to ten and, as silently as possible, rolled out of the hay to stand on the dusty road, immediately dashing for the gate at the edge of the woods. Once through it, they knelt down and paused, waiting. No one seemed to follow, so they pressed on.

Every minute or so, they stopped to listen for footsteps, but crickets and cicadas were all they heard. The house, which had to be the Strong’s, was mounted prominently over Setauket Harbor. Sheets on the famous clothesline were just visible in the gathering dark. After Robert knocked softly – two taps, a pause, then one tap – Anna emerged, swathed in black clothing.

She wrapped one arm around each of them, hugging them ferociously, while whispering, “So you’re the two what has been giving old Sir Henry such nightmares. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you both.” The teeth of her broad smile showed in the darkness. “Pardon my manners for not inviting you in, but it’s best my children don’t see you. Here’s a black blanket for each of you; wrap yourselves in them. Now listen close. We’re losing the last of the light. There’s a half moon up there somewhere, but these clouds are blocking it, and when we get in the woods you won’t be able to see your hands in front of your face. Now, to help you, I used a piece of chalk to make a big white spot on my back. You should be able to see it from five yards back, but no more, so stay close. Got it?” They nodded, gratefully wrapping themselves in the warmth of the blankets. “Now, just one last thing. No matter what happens, don’t say anything, and don’t stop, unless I do. Come on.”

An indeterminate period of time later, they emerged on the beach at the foot of a towering sand bluff, but there was no whaleboat. Robert started to speak, but Anna abruptly raised a palm to his face to silence him. Somewhere in the distance, a dog had begun barking, joined shortly by another. Anna stared out to sea, opened her tinder box and struck her flint and steel, igniting a twig and dropping it quickly into the water, then repeated the process. After a pause she did it again, then simply stood and waited. The dogs sounded closer now and, to Robert’s ear, there seemed to be more of them. He wished he could distinguish the bark of a bloodhound.

A wind sprang up off the water, as if Anna had summoned it with her matches and some witch’s spell. Strong gusts began to chill them, even through their blankets. Robert instinctively pulled Elizabeth to him, as much for warmth as a sense of protection. He realized that the wind was now carrying their scent in the direction of the dogs. But Anna simply stood motionless, wrapped up in her own arms, staring out into the blackness of the cove, so they did the same. They heard the muffled oars at about the same time they saw the outline of the rower’s heads. Seconds later, oars were raised, and the craft glided to a silent stop in front of them.

A large, rough-looking man, whom Robert had never seen before, leapt ashore and embraced Anna. “Selah sends his love,” he told her quietly, “Said for me to give you a nice, long, juicy kiss for him…” but his intentions were cut short by a jarring straight arm from the short, but substantial woman on the beach.

“Now, Caleb, quit your foolin’. This here’s serious business tonight!”

The towering, broad-shouldered man shrugged, “It’s always serious, every night. Doesn’t mean a man can’t have a little fun.”

“This here is…” but Brewster cut her off. “I know damn well who this feller has to be, and I can guess who this lovely figure next to him belongs to. But there’s no need for names in front of the crew. Honor to meet you, sir,” and he reached out with a massive paw, pumping Robert’s hand.

“The honor is all mine, sir,” Robert told him. Both men shook once and nodded curtly. All of this had taken Robert by surprise – the open air, the familiarity. It lent the entire scene an air of unreality. He felt dazed, staring past Brewster to his patiently-waiting crew, then remembering that it was the other visitor he was interested in.

“So, sir,” Brewster smiled, “what can I do for you tonight?”

“Where’s Major Tallmadge?” Robert asked, his arm falling away from Elizabeth.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Where are my manners? The Major sends his regrets. Says he’s been unavoidably detained.”

Robert’s heart sank. This possibility had never occurred to him. Suddenly he felt as if he were far above in the night sky, looking down at himself from a distance. It was Elizabeth who broke the silence. “Darling, are you all right?”

“Where, but, ah…” he stammered. “I told the major I had to see him, here, now.”

Brewster took his arm and walked further down the beach, then explained, “Tallmadge said to tell you that he knew you wanted to discuss using a shorter route across the Sound out of Oyster Bay, but he had decided it was too dangerous right now to try anything new. He said to tell you maybe we’ll try it in a few months.”

Robert’s heart began to pound. “That’s not what I needed to meet with him about.”

Caleb apologized, saying that he’d tell the Major, but to please understand what with Andre’s execution and all he had been very busy. Now Robert’s head swam. He kept repeating Brewster’s words to himself, but nothing was coming clear. There was just a violent nausea rising inside. He knew he had to improvise; he just couldn’t think of anything.

“Look, Brewster, you’ve got to help me,” he pleaded. “My wife here is ill. She needs urgent medical attention, and we are in hiding here.” The words just tumbled out; he didn’t know where they came from. “She doesn’t want to leave me, but if I don’t get her out of here she could die – soon. Do you understand?”

Brewster was silent, facing him. Robert assumed he was evaluating the likely truth of this as well as this entire, unexpected situation, which had suddenly been thrust upon him. Robert turned away and walked back to the women. Dimly, at the edge of his awareness, he heard the dogs again, barking more frantically now and definitely drawing closer. He took Elizabeth by the arm.

“Look, darling, you have to get in the boat and return with them to Connecticut. This is our only chance to get you out.” He was pulling her gently, but inexorably into the water as he spoke. “I wanted Tallmadge to be here to order you out. He was supposed to be here!” and here his voice cracked. He cleared his throat and went on. “You have to do this, for me, for our child!”

They were nearly waist-deep in the chill water now, but suddenly Elizabeth’s arm shot out, rigid, pointing at something in the boat. “Who is that?” Their eyes turned to follow and fell upon a male who looked barely old enough to shave, sitting with his hands bound behind him, facing the shore.

Brewster edged over to them, whispering, “He’s a bloody turncoat. We knew we had a traitor in our group. Why, it was you folks told us they must have an inside man in our crew, that they knew almost everything about us. Thanks to you we laid ourselves a little trap and caught him red-handed, trying to send a signal in the cove here tonight.”

“What are you going to do with him?” Elizabeth demanded. “Well, we’re gonna try to take him back for a proper trial. But I’ll level with you two. If we get hailed by a Tory patrol boat out there, over the side he goes.”

“With his hands bound like that?”

Brewster shrugged.

“Robert, I’m not getting in that boat!”

Now the dogs began positively howling, and Anna was in the water beside them, insisting, “We’ve got to go – now!”

Elizabeth could no longer speak, and Robert had stopped trying. He was pulling on her, trying to draw her to the whaleboat. Brewster cursed once, pushed off the bow and leapt aboard. The baying of the approaching dogs was unnerving everyone. The crew dropped their oars into the water, and the boat slowly began to back away from the shore.

Robert pulled Elizabeth’s right arm, while she practically screamed, “I am not getting in that boat!” Yanking her arm free of his grasp, they both fell sideways into the water. The dogs were now deafening, and there were men with lamps on the beach. Anna dove into the water beside them, while Robert sputtered to the surface just in time to see a terrified raccoon, scampering over the sand, and four hunting dogs, straining at their leashes in front of two men with lamps and muskets who hurried by, rounded a point, and were lost from sight.

The boat had vanished. Robert stood there, water up to his waist, staring into the blackness in the direction it had gone. Meanwhile, Elizabeth struggled to the beach, where she flung herself on the sand. Robert failed to move. Finally, Anna Strong waded over to him, wrapping both her hands gently around his arm.

“Come on, Robert,” she murmured softly, “It’s time to go home.”

 

 

Chapter 59

 

New York, October 20, 1780

 

The sound of a sharpened quill, scratching its way across dry parchment, was mixed with the cadence of Austin Roe’s fingers, drumming on a tabletop, as he waited impatiently, eager to be out of the city by nightfall. Robert, oblivious, bent over his writing desk.

 

Dear Mr. Bolton,

 

[Here was supposed to be a letter, which is missing in John’s manuscript, saying that no one had been taken up on this information.]

 

Your obedient servant,
Culper, Jr.

 

Robert sighed, folded the letter and handed it to Austin, who got up. Reaching out, he put a hand on Townsend’s shoulder, “It’s going to be all right, Robert, you’ll see.”

Townsend looked up at him, blankly at first, then pursed his mouth, shrugged his shoulders, and finally nodded. He didn’t smile.

When his courier departed for Setauket, he was alone again. Elizabeth had returned to the Franklin’s as the safest possible place for her right now. But suddenly finding himself alone brought back the past two weeks. The terror of the helpless waiting at Abraham’s, the horror of that night on the beach at Brewster’s whaleboat. But also of the other nights. Nestled into the slaves’ sleeping space, he and Elizabeth had spent the long fall nights, wrapped in one another’s arms, whispering. She had burrowed into him, he had stroked her hair. Their lovemaking had been an illumination. The threat of arrest had given those nights in Setauket the same overwhelming immediacy and tender clarity as their first time together – when he had swept the breakfast tray from his sickbed and fairly devoured Elizabeth.

Relaxing, he realized that Elizabeth had been right again. His fears for her, thank God, had apparently been ungrounded. They were back in New York now, and they were safe. For the first time in weeks he felt free of fear. And, relaxing, he realized that what he needed badly was sleep. Locking the door of the store behind him, he trudged the few blocks to his room. As he pulled off his boots and rolled into his bed, he felt a huge wave of relief envelope him like a thick, supporting cloud. Closing his eyes, he drifted into that warm cloud and slept.

When he awoke, it was dark. Lighting a candle on the bed table, he held it aloft to read the wall-clock. Eight-fifteen. Four delicious hours of rest. His limbs felt heavy, as if he’d been drugged, but the knot in his stomach had finally unclenched, and he realized that no adrenaline was coursing through his system.

He might as well put in an appearance at Rivington’s coffee house. They must be wondering what had become of him. His partner certainly had. Henry Oakman had left Robert a long, frantic note, demanding to know where in the devil he had disappeared to, that the Cork convoy was late, and the city was down to a 13-day supply of food. He was selling out everything in the store and needed help to handle the demand.

At the coffee house, much of the talk was about Andre. Eighteen days since his execution, and it seemed the entire city was still incensed.

“It’s outrageous!” Rivington held forth, “The cowards! They let our Adjutant General be lured into their lines by a flag of truce. Then they seized him, calling him a spy. It doesn’t matter, if he wasn’t wearing his uniform coat. He changed it, because their commander on the scene told him to. To not give protection under a flag of truce violates the basic tenets of warfare.”

“And the way he was captured,” Col. Simpson added, “Young Andre was not so stupid as to blurt out his identity to a bunch of strangers. I say he was set up.”

“You’re right, friend.” A captain who had just come into the room with a companion, settled into a chair at Robert’s table, smiling. “Dead right.”

When asked how he knew, the captain startled the room by declaring, “Because they just arrested one of the spies involved in it, right here in New York. A woman, no less!”

Robert rocked in his chair. Trying desperately to sound nonchalant, he turned to the speaker and said, “Well, I hope they give her the same treatment that scum gave poor Andre.”

“They did better than that, friend. They put her on the Jersey.”

“The Jersey? A woman? What, do they have a separate section for the women?”

“Separate, hah! There is no special treatment among traitors, friend. No, they practice commingling of prisoners. She’ll be in with the hotheads and the crazies, the smallpox victims. And with a couple of thousand men on board, and maybe two or three women, I doubt she’ll be lonely, get my drift?”

Here the speaker winked, chuckled, and nudged his companion. Robert failed to move. “Commingling of prisoners?”

“That’s what they call it, friend. So don’t you worry, she’ll soon be getting worse than those bastards gave poor Andre.”

Robert said nothing, did nothing. Numb. After what he assumed would be a non-suspicious length of time, he excused himself, rose, and walked out the back door to the outhouse. He opened the door, stepped inside, and vomited. Then he absently wiped his mouth with his sleeve, opened the door and stumbled into the yard, weaving his way to the back gate.

He found himself walking woodenly down Princess St. in the dark of night. A light, wet snow began filtering out of the black sky above, and as the flakes hit his face they melted into drops which ran down to his collar. No onlooker could tell if tears were mingled in. He wasn’t thinking, wasn’t quite grieving yet. If asked, he really couldn’t have said what he felt.

His feet led him down to the Murray Street Wharf. The dull thud of his heels on thick planking told him that he was walking down the dock. Halting at the end of the pier, he raised his face to the sky, noticing only now in the darkness the first white flecks of winter, descending on him.

Then he lowered his gaze to the dim, orange glow of torches across the East River and just above the tree line, bordering Wallabout Bay. He didn’t know how long he stood there, staring into the darkness. The thickening snow soon blotted out even the identifying glow. Still, he knew where the object of his attention lay. His eyes bored into the dark, fixed on this one spot in the now shapeless night. A bystander would have heard only one moment of speech escape him – when his lips parted, and in a barely audible voice he murmured, “Commingling of prisoners.”

 

 

Chapter 60

 

Setauket, Long Island, October 23, 1780

 

Three days later, a wild-eyed Robert sat in a back room at Austin Roe’s tavern, hunched over a small table, illuminated by a single candle. The face of the woman seated across from him showed yellow and solemn in the darkness.

Robert spoke in a voice slightly above a whisper. “Anna, I need your help. They arrested her Wednesday, and there’s been no word of any kind about it. It hasn’t even been published in the papers. But I made discreet inquiries, and soldiers dragged her from the Franklin House, and the word ‘arrest’ was heard.”

Anna placed both her strong hands over Robert’s extended fist.

“They probably don’t want to embarrass themselves,” he continued. “What are they going to say? That our martyred Adjutant General was living with a ‘common whore’, who stole our vital military secrets from him while he slept? Sir Henry loved Andre too much to leave that as his legacy, or his own for that matter. He’ll have enough explaining to do to London without that added lapse in security. So they hush it up. Anna, I want to…,” but here his voice cracked. “I want to…”

“You want to get her out,” and as she said this, Anna Strong summoned all the maternal influence that her twenty-six years had provided, trying to squeeze reassurance into Robert’s hand. “I want to help you get her out, Robert – if I can.”

“I’ve got money.”

“How much?”

“740 Pounds.”

Her eyes widened. “Robert Townsend! Where in the world did you get that kind of money in three days?”

“Anywhere I could.” His voice had a cold, determined tone that suited the fierce squint of his eyes. “I took a couple of hundred from my father’s business, three hundred from my business with Henry Oakman…”

“Robert, what is Oakman going to say?”

He took a few second to reply, switched his gaze to the candle. “He’ll probably demand that I return the money, and when I don’t he’ll threaten to have me arrested.”

She let out a long breath, nodding. “Look, I will do everything I can, but I don’t know if it will be enough.”

“You got your husband out of that hell hole.”

“Selah was just a judge with the wrong politics. Sixty Pounds was plenty to get the warden to look the other way. If they are sure about Elizabeth, well, I don’t know.”

“I’ll get whatever it takes.”

“Just give me what you have now and let me take it to my contact. I know you realize that neither you nor I can make such an offer. It has to come from an insider, a powerful Loyalist.”

He nodded.

“I’ll leave first thing in the morning, as soon as the roads are safe. Hopefully I’ll get back to you in a couple of days.”

 

 

Chapter 61

 

Wallabout Bay, Brooklyn, New York, October 27, 1780

 

Elizabeth had been scratching ever since the morning after her first night aboard the Jersey. The lice were everywhere. It had been horrifying at first, but she’d actually grown accustomed to it. Well, perhaps accustomed wasn’t the right word. There were just so many more serious threats.

At this moment, Mrs. Deborah Franklin of Brooklyn was leaning over her on the deck, wiping her skin with a wet cloth. A local Quaker widow of no relation to Elizabeth’s second family, Mrs. Franklin was allowed to come out in a longboat once a week to bring food to the prisoners and tend, as best she could on a small private income, to needs that would have overwhelmed a large hospital.

“You’ve got to try not to scratch so hard, honey,” she told Elizabeth. “I know that’s easier said than done, but when you scratch your skin you open the way to smallpox.”

“I know, Mrs. Franklin, thank you.”

“How are you getting treated, darling?”

“Well, the guards ignore me, and the men do the best they can. An enormous man tried to rape me yesterday, but the men around me beat him to death, so I don’t think anyone will be trying that again soon.”

“I know it’s none of my business, but what did you do, honey? They don’t put many women out here, never mind a woman so far along into a pregnancy.”

Elizabeth studied her eyes for a few moments before answering. “You must swear that you will never tell this to a soul.”

So assured, she continued. “I failed to answer General Arnold’s question.”

“That’s it?”

Elizabeth nodded.

“He put you on the Jersey for…” she shook her head, “Good Lord, what was the question?”

“He wanted to know, who is the father of my unborn child.”

“Who…? Now wait a minute. How did he know you are pregnant?”

“They strip-searched me.”

The unflappable Mrs. Franklin actually blushed.

“Then he called in a doctor who confirmed how long I have been pregnant.”

Asked how that could possibly matter, Elizabeth continued, “I was the lover of a high ranking British officer.”

Mrs. Franklin was blushing again now, and she’d thought she’d seen everything.

“He was not in New York, when I became pregnant.”

“Benedict Arnold confined you here, because you were unfaithful to this British officer that you’re not even married to?”

Elizabeth smiled for the first time in a week. “I’m afraid it’s a little more complicated than that.”

Before the befuddled Mrs. Franklin could ask another question, the officer of the guard shouted out, “This shift below! All prisoners off the deck!”

The two women looked into one another’s eyes.

“Now!” he barked.

Descending the steep stairs into the dim light below, Elizabeth winced, when the smell hit her. The one hour a day above the decks served to reacclimate her nose to clean air. And that just made it all the more unbearable, when they were forced back into the foul atmosphere, which they had grown at least slightly used to over the previous day. At any one time, a full half of the 2,000 or so prisoners were suffering from dysentery. Even being raised on a farm had not prepared her for the stench. Every pothole and hatch was covered tightly by heavy boards, and widely-space small vents were the only source of fresh air.

The French, the ancestral enemies of the British, were confined in the lowest levels of the hold, where fresh air seemed to never reach, and filthy bilge water sloshed just below. With that sole exception, the other prisoners were left on their own, pushed together so tightly on a thin layer of excrement-soaked straw that there was no room to walk. She’d been placed with the officers, but all that meant was a different corner of the same death trap.

Each day officially began, when the guards threw open the hatches in the morning to bellow out, “Rebels, turn out your dead!”

They were never disappointed. Several bodies always followed – sometimes, she’d been told, a dozen or two. Smallpox and starvation were the primary culprits. Everyone was wasting away on an allowance of thin gruel, which itself tended to bring on the dysentery. The joke amongst the prisoners was that you checked in, but you just never checked out.

In this way, the warden collected monetary allowance for the maximum number of prisoners. The Jersey had hosted 10,000 so far, but only 2,000 were left on board. Nevertheless, someone got a stipend to feed 10,000, but only bought enough food to starve 2,000. More Americans had died on British prison ships in New York harbor than had died in all the battles of the war.

At any time, anyone on board could get out by taking an oath of allegiance to the king and agreeing to enlist in the Royal Army or Navy. Extremely few did so. Instead they starved. The few remaining rats on board were hunted down and auctioned off. The tightly packed masses in such a confined air space were perfect breeding grounds for smallpox and consumption. Of course, consumption wasn’t much of a problem. Average life expectancy aboard this ship was three to six months, so you died of something else well before the consumption had a chance to kill you.

The nights were the worst of all. Below decks, it was pitch black, and this was the time when men snapped. On her third night aboard, Elizabeth heard the warning cry, “Madman with a knife!” She was terrified to realize that somewhere in the blackness, a lunatic was slashing the air, and all she could do was try to track him by sound, and stay out of the way.

 

 

Chapter 62

 

Oyster Bay, Long Island, October 30, 1780

 

Robert had received word from Austin that day that Anna wanted to meet with him. He had pressed Austin for some clue as to whether the news was god or bad, but he claimed not to know.

When they finally did meet, Anna softened the blow as much as she could, but the news was still devastating. Arnold had made it clear to the warden that he took a personal interest in this prisoner, and there could therefore be no releasing her – not at any price. That had been yesterday.

Today, Robert sat alone at home in Oyster Bay, occupying a chair in the center of a shaft of sunlight, bent over a paper, writing. Pen in hand, he worked transfixed. So oblivious to his surroundings was he that his normal wariness left him, and he never even heard his twelve-year-old sister Phebe steal up behind him.

“What are you doing, Robert?” she chirped. He jumped. “Writing the same sentences over and over? Are you practicing your handwriting? But your handwriting is already beautiful, Robert, you don’t need to practice.”

He turned now and, smiling, pulled her up onto his lap. “But, little sister, how do you think my handwriting got so beautiful? Lots of practice.”

From her new perch on Robert’s lap, Phebe stared down at the inside cover of an old ledger, where identical sentences were stacked one below another, as if a teacher had handed out punishment to a student.

“Let me see what you’re writing! Com… Commi…”

“Commingling, Phebe. The word is commingling.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means mixing very different kinds of things together – usually people.”

“Commingling of prisoners!” she pronounced. “Commingling of prisoners. Commingling of prisoners. Why, you must have written it a dozen times!”

Here she looked up at her older brother with a quizzical expression. His smile was gone.

“And what’s this other one? Oh, that’s an easy one! Control your mind. Control your mind. Control your mind.”

She looked at him again, but this time her countenance was more one of concern. Slowly, she brought her eyes back to the ledger.

“And there’s one more here. A long one!” She read hesitantly, “’Begin nothing, of which thou hast not well considered the end’.”

 

 

Chapter 63

 

On board the Jersey, February 13, 1781

 

Elizabeth lay back on the straw in total darkness, concentrating on just breathing. Her windpipe was swollen enough that she could hear from her own throat the death rattle that had become so familiar to her ears in the few months she had been confined here.

The birth had taken the last of her strength. She had a son now – they had a son – and she had arranged for Mrs. Franklin to take him off the ship to safety. Now at least something of the love she had shared with Robert would survive. She concentrated completely on simply taking the next breath.

Gradually, she realized, she could hear something else as well. It was as if the ship was rocking. She opened her eyes, and there, before her now, was the familiar blue sky and the sound of gulls. The rocking was of the waves, slapping her in the face, and even her old enemy, the cold, was back. In the hundred times, she had relived this, there had always been just the sound of gulls and waves, but now there was something else as well.

It was a voice – a man’s voice, a familiar one. Robert’s! He was talking to her, calling to her and telling her not to worry. He talked on and on, until it was practically the only thing in her awareness. Just blue sky and the hum of Robert’s voice. He was telling her again about his childhood in Oyster Bay.

Then the waves came back and began to cover her face, but this time they didn’t bum her throat or make her gag. As the water rose completely over her head, she simply felt at peace. Funny, she thought, how she had fought so hard against this moment for so long, and now that it had finally come, it wasn’t bad at all. She felt fine. In fact, a strange but pleasant vibrating sensation filled her entire body. And all the while, Robert was talking on. She felt she could lie here and listen to his voice forever.

The water over her head must have been very still and shallow, she realized, because somehow she could see the sky through it. The blue was slowly becoming a deeper, darker shade. It was the same color of the sky, as when she as a child had finished playing on a winter day and knew her mother would soon be calling her home for supper. Eventually, though, even that deep, deep blue that she loved so much, began to fade, and with it Robert’s voice. She couldn’t make out his words now, only the sweet, familiar sound of him. She lay listening, as even that ever so gradually went out, just about the time that she realized the sky was now black. All the world, silent, warm, and black.

But then a pinpoint of light appeared. She studied the light. It wasn’t a star, wasn’t even white. It was too big even to be a planet. As she watched, it started to grow. It kept on growing, bigger and more yellow, until she finally recognized it for what it was – the lamp in Momma’s kitchen window. Her family would all be there by now, gathered around the table, waiting with supper for her.

Then the silence was broken by a single, distant voice. It had the sound of another child, maybe a boy. And he was calling her name, over and over, as if from a distance. She kept walking toward it, the light and the voice. As it grew louder and nearer, it grew familiar. And then she recognized it, and she began to run. It was her brother, Tommy. He was calling her home.

 

 

Chapter 64

 

Setauket, Long Island, February 14, 1781

 

Robert rolled over onto his left side. He had been tossing fitfully for most of the night, two nights now, in fact. Suddenly he just couldn’t sleep. He lay, listening to the wind, howling through the bare branches of the elm trees, lining the road in front of Abraham Woodhull’s house. He had been here for some time, having given up on visits to Oyster Bay with his well-intentioned, but prying family, who always wanted to know what was wrong with him, why he was so stubbornly morose.

Abraham tried to rouse him occasionally, but at least he understood how Robert felt. Even when Robert had told him that he would do no more spying, Abraham had let him be, simply informed Tallmadge that Culper Jr. was no more. He told Robert that he was welcome in the Woodhull home for as long as he cared to stay. For that kindness, Robert was especially grateful. He couldn’t bring himself to return to New York anymore. Knowing that Elizabeth was imprisoned so close at hand, and that there was nothing he could do about it, was simply unbearable.

Every week, Deborah Franklin relayed news to the Floyd family of Elizabeth’s deteriorating condition and the impending childbirth. They, in turn, got the word to Robert. He had provided Mrs. Franklin a sum of money to help in her efforts, but while she had accepted with gratitude, she let Robert know that there were strict limits to what her jailers would allow to be brought aboard the Jersey.

He remained in Setauket, drinking much of the days away, living in a twilight zone between despair and guilt. He should have found some way to have gotten her out, he kept telling himself.

He rolled over again, opening his eyes to moonlight that filtered through the curtains – moonlight and curtains, which he couldn’t remember being there earlier. The wind was penetrating every crack in the house, rustling the curtain in a filmy white dance of rhythmic fluidity which seemed vaguely familiar. “It’s the way Elizabeth moves,” he realized. Now the curtain revolved, and a face appeared at the top edge, nebulous, gauzy, but a face. It spoke. “Robert,” was all it said. “Robert,” almost in a whisper – Elizabeth’s whisper, he realized with a shock. He sat bolt upright.

“I escaped!” she cooed. “I’ve come back for you. Come, take my hand.”

He crossed the room in a stiff-legged, almost stumbling gait, holding out his hand. Her familiar smooth and warm grip closed over him, and his heart soared.

“But, Elizabeth,” he began, only to be silenced by a ghostly finger which rose to her lips, then pointed slowly straight at him, palm up and curled back toward her. “Come with me,” the finger said. He nodded, and the room fell away beneath his feet.

The wind was in his hair now, cold and bracing. He looked at her and saw her hair streaming out behind. The familiar blue ribbon at the throat of her nightshirt was gray in the moonlight, but he recognized it. Elizabeth turned, looking straight ahead and flying off horizontally, face down, pulling Robert along with her. He watched her, a soft profile aglow in the moonlight. A serene, confident smile on her lips. The stars moved behind her.

He looked down. They were so high that he could see Setauket Harbor. Ahead lay fields, all ghostly pale, bordered by dark woods, fences, hedges, and lanes. “So this is how it looks to a bird,” he wondered to himself.

They were traveling faster now. Occasionally, she would turn to look at him, but she never spoke. Instead, she blessed him with that familiar smile. Now she banked left, and they turned, spiraling up even higher. Robert was giddy. If he looked straight down, he could pick out the road to Abraham’s house. He followed it along with his eye, wanting to see the entire farm. But it wasn’t there. All the landmarks appeared in correct order, but where the Woodhull homestead should have been, lay only a black, featureless pool of water, about the size of a small pond.

This unsettled him, and he turned to call out to his companion. The wind, though, was rushing past ever faster, roaring in his ears. He tried to shout above it. “Elizabeth!” But as his voice uttered the sound, she instantly became transparent. He could look right through her body and see – stars. In fear, he craned his neck to look at the moon. It was still there. He called out to her one more time, his eyes fixed on the lunar oval of a gibbous phase.

The white oval now became a rectangle, which turned into an opened doorway. Abraham Woodhull was standing in it, calling him to wake, holding a lantern above his head. Robert startled and sat up in bed.

He knew, before Abraham ever spoke, that he had come to tell him that Elizabeth was dead.

 

 

Chapter 65

 

New York, July 4, 1781

 

The sky outside was just beginning to lighten, and still Robert bent over the codebook, scribbling. The quill fairly flew across the page and in its wake left space as blank as before. The Invisible Stain filled the lines between a perfectly ordinary letter to a worried mother, that her child on Long Island was safe. If the courier was seized, any search would only produce a harmless communication that was innocent enough, yet also urgent enough to warrant extraordinary means to get it through British lines.

Fear of ending his life in a hangman’s noose was no longer a dominant emotion in Robert Townsend’s life, nor any longer was the safety of his beloved important. It was the lamp of revenge now, which burned bright. Hatred had driven him to take chances that his old, well-honed instinct for survival would have rebelled against.

But he had done it. He had their naval codes, and he had altered them just enough. Turning a half yellow signal flag to an all yellow one had been easy, and probably safe enough. Altering one design to resemble another had been harder. Since the young signalman was cramming to learn the new code system, he had obviously not had it long enough to become familiar with it. And when he would finally wake up, he would be feeling disoriented enough for a day or two to make him unable to guess any change in the signals he thought he knew.

Robert had decided on the spur of the moment that the alteration was worth the risk. After all, if the signalman suspected something, he would find himself in the unenviable position of trying to explain, how he let the most important information in the Royal Navy fall into enemy hands. Besides, he was still copying the codes, and the copy was still far from friendly lines, they could still be lost. Gaining any advantage now could well mean the difference between victory and defeat.

By now, it was clear that Cornwallis and his army were trapped at Yorktown. Once again, Sir Henry had been too lazy, or too cowardly, to rescue him, so it was up to the Royal Navy to extract him. Normally, this would be a sure thing, but there was a French fleet somewhere off the East Coast. And while the Tricolor had nearly always struck before the Union Jack, when roughly equivalent forces had met in the past, a communications advantage might make the difference. The stakes now were too enormous not to try.

Now, as he worked, Robert became aware of a dirty gray streak in the sky over the East River. He had to work quickly. His concentration must have been particularly intense, because he never heard a sound, not a squeak nor a crack. One moment there was only the scratch of quill on parchment, and the next moment there was a dull metallic click right behind him. Only once before had he been this close to that sound, but it had burned in his memory. It was the sound of a pistol being cocked. He spun fast, and what he saw nearly bolted him off his stool. In the now open doorway stood James Rivington, holding a dueling pistol level with his chest.

“Well, Townsend, I see we’re working overtime again. But what fascinating material you’ve found!” Robert looked up at him, but failed to move or speak. “I should venture, Robert, that Sir Henry shall prove most appreciative to learn that I prevented his codes from being spirited away by a traitor. For myself, I must simply say that I am shocked.”

By way of reply, Robert simply stared back.

“I’m a little impressed, too, Townsend, do not mistake my meaning. I never suspected that you had this in you, partner! My, my.”

Finally, Robert spoke, “Jemmy, I…”

“No, no”, Rivington interrupted, “Don’t try to defend yourself. The facts are quite clear.”

Robert turned back to the book and resumed copying. “The facts, my dear, sweet, stupid Jemmy, are – as usual – bigger than you allow yourself to comprehend.”

“Now, listen to me, Townsend.”

“Jemmy, you are an occasionally intelligent man. You do realize what is happening in this ‘insipid rebellion’ as you call it, don’t you?”

“I know, sir, that treason is afoot here tonight!”

“Come on, Jemmy, you’re not speaking to your readers. I’m talking about the big picture. Even you know enough to realize that the Crown may very well soon quit this war.”

“The king would never abandon us.”

“Jemmy, this is me – Townsend. Let us speak plain for once, shall we?”

No protest was heard, so he went on.

“Jemmy, think. For once in your precious life, think. Sir Henry has lost this war. Cornwallis is throwing away his last chance right now in Virginia, and after Tarleton’s elimination at Cowpens, if the king doesn’t recoil at the growing cost of occupation, the Parliament soon will. In the long run your cause is doomed. And you know it. Don’t you, Jemmy?”

Again, no protest came, and Robert went back to writing. “When that happens, Jemmy,” – and here he was glad his back was turned, as he swallowed hard – “when that happens, my dear, sweet Jemmy, then you know what will happen to you. You have seen it and written about it, about it happening in the hundreds of Yankee hamlets that you so despise. You’re absolutely right, the people there can be barbaric. And, as you know from personal experience, the people of New York can be also. Tarring and feathering, breaking your spine and your testicles on a special rail ride for the famous James Rivington, mouthpiece of the Tories. This would probably be the best you could hope for.”

“That’s only if you win, Townsend.”

“Yes, but just suppose. Suppose for one moment with me, Jemmy. What if we do win? It is a possibility, and I pity you then, my friend.”

“You’re not my friend, Townsend, I can see that now.”

“Don’t be so sure. This is a very important night in your life, and it’s not over yet. Think, Jemmy, if you turn me in, the best you can hope for is for Sir Henry to pat you on the back with a “Good show!” or even “The Crown is profoundly grateful for your actions, Mr. Rivington.” And that will be all you’ll get. You know that much. And you do so like taking care of James Rivington, don’t you?”

No protest.

“Balanced against that ‘overwhelming’ reward, my friend, is the risk of a long, slow, painful death – a death you can choose to ward off right now, Jemmy. This is your last chance to cheat the Reaper. It’s up to you.”

“And I can do this, Townsend, by…?”

“By allowing me to send this,” and he held the letter aloft. “Not this,” indicating the signals book. “No one will miss this book, if I return it within the hour, I’ve seen to that. You know me, Jemmy, you know I would never leave such a thing to chance.”

“Oh, I certainly do, Townsend. I know you have been clever enough to fool me for, for… for how long?”

“From the beginning.”

Rivington visibly flinched.

“Listen, Jemmy, I’ll send this to General Washington as the gift of James Rivington. You’ll get the credit. If we lose the war, Sir Henry will never know. And in what you call the unlikely event that we win, then you’ll get a pardon and your safety is guaranteed.”

Rivington seemed transfixed, beginning to shake slightly. “I could pull the trigger right now.”

“Go ahead, you would be doing me a favor.”

For half a minute, neither of them spoke. Rivington continued to stand there with the gun pointed at Townsend’s back, while Robert continued writing furiously.

“Jemmy, all you give up is that pat on the back from Sir Henry, or perhaps even ‘General’ Arnold.”

“Listen, no one likes Arnold. If nothing else he caused poor Andre’s death. We feel the same way about him that you do.”

“Oh, I doubt that, Jemmy. I doubt that very much. But look, I have almost finished, it’s time to choose. Do you want that pat on the back, or do you want the peace of mind that neither side is going to kill you, no matter what happens?”

“How do I know I can trust you? I obviously haven’t been able to trust you so far.”

“I’ll write it now, that this is all thanks to you, and all you ask in return is a pardon.”

Rivington laughed, “You’re using invisible ink. You could be saying anything, how would I know?”

“You have a point there. Hmm. I tell you what, partner, you can do us both a favor. You keep this letter,” and with that Robert handed it over. “I’ll write another letter here which says that you have the codes. General Washington will just have to send someone to pick them up. That way you can be sure you’ll get credit.”

“And what about you?”

“Oh, after I send this I have some unfinished business to take care of.”

 

Two hours later, he stood at the enlistment table in the artillery park.

“Name?” the secretary asked.

“Townsend, Robert,” he replied, fighting to appear calm and looking away from the secretary at the General seated next to him. It was Benedict Arnold who spoke next, asking, “Have we met before Mr. Townsend?”

“Oh no, sir.”

“But I’d swear that you recognized me when you walked up.”

“I did, sir, but that is no surprise. Everyone knows you, and I used to work at Rivington’s Gazette. I’ve seen sketches of you.”

“So, Mr. Townsend, you have waited all these years, and now you want to enlist?”

“That’s right. It’s about time I stopped writing about the fight and watching it. It’s about time I did my own part.”

Arnold offered no reply, but sat puffing on his pipe, considering him coldly. “I must tell you, sir, that I consider myself a good judge of men, and I smell something odd about you. It says here you’re a Quaker. I thought killing is against your religion.”

Robert struggled within himself to project the right amount of emotion in what he had to say next. The problem was how not to express too much. And he felt that he had never said anything more important in his life.

“Oh, don’t worry about me, General.” With this he placed his hands on the table and leaned toward Benedict Arnold, looking him squarely in the eye. “I used to oppose killing, but certain events have changed all that. After the past year or so, I know one thing with absolute certainty.” His eyes fairly bored into Arnold’s, and a quaver crept into his voice, “I know now that I can kill. Just give me a musket, and I’ll show you.”

Even the secretary looked up. Arnold stared hard at Robert, blowing a cloud of smoke in his direction. At length he spoke, “Yes, I believe you can kill, sir. I have some experience in these matters, and I believe you can.” Another cloud of smoke. “Welcome to the Queen’s Rangers, Townsend. Sergeant Gross here will get you supplied with equipment. Carry on!”

When they had left, Arnold turned to the secretary. “Give that man stable duty, or perimeter guard duty, or something, but I want you to keep him away from me. Keep him here in New York, but I don’t want him anywhere near me. Do you understand? There’s something about him that I just don’t trust.”

 

 

Chapter 66

 

Oyster Bay, April 23, 1790

 

Robert Townsend sat in the Youngs’ library. The meeting with Washington had been set for here, so that Robert could walk up the beach after dark and slip in the back, unseen. It was the only way Washington could get him to agree to the meeting.

His first act when he left office as President was to make a tour of Long Island, meet with, and personally thank the spies, to whom he knew he owed everything. Just the night before he had spent the evening at Austin Roe’s tavern, dining with Abraham Woodhull, Anna Strong, and Caleb Brewster.

Ironically, Roe, the sure-footed rider who had never failed to get through on dark, rutted roads with messages for Washington, took a fall on the way that night and broke his leg. He never got to meet his old General, and his friends never let him live it down.

In the Youngs’ library, Robert sat sipping sherry, listening to the crickets outside and the rhythmic ticking of the clock pendulum within. Then he heard a doorknob turn, and in stepped the man who was already being called ‘The Father of Our Country’. He looked much older and frailer than Robert had expected, but he strode firmly across the room, holding out his hand.

“Thank you so much for coming, Mr. Townsend. Please sit down. Robert, may I call you that? I needed to talk to you, and I am grateful that you finally agreed to it. I’m not sure why you do not want your part in the Great Struggle to be revealed, but that is your business. I am told that the years have been hard on you. I respect your privacy, and I shall not pry. Without you, things might have turned out very differently. Certainly, I fear for us, if West Point, its garrison, myself, and the French Commander had all been taken in the same winter that the Pennsylvania Line mutinied. I think that would have been the end. And I’m sure you know that.”

Robert nodded.

“I don’t know if you ever heard the results of the naval code affair.”

Robert gave no response.

“The French were outgunned and outclassed, but they chased off the relief fleet that was Cornwallis’ only hope of escaping Yorktown. There have been conflicting statements, regarding why. The British fleet commander said it was as if the French could read his signals. His captains said that many of the signal flags he hoisted simply made no sense, and therefore they were left without orders. As a result, half of the ships never even joined the fight. Did you know that?”

Robert shook his head, no.

“This is what you and your people did for us. I know it has been at great personal cost to yourself, and you have my deepest sympathies for that.”

Here he briefly laid his hand across Robert’s.

“More importantly, you have the Nation’s profound gratitude, even if they don’t know who you are. As I said, I respect your privacy, sir. But we had an agreement – your suggestion. That you would lay out your own money, well over the 100 gold Guineas you stipulated, I’m sure. And then we would repay you after we had won.”

Here Washington smiled.

“I want you to know that no one else made that kind of offer. You know that the first thing I did on entering New York, was to seek out all those involved and pay them in gold for their services. Why, even Rivington got two small sacks, and I can tell you that it was not a popular move on my part. Only you did not want reward or repayment. And that has personally troubled me, sir.”

Washington looked stern. “I understand that there was a child born to you and the woman.”

At this, Robert finally spoke. “Yes, sir, a son, he is being raised by my brother Solomon.” He gave a bitter laugh. “God knows I’m no good for it,” and he took a long draw on his sherry, set it back down, but kept his eye on it.

“Surely, Robert,” Washington pressed, “there is always the need for money where a son is involved. If you don’t take this for you, do it for him. And for me. I feel terrible about what happened to the boy’s mother. We tried our best to protect her, but obviously our best wasn’t good enough.”

“No, sir, it most certainly was not.”

“So allow me to do something for her child then, will you? Please allow this, do it for me.”

“I think I and my son have already done enough for you, Mr. President,” and he drained his glass. “You want to know why I want no reward here? I’ll tell you. Neither myself nor my child wants anything to do with your blood money! What exactly is it that you’d like me to accept a reward for? What exactly did I do? As far as I am concerned, sir, I simply managed to destroy the only person I ever loved. I took the most beautiful, gentle, brave woman I have ever known, and I helped put her on that prison ship. Sometimes I have nightmares, where I see her lying there in dirty straw, calling my name, but I can’t recognize her, because her face has been obliterated by smallpox pustules. I’m sure you’ve seen people die that way, General. You know what it’s like. That’s what the work I did for you means to me. I murdered the only person I ever really loved. I have blood on my hands that I will have to live with for the rest of my life. So you can keep your thirty pieces of silver. Is there anything else, or can I go now?”

Washington sighed, picking up a book from the side table. “Just this,” and he handed it to Robert. “It’s her personal Bible. It was brought off the ship by a Quaker woman who sometimes took food to the prisoners. I thought you would like to have it.”

Robert took the book, but said nothing. He simply rose and turned, walking through the French windows, leading to the beach. Emerging into the moonlight, he closed the door quietly behind him and strode across the lawn to the water’s edge. Standing there, looking out over the bay, his mind went back to the moon-dappled waters of the East River, barely visible from his attic room in Amos Underhill’s boarding house, ten endless years ago. The room, which had changed his life forever.

He hefted the Bible in one hand. It felt small and light. So like her, he thought. Holding it up before him, Robert opened the book at random, and something fell out. It lay on the sand at his feet, barely visible in this light, so he bent over to pick it up and examine it closer. It was a carefully pressed and dried flower bud, one that had seen much wear. Its flattened petals looked like they might be violet, and it had clearly been handled often by someone, whose hands were less than clean. Someone, he thought, who lay dying in the bowels of a filthy prison ship. It was, unmistakably, a beach rose.

 

 

Epilog

 

Robert Townsend never married. He continued doing business for a few years with his brother Solomon in New York, where he could be close to his son. Afterwards, he retired to live out a long, but modest life in Oyster Bay with his sisters Sally and Phebe. From family reports, it seems that he spent much of the rest of his life despondent, often drinking heavily. He shared his secret only with a few close family members. He died in 1838 at the age of 85.

 

Elizabeth Franklin, as has been said, is a fictitious name. Her true name has been lost to us forever, and to historians she is simply referred to as ‘Agent 355’ – the code number, by which Abraham Woodhull referred to her, when he alerted Tallmadge to her impending recruitment. Her body was buried by her jailers with the other Jersey victims, in a shallow mass grave in the mud of Wallabout Bay. In 1808, the partially exposed bones of the estimated 11,000 victims of the prison ships were exhumed and reburied in a nearby monument. A plaque, dedicating the site, is still there, on the wall of the old Brooklyn Navy Yard. Listed on the plaque are the names of the commission members responsible for the memorial. One of the names is Robert Townsend, Jr.

 

The son of Robert Townsend and Agent 355 appears in the 1790 census at Solomon Townsend’s New York residence, when he would be nine years old, but does not appear in the 1800 census. He is missing from the official Townsend Family genealogy, as are all other known illegitimate children. Not appearing in his father’s will, it seems that father may have outlived son. Evidence suggests that he may have made his living as an independent carpenter, mechanic, and finally grocer at the Townsend Family’s business quarters at 41 Peck Slip (next to today’s South St. Seaport). Neither he nor his father ever touched the U.S. bank account, which was left them by George Washington – not even at times of serious financial trouble. It has been reported that he had himself buried as close as law would allow, to his mother’s mass grave.

 

Benedict Arnold left behind a name, which has become synonymous with traitor. In fact, for decades, almost no American boys were christened Benedict. He is still regarded as the most savage British general ever to wage war on Americans. In raids, which he led after his defection, he burned his hometown of New London, and other towns in the south, and he presided over an attack, which resulted in the bayoneting of an American garrison in New London, after it had surrendered and laid down its muskets. His scorched earth tactics convinced Americans that they could no longer afford to sit on the sidelines, and volunteers poured in to militias and armies everywhere. Some historians credit this reaction with turning the tide of the war. Arnold once asked a captured Patriot captain, what the rebels would do with him if they were to capture him alive, and the captain replied, “Why, they would cut off the leg that was wounded at Saratoga and bury it with full military honors. Then they would hang the rest of you from a scaffold.” Arnold died penniless and disappointed in London in 1801, 60 years old.

 

Peggy Arnold remained with her husband, raising all of Benedict’s sons, who were kept on the payroll as British officers, as Clinton and Andre had promised. Peggy and Benedict lived out their lives in obscurity, first in Nova Scotia, and finally in England. Peggy tried to be accepted into English society, but failed. When she died in London in 1804 at the age of 44, she was found to be wearing a locket, containing a snippet of John Andre’s hair.

 

John Andre’s remains were returned to England and buried with full ceremony in Westminster Abbey. In the long and distinguished history of British intelligence, he is the only spy ever to be accorded this honor.

 

Benjamin Tallmadge and his whaleboat messenger, Caleb Brewster, married sisters shortly after the war. Together, their families bought Robin’s Island off the east coast of Long Island. In his memoirs, Tallmadge admitted that there were aspects to Andre’s capture and Arnold’s discovery that were known only to four officers. He is known to have given advanced warning to other spies about Arnold, but though pressed by journalists until the day he died, he refused to reveal any details. He consistently repeated that he had given his word to ‘certain individuals’ never to disclose what really happened.

 

Alexander Hamilton became Washington’s first Secretary of the Treasury and the father of the American banking system. He was killed in a duel by Aaron Burr at the age of 47 in Weehawken, New Jersey, in 1804.

 

Aaron Burr tied with Thomas Jefferson in the 1800 presidential election (when the Senate elected the president). On the 33rd ballot, after heavy lobbying by Alexander Hamilton, the Senate broke the tie and made Jefferson President and Burr V.P. He never forgave the country. Together with an agent of Spain, he plotted to invade Mexico, lead the West in secession and form his own empire on the Napoleonic model. He was arrested and tried for treason in 1807, but acquitted.

 

Abraham Woodhull married, remaining in Setauket. He never spoke about the war years again.

 

Anna Strong’s husband Selah returned to Long Island as soon as the war was over. The two raised a family and lived to a ripe old age. The area, where she used to hang her laundry to signal Caleb Brewster’s whaleboats, was subsequently named Strong’s Neck.

 

Hercules Mulligan was the first person, which George Washington visited in New York at the war’s end. He refused Washington’s offer of a reward in gold and asked instead to make a new suit of clothes for the general. Thereafter, the sign over his shop read ‘Hercules Mulligan: Clothier to General Washington’.

 

In 1781, General Dan Morgan and his men annihilated the entire regiment of Andre’s bayonet-touting favorite, Banastre Tarleton, by faking a panicked retreat and luring Tarleton’s men into a trap at the Battle of Cowpens. Tarleton’s regiment suffered over 800 killed, wounded, and captured, to Morgan’s 72. This battle helped set the stage for Cornwallis’ defeat in the climactic Battle of Yorktown. After the war, Morgan retired to his estate in the Virginia mountains, named Saratoga. Hailed as a major American hero, he later commanded troops during the suppression of the so-called Whiskey Rebellion (1791-1794), which was protesting a tax on whiskey, intended as income for the federal government to pay for war debts, incurred during the Revolution. Morgan died in 1802, crippled by arthritis, aged 66.

 

General Horatio Gates managed to get himself hailed by Congress as the Hero of Saratoga. After a failed attempt with John Adams and other Congressional supporters to replace George Washington as Commander in Chief, he obtained command of the southern army, but suffered a disastrous defeat by Cornwallis, August 16, 1780, at Camden, South Carolina. Charges of cowardice and incompetence were brought, though eventually dropped, and he was never given another command.

 

John Adams, who was Gates’ principal supporter in Congress, continually implied that Arnold was attempting to defraud the Republic by claiming compensation for personal expenditures, for which he could produce no receipts. The bag of receipts, which was captured at Valcour Bay, wound up in English archives in Canada, and examination by historians has found that they show Arnold to have been scrupulously honest and surprisingly accurate in his record-keeping while under fire.

 

Dr. Benjamin Church, the first person to hound Arnold unfairly over money, was known as one of the great early Patriot leaders. However, George Washington was on target, when he said that the way Church treated Arnold would make you think he was on the other side. Many years after the war, historians found documentation that Church had, in fact, been a paid agent of the British the entire time.

 

Sir Henry Clinton was relieved of command of British forces in America after Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown and ordered to return to London to defend himself against charges of inaction.

 

Edward Pellew, the nineteen-year-old daredevil, who so tenaciously took command of H.M.S. Carleton at the Battle of Valcour Bay, and thereby earned Arnold’s grudging respect, became a national naval hero in the Napoleonic Wars as Lord Exemouth.

 

Colonel John Graves Simcoe returned to England in ill health in 1781. He was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada and promoted to Major General in 1797. At his death in 1806, he was Commander in Chief of India. A town and county in Ontario are named after him. Despite his ill health he married, fathering several children.

 

Sally Townsend never married. She died in Oyster Bay, a spinster, at the age of 82, in 1842. After her death, her precious Valentine Poem from Col. Simcoe was found in her trunk. It had been read and re-read so many times that the paper had begun to disintegrate.

 

James (Jemmy) Rivington surprised everyone, when he became the second person in New York whom Washington visited. The sound of two pouches of gold coins, hitting his desk, could be heard outside the door. He was never punished for publishing the most vicious of all Tory propaganda newspapers, and his property and presses were ordered spared. The people of New York, however, were less forgiving. They ultimately hounded him into fleeing the country for Nova Scotia in the great Tory Exodus of 1783.

 

Joshua Hett Smith, Arnold’s accomplice, was acquitted of treason in a military court martial and ordered set free. Since his double agent role was not publicly revealed, the public uproar over his acquittal was so great, that New York State re-arrested him and convicted him in a state court. At that point, the army seized the prisoner and moved him to New Jersey, repeatedly leaving him unguarded during the trip. Finally, he walked out an unlocked door in his New Jersey jail, one week after a mysterious local woman visited him to say she would hide him, if he could escape. In his memoirs, Hett reports that he was surprised that no search was mounted for him. He returned to Manhattan and was retained on the British payroll until war’s end, when he was brought back to England with the army.

 

From time to time over the past two centuries, a ghost has been seen in the Wright family house, across the street from the Townsend’s – always in the room, into which the tunnel emerged. In the mid-twentieth century, fearing that children might wander into the now-decaying tunnel, the Wrights bricked up the tunnel door – the one which Robert had waited for Elizabeth to open. When this action had sealed the door forever, the ghost was never seen again.

 

 

(Uploaded December 2017)