|Goodbye to a Hero
Author: minagah PM
Stasi and friends attend the funeral of Geroge Washington.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Adventure/Drama - Words: 7,476 - Published: 01-17-09 - Status: Complete - id: 4797795
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: The Yankee Doodle Society, Captain Yankee Doodle, and all recognizable fictional characters from the TV series "The Young Rebels" do not belong to me. The characters are borrowed for the purpose of entertaining fans of the show with no intention of copyrighting, publishing, or monetary gain. However, the story itself belongs to me and should not be copied, printed or posted elsewhere without the author's permission. This story is fiction. Any apparent relationship to real people (other than historical figures) is unintended and purely coincidental.
Goodbye to a HeroPrologue
December 16th, 1799 – Near Chester, Pennsylvania
Stasi Du Bois stood at the door of her palatial
(named after her home in France), and watched the rider as he
neared the long approach to the house. The poplars had been brilliant
with colour this fall but they lined the road like sentinels, now
bare of any leaves at all, silhouetted in the weak afternoon
Glancing over the rolling meadows she felt a sense of pride in the beautiful Arabian horses she and her husband bred and sold for a living.
A friend of twenty years standing was paying a visit! A friend she had not seen for almost three months!
Their respective activities only allowed limited
visiting but they usually met on a monthly basis. This quarter he and
his family had been away often on business, as had Stasi and Michel,
and their get-togethers had been restricted to one brief meeting in
Chester only a few days after their last gathering..
Stasi, in her late thirties, dark hair untouched by grey, complexion still unlined, reminisced about their first meeting when she was almost eighteen and had run away from an arranged marriage to join her cousin in America where he was fighting for the rebels against the British troops of King George.
While sympathetic, Lafayette had stated that he would send her back to France as soon as possible. Meanwhile, she had proved a proficient spy for the rebels.
Although her first stay had been a short fortnight she had inflicted enough damage on the British for her cousin to benefit.
She had met the man riding toward her five days into her visit. She had been dressed as a lad and greeted him by name after a few days of observing him and his friends. He had been taken in by her disguise and believed Lafayette had informed her of his identity until disabused of this by the General himself.
Their long friendship had begun at that moment.
The rider pulled his mount up a few feet from her and dismounted to hug her.
He was now forty, his blond hair slight greying at the
temples which gave him a distinguished look. His countenance
reflected the trials of his occupation.
`Jeremy,' her soft voice still held a trace of her native French accent, 'We seldom see you!' she admonished, `Welcome! What brings you here today?'
Jeremy Larkin looked concerned as he answered, 'I have just now ridden from Baltimore! I have some disturbing news for you, Stasi.'
`From the look on your face, it is not good news, either. Come inside for refreshments and you can tell me.'
`Is Michel about?'
`He is with the brood mares. Shall I send for him?'
Jeremy nodded and Stasi motioned to a servant to do her bidding.
husband, joined them scant minutes later and took the offered drink
from his wife.
`Jeremy, it is good to see you again. What has happened?' he queried as he shook hands.
Jeremy looked from one to the other and bowed his head.
`I received news late last night when I was in Blatimore. George Washington has died at Mount Vernon,' he informed them softly.
Stasi stared at her friend in disbelief, then buried her head in her hands.
'Non! C'est na possible!' she cried, unaware that she had reverted to her native French.
Michel put his cup down and asked, 'When did this happen?'
'Washington passed on the fourteenth. One of his men rode through the night to Annapolis and Baltimore. I came home as soon as I heard.'
Stasi spoke softly, 'Merci, Jeremy, I appreciate that. We arrived home two days hence from Mount Vernon! Nellie has delivered her first child. George was not ill then!'
'I don't know the details as yet. I am sorry to be the bearer of such sad news. I will be leaving for Mount Vernon before dawn. Will you be riding with me?'
Stasi glanced at her husband, who nodded.
'Stasi will accompany you, mon ami. I must attend to the foaling mares.'
'Of course, Henry and Isak will ride with us, Stasi. Come to the house and we will depart from there.'
'Will Elizabeth not travel with us?'
'Nay, she will not leave our youngest. I must take my leave now. I still have to inform the Town Council of my decision to attend Washington's funeral.'
'Being Mayor of Chester has its privileges, does it not, Jeremy?' Michel chuckled.
'Aye, but it is also hard work to keep the Town Council in line!'
Stasi and Michel accompanied Jeremy out to his horse where he mounted and took his leave. The afternoon was waning as he rode away.
As they ambled back into the house Stasi turned to her husband, her expression aghast.
'I must write to Gilbert! He will be devastated!'
'I will return to the stables, cherie. Farrah is about to foal. Est-ce que ça va ?'
Stasi nodded. 'D'accord!' she replied softly, her eyes sparkling with unshed tears, 'Go to your horses!'
She turned to enter the room that was used as the office as he strode away in the direction of the stables.
Writing to her brother this time was one of the hardest things Stasi had ever had to do. She sat staring at the ceiling for nearly an hour, not even noticing when her maid lit the candles as dusk fell. She thought of her children and how they would miss their 'Uncle George' as much as she would. The three, Jeremy, Henriette and Paul, were away at school and would not be home for almost a month. For this small mercy she breathed a silent prayer.
It was still some time before she could pick up the quill and began to put words to paper.
'Mon cher Gilbert,
I do not know how to word this letter to you to lessen the blow I am about to deliver.
It is with great sadness I write to you of the passing of your friend and mentor, George Washington, on December 14th of this year of 1799.
Please, ma frere, do not grieve too much as our friend George would not wish it.
I leave for Mount Vernon with the dawn to accompany Jeremy, Henry and Isak. Jeremy is informing the Town Council of his intention and is hoping nothing untoward happens while we are away as he has not had time after his last journey to attend to council business.
Gilbert, I wish I could have informed you of this tragedy in person, mais c'est na possible.
I know your heart will be broken by this triste nouvelles, but think of all the time you had with him.
I must prepare for my journey.
I will write again when I return home,
Tell Adrienne and les enfants je t'aimes.
Ton soeur aimante,
With tears in her eyes Stasi sealed the letter and called for a servant to despatch it to her brother on the first ship leaving for France, knowing it would be three or four weeks before he received the news.Chapter 1
In the early hours Stasi kissed Michel and walked to her horse, a beautifully proportioned white Arab mare. In the darkness an hour before dawn she planned to ride to Chester, a distance of five miles, to meet Jeremy at home. Michel, used to seeing her ride astride in breeches, laughed as she threw her cloak around herself then mounted.
'Jeremy will think you are prepared to do battle again, ma cher.'
'In a way, maybe I am, Michel. I must battle with my emotions.'
He nodded soberly then let her ride away. She kicked the horse into a gallop.
While riding the short distance she reflected on her association with Jeremy. Spying for the Continental Army, riding into battle at Gloucester during her first visit; and Monmouth and her kidnapping by Benedict Arnold during her second journey, being just a few times he had seen her courage. But he, like Michel and Gilbert, had seen her weaknesses, too! Many a time she had cried on Jeremy's shoulder after a stressful mission, or the unnecessary loss of a young soldier. But, as friends do, Jeremy had taken her as she was and the friendship had remained strong even after they both married and settled into domestic life after the Revolutionary War. This year marked twenty-two years since they first met.
Stasi rode into Chester just before dawn broke. She dismounted behind the Mayor's house and knocked softly on the door. Jeremy opened the door almost immediately and bade her enter. She was surprised to see Elizabeth about this early and remarked on this.
Elizabeth grinned, 'Stasi, you know I wouldn't allow my husband to leave without bidding him farewell.'
Stasi chuckled as Jeremy joined them, 'Michel rose with me, also. He would not let me ride out until he thought it was safe to do so.'
Jeremy stood beside Elizabeth and looked down at her, 'We should be back within the week. I will send word if there is a change of plans. If any of the town council queries my absence, just tell them where I am.'
'And where are you supposed to be?' Elizabeth's eyebrows rose expressively.
'I will be attending the family funeral for George Washington!'
'Yes, Mayor Larkin, I will do as you bid,' she replied meekly, eliciting a laugh from both her husband and Stasi.
Elizabeth hugged each of them in turn and wished them, 'God speed.' Jeremy kissed her swiftly and led Stasi out to the horses where Isak and Henry were now waiting to depart.
Once the journey was underway Jeremy outlined the schedule.
'If we can push the horses today we will make Baltimore tonight. 'Twill mean travelling with only brief rests for ten to twelve hours. Are you all agreed to that?'
Stasi turned to him, 'We have a full day's and night's ride. As long as we reach Mount Vernon tomorrow morning.'
'I hope to reach there late tonight, Stasi.'
Stasi groaned, 'It will be exhausting! We are not young anymore.'
'And you still enjoy a challenge!!' came the swift retort.
'What's the hurry?' Henry asked.
'George Washington discussed his last will and testament with Lafayette and me. He has stated that he wishes to be buried in the family tomb at Mount Vernon after three days of lying in state. That will be Wednesday - tomorrow.'
'Why did he tell you that, Jeremy?' was the query from Isak.
'Like all of us, he was never sure he would return from the next battle. He wanted his final wish to be adhered to and he knew, although grieving, Lafayette would ensure that happened. Washington's last will and testament specifically states: "It is my express desire that my corpse may be interred in a private manner, without parade, or funeral oration."'1
'Will that happen?' Isak was sceptical.
'I regret to say Washington's friends and family cannot overcome the wish to commemorate him as a national figure,' Jeremy explained, 'His Masonic lodge has been permitted to prepare arrangements for a funeral procession. Mourners have been instructed to arrive on Wednesday, at Mount Vernon, at twelve o'clock, if fair, or on Thursday at the same hour.'2
'So that is why you wish to arrive before Wednesday? Why did you not tell us before?' Stasi accused.
'I received word only last night, Stasi. I did not have time to inform anyone.'
'I may forgive you,' she said wryly, 'Should we not be travelling faster?'
'Let's ride!' Jeremy grinned, suiting actions to his words, spurring his horse into a gallop.
Two hours to Head of Elk and they rested for a few minutes to water the horses and decide the best route to save them time.
Isak was deep in thought as the rest of the group discussed the various routes.
'Would it be possible to board a barge from Lower Ferry?'
'Isak, you are a genius!' Jeremy exclaimed, ' maybe eight hours instead of sixteen! We could make Annapolis tonight!'
'The ferry runs on the hour. We may catch the next one,' Henry glanced at his timepiece, 'But we must leave now!'
'We need to eat first, Henry,' Stasi said logically, 'We will have a meal at Rodger's Tavern, then catch the next ferry. An hour is neither here nor there.'
With the decision made the group mounted and rode fast toward Lower Ferry on the Susquehanna River.
Elizabeth Rodgers, widow of Colonel John Rodgers, greeted Jeremy when they entered the tavern at Lower Ferry less than an hour later.
'I presume you are going to Mount Vernon, Jeremy?'
They huddled around the warmth of the open fire roaring in the grate.
'That we are, Mistress Rodgers. You know Henry and Isak. This is Stasi Du Bois, sister to your favourite General,' Jeremy was sombre in reply, thinking of the suffering at their destination.
'Jeremy,' Elizabeth admonished, 'You usually call me Elizabeth!'
He held up his hands in mock horror and turned to Stasi, 'Elizabeth, like many other women, met your brother during the war. They became great friends.'
'I have heard Gilbert mention Rodger's Tavern, Jeremy. Did he come here often?'
'General Washington and Lafayette had many meals here,' Elizabeth explained, 'I think the company more than anything else was the attraction. John, my late husband, raised and commanded a company of militia for the defence of Maryland and often tactics were discussed over a drink or two.'
'Lafayette, Rochambeau and Washington used to meet here as often as when Washington was home in Mount Vernon,' Jeremy supplied.
'Come and have an ale and relax while I prepare your meal,' Elizabeth invited.
They followed her to a parlour and seated themselves as she poured each of them a tankard.
As the innkeeper left the room, Stasi spoke, 'Hopefully the bay will be free of ice today, Jeremy.'
''Twill be slow going if any ice remains from last week. Even so, we should reach Annapolis tonight. The weather has been good to us thus far.'
'I will go and hire a boat. I should be back here by the time Elizabeth brings our meals out.'
With that Stasi drained her tankard, pulled her cloak around her and disappeared out the door before Jeremy could protest.
She strolled the two hundred yards to the dock, keeping a close eye about her. She had decided that, instead of waiting for a scheduled ferry, she would use her money to hire a ferry for their journey.
A dark boatman was seated cross-legged beside a small steam powered boat and looked up as she approached.
'You want boat, Mistress?'
'How much to take my friends and horses to Annapolis?' Stasi cut straight to the point.
He named a figure and she frowned.
'Why! I could buy the barge for that!' she said indignantly, 'Take some off that price and I may deal with you!'
'Mistress, I cannot.'
Stasi turned as if to walk away. The dark man grimaced.
'Mistress, I will charge you only ..' and he stated a price considerably cheaper than the first.
'I will be here in a half hour with my friends. You will receive your money then. Be certain to have her fired up and ready to sail.'
Stasi turned away and determinedly strode toward the tavern, watched warily by the boatman. Her meal was being served as she entered the parlour and threw her cloak off.
She rejoined the others informed them of her bargain. They laughed at her and tale of the boatman's price.
'I do not know whether to trust this boatman, Jeremy. Maybe one of us should keep watch while the others rest,' Stasi whispered her concerns to Jeremy.
He nodded, 'I'll take the first watch. You take the next,' and promptly disappeared from the cabin.
Stasi was sleeping soundly when Jeremy shook her awake some hours later.
She was immediately alert.
'We may be running into a storm, Stasi. I'm going to wake the others and warn them. I've told the boatman to keep close to shore.'
Stasi nodded as she stretched cramped muscles, 'How far are we into the Bay?'
'We are south of Baltimore. If the storm hits, we will go ashore and ride from there.'
The sky turned a nasty grey and thunder drowned out any decent conversation.
The wind howled around the boat, buffeting as though it were a sailboat in a bathtub. Stasi had to grab for something as she tried to stand but missed and was thrown backward into a seat. Gingerly she raised herself, rubbing her elbow.
'I'll go watch the horses while you get some sleep, Jeremy. It doesn't seem the boatman is keeping to shore.'
Jeremy glanced out the porthole and cursed. He made to go deck wards but Stasi put a hand on his shoulder to detain him.
'Leave this to me!' she said.
She had a determined look on her face as she walked out into the wind and Jeremy pitied the man who crossed her.
She was almost blown off her feet when the force of the wind hit her as she emerged from the shelter of the cabin.
Regaining her balance, she cautiously drew her gun as she approached the horses, fighting the wind to stay upright. She spied the boatman releasing the hobbles from the animals.
'I would not do that, if I were you!' she shouted over the whine of the wind.
The boatman looked up in surprise, eying the drawn pistol.
'Mistress, horses swim to shore.'
'Non, they will not. Take this boat closer to shore as Jeremy requested or I will take the helm myself!'
'But, Mistress, I…I…'
Stasi waved her weapon menacingly at him as she ordered, 'Move! Now!'
He had no other option but to do as requested.
'Frog trollop!' he muttered.
Luckily for him Stasi didn't hear that remark! She replaced her gun in her waistband and followed him to the helm as rain started lashing down, obscuring vision.
The rain eased and Stasi was never more glad when shoreline came into view a half hour later. The little boat was finding it hard going, tossing in the waves which were now starting to break over the deck.
Henry and Isak were now awake and had commenced trimming the sails to bring the boat leeward while Jeremy checked the small steam engine. In doing this they succeeded to sail as close to shore as was safe.
The horses were getting restless and Stasi attempted to calm them. When her mare lashed out in fear Stasi spoke soothingly to her, but lost her footing when the animal shifted.
She slid sideways with a scream. Unable to find a handhold she was thrown towards the port side and only just managed to snatch at the railing before she went completely overboard.
Jeremy, hearing the scream even above the wind, turned to watch in horror as Stasi disappeared off the deck. He was galvanized into action! Careful not to slip on the soaking deck he threw himself full length across it and grabbed Stasi's hand on the rail.
'Hold on, Stasi!' he bellowed to be heard, as he edged his way closer to the rail.
He wedged himself against the rail for some purchase then slowly started to pull her to safety.
Isak, seeing the peril, hurriedly approached to give a hand, and between the two of them Stasi was soon safely back aboard, albeit soaked through. She was shaking with shock so Jeremy carried her below and wrapped her dry cloak around her for some warmth.
'Do not fuss, Jeremy. I am fine, slightly wet, but fine!' Stasi smiled at him as she gave another shiver.
'Slightly wet? Stasi, you are soaked! We all need to change into dry clothing as soon as possible,' Jeremy stated, 'None of us needs a chill right now!'
'Land at the next settlement. We are sure to find a tavern.'
'I'll instruct the boatman. Hopefully, it won't be too long before we land.'
With that comment, Jeremy left the cabin, heading for the deck.
Some buildings, indicating a settlement, hove into view through the mist on the shore and Jeremy, now on deck, indicated that they should land there. The boatman was hesitant, but one look at Stasi, also on deck, told him not to argue.
They managed to tie up at the small wharf without further mishap and the group were soon on dry land. They decided to find shelter as more large raindrops began to fall.
They found a tavern and Jeremy spoke of their journey to the landlord. A room was made available for them to change into dry clothes so they could continue to Mount Vernon.
When they returned downstairs he greeted them with an ale each.
As they drank he spoke, ''Tis only ten miles to Annapolis from here. Mount Vernon is forty miles across country. You should make Washington's home with half a day with hard riding.'
'Since 'tis only one we will ride all afternoon to get there if need be,' Jeremy stated as he finished his drink, 'We're used to hard riding.'
'But not as young as we used to be!' Henry was heard to mutter.
'God Speed!' the landlord wished them as they rode out.
After resting the horses briefly at Upper Marlboro they reached the Potomac without incident, crossing by way of a small bridge only a few miles north of Alexandria as the sky started to darken to twilight.
'Jeremy, we cannot disturb Martha en pleine nuit!' Stasi exclaimed as they rode toward Alexandria, 'Can we not have a short sleep?'
'Pleine nuit?' Jeremy was puzzled.
'Have you not known me long enough to know I still revert to a French phrase occasionally?'
Jeremy grinned and nodded.
'What does it mean?'
'How do you say it? In the dead of night?'
'I agree!' Henry concurred, 'We will be of no use if we are tired.'
Isak nodded agreement, 'Jeremy, we have only a short distance to travel. We deserve a rest.'
Jeremy, outnumbered, chuckled, 'Since you all wish it, why not? A few hours will not make much difference and travelling in daylight will be pleasant. We will stop in Alexandria.'
On reaching Alexandria less than an hour later they sought a place to sleep, finally settling for a seemingly abandoned barn on the southern outskirts of the town, after finding all the inns full. After bedding down the horses they took themselves to a sheltered corner and slept.
Jeremy woke them as dawn was breaking, shaking each gently to rouse them.
They ate a meal of bread and cheese then saddled the horses and preparing to depart for Mount Vernon, a distance of only seven miles.
The first sign that all was not well was when Stasi's mare threw a shoe. She dismounted, the others unaware of this, and lifted the horse's back off leg to inspect the damage.
'Merdi!' she exclaimed.
The shoe was there but hanging by only a couple of nails.
'Jeremy,' she called to the riders ahead of her, 'Go on and I'll see if I can fix this shoe! I don't want her going lame.'
The three turned in their saddles and Isak laughed as he rode back to join her.
'What do you think I do for a living?' he chuckled, 'Let me have a look.'
'Isak, you know I am well able to take care of this.'
'But you are not going to! I am!'
Stasi glanced at Jeremy who watched this exchange with interest to see who would be the victor.
He just grinned and said wryly, ' No matter what you say, Stasi, there is not a hope of Isak allowing you to reshoe that horse!'
She gave her shoulders a Gaulic shrug and ceded to the Negro's wishes.
'You and Henry ride on. We will meet you at Mount Vernon soon.'
Jeremy was reluctant to do such a thing, but knew Stasi and Isak could take care of themselves if anything out of the ordinary arose. He nodded to Henry and they rode off, looking back to check on their friends until they were out of sight.
Isak pulled his tools from a saddlebag and set to work repairing the shoe.
He and Stasi were so engrossed in their task they didn't hear the stealthy approach of a horseman. They looked up in surprise when the rider addressed them.
'Well, well,well! What have we here?'
Something warned Stasi to be cautious as she answered, 'My horse has thrown a shoe, sir, and this kind man offered to fix it for me.'
''Tis a woman!' the man exclaimed, 'Why are you dressed as a man?'
'That is my preference!'
The man's voice sounded familiar, but Stasi could not place it. She glanced at Isak who nodded and finished the job at hand. He stood and addressed Stasi.
'You should have no trouble with that shoe now, Mistress. Would you like me to escort you to your destination?'
'Why, thank you, kind sir, I would appreciate the company,' Stasi spoke in her best British accent, her eyes twinkling at Isak as they went to mount.
'Stay off those horses!' they were ordered.
The rider had dismounted and was now brandishing a gun.
'Hand over your valuables!'
Stasi realised he didn't know she was armed. Isak nudged her and dived to the left as she dived to the right. As she rolled she pulled her gun from her waistband and came up firing. The would be thief 's eyes widened as he dropped his weapon when the ball hit his hand. He howled in agony and grabbed his injured limb.
'You said she'd be easy to take!' he bellowed towards the trees.
'Isak! Go! Get Jeremy!' Stasi gave him a shove as she expertly reloaded.
Isak hesitated, looking at her.
She repeated the order so he grabbed the horses and ran for the trees.
Two other men appeared from the cover of the forest just as Isak reached the cover of the trees, one carrying a rifle, the other a handgun, both trained on her.
'At last! I have trailed you from Chester!' came a very thick familiar French accent, 'Drop it, ma cher!'
Stasi looked and stared at the man now facing her.
'Mon Dieu!' she exclaimed, 'Jean!'
Stasi was so surprised she did the unthinkable and dropped her gun!
She had not seen their cousin since Gilbert had exiled him in France. He must have somehow escaped the country and sailed to the Americas.
'Tant pis! What are you doing in America?' Stasi swore as she glared at him.
'Taking you prisoner, dear cousin. I intend to make Gilbert pay this time!'
'Then what do you plan to do?'
'You are coming back to France with me.'
'I think there would be some objections to that, Jean.'
'There certainly would be!' came Isak's voice from the trees as Jean grabbed Stasi's arm and forced her, still struggling onto his waiting horse.
'Isak! Go!!!!!' Stasi screamed.
The three rogues looked around. Isak was so well hidden Stasi's captors could not sight him. Seconds later Stasi heard the sound of two sets of hoofbeats fading into the distance.
Jean seized her by the arm then threw her over his horse before mounting to hold her captive despite her struggles.
As her captors turned to ride towards the Potomac, Stasi surreptitiously dropped her gloves in the hope that Jeremy would find them and know which way they were headed. What little snow lay on the ground would afford a fairly clear trail for her friends to follow.
When Jeremy and Henry arrived at Mount Vernon, the familiar faces of some of the servants greeted them. Their horses soon well attended and they strolled toward the house. The house seemed to bear a sombre mood, not the welcoming it usually shed, as if it knew its master was gone. Its mood matched the weather.
Jeremy lifted the knocker and let it fall. The sound echoed around the plantation.
Martha's maid answered the summons and invited them into the parlour. After some refreshment they decided to fill in time while waiting for Stasi and Isak to arrive. They were strolling around the Home Farm when Jeremy realised that some time had passed and their two companions had not yet arrived. He said as much to Henry and they decided to ride out to meet Stasi and Isak.
Jeremy and Henry were riding at speed toward Alexandria when Isak met them. He was leading Stasi's horse, her cloak thrown over the saddle, and Jeremy immediately sensed something drastic had happened. Isak described the events of the last hour and Henry gasped.
'But he was exiled to France! Lafayette assured us Jean would never step foot on American soil again!'
'Apparently something has happened in France. The revolution is still raging. 'Twould not surprise me if Jean has bribed some official. I wonder if Lafayette knows about it,' Jeremy mused.
'He said he was taking Stasi back to France.'
'Not if we can help it! I want her to be back at Mount Vernon today! Let's ride!'
They set off at a gallop to find the trail.
Stasi struggled against her captor, but to no avail. She realised he knew her strengths and her weaknesses and he was using these against her as they travelled. At a full gallop the ride was not so uncomfortable and she relaxed, hoping to catch Jean unaware. If only she could!
'Think, Stasi, think!' she chided herself, 'What is Jean's weakness?'
She knew this man! She knew his strengths and weaknesses as he did hers!
The banks of the Potomac loomed ahead. She knew she had to do something before they attempted to cross. Although the river was frozen, she knew the ice was not solid and a crossing was risky, but one glance at her cousin told her he was going to attempt it anyway. The consequences could be tragic. Under the coating of ice she could distinguish the river flowing in places. These were the areas they had to avoid. Jean signalled a halt.
'We will dismount and lead the horses across,' he ordered, 'One at a time!'
Stasi was pulled to the ground as Jean instructed the first rider to start. He gingerly stepped onto the ice, eying the river below. He slowly, inexorably, made it to the other side. The second man started on the same path, hesitating about halfway. He took a step sideways and suddenly disappeared from view with a surprised yell. The horse bolted for the far shore, leaving a wake of broken ice.
Jean dismounted and pulled her to the ground.
'Stay here!' with that he left her to help his friend. Apparently he was more important to him than she was.
This was the opportunity Stasi needed. She stood then bolted for the trees behind her and shinnied up a tall one to hide among the branches, as Jeremy had taught her in her younger days, thanking the good Lord for evergreen trees and wondering if she would be able to descend from her perch when the time came to do so. Her hands and feet were so cold she could not feel them.
From her perch she saw Jean pull his colleague from the water and back to shore and giggled at the sight they made – wet and miserable.
She shivered, her cloak having been thrown across her saddle while attending to her horse. Now the cold was beginning to seep into her bones and she hoped she could avoid a chill. She glanced around – surely Jeremy and company would be searching for her by now! Was it minutes or hours? She had lost track of time.
Tracking Stasi's captors was a simple task for Jeremy. They hadn't bothered to conceal their path and their tracks showed clearly in the damp earth and sparse snow. Stasi's gloves had pinpointed the direction and the trail they left did the rest. Jeremy glanced at his timepiece – it had only been thirty minutes since Stasi had been abducted. And they stood a good chance of finding her in the next few minutes if the trail stayed as clear as it had appeared thus far. They continued to follow the tracks.
When he heard a commotion ahead a short time later he signalled a stop.
'I wonder what Stasi has done to them!' he chuckled, 'Isak, give me Stasi's horse and you take the right, Henry, the left. I'll go straight at them. Be careful, they are armed.'
Leading the white mare he cautiously edged forward. From the cover of the trees he could see Jean leaning over what appeared to be a body. The Frenchman was cursing Stasi, but she was nowhere in sight.
Stasi was shivering violently by this time and she sited Jeremy not far from her perch.
'Jeremy,' she called softly, 'Jeremy, over here!'
Jeremy glanced around seeing nothing and wondered if he imagined the voice.
He looked up only to meet Stasi's gaze.
'How did you climb that high?' he queried.
'Very fast!' came the rejoinder, 'Help me down. I am freezing!' She gave credence to this statement with a violent shiver.
'Can you jump?'
'I cannot move! I am too cold.'
'You are going to have to move, Stasi. Come on, I can't stay here all day exchanging pleasantries.'
Gingerly Stasi moved a leg. Then an arm. Slowly, inexorably, she inched her way along the branch she had occupied. It seemed hours, but it was only minutes, and then Jeremy was lifting her to the ground. Every muscle in her body ached. In fact they screamed!
'Get your cape on,' Jeremy ordered, 'it will warm you slightly.'
He wrapped the garment around her, and gave her a hug, then chuckled as he handed her the gloves she had dropped on the trail..
'Never a dull moment with you, is there, Stasi?'
Before she could retort he added, 'You can tell me what happened later. We need to get you to Mount Vernon to warm up. Can you sit a horse?'
'I will do my best,' she promised, her teeth chattering.
He lifted her onto her mount and she tried to reach the reins, but they were just out of reach and she was too stiff to lean forward without losing her balance. Jeremy handed them to her and mounted his own horse.
'We'll let Isak and Henry deal with Jean and friends while we go ahead.'
After informing Isak and Henry of their intentions, Jeremy and Stasi set forward to Mount Vernon, taking only a half hour to cover the distance despite Stasi's inability to ride properly.
Servants rushed to greet them and help her from her horse and she was immediately taken into the main house and prepared for a warm bath and dry clothing before Martha was informed of her arrival.
Feeling refreshed after her ablutions, Stasi first climbed the stairs to the second floor of the house. Nellie, Martha's granddaughter, was still confined to bed after delivering her baby boy a few days before her step grandfather's death. Stasi and Nellie had become friends during Stasi's many visits to the Washington home. The older woman now admired the baby and comforted Nellie for a few minutes before conveying her condolences to Martha.
Martha told Stasi how, at about ten o'clock on the night of December 14th, Dr. Lear saw that George wished to speak, and he drew near him.
"I am just going!" the General said, "Have me decently buried; and do not let my body be put into the vault in less than three days after I am dead."
Lear nodded, unable to speak, and Washington with resolve asked him, "Do you understand me?"
Lear responded, "Yes, sir."
And George Washington spoke his final words, "Tis well."
He withdrew his hand from Lear's to check his own pulse, and then his hand slipped from his wrist.
Martha, who was keeping vigil at the foot of the bed asked, "Is he gone?"
Lear simply gestured, and she replied, "Tis well. All is now over. I have no more trials to pass through. I shall soon follow him!"3
It was almost an hour before Jeremy sighted Stasi again as preparations continued for the great man's funeral.
Washington's casketed body had been moved outside under the grand piazza of Mount Vernon, overlooking the Potomac River. The casket was opened and everyone filed past to gaze on his face one last time.
She joined her friends to view their friend's shrouded corpse where it lay in the grand piazza.
The Masonic fraternity of Alexandria, having started for Mount Vernon on foot about the same time Jeremy and his friends left the town, arrived about one o'clock.
Two hours later the formal procession was formed, consisting of horse and foot soldiers, clergy, the General's steed bearing an empty saddle covered in black ribbon, a military band, the bier, and dozens of mourners.
Too grief-stricken to join the funeral cortege, Martha Washington sat in silence beside a second-floor window of her beloved Mount Vernon and watched the funeral of her husband on the lawn below.
The procession moved out through the gate to the left of Mount Vernon and made a large semicircle sweep to the right, proceeding in front of the lawn and mansion to the receiving vault, located down the slope of the hill toward the river. All through the procession minute guns were booming from Robert Hamilton's schooner, anchored on the Potomac behind the vault.
By the time the procession reached the vault, the sun was setting. The cavalry halted and took their place a short distance from the vault. The infantry moved forward and formed two rows. The bier was carefully positioned near the entrance to the vault and the Masonic brethren and mourners arranged themselves at the front of the casket for the funeral service. Jeremy, Isak and Henry were watchful of Stasi as she cried softly during the service. Jeremy kept a comforting arm around her shoulders, feeling her body shake with grief.
Rev. Thomas Davis read the entire funeral service from the Order of Burial, taken from the Episcopal Prayer Book, and offered a short eulogy extolling the values and character of Washington.
With the religious service completed, the Masons claimed their ancient right to have the last word over the body of a departed Brother and began their solemn ceremony.
Dr. Elisha Cullen Dick moved to the head of the casket and the Rev. Dr. James Muir stood at the foot. The two men recited the Masonic funeral ritual from memory and when completed, Dr. Dick deposited Washington's Apron and Sprig of Acacia in the casket. The lead lid of the inner casket was put in place, but not soldered.4 Relatives still had not arrived, and it was felt that some might want to see Washington's body to establish the reality of his death, so the soldering would be done later. The mahogany lid was positioned and the strong wooden box was closed and covered with the black pall.
Washington's remains were then placed in the vault and the new door, ordered by Martha to be made, was closed. Simultaneously, the infantry and artillery standing behind the vault fired three volleys - the ancient military ritual symbolizing that the battle of life is over.
Washington's funeral was over. The ceremonial companies of military and Masons returned to Mount Vernon to take refreshments of cake and drink, along with the mourners, and in a short time most everyone had left for their homes.
The group joined the household for a private meal and hour later before Martha retired early then they repaired to the servant's quarters to relax with an ale or two.
When all was quiet at Mount Vernon Stasi cornered Henry and Isak.
'What happened to Jean?' she queried softly.
Isak grinned, his white teeth highlighting his dark countenance, 'Do you really want to know?'
'You should know better even to ask that question, Isak,' Jeremy chuckled, 'Tell her and put her out of her misery.'
Isak glanced at Stasi as he spoke.
'We overpowered him and one of his companions. That was easy as they had just come out of the river, almost frozen and hardly able to move very fast. We tied them and threw them over their remaining horse and took them to Alexandria to the High Sheriff. He has the two of them in a cell right now and will take charge them with kidnapping.'
'Then what happens?'
'They will most likely be sent back to France in chains and jailed there.'
Stasi breathed a sigh of relief, 'I hope Gilbert does not get to them first!'
'They better pray he doesn't hear about this too soon!' Henry spoke from behind Jeremy, 'He would not take too kindly to this escapade.'
'Having to deal with Washington's death and Jean would not be the ideal situation for him,' Stasi was trying to picture her brother's response if news filtered through to him. She would have loved to have been in France to witness Gilbert's reaction if that happened.
'If we are to travel in the morning, we must get some rest tonight,' Jeremy cut into her thoughts, 'We will leave at dawn.'
With nods of agreement they parted and went to their respective rooms.
With a pale dawn breaking the group rode out of Mount Vernon, each thinking their own thoughts.
On reaching Alexandria they paused for a few minutes to water the horses, visited the High Sheriff to discuss Jean de La Tremoille's fate, then continued on their journey.
Deciding to stay on dry land they made Baltimore that night and stayed at the tavern.
Three days later they rode into Chester, having made the journey without mishap.
Jeremy immediately arranged a town council meeting for the morrow while Isak and Henry thought they had better attend to their businesses.
Stasi remained long enough at the Larkin residence to share a high tea with Elizabeth before taking her leave to arrive back at Chavaniac to be greeted enthusiastically by Michel with the news that four mares had foaled in the time she had been away.
America was now mourning one of the greatest men to have graced her hallowed soil and Philadelphia, as with many other cities across the nation, held a mock funeral on Monday December 26th, 1799.
Some of the most well known words describing George Washington came in a eulogy delivered by "Light-Horse Harry" Lee, who was serving as a Virginia Congressman, had been an officer with the Revolutionary
forces and a close associate of Washington for many years.
After hearing of Washington's death, the United States Congress which was meeting in Philadelphia, chose Mr. Lee to deliver a tribute for the whole country
"First in war, first in peace and
first in the hearts of his countrymen,
he was second to none in
the humble and endearing
scenes of private life. Pious, just,
humane, temperate and sincere—
uniform, dignified and
commanding—his example was
as edifying to all around him as
were the effects of that example
lasting. . . . Correct throughout,
vice shuddered in his presence
and virtue always felt his
fostering hand. The purity of his
private character gave effulgence
to his public virtues. . . .
Such was the man for whom
our nation mourns."5THE END
1,2,3,4 – The papers of George Washington
5 - The Funeral of George Washington by Jerry Hawn, Park Ranger