|A Dangerous Dalliance
Author: griffonnage PM
Jeremy, Henry, Isak and Elizabeth infiltrate the Valley Forge camp to determine who is plotting an assassination of General Washington. Their efforts are hampered by an unexpected guest at headquarters.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama - Chapters: 12 - Words: 64,994 - Reviews: 2 - Favs: 3 - Published: 03-25-09 - Status: Complete - id: 4947365
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
When Washington's carriage whisked off followed by the rumble of his mounted guard, Jeremy and his companions stood in the road puzzled. Headquarters was empty. The servants were dismissed for the day, but Elizabeth had not come out and had not boarded the carriage.
A cannon boom made everyone jump. It echoed over the hills.
"Artillery show for the politicians," Boggs said.
"And maybe a little for the British in Philadelphia as well?" Isak asked with a big grin.
"Aye, most likely," Boggs said returning the grin.
"Henry," Jeremy said, "you can make an excuse for being inside. Go in and see about Elizabeth."
Henry climbed the steps and entered the hall. He walked to the back where he found Elizabeth in General Washington's office sifting through papers at his desk. She didn't notice his entry. "Elizabeth?"
She jumped and turned a frightened white visage towards him. "Oh, Henry, my word."
"I am sorry. Jeremy sent me to find you. You and I are the only people here."
"Is General Lafayette outside?"
"Nay. Jeremy is waiting for his arrival. What are you doing?"
"Trying to find the matches for those copies of Julie's."
"Here, let me help you. What is needed is a little level-headed scientific thought to quickly locate the missing items."
Elizabeth scowled at Henry.
The young scientist hurried to Elizabeth's side and began to search the cubbyholes of the old secretary. The two were busy when a silent intruder entered the room at their backs.
"What's this? Someone should call the guards," a gravelly voice said.
Henry and Elizabeth turned to see the woodsman standing defiantly in the doorway of the room with a shiny new ax resting on his shoulder.
"What do you want?" Elizabeth asked. "We need no wood."
"What will General Washington think of ye messin' his papers? Are ye a spy too?" The man howled in laughter. "We're all spies. Funny to have so many spies at an army's headquarters and lady spies at that. Doesn't bode well for this army does it?"
"Of course we are not spies," Henry said. "We have every right to be here, and your purpose is?" Henry asked attempting to put the workman in his place and hopefully out the door.
The man's expression turned menacing. He raised his ax and lurched across the room as if to attack. Henry pulled the pistol from under his vest then clumsily dropped it to the floor with a thud. The attacker stopped. His eye went to the gun and then back up at Henry as if daring the young chemist to stoop and pick it up.
"See here," Henry said with a shaky voice. "I don't know your grievance, but surely you have no reason to murder this day."
"I've reason to kill. It's ordained by the bible."
"Was your son a deserter?" Elizabeth asked in a fearful voice.
"He was no deserter!" the angry man growled fixing eyes that were black pits of hate upon the startled girl. "He was wrongly tagged by the one who did the desertin'. He died for someone else's crime. 'Twas so ordered by the great and magnificent General Washington, commander of this army."
"Oh, God," Elizabeth said. She stepped to Henry's side and put her hand on his arm. "Henry, he is the one." Henry turned a white puzzled face to Elizabeth. A great ear-pounding crash of canon split the silence and shook the house to its foundations making everyone jump. As it echoed off the hills, Elizabeth whispered to Henry, "The assassin."
Henry's intelligent eyes registered understanding. He turned to the man who was standing just feet away with a threatening ax over his head. "Why don't we sit a while and talk about this? You want to share your story with us, don't you?" the scientist asked trembling down to his toes.
"I'm here for that French boy of Washington's. The good book says an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth…"
Henry glanced fearfully at Elizabeth. They both understood at once. The assassin wasn't after Washington, but his adopted son, Lafayette.
"He's not here," Elizabeth said calmly. "He left to meet Washington and Mrs. Keating on their trip to the countryside."
"You lie! I've seen him at the river on his horse. He is comin' here, now." The man's eyes spun wildly over the room. He lunged for the drapes on the wall and with one yank tore the ropes off that held them open. He threw them to Elizabeth, "Tie his hands behind his back."
Elizabeth hesitated as a distant shell exploded followed by loud repeated popping.
She did as he asked.
Turning Henry about, the woodsman cinched the knot of rope on his wrists then pushed him towards the cupboard beside the fireplace. "Get in!" The mad man slammed the door back and punched Henry inside.
Elizabeth, unguarded, started for the door. The attacker cut her off in two strides. He raised his ax to strike--she shut her eyes.
"Turn around," he barked.
She obeyed, teary eyed.
He tied her wrists tight then went to the window and ripped two strips from the drapes. He gagged Elizabeth and Henry then forced them down on their knees on the floor of the cupboard with their backs to the door. Henry felt a heavy cover thrown over them. It was the coverlet from the divan. There was the click of the door latch and lock--they were in complete darkness. The retreating stomps of the woodsman shook the floor.
Jeremy paced nervously as the artillery fire increased and echoed off the hills. He was the first to see the approach of the familiar tall dark-haired rider on his spirited gray. Lafayette spurred his horse's flanks and was quickly upon them. "What is wrong?"
"Concern for General Washington's safety brought us here but he has taken the entire headquarters staff off for a country jaunt," Sergeant Boggs said as he grabbed the reins of his commander's horse.
Lafayette dismounted but hesitated. He bent his head down and rested his forehead on the saddle. He had ridden too long again.
"Jeremy has something to show you," the sergeant said.
The captain handed the general the papers Elizabeth had taken from Julie's hidden stash. Lafayette unfolded each one and studied them. He fixed Jeremy with his dark eyes. "Am I to understand that these are the papers Mrs. Keating copied?"
"Aye, sir. Those are the copies. You said only hard-evidence was keeping you from--"
"I am aware of what I said, Captain."
"Sir," Boggs said, "headquarters is empty. Only Elizabeth and Henry are in the house. Perhaps you would like to confirm that those are copies of originals at General Washington's desk?"
The Frenchman narrowed his eyes and straightened his shoulders. He nodded and approached the house with a limp.
"Where are your guards, sir?" Boggs asked. "They need to be assigned to headquarters immediately."
Lafayette wheeled on his aide and growled, "I left them to guard the beef and flour that was dumped at the river. That is far more important than this." He flapped the papers at his subordinate then turned and proceeded in long painful strides to the door.
Jeremy bit his lower lip and glanced sideways at Boggs but the sergeant showed no emotion.
After the general went inside, Boggs blew out a long puff of air. "We don't know the whereabouts of the servants and there are no guards. Should I not be concerned?" he asked the sky facetiously. "Let's circle the house and be sure all is secure. Isak you stay here." Jeremy followed the sergeant towards the kitchen breezeway. They found the side door from the house secure and continued to the back amidst the din of repeated rounds of artillery fire.
Henry and Elizabeth waited kneeling in the tight cupboard in pitch dark and only the sound of the distant cannon in their ears. A jangle of spurs announced someone had entered the room--someone wearing boots and limping. There was a crackle of papers. Henry held his breath. A loud crash made the two captives jump. Henry tried to kick behind him at the door but it held fast.
"Come here boy and get your due! Ye shall die this day ye arrogant pup."
Henry winced at the crack of the ax hitting wood. He was relieved when he heard Lafayette's voice.
"What do you want? What have I done to you?"
"Washington murdered my son. Ye shall pay for his crime as the good book says. I have waited a long time, but he shall know my pain this day."
"Retribution is it?" Lafayette asked from nearby the cupboard. "An eye-for-an-eye, a son-for-a-son?"
The general's voice sounded calm, reassuring. He was moving about dodging the ax, but clearly trapped at the end of the room near the fireplace. Even with two stout healthy legs, he needed Sergeant Boggs and a few guards to bring down that fiend.
"If you say you are following the Christian bible, what about 'Thou shalt not kill?' asked the Frenchman. "Will your god not punish you for this? Will you not regret this?"
"I'll only regret not bein' here to see that well-born tyrant's face when he finds ye dead and learns his pretty adopted daughter is a loyalist spy."
"Why would he believe Mrs. Keating is a spy?" Lafayette asked.
The woodsman chuckled. "I made her one right here in this room after I made her cry and beg for her life. Here's the copied papers that I'll be givin' the British commander in Philadelphia. I'll get a hefty reward for these and a reward for killin' ye."
"Is that a confession? I'm no priest."
"My friend told me your spies have pinned it on her. That's all I need. Ye won't be here to tell anyone the truth."
The violent crash and crunch of the ax again sent Henry's blood pumping. He heard the general's spurs jangle as he jumped away from the assailant.
"Ah, then is it greed and not your faith that is driving you to murder?" Lafayette asked.
"I've no hope of ever bein' anythin' but a poor laborer. I've a right to be reimbursed for the loss of my son who could have provided for me in my old age."
"Your son was but a bastard child that you forced upon a woman. I hardly think he would have agreed with you."
"Ye shut-up about that! Ye dishonor him," the woodsman growled. "I loved him just the same. I cared for him from the time he was an infant when his mother threw him away and left him for dead behind a woodpile. He was my blood. I've a right to avenge his death."
"That is a sad story, indeed," Lafayette said. "Perhaps his affection for you caused him to desert the army and run home to have you care for him again?"
"He did not desert! That's a lie."
"How do you know it is a lie? General Wayne caught those deserters outside of camp and brought them back himself. Your son was among them. Who told you otherwise?"
There was a long pause filled only by the crack and crash of cannon.
"His capt'n told me the truth. He said my son had been wrongly ordered to die by Washington."
"Captain Slake?" Lafayette asked. "He said you attacked him."
"No. I never did no such thing. He came to me and told me the truth."
"You have been deceived and ill-used. Slake is serving the British."
"No! Ye're the liar! All Frenchies are tricksters. I won't listen to your lies."
The cannon boomed shaking the house and reverberating over the hills. Henry strained to hear the conversation in the room.
"She's besotted with you," the woodsman said. "I had to lie to her so she wouldn't squeal. She offered to make me a rich man, if I kept my mouth shut about what I knew, but I cain't be bought. I'll squawk like a parrot to everyone about ye and her."
More crashes from inside the room and breakage of glass followed.
"What did you do to her?" Lafayette asked faintly. He sounded upset.
"I know everythin'," the man cackled. "I was there under the bed set to slit your throat and then in she came. She saved your life last night and what did ye do? Ye repaid her by rejecting her a second time! I gave her what she wanted. It was a job for a man."
Henry was confused. When he didn't hear Lafayette's voice in reply his heart raced. What was wrong? He jumped as something smashed against the closet door and slid to the floor. A scuffle followed and then a colossal crash that sounded like a window.
"I have ye now, boy," the man growled. The poor young chemist lost all hope that Lafayette would survive. He feared he and Elizabeth were witnessing his death as violent dull thuds thundered in his ears. Elizabeth was sobbing beside him. Henry sobbed with her. He wanted desperately to take her in his arms and cover her ears.
Boggs and Jeremy approached the back of headquarters. The open cellar hatch drew their attention. Jeremy agonized about what he had done and the impact it would have on his friendship with General Lafayette. Surely, with this undeniable proof, his friend, Lafayette, would come to understand his actions. The cracking sharp blast of the artillery made him want to swear in anger. He watched as Boggs walked to the back door.
"Jeremy?" Boggs yelled over the echo of another shell.
The captain hurried to the sergeant's side. The latch and heavy chain were lying on the ground along with splintered wood. Someone had forced the door. A crash to the left startled them—a shower of glass rained down.
"Damn!" Boggs exclaimed. He slammed the broken door back and bounded into the house. Jeremy followed. The sergeant yelled, "Guards!" Isak appeared.
Violent mayhem and fiendish threats emanated from Washington's office, sending the chill of fear to Jeremy's gut. The door was locked. Boggs stood back and launched his leg--the fragile barrier flew open and off its hinges.
A hefty man with a gleaming ax poised to fall stood over a crumpled Lafayette. The sergeant leapt and grabbed the assailant's arms pulling them backward. The woodsman stumbled and twisted his body wrenching his hands free from Boggs' grip. A grim mask-like face leered at the sergeant.
Jeremy watched in horror as the ax came down on the sergeant's shoulder. Boggs grunted in pain and fell to one knee. He arose growling and plowed into the attacker's middle sending him down on the last remaining unbroken piece of furniture--the red divan. The delicate form splintered and the men sprawled to the floor.
As Jeremy and Isak rushed to help Boggs, the sergeant yelled, "Get help! You can't handle him."
Isak fell across the woodsman's sprawled legs.
Jeremy dashed to the front door and out into the yard. "Guards! Help!" Several men turned in alarm but it was Greene and Wayne that quickly understood the meaning. They were on horseback not 10 yards from the house talking with Colonel Tilghman. They turned and kicked their horses and leapt to the ground in front of Jeremy.
"Lafayette is being attacked--" Jeremy said, breathless.
Before he had uttered his last word, the two men rushed through the entry hall and into the office with Jeremy close behind. They found Boggs down and Isak dodging the attacker who was back on his feet and hurling the ax about like a mad biblical giant.
Wayne hurdled over the fallen sergeant and slammed into the ax-wielding monster bringing him down on his back on the debris littered floor with a thud that shook the house. The ax flew free and lodged in the wall.
Wayne and Isak sat on the bucking man until five guards arrived with Tilghman to subdue the woodsman and drag him screaming from the building.
Boggs rolled over and gasped in pain as he rose to his feet. He stumbled to the crumpled form of Lafayette under the shattered window. The broken glass crunched under his boots. "General?" he said in a faint breathless voice. He checked for a pulse.
Greene stepped to his side. "Dear Almighty, what have I done?" Greene was white with fear, his eyes watered. He reached down to the young Frenchman and placed his hand on his chest confirming for himself that he still breathed.
Tilghman reappeared. "He's alive isn't he?" he cried out in a panicked voice that was almost a sob.
"Get the doctor, Tench," Greene ordered.
Jeremy stood in shock for a long while unable to even look at his fallen general afraid of what he would see, but then remembered two friends were missing. "Where's Henry and Elizabeth?" The other men looked at him puzzled. The artillery shelling had stopped, leaving a dull dead silence.
Wayne angrily kicked the remainder of the divan out of the way and exclaimed, "If that goddamn Knox hadn't been showing off, we would have heard this scuffle. This devastation should have wakened--."
A dull thumping quieted the fierce brigadier. Everyone looked around for the source.
"The cellar?" Wayne asked with his hand on the hilt of his sword.
Greene walked to the cupboard beside the fireplace, unlocked the latch and pulled the door open revealing the huddled forms. He yanked the coverlet off.
"Elizabeth?" Jeremy cried.
"Henry?" Isak yelled.
The two hostages came out in tears, red-faced and exhausted from the fearful torment. They were speechless. Henry leaned against the wall trying to catch his breath. Elizabeth cried out with her hands to her face when she saw Boggs bleeding and leaning over the young Frenchman. "General Lafayette!" she exclaimed in horror. Jeremy rushed to her side and embraced her. "Come on, Bess. It's all over, now."
"Oh, Jeremy," she cried shaking her head. "It's awful. It's all so dreadful." She could say no more but only looked at her friend with imploring tearful eyes.
Jeremy looked to see Boggs loosening Lafayette's clothing. The general was still unconscious, but the only blood was coming from the sergeant's shoulder, and that was dripping to the floor at an alarming rate. Jeremy looked at Henry. The apothecary immediately saw the need for his services. He stumbled to the sergeant and threw the coverlet over his stooped form and gripped the wound.
"Anthony," Greene said, "find General Washington and inform him of what has happened."
"Sir, wait," Jeremy said.
"What is it?" Greene barked.
"There is a woman with General Washington--we have determined she is a loyalist spy."
"Julie Keating?" Wayne asked leaving his jaw hanging in shock.
"Yes, sir," Jeremy answered. "General Lafayette had come in here with a map that she had traced--to see that it was true." Jeremy rushed to the desk and found the papers. "Here they are, sir."
Greene stepped to his side and studied the copies and the originals. He dropped his head and exhaled deeply. "Is she connected to this mad man? To the British?"
"No, sir. She appeared to have never made contact with anyone. I figured she would do that after she returned--"
"That man was here to kill Lafayette as revenge upon Washington for having his son put to death for desertion." Henry had found his voice. "Jeremy, he was involved with Mrs. Keating. He has the rest of the copied papers on his person. I heard him tell General Lafayette that he forced her to commit treason. I didn't completely understand, but I don't think the reality matches your theory…exactly"
Greene gazed sadly at the unconscious general and the devoted aide that was caring for him. "Boggs, you need to go to the hospital before you bleed to death."
"I'm not leaving him."
"Where is that damn doctor?" Greene yelled.
"I am here," the haggard medical man answered as he entered. "What the hell happened?"
"Just see to the patients. Tench, the attacker had some papers on him. Retrieve them at once."
"Aye, sir." Tilghman ran from the room.
"Egad," Wayne exclaimed with his hand flattened against his forehead. "I should have known. Julie's husband suspected her of collusion with the British officers. That is why he brought her out here and forbade her traveling without him."
"And you didn't tell anyone?" Greene said. "How can that be?"
"Nathanael, I thought he meant she was sleeping around with them. Why would she turn on General Washington?"
"This is my fault," Greene said catching his breath as if he had just been punched in the gut. "I left this house unguarded, unsecured and I let that boy walk right into it. I might as well have ordered him to his death."
Jeremy stood silent trying to re-piece the puzzle in his head that Henry's words had just shattered. It was leading him to a guilty place he feared. What was the truth?
"Nathanael, you are being too hard on yourself," Wayne said. "Gilbert tried to tell me of his concern with Mrs. Keating. She was trying to seduce him. I was not equal to the task of giving him advice on the subject. I should have taken him by the arm and led him straight to you."
Greene looked alarmed at Wayne's words. "My God, then I am doubly guilty. I took it upon myself to admonish him about an inappropriate attachment to Mrs. Keating and apparently he was just trying to get away from her."
"Go get General Washington," Greene ordered. "Take him aside and explain what has happened. Tell him Mrs. Keating is under suspicion. Have her taken to my quarters and you stay with her."
"Yes, sir." Wayne hurried from the room.
"General Greene," Jeremy said, "We were all misled and distracted by Julie Keating. We were here to catch that man that attacked Lafayette, but we were one-step behind him. The intelligence we had pointed to a plot to kill Washington, not Lafayette."
"Captain Larkin, I share the blame on that. I never believed Tilghman's story about an assassination plot and neither did General Washington. His Excellency is going to be most unhappy with this turn of events."
"No! You must believe me! I knew nothing of a plot to kill General Lafayette." Julie screamed her words and sobbed as she sat on the edge of the sofa in the parlor at Greene's headquarters.
"You talked with the man that intended to kill him," General Greene said. "You gave him copies of General Washington's papers."
The trembling woman choked on her tears and slipped to her knees on the carpeted floor. "I would never have given those papers to the British. I was angry with the marquis. He rejected my advances. The woodsman caught me in my vengeful act and demanded that I give him the papers. I feared for my life. I feared for General Lafayette. The beast was threatening to tell everyone that Lafayette and I were having an affair, that we had slept together in the house and it wasn't true! He tried to blackmailed me, but I didn't give him the papers. I tried to keep them from him, but…"
"You were mad at the marquis because he wouldn't give in to your seduction?" said a deep troubled voice from the dark corner of the room. General Washington walked into the dim candlelight and stood by General Greene.
Julie looked up with pleading eyes. "Please, dear Uncle George, I was just being a silly girl with hurt feelings."
"I dare say Rutherford will tell us otherwise," Wayne said.
Julie dropped her head and sobbed.
"Tell us the truth, Julie," Washington said. "That will determine your fate."
The young woman sniffed. She grew demure and sad. Without raising her face to her accusers, she spoke as if reading from a script, "I am the miserable wife of a miserable speculator who cheats on me like I was a common hag. He can not give me children, so I have looked for a man that will." She looked up with angry eyes at General Wayne. "You know that, Anthony."
General Wayne dropped his gaze to the floor.
"When the marquis refused my first offer--"
"That afternoon, you told me he had propositioned you to purchase your land out from under my control? Was that a lie?" Washington said.
"Yes. I lied. I feared you would find out what I had done. I-I didn't a-anticipate…I didn't expect my request to cause him such agitation. I wanted him to buy the land so that my child, his child, would inherit my father's wealth instead of Rutherford and his lazy fat nephews." Julie bent to the floor; she buried her face in her hands and moaned, "It is all lost."
Washington sighed wearily and motioned to General Greene to follow him out of the room. Greene closed the door behind him.
"Nathanael, I trust you have a housekeeper that can stay with Julie this evening? I don't want her left alone."
"Of course, your Excellency."
"I'm going to return to headquarters. I've been away from Gilbert too long--"
"I know, sir. Rest assured she shall be fed and kept comfortable for the evening. Go. You should be by the marquis' side."
Washington turned to leave, but Greene said, "Sir, I must tell you, I believed the gossip that the servants were spreading. I am sick with anguish that I doubted the marquis. He is such a generous kind-hearted lad."
The commander-in-chief turned back and looked with sorrow upon his subordinate.
"I should have been asking the boy if he needed my help instead of berating him," Greene continued. "Believe me sir I was only trying to help him. I just made the wrong assumption about the kind of help he needed."
Washington placed his hand on his second-in-command's broad shoulder. "Nathanael, you can not feel guiltier than I. Please, let us not spend this time browbeating ourselves. I think he will understand our behavior after he is told of her duplicitous scheme. At least, I hope he will forgive us."
General Greene nodded.
"It is imperative that we keep this quiet," Washington said. "I do not want the marquis' young wife learning of this in a Parisian newspaper. She would be frightened to death."
"Of course, your Excellency. Only a select group of your guards and a trusted doctor knows what happened."
"Thank you, but make sure General Wayne understands that I will personally beat him to a pulp if any of this is traced to his mouth wet with whiskey."
Greene chuckled. "You and me both."
After evening fell, Jeremy, Isak and Elizabeth loitered in the entry hall of headquarters not knowing what to do with themselves. General Lafayette lay on a cot before the fireplace in the front room. Sergeant Boggs sat beside him with his arm in a sling and clearly in pain from his wound. Henry had meted out all the painkiller he could safely give him.
The front door opened and in walked General Washington. He removed his hat and lingered in the hall a moment before turning toward the front room. In the door opening, he stopped and straightened. "Daniel," he said softly as if just remembering.
The sergeant turned his head to look at the commander. His eyes were dazed and drugged but they teared at the sight of the man he most revered in the world.
"It's my fault, your Excellency," Boggs said choking back the tears. "I let him walk in here alone."
"Is there no one free of guilt? Daniel, you saved his life and I'm not about to let you give yours out of guilt. Tench!" the commander yelled.
"Aye sir," came the reply from the back room. Colonel Tilghman soon appeared.
"Take the sergeant to the cabins and see that he stays on his back."
The colonel assisted the injured man out of the room. Elizabeth arose to greet them in the entry hall. She tearfully embraced the weary sergeant. "You saved the general and Henry and me, too."
"Miss Coates, I'm very sorry. General Lafayette will be inconsolable when he finds out about your horrific ordeal."
"Maybe we just won't tell him that part," she said with a smile and a sniffle as she wiped the tears from her face.
Washington removed his greatcoat and hat and threw them on a nearby table. He dropped down in the vacated chair, leaned over on his elbows and rubbed his face with his hands.
Billy walked through the house lighting tapers that hung on the walls. He quietly and without being told kept the fireplaces fed. Hannah came in and offered everyone supper in the kitchen but received only mumbled thanks for her troubles. No one left the hallway.
A few of Washington's guards cleaned out the disheveled back room, replaced the furniture with borrowed bits from the nearby farmhouse and repaired the window and the doors. Colonel Tilghman walked in after he dismissed the soldiers out the back door. "You young folks might be more comfortable at the fire in the back room"
"I would just as soon stay out here," Elizabeth said. She was seated on the only chair in the hall that sat by the door to the breezeway. Her shawl wrapped around her.
"All right, Miss. I will bid you an evening then," Tilghman said. "You can find me out in the guards' cabins if you need me. Just call my name. You boys take the front room upstairs. Elizabeth can move to the room above the entry. Billy and the maid have prepared everything for you."
"Thank you sir," Jeremy said. "That is more than kind."
"It is the least I can do, Captain Larkin. If you had not been here--"
General Wayne and Henry entered the front door as Tilghman was leaving.
"How's the boy?" Wayne asked no one in particular.
"Still unconscious," Jeremy said.
Wayne removed his hat and stared at it, fumbling nervously with the cockade. "I wouldn't blame you all if you hated me right now. If I had just been around here more and listened when I was spoken to--"
"Sir, we all fell short I'm afraid," Jeremy said.
"We are not going to get the satisfaction of watching the ax-man hang for this," Wayne said.
"What?" Jeremy asked.
"He hung himself with his belt in the hold."
Jubilant cries arose outside the house along with shouts and gunfire. The young people were alarmed.
"Calm yourselves," Wayne said. "Those are soldiers celebrating their good fortune. We just came from delivering that beef and flour General Lafayette found." Wayne slapped Henry on the back. "Mr. Abbington saved the day with his clever flying rope trick. I've never seen the like and apparently neither has the haunty Duportail great French engineer that he is. He finally whispered a begrudging conciliatory 'bon travail'."
"And I accepted that as high praise from such a brilliant man," Henry added.
"Henry," Elizabeth said, "General Lafayette will be elated that the men received that food."
"Aye. That drove me to overcome the many obstacles like lack of bear grease to slick the rope."
"What did you use instead of the bear grease?" Isak asked cautiously.
"Let's just say it is produced by an animal and leave it at that," Henry said.
General Wayne hooted a laugh.
"Did Mrs. Keating commit treason?" Jeremy asked Wayne.
The general narrowed his eyes and smirked at Jeremy. "She confessed to having the intention of copying those papers."
"But the woodsman admitted he made her do it," Elizabeth said.
"If that were true, Elizabeth, wouldn't she just say that and not implicate herself?" Jeremy asked.
"She claimed it was a crime of passion," Wayne said. "She was angry with the marquis and sought to get back at him through treason. I have my doubts. Julie Keating is much too smart to be ruled by emotion. In my humble opinion, she saw the possibility of losing her father's fortune either to her husband and his family or to the British if they won the war. She is English at heart and no doubt thinks that America will never be other than English colonies. The more I think on it, the more I see what a fat opportunity she had to be a Loyalist spy."
Jeremy and the others looked in disbelief at one another. "That would be some way to repay General Washington for all he has done for her," Elizabeth said.
"Aye, but look at her life. Her husband is a philandering cad and his nephews are worse. She wanted the marquis to give her a child. She hoped for a son to inherit her wealth. He refused."
Jeremy scowled. "That's a big jump from unhappy wife to traitor, but when you think about it--a woman in her situation…she was a captive in a way--"
"Aye, a captive looking for some leverage to overcome the natural inequities of being born a woman," Wayne said.
Washington's voice was heard. Everyone quieted.
General Wayne stepped into the room and approached the commander. "Sir, has he regained consciousness? Shall I send for the doctor?"
Washington looked back over his shoulder. "He is showing signs of life. We won't require the doctor. It's just exhaustion. I don't' think he has slept or eaten for four days." Washington shook his head.
"I could have done more to prevent this," Wayne said standing over the cot. "Gilbert gave me the opportunity and I failed him."
"We all failed him; except his friends out there in the hall."
"Aye, sir. Of course."
Lafayette stirred. The young Frenchman opened his eyes and peered at Washington, then at Wayne standing above him. "There was a man with an ax," he said slowly.
"Lucky for you," Washington said, "that your young friends from Chester are a persistent dogged bunch."
"Elizabeth? Where is Elizabeth Coates?" Lafayette asked.
"I am right here, sir," Elizabeth called out. "I am fine."
"And Julie?" the Frenchman asked.
"At General Greene's residence, under guard," Washington answered.
Lafayette's dark eyes widened in surprise.
"She was a loyalist spy," Washington said, "as Captain Larkin suspected. She was caught red-handed. The woodsman was in on her traitorous activity intending to pass the copied papers to the British."
"Oh, oui, I remember all now. Sir," Lafayette said, "I-I…"
"Son, I owe you a huge apology. Julie tried to convince me that you were going to purchase her land right out from under my guardianship as proof of your love for her. All the while, she was trying to force herself upon you. I know the truth now. I failed you my boy when I didn't listen and try to understand your concern about her. I promise you I would never expect you to entertain a woman in such a manner, or heaven-forbid--give her a child. She confessed all. I think that will be the end of my inviting guests into this house until Martha is here to keep things in order. She would have seen plainly what I failed to see and demanded a guard in the hall at night."
"I am just thankful you know the truth," Lafayette said, "but Julie is not guilty of treason. The woodsman, he threatened her and made her copy those papers. He told me." Lafayette reached his hand up towards General Wayne who gripped it. "Anthony, you need to arrest Captain Slake as a British spy. He set the woodsman on his path of murder."
A jolt coursed through Jeremy. Slake knew the captain's rank and real name and had probably surmised his role as an American agent. If he knew Jeremy was from Chester…
Washington looked surprised at General Wayne who said, "Gilbert, she admitted that she came down here to copy the papers because she was angry with you."
"Even so, I'm sure she didn't have treason in her. She may have been acting out of anger but that brute threatened her life--a-and I fear something much much worse. I'm telling you she is not guilty. She is a victim." The marquis raised himself to his elbows. His face showed the marks of the beating he had received.
"Take it easy," Washington said. "I'm listening. Julie is safe at Greene's headquarters."
"Don't abandon her, sir. What she did to me is trifling. She needs you now more than ever. She needs a father."
"The woodsman hung himself," Wayne said.
Lafayette fell back on the cot exhausted. "Then he can not speak. I heard his words though. He meant them. He wanted to hurt you by hurting me and Julie--because…"
"Because of my affection for the two of you." Washington sighed and laid his hand on the young man's arm. "Don't worry, son. I will not abandon, Julie. How could I when I am the one that set her upon her wretched married life? Dear Almighty, if she was attacked in this house…" The commander dropped his head. "You are being very generous of heart as usual and I am only seeing the pain she caused you."
Lafayette bolted up again startling Washington and Wayne. "Le boeuf!" he yelled.
Washington looked to Wayne to explain. The brigadier shrugged and shook his head.
"My guards," Lafayette exclaimed. "They are guarding the beef and flour at the river. The British will find them!" He looked at Washington with dismal fear on his young face.
"Nay, Gilbert," Wayne said. "The beef and flour have been retrieved and the guards. All is well. The men are celebrating as we speak. You have that young whippersnapper of a brain, Henry Abbington, to thank for getting it safely across the frozen river in quick time. It was a marvel of ingenuity that even the great Duportail had to acknowledge."
A dimpled grin slowly appeared brightening Lafayette's bruised face. He lay back. "May I see my Chester friends and thank them, sir?"
Washington sat up erect and planted his large hands on his chair's arms. "Why I suppose that would be in order. I need to get back to my business of hounding that stupefied deputy commissary general. Tomorrow I must face Rutherford Keating and give him the news of his wife. It shall be painful for us both."
"Ah, sir," General Wayne said, "What will you do with her? What of her father's fortune?"
"I'm leaning towards house arrest until the end of the war if Rutherford can accomplish it…and Julie will agree. As for the money, I'm sure Rutherford will demand that I turn it over to him. I will talk privately with Julie again in light of what the marquis has shared with me and then make my decision."
Washington rose and planted a firm hand on General Wayne's shoulder. "Now, Anthony, what do you plan for yourself this evening?"
"I-I…well sir I thought I would stay in camp with my men. Show them a bit of solidarity with their cares. See that this traitorous Captain Slake is put in the hold."
"I'd say that is a good choice. A good choice indeed."
Washington walked into the hall, his face studious, his hands clasped behind his back.
"General Washington, let me help you with Julie," Elizabeth said. "I know if I were her I would want another woman to talk to about what happened."
"Thank you, Miss Coates. I shall consider your offer, but I have much concern about placing you in a situation that might disclose your true purpose here. She may be innocent, but I must take all precautions. I fear all of you have been exposed too much as it is. I should have believed Colonel Tilghman's warnings. I can see now you were at a great disadvantage--"
The general's attention was drawn to Billy standing quietly on the stairs. The orderly had a bound book in his hand.
"Yes, Billy, what is it?" Washington asked.
"Sir, you told me to search Mrs. Keating's personal items."
Billy walked slowly down the remaining steps and handed the book to the general. Washington moved under the lantern hanging from the ceiling and read several pages of what appeared to be a journal. He flipped through the remainder. "Where did you find this?"
"It was hidden in a secret compartment at the bottom of her toiletry bag."
Wayne walked up. "What is it?"
"Anthony, I believe you have a few more people to arrest than Slake." Washington showed Wayne a page of the book.
Wayne took only a second to comprehend what he was reading. His face turned white. "Holy Mary Joseph."
"Billy, go retrieve Colonel Tilghman," Washington said. "His day is not quite finished."
Washington clasped the book shut and folded it in his hands behind his back then turned his attention to the young people standing with their mouths agape in the hall. "I thank each of you with all of my heart for the service you have provided. You have saved General Lafayette's life and saved me from complete devastating despair. It appears that you have also been instrumental in uncovering a very large spy ring within our own ranks. Good work."
"We are always ready to serve you and General Lafayette, sir," Jeremy said.
"Be careful, Jeremy," General Lafayette called out, "he knows where you live."
Washington smiled and arched his brows. The young people laughed and ambled shyly into the front room happy to see and hear from their young commander again.