"My brother attempted to take Lafayette's life."
"Henry, are you sure?" Jeremy asked his despondent friend as they sat at the busy tavern full of jovial sailors.
"Aye. I must go to Lafayette and tell him. How do I accomplish--"
Jeremy laid his hand on his friend's shoulder. "We can tell him, Henry. How are you so sure though that it is Abel?"
"He has motive and I saw the evidence on him as he was coming home from the livery this morning."
"What's the motive?" Isak asked.
"His family was killed by an angry rebel mob in Boston two years ago. They set the house on fire. It was not murder with intent, only an accident. The men were drunk. They had intended only to scare Abel. The guilty were repentant the next day when they saw the devastation they had wrought but Abel had already left town. No one in the family has heard from him until yesterday when he showed up at my door."
"Sure seems like an odd thing for a man to do," Isak said. "Then to set up a lawyer's office in Hartford while intending to be a hired gun for the British?"
"Well, I don't know if he is telling the truth about Hartford." Henry said. "Perhaps it is his cover intending to return to that practice. Perhaps he roams about the countryside taking aim at Washington's generals—my God--I don't know my own family anymore. First Edward, now Abel."
"Do any of us?" Jeremy asked. "Know our families?"
"The army thinks it was the British," Isak said. "They ain't lookin' for your brother."
"Isak," Henry said, "I must tell Lafayette what I know. I cannot with clear conscious do otherwise."
"Even if it means Abel's capture and execution?" Jeremy asked.
"I will explain Abel's situation." Henry withdrew his handkerchief, removed his eyeglasses and wiped his eyes. "How do you suppose they will take Abel?"
"Probably a raid in the night," Jeremy answered. "Sergeant Boggs and a couple of men. Leave your door unlocked so that they cause no disturbance."
"Of course," Henry said. "Well, I must return. Abel may be suspicious if I am gone too long."
"Sir, this is a very hard thing for Henry to do."
"I'm sure it is, Jeremy," Lafayette said as he turned about from pacing and clasped his hands behind his back. "Was this solely his idea, to turn his brother in?"
"Aye. Isak and I shared a suspicion. I sent Elizabeth over to Henry's so she could get a good look at Abel. Elizabeth, why don't you give the general your description. You did see the man didn't you, sir?"
"Oui. Most certainly. I stood not three feet from him as I am to you now and looked him in the eye. The lantern above was lit. The lighting much as it is now though it was dawn not twilight. I would be a dead man but for Captain Smythe's quick action. He came between the gun and me and took the first bullet. Then Lieutenant Wells entered and he was shot with Captain Smythe's pistol as the assailant fled from the tent."
"Abel Abington is tall, lanky, a little taller than you, General," Elizabeth said. "He is thin with sandy hair but big boned. His hands are large. He looks nothing like Henry. He has small blue eyes, a long thin nose, fair skinned. There is a noticeable mole just here on his left cheek. I thought he looked everybit the lawyer he claimed to be."
Lafayette's breathing quickened. "That is him. I am very sorry for Henry, but I must have that man."
"General, shall I take a couple of guards and retrieve him?" Sergeant Boggs asked.
"Oui, Sergeant. I do not see any other way."
Henry listened to the soft deep-sleep breathing of his brother in the adjacent room. He knew Lafayette's men would come after the setting of the moon. He lay remembering Abel and his family until tears came to his eyes. Abel had a very promising career in law before the troubles in Boston began. Of course, he was a Tory. That was a given with his upper class status. Henry knew this about his brother, yet his brother had never been a violent man. Soft-spoken Abel preferred to fight his battles with words instead of swords and guns.
The young partisan hoped to influence Lafayette and seek leniency given Abel's circumstances. The general had been very indulgent with his cousin, seeking only Edward's word that he would return to school and cease all terrorist activity. As Henry turned over on his side and stared into darkness, he heard boots on the stair. The studious chemist turned revolutionary spy pretended sleep. He closed his eyes and tried not to listen.
"What? Who are you? Where is Henry?" Abel called out.
"We are taking you to General Lafayette," Sergeant Boggs said. "The man you tried to murder yesterday morning."
"I know nothing of that. Henry! Tell these men who I am."
Henry stood in his nightshirt and bare feet at the door to Abel's room. Unable to muster any words, he only stared at his brother.
"Henry, just tell them how I came to be here and that I was with you. You are my alibi, brother."
"You left on a horse from the livery," Henry said.
Abel opened his mouth to speak but shut it without a word. The two soldiers held his arms fast behind his back.
"Is what they say true, brother?" Henry asked. "Did you attempt to kill General Lafayette?"
The sergeant was ready with a cloth gag and a hood. He hesitated as if waiting for the prisoner to answer Henry's question.
"Do with me what you will you scurvy treasonous rabble," Abel growled with a lewd sneer. "It is just my lot in life to be your dog. It appears my family is in full agreement."
The sergeant placed the gag in Abel's mouth and covered his head. "Let's go men," he said as he brushed past Henry at the door. They were soon gone. They had not bothered to let Abel dress.
"Abel, I brought your clothes."
Henry stood before the crud gaol that smelled of new-planed wood freshly felled and hewn. The captive sat on a stool still in his nightshirt with his head in his hands.
Abel looked up and squinted at the small square opening in the door. "Is that you Henry?"
The prisoner stood and took the clothes and shoes that Henry squeezed through the opening. "Why did you come, brother? I do not wish you to see me in this condition."
"What condition is that pray tell? A guilty man. A hired assassin?"
The prisoner did not answer.
"This is so unlike you Abel, I fear I don't know you anymore."
"I am not the same Abel you knew as a child. How could I be after what was done to me?"
"The men that torched your home and killed your family were drunk," Henry said. "They knew not what they did."
"Who set those men upon me?"
"It was a mob of drunken men."
"No," Abel yelled. "It was a conspiracy of Patriots. They plotted to drive men like me, Tory leaders of the community, away if we would not sign their oath to their Cause."
"Have you told General Lafayette that story?"
"No. I have yet to meet General Lafayette." Abel stared increduously at his younger brother. "Do you know him?"
Abel's blue eyes grew wide. "My own brother a Patriot? You do know that French interloper? My God, Henry. Did that indigent Edward turn your heart?"
"I cannot lie to you. Yes, I know Lafayette. I know him as good man. A just man. What possible grievance could you have with him that you would attempt to kill him?"
Abel barked a laugh. "A just man is he? A petulant boy most likely. The favored adopted son of that treasonous Washington. A symbol of rebellion." Abel sneered. "Fine, I suppose we will find out just how just the good general is, brother."
"If you did this thing, it would go better for you if you told the truth. If you were an agent of the British--"
"Has my little brother turned lawyer now? You were a precocious little genius but I never dreamed you could take on two professions at once."
"Oh, Abel. I only seek to help you."
"Then go and leave me in peace."
A military court convened to try Abel Abington. General Anthony Wayne presided as judge. Henry and Elizabeth gave their testimony directly to General Wayne privately in a separate tent. Henry also told General Wayne his brother's likely motive—his disgrace by Patriots in Boston. The Pennsylvania-born general listened to all attentively. He thanked them politely for their information and left them sitting at a table in the tent.
Two hours later, they learned the verdict from one of Wayne's aides: guilty as charged. Abel was to be hanged. The aide said Abel Abington did not speak a word in his own defense nor was he unruly or defiant. He seemed to accept his fate. Elizabeth took Henry's hands in her own. "Henry I'm so sorry. I know this is hard."
Henry nodded. He tried to fight the tears but they came anyway. "I will speak with General Lafayette. Surely, he can find a way to avoid the ultimate punishment."
"Perhaps," Elizabeth said. "Do you want Jeremy, Isak and I to come with you?"
"No, this is my personal plea. I will not implicate the Yankee Doodle Society."
Henry stood before Lafayette's tent rehearsing what he would say on behalf of his condemned brother. Fully aware that his brother's life depended on his persuasive skills with the general, he breathed deeply then lifted the canvas flap that served as a door.
Lafayette sat at a camp table writing in the flickering light of a candle. The general glanced up and acknowledged Henry, but continued writing.
"Sir, please, I beg of you to reconsider--"
"The orders have been given, Henry. You know the rules regarding spying. Your brother was clearly serving the British in disguise when he entered this camp and attempted to kill me."
"I realize that, sir, but there are extenuating circumstances."
Lafayette took a deep breath and exhaled. Without looking at Henry he said, "Yes, extenuating circumstances. I am trying to write a letter to Captain Smythe's widow. How do I explain her husband's death? It is much easier when a man dies in battle and you can tell the family that he died a brave man fighting for what he believed in." The general shrugged, obviously still distressed by the captain's death at Abel Abington's hands. "Now I have to say, 'your husband died saving my life. I live, but he does not. Merci beaucoup'."
"General, I am sorry about Captain Smythe. I understand that you and he were close. I'm sure you feel like you have lost a blood brother. But, you don't know Abel's story. He lost his family, his wife and two children, to a party of drunk Patriots that decided to use him as an example. It was all because he wouldn't sign their oath of allegiance."
The general turned firm dark eyes to Henry. "I do not want to hear his hard luck story."
Anger rose in Henry's throat. "Sir! Every man's story deserves to be heard. Even your enemies," he exclaimed.
"That is a matter of opinion."
"Sir, this war is tearing families apart. Innocents are being caught in the crossfire--"
"Your brother is no 'innocent'!"
"General Lafayette, I mean no disrespect, but rules can be bent. My, God, we cannot live under such intolerance. Is that what we are fighting for? A rule of law that abandons all humanity. Sir I beg of you. Can you not at least wait and allow for second opinions from General Washington or General Greene?"
The Frenchman's eyes darkened. Henry had crossed a line. The general inhaled deeply as if trying to control his anger. "No. Abel will be hung by the neck until dead at noon tomorrow. That is final. Now, I ask you to leave. I have much paperwork."
Henry knew Lafayette was holding back, trying to avoid an angry response to his clear insubordination. "Of course, sir. I am sorry to have bothered you." Henry turned to leave the tent but he turned back at the entrance. "General Lafayette, I have been honored to serve you and thankful for what you are doing for this country, but I feel that you are using my brother to make an example of him, simply as a show of power and your ability to wield it. Only blind arrogance could cause you to not hear this man's heartbreaking story. All I am asking is for imprisonment instead of death. Why not look for reasons NOT to hang a man?"
The general placed his quill pen in the ink well on the table. He stood and turned to face his accuser. Lafayette's finely chiseled visage, highlighted by the candlelight in the dark tent, showed no emotion--only the confident mask of command. He did not offer answers to Henry's questions.
The young partisan had overstayed his welcome. He turned and ducked under the flap of the tent, throwing it back angrily behind him.
The young scientist walked defiantly down the Chester street, mumbling to himself--thinking of all the things he should have said to that young arrogant aristocratic nobleman. Suddenly he was halted in his march. Jeremy was in his path.
"Henry, where are you going in such a hurry? You look like my father after a heated debate with the town council."
"Never mind, Jeremy. It doesn't concern you."
"It concerns me if one of my men is in trouble."
"I am not in trouble."
"Then let me rephrase that. It appears that one of my men may have caused some trouble and that concerns me. You left town in a hurry this morning. I'm puzzled--"
"Then you must live with your confusion."
Captain Yankee Doodle cringed. "I'm only worried about you. You are clearly distraught. I thought we were friends. Perhaps I was mistaken." The dispirited young leader turned to walk away.
"Jeremy, wait." Henry stared down the street to avoid his friend's eyes. "I suppose the raging fire in my oven has not yet cooled after my angry outburst at General Lafayette this morning." He glanced to see the captain's reaction.
The captain gazed at his friend with intense but sympathetic green eyes. A slow grin crossed his naturally mirthful face. "I'm listening. May I buy you a stiff drink?"
At the busy Chester Tavern, after the barmaid delivered two rye whiskeys to the table and walked away, Henry leaned forward on his elbows. He strained to keep his voice down when he said, "Jeremy, I may have finally gone too far with Lafayette."
"What do you mean?"
"I went to see him this morning to convince him to be lenient with Abel. To ask him for imprisonment instead of hanging."
The chemist waved his hand as if to wave away Jeremy's pending objection. "I know—ridiculous. It was as effective as ramming my head against the hull of a ship for the purpose of sinking it. It's just that I know Abel and I know this is a temporary madness that has over taken his reason. It is the loss of his family at the hands of Patriots."
"You made the same argument for your cousin Edward and look what happened?"
"I was raised to be loyal to family at all cost. I'm afraid it may have cost me General Lafayette's friendship this morning. I do regret my angry words. It's just when he gets that stubborn, 'I'm not going to budge no matter what you say' look in his eyes my own stubbornness is brought to the frontline and the battle ensues."
Jeremy slapped Henry on the back. "Henry, the general usually forgives our little insubordinations. Surely he will consider this a minor infraction on your part since it is your brother that you are trying to save."
"Yes. I realize how forgiving he has been, which makes me feel all the worse right now. My tongue was venomous this morning. It was a pretty speech. I should have written him a letter instead."
"So, what did he decide about Abel?"
"He will be hanged tomorrow at noon in camp."
Jeremy let out a slow breath. "I see."
"Do you not think it harsh?"
"Does Abel know his fate?"
"How did he take the news? Was there no remorse?"
"I do not know. I wanted to see him. To talk to him. He would not see me."
"Henry, are you sure you are not just feeling guilt for turning Abel in?"
"I had visions of Edward all over again. His intelligence becoming a weapon unleashed on innocents. I thought the general would treat him the same."
"Abel killed a couple of Lafayette's men. He can't just ignore that. Captain Smythe was a very close aide, a dear friend."
Henry sighed. "I know. But that is precisely why I have a very strong urge to ride to Valley Forge and plead Abel's case to a higher authority."
Jeremy snickered. "Come now, Henry. You jest. Such an action would top all of our efforts at insubordination. We might never have an audience with the marquis again."
"Right now, I could gladly comply with that arrangement."
The next morning, Sergeant Boggs had just finished overseeing the changing of the guards about the flying camp. The young man that was placed at the gaol had not served as a guard yet but was quite proud when the Sergeant punched him in the gut then lifted his fist to catch his downturned chin. "Boy, look alive. This rascal may be locked up, but--"
"Sergeant Boggs!" Lafayette called from his tent.
The sergeant stopped his guard tutorial, spun on his heal and marched straight to the general's tent. The guard heard Lafayette's order. "Bring Abel Abington in here, please."
The sergeant appeared astonished at the request. "But, sir--"
"Just do as I ask, Sergeant. I am merely going to speak with the man at Henry's request. Nothing has changed."
The sergeant returned to the gaol, unlocked it and said to the prisoner, "Come, the general wants to see you."
Abel Abington stood. "I shall have the honor of meeting the young Frenchman?"
Abel smiled. He stepped forward and ducked under the open door.
"Wait there," the sergeant ordered.
"Guard, hand me those chains."
While the young soldier was distracted in retrieving the chains, the prisoner swung and punched the sergeant, once then twice bringing him down. The frightened guard hesitated and went for his gun too late. The tall Tory grabbed it, swung it up and pointed it at the boy's chest. "Don't say a word and you will live. Take your man here and get in that gaol. Now." Abington quickly gagged the guard, chained him to his sergeant and locked the door on them.
The scared young soldier knew his days as a guard, possibly as a soldier, were over in the blink of an eye. The angry voice of Abel Abington was the last thing he heard until soldiers appeared at the door to take the prisoner to be hanged.
A bucket of water dumped on Sergeant Boggs brought him back to pained perception. As he stumbled out from the gaol, Henry, Jeremy and Isak stood before him. "Where's the general?" Boggs asked with a stricken look on his face.
"He's not in his tent," Jeremy said.
"Blast," the sergeant exclaimed. "Abington has him."
"No," Henry said. "That can't be. What happened?"
The sergeant turned to the young guard. "Did they leave by foot or horse?"
"I…I didn't hear a thing sir," the tearful young soldier said, "so I suppose they did not take the horses?"
"Jeremy, did the sentries stop you on the road from Chester?" the sergeant asked.
"Nay. We just walked right in. We were going to speak to the general on Henry's brother's behalf--"
"That's a mute point now, Captain Larkin," the sergeant grumbled. "A dead general can't very well do that."
"Sergeant, surely Abel will not kill General Lafayette," Henry said softly.
Boggs put his fists on his hips and glared at the sensitive young chemist. "He was in this gaol because he had attempted to kill the general."
The chemist winced. "I know, but I think he will try to spare him this time…for me? I sort of told Abel I knew General Lafayette."
Boggs exhaled loudly. "Boy, the general may yet live because your brother needs him as a hostage to secure his own freedom and for no other reason."
Henry hung his head.
The sergeant quickly alerted the rest of the general's life guard. He knew in a few moments that the sentries at the main road were dead. He surmised that Abel Abington was taking Lafayette to the British garrison in Chester, but by which road?
The Yankee Doodle Society assisted with tracking Abel Abington. Henry was sure he could talk his brother out of his plan.
The guards on foot swept net-like in a large semicircle towards town. Patrols combed the roads by horse then cut off those roads before they reached town. It was a dangerous maneuver so close to British-held Chester, but the sergeant was in no mood for caution. He had lost a general.
A soldier found the sign Boggs was looking for crossing the Springfield road that enters Chester from the east. Lafayette had dropped some items from his coat pocket--French coins, a handkerchief with his initials embroidered upon it. "Good boy," the sergeant mumbled as he ordered all pursuers to join him. The trail was leading them towards the Delaware river.
The Yankee Doodle Society were first to spot Abel and Lafayette. The general's hands were tied loosely in back. Sergeant Boggs and his guards tried to circle around in front of Abel to cut him off from his likely destination: a British detail patrolling the river.
Abel was running and pulling Lafayette by the arm. Jeremy and his men tried to keep up but out of sight. As Abel and his captive broke out of the woods near the banks of the river, Lafayette managed to trip his captor who went sprawling face first in the muddy swamp. The gun fired with a loud concussion that echoed over the hills.
Abel got up angry and kicked his captive in the side. He had lost his gun and searched frantically. Lafayette rammed Abel like a bull knocking him down at the water's edge.
Jeremy, Isak and Henry began running. They saw Boggs and his man racing in parallel with them off to their left. Boggs and the guard were the first to the watery shoreline. They splashed on through the swamp.
The elder Abington was again on his feet. "Damn it boy! If you would only have cooperated you would not have been harmed" he yelled at the young Frenchman who clearly had no intention of cooperating.
Abel turned and saw Boggs slowed by the swampy ground. Then he caught sight of Henry. The Tory's face grew resolute. He grabbed Lafayette and dragged him out into the river. He shouted, "Stop! All of you! Or I'll kill him." Abel pulled a knife up out of the water. The steel glistened in the late afternoon sun. His arm circled Lafayette's neck in a snake grip as he pulled him back through the water.
Boggs and the guard stopped right at the river's edge.
"You're headed for deep water," Boggs yelled. "Can you swim?"
Henry yelled, "No! He can't swim. Abel don't be a fool!"
The sharp-shooting sergeant aimed his long barrel rifle.
"No. Don't shoot," Henry screamed.
Abel stepped back. Panic gripped his face. He and his captive dropped out of sight under the water. They had fallen off the underwater ledge into deep water. Abel struggled. His arms thrashed in the water, his head emerged to gasp for air. The current carried him down river. Lafayette remained under water. Abel was panicking, drowning.
"Abel!" Henry yelled, "stop thrashing." Jeremy, Isak and Henry reached the shoreline
Boggs threw his musket down and splashed through the shallows towards the struggling man. Abel went under and did not reappear.
The brawny sergeant dove into the river. Tense seconds passed with all three men out of sight under the calm clear water. A splash. Boggs came up for air with Lafayette in his arms several yards down stream. The guard rushed to assist.
Henry jerked as if to run into the river. His friends held him back. "Henry, the water is freezing," Jeremy said. "The current. It's too late. We have to help Lafayette now."
The younger Abington threw off his friends' hands and turned his back. His body shook with his sobs. He had just watched the agonizing death of his brother. Had Abel come to life again only to die? What explanation could he offer to the family?
Then he heard the coughing, the gasping for air….
Henry turned to see Boggs holding Lafayette with his head down to keep him from drowning on the water that regurgitated from his lungs. Henry rushed forward to the victim's side. "We need to get him to dry land. Find a warm place...a blanket...."
Isak yelled, "I'll run back and get the horses."
"We can go to the Coates farm," Jeremy said. "John Coates left town this morning."
Henry had his hand under Lafayette's head to support him as his body convulsed trying to rid itself of the river water. When the coughing slowed, Boggs pulled his water-logged charge up and lifted him onto his shoulders. He carried him to dry land where he rolled him to the ground and stopped to catch his own breath. "I'm sorry, Henry."
"You owe no one an apology, Sergeant," Henry said. "General Lafayette was rightfully your first concern. But how did this happen?"
"The general requested to see your brother. He said you had asked him to--"
The young scientist franticly removed his wire-rimmed spectacles, wiped them and his moist eyes with his handkerchief and put the spectacles back on his face. He looked down at the shivering form, the pale face and blue lips of the young Frenchman. Sergeant Boggs shivered as well. Henry took off his dry coat and wrapped it around the general trying to fend off the chill in the air. "We have to get you both warm. I fear pneumonia."
Isak sprinted back with two bedrolls. He quickly unfurled them, wrapped the general in one and put the other around the sergeant. Lafayette was unresponsive, his eyes closed. Henry broke down in tears. "Have mercy, Good Providence, don't let him die."
"We need to get out of the area," Sergeant Boggs said. His teeth chattered like ice. "The British are everywhere. They may have heard that shot."
"Lead the way Sergeant," Isak said. "I'll carry the general. The horses are just at the edge of the swamp."
In the quiet of the Coates home, Henry, Jeremy and Isak sat before the crackling fire in the parlor. Lafayette was in the ground floor bedroom. He was still unconscious but breathing. That gave little relief to the small band of friends. Henry was despondent. He had done all he could medically for his commanding officer, but he felt culpable for his condition. "I will hang myself if he dies," Henry mumbled.
"Your brother is responsible for this," Jeremy said.
"No. I bullied the general into listening to Abel's story…it is my fault. He felt like he had to do it—for me. Don't you see, Jeremy?" Henry pleaded with tearful dark eyes.
Jeremy knew there was nothing he could say.
Elizabeth stepped from the bedroom. "He is coming to. Perhaps Henry would like to speak with him?"
Henry quickly arose and followed Elizabeth to the door. Sergeant Boggs, now in dry clothes with a blanket draped about his shoulders, was sitting next to the bed fumbling with his tricorn hat in his hands. A fire roared in the small fireplace opposite the bed.
The general clad in a thick cotton work shirt and covered with several quilts turned his head to focus on Henry with dark eyes that flickered with the reflected firelight. "Ah, another that has come to seek penance for his sins I see. Elizabeth would you kindly tell everyone I am not a priest."
Elizabeth giggled. "Yes, sir. I will do just that."
"Come here, Henry," Lafayette said motioning with his arm that lay upon the checkered quilt cover. "Mon Dieu, you resemble a whipped school boy. It seems we are all the victim of a young green guard not yet tested under fire."
"But sir," Henry said as he approached the bedside. "The sergeant told me you had intended to speak with my brother--"
"Oui, perhaps that was foolish of me. I am guilty of being a young green general with a soft heart and look at my reward. Kindly, do not share this gaffe with General Washington."
Henry allowed Lafayette to grab his hand. The Frenchman's blanched complexion, the dark circles under his eyes, and his cold hand told Henry his patient had not yet reached the safety of shore from his encounter with the cold Delaware river.
"Sir, I am responsible for your brush with death. I will resign from my position with the Yankee Doodle Society effective immediately."
Lafayette raised his dark brows. "Henry, stop. Mourn your brother, not me. I shall not accept any resignation from you. I need the services that you provide, mon ami, and I'm not just referring to your explosives expertise. Although, Sergeant Boggs it might be sapient to request a list of Henry's relatives so we may be better prepared for what the Abington's have to throw at us."
The sergeant dipped his sandy head and smiled. "Yes, sir."
"Henry, vous êtes un bon homme de conscient et intégrité." Lafayette said. "I remembered, after your tirade of anger, that you had voluntarily turned over your brother. C'était mal de moi. I should have considered that and honored your request to hear his story. I am very sorry you had to watch him die in the manner he chose." The patient dropped Henry's hand and swept his hand up to brush the dark disheveled locks from his own forehead. The effort seemed to exhaust him. His arm dropped back to the bed like a hammer. "Now, you two allez-en. Let me sleep. I have never been so… tout à fait fatigué in my life."
"Of course, General," the sergeant said, "just don't sleep past noon three day's hence. We have to get before Mr. Coates returns."
"Ah, Mr. Coates," Lafayette said as he dozed off. "That dear old steadfast Tory. Here we are partaking of his hospitality again and unable to properly thank him."