Washington And Caesar by Christian Cameron

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  1. Marcus Antonius

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    Philadelphia in 1776

    George Lake wanted to whistle along with the fifers, his heart was so high as they marched through Philadelphia. The regiment looked splendid, in good brown coats and new breeches, all of Russian linen that wore like iron. Their hats were already showing the signs of shoddy workmanship and poor edging. George had made his share of hats as an apprentice, and his own was stiff with shellac and as fine as any regular’s, as well as possessing the fine quality of shedding water. And George had a white mohair knot on his shoulder, indicating that he was a corporal in the Virginia Regiment, and hence in the Continental Army. He’d obtained the knot only because he could read and write, but he’d held it fair and square, though there were other men with more experience.

    His company looked well, and they marched well, too, thanks to the drummer. Although more than half the men were back-country hicks who were fighting only for the pay, the other half were men of conviction, who had read all the letters from the Continental Congress and felt honored to be allowed to stand up for their colony and their conscience. George was honest enough to admit that the back-country men were harder, tougher on the long marches coming north, and stronger in the daily camp fights, but the younger men were coming along, and George thought they’d have the edge when it came to battle.

    He’d heard a great deal about battle from the older men. Some had fought Indians in the West, although that seemed neither here nor there. McCoy had fought in Europe and been in a real battle. Simmons, another older man, had been all the way to Fort Pitt in the last war, and though he’d never come to grips with the French, he knew his way around the camp like the other veterans. But all the veterans agreed that it was no easy thing to stand and receive the enemy’s fire, the great crashing volleys that sent thousands of musket balls whirling about your ears. And it was there, where it came to standing your ground, that George felt the younger men had an advantage. They believed. They wanted their liberty with a passion, and that liberty had some very concrete meaning. Other men might fight for rations, comrades, or a land grant in the Ohio country. They might stand the enemy’s fire, or they might not. But the true believers would be there until the end; of that George was sure.

    George could see the second platoon sergeant, Bludner, slightly out of place as he always was on the march. Sergeants had their spot in the line, marching even with the front rank and just to the right of the rightmost man, and Bludner was never quite there, as if he wouldn’t quite admit he belonged to the regiment despite his rank. He tended to carry his weapon, one of the company’s few rifles, in the crook of his arm instead of at his shoulder or at the advance like the other sergeants in the regiment. But Captain Lawrence seemed to tolerate him, despite the fact that even now he wasn’t in step. George had heard him tell his men that “marching in step is taking orders from the Negro.” It made George wild. He’d never seen much of black men, working in a trade as an apprentice until his master went broke and headed west, but Noah was the company’s pride, the best drummer in the regiment, and he made them look better in the drill.

    Bludner enforced discipline with a cheerful violence that Lake hated. He didn’t want the Continental Army run by bullies like the despotic British, but an army of men of conviction who didn’t need petty tyrants to beat them into line. Lake was determined to outshine Bludner. He wanted Bludner’s type out of the army, and he wasn’t alone. As the true believers hardened their muscles, they also became firmer in their convictions: the old ways had to go; there could be no compromise with the king; America must be free and independent. He had heard the rumors that the Congress intended such a declaration, and it raised his heart to think that soon they would not just be defending their liberties but taking the cause of liberty to the enemy.

    He looked across the front of his rank. Tanner was inching up and just out of rhythm, although not quite out of step. He prodded the man with his eyes until Tanner caught the signal and adjusted himself, and then they were entering the main concourse of the city of Philadelphia, and the cheering began. Lake knew from the meetings in camp that many of the inhabitants were Tories or worse, or Quakers who wouldn’t fight for the cause. But he saw many a pretty face under black bonnets in the crowd, and many in caps as smart as anything he had seen in Williamsburg. Philadelphia was the largest city he had ever been to, and he was finally seeing the world.

    He tried not to turn his head to watch the crowd, but he did from time to time and what he saw always pleased him: men cheering lustily, and women waving and yelling with shrill, clear voices. They halted several times, not from purpose but because the long column of companies regularly jammed when an inept officer timed his wheeling motion badly, or just because of the different marching rates of all the battalions. When they halted, men and women would come out and offer the troops bread or beer.

    Near the City Tavern, in the prosperous heart of the city, they halted in the sun for so long that men were calling out to Captain Lawrence asking if they could fall out. Tanner took his tinderbox from his coat and lit a pipe, which the men passed around while Lake glowered.

    A very young girl, barely old enough to be thought a “young lady”, came out to them from a fine brick house with a stone pitcher of milk. Another older woman in an apron followed with another pitcher, and they began to serve it to the men. One of Bludner’s men laughed.

    “I thought all you Phillydelps was Tories or Quakers.”

    The older woman stopped and glared at him. “I think it no shame to say that I remain loyal to the king. He has some poor ministers, that I’ll allow, and no man serving this province should stand in the sun in front of my house without a drink. But if you want to argue politics, lad, then you can just hand me back my pitcher.”

    The man looked shamefaced, then he laughed along when he was jeered by the others.

    George smiled at the pretty girl. “That your ma?” he asked.

    “Yes,” she said, her eyes cast down. Close up, she was a little older than he had thought, perhaps fourteen or fifteen. She wore a printed cotton gown from England that would have cost him a year’s wage and he grew shy.

    “She put him in his place,” George said, at a loss for anything better. She looked up from under her cap, and he saw her eyes were dark blue, with a sparkle he’d not seen before. She smiled impishly.

    Tanner jogged his elbow. “Don’t keep her for yourself, George,” he said.

    Ahead of them, the column was moving again, and George regretted it, although this little sprig of a girl was three years his junior and several classes above him.

    “Betsy, is your jug empty?” asked the older woman, coming up George’s file. George handed the jug back to Betsy, aware suddenly that he must be wearing milk on his mouth like a fool. She smiled as he wiped it off, and gave him a little wave when they marched. And then they were gone.
     
  2. Marcus Antonius

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    Colonel Martin Bladen’s C. Julius Caesar’s Commentaries of his Wars in Gaul 1776

    Jim was gaining weight, and the Ethiopians had their women back. Caesar thought that the two might be connected. Virgil took sick soon after he saw Sally coming up from the boat—went down, lay sick, and then began to mend on his own. He was the last man in the company to go down.

    It seemed odd, now, because after Long Tom’s death they had all taken for granted that Jim would die, too, but he didn’t. For a month, he just lay there, neither alive nor dead. Jim just lay sick, a sickness that seemed endless, and there were men in the ranks who knew their drill and had never known him except as a sick man. Caesar knew that Sally had nursed him, brought him treats and both food and wine from the officers’ table. Caesar knew that she lived with Captain Edgerton and made no secret of it. Her nursing, both of Virgil and then of Jim, won her some grudging praise within the ranks, but she wasn’t liked by the men, especially those with wives of their own. She was the only unmarried black woman and she was loose. Many thought it brought them all down.

    Caesar went every evening to see his sergeant and get a lesson. Back in the winter he had helped the other men build a cabin for Peters and his wife, and later they had built cabins for every mess, until their billets were better provided than the marines or the Fourteenth. Peters kept him at reading, and writing, and started him on basic mathematics. None of it was pleasant for Caesar, to whom learning came late and seldom without pain. But he wouldn’t let it go.

    Mrs. Peters, once installed, was an education in herself. Alone of the married women, she spoke well of Sally and had her in the cabin sometimes, sewing or speaking softly in the fire corner while Caesar and Sergeant Peters sat at the desk by the door. When Sally was not about, and her name came up for censure, Mrs. Peters would simply look over her sewing and say that some people had to find their own way, or that uncommon looks weren’t always a blessing. It was always said in a tone that reduced a corporal’s or private’s wife to silence.

    As the weeks of inaction stretched to months, Caesar’s grasp of reading went from ignorance, through frustration, to accomplishment. And once accomplished, he wanted to use it as a key to unlock all the things he didn’t understand. But the foremost thing that interested him was the origin of his name, and on that head Sergeant Peters could give him immediate satisfaction. They began to read together through Colonel Bladen’s C. Julius Caesar’s Commentaries of his Wars in Gaul, which Peters had, bound in vellum. It was difficult going, both in style and content, and Caesar began to see patterns in Peters’s speech that were affected from this very book, which interested him. He also learned that the original Julius Caesar had another name—Caius. And that Caesar understood something about war, and spoke of it with a detachment that he had never experienced in a warrior.

    And that Caesar sold slaves by the thousand.

    No night with the Peterses passed without discussion, or even argument, because the matter buried in C. Julius Caesar’s Commentaries of his Wars in Gaul was too important not to be argued. And sometimes Sally, or another woman, would be there, or Virgil, when he started to mend, lying on their good bed and listening. Virgil was too quiet a man to contribute when he had so little to say, but the quality of his silence always suggested that he took a great deal away with him.

    It was after one of these evenings that Caesar emerged to the first rattlings of the night drum, paid his respects from the doorway, and started back down the line to his own hordled tent only to hear an argument in progress in the next street—Mr. Robinson’s company. Caesar crossed his street of tents and then walked between two of them into the Robinson company street, where he found that Mr. Robinson himself and Captain Honey were the combatants. Caesar stopped dead. They were both obviously the worse for liquor and cared nothing that their voices could be heard throughout the street.

    “If we use your black savages to fight this war, we will be dishonored! This is a white man’s war, a war of ideas. These primitives have no place in it.” Honey was drunkenly adamant, almost pleading for Robinson to understand.

    “There’s no moral difference between using them to dig your ditches and using them to fight, Captain. But I’ll leave that argument aside, because I can see that moral philosophy holds no interest for you.”

    “What do you mean by that, then? I can take moral philosophy as well as the next man, I think.”

    “You cannot, Captain Honey. You are a slaver and your family is all Bristol blackbirders, and you stand condemned as such. You cannot bear the weight of reasoned morality.”

    “You sneer at the trade? When it is the lifeblood of England’s riches? When six in ten of our ships carry goods for the trade? When seven in ten of every yard of cloth we produce goes to Africa? Where will we replace that? In the palm oil trade? Who will work the plantations in the Indies? No white man would stoop so low, and even if he would, his body wouldn’t last the labor.”

    “I find your ‘trade’ so iniquitous that rather than suffer it, I sold my plantation. Rather than suffer it, I lost my fortune. And now, moved by the hypocrisy of those who live off that trade ranting about ‘freedom from tyranny’, I find myself at war with all my former acquaintance.” Robinson didn’t slur a word, but his face was bright red, even in the light of the lantern he carried, and his tone carried a vehemence that belied his usual manner.

    Heads were coming out of tents and cabins. Honey was not on friendly ground. He was in the Loyal Ethiopian lines, and the next street held the Fourteenth, where he was scarcely more popular. Caesar knew that the two men were far enough gone that they were heading to violence, and he feared the effect on discipline that this argument would have. But he was also fascinated because the arguments about slavery and trade were among those that came up in Peters’s cabin.

    “And you prove your love of these animals by living with them and fucking one!” Honey’s anger swelled by this thought, he stepped forward and raised his lantern. Robinson stood his ground so that they were standing nose to nose.

    Robinson could hardly argue that it was not he but Mr. Edgerton who lived with a black woman, or that such cohabitation was common as common on the plantations. But he did resent Honey’s tone and his advance.

    “Lower your lantern, sir.”

    “I’m looking to see if your skin is really white.”

    Caesar caught Robinson’s arm as he reached for his sword. Later, he wondered why Robinson had to react to the last as a mortal offense; he seemed to accept blacks totally, but then couldn’t accept being identified with them.

    “Gentlemen. Your pardon, but the drummer has beat the night call and I must inspect the street, gentlemen.” Caesar kept his voice low and calm, willing them to move on to their separate quarters, to get his message and act on it.

    Robinson started like a man coming awake and stepped back.

    “Saved by your slaves, you cowardly bumpkin!” Honey, sure he had the situation in hand, glared.

    “I cannot challenge you as you are my commanding officer,” said Robinson calmly. “But the moment you lose your authority over me, I’ll show you who is a coward, Captain. Good night.”

    Robinson walked up the street to his own hut, quite steady. Honey stood for a moment, glaring, and then subsided, perhaps even embarrassed by his last outburst. He glared at Caesar, then began to stumble toward his lines. It occurred to Caesar to help him. Part of Caesar still admired the man for his skills as a soldier, but he couldn’t bring himself to help the man back to his quarters, and he turned back to his own.


    It had been a wonder to all of them that they had made it through the winter without contact with the rebels. The word in camp was that the rebel army had melted away after the battle at Great Bridge. It was an army composed entirely of militia, and they were farmers and shopkeepers and needed to be home. Nor did they have the discipline or the equipment to live out in the fields. And the winter had given Caesar a taste of the cost of such camps; the rations that had to be rowed ashore every day by the navy, the two little brigs kept moving constantly to bring supplies to them from somewhere far to the north. But as the spring began to turn the gray landscape back to green, the rebel army was recalled to its duty. The farmers were grudging, because it was time to plant. But they came.

    A marine patrol encountered rebels beyond the creek, ending their isolation. Without any fighting, their outposts were called in. A large force of rebel militia began to dig trenches across the top of the peninsula. Two days later, the governor decided to withdraw his troops back to the boats.

    Embarkation was orderly, and the navy did its usual workmanlike job of transporting several hundred soldiers and their wives and material from the small cantonment out to the waiting ships. The guns came off first, and the marines last.

    The Loyal Ethiopians worked from dawn until dark, packing their equipment and then dismantling the lines they had dug with so much labor, hauling the cannon that had been landed from the ships, and loading the longboats. There was no time to drill, or talk, or learn to read. For two days, they labored every hour of daylight.

    Virgil, back on his feet and almost healthy, managed to secrete several barrels of their tobacco among the military stores, ensuring a continued supply of cash. They were supposed to be paid as soldiers, but they hadn’t received pay since Williamsburg. The lack of hard coin was hardly limited to the black troops. Most men of the Fourteenth hadn’t seen their pay since the start of the campaign.

    On Tuesday, the guns went into the boats, a piece of engineering that delighted Caesar, as he watched the sailors set up a spiderweb of ropes and hoist the guns off their cradles and crane them into the ships’ boats, one tube at a time. On Wednesday, they loaded the Fourteenth’s baggage and women, and on Thursday they loaded their own. The marines had no followers or women, and they loaded their own kits.

    Friday morning dawned bright and calm, the sun already giving the promise of great heat in the first moments of dawn while the drummer beat. Caesar got his section up and in their jackets, and then marched them to the parade, where they met the other sections and formed their company. Gradually, all three of the companies formed up in the new light, and then Mr. Robinson led them down to the magazine, the last structure left in the cantonment, to take their arms and accoutrements. Two sentries from the marines were waiting for them, and they looked unhappy.

    Their confrontation with Mr. Robinson was far to the front of their column, but the rumor filtered back to Caesar fast enough. No arms. They won’t give us our arms. Caesar heard Mr. Robinson quite clearly when he lost his temper.

    “These are not slaves! These men are soldiers!”

    And the sentry replied, “We have our orders.”

    They stood for a while in the rising sun, and then Robinson marched them back to their own parade. It had a forlorn look, no longer surrounded by huts and tents. The tentage had been folded and packed out to the boats, and the huts knocked down, and their parade was just an open space in the middle of the wreckage of their camp. They all felt naked to be standing here without muskets—here, where every morning of the winter had seen them parade under arms and drill, even if the drill was followed by a day of labor. Robinson paced up and down in front of the three companies; Mr. Edgerton had already found a stool, sat upon it, and opened a book. Finally, Robinson called for the officers and sergeants. As Caesar was acting in lieu of a sergeant in Mr. Edgerton’s company, he moved forward hesitantly, but no one seemed to resent his presence.

    Robinson spoke angrily. “I’m going to the governor. Mr. Edgerton, please do not take the men to the ships until this matter is resolved. Remember, there are other companies in our battalion, at other posts. We owe it to them to resolve this. I don’t need to tell you, gentlemen, that it will be very difficult to keep the men to their duty if we lose our arms. Frankly, it will be difficult to keep me to my duty. That is all. Have the men rest on the spot. I’d like them ready to move at a moment’s notice.”

    And then he was gone.

    An hour later, Caesar was sitting on a broken twelvepounder ammunition crate, sharing a smoke with Virgil. Caesar’s pipe was foul, and he thought he might start a small fire to rebake the pipe and burn it clean. He mentioned this to Virgil, who agreed enthusiastically.

    “Won’t get another chance when we’re on board ship,” he said. “I heard we goin’ out for months.”

    “I heard they’re sending us to Jamaica,” said Caesar. He shrugged. “I don’t want to go back to Jamaica, even less if I don’t have arms.”

    “We wouldn’t stay free a minute,” agreed Virgil, already digging in his pack for his tinderbox. Caesar laid up a fire from the abundant scrap, and in a moment they had a small blaze. As soon as they had coals, other men came and placed their pipes in them. A few minutes in the coals would burn a clay pipe back to the chalky whiteness that meant it was clean and restore the taste. So absorbed had most of Edgerton’s company become in this ritual that they missed the first navy midshipman altogether. He came and demanded that the Loyal Ethiopians board their transports. Edgerton refused, pleading orders.

    They all heard the second messenger. By this time, the only troops ashore were the Ethiopians and some marine pickets out beyond the former earthworks. There were rebels in the area, although they seemed as anxious to let the British and Loyalists leave as the former were to be gone. The second messenger was an older midshipman, blond and heavy set and glowing red in the heat. He towered over Edgerton, who would never have been called large.

    “Sir, we must get your men aboard.”

    “Sir, please inform your officer that I have orders from my superior that these men are not to march without their arms.”

    “Your arms have already been moved from the magazine. It is not a navy matter. My captain assures you that once we are aboard ship the matter will be looked into.”

    Edgerton held firm. Caesar was surprised. Edgerton had never seemed as firm in their cause, or in any cause for that matter, and that he now stood up to a growing queue of naval dignitaries raised the man in his estimation. But they all began to wonder at the absence of Mr. Robinson.

    As the morning wore into afternoon and Caesar’s fire died and the pipes became cool enough to be enjoyed, the rank of the navy officers reached a new height when the captain of their vessel himself came ashore. He didn’t appear angry, though. He walked purposefully up to Edgerton and took him off to the side. Every man in the Ethiopians watched the exchange, although none could hear it. The captain spoke for a while, and Edgerton suddenly straightened as if struck or shot, then slumped. The impression of injury was so strong that several of the Ethiopians started forward but halted when they saw him shake his head and address the captain briefly. Then he bowed, wiped his eyes and moved slowly back to the men where they waited, defeat written on his features, and ordered the sergeants to have them fall in. The navy captain stood nearby, clearly unhappy. When the men were standing in their ranks, Edgerton looked them over, and when he spoke, his voice had aged.

    “You are to march aboard the boats immediately. The navy doesn’t wish you to know, but to hell with that. Captain Honey has shot Mr. Robinson. They say it was a duel. Any rate, we are to go to a different ship lest there be a ‘difference of opinion’.”

    Sergeant Peters spoke up strongly from his place at the right of his company.

    “How is Mr. Robinson? Sir?”

    Edgerton looked at him, his eyes red from tears held back. He looked older, a broken man in middle age.

    “He’s dead. Now get them moving.”
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2019
  3. Marcus Antonius

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    Continental fife and drum band 1776

    The regular Continental soldier wore a blue coat with red cuffs. Musicians, on the other hand, wore a red coat with blue cuffs. The red made them stand out on a battlefield where visibility was limited. It also made them stand out to the enemy, so if they were discovered, it was immediately clear that the small figure ahead was a musician — unarmed and not a threat (drummers were considered noncombatants). As an added bonus, the inverted uniforms were made from leftover materials in creating soldiers' garb.

    [​IMG][​IMG]
    Spanish Dollar 1775

    Weymes held back, the lantern under his watch coat, an enveloping garment provided by the grateful ladies of Williamsburg. Bludner stood in his sergeant’s uniform at the edge of the parade, his arms crossed, the picture of impatience. The camp was dark; the last drum call had sounded. Weymes had to strain to see Bludner, but eventually the man nodded to him, and Weymes began to pick his way through the camp, counting tents and brush huts until he came to the one where their fifers and drummers lay. It was a cunning work of layered brush and added thatch, both warm and dry but a refuge for every mosquito in the camp, even on a night as chill as this. He tugged at the wool blanket that hung across the entrance.

    “Noah?” He mimicked McCoy’s Irish accent. “Yer wanted on the parade, my lad.” He kept his voice low, to make the disguise work the better, and as soon as he heard a response and movement from the hut, he pulled the watch coat around him and, lantern visible, began to walk back to the parade. Decoying blacks had long been part of his trade; he was almost pleased to be doing something more useful than shouldering a musket.

    He looked back once, to see that Noah was close behind. It wouldn’t really matter now if the boy identified him; it was important that the other musicians remember McCoy coming to the tent, not he or Bludner. Weymes didn’t understand the plan, but it didn’t trouble him. Bludner tended to make large plans and Weymes knew he need only play his parts to get his share of the reward.

    As he passed out of the streets of tents and wigwams and on to the parade, the boy caught up with him.

    “Wait, suh! I need ma’ drum!”

    “Not where you’re going, my lad!” said Bludner, and clamped a huge hand over his mouth. The boy tried to fight, squirming and scratching until Bludner pulled him close and hit him almost gently, just behind the ear.

    Weymes held the sack while Bludner dropped him in. They hoisted it, and were out of the camp in a minute. The night was hardly even old before they passed the lines of sentries, and the buyer was waiting in the old apple orchard by the river, just as he had said. He opened the sack and ran his hands over the boy, inside his mouth and over his teeth and gums, then over all his limbs—nothing sensual, just the rough touch of the horse trader.

    The buyer looked happy. “Just as you said, gentlemen. Did he put up much of a fight?”

    “He took it ‘ard. They always do, the poor beggars. But he’ll be happier when he’s back to real work. They’re bred to slavery. Freedom don’ suit them.”

    “Right, then. Here’s the price as agreed.”

    Bludner counted the money. Spanish dollars and some English silver, well over ten pounds English, and hard currency.

    “You’re a real gen’leman, sir. A fine price. I think I must add that it wouln’ be fair for you to sport this lad around ‘ere for a while. The company would know ‘im if they saw ‘im.”

    The other man laughed, a hard laugh that might have touched Weymes if he’d been alone.

    “He’ll be in the Indies in five weeks, given a fair wind. Good night, then.” He hoisted the bag and headed off toward the city. They split the money there, and Bludner repeated their story until Weymes had it right. They knew the game.

    In an hour, they were asleep in their straw.


    George Lake never really believed that McCoy had anything to do with the disappearance of Noah, but most of the men did, although the true believers muttered that Bludner had been a slave-taker and that once a man had fallen so low he was there forever. George never quite figured what Captain Lawrence thought; he never mixed with the men, and after Noah vanished he seemed harder than ever. The other drummers insisted that McCoy had called Noah to the parade at night, which he sometimes did when he wanted to practice an alarm. McCoy repeated to anyone who would listen that he had never called the black boy, that he was innocent, that the whole company was hurt by the loss.

    It was the wonder of a few days, and much discussed. Bludner beat a man very badly for suggesting that he had been involved, but didn’t bother to hide his satisfaction that the boy was gone.

    “He made us look low,” was Bludner’s response to any suggestion that the boy had been valuable.

    The other drummer was passable, although he did tend to mix his signals when he got flustered. His sticking was good enough, and he started training a young soldier from Lake’s own section. For two weeks, their marching suffered, as the new drummer beat his drum a little too slow or a little too fast, throwing the men off in one evolution or another and forcing an angry Captain Lawrence to demand that the drummer stay silent so that the men could perform their maneuvers.

    The aftermath of the boy’s loss split the company even more deeply. Bludner blamed the new drummer for being “unfit, like all these soft boys”, and the true believers rallied behind their own and suspected that Bludner had shown his colors and taken the boy. Fights got worse, and McCoy had suddenly lost the authority to deal with them. Too many still suspected him, and someone had whispered that he blamed Bludner to cover his own guilt. It was an ugly time.

    But rumors that the British were moving on New York City began to drown the concerns of their company, and by early June, when they were issued with ball ammunition and three days’ rations for a march, it became clear that they were going north. No one knew where the British would land, or whether there would be a fight, but at last they were leaving Philadelphia. They didn’t march so well, and Captain Lawrence never seemed to be pleased, but they were done with the camp and going to the war.
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2019
  4. Marcus Antonius

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    Do you not know that life is a soldier’s service? One man must keep guard,
    another go out to reconnoiter, another take the field. It is not possible for all
    to stay where they are, nor is it better so. But you neglect to fulfill the
    orders of the general and complain, when some severe order is laid upon
    you; you do not understand to what a pitiful state you are bringing the army
    so far as in you lies; you do not see that if all follow your example there
    will be no one to dig a trench, or raise a palisade, no one to keep
    night watch or fight in the field, but every one will seem an unserviceable soldier.

    …So too it is in the world; each man’s life is a campaign, and a long
    and varied one. It is for you to play the soldier’s part—do everything at the
    General’s bidding, divining his wishes, if it be possible.


    EPICTETUS​
     
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  5. Marcus Antonius

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    The most famous of the Black Loyalist military units were the Black Pioneers and Guides, formed from the disbanded Loyal Ethiopian Regiment in May 1776

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    British Sloop-of-war, 1776

    Sergeant King returned to them, briefly. He had recovered from his wound but was almost unable to speak from the damage to his mouth, and eating was a labor. He went back to the navy immediately, stopping only to shake hands with the men who had been in his platoon. He convinced a few to join the Royal Navy.

    “No bastard will treat you like they treated ye,” he said, his voice full of gravel. “Navy needs men, an’ don’ ask too close about their past or their color.”

    That much was true. Both of the frigates that had waited out the winter with them in the Chesapeake were clearly short of men. The war had caught them unprepared, with peacetime crews meant for chasing foes no more dangerous than the occasional smuggler. The heavy crews that were needed to fight the great guns and sail the ship were kept only in wartime. Sailors were better paid than soldiers, and such crews were too much for the navy to maintain when there was no one to fight. The war with the colonists changed that, and the ships on the American station were taking any men they could get.

    The rumors that they were bound for New York as a labor force grew to the point where Sergeant Peters, now a sick man, confessed to Caesar that if he didn’t have his wife to care for, he’d consider enlisting as a sailor himself. Mr. Edgerton took no action to stop the navy from taking his men. Indeed, he was barely visible for most of the spring, and then one day they heard he had been posted to the board of ordnance, leaving them without an officer, which seemed a dangerous development.

    Caesar didn’t trust the navy. And he had had a taste of the army, and wanted to try it again. He had exercised command, and liked it. But it was more complicated than that, in his mind, and he sought to understand it all. Perhaps it was the acceptance from the Fourteenth Foot when they were about to go on to the fight at Great Bridge, just the acceptance of other men. Perhaps it was the thrill of the fight. Caesar knew he had been bred to love that in Africa. He fancied the army, and he meant to make his way in it.

    The Fourteenth changed transports and went off to the Indies with the navy, bound for a different campaign. Caesar had no warning and no chance to say goodbye, but understood from the sailors that France, another great power over the water, was threatening war, and the ships and men were going south to the tropics to defend the sugar islands against them. Caesar smiled a little, to himself. He didn’t think his heart would have been in any defense of the sugar islands, even if the devils of hell had been the enemy.


    They were moved to the Penelope, a transport that now held most of the remaining Ethiopians and their women, and the frigates left them, taking away the chance of freedom within the harsh discipline of the navy, and the chance of riches in prize money.

    Jim, once he recovered, grew at an astounding rate. Sally had brought him food every day, whether he ate it or not, and once he was well enough to eat, the richer food seemed to extend his bones a little every day.

    Willy and Paget began to creep into their circle, as the rumors flew and the treatment on board ship grew more like the treatment they had endured on land at the end. At first, Caesar kept them at arm’s length, as troublemakers, but Tonny and Virgil pleaded their case, and in time, they were allowed to sit and smoke in the section of cable tier that the group had marked down as their own. Lope stayed with them, as well. He wasn’t bright, but he worked hard, and he could sew a bit.

    The Penelope, of Liverpool, was well found and relatively new, but she sagged to leeward, couldn’t sail anything like a bowline, and her captain spent much of his time drunk. The weeks wore into months and the ships remained anchored in little pools of their own filth, and Penelope’s little flaws of sailing became more obvious every time she moved to leave her waste behind her. The sailors had no animosity for the blacks, but what fellow feeling they might have shared was tempered with a lively inclination for the women the black soldiers brought with them, and only constant attention and some rumors of disease kept the situation from becoming deadly.

    A bad storm would move them all out to sea to ride it out in safety, but a return to gentle weather meant back to the heat and the stench. The smell was all too familiar to the black passengers. The Penelope was coming to smell like a blackbirder, a slave ship.

    Peters and Caesar maintained their authority. The mere fact that Caesar’s circle stayed together gave them an edge; they were the largest group aboard, and the toughest, and they were willing to use force to keep order. Other ships might have become floating brothels or worse, but not the Penelope. The brief southern spring gave way to summer, and the heat and stench drove past unbearable and into hellish. And still Caesar walked the decks, talking to this one and that one, keeping their spirits up, holding them to the standards they had learned from the Fourteenth, both to drill and appearance. He paraded the women every so often, looking for bruises and split lips, for pregnancy, for all the things that the British soldiers looked for when they paraded their women. The women supported him, too. Black Lese, a big woman who had been a slave in New York and spoke Dutch, became their spokesman. She was not a “good” woman like Sergeant Peters’s wife, and she cared nothing for the Bible, but she had become the mouthpiece of the women on the Penelope.

    They no longer had arms, or if they did, the arms were stored in another ship, and no one troubled to tell them. So Caesar and Peters drilled the men with brooms or bits of spar that the sailors could spare, and drilled them every day, even as the heat became infernal. All the men grumbled. Most of those on board were Loyal Ethiopians, but not all; some were members of other units, or just blacks swept up in the last withdrawal from the peninsula. Peters decided early that they would all drill, and Caesar enforced this order.

    Behind Peters’s easy authority and educated air, there was another, distant mentor for Caesar in his Roman namesake, whose cunning and ruthlessness began to seem natural to Caesar in the hot air of the ship, whose lessons about war were there every night when he went to read with Sergeant Peters.

    Caesar was learning to quell mutiny before it came to violence, but twice he missed his moment, or someone mistook his sincerity for weakness. Both times he crushed his opponent in the darkness of the lower deck, first winning and then punishing until his point was clear. That weakness was no kindness was a lesson he learned, and perhaps over-learned, from the crushing of the Gauls. The Gauls, whom the Roman Caesar made slaves.

    Caesar’s authority grew with practice until it was natural. And as it grew, he noticed that Tonny and Jim and Virgil seemed a little distant. It troubled him. The Roman Caesar never mentioned having a friend while he destroyed Gaul.


    Rumor was part of daily life, but toward June the rumors flew thicker and faster. Every department seemed to have its own source of rumor and its own light to shine on possible futures. The sailors said they were going north, the soldiers maintained that they were going south, and the board of ordnance and the governor’s staff suggested that they were going to Long Island, off the port of New York. Caesar knew enough former Ethiopians who were now servants aboard the governor’s flagship to trust the latter, and began to pin his hopes on passage north to Long Island, and a summer campaign. The British Army had been defeated in Boston as in Virginia, and by the middle of June hopes among the white Loyalists as to the outcome of the war seemed to be at an all-time low. But as the Royal Navy vessels set off one by one for the south—indicating that, as far as their own service was concerned, the sailors’ scuttlebutt was as accurate as the servants’ gossip—and the little fleet broke up, Caesar watched the trash around the ship with new hope.

    They finally sailed away from the Chesapeake one day in late June, almost the last ship to depart. The governor had left days before, and it had begun to seem to the blacks as if they were unwanted when the ship suddenly trembled with new life. A few more passengers came aboard, the last white Loyalists to leave Virginia, and then, at the change of the tide, the sailors moved briskly for the first time in months, sails were hoisted, and they were away. The moment they dropped sight of land the breeze cooled, and although squalls had them all in the scuppers, sick and feeble for days, the cool and the rain were a welcome relief from the endless heat and the stench of the long delay. They were away north, and were leaving behind those unspoken fears that had plagued Caesar since the wait began: that they might be abandoned or sacrificed, or simply turned ashore.

    After the first few days they were all well enough, and most of the hale men joined in the working of the ship as well as they were able. There was never a shortage of hands to pull on a rope or sweep the ship, flogging the last of the blackbirder stench out of her. There was no answer for the thick weed that now clung to her below the waterline, taking whatever fine points of sailing she might have had clean away, but what human hands could do aboard they all did. The captain sobered up to do his navigation, and the ship was happy enough.

    Four days off the Chesapeake they saw a strange sail at twilight and the captain doubled back, sailing along his own wake half the night and then setting a new course. The Yankees were known to have privateers out in every water and every weather, and every black man and woman aboard feared them and the necessary return to slavery that would follow capture at sea. But the captain’s simple ruse worked well enough, or perhaps there had been no threat to begin with. Either way, the morning found the horizon clear again, and so they sailed for days and days, the women sewing and singing, the men still busy at their drill or helping with the work of the ship.

    On a Sunday early in July, they sailed into the great anchorage at Sandy Hook off Long Island, coasting into the midst of the greatest fleet any of them had ever seen, even the sailors aboard who had served in the last war. Through repeated hails they found the governor’s ship, and came alongside long enough to report their presence. None of the blacks ever found the reason why their own Penelope had lingered so long, if there was a reason at all. But the great fleet brought hope to every Loyalist, black and white, that the king would not be defeated, that they would be upheld. For the whites, it suggested the possibility of the return of their property, and for the blacks, the hope of liberty.

    On the third of July, the fleet landed troops on Staten Island, and Caesar and the remnants of the Ethiopians received their first taste of their new role in the army; they were dispatched ashore to dig entrenchments. It was easy work; there was no opposition, and the ground was soft after it had been broken up by picks. Despite the separation of the work from the drill under arms that constituted the “art of war”, Caesar and all the Ethiopians set to it with a will. It offered a change from the cramped quarters of the ships, and they received their first pay since the last parade in Williamsburg, many months before. They were not paid to date; few soldiers were, but the existence of any pay at all at least confirmed that they were not slaves.

    They dug under the supervision of officers from the engineers, a different breed from the other British officers they had met. Engineers were men who went to a difficult school in England. They did not purchase their commissions like other officers, but won them after long study in mathematics and gunnery. Peters and Caesar both came to the commanding engineer’s notice quickly, because they could read and write, and Peters could do mathematics. Jim had stuck to his drawing, at least as long as they had been on board Mr. Harding’s ship; he was also learning geometry from Peters. Murray, the senior engineer, had them copy his notes every day and read them back, as well as using their skills to get more out of the men. He complimented them absently (as if unaware that men needed such praise to get on with work) but mentioned the unit in his daily reports to the commander, Lord Howe.

    The rebel army made no attempt to contest Staten Island, and soon afterwards, Lord Howe’s brother, the admiral, arrived at Sandy Hook with more ships and more men. There were so many vessels that Sandy Hook appeared a bare pine wood floating on the sea, with branches and trees as far as the eye could see. The Ethiopians went back to their ship, their ranks enlarged by some few Staten Island blacks they had liberated from farms there. A few spoke only Dutch, and Black Lese had to translate for them. Their odd words and overdone facial expressions gave them a comic air, but they dug as well as other men, and Peters placed them under Virgil to learn the basic drill, although few of the former Ethiopians really expected to see arms again. It was rapidly becoming a rite of passage, that all the men knew how to perform the manual.

    The armed sloop Tryal, anchored next to them, began to invite visitors to their drill, and it became part of the spectacle of the fleet. Sometimes officers would come and watch, as amused by the sight of black men at drill as they would have been by a bear dancing or other frolics that seemed to go against the natural order. But they drilled anyway, and gambled, and dreamed of ways to spend their pay.

    After a few days, the Tryal and some larger frigates dropped down the river past the rebel posts there, and there was firing for several hours. Royal Navy ships around them beat to quarters, but they never knew what the purpose of the maneuver was, unless simply to strike confusion and terror in the king’s enemies.

    It was the middle of August before they showed any signs of disembarking again; most of the army lived in camps on Staten Island, but the Ethiopians were kept aboard their ship. It was cleaner, in the cooler air of Sandy Hook, the breezes were more frequent, and the spirits of the men and women aboard were higher than they had been in the Chesapeake. They waited. They watched the preparations, witnessed the arrival of Sir Henry Clinton’s force that had failed to take Charleston in the south, watched the seaborne skirmishes up the river and the attack by the rebels with fireships on HMS Rose and the Tryal. No one seemed to know why they were waiting or for what.

    On the 21st of August, everything began to move. Peters received orders through the former governor of Virginia that the “black pioneers” would be wanted with the advance column, and they were issued tools and forage bags—but no arms. They disembarked amongst strangers who paid them no regard. No one exchanged remarks with them, or treated them as comrades. They were placed in the middle of the grenadier column, with the baggage.

    It was not an auspicious start to his second campaign, but Caesar watched it all with anticipation. The grenadiers were magnificent in their fine uniforms, taller than the average soldier, and older, deadly. They performed the motions of the manual with an air of efficiency that was different from the mere expertise he had become used to with the Fourteenth. The grenadiers appeared to him to be hard men, practiced at war. He longed to be one of them. They ignored him. The army prepared to march to war on Long Island.

    And the Loyal Ethiopians, those who were left, were carrying only picks and shovels.
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2019
  6. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    Marcus Antonius #8887
    [​IMG]
    Lord Howe

    [​IMG]
    Benedict Arnold

    [​IMG]
    Charles Lee

    [​IMG]
    John Sullivan

    [​IMG]
    Sir Guy Carleton

    [​IMG]
    Joseph Reed

    [​IMG]
    The Declaration

    The enemy had come.

    At first, when he had sat in New York, listening to the news of disaster from Canada, Washington had begun to fear that he had guessed incorrectly, and that Lord Howe had taken the British regiments out of Boston and used them to defeat Arnold and Montgomery at Quebec. Then it became possible that they had gone to Halifax, and from there would move to Rhode Island, or the Carolinas, or even into the Chesapeake. They controlled the sea, and they could go anywhere, and he sat in New York with all the army he could muster save those regiments he sent to repair the disaster in the north, watching and waiting, hoping that the enemy chose New York and not some other, defenseless morsel of the great coast he had sworn to defend.

    He sent his best generals away, to support the other theaters of war, just as he had expected in January. Charles Lee was off to the south, to defend Charleston and direct the southern war. Horatio Gates and John Sullivan were both off to the north to take commands against Guy Carleton, who had already eaten several generals, capturing some and breaking others. Carleton had held Quebec all winter. He was cutting through the Continental forces like hot iron through snow, driving the remnants of the northern army all the way from Quebec to Sorrel.

    And all Washington could do was to sit near New York, building and training his army as he had in the siege of Boston. It was ironic that he had opened the war with the siege of the British Army, and now bid fair to stand a siege himself.

    He worked, and worried, changed his staff, appointed new officers, wrote regulations, and worried more. He and Charles Lee had guessed that the enemy had to take New York. In the moments after victory at Boston, it had seemed obvious, but now, in light of the other news, it appeared an irresponsible guess. He had built an army. He had raised a corps of officers in his own image, who believed in discipline. He had given them a body of regulations and a manual of arms, and he had created a staff and a series of systems to govern the army, feed it, provide recruits for its continuance.

    And then the first sails were sighted, and soon hundreds of masts appeared off Sandy Hook. He had caught a tiger. And now his army would fight.

    He read through the day’s reports, noted with moderate surprise that the enemy was digging in on Staten Island, and called for the day’s general orders, written out fair by Colonel Reed, the adjutant general. Only one thing was wanting for the army, besides wagonloads of new equipment, and that was a spirit different from mere rebellion, which Washington privately abhorred. Rebellion would lead individual men to rebel, which was not his purpose.

    Colonel Reed had written the orders well. Desertion would now be punished with thirty-nine lashes on the bare back, a sufficient punishment to deter the casual deserter; there were new regulations on obtaining passes for soldiers wishing to travel or visit nearby towns, and an order to provide chaplains for the regiments that did not possess them. Then he came to the meat of the day’s orders, whose meaning would change the army and the whole nature of the war. Washington had a draft of the original document by his elbow, and he had read it with growing delight, the magical words expressing precisely the steps which had led him to war. Once it was read to the troops, they would know exactly what the stakes were in this war, and it would no longer be a mere matter of rebellion.

    The Continental Congress, impelled by the dictates of duty, policy and
    necessity, having been pleased to dissolve the Connection which subsisted
    between this Country, and Great Britain, and to declare the United Colonies
    of North America, free and independent States: the several brigades are to
    be drawn up this evening on their respective Parades, at Six O’clock, when
    the declaration of Congress, showing the grounds and reasons of this
    measure, is to be read with an audible voice.

    Washington cleaned the nib of his quill on a rag, dipped it, and wrote carefully at the bottom of Reed’s copperplate.

    The General hopes this important event will serve as a fresh incentive to every officer and every soldier, to act with Fidelity and Courage, as knowing that the peace and safety of his Country depends (under God) solely on the success of our arms: and that he is now in the service of a State, possessed of sufficient power to reward his merit, and advance him to the highest honors of a free country.

    George Lake mustered his men quickly enough and fell in on the parade. Neither of the drummers who had replaced Noah had the spirit or the strength of wrist to beat any call as loud as Noah had, and the muster now involved the corporals racing about the camp yelling for their men, and the sergeants going to their place on parade and yelling for the company to be brought to them. George missed Noah. He had made them a better company. In his absence, they had lost some hard-won skills, like the ability to load and fire volleys to the drum. Noah had had some peculiar mixture of skill and intelligence that allowed him to listen to the sergeants and officers and beat the order just fast enough to allow the best fire.

    Lake thought of Noah often, because he now had to contend with Bludner every day. Bludner was very much in command of the company. Mr. Lawrence mustered them, and stood at the front during inspections and reviews, but it was Bludner who set the tone. Lake missed the skill that McCoy had exercised, and the attention to detail, but most of all, he missed the distance McCoy had placed between himself and the other men. And he knew that Bludner had driven McCoy out as surely as he knew that McCoy had nothing to do with the loss of Noah. Bludner was friendly with the other back-country men, and no friend at all to the other apprentices.

    Despite which, Lake continued to serve as a corporal and knew he was being considered for sergeant. He was smart, smarter than Bludner, and he only needed experience. He read everything he could find, borrowed manuals from officers in other companies, used his pay in Philadelphia to buy books. His section looked smart and drilled well, and they were often the first on parade. This evening, for instance, he’d taken the precaution when morning orders were read to tell them off and ask them to “lie handy” for a six o’clock formation, and they had.

    Walters and Miller still had a lot of baby fat in their faces, and Miller still used a fowler from home that couldn’t carry a bayonet, but every one of his men had a cartridge box and a bayonet strap, even if Miller and Neldt lacked bayonets. Their hats were cocked just so, and they looked like soldiers. That could not be said for every man in the company.

    The company fell in gradually, a section at a time, a few men running up late, and they were no longer the sharpest company in their battalion, as they had been before Philadelphia. Other officers worked their men harder, or perhaps had better drummers and sergeants. Either way, the battalion formed with the brigade, and Captain Lawrence, who was serving his turn as brigade major, stepped to the center of the parade with grave steps.

    “Shoulder your firelocks!” he called, and they did, in passable unison, twelve hundred muskets going to twelve hundred left shoulders.

    “Attention. General Washington has directed that the following be read at the head of every brigade.” He looked around, cleared his throat, and held a piece of paper before him.

    “When in the course of human events…”

    It took several minutes to read, and muskets quickly get heavy, but no one noticed, so solemn was the moment. No one grumbled in the ranks, or demanded to be allowed to go back to the order. No one made jokes. They stood together at attention as the powerful words flowed over them, until the very end.

    Captain Lawrence rolled the papers crisply and looked from left to right along the front of the brigade.

    “Three cheers for the Continental Congress and the Independence of the United Colonies! And let them hear you in Philadelphia!”

    He raised the hand with the papers, and the first cheer rang out over the parade.

    “HUZZAH!

    “HUZZAH!

    “HUZZAH!”
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2019
  7. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    John Julius Stewart was a short man, and no one who had not seen him in action would call him graceful or even handsome. His red hair was thick, but it wouldn’t stay in a queue, and his features were snubbed, as though someone had pushed his face against something hard before they were set. His wide-set green eyes were too large for fashion, and gave him a faintly comical air. His limbs were too long for his trunk, and he never seemed to have gotten around to learning the use of them: long legs that he stuck out at odd angles, long arms that his tailor couldn’t really conceal.

    But it was the hair that his vanity hated most, and it was his hair that generally got the most attention from various dressers, though to little effect until he met Jeremy.

    Jeremy had received every boon of nature denied to his master. He was as handsome as a Roman statue, proportioned aptly, so that, though he stood an inch less in height than his master, people who had met them in London or on a hunt remembered the man as towering over the master. Jeremy had brown eyes and carefully straightened dark hair that always sat perfectly on his head. In fact, it was the experience of dressing his own hair and his family’s that prepared him for the struggle of his new master.

    John Julius had no more been born to the aristocracy than Jeremy had been born to service. John Julius Stewart was the son of a prosperous Edinburgh merchant, and had been to Smyrna and Alexandria before he was fifteen. His father had packed him off to the army lest he run away to sea. Being an officer made him a gentleman, though his mercantile connections ensured a certain number of sneers.

    Jeremy’s father ran a prosperous and fashionable grocers in London. As a boy he had gone away to serve the Earl of Linsford’s lovely, silly wife. She had a passion to have a black boy, and treated Jeremy more as a pet than a servant. He first loved, then resented it, but he received the best education possible, as well as an accent and a set of manners that couldn’t be learned in any other school. In fact, he had more breeding than his master, which John Julius readily owned. Of course, when the pretty plump black boy became a young man, the lady was done with him. Black men were not the beau ideal of society; besides, his apparent age served all too well as a reminder of her own.

    Jeremy went home for a while, but home was a difficult, cramped place after an estate and a series of grand London houses. His mother and father seemed a little vulgar, his peers simple or just low. He had no way to make a living, nor any particular interest in learning one, and black men who could fence and write verse were not as much in demand as he had hoped. Despite his father’s desire that he follow in the shop, he had chosen service as the best of a bad set of options, and had looked for a military man. His former mistress’s husband had been a colonel of militia; the pageant had fascinated him, and so had the toys.

    The two men shared a passion for popular novels, a knowledge of the military sports, and a hope for adventure. Jeremy looked around the tiny bedroom of their marquee with satisfaction, enjoying the rustic comforts of the folding beds, the padded close stool and the campaign desk. A curtain of linen canvas separated the bedroom from the tent’s sitting room, where his master might have his brother officers for a glass of brandy or a cup of chocolate or coffee. Jeremy had a proprietary air toward the marquee, which he had earned by supervising its manufacture according to a French book on castramentation that he had found in a London bookseller when they were making up their equipment. It was the best furnished in their regiment, which gave them both a great deal of quiet satisfaction.

    When the regiment left England to take the field in earnest, several of the more aristocratic officers who had given Stewart to understand that his position as a Scot and a merchant’s son was very low indeed, had quit the regiment, exchanging with officers who sought active service. Those who stayed were either more tolerant or simply quiet.

    The Edinburgh merchant’s son had one thing most of them lacked—ready money. He used it carefully, and without too much display, and bought a vacant captaincy in the light company, the regiment’s scouts and skirmishers, and good horses and weapons. Jeremy saw to their comforts; he ordered the tent and the desk and the beds. The four good chairs in the sitting room had been “acquired” by a patrol of the light company, and had probably adorned a local house.

    “I left Evelina on your bed, Jems.” The touch of the Scot was still there, although London had removed a great deal of it.

    “Sorry, sir?”

    “Evelina! The book we heard so much of on the ship. Don’t be wooly-headed, Jems, there’s a good fellow. Remember Lieutenant Burney?”

    “I do, sir. A naval gentleman. He was out with Cook.”

    “Just so.”

    “And knew the Tahitian, Odiah.”

    “More to the point, Jems, he has a sister.”

    “Who writes. Yes, sir. My pardon, I don’t know where my head was at. Miss Burney, who writes.”

    “Just so. Her first is on the bed, called Evelina. A novel of very deep sensibility.”

    “Are you finished, then?”

    “Oh, yes. I had it off Waters. He recommended it, and I dare say I devoured it.”

    Jeremy found the little brown volume, still only paperbound, with the covers curled and many pages bent. He sniffed at it—horse sweat. Most things smelled of horse, lately. Horses had a handsome aroma anyway.

    “Did you get us any mail while I was off, Jems?”

    “Yes, sir. Two from Miss McLean.”

    “Give, you criminal!”

    Jeremy walked to the little door between the tent’s two rooms and poked his head around.

    “They’re on your hat.”

    The hat, a small and fashionable bicorn trimmed in the regimental manner and boasting a spray of cock’s feathers, was the sole ornament of the tent’s central piece of furniture, a camp table. Tucked upright in the stiff Nirvenois back of the hat were two letters in travel-smeared outer envelopes.

    “Ahh!”

    Jeremy smiled and muttered “just so” as he went back to tidying the bedroom.

    “I’d like to get a piece of Turkey carpet to put in here, sir.” Requests put during one of Miss McLean’s letters were apt to be granted.

    “Jeremy, when this army moves, we have to move all this, you know.”

    “We have bhat horses and baggage allotment.”

    “Jeremy, trust a man who’s at least chased the odd smuggler in Ireland. When we move, half this stuff will vanish never to be seen again, and by the time we see action we’ll be sleeping in greatcoats and drinking soldiers’ tea.”

    “I can get one for a shilling or two, sir.” Patiently, because John Julius did not always know what was in his own best interest.

    Jeremy had not expected to like his employer. He would have left a man he detested or who misused him. When he applied to be valet to a merchant’s son with manners to match, he had not expected humor, or tolerance, or a master willing to be a student in the arcane arts of the culture of the upper class. If John Julius Stewart had any flaws, they were the flaws of idleness. He seemed to have no temper at all, he didn’t fight duels, and his taste in women seemed entirely limited to just one, Miss McLean, a daughter of property and gentility in the wilds of Scotland. And Stewart had much to teach: he was a superb horseman, a crack shot, and had other skills that seemed, like the blades of a folding knife, to appear when wanted and then vanish, never to be hinted at. On board the naval ship that had carried them to America, he had endeared himself to the officers by knowing the names of every line and spar, a rare feat for a passenger and rarer for a redcoat.

    When the regiment was ordered for American service and he had secured command of the light company, they had located cloth and tailors, and had every man in a dark blue watch cloak before the ship sailed, a little miracle wrought by hard guineas and Stewart’s merchant knowledge. These were the things at which Mr. Stewart excelled.

    “Don’t start the book until my hair’s done, Jems.”

    “Sorry, sir.” He had been looking out of the little window formed by dropping the wall of the tent a fraction, watching the dragoons at drill on the hillside above the camp. He picked up the leather sack that held his hair tools and pushed through the canvas drapes to the other room.

    John Julius was sitting in the tent’s most comfortable chair, reading from a leather-bound book. His unruly red hair was unbound and unbrushed, all over his face and somewhere down his back. It gave him the comic air of a threepenny-opera pirate. His robe de chambre was pulled over his regimentals; he had risen early to ride the rounds as he had been duty officer the night before. Jeremy rubbed his hands together, hard; they were cold, although it was just July. America was cold.

    He brushed the hair with quick, practiced flicks of his wrist, working the eternally tangled ends apart.

    “You were riding in the wind without even tying it back.”

    “Don’t be a shrew,” said Stewart with a little show of temper.

    “Just reach the ribbon round and tie it back! It can’t be that hard.”

    “It was dark.” It was a terrible excuse, and they both knew it. A tiny skirmish in a long war that had started with his sisters and mother and would, Jeremy thought, eventually be continued by Miss McLean.

    When the strands were well separate, he began to pull the brush through to stretch the hair. Every so often, he would use hot tongs to straighten it, although that was a major labor.

    “I have to take the company out past the lines today. Bit of a probe this afternoon. I’ll expect you along.”

    “Most pleased, sir.”

    “We didn’t beat them as badly as I thought, the other day. Their marksmen are quite active.”

    “Yes?”

    “Phillips, from the Forty-third? You remember him?”

    “I don’t believe I’ve had the honor of his acquaintance, sir.”

    “Horseman. Tall fellow…never mind. But he caught a ball. They hold a little wood in front of their lines, and post their infernal marksmen there. I’m going to wait for the afternoon sun and drive them out.”

    “I look forward to it. Honored, most pleased.”

    “Yes, I expect you are. Horse, pistols with new flints.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “I say, no powder, I think.”

    Jeremy nodded, which was Jeremy’s way of conveying that he had never, at any time, considered using hair powder on a day of active duty. Then his lips curled a little, a very slight smile. A servant’s smile.

    “Right, sir. New flints and no powder in the pistols.”

    “Damn you, sir, you know what I mean.”

    “Please don’t move, sir. It makes all this even harder.”

    Jeremy whipped most of his master’s hair together in a queue and tied it off with a strip of leather.

    “Which hat, sir?”

    “Hmmm. The good hat, I think.” John Julius Stewart wanted to fight in his best, a habit shared by most of his compatriots.

    Jeremy reached into the brazier and tried the heat of his crimping irons. Then he rolled a side curl with a practiced finger, placing it low enough that John could wear his hat in comfort, and set it, the smell of burning hair filling the tent. He set the other to match and dodged around to the front to check that they were even. When he was satisfied, one of the curls had slipped a touch and had to be redone, but its position was established and the rest was easy enough. Then he went back to the queue, releasing it from its little leather tie and brushing it out again, the tie held in his mouth. When it satisfied him that it looked something like fashionable hair, he spat out the tie, wrapped it as tight as he could and tied it off, then covered the leather with good black silk, bound the queue all the way down as the regiment required, and tied it off. The result was very good indeed, although it took quite a while. John Julius simply continued to read, with the obligatory grunts and cries of pain whenever his hair was pulled.

    Jeremy picked up the hand mirror and held it so that his master could see most of the result.

    “Splendid! Doesn’t look like my hair at all.”

    “Sir.”

    “Right. I’m off to see the adjutant about next year’s coat issue. I left you some money in the drawer; see that the bhat-man has new forage for the horses and so on, and meet me in the horse lines at one.” He pulled out his silver watch, glanced at it, and looked up. “Pass me the time?”

    Jeremy pulled his watch out by the fob, opened the case and listened, then took a silver key and wound it several turns.

    “I have a quarter past eight.”

    “And I the same. Thank you, Jeremy.”

    He took his best hat off the table, waved farewell, and pushed through the front flap.

    Jeremy went back to his bed, picked up his master’s greatcoat, and returned to the sitting room in time to hand it over as John shoved back through the flap.

    “Horse lines at one, sir.”

    “Just so.”
     
  8. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    Marcus Antonius #8887
    [​IMG]
    Smallwood’s Marylanders

    [​IMG]
    William Smallwood

    [​IMG]
    German mercenaries

    [​IMG]
    British Engineering Officer

    [​IMG]
    Riflemen, from Pennsylvania

    “Dig, you bastards!” Captain Lawrence stood in the open and bellowed at his men.

    George Lake was too tired to resent the insult. The shovel twisted in his grasp, his hands were so numb they could barely close on the wooden grip, and the cold rain kept on falling. Out in the long green fields below them, the British skirmishers could just be seen, moving casually as if they expected no resistance.

    No resistance was about what they had received, at least from George’s standpoint. His company had been hurried across the river to Long Island when it became clear that a major action was brewing. But they hadn’t seen any action; they had simply marched back and forth for two days and then become part of the broken army streaming back into the trench lines on the Brooklyn Heights. Perhaps General Washington knew why they had lost the battle without any of them ever firing a shot, but it was a mystery to Lake.

    Someone had been shooting, though. They had seen the casualties when they came across the river, piled in boats. Some men had turned white; some had feigned nonchalance. George had just been sorry—sorry that so many had been lost, and later, sorry that they had been lost for so little. There was a rumor that Washington had had to sacrifice his best regiment, Smallwood’s Marylanders, and that they had all been killed. Other men said that the German mercenaries killed every man they caught, and took no prisoners. Rumor was rife, and their company was digging alongside men from New England and Pennsylvania who had lost their regiments, lost their way, and been rallied by whatever officer caught them first.

    George plunged the shovel into the mud again and scooped it full, then threw his cast on to the low rampart that was being formed by the upcast of the ditch. The ditch was spotty, shallow, and wouldn’t hide a man, and the upcast didn’t help much. George knew men were slipping away whenever Lawrence wasn’t looking. Most of those leaving were from other regiments, but a handful were their own comrades from Virginia, and their treason made George’s heart burn.

    Bludner dug next to George. He was better at it, and tougher; George had to admit that. Weymes, his partner, wielded a pick, breaking the ground so that Bludner’s shovel could bite deeper. George watched them for a moment, watched their detachment and their competence. He hated Bludner, was sure the man had sold the drummer as a slave or killed him, despised his backwoods arrogance. But there was a great deal about the man to admire. He tended to get the job done.

    “Here, then, Mr. Lake,” said Bludner, swinging another scoop of mud over his shoulder. “Get a mate to break the ground for you, like Weymes.” He didn’t sound exhausted, just conversational, as if digging in the rain was an everyday part of life.

    Lake turned to one of his men. “Get a pick. In fact, get five picks. Form teams. Watch Bludner and Weymes.”

    “Where the hell have they been, they don’t know how to dig?” asked Weymes, contemptuously.

    “Town boys, Weymes. They never had to dig no cellars. Don’t mind them, Weymes. They want to learn, mostly.” Bludner spat, wiped his hands to get a better grip, and dug again. His hands were hard as rock, even in a downpour; Lake, that leader of the “town boys”, would probably be bleeding in a few hours. That didn’t bother Bludner, especially, although now that it looked to come to a fight, he worried that he would have to depend on the likes of Lake to cover his flank.

    “Will you look at that?” asked Weymes, and pointed away over the fields to the south.

    The British skirmishers were firing into a wood to the left of their front. The wood seemed to be held by their own Continentals; a sharp fire came back. But it wasn’t the deadly little skirmish that occupied Weymes; it was the column of black men moving up the track, well to the rear of the British skirmishers. Even in the rain, Weymes could spot a black man at a great distance.

    The black men walked up to a spot where several enemy officers were standing. They wore various coats, one red, one blue, another green, and Bludner had no idea what that meant, but soon enough, the black men spread out and started digging.

    “Sergeant Bludner, shall I send you down a hammock?” Lawrence’s voice carried very well.

    “Sir, there’s movement on our front, I think. See that clump o’ officers? An’ then the blackies? That’s new.”

    There was a stir behind Lawrence, and then a whole party of mounted men came over the ridge and right among them, all in a rush. Some of the digging men were alarmed, thinking for a moment they were under attack. Lake couldn’t see for a moment and a sense of panic was communicated to him by the men around him, but when he wiped his eyes he could see that it was a group of officers. The leader had to be General Washington: he was tall, and his horse was white.

    Captain Lawrence didn’t lose a minute in communicating his own name, or that his men were the general’s fellow Virginians. Washington looked at them, digging in the rain, which was slacking off.

    “Were you in action yesterday, Captain?”

    “No, General.”

    Washington didn’t dismount; he just sat on his horse and watched the British for a few moments.

    “Just as I thought. Colonel Reed, send to General Mercer and the Flying Column at once.”

    “Sir?”

    “I believe that the British intend to take our defenses on Brooklyn Heights by regular approaches, by digging. Look at the arrogance of that work! It’s being constructed in our faces.”

    Another officer shrugged.

    “They know we have just lost our guns, General.”

    Sergeant Bludner tugged at Lawrence’s sleeve. “I’d wager we could bust up their digging some, if you gave me a free hand.”

    Lawrence nodded at him, and then stepped in closer to stand at the general’s stirrup. “They just started work, sir. We still have men in that wood to the left. I don’t know whose they are.”

    “Riflemen, from Pennsylvania,” said the tall man who looked like Washington except his horsemanship was not of the same order. “I’m Joseph Reed, the general’s adjutant.”

    “George Lawrence, of the Virginia Regiment.”

    Washington didn’t appear to be paying them any attention. He had a telescope out now, and was watching the black men dig. They were digging fast. They were digging a great deal faster than these Virginians, and that annoyed him.

    Lawrence pressed on with Reed, since Washington didn’t seem interested.

    “That party of officers came an hour back and ran ropes. Just before you came, the blacks showed up with tools and the officer in the red coat.”

    “He’s an engineer.” Reed spoke softly.

    Lawrence stopped and looked.

    “How can you tell?”

    “Black facings, but not from the Sixty-fourth Regiment. You’ll know them all soon enough. He came up with the tools. Ipso facto, an engineer.”

    “And the other men, sir? The officers in the colored coats?”

    Washington looked down at Lawrence and smiled.

    “I’ll wager the man in the blue coat is General Howe. He’s dressed for hunting. Odd time of year for a hunt, but I honor his spirit.” The telescope went back to the black men, swept back and forth while he measured the pace of their digging, and then froze for a moment. His face darkened with an angry flush. Colonel Reed, aware that something was wrong, turned from Lawrence and rode up to him.

    “General?”

    “I must be mistaken.” The general wiped the lens of his telescope carefully with a cloth and then closed it sharply. When Reed leaned forward again, he just shook his head.

    Lawrence waved his hand at the woods.

    “We could send a patrol to rough up their diggers, sir. Down the ridge and through the woods.”

    “I will inform your brigadier, then. Do it as soon as seems best, Captain. Bring me some prisoners. I want to know why those blacks are digging. Are they slaves?”

    “They sure dig fast, for slaves.”

    “You are Virginian, Captain?”

    “Yes, General.”

    “Where are you from, Captain?”

    “Norfolk, sir.”

    “Lawrence, you say?”

    “My father ships tobacco in a small way, sir.”

    “Of course. Carry on, then, Captain.” He raised his voice. “I look for strong action from my Virginians.”

    Lake had considered falling the men in, but the digging seemed more important. He watched Washington every moment he could, though. If the cause were in tatters, no one had told General Washington; he was neat and shaved, his hair tight, his clothes clean. He looked confident, and as he gathered his staff, his eye seemed to catch every man in their company for a moment.

    George hoped he would say something, but he simply rode by them, watching them. And then he smiled a little, his lips thin, wheeled his horse, and rode away.

    “Well, boys, looks like we ain’t done yet.” George watched the general ride off with satisfaction.

    Lawrence and Bludner asked for volunteers, and the whole company clamored to come, so when their ditch was just tenable, he let them have an hour to rest and clear their muskets, and then they started down the slope in Indian file, one man at a time with a few feet between men. They angled well over to get in behind the wood from which friendly fire continued to come in spurts. The British hadn’t tried to take it and gave it a wide berth, suggesting that Colonel Reed had been right; the men within did have rifles, which could kill at a much longer range than the typical smoothbore musket.

    They made it to the base of the slope without attracting undue notice, and moved quietly to the rear of the woods. Captain Lawrence, at the front of the column, exchanged some sign with the men in the woods and then they moved on among the trees. It was a woodlot like those any farmer might have kept at home, big old trees and some new growth. Lake halted with his section at the base of a large tree that grew like a tower in the middle of the wood.

    He could smell the powder that the riflemen were firing from just a few yards away, and the distant replies of a few British skirmishers. A tall thin man in a linen hunting shirt and a small gorget stepped forward and took Lawrence’s hand.

    “We’ve pushed them back almost half a mile. Of course, they can push us out any time they like if they are willing to pay the price.”

    “General Washington asked us to disperse the men digging, there.”

    Down the rank from Lake, Weymes looked slyly around him. The movement caught Lake’s eye, and he listened as Weymes muttered to the man next to him, another back-country man.

    “Gon’ take some of they diggers for oursel’s,” he wheezed, and laughed. The other man laughed as well. Lake thought it typical of men like Weymes that they saw the war in terms of their own profit.

    Bludner slipped out from under Lawrence’s eye and moved along the ranks to Lake. He paused a moment, looking at Lake as if judging him, and smiled a little. It was a threat, and Lake hardened himself to keep his head up and look directly at the man. Bludner moved past him, down the line of men to Weymes.

    “Take a dozen men—not Lake’s. Go along the draw an’ get in behind that little fort. When they diggers make to run, you take ’em and drive ’em back to me.”

    “M’pleasure,” rasped Weymes.

    Up at the head of the column, the rifle officer leaned back and laughed at something Lawrence had said.

    “What, them blackamoors? Have at ’em. We’ll cover you. I don’t think the British have much else here right now. I take it they are digging a fort?”

    “That’s what the general thought.”

    “So it will only get harder to get at ’em.” The rifle officer took out a little antler whistle and blew it, then waved his men to the left of the wood, away from where the Virginians were going out. The rain had nearly stopped.

    Lake heard a wet pop next to his head and Ben Miller, the man next to him, sighed and seemed to burst, red spray everywhere. It was so fast that George wasn’t able to sort out the order of events. He didn’t hear the shot, either. George had never seen a man shot, and neither had most of the other men in the company. Ben Miller was one of his own men, someone he had cooked with and yelled at for losing the mess pot.

    “Damn, you Virginnies is plain unlucky. We haven’t lost a man all day.” One of the riflemen was slumped under another tree, smoking. He didn’t seem very concerned. He inhaled deeply, looked at one of his mates, a short man in a dirty linen shirt. “Plain unlucky.”

    The Pennsylvania voice and the flat pronouncement stayed with Lake.

    Bludner appeared, his face red with exertion. “Face front. He’s dead, and nothing we do is going to help him. We’ll get his equipment on the way back.”

    The rifle officer nodded.

    “Come on, boys, let’s help these Virginny boys get the blackamoors.”

    “You boys sure you’re tough enough to take some unarmed black folk?” asked another of the riflemen. He didn’t sound mean, just spoke flat, but Bludner bristled. Lawrence pushed Bludner forward, past the riflemen.

    “Check your prime,” called Lawrence. He gave them a minute to check it and replace it if the last of the rain had turned it to sludge.

    “Form front when we pass the edge of the wood. Eyes front…march!”
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2019
  9. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    Marcus Antonius #8887
    [​IMG]
    Brown Bess Bayonet

    [​IMG]
    Battle of Brooklyn Heights

    Jim saw them first, as the rain slackened off, coming from the little patch of woodland that they knew was full of rebels with rifle guns. They all looked off that way from time to time, because there had been shooting in the morning. They were covered in sweat, despite the rain and the cool breeze, but they had a good trench and the upcast was getting to be three feet high. Already, a man swinging a pick in the trench had nothing to fear from a rifleman, no matter how proficient. The knowledge of the rifle guns had helped them dig. So had the quick praise of the engineer, Mr. Murray.

    “Rebel soldiers comin’. They fo’min reg’lar like, an’ I think they comin’ fo’ us.”

    Caesar could see that Jim’s words were lost on the engineer, and he swung out of the ditch where he was working, took in the approaching soldiers for himself, and turned to where Sergeant Peters was writing for the officer.

    “Enemy coming, sir. A full company, if I may.” He was quite proud of both the tone, and the sentence. Calm and soldierly.

    The officer stood up from his stool, handed Peters his lap desk, and ran forward to where he could see over the scarp and down the hill.

    “We’re buggered,” he said. “Where the hell are the dragoons we were promised?”

    His lone soldier, a corporal of the Sixty-fourth light company, spoke up hesitantly.

    “My company is the other side of the woods, sir,” he reminded the engineer.

    “Not the same as dragoons, lad, but fetch them. Leave that musket. You won’t need it, and we may.”

    The soldier shucked his cartridge box, bayonet belt, and musket. The engineer scribbled him a note and he ran off. He was fast, Caesar noted. Not as fast as Caesar himself, but Caesar had other plans. He walked over to the engineer and grasped the musket.

    “I’m a fair shot, Mr. Murray.”

    “Who are you, then?”

    “I’m called Caesar. I fought in Virginny, for the king.”

    Murray smiled, given the situation, at the tall black man’s earnestness.

    “I’m sure you did him credit, too. Now show me. Show me, and be quick about it.”

    Caesar put on the cartridge box and reached back, taking a paper cartridge in his fingers and biting off the base, priming the pan and then ramming the whole cartridge, ball, paper and all, down the clean gun. You couldn’t load that way with a dirty or foul gun. Murray could see immediately that he knew his business. Sergeant Peters folded the camp desk closed and began to run to the edge of the trench. He was smiling at Caesar.

    Caesar stepped down into the trench and placed the musket to his shoulder. He raised his head above the upcast, found the target, and fired. The flint snapped down hard and the trigger pull and the flat bark of the big musket were simultaneous. Caesar had never fired at soldiers formed in a line before, and it was easy. There was a body lying on the ground and a little disturbance. He smiled.

    Rifle fire sounded from the woods below him, and one shot actually creased his scalp. It made him leap and sit suddenly in the ditch. Tonny laughed. None of them noticed that one of the rifle balls had gone through Sergeant Peters’s chest.

    Caesar looked right and left.

    “Keep your tools to hand and don’t stand up till I tell you,” he said, and started to load again.


    Mr. Murray was right down in the trench with them, his coat off to keep it out of the mud. He cursed the mischance that had caused him to wear his only good coat today. He had expected the visit from Lord Howe. Now he was crouched in a muddy trench on a wet day in his best smallclothes and he was damned if he was getting mud on his only proper coat. He rolled it tight and put it inside a linen forage sack that one of the black men handed him silently. The tall fellow fired the musket again. Murray knew his type—a killer, if ever he’d seen one.

    Murray was puzzled that all these men were staying. He’d watched work parties run off at the first sign of enemy activity throughout his career, in Holland and Germany and Spain, and he’d never seen a parcel of native diggers grab their tools as if they meant business. His professional honor and maybe his advancement were at stake. They had nothing to gain or lose.

    Another patter of rifle balls against the lip of the upcast earth. The tall black man was lying behind it now, covered in mud that made him even more difficult for the enemy to distinguish. He fired again, and some of the black men raised a small cheer. Murray saw that his assistant, the black man who did his writing, was down. That was a waste. Peters had been as educated a man as Murray had seen in the army.

    The black man next to him was pointing down the field.

    “They gon’ be some mad now!” said the smallest black, a mere boy. He laughed.


    The advance across the low autumn grass was exciting at first. The silent parapet of the distant earthwork seemed like the pretend enemy in one of Captain Lawrence’s exercises. They formed their front rapidly, although slow for the lack of the drum, and then they moved forward. Their line was steady enough, bowing slightly and recovering as the men tried to overcome their nerves and remember the lessons of the drill fields.

    The first shot was a shock, as the little earthwork had seemed undefended. A man went down off to Lake’s left. He couldn’t see who it was, but the man screamed and flopped on the ground. George snapped his head back to the front, tearing his attention away from the downed man, but others didn’t, and the line bowed badly.

    The second shot missed. It passed close enough to George that he could hear the distinctive sound that the passage of the bullet made. He looked around and met the eyes of his friend Isaac. Isaac had heard the sound too. His eyes had a hurt quality that they hadn’t had before, almost like the shot hadn’t missed. George knew that the bullet had passed between them. His heart beat even faster.

    The third shot took Captain Lawrence just in the middle of the chest. It hit both his gorget and his silver belt plate, and the combination saved his life, but he had no way of knowing that at the time. He went down hard, and there was blood and pain. He screamed. Men ran to him, and several competed to lift him up. Bludner shouted at them and finally dismissed two men to carry the captain back.

    “He’s one man, ya’ bastards! The niggers won’ fight. Now come on!” Bludner seemed enraged by their hesitation after the captain went down. Lake settled his pack on his shoulders and pushed forward. They weren’t so much a line anymore, even after just a few shots, but most of the men were going forward, a little quicker than the parade ground had taught them. The enemy musket fired again and George tried to imagine what whole volleys of musketry might do to a line like this.


    “…niggers won’ fight. Now come on!”

    The words sounded distinct over the few yards that now separated them. Virgil and Jim knew the voice instantly. They both started shouting at Caesar. He was loading again, eyeing the range. Murray grabbed the shoulder of the black man crouching next to him.

    “Are you lads going to fight?” Murray had to know.

    “Oh, yas, suh!” said Tonny. His eyes were almost glazed. He didn’t turn his head. He was looking just over the top of the upcast.

    Caesar was listening to Jim, now. He brought the musket up to his shoulder and fired again, but missed. He thought he had time for one more.

    “Those men is slave-takers, boys!” he shouted. A low, dangerous noise came from the black men.

    “Are ye slaves, now? Or Ethiopians!” Caesar’s voice carried over the field. Even the blacks who were really only day labor lifted their voices and roared.

    Murray was too stunned by the events to consider giving orders. This black man, the tall one, was giving the orders. Murray was used to letting the infantry do the killing while he built the forts and the machines, and he let nature take its course. He knew he was seeing something, though. He drew his sword, a short saber of no particular quality.

    Caesar slammed the bayonet on to the end of the musket. It was empty, and the enemy was close. He didn’t think it would suit the men with him to wait in the trench, now that their blood was up, and he stood up, tall among the others huddled under the upcast for cover, and bellowed.

    “At them, Ethiopians!”

    They swarmed up the short pile of earth and right into the enemy line. There was no time for thought, or flinching.


    The black faces appeared out of the earth at his feet and Lake swung his musket hard, punching one of them straight off his feet. Next to him, Isaac took another down and then shot him on the ground and George remembered that his own musket was loaded. He saw the flash of red and white among the workers and he aimed at it and fired, hitting the officer. Isaac was clubbed from his feet and another man from the rear rank stepped into his place.

    “Stand your ground!” he cried, and he felt men rally to him, press alongside him in the chaos. This was not how he had imagined it, but they were going to hold.


    Caesar leapt into the midst of the enemy, his musket and bayonet low in his right hand and a shovel in his left. He blocked a feeble blow with the shovel and pounded the bayonet home in the man’s chest as he had been taught since childhood, ripped it clear and stepped on his victim to close with the next, who was paper white in the sun. Caesar killed him, too. He was bellowing, his heart was charging within him and yet the world came to him with perfect clarity, and he realized that if he broke through the rear of the enemy line the rifles would shoot at him from the wood. He whirled on another man, pushing him off his feet with the shovel and then pinning him to the earth with the bayonet. The man squirmed, and the smell of his guts filled Caesar’s nostrils, but he stepped on the man’s chest and pulled his bayonet clear just as something sliced along his ribs and he stumbled back.

    A big man, as big as he, thrust at him again with a bayonet. Caesar swung the shovel up to block and lunged with his own musket and bayonet, but the man rotated on his front foot and brought the butt of his musket up into Caesar’s shoulder and he dropped the shovel as the wave of pain hit. Desperate, he jumped back, his bayonet licking out to cover his retreat and going deep into his adversary’s right arm.

    Caesar caught the other man’s eye for a moment as he drew back the musket for another stab, but a body cannoned into him from behind and almost knocked him down. The other man took a pistol from his belt and snapped it at him, but the priming was gone and the frizzen open, and it wouldn’t fire. His adversary threw the pistol at his head and he ducked, and the big man slipped away into the maelstrom behind him. Caesar glanced around, and just avoided being spitted by the man who had struck him in the side. He twisted and parried with his own musket. His new opponent was young, gritted his teeth like a fighter and struck rapid blows in an attempt to overwhelm Caesar’s defense.


    George Lake had thrown himself into the big black to buy Bludner a moment to finish him, but Bludner was gone, and even one-handed the man seemed to shrug off his best effort. He parried once, then again, and realized that the tide had shifted and he was now the prey. He backed, stumbled, and went down, tangled with another man. Even as he began to lose his balance, he tried to keep his musket up, but he was too slow, and he watched the man slide the bayonet down his gun barrel and smash his hand. He was suddenly looking into the other man’s eyes, curled on his side and unarmed, and the other man towered over him. Then he seemed to nod; at least, that’s how Lake told the story later. He nodded, smiled a little, and backed away, leaving Lake hurt but alive.


    Caesar was content to let the young one live. He had eyes full of courage, even when his last defense was taken from him, and he was injured—he would not fight again today. Caesar backed up three steps, free of the fighting for the first time in what seemed like hours.

    There were men coming up from behind them, more men in rebel coats.


    “Sergeant McDonald!”

    “Sir!”

    “Take the two left files off to the flank and try to locate the source of that firing.”

    “Sir.”

    “If you please, sir, I’d be most happy to go myself.” Jeremy was a little surprised at himself. He usually remained silent during any military activity, as it was not his business and he feared that he would be excluded if he spoke out of turn. But he had a good set of eyes and the fastest horse.

    Captain Stewart listened as the sound of another single distant shot echoed back to them. He considered Jeremy, his quality as a rider, the speed and wind of his mount, his steadiness. Stewart rode up close.

    “Give me a picture. Who’s shooting, what the target is. Quick as you can, and Godspeed.”

    Jeremy gave a sketchy wave with his riding whip, as close to a salute as he dared, and his horse sprang away. Behind him, Stewart turned the head of his company to the left and ordered them to extend into line.

    Jeremy cantered easily over the wet leaves under the trees. So far, all America looked like woods and farms, with nothing as extensive as an English market town anywhere, with the possible exception of the town of New York, still just a smudge of wood smoke on the horizon ahead. He came over a little ridge and saw the enemy works on the opposite height, and then the sound of a shot drew his eye closer, to the little redoubt where a single red waistcoat showed in the trench among a small band of black laborers. One of them was lying out over the parapet and firing a musket at a full company of rebel infantry advancing resolutely from the woods at the base of the ridge. He saw it at a glance, even recognized Mr. Murray of the engineers kneeling, coatless, in the trench of the redoubt. He whirled his horse just in time to see a section of rebel infantry break from the taller trees to his back and start toward him.

    Jeremy’s horse was already in motion and he smiled, a feral grin of elation and fear together. He fumbled with drawing his smallsword, as the scabbard hung from chains and wasn’t intended for a clean draw on horseback. It took time, and his horse’s hooves took him closer to the rebels with every second. One of them was bringing his musket to his shoulder, but the others were either looking open-mouthed or smiling.


    “Get the darkie on the horse,” Weymes called to the lead file. “Get the horse! An’ don’ hurt him none, or I’ll have your hide!”

    Gorton had his musket up to fire and he brought it down even as he caught the gleam of a sword being drawn.

    “Nigger’s going to ride us down!” he yelled, and leaned forward, musket to his shoulder, and fired.


    The shot went somewhere. Jeremy was past caring. He had his sword out, his seat was solid, and he took a pistol from the holster on his saddle, leaned forward as he had been taught since infancy, and shot the first man he passed in the chest. Another man grabbed for his reins and he ran the man through, his sword point catching in bone for a moment and almost pulling out of his hand. He felt the horse gather itself for a jump and he dropped his heels, sat square and gave the animal his weight where she would want it, and they were up and over some obstruction he never glimpsed and in among the trees.

    Jeremy cantered under the branches until he saw the welcome line of red moving toward him. He arrived in front of Stewart in a spray of leaves, his sword still clutched in his hand. It was red halfway down its length, with a curious blue-red shimmer that looked like an armorer’s finish. The tip was broken clean off, about two inches up the blade.

    “Trouble, Jeremy?”

    “Company of infantry going for our post. Mr. Murray in command of a group of laborers. They seem to be resisting. Shots are one of the laborers firing. I ran into a spot of trouble, a section going for the rear of the post.” Jeremy’s words came in bursts, and he was trying to find all the breath he had possessed only a few minutes ago. His chest was tight, his throat nearly closed, and his voice was coming out in short, high pulses.

    “How far, then?”

    “A quarter mile. Less. Two minutes at a canter.”

    “Right, then. McDonald! Forward. Have the men trail their firelocks and move at the double. Enemy will be front, in…in what, Jeremy?”

    “Blue coats, Sergeant.”

    “Blue coats and at the double it is, sir.” McDonald began to bellow orders.


    Caesar saw the bluecoats coming from behind them with something akin to rage, because he thought they might have driven the first party off but sensed that the addition of this further handful from behind would finish them. He wiped his head with his arm and his shirt came away covered in blood, and everywhere he looked there were men down, men he knew. He flung himself at a man fighting Mr. Murray, determined to die well. He might have been encouraged by the sound of the bugle to his right, but he didn’t know that only the British light infantry used the instrument. If he thought about the sound at all, he thought it was more rebels.

    Jim was down right at his feet, his head and shoulder all blood from a musket butt. Virgil and Tonny were back to back with shovels, and the results of their determination were laid about them. Some of the laborers had already run, and several had been taken. Mr. Murray fought on, his cheap saber well handled. The rebels seemed to have lost the stomach for the fight and had mostly drawn off a few yards, or run up to the top of the new earth wall. Caesar ran Murray’s opponent through, and the man groaned and fell like a puppet with its strings cut.

    The big rebel who had wounded Caesar raised a pistol and shot one of the laborers.

    “Down yer weapons, you Nigras, or by God we’ll shoot you like dogs.” He seemed to see Virgil for the first time and he raised his empty pistol.

    Virgil was clearly hurt, but he began to hobble toward the big man. Caesar knew they had to charge the rebels now, before they were shot down, helpless to resist. He never thought of dropping his weapon, but others did, more than a few.

    The new group he had seen coming were yelling from fifty yards away, but Caesar was beyond caring. He gripped his musket close in his right hand and flung himself at the big man.

    The big man saw him and took a musket from one of his men, who was standing open-mouthed as the two black men staggered toward them.


    The red skirmish line moved through the woods swiftly, like a disciplined herd of deer. Jeremy could hear the Scots and English voices calling to each other to Keep up, Jock, or Get that line straight. Discipline was different when battle was imminent.

    He was alive, and had fought, and now he was going to do it again.

    “There’s the open ground,” he said to Captain Stewart at his elbow.

    “And there are the rebels. Sound skirmish!” the last to his bugler, running at his heels like a good dog. As the notes sounded, the whole line stopped and muskets came down to aim, the file leader in every file pair picking a target and firing in their own time. The range was long, there was brush, and only two of the bluecoats fell, but it was enough to disperse the party that had tried to take Jeremy.

    “At them!” cried Stewart, the first order he had given directly, and he was off through the trees. Jeremy crouched down, clutched his broken sword and followed him, spurring his horse to catch up.

    Weymes didn’t see the redcoats until two of his men fell. Their red coats were the same color as the autumn leaves, and his whole focus had been on the resistance of the blacks. Before he could say a word, the rest of his party took to their heels, running back to the cover of the woods nearly a quarter of a mile away. He paused a moment and fired his musket at a horseman, but he was alone, and he ran.

    Bludner heard the shooting and instantly guessed the cause. It had all gone on too long and the redcoats were on them. He pointed the musket at the man who had shot Weymes back in Virginny and pulled the trigger, but the pan was full of water and there wasn’t even a spark. He threw it at the black man shuffling toward him.

    “Form your front! Fall in and rally,” he yelled. He wished he had a drummer. One boy was down, probably dead, and the other was too scared to beat, his sticks clenched uselessly in his fists, his eyes glazed.


    Rebels ran right past them to get back to the safety of their own ranks, and most just kept going. Caesar and Virgil were so spent that they weren’t able to pursue, although there was one more sharp fight as a small band of rebels tried to take them. Caesar felt a jolt as someone bumped him from behind and he saw a patch of muddy scarlet in his peripheral vision. Murray was behind him.

    Jeremy saw the group of rebels run for the woods off in the valley and determined that he would cut them off. He rode the last one down and saw it was the little man who had shouted orders. The man turned, but too late, and Jeremy hammered the broken tip of his sword into the man’s back and through the lung, and he fell, his weight dragging straight off the point. Little puffs of smoke came from the distant woods and something hit his horse a hammer blow, and she stumbled and reared. A bubbling red spot had appeared on her withers. She was difficult to control for a moment and then she settled, and he pulled her around and spurred her back up the hill.

    At the base of the half-constructed redoubt, he saw a big black man fighting. He was head and shoulders taller than his adversaries and the other two men fighting beside him, and every blow seemed to fell an enemy, and it struck Jeremy that he was watching something from the Iliad. Even as he watched, the man felled his last opponent with a vicious upthrust of a bayoneted musket held short, like a spear, and he turned his head, catching Jeremy’s eyes across the field.

    The rebel line was only half formed. Some had fled directly, running past their comrades to the apparent safety of the woods, while others either stood dumbly or fumbled to reload their muskets. Stewart’s company ghosted up to the edge of the redoubt even as Jeremy cantered in behind them.

    “Rifles in the wood,” he called to his master.

    Stewart looked at him and smiled a welcoming, friendly smile that Jeremy treasured.

    “Best keep your head down, then,” Stewart said with a smile. He was always good-humored in moments of danger. The rebels were melting away at the sight of his whole company moving up on their front. The knot of resistance by the black laborers almost at his feet blocked the fire of his left platoon. Several rebels fired and one of his men fell.

    “Right platoon! Make ready! Present! Fire!”

    The volley sounded like a single shot. There was smoke on the breeze for a moment, a deep smell of sulfur, and then screams from freshly wounded men, and the enemy were gone.

    “At them, Lights! At them. Sergeant McDonald, don’t let them rally! Stay on them into the woods. I want those woods cleared!”

    “Sir!” McDonald sprang off after his men, who were already pouring down the hill. Stewart waited a moment, looking to the left and right, checking his flanks. His glance passed over the blacks, many of whom were busy taking up muskets dropped by the rebels. He walked his horse over to Murray, the engineer officer. Murray looked stunned.

    “Thought I might have lost you there, Lieutenant Murray.”

    “Aye. Thought the same myself.”

    Stewart waved his riding whip at Murray and started down the hill. He saw one of his men spin and fall, hit by rifle fire from the deadly wood, and he leaned low over the neck of his horse, spurring it on down the hill. He quickly overtook the line of his men and plunged in among the fleeing rebels. Suddenly the air was full of the buzz of bullets, and he was hit, but he carried on. His men followed him, and now they were over the open ground and pressing into the brushy edge of the wood, screaming and shouting as they came. Most huzza’d; a few yelled older, darker things from the Borders or the clans of the north, and his junior lieutenant, Crawford, kept baying “George and England” over and over.

    “This way, sir!” Jeremy had stayed close by Stewart’s side down the hill, his horse still bleeding and moving erratically. He thought she was hit again. As they reached the base of the hill he had seen a small trail leading into the wood, a path well worn by generations of woodcutters.

    Stewart was on the trail in a breath. His sword flashed once as he found a target in the woods, and then Jeremy and his own men were all about him, and the woods were theirs. The rebel rifles could be seen in the distance, flying over the ridge, the last of them vanishing just as Jeremy jumped the last stumps into the open ground. They were too canny to be caught in the woods where the bayonets of the regulars were more dangerous to them than their rifles were to the enemy. The rebel infantry company was rallying on the Brooklyn Heights, their numbers sadly depleted, and many of the men had thrown away their muskets.

    Crawford came up with McDonald, flushed with triumph. McDonald was all business. A little spat like this was nothing to Sergeant McDonald.

    “The price, McDonald?”

    “Nixon lost the number of his mess on the hill, sir. Lyle and Somers wounded. I wouldn’t give much for Somers’s chances. Lyle looks all right. And Guibert burst his musket, the useless gowk. He overcharged it.”

    “We’ll hold this wood until I can get us some relief.”

    “Aye, sir. Ye should see to yoursel’ sir. You’re hit.”

    “Crawford, see to it that Sergeant McDonald instructs you on how to post men in a wood. You are in command. Don’t interfere with McDonald.”

    Crawford looked up at him with something bordering on adoration.

    Stewart picked his way out of the wood and cantered up the hill, a little light-headed. To every section of his own men that he passed he called out some praise, or a joke. Keeping his seat seemed to be harder, and he wondered absently where Jeremy had got to. He looked down and saw blood flowing easily over his right boot, and as his eyes traveled up his body he saw that the river of blood went down his thigh and over his knee. His white breeches were redder than his scarlet coat. He swayed a little.

    The blacks had formed into a very passable line at the top of the hill in front of the redoubt. Most of them had muskets. As he rode up, the tall one ordered them to present arms, a surprising compliment given the situation, and he took off his cap.

    “Well fought, lads. Well fought.” His voice was weak. He shook his head to clear it and wondered where Murray was.

    “Who’s in charge here?” he asked, his voice barely a whisper, and started to slump from his saddle. Suddenly there were strong hands on him, and Jeremy’s voice in his ear. He was down in the mud, lying on his back, and someone was pulling a bandage tight on his thigh. He hadn’t lost consciousness. The big black man was leaning over him.

    “You’ll be fine, sir. Ball passed right through and into your saddle.”

    “And you are?”

    “Julius Caesar, sir.”

    Stewart leaned back in Jeremy’s arms, and smiled up at the familiar face as if at a joke.

    “Of course you are,” he said, and went away for a while.


    Caesar watched the black man on the horse with undisguised admiration as he rode off, following the handcart pulled by four of Caesar’s laborers. Impossible as it seemed, his first thought had been that the mounted black man was an officer, although his dark blue coat and feathered turban looked different from every other uniform he had seen.

    His muscles seemed to have seized up, as if he had worked too hard all day without rest. The fight had been short, but he had spent energy recklessly. Virgil looked old, his face pinched, and his shoulders stooped. Caesar hadn’t seen him so done in since the swamp. Jim looked as bad, although Tonny, who had fought like a tiger from the start, looked fresh as a new calf. Their men were spread out over the hillside, looking for any wounded and plundering the dead without a shadow of remorse.

    “Sergeant Peters be dead,” Virgil said, thrusting his chin toward the little redoubt they had all fought to save.

    “I’ll jus’ see to him, then. Go get us some good equipment.”

    Virgil nodded and moved away slowly, like an old man.

    Jim followed Caesar, with a mattock and a shovel. They didn’t say much for a while. Caesar picked the older man’s corpse up easily and carried him back to the edge of the broken ground, far from the redoubt and the little patch of woods where the rebels had hidden themselves. He thought that maybe the war would linger here, as it had at Great Bridge, and he didn’t want Peters to be dug up when some other unit put in trenches. Once he had a spot, he looked over his shoulder at the view, and it was a good one, right over the little redoubt and then over the valley to Brooklyn Heights. He broke the ground, his muscles protesting every stroke. He let the pick do most of the work. Then Jim stepped in with a shovel and started to dig. It was the shovel that Caesar had used in the fighting, but the blood on the blade was quickly scoured away by the damp earth. His wound hurt him. He wanted to smoke.

    One by one, other men came and dug, or used the pick. It reminded him of Tom’s grave in Virginia, and his eyes filled with tears unexpectedly. He walked a little apart so that the men wouldn’t see him, and almost ran over Tonny.

    “Virgil says you have to see this an’ come quick!” said Tonny. Caesar followed him down the hill, toward the wood where the regulars were. They were smoking. He could smell the smoke. Virgil was well down, on a little flat.

    “’Memba’ this man?” Virgil asked. A small white man, his face a mask of old scars, lay broken like an abandoned doll on a trash heap. Caesar shook his head.

    “One of they slave-takuhs came fo’ us when you was sick. I shot him back in the swamp, an’ now he daid.” Virgil laughed aloud. “He came all this way and he daid!”

    Caesar looked at the little knot of wool on the man’s shoulder marking him as a corporal. He knelt and cut it free with his clasp knife.

    “Now you’re the corporal, Virgil.”

    He looked down on the body and spat. So did Virgil, and then Tonny.

    “Reckon they was chasin’ us?” asked Virgil. “The other one was there. The big one. I saw him.”

    Caesar nodded. “They was after us fo’ slaves, Virgil. Nothin’ mo’. Nothing more.”

    Virgil frowned, and he and Tonny had a brief struggle to get the knot of white wool on to Virgil’s jacket.

    “Any orders?”

    “When the hole is dug, we form them up and fire the volleys, just like we used to.” Caesar was eyeing the bodies around them for equipment.

    “Reckon we can keep our arms?”

    Caesar knelt by a young man whose life was gurgling out of a hole in his chest the size of a dollar. He was squirming in pain, moaning, his eyes rolled back in his head. Caesar watched the boy writhe for a moment and then knelt, drew his clasp knife and used it under the boy’s ribs and the boy died, quietly, without even a kick. Then he took the boy’s accoutrements, including a nice bayonet and a leather hunting pouch with a priming horn. The priming horn was engraved with Isaac Stark, his horn. His musket was a fine one, too, and the pouch had a pipe and tobacco.

    Caesar nodded at the body, a little queasy from the killing. The boy had been in pain, gut shot. He hoped he’d done right. “Bury him, too,” he said, and Virgil agreed.

    Mr. Murray hobbled up to the ring of blacks, where they were watching the last scoops of earth removed from the graves. He watched as Virgil formed them into a line at the graveside. The old Ethiopians formed easily, almost like regulars. Other men had never held a musket before, and Virgil put them in the back rank.

    Caesar was smoking, his pipe upside down in the rain. Isaac Stark had made good char and kept his tinder dry, and Caesar thought he must have been a good soldier for all his youth. He was conscious that Virgil had the men in hand. He knocked his pipe out on the sole of his boot, careful not to snap the stem, and then walked to the front of the company. Murray stood off to the side with his sword drawn.

    “I take it you’re the sergeant, now,” Murray said.

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Then get on with it, Sergeant.”

    One by one, the shots for the dead rang out over the hillside, and the smoke of their volleys hung in the damp air for a moment, covering the little mounds of wet earth until the wind came and blew the smoke away.
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2019
  10. Marcus Antonius

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    Retreat from Long Island

    The rain fell in broad sheets that soaked a man through his coat before he could walk half a mile. Washington sat on his horse and watched his men plod down the last turn in the road and on to the ferry dock where boats were waiting for them. The movement of thousands of men, their weapons and supplies across the narrows to New York was the product of careful planning and meticulous staff work, and his army was already saved. Only the sentries were left.

    He had held a council of war to discuss the abandonment of Long Island. Before this war, he had thought such councils to be the sign of a weak commander. He didn’t like to have to share momentous decisions with other men. And yet, in the new army, autocracy had no place except in direst need and immediate crisis, and the withdrawal from Long Island had been neither. The British had maneuvered them smartly from each strong position, enjoying all the advantages, from the superior training of their soldiers to the complete mobility of their enormous fleet. The council had helped to share the responsibility, and helped him master the rapid blows to his reputation.

    Only the commander of the local militia had argued against the abandonment, fearful of retribution against his militia who had already pillaged their Tory neighbors and could expect the same in return. Leaving Long Island had all the power of sense behind it, and now that his generals had faced the British in the field, they had a much healthier respect for the foe. Sullivan and Stirling were gone, taken as prisoners in the loss of Brooklyn Heights. Reports that the Royal Navy had penetrated into the waters east of Governor’s Island served to reinforce his point that their flanks were open to British troops landed from the sea at any moment. The agreement of the council was, in the end, unanimous.

    And now he sat in the rain and watched his men march on to their boats, pausing from time to time to note a company that had served well, or badly, and occasionally to praise one of his subordinates for the efforts he had made to find the boats and rescue the army. He was conscious that they would live to fight another day, and that it would be easier to hold New York from the other shore. But his mind kept slipping away to the inevitable fact of defeat. He had lost his first field action, and lost it decisively, beaten twice in battles and then ejected from his positions by the maneuvers of the enemy navy. He worried that he had lost the confidence of his army, and he worried about the future.

    He had taken Boston. Now he looked likely to lose New York. And the army he had preserved by retreat had already begun to desert.
     
  11. Marcus Antonius

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    General William Heath

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    Rufus Putnam

    Even inside the house, the sound of picks and shovels raising fortifications on the flats below competed with the movement of horses and carts. Most of the wealthy citizens of New York had already left, and now every citizen who had cause to distrust the return of royal government was moving off Manhattan Island. The pro-Congress faction of New York seemed to have little confidence that the city could be held. Their contempt for their own army was returned with interest.

    “Burn the city!” The voice belonged to Nathan Greene, still in pain from the wounds he had received at the Battle of Brooklyn, but every face at the table reflected his sentiments. “Two thirds of the property here belongs to Tories anyway. This town is a nest of traitors. Burn it.”

    “We have already spent so much in treasure and sweat to build these fortifications, General Washington. We must fight to hold them. If we abandon them so easily, the enemy will think we are beaten.” The speaker was General Heath, of the New York militia. He did not take kindly to his city being described as a nest of traitors, but he made allowances for Greene, who was in pain, and whose bravery was highly regarded all around the table. Already, some of the best young officers were called “Washington’s sons”. Nathan Greene was one of them.

    Rufus Putnam, acting as the army’s chief engineer, shook his head and spread one of his hands meaningfully over the map on the table before them.

    “There are simply too many routes on to the island. They control the river. They can reduce any one of our forts given time and inclination. They can land almost anywhere, and worst of all, they can bypass us and trap our men on this island.”

    Washington pushed his chair back with his long legs and stood carefully to avoid entangling his sword with the table. He still smarted from defeat on Long Island, and he already sensed that New York was lost.

    “We have lost the best part of three thousand men in the last week. We will lose more. Till of late I had no doubt in my mind of defending this place, nor should I have yet, if the men would do their duty.” He looked them over, and most of the brigadiers couldn’t meet his eye. The men were melting away, and the militia coming to fill their places were very poor soldiers, anxious already, made fearful by the rumor of a defeat they hadn’t suffered. Greene, the firebrand, met his eye but shook his head.

    “This is not the place, General. And this is not the army.”

    “I agree. I despair of these men doing their duty. If I were called upon to declare on oath whether the militia had been most serviceable or hurtful upon the whole, I should subscribe to the latter. The army we had at Boston was better. We had a winter to train it, and now it has gone home and we must start anew.” He walked up and down the room, pausing twice to look out of the window at Virginia troops, most newly arrived. They looked healthy and willing, and their drill was good, but the Long Island veterans were shy, and had shown it. He could barely hold his temper.

    “Send a letter to the Congress and inform them that I must consider the destruction of this city to deny it as a base of operations and winter quarters to the enemy.”

    His military secretary began writing immediately.


    Within two days, he had his answer.

    “Resolved, that General Washington be acquainted, that the Congress would have
    especial care taken, in case he should find it necessary to quit New York, that no damage
    be done to said city by his troops, on their leaving it: The Congress having no doubt of
    being able to recover the same, though the enemy should, for a time, obtain possession of it.”​


    “They have lost command of their senses.”

    “Congress is driven by money, and that, the New Yorkers have in plenty.”

    “Not ours to speculate, gentlemen.” Just two days later, and Washington was looking down the same table. His defenses were no better, and indeed might be thought worse. There were Royal Navy frigates on the rivers, and his desertions had just reached a new high. “I suspect that the gentlemen of Congress have made a serious error here, but it is they that command us.”

    “If Charles Lee were here, I dare say he’d have something to say,” commented one of the aides. He meant to be heard, but kept his voice low. Lee was not known for his patience with their political masters.

    Washington had accepted Lee’s jibes, even approved them. Congress knew nothing of the conduct of war and insisted on tying his hands and appointing generals of little use and withholding rank from the best men. Congress had lost Canada and was now making a fair bid for losing New York. He wondered at himself, because just a year ago he would have bridled at allowing any man authority over his own decisions, but with every day he thought that such authoritarian ways led to the abuses of Great Britain, and he tried to submit meekly to his Congress because they represented a greater will than his own, even when they were wrong. And now they were ordering him to hold miles of coastline with untrained militia and a handful of regulars, against the finest navy in the world and their equally fine army. He could only make his dispositions and bow his head.

    “Send to Congress again,” he said. He began to describe the defenses of the city, and the limited troops he had to defend it.

    “How the event will be, God only knows,” he closed. His secretary dipped his quill one more time and it began to scratch again. “Circumstanced as I am, be assured that nothing in my power will be wanting to effect a favorable and happy issue.”

    No one at the table met his eye, not even General Greene.
     
  12. Marcus Antonius

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    Colonel George Weedon

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    Soldier of The Third Virginia

    The Virginia Continentals were drawn up under Captain Lawrence to greet Colonel Weedon and his men as they marched into the flying camp. Lawrence was still parchment white, and he moved very carefully, but it seemed he would survive his wound. George Lake was now a sergeant. He and Bludner were the only noncommissioned officers to survive the fight at the little redoubt. During the Battle of Brooklyn, they had been thrown in twice with the Marylanders and again on the darkened road back to the ferry they had tried to keep the British light infantry off the army’s heels, while their mocking horns sounded foxhunting calls all through the long retreat.

    View Halloo.

    His friend Isaac was dead, left behind in the mud at the little redoubt on Long Island. So many other men were gone, either dead, deserted or sick, that there were no longer any lines between the “true believers” and the “backwoodsmen”. The new line was between the men who had survived Long Island and the new drafts up from Philadelphia. They were still fired with enthusiasm. They also believed everything they had read in the papers there, and insisted that they knew more about Long Island than George did.

    George Lake still held Bludner responsible for the wreck of the company in its first fight, but he kept a tight rein on his resentment. Bludner was an arrogant clod, but he was also a good sergeant with an eye for detail. He had led the survivors out of three traps and an ambush in that wet retreat.

    Colonel Weedon made a joke to Captain Lawrence out on the parade and his horse fidgeted a little. George kept his hands clasped on his musket and stared straight ahead. Parades no longer interested him much. Colonel Weedon had missed Long Island. He was a tavernkeeper from Fredericksburg, a known social climber and an acquaintance of General Washington. That last stood in his favor with some.

    The Third Virginia had also missed Long Island. They were the regiment to which Captain Lawrence’s company would now be attached. They would have a great deal to learn.

    Down the Hudson River, the British battery on Montresor’s Island opened fire again.
     
  13. Marcus Antonius

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    The artillerymen worked like no team Caesar had ever seen. There were dozens of them on each gun, yet every man had an exact place to stand, a path to follow as he performed his tasks. And every man’s task was different. Some fed the brass guns, taking paper cartridges of powder from stores well to the rear of the gun line and carrying them forward. Others loaded the powder charge down the barrel, or brought the iron balls from another store, or moved the gun to aim it. Each gun fired in its own time, and yet the impression Caesar received was rather like that of watching a perfectly tuned flintlock, or the innards of a watch at work.

    He and most of the other Ethiopians were leaning on their tools well back from the guns. Caesar never tired of watching them fire, but the other men smoked or played cards. Their work had been finished when the gun platform had been dug, leveled and completed, but the engineers had expected the enemy to dig a counterbattery and return the fire, and had wanted them handy to repair any damage.

    Instead, they had had three days of inaction due to what Mr. Murray described as ‘Mr. Washington’s incompetence’. Caesar kept them at their drill, and Mr. Murray, the engineer, had become their honorary officer. He had drilled them several times, marching in front and using his sword to indicate wheels and turns. He knew the drill much better than either Mr. Edgerton or Mr. Robinson had, although as an engineer he had never commanded troops. Caesar was learning about how the army worked. The red-coated officers were often well trained, but some were not. The engineers and artillerymen were all professionals, middle-class men who attended schools and knew the business. Caesar thought they were lucky to have Murray’s interest.

    Virgil was back to scrounging wool and sewing jackets. No one had come to take their arms, and so, unlike all the other work parties digging around New York, Caesar’s men had good muskets and all the accoutrements that went with them.

    Bang.

    The sound of the gunfire no longer made any of them jump. Virgil was making a jacket for a new boy called Isaac Vernon, a very thin runaway from the Jerseys, just across the water. He had swum to them during the night, and said that there was a rumor among the blacks over the water that the British Army was offering freedom. Willy and Romeo and Paget were dealing cards. Tonny and Fowver were working on a captured musket with a lock that wouldn’t make a spark.

    Murray came over to Caesar, who stood up and removed his hat smartly, and bowed his head.

    “Carry on, Caesar.”

    Caesar relaxed a little.

    “We’ll be taking New York in a few days.”

    “So I figure, sir.”

    “Captain Stewart wants to put your company on the provincial rolls, Caesar. That will get you paid, and some money for equipment.”

    Caesar just smiled, suffused with happiness. To be regular soldiers, with pay and standing, would be a fine thing.

    “When the army takes a city, things happen. There is usually some looting. Some men get rich. Others get hanged. Do you take my meaning, Caesar?”

    “No, sir. I can’t say that I do.”

    “You’re going to want cloth for uniforms, and more muskets. You’ll want barracks space. There are a host of things you’ll want. I guarantee that whatever officer you get will be poor. I’m poor myself, so I know. So there’s a chance to pick up some cash, or maybe a few bolts of cloth.”

    Caesar nodded along before Murray was finished.

    “Now I understand you, sir.”

    Bang.

    “Church is being rigged in the rear of the battery, if any of you are of a mind to attend,” said Murray. “I don’t wish to be indelicate, Sergeant Caesar, but as the minister is both Anglican and a gentleman of color, I thought your men might feel comfortable in attending.”

    Caesar was still lost in thought about brown wool and the possibility of better equipment. He knew that in the long run his company had to find a way to be mustered and placed on a regular status, but he hadn’t expected the path to be made smooth so suddenly. He walked back to the lounging work party and squatted down next to Virgil, who took a draw on his pipe and passed it to Caesar.

    “He wan’ us to drill, Caesar?”

    “Mr. Murray says we might get on the rolls as a company.”

    “That’d be fi-ine.” Virgil nodded, a slow smile spreading. “And paid?”

    “If they’re goin’ to make us soldiers, I guess they’d have to pay us.”

    Caesar watched the battery moving a gun, always interested. They used levers to move the wheels on the biggest guns. It was an education just watching them, but that wasn’t where his thoughts were.

    “Ever think where we come from, Virgil?”

    Virgil laughed. “Every day. Every single day. Every time I swing that pick, I think ‘It’s still bettuh than bein a slave.’ Every time I drill, I watch them runaways from Jersey look at me like I’m some big man. I know I ain’t, but I won’t nevuh forget what I was.”

    “Long way from the swamp.” Caesar was still watching the guns. He couldn’t quite meet Virgil’s eye, because he still felt the losses of the swamp. And Peters’s death at Long Island. “An’ we didn’t all make it.”

    Virgil sat up, dusted his jacket. The new Virgil, the soldier, was a fastidious man. “I don’ wan’ to hear none of that talk from you, Caesar. You got us here. Some died. They died free. What I wan’ you to look on is whether we stay free.”

    Caesar turned sharply to look at him.

    “What are you saying?”

    “I’m saying that there’s plenty of Loyal folk that own slaves. I’m saying that if we win, there’ll be plenty looking to take our guns away, an’ if we lose…”

    Caesar stood up. “I don’t want to hear any of that talk from you, Virgil. Come on. Mr. Murray wanted us for a church parade.”

    “I could use some church,” said Virgil, and started calling for his section to fall in.

    Caesar fell the men in and led them to the river, where they washed some of the sweat off. They had a number of recruits, men who had swum the river to freedom, wearing nothing but shirts and trousers, and he arranged them in the rear ranks so that, at least from a certain angle, the company looked like soldiers with muskets and brown jackets. Then he marched them to the base of the battery, Corporal Fowver berating the new men in his sing-song Yoruba accent to keep the step.

    The minister was a tall man, his altar a table and a drum with a Union Jack spread over it, and he stood quietly as Caesar marched the men up and halted them in front of the table. He tried to remember what they had done in Williamsburg when they had church parades, and the only thing he could remember was to open the ranks, as if God was going to inspect them. When he was done, he thought of saluting the minister, but that seemed wrong, so he took his place on the right of the company and waited.

    The minister was a tall man, thin and elegant in his black suit. Closer up, Caesar could see that he had dirt under his nails and some mud on his breeches and stockings, probably from assembling the little table and putting up the little tent, but he still carried an air of dignity. Caesar still felt he should say something, and so he stood straight and reported.

    “Company of Loyal Ethiopians assembled for church parade, sir!”

    He was aware of movement to his right and turned his head, expecting Mr. Murray, but what he saw was a girl, very young, just backing out of the little canvas tent and then rising with considerable grace from the straw-covered ground. She caught his glance and looked down in amiable confusion, and her pale darkness flushed. Caesar tried to snap his attention back to the minister, but there was something in her glance that kept him pinned a moment longer, and so he saw her look at him again from under lowered lids.

    If the minister gave any sign, he did not show it, but walked along the ranks like a general, greeting every man and complimenting them on the turnout of the company.

    “You are the first armed blacks I’ve seen. It is a pleasure to meet all of you, and a sign of great things. A pleasure, sir.” This to Jim, who was shy, as usual. On and on, through forty men, greeting each individually. He came to Caesar last, as if he had planned it so.

    “An admirer of yours said that I should come here and meet you. I am Marcus White, a minister of the gospel.”

    Remembering Sergeant Peters, Caesar gave a civil bow, his musket inclined away from his body.

    “Your servant, sir. I am Julius Caesar, and temporarily in command of the Company of Ethiopians.” Caesar was still trying to trace the idea of an “admirer”. He must mean Lieutenant Murray.

    “Several officers have spoken to me of this body of men, sir. Perhaps I should say that I was trained by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel?” Seeing Caesar’s confusion, he said, “It would not be correct of me to explain myself more fully this moment, except to say that we men of color do have friends in England, Christian men who abhor slavery, and they have some influence in this army. I hope we will soon speak more fully.” They both bowed.

    “I look forward to it, sir,” he said. Marcus White beamed at him, and moved with imperial dignity to the head of the company, where he turned, and put a hand on the Bible that was the sole ornament of the table. Raising his right hand, he began the service of morning prayer.

    “When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive,” he said.
     
  14. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    Landing at Kips Bay

    The cannonade was short, and by the time he was ahorse and riding to the sound of the fire, the battle was lost.

    Washington began to pass running men well before he came to the flats, and nowhere could he find an officer or even a company making a stand. New York and Connecticut militia flew past him, some disoriented. One man even threatened him with his musket when Washington tried to slow his flight. General Parsons rode up and joined him as he and his staff tried to make them stand. Again and again the knot of officers found themselves alone against an onrushing tide of red and Hessian blue sweeping over the autumn fields, their bayonets gleaming like the white tops on the ocean on a clear day, and always moving closer. Again and again Washington rode to the rear, found a good stone wall or a copse of trees and tried to rally men there. They merely waited until he rode off for more men before they, too, melted away. Washington began to hate them.

    Whole brigades broke as soon as they were formed. Washington watched with horror as Fellows’s brigade failed to fire even once, but simply dropped their packs and their muskets and ran from the Hessian troops in front of them. A few were foolish enough to run at the Hessians, who promptly shot them down. The British didn’t misunderstand so easily, and began to reap a rich harvest of prisoners.

    Again he tried to rally them at the edge of a cemetery, where the walls would have held the Germans for an hour. And his men melted away. Again, in a churchyard, where men he sent into the little stone church simply broke a window, jumped free and ran. On and on, a nightmare of failure and cowardice that stunned him, sapped his resolve and made him question the worth of his cause, that so many young men would refuse their duty.

    At King’s Bridge Road his staff ran into a column in full flight. A captain, his uniform torn and muddy, was beating men into ranks when Washington rode up. One of the men the captain had just prodded into line waited until the captain had passed him and then swung his musket into the officer’s side, knocking him down. The rest fled.

    The captain climbed to his feet right in front of Washington.

    “It’s like herding cats,” he said, more in wonder than in anger, and ran off down the road after his men.

    Washington watched the wreck of his army huddling on the road, and saw muskets lying everywhere in the muddy fields, with packs and blankets spread among the stubble. The wealth of his new nation had been spent to provide these men with arms, and they were throwing it away.

    Just then a company of British light infantry appeared to his front, moving quickly toward him. He and his staff were badly outnumbered, and virtually unarmed except for the pistols in their saddle holsters. To his right, another group of men appeared from the trees, and Washington saw that they were black. For a moment, he hoped that they were some of his own Rhode Island troops, but they had black cockades and white rags on their arms. They began to fire at the wreck of the Tenth Continental Regiment behind him on the road, which flinched and broke again, their colonel racing to the rear on his horse. The British had only two companies here, and a Continental brigade was fleeing from them. It sickened him.

    Washington wheeled his horse and cantered back to the routed column. He was humiliated, his whole being suffused with rage at having to run in front of the British.

    One of the blacks started to run with him. He was well away to the north, but he was moving quickly, and the other black men started to follow the man. He was fast. His gait was familiar, somehow.

    He was going to try to cut Washington and his staff off from the column all by himself.

    The man leapt a stone wall and Washington, fifty paces away, leapt it on horseback in the same moment. His staff was just behind him, riding hard and making their jumps as best they could.

    The black man stopped, raised his musket, and fired, not at Washington but at someone behind him. There was a shout and they rode on, and the black man was not quite fast enough to catch the mounted party. Washington jumped another fence, his greatcoat flying off behind him, low on his horse’s neck as if he was hunting. He hadn’t buttoned his greatcoat, only wearing it loose on his shoulders. Now it was gone.

    He galloped, his face red with anger, his back already cold in the bracing, damp air. To fly from the enemy like this, in the face of his own men, was not to be endured. He rode right through the column and turned his horse to look back. His staff was clear, but someone had been taken; a big horse was wandering and a group of the black men were surrounding a man in a blue coat on the ground. The tall black man waved his greatcoat and laughed.

    It became the focus of all the day’s humiliations.


    John Julius Stewart slumped a little in his saddle, the cool air biting through his clothes, now damp with sweat. He still wasn’t himself. He had lost a great deal of blood before the surgeon had closed the wound in his leg, and two weeks hadn’t healed everything. He saw spots when he rode too hard.

    Jeremy reined in behind him.

    “There he is!” he called, pointing at Caesar, the black sergeant. Stewart walked his horse over, too tired to trot.

    Caesar was wiping the lock of his musket. His men had a prisoner, a wounded officer. None of Washington’s army had regular uniforms, and rank was often difficult to ascertain, but this one looked senior.

    “Was that your Mr. Washington, Caesar?”

    “Yes, it was, Captain Stewart.”

    “We almost had him.”

    Caesar finished wiping his lock, stuffed the linen rag into a leather hunting pouch and stood up. He turned his back and pointed at something rolled tight across his pack.

    “That’s his cloak.”

    “Who’s your prisoner?”

    “Some officer from his staff. He’s not hurt bad, if you want to take him.” Caesar looked up at Stewart and saluted, raising his musket across his body and then up by his face, erect in the air in the correct position for an enlisted man to greet an officer. Stewart wondered wryly why he bothered at all. Caesar met his eye. He was clearly happy, his whole face suffused with warmth. Stewart could see that he had a hunting sword on his hip, a lovely sword not much bigger than a knife with silver fittings and a greendyed ivory grip.

    He pointed at the sword. “Was that his?”

    Caesar laughed. “Well, sir, he didn’t seem to need it.”

    “Rest easy, Sergeant.”

    “Thank you, sir.”

    Stewart thought that Caesar was like some of the great craftsmen he had known. Men whose brilliance was wholly in the art of what they made, except that Caesar’s art was war. He was slow to salute because cleaning the lock of his musket was so much more important.


    Stewart’s company came up quickly, their bayonets gleaming. The shattered rebel column was near, well within musket shot. Stewart raised his hand and closed his fist, and in response his bugler sounded a call.

    Skirmish! Skirmish! Skirmish!

    Caesar looked down the road and then back up at Stewart, still smiling like a man who has found paradise.

    “We’re gon’ to be in a whole lot of trouble when they fin’ we only have a few men.”

    Stewart nodded. “The harder we press them, the less likely that will be, Sergeant. If you will be kind enough to keep your lads nipping at their flank, and we stay on the rear of the column, we should move them along briskly enough.”

    Beside him, Sergeant McDonald blew his whistle, and the first shots began to be fired by his company. They were tired, but happy. All day they had driven the rebels like cattle, without the loss of a man. File leaders aimed and took their shots, and across the field, a man in a brown woolen shirt fell, coughing out his life as his lungs filled with blood, the shock of the big bullet already taking him away. His mates broke again, pushing to the rear, crying out that there were cavalrymen behind them.

    Caesar took his men and ran off to the left. He didn’t have a whistle or a bugle, and he wanted both. He wanted the quick communication with his men that Stewart had. Stewart was better than Mr. Robinson, better even than Captain Honey. Caesar wanted to know everything that Stewart knew.

    He ran, his nostrils flared, breathing easy, his shot pouch riding high on his hip, his boots comfortable and easy. He looked back over his shoulder and slowed his pace to stay with his men, none of whom was as fast or as easy in their gait as he. Virgil was laboring, and Jim looked done in, and there were other faces already gone. Not lost, or shot, just fallen by the wayside because the pace was too fast. But the best were still with him, about a platoon, all armed, and he circled a little woodlot with a stone wall, coming back to the wall when it ran out parallel to the road, and throwing his band behind it. Most of them lay down, panting, even though there was a whole army of rebel stragglers just a pistol shot away.

    For all the training the Ethiopians had done, it wasn’t for this kind of fight, and he had to run along, crouched behind the wall, and tell every man what he wanted. It took time, and energy, and he couldn’t just raise his fist and start them firing. In a few minutes, though, the first shots rapped out, and the column began to flinch away from the wall.

    Virgil was breathing like a bellows, and he took so long aiming his shot that Caesar thought he was hurt. Finally he fired, and Caesar pushed his own musket across the wall. He took careful aim and pulled the trigger. In the press of enemies, he couldn’t tell if his shot hit or not.

    “I’m dry, Caesar,” said Virgil. “You have any mo’ powduh?”

    Caesar nodded and reached into his pouch. He ran his hand across the bottom and realized that he was out as well, although he continued to feel around for a moment. He didn’t carry a proper cartridge box, with the paper cartridges lined up in a wooden block. There was always the possibility of one more, but not this time.

    Further along the wall, Jim stared down his musket with feral concentration and it barked. Once, Jim would have flinched his head just a moment before the snap of the lock, but that habit had gone. Caesar saw his hand go back to the box on his hip and come back empty.

    Men who had missed fire, or simply loaded more slowly, fired a few more rounds, but then they were out, and the column was moving by them, either unaware of their presence or uncaring. Many of the fleeing men were unarmed.

    Caesar saw Jeremy riding up behind the little woodlot and waved both arms. Jeremy rode up to him directly.

    “Can you ride back and tell Mr. Stewart we’re out of cartridges?”

    Jeremy stood in his stirrups to look at the road and then back down at Caesar.

    “I’ll tell him, Julius, but I think you’d be as well to gather your boys up and bring them back. I think we’re about dry on powder ourselves.”

    Caesar wasn’t clear on Jeremy’s role. Sometimes he seemed more like an officer, at others like Stewart’s slave. It was too complicated to discuss right there, but the advice sounded good.

    “Where is Mr. Stewart, then?”

    “Just the other side of this wood, pressing their rearguard. But as I say, they won’t be pressing very hard.” Jeremy smiled. “I must say, Julius Caesar, I am jealous of that exploit with Mr. Washington. Please do send me a card the next time you plan something like that.” He tipped his hat.

    Jeremy always called Caesar “Julius” and he liked it. He slapped the rump of Jeremy’s horse.

    “I’ll be most pleased to invite you, suh. Sir.”

    Jeremy leaned down and spoke quietly. “Get back with us soon. I think we’re going into the city. We might be the first.”

    Caesar nodded, ran back from the wall, and yelled.

    “Fall in!”


    The army ran to McGowan’s Pass. Harlem Heights was barely held, the best position on the island. They didn’t stand on the road and they wouldn’t hold the line of trenches north of the road. He would have cried, if he dared.

    New York was lost. His army had run without firing a shot. For a moment, when the black tried to run him down, he had thought the same dark thoughts that he had had all those years ago in the Pennsylvania country, when Braddock had lost an army, and he had lost his first military career. He was beaten. His army would not stand again for months after a panic like this, and he could not find anyone to blame except himself.

    But this was a different war. He was no longer a young colonel with a life before him. In a way, he was now Braddock, and he owed it to his men, and to his nation, such as it was, to try and keep the army together. He would not cry, or shout, or vent his rage on the fools who had run. He would have to wait, retreat, and rebuild, and he watched the faces of the men around him on his staff to see if they still trusted him. As for himself, he no longer trusted his army. He rode back to the rear, sullen, angry, and outwardly his usual icy calm.

    Despite his worst fears from midday, the camp had not been lost, nor the magazines. There were solid battalions in front of the camp, formed and ready to meet an enemy. He rode along their ranks, the wind cutting through his coat. He missed his greatcoat.

    No one cheered, but no one jeered him, either. He ordered his staff to rally any troops who came near the camp and went to his marquee, set on a rise with a view of the parade and the fields over which the enemy would come if this was the end. He didn’t think so. He didn’t think that the British were ready for the magnitude of today’s victory, and would settle for the occupation of New York. He had several thoughts for limited counterattacks, more to hold the army together and raise its prestige than for any strategic reason. Manhattan Island, and with it, New York, was lost.

    “You want something warm, sir?” asked Billy.

    Washington realized that he was standing in front of the map on his camp desk, unmoving, his limbs chilled to the bone.

    Billy held out a mug, steam whirling up from the top. “I have some hot flip, sir.”

    The mug was porcelain, from his traveling service, hot to the touch, and Washington cradled it like the touch of life, warming his hands for the first time since before dawn. He thought, I am not a young man.

    “We lost today. Badly.” Washington sat, still pressing the mug to his breast, inhaling the steam. Billy nodded, more like an accepting parent than a slave. Washington sighed and went on. “I have lost New York. I could blame others, but what use? I am in command, and I have failed. Should I resign?”

    Billy busied himself at the back of the tent, putting wood on the fire in the small earthen fireplace that had replaced the tent’s back door.

    “They wouldn’t stand, Billy. These men are fighting for their homes and property, their own liberty—and they ran. No one stood his ground. Are we a nation of cowards? Billy, men ran without a shot fired at them. It is one thing when a company breaks because they have seen too many of their comrades shot away. It’s another when they run before they see the enemy.”

    He took a deep drink. “Perhaps they don’t trust me. Don’t trust the army. Or the Congress, God save us.” He gazed into the distance, while Billy loooked for another chore to keep him close to his master. He missed a comment about the loss of the city while he seized on Washington’s hat and began to brush it. Then he stopped.

    “Where’s your greatcoat, sir?”

    “I lost it in the field.” Washington reflected for a moment, and thought, I ran too. He smiled grimly. “One more defeat like this and we might lose the ability to fight. Men will simply walk home and there will be no army.” He shook his head. “I wonder if this job is beyond me. I think I expected it to be more like farming: a set of tasks to perform, men to obey me and a drive to complete the work. A steady pull in harness. Now I wonder if Charles Lee could do better.”

    Billy looked up from brushing the hat. “I doubt it, sir,” he said firmly, and Washington looked at him, startled. Billy flushed and put his head down, but Washington laughed, a laugh of pure mirth, his first in twelve hours. “You, too? I thought everyone loved him but me.”

    “Not for me to say,” said Billy, trying to hide his own laugh.

    Washington slapped him on the shoulder. “Lend me your greatcoat, Billy. I’m going to check the posts.”
     
  15. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    42nd Highlanders at the Battle of Harlem Heights on 16th September 1776

    Once New York fell, Caesar realized that he had expected the war to end in the aftermath. The truth was harsher. His men had been among the first into the city, and as Murray had predicted, there had been benefits. But within hours the city was under British martial law, and within days his men were marching north again, following the wreckage of Washington’s army. The generals seemed hesitant to finish Mr. Washington, or so it seemed to Caesar from his very recent knowledge of war. So where the Continentals ran, they marched slowly behind, feeling their way cautiously as if they feared a sudden reversal of fortune. And Caesar knew that the war was not over.

    The blacks were not yet an official military organization. They had remained with Mr. Murray through the taking of New York, and then, as the army began to move up Manhattan Island, they attached themselves to Captain Stewart’s company, because they were familiar and welcoming.

    Caesar was tired all the time. He felt grimy, and his eyes felt like they were full of sand. His mouth was so dry he might have spent the night drinking. He had been in the field too long.

    He moved cautiously through the low brush at the base of a tall ridge. Captain Stewart and all the men in the Second Battalion of light infantry were extending their lines to the right, hoping to move their posts forward as inconspicuously as possible and “render Mr. Washington’s posts even more untenable,” as Mr. Stewart had said. Jim had already been around the hill, alone, making a map on the back of an old tax record. He couldn’t read, and his markings on paper were like no map any white officer had ever seen, but Jim had gained a little fame in the last three days for the accuracy of his scouting. Mr. Washington’s army was here, in the flat ground on the other side of the ridge. Mr. Washington’s army had post on the ridge, and they were finally going to contest them.

    He looked back at Jim, just behind him. The rest of his company was moving in two long files, one to each flank. The brush was too dense to move in line. He raised his foot to place it on an old stone wall, long abandoned in this tangle of undergrowth, and he wondered who would go to the trouble of clearing a field and moving the stones only to abandon it. Something caught his attention and he froze.

    There was a man right in front of him, just a long throw away through the brush. He was wearing a smock or a shirt. There was another one, next to him.

    Caesar raised his musket to his shoulder in one smooth motion and fired. All along the brush line to his front, smoke blossomed in return. He threw himself down behind the jumble of rocks that had been a wall and started to load, already looking for possibilities. There were a great many men out there. He could hear them shouting orders.

    Caesar thought that if he wasn’t lucky, he might die right here. It didn’t bother him much.

    “Get to the wall!” Caesar yelled. “Get behind the wall and skirmish!”

    He grabbed Jim by the rough material of his trousers and pulled him down.

    “Go tell Captain Stewart it’s a whole parcel of men. More’n I can count. Maybe a hundred.”

    Jim nodded.

    “I’ll jus’ leave you ma’ piece,” he said, and handed Caesar his musket. Then he pushed himself up and ran. There were shots, and he stumbled, but he didn’t fall, and then Caesar had other concerns.


    Washington watched the messenger run the last fifty yards. He could hear the firing, and he ached with the effort not to knee his horse down the hill to meet the panting man halfway.

    “Knowlton’s…” he panted as he closed. “Colonel Knowlton’s rangers. In that wood, right there, fighting redcoats. Their light infantry, I think.” Washington thought the man might fall at his feet like the runner from Marathon, but instead, the man bent over and then straightened, color flooding his face.

    “Colonel asks for support, and says there is three hundred all told, an’ with help he can take the lot. Nothin’ on their right.”

    Suddenly they heard bugles from the woods, the contemptuous call of the kill, as if the redcoats were hunters who had taken their fox. Joseph Reed, the adjutant general, rode up, furious.

    “Damn it, we had them.” He seemed to feel personally disgraced by the calls. “Damn it!”

    Knowlton’s men could be seen running from the wood now, a few redcoats at their heels. Washington looked around, suddenly decisive.

    “We may yet. Get me…” He looked back to the troops who had formed in front of their tents at the first shots, and saw Weedon’s Virginians. “Colonel Reed, if you will have the kindness to take Colonel Weedon’s companies that are already formed? Right up Vanderwater Heights, and into their flank. Take this man as a guide.” Washington rode over to the Virginians, who cheered him. There was a different feeling in the air, even if the redcoats were still sounding their calls. He rode directly to Colonel Weedon.

    “I need your best, sir. Your very best effort.”

    George Lake was less than a musket’s length away. Washington was right in front of him, his face severe but unworried, his seat on the horse a picture of control. Washington whipped his hat off and pointed it down the hill toward another ridge and said something further as Major Lietch and Captain Lawrence came up to join the little knot. Lake cheered. Washington turned his horse away and it curveted a little and he rose, his hat still off, and looked back along their line. His eyes seemed to rest directly on George Lake for an instant. That frozen image of the general with his hat off, his horse’s front hooves raised like an equestrian statue in Williamsburg, would stay with George Lake forever.

    George cheered—they all did, it was everywhere, a wall of sound—and Major Lietch was shouting for them to go forward, and the general was gone.


    Caesar fired again, ran his hand along the bottom of his pouch and realized that he was again out of cartridges. His mouth burned from all the powder he had eaten biting the bottom off his cartridges, and no water for hours. Jim was back, long since, lying in a little hollow to his right and firing slowly. The brush and the smoke made choosing a target almost impossible, but every time he reached back for his canteen, the rebels tried another rush.

    Suddenly, there was a horse above him, and Jeremy looking down, and legs with wool breeches and sharp black gaiters like little boots moving past him in the brush. The rebels fired, and a man went down right in front of him, and then there was a roar from the redcoats all around him like a savage beast let loose, and the bugles called a “view”, as if a fox was in sight. He was fluent in this hunting language, and though the soldiers weren’t from Stewart’s company, Jeremy’s presence told him they weren’t far, and he rose to his feet.

    “Ethiopians! Forward!” and then he was pressing into the smoke, tripping over the heavy brush, and a twig of thorns tore at his leg, another lashing his hand, and then he was through the smoke and a musket fired just over his head as he fell over another wall. He rolled, his equipment tangling for a moment on his back, and rose as smoothly as he could, the butt of his musket catching a man cleanly in the side of the head and knocking him down and out, his body falling with the boneless limpness that Caesar now knew to indicate total unconsciousness, or instant death. Fowver fired at something further on and then stopped to fit his bayonet. He was yipping like a mad dog, a sound that some of the other Yoruba men made when at war.

    All the redcoats were intermingled now, and then there was firing again, coming from their left. Caesar couldn’t see anything, and he looked around for Jeremy, who was gone.

    “Ethiopians!” he called. “On me! Fall in!”

    Men began to appear out of the smoke. He continued to shout, his dry mouth forgotten. Men would be spread all over the wood by now, and his shouting seemed to rally only a dozen or so. Other voices shouted for the light companies of the Forty-second and the Sixty-fourth, and bugles sounded, confusingly, all through the undergrowth, and then the firing was almost in front of them, and a Virginian voice was ordering his men to “get in any covuh an’ shoot!”

    One of them showed himself clear, an officer or a sergeant, and Caesar raised his musket and pulled the trigger before realizing that the gun was empty and he had no more ammunition.


    Ten yards away in the smoke, George Lake never knew how close his death had been, and shouted for his men to keep in line and look for targets when they fired. He shouted again. An arm’s length away, Bludner was pushing some new recruits with his musket, shoving them to the exact position where he wanted them. He never turned his head to look at the enemy. He heard the enemy trying to rally and knew they had the redcoats at a disadvantage. His glance caught George Lake’s and they both smiled in the same instant, as if sharing the secret. They were winning.


    “Crawl!” Caesar suited actions to words and began to burrow back toward the stone wall where he had started the action. A volley crashed out behind them, and he hoped all his men had been down on the ground, although a few low balls flung wood splinters and gravel around them. He moved as quickly as he could, and there it was, the little wall, and he was over it and on the trail. He wasn’t lost; his head cleared, and he felt as if he could see the whole action in his mind like the chase of a fox or a deer at Mount Vernon. The rebels were all along their left, but not strong on their front.

    He looked down the ruined wall and saw that some of the men had never gotten up to join the first rush. He had seen enough action to know that not every man was brave every day, and he waved to them.

    “Time to go, Ethiopians!” he yelled, and started down the trail at a crouching run. He stopped twice to look back and see that they were with him, and they were. Another volley crashed out behind him, too far to hurt them. He had “gone away” like a smart fox on a spring day, whipping the prize out from under the nose of the hunter. He couldn’t see Stewart or Jeremy at the wood edge, and he knew that their horses would make them prime targets in the woods, but they weren’t his concern. He waited as men he knew tumbled out of the wood on his heels, the stream becoming a trickle after about twenty-five. There were several men from the Fortieth and two from the Sixty-fourth. They looked a little bemused to find themselves with a body of black men, but they stayed silent.

    “Anyone has more than one cartridge, give it to your mate. Load! Now!”

    They were shuffling around, unformed and worried. They thought the enemy was right behind them. Caesar could see it all so clearly in his mind and he forgot that others could not.

    “Ain’t no one behind you right now. Them Virginny boys is shootin’ at trees. You stay with me, lads. I’ll see you right.” Excitement robbed him of his hard-won accent, but he could feel the fight shaping in the wood as the British swung more men to their flank and steadied their line in the center of the wood. It was all in the balance, and he could see it, he could save it if only these men would load their muskets and follow him.

    Muskets were coming up as men got their bullets rammed down on to the powder and replaced their rammers. The regulars looked like they were on parade, already making a line, while many of the blacks who had never served in the Ethiopians in Virginia loaded casually, their musket butts on the ground. Virgil slapped a cartridge into his hand and he primed his pan and cast about, careful of the eighteen-inch bayonet. He was the last man to load, and by the time he returned his ramrod he had his plan.

    “We’re going left ‘round this wood. As soon as we see rebels, we form a front and give fire. If we have the number, we’re goin’ right at them.”

    Some of the men looked uneasy at that. By no means did all the blacks have bayonets.

    “You men follow me. We’ll have ’em,” Caesar said, looking hard at one of the regulars who seemed like he might protest. The man just shook his head. Caesar began to jog off to the left. He could see a column coming up from the south, grenadiers with two artillery pieces, but they would be too late for the wood whatever happened. He looked back and saw that his men were coming well, a long single file with the redcoats in the middle. He turned the corner of the wood and could see all the way down the ridge and up the other side, where a column of rebels was shaping up, and he spotted an officer in blue and buff sitting just at the base of the wood, less than a quarter mile away, and he knew he was right. The whole rebel line was just in those woods and he was now on their flank. The fox had turned and bitten the hunter, and now the hunter was ready to bite back.

    “Form front!” he called, and they did, but his voice alerted someone in the wood, and there was a scramble in among the trees as someone flinched away. In a moment the edge of the wood was full of men, right in their front.

    Caesar watched it as if in slow motion. He had time. He was calm, even happy, his plan proven correct.

    “Make ready!” he called. The regulars didn’t really know where to stand in the Ethiopian line, but the order stiffened them and they obeyed automatically. The rebels were close, emerging from the trees and scrambling in the thick brush at the wood’s edge.

    “Present!” he bellowed and the rebels began to flinch away, the race lost. They weren’t the Virginians, as he had hoped, but other troops in neat blue coats. He owned them. They were caught in the brush, clear of the cover afforded by the wood’s edge. Behind them, other units were suddenly at the edge of the woods too, and halfway down the hill he could see the Virginians and that same tall ugly man he had wanted to kill at Brooklyn when they fought in the little redoubt, but there had been no time.

    “Fire!” he said, with finality. For just a moment he saw the rebels to his front frozen, their faces slack, as if life had already left them, and then the volley slammed into them like the collapse of a burning barn.

    Off to his right, a horse burst from the woods and Captain Stewart, hatless and bleeding, rode up beside him.

    “Bloody marvelous!” he shouted, and thumped Caesar on the back, before starting to call for his men to form their front.


    George Lake pulled himself free of the raspberry tangle at the edge of the wood and held his musket in the air yelling for his men to rally. They were different today. They ran back, yes, but they leapt into the ranks. No one ran past. They had licked the redcoats in the woods, got on their flanks and clawed them hard, and the woods were full of redcoat bodies. George Lake knew they were fighting light infantry, the very best the redcoats had to offer.

    Certainly, they had taken a whack in their turn, but they had seen the backs of the regulars for the first time. They were learning.

    He got his men formed and found that his company was the foremost in the field. The Marylanders who had been on his right in the wood had vanished and suddenly he saw why, with two companies formed on his flank. He and Bludner didn’t try to form to meet the new threat. They were veterans now.

    “Back!” they yelled, and the men ran again. And again, when they yelled for the company to rally, it did, facing the right way, a good space of a musket shot between them and the redcoats. George thought that he might have seen the blacks again before he had to pull back, but he wasn’t sure. He waited with his company, and other companies from the Third Virginia came and formed on them. The British formed too, but no one came on. Their ranks looked thin. George looked at his own and knew he had lost men, too. Men around him called taunts at the British, and he let them.

    They were learning.
     
  16. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    Marcus Antonius #8887
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    Morris House, New York

    General Charles Lee had not changed. He had won a famous victory, repulsing Clinton’s ships at Charleston, South Carolina, and he had dazzled Congress on his road north, stopping in Philadelphia to proclaim his own success and to convince the doubting that there was no other path for General Washington than the one on which he had embarked.

    He was still well groomed, wore his coat with most of the facings unbuttoned, like the younger British officers, and his little Nirvenois tricorn was worn rakishly aslant on his head. He tossed his reins to an aide and embraced Washington, to everyone’s surprise. It smacked of theater, but then so did a great deal about Charles Lee.

    Washington, a man whose bad teeth dictated that he should smile as little as possible, smiled for Charles Lee. Lee smiled back, and gave a bow.

    “Welcome back, General. We ought to have a bower decorated in laurel for you.”

    “Nonsense, sir. A small matter of logistics. A few wellsited forts and many brave young men.”

    “Perhaps the laurels should be for your dealings with our masters in Congress.”

    The assembled staffs laughed together. Lee raised his hand for quiet, another theatrical gesture. Washington could tolerate his posturing, indeed, would tolerate almost anything to have Lee back.

    “General Washington,” he said, making sure he would be heard by the whole assembly, “I have nothing but contempt for the Congress. I do not mean one or two of the cattle,” he paused for emphasis, “but the whole stable.”

    There was a shocked silence. Washington hid his darkest feelings about the Congress from his staff, and they in turn rarely shared their frustrations with the line officers and soldiers who made up the army. Here was Charles Lee, the hero of the hour, speaking to their private, outraged thoughts. Congress, who refused to burn New York City, refused to raise the regular regiments to prosecute the war, tied their hands, held back money, appointed incompetent commanders, pandered to privilege and money. The whole stable.

    But Washington smiled and gave Lee his hand again, leading him toward Morris House, in which he lodged.

    “Charles, I had forgotten what it was like to have you about.”

    And in that moment, the shocked silence turned again to laughter.

    They rode along the new lines while Washington described the campaign to date, its many reverses and his plans for the next action. Lee listened in silence, his concentration bent on Washington’s report.

    “Are we losing the war, General?” he asked, turning to Washington suddenly. They had pulled ahead of their staffs, and had what counted as privacy among the great.

    Washington shook his head. “I couldn’t say. This isn’t the war I expected. It is less about battles than about desire. The war of words is as vital as the war in the field. Losses shake men’s faith in the cause, and gains strengthen that faith. It is there that the war is being fought.”

    Lee nodded. “It is a new kind of war. But our enemies adapt as quickly as we do. In the south, they have offered to free slaves who come to the army. They deride our notions of liberty.”

    “That will lose them any friends they had among men of property.”

    “Perhaps, General. But what of Parliament? What will our supporters there say when someone of the stature of Burke or Wilberforce denounces slavery instead of praising our resolution for Liberty?”

    Washington looked over his horse’s head for a few strides, and nodded. “Slavery is an issue of property not liberty. But I see how it could be used in other ways.” He pointed at a set of ridges in the distance. “That’s where I intend my magazines and winter quarters, beyond those hills. May I take it you wish a command?”

    “You know me, General. I do.”

    “Welcome back, Charles.”
     
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2019
  17. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    Marcus Antonius #8887
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    John Graves Simcoe

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    16th Light Dragoons

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    Loyalist Soldier

    Captain Stewart had met Sir William Howe on several occasions, but the Howes represented the very top of the Whig aristocracy and John Julius Stewart was the son of a Scots merchant. He did have the advantage that both he and his wealthy father were Whigs, that is, men who felt the good of the realm lay in liberal government and the House of Hanover, not conservative government and the House of Stewart. In Scotland, this last was often the more important argument, as blood had been shed there in living memory. But in the south, in England, the issue between Whig and Tory was about liberty, the protection of property, and the rights of men.

    Sir William and his brother Richard were joint commanders of the entire war effort. Sir William had the army, and Richard had the fleet. They were famous men from a famous family and many Americans remembered the family name with fondness. Their brother, George Augustus Howe, had died at Ticonderoga in 1758 fighting alongside many Americans. The Howes had not been sent to win a war this time, but to find an end to it as quickly as possible, and they were both capable men who understood politics and war and the dangerous middle ground between the two.

    Sir William was dressed for the cold, in a dark blue velveteen hunting coat trimmed in red. He wore heavy riding boots and was leaning back in a deep settle in front of the house’s main fireplace when one of his aides stepped in and said softly, “Captain Stewart of the Second Battalion light infantry, Sir William.”

    Sir William rose, and bowed slightly.

    “The hero of the hour.”

    “You are too kind, Sir William.”

    “Nonsense, Captain. By all accounts, your quick action and that of this company of black men prevented a very ugly situation.”

    “Thank you, Sir William. The men did the fighting. The black men…”

    “Yes, I’ve read your report and that of your brigade major. I needn’t tell you, Captain, that a less impetuous advance might have prevented the whole situation. The damned rebels say they’ve seen our backs, now. And where’d I have been left if I had lost both of my light infantry battalions?”

    Stewart thought that he had come to be praised, but Sir William’s tone was now very uncomfortable for him, and he stood straight, as if ready for a blow, but Sir William changed tack suddenly, his voice changing, his chest relaxing. In the next room, a woman was humming and then singing a tune.

    “I’m of a mind to grant your request to have this group of Africans embodied formally. I note that your petition to that effect is signed by General Clinton, by your own major, your regiment’s colonel, as well as John Simcoe from the regulars and Beverly Robinson from our Loyalist volunteers.” Whigs to a man, thought Stewart, and with votes in Parliament.

    The woman’s singing, clear and light, floated out from the closed door.

    An old man came courting me, Hey, ding derry now,
    An old man came courting me, me being young!
    An old man came courting me, fain would he marry me,
    Maids when you’re young, never wed an old man.

    They both listened until she finished, a lovely clear young voice. Sir William smiled wryly.

    “I assure you she is not referring to me,” he said.

    Stewart merely bowed, hiding his smile.

    Sir William waved at a pile of documents on his fireside table.

    “I cannot simply embody your blacks without consultation, much as I would like. I am aware that there is a body of opinion in this army that we should make ourselves the army of Zion, rescuing this lost tribe from the slavery of the rebels. I also have a clan of Tory officers who believe that blacks are savages, and their employment will bring down on us the condemnation of all Europe.”

    Again, Stewart bowed. When in the presence of the great, a modest man should only marshal his arguments when asked.

    There was movement outside the door. It opened, and a cornet of the Sixteenth Light Dragoons leaned in, the silver buttons gleaming richly on his dark blue facings, followed by a severe-looking man in a red coat, with a recent wound, and a pleasant-faced Loyalist in green. A little after came a self-important looking fellow in a civilian coat of pale blue.

    “Captain Simcoe. Major Robinson. Mr. Loring.”

    Stewart had never met John Graves Simcoe, although his reputation as a soldier was already formidable and he was known to have political connections at home. Major Beverly Robinson was an American who led Loyalist soldiers and was known, despite his Virginian antecedents, to have misgivings about slavery. Mr. Loring was someone important in the emerging British commissary. John Stewart shook hands with Simcoe and Robinson. Both complimented him on the action the day before, compliments from men who had led such actions themselves. Loring merely touched his hand absently with two fingers, a habit so contemptuous that Stewart stiffened.

    “Gentlemen, I have asked you here for your views on arming and embodying black soldiers.” Sir William smiled at all of them. He had risen politely to greet them as if they were guests, but having done so he was slumped down in his chair with his feet up. Stewart had heard that he suffered from gout.

    “My brother and I have to move carefully in these colonies. It is no secret in the army that crushing the rebels in the field will not settle the issue, nor will it heal any wounds. Government at home requires a negotiated settlement, and at the moment, the rebels will not negotiate. Thus the issue about black soldiers is not one of humanity or military expediency, gentlemen. It is one of politics and, oddly, of avoiding conflict with our own adversaries. Anything that prolongs this war or provides our rebels with political ammunition to continue the struggle must be examined very carefully. Am I clear?”

    Mr. Loring stepped forward a little. “That is quite a relief to me, Sir William. I had understood from the tone of your note that you were leaning the other way, toward employing these savages.”

    Sir William smiled at him and nodded a little, as if urging him to continue, and the small man bowed his head as if in agreement.

    “Employing blacks as anything but labor will harm our cause in several ways. First, it undermines that knowledge of inferiority which is essential to the maintenance of the bonds of slavery. Many of our Loyalists here in New York and across the river in New Jersey own slaves, Sir William, and it is essential that they rest easy knowing that their property is not threatened by the very authority that has been sent by the Government to protect it.”

    Sir William nodded, as if accepting his point.

    “Second, blacks are savages. If released upon the rebels, they will commit atrocities that will reflect badly on the honor of His Majesty. Ignorant of the uses of civilization, and totally unable to understand the courtesies of our forms of warfare, they will reduce us to the level of Africans. We will be lampooned in the press.”

    Again, Sir William nodded. One of the doors flanking the fireplace opened and a very handsome young black woman with an abundant bosom only partially concealed by her gown came in softly, carrying a tray. Stewart suspected that she had heard the whole of Mr. Loring’s infamous speech, as her face was showing a deep red under the dark skin. Loring paid her no heed. Stewart wondered if she had been the singer.

    “Finally, Sir William, despite the arguments these men might urge on you, please remember that England requires the slave trade for her commerce. It is our cloth, our mills, our gunsmiths and our ships that drive the trade, and without it, what would we have? Any step you take here will be questioned in Parliament, where they will wonder what notions you have learned in America that you seek to smash the trade.”

    This last was so clearly above the level of converse that was acceptable to Sir William that he turned and stared at Mr. Loring, but Loring had now noticed the girl and seemed immune to his patron’s anger.

    Sir William waved at the girl. “Polly, pour for the gentlemen. Captain Simcoe, I know you disagree, sir. Please state your views.”

    Simcoe was a wealthy man from an old naval family. Although vastly junior to Sir William in rank, every man in the room knew that the Simcoes grew up to be the Sir Williams. Stewart would never be a general, and Robinson and Loring were Americans. But John Graves Simcoe would rise far, everyone said. He had the connections and the looks, the charisma.

    “Sir William, it would be foolish of me to hide from you that I support the universal abolition of slavery. It will happen. The ownership of one man by another is pernicious not just to our morals but to our trade, which is why such ownership is already illegal in England.”

    Sir William didn’t move his head.

    “Sir William, I know that you have to concern yourself with the whole of the theater of war and all the politics, so I will refute Mr. Loring’s points in reverse, on that basis. First, as to Parliament, Mr. Loring knows nothing of your support there, as he is himself a Tory, and we are Whigs. The Whig interest is inclined to the end of slavery, Sir William. More important than that, though, is in the refutation of the very liberal principles on which our adversaries base their pamphlets and their struggle. Every Yankee Doodle wears a cap with the word Liberty embroidered by his sweetheart, and he wears that cap while he beats his slave. When we protect the blacks, we refute the most fundamental of their assertions; that their cause represents that of liberty. It is our army that fights for liberty.”

    His face was flushed. The serving maid clapped her hands and beamed at him for a moment before she saw what she had done and put her head down again to pour more tea.

    Loring didn’t even glance at him. “A pretty speech.”

    “Pray, Mr. Loring, be silent. I was silent for you,” said Simcoe. He didn’t turn his head, and his tone suggested the absent reprimand of a man to his servant.

    Loring flushed and ran a finger around the inside of his neckcloth as if it was too tight.

    “Second, blacks are not savages, however much Mr. Loring’s inflamed imagination may carry him to such thoughts. Here in our lines we already have a black congregation of Anglicans with its own ordained minister, as well as a black man of law. And your brother has, I believe, a black officer on board HMS Rose, does he not? Blacks are men, like us, both good and bad. And they will be soldiers like us, if we train them.”

    Sir William looked at him absently, now searching the table in front of him for something. “Captain Simcoe, you offered to raise a company of blacks in Boston, did you not?” The serving maid reached up above the mantle, rising on her toes so gracefully that Stewart had to look away. She came back to Sir William with a long-stemmed pipe, which he seized eagerly.

    “I did, Sir William.”

    He nodded.

    “Finally, Sir William, Mr. Loring says that to provide freedom for the slaves would undermine our role as the authority of government in protecting property. Much as I should like to argue with Mr. Loring that a man should never be considered property, I will rest my case more exactly on the reality of the situation here. That is to say, we control a very small part of the slave-owning population and our enemies control the greater. Any effort on our side to provide safe haven for escaped slaves will harm the economy of those provinces most loyal to Congress far more than such a move would harm our own Loyalists, who might even be indemnified, as Governor Dunmore did in Virginia.”

    Sir William had his pipe packed, and the serving maid, as if completing some household ballet, now leant over the fire, her back perfectly straight and her legs bent as if in a curtsy, her elbows well out and her head leaned to one side like one of Monsieur Boucher’s paintings of a nymph. She lit the taper and turned back to Sir William, offering it to him for his pipe. Stewart, whose thoughts on women were almost entirely confined to his sweetheart in Edinburgh, was moved in a way he had seldom experienced. He smiled at himself, as he was often quick to advise others that the Scots did not feel the effects of Cupid.

    “Major Robinson?” asked Sir William, as he puffed the pipe to life.

    “Sir William, I can scarce add to the eloquence of my friend except to agree on all his points and bring my own small experience to bear. The loss of their slaves would cripple the southern landowners like Mr. Washington, at least until they understood that hired labor is always more willing than slaves. I might also say, with a certain reservation, that the use of blacks will create a horror among those who own them, and a fear that might well work to our advantage. I do not mean to imply that they will behave badly, but only that those who own them fear their rising to such a degree that it might paralyze their councils.”

    Sir William turned back to Stewart, who was now looking openly at Polly. She curtsied slightly to him, which confused him for a moment. Sir William caught the direction of his glance and laughed aloud, one short bark like a dog.

    “Polly, get you gone. You’ll have the whole of my army sniffing after you in a moment.”

    She inclined her head and moved away, stopping in the doorway to curtsy to all of them before retreating through it, all the motions of a lady, not a serving girl. A suspicion flared in Stewart’s mind that this was stage-managed, that Sir William was trying to send a message. That young black woman didn’t work in this house. If she did, he’d have heard from his friends on the staff.

    “Sir William, the body of soldiers who have placed themselves under my protection were raised in Virginia by the royal governor there. They desire to serve as soldiers and not be reduced to the status of laborers, and they have already served you and His Majesty well. I cannot add to the eloquence of the arguments here. I am only a plain soldier. But I can say that these men are fine soldiers, fast and able, and that I would be honored to continue to command them.”

    “If I place them on the rolls of the provincial corps, they will eventually require an officer of their own. Indeed, I have so many Loyalists clamoring for commands every day that I doubt I could hide them for long. But having heard you, gentlemen,” and he glanced briefly at the closed door through which Polly had passed, “I think I will allow this body of men into the service. Perhaps there will be others, and perhaps not. In the meantime, though, I will permit any runaway to pass our lines.”

    Mr. Loring shrugged. Stewart had expected him to remonstrate, and was surprised at his easy acceptance of defeat.

    The rest was mere formality. Sir William signed several documents that gave the Ethiopians status as a provincial corps called the “Company of Black Guides,” as that was how Stewart intended to use them. Ethiopians was thought to be too colorful a term. Having signed, Sir William proceeded to compliment Stewart again on his action.

    “And what do you plan after the war, Captain Stewart?”

    “I’ll continue in the army, Sir William.”

    “I shall keep my eye on you, then, Captain.”

    “I thank you, Sir William, and I’ll take my leave with my grateful thanks for the compliments and for your services.”

    “That’s fine, Captain.”

    And with that, Stewart was out in the main room of the house, with men like himself, free of the presence of the great and near-great. Simcoe was waiting for him by the smaller fireplace, smoking a small cigar of the type the Havana traders carried. Major Robinson, the Loyalist officer, was lighting his pipe.

    “Better than I had expected,” he said as he came up. Jeremy was somewhere about, because his cloak was hanging on a peg, neatly, not the way he had left it. The whole room was smoky. The front door was always open as men came in and out, and it ruined the draw of the fireplace. There was Jeremy, away through the smoke, at the entrance to a corridor. He was talking to the girl, Polly, who had on a charming mantle and a very proper black silk bonnet. She was clearly going out.

    “I knew he was with us the moment I saw the girl,” said Simcoe, turning an appreciative eye over Polly.

    Robinson laughed.”She can never work here.”

    “No, it would be chaos. I know her. Her father is the black Anglican minister I mentioned. He brought her to show us which way the tide was running, and to give Loring and the Tories a place to hang their hats.”

    Stewart looked at him blankly.

    “Sorry, Stewart, but you are such a Scot. Loring will assume that Polly is Sir William’s latest fascination, shall we say? And so, rather than labeling him a hopeless liberal to the other Tories, they’ll just assume he’s been led by his cock.”

    Stewart wondered if the smoke was getting to his head.

    Simcoe held out a little leather case.

    “Cigar? If you have to breathe smoke, you might as well enjoy it.”

    Stewart took one and lit it. The draw was much easier than a pipe. He coughed a little, rolled a little more smoke around in his mouth. Jeremy came up next to him.

    “This young lady requires an escort back to her father in the camp, sir. Might we provide it?”

    Stewart looked at her gravely. His immediate impulse was over, but she was still bewitching.

    “I suspect she is in more danger from some of us than she knows,” he said. Had he said that? He rarely assayed at gallantry. She smiled, without flirtation but with considerable calm.

    Major Robinson choked on his smoke. “You Scots are like the rest of us. You simply hide it better.”

    “I’m sure I would be in no danger with you, sir,” said Polly, in a modest way that acted as a reproach to Major Robinson and a compliment to Captain Stewart at the same time.

    Simcoe tossed his cigar in the fireplace with a laugh.

    “My best compliments to your father, Polly.” He straightened his coat and a soldier came and hung his greatcoat on him as Jeremy did the same for Stewart. “Stewart, come and dine with me. I have hopes of getting a good provincial command, and I understand you to be the master of getting cooperation from regimental agents.”

    “I know the trade, yes,” said Stewart carefully. Admitting to knowledge of a trade was often the fastest way to end a relationship with the well-born.

    Simcoe just nodded. “You’re the man for me, then. Have your man and mine set a day, eh? Major? If I can ever be of service?”

    “Your servant, gentlemen. Miss Polly,” said Robinson with a bow.

    Stewart followed him to the door as Jeremy went for the horses.

    “Just so, Captain Simcoe.”
     
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2019 at 2:21 PM
  18. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    Marcus Antonius #8887
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    English Silver Crown (5 Shilling piece)

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    English Gold Guinea (21 Shilling piece)

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    English Grenadier of the 40th Regiment

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    Hessian Fusiliers

    [​IMG]
    Continental artillery being moved up Chatterton’s Hill

    Jeremy rode easily through the quiet evening, enjoying the crisp air and the feel of the horse moving well beneath him. The small force of light infantry had landed that afternoon at the ferry and easily driven off the small picket left there by the rebels, who seemed to be in retreat everywhere north of New York.

    Most of the sentries knew him, by now, and he moved from one company to the next, trying to locate Caesar’s little company, which had come across last and without official sanction. Major Stilson and Captain Stewart had already come to expect that the Ethiopians would be attached to them. Light battalions were always informal composites, and the addition of local or native troops to a light battalion was not a matter of great moment.

    Jeremy found Caesar lying on his pack in the yard of the ferry house, his coat off and his neckerchief hanging loose. Caesar was reading. Jeremy already knew that Caesar could read, but in his experience the ability to read and its direct expression could be very different things. Jeremy seldom read further afield than the Gentleman’s Magazine and the occasional novel.

    Around the yard, black men were cleaning their muskets with tow and charcoal, or gambling. The other big man, whom Jeremy knew as Virgil, was leading a sewing circle where new recruits sat on the ground with their legs folded. Each had a little pile of sundries. That pile represented the makings of as much uniform as the Ethiopians possessed, a brown short jacket and coarse sailors’ trousers.

    It was the largest group of black soldiers that Jeremy had ever seen. He had never aspired to be a soldier, himself; to be an officer was so far above his station as to be beyond his ability to ascend, whereas to be a common soldier was in almost every way beneath him. Despite that, he was already enjoying the campaign, and he was obscurely pleased that Caesar had created a body of men that Captain Stewart so patently admired, as such an achievement was clearly respectable.

    Caesar himself, reading in the cool autumn sun, seemed almost respectable. He looked his age, in repose. His youth was more obvious when he was still than in action, where he seemed ageless, a trait he shared with Stewart, except where Stewart lost years, Caesar gained them.

    Jeremy was amused that his arrival on horseback was greeted from many quarters in the yard, but that Caesar didn’t so much as raise his head. Jeremy thought he might be shamming until he came up close and heard Caesar mouthing the words softly, his finger tracing along the page of a well-worn and heavy book.

    Caesar, who had immediate notice from his scouts, apprehending some stratagem, because he as yet knew nothing of the Reason for their Departure, would not stir out of his trenches. But early in the morning, upon more certain intelligence of their retreat, he detached all the cavalry, under Q. Pedius and L. Arunculeius Cotta, his lieutenants, to harass and retard them in their march. T. Labienus had orders to follow with three legions. These falling upon their rear, and pursuing them many miles, made a dreadful slaughter of the flying Troops.

    Caesar could easily visualize the scene, as his namesake’s men fell upon the rear of the Belgians, who looked in his mind’s eye like the unvaliant remnants of the Tenth Continental Regiment that had broken at the first shots from his little group of Ethiopians. His pack had “X Con’t” painted on it, as did most of the packs carried by the other black soldiers. He could see the Belgians flinching away, the front ranks striving to hold their ground while the rear ranks began to run. He was reliving it, seeing Washington fleeing him and smiling with the memory when he realized that a horse was taking grass at his back and there were polished riding boots at the edge of his vision.

    “Beg your pardon, Mr. Green.”

    “At your service, Sergeant Caesar.”

    Caesar scrambled to his feet and brushed wood chips out of his trousers.

    “What are you reading, Sergeant?”

    “The Gallic Wars of Julius Caesar,” he said, holding up the thick volume. It reminded him of Sergeant Peters, and how easily he had adapted to being the sergeant.

    Jeremy smiled. “I doubt there’s another sergeant in this army who would willingly carry that volume in the field, Julius.”

    “I think you do them wrong, sir. Caesar’s commentaries have lessons that apply to every aspect of our war here, from entrenching a camp to setting a picket. Indeed,” he opened the book and began to flip pages, “see here in the plate, where it shows how to fortify a bridge.”

    Jeremy shook his head. “A sad state we’d be in, if the works of a general dead these two thousand years were better than our modern manuals. My master has in his tent all the latest works, whether the siege books of Monseer Vauban or the very latest from Mr. Muller. Indeed, I bought the most of them for him myself.”

    Caesar looked at him with round eyes, and Jeremy was struck again with his youth, and the difference between the man in action and the man at rest. Like those round young eyes and the scars above them.

    “You mean to say there are modern manuals…but of course there are.” He looked at Jeremy with a certain wonder.

    “I don’t suppose…”

    “I’m almost certain the captain would lend them, or let you read one near the tent, if you had a mind. Indeed, I’ve been sent to find you with the purpose of inviting you, if you were at liberty, to join the captain.”

    “I’ll come directly.”

    “Julius Caesar, it really is time someone polished you. Your language is better than the common run, but ‘I’ll come directly’ is too plain. You should send me with your best compliments and say that you will attend Captain Stewart directly. That’s the pretty way to say it. Attend is genteel.”

    Caesar looked at Jeremy for a moment, and Jeremy thought that he could see the other, dangerous Caesar for a flash of an eye, but then it was gone and the eyes were serene.

    “Mr. Green, pray send the captain my best compliments, and tell him that I will attend him directly.”

    “Splendid. I recommend a clean shirt, if you have one.”

    “In fact, the rebels have provided us with all the shirts we could wish, many beautifully sewn, left on the ground for the first comer. We thought it uncommon generous. We attempted to attend them directly, to pay them our best compliments for the shirts, but they all had prior engagements.”

    His last was greeted with little grunts of laughter from the men in the ferry yard. Jeremy just smiled back.

    “We shall expect you, then.” He turned back. “Do you fence, by any chance?”

    “Fence? I don’t understand you.”

    “I see you wear a sword. Do you know how to use it?”

    “Not any better than I could use it to cut cane, but so far I haven’t needed it. Why?”

    “I have some skill in the art. Perhaps we’ll find a time, young Caesar.”

    “I would be delighted to attend you.”

    Jeremy just laughed.


    Captain Stewart’s marquee was rather grand, but when the army was moving, he had only one packhorse and lived with Jeremy in a simple private’s tent. Of course, when the army was moving, the privates left their tents behind altogether.

    Jeremy and the company quartermaster had between them arranged for the captain to take over the barn, yard, and shop of a blacksmith. The smith and his family were attempting to continue with their lives while soldiers were living all around their home. Neither Caesar nor Jeremy had any idea if the smith had children, which suggested to both of them that what he had was daughters.

    The tent was set up in the barn, but used as a screen to make a private room on the threshing floor. It was cold but spacious. Caesar could see from the sentry post that Captain Stewart was sitting with another man dressed in an old hunting coat over very fine smallclothes.

    Caesar stopped to return the sentry’s salute at the entrance to the barn. Stewart saw him and waved him on. The sentry saluted smartly, jerked his head toward the two officers, and gave a quick, almost invisible smile.

    “Good news for yor’n, Sergeant,” he whispered.

    Caesar walked back and saluted the two officers.

    The stranger rose in his seat and returned the salute gravely, while Stewart simply fluttered his hand and told him to “carry on, carry on”. Jeremy appeared with a light chair, probably obtained from one of the nearby houses. He took Caesar’s musket and carried it off beyond the screen of canvas.

    “Have a seat, Sergeant. This is Captain Simcoe of the Second grenadier Battalion. He commands the grenadiers of the Fortieth Foot.”

    “An honor, sir,” said Caesar, sitting and then standing again, embarrassed at having accepted the invitation to sit before he had been introduced. He hovered uncertainly by his chair. Simcoe smiled warmly.

    “Your servant, Sergeant. I had the pleasure to observe your pursuit of Mr. Washington’s staff during the affair at Kip’s Bay.”

    Caesar beamed at the praise.

    “I tried to bring my company up into action, but mine cannot run quite so fast or far as either your blacks or Captain Stewart’s Scots, and so we had to be content to watch the closing acts.”

    Caesar stood silent. He knew that the grenadiers were saved for the really difficult fighting in major engagements, and he had never before considered how frustrating it might be to watch the lights fight every day in the war of outposts and never participate themselves. For himself, he had seen so much fighting in the last month that he felt rattled, but this didn’t seem the time to say so.

    “Nonetheless, Sergeant, we haven’t brought you here to listen to our war stories. You must know that Captain Stewart has petitioned Sir William Howe to have your company placed on the provincial establishment as a body of regular Loyalist soldiers.”

    Caesar leaned forward eagerly. “Yes, sir.”

    Stewart interjected. “Julius Caesar, sit down. Jeremy, pour him a glass of rum. Carry on, Captain Simcoe.”

    Caesar sat stiffly, his pack catching the rungs of the chair back. The rules of this conversation made him uncomfortable, the two white officers apparently pretending that he was their peer. But he was not, and his experience of white gentry suggested that they would be quick to anger if he put a foot wrong. He saw himself laughing at Washington on the hunt, so long ago. He’d been sent to the swamp for that.

    Jeremy came and stood beside him. Jeremy’s presence was reassuring. He could ask Jeremy what to do, if they had a moment alone. Jeremy handed him a small horn cup, and the sweet scent of the rum made his empty stomach flip over.

    Simcoe waited until Caesar had sipped his rum, and then produced a heavy folded parchment from the saddlebag under his chair.

    “This document is what is known as a ‘beating order’. It entitles Captain Stewart to raise a company of soldiers to be known as the Black Guides to serve for the duration of the conflict. We would like the Black Guides to be based on your men, Sergeant. Can you read?”

    Jeremy leaned forward.

    “He’s reading Caesar’s Gallic Wars. He has it in his backpack, sir. Ask him.”

    Simcoe looked interested.

    “Are you, by God. Do you have it with you? May I see it?”

    Caesar stripped off his pack with Jeremy’s help and produced it. Simcoe leafed through it, paused at some illustrations, and smiled.

    “I read it in Latin for school, and again at Merton College. It seems so modern in English, as if the war were happening now.”

    Caesar was trying to read the beating order, whose language was almost as arcane as Latin.

    “I do not wish to offer anything to you gentlemen but praise,” he said carefully. “But can we not continue to be the Loyal Ethiopian Regiment?”

    Both white men shook their heads. Simcoe took the lead.

    “The governor had the authority to raise that regiment only within his own province, Caesar. How far are you in Gallic Wars?”

    “I’m well along in book three, sir.”

    “So you understand how his authority worked? How he could command legions only in Gaul, and not throughout the empire?”

    “I do, sir.”

    “And so it is with us, Caesar. Governor Dunmore’s right to raise troops doesn’t extend outside of Virginia. Commissions he has written have the force of his intent, of course, but they won’t get very far. And all the officers of the Ethiopians have moved to other commands.”

    Or died, thought Caesar, remembering Mr. Robinson. He wondered idly if Major Robinson was a relation. They were of a type.

    “So we should join Captain Stewart’s corps of Black Guides.” Caesar spoke slowly again, because, much as he wanted to like the new officer, and much as he respected Captain Stewart, he felt that somehow something was being taken from him.

    Stewart stood up and walked back and forth a moment.

    “I told you he would take it this way, Simcoe. Look here, Caesar. It’s me who’s joining you, not the other way around. I’ll be your officer for a while, and then another will be appointed, perhaps a whole slate of three. We’ll recruit you up to a double company, which is what Sir William has authorized. Perhaps eighty men. A powerful force that can operate on its own or provide guides for the light infantry. We should have foreseen that you’d have a pride in your corps. We do, and Sergeant McDonald wouldn’t lightly tear off his buttons and join the Fortieth.”

    Simcoe said carefully, “Did you think you’d be the officer, Caesar?”

    Caesar laughed. It wasn’t an easy laugh, because since Kip’s Bay, he’d met British officers who didn’t deserve their rank, and he’d even been ordered about by a few. He knew he could run a company, but the world was as it was, something Jeremy often said.

    “No, sir. I’m just not easy about leaving the Ethiopians.”

    “If I said that the Ethiopians would become the Black Guides?” Stewart looked at Simcoe for assistance. “Would that help?”

    Jeremy pressed his back.

    “Do it, Caesar. Trust me,” Jeremy whispered hoarsely, not really covered by the noise of the soldiers in the barn.

    “And we’ll be paid regular, and uniformed?”

    “Absolutely.”

    Caesar nodded. He was happy that they would become regular soldiers, and he feared to offend the two officers by not falling in with their plans, but he still felt that something was lacking. He trusted Jeremy, though. Indeed, for the most part, he trusted Stewart, who was the bravest man he had seen in action, and that was worth something.

    “I’m very pleased, then,” he said. If you have to accept another’s wishes, do it with a good grace. So his mother had always said. He smiled. Jeremy squeezed his shoulder. The two white officers shook his hand.

    “We’ll muster the men you have tonight, so that you can be paid immediately. Do you have women?”

    “A dozen or so back on Staten Island. One or two that the new boys have collected here.”

    Simcoe counted quickly. “You can have only sixteen on the rolls, Sergeant, so best choose the ones who will work and push the slatterns off on another corps.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “You choose them and get me the names when you can,” said Stewart hurriedly.

    Caesar knew it was a matter of great importance. Women on the rolls of a regiment were members of the army. They got preference for barracks space, they drew rations, and they had a place. Other women, the camp followers and slatterns, could expect to be drummed out of the tents on a cold morning, or worse. He thought of Sally, and Big Annie, and the local girls who had black skin but spoke Dutch. Sixteen women would be hard. Of course, none of them had anything at all now, and none of the boys was really married except Angus to Big Annie.

    Whatever he decided, there would be fighting. He was far away when he felt Jeremy jostle his shoulder.

    “The problems of command, eh, Caesar?” asked Stewart. “And I see you came off New York Island with a bolt of brown cloth. Shall we continue in brown jackets?”

    “I’d rather, sir. They are serviceable enough.”

    “Round hats. I notice most of your men have no hats, or old rebel hats.”

    “I like the round hats well enough, sir, but most of our equipment has been donated by the rebels, and we haven’t come across a company wearing just the hats we desire.”

    Simcoe laughed and Stewart smiled.

    “Jeremy, give Caesar part of our cold chicken. We’re off to walk the posts for a bit. When you’ve had a bite, Caesar, meet us at your company so we can muster.”

    Caesar stood up. “Yes, sir.”

    “Just so, Caesar. Carry on.”


    The men mustered eagerly enough. Few of them cared if they were Ethiopians or Guides, and the prospect of regular pay, allowances for quarters, proper uniforms, and status was so alluring that even Caesar’s band of veterans seemed to think he had accomplished a miracle.

    “Bettuh than I evah expec’,” said Virgil. “An’ Captain Stewart, he’s good. Been good to us, too.”

    Virgil was holding a crown, a large silver coin worth five English shillings. Stewart had given one to every man as “bounty”, he said. Caesar thought of the last time he had received a crown from a white man, when Washington told him not to be familiar.

    “You look like someone walkin’ on yo’ grave, Caesar,” said Tonny.

    Caesar tried to shake off his unease. He thought it might be that from Peters’s death until today he had been in sole command, and now others would be above him. Perhaps his freedom had been unbounded, at least within the war, and now it was bounded.

    Caesar could see that some of the men of Stewart’s company were coming in, despite the late hour, and shaking hands with the Black Guides. Pipes were lit, and rum began to make the rounds. Some men were dancing, and suddenly there were women.

    He put his hands on the shoulders of the two men.

    “And now you’ll both be corporals,” he said.

    “Gon’ hav’ to learn to cipher from Cese’s big book,” said Tonny, poking around in Caesar’s backpack.

    Jim came up from the dark, with a girl by the hand. He didn’t introduce her, and she kept her face half turned away, perhaps embarrassed to be in a camp full of men. Caesar nodded to him, and Jim smiled back, a huge gleam of delight.

    “Nevah thought it would be so good, when we was in the swamp,” he said.

    Caesar felt his elation begin to conquer his misgivings, and he nodded. He thought of Virgil calling him Cese, just now, a name he hadn’t heard in months, and it brought it all back to him. Then he frowned.

    “You be careful with that girl. She from here?”

    “Belongs to the big house.”

    “What’s your name, girl?”

    “I’m Morag, if you please,” she said shyly, with a little curtsy. Then, “I never see so many black folk before.”

    Africans were thin on the ground in New York, Caesar knew. Many of the men in camp were recent recruits, escaped slaves from New York or New Jersey, and they were capering with excitement. One, Silas, kept telling all the men around him that he “ain’ never going to be slave, not no more”, in a strong Dutch accent. Caesar listened with amusement.

    “Listen up, here,” he called, in his parade ground voice, and the little yard grew still.

    “We are a company in the army now, and under discipline. Drink the rum and enjoy your money, boys, but don’t you do nothing to bring us infamy. Do you hear me? What we do here will decide what a lot of folk think of black soldiers.”

    He looked around the yard slowly, trying to catch every eye. “Some of us started this war in Virginia. Some of us just joined today. That’s fine. But all of you remember that just getting to here, where we are free men, and soldiers, has cost us. Remember that better men than us died just to get us here. Remember that we are free and there are a lot of folk that ain’t. And remember that the army is marching early tomorrow and we’ll be right at the front, so no hard heads and no missing kits.”

    He looked at them all with something close to love, and it was too much for him, and he turned away from the fire in the yard and walked off a little, and he heard Virgil lead them in a cheer that mixed the company with the white soldiers around them and the shriller voices of women, so that by the third cheer the HUZZAH almost lifted the night away.

    He saw two officers standing in greatcoats at the edge of the big fire. Simcoe and Stewart were there. He thought they might have drifted off after the parade, but they hadn’t.

    “Forty-one men, Sergeant. We’ll want to recruit up to strength as soon as may be.”

    “Yes, sir. With respect, sir, there are so many runaway blacks around these parts, we shouldn’t have any difficulty.” Caesar watched his men around the fires, and he was glad. “Where do we march, sir?” he asked.

    Stewart looked out into the night for a moment.

    “It won’t last, but until someone comes and takes the company away, we’ll just add it in with the Second light infantry. Do you have tools?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Make sure you have picks and shovels when we step off tomorrow. I don’t know the plan as well as I’d like, but I’ll opinion now that we’re to have a go at turning Mr. Washington off the heights at White Plains, and that may mean some digging.”

    “Yes, sir. But we’d rather fight.”

    Stewart nodded.

    “Need money, Sergeant?”

    Caesar looked puzzled. “I have a little, sir. What would I need it for?”

    Stewart nodded as if he had discovered something he suspected.

    “Here’s five guineas. You talk to Sergeant McDonald and Jeremy about what it’s for. Keep an account, mind. It’s my own money. But everything in this country costs, and I suspect that won’t be different for black men.”

    Caesar had never held so much money in his life as the five heavy gold coins, together worth one hundred and five shillings, or half the price of a young, fit slave in Virginia. He put the coins carefully inside his hunting pouch, as neither his waistcoat nor trousers had any pockets.

    “Thank you, sir. I’ll keep a good account.”

    “Get some sleep, Sergeant. We’ll be at it before dawn.”

    Simcoe pulled his greatcoat tighter around him in the chill air and reached out to get Caesar’s attention.

    “Sergeant, is it true you were a slave in Virginia?”

    Caesar stiffened, but nodded.

    “Nothing to be ashamed of, Sergeant. Pirates took your namesake, Julius Caesar, and held him as a slave, you know. It was quite common in the ancient world.”

    Caesar was impressed at Simcoe’s knowledge, interested in spite of himself. His inclination was to join the party, despite the prospect of action in the morning. Talking to Simcoe worried him. But the idea that the great Julius Caesar had been a slave held his attention. Why had Sergeant Peters never told him that the mighty Caesar had been a slave, taken by pirates?

    “How’d he escape?”

    “Oh, his family paid a ransom. And then he hunted the pirates down and crucified them.”

    “What’s that, sir?”

    “He nailed them to crosses, just as Pontius Pilate did to Jesus.”

    Caesar was a little stunned, but then he smiled wolfishly.

    “I like that, sir.”

    Simcoe nodded seriously.

    “I thought you might. And is it true you were a slave of Mr. Washington’s?”

    Caesar nodded again. He was still thinking about Julius Caesar coming back with fire and sword on the men who had enslaved him.

    “Can you tell me anything about him? Was he cruel?”

    Caesar thought for a moment. It was difficult sometimes for him to remember his life before the swamp.

    “He sent me to the swamp for laughing at him. That’s cruel, I think. But in the main, he was fair.”

    Simcoe nodded, clearly dissatisfied.

    “Can you say anything else, Caesar?”

    Caesar smiled. “He’s the best horseman I’ve ever seen. He hates being crossed, but most people do, I’ve found. He don’t like arguments, especially from the young. I’m sorry, sir. I was a slave, an’ I kept his dogs. I don’t know him like a house slave might.”

    Simcoe nodded distantly, and Caesar sensed that he might be nearing the line of too familiar.

    “Do you hate him?”

    Caesar shook his head. “No, sir, I do not,” he said. He couldn’t see himself crucifying Mr. Washington. The men who had hunted him in the swamp, now, or the men who had made him a slave. That was worth some thought.

    Simcoe nodded.

    “I’ll give you good night, then, Sergeant.”

    “Thank you, sir.” Caesar watched him go. No one had ever asked him about Washington before, but Caesar sensed that Simcoe had an intensity that carried him past other men, made him capable of asking harder questions. He walked back to a large fire that his men were feeding from a rail fence. The ferry master would not be pleased.

    Virgil and Tonny were waiting for him, and he was pleased to see them sober. Paget and Romeo, once malefactors, were now pushing the new men into their blankets.

    “An’ now we really are soldiers,” said Tonny. His eyes were shining.

    Virgil bit his crown again, and smiled. “We gon’ have some fun.”

    “Tomorrow we may be fighting,” said Caesar. “Mr. Stewart says we may fight at some place called ‘White Plains’. Get the boys to ask around about the lay of the land, see if there are any black folks off that way we can meet in the morning. Start with that girl of Jim’s.”

    They were already practised at using local slaves for information. Local slaves had helped them all the way up the island.

    “Better catch ’em quick, then, befo’ the interruptin’ is too messy.” Virgil laughed. Caesar thought that Virgil had laughed more in the last few days than he had ever laughed in the swamp.

    “White Plains?” asked Tonny.

    Caesar nodded. “If we’re going to be Guides, better get ready to guide.”


    “May I trouble you for your glass?” asked General Lee, reaching for an aide’s telescope.

    It was the dawn of a beautiful autumn day, and the two senior generals and their staffs had ridden forth early to go over all the ground south and west of the heights in hopes of finding a position where they could make a stand. Lee was already laying out lines in his mind. He looked at the bulk of Chatterton’s Hill rising in front of them and turned to Washington.

    “Let us have a look from the height,” he said, and they rode on up the slope, the two staffs chatting amicably. The shadow of the defeats on Long Island and Manhattan were still there, but the air was different. Lee had beaten the British in the south, and Harlem Heights had given them all a ray of hope.

    Washington listened to the accents and he smiled to hear the Virginians and the New Yorkers gossiping and showing away, each eager to impress the others. They were young, and most of them were personable. He walked Nelson over by General Lee, who was looking through his aide’s glass at the works in progress behind them.

    “Do you ever consider the wonder of it, that these young men go along so easily together?” Washington said quietly. “But for the war, they would not even know each other. They would be New Yorkers, or Yankees from Massachusetts, or Marylanders.”

    Lee nodded, still looking at the ground, his face largely hidden by the heavy wooden telescope.

    “If I may, sir, it is your achievement. Most of the rest of us are yet Virginians and New Yorkers.” He snapped it closed, and gave Washington one of his rare looks of total loyalty—tenderness, almost. Then he pointed back down the slope, to the ground well to the north, beyond their camp.

    “This hill stands alone. It dominates the plain, but it is too easily flanked and too hard to hold. Yonder,” said Lee, “is the ground we ought to occupy.”

    “Then let us go and view it,” said Washington. He took in the broad sweep of the heights at a glance, and led his men back down off Chatterton’s Hill just as the sun began to clear the heights.

    They were well on their way, past the camp and riding hard, when a trooper of the Light Horse came up the road after them, his horse lathered with sweat. He rode straight up to Washington and touched the back of his hand to his iron-rimmed helmet.

    “The British are on us,” he said. Washington took in the man’s evident panic and whirled his horse. He showed no sign of fatigue.

    “Gentlemen,” he shouted, “we now have other business besides reconnoitering.”

    They flew down the road with the wind of their passage ripping at their cloaks and greatcoats and streaming them well out behind them, the iron-shod hooves of the horses striking sparks from the stones in the road. They stayed at that breakneck pace until Washington drew rein in front of his headquarters, where Adjutant General Reed was just mounting his horse. His relief at the presence of the army’s senior command was palpable. Washington caught a look between him and General Lee that puzzled him.

    Washington curveted his horse in a circle and addressed all the officers in the yard.

    “Gentlemen, you will repair to your respective posts and do the best you can.”

    And to Charles Lee, he added, “Put more men up Chatterton’s Hill.”


    Chatterton’s Hill was the piece of ground that dominated all the ground south of the Heights. That’s what the girl in Dobb’s Ferry said, and that’s what was reported by every farmhand they approached as the column moved through the dark. Caesar passed the information back to Captain Stewart, and he, in turn, passed it through Major Stilson and right up to Sir William Howe.

    Their knowledge of the country was sketchy nonetheless. A farm slave from just north of the ferry had been east of his farm only twice, and he was as confused in the dark as any of the Guides. Caesar felt a kind of fear he never felt on the battlefield, the fear that he would fail the trust placed in him, and twice he halted the whole column behind him while Tonny and Virgil took tried men out in little sweeps north and south of the road, probing for enemies and for a better clue to the lay of the land. It was a new art for Caesar, and it seemed almost as new to Captain Stewart, who came right up to the head of the column at the first delay and stayed by Caesar as he directed the scouts moving forward. He stayed there, but he offered no word of criticism. Caesar valued him for that.

    Twice they moved forward in the dark, only to strike another small fork in the road. By day, these forks might have been clearly marked as side tracks or farm lanes, but in the darkness it was impossible to tell without sending a man or a file down the lane for information. They crawled forward, trying to find the base of Chatterton’s Hill, and looking to link up with the main column under Sir William.

    Jeremy was everywhere, using his horse to become Caesar’s messenger and an additional voice of command as well. It was the first time he had worked so close to Caesar, as he usually stayed with his master, but some unspoken cue had passed between him and Captain Stewart. He rode hard, his horse steaming with sweat every time he returned to the little clump of men at the head of the column.

    After three hours, the sky grew paler. Caesar had begun to get the hang of feeling his way across unfamiliar terrain, although he was certain that he had much to learn.

    “I should have had a party out here last night, sir,” he said to Stewart.

    “Sir William wouldn’t have wanted that, Sergeant. A contact last night might have alerted their sentries to the surprise.”

    “It’s not going to be much of a surprise if we can’t find them before noon,” Caesar muttered, and Stewart smiled while affecting not to hear. They moved forward.

    Light changed everything. The looming bulk of Chatterton’s Hill was suddenly clear and close, blocking out the emerging morning sky in the east. They were almost at its base, their furthest party under Romeo just starting up the hill and unaware that it was their goal.

    Suddenly Romeo was running back toward them. He was sweating hard even in the chill air.

    “There’s troops cooking up the crest o’ the hill, suh,” he panted. He pointed up to where the command group could just see new smoke rising at the crest, half a mile away.

    “Is your horse sound?” Stewart asked Jeremy, who was rubbing her down. He nodded, alert, and leapt into the saddle, apparently fresh after four hours’ hard riding.

    “Go back to Major Stilson and tell him we have rebel outposts at the crest of the hill and we’re not detected yet. Then straight on to Sir William and tell him the same, unless the major gives you some other message. Off you go, then, and Godspeed, Jeremy.”

    He turned to Caesar.

    “Get your men into the shelter of those trees, quick as you can.”

    Caesar wanted to speak, but Stewart was motioning for Lieutenant Crawford and Sergeant McDonald. He waved to Tonny and Virgil.

    “Get the men into those trees and lie quiet. No smoking, no fires. Go on, now.” They nodded and moved off. Caesar turned back to Stewart, who was edging his horse into the shadow of the hill while talking to his subordinates, pushing them into the same wood edge that now held the Black Guides. McDonald gave Caesar a quick smile and ran off, and Crawford just looked up the long hill.

    Caesar held his musket correctly at the carry, just as Sergeant McDonald had, and waited for Stewart to notice him, but Stewart was looking up the hill and shaking his head.

    “I bought a Dollond glass, a really good one, just before we came over. Jeremy tried ten glasses and said this was the best. It brings things right in close, you understand. And here I am trying to see the top of this damned hill and I have the perfect tool. And where is it?”

    Caesar shook his head, not even sure that he was being addressed.

    “It’s in Jeremy’s saddlebag, of course. I’d lose my head, if it weren’t attached. You have the air of a man with something on his mind, young Caesar.”

    “I do, sir. I’d like to send men up the flank of the hill now, to get the lie of the land. Once it’s lighter we’ll be seen.”

    Stewart peered into the gloom as if he would really learn something from the darkness.

    “Don’t get caught is all I’ll ask.” His own company began to file past, no longer marching but moving quickly into the trees. Stewart motioned to Crawford. “Get a picket line out. I don’t want to get bit while we wait here.”

    “Certainly, sir. I’ll see to it immediately.”

    In an hour, the road to the south was thick with redcoats and any real hope of surprise had been lost. Caesar was content that his men had not lost it. They had scoured the hill, climbing almost as far as the top without being detected before coming back with their reports that there were two battalions of militia and two of Continentals in strong positions along the stone walls at the top. The group of officers at the base of the hill had swelled to uncomfortable proportions, as the mounted officers of half the army rode to the head of the column to view the ground. Caesar thought that if ever the famous Pennsylvania riflemen caught on to the hunt-like gatherings at the head of British columns, they would reap a terrible harvest of officers. But he kept his views to himself and kept his men scouring the hill. By mid-morning their legs were burning from the ceaseless climbing.

    When they were ready, though, they were quick. Suddenly the light infantry and several companies of grenadiers deployed into line across the base, and a second line of more lights formed behind them, and they started up the hill at a gentle marching pace. Some of these troops remembered Breed’s Hill at Boston, and they were not contemptuous of the militia. They left their packs behind.

    Caesar led his men well off to the left of the main line, in a loose screen covering the flank of the line, with Captain Stewart’s company formed in two ranks, but well spaced out, at the very left end of the front line. Thanks to the Guides, the British knew every fold in the ground and every gully before they started, and Caesar was stunned to see how cunningly the front line used the contours to stay hidden from the crest. He had never seen the British line except in a big field where they stood out like scarecrows, but here, on an autumn day, they moved like red ghosts in the clear air, their bayonets already fixed and shining before them with a thousand pinpricks of brilliant light.

    The Guides encountered the first opposition, a lazy morning patrol taking their ease in a gully. Tonny was on them before either side knew the other was there, but he had the quicker wits, and in a moment he had ten prisoners and an officer, dangerously belligerent with shame at his failure. Caesar sent them back under a strong guard and moved on, his company weaker without a shot having been fired.

    Stewart was right. They needed more men. He felt naked on this giant hill with so few men covering the flank of the advance. He sent Jim running to Captain Stewart to tell him of the prisoners and his concern, and then he waved his hand, and the Guides, now a little behind the line, moved on.

    Too fast, he thought, and there was a shot.

    Romeo went down and rolled over, clutching his guts and screaming. Paget ran to him, and Virgil, but Caesar grabbed Virgil’s jacket and waved him down. Romeo screamed again and the new men looked gray with worry.

    “Watch your front,” called Caesar, and he spotted the smoke coming from a clump of trees surrounded by stumps to his left, a little blind that flanked the advance. Romeo was flopping now, his heels drumming the soft autumn earth in convulsions. Paget looked back at the company.

    “Help him!” he cried.

    “Stay with me!” Caesar shouted, and he knelt. “Those that has bayonets, get them on. We’ll be charging that little wood there when I give the word. Go as fast as you can an’ kill what you find there, and then we’ll see if we can help Romeo.”

    Jim ran up, returning from his errand to Captain Stewart. Caesar watched the men fixing their bayonets and he sketched the situation for Jim. Romeo began to moan. His smell drifted back to them. Caesar thought that the rifleman, if he was one, had reloaded by now. He didn’t want Jim going next.

    “Don’t you head off to Captain Stewart until we charge,” he said.

    “Ready?”

    A nervous chorus. Virgil looked scared, and many of the others were shaking. Caesar was calm, although he greatly feared that the little wood was full of men. Not the moment to worry.

    “Charge!”

    They were off like racers. Caesar had time to note that every man left the cover together, and no one shirked; scared or not, they were good men.

    Crack.

    Someone grunted and there was a clatter, but it wasn’t him and he ran on, now well in front because he was the fastest. Then there was another shot, flatter, like a fowler, and then several muskets, but none of them hit him, and he paused for just a second to look back, and there was Virgil close behind, eyes mad with fear and perhaps passion, and the rest of them coming along as best they could.

    He waved them on, knowing that he was only a few paces from the nearest enemy and that if anyone had a shot in reserve he was a dead man. Then just as Virgil caught up to him, he turned back to the enemy and charged at them. A young man, perhaps a boy, appeared to his left and Caesar killed him, the whole weight of his charge plunging the bayonet into him so that the muzzle was buried in his breast. When Caesar ripped it free the bayonet bent and then came off the barrel, ruined. He pushed through the undergrowth to where two men had a shallow pit covered in branches, a good blind that they were in the process of abandoning. Virgil clubbed one of them to the ground with his musket butt and Caesar hit the other with his shovel twice, the first blow landing flat and the second almost severing his head. Suddenly there were Guides all around him, screaming with rage and the suppressed fear of that rush over open ground. Paget went by him, his face a mask of rage over scared eyes, his bayonet bloody and the blood running down the barrel and over his hands.

    And then it was over.


    It was the first time George Lake had watched a battle, rather than participated. He stood on the road below Chatterton’s Hill and listened to the Royal Artillery pound the militia positions on the ridge above him. The Royal Artillery were on the other side of the ridge, well over a mile away, but he could hear every round fired, count the batteries now with the experience of the veteran as each fired its salvo.

    Bang bang, bang, bang, bang bang. Six guns, each a four-pounder from the noise. They’d fire again before he breathed ten times. They were that good.

    Their fire was pounding Brook’s militia. George had watched them go up the hill with weary cynicism, knowing that they were hopeless just by listening to their chatter. And so it proved. Before long, the first of them came running down the long slope. His officers made no attempt to stop this flight, because they were so inexperienced they didn’t know that when one fled, the others were close behind. He watched it like some distant show, the way he used to watch a service in church, with detachment. The big guns kept firing, and in a few more salvos the whole of Brook’s was coming down the hill.

    George kept looking back to his left, where Wadsworth’s brigade stood casually. They could see the British columns beginning to form front to attack Wadsworth’s positions, but as they lacked the artillery that the British had, they couldn’t interfere with their deployment. Then he turned his attention back up the flank of Chatterton’s Hill. He could now see Smallwood’s Delaware regiment redeploying. It seemed like a terrible waste to countermarch in the very face of enemy fire, and yet it was admirable to watch American troops march so coolly while the shot fell thick on them. The Delaware troops had the reputation as the best in the army, and George Lake wanted to cheer them.

    Bludner came back down the line to him.

    “We’re beat,” he said quietly, pointing up the hill to where the remaining militia were already showing signs of flight. “Goddam but them milishee is wuthless.”

    “We was all milishee once,” George said.

    “We oughta shoot them milishee,” said Bludner. “Teach ’em it’s more dangerous to run than stan’ their ground.”

    Bludner’s attention strayed to the regiment halted beside them, a New York regiment in gray coats. They looked smart, and they marched well. George could see that Bludner’s attention was on some black soldiers in the front platoon.

    “There’s meat on the hoof,” said Bludner, with a smile that froze George’s heart. He hadn’t thought of their drummer in weeks, but in that moment he was again sure that Bludner had sold the boy. Bludner looked at him.

    “You squeamish? They ain’t soldiers. They don’ know a thing about your liberty. They just serve because someone’s filling their bellies. I know. I know their kind.”

    One of the black soldiers looked over and saw Bludner staring at him. He laughed and turned to his file partner and they both laughed. Bludner turned red.

    “No nigger’s gone make game of me,” he said, but George grabbed his arm.

    “We’re moving,” he said. Captain Lawrence was shouting about handling arms.


    Caesar pulled his men together after the skirmish and counted heads. The little outpost had held less than a dozen men and they were all dead, a shocking result of such a small affair. Romeo was their only casualty. Paget was gone again, back beside the now cooling corpse of his friend. Caesar watched as Stewart’s company halted a musket shot away and began to fire at some opponent he couldn’t see. He told Virgil to form the company and walked back to Paget.

    “Come along, Paget. We’ll all come back and bury him.”

    Paget looked up at him, his hands sticky with blood.

    “Wipe your hands, Paget, an’ come along.” He kept his voice low and soothing, as if talking to an unhappy child.

    Paget wiped his hands on the grass and stood up. His eyes were unfocused. “We know each othuh all ouw lives, Caesa’,” he said, his voice trembling like his hands.

    “Remember what I said last night?” Paget just looked at him. “Never mind. We’ll come back an’ bury him, Paget. Now get back in your place,” he said kindly, and walked back to the head of the company.

    As best he could see, they were now on the flank of the enemy, or could be if they moved to the crest of the hill. He couldn’t see what was happening through the brambles and hedgerow at the edge of the field. Somewhere in the next field, Captain Stewart was, or wasn’t, fighting the same war. He looked for Jim and realized the boy hadn’t come back, and he worried a moment, but there was no time.

    “Follow me,” he said, and started climbing over the low stone wall toward the crest.


    The Highlanders and Hessians to his front maneuvered slowly and precisely from column into line behind a deep screen of brush in the next field, but they made no move to attack. George Lake watched them with the intensity of a predator watching distant prey, but he could not conjure them to attack, and his views on the subject were deeply divided. Despite the victory, or at least the absence of disaster, at Harlem Heights, he still feared them, especially the Germans. Before he could really work through his worry, they were moving again, leaving other troops to face the Hessians and Highlanders.

    Bludner continued to watch the heights they were now climbing, leaving the staring contest with the Highlanders to the plain below. The firing from the crest rose to a crescendo, and George was proud of the Maryland and Delaware regiments. Their volleys were breaking down into little barks of fire from the platoons, but the volume of fire said they were holding their ground, and that made him proud.

    He couldn’t see anything beyond the next stone wall for the smoke. There was little breeze, and every round fired on the crest renewed the cloud. The acid sulfur smell, like hot rotten eggs, drifted over him and roused him to a new pitch of attention. He turned in place, still marching, but now facing his platoon.

    “Pick up the step there, Jenkins. Watch your interval.” Jenkins, while bright, didn’t seem to understand that if they didn’t keep their dress and their intervals, they’d never make the wheel that would carry them back into line. George had learned that all these minute defects had to be cured before they were under fire, because once the balls started flying by, no one thought enough about anything. Most of the men would start to huddle together, loading and firing like automatons, or lying down and refusing to rise. It wasn’t cowardice, he now understood, but he didn’t know what it was, except that in every battle he had to fight it himself, the urge to get behind someone or something.

    The Delawares looked magnificent. He watched as one of their companies loaded, the rammers going up and down so near together that they sounded like they were demonstrating the firings for inspection.

    Lawrence held his hand in the air, made a fist and jerked it down.

    Halt. They had started to make signals for these things, because they had learned that no voice could carry the orders over the sounds of battle.

    He began to hear that low murmur that wouldn’t leave his ears for days, the mumble of screams and curses from the wounded that lay as an undercurrent beneath the main flow of the battle. If he listened, he would hear them more clearly, and he hadn’t the time or the inclination. He was afraid that they would tell him something about the battle, that it was his turn to feel the ball in his guts, or the destruction of a leg. He didn’t fear to die, or not more than any other young man, but the maiming he had seen and the results scared him. He’d seen men thin as rails with huge scared eyes, wasting away from fever and despair with a leg gone, or a foot, and he swore he wouldn’t be one. He had a little pistol, something for a lady’s muff or a gent’s pocket that he had picked up after Harlem Heights. He thought he might be able to use it, if ever he was hit and became part of that horrible murmur below the battle.

    There was a giant volley, a great crash of fire like the long roll of a massive drum, and then the field seemed to be silent. The murmur grew louder, and the insects, undisturbed by all the violence, droned on.

    The Delawares had held. They were cheering.


    Caesar heard the cheering and looked to his right, trying to see through the scrubby trees and the smoke, but he couldn’t. Jim was still missing and he sent Tonny off to the right to find Captain Stewart and get a report. Caesar was at the crest or even over it, in some wasteland that had never been enclosed with a stone wall. He placed his men in the cover of some larger, older trees and crept forward on the same path that Tonny had taken. He went a certain distance and froze, undecided. He wanted to go forward and talk to the captain, but he hadn’t left Virgil with any clear orders and Virgil needed to know what was expected of him. He stood there in the smoke for a moment and then went back, running, suddenly panicked by a vision of disaster, but there was nothing under the shelter of the big trees but his men, many of them lying down to rest.

    “Virgil!” he yelled, and Virgil came toward him, a small pipe clenched between his teeth.

    “I’m going to find Captain Stewart. You hold here with the Guides and don’t fall back unless you is hard pressed, do you hear me?”

    “I hear you, Caesar. Don’ worry none about us.” Virgil waved his hand, almost a salute, and went back to the rock where he had been sitting as another great cloud of smoke drifted over them. Caesar started back into it and there was Tonny, his eyes staring wide.

    “Tonny!” he yelled. He was tempted to slap the man, he looked so panicked, but Tonny straightened up immediately.

    “Ah thought I’d lost you for sure, Sergeant,” he said. He was covered in sweat. “I got turned round in that smoke. Lord, be kind.”

    “Did you find Captain Stewart?”

    “Ah nevuh saw him, Sergeant. He ain’t ovuh theah. That’s rebels behind a wall, and they look like they just won the battle.”

    “Won the battle?”

    “Ah saw the redcoats pulling back. They was beat. An’ the rebels ovuh theah is cheering like they jus’ won money.”

    Caesar pointed him over the stones and brush to the woods. “You go talk to Virgil. Tell him I said stay there anyway, but put some pickets out in case we really have lost and they try to surround us. I’m going to find the captain.”

    Tonny nodded. “Pickets out, stay where we is. Yes, Sergeant.”

    “Good,” said Caesar, and he ran off to the right, now aiming down the hill. He ran well, fast when he had a clear path, and just loping when he didn’t trust the footing or the smoke obscured his vision. He had already gone further than he wanted and he began to worry about the company when the sound of firing was renewed, the steady British volleys easy to follow and just to his left. Any further forward and he’d have been in front of them when the shooting started.

    He passed the flank of the Sixty-fourth lights and ran along behind them, passed the Fortieth lights. And there he was. It took Caesar a moment to realize that Stewart must be commanding the whole battalion, or that the ranks were thinner than he remembered. He ran to Stewart’s stirrup and saluted, waiting for a chance to speak. Stewart was busy, surrounded by officers.

    “We’re going back up. We’re going to fire six more volleys by alternate fire and then we’re going up the hill in one rush, do you all understand? No stopping to fire, no pause, no conversations in Greek. Just fire, listen for the whistle, and go. Any questions?”

    If there were any, his manner defeated them, and they bowed, many doffing their hats. Caesar loved that they kept their courtesies even in battle, because it reminded him of his own father who was renowned for such little acts of bravery. His father would certainly have doffed his hat and bowed, even under fire. Caesar hadn’t thought of his father in weeks, and the little memory in the midst of the smoke and fire seemed to him a good omen.

    “Sir?” he asked, trying to get Stewart’s attention. Stewart was standing in his stirrups, trying vainly to see through the smoke. Bullets from the enemy buzzed past them every few seconds, sounding slow and harmless, like big bees on a summer day.

    “Sergeant Julius Caesar, as I live and breathe. A pleasure to see you. I take it you are somewhere to my left in the smoke?”

    “Yes and no, sir. We’re at the crest, in a little wood.”

    Stewart whirled, his whole attention suddenly fixed on Caesar.

    “At the crest? On your honor, now.”

    “We’re on the crest. We had a little fight with an outpost, and swept them, and then we were at the crest. We’re all alone.”

    Stewart was already riding toward his own company, where McDonald was handing out paper cartridges to men nearly black with smoke and powder from their muskets.

    “Crawford?” he called, but McDonald shook his head.

    “Down, sir.”

    “McDonald, Sergeant Caesar here says his lads are on the crest off to our left. Take our lot and follow him. The two of you try to get into their flank. Do it now. I’m taking the Lights up this bloody hill in three minutes.”

    McDonald yelled “On your feet!” at his men. They were up like hounds on a hunt day, despite their losses or perhaps because of them.

    “Advance by files from the center! Follow me!” said McDonald, and he was off into the smoke following Caesar. He was older than Caesar, but powerful, and he kept up easily.

    “They’ll fall behind, Caesar. They’re good lads, but the wee ones haven’t the legs for this kind of run.”

    Caesar slowed his pace a fraction. He was trying to see the next step.

    “If you will…” he said carefully. McDonald always seemed a good man, but he was senior. Yet Caesar knew what to do. He could see it.

    McDonald nodded.

    “Unless it’s daft, I’ll follow your lead.”

    Caesar smiled. They ran on.

    Crash.

    A great volley rang out beside them. McDonald’s men were opening out, the better-conditioned men forging on and the others falling back. Still running.

    Crash, bang.

    The second volley, and some answering fire from ahead. Caesar could see his trees. The pause in firing had thinned the smoke. He fell back a pace and loped along beside McDonald, who was equally effortless in his running. His words came out in bunches to the rhythm of the run.

    “If you…form front there…and start forward…I’ll bring mine…in above.”

    McDonald simply nodded and put his whistle in his lips. He didn’t blow it, but began to look around him. Caesar increased his pace and left the regulars behind. He bounded over the low rocks until he was in among the trees. He felt like he could fly, he was running so fast.

    Crash!

    Threeet! From McDonald’s whistle.

    “Guides! Form on me! Guides! Form front on me!”

    They were all around him in a moment, Virgil stepping into the space behind them as easily as if on parade. Many of them were smiling. They didn’t look like the British soldiers, because they still weren’t really in uniforms and because McDonald would never have allowed Tonny to finish his smoke in the ranks. Even Virgil was smacking the remnants of his clay against his boot heel to clear the coal. They all seemed unconcerned.

    “Tonny, I want you to take us into the flank of that regiment along the wall. Do you know the way?”

    Crash!

    “I’m a Guide, Sergeant!” Tonny said as if this explained everything. He loped off into the brush.

    “Skirmish line on the move, then. Spread well out and keep going forward. See Stewart’s company, there? Virgil, you link up on their flank. Now go, go, go!” Caesar ran ahead and turned back to watch them come up on to line and dress themselves. The new men could never be trusted to keep the dress, and would sag the line or bell it out, making it hard to maneuver. But there was Virgil, and Paget, and Jim, thank the Lord, back from wherever he had gone and pushing some new boy back to his place, and they were rolling forward almost at a run.

    Crash! Louder now, and closer, the great volley was like a hammer blow on a great anvil.

    The Guides were level with McDonald’s men now, and they formed a line together, the redcoats to the right of the brown coats, all the men dark in the smoke. Caesar paused just for a moment to watch them, a single mighty machine like two great horses yoked to the same plow. He had never been so happy, though so much of war was so grim. Here, in the heart of the battle, he was the master. He knew it. He could feel the mastery, the knowledge of time and space. They would strike the flank of the rebels just there, and at just the moment when they were preparing the volley that would crush Captain Stewart’s attack. It was like powerful magic running through him, the mastery, and it was powered by these men who went like horses on the same team, pulling him to victory. He no longer saw them as Yoruba and Ashanti and BaKongo, but just as soldiers. He had never felt it quite this way before, but it was the most powerful thing he had ever known, and he wanted to stop them and tell them how brave they were, and how he honored them, every one.

    But war never stops, and he reached for his bayonet and remembered throwing the bent thing away just a few minutes ago. He ran until he was in his place at the right of the company.

    Crash. That was the last. Stewart would be ordering the bayonets fixed, and then he’d order them to march. Caesar went over the corner of a stone wall without a pause and turned to make sure the line was kept as the men negotiated the change in terrain. The other side of the wall was a field, open and flat, running along the crest, and there were rebels in crisp blue coats, a long line of them running off to the left. They were behind them a little and their appearance was greeted with consternation. Caesar ran down the ranks.

    “Dress up! Look to your right and dress the line!” McDonald was just clearing the low wall with his men. If they were attacked now, they’d be destroyed, divided and spread too thin. There was no cover in this field and no way to stand in the scrub of the last field and be cohesive. Caesar could see that they had to strike a strong blow here, not a little raid, or Stewart would still walk into the guns.

    McDonald was on line. He nodded to Caesar and Caesar yelled the orders.

    “Make ready!”

    Even in open order, all the muskets went up crisply, as every man cocked his firelock smoothly.

    “Present!” The end of the rebel flank was flinching away, retreating already. Caesar didn’t blame them.

    “Fire!” The volley swept the corner right off the rebel battalion, like a tool loosening a rock from the earth.

    “Fire!” McDonald’s volley was a sharper sound. The rebels fell like wheat for a scythe, and they began to run. They didn’t run happily, like militia, but slowly, bitterly, like men who were close to a great victory and were suddenly deprived.


    Stewart’s men came up the hill in lines. They weren’t very deep, and the last part of the hill sloped very steeply, but they felt, or heard, the support at the top and suddenly they came on strongly, covering the last few paces in a rush. Stewart jumped his horse up the last incline, the big mare gathering her haunches and then leaping, scrambling for purchase, and then Stewart was at the top, among his own company. The Sixty-fourth lights and the Fortieth came up all together, suddenly too many to throw back, and the crest was theirs. Jeremy came up then, riding his smaller mare easily through the brush and into the field. Stewart waved at Jeremy, and the two met in front of Caesar. Jeremy had a smoking pistol in each hand, a look of triumph on his face and blood all over his front.

    “That was splendid!” said Jeremy. He had a deep cut on his face, and the turban on his hat was shredded where a ball had cut it, but he was unaware of it. Jeremy waved at the second line, now coming up the hill.

    “I’ve never seen anything to beat it,” said Jeremy.

    “Shall we do it again?” said Stewart. He laughed, all tension draining from him. He was watching the rebels pull back behind their rearguard lower on the slope.

    “They won’t come back at us,” he said, answering his own question. He clapped Caesar on the shoulder wordlessly, then rode over to McDonald and said something that made that hard man smile broadly.

    Somewhere, lower on the hill, a rebel fife was playing “Roslin Castle” like a lament, and Caesar sobered from the high spirits of survival and victory, and went to count the cost.


    They didn’t run back down Chatterton’s Hill. They marched. The rearguard was strong, and the effort of taking the crest so costly for the redcoats that there was no pursuit.

    It didn’t matter. George Lake watched the line ripple and fold, struck in the front and the flank, and knew that again, the British had beaten them, and again, they would be driven from the field, from a fortified position. He wanted to understand why the British were such good soldiers. He wanted to be that good himself. He wanted revenge on the Highlanders and Hessians who had chased him around Long Island and Manhattan and were now combining to chase him from here.

    He hadn’t lost a man today, because they had never made it into the action. That had its advantages, including that a great many new recruits had seen a battle without fleeing, and would, he thought, be less likely to flee the next one.

    If they stayed. George Lake would stay until victory, or until Washington gave up. He was here for the cause. But other men were asking hard questions again, and tonight, he knew all the militia would go home again.


    Washington rode slowly over the plain behind Chatterton’s Hill, still angry at the precipitous flight of the militia. This defeat was his own fault, for again trusting militia in his forward posts, for accepting battle in a position that could be turned. Howe was teaching him a great deal about warfare, and he wondered how his opponent would do with an army composed of militia, second-rate regulars, and men who only served for a year. He shook his head, angry at himself for the weakness of his argument. Sir William’s soldiers were better, but he had had to train them himself, too, after Boston.

    The loss of White Plains meant he would lose his depot of materials. He couldn’t rebuild his lines in the ridges behind the town, now, as Lee had planned. In fact, he’d be lucky to keep New Jersey. He was running out of terrain in which to fight, and Howe would soon start pressing him toward Philadelphia.

    Washington had always contended to others that the task was hard, but he admitted to himself that he had said this at least in part from a sense of modesty. Now, watching his army retreat from the field at White Plains, he began to think that this task was beyond him. Again, the militia would defect. Again, he would have to train new men, find them muskets and uniforms, and keep them together through the winter.

    Behind him, there were bodies on the ground, men he had ordered into action and who had died—some of them because he had made mistakes in his deployment. He stopped his horse, to the consternation of his staff, and looked back over the field. In some way, the desertion of the militia was a direct judgment on him. He was killing his men while he learned to be a general.

    Last winter he had barely kept an army together while beating the British at Boston. If winter was difficult for a victorious army, what would it bring for one that had suffered defeat after defeat?


    A few paces away, Lee surveyed the British Army advancing carefully, not really bothering to maintain contact with his rearguard, treating them with contempt. Most of the regiments had fought well, and the men, and the cause, had deserved better. He realized that the adjutant general, Reed, had ridden up beside him, and they sat together in bitter silence.

    “I could have won this battle, had I been allowed,” Lee said, wishing the words unsaid as soon as they left his lips.

    “I think he must go,” said Reed. And both of them looked away, stricken that their doubts had finally been voiced.


    The Black Guides stood in two neat ranks at the top of Chatterton’s Hill. They were standing at their ease, and their muskets were grounded. Men smoked, or talked in low tones, and each, even the newest men, took their turns to bury the four dead men they had lost in their fights on the hill. Caesar dug first, and then waited for Virgil to finish before the two of them shared a pipe.

    “Evah think this war goin’ to kill us all befo’ we win her?” asked Virgil. Caesar took out his tinder and struggled with relighting the pipe, which he had let go out. Paget had just finished his turn at Romeo’s grave and was walking stiffly toward the treeline. The weather was beautiful, the sky a deep blue with the setting sun red and pure in the western sky.

    Caesar puffed hard, still trying to get the pipe to light.

    “An’ is it jus’ me, or ah them Doodles gettin’ better ever’ time we meet them?” Virgil hunched his shoulders. “You plannin’ to marry that pipe, or you wan’ give it here so I can fix yo’ foolishness?”

    Jim, no longer Little Jim, had an arm around Paget. Some other men were near them, and then others stood in different groups. Every death affected someone in the company directly, and then spread in little ripples to the rest. Caesar thought himself hard to the deaths, like he had been in the swamp, but Romeo was different, somehow. A foolish man, and sometimes a brutal one, but Romeo’s trust in Caesar had been absolute since the day Caesar beat him. And that trust had killed him.

    Virgil snapped his tinder kit shut with a little crack and lit the pipe in three deft motions. He inhaled deeply and passed it to Caesar.

    “You in charge, Caesar. People gonna’ die. It ain’t you’ fault unless you want it be.”

    They smoked, and the sun sank, and then they marched away and left a row of graves, like the rows they had left the other times.
     
  19. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    Marcus Antonius #8887
    Taverns in the city of New York were, by and large, cramped affairs, with a snug and a few small tables close around a central fireplace, and perhaps a private room. They didn’t have dance floors, and rarely had music beyond that offered by a vagabond fiddler.

    The Moor’s Head across from the barracks at 10 Broadway was a different animal altogether. Perhaps because the building had started life as a warehouse with a comfortable front shop for clients, it had the space for dancing that the other taverns lacked. The tavern was larger, better furnished, and better served than any of the sailors’ dives or public houses along the waterfront on Burnett’s Key or Water Street, and infinitely better in air and spaciousness than the narrow drinking shops between Stone Street and Marketfield where the soldiers tended to congregate. Perhaps it was better because the consortium of owners were black men, to whom a tavern license had been forbidden for all the years until the conquest of the city by the British Army.

    The Black House, as it came to be known, was the regular off-duty home for the Company of Black Guides who had their winter quarters across the street. Many of their women worked in the kitchen or did the house’s laundry, augmenting their army rations with the hard currency paid by the house’s many well-born white patrons. Almost as soon as its blue door opened, a peculiar military demimonde sprang into being at its tables. The male patrons were often members of the best families, and if the same could not be said for the majority of the female patrons, it was not that their manners, or indeed their costume, seemed in the least beneath the quality of their “friends”.

    The central fireplace, a behemoth of brick and mortar that cast its heat well back into the cavernous common room, saw gatherings of red-coated officers and their Loyalist compatriots as soon as the weather stalled their advance through New Jersey. Before November was very old, a map of the northern colonies taken from the Gentleman’s Magazine was framed and mounted in the good light by the fire, where campaigns could be the more easily planned by ambitious subalterns and armchair brigadiers. The claret was passable and cheap, the landlord had a number of cubbyholes to hide the shy, and Mother Abbott’s, the most genteel brothel in the city, was an easy walk away.

    If any of the regular patrons were surprised by the familiarity of the black patrons, they were never allowed to forget that this was a black tavern, the first such to be licensed in the city, and that it owed its existence to its black clientele. The white officers came for the space, and after a time for the fashion of the place, but for the blacks it was the only tavern where they were welcome.


    The black woman pulled at the heavy petticoats around her hips and drew them up above her ankles, showing the dark slimness of her legs under white silk stockings. She had her tongue clenched in her teeth in a most engaging manner, and James Julius Stewart thought her the handsomest woman in the room, and possibly in New York.

    She moved her legs again.

    “Pas de bourrée,” she said, concentrating on her feet. She seemed to curtsy, then rise and float. Stewart and the three other officers—and a crowd of delighted onlookers—watched her slippered feet as she rose on to the points of her toes to walk straight-legged for three steps before gliding back down into the curtsy, or plié.

    Monsieur, the French-Canadian dancing maître who had attached himself to the Moor’s Head, was giving another officer a private lesson and he came back across the room to the thick crowd around Mother Abbott’s girls where they were attempting to repeat the steps he had just demonstrated.

    He glanced at Stewart with mock venom.

    “If Monsieur le Capitaine wishes to learn to dance, he would do better learning from me,” and he rolled his eyes at the women, “even if I lack some of their obvious attractions.”

    Jeremy, silent until now but admiring the women from a safe distance, prodded Stewart gently with one finger.

    “Do it,” he said in a whisper.

    While Stewart stood, indecisive, Monsieur stood in front of the women and paused, beautifully at rest in his plié position.

    “Pas coupé,” he said, and performed one. None of the women was as good as he, but the black woman with the magnificent legs was graceful even in her hesitant approach to his steps, and he fixed on her. Mother Abbott shook her head from a settee near the fire and called out.

    “Sally, you behave yourself, child. This is not our house.”

    The men laughed, but she continued to keep her eyes down and her tongue clenched between her teeth.

    Jeremy led his master to one side. They made a handsome pair, Jeremy resplendent in gold-buttoned scarlet and his master in a plain frock coat of plaid.

    “You’ve always wanted to dance, sir. And I’ll say respectfully, there is no better place. Consider, if you will, returning to London as an able, or even accomplished, dancer. Consider how it marks you in any society, that you lack this accomplishment, so necessary among the gentry. No one here can tell tales about you. It is not at all the same as going to some public dancing master in London who may ridicule your efforts and your age. And if I may speak from some experience, this man knows his art.”

    The bitter truth was that without dancing, Stewart was marked even in America as a man whose origins could not be the best. The ability to dance a minuet, or even open a ball with a small ballet, denoted a childhood of affluence with dancing masters and tutors.

    “I’m sure Miss Mary would prefer you to return to Edinburgh with this accomplishment.”

    He regretted the statement as soon as he made it. Miss Mary, the object of years of Captain Stewart’s devotion, was not a subject that he could find suitable in a tavern. He looked dourly at Jeremy, who stared woodenly back, hoping he had not spoiled his entire attack. Jeremy was an able dancer himself, and had looked forward to spending afternoons here, watching the lessons and impressing the ladies with his own accomplishments.

    A group of women, accompanied by two officers of newly raised Loyalist corps, came in a rush, interrupting them and filling the space with a fine sparkle of femininity.

    “The flowers of the field,” commented Stewart, a little wry.

    Miss Poppy, who was well known to all the gentlemen present, was a blond, and wore her golden-yellow gown with more humor than dignity. She smiled on all, as if she expected life to be a constant delight, and a circle of admirers surrounded her. The girls from Mother Abbott’s shrank instantly against the wall, eclipsed by “proper” women from the city’s better families.

    Behind Miss Poppy was her older sister, Miss Hammond, who managed in a single glance at the huddle near the far wall to convey that there would be no conflict.

    “I told you that this was the sort of place a woman could go,” she said graciously, as if recognizing one of the sisters from Mother Abbott’s as an acquaintance. Her escort, a thin elegant man of middle height in a fine green coat, raised his glass a moment and turned a trifle pale.

    “Surely, miss, you don’t mean that…”

    “I think, sir, that you should consider your ground a little, before you tell me what I should mean.” The archness of her reply was ameliorated a little by her touching his sleeve with her fan. The other women with her laughed and hid their faces, and one giggled noticeably. The other man turned from a side conversation to reveal himself as John Graves Simcoe in a fine velvet coat. Stewart had seldom seen him out of regimentals, and he hurried forward to make his bow.

    “Captain Simcoe,” he said, smiling broadly.

    “Captain Stewart,” returned Simcoe. “May I present Ensign Martin of the Loyal Militia, and Mr. Chew, currently without a regiment but desirous of serving His Majesty?”

    Stewart bowed to each in turn. They were young men, both clearly in awe of Simcoe, and now Stewart.

    Miss Hammond paused by Simcoe, and he presented her as well.

    “Captain Stewart, Miss Hammond, a local family, and her sister, Miss Poppy.” They curtsied. “And Ensign Martin’s sister, Miss Martin, and her friends, Miss Amanda Chew and Miss Jennifer. Mrs. Innes, whose husband is in the commissary line. And Miss Hight.”

    Miss Poppy was clearly the prize, with a freckled English face and golden hair, but neither the Chew nor the Martin was anything but pretty, and Miss Hammond had more presence than all the other women together. She wore a fine modern traveling gown that showed off her waist. Stewart thought privately that the tall black girl, Sally, was her equal for dignity of carriage, but it was an odd comparison to make, and he didn’t pursue it. The two younger women, almost girls, wore dresses a year out of fashion and in materials not calculated to endear them to Englishmen, but Stewart gave them his best smile. They were all children, to him. Mrs. Innes was handsome in spite of her giggle, and Miss Hight so became her name that Stewart thought she looked more like an officer of grenadiers than Simcoe.

    “Captain Simcoe, I understand that there is to be dancing here, with a dancing master,” said Miss Hammond, more in an answer than a question. Simcoe nodded gravely to her.

    “Stewart as much as lives here, Miss Hammond. I think you would better address him.”

    She looked at him gravely. “Is there to be dancing, Captain Stewart?”

    Stewart looked toward Monsieur for help.

    “I give lessons here for a fee, to any who wish them,” Monsieur said. “I also put on the occasional ballet. It remains to be seen if I will ever have the quality of student to perform a proper dance here.”

    “There isn’t anyone in the town who wouldn’t benefit from a lesson, sir. Excepting Miss Hight, who is the best of us. But I had hoped we might have dancing, perhaps by subscription. The Moor’s Head is the only common room of a size.”

    Sally, the tall black woman, came cautiously closer. Stewart identified immediately both that she had something to say and her clear desire to avoid giving offence, as she had no business mixing with proper women. He looked at Jeremy, who read his glance and intercepted Sally, a prospect that he clearly enjoyed. They murmured together for a moment.

    Jeremy moved back to Stewart and whispered in his ear.

    “I think the tavern would be delighted to host a weekly subscription if it were to be by daylight, so no accusation of lewdness could be made,” said Stewart. Jeremy nodded imperceptibly, and Stewart wondered how he, a Scots Protestant who could not dance, had become the intermediary for the principals. He felt like the second in a duel.

    Miss Poppy laughed. “Faith, sister, it’s only by daylight we’d be allowed near this place.” She gestured at Sally. “You dance, I’ll warrant.”

    Sally nodded and dropped a very nice curtsy.

    Ensign Martin stepped forward. “I don’t think your mother would approve of any direct contact…”

    Miss Poppy looked at him, the vacant happy eyes suddenly sharp.

    He desisted immediately. He looked at Miss Hammond as if for support, got the same visual slap, and retired in some confusion.

    “Perhaps we could clear the floor and just…try it!” she said. “It wouldn’t really be right to go to the trouble of a subscription without having tried the floor. And,” she glared at the men, “I wish to dance.”

    Every male in the crowd immediately began to move the tables and chairs against the wall, while Miss Hammond extended her hand to Captain Stewart.

    “I expect Captain Simcoe will wish to dance with my sister,” she said, apparently ignoring Ensign Martin. Stewart knew the meaning all too well, but he affected not to understand, and bowed, withdrawing a pace, flushing a little from an old wound to his amour-propre. Miss Hammond glared at him a moment and then turned on her heel, only to find herself looking into the yellow eyes of Jeremy.

    “I’m sorry, miss, but the captain does not dance, and it mortifies him to be reminded.”

    Miss Hammond seemed to grow, and her smile returned.

    “Ah,” she said. “I thought…”

    “Yes.” Jeremy bowed and made as if to step away, but she kept him with a glance.

    “These women are…I…I would rather these were honest women.”

    Jeremy smiled a little cynically. “They are as attached to the army as I am, miss.”

    He left her coughing in her attempt not to give an unladylike snort of laughter.


    Jeremy saw a familiar cap and a pair of well-set shoulders in the gloom near the door to the private room and he made his way there, pushing past Caesar and Virgil as they watched the dancing.

    “Miss Polly,” he said gravely. She looked up, her arms full of a large and unhappy cat.

    “Sir!” She curtsied. “I lost my cat. Had I known you would be here, I would not have asked my father to escort me.”

    Jeremy had to look up to meet her father’s eye. He was one of the tallest men Jeremy had ever seen, and he wore his quiet black minister’s coat.

    Polly kept her eyes down and said, “Father, this is Mr. Jeremy Green, of London, who serves Captain Stewart over there. Mr. Green, may I introduce my father, Reverend Marcus White, a minister of the gospel.”

    Each bowed to the other. Reverend White had a magnificent smile that tended to overwhelm all comers. Jeremy had seen its child on Polly and had already been overwhelmed.

    “Your servant, sir.”

    “You serve Captain Stewart? I long to meet him. He commands the Black Guides, does he not?” Mr. White had a very slight Dutch accent.

    “Indeed, sir, and I’m sure that he would be honored to make your acquaintance.” Jeremy considered him for a moment. “Please accept my apologies if I seem impertinent, but do you have a parish?”

    Mr. White boomed out a laugh that carried clear across the room to the people forming for the dance. Heads turned.

    “I currently serve the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in America, those gentlemen who were kind enough to arrange my freedom and ordination. My parish is become New York, and there are thousands of black souls here. I try to care for them. I have the honor of the ear of Sir William on some matters.”

    Jeremy bowed again, impressed. So many blacks in America had angered him with their ignorance, and here was one in whom learning spoke with every word. Jeremy wondered if the Guides would warrant a chaplain.

    Three black men dressed in military smallclothes with colorful sashes pinned around them came in by the back with instruments. They arranged chairs for themselves and other men, and two maids came bearing music stands and instruments. Jeremy saw Caesar approach them and a spirited conversation occur.

    Suddenly Miss Poppy was with them. She exclaimed, “A kitten!” and reached out, gracefully and softly, to run her hand over the cat’s head. He didn’t appear to resent the familiarity. Miss Poppy looked into Polly’s eyes and smiled.

    “I cannot resist a kitten.”

    “He’s hardly a kitten, miss. He’s just a grumpy old cat.”

    “I’ve never met one I didn’t like,” she said. “Most like me, too. May I introduce myself, as this seems an informal kind of place? I’m Morag Hammond. Most people call me Poppy.”

    “Your servant, miss. I am Polly White.” Miss Poppy merely inclined her head instead of the full curtsy that Polly gave her, but her smile went beyond civility.

    Ensign Martin appeared at her shoulder. Jeremy noted his clothes with approval. Martin was the best-dressed Loyalist officer he had seen.

    “Is that the famous Sergeant Caesar?” Martin asked, looking at the group around the musicians.

    “It is, sir,” said Jeremy. He beckoned to Caesar and enjoyed the wariness of his approach. He was introduced. Jeremy was so busy watching the admiration shown by Ensign Martin that he did not spare a glance for the contact between Polly and Caesar. It might have caused him to dismiss his own prospects with Miss White, had he seen the almost palpable spark that flew between them.

    “Surely I have seen you before, Sergeant Caesar.” She sounded cool.

    Caesar nodded, mutely. Polly White was beyond his experience of black women, and the added burdens of the admiring Ensign Martin, the beautiful Miss Poppy, and the approach of Captain Simcoe combined to render him mute. Virgil, ever the bolder when it came to the fair sex, at least so long as Sally wasn’t involved, came up to his elbow.

    “You was at the battery when your daddy gave us church,” he said.

    She nodded, her slim back straight, and turned to face the music.

    The musicians, including a fifer Caesar had just engaged for the company—playing, however, an old fiddle—began to play. They played some piece of formal music through, and Caesar enjoyed it, but not as thoroughly as Miss Poppy and her sister, who were clearly enraptured.

    “What did we do for musicians before all the blacks came?” they asked each other, while Monsieur arranged the couples for country dancing.

    They danced a set and declared that another would be required before they could certify the floor. Then the tall thin woman, Miss Hight, came and partnered the dancing master in a complicated ballet that had them all rapt, though it was short. There was a great deal of laughter. Simcoe danced and teased Stewart about his ignorance. The black men and women, away from the fire but tacitly included in the coaching of the dancing master, danced separately. Caesar danced, his own steps hesitant but capable, as Sally led him along through the country dance. He didn’t trust her, knew that Virgil still longed for her, but she was somehow part of the company now, even as a prostitute. Her courage and bearing reminded him strongly of Queeny, and he realized with a guilty shrug that he hadn’t given that woman a thought in months. He danced with Sally and smiled, and she smiled back, a tiny hint of artifice visible in her face. She had a little velvet patch on the top of one breast that he wanted to admire, and she would raise her skirts to show her ankles. The music stopped as she pulled him through a last round.

    “Thank you for the dance,” she said. He bowed to her. There was always a hint of restraint between them, but he saw her eyes were elsewhere and he let her go.

    He found that she had left him standing with Polly White, and they both studied the floor in sudden confusion. Caesar had no memory of asking her to dance, nor she of accepting, but in a moment they were attempting a much more difficult dance that the white dancers were doing with vigor. She was the soul of grace and her very pretty dancing raised him above himself, so that Jeremy, resentful that both of his beauties were otherwise occupied, couldn’t help but applaud them. Indeed, when they ended, she rising prettily on her toes and then sinking in a curtsy, and he simply happy to have the right foot on the ground at the end, they had a little round of applause that included the white dancers. Caesar flushed and looked at Polly. She met his eye, hers half lidded with exertion and perhaps something else, and she flushed, but she didn’t turn away. Her smile was enigmatic. He bowed to her and then reached for her hand, but she slipped away through a doorway and vanished.


    Stewart was not precisely disconsolate, but he stood near the mantle of the fire, smoking and thinking some bitter thoughts. He found a glass of wine being put in his hand, and looked around to find the tall, handsome black woman looking him in the eye.

    “I could teach you to dance,” Sally said. It wasn’t done broadly, just a hint that there was more to it.

    “I imagine you could at that,” he said. He drank the wine.


    He had never lain with a woman that was naked, and he rested on an elbow, just admiring her, running his hand over her breasts and her waist down to the swell of her hips. She was black, and that was different, although he had known women in Smyrna and Algiers who were darker. The gleam of her skin was magnificent, rich like the best old furniture, a simile that made him smile because he didn’t think she’d be flattered. Then he thought of Mary, and frowned a little, because she wouldn’t approve and he was Protestant enough to regret the lapse, but Sally was too much in the bed to ignore or feel guilty about just then.

    “I could teach you to dance, Captain darlin’,” she said. He placed his hands around her waist and drew her to him, but she held him off easily and pouted.

    “I mean what I say. I saw how you looked there. Let me teach you some steps, and perhaps you’ll be less afraid.” Her manner was such that he couldn’t resent the word afraid. He moved his hand all the way down her back. The hand trembled a little.

    “Why do you take off all your clothes to do it?” he asked her. She shook her head.

    “I want to know!” he said, a little too loud, his hand still on her back. She shook her head again. She was looking somewhere else, but he wanted the woman back that had been there before, asking him to take the lessons. Sally had been there, not just the shell of her, and he kissed her neck, smelling the warm grass smell she carried with her. She shrugged him off, impatient now.

    “I like to dance. I thought…” She sounded curiously defeated, as if the prospect of dancing was the only thing that had held her interest, and in an unaccustomed moment of insight he saw that it probably was. The act itself was of little consequence to her, even naked and lewd. He stretched, his frizzed red hair around his head in the candlelight like a halo, or horns.

    “You can really teach me the steps?”

    She bounced back to him, her face alive again.

    “Only the simple ones. I shan’t lie. But then we can have Monsieur to teach us privately.” Her manner of speech was odd, and a little stilted. He thought perhaps Mother Abbott had been teaching her to speak.

    “You expect that I have money, Sally.”

    She nodded, still smiling. “Jeremy says you are a rich man. Surely you can afford a few lessons?”

    He pulled her on top of him, noting the goose bumps all along her arms and hips. It was cold in the room, now that he was cooling. November had more bite to it in the colonies.

    “Just so,” he murmured.


    Caesar kissed her again, holding her around the waist with one hand, the other roving her well-protected body. She was wearing layers of petticoats and a full set of stays with a jacket over all, a set of clothes more impenetrable than armor. He ran his hand under her skirts and up her bare leg, the feel of it overwhelming him as they kissed on and on, his hand higher, on her bare hip and then she bit his tongue and her hand slapped his ear and he stepped back. She sighed and shrugged, moving her stays and smoothing her skirts. They were in the little hallway that led from the kitchen to the woodshed. Caesar looked at her.

    She shook her head as if to clear it, and fled, and he stood there, alone and disconsolate, his lust still cresting but more concerned that its object was offended or worse. He called after her, walked through the whole of the tavern, and went back to his barracks, wanting to weep, or talk to someone. She was nowhere to be found, and the common room was empty of any acquaintance except Sergeant McDonald of Captain Stewart’s company. Caesar moved past him warily, not sure that their professional lives would stretch to the tavern. White men had proved uncommonly touchy about these things, and Caesar, possessed of a temper himself, tried to avoid placing himself in a position to give or receive offence. But McDonald hailed him as soon as he looked up from his tankard.

    “Julius Caesar, as I live and breathe. Come and have a glass, Caesar.”

    Caesar joined him, oddly grateful for the company.

    “You look hipped, lad,” said McDonald.

    “Nothing to it, sir.” Caesar looked around. “You came on your own, then?”

    “Nah, lad. I came with some others, but they had to be chasing the ladies and now there’ll be no finding them before morning parade.” Caesar motioned to a barman for wine, and McDonald called for cards and pipes.

    “Do you play, Caesar?”

    “I have played, sir.” McDonald lit a pipe and fanned the cards.

    “Gambling is a sin, clear as the devil. So’s killing, though, so I reckon I’m done on those lines. Care for a hand?” He was examining the cards, which seemed to depict the battles of the Duke of Marlborough, except for a few, which must have come from a different deck. They depicted engagements of a very different sort.

    Caesar played with him in a desultory manner for a few hands until two more men appeared, both soldiers from the Forty-second who seemed to recognize McDonald immediately. Then they wished to change the game to whist, which Caesar didn’t know.

    “It’s easy,” they all chorused.

    Virgil was snoring when he got to his bunk in the barracks. He hadn’t taken so much wine in his life, but he knew how to play whist, and just then that seemed a fine accomplishment.


    Jeremy drank steadily, knowing that his master had taken one of the women he fancied and that Caesar, as close to a friend as he had ever known, was well on his way to taking the other. He drank, but he was a man of the world, and he did not end the night alone, nor did he and his partner ever snore.
     
  20. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    Marcus Antonius #8887
    The outpost that spotted the two wagons couldn’t believe their luck. Their glee was passed back along the chain of command until George Lake wrapped a sergeant’s sash over his blanket coat, took his musket from the hastily built rack lashed between two saplings, and ran off into the hard bite of the early morning air. He was the senior man when he came up, and he was immediately relieved to discover that they weren’t under attack. He sent many of the alarmed men back to the camp, a good two hundred paces distant, and only then turned his attention to the cartmen.

    “Who are you?”

    “Free men, Sergeant. This is my uncle and my boy Sam.”

    “Where are you from?”

    The black man, hunched against the cold, glanced back at the river behind him. “Over Jersey way.”

    “Where’d you get the straw?”

    “We bought it, mister. It be ours. We bought it to sell to Mr. Washington’s Army.”

    One of the other blacks with the wagon nodded. “We reckon you be needing straw. We know where to get it cheap, an’ we jus’ walk it across the Jerseys an’ bring it to you.”

    George looked at them. They were strong men, neither well dressed nor ill, wearing strong shoes and heavy coats of the shaggy material known as “bear fur”. They seemed a little nervous, but George put that down to the effect of approaching white men with guns.

    “How much?” he asked, poking at the straw. It was good and clean, and he needed it for thatching the little wigwam huts his men were building, and for bedding. There was no straw within a day’s march of the army.

    “Six shillings the load. We got two loads.” The older man smiled a little.

    The price was certainly fair.

    “They’re spies,” said Bludner, from behind him. The black men froze. The boy, Sam, raised his head.

    “This ain’t your post, Sergeant Bludner.” George had suddenly reached a point where he wasn’t going to deal with Bludner by avoiding him. The change was sudden.

    “Take the straw if you want,” said Bludner, paying him no mind. He motioned to a file of his own men he had brought. “Take them Nigras.”

    The older black met George’s eyes and shook his head. “We don’ want no trouble,” he said slowly. But he was reaching for something.

    When the shooting was over, George Lake was still standing there. He had never moved, not shocked but deeply sorry. Three of the blacks were dead and the older one was weeping quietly, gut-shot. Bludner walked over and kicked him, and he screamed. Then Bludner reloaded, slowly, savoring the old man’s fear, and George stood by, wrapped in conflicting hatreds until it was too late and Bludner suddenly reached out and shot the man dead. Only the youngest was left, cowering on top of the highest hay wagon. He was pale under the dark skin, gray with shock.

    Bludner pulled him down easily and showed him to Lake.

    “He’s the only one that ‘ud fetch a price, any road,” he said.

    The black boy suddenly hit Bludner in the ear and Bludner dropped him, and then hit the boy as hard as he could, a great crashing blow with his fist. The boy went down as if hit by an ax.

    Then the man closest to Bludner fell, and the snow under him was suddenly a vivid red. Somewhere far distant, a shot rang out.

    Bludner reached for the boy, who was struggling to his feet, and George pushed him down flat in the road and crouched behind one of the carts. He looked at his priming. Something whispered through the straw of the cart and he heard another crack.

    Bludner was flat on his back where George had pushed him down. The black boy was weaving and sobbing, but heading away, for the most part.

    “Hessians,” George hissed. “Jaegers.” The short, heavy rifles that the Jaegers carried could kill at three hundred yards, and the best of the men who carried them were professional huntsmen at home. They could shoot.

    The shots had drawn the attention of an enemy post. Or perhaps, the little party of blacks and their straw had been a ruse to draw them out. The Germans were already famous for it, attacking foragers, using deserters as spies. They had a cunning that the British seemed to lack. Most men feared them, but George Lake’s mother was a Palatine, and he thought he knew them better.

    They simply had different notions of war. Given his mother’s stories, perhaps it was because all they did was fight.

    Bludner lay still, but he spoke quite clearly.

    “I want that boy.”

    “Go get him, then.”

    “See them Hessians ain’t shootin’ of that boy? They was spies. I know that kind.”

    “I see that they are shooting the men with guns, Bludner. Lie still.” He marveled that he had been afraid of Bludner so long. The man had no thought beyond making money and causing evil.

    The exchange of shots was drawing attention from the camp, and more men came out. There were more shots from the distance, and another man went down. The Jaegers hit about one man every four shots, which George thought was very good practice for the range.

    “Bludner, we’ve lost four men, now,” he said. “All a’cause of your greed.”

    “You’re a dead man, Lake.”

    “I jus’ saved your life, Sergeant Bludner. Most o’ the company watched me.” He leaned out and fired at the distant stand of trees where puffs of smoke located the enemy. He didn’t have a prayer of hitting, but he thought that someone should fire back. “You come for me, I’ll be ready. I could kill you now, for that matter, but I ain’t like you, Bludner.” He felt that he had just drawn an important line.

    “I’ll have you for—”

    “You ain’t worth a turd, Bludner. You jus’ shot an ol’ man for fun, you ignorant bastard. Now lie still or I’ll laugh when the Jaegers kill you. Maybe I’ll kick you when you’re gut-shot.”

    “You’re a dead man.”

    George shook his head, a calm in him that he thought might never go away.

    “No, but you talk big if it suits.” He had another round loaded, and he fired into the trees.

    Another man went down, somewhere on the road behind him. George lacked the interest and the will to lead a charge across the open snow-clogged fields to clear the Jaegers. They’d lose more men that way. He wished they had some of the rifles on their side; there were some riflemen with several regiments, but none of them close by. He wished that Bludner had not killed the blacks. It all made him tired, and it made him wonder if he would ever go back to a shop and polish boots or make hats. It didn’t seem likely.

    But the black boy, probably crippled, wandered across the field toward the distant wood, and eventually disappeared.


    Despite desertions and expiring enlistments, the want of provisions, the litany of defeat, Washington could listen to the young men of his staff exchange their jibes and mannerly quips with something like real pleasure. He missed his best counselor, Adjutant General Reed, who could be counted on to hear a quip or an aside and keep it to himself. Washington had just thought of the very line he wanted to describe what he saw happening on his staff, and in the best remaining regiments of his army.

    “A crucible,” he said to himself. “A crucible for forming Americans from the disparate colonies.” That was what he had wanted to express to Lee as they descended from Chatterton’s Hill. Lee was not American born, but surely he felt the change?

    Washington looked down the main table in his lodging with something like benevolence, and sent his cup back for another fill of the landlord’s coffee. Outside he heard the stamp of feet that indicated a sentry saluting, and he raised his eyes from the report from an outpost of the Third Virginia about an encounter with German Jaegers to see a messenger in a greatcoat.

    “I have an express for Colonel Reed?” asked the man, holding up a twist of paper as if to prove his errand. One of Washington’s young men took it from him, sat him at the table and gave him his own cup. They were a well-bred set of men, and Washington was proud of them.

    “You are from General Lee, I gather?” said Washington, looking at the express. The man nodded, his mouth full of bread. The letter was sealed and addressed to Colonel Reed, but as it was official from General Lee, Washington broke the seal and read it without any hesitation. He always read Reed’s official correspondence when the man was absent.

    Camp, Nov’r the 24th, 1776

    My Dear Reed,

    I received your most obliging, flattering letter—lament with you that
    fatal indecision of mind which in war is a much greater disqualification
    than stupidity or even want of personal courage. Accident may put a
    decisive blunderer in the right, but eternal defeat and miscarriage must
    attend the man of the best parts if cursed with indecision…

    …I only wait for this business of Rogers and Co. Being over—shall
    then fly to you—for to confess a truth I really think my Chief will do better
    with me than without me.


    It was signed by General Charles Lee, with a flourish.

    Washington sat quietly, the buzz of the table lost to him, his morning contentment smashed and replaced by an awful hollow of personal betrayal and a darker fear that it was true. He sank and sank, whirling into alien depths of self-examination and despair. Only the total silence of the room brought him to his senses, or at least back close to the surface. Every officer in the room was looking at him, and he realized that he had crushed the note in his great hand and he thought he might have cried aloud. Their looks of shock were too eloquent.

    He made his way to the door and out. His man, Billy Lee—curse the name—brought him his greatcoat and he shrugged it on and went for his horse, blind to salutes and courtesies on all sides. He was so seldom angry that the soldiers didn’t know what to make of this mood. They watched him go in wonder.

    He rode off, alone as he was never alone, blind to direction and purpose, anxious to get away from those eager young men and their accusing faces. Was he indecisive? He held councils of war, and asked advice. Was that not the way of liberty that he had learned since Boston? Was he to rule alone over the army?

    Washington had never much fancied any role but that of command, and whether on his estates or in the Virginia Regiment, he had always given the orders or avoided situations where other men could order him. He had served under Braddock willingly enough, but so great was Braddock’s authority that serving him rendered the server all the greater. The hard lesson Washington had learned in this war was that the inclination of liberty demanded constant subordination, and that he, the commander, was little more than the servant of the men who fought for their liberty. It was that acceptance that moved him to accept counsel, that and some modest hesitancy on his own part to exercise sole authority even when offered it.

    …that fatal indecision of mind which in war is a much greater
    disqualification than stupidity or even want of personal courage…

    Or perhaps he was an indecisive blunderer who could not win a battle, and was best out of the way. Unaccustomed to self-examination, he rode and thought, compared his accusers and his own inner voice as if he were casting the accounts of his plantation, and calmed himself. His horse, wiser than he in some things, brought him back to the inn before the cold and wind made his internal debate moot, and he dismounted, already weary. There, in the babble of his officers in the yard, he discovered that the routine crises of the day, the movements of Howe and Cornwallis and the defection of his militia could sweep his personal discontent aside.

    Later, when the routine was dealt with and the staff had gone to their beds, he climbed the stairs to his room on the second floor and stopped in front of the door. It all came back like a kick from a horse and he turned and slammed his fist into the wall. The house shook.

    Billy flung open the door to his room, clearly startled. “I’m sorry, sir. Did you need me?”

    “No, Billy.” It was said with desperation, a hint of emotion in the throat that Billy sensed immediately. He looked closer and saw tears flowing down his master’s face and he flinched, afraid of something nameless, the end of the world, perhaps.

    “I’m losing the war, Billy. And I’m losing the good will of my generals.”

    Billy let a breath escape him in a rush, and he realized he hadn’t breathed since he saw the tears. He almost laughed for relief. Something understandable. He pulled Washington into the room and closed the door. Then he took Washington’s greatcoat and sat him on a chair. He pulled off his boots.

    Washington recovered his composure under the constant attentions.

    Billy took the silk ribbon out of Washington’s hair and laid it aside to be pressed. At Mount Vernon, he’d have cut a fresh one for tomorrow, but silk wasn’t so available here.

    “I am indecisive, it appears,” Washington said, gone from tears to anger.

    “If you are going to move about, I’ll brush you’ hair later,” said Billy.

    “Damn it! First they think I’m a tyrant! And then, when I open my counsels and my heart to ’em, they think me indecisive!”

    Billy poured out a glass of Madeira and handed it to Washington. He picked up the brush from the camp table and walked around behind him, where he was invisible. He looked out of the window for a moment and gathered his courage, and when he spoke, his voice was very quiet.

    “I don’t think you can ever do harm, opening your heart to men worth your trust. General Lee ain’t worth it. Never was, though he claims the same name as me.”

    Billy was a little shocked that he’d spoken aloud, but Washington nodded.

    “It shook me.” The admission was flat, spoken without timbre. Washington might have been commenting on the weather.

    Billy just nodded.


    Washington returned to the yoke.

    It became obvious that he must retreat again, and that General Charles Lee would be late in meeting him with the part of the army that Washington had assigned him. In a day’s work, he dealt with the wholesale defection of the militia in the flying camp and the instant need for hard money to pay bounties and keep the regulars who were willing. When he returned from hours ahorse, visiting his colonels and trying to keep a tired and dispirited army together, he finally sat back at the head of his table. He actually had the strength to laugh, because his “young men” of the staff looked gray with fatigue, and he was not yet tired. And when he had laughed, he took a fresh-cut pen and paper, and wrote to Colonel Reed. Whatever Reed’s failings or feelings, he was invaluable as the adjutant general.

    Dear Sir,

    The enclosed was put into my hands by an express from the White
    Plains. Having no idea of its being a private letter, much less suspecting the
    tendency of the correspondence, I opened it, as I have done all other letters
    to you, from the same place and Peekskill, upon the business of your office,
    as I conceived them and found them to be.

    This, as it is the truth, must be my excuse for seeing the contents of a
    letter, which neither inclination nor intention would have prompted me to.


    Personal issues decided, he then changed to a separate sheet and addressed General Lee. He didn’t mince words, as he had on three prior occasions. He directly ordered him to bring his part of the army to Washington, by forced marches if necessary. He made the order as plain as day, lest Lee think he could flout it.

    Washington had the glimmer of a plan whose execution would require every man in the failing army. A plan that was bold to the extreme, and would not, he thought, leave him open to any accusation of indecisiveness ever again. And it would require him to trust his subordinates to execute independently.

    He was learning.
     
  21. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    Caesar saluted and sank quickly into his en garde, his legs bent and his feet making a perfect L as Jeremy had instructed him over and over for months. He bent his elbow slightly, stiffened his wrist until his point was up, and advanced on his toes. Jeremy met him halfway and they both circled, first one way and then another, until Jeremy chanced a thrust, which Caesar parried. They then exchanged simple thrusts for a minute, back and forth as if they were doing line drills. It was a game. London’s finest maître, Monsieur D’Angelo, had taught Jeremy. D’Angelo did not teach secret thrusts and twirling parries like some of the fashion fencers and mountebanks, and he insisted that a perfect thrust, well delivered and fast as lightning, could defeat any guard. Indeed, Jeremy did hit Caesar several stunning blows, especially when he varied his tempo or stamped his foot for a distraction. Caesar, in turn, pleased himself immeasurably by planting his foil’s rawhide-bound point high on Jeremy’s breast in a simple attack that was so well executed that Jeremy had to stop to congratulate him on it. So Jeremy and Caesar thrust and parried like mad, until both of them were lightly covered in sweat and they began to make use of some of the feints and caveats that were more the norm in the swordplay of the day. Caesar’s caveat was still too wide, too slow for Jeremy, and he backed up a step and held up his hand.

    “That caveat is near to being vulgar, Julius.”

    “Vulgar?”

    “Can you think of a better word? It is too big and too slow for fashion. I’d call it showy if it had any right to be shown.”

    Caesar all but hung his head. He whirled his blade through a smaller caveat.

    “Use your fingers, not your wrist! That’s it. Just a tap on my blade and then around. Like this and look! I have hit you again. Tap and hit. And again. I really must teach you the parry to that—this is not the place for a display of temper.” They exchanged parries, and then Jeremy stepped inside his guard, grabbed his wrist, swung his own sword around behind his back and pricked him in the side.

    “Oh, well struck,” Caesar said, surprised. Jeremy looked pleased with himself.

    When they were finished, they were replaced by Sergeant McDonald of Stewart’s company and an officer of the Highlanders, who looked at them with considerable respect.

    “Ah won’t be givin you any trouble, then,” said McDonald to Jeremy, as he passed.

    Jeremy laughed and pointed at the wooden baton in McDonald’s hands. “I’d rather not face a broadsword with a smallsword, though.”

    “Oh, aye! A duel of broadswords wi’ a fencing master like yourself!” Both the Scots laughed. McDonald waved to Caesar, who nodded back. They had been closer since he learned whist.

    “Come on, Caesar. I have to be back before Captain Stewart needs me.”

    “You wait on him all the time as it is!”

    “Yes, well, he rather needs me all the time.”

    “You like him, don’t you?”

    “I do, then.” They were putting on dry shirts and waistcoats in an outer dressing room. The salle, an open floor in a former warehouse, was another location in the city that was colorblind. Indeed, Jeremy was quite popular. Caesar had heard men—white men—suggest he was the best swordsman in the city. Caesar thought of Washington. He had almost liked Washington, of all the masters he had had. But Washington had owned him. Perhaps it was different if you were a servant, but free.


    When they walked back into the Moor’s Head, a group of soldiers was singing.

    How stands the glass around?

    For shame, ye take no care, my boys

    How stands the glass around?

    Let mirth and wine abound.


    The trumpets sound

    The colors they are flying, boys

    To fight, kill or wound,

    May we still be found

    Content with our hard fare, my boys

    On the cold, cold ground.


    Oh why, soldiers, why

    Should we be melancholy, boys?

    Oh why, soldiers, why?

    Whose business ’tis to die.


    What, sighing, fie!

    Damn care, drink on, be jolly, boys.

    ’Tis he, you or I,

    Cold, hot, wet or dry,

    We’re always bound to follow, boys,

    And scorn to fly.

    ’Tis but in vain

    (I mean not to upbraid you, boys)

    ’Tis but in vain

    For soldiers to complain


    Should next campaign

    Take us to Him who made us, boys

    We’re free from pain,

    But should we remain,

    A bottle and kind landlady,

    Cures all again.


    Simcoe and Stewart were installed in chairs under the map of the northern colonies. Simcoe was in uniform, his gorget hanging loose at his throat, while Stewart wore a neat plaid coat and heavy breeches suited to riding in the weather. They had pipes and cards on the little table between them, but those diversions had been pushed aside.

    “He’s done,” said Simcoe. “Look at this bend in the river. Washington has to defend the whole navigable stretch, all the way along the front of Philadelphia. There are four ferries and his front must cover all of twenty-five miles. Grant says that Washington has less than four thousand men. All we require is a cold snap to freeze the river and we’re across. Then Philadelphia falls and we all go home.”

    The two men contemplated the extremely serious position in which the American commander had placed himself.

    “I had rather counted on a longer war,” said Stewart.

    Simcoe cleaned a long clay with his penknife, scraping the inside of the bowl. Then he ground some tobacco between his hands until he liked the texture of it and filled the bowl carefully, pressing the tobacco with his thumb.

    “I have always liked these long pipes,” he said. “They give a cool smoke, and you can light them from a fire without singeing your eyebrows.” He suited his action to his words. While he was stooped over the fire, Stewart waved for another pint of Madeira. When Simcoe returned to his seat, he nodded, as if the conversation had never been interrupted.

    “I, too, had hoped for a longer campaign. The action at White Plains was as close as I’ve been to glory, and neither of us managed to get mentioned at all.” It was a sore topic, as Stewart had actually commanded his battalion in action and not been recognized for it despite being the first to take the crown of the hill. Simcoe, with the grenadiers, had been similarly ignored.

    “I had expected you to be appointed to your provincial corps ere now.” Stewart toyed idly with a lock of his rebellious hair, which, having escaped from its ribbon, was now living a life independent of its fellows. Simcoe inhaled his pipe.

    “As did I.” He looked into the fire. “I had imagined that after Major Rogers proved unsuitable, I would have been chosen, but I gather that there is a list. Perhaps I am third or fourth.”

    Stewart brightened. He thought a moment. “Remember the officer who beat Rogers’s camp?”

    “Certainly. General Charles Lee, formerly a captain in our service, I believe.”

    “Just so. General Charles Lee has been taken prisoner.”

    Simcoe shook his head ruefully. “A pretty stroke. Who got him?”

    “A party of dragoons. Lee left his camp behind by some miles to stay at a tavern, and a young officer who got word of it rode twenty miles to surround and take him.”

    “He was their best man, I think. Mr. Washington seems a master at retreat, but he has yet to face us in the field and win. Lee was the more dangerous man.”

    Stewart was silent, as he often chose to be when he disagreed with his friends. Simcoe looked at him carefully, registered his disagreement, and changed the subject.

    “I know why I want a longer war, John Julius. But you? You are a prosperous man, I think. What do you want from the army?”

    Jeremy came up behind Stewart and replaced the bottle of Madeira with another. He bowed slightly to both men and noticed the sprig of red hair that had escaped from Stewart’s careful sidecurls. With a smile, he slipped away. They heard him calling for Polly before he was out of the common room. Stewart was staring off into the gloom at the back of the room. Simcoe began to think he would not speak.

    “Love, I suppose.”

    Simcoe straightened his shoulders a little, as if the word made him uncomfortable.

    “Oh, my apologies.”

    “No, no. It is not anything shameful, merely too common. I pledged my troth to Miss Mary McLean, daughter of a man who fancies himself a great aristocrat in Scotland. My people are in ™ indeed, I was myself until I met Miss McLean. Her father informed me that I might only have her if I did something honorable and covered myself in glory.”

    “That seems a trifle old-fashioned, surely?”

    Stewart nodded sharply, clearly unhappy.

    “How long have you waited?”

    “Six years.”

    Simcoe whistled softly, and Jeremy reappeared as if by instinct, with Polly close behind and Caesar at a distance. Only a blind person would have failed to note that wherever Polly went, Caesar was seldom far behind. Polly sometimes affected to dislike his suit, but no one believed her. Even her father, whose reputation for rectitude was a byword in the city, seemed to favor Caesar.

    “Your pardon, sir,” Jeremy said with his usual half-smile. Polly busied herself at the fire. Caesar went and fetched logs at her request.

    Simcoe watched her for a moment.

    “Polly, do you enjoy the conquest of the best soldier in New York?”

    She hung her head a little, but Simcoe thought he heard a giggle.

    Stewart turned in his chair.

    “What are you about, Jeremy?”

    “Sir, you are not leaving this house with a devil’s horn planted on your brow. Sit still, sir.” He whipped the offending curl open, then combed it and the stray wisp of hair ruthlessly together. Polly handed him a pair of tongs, ready heated, and the smell of burnt hair suddenly filled the room. He held the curl for a moment and then withdrew the tongs.

    “Thank you for your kindness, Miss White.”

    She curtsied. “Your servant, gentlemen.”

    Simcoe stopped Caesar, who dropped a load of logs in the bin.

    “Will your Mr. Washington surrender, Sergeant Caesar?”

    Caesar looked at Jeremy a moment, trying to imbibe some of his poise. The question might have been serious. It was always hard to tell with Simcoe whether he wanted a short answer or a long one.

    “He won’t surrender, sir. He may be beat, but he will not give up.”

    Simcoe inclined his head politely.

    “Even if we take his capital?”

    Caesar caught Polly’s eye and felt that he was on parade.

    “Sir, my knowledge of war is confined to the management of a company. But it seems to me that Mr. Washington and his army have shown an inclination to survive and retreat after the loss of the continent’s greatest city, and perhaps the loss of Philadelphia will affect them no more. At the very least I will say this, though I only knew him as a slave: Mr. Washington will not surrender while he has the tools to fight. And he’s a man whose quality is only seen when he’s pressed, sir. That much I saw even on the hunt.”

    And Stewart thought, They have that in common, then.

    Polly smiled one of her rare, quick smiles that showed she was pleased with him. Simcoe and Stewart both nodded to him. Had Captain Simcoe really told Polly he was the best soldier in New York? He bowed and followed Polly to the door, catching sight of the tavern’s proprietor and Reverend White sitting together in a booth. They both bowed slightly to him. White motioned him over.

    “You do us credit, sir, both in the manner of your speaking and your message. I have seldom heard a man declare himself a former slave with so much dignity.”

    “The ancient Julius Caesar was a slave, if only for a little while,” Caesar replied. “But I thank you for your compliments.”

    Reverend White accepted this assay into education with a smile. “Epictetus was also a slave, and that for his whole life, Caesar. And while I honor your choice of books as pertinent to your chosen path, I might have wished you’d chosen a man who led a better life. Caesar made fifty thousand Gauls into slaves, and conquered whole nations. Epictetus founded a philosophy that is with us yet, strong under our Christian ways. Yet he lived and died a slave.”

    “I would be happy to attempt Epictetus, if you would lend him to me,” said Caesar.

    The innkeep, a portly man with a broad face that totally belied his open and intelligent nature, laughed aloud.

    “It is a pleasure to hear the two of you. Julius Caesar! Epictetus! An’ this from two men as black as me! It’s a new world, is what it is.”

    Caesar slipped away. Military praise he took as his due with the arrogance of the young, but the praise of Marcus White was another thing entirely, both for itself and for the light it cast on his suit with Polly. Sometimes she seemed taken with him, and other times not interested at all. And Marcus puzzled him on a different plane. Marcus White seemed to know some very powerful men, and to be welcome everywhere. He traveled through the lines with ease, and spoke freely of visits to men in the Continental camp, or in Philadelphia. And he seemed to spend considerable time and energy on Sally. Caesar had thought that the reason might not go beyond the obvious, because he felt that few men would be resistant to Sally’s charms. But Marcus White made no secret of attending her, and even allowed Polly to take messages for her and do her fine sewing, a most remarkable circumstance in a decent girl’s life and one that could reflect on her reputation. It puzzled him.

    He found that he had stopped in the hallway to the kitchen by the private room. He had lost Polly while talking to her father, and now he cast about the kitchen, expecting to find her at her sewing, but all he found was Jeremy, drinking small ale with Sally. Virgil sat on the other side, silent. Virgil was almost always silent these days, as it became apparent to him that winning Sally was beyond his means. She wouldn’t be won. Caesar thought to speak to him several times, but Polly, or the equipping of the company, always seemed to be first. So he sat, silent. Caesar sat next to him and grabbed his arm for a moment, and Virgil turned his head and smiled a little sadly.

    “That was well said in there,” from Jeremy, who put a hand on his shoulder, so that they were all linked for a moment. “I wish they would consult me on tactics and politics. I’m jealous, Julius Caesar. But well said.”

    “I try to speak the way you do, Jeremy.”

    “That’s just it, Julius. You do.”

    Jim, almost a foot taller than when they met him, hurtled through the big kitchen, chasing a maid, who shrieked, and then they were gone into the snow out the back. Sally smiled into her beer, and Virgil looked at her. She met his eyes kindly, at least for her.

    “No, Virgil. It won’t do.”

    Caesar wondered what he had missed, but the silence told him it wasn’t good.

    Virgil rubbed his nose for a moment, as if someone had punched it. He rose from his bench and started for the door. Then he looked back at Caesar, happy for a moment because he’d thought of something to break the tension.

    “I foun’ us a drummah, Caesar.”

    Caesar nodded. “I can put him in a coat tomorrow. Where’d you fin’ him?”

    “Queen’s Rangers brought him in. Got him off some Germans.”

    “He big enough to take the shilling?”

    Virgil smiled a thin, strained smile not at all like his usual easy grin. “He hates the rebels worse ’an us, Cese. They killed his family.”

    Sally winced. Caesar just nodded. He pulled open his day book.

    “Got a name?”

    “Sam. Sam Carter, I think.”

    Caesar wrote the name in his book. “Get him a coat. An’ give him a shilling.”
     
  22. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    “What are we doing now?” asked one of the new men.

    George Lake made no reply. The remnants of the Third Virginia had been awake the whole night, moving to the ferry and then filing on to narrow, evil-looking boats that were slowly picking their way across to the Jersey bank of the Delaware. The trip looked dangerous, and the men were already cold. They all feared that they would be soaked to the skin by the time they reached the far bank. George walked along the ranks and made sure that men tied their hats to their heads, and those with tinder kits or tobacco put those items in their hats first. He looked at their cartridge boxes and made sure that their muskets were empty. A wet gun could be dried, but a gun with a soaked load of wet black powder in the barrel would take an hour to clear and dry.

    Bludner stood apart, speaking quietly to Captain Lawrence. George knew that he and Bludner were in a state of quiet hostility, and that Bludner would attack him to Lawrence at any chance. George wasn’t used to this kind of warfare, and he felt that he was slipping behind. Captain Lawrence no longer sought his opinion on anything, no longer sent for him to lead special patrols. In fact, Bludner had been sent across the river last night, and had already seen the town they were supposed to attack. He had apparently done well. George tried not to resent Bludner’s success.

    They had the company up to thirty men, and they had a drummer again. George Lake had been to Philadelphia twice, looking for their recruits from Virginia, and quietly soliciting local men where they could be got. Other regiments had begun to recruit free blacks. George didn’t think that he was ready to put Bludner in the way of that kind of temptation.

    He decided to light his pipe, and he pulled up the collar of his greatcoat. His eye caught Bludner and Lawrence, who were both watching him. His stomach flipped a little, and then he turned his back and started trying to get a patch of char to catch a spark. In a moment he had a little coal going, to the envy of his company, and after a deep inhalation, he handed the pipe to Corporal Bent, who took it gratefully.

    “Sergeant, where are we going?” asked another recruit. “Is the war lost, Sergeant?”

    “Silence, Rogers,” George said, his voice low. Most of the men thought they might be going to surrender. It was a sad comment on the army. George had figured out where they were going by inference, but he wasn’t saying until they were across the river. Once across, no one would desert.


    In the handsome stone house by the ferry, George Washington sat at a plain cherry table and took the messages that members of the Philadelphia Light Horse brought without enthusiasm, hiding his feelings. Colonel Reed sent that Israel Putnam could not be moved to commit his command across the river to support any sort of attack. Horatio Gates had left the army to go to Congress. It seemed possible that he had left to avoid being present when the army was destroyed. He had Mercer and Lord Stirling, of the older men who had been his best resources since he took command at Boston. Putnam, the hero of Bunker Hill and the commander of the Philadelphia district, would not commit to the plan and Washington would not order him to. Charles Lee had gotten himself captured, a sharp blow even if Lee was waging a subtle campaign against Washington himself. Washington smiled bitterly at that recollection, because this reckless gamble had its roots in that damnable letter and those comments about his indecision. He was not so small-minded as to be driven to excess by the opinions of others, but the sting of those unjust words was still with him. And now, in this one attack, his generals were choosing their paths. Some were staying clear. Others were eager to take part. So be it. The ones that wanted to play a role had been briefed in detail about the attack, in stark contrast to his earlier style.

    “Boats are starting to cross, sir,” said an aide.

    He had a little fewer than twenty-five hundred men to challenge the British Army. He couldn’t possibly defend twenty-five miles of riverbank if the current cold snap lasted and the river froze to any depth. His men would be spread at the rate of a hundred per mile, and Cornwallis, or Clinton, or Howe would sweep across, encircle those not immediately destroyed, pin them against the river, and end the war.

    He rose to his not inconsiderable height, pulled on his greatcoat and gloves, and settled his hat. Billy had tied his hair very tight against the wind, at his request. It pulled at the corners of his eyes, a comfortable sort of pain. Billy put up with a great deal. George Washington was not a dramatic man. If he had been in his youth, then a middle age of farming and married life had driven such notions from him. But as he walked to the ferry followed by his staff and his horse, he thought about the great Roman, Julius Caesar, leading his army to the bank of the Rubicon River. Perhaps just such a night as this, with snow and wind. Caesar had said something like “the die is cast”, meaning that he was taking a great risk. Washington toyed with saying some such as he sat in the boat, looking at the enemy shore and trying to guess whether he should prepare the army to form to the right or the left once they encountered the Germans. He tried to imagine where their posts would be today, or whether they would patrol with Christmas still ringing in their ears. He tried to imagine whether the British dragoons would be out on the roads, ready to report his column as it moved up the road. In the end, he said nothing, except to ask an aide for the map as soon as they got off the water.

    By the time they had the army across, they were two hours late. Any chance of dawn surprise was lost. Washington considered briefly the consequences of loading the men back in the boats and recrossing, and he could not imagine what would happen to the army if the British caught it here against the river, or how demoralized his men would be if the whole of their Christmas had been given up for nothing.

    He looked around in the early dawn light, nodding to Greene and Sullivan and Mercer and Stirling. He didn’t call a council; every one of them looked at him with a happy resolution that made his heart rise, as if the warm sun had broken through the snow. He didn’t think of Caesar and his wars in Gaul and Italy, but of Henry V on the field of Agincourt, and again he was almost moved to say something to his captains about “we happy few”, but the drama wasn’t in him. Yet they were with him in a way that Putnam and Lee never had been, and he gave them all a rare smile.

    “Gentlemen, I think you know the plan.” They bowed from the saddle to him, somber yet somehow elated. They were attacking. It was a heady thing. He felt that they wanted him to say something to mark the occasion, but he couldn’t find the words, and instead he simply pointed east.

    “Gentlemen,” he said, looking from man to man. “Let’s be about it.”


    The crossing was damp and cold, indeed, but not so bad as he had feared. George Lake got himself free of the boat on the far side and watched the muskets handed up to willing hands. The men scrambled out on the low ferry pier and began to form. The darkness was full of men. He hoped they had sentries out somewhere.

    “Sergeant, where are we going?” The same voice, or perhaps a different one. He didn’t know all the new men yet.

    “You call that a line?” he said, but quietly. They would know soon enough, and in the meantime he wanted them focused on the details of soldiering. “Mr. Clarke, do you have your worm? Get some tow and start wiping the locks and the barrels. Every man is to pick his touch hole and see that Mr. Clarke has his weapon dry.”

    Men grumbled, because most of the weapons were already dry, but George Lake intended only that they be busy. He knew that the army was late, and he knew the sun was not far off. If they were going to be caught on this open shore by the ever-vigilant British, he thought that his men should be unaware of the possibility until it was upon them.

    The snow came in gusts, and the flat countryside of Pennsylvania began to be clearer as the light grew. But soon enough, almost too soon for the busy Private Clarke, the columns began to form and move. Some troops went up the main road to Pennington, and others went with General Sullivan on the more direct route to Assunpink Bridge. Once the column stepped off, they moved briskly, and it warmed their feet and gradually made all their various discomforts into one dull ache. At least they were moving. The snow began to fall a little harder, and George noted that Bludner’s hat was developing a little triangle of the stuff, like the top of a grenadier’s hat.

    They halted for a spell, and the men began to be cold again. Bludner stayed with Captain Lawrence and seemed to have little interest in the company, so George sent out two files to watch the ground beyond the road and tried to cudgel his mind for other ways of keeping the men busy on the march. As he began to consider having them collect wood, the column formed up quickly, and he had to race to recall his pickets before they moved off.

    In another mile, they turned a corner. It was almost full light, and they could just see the village of Trenton laid out before them in the middle distance. Then another gust of snow hid the little town of stone houses.


    In Washington’s experience, war consisted mostly of waiting to see how well other men had understood their orders. The waiting was interspersed with brief flashes of danger and action, usually caused by his attempts to repair his own defects, or those that others had added to his plans through inattention or neglect. He was not confident in this plan, a complex series of three converging columns that depended on luck and timing and the quality of his generals. It was dictated by the shape of the village.

    He wanted a complete victory. His idea of victory required that he take or kill the Hessian garrison of Trenton, the dreaded German regulars that his men feared. Their outposts routinely injured his own, and their Jaegers were the scourge of his lines. He was not attempting an easy target, but a very difficult one, and his chosen enemy was not much less in men and guns than his own small army.

    Where was Sullivan? He waited as the light grew for discovery, or news. He no longer expected General Ewing’s column to show at all. They had been intended for a different ferry, and as he had not directed their operation in person, he had little confidence in them. At this point, in the growing light and the snow, he had little confidence in the whole plan. He began to dread what would lie around each turn of the road. The feeling was unaccustomed. He tried to shrug it off.

    His horse was warm, because he kept moving along the column. The men were silent.

    A dark, wet man was brought to him near the head of the column, a messenger from Sullivan. He sighed with inward relief. Sullivan was moving well, but concerned about his wet muskets. Washington had watched some Virginians using tow to wipe their muskets dry at the ferry and wondered that the whole army hadn’t performed this simple operation.

    He nodded his thanks to the messenger and turned to young General Greene, who was waiting on him.

    “Let us go as rapidly as we may, General Greene,” he said, and pushed his horse ahead. Close by him, a company commander caught the order and raised his voice.

    “March-march!” he called. The men began to shuffle along at something like a trot.


    George Lake’s company was in the center of General Greene’s column, and it began to move faster and to expand, as columns do when they change speed. As each company and each platoon heard the order to trot, they went off, increasing the distance to the next. George left his place on the front right of his company and began to run down the column, coaching the corporals and sergeants to close up and keep their intervals. The Third Virginia began to form again. He ran back up the column, passing Bludner, who looked at him dully.

    “In a hurry to get beat?” asked Bludner as he ran by. George didn’t spare him a reply. He raced for the front of their battalion and passed the word up to the last sergeant in the Fifth Virginia, a man who knew a little, and that man headed off to close his men.

    It was the sort of detail that officers generally overlooked, even when they were veterans. The newer ones wouldn’t even know how vital a few moments could be in bringing your column up to a line and beginning to fire, had no idea how hard simple maneuvers would be in the blowing snow.

    He was sweating now, and his feet were warm. If he had a particular friend left, he would have shared the irony with him, but they were all gone now, and so he kept it to himself, and they trotted on.

    There was a flutter of firing ahead.


    Washington watched the Hessian outpost form rapidly, fire a volley, and vanish in the growing storm of snow. It was well done, as the men fulfilled their duty to provide an alarm and then ran for the town. Washington was quietly impressed by their quality. But his own men moved past the post, a cooper’s shop a little outside the town, and began to trot forward again. None of them had been hit.

    He trotted his horse along the verge of the road, careful to keep clear of the column. The men seemed afire with enthusiasm suddenly, every one of them racing forward, faster and faster, the column beginning to resemble a giant race, at least in the vanguard. Back in the main body, Washington could see that the companies were moving well, better closed up, which would be vital if the plan was to work. Greene’s entire column would have to form line to the right, a complex maneuver. He watched them for a moment, and then heard the welcome sound of musketry from the direction of Sullivan’s column. The alarm was sounded. Any surprise was over. Now it would be a battle, and in truth, the die was cast.


    George Lake had plenty of time to watch the last moment of the preparation, as a flaw in the wind cleared the snow for a moment. Off to the south, Sullivan’s column was a dark mass on the low road, and his own column lay ahead and behind him. And then in an instant, all the order was chaos as they reached the outlying buildings. Mercer’s men began to hurl themselves at the stone houses, and there were scattered shots. He had no idea who was firing or at what. He could hear the head of the column cheering, cheering like madmen, and his own men began to press forward. He hadn’t heard such cheering in all his time in the army. He pressed them back with his musket.

    “Keep your intervals!” he bellowed.

    A scattering of shots came their way, and he heard one whicker past. It made little impression on him. The head of the column was trying to form in the narrow streets, and Captain Lawrence was shouting for them to “form front by company”, but George could see that the guns which the army had moved with so much labor from across the river were trying hard to reach the front.

    “Stand fast!” Lake bellowed. He pointed at the guns. Lawrence froze for a moment with a look of pure hatred on his face and then it cleared as he saw the guns moving, and he nodded sharply. The Fifth Virginia detached men to move the guns faster, and suddenly there were heavy bangs and the heady smell of sulfur. The column shuffled forward again. The guns were commanding one street, but it seemed that the Germans were forming on another and suddenly, unexpectedly, George Lake was in the front rank facing them. The rest of the column must have suddenly gone down the other road. An arm’s length away, a four-pounder fired, the canister of little metal balls cutting men down in tens. The noise made his ears ring. Captain Lawrence sprang to the front.

    “Follow me!” he yelled. Instantly he took a ball and went down. The men, most of whom had taken a step forward, shuffled. It was a moment of hesitation, and Lake wouldn’t have it.

    “At them, Virginians!” he yelled, and his company followed him forward. Behind the little screen of German infantry were two of their battalion guns, three-pounders that could shred their company in a heartbeat. Screaming their huzzas, the Virginians raced down the street as the German gunners struggled with the high wind to get the touch holes of their guns primed. George Lake watched it all, his whole being focused on the man placing a quill of powder in the touch hole and then stepping back. The Germans were afraid, caught unprepared in the street, and the man with the linstock that could fire the piece was slow, he fumbled his movement a little and George was there, atop him, sweeping him off his feet. He rolled off the man and hit him in the breast with his musket butt and before he could move to another enemy, the guns were taken.

    He picked himself up slowly, covered in the nasty slush and mud of the street, to find that he was standing at the feet of General Washington’s horse.

    “Well done, Virginians,” Washington said, and rode off.

    “What’s your name, Sergeant?” asked an aide, riding up.

    “I’m George Lake, an’ it please you, sir.” Lake suddenly felt old and tired. The officer looked calm, comfortable, and elegant, all things that were beyond George Lake this morning. The officer saluted him, raising his hat, a gesture that he never expected, and rode off. Lake turned on his men, busy looting every German in sight.

    “Form on me!” he yelled.


    Victory. Not since Boston had he had this feeling, this gentle elation of spirit that held him above the earth as if floating along in a gallop. They had taken nearly the whole garrison of Trenton, three regiments, and more driven off in the snow without their guns. He had a further gamble in mind, a quick lunge against the British concentration at Princeton a few miles away to break up their timing and disrupt their attempts to attack him. It was a technique that every fencing master taught, to attack into your enemy’s preparation. He thought now that he had timed it well, that he was across and into the enemy with something like total surprise. He felt his confidence return, and he could see on every face around him that they were confident as well. Indeed, Mercer’s men looked like they were drunk, so great was their flow of spirit. But they were under control soon enough, and he would have his attempt on Princeton. More men would come across the ferry today. The word of the victory would spread, and the sunshine soldiers and summer patriots who fought at convenience would suddenly appear to bulk his forces.

    There in the snow, surrounded by the adulation of his staff and the cheers of his men, he saw that it would only take a few such victories to put the chance of defeat behind him. The British had to defeat him. He had only to survive.

    General Greene, flushed with the success, took his hand in Quaker directness.

    “Give you the joy of your glorious victory, General,” he said. Washington smiled broadly, his rare bad-tooth smile that he hid from all but Martha.

    “Their enlistments still run out in four days, Nathan,” he said. Greene shook his head, and Sullivan sneered.

    “Let the faint hearts go home. After this, men will flock to us.”

    And Washington rose in his stirrups, looked at the men about him, and waved to his escort commander to start down the road.

    “Perhaps, General Sullivan. But in any case, they will need to be trained, and fed, and clothed, and we will spend another winter building the army.”

    Greene touched his arm, a contact Washington had used to resent.

    “You sound tired, sir.”

    “Tired?” Washington held in his horse. The big stallion was unwinded by the morning, restless, his ears pricking for new adventure. “Perhaps I am tired, Nathan. But I now see why they chose a farmer to lead this army. Farmers are used to having to start anew every spring. And farmers know that before you begin a job of work, you have to build your tools.” He looked at his staff, his generals, his army. The tools were there. He had trusted them, and they, him. And they had won.
     
  23. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    Marcus Antonius #8887
    …If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a

    promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were:

    Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind,

    and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.


    JOHN DONNE, 1623​
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2019 at 8:08 PM
  24. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    George Lake was on his last days with the company. Spring was bringing changes throughout the army, as had the victories at Trenton and Princeton. Princeton was a confused memory, hazier than the brief fight in the streets of Trenton. It had not felt like a victory until the last moments, when the British line wavered and fell back, leaving the Continentals the field and a clear route back to their own side of the river. But the victories were a tonic, and when the enlistments ran out more men stayed than George had ever hoped. Most of the men who stayed now felt that they would win the war, and the veterans had something that they had lacked before, a steady confidence in their movements and their drill.

    One of the changes was that George was being promoted. He was leaving the rank of sergeant and moving up to be an officer in another company, the new light infantry company, supposedly composed of the best men in his regiment. He had watched the men being chosen and was aware that the new company had more than its share of awkward men, new recruits, and lazy men the other companies didn’t want, but he also noted that it would have the highest proportion of true believers, young men from trades and farms who had a stake in the new nation, and that meant something.

    He had two days left until his promotion became official, and in those days he was the odd man out, with a new tent all to himself and new equipment to find, and he sat on the fresh straw over boards that made the floor of his tent and mended his ragged uniform. In the street outside, Bludner was preaching to his platoon.

    Bludner sounded a little too pleased with himself. George Lake told himself not to care—he was on his last days in the company and Bludner’s opinion of him no longer mattered. But old habits die hard, they say, and he waited his time as the man went on with his bombast to his cronies, pulling on an old coat that wouldn’t mind the April mud. The rain had stopped for the first time in days.

    “…found some of my property, gone missing on its legs, as it were. I hope you gentlemen take mah meanin’.”

    George couldn’t help but hear him. Now that they had proper tents, everyone could hear everything that was said in their company street. He opened the hooks and eyes on his own and stooped out, passing his sword belt over his shoulder as he did so.

    It pained George to see the eagerness with which some of Bludner’s men received his words. The divide between the true believers and the backwoodsmen was, if anything, deeper in the new drafts. Too many of the recruits were landless men, or laborers, serving for the land grants promised. Too few were young men from families or from trades. The war is using up our patriotism, he thought. It is going on too long. He felt it himself. He limped a little as he made his way over to the circle of men around Bludner.

    “…nice piece, a black piece I mean to recover when this is over. An’ she can tell us a thing or two about what them lobsters is up to in New York. She’ll be scare’t of me from here!” He laughed at the thought, an ugly sound.

    George Lake stopped by the edge of the group and stood silent with his hand on his hip.

    “Why, lookee here, boys. It’s the new officer of the light company.” Bludner’s sneer was all too obvious. George thought the man looked a little drunk.

    “Sergeant Bludner?” George spoke quietly. His voice was steady.

    “Frien’ o’ mine jus’ got free from New York. He saw one o’ mah slaves there. An’ he says that the Jerseys is full o’ free blacks jus’ waitin’ for us to take them. Now that don’ interest Mr. Lake, here. He wants to protect them niggers, don’ you, Mister Lake?”

    Bludner was looking for a fight, spoiling for it as he had been since the news of George’s promotion came down from the regiment. George was ready to give it to him, but wanted the man to make the fight himself. George could watch Bludner looking for a means to be offensive.

    “Did you ever own a slave, Sergeant Bludner?” George knew that Bludner always claimed he had, but as he had never owned any land, George couldn’t see why.

    “I owned a couple, yes. More ’an you, boy.”

    George stepped toward him. “How did you come to own slaves when you didn’t own any land?” George was getting angry. He wasn’t even sure why he was angry, but the anger was growing in him. Perhaps it was the term boy. Perhaps it was just two years of steady abuse. “Was you a pimp, Bludner?” he asked, stepping in close.

    Sometimes a chance remark touches a nerve. Perhaps someone else had once made the comparison, some time in the past, but Bludner was all rage, a blur of fists coming at George. Except that George had been ready since he left his tent.

    He took the first blows on his arms and retaliated, hitting Bludner twice in the face, snapping his head back. Bludner was relentless, pounding away at his arms, slipping blows through into his chest and belly through perseverance and rage, but George hung on, punishing his man with punches to the head. Bludner tried to close and George leapt back, bent low and lunged like a fencer, smashing his left fist into Bludner’s throat and putting him down. As Bludner started to rise, George smashed him in the crotch with a kick, and then another to his head. He was breathing as if he had run a race. Bludner lay in the mud, spasming like a slaughtered lamb, his eyes open and blind.

    George stumbled back and looked at the ring of men, some frightened and some deeply inimical. He stood straight, covering his panting, trying to be like the gentlemen officers he had seen. His voice was remarkably like Washington’s when he spoke, steady, commanding. “Clean him up and see he’s on parade,” he said, and walked through the circle. He felt cleaner.

    George needed to get clear of the camp, clear of Bludner and the divided loyalties of the men. He decided to take his few shillings and his loot from Trenton into the city of Philadelphia and get himself some new shirts and a decent set of clothes, so that he could start life as an officer looking like one. He had no horse and no friend who owned one, so he walked out through the camp, got the password for the day at the adjutant’s tent, and made his way past the quarterguard and up to the head of the camp and the sentry line, where he showed his pass and started for Philadelphia, three miles away.

    It was fast becoming a beautiful spring day, crisp enough to take the sting out of his knuckles and warm enough that he was never uncomfortable, although his right foot was nearly naked in a split shoe. What he wanted more than anything was a good pair of boots. He went over his loot in his mind: two big silver watches, ten silver thalers with Marie-Therese’s bust on the front, a silver mounted pistol and a telescope. He coveted the telescope, because it was so useful, but he had no place to stow or carry it comfortably, and knew that it would fetch too good a price to allow him to keep it.

    Deciding to sell his loot was easier than finding a place to do so. After he had visited several small shops where he was treated as a tramp or possibly a deserter, he found that he was in the middle of town near the City Tavern with no idea where he should go. He looked up the broad street, angry at being made a pariah in the capital he was fighting to protect.

    “That’s how my cat looks when he’s planning to bite me,” said a woman.

    George turned and found himself looking at the girl who had brought the milk so many months before at this very corner. Her mother was standing beside her, smiling.

    “Is that the best General Washington can do to keep you poor boys?” asked the older woman. “You didn’t look like such a scarecrow in the summer.”

    “I’m sorry, ma’am.” He was sorry. He was standing on a prosperous corner in the center of the city, bringing the army into disrepute by his very presence. He looked too poor to be a private, much less…

    “You’ve been promoted!” The girl actually hopped, despite her petticoats and her fur-lined Brunswick. George thought the girl’s jacket was worth more than everything he owned. It looked warm. He wanted to hang his head, but he didn’t.

    “I have, too,” he said modestly.

    “What brings you here…Lieutenant?”

    “Yes, ma’am.” He indicated his sash. “I am a lieutenant. I’m here to buy some clothes. And to sell a few things, too. But I can’t seem to find a place to do that.” He smiled at the girl. Betsy. Not that he dared use her name.

    Her mother smiled. “I don’t think we introduced ourselves. I’m Mrs. Lovell. This is our daughter. We live just there, in the house with the roses.”

    “I am Lieutenant Lake, ma’am.” George wondered at the power of his new rank. The word lieutenant had visibly changed the woman’s demeanor. “Miss,” he continued, bobbing his head at Miss Lovell. “Of the light company of the Third Virginia.”

    “Our pleasure, sir.” Mrs. Lovell gave him a level stare. “I won’t pretend to hold with Congress or Mr. Washington’s war, though such views aren’t popular here. My family is Scots. But you seem a decent young man, Lieutenant. It is a sad civil war that would keep us from being civil.”

    George bowed. In a year, he had learned that answering was not always the thing. Tempted as he was to defend his patriotism, Mrs. Lovell’s steady gaze made him feel that this was not a conflict he would win.

    “As to selling things, I don’t think I’ve been to such an establishment in some time.” She didn’t sniff, as George had thought she might. Instead she gave a smile, as if she knew a secret. “But I might go to Dodd’s, on the Lancaster Road, if I wanted to sell a few things at a good price. You may say that Esther Ogilvy sent you.”

    She smiled in secret satisfaction and Miss Lovell looked at him in a way he found very pleasing. He made his bows to both of them and hoped he might renew his acquaintance on a later visit, a turn of phrase he had learned from watching the officers in his regiment. Mrs. Lovell hesitated, and then smiled.

    “Of course, Lieutenant,” she said, and they parted.

    Miss Lovell’s face remained before his eyes as he walked the muddy mile of the Lancaster Road to Dodd’s. The clerk behind the counter barely spared him a glance.

    “I was told to say that Esther Ogilvy sent me,” he said, eyeing the beautiful fabrics behind the counter and wondering if his walk had been for nothing.

    An older man with lank gray hair pushed past the clerk and came out into the store. “Did she now?” he asked, grimly. “What’s she called, lad?”

    “Mrs. Lovell.”

    “Well, that’s true enough, soldier. An’ you’ve a few things to sell?”

    George didn’t need a second invitation. He laid the watches, the pistol and the telescope on the counter. The clerk reached for the telescope and Mr. Dodd (if it was indeed he) rapped the younger man sharply on the knuckles.

    “That’s a Dollond,” Dodd said after he’d tried it. “And it works. May I ask how you came by it?”

    “The German officer who owned it gave it to me,” said George easily. “I confess that I didn’t offer him a great deal of choice, but such affairs are accepted in war.”

    “Oh, yes. She’s a beauty, though. I shouldn’t say that, but ’tis true. I’d go to ten guineas real money for the telescope.”

    George gasped. He’d expected less than that for everything.

    “Two guineas for the pistol. It’s good work, but guns are easy here. The watches? Well, they’re Dutch, not as good as English either way. I’ll let you have a guinea apiece.”

    George nodded. He suspected he should bargain, but it wasn’t in him. He’d have boots and good breeches and even a coat. He might visit Mrs. Lovell and her Loyalist house yet.

    “I’ll keep a watch for myself, then,” he said, and picked up the smaller of the two.

    Dodd shook his head. “I’d like you to try to bargain, at least, for the form of the thing. Otherwise, I’ll know I offered too much and I’ll kick myself all day.”

    George rubbed his chin, eager to get the money.

    “Throw in a watch fob, then.”

    Dodd nodded. “That will have to do. Stillwell, count out the money. I take it you want it in hard money? I’d offer more in Continental.”

    “Thanks,” said George with a broad grin. “But we get paid in paper, an’ we know just what it’s worth.”
     
  25. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    John Julius Stewart had learned to dance. He couldn’t dance well, or gracefully, but it scarcely mattered. He could stand up with a woman at a subscription ball or a small set in a private house, and although the act might not give her great pleasure, it was an improvement on a lifetime of mumbled apologies. He danced regularly with Miss Hammond, whom he could now look in the eye, and who tended to tell him the truth of his shortcomings as a dancer; and he could dance with her sister, Miss Poppy, who would prattle about cats and paintings and had he seen the new house being put up on Queen Street? And he could dance with whatever offered on afternoons in the black taverns. He could watch Sally smile with delight every time they completed a set together. It didn’t happen often, as there were few places he would go with her, but late at the tavern he would sometimes fight his way through an easy country dance while the musicians played on and on to please her.

    And then, as spring came, something happened to change her. She became morose and easily angered, listless in a wooden way, and was drunk nearly every time he came to her. Stewart was sufficiently taken with her to care, but he had never fancied himself her sole supporter.

    He found himself making excuses to shun her. He told himself that he shouldn’t see her anyway. He spent more time drilling the Black Guides. He was busy enough with shaping the new draft of recruits from England for his own company and seeing that every man in his company had their new equipment and all their clothes that he didn’t have time to see her every day. It was the busiest time of year for a company commander. Every spring the army issued new clothes, new equipment to bring the army back up to the mark. The work took him out to the lines north of the city and kept him from Sally anyway.

    But when business sent him back to headquarters for the day, as it did when he had to complain to the regimental agent about the quality of shoes he had received, he still preferred to come to the Moor’s Head. Many of the officers in New York did. The music was better, and louder, and the food the best on the island. Jeremy made it plain to him that he preferred to visit the place. It had a rare air to it, with soldiers and sailors and officers, blacks and whites and the occasional Indian all intermingled in the same rooms.

    He often tried to meet Simcoe at the Moor’s Head. Simcoe had grown to be his particular friend since the fall. They planned the future of the war together, bemoaned the defeats at Trenton and Princeton together, and wrote letters to each other. Simcoe’s company was in the Jerseys, too far for daily conversation, but they corresponded as often as practicable. Soldiers of the Black Guides, who watched over the frequent convoys, often carried their letters.

    Stewart was dancing with Mrs. Innes, the handsome sharp-faced woman whose husband was something in the commissary. He was conscious that he had a letter from Miss McLean in his pocket, and that his attention was focused on Sally, who was drunk, and Jeremy, who was attempting to restrain her. He could tell that he was not amusing Mrs. Innes, who clearly expected better of him. He was frustrated, and angry, and felt the weight of layers of his own sins in a way that seems to be the exclusive preserve of the Scots. He saw Simcoe in the doorway and sighed with something like relief, a sound that did not escape his partner.

    “Somehow, Captain, I don’t think I have your full attention.” Mrs. Innes giggled and tapped him lightly with her fan. She was unsure herself how much raillery was acceptable with a man so much older. He bowed to her.

    “Pray, madam, will you excuse me for a few moments?”

    “I cannot promise I will not have gone elsewhere for my dance, Captain,” she said. Stewart walked her over to Simcoe, who was just in the process of handing off his dripping cloak to a maid.

    “Captain Simcoe?”

    “Your servant, Captain Stewart.”

    “And yours, sir. Have you met the lovely Mrs. Innes?” Stewart said, turning to introduce his partner. Captain Simcoe bowed over her hand. She giggled again, her least engaging habit. Simcoe didn’t come in any further, as he was still wearing boots caked in mud, and spurs.

    “I have, too. She giggles. Otherwise, quite engaging. Your servant, ma’am.” Simcoe was wearing a green velvet coat and a double-breasted waistcoat, fine clothes for riding or for an evening in town. He got his gloves off and was still fumbling with his heavy riding boots when Jeremy appeared as if by magic with a bowl of water and a small boy who flung himself on the boots with gusto, pulling them off and carrying them away. Simcoe washed his hands.

    “That boy is smaller than the boots,” said Mrs. Innes.

    “Do you have a dry shirt, Captain Stewart?” Simcoe was embarrassed. “I lost my portmanteau somewhere on the road. Never saw it go. The buckle must have slipped.”

    Jeremy nodded to Stewart. Stewart smiled at his friend. “I do. I have a room upstairs, if you’d like to change.”

    “Your humble servant. Do you ever think, when you are out in the wet on a night like this, how close the comforts of New York are?”

    “I do.”

    “It’s a wonder every officer and man doesn’t desert the lines and come here, especially with such loveliness as these.” Simcoe waved at Mrs. Innes and her friend Miss Amanda Chew. Mrs. Innes giggled. Miss Chew made a face.

    Jeremy led Simcoe upstairs. Stewart talked to Miss Chew for a moment, earning a glare from Mrs. Innes for deserting her. He spoke idly, trying to find Sally in the crowd on the other side of the room. It complicated their lives, that he couldn’t cross to her side of the room any more than she could seek him on his side. He told himself that he only wanted to know how she was.

    Jeremy reappeared with Simcoe, who looked better for Jeremy’s attentions. Mrs. Innes made a motion to indicate that another dance was ready to start and she was impatient with her abandonment.

    Stewart nodded, his attention on Jeremy, who was trying to communicate something.

    “Perhaps Mrs. Innes would be kind enough to accept Captain Simcoe as a replacement while I am gone?” Stewart asked.

    “And I suppose you expect me to relinquish this paragon the instant you reappear? Be warned, Captain. I am not an easy man to displace.” Simcoe, so often grave, was in high spirits.

    Mrs. Innes giggled again, clearly delighted by his attention. Jeremy pulled lightly on Stewart’s arm.

    “I’ll return to see which of us has the better claim, then, ma’am,” Stewart said, and followed Jeremy down a passage.

    “What’s the hurry?”

    “Sally is in a heap in your room. I managed to steer Captain Simcoe to another. I think she means herself a mischief.” Jeremy stopped and leaned in close to him, a hand up on the wall beside him. They were very much of a size, and their eyes were inches apart.

    “You have more power over her than the rest of us, sir. Don’t tell me she means nothing to you.”

    Stewart almost hit his head on the passage wall, he was so taken aback by the look of Jeremy, and his tone. He thought to resent it, but he couldn’t. He knew he had some sort of power over her, and he knew she liked him. The letter in his pocket made it all the worse. He suspected himself of the worst of motivations. He wondered if he had taken a black mistress because somehow that wouldn’t count so much with Mary as a white one. He hung his head a moment.

    “She’s drunk and angry, sir. None of us knows why she’s this way. Caesar says he’s never seen her like this, and Caesar’s man Virgil is beside himself.”

    Stewart suspected that his treatment of Sally would reflect in his relations with all of them. He shook his head, feeling as if he had just taken a series of blows. Then he straightened up.

    “I’ll see what can be done, Jeremy. But she’s more a force of nature than a woman.”

    Jeremy nodded. “I apologize for my tone, sir. I wanted you to see the gravity of the situation.” Stewart noted that Jeremy didn’t look particularly apologetic, and he wondered if his man had a tendresse of his own for Sally.

    “Never mind, Jeremy. If a man can’t bear a reprimand from his manservant, he’s pretty far gone, I guess.” He walked down the passage to the room that Jeremy indicated, and went in.

    It wasn’t the scene from hell he had expected. There were no visible signs of carnage, and Polly White was sitting quietly on the bed. She was reading in the firelight.

    “I came to see her.” Stewart didn’t fully open the door.

    “I’m glad, sir. If you allow, I’ll come for you when she wakes.”

    “Polly, you’re a dear thing. Why is she so bad, of a sudden?”

    Polly looked down at her book, as if it could answer his question. She took so long to answer that he thought perhaps she didn’t intend to speak.

    “I don’ think it’s so sudden, sir. I think that she’s had a hard life, and sometimes it comes home to her. And I think that sometimes she wants a different life, and she can’t see how to get to it from where she is. My father says that great beauty in a woman can be a curse. I think it was, for her.” She looked at the woman on the bed.

    Stewart thought she was going to say more, but she didn’t. He looked at the woman lying on the bed, and the woman sitting on the end of it, and shook his head.

    “There’s truth in what you say, Miss White,” he said, somewhat moved. “Please send for me instantly when she wakes.”


    “We’ll be off across New Jersey in a few weeks,” Simcoe said, rubbing his hands in front of the fire. “I expect the lights will be in the vanguard. We’re to clear the ground back down to the Delaware and reclaim some of the support we’ve lost since Washington’s victories in the winter.”

    “And then on to Philadelphia?”

    Simcoe looked around the tavern as if expecting to spot a spy. He lowered his voice.

    “I wouldn’t expect it. There is a great deal going on at headquarters that is not what we might expect, if you take my meaning.”

    Simcoe so seldom spoke in this manner that Stewart was puzzled to understand him.

    “I can’t say that I do take your meaning, John.”

    Simcoe actually pulled his chair closer.

    “There was supposed to be a grand campaign, with Lord Howe marching north from New York and John Burgoyne, or perhaps Guy Carleton, taking an army south from Quebec, with the objective of taking Albany.”

    “Albany!” Stewart rose to his feet and looked over the map until he found it, up the Hudson. “What the devil do we want with Albany?”

    “The plan was that we would meet there, and split the northern colonies from the southern.”

    Stewart grimaced. “That’s an armchair general’s plan. Something that Gentleman’s Magazine might suggest.”

    “I believe Lord Howe is very much of your mind, John Julius. He has decided to let the northern army take Albany on their own, or perhaps with a little divertissement from General Clinton. He himself intends us for Philadelphia.”

    “Just so.”

    “By sea.”

    Stewart sat back in his chair, struck dumb. All the way south to Virginia, into the mouth of the Chesapeake, up the Chesapeake to the Delaware.

    “One pounce and we’re in his capital,” said Simcoe.

    “That would be a bold stroke.”

    “You see why the march through the Jerseys is nothing but a raid in force.”

    “And I see the necessity. A bold feint that way will pin Washington in place while we go round by sea.”

    Stewart raised his glass. “A glass of wine with you, then. Here’s to a long campaign and many promotions.”

    Simcoe raised his and drank.


    “You were supposed to have it for Christmas, but it wasn’t ready,” Polly said quietly, so as not to awake the sleeper. She handed Caesar a tiny bag of silk, tied off with a fine red ribbon.

    “You gave me a silk roller at Christmas,” he said.

    “I had to give you something, goose!” She rolled her eyes at the eternal blindness of men. He leaned in and kissed her quickly, before she could make an objection, but she didn’t resist in the least. They’d had a talk on the subject, and Caesar now knew where the boundaries that might lead to his ears being boxed lay. He did continue to test them, but warily, like a good soldier on patrol. The enemy sentries remained alert, however.

    He motioned at Sally. Experience with Polly had taught him that he needed to honor her concern for the woman, although Sally was all one to Caesar—she drank, she made trouble, she was a memento from the swamp and had to be tolerated.

    “She’s in a bad way, Julius,” she said.

    “She will drink,” said Caesar, dubiously. Neither Polly nor her father was easily practiced upon, but Caesar rather thought that in this case the soldiers, not the priest, should keep Sally. He had wondered several times why Marcus White continued to help Sally when the relations brought him only gossip and trouble.

    “No, it’s not just that, Julius. She was happy. I think Captain Stewart keeps her happy, though it’s wrong, of course.”

    Caesar tried to hide a smile. “Does she love Mr. Stewart, do you think?”

    “Don’t be a goose, Julius Caesar. She don’t love nobody. But she likes him. She taught him to dance. And then the other day this man came to her…”

    “What man is that, then?” asked Caesar.

    “An ill-looking thin white man. You know the sort, that look mean and pinched whether they will or no?”

    Caesar nodded, staring at the rich red of the ribbon on his present.

    “The man made her afraid. She won’t tell me why, but she hasn’t been the same since. She was shocking to my father, too.”

    Caesar thought that Sally might be shocking to Marcus White in many different ways, but he kept his views to himself.

    “Jeremy blames Captain Stewart,” Caesar said, feeling disloyal to both.

    “Sally thought that Captain Stewart would take her in keeping, and not leave her at Mother Abbott’s,” said Polly, instantly destroying Caesar’s cherished notion that Polly didn’t really know what Sally did to earn her fine clothes and daily bread, or at least needed to be protected from the details. His surprise showed on his face.

    “Oh, Julius Caesar, you can be so blind. Open your present, then.”

    He pulled the bow apart teasingly, enjoying the feel of the satin ribbon and then rubbed it against her cheek.

    “That’s all the present I need,” he said.

    “If I wanted to listen to Jeremy’s compliments, I’d ask for them myself.”

    He wanted to flare with anger, but the truth was that the line did belong to Jeremy. He looked at her, unsure how to react, but she kissed his hand and then the ribbon.

    “Open it, then,” she said.

    He opened the piece of silk and there was a ball of jeweler’s cotton. When he opened it out, there was a gleaming silver whistle on a plaited cord. He gave a startled sound, wordless.

    “That’s beautiful,” he said, wishing to blow it immediately.

    “It’s the shape of Captain Stewart’s, but it has a different note. Sally took his for a few days to get it right. And Virgil plaited the cord.”

    Polly looked down demurely. Caesar kissed her and she responded vigorously. Her eyes half closed, which moved him. Then she ended the kiss, gently but firmly.

    “Listen, will you? I need a favor.” She placed the bed and its sleeping occupant between them. Caesar laughed at her and she smiled back.

    “What do you want, Polly?” She never asked him for anything, but made him shirts and gave him silver whistles.

    “I need to borrow your drummer, Sam. I need him to run some errands for me.” Something about the manner of her asking made him a trifle suspicious, but he could hardly refuse. Sam ran everyone’s errands. His cherubic looks made him seem even younger than he really was, if you ignored his eyes.

    “Thank you, Caesar,” she said, coming back around the bed.

    Caesar thought that it might be time to test her boundaries again, but Sally picked that awkward moment to wake up, and the chance was gone.
     
  26. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    A month’s military activity made Polly a memory, left in New York when the light troops of the army moved suddenly into the Jerseys. Caesar relished the memory, though, pulling out her whistle and feeling its smoothness with his thumb for a moment, a habit he had developed from the day he got it.

    He blew it, and his pickets went loping out to the little hilltop where he had ordered them. Lieutenant Crawford watched him avidly.

    “Virgil, take the right platoon around through the outbuildings and cover the back. Sergeant Fowver, straight over the hill through the woodlot. Tonny, with me. Leave a file on that little copse by the road to guide the advance guard. If they come before I get back, tell them those woods on the little ridge ain’t cleared yet.”

    This sort of patrol had been their daily bread on the advance through the Jerseys, moving at the front of the army and looking at the ground. They had learned to be well ahead, and to leave men in secure posts to provide some communication with the advance guard. They had learned the fine art of being guides in more than name.

    They had another advantage, too.


    Lieutenant Crawford stood politely in the dooryard of the little farm, resplendent in an old red coat with no lace and decent smallclothes. His fighting clothes were better than any New Jersey farmer had seen in some time, and he overawed the middle-aged man who had presented himself at the door.

    “Have you turned out in the militia for the rebels, sir?” asked Crawford. A file of Caesar’s men was standing behind him. Not threatening, but very much present.

    “I have not, sir.”

    “Do you own a firearm?”

    “I never seen the need, as the Indians are a long ways away.” The farmer was anything but friendly. The fear hadn’t lasted long, and he was just on the border of respect.

    “Are any of your neighbors in the rebel militia?”

    “I can’t say.” His wife was much younger, although already worn. Several children were gathered in the hall, including one young man of sixteen or seventeen.

    Crawford tried anyway, his Scots accent minimal.

    “Sir, you realize we are here as soldiers of the king to protect you and your neighbors from these rebels. We mean you no harm. We are not the army that burns farms, I think.”

    His words were lost on the farmer, and probably on his brood, as they stood silent in their house. Nearer New York, Crawford had been fed tea or chocolate at the more prosperous houses. Here, he wasn’t even offered well water.

    Caesar came around from the big barn with two muskets and their accoutrements, each with its little tail of straw that told of where they had been hidden. Two young slaves trotted at his heels.

    “Bergen County Militia. He’s senior sergeant in the second platoon of Captain Meyer’s company, and his son is one of his soldiers.” The slaves smiled broadly. Caesar made quite a show of handing them the muskets.

    “You Christian men? Good, then.” He looked them over. “You have names?”

    The short one in the little straw hat poked out his chest.

    “I’m Moses Shaw and this is my brother Abraham.” They both smiled. “We guess we’re free.” They chuckled with mirth.

    “You are free if you swear to uphold King George and serve him in his army.” This was now the line that Caesar used every time they met with slaves in the Jerseys, though it was a most liberal interpretation of Lord Howe’s orders.

    “Raise your right hands and repeat after me. When I say I, you each say your names.” Both men raised their hands, smiling less and clutching their new muskets awkwardly. The other Guides, at least those with no immediate duties, formed up in two neat lines in the farmyard, with Sergeant Fowver and Virgil prodding the inept and awkward into the ranks.

    “I,” said Caesar.

    “Moses Shaw,” said Moses.

    “Abraham,” said Abraham.

    “Do swear that I enter freely and voluntarily into His Majesty’s service, and I do enlist myself without the least compulsion or persuasion into the Black Guides commanded by Captain Stewart, and that I will demean myself orderly and faithfully, and will cheerfully obey all such directions as I may receive from my said captain, or the officers or noncommissioned officers under his command, and that I will continue to serve His Majesty in all such services as I may be employed in during the present rebellion in America—

    “So help me God.”

    The farmer tried to protest to Lieutenant Crawford that these were not his muskets, and that he couldn’t run the farm if his slaves were taken.

    Crawford smiled a little wolfishly.

    “Sergeant—I may call you that, mayn’t I? You are hereby a prisoner of war on parole, taken in arms against His Majesty, and it’s very lucky for you that I haven’t the men or the inclination to take you back to New York.”

    The man turned pale. Men died in the prison hulks of New York harbor.

    “Further, as you are a rebel, your slaves are free men. They have chosen to enlist in His Majesty’s army, which shouldn’t surprise you. You may, perhaps, feel that they bear you some ill will, and I recommend that you consider well what you are at, sir. I hereby require you to present yourself to the sheriff of this county in the next fortnight to sign an oath of loyalty to His Majesty. If you do not do so, or if anyone reports that you turn out to serve the rebels, we’ll return. Do you understand?”

    The man was watching his slaves and his muskets filing out on to the road. The loss was enormous, if calculated as property.

    “Do you understand, sir?”

    The man nodded. He clenched his fists by his side and opened them.

    Caesar came up to Crawford, saluted, and handed him a military pack.

    “In case you had any doubts, sir.” In the pack was a set of shirts, a homespun overshirt like those the militia and even some of the rebels wore, and a knitted cap. Caesar pointed to the pack, which was painted with the insignia “III VA.” Crawford took out the cap. Embroidered around the base of the cap was the motto “Liberty or Death”. He held it up.

    “It puzzles me how you Americans can prate about liberty while you own slaves,” he said. “I’ll keep this. It ought to fetch a good price from the laggards in New York.”

    Caesar rifled the pack, which had a broken strap, and sniffed it. It smelled of smoke.

    “This ain’t been around here long, sir.”

    He looked at the farmer.

    “When did this pack get here? You, there. The tall boy. Step out here.”

    There looked to be resistance for a moment. In the end, good sense won out and the older boy stepped out. Caesar sent him off to the barn with Virgil.

    Crawford nodded. They were learning to question rebel sympathizers separately, so that they couldn’t coach each other.

    “What are you bastards doing to my boy?” cried the father.

    “He’ll be questioned. When did the patrol come through your farm?”

    “I don’t know.” He was white and shaking. His wife was clutching him from behind. Crawford hated these scenes, as these people were essentially Englishmen and he despised having to brutalize them. It reminded him of bad times in Scotland. He thought of the slaves outside, the lives they led, and hardened his heart.

    “I’d recommend you reconsider. I can take you or your son to New York, and I will if I feel you are placing my men in danger.”

    “What are you doing to my son?” shouted the man. He looked over to where Moses and Abraham were standing with the other Guides on the little road that led past the farmyard. “What did we ever do to you that you would betray us like this?” He raised his fists at them and they both flinched, although they had guns and he had none.

    Caesar stepped up to him, very close, where he could smell the man’s breath and the fear in his sweat.

    “It isn’t about them, sir. It’s about you. You are the traitor. You have been serving the rebels. You get to pay the fiddler now. An’ if Mr. Crawford wants to know when the patrol passed, I think you’d do well to tell him. You have a mighty big family to be taking these risks with.” He was a foot taller than the man, and he quailed.

    “Yesterday, damn you. Rot the lot of you. Yesterday.” He spat.

    Caesar watched him, unimpressed.

    “How long were they here?”

    “Not long. They told us to hide the muskets…” The man stopped, knowing he had said too much.

    “So they knew we was coming? What did they tell you, exactly?”

    The man looked at his wife as if he needed support.

    “Don’t look at her,” said Caesar. He had stepped past Crawford now. Crawford couldn’t force himself on a man like this. Caesar didn’t like it, but he found it was easier with the slave owners. They feared all blacks and responded appropriately. He felt that somehow it made their punishment fit the crime. He thought of the ancient Caesar, crucifying the men who would have made him a slave.

    “Don’t look at her, little man. Look at me. What did they say?”

    “They said…” The man was ready to sob. He looked like a cornered animal. He glanced at his wife and daughters, his younger son, and Caesar, who was doing his best to look like the image of vengeful Africa. “They said a company of blacks might come through, an’ we’d best hide our muskets and keep quiet.”

    Crawford shook his head. “Was that so hard, sir?”

    Caesar threw him a glance, asking him to stay quiet.

    “What else did they say? Tell me, now. They knew we was a company of blacks, you say?”

    The man was gray. His wife and family were now crying.

    “Want to cough your life out in the hulks?”

    “I won’t, neither,” said the man, clawing for self-respect. The fact that he said he wouldn’t, though, served to point out that he had more left to say. Caesar nodded.

    “Very brave,” he said, and motioned to the file.

    “Take him.”

    The man held to his resolve as they tied him and led him into the yard. Caesar went off to the barn, where the boy glowered at Virgil, who sat smoking quietly.

    “Any trouble?”

    “Boy said he’d kill me if’n I harmed his pa, which is kinda’ funny considerin’ I’m here with him.”

    Caesar nodded and walked around the barn back to the yard. He had a notion what it was the man wouldn’t tell. He knew which unit the Third Virginia was. He remembered them from Long Island. He stood in front of the defiant man for a moment, as if considering. Then he walked slowly around the man until he was behind him.

    “Your boy says they came through late last night. He says they meant to lie in ambush for us. That right?”

    The man sagged. His whole body seemed to shrink, as if the courage was flowing from him. He tried to turn to face Caesar, but Tonny held him.

    “Let him go,” said Caesar to Tonny.

    The man wouldn’t meet his eye.

    “Look at me.”

    The man flinched away.

    “Look at me, mister. Tell me what they said.”

    “Promise you won’t hurt my boys.”

    “I won’t if you don’t give me cause.”

    “They were a big company. They said they was goin’ to lie for you at Dick’s farm, down the pike. Dick’s got a parcel more slaves than I do, they figured you’d go there.”

    Caesar looked at him carefully, and nodded, although his blood was up now.

    “Get his boy and put them all together.” He still sounded threatening.

    Crawford came up to him. “I hope that was worth it, Sergeant. We just made these people rebels for life.”

    “I think they were already there, sir.”

    “I think that war is a lot uglier than I had thought,” said Crawford.


    “How’d they know we was comin’?” asked Paget. The story was all over the company in a flash, helped by the additional testimony of Moses and Abraham. Virgil heard him and frowned.

    “Stow it, Paget. There’s hundreds of ways they could know. They have scouts, too.” They moved quickly over a hill, well away from the rebel house in the little valley, and then halted.

    Caesar ran up and tapped Tonny and Silas Van Sluyt, the fastest runners in the company. “Follow me,” he said. They ran to the crest of the hill, where Crawford was waiting with Sergeant Fowver.

    “I want to take these two and follow that boy.”

    Crawford shook his head.

    “What boy?”

    “The one at the house. He’ll head off to warn the Virginians as soon as they think they are safe.”

    Crawford shook his head.

    “Damn me for a green boy. Of course they will. My apologies, Sergeant Caesar, I should have seen that—”

    “Never you mind, sir. I’d like to take these three an’ follow on his heels. We’ll see how they lie and report back. You can send to Captain Stewart an’ bring up the advance guard, if you are of a mind to.”

    “I do like being managed by a professional, Sergeant Caesar. It is good for my amour-propre. Very well, carry on.”

    “Yes, sir.” He winked at Fowver, who gave him a quick smile. Then he ran.


    They almost missed the boy, because he chose to run right out on to the road, and they had never counted on him being so daring and so blind. Once they had him, however, they paced him easily, running well behind and off to the boy’s left. They lost him several times, when they had to go well off the path to detour round woodlots or patches of muck, but his white shirt and old green waistcoat made him an easy mark on the dusty road.

    He ran over a mile before he flagged. Caesar wasn’t even into his pace yet when the boy stopped, breathing hard. The Guides all lay down. The boy breathed a moment and then left the road, bearing west. Caesar sent his men well to the left and right, so that if the boy tried to mislead them or double back, one was bound to spot him. He didn’t do any such thing. Guileless as a lamb, he ran cross country, as straight as a ball from a rifle-gun, until an outpost challenged him. Again, Caesar threw himself flat and then began to crawl up. He could see Tonny off to his right, but he didn’t know whether Van Sluyt was still with them. He could hear the boy speaking in a rush, could hear the excitement in his tone but not the words themselves. He moved closer. He motioned to Tonny. Tonny pointed at something off to his own right, and Caesar had to wonder if it was another post. There were a great many rebels out here, if they could space their posts so closely.

    Caesar nodded to Tonny and pointed back to where they’d come. He pointed at his chest and made a little gorget with his finger, then patted his shoulder as if he had an epaulet. He saw Tonny brighten as if he understood, and begin to move away slowly until he had a few trees between him and the sentries, and then, with a wave, he was gone.

    Caesar was alone.

    He lay flat and stripped his equipment off until he was wearing only his jacket. He took the hunting sword out of its scabbard carefully and then began to creep forward alone. The post was on a little knoll, shaded by a big chestnut tree and guarded by a loose abatis of fallen branches piled around like an open fence.

    There was only one man in the post. The other had gone off with the boy. He hadn’t gone far, because his musket was propped against the great chestnut tree that provided the post with its cover of branches. Caesar crept closer, urged to move faster by the knowledge that the boy was getting farther away with every moment, but he relied on caution to take him close, and he crawled.

    Time passed. The sun beat down on his back and he sweated rivers through his coat. He was up to the little abatis of downed branches that the pickets had made, and he prepared himself. Far off, carried on the wind, he heard the slight rattle and clank of a well-ordered company on the move, and he knew that the Guides were down on the road and moving fast. They would still be over a mile away. He rolled up and caught his foot in a branch. He saw the sentry flinch in surprise, then reach for his musket, which was a few feet away. He wrenched his foot clear and threw himself forward, but the man bent to his musket, took it, and aimed. The seconds slid by as Caesar ran, already doomed, at the man. He saw the cock fall on the hammer, the sparks, the ignition of the powder in the priming pan, all as if they were separate acts, and he threw himself down.

    Damp or ill-maintained, the gun hung its fire for some fraction of time that saved him. He felt the heat from it, and the ball scored his shoulder and down his back. He rose in a leap, the sound of the shot still in his ears. The man had his mouth open to shout when Caesar cut with the sword and hacked him down, but he could already hear shouts of alarm in the distance and he cursed his own eagerness.

    The man at his feet gurgled. He was cut badly in the neck and Caesar killed him, squeamish about cutting a man who couldn’t fight back but too aware that the man was all but dead already and in pain, like an animal. His blood was everywhere and couldn’t be hidden.

    The shouts of alarm grew and Caesar moved a little forward into the shadow of more of the big trees. He was in an old woodlot, he could now see, and there was the farmhouse below him in a little vale. He could see the coats of the Virginians as they moved about, probably forming up. They looked confused.

    One man was running back toward the post that Caesar had just taken. Caesar thought the man was probably the file partner of the dead man. Before he could reach the post a shot rang out and the man went down, hit somewhere low. He gave a sudden sharp scream of pain and then lay still for a moment. Caesar tried to follow the line of the shot and saw Van Sluyt reloading on his back on the next knoll. Caesar broke from cover and ran for his equipment, only forty paces to the rear but now seeming like a mile, and there were shots. None came near him, and he had no way of knowing if the shots were even meant for him. He reached the log where he had left his kit and rolled behind it. His fowler was loaded and ready and he scooped his bag and horn over his shoulder, cleaned the blade of the little sword as well as he could on the grass while lying flat, and put it in the scabbard, and then buckled on his pack. The whole process seemed to take forever. He worried about Van Sluyt, left alone on the hilltop. Van Sluyt had seen action, but not like this, not alone, and Caesar feared to have the man’s blood on his conscience.

    But he was an old soldier, and he hated being far from his equipment. He had feared that if they were driven off he’d never see his carefully gathered kit again. He heard another flurry of shots and rose to his feet, and ran back up the far knoll toward Van Sluyt. He heard Van Sluyt fire, felt relief that the man was still fighting and alive, and then saw the Virginians right in front of him, ten men coming up the knoll.

    Caesar fired into them with no apparent effect. The sound of the second shot gave them pause, though. A big man at their head looked to the left and right and Caesar blew his whistle three times, as loud as he could. In the distance, his whistle was answered. He watched the big man as he reloaded, knowing him as the slave-taker who had nearly killed Jim and Virgil in the swamp. He had fought the man on Long Island and he didn’t think his presence in an ambush laid for them in New Jersey was happenstance. He watched a man aiming at him and he rolled back behind a tree. His back hurt like hell.

    Van Sluyt fired into them and missed. They were spreading out now and moving back toward their main body, which was just visible through the trees in the farmyard. Caesar leaned well out and took his time with his shot. He couldn’t get a line on the big man, so he shot another, who went down. He blew his whistle again. The answer was closer.

    “Keep them amused,” he said to Van Sluyt. It was one of Simcoe’s sayings, and he liked it. Silas nodded happily. Caesar ran off down the knoll and back along the path they had run up until he found the Guides moving at the double over the open fields. Lieutenant Crawford was running well, right in the center of the front as if they were running on parade.

    “Just over the little ridge, sir. About a company. They’ve called in their ambush and it looks like they’re leaving.”

    Out of breath, Crawford merely nodded and panted. He turned and trotted back a few paces, looking at the men, and put his whistle in his mouth, then spread his arms wide and blew twice. They began to pound up the hill, the line extending itself as they went, and again Caesar felt that burst of pride in them. Moses and Abraham, green as grass, were following Paget and Virgil. The line extended out and out, seventy strong, and they came to the knoll almost together, as pretty as any company Caesar had ever seen. Van Sluyt was smiling like a loon, nodding his head, and Caesar grabbed him by the shoulder.

    “Where are they?”

    Van Sluyt pointed past the house to the road beyond it, where they could just see a little rearguard forming on the road.

    “Well done, Silas.”

    Van Sluyt continued to smile.

    By the time they swept through the farm, no one was smiling. There was an old black man in the yard, hanging from a tree, and a black woman was dead on the ground, her throat slit. Otherwise, the farm was empty.

    They chased hard for over an hour, firing at various ranges and trying to provoke the rebels to stand, but they weren’t raw anymore. They ran well, kept together, and both Crawford and Caesar feared they might be led into a second ambush. They had to break the pursuit when the Virginians entered a narrow defile covered in thick woods. None of them wanted to risk that there weren’t a hundred enemy sheltered just inside. The rebels jeered at them when they halted. They halted immediately, over half a mile away, and fired a volley that hurt no one.

    Caesar and Van Sluyt together had knocked three of them down, and they had one prisoner, an older man who had not been able to keep up the pace. It wasn’t much to show for a day spent running, and they were weary men when they marched back to the farmstead where the Virginians had prepared to ambush them.


    “We didn’t lose a man, though,” said Crawford, scraping the pork stew out of his little china bowl. The farmhouse had been deserted, and Crawford had not complained as the Guides pillaged it and the surrounding barns. The owners had decamped, indicating where their allegiance lay.

    “Last fall, all these farms declared they was loyal,” said Caesar. He looked out over the little hills in the failing spring light. “I remember when we came through here in November.”

    “Trenton changed that,” said Crawford. He looked guilty, as if just saying the words was disloyal.

    Caesar nodded and ate.

    “We’ll win them back when we take Philadelphia and end the war,” said Crawford. Caesar kept eating.

    He was watching the smooth conduct of his mess groups. Women didn’t cook in the British Army. The men cooked for themselves, usually in the same groups that shared a tent and fought together. One man carried the tin kettle for cooking, and another carried the shovel or the ax. Mess groups were usually little families within the company, although the newer ones could be more like little wars, as men struggled for dominance or fought to resist tyranny and avoid the worst chores. The new man always cleaned the pot and carried it and most of the rations.

    When he looked at them, he saw them as individuals and then as mess groups and platoons. He thought about the surprising calm and courage of Van Sluyt, considered the change in Paget and the steady virtue of Virgil, the quick wit of Tonny, the solidity of Fowver. He watched Moses and Abraham struggle with sand and straw to clean a pot. He watched Jim directing his mess group with unlooked-for authority. Jim was ready to be a corporal.

    He thought of how many blacks he’d liberated in the last few days, either into his own ranks or back to New York City, and he wondered a moment why he no longer saw them as BaKongo or Yoruba or Ashanti, but only as black. Perhaps the change had been gradual, but he couldn’t remember it. He could remember how important it had seemed on the plantation. The war had changed it all.

    “Do you think we’ll win the war, Lieutenant Crawford?” he asked.

    Crawford looked at him as if he had blasphemed.

    “Can we fail? We’ve been beaten a handful of times. We beat them whenever we find them. They’ll never build an army that can defeat us.”

    Caesar ate a little more and watched twilight fall, already concerned for his outposts. Something was nagging at him.

    “If we don’t win, every man in this company is a slave again, sir.”

    Crawford looked at him with sudden comprehension.

    “If you lose, you get to go home to England.”

    “Scotland, Sergeant.”

    Caesar was suddenly impatient with Crawford. “Scotland, then. You go home. The white Loyalists will go to Jamaica, or Florida, or Canada. But we’ll be slaves. Forever. Or they’ll hang us.”

    Crawford looked at him strangely, like a man who has discovered a friend has a terrible disease.

    “We’d better win, then,” Crawford whispered.

    “Aye. Aye, but it isn’t looking that way.” Caesar realized he had bottled the thought up since the first defeats at Great Bridge in Virginia. He shook his head. “My apologies, Mr. Crawford.”

    “None needed. This war…this war is ugly.”

    Caesar didn’t like the look of the future, so he contented himself with the outposts.

    “I think we ought to move before we sleep. We made fires here.” Caesar pointed at the little smudge of smoke in the sky.

    Crawford looked as if he wanted to protest, but the silent Fowver nodded and he was quick enough to nod as well.

    “Just so,” he said, imitating his hero.

    “These people sure hate us,” Caesar said, thinking of the family they had questioned and the old man hanged. He stooped to grab a handful of the sandy soil and used it to wipe his little wooden bowl clean. Then he pushed the bowl into his pack and motioned to his mess group to douse the fire and get their packs on. They grumbled, but they moved. He stood up, admiring the quick way that Crawford cleaned his little knife and fork and readied himself without fuss. Crawford was green, but he learned fast, and he never slowed them down.

    “What of it? They have betrayed their king, and they will pay the price.”

    Caesar shrugged, pulling the straps of his pack over his shoulders. He thought he knew a little more about hate than Lieutenant Crawford did, and there was something at the edge of his mind, about hate, and fear, and how it could serve to bring men together the way the Guides were together.

    And he wondered how the Virginians had known where to wait for them.

    “They do hate us, though,” he said, and went to form the company.
     
  27. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    Washington squirmed a little in the big chair while Billy dusted his boots. Washington had not grown up rich and had never become accustomed to having other men fuss at him, and he couldn’t abide having anyone put on his boots. Lee put the pulls into his hand and he set the right boot on his foot and pulled it smoothly up his calf to the knee before attacking the left, which never seemed to fit quite as well.

    “Here’s another report that the British fleet has left Sandy Hook, General,” said Colonel Hamilton. Hamilton, despite his West Indian origins, was probably the wittiest, most sensible and genteel of the permanent staff. Washington grunted slightly as his left heel finally slid home in his boot, and then sat back so that Lee could set about his hair.

    “By all accounts they sailed on the twenty-fourth,” Washington said quietly.

    “Where bound, is the question,” said his Irish aide, Fitzgerald, with a stretch and a yawn that drew a grave look from the general.

    “They can land anywhere they like,” said Hamilton. “Up the Hudson, the Jersey shore, or around Cape May and into the Chesapeake.”

    “It certainly explains the withdrawal of their forces from the Jerseys,” said Washington. “I have long feared that Lord Howe, as I believe he is now styled, would decide to use the full mobility that his brother’s fleet allows him. I believe that our fears are now upon us. With Ticonderoga fallen to Burgoyne, it must seem to Howe that he needn’t cooperate with Burgoyne, and can launch some scheme of his own. How I wish for better intelligence.”

    “How I pray we may yet have it,” said Hamilton, arranging the military letters that Washington would have to read for himself.

    Lee put a curl on each side of Washington’s head with economy and then stood back to measure the effect, smiled, and handed his master a plain buff wool waistcoat. Washington pushed it away.

    “Give me a double-breasted one, Billy. I’m always chilled in the morning.”

    Lee took another from a trunk and brushed it.

    “Any other business today, gentlemen?”

    “Can you bear another foreign officer, General?” asked Johnson. Fitzgerald made antic motions as if he were an ape. Hamilton rose and took snuff with theatrical gestures that were clearly meant to be French. Even Billy Lee, the slave, felt free to join the laughter.

    “What has Mr. Deane sent us this time?” Silas Deane, the Continental Congress’s appointed diplomat in Paris, had developed the annoying tendency of granting Continental Army commissions to foreigners on the spot. Some of his appointments outranked existing American veterans, who were angry to find themselves outranked by foreign aristocrats. Most of the aristocrats seemed to feel their time in America could best be spent educating ignorant Americans about their own superior martial virtues. It could be quite wearing, witness Colonel Hamilton’s continuing charade.

    “A marquis,” said Hamilton, desisting from his antics instantly.

    “Come,” said Johnson. “That’s handsome in Deane, I must say. We’ve had our fill of chevaliers and barons, so a marquis will make a nice change.”

    An uncomfortable silence fell.

    All Washington’s aides were young. They had to be, as he led them a rough and hard life, but sometimes the general’s rather staid sense of humor oppressed the young men. They knew he was tired of the foreign officers, but each was suddenly aware that they had offended him, or rather, taken their humor beyond some definite line of his approval.

    Johnson stood up.

    “My apologies, sir. I let my tongue get the better of me.”

    “Not for the first time,” muttered Hamilton, quietly, and Johnson rounded on him like a cat annoyed by another, but Washington was quicker than either.

    “Very well, gentlemen. Let’s see this marquis. I do hope we can all master our humor in his presence, as I’m sure that his good opinion of us will carry heavy weight with His Catholic Majesty, the King of France, on whom we are very dependent. Do I make myself clear?” Every Frenchman had claimed that their opinions carried great weight with the King of France, and apparently a few of them were telling the truth.

    “Colonel Hamilton, who is the officer of the day?”

    Hamilton opened his orderly book and ran through a list of names.

    “Our officer of the day is Lieutenant Lake of the light company, Third Virginia.”

    Washington looked at him.

    “Recall him to me.”

    “Intelligent, fit, soldierly. Up from the ranks—began the war as an apprentice to a hat maker, I believe. Led the charge on the Hessian guns at Trenton.” Hamilton knew these facts by heart. He had been the one to notice Lake at Trenton. Hamilton liked to see the self-made men rise.

    Washington nodded as Billy began to help him into his coat.

    “Very well, then. Send for him a little after the marquis arrives.”

    Hamilton nodded and made a note.


    The man who presented himself in the front parlor was of average height or a little less and well dressed, in a dark blue velvet coat and with a beautiful sword that had already excited the admiration of every soldier who beheld it. It was a hunting sword, short and broad, with a heavy blade and a black horn hilt worked in silver. The coat and the sword went together and spoke of wealth, which made today’s Frenchman a distinct entity, in that most of the men Deane had sent were clearly poor, if not destitute.

    He was young, too—perhaps only twenty-one or twenty-two—and he stood before them with so much selfpossession that his bearing was like a lesson in genteel behaviour. Indeed, Hamilton said later that he liked the man before he ever opened his mouth.

    He waited until Washington was done speaking. Washington had been addressing the commissariat officer on a scheme to increase their stock of shoes, a subject that could only be of interest to a veteran. The young man stood still, his manner open and yet expectant, a small but wonderfully candid smile upon his face as if to say that, just by being there, he had reached the summit of his ambition. For their part, the staff were content just to regard a man of such wealth and breeding. Washington completed his animated conversation on shoes and Mr. Turnbull, the commissary, bowed and withdrew. Washington turned the full weight of his gaze on the young man and his eyes widened imperceptibly as he, in turn, took in the coat, the sword, and the youth of the man.

    “The Marquis de Lafayette,” said the captain of the guard.

    “Please allow me to introduce my…self,” said the young man, “as our titles are not easy on the ears of a young republic. I am Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Montier. In France I am the marquis, it is true, but here, I think not, yes? So I will be just Mr. Gilbert du Montier.”

    He bowed to them all, managing in a single bow to include every man present but present his deepest respect to Washington.

    Washington returned the bow.

    “How may I serve you, Marquis?”

    The young man smiled again, a wonderful smile.

    “But it is I who seek to serve you!” He drew his sword in a flourish and handed it to Washington hilt first with a bow. He moved with more grace in the instant of that bow than any of them had ever seen, but then, none of Washington’s staff had seen a Versailles-trained aristocrat before.

    Washington watched him with surprise. Other Frenchmen had been theatrical, but despite the theatrical presentation of the sword, no one present could resent it. Perhaps the other aspirants hadn’t smiled quite as well. He touched the beautiful sword hilt and leaned forward.

    “Why do you seek to serve with us, Marquis? I understand you have arranged to be appointed a major general. Do you know how rare that rank is here?”

    The smile never faltered. “The rank, it is nothing,” he said. “Liberty now has a country, and I am here to serve her.”

    Washington was moved by the young man’s frankness, but his experience had made him wary. Washington waved the sword away.

    “Then serve her, not me. I am not a king, or emperor, to take your sword.” He looked away, trying to hide that he was moved. “Do you have any military experience?” he asked.

    “None that would apply in a young republic, Monsieur le Général,” he said. “I have been an officer, it is true. I commanded a troop in the Mousquetaires Gris de la Maison du Roi until they were, as you say it, taken from the establishment. I was second in command of an esquadrille in the regiment of my father-in-law, the Comte de Noailles.”

    Hamilton nodded to Johnson and bent over him. “A guards unit. Very prestigious.” Johnson nodded.

    “And then?”

    “Nothing, General. I have never seen action, nor commanded more than two hundred men. But I am afire for liberty, and I have brought equipment and money. I will buy you shoes, if that is the only way I can be of service. I am not poor. I require no pay, no special allowance, nothing. I ask only to serve you with my sword and my heart’s blood.”

    The marquis had them all spellbound, and obscurely, Washington wished he had Martha by him to tell him what to think of a man who exuded so much charm, such palpable enthusiasm. Behind the young marquis, he saw his guard captain, Caleb Gibbs, make a motion and the door opened a little.

    “Please take a seat, Marquis,” he said. All his aides found themselves chairs, and the marquis sank into one with enviable grace. Most of the men felt a little dirty just looking at him in his perfectly tailored clothes, his sparkling white stock and cuffs. Hamilton couldn’t resist the urge to look at his own shirt cuffs, and having inspected them, to hide them under his coat.

    “Lieutenant Lake of the Third Virginia,” said Captain Gibbs.

    Lieutenant Lake couldn’t have presented a greater contrast to the figure in the chair. His blue coat had faded to a color closer to the color of mud, and his linen was, despite his best efforts, dirty everywhere it showed. A long visible thread at his cuff indicated that the fabric was losing its edging. He wore a captured Hessian sword with the blade cut short, and he carried a plain Charleville musket with the bayonet affixed. He stood straight as an arrow, anything but at his ease, and waited for his doom. It was clear from his demeanor that he expected the worst.

    “Lieutenant Lake, I have never had the chance to convey my compliments for the dashing way in which I saw you take the guns in King Street at Trenton.” Washington seldom had the time to compliment his officers. In fact, a lifetime of experience warned him against it. Compliments often ruined the young, he thought, but then he had an unaccustomed thought of Braddock, who had been quite free with praise.

    George Lake swelled to almost twice his former size.

    “Thankee, General.”

    “I understand that you are becoming a fine officer. I thought that as this was your first day as officer of the day for our section of the camp, I would take the opportunity to thank you.”

    Lake was too moved, and too awestruck, to speak.

    The marquis shot from his chair and grabbed him by the hand with both of his.

    “This is the genuine hero!” he said, bowing and clasping Lake’s hand. Lake seemed to see him for the first time.

    “The Marquis de Lafayette,” said Hamilton into the silence, trying to introduce the two from a distance of twenty feet.

    “A pleasure, Marquis,” Lake croaked out. On balance, he thought facing the Hessians again would be easier than this sort of thing.

    “Please, monsieur, the pleasure is all mine. You have been a soldier a long time?”

    Lake bowed a little, as he had seen the gentry do whenever they spoke civilly to one another, and nodded. “Just two years, sir. Marquis.”

    The marquis nodded enthusiastically.

    “It is the same with me, except that I have never taken a Hessian gun. Two years, General, and he is an officer of merit. I will give him my sword,” he suited the action to the word, “and carry a musket for two years until I have performed such a deed.”

    George Lake found himself holding a sword that must have cost the value of every furnishing in his whole town. The dogs’ heads at the ends of the quillons had most amiable expressions.

    Washington watched him with astonishment. Hamilton eyed the sword with something like lust.

    “Marquis, I think perhaps we can find you a place. May I leave that to you gentlemen?” He turned to Fitzgerald and Johnson. They nodded, bowed deeply to the young man.

    George Lake didn’t want to touch the sword, worried that he’d do it a mischief.

    “Please, sir, Marquis. You’ll be wanting this.”

    Lafayette bowed to him.

    “I give it to you. Perhaps we trade, yes? I have always wanted a Hessian sword like that, and to have it from such a hand as yours makes it beyond price.”

    “I could never take this,” said George Lake.

    Hamilton took his arm.

    “Lieutenant, I think you must.” He smiled and tried to wipe the envy from his mind. “See that you take care of it.”

    “Lord, yes,” breathed Lake.


    “I was struck by his grace,” said Washington, as he rode down the main street of Philadelphia. Several people called after them, or cheered—a pleasant change from a year before.

    “If I may be so bold, sir, I was struck by the handsome way he gave young Lake his sword. Lake’s never seen such a thing in his life, and now he owns it.”

    Washington bowed to acknowledge a group of delegates on a corner and rode on.

    “Yes,” he said finally, after Hamilton thought the moment had passed. “Yes, he won me there. I wanted to see how he’d play to one of our rankers. And he played up like trumps, I thought.”

    “Certainly was a lovely sword, General.”

    Washington was silent again for a while, and then he said, “It was the kind of thing our Government ought to do. In England, they’d give a man a sword with an inscription. Handsomely.” He shook his head. “Another thing to organize. Some sort of society for the officers, when the war is won.”

    Hamilton followed with that last ringing in his ears, because Washington never predicted and seldom bragged.

    When the war is won.

    Later, after Billy had taken his coat and pressed a fresh stock and put him in his nightshirt, Washington was reviewing the temerity of his comment when Billy spoke out, a rare event in itself.

    “That, there, was a fine young man,” he said. He was behind Washington, as he often was when he had something to say.

    Washington, still thinking of the sword and the possibility of winning the war, looked around, distracted. “Who, Billy? Lieutenant Lake?”

    Billy laughed, musically. It was a feminine laugh for so big a man. “He seems fine enough, sir, if a little comic. No, sir, I meant the foreign gentleman.”

    “Ah, Lafayette?”

    “Yes, sir! I liked him directly. An’ I thought a funny thing, sir. Which I wanted to say, if allowed.”

    “Go ahead, Billy. There’s never been secrets between us two.”

    “He’s like your son, sir. If’n you had one.”


    As he was on duty for the staff that day, Lake was sporting his best clothes, worn though they were. They had been new when the twelve guineas had been paid over, but constant service had already ruined the two new shirts, and the smallcothes were dull with dirt. The new sword and its beautiful belt of red silk and gold lace looked odd against his stained waistcoat, and he covered the magnificence of the belt with his sash during the rest of his duty.

    When he was done, he borrowed a clothes brush from one of the servants at headquarters and gave himself a good brushing, and then took himself to the fine brick house near the City Tavern to pay his respects. He told himself that he owed it to the lady of the house to thank her for her help in selling his plunder.

    A pretty Irish girl opened the door and made a curtsy to him, an unaccustomed politeness. He smiled back.

    “Lieutenant Lake to see Mrs. Lovell,” he said, and she showed him into the hall. She gave a sniff when she got a better look at his clothes, and his spirits plummeted.

    She vanished and was replaced a few moments later by a middle-aged man rather run to fat, dressed in resplendent black wool with fancy buckled shoes. George bowed and the man returned it very civilly.

    “It is not often that one of Mr. Washington’s officers graces me with his attentions.”

    George was not familiar enough with civil society to know what to make of this apparent raillery, nor to know how to deal with a man to whom he had not been introduced. He bowed again. “I had hoped—”

    “To see my wife? She’s in the drawing room, where I’ll escort you. Damn, don’t they feed you in the Continental Army? I’m Silas Lovell, by the way. And I remain loyal to my king.”

    George was somewhat taken aback by the last declaration and indeed was feeling quashed by the whole experience, so that when he entered the parlor he missed Betsy altogether. He made a small bow to Mrs. Lovell, sitting by the fire in a wingback chair.

    “Your servant, ma’am,”

    “George Lake. Goodness, sir, have a seat. Mary, put a cloth on that chair. Lieutenant Lake, your breeches are too…filthy to be intimate with my furniture.”

    George sat hesitantly and realized that Betsy was behind her mother, smiling at him where her parents couldn’t see her.

    “I called to thank you for your kindness in sending me to Dodd’s, ma’am.”

    “I thought he might serve you. But you might have bought some new clothes.”

    “These are new, ma’am. Or were.”

    Silas Lovell laughed. “Dear heart, the army of Congress has no money, no clothes and no food. Mr. Lake is doing the best he can by us, I’m sure. Look at the quality of the sword he’s wearing!” He leaned over. “May I see it, sir?”

    “With pleasure.” George hadn’t had it out of the scabbard since he had buckled it on. His reasons were superstitious. He still didn’t feel it was really his. He drew it and handed it to Mr. Lovell.

    “Superb. French, I think. Yes, a Klingenthal. There is the mark. My goodness, sir, that must be worth a pretty penny. My wife said you were poor?”

    “I am, sir.” He didn’t want to say that it had just been given to him. He’d sound like a beggar or a braggart.

    “And you aren’t afraid of being marked a Tory by visiting this house?”

    “I care little for politics, sir, except that I’m a Patriot and I stand for Congress. But if every man cannot have his say, then there is little point in having liberty.”

    Mr. Lovell turned slowly, his eyes kindled. “That’s a form of sense I haven’t heard often in your camp. In this city, we’ve heard more insistence that every man must love Congress or be a traitor.”

    George nodded. “I hear plenty of that, too.”

    Mr. Lovell looked at him. “Come, don’t you want to call me a traitor? I’m country born and bred, and loyal to the king.”

    “Silas! Stop picking a fight. This boy is too well bred to meet you in an argument in your own home.”

    George wanted to laugh aloud at the notion that he was well bred.

    Mr. Lovell waved the sword in his hand. “I’m sorry, sir. I am so used to this ignorant argument: that I’m a traitor because I stay loyal to my king and his government, and that these men who have overthrown all I hold dear are patriots.”

    George rose. Betsy looked unhappy and George knew he would not come off well from any encounter with Mr. Lovell about politics.

    “I should take my leave,” he said.

    Mr. Lovell lowered the sword and smiled warmly. “No, no. I shall apologize for my warmth. Here is your sword. We will sit to supper in a few moments and I hope you will join us. Indeed, I’ll support Mr. Washington’s army to the cost of a shirt, if my daughter will fetch one from my things. I was not always this gargantuan size, sir.”

    “I couldn’t…”

    “I insist. Go change your shirt and join us for dinner.”

    The dinner was better than anything he had enjoyed in months, and the china dishes and silver were finer than anything he had eaten from in his life, but neither made as great an impression on him as an hour of Betsy’s company. Her gaze, under lowered lids, flicked across his with a flirtation he found both frightening and pleasing. She was older than he had thought, perhaps seventeen. She spoke twice, both times at her mother’s prompting, and it seemed that she spoke directly to him. When the ladies left the room after dinner, it felt empty. He had a pipe with Mr. Lovell, and then insisted that he had to go or be late passing the lines at camp. Mr. Lovell breathed smoke out through his nose and nodded.

    “I’ll see that a boy with a lamp escorts you, then. Please forgive me for my illiberal attacks on Congress, Mr. Lake. It isn’t often I am allowed to speak freely, and even now I dread that you’ll report me to some officer.”

    “I’m sorry you think I have the look of an informer,” said George, rankled. “I care nothing for your politics. I believe every man should speak his mind. But I’ll fight for my cause and not apologize for it.”

    Mr. Lovell had taken a little wine and more sherry. He was not angry at George Lake but he was angry, and the two became mixed.

    “Fine, then. You’ve had my hospitality. You’ve ogled my daughter, who’s to be wed in the spring. Now be gone.”

    Wed in the spring. George bowed and choked out a refusal of the loan of a boy with a lantern. He couldn’t be angry at Mr. Lovell, who was clearly a little drunk. And he barely knew the girl. But it stuck with him, and he had a long walk back to camp in the dark.
     
  28. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    Marcus Antonius #8887
    The summer seemed to pass away on transports. After their raid into the Jerseys, they were back in New York for a month, and then they marched to Sandy Hook and loaded on to boats to be carried out to the waiting ships. Caesar was struck by how few of the Guides had been in boats. It seemed so little time since they had gone ashore in Virginia, but they had been Ethiopians then and there were only a handful left from last year.

    The transports left Sandy Hook and New York and sailed down the coast, then into the Chesapeake Bay. The long, low headlands and the long strips of beach reminded Caesar of his first arrival here. He wondered what might have happened to King, or Queeny, or any of the other blacks he had met in his first life as a slave. The time before the swamp had a dreamlike quality to it, so that he almost doubted whether it had happened. He stayed on deck for hours, watching the low coast go by. No one joined him but Jim, who kept him silent company. He didn’t share his thoughts, but they were gloomy, ruminations on his life as a slave. The longer the war went on, the more he dreaded a return to that condition.

    The fleet was the largest company of ships Caesar had ever seen, and they filled the bay from horizon to horizon. On calm days, they were like an extension of the forest from the land, bare poles like dead trees as far as he could see. When the breeze served, though, it was a sight to lift the heart, with shining white sails set in graceful curves all around him. That sight seemed to be the physical expression of the power of the British Empire, her navy and transports of soldiers all laid out for his view. Surrounded by such power, Caesar couldn’t believe that his freedom was imperiled. They would win the war and be free. He hid his doubts from his men, all except Virgil, whose doubts were deeper and more like fears.

    The voyage seemed to last forever, so that the men grew used to naval rations and endless free time. They sewed and played cards, used up their tobacco and gambled for more from the sailors. Their uniforms improved from the sewing, and Caesar used the time and the cramped space on the brig to best effect, drilling the men in the repetitious line drills that were too often ignored in the hurry of campaign and daily labor. He had to drill them a squad at a time because of the small deck, but this had one benefit, that he got to know every man and watch the performance of every corporal. By the time the fleet finally moved all the way up to Head of Elk, the anchorage at the entrance to the Susquehanna River, his men were the best drilled they had ever been. Even the new recruits were passable soldiers.

    The landing was difficult. According to the first reports, the enemy had not wholly fallen for the ruse of an attack in the Jerseys and was waiting with considerable troops to face the landing in their rear. The Guides were among the first troops to be sent ashore, and Caesar was directed to send two men, Jim Somerset and another of his choice, to scout to the north and east and discover the location of the enemy. Jim took Moses, three days’ rations, and moved off too quickly for goodbyes.

    They moved the camp twice in the next two days, the advance guard feeling its way along small roads, just one cart track wide, that wound between rail fences over the rolling hills. The towns were small but prosperous, and the farms were larger than those in New Jersey, with solid stone houses and silent farmers. There were few blacks here and almost no slaves. The Quakers and Mennonites who made up the bulk of the countryside population didn’t hold with slavery. They didn’t hold much with the British Army, either.

    The third day, Caesar’s men were well out in advance of the army. Shortly after noon, Caesar found himself in the yard of a small farm with less than half of one platoon. The rest were scattered. His company was spread along several miles of roads, providing guides for the light infantry behind them while exploring the country. They had no contact with enemy troops beyond a handful of militia whom they sighted just after first light and chased across a field of tobacco. Caesar broke off the pursuit rather than lose what little organization his company still had.

    A party of dragoons came up in late afternoon and told him that Captain Stewart’s company was coming along behind them, collecting his guides as they came, and that his post would be relieved shortly. The officer of the dragoons wanted to press forward to look at the road north to Kennett’s Square, on the main road to Philadelphia.

    “We chased some militia going that way,” Caesar said.

    The dragoon sergeant looked at his officer. “How many were they?”

    “Just half a dozen, but they came from the north, too. I wouldn’t want to go past those woods with horse. Not at dusk, when we can’t see to support you.” Caesar tried to indicate the small size of his force in the yard without appearing to shirk his duties.

    The officer sneered. “I can’t imagine we’d need your support anyway,” he said. He meant it to be an insult. He was the kind of officer Caesar liked least.

    “I think we should be looking for a place to camp,” said the sergeant. “We just passed an empty farm, sir. We can press on in the morning.”

    The officer beat his crop impatiently against his boot. He wanted to make trouble. Caesar willed himself to remain still. The officer represented the type of man who reminded Caesar every day that he was a different color and a different kind.

    “Without decent infantry, I suppose it would be an error to go forward,” he said, the insult plain. His sergeant shook his head, just one little negative nod, as if denying any responsibility for his superior. They turned their horses and left the yard without a goodbye, and Caesar breathed out slowly. It was a beautiful evening, with an autumn sun turning the tobacco red and the wheat gold, but the evening was blighted for Caesar.

    Lieutenant Crawford marched his platoon of the lights into the farm an hour before dark. He found Caesar taciturn, but he took no note of it. He was more concerned with getting his men into the dry barn and the carriage house of the farm, and hearing Caesar’s report. Most of the rest of the Guides were with him. Caesar found Sergeant McDonald, and together they found billets for the other men who would straggle in later. They saw to it that fires were going and food was started, and they set pickets well out in the fields.

    Just as dusk was fading into full dark, they heard one of the pickets challenge and the guard stood to arms in an instant. Before Caesar could lead his quarterguard out, though, Jim and Moses came into the farmyard, both smiling broadly and covered in dust from head to toe.

    Caesar smiled in return. Their return lightened a burden he hadn’t been aware he was carrying, washed away the stain of the dragoon’s insults. Jim saluted smartly, bringing his musket up to the recover and then across his chest. “Sir. Corporal Somerset reporting from a scout.”

    Crawford motioned for him to take his ease. “What do you have, Corporal?”

    “Rebels all over the place on the other side of the Brandywine. Big camp, and a lot of patrols. I can show you better in the light.”

    “How far off is the Brandywine?”

    “Just a few miles. Maybe six. There’s a good crossing on this road, called Chad’s Ford. That’s where their outposts are. There’s a crossing every mile up the creek. The stream is too deep for artillery, but we crossed it three or four times in different spots. Gets deeper as you go south. Ain’t nothing a few miles north of Chad’s Ford.”

    Caesar, Crawford, McDonald and a crowd of other NCOs listened to Somerset’s report with growing apprehension.

    “They ain’t far off,” said Virgil. Most of the men felt they could speak freely around Crawford.

    “That must have been one of their patrols we brushed today,” said Caesar. “I hoped they were just militia going to a muster.”

    Crawford motioned to Sergeant McDonald. “Better get Corporal Somerset back to headquarters as fast as you can,” he said.

    “We need to double our pickets and get these fires hidden as quick as we can,” said Caesar. As the group broke up, Caesar could see that Jim wanted to say something to him. They walked out of the firelight and around behind the barn. The wind was cold.

    “Something else?” Caesar was worried about his pickets.

    “I don’ know, Caesar. It’s for you to say.”

    “Tell me, then.”

    “I saw Marcus White on the Lancaster Road.”

    Caesar tried to digest that. “What did he say?”

    “I didn’t speak to him. Moses an’ me were hid in some trees, watching the road and having a bite. Lancaster Road’s north of the rebels, maybe ten miles north o’ here.”

    “Sure it was him, Jim?”

    “Sure as death, sir.”

    “Keep that to yourself.”

    “Somebody sold us to them rebels in New Jersey. We all knows it.”

    “Jim, just keep it to yourself.” Caesar felt like he had been hit in the head. He sent Jim off to get a hot meal while he tried to digest this bit of news. He couldn’t see a way it could be good. When last he had seen Marcus White, the man had been in a church in New York. He had no business, at least no honest business, so close to the rebel lines. But the pickets had to be set, and the army was clearly going to fight in the morning. It would have to wait.

    In an hour, Somerset was off to the rear with a pass and Sergeant Shaw of the lights to keep him safe from their own patrols. Caesar made the rounds with Lieutenant Crawford, who was taking more direct interest in the running of the company, and Sergeant McDonald, who was still teaching Caesar the details of a really well-run company. They looked into mess kettles and inspected the fires of every section. Most sections were gorging themselves on three days’ rations in a single day. Improvident as this might seem, it gave the advance troops less to carry when they actually made contact with the enemy.

    Virgil was taking his ease and smoking while his mess group cooked their second meal. They all showed signs of the consumption of a half-pound each of peas and about the same in salt pork, and none of their overshirts would have borne even the most cursory inspection for cleanliness. They were grumbling happily in the cool evening air despite the lack of tents. The army’s baggage was far away, near Head of Elk, and the light troops in the vanguard had to build hasty shelters from fences and brush. In fact, there was no longer a decent split rail fence within a mile of the British lines. Everyone used them to construct shelters, and veterans saw them as a ready-made source of dry firewood, as well. Fires were springing up across the fields to the south, as the army came up behind them. Before the darkness was very old, the wheat and tobacco were trampled for a mile around them.

    He sat for a moment on a stump, making entries in his daybook by the light of a lantern. Constant attendance on his reading, first with Sergeant Peters and later with Marcus White, had ensured that he could read quickly and accurately. His writing still lagged a bit behind, and sums were nearly alien.

    McDonald came up behind him and read his report over his shoulder.

    “Very pretty, Julius,” he said, kneeling next to Caesar.

    “Writing’s getting better, anyway.” Caesar didn’t look up, trying to reckon the value of Private Paget’s lost neck stock and trying to remember what last name he had assigned the man. Edgerton? That sounded likely. Naming was a dangerous thing, and sometimes men resented the names he gave them. Sometimes it was better coming from Reverend White, or even from Mr. Crawford or Captain Stewart. Yes, he had it in the book. Paget was Paget Edgerton. It seemed like a good, loyal name.

    McDonald took out his daily report and began to run down it, looking at Caesar’s as he went.

    “Does anyone actually read these?” asked Caesar, trying to work out the “off reckoning” due his soldiers for “lying without fodder” a second night in a row.

    “For certain sure, young Caesar. And it should comfort you to know that when your namesake was a pup, centurions were scratching away with their pencils to try and list every item missing and get every man his pay.”

    “Can I borrow that little book?”

    McDonald looked at him with mock indignation.

    “I presume you mean my little bible on pay and provision?” He took a slim volume from his pocket, worn and stained, entitled Treatise on Military Finance, and Caesar skipped directly to the tables at the back of the book and began to reckon the pay due each private. Sometimes he excused men lost gear just to save the trouble of the additional math of deducting lost items from their pay.

    “That’s a shilling, Julius, not a penny.” Jeremy was standing at his shoulder as he added.

    “You don’t all have to watch me.” A little flare of temper, because he thought that they were waiting for him to fail.

    Crawford, who had been listening to a tale told by a fire, wandered up and looked over Caesar’s shoulder.

    “Heavens, Sergeant! Time for that after we fight.”

    “No, sir,” said Caesar with a hint of sullenness. “If we lose men dead, then it’ll be harder to get their pay for their relatives if I don’t do this tonight.” He looked at McDonald. McDonald nodded and turned to Crawford.

    “Always get the pay straight before an action, that was my first sergeant major’s advice, sir, an’ I have taught Julius Caesar the same way.”

    Crawford looked around at them and shrugged. McDonald and Caesar exchanged a glance. He’d learn.

    Most of the men went to sleep as soon as their bellies were filled, but, as they all expected a major action the next day, more than a few found themselves unable to sleep and began to talk. Every fire in the army had its share of men, nervous or quiet or shrill, telling tales of battles past. There were veterans in that army who could remember great days in the field, and disasters, at famous places like Minden and Quebec, or smaller actions across Europe, along the shores of the Mediterranean or on the soil of America. Older men, sergeants and officers, could remember battles as far back as the frigid dawn at Culloden, and some camps featured men who had served on both sides of that battle.

    Wherever men abandoned sleep for talk, the fires coaxed out the stories until the camp was awash in remembered blood and terror and glory.

    When his accounts were cast and sealed ready for inspection, Caesar lay down at the fire his own squad had, with Virgil and Paget and their section. The old veterans from Virginia were spread thin, now. With Jim’s promotion to corporal, all the survivors of the swamp were in positions of leadership.

    Virgil was whistling softly, sharpening a knife that didn’t need any more sharpening. He had already patched shirts for every man in the squad and resewn several other items. He never slept before an action. Caesar knew that Virgil hated actions as much as he himself enjoyed them, and he wondered why. Virgil was no coward, but there was something to the thought of action he dreaded, dreaded so much that he never told war stories or relived their battles, although he had survived every one since they killed the overseer together. Caesar rubbed the scars over his eyes, remembering. He smiled a little, and went to sleep. Virgil looked at him as he started to snore, kicked him lightly, and went back to his knife.

    “Keep us safe, Caesar,” Virgil said softly.
     
  29. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    Marcus Antonius #8887
    For George Lake, it was a frustrating day. The Third Virginia stood in neat ranks, or lay in the shade, depending on the emotional state of General Greene’s staff. Riders crossed in front of them again and again on their way to General Greene or General Washington. Rumor after rumor came down the ranks to the light company—they were to fight at Chad’s Ford; the enemy was marching to flank them up the river; the enemy was concentrating in front of them; they were to attack; they were to patrol across the stream. The last had proven true, and George had followed Captain Heller across the stream, where they immediately encountered strong enemy patrols supporting the big guns that were exchanging rounds with the Continental artillery posted on the opposite bank. They made it across in relative safety, and moved up a small creek only to find that green-coated Loyalists covered the approach. A skirmish developed that George felt they couldn’t win; the enemy fire became brisker as more and more of the green-coated men came up, and their fire slackened as their men sought cover. It was vicious, with men hunting each other from tree to tree and bush to bush all along the little creek, with no quarter asked or given. George had lost sight of his captain in the first moments and now took several chances that would have given his mother great unease as he sought the man along the creek bed, moving from one knot of his men to another. He wanted them to withdraw but lacked the authority to say it.

    He lost his helmet to an enemy shot that took it clean off his head and landed it in the middle of the creek. He left it there. While he would expose himself for the cause, he wouldn’t do it just to retrieve the damn helmet.

    Sergeant Creese was at the outlet of the stream with a party of wounded he was shuttling back to the regiment. He hadn’t seen the captain either but concurred that they were outnumbered and in a bad case.

    “Shall I go ask Colonel Weedon, sir?” he said, clearly eager to get free of the creek.

    “If we wait for you to go to the colonel and get back, we’ll all be dead, Sergeant.” George raised his head and looked up the creek bed. It was hot, and his coat was soaked with sweat. He was glad his hat was gone, although the deer flies were dogging him. He wished he didn’t have to make this decision. He liked being junior and invisible, and he could see that every man around Creese was now depending on him to do the right thing, to save them all, or whatever they pleased. He wished he knew just what the captain’s orders had been. He felt overcome with worry, and then he saw some bluecoats a hundred paces or more away, hauling a four-pounder.

    “Sergeant Lilly!” he called, as loud as he could. He heard an answering shout.

    “Withdraw! Bring your platoon back through Sergeant Creese’s! Second Platoon, stand fast and cover them!”

    Lord, his voice was hoarse. When had he done all the shouting? He watched the enemy bullets skip along the water of the creek and thought how nice it might be to just lie down in the cold clear water. There might be trout in such a cold stream. He’d eaten trout on Long Island and liked them. He thought about Betsy Lovell, and her secret glances at dinner, and he smiled despite his current situation. He had developed the habit of thinking of Betsy when things were low.

    He shook his head clear of such notions and splashed some water on his face and then grabbed one of Creese’s corporals.

    “Get over the Brandywine, find that battery commander right there and get him to fire grape! Right away. Tell him where we are and that we’re hard pressed by these greencoats. He’ll understand.”

    The man looked intelligent and calm, which was better than he could have expected. He saluted smartly and threw himself across the stream, and Lake watched him until he was up the bank and clear.

    The presentiment of disaster had been greater than the reality. Lilly’s platoon was pretty healthy as it fell back, and the whole company was still game, although there were men missing in several files. He held them at the edge of the west bank, willing the corporal to get the message across, and his dreams were answered by two loud bangs almost over his head. He heard one of the Tories yelling at his men to lie down, and he waved his men back to the Continental bank of the ford. As soon as they were across, he got them up the bank and fell them in again behind the first good cover so he could count heads. They had lost five men, including the captain and the trumpeter. No one seemed to know where they had gone.

    Lake took his men back to the regiment, and then left them under Sergeant Lilly while he went to make his report. It was two o’clock.


    After a day of slow marches and an age while they waited for other units to cross the Brandywine, and after mistakes of their own as guides that raised tempers all along the column, they were now marching back to the sound of the firing. They had made the long march and they were around the enemy’s flank, but the question remained as to whether they would arrive in time to do any good. However, they had begun to move faster and faster, and now Caesar had to keep his men from trotting.

    They could hear the guns all day, but they were off to the south and Caesar wasn’t sure how they could be part of the same battle. He knew the general plan of movement, because he had been privileged to hear it explained by Colonel Musgrave in the pre-dawn chill by the embers of their last fire. He knew their column was intended to pass the northern posts of the rebel army and swing well into their rear before coming down on them, a crushing blow, as described.

    What he did understand was that it was all taking longer than the generals had expected, and that most of the officers and sergeants who had been around him in the dark, listening to the plan, had suspected this very problem. They would be late, and for all they knew, Lord Howe was trying to defend Chad’s Ford with a handful of men while they picked their way through the maze of tracks and minor roads north of the rebel positions.

    Jeremy and Stewart came up on horseback as they came to a bend in the road. Just beyond, he could see a vista of open ground, farmland, and a plowed hill with some woods in front of it. There were Continental regulars all along the line in front of them.

    Stewart watched the line in disgust. Jeremy threw his hat on the ground and then had to dismount to fetch it, which made him angrier.

    Caesar grabbed their bridles and pulled them back before Stewart’s bright red coat could be seen.

    “Go back and tell the column to halt,” said Stewart, taking his glass from Jeremy and dismounting. He handed his horse to Caesar, who handed it directly to one of his men and followed him into a stand of trees that shaded the corner of a stone-walled field.

    Stewart lay down behind the wall, worked a stone loose and pushed his glass through. Caesar crouched behind him.

    “It appears we are too late,” he said. Behind them, Virgil was all but physically restraining a party of red-coated officers who wanted to go ahead into the field. Sergeant McDonald and Lieutenant Crawford came up, and then several other officers from their battalion. The staff officers were kept back.

    Caesar could see the Continental troops start to move. Every one of them lying in the corner of the field took a breath together as the long blue and brown lines suddenly began to form columns on their center or rightmost companies and march away. It wasn’t well done; every battalion seemed to have its own manner of forming a column, and the enemy brigades were slow to move.

    “Appearances can be deceiving,” Stewart announced, closing his glass with a snap. “Apparently our country cousins are determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.” He ran back to the knot of mounted officers around the bend and reported what he had seen, and the general ordered them forward. It was just past three o’clock by Jeremy’s repeater. And the enemy, perfectly positioned to stop their thrust, was marching away.


    Lafayette reined in his horse by George Lake and looked over George’s company. He had an air about him that made other men want to follow him, although he was as young as their youngest man. He looked like an officer, and he was well equipped and so well uniformed that he made most of the other officers look shabby. Certainly George Lake, whose only claim to elegance was the superb sword that hung from a double frog at his waist, had no business standing next to the marquis’s horse.

    “Monsieur,” said the young marquis companionably. “Can you direct me to the General Greene?”

    “Yes, sir. General Greene is just there at the head of the road. What’s happening?” George had seen the fine marquis often enough since their first meeting to qualify as an acquaintance. Lafayette shook his head.

    “Our General Sullivan has allowed himself to be flanked again. I gather he does this with some regularity?”

    George nodded, remembering Long Island and the painful, rainy retreat. His mouth set bitterly.

    “Do not worry, George. General Washington has all General Greene’s division in reserve. Sullivan need only hold until we arrive, and we shall win a victory that will end the war.” He laughed. Everyone knew that he was ambitious to command a division himself, and that he could be a demanding companion. But Lafayette was already well loved, not least because he always referred to the Continental cause as “ours” and “we”, where so many of his French and German compatriots referred to it as “yours” and “you”.

    He reared his horse a little, showing away, and waved his hat.

    “Get ready to advance, George!” he called, and galloped off.

    Down the ranks in the old company, Bludner said something coarse, and the men around him laughed. But they did it nervously, like schoolboys.


    The whole battalion of lights raced across the open fields toward the copse at the foot of the little plowed hill in front of them. It was a disciplined run, but they had all dropped their packs at the stone wall and none of them expected to cross so much open ground without a great many casualties. Caesar’s men started a little in front, because he had put them there where their brown coats would lie unnoticed in the autumn fields. And they ran a little faster.

    They were a quarter of the way there and not a shot had been fired at them. It didn’t seem possible and Caesar had to force himself to look up at the woods, rather than down at his feet. If he was about to take a volley, it seemed better that he not know it was coming.

    That was not proper thinking for a soldier. He looked up, and almost stopped in astonishment. He was watching the better part of a battalion leaving the woods and falling back. He couldn’t reckon why, and feared a trap, one so cunning that its purpose would be hidden from him or Captain Stewart or even Lord Howe.

    More than halfway now. Some of the newer men were panting with exertion. The veterans were running easily. One or two held their weapons high, ready to take a shot the moment a target was offered. Most ran with their muskets across their bodies. Stewart’s company was close behind, and the other lights were almost up with them on both sides. Well off to the left, he could see Captain Simcoe and the Fortieth grenadiers moving along. Simcoe stood out because of his heavy gray horse.

    Caesar knew he had slowed unconsciously when he had seen movement in the wood, and the whole company had slowed with him.

    Captain Stewart rode up to him. Jeremy was nowhere to be seen.

    “I…think…they’re…leaving…the wood,” said Caesar in time to his pounding feet.

    “Get into it and start shooting. Make as much noise as you can. Make them watch us and not what’s coming behind us.” Caesar raised his musket in salute and Stewart took off his cap for a moment, and then rode off.

    Now he was close enough to start looking for a route in. Usually a wood was densest at the outside edge, where the sun had full play and the brush could grow thickly. Most woodlots had little paths and this one was no exception. Caesar still expected to be met by a volley any second, and he looked at the company. They were well spaced out in extended order, each file pair two paces separate from the next, across sixty paces, or almost a third of the front of the wood.

    He knew they were all loaded. He knew that speed was all that mattered. He blew his whistle twice and yelled, “Charge!” And they gave another spurt of speed, and were into the trees with a crash.


    George began to think that they were going to run the whole way to wherever the British might be. The column moved too fast, so that the men got spread out and some had to fall out or fall behind, where the stragglers got mixed into unfamiliar units and wrecked their order of march. Despite all that, they were marching faster than George had ever marched, and they were moving toward the musketry.

    Despite their desperate skirmish in the early afternoon, the men were acting as if they had plenty of heart. George had stopped wondering where his captain was. The man was plainly dead, or captured. Now George wondered if he could command the company in action by himself. He was about to find out.


    The woods were empty of all but a terrified picket who fired once and fled without causing a casualty. Caesar leapt over some fallen trees and hurried to the side of the wood facing the enemy, who were formed a little over one hundred paces away.

    “Keep your order, then!” he yelled. “Come up to me and To Tree!” To Tree was the British Army’s innovative manner of getting soldiers who were trained to linear warfare to take cover in a wood. The Company of Black Guides had something of the opposite problem, as they generally had a tendency to take cover if cover were offered, whether ordered to or not. They all but vanished into the treeline.

    Caesar blew one long note on his whistle. He shouted “Skirmish” at the full reach of his lungs, and all along the line, the file leaders picked targets and began to fire at the Continentals. Stewart’s company was already taking the ground to their right, and the light company of the Fortieth had just appeared on their left and was moving into the treeline. Caesar waved at Virgil and Fowver, standing together at the left end of the line. Fowver nodded, saw that Caesar was going for new orders, and moved to take command.

    Caesar ran back to the rear of the wood and then along behind it, looking for Captain Stewart or their battalion officer, Major Manley. He saw two horses grazing, but neither was familiar. He ran along the edge of the wood until he reached its southern boundary and there he found all the officers, gathered in a clump and watching the great spectacle of battle laid out by the wood’s height.

    Caesar was a veteran now and he had never seen a battle laid out so clearly. The British columns were coming up from the rear and just starting to form their front, first companies forming battalions, and then battalions forming brigades even as he watched.

    Across the field and up the low hill, the rebel lines were formed but constantly twitching, or so it appeared at this distance. Caesar knew that the twitches meant they were moving, making little corrections to best occupy their ground. Such maneuvers were common on parade, but most armies in the field depended on the NCOs knowing the axis of attack and keeping a couple of natural objects, say a flower and a fence post, aligned in front of them to keep the line marching in the right direction. Most commanders left gaps in their lines so that miscalculations in marching by battalions didn’t throw off the whole line. The Continental line was clearly in disarray, packed too tight and trying to maneuver in the face of the enemy. And now the Guides and all the other troops in the wood were starting to get hits, causing more confusion.

    Far distant, back toward the direction of Chad’s Ford, he could see a column of marching men, and in the foreground he saw one Continental brigade intermixed with another and trying to sort itself out. Almost opposite the wood, a battery of Continental guns, masked from the wood by a little hill and sited in a dip, had begun to fire into the forming British line.

    Simcoe was closest to him, and he pointed his riding crop along the distant road from which the enemy column was coming.

    “That’s their reserve, Caesar. We must break General Sullivan in front of us before Mr. Washington can bring all that,” he waved his crop at the marching column, “into the fight and stop us.”

    “Very kind, sir,” said Caesar, and he meant it. Officers seldom took the time to explain anything.

    Stewart rounded on him.

    “Seen Jeremy?”

    “No, sir.”

    “Keep shooting. As soon as they start to break, get at them. Wait for Major Manley’s call, though. He’ll be behind the wood. I’ll be there in a moment.”

    The Continental battery fired, almost together, and an entire company of the Seventeenth Regiment seemed to disappear. Caesar was appalled by the carnage a single battery of guns could wreak. None of the men in that company would ever have had a chance to stop it.

    A British battery moved ponderously forward, its hired drivers unwilling to get too close to the action. When at extreme range, the gunners had to drag their guns forward on ropes, and they did it with elan. Caesar didn’t have time to watch, and when the Continental battery fired again, he wasn’t there to see the execution it wrought.


    Washington was well ahead of Greene’s column now. Too late, he fully understood the confusing welter of messages that had reached him all day. He should have attacked across the ford when he felt that Lord Howe lacked the men to stop him. He could have ended the war in an afternoon, and even now he felt that victory was close. If only Sullivan could hold the hill and the woods to their front, Greene’s men would arrive and even have time to breathe a few times before Washington sent them into the teeth of the British advance.

    He looked at his watch. It was half past five, and before his unbelieving eyes, the troops in the wood began to leave it and march back. In moments, the whole edge of the wood erupted in a flame as the British, advancing along an axis that allowed them to use the woods to cover their entire force, took the woods and used them.

    He rode forward to Sullivan, who was shaking his head in weary disbelief.

    “I’m sorry, General.”

    “Nonsense, General Sullivan. You’ve held together nicely. But tell me why we’ve just given the British that little wood to your front.”

    “No help for it, sir. I had to make my line straight or the whole of the British attack would have fallen on the kink and broken me. Marshall and Woodford misunderstood and gave up the wood and by the time I tried to fix it…” He shook his head wearily. “I’ve just ordered them to take it back,” he said, all too aware of what that meant.

    Greene’s men were twenty minutes away. Washington watched as the British fire began to decimate the regiments moving over the open ground to the wood that, only a few moments before, they had left.


    The Continentals came up the hill at them again, firing quickly like regular soldiers and then pushing forward, but this time some hint in their movement, the carriage of their heads or some little flaw in their firing, suggested to Caesar that their hearts weren’t in it. Their first counterattack had almost swept the hill, and indeed, over to the right, the Continentals had gotten right in among the trees and only the reserve under Major Manley and a lightning response by McDonald and Crawford had kept them in possession. The second attack had come to a halt just in front of the Guides, so that they had exchanged three volleys with a Pennsylvania regiment at a range so close that men were hit by burning wads of tow, or felt the blast of heat from every round. But the Pennsylvanians lost their colonel when he tried to lead them forward for a last charge. The Guides and their friends from the Fortieth kept their heads and kept up a steady fire, although Caesar was already finding a place for his men to run to when they broke—only to find that they were going to hold. He loved them for it, every one. It was the hardest fighting he had ever known, and the bluntest. The two forces simply bludgeoned each other at point-blank range. The Guides had the advantage of a little cover in the wood edge, although it scarcely mattered when the range was so close, and Caesar couldn’t imagine how regular soldiers kept their nerve in the open under such an exchange.

    The third attack died away before it ever became a serious threat, and all the sergeants in the woods were bellowing for their men to “Cease fire, damn your eyes.” It was merciful to the men retreating from their third brave attempt to take the woods, and soldiers like to give each other mercy, when they can, but it wasn’t mercy that kept them yelling to “Cease fire, there.”

    The men in the woods were almost out of ammunition.


    Washington sat at the top of the little plowed hill and watched Sullivan’s wing begin to break up. It went down fighting, outnumbered and outfought, but not by much, and it didn’t break like the militia of those early disasters. The enemy was more cautious, and the Continental artillery continued to wreak havoc on the British advance, actually stopping it once when the troops were all broken and swept away. The guns kept firing, and here and there a well-led battalion, or a company that trusted its officers more than it feared the British, held its ground and kept firing. Washington was shaking his head sadly, because Weedon’s brigade, his very best troops, were just too far away to save the day. They weren’t so far that he would lose his army. Darkness was coming, and darkness combined with Weedon’s men would save him from a defeat like some of those around New York, but it was so close to a victory that he could almost say the word aloud in his frustration. Lafayette watched him with something like adoration.

    “Let us see if we can rally Sullivan’s men,” said Washington. If he could buy five minutes, he could save a great deal of honor from the day. He rode down toward the Meeting House with Lafayette and his staff.


    Caesar watched as the line in front of him came apart, and he listened for Major Manley behind him. Most of the men were drinking water, and a few were lighting pipes. He told them not to.

    “We have to be ready to advance,” he said. Down the line, Crawford waved to him. He waved back.

    Jeremy rode up behind him, somehow silent on a horse.

    “Forward!” he yelled as if he was the officer in command. No one doubted him. They were all used to getting Stewart’s orders through Jeremy and the long skirmish line began to move out of the woods and up the hill at last.

    “We have less than three rounds a man. Where’s Captain Stewart?” asked Caesar, running to keep up with Jeremy’s horse. Jeremy reined in, despite being the only mounted man in the skirmish line and the clear target for any sharpshooter on the hill.

    “He’s arguing with some ill-born fool from the staff. Manley took a ball over at the angle and now they are all uncertain about what to do.”

    Caesar was struck dumb.

    “Captain Stewart couldn’t do it, you see?” Jeremy asked. “I had to.”


    The British attack, first sudden, and then cautious, turned sudden again. Just as Washington had a company rallied to send back to the hilltop, he saw red coats and brown appear. The men in brown coats were black, a sight that always moved him strangely. He’d seen the same men before.

    The final loss of the hilltop, so suddenly, was decisive. Before he could change the orders of the men he had just rallied, they melted away under his hand. Lafayette was doing no better, and it seemed that his English was deserting him. He had a sword in his hand, and he kept shouting “For liberty!”


    George Lake was at the head of the column of Weedon’s brigade. He could see Washington, Lafayette, and Colonel Fitzgerald on the little road at the foot of the plowed hill. Weedon was riding right next to him, urging him on, but suddenly Lake needed no coaching, and his jitters fell away.

    “Form front on me!” he yelled, and the men came panting forward. His company was seventy yards ahead of the column. Washington was alone, except for his staff. Weedon was yelling something about the road, but George didn’t care just then, and he yelled “At the double!” and ran the line forward.


    The lights and the Guides reached the crest of the hill almost together, and saw the whole of Sullivan’s broken division laid out before them, with the powerful battery of Continental guns that had been masked by the hill now almost at their feet. And just in front of them, Caesar saw Washington as clear as if they had been hunting together. He waved his hat without thinking.


    Washington saw a tall man, one of the blacks, wave his hat. The man almost looked familiar and the insolence of the gesture sparked him to anger, so that he drew his pistol and fired it, barely pausing to aim. Generals do not take direct part in major actions, unless directly threatened. Lafayette was surprised, and he took Washington’s arm.

    “We’d best be away, General,” he said, keeping Washington from drawing his second pistol. Washington nodded, as if recovering from a blow, and turned his horse.


    Caesar saw the familiar arm come up with a pistol and he dropped to one knee, smoothly aimed his fowler and fired. The second he fired he wondered a little. Washington was too much to be simply a target on the field. Caesar was confused just thinking about it. But he held his arms out and blew his whistle, running along the company and reforming them in close order.

    “Don’t fire on the generals. Kill the horses by those guns!” he yelled, pointing down the hill where the teams were waiting to pull the deadly Continental guns clear of the British attack. They had already performed this service several times. They had three rounds. He didn’t expect his company to last long. But the guns had to go.


    Lafayette gave one brief scream of pain as the ball struck his arm and then stiffened in the saddle. He began to slump off, and Fitzgerald and Johnson each got an arm around him to support him. Every one of the staff saw he had just pushed his horse in front of Washington, and every one of them saw him take a ball that might have hit their General. Washington watched it unbelieving, and took shelter for a moment behind Lake’s company, which was just coming up.

    “Fire!” yelled George Lake, and his volley fell on the Guides like a hammer, killing Tonny where he stood on the right of the company and spraying Tonny’s blood over Sam the bugler. Tonny had been standing in Caesar’s place. Caesar had just stepped out of the ranks to hear Captain Stewart, coming up in the twilight. Moses Shaw, proud as Lucifer of being a front-rank man on so little service, took a ball in his gut and went down with a scream that shook the whole company. A late ball, or a spent round from another volley, caught Caesar just at the edge of the hip and went on to strike his leather hunting bag, spinning him around. For a moment he thought he was gone, the blow was so hard, but then he saw the hole in the bag. He didn’t have time to feel relieved. He waved Stewart away and looked at his company.

    They held firm despite the casualties. There were men in brown coats on the ground all the way back to the woods, and more here. Caesar rued that he had reformed them in close order, but only their closed ranks gave them, or any troops, the confidence to stand the weight of fire. Their efforts had already shot down most of the horses on the guns and some of the gunners. He stepped over Tonny, and held up his fowler to get their attention.

    “Make ready!” he yelled, and he felt them move, the rear rank stepping over to occupy the spaces between the rank in front. Their last bullets. “Present!” And the muskets came down, steady or trembling a little, but every muzzle pointed at the enemy. He had his back to the Continentals, and he could feel that they were halfway through their loading. He was prouder than ever that his men had stood a volley in the open, like regulars, and now they were going to give it back.

    “FIRE.”

    He turned as he gave the order and watched as their fire smashed into the men in the front rank. The uniform was the familiar one of the Virginia Regiment they had faced so often, but their leather caps marked them as light infantry. Probably the best men of their regiment.

    The volley snatched four or five men down, and another stayed standing for some reason but screamed, moving along the front of the company and throwing off their carefully trained motions of loading. Just to his right, the grenadiers of the Fortieth Regiment fired into them, and more men fell.


    George Lake took a musket ball through his biceps and was knocked flat by the impact. The whole hillside was full of enemy and he had no business taking them all on, but Washington was just behind him and he couldn’t withdraw. He couldn’t lie flat on his back and think it over, either.

    “Make ready,” he called, trying to use his good arm to rise. He ignored the temptation to stay down. On his feet, he could see that Weedon was forming the Third Virginia to his flank, so that he was the anchor next to the guns, using his company as a shield to get his line formed. The buff facings on the grenadiers just to his front were all too familiar, as he had faced them again and again, and the company of blacks were almost like old friends. He saw the tall man, the one with the scars over his eyes, just to his left despite the gathering murk and he was tempted to bow. Lafayette had said they did such things in battles in Europe.

    “Present,” he yelled, wobbling a little on his feet. There was blood everywhere around him on the ground, down his side, all through the right leg of his worst breeches.

    “Fire!”

    Not everyone was loaded, and the volley was ragged, although game.


    The second volley was not aimed at them. It struck the grenadiers of the Fortieth just to their flank, and Caesar saw Captain Simcoe fall and he ran to him, forgetting his place in the line for a moment. Then he stopped himself and took a breath and looked over his shoulder for McDonald or Stewart. He saw Crawford running toward him.

    “We have to get the guns!” Caesar yelled. Behind him, Fowver was giving the orders. Beyond Fowver, the Fortieth grenadiers were preparing to avenge Simcoe.

    “You get them! Get the guns! We’ll cover you!” Crawford pointed at the Continentals in front of them.

    Caesar thought of how brave the Guides had been, how well they had stood the fire. They were out of ammunition, tired. Caesar ran to the right of his men.

    “One more time! Files from the right!” he bellowed, his ragged voice rising easily above the din of volleys and the great pounding of the big guns. “Follow me!” He saw Jeremy behind him, silhouetted against the darkening sky, and heard Stewart’s voice, reassuring in the shadow, getting the regulars up and into the line. And the Guides came.

    They raced the Seventeenth Lights into the battery. All the horses were gone, and though the gunners were determined, they hadn’t the numbers to stop a determined plunge from the hill on their flank. Caesar fenced for a moment with the officer and then knocked him down with his musket. He yelled for his men to rally. They were on the flank of the company that had clawed them so cruelly just a moment before. He wanted to form, but the men were herding the prisoners from the battery or pursuing those who ran toward the Continental brigade forming to the rear of the position. Some were just stopped in the battery, looking blank. They were done. Taking the battery used the last of their spirit.

    The light was fading fast.


    Washington watched the speed with which the British overran the battery and nodded. The loss of the battery sealed the day. He needed it and Weedon to turn the tide, and he had just lost one while gaining the other. He rode over to Sullivan, Greene, and Weedon, who were waiting behind the force that had become the rearguard of the army.

    “In another minute we’d have had them,” said Greene.

    “Or they, us,” said Washington. The muskets were falling silent all along the line and the light company of the Third Virginia withdrew from the fast-forming British line without taking another volley. Somewhere in the regiment, someone jeered at the retreat, but the cry wasn’t taken up.

    George Lake was the last man to come from that deadly field, dragging himself by force of will. As soon as they saw how badly he was hit, dozens strove to help him.

    The Continental army withdrew into the growing darkness without their guns. They had lost the battle, and with it their capital.


    In the corps of Black Guides, Caesar gathered his men, and buried the dead at the edge of the woods. They stood in their ranks, and took their turns to open the graves in the damp autumn ground. The loss of Tonny hit hard, as the old crew from the first days of the Ethiopians grew smaller. Sam cried, on and on, a lament of sobs that played against the rain and darkness. Tonny had been good to the boy.

    Virgil smoked, and dug, and sat with Caesar in the darkness.

    “Them Doodles gettin’ better ever’ time we meet them.” He smiled, a barely visible motion around the coal of his pipe. Caesar felt numb over his whole body, from his toes to his brain. He watched Silas Van Sluyt having his turn with the pick, taking slow measured strokes that broke the earth swiftly.

    “You tired of war, Virgil?” Caesar felt light-headed.

    “I was tired of war when you killed Mr. Gordon, an’ that was a long time ago.” He handed Caesar the lit pipe, wiping the stem companionably, and stood up, brushing the wet from his trousers. “We ain’t gon’a win this thing, Cese.”

    Caesar was silent.

    “I won’t be no slave again, Cese. Rather die quick, like Tonny. Most o’ the t’othuh boys feel the same.”

    Caesar nodded. “Amen.”

    Jeremy rode up on a tired horse and Caesar could feel the heat coming off the horse’s flanks. It felt good. He held the horse’s head while Jeremy dismounted.

    “What’d captain say?” Virgil asked, extending the pipe to Jeremy. “Was he mad?”

    “Captain Stewart said I might be a general yet. Some of his comments were more colorful. But taking the hill was right, and we did it right.” Jeremy put his hands on his hips and looked at the burial party. He seemed on edge.

    “Is that Tonny?”

    Jeremy handed the pipe back, his hand shaking.

    “Yep.” Virgil took it. “An’ he has plenty o’ company.”

    Caesar put his hand on Jeremy’s shoulder. Jeremy was looking at the corpses laid out in rows, and beyond them, where the corpses of the Continental soldiers lay. Other burial parties were at work, from all the regiments engaged. Those not digging were mostly silent, and out beyond the area that had been cleared, men moaned or shrieked hoarsely from wounds that had not yet finished them.

    “I killed them,” Jeremy said suddenly. His voice ended on a broken note, but he still stood straight. Caesar squeezed his shoulder. He thought of saying yes, because that was the truth of command. And he thought of saying no because that was what Jeremy needed. But in the end he simply stood with his arm around Jeremy, thinking that Washington had fired a pistol at him, and he had fired his fusil at Washington, and somehow that made them even.

    Virgil smoked until the clay was done, and then went back to have another turn at digging. Jeremy stayed awhile, and then he stepped away and smiled a hard, forced smile.

    “I guess we’ll take Philadelphia now,” he said.

    “No way Washington can hold it.” Caesar didn’t watch Jeremy wipe away tears. He turned to look at the fires appearing in the dark, and winced. Jeremy was on him in a second, pulling at his coat.

    “You’re hit,” he said.

    Caesar shook his head. “Nothing. Just my bag ruined,” he said, but his hand brushed the tail of his coat and it was dripping wet. Other men were coming up, all around him, and he found it hard to breathe. He reached for Jeremy, and then the ground slipped away.
     
  30. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    The British hadn’t mounted a pursuit. Washington’s army, tired and beaten, ill-shod and cold, had managed to escape from the field with no further losses. He kept the army moving, as the loss at Chad’s Ford meant he had to get well back before the British cut him off from his supply. Philadelphia and his nation’s capital were lost.

    He rode up and down the column, stopping at the wagons full of wounded to look at the men who would survive. He was hoping for news of Lafayette. The wound appeared to be slight, but until infection had passed or taken hold, any wound could be a killer.

    Long after dark, past midnight and straight into the first light of morning, the exhausted army marched, until at last they crossed the ford of the Schuykill and Washington felt them to be safe. His own light horse had already posted guides and marked the road to a new camp. He let his subordinates take command and rode off to camp.

    Billy had his tent up and furnished, despite the immense labor that must have meant. He even had a small fire on a brazier and hot rum punch. Washington gave Billy his greatcoat and slumped into the biggest chair, his muddy boots still on and his spurs leaving a trail of wet leaves.

    Billy put the rum in his hand and went out with the greatcoat, and didn’t reappear for some time. Washington drank and thought. He savoured being alone. All night, he had maintained his facade of stern discipline, a facade not so different from the real man, but in this instance, far from the emotions boiling within him. He wanted Billy to come back so that he could talk to someone.

    “You fired your pistol,” said Billy from the door. Washington could smell the distinctive odour of black powder being cleaned with hot water. Sulfur and rotten eggs.

    “A man fired at me.” Washington chose not to say that the man had been black. “He hit the marquis.”

    “I hope you hit him back, then. The marquis will be all right, sir. It’s just a wound in the flesh of the arm, and the surgeon says it’s clean.”

    Washington breathed deeply. “And we lost again. I lost again. Damn it, we were this close.”

    Billy had a wad of tow wound on the end of a double spiral of iron and affixed to a wooden stick: a cleaning rod. He was using this to swab the inside of the pistol. He didn’t raise his head.

    “The army fought well, though, sir?”

    “They did, Billy.”

    “They think they did, too. They don’t sound beat.”

    Washington stretched his legs. “I’m not going to win the war by losing all the battles.”

    “You told the marquis different.”

    “What’s that, Billy?”

    Billy looked up from cleaning the gun. “You tol’ the marquis that all we needed to do was keep an army in the field and we’d win the war.”

    “So I did, Billy.” He looked at the black man fondly. “You’ll make a general yet.”

    “No, sir.” Billy went back to polishing, but he had a smile on his face. And Washington went to sleep.


    Caesar lay on the creaking, jolting cart and watched the cloudy sky. He didn’t have the strength to move his head. He wondered how long he had to live. He was alone in the cart. Every time it hit a hole in the road, his hip hurt like fire. The voices around him were strange, not men from any company he knew.

    He dreamed of the swamp, where the pain and heat went on for hours and there was nothing a body could do. He woke to find the sun bright above him, his mouth parched and his throat painful. He fought vertigo and pain to raise his head. The man next to the cart had a high brass helmet with something worked on to the front. It was too bright to look at. Hessians.

    “Water,” Caesar croaked. His lips hurt. Everything hurt.

    “Wasser?” asked the man. He reached behind him and suddenly was gone. Caesar had to lower his head as the effort became too much, but in a moment the man was on the wagon and was pouring water from an enormous canteen into a cup. Caesar drank it, and another. Then another. He knew he was drinking the poor man’s ration, a sorry return on the man’s good nature. He drank again. Then he lay back. The man had mustaches, but he smiled through them.

    “Sehr gut,” he said, and hopped off the cart.

    Caesar went back to the swamp, except now he was swimming, and even asleep he realized he had the fever again. Later, he thought that the cart stopped for a while, and the Hessian, or another like him, gave him more water. Somebody sang a hymn, except all the words were foreign. And then he was back in the swamp. The flies were terrible, and Virgil was trying to get him to move.

    And then it was Virgil, and Polly was with him, and they were both smiling and crying. And Caesar was awake.
     
  31. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    Washington was writing in his study at the back of the stone farmhouse his staff had appropriated for the campaign. The late afternoon light was fading and Billy was lighting candles and keeping the fire going. Writing to his family and considering the business of his plantations was Washington’s greatest relaxation, and Billy defended it zealously. Washington had just finished a letter to his brother John and was considering an addition to a letter to Martha when the house echoed with the clatter of booted feet. Something was happening at the front of the house. Washington reached for his greatcoat, fearing the worst: that in the aftermath of the loss at Germantown, Howe was on him in a surprise attack like the one at Paoli.

    He was rising from his chair when Billy came in.

    “Messenger from General Clinton, sir.”

    Washington reached for the dispatch. He threw his greatcoat back on to its peg before Billy opened the door. No need for his staff to see his apprehensions. There they were, though, crowded in the doorway, Lafayette with his arm in a sling, and Hamilton and the others, their faces troubled. They knew the rumors: that General Burgoyne had beaten Gates north of Albany, and that Putnam was losing the Hudson Forts one and two at a time. General Clinton would have the latest.

    Washington opened the dispatch and spread it on the table, but he was smiling before the paper hit the desk.

    Gates had forced Burgoyne to surrender. As well he should, Washington thought. Gates had some of his best regiments and the whole support of the northern colonies. He had outnumbered Burgoyne five to one. Still. He stood up and faced the staff.

    “General Gates has won a signal victory over General Burgoyne. Burgoyne’s forces have surrendered.”

    Hamilton smiled broadly. “Then we’re still in the game, General.”

    Lafayette embraced him with one arm. “France will not be deaf to this.”

    Washington listened to their celebration and joined in as much as he could. It was the third great victory of the war, after Boston and Trenton. It eliminated one of the three British armies facing them. He cared deeply for the cause, but not so much for the man who had won it.

    Later, when they had moved their celebration to the camp and he was alone in his room, Washington allowed his head to sink to his hands for a moment. He rubbed his eyes, added a few words to his brother so that the original letter now forwarded news of General Gates’s signal victory, and leaned back. Billy put his head in the room.

    “You ready for bed, sir?”

    “I suppose.”

    He stood up and moved to the bed, where he sat. His shoulders, usually square, were slumped. Billy took the ribbon from his hair and began to brush it out.

    “You are hurting me,” Washington growled.

    No more than usual, thought Billy, but he said nothing.

    “Damn it,” said Washington. Billy stopped.

    “Something on your mind, sir?”

    “Sometimes the hardest thought to bear is that all the victories in this war will be won by other men.” Washington said the words evenly, without a trace of self-pity, but Billy shook his head.

    “That sounds more like General Lee than General Washington,” said Billy scathingly, and Washington whirled, almost carrying the brush from his hands.

    “Damn you!” Washington started to rise, but Billy pointed the brush at him.

    “Sit down, sir. Or your hair will be a sight.” Billy had been enduring Washington’s occasional flashes of temper for too long to be ruffled.

    Washington sat a moment. Then he leaned back. “Well struck, Billy.”

    Billy grunted and brushed harder. After a moment, though, he smiled to himself.

    Washington scratched his chin. “In ancient Rome, whenever a great man had won an important victory, he’d get a parade, Billy. It was called a triumph. And in the chariot with him, as he rode through the crowds, there would be a slave. All the slave did was whisper ‘You are just a man.’”

    “Sounds like a good job for the slave,” said Billy.

    Washington shook his head. “I’m trying to say…”

    “I understand what you are trying to say,” said Billy. He went on brushing hair.


    “You want me to call a doctor?” asked Caleb. He was a Massachusetts man who had been in the war since Concord Bridge, an officer in the Tenth Massachusetts. His left hand had been amputated after a musket ball smashed it. He lay next to George Lake in a tent outside the hospital with a third man, whom they knew to be called William. They were curled together for warmth in straw that was growing damp with blood from William’s seeping wound.

    Neither one of them knew his surname, because William hadn’t been conscious since he was brought in after the fight at Germantown. His uniform put him with one of the Pennsylvania line regiments. His seeping chest wound suggested he would probably be a dead man in hours.

    “No one would come, anyways,” said George, bitterly. His arm was healing, and he had strength in his hand for the first time in weeks. He knew inside that he was better off in the cold tent, where the air was clean, than in the hospital where disease killed more than wounds. But he was angry. The Quaker nurses treated them all like lepers. The doctors were too few, too busy and too hard. And George wanted to get back to work. He wanted to see if he still had a company, and he was lonely. Caleb Cooke was a good companion, an instant comrade of similar convictions, but Lake wanted one of his men to come by. Some link with the world before his wound. He wanted to write a letter to Betsy Lovell, but no one would give him paper. Philadelphia was lost, anyway. Her father would be happy. And she was marrying someone else. Her mother probably wouldn’t even let her read a letter from him.

    Someone was riding a horse down the next street of the hospital camp. George could smell the horse and hear the rider…French accent. Hope leapt in his breast and his heart beat suddenly so that his arm throbbed.

    “I am looking for one called George Lake, yes?” said the voice, just a few tents away. George wanted to leap out of the warmth of his shared blankets, except that to do so would have been to endanger Caleb’s precarious recovery.

    “Over here, sir.” His voice was clear enough. He heard the horse move, splashing through the puddles, and then he could lift the flap of his tent and see the horse itself, and the slim booted form of the rider.

    “Captain Lake!” exclaimed the marquis. He was down off the horse in a flash. There were other men behind him.

    “You won’t want to come in, sir.” Lake realized suddenly how he must look, unshaved, with all his clothes on, one shirt over another and his two coats on top, and the third man’s blood all over the straw. Lafayette was yelling, summoning, demanding from someone outside his view.

    “Want to introduce our guest?” asked Caleb, still curled up tight.

    George sat up and pulled his hair behind him, trying to comb it with his fingers. He looked like hell, and the marquis, spotless from head to slung arm to booted toe, was a moving reproof.

    “Lieutenant Caleb Cooke of the Massachusetts Line, this is Major General the Marquis de Lafayette.”

    Cooke laughed.

    “Damn, George, I do have the fever.”

    George shook his head. “I apologize for the conditions, Marquis. Caleb thinks he has fever.”

    “Pah! It is nothing. George, you need better than this. Myself, I was cosseted by the ladies while you lay here. Jus’ today I hear that you are still in hospital, yes? And I come as soon as I may.”

    “I’ll be all right in a day or so,” said George. He was elated. Just seeing the marquis made him feel better.

    “General Gates has beaten General Burgoyne. Do you know this?” Lafayette was crouching in the entrance to the tent, and the knees of his spotless white broadcloth breeches were slowly soaking up the blood in the straw.

    “We heard something.” George felt as if Lafayette was bringing him back to life.

    “Fetch a litter. I am taking this man with me.” Lafayette added something in French to the man behind him.

    George shook his head. “I can’t leave Caleb,” he said. “He’s just starting to get better. He’s lost a lot of blood, Marquis. He needs warmth.”

    “Fetch two litters. No, three. Empty this tent.”

    In a moment, George was being carried by two men of Lafayette’s guard. Caleb was laughing. And the third man was in a litter behind them. Gates had beaten Burgoyne. Maybe William would live.

    Anything was possible.

    A heavy rain lay over the city of Philadelphia, from the outposts on the Germantown Road to the comfortable lodgings around the new theatre in Southwark. The city’s conquest had turned out to be an action of little moment, and although the Continentals fought a second battle for their capital at Germantown, the Congress had to scuttle out the back as quickly as Howe’s marching army came in the front.

    In the first heady days after the victories at Brandywine and Germantown, Loyalists had rejoiced, sure that the fall of the capital and repeated defeats of the Continental Army spelled the end of the war. But Congress relocated without a sign of surrender, and word of General Burgoyne’s “convention” in the distant north suggested that any possibility of victory must now be placed on a far horizon. Burgoyne had surrendered an entire British army, whatever he called the act. Doubts that victory would ever be secured by the king’s forces were creeping in. To everyone the occupation of the city seemed temporary.

    The British wounded were well housed, even the black ones, but Caesar fretted at his inactivity. The ball that had ruined his pouch had glanced off his hip, plowing a deep furrow in his flesh, but that had healed quickly. Far worse was his rematch with the fever from the swamp. It was weeks before he could hold a conversation with Virgil or ask how Polly came to be in Philadelphia.

    He wasn’t sure he liked what he heard. Marcus White had come after the army arrived, and seemed to cross the lines without a pass, or so Virgil said. And Polly did the same. Virgil had seen her himself when he was on duty on the Germantown Road, coming into their lines with a basket on her head. It worried Caesar, but he couldn’t bring himself to ask her about it when she came to visit, often bringing fresh apples and once an orange from the south. He was weak, so weak that all he could do was eat and watch the world outside the barracks as the fall became winter.

    Stewart visited him with the news of Burgoyne’s surrender and delivered it in a monotone, so that Caesar knew it was serious.

    “Have we lost the war, then?” he asked.

    Stewart shook his head. “Not yet. But it’s not good. They say the French will enter the war now.”

    Jeremy leaned past Stewart and fed him an apple slice. “I’m not sure this is calculated to cheer our patient up,” he said. Stewart looked shamefaced.

    Caesar considered asking Stewart about the ease with which Reverend White crossed the lines, but he decided it was something he had to look into himself.
     
  32. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    The black troops missed their excellent barracks and their taverns in New York. Philadelphia was a very different city, more sober, perhaps more supportive of the king in material ways but more spiritually restrained. It was a city founded by Quakers, and it resented the new theater and the “loose” ways of the British soldiers and their amiable friends. The army retaliated by fetching their baggage and still more of their friends from New York, and the early days of winter saw most of Mother Abbott’s and a number of other followers make their way south. Sally arrived in a neat traveling dress and moved into a smart set of rooms over a milliner’s. The Guides knew that Captain Stewart, not Mother Abbott, now furnished her lodgings. The Reverend Marcus White and his daughter Polly took rooms in a small Southwark church in the late fall, and Polly began to serve the “ladies” of the theater. But the ladies of Philadelphia lacked the happy candor of Miss Poppy and Miss Hammond, and there were no mixed taverns, much less subscription dances. Philadelphia society valued itself far too much for such displays. Indeed, twice in the winter, the Guides were called out with some other black troops to clean the streets of the city, or shovel snow, duties they had never been expected to undertake in New York.

    Lieutenant George Martin was transferred to them while Caesar was recovering, and placed on their establishment. He was their first permanent officer, and as such they were prepared to dislike him or find him wanting. Caesar, in particular, worried that Lieutenant Martin might somehow change the company in his absence, but no such changes were manifest when he returned. Lieutenant Martin was conscientious in that he inspected quarters every few days, he made the rounds with Caesar and he stood his posts while they stood theirs. He was still learning the complexities of the manual, and soon after he returned to duty Caesar took him out to a big barn south of the city with Virgil and Fowver and a few steady men to teach him the methods that the company had developed and the drills that were practiced by Captain Stewart’s company and others in the Second light infantry Battalion. Lieutenant Martin seemed comfortable learning from them, which endeared him as fast as any amount of his work. And they found that he liked to sleep late and was pining for Miss Hammond, in far-off New York. They were mostly pining for New York themselves, and it gave them all sympathy together.

    George Martin had larger ambitions. He aspired to be an officer in the most prestigious of Loyalist corps, the Queen’s Rangers, now commanded by their old friend Captain, now Major, Simcoe. Major Simcoe had recovered from his wounds at Brandywine and had received the Queen’s Rangers as a reward for his participation in the critical closing moments of the battle. He made some very obliging remarks to the men of the Black Guides about their help in his reaching this object of his desire, and they were still drinking his health on a regular basis. Major Simcoe had told Mr. Martin that there were no positions open in his corps, but had allowed him to know that a year or two of distinguished service in another provincial corps, especially with the Guides, might win him the honor he desired. So Martin worked harder than he might have, and made a better impression.

    Christmas had passed with some celebration, and the New Year had been marked by a party given by the Scots with a barbaric name that Caesar couldn’t pronounce. And then he had entered the round of duties. The winter was hard, and the lines around Philadelphia seemed endless. The rebel army was never far away.

    A steady winter of drill had made them a better, sharper company. They had inherited some worn but serviceable red jackets from the grenadier company of the Sixty-fourth Regiment, which, with help from Virgil and a local tailor, allowed them to look considerably more like British soldiers when they were on duty in the city. For service on the lines, they continued in their warm brown coats and trousers, improved as individuals saw fit with woolen leggings, gaiters, leather breeches and boots, or any other provision against the snow that a man could devise.

    The younger generation, in the persons of Jim Somerset, Willy Smith, and Isaac Vernon, were now corporals. Neither Caesar nor Virgil fully credited Willy’s conversion from troublemaker to leader, but he seemed to have made it, and his squad was the best turned out in his platoon. He and Jim had developed a near-permanent rivalry between their men that they never seemed to allow to interfere with their own hard-won friendship. Caesar couldn’t bring himself to like Willy, but he tried to keep this from his day-to-day management of the company. And Isaac Vernon still seemed like a new boy, despite having served more than a year and fought like a small tiger in four actions. Sam the bugler and sometime drummer was useful, although he shook like a leaf under fire and cried at night. He was often away, running errands for Polly or Reverend White. He obviously knew the area very well, and Caesar thought the boy might have come from Philadelphia.

    The snow was not kind to men on the outer picket line. Caesar and the Guides had done a double share of duty, providing both a woodcutting party yesterday and pickets tonight, and there was some grumbling. Once they had watch fires roaring—the size of them a tribute to yesterday’s woodcutting—and food on the boil, resentment settled into a steady undercurrent of conversation.

    Caesar was sitting on a clean stump, using a handful of tow in the firelight to clear the snow from his fowler. He never slept in the field until his lock was clean, dry, and bright. The continuing hilarity at the next fire annoyed him, as he could hear Willy bragging about his rush into the Continental battery at Brandywine. He slipped a cover over his lock, pulled General Washington’s greatcoat closer around him, and walked along the beaten path to the next fire.

    “Willy, you going to take that patrol out to replace Sergeant Fowver, or just shout at the rebels?”

    Willy fell silent immediately.

    “Sorry, Sergeant,” he said without resentment. His men already had their greatcoats on, and packs, as Caesar never let men go out without all their equipment. The fire was throwing a wall of heat and he basked in it for a moment before he walked over to the knot of men preparing to depart and started looking at their muskets. They were all clean and dry. He gave Willy a smile.

    “Tell Sergeant Fowver to come see me if he has any news,” he said. Willy saluted.

    Caesar walked back to his own fire and burrowed into a little pile of hay with Virgil, who grunted. It was too cold for idle chatter, and anyone who managed to get to sleep resented any interruption.

    Nonetheless, it seemed he had only been asleep for a moment when Sergeant Fowver was prodding him awake.

    “You wanted my report?”

    Caesar did not come fully awake at once. He had been in a pleasant dream that had Polly White and a sort of misty future, and it had seemed both warm and pleasant. Virgil grunted. Caesar sat up, noting how cold his feet were as the big fire burned down.

    Caesar grabbed some wood from the pile and threw it on, and then kicked the sentry, who was asleep.

    “Laddy, if you can’t stop us from being attacked, at least keep the fire going.”

    The boy, a recent recruit from a farm in Maryland, just nodded. He expected to be beaten. Hocken? Haxen? Caesar couldn’t recall his name for a moment, and then it came. Horton. Tom Horton.

    “Tom, the army is a hard place. You have to pull your weight. Every man here has stayed awake long hours and then stayed awake on guard. In one of those English regiments, they’d have the skin off your back, do you hear? So put yourself on report to your corporal in the morning, and we’ll see. Don’t fall asleep again.”

    Horton cringed a little, awake but terrified, and Caesar grunted. He filled a little kettle with snow and put it on the fire.

    “What’d you see, Ben?” he said to Fowver. Fowver looked greedily at the kettle and settled on his haunches.

    “Never saw a one of their patrols. We went right down to the river and right across toward the Paoli Road and never saw a thing. Found a root cellar with some turnips. I put them on the pile at the head of camp. But the best thing is I found that Marcus White.”

    “What!” Caesar sat right up.

    “Sure as God made us sinful men. I brought him back. He says he has a pass, but he was out beyond our pickets and that ain’t right.”

    Caesar felt like he had seen a ghost, or worse.

    “Where is he?”

    “I have him with my lads at our fire. I didn’t want him to talk. He asked to see you.”

    Caesar nodded grimly. The implications were obvious, because the rebels spent so much effort moving spies and messengers in and out of Philadelphia. He could see that Fowver was as disturbed as he was himself. He had the added complication of being in love with the man’s daughter, and he tried to imagine White, either White, spying for the enemy. It made him sick.

    “I’ll come. Hey, Horton,” Caesar called to the sentry. The boy came at the run.

    “You boil this water and make tea, and come get me when it’s ready, and I might forget I caught you asleep.”

    “Yes, sir!”

    Caesar followed Fowver along the line of fires, thinking dark thoughts.

    If he expected Reverend White to show fear at his approach, he was very mistaken.

    “Good evening, Sergeant Caesar,” he said gravely.

    “Good evening, Reverend.” Caesar bowed a little. “You understand that we have to question you, Reverend?”

    “I do.”

    “Can you explain what you were doing in the wastes between the armies?” Caesar began to examine him. Marcus White was not dressed in the threadbare garments of a preacher of the gospel, but in a filthy red waistcoat and leather breeches that had seen a great many farmyards, tucked into heavy boots. It was the costume of a poor laborer. It didn’t look like anything that Marcus White should own.

    “I cannot, sir, except to say that I have many souls to minister to, and not all of them can be visited in a black coat or by the full light of day.”

    Caesar bowed again.

    “Reverend, I understand that, and yet I am charged with taking any man I find between the lines.” He turned to Fowver. “Anyone with him or around him? Did he have anything on him?”

    Fowver shifted his eyes a little, uncomfortable.

    “I didn’t search him,” he said.

    Marcus White stared into his eyes for a moment. It was a look of mingled reproach and question. Caesar succumbed.

    “Leave us alone for a moment, Ben,” he said, and Fowver moved away.

    “Take me direct to Lord Howe,” Marcus said. “Don’t make a fuss of it, but take me yourself. If a fuss is made, it might ruin everything.”

    “And you will not tell me what it might ruin.”

    White shook his head.

    “These are not my secrets, Julius Caesar.”

    “Now?”

    “Better than the whole camp knowing I was here.”

    Caesar shook his head.

    “This is not the city, Reverend. I have to take men with me if I go back. I’m not risking capture out here by going alone, and you know what happens to our kind if they are taken. Do you still want to go if I take a party?”

    “I understand your concern. I’m more worried about too many knowing my secrets than I am about capture.”

    Caesar nodded. White seemed very cool. He motioned to Fowver, who brought him the steaming kettle of tea.

    He drank a cup gratefully, then handed the little wooden cup, filled to the brim, to White, who drank greedily in his turn.

    “Sergeant Fowver,” he said formally, “I am handing the command of the company to you until Mr. Martin rejoins in the morning. I am taking this gentleman back to the city immediately.”

    Fowver nodded.

    “I’ll need two files of men, and as yours are still dressed, I’ll take them.” He motioned to four privates and saw from their weary resignation that they understood. He examined their muskets and then checked their haversacks for food.

    “Bad news is, you get to walk all night. Good news is, you get to sleep warm tomorrow.”

    He sensed he was in for a lot of grumbling, but he wanted to do some of his own.


    They had to cross seven miles of snowy roads and pass two lines of pickets to get back into the city. It was a dark night, and the going was slow, as every farm corner seemed like a turn in the road, and there were no signs to help them on their way. For a while they followed the tracks of a party of mounted dragoons who had visited them during the day, but then other horses joined and left the track and they could no longer rely on the clear horse trail. The moon came out from behind clouds and the night grew colder, but the men were warm as long as they kept moving. White was silent, and Caesar tried to read his soul and felt bad for it. He wanted White to prove himself good, but he couldn’t help but feel that the man had wanted him to take him to Philadelphia alone, or that he was still hoping for a lucky rescue. He couldn’t imagine what was behind that stoical face. Reverend White just kept walking, his head always up, glancing about him with interest even in the dark.

    They took a wrong turn at some point and walked a mile before Caesar realized they were going east, straight into the rebel lines, and he turned them around and walked them back until he could see their old tracks and the little drift of new snow that had put them off the main road. They climbed the drift, tired and deeply cold now, and walked north. There was no more grumbling. The four men who had been out all day with Fowver were deeply tired, and Caesar, who had walked posts and watched woodcutters for two straight days, was catching himself asleep from time to time even as he walked. Marcus White just kept walking, silent, careful, and watching all that they did with what appeared as a happy curiosity.

    The challenge of the Fortieth Regiment sentry was a welcome, and they thawed at the fire for a few moments before starting the home stretch into the city. Caesar watched White more attentively, afraid that the man might bolt or attempt an attack, but his demeanor never changed. It didn’t change at the second sentry line, where the sergeant of the guard showed some suspicion about the lot of them, or in the streets of the city, just waking as the first carts of the day rolled to the market. Caesar almost led the man home, and his heart was rising in unease as they approached the army headquarters, but he marched his charge to the headquarters guard and passed him into their care. He was not encouraged to wait, or give his version of the story, and he explained himself to Lieutenant Crawford at the barracks and went to sleep, exhausted and quite concerned.


    John Julius Stewart sat in Sally’s parlor and read his latest letter from Miss McLean with mingled senses of guilt and unreality. She belonged to another world from this, one where the war did not drag on, where he did not have a black mistress and a group of hard-living libertine friends and a growing mountain of debts to affront his father. It almost didn’t seem to matter that she missed him, or rather, he so doubted that he would ever see her again that it seemed unfair to worry about such trivialities. He was introspective enough to dislike these excuses he heard in his mind, and he turned her letter in his hands and tried to see her.

    Sally was standing in the doorway of her chamber, a fire filling the grate of her fireplace and warming her as she combed out her carefully straightened hair. She was modestly dressed in a good print jacket and and warm quilted petticoat, and her face had no hint of the makeup she might have worn in New York. Philadelphia was a different place, and although the British officers might play libertines in its Quaker streets, a woman who didn’t want her clothes spoiled or worse took care. Sally took care.

    She watched Stewart with tolerance and amusement. He was dressed to go out, in a long civilian coat of plush and a fancy waistcoat. Jeremy said he’d be at the theater half the night, which he often was. She wished she could go, the more so because Polly was sometimes there and other girls who had followed the army used it as a place to make their little rendezvous. She missed Polly, who came from time to time with a message from her father. She wanted company, and Stewart seldom offered it.

    Jeremy always told her when the letter came, and she didn’t feel any jealousy for an absent rival an ocean away. Stewart wouldn’t keep her forever, but he’d already done fairer by her than any of her previous boys, and while she missed the company of other girls from Mother Abbott’s, she didn’t miss the men or the obligations.

    Stewart rose and she helped him put a greatcoat over his elegant coat, then straightened him and tugged at his ribbons and his watch fob to make sure he was solidly accoutered. She lacked Jeremy’s expertise with his hair, but she helped him as best she could, patting the stray wisps down and touching up his curls, knowing it was all a waste as the first breeze in the street would set it all awry.

    “Enjoy yourself, sir,” she said demurely. He bowed to her, something none of her customers had ever done before she met Stewart.

    “Your servant, madam. I doubt I’ll meet any company tonight that I will enjoy as much as this.”

    She shook her head and laughed.

    “We have a dance lesson tomorrow with Miss Hallam.”

    “Just so,” he said with a smile, meaning that he would get up for it even if he had a thick head. She was glad he remembered, as it was her favorite day of the week. He bowed again and kissed her a little, and then went down the stairs, cursing as his sword caught in the narrow entranceway. She heard the bang of the front door and felt the gust of cold air under her own door, and he was gone.


    Jeremy arrived at the milliner’s shop later than he intended and he bounded to the door, stopped to check his watch, and saw that a man was just coming down from her rooms. He made a gesture of his mouth in distaste and stood aside, well into the shadows of the little hall where firewood and old furniture was stored at the base of the stairs. The man came down slowly, almost as if he was limping, and as he passed, Jeremy could see that he was a slight man in a bearskin coat, with gray in his hair and a hard face, and white. Not Captain Stewart, at any rate. Silently, he made his moue of distaste again and waited for the interloper to close the outer door before he moved up the stairs.

    He had to knock several times before she opened, and then it was not any version of the Sally he knew, neither the bold one nor the saucy one, but a woman beside herself with fear and something darker. She was visibly relieved as soon as she recognized him.

    “What is it, Sally?” he asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

    “Nothin’,” she said. “Nothin’. I had a fall.”

    “Nonsense, Sally. Who was that man on the stairs?”

    She looked away.

    “He hit you, didn’t he? Look at me, Sally.”

    “Won’t you jus’ give me a minute, honey?” She smiled a little, although her lip trembled. She was making a great effort to master herself. Their evenings together were rare, and she wanted to cry to see it ruined. She liked Jeremy above all men she had ever met, and he was looking at her in a horrible way.

    “Sally? Who was he?”

    “Does it matter, honey? I ain’t your sister.” She smiled bravely at him. “One man more or less can’t really hurt me.”

    He glared at her, and then was suddenly calm.

    “Sure, Sally, and I have no right to take you to task for spreading your favors, except that I don’t think the captain would be so understanding.” She nodded. “You don’t need money?” He couldn’t believe it. He wrote his master’s accounts, and he knew what she received.

    She bit her lip and tasted a little blood where the man had hit her. She had forgotten that Jeremy would come. She couldn’t think what to tell him. She ached to tell him the truth, and see him look at her with something like admiration, but she couldn’t.

    “Take me out?” she asked, making the smile and the half-lidded eyes that led men along so easily.

    Jeremy shrugged. “Just as you like, but we’re going where I want to go. Perhaps you’ll learn something by it.” He waited while she cleaned herself up, helped her into a cloak, and they went out into the snow. They walked quite a distance in silence, and her elegant shoes began to hurt her feet. She had walked the roads of the south for too long barefoot to be able to get her feet into pretty shoes comfortably, and that irked her, but frozen, painful feet irked her more.

    “Where are you taking us?”

    “A tavern,” he said sharply, and kept walking. He took her all the way down to the port, near the river, where merchantmen and a few Royal Navy vessels filled the wharves. The ice on the river was already breaking. They passed several taverns before he led her to one whose appointments suggested that it was for the better class of sailors, with a gilt anchor cut like an officer’s button as its sign.

    Sally stopped. “I don’t like taverns,” she said, in bitter memory.

    “I won’t sell you, you foolish girl. Just come inside.”

    “Black folk ain’t welcome in this sort of place.”

    “I drink here often, Sally.” Jeremy looked at her with appraising eyes, and she sensed that he had wanted to bring her here for some time. He led her into the warmth of the place and in a moment she felt her legs flush under her petticoats. She was cold.

    The seats by the fire were filled with gentlemen in navy uniforms, or in civilian clothes that failed to hide their true profession. A few army officers were there as well, and some merchant sailors. Jeremy was greeted once, by an officer, and he bowed in return and got them to a table near the door to the kitchen. Sally grew warmer by the moment.

    “Do you see?” he said eagerly, once they had been served warm wine.

    She shook her head. “They treat you nice,” she agreed. “You speak like a gent and have nice manners, and they don’ know who you might be.”

    “Not that, Sally. You are a ninny. Look over there.”

    She looked off into the candlelight beyond the fireplace on the other side of the common room. A black man sitting with a big blond man, or perhaps overgrown boy. They were arguing loudly about something.

    “Know him?” Jeremy asked.

    “The black one? Is he another servant? He sounds like he’s from the Indies.”

    Jeremy laughed aloud. At the sound of the laughter, the two men turned and looked at him. The blond boy waved at Jeremy, but the other man rose and bowed to Sally before sitting again. Sally looked into her wine for a moment, thinking that men were all exactly the same, but pleased by the bow nonetheless.

    “Sally, he’s an officer. A Lieutenant in the Royal Navy.”

    “A black man?”

    “The same. Lieutenant James Crease, born a slave in Santo Domingo.”

    She drank off her wine.

    “Still a man like other men.”

    “Don’t be coarse, there’s a good girl. Sally, he’s an officer. Maybe just the first. There’s nothing we can’t do. That’s what I brought you here to see.”

    Sally leaned back in her seat and put her face very prettily in one hand.

    “Honey, you was never a slave. I was. I was born one.”

    He nodded.

    “It don’ jus’ pass out of you, honey.” She smiled at him, beautiful in the candlelight even with a growing bruise. She thought to say more, but the black man from the table was suddenly standing by Jeremy and bowing.

    “Your servant, sir. Crease, of HMS Apollo.”

    Jeremy rose and bowed more deeply.

    “Jeremy Green, sir, in service to Captain Stewart.”

    “I hope you won’t think me a libertine if I say I stopped here to say that your lady is very beautiful,” Crease said, with another bow. The big blond fellow called something out and waved again. Sally smiled at him, and Jeremy bowed.

    “Thank you, sir.”

    “My pleasure. Time to shove off, Jack,” he called, and went out.


    “Sergeant!”

    Caesar awoke to find that it was mid-afternoon and one of the men from the Black Pioneers, another black company, was trying to shake him awake.

    “Sergeant!”

    Leaden with lack of sleep, he opened an eye. The whole of his straw mattress was warm, gathered around him like the thickest comforter in the world.

    “An officer for you, Sergeant. And a young lady.”

    He forced himself up.

    In ten minutes he was as clean and neat as his backpack could make him. Most of his good shirts were still locked in a trunk at the Moor’s Head in New York, but with what he had to hand and a cup of hot water, he was clean and shaved when he came down the stairs to the guardroom at the front of the barracks house. Lieutenant Crawford was sitting primly with Miss Polly White. They made something of an odd couple, but they fell silent as he entered.

    “Sir?”

    “I’m to escort you to Colonel Musgrave, Sergeant.” Caesar looked around a little wildly.

    “Am I under arrest?”

    “Not that I know of. Now get a coat and come along.”

    The walk wasn’t far, and Colonel Musgrave was brisk. He had a mountain of correspondence in front of him and was busy signing off items for his regimental agent, all on documents with which Caesar was intimately familiar. Caesar took off his hat and bowed, and Musgrave remained as he was, head down and writing steadily for some time. When he looked up, he seemed surprised to find anyone there. Then he smiled.

    “Ah, Sergeant Julius Caesar of the Guides. A pleasure, Sergeant. A word about last night, if I may? Your patrol encountered only a member of this army in distress, and rescued him, then brought him back to headquarters. Nothing more. Am I clear?”

    “Yes, sir.” Caesar had only addressed Colonel Musgrave once in his military career and was daunted by the second attempt.

    “You did very well. Glad you showed some spirit in the thing, and glad no harm was done, eh? Here’s a guinea for the men of the patrol, and another for you and the other sergeant. Right? Right, then. Well done. Dismissed.”

    Caesar bowed and was shepherded out again by Lieutenant Crawford.

    “That mean anything to you, Caesar?” asked Crawford.

    Caesar nodded, looking at two guineas in his hand.

    “Any idea why I was told to bring Miss White, then?”

    She smiled at him and held out a hand.

    “I can only hope, sir,” he said. Crawford shook his head. When they were outside, she tugged her hand away.

    “I have to take you to my father.”

    “I expect so,” he said, still smiling at her. She colored a little and turned away.

    “I don’t see you as much as I used to,” she said.

    “This ain’t New York, Polly. And you and the Reverend aren’t always easy to find.”

    She nodded, looking down. She didn’t offer her hand again, but walked by his side until they reached the little carriage house where they lived.

    “I wish…” she said.

    “What do you wish, then?” he asked, trying to kiss her. She avoided him.

    “Never mind, you. Stop that.” She pushed him in the door and slammed it.

    Marcus White was seated at his own little desk by the window, writing quickly. He took off his spectacles as soon as he saw Caesar and rose. Caesar bowed and White waved him to a chair.

    “You got the message, I see.”

    “I did, sir.”

    “And you are puzzled?”

    “Not in the least, sir. Honored more than ever by your acquaintance, sir, and perhaps not even surprised by your role, now that I have it clear.”

    Reverend White nodded slowly.

    “Do you have any questions, then?”

    “Is Polly involved?”

    He saw White’s hands clasp hard behind his back and had his answer. He had questioned too many guilty soldiers to need any coaching on the subject.

    “Never mind, then.”

    “Do you love my daughter, sir?” Reverend White was very close to him, and perhaps a little angry. Suddenly, Caesar was on different ground than expected.

    “Perhaps…yes, I think I do. Which is to say that I haven’t given it much thought, lately.” Caesar raised his chin. “She’s a little above me, I think.”

    “Why? Because she can read? You can read. Because she’s modest? You’re no libertine.”

    “You are a man of real education, sir.” Marcus shook his head, but Caesar went on. “I decided when we left New York that it wasn’t right.”

    Marcus White nodded. “Yes, yes. You’re doing a fine job of speaking all my lines. I agree that you have no skill besides war. It worries me. Julius Caesar, so aptly named! But last night scared me more. I made a mistake and almost paid for it. I think she has a great deal of regard for you. If we all live to get back to New York…”

    “New York?” asked Caesar. Fascinated though he was by the subject, he was equally interested by the prospect of a move to New York.

    “Haven’t you heard? Lord Howe is to go back to England in the spring, and Sir Henry Clinton will take command. He intends to march the army back to New York.” This was uttered as if a commonplace. Caesar just shook his head.

    “Even barracks rumor has not gone so far.”

    “It’s fact, though, Caesar. The Government is going to retreat and try negotiation for a while. Saratoga has scared them deeply. I hope we have not already lost the war.”

    Caesar shook his head. “You know more than any officer I know, but I suspect I know why, and I won’t say. So tell me about New York?”

    “Eh?”

    “If we all get back there, I think you said?”

    “Ahh. Yes. If we do, and if you’d care to court her, and if she’s willing, I’d be content.”

    Caesar saw a marvelous vista opening before him. He smiled from ear to ear.

    “Not every day that the woman’s father asks you to court her, is it?”

    Caesar shook his head again, tongue-tied.

    “I told her you’d never ask. She told me you never stopped trying to take liberties.” Caesar was suddenly cast down. “I ask that if this comes to nothing, you not bring my daughter down.” Caesar raised his eyes and met the minister’s.

    “Yes. Yes, I promise.”

    “Good, then. I think we understand each other. Where is my Epictetus?”

    “In my pack.”

    “I have the Memoirs of Socrates to trade for it when you bring it. In your pack, you say? Is there anything left of it?”

    “I dried it well when it got wet, sir. The pages have warpled a little, but she’s fine.”

    “Perhaps I should save my books as well as my daughter, until New York.”

    He went out, and she was waiting.

    “You have my father’s permission.” She said it straight, and flat. His heart turned over.

    “You don’t seem too pleased.” Caesar thought that all his suspicions of Marcus White might come back, if it turned out that White was trading his daughter for Caesar’s silence about his activities.

    “I’d like to hear something from you.”

    Caesar met her eyes. They stood a long moment, looking at each other. “I want to marry you,” he said, straight.

    She nodded gravely.

    “But I’m a soldier. Polly, I don’t know just how to say this to you, ‘cept that I ain’t so sure we’ll win. And then what am I? A black freeman? A slave? Somebody’s property? You ain’t…you aren’t like me. I want to marry you, but I want to know that there’s something after all this.”

    Polly smiled for the first time in that conversation. “That’s the Caesar I want. The one that thinks. I don’t want it all to be snatched kisses and your hand on my thigh, Caesar. I want to be talked to. I learned that equality from my father, and I’ll expect it.” She started to walk, and made a motion that he should come along. “It’s cold. I’m cold. As to after the war, what of it? We’re black, Caesar. There isn’t ever a day we’ll rest easy, knowing that the next day will bring us ease. And I don’t see you ever being a slave again.”

    Caesar caught her to him and kissed her, a quick kiss on the lips, and then a longer kiss on her neck. “I’ll keep you warm, at least,” he said.

    She kissed him a moment and pulled free. “New York, then,” she said, and turned back to her father’s house.


    The sallow man in the bearskin coat had two more stops to make, but he thought of the black whore for the rest of the evening. She was the favorite of his post boxes, and the only one who didn’t make him cringe and feel inferior. Sometimes, when she vexed him, he hit her and liked it. She was terrified of him, and no one had ever been terrified of him before—much the reverse—and he took pleasure in that, too.

    He picked up two more packages and then traveled east, carefully avoiding the post at the first line of pickets and meeting a Quaker farmer and his wife exactly on time, just as the sun rose off toward Landsdowne. The little man in the bearskin coat was especially proud when he was just on time for these meetings. He rode up cautiously, because he was always cautious, and stopped a good few paces from the wagon.

    “Got any fodder to sell?” he asked. The old Quaker on the wagon frowned.

    “Got any fresh fodder to sell?” he corrected himself, annoyed that the man needed so much care, but pleased that he could remember the whole phrase. The old man nodded, and indicated the back of the wagon.

    The man in the bearskin coat rode back into the city when the transaction was finished, again avoiding the British post on the road, back to his dreary day-to-day life. He liked the nights when he was a courier, a secret messenger for the cause.

    The Quaker farmer took his wagon through the lines with a paper signed by several commanders on both sides, selling fodder as he went. Once he was outside the range of all but the most aggressive patrols of the King’s army, he turned down a side lane past some fields that had been fallow at least a year and drove his wagon right into a barn. He no sooner pulled in there than armed men surrounded him.

    “What you got for me?” asked Sergeant Bludner.
     
  33. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    Washington felt the cold right through his spirits. The capital was lost, and his army, a bare three thousand men, were camped in the hardest conditions they had yet endured. He felt that the war might now be lost through sheer neglect and a lack of basic logistics. His men might melt away, starve or die in the cold.

    Washington looked at the man standing before him, able, brave, animated. The very picture of a good officer, and Washington disliked that he had to refuse the man a furlough, but the other generals had been writing passes as if they were free of threat, and with British patrols attacking his outposts every day he could not afford to have his officers absent. He feared desertion. He feared that the army would break up like an ice floe and be gone in a night.

    “General, I appeal to you. I’ve worn out all my smallclothes, and I promised I would wed her by the first of the year. She’ll be eating her heart our, sir! Please let me go.”

    Washington said nothing. The Massachusetts captain was dressed in the remnants of a British coat, and his boots were wrapped in rags. His hat was tied to his head with a piece of old sacking. When he gesticulated, his hand could be seen wrapped in bandages. Yet he stood straight as an arrow in front of his general.

    “If I don’t go, she’ll die.”

    Washington smiled thinly. “Oh, no sir. Women do not die for such trifles.”

    “But, General, what shall I do?” The man was not angry at being refused, just plaintive.

    “What will you do? Captain, I recommend you do as I do and write to her to add another leaf to the book of women’s sufferings.” He winced at his own tone, as he could imagine what Martha would say if she were present, but thankfully for his status as the “demigod” of the revolutionary cause, she was not.

    When the captain was dismissed, Washington notified Colonel Fitzgerald that he was done with petitions for the day, and set himself to correspondence. He read a dispatch from his spymaster stating that an agent in Philadelphia with a code he recognized was confirming the movement of British troops out of the city in the spring. It was not the first report Washington had received on the subject, and he looked out of the window for a moment and considered what it would mean to his army, starving in the snow, to retake their capital, even if it were retaken only because the enemy abandoned it.

    A knock at the door interrupted his reflection. Billy leaned in and indicated the marquis a little behind him. Washington beckoned.

    “The marquis has a man he wishes to introduce, General,” said Billy. “I think you might want to hear him.”

    Washington nodded. “Some warm punch?” he asked, and Billy vanished.

    The marquis bowed elegantly and made way for a far less graceful man behind him.

    “My General, may I have the pleasure of introducing Freiherr von Steuben, formerly a general in the service of the King of Prussia? Monsieur von Steuben, J’ai le plaisir d’introducer le Général des Etats Unis, Monsieur George Washington. General, Freiherr von Steuben has little English.”

    Rather than Lafayette’s courtly bow, von Steuben clicked his heels together and bowed stiffly from the waist.

    “Votre servant, Monsieur le Général,” he said. Washington’s French was not good at the best of times. Washington waved them to chairs.

    “Please thank the Freiherr for coming. I am flattered to receive an officer from the Prussian King. How may I be of service?”

    There was a brief conversation in French, and Lafayette smiled. “The Freiherr wishes that he may serve our army. He makes no demand for rank and says that rather than importune you for some task, it might be best if he simply joined your headquarters and watched to see if he could be of service.”

    Von Steuben spoke rapidly again. Then he smiled and rose from his chair, bowed from the waist again and seated himself.

    Lafayette nodded and waited until his protégé had finished. “The Freiherr says that he served on the staff of the great King Frederick and also has conducted largescale…” Lafayette paused. “How do you say it, games, on the Champs de Mars?” The two foreigners looked at each other.

    Washington smiled benevolently. “Military exercises?”

    “Exactement. My pardon, General. I speak nothing but English for months and it improves iteself, yes? And then I have someone to speak the langue of home, and…”

    “Please tell Freiherr von Steuben that I would be delighted to make a temporary place on my staff, and that he should feel free to ask me anything he likes. I will assign John Laurens to translate for him. Laurens might learn more soldiering, and you, my dear Marquis, are far too busy to be a translator, I think.”

    If it was a reproof, it was a gentle one. Lafayette’s adoration of his general was sometimes a burden, and it imposed on Washington a restraint he had never used with another person, except perhaps Martha, but it was cheering, all the same.

    Washington called for John Laurens and Billy served hot punch to all four men. Washington thought of the contrast between the Yankee captain to whom he had been forced to refuse a furlough and the elegant Lafayette in his new uniform and fur-lined waistcoat, and the contrast made him think of Lafayette’s unlikely friend.

    “How is Captain Lake, Marquis?”

    “He does very well. His arm has healed cleanly. The hospital was worse for him than the wound, I think. I will have him out on patrol in a few days.”

    “What? Doesn’t he want a furlough like every other officer?”

    “General, George Lake is the true believer, yes? He will not leave this army until the enemy is beaten.”

    John Laurens bowed from the door and came in, snatching his share of the punch. He was in some middle ground between the ragged soldiers outside and the near perfection of Lafayette, but when the situation had been explained to him, he was able to translate for von Steuben very well indeed. When the three men began to discuss military matters in French, Washington cleared his throat and stood to his dominating height, and the others rose immediately.

    “My pardon, General. I meant no rudeness.”

    Washington smiled, a thin smile that left his teeth hidden, but with some warmth. “I must go back to the army’s work, gentlemen. Colonel Laurens, may I leave the Freiherr in your capable hands? Marquis, I thank you for bringing him, although I must say that I would have thought you natural enemies.”

    “Perhaps in Europe, Mon Général. Here, we unite in the cause of liberty.” Lafayette bowed deeply and the men withdrew, leaving Washington to plan his campaigns. Somehow, between the Yankee captain, George Lake’s recovery and von Steuben, his mood had changed. He was pleased.

    Billy closed the door and smiled.
     
  34. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    The army reentered Philadelphia to muted celebrations. The people of the City of Brotherly Love had watched armies come and go for three seasons now, and were inured to the change. The Loyalists missed the British, and indeed, so great a revel had the Mischianza proved that some heads were still recovering from it.

    The return of the Continental Congress restored the city to the position of capital, and the government returned with a rush, eager to renew the business of politics and also to seize the property of avowed Loyalists. It was a difficult time, particularly as the enemy was just across the river in New Jersey, busy retreating on New York, and Washington was keen to get across and harry their retreat.

    George Lake had marched through the city before, but the last time he had been a corporal. Now he was a captain, and thanks to the generosity of the marquis, he almost looked the part, in a good blue coat with red facings, a smart leather helmet with a visor, and his fine sword hanging by his side. He even wore good top boots in emulation of his idol. Behind him, his company shared in his fortune. Every man had a good wool coat, brought as bounty from France. The coats had been shared through the army by lottery, but most of the light infantry had received theirs first, not least because Lafayette had many friends among the younger officers of that corps. So Lake’s company, one of the best in the army, led the parade that was also a pursuit: they were to march through the city and board a ferry the next day.

    Reclaiming his company had proved less of a hazard than recruiting it. By the time George was fully recovered, he found his company had shrunk to just twenty-five men under a sergeant he didn’t know. In his absence, the other officer hadn’t been replaced and no drafts had been procured. George had been forced to tour the other companies and importune Colonel Weedon for more men. In time he’d got them and a new officer, Lieutenant Isaac Ross, a Scotsman from Alexandria with a far better claim to the rank of officer than George Lake. Ross, however, first encountered his new commander having wine with the much revered Marquis de Lafayette and never thought to question his commander’s antecedents.

    Ross was better than adequate. He roamed the column and watched the sergeants and made George’s life very easy, so that as they neared a certain corner, close by the City Tavern, George was able to turn his attention to a certain house. It was still a block away when George saw men at the windows and someone smashing the front door with an axe. He knew that the Lovells were Loyalists, and he knew the temper of the times.

    “Mr. Ross? Indian files from the flanks of sections, if you please. At the double!”

    George waited until his men began to file off and then led them up the side of the column, trotting along smartly. The men in the companies ahead were studiously looking the other way, trying to ignore what was happening under their noses.

    George’s friend Caleb commanded the company just short of the house. “What’s your hurry, George?”

    George pointed at the Lovells’. “I’m intending to stop the looters.”

    “Folks inside are Tories.”

    “Folks looting them are scum, Caleb.”

    “Aye, then. True enough. I’ll back your play.”

    George turned away and motioned to his men. “Take them. I want them all as prisoners. Smartly now, and no shooting.”

    He drew his sword and led a few men into the Lovells’ central hall. A big man was carrying a sewing table and seemed surprised to see a Continental officer appear.

    “This ‘ere’s my place. Go get your own.”

    George jabbed him in the face with the hilt of his sword and broke the man’s nose. “Take him.”

    Ready hands grabbed the man and George took the sewing table before it got broken. Around the house, through the great casemented windows, George could see his own men and Caleb’s forming a cordon. His sergeant was arresting men in the library.

    George called out: “Mrs. Lovell? Mr. Lovell?”

    He heard voices from upstairs and ran to the top, where he found a huddle of men, none in uniform. The best dressed stepped in front of George and raised his hand. His voice was shaking, whether with emotion or fear George cared little.

    “Halt! Soldier, you are interfering with the orders of the Congress.”

    “Take him,” said George, grabbing the man’s outstretched arm and pulling him down the steps.

    “Damn you, sir! I am an officer of Congress…”

    “Are you now? Where were you at Valley Forge, then? Take him, boys.”

    The man disappeared into a welter of soldiers. When it had been a matter of helping Tories, the men had been hesitant, but as soon as George made it a matter of taking men who claimed to be patriots but declined to serve in the army the soldiers were suddenly very active.

    The rest of the looters at the head of the stairs stood warily. One man had drawn a pistol.

    George pointed. “Is that loaded? Put it down this instant or you’re a dead man.”

    The man hesitated. The barrel swung slowly, as if the man couldn’t decide where to direct it.

    “Down, I say,” said George, quietly. Behind him, one of his corporals took careful aim from the steps. The pistol was placed on the floor.

    “Take them all outside. Mrs. Lovell!”

    More cries, this time from farther up in the house, perhaps the servants’ quarters. George pushed through the men, sullen now, and snatched up the pistol. Then he turned a corner and went up some narrower steps to a door. The door was shut and there were two men with a crowbar outside.

    “Drop the bar and clear the door, lads.”

    They saw the pistol and cowered away.

    “Straight past me and down the hall. Don’t make a fuss or you’ll be killed. Good lads.” They were younger than the rest, perhaps less spoilt, and they did as he said.

    “Mrs. Lovell?” he shouted.

    “Who’s that?”

    “George Lake of the Continental Army, ma’am. Your house is clear. You can come out.”

    He heard a shriek from inside the door. He was thinking of knocking it down himself when it was opened from inside. Mrs. Lovell’s face was bright red, and her shawl was wrapped around one hand, which was bleeding. Betsy was behind her.

    “Are you all right, ma’am?”

    “Mr. Lake? Thanks to God, sir, for your timely arrival. I think they meant more than pillage, and my husband hasn’t been home in two days and I fear for him, and one of the dogs was killed by a band, and, sir…”

    This was not the Mrs. Lovell who had been so calm in ladling milk to his men. She was badly shaken, like men he’d seen on the battlefield. George moved her downstairs and exchanged a glance with Betsy, who was dressed in mourning and threw her arms around his neck in a manner he found…very pleasing. But duty called. He looked deep in her eyes and she gave a nervous smile, as if now embarrassed by her own boldness.

    He was afraid to ask her anything, so he left her looking after her mother and went outside. The column was moving on, and his men were hopelessly out of line already, as were Caleb’s.

    Colonel Weedon rode over, accompanied by the marquis.

    “Captain Lake? I do hope you have an explanation, sir.”

    “Colonel, this is a Loyalist house. But the people here have been good to the army, gave us milk the last time we was here, and I’m partial to them. The house was being broken by scum. I took care of it.”

    Weedon nodded, looking at the group of toughs on the lawn.

    “They mean to make trouble for you, then.”

    Lake nodded, and the marquis looked thoughtful. Then he rode over to the group and pointed at them. “I believe every one of these men is a deserter from the Second Pennsylvania Regiment,” he said aloud. The soldiers hooted at them. The men looked angry or terrified.

    “I ain’t no deserter. I ain’t stupid enough to be in your army!” shouted the biggest to a chorus of jeers.

    The marquis came back: “My friend the Freiherr von Steuben will so enjoy making these men into soldiers. They, themselves, will someday acknowledge the favor we have done them in allowing them to serve the cause of liberty.”

    Weedon laughed and slapped his holsters. “Damn me, Marquis. You have a way with you. That’s that, then, George. Get your men together and bring your ‘deserters’ along.”

    George saluted and went back into the Lovells’ house. On the steps he put a hand on Caleb’s arm. “Can you do me another favor, Caleb?”

    “I suppose.” Caleb was laconic at the best of times.

    “Have a man you trust wait for the baggage and have William brought here. They’re going to leave the wounded in the City anyway, Caleb. William’ll be better off with the Lovells, and he’ll give them some element of protection, as well.”

    “An’ if he ever recovers his wits, he’ll be home, like.”

    “Thankee, Caleb!” George passed back into the parlor, where Mrs. Lovell was sitting in the big chair with her daughter close by. Soldiers were moving furniture back in.

    “Mr. Lake; Captain Lake, I think. How can I thank you enough?”

    “It was nothing, ma’am. But you could perhaps do me a favor, if you feel I’ve done you a service. A man I know is badly wounded. Our army hasn’t a real hospital…”

    Mrs. Lovell sprang to her feet. “I’d be happy, Captain. Take me to him.”

    “I’ve taken the liberty of sending for him. He’s from Pennsylvania, and his name is William. He’s been awake a few times in the last month, but he’s bad. An’ that’s all we know. But we shared a tent when I was wounded…”

    Betsy looked at him and turned white. She looked down suddenly and sat. Mrs. Lovell nodded. “When were you wounded?”

    “I was hit at Brandywine, ma’am. But I was most of the winter recovering. I thought to write, an’ then I thought…” In fact, he realized that his thoughts were neither here nor there, and that his company was forming outside and Private Locke was hanging on his every word in the doorway. Oh, lovely gossip about the captain. He bowed to cover his confusion, but Mrs. Lovell was still too close to her own troubles to notice.

    “I have to march, ma’am. May I write for news of my friend?” He looked directly at Betsy when he spoke, greatly daring, hoping she could read his code. She kept her eyes down, but a tiny smile played at her mouth.

    “Of course, sir. You are a benefactor of this house, and your letters will always be welcome here.” Mrs. Lovell already sounded more herself.

    George bowed. “I must go. My apologies for the rush. Mrs. Lovell, your servant, Miss Lovell.”

    “See the captain to the door, Betsy. Let’s look like civil people despite the events of this morning.” Betsy blushed and followed George to the door. He paused, as close to alone with her as he’d ever been and unable to speak a word.

    Caleb, out in the street, caught sight of his coat and called out, “Come on, George!”

    George looked at Betsy and his feet actually moved, so great was his pull to the street. He shuffled, and cursed inwardly.

    “My fiancée fell through the ice and drowned,” Betsy said, and she kissed him. It was just a touch, but it lit his face like fire. He caught one of her hands and kissed it, afraid to touch her.

    “I’ll write.”

    “You had better, Mr. Lake.”

    “I want…” He was tongue-tied, and he kissed her hand again. She smiled as if she knew and vanished in the door.

    Out in the street, his face red as an enemy coat, George trotted to the head of his company.

    “Well done, our George!” yelled one of his men. He glared.

    “A beauty and no mistake,” said his sergeant. Someone gave a cheer.

    “March!” growled George.


    A few streets away, Washington sat in the City Tavern and looked at the treaty Silas Deane had laid in front of him. It held the seals of Europe’s most powerful monarch. Lafayette beamed with pride.

    “France has recognized the United States.” John Laurens was reading, alternating with Deane. “And will become our ally. They will send us soldiers and matériel.”

    Washington nodded. They had heard the rumor for weeks, but there was a happy babble of congratulation from those gathered in the great common. Fitzgerald laughed with Hamilton, and Lafayette translated something to von Steuben. Outside, their army, a new army, marched through the streets with a steady pace that von Steuben had spent the spring beating into them. They looked like regulars. Some of them had done before, but now the whole army looked the part.

    Washington moved off to one of the windows at the north end of the room and looked out at the city. After a moment, he realized that his inner staff had gathered around him silently while the rest kept up a fine run of comment in the background. Washington nodded to Hamilton.

    “I have to thank you, gentlemen.”

    Hamilton bowed. He couldn’t remember being thanked by Washington for anything. Lafayette beamed and Fitzgerald looked puzzled.

    “What for, sir? It’s Silas Deane as got the treaty.”

    “You gentlemen taught me to use a staff, and to trust…other men.” He paused. “So now you will need to teach me to trust an ally far more powerful than we are. Am I wrong to doubt the purity of France’s motives?”

    They all looked suddenly grim. And Lafayette nodded. “You are right, General. And yet I think they wish the English defeated.”

    Washington rubbed the bridge of his nose; he could see a new crowd of congressional dignitaries coming toward the staff.

    “I would prefer to defeat the British before the French arrive. But for that, we must make Clinton stand and fight.”
     
  35. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    “They will stand, and they will fight.” Washington was speaking not of the British, but of his own men. He could not believe what he was hearing from the men in the room. Charles Lee, exchanged from captivity and now no friend to his commander, was gathering around him a party of discontent. That Washington knew, but until this moment he had no idea of the power their discontent had in his officer corps. The thought struck him that Lee had always been like this, searching for the boundaries of authority. Something crystallized in Washington, even as Lee moved to the map.

    Lee pointed. “Clinton is marching back to New York. The British can call it anything they like, sir, but it is a retreat. With all due respect, we gain nothing by attacking him and little by interrupting his retreat. The risk to us is great, however. Right now, every man in New Jersey is ours. Since Saratoga, the tide of Congress is running high. We cannot afford a defeat. If we attack his rearguard, we will be defeated. Our troops cannot stand the fire.”

    Washington looked around the room. Lee seemed to have polarized the officers of the army, recently so united, and Washington vowed silently that this would not happen again. He looked at the marquis. Lafayette, recovered from his wound and entirely unchanged, uncrossed his legs and popped out of his seat like a marionette.

    “I would be delighted to take our advance guard and have a passage à l’outrance, General. I do not agree with the General Lee. I believe that my men will stand the fire.”

    Lee looked at him disgustedly.

    “When have they yet, sir?”

    “You were not at Trenton or Princeton, sir, nor Brandywine.”

    “I wasn’t at Saratoga, either, sir! But by God, even the veterans of those actions admit that they couldn’t stop the British when they came on with the bayonet! Right up until he surrendered, Burgoyne was still winning his victories! We cannot afford one of those defeats. We have a good new army and a great deal of public support and a treaty with France. We’ve won! Let’s keep it. Let’s shadow Clinton all the way out of New Jersey and claim victory.” He turned a look of repugnance on Lafayette. “And let’s leave him in the nursery where he belongs.”

    “Contain yourself and apologize!” Washington spoke in a voice of thunder. Lee recoiled. Washington stood to his full height, towering over Lee.

    “I beg pardon, sir. The hurry of the moment…”

    “Ce n’est rien, General Lee.” Lafayette was always magnanimous. It was one of the reasons so many of the officers hated him.

    “General Lafayette, you may take the advance guard under your command. Give me a plan to attack the rearguard of General Clinton’s army and make an attempt on his baggage.”

    General Lee took a deep breath and swept his head around the room. There were a number that looked to him for leadership. He had gathered a small crowd on his side, distinct from the crowd around Washington. After the victory at Saratoga, there had been a conspiracy to place Gates at the head of the army, but it had failed in part because so few officers knew Gates, or liked him. The same was not true of Charles Lee. A great many officers in the army admired him.

    “Very well, sir. If you insist on this mission, I will undertake it rather than entrust it to an officer so inexperienced, no matter how good his heart.”

    Washington looked at Lee with thinly disguised misgiving.

    “Very well, General Lee.”

    “But I will not guarantee the outcome.” Lee was sarcastic. Washington wondered if he had allowed this behavior before or if captivity had changed Lee.

    “I seem to remember you feeling that I lacked decision on a former occasion, General Lee.” Lee grew pale. Washington seemed an extra few inches tall. “Don’t let me find you the same, General.”

    Washington held his gaze until Charles Lee turned away.
     
  36. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    Marcus and Polly had always been sure they would return to New York, but Caesar had hoped that the war was going better than that. Early spring proved them right. Once the orders to move back to New York came to them, he hoped that they would sail home, as they had come, but they were ordered to march. The women were ordered into boats along with the heavy baggage and most of the stores, but the army stepped off from Philadelphia, leaving it to the rebels, and headed for New York. In the dark of the first morning’s march, Caesar felt that the war was lost. They had taken the rebel capital and the victory had not had any real effect. There were rumors that the French would now declare war on England and they would all be on the defensive. Caesar saw his chances of a life of freedom marching away into the dark like Clinton’s retreating army.

    The march was orderly, but they were attacked every night in New Jersey and many of the days, as well. Militia rose up out of the ground to contend the flanks, and every patch of woods had its garrison of local men. They took casualties, enough to make the men angry, and they were in action or worried about it every day.

    Soon enough, they began to encounter more than just militia. Twice they found ambuscades laid by regular troops, and one whole day they skirmished with mounted dragoons who dogged their patrols just out of musket range, looking for an opening. During those days, Caesar began to rely on the green-coated men of Simcoe’s new regiment, the Queen’s Rangers. They had their own cavalry and their own riflemen, and twice his patrols were saved by their timely appearance. There were black men in the ranks of the Rangers, and in several other units, now.

    The pressure on the Guides mounted every day. They lost two men in a day, killed by rifles at a distance, and the next day a new boy, Dick Lantern, who had been an ostler in Philadelphia, was captured when he strayed too far out of the pickets in the evening. They all knew he would be sold as a slave. It added to their fatigue and their frustration.

    Caesar felt that Washington was following them like the hunter he was. He wondered when Washington would pounce.

    The day started hot. The night before had been warm and so damp that Caesar’s men lay on their muskets to keep them dry. The rebels had driven some cattle herds right through the outposts, scattering sentries and luring them to fire, which alarmed the camps and kept the men awake.

    It was the last alarm, just as the false dawn started in a dark morning already too hot for comfort, when the sentries nearest the light infantry began to fire. Caesar sprang up, more in anger than in fear. He’d suspected for an hour that the soldiers of the regiment on duty were inexperienced ninnies, and this confirmed it. No one around his fires seemed to be asleep anyway and he roused them and got them into their equipment while he sent Jim Somerset to find an officer. As the first light appeared in the sky, Jim came back with Jeremy, who was wide awake, dressed, and leading a horse.

    “I want to take a patrol out and make ’em pay for keeping me awake,” said Caesar. “Apparently these heroes,” he pointed to a soldier of a line regiment slouching in a filthy red coat, “don’t have the spirit to do the job.”

    Jeremy nodded and rode off, returning shortly with a German officer and Lieutenant Crawford. Caesar was surprised to find that the German officer spoke perfect English.

    “We was troubled all night. We’d be delighted to sweep the ground in front of us now that there is light to shoot.” The German officer waved over the low ground to their front. He looked at Caesar and inclined his head in measured civility.

    “Captain George Hangar of the Jaegers.”

    “Sergeant Julius Caesar of the Black Guides. Your English is very good, sir.”

    “Damn! I might say the same, sir. But I’m English myself. Just happen to serve in the Jaegers. Love the rifles, you see.”

    Lieutenant Crawford was looking through his glass at the ground. A ball came past them, announced by a hiss. A second ball struck a stump and sent up splinters. Hangar knelt by the stump eagerly and dug at it with his clasp knife before extracting a ball.

    “Rifles, of course. You know how long the barrel is compared to the weight of the ball? All that metal means that they can load more powder, eh? That barrel must weigh a full six pound, and that will allow them to shoot more than half the weight of the ball in powder. Even a small ball like this will carry three hundred yards. And the long barrel means all the powder is burned.”

    Caesar looked at Jeremy with an eyebrow raised, and Hangar caught it. He smiled and rose to his feet, his command aiguillette bouncing as he dusted his knees.

    “Rifles are my passion, Sergeant. I can’t help but prose away about them.”

    Another ball passed between them and made its little musical note.

    “That’s just seven or eight men firing to amuse us. I’ll see to that immediately with my lads. You’ll sweep the ground? I think you’ll find they have a force in those woods, but I doubt it will prove considerable.” Hangar took Crawford’s glass, looked for a moment, and handed it back. “A pleasure, gentlemen. Damn me, I hate the heat. Let’s get this done.”

    Lieutenant Martin came up to them and was immediately touched by a ball fired from the gloom to their front. It was a slight wound but he seemed proud of it. Caesar wrapped it with his handkerchief as they scrambled back from their exposed position.

    “Good practice,” said Crawford. “They can shoot.”

    “They shoot best when there ain’t anybody shooting back,” Jeremy quipped.

    A moment later they could hear the heavy barks of the Jaegers’ rifles returning fire off to their left. Caesar looked at Martin. “It was my intention to take the company out and cover the ground as quickly as possible.”

    Martin nodded. “I expect you know the business, Sergeant. I just want to see it done.” Martin was jealous of Lieutenant Crawford, who was shouting orders rapidfire at Captain Stewart’s company, already formed off to the right. A further company, the Forty-second lights, was moving cautiously down into the low ground farther off to the right. Captain Stewart could be seen riding that way.

    Caesar hated the oppressive heat, which made both uniform and equipment uncomfortable. He used a cloth to wipe his face, shifted his belts to allow a little more of the fetid air to reach his skin, and blew his whistle twice. The company moved forward.

    The rifles fired again, off at the woodline in the distance, and their smoke hung in an ugly cloud just over the position of the shooters. Because there was no breeze to move the smoke away, it provided a screen that kept them safe. Caesar could just see the shine of the new sun on a ramrod or a barrel as the man loaded. Caesar raised both his arms and waved them forward and started to trot. Captain Stewart came up behind him on horseback.

    “Right to the woods!” Stewart shouted. Caesar just raised a hand in acknowledgment. He could see the riflemen scrambling now, one pausing to take a last shot, another leaping over a log. The last shot vanished into the morning, doing no immediate harm that Caesar could see, and then they were at the woodline. He blew a long blast on his whistle and heard the corporals shouting “Skirmish” just as Stewart’s bugles began to send the same signal. He aimed at a retreating figure and fired to no effect. The range was already too long for muskets.

    Caesar waved Fowver’s platoon forward. Willy Smith passed him, yelling “Moses, get it loaded, there.” From his vantage point commanding the stationary platoon, Caesar watched Fowver’s men with pride as they picked their way forward, the files staying together and the men covering both the front and flanks with their eyes. Off to the left, Stewart’s company was moving forward more aggressively, and Caesar could hear McDonald pushing them with his voice. Caesar started his own platoon forward.

    It seemed only a moment later that Stewart and Jeremy appeared by him at the far edge of the wood.

    “No point in it,” said Jeremy, looking through his master’s glass. Stewart held out his hand for the instrument and shook his head. They had come three-quarters of a mile from their camp and Caesar was soaked in sweat from the little run. Jeremy looked as if he had a private store of ice in his coat, but Captain Stewart’s hair was every which way, as if he had come to battle straight from his pillow. Caesar wondered if Sally were with the army baggage back in the center of camp, or whether she had gone to New York by ship, like the Guides’ women.

    Stewart shook his head, cocked his leg over the cantle of his saddle to steady himself, and looked into the gloom again.

    “Damn the heat,” he said, snappishly.

    Jeremy shrugged. “Drink some water, sir.”

    “I don’t want water.”

    “You should drink some water, sir.”

    Stewart turned and glared at them both for a moment, and then smiled.

    “Well, gentlemen, we missed them.”

    Caesar nodded. Lieutenant Martin approached and Caesar gave him a description of what they had hoped to accomplish. Stewart handed Martin the glass and he looked into the haze for a moment before giving an exclamation.

    “Isn’t that the gleam of bayonets?” he said, pushing the glass at Stewart. Stewart finished a long pull at the canteen that Jeremy had held out to him and looked guilty for a moment before seizing the telescope and taking a look.

    “Look at that,” he said. “Jeremy, get back immediately. Find Colonel Musgrave and tell him that the Continentals are forming to attack our right.” He looked for a moment. “Well spotted, young Martin. Look at them all. Tell the colonel that I have no idea of a count in this haze but that they appear to be formidable.”

    Caesar shook his head. “I don’t want to fight in this heat,” he said.

    “Just so.” Stewart motioned at their companies. “I had thought to leave a detachment here, but there is no purpose if they are coming to contest these woods.”

    “We could give them a little harassing fire as they came up,” said Martin eagerly.

    Stewart nodded, motioning to his bugler to sound the retreat.

    “Good thought. Keep the Guides here for a bit. Be ready to move, though—if the army marches, we won’t keep this ground.”

    Martin looked at Caesar. “Did I do right, Sergeant?”

    Caesar smiled. “We’ll see, sir. But I’d rather be doing the harassing fire than taking it all morning.”


    George Lake led his company at the head of the column, and he saluted General Lee as he passed him, turning his head to the right and bringing his sword up in a smart salute. Lee waved with his whip.

    All the light companies of the army had been concentrated in a single division with several crack regiments. They were all veterans and all tried troops, and George gathered that they were actually going to attack the British, a thing that hadn’t really been done since he was at Trenton. He was excited, but under the excitement he worried about the heat, which was already affecting his older men, and he worried about the dissension. He knew officers who said that General Lee thought this plan to be fatally flawed, and he knew officers who thought that there was no plan. George knew that Lee had not ridden out to view the enemy or the ground in any detail, and this negligence worried him. But Lee was popular, and he looked every inch a soldier, sitting on his horse and watching the columns march forward. Lake could only hope.


    In three years of fighting, Caesar had never been a spectator in a major action. They occupied the fringe of woods facing west and waited. Twice in the morning, they drove off parties of the enemy, but although these actions helped steady the new men, they were minor affairs. The enemy only came in small patrols and were happy to be seen off with a burst of fire. They took one prisoner from the second patrol, an elderly private in the Second Virginia.

    To the south, they could just make out the enemy columns forming in the dust and haze. After they repulsed the second patrol, Caesar went to the edge of the woods at Virgil’s urging and watched both of the grenadier battalions forming front from columns to attack a steep hill over a mile away. Caesar nodded.

    “I wondered last night why we didn’t occupy that hill, and today we have to take it back.”

    Virgil pointed with his chin at the main camp, where the long lines of wagons were moving out to the north. Caesar nodded again.

    “I see them.”

    “So it won’t be no big battle. The line regiments is already movin’.” Virgil, a great respecter of the British line, thought it unfair that the British generals seemed to fight their battles in America with only their lights and grenadiers.

    “If’n they never use them boys for ought but replacements, they’ll be sorry soldiers when the day comes.”

    Caesar looked at Virgil, a little surprised, as it wasn’t Virgil’s usual line of thought.

    “What day, Virgil?”

    “The day when them Continentals is ready for a proper battle.”


    They marched and countermarched in the heat, and the British artillery played on them like a deadly cloud of insects, the big balls emitting a deadly whine as they flew, or rolling and bouncing ominously over the hard-packed ground. Despite the moisture in the air, the ground seemed as hard as rock, and it reflected the heat like a great brown mirror. George had already lost two men to the cannon, but he had lost five to the heat.

    And they hadn’t come to grips yet.

    He saw the distant columns of red come together and shake out into a line and he watched with professional admiration as the British came on, rounding a little bend in the road with their columns behind. Two of their sixpounders set up at the head of the near column and fired a round of grape into the battalion next to George, and it gave ground. It didn’t run, like in the old days, but just fell back a little, giving the British the crest of the hill.

    George ran to his commander, Colonel Weedon. “Are there any orders, sir?” he asked, pointing at the British grenadiers.

    “None since we marched this morning, Captain.” He looked at his watch and then down at the British. “Last I heard, we were attacking.”

    “Guess no one told them,” said George. He turned and found Caleb Cooke at his side.

    “I’m holding this position until General Lee should choose to honor me with his commands,” said the Yankee captain. His bitterness was obvious.

    George ran back to his company in time to see the head of the British column start forward up the hill aimed at the space to his left. He marched his company forward a few paces until they had a clear shot down the hill and ordered his sergeant to open fire. Companies to his right were doing the same. Colonel Weedon was pushing two companies a little down the slope to fire into the flank of the attack when the woods in front of them erupted with more grenadiers. George had never seen an attack like it. The British were in no sort of line, and he watched a group of their officers run into the little patch of swamp at the base of the hill to his right and wade through, a dozen grenadiers pushing along strongly in their wake until the whole group was across. The two companies that had gone forward to flank the first column were now caught in the flank by this second group. Despite outnumbering them heavily, they were so caught by the initial surprise that they ran, with fewer than twenty grenadiers pursuing them to the top of the ridge. In a moment, both his flanks were lost and the hilltop was a sea of red jackets.

    He wanted to stand and gape unbelievingly. This wasn’t some superior performance by the British, but massive incompetence by his own.

    “Get them back!” he yelled to his sergeants, and then pointed at his new bugler, a little black boy of twelve or so that he had found in a cottage. “Sound retreat.”


    Washington rode forward, listening to the sounds of musketry in the heavy air and concerned at its volume and direction.

    “Surely that sounds closer than the last,” he said to Lafayette.

    He began to gallop and his staff followed him forward. They began to pass panicked men and deserters, and the junior officers of the staff set themselves to round these up. Then they passed a trickle of wounded men moving to the rear.

    “Damn the man,” Washington said aloud. These were his very best troops, the light companies of the old Continental regiments and the rangers and riflemen, as well as whole battalions of crack veterans. Off to the left he could see a column of Massachusetts men standing to, drooping in the heat. He turned to Fitzgerald.

    “Tell whoever commands that column to get those men out of the sun. What is he thinking of?” He rode forward, his horse lathered in sweat but still full of spirit. Washington didn’t seem in the least fazed by the oppressive heat. Lafayette was invigorated by his burst of energy, and the little flow of breeze generated by the gallop had helped.

    He rode into the middle of a rout. The whole of the road was choked with disorganized units trying to force past each other, with officers striving to rally their men, and men too panicked to be rallied. A battery of guns had cut their traces and left their pieces sitting on the hard-packed road to get away on the horses. Washington fumed. He rode back and forth, suddenly everywhere, cautioning a colonel, soothing a jittery captain, praising the efforts of the men who suddenly found themselves in the rearguard. All his staff flew about like demons, riding from unit to unit, bringing up clumps of men who seemed willing to return to their duty, in some cases simply giving men heart who had lost it, or telling commanders to make their men drink water. It all helped, and little by little they turned the shambles back into the cream of the army.

    Through it all, Washington looked for Charles Lee. He found him sitting quietly on his horse amidst his small staff, gazing at a distant hilltop where a battalion of British grenadiers were putting themselves in a state of defense.

    “What are you about, sir?” asked Washington, as soon as he rode up. Lee looked as if he had been struck.

    “I told you they wouldn’t stand,” Lee said bitterly. “Those grenadiers rolled the so-called elite of our army off that hill like so many children. They won’t stand.”

    Washington looked at him with something pretty near loathing.

    “Sir, they are able, and by God they shall do it! Your retreat is a disgrace. Do me the favor of accepting responsibility for your own errors and not blaming the men who sought to serve you.”

    Lee rounded on him. “There’s irony for you, sir. You are going to criticize my command?”

    “I am. I can see that the scale of this operation was beyond your grasp.” Washington turned aside as a trooper of the light horse cantered up and saluted, presenting a message. Washington read it. Lee made no attempt to see it, but sat fuming.

    “Was it your intention to attack the enemy rearguard from both flanks?” Washington asked.

    “Once I had lured them with a feigned retreat.”

    Washington looked at the reforming army.

    He turned his horse so that he was nose to tail with the messenger, scanning the distant hill where the grenadiers could be seen. He beckoned to Hamilton and looked at a map for a moment.

    “I’m taking command,” he said. Lee was clearly stunned. He rode off a distance and sat quietly. Perhaps he had mistaken his man.

    Washington finished his map study, lining up features visible in the endless heat shimmer with marks on the map. He turned back to the messenger.

    “Attack!” he said.


    George Lake’s men were not beaten. They made that clear by cheering Washington as he rode up to them in the full heat of the afternoon, despite their parched throats, and the cheer was taken up along the line, even by men who had run from a handful of grenadiers an hour before. They cheered and cheered. Washington smiled a little, hiding his teeth but visibly pleased. Lake stepped out of his spot at the head of his company and caught at Lafayette’s bridle. The young general smiled down at him.

    “What happened?” Lake pleaded.

    “I don’t think we will ever know. I am not experienced, eh? But it seems to me that Lee had no plan.”

    Lake shook his head in angry negation. “We marched out there smartly enough and then there were no orders.”

    “Perhaps he had a plan. And the British attack surprised him. I think perhaps General Lee does not like being surprised.”

    Lake nodded, agreeing now.

    “But war is nothing but a series of surprises and disappointments. That is why this one is so very good,” and Lafayette pointed at Washington. “He is never ruined by a surprise, eh?”

    Lake smiled up at Lafayette.

    “Now we attack? General?” Lake was never quite sure if Lafayette really was a general as he was twenty years younger than the others.

    “It is hot,” Lafayette responded warily. “And many of these troops have already fought, whether well or badly. I think that I have learned that most soldiers will only fight once in a day.”

    The men behind Lake cheered again, as if to prove the young general wrong.

    Lake went back to where his company was waiting in the shade and told them to be ready. Then he took out his horn inkwell, suddenly his most precious possesion, and started to add to his endless letter to Betsy.


    Caesar watched the grenadiers attack in the distance and then settled down to a long exchange of fire with some militia to their flank. As the morning wore on, the militia began to come closer and there were some rifle balls among the shots coming at their woodline. Mr. Martin moved up and down the line quite boldly and set a good example, and Caesar developed a new liking for the man. Several of the soldiers of the Guides who had been down on him noted that he did not hesitate to share his canteen with a black soldier—a sin that had been imputed to him at spring drill.

    Jeremy visited them from time to time, checking on their position and a similar one occupied by some men from the Queen’s Rangers just to the south. In late morning his horse took a ball, and he had to walk back to the light infantry camp. It was quite a feat of bravery, unnoticed on that busy day, but Caesar watched him go the whole distance, under fire much of the way, with deep misgiving, because Jeremy seemed to be above such notions as using the available cover, or running.

    He was back on a new horse by early afternoon. He rode up to Mr. Martin, and Caesar trotted over through the heavy air. There were guns firing to the north, or perhaps low summer thunder—it was difficult to be sure. Caesar had soaked his jacket with sweat, and his hatband and even his leather equipment was damp.

    “Men are low on powder and we’re all out of water,” Caesar said without preamble.

    “I just said the same,” added Martin, a little defensively.

    “What’s in front of you?” asked Jeremy, scribbling on a little pad.

    “Militia and some rifles. Perhaps more rifles now than there were.” Caesar looked at Martin, who nodded.

    “I think they are just waiting for us to leave so they can get in these woods and start firing on the camp,” said Martin.

    “Rotate another company out here so we can get powder and water,” said Caesar. Martin was proving to have a head on his shoulders. He nodded at Caesar’s pronouncement. Jeremy handed them his canteen, which was full, and another.

    “All I could bring. Lieutenant Martin, Captain Stewart says that this is not going well, and that the column has been very slow to leave camp.”

    Martin nodded slowly.

    “I think the attacks by the grenadiers are an attempt to force the enemy to break contact so that the rest of us can withdraw in something like safety. Captain Stewart thinks the grenadiers have gone too far, and so does Major Simcoe.” He paused as if he feared he was saying too much. “The Jaegers are right there behind you, where we started this morning. If you have to pull back, at least they can fire over you once you are in the low ground.”

    Martin looked up at him.

    “I take it that means the light infantry are going forward. To rescue the grenadiers?”

    “It could mean that, sir. I’m sorry to be obtuse, but it could mean that.”

    Caesar leaned in. “But Jeremy doesn’t feel he can say, because it wasn’t in the message he was given, but rather in something he overheard, am I right?”

    Jeremy smiled. “Just so, Julius.”

    Martin shook his head. “We need water and powder.” He sounded worried. As Jeremy rode off, Caesar touched his arm and smiled. Martin brightened up immediately.

    “You just remind me if I forget, Sergeant,” he said in his official voice, immediately cheerful and businesslike.

    “You’re doing very well, if I may say, sir.”

    “Why thankee, Julius Caesar. Thank you for that.”


    Because they weren’t running, they could make their water last, and the shade of the trees was a relief that many soldiers on that field would have killed for, but the heat grew until it seemed the principal enemy. Men stopped firing because they lacked the energy to load, and everyone was wet with sweat. Caesar and Martin moved constantly and were the most tired because of it, but the action was never anything but an exchange of shots at extreme range. Jeremy’s first horse was their only casualty except for a graze to Angus’s head that ruined his hat and made him proud as Lucifer.

    But it went on and on. The smoke simply sat on them and seemed to do nothing to drive off the incessant whine of the mosquitoes. They lay in their sweat and the stink of their powder, coughing at the heavy air and eaten by the bugs, worse than any day Caesar could remember in the swamp.

    The firing began to rise again to the south, but the smoke and haze of the day now hid the hill where the grenadiers were all together. Moments later, though, Major Simcoe came riding up on his big gray charger almost white with lather and dust. He had a bugler behind him and two junior officers, all in the dark green jackets and blue facings of the Queen’s Rangers.

    “Damn, it’s hot,” he said when he met Martin. He waved to Caesar, and this time Caesar brought Fowver so that they would all have the same story. He waited until they were near him and then unrolled a little map drawn on the back of a letter.

    “I think they are trying to pin the rearguard here,” he pointed at the hill, “and then get around to attack us here and here,” he pointed at the woods they were in and another opposite, where the Highlanders were, “to cut us all off and force our surrender. I think that General Clinton decided this morning to attack here,” he pointed back to the hill that the grenadiers had taken, “to break up the attack and give us time to get free.”

    Caesar followed it all. It was the most spread-out battle he had been part of, and it seemed to move at a glacial pace, perhaps because of the heat. And even with a map and Simcoe’s explanation, it was too confused a battle for him. They seemed to be defending in two directions and attacking in a third.

    “It seemed to work, and then something has spurred the rebels to another effort, and I think they are building to an attack right here.”

    “Where are the light infantry?”

    “Gone off to support the grenadiers.”

    Caesar looked at the camp they had left that morning, now nearly deserted. Simcoe pointed him off to the right, where a column of green-coated men was approaching.

    “I want you to launch an attack here and try and get a prisoner. I’ll move into these positions behind you. Then you fall back through me, get some water and powder and join the lights of Colonel Robinson’s Loyal Americans as a reserve with the Jaegers and my rifle company.” He pointed to the rear, where green-coated men from the Loyalist regiments were moving into the shade.

    Martin nodded to Caesar and he had his whistle to his lips in an instant. Fowver ran for the head of his platoon.

    It was like a repeat of the early morning. The enemy fired sporadically but wouldn’t stand, and the Guides moved forward to a patch of brushy ground by a little stream just a few hundred paces away. The move took them five minutes. Their reward was a trickle of cold water in the stream, and Caesar ignored Simcoe’s wave that they should return immediately while he had Willy and Jim filling canteens at a basin in the little stream. The canteens had narrow necks and they didn’t fill fast, and their situation in the patch of brush was too precarious to allow them all to fill at the same time, so the corporals moved up and down, risking their lives in the new volume of fire from across the hazy flats. As soon as the last canteen was filled, Caesar gave the signal and they all fired together, not to hit anything but to make a solid screen of smoke that hung, concealing them for a minute or more, and then they ran back as quickly as a day’s fierce heat and too little water allowed.

    Their wood was full of green-coated men in tall helmets. Caesar knew a few of the men in the Queen’s Rangers and he accepted a little cigar from a corporal who had just taken a long pull at his canteen. Mr. Martin was explaining the frustrating nature of their attack to one of Colonel Robinson’s men, a black.

    “There’s no cover to approach them,” he said, and Simcoe just nodded.

    “Go on back to camp and rest. I’ll send for you if I need you.”

    They crossed the long field to the camp area, deserted except for the other soldiers in reserve. The Highlanders looked fierce, still capable, but they were so red in the face that Caesar worried for them. The handful of mounted troops were watering their horses all the time, and the Jaegers lay in the sun and burned, their pale complexions betraying them. Caesar kept looking up the ridge to the place where the grenadiers and now the lights had gone. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d gone into action without Captain Stewart, and he didn’t like the sound of firing to the south.


    As soon as they started up the hill, Crawford knew that they were too late. It was obvious that the grenadiers had been clawed cruelly by the artillery fire they had heard during the whole miserable march to the hill. As they started the climb in the full heat of the mid-afternoon sun, the grenadiers were retiring. They were magnificent soldiers, and not one of them ran, but their companies were the size of platoons and they were withdrawing off the hill steadily. Stewart could see that he had already lost men to the heat and expected that the grenadiers, in action all morning, would be worse.

    Crawford couldn’t see what pressure they were taking from his spot at the left end of the company. And then he looked to the front in time to see the whole woods fill with Continentals like a bucket filling under a pump. In a moment there were hundreds of them forming just above him on the hill.

    “Halt!” cried Captain Stewart, racing down the line. The company next to theirs kept marching and was instantly exposed to a storm of fire. Stewart yelled to McDonald and then rode up to Crawford. McDonald was leading the firing.

    “Hold here for as long as you can, but for God’s sake give the ground if you must. I’m going to see what the grenadiers intend. I’ll be back in a moment.”

    Crawford saluted and turned to face the front. The rebels, who had been a mob a moment before, were forming like soldiers. Crawford’s company fired into them and they took the volley at close range and continued to form their line. A company off to the left was already firing. Crawford stepped out of the line and walked back to the center, where Captain Stewart usually stood to fight the company. The first platoon was almost loaded and, never taking his eyes from the enemy, he nodded to McDonald, who was preparing to fire. His men were outnumbered badly, and he doubted that these well-drilled enemy troops would fire any worse than they formed. He spared a glance for Captain Stewart riding low in his saddle off to the right and well up the hill, and Jeremy following him, and he saw Stewart’s horse go down as if all its legs had been cut at once. Stewart did not rise.


    Jeremy leapt his horse over his downed master and fired a pistol at the first rebel to appear in the distance. He looked around desperately, but the grenadiers were just too far off to the right and the rebels were pouring down this part of the hill. He dismounted.

    A ball had killed the horse dead. Its whole weight lay on Stewart, and Stewart was barely conscious.

    “Get ye gone, Jeremy!” he muttered.

    “Nonsense, sir.” Jeremy tried to give him a little water but the movement caused Stewart to faint from the pain. Jeremy cushioned his head with his saddlebags and took a moment to do those things he had heard veterans recommend you do when you are about to be captured. He took his watch and put it next to his skin, concealed his ivory-handled dagger in his boot, and put several golden guineas inside his shirt. He saw the rebels forming their company just forty yards away and he worried that they might fire on him, so he tied his white stock to his sword and waved it. The enemy company marched right by him, their officer simply waving at him.

    “Come, that’s gentlemanly,” he said aloud, hoping his words would comfort Stewart, and turned to find another party of rebels with a tall man in an old blue coat at their head. They were moving carefully, formed in open order, and a number of them had weapons pointed at Jeremy. He held out his sword to the leader, who looked faintly familiar.

    The leader grinned. “You killed Weymes,” he said.

    Bludner raised his pistol and shot Jeremy dead.


    Forty minutes later, Sir Henry Clinton’s counterattack with all the grenadiers and lights and all the reserves cleared the hill to the crest, and Caesar ran to the fallen horse. Stewart was gone, but Jeremy lay there, his hands out on the ground and his legs a little apart, lying face down. He had been plundered thoroughly, his watch and guineas taken and all Stewart’s saddle gear ripped clear of his horse. Caesar picked Jeremy up and threw him over his shoulder. Jeremy was still wearing his breeches, covered in blood, and his boots—apparently the tight fit was more than casual plunderers were prepared to face. He carried the body down the hill as the sun pounded on them and the order was given that finally allowed them to start an orderly withdrawal from the field. He carried Jeremy for over an hour, until the first halt, not speaking to the men around him.

    When he gathered the men of the Guides and told them to prepare for a burial party, some men from Stewart’s company appeared with a cart. The cart had some wounded grenadiers in it, but the grenadiers were quickly convinced that their cart could carry a dead man as well. They stepped off into the heat, and marched all night with the cart in their midst, and the moans of the wounded grenadiers were like a lament for Jeremy, and defeat.


    To the south, George Lake’s men stood on the crest of the hill and watched the last of the British light companies march away from them. They were too tired to pursue, and they had taken casualties themselves, although more from the heat than the enemy.

    “I think we won,” croaked a man in George’s company. It was said quietly, as if the saying would break the spell.

    George stretched the fingers of his right hand where he had clutched a musket all day.

    “Well, boys, they were trying to retreat when the day started, and at the end of it, they retreated.” He looked at the ranks of his men and smiled. “On the other hand, we’re here, and they ain’t, which is a sight better than we’re used to.”

    They gave a weak cheer, and another as they saw Washington and his staff ride out of the stuffy gloom again. Lake saw Lafayette peering down the hill at the backs of the last British light troops, and listened to them as they tried to count the casualties, and then, in the boldest moment of his life, George Lake stepped in front of Washington’s horse.

    “Give you the joy of your victory, sir,” he said, amazed at his own voice. Washington looked up from a map and peered at him for a moment, and then smiled, the thin-lipped smile that never showed his teeth.

    “Not much of a victory,” he said, but his men began to cheer again, and the cheer spread in waves. And then Washington’s grin split his face, and his eyes kindled and the cheers went on. Lafayette shook his hand, and then George’s, and then they were all around him, a wave of noise that spread from the center until the British could hear it two miles away.


    Caesar was keeping the men together with physical threats by the time they halted, and Mr. Martin was bringing up the rear with the stragglers. But when they had rested for a few minutes and their legs stopped shaking, they took a little water and some hard tack and felt human enough to bury Jeremy.

    They took turns digging as they always did, although he was just one man, and the contributions from Stewart’s company made it go fast. Some of Stewart’s men had stripped Jeremy’s boots and bloody breeches and then put on clean from his baggage, and they wrapped him in a clean linen sheet. Virgil carved him a cross from a downed branch as quick as he could, and Mr. Crawford paid the farmer in whose field they were going to plant him to get a stone. They were close to areas that their patrols would operate when they came out from New York, and Caesar thought they might get this way again. He didn’t seem able to think of much else, except that Jeremy had become a friend of a sort he had never had before. Jeremy had taught him so much. And that—like Sergeant Peters—he was dead.

    McDonald came up to him and just nodded a few times, and then put Jeremy’s ivory-handled button dagger in his hand.

    “He had it in his boot. We thought you ought to have it.” Some other men from Stewart’s company nodded behind him.

    When Jeremy was in the ground and they had fired a volley over him, some officers came up to protest the firing, but Mr. Martin and Mr. Crawford sent them packing. Virgil, Willy and McDonald lit pipes, and they passed the tobacco around as they had for their dead since Virginia.

    Caesar found that he couldn’t get the pipe into his mouth and it struck him that he was crying, great choking sobs that wracked him until Virgil put his arms around Caesar and hugged him close a moment. He hadn’t cried for Tonny, or Tom, or Peters or any of the others, but he cried for Jeremy, and Virgil sat beside him with his arm around him, as the night suddenly cooled with the passing of that awful heat.
     
  37. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    Marcus Antonius #8887
    Jeremy was dead.

    It hit Stewart at different times, because Jeremy had been there so often and because he was weak and needed the man. Both men, Jeremy the servant and the other Jeremy, who could make a joke about Miss McLean and a suggestion about Sally. Sometimes in one breath.

    He would have to do something about Sally. Even in a fever, he could see that.

    He lay in a little house somewhere in the Jerseys and watched the sun creep across his white, white quilt. He thought about Jeremy, and Sally, and once he found himself having a conversation with Jeremy who was not, of course, there. He worried for a little that he was losing his mind, but later he realized that he had a fever.

    Men came to see him from time to time, and a girl fed him soup. He didn’t really know the men, but he had enough spirit to see that they were Continental officers and that they were kind. He had visited their wounded often enough. It was that sort of war, sometimes.

    Then he woke in the night and was well. Weaker, somehow, than when he dreamed and spoke with Jeremy, but better, too. He’d had fevers before, and he knew this one had just broken. He lay awake, thinking about Jeremy in a different way. He smiled a little, and slept.

    When he next awoke, one of the men was by his side with a watch, looking at his pulse and counting, while another was standing behind him.

    “Quite a credit to the trade, this fellow. Healthy as a horse in no time,” the nearer man said, putting his hand down on the coverlet. “You awake, sir?”

    “I am.”

    “It always pleases a doctor when one of his patients does him the courtesy of surviving a treatment.”

    “Give my man the bill.” That little pain. He had no man. “Perhaps not. Give it to me, I suppose.”

    “I think the Continental Army is footing the bill, sir. But I need to tell you that your leg, while healing, has been shockingly set about, and that I took a pistol ball out of your shoulder, and another out of an older wound low on your back. It was there, and I thought I might as well cut.”

    Stewart nodded, a little troubled by the number of wounds, and puzzled, as he couldn’t remember getting any of them.

    “Can you tell me what happened?”

    “Not I, sir. Perhaps Captain Lake, here. But you are on the mend. I’ll look in again later—always a pleasure to see one that heals, eh?”

    The doctor indicated some medicines to the lady of the house and bowed his way out. The officer remained, watching him in silence, as the lady moved about the little room, tossing the pillow and sitting him up. His arm was in a very tight bandage that went across his chest, and his leg was in another. He was afraid to look at the base of the bed, so sure was he that one of his legs was gone, but she moved the blankets to air them and roll him over to strip the sheets, and he saw it. It wasn’t exactly handsome, and there was some blood and some yellow fluid on the bandage, but the whole leg was there.

    The woman prattled as she moved about the room.

    “I hope the captain doesn’t think we sympathize with the king just because they gave us a king’s officer to heal up,” she said, smiling at the other man. “But we are all God’s creatures, aren’t we, sir?”

    The Continental officer smiled and bowed his head.

    She turned on Captain Stewart. “And you’re awake, so we ought to come to be friends, don’t you think?”

    He wanted to retreat from all that energy.

    “Your servant, ma’am.”

    She curtsied. “And yours, sir. I’m Betsy Holding. And you?”

    “Captain John Julius Stewart, ma’am.” He looked at the other officer. “If you are my guard, sir, I think I can guarantee that I will make no attempt to escape today.”

    The other man smiled a little nervously and tossed his hat in his hands. He made a sketchy little bow and Stewart thought that he was probably not very well bred, but then wondered what his own bow had looked like before Jeremy got hold of it. Always Jeremy.

    “Captain George Lake, sir. I…” Captain Lake clearly had something very difficult to say. He looked out the window, and Betsy, a woman who had several grown children and was widely known for her sense, bustled around the room one more time and withdrew.

    “I can see the gentlemen need to talk,” she said.

    Lake pulled up a chair and sat on it, backwards, his chin on the top rung of the ladderback. Stewart noted that he was wearing a very fine hunting sword. French, he thought.

    “Can you tell me how I came to be captured?” he asked.

    Lake looked at him and there was some sort of hurt in his eyes. Stewart wondered if he had done the man an injury, but it wasn’t that sort of hurt.

    “Your horse was hit by a ball. I think it was a roundshot from one of our guns, or perhaps a piece of grape. I saw you go down myself, all in a tumble. Nasty fall.”

    Stewart nodded. “I think I can agree to that.”

    “I marched right by you. Your men were trying to flank us and the grenadiers were rallying. I didn’t think you looked like much of a threat.”

    Stewart nodded, and Lake looked away.

    “Your…your man came and stood over you.” Lake leaned forward. His eyes were intense.

    Stewart tried to raise a hand.

    “I know. He was hit. Somehow, I remember that part. I felt him fall across me.”

    “He was shot while he was trying to surrender, sir. I watched it, and I have waited for you to wake up because I wanted to apologize. I can’t think why your man was shot. It turned my stomach. And I know the man who did it—Bludner, who was my own sergeant once.”

    Stewart looked at the other man, who seemed very moved. He was young and gawky, with a colonial drawl, and his uniform was not quite the thing, but he had that air of confidence that Stewart always associated with the better type of officers. Stewart noticed these things because he was quite consciously walling himself off from the knowledge that his Jeremy had been shot down in cold blood. He admitted to himself that he had been conscious, had suspected this to be true and simply ignored it. He found himself looking into George Lake’s clear green eyes. They were wide and deep and didn’t seem to hide any secrets at all. He was very young, and for a moment, Stewart felt as old as the hills. Bludner, now that struck a chord. It was a name Sally said both awake and asleep. Stewart tried to overcome his fatigue.

    “Bludner? A slave-taker?”

    “I think he did some such, yes. I thought to report him to the army.”

    Stewart sat back, tired and old.

    “Come back another day, sir.” He put his head back on the pillow, and went instantly to sleep.


    They moved back into the barracks easily, as if they had never been away, and all the women came out to greet them. Many of the Guides’ women had never gone to Philadelphia because they’d found work in New York or just didn’t want to follow the army, and Caesar thought that perhaps none of them had expected them to be in Philadelphia very long.

    Black Lese was there, and Mrs. Peters, coughing and weeping a little and happy to see them back. And there was little Nelly Van Sluyt, who looked half her man’s size, and others—women and children who seemed to outnumber the soldiers five to one or more. Caesar had seen that the men were paid before they marched to the barracks, and now he watched attentively as money was handed over to wives who hadn’t seen much but rations for nearly a year.

    He saw Polly standing with Big Lese and talking to her, bobbing her head as she did when addressing someone her elder, the very soul of courtesy. She looked up at him and smiled, a tiny secret smile with a long message attached, and he responded with a great grin that cracked his whole face in two. And then he went back to work, finding barracks space for the new recruits he’d acquired since they marched for the transports a year before and occasionally facing the hard job of throwing an interloper out of a bunk he or she didn’t have a right to. Many black refugees came to the barracks first, or last. And there were holes in the ranks, and losses, and women who knew from letters that their man was dead but had come for the parade in hopes there had been a mistake, and other, harder women who came to get their man’s last pay, or perhaps a replacement man. It was the same at every barracks in New York, and the men had joked about it the night before. Now it didn’t seem so funny, with women and children being turned out because they were no longer attached to the army, and others coming in. They had to find space for new men they had picked up, or move men. Sam the bugler was no longer a child, and needed a bed. Tonny had fallen and a new corporal got his space. On and on. Through it all, Caesar and Fowver worked, each wanting to be elsewhere or to enjoy some of the happier portions, but they had no time and theirs was the only authority high enough to settle the resentments.

    When Lieutenant Martin arrived, Caesar left him with two of the stickiest domestic situations and plunged into the kitchen, where Mrs. Peters and Black Lese were measuring out the allowance of pork. It was a pork day, and there would be some pudding—plum duff, by the smell.

    “Where’s Polly?” he asked and they both gave him the knowing look that matrons reserve for the young and besotted.

    “She waited,” said Lese in her West Indian sing-song.

    “But she said that as you were so important,” said Mrs. Peters, “she’d just go about her business.”

    They laughed at him when his face fell. “I do like to see you look like a normal young man, an’ not just Mars, the God of War,” said Mrs. Peters. She had a special privilege: although her husband was dead and had never technically been a member of the Black Guides, or even the Provincial Corps of the British Army, she was mysteriously listed on their rolls and continued there. She and Lese laughed at his confusion and weighed another piece of pork.

    “Of course,” Mrs. Peters continued, “she did say that if you were decently repentant, she and her father might consider having you to dinner.”

    “It’s not my fault!” he said, looking at the two of them. They, if anyone, should understand. Lese Fowver knew every detail of every scrap of a quarrel in the company, and Mrs. Peters had been dealing with barracks issues for four years, and a house full of slaves for most of her life. They both just smiled again.

    “She’s in that little church on Queen Street, sewing,” Lese said. “Maybe you should find her.”

    Mrs. Peters stopped him. “Did you leave that nice Mr. Martin to deal with the likes of Hester Black?” Hester was the most married, and most voluble, woman in the company. She rarely lacked an issue for her feeling of grievance.

    “I did.”

    “Shame on you, Julius Caesar. And he wanting to get away and find his Miss Hammond.” But Caesar was gone.


    The next day Stewart was able to sit up and eat unaided, and read the Bible, which seemed to be the house’s only book. He thumbed through it idly, looking at stories, and thinking about slavery. He could almost feel his bones knitting.

    Mrs. Holding sat with him, now that he made decent company. She seemed surprised to find that he didn’t have a tail, and that the Bible didn’t burn his hands. She and her husband were dyed-in-the-wool Whigs, “patriots” as they called themselves. He tried not to use the word “rebel” in her house. She had two sons, both in the militia, and two daughters, both married to men of property. She reminded him of every good wife in Edinburgh, and yet she was thoroughly American in the same way that the Miss Hammonds were.

    “Do you have a slave, ma’am?” he asked suddenly. Her mouth became firm.

    “I don’t hold with it,” she said crossly. “It ain’t right for Christian folk.” He wondered if she had ever allowed her husband an opinion. He liked her.

    “Just so,” he said, putting his head back on the pillow.


    Polly kissed him and held him close, but before they had time to babble ten words, she stopped him and pushed him away. He thought it was because they were in a church.

    “Sally’s in a state,” she said.

    He wanted to stay with Polly and she wanted him to stay, but Sally was there between them and he knew he owed it to the woman to find her and talk. He could imagine that Sally was in a state, and he thought he knew why.

    He went to find Sally. She wasn’t at Mother Abbott’s anymore—Captain Stewart had seen to that. She had a set of rooms up two flights of stairs over a hat maker’s on Broadway. It was an expensive set of rooms. He was careful going there. Although it was only a few steps up the street from the Moor’s Head, people in New York were touchy about color. He thought of Jeremy, who seemed above such notions and yet completely conversant with them, and he thought of fencing with Jeremy just a few doors along. His eyes filled for a moment and he had to stop. When he was himself again, he went to the narrow door for the upstairs rooms and opened it. A woman in a neat bonnet poked her head out of the door to the shop.

    “Are you a friend of our lodger, young man?” she asked.

    “I am, ma’am,” he said, making a leg as Jeremy had taught him. She nodded as if it were her due.

    “Do your friend a service then, young man. Tell her that I will not have a lodger who makes a nuisance! And that goes doubly for a black one. I don’t care how solid her money is.”

    Caesar bowed. He had learned from Jeremy how useful these courtesies were for hiding one’s thoughts.

    “And no male visitors in the evening, or she is out. I told my husband that it was a mistake to take your kind in here.”

    He bowed again. He felt Jeremy’s voice in his head, and he smiled.

    “What kind is that, ma’am?”

    She looked at him and shook her head as if it was a matter of little importance.

    “What visitor did she have?”

    “Now that’s a proper question for a brother to ask of his sister, I’m thinking.” Caesar wasn’t sure what he thought of being Sally’s brother, but he let it pass. “A little white man. I didn’t like his looks, and I’m certain he hit her. What do you think of that, young man?”

    He shook his head.

    “Hmmf. As I thought. None of us is any better than God made us, I expect. But I want her quiet or gone, do you hear?” She nodded vigorously and shut the door.

    Caesar shook his head at his own thoughts as he went up the stairs and knocked.

    Sally answered. She was in a shift, and drunk.

    “I heard Jeremy’s dead,” she said. He smelt the rum on her. She was naked under the shift, and yet he was quite unmoved by it, because she was so clearly distraught.

    “He is,” Caesar said, coming into her room.

    “I loved him.” She sat on her bed, a fancy canopy bed from a shop. Her trunks were mostly unpacked on the floor. Her lip was split and she had a bruise on her face and another on her naked shoulder. Caesar nodded easily. He had suspected that Sally was sharing the master and the man, but it hadn’t been his place to say, and Jeremy had never even hinted. Jeremy could be very closed about things.

    And Caesar wasn’t too sure he believed Sally, either. She might just love him now for the drama. She was not a simple woman.

    “And Captain Stewart?” Caesar asked. He was surprised at himself, because he didn’t care. He didn’t want to know.

    “I think I love him a little,” said Sally. “Don’ tell me he’s dead too.”

    “No. He’s a prisoner, but Mr. Martin says he’s already on the list to be exchanged. Polly said that he needs shirts and the like, and thought you’d help make him up a package to send through the lines. There’s a cartel going tonight.”

    She started at the words through the lines.

    “What’s a car-tel?” she asked, a little listlessly.

    “A flag of truce,” he said. He was suddenly suspicious of her, as he had been of Lark in the swamp and of Marcus White. “Who hit you, Sally?”

    She just shook her head. “A man,” she answered, as if that was all the answer that was needed.

    Caesar shook his head in weary disgust. “You loved them, but you went and found a man? And he hit you? What does Polly see in you, or Reverend White?”

    She was crying again, drunken tears that could have been real or fake.

    “I don’ know, Julius Caesar.”

    He looked around the room, at the wreck of her trunks, and smelled the reek of the rum.

    “We’re going to clean this room. And you. And we’re going to find the captain some shirts and suchlike, so that he thinks his mistress likes him enough to bother.”

    Sally just sat on the bed, shaking with sobs. She was hiding her eyes, and it almost seemed that she was laughing. He shook his head.

    “Your landlady wants you gone. How are you going to explain that to him? You want to go back to Mother Abbott’s? Or just lean your back against a building an’ get it done with any sailor trying to make his tide?” He was harsh, and she just sat, her head down, until he finished. Then he went to get Polly. He wanted to slam the door, because it would have made him feel better, but he was afraid the noise would be the last straw for the old woman downstairs.


    Stewart got himself up and put on a lovely clean shirt with the embarrassed help of Mrs. Holding. It was one of his own, but someone had rinsed it in lavender and pricked his initials into it since he had sent it north with the shipboard baggage, and he smelled it carefully. It had to be Polly. She could sew, and she took care in matters like this. Sally might dance and talk and drink, but her sewing didn’t run to these fine stitches. He smiled, though, because the perfume on the note had been Sally’s, although the note was in Caesar’s square military hand with another from Simcoe and yet a third from Crawford, all enough to make him dab at his eyes.

    And there was a note from Miss McLean. It was a cheerful missive about the turning of summer in the Highlands, the sounds birds made, and her eagerness to be with him. It, too, had a little scent attached. From his bedside, he could read her note and smell her scent, and smell Sally’s, and feel little guilt. Just sorrow, really. He had taken a black mistress because it had seemed less a betrayal than taking a white one. But now, at a distance, he found that he liked Sally fine, and that Jeremy’s death freed him from the guilt of it. It made no sense, but it was fact.

    “Your friends, sir?” asked Mrs. Holding. She wanted to get him dressed so that she didn’t have to dally with a man in just breeches and a shirt.

    “Just so, ma’am. If you could maneuver that waistcoat round my bandage? Well done. And a stock? Yes, I think they included a buckle.”

    She held up his best paste buckle, a magnificent square of dazzling jewels set in silver. He had bought it behind Jeremy’s back. Jeremy thought it vulgar.

    “Goodness me, sir. I’ve never seen such a thing. And this is for a man?” She looked at it with something between admiration and horror. “You’ll not see its like in Bergen County!”

    “I didn’t think I would,” he said pleasantly. She got the stock buckled.

    “And to think you are going to dine with General Washington,” she said, reverentially.

    “Yes,” said Stewart, as she tried to fuss with his hair. “Yes, it’s quite an honor for him.”

    She struck him gently on the shoulder. “You are quite a card, I find. Quite the young spark.”

    He tried not to wince as she tugged at his hair. It made him think of Jeremy, of course, and yet he smiled. Sometimes, thinking of Jeremy made him smile. He opened the letter from Simcoe, and a page from Rivington’s Gazette fell out. He shook it open one-handed and read through the items until he saw the notice that he had been wounded and captured, with a little star beside it, and then it struck him that he had been mentioned in dispatches. He smiled. He flipped it over and saw the quote of the dispatch, a very pretty piece of nonsense that mentioned him in a most heroic light.

    Poor Jeremy would have loved this moment, he thought. He put it with Simcoe’s unread letter as he heard Captain Lake ascending the stairs.

    Lake put his head round the door and smiled.

    “So you are well enough to come?” He seemed very nervous.

    Stewart laughed. “A little banged about, but nothing that should worry Mr. Washington.”

    “You mustn’t call him that, John.” Lake shook his head. “It makes him that angry.”

    Stewart bowed to hide his smile.

    “Perhaps you can relieve Mrs. Holding of the odious duties of helping a man to dress by holding that coat, George,” he said easily, and Mrs. Holding chuckled at him.

    “He’s been difficult all afternoon, sir,” she said. “I think it the great pity of the world that you have to go and exchange him so that he’ll go back to shooting at you directly.”

    Stewart winced as his hand was thrust into the coat and the abused shoulder took the strain.

    “I think it will be some time before I’m shooting at Captain Lake.” He smiled at a sudden thought. “Indeed, I wonder if I won’t go home to recover.” Home to Edinburgh, covered in glory. Yes. And then no. He thought of Jeremy, whom he had counted on for humor and for advice in dealing with Miss McLean’s father. But life was going to go on. And he would see Jeremy revenged.

    George Lake’s hands were cold with nerves.

    “That’s good,” he said. He sounded strained. Stewart frowned at him from inches away and Lake closed his coat.

    “Are you worrying about a dinner with General Washington and his staff?”

    “I don’t know how to act like them,” he said.

    “Fie on you,” said Mrs. Holding. “Don’t be an ungrateful body, Captain Lake. And poor Captain Stewart, putting himself out all morning to show you how to eat like a gentleman.”

    Lake hung his head, and Stewart hobbled across the room.

    “George Lake, you have, by all accounts, won several actions all by yourself. And now a dinner undoes you, and that with your own general? Look at me, sir. A poor wounded officer surrounded by his enemies, going to eat with the very ogre who looks to overturn the rightful government of this country.”

    “You put me in mind of Mr. Lovell, John. He says such things. But Washington is no ogre.”

    “That’s your sweetheart’s da’, then?”

    George blushed. He had been easy with his confidences, so quickly had he taken a liking to Stewart. And now Stewart was using them to abuse him.

    “Oh, fie on it, Captain. She is your sweetheart, will ye, nil ye.”

    “Oh, shame on you, Captain Stewart,” cried Mrs. Holding, laughing despite herself.

    George Lake simply shook his head at the two of them. “All very well for you to laugh,” he said. “I fairly dread this dinner. And the marquis will be there, too, I have no doubt.”


    A week on, and Caesar was finally getting to have his dinner with Polly, although it had widened into a dinner with Polly and her father…and Sally. Caesar hadn’t known what to make of Sally since that afternoon. She hadn’t been drunk again, and had comported herself soberly, and even sat patiently with Polly learning to put an initial on Captain Stewart’s shirt. Sally did one in the time it took Polly to pick out the letters in five others, but that didn’t lessen the accomplishment.

    They were to dine at the Moor’s Head, and Caesar arranged it, securing a table and ordering the food. The black patrons seldom ran to such an occasion, but it was not so rare for Reverend White, as he had prosperous friends. And the Black Guides had something of the run of the place. It promised to be a very good dinner, private in the little room off the hall to the kitchen.

    Caesar came in his best scarlet coat, wearing a watch he had kept from the days in the swamp and that Jeremy had arranged to repair last year. He had good new boots and fine smallclothes, all of which had been in Jeremy’s traveling trunk. It made him feel odd to wear them. Polly had taken them apart and altered them to fit. He was dressed to ask for Polly’s hand.

    “You look very fine,” she said.

    She was dressed in a sack-back gown of printed linen that made her look as slim as a young tree, and had a little cap on her head that made her face as beautiful as he had ever seen it.

    “You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen,” he said with a bow.

    She looked over her shoulder as if looking for someone else in the room, and then smacked him on the arm.

    Marcus White was dressed in severe but fashionable black, with a new coat and new smallclothes and a white collar that seemed to shine like righteousness. He was leading Sally by the hand, and she was dressed as modestly as she ever had been in Philadelphia. Caesar, who had to judge men every day, knew in his bones that she had dressed to let Polly be the center of attention, and he liked her for it. As they walked through the common room, every eye there was on them. More than one voice suggested that some of the blacks were getting above themselves, but never loudly, and Major Simcoe rose and kissed Polly’s hand. He didn’t directly address Sally, a complicated piece of social tactics that avoided both offense and impertinence.

    “Your servant, miss,” he said formally, and Polly showed him just the least flash of her eyes as she curtsied in return, a flash that made him smile unexpectedly.

    Then they crossed the rest of the room and left it for their private dinner.


    Stewart was seated near the middle of the table, with Captain Lake across from him and Alexander Hamilton on his right. Lafayette was close, above Hamilton. Opposite Lafayette sat Colonel Henry Lee, now a famous cavalryman. General Washington filled the end of the table with both size and spirit.

    They were all men of culture and civility—except perhaps Lake, and he was learning. They did not discuss any matter which might give pain to a guest who was an enemy, but instead chatted amiably about letters and sport. Hamilton was delighted to find that Stewart was a fellow fisherman, and they discoursed on horsehair lines and the latest fashion in hooks and snells for several moments until they realized that they had spread a sort of wondering silence all down the table.

    “A glass of wine with you, Captain?” said Lafayette, leaning forward.

    “Your servant, Marquis.”

    “And perhaps you will then enlighten us all about this multiplying reel?”

    Stewart winced in embarrassment.

    “I am sorry to be a boor,” he said.

    “Nothing of the kind, sir, I assure you, and I can guarantee that my friend Hamilton will insist.”

    “Well, then,” said Stewart. “It is a brass winch, for holding line, you see? Except that it has a gear on the shaft so that the user has some mechanical advantage as he winds. Am I plain? So that, instead of just storing your line on a winch, now you could actually use it to land a fish.”

    “Gimcrack notion,” said Fitzgerald. “What if the thing slips and you lose your fish?”

    “Does the sear slip on a well-made flintlock?”

    “I take your point, sir.” Fitzgerald raised his glass, acknowledging it. “But do you really need such an advantage?”

    “Oh, as to that…” Stewart shrugged. “I don’t use one meself, mind. I was just explaining to Colonel Hamilton here why they are coming into fashion. Friends of mine had them made in Philadelphia.”

    “Oh they did?” Hamilton smiled. “Perhaps I can do the same, now that…Oh, I’m sorry.”

    Stewart smiled at them all. “I’m not so sensitive as that.”

    Washington, as the senior, could not be asked a direct question; it was not done. But he could listen, and by his listening betray an interest. Stewart realized that Washington was listening attentively, and turned to him, inviting a question.

    “These are trout you are speaking of?”

    “Oh, pah, trout,” said Hamilton and Stewart together, which gave rise to a general laugh.

    “No, sir,” said Stewart. “Although I do enjoy fishing for the trout from time to time, it is the salmon, that prince of fishes, that is the true heart of the sport.”

    “So I have gathered from Mr. Bowlker and Mr. Fairfax.” Washington dropped these names so that they would know that he was not behindhand in matters of sport, although the books were far away with his old life at Mount Vernon.

    “Oh, sir, indeed?” Stewart had sat through a great many regimental dinners, and he knew that a great deal of complaisance on these matters was expected of him as a guest. A decent show of interest. Greatly daring, Stewart asked him a direct question.

    “Do you fish yourself, in Virginia?”

    “All too seldom, Captain. We don’t have salmon, and the only trouts I have seen are in the mountains. Have you seen our mountains, Captain?”

    “Only from a distance, sir. You always seem to be keeping me from them.”

    This last prompted a burst of nervous laughter. Stewart could tell he was sailing close to the wind, but Washington did not seem an utterly formal man, and was obviously used to men of good breeding and good conversation. Judging by Hamilton and Fitzgerald, better breeding than his own. He smiled for the absent Jeremy, who had trained him so well. He looked at George Lake, who was chewing carefully and trying not to be seen.

    “Are you a farmer at home, Captain?” Washington clearly wanted him to say yes, as everyone knew that Washington liked to go on about farming. Stewart shook his head.

    “I fear not, sir, although I gather that you are an eminent farmer. My father is a Turkey merchant.”

    “How many turkeys does he have?” asked George Lake from across the table. It was almost his first comment since they had been seated. The roar of laughter in return was like a volley of musketry, it was so loud and so high. Lake shrank with embarrassment.

    “Look how different the language is already,” said Stewart into the last of the laughter. “My father owns ships that trade between Edinburgh and Smyrna, in the Empire of the Grand Seigneur.”

    “Goodness,” said Hamilton. “Have you been there yourself?”

    “I have, too. A wonderful place, like the Arabian Nights brought to life. I went twice as a lad.”

    Hamilton nodded along eagerly. Again, Stewart had the ears of the whole table.

    “Did you like it much? In Turkey?” asked Fitzgerald. Stewart thought that when alone, he might ask about the women there. Everyone did. Veils made men so curious.

    “All but the absolute nature of the place. The slavery had worked its way into the national fabric,” he said, and winced. The table fell totally silent.


    “Polly was never a slave,” said her father, looking at her with affection. “She was born one, of course, but her mother and I were free before any man ever told her what a slave might be.”

    Polly nodded. “I remember England. Most of the ladies were very kind, although I did tire of being a curiosity. Because of my color, I mean, and being from America.

    Other people were from America, but they didn’t have to wear a sign on their skin to say as much.”

    “And you were a slave for Washington,” Marcus said.

    “I met Washington once,” said Sally. They all looked at her in surprise.

    “I was with Bludner. My mother was still alive then, I think. We was taking crabs on his river, an’ he came an’ near beat Bludner to death. I liked him fine.”

    “Washington?” Caesar looked surprised. “He beat Bludner? I’d have paid good money to see that.”

    “Who is Bludner?” asked Polly, quietly.

    “He’s a slave-taker from Virginia. He almost killed me, and Virgil and Jim when you come to it, back in ’75.”

    “He owned me my whole life,” said Sally, her lips trembling, and she spilled a little wine from her glass.

    “He doesn’t own you now,” said Marcus White, but Sally rose and bolted out the door. Marcus made to follow but then came back. Caesar shook his head.

    “I don’t know what you see in her, Reverend,” he said. “She’s been trouble since I knew her. And men get ideas, seeing you going around with her.”

    “Perhaps they should get ideas if I don’t go around with her, Caesar. Do you know your Bible?”

    “Not as well as you, I dare say. But I’ve read it, yes.”

    “Then you know that Our Saviour spent a great deal of time with prostitutes. And soldiers and tax men, too, I think.”

    Caesar bowed his head at the answer.

    “It’s never as easy as you think, Caesar. No matter how hard your life has been, hers was harder. And no matter how brave you are, she has been braver. Think on that before you jibe at her again.”

    Sally came back with a little powder over the tear tracks she had made, and sat composedly.


    The silence dragged on. Stewart knew he could end it with an easy apology, but some part of him knew that he had wanted to say those words since he sat down with them, and that he wasn’t sorry. But he hated to seem a boor, so he attempted to change the subject.

    “May I ask what kind of fish they do have in Virginia?” he asked. George Lake was white as a sheet.

    Lafayette leaned forward, smiling as if he had followed this point for some time. He blinked his eyes, and Stewart suddenly knew he had an ally, someone else who had long wanted to speak out.

    “I have always felt that slavery leaves an indelible mark on a country,” he said. And the silence deepened.

    Hamilton turned to Stewart and shook his head.

    “This is a most unfortunate subject for this table. Are you a particular enemy to slavery?”

    “I didn’t think so, before,” said Stewart.

    “You had a slave of your own, I think?” said Johnson.

    “No, sir. A servant. Closer than servant.”

    Washington spoke up from the end of the table, where he had been silent.

    “A slave may be close, I think. Both the ancients and the Bible tell us as much.” Washington was careful in his speech, and Stewart realized that he was quite angry.

    “Oh, aye, they do. But not as close as a true friend, surely?”

    Washington considered Billy, and his fury grew. “Surely not only equality can bring true friendship? So that a slave can be as much your friend as a servant?” Washington was just civil. He knew he was berating a guest at his own table, a sin at least as great as the one the guest had committed by starting this fox, this damnable subject, at his table. And yet he realized that his views were not as simple as they had once been.

    “And yet, are not these men your friends, though they also serve you?” Stewart thought, I am contending with a man at his own dinner table. Jeremy would have my head. And he thought this is the arch-rebel himself. I’ll say what I please. “And how do you know that the friendship of a slave is not compelled or feigned? A servant can leave. Even a staff officer…” He smiled, willing them to laugh.

    “And can you speak in comfort of our having slaves when you attempt to impose tyranny over us by violence?” said Henry Lee.

    Stewart smiled, relishing his response. He no longer cared to be perfectly civil.

    “Can you speak in comfort about liberty, sir, when you keep slaves?”

    Henry Lee turned a bright crimson. Lafayette leaned forward attentively.

    “Yes,” he said decisively, as if he had just decided a question. “Yes. Slavery is a blot on the escutcheon of liberty that this country bears.”

    Stewart feared an explosion from General Washington, but instead he appeared troubled.

    “It is not a simple issue.” He looked at the table. “I once thought that it was a mere matter of property, but it does have to do with rights. And yet, if a man treats his slaves fairly…”

    “They are yet slaves,” said Stewart firmly. Washington loved Lafayette like a son, and Hamilton not much behind, and Stewart felt strongly that they were both of his opinion, and it made him bold.

    Washington turned on him. “What do you know of how a man treats his slaves, then?”

    “I know one of yours, sir.”

    Stewart suspected that if he had been hale, he’d have been summoned to a duel by half the room, but he was not daunted by their looks, although George Lake was cringing.

    “Who?” like a pistol shot.

    “Do you recall Julius Caesar, sir? He is now a sergeant in our army.”

    Washington sat a moment, as if stunned, and looked at Stewart. He was seeing the black man at Brandywine, and the one who had taken his cloak at Kip’s Bay, and the new African boy with the scars over his eyes.

    “I remember Caesar,” he said softly, as if the man were standing there himself, and Washington had just noticed him for the first time.


    “Do you hate Mr. Washington?” Marcus White had asked this before, and it always seemed to fascinate him.

    “No. No, I don’t hate him. I don’t love him much, either.” Caesar said, looking through the wine in his glass. “We exchanged shots at the Brandywine. Something like a duel, I think. I’ve thought that it settled something between us.”

    “Do you have any happy thoughts from then? When you was a slave?” Polly asked.

    “Oh, yes. I was learning a good amount every day. I had a comfortable place to live, and it was so much better than the Indies.”

    “But what of Washington?”

    “He was a distant master. He seldom beat a slave, and he was often fair. He never liked me.”

    “Why?”

    “Oh, Queeny said it was my scars.” He rubbed them.

    “They do give you a savage look,” said Sally in a low voice, as if she was wooing him.

    “And I had to be free.”

    Marcus nodded at him, as if they had conspired together.

    “Yes, it comes to you that way, doesn’t it?”

    Caesar frowned, remembering. Sally looked at them both.

    “How did you ‘have to be free’?”

    “One day, you know you’d rather die than be a slave,” said Caesar. “Some never get it. I grew up with slaves, in Africa. Sometimes one would kill himself, or run. Now I know why.”

    Marcus looked at him. “Was it injustice that moved you?”

    “Perhaps it was. I just remember the little things. I was never beaten while I was at Mount Vernon. It was never a great injustice, and that is why I say that Washington was mostly fair.”

    Marcus White nodded. “That’s the power that slavery has, though. To make a man’s likes and dislikes into the power of a god. A man can be the very best of masters, and yet, in a fit of temper, abuse a slave in a way he would never abuse another free man. As if slaves aren’t human.”

    “What else do you remember?” asked Polly.

    “He loved to farm and he loved to hunt. He was a master of both. Those skills probably make him a good soldier.”


    “The first time I saw him…well, he reminded me of a soldier. He was my dogs boy. He had an eye for ground that…well, that has doubtless made him a good one.”

    Washington took a glass of wine from Billy.

    Stewart watched the black man, who pretended a complete lack of interest in the conversation.

    Washington spoke carefully, because the subject was so great and so painful that he could not simply dismiss it. Nor was this the first time the subject had surfaced at his table, and he wondered again if he was changing.

    “Slavery is an issue that will haunt us for some time, I think.”

    Hamilton shook his head vehemently.”Can we allow that, sir? When even an advocate like the marquis tells us that it is a blot on our liberty?”

    Henry Lee shook his head just as vehemently. “When you speak of the end of slavery, Colonel Hamilton, you speak of depriving us of our property as surely as if you’d come and burned my house.”

    Stewart was seated at almost the middle of the table, and now he looked back and forth among the young men, and realized that it split them all. It was odd, as he had seen so many slaves in the north that he thought the matter was pandemic.

    But George Lake, whose accent was as deeply Virginian as Henry Lee’s, spoke with quiet confidence.

    “Can any man, who has fought so hard for his own liberty, sit idle while another man loses his?”

    Every head turned to him, the most junior officer present and welcome mostly as the prisoner’s escort and Lafayette’s friend.

    “What do you say, sir?” asked Henry Lee. In Virginia, he owned property worth thousands of pounds, and George Lake was a tradesman’s son and an apprentice, if that.

    “I say, with respect, that the men who have fought this war, the handful of us who served from Morristown and will still be here at the end, we know what all these words like liberty really mean. And we know when other men who didn’t do the fighting…” He stopped, as if stricken, and muttered an apology, but Hamilton looked like to applaud.

    “The ones who write the speeches and didn’t ever serve? Is that what you mean, Captain Lake?” Hamilton asked, rising a little. “I couldn’t agree with you more.”

    Lee looked at Hamilton with scorn.

    “Free the slaves? Who will indemnify the owners? What will they do with themselves? Will they be citizens?”

    “King George might have said the very thing of us, sir!”

    “I think that the southern states would go to war rather than lose the full value of the property they have fought to save.”

    “Perhaps, then, we can see the precious manpower they cannot spare to fight this war!” Hamilton was on his feet. “At home, guarding against some fabled revolt of their slaves while we face the cannon and the redcoats.”

    He flamed red in the face. “My apologies, gentlemen. You all know I do not mean Virginia.” He turned to Captain Stewart. “And please pardon my fling against redcoats.”

    “My coat is most certainly red,” Stewart said with a smile.

    Washington looked down the table sternly, and shook his head.

    “I think this is why we keep politics out of the mess, Captain Stewart.”

    “I apologize for what I started, sir.”

    Hamilton turned to him and whispered as a strained conversation covered him from up the table. “You didn’t start it, sir. They did. When they bought their human cattle.”


    “Can we drink to the happy couple?” Sally asked, and Caesar glared at her.

    “I haven’t asked yet,” he said sheepishly. He was enjoying the mood and the conversation, and he didn’t want to come to the point of the evening yet. In a social way, he was afraid of Marcus White, and a little afraid of Polly.

    “You’re slow, then,” Sally quipped.

    Caesar looked across the table at Polly, whose eyes were down, and then at Marcus White. He reached into his pocket and pulled forth a plain silver band, hammered by the armourer from a shilling. His hands were trembling.

    “Sir, I have not hidden from you my admiration for your daughter, and I would like to take this occasion to ask for the honah, that is, honor of her hand,” he said. There was a quaver in his voice, but he got it out just as he had practiced it.

    Marcus White waved easily at Polly. “You know that you have my consent if you have hers.”

    Polly smiled. “You have mine.”

    Caesar went and knelt by her, and placed his ring on her finger.

    “Then I hope you will be my wife.”

    “I will, Caesar.” She kissed him on the forehead and then looked into his eyes, hers huge and dark. “But my father has to tell you something first, don’t you, Father?”

    “Tell me?”

    Marcus White looked at her, clearly a little frightened in his turn. Caesar knew what it must be immediately, and went to shush her.

    “This isn’t the place.” He looked at Sally, his distrust clear on his face. The scars made him look dangerous at such moments. “Perhaps when we’re alone.”

    “This is just the place,” insisted Polly, looking up at him with steady eyes.

    Marcus White looked at his daughter for a long moment.

    “If I must.”

    He looked around and then stood up to lock the room’s only door. Then he busied himself throwing wood on the fire.

    “Caesar, you know that I have something to do with gathering intelligence for the army?”

    “I do, sir. And you need say no more about it…”

    “Caesar, let my father speak.” Polly put her hand on his arm and left it there. Marcus White leaned forward over the table.

    “My daughter, Polly, often acts as a courier for me.” Caesar started, and he raised his hand. “No, please let me go on. I feel that you can know this because you know all the principals, and because it is time we draw this to a close. I do not so much collect intelligence as attempt to prevent the enemy collecting from us, do you understand?”

    Caesar narrowed his eyes a little, but nodded. He glanced at Sally, who was looking at her hands.

    “Throughout our army, the enemy has his spies. Some of them move around very publicly, because they wear the same uniform as you do but feel that the colonies have been unfairly treated. I can do little about them, and neither can anyone else.”

    Caesar nodded. Many officers had sympathies with the other camp.

    “The enemy also attempts to recruit spies through bribery, coercion, indeed, any method that will result in a flow of intelligence. I fear that this is not grounds for moral outrage, as I am very sure we do the same.”

    Caesar continued to watch his eyes.

    “Some time ago, someone who had been coerced approached me. She wanted to repent her sin. Indeed, she had little notion that I was anything but a minister of the Lord, but all her words fell on fertile ground. I took her under my wing. My daughter became her friend and confidante, because this woman was terrified all the time. I used my daughter to carry messages between us, and to follow certain people. This work was dangerous, but not as dangerous as my agent, the convert. Do you understand?”

    Caesar looked at Sally. He looked at her too long, and wondered what she had passed before she became a convert, but then he smiled.

    “I understand,” he said, and Polly pressed his hand. And Sally looked up, and into his eyes.

    “And I understand, what you and Marcus said. One day, you jus’ can’t be a slave no more.” She looked down. “I can be a whore. Folks like you think it low, but it ain’t like being a slave.” She looked up again. “Marcus is the best thing I ever knew, except maybe Jeremy. I couldn’t have jumped essept for Jeremy. But now I’m scared all the time.”

    Marcus said, “We’ve been feeding her false information for some time, and they are beginning to get on to it.”

    “So they beat you,” said Caesar, bitterly. “And I thought you had been with a man.”

    “Maybe I had,” said Sally. “That don’t make so much of a mind to me as it does you.”

    Caesar looked at Polly, and at Marcus.

    “I feared, once, that you were both spies. I even wondered which side you spied for.”

    Polly kicked her father lightly.

    “I told you he was quick.”

    Marcus nodded. “Why?”

    “You passed the lines too easily, and Polly seemed to know the headquarters, at least according to Jeremy. And you always seemed to know powerful men. I thought perhaps you were spying.”

    “Slavery does not beget confidence in one’s fellows, does it, Caesar?”

    “No, sir. No, it does not.”

    Polly squeezed his hand again.

    “Now you know,” she said.

    “All’s well that ends well,” Caesar said, one of Jeremy’s favorites. And Sally gave a little sob.

    “It ain’t the end for me until Bludner’s dead,” she said. And somehow her saying it robbed much of the joy of the day.
     
  38. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    I will plainly set before you, things as they really are; and shew you in what
    manner the Gods think proper to dispose of them. Know therefore, young
    Man!—these wise Governors of the universe have decreed, that nothing
    great, nothing excellent, shall be obtained without Care and Labour: They
    give no real Good, no true Happiness on other terms…If to be honoured and
    respected of the Republic be your Aim,—shew your Fellow-Citizens how
    effectually you can serve them: but if it is your ambition that all Greece
    shall esteem you,—let all Greece share the benefits arising from your
    labors…And if your design is to advance yourself by Arms;—if you wish
    the power of defending your friends, and subduing your enemies; learn the
    art of war under those who are well acquainted with it; and when learnt,
    employ it to the best advantage.


    VIRTUE’S ADDRESS TO HERCULES,
    FROM XENOPHON’S MEMOIRS OF SOCRATES,
    AS TRANSLATED BY SARAH FIELDING, 1762​
     
  39. Marcus Antonius

    Marcus Antonius Per Ardua Ad Astra - -

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    Polly felt as if she had been walking for her whole life. Her legs burned at every step and only the fact that she was late for her rendezvous and had charge of Sam kept her at it. If she had been alone, she might have looked for a friendly farm and rested.

    She had crossed the lines into the rebel-held area outside New York two weeks before. Her first contact had been away, and her second had changed the meeting place twice, scaring her and requiring her to stay close to the rebel camp for too long. The information he provided made the trip worthwhile, but she had walked a hundred miles in a week and she wanted to be home with her father and Caesar. And she wanted to live to be wed.

    At first she was cautious, sending Sam ahead to run and play and tell her what the roads were like, but they were both tired and she grew sloppy when she thought they were clear of the last rebel patrol. Besides, there were other people on the road, farm folk, and that made her relax.

    She came on the post suddenly at a turn in the road. It was new and unexpected, and Polly wanted to turn and find another way, but her rendezvous was just the other side of the lines here. Her news was too important to delay and she was late. In any case, they had already been seen. Best to brazen it out.

    She noted that the men in the post weren’t regulars. They were Connecticut militia. That could be good or bad. The militia was notoriously slack, but their men were ill disciplined. She had been groped by militia men enough times to know the difference and prefer the professionals at the Continental Army posts.

    She took Sam’s hand. Sam was just fourteen, stunted from a life of poor food and small enough to pass as her son or her brother. Polly used him to collect messages and run errands, and on trips like this he had become important for cover. She was afraid she was getting too well known.

    There was a wagon and several men on foot ahead of her, and one woman with a basket on her head who immediately tried to sell them eggs. Polly bought one and gave it to Sam, keeping the egg seller in conversation. She hoped to pass the post with the white girl, chatting.

    The militia began searching the wagon. Some of them were drunk, and the white girl gave her a worried look.

    “I mislike these. They are no true soldiers,” she said.

    Polly nodded. She took an apple from her apron, hard and wrinkled from a winter in the cellar. As she reached under her petticoat to find her clasp knife she used the movement to check that the ivory-handled dagger was still there. It had been Jeremy’s, and Caesar had lent it to her for luck. She touched it. Then she took her clasp knife, cut the apple and offered a piece to the girl. Sam finished the egg and looked at her with big eyes until she gave him a piece, too. The militia were still rifling the wagon, throwing things around, laughing. The farmer on the box grew angrier.

    “You’s nothin’ but cow boys!” he cried.

    All the smiles vanished. The militia began to look ugly, and one of them took an earthenware jug and smashed it on the ground. Cow boys was what the farmers called the Loyalist cavalry who stole their cattle. The name was beginning to spread to all the marauders who worked between the armies.

    Polly looked at the white girl, considering. It might be time to cut and run. The militia were dangerous, drunk and angry, and she didn’t fancy getting a black eye or worse.

    “They ain’t gon’ to let us cross easy, ma’am,” she said hesitantly, playing her part as a poor black from one of the farms.

    The girl looked more scared. “My brothers wanted to come, but I said it would be easier for me.” She shook her head. “These eggs ain’t worth what they has in mind.” Two more soldiers came up from behind them. They looked different. One sat under the tree with his weapon to hand, watching the two girls. The other smiled at Polly. Polly felt a touch of ice against her spine.

    Sam was looking at her. He was scared, and Polly was responsible for him. Sam made her trips easier but the responsibility weighed on her. In many ways, it was easier to travel on her own and she understood Caesar’s feelings for his company all the better. There wasn’t enough cover by the road to try and run. Even in petticoats, she could outrun most men, especially the lard-assed militia, but in open ground they could shoot her in a moment. And the two were watching her. They looked a little different, harder men altogether, like rangers or riflemen.

    The wagon cleared the post, the farmer poorer by some silver coin that had probably robbed him of the whole value of his trip to the Continental camp.

    “You pretty things have passes?” The sergeant had lank hair and his bad breath washed over Polly. The two rangers rose carefully and walked toward the sergeant, although both men were suddenly watching the distant woods on the British side of the lines.

    “You got a picket out?” asked one, teeth gripping an unlit pipe.

    “Jus’ my brother up the hill.”

    “He awake?”

    “What business is it o’ yourn? This be my post!”

    “Not if them Tory horse ride you down. See ’em?” The ranger pointed with his pipe. His motion was very small, careful. “Don’t act alarmed or they’ll come at us. Maybe they’re just lookin’.” The ranger looked at the militia with contempt. “What are you boys doin’ this far from our lines? Besides stealin’ from farmers?’

    The other ranger was smiling at the white girl. Finally he came over. Polly tried to listen to both while keeping her eyes down. Demure. Uninvolved. Her heart leapt at the notion that there were Loyalist cavalrymen just a few hundred yards away. They were probably hussars of the Queen’s Rangers, all friends of Caesar. They must be her rendezvous.

    “I’d fancy one of them eggs, miss,” said the second ranger. The white girl smiled nervously and gave him an egg, for which he paid a hard penny. That was a high degree of honor for a sentry post, from Polly’s experience.

    “Don’t you worry, miss. These milishee won’t harm you.”

    The first ranger was still trying to stare down the sergeant. “Well?”

    “Captain Bludner ordered us here. We’re lookin’ for Tory spies.”

    Polly froze. Just the name Bludner was enough to panic her, but she looked at Sam and thought, If I lose my head, they’ll take Sammy, too.

    The ranger looked at the militia sergeant, hard. “Bludner don’t run posts. An’ he ain’t much better ‘an a cow boy. Nor a cap’n, I reckon.” He looked at the whole group of men. “What the hell are Connecticut milishee doin’ in New Jersey?”

    “None o’ your business.” The lank-haired sergeant spat.

    “Bludner has his place up north o’ the river. Who sent you here?”

    “I’m lookin’ for spies.”

    Polly thought Bludner has a post, north of the river. That was news. She worked to master her fear. The sergeant was focused on the rangers. She thought she might play a part. After a moment, she snapped, “Then go fin’ some, an’ let po’ hones’ folk go work!”

    The sergeant turned and glared at her, but the rangers smiled. The second ranger, the tall one with a fancy hunting shirt and a beautiful knife, was telling the egg girl how to find his camp. Polly was scared but she had gotten the line out with real anger and she was waiting for the verdict.

    The first ranger looked up the road.

    “Come on, Elijah. These folk is gon’ to get ridden down in a minute, an’ I don’ wan’ to be here.”

    Elijah held up his hand and bent down to whisper something to the egg girl. He was good, thought Polly. The poor girl didn’t know what had hit her, she was so taken. She’d probably never been off her farm before.

    The rest of the militia were looking all around them, on the edge of panic, but the sergeant wasn’t giving in.

    “We can hold this post against some Tory horse, I guess. You walk off if you have a mind. I have orders.”

    Elijah actually kissed the egg girl’s hand. Something about it broke Polly’s fear, the thought that here on the edge of violence a man was courting, or something like it, and she laughed. She decided to play the saucy maid to the hilt, since she’d started.

    “You gon’ to defend us, Captain? Or jus’ flirt with the lady?”

    Elijah laughed. “Always time for flirtin’,” he said. His friend had walked a distance off, along the ridge to their right, and now he was suddenly lying flat and readying his rifle.

    “They’s a-comin’!” he called.

    Elijah picked up the butt of his rifle and turned away in one motion, headed for the ridge and his partner. “You’d best clear the road,” he called as he ran.

    Polly didn’t wait for more orders. She grabbed Sam’s hand and ran the other way into the field beside the road. The ground was still hard and the footing was good, and she ran easily. The further she ran, the more scared she was, waiting for a ball in the back.

    There were shots behind them. She didn’t turn, and so she missed the flurry of fighting as the hussars swept down the road. She dragged Sammy into the cover of a shallow depression. There was still snow here, and it was cold. Her petticoats began to take water from the damp ground. She was breathing like a horse after a run, and all thought seemed to have left her. She rolled on to her stomach and tried to look over the crest of her cover, and the cold April wind took her straw hat, blinding her for a moment. And then she saw the huddle of men on the road and green coats all around them.

    “See them, Sam?”

    “Yes’m.”

    “Queen’s Rangers.”

    “Ones on foot be Loyal Americans.”

    “Let’s go an’ let them round us up, then.”
     
  40. Marcus Antonius

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    Riding was still a new adventure for George Lake, and he regarded the journey from the Continental army camp near Newburgh, New York, to the capital at Philadelphia with some apprehension. He had been sent carrying dispatches, at his own request, as he had his own agenda to follow in Philadelphia. But the journey was a labor.

    He had a good horse, thanks to the marquis, who was now absent in France but had left George many of his belongings. He was well turned out, in a new coat and a proper greatcoat, and wore good boots and clean linen. Indeed, thoughout his journey, he was accorded a level of respect from innkeepers and fellow travelers that he had not experienced outside his own circle in the army. It pleased him, although he tried not to let it go to his head. At the ferry over the Delaware, the boatman’s daughter flirted to the edge of lewdness, which caused him to wriggle. She was pretty enough, but he was too close to Betsy to feel any temptation.

    What he noticed most, besides the ache in his thighs and knees, was the change in attitude his uniform provoked. In the Jerseys and Pennsylvania, he was now treated as a figure of authority and respect, whereas just a year or two earlier he wouldn’t have been welcome under many roofs. The world was changing. People were finally choosing sides.

    He saw other signs that were uglier. Everywhere he rode there were burned-out houses, and fields left fallow. Twice he met families on the road, refugees driven out by their neighbors for taking a stand opposed to the majority in their region. The war was hardening attitudes, causing longstanding disagreements to burst forth as violence.

    Philadelphia looked prosperous. Even on the outskirts, there were new houses and a new tavern being built, and the river was full of ships. Even a Royal Navy blockade couldn’t keep the French out of the Chesapeake or the most ambitious Massachusetts men from trading. The shops were full of goods and the people in the streets were the best dressed in America, but they seemed surly. Perhaps they saw too many uniforms. His treatment was different here and people all but crossed the street to avoid him.

    George took a room at an inn near the Congress and went to deliver his dispatches immediately. He knew the contents intimately: reports on the progress of General Sullivan’s expedition against the Iroquois, which George had viewed as a gimcrack strategy; reports on the movement of British ships and men in and out of New York; and a report on the state of the army near New York. Washington was not quite laying siege to the British forces there, but he had them under close observation while he sent many of his troops to face the British attacks on Charleston and other ports in the south.

    The entry of France into the war had changed it profoundly and had other effects than just the return of the marquis to his homeland. With France in the war and the loss of Burgoyne’s army at Saratoga, the British were forced to place their main effort in the Caribbean to prevent the loss of their valuable spice islands to the French Navy. Both sides were now concentrating military efforts in the Carolinas, where a fleet avoiding the hurricane season could relax within easy covering distance of the rich islands farther south. And the British had discovered, perhaps too late, the wealth of Loyalist sentiment that existed in the southern back-country.

    While armies and fleets skirmished for the possession of anchorages and bases in the south, the war in the north burned on as a series of raids and counter-raids. Loyalists and Indians attacked the Mohawk Valley to cut Washington off from his grain supply, and Washington sent Sullivan to drive the Iroquois from their villages in retaliation. Around New York City, spies and partisans fought a skulking war every day. The dispatches covered these new realities in detail and the logistics that supported them.

    He handed his dispatches to a member of the Continental Congress who immediately encouraged him to comment on the papers he bore. George refrained. The army had already survived two periods of intense internal politics and General Washington had made it clear that he didn’t intend to put up with a third. George had little interest in such talk. He requested a signed receipt for the dispatches and found himself in the street, a short walk from his real destination. He was clean and neat, well dressed, and at the end of his duty, and yet he paused, going into a coffee house.

    He hadn’t been to the Lovells’ since the day of the looters and despite many letters he feared to put to the test his resolve to ask Mr. Lovell for his daughter’s hand. He might no longer be welcome. Sitting alone in the coffee house, nursing a cup of bitter coffee, he wondered why the idea of being forbidden a house he had entered only once as a guest made so much difference. He thought it might be that he had spent so long imagining the house and its occupants that he felt a more frequent visitor.

    To make matters worse, none of his letters had been answered in two months. It was the lack of letters from Betsy that had spurred him to action. Now that he had arrived, he feared to find out the truth. She had married. She had been forbidden to write. Anything seemed possible.

    He stood once again in the street outside the coffee house before finally forcing himself to walk the two blocks to the Lovells’, whistling the “Rogue’s March” as he went like a condemned soldier. He walked up the steps briskly, his boot heels ringing against the brick, and tapped on the door with the force of nerves.

    He knocked again a few moments later, louder this time. The door of the next house opened and a maid leaned out. She was pretty, and Irish, like most of the maids in Quaker houses. She ducked back as soon as she saw him. He knocked again.

    A small boy was standing at the foot of the steps with a wooden hoop. He had been pushing the hoop with a stick, but now he just watched George.

    “Are you a real soldier?” he asked.

    “I am, lad.”

    “May I hold your sword?” he asked, turning his eyes away as he spoke, perhaps ashamed of his own daring. George laughed and came down the steps.

    “You can hold the hilt, but I’ll just keep a grip on her. There, isn’t she fine?”

    “Oh yes, sir.”

    “So, do you live hereabouts?”

    “Oh, yes, sir!”

    “What’s your name?”

    “Alexander Keating, if you please, sir.”

    “Well, Alexander Keating, do you know the people who live in this house?”

    “I used to know them, sir. Mrs. Lovell made the best orange marmalade and Miss Betsy was the prettiest girl on the street, or so my mama said.”

    “Good for your mama. I can’t agree more.” George was wrestling with the construction “used to know”. “Where are the Lovells now?”

    “They had to clear out. Mama says the Committee of Safety was wrong to make them go, but Papa says I shouldn’t talk of such things.”

    “I imagine he does. Could you take me to meet your mama?”

    “Oh, I haven’t been rude, have I, sir?”

    “Not at all, Alexander. And you handle that hoop very well indeed. Now march me round to your mama. That’s the boy.”

    In minutes, he was seated in another Philadelphia parlor, being fed coffee by the matronly Mrs. Keating. She clucked over the Lovells. It was some moments before George reassured her that he was a friend and not a servant of the committee. Wealthy Philadelphia had developed a distrust of uniforms and George resented it the more for the respect he had felt on his trip south from New York.

    “They came several times. I’m not speaking against the government, you understand,” she said, almost in a whisper, and with a look over her shoulder that spoke volumes. “I’m not saying that Mr. Lovell wasn’t a little too loud in his defense of King George. He was arrested, and he paid a fine. An’ most of that fine lined the pockets of the ‘officer’ who arrested him, I have no doubt. My husband would scold me if he heard me talking this way, to an officer an’ all. But a person has to be heard. What’s this ‘freedom’ I hear so much about? The Lovells have none, I believe.”

    George sat and drank his coffee silently.

    “Oh, I’ve offended you, Captain. I’m so sorry. We’re good Americans, really. But the Lovells had always been our friends.”

    “Ma’am, I’m an officer in the Continental Army.” George paused a moment, and then spoke his mind. “I’m a plain man, an apprentice when the war began. I’ve fought since ’75 an’ I reckon I’ll see it through to the end, an’ I don’t have any time for these Committees of Safety. In New York Colony, we had to use the army to suppress some of them. Mostly, they ain’t patriots. They are a vehicle for greedy, cruel men to tyrannize their neighbors. If they was anything else, they’d be in the army.”

    He rose and handed her his coffee dish. “I won’t trouble you more, ma’am, with my own seditious talk.” He tore out a sheet from his pocket book and wrote on it in pencil. “This is my address in camp. If the Lovells come back, or you get word of them, would you send to me?”

    “Of course I will! I’m a goose! You’re the officer Betsy was always on about, aren’t you?”

    George frowned, then smiled. “I reckon I might be, ma’am.”

    “Oh, goodness. Oh, of course you want to know where they went. Well, I suppose that all the Tories go to England or to New York. I think that Silas had a place in New York. So you and your camp are closer to the Lovells than I am.” She laughed, a little wildly. She was still very much on edge.

    George didn’t ask for a second cup because he could tell Mrs. Keating was nervous to have him and unhappy to discuss the Lovells. He went back to his inn, claimed his gear and his horse, and set out on his return trip. He didn’t want to spend a night in Philadelphia if he could help it.

    Betsy might be in New York, just nine miles from George’s camp. And only the British Army between us, George thought as he started north.
     
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