June 2, 1777
Morristown, New Jersey
“Another hot day, Lieutenant,” said a woman’s voice.
“It is that,” replied Hugh Hampton as he stepped through the door of a small barn. The wind had died down but the heat of the day was dragging on into the evening. “Where are you?” he asked but then he saw her in the shadows, and stepped forward to look at the pretty young wife of a local merchant.
“It’s strange now, isn’t it?” she said with a sad smile as she crossed her arms and leaned against a post.
“The quiet. The whole town was so full of life – so many men. You could hardly turn around without stumbling over some big brute of a soldier. And now, they’re all gone,” she sighed, waving her hand as if to point out how many were missing.
“Come now, there’s still enough of us left behind to keep the town lively,” said Hugh with a lazy smile as he limped toward her. He favored his good leg. It had been a bad sprain but he felt it would not be long before the surgeon declared him fit for active duty.
“I’ve not seen you in this,” she said as she took hold of the lapel of his coat to feel it. It was deep blue with buff facings, and made of a light fabric for summer weather.
“No, I’m sure you’ve not,” he said as he squared his shoulders, “for it’s just come from the tailor and has not yet been singed by burning powder nor splattered with enemy blood.”
“Not yet but not for long?” she asked, shaking her head and pretending to dislike the thought of it. But everyone admired handsome Hugh Hampton. In the many ambushes and attacks that had kept the Army busy through the winter and spring, he had distinguished himself. In January, when they heard about the victories at Trenton and Princeton, he had felt sorry for himself for missing them. Since then, he had taken advantage of every opportunity to face danger. “And you’re not thinking of soiling it soon, I hope,” she said as she kept hold of the lapel, pulling herself toward him to examine the stitching. “You’ve earned yourself a rest. And a coat like this ought to be kept nice for at while, at least.”
“Well, you’ll have to admire it while you can, for if I get my way, I’ll soon be up on the front lines. I’d be there now if that old hen of a doctor would...”
“Don’t you go defying doctor’s orders,” she scolded as she turned away and walked into the shadows in the barn. It had been an army stable and a popular meeting place for soldiers. Through the long winter it would have been crowded and smoky, filled with laughter and loud voices – soldiers trying to outdo each other with good stories and clever remarks. But now, they could only hear the occasional rustle of a mouse in the straw.
“Bah! That doctor,” Hugh joked as he followed her in, “he’s worse than my mother. There’s a war that needs to be fought and if the redcoats are finally going to crawl out of their barracks and face us in the field, then I want to be there to meet them.”
“You!” she laughed. “You a-limping out onto a battlefield? It’d be you who they’d be calling ‘my mother’.”
“I am healed and healthy,” he protested. “As strong and virile as an Arabian stallion, I am.”
“Who’s gone lame and… ”
“Don’t you be calling me lame now you… you little filly.”
“Little filly!” she said, pretending to take offence.
“I could outrun you!”
“Just you try to!” she laughed as she turned and set off three steps before grabbing hold of a post and spinning round to come face to face with him, again grabbing hold of his lapel. “You’d only catch me if I let you,” she said, looking into his eyes as she pulled him close.
“I’ve caught you already.” He took hold of her collar with one hand and lifted her chin with the other. He waited for a moment to see if she would pull away, and then he put his sweaty hand round the back of her neck.
The wire came over Hugh’s head and round his neck. He had heard nothing and only barely saw it move past his eyes. The woman shrieked and jumped back. A bizarre pain made him struggle and claw at his throat. Not knowing what was happening, he reared back, sending both himself and the attacker to the ground. He tried to scream but could only hiss. The struggle lasted seconds and the waving of his arms and kicking of his feet slowed to awkward jerks.
The murderer was on one knee but still in a crouch, holding his victim in place, looking as if he thought the corpse could spring back to life.
“You took yourself long enough,” muttered the woman. Her voice shook with fear or anger or some other emotion she had never before experienced.
“Didn’t want to spoil your pleasure,” said the man with a smirk.
“Pleasure! I… I’d not…”
“Now, we’d best be out of here quick,” he said as he twisted the wire round itself to keep it secure on Hampton’s neck. He took hold of the legs, and pulled the body through a low door into a lean-to shed built against the back of the barn.
“What are you doing with him?”
“Best he’s not found right away,” the man said as he stepped back to take a look at his work. “A day or two would be best,” he said, holding one hand to his chin and sounding like he was thinking. “Well well well, if you live by the sword, you’ll die by the sword.”
“Shouldn’t we be going?”
“He’s a rebel? Wasn’t he? A traitor. A criminal? And he’s killed other men with no greater justification, hasn’t he? Sure he has, and he’d likely have been hanged sooner or later, too. So I…”
Oh shut-up! snapped the woman. “What is this? Are you now a loyal subject of the King?”
“I’m simply considering the legalities of the situation, my dear. Were this a military operation and I was a…”
“Could you deal with your guilty conscience later!”
“Yes yes, my dove,” he said as he came back out. Straw and dirt on the mud floor had been dragged along with the body, leaving a clear trail. He used his foot to sweep it, to make it less obvious. “Now, why don’t you go take a look and see if there’s anyone about?”
“You took so long getting it done!” she grumbled, sounding as if holding back tremendous anger. “I…I wondered whether you’d lost your nerve!”
“Let’s not bicker about it now. We’ve no time to waste,” he said calmly as he pulled off the leather gloves that had protected his hands from the wire. It had been intended for the higher notes of a harpsichord and was both thin and strong. He went to the wall to take a peek outside, moving his head back and forth to scan across the garden. Its raised beds had short rows where green seedlings were already sprouting. In others, further back, onions were standing almost a foot high. With all the rain, everything was green. The house at the front of the lot was large with white clapboards and a massive chimney that emerged through the center of the roof. It had housed soldiers. The owner had been a loyalist who had sold out after the Congress in Philadelphia had declared the new nation’s independence.
“Come along, my dear, help take a look about,” said the man, gesturing to the other wall. “We can’t let the neighbors see us coming out, can we?”
“We’ll not be if we… we… we ought to…” she stammered as she went to the far wall. She leaned against the rough-cut planks to look between them. When both were satisfied that there was no one coming or going, they left. The woman went first, holding one hand to her forehead, as if massaging a tense brow, just in case someone might be watching her from a distance. Once she was out of the yard, the man stepped out the door and turned to go the other way, to the bottom of the garden and through an apple orchard to where he could follow a path.
. . . . .
The corpse was still warm when Tim Euston came into the barn, carrying a violin. He was seventeen but seemed older when his brow was furrowed by deep thought. His hat was turned up on three sides, over a head of straw-colored hair tied at the back with a black ribbon. The barn was a quiet place where he could practice a tune called ‘In Love Should There Meet a Fond Pair’, a favorite of the colonel’s wife. After sitting down on a stool, he noticed that something had been dragged across the floor to the door of a lean-to. He was tempted to take a look but stopped himself. It was just an excuse to avoid work. With no sheet of music, he would have to start with the melody and think up a few chords to make his own version.
“Practicing?” asked a man’s voice, making Tim jump. The sound of it was intended to be friendly and cheerful but at the same time it had a suspicious tone – almost angry.
“Oh! Yes sir, it’s the one the colonel’s wife asked for, and I didn’t know it and...”
“Ah yes, the colonel’s wife,” he said, turning to leave but then stopped. “What’s this?” he asked, pointing to the floor.
“I… I don’t know,” shrugged Tim. “I’d sort of wondered myself. But I figured… I don’t…I ought to…”
“Keep on with your practice,” he said, holding up a palm to order Tim quiet. He walked further into the barn, looking around. He was Lieutenant John Hawke, and Tim felt it was a good name for him because he always seemed to be “watching like a hawk”. Tim restarted the tune at the beginning and played while the officer ducked down to go into the lean-to. It was the sort of place where a pig might be kept at night. A homeowner often kept one to fatten on kitchen scraps and garden waste. Tim continued playing, though it was hard to concentrate with someone behind him, snooping around.
“How long have you been in here?” asked the officer as he came back out. Now his voice was definitely angry – maybe even scared.
“Maybe a quarter of an hour – not even that.”
“Was anyone here when you arrived?”
“Did you see anyone close by?”
“He… here?” stammered Tim. “The barn? I… I don’t remember anybody. Not close by. Not here in the yard. There’s nobody here now, I don’t think. Not since…”
“You’re sure of that?” Hawke asked but it did not sound like a question. “And you’ve not been in there?”
“No,” replied Tim, as he looked at the door to the lean-to.
“Did you notice that something’s been dragged across the floor?”
“Ah… no… yes, but I’d work to do so I thought…”
“Come in here and take a look,” Hawke ordered. And it was an order – sharp and harsh – no hint of a request.
“Of course,” said Tim as he rushed through the door.
The head was twisted to the side. Tim hesitated and then crouched down to look at the face. It was swollen but he recognized Lieutenant Hugh Hampton. And then he saw the indentation round the neck made by a wire that still held tight.
Tim stepped back. His breath quickened. He had seen a dead man before but this was different. This was someone he knew – an Army officer. He was a man who had been willing to sit and talk with him – a man Tim had admired, right from the start. Forcing himself to breathe calmly, he took a closer look. The eyes were open and bugged out and the face still bore an expression of shock.
Tim could taste it – the bitter flavor that emerges from the back of your throat when surprised by something hideous. He had tasted it before, when a neighbor’s half blind old cat had been caught under the wheel of a wagon.
“You’re sure there wasn’t another person with you?” asked Hawke behind him. “Another person here?”
“No no no! It was empty! I was just… I was the only one here, unless someone was hiding.”
“So… you were the only one,” the officer said slowly, sounding like that fact had told him something important. He went past Tim and to take another look. He grunted, as if he were drawing conclusions. Standing back up, he walked around the corpse slowly, with one hand at his chin, pinching it as he concentrated. He nodded his head and turned back to look at Tim.
Tim took a step back, stunned. Hawke looked satisfied about something. Like he thinks he’s just identified the murderer, thought Tim, and he wondered whether Hawke would have arrested him on the spot, had it not been for his recent good fortune.
An opportunity for mischief.
With a violin and bow still in his grip, Tim headed for the tavern. The streets were wet from heavy rains, and sticky brown mud made the going slow. Lightning flickered behind dark clouds above the hills to the west. Another storm was on its way. Ruts left by heavy army wagons would be refilled with water, and the next set of wheels would cut deeper.
The second floor of Arnold’s Tavern held the military headquarters. Lieutenant Hawke had ordered Tim to go tell the colonel, and he had said, “Yes sir” as automatically as any soldier. Tim had almost saluted, before stopping himself, knowing it was not his privilege because he had not yet been sworn in as a soldier. But he was surprised by how it made him feel. Hearing the order reminded him of how much he wanted to be part of the Continental Army – to be part of the team – to be a member of the select club. Well, not that select, he told himself, thinking of some of the privates he had met over the past few days. “Rude and crude,” he mumbled as he came to the door.
“Is the colonel in?” Tim asked the woman who was coming out.
“I don’t know,” she said as she passed by. “Go in and ask yourself, why don’t you?”
“Is the colonel in?” he asked a private, once through the door. The young man carried a thick leather-bound ledger and looked at Tim over the top of small round reading glasses.
“What’s your business here?”
“I’ve a message from Lieutenant Hawke. I must speak to the Colonel directly.”
“Must you?” asked the private, who suspected it had something to do with Tim’s capacity as a performer of sentimental songs and merry melodies.
“And you have to disturb his supper then?”
“Yes, I do!”
“Well then, you’ll find him up there,” he said, gesturing over his shoulder.
At the top of the stairs and through an open door, Tim could see two officers at a table examining a map. Colonel Jeremiah Olney was in command of the detachment that had remained in Morristown after the rest of the Army had marched out five days earlier. The other officer was Captain Malcolm Poole who stood a head taller than the colonel.
“Ah, the talented Tim Euston,” said the colonel with a smile. “Come to serenade our supper perhaps? If they ever bring it to us.”
“It’s Lieutenant Hampton, sir,” Tim whispered after he had come through the door. “He’s dead.”
“He’s dead, sir. He’s s… strangled.”
“Speak up, boy,” said the colonel, whose attention had returned to the map.
“Lieutenant Hampton’s been strangled!” Tim said, when closer.
“Has he been?” the Colonel said after a pause, as he leaned back in his chair and looked directly into Tim’s eyes.
“How do you know he’s been?” asked Poole as he straightened.
“I… I found him there. No! It was Lieutenant Hawke who found him. But I was there, in the barn. There to practice.” Tim held out his violin and bow as evidence.
“Which barn?” asked Olney.
“It’s just down the street. It’s… it’s empty now, since they’ve been gone. So is the house.”
“Well well,” said the colonel as he stood up, “perhaps we should go take a look.”
“You say Hawke found him?” asked Poole.
“I was there to practice the tune that… and then Lieutenant Hawke came in and asked how it was coming, and… and then he looked around and found it. And then I… I left him there… I mean…”
“You left him there?”
“He’s there now watching over… and… and I came…”
“You posted a guard, did you?” Poole asked with a half-smile.
Tim stammered some more and then gave up. He led them back to the barn at the slow pace set by Olney. Tim imagined this was because Poole was limping on a wounded leg. Most of the men left behind were nursing a wound or recovering from an illness. As well, Olney wanted to look calm and avoid attracting attention. It doesn’t seem right though, thought Tim as he glanced back again to see if they were keeping up.
. . . . .
“I found him here, practicing on his fiddle,” explained Hawke as the officers hovered over the corpse. “Not more than a quarter of an hour ago. He appears to have been strangled with a fine wire – from a harpsichord or a pianoforte. No bruises that I can see, not in this light. No lump on his head. No bleeding except for where the wire cut into his skin. Whoever did it, did it well. And it can’t have been long ago, either. The body’s warm and the blood’s only starting to dry.”
“Did either of you notice anyone else arrive or leave?” asked Olney. He stood in a studious hunch, tapping his chin with his forefinger and holding his other hand cupped under an elbow.
“Just Tim,” replied Hawke, sounding like he did not want to rule him out as a suspect.
“Tim,” asked Olney as he took a closer look at the body, “be a good fellow and go next door for a candle.”
“Yes sir,” said Tim and he took off in a run, glad to be out of the place. He wondered about Lieutenant Hawke’s tone. It was obvious the man considered him to be the murderer. Or, at least, he strongly suspected him. But why would he want to think that? Tim asked himself as he knocked on the back door and let himself in. A woman was by the fireplace, ironing a shirt.
“I’ll need to borrow a candle. It’s for the colonel.”
“The colonel?” she said as she put the iron down to reheat and hooked the handle onto another. “And will the colonel be giving it back when he’s finished with it?”
“I’m sure he will. He’ll only need it for a little while, I’d think.”
“And he needs it in the middle of the day?”
“Yes,” said Tim as he reached for the lantern she had taken from the shelf. He opened its small glass door, took out a short candle and went to the fire to light it.
“You’re Tim Euston?” asked the woman.
“Yes, and I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“What’s he needing it for?”
“Ah… I… I can’t tell you. Not yet… I don’t think,” he replied as he took down the bellows to blow on the embers and generate a flame.
“Can’t tell me?” she asked with a doubtful tone.
“Maybe later.” He wondered why everyone seemed so suspicious.
“The mistress will be expecting it back,” she said sternly as Tim got the candle burning. He put it back into the lantern, closed it and turned to go.
“Of course. I’ll have it back soon, I’m sure. If I can,” he said and let himself out. “It’ll be up to the colonel though.”
He ran the short distance back into the next-door garden, only stopping to open and close the gate. In the barn, the three men stood over the body. The colonel held out his hand for the lantern. As he crouched down to illuminate Hugh Hampton’s face, the others crowded in.
“Could have been an enemy spy or a saboteur hiding in a shadow,” sighed Poole after he straightened, took off his hat and scratched his head. He had long blonde hair tied at the back with a ribbon. “Come to snoop around, maybe. And then to take advantage of an opportunity for mischief.”
“It’d be a brave one to come right into town,” said the colonel.
“Unless he was already here,” said Hawke with a glance at Tim.
“Well…” said Poole loudly as he turned to the colonel, “we should assume nothing and suspect everything, shouldn’t we?” He was a big man, looking all the more so when standing next to the ordinary-looking John Hawke. “Had he ordered anyone to be whipped lately?”
“But surely,” said Hawke, looking up, “you don’t believe that…”
“I don’t believe or disbelieve anything,” Poole replied with a smile. “We’ve got to consider all possibilities.”
“Yes, and certainly one possibility is that…”
“We ought to have Doc Wallace take a look at him,” interrupted the colonel. “And I’ll have the major ask around. Can’t do more or less than that, can we? And we’ll be telling others that we presume it to be the work of the enemy and that he died a hero’s death and that he’ll be buried with full honors.”
“Tim,” said Hawke, “let’s have a look at your hands. Come over to the light.”
Tim came forward and held them out, assuming Hawke wanted to look for marks made by a wire. It would have taken quite a yank to make it cut through Hampton’s skin. Even with gloves, it might have left a mark. But all they could see were the thick-skinned hands of a worker. For the past three years Tim had been earning his keep as an apprentice to a carpenter, and had spent most of the time sawing planks and cutting firewood. There was ample evidence of his employment but no telltale indentation that would mark him as the murderer.
“Where’d you hide the gloves, son?” joked the colonel. Tim smiled nervously.
“We’ve a storehouse full of valuable supplies,” said Poole, sounding slightly annoyed. “Highly valuable goods. There’s every reason to suspect enemy saboteurs creeping around in the night. He’s not likely to be the last to suffer a mishap. These are dangerous times and we’ll have to keep on the watch, won’t we?”
This story is set in Morristown, New Jersey, in June of 1777, three years into the eight-year War for Independence. George Washington had chosen this town for his winter headquarters. It had two streets, sixty buildings and 250 inhabitants. Surrounding it were hills and creeks that served as natural defenses. Most of the inhabitants of Morris County supported the revolutionary struggle. The Central Division of the American Army (called the Continental Army) had arrived in early January after victories at Trenton and Princeton. They had forced the British back into a small region around the mouth of the Raritan River, across from Staten Island and less than a day’s walk south of Morristown.
On May 28, Washington moved fifteen miles southwest to the Middlebrook Heights in the Watchung Mountains, the furthest easterly range of wooded hills. Only seven miles away, the British presence in New Jersey had been growing, with thousands of red-coated regulars arriving by boat from New York. They had more men, more equipment and, just as important, they had the extensive training needed for eighteenth-century tactics. The revolutionary forces, who called themselves “patriots” or “whigs”, posed a serious threat but not in a great battle upon an open plain where soldiers could be kept in strict formation. In the hills and forests, however, the rebels had the advantage, being more accustomed to small engagements and rough terrain. In New Jersey, they could keep the British surrounded, disrupted and frustrated.
America’s capital was Philadelphia, to the south, and in Europe the capture of a nation’s capital was often followed by a surrender. Washington suspected this was a likely target for British Major General William Howe (Sir Billy). But if the redcoat army passed through central New Jersey in a long line along the narrow post road, rebel forces could attack again and again, killing men and capturing equipment. This threat would have to be eliminated.
The wind was up and rain was spitting out of black clouds by the time the officers made it back to Arnold’s Tavern. Olney and Poole were still hungry enough to want their supper but Hawke made his apologies and went back to his room in a house close by. Once inside, he walked slowly up the stairs and after some hesitation he pushed the door open, cringing as the hinges squeaked. He stood still for a moment, looking around the room he had shared with Hugh Hampton. It felt strange to see the man’s empty bed.
He sat on a chair by a small table. There was an unfinished letter he had to work on but he just sat there, listening to the wind rattle a loose windowpane. A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts. “Yes?” he snapped. The door opened and the young private with small round glasses came through, still carrying the ledger.
“I’ve heard the news, sir,” he said quietly as he closed the door and sat on the end of the nearer of two narrow beds. Private John Passey was a pale and severely pockmarked company clerk who earned extra money by serving as Hawke’s batman. Most officers felt they needed a batman to do the tasks not fitting for a gentleman, like brushing coats, removing stains and polishing anything made of metal. But this time Passey had come because he felt the lieutenant might need a good listener, in case he was feeling the death of Hampton as a personal loss. He closed the door to ensure no one would overhear. Officers and enlisted men were not allowed to fraternize. Friendship always led to preferential treatment. Military decisions had to be based on military priorities. “’Tis a pity,” said Passey quietly, as he shook his head.
“Well,” said Hawke with a shrug, “you live by the sword, you die by the sword.”
“Would that he had died by the sword.”
“I fear,” said Passey after a silence, “that unless we identify a guilty party… that many will live in fear of a murderer in our midst.”
“And some will live under a suspicion of guilt. You’re just back from your mother’s?”
“Just now, yes. She’s doing well enough for an old woman. Getting better. She asked about you. She always does.”
“If you’ve just arrived back then you’ve not heard the half of it.”
“No… well…” stammered Passey as he leaned forward. “I’ve overheard the others talking about Lieutenant Hampton.”
“That would not be close to half. What’s of greater concern is what began five days ago – just before you’d left – on the day that the general rode out – before the dust had yet settled. He had taken most of his forces south to be closer to the enemy. But… who could have suspected that on the very same day the enemy might have arrived in disguise.”
“Oh, I’m… I’m only guessing,” said Hawke as he looked away. “But it all deserves a closer look, at the very least. We can’t be too careful, can we?”
“Indeed no. Ever alert.”
“But on the day that they were all packing and leaving – everyone busy, loading this and strapping down that. On that very day, a patrol brought in a few refugees – simple folk who’d come across from New York, looking for work. Or so you’d guess they were, had they not been under guard and had not the boys come with sacks over their heads and hands bound.”
“Boys and girls?” asked Passey.
“Women and men. There was a mother and daughter. Household servants, they claim. The girl’s fifteen. Her brother, who calls himself Tim Euston, is two years older. And there was another boy, a bit older still. I’m told the one’s a woodcutter and the other’s a sailor. Or so they claim. They’d been found close by the Hudson River, just up from the city. And the day before, two British deserters had been found at the same spot and had told of how the others would follow. And all four of the boys claimed they were wanting to join the Army and fight for liberty – for the cause, they said. Nothing to raise suspicions there. We’re fairly flooded with volunteers and that includes a good many deserting redcoats. But what made these ones stand out was what the two deserters claimed they had hidden away, somewhere along the river. Three crates, it was, and they said they had been seized – not stolen – from a storehouse – in a British garrison. Three crates and each turned out to contain cartridge boxes – good ones – highly valuable munitions.”
“They’d stolen them?”
“Stolen. Seized,” shrugged Hawke. “They say it was a seizure because it had not been their intention at the time to profit from it. They say they did it simply to further the cause of liberty – to defend their nation’s independence. The two deserters say they worked in the storehouse where they’d been kept.”
“Ah, an inside job,” said Passey. “Yes yes, that would have made it a good deal easier.”
“But they don’t just let them walk off with them, do they?”
“No, I wouldn’t think so. Right off a redcoat garrison, you say? Quite an accomplishment.”
“Quite an accomplishment indeed!” said Hawke as he pounded his fist it on the table. “Almost unbelievable, is what it is! But they had the goods, and we needed them. So at some point, they must have had a change of mind about stealing for profit because they demanded payment. One of our people dickered over the price and agreed to the sum of four hundred dollars for each of the four boys.”
“Four hundred! For each? My goodness! To go to boys?”
“It’s what good cartridge boxes are worth these days. And it’s a small fortune in their eyes, I’m sure. I’d doubt that any one of them has ever earned a dollar for a full day’s work, no matter how long and how hard they labored.”
They’re talking about the Continental dollar, first issued in the summer of 1775 by the Continental Congress, an assembly of representatives from each of the thirteen colonies. In January of 1776 Congress declared that “whoever should refuse to receive in payment Continental bills, should be declared and treated as an enemy of his country...” But with no taxing authority, Congress could not back the value of its dollar. By the spring of 1777 the ‘Continental’ was trading for half its original value, and its worth would drop to almost nothing before the end of the war.
“And what will the boys spend it all on?” asked Passey with a smile.
“Never mind that!” fumed Hawke. “What I’d like to know is how they managed to steal goods of such value from a British military base – even with two of them at work in the storehouse! If it was that easy, the royal redcoats would have lost all their munitions long ago. There’s never a lack for thieves in any army, is there?”
“No no no, there’s not. ‘Tis a highly doubtful story.”
“You are right there, boy. And what’s more, they brought along an infantry officer that they claimed to have captured – a lieutenant in the 44th. He was carried over with a broken leg and a bump on his head. They say he had met with an accident, a fall from a fast moving wagon.”
“So they say. But what I cannot help but wonder is this. Was there ever any ‘seizure’ and ‘capture’ at all? What I wonder is whether Tim Euston and his friend are tory recruits sent over to spy on us. Maybe these so-called deserters and this story of a ‘seizure’ is just to lull us into accepting them as honest patriots, when in fact they are dangerous spies.”
“But why so preposterous a story then?”
“Well, it makes perfect sense once you think about it. Would you expect a spy to actually try to draw attention to himself? No, you’d expect a spy to try to remain inconspicuous, wouldn’t you? And it’s the same with the high price they demanded. The goods we brought were worth at least that much. Had they been offered as a gift or at a low price then we might start to wonder why. But as is, they don’t look very much like spies at all, do they? They’re highly credible, in the eyes of some.”
“Ah yes. Who indeed? And that leads us to the next part of the story – to the entertaining part – the incredible part!”
“What?” asked Passey as he took off his glasses and leaned forward.
“Just the day before yesterday, there was a small event put on for the colonel’s wife. It was her birthday, and he hired two of the newcomers to entertain them. One of them was the boy who was there when I found Hampton’s body. Tim Euston is his name. It was him and his little sister. They’ve been performing before the ranks every evening, along with the others. And, in the bloom of their youth, they’re both as lovely to gaze upon as they are to listen to. Both play fiddles and, I must say they are well trained in the art – very well indeed. And sing like a pair of turtledoves, they do – love ballads, patriotic anthems – all sung in the sweetest of harmony. And last Saturday night they had the room captivated and… well, I’m sure you could imagine it. Every second woman fell in love with Tim Euston, no doubt. He’s supposedly a woodcutter and she a house servant but they sang and played like the well tutored brats of a wealthy man.”
“But how did they come by these abilities?”
“Their explanation,” said Hawke as he shook his head, “is that they’ve only recently fallen upon hard times and have only had to work for a living for the past three years. They say they’re the bastard children of a once prosperous Boston merchant, and they claim that since they’d come south, they’ve worked for families who liked to hear them play – so much so that they’d allowed them time to learn new tunes. They claim their employers had even paid someone to teach them. Another highly doubtful story, I’d say. But still it was believable for some – the women, of course.”
“Ah yes yes yes, always ready to lose their hearts to a fair faced fiddler.”
“And some of those women are the wives of officers. And that,” whispered Hawke, “includes the wife of the colonel.”
“And if charming Tim Euston and his lovely young sister are now to be the entertainers of choice in Morristown and beyond, then what do you suppose that will lead to? Access, is what! They’ll both have access to those most willing to sit and ‘chat’. To women – to the wives of officers – to the women who get to listen to their husbands’ conversations. And as we well know, there’s many a battle that’s been won with the help of information carelessly leaked by an officer’s wife.”
“Oh indeed yes yes, there has been,” agreed Passey with a smile.
“It doesn’t take much, does it? Just talking about having to pack your husband’s bags is often enough. It tells when an army is ready to move, doesn’t it? And that will allow the enemy time to prepare.”
“Of course it does.”
“And that, I fear,” sighed Hawke with a look of deep frustration, “is not the worst of it.”
“The charms of Tim Euston have worked their magic upon more than just women. He has captured the trust of no less a man than our own Captain Poole.”
“What?” asked Passey after a pause.
“Malcolm Poole – the battle-scarred hero – the fearsome raider. The man you and I serve under. He, of all people, has fallen under Tim Euston’s spell. And he has named the boy as his choice for ensign.”
“Yea, indeed,” said Hawke as he shook his head. “The position will be filled by this… this stranger – this boy! And when so many gentlemen volunteers are here and waiting for just such a posting! Men with knowledge and ability – men from good families. Good New Jersey men! Men who have freely given their time. Men whose honesty is beyond reproach! And… and the fool goes and picks a boy of seventeen years with no military experience – from no military family! And he was born and raised in Boston!”
“Boston? Why… but… can he really…”
“Oh yes he can, yes he can. In the ‘additional’ regiments the captains are to have the right to choose their own lieutenants and ensigns. That way they’ll have no one to blame but themselves if the choice turns out to be a poor one. And, as well, it will spare the generals the burden of having to listen to fathers and mothers all a-lobbying for their own pride and joy. ‘It’s up to the captain,’ they’ll be able to say. The additional regiment here is still being formed up. I’m not really a lieutenant, yet, and Poole’s not a captain. All our appointments are tentative. And our colonel lays in what might be his deathbed. We’re just temporarily in Olney’s hands and...”
“But still,” interrupted Passey as he held his hand to his forehead, “how could Poole think that…”
“Ah yes, how could he? And here the tale grows yet more strange and mysterious. Tim Euston, along with his friend the sailor, have claimed that they simply got themselves an officer’s manual, and set to work on it and eventually half-memorized it.”
“Did they really?”
“And they say they’d found an old soldier, and by cutting firewood they paid him to help them learn the drills and duties. And they claim their employers were secret rebel sympathizers who allowed them time off their work to study and practice.”
“Oh, this is too much!”
“And it doesn’t end there!” said Hawke as he shook his head. “Earlier on that same day – and I saw this myself – young Tim Euston just happened to be listening in on a conversation that our Captain Poole was having over in the tavern. And the boy must have listened with great care, for that night – last Saturday night – after his stirring performance, the drunken Malcolm Poole invited Tim Euston to sit and have a drink. Our captain poured the boy a glass and asked him about himself. He’d been told of the boy’s military knowledge and he asked a few questions to test him. And the boy answered the questions accurately. But then, when the questions got difficult – when it came to matters of judgment… well! If he didn’t hear young Tim Euston a-parroting the same words he himself had said earlier in the day.”
“He remembered what Poole had said and gave it all back to him?”
“That he did.”
“And Poole thought,” asked Passey with a smile, “that the boy had come up with the same opinions entirely on his own?”
“Yes, indeed he did! It was obvious! It was unbelievable! And the boy was even able to defend them – at length. He is nothing if not impressive. I was impressed myself!”
“Ah, but not fooled. Well well, a clever boy he is, yes yes yes. But still, how could a man like Malcolm Poole be so easily fooled? Is it possible that the colonel had already made some inquiries into the boy’s background and…”
“He has, to an extent,” sighed Hawke. “There is this spy of ours who sneaks about the enemy’s territory over in New York. Or at least he used to. He’s gotten himself too well known to risk going back again. But while he was still at it, he got to know Tim well enough to trust him. But that should hardly be sufficient, should it?”
“No, of course not.”
“All this… this spying! It’s nothing but lies and deceit stacked on top of deceit and lies! How can any of these ‘spies’ be trusted when deception is their stock in trade?”
“Indeed, how can they?”
“And what are we left with then?” asked Hawke as he raised his hands, as if in a plea to God for understanding. “We have a drunken captain – with power to select his own ensign. A man who is amazed by the apparent wisdom of… of the new face in town. And then… then, and apparently on pure impulse, our captain raises his glass and announces his decision. Tim Euston – the new ensign! Ensign Euston! Well, then you should have seen clever Tim Euston’s reaction. He showed a very brief look of amazement, just in his eyes. But then he simply nodded his head, as if he thought of it as the sound decision of a sensible man. And there you have it! The captain has publicly made his decision – right there as women squeal with delight! And how can he go back on it now?”
“Yes yes yes, how can he? He’d look rather… indecisive, wouldn’t he? Foolish even!”
“Foolish, indeed!” said Hawke as he threw up a hand. “Our Captain Poole has all but staked his reputation on this… decision. And just you watch! He’ll cling to it! He’ll cling to his selection no matter what is said. For if he changes his mind now, after so public a display, he’ll look like an impulsive, indecisive fool. And what can I or anyone do about it now? If I try to talk some sense in him, I’ll only offend him! Wouldn’t I?”
“Yes yes, you’d push his back up against a wall.”
“And even if the colonel were to sit him down and explain it to him. Well, for him to back down now, it would… it would be…”
“A humiliation indeed,” said Passey, with a nod.
“Of course! It couldn’t help but be deeply humiliating.”
“So, you’ve said nothing to Poole?”
“I’ve only spoken about it to you,” said Hawke quietly. “And I hope you’ll not pass any of this along.”
“No no no, I’d like to think I’ve a tongue that I can keep control of. And maybe you shouldn’t talk about this to anyone else. People can repeat things without intending to.”
“Unless, of course, Colonel Olney asks you directly what you think of it all, and then you would be obliged to offer your assessment.”
“Yes,” said Hawke slowly, sounding like he was thinking. “And I could steer a conversation in that direction, couldn’t I? I could ask how it was that Tim and his friends managed to ‘seize’ the goods. And I could say it without suggesting that I doubted their story. Surely he would come up with his own doubts were I to ask the right questions.”
“Yes yes yes, you could do that,” agreed Passey with a grin. “A question here and a comment there? That’s how you’ll get the task done – the task done and the boy done for.”
At this time there were no military colleges for the infantry – not even in England. In the British Army, the training of an officer usually started with a long term as a cadet. In the rebellious colonies, it was hoped that the study of military manuals and drilling by local militias could make up for the lack of a professional army.
In the Continental Army an infantry company had one captain, a first and second lieutenant, one ensign, four sergeants and four corporals. Each sergeant commanded a squad that, at full strength, had nineteen privates. The ensign was the lowest level of commissioned officer but he still outranked a sergeant. He was called ensign because he carried the flag into battle, making him a tempting target. A regiment commanded by a colonel could include as many as eight companies. Casualties, disease and a lack of recruits often kept regiments well below full strength so, once fighting started, they were reorganized into brigades, battalions and platoons.
Five months before, on December 27, 1776, the Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, had authorized George Washington to form sixteen additional regiments. Unlike existing regiments the state governments would have no say in the selection of officers. Many felt the states had been commissioning infantry officers for political reasons and without adequate regard to their knowledge and leadership skills. Though Washington would make the final decision, the captains in these additional regiments were given responsibility for selecting their own lieutenants and ensigns.
Tim’s being only seventeen was not completely out of line. In 1775 American General Israel Shreve chose his fifteen-year-old son, John. American General Charles Lee received his ensign’s commission in the British Army only three months after his fourteenth birthday. Israel Trask, son of a lieutenant, was the Continental Army’s youngest soldier, when he volunteered to be a cook’s helper and a messenger at the age of ten.
Excessive bad fortune.
Still needing to practice, Tim took his violin to another small barn. This one was behind the house where he had been invited to stay until he was in the Army and off on the summer’s campaign. As he walked through its wide door, the late afternoon sun was shining through the narrow vertical chinks between the rough planks that covered the outer walls. Its intense rays highlighted bits of dirty straw scattered across the floor. And hopefully I won’t find another body in here, he thought, as he went to the far corner. He needed to be alone for a while but he knew it would not be for long. It was almost time for his sister to milk the cows. They were not back from pasture yet, but likely he would soon hear the gentle clanging of cowbells as the town’s cowboys drove them in. A number of households kept cattle. The job of watching over them while they grazed used to go to a boy, but with war the task had gone to three soldiers who each carried a rifle.
Tim went to work, playing the melody over and over and trying out different combinations of notes.
“It’s coming along,” said a voice right behind him, making him jump.
“Sadie! Did you have to do that?” said Tim with the tone of somebody at his wit’s end. His little sister stood where one of the narrow beams of light shone across the side of her face, giving her a sinister look.
“I came to practice with you,” she said, holding up her violin. She was not as advanced as Tim, so when they performed, she would play a simpler melody in harmony with his.
“Well… you shouldn’t sneak up like that. It’s not…”
“What’s the matter with you?”
“You haven’t heard the news?” asked Tim.
“That Granny Stubbs’ big goose has gone missing. I have, and she’s fit to be tied. Went straight to the colonel, she did.”
“There’s maybe that too… but there’s been a killing. A murder. And I was there where it happened – when Lieutenant Hawke came and found the body. And then...”
“It was Hugh Hampton.”
“And he was murdered?”
“He was strangled to death!”
“And you were there?”
“Not when he was murdered! After, when Hawke found the body. It was just two doors over from here, in the cowshed. He was murdered – strangled. It was Lieutenant Hugh Hampton.”
“You would have seen him on Saturday night. He wasn’t saying much.”
“Now even less,” joked Sadie.
“I was there to practice,” said Tim, ignoring her comment. “I thought it’d be nice and quiet because nobody’s there any more, not since they’ve all marched out. And then Hawke came to see what I’d gone in there for and then he found him, in the lean-to, strangled to death and… and now Hawke is acting like he thinks that I’m likely the killer.”
“He isn’t right, I hope.”
“How… how can you … don’t talk that way! A man is dead! And Hawke acts like he thinks I’m probably the killer! He… he didn’t say so but he acted like he thought so.”
“Watch out, Sadie!” hissed a young man’s voice from the door. “It’s Tim Euston you stand before. The crazed killer! There before you, and ready to kill again, no doubt!”
“Dan! Will you… you don’t…” stammered Tim.
“Now don’t worry yourself, boy,” said Dan Eliot as he came over to give him a pat on the shoulder. “We’ll believe that it wasn’t you. At least we’ll claim that we do.” Dan was the sailor who had come with them five days before. He had shared in the proceeds of the goods seized from the British garrison.
“It isn’t something to joke about,” said Tim who was now red-faced and sweating.
“It’s only Lieutenant Hawke that figures you for a killer,” said Dan. “And Captain Poole defended you like you were his own son. At least that’s the word that’s going around.” Dan was still grinning as he said this, and with his pudgy cheeks his grin could be particularly annoying. The rest of him had more muscle than fat. His curly blonde hair always looked unkept, even when he had it combed out and tied at the back. But it all fitted together and his eyes were so lively that some women thought him to be quite good looking.
“How do you know all this?” asked Tim.
“The colonel’s cook heard it all, over at Arnold’s Tavern. She was here just now, with some shortbread to sell. And while she waited for the mistress she was telling it all to your mother. And I was there to hear.”
“Well! Bad news travels fast,” grumbled Tim. Both he and Dan had been invited to stay in the house where his sister and mother had been hired as household servants. Most households had at least one or two servants, unless there were daughters or unattached female relatives. This house was headed by a good-natured old merchant and shopkeeper who had been highly impressed by the story of the seizure of military equipment and the capture of an enemy officer. He had welcomed them all into his home but then had to leave town to do some buying and selling. He was not expected back for another day.
“No, I believe that it’s good news that travels fast,” said Dan. “Though I suppose it’ll be good news for the man who gets to be ensign after you’re no longer in the running.”
Tim sat down on a small cask. “Did she tell you what Colonel Olney is saying?”
“Nope. Just that Poole figured Hawke was jumping to conclusions. I guess the colonel is keeping an open mind. Or at least he’s not saying what he’s thinking. Not until he talks to his wife about it, maybe. That’s what the cook said. She says he never scratches his backside without talking it over with her. And she figures he won’t hang you until after you’ve finished learning “In Love Should There Meet a Fond Pair” and singing it for his wife until she’s tired of hearing it.”
“This could ruin everything for me!” said Tim as he threw his arms up in despair.
“Why should it?” asked Sadie.
“What if they don’t find the killer? All this could stay hanging over my head for… who knows how long! People will keep on talking. And they’ve already started! Captain Poole might… well… he might come and take me aside and tell me that he still wants me for ensign but that he’ll have to choose somebody else in the meantime until things settle. And then that’ll be it! Won’t it be? I’ll bear the mark. Even if somebody else hangs for it, I’ll still be thought of as the one that everybody had reason to wonder about.”
“Yea indeed,” sighed Dan, “you’re probably right. And there’ll be a lot of talk about it too, won’t there be? The whole town – the whole state! You’re figured for the killer of a lieutenant and nobody can understand why Poole chose you in the first place either. Can they? He had better men to choose from, right here in town – good gentlemen volunteers who’ve been waiting and hoping for just such a position to open up. One fellow told me that some are saying that his choosing of you is a disrespect upon the memory of the man who was ensign before you. The cook says he died of a fever a few days before we came. And a lot of people knew him too, and they’re still grieving. His father owns a lot of land and...”
“Owns a lot of land?” asked Tim. “And why should that matter?”
“Maybe it shouldn’t,” shrugged Dan, “but it does. And what about the friends and relatives of all the gentlemen volunteers who were passed over in favor of you? They’ll all be looking for things to say against you, won’t they be? It’s only human nature. And they say that this sort of thing – all this squabbling and second-guessing – that it goes on almost every time there’s a promotion. There’ll always be hard feelings.”
“And often,” said Sadie with a nod, “their mothers will take it even harder.”
“So,” said Dan as he put his hand on Tim’s shoulder, “I suppose that you’re going to have to show them that you truly deserved it and that you had it coming. Show them that you’re the material that good officers are made from. Though,” he said as he took his hand back and turned away, “I can’t even guess at how you’ll manage to do that. The whole situation seems completely hopeless, doesn’t it?”
“No no, they could still find the real killer,” said Sadie, wanting to reassure Tim who was leaning against a post and looking nothing like the sort of material that made for a good officer.
“Find the killer?” asked Dan shaking his head and pretending to be very sad. “I don’t imagine that’ll happen. It was probably an enemy saboteur who found his opportunity to make mischief, and is now far away. Or maybe it was a coward who had kept himself in hiding when the rest of our brave men marched out to meet the enemy, and now he’s run away as far as he can get. And it doesn’t have to be anybody with a clear motive either, does it? Battle can make lunatics out of ordinary men, they say. Some poor lunatic might have killed him and then run off to drown himself in a pond somewhere. They might never find the real killer. This might hang over you for all the rest of your days.”
“Oh! Don’t talk that way!” scolded Sadie as she put a reassuring hand around Tim’s arm.
“How long ago did it happen?” asked Dan.
“The killing?” said Tim. “Oh, about… two hours ago… maybe three. Lieutenant Hawke said the blood was not yet starting to dry. He’d been strangled with a thin wire and it’d cut right into his neck. The killer had wound the wire round itself to hold it in place, and the face was all swollen.”
“It was in the empty barn two houses over?” asked Dan. “The Black barn?”
“The cook says it belongs to a man named Jeffery Black. You know, it was about two hours ago that I saw a woman going around the side of that same barn. I’d been on the pathway below the orchard and she was in the garden going round the corner.”
“Who was it?” asked Tim as his eyes lit up with hope.
“I don’t know. I only saw the backside of her. White cap, apron, brown skirt. Young I think, by the way she walked.”
“It’s probably nothing,” said Tim who was back to feeling hopeless. “The body was well inside the barn too, in a lean-to shed. Even if she’d gone in, looking for somebody, she’d still not have seen anything. And, the strangling of a man. It isn’t the sort of thing a woman would do, anyways, is it?”
“And what,” asked Sadie, “is the sort of thing a woman would do?”
“Poison her husband,” joked Dan. “You might have to do it yourself, someday. They can get tedious, I’m told.”
“But you should go tell Captain Poole anyways,” said Tim. “He’s acting like he’s looking for reasons to defend me. Or at least he was.”
“You went straight to Poole?” asked Dan.
“No, I went to the colonel. That’s what Hawke told me to do. Poole was there with him. They were looking at a map, over at the tavern. Poole came along, and it’s a good thing he did too because Hawke would have had the colonel all to himself, filling him full of ideas.”
“Why does Hawke hate you so much?” asked Sadie.
“I don’t know! Maybe he was hoping for somebody else to be the new ensign. If there’s so many gentleman volunteers fuming mad, then it’ll be half the state that’s looking for excuses to accuse me.”
“Good thing it’s a small state,” joked Dan.
“And this sort of opportunity won’t come again,” muttered Tim as he looked away.
“No,” sighed Dan, “it’s not often you catch so strong a man in such a moment of weakness. They’re saying Poole would never have done it if he’d not been drunk on wine. They say that when you sang ‘Barbara Allan’, he wiped a tear from his eye.”
“There were a fair few who were wiping tears from their eyes,” said Sadie.
“But they were women,” said Dan.
“No! You should have seen them all,” she said as she gave Tim’s arm a squeeze. “We’re a nation at war, and we all know men who’ve fallen, and we’re all on the brink of tears. The men had the same looks on their faces as the women. I was practically bawling myself and I’ve heard him sing it a hundred times.”
“Poole still made a good choice,” insisted Tim, sounding as if he was trying to convince himself. “He heard what I had to say about training and he’d heard before about how you and me have been studying the manuals, and joining in with the militia on train day. And about how we’d been paying an old soldier to help us do the drills and get it all straight in our heads. He was very impressed by our initiative! He said so! He said it’s a rare boy who does so much all on his own. He said he’d never heard of such a thing in one so young. Not ever!”
“But you still don’t measure up to some of the others,” explained Dan.
“Well, I’ll show them!” muttered Tim as he pulled his arm out of his sister’s hands. “I’ll likely be promoted on the battlefield too, just like Poole has been. He’s made it to captain on the strength of his courage and leadership out in the field, just over the past few months, going out on raids. He’s a true hero.”
“Sure, but he’s seven years older than you,” said Dan. “And he’s been with the Continentals since right from the start and he was training in the militia before that. Since he was sixteen. They say he’s been a soldier since he first saluted his mama for a good birthing. You might get a promotion but it’ll likely not be for years. You’re too young and you don’t have any friends in high places, do you?”
“It is so unfair,” teased Sadie, pretended to be very sad. “You’ll always be the ensign who got promoted by mistake.”
“Yea, Tim my friend,” said Dan, “and the war will be over and done with before you’ll ever get a chance to prove yourself.”
“No!” said Tim as he started pacing the floor. “Some say the war could drag on for years. It could go on like it has been through this past winter, with a skirmish here and an ambush there. Partisan warfare, it’s called. And too, they say it might be settled out at sea without any great battles on land at all. The English merchants will grow weary of losing their ships to our privateers, and they’ll get tired of paying high taxes to support so big an Army as they’ve got over here. And if there are land battles – and there’s sure to be something – some sort of battle – especially around here, then one of the lieutenants above me could be shot and I’d have to be promoted to replace him. Officers are always getting shot.”
“Good thing you’re slim,” said Dan, “for the snipers might opt for an easier target.”
“Oh Dan!” scolded Sadie. “Don’t talk that way!”
“What?” he said in mock defense. “I’m looking at the bright side. And Tim will be a better prospect than many because he’ll keep on memorizing the manuals. And too, because he’ll be demonstrating maturity beyond his years, and because he’ll be maintaining a reputation for reliability and honesty. Well, except for the occasional cold blooded murder of an officer.”
“And that will outweigh all else, won’t it?” said Tim, sounding like he was getting angry. “What I’m going to have to do is to find out who the killer is. Myself, if nobody else does.”
“Will you?” asked Sadie, sounding doubtful.
“But you know what they say,” said Sadie as she shook her head. “The primary suspect is never in a good position to investigate the crime.”
“Who says that?”
“It was in a book. But me and Dan could help you investigate. It sounds like Dan’s already been hot on the murder’s trail, what with all his gossiping with the colonel’s cook.”
“Yea, ‘tis true,” nodded Dan, “but so far I’ve only found out how hopeless the situation is. Poor Tim’s got half the town against him for getting a rank that he never deserved. And if he’d just have volunteered for private, then he’d still be the hero who seized valuable military equipment right off a British garrison. But now, instead, he’s the upstart who stole the rank of ensign by making a fool out of a drunken captain. It might be that Tim’s excessive good fortune is going to turn out to be his bad fortune.”
She wasn’t naked, was she?
“Not like that!” snapped Malcolm Poole “Keep it up! Come on! Sharp and quick!” It was the next morning and Tim and the captain were out in a pasture, beyond the barn. Poole squinted in the early morning sun while trying to teach Tim the correct way to handle a musket. “If you’re hoping your men will do the drills like they’re supposed to do them, then you’re going to have to be able to do them better than any of them! That makes sense, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, of course,” said Tim quickly and quietly as he nodded his head. He was wondering why Poole sounded so angry – whether it was just his way of making sure he was listened to, or whether he might have other things on his mind.
“You try to get by on shouting orders and not by leading by example, then… then you’ll end up the sort of officer who passes his retirement grumbling about the abysmal quality of the men he’d been forced to work with. And all will know it to be nothing more than an admission of your own failure. Won’t it be?”
“Indeed yes, I’m sure,” said Tim, though it was something he had never really thought about.
“You’ve got to lead by example. In every way you’ve got to – and especially on this side of the sea. You go ask any of the officers who’ve had experience in Europe. They’ll tell you that, back in the old country, an officer can give an order and expect it to be slavishly obeyed. But here, it’s different. Here you explain why you want it done and only then do you give the order. And that way, you’ll have yourself a better chance of seeing it obeyed. It’s a frustration for an officer who just wants something done quick but still it’s something we ought to be proud of. And why? Because we’re leading men who have risen up against those who would make slaves of us all.”
“Indeed we are.”
“Now it’s not all of our men that I’m talking about – and certainly not those fresh off the boat. But a lot of those that we lead are true rebels – in the best sense of the word they are – rebels against injustice – rebels against tyranny! Just like you and me! They’ve the spirit of defiance in them, so we can’t go expecting them to behave like slaves, can we?”
“No, of course not,” said Tim as he nodded his head. He was agreeing with everything Poole said, without giving it any thought. The man was practically shouting.
“And another thing,” said Poole, now quieter but no less angry, “another thing that you’ll either learn the easy way or the hard way. It’s that you’d better make sure that every item, like a cartridge or a flint, is handed back after training. Sure, most of our men are as honest as you or I. But mixed in with them are… well… there’s those who’ve joined because it’s the only work they could find. It was easy enough to get good men back in ’75 but now that we’re fighting for a complete separation, we’re likely looking at a long war. And that means we’re having to take what we can get. Doesn’t it?”
“Yes, I’m sure of that,” said Tim, though he was surprised to hear Poole say such a thing.
“Sometimes they’re the sort who lost his last job after his master noticed things starting to disappear. Our recruiters are supposed to be inquiring into his reputation but they can’t always find things out, can they? A lot are newcomers and the last man to employ him is far across the sea. Or his last employer is wanting to help the boy keep his sordid little secret because he’s wanting him to get another chance, once he’s learned his lesson. Or maybe he’s keeping the secret because he just wants the boy out of town.”
“I suppose so.”
“And sometimes the boy’s learned his lesson and sometimes he hasn’t. We’re forced to take the good with the bad.”
“I suppose we are.”
“So that means we’ve got to be on our guard, constantly. You’ve got to assume there’s at least one pilferer in every platoon, for otherwise you might end up creating one. There’s no black and white difference between an honest man and a dishonest man, is there? Just like they run from tall to short, they’ll run from honest to dishonest. And they’ll sometimes hang upon the brink of criminality and they’ll only steal when they think they’ve got themselves some sort of an excuse. If something’s not under lock and key then there’s some who will start telling himself that you’re obviously not too concerned about losing it. And that’ll be his justification.”
“I’ve seen it happen,” said Tim. “He’ll think it’s not so much of a crime in taking it when it doesn’t look very much wanted.” Tim meant this, but he was still surprised to have heard such things from a captain. He had not expected these sorts of crimes from the soldiers of so noble an institution as the Army of a nation founded on such principles as freedom and justice.
“Every criminal wants to find himself half a justification for his crime,” explained Poole. “You leave a musket in his care for longer than he truly needs it, and he’ll start to think that it ought to be his just reward for being willing to risk his life in battle. What some men will try to convince themselves – it’s nothing short of bizarre. And it’s not just for stealing either. If some servant girl gives him a smile or two and laughs at his jokes, then there are some who will start to tell himself that she’s probably willing to lie with him. And then when she refuses his advances he’ll tell himself he’s been deceived and wronged, and then he’ll tell himself she deserves the treatment she gets. And that sort of foolery is all the worse when a man is tired and hungry. And come fighting season that’ll be often enough, won’t it be?”
“I’m sure it will be,” said Tim, though he now wondered whether Poole was exaggerating – testing him to see how much he was willing to believe.
“As an officer, it’ll be your job to be on constant guard for that sort of deviant thinking, for the miscreants don’t come up to you and tell you their dark and dirty thoughts. No they do not, and until they’re caught and clapped in chains, they’ll often seem like any other soldier. An officer spends a good part of his time doing the work of constable and church elder, and you’d better like the task too, for otherwise you’ll grow to hate it.”
“Don’t you worry, sir,” said Tim with a forced smile. “I’ve not been imagining it’ll be easy. I’m ready for the dirty work, I am. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ll make you proud! For sure I will!”
“You’d better,” said Poole as he looked away, sounding like he was either slightly relieved or was giving up hope. “Now let’s get to work on the oblique step. It’s important. Every element is important! And more important than you might think! When we were in battle last fall, and when we saw a line of redcoats moving themselves into position and going through their moves so crisp, so automatic – and in the face of our rifle fire. It had its effect on us, I can tell you. A man ought to be cowering in fear when he hears the balls a-whistling past. But those red-coated devils stood up straight and tall and obeyed their every command – like they feared nothing. They showed us what the drilling is done for, they did. And soldiers need a lot of it! They’ve got to be fully accustomed to acting as a group – as a team – at the call of their officer. And that’ll be what’ll keep them all together as a unit when they’re most in need of each other – to give each other courage – to give each other strength. And it’s magical how it happens – men together following the will of the leader they’ve all placed their faith in. But they need the drill to learn how to act together and how to follow that leader, and they need an officer who’s as brave as any of them – a man who holds himself firm and resolute! Don’t they?”
“Indeed, yes they would,” said Tim with a nod. But again he wondered why the captain sounded so angry.
Poole then seemed to tire of talking and moved on to a lesson on the use of a bayonet. After a long hot hour of repetitive thrusting and slashing with a wooden replica, Tim was dripping with sweat and down to the last of his physical and mental stamina. He almost groaned with relief when the captain finally said it was time for a break. They went back to the barn to sit in the shade and have something to drink. A bench with a high back had been brought out for the summer, along with two chairs.
“Has the colonel heard any more about who might have killed Lieutenant Hampton?” asked Tim as he sat. He had just come back from the kitchen with a jug of raspberry vinegar. His mother had mixed it up for them earlier, before she and Sadie had left for the neighbors’. Four women and three girls were there, doing the laundry. There was a big iron cauldron over an open fire, behind the house. It would be a long hot day of dipping, scrubbing, wringing, drying and ironing. Working at it together would make it slightly less unpleasant.
“No,” sighed Poole as he looked away. “Not that he’s told me about. Surely, he just happened upon an enemy saboteur who was just as willing to be an enemy assassin. That’s the only explanation that makes any sense. I can’t think of anybody, here in Morristown, who’d have wanted him dead. He wasn’t the easiest man to work with but that’s no reason to kill him, is it?”
“Well, I’d no reason to kill him either but there are those who suspect me.”
“Ha! There’s one of them, at least. Though that shouldn’t matter. Even Hawke knows there’s no crime in fiddling at the scene of the crime.”
Tim shrugged. “But as they say, you don’t always need the culprit to get the conviction.”
“Don’t go worrying yourself, boy. There’s no hard evidence that points to you. I’d think even Hawke has likely given up on it. And he was only asking the questions that would have to be asked, wasn’t he?”
“Of course but, even if I’m never charged, there’ll still be those who’ll wonder. Won’t there be? I fear it’ll dog my future in the Army and it could ruin my chances of getting my commission and …”
“Tim,” said Poole, sounding offended, “I do not make a decision and then fret over it. If I can see an officer in you, then others will too. And if there’s some who can’t see it yet, then you’ll just have to show off your talents so clearly that there’ll be none who’ll deny it. And we’ve started already, haven’t we? Anybody who’s been watching us this morning would know that you’ve already been hard at work on drill, and long before you came here.”
“But the real test will come,” said Poole as he stood up, “when we’re out in the field, facing the enemy. Won’t it?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“What’ll matter most,” he said sounding angry again, “is how well you can do your duty when you’re out on patrol and you hear a ball whistle by your ear. And when you see an enemy scout with his rifle, reloading for another try. It’ll be how well you do your duty when he’s on the hunt, with you as his prey. So we’ve just got to get you ready for it and get you out on patrol, don’t we? And on that count, you’ve got yourself some uncommon good fortune, because so long as our surgeon keeps me tied down here, waiting on my leg, then I won’t have much that’s better to do with my time than to put you through your paces.”
“How long is he going to keep you here?”
“I don’t know. I’m feeling well enough as it is, but he won’t listen to reason. But my loss is your gain, isn’t it? And besides, though we might not be able to go to the battle, the battle just might be good enough to come to us. There’s a well-stocked storehouse just down the street. And it’s surely a tempting target for our adversaries.”
“You’re expecting an attack?”
“If they’ve any sense in their heads they’ll be planning one. That’s why Olney and a good sized detachment’s been left here. We’re figuring any attack will more than likely come from an uprising of tories and not from the redcoat regulars. And the man who raises a band of marauders and manages to drive us off and carry away what’s in there… well, he and whoever helps him will be greatly enriched. And too, our tories, they’re seething with resentment. They’ll be wanting to give us patriots a taste of the same kind of treatment that we’ve been handing out these past few months.”
“They’ll come sudden and sneaky?” asked Tim with a smile.
“They’ll try to. So we’ve got to be ready, don’t we? And you can assist in that by moving yourself into the tavern.”
“Arnold’s? The headquarters?”
“Yes, the colonel’s personal guard, you might call us. The additional regiment really doesn’t exist yet, and I’m not yet a captain either. I’m a lieutenant still, officially – on loan to Olney. Everything’s still being sorted out. But we’ll only likely be there for a few more days. And ‘till then, I’ll find you a good sergeant who can teach you a few things. And, once you’re elbow to elbow with soldiers, then you’ll start learning things just by listening.”
“Will I be taking my place in parade tomorrow?” asked Tim as his eyes lit up.
“No no no, not ‘till you’re sworn in. Now, I’ve got some matters to attend to, so until I’m back you should keep yourself busy on that tune the colonel’s wife is wanting so badly. You can’t go far wrong by making a colonel’s wife happy, can you?”
“No, I suppose not,” agreed Tim as the captain left. But instead of going straight to work on his music he slumped down on a chair, his head in his hands. Two hours of the undivided attention of an angry captain was a long long time. He rubbed his tense scalp and sighed, wondering whether he ought to just sneak off and never come back. Since he had arrived in town, bound and blindfolded, his nerves had been feeling frayed. He had heard the expression before but had never imagined his nerves would actually feel physically frayed – like frayed rope – right through his arms and into his fingers. People had been telling him he looked tired, and he knew he must be as tired as he looked. That morning he had been awake before dawn, laying on his back and staring at the ceiling, wondering the same things over and over.
With a long sigh, Tim got up to go to the house and get his violin. He wondered whether he would be able to concentrate. He walked out the door and over to where the dogs were chained to the side of the house. One raised its head, recognized the new visitor and laid it back down again. Close by was the summer kitchen, just a few feet from the back door. A larger house might have a separate building with a large fireplace for cooking in hot weather. This was just small with only a light roof on four posts, and a fireplace built with loosely stacked bricks. The roof was flat and slanted to one side, only enough to protect the cook from the midday sun and from rain in case it started half way through the preparation of a meal. Tim looked out over the garden and at the far end he saw Dan, at work hoeing weeds, trying to make himself look useful while he decided which regiment to join. Tim went over to tell him what he had heard from the captain.
“Not yet handy with a bayonet?” said Dan with a smile as he continued at his work.
“Is it that obvious?”
“Maybe the two of us should work on it a while in the barn. I could use the practice myself, I’m sure. They say that if you don’t get a move down pat after a hundred tries, then you’ll surely master it after a thousand.”
“I might need a few thousand,” muttered Tim.
“We’ll impress him with our industry, if not our skill.”
“He demands a lot! And it’s… It’s like he’s really angry about something!”
“But you’ve got to feel sorry for the poor fellow,” said Dan with a smile as he leaned on the hoe handle. “He’s got his reputation to salvage, doesn’t he? Think of the thoughts that must have been going through his mind when he woke up yesterday morning, with a hangover. It’d likely only have been then that he’d realized that he’d laid his reputation on the line by the choosing a seventeen-year-old woodcutter for ensign. And here, on top of it all, you’ve gone and made yourself look like the likeliest suspect in the murder of his best lieutenant. If he ain’t on the brink of panic then… then maybe he ought to be.”
Tim moaned as he made a pleading gesture. “Can’t you remember anything more about the woman you saw going into the barn?”
“She wore ordinary everyday clothing, like most women. Two shades of pale brown, I think. She wasn’t too big nor too small. She looked on the young side by the way she walked but I can’t even be sure of that. I’d no reason to pay her close attention. She wasn’t naked, was she?”
“But you’re still asking around?”
“I’ll be flirting with every woman I meet,” said Dan with a wink, “but it’ll be your little sister who’ll be the more likely to find things out. Over there, with those other woman, scrubbing and ironing, it’ll be the topic of choice. It’s a murder, ain’t it? Just you wait,” said Dan with a sympathetic hand on Tim’s shoulder, “she’ll come back here with the culprit by the ear.”
“Well, I hope so.”
Colonel Jeremiah Olney, at age twenty-eight, is this novel’s only historical character. His presence, along with enough soldiers to justify a colonel, suggests a significant threat to the town and the storehouse. The threat could only have been posed by those who had remained loyal to the King. Olney had been a captain in the 11th Continental Regiment, renamed the 2nd Rhode Island. He fought at the Battles of Assunpink Creek and Princeton.
An easy triumph.
“And for the rest of this long hot afternoon I’m to be out a-volunteering,” declared Dan as he sat down on a chair by the table. It was later the same morning and he had just come into the kitchen. Sadie was helping her mother prepare the noon meal, chopping green onions and slicing bread. “Yea, and there I will labor side by side with our bold fighting men, a-digging the trenches and a-raising up the ramparts. I’ll be a ditch digger, I will! And I’ll be proud of it too!”
“Well good for you, Dan Eliot,” said Sadie as she tousled his hair. “Building up our defenses, you’ll be. Doing the hard work that will give to the helpless and fearful something they can see with their eyes and touch with their hands.” They were borrowing words from speechmakers and pamphlet writers.
“Indeed I’ll be. And while young Tim here is sipping wine and debating the new fashions, I’ll be out on the front lines, doing the dirty work.”
“So far,” said Tim who sat next to him, “I’ve heard a lot of debate on training and tactics but nothing at all about the new fashions.”
“Ah, but it’ll come, it’ll come,” nodded Dan as he placed a hand on Tim’s shoulder. “And don’t try to avoid it either my boy, for what is the highest priority for a true gentleman if it is not a strict adherence to fashion?”
“Now now, I don’t know about that,” said Abby as she cut slices from a round of cheese. Tim and Sadie’s mother spent most of her time in the kitchen. “In all fairness, we would have to say that a gentleman’s highest priority must be leadership – leadership in government, in the military and in the courts of law. But surely fashion would have to come in second, for it is, after all, their fine clothing that allows us to identify the leaders of the land, isn’t it? What good is a leader if you can’t pick him out as one as soon as he comes into the room?”
“Yes yes, you present a very good point,” said Dan with a scholarly nod, “so us ordinary clods of earth will suffer no confusion when we’re feeling ourselves in need of leadership.”
“And,” said Abby to Tim, pointing with the knife, “we’re going to have to find you some appropriate clothing now that you’re to be an officer and a gentleman.”
“I’ve been to the tailor already,” said Tim as he stared at his hands. “He says he’ll go to work for me right away on a uniform. It’ll be a blue coat like the one Captain Poole has. And too, he’s said he’s found some other clothing that can be taken in to fit. He says it’s from someone who just died.”
“No doubt the recently departed Hugh Hampton, God rest his soul,” said Dan as he bowed his head and lifted his hand to his heart.
“I’d doubt that,” said Abby. “I think it’d be too soon to be selling his old clothes. It’s more likely the poor ensign who died of the smallpox.”
“Of course,” chuckled Dan. “First you get his commission and then his clothing. Did he leave a widow?”
“That is a very good question,” joked Abby. “And I suppose it would be my job to look into it, wouldn’t it be? You can’t leave a decision so important as marriage to the reckless whims of a boy, can you?”
“He wasn’t married,” said Tim who did not appreciate their good humor. All the talk of the past two days was wearing him down – all the opinions about his inadequacy for the rank of ensign, about poor Captain Poole’s embarrassment, and about Hawke’s suspicions. It was too much to bear. That morning, Tim had woken from a nightmare where he had stood before the whole regiment in the wide street in front of the Porter house. All the town had come out to hear Colonel Olney call him a disgrace and to see him tear the epaulette from his left shoulder. Then, while a minister preached a sermon on the sin of vanity, the ground had turned to muck and Tim Euston started sinking into it.
. . . . .
After they finished eating, Tim loaded most of his possessions into a sack and carried them over to Arnold’s Tavern. He left his violin because he would still have to come back to the barn to practice. The dining room of the tavern was now empty but people were coming and going. Tim wondered about the risk of something being stolen and asked himself whether he ought to buy a chest with a lock. After some more thought, he decided that a military headquarters ought to be safe from thieves. But when the cook showed him where he could put his things she asked him where his chest was.
“Do I need one?”
“Oh yes yes yes, boy. There’ll always be those,” she said as she rolled her eyes. “And it’s all the worse now, what with war and with all the talk of taking prizes on the high seas and of capturing booty after a battle. There are some who can’t seem to tell the difference between lawful capture and sinful stealing. Aren’t there? So you’d best take care. And you’re in luck today, my boy, for I’ve a good little chest in my possession with a good lock, too. And, though I wasn’t intending to part with it, I’d be willing to let it go it to a boy who’s so willing to devote his all to the cause of liberty. But for the right price, of course. And I’m sure it’ll serve you well for years to come. And save you many times your cost in the long run.”
They bargained and agreed to a price. Tim was able to pay her with coins that he carried in his pocket. This was a leather pouch that hung from his belt. More of his money was in paper bills that he kept in his money belt – the first thing he had bought – but most was now in the strongbox of the merchant he had been staying with.
Once his things were put away, Tim was left wondering what he could do to make himself appear useful – something other than going back to the barn to practice his music. Poole had said he would only have time for him later in the day. Tim had seen him going upstairs to the room that Colonel Olney used as his office. It was a place where they could talk without risk of being overheard out the windows. Tim wondered whether he ought to borrow a couple of wooden practice muskets and do some training with Dan, but then he remembered that Dan was digging trenches. Likely I can find someone else, he thought. Or maybe I should stay here and learn by listening, like the captain said I should. But then I might look idle, just sitting around listening. But I suppose while I’m listening I could pretend to be reading a manual. Or maybe I should ask around and see if anyone else wants to do some practicing.
“Looking to make yourself useful?” asked Private Passey as he came through the front door.
“Then you can show this to the colonel as soon as he comes out,” he said, handing Tim a folded sheet of paper.
“I could do that.”
“And don’t read it,” said Passey as he went back out. “It’s none of your concern.”
Tim wondered whether he should wait where he was or take it upstairs. The colonel might come out of his office and go directly to another room on the same floor. He was halfway up when he heard Colonel Olney saying something in a voice that sounded halfway between frustration and anger.
“They’d likely try to test our defenses first. But… really, I can’t see them committing a force large enough to overrun us.”
“No, not likely,” agreed Lieutenant Hawke.
“But their decision,” said Captain Poole, “will hang on their estimate of our strength. We’ve a good number of men here but, with so many of them recovering from something, there aren’t a lot who are up to any sort of a fight. My own self for example, in the estimation of our good doctor. And if Sir Billy thinks Morristown is nothing but a rest home for invalids then he might think that a small force of hot-blooded tories could make fast work of us.”
“He might, but really I doubt it,” said Olney. “Anyone living here could make an accurate enough guess as to what part of our force is fit. You don’t need to be a doctor to tell if a man’s still limping, and you can’t assume we’ve no spies amongst us.”
“No, you cannot,” said Hawke with a chuckle.
“So,” continued Olney, “we have to expect them to come a-calling at any moment, though the early dawn would be the logical time. A couple of battalions could do the job if they went about it in an orderly fashion – getting themselves moving fast enough. We’ve simply not enough men and muskets to cover every opening, do we? And we could hardly go out to meet them. That would leave the town in a bad way were a second force to arrive from another direction.”
“So we draw them in with light resistance?” suggested Hawke.
“Well, yes and no. With the town all stretched out along the road, we’ll simply have to do our best to hold them back. And if they make it through then we greet them with sniper fire from the windows of houses. It’ll give our militiamen a task they could handle. It might unnerve the women to have their men a-blasting away from their bedroom windows but it could do a good deal of damage, especially if they come on horseback.”
“And the storehouse?” asked Poole.
“If they’re too much for us,” said Olney quietly, “then we torch the storehouse and make a fighting retreat into the hills. It’s not a likely outcome but we must plan for all events.”
“And the townsfolk?” asked Poole.
“The locals, the wounded – they would just have to run along ahead of us, or hope for mercy. But what I’m not for is a fight to the finish that would cost the Army a good number of dedicated men. Retreat and fight another day, I say. It’ll be how we wear them down in the end.”
“Now, I’m not saying that the loss of Morristown, even for a short while, would be a small matter. It would mean more than lost supplies, wouldn’t it? All the land knows that Morristown has been Washington’s headquarters and likely most will be thinking that it still is. And for sure the story of its loss would grow in the retelling. It would have its effect on morale, both here and across the sea. But… what I’m simply saying is that, above all else, we must preserve our battle-hardened men. Wounded or not, they’re our most precious asset. But enough with dismal speculation. Hawke, you’ve inspection?”
“Right on it, sir,” he replied while getting up. He went out the door and met Tim on the stairs.
“I’ve… I’ve this for the colonel,” Tim explained, holding out the paper.
“He’ll be out shortly,” said Hawke, with a judgmental tone, as he continued past. “You can wait downstairs.”
“Yes, of course,” said Tim as he quickly turned and followed him back to the dining room.
“And stay down here,” said Hawke over his shoulder as he continued toward the front door. Tim was left alone. He looked back at the stairway and then turned to go to the window. The shutters had been closed to keep out the heat. Tim could look through the louvers at the muddy street below. And now he thinks I’ve been spying on them, he told himself as he shook his head. And even if he doesn’t… well. From what the colonel says, it almost sounds like I’m to be starting my military career in a town where the enemy is going to score an easy victory.
“All settled in?” asked Poole as he and the colonel finally came down the stairs. He sounded like an angry man who was pretending to be cheerful.
“Yes sir. It wasn’t much to carry over. This is for you, sir,” he said holding out the paper to the colonel. “Private Passey asked me to give it to you.”
“And how goes ‘In Love Should There Meet a Fond Pair,’ asked Olney with a smile as he took the paper, quickly read it and then handed it to Poole.
“I’ve been hard at it, sir. I ought to have it down by evening.”
“Both you and your dear sister?”
“Yes, it would be best as a duet.”
“We’ll look forward to hearing you then,” said Olney as he went out.
“Well…” said Tim to Poole, who had turned to take the letter upstairs, “bayonet practice will have to wait then?”
“The colonel’s never wrong,” said Poole as he glanced back. But then he hesitated. “Do some fiddling. Be there at the barn around three. I ought to be free to drill you for at least a little while. Best we keep at it. And try to steer yourself clear of Lieutenant Hawke.”
From January 1777 until the greening of pastures in spring, the New Jersey militia and the Continental Army fought the Forage War. Forage is food and other supplies gathered from a surrounding countryside. The forage the British needed most was fodder – hay and oats to feed their horses. And they needed a lot of it. An army of this era often required one horse for every four men. If the rebels could deny them New Jersey’s agricultural output, their capacity to launch a spring campaign would be jeopardized. Bringing pork over from Ireland to feed their men was expensive enough. English taxpayers would deeply resent the cost of shipping oats and hay.
After his victories at Trenton and Princeton, George Washington had not intended on keeping his forces busy with small actions. But the local militias had gone ahead on their own, successfully attacking foraging parties. Before long, his Army joined in the raiding. An attack often involved nothing more than deadly fire from behind a stone wall or out of a dense thicket. Sometimes only one or two redcoats were hit, and usually they were part of the vulnerable rear guard. Other times, the scale was larger and the strategy more complex. Dozens would fall and horses, wagons and baggage would be captured. New Jersey was largely wooded and the rebels enjoyed a distinct advantage. They knew the land, and had the support of most farmers, hunters and woodcutters. The term ‘guerilla’ had not yet come into use and this kind of warfare was called “partisan”, or by the French phrase petite guerre, meaning “little war”.
A year before, the British had brought in a force of 32,000. On the European continent this would not be a big army but it was still the largest that had ever sent abroad by England. Since then, His Majesty’s Army in North America had suffered 4500 casualties (killed, seriously wounded, captured or deserted). With the additional burden of disease and poor food, the arrival of spring found only 14,000 redcoats fit for duty.
The Forage War limited the British occupation of New Jersey to a small region around the port towns of New Brunswick and Amboy. Worse, it had cost them over nine hundred casualties, equaling the loss of a major battle. Together with Trenton and Princeton, casualties inflicted in New Jersey topped 3000. But rebel forces had been severely depleted as well. Soldiers of the Continental Army had been recruited for short terms and, once free to go, most returned to their homes. In New Jersey their numbers had dropped to about 2500 by March. But with hopeful news and the completion of spring planting, recruits started to flow into both the Army and the Militia. By late May, Washington’s forces in New Jersey had grown to over 8000.
With deadly intent.
“That’s enough, isn’t it?” moaned Sadie, stopping halfway through the song. After two solid hours of practice they were making more mistakes rather than fewer. “It’s so hot! And anyways, I’ve chores in the kitchen,” she said as she put her violin back into its case.
“I suppose,” Tim said finally as he watched her go out the door. He paced back and forth a few times and then tried to play the piece through again, hoping that by concentrating on the music he could keep his mind off his other problems. The piece was actually coming along well. It was much like many others they had learned over the past few years.
But it did not help. He could play and worry at the same time. He laid the instrument on a chair and went to the door. In the garden he saw Peter Porter going up to the back door. The family had several rooms in behind a large general store. Peter was the good-natured old merchant who had hired Abby and Sadie, and then invited Tim and Dan to stay at his house as well. They could all roll out their bedrolls on the kitchen floor. The man was followed by his son, who was also named Peter. The old one, whom everybody called “Old Peter”, had a red nose and a potbelly but he always held his shoulders square and looked healthier than “Young Peter” who was pale, stooped and thin. Young Peter was waving his hands and looking frustrated. The old fellow did not seem to be taking his complaints very seriously.
After they were inside, Tim went along the driveway to the front of the house, to where a picket fence protected the garden from the goats and pigs that would occasionally get loose. Tim held onto one picket as he looked up and down to see if Captain Poole was coming. He could see a wagonload of hay, children playing, women carrying baskets, and a big boy struggling through ruts with a large, two-wheeled cart. But there was no sign of the captain.
Tim walked slowly back to the barn. The air was humid and the sky was clouding over in the west. Another storm coming? he wondered as he passed by the raised beds of the garden. Radishes and peas were coming up nicely. He looked at the barn door, sighed and returned to the front of the house. Right away Tim could see him. Malcolm Poole was across the street by the hitching post, in front of the tinker’s shop. He leaned on the post while talking to a young woman. Tim listened carefully but could hear nothing above the tapping of the tinker’s hammer from inside the shop. The two of them seemed to be sharing a private joke – looking almost like a pair of children. Tim was smiling to himself when Poole noticed him. With a slightly embarrassed expression Poole looked away. The woman must have seen this because she turned around to see Tim. Tim lifted his hand to acknowledge them but then recalled what Dan had said about a woman being by Jeffrey Black’s barn, close to the time of the murder. Could it be her? he wondered. Could it have been the two of them working together – her and the captain – one to create a distraction and the other to do the deed?
Poole leaned over to say something in the woman’s ear and they both laughed. He then took hold of a pair of spears that leaned against the post and started across the street. “Hi ho, Tim! We’d best get at it while clouds still hide the sun. Have you ever handled a spear before?”
“When we were kids we were always carving them out of willows and… so I guess… no I haven’t.”
“Good to hear it! Bad training is worse than none at all, so I hope you’ve forgotten everything you taught yourself.” They went towards the barn. Abby, who was at work in the garden, called out a greeting as they passed.
“Now,” said Poole after they were through the barn and out to the pasture, “these are just like the real ones. They’re seven feet long and a steel tip doesn’t add much weight. We never have enough muskets so, if battle comes to us before more muskets do, then a good number of our boys will be making do with one of these. And don’t think a good spearman won’t make a difference in the outcome. A musket with a bayonet is only six feet long. If the enemy has fired their balls and are coming at us with bayonets, and we haven’t turned to run, and we’re waiting with seven-foot spears, then who’s going to be the braver? And spears are lighter too. A musket’s ten pounds. That doesn’t sound like much but try moving it with speed and agility. If only we’d had a few thousand more of these back in New York last fall, then things might have turned out differently.”
“I suppose,” said Tim, “but… why didn’t they have more of them? Couldn’t the blacksmiths have…”
“As soon as war broke out every blacksmith was swamped with work and every forge was burning day and night. And they’re still run off their feet. Still getting rich quick is what – working long days and at double the old rate. Back at the start of it, everybody was telling each other that there were enough muskets left over from the last war, and that our gunsmiths could make new ones by the dozen. But that did not turn out to be the case. At least not to the extent that we needed them. And I can’t fault anybody for being wrong. I’d been as sure of it as the next hot-blooded patriot. But at least I have youth and inexperience to claim in my defense. There just hadn’t been enough of an effort put into considering and calculating all that would be needed to fight a war. And events, as they say, took on a life of their own. Even if all our leaders had been willing to listen to the sober voice of reason… well. I don’t know that they could have held back the start of the fighting.”
“I suppose not.”
“So,” said Poole as he handed a spear to Tim, “let’s get to it. It’s the way they fought in the days of David and Solomon, isn’t it? And don’t think there aren’t a lot of tricks to be learned for fighting with one of these things – as many as with the handling of a sword. And for either spear or sword or bayonet you’ll be wanting a lot of drill. That and some natural talent if you’re lucky enough to have it. And, most of all, you’ll want the kind of talent that allows you to make use of your tricks when you face a bare tip amid the smoke and hubbub of a pitched battle. It’s a rare man who isn’t thrashing about like a boy once he’s fighting for his life. So! The first thing you need to know about the handling of a spear is how to stand ready to receive your opponent.”
After an hour of repetitious thrusts and parries, the sun was out again and the heat was rising. Dripping with sweat, they slouched back into the barn, thinking they would continue their work inside. This lasted until they saw Abby coming with two mugs of small beer. This was the weak beer that people drank every day – even the children. The wealthier often had wine mixed with water, and in the fall everyone had cider. Abby had taken it from a large jug that sat in a tub of water in the root cellar under the kitchen. With the day so hot it would taste cool.
“The hard work of soldiering,” she said with a sympathetic smile as she looked at their sweat-soaked shirts. “You should have gone out there naked and spared your clean clothes.”
“The ancient Greeks went into battle naked,” said Poole as he slouched down onto the high backed bench. The angry tone was still in his voice. “I’m told the Hessians they’ve brought over to tame us will have never known the sort of heat we get to enjoy here. If we could only have drawn them into battle on a day like today. Then we wouldn’t have needed to fire a shot, for they’d have been dropping from sunstroke.”
“Are the Hessians as cruel as they say?” asked Abby.
“No no, not really. Well, maybe sometimes. Come sit yourself down and rest a bit,” he said patting the bench.
“I’ve work…” started Abby as she took one step and then hesitated. With the surly tone in Poole’s voice she could not be sure whether he truly wanted her to.
“No no,” he insisted, “you can tell your master and mistress that Captain Malcolm Poole gave you a direct order. Now tell me, how are you liking your new employers?”
“The Porters. They are truly a fine family,” said Abby as she reluctantly sat on the edge of the bench. “I must admire them. We’re so fortunate to be here.”
“Your new mistress is easy to care for?”
“Oh yes, but… she feels certain we’re on the brink of being attacked by a hoard of rum-crazed madmen. Are we really?”
“She worries too much. Sir Billy knows there’s a regiment here and he’s been learning of our talents this past winter and spring. And how is Young Peter managing under the looming threat? Better than his poor wife?”
“The two of them both think that… well… they’re as anxious as… as Old Peter is calm, really. It’s quite a contrast.”
Poole shrugged. “They’re not alone in their fears. There’s many who’ve left town, you know.”
“Yes, and I suppose they’ve reason to be frightened. But it’s taxing to be around them. Neither will come right out and insist on leaving town. At least not when I’m there. But they dwell on it. It’s driving them to… to…”
“To misery,” said Poole.
“I was going to say ‘to distraction.’ But more often it’s both husband and wife aiming their barbs at each other, isn’t it? But… do you suppose things are really as bad as they think?”
“Even worse,” joked Poole. “Yes, the risk is real enough. But it’s always far more of a risk for the soldiers who will do the fighting than it is for the civilians who get in their way. Except perhaps for the girl who’s fool enough to flirt with enemy soldiers, and especially so if she looks to be the sort that others won’t raise a fuss over. The ‘refuse sorts’ as they say.”
Abby sighed, “There are those who will take that as half a measure of permission.”
“Yea, always looking for half an excuse,” agreed Poole. “Like all bad boys. But last year the invaders were better behaved than we all said they’d be.”
“It could have been worse,” sighed Abby. “But are we likely to be attacked?”
“The general wouldn’t have left so many behind if there wasn’t a real risk. But still, the enemy forces that might attack here are most likely to be our own home-grown tories. And I wouldn’t worry too much about them. They know the war will be over someday, and they know we’ll all have long memories.”
“They’re your friends and neighbors?”
“Some of them. Good old friends sometimes – cousins even. Morris County folk are mostly true to the cause but it could be that the larger part of the State of New Jersey dreams of a return to royal tyranny.”
“And what a shame that is,” said Abby, shaking her head. “Is slavery so honorable an institution that they’d wish it for their children?”
“I think they’d prefer to call it security, wouldn’t they? They think a ‘rebel’ victory will only lead to civil war, once the victorious rebels start to squabble amongst themselves. They seem to think that we rebel for rebellion’s sake and not for principles of justice and liberty. We try to convince them that we’re united under our Congress but...”
“Well,” huffed Abby. “Haven’t I been saying the same to poor Esther, trying to reassure her. But the poor thing’s got herself sick in bed from all of her worrying about Hessians, out for pillage and rape.”
“Tell her it’s more likely to be one of her fellow countryman who charges into her bedroom,” joked Poole.
“I could!” laughed Abby as she shielded her toothless smile with her hand. “I’ll go straight to her with the good news.”
“Just don’t tell her it was me who said so.”
“Truth be told,” said Abby as she leaned closer to his ear, “what I’m working against is the influence of her husband. Young Peter’s in a state of nerves to match any woman. Begging his father to let them pack their bags and seek refuge to the north of town, deeper into the hills. I’ve heard him at it more than once but the old fellow – he’s as calm and good-humored as his son is frustrated and fretful. And what that means, for me, is one of them finding fault with my efforts while the other is praising them.”
“Don’t you worry,” said Poole. “As long as Old Peter is alive and well the house of Porter will be firmly under his hand. Peter the younger will complain at length but he’ll never defy his father.”
“Good for him, then. True to the commandment. Now, if only we could persuade both him and his wife to be even half as content as the old fellow. They’re going to wear themselves out, worrying like they are, and wear me out while they’re at it. But, I almost wonder,” she said leaning closer, “I almost wonder whether they’ve got something more to be fretting about, something else bearing down on them.”
“Whether he’s maybe got something on his conscience?” asked Tim, who suddenly wondered whether Young Peter might be the murderer and Esther the woman seen by Dan. She was thin enough that she might look young from behind.
“Oh, I don’t know,” sighed Abby. “It’s just more worry than is called for.”
“How is their lovely young daughter managing with it all?” asked Poole, sounding like he was concerned but trying not to sound like he was.
“Oh Prim, she’s a dear thing. Calm and content as her grandfather. And she teases her poor parents too, though in a mild and loving way. And with her so lovely to look at, it ought to be her who quakes at the thought of lust crazed Hessians.”
“Ha!” laughed Poole as he put his hand around Abby’s shoulder and drew her close to speak quietly in her ear. “I pity the Hessian who comes after her. The knife she carries is strong and sharp, and I think she’s the more likely to use it than most – and with deadly intent.”
“Good for her then,” said Abby as she pulled her own knife out of her apron pocket. It had a short blade, sharpened on both sides. “And maybe by her good example, she can start to calm her parents. They’re too… I don’t know! Too much of something!”
“What do you mean?” asked Tim.
“You’ve seen them. They sometimes look more guilt-ridden than fear-ridden. They almost frighten me.”
“Well,” said Poole with a reassuring tone, “I don’t think you’ve reason to be too concerned. And too, you can’t always read a man’s thoughts from the look on his face. When patrolling dangerous territory or when forming up for battle, you’ll see every sort of look on soldiers’ faces. I’ve seen honest soldiers who have fought well and have then come back from the battlefield a-looking like they’ve come back from the robbing of a preacher. Fear can do strange things to a man, I can tell you. I’ve been told that I look like I’m moping away over the girl that cast me aside, if you can imagine that!”
Did they really fight with spears? Colonial laws stated that all men, with some exceptions, were members of the militia, and that each was required to furnish himself with a firearm, flints, powder and shot. But many simply could not afford to. An unskilled man would often earn no more than the equivalent of ten or twenty English pounds per year, and almost all was paid as room and board. Even before the war a musket cost at least two pounds and it would often need repair. A rifle was twice that, and it would demand a large chunk out of a small income.
By 1776, revolutionary leaders realized they faced a serious shortage of firearms. A determined effort to buy, borrow or seize firearms only gained Washington enough to arm three-quarters of his men, and he knew many of these would soon be broken or lost in battle. Neither importation nor local manufacture promised to make up the shortfall. Any reasonable substitute was considered. Massachusetts even ordered blacksmiths to work on the Sabbath to meet the demand for spears – a controversial policy for so devout a people.
Washington ordered his officers to carry pikes or spears, feeling that if they carried and used a firearm, it would draw “their attention too much from their men.” Benjamin Franklin even advocated the use of bows and arrows, pointing out that; an arrow could be drawn and shot in one-fourth the time it took to reload a musket, the soldier’s view would not be clouded by smoke, the enemy would be distracted by the sight of oncoming arrows, and a man with an arrow hanging from his flesh would be less able to fight. It seemed to make sense but generals still insisted on firearms.
Leave the easy riches.
“It really is quite a contrast, isn’t it?” said Tim after his mother had gone back to the house. “Prim and Old Peter so brave and bold while the other two can only fret and fume. And Prim especially.”
“She’s putting on an act,” said Poole as he slouched against the back of the bench. “She’s not fool enough to imagine she faces no risk – her and all the young women. Even the girls and boys, from what I’ve heard. War does strange things to the minds of men… some men.”
“It certainly must, because they…”
“But it’s a remarkably good act she puts on though, isn’t it?”
“Well… it ought to… it certainly…” said Tim, now sounding like he was talking to himself. The heat of the day was rising but still he was restless. He was worried that the hot rainy weather might mean fewer opportunities for training. But then he remembered his other problem. “Is there anything new about the… about Lieutenant Hampton?”
“No, nothing at all,” said Poole as he looked away. “She truly is a remarkable woman, isn’t she?”
“Yes, Primavera Porter,” he replied as if stating a self-evident fact. The only child of Esther’s that had survived infancy was tall, blonde and beautiful, and when she walked through town she was often flanked by female admirers who only turned away from her to look at someone she called to. That and to watch out for ruts. Wagons made a mess every time it rained. “We are engaged to be married,” sighed Poole. “Did you know that?”
“Sadie told me. May I offer my congratulations. When’s it to be?”
“When she feels herself fully ready. The date has been put back.” He said this in so solemn a tone and with so frustrated an expression that Tim felt he ought to say something.
“ ‘Tis a woman’s prerogative to change her mind,” he said with a smile, hoping to sound positive, but right away he realized that what he had said could sound like a prediction of an eventual decision to chose a better man.
“Yea forsooth,” sighed Poole, without sounding offended. “Indecision thy name is woman.”
“I thought it was vanity,” joked Tim.
“Vanity thy name is woman.”
“That too,” said Poole with a nod.
“Well… well I don’t know much about women.”
“And you never will, my boy.”
“No, I suppose not,” Tim replied quietly after stopping to think about it. They sat in silence and watched a chicken walking about outside the barn, carefully examining the ground but only occasionally pecking at something. “Her father told me that when Prim was a little girl, she looked remarkably like her grandfather, but now she only thinks like him.”
“Ha! Well, you can’t go far wrong by thinking like Old Peter. He’s a successful man. And in more ways than one.”
Poole sighed again as he got up. “I suppose we should get ourselves back to training and sweating.” He got the spears that were leaning against a timber and handed one to Tim.
“Have we been reduced to spears?” joked Old Peter as he came through the door, smelling of rum. He had returned back from his trip the night before and barely made it into town before nightfall. “What will we be reduced to next?” he asked with a sympathetic smile. “The throwing of stones?”
“We’re well equipped with stones,” joked Poole, “though rumor has it that our friends in France will soon be bringing us muskets by
the shipload. But, that rumor has been going around for some time now and...”
“Oh, for sure they’ll come through,” said Peter as he sat down. “It really is so much in their interest to help us out, isn’t it?”
“But it must have seemed obvious for some time now?” asked Poole as he sat again.
“It should have! But maybe Louie’s been hoping that we can get the job done without his having to spend money that might otherwise go toward another cathedral or another palace.”
“We have been doing fairly well without them. These past few months at least.”
“Surely we have! And we’ve men like Malcolm Poole to thank for it, don’t we?” said Peter as he gave Tim a nod. “Yes boy, you are fortunate indeed to have caught the eye of a man like this one here. It’s been the likes of him that have turned the war in our favor.”
“So I have heard,” said Tim, “and I’ve heard it more than once too.”
“Yea, ‘twas the capture of the Trenton garrison that marked the turn of the tide. And though there’s not been any easy pickings like that since, there’s been much the same courage and cunning shown by our fine Jerseymen. Sure there’s been, and there’s likely none of us who’s the better of our Malcolm Poole here. Is there?”
“So I’ve heard,” said Tim with a smile.
“An old woman was telling me,” continued Old Peter, “that she crossed the lines and went into Amboy, and a fellow there told her that the redcoats have been having to keep themselves dressed and ready for action, day and night – always in fear of attack. And they’ve had to keep themselves close together and never venturing out except in good numbers – armed to the teeth and forever looking this way and that. And they’ve had to keep their poor horses constantly saddled and all their baggage packed and ready – knapsacks and haversacks. It’s a bother and a burden and that, by itself, is wearing down their spirits and sapping their strength.”
“It must be,” agreed Tim.
“And soon you’ll be at it too! Won’t you be, boy? Going out on patrol? Hunting down their scouts and harassing them with one raid after another. And you’ll be learning the tricks of the soldier’s trade from the master himself.”
“I do count myself fortunate,” nodded Tim.
“Yes yes, and you must be hearing all about his exploits?”
“Since the day I arrived I’ve been hearing about them, and that’s not a word of a lie.”
“You see there, Malcolm, my boy,” Peter teased as he gave his shoulder a poke, “it’s not just me and your mother that’s out a-telling the tales of your daring deeds. I’d wager they’ve been hearing about Captain Malcolm Poole from the capes of Carolina to the mountains of Maine. Your exploits make for good stories, they do – fine tales to tell before a warm fire.”
“And they improve in the retelling, I’m sure,” said Poole with a humble smile.
“Oh, listen to the boy!” laughed Peter. “Improve in the retelling. I’m forced to sing his praises, for otherwise he’d have everybody convinced he’s been a-hiding in the rear with the women. There comes a time when modesty has to give way to honesty, doesn’t it, Tim?”
“It does, for sure.”
“And doubt it not, boy, it’ll be with the mettle of fearsome young men like Malcolm Poole that we will forge a great nation. ‘Twill be the all-pervading spirit of defiance that burns in the breasts of these young heroes – a yearning for freedom that will soon awaken in the hearts of all good men throughout this land and beyond! And doubt ye not that in the fullness of time…”
As Peter went on about the virtues of patriotism, determination and courage, Tim looked out and saw Sadie in the garden with a large basket. Birds in the orchard beyond were chirping and further off he could hear the faint squeaking of the wheels of a wagon as it passed slowly by.
Tim woke up with a start. He was sure he had not been asleep for more than a moment. Old Peter was still offering praises to the new nation and Poole still listened closely, not wanting to offend the man who would likely have the final say in his granddaughter’s choice for a husband. Or at least that was what Abby had said. It never took long for her to get to know people. She had a talent for asking questions without seeming to pry.
“Wouldn’t you say so, Tim?” asked Peter.
“I… well… indeed I would,” he replied without knowing what had been asked.
“And you’ll soon have your chance to prove yourself too, won’t you? And as an ensign too! Ah, to be young and with a freshly minted commission! What splendid good fortune for you! Why, I’d trade places with you in a minute, I would. And I hear you’ve been training yourself at a pace few could match.”
“I’ve heard the calling,” said Tim with a modest shrug.
“And four hundred dollars to equip yourself with!”
“I’ve been blessed by good…”
“Oh, and there’s a good woman,” said Peter, now looking the other way. Abby had come out carrying a tray with more beer.
“On so hot a day as this,” said Abby, pretending to be deeply concerned, “you just cannot be too careful. I’d surely hate to see good men dying from thirst.”
“Yea yea yea,” agreed Peter, ‘twould be a sad sad way to go, wouldn’t it be? Dead for the lack of beer. A tragedy like none other.”
“Well then, you’d best drink this quick before you start to fail,” she said as she handed him a mug and then filled it from a tin pitcher.
“So Tim,” said Peter after he had taken a drink, “and how are you going to equip yourself? Your four hundred dollars won’t go far, not these days. A gentleman of substance and stature might spend that much on his horse alone – and sometimes twice that, wouldn’t they Poole?”
“He would, but I don’t think the Army will want Tim to have a horse even if he can afford one, for they won’t be wanting to pay the price of feeding it. But he’ll certainly have to be able to ride one when the need arises.”
“Ah yes, having to feed your own horse,” pondered Peter. “It’s a sorry pass we’ve come to, isn’t it? Officers on foot, wearing holes in their shoes? And on that count, we’ll surely be wanting to see you wearing some proper clothing, won’t we – in a good military cut? And what about a good saber? And a pistol too, if they’ll let you carry one. I’m told they might only be for a mounted officer. But surely not! An officer in the field without a pistol? How will he shoot the cowards when they turn and run? And then there’s all the rest an officer needs, isn’t there? To strike a commanding presence? And it’ll all add up fast, won’t it?”
“But he doesn’t need it all, not right away,” said Abby as she put her hand on Tim’s shoulder. “He’ll just need to be resourceful, like he was when he and his young friends made off with all those…”
“Oh yes yes yes, that was a lovely bit of ingenuity that was. And how many times have you had to retell that story?” he asked Tim.
“Well,” said Abby, “I’ve told it myself ten times if not twenty.”
“Did you hear that, Tim?” laughed Peter. “You’ve a mother who’s promoting your career for you. Between Poole here and your mother there you’ve remarkable good fortune indeed. And now you’ll just have to carry all your lucky charms into battle, won’t you, boy?”
“If only you’d have been out on Long Island last fall – at the right place and at the right time, and with an empty sack. You’d have had it all already, you would? Ah, the spoils of war! They say the redcoated rascals gathered up a king’s ransom worth of muskets and rifles and cartridge boxes – a fortune it was worth! And there you’d been a few miles north, only – a day’s walking distance away from the battle itself! Had you a reason to take yourselves down there, and find yourself there and with an empty sack, then what?”
“If only,” said Tim with a smile.
“Yea, if only an angel had alighted upon your shoulder and told you where to go and what time to be there and how big a sack to bring along. Then you’d have got all that you’re needing so badly now, and you likely would have had more left over to sell. A peddler told me all about it. He’d been there and ready. He’d gone over onto Long Island to sell tobacco to the redcoats and he followed them as they advanced and was able to get his hands on all of a fallen officer’s gear – pistol and saber, coat and shoes – and no doubt a pocketful of coins too. A lieutenant, he was and surely the son of a wealthy man. He’d found him knee deep in water, weighed down by all he carried. He stripped him naked before anybody else could touch him. He said he earned more on that day than he had all year.”
“He’s lucky,” said Poole, “that he wasn’t taken for one of us and herded along with the prisoners. It’s a risky business for a man to be scavenging a battlefield.”
“Ah, yes yes yes, I suppose it is. A task best left to women, isn’t it,” joked Peter with a look at Abby.
“Not this one!” said Abby, shaking her head. “You won’t find me a running out onto a battlefield, stripping the dead while they’re not yet dead. No sir, that’s for a bolder woman than me.”
“Oh, come come now!” teased Peter. “Think of what you could gather up for poor Tim here, were you to venture down to Middlebrook and wait for the battle to break out. As surely it will!”
“No no,” she laughed, “I’ll leave the easy riches to the camp followers. Poor Tim will have to find his good fortune elsewhere.”
The Battle of Long Island was fought on August 27, 1776 and it was the first of several losses for the inexperienced American Army. But those who fought for independence had been given reason to think they could manage well. Over the previous year and a half, patriot forces had seized the fortress of Ticonderoga, they had forced the British out of Boston, and they had driven back a naval attack on Charleston. But more experienced military observers knew how hard it was to hold onto islands without control of the waters that surrounded them. The British had brought with them an armada that could go where it wanted. American naval forces were ordinary merchant ships with a few extra cannons and permission to attack enemy shipping. But Washington was under orders from Congress to defend New York City at all costs, and that would be impossible if he could not hold onto Long Island.
The invaders had occupied Staten Island in July, and on August 22 they had crossed over to Long Island. The year before at Bunker Hill, British commander Major General William Howe had seen what the rebels were capable of doing and he was no longer burdened by overconfidence. On Long Island his forces outnumbered the Americans two to one and still he was cautious. “Sir Billy” had luck on his side too, and managed to get some of his men around Continental lines during the night, to launch an attack on both sides. It was a decisive victory with three hundred Americans killed and over 1000 taken prisoner, compared to a few dozen British killed or missing. The Americans found themselves cornered on the Brooklyn Heights and the revolution might have ended there. But, after seven days of waiting for the final assault, a favorable wind followed by a heavy fog allowed Washington to sneak his Army back across to Manhattan Island.
Nineteen days later the British followed him over the East River to Kip’s Bay where they pushed Continental forces back to the Harlem Heights, allowing Howe to occupy New York City and block the entrance to the strategic Hudson River. When the British advanced north, 1800 Americans were able to drive back 5000 British at the Battle of Harlem Heights. Though it was a small engagement, it went a long way toward restoring patriot morale.
The mile wide Hudson River had to be defended. Two forts, one on each side, were armed to bombard any British ships that tried to come upstream. Fort Washington was on the highest hill at the north end of Manhattan Island and Fort Lee was across the river in New Jersey. Washington took a third of his Army north. He was defeated again on October 28 at White Plains, but losses were small and he was able to get his men across the Hudson and into New Jersey. On November 16 disaster struck when Fort Washington was attacked from all sides and 2800 soldiers were taken prisoner – one-fifth of Washington’s forces.
Washington retreated south and managed to cross the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. Sir Billy felt the rebels were all but defeated and decided he could retire his Army to winter quarters and see if he could negotiate a peace. But from the Pennsylvania shore Washington perceived an opportunity to achieve a victory and revive confidence. On Christmas Day he took 2400 men back across the icy Delaware and attacked a garrison at Trenton, manned by 1500 Hessians (given this name because many came from the Hesse region of Germany.) They were said to be the best soldiers in the world but they had been celebrating the Yuletide with heavy drinking, and their overconfident colonel had posted few guards. Washington surprised them and captured nine hundred prisoners with all their arms. Trenton had been one of several garrisons placed along the south-west border of New Jersey and the British felt obliged to abandon them all and retreat to the north-east. Almost the whole state was recaptured by Washington and the New Jersey Militia.
Betray our guilt.
Tim stopped abruptly, halfway through the piece of music. He felt an urge to smash his violin against the wall. He and Sadie had gone back to practicing and the heat had kept on rising.
“Maybe you’re pushing yourself too hard,” said Sadie quietly.
“I am! I know that!” he said as he paced in a circle. “But I don’t know that I’ve much choice! If Poole has any sense he’ll be looking for any excuse at all to toss me aside and choose a better man.”
“Or a better boy,” said Sadie as she reached up to tousle his hair. “He does look rather troubled though, doesn’t he? And maybe he ought to. Why would he choose you? Why would he choose a boy with no property and little education? What stake would your sort have in maintaining the ancient liberties of Englishmen? Who but a man possessed of property will defend his right to property? By training you, is he not merely training another mercenary who will offer his talents to the highest bidder, without regard to which country or which despot he fights for?”
“You don’t believe that, do you?”
“Why not? How many times have we heard it preached from the pulpit and read from a pamphlet? It ought to be well drilled into both our heads.”
“But…” started Tim.
“And too, I’ve been told that your being from Boston, originally, might be more of a problem than your being too young and too inexperienced and too lacking in a stake in society.”
“But why should that…”
“Don’t be stupid! It might not matter so much for Poole though, because his father came from Massachusetts. And it likely doesn’t matter to the colonel either because he’s from Rhode Island, but for those with deep roots here in New Jersey, it’ll matter.”
“But,” said Tim, “I’m told it was mostly New Englanders who settled here – the region around Morristown. They’d come to work in the mines north of here.”
“But you’re talking about grandfathers and great-grandfathers.”
“And too, I’m to be in one of the additional regiments. The state doesn’t get to choose…”
“They don’t get final choice but the regiment still is being recruited out of this state. It shouldn’t matter but it does. But still, it might not be just your lack of qualifications and your being from far away that’s got Poole so tormented. More than anything else it could be the fickle heart of his beloved. Have you heard about the two of them?”
“Yes. He told me about it himself. Or he mentioned it. But the look on his face told more.”
“She only decided to put it off last Sunday morning, and that was right after his snap decision of Saturday night. So, everyone has to assume that you’re at the root of it. Or maybe not. I heard her mom and dad talking about it and Esther said that Prim had been having second thoughts already. But it could be that Poole’s public display of drunken stupidity was the last straw.”
“But Old Peter doesn’t seem disappointed with him. He was down here just now and he seemed to still think very highly of him.”
“There are those,” said a woman’s voice from behind, “who say that Old Peter loves him more than his granddaughter does.” Tim turned and recognized her right away. She was the young woman who had seemed to be sharing a private joke with Poole earlier that day in front of the tinker’s shop.
“Don’t say that!” said Sadie with a smile. “And anyways, you shouldn’t be listening in on private conversations.”
“I could hardly help it! I could hear the two of you as I walked past on the street!”
“You could not!”
“I don’t think Poole needs to be worrying. Prim’s been like this all her life. Old Peter likes to say that his poor daughter-in-law suffered a long labor because his granddaughter couldn’t decide whether she wanted to come out or stay in.”
“This is Dot,” said Sadie to Tim. “She’s wife to Mike O’Toole.”
“Oh, pleased to…”
“You’ve met him,” said Dot. “He’s a gentleman volunteer who’s helping the Deputy Commissary – helping him get things bought, bagged and delivered so the soldiers get their weekly ration when they’re hungry and not later. You were talking to him last Saturday night. He said he was impressed by your knowledge.”
“Was he still impressed,” asked Sadie, “after Poole made his surprise choice?”
“Even more impressed, I’m sure! But honestly, whether it was a good decision or bad, I doubt that it had any effect on Prim’s decision to grow even more undecided.”
“She told you that?” asked Sadie.
“Not out loud but she must have been just as charmed by Tim Euston as the rest of us. I think every woman in that room fell in love with young Master Liberty here. When he sang ‘Barbara Allan’?” As she said this, Dot stepped close to Tim, took hold of his sleeve and gave it a tug. “Oh, it gives me shivers just thinking about it.”
“I was singing too!” protested Sadie. “Didn’t anyone fall in love with me?”
“Me and Mom love you,” said Tim as he placed a pitying hand on her shoulder.
“Oh go away!”
“I’m sure all the men love you too,” said Dot as she came to put her hand on Sadie’s other shoulder.
“They do not!” muttered Sadie as she wiggled her shoulders to pull away. “I’m not half so pretty as either you or Prim.”
“You’re even prettier, you silly goose! ” teased Dot. “At least a few of them must have fallen in love with you, for a man can love six women simultaneously while a woman can only love six men in rapid succession.”
“And that,” said Sadie as she pounded Tim’s shoulder with her fist, “is what makes us your moral superiors.”
“Oh, that hurts awfully,” whined Tim as he clutched his shoulder. But then he turned back to Dot. “Was Poole a close friend to Hugh Hampton?”
“Well… he’d selected him as lieutenant for his company so he must have liked him well enough – or respected his capabilities, at least. Though, it would have seemed strange had he not chosen him. Hugh had distinguished himself over the past year as much as any man. And there are those who say he should have been made captain ahead of Poole.”
“There’s a lot of squabbling over these promotions, isn’t there?” asked Tim.
“Oh heavens yes!” laughed Dot as she turned away. “It’s all I’ve been hearing for the past two years! And the higher the rank, the more there are to get angry about it. You’ve got whole colonies practically at war with each other over the choice of a general. Whole ‘states’ I should say.”
“Could that sort of thing be behind the murder then?” asked Sadie.
“It could be but… but I wouldn’t think so, unless your brother really did do the dastardly deed. Now, had Malcolm Poole been strangled, then someone might have been asking Hugh Hampton to hold out his hands for inspection.”
“Because he’d been the most eligible for captain?”
“Overdue for captain, some say. And we have to remember that these distinguished military men are distinguished for their fighting and killing, aren’t they?”
“They are,” said Sadie.
“But there’s been a lot of talk about Malcolm Poole, for he’s moved so fast up the chain of command – first in the militia and now in this new regiment. And without being from any particularly distinguished family. And now he’s engaged to the prettiest girl in town. And my Mike… My poor husband is still only a volunteer, poor thing. And it’s so unfair for him. I’m tempted to kill somebody myself! And,” said Dot as she dropped her voice almost to a whisper while looking over her shoulder toward the door, “Prim Porter’s the wealthiest girl in town too, most likely – and possibly the wealthiest by a wide margin. And she’s got no brothers or sisters or uncles or aunts to split her grandfather’s inheritance. He’s got a lot of land now and when he’s gone it’ll all go to Young Peter. And you can see that neither he nor his wife are the picture of robust health, are they? The husband of Primavera Porter could be master of it all in ten years. Sooner if he kills them.”
“Old Peter is wealthy?” asked Sadie as she considered the Porter house. It was large, but half of it was storefront and storage space. It was a busy enough store but it could hardly have made anyone rich.
“He’s wealthy for Morris County,” replied Dot, “for land a-plenty he’s got now. And it’s good land too, so he must have been very clever with his trading over the years. He’s not inherited his money and no one can imagine where he might have borrowed it from.”
“And you said Poole’s not from a good family either?” asked Tim.
“A good family yes, but not a wealthy family – not any more. He was raised and educated as a gentleman but they’re saying his family’s been hard hit by the war. His father was always investing in ships and cargos. But he had a run of bad luck when the King’s privateers started to attack our shipping. They’ve not been entertaining in months now, and you know what that means.”
“Of course,” said Sadie in a solemn voice. Everyone knew that, whether in England or America, a gentleman was expected to spend heavily on the entertaining of his fellow gentry.
“So he needs Prim,” asked Tim, “if he wants to continue with the life to which he’s become accustomed?”
“He’s surely in need of a girl who comes with a fortune strapped to her back. Either that or he has to enjoy some uncommon good fortune when raiding British wagon trains and storehouses.”
“So Prim could choose from any of several excellent suitors?” asked Sadie.
“Indeed she could. She’s got the face and the purse to match – and she’s been enjoying it. She’s been engaged twice but still she’ll let any man flirt with her.”
“Was Lieutenant Hampton one of her flatterers?” asked Tim.
“He was that and more,” whispered Dot. “It’s not been many weeks since they were engaged to be married.”
“Engaged?” asked Sadie.
“Yes! And then she tossed him aside. And most think she could have had him back at any time.”
“Was he heartbroken?”
“He didn’t show it but I think he must have been. He’d been a lot less talkative since it happened. And he was the better catch too, and everybody knows it. And don’t think there hasn’t been those who’ve wondered where Malcolm Poole was when the dastardly deed was done.”
“Where was he?”
“Nobody seems to know. And it’s the job of the colonel to ask a question like that, isn’t it?”
“When Lieutenant Hawke sent me to get the colonel,” Tim said quietly, “Poole was there with him in his office above the tavern.”
“But for how long was he there?” whispered Dot. “That’s what nobody’s saying. Nobody noticed him when he got there – nobody who will say so. And anyways, Hawke told you the blood was already starting to dry, didn’t he?”
“And if the colonel has asked Poole where he was, then he’s not been talking about it. Nor has Poole been telling anyone. That’s strange by itself, isn’t it? And had he told Prim then I’m sure I’d have heard about it from her, for she’s my dearest friend. But she’s not said anything. But I’ve not asked though, for fear of her taking offence. She’s got a temper. But really, I shouldn’t have to ask, should I?”
“I’ve overheard Prim talking to her mother,” said Sadie, “but I’ve not heard one word spoken about any of this. Well, almost none. Esther mentioned it but Prim didn’t want to talk about it. Not about the murder, and not about her putting back the wedding date either. She’s just been talking about… nothing really! Just everyday talk! It’s like there’s no war and no wedding and no murder!”
“She acts as if she fears nothing from enemy attack,” said Tim. “It’s not natural, is it? And isn’t it particularly strange when a woman won’t want to talk about calling off her wedding?”
“Put back the date!” whispered Dot. “Not called it off. And yes, it is particularly strange and especially for her. I don’t know what’s going through her head and, if I don’t, then I doubt that anybody else does.”
“And neither does Captain Poole,” said Tim, “That’s what he’s said to me, and he sounded to be speaking from the heart. It’s getting him down! You should have seen the look on his face!”
“He might have more than a troubled heart,” said Dot quietly with another look toward the door. “He might have a guilty conscience. He did have the perfect motive to kill, didn’t he? For it was Hampton who might have had the power to take his beloved Prim from him, along with her beloved fortune. And Malcolm Poole’s got the means to kill too – the nerve to do the deed. He’s fought with distinction in all his skirmishes and ambushes – and that means he’s killed in hand-to-hand combat. Or at the very least he’s tried his best to. And his wound to his leg isn’t so bad that it would have stopped him from surprising Hampton from behind.”
“And,” said Sadie with her hands clenched in fists, “he could have told Hampton to meet him in the barn – to meet him there in private. It would not have seemed strange at all – not in time of war.”
“Indeed, he could have done that at any time,” agreed Dot with a nod of her head.
“But he’s surely not the murderer!” protested Tim. “Sure he’s a likely suspect but… but we have to look beyond the obvious, don’t we?”
“I agree with you there,” said Dot. “Malcolm just doesn’t seem like the kind who would kill, does he? Not like that – not in so cowardly a way. In an ambush, yes. And for sure on a field of battle but… but not like that. Not sneaking around like… a thief in the night.”
They remained silent for a moment, wondering about it all.
“It’s a lot to think about, isn’t it?” sighed Dot as she turned and walked out the door. “And,” she added, looking back, “I think I ought to be going home to my husband now, for he’ll be wanting his supper. Oh dear, here he is now, making the poor dogs growl. He always knows where to find me.”
Tim and Sadie watched her go and then tried to put this new information out of their heads and return to their practicing. Right away they were making mistakes. Sadie stopped in the middle of a piece and said she needed to get back to the kitchen to help her mother. Tim stayed to keep at it but soon grew frustrated. He took his violin into the house, put it away and started back toward Arnold’s Tavern. To take advantage of the shade, he went down through the gardens to follow the pathway that wound through the orchards. Almost every house had a garden and orchard. When he passed by Jeffrey Black’s barn, where the murder had taken place, he stopped and looked at it. The haunted barn, he thought as he turned to go on. But then he stopped, feeling tempted to go back in and look at the spot where the body had lay, thinking that maybe it could offer him some clue, or some sort of inspiration. He hesitated though, wondering whether the restless spirit of Hugh Hampton might haunt the shadows. Don’t be stupid, he thought, and took another step. His muscles tensed. He then realized that if he was seen by someone he would look like a murderer returning to the scene of his crime, like all murderers are supposed to do. He bit his lip, clenched his fists and with an effort turned back to continue on toward the tavern.
“And what in blazes was he doing here?” asked a man’s quiet voice inside the barn. He was peering through a chink between two vertical wallboards, and had been able to see Tim standing there without his knowing he was being watched.
“I might ask the same about us?” replied the woman. “What’ll people think if…”
“The whole town’s been in and out of here! We’re just another pair of curious onlookers. But why him here at the same time as us?”
“Perhaps the same demon of Hell guides our steps.”
“Ah well, but isn’t it a shame he didn’t come in, though?”
“Here he was, looking like he was about to join us.”
“How’s that a shame?”
“Well, he’s a clever boy, isn’t he?” the man replied with a voice that was fearful and angry at the same time. “And he’s been asking clever questions, hasn’t he? A lot of them! And for sure he’s much to gain by the finding of the answers, doesn’t he? So long as Hawke keep up with it.”
“So what if he does? There are others who look suspicious.”
“But we don’t know who saw us arrive here and who saw us leave, do we? And we won’t know when either one of us might betray our guilt by a momentary indiscretion.”
“I am not going to go out and…”
“You hope not, my dear, and that’s all a woman can ever promise, isn’t it? And that is why we’ve reason to fear Tim Euston.”
The most likely suspect.
It rained during the night but the sun rose above the morning’s clouds to shine bright over proud little Morristown. Tim stepped out of the tailor’s house and into this intense light, feeling as calm and as strong and as fully in possession of himself as he had ever felt, because today he was wearing his new uniform. His coat had a military cut and was blue with buff colored cuffs, lapels and collar, but more important it had the intensity of newly dyed cloth. With it he wore a new shirt, breeches, stockings and shoes, and to top it off was a hat that had been brushed, steamed, pressed and dyed to pull it back into almost new condition. Tim knew exactly how good it all looked because the tailor had a Venetian mirror a foot wide and two feet high and he had been able to see himself almost from head to toe. And now he had it all on and he was out in the street and he felt his chest swell with pride as he stood gazing across the town – looking as if it all belonged to him.
“Ooo, and look at this!” called a woman as she came toward him. “And aren’t you a sight, Tim Euston!”
“Just look at him!” agreed the young woman who followed her.
“A new suit for the new officer,” said an older woman from another direction.
“A very nice cut indeed,” said a fourth who was coming up behind.
“And look at the stitching,” said the first to reach him and take hold of his arm to bring the cuff up to her eyes. “I hope he charged you a lot, for otherwise you’ve robbed the poor man.”
“No no!” insisted her friend. “He should be giving his best prices to our soldiers. After all, they’ve…”
“This is the linen he’s just got in, I’m sure,” said the older woman. “Fine stock indeed. ‘Twas taken by a privateer and brought into Philadelphia the week before last. They say it was on its way to New York City, so just think of it, Tim Euston, you’ve got cloth that might have been dyed a most horrid shade of red.”
“ ‘Tis a fine thing you’ve done then,” said the other, “sparing good cloth from a bad end.”
“For sure it’ll bring you good fortune.”
“And he’ll need it where I’m taking him,” said Malcolm Poole as he arrived.
“Don’t you even talk that way!” joked one of the women as she pulled Tim close as if to protect him.
They went on like this until Poole took pity and led Tim in the direction of a stable. Today he would find out whether Tim’s riding skills were as pathetic as some suspected.
“So, how does it feel to be the best dressed man in the county?” asked Poole as a soldier saddled their horses.
“It does feel good, I must admit,” said Tim as he paced back and forth, his hands clutched behind his back. “Though I’m sure that what the women are saying is more inspired by my singing than by...”
“That and for your role in the capture of military stores from a British garrison. And too, for the diligent self-study that persuaded me to select you for ensign. And for sure we’re all the more admired for all our talents when they’ve been assisted by good fortune.”
“Excessive good fortune, some would say.”
“Ha! Well! Before we call it excessive we’ll see how fortunate you are in the face of the enemy.”
“Even when I’m taking excessive risks?” joked Tim.
“No no, don’t even talk like that. Excessive risk is naught but the action of a fool. Calculated risk is, however, another matter. Though that might just be what we call an excessive risk when it was a risk taken by a fortunate man. Now, today we’ll start out by eliminating the excessive risk faced by your new clothes.” Poole said this as they were climbing onto their horses. “We’ll walk them slowly over to the Porter’s – give the town another chance to admire our uniforms – and once you’re back into your rags, I’ll put both you and your horse through a demanding exercise. We wouldn’t want to see such heroic fabric fall victim to grass stains, would we?”
Once Tim was back into his worn and mended work clothes they went back to the pasture behind the Porter house. They worked on some of the subtle movements needed to communicate a rider’s wishes to an animal, and on the ways a rider could keep the poor beast calm by seeming to be well in control himself. By the time the heat forced them back into the barn, Tim’s work clothing had fresh green stains from landing on damp spring grass. The horse had thrown him twice. He felt sore and shaken but nothing was broken or badly twisted.
When he went in the house for their refreshments Tim found it empty, except for Esther who was wandering about the kitchen, putting things away. She stooped a bit and wore a strange expression. He was marveling at how she could be both attractive and repulsive at the same time when he remembered what Sadie had said – that she looked as if she suffered guilt and shame for some unknown sin. Like a criminal condemned, thought Tim.
“You look hot,” she said.
“He’s trying to teach me to ride a horse.”
“Oh dear, that’s never pleasant,” she said as she turned back to the cupboard. “I don’t think I’ll ever forgive my father for forcing me to learn to ride. I’ve ever since been tormented by nightmares of being on a mare at full gallop, not able to rein her in. Well, it looks like I can offer some sausage with your beer,” she said as she lifted a cloth that covered a bowl. “I’ll leave you to cut it up. I really ought to lie down. I dread another headache.”
“I hope you’ll feel better,” said Tim as he watched her creep out of the room. Again he was wondering about the woman Dan had seen going into the barn. Esther could definitely look young from behind, and she wore plain colors. And though her husband was unhealthy looking, he had to be strong, for he was capable of helping with the loading and unloading of heavy sacks and casks. And I suppose I could imagine him taking another man’s life, thought Tim, but why Hugh Hampton’s?
. . . . .
“Would I have done any better on a well-trained horse?” asked Tim when he got back to the barn.
“For sure you would have,” said Poole who was in the armchair with his feet stretched out. “But you might not have learned as much. This has been a morning of great contrasts, hasn’t it been? First you rise to the pinnacle of glory in a new suit of clothes. And then you descend into the pit of humiliation while on top of a horse – on and off a horse.”
“He did an excellent job of throwing me.”
“Yes, it is so much easier when you only have to dress the part of a soldier, isn’t it? You’ve got a lot to learn and you’ve not a lot of time to learn it in.”
“The colonel seems to want me to put my music before all else.”
“And so you should,” chuckled Poole. “As long as he’s happy then I can allow you time to grow into those new clothes of yours.”
“Until then I’ll use them as a disguise,” joked Tim.
“You will. Stealth and subterfuge – two of a soldier’s deadliest weapons. And a handsome uniform matters too – and more than you might think. Back on Long Island when we faced the redcoats, their uniforms scared us as much as their bayonets. And why you ask? Because it can be assumed that if their masters can afford the uniforms then they’re surely willing to spend at least as much on the training, and on the equipment that completes a soldier. You wouldn’t pay for one and not the other, would you? It’s common sense. And it’s the truth, too. Or at least with England’s redcoats, it is.”
“I suppose it ought to be,” nodded Tim.
“But it can work both ways though, can’t it? Here in the Jersey hills, we’ve fooled them with our plain and ragged homespun because they’re thinking that shabby attire must be a measure of a soldier’s incompetence.”
“So some good came of it?” joked Tim.
“Some. But I think they’ve learned their lesson by now. We need good clothing. It inspires confidence, and war is a game where bluff and bravado is often as effective as gunpowder. The uniforms count for a lot, I am certain of that. It was a few years ago that I first learned of the power of a uniform. It was when a couple of my aunties were telling us stories about the French and Indian War. One started teasing the other about how she used to make such a fuss over any man in uniform. The other one said it was all the young women who felt their hearts a-flutter when they saw their men in fine uniforms.
“But it only makes sense when you think about it, though. Who besides a soldier is ready and willing to protect them from… from what might happen if the enemy breaks through?”
“But women do overdo it, sometimes,” said Poole. “Though I can hardly complain, being a primary recipient of all the fussing and flattery. These past two years have been good to me.”
“I’m sure,” said Tim with a grin.
“Grandma told my Aunt Marg that she only fell in love with the man she married after she’d seen him in his uniform. She denied it, but she admitted that she’d only come to love him after she’d come to know him, and that she’d only come to know him after the sight of him in a uniform had started her wondering.”
“Did she say that right in front of him?”
“She did,” chuckled Poole, “And he said that was why he’d often wear it to bed.”
“I’ve surely never felt more admired than I did this morning. Not even when I’ve been singing and playing my fiddle.”
“You were greatly admired last Saturday night. You were just too busy singing to notice it. When you sang ‘Barbara Allen’? I’d suspect it wasn’t just their eyes that were wet.”
“Yes… well… ah… well, but really it ought to be bravery in battle that makes a soldier the favorite of women.”
“Or bravery out on patrol. And it does eventually, once the enemy’s close.”
“And you’ve been both the bravest and the best dressed,” laughed Tim.
“So they say. Yes, life’s been good these past two years. It wouldn’t have been worth dying for but it’s certainly been worth a few near misses. And it’s certainly worth the occasional flesh wound,” he said as he patted his sore thigh. “It’s a shame I wasn’t hit further down my leg so I could pull down my sock and show it off.”
“It’s makes for a good story,” said Tim, “And now you’re the bravest hero with the prettiest girl.”
”So far,” he said after a pause, sounding frustrated.
“But I’m told she does truly love you,” said Tim, but right away he realized he had said too much.
“Ha! Have you been? Well, perhaps you’ve heard right. But who knows why, and for how long? Just as you’re in need of a battle to prove yourself worthy of your commission,” Poole said quietly, “I may need some more action under fire to hold onto the affections of my beloved.”
“No no, I…”
“You might doubt it but you don’t know, do you? And it is entirely possible that Primavera Porter does not know for sure either. Does any of us really know why we fall in love?”
“Well…I don’t know about that,” said Tim, shaking his head. “But… it’s almost like… it’s almost like we’re a pair of war profiteers praying for an enemy attack for the profit it’ll bring us.”
“No no no,” laughed Poole, “we pray for peace, surely. We just hope that if, heaven forbid, battles have to be fought, that we’ll manage to gain an advantage on the side.”
“Yes,” sighed Tim. “And I’d surely welcome the opportunity to quiet those who say I’m not worthy of being ensign and…”
“And I would surely welcome another chance to dazzle one and all with my courage and valor, for then I’d improve my standing as a most admirable man in the eyes of the woman who can’t decide on whether to go through with… with the blessed event. I’ll just have to manage to keep myself alive and whole.”
“Well… so long as… speaking of keeping yourself alive, have you heard anything about the killing of Hugh Hampton?” asked Tim, wanting to change the topic before he said the wrong thing again.
“Oh! That blasted… No, not one person has any idea who’s behind it. Except for John Hawke, of course. Nobody’s saying they saw a mysterious stranger that day. And it doesn’t seem like there was anybody in town whose activities cannot be accounted for.”
“Well… nobody… except...”
“And we’re all wasting precious time on it! And it frustrates me that you’re being pointed to as a suspect.”
“And you too,” said Tim, but right away he wished he had not.
“Well… ah… well, there’s just some who wonder whether… whether it might be you who might have wanted to kill Hugh Hampton to… to… to eliminate a potential rival – him having been engaged to… well…” stammered Tim as he stared at the ground, sure he had made a very big mistake.
“I suppose they would,” said Poole, sounding like he had never given the possibility a thought.
“But of course it’s ridiculous to think that...”
“Oh, I don’t know about that. It’s a perfectly reasonable suspicion, isn’t it? Why didn’t I think of it myself? So you’ve heard all about the fickle heart of…” and he stopped and looked around to see who might be close by.
“I’m sure I don’t know more that anyone...”
“Ha! Everyone must know then! And I’ve no proof of an alibi either, do I?” said Poole, sounding like he was thinking. “At the time of the killing, I’d come back from here. Then I was back in my room. And then I went out again, and then I’d come back, and then I was looking for the colonel. And there was hardly anyone about, was there? For all anyone knows I might have told Hampton to meet me there and I could have done the deed and been back in no time. Unless someone had followed me, or kept a steady watch on Jeffrey Black’s barn. But they would have surely come forward by now, wouldn’t they? So there can’t be anybody.”
“But I’m sure no one seriously suspects you of such a thing.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that. There’s no evidence that’ll point to another man… or woman. But think of it. This is better for you, isn’t it? You’re no longer the most likely suspect.”
Would an officer simply go to a tailor and ask for something in a nice military cut? Yes. Difficulty in obtaining materials and labor, and differences over where and what to buy, meant uniforms were not uniform. Blue was favored in New Jersey but not everywhere. A captured German officer described American soldiers in October of 1777: “… each man had on the clothes in which he goes to the field, to church or to the tavern. But they stood like soldiers, erect, with a military bearing that was subject to little criticism… The officers… wore very few uniforms and those they did wear were of their own invention. All colors of cloth… brown coats with sea green facing, white linings and silver sword knots; also gray coats with straw facings and yellow buttons were frequently seen… The brigadiers and generals have special uniforms and ribbons which they wear like bands of order over the vests…”
British soldiers were often ragged looking too. Infantry coats were sort of an orangey-blood-red. The madder root dye they used held better than most natural dyes but would still bleach in the sun.