Authors: Jim DeFelice
Tags: #Patriot Spy
The Iron Chain
Jake Gibbs Patriot Spy series
By Jim DeFelice
THE IRON CHAIN
Book II in the Jake Gibbs Patriot Spy series.
Copyright © 1995 by Jim DeFelice.
Cover photograph by Jim DeFelice.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in
any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case
of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
and visit the Jim DeFelice website on the world wide web.
any summers ago
, my uncle discovered some old manuscripts in the root cellar of an eighteenth century farm he owns in upstate New York. The papers purport to document the adventures of a heretofore unknown Revolutionary War hero, Jake Gibbs. A member of George Washington’s Secret Service, the Philadelphia native handled a wide range of duties during the war, from spying to sabotage. The son of a wealthy merchant in the apothecary or pharmaceutical trade, Gibbs was educated in England and served briefly as a secretary to Sir Guy Carleton, later the governor of Canada. In his early twenties during the war, he seems to have been part man of action, part scholar, part lady-killer.
During some of his time in what is now New York State, Gibbs was accompanied by a wily if portly Dutchman, Claus van Clynne. While not officially a member of the Secret Service, this worthy gentleman provided valuable service to his country, though he seems to have gilded much of it with complaints about everything from the sorry state of sword-making to the weather
The events of
The Iron Chain
immediately follow those of the first book in the Jake Gibbs series
The Silver Bullet
. It takes place over the first three days of June 1777, a critical and difficult time for the American revolutionaries. Washington had just survived a desolate winter and was trying to regroup his pitifully small army in New Jersey and the Hudson Highlands. Despite strenuous recruiting, he had not quite eight thousand barely-trained and ill-equipped men; the British, in contrast, had four times that number and a good portion of the world’s strongest navy in New York City alone. In Montreal, a large army of Englishmen, Loyalists and Hessians was being mustered for an invasion south toward Lake George and Albany. The superior arms and training of the British forces would today be considered the “force multipliers” that would make the odds against the Americans overwhelming.
If the British armies in New York City and Canada could unite in New York’s Hudson Valley, the war would quickly be lost. All that stood between them was an iron chain across the Hudson – and the redoubtable Mr. Gibbs.
― Jim DeFelice, N.Y.
Wherein, our heroes encounter difficulties before proper introductions can be made.
ou will honor
me, sir, by raising your hands. You need not touch a particular cloud, but you will stretch in that direction or suffer the most dire consequences."
"And what consequences might those be?" harrumphed Claus van Clynne, settling his hands alongside his baggy russet coat as his gelding took a short, nervous pace to the side.
"I should not like to shoot you." The man locked his knees astride the gray-dappled horse blocking the path and flicked his coat back to reveal a well-polished flintlock pistol, cocked and aimed in the Dutchman's direction. "I must say, though, you would be an easy target, with so large a belly."
"Even the robbers take airs these days," complained van Clynne, who still made no movement to comply with the stranger's command.
Jake Gibbs, sitting on a black mare next to him, silently cursed his companion's obstinate nature. On the one hand, van Clynne's prickly sense of honor, not to mention his stubbornness, often proved valuable in difficult situations. On the other, it occasionally led him to annoy people at entirely the wrong moment, with difficult consequences.
"Claus," said Jake, holding his long arms out in a show of complying with the stranger's directions, "perhaps the gentleman wants to discuss the state of affairs in the countryside." He stretched his hands so high that his shoulders strained the rough gray-brown cloth of his coat.
"At gunpoint? I tell you sir, as a practitioner of the conversational arts, gunpowder makes for very poor grammar."
Jake smiled apologetically at the stranger, and moved his left hand down to shade against the late afternoon sun. The man had come upon them at the juncture of two narrow and extremely obscure lanes northeast of the old New York road in southern Westchester. Van Clynne's irritation was undoubtedly compounded by the fact that he had boasted a few minutes before that not more than three people in the entire province knew this shortcut to White Plains, and that he and Jake were as likely to meet an African unicorn as a criminal.
The country here was euphemistically known as the Neutral Ground, meaning that in addition to being patrolled by both American and British forces, robbers and thieves felt any traveler was fair game. Which specific category the stranger fell into remained to be seen, but was in certain important senses irrelevant.
"We are merely travelers like yourself," said Jake smoothly, easing his hands down. He brushed a piece of dust from his brown breeches to emphasize his nonchalance, and kept his tone as calm and friendly as if a baker had happened upon him and asked if he wanted bread on the morrow. "Were you waiting for someone?"
Jake guessed from the stranger's handsome pistol and horse, as well as his aristocratic manner and clothes—not fine, but fresh and unstained, which was the significance —that he was allied to the British; generally the people with money here chose the king's side of the conflict. But this was not necessarily inevitable, and while the man was obviously waiting for some confederate whose identity was unknown to him, there were a thousand explanations possible.
And no time to hear any of them ― the faint click of hoof beats sounded in the distance, and Jake realized there was as good a chance as not their interlocutor might decide to shoot them when he learned they were not his appointed guests.
"I will ask the questions," said the man. "Who are you seeking?"
"We don't seek anyone," said Jake. "We have concluded a piece of business in New York, and now are traveling toward some friends."
"You are rebels, then," said the stranger, who by using the word
as good as told Jake that he was loyal to King George.
"By whose definition are we rebels?" asked van Clynne indignantly. His loud voice drew the stranger's attention and momentarily loosened his aim.
God, thought Jake as he slid forward on his horse, grabbing the pistol hooked into the front of his saddle in the same motion, I've been with the Dutchman so long I actually know what he's thinking.
However frightening that was — and the reader would have had to spend a solid week listening to van Clynne's complaints to truly appreciate the fear — it was not an emotion the patriot spy dwelled upon. The weapon in Jake's holster was kept loaded and ready; a smooth, simple gun without ornamentation, it was nonetheless accurate and deadly, even when fired from its sling. It could not actually be called sweet, as its kick was surprisingly heavy for its size. But this heaviness was in direct proportion to the speed and power of the round ball it discharged — a ball that struck the stranger square in the throat.
The jolt of a gun being fired so close to her head was too much for Jake's mare. The poor beast bolted down the road as if the devil himself were after her.
The patriot spy, off balance, fell to the side, an arm just missing a good smack from the horse's foreleg. Jake's six-foot-two frame twisted across the back and side of the animal, desperately trying to adhere, while his long hair flew madly above, a guardian angel suddenly jostled from its post
The horse's speed had been an asset earlier in the day as Jake and van Clynne rode north through East Chester, dodging British patrols and outposts. Now it was a distinct liability. The animal followed the winding roadway, dodging and cutting back with its curves as Jake swam against the wind and the mare's momentum to bring her under control.
The patriot had never been reckoned a horseman in his youth — his priorities were elsewhere — but he had acquired a certain proficiency during the last two years of war. That and his natural strength won out in the end. When the mare felt the strong hands once more pulling evenly on her reins, she began to calm. They had traveled more than a quarter mile in her madness, but Jake's only new injury seemed to be the loss of the ribbon that tied his hair into a ponytail — his tricornered hat had been lost nearly a week before.
As for old injuries, both his shoulder and knee vied for attention. They had been hurt the previous day in New York City, and thus warranted some indulgence — he rubbed both before setting back up the road to see where van Clynne was.
As it happened, the Dutchman was not far from where Jake had left him, though under somewhat different circumstances: He found himself in the middle of an altogether uncomfortable parlay with two horsemen who had galloped up from the rear and ordered him to dismount.
"I thank God for your arrival," said van Clynne, "for otherwise I should be as dead as my friend." His attitude was in remarkable contrast to his previous manner; he practically bolted from his animal and made a great show of being agreeable.
There is nothing so agreeable as a Dutchman being agreeable.
Van Clynne took off his large, Quaker-style beaver hat and twirled it around in sympathetic gestures as he praised the two horsemen. Each was equipped with a heavy musket, a deadly weapon, granted, but not terribly accurate from the back of a horse. The Dutchman took no obvious notice of this drawback, praising both as timely saviors. He bowed and scraped until even the king of Araby would have been impressed.
"A tall man, obviously a villain, ambushed us and demanded our money," said van Clynne when he finally decided he had sweetened the dough enough to insert a piece of meat. "My brave friend resisted — and now we see the sad consequence of valuing gold above all else."
Frowning, one of the gunmen jumped down to inspect the prostrate body. "It's Johnson," he said to his companion.
"Johnson, yes," said van Clynne. "A fine man. Noble and of a philosophical nature. A great loss."
The man on horseback deepened his frown. "How do we know you didn't kill him?"
"Kill a friend? Didn't you see the criminal ride off? You were upon us so quick, I half assumed you were avenging angels, here to take the killer to hell."
"John, if he was riding with Major Johnson—"
"Let's let our guest explain himself, Esmond, before we jump to any conclusions. The woods are filled with traitors."
"Esmond, now there is a handsome name," said van Clynne, holding his silvery gray hat to his chest. "Is it Dutch, by any chance?"
"Not that I know."
"A pity," he said.
"Step away from your horse."
Van Clynne took the rein in his hand. "I merely want to make sure he stays with me. A fine animal, but not too trustworthy. A bit like a rebel, no?"
"And how do you know we're not rebels?" demanded John.
"Come, sir, I would think our loyalties are above question." Van Clynne reached for one of the bags tied to his saddle. "I have always sworn firm allegiance to the king. If you wish, I have some papers that will clear me of any suspicion. Though I would hardly think that necessary under the circumstances. Indeed, there was a time when a Dutchman's wink, let alone his word, was his guarantee — "
"Shut up and show us your pass before I fill your mouth with my musket."
"If he was with Major Johnson — "
"Quiet, Esmond. What is your name, criminal?"
"Claus van Clynne, Esquire, at your service," said the Dutchman, taking the bag in hand as he bowed and waved his hat in a grand gesture of introduction.