Read The Iron Chain Online

Authors: Jim DeFelice

Tags: #Patriot Spy

The Iron Chain (10 page)

BOOK: The Iron Chain
3.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

"No, sir."

"Come closer, girl; I'm not going to bite." Keen tapped her bottom gently with his gold-topped walking stick. In London, such a young woman would recognize the opportunity and jump into his lap; here in the backwoods the girl froze.

"I'll thank you to keep your stick off my wife," said
the flushed proprietor, appearing in the doorway from the back room. Just past thirty years old, he was a large man and the threshold small; his head brushed against the lintel, and his stubby arms, set against his hips indignantly, crowded the side panels.

"Well, my good man, I would not have marked you for a cradle robber," said Keen, who gave her another playful tap before returning his cane to his side. "How old are you, girl? Fifteen?"

"Get into the back, Elizabeth," said the keeper as he took a step forward.

The man's wife cowered, slipping against the small fireplace and knocking one of the iron pots to the ground. Its top careened madly on the wide-planked floor. She grabbed it, dropped it again because it was hot, and then ran into the other room.

"I've no desire to harm you," Keen told the man as he picked up his tea. "But I would not be adverse to it."
"Out of that chair, you English snake. Pay for your breakfast and leave my house."
"Do I understand that you are declaring yourself a rebel?"

The man stood over Keen with barely controlled anger. The doctor had given up wearing a wig when he came to America; otherwise the strands of it would now be curling from the heat of the insulted husband's fury.

"Out! And take your fool with you," said the keeper, gesturing toward Percival, whose large frame had just appeared above the top half of the open Dutch door at the ordinary's entrance.

"I shall not leave until I have finished my tea," said Keen, raising the fine porcelain cup.

The keeper swung the back of his hand against it, dashing what until now had been one of his most valuable possessions against the wall. In the next instant, he found his arm grabbed at the wrist, clamped as in a powerful vice.

He had not expected such physical strength in the gentleman at the table, who not only appeared to be a jack-a-dandy but was at least fifty. The keeper had earned much of his living before the war as a stone mason, but here found himself steadily and slowly sinking to his knees.

"Do you like flowers?" Keen asked. "Lilies, specifically."

"Let go of my arm, you bastard," said the man, whose voice betrayed considerably more fear than his words did.

The doctor smiled, and flicked his left hand to reveal a small handkerchief up his sleeve. He put the cloth to the man's nose, as if to wipe it.

The scent was pleasant. Keen suddenly released the man, who by reflex grabbed the handkerchief to his mouth.

The doctor watched with satisfaction as the puzzled expression on the keeper's face changed, the poison beginning to work. In a moment his eyes grew large and he began to gag. Keen stood as the man fell back, his chest heaving wildly.

"The pity is, that was my last bit of
Convallaria,"
Keen said as he stood. "I shall have to rely on other potions for the duration of my trip. But I suppose one must make do in the wild. Here — " Keen dug into a small pocket in his vest and retrieved a crown. "This should more than pay for my breakfast. I'd stay and chat with your wife, but duty calls. Besides, I wouldn't want to intrude on your wedded bliss. You can keep the handkerchief."

By now the unfortunate man had collapsed to the floor, his chest heaving in a spasmodic fit. Keen's words were well beyond him; he would spend at least another half hour in convulsions, and then steadily waste away. By evening, his young wife would be a widow.

Keen picked his hat off the wall post where he had left it and placed it on his head. The beaver was put up as a tricorner, folded in three places in a style quite common in the colonies; he fancied it made him look almost like a native. Steadying it on his head, he tapped his cane at the door and called to the girl who must still be hiding in the back room.

"If you see the Dutchman, tell him that Major Dr. Keen is looking for him. He'll come to recognize the handiwork, I daresay."

 

 

 

-Chapter Eleven-

 

Wherein, Jake and van Clynne meet on the road and have
a salty time.

 

T
here was nothing
like the prospect of a quick and reasonable profit to motivate Claus van Clynne, and as his contemplated salt sale would not only benefit the American Cause but establish the basis for many more transactions, the squire goaded his newly purchased ox with whip and song. The latter was a ditty of his own creation, roughly to the tune of an old Dutch love song, built around the refrain:

Nothing moves a fighting man

like a bellyful of salt,

Except of course a kettle full

of heavenly fermented malt.

For obvious reasons the reader will be spared further description.

The Dutchman saw but ignored the clouds starting to gather on the horizon; though still miles from the encampments, he would have his wares unloaded and sold well before rain arrived. At moments like this, his patriotism knew no bounds, and he had entirely forgotten his anger at being treated as a mere subaltern by Jake. A less troubled disposition could not be found for many miles.

He was thus taken largely by surprise when the woods around him erupted with Indian war whoops.

Van Clynne's travels prior to the war had made the Dutchman something of an expert on the various sounds emitted by northeastern natives; none of these fell into any recognizable category. His puzzlement was cured directly, when the figures emerging from the brush proved not to be Indians at all, but base imposters — Tory thieves.

"Halt!" shouted the leader, whom we already know as Captain Busch.

"What's the meaning of this?" demanded van Clynne. "And what is all this nonsensical shouting?"

"I arrest you in the name of George the Third," declared Busch. "Smith, get down from your horse and truss him."

Smith, of course, was our Jake Gibbs, who was dressed so oddly that van Clynne scarcely had a chance to recognize him as he swung from his saddle.

But recognize him he did. Jake saw the look in his face, and realized the puff of breath the Dutchman took was preparatory to an exclamation. He therefore thought it expedient to wield his carbine—butt-end first—in a preemptive strike. He smashed van Clynne in the stomach, knocking the air out of him and sending him backwards into his cargo.

"Don't curse King George, even under your breath, you damned rebel pig!" Jake shouted.

Van Clynne gagged in confused response. Jake slapped him across the face with his open hand. It was an authentically fierce blow, and the Dutchman only barely held on to his wits.

"Play along," hissed Jake as he reached an arm down to van Clynne. "You don't know me."
"Sir!"
"Out of the cart, weasel, before I strike you again. I'd show a dog more mercy."

The Tories were an amused audience as van Clynne was unceremoniously kicked toward the dust. While some part of him realized he must play along with this charade, a greater part expressed indignation at having to take even an ersatz Tory's orders. And so when Jake commanded him again to get on his knees and profess his allegiance to the king, the Dutchman declined.

"Claus van Clynne goes on his knees to no man. Who are you sir, and who are your band of bowl-capped pirates?"

"We are loyal subjects of His Majesty," proclaimed Jake. "Rangers of service to Earl Graycolmb, who has given us warrant and funds to operate here as an adjunct to His Majesty's Marines."

His fellow marauders choked with pride at Jake's pronouncement, little realizing that his intent was to give van Clynne enough information to have them all arrested. "Treat us with papers that profess your loyalty, or we will treat you to the gibbet."

Any lingering skepticism about Jake's abilities were removed by this performance, and a few Tories were heard to remark that this new fellow was quite a comer.

"I would sooner give my papers to a pole cat than to someone with such ill taste as to dress in a green coat."

"Tie the rebel up," ordered Busch. "We'll take his cargo under tow. I know several farmers who would welcome it."

Now van Clynne became even more upset, objecting that the Tories had no right to take his goods. His words were met by a rope held at arm's length by two rangers, who used it to tie him to a tree.

"Take the sugar but leave me the salt," offered van Clynne. His magnanimous gesture was met by a titter of laughter. "You're making a dreadful mistake. I was on my way to New York City to deliver this salt to General Howe himself. I am a loyal follower of King George."

"A gallows conversion if ever I heard one," said one of the Tories.
Well, it wasn't actually a Tory. It was Jake.
"I expected better of you, sir," said van Clynne indignantly. "I trusted that—"
The end of the sentence was lost in the swallow of air that followed a fresh blow to the Dutchman's waist.
"I remember this man from the inn," said Jake. "He was trying to make love to the judge's niece."
"Not a crime, surely," said van Clynne weakly.
"Yes, I remember him, too," said Busch. "Why did you not come out to us if you were on your way to New York?"

"You what? Speak up." Jake patted his back; to the others it appeared as if he were helping van Clynne catch his breath, but he chose his spots and his timing to produce the opposite effect
— V
an Clynne's chokes became uncontrollable, his face now the shade of a beet after it has simmered in a Dutch oven for three hours.

"Perhaps he meant there were too many rebels around," said Jake, looking up. "I had that impression myself. Here, sir, you sound as if you're drowning on dry land. Let me loosen your waistcoat." He reached into van Clynne's jacket and quickly rifled through the folded papers he knew the Dutchman kept there until he found one marked with a red seal.

"A-hah! And what is this!" he exclaimed triumphantly, as if introducing the last piece of invented evidence before an Admiralty court.

As Jake knew from experience, however, the letter proved to be a pass from General Howe himself, admitting van Clynne into New York City. It was, like every other paper in the Dutchman's pockets, forged, but neither Busch nor the others had any way of knowing that.

"We'll have to let him go," said the captain, after examining the pass. "But we'll keep the salt and sugar. If he's truly a loyal citizen, he shouldn't mind donating it to the cause of king and country. General Howe won't miss it."

Van Clynne stifled his protest with great difficulty.

"I'd like his horse as well," said one of the Tories, who was riding a nag older than several of the surrounding hills. "It's a fine-looking animal."

"We can't just take a man's horse," said Captain Busch.

"Perhaps he'll donate it," suggested Jake, walking back to van Clynne. He was between the Dutchman and the rest of the party, and they could not see the wink he gave him.

Whether van Clynne actually saw this signal or not, he wasn't about to give up his horse voluntarily. "That animal has been in my family for many years," he objected, wincing as he prepared for another blow from his erstwhile friend.

"Meet me on the road just above Pine's Bridge tonight. Wait for me," whispered Jake under his breath, adding in a louder voice, "Perhaps a little close negotiation will help you arrive at a reasonable price."

"Leave off, Smith," commanded Busch. "You've no right to hit him. He has a legal pass, however he's obtained it. He can keep his horse. We'll borrow his ox and wagon — Sergeant, prepare a receipt." Busch turned toward van Clynne, who was still gathering his breath. "It can be redeemed from the quartermaster corps in New York City when you arrive there. You have my signature upon it. Tell me, have you seen a tall man traveling by himself in a brown coat, with fine black boots and a fresh Quaker hat?"

"Sir," said van Clynne weakly, "you describe half the inhabitants of the country."

"Describe your horse to him, Smith," directed Busch.

"Black, a bit wobbly but a faithful animal, nonetheless. Five years old, if a day." A nearly imperceptible shake of his head gave van Clynne his answer.

"I have seen neither," said the Dutchman. "Or I have seen them all — gentlemen, I assure you, the description could be applied to half the equine population of the colony, if not the continent."

"Untie him and let us be gone," commanded Busch.

"Yes, sir." Jake reached into his belt for his elk-handled knife and flashed it before the Dutchman's face before slicing his ropes. "Don't fail me," he whispered. "Have Old Put put the troops guarding the chain on alert."

"I will do nothing of the sort!" yelled van Clynne, looking back to Busch. "I would sooner kiss my horse than lick your boots!"

The whole company laughed and applauded as Jake gave the Dutchman one last kick and returned to his horse. Even Busch smiled as they rode off in train. Van Clynne was left to cough the dust out of his lungs and clear his eyes, which he did to the accompaniment of a loud chorus of Dutch oaths.

The bruises Jake administered were real enough, and if van Clynne had suffered far worse during his career, still it grated him that these had been inflicted by a supposed friend and ally. Indeed, it seemed inconceivable that a true patriot could strike another — perhaps van Clynne had misjudged his companion's allegiance after all.

As that would have involved a sizeable flaw on his part — indeed, it would be such a gross mistake in judgment that it was inconceivable
any
Dutchman could make it — van Clynne quickly dismissed it.

BOOK: The Iron Chain
3.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend by Robert James Waller
Ripple Effect by Sylvia Taekema
You're Not Broken by Hart, Gemma
God's Favorite by Lawrence Wright
Crane by Rourke, Stacey