Spies and Tories: A Novel

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 1999-07-01
  • Publisher: Sunstone Pr
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In war-torn New York in 1776, cannon and broadsides echo over Brooklyn as refugees clog the roads to Queens. Fear is rampant as British soldiers round up rebel sympathizers. But in spite of the danger, a young Quaker, Robert Townsend, enters the struggle for American independence. His father, wealthy merchant and ship owner, Samuel Townsend, has already been thrown into prison. Outraged by the careless administration of General William Howe, the callous treatment of the population, and horrified by inhuman conditions in British prisons, Robert becomes a spy. He poses as a loyal Tory merchant and journalist while he and his comrades subvert, smuggle and burn. The invasion penetrates Robert's childhood home in Oyster Bay where British Captain John Graves Simcoe is quartered. Lonely and embarrassed by the excesses of his own army, Simcoe befriends Robert's sister, Sally, and they fall in love. Meanwhile, secrecy and fear wear on the honest young Quaker. He finds comfort and love in the arms of a fellow spy, a woman more daring and committed than himself. But she i


Chapter One

Sorrow and terror seize the Yankee race
When the brave Briton looks them in the face.

    The dawn was fiery red. The Flatbush Road was dusty and dry. The line of militia crouched behind jagged earthworks along the plain. Determined and grim, farmer and fisherman rallied to the cause. They knelt in granite stillness, muskets primed, targets sighted, sweating, waiting. Behind, on the heights above them, a second line, a bright glistening stubble of bayonets, wavered in the summer heat. The two colonial lines dominated the plain below and watched the enemy advance.

    The 17th Light Dragoons, the 42nd Black Watch, the 71st Highlanders, guards and grenadiers and twelve more regiments, marched toward them on the horizon's rim. The British rose like the sun from the southern shore. The red of their coats shone like the sun's own fire. The clamber of artillery and tramp of feet rumbled like thunder over the ground.

    Robert Townsend rode down from the heights, reined in his horse and swallowed hard. He was on his way home. It lay beyond the plain and the field of fire, beyond this last line of men and weapons. He had cut the first line. He had tried to cut the second twice but the crush of refugees had driven him back. From his seat atop his horse, he stared down on the soldiers' backs, on grimy, sunburned necks, dark bands of sweat where shoulder blades poked holes through linsey shirts. Bleak profiles turned briefly to bite off charges, pour black powder down musket barrels and ram the lead balls home. Artillerymen stood by cannon in the forward redoubts, tompions and matches at the ready. They were young men, old men. Some of his neighbors were here, merchants like himself. And some marched in red with the other side. Robert Townsend stood apart from both.

    The distant red line fired a smooth volley. The noise was deafening; the smoke blinding. He heard an eager captain shout, "Fools! They be not yet in range!" Suddenly the captain looked back at Robert, "Do ye come to join us man?"

    "I would go to my home." Robert had to shout. He pointed east down the road toward the advancing red line.

    "To the King's men! We'll not let you pass to join the enemy! They are tyrant's rogues! We unhorse cowards like you but I'll not now call my men from their labor!" He reached out, seized Robert's rein and shouted, "Fire!" An earsplitting volley split the air. Robert's horse leaped back, jerking the captain off his feet but his iron grip held the rein. The red line swelled and advanced relentlessly. The captain cursed and looked enviously at Robert's bay. "General Stirling needs a good horse! We need men in the line!"

    "I am neutral, Quaker!" Robert tried to loosen the captain's hold.

    The man screeched with laughter, tightened his grip and shouted for help. "Bloody Quaker shirker! A horse for the general! A horse for our baggage! Horsemeat for dinner! A man is neutral but not his horse!" Men left their posts and circling, began to close in. Desperate, Robert took a knife from his belt and swiped down on the rein. It snapped. The captain drew his hand away quickly as Robert spurred the frightened horse forward. The beast lunged through the line of battle, running madly down the length. Men leaped out at him in an effort to catch the prize.

    Robert Townsend steered the racing horse north to the end of the line. The colonial volley crashed behind him, and another volley rattled from somewhere off to his right. Robert looked back once to see white surprise in the eyes of the commanders, glassy fear in the open mouths of the militiamen. Another red line had emerged from behind hills in the east. The soldiers forgot the horse. He slowed and blinked his stinging eyes. They ached in the glare of the dawning sun and the parched smoke of battle. His heart thumped wildly. His hands groped for wounds about himself and his horse. He was unhurt. The precise British fire, the rhythm of their marching feet, echoed in his ears. With his single rein he turned his terrified animal. They plunged into the sheltering woodlands and cover.

    He stopped there and turned to watch the battle lines converge. The line of colonials faltered and the ragged Americans ran, first a few, then groups. Then the whole line crumbled. The Americans were flanked! Musket fire, shouting officers, the scuffle of running feet, the crash and boom of the guns continued, and the colonials broke into headlong flight up the Flatbush Road to the heights of Brooklyn.

    Flames licked the well-tilled fields. Livestock ran in panic. The colonials felled trees, broke storage cisterns and dikes, flooding the low-lying areas to slow the British advance. But the redcoats came on like the ancient red plague that turned the waters to blood.

    Robert Townsend dismounted to walk his lathered horse. He cut a strip from his belt for a new rein and moved farther into the wood. Gradually, his breathing slowed. He knew what had happened. General William Howe had sailed his army east, marched through a gap in the Jamaica hills and come at the Americans from the side and rear. Sullivan was to blame. He was new to the command, had no time to consult Putnam and Woodhull, did not know the territory, had fortified the Bedford and Flatbush passes but had forgotten Jamaica. Nathaniel Greene would not have forgotten. Now it was too late. The island had succumbed.

    Robert Townsend pushed on through the brush to the road and a tangle of frightened humanity. He rode with them to Bedford, where they came within shouting distance of British sentries. He turned north again, crossed the Jamaica Road minutes ahead of the advancing British and galloped madly for the thick forest of Queen's County.

    He was not alone. It was midday. Frightened residents dribbled into the sheltering trees: a farmer with his wife and babe in arms, his sheep and goats and the milk cow on a tight tether; a boatman in straw hat and bare feet with his meager possessions tied in a rude cloth; a smithy, his huge muscles bulging with the weight of his tools that he carried on his back. Robert dismounted, set the farmer's wife on his horse and tramped on. Her husband simply turned, grimaced and kept going. The woman was pale with fear.

    The afternoon turned hot with the itching, penetrating wetness that seeps into pores and spells an oncoming storm. They slashed their way through heavy undergrowth. Few spoke, but Robert did learn their names. Jacob Crosswell was the farmer and the boatman's name was Muirson. The smithy scowled suspiciously when asked his name and turned away from their path deeper into the anonymity of the wilds.

    The little group trudged on through the stout vines and heavy greenery of late summer, over great fallen trunks and glacial outcrops, through swamps and across rills of clear water. Robert had faint glimpses of the noon sun through the leafy canopy. Gradually he realized that they did not know where they were going. They were running aimlessly in a frantic rush to the shoreline. No one had thought of what they would find when they got there.

    In the afternoon, the sun darkened and it began to rain, small spitlike drops and then heavy pouring streams that churned the earth to bog. But the rain killed the awful heat. It washed the blood from Muirson s feet. It ran down Robert's clothing into his boots and sloshed like great puddles around his feet. He wrapped his cloak around the woman and finally spoke. "There is a meeting house at Flushing and another at Manhasset where you will be safe for the night and sheltered from the elements. I will contact a friend who will take you across to Connecticut." The woman's eyes widened in disbelief.

    Her husband was suspicious and questioned, "The meeting house? Are you Quaker? How do you come by such friends?"

    Robert answered forthrightly, "My father owns ships and can send a launch.... Muirson here can man an oar. So can you." The animals would not fit in a launch. He added as an afterthought, "Yes I am Quaker, neutral."

    The farmer grumbled in his beard. "They will not let you be neutral! Who is your father?"

    "Samuel Townsend of Oyster Bay." "The same who was delegate to the Provincial Congress?"

    "The same. I am his third son, Robert."

    The farmer's dark eyes softened and he held out his hand. "I am in your debt, Robert Townsend."

    They reached Flushing that first night and found shelter under a haystack. It rained all through the night. They arrived at Manhasset the next. The rain had stopped but a dense humid mist hovered over the water. Muirson found a skiff hidden in the salt marshes of the bay. They did not wait for the promised launch but in their haste turned the animals out to range and piled into the skiff with whatever they could carry, two men a woman and a baby, rowing hastily, desperately, for the Connecticut shore. Robert watched them disappear into the fog. They had left their dog, a brown mastiff, panting on the shore, with the milk cow. Robert took up the tether. He could not leave the cow who would become prey to roaming wolves.

    Alone again, Robert Townsend led the weary animals to the wagon road and started once more for home. The dog followed. The cow slowed his progress. At the Parrish farm, he learned how Stirling had surrendered and how the greater part of the Colonial Army had escaped. They had built up their blazing campfires even in the rain to distract and deceive the British. Stout fishermen from Marblehead, Bay Colony men, had manned oars against time and tide and shuttled the ragged army to the temporary safety of the tiny city of New York, at the tip of Manhattan Island. Soldiers had swarmed like insects over the cliffs of Brooklyn into every saucer of a boat that could carry them. It was not good news. Farmer Parrish would not speak his fear but Robert could read his eeyes An invading army was coming. Robert Townsend felt icy fingers of fear invade his chest and squeeze the blood from his heart. But Washington, his army and many of their neighbors, had escaped. Their absence would betray their allegiance. Their lands and their livestock would be forfeit.

    He had delayed warning his family by two days. Had they heard? Was his father, Samuel, prepared to protect himself? Possibly to flee with the others? And what would become of his mother and sisters and the slaves and the house called Raynham Hall, and the fields and orchards and animals and the Townsend ships in Oyster Bay? What would become of him, Robert Townsend? He was an affable young man, twenty-six years old, broad-shouldered and brown-haired, blue-eyed and handsome. He would be expected to join up and fight.

    At Jericho, he looked back and saw that the dog had disappeared. He jogged down the familiar South Road through the tall, sweet-smelling pines in the hollow just beyond the town. All was quiet. The smell of fresh earth permeated the air. He passed the Underhill Farm and the Weekes' house, homes of his closest neighbors. Animals grazed behind sturdy rail fences. Wheat and corn yellowed in neat fertile rows and apple trees dappled the higher hills with shade. A swift stream coursed through the hollow and cold springs spouted pure, potable water. The land was kind.

    Robert Townsend turned into the lane toward the quiet of Raynham Hall, his family home. The hall faced south. Two tall maples stood in front, to the right and left of the craggy locust called the whipping tree. The trees speckled the white shingles with welcome shade in the humid warmth of late summer. A picket fence defined the yard and small garden on the west side. Beyond the garden, lay an orchard. Nothing was disturbed. He had come in time.

    Robert tied the horse to a post in the shade and handed the cow to Cob. Cob was the slave who tended the animals. The dogs jumped up to greet their master. He leaped over the gate, flung open the door and stomped into the hall. The door bounced back noisily against the wall and rattled the clock which promptly struck noon. Carelessly, he dropped his dirty coat on the wide plank floor.

    A cane rapped the floorboards in the gloomy interior and a brittle voice called, "Gently, Robert, you'll break the hinges.

    "I've brought us a new cow, mother!" Robert Townsend ignored his mother's rebuke and looked past her at a lithe female silhouette emerging from behind the stairs. "Sally, is that you?" His hair was disheveled; his face flushed with the summer heat. Sweat stained his linen shirt which hung over his belt. He rubbed his eyes. They had not adjusted to the shadowy interior.

    "Surely, Rob, you recognize your own sister! Audrey's in the parlor. I'll hang your coat." Sally Townsend stooped to pick up his soiled garment. Loose red hair fell gracefully over the pale skin of her neck. Even here in the dark hall, the sheen of her hair dulled by the shadows, his sister was very beautiful. Robert stomped the mud from his boots. "Sally, where's father?" There was a sharp urgency in the tremor of his voice. "You've heard the news?"

    Sally's voice was calm. She cocked her head knowingly, "That His Majesty's fleet is off Brooklyn and the British are coming ashore .... "She leaned forward to embrace him, "What, no hug for your favorite sister! You've been gone a week!"

    Sarah Townsend, a large woman leaning on a silver-tipped cane, appeared at the parlor door. She turned a demanding cheek toward her son. "And a proper kiss for your ailing mother, Robert!"

    Robert Townsend brushed his lips lightly against her cheek. He was not a tall man, the shortest of the four Townsend brothers and the same height as his sister, but intelligent eyes danced happily in his rosy face. His usual expression was a broad smile, his demeanor open and friendly. He possessed an inner warmth that Sally and everyone who knew him, loved. It marked the upturned creases at the edges of his eyes and the smoothness of his brow. But now the muscles of Robert Townsend's face were tight, his lips drawn thin and blue, and his eyes narrowed and bloodshot.

    Sally studied him more closely. In all her nineteen years, she had never seen him so grim, but his anxiety did not dull her cheerfulness. "William and David have joined the loyalists." She added with hesitancy, "To fight..." William and David, their brothers, were not practicing Quakers. "The Katherine and the Weymouth just dropped anchor. Father's on the beach, overseeing the landing."

    Robert's words broke loose suddenly in short staccato breaths, "Sally, mother, Putnam is routed! Sullivan is taken! The British came ashore at Gravesend day before yesterday, fifteen thousand of them, enough soldiers to equal the entire population of the city! They will not leave us to life as we know it." When the women stared unbelieving, he rattled on, "They come like a horde, with muskets and cannon, cavalry and foot! Washington's entire army is scurrying to Manhattan Island. Weapons, powder, cannon, valuable animals, they abandon all in the road and jump into the river with only the clothing on their backs!"

Sarah Townsend punctuated his speech with rap of her cane, "Surely you exaggerate, my dear boy....The British shall restore order."

    Robert gagged. "Mother, they are invading the island! They'll arrest father as a member of the Provincial Congress!"

    Sarah's composure shocked Robert. "What an imagination you have, silly boy! Your father has never gone to Philadelphia, did not join those foolish Livingstons in signing that outrageous declaration! Your father only wants to be treated as a proper citizen of England and he supports His Majesty and so do I! Come, help me to my chair." She leaned her heavy bulk on Robert's strong arm.

    "Mother, you are mistaken. You cannot speak for father." His mother chose not to hear. Robert Townsend clamped his jaws together and helped his crippled mother to her mahogany armchair. His fists balled tightly; the veins in his temples throbbed. Two tiny vertical lines carved worry in the smooth skin over the bridge of his nose. In his mind, vivid as flames that danced against a fireback, he pictured the ranks of redcoats piling onto the Jamaica Road. He pictured the flight and the panic of his countrymen. It was a scene he would never forget. This quiet parlor, the ample chairs, the desk with its books, his great grandfather's sword hanging over the hearth, were diminishing in his mind's eye with every advancing step of each British soldier. Siege, invasion, arrest, escape - it had come to this! A rebellion, the British called it. He had not intended it. Samuel Townsend had not intended it. The Continental Congress had not intended it, until the first shot was fired. Now armies were on the march and Sarah Townsend sat arranging her voluminous skirts about the claw and ball feet of her chair.

    Sally lingered at the parlor door. Micah Strong to whom she was to be married was fleeing with General Israel Putnam's army.

    Robert read her thoughts. "Sally, Micah is hardy. Don't fear for him.... Fear for this village as we know it! Fear for father who is old. He will rue the day he put his quill to paper and signed his name in public protest!" All the elder Townsends, Robert's father and uncles, had openly supported the Philadelphia Congress against the injustices of Parliament.

    Robert Townsend pushed past his sister, through the kitchen and out the back door. He ran across the orchard and emerged on the gravelly shore of Oyster Bay. Sally hiked up her skirts and ran after him.

    Twin sloops, square-rigged and triple-masted, rocked peacefully at anchor. On the near ship, the Katherine, seamen were busy furling the canvas and unloading the cargo. The Katherine and her twin, the Weymouth, had been 22-gun fighting ships of the Royal Navy. They had been decommissioned and sold to Samuel Townsend as transports. Now they plied the West Indian seas, not for war, but for profit. Casks of rum groaned against the gunwales as the hefty seamen hoisted them into wherrys and rowed them ashore. Rum, indigo, coffee and sugar were the stuff of Samuel Townsend's profits. He was a rich man. As a Quaker, he did not deal in slaves or the materials of war.

    Robert scanned the shore frantically for his father. He was not there. Finally, he spotted Samuel aboard the Katherine, reviewing bills of lading with her Captain, James Farley.

    Robert ran to the nearest boat, heaved the last cask up onto the beach and seized the hapless oarsman by the collar. "Back out to the Katherine on the instant. He shouted to Sally, "Go home Sis! See to mother!"

    Sally did not easily take orders from her brother. She came after him, skirts trailing across the beach through shallow tidal pools. "You'll not dismiss me so easily, Robert Townsend!"

    The stubborn oarsman grimaced at Robert. "Only a damn lubber would ask a sailor to put back to sea when he has his Captain's leave and four month pay!"

    Robert clenched his fists, swallowed a curse and shouted, "A guinea to the man who'll row me to the Katherine.

    A black-bearded whaler overheard the plea. He smelled heavily of rotten fish. "It's Rob Townsend with a harpy on his heels!" Robert splashed to his boat. "Brewster, by God!

    Sally Townsend reached the waterline as Robert jumped in the boat and Brewster pushed into the shallows. She screamed after them. "I am not a harpy, Caleb Brewster! Robert Townsend, come back here or I'll swim to the Katherine!" It was a vain, threat. When she was a freckle-faced girl, she would have swum like a mermaid across the bay. Now she was a woman ruled by the constraints of her sex. She stood frustrated, angry, oblivious to the appraising glares of the sailors.

    Brewster eyed her with admiration. As he rowed swiftly out beyond her reach, he shouted back, "A woman aboard's bad luck,-Miss! Unsettles a lusty crew! And you're not a harpy! You're a siren! Yours are the irresistible charms that can lure a good seamen onto the rocks to spend an inglorious night upon the dry land!" He stood up in the wobbly boat and bowed. Brewster was a whaler salty in his speech, flamboyant in his actions.

    Sally's eyes spouted fury as fiery as the sun's reflections on the red sheen of her hair. "Pull in your horns, Caleb Brewster, and save your insults for your scurvied crew! Dry land couldn't stand the smell of you!"

    A sudden wave struck the boat and Brewster fell back in embarrassment. He turned his attention to Robert and shook his shaggy head. "I'd swim ashore if I thought she'd give me a care! Damn her insolent soul! You've a beautiful sister, Rob, far above my station. With your permission, I'll admire her from a distance." His eyes lit up with glee as he winked at Robert, "But that's a foul mouth in a pretty head, Rob! She's been cavorting with sailors to speak so bold!

    "She has four brothers, Caleb, who taught her language."

    "And a mother who would wash her mouth with lye if she heard ....I apologize, Rob, if I've offended your sister!"

    Robert Townsend laughed. Caleb Brewster picked up the oars and heaved. The distance increased between boat and shore. The two men watched the girlish form as her feet sunk farther into the muck with each ebbing wave. When he was almost out of earshot, Brewster bellowed again, "I'll tell Micah you're contrary as a shark on the hook." Satisfied he'd had the last word, he turned his black-whiskered face to Robert in the stern. He had a mellow voice when he wasn't shouting. "It's a lively time Micah will have with that one."

    Robert shrugged. "My mother ordained the marriage. She thinks Micah will subdue her." He loved his little sister. Boisterous, impetuous, daring to flaunt convention, that was Sally. Quiet, studious Micah Strong would need the patience of a tortoise and the endurance of an ox if the marriage ever came to be, neither of which traits would keep Sally leashed. Brewster would have been a better choice, but the bearded whaler, who butchered and boiled smelly blubber to earn his living, was not a suitable match for a Townsend.

    Samuel Townsend stood amid the clutter, midships, beside the Captain, checking each cask against its bill of lading as it came up from the dark, damp hold. He was surprised to see his son, Robert, who did not like the sea. Robert was happier with two feet on solid ground, than on the rolling, pitching deck of a ship. Robert avoided traveling by ship except for the short trip, to and from their warehouse and small house at Peck's Slip in New York City. He preferred horseback.

    Robert loved horses and human companionship. He had many friends from city and country and was a successful journalist and shopkeeper at 41 Peck's Slip near Pearl Street. There he minded the Townsend warehouse and store from the house across the street. For diversion he rode to hounds over the vast acreage of the Hempstead Plains or raced horses around the Jamaica beaver pond. Samuel loved him as he did all the members of his diverse family. Everyone loved Robert, rebel and Tory alike, except his mother, who preferred his fawning brother William.

    Robert raised his voice in alarm. His left eyelid flicked spasmodically. "Father, the island has fallen. Putnam is in full flight. He has crossed the river to Manhattan! General Howe, the British and Hessians, rule our island!"

    Samuel Townsend's face went white as the snowy hair on his head. He was not young, in his mid-sixties. His hands shook and he dropped his ledger. He spoke weakly, "I did not think it would happen so soon." The on-shore breeze scattered the loose papers across the deck and into the sea.

    Captain Farley scrambled quickly to pick up the papers that were left. "Sir, if I can be of service."

    Samuel placed a hand on his son's shoulder to steady himself. He was a lean, arthritic man, stooped with the beginnings of age. The lines in his face etched deeper and his whole form shook and seemed to deflate, except for his doleful blue eyes which expanded against the pallor of his face. His jaw fell open as if to speak and his lips quivered involuntarily before the words came. "Georgius Rex! Doesn't he comprehend that our quarrel is with Parliament and not the Kingdom?... Captain Farley, please to carry on here." He accepted the crumpled bills from Farley with a trembling hand. "And please to summon Moffet with the launch."

    The Captain nodded obediently.

    Samuel motioned Robert wearily to the ladder and glanced at his watch. "They will be here soon. Come! We must see to more important matters."

    The mate helped him down the ladder and drove the launch forward on the northwesterly breeze, to shore. As they struck the beach, Robert jumped into the shallows. Samuel followed, slipped and went down on one knee. Robert caught him before he fell forward into the water. "Thank you, child." For a moment, a familiar smile brightened the old man's face but he walked ashore woodenly, as a prisoner to a gallows.

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