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Authors: Siri Mitchell

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10

Jeremiah

 

How difficult was it for a person to present herself at a particular place at a particular time? Hadn’t I told that girl to have herself shown to John’s office? At ten o’clock? Late enough to have opened up the tavern, but too early to think too hard yet about the service of dinner. I watched the minute hand of the clock that sat above John’s fireplace round the face once more.

“. . . in any case,” John was saying, “we were told to expect a great uprising of Loyalist support once we occupied the city. And to the general’s surprise, no great numbers have volunteered for the militia.”

“I’m sure they’ll become much more interested once spring begins to melt the snows.” Where was she?

“You’ve lived here long enough. What do you think? Where are all these Loyalists we were promised?”

“Who told Howe to expect them?”

“That fellow who fled this city for New York. What was his name? Gilford? Galliard?”

“Galloway?” Joseph Galloway, Superintendent General of the city.

“That’s the one.”

“Galloway’s entire fortune is linked with this city. He would have promised General Washington’s head if he thought it would make Howe liberate Philadelphia from the rebels.”

John’s eyes went wide. “Are you saying that he lied, then?”

“I’m saying that he might not exactly have been telling the truth. Or if he was, then it was the kind of truth that a man wishes were true . . .”

“As opposed to the kind of truth that is, in fact, true?” John’s face was growing red.

I shrugged.

“These infernal colonists! It’s the way it’s always been with them. Say one thing and do the other entirely.”

Not, of course, like it had been with the Parliament: say one thing and do the other thing instead. Colonials in the army? Why not? Every man just as good as the next, except when it came to commissions. But as much as I wished to say it, as much as I wished to speak of what was unfair and unjust, I did not do it. I could not do it. Not if I wanted to maintain my position as the owner of one of the taverns most friendly to Tories.

Not that I’d had to work very hard to earn that reputation. I was known as the man who had lost his arm in Pontiac’s War. Who would have thought that a veteran would have turned against his old master? Certainly not the hundreds of soldiers who frequented that veteran’s tavern.

I could not afford to have my loyalties questioned, and I didn’t care a fig what the patriots thought of me. Those who had meekly looked on as Howe marched into the city. At least I was doing something about my convictions. “Colonials. Who can trust them?”

John grinned. “Who exactly! Remember Devil’s Hole? And how many of them turned and ran?”

I remembered.

“It was only you and I who held the platoons together.”

It was only me, if I remembered correctly. When the volley had started and the smoke had swirled, I had been the only one left. John had been long gone.

“I’ve always thought fate dealt you a bad hand, Jonesy. You ought to have been born British.”

That was the whole problem: I had been. I’d been born a British citizen on colonial soil. And the British considered me a less desirable kind of citizen for it. If there was any reason Loyalists in the countryside hadn’t risen to Howe’s call, it was that. They’d learned the bitter truth. They were acceptable but only to a point. The point at which they could take a bullet meant for a British officer. “And I’d always thought fate dealt you a bad hand, John. You ought to have been born with a handsomer nose.”

He put a hand up to the nose that projected from his face like a beak.

It gave me immense pleasure to know that I’d reminded him of what he considered to be his only weakness.

“I’ve been tempted to pay one of the boys to break it for me, only I don’t know that I’d end up with anything better.”

“I’d do it for you. For no payment at all.”

“I’ve always said you were the best of fellows!”

And the worst of fools.

The door swung open and a private appeared. Bowed. “A Miss Sunderland to see you, sir.”

John looked toward me and raised a brow as he straightened his queue.

I shrugged.

He stood. “Miss Sunderland. Should I know her?”

I saw Hannah appear in the doorway. Leaned forward while I still had the chance. “The Penningtons’ dance. Last night.”

His brow puckered. Cleared. “The Pennington girl’s cousin. The one you had your eye on!”

He’d said it. Not me. And it served my purposes admirably for him to be reminded of it. I couldn’t have planned the encounter any better than it was unfolding. He glanced at me as he greeted her. “Miss Sunderland. To what do I owe the honor of your presence?”

Hannah glanced at me.

I pointedly turned in the direction of the clock on the mantel. “My. Look at the time.”

A flush lit the tops of her cheeks. “I’ve requested a pass from General Howe to visit my brother, and I wanted to know if my request will be granted.”

John sat. “Your brother?”

“He’s a prisoner in the new jail. On Walnut Street.”

“Well . . . it’s a pity he doesn’t have an equal share of your good sense. He’s a younger brother, I suppose.”

“He’s my twin.”

John eyed me. Looked back at the girl. “A prison is no place for a young woman of your obviously genteel upbringing. And I don’t know that the jailer is used to receiving visitors.”

“He will find me as unobtrusive as a mouse. I only wish to know that my brother is well. And to care for him if need be.”

“You know that there was a prison break in December . . .”

Hannah nodded.

“General Howe has a great fear of visitors being used to pass intelligence. So tell me, Miss Sunderland—”

“Hannah.”

“—Miss Hannah, are you a spy?” Mirth danced in his eyes. He was mocking her. How I wished he knew the truth. It would knock that smirk right off his face. But—she was going to tell the truth. I could see it in her eyes! She opened her mouth. “I cannot—”

“Come, John. The girl’s a Quaker. She’s not used to such games. Her people speak forthrightly and plainly. Please. Be the gentleman that I know you to be. Respond in kind.” I tried to sound as if I was advocating on her behalf. As if she held some interest for me.

“I apologize, Miss Hannah. I have not been gallant.” He slid a glance in my direction. “Not nearly as gallant as Mr. Jones. I believe you had the pleasure of his acquaintance last night.”

She nodded.

“But I wager he did not tell you how he lost his arm.”

“She doesn’t need to know—”

“Did you know that Mr. Jones is a veritable hero?”

The girl’s eyes were growing wide.

“John! You don’t need to—”

“The hero of Devil’s Hole. But I suppose he did not speak of it.”

“I had heard.” And clearly she didn’t thank John for reminding her. Those Quakers could be so stuffy about things they didn’t believe in.

I bowed. “I am so sorry to offend your sensibilities, Miss Sunderland, although the battles fought with the Indians saved our colonists from certain slaughter.”

“Perhaps. Although I might not find myself indebted to thy sacrifice had more sensible heads been allowed to prevail.”

Just like a Quaker. Hang her and all of her kind!

John’s gaze was bouncing between the two of us. “I must apologize for my friend, Miss Hannah. He’s usually not so churlish. In any case, regarding your request.” He sat down behind his desk, pulled a leaf of paper from a drawer, dipped his quill into an inkwell. Scrawled several lines across the page. “I cannot see how General Howe would begrudge a pass for a gentlewoman like yourself.” He took up a tin pounce box, shook some sand onto the letter. Let it rest for a moment before shaking it back into the box. He rose and presented it to her with a flourish.

“I thank thee.”

“And I thank you. For taking such kind interest in this boorish friend of mine.”

She turned her eyes toward me. Her gaze was tempered with frank suspicion.

I didn’t much blame her.

“I must . . . I must leave. Good day.” She turned and walked through the door.

“Thank you ever so much.” I clapped my hat onto my head.

“What? What did I do wrong?”

“It’s Devil’s Hole, you simpleton. They don’t believe in arms!”

“Don’t believe in—?”

I sighed. Pretended myself to be hopelessly set back in my suit by his careless words. “The Quakers. They don’t believe in war. Of any kind.”

“But you were a hero. And I thought I was doing you a favor.”

“Then I beg you: Please, favor me not at all.”

“Well.” He looked at the door, consternation in his eyes. “I suppose . . .” He turned toward me. “I suppose you ought to go after her, then. To smooth over my failings. It seems that I’ve been the boorish one.”

I didn’t need an invitation. I left him without apology and swept out the door.

 

I caught the girl on the stair between the first and second floors. Took hold of her arm as though I was her escort. Leaned close to hiss into her ear, “Hadn’t I said ten o’clock?”

She tried to wrest her arm from mine. “Aye. Thee did.”

“So why did you choose to appear at half past?”

“I did not choose it. ’Twas chosen for me. I had both my mother and an enslaved woman in my train. And I had to figure out what to do about them. It doesn’t do for a girl to go about the city unescorted.”

I had not considered that. If only there was a different way to undertake the planning of the escape. A different method of passing messages. A different person to deliver them. But Miss Hannah Sunderland, Quaker, was all that I had. “Just . . . see to it that it doesn’t happen again.”

She raised her chin and tried to slip past me.

I stopped her by refusing to let go of her arm. By forcing her to turn around and face me.

“You have the pass. Tomorrow I will meet you on Walnut Street between Third and Fourth. At four o’clock. In passing I will hand you the message. After that, you must visit the jail and deliver it to a William Addison as soon as you possibly can.”

“Why William Addison?”

“He’s a sergeant.”

She looked at me as if I had said, He’s a turnip.

“He’s a
sergeant
. He has charge of the men—least those in the cell with him. The British have housed all the officers over at the hospital. The non-commissioned have been left to look after themselves.”

She nodded, though it was not so certain a nod as I would have liked. “William Addison.” She nodded once more. “But thee will make certain that Robert is included in this plan.”

“I will.” I’d tried to. I had made the request in the message, though I doubted the sergeant would be able to do anything about it. If Robert was not in William’s cell, then nothing could be done for him. But Hannah Sunderland didn’t need to know that. All she had to do was deliver the message.

11

Hannah

 

I found Doll at the corner, waiting for me just as she had promised. “I hope thee had no trouble.”

“None but what I could expect.”

I looked to her for further information, but her features revealed nothing but the fact that she wasn’t about to reveal anything to me. I turned in the direction of Spruce Street and began the walk to the Evanses’. Though I didn’t want to spare the time, I’d told Mother I would visit Betsy, so visit I must.

After having stayed there just long enough for warmth to return to my fingers, we started off for the Gilberts’. It did not take more than twenty minutes to reach the Northern Liberties. Once there, Anna Gilbert herself answered my knock.

“Come in, come in! Your mother is still here.” She stepped closer. “And still waiting to read the letter from Virginia.”

I moved aside to let Doll enter, but she did not step up to the invitation. Knowing from prior experience how futile it would be to insist, I sighed and entered first.

The Gilbert girl took my cloak and gestured for Doll’s as well, but she would not surrender it.

“It’s so warm in the parlor, with all the callers.” The Gilbert girl gestured for it once more.

Doll addressed herself to me. “I’ll wait right here, miss, if it’s all the same to you.”

“ ’Tis not the same to me. There’s a fire in the hearth in the parlor and there’s nothing but a chill draft here. Thee will come in with me before the cold makes thee ill.”

Doll cast a leery gaze toward the parlor. We couldn’t see into the room, but we could hear the sounds of many voices coming from it.

I tilted my head in that direction. “Come.”

“Nothing good come from mixing with you people.” She entered the room behind me. “I heard about you. Treating all folks the same as each other.”

“ ’Tis as our Lord said: ‘In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free.’ ”

“Our Lord must not have lived in Philadelphia or He would’ve knowed what’s true. But I can pass a tray as well as anybody.” As we walked into the room, she moved toward a table, picked up the tray that sat upon it, and held it out to Friend Milligan.

That woman looked at it, shook her head, and tried to take it from Doll, to offer it right back the same way she would have done to any of the other guests.

Doll wouldn’t let go of it.

Friend Milligan took hold of it and pulled it from Doll’s hand. “Thee do not want any? Perhaps then some tea?”

Doll shook her head.

“Then, please, take a seat.”

Looking distinctly uncomfortable, Doll sat.

The letter from Virginia eventually made its way to me. I quickly parsed it, trying to find some hope that our Friends there would be soon released, some hidden message behind the innocuous words. Our Friends knew their letters were subject to confiscation. At the very least they expected the letters to be read by guards on both sides of the lines. We knew there would be no protests, no criticism of the jailers in their messages. John Pemberton was ill. John Hunt was recovered. They hoped they might be sent more blankets. Such were the misfortunes of war. Our needs so very great, our hopes so very small.

We left soon after, the three of us.

Mother tried to pull Doll into walking beside us, but she would have none of it. “You can pretend anything you want while you’re among your own kind, but out here on the streets, we in my world. And in my world, we aren’t friends no more than we’re kin.” Giving us a sullen look, Doll dropped back behind us and stayed there until we had reached Pennington House. And then she disappeared around the corner as we walked up the front steps.

 

That evening Major Lindley came to call on Polly. I happened to be crossing from the parlor to the dining room at the time. As he shed his cloak into Davy’s hands, the major saw me. “Miss Hannah!”

“Major Lindley.”

“How does it go with your brother? Did you find him well?”

Davy did not seem to be listening, and no one else was present in the front hall, but I could not keep myself from flinching just the same. I drew near the major, looking up past his rather large nose and into his eyes. “I must ask thee to keep news of the pass between ourselves. My parents must not know that I plan to visit him. They are not . . . pleased with his politics.”

Polly came down the stair at that moment, resplendent in a gown of many colors.

“Ah! So you
are
a spy, then. Of sorts. Have no fear; I shall keep the secret between us.” With a merry wink he took up Polly’s hand as she stepped down into the hall and gave it a kiss.

Secret? I hadn’t meant to ask him to keep a secret. I had only wanted to tell him the truth.

 

The major did not overstay his visit that evening. Polly came into her bedroom just as I was slipping into my bed. The slave named Jenny accompanied her and helped her from her gown. “Major Lindley said you obtained a pass to see your brother.”

I closed my eyes against the news of his perfidy. Had he not told me he would keep the pass a secret? “I had asked him to keep that knowledge to himself, as I must now ask thee to do.”

“Of course I will. But . . . have you been there? Have you seen him?”

“I hope to go tomorrow.”

“How exciting! You must tell me what it’s like. I want to know everything about it!” She made it sound as if I was going to visit General Howe or some other personage she considered just as august.

Jenny helped her into a new shift, brushed out her hair, and warmed her sheets. Then she turned them so Polly could climb into bed.

How exciting!

On that happy thought she soon drifted off to sleep.

On that happy thought I worried through half the night.

 

The next afternoon I tried to leave the house without anyone taking notice. I had not counted on Davy. He sent Doll out to me before I could even protest. She came, grasping her cloak about the throat with one hand and pulling it close about her waist with the other. “Since you consider yourself decent folk, you might consider going out next time at a decent time of day.”

The shadows had grown long and the cold more pronounced. “I’m sorry. I’m expected somewhere. Otherwise . . .” Otherwise I would not have found myself in such a predicament, dependent upon the presence of an enslaved woman. Not for the first time I wondered how exactly it was that I had been caught up in such deception. But that ache of hunger and a bone-chilling cold swept over me and I remembered.

Robert.

He was the reason.

We walked up Walnut Street in silence. Had I tried to speak, the wind would have stolen the words from my lips. It was better to trod, head down, one foot in front of the other. Quite soon we came to Third Street. A look at the way ahead showed Jeremiah Jones walking toward me. I stopped.

Doll ran into me.

This business did not sit well with me. I’d completely forgotten about Doll and I didn’t know what to do with her now. I couldn’t imagine that Jeremiah Jones would want her with me when he passed by with the message. But neither could I imagine what else she would willingly do.

I put my hand on Doll’s arm. “Thee must stand over there, at the corner, for a moment.”

She shook her head as she sighed. “Davy told me to stay with you no matter what you say.”

I looked up toward Jeremiah Jones. I could tell he was frowning beneath the folds of his muffler. He was glaring.

“I have to speak to that man and my words need to be my own.”

Doll shrugged, refused to meet my eyes. “If Davy ever asks, I don’t know nothing about no man.”

“If Davy ever asks, thee may tell him the truth. I would expect no less.”

“The truth.” She nearly spat the words.

“Why would thee ever say anything other?”

“Why? Because there’s the truth and then there’s the
truth
. Ain’t no Negro ever gained nothing by telling the truth. The truth is something I want no part of. You couldn’t make me tell the truth if you whipped me for it.”

I had a mind to stay there and determine exactly what it was that Doll meant, but Jeremiah Jones was still glaring, and I had no desire to further incur his wrath. “Thee can watch me all thee want, only please: do it from the corner.” I did not stay to know what she would do, but stepped out away from her toward Jeremiah Jones.

As I approached him, he put a hand up to his hat. “Hannah.”

I nodded.

He drew even with me, slowing a bit and extending his hand. As he did so, a piece of paper fluttered from it.

I bent to retrieve it before the wind could carry it away, and I offered it out to him.

He took a quick step back, glanced about and then stepped forward, quite close. “That’s for you. To keep.”

“Oh.” Oh! It must be the message of which he spoke.

“Deliver it tomorrow. Remember, it’s for Sergeant William Addison. I’ll meet you in the street after.” He was looking at me as if he wanted to say more, but then he moved away, tipping his hat once more. “Godspeed, Hannah.”

I watched him walk away, wanting to stop him. Cry out to him. I didn’t even know William Addison. How was I to learn who he was? How was I to know what to do? And what did I know about being a spy?

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