Friday, October 12, 2012

A Devil in Jersey: Chapter XIII



Except of Letter to Lieutenant Jonathan Longwynde from the Reverend Samuel Longewynde

We could hear the continuing rattle of the skirmishing muskets and rifles as we rode cross-country northeast towards Princeton. With some difficulty, we by-passed the ill-named village of Maidenhead with its strong garrison. By mid-afternoon, we could hear the distant rumbling of cannon but I could not discern if it meant that the delaying action continued or if Cornwallis was making a general attack on Washington’s main force.

Within an hour or so of sunset, we arrived in the vicinity of Princeton. The farms in the country round about were mostly deserted, many inhabitants having fled the hard hand of the British garrisons. We came across one field in which several haystacks had been burned and two cattle lay dead, eviscerated by a violent attack. No doubt this was the handiwork of the Pine Demon in pursuit of its mother.

“I do believe that we are on the correct trail,” Doctor McCleane observed.

We stopped at one deserted farm, only a mile or so from Princeton. It stood on a small hill from which we could observe that the town itself was heavily garrisoned. I decided that we should stay hidden at the farm until well after dark when we might win our way surreptitiously into the place.

The weather, which had been unseasonably warm for the last few days turned bitterly cold that night. We did not light a fire for fear of alerting the British to our presence. We all therefore huddled under blankets in the main room of the house, taking in turn the task of watching at the windows.

At perhaps nine o’clock that evening, the Doctor took up this duty and decided to walk a bit of it outside the house. He soon observed a large party of armed men moving quietly through a small ravine that ran just below the building. The strangers seemed to observe him and immediately sought cover all of them pointing their guns at him. Fearing an attack, the Doctor used his spring heels to leap into the air.

At this, a familiar voice called out, “Hold yer fire, that there’s the Doc I told ye about.” It was Fennimen.

“How goes the fighting at Trenton?” asked Madame de Bauffremont.

“Tolerable for us but a mite hard for them redcoats. That Prince feller, he migthen not be hauling a full wagonload, but he do know how to scrap.”

Fennimen said he had with him about sixty or so of the riflemen, sent to aid me. Several of them took concealed positions about the grounds whilst most squeezed into the small farmhouse. We took to discussing how best to approach our task. Fennimen offered to reconnoiter the town and so chose two other riflemen to accompany him, both he claimed were excellent woodsmen. Rebecca insisted she be permitted to go as well, offering that Chief Black Turtle had schooled her far better in the ways of woods than any white man could know.

They returned about midnight to report that the main body of the garrison, some 300 men or so, was gathered upon the grounds of Nassau Hall, site of the College of New Jersey. Fennimen reported that he also recognized some of Scratch’s Pine Robbers amongst the soldiers. Far more troubling was his report that the interior of the Hall was ablaze with strange lights, flashing like lightening.

Madame de Bauffremont observed that this sounded like some sort of alchemical procedure. This theory was seconded by the Doctor who suggested that electrical force was also no doubt being used to revive dead Mother Leeds.

“I recall reading about a case that claimed a successful reanimation. It occurred in the Germanies, a certain Baron Franken--“

“Hold on, Doc, afore ye git us lost in Germany,” Fennimen interrupted, “let me tell ye that it appears most of them redcoats are fixing to leave. Other than the 300 at the College, the rest of the town is all astir. I’d say two full regiments, some dragoons, and bits and pieces from here and there together with a couple braces of cannons, maybe a thousand all told, forming up on the main road down to Trenton.”
“Going to reinforce Cornwallis, no doubt,” I said.

“I reckon so. “

“Then we shall wait until they set off, it will be far easier to approach the town when most of the troops have left.”

Therefore, we settled down to wait further. Just after midnight, one of the riflemen who had been standing watch let me know that a troop of about forty dragoons had arrived. This proved to be the City Troop from Philadelphia, led by none other than the Prince and his two companions along with Mrs. Daggett and Zizzendorf. Margaret Dalby had acted as their guide, being familiar with all these back roads from her ridings as Black Meg.

Given the small garrison that remained and the size of our own party, I determined that a sudden, direct attack, what the soldiers call a coup de main, would be the most assured means of stopping the return of Mother Leeds to this world.

Thus in the early hours of the morning, we began sending the riflemen in groups of two and three to work their way into the buildings near the College. They would take up position and, upon my signal, begin to shoot down the sentries.

The dragoons under the Prince would approach the College grounds on foot by means of a wooded gulley that would bring them very near Nassau Hall unobserved. They would charge building from the flank, using musket fire and grenadoes to further disconcert the enemy. If all went well, we would enjoy the element of surprise and so gain entry to the Hall and destroy Leeds and her offspring.

We also had the expectation that Washington’s army would arrive not too long after dawn and so I hoped, if any misadventure would arise, reinforcements would be close at hand.

I distributed the Cold Iron shot amongst our party and gave the Cold Iron tomahawk to Rebecca. In addition, the Doctor had his water piston filled with holy water for use in disconcerting the demon further. These weapons we hoped to reserve for our fight should the creature try to intervene and to put the final stroke up Mother Leeds corpse.

I also strapped to my back the old claymore sword that the men of the 42nd Regiment had given me for my aid to them at the terrible fight at Bushy Run, a battle that now seemed impossibly long ago.

Rebecca and I accompanied Fennimen and about half a dozen riflemen in entering the town. I must report that I had not realized the extent of your sister’s uncanny ability at the moving the woods. Several times, she prevented me from giving away our game by my clumsy stumbling about. We finally arrived at a house directly next to the College Yard. From the attic of this house, we had an unobstructed view of the College Yard.

All was in readiness as the first light of dawn crept over the horizon. Shortly thereafter, the long column that Fennimen had seen began to march away from the town. The despicable Colonel Mayhood led it and I blessed the thought that we would not be troubled by that bloody-minded scoundrel in the coming fight. As they marched off, I thought there might be a chance that Washington would miss this force completely and so gain the town and its contents with little fighting, a goal for which I prayed.

We soon began to hear musket fire coming from not too far a distance off and I surmised that Mayhood’s column had encountered some part of Washington’s army.

With the sound of firing arousing the remaining garrison, there was little reason to delay further our attack. I aimed a musket at one of the closer sentries and fired. I believed I hit him for when the smoke cleared, he was not to be seen. In the next instant, sixty rifle shots rang out and half as many of the British sentries were felled. Fennimen was next to me and fired up at the figures that were standing in guard in the walkway on the roof of the Hall.

The fusillade had done its work, most of the armed sentries had been shot down, and the remainder of the troops had been too scrambled to make sense of the havoc that had been just unleashed upon them.

Excerpt from A Hussy’s Progress, the Autobiography of Moll Daggett

Chapter the Fourth
How I Become an Honest Woman, Continued

Twas a cold crisp morning as we crouched in the woods near to the big schoolhouse, awaiting the signal to attack.

At first, we had been pleased that most of the garrison was marching away but then the Prince said to wait a tad. He hastily scribbled a note of warning to send to Washington that near a thousand lobsterbacks twere on the road and like to encounter them at some point. This word he sent by one of the dragoons.

The sound of increasing firing told us that either the message did not reach Washington timely or mayhaps the Prince’s message was misconstrued, it being writ with colored wax and consisting mostly of stick images of the English marching towards Trenton.

Then much closer, we heard the rifle bullets wizzing death to them what stood betwixt us and the body of Mother Leeds.

A sudden, up sprang the feather-wit Prince, drawing his saber. Then came that damnable “View Hawwoo” and he was off, charging across an open field to the side of the big hall.

A sentry who had been untouched by the riflemen stood to bar his way. As the soldier pointed his firelock at the Prince, Leopold leapt o’er him, moving ever so slowly, as one twould see in a dream. The sentry followed the flying royal with his gun at his shoulder. Just as he twas about to fire, Leopold’s hounds struck the soldier from behind and he fell, well-trounced, whilst his musket fired harmlessly into the air.

Meanwhile, Leopold’s strange flight came to an end afore a large barricaded amusette. The boy’s speed changed once more and he seemed to move at the double quick, cutting down the two men who crewed the big murther gun. He waived his fly splitter for us to come after him. Then he charged in amongst the tents surrounding the Hall, his voice singing, “Chiwdwen of the Woods, come to me!”

“Oh, Good Lord, he will have us knee-deep in squirrel again,” grumbled Major Zed.

“Quit yer bellyaching!” I shouted to lardbelly. “There’s a fine fight to be had and a mountain of grub at ‘tend of it.”

“Food? Why did not you say so? CHARGE!”

Except of Letter to Lieutenant Jonathan Longwynde from the Reverend Samuel Longewynde

I saw the Prince break from cover and charge into the British camp. He was followed by a surprisingly spry Major Zagloba. The dragoons, along with Zizzendorf, Mrs. Daggett, and Margaret Dalby followed immediately after. They all came to the fence surrounding the College yard and fired their carbines into the camp, raising even greater panic among its inhabitants.

A small file of British troops, the few who retained some order, charged from the yard directly towards the house from which we were firing. As they approached, Madame de Bauffremont ran to the window and flung a small vial into their midst. A tremendous explosion followed, putting an end to their charge.

I had seen that a cannon had been emplaced directly in front of the main entrance to Nassau Hall. I told Fennimen to have his riflemen shoot down the crew.

Then, with Rebecca at my side, I ran from the house, toward this gun, intending to turn it and use it to blast open the doors to the Hall.

As I was thus proceeding, Rebecca chanced to see a figure in dark clothes cowering in a tent. Having told her about our encounters with Smythe and Johnstone, she approached the tent with pistol and tomahawk in her hands.

It proved to be Johnstone thus cowering. She said ever so sweetly to him that he could either stand with his masters and die here or else throw in his lot with us for we had need of intelligence about his master’s doings.

Seeing the well used arms in her hands, Johnstone hesitated for but a moment and cried out, “I’ve had enough! I don’t care if he is married to my sister and I needed the employment, what he is doing is evil! Evil I tell you! All for the sake of those rich miscreants of the Hellfire Club!”

Meanwhile, the Doctor endeavored to enter the Hall. Rather than crossing the yard, he sprang from an attic window and, using his spring heels, bounded across the road. Reaching a prodigious height, he leapt into the cupola of the building, for the first time landing without injury to himself. He then ran down the steps that wound round the interior of the structure.

As he came to the step at the top of ground floor, he could see into a large area of the rotunda. There he saw Matthew Dalby and Smythe, protected by Scratch and another brigand, working upon the corpse that lay upon a table. Several very large Leyden jars surrounded the table, sparking with raw electrical power. In addition, nearby stood numerous boiling vats filled with roiling alchemical potions.


Using his flint, the Doctor lit his last grenadoe and tossed it into their midst. Much to his chagrin, Scratch calmly picked up the flaring bomb and tossed it back at him.

While all of this transpired, Fennimen gathered up his rifle and loaded it with a Cold Iron bullet. He then moved deliberately across the streets and into the College yard.
Having decided to switch his allegiance, Mr. Johnstone arose as if a great weight had been lifted from him. Suddenly, a volley of fire ripped through the tents, striking him and Rebecca as a platoon of British soldiers, recovered from their surprise, joined the fight.

I turned and charged towards the soldiers, firing both my pistols. Beside me was Prince Leopold firing away as well and shouting, “NOOOO! They’ve shot …what’s hew name! They shaww pay deawwy!” He charged into their midst, followed by Zizzendorf and the rest.

I ran to Rebecca’s prostrate body. At first, I thought her slain for a bullet hole marked her dress just over the heart. Then I realized that no blood was flowing from this wound and she had only swooned. Her eyes fluttered open and she smiled at me. She sat up, reached into her bodice, and produced a large corn cob in which the musket ball had lodged.

“Dearest Leopold had given me this as a memento. It has saved my life!”

It was at that point that we heard a great flapping of leathery wings.

Excerpt from A Hussy’s Progress, the Autobiography of Moll Daggett

Sure now, the boys twere having a fine time. Zizzy and Major Zed and e’en Black Meg popping away at redcoats in their encampment as if at fish kept in a barrel. Even silly Leopold, view hallooing and calling for squirrels, rampaged about. I decided that the front yard twas getting a might too crowded. So, I ran to the stern of building, where, as I expected, stood the servants’ entrance.

Twas a simple lock on the door and one that offered no challenge to me. I had the door swinging open in a thrice.

As I entered, afore me stood foul Scratch the brigand pointing his pop-guns at me.
Now I had expected a welcome so a bottle of rum’ twas in me one hand and a lit brand in ‘tother.

“Scratch, ye son of a devil’s whore, I’ll make breakfast toast out of ye!”

Scratch

I took a great swig then and twas about to puff at him when, a sudden, right aside me is fat Major Zed saying, “Did you say you were making toast? I am a bit peckish!”

Except of Letter to Lieutenant Jonathan Longwynde from the Reverend Samuel Longewynde

As I feared, it was the demon that approached. It landed on the roof of the Hall. I expected it to sweep down upon us but, perhaps sensing a nearer danger, it struck into the body of the cupola with a fierce roar. Soon the body of the Doctor was propelled out of the other side, the force of the creature’s blow knocking him clear of further attack.

The Doctor plummeted from the roof. Ordinarily, such a fall would have killed him but, given his recent misadventures, he had taken to wearing springs inside his clothing, especially upon his backside so as to cushion his frequent falls. It was this that saved him for he landed in the yard and merely bounced a few times before coming to rest in a grouping of dirt-filled gabions.

I was endeavoring to reload my pistols with the Cold Iron shot when the creature spotted me through the broken woodwork of the cupola.

Before I could complete my task, the thing was upon me. It breathed a great burst of fire over me. I could feel the great heat of the flame but realized it did not touch me. Then I felt the warmth of Mercer’s stone amulet against my chest, and realized that it had saved my life. However, when the flame had subsided, the amulet crumbled into dust.

Events succeeded each other very rapidly then as to seem simultaneous.

I perceived a silvery flash coming across my view as a tomahawk axe flew toward the creature. It struck the demon directly in the chest, forcing out a great roar of pain.
Immediately, the creature was struck in the mouth by the Cold Iron bullet fired by Fennimen.

Thereafter, Zizzendorf put a Cold Iron ball from his pistol into the devil’s chest.
Beside me, Madame de Bauffremont stood and hurled a vial at the creature. This was filled with a decoction of a cold essence and the creature’s skin began to blister as the drops of the liquid transmuted his infernal hide.

Giving the Devil His Due

Finally, Yap shot an arrow to which he had affixed a cold iron head directly into the creature’s eye.

A great horrendous roar screamed from the demon as it collapsed to the ground. It was at this point that the Prince rolled a barrel of lit gunpowder onto the thing. This exploded, rending the devil’s body even further and bursting the doors to the Hall open.

At this precise moment, Doctor McCleane’s forgotten grenadoe exploded in cupola and a large part of the tower collapsed on top of the creature.

“Wait,” cried Johnstone, who had been only lightly wounded, as he hobbled over. “I have learned a bit about this thing. Its body may be revived if its mother lives again. We must impede that revival.”

With that, he took to hacking at the creature with an axe.

Fennimen then said, “Best we stop them fellers from waking up this critter’s mama.”
He ran to the cannon and fired it into the Hall.

Excerpt from A Hussy’s Progress, the Autobiography of Moll Daggett

Pushing Major Zed aside, I blew out a great gout of burning rum at Scratch’s head. The scurvy ratsbane avoided the blast but, a sudden, a great cannon ball came whirling into the hall, ricocheting off the wall towards where we stood.

Scratch dodged this as well and I fell to the ground to avoid it.

At me back stood Major Zed. Of course, that earth-girdled wagtail twas not so quick when it did not involve food nor drink and so he was struck direct in the belly by the cannon ball. Now whether the ball twas spent or his great girth absorbed the force of it, the shot did him no harm. Instead, it merely caused the fat of his vast belly to roil like a North Atlantic gale and the ball bounced off, striking Scratch and the tother brigand, killing them both.

Except of Letter to Lieutenant Jonathan Longwynde from the Reverend Samuel Longewynde

I charged through the cannon smoke into the shattered Hall. There, in a central rotunda was a strange equipage. I saw immediately that electrical bolts were arcing from two great Leyden jars into the corpse of Mother Leeds. Much to my horror, I saw that the body seemed to be stirring.

Dalby stood nearby and he saw me enter. He gathered up the quavering body into his arms and called out to Smythe, “Delay them as long as you can. She begins to revive!” With that, he ran up the winding stairs to the roof.

Smythe pointed his pistols at me and cocked back the hammers.

Johnstone was then next to me, the severed head of the demon in his shaking hands, “It’s over, Smythe. It’s over!”

“You’re right,” returned Smythe as he fired one of his guns at Johnstone.

“That’s not what I meant,” Johnstone wheezed as he collapsed onto the floor.

A flat, sheetlike object whirled through the air. It struck Smythe in the throat and the wickedly sharp edge slashed it wide. He fell to the ground a dead man.

“Postage Due!’ Yap said grimly after seeing the effect his thrown envelope had had on Smythe.

With the way clear, I ran up the stairway after Dalby. In a moment, I achieved the roof. There stood Dalby with the body in his outstretched arms. He called out, “Arise, Mother of Darkness. See the blood that has flowed about you and know you are its cause. Feed on this and revive, return to your children and lead us!”

I drew my claymore sword. Dalby saw me approach. He laid the body gently down and plucked up his walking stick. From this, he drew a secreted sword and took the stance of trained duelist.

I was never trained in the art of fencing and such swordwork as I knew was a casual necessity from my time in the war against the French. Nevertheless, I raised up my blade and charged the villain, calling out the psalm, “Blessed be Jehovah my rock, Who teacheth my hands to war, And my fingers to fight!”

I rushed towards him with my sword raised high. He thrust low with his blade to pierce my bowels.

Anticipating this, I turned slightly and the blade merely slid along the side of my hip, causing the barest of cuts. The move, however, had placed Dalby out of stance and I brought my blade down upon his shoulder, driving it deeply into his body.
I could see the look of fear and despair in his eyes as the life left them. His body hit against the railing, flipped over it, and rolled down the roof.

As I stood watching the body fall, I felt a sudden, great heat to my back. I turned and there standing before me was the form of Mother Leeds, engulfed in a fire of the Hell from which she had been summoned.

The Demise of the Family Leeds

She was living in that fire, relishing the power of destruction it gave her. She seemed to gather some of this fire to hurl at me. Knowing that Mercer’s charm had been destroyed and my weapons uncharged, I had no way to defend myself and prepared myself for death.

Of a sudden, a great spout of water gushed over the witch, black smoke rose as the fire of the body was quenched, and the dread thing collapsed. The body crumbled to dust and was blown away in the wintry wind.

There hung Doctor McCleane, clinging by one hand to the railing to which he had sprung with his spring heels, the now empty piston gun, which he had filled with holy water, in the other hand.

He pulled himself over onto the walkway.

“I shall have to write out the certificate of death for her. ‘Time of Death: now! Cause of Death: Me!’”

We descended then, happy to see our friends alive and well, the remaining enemy having surrendered or fled.

As the smoke of the battle began to clear, we heard huzzahs as Washington’s army came into the town.

I inquired of some of the soldiers what had happened. They reported that a section of the army led by General Mercer had encountered Mayhood’s column on the road unexpectedly. The British Colonel had turned his regulars into a charge. As Mercer’s troops were not expecting so rash a charge, they were routed. The General was last seen surrounded, refusing to yield.


I inquired about the Philadelphia Associators and I was told that they were part of the same action and had likewise been routed. No could give me word of David.
From others I learned that it had been desperate for a time until Washington himself had rallied the troops and led them in a counterattack that destroyed Mayhood’s brigade. But none could give me word of a young ensign of the militia.

A great ache came to my heart for fear that your brother had been lost.

Finally, I encountered Major Zagloba who was greeting some of the Marines, he having become a kind of weighty mascot to them.

“Reverend, good tidings! I’ll have you know my brave Marines have saved your boy! He had fallen into the hands of the British trying to save General Mercer. But my Marines charged and rescued him, taking no doubt myself as their exemplar. For I am a man, if I might say, who has never shirked the strident call of Bellona’s trumpet, who…

“But where is my son?” I insisted.

“Ah, he is with the main body of the Marine battalion. It should be following shortly.

“Now what I have is an idea for a work, an epic in the vein of Virgil or Homer, say.
I shall call it ‘Zagloba upon the Assumpink.’ All I need is some financial wherewithal, an advance to support me while I write it. If you could perhaps…”

As he prattled on, my eyes scanned for the banner of the marines. When finally I spotted it, I ran towards it, Rebecca following.

There in the midst assisted by two stout marines was David. He was wounded but not grievously. I embraced him and offered a prayer of thanksgiving that my family had survived.

Then I heard a sad drumbeat and saw the body of General Mercer being borne slowly along by his troops. General Washington rode with it, tears in his eyes but a look of determination set upon his face.

I turned to my children and said, “It seems we have paid a terrible price for our victory.”

David then quoted from memory, “’Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as Freedom should not be highly rated.’”

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