Friday, October 18, 2013

For All Nails #315: If This Be Treason

The For All Nails may be moving a bit slowly these days, but it hasn't stopped. Now up at the Sobel Wiki is the third vignette featuring Abigail Burgoyne, Dowager Duchess of Albany:



For All Nails #315: If This Be Treason

by Johnny Pez


Springfield, Massachusetts, N.C., CNA
22 February 1817

Abigail Burgoyne, Dowager Duchess of Albany, shivered in spite of the fire that burned before her. Her host had made his apologies when business called him away, leaving her alone in the lushly appointed sitting room, with only the blazing fire in the hearth to keep her company.

It had taken all her powers of persuasion to get her son to agree to allow her to visit Springfield. He had finally relented when she pointed out that she was the ideal person to infiltrate the conspiracy centered at the Springfield Armory. She was prominent enough to gain access, but above suspicion of espionage due to her age and sex. Above all, in a situation where the loyalty of all was suspect, she was the only person he could absolutely trust.

In two weeks, building on what Johnny had already learned or deduced from other sources, she had been able to pierce to the heart of the conspiracy. Now she was an honored guest of the ringleader, the man whose avarice and treachery had cost the lives of so many people, and corrupted one of the centers of the Northern Confederation’s military power.

In her bedroom, not far away, was a copy of Jay’s Notes on the Perfidy of Our Former Friends. If her host had her room searched (and she had no doubt that if he hadn’t already, he soon would), it would help to convince him that her reputation as a sympathizer with the rebels of ’75 still held true. The book also served as the key to the cipher she had been using to report her discoveries to her son.

Much of the time, her visit to Springfield was nothing more than the social call it appeared to be. She had been genuinely pleased to renew the acquaintance of the many friends she had made during her long tenure as the ruler of the Burgoyne social scene. Being in Springfield, of course she would call upon Sally Dale, the wife of the armory’s superintendant, whom she knew from Colonel Dale’s days as the Southern Confederation’s delegate to the Grand Council.

She was soon able to establish that Dale knew nothing of the secret sale of weapons from the armory to the members of Tecumseh’s army. However, conversations with Sally’s circle of friends had allowed her to piece together enough information to lead her to the head of the conspiracy, and secured an invitation to spend the night here in his home.

Her musings were interrupted by the sound of the sitting room door opening. Turning from the fireplace, she saw her host enter.

Major Stephen Decatur, the Inspector of Ordinance at the Springfield Armory, was a man in his late 30s, with the solid build and dark, aquiline features of his French grandfather and namesake. His wide mouth grew wider as he smiled at Abigail and said, “My apologies again, my lady, for deserting you. I unfortunately had business to attend to that would brook no delay.” His voice was deep, and he spoke with the broad accent of his Philadelphia youth.

“No apology is necessary, Major,” Abigail answered. “I understand. You are a man of consequence, with much to occupy your attention. My late husband was the same way.”

Major Decatur seated himself near the fire, and she took a chair near him. “I would have liked to meet your husband,” he continued. “Of course, I was born after his great victory at Saratoga, and only a child when he was Viceroy. But I learned of his deeds at school, and I may admit to you that it was his example that led me to seek a soldier’s life, much to the dismay of my mother.”

“Was your father more accommodating of your wishes?” Abigail asked.

“I never knew my father,” said Decatur, as his wide mouth turned down. “During the Rebellion, he sided with the rebels, and captained a privateer. That proved to be his undoing. When the Congress agreed to return to British rule, my father and the other privateer captains were arrested and charged with piracy. My father was hanged in the same month as the rebel leaders in London.”

Abigail closed her eyes. “I am sorry, Major. That should not have been. Your father was a patriot, and deserved better of his country.”

“Many men who deserved better failed to receive it after the Rebellion,” she heard him say. “I say nothing against your husband, you understand. He sought to reconcile the two sides, and there was many a rebel who would have shared my father’s fate had it not been for General Burgoyne’s clemency.”

Abigail opened her eyes again, and saw that the Major’s frown had deepened. “Still,” she said, “there were too many who did, and more who fled for fear of their lives. I came close to doing so myself.”

Now the Major’s expressive face showed surprise. “You, my lady?”

Abigail found her mind going back to the days after the Rebellion, as it had done so many times before. “Lord Albany was my second husband. My first was Dick Conrad, a soldier in General Washington’s army. He died in the winter of ’78, at the encampment at Valley Forge. And there I was, a traitor’s widow in New-York City with no friends and no prospects. When I heard of General Arnold’s plan to build a Patriot settlement in Spanish Louisiana, I planned to join him. It was only Johnny’s proposal of marriage that persuaded me to stay.”

“And just as well for you that you did,” Major Decatur said. There was no need for him to enlarge on his comment; General Arnold’s party had crossed the Mississippi in June of 1780, and never been heard from again. “I confess I find it odd to hear the Dowager Duchess of Albany speak of going on the Wilderness Walk with General Arnold. I wonder now that you remained in Burgoyne after the Duke’s passing, my lady; to hear you tell it, you would have been content to leave for Jefferson.”

Abigail’s eyes drifted toward the fire as she spoke. “I might well have, had it been a matter of myself alone. However, by then I had the boys to think of. In spite of his lofty title, Little Johnny was the son of an American mother, and I meant to bring him up in the land of his birth.”

“American?” said Major Decatur. “That’s not a word one hears often these days. One might think you were still a rebel at heart.”

“One would be correct,” Abigail answered as she continued to stare into the flames. “Parliament does nothing for us that we might not do for ourselves. It was the Georgians who took Florida from Spain. It was we who took Louisiana, not the British.”

“Are we not British, then?” said Decatur softly.

“We are Americans,” Abigail said, equally softly. “Or, if you must, North Americans. The British keep us weak and divided, but the day will come when we are united, as we were under the Congress. And on that day, we will live, and breathe, and even die if need be, as North Americans. And the whole world will know that we are our own people, and not merely an inferior sort of British.”

There was a long silence, which the Major finally broke. “Would it surprise you to learn, my lady, that there are others who believe as you do?”

Now Abigail turned her gaze from the fire, to look into Decatur’s eyes. “Belief is a simple matter. It means nothing if there are no deeds to match the words.”

Decatur laughed. “Deeds enough! There have been blows in plenty struck against the creatures of King George the Mad and his debauched Regent. Blows that have shaken this rotten Confederation of theirs to its foundations! I tell you, my lady, that it was the weapons of this very arsenal that allowed Tecumseh’s warriors and John Howard’s enslaved brothers to rise up and fight for their liberty!”

“You seek to jest with me, surely,” said Abigail. “How could these weapons find their way into the hands of Indians and slaves?”

“It is no jest, my lady,” said Decatur earnestly. “All across this wilderness of North America there are men who believe as you and I do. They have confederates among the Indians, and among the slaves, and among the Free Quebec Party as well. Tecumseh’s war and Howard’s rebellion are only the beginning. We will not rest until the Tory Confederation has been brought down, and the United States of America raised up in its place.”

Abigail rose from her seat now, went to a window, and drew aside the blind. There was nothing to see but darkness beyond. She raised her hand to her cheek, then let it rest upon the windowsill.

Still staring out the window into the night, she said, “I was in Burgoyne, you know, when Tecumseh’s army took Allegheny City. I saw them burn it. I saw the people there fleeing for their lives.”

“A regrettable necessity, my lady,” she heard Decatur’s voice from behind her. “Are you familiar with Jefferson’s Apologia?”

“I am,” said Abigail. “I know the lines you refer to. ‘The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.’ Jefferson wrote them knowing that his own blood would shortly be shed by the tyrants of London. And yet, I wonder. How will your new United States of America be raised up when the people of the country lie dead, slain by the weapons you have distributed? Will it be raised up by Tecumseh’s warriors? By Howard’s slaves? By Monsieur Ribot’s dissidents?”

A note of fear was creeping into Decatur’s voice. “My lady? I do not understand.”

Abigail remained by the window. She thought she could make out shapes in the darkness, but she might be mistaken. “Where is the United States of America, Major? It is already here. It will not replace the Confederation; it will be the Confederation. Its capital will be the city I live in, the city you tried to destroy, the city that bears the name of my husband, and my sons, and myself.”

Finally, she let the blind drop. There was no longer any question about what she had seen in the darkness. Turning, she saw that Major Decatur had risen from his seat. “What are you saying?” he demanded. “What have you done?”

“I am here on behalf of my son, the Duke of Albany,” Abigail responded. “He knew that weapons from the armory had found their way into the hands of Tecumseh’s army. I came here to learn who was responsible, and I have.”

There was a smashing sound in another part of the house. Abigail fancied that it was the sound of a door being forced open. Major Decatur began turning his head abruptly, as though seeking a means of escape. Then he turned his attention on her, and his hands clenched into fists. “Traitor,” he hissed.

There was a rush of footsteps, and the door to the sitting room was flung open. Men in the red uniforms of the Massachusetts Provincial Militia poured into the room, led by a man in civilian clothing. “Mother!” he exclaimed. “Are you –“

“I am unharmed, Johnny,” said Abigail. “Allow me to introduce Major Stephen Decatur, the man you’ve been seeking. Major, my son, John Burgoyne, Duke of Albany.”

As the militiamen bound Major Decatur, Johnny placed a gentle arm around her shoulders and led her from the room. She did not spare Decatur a glance as she murmured, “If this be treason, then make the most of it.”

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