Talking of which . . . We were approaching a tent and, as we grew closer to it, I heard, with a crawling and deeply unpleasant sensation in the pit of my stomach, that the voice I could hear shouting belonged to Braddock.
When was the last time I’d seen him? Several years ago, when I’d left the Coldstreams, and never had I been so pleased to turn my back on a man as I had been with Braddock that day. I’d departed the company swearing I would do my utmost to see to it that he answered for the crimes I’d witnessed during my time with him—crimes of cruelty and brutality. But I’d reckoned without the ties that bind the Order; I’d reckoned without Reginald’s unswerving loyalty to him; and, in the end, I’d had to accept that Braddock was going to continue as he always had. I didn’t like it. But I had to accept it. The answer was simply to steer clear of him.
Right now, though, I couldn’t avoid him.
He was inside his tent as we entered, in the middle of lecturing a man who was about my age, dressed in civilian clothes but obviously a military man. This was John Pitcairn. He was standing there, taking the full blast of Braddock’s rage—a rage I knew so well—as the general screamed: “. . . were you planning to announce yourself? Or did you hope my men wouldn’t notice your arrival?”
I liked him immediately. I liked the unblinking way he responded, his Scots accent measured and calm, unintimidated by Braddock as he replied, “Sir, if you’d allow me to explain . . .”
Time had not been kind to Braddock, though. His face was ruddier than ever, his hair receding. He became even more red-faced now, as he replied, “Oh, by all means. I should like very much to hear this.”
“I have not deserted, sir,” protested Pitcairn, “I am here under Commander Amherst’s orders.”
But Braddock was in no mood to be impressed by the name of Commander Jeffrey Amherst; and, if anything, his mood darkened.
“Show me a letter bearing his seal and you might be spared the gallows,” he snarled.
“I have no such thing,” replied Pitcairn, swallowing—the only sign of nerves he’d shown; perhaps thinking of the noose tightening around his neck—“the nature of my work, sir . . . it’s . . .”
Braddock reared back as though bored of the whole facade—and might well have been about to order Pitcairn’s summary execution—when I took the opportunity to step forward.
“It’s not the sort of thing best put to paper,” I said.
Braddock turned to look at me with a jerky movement, seeing for the first time that Charles and I were there and taking us in with varying degrees of irritation. Charles, he didn’t mind so much. Me? Put it this way: the antipathy was mutual.
“Haytham,” he said simply, my name like a swear word on his lips.
“General Braddock,” I returned, without bothering to hide my distaste for his new rank.
He looked from me to Pitcairn and, perhaps, at last, made the connection. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Wolves often travel in packs.”
“Master Pitcairn won’t be here for a few weeks,” I told him, “and I shall return him to his proper post once our work is finished.”
Braddock shook his head. I did my best to hide my smile and succeeded, mainly, in keeping my glee internal. He was furious, not only that his authority had been undermined but, worse, that it had been undermined by me.
“The devil’s work, no doubt,” he said. “It’s bad enough my superiors have insisted I grant you use of Charles. But they said nothing about this traitor. You will not have him.”
I sighed. “Edward . . .” I began.
But Braddock was signalling to his men. “We are done here. See these gentlemen out,” he said.
“Well, that didn’t go as I expected.” Charles sighed.
We were once again outside the walls, with the camp behind us and Boston ahead of us, stretching away to glittering sea on the horizon, the masts and sails of boats in the harbour. At a pump in the shade of a cherry tree, we stopped and leaned on the wall, from where we could watch the comings and goings at the camp without attracting attention.
“And, to think, I used to call Edward a brother . . .” I said ruefully.
It had been a long time ago now, and difficult to recall, but it was true. There was a time when I’d looked up to Braddock, thought of him and Reginald as my friends and confederates. Now, I actively despised Braddock. And Reginald?
I still wasn’t sure about him.
“What now?” asked Charles. “They’ll chase us off if we try to return.”
Gazing into the camp, I could see Braddock striding out of his tent, shouting as usual, gesticulating at an officer—one of his hand-picked mercenaries, no doubt—who came scuttling over. In his wake came John. He was still alive, at least; Braddock’s temper had been either abated or directed somewhere else. Towards me, probably.
As we watched, the officer gathered the troops we’d seen drilling on the barracks square and organized them into a patrol, then, with Braddock at their head, began leading them out of the camp. Other troops and followers scurried out of their way, and the gate, which had previously been thronged with people, promptly cleared to allow the marchers through. They passed us by, a hundred yards or so away, and we watched them between the low-hanging branches of the cherry tree, as they made their way down the hill and towards the outskirts of the city, proudly bearing the Union Flag.
A strange kind of peace descended in their wake, and I pushed myself off the wall and said to Charles, “Come along.”
We stayed more than two hundred yards behind, and even then we could hear the sound of Braddock’s voice, which, if anything, began to increase in volume as we made our way into the city. Even on the move he had the air of someone who was holding court, but what quickly became clear was that this was a recruitment mission. Braddock began by approaching a blacksmith, ordering the squad to watch and learn. All signs of his former fury were gone and he wore a warm smile to address the man, more in the manner of a concerned uncle than of the heartless tyrant he really was.
“You seem in a low spirits, my friend,” he said, heartily. “What’s wrong?”
Charles and I stayed some distance away. Charles in particular kept his head low and remained out of sight, from fear of being recognized. I strained my ears to hear the blacksmith’s reply.
“Business has been poor as of late,” he said. “I have lost my stall and wares both.”