“You seem to think I favour him,” replied Connor. His guard was down and his black hair shone in the sun. Here, away from the city, it was as if his native side had bloomed. “But my enemy is a notion, not a nation. It is wrong to compel obedience—whether to the British Crown or the Templar cross. And I hope in time that the loyalists will see this too, for they are also victims.”
I shook my head. “You oppose tyranny. Injustice. But these are symptoms, son. Their true cause is human weakness. Why do you think I keep trying to show you the error of your ways?”
“You have said much, yes. But you have shown me nothing.”
No, I thought, because you don’t listen to the truth when it comes from my mouth, do you? You need to hear it from the very man you idolize. You need to hear it from Washington.
In a timber cabin we found the leader, who had been attending to correspondence, and, passing through the guard at the entrance, we closed the door on the clamour of the camp, banishing the drill sergeant’s orders, the constant clanking of implements from the kitchen, the trundle of carts.
He glanced up, smiling and nodding at Connor, feeling so utterly safe in his presence he was happy for the guards to remain outside, and giving me the benefit of a cooler, appraising stare before holding up a hand to return to his paperwork. He dipped his quill in his inkpot and, as we stood and patiently awaited our audience, signed something with a flourish. He returned the quill to the pot, blotted the document, then stood and came out from behind the desk to greet us, Connor more warmly than me.
“What brings you here?” he said, and as the two friends embraced I found myself close to Washington’s desk. Keeping my eyes on the two, I edged back a little and cast my eyes to the top of the desk, looking for something, anything, I could use as evidence in my testimony against him.
“The British have recalled their men in Philadelphia,” Connor was saying. “They march for New York.”
Washington nodded gravely. Though the British had control of New York, the rebels still controlled sections of the city. New York remained pivotal to the war, and if the British could wrest control of it once and for all, they would gain a significant advantage.
“Very well,” said Washington, whose own foray across the Delaware to retake land in New Jersey had already been one of the major turning points of the war, “I’ll move forces to Monmouth. If we can rout them, we’ll have finally turned the tide.” As they were speaking, I was trying to read the document Washington had just signed. I reached to adjust it slightly with my fingertips, so that I could see it clearly. And then, with a silent, triumphant cheer, I picked it up and held it for them both to see.
“And what’s this?”
Interrupted, Washington swung around and saw what I had in my hand. “Private correspondence,” he bristled, and moved to snatch it back before I pulled it away and stepped out from behind the desk.
“I’m sure it is. Would you like to know what it says, Connor?”
Confusion and torn loyalties clouded his features. His mouth worked, but said nothing and his eyes darted from me to Washington as I continued: “It seems your dear friend here has just ordered an attack on your village. Although ‘attack’ might be putting it mildly. Tell him, Commander.”
Indignant, Washington responded, “We’ve been receiving reports of Allied natives working with the British. I’ve asked my men to put a stop to it.”
“By burning their villages and salting the land. By calling for their extermination, according to this order.”
Now I had my chance to tell Connor the truth. “And this is not the first time either.” I looked at Washington. “Not for the first time either. Tell him what you did fourteen years ago.”
For a moment there was nothing but a tense silence in the cabin. From outside, the cling-clang of the kitchens, the gentle rattle of carts passing in and out of the camp, the stentorian bark of the drill sergeant, the rhythmic crunch of marching boots. While, inside, Washington’s cheeks reddened as he looked at Connor and perhaps made some connections in his head, and realized exactly what it was that he had done all of those years ago. His mouth opened and closed as though he were finding it difficult to access the words.
“That was another time,” he blustered at last. Charles always liked to refer to Washington as an indecisive, stuttering fool and, here, for the first time, I knew exactly what he meant. “The Seven Years War,” said Washington, as though that fact alone should explain everything.
I glanced at Connor, who had frozen, looking for all the world as though he were merely distracted, thinking about something else rather than paying attention to what was going on in the room, then reached for him. “And so now you see, my son—what becomes of this ‘great man’ under duress. He makes excuses. He displaces blame. He does a great many things, in fact—except take responsibility.”
The blood had drained from Washington’s face. His eyes dropped, and he stared at the floor, his guilt clear for all to see.
I looked appealingly at Connor, who began to breathe heavily then exploded in anger, “Enough! Who did what and why must wait. My people must come first.”
I reached for him.
“No!” He recoiled. “You and I are finished.”
“Son . . .” I started.
But he rounded on me. “Do you think me so soft that calling me son might change my mind? How long did you sit on this information? Or am I to believe you only discovered it now? My mother’s blood may stain another’s hands, but Charles Lee is no less a monster, and all he does, he does by your command.” He turned to Washington, who reared back—afraid, all of a sudden, of Connor’s rage.
“A warning to you both,” snarled Connor. “Choose to come after me or oppose me, and I will kill you.”
And he was gone.
16 SEPTEMBER 1781 (THREE YEARS LATER)
At the Battle of Monmouth in ’78, Charles, despite having been ordered by Washington to attack the retreating British, pulled back.
What had been in his mind to do that, I couldn’t say. Perhaps he was outnumbered, which was the reason he gave, or perhaps he hoped that, by retreating, it would reflect badly on Washington and Congress, and he would at last be relieved of his command. For one reason or another, not least of which was the fact that it didn’t really matter any more, I never asked him.
What I do know is that Washington had ordered him to attack; instead, he had done the opposite and the situation rapidly became a rout. I’m told that Connor had a hand in the ensuing battle, helped the rebels avoid defeat, while Charles, retreating, had run straight into Washington, words had been exchanged, and Charles in particular had used some rather choice language.