Midnight, p.1Beverly Jenkins
About the Author
Romances by Beverly Jenkins
About the Publisher
For Carrie Miller
Primus Grey waited in the dark behind his print shop for his contact to arrive. Although she’d passed him secret information about the British before, he was the only member of the Sons of Liberty to know her true identity. To the others she was known only as Lady Midnight, the code name he’d bestowed upon her in honor of the time she usually appeared. Quiet as a shadow and silent as the moonlight, she never tarried longer than the time it took to pass along whatever news she had to relay, and then she was gone. More than once, he’d been asked by the Sons to trail her in an attempt to learn who she might be, but in truth, he preferred they not know. In the world of spies, the less they knew about her, the less likely she could be betrayed.
A bit past midnight, she arrived. “Good evening, Mr. Grey.”
“M’lady. What news have you?”
“Your name has come to the attention of General Gage. You should leave Boston immediately if you do not wish to hang for treason. I’m so sorry.”
“Godspeed, Mr. Grey.”
Filled with alarm, he watched her fade into the darkness before hurrying back inside to gather what personal belongings he could, but it was too late. A pounding on the door made him look up.
A voice shouted, “Primus Grey!” The knocking grew louder.
Fighting to keep his voice even, he called out, “Who’s there?”
“Representatives of the King.”
He drew in a deep breath and walked over to open the door.
There were six of them, all wearing the red coats of the British Army. It was a cold night and he could see the steam from their breaths in the dim light of the torch above his door. The sharp tips of their bayonets glittered ominously in the moonlight. “What do you want with me?”
“You are under arrest.”
“And the charge?”
“Treason for aiding the rebels against the King.”
His chin rose. “Let me lock my shop.”
They allowed him to do so, and once it was done, they surrounded him. Word of their mission must have spread because a crowd of angry citizens began to gather. Primus couldn’t tell how many strong they were, but by the lights of the torches lining the shops and homes on the narrow winding street, they appeared sizable. Calls and curses began to rain down on the soldiers. Snowballs flew at their heads. The citizens of Boston had grown weary of the presence of the King’s four thousand troops who’d been stationed in and around the city for the sole purpose of putting down the growing rebellion.
“Let him go!” a male voice rang out.
“Bloody lobster backs!” cried out another.
Rocks and snowballs flew, some hitting the soldiers, who quickly responded by taking up a defensive position around their prisoner. More people began to arrive, adding their voices and rocks to the fray. The officer in charge raised his weapon and sent out a warning shot. The people moved back. British soldiers had fired on a similar crowd back in March 1770, and when the smoke cleared, men lay dead, including Crispus Attucks, a mariner of mixed African and Nantucket blood. In the five years since, the incident had become known as the Boston Massacre, and stood as one of the most grievous marks against the policies of the hated King George III and his equally despised Parliament.
Apparently no one wanted to die that night. The crowd continued to hurl curses, snowballs, and chunks of ice, but the soldiers were allowed to leave with their prisoner.
Faith Kingston stirred the venison stew in the big black pot hanging above the fire in her father’s inn. There weren’t many people inside, just a few of his loyalist friends, but he was expecting General Gage and his officers for supper shortly.
“Is the stew ready, Faith?” he asked, entering the main room. Stuart Kingston was a portly man and his face bore the dark kiss of his Jamaican heritage. He’d been in the cellar preparing the room for Gage and the others.
“It will be in time, Father, don’t worry.”
“Not many inns can boast of feeding the general, Faith. It is quite a boon for us.”
Even though she didn’t agree, she nodded. Her dislike of the crown and its occupying troops mirrored that of the rebels, but she kept her views to herself. Her father was a staunch loyalist. In his eyes, all the repressive laws, taxes, and soldiers were necessary to bring the rebellious colonies back under the King’s rule.
Moments later, the inn’s door opened. Cold March air swept into the main room, bringing with it the general and his aides. Without a word, the six officers retired to the cellar, and Faith hurried to ladle the stew into a smaller vessel so she could serve them. As far as she knew, the general was never charged for his meals, and his lack of greeting always rankled her. Whether the discourtesy offended her father was unknown, but she was offended enough for the both of them.
“Hurry, Faith,” he implored her, “and don’t let them find fault with your serving.”
At her entrance into the cellar room the six men looked up and all conversation ceased. The silence held while she ladled the rich stew into their bowls, and not one of them offered the slightest acknowledgment of her presence or thanked her for her service. She set what remained of the stew in the center of the table. Offering a terse curtsy, she withdrew as silently as she’d come. However, she didn’t immediately return upstairs. Instead, she quietly entered the small room next door where the inn’s extra wood was kept in order to listen to what they might say. It was widely assumed that once the weather broke for good, and the Concord Road leading to Boston became more passable, Gage would be sending troops to root out the weapons the Sons of Liberty were amassing in anticipation of armed confrontation. There’d already been one such confrontation back in February. Troops sent to nearby Salem to confiscate suspected weapons caches had been met and opposed by a group of minutemen led by Colonel Thomas Pickering. No shots were fired during the tense standoff, and after a compromise the British were allowed to conduct their search. However, the rebels’ cannons, shot, and guns had already been safely hidden away, so the redcoats marched back to their Boston barracks empty-handed.
This evening Gage and his men were indeed discussing the rebels and sneering at the minutemen’s military readiness and capabilities.
“They’re so raw and undisciplined, the cowards will probably throw down their muskets and run in the face of our superior skill and numbers.”
“Hear! Hear!” the aides cheered.
Faith held on to her temper. The colonial minutemen might not equal the British force in numbers or skill but their hearts and determination were strong, factors Gage would do well not to underestimate.
Faith knew this was something the Sons would be interested in knowing. That more soldiers would be added to the occupying force was not good news. With that, she left her hiding place and quickly returned above stairs.
Her father was in the kitchen looking worried when she entered. She knew he was concerned that she might have offended the general in some way, so she told him reassuringly, “All’s well, Father. I brought no dishonor to your name.”
“See that you don’t,” he pronounced, and exited.
Faith shook her head at his attitude. All her life she’d done her best to be a respectful and dutiful daughter. She rose every morning before dawn to start the morning fires, served him breakfast promptly at six, and spent the rest of the day cooking, cleaning, mending, and taking care of all else needing attending to, yet it never seemed enough. Her mother, Morna, had died during a pox outbreak in 1757, leaving the eight-year-old Faith to be raised by a father who’d provided for her and made sure she was educated, but offered very little in the way of gentleness or affection. She was now twenty-six years old and felt no more loved than she had at age eight. She shrugged off the melancholy and turned her mind and hands to rolling out more biscuits.
Nicholas Grey was weary after the long ride from New York to Boston. A smuggler and a mercenary by trade, he’d fought with the French and the native tribes against the British during the French and Indian War, and he wasn’t sure what kind of reception he’d receive from his loyalist father. Primus hadn’t approved of Nick going against the King, and they hadn’t seen each other in over a decade. Regardless of the reception, the urge to see his father had set him on this weeks-long journey to return to his home to see how the old man fared, in hopes of reconciling their differences.
When he arrived at the large wooden farmhouse where’d he been born, no lights could be seen shining from inside. Because of the late hour, he assumed his father was sleeping, so he drove the wagon around to the back of the property to the barn. Using his flint, Nick lit the oil lamp that hung by the barn door so he could see his way in. Finding the interior empty gave him pause. Where were his father’s horse and other animals? It never occurred to him that Primus might not be there or that the land might now have a new owner. At the moment, however, his weary horses didn’t care about the mystery and neither did he; all he needed was rest after the long cold trip, so he bedded the horses down, walked out to the pump to get water, and then knocked on the back door. No response. He tried the latch and the door swung open.
The inside was cold and dark. Waving the lantern around, he walked through the large kitchen and into the front parlor with its familiar furnishings. Memories of growing up flooded back. The large portrait of his late mother, Adeline, still hung above the mantel on the fireplace. Although she’d died giving him birth, he’d always imagined her smiling down on him with maternal love. As he looked up at her now, the sense was still strong. He left the parlor and walked to the staircase that led to the bedrooms on the second floor.
“Primus!” he called out. “The prodigal has returned!” But the echoing words went unanswered.
“He isn’t here, Nick.”
Nicholas turned, and in the lantern light saw his old friend and neighbor Artemis Clegg standing on the door’s threshold. “Arte?”
“How are you, Nick?”
Nick set the lantern on the floor and the two men greeted each other with a strong, welcoming embrace. Arte lived on a farm directly across the road. He was considerably shorter than Nick’s own six-foot-plus height, and they’d been friends since childhood.
Arte said, “I saw the light and came over to investigate. It’s good to have you back.”
“It’s good to be back. Where’s the old man?”
Artemis didn’t respond for a long moment and Nick waited.
He finally spoke. “The British arrested him a few days after Christmas.”
“Treason. Accused him of aiding the rebels.”
“There has to be a mistake. Primus would never go against the King. Where’s he being held?”
“He died three weeks ago on a British brig anchored off the harbor. Pneumonia.”
The news put a weakness in Nicholas’s knees that almost dropped him to the floor. The terrible sick feeling inside was unlike any he’d ever experienced before. Dead?
Artemis said gently, “Come with me over to the house. Bekkah can feed you while I tell you what I know.”
Nick couldn’t move.
“Come,” Arte beckoned.
Reeling, Nicholas followed Arte out into the night.
Seated in the dining room of Artemis’s home, Nicholas ate while Arte began the tale.
“I’d heard rumors that your father was a member of the Sons of Liberty, but it wasn’t something he and I ever discussed. Some men are playing their affiliation close to the vest, and with good reason. Men have been hung, tarred and feathered, their homes broken into by the soldiers, then looted and burned.”
Nick set his bowl aside and stared grimly into the shadows thrown off by the fire in the grate. That the staunchly loyalist Primus had even allied himself with the rebels against the crown was as surprising to hear of as his death. “How did the British find out about him?”
Arte shrugged. “I don’t know. I was only allowed to speak with him privately for a few minutes before he was taken to the brig, and he told me that he’d been warned to leave Boston by the person he knew as Lady Midnight only moments before his arrest.”
“Lady Midnight? Who is she?”
“Rumor has it that she’s a spy for the rebels, but no one knows her true identity.”
“Sounds more like an actress or a harlot,” Nick noted, having had ample experience with both.
“True, but she’s reportedly passed along information to John Hancock and Sam Adams, too.”
“But if the soldiers arrived right after her warning, is it possible that she’s working for the British?”
“Yes. There are so-called double agents, and she had to have gotten the information about Primus’s arrest from somewhere or someone.”
Nick left the riddle of Lady Midnight for a moment and thought about the war rumors sweeping the colonies. “It’s said there will be a fight.”
“I believe it’s inevitable. Boston is leading the opposition and we are prepared to meet arms with arms, but only if England fires first.”
“You say we. Do you consider yourself a rebel as well?”
“I do and proudly.”
Nicholas considered Artemis a most unlikely candidate for a soldier. While they were growing up together, Nicholas had dreamt of seeing the world, but all Arte wanted to do was marry Bekkah Davis and tend his father’s orchards in peace.
Artemis continued, “We could certainly use a man of your experience. Many veterans of the war with France have thrown in with us and they’ve been a godsend. The majority of the minutemen are farmers and merchants. We know nothing of weapons, tactics, or marching but we’re drilling daily in preparation.”
Nick had no plans to get involved, at least not at the present. His mind was on his father. “Did the British confiscate our land?”
“Yes. The sale occurred last week. I purchased it, though, hoping you’d come back to claim it someday.”
For the first time that night, Nick’s heart warmed. “Thank you, friend.”
“I don’t know how you’re sitting coin wise, but if you need to buy it back a piece at a time, I’m amenable.”
Nick shook his head. “I have enough to pay you in full.” The years he’d spent smuggling weapons, trapping, and playing guide to the French, British, and Americans looking for new territory to own in spite of the tribes’ prior claim, had made him a very wealthy man.
“When it is convenient,” Arte r
Nick nodded even as the mystery surrounding his father’s arrest reclaimed his thoughts. Solving the conundrum might be next to impossible, but he vowed it would be solved, even if it took the rest of his life. His father was due that respect from his only son. It came to him then that maybe he would join the rebels, if only to be able to access information that might help him accomplish his goal, but he kept the plans to himself for the present. He wanted to wait until he knew more about the British and the rebels before making a final decision. “Has he been buried?”
“Yes. Bekkah and I paid for the headstone. We laid him to rest next to your mother at Copp’s Hill.”
Nick was grateful. After being separated for so long in life, Primus and Adeline were now together again in death. “Thank you,” he said genuinely. “I’ll repay you for the headstone as well.”
“I’m sorry for your loss, and mine. He was father to us both.”
Just as Arte’s late father, Josiah, had influenced Nicholas’s early life, Primus had played a similar role in Arte’s by taking them fishing and teaching them to hunt. Nick and his father hadn’t always seen eye to eye, but Primus had walked the earth as a sterling example of an upstanding and educated free Black man. No longer. Nick wondered how things might have fared between father and son had he returned sooner, but speculating in hindsight served no purpose. Nick had hated the British for many years, and now, because of his father’s ignominious death, that hate increased tenfold. “Who amongst the Blacks here do you think I might speak with about the arrest? Maybe someone within the rebel ranks.”
“Prince Hall,” Arte responded without hesitation.
“I don’t know him.”
“He moved to the city while you were away. Maybe been here ten years. Came with nothing but worked hard and is very well respected. He often spoke at anti-slavery rallies alongside your father. Unlike some, Hall clearly supports the rebels.”
“So he may know how deeply my father was involved.”
“I can’t say, but he’d be someone to speak with about it. Your father trusted him.” Arte peered over at the weary Nick as if trying to see what he might be thinking, then added, “You look dead on your feet. We have room if you want to sleep here tonight. Your house has to be freezing after being empty these past few months.”
Midnight by Beverly Jenkins / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes