When it comes to espionage, a good rule of thumb might be not to put all your eggs in one basket. Wily British spymaster John André already seems to appreciate that maxim—but it’s a lesson that Abraham Woodhull has to learn the hard way.
Abe is pretty pleased with himself after tricking Major Hewlett into believing he’s a double agent determined to infiltrate the Sons of Liberty group, which is presumed to be responsible for his brother’s death. (Again, Hewlett: champion buffoon or Sun Tsu wizard? Discuss.) From Abe’s Cabbage Cave, the secret basement of his burned farmhouse, he’s forged himself a concealed stiletto blade and 18th-century Post-It pad to surreptitiously document the British military conditions and activity in Manhattan. Free of his military escort once he enters the city, Abe checks into a boarding house with the announced intention of studying the law. But this isn’t a Comfort Inn, and the customers in the kitchen are a squirrelly, motley crew. Abe’s clumsy attempt at small talk only attracts him unwanted attention, and the operator of the establishment, a man named Townsend, urges him to mind his porridge—though maybe that’s just because he didn’t appreciate Abe’s assisting his opponent in checkers.
John André is staying in Philadelphia, but his accommodations are much grander than Abe’s. He’s staying at Benjamin Franklin’s abandoned house. The world-renowned Newton of Electricity is in Paris, lobbying for a Franco-American alliance, and his home became occupied after Congress and its rebel army fled the approaching British army in September 1777. André is the rare British soldier who can appreciate Franklin’s ingenuity for what it is, and he’s positively giddy demonstrating the many inventions to his disinterested superior. (I believe he’s General Henry Clinton, though it could be General William Howe.)
André has two major operations in the works. One is the turning of a crucial American officer who can help end the war. General Charles Lee seems like a willing accomplice, but André’s current measure of the man concludes that Lee was a poor investment. André now has his sights set on a much bigger fish: Benedict Arnold. Clinton scoffs. After all, Arnold might be the best field commander the Americans currently have, a hero who helped snatch victory from the jaws of defeat at Saratoga in early October—a triumph that gave the revolution credibility in the eyes of European powers. But André is convinced that Arnold’s virtues are rivaled by his flaws, and the failure of the Congress to recognize his battlefield bravery and achievements will fester long after his leg wound heals.
Did you notice the sexual intimacy between André and Clinton? The senior officer undoubtedly caressed André’s hand as he was handed his port glass, and the younger man acted as if it were a familiar gesture, perhaps one between “such friends as only the comradeship of war can make.” Being seductive is part of André’s job description, but this was the first time I recognized that that aspect of his personality had broader implications. To André, the art of war is a dance, and as he says, he’s apparently familiar with all sorts of music.
Andre’s other operation is a special mission that involves the Queen’s Rangers—leaderless since he sacked the renegade Robert Rogers. André thinks he has just the man for the job of bringing the Rangers to heel: John Graves Simcoe. He might look like Stan Laurel, but Simcoe is a fascist brute, serving out his time writing undelivered love letters to Anna after his arrest during the Battle of Setauket. André arranges his release, and recruits him for the kind of blunt violence that he displayed previously—stabbing a patriot spy in the neck. “A detestable man,” André says to his servant, Abigail. “But sometimes such men can serve a purpose.”
NEXT: The courtship of Peggy Shippen [pagebreak]
Abigail, who might be the best-placed intelligence operative on either side of the war, quickly arranges a message to Anna that fingers General Lee as a traitor. Sadly, she doesn’t include mention that Simcoe is heading back to Setauket. Anna wouldn’t be the only person who would appreciate that news—Hewlett might be equally interested in Simcoe’s professional resurrection. Especially since Hewlett now seems to share Simcoe’s infatuation for Anna. He even clumsily suggests to Anna a quickie divorce from Selah Strong so as to not be weighed down by his infamy. It’s quite a pathetic offer, actually, and tempts one to root for the moment when Simcoe and Hewlett turn on each other over a woman.
In New York, Abe is documenting the British reduced troops strength, noting the Hessian mercenaries, and estimating that a force of 5,000 soldiers could retake the city. Apparently, he learned the hard-boiled egg trick from Ben, so he transfers his intelligence to the shells he intends to bring home with him. Unfortunately, though, he’s interrupted during the process, arousing Townsend’s already alert suspicions. Abe isn’t half as clever as he needs to be, and when he returns to the wharf for the trip back to Long Island, he realizes that his brown hard-boiled eggs—the ones with the crucial information—are missing. Townsend slipped them out of Abe’s basket and fried them up, obliterating the mission. Townsend banishes Abe from his boarding house, but a little Google search and/or the Turn coming attractions reveal that Abe might see him again.
Arnold and André are on a collision course, but it will be a woman who brings them together. Peggy Shippen is the teenaged daughter of Philadelphia’s richest family, and one of the most sought-after beauties in the colonies. At a party at the Shippens’ to welcome the British, André and Peggy play a game of romantic brinkmanship. André plays it so well that Peggy assumes him to be gay, but she’s clearly bothered by his feigned indifference and ultimately enamored by his charm. Is he really interested in her romantically, though? Or is he just interested in the American officer who may or may not have left his mark on her heart before the British entered the city: Benedict Arnold? (Feel free to SPOIL yourself.)
Simcoe couldn’t be a more different breed than Rogers, so the Queen’s Rangers are hardly impressed when he comes upon them in the wilderness, dressed in his new uniform, and announces his presence with authority. None of the rugged crew, including the Strong’s former slave, Jordan, fall in line, and one unfortunate ruffian challenges the pretty new dandelion who presumes to be their leader. Simcoe earns their collective respect by snapping the troublemaker’s arm and then scalping him. He has their attention.
Care to guess what Queen’s Rangers’ secret mission might be? Would it surprise you that Simcoe and Townsend—more specifically, his family—crossed paths in real life? Perhaps Townsend and Abe will come to some understanding based on that wartime maxim: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”