Fit for Freedom (part 34)
A Restless Convalescent
The next installment of Fit for Freedom is below, but I want to briefly bring two things to your attention.
First, I was very pleased to have a conversation with Kevin LaTorre who writes on Substack at “A Stylist Submits” (embedded below). It was an interesting back and forth and I hope you’ll check it out.
Second, as I mentioned over the past couple of weeks, I have been bouncing up against 50 subscribers to this newsletter for months now. I would love to double that number by this summer. So if you are really enjoying my writing, would you please think of just one other person that you could share this newsletter with?
I don’t pay for advertising of an kind and I am not charging a subscription for any of my content, but I know that some word-of-mouth recommendations from you, my faithful readers, would go a long way toward helping me meet my goal of putting my writing in more email inboxes.
Thanks! Now on to Fit for Freedom.
Her uncle’s sleep had certainly seemed more peaceful over the past few days than it had when she had first arrived. Georgiana had taken to sitting at the writing desk that had been arranged for her use just outside his door. From that vantage point she could keep watch over him without having to worry very much that she would disturb his rest and recovery.
Upon his first awakening after her arrival he had smiled a weak smile, but then proceeded to ask “But my dear, why have you come all this way?” Georgiana had ignored the question at the time, but now that she had finally summoned the emotional resolution to write to Camden, relaying even the smallest of details—no matter how seemingly insignificant—struck her as crucial.
Thus committed to penning the most accurate and complete account that she could give, she scratched away at the paper that sat in front of her on that bright afternoon.
You can imagine, I do not doubt, just what a heavy blow Uncle’s Joseph’s words struck on my soul. He has been delirious, of course, and at times not at all like himself. His mind struggles, it seems, to decide whether it is better than I have come or that I ought to have stayed.
She paused at the soft ruffling of the sheets; her uncle was waking.
“Good afternoon, Uncle,” she said softly. She seated herself by his bed and held his hand.
“Is it the afternoon already?”
“Yes, I’m afraid you’ve slept right through lunch, but the rest will do you good. I’ll ask Lucy to bring in some broth for you presently.”
A few minutes later uncle and niece sat staring at a small bowl of thin, colorless liquid.
“Georgiana, it isn’t even hot!”
“Yes, I know, Uncle, but the doctor has been very clear that you’re to take your food this way or cold. I can take it away for now if you like.”
“No, I’ll eat it. I suppose,” he said as he grudgingly picked up the spoon and took his first tentative sip.
Georgiana watched him eat in silence, noting how much his condition had improved since she had arrived and enjoying the thought of being able to tell Camden so in her letter. The improvement had been gradual, but by all lights he was on an upward trajectory.
After a few minutes she heard someone come in at the front door and Lucy talking, though she could not make out the words from that distance. Moments later a light knock came on the outside of the screen that shielded the bedroom from the view of the rest of the house.
“Who is it?” Georgiana asked.
“It’s me, ma’am,” came the reply from Lucy.
“Please come in.”
“Please forgive the intrusion,” she began. “But a man has just arrived who says he has letters that must be delivered directly to Mr. Randolph. I told him I couldn’t possibly admit him without my mother’s permission, but since she’s out of the house on business—”
“Did he say what it was about?” Mr. Randolph asked.
Georgiana cut a sharp look at her uncle. It hardly seemed to make any difference why the man was there, given her uncle’s current state.
“No, sir, he insists on presenting his business to you.”
“Well, if it is truly urgent, I don’t see the harm.”
Mr. Randolph set aside his bowl of broth without any sign that the interruption of his eating caused him a great deal of disappointment. Georgiana could see that the look on his face was resolute: the last shred of patience he had to endure his confinement was wearing thin and allowing him this visitor might actually be a boon to his recovery.
“It’s fine, Lucy. If your mother objects, I will take responsibility for my uncle’s decision.”
Lucy looked unsure, but nodded politely before leaving the doorway of the room and returning with the gentleman.
The man who appeared in the room did, in fact, sound like a gentleman, introducing himself as Matthew Fisk. His appearance, however, was nothing less than that of a ruffian. His boots, though seeming to be relatively new, were more suited for digging ditches than for the parlor of a boarding house. The stubble on his face had been growing for several days at least and the dirt under his fingernails was plain to see on the hand that hung at his side, holding a well-used tri-corner hat.
“Mr. Fisk, if you would please state your business quickly. My uncle is in no condition for extended visits,” Georgiana began almost before the man had a chance to take a breath.
“Of course, ma’am. Though I fear what I have to say is of the sort that only Mr. Randolph himself should hear.”
“No, please proceed, Mr. Fisk. As soon as you leave she’ll pry anything out of me that she can and deduce the rest for herself after that.”
Georgiana tried to put on a look of indignance, but succeeded only in producing a smirk that she hid by turning her face toward the window.
“Very well. In the strictest confidence, Mr. Randolph, I can reveal to you that for some months I have been in the employ of the government of the state of New York as an observer of political activities here in the Vermont Republic.”
“A spy, in other words,” Georgiana thought to herself. His manner of dress foreclosed any possibility that he was doing any “observing” from too near the actual seat of power.
“It is because the government of your state and of mine are indisputably two of the most powerful in the confederation that I come to you with this information.”
Reaching into his pocket, Fisk produced a stack of papers, bound together with a bit of rough twine.
“These, you will find,” he said, handing the papers to Mr. Randolph, “are letters from a Vermonter by the name of Havelock Kiel. No doubt his name is unfamiliar to you. He addresses the letters to two other individuals who are rather more infamous: Benjamin Doane and James Wilkinson.”
Georgiana peered over her uncle’s shoulder, catching just a glimpse of the unfamiliar handwriting. The connection between the two men and this unknown Vermonter was not immediately clear.
“As you read through these—they are, to be clear, copies of the originals which are safeguarded elsewhere—as you read, the scheme is laid bare. Wilkinson and Doane have been jointly engaged in the illicit sale of arms to Indians in the Northwest. The proceeds of those sales have made their way, directly or indirectly, into the pockets of some of the loudest voices in favor of Vermont’s uniting with Quebec rather than our confederation. You must, of course, do with that information what you will, but New York considers it essential that Virginia be made aware.”
Georgiana took the sheaf of papers as her uncle handed them to her. She set them on the small, round table at the side of his bed, resisting the overwhelming urge to take a look for herself.
“I thank you, Mr. Fisk. I can assure you that I will do my utmost to see that these are placed in the right hands as soon as I return to Virginia.”
“That is all that we of New York ask of you, sir. I wish you a full and speedy recovery, but I hope you will pardon me for taking my leave of you now. I have other duties that require my immediate attention and it grows late in the day.”
With that, the visitor made a short bow toward the well-respected man in the bed, turned to politely nod at Georgiana, and then left.
“Well, this gives me as much surety as I can hope for regarding the identity of my assailant.”
“But I thought you said that you could not remember the man, Uncle?”
“I do not remember him very distinctly, no. However, now that we know of Benjamin Doane’s machinations here in Vermont, the man, whoever he is, must be associated with or employed by Doane.”
Georgia leaned forward as if she were about to interject, but her uncle held up a hand.
“I know, I know. You think this is a bit of wild speculation on my part. Well, that I am speculating somewhat, I cannot, perhaps, deny. But it is certainly not wild or baseless speculation. I came to Vermont for one reason and one reason only, nor has my mission been kept any kind of secret. In addition, Doane remains a free man; he has always been known as a man of considerable means and events have shown him to be resourceful, ambitious, and driven. There is no telling when and how he will relent in his nefarious quest.”
That was, Georgiana thought, the most words she had heard him say all at once since her arrival.
“Supposing you are right, what will you do with these letters?”
“These must be delivered to Governor Tyler, naturally. And you, my dear, must return to Virginia immediately.”
“Uncle! I won’t even think of such a thing. I will remain with you until you are recovered and you needn’t argue the point.”
He chuckled slightly, but recovered a serious look when he could tell that Georgiana was both earnest and adamant. He closed his hand over hers before speaking.
“Your well being, Georgiana, means far more to me now than even my own health. Would that the circumstances were otherwise than they are, but perhaps the Creator has brought us here now for such a time as this. Very well. You will not leave my side, you say, and I know you too well to doubt your determination.”
Georgiana let out a deep breath of relief. Her relief, however, was short-lived.
“Which is why I expect you will want to gather your things this evening and arrange for an early breakfast to be brought down here to my room. I intend to be on the early coach to Boston tomorrow morning. I know you would do nothing so silly as remaining behind in Vermont when my health is at stake.”
Georgiana wanted to be furious with her uncle. He had outmaneuvered her in a way that she had not even seen coming. It was getting late, however, and arrangements must be made. There would be ample time to scold him and exact the appropriate penance once he was stuck with her on the ship back to Virginia.