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Friday, May 10, 2013

BLOG TOUR! Jack Absolute by C.C. Humphreys - Review, Excerpt, & Giveaway!

An absolute delight! Swashbuckling adventure, eighteenth-century wit, hugely entertaining plots, and one of the most appealing military gentlemen ever to wear a sword.” -Diana Gabaldon – Author of the Outlander and Lord John Grey series

“The author’s affectionate, theatrical tale sets up his dashing hero and faithful sidekick for a long series. Much derring-do, told with panache.” -Kirkus

"Humphreys combines historical detail, a larger-than-life hero, clever plotting and fast pacing to craft a thoroughly entertaining historical adventure."-Publishers Weekly

"Although full of intrigue and accurate historical detail, the novel is ultimately a straightforward adventure story that sends readers racing through the pages of Absolute's improbable but exciting captures, escapes, and fight scenes." - School Library Journal

“A great introduction to what will surely become a long-lasting series.” – Library Journal

What do you get when you take the roguish leading man in Richard Sheridan’s comedy The Rivals and throw in a stirring of Bond, a dash of Hawkeye, a pinch of Aubrey?

Jack Absolute: A Novel reimagined as the title character in C.C. Humphreys’ first novel in a three-book series set during the American Revolution.

Humphreys has long had a love affair with the character of Jack Absolute. The actor played the dashing leading man in a British tour of The Rivals early in his career, and decided to bring him from the stage to the page when he began writing novels.

A bit about the book…It’s 1777 when Captain Jack Absolute becomes a sensation throughout London. This news comes as a shock to the real Jack Absolute when he arrives in England after four months at sea. But there’s little time for outrage before he finds himself dueling for his life. Right when he thinks he’s finally won, he is forced to flee London by the quickest means possible, becoming a spy in the American Revolution.

From the streets of London, to the pivotal battle of Saratoga, to a hunt for a double agent in Philadelphia, Jack Absolute marks the exhilarating beginning of an epic historical series and a character you won’t soon forget.

C.C. Humphreys is a novelist, fight choreographer, and actor who played Jack Absolute in The Rivals for a six-month run in London in the mid-1980s. When he became a full-time writer a decade ago, he decided to transform his leading man into a title character. Humphreys has written seven historical fiction novels includingThe French Executioner, which was runner-up for the CWA Steel Dagger for Thrillers 2002. The Jack Absolute series will feature three books: Jack Absolute, The Blooding of Jack Absolute, and Absolute Honour.


 Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher via netgalley in exchange for a review. I have not been compensated for my opinion.

 Things people are saying about this book are pretty huge: Diana Gabaldon called it "an absolute delight!". Well, you've read it above. I have to lives up to all of those accolades and more! I enjoy historical fiction and I truly loved this book.

 It starts off with Jack Absolute looking at his opponent of an illegal duel in London, sizing him up, musing over how he got to be in a duel anyway. We are introduced to his witty, steadfast Mohawk brother, Atè, who is standing in as Jack's second. After the duel turns dishonorable (by his opponent), Jack and Atè are making a run for it, saved by Jack's old commanding officer Burgoyne, but then neatly boxed in to re-enlist and go back to his spying ways.

 Atè remarks to Jack in the very beginning that he is impressive in everything except for when it comes to women; in that area, Jack has proven time and time again that he is a fool. (And this comment turns out to be prophetic; or is it inevitable?) As Jack and Atè talk and banter, the reader can see that they are indeed brothers. It's respectful ribbing, unspoken words and understandings, a true bond.

 This novel is one adventure after another. There are captures, betrayals, daring escapes, espionage, swordfights, romance, and loyalty. The action is incredibly cinematic, very visual. Even though I don't really know a thing about swordfighting, I was able to picture what each swing and parry looked like. I think historical fiction and historical military fiction buffs will enjoy this book immensely, but so, too, will anyone looking for an excellent story with a charming, quick-witted lead character who manages to get out of some pretty tough spots!

CLICK TO READ MORE - An EXTENDED excerpt plus the giveaway - 3 people will win a print copy of Jack Absolute! 

Chapter Five


Jack’s first thought was of a weapon. Swords had been left in cabins, cutlery cleared away. So he righted the decanter he’d upset and stepped away from the table, clutching it by the neck. It was of lead crystal, heavy. He didn’t think it would shatter well and give him a fistful of glass to thrust. But it was eminently throwable.

Jack’s pick-up was not obvious, his move away from the table covered by the general squeak of chairs slid back, of men rising from their places to be introduced. But he saw the man in the doorway glance briefly down at his now full hand. Jack was beginning to learn that the Count von Schlaben missed nothing.

“General Burgoyne, a thousand apologies for this late intrusion. A boatmen’s dispute on the dockside left me stranded. These Canadians seem very prickly about their prerogatives.”

Von Schlaben’s English was near accentless, far better than the interpreter’s.

“My dear Count.” Burgoyne came forward, hand outstretched. The German took it, bowed over it. “Alas, we have finished the eating part of our meal. But can I get my cook to bring you a plate?”

“Indeed, General, I would be grateful only for…is that Bishop I smell? Yet another thing we Germans have to envy the English—their limitless invention when it comes to drinks. Who but they would have thought to roast an orange and drop it into port?”

At a nod from Burgoyne, Pellew filled a spare bumper. The German raised it. “To the enduring amity between our nations.”

Glasses were raised, drained, Jack drinking left-handed, still keeping the decanter in his right. Only when the toast was finished did he place it, deliberately, on the table before Von Schlaben. The gray eyes swiveled to him.

“Ah, Captain Absolute, delighted to see you again. And under somewhat more pleasant circumstances.”

“Oh, I don’t know, Count. I rather enjoyed our last encounter.”

The German smiled faintly, then trod around the table, introduced by his host as he went. Once he’d shaken hands, Simon Fraser moved to Jack’s side.

“Is that the man, Absolute?” The tale of Drury Lane and Hounslow Heath had been retold by Burgoyne many times on the voyage across, gilded and transformed into an epic, sparing neither detail nor Jack’s blushes—even if the suspected motives for the duel were left out.

“It is, sir.”

“We have a wee saying in the Highlands: ‘Fiddlers, dogs, and flies come to a feast uncalled.’” Fraser pointed his chin to where Von Schlaben was bending over Mrs. Skene’s hand. “And he doenae look like he can play a fiddle.”

Jack suppressed a snort of laughter, turning it into a cough. A servant entered discreetly to clear up the spilled port. Noticing him moving among the “map” of his campaign, Burgoyne raised his voice above the continuing pleasantries.

“May I suggest some air while the servants make all ready for the entertainment?” He turned to the Count. “You may have missed supper, dear sir, but you will be able to sit in on the theatricals. I venture you will be impressed. To alleviate our boredom we have been indulging ourselves all the way across the Atlantic. We have attained, I may say, a standard that would not disgrace many a stage in England. But five weeks is a long time and we know each other’s better tricks by now. Perhaps you have something new that the company would enjoy?”

Von Schlaben shook his head. “I fear I am no actor, sir.”

Burgoyne’s reply was almost inaudible. Almost.

“Not what I heard.” Then he went on, more loudly, “Ladies, gentlemen, to the deck and let us rendezvous back here in…half an hour?” As the company began to file out, he added, “Captain Absolute, a word?”

Von Schlaben was just passing Jack when he spoke. “By the way, Captain, I bring greetings to you from our young friend, Tarleton.”

“I am surprised he is not with you. I thought you inseparable.”

“Alas, your Native friend’s blow had him confined to a bed for a time and my ship awaited. But he wishes you to know that he looks forward to renewing your acquaintance.”

“Will he serve in this campaign?”

“He is bound for New York, I believe, and General Howe’s command. Still,” the German gave what passed for his smile,“I am certain your paths will cross again.”

Jack nodded. “Can’t wait.” Then he gestured to the doorway, and the Count, with the slightest of bows, went through it.

The room was empty at last. Burgoyne came to stand beside Jack and together they listened to the laughter, as the gentlemen helped the ladies climb the steep stairs. When the last voice had faded into the night, Burgoyne murmured, “‘Yon’d Cassius has a lean and hungry look…’”

“…‘Such men are dangerous.’” Completing the couplet, Jack stepped back into the cabin, reached for a decanter, poured two glasses. Handing one to Burgoyne, he continued, “Is he a danger you would have me remove?”

The older man sipped, smiled. “Why, Captain Absolute! Are you proposing, perhaps, a dagger in an alley? How does that square with the Cornish sense of a fair fight?”

“I’d kill a mad dog in Cornwall, same as anywhere. Especially one that has already tried to kill me.”

“The Count, mad? I think not. Dangerous, I will concede. We already have the proof of that with his design upon you in London.”

Burgoyne moved back to his place at the head of the table. There, he reached into a leathern case that hung from the back of his chair, withdrew some small object. He continued, “But are we certain—certain now, Jack, not just assuming—that the Count sought to eliminate you because of my proclaimed patronage and need of you? No, we are not. You were caught, in flagrante, and the Count was young Tarleton’s friend before I even knew of your return to London.”

“But, sir—”

Burgoyne held up a hand. “Furthermore, we still do not understand why these Illuminati concern themselves with our affairs. We believe that they seek to profit from the disorder in this land, the chance to build on ashes. But what is it they seek to build? And why? That’s what we must discover. And until we do we shall follow the advice of the Hebrew: Keep mine friend close and mine enemy closer. Agreed?”

“Sir.” Jack could see that his Commander would not be moved. Were it a private matter—and he knew Burgoyne did not believe the affair in London to be merely about the love of an actress any more than he did—Jack would not hesitate to strike before he was struck again. But he had to grudgingly admit that to kill Von Schlaben now would be a mistake. The Illuminati, like any secret society, would have as many heads as the Hydra. To cut off this visible one would merely leave them exposed to another they could not see.

Burgoyne now lobbed what he’d been passing between his hands across the cabin. It sparkled as it flew through the lamplight. Jack let it drop into one palm, then raised it to his gaze.

It was a musket ball. Yet its dull surface had been scored across and a brighter hue shone through.

Jack tossed it into the air, caught it again. “Silver. And light. Hollow.”

“Yes.” Burgoyne was reaching once more into his case. “The ball was found on—or should I say ‘in’—a merchant from Connecticut, a proclaimed Loyalist, come to trade in Quebec. He was observed in some dubious company and, when taken, was seen to swallow that ball. He then had it disgorged from his guts with a dose of emetic tartar so severe that it cost the unfortunate fellow his life—it’s all right, Jack, it’s been thoroughly cleaned—and this was found within.”

Burgoyne was carefully spreading a small piece of paper out on the table before him. “Governor Carleton only received this intelligence a few days since. So far, none of his officers here in Quebec have been able to decipher it. So we were wondering, Jack, if you…”

Jack moved a lamp closer. The page held five lines of numbers, cramped yet legible enough. It was gobbledygook; but even a swift glance told him it was gobbledygook with a pattern.

“Can you give me answer to this riddle, Jack?”

“It will take me a little time, sir. Longer if it is in French.”

“Which you speak even better than I do. But then you have French blood, do you not?”

Jack shook his head. “A long way back, General. Yet it’s a tradition in the Absolute family that the sons always have the same French middle name.”

“And that is?”

“Rombaud. There’s a legend connected with it too. Fanciful beyond belief.”

Burgoyne smiled. “I love legends. You must recount it when we have more time.”

“Certainly, sir.” Jack squinted at the tiny piece of paper. “Do you know if there is a list of the merchant’s possessions?”

Burgoyne pushed across a page. Jack studied it. “No books or notebooks, I see.”

“Do you think Washington would be so kind as to send his spies out with both his secret messages and the means to decode them?”

Jack smiled. “It’s been known. It could be an innocuous novel that sender and recipient both possess and the numbers here could correspond to the words on a single page. That would be the crib. Without the book, the message would be hard to discover.”

“Is this a code of that sort?”

“I think not. I can see patterns here, repeated numbers. Do we know who this was meant for?”

Burgoyne shook his head. “Sadly not. The fatal consequence of the disgorging deprived us of any further information. But…” He hesitated, then reached into another bag. “I do not wish you to read too much into this. But something else was found among the merchant’s possessions. Don’t look for it on the list, it’s not there.”

He pulled out a set of keys on a hoop. They were standard ones for various-sized locks. There was also a metal fob, about the size of a thumb. It was in the shape of a pyramid. Just beneath its apex was an eye.

“Yes, I grant,” the General sighed when Jack looked up at him, “it is Masonic. Unusual—but my own lodge uses similar symbols as do lodges here in the Colonies. Masons fight on both sides of this cause. I know of seven for certain among Washington’s commanders. So this,” he took the fob and dangled it in the lamplight, “need not imply anything sinister. The recipient, though a spy, could just be an ordinary member of an ordinary lodge. He need not be—”


“No.” The General looked as discomfited as Jack had ever seen him. Jack had always refused any offers, Burgoyne’s among them, to be initiated into the Brotherhood of Freemasonry. “The bad apple of these Illuminati does not taint the barrel of the whole Order, Captain. Remember that. And we cannot presume that the ball was destined for the Count, for example.”

“We should presume nothing, sir.” He handed the keys back. “Would you like me to begin on this now?”

“Indeed not. We have our theatricals to perform. The morning will be quite soon enough.”

Jack carefully folded up the paper and placed it into his waistcoat pocket. “Shall I fetch the players?”

“Do. And on the way, send in the servants to prepare the stage.”

When Jack reached the doorway, he paused, looked back. “Sir, I am not boasting of my skill. But if Von Schlaben was the intended recipient, this seems an odd sort of cipher to send to a man of his intellect. Not as complicated as I am sure he would want it to be. That could, of course, mean that the sender was not as gifted. Or—”

“Or that it was destined for someone else. As I said.” Burgoyne smiled. “No, the good Count cannot be our only suspect. He may, perhaps, lead us to another though, eh? So…no dagger in the alley for the moment, Captain Absolute.”


Jack walked slowly up the stairs, the patterns of numbers he’d briefly studied swirling before his eyes. These patterns so held him that when he reached the deck, it took a moment for them to clear. A moment to realize that the figures a dozen feet from him, silhouetted against the night sky of Quebec Town, were Louisa and the Count. A moment more to focus on the way his hand was gripped onto her elbow. Even as he watched, she jerked it away and moved to the railing. Then Balcarras and Pellew approached and, taking an arm each, walked Louisa up the deck, out of sight. As their laughter was caught and lost in the wind, Jack looked back for the Count. But the German had gone.


Jack loathed acting. In his brief dalliance with the theater crowd in London seven years before, he had always preferred the writer’s role, seeing his imaginings rendered into flesh by others. But that was in the profession. In private company, a gentleman was expected to perform.

The audience cheered and applauded each good line and piece of business as if they were at Drury Lane. Balcarras declaimed, with great feeling, Gray’s “Elegy.” Pellew attempted, rather less successfully, some sonnets by Pope, his tongue thickened by further bouts with the Bishop. General Fraser, to the delight of the company, displayed a surprisingly light and pleasant baritone to render “My Dear Hieland Laddie,” and Burgoyne had been flattered into producing extracts from his own dramatic works. He, Jack, and Louisa took the main roles in these. And when the General spoke the closing words from his London success Maid of the Oaks, “I love an old oak at my heart and can’t sit under its shade till I dream of Crecy and Agincourt,” the company rose as one with a toast to those glorious victories of the past, huzzahs to the glorious ones to come.

The cabin was packed. More had joined after dinner and included fourteen officers, some wives, the Skenes, and two other prominent Loyalists. In the swirl, Jack lost sight of Louisa. It took him half a dozen turns about the room, a number of brief conversations, before he realized she was no longer there.

He leaped the stairs three at a time. On the deck, his eyes took a moment to adjust to the darkness after the brightness of the cabin-stage. When they did, he saw her straight away. She was poised at the top of the ship’s ladder, watching her maid, Nancy, descend.

“Eloping, Louisa? Doesn’t that take two?” She started, turned at his voice. “Jack.”

“You did not tell me you were leaving this night.”

“My father has arranged lodgings in the town. After five weeks cramped at sea…” Her voice trailed off.

“Were you not going to say farewell?”

“I hate farewells, Jack. Detest them. Nancy spent much time in the shading of my eyes for the play and promised she would punish me if I let them run. Besides, I do not leave to join my father and his regiment at St. John’s for a few days. I will see you in the town, without the weight of a shipboard good-bye upon us.”

“I hope there will be the time. I believe the General plans to keep me busy.”

“I am certain he does. But I accompany the campaign, remember. We will have much time together. You will grow sick at the sight of me.”

There was a falseness to her tone, as if she were still in the play.

Suddenly Jack realized why.

“Von Schlaben upset you, didn’t he? I saw you here…before. His hand on you. I have reasons aplenty to loathe him already, but if he has caused you a moment’s unease—”

“Nay, Jack. Pay him no mind. I…” She hesitated, then sighed. “Yes, I will admit it. He did fluster me. I knew him a little in London, and—”

Jack frowned. “I recall you said you’d met him. You never said your acquaintance had gone so far as to allow him to touch you.” Jack did not like his tone of voice, but her silence made him continue with it. “I find it strange that you did not talk of him before now, Louisa. Considering what passed between he and I.”

“Why strange?” Her face flushed. “After all, it was only this evening that you chose to tell me of To…ne…”

“Tonesaha?” Jack shook his head, bemused. “How…how is that the same?”

Her jaw was pointed at him like an accusation. “You chose not to once mention this love on the voyage bringing us to the land where you loved her.”

“Why on earth would I have done?”

“Exactly, Jack. Exactly. And neither have you once mentioned the supposed reason for the duel.” At his blank look, she added, “The actress?” When he flinched, her tone softened and she stepped closer. “I apologize, Jack. I…I do not tax you with this. I merely observe that when one is…paying and receiving addresses, it is not customary to talk of previous loves.”

Chill replaced his heat. “Von Schlaben was your lover?”

“Of course not! The very idea!” She shuddered. “I found him loathsome before I ever heard either of his designs upon you or the little the General has told me of his Illuminati’s designs upon my country.” She laid a gloved hand on his arm. “But we cannot always be understood the way we intend. In his imagination, it seems he took my coolest politeness as encouragement. Perhaps that is how the women woo their men in Germany.”

She laughed, briefly, but Jack did not join her, his mind still full of this new reason to hate the Count.

She saw the look on his face. “I am sorry, Jack. It was why I was so poor in the play tonight, why I am so hasty in my departure. I do not wish to be in his company any longer. And as for you and I…we will see each other tomorrow, or the day after, in the town. So do not look so glum.”

Below them, on the water, Nancy had settled into the bow of the little wherry. The boatman, a stocking wool hat pulled well down over a swarthy face, called up. His accent was rough, of the town.

Louisa half-turned. “What did he say?”

“He asked that you hurry as he has a young wife warming a bed. Do you not speak French?”

“Hardly a word. Heigh-ho for an American education!”

The boatman called up again, a string of oaths.

“I will see you on shore, Jack Absolute. And on the march. We will have our time again, I know.”

She reached up and their lips collided, something desperate in the kiss, and before he knew it he was handing her down the ladder. The boatman was there, guiding her feet to the rungs. Then she was settled in the stern, the oars were in the water, and the craft pulled swiftly away, aimed at the docks.

Jack watched her, the set of her shoulders. She did not once look back. But halfway to the wharf, one hand was raised in sudden farewell.

The gloom of night took the boat. Still he stared, going through the words he had not spoken, which perhaps would remain unspoken now.


When at last he returned to his cabin, he was looking forward to the distraction from his thoughts that the code would furnish. Pellew’s snores provided a varied musical backdrop. With a newly sharpened pencil he copied the numbers onto the top half of a clean sheet of paper. Then he bent over the page, focusing first on the blank area, then letting his eyes drift up till they were full of the numbers laid out in six lines:







Assuming each letter would be represented by a number, he knew a single numeral would be too easy, three per letter too complex. It was probably a pair per letter—though this left an uneven number on the first two lines and the last.

He would come back to that. Swiftly he used a pencil to mark off pairs, leaving the ends of those first two lines as threesomes. There were clusters, flows of linked numbers—555455 in the first line. That could be a consonant, bonded with vowels, he thought: “ini” for example, as in “dining.”

He looked for the lowest number of the pairs, found it in the third, fourth, and fifth lines—51. If 51 was “A,” then 52 was “B” and so on.

He swiftly wrote out a crib on a separate page. Then taking the third line, he matched each paired number to its letters and wrote out the result: Osczca.

A code within a code? A name? Acronym? Even an anagram? For half an hour he tried to make one, first in English, then in French. He tried the other lines and got equal nonsense—though these yielded up some surprising, useless (and two quite rude) anagrams. Nothing worked.

Throwing down his pencil, he rose and went for a turn around the deck. When he came back he stood above the page, looked again at the lines of numbers…and suddenly saw what he might have missed. Perhaps, as a further concealment, the code writer had altered the starting letter for each line? If there had been a “51” on the first line it would have been “A.” On the second line, “51” would then have been “B.” Thus on the third line, where “51” actually did appear, it would be the third letter, “C.” Scratching swiftly, he made a new crib for the third line: 51 was “C,” 52 was “D,” and so on. When he got to “Z” at 74, “A” became 75, “B” 76. He then substituted the numbers for this new order of letters and wrote out a different version of line three.

It was a single word: Quebec.

Excited now, a new crib for each line was the matter of moments. Soon almost the entire message was laid out before him. After a struggle he concluded that the threesomes at the end of the first two lines—642 and 597—were just that—numbers, codes for agents’ names, to be used in future communications.

There was only the last little scribble that took Jack another ten minutes to figure out and when he did he could only laugh. He’d been looking for concealment and it was the one part of the message not in code. And the only part in French.

1–2–3, it read, the “1” with a line through it. Un-deux-trois. Un-de-trois. One of three.

All spymasters would send multiple messages as so many were intercepted. This, recovered from a silver bullet and a man’s guts, was the first of three.

Jack threw down his pencil and rubbed his eyes. Through the porthole, a faint light was glowing in the east. He would sleep for two hours and then he would report.

He lay down, tired now, thinking that, despite the droning from Pellew’s bunk, he would fall asleep fast. But it wasn’t his fellow Cornishman’s snores that kept him awake. It was the memory of a boat rowing away from him, bearing Louisa, their last conversation full of his suspicion and jealousy. He’d been foolish. On the morrow, ashore in Quebec, he would make amends.


His firm knock at Burgoyne’s cabin door the next morning was answered with an equally firm 

“Enter!” The General was standing at the table’s end, a steaming mug in one hand, a long fork in the other. Before him was a plate of what could only be kidneys. In their campaign together in Spain in 1762, the General had conceived an enormous appetite for them in “the Spanish Style.” The acrid smell of offal, masked by the sweetness of sherry, filled the room, causing Jack’s stomach to give a warning leap. He was not overfond of mornings. And the indulgence of the night before, coupled with his lack of sleep, now sat heavily upon him.

“Grab a fork, Jack. These arrived by the first rowboat, compliments of the Governor.” Burgoyne stabbed down and waved pinkish flesh at him. “Quite delicious. D’ye know, I am as hungry as a hunter this morning. Can’t think why.”

A loud giggle was heard from the corner of the cabin. The screen that had concealed actors the previous night now concealed something else. Burgoyne gave him a pronounced wink.

Jack tried a smile. “Just some of that coffee, if I may, sir.”

At Burgoyne’s nod, Jack filled a cup from the jug. The General, who was merely in shirt and stockings, now reached for his breeches.

“Shall I call your servant, sir?”

“Have you unraveled the mystery?”

“I have.”

“Then I think I can dress myself while you explain it.”

Jack raised his eyebrows toward the screen. Burgoyne shook his head. “Impeccable source, Absolute. Do not concern yourself there.”

Jack sighed. One thing that made his trade more difficult was the willful disregard by senior commanders of secrecy. Still, he laid the piece of paper he carried on the table’s end and tried not to inhale too much of the kidneys’ rich steam.

Beneath each numerical puzzle-line was its solution, and Burgoyne slowly read each one out.

u r diomedes 642

contact by cato 597


obey all orders

ink comes

Burgoyne’s finger rested on the name. “Diomedes?”

“Wouldn’t surprise me if it was our late guest last night, sir. This supplies him with his agent name. The three numbers at the end of the line—642—will be his number code.”

Burgoyne tapped the butt of his fork on the paper. “And Cato 597?”

“I would suggest he is Diomedes’s immediate superior. ‘Ink Comes’ means they are moving from pure codes to codes in invisible ink.”

“As will we, no doubt?”

“Indeed.” Jack hesitated. But he felt he must try one last time. “Sir, I am convinced Von Schlaben is at the heart of all this. Do you still wish him to remain…unmolested?”

“Oh, I think so. You forget another thing, Jack. The Count is Baron von Riedesel’s cousin. We are going to have enough trouble merging with our German allies without knocking off their commander’s kin.” Burgoyne laughed. “No, my boy. You leave the Count to me. I’ll keep him on a tight leash, believe me. And when I have learned all I need to from him, when we have discovered all there is to know of these Illuminati, why then, my boy,” Burgoyne stabbed his fork down, impaling the last glistening kidney, “I will deal with him.”

Burgoyne chewed, swallowed, sighed with joy, and dropped the fork onto the plate; then he reached for his black stock. Jack took it, moved behind.

“Thank you, Jack.” He began to tie the cloth around the General’s neck and Burgoyne leaned forward, pulling a map toward him. “You have demonstrated once again, dear Jack, how valuable you are to me as an agent. I would keep you by my side throughout the campaign if I could and I hate to part with you. But, much as I need you here, I have something even more important for you to do, which will suit another of your peculiar talents. I decided not to expand on it last night in, uh, mixed company.” The General jabbed down at a spot on the map. “Know it?”

His finger rested just on the edge of a large expanse of water.

“Lake Ontario. More specifically, I believe you are pointing at Oswego.”

“Exactly. Oswego. A good rallying point, wouldn’t you say? Word will go out to the Six Nations of the Iroquois—and any other savage who cares to gather there—‘Come to the biggest party you’ve ever seen. Come for powder, presents, and plenty of rum.’ Should prove irresistible, what?”

Jack knew it would, and the knowledge saddened him. His Mohawk brethren, every other tribe, Iroquois or not, were now dependent on these handouts from the Great White Father, King George. It didn’t mean they would fight, necessarily. But impressive gifts and substantial supplies of rum were powerful persuaders.

Jack looked at the map again. The Mohawk River flowed inland, down the valley of the same name, the heartland of his adopted people, through rich farmlands of settlers, both Loyal and Rebel, and onto a place the General had talked of the night before, where a continent could be won.

“You’ve seen it, ain’t ye?”

“I believe so, sir. A third force, striking along the Mohawk. To rendezvous with you and General Howe at Albany.”

“Ah, Jack! You should have stayed in the army, my boy, not run off to India to make money. You’d have been a general yourself by now.”

“I couldn’t have afforded the purchases.” Jack still stared down at the map. “And the size of the expedition?”

“A small force of Regulars. Perhaps some Germans. Can’t spare many from the main thrust. But there’ll be two Loyalist regiments at least and our friend Skene assures me that the Mohawk Valley is filled with others waiting to rally to our standards. But the main threat will come from your Indians.” Burgoyne, his stock finished, rose and laid a hand on Jack’s shoulder. “Dazzled by our generosity, they’ll sign up in droves. I’ve already sent to that Iroquois leader, Joseph Brant. You know him, don’t you?”

“A little. He and Até are both Mohawk and Wolf Clan and also graduates of Moor’s Indian Charity School.”

“Good friends, then?”

“Can’t stand each other.” Jack laughed. “But they’ll work together nonetheless.”

“Good. Well, you and Até and his schoolfellow Brant will drink with the tribes, smoke with them, speak their blessed lingo with them. Rally them, Jack. And then, set them loose in their thousands. I wager you’ll depopulate the Mohawk Valley of Rebels inside a month.”

While the General was occupied with the buttons of his waistcoat, Jack stared at the map. He had already voiced his doubts as to the size of the Native contingent that could be expected, as well as their enthusiasm. “Who is to lead us?”

“Wish it were you, my boy. Alas, not even I have the dispensation to raise a Captain to Brevet-Brigadier in an instant. No, it will be Colonel Barry St. Leger. Know him?”

“A little. Experienced. Is he still…?” Jack cocked a hand toward his mouth.

“Apparently not. Found temperance and God, they say.” Burgoyne shuddered. “Still, better for our purposes to have him sober, eh?” He laid his finger again upon the map. “Do you remember what’s here?”

Jack looked at the point indicated. “Fort Stanwix, is it not?”

“Aye, Jack. Apparently it’s close to a ruin and defended by half-trained Militiamen, at best. They’ll probably run off; but if they do fight, just encourage St. Leger to end it with all dispatch. A week at the most, eh? The swifter you move inland,” Burgoyne’s finger traced along the Mohawk Valley, “the swifter the Americans will have to detach men to oppose you, while half the Militia will desert to protect their own farms. The weakened forces they put up against me I’ll sweep aside,” his finger drew down the line of the Hudson from Canada, “while General Howe will be scattering Washington’s forces to the south and marching to join us here.” His finger climbed from New York then stabbed down on a black circle. “Albany, Jack. We’ll see what the kidneys are like in Albany at the end of August. Three months! Why, it will be like a stroll around Vauxhall Gardens!”

Jack decided merely to nod. There was so much he could say as to the hazards that lay ahead and no point in saying them. The General would counter anything he brought up. He was that most dangerous of military men—an optimist.

“When do I leave, sir?”

“Immediately. I have your papers here—orders, requisitions for horses and equipment, some gold so’s you can do some bribing. No doubt you and Até will prefer to travel as civilians so you can leave your uniform with me. Then you and your savage can go where you think fit, urging all the warriors you meet to the fight. You know the country better than anyone. Just be at Oswego for the gathering of the tribes in the last week of July.”

“Must I leave immediately, sir? There was a personal matter I wished to attend to in the town.”

Burgoyne smiled, somewhat sadly, then reached for his scarlet coat. Even in the dawn light the gold thread dazzled. It was exquisite, as were all his clothes, the facings the deep blue of his own and Jack’s regiment, the 16th Dragoons. “I would give you the time, dear Jack, but you would find it fruitless. The boat that brought the kidneys brought this as well.” He picked up another note and passed it to him.

It was in Louisa’s strong hand and asked the General to convey to Jack her deepest regrets; but her father had made arrangements for her to travel to Montreal with the dawn sailing.

His face must have betrayed his disappointment. Burgoyne laughed. “Damn me, Jack, but I fear you have become a sentimental dog. When you were younger such a letter would have given you joy. You’ve had five weeks of her charms. As a youth, that would have been an eternity. Sheridan had you to perfection in his play as a rogue and a schemer. What’s happened to you?”

“Age, General.”

Burgoyne glanced at the screen and smiled. “Don’t know what you are talking about. Well, never mind, my boy. The lovely Miss Reardon travels with the army. I will watch over her as a second father and you will see her in Albany, if not before. Should goad you to keep St. Leger pushing swiftly forward, eh?”

“Aye, sir.”

Briskly, his sash was tied, his gorget affixed, his high black leather boots slipped on. Burgoyne paused briefly to whisper behind the screen, then he strapped on his sword, picked up his gloves and hat, and beckoned Jack toward the door.

“Follow me, Captain Absolute. Let us take the first step together onto the land we shall soon rule completely once more.”

He swept out. Jack hesitated a moment, then turned back to the table, gathering up the maps there, putting them into their case. He suspected the woman behind the screen was Hannah Foy, wife of a commissary officer, Burgoyne’s mistress from the previous year’s campaign and too dim to be a danger. Or the reverse, dim enough to blurt out all she had heard in the cabin that morning to some willing ear. There was no need to leave her with maps as well.

Jack paused in the doorway, listening to this woman’s light breathing, thinking of another. The General had judged the Captain by his own standards and, he had to admit, some examples from Jack’s youth. He assumed that Jack had been taking the same pleasure from Miss Reardon as he just had from Mrs. Foy. It may just have been possible, despite the restrictions of shipboard life. There was indeed a time when such obstacles would have held him up not a jot. But Jack had wanted something less transient, and Louisa had seemed to want that too. It was one of the things that intrigued, this holding off. Quite unlike Lizzie Farren in London and a host of other liaisons he could name—along with many he could not.

Suddenly, with the scent of a woman in a cabin in his nostrils, Jack began to wish away those wasted weeks. He was going to war and there were dozens of ways he could die in it. Burgoyne was right; he had become a sentimental dog. As he climbed the stairs, to the music of ship’s whistles and the percussion of Quebec’s cannons saluting the new Commander-in-Chief, Jack knew that in the months ahead, he would spend many nights cursing this change in his character.

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