New York, 1776
It has been not too long since I last wrote you, but so much has happened in the last six weeks that I feel that I must put ink to paper to tell you of our war. My last letter told you how we tried to unseat the American Rebels at Bunker Hill…and of how we lost, the blood of so many fine soldiers staining American soil as they died. By now, you may have heard that General Howe chose to evacuate Boston before the Rebels attacked us, even though we would have made a good account of ourselves if the Colonials attacked our fortifications. It is to our great shame that so many loyalists were left behind…
Ah, but it is said that Howe is soft on the Americans. How can we blame him when we must come to some peace that does not bring the Empire down in flames? How can we hold them down and keep holding them down – must we make of America a second Ireland? Howe wishes to teach the Rebels that they cannot win and then be merciful – who am I to question his decision? I am, but his lowly aide.
I watched Boston falling behind us as the Royal Navy lifted us away from the city. The Rebels would be surprised to find that we had abandoned our lines, or so Howe promised the senior officers at the council of war on the flagship. Boston was useless to use for his grand plan, not when a far more tempting target beckoned to the south. New York awaited us, he said, a city that could serve as the springboard to Philadelphia and the end of the Rebellion. I listened as he promised us much; a glorious war for some, a peaceful ending to the fighting for others. Few of us truly wished to fight the Rebels, for were they not our cousin? The darkness shrouded the coastline as night fell, with Howe’s promises ringing in our ears. Our father would not have liked to hear those promises.
The King had sent reinforcements from England, of course, and glad we were to see more Redcoats and even the Hessians. They brought me your last letter as well as the troops, but it was not all that they had brought for the Brothers Howe. There was a strange boat accompanying them and, upon an invitation from a man sent by the King, Howe and his brother boarded the boat. It was only an hour later that they emerged, shaken to the core, and called for an immediate council of war.
You will understand, I trust, that having all of the senior officers in the fleet meeting on the flagship is not something that can be done immediately. I met Their Lordships as soon as they returned to their ship and brought them brandy when they demanded it, unnerved by their expressions. They may come from the highest families in the land, save only His Majesty the King, but neither of the Brothers Howe could be considered a coward. I had seen the General commanding his troops from the front and heard of the Admiral’s brave deeds in the war against the French. What could scare men who had faced the roar of the cannons and the prospect of a frozen death beneath the waves? But they were scared; I’d stake my soul on it. By the time the council of war had finally assembled, they’d drunk the better half of a bottle of brandy and looked slightly more stable.
The soldiers and sailors were all dressed in their finery, but none were so fine as the four strangers from London. One was an older man, with the stare I recognised from those who had seen the face of war at first hand; the others were three young men, barely older than myself. They gave their names as Luke, Saul and Thomas – and then they said nothing more. And yet there was something about them that called to me, as if I knew them. But there was so much that I did not know.
Howe called the council to order and started to speak. He was always a self-assured man, but this time he sounded as if he’d drunk more than a man should before facing his peers. I heard him stammer and stutter as he talked about the recent battle and the departure from Boston, as if he was reluctant to actually get to the meat of the matter. No man should have to face his demons like Howe did that evening. He would never be the same again.
“His Majesty has sent us a most unusual gift,” Howe said, finally. His brother the Admiral had said nothing throughout the meeting, although he was normally a talkative soul. “He has sent us a miracle.”
He looked at the three newcomers, who smiled. The other guests were alarmed by what they saw, worried that Howe had finally lost his mind. Retreat doesn’t suit the British soul, no matter how necessary. And few of us truly wanted to believe that leaving Boston had been the right thing to do.
“Show them,” Howe ordered. His words were shaking as he spoke. Never before had he lost his nerve, not even when the shells were falling all around us. “I have not the words to tell them.”
It is hard, so hard, for me to recount what happened next. I saw such wonders – and terrors – that my hand shakes when I try to write them. Dear God who art in Heaven…had His Majesty dealt with the Devil Himself to win the war against the Rebels? My mind refused to believe what I saw; I understood, finally, why the Brothers had started to drink when they returned from the mystery ship. They too had been unable to believe their eyes.
I must tell you what I saw, and yet I am scared. Please forgive me…
My brother, oh my brother…I saw a man fly!